(Former) Rep. Cynthia McKinney, and Gaza

January 14, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Sacramento– January 10th–(Ex-Representative) Cynthia McKinney spoke here at the Salam Center, a Community nucleus for the Islamic Community of the Greater Sacramento Area as part of a program put together by the new American Muslims for Palestine (AMP).  Before the speeches by Cynthia and Hatem Bazian (whose comments your journalist will report on in a future article), we ate a communal Halal dinner at the Center. 

McKinney is an Afro-American Person of the Book who served six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives gaining the ire of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and the U.S. India Political Action Committee (USINPAC) for her strong support of the Islamic nations of Pakistan and Palestine. The two lobby organizations’ political “war chest” money and power cause her to lose her seat in a prominently Black District twice despite the fact she had served six terms in Congress. 

She has doubts facts about September 11th, 2001, also; so, she served on the Citizens Commission on 9/11.  After looking at the details of that day in New York City, she signed the 9/11 Truth Movement asking for new investigations on the unexplained aspects of that incident. 

While still in the Lower House, she presented Articles of Impeachment against former President Bush, Vice President Cheney and (then) Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Further, Cynthia McKinney’s educational background and experience makes her solidly authoritative on foreign affairs.

During Tel Aviv’ attacks upon Gaza she attempted to enter the Strip with humanitarian supplies — twice unsuccessfully by sea and once successfully by land. 

On her first endeavor, the blockading Israeli Navy rammed her ship.  Mentioning that she was not a Palestinian, she asserted “That I [would] die is one of the [most] honorable [things] I could” do. 

On the second effort, McKinney found herself surrounded by Israeli War boats.  All the passengers and crew were “kidnapped” (captured), and imprisoned for ten days.  Cynthia was, additionally, banned from Israel for ten years – including the Occupied Territories (i.e., Palestine). 

After she was released from detention and deported, she received a call from the British Member of Parliament, George Galloway, who is the director of Viva Palestina which has entered Gaza with conveys of trucks containing relief supplies, called Ms. McKinney and asked her to come with his trucks across the Rafah crossing from Egypt into shattered Gaza.  The (prior) Congresswoman described that the horrible devastation of the diminutive State was over-powering, but, on the other hand,  she attested to the defiant spirit of the people.

“We have to resist” our (own) government (U.S.) “…like the Palestinians” the Israeli.  “Washington D.C. is ground Xerox,” too.  Describing her experience on the Coastal Strip, “I was the one whose spirit was uplifted…In my heart, I am a Palestinian!”

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Iran Blames US Agents for Scientist’s Murder

January 14, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Fredrik Dahl

2010-01-13T123250Z_01_BTRE60C0YUZ00_RTROPTP_3_INTERNATIONAL-US-IRAN-BOMB-USA

An undated image released by Iran’s Fars News Agency of Tehran University professor Massoud Ali-Mohammadi who was killed by a bomb in front of his home in north Tehran January 12, 2010.

REUTERS/FARS NEWS

TEHRAN (Reuters) – A remote-controlled bomb killed a Tehran University scientist on Tuesday, official media reported, in an attack Iran blamed on the United States and Israel.

Iranian officials and state media described professor Massoud Ali-Mohammadi as a nuclear scientist, and Iran’s cabinet said agents of the United States were behind his murder.

A State Department official in Washington said charges of U.S. involvement were absurd.

Western sources said Ali-Mohammadi, a physics professor, worked closely with Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi and Fereydoun Abbassi-Davani, both subject to U.N. sanctions because of their work on suspected nuclear weapons development.

The U.N. nuclear agency is investigating Iran’s nuclear program, which Tehran says is for generating electricity and not for building nuclear bombs as the West suspects.

Ali Shirzadian, a spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said Ali-Mohammadi, 50, had not played a role in the activities of the organization, which is at the center of the disputed nuclear program.

Shahram Amiri, a university researcher working for the atomic body, disappeared during a pilgrimage to Mecca in June, three months before Iran disclosed the existence of its second uranium enrichment site near the city of Qom. In December, Tehran accused Saudi Arabia of handing Amiri over to the United States.

“America’s spying and intelligence agents from one side abduct some Iranian citizens … and on the other side their treacherous agents kill an Iranian citizen inside the country,” an Iranian cabinet statement said, reported by the semi-official Fars news agency.

A list of Ali-Mohammadi’s publications on Tehran University’s website suggested his specialism was theoretical particle physics, not nuclear energy, a Western physics professor said.

The bombing — a rare attack in the Iranian capital — occurred at a time of heightened tension in the Islamic Republic seven months after a disputed presidential election plunged the oil producer into turmoil.

It also coincided with a sensitive juncture in Iran’s row with the West over its nuclear ambitions, with global powers expected to meet in New York on Saturday to discuss possible new sanctions on Tehran over its refusal to halt its atomic work.

Earlier, Iran’s Foreign Ministry blamed Israel and the United States.

“Signs of the triangle of wickedness by the Zionist regime (Israel), America and their hired agents, are visible in the terrorist act,” it said.

“Such terrorist acts and the apparent elimination of the country’s nuclear scientists will definitely not obstruct scientific and technological processes,” it said.
White House spokesman Bill Burton said the accusations were absurd. A senior Israeli official said Ali-Mohammadi was not known to have been a significant figure in any military nuclear program.

BOOBY-TRAPPED MOTORBIKE

English-language Press TV said Ali-Mohammadi was killed in a northern part of the capital by a booby-trapped motorcycle as he was leaving his home. It showed footage of blood stains, broken glass and other debris at the scene, with what appeared to be the dead man in a body bag taken away on a stretcher.

Fars said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had ordered the intelligence and security services to use all their capabilities to find those behind the killing.

State broadcaster IRIB described al-Mohammadi as a “committed and revolutionary” professor, suggesting he backed Ahmadinejad’s government. Fars quoted one of his students as saying he had worked with the elite Revolutionary Guards until 2003.

But an opposition website, Jaras, said he was an opposition supporter whose name was among hundreds of academics who issued a statement in favor of moderate candidate Mirhossein Mousavi during the campaign for last June’s election.

Even if he had worked on Iran’s nuclear program, analysts doubted his death could set back Tehran’s aspirations.

“I have no reason to think that this is part of an Israeli or American strategy to deprive Iran of the brains of the enrichment process,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, chief proliferation analyst at London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies. “There are by now too many scientists and engineers with the requisite expertise”.
STRATFOR, a global intelligence firm, said Ali-Mohammadi was unlikely to have been a key figure in nuclear activities since his publishing record pointed to purely academic research.

“The relatively high visibility and volume of work in academia suggests that Ali-Mohammadi’s role, if any, in the nuclear program was not very significant,” STRATFOR said in an analysis. “Critical scientists involved in nuclear weapons programs usually are sequestered carefully and provided more security than Ali-Mohammadi was given.”

Fars quoted a foreign-based group, the Iran Monarchy Association, as claiming responsibility for Tuesday’s bombing. It did not say how it obtained the statement.
Iran has been convulsed by its most serious domestic unrest since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 as protests by opposition supporters against the election result have turned violent. Authorities deny opposition allegations that voting was rigged.

(Additional reporting by Mark Heinrich in Vienna; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Mark Trevelyan)

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Iraqi Fights Graft, Crime in Interior Ministry

January 14, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Missy Ryan and Muhanad Mohammed

2010-01-13T225914Z_513309992_GM1E61E0J8I01_RTRMADP_3_IRAQ-MINISTRY

Interior Ministry Inspector General, Aqeel al-Turaihi speaks during an interview with Reuters in Baghdad January 11, 2010. Outside the office of Aqeel al-Turaihi, inspector general at what is seen as a corrupt country’s most corrupt government agency, hangs a ‘Board of Honour’ showing photos of slain colleagues. Since he began probing theft, human rights abuses and police infiltration by militias in Iraq’s Interior Ministry in 2006, more than 40 members of Turaihi’s team have been assassinated. Picture taken January 11, 2010.

REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Outside the office of Aqeel al-Turaihi, inspector general at what is seen as a corrupt country’s most corrupt government agency, hangs a ‘Board of Honour’ showing photos of slain colleagues. Since he began probing theft, human rights abuses and police infiltration by militias in Iraq’s Interior Ministry in 2006, more than 40 members of Turaihi’s team have been assassinated.

“We are targeted from two sides: by terrorists because we are part of a security agency and by unscrupulous officials because we fight corruption,” he said.

Assailants have tried several times to kill Turaihi himself, an amateur poet and one-time activist against dictator Saddam Hussein, including a bomb attack on his convoy two years ago. The most recent threat on his life was less than a month ago.

Yet, Turaihi said, big strides had been made in combating malfeasance in the ministry, a vast bureaucracy that includes more than 300,000 police and about 200,000 other employees.

“There has been a big improvement. When we talk about the problems that might exist in the ministry, we need to note that we’re watching them closely and working hard to correct them.”

As Iraq battles a stubborn insurgency and takes on greater responsibility for security from U.S. troops, it must face not just corruption but allegations police or soldiers take bribes from militants or even collude in bloody attacks on civilians.

In a new report, parliament’s security and defense committee charges security forces were at least indirectly responsible in recent attacks on state buildings that have added a new element of uncertainty before national elections in March.

Seven or eight members of security forces remain in police custody after those attacks, committee member Falah Zaidan said.

Ammar Tu’ma, another lawmaker on the committee, said security forces were infiltrated.

“There are elements complicit with terrorists in implementing these explosions,” he said.

While officials deny any systemic wrongdoing among uniformed Iraqis, they acknowledge shortcomings in keeping Iraqis safe and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has vowed dire consequences for those taking part in such attacks.

EJECTING CRIMINAL ELEMENTS

In the bloody years after Saddam’s ooverthrow, when U.S. officials disbanded security forces and rebuilt them anew, the Interior Ministry was widely believed to be in the grip of Shi’ite militias that went after adversaries with impunity and targeted Iraqis from the once-dominant Sunni minority.

Turaihi said most criminal elements were ‘cleansed’ from the ministry.

“There was a time when the ministry may not have been so professional and its loyalties might have been weak, but those loyalties have now come together under a national banner.”

Critics are skeptical about how zealous Turaihi and other anti-corruption officials in Iraq have been in that fight.

Zaidan said Turaihi, whose 2,600 inspectors oversee a ministry of 500,000 employees, and his Defense Ministry counterpart were not up to snuff and may need to be replaced.

While graft is sure to be a hot issue in the March 7 national polls, Iraq’s record on going after iniquitous officials, especially those from senior levels, is poor.

Iraq is still ranked as one of the world’s most corrupt countries even as it stands on the verge of signing energy deals that could bring a flood of new oil revenue.

The Interior Ministry has been especially problematic. An independent panel reported there were more Interior employees convicted of corruption in 2008 than any other ministry.

The same year, senior officials shut down 135 suspected corruption cases across the government, and another 1,552 were abandoned because suspects were covered by an amnesty law that has been morphed to become a corruption shield.

Turaihi said he did not support a full cancellation of the controversial article that allows ministers to protect subordinates, but said it should be used only to protect prosecution of ‘unintentional’ crimes.

(Additional reporting by Waleed Ibrahim, Suadad al-Salhy and Khalid al-Ansary; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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Cancer – The Deadly Legacy of the Invasion of Iraq

January 9, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

New America Media, News Digest, Jalal Ghazi

Forget about oil, occupation, terrorism or even Al Qaeda. The real hazard for Iraqis these days is cancer. Cancer is spreading like wildfire in Iraq. Thousands of infants are being born with deformities. Doctors say they are struggling to cope with the rise of cancer and birth defects, especially in cities subjected to heavy American and British bombardment.

Here are a few examples. In Falluja, which was heavily bombarded by the US in 2004, as many as 25% of new- born infants have serious abnormalities, including congenital anomalies, brain tumors, and neural tube defects in the spinal cord.

The cancer rate in the province of Babil, south of Baghdad has risen from 500 diagnosed cases in 2004 to 9,082 in 2009 according to Al Jazeera English.

In Basra there were 1885 diagnosed cases of cancer in 2005. According to Dr. Jawad al Ali, director of the Oncology Center, the number increased to 2,302 in 2006 and 3,071 in 2007. Dr. Ali told Al Jazeera English that about 1,250-1,500 patients visit the Oncology Center every month now.

Not everyone is ready to draw a direct correlation between allied bombing of these areas and tumors, and the Pentagon has been skeptical of any attempts to link the two. But Iraqi doctors and some Western scholars say the massive quantities of depleted uranium used in U.S. and British bombs, and the sharp increase in cancer rates are not unconnected.

Dr Ahmad Hardan, who served as a special scientific adviser to the World Health Organization, the United Nations and the Iraqi Ministry of Health, says that there is scientific evidence linking depleted uranium to cancer and birth defects. He told Al Jazeera English, “Children with congenital anomalies are subjected to karyotyping and chromosomal studies with complete genetic back-grounding and clinical assessment. Family and obstetrical histories are taken too. These international studies have produced ample evidence to show that depleted uranium has disastrous consequences.”

Iraqi doctors say cancer cases increased after both the 1991 war and the 2003 invasion.

Abdulhaq Al-Ani, author of “Uranium in Iraq” told Al Jazeera English that the incubation period for depleted uranium is five to six years, which is consistent with the spike in cancer rates in 1996-1997 and 2008-2009.

There are also similar patterns of birth defects among Iraqi and Afghan infants who were also born in areas that were subjected to depleted uranium bombardment.

Dr. Daud Miraki, director of the Afghan Depleted Uranium and Recovery Fund, told Al Jazeera English he found evidence of the effect of depleted uranium in infants in eastern and south- eastern Afghanistan. “Many children are born with no eyes, no limbs, or tumors protruding from their mouths and eyes,” said Dr. Miraki.

It’s not just Iraqis and Afghans. Babies born to American soldiers deployed in Iraq during the 1991 war are also showing similar defects. In 2000, Iraqi biologist Huda saleh Mahadi pointed out that the hands of deformed American infants were directly linked to their shoulders, a deformity seen in Iraqi infants.

Many US soldiers are now referring to Gulf War Syndrome #2 and alleging they have developed cancer because of exposure to depleted uranium in Iraq.

But soldiers can end their exposure to depleted uranium when their service in Iraq ends. Iraqi civilians have nowhere else to go. The water, soil and air in large areas of Iraq, including Baghdad, are contaminated with depleted uranium that has a radioactive half-life of 4.5 billion years.

Dr. Doug Rokke, former director of the U.S. Army’s Depleted Uranium Project during the first Gulf War, was in charge of a project of decontaminating American tanks. He told Al Jazeera English that “it took the U.S. Department of Defense in a multi-million dollar facility with trained physicists and engineers, three years to decontaminate the 24 tanks that I sent back to the U.S.”

And he added, “What can the average Iraqi do with thousands and thousands of trash and destroyed vehicles spread across the desert and other areas?”

According to Al Jazeera, the Pentagon used more than 300 tons of depleted uranium in 1991. In 2003, the United States used more than 1,000 tons.

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The Story of ‘Skateistan’

January 9, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent

skate

Australian skateboard enthusiasts Oliver Percovich and Sharna Nolan started a quiet revolution in the Afghan capital of Kabul back in 2007 simply by riding their skateboards around the dusty war-ravaged city. The looks on the faces of the Afghan kids that happened upon them would be the catalyst that would drive the couple to create the very first skate park in the country. The Australian duo’s first skate park venture began with a small patch of land near an old fountain, three skateboards and a handful of interested kids.

