Big Brother is watching EU

U.S. Embassy at focus of NSA Germany Spy scandal. Getty

As the US moves towards privacy reform, Europe enacts sweeping new spying powers.

A strange — and strangely unnoticed — trend is emerging in the evolving global response to massive 2013 leaks about US surveillance activities. While our European cousins talk privacy reform, the United States is actually moving ahead with it, albeit more slowly than many would like. As the American side of the Atlantic inches toward self-restraint, many European governments are seeking sweeping new spying powers. Europe is at risk of falling behind the US in privacy reform. 

Following two post-Snowden reviews of US surveillance activities, the United States announced new limitations to its electronic surveillance activities, including additional privacy protections for Europeans and other non-US citizens, which few European countries currently afford Americans. Much-criticized US surveillance activities, including the bulk telephone metadata program, are set to expire in days unless Congress intervenes. Meanwhile, the bipartisan Law Enforcement Access to Data Stored Overseas (LEADS) Act and similar draft laws are moving through Congress and garnering broad support from technology companies, business organizations, and privacy and civil liberties advocacy groups. Continue reading


Threats of terrorism can’t be ignored

Sunday, June 13, 2010, 5:44 AM 


Getty Images

This courtroom drawing shows Mohamed Alessa, 20, and Carlos Almonte, 24, who appeared in U.S. District Court in Newark June 7 on terror conspiracy charges.

If you listen to some legal defense experts, Carlos Eduardo Almonte and Mohamed Mahmood Alessa are just blowhards, a couple of New Jersey numbskulls who let their paintball trash-talking get out of control.

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TEDGlobal: The business of terrorism

Terrorism is extremely expensive, and economist and journalist Loretta Napoleoni found unexpected ways that it drives the world economy

Loretta Napoleoni at TEDGlobal 2009 Credit: TED / James Duncan Davidson

Like the fall of the Roman Empire, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of Communism brought about surge in the shadow economy, what economist and journalist Loretta Napoleoni calls the rogue economics of terror and criminal networks. Continue reading

US, Iran in secret discussions on nuclear program: report

Sun Apr 13, 11:13 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States and Iran have been conducting secret back-channel discussions on Tehran‘s nuclear program and frozen relations between the two countries, The Independent reported Monday.

The British newspaper quotes former US under secretary of state Thomas Pickering as saying that a group of former US diplomats and foreign policy experts had been meeting with Iranian academics and policy advisers “in a lot of different places, although not in the US or Iran” for the past five years.

“Some of the Iranians were connected to official institutions inside Iran,” Pickering told the paper.

Last week, the United States warned Iran it risked further isolation and new international sanctions after refusing to comply with UN Security Council resolutions over its disputed nuclear program.

The West fears Iran could use enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon, and Tehran‘s refusal to suspend the process has been punished with three sets of UN Security Council sanctions resolutions and US pressure on its banking system.

The US government is hoping the sanctions will put increasing popular pressure on the Iranian leadership, with which it does not have diplomatic relations.

The Independent reported that the contact group was put together by the UN Association of the USA and facilitated by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a think-tank chaired by former chief UN weapons inspector Rolf Ekeus.

“We discussed what’s going on domestically in both countries and wide-ranging issues,” The Independent quoted Pickering as saying.

He added that although none of the group members was from the US or Iranian governments, “each side kept their officials informed,” according to the British paper.;_ylt=AsKAIy7RDqMW68hraHMkEIRSw60A

Targeting terror dollars

Targeting terror dollars

By Asa Hutchinson
April 14, 2008

The tragic repercussions of Sept. 11 continue to cascade down to every corner of the country as we continue to strengthen our borders, transportation networks, critical infrastructure and intelligence. As we continue to strengthen our homeland security, though, we cannot fail to shore up our nation’s financial infrastructures.

Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda leaders have repeatedly implored terrorists to hit targets that will adversely impact the American economy. The decision to attack the World Trade Center was meant to send a message regarding our economic security in the same way the decision to hit the Pentagon was meant to send a message about our military security. Consider this: While America was still in shock from the attacks on Sept. 11, the Federal Reserve was forced to spring into action to prevent the disaster from crippling our financial institutions.

Prior to September 2001, our financial system used commercial transportation to move cleared checks across the country from where they were redeemed to where the money was deposited. Immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks, airplanes across the country were grounded, leaving passengers — as well as the shipments of checks representing billions — far from their destinations. While this was certainly a troubling experience for stranded passengers, it also created a liquidity crisis for banks — and for our economy.

It is estimated that for every day the checks sat on the runway after Sept. 11, some $2 billion in funds given out by banks could not be reimbursed by the depositing bank. As a result, the Federal Reserve — as it had done in 1987 — was forced to inject liquidity into the financial system to avoid a total economic collapse.

