TBR News January 1, 2015

Jan 01 2015

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. December 27, 2014: “All over Europe today there is a growing anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant movement. This has been suppressed by the media and denigrated by politicians but it is real, powerful and eventually will dictate policy rather than be dictated to by it. Europe and Scandinavia has been overrun by armies of Middle East types, and also Africans, who are fleeing disruptions in their countries and seeking for more secure lives in states with liberal welfare programs. Where they enter, crime rates soar and the immigrants do not, and will not, integrate with their host country. And terrorist Muslim extremist groups recruit followers from among the youths of these immigrant groups, mostly to fight in Middle East campaigns of violence and terror but the time is surely coming when these recruits will return to their adoptive countries and carry out their anti-white and anti-Christian terror attacks. The same problems were rampant in post World War I Germany when a large army of Polish Ashkenazi Jews, thrown out of Poland, poured into Germany. It was not German Jews Hitler was so opposed but the Polish Jews who, like their modern-day Muslim immigrants, did not assimilate in German society and did their best to infiltrate and plunder it. The more things change, the more they stay the same.” 

The End of Tolerance? Anti-Muslim Movement Rattles Germany

Disenchanted German citizens and right-wing extremists are joining forces to form a protest movement to fight what they see as the Islamization of the West. Is this the end of the long-praised tolerance of postwar Germany?

December 21, 2014

Spegel. de

 Felix Menzel is sitting in his study in an elegant villa in Dresden’s Striesen neighborhood on a dark afternoon in early December. He’s thinking about Europe. A portrait of Ernst Jünger, a favorite author of many German archconservatives is hung on the wall.

Menzel, 29, is a polite, unimposing man wearing corduroys and rimless glasses. He takes pains to come across as intellectual, and avoids virulent rhetoric like “Foreigners out!” He prefers to talk about “Europe’s Western soul,” which, as he believes, includes Christianity and the legacy of antiquity, but not Islam. “I see serious threats coming our way from outside Europe. I feel especially pessimistic about the overpopulation of Africa and Asia,” says Menzel, looking serious. “And I believe that what is unfolding in Iraq and Syria at the moment is a clear harbinger of the first global civil war.”

Menzel, a media scholar, has been running the Blaue Narzisse (Blue Narcissus), a conservative right-wing magazine for high school and university students, for the last 10 years. His small magazine had attracted little interest until now. But that is about to change, at least if Menzel has his way. “The uprising of the masses that we have long yearned for is slowly getting underway,” he writes on his magazine’s website. “And this movement is moving toward the right.”

In Dresden, at least, the sentiments expressed in the Blaue Narzisse have become more palpable in recent weeks. Protests staged each week on Mondays initially attracted only a few dozen to a few hundred people, but more recently the number of citizens taking to the streets has reached 10,000. The group, which calls itself Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (and goes by the German acronym PEGIDA), demonstrates against economic migrants and a supposed “cultural foreign domination of our country” — whatever is meant by that.

What is going on in Germany, the world’s second most popular destination for immigrants? Has the open-mindedness for which Germans had long been praised now ended? Are we seeing a return of the vague fear of being overwhelmed by immigrants that Germany experienced in the 1990s, when a hostel for asylum seekers was burned down? How large is the new right-wing movement, and will it remain limited to Dresden, or is it spreading nationwide?

So far, protests held under the PEGIDA label in under cities — like Kassel and Würzburg — have attracted only a few hundred people at a time. In fact, some of the protests attracted significantly larger numbers of counter-demonstrators. And while thousands of “patriotic Europeans” aim to take to the streets in Dresden again in the coming days, their counterparts in Germany’s western states are taking a Christmas break. PEGIDA supporters are waiting until after the holidays to return to the streets in cities like Cologne, Düsseldorf and Unna.

34 Percent Believe Germany Becoming Islamicized

Still, many Germans share the protestors’ views, according to a current SPIEGEL poll. Some 34 percent of citizens agreed with the PEGIDA protestors that Germany is becoming increasingly Islamicized.

Even before the PEGIDA movement began, the number of right-wing protests was on the rise nationwide. In the first 10 months of this year, the refugee organization Pro Asyl and the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, which combats racism, counted more than 200 demonstrations against hostels for asylum seekers.

Violence has erupted at the protests again and again. Right-wing perpetrators are attacking accommodations for immigrants an average of twice a week in Germany. On Dec. 11, three buildings that had been converted to house refugees but were still empty became the targets of right-wing hate, when they were painted with swastikas and set on fire. Attacks like these are “intolerable,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said after the incidents.

According to the federal government, there were 86 attacks by right-wing assailants on asylum seekers’ hostels between January and the end of September 2014. The offences included arson, grievous bodily assault, trespassing and painting symbols barred by the German constitution.

In addition, the Internet has been flooded with countless right-wing hate sites and Facebook groups. Just one anti-Islamic blog, Politically Incorrect, is reporting about 70,000 visitors a day.

Various movements are coming together in the new wave of protests. Concerned residents are encountering conservatives who have grown wary of democratic values, while hooligans are joining forces with neo-Nazis and notorious right-wing conspiracy theorists. Citizens’ qualms about those on the far right are decreasing, and extremist, xenophobic ideas have apparently become socially acceptable.


German Officials Alarmed


This confusing coexistence of movements and ideas is what makes it so difficult to deal with the self-proclaimed saviors of the West. The majority of the demonstrators don’t want to be pegged as right-wing extremists. Still, it doesn’t seem to trouble them that, week after week, they are demonstrating alongside bullnecked men with shaved heads, as they all shout together: “We are the people!” Far-right groups like the xenophobic National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) see the protests as a chance to take their worldview directly to the middle class. Populist movements that have attracted little attention until now, like the so-called “identitarian movement,” are suddenly in the spotlight, as is the aimlessly wandering Reichsbürgerbewegung, or Reich Citizens’ Movement, which asserts that the German Reich still exists within its pre-World War II borders.

German security agencies are alarmed. “We take this very seriously,” says a senior official with the domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV). The authorities were especially aroused by the events of Oct. 26, when at least 400 right-wing extremists went on a rampage in downtown Cologne during a demonstration staged by the group “Hooligans Against Salafists” (HoGeSa). The issue was even on the agenda of an “intelligence situation” meeting at Merkel’s Chancellery, where officials were ordered to heighten their scrutiny of the unusual mix of protestors.

The Federal Prosecutor’s Office is also involved. According to a spokesman, there are more than 100 “observation and investigation procedures associated with right-wing extremist activities” pending at the agency, based in the southwestern city of Karlsruhe. The HoGeSa movement is one of the groups under observation, say the Karlsruhe officials.

A report on the connections between hooligans and right-wing extremists compiled by the police and the BfV was the focus of a meeting of the federal and state interior ministers just over a week ago. The group also discussed PEGIDA and its many clones, as well as the question of how to handle the simmering protests.


Fomenting Fears and Prejudice


But the interior ministers failed to develop a convincing plan to effectively combat the problem. “We cannot label 10,000 people as right-wing extremists. That creates more problems than it solves,” says Saxony Interior Minister Markus Ulbig, a member of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU). According to Ulbig, there were many “middle-class citizens” among the Dresden demonstrators, “and you can’t toss them all into the same Neo-Nazi pot.”

