Friday, January 30, 2015

The Franken Amendment to Keystone XL Pipeline

I've been watching some of the debates around the Keystone XL pipeline and I wanted to say some things about the Franken Amendment, which requires that if built, steel for the pipeline be made in America, which sounds good for jobs, but with the environmental consequences is just making sure American companies profit from making more money on global warming.  But Republicans killed the amendment (I think) because of a caveat placed in the bill about cost

The American-made steel debate will be familiar to those who paid attention to Franken's re-election campaign last year. Franken has said he opposes bypassing the regulatory process for Keystone, but, either way, it should be constructed with American steel. During the campaign his Republican opponent, businessman Mike McFadden, said he didn't think that should be a precondition to constructing Keystone, a comment the DFL used against him throughout the campaign, especially on Minnesota's Iron Range.
Franken's amendment is short, requiring that: “to the maximum extent consistent with the obligations of the United States under international trade agreements, none of the iron, steel or manufactured goods used in construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline and facilities approved by this act may be produced outside of the United States.” The big caveat: the amendment wouldn’t apply if using American-made products would increase the price of the project by more than 25 percent.

Here is the full text of the Franken Amendment

(Purpose: To requie the use of iron, steel, and manufactured goods 
 produced in the United States in the construction of the Keystone XL 
                        Pipeline and facilities)

       After section 2, insert the following:


       (a) Limitation.--Subject to subsection (b), to the maximum 
     extent consistent with the obligations of the United States 
     under international trade agreements, none of the iron, 
     steel, or manufactured goods used in the construction of the 
     Keystone XL Pipeline and facilities approved by this Act may 
     be produced outside of the United States.
       (b) Nonapplication.--Subsection (a) shall not apply to the 
     extent that the President finds that--
       (1) iron, steel, and the applicable manufactured goods are 
     not produced in the United States in sufficient and 
     reasonably available quantities with a satisfactory quality; 
       (2) inclusion of iron, steel, or any manufactured good 
     produced in the United States will increase the cost of the 
     iron, steel, or any manufactured good used in the Pipeline 
     and facilities by more than 25 percent.

The Hill
Senate Democrats are pressing amendments to legislation that would approve the Keystone XL pipeline, arguing their proposals would "actually make it an American jobs bill."
Because Keystone is a private company, CBO does not look at costs, writing in it's report 
Based on information from affected agencies, CBO estimates that enacting this legislation would have no significant effect on federal spending for regulatory activities related to the proposed pipeline. (Any such regulatory activities are subject to the availability of appropriated funds.) Enacting the legislation would not affect direct spending or revenues; therefore, pay-as-you-go procedures do not apply.

The Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act contains no intergovernmental or private-sector mandates as defined in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act and would impose no costs on state, local, or tribal governments.
so I am having a hard time finding out how much 100% American steel and iron would cost, if it would actually increase the price of the project by more than 25%.

Senator Franken talked about his amendment on the Senate floor
Congress has had a long history of using ``Buy American'' provisions in order to maximize the economic benefits of infrastructure projects. ``Buy American'' provisions ensure that more goods and manufactured items used in infrastructure and other projects are produced here at home. In fact, as recently as 2013 Congress passed a provision in the WRDA Act--the Water Resources Development Act--to require the use of iron, steel, and other domestically produced goods in water infrastructure projects. That is important because it means that we keep jobs and profits here at home instead of sending them abroad.

Unfortunately, there is no such requirement when it comes to construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. In fact, according to TransCanada itself, half of the pipe for the U.S. portion of the pipeline would be sourced from foreign countries. And for the other half that would be put together here in the United States, much of the raw material, such as the steel that goes into the pipe, could be sourced from overseas. This is the problem our amendment addresses. Our amendment would require the use of domestic iron, steel, and other manufactured goods in the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, provided the material is readily available and affordable.

If adopted, the amendment would create jobs for iron ore miners, such as the ones across the Iron Range in my State of Minnesota. It would create more jobs for shippers who ship the ore across the Great Lakes or by rail or down the Mississippi River. It would create more jobs for our steelworkers who work in steel mills across this country.

At the same time, we specify in our amendment that these requirements would be implemented consistent with our trade agreements.

Some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have said we shouldn't put such restrictions on a private company. But we have to remember that this isn't your typical private company. The underlying bill to authorize the pipeline would throw out the established approval process for the construction of a cross-border pipeline by a foreign corporation. That means all of the important assessments regarding things such as safety and the environment that our Federal agencies might have made on this project are tossed by the wayside. So if Congress is going to intervene on behalf of this foreign company, then the least we can do is to make sure the company building the pipeline uses American-made iron and steel. This is a very pragmatic amendment . We all have different views on the approval process for this pipeline, and while I believe Congress should not circumvent the approval process we have in place, I think we can all agree that we want jobs here in America.
Alaska Senator Murkowski who supports Keystone, added that TransCanada already committed to using 75% American steel
This pipeline is a private project. This is not a federally funded infrastructure project. This would be the first time that Congress has directed or forced private parties to purchase domestic goods and materials.

