New Pakistan spy chief appointed – by the former spy chief. Isn’t that reassuring?

Gen Ashfaq Kayani – the guy who counts

Lt Gen Ahmed Shujaa Pasha is a former head of military operations who launched recent offensives against militants near the Afghan border. He takes over ISI amid mounting US pressure on Pakistan to do more to combat the Taleban and al-Qaeda.

Pakistani observers say the move appears to be an effort by army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani – who was himself ISI chief until a year ago – to consolidate his control over the military

Gen Pasha replaces Lt Gen Nadeem Taj, a loyalist of former President Pervez Musharraf who was appointed less than a year ago.

Gen Kayani has also changed four of nine corps commanders and named a new chief of the general staff.

The ISI had a key role in funding the Afghan mujahideen and critics say some of its agents still play a double game, viewing certain militant groups as assets to use in Afghanistan and in the dispute with India over Kashmir.

Gen Pasha’s appointment also comes after a major stand-off between the Pakistani government and the army chief, who resisted attempts to put the ISI under civilian control.

If the military isn’t under civilian control, it’s not under control.

Does the Pakistan government have enough popular support to control the military? Not according to history. For half the life of independence from Imperial England, one or another military dictator has ruled the roost. Generally, with a complicit foreign power.

16 bodies in 24 hours – a dozen of them next to schoolyard

The authorities in the Mexican border city of Tijuana have found 16 bodies in 24 hours, in what police believe is part of a wave of drug-related murders.

Twelve of the bodies were found on a patch of wasteland near a school just before it opened. Most showed signs of having been bound and tortured.

A wave of murders linked to the drug trade has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 people in Mexico this year.

City officials suspended lessons at the school near where the bodies were found.

Wasn’t that thoughtful? Cripes, I know you can’t turn around a century of corruption, cronyism and crime in a few years; but…

Is this where the United States is headed?

Gurkhas win immigration court battle

A British court has struck down immigration restrictions placed on Gurkha veterans who served in the country’s armed forces, handing a significant victory to a group that has served Britain for nearly 200 years.

The High Court ordered the government to draw up a new immigration policy for the Nepalese soldiers, who demanded the repeal of regulations that bar some of them from settling in Britain.

This court has struck that policy down as being completely unlawful, and has ordered the government to draw up a new policy as soon as possible that takes in account the long and distinguished service of these men,” attorney David Enright said.

Gurkha soldiers outside the court broke into cheers, played bagpipes and waved green flags emblazoned with two crossed kukri — bent Nepalese knives the Gurkhas adopted as their standard.

Mercenaries recruited from the Himalayan hills, the Gurkhas served Britain starting in 1815, through the conflagrations of the 20th century and into the 21st, fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Class society in Britain – especially regarding former servants and colonial subjects – has the stink of racism about it. Ordinary people do their best to overcome that. But, the stuffed shirts who make the rules never care to bend to honor and justice.

You don’t need spies anymore. Just buy hardware on eBay.

Britain’s MI6 intelligence service is investigating how a camera holding sensitive information about al Qaeda suspects came to be lost by one of its agents.

Media reports said the Nikon digital camera was put up for sale on Internet trading site eBay and sold for just 17 pounds ($30.64). Its memory had names of al Qaeda members, fingerprints and suspects’ academic records as well as pictures of rocket launchers and missiles.

“We can confirm we seized a camera after a member of the public reported it,” said a statement by police in Hertfordshire, north of London, after the camera was handed into a police station.

Intelligence services are investigating,” the statement added.

I’m beginning to think I should set aside a daily column just for security screw-ups by the British government.

Israel switches from U.S. cluster bombs, buys local

Israel has cut purchases of U.S.-made cluster bombs, stocking up on supplies from a state-owned Israeli company rather than heeding calls for an outright ban.

Israel’s armed forces want to avoid a repeat of civilian casualties from cluster bombs during and after the 2006 Lebanon war, the officials said. More than 100 countries have banned the bombs because they can kill indiscriminately.

Cluster bombs have a relatively high failure rate compared to more conventional explosive munitions, but are favored by armies as a way of hitting enemy combatants in areas where no precise targets can be located.

The Israeli air force and artillery showered south Lebanon with cluster shells, each containing dozens or hundreds of grenade-size bomblets, during the 34-day war against Hezbollah guerrillas two years ago.

