Thursday, September 30, 2010
REIDEL NEWSWEEK:ISI INCREASING DRONE TARGETING ASSISTANCE
"...Obama has stepped up unmanned
aerial drone strikes in Pakistan which
have proven more effective than they
did under Bush, partly because Pakistan
is providing more target information."
CIA acts on fear of al-Qaeda plot to hit in Europehttp://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/28/AR2010092806935.html
A sharply escalated campaign of CIA drone strikes in Pakistan is aimed in part at al-Qaeda units suspected of planning terrorist attacks on targets in Europe, a threat that U.S. officials described as "credible but not specific" enough to allow authorities to anticipate precisely where or when a strike might occur.
The intensified bombing of targets in North and South Waziristan represents an expansion of the secret drone program from its origins as a weapon used in a selective hunt for high-ranking operatives to one now delivering a barrage of strikes in the hopes of disrupting a still-murky plot.
A U.S. official said that President Obama and congressional leaders have been briefed extensively on the European threat in recent weeks and that the warnings are considered ominous enough to warrant preemptive strikes.
American intelligence agencies have had "to work backwards, with your starting point being individuals you believe are involved in plotting, even when you don't have the full outlines of the plot itself," the U.S. official said. "That's why we have been striking - with precision - people and facilities that are part of these conspiracies."
U.S. officials said that intelligence about potential pending attacks has not indicated that the plots are aimed at targets in the United States. Still, officials alluded to significant security precautions.
A senior administration official said that the president "has held multiple sessions with his CT [counterterrorism] and homeland teams in recent weeks to review this and other threat reporting and to make sure that all appropriate steps were being taken to protect the American people."
The flurry of drone strikes continued Tuesday amid reports of a new attack by pilotless Predator or Reaper aircraft on a Taliban compound near Wana in South Waziristan. If confirmed, it would bring the total number of drone attacks in September to 21, far outstripping the previous monthly record of 12 strikes, reached in January, according to numbers compiled by the Web site Long War Journal.
Several U.S. officials interviewed would not speak publicly about the campaign, or the intelligence behind the fears over a European terror plot. Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. said in a statement Tuesday: "We know al-Qaeda wants to attack Europe and the United States. We continue to work closely with our European allies on the threat from international terrorism, including al-Qaeda."
The U.S. has shared intelligence with European allies in recent days, Clapper said, and is working with "our key partners in order to disrupt terrorist plotting, identify and take action against potential operatives, and strengthen our defenses against potential threats."
The link between the stepped-up campaign of drone strikes and the potential European attacks was first reported by the Wall Street Journal. U.S. officials said, however, that there are multiple factors behind the escalated campaign, including expanded latitude from the Obama administration to punish a militant network that has carried out attacks in Afghanistan and is believed to be sheltering al-Qaeda.
The Haqqani network has long been considered by U.S. officials to be a proxy force for Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence directorate. The United States has prodded Pakistan to confront the group, to little avail.
"There is a recognition that the Pakistanis can't do anything there and won't," a second U.S. official said. As a result, the official said, U.S. forces and the CIA have been given "a green light to go after Haqqani."
A senior U.S. counterterrorism official said "there has been a lot of noise in the system" pointing to an al-Qaeda plot against targets in European countries including France, Germany and Britain.
Mounting anxiety has prompted European authorities to take a series of precautionary steps in recent days, including the evacuation on Tuesday of the Eiffel Tower in Paris for the second time in as many weeks.
ABC News reported that information about the European plot had been based to a large extent on the interrogation of a suspected German terrorist now being held in U.S. custody at Bagram air base in Afghanistan.
U.S. officials confirmed that there is a detainee at Bagram who had been captured in that country and holds a German passport, but they played down any connection between the prisoner and the stepped-up drone campaign.
Pakistan Halts NATO Supplies to Afghanistan After Attackhttp://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/01/world/asia/01peshawar.html?ref=global-home
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Pakistan closed a vital transit link for NATO supplies for the war in Afghanistan on Thursday in apparent retaliation for an attack by coalition helicopters on a Pakistani security post hours earlier.
Trucks and oil tankers were stopped at the border post of Torkham just north of Peshawar and it was unclear when the post would reopen, a Pakistani security official said.
A closure of the crossing through which NATO and American troops receive most of their non-lethal equipment is rare, and signaled a downturn in the military relationship between Pakistan and the United States just three months before the Obama administration takes stock of progress in Afghanistan.
A NATO helicopter attacked a border post at Mandati Kandaw, a town close to the capital of Parachinar in the Kurram area of Pakistan’s tribal region, at 5 a.m. on Thursday, the official said. Three paramilitary soldiers of the Frontier Corps were killed, and three others injured, he said. Another border post at Kharlachi in the Kurram region was struck a few hours later, the official added.
The two posts are about 15 miles apart and border Paktia Province in Afghanistan.
The incident occurred as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon Panetta, was in Islamabad for a previously scheduled visit. He was expected to meet the head of the Pakistani military, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, later on Thursday, American officials said.
The helicopter attacks into Pakistani territory Thursday came after American military helicopters launched three airstrikes last weekend killing more than 50 people suspected of being members of the Haqqani network of militants.
American officials in Afghanistan tried to temper Pakistani anger about those attacks, saying that the helicopters entered Pakistani airspace on only one of the three raids, and had acted in self-defense after militants fired rockets at an allied base just across the border in Afghanistan.
American military commanders say they have become increasingly frustrated at the tempo of deadly attacks against American troops in Afghanistan by the Haqqani militants who shelter in Pakistan’s tribal region.
A spokesman at NATO headquarters in Afghanistan said the incident was under investigation.
He noted that Meir Dagan, head of Mossad, had his term extended last year partly because he was said to be involved in important projects. He added that in the past year Israeli estimates of when Iran will have a nuclear weapon had been extended to 2014.
“They seem to know something, that they have more time than originally thought,” he said.
In a Computer Worm, a Possible Biblical Cluehttp://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/30/world/middleeast/30worm.html?ref=global-home
Deep inside the computer worm that some specialists suspect is aimed at slowing Iran’s race for a nuclear weapon lies what could be a fleeting reference to the Book of Esther, the Old Testament tale in which the Jews pre-empt a Persian plot to destroy them.
That use of the word “Myrtus” — which can be read as an allusion to Esther — to name a file inside the code is one of several murky clues that have emerged as computer experts try to trace the origin and purpose of the rogue Stuxnet program, which seeks out a specific kind of command module for industrial equipment.
Not surprisingly, the Israelis are not saying whether Stuxnet has any connection to the secretive cyberwar unit it has built inside Israel’s intelligence service. Nor is the Obama administration, which while talking about cyberdefenses has also rapidly ramped up a broad covert program, inherited from the Bush administration, to undermine Iran’s nuclear program. In interviews in several countries, experts in both cyberwar and nuclear enrichment technology say the Stuxnet mystery may never be solved.
There are many competing explanations for myrtus, which could simply signify myrtle, a plant important to many cultures in the region. But some security experts see the reference as a signature allusion to Esther, a clear warning in a mounting technological and psychological battle as Israel and its allies try to breach Tehran’s most heavily guarded project. Others doubt the Israelis were involved and say the word could have been inserted as deliberate misinformation, to implicate Israel.
“The Iranians are already paranoid about the fact that some of their scientists have defected and several of their secret nuclear sites have been revealed,” one former intelligence official who still works on Iran issues said recently. “Whatever the origin and purpose of Stuxnet, it ramps up the psychological pressure.”
