This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Refugees With Deadly Baggage

"Now, when I think of the future, I am afraid. I am afraid for Europe."
Paulus Borisho, 55, Kebab shop owner, Stockholm Sweden 

"I don't know of any Western country with a similar use of hand grenades. Our hypothesis is that they are used to send a message. Not so much as a weapon, as a tool for intimidation."
"You don't need perfect aim. You are not trying to kill a particular person."
Manne Gerell, lecturer in criminology, Malmo University

Recently a 63-year-old Stockholm resident on his way home from work in the evening, cycling through a Stockholm suburb stopped momentarily when he saw a round object on the pavement, and reached down to lift it. That would be his final act in life for what he stopped to observe at closer hand killed him and also incidentally his wife, who had been with him. Manufactured for the Yugoslav national army, taken by paramilitaries during the 1990s civil war, it was a M-75 hand grenade, a long way from that distant conflict, ending up in Stockholm.

These are plastic-explosives-packed grenades, stuffed with 3,000 steel balls each, meant for attack on enemy bunkers. And they're cheap to acquire in Sweden, the going price is about $12.50 a grenade. Who might be interested in acquiring them? Well, gang members, it seems. In nice, civil, socialized and peaceful Sweden. Who might imagine it! Gang-related assaults and shootings are on the increase. And though Sweden balks at the merest suggestion of areas of the country that are 'no-go zones', the police speak of neighbourhoods "marred by crime, social unrest and insecurity".
Malmö police worry about wave of violence
Swedish police investigate a hand grenade attack in Malmö. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT
"We have lost the trust from the people who lived and worked in this area", Gunnar Appelgren, specialist in gang violence as a police superintendent said. Those neighbourhoods that are not 'no-go zones' but rather areas that crime, social unrest and insecurity have marked are on the rise, and they are linked to immigration. It is low-income suburbs which have been blighted by growing gang violence where hospitals have been reporting armed confrontations in emergency rooms, where school administrations claim threats and weapons are now commonplace.
Police officer Ted Eriksson is treated in Stockholm last summer after he was stabbed in the neck by an asylum seeker
Police officer Ted Eriksson is treated in Stockholm last summer after he was stabbed in the neck by an asylum seeker     LISA MATTISSON/TT NEWS AGENCY

Two 20-year-old men from Uppsala were arrested on charges recently that they tossed grenades at a bank employee's home. A new sophistication in intimidation techniques, it would seem. Rival gangs seem to target one another with grenades. Likely accounting for the one lying in the street at night that killed that unfortunate couple simply bicycling back to their home, never suspecting it would be their last cycle together. With deadly events such as this, little wonder that people no longer trust that their local police can deliver security.

On the wall in Mr. Appelgren's Stockholm Police Headquarters office hangs a chart indicating the increase in the prevalence of hand grenades. In 2015, 45 grenades were seized by police, ten others detonated in the commission of a crime, and by the following year those numbers rose to 55 and 35 respectively. Police officials largely claim a failure of integration has led to increased gang violence. A recent study of a Swedish street gang concluded 24 percent of its membership to be ethnic Swedes; 42 percent born in Sweden (emanating elsewhere by heritage).

When the Bosnian war ended, paramilitaries were required under the peace agreement to decommission arsenals. the arms in possession of sellers in Bosnia and Serbia making their way to the diaspora in Sweden through active networks that throw in excess grenades as a free bonus with the purchase of AK-47s, explained Mr. Appelgren. Explaining just why the street price of a hand grenade is 100 kroner ($12.50) in Sweden.

Sweden: Grenade damages to police van

Kebab shop owner Mr. Borisho found asylum in Sweden escaping war as a commando in a Lebanese militia -- who had himself a familiarity with handling grenades. He never imagined grenades ending up in the street close to his shop. The 160-kilometer Oresund Bridge linking Malmo to Denmark is the entry point for illegal weapons. Vehicle searches are desultory; personnel are in short supply and until recently hand grenades had the classification of "flammable products", not weapons.