Between 30 percent and 40 percent of the bombs failed to explode on impact, according to the United Nations Mine Action Coordination Center (UNMACC). Many of these were later detonated by accident, killing 20 civilians and wounding 195, it said.

“Diplomatic pressures” that the U.S. and Israel receive are rarely more than a pitty-pat on the hand. The military legions in both nations gave up on carpet bombing after a few decades of “diplomatic pressure” – to replace it with terrorist rains of cluster bombs.

The inherent Xenophobia and racism in the governing culture of both countries is relied on to justify all of the terror tactics instituted by Nazi Germany. They just haven’t gotten to a final solution, yet. Though, the threat of nuclear warfare may suffice in their egregious political dementia.

Portugal starts exporting Intel Classmate laptops

Venezuela is ordering one million low cost laptops for its school children. The machines will be based on the Intel Classmate laptop that has been designed for school children.

Venezuela is buying the portable computers as part of a $3bn (£1.66bn) bilateral trade deal with Portugal that also covers housing and utilities.

Portugal is manufacturing the laptops under licence from Intel and are broadly based on the chip maker’s design of its Classmate computer.

Dubbed Magellan, the laptops will have on board low-power Intel Atom chips designed for laptops. They will also sport digital cameras and a broadband net connection. As an operating system, the machines will run a version of Linux developed in Venezuela.

The trick here is that the Portuguese government got the license from Intel and set up manufacturing to supply these critters to their own school children. Looks like someone was smart enough to understand they might further defray expenses by building an excess for export.

How long before we see these in Best Buy?

Second-hand hardware plugs purchaser into local government

For less than a pound a security expert has got front-door access to a council’s internal network.

Andrew Mason from security firm Random Storm bought some network hardware from auction site eBay for 99p. When he switched it on and plugged it in, the device automatically connected to the internal network of Kirklees Council in West Yorkshire.

Kirklees council called the discovery “concerning” but said its data had not been compromised.

For 99p Mr Mason bought what is known as a virtual private network (VPN) server made by the firm Cisco Systems that automates all the steps needed to get remote access to a network.

On powering up his new hardware Mr Mason expected that the device would need network settings to be input but, without prompting, it connected to the last place it was used…

A spokesman for consulting firm Cap Gemini said it managed Kirklees Council’s network from 2000 to the end of May 2005. At that point, he said, control was handed back to the council which had decided to manage the network itself.

Sounds like the IT crew at Kirklees Council is providing the sort of security Britain is famous for the world over.

Hardly any.

Spectacular Singapore lights the way for Formula One

1,500 light projectors putting out 3,180,000 watts

Formula One turned to the dark side at the Singapore Grand Prix and judging by how well it was received the sport’s first night race will not be its last. Even if it had not thrown up an unlikely winner after a dramatic two hours of racing, Singapore delivered something different.

“It has a good chance of challenging Monaco for being the jewel in the crown of Formula One,” Frank Williams told The Guardian newspaper…

Singapore at night looked good on television — and that was the whole point of the exercise as far as the organizers were concerned.

It all added to the sense of spectacle, a point not lost on Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong who attended the race.

“I’ve been watching it on TV the last couple of nights, not watching the cars, but watching the skyline, to see whether the skyline shows up and we see Singapore showing off its best,” he told the Straits Times.
Continue reading

Religious nutballs’ call for censorship guarantees good sales

Philip Pullman has revealed he was delighted to discover his novel Northern Lights was one of the most “challenged” titles of the year in America, with numerous calls made to have it removed from libraries.

Pullman’s children’s novel, which is sold as The Golden Compass in the US, was the fourth most challenged book in 2007, according to the American Library Association, which received 420 formally submitted complaints to libraries or schools over “inappropriate content and subject matter” last year.

Pullman said his immediate response on hearing the latest figures from the ALA was “glee”.

“Firstly, I had obviously annoyed a lot of censorious people, and secondly, any ban would provoke interested readers to move from the library, where they couldn’t get hold of my novel, to the bookshops, where they could,” Pullman said, pointing to previous objections to the film of The Golden Compass, which he said resulted in soaring book sales.

Pullman said that banning a book on religious grounds was “the worst reason of the lot”.

“Religion grants its adherents malign, intoxicating and morally corrosive sensations. Destroying intellectual freedom is always evil, but only religion makes doing evil feel quite so good,” he said.

BTW, Borders is currently promoting a festival celebrating banned books.