Archive | September 9, 2013

Egypt Worsens Conditions for Gazans*

Egypt Worsens Conditions  for Gazans*

An interview with Miko Peled, author and peace activist, about Egypt implementing sterner restrictions at the Rafah border crossing.

The following is an approximate transcript of the interview.

Gaza-Rafah Border2Press TV: Egypt now is saying that it is because of the Sinai, the type of situation and lack of security there – Do you think it is related to that or is it related to something else that Rafah is basically under the control and have limited access for those people in Gaza? Peled: I don’t think it has anything to do with security, I think it has to do with the new Egyptian regime serving Israel.

They closed the tunnels. Between Gaza and Rafah there were over one thousand tunnels. The Egyptians closed most of them. These tunnels were an important life line for the people in Gaza who already before this closure suffered from a lack of proper drinking water, a lack of medicine, a lack of nutrition and so on – severe lack. And this is with the tunnels operating and with some ability to travel, although even before this there were harsh limitations on the travel to Rafah and people would often wait days upon days Egypt travel and then days upon days waiting to permits to return from Egypt to go into Rafah.

So the conditions were horrific even before all of this. Now the Egyptians I suppose have decided they are going to cooperate fully with Israel and bring a complete catastrophe on the people of Gaza.

We are talking about lack of important crucial medicines; we’re talking about a region that already suffers from lack of electricity; from severe lack of food and very little drinkable water – water fit for consumption.

It’s hard to say what would motivate any regime to act with such cruelty and impose such horrific conditions on a population of close to two million people who are already under sever conditions because of the policies of Israel.

It’s hard to understand what would motivate the Egyptians to do this other than the fact that they are cooperating and receiving something from Israel for which they are willing to do this.

Press TV: You are author of The General’s Son, a journal of an Israeli in Palestine and also you have a blog I want your perspective in general. You are saying right now as far as the Egyptian regime is working hand in hand with the Israelis – What do you think, because there are activists inside of Israel and of course many Palestinians and people all over the world that want to be able to help the Palestinians to have this siege lifted or at least have them be able to have access to Rafah Crossing. What needs to be done in your perspective in order to bring the pressure that will be needed to bring about this change to Cairo and also Tel Aviv?

Peled: That’s an excellent question. I’ll just say that I crossed through a tunnel into Gaza last January so I’ve kind of seen what it’s like in Rafah on both sides and what it’s like in Gaza – this was in January when most of the tunnels were still operating.

I think what is needed is massive protests in front of the Egyptian embassies and Israeli embassies around the world because what is happening there now is close to genocidal. The conditions in Gaza are so severe that it is close to genocidal.

How much poorer, how much hungrier, how much thirstier do people need to be? How many children have to die before somebody wakes up? How many hospitals are going to have to shut down and how many people with cancer and all kinds of disease are going o have to die before somebody pays attention?

And I think it’s important to know also that this is half an hours’ drive from major hospitals and modern cities within Israel and these horrific conditions are taking place; it’s not some remote area with no access, they have access within several minutes into areas that have food and water and medicine and everything within Israel. Gaza is right there. And so this is some kind of a cruel and unusual punishment being inflicted on the people in Gaza on Palestinians.

And people need to protest and they need to protest and boycott anything that has to do with the Egyptian state and with the State of Israel, until they listen.

16 Sept 2013
Egyptian naval forces have opened fire on Palestinian fishermen off the southern coast of the besieged Gaza Strip, arresting two of them.
A Palestinian security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Egyptian forces fired at two fishermen in waters off the Rafah city – located 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of Gaza City – and detained them on Saturday. The official further also stated that there were no injuries in the incident.
“Hamas condemns the fire from Egyptian gunboats toward Palestinians within Palestinian waters, and the arrest of some of them,” the Palestinian resistance movement’s spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a statement.
The development comes as Egyptian forces had earlier opened fire on Gaza fishermen.
On August 30, two Palestinian fishermen were wounded and five others arrested when Egyptian naval forces fired at them. Tensions have been growing between Hamas and Egypt’s interim government since the Egyptian military ousted President Mohamed Morsi on July 3.

On August 31, Egypt’s foreign ministry accused Hamas of raiding an Egyptian cultural centre in Gaza and detaining several Egyptians. And on Thursday, two Egyptian army tanks crossed an initial border fence leading to Gaza for the first time.

The Rafah crossing is Gaza’s sole gateway to the outside world as many people in the blockaded Palestinian coastal enclave avoid traveling through the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing in northern Gaza.

