Off the Wires

Snowden calls for whistleblower shield after claims by new Pentagon source

May 23rd, 2016  |  Source: The Guardian

Accusations that Pentagon retaliated against a whistleblower undermine argument that there were options for Snowden other than leaking to the media

Edward Snowden has called for a complete overhaul of US whistleblower protections after a new source from deep inside the Pentagon came forward with a startling account of how the system became a “trap” for those seeking to expose wrongdoing.

The account of John Crane, a former senior Pentagon investigator, appears to undermine Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other major establishment figures who argue that there were established routes for Snowden other than leaking to the media.

Crane, a longtime assistant inspector general at the Pentagon, has accused his old office of retaliating against a major surveillance whistleblower, Thomas Drake, in an episode that helps explain Snowden’s 2013 National Security Agency disclosures. Not only did Pentagon officials provide Drake’s name to criminal investigators, Crane told the Guardian, they destroyed documents relevant to his defence.

Snowden, responding to Crane’s revelations, said he had tried to raise his concerns with colleagues, supervisors and lawyers and been told by all of them: “You’re playing with fire.”

Read on here: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/may/22/snowden-whistleblower-protections-john-crane?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+USA+-+morning+briefing+2016&utm_term=173670&subid=11002792&CMP=ema_a-morning-briefing_b-morning-briefing_c-US_d-1


Are they spies or students?

May 20th, 2016  |  Source: Reuters

Leading U.S. universities are pushing back against a proposed State Department rule that would bar foreign students from more research projects and classes involving information seen as vital to national security.

The proposal by the administration of President Barack Obama reflects growing worries in Washington over a rise in intellectual property theft from foreign adversaries such as China.

Research related to defense technology such as munitions, nuclear engineering and satellite technology would be particularly affected by the rule, which is still in the proposal process and has not been widely reported.

Defense contractors such as Northrop Grumman (NOC.N), Boeing (BA.N) and Lockheed Martin (LMT.N) regularly sponsor university research, but did not respond to requests for comment.

The new rule, which largely applies to company-sponsored research, threatens to shrink the pool of research opportunities available for U.S. colleges, which have grown strongly in popularity among high-paying foreign students in recent years.

Some top U.S. schools do not accept any research grants that restrict participation by foreign citizens because it runs counter to their policies of academic freedom and non-discrimination.

In a letter to the State Department, Stanford University said it joined The Association of American Universities (AAU), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Pennsylvania in criticizing the rule, citing "disastrous consequences." The AAU represents 62 leading research institutions, including Harvard, Duke University, and the University of Chicago.

The universities say the rule would tip the balance too far in favor of national security against academic freedom.

"We wouldn't be able to perform the same basic foundational research that we do," said Stanford's director of export compliance Steve Eisner. "Stanford has a policy of conducting research openly regardless of citizenship. We're not going to tell our Chinese students that they can't participate."

No current cases of industrial espionage involve university research, though government officials told Reuters they suspect university faculty are violating loosely defined research rules.

A 2011 FBI report said "foreign adversaries and competitors take advantage" of the openness of information on college campuses and a small percentage of students, researchers and foreign professors are "working at the behest of another government."

There were just under 1 million foreign students at U.S. colleges in the 2014-2015 school year, 31 percent of whom were Chinese, according to the Institute of International Education. That has grown from fewer than 100,000 in the 1960s when the United States began regulating their access to research.

In 2015, the number of intellectual property cases investigated by the FBI rose 53 percent from the previous year.

The FBI says China is the main culprit. It has accused Chinese nationals of attempting to export technology from the United States, including genetically modified corn seed and sensitive military information stored on Boeing computers.

The Department of Justice said in a statement that "we know that some foreign spies and criminals target students and faculty alike to steal valuable technology and intellectual property." It added it was working with universities and laboratories to raise awareness of the threat.

A spokesman for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hong Lei, said the United States should be improving cooperation with China instead of adding restrictions on foreign students.

