US seizes and shut over 75 websites


JNN 28 Dec 2010 : It is almost too perfectly-scripted to be true. A discontented 22-year old US Army soldier on duty in Baghdad, Bradley Manning, a low-grade US Army intelligence analyst, described as a loner, a gay in the military, a disgruntled “computer geek,” sifts through classified information at Forward Operating Base Hammer. He decides to secretly download US State Department email communications from the entire world over a period of eight months for hours a day, onto his blank CDs while pretending to be listening to Lady Gaga. In addition to diplomatic cables, Manning is believed to have provided WikiLeaks with helicopter gun camera video of an errant US attack in Baghdad on unarmed journalists, and with war logs from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Manning then is supposed to have tracked down a notorious former US computer hacker to get his 250,000 pages of classified US State Department cables out in the Internet for the whole world to see. He allegedly told the US hacker that the documents he had contained “incredible, awful things that belonged in the public domain and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington, DC.” The hacker turned him in to US authorities so the story goes. Manning is now incommunicado since months in US military confinement so we cannot ask him, conveniently. The Pentagon routinely hires the best hackers to design their security systems.
Then the plot thickens. The 250,000 pages end up at the desk of Julian Assange, the 39-year-old Australian founder of a supposedly anti-establishment website with the cute name Wikileaks. Assange decides to selectively choose several of the world’s most ultra-establishment news media to exclusively handle the leaking job for him as he seems to be on the run from Interpol, not for leaking classified information, but for allegedly having consensual sex with two Swedish women who later decided it was rape.
He selects as exclusive newspapers to decide what is to be leaked the New York Times which did such service in promoting faked propaganda against Saddam that led to the Iraqi war, the London Guardian and Der Spiegel. Assange claims he had no time to sift through so many pages so handed them to the trusted editors of the establishment media for them to decide what should be released. Very “anti-establishment” that. The New York Times even assigned one of its top people, David E. Sanger, to control the release of the Wikileaks material. Sanger is no establishment outsider. He sits as a member of the elite Council on Foreign Relations as well as the Aspen Institute Strategy Group together with the likes of Condi Rice, former Defense Secretary William Perry, former CIA head John Deutch, former State Department Deputy Secretary and now World Bank head Robert Zoellick among others.
Indeed a strange choice of media for a person who claims to be anti-establishment. But then Assange also says he believes the US Government version of 9/11 and calls the Bilderberg Group a normal meeting of people, a very establishment view.
Not so secret cables…
The latest sensational Wikileaks documents allegedly from the US State Department embassies around the world to Washington are definitely not as Hillary Clinton claimed “an attack on America’s foreign policy interests that have endangered innocent people.” And they do not amount to what the Italian foreign minister, called the “September 11 of world diplomacy.” The British government calls them a threat to national security and an aide to Canada’s Prime Minister calls on the CIA to assassinate Assange, as does kooky would-be US Presidential hopeful Sarah Palin.
Most important, the 250,000 cables are not “top secret” as we might have thought. Between two and three million US Government employees are cleared to see this level of “secret” document,[1] and some 500,000 people around the world have access to the Secret Internet Protocol Network (SIPRnet) where the cables were stored. Siprnet is not recommended for distribution of top-secret information. Only 6% or 15,000 pages of the documents have been classified as even secret, a level below top-secret. Another 40% were the lowest level, “confidential”, while the rest were unclassified. In brief, it was not all that secret.[2]
Most of the revelations so far have been unspectacular. In Germany the revelations led to the removal of a prominent young FDP politician close to Guido Westerwelle who apparently liked to talk too much to his counterpart at the US Embassy. The revelations about Russian politics, that a US Embassy official refers to Putin and Medvedev as “Batman and Robin,” tells more about the cultural level of current US State Department personnel than it does about internal Russian politics.
But for anyone who has studied the craft of intelligence and of disinformation, a clear pattern emerges in the Wikileaks drama. The focus is put on select US geopolitical targets, appearing as Hillary Clinton put it “to justify US sanctions against Iran.” They claim North Korea with China’s granting of free passage to Korean ships despite US State Department pleas, send dangerous missiles to Iran. Saudi Arabia’s ailing King Abdullah reportedly called Iran’s President a Hitler.
Excuse to police the Internet?
What is emerging from all the sound and Wikileaks fury in Washington is that the entire scandal is serving to advance a long-standing Obama and Bush agenda of policing the until-now free Internet. Already the US Government has shut the Wikileaks server in the United States though no identifiable US law has been broken.
The process of policing the Web was well underway before the current leaks scandal. In 2009 Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller and Republican Olympia Snowe introduced the Cybersecurity Act of 2009 (S.773). It would give the President unlimited power to disconnect private-sector computers from the internet. The bill “would allow the president to ‘declare a cyber-security emergency’ relating to ‘non-governmental’ computer networks and do what’s necessary to respond to the threat.” We can expect that now this controversial piece of legislation will get top priority when a new Republican House and the Senate convene in January.
The US Department of Homeland Security, an agency created in the political hysteria following 9/11 2001 that has been compared to the Gestapo, has already begun policing the Internet. They are quietly seizing and shutting down internet websites (web domains) without due process or a proper trial. DHS simply seizes web domains that it wants to and posts an ominous “Department of Justice” logo on the web site. See an example at http://torrent-finder.com. Over 75 websites were seized and shut in a recent week. Right now, their focus is websites that they claim “violate copyrights,” yet the torrent-finder.com website that was seized by DHS contained no copyrighted content whatsoever. It was merely a search engine website that linked to destinations where people could access copyrighted content. Step by careful step freedom of speech can be taken away.