His counterpart from the Western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Ralf Jäger, a member of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the current chairman of the conference of interior ministers, began the meeting by referring to some of the protesters as “neo-Nazis in pinstripes.” But he too became more cautious by the end of the conference. “We have to unmask these instigators. They are deliberately fomenting fears and prejudices,” said Jäger. Instead of taking a repressive approach, he explained, the authorities should create awareness campaigns for nervous citizens.

The demonstrators aren’t exactly making it easy for German authorities. Since the riots in Cologne, they have generally taken great pains to avoid committing prosecutable offences during the weekly protests, or being seen as too obviously in league with right-wing extremists. But the line between freedom of expression and the right to demonstrate, on the one hand, and hate speech and xenophobia, on the other, has become blurred. As a result, citizens are currently marching straight under the radar of the BfV and police.

In Dresden on Dec. 8, an anonymous PEGIDA speaker even began his speech by quoting the words of US black civil rights leader Martin Luther King, “I have a dream.” He too had a dream, the demonstrator in Saxony said, a dream of the peaceful coexistence of all human beings and cultures. But then he arrived at what he called the hard reality: that we are in a state of war.

Was there an “objective reason,” the speaker asked rhetorically, to invade Iraq, overthrow Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, intervene in Tunisia, depose Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and “provoke Russia with Ukraine?” “No!” the crowd shouted each time. “He who sows war will reap refugees,” the PEGIDA speaker shouted to his audience of 10,000 Dresden citizens, and warned against the “perverse ideas” that are coming to Germany. “Do we have to wait until the conditions we see in the Neukölln neighborhood of Berlin have come to Saxony?” he asked, referring to a district in the nation’s capital that is home to large Turkish and Arab immigrant populations and is wrought with urban problems.


Are Germans Yearning for ‘Good Old Days’?


In a dispatch from the city titled, “Dresden Journal,” the New York Times wrote: “In German City Rich with History and Tragedy, Tide Rises Against Immigration.” Still, the author, who was promptly interviewed by MDR, the public broadcaster for the eastern states of Thuringia, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, praised the peaceful atmosphere at the demonstration, saying that the participants were in good cheer, “despite teeth-chattering cold.” She told the German broadcaster that she had been under the impression that many were mourning the “good old days.”

The only question is: Which good old days? Those after 1933, when Dresden, displaying the Nazi swastika, drove out its Jewish residents? Or those after 1945, when the East German Communist Party transformed an entire region into one that was virtually cut off from the Western world because its residents were geographically cut off from illegal broadcasts of West German television that provided a link to other East Germans to the rest of the world.

What is so deeply upsetting to many Saxons is difficult to recognize at first glance. According to the official statistics, there are about 100,000 foreigners living in the state, or 2.5 percent of its population — compared to 13.4 percent in Berlin. State interior ministry figures indicate that the share of Muslims who have the potential to seek to Islamicize the Saxon West is only 0.1 percent. But many of those who take to the streets every week don’t believe the official statistics. Instead, they are convinced that a cartel of politicians and “main-stream media” are audaciously misleading the public over the true state of affairs.

At least one of Saxony’s great citizens, the author Karl May, exhibited a considerable talent for imagining foreign, threatening worlds. His novels, which have sold millions of copies around the world, are crawling with what he calls Musulmans dazzling infidels with their swords or simply dispatching them straight to hell.

Many Dresden residents also let their imaginations run wild at the Monday protests. One demonstrator says that he doesn’t want to see his granddaughters being forced to wear headscarves in the future, while another suggests that Islamists would be better off seeking asylum in wealthy, oil-producing countries. A woman complains that she can’t afford to buy a smartphone, but that the refugees can.

Lutz Bachmann has brought them together. The impetus for his movement, he says, was a walk through Dresden’s post-Socialist Prager Strasse shopping district. He witnessed a rally by supporters of the Kurdish Workers’ Party, or PKK, which opposes the Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq. His reaction was to start a Facebook group, primarily to oppose arms shipments to the PKK.

It was only a handful of people who showed up for the first demonstration in October. Today PEGIDA has more than 44,000 Facebook fans. By contrast, the state chapter of Merkel’s conservative CDU party, which has been in office for 24 years, has only managed to drum up 661 Facebook fans.


Links to Crime and Hooligans


While PEGIDA wants to see criminal asylum seekers deported immediately, some of its own activists are known to the police. Movement founder Bachmann is registered with the authorities under the heading “General crime (including violent offences),” and he has a criminal record for offences that include burglary and drug crimes. Another member of the group’s middle-class leadership is also registered with authorities under the same category, and a third rally organizer has fraud convictions on his record.

PEGIDA’s connections to the hooligan community are also noteworthy. For instance, the police have identified some of the protestors as members of “Fist of the East,” a Dresden hooligan group in the right-wing extremist camp. Members of “Hooligans Elbflorenz (Florence on the Elbe, a nickname for Dresden),” which the Dresden Regional Court has classified as a criminal organization, have also been spotted. Activists with the group have reportedly been in contact with the banned far-right extremist fellowship known as “Skinheads Sächsische Schweiz.”

The police estimate that the PEGIDA marches include about 300 people “associated with the fan community of SG Dynamo Dresden,” the city’s football club, and describe about 250 of them as “problem fans.” Unofficially, the authorities assume that a large portion of this group is “open to right-wing extremist ideas.” There are also apparently ties between PEGIDA and HoGeSa. For instance, police have identified a 42-year-old in Meissen, a city near Dresden, who is seen as an organizer for both protest movements.


Nationalism Dressed Up as Patriotism


A vague feeling of being threatened unites the demonstrators, whether they see themselves as members of the middle-class, conservative nationalists or radical right-wingers. They yearn for isolation and simple answers, which is why almost-forgotten, Nazi-era terms like “Volk” (the people) and “Vaterland” (the fatherland) are back in vogue.

Only last summer, the German flag was a symbol of a joyous, multicultural nation of soccer fans. Now it’s being waved above the heads of PEGIDA followers as they crow: “Germany is awakening. For our fatherland, for Germany, it is our country, the country of our ancestors, descendants and children.”

Where does this new nationalism, dressed up as patriotism, come from? “Disenchanted citizens with right-wing sympathies” are unable to cope with the social change of the last few decades,” says Alexander Häusler, an expert on right-wing extremism in Düsseldorf. The protestors are pursuing a “restorative image of society” that roughly corresponds to Germany in the 1950s, long before it became a country of immigration.

“The collaboration between society and lawmakers is breaking down,” says Werner Patzelt, a political scientist at the Technical University of Dresden. For decades, he explains, there was far too little investment in political education, especially in Saxony. That too has helped fuel the marches.


Conspiracy Theories


Many citizens apparently believe that politicians and the media are treating an important issue — the effects of immigration on society — as a taboo. Their dissatisfaction isn’t just expressed in the streets, but also in the tone of discourse in social media. It’s also a popular subject for books. For instance, writer Udo Ulfkotte’s book of conspiracy theories, “Bought Journalists,” is currently a bestseller.

The so-called mainstream media supposed suppression of the truth has prompted Ulfkotte to speak out loudly for years. One of his subjects is a little-known variant of “holy war.” Ulfkotte, a former journalist with the respected national daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, suggested on the Internet that Muslims could be deliberately contaminating European food products with their excrement. “Even the intelligence services have been warning us for years about fecal matter jihad,” he wrote.

