TBR News December 19, 2013

Dec 19 2013

The Voice of the White House


        Washington, D.C. December 19, 2013: “Our government is growing increasingly annoyed with Vladimir Putin. His incursion into Georgia upset the plans to form a ring of missile-armed small states around Russia. And most recently, he flatly refused to return whistle-blowing Edward Snowden to a livid, demanding Obama. This was followed by his interfering with our  intentions of grabbing the resource-rich Ukraine that also controlled the huge Black Sea naval base. We are also furious over growing Russian control over Arctic oil reserves and an attempt to interfere with oil drilling by the use of surrogate conservations groups proved to be a fiasco. To show his displeasure, Obama and his top people are refusing to attend the Olympics being held in Russia, a fact that will no doubt cause a terrible wave of sadness to overcome the Russian people. And while our government and media are howling about the volte face of the Ukraine, they are engaged in such distasteful, and illegal, actions as strip-searching and anal probing of an Indian diplomat in New York. Even at her height of world control, the British showed more discretion. Where will all of this end? What matters, in the end is that the Russians have huge deposits of natural gas and oil and our main supplier of those products, Saudi Arabia, is running out of both. ‘Whatever happens, Putin’s got/ The oil and gas which we have not.”


Officials Say U.S. May Never Know Extent of Snowden’s Leaks

December 14, 2013

by Mark Mazzetti and Michael S. Schmidt 

New York Times


             WASHINGTON — American intelligence and law enforcement investigators have concluded that they may never know the entirety of what the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden extracted from classified government computers before leaving the United States, according to senior government officials.

             Investigators remain in the dark about the extent of the data breach partly because the N.S.A. facility in Hawaii where Mr. Snowden worked — unlike other N.S.A. facilities — was not equipped with up-to-date software that allows the spy agency to monitor which corners of its vast computer landscape its employees are navigating at any given time.

             Six months since the investigation began, officials said Mr. Snowden had further covered his tracks by logging into classified systems using the passwords of other security agency employees, as well as by hacking firewalls installed to limit access to certain parts of the system.


“They’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of man-hours trying to reconstruct everything he has gotten, and they still don’t know all of what he took,” a senior administration official said. “I know that seems crazy, but everything with this is crazy.”


That Mr. Snowden was so expertly able to exploit blind spots in the systems of America’s most secretive spy agency illustrates how far computer security still lagged years after President Obama ordered standards tightened after the WikiLeaks revelations of 2010.


Mr. Snowden’s disclosures set off a national debate about the expansion of the N.S.A.’s powers to spy both at home and abroad, and have left the Obama administration trying frantically to mend relations with allies after his revelations about American eavesdropping on foreign leaders.


A presidential advisory committee that has been examining the security agency’s operations submitted its report to Mr. Obama on Friday. The White House said the report would not be made public until next month, when Mr. Obama announces which of the recommendations he has embraced and which he has rejected.


Mr. Snowden gave his cache of documents to a small group of journalists, and some from that group have shared documents with several news organizations — leading to a flurry of exposures about spying on friendly governments. In an interview with The New York Times in October, Mr. Snowden said he had given all of the documents he downloaded to journalists and kept no additional copies.


In recent days, a senior N.S.A. official has told reporters that he believed Mr. Snowden still had access to documents not yet disclosed. The official, Rick Ledgett, who is heading the security agency’s task force examining Mr. Snowden’s leak, said he would consider recommending amnesty for Mr. Snowden in exchange for those documents.


“So, my personal view is, yes, it’s worth having a conversation about,” Mr. Ledgett told CBS News. “I would need assurances that the remainder of the data could be secured, and my bar for those assurances would be very high. It would be more than just an assertion on his part.”


Mr. Snowden is living and working in Russia under a one-year asylum. The Russian government has refused to extradite Mr. Snowden, who was indicted by the Justice Department in June on charges of espionage and stealing government property, to the United States.


Mr. Snowden has said he would return to the United States if he was offered amnesty, but it is unclear whether Mr. Obama — who would most likely have to make such a decision — would make such an offer, given the damage the administration has claimed Mr. Snowden’s leaks have done to national security.


Because the N.S.A. is still uncertain about exactly what Mr. Snowden took, government officials sometimes first learn about specific documents from reporters preparing their articles for publication — leaving the State Department with little time to notify foreign leaders about coming disclosures.