Yet, as interest in skateboarding grew and the dangers of the reality of surviving in Kabul set in, both Percovich and Nolan knew that they needed something bigger and better. Thanks to help from donations adding up to over $650,000 and support from the Afghan Olympic Committee, ‘Skateistan’ recently opened its doors to any Afghan youth interested in learning to skateboard. The indoor skateboard arena measures a hefty 1,800 sq m (19,380 sq ft) and is composed of several dizzying obstacles for the Afghan skateboarders to learn and master.

The first obstacle is the ‘baby ramp’ which beginners can learn to skateboard on and perfect their balance. The intermediary obstacles include a set of wooden stairs with a rail and curb followed by a mini ramp with extension. For advanced skateboarders there is the ‘rocket wall’, which is the park’s signature obstacle, and the ‘Afghan gap’ that is made up of two large quarter ramps with a gap in the middle for tricks. There are also novel obstacles littered in between the main attractions, which ensures that every skateboarder has somewhere to ride their board.

More than 200 Afghan skateboarders have already signed up for the skate park roster. Boys and girls from all socio-economic classes learn to skateboard together in a whole new world far removed from the atrocities that years of Taleban rule and the U.S.’s war have wreaked on the country. According to Skateistan’s official website, the founders mission statement declares that, “Skateboarding is a widely-loved platform through which young men and women from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds can engage positively with each other. Considering the country’s recent political history, not to mention its longstanding social barriers, we believe that the community-building effects of skateboarding will be especially visible in Afghanistan. Skateistan’s mission is to build cross-cultural understanding and develop youth confidence, leadership, and life skills.”

Not everyone is happy about the success of the skate park. Sports in Afghanistan are considered to be exclusively for males. Women and girls are often deemed to be unsuitable for playing sports. But since skateboarding is so novel in Afghanistan, girls are enjoying the sport well under the radar. However, there have been some reports that a couple of female skateboarders have been beaten by male relatives to deter them from going back to the skate park.

The skateboard services of Skateistan are free for all Afghan children and include the free use of equipment, such as a helmet and skateboard. Off the ramps and obstacles, Afghan skateboarders are also privileged to the opportunity of receiving an education. Classrooms are located in the back of the skate park with subjects like English and Computer skills being offered. Due to the variety and expense of services the skate park offers there is an ever-growing need for volunteers and donors, which are actively sought on the official Skateistan website (www.Skateistan.org ).

While the location of Skateistan might be remote and not easily accessible for non-Afghans, the skate park is already gaining international recognition. This past December founder Oliver Percovich accepted the award for ‘Best Non-Governmental Organization of the Year’ in Monaco, which was presented under the auspices of His Highness Prince Albert II.

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Afghan Attack: Was it Taliban Revenge?

January 9, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Suicide bombing at CIA camp in Afghanistan likely revenge attack by Taliban warlord – a former ally

By James Gordon Meek, Daily News Washington

alg_haqqani
Jalaluddin Haqqani in 1998 file photo. Once ally of CIA, he now supports Osama Bin Laden.

WASHINGTON – The suicide-bomb slaughter at a tiny CIA Afghanistan border camp was likely vengeance from a local Taliban tribal warlord who was once the agency’s ally.

Forward Operation Base Chapman in Khowst, where seven CIA officers died Wednesday, is a few miles from the ruins of Al Qaeda camps obliterated by U.S. missiles in a failed 1998 attempt to kill Osama Bin Laden.

“This will be avenged through aggressive counterterror operations,” an official said Thursday as drones blew up Al Qaeda goons in warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani’s territory across the border in Pakistan. “People at Langley are galvanized.”

The CIA backed Haqqani in the 1980s war against Afghanistan’s Soviet occupiers.

Despite aligning with the CIA as a mujahedeen leader to fight the Soviets, Haqqani refused its overtures after 9/11 and sided with his old friend Bin Laden, whom he has sheltered on both sides of the Afganistan-Pakistan border.

My first visit to the classified outpost, also called Chapman Airfield, in late 2005, was in a chopper dropping off Special Forces soldiers wearing long beards.

The camp, a one-time Soviet airfield, is named for Green Beret Nathan Chapman, who was fighting alongside the CIA when he became the first U.S. soldier killed in the war eight years ago.

The next day, a one-eyed, one-armed man tried to set off his suicide vest at the gate but was stopped. It was one of the first suicide attacks tried in the Afghan war and gave everyone jitters.

Haqqani’s son Siraj, the Afghan Taliban’s top field commander, introduced suicide bombs as weapons in this war.

Chapman hosted a provincial reconstruction team and was home to “OGAs” – Other Government Agencies, a euphemism for spies.

The dangerous mission of these CIA paramilitaries, case officers and analysts was to hunt high-value targets from Al Qaeda and the local Haqqani Network.

It’s that work that set the camp’s fate for what has become a blood feud between the spy agency and the Haqqani family.

In the past year, CIA drones have killed Haqqani relatives in safehouses used by Al Qaeda leaders plotting strikes on U.S. interests globally.

“There is no doubt” Haqqani sees a motive for revenge, said Shir Khosti, an ex-Afghan official now living in Queens who often worked at Chapman with the CIA.
So does the CIA.

“If it wasn’t personal before, it sure as hell is now,” a furious counterterror official said Thursday.

jmeek@nydailynews.com

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Nigerians Parents Fear for Students Studying Abroad

January 7, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

New America Media, Commentary, Olugu Ukpai

My dear God, has it now become a crime to be a Nigerian? The headlines tell me so over and over again. Mutallab: Man Who Shamed Nigeria. Mutallab: The Nigerian Agent of Al Qaeda. The Boy Who Blew Nigeria’s Image.

Umar Faruq Abdulmutallab’s failed attempt to blow up a U.S. airliner has just landed Nigeria, my country of birth, on the list of 14 nations whose nationals are going to be singled out for special checks if they want to fly to the United States. Nigeria has become a uniquely insecure travel terrorism hub, they say.

But Abdulmutallab never studied in Nigeria. He did not have “terror connections” in Nigeria. Instead his initiation into terror clubs happened abroad in the countries where he was sent to study to become a better person.

Abdulmutallab went to a British high school in Togo. He studied in Dubai, Yemen and Egypt. Above all, he studied mechanical engineering at University College, London, one of the oldest in England. It makes me wonder how Nigerian parents who have sent their children to study abroad, and those children studying abroad, are looking at the story of “the boy who blew Nigeria’s image.”

I, too like Abdulmutallab, am a Nigerian student studying in the United Kingdom. I can understand the concerns of Nigerian parents like mine who sent their children abroad in hopes for a better education – a Western style education. Now there is a deep concern among the same parents, especially those at home who are skeptical of the kind of “cults” their children are being exposed to abroad in the name of acquiring “the white man’s” education. A study by the University of Notre Dame in 2009 found that parents tended to know only 10 percent of what their children were doing abroad.

Foreign education is no longer a safe haven. On the other hand fearful parents cannot bring their children back home either. After all, American media reports paint Nigeria as a hotbed of Al Qaeda terror. When I come back to the U.K. after Christmas break I do not know what will befall me. Will I be treated as a terror suspect because I am Nigerian? Will the U.K. government just wash its hands off me while it pockets my high tuition?

Nigerian parents and students worry whether the U.K. government is living up to its promises to protect the students in its charge. Has it allowed terrorist groups to penetrate its universities so that unsuspecting students can fall prey to their wiles? Already there is a systemic breakdown of security in U.K. institutions of higher learning. A King’s College, London report says more and more women are reporting rapes. Nigerian parents worry about their children abroad.

