|Martin Barillas||April 16th 2013|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
The FBI is looking for information from anybody who may have seen someone carrying a very heavy dark bag shortly before Monday's twin bombings at the Boston Marathon. Investigators have found pieces of black nylon which they say may have come from a backpack at the bomb site.
The FBI says the range of suspects is wide open, but that no one has claimed responsibility. It says authorities will "go to the ends of the Earth" to identify those responsible. Maryland Democrat Dutch Ruppersberger said after a security briefing on April 16 it is not likely that al-Qaida or any foreign government was involved because of the lack of prior intelligence.
Security experts in the UK, however, pointed out that the type of device used was very similar to improvised explosive devices traced to al-Qaida and related terrorist organizations. Investigators now theorize that at least one of the bombs that was detonated at the Boston Marathon finish line was contained in pressure cooking that flung pellets and other metal debris into the blast radius, thus causing deadly injuries. Similar bombs have been used in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere against U.S. and allied military targets. Read more ..
|Martin Barillas||April 15th 2013|
Two explosions rocked the finish line at the iconic Boston Marathon race, leaving an as yet undetermined number of persons injured. At least one police officer was injured, while one bystander said that injuries were severe. There are reports that there are now at least three fatalities and dozens of injuries. Dave Weigel, who witnessed the carnage, used social media to describe the scene as the smoke cleared. “I saw people’s legs blown off. Horrific. Two explosions. Runners were coming in and saw unspeakable horror,’ he wrote on Twitter. Some reports suggest that at least three persons have died as a result of the two blasts. The blasts took place approximately three hours after the marathon’s winners crossed the line.
Video and photographs from the scene showed emergency personnel going to aid the injured. The sidewalks near the finish line and the north side of Boylston Street were strewn with blood. Bloodied spectators were taken to a medical tent. “There are a lot of people down,” said one witness, according to AP news. His bib No. 17528 identified him as Frank Deruyter of North Carolina. Read more ..
Operation Pillars of Defense
In early February 2013 the IDF deployed the Iron Dome anti-rocket system in northern Israel, to fend off potential threats in the area. This system is truly an impressive technological achievement. It was evaluated as an asset, thanks to the system’s ability not only to save lives but to also afford greater freedom of choice for the political and military echelons regarding when and how to respond to attacks on the home front.
Praise for Iron Dome
Even initial critics have admitted that the system’s ability to intercept some 90 percent of the missiles fired at Israel during Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza in November 2012 – which would have otherwise hit populated areas – is beyond the developers’ expectations and a significant contribution to Israeli defensive capabilities. The system saved lives of civilians and troops, which makes it attractive to Israel’s casualty-averse society, particularly in conflicts that do not endanger Israel’s most vital security interests, let alone its survival. Read more ..
The Race for Natural Gas
|David Wurmser||April 13th 2013|
On January 17, 2009, Israel’s economy and even its strategic stature changed. A team led by the Texan firm Noble Energy Inc., drilled under 5,600 feet (1,700 meters) of water and 16,000 feet (5,600 meters) of rock and salt off Israel’s shores in the Matan license to explore a prospect called Tamar. On that day, they struck and flared methane, discovering a field which now is estimated to contain a probable 275 billion cubic meters (9.7 trillion cubic feet, or TCF) of natural gas. To compare the size of the field to consumption measures, the field represents over half of what the European Union’s 27 (EU-27) nations consume annually, which in 2010 peaked at about 522 BCM before declining in 2011 and 2012, of which now about 463 BCM is imported per annum). Moreover, the Tamar well-heads which contain methane gas are rated at a high level of purity, with an energy value of production per well-head over four-fold higher than Saudi oil well-heads. Read more ..
|Joop Bouma and Martijn Roessingh||April 11th 2013|
The Dutch banks ING and ABN Amro registered dozens of companies for their clients in offshore refuges with lovely beaches and low tax rates such as the British Virgin Islands, the Cook Islands and the Malaysian island of Labuan, an investigation by Dutch newspaper Trouw and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has found.
Trouw found the information in leaked documents and emails from two companies — Singapore-based Portcullis TrustNet and British Virgin Islands-based Commonwealth Trust Limited — that specialize in helping customers set up and manage companies in offshore centers known as havens for individuals who want to reduce their taxes. ING and ABN Amro said they have never been party to tax evasion. “The companies were set up for international clients and always in compliance with local and international laws,” ABN Amro said in a statement. Read more ..