With the security agency trying to revamp its computer network in the aftermath of what could turn out to be the largest breach of classified information in American history, the Justice Department has continued its investigation of Mr. Snowden.


According to senior government officials, F.B.I. agents from the bureau’s Washington field office, who are leading the investigation, believe that Mr. Snowden methodically downloaded the files over several months while working as a government contractor at the Hawaii facility. They also believe that he worked alone, the officials said.


But for all of Mr. Snowden’s technical expertise, some American officials also place blame on the security agency for being slow to install software that can detect unusual computer activity carried out by the agency’s work force — which, at approximately 35,000 employees, is the largest of any intelligence agency.


An N.S.A. spokeswoman declined to comment.


After a similar episode in 2010 — when an Army private, Chelsea Manning, gave hundreds of thousands of military chat logs and diplomatic cables to the antisecrecy group WikiLeaks — the Obama administration took steps intended to prevent another government employee from downloading and disseminating large volumes of classified material.


In October 2011, Mr. Obama signed an executive order establishing a task force charged with “deterring, detecting and mitigating insider threats, including the safeguarding of classified information from exploitation, compromise, or other unauthorized disclosure.” The task force, led by the attorney general and the director of national intelligence, has the responsibility of developing policies and new technologies to protect classified information.


But one of the changes, updating computer systems to track the digital meanderings of the employees of intelligence agencies, occurred slowly.


“We weren’t able to flip a switch and have all of those changes made instantly,” said one American intelligence official.


 Lonny Anderson, the N.S.A.’s chief technology officer, said in a recent interview that much of what Mr. Snowden took came from parts of the computer system open to anyone with a high-level clearance. And part of his job was to move large amounts of data between different parts of the system.


But, Mr. Anderson said, Mr. Snowden’s activities were not closely monitored and did not set off warning signals.


“So the lesson learned for us is that you’ve got to remove anonymity” for those with access to classified systems, Mr. Anderson said during the interview with the Lawfare blog, part of a podcast series the website plans to run this week.


Officials said Mr. Snowden, who had an intimate understanding of the N.S.A.’s computer architecture, would have known that the Hawaii facility was behind other agency outposts in installing monitoring software.


According to a former government official who spoke recently with Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the N.S.A. director, the general said that at the time Mr. Snowden was downloading the documents, the spy agency was several months away from having systems in place to catch the activity.


As investigations by the F.B.I. and the N.S.A. grind on, the State Department and the White House have absorbed the impact of Mr. Snowden’s disclosures on America’s diplomatic relations with other countries.


“There are ongoing and continuing efforts by the State Department still to reach out to countries and to tell them things about what he took,” said one senior administration official. The official said the State Department often described the spying to foreign leaders as “business as usual” between nations.


NSA officials consider Edward Snowden amnesty in return for documents

• Key official tells CBS ‘it’s worth having a conversation’

• State Department and other key figures oppose deal


December 15, 2013

by Spencer Ackerman in Washington

The Guardian   


             National Security Agency officials are considering a controversial amnesty that would return Edward Snowden to the United States, in exchange for the extensive document trove the whistleblower took from the agency.


An amnesty, which does not have the support of the State Department, would represent a surprising denouement to an international drama that has lasted half a year. It is particularly unexpected from a surveillance agency that has spent months insisting that Snowden’s disclosures have caused vast damage to US national security.


The NSA official in charge of assessing the alleged damage caused by Snowden’s leaks, Richard Ledgett, told CBS News an amnesty still remains controversial within the agency, which has spent the past six months defending itself against a global outcry and legislative and executive proposals to restrain its broad surveillance activities.


“My personal view is, yes, it’s worth having a conversation about,” Ledgett, who is under consideration to become the agency’s top civilian, said in an interview slated to air Sunday evening on 60 Minutes. “I would need assurances that the remainder of the data could be secured, and my bar for those assurances would be very high. It would be more than just an assertion on his part.”


Snowden is in Russia, having been granted a year-long asylum that has sparked international intrigue. In June, the Justice Department filed a criminal complaint charging the 30-year old former contractor with theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and “wilful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person”, although he has not yet been indicted.