On September 11, Egyptian authorities shut down Rafah following deadly bomb attacks in the restive Sinai Peninsula. Eleven people, including seven civilians, were killed and 17 others injured in two car bomb attacks targeting the headquarters of Egyptian security forces in northern Sinai.
The Israeli regime imposed a land, aerial, and naval blockade on Gaza in June 2007 after the democratically-elected Palestinian resistance movement, Hamas, took over the administration of the territory. – Press TV


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How the NSA Accesses Your Smartphone *

How the NSA Accesses Your Smartphone *

By Marcel Rosenbach, Laura Poitras and Holger Stark

The US intelligence agency NSA has been taking advantage of the smartphone boom. It has developed the ability to hack into iPhones, android devices and even the BlackBerry, previously believed to be particularly secure.

Michael Hayden has an interesting story to tell about the iPhone.

Hayden and his wife were in an Apple store in Virginia, Hayden, the former head of the United States National Security Agency (NSA), said at a conference in Washington recently. A salesman approached and raved about the iPhone, saying that there were already “400,000 apps” for the device. Hayden, amused, turned to his wife and quietly asked:

“This kid doesn’t know who I am, does he? Four-hundred-thousand apps means 400,000 possibilities for attacks.”

Hayden was apparently exaggerating only slightly. According to internal NSA documents from the Edward Snowden archive that SPIEGEL has been granted access to, the US intelligence service doesn’t just bug embassies and access data from undersea cables to gain information. The NSA is also extremely interested in that new form of communication which has experienced such breathtaking success in recent years: smartphones.

In Germany, more than 50 percent of all mobile phone users now possess a smartphone; in the UK, the share is two-thirds. About 130 million people in the US have such a device. The mini-computers have become personal communication centers, digital assistants and life coaches, and they often know more about their users than most users suspect.

For an agency like the NSA, the data storage units are a goldmine, combining in a single device almost all the information that would interest an intelligence agency: social contacts, details about the user’s behavior and location, interests (through search terms, for example), photos and sometimes credit card numbers and passwords.

New Channels

… According to an internal NSA report from 2010 titled, “Exploring Current Trends, Targets and Techniques,” the spread of smartphones was happening “extremely rapidly” — developments that “certainly complicate traditional target analysis.”

The NSA tackled the issue at the same speed with which the devices changed user behavior. According to the documents, it set up task forces for the leading smartphone manufacturers and operating systems. Specialized teams began intensively studying Apple’s iPhone and its iOS operating system, as well as Google’s Android mobile operating system. Another team worked on ways to attack BlackBerry, which had been seen as an impregnable fortress until then.

The material contains no indications of large-scale spying on smartphone users, and yet the documents leave no doubt that if the intelligence service defines a smartphone as a target, it will find a way to gain access to its information.

Still, it is awkward enough that the NSA is targeting devices made by US companies such as Apple and Google. The BlackBerry case is no less sensitive, since the company is based in Canada, one of the partner countries in the NSA’s “Five Eyes” alliance. The members of this select group have agreed not to engage in any spying activities against one another.

Exploiting ‘Nomophobia’

In this case, at any rate, the no-spy policy doesn’t seem to apply. In the documents relating to smartphones that SPIEGEL was able to view, there are no indications that the companies cooperated with the NSA voluntarily.

When contacted, BlackBerry officials said that it is not the company’s job to comment on alleged surveillance by governments.

“Our public statements and principles have long underscored that there is no ‘back door’ pipeline to our platform,” the company said in a statement.

Google issued a statement claiming:

“We have no knowledge of working groups like these and do not provide any government with access to our systems.”

The NSA did not respond to questions from SPIEGEL by the time the magazine went to print.

In exploiting the smartphone, the intelligence agency takes advantage of the carefree approach many users take to the device. According to one NSA presentation, smartphone users demonstrate “nomophobia,” or “no mobile phobia.” The only thing many users worry about is losing reception. A detailed NSA presentation titled, “Does your target have a smartphone?” shows how extensive the surveillance methods against users of Apple’s popular iPhone already are.

In three consecutive transparencies, the authors of the presentation draw a comparison with “1984,” George Orwell’s classic novel about a surveillance state, revealing the agency’s current view of smartphones and their users.

“Who knew in 1984 that this would be Big Brother …” the authors ask, in reference to a photo of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

And commenting on photos of enthusiastic Apple customers and iPhone users, the NSA writes:

“… and the zombies would be paying customers?”