Foreign nationals seeking to enter the United States illegally have been known to avoid Border Patrol screening procedures by surreptitiously crossing into areas between these ports of entry, including Indian reservations, many of which have been vulnerable to illicit cross-border threat activity, such as drug smuggling, according to the Department of Homeland Security officials in a report released on Friday. The Government Accountability Office was requested by U.S. lawmakers to investigate DHS's efforts to coordinate border security activities on Indian reservations. In complying with Congress' request, GAO researchers examined DHS's efforts to coordinate with tribal governments to address border security threats and vulnerabilities on Indian reservations. GAO investigators reported that they interviewed DHS officials at headquarters and conducted interviews with eight tribes, selected based on factors such as proximity to the border, and the corresponding DHS field offices that have a role in border security for these Indian reservations. While GAO cannot generalize its results from these interviews to all Indian reservations and field offices along the border, they provide examples of border security coordination issues. Read more ..
The North Korean Threat
|Steve Herman||April 10th 2013|
There is growing concern in Northeast Asia that North Korea is about to conduct another provocative missile launch, possibly firing a number of rockets simultaneously. South Korean and U.S. forces in the country have gone to a higher reconnaissance posture, just one notch below that of wartime.
The status change from Watch Condition (Watchcon) 3 to 2 comes amid indications of the presence of missiles on mobile launchers in North Korea. Watchcon 2 denotes indications of a "vital threat." Domestic South Korean media say the change went into effect Wednesday.
Yun says intelligence obtained by South Korea and the United States has ascertained that “the possibility of a missile launch by North Korea is very high” and could occur “at any time from now.” Yun describes the Musudan, which Pyongyang has never tested, as having a range of about 3,500 kilometers and “it is up to North Korea how far it would fly.” Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Aaron Y. Zelin||April 9th 2013|
The Washington Institute
Early Tuesday morning, Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Husseini al-Qurashi al-Baghdadi -- the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, an al-Qaeda branch -- released an audio message announcing the extension of its "Islamic State" into al-Sham (the Levant), effectively bringing Syrian jihadist rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) into the fold. This comes on the heels of "al-Qaeda Central" leader Ayman al-Zawahiri releasing a video message two days ago calling for unification of the jihad in Syria. This is no coincidence -- rather, it highlights the continued relevance of al-Qaeda's central command. Although Baghdadi's announcement confirms what many already surmised and what the United States noted in its December designation of JN as a terrorist group, his words offer several important takeaways. Read more ..
|Martin Barillas||April 8th 2013|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
Former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has died "peacefully" at the age of 87 after suffering a stroke, according to her family. Current Prime Minister David Cameron called her a "great Briton," while Queen Elizabeth conveyed her sadness at the death of the former leader. Foreign Minister William Hague spoke of Thatcher as a “remarkable” leader who “saved” the United Kingdom and gave hope to the peoples behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War.
Thatcher was born in 1925 in Grantham, Lincolnshire, that daughter of a grocer and local alderman. She was married to businessman Dennis Thatcher with whom she had two children. Read more ..
North Korea's Nukes
|Steve Herman||April 8th 2013|
Pyongyang is to pull out all of its 53,000 workers from the only joint complex operated by the two Koreas.
North Korean state media quote the secretary of the Workers Party central committee, Kim Yang Gon, saying all the country's employees in the Kaesong industrial zone will withdraw.
An announcer on Pyongyang radio quotes Kim, who visited Kaesong on Monday, as saying operations there will be temporarily suspended and the fate of the complex will be examined. This depends, Kim is quoted as saying, on the attitude of the South Korean authorities in the coming days whom he characterizes as "military warmongers" seeking to make the joint industrial zone a point of confrontation.
North Korea last week had stopped issuing the daily permits for South Korean managers and cargo to enter the complex, which is just north of the border. Read more ..
Iraq on Edge
|Ron Synovitz||April 7th 2013|
Violence is rising again in parts of Iraq that are dominated by the country's Sunni minority. But whereas disputes between Sunnis and Iraq's Shi'a majority were the underlying cause in years past, experts are attributing the latest violence to a power struggle within the Sunni community.