Any amnesty would have to come through the Justice Department, which did not respond to a request for comment.


The NSA’s director, General Keith Alexander, told CBS that granting Snowden amnesty would reward the leaks and potentially incentivize future ones. But Alexander is retiring in the spring, joining his civilian deputy John C Inglis, and Ledgett is rumored to be a top candidate to replace Inglis.


On Sunday, the State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said that Ledgett was stating a “personal view”.


“Our position has not changed,” Harf said. “Mr Snowden is facing very serious charges and should return to the United States to face them.”


Alexander’s predecessor at the NSA, retired Air Force General Michael Hayden, also rejected an amnesty for Snowden.


“I wouldn’t do it. That simply motivates future Snowdens,” said Hayden, who began the bulk collection of Americans’ phone and internet metadata in 2001 as a response to 9/11 that was initially unknown and unauthorized by Congress and the courts.


But Hayden also said that Snowden had kickstarted an important debate in the US about the appropriate balance between liberty and security.


“Snowden was important. He accelerated a debate, he misshaped the debate, but … the debate was coming,” Hayden said, on NBC.


Snowden told the New York Times in October that he divested himself of the documents before leaving Hong Kong for Russia, which he suggested was a preventive measure to keep the documents out of the hands of Russian intelligence. Lack of access to the documents, which are now in the hands of journalists, would likely complicate the “assurances” Ledgett indicated the government would require for any amnesty.


The NSA does not believe that Snowden’s documents have escaped the collection capabilities of its Russian and Chinese counterparts; a senior official told the New York Times on Saturday that the government may never know how much material Snowden took from the agency.


The Guardian continues to publish surveillance stories based on Snowden’s leaks, as do the Washington Post and other news organizations around the world, aided by the former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, the two journalists who maintain possession of the entire Snowden data trove.


Ledgett told Reuters that the NSA is worried about the large majority of documents the agency believes to have been taken by Snowden that news organizations have not yet published.


Whether or not Snowden returns to the US a free man, the Obama administration continues to grapple with the aftershocks of his disclosures. Ledgett and other NSA officials have said that the agency is instituting new technical initiatives to prevent new Snowdens by increasing internal data security. Alexander testified on Wednesday that the agency would soon detail those to Congress, but he said they included “compartmentalizing and encrypting data”.


However, NSA officials conceded in interviews that by the time of Snowden’s leaks, they had yet to fully implement data-security promises the government pledged to institute after the 2010 leaks of war logs and diplomatic cables by the Army private Chelsea Manning.


On Friday, a review group created by the White House provided President Barack Obama with a report recommending 40 potential surveillance reforms. National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the administration would spend “several weeks” assessing which to implement, and would make the report public in January.


The White House has already rejected one proposed initiative, which would divorce the NSA from the military’s Cyber Command, which protects US military data networks and attacks those of adversaries. Civil liberties groups have already attacked the review group’s reported proposals as cosmetic.


“The proposed recommendations from the Review Group do not go far enough,” said Alan Butler, a lawyer for the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “Bulk collection of personal data should simply end. And meaningful constraints on the NSA should be re-established. The purpose of FISA was to allow for electronic surveillance of foreign targets for foreign intelligence purposes, and the current framework of bulk domestic collection is upside down.”


Beyond the review group, privacy advocates in Congress are pushing a bill, the USA Freedom Act, that would prevent the government from collecting Americans’ phone and other data in bulk without court-authorized and individualized suspicion of wrongdoing. The USA Freedom Act has yet to clear any of its relevant committees in the House and Senate, but supporters claim 120 co-sponsors in the legislature.


The 60 Minutes interview is part of an NSA initiative to rebuild its reputation through increased public engagement. This week, the sympathetic blog Lawfare will air a series of podcasted interviews with NSA leaders. Senior NSA officials have also been making appearances on college campuses to argue that their bulk surveillance activities are necessary for national security and not intrusive on Americans’ privacy





US Judge Rules NSA Phone Spying Is Likely Illegal

Topic: Ex-CIA Employee Discloses US Secret Surveillance Programs


WASHINGTON, December 16 (RIA Novosti) – A US federal judge on Monday ruled that the US government’s mass collection of telephone data is probably illegal, a decision praised by fugitive intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, who first disclosed the surveillance program.


