Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swine Influenza A/Mexico/2009 (H1N1) Update

29 April 2009 -- The situation continues to evolve rapidly. As of 18:00 GMT, 29 April 2009, nine countries have officially reported 148 cases of swine influenza A/H1N1 infection. The United States Government has reported 91 laboratory confirmed human cases, with one death. Mexico has reported 26 confirmed human cases of infection including seven deaths.

The following countries have reported laboratory confirmed cases with no deaths - Austria (1), Canada (13), Germany (3), Israel (2), New Zealand (3), Spain (4) and the United Kingdom (5).

Further information on the situation will be available on the WHO website on a regular basis.


Sequences of viral RNAs from 20 swine flu isolates have now been posted on the NCBI website. Included are isolates from California, Texas, New York, Ohio, Kansas, and Germany (taken from a tourist who returned from Mexico). It is difficult to understand why RNA sequences of none of the Mexican isolates have been posted, which would enable us to determine if the viruses in that country are different from the others. However, examination of the sequences of the New York and German isolates, which presumably originated in Mexico, reveal no significant differences with sequences from other isolates. From this information I conclude that the apparent higher virulence of swine flu in Mexico is not a consequence of a genetically diverged virus.

Other interesting information that can be gleaned from sequence information is contained in a statement from CDC: “…the HA, PB2, PB1, PA, NP, NS genes
contain gene segments from influenza viruses isolated from swine in North America [such as, A/swine/Indiana/P12439/00], while the NA and M genes are most closely related to corresponding genes from influenza viruses isolated in swine population in Eurasia.
However, the NA and M genes from 2 swine virus isolates from America are also closely related to the novel H1N1 virus (A/swine/Virginia/670/1987, A/swine/Virginia/67a/1987), if a reasonable nucleotide substitution rate is accepted. Thus, H1N1 from Mexico may be a swine flu virus strain of entirely American origin, possibly even of relatively ancient origin.” In the coming days I will attempt to construct a history of the evolution of swine influenza. In the meantime it may well be that this new human strain emerged from the US, as did the 1918-19 pandemic virus.

It is curious that CDC originally asserted that the new swine influenza virus inherited genes from human, pig, and bird viruses. Dr Anne Schuchat made this statement during a press conference on 23 Apr 2009, noting that “Preliminary testing of viruses from the 1st 2 patients shows that they are very similar. We know so far that the viruses contain genetic pieces from 4 different virus sources. This is unusual. The 1st is our North American swine influenza viruses. North American avian influenza viruses, human influenza viruses, and swine influenza viruses found in Asia and Europe. That particular genetic combination of swine influenza virus segments has not been recognized before in the US or elsewhere.”

I am not sure why the sequence information now available indicates a very different origin for these viruses.

Although many still describe this virus as swine flu, it is technically no longer a pig virus - having acquired the ability to be transmitted among humans and cause disease, it is now a human virus. I realize that the official strain names are cumbersome (A/Mexico/4482/2009 [H1N1]), and therefore it is likely that we will be using ’swine flu H1N1′ at least until the next pandemic.

A Chilling Effect on U.S. Counterterrorism

Via -

Over the past couple of weeks, we have been carefully watching the fallout from the Obama administration’s decision to release four classified memos from former President George W. Bush’s administration that authorized “enhanced interrogation techniques.” In a visit to CIA headquarters last week, President Barack Obama promised not to prosecute agency personnel who carried out such interrogations, since they were following lawful orders. Critics of the techniques, such as Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., have called for the formation of a “truth commission” to investigate the matter, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., has called on Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to launch a criminal inquiry into the matter.

Realistically, those most likely to face investigation and prosecution are those who wrote the memos, rather than the low-level field personnel who acted in good faith based upon the guidance the memos provided. Despite this fact and Obama’s reassurances, our contacts in the intelligence community report that the release of the memos has had a discernible “chilling effect” on those in the clandestine service who work on counterterrorism issues.

In some ways, the debate over the morality of such interrogation techniques — something we do not take a position on and will not be discussing here — has distracted many observers from examining the impact that the release of these memos is having on the ability of the U.S. government to fulfill its counterterrorism mission. And this impact has little to do with the ability to use torture to interrogate terrorist suspects.

Politics and moral arguments aside, the end effect of the memos’ release is that people who have put their lives on the line in U.S. counterterrorism efforts are now uncertain of whether they should be making that sacrifice. Many of these people are now questioning whether the administration that happens to be in power at any given time will recognize the fact that they were carrying out lawful orders under a previous administration. It is hard to retain officers and attract quality recruits in this kind of environment. It has become safer to work in programs other than counterterrorism.

The memos’ release will not have a catastrophic effect on U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Indeed, most of the information in the memos was leaked to the press years ago and has long been public knowledge. However, when the release of the memos is examined in a wider context, and combined with a few other dynamics, it appears that the U.S. counterterrorism community is quietly slipping back into an atmosphere of risk-aversion and malaise — an atmosphere not dissimilar to that described by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (also known as the 9/11 Commission) as a contributing factor to the intelligence failures that led to the 9/11 attacks.


The full article gives very good insight into some of the bureaucratic and cultural challenges faced by counterterrorism agents in US Intel agencies.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Russia's Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) Gets New Chief

Via RIA Novosti (Russia) -

On April 24, President Dmitry Medvedev dismissed Army General Valentin Korabelnikov from the position of chief of the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), Russia's military intelligence agency, and deputy chief of the General Staff and appointed Korabelnikov's deputy, Lieutenant General Alexander Shlyakhturov, in his place.

Korabelnikov's possible resignation, which was long surrounded by rumors, is now a reality. The Russian media says Korabelnikov opposed the Kremlin's sweeping reforms for the country's Armed Forces.

In the past few months, top GRU officials and the Defense Ministry were divided on the military reform, primarily its aspects concerning the military intelligence agency.

The sides disagreed on the proposed reduction of special weapons and tactics (SWAT) GRU brigades and their re-subordination to military district headquarters. This process became the focus of contradictory media reports, some of which implied that the Armed Forces would be deprived of their SWAT units.

A respected publication claimed that the GRU's technical reconnaissance systems, namely, space satellites and radio intercept units, would be re-subordinated to the Foreign Intelligence Service, an off-shoot of the Soviet State Security Committee (KGB).

The very same publication discussed the possible re-subordination of all GRU divisions to the Foreign Intelligence Service. Although this rumor was not confirmed, it, along with other reports concerning a resignation allegedly handed in by Korabelnikov, caused many questions about the future of the GRU and the entire military reform.

Despite groundless rumors concerning the GRU's possible liquidation, many analysts knew that a conflict was brewing between top GRU and Defense Ministry officials, and that either the GRU chief or the Defense Minister would have to step down. General Korabelnikov had to resign because Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and his concept of the military reform are supported by the Kremlin.

General Korabelnikov received an honorable discharge, plus the Order of Service to the Fatherland, 3rd class, and was reportedly allowed to choose his successor, General Shlyakhturov.

The public knows nothing about General Shlyakhturov's biography and service record. Such tight secrecy implies that he is a career intelligence operative.

It is unclear how the GRU of the General Staff will change under General Shlyakhturov. One thing is obvious: The agency will have to be overhauled together with the entire army, whose administrative and troop control divisions, which had evolved over the decades, are currently being revamped. Personnel cuts and other negative consequences seem inevitable.

However, most Russians will never be able to assess the effectiveness of the GRU reform.

US Strike Kills Eight Taliban in South Waziristan

Via The Long War Journal -

The US launched a covert airstrike against a Taliban safe house in Pakistan's Taliban-controlled tribal agency of South Waziristan.