So a calling card in the code could be part of a mind game, or sloppiness or whimsy from the coders.
The malicious code has appeared in many countries, notably China, India, Indonesia and Iran. But there are tantalizing hints that Iran’s nuclear program was the primary target. Officials in both the United States and Israel have made no secret of the fact that undermining the computer systems that control Iran’s huge enrichment plant at Natanz is a high priority. (The Iranians know it, too: They have never let international inspectors into the control room of the plant, the inspectors report, presumably to keep secret what kind of equipment they are using.)
The fact that Stuxnet appears designed to attack a certain type of Siemens industrial control computer, used widely to manage oil pipelines, electrical power grids and many kinds of nuclear plants, may be telling. Just last year officials in Dubai seized a large shipment of those controllers — known as the Simatic S-7 — after Western intelligence agencies warned that the shipment was bound for Iran and would likely be used in its nuclear program.
“What we were told by many sources,” said Olli Heinonen, who retired last month as the head of inspections at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, “was that the Iranian nuclear program was acquiring this kind of equipment.”
Also, starting in the summer of 2009, the Iranians began having tremendous difficulty running their centrifuges, the tall, silvery machines that spin at supersonic speed to enrich uranium — and which can explode spectacularly if they become unstable. In New York last week, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, shrugged off suggestions that the country was having trouble keeping its enrichment plants going.
Yet something — perhaps the worm or some other form of sabotage, bad parts or a dearth of skilled technicians — is indeed slowing Iran’s advance.
The reports on Iran show a fairly steady drop in the number of centrifuges used to enrich uranium at the main Natanz plant. After reaching a peak of 4,920 machines in May 2009, the numbers declined to 3,772 centrifuges this past August, the most recent reporting period. That is a decline of 23 percent. (At the same time, production of low-enriched uranium has remained fairly constant, indicating the Iranians have learned how to make better use of fewer working machines.)
Computer experts say the first versions of the worm appeared as early as 2009 and that the sophisticated version contained an internal time stamp from January of this year.
These events add up to a mass of suspicions, not proof. Moreover, the difficulty experts have had in figuring out the origin of Stuxnet points to both the appeal and the danger of computer attacks in a new age of cyberwar.
For intelligence agencies they are an almost irresistible weapon, free of fingerprints. Israel has poured huge resources into Unit 8200, its secretive cyberwar operation, and the United States has built its capacity inside the National Security Agency and inside the military, which just opened a Cyber Command.
But the near impossibility of figuring out where they came from makes deterrence a huge problem — and explains why many have warned against the use of cyberweapons. No country, President Obama was warned even before he took office, is more vulnerable to cyberattack than the United States.
For now, it is hard to determine if the worm has infected centrifuge controllers at Natanz. While the S-7 industrial controller is used widely in Iran, and many other countries, even Siemens says it does not know where it is being used. Alexander Machowetz, a spokesman in Germany for Siemens, said the company did no business with Iran’s nuclear program. “It could be that there is equipment,” he said in a telephone interview. “But we never delivered it to Natanz.”
But Siemens industrial controllers are unregulated commodities that are sold and resold all over the world — the controllers intercepted in Dubai traveled through China, according to officials familiar with the seizure.
Ralph Langner, a German computer security consultant who was the first independent expert to assert that the malware had been “weaponized” and designed to attack the Iranian centrifuge array, argues that the Stuxnet worm could have been brought into the Iranian nuclear complex by Russian contractors.
“It would be an absolute no-brainer to leave an infected USB stick near one of these guys,” he said, “and there would be more than a 50 percent chance of having him pick it up and infect his computer.”
There are many reasons to suspect Israel’s involvement in Stuxnet. Intelligence is the single largest section of its military and the unit devoted to signal, electronic and computer network intelligence, known as Unit 8200, is the largest group within intelligence.
Yossi Melman, who covers intelligence for the newspaper Haaretz and is at work on a book about Israeli intelligence over the past decade, said in a telephone interview that he suspected that Israel was involved.
He noted that Meir Dagan, head of Mossad, had his term extended last year partly because he was said to be involved in important projects. He added that in the past year Israeli estimates of when Iran will have a nuclear weapon had been extended to 2014.
“They seem to know something, that they have more time than originally thought,” he said.
Then there is the allusion to myrtus — which may be telling, or may be a red herring.
Several of the teams of computer security researchers who have been dissecting the software found a text string that suggests that the attackers named their project Myrtus. The guava fruit is part of the Myrtus family, and one of the code modules is identified as Guava.
It was Mr. Langner who first noted that Myrtus is an allusion to the Hebrew word for Esther. The Book of Esther tells the story of a Persian plot against the Jews, who attacked their enemies pre-emptively.
“If you read the Bible you can make a guess,” said Mr. Langner, in a telephone interview from Germany on Wednesday.
Carol Newsom, an Old Testament scholar at Emory University, confirmed the linguistic connection between the plant family and the Old Testament figure, noting that Queen Esther’s original name in Hebrew was Hadassah, which is similar to the Hebrew word for myrtle. Perhaps, she said, “someone was making a learned cross-linguistic wordplay.”
But other Israeli experts said they doubted Israel’s involvement. Shai Blitzblau, the technical director and head of the computer warfare laboratory at Maglan, an Israeli company specializing in information security, said he was “convinced that Israel had nothing to do with Stuxnet.”
“We did a complete simulation of it and we sliced the code to its deepest level,” he said. “We have studied its protocols and functionality. Our two main suspects for this are high-level industrial espionage against Siemens and a kind of academic experiment.”
Mr. Blitzblau noted that the worm hit India, Indonesia and Russia before it hit Iran, though the worm has been found disproportionately in Iranian computers. He also noted that the Stuxnet worm has no code that reports back the results of the infection it creates. Presumably, a good intelligence agency would like to trace its work.
The U.S. government is working furiously to counter a plot to attack several European public targets, CIA chief Leon Panetta told the head of Pakistan's intelligence community Wednesday.
The plot, to attack multiple public targets in several European capitals, was slated to occur in late November, according to Panetta. After capturing one of the prospective attackers en route from Pakistan's FATA region, the U.S. government authorized the CIA to step up drone strikes inside Pakistan to unprecedented levels while working with various allied governments to kill or capture the two to three dozen militants reportedly preparing for the operation.
The strikes being planned focus on soft targets, such as tourist attractions and public meeting spaces. No targets were believed to be in the United States, although the targets could very well have American citizens present.
Panetta, traveling in Islamabad, met with Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI) Wednesday to brief him on what American intelligence services have discovered about a series of Mumbai-style attacks planned by al Qaeda in cooperation with Pakistan's Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Taiba, the military group responsible for the devastating attacks in India in November 2008.
The Cable received a read-out from a high-level source who was briefed directly on the Panetta-Pasha meeting. The CIA is asking Pakistan to allow expanded permissions to increase the intensity of drone strikes inside Pakistan -- which are already at record levels --and allow greater access for U.S. and associated forces operating inside Pakistan.
According to The Cable's source, Panetta told Pasha that the U.S. already has in custody one of the alleged attackers, a German citizen of Pakistani origin named Siddiqui. He was captured leaving Pakistan's FATA region and is now currently being held at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan.
The attacks were planned for late November and allied intelligence agencies are employing all resources at their disposal to round up the rest of the perpetrators, with the understanding that the threat has not yet been neutralized.
"Unless you have killed or captured all 24 to 36 operatives, how can you be sure the plot is foiled?" the source said.