In a first-of-its-kind decision, US District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled that the US National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records likely violates the US Constitution but allowed the surveillance program to proceed pending an expected appeal by the government.


“I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary invasion’ than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying it and analyzing it without judicial approval,” Leon wrote in the ruling.


The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by plaintiff Larry Klayman and others in June in which they claim the NSA’s mass collection of personal data is a blatant violation of the US Constitution and federal laws, including the freedom of speech, the freedom of association and due process.


Snowden, a former NSA contractor who disclosed the phone surveillance program earlier this year and later obtained temporary asylum in Russia, praised Monday’s ruling in a statement released by lawyer and journalist Glenn Greenwald, who first published Snowden’s revelations in the British newspaper The Guardian.


“I acted on my belief that the NSA’s mass surveillance programs would not withstand a constitutional challenge, and that the American public deserved a chance to see these issues determined by open courts,” Snowden said in the statement, The New York Times reported.


“Today, a secret program authorized by a secret court was, when exposed to the light of day, found to violate Americans’ rights. It is the first of many,” Snowden added.


The United States has insisted that the bulk collection of phone data and other classified surveillance programs disclosed by Snowden play a critical role in combatting terrorism.


In his ruling Monday, however, Leon said he doubted the usefulness of tracking massive amounts of so-called “metadata” – information such as numbers dialed and calls received, as well as the time and duration of calls but not their content – in battling terrorists.


“I have serious doubts about the efficacy of the metadata collection program as a means of conducting time-sensitive investigations in cases involving imminent threats of terrorism,” Leon wrote in the ruling.


Russia granted temporary asylum to Snowden in August despite extradition demands from the United States, where he faces charges of espionage and theft of government property. He has been living at an undisclosed location in Russia since then.


Special Report: Why Ukraine spurned the EU and embraced Russia

December 19, 2013

by Elizabeth Piper



KIEV- On September 4, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich called a meeting of his political party for the first time in three years, summoning members to an old Soviet-era cinema called Zoryany in Kiev.


For three hours Yanukovich cajoled and bullied anyone who pushed for Ukraine to have closer ties to Russia. A handful of deputies from his Party of Regions complained that their businesses in Ukraine’s Russian-speaking east would suffer if Yanukovich didn’t agree to closer ties with Russia. That set him off.


“Forget about it … forever!” he shouted at them, according to people who attended the meeting. Instead the president argued for an agreement to deepen trade and other cooperation with the European Union.


Some deputies implored him to change his mind, people who attended the meeting told Reuters. Businessmen warned that a deal with the EU would provoke Russia – Ukraine’s former master in Soviet times – into toughening an economic blockade on Ukrainian goods. Yanukovich stood firm.


“We will pursue integration with Europe,” he barked back, according to three people who attended the meeting. He seemed dead set on looking west.


Less than three months later Yanukovich spurned the EU, embraced Russian President Vladimir Putin and struck a deal on December 17 for a bailout of his country. Russia will invest $15 billion in Ukraine’s government debt and reduce by about a third the price that Naftogaz, Ukraine’s national energy company, pays for Russian gas.


It is not clear what Yanukovich agreed to give Russia in return, but two sources close to him said he may have had to surrender some control over Ukraine’s gas pipeline network.


What caused the U-turn by the leadership of a country of 46 million people that occupies a strategic position between the EU and Russia?


Public and private arm-twisting by Putin, including threats to Ukraine’s economy and Yanukovich’s political future, played a significant part. But the unwillingness of the EU and International Monetary Fund to be flexible in their demands of Ukraine also had an effect, making them less attractive partners.


And amid this international tug-of-war, Yanukovich’s personal antipathy towards his jailed political rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, was a factor, according to Volodymyr Oliynyk, an ally of Yanukovich and a prominent member of the ruling party. The EU accused Ukraine of treating Tymoshenko unfairly – to the annoyance of Yanukovich, according to his supporters and one of her lawyers.


The upshot is that Yanukovich, 63, has split his party and his country. Some leading party officials have deserted him. His hopes of re-election in 2015 – if there is a free and fair vote – look weak.


Hundreds of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets, demanding he step down and the country pursue closer links with the EU. Yanukovich, who has been increasingly cut off in his sprawling residence outside Kiev and distant even from some of his oldest friends, did not respond to requests for comment.




