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Daily Archives: December 29, 2013

Steve Keen (Briefly) Explains Why Janet Yellen Won’t See The Next Big One Coming | Zero Hedge

Steve Keen (Briefly) Explains Why Janet Yellen Won’t See The Next Big One Coming | Zero Hedge.

Conventional economic theory says ‘crisis don’t happen’ unless they are hit by an [outside] shock” exclaims Steve Keen, adding that numerous Nobel Prize winning economists have suggested that “capitalism is stable…” and “the problem of avoiding depressions has been solved for many decades.”

But as Keen explains in this brief but extremely succinct interview, they are wrong – and simply won’t (or can’t) see the next one coming. “People in the public think economists are experts on money; but, in fact, they are experts in finding ways not to include money, debt, and banks in their models

And yet, despite their failed forecasts and dismal ‘scientific’ models, we trust they can enter (and exit) the greatest monetary experiment in history with no bad outcome…

 

The NSA’s 50-Page Catalog Of Back Door Penetration Techniques Revealed | Zero Hedge

The NSA’s 50-Page Catalog Of Back Door Penetration Techniques Revealed | Zero Hedge.

While the world may have become habituated to (and perhaps revels in, thank you social media exhibitionist culture) the fact that the NSA is watching anyone and everyone, intercepting, recording, and hacking every electronic exchange regardless if it involves foreign “terrorists” or US housewives, the discoveries from the Snowden whistleblowing campaign continue. The latest revelation from the biggest wholesale spying scandal since Nixon, exposed by Germany’s Spiegel which continues the strategy of revealing Snowden leaks on a staggered, delayed basis, involves a back door access-focused NSA division called ANT, (which supposedly stands for Access Network Technology), described by Spiegel as “master carpenters” for the NSA’s TAO (Tailored Access Operations, read more about TAO here). The ANT people have “burrowed into nearly all the security architecture made by the major players in the industry — including American global market leader Cisco and its Chinese competitor Huawei, but also producers of mass-market goods, such as US computer-maker Dell.” More importantly, thanks to Spiegel (and Snowden of course), the NSA’s 50-page catalog of“backdoor penetration” techniques has been revealed.

The details of how the NSA can surmount any “erected” walls, via Spiegel:

These NSA agents, who specialize in secret back doors, are able to keep an eye on all levels of our digital lives — from computing centers to individual computers, from laptops to mobile phones. For nearly every lock, ANT seems to have a key in its toolbox. And no matter what walls companies erect, the NSA’s specialists seem already to have gotten past them.

This, at least, is the impression gained from flipping through the 50-page document. The list reads like a mail-order catalog, one from which other NSA employees can ordertechnologies from the ANT division for tapping their targets’ data. The catalog even lists the prices for these electronic break-in tools, with costs ranging from free to $250,000.

Nothing quite like an extensive, taxpayer funded catalog listing back-door entry strategy imaginable. Say you wanted to have some backdoor fun with Juniper Networks, the world’s second largest network equipment manufacturer (which claims the performance of the company’s special computers is “unmatched” and their firewalls are the “best-in-class.”)

In the case of Juniper, the name of this particular digital lock pick is “FEEDTROUGH.” This malware burrows into Juniper firewalls and makes it possible to smuggle other NSA programs into mainframe computers. Thanks to FEEDTROUGH, these implants can, by design, even survive “across reboots and software upgrades.” In this way, US government spies can secure themselves a permanent presence in computer networks. The catalog states that FEEDTROUGH “has been deployed on many target platforms.”

It gets better, because when simple penetration is not enough, the NSA adds “implants.”

In cases where TAO’s usual hacking and data-skimming methods don’t suffice, ANT workers step in with their special tools, penetrating networking equipment, monitoring mobile phones and computers and diverting or even modifying data. Such “implants,” as they are referred to in NSA parlance, have played a considerable role in the intelligence agency’s ability to establish a global covert network that operates alongside the Internet.

So what exactly is to be found in the 50-page catalog?

Some of the equipment available is quite inexpensive. A rigged monitor cable that allows “TAO personnel to see what is displayed on the targeted monitor,” for example, is available for just $30. But an “active GSM base station” — a tool that makes it possible to mimic a mobile phone tower and thus monitor cell phones — costs a full $40,000. Computer bugging devices disguised as normal USB plugs, capable of sending and receiving data via radio undetected, are available in packs of 50 for over $1 million.

The ANT division doesn’t just manufacture surveillance hardware. It also develops software for special tasks. The ANT developers have a clear preference for planting their malicious code in so-called BIOS, software located on a computer’s motherboard that is the first thing to load when a computer is turned on.

This has a number of valuable advantages: an infected PC or server appears to be functioning normally, so the infection remains invisible to virus protection and other security programs.And even if the hard drive of an infected computer has been completely erased and a new operating system is installed, the ANT malware can continue to function and ensures that new spyware can once again be loaded onto what is presumed to be a clean computer. The ANT developers call this “Persistence” and believe this approach has provided them with the possibility of permanent access.

Another program attacks the firmware in hard drives manufactured by Western Digital, Seagate, Maxtor and Samsung, all of which, with the exception of latter, are American companies. Here, too, it appears the US intelligence agency is compromising the technology and products of American companies.