Instead of demonizing Nigeria, the international press and the world at large should be honoring and celebrating the alleged terror suspect’s 70-year-old father, who set aside blood bonds to report his son’s newfound religious extremism to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria. I contend that he deserves a Global Citizen Award, and Nigeria should honor him with a National Merit Award. He is an exemplary Nigerian whose act of integrity should be rewarded and recognized. This might help fight terrorism by encouraging others who might have similar useful information.

Instead of ganging up on Nigeria, world powers would do well to review security policies to better protect the lives of international students. Our parents sell their pound of flesh to provide a brighter future for us. No parent would ever dream their “well-behaved and humble” child — as many have described Abdulmutallab — would turn into a terrorist and end up in Guantanamo Bay, all in the name of acquiring the “white man’s” education.

Olugu Ukpai is a Ph.D student at School of Law at the University of Reading, U.K. He can be reached at oluukpaiolu@yahoo.com.

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Is Yemen the New Hot Spot for Terrorism Training?

January 7, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

New America Media, Q&A, Aaron Glantz

Editor’s Note: Reports that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the suspect accused of trying to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day, was trained in Yemen have raised the specter of further U.S. military involvement in that country. To get a better sense of what’s going on in Yemen, NAM editor Aaron Glantz spoke with Jillian Schwedler, a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and author of the book, “Faith in Moderation: Islamist Parties in Jordan and Yemen.”

2010-01-06T200542Z_440314731_GM1E6170BC301_RTRMADP_3_YEMEN-QAEDA

A security personnel stands behind a machinegun installed on a vehicle in Sanaa January 6, 2010. Yemeni forces surrounded a suspected al Qaeda regional leader near the capital on Wednesday and captured three militants wounded in a raid, security sources said. Yemen, the poorest Arab country, was thrust into the foreground of the U.S.-led war against Islamist militants after a Yemen-based wing of al Qaeda said it was behind a Christmas Day attempt to bomb a U.S.-bound plane.                                

REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

What was your first reaction when you heard that Abdulmutallab was trained in Yemen?

Yemen has fairly porous borders and a lot of people are in and out of there. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything. It’s not like going to a camp in Afghanistan. It doesn’t have the same meaning. I mean, you go to a camp in Afghanistan, you’re pretty much going for one reason. It’s not the same as Yemen.

It seems like in the popular discussion, Yemen is becoming associated with fundamentalist clerics and terrorism.

There are definitely a lot of extremists there, but I think the bigger framework to think about Yemen is not as a hotbed of radicalism and terror but as a state where the government does not control all of the land. They’ve been fighting a significant insurgency in the North for six years now and there’s a separatist group in the South that’s in an armed conflict. The Ministry of Interior estimates that there are 60 million weapons outside of government hands in Yemen. And that’s in a country of 20 million people. So it’s a highly-armed, fragmented society and the government hasn’t really had control over the entire country for some time, if ever. So certainly there’s extremism there, but there’s a lot of stuff going on that the government isn’t really in control of.

So who is in the leadership of the government of Yemen?

The government of Ali Abdullah Saleh is essentially a central government, but there are many parts of the country that are not under the central government. There are armed areas that the government doesn’t police and doesn’t have anything to do with, except to offer very limited services. And we’re talking about big chunks of the country in the North and the East particularly. It’s not one little enclave.

And a huge part of the border with Saudi Arabia is not even defined because it’s a desert. There are not a lot of people there but there are chunks of the country that are frontier-land kind of areas where people move between those two states.

Yemen was two countries during the Cold War.

Even calling it two countries becomes sort of a fiction. For years, it was just sort of a bunch of enclaves including the British colony that was there for nearly 100 years in the South, various tribal governments, there was a Northern government. But from the ‘60s, you had two states, a Northern state which was the Yemen Arab Republic, and the Southern state which was the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, which was a Marxist, Soviet outpost. And so when the Soviet Union fell in 1989, they lost all their funding and then North Yemen was never particularly strong, and so the two decided that they would unite, which they did and initially had democratic elections in which nobody won a majority.

Northern loyalists were assassinating socialists in the South and the unification never really went forward. They unified the country formally, but former governments maintained their owned armies. That culminated in a civil war in 1994 that lasted two months. And the North defeated the South and has been in control ever since under the leadership of the same president, Ali Abdullah Saleh.

So it’s really become an Egypt-style government where there’s a president who pretends to be elected and everyone else pretends to have candidates.

So during all this time, what has the U.S. government’s role been?

Well, right after Yemen unified in May 1990, Yemen had the unfortunate opportunity to have a rotating seat on the U.N. Security Council. So they had the seat during the first Gulf War in 1991 and they abstained from that Security Council vote. They did not vote for the coalition in 1990 and they did not vote against it; they abstained. So the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait all punished Yemen by unilaterally cutting all aid to the country. So it was a newly-unified country that had a tremendous amount of aid cut. Millions of Yemeni migrant workers in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait were all deported and that had a devastating affect on the economy in Yemen.

But then relations gradually improved, with the U.S. not really having an interest in Yemen. Then, with the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole and subsequent events, the government of Ali Abdullah Saleh has been working very closely with the U.S. government because in some ways these Islamists are threatening to him as well. That said, there’s an Islamist party that’s closely aligned with the regime. So while the government is working with the U.S. to battle extremists, at the same time he’s playing this delicate balancing act that includes allying himself with extremists.

So basically, he’s allying himself with the United States in the war on terror, and with the people who are opposing that at the same time.

Exactly. And I don’t think he’s that brilliant as a politician. It’s just luck that it’s all held together at this point. It’s surprising to me that he’s pulling it off. A lot of people think it could get really bad there really quick.

Already, the Fullbright program has been suspended. People aren’t going there to study or do research. It’s really not safe.

So when you’re watching the news right now, what are you looking for? What are you looking for in these reports that will help you decide what’s going on?

In so much of what’s coming through, I hear mistakes in reports that frustrate me. What I want to know is: Are things realigning? Are new people coming on top? I haven’t seen this in the media, but for example: Saudi Arabia would have a clear interest in Yemen not becoming a failed state. So is Saudi Arabia sending more government and trying to bolster them and is that creating more Wahabi influence? Or this: Are you seeing a lot of the tribal sheiks realigning themselves? Because with that many weapons out of government control a few significant shifts in alignment could be game changers. Those are the kinds of things I’m interested in, but you don’t tend to see them in media a lot.

Jillian Schwedler is a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and author of the book, “Faith in Moderation: Islamist Parties in Jordan and Yemen.”

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Al-Qaeda Using U.S. to Accomplish Goals — and U.S. Is Playing Along

January 7, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

William Pfaff, Chicago Tribune

PARIS — It is not widely understood that the policy objective of Al Qaeda is not to attack the Western countries, which in itself accomplishes nothing. Bringing down a Western airliner or blowing up a building in the United States or Britain is of no interest in itself, since the Islamic radical does no good by simply killing unbelievers. The ultimate purpose of Al Qaeda is to bring about an upheaval in the Islamic world in which Islam can be rescued from corrupted governments and degenerate practices.

When Gordon Brown or Barack Obama say that Western soldiers have to fight terrorists abroad so that they will not have to fight them in their own hometowns, they’re being silly, as such sophisticated men ought to know.

Why should Al Qaeda or the Taliban wish to fight in Peoria, Illinois, or a garden suburb of London? There are no recruits to be made there, and nothing to be gained in the real battle that the Muslim extremists are waging: to radicalize the Muslim world, and to rescue their co-religionists from heretical beliefs and Western practices.

The real reason for attacking Westerners in the West, or in airplanes on the way there, is to provoke the Western governments to send more Western soldiers to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere in the Muslim world to attack Muslim jihadists on the Islamists’ own ground, where the latter have tactical and human advantages that Western soldiers can never overcome.