Risen from humble roots, Yanukovich likes to be treated with respect and as an equal, a characteristic that has informed much of his reluctance to join the customs union of former Soviet states that Putin wants to create.


Colleagues describe the burly leader as an intuitive politician who cannot abide being patronized. Inna Bohoslovska, a member of Yanukovich’s Party of Regions until last month, said Yanukovich made clear at the cinema meeting his dislike of Russia treating Ukraine as second rate.


“He told us Russia was not fit for talks, Russia did not consider Ukraine to be an equal partner, that it tried to force us to act by its own rules, that Russia does not act in Ukraine’s best interests in any negotiations, and therefore there can be no talk of having negotiations with Russia,” she said.


Yanukovich felt he was better treated by EU officials, two party members said, despite finding it hard to grasp the complexity of EU bureaucracy. Hailing from Ukraine’s industrial east, Yanukovich also seemed the perfect man to persuade Ukraine’s pro-Russian eastern regions to agree to closer ties with Europe.


“That a president from the east would bring Ukraine into Europe was the ideal combination for us. We were willing to do anything,” said David Zhvaniya, a former member of the Party of Regions who helped lead efforts to prepare Ukraine for deeper cooperation with the EU.


Now deeply disillusioned, Zhvaniya feels misled by Yanukovich: “He tricked us all … It was a complete, utter lie.” He accuses Yanukovich of acting like a tsar.


Others say Yanukovich’s desire to forge closer links with the EU was genuine, but that he became dismayed when he felt the EU failed to acknowledge the scale of the financial difficulties he would face if he chose Brussels over Moscow.


Yanukovich estimated that he needed $160 billion over three years to make up for the trade Ukraine stood to lose with Russia, and to help cushion the pain from reforms the EU was demanding. The EU refused to give such a sum, which it said was exaggerated and unjustified.


The EU offered 610 million euros ($839 million) immediately. EU officials said increased trade, combined with various aid and financing programs, might go some way to providing Kiev with the investment it needed.


An EU source said Ukraine could have been in line to receive at least 19 billion euros in EU loans and grants over the next seven years if it had signed a trade and cooperation agreement and reached a deal with the IMF. But that sum was not mentioned to Ukraine officials during negotiations, said the source.


To Ukraine, there seemed little prospect of getting the EU, already struggling to help its indebted members, to offer a better deal than its original offer.


Oliynyk, who is Ukraine’s permanent representative for NATO, and others were furious. He told Reuters that when Ukraine turned to Europe’s officials for help, they “spat on us.”


Next year Ukraine will have to cover foreign debt payments of $8 billion, according to its finance ministry. It was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, partly because Moscow was blocking sales of Ukrainian-produced meat, cheese and some confectionery, and scrapping duty-free quotas on steel pipes. Some officials said the restrictions showed what life would be like if Ukraine signed the EU agreement.


Yanukovich’s other hope was the IMF. It rescued Ukraine during the onset of the global financial crisis with a $16.5 billion loan in 2008 when Tymoshenko was prime minister. It also approved a $15.5 billion stand-by program for the Yanukovich government in 2010, disbursing about $3.5 billion, before freezing the program in 2011 because Ukraine failed to meet its conditions. A year later, the program had expired.


The IMF, like the EU, was unwilling to grant the sort of loans Yanukovich wanted under a new program. In a letter dated November 20, it told Ukraine that it would not soften conditions for a new loan and that it would offer only $5 billion, Oliynyk said. And Kiev would have to pay back almost the same amount next year, he said, as part of repayments for the earlier $16.5 billion loan.


The IMF declined to comment. According to IMF figures, Kiev should pay back $3.7 billion next year.


“We could not contain our emotions, it was unacceptable,” said Oliynyk.


Yanukovich was furious, party members said. He believed the IMF had ignored what he saw as reasonable demands to lift tough conditions for its earlier help, such as increasing the retirement age and freezing pensions and wages. Worse, the IMF was asking him to repay a loan that had been negotiated by his arch enemy, Tymoshenko.




Despite his reputation as a hard man – he was sent to Soviet prisons twice for theft and assault when he was a youth – Yanukovich has a particular weak point: jailed opposition leader Tymoshenko. He both detests and fears her, according to his aides and diplomats.


