Monday, March 8, 2010

Airport body scanners spreading across US

Transportation Security Administration employee John Carter demonstrates the AP – Transportation Security Administration employee John Carter demonstrates the stance in an advanced image …
BOSTON – The Transportation Security Administration on Friday announced nine more U.S. airports that will receive body-scanning technology, as the U.S. heightens its effort to detect hidden explosives and other weapons amid a threat highlighted by an attempted bombing on Christmas Day. TSA security director Lee Kair said units will be fielded in the coming months at Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; San Jose, Calif.; Columbus, Ohio; San Diego; Charlotte, N.C.; Cincinnati; Los Angeles; Oakland, Calif.; and Kansas City. They will join three machines going online Monday at Boston's Logan International Airport, and one being deployed next week at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. All are among 150 machines bought with money from the federal stimulus package signed by President Barack Obama last year. They join 40 machines already in use at 19 airports nationwide. Both the new and existing machines will also now be in a primary position, meaning they will be the default screening equipment passengers face at a checkpoint. The existing machines have been in a secondary position, being used only when a passenger failed a metal screening or posed some other risk factor. Passengers retain the right to opt out of a body scanning for a more intense but traditional screening. The Associated Press timed a body scanning at 25 seconds, and Kair said he did not expect them to take any longer than a passenger would have to otherwise wait for the X-ray of carry-on bags. Deployment of the machines was announced in the fall, before Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab allegedly tried to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day with explosives concealed in his underwear. Even so, that event highlighted the need for additional security in the U.S. aviation system. Other countries have also signed on to use the technology, including Nigeria and the Netherlands, where Abdulmutallab started his flight and then connected to the U.S. Civil libertarians have complained that the new machines can violate a passenger's privacy. The American Civil Liberties Union has denounced the screening as a "virtual strip search." One Logan passenger didn't share the concerns. "There's always going to be issues. As long as they maintain proper control over the situation, I have no problem with it," said Michelle Carrier, 32, who was flying to Houston. "Freedom's important, but this is one of the prices you pay for safety." The image from a machine displayed for reporters on Friday showed the blurry outline of a female volunteer. None of her clothing was visible, nor were her genitals, but the broad contours of her chest and buttocks were. Her face also was blurred. The image included the shadow of a cell phone purposely left on her belt, as well as the metal buttons on her pants. But overall, it looked like the outline of a ghost. Samples are on display on the TSA's Web site. TSA officials said that the units won't be able to print or store images, and that the officer viewing them will have no contact with passengers. The passenger will remain at the checkpoint until the officer in the viewing room radios an all-clear to another officer standing with the passenger. Passengers who accept a scan — and pass — will not have to walk through a metal detector or other security equipment. Those who decline will have to walk through a metal detector and also submit to a patdown. While the devices are not aimed at detecting contraband such as illegal drugs, if they are detected, a law enforcement officer will likely be notified, said a TSA spokeswoman. Kair said he was confident terrorists couldn't concentrate on beating the patdown because of other layers in the security system, including expanded use of explosive trace detection equipment and behavioral analysis. "When you go through all the layers of security, they have a multiplying effect," he said. The Obama administration announced in February 2009 that it would provide $1 billion for airport screening as part of its $787 billion federal stimulus package. In May, the administration detailed how that money would be spent — including $25 million for the new scanners. Between May and September, the department asked contractors to provide proposals for building the scanners. Competing models were tested over the summer. The department awarded the contract to California-based Rapiscan at the end of September. On the Net: Transportation Security Administration:

Pakistan: American al-Qaida suspect nabbed

Soldiers of Pakistan paramilitary force stand alert at a roadside as security AP – Soldiers of Pakistan paramilitary force stand alert at a roadside as security enhanced in Karachi, Pakistan …
ISLAMABAD – An American member of al-Qaida was picked up in a raid in Pakistan's southern city of Karachi, Pakistani officials said Monday, but reversed earlier assertions that the detained man was the terror network's U.S.-born spokesman. They identified the suspect as Abu Yahya Majadin Adam, but gave no details on his background or role within al-Qaida. A name very close to that is listed on the FBI's Web site as an alias for Adam Gadahn, the 31-year-old spokesman who has appeared in several videos threatening the West since 2001. The resemblance created confusion among officials Sunday, leading them to believe that the suspect was Gadahn, an army officer and a senior intelligence officer said. "The resemblance of the name initially caused confusion but now they have concluded he is not Gadahn," said an intelligence officer, who like all Pakistani intelligence agents does not allow his name to be used. "He feels proud to be a member of al-Qaida." U.S. Embassy spokesman Rick Snelsire said the embassy had not been informed of any American being arrested. A senior U.S military intelligence official said Monday the man arrested does not appear to be Gadahn. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive Pakistani operations. On Sunday, two intelligence officers and a senior government official identified the detained man as Gadahn and said he was arrested in recent days. They, too, spoke on condition of anonymity. The government official said his name could not be used because of the sensitivity of the information. None of those officials were available for comment Monday. Pakistan is under intense U.S. pressure to arrest al-Qaida and Taliban leaders living on its soil. Last month, the country arrested the Afghan Taliban No. 2 commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, in Karachi. Officials have also claimed to have detained other leaders in the movement. News of the arrests has been murky, coming primarily through Pakistani and Afghan officials speaking anonymously. None of the suspects have been presented before a court or charged. Baradar's detention and the other reported arrests have been seen as a sign that Pakistan, which has been criticized in the past as an untrustworthy ally in the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban, was cooperating more fully with Washington. Asked about the arrest in Karachi, Interior Minister Rehman Malik cited unspecified reports that "some foreigners have been arrested two days back" and that he had asked for more information on their identities from the intelligence agencies, which operate largely outside of the control of the civilian government. Pakistani agents and those from the CIA work closely on some operations in Pakistan, but it was unclear if any Americans were involved in the recent operation in Karachi or were questioning the suspect. In the past, Pakistan has quietly handed over some al-Qaida suspects arrested on its soil to the United States. The arrest of an American militant in Pakistan would be another example of U.S. citizens traveling abroad to join al-Qaida and the Taliban. Security analyst say such militants, while small in number, are especially dangerous because of their ability to travel the world more easily on a Western passport. In December, Pakistani police arrested five young U.S. Muslims who they allege were trying to link up with militants. Gadahn, the first American to face treason charges in more than 50 years, has appeared in more than a half-dozen al-Qaida videos, taunting the West and calling for its destruction. A video that surfaced Sunday showed him urging American Muslims to attack the U.S. He has been on the FBI's most wanted list since 2004 and there is a $1 million reward for information leading to his arrest. He was charged with treason in 2006 and faces the death penalty if convicted. He was also charged with two counts of providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization. _____
Associated Press Writer Munir Ahmad in Islamabad and AP National Security Writer Anne Gearan in Kabul contributed to this report.