According to the source briefed on the Panetta-Pasha meeting, there were no targets inside the United States for the plot, but the high-value European targets that were reportedly on the list of sites to be attacked could very well have American citizens present.
European governments have already been taking precautionary measures. The Eiffel Tower was evacuated for the second time Tuesday and the U.K. government is holding its official threat warning level at "severe," the second highest level, which means that "a terrorist attack is highly likely."
Panetta told Pasha that the drone strikes will escalate further in the coming days and pressed him for information that might aid the search and increased access to Pakistani intelligence data on the groups involved.
Pasha, in turn, asked Panetta for any remaining intelligence the U.S. is holding on the groups and individuals it was targeting. Pasha wants the ISI to be in the loop on any related CIA operations. The tone of the meeting was friendly, but extremely tense, the source said.
The Pakistani government is cooperating fully with the CIA, but concerns linger that elements not completely under the government's control may still be holding out, protecting friends in and allegiances with groups such as the Haqqani Network.
The crisis couldn't come at a worse time for the Pakistani civilian government led by President Asif Ali Zardari. Zardari has been under increasing attack by elements in the Pakistani military and the ISI, who have been pressing for his ouster and using elements within the media and judiciary to bolster their cause.
Pasha, as well as Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, is said to be working with the civilian government on the imminent threat. But simultaneously, elements of the military and intelligence services are increasing their behind-the-scenes opposition to the Zardari government.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declined to comment on the specifics of the threat Wednesday after meeting with EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton in Washington.
"Now with regard to the intelligence reports of threats, we are not going to comment on specific intelligence, as doing so threatens to undermine intelligence operations that are critical in protecting the United States and our allies," Clinton said.
"As we have repeatedly said, we know that al-Qaida and its network of terrorists wishes to attack both European and U.S. targets. We continue to work very closely with our European allies on the threat from international terrorism, including the role that al-Qaida continues to play."
NKorea prints photo of heir apparent Kim Jong Un
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - North Korea published a photo in state media Thursday of leader Kim Jong Il's youngest son and heir apparent Kim Jong Un in the first official image of him released. A photo of a group of senior Workers' Party officials was published in Thursday's edition of the authoritarian regime's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper. An article accompanying the front-page photo listed the names of those in the picture. The 20-something Kim Jong Un was one of the officials named and appeared to be sitting near his father with a military officer between them. The release of the photo comes after the younger Kim earlier this week was handed top military and party posts at a Workers' Party conference. Lee Jong-joo, a spokeswoman at South Korea's Unification Ministry, which handles relations with North Korea, said a photo of Kim Jong Un had never been published before. She said the young man sitting near Kim Jong Il appears to be Kim Jong Un. The official Korean Central News Agency announced Tuesday that Kim Jong Un had been promoted to four-star general in the Korean People's Army - the first mention of his name in the country's tightly controlled state media. He was mentioned again in several dispatches Wednesday announcing the names of people who were given posts at a rare meeting of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea held the day before. In addition to his military title, he was made a member of the organization's governing central committee and was also named to its military commission. The mentions of Kim Jong Un in state media - and now the release of his photo - have confirmed what many analysts have increasingly believed for about the past two years: that Kim Jong Un has been chosen to succeed his father and carry the ruling family dynasty into a third generation. Several purported photos of the younger Kim have been circulating for some of that time, mostly obtained and published by Japanese media. Kim Jong Il's former Japanese chef says Kim Jong Un resembles his father in looks, tastes and personality, going so far as to call his the elder Kim's "spitting image." The unsmiling man sitting near Kim Jong Il in the photo has a round face with his hair apparently parted in the middle and bears a resemblance to his grandfather Kim Il Sung, North Korea's founder. Kim Jong Il, 68, took over as the leader of North Korea in 1994 when his father Kim Il Sung died of heart failure in what became the first hereditary succession in the communist world.
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - North Korea published a photo in state media Thursday of leader Kim Jong Il's youngest son and heir apparent Kim Jong Un in the first official image of him released.
A photo of a group of senior Workers' Party officials was published in Thursday's edition of the authoritarian regime's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper.
An article accompanying the front-page photo listed the names of those in the picture. The 20-something Kim Jong Un was one of the officials named and appeared to be sitting near his father with a military officer between them.
The release of the photo comes after the younger Kim earlier this week was handed top military and party posts at a Workers' Party conference.
Lee Jong-joo, a spokeswoman at South Korea's Unification Ministry, which handles relations with North Korea, said a photo of Kim Jong Un had never been published before. She said the young man sitting near Kim Jong Il appears to be Kim Jong Un.
The official Korean Central News Agency announced Tuesday that Kim Jong Un had been promoted to four-star general in the Korean People's Army - the first mention of his name in the country's tightly controlled state media.
He was mentioned again in several dispatches Wednesday announcing the names of people who were given posts at a rare meeting of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea held the day before. In addition to his military title, he was made a member of the organization's governing central committee and was also named to its military commission.
The mentions of Kim Jong Un in state media - and now the release of his photo - have confirmed what many analysts have increasingly believed for about the past two years: that Kim Jong Un has been chosen to succeed his father and carry the ruling family dynasty into a third generation.
Several purported photos of the younger Kim have been circulating for some of that time, mostly obtained and published by Japanese media. Kim Jong Il's former Japanese chef says Kim Jong Un resembles his father in looks, tastes and personality, going so far as to call his the elder Kim's "spitting image."
The unsmiling man sitting near Kim Jong Il in the photo has a round face with his hair apparently parted in the middle and bears a resemblance to his grandfather Kim Il Sung, North Korea's founder.
Kim Jong Il, 68, took over as the leader of North Korea in 1994 when his father Kim Il Sung died of heart failure in what became the first hereditary succession in the communist world.
Officials: Pakistan Blocks NATO Supply Truckshttp://www.foxnews.com/world/2010/09/30/officials-pakistan-blocks-nato-supply-trucks/
PARACHINAR, Pakistan -- A NATO helicopter attacked a Pakistani border post near Afghanistan on Thursday, killing three troops, security officials in Pakistan said. Later, government officials said they were ordered to stop trucks carrying supplies for international forces from entering Afghanistan at a major border crossing.
NATO said it was investigating the allegations and whether they were linked to an operation against insurgents in a nearby Afghan province.
The accusations and the fallout are likely to exacerbate tensions between Islamabad and Washington, which is struggling to beat back a resurgent Taliban movement in the 9-year-old Afghan war. Over the weekend, NATO choppers fired on targets in Pakistan, killing several alleged insurgents they had pursued over the border from Afghanistan.
Islamabad protested the intrusion into its territory that has inflamed already pervasive anti-American sentiments among Pakistanis.
On Thursday, two government officials told The Associated Press they were ordered to stop NATO supply trucks from crossing into Afghanistan at the Torkham border post, a major entryway for NATO materials at the edge of the Khyber tribal region. Earlier this week, Pakistan threatened to stop providing protection to NATO convoys if the military alliance's choppers attacked targets inside Pakistan again.
Pakistani security officials differed on the exact location of the deadly airstrike, saying it took place either in Upper Kurram or Upper Orakzai. The remote, mountainous tribal regions neighbor each other. The border between them, as well as the one with Afghanistan, is poorly marked.
Many of the border troops wear uniforms that resemble the traditional Pakistani dress of a long shirt and baggy trousers -- which could make it hard to distinguish them from ordinary citizens or insurgents.
The dead men were from a paramilitary force tasked with safeguarding the border, the Pakistani security officials said. Their bodies were taken to the region's largest town of Parachinar, one official said. Three troops also were wounded.
