Saturday, February 23, 2008

U.S. Spies Want to Find Terrorists in World of Warcraft | Threat Level from

U.S. Spies Want to Find Terrorists in World of Warcraft Threat Level from

"Be careful who you frag. Having eliminated all terrorism in the real world, the U.S. intelligence community is working to develop software that will detect violent extremists infiltrating World of Warcraft and other massive multiplayer games, according to a data-mining report from the Director of National Intelligence.

The Reynard project will begin by profiling online gaming behavior, then potentially move on to its ultimate goal of 'automatically detecting suspicious behavior and actions in the virtual world.'

  • The cultural and behavioral norms of virtual worlds and gaming are generally unstudied. Therefore, Reynard will seek to identify the emerging social, behavioral and cultural norms in virtual worlds and gaming environments. The project would then apply the lessons learned to determine the feasibility of automatically detecting suspicious behavior and actions in the virtual world.
  • If it shows early promise, this small seedling effort may increase its scope to a full project.

Reynard will conduct unclassified research in a public virtual world environment. The research will use publicly available data and will begin with observational studies to establish baseline normative behaviors.

The publicly available report -- which was mandated by Congress following earlier concerns over data-mining programs -- also mentions several other data-mining initiatives. These include:

  • Video Analysis and Content Extraction - software to automatically identify faces, events and objects in video
  • Tangram - A system that wants to create surveillance and threat warning system that evaluates known threats and finds unknown threats to issue warnings ahead of an attack
  • Knowledge Discovery and Dissemination - This tool is reminiscent of the supposedly-defunct Total Information Awareness program. It seeks to access disparate databases to find patterns of known bad behavior. The program plans to work with domestic law enforcement and Homeland Security. "

The only thing I can say in response to this is, What the f---?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Because They Said So - New York Times

Because They Said So - New York Times:

"Even by the dismal standards of what passes for a national debate on intelligence and civil liberties, last week was a really bad week.

The Senate debated a bill that would make needed updates to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — while needlessly expanding the president’s ability to spy on Americans without a warrant and covering up the unlawful spying that President Bush ordered after 9/11.

The Democrat who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, John Rockefeller of West Virginia, led the way in killing amendments that would have strengthened requirements for warrants and raised the possibility of at least some accountability for past wrongdoing. Republicans declaimed about protecting America from terrorists — as if anyone was arguing the opposite — and had little to say about protecting Americans’ rights.

We saw a ray of hope when the head of the Central Intelligence Agency conceded — finally — that waterboarding was probably illegal. But his boss, the director of national intelligence, insisted it was legal when done to real bad guys. And Vice President Dick Cheney — surprise! — made it clear that President Bush would authorize waterboarding whenever he wanted.

The Catch-22 metaphor is seriously overused, but consider this: Attorney General Michael Mukasey told Congress there would be no criminal investigation into waterboarding. He said the Justice Department decided waterboarding was legal (remember the torture memo?) and told the C.I.A. that.

So, according to Mukaseyan logic, the Justice Department cannot investigate those who may have committed torture, because the Justice Department said it was O.K. and Justice cannot be expected to investigate itself.

As it was with torture, so it was with wiretaps.

After the 2001 terrorist attacks, the president decided to ignore the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, and authorized wiretaps without a warrant on electronic communications between people in the United States and people abroad. Administration lawyers ginned up a legal justification and then asked communications companies for vast amounts of data.

According to Mr. Rockefeller, the companies were “sent letters, all of which stated that the relevant activities had been authorized by the president” and that the attorney general — then John Ashcroft — decided the activity was lawful. The legal justification remains secret, but we suspect it was based on the finely developed theory that the president does not have to obey the law, and not on any legitimate interpretation of federal statutes.

When Mr. Bush started his spying program, FISA allowed warrantless eavesdropping for up to a year if the president certified that it was directed at a foreign power, or the agent of a foreign power, and there was no real chance that communications involving United States citizens or residents would be caught up. As we now know, the surveillance included Americans and there was no “foreign power” involved.

The law then, and now, also requires the attorney general to certify “in writing under oath” that the surveillance is legal under FISA, not some fanciful theory of executive power. He is required to inform Congress 30 days in advance, and then periodically report to the House and Senate intelligence panels.

Congress was certainly not informed, and if Mr. Ashcroft or later Alberto Gonzales certified anything under oath, it’s a mystery to whom and when. The eavesdropping went on for four years and would probably still be going on if The Times had not revealed it.