An unmanned Predator strike aircraft fired two Hellfire missiles at a Taliban safehouse in the town of Kanigoram, which is just 15 miles south of the main town of Wana. Eight Taliban fighters were killed in the strike, Geo News reported. No senior Taliban or al Qaeda leaders have been reported killed at this time.

The town of Wana is a stronghold of South Waziristan Taliban commander Mullah Nazir, a former rival and now ally of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud. The US targeted Nazir and Tahir Yuldashev, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, in a strike near Wana on Nov. 7. Nazir was wounded in the attack. Yuldashev's status is still unknown, but it is believed he survived the attack.

The US is on pace to exceed last year's total of 36 airstrikes in Pakistan. Today’s strike is the fifth this month and the sixteenth inside Pakistan this year. The last attack took place on April 19 in the town of Gangi Khel, which is also near the town of Wana. The region is a known Taliban and al Qaeda hotbed.

The Pakistani government officially protests the Predator strikes, but behind the scenes the government allows the attacks and the military passes some intelligence to US intelligence to target Taliban leaders. US Predators are based in Pakistan and are operated by the CIA.

Today's attack takes place as the Pakistani military is conducting operations against the Taliban in Dir and Buner.

North Korea Threatens New Nuclear, Ballistic Missile Tests

Via RIA Novosti (Russia) -

North Korea said on Wednesday it would conduct further nuclear tests and rocket launches if the UN Security Council did not apologize for its recent criticism of Pyongyang, South Korea's Yonhap said.

The reclusive communist regime announced it was resuming work at its nuclear facilities that produce weapons-grade plutonium and withdrawing from six-nation talks after the UN Security Council condemned a rocket launch on April 5, which Pyongyang said was carrying a communications satellite.

Yonhap also cited North Korea's Foreign Ministry as saying that Pyongyang had decided to build a nuclear power plant with light-water reactors and develop its own technology to produce fuel for these reactors.

Pyongyang's announcements follow U.N. Security Council's criticism over a recent North Korean rocket launch and the approval of new sanctions against three major North Korean companies - Korea Mining Development Trading Corp., Korea Ryongbong General Corp., and the Tanchon Commercial Bank, which are suspected of involvement in ballistic missile transactions.

The North has also expelled IAEA and U.S. nuclear inspectors involved in monitoring the country's disablement progress.


Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who recently visited Pyongyang, said on April 24 that North Korea had no plans to return to six-nation talks, and expressed hope that the situation around North Korea's nuclear and missile programs would not be used as a pretext for the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region.

NEFA Foundation: Exclusive English-Language Video Interview with Taliban Spokesman in Pakistan's Swat Valley

Via CT Blog -

The NEFA Foundation has obtained an exclusive English-language interview with Haji Muslim Khan, the spokesman of Tehrik-e-Taliban Swat Valley (Pakistan). During the interview, conducted on April 27, Muslim Khan discussed the Taliban implementation of Shariah law in Swat and neighboring regions. When asked about the notion of "moderate Taliban" versus "hardline Taliban", Khan began laughing and replied, "No, there is no difference... they are the same." Khan also accused U.S. President Barack Obama of ordering a Pakistani military attack on the TTP in Swat, referring to Obama as "an enemy of Islam and Muslims."

Part one of two of the interview is now available on the NEFA Foundation website.

DMCA Hearings on Phone Unlocking, Jailbreaking, and DVD Clipping at Stanford This Friday

Via EFF DeepLinks -

This Friday, May 1, the U.S. Copyright Office comes to Stanford Law School to hold hearings on proposed exemptions to the DMCA's prohibition on circumventing technical protection measures (i.e., DRM). The hearings will be open to the public, and are scheduled to run from 9a to 5p. (For more on the DMCA triennial rulemakings, take a look at the Copyright Office's website on the topic.)

Among the proposed exemptions that will be discussed will be three proposed by EFF:

  • Renewal of the 2006 exemption for unlocking cell phones so that the handsets can be used with any telecommunications carrier. Several carriers have threatened cell phone unlockers with legal action under the DMCA, even though there is no copyright infringement involved in the unlocking. The digital locks on cell phones, however, make it harder to resell, reuse, or recycle the handset.
  • A DMCA exemption for cell phone "jailbreaking" -- liberating iPhones and other handsets to run applications from sources other than those approved by the phone maker. More than a million iPhone owners have "jailbroken" their iPhones in order to use applications obtained from sources other than Apple's own iTunes "App Store." Apple has taken the position that any modification of an iPhone's software to enable the use of applications from other sources violates the DMCA.
  • An exemption for amateur creators who use clips from DVDs in order to create noncommercial, noninfringing videos. Hollywood takes the view that "ripping" DVDs is always a violation of the DMCA, no matter the purpose. The growing popularity of sites like YouTube and creative practices like vidding, however, make it clear that the future of "remix culture" depends on being able to take digital clips from existing material, including DVDs.

A number of other proposed exemptions will also be discussed (including those intended to help film professors, the visually impaired, and those struggling with obsolete software "dongles"), and still more will be addressed next week, when the hearings will continue in Washington DC. on May 6-8.

Briefing on US-Russian Nuclear Forces

Via FAS Blog (Hans M. Kristensen) -

Russia’s nuclear forces are expected to drop well below 500 offensive strategic delivery vehicles within the next five years, less than one-third of what’s permitted by the 1991 START treaty. Unless the next U.S. Nuclear Posture Review significantly reduces the number of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, that single leg of the U.S. Triad of nuclear forces alone could soon include more delivery vehicles than the entire Russian strategic arsenal of land- and sea-based ballistic missiles and long-range bombers. With this in mind, Russia is MIRVing its ballistic missile to keep some level of parity with the United States.

This and more from a briefing I gave this morning at the Arms Control Association meeting Next Steps in U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Reductions. I was in good company with Ambassador Linton Brooks, the former U.S. chief negotiator on the START treaty, who spoke about the key issues and challenges the START follow-on negotiators will face, and Greg Thielmann, formerly senior professional staffer of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, who discussed how the a new agreement might be verified through START-style verification tools.

Download: Briefing on US-Russian Nuclear Forces

ID Thieves Take Aim at Facebook Users

Via ZDNet -

Identity thieves are currently launching a massive attack on Facebook, using fake log-in pages to hijack usernames and passwords.

The attackers are using Facebook’s mail system to send a one-line message luring users to “,” a site that clones the social networking site’s log-in screen.

Facebook is now blocking users from accessing the phishing site within it’s network but, at 4:00 PM Eastern, the Web site was still live.

Earlier today, there was chatter on Twitter about attackers using Facebook’s instant messaging feature to scam users into sending money internationally.

The Tale of Two Adobe 0-Days


There are two 0-day vulnerabilities on Adobe Acrobat announced today, all current versions are vulnerable. One exploits the annotation function and the other exploits the custom Dictionary function. Both of these buffer overflow vulnerabilities exist in the Javascript system of the Adobe Acrobat and can be mitigated by disabling Javascript on Adobe Acrobat.

Since the exploits for these vulnerabilities on Linux platform are posted to the Internet, we can just guess that someone will somehow make it work on Windows and use it to spread botnet agents shortly.


Also check out the DojoSec Monthly Briefing given by Matthew Watchinski of SourceFire VRT.

It deals with the last Adobe JBIG2 vulnerability... which sold for $75k on the black market to someone in China on Jan 1st - almost 30 days before the rest of us knew about it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

U.S. Questions Whether Islamabad Will Sustain Offensive

Via -

U.S. officials praised Pakistan for Tuesday's intensified military offensive against the Taliban but cautioned that it was too soon to tell whether embattled President Asif Ali Zardari is able or willing to mount a lasting crackdown on the militants.

