TBR News Octobeer 28, 2015

Oct 29 2015

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. October 28, 2015: “I have just encountered a very entertaining concept being promoted on various websites. This is a program that invests for people but by robot computers! Not that any computer cannot be easily hacked, of course, and we are told that billionaires are being made every day. And Facebook, which is designed for ten year old little girls and older ones suffering from feelings of inadequacy, is a wonderful information base for various snooping government intelligence agencies and a romping ground for pedophiles. However, fat, ugly women desperately seek some kind of male companionship and are echoed by equally fat, ugly men looking for non fat, ugly women. And faked pictures are vital in a society that is functinally illiterate and chronically stupid.”

Russian Presence Near Undersea Cables Concerns U.S.

October 25, 2015

by David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt

New York Times

WASHINGTON — Russian submarines and spy ships are aggressively operating near the vital undersea cables that carry almost all global Internet communications, raising concerns among some American military and intelligence officials that the Russians might be planning to attack those lines in times of tension or conflict.

The issue goes beyond old Cold War worries that the Russians would tap into the cables — a task American intelligence agencies also mastered decades ago. The alarm today is deeper: The ultimate Russian hack on the United States could involve severing the fiber-optic cables at some of their hardest-to-access locations to halt the instant communications on which the West’s governments, economies and citizens have grown dependent.

While there is no evidence yet of any cable cutting, the concern is part of a growing wariness among senior American and allied military and intelligence officials over the accelerated activity by Russian armed forces around the globe. At the same time, the internal debate in Washington illustrates how the United States is increasingly viewing every Russian move through a lens of deep distrust, reminiscent of the Cold War.

Inside the Pentagon and the nation’s spy agencies, the assessments of Russia’s growing naval activities are highly classified and not publicly discussed in detail. American officials are secretive about what they are doing both to monitor the activity and to find ways to recover quickly if cables are cut. But more than a dozen officials confirmed in broad terms that it had become the source of significant attention in the Pentagon.

I’m worried every day about what the Russians may be doing,” said Rear Adm. Frederick J. Roegge, commander of the Navy’s submarine fleet in the Pacific, who would not answer questions about possible Russian plans for cutting the undersea cables.

Cmdr. William Marks, a Navy spokesman in Washington, said: “It would be a concern to hear any country was tampering with communication cables; however, due to the classified nature of submarine operations, we do not discuss specifics.”

In private, however, commanders and intelligence officials are far more direct. They report that from the North Sea to Northeast Asia and even in waters closer to American shores, they are monitoring significantly increased Russian activity along the known routes of the cables, which carry the lifeblood of global electronic communications and commerce.

Just last month, the Russian spy ship Yantar, equipped with two self-propelled deep-sea submersible craft, cruised slowly off the East Coast of the United States on its way to Cuba — where one major cable lands near the American naval station at Guantánamo Bay. It was monitored constantly by American spy satellites, ships and planes. Navy officials said the Yantar and the submersible vehicles it can drop off its decks have the capability to cut cables miles down in the sea.

The level of activity,” a senior European diplomat said, “is comparable to what we saw in the Cold War.”

One NATO ally, Norway, is so concerned that it has asked its neighbors for aid in tracking Russian submarines.

Adm. James Stavridis, formerly NATO’s top military commander and now dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, said in an email last week that “this is yet another example of a highly assertive and aggressive regime seemingly reaching backwards for the tools of the Cold War, albeit with a high degree of technical improvement.”

The operations are consistent with Russia’s expanding military operations into places like Crimea, eastern Ukraine and Syria, where President Vladimir V. Putin has sought to demonstrate a much longer reach for Russian ground, air and naval forces.

The risk here is that any country could cause damage to the system and do it in a way that is completely covert, without having a warship with a cable-cutting equipment right in the area,” said Michael Sechrist, a former project manager for a Harvard-M.I.T. research project funded in part by the Defense Department.

Cables get cut all the time — by anchors that are dragged, by natural disasters,” said Mr. Sechrist, who published a 2012 study of the vulnerabilities of the undersea cable network. But most of those cuts take place within a few miles from shore, and can be repaired in a matter of days.

What worries Pentagon planners most is that the Russians appear to be looking for vulnerabilities at much greater depths, where the cables are hard to monitor and breaks are hard to find and repair.

Mr. Sechrist noted that the locations of the cables are hardly secret. “Undersea cables tend to follow the similar path since they were laid in the 1860s,” he said, because the operators of the cables want to put them in familiar environments under longstanding agreements.

The exception are special cables, with secret locations, that have been commissioned by the United States for military operations; they do not show up on widely available maps, and it is possible the Russians are hunting for those, officials said.

The role of the cables is more important than ever before. They carry more than $10 trillion a day in global business, including from financial institutions that settle their transactions on them every second. Any significant disruption would cut the flow of capital. The cables also carry more than 95 percent of daily communications.

So important are undersea cables that the Department of Homeland Security lists their landing areas — mostly around New York, Miami and Los Angeles — at the top of its list of “critical infrastructure.”

Attention to underwater cables is not new. In October 1971, the American submarine Halibut entered the Sea of Okhotsk north of Japan, found a telecommunications cable used by Soviet nuclear forces, and succeeded in tapping its secrets. The mission, code-named Ivy Bells, was so secret that a vast majority of the submarine’s sailors had no idea what they had accomplished. The success led to a concealed world of cable tapping.

And a decade ago, the United States Navy launched the submarine Jimmy Carter, which intelligence analysts say is able to tap undersea cables and eavesdrop on communications flowing through them.

Submarines are not the only vessels that are snooping on the undersea cables. American officials closely monitor the Yantar, which Russian officials insist is an oceanographic ship with no ties to espionage.

The Yantar is equipped with a unique onboard scientific research complex which enables it to collect data on the ocean environment, both in motion and on hold. There are no similar complexes anywhere,” said Alexei Burilichev, the head of the deepwater research department at the Russian Defense Ministry, according to sputniknews.com in May 2015.

American concern over cable cutting is just one aspect of Russia’s modernizing Navy that has drawn new scrutiny.

Adm. Mark Ferguson, commander of American naval forces in Europe, speaking in Washington this month said that the proficiency and operational tempo of the Russian submarine force was increasing.