So what were the telecommunications companies told? Since the administration is not going to investigate this either, civil actions are the only alternative.

The telecoms, which are facing about 40 pending lawsuits, believe they are protected by a separate law that says companies that give communications data to the government cannot be sued for doing so if they were obeying a warrant — or a certification from the attorney general that a warrant was not needed — and all federal statutes were being obeyed.

To defend themselves, the companies must be able to show they cooperated and produce that certification. But the White House does not want the public to see the documents, since it seems clear that the legal requirements were not met. It is invoking the state secrets privilege — saying that as a matter of national security, it will not confirm that any company cooperated with the wiretapping or permit the documents to be disclosed in court.

So Mr. Rockefeller and other senators want to give the companies immunity even if the administration never admits they were involved. This is short-circuiting the legal system. If it is approved, we will then have to hope that the next president will be willing to reveal the truth. "

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Time Runs Out for an Afghan Held by the U.S. - New York Times

Time Runs Out for an Afghan Held by the U.S. - New York Times:
“They can’t prove anything against me because I never did anything wrong,” he went on. “The person that was giving you all that wrong information, this is the person that killed my two brothers, my sister, my father and two of my sons.”
"Abdul Razzaq Hekmati was regarded here as a war hero, famous for his resistance to the Russian occupation in the 1980s and later for a daring prison break he organized for three opponents of the Taliban government in 1999.

But in 2003, Mr. Hekmati was arrested by American forces in southern Afghanistan when, senior Afghan officials here contend, he was falsely accused by his enemies of being a Taliban commander himself. For the next five years he was held at the American military base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where he died of cancer on Dec. 30.

The fate of Mr. Hekmati, the first detainee to die of natural causes at Guantánamo, who fruitlessly recounted his story several times to American officials, demonstrates the enduring problems of the tribunals at Guantánamo, say Afghan officials and others who knew him.

Several high-ranking officials in President Hamid Karzai’s government say Mr. Hekmati’s detention at Guantánamo was a gross mistake.

Afghan officials, and some Americans, complain that detainees are effectively thwarted from calling witnesses in their defense, and that the Afghan government is never consulted on the detention cases, even when it may be able to help. Mr. Hekmati’s case, officials who knew him said, shows that sometimes the Americans do not seem to know whom they are holding. Meanwhile, detainees wait for years with no resolution to their cases.

In response to queries, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon, Cynthia O. Smith, said the military tribunals at Guantánamo contained “significant process and protections,” including the right to call witnesses.

While Ms. Smith would not discuss specifics, she said that there was nothing to indicate that Mr. Hekmati’s case was handled improperly, and that detainees at Guantánamo were given a range of protections, including “the opportunity for a detainee to be heard in person, call witnesses and present additional information that might benefit him.”

Whether those protections are sufficient has been widely debated and is now being considered by the United States Supreme Court. In the tribunals, which consider only whether detainees have been properly classified as enemy combatants, detainees are not allowed to have lawyers or see the evidence against them. The Supreme Court case will decide whether they have the right to broadly appeal their detentions in federal court.

Of the 275 detainees at Guantánamo, at least 180 have sought to challenge their detentions.

Several high-ranking officials in President Hamid Karzai’s government say Mr. Hekmati’s detention at Guantánamo was a gross mistake. They were mentioned by Mr. Hekmati in his hearings and could have vouched for him. Records from the hearings show that only a cursory effort was made to reach them.

Two of those officials were men Mr. Hekmati had helped escape from the Taliban’s top security prison in Kandahar in 1999: Ismail Khan, now the minister of energy; and Hajji Zaher, a general in the Border Guards. Both men said they appealed to American officials about Mr. Hekmati’s case, but to no effect.

“What he did was very important for all Afghan people who were against the Taliban,” Hajji Zaher said of Mr. Hekmati’s role in organizing his prison break. “He was not a man to take to Guantánamo.”

Hajji Zaher, whose father served as vice president under Mr. Karzai for six months, warned that the case of Mr. Hekmati, who is widely known here by his nickname, Baraso, would discourage Afghans from backing the government against the Taliban. “No one is going to help the government,” he said.

Mr. Hekmati never had a lawyer, said Zachary Katznelson of Reprieve, a British charity that represents a number of Guantánamo detainees. At his October 2004 review hearing, Mr. Hekmati specifically asked that Hajji Zaher and Mr. Khan be contacted to act as supporting witnesses.