Strong earthquake slams eastern Turkey, kills 51

In this image from TV,  showing emergency workers and local people as they work AP – In this image from TV, showing emergency workers and local people as they work to clear rubble to reach …
OKCULAR, Turkey – A strong, pre-dawn earthquake knocked down stone and mud-brick houses, barns and minarets in eastern Turkey on Monday, killing 51 people in five villages, the government said. The earthquake surprised many residents as they slept, crumpling buildings into piles of rubble. Panicked survivors fled into narrow village streets, some climbing out of windows, as nearly 80 aftershocks measuring up to 5.5 and 5.3 magnitude rattled the region. The Kandilli seismology center said the 6.0-magnitude quake hit at 4:32 a.m. (0232 GMT, 9 p.m. EST Sunday) near the village of Basyurt in a remote, sparsely populated area of Elazig province. The region is 340 miles (550 kilometers) east of Ankara, the capital. The U.S. Geological Survey listed the quake at 5.9 magnitude. The government initially put the death toll at 57 but later lowered it to 51 with no explanation. In addition to the deaths, 34 people were being treated for injuries, Turkey's crisis center said. The damage appeared worst in the village of Okcular, where at least 15 of the village's 900 residents were killed, the Elazig governor's office said. As relatives rushed in for news of their loved ones, authorities blocked off the area so ambulances and rescue teams could maneuver up Okcular's narrow, steep roads. Residents lit fires to keep warm in the winter cold, with snow-covered mountains in the background. "The village is totally flattened," village administrator Hasan Demirdag told private NTV television. Resident Ali Riza Ferhat said he was woken up by the jolt. "I tried to get out of the door but it wouldn't open. I came out of the window and started helping my neighbors," he told NTV television. "We removed six bodies." Video footage showed men using shovels and their bare hands to dig two bodies out from under piles of dirt, rubble and concrete blocks that used to be homes. Both bodies were covered in blankets and carried away. One appeared to be a baby or young child. Women in veils gathered near the rescue scenes, some crying. "Everything has been knocked down, there is not a stone in place," said Yadin Apaydin, administrator for the village of Yukari Kanatli, where three people died. Another 15 people were killed in the nearby village of Yukari Demirci, Gov. Muammer Erol said, four each were killed in the villages of Kayalik and Gocmezler and 10 others died after being taken to a hospital in the town of Kovancilar. The temblor also knocked down barns, killing many farm animals. A half-dozen dead cows could be seen partially buried in the dirt near one collapsed home. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Kandilli Observatory's director, Mustafa Erdik, urged residents not to enter any damaged homes, warning they could topple from aftershocks that Erdik said could last for days. Erdogan blamed the region's mud-brick buildings for the many deaths and said the government housing agency will build quake-proof homes in the area. He said ambulance helicopters, prefabricated homes and mobile kitchens were being rushed in, and Turkey's Red Crescent aid group sent tents and blankets. The quake was also felt in the neighboring provinces of Tunceli, Bingol and Diyarbakir, where residents fled to the streets in panic and stayed outdoors. Schools were closed for two days in the region. In Tunceli province, students were sent home after the quake caused a school's walls to crack, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported. A museum in Elazig displaying artifacts from the Iron-age Kingdom of Urartu was not affected by the quake, and nearby dams were also intact. Earthquakes are frequent in Turkey, much of which lies on top of two main fault lines. In 1999, two powerful earthquakes struck northwestern Turkey, killing about 18,000 people. In 2003, a 6.4-magnitude earthquake killed 177 people in Bingol, including 84 children whose school dormitory collapsed. The Elazig quake followed deadly temblors in Haiti and Chile, but Bernard Doft, the seismologist for the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute in Utrecht, said there was no direct connection between the three. "These events are too far apart to be of direct influence to each other," he said. Richard Luckett, a seismologist from the British Geological Survey, said there has not been a spike in global seismic activity. "If there was a big increase in the number of magnitude 6.0s in the past decade we would know it because we would see it in the statistics," Luckett said. "We haven't seen an increase in 7.0s either." He said scientists often see strong quakes but they don't get reported because the damage or death toll is minimal. According to USGS data, the world is hit by about 134 earthquakes a year in the 6.0- to 6.9-magnitude range — or about two a week. "The point is that earthquakes are common and always have been," he said. __ Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Arthur Max in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, Paisley Dodds in London and Seth Borenstein in Washington DC also contributed to the report.

March 3, 2010

With Allies Like This...

Israel's controversial Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman suggested a not-so-novel approach to the problem of Iran's nuclear ambitions recently. He wants to apply what he calls the Cuban model, in which "the United States alone can do everything in order to stop this (Iranian) program."
There are a few immediate contradictions. For starters, Lieberman believes that the Cuban model works best if it includes an international aspect, such that the United States would "shun foreign firms that continue to do business with Iran." That extraterritorial component was added to our Cuban Embargo in 1996 with the passage of the Helms Burton act. But, perhaps unbeknownst to Lieberman, it has been dutifully waived every six months since, at the behest of our allies.
Mr. Lieberman may also be surprised to know that one of the first countries to suffer the consequences of such a shunning would be Israel, a leading investor in Cuban agriculture. The USDA reports that Israeli capital has driven a reinvigoration of Cuba's citrus sector, to such an extent that an Israeli-Cuban joint venture now produces a third of the total citrus grown on the island. (Well, if they can make the desert bloom, why not Cuba?)
Continue reading "With Allies Like This..." »

Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas. Image: ANP
Radio Netherlands’ report on Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas’ hunger strike that is drawing attention after last week’s death of Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo’s death from his hunger strike.
The plight of imprisoned political dissidents in Cuba continues to draw unwanted attention to Raul Castro’s government.