In fact, given the targets it defines, the NSA can select a broad spectrum of user data from Apple’s most lucrative product, at least if one is to believe the agency’s account.

The results the intelligence agency documents on the basis of several examples are impressive. They include an image of the son of a former defense secretary with his arm around a young woman, a photo he took with his iPhone. A series of images depicts young men and women in crisis zones, including an armed man in the mountains of Afghanistan, an Afghan with friends and a suspect in Thailand.

No Access Necessary

All the images were apparently taken with smartphones. A photo taken in January 2012 is especially risqué: It shows a former senior government official of a foreign country who, according to the NSA, is relaxing on his couch in front of a TV set and taking pictures of himself — with his iPhone. To protect the person’s privacy, SPIEGEL has chosen not to reveal his name or any other details.

The access to such material varies, but much of it passes through an NSA department responsible for customized surveillance operations against high-interest targets. One of the US agents’ tools is the use of backup files established by smartphones. According to one NSA document, these files contain the kind of information that is of particular interest to analysts, such as lists of contacts, call logs and drafts of text messages. To sort out such data, the analysts don’t even require access to the iPhone itself, the document indicates. The department merely needs to infiltrate the target’s computer, with which the smartphone is synchronized, in advance. Under the heading “iPhone capability,” the NSA specialists list the kinds of data they can analyze in these cases. The document notes that there are small NSA programs, known as “scripts,” that can perform surveillance on 38 different features of the iPhone 3 and 4 operating systems. They include the mapping feature, voicemail and photos, as well as the Google Earth, Facebook and Yahoo Messenger applications.

The NSA analysts are especially enthusiastic about the geolocation data stored in smartphones and many of their apps, data that enables them to determine a user’s whereabouts at a given time.

According to one presentation, it was even possible to track a person’s whereabouts over extended periods of time, until Apple eliminated this “error” with version 4.3.3 of its mobile operating system and restricted the memory to seven days.

Still, the “location services” used by many iPhone apps, ranging from the camera to maps to Facebook, are useful to the NSA. In the US intelligence documents, the analysts note that the “convenience” for users ensures that most readily consent when applications ask them whether they can use their current location.

Cracking the Blackberry

The NSA and its partner agency, Britain’s GCHQ, focused with similar intensity on another electronic toy: the BlackBerry.

This is particularly interesting given that the Canadian company’s product is marketed to a specific target group: companies that buy the devices for their employees. In fact, the device, with its small keypad, is seen as more of a manager’s tool than something suspected terrorists would use to discuss potential attacks.

The NSA also shares this assessment, noting that Nokia devices were long favored in extremist forums, with Apple following in third place and BlackBerry ranking a distant ninth.

According to several documents, the NSA spent years trying to crack BlackBerry communications, which enjoy a high degree of protection, and maintains a special “BlackBerry Working Group” specifically for this purpose. But the industry’s rapid development cycles keep the specialists assigned to the group on their toes, as a GCHQ document marked “UK Secret” indicates.

According to the document, problems with the processing of BlackBerry data were suddenly encountered in May and June 2009, problems the agents attributed to a data compression method newly introduced by the manufacturer.

In July and August, the GCHQ team assigned to the case discovered that BlackBerry had previously acquired a smaller company. At the same time, the intelligence agency had begun studying the new BlackBerry code. In March 2010, the problem was finally solved, according to the internal account. “Champagne!” the analysts remarked, patting themselves on the back.

Security Concerns

The internal documents indicate that this was not the only success against Blackberry, a company that markets its devices as being surveillance-proof — and one that has recently lost substantial market share due to strategic mistakes, as the NSA also notes with interest. According to one of the internal documents, in a section marked “Trends,” the share of US government employees who used BlackBerry devices fell from 77 to less than 50 percent between August 2009 and May 2012.

The NSA concludes that ordinary consumer devices are increasingly replacing the only certified government smartphone, leading the analysts to voice their concerns about security. They apparently assume that they are the only agents worldwide capable of secretly tapping into BlackBerrys.

As far back as 2009, the NSA specialists noted that they could “see and read” text messages sent from BlackBerrys, and could also “collect and process BIS mails.” BIS stands for BlackBerry Internet Service, which operates outside corporate networks, and which, in contrast to the data passing through internal BlackBerry services (BES), only compresses but does not encrypt data.