"China's scientific and technological developments have been achieved through the hard struggle of the Chinese people," Lei said at a ministry briefing on Thursday.

SHRINKING RESEARCH CHOICES The proposed rule comes as universities face shrinking federal funding for research, forcing many to rely more on industry-sponsored projects.

State Department officials told Reuters they are aware of universities' opposition to the rule, but have received no complaints or advice from companies that sponsor university research.

Experts in counterterrorism and counter nuclear proliferation told the State Department tighter restrictions on research access are necessary because universities are "a soft target," said Tony Dearth, director of defense trade controls licensing at the State Department.

In the first case of its kind, University of Tennessee electrical engineering professor John Reese Roth was convicted in 2008 of exporting "defense articles" without a license, and of wire fraud and conspiracy and sentenced to four years.

Roth used foreign students in research on plasma-based flight-control devices for drone aircraft under a U.S. Air Force contract. He let two foreign students illegally gain access to sensitive information and export it to China, said the FBI.

The proposed rule would expand the definition of research classified as "technical" to any project that undergoes a pre-publication review by a private sponsor.

Unlike less-sensitive "fundamental" research, technical research is regulated in a variety of ways including a requirement that foreign students must apply for a license. Students from China, Iran and North Korea are usually denied licenses, said university officials.

The State Department argues that if a company wants to take a second look at research because it may be sensitive to its economic interests, foreign student involvement should be regulated.

Stanford told the State Department in a public letter that the new rule would affect a broad portion of industry-backed research because universities "routinely" allow sponsors to review results for up to 90 days.

Colleges that object to the government's foreign-student restrictions have long avoided technical research and focused solely on projects classed as fundamental. The new rule would force them to either loosen their policies or give up defense-related research.

Schools with fundamental research-only policies are already in the minority. A Reuters survey of the top 35 research universities, ranked by R&D expenditures, found only 11 were still adhering to such a position.

Federal funding for research still dwarfs business funding, but the two are trending in opposite directions.

Over 2011-2014, federal funds for university research fell to $37.9 billion from $40.8 billion, according to the National Science Foundation. Over the same period, industry-sponsored university research grew to $5.9 billion from $4.9 billion.

"As federal funds have become scarcer and the competition has increased, I think we see a lot of universities expanding their partnerships with industry," said Bob Hardy, director of intellectual property management at the Council on Government Relations, an association of research universities.


EgyptAir jet missing after mid-air plunge, Greeks find life vests

May 19th, 2016  |  Source: Reuters

An EgyptAir jet carrying 66 passengers and crew from Paris to Cairo disappeared from radar over the Mediterranean south of Greece on Thursday, with Athens saying the plane swerved in mid-air before plunging from cruising height and vanishing.

Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said it was too early to rule out any explanation, including an attack like the one blamed for bringing down a Russian airliner over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula last year.

The country's aviation minister said a terrorist attack was more likely than a technical failure.

Greece deployed aircraft and a frigate to search for the missing Airbus and officials said they had found pieces of plastic and two lifevests that appeared to have come from an aircraft in the sea 230 miles (370 km) south of Crete.

Egypt said it would lead the investigation and that France would participate. Other countries also offered to help, including Britain and the United States.

In Washington, President Barack Obama received a briefing on the disappearance from his adviser for homeland security and counter-terrorism, the White House said.

Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos said the Airbus had first swerved 90 degrees to the left, then spun through 360 degrees to the right. After plunging from 37,000 feet to 15,000, it vanished from Greek radar screens.

According to Greece's civil aviation chief, calls from Greek air traffic controllers to flight MS804 went unanswered just before it left Greek airspace, and it disappeared from radar screens soon afterwards.

There was no official indication of a possible cause, whether technical failure or sabotage by ultra-hardline Islamists who have targeted airports, airliners and tourist sites in Europe, Egypt, Tunisia and other Middle Eastern countries over the past few years.