Oil prices highest in two years, pushing closer to $100


 

JNN 28 Dec 2010 : Global oil prices are pushing closer to $100 a barrel as the cold weather around the world has raised demand.

Benchmark Brent crude closed 48 cents down at more than $93 on Friday after hitting nearly $95 earlier in the day, the highest level since October 2008.

The rally in Brent crude is partly due to the severe cold snap in Europe, with more freezing temperatures and snow predicted in parts of Europe over the weekend expected to boost fuel demand.

Meanwhile, a group of OPEC ministers is scheduled to meet in Egypt this weekend to discuss oil production and prices, but analysts predict more gains for oil prices in the coming week.

“The reality is that the growth of emerging markets is driving up oil prices, but oil prices are not restraining emerging economies in any significant way,” Reuters quoted Sara Johnson, senior research director of global economics at IHS Global Insights in Lexington, Massachusetts, as saying.

Higher prices can reduce demand and boost production costs, but the impact will not be that great as many countries have fuel subsidies, which ease manufacturing, transportation, and consumer costs, she stated.

 

Solar-powered plane breaks all previous world records


JNN 28 Dec 2010 : A solar-powered aircraft breaks the world record for the longest time spent in the air after flying aloft for fourteen days.

A solar-powered pilotless plane which was built in the UK has been recognized as having smashed the world record for the longest time spent in the air by an unmanned autonomous vehicle (UAV) after staying aloft for two weeks, reported The Independent on its website.

The record-breaking flight took place in July over the US and has now been ratified by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), which governs air sports records.

The 50kg craft remained airborne for 14 days, 22 minutes and 8 seconds — 11 times longer than the previous record.

Potential uses for the aircraft, which is built by defense technology company Qinetiq, include the long-distance tracking of hijacked ships and aerial monitoring of forest fires.

Chris Kelleher, chief designer, said: “This aircraft can help track pirates off the Horn of Africa and also ensure that soldiers’ communications remain unaffected when fighting in mountainous or hilly terrain.”

Solar panels power the aircraft and charge lithium batteries which keep it flying at night.