And this time, the violence includes a wave of political assassinations that are disrupting upcoming local elections and threatens to destabilize the entire country.
So far, 11 candidates -- all of them Sunni Muslims -- have been assassinated in the run-up to the April 20 vote. Six slain candidates were members of Al-Iraqiyah -- the secular, mostly Sunni-backed political bloc within Shi'a Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's governing coalition.
Yahya al-Qubaisi, a political analyst at the Iraqi Center for Strategic Studies in Amman, sees a link between the violence and the disintegration of Al-Iraqiyah -- which has been plagued by defections since Sunnis launched daily mass demonstrations against Maliki's government in late December. Read more ..
Industry on Edge
|Antoine Blue||April 6th 2013|
It merited just one line in U.S. President Barack Obama's State of the Union address back in February, but it could change the very nature of manufacturing, alter the global trade balance, and potentially spark a new industrial revolution. It -- as Obama noted -- is something known as 3D printing, which the president claimed "has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything."
So what exactly is 3D printing? The term is actually a colloquial phrase for something called "additive manufacturing" -- a process of assembling products by sending a digital file to a machine that stacks layers of plastic, resins, ceramics, metal, or other materials on top of each other.
Engineers and designers in the automotive and aerospace sectors have been using the process for decades to build prototypes. Many complex parts manufactured by 3D printing are now present on aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, and satellites. And in the medical industry, three-dimensional printing has also been used to make hip implants out of titanium and dental prosthetics out of ceramic material. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Justine Sink||April 5th 2013|
White House press secretary Jay Carney urged North Korea's leadership to "choose the path of peace" Thursday after reports Pyongyang had ordered missiles to its east coast.
"We continue to closely monitor the situation on the peninsula," Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One. "Threats and provocative actions will not bring the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] the security, international respect and economic development that it seeks. We continue to urge the North Korean leadership to heed President Obama's call to choose the path of peace and come into compliance with its international obligations."
Carney would not confirm the missile movements or say that the reports suggested North Korea was more likely to undertake military action. "I would simply say that we're monitoring both the actions taken by and the statements made by the North Korean leadership," Carney said. "And we're also taking prudent measures to respond to that activity and to those statements." Read more ..
North Korea's Nukes
|Martin Barillas||April 4th 2013|
Cutting Edge Senior Contributor
The United States expects North Korea will launch one of its missiles in the coming days. Defense Department officials told the Voice of America that intelligence gathered over the past few weeks suggests Pyongyang is serious about making good on some of its threats against Seoul and Washington.
North Korea said on April 4 that its military has been given final approval for a nuclear attack against the United States - a threat that most anlysts think Pyongyang would be unable to carry out.
South Korea said it has confirmed the North has moved one of its missiles to the country's east coast, and Defense Minister Kim Kwan-Jin said while the missile appears to have "considerable range," it is unlikely it could reach the U.S. mainland. "Looking at the missile's range, it doesn't look like it will be able to reach the American continent," said Kim. Read more ..
North Korea's Nukes
|Susan St. Claire||April 3rd 2013|
The North Korean army has warned Washington that its military has been cleared to wage an attack using "smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear" weapons. "The moment of explosion is approaching fast," the military said, warning that war could break out "today or tomorrow". The statement, carried by the Korean Central News Agency early on Thursday, said troops had been authorised to counter US aggression with "powerful practical military counteractions".
The warning came after the Pentagon said it would deploy a missile defence system to the US Pacific territory of Guam to strengthen the region's protections against a possible attack. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel on Wednesday labelled North Korea's recent rhetoric as a threat to the US and its Asia-Pacific allies. "Some of the actions they've taken over the last few weeks present a real and clear danger," Hagel told an audience at the National Defence University in Washington. Read more ..
Israel on Edge
Israel’s navy is scrambling to assemble a force of new warships worth $760 million to protect the country’s natural gas fields in the Mediterranean as the production from the first field discovered in 2009 went onstream this past weekend, reports UPI. The navy wants 2-4 patrol-class vessels as well as unmanned aerial vehicles to detect threats such a suicide frogmen and anti-ship missiles.