Two 18-year-old men have been arrested in the investigation of that grenade death of the two cyclists, originally from Chile. The area of Stockholm they lived in, Varby Gard, has its own street gang, the Varby Gard Network, whose membership is comprised of first- and second-generation immigrants from Finland, the Balkans and Africa. Immigrants and Refugees have transformed this once-Christian heritage nation rather considerably.

This nation of close to ten million people has almost two million derived of immigrants and refugees.
Immigrants and refugees to Sweden come from many nations of the world, included among them nations which form a very large proportion of those now residing in that country; from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Turkey, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. A dynamic admixture, to be sure, of polarized and polarizing societies whose religion, culture, heritage and politics is so unlike Sweden's and quite transformative.

But, evidently, no "no-go zones" whatever.

The blue line represents refugees, the red line immigrants

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Friday, March 16, 2018

Russian Sports and Politics

"You don't need to be a rocket scientist to understand that Putin will win]."
"My choice, who I was willing to give my voice to at the election, he was not allowed to run for the presidency."
"After two days thinking [on being approached with an invitation to take a parliamentary seat for United Russia party in parliament], I thought something is a bit dodgy and I don't want to be involved."
"My voice isn't going to be counted as whatever I think. So I said I don't want to be there just for pressing the button [to vote]."
"I always thought sports and politics should not collide together on the same path, should be completely separate. Unfortunately as of late, someone's using the professional athletes for their own benefit."
"I've always been open-minded and people obviously know that Yevgeny Kafelnikov is not for sale. There is no chance that I could sell myself for something like this."
"I'm sure other athletes who are supporting so-called Putin's team, they do have a choice but they've chosen the path which they're comfortable with. I'm not going to judge each one, why they did this."
Yevgeny Kafelnikov, formerly ranked No.1 tennis player backing Alexei Navalny

"I just support my country, you know? That's where I'm from, my parents live there, all my friends."
"Like every human from different countries, they support their president."
Alex Ovechkin, NHL player, Washington Capitals
Russian President Vladimir Putin during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia.  (Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia. (Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

Vladimir Putin who fancies himself an equal of just about any sport figure and who himself once practised competitive judo in his younger years, and still enjoys a game of competitive hockey, playing against NHL-competitive-grade Russian hockey players and manages to score (if, on the other hand, he's not allowed to score), has a passion to display Russian sport prowess through the expertise of his countrymen. Trouble is, he is so passionate about it that he ordered the Russian sports federation to pull out all the stops.
Vladimir Putin Apologises To Athletes Banned Over Doping, Orders Alternative Olympic Games
Vladimir Putin with ice hockey players during a meeting with athletes ahead of Winter Olympics (AFP)

And their pulling out all the stops resulted eventually in Russia being blackballed out of the wold's premier sport venues, like the Olympics, as a penalty for state-sponsored doping and other malfeasance unbecoming the dignity and reputation of a state. Russian athletes were permitted in some fields of endeavour, to compete in the latest Olympics events held in South Korea, as individuals, unrepresentative of their country, whose flag was not flown nor national anthem heard with wins.

One might logically think that Russian athletes would be resentful that their president feels that they cannot compete successfully on the world stage in their fields of sport-competitive excellence without cheating. And that state manipulation resulted in being shamed on the world sporting stage, along with their exclusion from international competition events. Evidently not, not if people like Olympic gold medallist, NHL player Alex Ovechkin's position can be judged. And it's not only this man but many other Russian sport figures that have signed on to Ovechkin's "Putin Team" social media campaign.