But even this highest level of security would seem not to be immune to NSA access, at least according to a presentation titled, “Your target is using a BlackBerry? Now what?” The presentation notes that the acquisition of encrypted BES communications requires a “sustained” operation by the NSA’s Tailored Access Operation department in order to “fully prosecute your target.” An email from a Mexican government agency, which appears in the presentation under the title “BES collection,” reveals that this is applied successfully in practice.

Relying on BlackBerry

In June 2012, the documents show that the NSA was able to expand its arsenal against BlackBerry. Now they were also listing voice telephony among their “current capabilities,” namely the two conventional mobile wireless standards in Europe and the United States, “GSM” and “CDMA.”

But the internal group of experts, who had come together for a “BlackBerry round table” discussion, was still not satisfied. According to the documents, the question of which “additional enrichments would you like to see” with regards to BlackBerry was also discussed.

Even if everything in the materials viewed by SPIEGEL suggests the targeted use of these NSA
surveillance options, the companies involved are not likely to be impressed.

BlackBerry is faltering and is currently open to takeover bids. Security remains one of its top selling points with its most recent models, such as the Q10. If it now becomes apparent that the NSA is capable of spying on both Apple and BlackBerry devices in a targeted manner, it could have far-reaching consequences.

Those consequences extend to the German government. Not long ago, the government in Berlin awarded a major contract for secure mobile communications within federal agencies. The winner was BlackBerry.


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Saudi Sent Death-Row Inmates to Fight Syria*

Saudi Sent Death-Row Inmates to Fight Syria*

Saudi Arabia has sent death-row inmates from several nations to fight against the Syrian government in exchange for commuting their sentences, the Assyrian International News Agency reports.

Citing what it calls a “top secret memo” in April from the Ministry of Interior, AINA says the Saudi offered 1,239 inmates a pardon and a monthly stipend for their families, which were were allowed to stay in the Sunni Arab kingdom. Syrian President Bashar Assad is an Alawite, a minority Shiite sect.

According to an English translation of the memo, besides Saudis, the prisoners included Afghans, Egyptians, Iraqis, Jordanians, Kuwaitis, Pakistanis, Palestinians, Somalis, Sudanese, Syrians and Yemenis. All faced “execution by sword” for murder, rape or drug smuggling [allegedly].

Russia, which has backed Assad, objected to the bargain and allegedly threatened to bring the issue to the United Nations, said an unidentified former Iraqi member of Parliament who confirmed the memo’s authenticity, says AINA, an independent outlet.

“Initially Saudi Arabia denied the existence of this program. But the testimony of the released prisoners forced the Saudi government to admit, in private circles, its existence,” AINA writes. “The Saudis agreed to stop their clandestine activities and work towards finding a political solution on condition that knowledge of this program would not be made public.”

AINA also published the original Arabic memo.

The report mentions that most of the 23 Iraqi prisoners returned home, as did an unspecified number of Yemenis. But AINA does not indicate the fates of the remaining inmates or how many may have been killed, wounded or captured.

Assyrians, the builders of Mesopotamian civilizations, are a semitic people indigenous to northern Iraq. They are ethnically distinct from Arabs and Jews, and are generally Christians. Assyria dominated the Middle East in the first millennium BCE.


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Americans Make It Clear They Do NOT Want War With Syria!

Americans Make It Clear They Do NOT Want War With Syria!

Syria Video Turns the Debate on U.S. Intervention

By Lloyd Grove

The raw video was so grisly, and so barbaric, that the New York Times staffers who watched and edited it for online publication were made “physically ill,” according to the newspaper’s spokeswoman.

The scene of Syrian rebels standing over seven soldiers of the Syrian regular army while the rebel commander recited a bloodthirsty poem—and pointing rifles and a pistol at the heads of their prostrate, shirtless, and badly beaten prisoners—was shocking enough. Times video editors tactfully blackened the screen as the rebels—who, just like the United States government, oppose the regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad—began to execute the soldiers; the only indication of the slaughter taking place was a noisy fusillade of 10 seconds in length. Then an image flashed of the broken bodies in a mass grave.

The video—which the Times reported was obtained a few days ago from “a former rebel who grew disgusted by the killings” and smuggled it out of Syria—is suddenly haunting the Obama administration, and it could not have surfaced at a more inopportune moment. For the past six days, President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and other officials have been waging an all-hands-on-deck public-relations and lobbying campaign to gain congressional authorization next week to punish the Assad regime with a military strike for its illegal use of poison gas against thousands of Syrian civilians, including young children. Read on >>>

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