The Pakistani officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation and because in some cases they were not authorized to release the information to the media.
Lt. Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for intelligence and special operations at NATO headquarters in Kabul, said coalition forces observed early Thursday what they believed were insurgents firing mortars at a coalition base in Dand Wa Patan district of Paktia province in eastern Afghanistan.
"A coalition air weapons team called for fire support and engaged the insurgents," he said. "The air weapons team reported that it did not cross into Pakistani air space and believed the insurgents were located on the Afghan side of the border."
Dorrian said NATO was reviewing the reports to see if the operation in Paktia was related to Pakistan's reports its forces were hit by NATO aircraft.
In June 2008, a U.S. airstrike killed 11 Pakistani troops and frayed the two nations' ties. Pakistan said the soldiers died when U.S. aircraft bombed their border post in the Mohmand tribal region. U.S. officials said their coalition's aircraft dropped bombs during a clash with militants. They expressed regret over the deaths, but said their attack was justified.
Pakistan and the U.S. have a complicated, but vital, relationship, with distrust on both sides.
Polls show many Pakistanis regard the United States as an enemy, and conspiracy theories abound of U.S. troops wanting to attack Pakistan and take over its nuclear weapons. The Pakistani government has to balance its support for the U.S. war in Afghanistan -- and its need for billions in American aid -- with maintaining the support from its own population.
The U.S. and NATO need Islamabad's cooperation in part because they transport supplies through Pakistan to troops inside landlocked Afghanistan. The Pakistani government officials said about 250 vehicles of NATO supplies cross into Afghanistan daily at the Torkham border post.
There were more than 100 NATO vehicles blocked at the checkpoint by Thursday morning, they said.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
...Pakistani officials say the spy chiefs are in frequent contact to coordinate cooperation in targeting al-Qaida and other militant groups.
The officials say such coordination has led to more than a hundred joint raids on militant targets by officers of Pakistan's Inter Service Intelligence and the CIA this year.
What to Do If Hackers Steal Your Online Accountshttp://gadgetwise.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/29/what-to-do-if-hackers-steal-your-online-accounts/
By RIVA RICHMOND
Has your Web-mail or social-network account been hijacked? Join the (miserable) club.
Stolen accounts—caused by aggressive phishing attacks and distribution of malicious programs to collect passwords—have become a plague upon the Web. Spammers want them so their messages can get past spam filters. And crooks, who often lock out the true owners by changing their passwords, use them to find and get inside financial accounts or to impersonate the owners and weasel money out of their friends.
“This is big business. There’s billions of dollars at stake,” says Dan Lewis, senior project manger for Windows Live Hotmail at Microsoft. “There are some really smart criminal organizations doing this.”
It’s not hard to recover an account that a reprobate is co-habiting with you: Simply change your password to lock them out (and scan your PC for malware that might steal your new password). But it’s trickier if someone has taken over your account entirely or the site has temporarily shut you out because they believe your account is compromised. Many people describe long and painful processes to get their accounts back. There’s no phone number to call or human to speak to. You click and hope for the best.
The most common roadblock to quick recovery is trouble proving you are the real account owner, the sites say. Service providers consider the worst outcome to be handing an account to the wrong person. So if you can’t prove it’s yours – maddening as that may be – you will have no choice but to start all over with a new account. Here’s what to do if one of your online accounts is compromised.
Last week, Microsoft quietly undertook an effort to clean out hijackers from Hotmail en masse. It displayed a warning message to people whose accounts it suspected were compromised and required them to reset their passwords, using a method that would be difficult for a scammer’s automated systems to operate. Mr. Lewis said less than 1 percent of accounts were part of the surprise purge—which is nevertheless a big number of accounts, considering Hotmail maintains an estimated 360 million of them.
Account owners had to prove their identities obtaining a code via an alternate e-mail address, by answering a secret question or supplying other personal information. If an account owner was not able to regain gain access using an automated process, they could get help from Hotmail’s online support staff to validate themselves and reset their passwords. Users who can prove they’re the legitimate owner will access in within 24 hours, according to Hotmail.
In a second phase, Hotmail on Monday rolled out features to make account recovery easier in the future. It’s asking users to supply cellphone numbers where Hotmail can text them with an extra security code and to identify the devices they use to access Hotmail—their “trusted PCs”—to help the service know it’s them logging into the account.
If you’re locked out of your Gmail account, click on “Can’t access your account?” at the bottom of the main Gmail sign-in page and on the help page and click the circle beside “My account has been compromised.” Google will ask for secondary e-mail addresses and mobile phone numbers you have supplied previously to validate you are you. If haven’t provided this information, you’ll be asked to fill out a form with a set of questions designed to verify you are the real Google Account owner.
Gmail may show a warning if it suspects your account is being used by someone else and will help you reset your password. And it is increasingly prompting users to provide or update alternate contact information that can speed recovery should you get hacked.
Yahoo Mail users whose accounts have been taken over should visit Yahoo’s help page and click “Security” in the box listing popular Yahoo services. From there, click the “Contact Us” tab at the top and send Yahoo a message using the form at the bottom of the page. An online customer-care agent will help you from there.
If your Facebook account has been hijacked or suspended, visit this help page and submit a report. If the e-mail address tied to your account is in your hands, it will be fairly easy to change your Facebook password and regain your account, Facebook says.
But if your e-mail account has been hacked or your nemesis has changed the e-mail address tied to your Facebook account, you will have to verify your identity by answering certain questions before you can set up a new password and get your account back. (Then avail yourself of new Facebook security features that can help prevent account takeover.)
Twitter users who notice tweets and direct messages from their account that they didn’t send or are following new people they didn’t select should go here and follow the directions to change their password and disconnect from Twitter apps they don’t recognize or trust, which could be the culprits.
Andrew Stephens, of Cirencester, U.K., who is @drhappymac on Twitter, had his account hijacked last week, which was then used to send spammy tweets. Twitter quickly suspended his account, and four days later he got it back. “All in all, I was surprised at just how effective Twitter’s response was. They had my account locked down within minutes and back in my control pretty much as soon as you might reasonably expect,” he says.
If your e-mail address was hacked too, you will need to recover that first and then request a new Twitter password. If you can’t get your e-mail account back or continue to have problems, send Twitter an SOS using this form.
Losing access to accounts like these can be awful. Earlier this month, Jonathan Roniger, a musician in Nashville, was frozen out of Facebook and two e-mail accounts by hackers, who contacted his friends and asked for $1,800, claiming to be destitute in London after getting mugged while on a last-minute vacation. At least one well-meaning friend wired money not once, but twice.
Mr. Roniger wrested control of his Gmail account two days after it was hijacked, only to get locked out again by the hackers. After getting back in, he shut down the account altogether and opened a new one. He still hasn’t regained his Facebook account, which is suspended while he pulls together documents and photos to prove his identity. Mr. Roniger says a well-connected friend got Facebook to lock down the account and “stop the madness,” when he couldn’t figure out how to get it shut down himself. (He could have gone here.)
NBC: 'No U.S. dimension' to Europe terror plot Attacks would have been similar to commando-style raids in Mumbai, Sky News says
NBC: 'No U.S. dimension' to Europe terror plot
Attacks would have been similar to commando-style raids in Mumbai, Sky News sayshttp://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/39413455/ns/world_news-europe/
haaretz:U.S. Jews outraged by Lieberman's UN speech Foreign Minister proposes controversial land swap, says Mideast peace deal could take 'decades'; N
U.S. Jews outraged by Lieberman's UN speech
Foreign Minister proposes controversial land swap, says Mideast peace deal could take 'decades'; Netanyahu says he didn't see speech beforehand, but doesn't reject the idea.http://www.haaretz.com/news/
Many American Jewish leaders fumed Wednesday when Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman proposed "an exchange of populated territory" as part of a Mideast peace deal in a speech before the UN General Assembly in New York.
