Friday, March 2, 2012

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Obama administration 'gets real' on Cuba

Congressman David Rivera pressed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Cuba this week. Her response showed an awareness of "what is really going on in Cuba," writes a guest blogger.

By Anya Landau FrenchGuest blogger / March 2, 2012

A version of this post ran on the author's blog, The Havana Note . The views expressed are the author's own.

What’s the best way to gauge if anyone in Washington understands what’s going on in Havana? Try to grill Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
More than once, I’ve complained about the Obama administration’s tone-deafness on the shifting political, social and economic climate in Cuba. We (and by we, I mean they) were slow-to-absent in acknowledging and encouraging the 2010-2011 political prisoner releases brokered between Raul Castro, Cuba’s Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega and the previous (Zapatero) government in Spain, and President Obama himself has highlighted the ongoing economic changes in Cuba only to call them insufficient.
So it was fascinating to watch this exchange at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing this week in which Cuban-American Congressman David Rivera pressed Secretary Clinton for any “tangible” progress towards democracy in Cuba thanks to the Obama administration’s policy toward the island:
“Well in the last three years there have been considerable changes in Cuba’s economic policy which we see as a very positive development, we think having the Cuban people given more economic rights, to be able to open businesses, to have more opportunity to pursue their own economic futures, goes hand in hand with the promotion of democracy. I wouldn’t claim that our movements were a direct cause but they were coincident with. Very often in oppressive regimes like Cuba, economic freedom precedes political freedom.”
Here Rivera interjected to say he’d dispute the economic freedoms point, but insisted that surely Cuba has made no “political reforms,” – which prompted this reply from Secretary Clinton:
“Well despite our very strong objection to the treatment of Alan Gross, the, in our view, totally unjustified charge and detention, a great number of political prisoners have been released. . . Again, that, in and of itself is not final evidence of anything. But the fact that so many political prisoners were released in the last three years is, in our view, a positive move.”
This is the first time in three years that I can recall any senior Obama administration official has publicly shown any awareness of what is really going on in Cuba today. It doesn’t necessarily mean the administration is prepared to take steps based on that reality, but it is a useful signal to Havana all the same. It shows that Clinton herself possesses sufficient knowledge, perspective and courage when it comes to the thorny issue of Cuba. I wonder if anyone took note in Havana?
Some say Cuba’s leaders have no interest in warming relations with the United States, but the same could be said of US leaders (except perhaps Secretary Clinton). Each side needs to perpetuate the hostility for domestic political consumption. With every passing year, it becomes a little less useful to both sides, but never fast enough to take advantage of an advantageous moment in history.
History is littered with missed opportunities between these last two Cold Warriors. Given that Hillary Clinton has said she would not remain as Secretary of State in a second Obama term, the next twelve months (and right after the US elections in November, in particularl) could be a crucial moment in history for leaders in the US and Cuba to make good on their pronounced willingness to, as President Castro has said, put everything on the table, and, as President Obama has said, foster a new beginning between the US and Cuba.
--- Anya Landau French blogs for The Havana Note,, a project of the "US-Cuba Policy Initiative,” directed by Ms. Landau French, at the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program.
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Cuba releases photos of convalescing Hugo Chavez

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — President Hugo Chavez said Friday he's recovering quickly from tumor surgery in Cuba, and the first photographs of the Venezuelan leader to appear since the operation show him smiling and chatting with Fidel Castro.
One of the photographs released by Cuban state media late Friday shows Chavez in a blue, white and black track suit walking in a carpeted room without any aid. He is smiling broadly.
Others show Chavez sitting across from Castro as the two men chat, apparently in a Havana hospital. The gray-bearded Castro is also wearing a track suit. Behind them is a Venezuelan flag and a painting of South American independence hero Simon Bolivar.
Chavez, 57, flew to Cuba on Feb. 24 to have a growth removed from the same part of the pelvic region where a larger, malignant tumor was extracted last year.
Earlier in a telephone call to Venezuelan state television, Chavez said doctors have put him on a special diet, and he's taking daily walks and spending time with close relatives.
There has been no word on whether the new lesion is cancerous. During his phone call, Chavez did not provide specific details of the surgery or the tumor that was removed.
"I cannot neglect my recuperation treatment for even a minute," Chavez said. "I continue recovering, thanks to Venezuela's support, the Cuban people, the doctors here in Cuba, to the love from the people that fills me."
"I'm taking flight, raising the fatherland of the future," he added.
Chavez is seeking re-election Oct. 7.
His campaign rival, Henrique Capriles, has wished for the president to have a full and quick recovery, but also criticized Venezuelan authorities for releasing little specific information about the president's health.
Chavez has repeatedly vowed to recover his health and handily defeat Capriles, although some political analysts say the socialist leader's illness and medical treatment could keep him sidelined for weeks, bolstering his rival's chances in October's election.
In a Tweet sent following his contact with state TV, Chavez thanked supporters for participating in a rally led by National Assembly Diosdado Cabello and urged them to gear up for the election campaign.
"Move forward with preparation for the campaign," Chavez stated.
Cabello reassured government supporters at the rally in northeastern state of Yaracuy that Chavez would soon return.
"Chavez will continue commanding the ship of the Bolivarian Revolution," shouted Cabello from a stage overlooking the crowd, referring to the president's political movement. "We ask the Cuban people to return the 'comandante' in good health."
Earlier Friday, Gen. Henry Rangel Silva, the defense minister and close Chavez confidant who was quoted in 2010 as saying the military would not accept an opposition election victory, said Venezuela's armed forces are dedicated to upholding democracy.
"We are strongly convinced the democratic system must prevail in the country," Rangel said.
He did not elaborate, but his statements appeared to be aimed at assuaging government opponents who have voiced concerns about the military's role of safeguarding polling stations and voting materials.
"We are an institution that supports the election process," Rangel said.
During his 13 years in office, Chavez has long promoted trusted officers and has increasingly sought to put his political stamp on the military command. Chavez survived a failed 2002 coup in which dissident military officers were involved, and he has since tried to ensure tighter control.
Chavez also instituted a new official salute for military members, "Socialist fatherland or death." He later changed it during his cancer struggle to "We will live and we will win!"
The former paratroop commander's influence over the armed forces has led to concerns among government adversaries that the military is putting its weight behind the president's political movement and no longer sees itself as an apolitical institution.
"The armed forces will be key to seeing the results of the election are respected," said Moya-Ocampos, an analyst working for London-based consulting firm IHS Global Insight and IHS Janes Information Group, suggesting Chavez's foes have no reason to be worried.
Christopher Toothaker on Twitter:

These Americans Have Made The Most Billions Under Obama

Sheldon Adelson has made more money during the Obama administration than any other American. Worth about $25 billion by FORBES' calculation, the CEO of casino giant Las Vegas Sands has minted $21.6 billion over the last three years--more than Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Larry Ellison--as his casino empire battled back from the brink of default.
Not that Adelson's giving Obama any credit for the massive gains--far from it. He wants Obama fired. Adelson has made headlines for keeping Newt Gingrich's presidential race alive with a  $11 million donation to his super PAC, Winning Our Future, (an additional $10 million is rumored to be on it's way). It's unlikely Gingrich's presidential run will last much longer  (even with the Adelson's millions) but Adelson told me he's prepared to back any Republican nominee (except Ron Paul) to get the White House back from the Democrats. He'll likely put $100 million or more behind Romney, and possibly Santorum, to help the GOP battle Obama.
Why is Adelson so against the Obama administration? “What scares me is the continuation of the socialist-style economy we’ve been experiencing for almost four years. That scares me because the redistribution of wealth is the path to more socialism, and to more of the government controlling people’s lives." Adelson told me in his office in Las Vegas' Venetian resort this February. “U.S. domestic politics is very important to me because I see that the things that made this country great are now being relegated into duplicating that which is making other countries less great."
Adelson is not the only American billionaire who made a bundle during the Obama years but still wants him out of office. Charles and David Koch, whose fortunes both grew $11 billion since 2009, have given tens of millions of dollars to conservative causes, and are expected to put their largess behind the Republican nominee. As my colleague Clare O'Connor writes: "America’s richest brothers are notorious backers of conservative candidates and causes; the nonprofit arm of Americans for Prosperity raised and spent $45 million on last November’s midterm elections. The group plans to double that spend on the 2012 election."
Obama does have rich allies to aid him in this financial arms race. His biggest gun is billionaire investor George Soros. The longtime Democrat supporter has also minted $11 billion since 2009, bringing his fortune to $22 billion. As Daniel Fisher and Jon Bruner wrote, Soros is known for "funding a constellation of left-leaning 'community organizations' and get-out-the-vote groups" that supported Democratic candidates.
Adelson aims to counter Soros' political influence. “I’m against very wealthy ­people attempting to or influencing elections,” Adeslon said. “But as long as it’s doable I’m going to do it. Because I know that guys like Soros have been doing it for years, if not decades. And they stay below the radar by creating a network of corporations to funnel their money. I have my own philosophy and I’m not ashamed of it."
In addition to Soros, Obama has five other billionaire backers according to the Washington Post: Marc Lasry, David Shaw, Neil Bluhm,  Penny Pritzker and Marc Benioff.
Here are the 10 Americans who made the most since Obama took office in 2009 (Check in on March 7th for the FORBES 2012 World Billionaire List)
1) Sheldon Adelson | + $21.6 billion
2) Bill Gates | + $21 billion
3) Mark Zuckerberg | + $16.6 billion
4) Larry Ellison | + $13.5 billion 5) Jeff Bezos | + $11.6 billion
6) Charles Koch | + $11 billion
7) David Koch | + $11 billion
8) George Soros | + $11 billion
9) Leonard Blavatinik | $ 7.9 billion
10) Christy Walton | $7.7 billion
(Follow me on Twitter at @StevenBertoni)