Saudia Arabia's future Unknown


 

JNN 28 Dec 2010 : Rex mortuus est, vivat rex! The king is dead; long live the king! For thousands of years, in monarchies across the globe, that phrase has heralded the end of one era and the beginning of another.

It is difficult for people in democracies, who elect a new chief executive every few years, to appreciate the true import of those words. But in Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s few remaining absolute monarchies, a new king is in the process of being ushered into office while his predecessor remains very much alive. And despite the ambiguity of the situation, whoever eventually occupies the Saudi throne will dramatically affect not only the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), but the entire Mideast. 

In order to fully grasp the situation, we must first understand the Saudi system of succession, which is somewhat different from that of most monarchies. Many of us are familiar with the law of primogeniture, on which the succession of most monarchs is based. According to that law, when a king dies, his eldest son inherits the throne and if that son dies without issue, the king’s next oldest son inherits and so forth. 

The Saudi monarchy, however, operates in a different manner. In the Kingdom, the order of succession (which is determined within and by the House of Saud), has been, so far, limited to the sons of the dynasty’s original founder, Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, who established the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932. Since his death in 1953, five of his sons, Saud, Faisal, Khalid, Fahd and Abdullah have, in turn, occupied the throne. Thus, to date, no one but Ibn Saud and his sons has yet been king. 

Upon the death of King Fahd and the ascension to the throne of the present monarch, King Abdullah (in 2005), their younger brother, Sultan became heir apparent or crown prince. At 82 years of age, Prince Sultan is not much younger than the 86-year-old king. And considering the fact that the prince is believed to be suffering from cancer (in 2004 he was diagnosed with colon cancer), there is no guarantee that he will ever rule. 

Of Abdul Aziz’s many sons, 20 are still alive, so King Abdullah and Prince Sultan have 18 brothers. Most of them, however, are either too old to rule, or lack the experience to do so, which leaves only two brothers, who are considered eligible. They are 77-year-old Nayef and 71-year-old Salman. 

And that brings us to the controversy surrounding Prince Nayef. As the second in line after the ailing crown prince, Nayef, who now serves as Second Deputy Prime Minister (and since 1975, as Minister of the Interior), is believed by many to be the one, who will eventually occupy the Saudi throne. But unlike the moderate Abdullah, Nayef is known to be a pro-Wahhabist and one of the most conservative members of the royal family – which has given many of the more tolerant elements in the Mideast cause for worry. 

In fact, according to a 2003 New York Times article, the Minister of the Interior’s promotion of extremist elements in the past was sufficiently extensive to sound the alarm in Washington and prompt US Senator Charles E. Schumer (Democrat of New York) to write a letter to then Saudi Ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar, asking that Nayef be removed from office due to his “well-documented history of suborning terrorist financing and ignoring the evidence when it comes to investigating terrorist attacks on Americans.” 

If those, in the inner political circles are to be believed, the ‘leopard has not changed his spots.’ As a diplomat, well-acquainted with the inner workings of the Kingdom, who preferred (for obvious reasons) to remain anonymous, recently observed, “He (Nayef) is a conservative who will give more rope to the religious establishment than any of his brothers would,” which, if true, bodes ill for internal reforms and foreign relations, alike. 

Moreover, Abdullah’s ongoing reforms aimed at solving the country’s unemployment problems and curbing extremism by improving education, making it easier for women to work and retraining sharia judges, will probably be abandoned. 

Those reform programs appear to have already given the economy a jump-start. According to an article on the NASDAQ website, they have “opened up sectors of the economy previously barred to private investors, led to the privatization of some big state companies and included development of the capital markets.” 

Such improvements will most likely be stopped in their tracks if Nayef becomes king, because the prince has, since his appointment as interior minister, 35 years ago, gained a reputation for maintaining close ties with Wahhabists (a powerful group of religious extremists), who are strongly opposed to such changes. And as author Steffen Hertog, who wrote a book about Saudi internal politics, titledPrinces, Brokers and Bureaucrats, pointed out, Nayef has already obstructed some (economic) reforms in his role as Interior Minister. 