They're all boosting Vladimir V. Putin for re-election as Russian president. Actually unneeded since he is expected to win 70 percent of the vote, if state polls can be believed. Mr. Putin removed his only serious political adversary from contending for the presidential election, Alexei Navalny, who, unable to contend in a clearly thuggish, illegal move on the part of the current president, has urged his supporters to boycott the election.
The Capitals' Alex Ovechkin has long been a polarizing figure in the world of hockey. His recent support of Russian  president Vladimir Putin will only add fuel to the fire.
The Capitals' Alex Ovechkin has long been a polarizing figure in the world of hockey. His recent support of Russian president Vladimir Putin will only add fuel to the fire.  (John McDonnell / The Washington Post)

There is nothing new, evidently, in Russian sport figures being allied with government, since sport is controlled by government agencies which also dispense funding. Some elite Russian sport figures get involved in political campaigns, and become sitting members of parliament in Mr. Putin's United Russia party. And although Yevgeny Kafelnikov won't support Putin, he uses his social media presence (24,000 Twitter followers) for exposure to political commentary on his part, including banter passing between himself and Navalny, alongside chatter about Spartak Moscow soccer team.

Alex Ovechkin, on the other hand, launched an athlete and other celebrity social media campaign in support of Vladimir Putin, complete with a rally in Gorky Park, central Moscow. A non-governmental organization monitoring potential election violations -- Golos -- took especial note of the Putin Team rally where promises of free gifts on attendance clearly violates a bribery code. It's unknown who funds the Putin Team organization with its valuable prizes for supporters.

At a March 3 rally at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow where the soccer World Cup final will take place in July, Putin held a rally. Accompanying him on stage was 15-year-old figure skating gold medallist Alina Zagitova, as well as the gold medal-winning men's hockey team. The Russian Sports Ministry with its wide-ranging power in funding and hiring of coaches is inextricably linked with Vladimir Putin, as president of Russia in perpetuity.

State-controlled companies fund Russia's top sport clubs in soccer and hockey.

Kafelnikov has contact with other Russian athletes as opposition minded as he is, but who take care not to openly discuss politics. "I'm sure there are plenty. I'm hoping so. There are some who share my thoughts toward what's happening and what's going to happen. I do have some supporters", he said in an interview.

The Canadian Press

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Turkish War Crimes in Afrin, Syria

"All care is being taken. Right now the first civilians are being taken out of Afrin in vehicles through a special corridor."
"Operation Olive Branch [offers the opportunity to move three million Syrian refugees in Turkey into Afrin as] rightfully Arab land." 
"We aim to give Afrin back to its rightful owners."
"Today, as the operation entered its 54th day, almost 3,500 terrorists have been neutralized and about 1,300 square kilometers of land cleared of terrorists."
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
"The Kurdish YPG forces were celebrated for defeating ISIL in Raqqa less than a year ago, and now, as Turkey invades Afrin, the world is silent."
"There is the complicity of Western governments who have allowed their NATO ally Turkey to carry out an unprovoked, illegal and illegitimate invasion using U.K. jets, German tanks and Italian helicopters."
Rosa Gilbert, co-secretary, Kurdistan Solidarity Campaign, U.K.

"Where is the international community? Why don't they cry tears for all Syrian civilians, not only some?"
"They are too scared to criticize their Turkish ally."
Ahmed Murad, Afrin resident

"[Turkish forces have been carrying out] demographic change [in Kurdish territory captured in Afrin]."
Redur Xelil, head, foreign relations, Syrian Democratic Forces
AFP   As Turkey draws near Syria's Afrin Syrian civilians flee - March 13, 2018
The Syrian city of Afrin has had its water and electricity cut off by invading Turkish troops, tasked by Turkey's president to cleanse the town of Afrin, 90 villages and another town under YPG control completely encircled by the Turkish military -- of their Kurdish residents. Since these places are home to 90% of the entire population who are Kurds the result will be almost three-quarters of a million Kurds will be forcefully displaced, a war crime if ever there was one. This, caused by a NATO member, a situation that should cause all other members of NATO to hang their heads in shame.

Rami Abdulrahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed that the only road leading out of the area remains in range of Turkish fire, and the Turkish military has no intention of hold back on their firing. The road is effectively off limits for the hundreds of thousands of people who would attempt to evacuate the area and leave their homes. An estimated 700,000 people live in the area being encircled and closed off from escape. An escape that Erdogan claims to be possible through the corridor he has opened even while his forces continue to bomb the last remaining road out of the area.