Other ANT programs target Internet routers meant for professional use or hardware firewalls intended to protect company networks from online attacks. Many digital attack weapons are “remotely installable” — in other words, over the Internet. Others require a direct attack on an end-user device — an “interdiction,” as it is known in NSA jargon — in order to install malware or bugging equipment.

The conclusion here is an easy one, and one we have repeated ever since before the Snowden revelations: Big Brother is bigger and badder than ever, he knows exactly what you’ve been doing, and the second the NSA wants to nuke your computer out of orbit and/or destroy your digital life, it can do so in a millisecond.  What is more amusing is that with each passing disclosure, it is increasingly clear that the NSA has gotten its inspiration for its dealings with the US public from a Danielle Steel book at best, or a Vivid Video bootlegged tape at worst.

 

Russia Wishes NATO A Happy New Year… As Only Russia Can | Zero Hedge

Russia Wishes NATO A Happy New Year… As Only Russia Can | Zero Hedge.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has sent NATO a rather unusual New Year’s card… picturing Santa alongside a Russian inter-continental ballistic missile.

Life ??????????? ????? ?????? ?? ???? ? ????? ?????!) pic.twitter.com/e3fndoMlHa

— Dmitry Rogozin (@Rogozin) December 28, 2013

Direct from his Twitter account – the Deputy PM literally says “We wish our friends from NATO a Happy New Year

 

French Constituional Court Approves 75% Tax On High Earners | Zero Hedge

French Constituional Court Approves 75% Tax On High Earners | Zero Hedge.

Almost a year ago, the French constitutional court ruled against Francois Hollande’s triumphal blast into socialist wealth redistribution, with his proposed 75% tax rate on high earners, and so indefinitely delayed the exodus of the bulk of French high earners (even if some, like Obelix, aka Gerard Depardieu, promptly made their way to the country that has become the land of solace for all oppressed people everywhere, Russia) into more tax-hospitable  climes. That delay is now over, when earlier today the same court approved a 75% tax on all those earning over €1 million. The proposal passed after the government modified it to make employers liable for the 75% tax. As BBC reports, the levy will last two years, affecting income earned this year and in 2014.

And with the tax passage, the preparations for an exodus by all high earnings begin, first among the local football teams. BBC reports:

Football clubs in France went on strike earlier this year over the issue, saying many of France’s clubs are financially fragile and say the plans could spark an exodus of top players who are paid huge salaries.

 

The Qatari-owned Paris Saint-Germain has more than 10 players whose pay exceeds 1m euros, including the Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

 

There has also been a chorus of protest from businesses and wealthy individuals who have condemned the tax – including film star Gerard Depardieu, who left the country in protest.

 

Polls suggest a large majority in France back the temporary tax.

 

Unlike many other countries in Europe, France aims to bring down its huge public deficit by raising taxes as well as some spending cuts. The highest tax rate in the UK is 45% and is applied to individuals.

While the numerous unintended consequences of this shock and awe tax hike will be amusing to watch in real time as this move will almost certainly be the long-awaited catalyst to push France into its long-predicted recession (to the benefit of countries like Belgium where the French uber-rich are already relocating to), one wonders if the drop in the value of French ultra-high end real estate will be offset by the soaring valuations of London’s already “beyond housing bubble” home prices, and just what the local response will be now that domestic real estate is even more inaccessible to anyone but the wealthiest global oligarchs and billionaires (aside from the capital gains tax of course, which as we wrote previously, is about to be launched first in London, and then everywhere else).

 

Judge Falls for The Big Lie About NSA Spying Washington’s Blog

Judge Falls for The Big Lie About NSA Spying Washington’s Blog.

Even Before 9/11, NSA Knew In Real-Time Which Countries Both Parties to Phone Calls Were In

In finding the NSA’s metadata collection program legal today, Judge William Pauley III ruled:

The September 11th terrorist attacks revealed, in the starkest terms, just how dangerous and interconnected the world is. While Americans depended on technology for the conveniences of modernity, al-Qaeda plotted in a seventh-century milieu to use that technology against us. It was a bold jujitsu. And it succeeded because conventional intelligence gathering could not detect diffuse filaments connecting al-Qaeda.

Prior to the September 11th attacks, the National Security Agency (“NSA”) intercepted seven calls made by hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar, who was living in San Diego, California, to an al-Qaeda safe house in Yemen. The NSA intercepted those calls using overseas signals intelligence capabilities that could not capture al-Mihdhar’s telephone number identifier. Without that identifier, NSA analysts concluded mistakenly that al-Mihdhar was overseas and not in the United States. Telephony metadata would have furnished the missing information and might have permitted the NSA to notify the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) of the fact that al-Mihdhar was calling the Yemeni safe house from inside the United States.

The Government learned from its mistake and adapted to confront a new enemy: a terror network capable of orchestrating attacks across the world. It launched a number of counter-measures, including a bulk telephony metadata collection program—a wide net that could find and isolate gossamer contacts among suspected terrorists in an ocean of seemingly disconnected data.