In response, Congress passed the Check 21 Act in 2004 with the intent for banks to transfer digital images of checks instead of continuing to use the more vulnerable transportation system. Along with modernizing our country’s financial systems, the law increased national security by insulating fund transfers from the catastrophic terrorist attacks witnessed on Sept. 11.

End of story? Not exactly. Now those banks that complied with congressional intent are facing lawsuits from a company claiming that they have infringed on its patents for the electronic transfer of checks. The company, Data Treasury, is suing the banks over alleged patent infringement, creating a roadblock to the implementation by banks of Check 21 and its strong public-policy goals.

Let’s be clear: A company should be compensated for a competitor’s infringement on its patents. The question, however, is whether Data Treasury has valid patents for having laid claim to commonly used processing methods that banks, financial institutions and others had been using for years.

The claim of the patent holder in this case, compared to the national-security needs of the nation, is further undermined when it becomes clear that the company in question neither invents new products nor sells them. To quote the New York Times, this is a company “whose only business, other than one client, appears to be suing other companies.” (“Small Company is Specializing in Suing Banks,” New York Times, Dec. 24, 2004) One issue that rises above the validity of the patents is the role of the federal government in prompting the private sector to take certain actions. When the government dictates to the private sector, inevitably the latter faces certain costs. This is why government interference in the private sector should be done with extreme caution.

In this case, due caution was given, but the enormous responsibility for the safety and security of American citizens outweighed the specific and narrowly tailored costs to the private sector.

To address this unintended obstacle to realizing its intent, the Senate Judiciary Committee introduced bipartisan legislation that passed unanimously last summer. The legislation would protect the financial system, respect legitimate intellectual property rights and prevent frivolous lawsuits by clarifying the regulation for the financial system, for national security purposes, to efficiently process checks and transfer funds.

As patent-reform legislation heads to the full Senate for a vote, it’s critical this legislation be included. Speedy passage will ensure that we close critical gaps in our nation’s financial security that should have been addressed years ago.

Asa Hutchinson, a former undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security, is CEO of the Hutchinson Group and a partner in the Venable law firm.

“Kosova” about to open Pandora’s Box in Balkans

“Kosova” about to open Pandora’s Box in BalkansBy txenos | February 15, 2008

Slowly, inexorably the “international community,” with the US, Britain, Germany, and France in the lead, is about to sanction the secession of the province of Kosovo from the Republic of Serbia and approve an independent “Kosova” (the name the Kosovar Albanian thugs prefer for their rump). “Kosova” will come into being most likely this Sunday, February 17, following years of international “supervision” and administration — which came right after the unprecedented NATO attack upon Serbia in 1999 and the heavy bombing of that country so that the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK), a terrorist organization until 1998 in the books of the US and Western Europe, could complete its scheme of creating its own criminal enclave financed with drug, arms smuggling, and prostitution money. In fact, “Kosova’s” current “prime minister,” Hashim Thaci, a convicted terrorist, was the UCK’s “political leader” during the woodland days, but now has exchanged his fatigues for suit and necktie and likes to romp alongside international officials who address him as “Mr. prime minister.”

“Kosova’s” independence is driven, mainly, by an unusual American hatred toward Serbia and the obvious intent to deliver another stab at Russia, the only major power that has stood by Serbia’s side against secession. In the background, EU powers wring their hands, as usual, and follow the US lead uncritically and mostly blindly. Memory is short in this continent. Few remember that Germany’s precipitous move to recognize the secession of Slovenia and Croatia from the then Yugoslavia in the early 1990s essentially put into motion the events which led to the bloodiest war on European soil since the end of WWII and the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

Greece, inept, confused, and in a stupor, is watching the avalanche without too much interest. “Kosova” independence though should have sent this country’s government agencies and security authorities into battle stations. We tend to forget, for example, that our easternmost provinces near Turkey are populated by Muslims, most of whom claim Turkish ethnicity. We also tend to forget that this minority has never stopped its collusion with Turkish diplomats who are, in reality, active intelligence operatives charged with missions that in another country would have triggered their expulsion and a round of arrests among their local confederates. Furthermore, Greece is already the target of various Albanian irredentists demanding, in effect, most of northwestern Greece as an Albanian possession. Are we all that distant from a “Turkish Republic of Western Thrace” or a revived “Tsamouria?”“Kosova’s” secession won’t go without its ripples. Serbia has already announced it will never recognize this new “state” and will implement a plan to counter it. Russia is standing ready in the background. The US and Europe will rush to offer the rump diplomatic recognition. I wonder though who’s going to deal with the violence that may emerge immediately. Is NATO to send its bombers again to drop a few on Serbia? Greece, of course, will recognize “Kosova” but imagine what would happen if this country displayed some backbone and said “No.” Would we have NATO bombers visiting us over Athens? The way the “alliance” is acting and the way the agenda of the “humanitarian bombers” is taking precedence over all others, the prospect would not be entirely unlikely.