As part of an effort to help stabilize the country and persuade Islamabad to expand its offensive, Democratic lawmakers, prodded by some senior administration officials, are weighing whether to accelerate delivery of emergency aid to Pakistan.

Pakistani fighter jets on Tuesday bombed Taliban positions in Buner district, 70 miles from Islamabad, and troops moved into the area after days of muted military efforts against a militant advance out of the Swat Valley.

U.S. officials praised the moves, but cautioned that it was too early to tell if Pakistan's government would mount a concerted, continued offensive against the Taliban.

"The military operations that are under way in Buner...are exactly the appropriate response to the offensive operations by the Taliban," said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell. "The test of all of these Pakistani military operations -- because we've seen them from time to time in the past -- is always their sustainability."

Democratic lawmakers and senior Obama administration officials are weighing whether to bolster Pakistan's efforts by providing about $500 million in counterinsurgency funding and economic assistance in the next few weeks, and as much as $1 billion more later this year, when Congress acts on a $83.4 billion war-spending bill requested by President Barack Obama, said people familiar with the deliberations.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) said "congressional leaders...are discussing with the administration what is needed" to help stabilize Pakistan. He suggested that Pakistan "in many ways is of higher concern right now than Afghanistan."

Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Pakistan last week and came away "more concerned about the security situation in Pakistan than he had ever been before," said his spokesman, Capt. John Kirby.

"It felt more precarious," he said. "He was deeply alarmed and frustrated."

U.S. military officials in Afghanistan had opposed Pakistan's decision to cede control of the Swat Valley to the Taliban in a pact reached in February. They said they grew more concerned in the past week after the militants moved into Buner and Lower Dir, which bridges the mountains between Swat and the Afghan border. U.S. officials said the result could be a "pipeline" allowing militants to travel between Afghanistan and the Pakistani heartland.

U.S. officials also worry that their Afghanistan-based drones, which have been used to kill suspected militants in Pakistan's border areas, would have a difficult time striking targets in Buner and Swat because they are deeper inside Pakistani territory.

Financial aid represents one of the administration's most-potent tools for trying to influence Pakistani behavior. Under the $83.4 billion war-spending bill -- which is designed to fund U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan through the end of September -- Pakistan is set to get more than $400 million in counterinsurgency funding and $1.4 billion in economic assistance. But Congress isn't likely to vote on the bill until late this summer.

Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, first raised the idea of expediting the distribution of a portion of the aid money in a meeting with top House Democrats last week, congressional officials said.

A senior White House official expressed skepticism about breaking funds for Afghanistan and Pakistan from the larger war spending request, saying the administration couldn't support any move that could jeopardize the rest of the package.

Swine Flu Update

The human swine flu outbreak continues to grow in the United States and internationally. Today, CDC reports additional cases of confirmed swine influenza and a number of hospitalizations of swine flu patients. Internationally, the situation is more serious too, with additional countries reporting confirmed cases of swine flu. In response to the intensifying outbreak, the World Health Organization raised the worldwide pandemic alert level to Phase 4. A Phase 4 alert is characterized by confirmed person-to-person spread of a new influenza virus able to cause “community-level” outbreaks.” The increase in the pandemic alert phase indicates that the likelihood of a pandemic has increased.


The situation continues to evolve rapidly. As of 19:15 GMT, 28 April 2009, seven countries have officially reported cases of swine influenza A/H1N1 infection. The United States Government has reported 64 laboratory confirmed human cases, with no deaths. Mexico has reported 26 confirmed human cases of infection including seven deaths.

The following countries have reported laboratory confirmed cases with no deaths - Canada (6), New Zealand (3), the United Kingdom (2), Israel (2) and Spain (2).

Further information on the situation will be available on the WHO website on a regular basis.

Home Office 'Colluded with Phorm'

Via BBC -

The Home Office has been accused of colluding with online ad firm Phorm on "informal guidance" to the public on whether the company's service is legal.

E-mails between the ministry and Phorm show the department asking if the firm would be "comforted" by its position.

The messages show Phorm making changes to the guidance sought by the ministry.

Lib Dem Home Affairs spokeswoman Baroness Sue Miller, who has questioned the Home Office about Phorm, said the e-mails were "jaw dropping".

A Home Office spokesperson said the suggestion of "collusion" was totally unfounded.

"We have repeatedly said since these documents were released a year ago that the Government has not endorsed Phorm or its technology.

"We are committed to protecting the privacy of UK consumers and will ensure any new technology of this sort is applied in an appropriate and transparent manner, in full accordance with the law and with proper regulation from the appropriate authority."

The e-mail exchanges were released under a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act request made by a member of the public and sent to the BBC.

Three Men Acquitted of Helping London Bombers in 2005

Via Google (AP) -

A British jury has cleared three men of charges that they helped suicide bombers who killed 52 people on London's transit system in 2005.

Jurors at Kingston Crown Court found Waheed Ali, Sadeer Saleem, and Mohammed Shakil not guilty of conspiring to cause explosions with the bombers who blew themselves up aboard three subway trains and a bus on July 7, 2005.

Ali and Shakil were convicted of a lesser charge of conspiring to attend a terrorist training camp. They will be sentenced later.

Seychelles Coast Guard Arrests Nine Suspected Pirates

Via Yahoo News! (AP) -

The Seychelles took custody of nine pirate suspects Tuesday and accused them of trying to hijack a cruise liner carrying 1,000 tourists.

The island nation had dispatched an aircraft to trace the men through the Indian Ocean, resulting eventually in the capture of the suspects.

The MSC Melody, a luxury cruise liner on its way to Europe from the southern tip of Africa, was attacked Saturday. Pirates in speed boats raced up to the ship under cover of darkness and unleashed a volley of automatic gunfire, but security guards aboard the linger fought them off, returning fire and spraying them with a fire hose.

The ship made a distress call, and the Seychelles Coast Guard sent an aircraft to pinpoint the location of the pirates, according to a government statement. The plane spent five hours in the air surveying the ocean, photographing the pirates' skiff and marking its position.

The Coast Guard transmitted the information to a Spanish frigate, which tracked the alleged pirate skiff and stopped it Sunday. Nine people on the skiff were apprehended and handed over to the Seychelles, the statement said.

Although the pirates are believed to be from Somalia, an African nation with coastline on the Indian Ocean, the attempted hijacking happened closer to the Seychelles, roughly 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) north of the archipelago. The distance from Somalia is a sign of the sea bandits' increasing skill, said analysts.

The Seychelles, whose economy depends heavily on tourism, appears intent on sending a strong message by both arresting and offering to try the pirates.

"While the attack took place far away from the Seychelles islands and posed no danger to its citizens, it is imperative that the territorial waters of the Seychelles remain safe," said Seychelles President James Michel in a statement.

The Melody, carrying about 1,000 passengers and 500 crew, was en route from Durban, South Africa to Genoa, Italy, on a 22-day luxury cruise. Unlike most vessels passing through the pirate-infested waters, the ship was guarded by an Israeli private security unit who startled the pirates by opening fire. Officials on cruise liner said that the pirates trailed the ship for another 20 minutes, before giving up and changing course.


A Somali governor, Musa Gele, said Tuesday that residents in northeastern Somalia helped local security agents arrest 19 suspected pirates. Gele, governor of the northeastern Somalia region of Bari, said officials will make sure innocent fisherman are freed and the rest are charged in court. He said the arrests took place Sunday in Alula and Bargal, on Somalia's northeastern tip.