This blunt tool only works because it collects everything. Such a program, if unchecked, imperils the civil liberties of every citizen. Each time someone in the United States makes or receives a telephone call, the telecommunications provider makes a record of when, and to what telephone number the call was placed, and how long it lasted. The NSA collects that telephony metadata. If plumbed, such data can reveal a rich profile of every individual as well as a comprehensive record of people’s associations with one another.

Judge Pauley is uninformed … and he fell for the “big lie” behind NSA spying.

Bill Binney – the high-level NSA executive who created the agency’s mass surveillance program for digital information, senior technical director within the agency who managed thousands of NSA employees, interviewed by CBSABCCNNNew York TimesUSA TodayFox NewsPBS and many others –  told Washington’s Blog:

[NSA chief Keith] Alexander wants you and everybody (including this clueless judge) to believe that caller ID does not work. First of all, all the calls that are made in the world are routed by machines. And, with machines, you have to tell them exactly what to do. Which means, the routing instructions calling nr and called nr have to be passed through the machines to route the call to get from point A to point B in the world.

So, he is feeding everyone a line of crap. If you buy into this, I have a bridge I would like to sell.

Also, all calls going from one region of the world to another are preceded by 01 or 011 in region “1″ (US/Canada/some islands) or by “00″ in the rest of the world. And that goes both ways on any call.

The Public Switch Telephone Network (PSTN) numbering plan is how we could eliminate all US to US calls right up front and never take them in.

In other words, while Binney headed NSA’s global digital communications gathering efforts prior to 9/11, his team knew in real-time which countries calls were made from and received in.  The NSA is lying if it claims otherwise.

ProPublica notes:

There were plenty of opportunities without having to rely on this metadata system for the FBI and intelligence agencies to have located Mihdhar,” says former Senator Bob Graham, the Florida Democrat who extensively investigated 9/11 aschairman of the Senate’s intelligence committee.

These missed opportunities are described in detail in the joint congressional reportproduced by Graham and his colleagues as well as in the 9/11 Commission report.

***

Mihdhar was on the intelligence community’s radar at least as early as 1999. That’s when the NSA had picked up communications from a “terrorist facility” in the Mideast suggesting that members of an “operational cadre” were planning to travel to Kuala Lumpur in January 2000, according to the commission report. The NSA picked up the first names of the members, including a “Khalid.” The CIA identified him as Khalid al Mihdhar.

The U.S. got photos of those attending the January 2000 meeting in Malaysia, including of Mihdhar, and the CIA also learned that his passport had a visa for travel to the U.S.

***

Using their true namesMihdhar and Hazmi for a time beginning in May 2000 even lived with an active FBI informant in San Diego.

***

Let’s turn to the comments of FBI Director Robert Mueller before the House Judiciary Committee last week.

Mueller noted that intelligence agencies lost track of Mihdhar following the January 2000 Kuala Lumpur meeting but at the same time had identified an “Al Qaida safe house in Yemen.”

He continued: “They understood that that Al Qaida safe house had a telephone number but they could not know who was calling into that particular safe house. We came to find out afterwards that the person who had called into that safe house was al Mihdhar, who was in the United States in San Diego. If we had had this [metadata] program in place at the time we would have been able to identify that particular telephone number in San Diego.”

In turn, the number would have led to Mihdhar and potentially disrupted the plot, Mueller argued.

(Media accounts indicate that the “safe house” was actually the home of Mihdhar’s father-in-law, himself a longtime al Qaida figure, and that the NSA had been intercepting calls to the home for several years.)

The congressional 9/11 report sheds some further light on this episode, though in highly redacted form.

The NSA had in early 2000 analyzed communications between a person named “Khaled” and “a suspected terrorist facility in the Middle East,” according to this account. But, crucially, the intelligence community “did not determine the location from which they had been made.”

In other words, the report suggests, the NSA actually picked up the content of the communications between Mihdhar and the “Yemen safe house” but was not able to figure out who was calling or even the phone number he was calling from.

***

Theories about the metadata program aside, it’s not clear why the NSA couldn’t or didn’t track the originating number of calls to Yemen it was already listening to.

Intelligence historian Matthew Aid, who wrote the 2009 NSA history Secret Sentry, says that the agency would have had both the technical ability and legal authority to determine the San Diego number that Mihdhar was calling from.

Back in 2001 NSA was routinely tracking the identity of both sides of a telephone call,” [9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow] told ProPublica.

***

There’s another wrinkle in the Mihdhar case: In the years after 9/11, media reports also suggested that there were multiple calls that went in the other direction: from the house in Yemen to Mihdhar in San Diego. But the NSA apparently also failed to track where those calls were going.

In 2005, the Los Angeles Times quoted unnamed officials saying the NSA had well-established legal authority before 9/11 to track calls made from the Yemen number to the U.S. In that more targeted scenario, a metadata program vacumming the phone records of all Americans would appear to be unnecessary.

***

Richard Clarke, who was the White House counterterrorism czar beginning in 1998 and through 9/11, told ProPublica that the NSA had both the ability and legal authority to trace calls from Mihdhar to Yemen in 2000.

“….Since they had one end of the calls (the Yemen number), all they had to do was ask for any call connecting to it.”

And see this PBS special, and this ACLU comment.