Citing public remarks by the Russian Navy chief, Adm. Viktor Chirkov, Admiral Ferguson said the intensity of Russian submarine patrols had risen by almost 50 percent over the last year. Russia has increased its operating tempo to levels not seen in over a decade. Russian Arctic bases and their $2.4 billion investment in the Black Sea Fleet expansion by 2020 demonstrate their commitment to develop their military infrastructure on the flanks, he said.

Admiral Ferguson said that as part of Russia’s emerging doctrine of so-called hybrid warfare, it is increasingly using a mix of conventional force, Special Operations mission and new weapons in the 21st-century battlefield.

“This involves the use of space, cyber, information warfare and hybrid warfare designed to cripple the decision-making cycle of the alliance,” Admiral Ferguson said, referring to NATO. “At sea, their focus is disrupting decision cycles.”


Exclusive: Shipping traffic to Syria surges as Russia steps up offensive

October 21, 2015

by Jonathan Saul and Maria Tsvetkova


LONDON/MOSCOW-More than 100 cargo vessels have reached Syria in the past few weeks, in the biggest buildup in shipping for over a year as Russia steps up its support for ally President Bashar al-Assad.

The ships have arrived directly from Russia, Black Sea ports such as Constantza in Romania as well as from Lebanon and Egypt, according to shipping data, maritime intelligence and international trade sources.

They say the cargo includes supplies to bolster the offensive as well as grain and sugar to feed those involved in the deepening conflict. Reuters was not able to independently confirm what was in the ships.

Russia has not issued any orders for the delivery of goods to Syria, a Russian government spokeswoman said.

Some deliveries were to fulfill orders made by the Syrian and Russian governments while others were private suppliers, expecting an opportunity to sell their goods as fighting picks up, the sources said.

“Ships are backed up and the logistics of bringing cargoes is complex and chaotic at the moment. We are seeing all of this due to Russia’s bigger involvement,” a Middle East based commodities trade source said.

The cost of freight to Syria on a container ship jumped in the past two weeks by 25 percent to over $80 a tonne, he said.

Syria’s five-year civil war has escalated since Russian jets started air strikes against rebels battling Assad on September 30 after increasing its presence in mid September with extra forces at its naval base at the port of Tartous and at a coastal airstrip.

There were just seven ships arriving at Tartous in late August, but this had jumped to 29 in the week of October 12, according to data collated by UK-headquartered maritime technology company Pole Star. It showed 95 ships arrived at Tartous between mid-September and October 21.

In the other main port of Latakia, ship arrivals peaked during September with a total of 34 ship arrivals in the period from mid September to October 21, Pole Star data showed.

Separate tracking data on Thomson Reuters Eikon showed that since the middle of September at least 60 ships arrived at Latakia and Tartous.

It is common to have variations in vessel data, as not all ships are picked up by every tracking system.

The last time there was intense maritime activity in Syrian waters in a short space of time was in early 2014 when Russia bolstered supplies to Assad to support a previous push by his forces to curb the insurgency. At that time between late December and January an estimated 25 ships arrived in key ports, according to Thomson Reuters Eikon data.

Shipping activity has fallen since the start of the conflict with ship arrivals to Tartous over the past year averaging around 10 vessels a week and 6 vessels to Latakia, according to estimates from another maritime tracking source.

The fighting combined with Western sanctions imposed on Syrian state companies that run the ports as well as multiple local shipping firms have made many international shippers and transporters nervous of sending ships to Syria.


The sources said food, fuel, equipment and military supplies was the most likely cargo on the recent wave of ship arrivals.

One trade source said shipments of raw sugar had also spiked in the past three weeks after months of slow imports.

Russia has stepped up humanitarian shipments of grains to Syria, supplying 71,000 tonnes since the start of the current marketing year on July 1, according to export data cited by Igor Pavensky, deputy head of strategic marketing at rail infrastructure operator Rusagrotrans. This represents 88 percent of its exports to the country for the whole previous 2014/15 season, he said.

An international arms industry source with knowledge of Middle Eastern weapons movements, said equipment has been moved into the area by Russia including ammunition, heavy weapons, bombs, electronic equipment, listening devices and jamming devices. This was mostly transported by ship but also airlifted.

Vyacheslav Davidenkov, spokesman for Russia’s arms export monopoly Rosoboronexport said: “We never comment – time, dates, ways and number of deliveries. No comments.”

Russia’s Northern, Black Sea and Baltic Fleets have also dispatched oil tankers to supply aviation fuel for sorties by Russian air force planes, while a reconnaissance ship had been deployed to monitor communications in Syria and surrounding countries and their territorial waters, Interfax news agency said at the beginning of October, quoting a military source.

A Russian military spokesman declined to comment.

(Additional reporting by Polina Devitt in Moscow; editing by Anna Willard)


Little Guantanamos’: Super-secret US prison units axe communications for inmates

October 22, 2015


An investigative journalist is speaking out about the Bureau of Prisons’ use of Communication Management Units to house political and religious prisoners, primarily Muslims. Once inside, inmates have restricted rights to visits, phone calls, and letters.

The people who are there … are overwhelmingly Muslim, and then there are a handful of prisoners that are there because of their ‘anti-government and anti-corporate views,’ particularly environmental, and a couple of animal rights activists,” investigative journalist Will Potter told RT.

Potter was one of the few journalists allowed to visit a CMU when he visited Daniel McGown, an American environmental and social justice activist who was arrested and charged with arson. He was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment and released on parole in 2013. Potter was allowed to visit him as a friend.

They told the prisoner Daniel McGown that if I wrote anything about our visit, he would be subjected to harsher penalties because of that,” Potter told RT. “When I arrived at the prison, I was reminded that prison officials knew who I was and that if I asked any questions that my visit would be immediately terminated.”

Very little is known about the units, which were introduced a decade ago during the George W. Bush administration’s launch of the “war on terror.”

It is estimated that about 70 people are being held in CMU units in two federal penitentiaries – in Terre Haute, Indiana and Marion, Illinois. They were created to isolate and segregate certain prisoners from the general prison population, and to restrict and monitor communications between inmates and the outside world. Once assigned to the CMUs, prisoners are banned from any physical contact with friends or family, and phone calls and letters are restricted too.

