Friday, February 03, 2006

GS(3) Intelligence Briefing (2-4-06)

NOTE: GS(3) Intelligence Briefing is posted on a bi-weekly basis. As circumstances dictate, we may post special editions. The Briefing is organized into five sections: Europe, Middle East and Africa, Asia Pacific, Americas, Global and Cyberspace. Each issue provides insight on terrorism, cyber crime, climate change, health emergencies, natural disasters and other threats, as well as recommendations on what actions your organizations should take to mitigate risks. “Words of Power" commentary is also posted on a bi-weekly basis. This commentary explores a range of issues in the interdependent realms of security, sustainability and spirit.

This issue of GS(3) Intelligence Briefing contains excerpts from news items that deserve your attention. Here is a summary of each of the five sub-sections. The excerpts with links to full text follow below.
Europe, Middle East & Africa:
Two items on disturbing trends in the former Soviet Union, i.e., the undoing of democratic advances initiated by Gorbachev and Yeltsin and the use of energy resources as a geopolitical and economic weapon, which have profound implications.
Asia Pacific: The results of three studies, two on the impact of the Indian Ocean tsunami and earthquake, e.g., “many of the most vulnerable survivors are plagued by discrimination in aid distribution, forced relocation and violence against women,” and one on “Global Employment Trends," which documents “the vast growing legion of jobless youth.”
Americas: More evidence of the Bush administration’s unconscionable negligence before, during and after Hurricane Katrina, and further insight into the escalating tensions between the U.S. and Venezuela.
Global: Updates on global warming, which requires immediate, concerted action of all the world’s governments (not going to happen), and bird flu, which has caused the death of at least one person in Iraq as it spreads in Kurdish areas (although remarkably unreported in the US mainstream news media).
Cyberspace: Three items concerning the struggle to preserve the freedom and integrity of the Internet, which is perhaps the second most important issue confronting humanity as a whole (global warming being paramount).
This week, I have also issued a “GS(3) Intelligence Supplement: Iran, Hamas, Islamic Fundamentalism, Terrorism, Geopolitical Hegemony, The Great Game and Danish Cartoonists” as a separate post.
Remember, is also a searchable database. It is meant to accelerate, intensity and enrich your online research.

Europe, Middle East & Africa

In a confluence of circumstances that cannot be totally fortuitous, Russian authorities publicize an espionage affair involving Britons posted to Moscow and non-governmental organizations at the very moment when Vladimir Putin is signing a law restricting those NGOs' freedom of action. Whatever the truth of the acts impugned to Her Majesty's diplomats, the link is a little bit crude and obvious. For the Kremlin, it is a matter of discrediting Russian NGOs, which attempt make human rights respected in a country that has never had much use for them. Fifteen years after the fall of communism, the legal system remains at the command of the political power and the police. The few democratic advances that took place at the end of Mikhail Gorbachev's presidency and under the reign of Boris Yeltsin during the 1990s have, little by little, been eaten away. Mr. Putin has used the "terrorist threat" - the war in Chechnya - and the public's indignation over the shameless enrichment of the Oligarchs, who underhandedly grabbed Russia's natural resources - to re-establish an authoritarian regime. The elections have been manipulated to practically eliminate any opposition from the Duma (Parliament). Elected regional governors have been replaced by men named by the Kremlin. Critical television shows have been taken off the air, one after another, while groups close to power have taken back control of the written press.
Russian Restoration, Le Monde, 1-24-06

A pitched row erupted between Georgia and Russia on Sunday after explosions in southern Russia hit a pipeline and an electricity transmission tower, cutting off the supply of natural gas and reducing electricity supplies to Georgia as temperatures plunged in the country. Georgia, which has a poorly functioning electrical grid, uses natural gas to heat homes and power some industries. "The situation is very difficult. We have enough gas for just one day," said Teona Doliashvili, a spokeswoman for the Energy Ministry. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili accused Russia of being behind the explosions to punish his country, presumably for its pro-Western policies. The Russian Foreign Ministry, in response, said the allegation was "an instance of hysteria and bacchanalia."
….The dispute follows a diplomatic standoff between Ukraine and Russia over the price of natural gas, which led the Russian energy company…Gazprom, which is state-controlled, to cut off supplies to Ukraine. Supplies were restored after the Russian move also led to reductions in the amount of gas reaching countries farther west.
Peter Finn, Explosions in Russia Cut Energy to Georgia, Washington Post, 1-23-06