Due to defense budget cuts Israel is hoping that the U.S. will foot some of the bill, a plausible expectation considering that an American company–Houston’s Noble Energy — is operating the gas fields. According to UPI, the navy wants four 1,200-ton, long-endurance warships equipped with defensive missile systems to intercept anti-ship missiles, possessed by Syria and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah, aimed at production platforms. Naval officials say the Defense Ministry has been in touch with several foreign shipbuilders, but no decision has been made on contracts. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Julian Pecquet||April 2nd 2013|
The United Nations' overwhelming approval Tuesday of an arms trade treaty opposed by the National Rifle Association sets up a showdown between President Obama and the powerful gun lobby's friends on Capitol Hill. President Obama is expected to sign the treaty within the next few months after the United States joined 153 other countries in supporting the treaty.
The Senate, however, has vowed to block ratification, which requires a two-thirds majority and is needed for the treaty to be legally binding on the United States.
“The United States is pleased that the United Nations General Assembly has approved a strong, effective and implementable Arms Trade Treaty that can strengthen global security while protecting the sovereign right of states to conduct legitimate arms trade,” Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday. White House spokesman Jay Carney said the administration was “pleased” that “the text achieves the objectives that we set out for this negotiation.” Read more ..
The North Korean Threat
|Douglas Birch||April 1st 2013|
The Center for Public Integrity
The U.S. delivered a very expensive message this week in dispatching a couple of its $3 billion, B-2 stealth bombers from Missouri to drop dummy bombs during training exercises in South Korea.
By some estimates the planes cost $135,000 per hour to fly — nearly double that of any other military aircraft. And their hefty price tag in today’s dollars makes them too expensive to put at serious risk in all but the direst circumstances. So how much did it cost to drive home the Obama administration’s not-so-subtle point at a time when Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel says the Pentagon faces a $41 billion shortfall because of the sequester? Read more ..
Saudi Arabia on Edge
|Simon Henderson||April 1st 2013|
The Washington Institute
On March 25, Saudi newspapers reported that encrypted social media messaging services such as Skype, Viber, and WhatsApp will be blocked in the kingdom unless the government is permitted to monitor them. The details of Riyadh's demand are unclear, but the companies involved were apparently given a week to respond.
The move suggests that Saudi authorities are increasingly concerned about the population's use of the internet to circumvent the lack of political freedoms and undermine traditional societal reticence against questioning the kingdom's hierarchical structure. Stories criticizing the government -- which not so long ago would have circulated by word of mouth, if at all -- are now passed on almost instantly to a huge and seemingly avid domestic readership. These and other tensions at home and abroad could pose major problems for the kingdom's aging leaders if left unchecked. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Rachel Ehrenfeld||March 31st 2013|
"Terrorists use drug profits to fund their cells to commit acts of murder,” said President George W. Bush, on December 14, 2001. “It’s so important for Americans to know that the traffic in drugs finances the work of terror, sustaining terrorists.”
On March 19, 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft went on to say: “Terrorism and drugs go together like rats and the bubonic plague…. They thrive in the same conditions, support each other, and feed off each other.” Alas, the water flowing through the Potomac seems to have swept this acknowledgement down to Chesapeake Bay, off to the Atlantic Ocean. Incredibly, twenty-one years later, on March 20, 2013, Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command, gave a press conference at the Pentagon to voice his concern about "A potential connection between crime syndicates and terrorists in Latin America.” Read more ..
The North Korean Threat
Bellicose North Korea has found a way to wratchet up its bellicosity by threatening to close a factory jointly operated with South Korea. The New Yorek Times reports: "The industrial park, the eight-year-old Kaesong complex in the North Korean border town of the same name, is a crucial source of badly needed cash for the heavily sanctioned North. It funnels more than $92 million a year in wages for 53,400 North Koreans employed there, and its operation has survived despite years of military tensions. The latest threat to close down Kaesong came amid a torrent of bellicose statements by the North in recent days, widely seen as a strategy to increase pressure on South Korea and the United States to soften their policies on the North. Although South Korean officials reasserted that they were ready to retaliate if the North committed any military provocations, they said they saw no imminent sign of any such attacks. On Saturday, cross-border traffic operated as normal, allowing hundreds of South Koreans to travel to and from Kaesong.