We actually asked the Congressional Research Service to look into this to see if there was any other instance at the Federal level where private parties were told that they must purchase 100-percent domestic goods and materials, and so far the answer to that inquiry has been that they can find no instance of that.

I think we need to be careful about this as a precedent because if we are going to direct this particular project--the Keystone XL--to have this requirement on it, where do we go next? What will happen to the next project that we have? Will it be the next pipeline or the next renewable energy project? Where does this slippery slope go?

I think it is fair to note that TransCanada has made a commitment to have 75 percent of the pipes for this project come from North America, and fully half of that--more than 332,000 tons of steel will come from the State of Arkansas.

I am with the Senator from Minnesota. We want to make sure we get as many jobs as we absolutely can and make sure they are good-paying jobs--whether it is in steel making or widget making or welders. This is about jobs. This is what we want to do to encourage jobs. I think we need to be very cognizant of what this particular amendment would do. This amendment --for the first time ever--would direct a private entity to utilize all American-made products throughout the process of the construction. It is important to note that the American Iron and Steel Institute has been a strong supporter of the Keystone XL Pipeline. We have all received a letter--they called it a Steelgram--from the American Iron and Steel Institute. They let us know very clearly and in no uncertain terms that they support Keystone XL. They said it is essential that Congress act to ensure the approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline
Senator Durbin spoke about Republican hypocrisy concerning Keystone amendments (there are 247 by the way)
When the Democrats insisted that this pipeline's product--the oil that is refined and used for consumption--be sold in the United States, the Republicans voted no. The Republicans voted no. I have a lengthy memo on my desk of all of the Republican Senators who have come to the floor insisting that the Keystone Pipeline was going to create more gasoline, more diesel fuel, and help the American economy. Yet, when Senator Markey of Massachusetts offered an amendment to say keep the products coming from the Keystone Pipeline in the United States, the Republicans, to a person, voted no.

Then Senator Franken came forward and said, Well, let's agree that if this is about jobs in America that the Keystone Pipeline will use American steel. That seems reasonable to me, and I voted for it. The Republicans voted no. They defeated the notion that we would use American steel to build this pipeline.

This pipeline is Senate Bill 1 for the Senate Republicans. It is their highest priority. One would think that if it truly is a jobs bill, they would want American steel to be used to build the pipeline; let our steel mills build this pipeline in the future, create the jobs in America, and they voted no.

Yesterday I offered an amendment as well. We know at the end of this pipeline, if tar sands reach the United States through this means or otherwise, it is a pretty nasty process taking the tar and sand out of the oil, and what is left over is a nasty product known as petcoke.

Petcoke is now being stored in three-story-high piles in the city of Chicago. I have seen it. And the city is trying to get to the point where it is at least contained and covered. Yet, the company that owns it, which incidentally is a company owned by the Koch brothers--what an irony--this company has resisted the idea of covering these petcoke piles, so this nasty black substance blows through the community in southeast Chicago. The city of Chicago is in a battle.

I tried to put in an effort yesterday so that we would establish standards for transportation and storage of petcoke, and the Republicans insisted it was a benign substance, it isn't hazardous, not dangerous, don't worry about it. If some of the Senators who voted against my amendment , tomorrow, God forbid, face this issue in their community, I think they will have a little different view of petcoke and what it can do to people, the impact it has on respiratory disease and asthma.

Yesterday I didn't prevail. But I can tell my colleagues how over the years, as I fought the tobacco companies and they insisted there was nothing dangerous about tobacco, I heard those arguments from industry just as we are hearing the petcoke arguments from the petcoke industry. Ultimately, good sense prevailed, public health prevailed, and we moved toward regulation of tobacco products. We should do the same--basic regulation--to protect the public from any negative impact on their health relative to petcoke.

Bandar bin Sultan fired (again)

Rumors are emerging that Prince Bandar bin Sultan has been fired. But as I got excited about the wise move by the new King, Marcy Wheeler asked how long it will last this time.

Now I am seeing more people weighing in as well

Abdulkhaleq Abdulla describes himself as a professor of political science in the UAE.  

Here was the first tweet that I saw.