LPP Archive...

IRA man 'linked to Gerry Adams'


The head of the IRA unit held in Colombia was named last night as Sinn Fein's link in organising a visit by Gerry Adams to Cuba next month.
The potentially damaging revelation that Dubliner Niall Connolly is believed to have played a key role in the arrangements for the eight-day visit will place further pressure on the fragile Ulster peace deal.
It establishes an apparent connection between Sinn Fein and an 'active' IRA man said to have been involved in testing new weapons.
Connolly, 36 - one of three IRA suspects held in the Colombian capital Bogota after spending five weeks training rebels in the South American jungle - has been named by security officials as the republican movement's contact in Marxist Cuba since 1996.
Sinn Fein president Mr Adams is due to head a delegation to Cuba early next month.
Anti-terrorist investigators also claimed Connolly had played a leading role in establishing the link with the Colombian rebels.
They said he had had meetings with the leaders of FARC, a 16,000-strong band of guerillas who are connected to the Basque terror group ETA, which has long-time links with the IRA. The meetings, investigators say, suggest far stronger links between the IRA and FARC than first suspected.
FARC controls vast areas of cocaine production in Colombia and security officials have said they suspect the IRA was paid for training its rebels with cocaine.
Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley were arrested in Bogota by Colombian security forces on Saturday.
They are said to have been testing a new explosive more powerful than Semtex. All three were travelling on false passports. Monaghan and McCauley, both of whom have convictions linked to the Northern Ireland troubles, were quickly identified but details of Connolly emerged only yesterday.
He had been using an Irish passport in the name of David Bracken and had visited several South American countries in the past three years.
Unlike Monaghan, 56, who once shared a Sinn Fein conference platform with Mr Adams, and McCauley, 37, he was 'known' to security forces as an IRA activist but had no criminal convictions.
The arrest of the three men has shocked the British and Irish governments, outraged Unionists, and even embarrassed senior republicans.
Last night Sinn Fein insisted the three were 'nothing to do with us'.

March 06, 2010

Tourists must carry medical insurance

Beginning May 1, all tourists, foreigners with temporary residence permits, and Cubans who live outside the island will have to carry medical insurance, in case they become ill, the Official Gazette announced this week. (Click here for full text.) The Cuban News Agency reported the news Saturday.
Diplomats and representatives of international organizations accredited by Cuba are exempt from this requirement.
If the travelers don't have medical insurance from foreign insurance companies "recognized by Cuba," they can buy it at the airport or port of arrival from a Cuban insurance company.
The Council did not specify the cost of such an option but empowered the Ministry of Finance to set a price. It also directed the ministries of Public Health and Tourism to set new regulations for the medical care given to visitors.
Tourism is a major provider of hard currency to Havana. Last year, 2.4 million tourists arrived on the island, as well as about 300,000 Cubans who live abroad. [UPDATE: The Mexican newspaper La Jornada on Sunday said the move "seems to be part of the policy of reduction and control of health-care expenditures, amid a sharp crisis of liquidity in public funds. The measure closes the door to Cuban émigrés who seek medical attention in the island's health-care facilities – a silent and growing practice – but provides the option of regularizing that phenomenon and expanding it to other nationalities as a strong source of hard currency."]
Posted by Renato Perez at 12:55 PM in Science, Tourism, Travel
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March 05, 2010