Instead, attack by Western soldiers and the building of Western military bases on the soil of Muslim countries radicalizes and scandalizes ordinary people, and undermines the governments of those countries that choose to align themselves with the invaders — thereby, in the eyes of Islamic true believers, revealing themselves as traitors to orthodox Muslim belief.

The United States and the NATO countries are playing Al Qaeda’s game with every planeload of troops they dispatch to the Arab world and to Central Asia.

A headline in the Paris press says: “The CIA and U.S Special Forces lend a powerful hand to the government of Yemen.” The front-page headline in Tuesday’s International Herald Tribune says: “Yemen corruption blunts Qaeda fight.” This report explains that the Yemeni president’s government “is filled with members of his family and . . . wants to ensure that his son, Ahmed, 38, succeeds him.” The story goes on to say that “the economy has collapsed, with oil revenues down and oil and water running out.” This is the American-allied regime.

At the end of last year, we read about allegations of corruption in Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s own family, and the results of a national election were challenged as falsified. The president of Afghanistan has just ordered the nation’s parliament back from vacation in order to vote on his new cabinet nominees. These are to take the place of 17 of his 24 previous cabinet appointments, all rejected by parliament. Mr. Karzai is, of course, the man the United States put in place in Kabul to bring democracy to Afghanistan, so as to save it from the Taliban and al-Qaida.

No American who witnessed the waltz of U.S. senators with the health industry’s lobbyists during the ongoing effort to legislate health reform in the U.S. is in a position to be condescending about foreign corruption. If the United States has an occupying army that put in place, or sustains, the Afghan, Pakistani or Yemen government, then the ordinary citizen in those countries will see Americans and NATO as sources of their nation’s corruption, and perhaps the main one.

Moreover, the Taliban and al-Qaida are not fighting against corrupt governments in order to reform them. They want to destabilize and eventually destroy all of them so as to clear a political space in which 40 million Pashtuns and their fellow Sunni Arabs can create a new political dispensation of true believers, while the West declines.

That is fantasy, but it is a fantasy in which the United States and NATO are unwittingly playing leading roles.

(Visit William Pfaff’s Web site at www.williampfaff.com.)

Nigerian Terror Suspect: This Apple Fell Too Far From the Tree

January 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

2009-12-27T180848Z_310678741_GM1E5CS060801_RTRMADP_3_SECURITY-AIRLINE-NIGERIA

Nigeria’s Information Minister Dora Akunyili speaks during a news conference in Lagos. Farouk Mutallab, originally from Nigeria, had travelled widely, returning to Nigeria just before the jet attack.

REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

USAfricaonline, Commentary, Chido Nwangwu, Posted: Dec 28, 2009

The most unlikely person has snatched Alhaji (Dr.) Umaru Mutallab’s relatively mild-mannered public persona from him: his own son, Farouk Abdul Mutallab.

Farouk is the alleged terror-executor who on Christmas Day reportedly fumbled his own plan to blow up Delta-Northwest Airlines flight 235, minutes before landing in Detroit, the economically troubled American motor city.

The events in Detroit merely played up, to a global canvas, the contrast of the two individuals.

The older Mutallab, a conservative Muslim, was born in 1939 in the north central state of Katsina (home of the current, ailing President Umaru Ya’Adua).

A USAfricaonline.com count found that Umaru Mutallab was chairman of more than 36 blue chip companies inside Nigeria and overseas.

But while the older Mutallab sought and gained multiple millions dollars in rewards for his core, long-standing interests and skills in business especially in financial services, the younger Mutallab, by his own admission, sought to be a foot soldier for Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida.

A highly respected conservative man whose friends cut across states, religion and gender, Mutallab is soft spoken and very intelligent and industrious.

Having reported and followed key aspects of Umaru Mutallab and Nigeria’s military and civilian elite, I know that the older Mutallab benefited from his deft positioning across an immense network of family, geo-ethnic and professional layers of interests.

Consequently, the man has had a near permanent presence on Nigeria’s economic landscape as a government official, banking investor, facilitator or shareholder – working the levers of power- all through civilian and military governments in Nigeria for more than 35 years.

Alhaji Mutallab is one of Nigeria’s most respected technocrats and administrators, having also served as a Federal Minister of Economic Development & Reconstruction. He is a Fellow of the Association of Chartered and Certified Accountants (FCCA), Institute of the International Bankers Association (FIBA, USA), the Institute of Bankers and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (FCA).

Mutallab was appointed director of First Bank on March 8, 1996 and became chairman of the Board on March 18, 1999. In mid December, Alhaji Umaru Mutallab – after his massively rewarding decade at the helm of the First Bank Plc – fully retired as Chairman. He was succeeded by Oba Otudeko, a billionaire chairman of the Honeywell Group of Companies and immediate past President of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE).

Mutallab has been in strategic board positions of the banking sector for decades as CEO and/or Chairman of various financial institutions including United Bank for Africa (UBA).

“The man is amiable and always at the forefront of any economic revival committees and boards of government, the alleged link of his son to the alleged terrorism plot left many of his friends and associates devastated,” notes Obinwa Nnaji, USAfricaonline.com bureau chief in Lagos. “Other Nigerians still argue at their homes, various places and across USAfrica multimedia blogs that they still do not believe it to be a stock in trade of Nigerians to be found planting bombs in aircraft.”

The Alhaji, from some indications, has been concerned about his son’s radical Islam associates, including potentially violent views. He reportedly, but yet unconfirmed by government and independent sources, visited the U.S. embassy in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, to alert its security of the son’s growing liaison and engagement with al-Qaida-type characters, especially in the radicalized country of Yemen.

In a Dec. 12, 2001 exclusively commentary for USAfricaonline.com, I raised a red flag and forewarned in the critical insight which focused on al-Qaida, rag-tag Taliban and Nigeria’s security situation.

Farouk attended college to study engineering in London, and lived in a posh, upscale apartment paid for by his father.

But one of the areas where the older Mutallab’s skills and services did not yield much if any significant value for Nigerians was his tenure as chairman of the troubled and woeful former National Electric Power Authority (NEPA).

As a key member of the Nigerian ruling groups, he bagged the chairmanship of the Vision 2020 Business Support Group of Nigeria. He is a key shareholder and chairman of the very successful Spring Waters Nigeria (SWAN), and a host of other investments.

Evidently, even the luxury and resources amassed by the older Mutallab could not dissuade his 23-year-old son Farouk from being a jihadist and fighter for Islamic fundamentalism through the violent, toxic mechanisms of terrorism, as alleged from his actions on Christmas Day.

Chido Nwangwu is the Founder & Publisher of the first African-owned, U.S-based professional newspaper published on the Internet at USAfricaonline.com, The Black Business Journal, CLASSmagazine, PhotoWorks.TV, AchebeBooks.com, USAfrica.TV and several blogs. Nwangwu has been honored by the Washington, D. C.-based National Immigration Forum for utilizing multimedia to fight authoritarianism and foster freedom of expression.

12-1

Obama Moves to Boost U.S. Broadband Access

December 31, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By John Poirier

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Obama administration released details on Thursday of a $2 billion program in grants and loans to help dramatically expand Americans’ broadband Internet access and create tens of thousands of jobs.

The funds, to be released over the next 75 days, are among $7.2 billion set aside in President Barack Obama’s $787 billion economic recovery package to bring broadband access to unserved or underserved U.S. communities.

Vice President Joe Biden, at an event in Dawsonville, Georgia, announced details of an initial $183 million investment in broadband projects in 17 states.

“New broadband access means more capacity and better reliability in rural areas and underserved urban communities around the country,” Biden said in a statement.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans have adopted broadband at home, while one-third have access but have not adopted it, and 4 percent say they have no access where they live, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Biden’s chief economist, Jared Bernstein, told reporters in a briefing the administration was unable to provide more precise figures on exactly how many jobs would be created, but White House officials said “tens of thousands of jobs” could be created in the near term.