Nevertheless, there is little doubt that he will be the next king. “It looks more plausible than not that Nayef will become the crown prince after Abdullah dies and he is already taking more control in the day-to-day running of the kingdom,” Hertog observed. 

Institute for (Persian) Gulf Affairs (IGA) Director, Ali al-Ahmad, agrees. In a recent interview with Press TV, he said, “It is true that a name, Crown Prince Sultan, for example, is in Riyadh, but he is not meeting people and he is not issuing policy.” 

“It is the third man, Nayef, who is traveling and attending Arab Countries’ on the (Persian) Gulf meetings … He is the one, who is issuing policy and orders.” 

The official went on to explain that Abdullah, due to his age and infirmities (caused by his recent surgery), is out of the picture, and there are strong doubts as to whether Sultan, who is also elderly and suffers from poor health, will ever ascend the throne. So that leaves Nayef, who is actually running the country. Ahmed went on to say that he believes the prince will use the present circumstances to “spread his power and influence to make sure that he becomes the king of Saudi Arabia,” possibly, within a matter of months. 

But what will happen when – and if – this pro-Wahhabi prince actually does become king? 

Well, firstly, it will probably help strengthen the monarchy and the House of Saud among conservative Saudi elements. Within the past decades, the royal family has, on various occasions, drawn criticism from Sunni conservatives – not only for the excess of some of its members, but for attempts by several of its monarchs to introduce modernization and tolerance. 

Therefore, since much of the dynasty’s raison d’etre stems from its affiliation with Wahhabism and its role as the guardian of Sunni orthodoxy, a conservative, pro-Wahhabi king would, in the eyes of many Saudis, exonerate the House of Saud and entrench it more firmly than ever. 

At the same time, Nayef at the governmental helm would only serve to dash the hopes of both the country’s women and its Shia population. Shias, a long-suppressed minority in Saudi Arabia, could most likely anticipate further suppression – possibly to the point of persecution. And this treatment would be based on the prevalent political climate at a given time. If the Kingdom were embroiled in a conflict with Shias in another country, Shias in Saudi Arabia would probably feel the effects in a new wave of suppression and/or persecution. 

As far as Saudi women are concerned, the meager gains they have made du

ring Abdullah’s reign would most likely be forfeited. What else could they expect from a ruler, who, according to The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (a US think tank), publicly stated a month after King Abdullah’s announced appointment of the first female deputy minister, that he saw no need for either elections or female members of parliament? 

It might be mentioned at this point that Saudi Arabia, as an absolute monarchy, does not even possess a parliament. Instead it has a consultative ‘Shura Council,’ which is made up of exclusively male members appointed by the king. And the closest thing the Kingdom has ever had to elections, was a series of limited polls (for male participants, only), held in 2005 for some municipal councils. 

An ultra-conservative on the throne of the world’s biggest oil producer will also undoubtedly affect the country’s foreign relations, which will be felt first – and most strongly – throughout the already precarious Middle East. For starters, we can probably anticipate further Saudi interference in Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen, three countries, in which Shias have gained a foothold. 

On the other hand, there is a possibility that none of these scenarios will pan out. Despite Nayef’s hard-line reputation, historians say that Saudi leaders have always been pragmatists in their actual dealings, giving stability priority over ideology. 

And according to Hertog, Nayef’s conservatism is overstated. “As king you have to take different policy positions than as interior minister,” the expert said, “because you have a different constituency.” He went on to explain that Nayef’s opposition to reform “might have been due to security concerns and bureaucratic infighting rather than an ideological dispute.” 

There is a basis for such reasoning. Saudi Arabia is vulnerable security-wise, as assassinations and terrorist attempts in the past have demonstrated. And the rivalry and rifts within the royal family are well-known. 

So what will actually happen when Saudi Arabia gains a new king? We can only guess.