In the town of Afrin itself, over 350,000 people are trapped. Although the town center of Afrin had a pre-war population of 50,000, the effect of the seven-year-long Syrian civil war that erupted in 2011 led to the growth of the population, seeking haven wherever they could find it. The Kurdish People's
Protection Units (YPG) controls Afrin, bordered to the north and west by Turkey, on the south by government Syrian territory. Last month the Syrian regime deployed forces to aid Afrin's southern outskirts in response to the Kurdish plea for help. Turkish positions were shelled by Syrian troops.

Syrian Kurds deliberately avoided direct confrontation with the Syrian regime while both were engaged in fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and rebel groups. A situation which seemed reasonable at the time, despite the Kurdish desire for complete autonomy from Damascus. Now, although Turkey has aligned itself with Russia and Iran with respect to upholding the Syrian regime, Turkey and Syria continue to confront one another albeit through their proxies.

In its bid to control the entire of Afrin and oust the majority Kurdish population, Turkey has seen some of the rural areas fall. In its strike toward densely populated Afrin city the potential for massive civilian casualties loom large. A matter of as little concern to Erdogan, considering the Kurds' presence a solvable inconvenience, as Bashar al-Assad's unconcern over the plight of his own Sunni Syrian population whom he has targeted as 'terrorists' with barrel bombs and chemical attacks over the years claiming over a half-million lives in the process.

The purpose of the cynically-named "Operation Olive Branch" was aimed at clearing out YPG militants from along Turkey's southern frontier. While thousands of civilians have left Afrin to escape the violence, tens of thousands more have been left trapped with few resources available to them. The water supply cut off, bread scarcely to be found anywhere. A humanitarian crisis is building and becoming ever more urgent since Turkish forces seized control of the local dam.

The YPG has been a loyal and useful fighting group servicing the U.S. military which has relied on them in the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. And as horrendously vicious in their penchant for atrocities ISIL fighters have been, their victim count was nowhere near approaching that of the Syrian regime, the Russian air bombardment, Hezbollah and Shiite militias and now Turkey's military hounding and violating the human rights of the Kurdish population.

Erdogan sees himself as the arbiter of land dispersal, planning to settle some of the millions of Sunni Syrians displaced by the Syrian regime on the border in Afrin, to match the displacement and soon-to-be refugee status of hundreds of thousands of Kurds whom his military has been pounding with artillery. He has declared the land he is cleansing of any Kurdish presence as "rightfully Arab land", a warrior of Islam set on violence and bloodshed of his own making.

Of course there is the glaring issue of human rights and heritage being denied Kurds, who want nothing more than what other national groups attain by right of residence and culture and heritage, the recognition that parts of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria immorally and illegally occupy Kurdish land. They all, and Turkey the most aggressively of all, denies Kurds their heritage, and their rightful occupancy of their legacy geography. Land that is "rightfully Kurdish" remains ignored by Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Western nations sharing place with Turkey in NATO membership should be cringing at their cowardice in failing to confront Erdogan.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A Miraculous Cure for Violent Jihad

"Violence -- especially when it is inspired by religion -- is foreign to everything I believe in."
"I do understand how Muslims could be drawn into jihad and violence."
"Hearing daily reports of innocent casualties and invading armies, and urged on by respected figure[s] in our community, it is possible to understand how a young Muslim might be led onto a path that he or she, if lucky enough to have survived, regrets deeply."
"It is my view that following such a path is risky, foolhardy, and most fundamentally wrong."
Muhanad Mahmoud al Farekh, convicted conspirator in jihad
Muhanad Al Farekh is seen at a computer in his Winnipeg apartment in 2007, in video entered as evidence in a New York court during his trial on terrorism charges.
Muhanad Al Farekh is seen at a computer in his Winnipeg apartment in 2007, in video entered as evidence in a New York court during his trial on terrorism charges. (U.S. Federal Court Exhibit )