The FCC held an open meeting on Wednesday to provide an update on its national broadband plan due to be submitted to Congress in February. FCC staff stopped short of making formal recommendations because they are still gathering data on which to base their final report.

‘PLATFORM FOR ECONOMIC PROSPERITY’

Officials said on Thursday that broadband expansion projects aimed to link communities to the “Internet backbone,” a network of large, high-bandwidth fiber-optic cables that span the country.

They said the grants and loans, being released by the departments of Commerce and Agriculture, would help expand broadband for education, healthcare and providing workers the flexibility to work from home.

“The community is part of the solution to the national broadband strategy,” said Craig Settles, president of broadband strategy consulting firm Successful.com.

With the rest of the U.S. economy stuck in the doldrums and shedding jobs, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has said the technology sector has been going in the other direction.

“Because of its power to propel innovation, broadband can be our platform for economic prosperity,” Genachowski said in a December 1 speech on technology innovation.

Officials announced four different types of awards:

- $121.6 million to build and improve connections to communities lacking sufficient broadband access.
- $51.4 million to connect end users like homes, hospitals and schools to their community’s broadband infrastructure (the middle mile).
- $7.3 million to expand computer center capacity for public use in libraries, community colleges and other public venues.
- $2.4 million to fund innovative projects that promote broadband demand with population groups where the technology has traditionally been underutilized.

12-1

US Cutting Gaza Lifeline

December 27, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Ann Wright

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December 10, 2009 – No doubt at the instigation of the Israeli government, the Obama administration has authorized the United States Army Corps of Engineers to design a vertical underground wall under the border between Egypt and Gaza.

In March, 2009 the United States provided the government of Egypt with $32 million in March, 2009 for electronic surveillance and other security devices to prevent the movement of food, merchandise and weapons into Gaza. Now details are emerging about an underground steel wall that will be 6-7 miles long and extend 55 feet straight down into the desert sand.

The steel wall will be made of super-strength steel put together in a jigsaw puzzle fashion. It will be bomb proof and can not be cut or melted. It will be “impenetrable,” and reportedly will take 18 months to construct.

(http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8405020.stm)

The steel wall is intended to cut the tunnels that go between Gaza and Egypt.

The tunnels are the lifelines for Gaza since the international community agreed to a blockade of Gaza to collectively punish the citizens of Gaza for their having elected in Parliamentary elections in 2006 sufficient Hamas Parliamentarians that Hamas became the government of Gaza. The United States and other western countries have placed Hamas on the list of terrorist organizations.

The underground steel wall is intended to strengthen international governmental efforts to imprison and starve the people of Gaza into submission so they will throw out the Hamas government.

2009-12-21T160522Z_1241899875_GM1E5CM009Q01_RTRMADP_3_EGYPT-BORDER

A member of Hamas security forces stands guard near the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip December 21, 2009. Egyptian officials confirmed on Monday that Egypt is building an underground steel barrier next to its border with Gaza, where Palestinians have built tunnels to smuggle in goods to beat an Israeli blockade.                

REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Just as the steel walls of the US Army Corps of Engineers at the base of the levees of New Orleans were unable to contain Hurricane Katrina, the US Army Corps of Engineers’ underground steel walls that will attempt to build an underground cage of Gaza will not be able to contain the survival spirit of the people of Gaza.

America’s super technology will again be laughed at by the world, as young men dedicated to the survival of their people, will again outwit technology by digging deeper, and most likely penetrating the “impenetrable” in some novel, simple, low-tech way.

I have been to Gaza 3 times this year following the 22-day Israeli military attack on Gaza that killed 1,440, wounded 5,000, left 50,000 homeless and destroyed much of the infrastructure of Gaza. The disproportionate use of force and targeting of the civilian population by the Israeli military is considered by international law and human rights experts as as violations of the Geneva conventions.

When our governments participate in illegal actions, it is up to the citizens of the world to take action. On December 31, 2009, 1,400 international citizens from 42 countries will march in Gaza with 50,000 Gazans in the Gaza Freedom March to end the siege of Gaza. They will take back to their countries the stories of spirit and survival of the people of Gaza and will return home committed to force their governments to stop these inhuman actions against the people of Gaza.

Just as American smart bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq have not conquered the spirit of Aghans and Iraqis, America’s underground walls in Gaza will never conquer the courage of those who are fighting for the survival of their families.

One more time, the American government and the Obama administration has been an active participant in the continued inhumane treatment of the people of Gaza and should be held accountable, along with Israel and Egypt for violations of human rights of the people of Gaza.

Ann Wright is a retired US Army Reserve Colonel and a former U.S. diplomat who resigned in March, 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq. She served in as a US diplomat in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She is the co-author of “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.”

Her March 19, 2003 letter of resignation can be read at http://www.govexec.com/ dailyfed/0303/032103wright.htm.

http://intifada-palestine.com/2009/12/11/us-cutting-gaza-lifeline/

See 2.:21 min video at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NzhUcShtkSk&feature=player_embedded which accompanies this article.

11-53

U.S., Turkey Launch New Trade, Investment Forum

December 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

2009-12-21T113419Z_2140208691_GM1E5CL1I6101_RTRMADP_3_EU-TURKEY

Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis (L) talks to Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu during a news conference at the European Union Council headquarters in Brussels December 21, 2009.    

REUTERS/Francois Lenoir  

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and NATO ally Turkey launched an initiative Monday aimed at boosting trade and investment ties, but said there were no plans for the two countries to negotiate a free trade agreement.

“We can … build on what is a good trade and commercial relationship and make it a much more robust one,” U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said at a press conference with Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan.

The initiative creates a new Cabinet-level forum to discuss ways to expand bilateral trade and investment flows and to try to resolve disputes when they arise, similar to one the United States has with China.

“This framework … will be an important vehicle for expanding trade and investment and creating new jobs for the workers and the people” of both countries, said U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.

The announcement followed a White House meeting between President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to discuss Iran’s nuclear program and U.S. plans to send more troops to Afghanistan.

Obama told reporters he believed Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country and long-time U.S. ally, could be an ‘important player’ in moving Iran toward resolving its dispute with the West over its nuclear program.

Erdogan said Turkey stands ready to do whatever it can to achieve a diplomatic solution on the nuclear issue.

Turkey, which has applied for membership of the European Union, is the United States’ fourth-largest trading partner in the Muslim world and 27th overall.

U.S-Turkey trade has dropped from a record of nearly $15 billion in 2008, but there is every reason to expect the two countries can surpass that “when the world economy gets back on its feet,’’ Locke said.

Babacan said the two countries would seek suggestions from business on how to increase trade in areas ranging from energy to agriculture to military equipment.
He downplayed the chances of Ankara using the forum to press Washington to reduce high U.S. tariffs that Turkey faces on textiles and some other exports.

Kirk said the initiative was not intended as a stepping stone to talks with Turkey on a free trade agreement. (Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Chris Wilson)

11-53

Chalk

December 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

adil-tufail

Soft, fine-grained, easily pulverized, white-to-grayish variety of limestone, composed of the shells of minute marine organisms. The purest varieties contain up to 99% calcium carbonate in the form of the mineral calcite. Extensive deposits occur in western Europe south of Sweden and in England, notably in the chalk cliffs of Dover along the English Channel. Other extensive deposits occur in the U.S. from South Dakota to Texas and eastward to Alabama. Chalk is used for making lime and portland cement and as a soil additive. Finely ground and purified chalk is known as whiting and is used as a filler, extender, or pigment in a wide variety of materials, including ceramics, putty, cosmetics, crayons, plastics, rubber, paper, paints, and linoleum. The chalk commonly used in classrooms is a manufactured substance rather than natural chalk.