Christian Jung, an official with the city of Munich, has also struck a chord with the public. When we meet for a beer at the Isarthor pub, he looks very unassuming in his brown cardigan, as he pleasantly discusses his website Blu-News, founded in 2012, which bills itself as “middle-class, liberal and independent.” The site is one of the biggest in the nationalist conservative community. Jung describes it as an “alternative medium with a politically incorrect and provocative voice.”

But this isn’t an accurate reflection of reality. For instance, the site characterizes the group Hooligans Against Salafists as part of a new protest culture that is being “treated unfairly in the media,” and Blu-News also shows shock videos about Islamic State in which children are holding severed heads in their hands. The commentary reads: “It’s the religion, nothing else. This hell cannot be explained without Islam.” According to Jung, a former official with the anti-Islam party Die Freiheit (Freedom), the video is the most successful on the site to date, with more than 300,000 views.

Each of these websites links to other sites. One click after another takes us more and more deeply into a parallel world that perceives itself as a bulwark against “foreign infiltration.” There’s also the Patriotic Platform, which aligns itself with the anti-euro party Alternative for Germany (AfD). Another website is called Nuremberg 2.0 Germany, which wants to put about 100 prominent citizens, like former President Christian Wulff, on trial for the alleged “systematic Islamization of Germany” — using the Nuremberg war crimes trials as its model.

Another blog, “Heerlager der Heiligen” (The Camp of the Saints), is named after a novel by French author Jean Raspail popular with the right, in which Indian refugees storm the European continent after a famine in their country.


‘A Radical, Parallel Society Is Taking Shape’


Apparently the beginnings of militant structures are also taking shape in the wake of their wave of anger. The Berlin state security agency is now investigating an obscure group known as the German Resistance Movement (DWB), which has been linked to four attempted arson attacks on the national offices of the CDU, the Reichstag building in Berlin and the Paul Löbe parliamentary building.

Between Aug. 25 and Nov. 24, previously unknown assailants threw Molotov cocktails at the buildings, which fortunately caused only minor property damage. According to pamphlets the group left behind at the sites, today’s prevailing “multicultural, multiethnic, multi-religious and multi-historical population mix” will “subvert and Balkanize the country.”

“A radical, parallel society is taking shape here,” says Andreas Zick, director of the Institute of Interdisciplinary Conflict and Violence Studies at the University of Bielefeld in northwestern Germany. What is especially unsettling, he adds, is that a number of previously separate groups and mini-groups are now on the verge of creating “a shared nationalist and chauvinist identity.”

In addition to populist opponents of the euro, anti-Islam agitators and nationalists, these groups include classic right-wing extremists and, more and more openly, a portion of the AfD — “and a large number of people who simply don’t care about this country anymore,” says Zick.

The emergence of PEGIDA, Zick explains, has made it possible to unite all of these groups behind a single banner. “I think this is dangerous, because there are many people with violent tendencies in those groups.” This willingness to commit acts of violence is currently more palpable than measurable, he adds, “but I’m convinced that this will eventually tilt in another direction.” Even today, says social psychologist Zick, the demonstrators’ countless anti-foreigner slogans can be seen as veiled threats, as if the crowds were preparing a return to some kind of ethnic German ideal. “They may be chanting, ‘We are the people,'” he adds, but they might as well be saying, “We are the (ethnic) German people.” It’s a message that is exclusionary toward immigrants and foreigners.

Meanwhile, in Dresden, Saxony Governor Stanislaw Tillich is trying to formulate an official position. He was long been silent about the conservative right-wing throngs appearing at the city’s Schlossplatz square every Monday, within view of the state government headquarters. CDU politician Tillich apparently believes the PEGIDA will eventually go away.

For now, he says, he wants to “start a conversation” with the “patriotic Europeans,” in order to alleviate their “anxieties.” But in his statements earlier this month, he neglected to mention the anxieties of refugees and Muslims, who must live in fear of being attacked by the right-wing mob.

He has since made more clear statements against PEGIDA. In statements made to the Leipziger Volkszeitung newspaper published on Sunday, Tillich noted that world had been opened to residents of Saxony after the fall of the Berlin Wall and that the world must also be welcomed in the state. One day before the next major PEGIDA demonstration, he warned that Saxons should not have walls in their heads and that they should be open and curious about in experiencing enrichment.

Meanwhile, the counter-protests are growing. On Monday, anti-PEGIDA organizers are planning demonstrations in Dresden, Munich, Würzberg and Nuremberg. Similar acts are slated for Cologne, Leipzig, Düsseldorf and Frankfurt in January. There’s even a hashtag for the counter-protests: #niewieda, “never again,” the anti-Nazi slogan that has been a standard rallying cry against right-wing sentiment in Germany since the end of World War II.

By Maik Baumgärtner, Jörg Diehl, Frank Hornig, Maximillian Popp, Sven Röbel, Jörg Schindler, Wolf Wiedmann-Schmidt and Steffen Winter


 Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


Record number at Germany’s anti-immigrant rally

December 22, 2014

by Oliver Ellrodt



DRESDEN, Germany – More than 17,000 people took part in Germany’s largest anti-immigrant rally to date on Monday in the eastern city of Dresden, gathering to sing Christmas carols and listen to speakers complain about immigrants and asylum-seekers.

The rally by a fast-growing grass-roots movement calling itself PEGIDA, or Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, was its 10th and largest so far.

“Germany is not a land of immigration,” PEGIDA leader Lutz Bachmann told the cheering crowd, which waved Germany flags and chanted criticism of media it accuses of biased reporting.

Bachmann started PEGIDA in October with an appeal on social media in Dresden to protest plans to add 14 centers for about 2,000 refugees locally. Demonstrators reject charges they are far-right extremists or neo-Nazis.

Monday’s rally took place in front of Dresden’s famous Semper Opera house in the city’s historic center.

A counter-demonstration of 4,000 people tried to disrupt the PEGIDA rally, which grew from a previous record of 15,000 a week ago and has embarrassed the political establishment with claims that Germany is being overrun by Muslims and other immigrants.

Justice Minister Heiko Maas has called PEGIDA a disgrace for Germany.

PEGIDA’s demands have attracted support from some on the far-right as well as ordinary Germans alarmed by a sharp rise in refugees, many fleeing conflict in the Middle East. The rallies have spread across Germany even though Dresden, with a tiny immigrant community, remains the movement’s hotbed.

Instead of their usual marches through the nighttime streets, the rally remained at the crowd sang Christmas classics as “Stille Nacht” (Silent Night) and “Oh, du froehliche”. The Semper opera turned off its lights to protest the rally.

The number of asylum-seekers in Germany has surged to some 200,000 this year, more than any other western country, due in part to an influx of Syrians.

(Writing by Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Angus MacSwan)


Arson suspected in second mosque fire in Sweden

Police in Sweden are investigating what they suspect is the second arson attack on a mosque in less than a week. This comes amid an intense political debate about Immigration.

December 29,.2014


            A fire broke out at a mosque in the southern Swedish town of Eslov in the early hours of Monday, but was quickly extinguished by firefighters. The fire caused minor damage and no injuries were reported, a statement released by police said.