Somalia, Kenya's neighbor on Africa's eastern coast, has become the staging ground for dozens of attacks by pirates in small boats. Analysts say the problem cannot be solved by security alone, arguing that piracy is a byproduct of Somalia's tailspin into anarchy following the 1991 overthrow of its government.

Ship-owners sometimes pay large ransoms, which are split between a number of pirates. Individual pirates can net $5,000 to $10,000 per successful hijacking in a nation where the average person earns around $600 a year.

In Germany, the deputy commander of the U.S. Africa Command said Tuesday that the only long-term solution is to resolve the political turmoil within Somalia.

"We have to get at the root causes, and the root causes are on the land," Mary Yates, a senior U.S. diplomat who serves as Africom deputy for civil-military activities, told reporters in Berlin.

Adobe PDF Zero-Day Update: Turn off JavaScript

Via -

Adobe's security response team is scrambling to investigate new public reports of a new zero-day vulnerability affecting uses of its widely deployed PDF Reader software.

In a brief note posted to its PSIRT blog, Adobe confirmed it was investigating a code execution flaw, which affects Adobe Reader 9.1 and 8.1.4.

“We are currently investigating, and will have an update once we get more information,” according to Adobe’s David Lenoe.

A separate advisory posted to offers some additional details:

Adobe Reader ‘getAnnots()’ Javascript Function Remote Code Execution Vulnerability

Adobe Reader is prone to a remote code-execution vulnerability.

An attacker can exploit this issue to execute arbitrary code with the privileges of the user running the application or crash the application, denying service to legitimate users.

Reader 8.1.4 and 9.1 for Linux are vulnerable; other versions or platforms may also be affected.

In the absence of a patch, users should beware of strange PDF files arriving via e-mail, even if it comes from a trusted source. Malware authors embed exploits in rigged PDF files to launch targeted attacks.

If you must use PDF in your normal workflow, you should strongly consider an alternative product. A list of alternatives is available at


Adobe now confirms that all currently supported shipping versions of Adobe Reader and Acrobat (Adobe Reader and Acrobat 9.1, 8.1.4, and 7.1.1 and earlier versions) are vulnerable to this issue. Adobe plans to provide updates for all affected versions for all platforms (Windows, Macintosh and Unix) to resolve this issue.

As a temporary mitigation, the company recommends that users disable JavaScript in Adobe Reader and Acrobat using the following instructions below:

1. Launch Acrobat or Adobe Reader.
2. Select Edit>Preferences
3. Select the JavaScript Category
4. Uncheck the ‘Enable Acrobat JavaScript’ option
5. Click OK


I went ahead and turned off JavaScript in FoxIT Reader as well.

Exploit PoC -

Hackers Target Pirate Bay Prosecution Law Firm

Via Tom's Hardware -

While last week brought news of DDoS attacks on the main website of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry,, which rendered the site sluggish and slow for most of Monday, there was no mention of similar attacks directed at lawyers representing the music, movie and game industries. It seemed the lawyers on the prosecuting side of the Pirate Bay case had made it away unscathed, but not so.

According to TorrentFreak, this past weekend brought similar troubles for Monique Wadsted, a lawyer who represented several major movie studios and called for a “very significant” prison sentence for the defendants during the Pirate Bay Trial. The movie industry lawyer’s site, MAQS, was targeted and yesterday the site displayed a notice informing visitors it was under attack.

While it was never specified that these attacks were launched by Pirate Bay fans, it's not exactly a huge leap to make and we're curious to hear what you guys think. It’s safe to say the majority of you disagree with the verdict reached in court, but do you think it’s out of line for people to be taking matters into their own hands in an attempt to get back at the opposition? The four men found guilty (along with their lawyers) have said they will appeal the verdict and remain adamant that the war is far from over, so are these vigilantes jumping the gun a bit? Or are you of the opinion that TPB fans should be causing the judge, jury and lawyers involved (as well as music, movie and game industries) as many headaches as possible? Leave your thoughts below.

Wiki Operator Sues Apple Over Bogus Legal Threats

Via EFF Deeplinks -

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed suit against Apple Inc. today to defend the First Amendment rights of an operator of a noncommercial, public Internet "wiki" site known as BluWiki.

EFF and the San Francisco law firm of Keker & Van Nest represent OdioWorks LLC, which runs the BluWiki website. Like many "wiki" platforms, such as Wikipedia, it is open to the public for collaborative authoring and editing on any topic. The site is entirely noncommercial, operated by OdioWorks as a public service.

Late last year, after BluWiki users began a discussion about making some Apple iPods and iPhones interoperate with software other than Apple's own iTunes, Apple lawyers demanded removal of the content. In a letter to OdioWorks, the attorneys alleged that the discussions constituted copyright infringement and a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's (DMCA's) prohibition on circumventing copy protection measures. Fearing legal action by Apple, OdioWorks took down the discussions from the BluWiki site.

OdioWorks filed the lawsuit today in order to vindicate its right to restore those discussions. Filed in federal court in San Francisco, the suit seeks a declaratory judgment that the discussions do not violate any of the DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions, and do not infringe any copyrights owned by Apple.

"I take the free speech rights of BluWiki users seriously," said Sam Odio, owner of OdioWorks. "Companies like Apple should not be able to censor online discussions by making baseless legal threats against services like BluWiki that host the discussions."

The discussions on the BluWiki site focused on how hobbyists might enable iPods and iPhones to work with desktop media management software other than Apple's own iTunes software. The discussions were apparently spurred by Apple's efforts prevent the iPod Touch and iPhone from working with competing media management software such as WinAmp and Songbird.

"Apple's legal threats against BluWiki are about censorship, not about protecting their legitimate copyright interests," said Senior Staff Attorney Fred von Lohmann. "Wikis and other community sites are home to many vibrant discussions among hobbyists and tinkerers. It's legal to engage in reverse engineering in order to create a competing product, it's legal to talk about reverse engineering, and it's legal for a public wiki to host those discussions."

For the full complaint in OdioWorks v. Apple Inc.:

For more on this case:


Fred von Lohmann
Senior Intellectual Property Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Rebecca Jeschke
Media Relations Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Spinning Vinyl - An iPod App

Spinning vinyl ipod app from Theodore Watson on Vimeo.

A quick app I put together this morning as a response to Todd Vanderlin’s AR scratching ( ). The app uses the accelerometer of the ipod touch to control the speed of a ‘vinyl record’ on the ipod screen. Slowing down the record and speeding it up is just a matter of controlling how fast you spin the device.

Firefox 3.0.10 Released

Firefox 3.0.10 fixes two issues found in Firefox 3.0.9: --------------------------

One of the security fixes in Firefox 3.0.9 introduced a regression that caused some users to experience frequent crashes. Users of the HTML Validator add-on were particularly affected, but other users also experienced this crash in some situations. In analyzing this crash we discovered that it was due to memory corruption similar to cases that have been identified as security vulnerabilities in the past.

Monday, April 27, 2009

'Hidden Photons' to Send Secret Emails Through Earth

Via -

If you shine a laser on the floor, where does the light go? With the right preparation, some of it might pop out at the other side of the world - an effect that could be exploited to transmit secret messages through the ground.

That is the conclusion of Andreas Ringwald at the German Electron Synchrotron (DESY) in Hamburg, and colleagues, who have explored the possibility of hypothetical particles called "hidden photons" ( "If such particles exist, then we can use them to communicate," says Ringwald. "It's very simple."

Hidden photons are a class of particles predicted by so-called supersymmetric extensions to the standard model of particle physics. Unlike normal photons, hidden photons could have a tiny mass and would be invisible because they would not interact with the charged particles in conventional matter. This means hidden photons would flit through even the densest materials unaffected.