Middle East Monitor reports on a possible reason why Bandar was removed now by King Salman
Going through a recently leaked series of reports and video clips shed light on these issues. It is now evident that Al-Tuwaijri had been waging a campaign against Salman when he was crown prince. He secretly propagated the idea that it was necessary to have Salman step down. This was part of a well-studied plot hatched in the aftermath of the creation of the post of deputy crown prince.
The leaks appear to show that Al-Tuwaijri and Prince Mutaib Bin Abdullah worked with the assistance and support of Prince Bandar Bin Sultan to promote the exclusion of Salman so Miqrin becomes crown prince and Mutaib his deputy.
Middle East Eye agrees with less explicit language
The move was a significant break with the past that saw several key players stripped of their seats, and various Salman loyalists promoted up the ranks.
The move was a significant break with the past that saw several key players stripped of their seats, and various Salman loyalists promoted up the ranks. - See more at:
The move was a significant break with the past that saw several key players stripped of their seats, and various Salman loyalists promoted up the ranks. - See more at:
The move was a significant break with the past that saw several key players stripped of their seats, and various Salman loyalists promoted up the ranks. - See more at:
The move was a significant break with the past that saw several key players stripped of their seats, and various Salman loyalists promoted up the ranks. - See more at:
But as recently as the 23rd the New York Times reported that Bandar would keep his post
Longtime officials kept their posts, including Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who remains the national security council adviser.
As I looked around, I remembered that Bandar had been removed from overseeing Syrian activities as head of Saudi intelligence in February. In April the Chicago Tribune carried a Reuters report that said
RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabian intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the architect of Riyadh's attempts to bring down Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has been removed from his post, state media reported on Tuesday.

His departure, months after he was quoted warning of a "major shift" from the United States over its Middle East policy, may help to smooth relations with Washington as Riyadh pushes for more U.S. support for Syrian rebels.
Prince Bandar, who has recently spent time in the United States and Morocco for medical treatment, was replaced on an interim basis by a deputy.

"Prince Bandar was relieved of his post at his own request and General Youssef al-Idrissi was asked to carry out the duties of the head of general intelligence," state news agency SPA said, citing a royal decree.

The decree did not say if Prince Bandar would continue in his other position as head of the National Security Council.

A former ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar was appointed intelligence chief in July 2012, in charge of helping Syrian rebels bring down Assad, an ally of Riyadh's biggest regional rival Iran.

He was also closely involved in Saudi support for Egypt's military rulers after they ousted Islamist president Mohamed Mursi last year, diplomatic sources in the Gulf have said.
Daily Beast profile of "Bandar Bush"
The new Saudi monarch, King Salman, and the people he has brought to top positions around him have wasted no time shaking up some of the most critical positions in their government, especially where United States security concerns come into the picture.

The change with the most international resonance is without question the removal of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, known as “Bandar Bush” when he was ambassador to Washington, from his position as head of the Saudi National Security Council. Bandar had given up his position as intelligence chief last year, and his successor in that position also was changed January 29, 2015.
We will see how long Bandar has lost his job this time.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Not Charlie Hebdo

What news gains international attention and what doesn't? The Charlie Hebdo attacks on January 7th got a unity march from world leaders with hypocritical records on free speech in their own countries.  These attacks right before Christmas did not.  I will say however that the response was a more nuanced correct response to any violence--deal with the immediate attacks separately and don't react to quickly or with an overreaction.  When the response to an attack is war, then that will only bring more violence.

Yahoo News December 22, 2014
French authorities urged calm after a series of attacks across the country left dozens of people injured, and said there was no evidence the violent acts were connected by any terrorist motive.
In the latest incident, 11 people were injured after a driver crashed his van into a crowded Christmas market in western France Monday evening. The driver then stabbed himself several times and is among five people hospitalized in serious condition, authorities said.
The attack, in the town Nantes, came after a pair of weekend attacks: one in which another driver ran down 13 bystanders in the city Dijon in eastern France, and one in which a recent convert to Islam knifed police officers outside the city of Tours.
Speaking on French television, Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said the driver in Nantes "deliberately crashed into the crowd."
While police investigations continued late Monday, local prosecutor Brigitte Lamy said the incident was an isolated incident and "not a terrorist act."
In a signal of how serious the government was taking the attacks, Prime Minister Manuel Valls issued a statement late Monday calling for calm and vigilance.
The prosecutor in Dijon said the driver behind the attack in that city has a long history of severe mental illness and no links to terrorism.
The man, who is 40, has admitted his role in the attack, said prosecutor Marie-Christine Tarrare. She said the man, the French-born son of North African immigrants, acted alone and had no religious motivations, but was upset at the treatment of Chechen children.
He shouted 'God is great' to give himself courage to act, and not out of religious belief, Tarrare said.
The Independent December 24 2014
In what may have been a “revenge” attack by far-right activists, a car rammed the main gate of a mosque in Strasbourg in the early hours of yesterday. Police fear that the raid might have been carried out by activists convinced – despite official denials – that France was under “Islamist attack”. 
Shots were also fired at a synagogue in Paris and a heavily armed man was arrested on the streets of Cannes yesterday. There was no immediate reason to connect either event with the three incidents in Nantes, Dijon and Tours.
The Socialist-led government called for calm and insisted that the events should be treated separately. Mr Valls said such a “series of dramas” was “disturbing” but there was no cause for “panic”. He announced that an extra 300 soldiers would be deployed to strengthen the armed, military and police patrols which have protected city centres for the last 20 years.
The far-right political leader Marine le Pen had earlier accused the government and media of deliberately “minimising” the first two incidents which she described as Islamist “terrorist attacks”. Ms Le Pen was silent about the third incident on Monday night in which the man, with no known political or religious affiliations, drove his van into Nantes’ crowded Christmas market.