“We … are working under the assumption it is arson,” police officer Marie Keismar was quoted by the TT news agency as saying.

The incident comes just days after a fire at a mosque in the town of Eskilstuna, in which five people were injured. Police are also treating that fire as a case of arson.

Immigration debate

The two fires come amid an intense political debate over Sweden’s refugee-friendly asylum laws.

The far right Sweden Democrats, who finished third in the September general election, had threatened to turn snap polls that Social Democrat Prime Minister Stefan Lofven had called for March 22 into a referendum on immigration.

However, days after calling the election, Lofven announced that he had reached a deal with the opposition center-right Alliance bloc to sideline the Sweden Democrats through the next parliament of 2018-22, thus averting the need for an election. Lofven had called the snap vote after the opposition voted down his government’s proposed budget.

All of the mainstream parties have refused to work with the Sweden Democrats, but a major influx of immigrants has moved the issue higher up the country’s political agenda. With a population of 9.5 million, Sweden is expected to receive a total of 100,000 asylum seekers in 2014.


pfd/se (AFP, dpa, Reuters)


No, North Korea Didn’t Hack Sony

December 25, 2014

by Mark Rogers

The Daily Beast

The FBI and the President may claim that the Hermit Kingdom is to blame for the most high-profile network breach in forever. But almost all signs point in another direction.

            So, “The Interview” is to be released after all.

The news that the satirical movie—which revolves around a plot to murder Kim Jong-Un—will have a Christmas Day release as planned, will prompt renewed scrutiny of whether, as the US authorities have officially claimed, the cyber attack on Sony really was the work of an elite group of North Korean government hackers.

All the evidence leads me to believe that the great Sony Pictures hack of 2014 is far more likely to be the work of one disgruntled employee facing a pink slip.

I may be biased, but, as the director of security operations for DEF CON, the world’s largest hacker conference, and the principal security researcher for the world’s leading mobile security company, Cloudflare, I think I am worth hearing out.

The FBI was very clear in its press release about who it believed was responsible for the attack: “The FBI now has enough information to conclude that the North Korean government is responsible for these actions,” they said in their December 19 statement, before adding, “the need to protect sensitive sources and methods precludes us from sharing all of this information”.

With that disclaimer in mind, let’s look at the evidence that the FBI are able to tell us about.

The first piece of evidence described in the FBI bulletin refers to the malware found while examining the Sony Picture’s network after the hack.

“Technical analysis of the data deletion malware used in this attack revealed links to other malware that the FBI knows North Korean actors previously developed. For example, there were similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks.”

So, malware found in the course of investigating the Sony hack bears “strong” similarities to malware found in other attacks attributed to North Korea.

This may be the case—but it is not remotely plausible evidence that this attack was therefore orchestrated by North Korea.

The FBI is likely referring to two pieces of malware in particular, Shamoon, which targeted companies in the oil and energy sectors and was discovered in August 2012, and DarkSeoul, which on June 25, 2013, hit South Korea (it was the 63rd anniversary of the start of the Korean War).

Even if these prior attacks were co-ordinated by North Korea—and plenty of security experts including me doubt that—the fact that the same piece of malware appeared in the Sony hack is far from being convincing evidence that the same hackers were responsible. The source code for the original “Shamoon” malware is widely known to have leaked. Just because two pieces of malware share a common ancestry, it obviously does not mean they share a common operator. Increasingly, criminals actually lease their malware from a group that guarantees their malware against detection. Banking malware and certain “crimeware” kits have been using this model for years.

So the first bit of evidence is weak.

But the second bit of evidence given by the FBI is even more flimsy:

“The FBI also observed significant overlap between the infrastructure used in this attack and other malicious cyber activity the U.S. government has previously linked directly to North Korea. For example, the FBI discovered that several Internet protocol (IP) addresses associated with known North Korean infrastructure communicated with IP addresses that were hardcoded into the data deletion malware used in this attack.”

What they are saying is that the Internet addresses found after the Sony Picture attack are “known” addresses that had previously been used by North Korea in other cyberattacks.

To cyber security experts, the naivety of this statement beggars belief. Note to the FBI: Just because a system with a particular IP address was used for cybercrime doesn’t mean that from now on every time you see that IP address you can link it to cybercrime. Plus, while sometimes IPs can be “permanent”, at other times IPs last just a few seconds.

            It isn’t the IP address that the FBI should be paying attention to. Rather it’s the server or service that’s behind it.

As with much of this investigation our information is somewhat limited. The FBI haven’t released all the evidence, so we have to go by what information is available publicly. Perhaps the most interesting and indeed relevant of this is the C2 (or Command and Control) addresses found in the malware. These addresses were used by whoever carried out the attack to control the malware and can be found in the malware code itself. They are:

















Taking a look at these addresses we find that all but one of them are public proxies. Furthermore, checking online IP reputation services reveals that they have been used by malware operators in the past. This isn’t in the least bit surprising: in order to avoid attribution cybercriminals routinely use things like proxies to conceal their connections. No sign of any North Koreans, just lots of common, or garden, internet cybercriminals.

It is this piece of evidence—freely available to anyone with an enquiring mind and a modicum of cyber security experience—which I believe that the FBI is so cryptically referring to when they talk about “additional evidence” they can’t reveal without compromising “national security”.

Essentially, we are being left in a position where we are expected to just take agency promises at face value. In the current climate, that is a big ask.

If we turn the debate around, and look at some evidence that the North Koreans might NOT be behind the Sony hack, the picture looks significantly clearer.

1. First of all, there is the fact that the attackers only brought up the anti-North Korean bias of “The Interview” after the media did—the film was never mentioned by the hackers right at the start of their campaign. In fact, it was only after a few people started speculating in the media that this and the communication from North Korea “might be linked” that suddenly it did get linked. My view is that the attackers saw this as an opportunity for “lulz”, and a way to misdirect everyone. (And wouldn’t you know it? The hackers are now saying it’s okay for Sony to release the movie, after all.) If everyone believes it’s a nation state, then the criminal investigation will likely die. It’s the perfect smokescreen.

2. The hackers dumped the data. Would a state with a keen understanding of the power of propaganda be so willing to just throw away such a trove of information? The mass dump suggests that whoever did this, their primary motivation was to embarrass Sony Pictures. They wanted to humiliate the company, pure and simple.3. Blaming North Korea offers an easy way out for the many, many people who allowed this debacle to happen; from Sony Pictures management through to the security team that were defending Sony Picture’s network.

4. You don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to see that blaming North Korea is quite convenient for the FBI and the current U.S. administration. It’s the perfect excuse to push through whatever new, strong, cyber-laws they feel are appropriate, safe in the knowledge that an outraged public is fairly likely to support them.

5. Hard-coded paths and passwords in the malware make it clear that whoever wrote the code had extensive knowledge of Sony’s internal architecture and access to key passwords. While it’s (just) plausible that a North Korean elite cyber unit could have built up this knowledge over time and then used it to make the malware, Occam’s razor suggests the simpler explanation of a pissed-off insider.  Combine that with the details of several layoffs that Sony was planning and you don’t have to stretch the imagination too far to consider that a disgruntled Sony employee might be at the heart of it all.

I am no fan of the North Korean regime. However I believe that calling out a foreign nation over a cybercrime of this magnitude should never have been undertaken on such weak evidence.