The only place to spot them is in a vacuum, where they should sometimes "oscillate" into normal photons. There are already experiments searching for this effect: the idea is to shine a laser at a wall in a vacuum and see if any of the photons make it through to the other side by transforming into their hidden counterparts and back again. According to Ringwald's group, if these experiments succeed it should be possible to scale up the apparatus so that the hidden photons become signal carriers and the "wall" becomes any stretch of ground or water.

The benefit of such a communication method is that, unless someone were in the exact line of sight with appropriate equipment, it would be impossible to eavesdrop. For example, submarines could employ the system to avoid communicating via sound, which is easily intercepted. Hidden photons could even take messages where radio signals cannot reach, such as the far side of the moon.

Physicist Doug Shaw at Queen Mary, University of London, thinks it would be a "technical challenge" to line up transmitters and receivers over large distances, but he agrees a system is feasible in principle. "It's a nice idea," he says. "Unlike most hypothetical particles that are only accessible at high energies, these particles, if they exist, would have potentially useful real-world applications."

However, Malcolm Fairbairn, a physicist at King's College London, points out that over the 12,700-kilometre diameter of the Earth, the signal capacity would be just 1 bit per second: "At that speed it would take about a year to download an mp3 file, so I'm not sure who would use it."

NY Fed Bank IT Worker Charged with ID Theft and Fraud

Via -

A former IT worker at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRB-NY) and his brother have been arrested for allegedly stealing the personal information of bank employees and using it to obtain loans.

Curtis Wiltshire worked as an information and technical analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in lower Manhattan, providing him with access to information about other employees, including names, dates of birth, social security numbers and photographs.

In February, a bank investigator found two 2006 student loan applications, worth a combined $73,000 in the names of other people, on a thumb drive attached to Wiltshire's computer.

The search also revealed a fake driver's license, containing a picture of a bank employee.

Meanwhile, Wiltshire's brother Kenneth is accused of using fake identities in an attempt to obtain a loan for a boat.

Authorities say a postal inspector investigating loans obtained with fake documents was led to a mailbox in New Jersey that had been opened with a phony driver's license bearing the picture of a FRB-NY employee.

The mailbox was being used by Kenneth Wiltshire to receive documents for a boat loan in someone else's name, says the FBI. A phony driver's license with the picture of another FRB-NY employee was also used in connection with the boat loan application, as well as a fake income tax return in the name of a Fed employee.

Curtis Wiltshire is charged with bank fraud, fraud in connection with identification documents, and aggravated identity theft and could face over 30 years in jail. Kenneth Wiltshire, charged with mail fraud and aggravated identity theft, faces a maximum sentence of 22 years in prison.

UK Gov Ask Compaines to Increase Customer Data Retention

Via BBC -

Communications firms are being asked to record all internet contacts between people as part of a modernisation in UK police surveillance tactics.

The home secretary scrapped plans for a database but wants details to be held and organised for security services.

The new system would track all e-mails, phone calls and internet use, including visits to social network sites.

The Tories said the Home Office had "buckled under Conservative pressure" in deciding against a giant database.

Announcing a consultation on a new strategy for communications data and its use in law enforcement, Jacqui Smith said there would be no single government-run database.

But she also said that "doing nothing" in the face of a communications revolution was not an option.

The Home Office will instead ask communications companies - from internet service providers to mobile phone networks - to extend the range of information they currently hold on their subscribers and organise it so that it can be better used by the police, MI5 and other public bodies investigating crime and terrorism.

Ministers say they estimate the project will cost £2bn to set up, which includes some compensation to the communications industry for the work it may be asked to do.

"Communications data is an essential tool for law enforcement agencies to track murderers, paedophiles, save lives and tackle crime," Ms Smith said.

"Advances in communications mean that there are ever more sophisticated ways to communicate and we need to ensure that we keep up with the technology being used by those who seek to do us harm.

"It is essential that the police and other crime fighting agencies have the tools they need to do their job, However to be clear, there are absolutely no plans for a single central store."

Mexico Nabs Los Zetas Hitman Linked To Kidnapping of Anti-Kidnap Expert

Via Yahoo News! (AP) -

Police on Saturday said they arrested a Mexican drug cartel hitman wanted in connection with the abduction of a US anti-kidnap expert in December and the death of at least five people.

German Torres Jimenez, who allegedly works for the powerful Gulf drug cartel, was detained after a shootout in the eastern city of Veracruz, Mexico's Public Safety Secretariat (SSP) said in a statement.

Two other suspected hitmen and two women were also arrested when police raided a home in the Poza Rica neighborhood of Veracruz.

Torres is allegedly one of the founders of Los Zetas, the armed wing of the Gulf cartel. Los Zetas reportedly took control of the organization when cartel boss Osiel Cardenas was arrested, then extradited to the United States in 2005.

Torres is suspected of involvement in the December 2008 kidnapping of Felix Batista, a US security consultant and ex-US army officer who was abducted in the northern city of Saltillo where he was giving security seminars to local businessmen.

Batista, who worked for a the security consulting firm Asi Global, is still missing and it is unknown if his kidnappers have made any ransom demands.

Torres also allegedly participated in at least five execution-style killings of hitmen from rival drug cartels, police said.

The Los Zetas group includes former members of elite Mexican military forces that the Gulf cartel hired in the 1990s.

The Gulf cartel is one of several illegal organizations currently battling for control of the lucrative drug smuggling routes to the United States, in a rising tide of bloodshed that has killed some 7,000 people in 16 months.

The Mexican government has deployed more than 36,000 soldiers, especially in northern cities bordering the United States, to help local police stem the violence.


The Los Zetas were originally members of the Mexican Army’s elite Grupo Aeromóvil de Fuerzas Especiales (GAFE), trained in locating and apprehending drug cartel members. It is believed that they were originally trained at the military School of the Americas in the United States.

The group is extremely well armed, they wear body armor and some wear Kevlar ballistic helmets; their arsenal includes AR-15 and AK-47 rifles, MP5 submachine guns, 50 cal. machine guns, grenade launchers, ground-to-air missiles, dynamite and helicopters.[5] They are known to operate with modern wiretapping equipment and purchase the cellular phone codes of their intended targets directly from the phone companies and providers.

More information can be found here.

British Spy Loses Top Secret Information in a Handbag

Via Times Online UK -

A British agent has thrown the war against drug traffickers into chaos by leaving top secret information about covert operations on a bus in South America.

In a blunder that has cost taxpayers millions of pounds and put scores of lives at risk, the drugs liaison officer lost a computer memory stick said to contain a list of undercover agents’ names and details of more than five years of intelligence work.

It happened when the MI6-trained agent left her handbag on a transit coach at El Dorado airport in Bogota, Colombia. Intelligence chiefs were forced to wind up operations and relocate dozens of agents and informants amid fears the device could fall into the hands of drugs barons.

The incident, which was hushed up by the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), the agent’s employer, is an embarrassment for the government. It is another blow for Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, who has ultimate responsibility for Britain’s anti-drugs operations and the safeguarding of criminal intelligence.

Chris Grayling, the shadow home secretary, said: “This is an extremely sensitive part of Home Office operations and is the latest in a series of big data errors. It underlines why this government, and Jacqui Smith in particular, has to get to grips with security protocols.”

The agency yesterday confirmed the data loss but said it had happened soon after Soca had been set up in 2006, “whilst staff were still working to the data-handling policies of precursor agencies”.


Next time she should hang on to that USB stick a bit better...

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Mexico Goverment Decrees Special Powers in Flu Crisis

Via Reuters -

Mexican President Felipe Calderon issued an emergency decree on Saturday giving the government special powers to run tests on sick people and order them isolated to fight the deadly flu crisis.