Friday, January 23, 2015

New NGIA Director talks about mapping ISIS

The new Director of NGIA talks about the difficulty in mapping ISIS controlled territories

From GovExec

Geospatial Agency Chief Takes Care Not to Oversell Intelligence on the Islamic State
The speed with which the self-proclaimed Islamic State gobbled up territory in Iraq and Syria has made mapping its reach difficult, “which means we don’t try to oversell our intelligence,” the director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency said on Wednesday.
Cardillo took reporters’ questions before he spoke at a banquet in Arlington, Va., hosted by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, a nonprofit that brings together current and retired intelligence officials, academics and private contractors.
Stressing the geospatial agency’s role in numerous current crises, Cardillo—who became its sixth director in October—cited the “democratization” of geospatial information as an impetus for NGA to partner with public and private organizations. “With our new focus on consequence and NGA’s great legacy of public service, I have been encouraging NGA to become even more transparent,” he said in his speech. “With more transparency, NGA is uniquely positioned to play a leading role to advance public confidence in the intelligence community.”
Expressing a desire for greater service to the State Department and the United Nations, Cardillo cited recent intelligence mapping of evidence of human rights violations by the violent Boko Haram movement in Nigeria, as well as aid to the struggling Afghan government in determining whether voter fraud discredited its recent elections.
But he singled out for special praise NGA’s work in West Africa to help alleviate last fall’s Ebola crisis, as an example of partnering with private and nonprofit sector organizations. “We are the first intelligence agency to create a [website] with access to our relevant unclassified content” of important sites in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. “It is open to everyone—no passwords, no closed groups,” he said.
Since the website’s October 23 launch, NGA has posted one-fourth of all its available content affecting Ebola, 99 percent of which is unclassified, he said. These include elevation data and suitable sites for treatment centers. “We have publicly posted 224 NGA products,” he noted. “Our transparency is striking a major chord with NGOs, international health organizations and other countries as we approach 1 million clicks on our website.” Cardillo expressed special pride in one on-the-ground analyst embedded with the 101stAirborne in Monrovia to help update Liberia’s maps.
The geospatial intel agency, he added, is the “most open and transparent intelligence agency involved in humanitarian relief, safety of navigation, public science and research. So we are natural integrators. Every modern local, regional and global challenge -- climate change, the future energy landscape and many more -- has geography at its heart.” 

I wrote about the NGIA's Ebola resources maps here

A Sample of the Cost of the Continuing War in Iraq (and Syria)

From the Federal Register

(i) Prospective Purchaser: Republic of Iraq

(ii) Total Estimated Value:

Major Defense Equipment: * $399 million
Other: ..................................... $180 million
Total ................................... $579 million

(iii) Description and Quantity of Articles or Services under Consideration for Purchase:
1000 M1151A1 UpArmored High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs),
1000 M2 .50 cal. machine guns, and 
1000 MK–19 40mm grenade launchers with universal mounts, commercial radios, communication equipment, repair and spare parts, publications and technical documentation, tools and test equipment, personnel training and training equipment, U.S. Government and contractor logistics and technical support services, and other related elements of logistics support.


The proposed sale of the M1151 HMMWVs would facilitate progress towards increasing the Iraqi Security Force’s mobility and self-defense capabilities. Iraq will use the HMMWVs to increase the safety, effectiveness, and self-reliance of the Iraqi Security Forces. Iraq will have no difficulty absorbing these additional HMMWVs into its armed forces. The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region. The principal contractor will be AM General in South Bend, Indiana. There are no known offset agreements proposed in connections with this potential sale.

From the Federal Register

(i) Prospective Purchaser: Iraq
(ii) Total Estimated Value:
Major Defense Equipment* $.70 billion
Other ................................... $1.70 billion
Total ................................. $2.40 billion

175 Full Track M1A1 Abrams Tanks with 120mm Gun modified and upgraded to the M1A1 Abrams configuration,

15 M88A2 Improved Tank Recovery Vehicles,

175 .50 Cal M2 Machine Guns with Chrysler Mount,

350 7.62mm M240 Machine Guns,

10 .50 Cal BR M2 HB Machine Guns,

10,000 M831A1 120mm High Explosive Anti-tank TP–T Ammunition,

25,000 M865 120mm TPCSDS–T Ammunition,

10,000 M830A1 120mm High Explosive Anti-tank Multipurpose Tracer Ammunition,

10,000 M1002 120mm Target Practice Multipurpose Tracer (TPMP–T) Ammunition,

and 190 AN/VRC–92 Vehicular Dual Long-Range Radio Systems,

700 M1028 Commercial Utility Cargo Vehicles, Radios, Receiver Transmitters (RT–1702G), installation, ammunition, simulators, communication equipment, support equipment, fuel, transportation, spare and repair parts, site surveys, Quality Assurance Teams, special tools and test equipment, personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical documentation, U.S. Government and contractor technical, engineering, and logistical support services, and other related elements of program and logistics support. 