The evidence used to attribute a nation state in such a case should be solid enough that it would be both admissible and effective in a court of law. As it stands, I do not believe we are anywhere close to meeting that standard.


Germans hoard €6.6 billion worth of obsolete Deutschmarks

December 25, 2014


            Despite the currency being replaced by the euro, Germans are still have some 12.9 billion in old Deutschmarks, an equivalent of €6.6 billion, the German central bank estimated. Nostalgia is the primary motive for keeping the old coins and notes.

Germany abolished the Deutschmark in 2002, when it entered the Eurozone. When European currencies were unified the Bundesbank started changing marks into euros at a fixed rate of about DM 1.96 per euro and will continue to do so indefinitely.

But a large number of the obsolete banknotes and coins remain, if not in circulation then in possession of the general populace, the bank reported this week. Its estimates say Germans hold 169 million notes and 24 billion coins of various denominations. Divided by Germany’s population of 81 million, this translates into an average of 82 euros per person.

Naturally, less-valuable coins are the Deutschmarks the Germans are reluctant to part with. More than half of those had not been converted, while only four percent of banknotes were returned to the Bundesbank.

Old stashes of hoarded marks are being regularly discovered during renovations of old houses. They fuel a small but steady flow of annual Deutschmark conversions, which amounted to €52.1 million in 2014.

Nostalgia seems to be the most prominent motive for keeping good old D-marks. According to a poll conducted by the Emnid institute for Postbank, 74 percent of Germans with Deutschmarks in their pocket see a sentimental value in them. Some 24 percent keep part of their savings in the old currency, while 22 percent simply forgot to convert their assets, the poll showed.

Some of the marks are likely to have vanished outside of Germany, particularly in Eastern Europe, where the Deutschmark served as a second currency in the early 1990s, but also elsewhere in the world, as the currency was considered stable enough to store value.


Rise in Loans Linked to Cars Is Hurting Poor

December 25, 2014

by Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Michael Corkery

New York Times

            The rusting 1994 Oldsmobile sitting in a driveway just outside St. Louis was an unlikely cash machine.

That was until the car’s owner, a 30-year-old hospital lab technician, saw a television commercial describing how to get cash from just such a car, in the form of a short-term loan.

The lab technician, Caroline O’Connor, who needed about $1,000 to cover her rent and electricity bills, believed she had found a financial lifeline.

“It was a relief,” she said. “I did not have to beg everyone for the money.”

Her loan carried an annual interest rate of 171 percent. More than two years and $992.78 in debt later, her car was repossessed.

“These companies put people in a hole that they can’t get out of,” Ms. O’Connor said.

The automobile is at the center of the biggest boom in subprime lending since the mortgage crisis. The market for loans to buy used cars is growing rapidly.

And similar to how a red-hot mortgage market once coaxed millions of borrowers into recklessly tapping the equity in their homes, the new boom is also leading people to take out risky lines of credit known as title loans.

They are, roughly speaking, the home equity loans of subprime auto. In these loans, which can last as long as two years or as little as a month, borrowers turn over the title of their cars in exchange for cash — typically a percentage of the cars’ estimated resale values.

“Turn your car title into holiday cash,” TitleMax, a large title lender, declared in a recent television commercial, showing a Christmas stocking overflowing with money.

More than 1.1 million households in the United States used auto title loans in 2013, according to a survey by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation — the first time the agency has included the loans in its annual survey.

Title loans are an increasingly prevalent form of high-cost, short-term credit in subprime finance, as regulators in a number of states crack down on payday loans.

For many borrowers, title loans, also sometimes known as motor-vehicle equity lines of credit or title pawns, are having ruinous financial consequences, causing owners to lose their vehicles and plunging them further into debt.

A review by The New York Times of more than three dozen loan agreements found that after factoring in various fees, the effective interest rates ranged from nearly 80 percent to over 500 percent. While some loans come with terms of 30 days, many borrowers, unable to pay the full loan and interest payments, say that they are forced to renew the loans at the end of each month, incurring a new round of fees.

Customers of TitleMax, for example, typically renewed their loans eight times, a former president of the company disclosed in a 2009 deposition.

And because many lenders make the loan based on an assessment of a used car’s resale value, not on a borrower’s ability to repay that money, many people find that they are struggling to keep up almost as soon as they drive off with the cash.

As a result, roughly one in every six title-loan borrowers will have the car repossessed, according to an analysis of 561 title loans by the Center for Responsible Lending, a nonprofit in Durham, N.C.

The lenders argue that they are providing a source of credit for people who cannot obtain less-expensive loans from banks. The high interest rates, the lenders say, are necessary to offset the risk that borrowers will stop paying their bills.

Title loans are part of a broader lending boom tied to used cars. Auto loans allowing subprime borrowers — those with credit scores at 640 or below — to buy cars have surged in the last five years.

The high interest rates on the loans have enticed an influx of Wall Street money. Private equity firms are investing in lenders, and some big banks are ramping up their auto lending to people with blemished credit.

Propelling this lending spree are the cars themselves, and their centrality in people’s lives.

In most parts of the country, a car is vital to participating in the work force, and lenders are betting that people will do virtually anything to keep their cars, choosing to make auto loan payments before paying for just about any other expense.

The title lending industry, perhaps more than any other facet of subprime auto lending, thrives because of the car’s importance.

While people seeking title loans are often at their most desperate — dealing with a job loss, a divorce or a family illness — the lenders are willing to extend them loans because they know that most borrowers will pay their bill to keep their cars. Some lenders do not even bother to assess a borrower’s credit history.

“The threat of repossession turns the borrower into an annuity for the lenders,” said Diane Standaert, the director of state policy at the Center for Responsible Lending.

Unable to raise the thousands of dollars he needed to repair his car, Ken Chicosky, a 39-year-old Army veteran, felt desperate. He received a $4,000 loan from Cash America, a lender with a storefront in his Austin, Tex., neighborhood.

The loan, which came with an annual interest rate of 98.3 percent, helped him fix up the 2008 Audi that he relied on for work, but it has sunk his credit score. Mr. Chicosky, who is also attending college, uses some of his financial aid money to pay his title-loan bill.

Mr. Chicosky said he knew the loan was a bad decision when he received the first bill. It detailed how he would have to pay a total of $9,346 — a sum made up of principal, interest and other fees.

“When you are in a situation like that, you don’t ask very many questions,” he said.

Cash America declined to comment.

Rapid Expansion

Clutching handfuls of cash, a former Miss America contestant zips around in a red sports car, dancing and rapping about how TitleMax has “your real money.”

Commercials like these help companies like TitleMax entice borrowers to take on the costly loans. TitleMax, a brand of TMX Finance, is privately held — like virtually all of the title loan companies — and does not disclose much financial information. But a regulatory filing for the first three months of 2013 offers a glimpse into the industry’s tremendous growth.

During that period, the profits at TMX Finance rose by 47 percent from the same period two years earlier, and the number of stores it operated nearly doubled, to 1,108. The total volume of loans originated during the first three months of last year reached $169 million, up 67 percent from the same period in 2011.