 

Saudia Arabia’s future Unknown


 

JNN 28 Dec 2010 : Rex mortuus est, vivat rex! The king is dead; long live the king! For thousands of years, in monarchies across the globe, that phrase has heralded the end of one era and the beginning of another.

It is difficult for people in democracies, who elect a new chief executive every few years, to appreciate the true import of those words. But in Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s few remaining absolute monarchies, a new king is in the process of being ushered into office while his predecessor remains very much alive. And despite the ambiguity of the situation, whoever eventually occupies the Saudi throne will dramatically affect not only the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), but the entire Mideast. 

In order to fully grasp the situation, we must first understand the Saudi system of succession, which is somewhat different from that of most monarchies. Many of us are familiar with the law of primogeniture, on which the succession of most monarchs is based. According to that law, when a king dies, his eldest son inherits the throne and if that son dies without issue, the king’s next oldest son inherits and so forth. 

The Saudi monarchy, however, operates in a different manner. In the Kingdom, the order of succession (which is determined within and by the House of Saud), has been, so far, limited to the sons of the dynasty’s original founder, Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, who established the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932. Since his death in 1953, five of his sons, Saud, Faisal, Khalid, Fahd and Abdullah have, in turn, occupied the throne. Thus, to date, no one but Ibn Saud and his sons has yet been king. 

Upon the death of King Fahd and the ascension to the throne of the present monarch, King Abdullah (in 2005), their younger brother, Sultan became heir apparent or crown prince. At 82 years of age, Prince Sultan is not much younger than the 86-year-old king. And considering the fact that the prince is believed to be suffering from cancer (in 2004 he was diagnosed with colon cancer), there is no guarantee that he will ever rule. 

Of Abdul Aziz’s many sons, 20 are still alive, so King Abdullah and Prince Sultan have 18 brothers. Most of them, however, are either too old to rule, or lack the experience to do so, which leaves only two brothers, who are considered eligible. They are 77-year-old Nayef and 71-year-old Salman. 

And that brings us to the controversy surrounding Prince Nayef. As the second in line after the ailing crown prince, Nayef, who now serves as Second Deputy Prime Minister (and since 1975, as Minister of the Interior), is believed by many to be the one, who will eventually occupy the Saudi throne. But unlike the moderate Abdullah, Nayef is known to be a pro-Wahhabist and one of the most conservative members of the royal family – which has given many of the more tolerant elements in the Mideast cause for worry. 

In fact, according to a 2003 New York Times article, the Minister of the Interior’s promotion of extremist elements in the past was sufficiently extensive to sound the alarm in Washington and prompt US Senator Charles E. Schumer (Democrat of New York) to write a letter to then Saudi Ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar, asking that Nayef be removed from office due to his “well-documented history of suborning terrorist financing and ignoring the evidence when it comes to investigating terrorist attacks on Americans.” 

If those, in the inner political circles are to be believed, the ‘leopard has not changed his spots.’ As a diplomat, well-acquainted with the inner workings of the Kingdom, who preferred (for obvious reasons) to remain anonymous, recently observed, “He (Nayef) is a conservative who will give more rope to the religious establishment than any of his brothers would,” which, if true, bodes ill for internal reforms and foreign relations, alike. 

Moreover, Abdullah’s ongoing reforms aimed at solving the country’s unemployment problems and curbing extremism by improving education, making it easier for women to work and retraining sharia judges, will probably be abandoned. 

Those reform programs appear to have already given the economy a jump-start. According to an article on the NASDAQ website, they have “opened up sectors of the economy previously barred to private investors, led to the privatization of some big state companies and included development of the capital markets.” 

Such improvements will most likely be stopped in their tracks if Nayef becomes king, because the prince has, since his appointment as interior minister, 35 years ago, gained a reputation for maintaining close ties with Wahhabists (a powerful group of religious extremists), who are strongly opposed to such changes. And as author Steffen Hertog, who wrote a book about Saudi internal politics, titledPrinces, Brokers and Bureaucrats, pointed out, Nayef has already obstructed some (economic) reforms in his role as Interior Minister. 