When the government … says how communications should be monitored by prisoners, I think we all would obviously agree that the prison needs to keep prisoners safe and the public safe,” Potter told RT.

But what’s left out … is that all communications from prisoners are already monitored,” he added, saying the question becomes “why are some inmates being singled out and sent to special prison units with radically restricted communications, to the point that they can’t even hug their families or their children, where no journalists are allowed.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights said the Bureau of Prisons was violating federal law when it transferred inmates to the units without explanation, and held them for years without accurate information about how they could be transferred back to the general prison population. The CCR filed a lawsuit in 2010 to challenge the denial of due process.

Potter said the units are not being used for violent or dangerous terrorists, but for political cases the government would like to keep out of the public spotlight and the press.

CMU prisoners receive only eight hours of non-contact visiting time and two 15-minute calls – all of which must occur in English – per week. Letters are limited to three double-sided pages per week, according to the CCR. Prisoners in the general prison population receive four times as much contact visiting time per week, 300 phone minutes and unlimited written correspondence. CMU units are also audio-surveilled.

Inmates describe visits, phone calls, and letters they receive as “the flecks of light in the darkness that is prison,” according to Potter. He said the Prison Bureau acknowledges how important those community and family contacts are to inmate wellbeing and quality of life, and also for their adjustment once they are released.

So depriving them … affects not only their personal well-being, but their family and potentially [makes] us less safe as well,” Potter added.

Additionally, the units are stigmatizing because they are described publicly as a terrorist unit. The Bureau of Prisons argues they do not use religion or political views to determine who goes to the CMUs, but Potter disagrees, claiming that more than 70 percent of the population is Muslim.

I think there is something else going on here,” he said. “We are not talking about the Zacarias Moussaouis and the 9/11 hijackers of the world. We are talking people like Yassin Aref, who was found guilty of being part of a terrorist conspiracy when, in actuality, he was an iman and was asked to bear witness to a loan, a tradition in Islamic culture.”

It turned out that one of the people in the loan was trying to entrap someone else in a fake attack. So some of these cases are clearly questionable and are about people’s political [religious] beliefs.”


The Secret to Winning the Nobel Peace Prize: Keep the U.S. Military Out

October 20, 2015

by Rebecca Gordon


This year’s Nobel Peace Prize went to Tunisia’s National Dialogue Quartet “for its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy… in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution of 2011.” The Quartet is a group of four organizations — two national labor unions, a business group, and a lawyers’ association — whose work helped prevent Tunisia from sliding into civil war in the years following that “revolution.”

Seeing the peace prize go to an organization that actually seems to have kept the peace is cheering news in a month that witnessed the military of one former Nobel laureate destroying a hospital run by another winner. Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) certainly earned its 1999 Peace Prize by providing medical services to people in more than 80 countries, often working in some of the most dangerous places on earth. On the other hand, as far as anyone can tell, a weary Nobel committee gave Barack Obama his prize in 2009 mostly for not being George W. Bush.

Tunisia, home of this year’s winners, is the country where the Arab Spring began when a vegetable seller, Mohamed Bouazizi, burned himself to death after the police confiscated the cart from which he made his living. His lingering death catalyzed a variety of social forces demanding an end to the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. These included young people, students, and workers — all with deep economic grievances — as well as human rights supporters and some Islamists who hoped to see the country adopt a version of Sharia law. On January 14, 2011, 10 days after Bouazizi’s death and under popular pressure, Ben Ali gave up power and accepted asylum in Saudi Arabia.

In October 2011, Tunisia held parliamentary elections. A right-wing religious party, al-Nahda (“Renaissance”), took 37% of the vote and formed a coalition government with two other parties, one on the left and the other composed of secular liberals. Hamadi Jebali, a solar energy scientist and member of al-Nahda, became the first prime minister. He later stepped down when fellow party members pressured him to abandon his efforts to build a coalition government of national unity in favor of a more explicitly Islamist approach.

In the following years, while the al-Nahda party continued to rule, several prominent left-wing politicians were assassinated, for which the far right-wing Islamist militia Ansar al-Shariah claimed responsibility. Unhappy with the Islamist turn of their revolution and furious at what they saw as the government’s inaction after the assassination of leftwing Popular Front politician Mohamed Brahmi, Tunisians once again took to the streets. There, as Juan Cole wrote shortly afterwards, they staged “enormous demonstrations.” Unions, women’s organizations, and student groups all demanded that al-Nahda step down in favor of a more neutral, technocratic government.

At this point, the profound political conflict in Tunisia could easily have turned into an armed confrontation. But it didn’t. Instead the country’s organized political forces, aided by the National Dialogue Quartet, achieved something remarkable, especially in the context of the present Greater Middle East. Al-Nahda withdrew from governing and was replaced with a “technocratic” caretaker government. Under it, a new, secular constitution was written and, in October 2014, parliamentary elections were held, followed by presidential elections that November.

Today, Tunisia continues to face economic and political problems, including two separate terrorist attacks on foreigners this year, but for now it has something unique among the Arab Spring countries: an apparently stable, democratic government.

What Made Tunisia Different?

Of all the countries touched by Arab Spring uprisings, including Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Yemen, and Syria, Tunisia is the only one that has neither devolved into vicious internal warfare nor reverted to authoritarian rule. What makes Tunisia different?

In Tunisia, as Juan Cole has suggested and the Nobel committee recognized, a uniquely strong, organized, and varied civil society, especially trade and student unions, was key to the country’s transition from dictatorship to democracy. There were other differences as well. Unlike the Egyptian army, which had long supported the Mubarak regime, Tunisia’s relatively small military was never tightly allied with the Ben Ali government. And, as Cole says, almost uniquely in the region, its commanders chose to stay out of the ensuing turmoil.

Egypt’s military, however, thanks in part to U.S. aid, is among the 20 most powerful in the world, and has long played a central role in that country’s politics and economy. After the Arab Spring protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square brought autocrat Hosni Mubarak down, the first elections put a religious party, the Muslim Brotherhood, in power. However when (as in Tunisia) Egyptians started to grow restive under the Brotherhood’s rule and returned to the streets in protest, instead of allowing a transition to secular democracy, the military chose to reinsert itself in political life, elevating the head of the armed forces, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who now serves as president and supreme military commander.

