Friday, March 30, 2012

Is Michael McFaul, U.S. ambassador to Russia, in danger?

By Olivier Knox | The Ticket – 
The United States formally complained to Moscow on Friday about possible danger to Ambassador Michael McFaul, a day after he described Russia as a "wild country" and charged repeatedly that a state-run broadcaster there may be hacking his email, spying on his telephone conversations and tracking his movements.
"We have raised our concerns about the Ambassador's security with the Russian government," the State Department said in a terse written statement.
McFaul, a key architect of President Barack Obama's "reset" of relations with Russia, took to his Twitter feed on Thursday to charge that reporters with the Kremlin-controlled NTV television were stalking him and openly wondered how they obtained his schedule, which is not published.
"Everywhere I go NTV is there. Wonder who gives them my calendar? They wouldn't tell me. Wonder what the laws are here for such things?" he said in one Tweet. "I respect press' right to go anywhere & ask any question. But do they have a right to read my email and listen to my phone?" he said in another.
McFaul also made waves by engaging in a combative five-minute exchange in Russian Thursday with an NTV camera crew as he was on his way to a meeting with a human rights activist and critic of the Kremlin, Lev Ponomaryov.
"For me this is a very serious question because this is against the Geneva convention if you are going to get information from my telephone or my BlackBerry," McFaul said, Agence France-Presse reported.
"This is a wild country, it turns out. This is not normal. It does not happen in our country, it does not happen in Britain, in Germany, in China. Only here and only with you," he said.
In the footage, a reporter seen on camera told him she heard of the meeting from "open sources" without specifying.
McFaul later clarified his remarks on Twitter, saying "Just watched NTV. I mispoke in bad Russian. Did not mean to say 'wild country.' Meant to say NTV actions 'wild.' I greatly respect Russia."
The incident came as Obama weathered a controversy over candid but caught-on-tape comments to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, promising he will have more "flexibility" on issues like missile defense after the November election.

Cuba: Freed agent on island to visit brother

HAVANA (AP) — A Cuban intelligence agent on probation after imprisonment in the United States arrived Friday for a two-week visit to see his ailing brother in Cuba, where authorities consider him and four other agents national heroes.
Rene Gonzalez, one of the "Cuban Five" spies arrested in 1998, flew to the island around noon for a "private family visit," according to an official note read on the news. It repeated his previous vows to return to the U.S. to serve out the rest of his probation.
"Our people welcome our beloved Rene to the country and will not cease in the struggle for his definitive return, along with his four dear brothers," a state newscaster said, reading from the official statement.
Cuba appeared set on playing down Gonzalez's return, with no footage of an airport greeting or mass welcoming ceremony like the ones that greeted young raft survivor Elian Gonzalez — no relation — upon his return from Florida in 2000. Word of his arrival did not come until he was already here, and was the last item on the midday news.
The Cuban Five were convicted of spying on Cuban exiles in South Florida and trying to infiltrate military installations and political campaigns. Havana says they were only trying to keep tabs on violent exile groups who unleashed a bombing campaign on the island that killed an Italian tourist. The other four agents are still behind bars.
Rene Gonzalez was freed in October but was ordered to remain in the U.S. for three years under terms of his supervised release, a ruling that angered Cuban authorities.
On March 19, U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard granted Gonzalez, a dual U.S.-Cuban citizen, permission to travel to see his brother, who is gravely ill with cancer.
Lenard ordered Gonzalez to give a detailed itinerary of the trip including addresses and phone numbers, and to remain in regular contact with his probation officer. He has two weeks from the date of his departure to return to Florida.
Philip Horowitz, Gonzalez's attorney in Miami, said his client will honor his promise to return since he does not want to do anything that could jeopardize the cases of the other Cuban Five or turn him into an international fugitive.
"He is going to follow that order to the letter," Horowitz said. "Like I said from the beginning, this has nothing to do with politics. It's a humanitarian visit."
Lenard's ruling came despite the U.S. Justice Department's objections that Gonzalez might have contact with Cuban intelligence agents and get new covert tasks to perform once he returned to the U.S.
Gonzalez's return could renew hope for Alan Gross, the U.S. government subcontractor serving 15 years in a Cuban prison. His mother and daughter also have been fighting cancer, and like Gonzalez, Gross has promised to return if granted leave to go see them.
"Alan Gross also has requested permission from the Cuban government to visit an immediate family member who is very ill," U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. "We have repeatedly urged the government of Cuba to release Alan Gross so he can rejoin his family. It would be a very good thing if the Cuban government were to take this opportunity to release Alan Gross."
Though officials in Washington and Havana have repeatedly insisted that Gross and the Cuban Five are separate cases, some have expressed hope that a humanitarian swap might be arranged.
Gross, 62, was sentenced under a Cuban statute governing crimes against the state after bringing restricted communications equipment onto the island. He says he was just helping the country's Jewish community improve its Internet connection, but Cuba contends the goals of the USAID program were ultimately aimed at overthrowing the government.
Associated Press Legal Affairs Writer Curt Anderson in Miami and AP writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.
Peter Orsi on Twitter:

New NASA program offers mentorship for girls

By Tecca | Today in Tech –
The out-of-this-world program connects school-aged girls with NASA scientists for one-on-one learning
Does your little girl dream of one day reaching the stars? If so, this new NASA program is definitely for her. It's called G.I.R.L.S. (Giving Initiative and Relevance to Learning Science), a five-week summer mentorship program aimed at school aged girls with an interest in science, technology, engineering, and math.
According to NASA, the program is all about empowering the next generation of innovators. The program will last five weeks, starting July 9, 2012. The new pilot program will be available to 15—20 girls in the United States in grades 5 through 8. No travel is required — participants will connect with their NASA mentors via video chat online. All mentors will be assigned just one girl, keeping the program small and intimate.
If you think this program may be right for you, your kids, or someone you know, applications are due June 15, 2012. The application period is not yet open, though, so you'll have to keep an eye on the NASA website for more details.
[via TheMarySue]
This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Tecca