Syria videos: 2 Western journalists buried in Homs

BEIRUT (AP) — Two Western journalists killed in the central Syrian city of Homs last week were buried in a cemetery in the embattled neighborhood where they died, according to activist videos posted online Thursday.
In the videos, one for each journalist, a man says he is in a cemetery in the neighborhood of Baba Amr, where American reporter Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed in a rocket attack on a makeshift media center.
The man, who frequently appears in videos from the neighborhood and says he is Dr. Mohammed Ahmed al-Mohammed, says activists decided to bury the reporters on Feb. 27 because the neighborhood lacked electricity to keep the bodies refrigerated, and they had started to decay.
Al-Mohammed praises the work of the journalists, who sneaked into Syria illegally to report on the uprising against President Bashar Assad.
"Marie Colvin was martyred in Baba Amr because she was sending a heavenly message, a humanitarian message," he says in one video, appearing to be on the verge of tears. "She was telling the truth about what is happening in Baba Amr. May God be merciful to you, Marie, as we bury you in this garden."
In the other, he says Ochlik was "doing his humanitarian duty, and doing his duty as completely as possible to send the true picture of what is going on in Baba Amr during the most terrible time."
The videos could not be independently verified.
The Baba Amr section of Homs has been the target of the heaviest Syrian military shelling during a four-week siege rebel-held parts of the city. Rebel forces said Thursday they were pulling out of the neighborhood, and a Syrian government official said the army had moved in. Activists say hundreds have been killed in Homs.
In Colvin's video, the camera shows a body wrapped in white cloth at al-Mohammed's feet with a white paper attached to it reading "Marie Colvin" in English. He opens the fabric to reveal the badly burned face of a white person. It cannot be recognized as Colvin.
"May God be merciful to her," the man says as dirt falls on the body. "May God be with us."
He does the same in Ochlik's video, revealing a face that looks like Ochlik's with red wounds around the mouth and nose.
The two were killed on Feb. 22 in a government rocket attack that also wounded British photographer Paul Conroy and French reporter Edith Bouvier.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said late Thursday that Bouvier and William Daniels, who was also in the neighborhood but not wounded, made it safely into Lebanon after being stuck in Baba Amr.
Activists smuggled Conroy and another uninjured reporter, Javier Espinosa of Spain, into Lebanon this week. Thirteen Syrian activists were killed getting the two men out, according to the activist group Avaaz.
The U.N. says more than 7,500 people have been killed since the anti-Assad uprising started in March, 2011. Activists say more than 8,000 have been killed.

Stolen NASA Laptop Had Space Station Control Codes

This story was updated at 7:31 p.m. ET.
A laptop stolen from NASA last year was unencrypted and contained command and control codes for the International Space Station on it, the agency's inspector general told a United States House subcommittee yesterday (Feb. 29).
In his testimony before a Science, Space and Technology House subcommittee, NASA Inspector General Paul K. Martin said the notebook computer stolen in March 2011 "resulted in the loss of the algorithms" used to control the space station. This particular laptop, Martin said, was one of 48 NASA notebooks and mobile devices stolen between April 2009 and April 2011.
Some of these thefts resulted in the leak of sensitive data "including export-controlled, Personally Identifiable Information, and third-party intellectual property," as well as Social Security numbers and data on NASA's Constellation and Orion programs, Martin said. [NASA Computer Hacked, Satellite Data Accessed]
The actual number of stolen and compromised devices could be much higher because NASA relies on employees to self-report incidents.
In an email, NASA public affairs officer Trent Perrotto told SecurityNewsDaily that "at no point in time have operations of the International Space Station been in jeopardy due to a data breach."
"NASA has made significant progress to better protect the agency's IT systems and is in the process of implementing the recommendations made by the NASA Inspector General in this area," Perrotto added. 
In 2011, NASA, which Martin rightly called a "target-rich environment for cyberattacks," was the target of 47 advanced persistent threats (APTs), 13 of which successfully compromised NASA computers.
These attacks are part of the 5,408 cybersecurity incidents in 2010 and 2011 that resulted in unauthorized intrusions or malware being planted on its systems and cost the space agency an estimated $7 million.
"These incidents spanned a wide continuum from individuals testing their skill to break into NASA systems, to well-organized criminal enterprises hacking for profit, to intrusions that may have been sponsored by foreign intelligence services seeking to further their countries' objectives," Martin said.
An example of one of these "skill-testing" hacks is the attack perpetrated by "TinKode," a 20-year-old Romanian hacker (real name Razvan Manole Cernainu), who tapped into a computer server at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in April 2011.
Martin continued, "Some of these intrusions have affected thousands of NASA computers, caused significant disruptions to mission operations, and resulted in the theft of export-controlled and otherwise sensitive data."
Martin's testimony highlights the difficulties NASA information technology officials face in securing the agency's laptops and mobile devices. As of Feb. 1, 2012, only 1 percent of NASA portable devices and laptops have been encrypted.
"Until NASA fully implements an agency-wide data encryption solution, sensitive data on its mobile computing and portable data storage devices will remain at high risk for loss or theft," he said.
Martin said software vulnerabilities in NASA computers are often left unpatched, a problem stemming from an IT chain of command in which the chief information officer "has limited ability" to fully implement mandated IT security programs across the agency.
This story was provided by SecurityNewsDaily, sister site to SecurityNewsDaily on Twitter @Security_SND and on Facebook.