Mexico City has already shut schools and museums and canceled sporting and cultural events as an outbreak of a new type of swine flu killed up to 68 people in the country and spread north to infect some people in the United States.

Saturday's decree, published in Mexico's official journal, gives the government power to isolate sick people, enter homes or workplaces and regulate air, sea and land transportation to try to stop further infection.

The flu has rattled residents of Mexico's overcrowded capital of some 20 million people.

Calderon tried to calm Mexicans earlier on Saturday, saying the flue was curable. He said health authorities easily had enough antiviral medicine for the 1,000 or so people suspected to be infected with the swine flu and that his government was monitoring the situation "minute by minute."

Tests on Saturday showed eight New York City schoolchildren had a type A influenza virus likely to be the same type as the Mexican flu, adding to nine people in California and Texas who tested positive for it, although they later recovered. Two swine flu cases were also confirmed in Kansas.

The World Health Organization declared the outbreaks a "public health event of international concern" and urged all countries to boost their surveillance for any unusual outbreaks of influenza-like illness and severe pneumonia.

The agency stopped short of raising the threat level to a pandemic -- a global epidemic of a serious disease.

Mexico City residents mainly hunkered down at home on Saturday, as children's parties were canceled and bars were closed and many of those on the street wore surgical masks.

Time Warner Shutting Off Austin Accounts For Heavy Usage

Via -

"After deciding to shelve metered broadband plans, it looks like Time Warner is cutting off, with no warning, the accounts of customers whom they deem to have used too much bandwidth. 'Austin Stop The Cap reader Ryan Howard reports that his Road Runner service was cut off yesterday without warning. According to Ryan, it took four calls to technical support, two visits to the cable store to try two new cable modems (all to no avail), before someone at Time Warner finally told him to call the company's "Security and Abuse" center. "I called the number and had to leave a voice mail, and about an hour later a Time Warner technician called me back and lectured me for using 44 gigabytes in one week," Howard wrote. Howard was then "educated" about his usage. "According to her, that is more than most people use in a year," Howard said.'"

WHO Chief Says Swine (H1N1) Flu Has Pandemic Potential

Via Reuters -

Outbreaks of swine flu in Mexico and the United States have the potential to cause a worldwide pandemic but it is too early to say whether they will, the head of the World Health Organisation said on Saturday.

WHO director-general Margaret Chan urged health authorities in all countries to be on high alert for unusual patterns of disease and any rise in severe flu or pneumonia cases.

"This is clearly an animal strain of the H1N1 virus and it has pandemic potential because it is infecting people," Chan said on a teleconference.

"However, we cannot say on the basis of currently available laboratory, epidemiological, and clinical evidence whether or not it will indeed cause a pandemic."

The United Nations health agency has warned for several years that a new virus strain could spark a human influenza pandemic that could sweep around the globe and kill millions.

The new H1N1 flu strain -- a mixture of swine, human and avian flu viruses which has killed up to 68 people among 1,004 suspected cases in Mexico and infected eight in the United States -- is still poorly understood and the situation is evolving quickly, Chan said.

There were currently no indications of similar outbreaks elsewhere in the world, she said.

"It would be prudent for health officials within countries to be alert to outbreaks of influenza-like illness or pneumonia, especially if these occur outside in months outside the usual peak influenza season," added Chan, a former health director of Hong Kong.


Most of the dead in Mexico were aged between 25 and 45.

WHO experts have been deployed in Mexico to help health authorities with disease surveillance, laboratory diagnosis and clinical management of cases.

The WHO stood ready with antivirals to combat the outbreaks in Mexico. But authorities have a sizeable supply of Tamiflu, known generically as oseltamivir, and made by Switzerland's Roche Holding (ROG.VX), which has proved effective against the new virus, according to the WHO.

Influenza viruses are notoriously unpredictable and full of surprises, as we are seeing right now," Chan said.

"We need to know how the virus is spread, what is the transmission pattern and whether or not it is going to cause severe disease and in what age group," she said.

An emergency committee of 15 experts was meeting on Saturday to advise her about any "temporary measures" to protect international health or whether to recommend a change in the WHO's pandemic alert level, currently 3 on a scale of 1 to 6.

It was "too premature at this stage" for the WHO to announce any travel advisories, as better analysis of the cases and other clinical data was required, she said. But the experts would address the issue of travel advisories.

"We do not yet have a complete picture of the epidemiology or the risk, including possible spread beyond the currently affected areas," Chan said.

"Nonetheless, in the assessment of WHO, this is a serious situation which must be watched very closely."


Phase 3: Human infection(s) with a new subtype but no human-to-human spread, or at most rare instances of spread to a close contact.

More informaton on the H1N1 subtype

Friday, April 24, 2009

Feds Turn to 'Brain Music' to Boost Emergency Worker Performance

Via (Danger Room) -

As anyone who has ever cranked "Ace of Spades" knows, music can be a powerful tool. And researchers at the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate want to find ways to harness that power.

The program is supposed to study how "brain music" -- a customized soundtrack designed to either boost alertness or reduce stress -- can improve the performance of police, firefighters and other first responders. As described by DHS, researchers will test how an "instrumental alert track" (click here for a sample) can boost focus and energy, or act to reduce stress. A group of firefighters will take part in the experiment.

“Because of the strains that come with an emergency response job, we are interested in finding ways to help these workers remain at the top of their game when working and get quality rest when they go off a shift,” said Department of Homeland Security Program Manager Robert Burns.

The DHS news item describes how it works. Each two– to-six-minute brain music track is performed on a single instrument, usually a piano. One tune would be tailored for relaxation (Burns says it might sound more like a “melodic, subdued Chopin sonata”), while the revving-up track might have “more of a Mozart sound.”

Neurofeedback soundtracks will be created by Human Bionics, a company that markets a product called "Brain Music Therapy," used to help correct sleep disorders. The program is part of DHS's "Readiness Optimization Program," which is supposed to test ways to improve the job performance of first responders by combining brain music with nutrition education.

While we haven't seen the details on the nutrition piece, one wonders if that, too, will combine a focus component (Red Bull? Wheatgrass shots?) with a stress-relief component (doughnuts, Cheetos).

Germany Worried Over Taliban Advance in Pakistan

Via Reuters (UK) -

Germany expressed concern on Friday at the advance of Taliban fighters towards Pakistan's capital and urged the government in Islamabad to take decisive action to ensure the security situation did not deteriorate.

Taliban militants have pushed closer to the capital in recent days, vowing to impose their strict version of Islam across the nuclear-armed Muslim state.

Earlier this month, Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari signed a regulation imposing Islamic law in the northwestern Swat valley as part of a deal to end Taliban violence.

"We are following developments in Pakistan very closely and believe like our partners, that the advance of the Taliban ... is worrying," Foreign Ministry spokesman Andreas Peschke told reporters.

Peschke said the Taliban was still far from the capital and warned against overdramatising the situation, but added: "Nevertheless, the infiltration of armed fighters is at odds with the truce agreed with the militants. This is a situation that has to fill us with concern."

He expressed doubt that deals with the Taliban, like the one in Swat, could help the cause of peace in Pakistan and urged Islamabad to be "active and decisive" in dealing with the security situation.

On Thursday the United States said it was "extremely concerned" about the developments in Pakistan.

A Taliban spokesman said earlier on Friday that a Pakistani Taliban commander had ordered his men to withdraw from the Buner district, a valley just 100 km (60 miles) from Islamabad.