TMX Finance, based in Savannah, Ga., wants to expand further, opening stores in states where regulations are “favorable,” according to a 2013 regulatory filing. Only a few years after emerging from bankruptcy in 2009, the company is enjoying an influx of cash from mainstream investors. Big bond funds managed by Legg Mason and Putnam Investments have bought portions of TMX Finance’s debt. The company also borrowed $17.5 million to buy a private jet.

The title lenders are seizing upon a broad retrenchment among banks, which have become wary of making loans to borrowers on the fringe of the financial system. Regulations passed after the financial crisis have made it much more expensive for banks to make loans to all but the safest borrowers.

The title lenders are also benefiting as state authorities restrict payday loans, effectively pushing payday lenders out of many states. While title loans share many of the same features — in some cases carrying rates that eclipse those on payday loans — they have so far escaped a similar crackdown.

In 21 states, car title lending is expressly permitted, with title lenders charging interest of up to 300 percent a year. In most other states, lenders can make loans with cars as collateral, but at lower interest rates.

Seeing the regulatory landscape shift, some of the country’s largest payday lenders are switching gears. When Arizona effectively outlawed payday loans, ACE Cash Express registered its payday loan storefronts in the state as car title lenders, state records show.

Lenders made similar changes in Virginia, where lawmakers outlawed payday lending in 2010. But title lenders were untouched by that law and have expanded throughout the state, drawing business from Maryland.

The number of stores offering title loans in Virginia increased by 24 percent from 2012 to 2013, according to state records. Last year, the lenders made 177,775 loans, up roughly 612 percent from 2010, when the state banned payday lending.

In Tennessee, the number of title lending stores increased by about 22 percent from 2011 to 2013, reaching 1,017.

That is a small fraction of the industry’s overall size, state regulators say, because only a handful of states keep statistics. Legal aid offices in Arizona, California, Georgia, Missouri, Texas and Virginia report that they have experienced an influx of clients who have run into trouble with the loans.

“The demand is there for people who are desperate for money,” said Jay Speer, the executive director of the Virginia Poverty Law Center.

Loopholes and Adversity

When Tiffany Capone suggested that her fiancé, Michael, take out a $10,000 TitleMax loan with a 119 percent interest rate, she figured it would be a temporary fix to pay the bills. But this summer, after Michael fell behind on the loan payments, the couple’s three-year-old Hyundai was repossessed.

“It had my child’s car seat in the back,” said Ms. Capone, of Olney, Md.

With their car gone, the couple had to sell most of their furniture and other belongings to a pawnshop so they could afford to pay for taxis to ferry Michael, a diabetic with a heart condition, to his frequent doctors’ appointments.

The hardships caused by title loans are being cited as one of the big challenges facing poor and minority communities.

“It is a form of indenture,” said Robert Swearingen, a lawyer with Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, adding that “because of the threat of repossession, they can string you along for the rest of your life.”

Johanna Pimentel said she and both of her brothers had taken out multiple title loans.

“They are everywhere, like liquor stores,” she said.

Ms. Pimentel, 32, had moved her family out of Ferguson, Mo., to a higher-priced suburb of St. Louis that promised better schools. But after a divorce, her former husband moved out, and she had trouble paying her rent.

Ms. Pimentel took out a $3,461 title loan using her 2002 Suburban as collateral.

After falling behind, she woke up one morning last March to find that the car had been repossessed. Without it, she could not continue to run her day care business.

Pointing to such experiences, lawmakers in some states — regulating the industry largely falls to states — have called for stricter limits on title loans or outright bans.

In Virginia, lawmakers passed a bill in 2010 that institutes some restrictions on the practice, including preventing lenders from trying to collect money from customers once a car has been repossessed. That same year, Montana voters overwhelmingly backed a ballot initiative that capped rates on title loans at 36 percent.

But for every state where there has been a crackdown, there are more where the industry has mobilized to beat back regulations.

In Wisconsin, it took the title loan industry only one year to reverse a ban on the loans that had been put in place in 2010. In New Hampshire in 2008, state legislators enacted a law that put a 36 percent ceiling on the rates that title lenders could charge. Four years later, though, lobbyists for the industry won a repeal of the law.

“This is nothing but government-authorized loan sharking,” said Scott A. Surovell, a Virginia lawmaker who has proposed bills that would further rein in title lenders

Even when there are restrictions, some lenders find creative ways to continue business as usual. In California, where the interest rates and fees that lenders can charge on loans for $2,500 or less are restricted, some lenders extend loans for just over that amount.

Sometimes the workarounds are more blatant.

The City of Austin allows title lenders to extend loans only for three months. But that did not stop Mr. Chicosky, the veteran who borrowed $4,000 for car repairs, from getting a loan for 24 months.

Last year, after applying for a loan at a Cash America store in Austin, Mr. Chicosky said, a store employee told him that he would have to fill out the paperwork and pick up his check in a nearby town. Mr. Chicosky’s lawyer, Amy Clark Kleinpeter, said the location switch appeared to be a way to get around the rules in Austin.

The lender offered a different explanation to Mr. Chicosky. “They told me that they didn’t have a printer at the Austin location that was big enough to print my check,” he said.


Critical Glaciers Melting Under ‘Continuous Warming’: Study

December 24, 2014

by Nadia Prupis

Common Dreams

             Following comprehensive survey, Chinese researchers warn drinking sources may dry up in much of Asia

 Glaciers in China are disappearing quickly, an environmental institute in Lanzhou confirmed on Wednesday.

Scientists with the Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute conducted a lengthy survey of southern glaciers, which provide vital drinking water to India, and found that their total geographic area had decreased by 13 percent since 2002.

In the immediate future, the melting glaciers may release some amount of water, Liu Shiyin, who led the survey, told Science magazine. But any short-term effects “will be exhausted when glaciers disappear under a continuous warming,” Liu said.

Science writes:

In 2002, Chinese scientists released the first full inventory of the country’s glaciers, the largest glacial area outside of Antarctica and Greenland. The data came from topographical maps and aerial photographs of western China’s Tibet and Xinjiang regions taken from the 1950s through the 1980s. That record showed a total glacial area of 59,425 square kilometers. The Second Glacier Inventory of China, unveiled here last week, is derived from high-resolution satellite images taken between 2006 and 2010. The data set is freely available online.

Liu and his colleagues calculated China’s total glacial area to be 51,840 square kilometers—13% less than in 2002.

In 2007, Beijing Climate Center director-general Dong Wenjie warned that “the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events are increasing–records for worst-in-a-century rainstorms, droughts and heat waves are being broken more often… This in fact is closely associated with global warming.”

Liu told Science that his team’s inventory found the latest glacier retreat in the southern and eastern corners of the Tibetan Plateau. “We found the fastest shrinking glaciers are those in the central upper reach of the Brahmaputra River, between the central north Himalaya [and] the source region of the tributary of the Indus River,” Liu said.

Scientists have called attention to the risks of melting glaciers for years. The Chinese side of the Tibetan Plateau holds nearly 37,000 glaciers, which in turn feed some of the most vital rivers in Asia.

The Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research of the Chinese Academy of Sciences reported similar findings in May, and warned that the plateau is more likely to be affected by climate change because it is the highest place in the world’s mid-latitude regions.


Abolishing the CIA

December 21, 2014

by Robert C. Koehler

Common Dreams 


The shock resonating from the Senate Intelligence Committee’s CIA torture report isn’t due so much to the revelations themselves, grotesque as the details are, but to the fact that they’re now officially public. National spokespersons (except for Dick Cheney) can no longer deny, quite so glibly, that the United States is what it claims its enemies to be.