Conspicuous for her plaited blonde hair, Tymoshenko was one of the leaders of the 2004 Orange Revolution, which snuffed out Yanukovich’s first bid to be president. She served as prime minister in 2005 and then from 2007-2010, and their enmity deepened when a plan to form a coalition against a common enemy failed in 2009.


Tymoshenko, who has said she wanted to “kill” Yanukovich over his policy U-turn, was jailed in 2011 for abuse of office after a trial Western governments say was political. Most Ukrainians think she should be released, though many question how she amassed her wealth.


To the EU, Tymoshenko’s case represented an unacceptable standard of justice. As part of the trade pact, the EU demanded Ukraine release Tymoshenko or, as some officials suggested, make a commitment to do so.


Yanukovich and his supporters resisted. “We had done most things on the list for the EU accession agreement, but there was a question mark over Tymoshenko … We believe she is guilty … and among those people who think she is guilty, 80 percent are our voters,” Oliynyk said, going on to document the dozens of perceived slights Tymoshenko has made against Yanukovich.


Tymoshenko has never acknowledged his legitimacy as president and refuses to ask for forgiveness so he can pardon her, he said.


Serhiy Vlasenko, a lawyer for Tymoshenko, said his client was a factor in Yanukovich’s decision not to accept a deal with the EU: “He (Yanukovich) had dozens of reasons not to sign it, and yes, one of the reasons is that he acknowledges Mrs Tymoshenko as his main political opponent and he does not want to see her free as she is the only politician who could beat him.”


Yanukovich was also offended when he found out Kiev would not be offered a firm prospect of full membership of the EU; he felt Ukraine was being treated as a lesser country to “even Poland”, with which it shares a border.


“Many citizens have got it wrong on European integration. It is not about membership, we are apparently not Poland, apparently we are not on a level with Poland … they are not letting us in really, we will be standing at the doors. We’re nice but we’re not Poles,” Oliynyk said.


Poland became a full member of the EU in 2004. EU enlargement chief Stefan Fuele suggested after Yanukovich’s U-turn that perhaps the bloc should have offered Ukraine membership at some point.


Amid the acrimony, leading officials, including Mykola Azarov, Yanukovich’s prime minister, performed a volte-face.


In September, just after his government had approved signing the pact with the EU, Azarov had painted a glowing future for Ukraine in Europe. “We all want clean air and water, safe food, good education for our children, up-to-date medical services, reliable legal representation, etc. All these are not abstract terms, but norms and rules that are already in place in the EU, which we need in Ukraine,” he said.


But on November 21, Azarov suspended discussions with the EU in the interests of “national security” and ordered a renewal of “active dialogue” with Moscow.


EU negotiators had no time to renegotiate before a meeting in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius seven days later, where Yanukovich had been expected to sign an agreement with the EU. He failed to do so.


Last week Azarov was on the streets of Kiev explaining the change of direction to pro-Yanukovich supporters. “So-called leaders tell us fairy tales about how, once we had signed, we would be able to travel to Europe without visas. Nothing of the sort. To get that we would have to fulfill a whole raft of conditions,” he said.




Yanukovich knew there would be a cost, whichever way he turned. Spurning Putin would likely bring economic damage; spurning the EU has brought political damage.


Yanukovich will resist for as long as possible signing up to Putin’s customs union, say analysts; but the prospect of Ukraine joining has already fired up mass protests in Kiev calling for him to resign. It has also split his inner circle.


Yanukovich has become increasingly isolated, spending more time at his estate of Mezhyhirya, 16 km (9 miles) north of Kiev, complete with lake and nearby forests where he likes to hunt. There he is guarded by a large contingent of police, who allow in only family members and his closest aides.


Bohoslovska, who quit Yanukovich’s party last month after more than four years of membership, said some of his oldest friends, business leaders and consultants no longer felt they could tell him the truth.


“His old friends, who have known him his whole life, I have spoken to them and they say that when they tell him the truth, he doesn’t talk to them for a few months,” she told Reuters. “In recent years, Yanukovich created a system around him by which he doesn’t have to hear what he doesn’t like.”