Indeed, the NSA and other U.S. government agencies had been spying on Midhar for a long time before 9/11.

Initially, an FBI informant hosted and rented a room to Mihdhar and another 9/11 hijacker in 2000.

Investigators for the Congressional Joint Inquiry discovered that an FBI informant had hosted and even rented a room to two hijackers in 2000 and that, when the Inquiry sought to interview the informant, the FBI refused outright, and then hid him in an unknown location, and that a high-level FBI official stated these blocking maneuvers were undertaken under orders from the White House.

As the New York Times notes:

Senator Bob Graham, the Florida Democrat who is a former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, accused the White House on Tuesday of covering up evidence ….The accusation stems from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s refusal to allow investigators for a Congressional inquiry and the independent Sept. 11 commission to interview an informant, Abdussattar Shaikh, who had been the landlord in San Diego of two Sept. 11 hijackers.

Moreover, Wikipedia notes:

Mihdhar was placed on a CIA watchlist on August 21, 2001, and a note was sent on August 23 to the Department of State and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) suggesting that Mihdhar and Hazmi be added to their watchlists.

***

On August 23, the CIA informed the FBI that Mihdhar had obtained a U.S. visain JeddahThe FBI headquarters received a copy of the Visa Express application from the Jeddah embassy on August 24, showing the New YorkMarriott as Mihdhar’s destination.

On August 28, the FBI New York field office requested that a criminal case be opened to determine whether Mihdhar was still in the United States, but the request was refused. The FBI ended up treating Mihdhar as an intelligence case, which meant that the FBI’s criminal investigators could not work on the case, due to the barrier separating intelligence and criminal case operations. An agent in the New York office sent an e-mail to FBI headquarters saying, “Whatever has happened to this, someday someone will die, and the public will not understand why we were not more effective and throwing every resource we had at certain ‘problems.’” The reply from headquarters was, “we [at headquarters] are all frustrated with this issue … [t]hese are the rules. NSLU does not make them up.”

The FBI contacted Marriott on August 30, requesting that they check guest records, and on September 5, they reported that no Marriott hotels had any record of Mihdhar checking in. The day before the attacks, the New York office requested that the Los Angeles FBI office check all local Sheraton Hotels, as well as Lufthansa and United Airlines bookings, because those were the two airlines Mihdhar had used to enter the country. Neither the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network nor the FBI’s Financial Review Group, which have access to credit card and other private financial records, were notified about Mihdhar prior to September 11.

***

Army Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer and Congressman Curt Weldon alleged in 2005 that the Defense Department data mining project Able Danger identified Mihdhar and 3 other 9/11 hijackers as members of an al-Qaeda cell in early 2000.

We reported in 2008:

As leading NSA expert James Bamford – the Washington Investigative Producer for ABC’s World News Tonight with Peter Jennings for almost a decade, winner of a number of journalism awards for coverage national security issues, whose articles have appeared in dozens of publications, including cover stories for the New York Times Magazine, Washington Post Magazine, and the Los Angeles Times Magazine, and the only author to write any books (he wrote 3) on the NSA – reportsthe NSA was also tapping the hijackers’ phone calls inside the U.S.

Specifically, hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi lived in San Diego, California, for 2 years before 9/11. Numerous phone calls between al-Mihdharand Nawaf al-Hazmi in San Diego and a high-level Al Qaeda operations base in Yemen were made in those 2 years.

The NSA had been tapping and eavesdropping on all calls made from that Yemen phone for years. So NSA recorded all of these phone calls.

Indeed, the CIA knew as far back as 1999 that al-Mihdhar was coming to the U.S. Specifically, in 1999, CIA operatives tailing al-Mihdhar in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, obtained a copy of his passport. It contained visas for both Malaysia and the U.S., so they knew it was likely he would go from Kuala Lumpur to America.

NSA veteran Bill Binney previously told Washington’s Blog:

Of course they could have and did have data on hijackers before 9/11. And, Prism did not start until 2007. But they could get the data from the “Upstream” collection. This is the Mark Klein documentation of Narus equipment in the NSA room in San Francisco and probably other places in the lower 48. They did not need Prism to discover that. Prism only suplemented the “Upstream” material starting in 2007 according to the slide.

Details here and here.

Another high-level NSA whistleblower – Thomas Drake – testified in a declaration last year that an NSA pilot program he and Binney directed:

Revealed the extent of the connections that the NSA had within its data prior to the [9/11] attacks. The NSA found the array of potential connections among the data that it already possessed to be potentially embarrassing. To avoid that embarrassment, the NSA suppressed the results of the pilot program. I had been told that the NSA had chosen not to pursue [the program] as one of its methods for combatting terrorism. Instead, the NSA had previously chosen to delegate the development of a new program, named “Trailblazer” to a group of outside contractors.

Moreover, widespread spying on Americans began before 9/11 (confirmed herehereherehere andhere.