Among other differences with the rest of the Arab Spring states, Tunisia is a country, rare in the region, with a certain religious homogeneity: more than 99% of its population is at least nominally Sunni Muslim, so it has not experienced the sort of sectarian violence that has roiled countries like Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. And as Cole also points out, when Tunisia’s secularists came to power, unlike the Sisi government in Egypt, they did not outlaw and repress the country’s religious parties.

The Biggest Difference

There is one more key difference to mention: since the revolution the United States has largely stayed out of Tunisian affairs. Admittedly, U.S. military aid did rise from $17 million before the revolution to $29.5 million in 2012 before dropping again to almost pre-revolutionary levels for the next few years. Perhaps in response to the growth of Islamic State adherents, however, the U.S. recently announced that military aid to Tunisia would triple in 2016. We know that British special forces have been sent to Tunisia and it’s certainly possible that U.S. special forces have been there as well.

For now, however, it appears that the U.S. has not intervened in the governance of the country. In contrast, Washington has played a significant role in the affairs of all the other Arab Spring countries. Let’s consider these situations, one by one:

Egypt: Egypt has long been one of the world’s biggest recipients of U.S. military aid, second only to Israel. When el-Sisi came to power, the Obama administration briefly withheld aid, but in March 2015 restored the full $1.3 billion a year it had slated for the Egyptian military. In fact, in 2013 when that army overthrew elected President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, President Obama took care never to describe this action as a “coup d’état,” because U.S. law would then have prohibited any military aid to Egypt. In other words, after Tahrir Square and the Arab Spring rising, Egyptians essentially traded one U.S.- and military-backed regime for another.

Yemen: Ali Abdullah Saleh had been president of Yemen for 33 years when Arab Spring demonstrators took to the streets of the capital, Sana’a, at the end of January 2011. Between 200 and 2,000 died in the crackdown that followed, but by November Saleh was out, replaced by one of his deputies, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, who has since been ousted by the Houthi rebellion.

In Yemen, the United States and Saudi Arabia have taken the side of the now-deposed Hadi government in an internal struggle with Houthi rebels. The Houthi movement — like everything in Yemen — is complicated. It’s made up of rural tribespeople from the northern part of the country and is supported by the Iranians. Houthis are adherents of the Zaidi branch of Shia Islam, so Sunni-Shia tensions have played a part in Yemen’s collapse, as have north-south conflicts. (Yemen only became a single country in 1990.) In February 2015, a British academic expert writing for the BBC described Yemen’s condition this way:

[A]nti-systemic movements — the ragtag Houthi militia astonished by the lack of resistance to their advance against the flailing ‘transitional’ regime; the separatist Southern Movement… marginalized from the National Dialogue but now taking up arms; fringe Yemeni and foreign Salafist fighters for al-Qaeda; and divisions of what used to be Mr Saleh’s security apparatus — are jockeying for power in the new order.”

What could possibly make this situation worse?

How about U.S.-supplied missiles and cluster bombs delivered by the Saudi air force? Washington, of course, long ago made Yemen part of its battlefield in the “global war on terror,” using “kill lists” to send drones to pick off al-Qaeda terrorists (who might well turn out to be Yemeni civilians shopping for supplies to celebrate the end of Ramadan or getting married). Now, the United States has rushed to support Saudi Arabia’s intervention against the Houthis in the country’s hydra-headed civil war, providing munitions, intelligence assistance, and even mid-air refueling for Saudi bombers, while a naval blockade of the port of Aden has helped shut off supplies to the country. Seven months of sustained Saudi bombing, violence, and food and fuel shortages have helped displace more than a million and a half Yemenis. In August, the U.N.’s World Food Program warned that the country faces famine.

The United States has been involved in Yemen for a while. In fact, when announcing the restoration of Egyptian military aid, the Obama administration stressed the importance of el-Sisi’s cooperation in the fight against al-Qaeda-style Islamic terrorism, particularly in Yemen (and also Libya). Now the U.S. finds itself in tactical agreement with these same Sunni fundamentalists. In a case of intervention making strange bedfellows, by supporting the Saudis against the Houthis, Washington has ended up on the same side of this fight as the Islamic State, which has been using its usual terror tactics in an attempt to drive the Houthis out of Yemen’s capital.

Libya: The Arab Spring came to Libya, too, when Libyans deposed Muammar Gaddafi, who had ruled the country since a 1969 coup.

U.S. relations with Gaddafi had been tense at least since 1988 when a terrorist explosion brought down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. In 2003, Gaddafi acknowledged Libyan responsibility for the bombing and paid compensation to victims’ families (although maintaining his own innocence in the affair). In the same year, Tripoli abandoned its nuclear weapons program and allowed international inspectors free rein in the country. Washington reached an accommodation with Gaddafi in 2006, ending all previous sanctions. Two years earlier, he had also made peace with the European Union (EU), and in 2010 accepted 50 million Euros from the EU in return for help preventing African migrants and refugees from using Libya as a transit corridor to Europe.

However, in 2011, when it became clear that Libyans were threatening to depose Gaddafi, the Obama administration abandoned him, pushing NATO into military action. NATO launched a concerted campaign of airstrikes to cripple his military. Gaddafi died after a convoy in which he was traveling was hit by a U.S. Predator drone and French jet fighters. Although accounts of his death vary, it seems clear that, when Gaddafi was left without protection, a crowd attacked and killed him.

In reporting on his death, the New York Times presciently referred to “an instability that could trouble Libya long after the euphoria fades about the demise of Colonel Gaddafi.” Indeed, chaos followed, spilling into Mali and other countries as the Colonel’s weapons arsenals were looted and dispatched across the region as far east as the Sinai Peninsula and possibly as far south as Nigeria. In Libya itself, havoc ensued, along with civil war (or wars) and the rise of a branch of the Islamic State (IS).

As in Iraq, Washington once again proved remarkably skilled at dictator-toppling, but significantly weaker on its follow-up. Today, post-Arab Spring Libya is a failed state, riven by violence, and “governed” by rival parliaments. In September 2015, the Times reported (with no apparent irony): “Libyans are struggling with a problem that typically emerges after a bloody regime change: how to reassemble a functioning country after its brittle, autocratic and repressive government has been fractured and replaced with warring factions.” This is a question the United States might have thought to ask before getting into the government-fracturing business.