Chalk used in school classrooms comes in slender sticks approximately .35 of an inch (nine millimeters) in diameter and 3.15 inches (80 millimeters) long. Lessons are often presented to entire classes on chalk-boards (or blackboards, as they were originally called) using sticks of chalk because this method has proven cheap and easy.

As found in nature, chalk has been used for drawing since prehistoric times, when, according to archaeologists, it helped to create some of the earliest cave drawings. Later, artists of different countries and styles used chalk mainly for sketches, and some such drawings, protected with shellac or a similar substance, have survived. Chalk was first formed into sticks for the convenience of artists. The method was to grind natural chalk to a fine powder, then add water, clay as a binder, and various dry colors. The resultant putty was then rolled into cylinders and dried. Although impurities produce natural chalk in many colors, when artists made their own chalk they usually added pigments to render these colors more vivid. Carbon, for example, was used to enhance black, and ferric oxide (Fe2O3) created a more vivid red.

11-53

Obama Appoints Former Microsoft Security Chief New Cybersecurity Czar

December 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Kim Zetter, Wired Magazine Email Author

howard-schmidt-with-president-obama

It took seven months but President Obama has finally found someone to take the cybersecurity czar job no one wanted.

Howard Schmidt,  a former Microsoft security executive and a one-time cybersecurity adviser to President George W. Bush, has been appointed to the position of cybersecurity coordinator, according to a White House announcement Tuesday.

Schmidt served as vice chair, and then chair, of the President’s Critical Infrastructure Protection Board and as Special Adviser for Cyberspace Security for the White House from December 2001 until May 2003, when he reportedly left the position out of frustration that the government wasn’t making cybersecurity a priority. After leaving the White House, he became chief information security officer at eBay.

In his new position, he will be responsible for coordinating the federal government’s cybersecurity initiatives to secure government networks and critical U.S. infrastructures. This will include working with the Office of Management and Budget to ensure that agencies have money allocated for cybersecurity priorities, and coordinating the government’s response to a major cyber incident or attack.

According to the Associated Press, Obama was directly involved in the selection of Schmidt, who was chosen after an extensive search.

But the announcement of Schmidt came with little fanfare on Tuesday and followed months of reports from other candidates that they either turned down the job or otherwise discouraged the White House from courting them.

Obama announced last May that he was creating a new office to be led by a cybersecurity czar. For nearly a year, however, he could find no one to take the job, because of what many viewed as its undesirable placement in the federal hierarchy.

The czar, Obama stated, would report to the National Security Council and the National Economic Council, putting the position one rung lower in the executive branch hierarchy than many security experts had wanted. Observers had hoped the czar would report directly to the president, which would have helped insulate the office from agency turf battles and ensure quick access to top decision makers.

The White House was quick to dispel concerns on Tuesday that Schmidt’s office would be exiled from the West Wing. An unidentified White House official told the Associated Press that Schmidt would have regular and direct access to the President for cybersecurity issues.

Schmidt, Microsoft’s chief security officer until 2001, is the second former Microsoft executive to take a top federal cybersecurity position. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano appointed Philip Reitinger in March to the position of deputy undersecretary of the department’s National Protections Program Directorate.

Reitinger was Microsoft’s chief trustworthy-infrastructure strategist, a job that required him in part to help develop and implement strategies for enhancing the security of critical infrastructures. In his new position, he oversees the protection of the government’s computer networks and works with the private sector to help secure critical infrastructures.

There have been concerns about how the White House intends to address cybersecurity issues, particularly in the private sector, and protect civil liberties at the same time.

Obama asserted in his speech in May that the new White House cybersecurity office would include an official whose job is to ensure that the government’s cyberpolicies don’t violate the privacy and civil liberties of Americans.

“Our pursuit of cybersecurity will not include — I repeat, will not include — monitoring private-sector networks or internet traffic,” he said. “We will preserve and protect the personal privacy and civil liberties that we cherish as Americans.”

Photo by Lawrence Jackson, courtesy of White House

Dubai Officials’ Confidence-Building Britain, US Trip

December 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Amran Abocar and Steve Slater

2009-12-16T115052Z_26914839_GM1E5CG1J5P01_RTRMADP_3_DUBAI

An investor looks at stock information at the Dubai Financial Market December 16, 2009.   REUTERS/Mosab Omar

DUBAI/LONDON (Reuters) – Two top Dubai officials are visiting Britain and the United States over the coming days to rebuild investor confidence after neighboring Abu Dhabi helped bail out the emirate’s flagship company.

A source close to the government said the officials were already in London and would be in New York on Thursday and Washington on Friday to meet financial and political leaders.

“This is the next step in Dubai’s commitment to greater transparency,” said the source.

“They will spend the next few days meeting financial, economic and political leaders in London, New York and Washington, D.C. to discuss the actions taken this week to stabilize global markets.”

The emirate, famous for its man-made islands in the shape of palms and for other infrastructure projects, rocked global markets on November 25 with a request for a standstill agreement on $26 billion of debt linked to Dubai World and its two main property units, Nakheel and Limitless World.

The roadshow is being led by Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum, chairman of Dubai’s Supreme Fiscal Committee and the uncle of Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum. Until recently he was best known as leader of the Emirates airline, but his public profile has risen since the debt crisis erupted.

Also on the trip is Mohammed al-Shaibani, deputy chairman of the same committee. He heads Sheikh Mohammed’s court and is chief executive of the Investment Corporation Dubai, which oversees the government’s investment portfolio.

‘Comprehensive Solution’

Earlier this week, Abu Dhabi, which produces 90 percent of the United Arab Emirates’ oil exports, provided $10 billion of financial aid to its fellow UAE member to meet the debt obligations of Dubai World until the end of April and to stave off a bond default by Nakheel.

Some $4.1 billion of the rescue funding helped Nakheel repay an Islamic bond, or sukuk, on Tuesday, a day after its due date.

The Abu Dhabi lifeline came in the form of bonds, at similar terms to a $10 billion bond issue to the UAE central bank in February, which carried a coupon of 4 percent per annum for the five-year, fixed-term issue.

Dubai also announced this week it would implement immediately an insolvency law modeled on U.S. and British practices in the event Dubai World needs to seek protection from its creditors. Meanwhile, Dubai’s ruler ordered the creation of a tribunal, headed by three international judges, to oversee any disputes between Dubai World and its creditors.

“They want to explain what happened this week,” said another source close to the government. “It’s very much the transparency message and to discuss the fact they presented a comprehensive solution.”

With the bond repayment out of the way, Dubai World must now agree a standstill with creditors, allowing it time to undergo a massive restructuring. It is slated to meet representatives from some 90 banks in Dubai on Monday.

(Editing by Andrew Callus and Kenneth Barry)

11-52

Insurgents Intercept Drone Video in King-Size Security Breach

December 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Noah Schachtman, Wired Magazine

Even worse…

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military depends on an array of drones to snoop on and stalk insurgents. Now it looks as if insurgents are tapping into those same drones’ broadcasts, to see what the flying robot spies see. If true — and widespread — it’s potentially one of the most serious military security breaches in years.

“U.S. military personnel in Iraq discovered the problem late last year when they apprehended a Shiite militant whose laptop contained files of intercepted drone video feeds,” Wall Street Journal reports. “In July, the U.S. military found pirated drone video feeds on other militant laptops, leading some officials to conclude that militant groups trained and funded by Iran were regularly intercepting feeds.”

How’d the militants manage to get access to such secret data? Basically by pointing satellite dishes up, and waiting for the drone feeds to pour in. According to the Journal, militants have exploited a weakness: The data links between the drone and the ground control station were never encrypted. Which meant that pretty much anyone could tap into the overhead surveillance that many commanders feel is America’s most important advantage in its two wars. Pretty much anyone could intercept the feeds of the drones that are the focal point for the secret U.S. war in Pakistan.