Adult Cells Safely Transform Into Stem Cells

Via -

Researchers at Scripps Research Institute have made a major breakthrough in creating stem cells from adult cells, without the manipulation of genetic materials.

According to the study, the scientists involved used a combination of proteins retrieved from a number of organisms to inject into the cells, transforming them into stems cells that are nearly indistinguishable from embryonic stem cells.

This method is safer then those that previously used genes with specified DNA sequences injected into the cells to create that transformation, which was unstable and gave the risk of cancerous tumors developing within the body’s tissue.

These cells have been marked as ‘pluripotent’, as they can be use to potentially treat a myriad of diseases by replacing damaged cells and tissue in the body. There is also hope that this could allow for safer organ transplants.

The cells have been named “protein-induced pluripotent stem cells”m or piPS for short. This is the first time a viable, safe option has been provided as an alternative to embryonic stem cells, which has sparked an incredible amount of controversy for it’s harvesting from aborted fetuses.

The study has been published in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Suspected Somali Pirates Appear in Kenyan Court

Via Google (AP) -

The 11 Somali men, accused in a pirate attack on a Liberian freighter, filed slowly into the wood-paneled court. The magistrate took one look at their dingy shirts, jackets and sarongs — two were barefoot — and ordered a court official to make sure they were "dressed properly" for their next appearance.

Amid proposals for an international tribunal to tackle piracy, Kenya is implementing agreements with the European Union and the United States by putting the bandits on trial, even if they are caught on the high seas by other nations and have not attacked Kenyan interests.

Thursday's hearing was the first court appearance for the men who were tracked down by French commandos and seized April 15 from their skiffs in waters off Somalia, the lawless epicenter of the flourishing pirate industry off the Horn of Africa.

The pirate suspects had been marched off a French frigate Wednesday and handed over to authorities in this Kenyan port city.

Magistrate Catherine Mwangi adjourned their case until a bail hearing May 27. They will remain in a Mombasa jail until then. She also demanded that officials give the men fresh clothing for their bail hearing.

"I'm giving you an order that these people be dressed properly," Mwangi told court officials.
The defendants solemnly listened to a court-provided Somali translator. At one point, one man briefly put an arm round his neighbor's shoulder and gave him a reassuring squeeze.

Defense lawyer Francis Kadima insisted his clients were innocent fishermen detained by mistake. They had no fishing lines, nets or hooks when they were captured, but the French handed over evidence they did find: two skiffs, three grappling hooks, four rusty assault rifles, two bags of bullets and a ladder.

In courtroom next door, witnesses testified against seven other suspected pirates in matching blue overalls. German sailors captured the men last month after they reportedly attacked a German naval supply ship.

Kenya is also holding another trial involving pirate suspects handed over by Britain.

Prosecuting Somali pirates is seen by Kenya as a way to burnish its image internationally at a time when the government is facing criticism over corruption and political violence.

A U.S. court this week brought its first piracy charges in more than a century. Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse of Somalia appeared Tuesday in New York charged with participating in an April 8 attack on the Maersk Alabama. He was charged with piracy, discharging a firearm, conspiring to commit hostage-taking and brandishing a firearm — charges that could add up to life in jail for the baby-faced, 5-foot-2 teenager.

Western nations are often reluctant to try Somali suspects who may then try to claim asylum, but Kenya has a successful track record of pirate prosecutions: 10 pirates handed over by U.S. forces in 2006 are serving seven-year terms.

But experts believe the threat of prosecution is unlikely to deter young men from a life of seafaring crime as long Somalia remains violent, poor and unstable.

"The possibility of being caught is so low and the economic incentive is so high the pirates will continue to engage in these practices. Even if they are caught, the potential for bringing legal processes against them is very low," said Peter Chalk, a piracy expert at the U.S. Rand Corp. think tank.

Some legal experts said the idea of an international piracy tribunal appeared to be gaining traction.

Government spokesman Alfred Mutua said Thursday that Kenya had applied to open an anti-piracy center in Mombasa.

The country's existing anti-piracy laws have laid the groundwork for such a tribunal, strengthened by the deals with the U.S. and the EU.

But there are doubts Kenya can handle the costly and complicated task of trying cases that emerge from the exploding piracy crisis in the Indian Ocean, for the country is struggling with its own huge backlog of about 800,000 criminal and civil cases.

Chalk said the idea sounded like "Kenya trying to extract a few more foreign assistance dollars out of its primary donors."

If a piracy tribunal was established, he pointed out, then it should deal with cases from all over the world, not just the Horn of Africa.

Few believe the courts alone will provide a solution, although most experts hail the prosecutions as an important step in fighting piracy.

Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur, said trials of pirates caught in the Malacca Strait, between Indonesia and Malaysia, were partially effective in ending piracy there but aggressive patrols were the more decisive factor.

"It is a good deterrent to show that governments are serious and that those who commit criminal activities will be punished," he said.

In other efforts to stamp out piracy, donors at a conference in Brussels pledged more than $250 million Thursday to improve internal security in Somalia, which has not had an effective central government since 1991. Experts believe unemployment, few options and lack of security on land drive young men into a life of seafaring crime.

Pirate Bay Judge is Member of Copyright Association

Via ZDNet -

The Pirate Bay may have grounds for a retrial. It turns out that the judge in the case, Tomas Norstrom, might have a slight conflict of interest. He’s a member of the Swedish Copyright Association and sits on the board of Swedish Association for the Protection of Industrial Property.

Peter Althin, the lawyer for TPB cofounder Peter Sunde, said he’s asking the Swedish appeals court to consider ordering a retrial based on the judge’s possible bias, the BBC reports.

“In the autumn I received information that a lay judge could have similar connections. I sent these to the court and the judge was excluded in order to prevent a conflict of interest. It would have been reasonable to then review this situation as well,” Althin told Sveriges Radio.

BBC also offers perspective on Swedish law from former senior attorney Sven-Erik Alhem, who said the judge had made an error of judgment, but a retrial was unlikely.

The judge should have told the parties of his other engagements. Had he done that then they could make a decision on whether they wanted him as a judge in their case. I’m not sure the superior court could say that this was unfair, but had he been open then it wouldn’t have been an issue.

The legalities of Swedish judicial ethics aside, this seems to me to be very bad form for a case of such public interest and import. A judicial system needs to appear — and be — independent and unbiased. That’s exactly the image the court strove to present in its very matter-of-fact comments after the decision:

The court first tried whether there was any question of breach of copyright by the file-sharing application and that has been proved, that the offence was committed…

To then find out that a judge has very definite leanings towards one party really makes a mockery of the unbiased judiciary. As Rick Falkvinge, leader of the Swedish Pirate Party, told the BBC:

“The judge in one of Sweden’s most high profile case ever is also a member of an interest organisation for one side and associates with the prosecution trial lawyers in his free time? That is inexcusable corruption.

Again, no idea what the Swedish appeals court will do, but the moral authority of the decision has been critically weakened by this revelation.

Asexual Ants Species Discovered

Via Wiki News -

According to research undertaken at the University of Texas at Austin (and recently published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B Journal), a species of ant (Mycocepurus smithii) found in the Amazon reproduces asexually. The species is thought to be the first such species discovered.

The possibility that Mycocepurus smithii reproduces asexually had previously been suggested by Hermógenes Fernandez-Marin, "The possibility that females reproduce parthenogenetically is suggested by the conspicuous lack of males in reproductive colonies."

Molecular genetic results reported in the Royal Society Proceedings indicate that members of Mycocepurus smithii colonies are genetically identical, consistent with asexual reproduction. Anna Himler, the biologist leading the research commented that "In social insects there are a number of different types of reproduction," but continued that "... this species has evolved its own unusual mode."