"Over 300 South Koreans remained in the complex, where 123 South Korean textile and other labor-intensive factories employ the North Korean workers, at an average monthly wage of $144. The fate of Kaesong is seen as a crucial test of how far North Korea is willing to take its recent threats against the South. Its continued operation was often seen as a sign that Pyongyang’s verbal militancy was not necessarily matched by its actions.“The South Korean puppet forces are left with no face to make complaint even though we ban the South side’s personnel’s entry into the zone and close it,” North Korea said Saturday in a statement carried by its official Korean Central News Agency. It said its dignity was insulted by South Korean news media reports that suggested the North kept the complex open to obtain hard currency." Read more ..
The North Korean Threat
|Susan St. Claire||March 29th 2013|
North Korea's leader has responded to America's use of nuclear-capable B-2 bombers in joint South Korean military drills with more angry rhetoric, saying his rocket forces are ready to attack US positions.
The North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) news agency said on Friday that Kim signed off on the orders at a midnight meeting of top generals and "judged the time has come to settle accounts with the US imperialists in view of the prevailing situation". In the event of any "reckless" US provocation, North Korean forces should "mercilessly strike the US mainland ... military bases in the Pacific, including Hawaii and Guam, and those in South Korea", he was quoted as saying. Yonhap news agency said on Friday that increased activities involving vehicles and troops at North Korea's mid- and long-range missile units were detected by South Korea's military. Kim said "the time has come to settle accounts with the US imperialists in view of the prevailing situation", according to KCNA. Read more ..
The Cyber Edge
|Rachel Ehrenfeld||March 28th 2013|
Two major recent attacks on the Internet give us just a hint of what to expect if/when our economic and financial infrastructures are hit by different attacks at once.
Cyberbunker – not a Chinese – but a Dutch webhosting company, generated the largest global distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack on the spam filtering company, Spamhouse.
What is said to be a dispute between Cyberbunker and Spamhouse caused the global disruption of Internet services, which according to the Moscow based Kaspersky Lab, is going to get worse. “Such DDoS attacks may affect regular users as well, with network slowdown or total unavailability of certain Web resources…There may be further disruptions on a larger scale as the attack escalates.” Read more ..
The Edge of the Universe
|Kane Farabaugh||March 27th 2013|
Scientists in Switzerland announced earlier this month that they are confident their experiments with the world's most powerful atom smasher have finally turned up the long-sought Higgs boson, also known as the “God Particle.” Discovery of the elusive sub-atomic particle, which scientists believe imparts mass to all matter, also provides tantalizing clues to some of the most profound mysteries of the universe.
The search for Higgs began decades ago at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. Scientists there are developing new technologies to delve even deeper into the mysteries of particle physics. At the Grid Computing Center at Fermilab - half a world away from the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland - the key to understanding how the Higgs boson works and what it means for the universe, could be on one of these digital storage devices.
“The data has much more information in it than just information about the Higgs boson,” said scientist Robert Roser, who is overseeing the effort at Fermilab to sift through the computer data generated when atoms are smashed together by the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC. Read more ..
The Water's Edge
|Terry Collins||March 25th 2013|
Amid changing weather and water patterns worldwide and forecasts of more severe transformations to come, calls have been growing for the UN Security Council to include water issues on its agenda.
And there's rising international support for adopting "universal water security" as one of the Sustainable Development Goals -- a set of mid-term global objectives being formulated to succeed the UN's Millennium Development Goals, agreed by world leaders in 2000 for achievement by 2015.
But what does "water security" mean? The absence of a definition undermines progress in international forums. Marking World Water Day today at UN Headquarters in New York, a common working definition was published, forged by UN and international experts from around the world.
UN-Water, the United Nations' inter-agency coordination mechanism for all water-related issues, says water security should be defined as: "The capacity of a population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate quantities of and acceptable quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human well-being, and socio-economic development, for ensuring protection against water-borne pollution and water-related disasters, and for preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace and political stability." Read more ..