Nevertheless, there is little doubt that he will be the next king. “It looks more plausible than not that Nayef will become the crown prince after Abdullah dies and he is already taking more control in the day-to-day running of the kingdom,” Hertog observed. 

Institute for (Persian) Gulf Affairs (IGA) Director, Ali al-Ahmad, agrees. In a recent interview with Press TV, he said, “It is true that a name, Crown Prince Sultan, for example, is in Riyadh, but he is not meeting people and he is not issuing policy.” 

“It is the third man, Nayef, who is traveling and attending Arab Countries’ on the (Persian) Gulf meetings … He is the one, who is issuing policy and orders.” 

The official went on to explain that Abdullah, due to his age and infirmities (caused by his recent surgery), is out of the picture, and there are strong doubts as to whether Sultan, who is also elderly and suffers from poor health, will ever ascend the throne. So that leaves Nayef, who is actually running the country. Ahmed went on to say that he believes the prince will use the present circumstances to “spread his power and influence to make sure that he becomes the king of Saudi Arabia,” possibly, within a matter of months. 

But what will happen when – and if – this pro-Wahhabi prince actually does become king? 

Well, firstly, it will probably help strengthen the monarchy and the House of Saud among conservative Saudi elements. Within the past decades, the royal family has, on various occasions, drawn criticism from Sunni conservatives – not only for the excess of some of its members, but for attempts by several of its monarchs to introduce modernization and tolerance. 

Therefore, since much of the dynasty’s raison d’etre stems from its affiliation with Wahhabism and its role as the guardian of Sunni orthodoxy, a conservative, pro-Wahhabi king would, in the eyes of many Saudis, exonerate the House of Saud and entrench it more firmly than ever. 

At the same time, Nayef at the governmental helm would only serve to dash the hopes of both the country’s women and its Shia population. Shias, a long-suppressed minority in Saudi Arabia, could most likely anticipate further suppression – possibly to the point of persecution. And this treatment would be based on the prevalent political climate at a given time. If the Kingdom were embroiled in a conflict with Shias in another country, Shias in Saudi Arabia would probably feel the effects in a new wave of suppression and/or persecution. 

As far as Saudi women are concerned, the meager gains they have made during Abdullah’s reign would most likely be forfeited. What else could they expect from a ruler, who, according to The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (a US think tank), publicly stated a month after King Abdullah’s announced appointment of the first female deputy minister, that he saw no need for either elections or female members of parliament? 

It might be mentioned at this point that Saudi Arabia, as an absolute monarchy, does not even possess a parliament. Instead it has a consultative ‘Shura Council,’ which is made up of exclusively male members appointed by the king. And the closest thing the Kingdom has ever had to elections, was a series of limited polls (for male participants, only), held in 2005 for some municipal councils. 

An ultra-conservative on the throne of the world’s biggest oil producer will also undoubtedly affect the country’s foreign relations, which will be felt first – and most strongly – throughout the already precarious Middle East. For starters, we can probably anticipate further Saudi interference in Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen, three countries, in which Shias have gained a foothold. 

On the other hand, there is a possibility that none of these scenarios will pan out. Despite Nayef’s hard-line reputation, historians say that Saudi leaders have always been pragmatists in their actual dealings, giving stability priority over ideology. 

And according to Hertog, Nayef’s conservatism is overstated. “As king you have to take different policy positions than as interior minister,” the expert said, “because you have a different constituency.” He went on to explain that Nayef’s opposition to reform “might have been due to security concerns and bureaucratic infighting rather than an ideological dispute.” 

There is a basis for such reasoning. Saudi Arabia is vulnerable security-wise, as assassinations and terrorist attempts in the past have demonstrated. And the rivalry and rifts within the royal family are well-known. 

So what will actually happen when Saudi Arabia gains a new king? We can only guess.