Further research into when the species became asexual and why this change occurred is being undertaken.

Pakistan Bid to Stop Taleban Push into Punjab Region

Via BBC -

The Pakistan government has sent troops to tackle Taleban militants who have advanced into a region just 100km (67 miles) from the capital, Islamabad.

Officials say the forces will protect government buildings in Buner district, where insurgents have begun patrolling the streets and mounting checkpoints.

As the troops moved into the region, insurgents launched an attack on their convoy, killing at least one soldier.

Meanwhile nine people have been killed in the Khyber region, officials say.

Local tribesmen told the BBC that they were killed by bombs dropped by the Pakistani air force, which was targeting militants in the neighbouring region of Orakzai.

The militants advanced towards Buner from the Swat Valley, a region they largely control.

The BBC's Mark Dummett in Islamabad says if the government is trying to reassert control over the region, its efforts appear to be too little, too late.

The Taleban are reported to have moved several hundred men into Buner from the Swat Valley.

The government sent six platoons - up to 300 men - to deal with the insurgents.


The confrontation in Buner comes just weeks after a peace deal was signed by President Asif Ali Zardari allowing the introduction of Islamic law in Swat.

The deal was designed to end a bloody 18-month conflict with the Taleban in Swat by yielding to some of their demands.

But critics say that the militants can now use Swat as a springboard to take over new areas of the country.

The BBC's Ilyas Khan says many people believe Buner could be the next battlefield for the Pakistani security forces after Swat.

Rep. Jane Harman Changes Her Tune On Wiretapping

Via EFF Deeplinks -

Reports in Congressional Quarterly and the New York Times indicate that a National Security Agency (NSA) wiretap authorized by the FISA Court recorded Rep. Jane Harman trading political favors with a suspected Israeli agent. When the FBI attempted to open a criminal investigation into the matter, Attorney General Gonzales allegedly intervened because he "'needed Jane' to help support the administration's warrantless wiretapping program."

Here was EFF's initial reaction to the scandal, as reported by ABC News:

The San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has been fighting legal battles against the Bush administration and now the Obama administration related to NSA wiretapping, called the story "a textbook case of political abuse of surveillance powers, but in reverse."

Instead of the Bush administration spying on its enemies for political ends, "this is an instance of them directing surveillance away from their allies for political ends," observed EFF's Kevin Bankston.

"What other insider deals it may have struck to gather support for its policies? What other political allies has it protected against criminal or intelligence investigations for political reasons?" he asked. "This raises serious questions about how the Bush administration conducted itself."

Now, in the wake of the scandal, Rep. Harman has pulled an abrupt about-face in her position on NSA wiretapping. Speaking to MSNBC this morning she said:

I'm just very disappointed that my country — I'm an American citizen just like you are — could have permitted what I think is a gross abuse of power in recent years. I'm one member of Congress who may be caught up in it, but I have a bully pulpit, and I can fight back. I'm thinking about others who have no bully pulpit, and may not be aware — as I was not — that right now, somewhere, someone's listening in on their conversations, and they're innocent Americans.

This is a real change of tune for Rep. Harman. Over the past few years, she has been one of the warrantless wiretapping program's most relentless cheerleaders. Yesterday, Glenn Greenwald aptly summarized her efforts:

Indeed, as I've noted many times, Jane Harman, in the wake of the NSA scandal, became probably the most crucial defender of the Bush warrantless eavesdropping program, using her status as "the ranking Democratic on the House intelligence committee" to repeatedly praise the NSA program as "essential to U.S. national security" and "both necessary and legal." She even went on Meet the Press to defend the program along with GOP Sen. Pat Roberts and Rep. Pete Hoekstra, and she even strongly suggested that the whistleblowers who exposed the lawbreaking and perhaps even the New York Times (but not Bush officials) should be criminally investigated, saying she "deplored the leak," that "it is tragic that a lot of our capability is now across the pages of the newspapers," and that the whistleblowers were "despicable." And Eric Lichtblau himself described how Harman, in 2004, attempted very aggressively to convince him not to write about the NSA program.

So, when countless ordinary Americans are being wiretapped without warrants, Harman declares the program "both necessary and legal." But when Harman herself is victim to a court-approved wiretap, she decides it's "a gross abuse of power"? You can draw your own conclusions, but to us this seems the height of hypocrisy.

These latest revelations shed new light on the underhanded tactics that the Bush Administration was willing to employ to conceal its illegal spying operation and protect it from oversight. It raises serious questions about what other efforts the Bush Administration undertook to shore up Congressional support for its illegal warrantless wiretapping program. This is yet another demonstration of why Congress must strengthen its oversight of the NSA’s spying operations and reconsider the broad expansions to the government’s surveillance authority that it passed last summer as part of the FISA Amendments Act.

UK Police Defend Terror Raids After Suspects Freed

Via Yahoo! News -

Police on Wednesday defended anti-terror raids this month that led to the arrests of 12 mostly Pakistani men who were then all released without charge.

The pre-dawn swoops across northwest England on April 8 had been described by Prime Minister Gordon Brown as part of a probe into a "major terrorist plot".

After the two remaining suspects were freed Wednesday, police defended the arrests on the grounds of public safety.

"All of the suspects arrested by the North West Counter Terrorism Unit during the recent operation have now been released," Greater Manchester Police said in a statement.

The statement said prosecutors had advised that there was "insufficient evidence gathered within the permitted timescales which would have allowed a warrant of further detention to be gathered or charges to be pursued."

The suspects were 11 Pakistani nationals, 10 of whom were in Britain on student visas, and a lone Briton.

All the Pakistanis have been handed over to British immigration officials, who have said they will be deported to Pakistan.

Brown's spokesman told reporters Wednesday that the government was "seeking to remove these individuals on grounds of national security.

"The government's highest priority is to protect public safety. Where a foreign national poses a threat to the country, we will seek to exclude or deport them where appropriate."

The raids had to be hastily brought forward after Britain's top counter-terrorism policeman Bob Quick was photographed holding clearly legible briefing notes on the operation. He resigned over the gaffe.

The notes he was carrying into a meeting at Brown's Downing Street offices stated police were investigating a plot that was "AQ-driven", meaning Al-Qaeda.

But a senior police officer defended the arrests, insisting that no mistakes had been made in the operation.

"I don't feel embarrassed or humiliated about what we have done because we have carried out our duty," Greater Manchester Police's Chief Constable Peter Fahy told reporters on Wednesday.

"I don't think a mistake has been made, no. I do not believe a mistake has been made."

A Muslim community leader in Manchester, however, criticised the police, saying detectives could "not keep getting it wrong" because such instances were "sapping" community confidence in the police.

Of the dozen arrested, one 18-year-old student was released just three days after the anti-terror operation, while nine were freed from police custody Tuesday, with the final two being let go on Wednesday.

The arrests, and the revelations that 10 of the men held were on student visas, have put Brown's government under pressure to tighten its visa rules.

Relatives of the men in Pakistan had pleaded their innocence, and in a statement issued late Tuesday, a British-based lawyer for three of the men said he would challenge any attempt to deport them.

"Our clients have no criminal history, they were here lawfully on student visas and all were pursuing their studies and working part-time," said Mohammed Ayub, who is based in Bradford.

"Our clients are neither extremists nor terrorists. Their arrest and detention has been a very serious breach of their human rights."

Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights group Liberty, described deportation on the grounds of national security as "an extremely shadowy process" and called for assurances from the government that the powers would not be abused.

The BBC reported Wednesday that the case would be independently reviewed by Lord Alexander Carlisle, Britain's independent reviewer of anti-terror laws.