And U.S. and allied intelligence heard the 9/11 hijackers plans from their own mouths:

  • The National Security Agency and the FBI were each independently listening in on the phone calls between the supposed mastermind of the attacks and the lead hijacker. Indeed, the FBI built its own antenna in Madagascar specifically to listen in on the mastermind’s phone calls
  • According to various sources, on the day before 9/11, the mastermind told the lead hijacker “tomorrow is zero hour” and gave final approval for the attacks. The NSA intercepted the message that day and the FBI was likely also monitoring the mastermind’s phone calls
  • According to the Sunday Herald, two days before 9/11, Bin Laden called his stepmother and told her “In two days, you’re going to hear big news and you’re not going to hear from me for a while.” U.S. officials later told CNN that “in recent years they’ve been able to monitor some of bin Laden’s telephone communications with his [step]mother. Bin Laden at the time was using a satellite telephone, and the signals were intercepted and sometimes recorded.” Indeed, before 9/11, to impress important visitors, NSA analysts would occasionally play audio tapes of bin Laden talking to his stepmother.
  • And according to CBS News, at 9:53 a.m on 9/11, just 15 minutes after the hijacked plane had hit the Pentagon, “the National Security Agency, which monitors communications worldwide, intercepted a phone call from one of Osama bin Laden’s operatives in Afghanistan to a phone number in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia”, and secretary of Defense Rumsfeld learned about the intercepted phone call in real-time (if the NSA monitored and transcribed phone calls in real-timeon 9/11, that implies that it did so in the months leading up to 9/11 as well)

But even with all of that spying, the government didn’t stop the hijackers … even though 9/11 wasentirely foreseeable.  Moreover, the entire “lone wolf” theory for mass surveillance is false.  In reality, 9/11 was state-backed terror.

As such, blaming 9/11 on a lack of ability of the NSA to spy is wholly false.

As TechDirt notes:

The [court’s] footnote refers to the 9/11 Commission Report whose findings directly contradict this narrative. The problem was not that the information wasn’t there. It was that it wasn’t shared. It was the fact that the CIA lost al-Mihdhar, but rather than issue an alert or place him on a watch list, it chose to do nothing. Many things went wrong, but not having the intel wasn’t the issue.

Indeed, the Boston Bombing proves that mass surveillance isn’t what’s needed.  Even though the allegedBoston bombers’ phones were tapped – and NBC News reports, “under the post-9/11 Patriot Act, the government has been collecting records on every phone call made in the U.S.” – mass surveillance did not stop the other terror attack on U.S. soil since 9/11.

In reality – despite the government continually grasping at straws to justify its massive spying program – top security experts say that mass surveillance of Americans . Indeed, they say that mass spying actually hurts U.S. counter-terror efforts (more here and here).

 

Egyptian military injured in bomb attack – Middle East – Al Jazeera English

Egyptian military injured in bomb attack – Middle East – Al Jazeera English.

A car laden with 20kg of explosives was detonated remotely near the entrance to the military building [Reuters]
At least four people have been injured in an explosion near the military intelligence building in Sharqiya, in Egypt’s Nile Delta, the third bombing on the mainland in less than a week.Three men left a car laden with 20kg of explosives by the entrance to the building on Sunday morning, and detonated it from a distance with a remote control, according to an Egyptian army spokesperson. The military is conducting a search of the the area for the assailants.

Colonel Ahmed Ali, a spokesman for the army, said the intelligence building was partly damaged by the blast. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Attacks on police and military installations have become a regular occurrence in Egypt.

On Tuesday, a powerful car bomb exploded near a police station in Mansoura, another city in the Delta, killing 14 people and injuring more than 150 others. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, a Sinai-based group, claimed responsibility for the bombing in a statement posted online.

But the army-backed interim cabinet nonetheless blamed the Muslim Brotherhood, and the next day designated the Brotherhood as a “terrorist organisation.”

Hundreds of members have been arrested over the past few days for staging protests, and there were reports in local newspapers on Sunday that some of the group’s remaining leadership had fled the country.

On Thursday, a homemade bomb exploded near a bus in Cairo, injuring five passengers. Police said they defused two other bombs planted in the same area. It was one of the first attacks in Cairo that targeted civilians.

Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has staged hundreds of attacks against police and soldiers on the Sinai peninsula, but it has recently carried out several high-profile bombings on the mainland.

The group claimed credit for a September assassination attempt on the interior minister in Cairo.

 

Caught On Tape: Suicide Bombing In Russia’s Fifth Largest Train Station Kills 15, One Month Ahead Of Sochi Games | Zero Hedge

Caught On Tape: Suicide Bombing In Russia’s Fifth Largest Train Station Kills 15, One Month Ahead Of Sochi Games | Zero Hedge.

Two months ago, we reported when a female suicide bomber detonated a bomb in a bus in the Russian city of Volgograd, located 400 miles northeast of Sochi where the winter Olympic games begin in just over a month.

The explosion was caught on dashcam (the video can be seen here). But more than a mere isolated terrorist incident in a region of Russia which has historically been rife with conflict between Russia and Chechen separatists, this explosion, which took place just after Russia managed to impose its will in the Syrian conflict’s outcome, and left Saudi (and Israeli) relations with the US in tatters, we reminded readers just who is the invisible hand behind all terrorist activities in proximity to Sochi: Saudi Arabia.