Bahrain: The Kingdom of Bahrain is a small island on the western side of the Persian Gulf with a population of 1.34 million. It provides a vital base for the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf and is home to the Navy’s Fifth Fleet. As the U.S. State Department puts it, “The Government of Bahrain plays a key role in the Gulf’s security architecture and is an important member of the U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition. U.S. assistance enables Bahrain to continue to obtain the equipment and training it needs to provide for its own defense and to operate alongside U.S. air and naval forces.”

The CIA’s World Fact Book lists Bahrain’s form of government as “constitutional monarchy,” but it is hardly a democracy. Political parties are outlawed, and although one legislative house is elected, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa appoints the prime minister, the cabinet, and the members of the judiciary. He or his sons occupy most of the highest positions. More than two-thirds of Bahrain’s Muslims are Shia, while the royal family and the ruling elite are Sunni.

The Arab Spring reached Bahrain in January 2011. In the fashion of Egyptian demonstrators in Tahrir Square, Bahraini protestors occupied the Pearl Roundabout, a key intersection in the capital Manama, demanding the king’s ouster. Al-Khalifa responded by calling on his allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for help. The Saudis responded by sending 1,000 troops; the UAE sent another 500. Together they routed the demonstrators and ended the rebellion.

Dozens were killed, thousands were rounded up, and many of the prisoners were tortured. Once again, the United States took sides, throwing its support not to the Arab Spring demonstrators but to the king and his repressive state. Washington’s strategic interests and the desire to keep the Saudis happy took precedence over any pretense of supporting civil and human rights. As Middle East expert Toby Jones told NPR in early 2012, “If there is a place globally where there is not just distance but a huge gap between American interests and American values, it’s in the Persian Gulf.”

Syria: The Arab Spring in Syria began with small demonstrations in January 2011. These grew larger when people in the town of Dara’a came out to protest the torture of young men arrested for putting up political graffiti. By April, the government of Bashar al-Assad was using tanks and live fire to put down demonstrations. By July, demonstrators numbered in the hundreds of thousands. By the end of 2011, demonstrations had given way to armed conflict as a wide variety of rebel brigades with differing aims and loyalties began to fight back. Fighters on multiple sides, including the Assad regime, have been accused of war crimes — torture, summary executions, the barrel-bombing of civilians, and the use of poison gas.

The civil war in Syria is the premier humanitarian disaster of the twenty-first century, spawning the worst refugee crisis Europe has faced since the end of World War II. As of October 4, 2015, the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that there are 4,185,302 registered “persons of concern” (refugees) driven from the country by war. “This figure,” says the agency, “includes 2.1 million Syrians registered by UNHCR in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon, 1.9 million Syrians registered by the Government of Turkey, as well as more than 26,700 Syrian refugees registered in North Africa.”

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Organization reports at least another 7.7 million internally displaced people, forced by the conflict to leave their homes. Of a population of 22 million, almost 12 million, more than half, have been made refugees. The New York Times reports that more than 200,000 Syrians — almost one in every 100 — have been killed. In March 2015, the BBC put the figure at 220,000, and in August, the UN suggested that figure might even have reached 250,000.

And Washington has its fingerprints all over Syria’s civil war. As long ago as 1996, neocons Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, who would later serve as advisors to Vice President Dick Cheney, participated in a study group that produced a paper for the Israeli government. In it, they argued that “Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria.” Such a campaign would begin, they suggested, by “removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq — an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right — as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions.”

The ultimate goal would be a realignment of power in the Middle East, with Syria destabilized, a Hashemite king ruling Iraq, and a new regional alliance among Turkey, Jordan, and Israel. Perle & Co. brought this plan to the Bush White House, where the 9/11 attacks provided a pretext for the first step: removing Saddam Hussein. It would seem that the neocon dream of destabilizing Syria has been realized as well, even if not in the way they expected.

When the 2011 uprising became an armed fight, the United States began supporting the “moderate” Free Syrian Army, initially with “non-lethal” assistance. Since then, the U.S. has sought to identify non-extremist Sunni Islamists to equip and set loose on the growing Islamic State, with results that would be comical if they hadn’t been so deadly and disastrous. On October 9th, the White House and the Pentagon admitted that the $500 million program to vet, train, and equip moderate fighters in Turkey and Jordan to be sent back to Syria had been an abject failure. The Obama administration’s new strategy, reported the New York Times, is “a revamped program that briefly screens Arab rebel commanders of existing Syrian units before equipping them with much-needed ammunition and, potentially, small arms,” as well as, it turns out, TOW anti-tank missiles.

On October 12th, the U.S. airdropped the first 50 tons of ammunition to these rebel groups, who presumably have been distinguished from the Islamic State, the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, and other extreme outfits by those “brief” screenings. The official U.S. position on Assad himself remains that his leaving power is a prerequisite for any peace settlement, but the Obama administration prefers to frame its intervention as a battle against the Islamic State.

Confronting IS in Syria while also opposing Assad has proved problematic, to say the least. There may well be non-Salafist forces fighting the Syrian government, but much of the fight against Assad has been carried out by al-Qaeda affiliates like the al-Nusra Front, or by IS (when they are not fighting each other, that is). Just as in Yemen, the United States has, eerily enough, ended up on the same side as its supposed greatest enemies, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Meanwhile, the Syrian conflict has been made exponentially more dangerous for Syrians and the entire world by the intervention of Russia, which opposes IS, but supports the Assad regime. The last thing the country needed was to become the site of a proxy war between the United States and Russia.

Suffice it to say that U.S. intervention has in no way alleviated the suffering of the Syrian people, whether caused by Assad — to whose regime the Bush administration once sent people to be tortured — or Islamist groups like IS.

The Peace Prize: A Long Strange Trip

The history of Nobel Peace Prize recipients is an odd one. The first winner was Jean Henri Dunant, the Swiss citizen who founded the International Red Cross and inspired the first Geneva Conventions. The Red Cross itself has won three times, Doctors Without Borders once. My personal favorite laureate may be the scientist Linus Pauling, who won twice, once for his contributions to the anti-nuclear movement and the other time in chemistry.