Using cheap, downloadable programs like SkyGrabber, militants were apparently able to watch and record the video feed — and potentially be tipped off when U.S. and coalition forces are stalking them. The $26 software was originally designed to let users download movies and songs off of the internet. Turns out, the program lets you nab Predator drone feeds just as easily as pirated copies of The Hangover.

And here’s the real scandal: Military officials have known about this potential vulnerability since the Bosnia campaign. That was over 10 years ago. And, as Declan McCullagh observes, there have been a series of government reports warning of the problem since then. But the Pentagon assumed that their adversaries in the Middle East and Central Asia wouldn’t have the smarts to tap into the communications link. That’s despite presentations like this 1996 doozy from Air Combat Command, which noted that that “the Predator UAV is designed to operate with unencrypted data links.”

If you think militants are going to be content to just observe spy drone feeds, it’s time to reconsider. “Folks are not merely going to listen/watch what we do when they intercept the feeds, but also start to conduct ‘battles of persuasion’; that is, hacking with the intent to disrupt or change the content, or even ‘persuade’ the system to do their own bidding,” Peter Singer, author of Wired for War, tells Danger Room.

This has long been the nightmare scenario within Pentagon cybersecurity circles: a hacker not looking to take down the military grid, but to exploit it for his own purposes. How does a soldier trust an order, if he doesn’t know who else is listening — or who gave the order, in the first place? “For a sophisticated adversary, it’s to his advantage to keep your network up and running. He can learn what you know. He can cause confusion, delay your response times — and shape your actions,” one Defense Department cybersecurity official tells Danger Room.

Despite this rather massive vulnerability, drone operations show no signs of letting up. According to the Associated Press, “two suspected U.S. missile strikes, one using multiple drones, killed 17 people in a Pakistani tribal region.”

Meanwhile, military officials assure are scrambling to plug the hole. “The difficulty, officials said, is that adding encryption to a network that is more than a decade old involves more than placing a new piece of equipment on individual drones,”  the Journal notes. “Instead, many components of the network linking the drones to their operators in the U.S., Afghanistan or Pakistan have to be upgraded to handle the changes.”

So it may be quite some time before this enormous security breach is filled.

– Nathan Hodge and Noah Shachtman

American Hikers in Iran Are Too Useful to Release

December 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

William O. Beeman, Commentary, New America Media

NAM Editor’s Note: American hikers Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal and Sarah Shourd are a precious catch for Iran, which is hoping to get some political mileage from their detention, observes NAM contributor William Beeman. Bauer freelanced for NAM.

the-three-hikers

Three Americans, journalist Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal and Sarah Shourd, have been detained in Iran since July 31, 2009 for entering the Islamic Republic from Iraq at a remote mountain border without visas. Now, Iran’s Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki has announced that they will be tried in Iranian courts. It is likely they will be charged with espionage.

The three Americans appear to have strayed innocently into Iranian territory, but they have provided an unusually strong opportunity for the Iranian government to continue to engage the United States in tit-for-tat attacks.

Superficially, the detention and eventual trial of these three individuals resembles the earlier detention of a number of Iranian Americans traveling in Iran, the most recent being journalist Roxana Saberi, who was released last summer after having been charged with espionage. Iranian-American academic Kian Tajbakhsh remains in custody facing a 12-year jail sentence after his espionage conviction.

The case against Bauer and his friends provides many political advantages to the Iranian government.

First, there can be no question that people who stray over international borders without proper documentation are subject to scrutiny and legal action. Here, the Iranians have an open and shut justification for holding the three hikers, and can claim indisputable high legal ground for their actions.

Second, Iran wants to make the point that foreign spies are operating in its sovereign territory. The United States has admitted to maintaining operatives in Iran, as has Israel. Israel has even bragged about assassinating an Iranian nuclear scientist. Thus, although the three Americans are probably not spies, they serve as reminders to the Iranian public and to the international community of the real spies that Iranian authorities have not caught.

Third, Iran has reportedly linked the American detainees to 11 Iranians that have been held by U.S. federal officials, as reported by Laura Rozen in the blog, Politico . These individuals are charged with violating export laws — essentially by supplying arms and military equipment to Iran. They were arrested in several European countries, and have been held incognito and incommunicado for more than a year in some cases. The Iranians certainly hope to see movement on releasing these detainees.

Iran also charges the United States with engineering the disappearance of nuclear researcher Shahram Amiri during his pilgrimage to Mecca last spring.

Finally, the Iranian government is desperate for a distraction from the unprecedented opposition disturbances in protest of the June 12 presidential elections. December 18 marks the beginning of the month of Muharram, when Shi’a Muslims commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammad (s), murdered in 680 C.E. There will be street processions, religious demonstrations and ritual mourning for 10 days. This is the perfect smokescreen for anti-government demonstrations.

To add to the government consternation, sections of the regular Iranian military have threatened to emerge from their barracks to protect “the people” from the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and Basij units that have been attacking the anti-government opposition. A big show trial against “foreign spies” will reinforce the Iranian government claims to its own citizenry that all the troubles in the Islamic Republic today are being fomented by foreign agents.

It is clear that both the United States and Iran have a lot of human traffic to account for on each others’ soil. The real impediment to sorting out these matters is that the United States and Iran still have no comprehensive way to talk to each other. Moreover, there is too much to be gained in both nations by mutual demonization to move forward toward rational discussion. Iran’s non-existent nuclear weapons program remains a red herring, preventing any real progress in reaching an accord between the two nations.

For the hapless hikers, the worst-case scenario is one where they get caught up in the maelstrom of events that have nothing to do with their meager crime, and end up as object lessons in the mutual hostilities between Iran and the West.

William O. Beeman is Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, and is past president of the Middle East Section of the American Anthropological Association. He has lived and worked in the Middle East for more than 30 years. His most recent book is “’The Great Satan’ vs. the ‘Mad Mullahs’: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other.” (Chicago, 2008).

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US Sends Gitmo Detainee Home to Kuwait

December 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

WASHINGTON — U.S. officials say a Kuwaiti citizen held at Guantanamo Bay has been brought back to his home country.

Justice Department officials say Fouad Mahmoud al-Rabiah was handed over to Kuwaiti authorities.

A federal judge had ruled in September that al-Rabiah must be released. His departure leaves 210 detainees at the Guantanamo naval base in Cuba. President Barack Obama has pledged to close the detention center, but the administration is expected to miss a deadline next month to complete the task.

Separately, Attorney General Eric Holder visited the New York federal courthouse, where he plans to put five accused plotters in the Sept. 11 attacks on trial. All five are currently held at Guantanamo.

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Eboo Patel Earns Award

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

eboo patel Eboo Patel, the Chicago based founder and executive director of Interfaith Youth Core, has won the 2010 Louisville Grawemeyer award in religion for his autobiography. He was selected from among 67 nominations worldwide.

Patel’s encourages young people of different religions to perform community service, explore common values and build bridges among diverse faiths. The organization is now active on about 75 college campuses.

“Religious extremists all over the world are harnessing adolescent angst for their own ends,” said Susan Garrett, a religion professor who directs the award. “Patel urges us to take advantage of the short window of time in a young person’s life to teach the universal values of cooperation, compassion and mercy.”

The Indian born Patel immigrated to Chicago as a child. As a teenager, he struggled with what he saw as a lack of religious pluralism in America. His experiences prompted him to launch a movement to build interfaith cooperation by inspiring college students to champion the cause.

He formed Interfaith Youth Core in 1998.

A Rhodes Scholar, he is now a member of President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the Religious Advisory Committee of the Council on Foreign Relations. In October, U.S. News & World Report named him one of America’s Best Leaders in 2009.

The Grawemeyer Awards are five annual $200,000 prizes given in the fields of music, political science, psychology, education, and religion. They were founded by H. Charles Grawemeyer to help make the world a better place. The University of Louisville and Louisville Presbyterian Seminary jointly award the religion prize.

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