"[Al-Farekh had] turned his back on America by joining al-Qaeda and trying to kill American soldiers in a bomb attack on a U.S. military base in Afghanistan."
"This case demonstrates that we will do everything in our power to ensure that those who seek to harm our country and our armed forces will be brought to justice."
Richard Donoghue, U.S. attorney, eastern district New York
The cure, it seems for violent jihad lies in arresting, detaining, incarcerating, placing on trial those Islamists who have forged tight ties with violent jihadi groups such as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and al-Qaeda. Sitting in jail cells appears to persuade those who formerly set out to destroy human lives in a cycle of vengeance against slights to Islam, to regret their rash choices, to repent, and to see the personal utility in appearing to relinquish any thought of future attacks against the 'enemy', while in the process of being tried in a court of justice, persuading the presiding judge that one is really a peace-loving, law-abiding citizen at heart.
Al Farekh
Muhanad Al Farekh is an American citizen but lived in Winnipeg, where he has family, while enrolled at the University of Manitoba. (Jane Rosenberg/Reuters)

And Muhanad Mahmoud al Farekh was a citizen of the United States, and remains one despite being charged and found guilty of offences including conspiracy to murder American military personnel, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, conspiracy to bomb a government facility and providing material support to al-Qaeda. The 32-year-old American citizen was born in Houston, Texas. Yet, according to evidence given against him he was "unshakably committed" to violent jihad.

U.S. District Court Judge Brian Cogan concluded that a sentence of 45 years would be just compensation for this man's efforts on behalf of the Islamic code of jihad which the sacred scriptures enjoin all faithful to engage in as a primary focus in demonstration of their fealty to Islam. Judge Cogan pointed out when handing down that sentence that it appeared that al Farekh had failed to accept his personal responsibility in the attack that took place in Afghanistan against American troops.

This was a man who attended a Canadian university, enrolling as a student at the University of Manitoba where he met and made common cause with two others also studying at the Winnipeg-based university. All three departed Canada for Pakistan in 2007, purposing to fight American forces. They were prompted by online lectures by Anwar al-Awlaqi the leader of al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula, who was killed by a U.S. targeted drone strike years ago, (his influence lived on long after his death).

The three men were convinced their destiny held them to martyrdom to jihad. Ferid Ahmed Imam, a former biochemistry student, served as a weapons instructor at a Pakistani terrorist training camp for al-Qaeda, while Maiwand Yar, a Canadian citizen like Imam and a former mechanical engineering student, set out to join the Taliban and to kill NATO soldiers in Afghanistan. In northern Pakistan the three received their training from al-Qaeda, and in 2009 set out to become martyrs.

Driving two vehicles, they approached the fence at the U.S. Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan, where the driver of the first vehicle detonated an improvised explosive device which injured one U.S. serviceman and a number of Afghan nationals. The following second vehicle with 7,500 pounds of explosives became mired in a blast crater created by the first explosion. The driver was shot and killed as he attempted to escape.

Later, forensic investigators unearthed 18 latent fingerprints matching al Farekh on tape used to bind the undetonated explosives together.
The jury heard evidence that 18 fingerprints matching Al Farekh were recovered from the unexploded bomb used in the attack on a U.S. base in Afghanistan. (U.S. Federal Court Exhibit)

Al Farekh will now be sent away, possibly for the rest of his natural life -- where he can continue his campaign to convince himself that he is a man of peace who cannot understand why anyone would cause death to another human being on behalf of a religion of peace and brotherly love. As for his two co-conspirators, their whereabouts is unknown; they were never apprehended, and as far as anyone knows, they are at large to continue their campaign of death.

The judge said Muhanad Mahmoud al Farekh could be released by the time he is 67.