Israel's Next Northern War
|Zach Pontz||March 25th 2013|
Israel destroyed a small Syrian army post near the Golan Heights border on Sunday after Syrian gunmen fired on Israeli military patrols twice within 24 hours. On Saturday night, Syrian gunmen fired on an Israeli jeep patrolling the Golan Heights border were fired upon. Later that night, another Israeli jeep was fired upon again, prompting an Israel response the next day. The Israeli military fired a Spike NLOS guided missile at the Syrian post, destroying it and leaving two Syrians wounded, Israel Hayom reported.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit confirmed that, “the military returned fire at a Syrian post after an IDF patrol came under machine-gun fire. The target was destroyed using precision fire,” the IDF said.
“Following the attack, the IDF returned fire, in accordance with government policy: Israel will respond immediately to any violation of Israeli sovereignty or fire from the Syrian side, identifying the source of the fire and neutralizing it. We will not allow the Syrian army, or any other element, to violate Israeli sovereignty by firing on our territory,” Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said. Read more ..
The Edge of the Universe
|Terrence Sterling||March 24th 2013|
The Planck space mission has released the most accurate and detailed map ever made of the oldest light in the universe. The universe according to Planck is expanding a bit more slowly than thought, and at 13.8 billion is 100 million years older than previously estimated. There is a bit less dark energy and a bit more of both normal and dark matter in the universe — although the nature of dark energy and dark matter remain mysterious.
“Planck’s high-precision map of the oldest light in our universe allows us to extract the most refined values yet of the universe’s ingredients,” said Lloyd Knox, a physics professor at UC Davis and the leader of the U.S. team determining these ingredients from the Planck data. UC Davis graduate student Marius Millea and postdoctoral scholar Zhen Hou also worked with Knox on the analysis. Read more ..
|Pat Madgal||March 23rd 2013|
Barnes and Noble, increasingly being viewed as a bully in bookselling, has made headlines again--this time, for coercive tactics in exacting extras fees from publishers. The victim this time is famed publisher Simon and Shuster. The New York Times reports: "A standoff over financial terms has prompted the bookstore chain Barnes & Noble
to cut back substantially on the number of titles it orders from the publishing house Simon & Schuster, raising fears among other publishers, agents and authors that the conflict may harm the publishing industry as a whole.
Industry executives, as well as authors of recently published Simon & Schuster books and their agents, say that Barnes & Noble has reduced book orders greatly, to almost nothing in the case of some lesser-known writers. They contend that the move is damaging their sales. Authors say the retail chain has taken other steps, like not giving them display space or allowing book tour appearances in its stores. Simon Lipskar, the president of Writers House, a literary agency in New York, said, “Without pointing fingers, authors are being hurt by this, and I think it is despicable.” Read more ..
Israel and Turkey
|Zach Pontz||March 22nd 2013|
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by phone with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan Friday. Initial reports are that during the course of the conversation Netanyahu apologized for the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident that left several Turkish nationals dead. Erdogan reportedly accepted the apology and agreed there was a need for the two countries to normalize relations.
The conversation was precipitated by U.S. president Barack Obama. In a statement released by the White House only minutes after Obama departed Israel for Jordan the president relayed his hope that the conversation would prove fruitful: “The United States deeply values our close partnerships with both Turkey and Israel, and we attach great importance to the restoration of positive relations between them in order to advance regional peace and security. Read more ..
The Battle forSyria
|Margaret Besheer||March 21st 2013|
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon announced Thursday he will send a mission to Syria to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use. At a hastily-called news conference, Ban said that if chemical weapons have been used, it would constitute an “outrageous crime.” He said he plans to dispatch investigators as soon as possible.
The Syrian government on Wednesday asked Ban to establish an independent inquiry into government claims that rebels conducted a chemical weapons' attack in the province of Aleppo on Tuesday.
“The investigation mission is to look into the specific incident brought to my attention by the Syrian government," said Ban. "I am of course aware that there are other allegations of similar cases involving the reported use of chemical weapons.” The other cases he refers to would include opposition claims that Syrian government forces carried out chemical weapons' attacks both in the Aleppo area and in Damascus. Read more ..
|Ronnie Greene||March 19th 2013|
Center for Public Integrity
A Department of Energy loan program, infused with $25 billion to spur a wave of fuel-efficient vehicles, has not closed a loan in two years and is likely to leave two-thirds of the money unspent amid fallout over the Solyndra debacle and other factors.
Those findings, revealed Friday in a U.S. Government Accountability Office report, rekindle questions over how effectively the Energy Department picks winners and losers for its lucrative green energy portfolio.