Along with peacemakers and servants of justice like Martin Luther King, Jr., the prize has gone to some more questionable figures, including Henry Kissinger. Fresh from assisting the military coup that resulted in the death of elected president Salvador Allende and brought Augusto Pinochet to power in Chile, Kissinger shared the prize in 1973 with Le Duc Tho of North Vietnam for the Paris Peace Accords, which were supposed to end the Vietnam War. Tho had the good grace to decline the prize — partly on the grounds that the United States had already violated the agreement.

It seems that this year the committee has chosen well, fixing on the Quartet that helped Tunisia bring the promise of the Arab Spring to flower. It is sad indeed that the crucial role of the United States in that remarkable moment was to repeatedly intervene in ways that changed the temperature radically, helping to bring a cruel and deadly frost of repression, death, and destruction to too many countries.  There ought to be a grim prize of some sort for such an achievement.

Saudi Arabia could be bankrupt by 2020 – IMF

October 23, 2015


The Middle East’s biggest economy, Saudi Arabia may run out of financial assets within the next five years if the government maintains its current policies, warns the International Monetary Fund.

Saudi Arabia is expected to run a budget deficit of 21.6 percent in 2015 and 19.4 percent in 2016, according the IMF’s latest regional economic outlook.

The country needs to adjust spending, the IMF urged.

The IMF outlined two key factors shaping the region’s outlook. They are spreading and deepening regional conflicts and slumping oil prices.

The conflicts have given rise to large numbers of displaced people and refugees, on a scale not seen since the early 1990s, according to the report.

Achieving fiscal sustainability over the medium-term will be especially challenging given the need to create jobs for the more than 10 million people anticipated to be looking for work by 2020 in the region’s oil exporting countries,” IMF Middle East and Central Asia Department Director Masood Ahmed told journalists after the report’s unveiling in Dubai.

According to the research, many experts suggest low oil prices will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

For the region’s oil exporters, the fall in prices has led to large fall in revenue, amounting to a staggering $360 billion this year alone,” Masood Ahmed said.

OPEC members Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, Algeria and Libya have all seen their revenues drop sharply as a result of a decline in oil prices.

Saudi Arabia is currently facing a budget deficit for the first time since 2009. The crude price decline has strongly influenced the kingdom’s economy since oil sales account for about 80 percent of its revenues. It has prompted the government to cut spending, delay projects and sell bonds.

The country’s net foreign assets fell by about $82 billion from January to August. The government sold state bonds worth $15 billion (55 billion riyals) this year.

There have been a number of one-off spending proposals this year that have taken place, and those initiatives have added to the spending needs,” Masood Ahmed said.

The budget deficit caused project layoffs in Saudi Arabia. Companies working on infrastructure projects haven’t been paid for six months or more. Payment delays increased lately as the government wants to cut prices on contracts in order to preserve cash.

Despite the perpetual appeals to reduce output and support crude prices, OPEC has been refusing to do so as the cartel is trying to maintain its market share. However, last month the cartel signaled a possible change of stance, saying it might cut output and is ready to talk to other (non-OPEC) producers. But experts say OPEC’s statements are not important without a change of policy by its biggest crude producer Saudi Arabia.

They can’t track us down’ – hackers who cracked CIA Director Brennan’s email to RT

October 21, 2014


Part of a mysterious group of young hackers who stole confidential and work-related information from CIA Director John Brennan have spoken to RT, revealing why they targeted this senior official and what they’ve got planned for the future.

The resulting embarrassment caused by the group who are believed to be in their early 20s, highlights not only the poor email security of a number of senior intelligence officials in the US, but also the secrets within – such as the security clearance application Brennan submitted to the CIA on enrollment, containing the most confidential information any person could wish to protect.

RT managed to have a brief Twitter exchange with one member of the shady hacker group – before they immediately deleted the account – and contacted another member by phone for an interview.

The user @IncursioSubter was rather open about certain details of their identity: “I’m in the UK and my bio on Twitter stated that I was arrested for computer misuse acts, so people know I’m in UK. Age under 22,” the user said.

The young hacker praised former NSA contractor and fugitive Edward Snowden for revealing to the world the truth about American intelligence agencies and the fact they spied on their own population.

Asked why they had a preference for US targets, neither @IncursioSubter nor @Derplaughing – whom we spoke to later – said they wish to restrict themselves to just the one country.

We’ve mainly planned the US because they’ve been funding Israel more for Palestine to be slaughtered and war crimes that’ve been turned [a blind eye to]… so it’s mainly for US but we also have plans for UK governments too,” @IncursioSubter said.

The user @IncursioSubter also mentioned why they decided to target the director of intelligence and how the group managed to carry out the hack, mentioning that “because he’s in high government” and that they fund Israel.

It was relatively easy. We just pretended we worked for Verizon and that we needed additional information about Brennan,” something that is often considered the biggest mistake that countless online manuals on cyber protection warn people about.

They were basically stupid enough to believe whatever we say without first verifying our identity. That was the first major problem.”

A conversation then ensued and the hackers called Brennan’s home.

The distressed director asked what they wanted. “We jokingly said ‘two trillion dollars.’” Then he said, “Really, how much do you want?”

We then said, ‘We just want Palestine to be free and for the US government to stop funding Israel to kill innocent Palestinians.’”

Brennan hung up.

Asked what they felt was the most important piece of information they leaked, the hackers said “Probably the security clearance application. We’ve embarrassed the agency more than we’ve damaged it.

The head of CIA shouldn’t be using any personal emails to discuss work,” @IncurioSubter said about the questionable choice of AOL as an email server for the highest intelligence official in the US.

He should also be required to use an email service that requires two factor authentication. I know Mr Brennan and authorities probably want all of us in jail; however, I don’t think the agency can track us down. We used basic social engineering because we didn’t need advanced social engineering to compromise his account,” they explained.

The two also told RT they’re planning to release more incriminating information on other officials on November 5, but refused to discuss details of the operation.

From the tone of the conversation, it seem like they’re far from done.

People think we’re doing it for fame but as we have mentioned, it’s basically to get a point – never trust a government, we want to expose governments for what they are doing, for their lies, for them funding war crimes and such,” as @Derplaughing concluded

The silent secession of eastern Ukraine

Ukraine’s Donbass region is adopting Russian currency, schoolbooks and maybe soon, passports. Russia, which annexed the Crimean Peninsula last year, hasn’t had to take any formal control to move the secession along.