The judge said Muhanad Mahmoud al Farekh could be released by the time he is 67. (Court Document)

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Vladimir V. Putin: A Puzzle Within An Enigma

"Either this was a direct act by the Russian State against our country, or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others."
"Should there be no credible response, we will conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom."
"And I will come back to this House [British House of Commons] and set out the full range of measures that we will take."
"[Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were targeted with a] military grade [nerve agent known as] Novichok [developed by the Russian military]."
"[The Kremlin] seems to be intent on dismantling the international rules-based order [and must be resisted]."
{This attempted murder using a weapons-grade nerve agent in a British town was not just a crime against the Skripals. It was an indiscriminate and reckless act against the United Kingdom, putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk -- and we will not tolerate such a brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil."
British Prime Minister Theresa May
Soldiers removing a contaminated ambulance from Salisbury hospital’s A&E entrance on Saturday. Photograph: EPA

No, indeed not. Britain, according to its redoubtable prime minister who really has no wish to discourage Russian money from flooding British real estate, is prepared to take "much more extensive measures" than what its reaction had been in 2006 when former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned with polonium which killed him over an agonizingly painful two weeks in a London hospital brought to British-Russian relations and which earned expulsions and limited sanctions for Russia. This time around, Britain is really, really, really serious.

Russia, of course, is skeptical, slightly amused and somewhat aroused to sarcasm over all the fuss, with Dmitry Peskov speaking for Vladimir Putin informing reporters that this is a British problem having nothing whatever to do with Russia, the Kremlin or Mr. Putin. Mr. Skripal, after all, worked for British intelligence, was poisoned on British soil, therefore the incident "has nothing to do with Russia, let alone the Russian leadership". Take that!

That Sergei Skripal was a Russian military intelligence officer is simply irrelevantly incidental. His loyalty to Russia was amply proven when he agreed to spy for MI6, amenable to their 1990s recruitment efforts. True, he was tried for high treason and viewed as a traitor to the motherland, but he paid the price of imprisonment, cut short when he was traded in an exchange with those loyal to Russia as sleeper agents in the U.S. At which time he resumed his life in Britain, hence Britain's problem; Russia had washed its hands of this man's choices.
Former Russian military intelligence colonel Sergei Skripal at the Moscow District Military Court in 2006, and his daughter Yulia Skripal. Yuri Senatorov/AFP/Getty Images; Facebook via AP

"The Russian state is a strange construction. The FSB is not a monolithic organisation. There are elements within it like the GRU, which is a sort of rival to the FSB."
"I don’t doubt it [the Skripal poisoning] had general approval from senior heads – that’s the system he’s [Vladimir Putin] created."
"Since 2012 Russia has been going backwards, rejecting economic reform and better courts in favour of renewed state control and repression, a fear of anything that is other. It’s the revival of Stalinism and the idea that Russia has the right to dominate its neighbours."
Sir Andrew Wood, former British ambassador to Russia, associate fellow, Chatham House
"The exchange was very unusual. It was seen as an invitation for Russians to spy for foreigners because it indicated any Russian arrested for spying in Russia could be exchanged."
"They knew they were making a mistake by releasing him, but they knew they would have a chance to kill him later."
"This is a complete change of the rules of the game [targeting a family member of a traitor] and will frighten a lot of people."
"Not only do they kill their opponents but they also indicate to everybody that a crime is never going to be punished. It [the murder] might not be discovered, and if it is discovered, even if you are arrested, they’ll get you out, and if you are arrested they’ll publicly promote you. They are very open, very cynical."
Dr Yuri Felshtinsky, co-author with Litvenenko of Blowing up Russia 

And back in Salisbury people are beginning to become accustomed to seeing hundreds of military personnel around and about. They are even, doubtless, looking past the abnormality of military people out and about fully garbed in hazmat gear, still busy investigating the most remote possibility of contamination, and removing objects both large and minuscule for laboratory testing.

There is a rumour that may disturb some people, that though they may feel well in the short term there is no telling how long the effects of the chemical contamination may rest in their systems before becoming lethally active.