The aircraft was carrying 56 passengers - with one child and two infants among them - and 10 crew, EgyptAir said. They included 30 Egyptian and 15 French nationals, along with citizens of 10 other countries.

Asked if he could rule terrorist involvement, Prime Minister Ismail told reporters: "We cannot exclude anything at this time or confirm anything. All the search operations must be concluded so we can know the cause."

French President Francois Hollande also said the cause was unknown. "No hypothesis can be ruled out, nor can any be favoured over another."

With its archaeological sites and Red Sea resorts, Egypt is a traditional destination for Western tourists. But the industry has been badly hit by the downing of a Russian Metrojet flight last October, in which all 224 people on board were killed, as well as by an Islamist insurgency and a string of bomb attacks


U.S. presidential campaigns targeted by hackers: U.S. spy chief's office

May 18th, 2016  |  Source: Reuters

The office of the U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper on Wednesday said U.S. presidential campaigns and related organizations have been targeted by hackers but did not provide details on specific intrusions.

“We’re aware that campaigns and related organizations and individuals are targeted by actors with a variety of motivations— from philosophical differences to espionage - and capabilities— from defacements to intrusions,” Clapper's spokesman Brian Hale said in a statement, deferring to the FBI for details on specific incidents.


Netanyahu questions France’s impartiality in Israeli-Palestinian peace process

May 17th, 2016  |  Source: AFP

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he told the French foreign minister that Paris's support of a UNESCO resolution on Jerusalem cast doubt on the impartiality of a peace initiative it is promoting.

"I told him that the scandalous resolution accepted at UNESCO with France's support, that does not recognise the bond of thousands of years between the Jewish people and the Temple Mount, casts a shadow over the impartiality of the entire forum France is trying to convene," Netanyahu told the weekly cabinet meeting after his talks with Jean-Marc Ayrault.

Netanyahu was referring to a resolution adopted last month by the Paris-based UN cultural body on the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, which made no reference to the fact it is also revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and is the most sacred site in Judaism.

Ayrault's visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah, where he will be meeting Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas later in the day, is in preparation for the May 30 international ministerial meeting to try to revive peace talks that have been frozen since a US-brokered initiative collapsed in April 2014.

Israeli and Palestinian representatives were not invited to the French peace meeting, and on Sunday Netanyahu reiterated his opposition to indirect peace attempts, blaming the Palestinians for refusing direct talks.

"I told him that the only way to advance true peace between us and the Palestinians is through direct talks, without preconditions," he said of his meeting with Ayrault.

"Any other attempt just distances peace and gives Palestinians a means of evading dealing with the root of the conflict, which is not recognising the State of Israel," he said.

"They're simply avoiding negotiating with us," Netanyahu said of the Palestinians.


10,000+ "Ghost workers" purged in Tanzania

May 16th, 2016  |  Source: Yahoo.com/Reuters

(Reuters) - Tanzania has removed more than 10,000 "ghost workers" from its public sector payroll after a nationwide audit found their fraud cost the government over $2 million a month, the prime minister's office has said.

Government officials say the payroll audit is continuing and more non-existent workers are expected to be found.

"We will identify those behind this payroll fraud and take them to court ... the fight against corruption is top priority for the government," Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa was quoted as saying in the statement issued late on Sunday.

Purging the "ghost workers" from government payrolls would save more than 4.5 billion shillings ($2.06 million) a month, the statement said.

Reformist President John Magufuli ordered the national audit in March as part of a wider corruption crackdown.

Businesses have long said corruption and government inefficiency were major obstacles to investing in Tanzania, which ranked 117 out of 168 countries in Transparency International's 2015 index of least corrupt countries. No.1 is deemed the least corrupt.

Elected last October, Magufuli has already dismissed several senior officials, including the head of the government's anti-graft body, the country's top tax chief, a senior rail official and the head of the country's port authority.