We’re responsible for the worst sort of abuses of our fellow human beings: A half-naked man freezes to death. A detainee is chained to the wall in a standing position for 17 days. The stories have no saving grace, not even “good intelligence.”

The Axis of Evil smiles, yawns: It’s home.

The question is, what do we do with this moment of national self-awareness? Beyond demanding the prosecution of high-level perps, how about really changing the game? I suggest reviving S. 126, a bill introduced into the U.S. Senate on Jan. 4, 1995 by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, titled: Abolition of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Abolish the agency that has secretly stirred up hell on earth. Its sins go far beyond torturing suspected terrorists. This agency, with its annual budget (in 2013) of nearly $15 billion, has covertly carried out the bidding of special economic and political interests since its founding, orchestrating, among much else, the overthrow of democratically elected, populist governments in Iran, Guatemala and Chile because the U.S. couldn’t control them. In each case, the regime that followed was darkly repressive, murderous; the blood of their victims is also on American hands.

The abolition of the CIA could be a conscious step in tearing our government out of the grip of the war consensus — this unelected force that feeds on perpetual global mistrust and hatred, the exact opposite of what true security requires.

In Moynihan’s speech introducing the bill to the Senate, he declared that the end of the Cold War “was a victory achieved by openness, not secrecy. By frankness, not intrigue.

“The Soviet Empire,” he continued, “did not fall apart because the spooks had bugged the men’s room in the Kremlin or put broken glass in Mrs. Brezhnev’s bath, but because running a huge closed repressive society in the 1980s had become — economically, socially and militarily, and technologically — impossible.”

A U.S. senator took a stand for openness and common sense. He noted that the Information Security Oversight Office, which monitors how many secrets are classified each year, “reported that in 1993 the United States created 6,408,688 secrets. Absurd. While each agency has different procedures and criteria for classifying documents, all seem to operate under the assumption that classification is preferable to disclosure.

“Secrecy,” Moynihan proclaimed, “is a disease. It causes hardening of the arteries of the mind.”

What if we knew and acknowledged this at the level of national government? Secrecy perpetuates rather than exposes mistakes and accommodates the agenda of special, highly limited interests. Moynihan’s criticism of the agency was focused on the secrecy itself, not the games the agency played in secret or the horrors it inflicted on the innocent, but it was a start.

The torture report opens the door to the nature of the CIA’s secrets and forces public scrutiny of them. The agency operates in what has to be called a moral vacuum, seeking and claiming authorization to extract “intelligence” from people by cracking them open physically and emotionally. I call it Human Trash Syndrome: the belief that humans under one’s complete control have no innate value and can be abused and discarded at will.

As Ray McGovern wrote, “. . . one can no more ‘authorize’ torture than rape or slavery. Torture inhabits that same moral category, which ethicists label intrinsic evil, always wrong — whether it ‘works’ or not.”

As though absurdity could further degrade intrinsic evil, however, torture as practiced by the CIA didn’t work at all. It produced no information of value to the national cause. But as McGovern also pointed out, referencing Gen. John Kimmons, former head of Army intelligence, “. . . if it’s bad intelligence you’re after, torture works like a charm. If, for example, you wish to ‘prove,’ post 9/11, that ‘evil dictator’ Saddam Hussein was in league with al-Qaeda and might arm the terrorists with WMD, bring on the torturers.”

That’s because a torture victim, under sufficient duress, will say anything you want him to. And it was torture testimony, specifically that of Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, that Bush administration officials used in their marketing of the Iraq war, McGovern noted. Al-Libi provided CIA interrogators with the golden (and nonexistent) link between Saddam and al-Qaeda, which was cited by, among others, Colin Powell in his infamous address to the United Nations in February 2003. Al-Libi eventually recanted all his testimony, to, of course, minimal publicity, and it didn’t matter anyway because by then the war with Iraq was already underway.

Abolish the CIA. It serves national insecurity. It serves everything about this country we need to change. Waterboarding and “rectal rehydration” and the infliction of unendurable stress and terror on detainees are today’s headlines, but what they guarantee is even worse: a world that will never learn how to live at peace with itself.



World’s top publisher ‘regrets’ erasing Israel from atlas meant for Middle East customers

December 31, 2014


             HarperCollins, one of the world’s largest publishing companies, has officially apologized for excluding Israel from its Collins Middle East Atlas because of “local preferences”. The publisher was accused of harming peace efforts in the region.

“HarperCollins regrets the omission of the name Israel from their Collins Middle East Atlas,” it said in a statement posted on Facebook.

The Atlas has now been removed from sale in all territories and “all remaining stock will be pulped. HarperCollins sincerely apologizes for this omission and for any offence caused,” the publishing house’s statement read.

Earlier, the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales accused the publishing house of interfering with the peace process in the region by producing atlases that omit Israel from their maps.

“The publication of this atlas will confirm Israel’s belief that there exists a hostility towards their country from parts of the Arab world. It will not help to build up a spirit of trust leading to peaceful co-existence,” Bishop Declan Lang chairman of the Bishops’ Conference Department of International Affairs, told The Tablet.

In reply, the subsidiary of HarperCollins said to the same outlet that writing the name ‘Israel’ would have been “unacceptable” to their customers in the Gulf, so the change was to suit “local preferences.”

The map showed Jordan and Syria extending all the way to the Mediterranean Sea, with Gaza also marked, and was sold mainly to English-speaking schools in the Muslim region of the Gulf.

The Tablet also reported that other school atlases allegedly only reached the recipients when “Israel” was erased by hand.

            Some experts said that allowing this to happen could de-legitimize the Israeli nation in the eyes of the students who would use the atlases.

“Maps can be a very powerful tool in terms of de-legitimizing ‘the other’ and can lead to confusion rather than clarity. We would be keen to see relevant bodies ensure that all atlases anywhere reflect the official UN position on nations, boundaries and all political features,” Dr. Jane Clements, director of the Council of Christians and Jews, stressed to The Tablet.

The omission also triggered anger among social network users.



Sony Hackers Threaten U.S. News Media Organization

December 31, 20124

by Jana Winter



The hackers who infiltrated Sony Pictures Entertainment’s computer servers have threatened to attack an American news media organization, according to an FBI bulletin obtained by The Intercept.

The threat against the unnamed news organization by the Guardians of Peace, the hacker group that has claimed credit for the Sony attack, “may extend to other such organizations in the near future,” according to a Joint Intelligence Bulletin of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security obtained by The Intercept.

Referring to Sony only as “USPER1”and the news organization as “USPER2,” the Joint Intelligence Bulletin, dated Dec. 24 and marked For Official Use Only, states that its purpose is “to provide information on the late-November 2014 cyber intrusion targeting USPER1 and related threats concerning the planned release of the movie, ‘The Interview.’ Additionally, these threats have extended to USPER2 —a news media organization—and may extend to other such organizations in the near future.”

In the bulletin, titled “November 2014 Cyber Intrusion on USPER1 and Related Threats,” The Guardians of Peace threatened to attack other targets on the day after the FBI announcement. “On 20 December,” the bulletin reads, “the [Guardians of Peace] GOP posted Pastebin messages that specifically taunted the FBI and USPER2 for the ‘quality’ of their investigations and implied an additional threat. No specific consequence was mentioned in the posting.”