The Mill pub and a Zizzi restaurant still resemble a theatrical set with tents in place where investigators work in and out of. The sight of protective-suited police may yet be unnerving to some, but their presence too has become commonplace, a visual irritation, a reminder that quiet residential Salisbury is as vulnerable to bad things happening as anywhere in the Middle East, as example, where war rages and people hope against hope they will be spared.

While the population is assured that everything is fine, just fine, nothing to be concerned about, move on, get on with your lives. And did you remember to wash or dry-clean items you were wearing when you were at the Mill pub and Zizzi a week ago and moving forward? How about your cellphone? And the jewellery you were wearing? Cleaned it all up, did you? Good, that's the thing to have been done; sorry we kind of overlooked telling you all that for days after the unfortunate event.

Yes, it's a shame that some businesses have been asked to close for the time being, but they too will return to normal, eventually. Don't, for heaven's sake, hesitate to frequent those that have remained open for business. After all, it is critical that we do not bow to terror, whether it is imposed by government agency or religious fanatics. We're Brits, after all, remember? We know how to carry on and not be unduly flustered.
"Litvinenko was a ‘gun for hire’ once he left Russia. There are a lot of people like him around. They can earn money acting as advisers to us."
"Skripal’s attempted murder wasn’t subtle. This was about terrorism, not elimination."
London-based security and risk analysis company operator in Russia

Having resumed the Cold War-era practice of swaps, why would Vladimir Putin or his spy chiefs want to ruin it by approving the assassination of a former spy? Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

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Monday, March 12, 2018

Turkey's Spyware Techniques

"Imagine that  your device could be silently commandeered and used to spy on you simply because you surfed the web. No need for anyone to have possession of it and physically install something. No need to trick you into downloading spyware, clicking on a malicious link, or entering your credentials into a phoney login page."
"Imagine no more."
"In Egypt, [Sandvine] devices were being used to block dozens of human rights, political, and news websites ... In Turkey, these devices were being used to block websites including Wikipedia, the website of the Dutch Broadcast Foundation [NOS], and the website of the Kurdistan Workers' Party [PKK]."
"[Nation states using] network injection [to spy on their citizens] has long been the stuff of legends."
Ron Deibert, director, The Citizen Lab, Munk School, University of Toronto
Photograph: Reuters

"Sandvine is deeply committed to ethical technology development and we hold our business processes and behaviour to the highest standards."
"We institute strong safeguards to ensure adherence to our principles of social responsibility, human rights, and privacy rights."
Sandvine Incorporated 

Sandvine Incorporated was lauded by the premier of Ontario who named it as a "true Ontario success story", in 2016. And a year later it was acquired by Francisco Partners and Procera Networks Inc. for $562-million. The former is an American private equity firm and the latter a networking equipment company operating out of California, selling Network Intelligence solutions based on deep packet inspection (DPI) technology.

Now it seems Citizen Lab has identified Sandvine products being used to hack Internet users' devices along the Turkey-Syrian border. Its purpose appears to be to install malicious spyware. Citizen Lab raises the issue as a "significant" human rights concern enabling the Turkish government in its mission to crack down on internal dissent and furthering its conflict with Kurdish militias in northern Syria.

The spying, according to The Citizen Lab likely was being done "by nation-states or (Internet Service Providers)", on the Turk Telekom network with ties to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party, rabidly Islamist. The report issued by Citizen Lab outlines a scenario whereby Internet users in Turkey and Syria downloading software like Avast Antivirus and CCleaner are redirected to malicious versions of the software, including spyware.
 Grooming the next generation for martyrdom: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan salutes with children in commando uniforms. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
This is a technique identified as "packet injection", used to contaminate the devices of people accessing Download.com, known to offer a variety of different download applications. Sandvine states in response, that they have initiated an internal investigation even as it criticizes the report as "technically inaccurate and intentionally misleading", without bothering to detail what exactly it is they take issue with.

On Telecom Egypt's networks, according to Citizen Lab, the Sandvine technology found its purpose to redirect Internet users to advertisements and cryptocurrency mining schemes, obviously related to economic issues, though the report goes on to suggest spyware may have been deployed, also. The Sandvine PacketLogic products were designed with legitimate Internet filtering in mind as well as network management uses.