At the same time, two advisers with stronger ties to Moscow than others have grown influential. Andriy Kluyev, secretary of the National Security and Defence Council, and Viktor Medvedchuk, who has no formal role in government, are called Putin’s emissaries by opposition leaders and Yanukovich allies alike.


Both have business interests in Russia. Kluyev arranged the purchase by Russians of Prominvestbank, a private bank in Ukraine, and Putin is godfather to one of Medvedchuk’s children, sources close to both men say. Both helped on Yanukovich’s 2004 and 2010 election campaigns.


“Kluyev is the direct agent of Putin’s influence in Ukraine. He is a big friend of Medvedchuk, who has family ties with Putin,” Bohoslovska said.


Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian leader and Medvedchuk “know each other well” and have “very good relations,” but declined to comment on whether Medvedchuk and Kluyev were advocates of Putin’s interests in Ukraine.


Sources close to Kluyev and Medvedchuk said they were committed to supporting Ukraine’s interests.


It is clear that Yanukovich’s more liberal advisers are weaker than before the protests, or even out to distance themselves from him. His chief of staff, Serhiy Lyovochkin, offered to resign on November 30 over the violence meted out against protesters, but Yanukovich said no. Lyovchkin declined to comment.


Two senior members of the Party of Regions have already quit; and more than a dozen others remain on board only through fear that their businesses will be raided if they fail to support Yanukovich, according to a businessman who asked not to be named.


For Yanukovich, it’s a daunting balancing act. His best hope may be to portray his sudden reversal of strategy as a masterstroke of negotiation – pulling EU and U.S. officials back to the table and forcing them to reconsider what they can offer.


“Ukraine is at a crossroads and there’s a huge boulder there. We go one way to Russia and we get hit. We go the other way, to Europe, and we get hit. We stand still, and we get hit,” Oliynyk said, drawing a diagram on a notebook.


“But it will hurt less this way,” he said, pointing in the European direction.


(Additional reporting by Luke Baker and Adrian Croft in Brussels, and Anna Yukhananov in Washington; Editing by Richard Woods)



Target says data from 40 million cards stolen in holiday period

December 19, 2013

by Siddharth Cavale and Jim Finkle



                          Target Corp said data from about 40 million credit and debit cards might have been stolen from shoppers at its stores during the first three weeks of the holiday season, in the second-largest card breach at a U.S. retailer.


The data theft, unprecedented in its ferocity, took place over a 19-day period that began the day before Thanksgiving. Target said on Thursday that it identified and resolved the issue on December 15.


The company’s shares fell as much as 3.2 percent before the bell.


Though smaller than the breach disclosed in March 2007 by TJX Companies Inc, parent of apparel chains TJ Maxx and Marshalls, the data theft took place over a much shorter period and hit shoppers at the beginning of the U.S. holiday season.


Target said the breach might have compromised accounts between November 27 and December 15, a period of nearly three weeks.


The data theft revealed by TJX took place over 18 months, affecting 45.7 million payment cards, according to the company. Banks later said in court documents that the hackers could have obtained more than 94 million account numbers in the TJX case.


On Thursday, Target told customers in an alert on its website that the criminals had stolen customer names, payment card numbers, expiration dates and their CVV security codes.


“On December 15, we were able to identify an unauthorized access and we were able at that time to resolve the issue,” Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder said by telephone.


Krebs on Security, a closely watched security industry blog that broke the news on Wednesday, said the breach involved nearly all of Target’s 1,797 stores in the United States and investigators believed the data was obtained via software installed on point-of-sales terminals used to swipe magnetic strips on payment cards.


It is not yet clear how the attackers were able to compromise point-of-sales terminals at so many Target stores. “It is very clear it is a sophisticated crime,” Snyder said.


The U.S. Secret Service is working on the investigation, according to an agency spokeswoman. A Federal Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman declined to comment.


“While this search for the truth is happening, the issue damages the trust Target have gained in mobile and calls into question how sales (will) trend in January,” said Brian Sozzi, chief executive officer of Belus Capital Advisors.


MasterCard and Visa officials had declined to comment late on Wednesday, after news of the breach surfaced. An American Express spokeswoman said the company was aware of the incident and was putting fraud controls in place.