Fidel is back on top, Newsweek says

Over the past year, Fidel Castro has steadily reasserted his authority (fot3) and applied the brakes to efforts by his brother Raúl to liberalize the economy and reform civil society, Newsweek says, citing various Cuba specialists.
In an article titled "Fidel Castro Is Back in Charge of Cuba," the magazine points out that Fidel "has blocked the fundamental economic reforms necessary to lift the country out of its worst economic crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union."
He has also ensured that tensions with the U.S. remain high, Newsweek says, referring to the arrest in December of American contractor Alan Gross for allegedly distributing communications equipment to unidentified Cubans.
One government shift that bears Fidel's imprint is the promotion last December of Ramiro Valdés Menéndez, "a former Interior Minister regarded as a diehard Fidel loyalist and a brutal enforcer," to Vice President of the Council of State. Valdés already is a Vice President of the Council of Ministers.
(fot2) "Despite a history of strained relations with Raúl, Valdés is now effectively the No. 3 man in the regime, after the Castro brothers," the article says. (PHOTO SHOWS Valdés, at left, and Raúl Castro at a Feb. 17 ceremony.)
Newsweek's assessment: "As long as Fidel is calling the shots, the Cuban economy will remain unproductive, the youth will remain restive, and relations with the U.S. will remain at an impasse." To read the article, click here.
–Renato Pérez Pizarro.
S: Cuban Colada

Monday, March 8, 2010

A regulatory fix

The New York Times reports that under new regulations to be issued today, the government will no longer require U.S. companies to block free downloads of programs and software to users in Cuba and other sanctioned countries.
This is progress; the regulations are catching up to the Secretary of State’s speech on Internet freedom.
These regulations were particularly out of balance considering that under the Obama Administration’s rules governing gift parcels to Cuba, Americans (not just Cuban-Americans) can send laptops to Cubans as gifts with no restrictions on the software or programs loaded on them. But if a Cuban tried to download, U.S. regulations tried to block that. Until today, apparently. Earlier comment here.

U.S. to Allow Export of Web Services to Iran and Cuba

According to The New York Times, the United States Treasury Department will tomorrow give Internet services license to export consumer-aimed services like instant messaging and photo-sharing to countries with which trade has previously been restricted, including Iran, Cuba and Sudan.
The United States defines these nations as “closed societies” because their governments sometimes try to restrict the free flow of information between citizens, however in many cases trade is restricted by the United States in response to those actions. This new license would allow U.S.-based Internet companies like Yahoo to export certain services that can be described as “free mass-market software,” despite trade sanctions.
The U.S. State Department and members of Congress previously recommended this move to aid efforts to open up the societies in question. The value of exporting these tools has already been established.
Last year, the State Department asked Twitter to postpone its scheduled downtime so Iranian protesters could continue to use the service. Digital communication technologies like Twitter, Facebook, e-mail and SMS text messaging were used by Iranians to organize protests and to get information to the American and European media.
After Google threatened to leave China if the country doesn’t ease up its regulation and restrictions on the Internet, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech declaring the administration’s commitment to the free flow of information on the Internet. This is one example of that commitment.
We’re curious to know how our readers in the United States and elsewhere feel about this move. If you’re willing, share your thoughts in the comments, and participate in our poll: “Is the Internet a fundamental right?”

US to allow web service exports to strict nations

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US to allow web service exports to strict nations AFP/File – File photo shows a woman using her laptop computer. Washington will allow technology companies to export …
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WASHINGTON (AFP) – Washington will allow technology companies to export Internet services to Iran, Cuba and Sudan in a bid to exploit their libertarian potential, The New York Times reported late Sunday. "The more people have access to a range of Internet technology and services, the harder it?s going to be for the Iranian government to clamp down on their speech and free expression," a senior administration official told the paper. The Treasury Department will issue a general license Monday for exports of free personal Internet services such as instant messaging, chat and photo sharing as well as software to all three countries, said the unnamed official. The move will allow Microsoft, Yahoo and other Internet services providers to get around strict export restrictions, the report said. Until now they had resisted offering such services for fear of violating existing sanctions. But there have been growing calls in Congress and elsewhere to lift the restrictions, particularly after Iran's post-election protests illustrated the power of Internet-based services such as Facebook and Twitter, The Times said.