Recall from our commentary on the October Volgograd explosion:

Disturbing as this video is, we believe it is only going to get worse as the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics approach. Recall from “Meet Saudi Arabia’s Bandar bin Sultan: The Puppetmaster Behind The Syrian War“:

Bandar told Putin, “…The terrorist threat is growing in light of the phenomena spawned by the Arab Spring. We have lost some regimes. And what we got in return were terrorist experiences, as evidenced by the experience of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the extremist groups in Libya…. As an example, I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics in the city of Sochi on the Black Sea next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us…

Was today’s terrorist explosion just a warning shot ultimately funded and organized by none other than the biggest loser from the Syrian detente: Saudi Arabia, because recall that it was Saudi Arabia which orchestrated the near-US invasion after playing Obama and Kerry like a fiddle, in hopes of getting the natgas pipeline under Syria. Following the Putin-brokered peace plan, Saudi will now have to wait at least one more year before re-escalating tensions in the Syria region with hopes of installing its own puppet regime.  In the meantime, is Saudi now openly lashing out at the one country that made this delay a reality. And if so, when, where and how will Putin retaliate against the country that serves as the anchor of the petrodollar system? We look forward to finding out.  

It’s two months later and if indeed Bandar bin Sultan is in funding and enabling the local terrorists, then Saudi Arabia is increasingly demonstrating its displeasure with Russia, and furthermore, sending a warning to the world that the Sochi games may be hazardous to one’s health. Overnight, another almost identical explosion rocked Volgograd, when a female suicide bomber set off a bomb in one of the five largest train stations in Russia in what is a clear warning to Russia as the Winter Olympics approach.

This is what happened earlier today:

A suicide bombing has killed at least 14 people and injured over 40 in the southern Russian city of Volgograd, raising concerns about terrorism just over a month before Russia hosts the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. The train station attacked today is one of the five largest in Russia
and is a major transit point for much of southern Russia
. It was unclear
whether the train station was the woman’s intended target or whether
she planned to travel elsewhere to carry out an attack. 

A female bomber carried out the blast in a Volgograd train station, 400 miles from the site of the upcoming Olympics in the Russian resort town of Sochi, Russian authorities said. The Sochi 2014 Olympic Games are scheduled to begin on Feb. 7. A total of 33 people were hospitalized, with eight in serious condition and one in “extremely serious condition,” Oleg Solagai, a spokesman for the Russian health ministry, told Russian news agency Rossiya24.

Authorities in Volgograd said the attack left 27 people seriously injured, and that the death toll may increase. A police officer was among the dead, and a nine-year-old girl was injured, authorities said.

A severed head found at the site of the bombing is suspected to be that of the woman who carried out the attack, making it “possible to identify her,” a Volgograd law enforcement source told the Russian news agency Interfax. Investigators have reason to believe the woman came from Russia’s Dagestan region, the source told the agency. 

The bombing took place in the same city where another female suicide bomber was blamed for an attack an October bus attack that killed seven people, including the bomber.  Like the October bomb attack, today’s blast was caught on camera. Surveillance video showed the exact moment the explosion took place, just inside an entranceway to the train station.

Volgograd reeled from the attack just before the New Year’s celebrations, a major holiday in Russia that would have likely meant a high amount of traffic was passing through the train station today. Yulia Chemova with Volunteers of Russia, who was at the railway station minutes after the attack to help out, told ABC News she believed the attack was planned around the New Year holiday.

“The timing for the terrorist attack in Volgograd is perfect,” she said. “It’s holiday season; airports and train stations are packed at this time of year.”

There have been 32 terrorist attacks in Russia in the year ahead of Sochi 2014, according to Kavkazskiyuzel, a Russian think tank.

The power of today’s explosion was equivalent to at least 22 pounds of TNT, and police officers averted a much larger tragedy by stopping the woman right at the entrance to the train station, according to a committee investigating the attack. Had she made it inside, a spokesman for the committee said, casualties could have reached the hundreds. Russia’s interior ministry said it would deploy more police at all rail stations in Russia and that passengers would be subject to strict security measures.

Today’s attack bore some similarities to the October bus bombing, which authorities said was also carried out by a woman from Dagestan. Russia has for years been fighting an Islamist insurgency in the North Caucasus, a region that encompasses the restive Russian regions of Chechnya and Dagestan, as well as the Olympic host city, Sochi.

Suicide bombers, often female, from Chechnya or Dagestan and sometimes known as “black widows,” have carried out many attacks on Russian targets in the past decade, including the dual bombing of the Moscow subway in 2010 that claimed 39 lives. Female bombers from the Caucasus were also blamed for the simultaneous bombing of two Russian airplanes in 2004, an attack that killed 90 people.

And, as noted, the explosion was caught on video and can be seen below:

So, like before, if Saudi Arabia is doing its best to poke Vladimir Putin with ever escalating provocations, how long until the former KGB spy retaliates?

 

‘Liberal media’ a fundraising fiction

‘Liberal media’ a fundraising fiction.

Blaming someone for your troubles is often easier than facing the truth about yourself, and the federal Conservatives are apparently no exception.

The Citizen reported this week that the Conservative party sent fundraising solicitations to supporters saying the media have somehow teamed up with the opposition to undermine the Conservative agenda — and the Tories need to fight back.