However, Internet filtering devices can be used as well by repressive regimes for the purpose of censoring the Internet, blocking access to critical journalism, political opponents, or social media. Just down Turkey's alley. Evidence in fact of that type of censorship was found by The Citizen Lab in both Turkey and Egypt; in the former completely nefarious in nature, the latter much less so; more manipulative in purpose.

This is not, it would appear, the first time that Procera has been linked with Internet censorship and surveillance in Turkey. Forbes reported a group of Procera engineers had left the company in 2016, protesting a deal to provide surveillance hardware to Turk Telekom.

Turkey surveillance operation in five provinces with Sandvine tech
Citizen Lab says PC surveillance was taking place across five provinces in Turkey.  Map: Citizen Lab

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Sunday, March 11, 2018

Preserving the Peace by Preparing for War

"China's perverse form of capitalism combines illegal mercantilist and protectionist weapons to pick off American industries, job by job."
"China's emboldened military is racing toward head-on confrontation with the U.S."
Peter Navarro, U.S. chief trade adviser
A worker takes a sample from a blast furnace at the German steelmaker ThyssenKrupp. Photograph: Friedemann Vogel/EPA

In his book, Death by China, published in 2011 while a professor of economics and public policy at University of California, Peter Navarro impressed many people with his warning and his reasoning about a surging China, undertaking primacy in all vital metals production worldwide, from rare earth metals used in discrete purpose for everything from cancer treatment drugs, to cameras, to magnets and lasers and steel production, shutting other nations' industries out of production in competition with Chinese efficiency in low wages, leaving China the influencer in t he field.

This man's reputation and his theories led to President Trump bringing him in to his administration as a signal and purposeful trade negotiator at a time when the Trump administration is upending all trade negotiations it has with other nations with the charge that they all disadvantage the United States as they currently stand. Which brought Mr. Trump to the point where he decided that steep tariffs would apply to steel imports on the grounds of national security.

Panic ensued in Europe and in Canada, suppliers of steel and aluminum to the U.S. defence industry. Neither of which initially looked a little deeper than the surface when trump tweeted: "Our steel industry is in bad shape. IF YOU DON'T HAVE STEEL, YOU DON'T HAVE A COUNTRY"! A bizarre sentiment on the surface, but a reflection of the American experience during wartime when U.S. steel production was totally geared to the wartime economy and the dominating U.S. steel production was critical to the war effort.

With the advent of the current reality where China is now dominant in steel production, the U.S. would be dependent on China for the source of its steel when, conceivably, it could be at war with China at some future date. Now Trump's message makes eminently explicable sense. American steel production capacity is in the doldrums and realistically it cannot be so fully dependent on other countries for such a vital element.

And as the U.S. Commerce Department points out, the U.S. is at risk of finding itself "in a position where it is unable to be certain it could meet demands for national defence and critical industries in a national emergency". The department gives warning that should the U.S. remain dependent on foreign sources for steel the legal authority to commandeer supplies as needed would be absent, unlike the situation that would pertain in monopolizing steel produced within the U.S.

China is recognized as a colossus in production of steel. And it is also a growing threat to the preeminence of the United States on the world stage. Peter Navarro's 2006 book, The Coming China Wars describe China as a ruthless emerging power whose momentum could conceivably result in its ambitions of dominance succeeding; a country not averse to using the threat of physical power to surmount any threats to its hegemonic influence and perceived entitlements.

The U.S. trade initiative seeks to neutralize its own alarm over America's lack of preparedness should it be required to confront China. A China whose government subsidies enabled the acquisition of steel production over a global market leaving China accounting for half of the world's entire steel production. The need to counter those steel subsidies in particular from China to enable the survival of what is left of the U.S. steel industry calls out for those tariffs alarming the world market.

US tariffs of 25% on steel imports and 10% on aluminum could lead to a global trade war. Photograph: Julian Smith/EPA

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