Lieberman suggested ceding parts of Israel with large Arab populations to a future Palestinian state in exchange for Israel keeping large settlement blocs in the West Bank, a proposal which has been part of his party's platform.
Lieberman also raised the possibility of aiming for a long-term interim agreement with the Palestinians, rather than a final-status one, but warned that this "could take a few decades."
Many Israelis and U.S. Jews were outraged by the foreign minister's speech, and several American Jewish leaders demanded Lieberman's resignation.
"If Lieberman can't keep his personal opinions to himself, he ought to resign from the cabinet," said Seymour Reich, a former president of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.
"Every time Foreign Minister Lieberman voices his skepticism about achieving peace, he undermines Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's credibility," agreed another New York Jewish leader. "Lieberman gives Abu Mazen [Abbas] and the Arab League an opportunity to reinforce their claim that Netanyahu isn't serious."
But Abraham Foxman, the long-time head of the Anti-Defamation League, told Haaretz that Lieberman's positions were not completely at odds with Netanyahu's policy, given the prime minister's stated view that implementation of any peace agreement would have to be spread out over a number of years.
"Lieberman explained that the conflict will not be solved within a year and that implementation of the peace agreement will take generations," Foxman said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had not seen Lieberman's speech in advance - but did not reject his land swap proposal.
The Prime Minister's Office issued a statement on Wednesday stating that "Lieberman's address was not coordinated with the prime minister," adding that "Netanyahu is the one handling the negotiations on Israel's behalf. The various issues surrounding a peace agreement will be discussed and decided only at the negotiating table, and nowhere else."
But sources close to Netanyahu have privately said he doesn't consider Lieberman's views to be illegitimate and does not intend to chastise him for the speech.Meanwhile, Netanyahu is due to meet with U.S. envoy George Mitchell Wednesday morning in an effort to break the impasse over whether to extend the moratorium on settlement construction, which officially expired Sunday. The Obama administration wants Netanyahu to extend the freeze.
haaretz:Israel is proving to the world it is run by a circus Netanyahu invested a great deal of effort in trying to convince world leaders that he is
Israel is proving to the world it is run by a circus
Netanyahu invested a great deal of effort in trying to convince world leaders that he is serious about peace with the Palestinians. And now comes Lieberman, and tells all those leaders that it's all crap.http://www.haaretz.com/print-
Israel showed the international community on Tuesday that the country is ruled by a circus, not a responsible government with a policy. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told the representatives of the world's nations from the UN podium that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is spreading illusions and silly talk about peace. There is no chance for a permanent settlement for a generation, Lieberman said, and it is necessary to "exchange" populated areas and adjust the state to its correct size. Or, in less diplomatic English, the Arab citizens of Israel must be expelled to the Palestinian side of the border.
During the past few weeks, Netanyahu invested a great deal of effort in trying to convince the leaders of the world that he is serious about peace with the Palestinians. He asked them to ignore the resumption of settlement construction, and convinced Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas not to quit the negotiations.
Now comes Lieberman, Israel's most senior diplomat, and tells all those leaders that it's all crap, that Netanyahu is faking. Even worse: the foreign minister is implying that Netanyahu's demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state is merely cover for the expulsion of Arab citizens. A speech by the foreign minister of a country that is given before the United Nations is supposed to reflect the official policy of the government, not just the private views of the chairman of the Yisrael Beiteinu party.
Netanyahu heard the speech and behaved like a weakling. He should have rid the Foreign Ministry of Lieberman a long time ago because of the damage he has caused to Israel's international standing. Netanyahu got the chance Tuesday; Lieberman challenged him and made him out to be a liar, in front of the whole world.
Lieberman was asking to be fired, and what did Netanyahu do? He issued a statement to the press saying he hadn't been shown the speech in advance but failing to criticize its content or style. As such, Netanyahu has suggested that ministers can say whatever they want, and that he does not oppose Lieberman's position.
Ariel Sharon would have immediately dismissed Lieberman and would make him choose whether he is for or against the government. Sharon would have created a political crisis from an advantageous position and forced Lieberman to crawl back and beg for his position, or get out of the coalition. But Netanyahu is not built for such courageous decisions.
The foreign minister made it clear Tuesday that his political partnership with Netanyahu is coming to an end. Lieberman will not back the peace process, which he considers unnecessary and damaging.If Netanyahu is going to be negotiating with Abbas, he will have to replace Lieberman with Tzipi Livni, and Yisrael Beiteinu with Kadima. There is no longer any logic in her staying in opposition now that negotiations with the Palestinians have resumed. Until that happens, the circus continues.
ABCNEWS: 'Credible But Not Specific' Threat of New Terrorist Attack Officials in Europe, US on High Alert for Commando-Style Raids After Capture of Su
'Credible But Not Specific' Threat of New Terrorist Attack
Officials in Europe, US on High Alert for Commando-Style Raids After Capture of Suspected German Terroristhttp://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/
US and European officials said Tuesday they have detected a plot to carry out a major, coordinated series of commando-style terror attacks in Britain, France, Germany and possibly the United States.
A senior US official said that while there is a "credible" threat, no specific time or place is known. President Obama has been briefed about the threat, say senior US officials.
Intelligence and law enforcement authorities in the US and Europe said the threat information is based on the interrogation of a suspected German terrorist allegedly captured on his way to Europe in late summer and now being held at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.
US law enforcement officials say they have been told the terrorists were planning a series of "Mumbai-style" commando raids on what were termed "economic or soft" targets in the countries. Pakistani militants killed 173 people with guns and grenades during the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India.
In testimony before Congress last week, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said, "We are all seeing increased activity by a more diverse set of groups and a more diverse set of threats."
Officials in France have put the country on high alert for a terror attack and authorities in Paris shut down the Eiffel Tower for the second time in two weeks today after what was termed a "false alarm."
No bomb was found but officials in France are taking no chances, given what they believe is a very real threat.
"We currently have reached a spike in the threat of an attack, which is unquestionable," said the head of the French National Police last week. He also said France was at particular risk from al Qaeda's North African affiliate.
The new threat to France, and to Germany and Britain and the U.S., is coming from Pakistan, according to intelligence officials. The captured German reportedly said several teams of attackers, all with European passports, had been trained and dispatched from training camps in Waziristan and Pakistan. Officials say the German claimed the attack plan had been approved by Osama Bin Laden.
US intelligence officials said they believed an attack on American soil was more likely to come from terrorists connected to the al Qaeda group in Yemen, known as AQAP, al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula.
But an official of the New York Police Department said while the most specific information was about Europe, NYPD intelligence officers were following the new information closely. "Nobody here is letting their guard down, the NYPD is watching," the official said.
Germans Training in Al Qaeda-Connected Camps
In the last four years, dozens of German citizens have been recruited to train in al Qaeda-connected camps in Pakistan, according to US and German law enforcement officials. German language jihadi videos on the internet help to attract more trainees.
"Some are German converts, many are Turks, many are Arabs," said Guido Steinberg, a counter-terrorism analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. "Right now we already have the first Afghans and even Iranians in these circles. It's a very mixed bunch of people -- quite international."
"The American authorities are extremely nervous about what is going on, the Germans are extremely nervous about what's going on," said Steinberg.