The military tribunal president said the Afghan government did not respond to requests to locate the men, and ruled that they were “not reasonably available.”

Although both men are well known to the American authorities in Afghanistan, both Hajji Zaher and Mr. Khan said the American authorities had never asked them to appear.

Unidentified Accusers

In Mr. Hekmati’s tribunal at Guantánamo in 2004 to assess his status as an enemy combatant, American officials accused Mr. Hekmati of a variety of charges made by unidentified sources, and referred to him only as Abdul Razzaq, his first names, which are common in Afghanistan.

According to transcripts released by the Pentagon, the United States military charged, among other things, that Mr. Hekmati was “high in the Al Qaeda hierarchy,” acted as a smuggler and facilitator for it, and was “part of the main security escort for Osama bin Laden.” He was also accused of attending a terrorist training camp near Kandahar and of involvement in assassination attempts against Afghan government officials.

He was also identified as a senior leader of a 40-man Taliban unit, and even as supreme commander in Helmand Province.

That last allegation was rebutted by another unidentified detainee, who explicitly stated that Mr. Hekmati looked nothing like the Taliban commander and that the commander was “not the same person as the detainee,” according to the transcript.

Mr. Hekmati denied the charges, too, saying he did not even live in Afghanistan after the 1999 prison break, when he ran afoul of the Taliban. He insisted that most of the allegations had been directed against him by two of his personal enemies.

The first was Sher Mohammed Akhundzada, the post-Taliban governor of Helmand Province, who, Mr. Hekmati said, was directly responsible for his arrest after he reported the governor for corruption and for protecting a number of senior Taliban members in Helmand.

The second was Mohammed Jan, a distant cousin who had falsely denounced him as part of a long-running family feud. "

His family did not dare attend the funeral, fearful of both the Taliban and the Americans, friends said.

…In a report in February 2006 based on an analysis of documents released by the Pentagon, researchers at Seton Hall University School of Law, in Newark, concluded that no outside witnesses had ever been called to appear at Guantánamo. Lt. Col. Stephen E. Abraham, a former United States intelligence officer who had worked on the tribunals, stepped forward last June to criticize the tribunals.

In a submission to the Supreme Court, he condemned them for relying on generalized evidence that would have been dismissed by any competent court, and as being devised to rubber-stamp the administration’s assertion that the detainees had been correctly designated “enemy combatants” when they were captured and that they could be held indefinitely.

In a second submission, to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in November, Colonel Abraham explained that he was “not aware of any realistic attempts” to “identify or even attempt to bring before the tribunal witnesses or their statements,” and concluded that the whole process “was designed to conduct tribunals without witnesses other than the accused detainee.”

That is one of the reasons Afghan officials have asked that Afghan detainees be transferred from Guantánamo to Afghanistan. “Of course a judicial process needs witnesses and documents and evidence,” Minister of Justice Mohammad Sarwar Danish said. “Most of these cases have not come to trial, and are not proceeding, and that is why we asked them to be moved here.”

After Mr. Hekmati was arrested, two of the men he broke out of prison, Mr. Khan and Hajji Zaher, said they appealed to American and Afghan officials for his release. “I asked President Karzai to help, but unfortunately it did not help,” Mr. Khan said. He said he also asked the American ambassador to Afghanistan at the time, Zalmay Khalilzad, with no result.

“We did try but it was not working,” Hajji Zaher said in a phone interview. “When they are sending someone to Guantánamo, they have their own rules.”

After Mr. Hekmati’s death at Guantánamo, his body was returned to Afghanistan and quietly buried in an unmarked grave in Kandahar on Jan. 8. His family did not dare attend the funeral, fearful of both the Taliban and the Americans, friends said.

As the Taliban has reasserted itself in much of southern Afghanistan, Mr. Hekmati’s son remains in hiding. Neither he nor any relative or elder of their tribe collected his father’s body.

“He is caught in the middle,” said Hajji Wali, a family friend. “He is scared of the Taliban and scared of the government and the Americans, because the Americans took his innocent father and they could take him, too.”…

10 Die in Mistaken Afghan Firefight - New York Times

10 Die in Mistaken Afghan Firefight - New York Times:
“Another big cruelty was made by American forces this morning.”

"At least nine Afghan police officers and a civilian were killed early Thursday in a firefight between American forces and the officers in Ghazni Province, just south of the capital, local officials said.