October 23,2015

by Roman Goncharenko


It is often just a single letter that makes the difference. On the outskirts of Donetsk, separatists have removed a diacritical mark from the sign announcing the city’s name – thus transforming a Ukrainian word into a Russian one. Separatists love to have their picture taken here. For the past several months, street and city signs with Ukrainian names have been replaced with signs written in Russian throughout the country’s east.

“It’s another country now,” says Igor Martynov, who was named mayor of Donetsk by the separatists. Ukrainian flags and crests will continue to be removed from the public sphere as well.

During negotiations in Minsk, it was agreed that the 2-3 million residents of the regions surrounding Donetsk and Luhansk would receive more autonomy but remain part of Ukraine. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande most recently reiterated those points during meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Paris this October.

Yet, exactly the opposite is taking place. Although guns have been silent since the beginning of September, the separation of the coal mining region Donbass from the rest of Ukraine, which was begun in the spring of 2014, is quietly continuing. Largely unnoticed by the world at large, facts are being created on the ground. This is happening without Russia having to formally take control of the region, or having to annex it like it did with the Crimean Peninsula.

The ruble as official currency

The separatists first introduced the Russian ruble alongside the Ukrainian hryvna months ago. Then, on September 1, the ruble was declared the official currency of the Luhansk Oblast. The separatists justified the move with claims that Ukraine no longer sends money to the province. The resumption of retirement and salary payments was agreed to in Minsk; however, the implementation thereof is nowhere in sight.

There have also been changes in education. According to media reports, “humanitarian convoys,” as Moscow calls them, brought some 500 tons of schoolbooks to the separatist provinces. Students in Donetsk and Luhansk now learn from Russian textbooks, which are different from Ukrainian textbooks, especially in subject areas such as history. Russian curricula are also being widely adopted.

Control of separatist troops

Further, separatist troops are apparently increasingly under Russian control. Since the beginning of the conflict, Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of supporting the separatists with weapons and fighters. Something Russia denies.

Nonetheless, within the framework of the Minsk Protocol, Russia has officially sent military advisers into the rogue provinces. They are charged with overseeing the ceasefire. To that end, the Russian and rebel Ukrainian militaries are operating a shared headquarters. “The Russians have placed observers in every battalion and every larger unit,” explained Alexander Chodakowski, security chief of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic,” in mid-October. That is how Russia controls the troops.

Russian passports for Eastern Ukrainians in Rostov?

What many separatists desire most are Russian passports. Denis Pushilin, a separatist leader from Donetsk, does not rule out the possibility that residents of the “People’s Republic” may soon be able to apply for Russian citizenship. Citing “well-informed interlocutors,” the Russian government newspaper “Rossiyskaya Gazeta” reported on the issue by saying that Moscow has not yet given such instructions, but that could change in the future.

On Tuesday, a separatist-friendly online website reported that by the end of this year a government agency is to be installed in the southern Russian port city of Rostov-on-Don with the power to issue Russian passports to residents of the Eastern Ukrainian Donetsk and Luhansk provinces according to a “simplified process.” The portal quoted a “high-ranking source” in the “Luhansk People’s Republic” as saying that the Russian location was chosen so as not to create an outcry.

Experts: Putin doesn’t want a frozen conflict

It certainly would not be a new approach. Moscow has acted similarly in other former Soviet republics once conflicts became frozen – in Georgia for instance, where Russian passports were also issued. Rebellious provinces such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia were later recognized as independent states.

Western observers like Winfried Schneider-Deters have come to the conclusion that the quiet rapprochement between Eastern Ukrainian separatists and Russia is in direct conflict with official Kremlin policy and the Minsk Protocol. The publisher and Ukraine expert believes that Moscow does not want to freeze the conflict. “Putin wants this entity within the Ukrainian state – with the intention of it being a permanent source of irritation,” says the expert. If that cannot be successfully established, then Russia may initiate its “Plan B” for the Donbass:

Irrevocable separation from Ukraine.

Over 16,000 Alleged Terrorists Believed Dead, Yet Many Remain Watchlisted

October 28, 2015

by Jana Winter, Sharon Weinberger

The Intercept

Even death won’t get you off the U.S. terrorism watchlist. As of last July, over 3,500 suspected terrorists included in the U.S. government’s central terror database were “confirmed dead” and another 13,000 were “reportedly dead,” yet many of their names continued to be actively monitored in databases like the no-fly list, according to an intelligence assessment prepared by the Department of Homeland Security in August of this year.

The numbers, which have not been previously reported, come from an intelligence assessment marked “for official use only” that was obtained by The Intercept. The central concern of the document, which was prepared by DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, was that suspected terrorists may be using social media “to fabricate stories of their deaths in an attempt to evade security scrutiny, a tactic that prominent terrorists used before the proliferation of social media.”

In the document, DHS warns that suspected terrorists who have faked their deaths could then return home using false identities. Yet the details contained in the intelligence assessment also underscore the contradictory guidance that agencies follow regarding watchlists.

A significant number of ‘dead’ and ‘reportedly dead’ KSTs [known or suspected terrorists] cannot be placed on the No Fly List, because of insufficient biographic information needed to deny boarding to them,” the Office of Intelligence and Analysis concluded, after reviewing the numbers.

The confusion reveals the fundamental flaws in the list according to Hina Shamsi, the director of the American Civil Liberty Union’s National Security Project. “We’ve long known that the watchlisting system is bloated and based on vague and overbroad criteria,” Shamsi says. “For the living, it is also a system in which there is no meaningful way to challenge wrongful inclusion and correct government error. That’s what we’re litigating to change with the no-fly list, the watchlist with the most draconian consequences for innocent people.”

The United States employs a series of overlapping lists of suspected terrorists. The Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, or TIDE, maintained by the National Counterterrorism Center, includes classified information, and as of 2013, had over one million names. There’s also the State Department’s Consular Lookout and Support System and the FBI’s centralized Terrorist Screening Database, among others.

The various agencies apparently deal with death in different ways. For example, DHS found that nearly 20 percent of those “confirmed dead” on the TIDE database “remained watchlisted” in the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database, and the majority of “reportedly dead” terrorists also remained on other terrorism databases — one-fifth were still monitored via the no-fly list.