Asia Pacific

More than a year after the tsunami in Asia, many of the most vulnerable survivors are plagued by discrimination in aid distribution, forced relocation and violence against women, a report said…Within the countries -- Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and the Maldives -- some of the most vulnerable groups are women, children and ethnic minorities, the report said. Those in poor neighbourhoods consistently bear the largest burden, it said. “Nature treated (the citizens of these countries) equally, but their governments are not treating them equally," said Ramesh Singh, chief executive of ActionAid International, one of the groups that compiled the report. About 215,000 people died in the tsunami and millions of others in the region lost their homes, health care and livelihood. Field research involving more than 50,000 survivors found widespread instances of land grabbing to serve commercial interests, shoddy construction in government-sponsored housing projects, uneven distribution of aid packages among devastated industries, and a host of other violations, the report said. Women also continue to suffer because of their gender, the report said.
Tsunami-hit face human rights violations: Report, Press of India, 2-2-06

Conflict and “un-natural” disasters have taken a heavy toll in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, yet new analysis from the Worldwatch Institute shows important lessons can be learned from the countries’ differing responses to these difficult circumstances. In Indonesia’s Aceh province, the December 2004 tsunami killed some 170,000 people, more than ten times as many as perished in Aceh’s 29-year war for independence. The disaster convinced the government and rebels that peace was indispensable for rebuilding. But in Sri Lanka, where the toll of the 1983-2002 civil war far surpassed the number of tsunami victims, bickering over tsunami aid reinforced ethnic and political divisions that may lead to resumed conflict. “While grim in its origin, post-disaster humanitarian action can be a powerful catalyst for overcoming deep human divides,” says Michael Renner, Senior Researcher and Director of the Institute's Global Security Project. “But humanitarian impulses must be translated into tangible political change, or else lasting peace may not be achieved.” Renner recently returned from a fact-finding mission to Aceh, where he observed unexpectedly positive developments in the current peace process. But Renner cautions that the world community needs to keep close watch on this process to prevent backsliding and to reinvigorate a sluggish reconstruction effort that could become, in itself, a cause for resentment and new conflict… “The global toll from disasters has climbed significantly over the past twenty years,” explains Worldwatch Staff Researcher ZoĆ« Chafe, co-contributor to the project. In 2005, nearly 125 million people were injured, lost their home, or required other immediate assistance as a result of disasters. Over 100,000 lives were lost, in addition to the 230,000 people killed by the tsunami at the end of 2004. Total economic damages in 2005 reached a record $200 billion, including $125 billion in losses from Hurricane Katrina alone. The single greatest human toll followed the October earthquake in Pakistan and India, a disaster that continues to claim lives as survivors face harsh winter conditions.
Rising Toll From Disasters Underscores Need For Humanitarian, Political Action, Worldwatch Institute, 1-24-06

The number of people unemployed worldwide climbed to new heights in 2005, as robust economic growth failed to offset an increase in people seeking work – especially among the vast and growing legion of jobless youth, the International Labour Office (ILO) said in its annual Global Employment Trends released today…The ILO trends report showed that despite 4.3 per cent global GDP growth in 2005, only 14.5 million of the world’s more than 500 million extreme working poor were able to rise above the US$1 per day, per person poverty line.  In addition, in 2005, of the more than 2.8 billion workers in the world, 1.4 billion still did not earn enough to lift themselves and their families above the US$2 a day poverty line – just as many as 10 years ago, the ILO said.  “This year’s report shows once again that economic growth alone isn’t adequately addressing global employment needs. This is holding back poverty reduction in many countries,” said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. “We are facing a global jobs crisis of mammoth proportions, and a deficit in decent work that isn’t going to go away by itself. We need new policies and practices to address these issues.”…. According to the report, the impact of high energy costs on poverty and employment varied by region. In Asia – a region well on track to attaining the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving-poverty by 2015 – the impact will only become considerable if higher energy costs are sustained. In Sub-Saharan Africa – a region that is already off-track regarding the poverty MDG – the likely short-term impacts of higher energy costs are considerable and, in the long run, could dampen the hopeful signs some countries have seen recently.
Global unemployment grows, youth affected badly: ILO, ILO News,