Implementation of this proposed sale will require approximately five U.S. Government and one hundred contractor representatives to travel to Iraq for a period of up to five years for delivery, system checkout, program support, and training.

And yesterday the New York Times reports that because of falling oil prices Iraq wants weapons to fight ISIS on credit
Battered by a sharp decline in oil prices, Iraq is asking Western allies to provide weapons on credit for its fight against the Islamic State until Baghdad is in a better position to pay.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq said on Thursday that oil exports accounted for 85 percent of his government’s budget and that the precipitous drop in prices was posing a fresh challenge to the Iraqi government as it was trying to push back Islamic State militants.
“This has been disastrous for us,” Mr. Abadi said. “One thing we are asking for is deferred payment. That’s one solution. And I think our coalition partner has been very receptive of this.”
Mr. Abadi spoke at a news conference here with Secretary of State John Kerry and Philip Hammond, the British foreign secretary, after a meeting of 21 countries that are trying to weaken, and ultimately defeat, militants from the Islamic State who have proclaimed a caliphate that stretches from eastern Syria to northern and western Iraq.

Thursday was a crazy day

Barrett Brown was sentenced to 63 months in prison today.  Understanding the charges.  More info here and here.

Here was his statement after the sentence.
After receiving his sentence Barrett Brown released the following statement:
“Good news! — The U.S. government decided today that because I did such a good job investigating the cyber-industrial complex, they’re now going to send me to investigate the prison-industrial complex. For the next 35 months, I’ll be provided with free food, clothes, and housing as I seek to expose wrondgoing by Bureau of Prisons officials and staff and otherwise report on news and culture in the world’s greatest prison system. I want to thank the Department of Justice for having put so much time and energy into advocating on my behalf; rather than holding a grudge against me for the two years of work I put into in bringing attention to a DOJ-linked campaign to harass and discredit journalists like Glenn Greenwald, the agency instead labored tirelessly to ensure that I received this very prestigious assignment. — Wish me luck!”

Quinn Norton is quitting cybersecurity journalism because of the verdict and the threats other journalists face.

Jason Hammond, twin brother of Jeremy Hammond (Barrett Brown's case related to Jeremy Hammond's activism) was also sentenced to 3½ years (emphasis mine)
While Chicago was in rebellion against the western military super-alliance NATO summit in 2012, a small group of racists organized their own ‘white nationalist economic summit' in the nearby suburb of Tinley Park. They booked a restaurant to hold a luncheon under the guise of the "Illinois European Heritage Association.” For over six months this event was promoted on, a very popular online forum where racists and neo-nazis converse. Being in a prolonged state of resistance against racism, this summit became known to organized anti-fascists throughout the Midwest. Through research, they had ascertained the time, location, and even some identities of the attendees of this meeting, some of whom were already known as being members of white supremacist groups such as the KKK, National Socialist Movement and Council of Conservative Citizens. Upon becoming aware of this information, myself and others decided to confront the fascists at their meeting. A righteous melee ensued, many of the ten white supremacists were injured, and we left the scene in less than two minutes.
Yemen is in a new stage of crisis, part of a long war that has been fought over the past few years, intensified under President Obama

Yemen president resigns

A Coup in Yemen? Jeremy Scahill & Iona Craig on Rebel Offensive to Seize Power, Saudi Role & AQAP

The Yemen Model
Yemen is facing political collapse following the mass resignations of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, his prime minister and entire cabinet. Thursday’s exodus came just hours after Shia Houthi rebels stormed the presidential compound in the capital city of Sana’a. Hadi said he could not continue in office after Houthis allegedly broke a peace deal to retreat from key positions in return for increased political power. The Houthis appear to have major backing from longtime former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was ousted in a popular uprising in 2011. The Obama administration had praised the Yemeni government as being a model for "successful" counterterrorism partnerships, but on Thursday the United States announced it was pulling more staff out of its embassy in Yemen. Some experts warn the developments in Yemen could result in civil war and help al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) gain more power. Meanwhile, Oxfam is warning more than half of Yemen’s population needs aid, and a humanitarian crisis of extreme proportions is at risk of unfolding in the country if instability continues.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia died, and reactions from Official Washington, corporate media and everyone else was interesting to see the diplomatic love-fest compared to the truth.