The audit focuses on DOE loan programs, including one known as ATVM — the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program.
That program was pitched as part of a broader government campaign to spur innovative, clean technologies that would both rev up the economy and clean the environment. Under ATVM, the government would help bankroll electric cars and other fuel-saving initiatives; this seed money would, in turn, trigger a domino effect for industry and consumers.
Yet the last loan closed in March 2011, and just $8.4 billion has been spent so far in five projects. Read more ..
The Toxic Edge
|David Heath||March 19th 2013|
Center for Public Integrity
Ten days before Christmas 1965, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. station chief Richard Jacobs walked a half-block on a dusty road lined with scraggly creosote shrubs to check out a neighbor’s toilet.
Jacobs carried with him a secret, something he referred to as the “chromate problem.”
Starting in 1952, the power company began mixing a toxic form of chromium with water to prevent rust at a new pipeline pumping station in Hinkley, a remote desert community united by a single school and a general store. PG&E dumped the chromium-laced water into a pond.
Lately there had been reports of problems with the neighbors’ wells. PG&E had just drawn greenish water from one well and discovered high levels of chromium. Now, retired farmer John Speth was complaining of greenish deposits in his toilet bowl.
Jacobs took a look in the bowl but assured Speth that PG&E had nothing to do with it. “When I left Mr. Speth,” Jacobs later wrote in longhand, “he was satisfied but still concerned about his water.” Speth died of stomach cancer in 1974.
It wasn’t until Dec. 7, 1987 — 22 years after that visit to Speth’s house — that PG&E finally told the local water board that it had contaminated the underground water. The company claimed it had discovered the problem just one week earlier. Read more ..
|Olli Heinonen and Simon Henderson ||March 18th 2013|
U.S. policy, supported by the international community, is to use diplomatic pressure along with economic and financial sanctions to convince Iran not to build nuclear weapons. The latest iteration of the policy came yesterday with President Obama's interview for Israeli television ahead of his visit next week: "We think it would take over a year or so for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon but obviously we don't want to cut it too close…If we can resolve it diplomatically, that's a more lasting option. But if not, I continue to keep all options on the table."
The logic of the policy was outlined in more detail on March 12, when U.S. director of national intelligence James Clapper told the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that "Iran's nuclear decisionmaking is guided by a cost-benefit approach, which offers the international community opportunities to influence Tehran." Read more ..
Catholic Church on Edge
|Annette Langer||March 17th 2013|
Read more ..
Speechlessness was followed by cheers of joy. With a simple "buonasera," the newly elected Pope Francis greeted the faithful in Rome and cracked a joke about coming from the "ends of the earth." It was a rhetorical slam dunk met with jubilation by the audience. There was a similar celebratory atmosphere in his homeland of Argentina. Though not everyone was cheering.
"I can't believe it. I'm so distressed and full of anger that I don't know what to do," wrote the sister of deceased priest and torture victim Orlando Yorio in an e-mail to the journalist Horacio Berbitsky. "Now he's achieved what he wanted."
"He," for Graciela Yorio, refers to a power-hungry man who betrayed her brother and the Hungarian Jesuit Franz Jalics to Argentina's mililtary dictatorshop. A man who did nothing to stop the two faithful from being locked up in prison for five months and tortured. "He" is Pope Francis, then still known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, provincial of the Argentine Jesuits.
Israel's Next Northern War
|David Schenker||March 15th 2013|
The Washington Institute
For the better part of 40 years, the Syrian border has been the quietest of Israel's frontiers. Notwithstanding Israel's 1973 capture and subsequent annexation of Syrian territory in the Golan and Bashar Assad's ongoing support for terrorist organizations targeting the Jewish state, the border has been tranquil since the signing of the 1974 armistice. Indeed, the boundary with Syria -- a state officially still at war with Israel -- has proven even more secure than Israel's lengthy borders with its nominal peace partners Egypt and Jordan.
But two years into the popular armed revolt against the Assad regime, this de facto peace along the Israeli-Syrian border seems to be in grave danger. Just consider the past few weeks: On March 2, three Syrian mortars landed outside Moshav Ramat Magshimim in the southern Golan Heights. Then on March 6, Syrian rebels kidnapped 21 U.N. peacekeepers patrolling the Golan Heights; they were held for a week prior to their release. On Monday, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Benny Gantz said that "the threat of the situation in Syria spiraling out if control is quite high." He added: "What we have here is a strategic detonator that could blow up at any moment." Read more ..