In the 48 hours before Hurricane Katrina hit, the White House received detailed warnings about the storm's likely impact, including eerily prescient predictions of breached levees, massive flooding, and major losses of life and property, documents show. A 41-page assessment by the Department of Homeland Security's National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center (NISAC), was delivered by e-mail to the White House's "situation room," the nerve center where crises are handled, at 1:47 a.m. on Aug. 29, the day the storm hit…The NISAC paper warned that a storm of Katrina's size would "likely lead to severe flooding and/or levee breaching" and specifically noted the potential for levee failures along Lake Pontchartrain. It predicted economic losses in the tens of billions of dollars, including damage to public utilities and industry that would take years to fully repair. Initial response and rescue operations would be hampered by disruption of telecommunications networks and the loss of power to fire, police and emergency workers, it said. In a second document, also obtained by The Washington Post, a computer slide presentation by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, prepared for a 9 a.m. meeting on Aug. 27, two days before Katrina made landfall, compared Katrina's likely impact to that of "Hurricane Pam," a fictional Category 3 storm used in a series of FEMA disaster-preparedness exercises simulating the effects of a major hurricane striking New Orleans. But Katrina, the report warned, could be worse…President Bush, in a televised interview three days after Katrina hit, suggested that the scale of the flooding in New Orleans was unexpected. "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did anticipate a serious storm," Bush said in a Sept. 1 interview on ABC's "Good Morning America."
Joby Warrick, White House Got Early Warning on Katrina, Washington Post, 1-24-06

Despite plenty of advance disaster warning and decade-old recommendations on preparedness, the federal government failed to exercise adequate leadership in response to Hurricane Katrina and was slow to determine the scope of the catastrophe, the Government Accountability Office reported today. In a preliminary report submitted to a House committee investigating the hurricane response, Comptroller General David M. Walker pointed to a failure of federal leadership as Katrina bore down on the Gulf Coast last year, with neither Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff nor any of his deputies stepping in to lead the relief effort. The GAO chief indicated that national response planning for major disasters continues to be plagued by "weaknesses."…

William Branigin, GAO Faults Federal Government for Katrina Response, Washington Post, 2-1-06

Latin American television station Telesur, backed by the Venezuelan government, has signed a cooperation deal with pan-Arab network al-Jazeera. Under the accord, the two networks will share content as well as jounalistic and technical expertise. Telesur was created in October 2005 as a project of 'media integration' involving various Latin American countries; the Venezuelan government holds 51 per cent of the capital, Argentina 20 per cent, Cuba 19 per cent and Uruguay 10 per cent. Telesur president Andres Izarra has said the network aims to provide a Latin American news service as a counterweight to the major international television networks, in particular CNN and the US channels. Speaking in Doha, Izarra said his channel felt inspired by the way Al Jazeera had become a reference point for the Arab world. From its inception, Telesur has been likened to Al Jazeera. In some US government circles but also in Latin America, it has been dubbed 'Telechavez' after Venezuela's left wing president, who is seeking to form a broad Latin American coalition in opposition to Washington. The US administration has frequently accused Al Jazeera of being a 'mouthpiece for terrorists'.On its webpage, Telesur explicitly criticises other chains. "Regarding the single message pushed by the big corporations who deliberately deny, cut or ignore the right to information, an alternative is essential" it says in its mission statement. The managers of the Latin American network aim to reach 10 million viewers by 2006 from its current audience of two million.

It began with a bulletin from the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles (1/4/06) accusing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez of invoking an old anti-Semitic slur. In a Christmas Eve speech, the Center said, Chavez declared that "the world has wealth for all, but some minorities, the descendants of the same people that crucified Christ, have taken over all the wealth of the world." The Voice of America (1/5/06) covered the charge immediately. Then opinion journals on the right took up the issue…Then more mainstream outlets began to pick up the story…The biggest problem with depicting Chavez's speech as an anti-Semitic attack is that Chavez clearly suggested that "the descendants of those who crucified Christ" are the same people as "the descendants of those who expelled Bolivar from here." As American Rabbi Arthur Waskow, who questioned the charge, told the Associated Press (1/5/06), "I know of no one who accuses the Jews of fighting against Bolivar." Bolivar, in fact, fought against the government of King Ferdinand VII of Spain, who reinstituted the anti-Semitic Spanish Inquisition when he took power in 1813…Most of the accounts attacking Chavez (the Daily Standard was an exception) left the reference to Bolivar out entirely; the Wiesenthal Center deleted that clause from the speech without even offering an ellipses, which is tantamount to fabrication…That Chavez's comments were part of some anti-Semitic campaign is directly contradicted by a letter sent by the Confederation of Jewish Associations of Venezuela to the Wiesenthal Center (AP, 1/14/06). "We believe the president was not talking about Jews," the letter stated, complaining that "you have acted on your own, without consulting us, on issues that you don't know or understand." The American Jewish Committee and the American Jewish Congress agreed with the Venezuelan group's view that Chavez was not referring to Jews in his speech (Inter Press Service, 1/13/06). In context, the Chavez speech seems to be an attempt by Chavez to link the attacks on his populist government to the attacks on his two oft-cited heroes, Jesus and Bolivar; the "minority" that would link the two would be the rich and powerful minority of society. The reference to "less than 10 percent of the world population" owning half the wealth also makes the idea that Chavez was talking about Jews far-fetched; 10 percent of 6 billion would be 600 million people. (According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, there are approximately 15 million Jewish people in the world.)