"The advantage, of course, is the passport," said Steinberg, "because with the German passport it's a lot easier to travel."
Travelers with German passports do not require a visa to enter the United States. Officials now believe at least one team of German jihadists was dispatched to Europe over the summer, travelling on German passports.
Steinberg said that many of the German jihadis who train in Pakistan are killed, "but those who come back are a threat. "And they are a threat not only to Germany," added Steinberg, "but also to our allies and especially the U.S. because they are extremely anti-American."
Steinberg said the Germans were recruited from mosques in Berlin, Bonn and Hamburg, including the same mosque in Hamburg where Mohammed Atta and other 9/11 hijackers gathered. German authorities shut down the Taiba mosque in Hamburg, previously known as the al Quds mosque, in August.
"Young men were being turned into religious fanatics there," said Christoph Ahlhaus, secretary of the interior for the city of Hamburg at the time.
"Hamburg cannot become a cradle for Islamists capable of violence," said Ahlhaus.
Steinberg said it was "quite shocking" that the former al Quds mosque was still producing jihadis. "There is a certain amount of continuity in German jihadism,' said Steinberg.
Drone Strikes Along Pakistan Border
US officials said the CIA has been in frequent touch with European counterterrorism officials since the threat emerged this summer.
The threat may help explain the increase in U.S. air strikes in the mountainous area along the Pakistani and Afghan border.
There have been at least 70 attacks this year alone, with new ones announced each day, as General David Petraeus explained in an interview with Martha Raddatz of ABC News.
"The sanctuaries and safe havens, again, there will have to be more done about them," said Gen. Petraeus. "There were will have to be more pressure on them, no question."
In a statement to ABC News, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper declined to discuss the threat.
"We are not going to comment on specific intelligence, as doing so threatens to undermine intelligence operations that are critical to protecting the U.S. and our allies," said Clapper. "As we have repeatedly said, we know al Qaeda wants to attack Europe and the United States. We continue to work closely with our European allies on the threat from international terrorism, including al Qaeda. Information is routinely shared between the U.S. and our key partners in order to disrupt terrorist plotting, identify and take action against potential operatives, and strengthen our defenses against potential threats."
The FBI declined to comment.
Drones Target Terror Plot
CIA Strikes Intensify in Pakistan Amid Heightened Threats in Europehttp://online.wsj.com/article/
WASHINGTON—In an effort to foil a suspected terrorist plot against European targets, the Central Intelligence Agency has ramped up missile strikes against militants in Pakistan's tribal regions, current and former officials say.
The strikes, launched from unmanned drone aircraft, represent a rare use of the CIA's drone campaign to preempt a possible attack on the West.
The terror plot, which officials have been tracking for weeks, is believed to target multiple countries, including the U.K., France, and Germany, these officials said.
The exact nature of the plot or plots couldn't be learned immediately, and counterterrorism officials in the U.S., Pakistan and Europe are continuing to investigate. There have, however, been multiple terror warnings in recent days in France, Germany and the U.K.
"There are some pretty notable threat streams," said one U.S. military official, who added that the significance of these threats is still being discussed among counterterrorism officials but that threats of this height are unusual.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano plans to discuss the current European terrorism intelligence with her European counterparts at a U.N. aviation security meeting this week in Montreal. "We are in constant contact with our colleagues abroad," she told a Senate panel last week. "We are all seeing increased activity by a more diverse set of groups and a more diverse set of threats. That activity, much of which is Islamist in nature, is directed at the West generally."
The CIA has launched at least 20 drone strikes so far this month in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, a lawless region neighboring Afghanistan. That is the highest monthly total in the past six years, according to a tally by the New America Foundation think tank. The previous monthly high was 12 strikes in January, following the December suicide attack that killed seven CIA agents on an agency base in eastern Afghanistan.
The latest known drone strike occurred Monday, hitting a house in Northwestern Pakistan. Four people were killed in that attack, the Associated Press reported.
Separately, Pakistan on Monday protested NATO helicopter strikes that killed more than 70 militants, saying the attacks breached its air space. NATO said it attacked in self defense. Unlike the CIA drone strikes, manned attacks are rare in the region.
Not all of the drone strikes in the latest wave are connected to the suspected European plot. But many have targeted militants who are part of the Haqqani network, a militant group connected to al Qaeda. The group controls a key region abutting Afghanistan, where U.S. defense and intelligence officials believe Osama bin Laden could be hiding.
Since al Qaeda has been under pressure from the drone campaign and other counterterrorism operations, it has come to rely increasingly on affiliates in the region as well as in countries like Yemen and Somalia. The failed Christmas Day attack on a Detroit-bound Northwest flight, for example, was hatched in Yemen, authorities believe.
Last week, France stepped up its level of vigilance over what was thought could be an imminent al Qaeda threat. Authorities said that they had uncovered a suicide bombing plot to attack the Paris subway linked to al Qaeda's North African affiliate. They said the threat might be connected to France's recent vote to ban the wearing of burqas, the head-to-toe garb worn by the most conservative Muslim women.
Earlier this month, the Eiffel Tower was evacuated due to a bomb scare, but that was determined to be a false alarm.
In recent weeks, intelligence officials in the U.K. have issued warnings that the al Qaeda threat remains high.
While it couldn't be learned who is believed to be behind the plot against European targets, the targeting of the Haqqani network suggests it could be involved.
"There have been some actionable targets, including Haqqani targets, that have presented themselves," said one U.S. military official.
If the Haqqani network were involved in a European terror plot, it would be the first known instance where it sought to launch attacks outside of South Asia, said Bruce Hoffman, a professor at Georgetown University who has written extensively on terrorism. The Haqqani group's involvement would be particularly worrisome, he said, because "you're talking about one of the more skilled and competent groups spreading its wings." The Haqqani network is also believed to have been involved in the December attack on the CIA base.
A U.S. official declined to speak about the strikes this month or a connection to the suspected European plot. The official vowed to continue to keep the pressure on al Qaeda and affiliated militant groups in Pakistan.
"Our operational tempo has been up for a while now, we have good information driving it, and—given the stakes involved—we hope to keep the pressure on as long as we can," the official said. "The mix of threats isn't new. Sometimes it's groups like the Haqqanis, and sometimes it's al Qaeda or the Afghan or Pakistani Taliban."
U.S. officials believe that conducting attacks in an area where militants are present can disrupt planned attacks, even if they do not hit the precise cells plotting the attack.
In advance of the Afghan elections, the military increased both targeted special operations attacks against Taliban leaders, and increased more general operations in areas considered insurgent strongholds, in hopes of making it more difficult for militants to attack polling centers on the day of the election.
While targeting militants involved in planning an attack is the most effective way to disrupt a plot, stepped up operations forces other militants to communicate less and act more carefully, making it more difficult for them to carry out plans.
"The strikes are a product of precise intelligence and precise weapons," the official said. "We've been hitting targets that pose a threat to our troops in Afghanistan and terrorists plotting attacks in South Asia and beyond."
The drone campaign has come under increasing legal pressure in recent months, with civil-liberties and human-rights groups filing suit to press for more transparency about the campaign.
Mayor’s Fall Doesn’t Settle Who Rules in Russiahttp://www.nytimes.com/2010/
MOSCOW — President Dmitri A. Medvedev has long endured questions about whether he truly rules Russia or is merely a figurehead manipulated by Vladimir V. Putin, the former — and possibly future — president. On Tuesday, Mr. Medvedev moved to quiet those doubts by ousting a heavyweight political rival, Moscow’s longtime mayor, who had tried in recent weeks to cast Mr. Medvedev as a weakling unfit to run the Kremlin.