“Here’s the bad news — the Liberal fundraising machine is in overdrive, and we need to keep up,” party president John Walsh said in an email to the faithful.

“We can’t let the Liberal attacks and the media stop us from reaching our goal.”

Using the media as the bogeyman to raise money apparently works, and Walsh’s email echoes one sent in November by Justice Minister Peter MacKay to rouse the party’s base against Justin Trudeau’s stand on legalizing marijuana.

“We need your financial support so we can fight back against Trudeau and his allies in the media — who are still making excuses for his mistakes,” MacKay pleaded.

These follow several attacks on the media by assorted Conservatives, including former Conservative Senate leader Marjory LeBreton, who noted that Ottawa is “populated by Liberal elites and their media lickspittles tut-tutting about our government …”

The notion that the media are in cahoots with the Liberals to somehow thwart Conservatives may work as a fundraiser, but it is not borne out by the facts, considering that this same media overwhelmingly backed Stephen Harper and the Conservative party in every election since 2006. In the three successive elections that the Conservative party won — 2006, 2008 and 2011 — the major Canadian newspapers, with only one exception, endorsed the Conservative party.

The Calgary Herald, Harper’s hometown newspaper, no surprise, endorsed the Conservative party in all three elections, asking Canadians in 2011 to “return the Conservatives with a majority, because their record and their platform make them the best choice for the country by far.” The Vancouver Sun was similarly inclined, picking Harper in 2006 to “clean up Ottawa,” and tipping him in 2008 as the “choice for the rough road,” and giving him the thumbs up again in 2011. Other papers such as the Vancouver Province, Winnipeg Free Press and the Edmonton Journal also wrote editorials backing Harper. But these are western newspapers, and one would expect them to back the hometown boy. What about the central Canada newspapers?

Let’s start with the Citizen. In a 2006 editorial endorsing Harper, the paper noted that “the Conservative moment has arrived.” Two years later, the paper again endorsed Harper, saying that he offered “the steadiest hand and the clearest judgment.” In 2011, when many in the country were worried about giving Harper a majority, the Citizen had no qualms, arguing that Harper deserved that majority. In the three elections, the National Post, a stable mate of the Citizen, also endorsed Harper and the Conservatives, stating in a 2008 editorial that Harper was “the best choice for the country,” and declaring two years ago that he was “the clear choice in uncertain times.”

And the Globe and Mail? The paper endorsed Harper in 2006, and in the next election backed him again, saying he was “growing into the job,” and was the “best man for the job.” In 2011, the paper picked Harper once more, saying the Liberals had failed to show how the Conservative government had failed, and why they should be the alternative. It was the same with the Montreal Gazette, which called the Conservatives “our best bet,” in backing them in 2008, and then asked Canadians to give the party a “stable majority government” in the election that followed.

Of the major newspapers in the country, the only one to buck the trend and not back the Conservative party is the Toronto Star, which endorsed the Liberals in 2006, saying their program was “best for Canada,” and stayed the course in 2008. But in 2011, the paper shifted allegiance to the New Democrats, saying the Liberals had not made a “persuasive case” to be considered the alternative to the Conservative party.

The record shows that, far from ganging up against the Conservative government, it can be said that Canadian media are actually supportive of the party and its leader. How else would one explain their overwhelming endorsement of Harper and his party in three successive elections? Which brings us to the next question: If the Conservatives have enjoyed this kind of backing from the media, why have they turned on them?

One answer is that beating up on the media raises money. Another is that the party resents criticism, and the fact that journalists were instrumental in exposing much wrongdoing this year, makes them enemies. But here’s the thing: There is division of labour in a democracy. The government governs. Parliament makes laws. The courts ensure the laws and policies are fair and just. And the media stand on guard, keeping a watchful eye on the other branches so the people’s work is done, and hold politicians accountable as they should. That’s how a democracy works, and we all better get used to it.

Mohammed Adam is a member of the Citizen’s editorial board.

 

Mortgage rise will plunge a million homeowners into ‘perilous debt’ | Money | The Observer

Mortgage rise will plunge a million homeowners into ‘perilous debt’ | Money | The Observer.

Oxford Street shopping

Around 13 million people paid for their Christmas by borrowing. Photograph: Paul Brown/Rex Features

More than a million homeowners will be at risk of defaulting on their mortgages and losing their properties in the wake of even a small rise ininterest rates, a bombshell analysis reveals. Borrowers who have failed to pay down their mortgages when interest rates have been at record low levels now face being overwhelmed by “perilous levels of debt” when the inevitable hike comes.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, warned of a “financial ticking timebomb”: “The rising cost of energy, food and travel has been absorbing any spare income people may have. This means that in some cases there is little or nothing left to cope with larger mortgage repayments.”

According to a new report from an influential thinktank, the Resolution Foundation, even in the most optimistic scenario – in which interest rates rise slowly to 3% by 2018 and economic growth is strong and well-distributed between the rich and poor – 1.12 million homeowners will be spending more than half of their take-home pay on mortgage repayments – this is a widely accepted indicator of over-indebtedness.

If the Bank of England were to raise interest rates more quickly, to 5% by 2018, and growth continues to be slow, around two million households would be plunged into financial trouble – and around half of these would be families with children.