The world must halt greenhouse gas emissions and reverse them within two decades or watch the planet spiralling towards destruction, scientists said…"Climate change is worse than was previously thought and we need to act now," Henry Derwent, special climate change adviser to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, said at the launch of a book of scientific papers on the global climate crisis. Researcher Rachel Warren from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, who contributed to the book "Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change", said carbon dioxide emissions had to peak no later than 2025, and painted a picture of rapidly approaching catastrophe. Global average temperatures were already 0.6 Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and a rise of just 0.4C more would see coral reefs wiped out, flooding in the Himalayas and millions more people facing hunger, she said.  A rise of 3C - just half of what scientists have warned is possible this century - would see 400 million people going hungry, entire species being wiped out and killer diseases such as dengue fever reaching pandemic proportions.
"To prevent all of this needs global emissions to peak in 2025 and then come down by 2.6 percent a year," Warren said.
"But even then we would probably face a rise of 2 degrees because of the delay built into the climate system. So we have to start to plan to adapt," she added.
Global Warming Demands Urgent Solutions – Scientists, Reuters, 1-31-06

The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) is sending a expert team to Iraq on Wednesday to examine reports of a fatal case of avian influenza, or “bird flu,” in the war-ravaged country. Iraq’s Ministry of Health has confirmed that a 15-year old girl died who died on 17 January had been diagnosed with bird flu. The WHO team will leave tomorrow for Suliamaniya in Iraqi Kurdistan where the girl, her uncle and a third suspected case have been found.The regional health ministry in Iraqi Kurdistan has for some weeks been active in trying to curb bird flu - creating mobile sanitary units, closing most slaughter-houses, and disinfecting poultry farms - but the Kurdish health minister, Jamal Abd al-Hamid has been critical of the Iraq's central government response to the bird flu threat.
AKI, 2-1-06

Twelve people suspected of having the H5N1 strain of bird flu are being treated in Kurdistan in northern Iraq, according to officials. Iraqi authorities have begun culling poultry in the region and the World Health Organisation is sending a team of experts to the region.
12 suspected bird flu in Kurdistan

Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos on Tuesday urged for calm on the island after the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu was detected in the Turkish Cypriot north. Papadopoulos said that the Greek Cypriot government was taking all necessary measures to fight the disease and that there was no reason to panic. "Although bird flu has been detected, for 20 days till now there has been no other incident either in the occupied Cyprus or in the government-controlled areas," he said. He also said that the government did not intend to close the checkpoints to and from the Turkish-controlled north.
Cyprus president urges for calm after bird flu detected in north, People’s Daily, 2-1-06

U.S. flu experts are resigned to being overwhelmed by an avian flu pandemic, saying hospitals, schools, businesses and the general public are nowhere near ready to cope. Money, equipment and staff are lacking and few states have even the most basic plans in place for dealing with an epidemic of any disease, let alone the possibly imminent pandemic of H5N1 avian influenza, they told a meeting on Thursday. While a federal plan has been out for several weeks, it lacks essential details such as guidance on when hospitals should start to turn away all but the sickest patients and when schools should close, the experts complained. "There is no way at this time that we can even plan for this epidemic," said Dr. Roger Baxter of the University of California San Francisco and associate director of the Kaiser Permanente Vaccine Study Center."We could be easily overwhelmed," Baxter told the meeting organized by the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Maggie Fox, U.S. experts expect to be overwhelmed by bird flu, Reuters, 2-2-06