Pastebin is a Web tool that enables users to upload text anonymously for anyone to read. It is commonly used to share source code and sometimes used by hackers to post stolen information. The Dec. 20 Pastebin message from Guardians of Peace links to a YouTube video featuring dancing cartoon figures repeatedly saying, “you’re an idiot.”

No mention of a specific news outlet could be found by The Intercept in any of the GOP postings from that date still available online or quoted in news reports.

“While it’s hard to tell how legitimate the threat is, if a news organization is attacked in the same manner Sony was, it could put countless sensitive sources in danger of being exposed—or worse,” Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, told The Intercept.

Timm points out, however, that media are already commonly targeted by state-sponsored hackers.“This FBI bulletin is just the latest example that digital security is now a critical press freedom issue, and why news organizations need to make ubiquitous encryption a high priority,” he said.

While the bulletin names neither Sony nor the news organization, it contains an overview that refers specifically to the Guardians of Peace, which shut down Sony’s servers in late November and stole an estimated 100 terabytes of information, including email exchanges among executives that disparaged many of Hollywood’s top stars, the salaries of the company’s 30,000 employees, medical records, and a 25-page list of employee workplace complaints.

On Dec. 16, the Guardians of Peace posted an online message threatening 9/11-style attacks on theaters that showed “The Interview,” a Sony comedy that depicts the fictional assassination of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un.

Three days later, the FBI said it had concluded “that the North Korean government is responsible for these actions.” North Korea has repeatedly denied involvement, and several information security professionals have recently said they question North Korea’s involvement in the malware attack.

The Guardians of Peace’s attack on Sony “indicates the increasing willingness of malicious cyber actors to conduct offensive cyber operations against US entities based on perceived injustices or provocations,” the bulletin states. “Though we have seen a wide variety and increasing number of cyberintrusions, the destructive nature of this attack—coupled with its coercive nature—sets it apart.”

FBI spokesman Joshua S. Campbell, in an emailed reply to a request for comment, wrote that the FBI “routinely shares information with the private sector in order to help system administrators guard against cyber intrusions,” but he declined to comment on any details of the threats, or the organizations targeted.

“Unfortunately, we are unable to provide specifics as our intel bulletins are not for public dissemination…,” he wrote.


–                                              Morgan Marquis-Boire contributed reporting to this article


States’ Minimum Wages Rise, Helping Millions of Workers

December 31, 2014

by Rachel Abrams  

New York Times

For some low-wage workers, everyday tasks like spending money for bus fare to get to and from work also involve deciding which bill to pay or delay, or what to give up.

Rita Diaz, 26, who works two low-wage jobs, sometimes walks the three miles home from her job serving chicken at a Popeye’s fast-food restaurant in Roslindale, Mass., when she doesn’t have money for all of her expenses. Her plight is one of many highlighted by labor advocates who have been pushing for higher minimum wage levels.

In January, with an increase in the minimum wage in Massachusetts taking effect — raising hourly pay to $9 from $8 an hour — Ms. Diaz envisions being able to walk less and ride more.

“I need to make a decision to buy clothes, or pay the rent or pay my cellphone bill,” she said. “Now I’ve got to do that decision, but I’m going to have more money for me, too. A little bit of money for me.”

By Thursday, minimum wage increases will go into effect in 20 states, including Massachusetts, as well as in the District of Columbia

All told, 29 states will exceed the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour at the beginning of January, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The initial changes will enhance minimum pay by as little as a few pennies to as much as $1.25 an hour, affecting about 3.1 million employees, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research group.

“That’s going to be unnoticeable, really,” Gary Burtless, an economist at the Brookings Institution, said of some of the smaller changes, like the extra 12 cents an hour in Florida and 15 cents an hour in Missouri. “If you’re talking about an increase of a buck or two bucks, then maybe there’s some kind of noticeable effect.”

Nine states are increasing their minimum wage levels through automatic adjustments for cost-of-living expenses and other economic factors. Increases in the other states occurred through legislative or ballot changes. Over all, the new laws will cover about 60 percent of the nation’s work force, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

“If you’re only making 15 or 16 thousand dollars year, an extra two grand is quite a bit of money,” said David Cooper, an economic analyst at the institute.

The smaller of the automatic increases in nine states will raise wages for about 4 to 7 percent of the lowest-paid workers, according to the institute, while the bigger increases will affect more. Nearly one-fifth of all wage earners in Minnesota will see a bump in pay when the wage floor jumps by $1 later in the year.

About 3.3 million people earn the federal minimum wage or less, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As the wealth gap between the rich and poor has expanded, the battle over wages for some of America’s lowest-paid workers has intensified.

The federal minimum wage has not been increased since 2007. President Obama has proposed raising it to $10.10 an hour, but that effort has stalled

in Congress.

Continue reading the main story Continue reading the main story Continue reading the main story Despite the popularity of minimum wage increases in many states, including those dominated by Republicans, and favorable attitudes toward higher minimum pay expressed in many public opinion polls, the federal proposals are unlikely to gain much traction in 2015, especially now that Republicans control the House and the Senate.

The White House says 28 million workers would be affected if the president’s increase were passed into law.

In the last year, as they faced considerable obstacles at the federal level, some labor advocates worked to put measures on the ballot in various states while other measures passed through state legislatures. In November, four states — Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota — passed initiatives to increase the minimum wage. A few big cities have also raised the minimum.

“I think this issue is not going away until action is taken at the federal level, just because the federal minimum wage is so low compared to where it was historically and what it takes people to get by,” Mr. Cooper, the Economic Policy Institute analyst, said.

Adjusted for inflation, the federal minimum wage in 1968 would equal about $10 today, he said.

Last year, half of the people who received charitable food assistance in the United States, from places like soup kitchens, came from households where at least one person worked, said Jeffrey Buchanan, senior domestic policy adviser at Oxfam America. Mr. Buchanan said that most of those people earned a low or minimum wage.

Business associations have traditionally opposed efforts to raise workers’ pay, saying that employers will be forced to cut jobs and hours.

“The likeliest scenario won’t be layoffs, it’ll be employers on a broad scale finding ways to avoid creating new jobs,” said Jack Mozloom, a spokesman for the National Federation of Independent Business, a trade group. “They simply won’t replace workers who leave or they’ll find ways to automate in order to avoid hiring new people. The jobs will disappear quickly.”

Mr. Burtless, the Brookings economist, contended that new higher wages would “more than offset” the loss of earnings associated with a drop in employment. The new rules will give workers an extra $1.6 billion next year, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

A spokeswoman for Walmart, the nation’s largest employer, said the company could “absorb the costs” of the changes, which she said would not affect its prices or staffing.

A spokeswoman for Target, another top employer, said in an email that she was “not aware of any plans” to raise prices or cut staff.

Come Thursday, at $9.47, Washington State will offer the highest statewide minimum wage, followed by Oregon at $9.25.

Some states have also staggered their minimum wage increases. Massachusetts, where Ms. Diaz works, will raise it to $11 by 2017.

“It’s not going to be a lot, but it’s going to be more than $8 an hour,” she said of the January increase. “It’s going to be more food.”


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