Cops or soldiers?

FROM the way police entered the house—helmeted and masked, guns drawn and shields in front, knocking down the door with a battering ram and rushing inside—you might think they were raiding a den of armed criminals. In fact they were looking for $1,000-worth of clothes and electronics allegedly bought with a stolen credit card. They found none of these things, but arrested two people in the house on unrelated charges.

They narrowly avoided tragedy. On hearing intruders break in, the homeowner’s son, a disabled ex-serviceman, reached for his (legal) gun. Luckily, he heard the police announce themselves and holstered it; otherwise, “they probably would have shot me,” he says. His mother, Sally Prince, says she is now traumatised.

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Russia Blocks Access to Major Independent News Sites

Russia’s government has escalated its use of its Internet censorship law to target news sites, bloggers, and politicians under the slimmest excuse of preventing unauthorized protests and enforcing house arrest regulations. Today, the country’s ISPs have received orders to block a list of major news sites and system administrators have been instructed to take the servers providing the content offline.

The banned sites include the online newspaper Grani, Garry Kasparov’s opposition information site kasparov.ru, the livejournal of popular anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny, and even the web pages of Ekho Moskvy, a radio station which is majority owned by the state-run Gazprom, and whose independent editor was ousted last month and replaced with a more government-friendly director.

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Egypt tightens grip on mosques to curb Islamist dissent

Cairo: Egypt’s military-installed authorities are tightening their grip on mosques by laying down the theme for the weekly Friday sermons, in the latest move to curb Islamist dissent.  The controversial measure comes as Egypt remains deeply polarised after a government crackdown on supporters of Islamist president Mohammad Mursi, who was deposed by the army last July.  Mursi’s supporters have since capitalised on the weekly prayers to garner backing for their protests calling for his reinstatement.

The authorities accuse Islamist groups, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood to which Mursi belongs, of using mosques to spread their ideology and enrol new recruits across Egypt.  The religious endowments (Waqf) ministry in late 2013 dismissed 55,000 imams (prayer leaders) who did not hail from the state-controlled Al Azhar university, the most prestigious institution in Sunni Islam.

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The first congressman to battle the NSA is dead. No-one noticed, no-one cares

Last month, former Congressman Otis Pike died, and no one seemed to notice or care. That’s scary, because Pike led the House’s most intensive and threatening hearings into US intelligence community abuses, far more radical and revealing than the better-known Church Committee’s Senate hearings that took place at the same time. That Pike could die today in total obscurity, during the peak of the Snowden NSA scandal, is, as they say, a “teachable moment” —one probably not lost on today’s already spineless political class.

In mid-1975, Rep. Pike was picked to take over the House select committee investigating the US intelligence community after the first committee chairman, a Michigan Democrat named Nedzi, was overthrown by more radical liberal Democrats fired up by Watergate after they learned that Nedzi had suppressed information about the CIA’s illegal domestic spying program, MH-CHAOS, exposed by Seymour Hersh in late 1974. It was Hersh’s exposés on the CIA domestic spying program targeting American dissidents and antiwar activists that led to the creation of the Church Committee and what became known as the Pike Committee, after Nedzi was tossed overboard.

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China to Foreign Media: Get in Line or Get Out

It’s no secret that China bans foreign news portals that offend its oh-so delicate sensibilities, swiftly and without mercy or explanation. This week has seen The Wall Street Journal and Reuters‘ Chinese websites blocked. There is, so far, no explanation for China’s blocking of these sites — could be anything from the Tiananmen attack reporting to Paul Mooney’s rejected visa — but signs point to a bleak future for foreign media in the Middle Kingdom.  This news comes as Bloomberg is under scrutiny for allegedly censoring sensitive stories to be able to report in China; their site has been blocked since July 2012 for running a story on Xi Jinping’s family wealth. This is not totally dissimilar to the censor’s axe that is still chopping on The New York Times‘ neck (Chinese and English language websites) for a story about Wen Jiabao’s family wealth. The message from China’s censorship czars is clear: get in line, or get out.