Here is a small sample of the Twitter responses

It seems no one wants Charles to be King (LOL)

And finally from The New York Times
The Obama administration has taken two actions that seem a refreshing departure from six years of aggressively attacking investigative journalism. The Justice Department abandoned an attempt to force James Risen, a New York Times reporter, to testify about a confidential source. And it tempered internal guidelines for trying to obtain records or testimony from the news media during leak investigations.
But these developments are gallingly late, and they do not really settle the big issues raised by President Obama’s devoted pursuit of whistle-blowers and the reporters who receive their information.
Mr. Risen was being threatened with a jail sentence in the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer who is charged with providing classified information for a chapter in a book by Mr. Risen detailing a botched covert effort during the Clinton administration to thwart Iran’s nuclear program. The decision not to try to compel Mr. Risen’s testimony was announced in a court motion last week — but only after Mr. Risen was made to testify at a pretrial hearing and said he would neither reveal his confidential sources nor provide details that might help the government identify them.
Soon after the motion was filed, the Justice Department announced a revision in guidelines on leak investigations to delete a reference that offered protections only to “ordinary news-gathering activities” — a vague term that could have been exploited by zealous prosecutors.
Both shifts seemed like an attempt by Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. to soften his reputation before he leaves office. It’s not yet clear whether they mean more respect over time for the crucial role of a free press and the ability of reporters to protect their sources.
They do not erase the Obama administration’s record of bringing more leak cases than all the president’s predecessors combined. Beyond the Risen case, the Justice Department secretly subpoenaed telephone records from Associated Press reporters and editors during a leak investigation and obtained a search warrant for a Fox News reporter’s emails as part of another inquiry.
The abandoned pursuit of Mr. Risen leaves behind an atrocious legal precedent: a 2-to-1 ruling in 2013 by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Virginia, which denied the existence of any reporter’s privilege in the First Amendment or common law. That position was advocated by the Justice Department, and it was repeated in briefs asking the Supreme Court to deny Mr. Risen’s request for review, which it did. The Fourth Circuit includes Maryland and Virginia, home to most national security agencies.
Two things are clear. First, dedicated journalists like Mr. Risen are willing to stand up to protect the identity of their sources. The second is the need for a strong federal shield law broadly protective of reporters who do that under the pressure of a high-profile leak investigation.

In 2015, Fix Your Passwords

With all the news recently about hacks, ISIS hacking CentCom's Twitter and YouTube accounts, SONY, Target, and on and on, and related stories about NSA dragnet surveillance, there is one central connection: bad passwords.

SplashData, an Internet security services firm, has released its annual list of the 25 worst Internet passwords.

Most "hacks" are not really hacks, but people guessing lousy passwords.
Guessing voicemail passwords? Not really a hack.
That college student made an educated guess at Palin's password. Sorry, not a hack!
There was also this important story about the importance of password privacy.
New Illinois Law Forces Students to Give Up Social Media Passwords….Or Face Criminal Charges
So I wrote
which is what Security in a Box also recognizes (emphasis mine)
Note: By using KeePass all the time, you never actually have to see or know what your password is. The copy/paste functions take care of moving it from the database to the required window. If you use the Random Generator feature and then transfer this password to a new email account registration process, you will be using a password that you have never seen in plain view. And it still works!
Because the key to many encryption features is a strong password, password managers are really important.  Security in a Box has a great guide to KeePass, which I use.

It's very simple to use.  You have one master password, which you can write down and keep at home, or memorize that one password which stores you other dozen passwords.

You add entries based on account type (you can mix and match anything, that doesn't really matter). I originally thought that KeePass logs you in automatically, but that is not how it works, you essentially just copy and paste the password into your login screen.

The beauty of KeePass is not having to remember secure passwords.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Anonymous responds to SOTU