Tanzania spends over $260 million per month to pay salaries of its civil servants, but the government believes the public wage bill is bloated by thousands of phantom staff.

The country has over 550,000 civil servants in central and local government authorities.


OPEC signals greater oil glut in 2016 as its output surges

May 13th, 2016  |  Source: Reuters

OPEC said the global oil market is oversupplied and signaled the glut may increase this year, as surging output from its members makes up for losses from other countries whose production has been hit by a price fall.

Supply from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is climbing after sanctions on Iran were lifted and an initiative with Russia and other non-members to tackle a supply glut by freezing output failed last month.

OPEC pumped 32.44 million barrels per day (bpd) in April, the group said in a monthly report citing secondary sources, up 188,000 bpd from March. This is the highest since at least 2008, according to a Reuters review of past OPEC reports.

"Fundamentally, oversupply still persists," OPEC said in the report published on Friday. "Oil output remains high."

A persistent surplus could weigh on prices, which despite a recovery to $47 a barrel from a 12-year low of $27.10 in January, are less than half their level in mid-2014. OPEC's 2014 strategy shift to defend market share against higher-cost rival output helped deepen the decline.

The price drop is hitting non-OPEC supply as companies have delayed or canceled projects around the world. OPEC forecasts supply from outside producers will decline by 740,000 bpd in 2016 led by the United States, little changed from last month.

OPEC cited factors that could lead to a bigger supply drop, such as the impact of wildfires in Canada that have cut production. The evidence of falling non-OPEC supply should lead to a stronger market next year, it said.

"Outside the U.S., there have been consistent signs of declines in non-OPEC production, which should likely flip the global oil market into a net deficit in 2017."

But OPEC supply has been climbing since the 2014 policy shift led by top two producers Saudi Arabia and Iraq. The return in December 2015 of Indonesia as an OPEC member has also increased total output.

So far this year, Iran is driving the growth. Tehran had refused to join the supply freeze initiative and the deal fell apart on April 17 in Doha after Saudi Arabia insisted Iran took part.

OPEC left its forecast that world oil demand will rise by 1.20 million bpd this year unchanged. It sees demand for OPEC crude averaging 31.49 million bpd in 2016, broadly unchanged from last month's forecast.

The report points to a 950,000-bpd surplus on average in 2016 if OPEC keeps pumping at April's rate, up from 790,000 bpd implied in last month's report.


Zimmerman to auction gun used to kill black teenager Martin

May 12th, 2016  |  Source: Reuters

The Florida man who shot and killed black teenager Trayvon Martin in an incident that triggered nationwide civil rights protests will auction the gun he used on Thursday and spend some of the proceeds to challenge gun control policies, the auction website said.

The U.S. Department of Justice recently returned to George Zimmerman the Kel Tec 9mm pistol that he had used to kill the unarmed Martin on Feb. 26, 2012, according to Gunbroker.com, the website where the weapon is being sold.

Zimmerman described the gun as "a piece of American history," according to the site.

The one-day auction is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. EST (1500 GMT) on Thursday, with bidding starting at $5,000.

The Trayvon Martin Foundation "has no comment on the actions of that person that murdered Trayvon," Martin's father, Tracy Martin, said in a statement.

Zimmerman, who was a neighborhood watch volunteer at the time, said the shooting was in self-defense. Martin's family said the teenager was simply passing through the residential area on his way home from a convenience store.

Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in the incident that sparked civil rights rallies and shone a spotlight on Florida's controversial "stand your ground" law.

President Barack Obama said after Zimmerman's acquittal that Martin "could have been me, 35 years ago" and urged Americans to understand the pain African Americans felt over the case.

'SOCIOPATH'

"George Zimmerman" quickly became the top trending term on Twitter in the United States, with many users on the social media site expressing shock and revulsion.

"The only people worse than George Zimmerman are the people who bid on that gun," tweeted the writer, Lyz Lenz.