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Public Mass Executions Carried Out in Seven North Korean Cities

PYONGYANG, North Korea, Nov. 12 (UPI) — Dozens of people were executed recently in seven North Korean cities in the first known mass executions in the Kim Jong Un regime, South Korean media reported.  The executions of about 80 people occurred Nov. 3 for relatively minor infractions, such as watching South Korean movies or distributing pornographic material, Korea Joongang Daily reported Monday.  People were executed in cities such as Wonsan, Chongjin, Sariwon and Pyongsong. No one was executed in Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital.  In Wonsan, eight people tied to stakes at a local stadium with their heads covered were shot with a machine gun, a source told Korea Joongang Daily. Witnesses said Wonsan authorities brought about 10,000 people, including children, to the stadium and forced them to watch.

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The Limits of China’s Surveillance State

Violence in Xinjiang appears to be worsening significantly, despite Beijing’s large commitment of money and manpower to build a comprehensive surveillance apparatus intended to preempt social disorder. China now spends at least $111 billion per year nationwide on internal security – nearly as much as its reported 2013 military budget of approximately $114 billion.  Yet 2013 has been among the most violent years in the past decade in Xinjiang, with some data showing that at least 189 people – mostly Uyghurs – have been killed in violent confrontations with government forces since March, with many others left injured. More disturbingly, Xinjiang’s troubles seem to be metastasizing into other parts of China, a dynamic the authorities have worked hard to prevent.

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FSB: Vladimir Putin’s immensely powerful modern-day KGB

The FSB is much more than just an ordinary security service. Combining the functions of an elite police force with those of a spy agency, and wielding immense power, it has come a long way since the early 1990s, when it was on the brink of imploding.  Today’s agency draws a direct line of inheritance from the Cheka, set up by Vladimir Lenin in the months after the Bolshevik revolution, to the NKVD, notorious for the purges of the 1930s in which hundreds of thousands were executed, and then the KGB. As the Soviet Union disbanded, the KGB was dismembered into separate agencies, and humiliated. The security services were forced into a new era of openness and researchers were allowed into the archives for the first time to investigate the crimes of the Stalin period.

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China employs two million microblog monitors state media say

The Beijing News says the monitors, described as internet opinion analysts, are on state and commercial payrolls.  China’s hundreds of millions of web users increasingly use microblogs to criticise the state or vent anger.  Recent research suggested Chinese censors actively target social media.  The report by the Beijing News said that these monitors were not required to delete postings.  They are “strictly to gather and analyse public opinions on microblog sites and compile reports for decision-makers”, it said. It also added details about how some of these monitors work.

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House Republicans Want To Kill Net Neutrality As Part Of Their Debt Ceiling Bill

Not sure what to make of this episode, but it matters and so here we are: A draft of provisions that Republican leaders in the House are attempting to demand in return for allowing the debt ceiling to be raised includes the elimination of net neutrality.  The language of the legislative outline that the National Review obtained calls for the “blocking” of net neutrality.  Net neutrality, if you didn’t know, is the set of rules forcing ISPs treat traffic on their networks equally, not speeding or slowing any one piece of content more than any other. This matters as many companies that provide Internet access are also part of larger conglomerates that produce media. Those companies have an inherent incentive to speed their content and slow that of their rivals.

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On Constitution Day, California College Student Ordered to Stop Handing out Constitutions

Robert Van Tuinen, a student at Modesto Junior College in California, had a theory. He believed that the policies at his college limiting protests and expression were so restrictive that the college would try to shut him down even if he tried to hand out copies of the United States Constitution on September 17–Constitution Day.  Sadly, he was correct.  You can check out the video for yourself:

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How The NSA Scours 75% Of The Nation’s Internet Traffic