Press Release

#RightToLink #FreeBB
Greetings world, We Are Anonymous.
Today Obama attacks the Right To Link in his State of the Union address. He aims to make it a felony to link to "unauthorized" information even if the information is already posted on a public website. This is our response. It's for political prisoner, journalist, and activist Barrett Brown, who is due to be sentenced on Thursday for the same thing--his mere sharing of the now taken-down hyperlink is nearly certain to be deemed "relevant conduct" for determining his sentence.
When the #AnonOps IRC channel was sharing information about the Anonymous hack of intelligence firm Stratfor in December 2011, a user posted this now taken-down link: Barrett, researching the hack for journalistic work, asked "What was in that?" and later copy-pasted it into his #ProjectPM channel to share with other researchers. The so-called Department of Justice, alleging the hyperlink led to credit card data of Stratfor subscribers (already canceled data), argues Barrett's copy-pasting means he committed identity theft. They themselves shared the link, putting it on the first page of his indictment. Barrett's supposed crime constituted the majority of the prison term the prosecutors sought: they wanted to lock him up for more than a century.
The link is an address. We must be able to post the addresses of information. Regarding the recent emails hacked out of Sony, the wastes-of-space at the New York Times chose to chicken-out from publishing first about them or linking to them at all, discouraging us from learning more about the topic or evaluating what reporting the paper did decide to do. Instead the NYT, as usual, expects us to take their authoritarian-apologist organization on faith. Barrett, in contrast, encourages everyone interested in the emails hacked out of Stratfor and "cybersecurity" firm HBGary to investigate trademark filings and state-held business registrations etc. and to share their findings online live for free.
The war against the Right To Link does not only affect journalists. It affects all of us.
With the Internet, humanity can now collaborate effectively enough to self-govern at global scale. But the authorities' best defense against our better future is to keep our imaginations clamped down. We can't envision building and defending radical alternatives for a just society when we're overwhelmed by the stock, sedating, and false media the corporate-controlled system blasts out. But by linking us to information we actually need, the Internet is breaking apart the system's shield of illusion. Barrett has been a pioneer of this righteous destruction. His gift has been not just to bring forth crucial news and analysis--answers about information warfare, "cybersecurity" contractors, mass spying--but also to do so with such passion and creativity that he continues, even from behind bars, to inspire us to join him and each other in resistance. That's why his prosecutors cite his leadership and anarchism as reasons to keep him locked up as long as possible. They know Internet activists are teaching us we don't need them.
However, our Internet is nothing without the Right To Link. "We've always been at war with Eastasia" unless links take us to the sources for such statements so we may inspect their value and decide to give support to, or subtract support from, those who made it. In this week's State of the Union address, unlawful enemy combatant Obama will promote new legislation to make it a felony to intentionally access "unauthorized" information even if it's already been posted on a public website. Posting links to such information would become "trafficking." Obama is trying to make more common what his Department of "Justice" has been doing to Barrett Brown.
The good news is, we know how to win this battle, because we've done it before. Remember the Streisand effect? Example: when AACS tried to make 09 F9 11 02 9D 74 E3 5B D8 41 56 C5 63 56 88 C0 (a hexademical key to crack HD-DVD copy protection) an illegal number, and people responded by posting it everywhere, making T-shirts of it, etc. News outlets published the number, everyone loved the number, AACS gave up.
So starting now and through Barrett's Thursday sentencing, we make a meme! The link has already been taken down, but the URL should become a strong symbol.

1. Inject combined with the #RightToLink and #FreeBB hashtags into the State of the Union conversation by exploiting its hashtags such as #SOTU. You can also use liberal and conservative hashtags, #p2 and #tcot respectively, which are sure to be busy during Obama's address. Tweet ideas from this press release or your own ideas. You also can link to this pastebin.
2. Starting now, and on Wednesday and Thursday, tweet along with the hashtags #RightToLink and #FreeBB. Post the same three things together on Facebook, Tumblr, everywhere else. Don't just retweet or share others' posts; do it yourself to increase its visibility. (Retweeting/sharing is obviously good too!) Other ideas: Write your own reasons why we need to #FreeBB and defend the #RightToLink, re-publish this press release, post #RightToLink #FreeBB material into the comment sections of news articles about the State of the Union or Barrett's sentencing, etc.

3. Get creative! Tweet pictures of signs reading and #RightToLink #FreeBB. Make art and tweet it at mainstream politicos who are active on social media, or at @Stratfor, or at whomever. Whatever you can think of!
4. Persuade other people to join in. PM/DM/phone your friends, acquaintances, comrades, tell them what's up and get them to take part in this campaign.

5. If you are media reading this, it is in your interest to publish the full URL in your article about this Anonymous campaign. The link has already been taken down.


In solidarity with Barrett Brown, the goals are to 1) show we will not be stopped from linking to information that's already publicly available, and 2) force discussion about Barrett's case and about defending the Right To Link against Obama and all the other authorities.

Obama State of the Union address to advocate making it a felony to link to "unauthorized" information:
Department of "Justice" shares the link
New York Times afraid of downloading or linking to emails hacked out of Sony:
Statements and legal motions about the Right To Link:
Electronic Frontier Foundation statement on the #RightToLink:
Another Electronic Frontier Foundation statement about the #RightToLink:
Motion by Barrett Brown's defense to dismiss nearly all of the prosecution's ridiculous don't-you-dare-link indictment:
Electronic Frontier Foundation draft motion to dismiss the same:
Committee to Protect Journalists on the #RightToLink:
Article 19 on the #RightToLink:
Learn more about Barrett Brown's case:
Donate to Barrett's legal defense and get a copy of his book Keep Rootin' for Putin:
Barrett's under-appreciated work:
09 F9 11 02 9D 74 E3 5B D8 41 56 C5 63 56 88 C0 online riot:
Streisand Effect:
"We've always been at war with Eastasia"

Monday, January 19, 2015

Update on Israeli airstrike in Syria

Yesterday I wrote about the latest Israeli airstrike in Syria, attacking the Golan Heights city of Quneitra again.  Today we are getting more information about who was killed.

Hezbollah statement

Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah confirmed the death of six fighters in the new Israeli airstrike on the southwestern strategic Syrian city of Quneitra.