The American forces were searching houses in a village on the outskirts of Ghazni town and blew open the gates of a house, according to local Afghan officials. District police officers heard the explosion and rushed to the scene, suspecting that the Taliban were in the area, but were themselves mistaken for Taliban and shot by the American soldiers, the officials said. Aircraft supporting the operation fired on one of the police cars.

The killings set off protests in the town on Thursday afternoon, and demonstrators blocked the main highway and prevented a government delegation from reaching the town from a nearby airfield, local officials said.

“Another big cruelty was made by American forces this morning,” said Khial Muhammad Hussaini, a member of Parliament from the province who was among the elders and legislators who had traveled to the town to try to calm people and persuade them to reopen the highway.

Zemarai Bashary, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior in Kabul, confirmed the shooting and called it a “misunderstanding,” but said he had information on only eight deaths.

The confrontation happened when United States forces were conducting a night raid on the compound of a man suspected of being an insurgent and of organizing suicide bombings, according to Maj. Chris Belcher, the spokesman for the United States military at Bagram Air Base. The soldiers were part of the United States-led coalition that conducts counterterrorism operations, not part of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, he said.

The American soldiers came under fire from insurgent forces and fired back, Major Belcher said. He suggested that those killed were insurgents and said that he had no information on whether they were members of the national police. “I know there were some deaths, but I don’t have a number,” he said.

The Afghan government has repeatedly requested that United States forces coordinate with local authorities and take along Afghan security forces during operations because there have been many instances in which Americans have inadvertently killed civilians or local police officers.

But Mr. Hussaini, the Parliament member, said the American forces involved had not coordinated with any government authority before or during the raid.

Hajji Zaher, an elder in Ghazni town, gave this account: “At 3 a.m., when the Americans were searching the houses and when they blew up the gates, the police rushed to the area thinking that they were Taliban. And at the same time the Americans thought that the police were Taliban and there was a firefight.”

Habib-u Rahman, deputy chief of the Ghazni provincial council, said that nine police officers, including a district police chief, and a civilian had been killed and that four other police officers and a woman had been wounded.

“After the police came under fire, the police officers got out of their vehicle, and their vehicle was shot by a rocket from the plane,” Mr. Rahman said.

Eight people were detained by American soldiers, Mr. Rahman said, but two were from the provincial Education Department."

Monday, February 04, 2008

Analysts Think Something's Wrong With Us Microsoft's Yahoo Offer Part of A Major Online Play:
Some analysts attribute the MySpace disappointment to what they call the "chronic unfaithfulness" of social networking users.

"'For Microsoft to be a viable Internet only company, the Yahoo deal and other initiatives will have to be executed flawlessly,' said Erik Rolf, president of Deliberare, Inc. 'Microsoft might be able to make a play for a stronger presence in streaming video and search, but with Google's YouTube and its core search engine so entrenched, Microsoft must execute this acquisition flawlessly and rapidly. I think Microsoft did this because they believed they had to get into the internet quickly, out of fear Google and not because there would be meaningful synergies.”

Because the timing was so close to Google's disappointing announcement, let's take a quick look at two reasons why Google missed analysts' expectations:

Lower than expected click-throughs in social networking. There was a lot of hype about Google buying its way into an advertising deal with social networking sites like MySpace. Since Google generates most of its money via advertising click-throughs, analysts expected the growth to maintain at an average 50% but it was 30% in the fourth quarter, a fact Google attributes to a disappointment in trying to get social networkers to click through to ads. Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO, said that the group "is not making as much money as it would like from revenue-sharing deals with social networking websites such as MySpace.”

Slowing economy. Ballmer's move does comes at a time when Google appears vulnerable but also at a time when there are significant concerns about online advertising's staying power in an economic downturn. It's uncertain whether rich/streaming media advertising, which Yahoo does well, will have better staying power than Google's typical text-based ads, or whether the economic downturn will adversely affect offline advertising rather than online advertising.

Some analysts attribute the MySpace disappointment to what they call the "chronic unfaithfulness" of social networking users. Online advertising revenues, which make up the bulk of revenue for sites like MySpace and Facebook, are expected to grow from over $40 billion in 2007 to nearly $80 billion by 2010, but it appears that text-only ads are less effective on social networking sites than are rich and streaming media advertisements. If this proves to be the case in 2008, the Yahoo acquisition could prove to have a small but successful gem in its rich media advertising that could propel Microsoft forward in its battle against Google. "

Why Lorna Switched from Clinton to Obama

Honesty in politics? Whaat a concept

con·cept: February 2008