Cyberspace: The nation's largest telephone and cable companies are crafting an alarming set of strategies that would transform the free, open and nondiscriminatory Internet of today to a privately run and branded service that would charge a fee for virtually everything we do online. Verizon, Comcast, Bell South and other communications giants are developing strategies that would track and store information on our every move in cyberspace in a vast data-collection and marketing system, the scope of which could rival the National Security Agency. According to white papers now being circulated in the cable, telephone and telecommunications industries, those with the deepest pockets--corporations, special-interest groups and major advertisers--would get preferred treatment. Content from these providers would have first priority on our computer and television screens, while information seen as undesirable, such as peer-to-peer communications, could be relegated to a slow lane or simply shut out. Under the plans they are considering, all of us--from content providers to individual users--would pay more to surf online, stream videos or even send e-mail. Industry planners are mulling new subscription plans that would further limit the online experience, establishing "platinum," "gold" and "silver" levels of Internet access that would set limits on the number of downloads, media streams or even e-mail messages that could be sent or received. To make this pay-to-play vision a reality, phone and cable lobbyists are now engaged in a political campaign to further weaken the nation's communications policy laws. They want the federal government to permit them to operate Internet and other digital communications services as private networks, free of policy safeguards or governmental oversight. Indeed, both the Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are considering proposals that will have far-reaching impact on the Internet's future…If Americans are to succeed in designing an equitable digital destiny for themselves, they must mount an intensive opposition similar to the successful challenges to the FCC's media ownership rules in 2003. Without such a public outcry to rein in the GOP's corporate-driven agenda, it is likely that even many of the Democrats who rallied against further consolidation will be "tamed" by the well-funded lobbying campaigns of the powerful phone and cable industry.
Jeff Chester, The End of the Internet?, The Nation, 2-2-06

Data mining is the process of using computer technology to extract the knowledge that's buried in enormous volumes of undigested information. Trillions of bits of raw data are culled from telephone calls, e-mails, the Internet, airlines, car rentals, stores, credit card records and a myriad of other sources spawned by the information age…Whenever you search for information or a product on the Internet, say on Google or Yahoo, you leave a trace. "Every single search you've ever conducted - ever - is stored on a database somewhere," said Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School in New York. "There's probably nothing more embarrassing than the searches we've made." Once it's been collected, the data harvest is stored, organized, searched and analyzed by complex computer programs called algorithms. The programs scour the data for hidden patterns or relationships…"Through data mining, (government) agencies can quickly and efficiently obtain information on individuals or groups by exploiting large databases containing personal information," the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said in a report to Congress last year…A GAO survey found almost 200 data-mining programs in operation or planned at 52 government agencies in 2004.
For example, the State Department draws on a Citibank system to detect fraud or waste by employees using government credit cards…The distinction between government and private data mining is blurring."…Agencies at all levels of government are now interested in collecting and mining large amounts of data from commercial sources," the GAO reported. "Agencies may use such data ... to perform large-scale data analysis and pattern discovery in order to discern potential terrorist activity by unknown individuals."
Robert S. Boyd, Data Mining Tells Government and Business a Lot About You, Knight-Ridder, 2-2-06

The US online search engine Google has bowed to China's censorship restrictions to gain access to the country's booming Internet market…Google joins other major US Internet companies already doing business under censorship rules set out by the Chinese government. It said it would remove links to sites considered offensive by the Chinese government in exchange for allowing the firm to use computer servers located in China. The company also said the new site would not host blogs or email as a way of avoiding legal problems with the authorities, who have employed sophisticated filters to block access to certain websites…China has devoted extensive efforts to policing the Internet and jailed dozens of dissidents who have published political criticism on the web, human rights groups say. Authorities in recent years have closed Internet cafes, blocked emails, search engines, foreign news and politically-sensitive websites, including those criticizing the communist party or referring to Tibet, Taiwan and the Tiananmen Square massacre…Reporters Without Borders in Paris, which closely monitors restrictions on the Internet, denounced the Google initiative as "a black day for freedom of expression in China". The media freedom watchdog accused Google of "hypocrisy" for giving in to censorship in China while fighting legal battles with the US government over access to internet users' online activities. The group said on its website that "the Internet in China is becoming more and more isolated from the outside world and freedom of expression is shrinking."
Google Bows to Chinese Censorship With New Search Site, Agence France Press, 1-25-06

Richard Power is the founder of GS(3) Intelligence and His work focuses on the inter-related issues of security, sustainability and spirit, and how to overcome the challenges of terrorism, cyber crime, global warming, health emergencies, natural disasters, etc. You can reach him via e-mail: For more information, go to