Mr. Medvedev’s decision, perhaps the most consequential of his tenure, seemed intended to make clear to Russia’s political class that he was an assertive leader and a viable candidate for president in 2012. His authority has been increasingly undermined because Mr. Putin has pointedly refused to exclude seeking a return to the presidency himself.
“Today, it looks like Medvedev is finally deploying the powers of his own presidency and, for the first time in two and half years, is demonstrating that he is the one who is the president,” said Leonid Radzikhovsky, a political commentator in Moscow. “This is how it is being perceived around the country. It is also a serious signal about his objectives in 2012.”
But as is often the case in Russia, where top politicians’ intentions are difficult to divine, there is an alternate view of the fallout from the removal of the mayor, Yuri M. Luzhkov. Mr. Medvedev is instead described as having been damaged because it took him too long to dismiss Mr. Luzhkov, who dominated the Moscow government for nearly two decades.
Some politicians have said they suspected that Mr. Medvedev did not act more resolutely because he had to lobby for Mr. Putin’s approval, and Mr. Putin has a better rapport with Mr. Luzhkov.
In other words, in the end, Mr. Putin, the current prime minister, is still the boss.
Leonid Gozman, a leader of the Right Cause, a liberal political party with ties to the Kremlin, said he was struck by the contrast between how Mr. Medvedev and President Obama had handled disparaging comments by subordinates.
Mr. Obama immediately relieved Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of American forces in Afghanistan, of his duties. Mr. Luzhkov, whose remarks about Mr. Medvedev appeared in a newspaper commentary in early September, lingered almost a month.
“One of the theories here — and it is just one of many theories — is that Putin used this to wound Medvedev, so that people would understand that without Putin’s say, nothing happens,” Mr. Gozman said.
In fact, on Tuesday, Mr. Putin did little to quell the speculation about his motives. In comments after Mr. Luzhkov’s dismissal was announced, Mr. Putin praised the mayor before saying that he supported Mr. Medvedev’s decision.
“Yuri Mikhailovich Luzhkov did a lot for the development of Moscow,” Mr. Putin said. He later added, “But it is clear that relations between the mayor of Moscow and the president were not working out.”
Mr. Medvedev, who was on a state visit to China, did not offer any such kind words.
“It is difficult to imagine a situation under which a governor and the president of Russia, as the chief executive, can continue to work together, when the president has lost confidence in the leader of a region,” Mr. Medvedev said. Legally, the Moscow mayor’s position is equal in rank to that of a regional governor.
Mr. Putin, who was barred from running for a third consecutive term as president, has not said whether he will be a candidate in 2012. Both he and Mr. Medvedev have said they will consult about who will run, while indicating that they will not compete against each other.
On Tuesday, Mr. Medvedev appointed a current deputy mayor of Moscow to head the city temporarily while he considers a replacement for Mr. Luzhkov.
Mr. Luzhkov did not immediately issue a statement, but he did send a letter to Mr. Medvedev on Monday night that surfaced in the Russian news media on Tuesday. In the letter, he accused people around Mr. Medvedev of mounting a concerted attempt to defeat him.
“Your administration, on its own or not, has brought this political situation to a deadlock,” Mr. Luzhkov wrote. He added that Mr. Medvedev was being told, “If you don’t fire Luzhkov, you are a weak leader.”
The conflict between the president and mayor was unusual here, because such defiance rarely erupts in public. Mr. Luzhkov had been a towering figure in Russia in the two decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but his criticism of Mr. Medvedev — and his apparent effort to create a rift between Mr. Medvedev and Mr. Putin — rattled the tightly controlled government here. Frictions burst into the open in early September after Mr. Luzhkov published his official commentary suggesting that Mr. Medvedev had dithered over plans for a highway between Moscow and St. Petersburg, and also seeming to call for Mr. Putin to return to the presidency.
At the same time, Mr. Luzhkov was being attacked for staying on vacation in August while Moscow was roasting in a heat wave and choking on smoke from nearby forest and peat fires.
Mr. Luzhkov, 74, a gruff, plain-spoken politician with a fondness for keeping bees and wearing a Soviet worker’s cap, rose to office in 1992 and has spearheaded a makeover of the city that has turned it into a glittering symbol of Russia’s resurgence. Moscow has more than 10 million people, and its lively economy attracts job seekers not only from all over Russia, but from other former Soviet republics as well.
Even so, Mr. Luzhkov has been derided for behaving like an autocrat, muzzling dissent and allowing corruption to flourish. During his tenure, his wife, Yelena Baturina, has obtained much of the construction business in Moscow, becoming one of the world’s richest women in the process.Moscow’s mayoralty was once an elective office, but when Mr. Putin was president he pushed through changes that made it an appointed post — part of his effort to consolidate authority in the Kremlin. The mayor, like other regional leaders, is expected to be a loyalist who staunchly supports the Kremlin and the ruling United Russia party.
Karzai Names Panel for Taliban Talkshttp://www.nytimes.com/2010/
KABUL, Afghanistan — Repeating his determination to find a peaceful solution to the war, President Hamid Karzai named a 70-member peace council on Tuesday, a long-awaited announcement that was the government’s first concrete step to open formal contacts with the Taliban.
The American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, indicated support for the reconciliation process on Monday and said high-level members of the Taliban had already reached out to the government.
But some immediately dismissed Mr. Karzai’s council as unworkable, given that its membership was dominated largely by anti-Taliban figures.
While a handful of influential people from the former Taliban government have been included, the council is heavily weighted with many of the same factional leaders who have dominated the wars and politics of the past 30 years, and who have been fighting the Taliban for half that time.
Mr. Karzai also named at least eight women. Their appointment signaled the government’s intention to preserve the women’s rights guaranteed in the Constitution, but they are unlikely to have any influence with the Taliban.
The government defended the nominations, saying the council needed a broad range of powerful people. The council will have the authority to develop existing contacts and open direct negotiations with the Taliban and other armed foes, said the presidential spokesman, Waheed Omer.
“They will keep the president in the picture — it is his initiative — but they are very powerful people and will proceed as they see fit,” Mr. Omer said. The council will choose its own leader and way of operating. “The structure is such that in many ways they will have the authority and mandate to act,” he said.
Mr. Karzai has been calling for talks with the Taliban for months, and has gradually won the support of the United States and NATO for his plan. People close to the president say he has largely lost confidence in the ability of coalition forces to defeat the insurgency and is tentatively seeking his own course.
The extent of his concern about the failing war effort was displayed on national television on Tuesday when he burst into convulsive sobs during a speech to mark national literacy day at a Kabul high school.
He said he feared that the war would force his 3-year-old son, Mirwais, to leave the country and grow up a refugee. “I want him to go to school here,” Mr. Karzai said. “I swear to God I’m worried, I’m worried, oh people, I’m worried. God forbid Mirwais should be forced to leave Afghanistan,” he said, according to Agence France-Presse.
Supporters of peace talks welcomed the formation of the council as a first step and said it could work despite the preponderance of people opposed to the Taliban.
“These are faces from the jihad, the resistance, and from the Taliban, and they will have to resolve it,” said Hajji Abdul Baqi Raghbat, leader of the tribal affairs department in Kandahar Province, homeland of the Taliban. “These are the most famous people, and if not them, I don’t know who else there is.”