In a statement issued on Sunday, Hezbollah said 25-year-old Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of slain Hezbollah top commander Imad Mughniyeh, and five other fighters lost their lives in the fresh Israeli aerial assault against Syria.

Hezbollah identified the other victims as Mohammad Issa,42, Abbas Ibrahim Hijazi, 35, Mohammad Ali Hasan Abu al-Hasan, 29, Ghazi Ali Dawi, 26, and Ali Hasan Ibrahim, 21.

The martyrs were reportedly on a field reconnaissance mission in Quneitra when an Israeli military helicopter targeted their vehicle.
The Israeli military has so far declined comment on the attack.

Press TV reported that the Israeli military has gone on high alert for the fear of a possible Hezbollah response to the regime’s new act of aggression.

Analysts believe the new Israeli assault is yet another attempt by Tel Aviv to change the balance of war in favor of the Takfiri militants fighting against Syria.

The new Israeli aerial raid comes as Syrian soldiers, backed by Hezbollah resistance fighters, have made numerous gains against the militants operating in Quneitra.

The Tel Aviv regime has carried out several airstrikes in Syria since the start of the nearly four-year-old foreign-sponsored militancy there.

Damascus says Tel Aviv and its Western allies are aiding the extremist terror groups operating inside Syria since March 2011.

The Syrian army has repeatedly seized huge quantities of Israeli-made weapons and advanced military equipment from the foreign-backed militants inside the Arab state.
Jihad Mughniyah's father, Imad, is thought to have masterminded some of Hezbollah’s deadliest attacks, and was once one of America’s most-wanted terrorists. His operations included the bombing of a French and US Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, the kidnapping of Western hostages in Lebanon throughout the 1980s and an attack on a synagogue in Argentina in 1994.

He was assassinated in Damascus in 2008. Hezbollah, Syria and Iran blamed Israel.

For at least the past two years, Hezbollah has fought on the side of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in the country’s brutal civil war. Hezbollah’s involvement in the war has seen Syrian jihadist groups strike back in Lebanon, targeting Lebanese civilians in bomb attacks.
Israel has carried out a number of strikes in Syria since the war began, often claiming to have been targeting weaponry that it said was bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The latest strike comes just days after Nasrallah warned Israel that his fighters would respond to any further attacks by Israel.

Breaking News, Israeli Jets Strike Golan

Israeli jets bombed the Golan Heights again.
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: An Israeli helicopter carried out a strike Sunday against "terrorists" in the Syrian sector of the Golan Heights who were allegedly preparing an attack on Israel, an Israeli security source said.

The source told AFP the strike took place near Quneitra, close to the cease-fire line separating the Syrian part of the Golan Heights from the Israeli-occupied sector, confirming a report by Al-Manar television.

The report had said that an Israeli helicopter fired two missiles in the Syrian province of Quneitra near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

It did not specify the target of the strike in the area, called Amal Farms. The Israeli military declined comment and Syrian state media did not mention the attack.
I wrote about earlier attacks here and here.

Meanwhile IDF on Twitter is distracting you.

Drone Pilots are Stressed

It turns out that a decade of war has taken its toll.  Drone pilots are leaving in larger numbers than can be trained each year, and the Pentagon doesn’t know what to do about it.  It has decided that the solution to the problem should be spending more money in the “War of Terror” by paying pilots more.  How about flying less drones?

During a ‘State of the Air Force’ briefing at the Pentagon, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh admitted a significant drone pilot shortage on the force, and promised to increase their pay to encourage experienced personnel to stay.
“The crisis right now is with the pilot force. It is the most stressed part because it is the lowest manned part of the RPA [remotely pilot aircraft] fleet, percentage-wise,” Welsh said. “They have the longest and most expensive training pipeline in that community.”
“The biggest problem is training,” Welch said, referring to shortages of MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper operators. “We can only train about 180 people a year and we need 300-a-year trained, and we’re losing about 240 from the community each year.”
Drone pilots, as well as sensor operators, are always under “significant stress” during the mission, James said, due to an “unrelenting pace of operations.”
While a conventional pilot flies between 200 and 300 hours per year on average, “RPA pilots log four times that much, ranging from 900 to 1,100 flight hours per year,” she said. “This is very stressful operations because mistakes can cost lives.”
To retain and attract new drone operators, James announced that the Air Force is looking to substantially increase their pay.
GovExec adds
2012 RAND Corp. report looked at incentive pay in the drone pilot world, and its usefulness as a retention tool. “For the Air Force, there is a tipping point at which it becomes cheaper to retain a trained individual than to recruit and train a new one,” the report said. “Even if this tipping point is not reached, incentive pays may be needed to meet experience requirements.”
James’ decision to boost bonuses for RPA pilots comes just weeks before the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission will release its recommendations on reforming service members’ pay and benefits. The proposed changes, which officially will be unveiled Feb. 1, could affect a range of third-rail military compensation issues, including commissary benefits, housing allowances and the pension system.