Mike German, a former FBI agent and fellow at the Brennan Center’s National Security Program, says that leaving the names of dead people on watchlists is just another illustration of how dysfunctional the system has become. “The harm is that when the list is over a million names, or approaching a million names, it’s no longer a useful document,” German says. “It’s no longer about whether this person is a threat; it’s about a bureaucratic method of playing CYA.”

While keeping dead people on the watchlist may be less concerning than wrongfully including the names of innocent people, it is still detrimental to security, according to German, because it’s the equivalent of having a fire alarm that goes off all the time: “The watchlist alarm is ringing constantly, because it has far too many names,” he says. “The response time has been lost because of over-vigilance.”

A number of reports have criticized the watchlists for being mismanaged and unfair: A 2009 DHS Inspector General report concluded that innocent travelers were often unable to clear their names from the lists, and a Justice Department Inspector General report the same year found that the inclusion of over one-third of people on the lists was based on outdated information.

Last year, The Intercept reported that almost half of the people on the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database were in fact not linked to any specific terrorist group. The Intercept also published documents detailing how those lists are maintained, including the 2013 Watchlisting Guidance.

Among the central complaints about the watchlists is that there is no reliable way to determine whether non-terrorists are being unfairly included. This new document demonstrates that the government looks at the problem from the opposite perspective: Officials are loath to take anyone off the list, even if they are dead.

When KSTs are reported dead, these individuals frequently maintain their watchlist status, because U.S. procedures require that all known missing, unexpired travel documents belonging to these individuals be maintained for screening purposes,” the document explains. The concern, as expressed by the government, is that other terrorists could use these travel documents to prepare for an attack.

U.S. watchlisting was in the news again this week, when WikiLeaks began publishing emails hacked from the AOL account of CIA Director John Brennan. The account included details of a protest lodged by Brennan’s then-employer, The Analysis Corporation, over what appears to be a CIA contract for watchlisting.

Concerned that a CIA watchlist included a staggering 1.8 million names, one company employee wrote in an email, “That just seems excessive – it’s 7% of the IZ [Iraqi] population!!”

It’s unclear which watchlist was involved (the CIA declined to comment on the issue other than to condemn the release of the documents, which the agency says were unclassified).

At least for those databases addressed in the DHS document, part of the underlying problem is that agencies have no uniform way of confirming deaths. The 2013 Wachlisting Guidance says that terrorists are “confirmed dead” if corroboration is provided by two credible sources, or if the death is part of a high-profile case reported in the media. The TIDE database, on the other hand, allows for confirmation of death based on any one of three additional criteria, according to the DHS document: the suspected terrorist carried out an attack that resulted in his or her death, DNA confirmation of death, or “the dead KST’s photo is available.”

It’s an endemic problem to the whole system: There isn’t really any review mechanism by which the agencies can confirm or test their guesses about people’s terrorist proclivities,” says Anya Bernstein, an associate professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School. “The fact that there are so many dead people on it highlights that.”

As to the central concern raised in the document — whether social media can be used to confirm someone’s death — the government appears to be undecided.

The 2015 Watchlisting Guidance was being finalized as of late July,” the report says. “Latest drafts of this document still allow for the inclusion of social media into watchlists and the ability to confirm the death of a KST if it is part of a ‘high-profile case in the public sphere.’”

DHS referred all questions to the FBI’s Terrorism Screening Center, which declined to comment, noting that the document in question belonged to DHS. A spokesperson for the National Counterterrorism Center also declined to comment.

New wireless technology can see people through walls

October 29, 2015


MIT researchers have developed WiFi technology that is capable of seeing a human through an obstacle ‒ like a wall ‒ and reconstructing the image by analyzing the reflections from the signals. The technology has a variety of practical applications.

The new device, called RF-Capture, is based on previous methods of capturing movements across a house. That technology is currently used by firefighters to determine if they need to save anyone in a burning building, as well as by mothers to see their baby’s breathing, Popular Mechanics reported.

It was developed at MIT’s Wireless Center, which is hosted in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, or CSAIL. Previous research from the lab developed a wireless system to detect gestures as subtle as the rise and fall of a person’s chest, allowing them to determine a person’s heart rate with 99 percent accuracy.

RF-Capture doesn’t require the user to wear any sensor, yet it can differentiate between different unseen people by transmitting wireless signals that can pass through physical objects and reflect off whatever is on the other side. It then analyzes that data and pieces them together to “see” what is behind the object. The device can distinguish between 15 people with nearly 90 percent accuracy. It can also trace a person’s handwriting in the air and determine how a person is moving based on its analysis, the CSAIL team said on its website.

The researchers foresee a myriad of practical ways RF-Capture can be used in the real world.“We’re working to turn this technology into an in-home device that can call 911 if it detects that a family member has fallen unconscious,” MIT professor Dina Katabi, director of the Wireless@MIT center, said in a statement. “You could also imagine it being used to operate your lights and TVs, or to adjust your heating by monitoring where you are in the house.”

And it can be used in the world of fantasy, too.

Today actors have to wear markers on their bodies and move in a specific room full of cameras,” MIT PhD student Fadel Adib said. “RF-Capture would enable motion capture without body sensors and could track actors’ movements even if they are behind furniture or walls.”

It could also be incorporated in gaming interfaces, creating technology way beyond current motion-sensing systems like Nintendo Wii or console add-ons like Microsoft Kinect.

The possibilities are vast,” Adib said. “We’re just at the beginning of thinking about the different ways to use these technologies.”

Adib is the lead author and Katabi a co-author of a new paper on the technology that has been accepted to the SIGGRAPH Asia conference taking place in Kobe, Japan in November.

RF-Capture uses a compact array of 20 antennas to transmit the wireless signals ‒ yet it emits just 1/10,000 the amount of radiation given off by a standard cell phone.

The team is also working on another wireless product called Emerald that would detect, predict and prevent falls among the elderly, which they presented to President Barack Obama during the White House’s first annual Demo Day in August. The device would also call 911 if it detects an unconscious family member.

“In the same way that cellphones and WiFi routers have become indispensable parts of today’s households,” Katabi said, “wireless technologies like this will help power the homes of the future.”

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