The thinktank’s analysis, based on official Office for Budget Responsibility projections, warns: “Far from being resolved, Britain’s personal debt problem remains a cause for real concern. While record low interest rates have reduced current repayment costs, fewer people than we hoped have used this breathing space to pay off their debts.

“When rates go up, the number in ‘debt peril’ could increase to anywhere between 1.1 million and two million, depending on the speed at which borrowing costs rise and the nature of the economic recovery.”

The warning comes as a survey carried out by Which? reveals that rather than paying off their debts, around 13 million people (25%) paid for their Christmas by borrowing. Overall, more than four in 10 (42%) used credit cards, loans or overdrafts to fund their spending over the festive period, which suggests that Britons have not shed their addiction to debt.

The governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has said he will look at raising the Bank of England base rate, to which lenders hook their mortgages, when unemployment has fallen to 7%.

A recent surge in job creation saw unemployment drop to 7.4% in December, raising expectations that an increase in the Bank’s base rate will come in 2015, and have an impact on lenders’ rates this coming year.

The markets believe the base rate will increase to 3% by 2018, with what the Resolution Foundation describes as “huge social and human cost”. However, the thinktank warns that a hike of just 1 percentage point more than that, to 4% by 2018, would lead to 1.4 million homeowners facing severe financial pressure.

If interest rates rise by two percentage points beyond market expectations – to 5%, still 0.5% below the 2007 base rate – the number of people in substantial and perilous debt would rise to 1.7 million – or as many as 2 million if economic growth continues to be sluggish.

The analysis finds that while people across the social spectrum could be in trouble, lower-income households “look particularly vulnerable”, with one in five of those with debt being in danger.

The thinktank says that while it does not follow that all households in “debt peril” will default on their mortgages, those spending more than half of their income on debt repayments will find their financial position increasingly difficult to sustain.

Matthew Whittaker, senior economist at the Resolution Foundation, said ministers should consider “locking in” cheap credit for those who are heavily indebted. He added:”Even if we take a somewhat rosy view of how the economy will develop over the next few years, the number of households severely exposed to debt looks as though it will double.

“But the levels of debt built up by families in the pre-crisis years are such that even relatively modest changes in incomes and borrowing cost assumptions produce significantly worse outcomes.

“This is an alarming prospect, where a large number of families find themselves struggling with heavy debt commitments, especially among the households who are already among the worst-off. As the Bank of England has acknowledged, even small increases in the cost of borrowing could push a significant number of families over the edge and it is most likely to happen to those with the lowest incomes – who are already spending the biggest share of their budget on mortgage repayments.

“Rather than waiting for a repayment crisis to strike, policymakers and lenders should seriously consider acting now while there’s still the chance to help people reduce their exposure to debt.”

The number of repossessions has been dropping for years, with 30,000 expected by the end of this year, down from 75,500 during the 1991 recession.

Yet one in six households are currently mortgaged to the hilt, servicing home loans that are at least four times the size of their annual salary, in further evidence of the intense vulnerability of many homeowners to rate hikes.

 

Russia train station bombing kills 13 as Olympics near – World – CBC News

Russia train station bombing kills 13 as Olympics near – World – CBC News.

A female suicide bomber blew herself up in the entrance hall of a Russian train station on Sunday, killing at least 13 people in the second deadly attack in the space of three days as the country prepares to host the Winter Olympics.

The state Investigative Committee said the bomber detonated her explosives in front of a metal detector just inside the main entrance of Volgograd station. Footage shown on TV showed a massive orange fireball filling the hall and smoke billowing out through shattered windows.

“People were lying on the ground, screaming and asking for help,” a witness, Alexander Koblyakov, told Rossiya-24 TV.

A spokesman for Russian investigators said at least 13 people died, although the regional governor put the toll at 15.

President Vladimir Putin ordered law enforcement agencies to take all necessary measures to ensure security, RIA news agency quoted his spokesman as saying. A federal police spokesman, Vladimir Kolesnikov, said security would be stepped up at train stations and airports.

Russian Heath Ministry spokesman Oleg Salagai said 42 people were wounded and that some would be flown to Moscow for treatment.

Volgograd is a city of around 1 million people, about 690 km northeast of Sochi, where the Winter Olympics — a major prestige project for Putin — will open on Feb. 7.

Formerly known as Stalingrad, it lies close to Russia’s North Caucasus, a strip of mostly Muslim provinces plagued by near-daily violence in a long-running Islamist insurgency.

Insurgent leader Doku Umarov, a Chechen warlord, urged militants in a video posted online in July to use “maximum force” to prevent Putin staging the Olympics.

An attack by a female suicide bomber killed seven people in Volgograd on Oct. 21. On Friday, a car bomb killed three people in the southern Russian city of Pyatigorsk, 270 km east of Sochi.

The station was busier than usual, with people travelling home for the New Year holidays. TV footage showed emergency services carrying out victims, with at least one body lying motionless on the ground.

Another witness, Vladimir, said: “I saw melted, twisted bits of metal, broken glass and bodies lying on the street.”

Sunday’s attack was the deadliest to strike Russia’s heartland since January 2011, when Islamist insurgents killed 37 people at a Moscow airport.

 

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