The NSA – which possesses only limited legal authority to spy on U.S. citizens – has, according to the Wall Street Journal, built a surveillance network that covers more Americans’ Internet communications than officials have publicly disclosed, current and former officials say. The system has the capacity to reach roughly 75% of all U.S. Internet traffic. The NSA’s filtering, carried out with telecom companies, is designed to look for communications that either originate or end abroad, or are entirely foreign but happen to be passing through the U.S. But the WSJ reports that officials say the system’s broad reach makes it more likely that purely domestic communications will be incidentally intercepted and collected in the hunt for foreign ones. Details of these surveillance programs were gathered from interviews with current and former intelligence and government officials and people from companies that help build or operate the systems, or provide data. Most have direct knowledge of the work. Here is how the system operates…

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Texas Police Hit Organic Farm With Massive SWAT Raid

A small organic farm in Arlington, Texas, was the target of a massive police action last week that included aerial surveillance, a SWAT raid and a 10-hour search.  Members of the local police raiding party had a search warrant for marijuana plants, which they failed to find at the Garden of Eden farm. But farm owners and residents who live on the property told a Dallas-Ft. Worth NBC station that the real reason for the law enforcement exercise appears to have been code enforcement. The police seized “17 blackberry bushes, 15 okra plants, 14 tomatillo plants … native grasses and sunflowers,” after holding residents inside at gunpoint for at least a half-hour, property owner Shellie Smith said in a statement. The raid lasted about 10 hours, she said.

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Sensors Report Gunfire Directly to Police in 70 U.S. Cities, No 911 Call Needed

As Americans use digital methods for more of their interpersonal communications, law enforcement agencies have seized the opportunity to scoop up more information for cheaper than they could before, hoping to ferret out criminal activity. But violent crime still takes place in the physical world, with fragile human bodies on the line. A growing number of U.S. police departments are using a system of sound-detecting software to locate and respond to gunfire in hopes of catching more shooters and saving more victims.

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NSA vs. Google: Who Gets to Spy on You

Recently, the media spotlight has been on the PRISM furore of spying by government agencies such as the NSA. However in all of the hype surrounding this issue, it is overlooked that the private sector has also been culpable in these kinds of privacy transgressions.  Comprehensive surveillance by the state is a serious matter, yet the colossal network of monitoring undertaken by the private sector in targeted digital advertising is just as potentially dangerous, if not more so, in the event this information is abused. Dozens of companies exist solely to profile users and in turn build digital profiles detailing almost all of an individual’s online activities: websites visited, visit duration, and the location of the website, which theoretically tracks the type of people they are contacting (e.g. an Iranian website).

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Obama promises changes to NSA surveillance program

WASHINGTON — President Obama said Friday he would pursue changes to open the legal proceedings surrounding government-surveillance programs to greater scrutiny, the administration’s most concerted response to a series of disclosures about secret monitoring efforts.  At his first full news conference in more than three months, Obama said he intends to work with Congress on proposals that would add an adversarial voice — such as a lawyer assigned to advocate privacy rights — to the secret proceedings before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approves requests for warrants and other collection efforts.

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TSA expands duties beyond airport security

With little fanfare, the agency best known for airport screenings has vastly expanded its reach to sporting events, music festivals, rodeos, highway weigh stations and train stations.  As hundreds of commuters emerged from Amtrak and commuter trains at Washington, D.C.’s Union Station on a recent morning, an armed squad of men and women dressed in bulletproof vests made their way through the crowds.  The squad was not with the Washington’s police department or Amtrak’s police force, but with one of the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response squads — VIPR teams for short — tasked with performing random security sweeps to prevent terrorist attacks at transportation hubs across the United States.

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NSA Collects ‘Word for Word’ Every Domestic Communication, Says Former Analyst

JUDY WOODRUFF:   And we pick up on the continuing fallout from the revelations of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Last night, we debated the role of the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence court, which approves the government’s requests to gather intelligence information on Americans.  Tonight, we have a conversation with three former NSA officials, a former inspector general and two NSA veterans who blew the whistle on what they say were abuses and mismanagement at the secret government intelligence agency.  William Binney worked at the NSA for over three decades as a mathematician, where he designed systems for collecting and analyzing large amounts of data. He retired in 2001. And Russell Tice had a two-decade career with the NSA where he focused on collection and analysis.

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