The Edge of Climate Change
|Garry Galluzzo||March 15th 2013|
University of Iowa
Heavy rains have become more frequent in the upper Midwest over the past 60 years, according to a study from the University of Iowa. The trend appears to hold true even with the current drought plaguing the region, the study's main author says.
The fact that temperatures over the country's midsection are rising, too, may be more than coincidence.The hotter the surface temperature, which has been the trend in the Midwest and the rest of the world, the more water that can be absorbed by the atmosphere. And the more water available for precipitation means a greater chance for heavy rains, explains Gabriele Villarini, assistant professor in engineering at the UI. “We found that there is a tendency toward increasing trends in heavy rainfall in the northern part of the study region, roughly the upper Mississippi River basin,” says Villarini, “We tried to explain these results in light of changes in temperature. We found that the northern part of the study region—including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois—is also the area experiencing large increasing trends in temperature, resulting in an increase in atmospheric water vapor.“ Read more ..
Inside the Catholic Church
|Martin Barillas||March 13th 2013|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
It was a poised Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina who emerged from the second day of voting by the conclave of cardinals as the new successor of St. Peter as Pope of Rome. In a number of firsts, he has taken the name Francis: the name of the beloved patron saint of Italy.
He is the first Pope to take that name, and also first Latin American, and first non-European in more than 1000 years, to occupy the See of St. Peter. He is also the first member of the Jesuit order to become leader of the world's 1 billion Catholics.
Speaking in Italian, the 77-year-old prelate asked the tens of thousands of faithful assembled in St. Peter's Square to not only pray for him but also for his immediate predecessor, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI who remains in retirement at the Castel Gandolfo retreat outside of Rome. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Brian Blum||March 13th 2013|
The participants at the DevCon conference in Tel Aviv didn’t see it coming. They thought they were there to hear a lecture by Yair Amit and Adi Sharabani, co-founders of the Israeli startup Skycure, on the topic of mobile security. The setting was altogether ordinary: conference room, screen, projector, PowerPoint.
And then, one by one, members of the audience discovered that their smartphones and tablets were being hacked in real time – in plain sight. Their screens were suddenly swiping without their control; emails were being written without permission; apps opened and photos changed.
Amit and Sharabani were the benign perpetrators and no data was stolen or deleted. Still, the audience learned an unforgettable lesson about just how vulnerable mobile networks can be.
As horrifying as watching your phone go haywire under some hacker’s control can be, the real danger is what lies beyond: the corporate network. And mobile devices are the ideal gateway in. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
The violence and bloodshed in Syria have surpassed anything seen in the Middle East since the days of Saddam Hussein's Iraq, according to independent investigators in a report released on Monday. There are also reports of sexual violence, including at checkpoints or while being held by intelligence agencies.
The new report, which urges a political solution to what has become an increasingly militarized and sectarian conflict, described the conflict as reaching “new heights of destruction.” The report, released by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry, disturbed members of the United Nations Security Council, according to the commission's chairman, Paulo Pinheiro.
“If the national, regional, and international actors fail to find a solution to the conflict and stop the agony of millions of civilians, the alternative will be the political, economic and social destruction of Syria and its society, with devastating implications for the region and the world,” Mr. Pinheiro warned, speaking on behalf of the four-member commission. Read more ..
The North Korean Threat
|Susan St. Claire||March 12th 2013|
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has threatened to "wipe out" a South Korean island as Pyongyang came under new economic and diplomatic fire from US sanctions and UN charges of gross rights abuses.
On a visit to frontline military units on Monday, Kim briefed officers on their mission "to strike" Baengnyeong and turn the island into a "sea of fire".
"Once an order is issued, you should break the waists of the crazy enemies, totally cut their windpipes and thus clearly show them what a real war is like," Kim was quoted as saying by the Korean Central News Agency. Military tensions between Seoul and Pyongyang have risen to their highest level for years, with the communist state threatening nuclear war in response to UN sanctions imposed after its third atomic test last month. Read more ..
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