Target said it had alerted authorities and financial institutions immediately after it was made aware of the unauthorized access and that it was “putting all appropriate resources behind these efforts.”


The company said it hired a forensics firm to investigate the incident.


Target’s shares were down 1.7 percent an hour before the market was due to open.


The shares, which have risen 7.4 percent this year, closed at $63.55 on the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday. The stock has largely underperformed the broader S&P 500 index, which has risen 27 percent this year.


Writing by Robin Paxton; Editing by Kirti Pandey and Rodney Joyce


India-US row over arrest of diplomat Devyani Khobragade escalates

Indian MPs refuse to meet American delegates in reprisal for ‘barbaric treatment’ of envoy


December  17, 2013

by Jason Burke in Delhi

The Guardian



Bulldozers have removed security barriers outside the US embassy in Delhi as a diplomatic row prompted by the arrest of an Indian diplomat on visa fraud charges in New York intensified.


Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York, was charged last week with making false statements on an application for her housekeeper to live and work in the United States.


India’s national security adviser on Tuesday called the treatment of Khobragade “despicable and barbaric” and the country’s foreign secretary summoned the US ambassador. Politicians – including Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and vice chairman of the ruling Congress party, and Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the Hindu nationalist opposition BJP – refused to meet a visiting US congressional delegation.


The removal of the barriers was one of a slew of retaliatory actions taken by the Indian government as outrage at the arrest grew, including the withdrawal of import clearances and special airport passes. The incident has become a major story in India, dominating TV bulletins.


The arrest of Khobragade touches on a range of sensitivities in India. Special official privileges – such as the right to use a red beacon light on an official car are minutely graded and valued in India. Unofficial privileges of the wealthy and powerful – such as the ability to “settle” police inquiries without publicity – are equally well-entrenched.


Much of the criticism in India of the arrest has focused on how Khobragade was treated as a “common criminal”. According to Indian officials, Khobragade was arrested and handcuffed as she dropped off her daughter at school, then strip-searched and kept in a cell with drug addicts before posting $250,000 (£153,000) bail.


India is also acutely sensitive to its international image and status. Far less serious incidents have provoked major clashes in the past. Standard security checks in the US frequently make front-page news in India when they involve visiting dignitaries, who are ushered through airports as VIPs in their own country.


Prosecutors in New York say Khobragade, 39, claimed she would pay her Indian maid $4,500 a month when applying for a visa at the US embassy in Delhi to bring her to New York but actually paid her a third of the US minimum wage of about $10 an hour. She has pleaded not guilty to the charge, which could lead to a 10-year prison sentence, and plans to challenge the arrest on grounds of diplomatic immunity, her lawyer said last week.


In Washington, the US state department has said that standard procedures were followed during Khobragade’s arrest. Officials argue that her immunity from prosecution extends only to actions directly connected to her position.


Khobragade’s father, Uttam Khobragade, told the TimesNow TV news channel that his daughter’s treatment was “absolutely obnoxious”.


“As a father I feel hurt, our entire family is traumatised,” he said.


In India most middle class families will employ at least one full-time domestic servant, possibly two and sometimes three or four. Wealthy households sometimes employ dozens, including drivers, cleaners, cooks, nannies and gardeners. Supporters argue that the custom provides a degree of welfare and social mobility for often illiterate workers from rural areas which otherwise would not exist. Critics say it reinforces a rigid hierarchy and is exploitative.


Public transport appears to be a particular point of tension for Indian dignitaries in the US. Mani Shankar Aiyar, a veteran of the Congress party, wrote that “Democracy in America apparently means the right of the lower orders to be rude to their social superiors” after a trip to the US last year.


In 2010 there was uproar after India’s UN envoy, Hardeep Puri, was reportedly asked to remove his turban at a US airport and detained in a holding room when he was refused. A hands-on search of India’s US ambassador Meera Shankar at an airport in Mississippi that year also prompted claims that India had been “insulted”.


In 2009 Continental Airlines apologised to former Indian president APJ Abdul Kalam for searching him in Delhi before he boarded a flight to the US, and in 2005 India’s former speaker of parliament Somnath Chatterjee refused to attend an international meeting in Australia without a guarantee that he would not have to pass through security.


Chatterjee said even the possibility of a security screening was “an affront to India”.


No responses yet

Leave a Reply