National Review columnist Charles C. W. Cooke said Zimmerman "may have acted legally, but the man is a sociopath."

On the auction website, Zimmerman said he planned to use part of the proceeds to fight Black Lives Matter, a rights movement that grew out of the incident, as well as to counter "violence against law enforcement officers."

Proceeds would also go toward fighting Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton's "anti-firearm rhetoric," he said.

"I am honored and humbled to announce the sale of an American firearm icon. The firearm for sale is the firearm that was used to defend my life and end the brutal attack from Trayvon Martin," he said on the site.

The number from the Martin case is written on the pistol in silver permanent marker and "many have expressed interest in owning and displaying the firearm," he said in the description.

In a phone interview with a local broadcaster on Wednesday, Zimmerman brushed off those critical of the auction.

"They're not going to be bidding on it, so I couldn't care less about them," he told Orlando TV station WOFL.

Zimmerman, who has had brushes with law enforcement since his acquittal, was the target of an attempted murder by Matthew Apperson in a Florida road dispute in May 2015, according to prosecutors.

He told WOFL that he had received death threats while in hiding after killing Martin, and that he had received more threats to his life since the gun sale was announced.

"What I've decided to do is not cower," he said. "I'm a free American. And I can do what I like with my possessions"


The USDA’s honey bee report is a buzzkill

May 11th, 2016  |  Source: Reuters

The USDA just released a report on the state of America’s honey bees, and the news is not that sweet.

The USDA just released a report on the state of America’s honey bees, and  As this Reuters graphic shows, beekeepers reported a loss of 42.1 percent of their colonies in 2014/2015. Summer losses were 27.4 percent, and for the first time on record exceeded the winter rate, which was 23.1 percent. More than two-thirds of the 6,128 beekeepers surveyed reported winter loss rates above the 18.7 percent rate deemed the tipping point for economic sustainability. 

Bees impact 50-80 percent of the global food supply, so the issue extends beyond healthy sweeteners. A Cornell University study reported that insect pollinators contribute $29 billion to the U.S. farm economy, and the country has an estimated 2.74 million managed bee colonies which pollinate one-third of the country’s fruit and vegetable crops.

Indeed, the situation is serious enough to attract Washington’s attention: A subcommittee of the House Committee on Agriculture convened this week for a public hearing on pollinator health.


China scrambles fighters as U.S. sails warship near Chinese-claimed reef

May 10th, 2016  |  Source: Reuters

China scrambled fighter jets on Tuesday as a U.S. navy ship sailed close to a disputed reef in the South China Sea, a patrol China denounced as an illegal threat to peace which only went to show its defense installations in the area were necessary.

Guided missile destroyer the USS William P. Lawrence traveled within 12 nautical miles of Chinese-occupied Fiery Cross Reef, U.S. Defense Department spokesman, Bill Urban said.

The so-called freedom of navigation operation was undertaken to "challenge excessive maritime claims" by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam which were seeking to restrict navigation rights in the South China Sea, Urban said.

"These excessive maritime claims are inconsistent with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention in that they purport to restrict the navigation rights that the United States and all states are entitled to exercise," Urban said in an emailed statement.

China and the United States have traded accusations of militarizing the South China Sea as China undertakes large-scale land reclamations and construction on disputed features while the United States has increased its patrols and exercises.

Facilities on Fiery Cross Reef include a 3,000-metre (10,000-foot) runway which the United States worries China will use it to press its extensive territorial claims at the expense of weaker rivals.

China's Defence Ministry said two fighter jets were scrambled and three warships shadowed the U.S. ship, telling it to leave.

The U.S. patrol "again proves that China's construction of defensive facilities on the relevant reefs in the Nansha Islands is completely reasonable and totally necessary", it said, using China's name for the Spratly Islands where much of its reclamation work is taking place.




About Value News Network

Value is the only commonality in an increasingly complex, challenging and interdependent world.
Laurance Allen: Editor + Publisher

Connect with Us