“The most important thing is that there is willingness and freedom from both sides to move towards peace talks,” Hajji Raghbat said. “The Taliban are outside the country, and they have to show their willingness,” he said, a reference to the Taliban leadership who are widely believed to live in Pakistan.
The council members would not do the actual negotiation, but would appoint smaller commissions of neutral mediators to approach the Taliban and bring back their answers, according to a lawmaker, Hajji Musa Khan Hotak, who has long supported talks with the Taliban.
Government officials say there has been an increase in contacts with Taliban members and signals from them since the government held a peace gathering in Kabul in June. A Western diplomat confirmed that some people had approached the government claiming to represent Taliban leaders, but said that it was not yet clear if they were genuine.
Former members of the Taliban government, including Maulavi Arsala Rahmani, who was the Taliban minister of higher education and is now a senator, say that Taliban leaders know that they cannot win the war and that the time is ripe for negotiation. “No one will win this war,” Mr. Rahmani said. “When the Taliban were in power they still could not control the whole country, and they know that.”
Yet others close to members of the Taliban leadership council say their stance remains resolutely opposed to negotiations while they are increasingly confident that the foreign troops will tire and leave in the coming years, handing them a victory.
Some also question whether Mr. Karzai and the people around him are really prepared to make the necessary concessions to make peace with the Taliban. Ministers interviewed in recent months supported the peace process publicly but privately said the Taliban had to be defeated.
Referring to Mr. Karzai, Martine van Bijlert, a director of the independent Afghan Analysts Network, said: “He is not interested in substantial talks. His position towards the Taliban is, ‘You can join me, you can surrender to our side.’ This means there is little appetite to listen to and address some of the real grievances. At the same time there is a real danger that the process will just be a gathering of yet more commanders.”In Ghazni, a province south of Kabul, the deputy governor, Khazim Allayar, was killed by a suicide car bomber on Tuesday, along with four others, the Interior Ministry said.
Generals in Pakistan Push for Shake-Up of Governmenthttp://www.nytimes.com/2010/
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Pakistani military, angered by the inept handling of the country’s devastating floods and alarmed by a collapse of the economy, is pushing for a shake-up of the elected government, and in the longer term, even the removal of President Asif Ali Zardari and his top lieutenants.
The military, preoccupied by a war against militants and reluctant to assume direct responsibility for the economic crisis, has made clear it is not eager to take over the government, as it has many times before, military officials and politicians said.
But the government’s performance since the floods, which have left 20 million people homeless and the nation dependent on handouts from skeptical foreign donors, has laid bare the deep underlying tensions between military and civilian leaders.
American officials, too, say it has left them increasingly disillusioned with Mr. Zardari, a deeply unpopular president who was elected two and a half years ago on a wave of sympathy after the assassination of his wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
In a meeting on Monday that was played on the front page of Pakistan’s newspapers, the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, confronted the president and his prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, over incompetence and corruption in the government.
According to the press and Pakistani officials familiar with the conversation, the general demanded that they dismiss at least some ministers in the oversized 60-member cabinet, many of whom face corruption charges.
The civilian government has so far resisted the general’s demand. But the meeting was widely interpreted by the Pakistani news media, which has grown increasingly hostile to the president, as a rebuke to the civilian politicians and as having pushed the government to the brink.
After the meeting, the president’s office issued a statement, approved by all the men, saying they had agreed “to protect the democratic process and to resolve all issues in accordance with the constitution.”
A Pakistani official close to the president who was familiar with the conversation but did not want to be identified, said, “The president made it clear that he would not leave, come what may.”
“Sanity had prevailed,” the official added.
Since the floods, the government has defended its handling of the crisis, arguing that any government would have been overwhelmed by its scale.
Still, it is clear that General Kayani, head of the country’s most powerful institution, and the one that has taken the lead in the flood crisis, has ratcheted up the pressure on the government.
Having secured an exceptional three-year extension in his post from Mr. Zardari in July, General Kayani appears determined to prevent the economy from bankruptcy. Military officers in the main cities have been talking openly about their contempt for the Zardari government and what they term the economic calamity, an unusual candor, reporters and politicians said.
“The gross economic mismanagement by the government is at the heart of it,” said Rifaat Hussain, a professor and a confidant of the military. “And there is the rising public disaffection with the Pakistani Peoples Party under Zardari and Gilani.”
As the military demands the overhaul, the Supreme Court is also pushing the government on corruption by threatening to remove the president’s immunity from prosecution, a move that would expose him to charges of corruption in an old money-laundering case in Switzerland.
The government has defied the court’s demand to write a letter to the Swiss government requesting a reopening of the case against Mr. Zardari, who served 11 years in prison in Pakistan on unproved corruption charges. On Monday, the court granted an extension of two weeks for the government to reconsider its position.
Much of the rising disdain for the government has to do with the perception among the media and the public of the callous and inept handling of the floods by the nation’s wealthy ruling class.
Mr. Gilani drew public ire for appearing at an ersatz camp for flood victims set up just for television cameras. It also did not help that newspapers reported that scores of cartons from the London luxury store Harrods had arrived at his residence in Lahore at the height of the flooding. Mr. Zardari, meanwhile, was vilified for visiting his chateau in France as torrents of water wiped out millions of villagers in his home province, Sindh.
In his most recent visit to Pakistan, Richard C. Holbrooke, the American special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said the international community could not be expected to provide all the billions of dollars needed to repair the flood damage, a warning interpreted here as a rebuke of the civilian government and its mismanagement.
But Washington, not unlike Pakistan’s military, is caught, American officials say, because there is no appetite for a return of military rule. Nor is there desire to see the opposition politician and former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, resume power.
Mr. Sharif, who has also faced corruption charges during his career, is considered by Washington to be too close to some of Pakistan’s militant groups, whose members vote in Punjab, the Sharif electoral base.
As the head of the of the main opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N, Mr. Sharif is not ready to come to the fore in any case, his aides say, because he does not want to be associated with the paralysis of the current government.
Of mounting concern to the Obama administration is the potential for serious unrest if the economy unspools further: inflation by some predictions will reach 25 percent in the coming period. The price of sugar has tripled, and the cost of flour has doubled since the Zardari government came to power.
In particular, Washington wants the government to raise taxes on the wealthy landed and commercial class, a shortcoming that has become especially galling as Pakistan’s dependence on foreign donors rises.
Pakistan’s revenues from taxes are among the lowest in the world: only 2 million Pakistanis of a population of 170 million pay income tax, according to estimates by the United States.
A report in a leading newspaper, The News, said Monday that Mr. Gilani and 25 of his ministers, including the finance minister, Hafiz Shaikh, did not pay income taxes at all, according to sworn affidavits by the ministers to the Election Commission of Pakistan.
The alarm about the economy was first sounded by Mr. Shaikh, a former officer of the World Bank, who told a meeting of political and military laeders last month that the government had enough money to pay only two months’ salaries. The economy was “teetering on the brink” before the floods but was now heading for the “abyss,” Mr. Shaikh was quoted as saying.
The military officers who attended were astounded, Mr. Hussain and others informed of the meeting said, and have pressed the government for changes, politicians and diplomats said.
As the military maneuvers for change, it is not immune from criticism. Defense spending is budgeted at 13.6 percent of total expenditures in 2011, in line with past yearly expenditures even as the civilian population suffers.The defense budget remains beyond public scrutiny, a fact that increasingly irks the public. “Do we even know how much it costs taxpayers each year to make possible the office, the home, the car fleets, attendants, guest houses and other amenities that are enjoyed by the army chief or even a corps commander?” asked Babar Sattar, a lawyer who often writes about corruption.