Monthly Archives: January 2012

Protesting the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement

Lithuania’s central bank said Friday (Jan. 27, 2012) it had been hit by a cyber-attack, but had eventually overcome the assault on its website and other online services.  In a statement, the bank said that the denial-of-service attack — in which many outside computers overload the target’s IT system — from a group of countries took place early Friday morning…The bank said that the attacks were launched from computers apparently located in countries including Canada, China, Russia, Switzerland, Ukraine and the United States…No public claim of responsibility had been made for the attack so far.  It was not clear if it was linked to Lithuania’s signature Thursday of a controversial international online anti-piracy accord.  Critics of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) warn that it could significantly curtail online freedom, and several governments have come under attack by groups including “hacktivist” grouping Anonymous.

Lithuanian central bank hit by cyber-attack, Agence France Presse, Jan. 28, 2012

Text of ACTA (pdf)

Negotiating History

Rapporteur

We Have Every Right to Be Furious About ACTA

Iran’s Nuclear Program, is a breakthrough possible?

The head of a U.N. nuclear team traveling to Iran on Saturday (Jan 28, 2012) urged the country to work with his mission on probing Tehran’s alleged attempts to develop an atomic arms program, adding such cooperation is long overdue.The unusually blunt comments by International Atomic Energy Deputy Director General Herman Nackaerts reflected the importance the IAEA is attaching to the chief focus of the trip — ending more than three years of Iranian refusal to answer questions about such suspicions.

Diplomats said Iran had accepted the inclusion of two senior weapons experts — Jacques Baute of France and Neville Whiting of South Africa — with relatively little fuss. That suggests the Islamic Republic may be prepared to address some issues related to the allegations.  Also on the team is Rafael Grossi, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano’s right-hand man.  Any progress would be significant…Iran says it is enriching only to generate energy. But it has also started producing uranium at a higher level than its main stockpile — a move that would jump-start the creation of highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium, should it chose to go that route. And it is moving its higher-enriched operation into an underground bunker that it says is safe from attack.

Excerpt, UN nuclear team hopes for progess on probing alleged Iranian arms program, Associated Press, January 28, 2012

How to Kill Better the Underdog, the XM25 and the computer inside the bullet

In war an outgunned force that manoeuvres to shoot from behind cover such as rocks or the rim of a ditch can often save itself from an otherwise nearly certain rout…[U]nderdog forces such as the Afghan Taliban continue to make deadly use of the art of concealment against technologically superior armies. But not, perhaps, for much longer. For a collaboration between ATK, an American firm, and Heckler & Koch, a German one, has come up with a rifle that negates the advantage of cover….

The XM25, as the new gun is known, weighs about 6kg (13lb) and fires a 25mm round. The trick is that instead of having to be aimed directly at the target, this round need only be aimed at a place in proximity to it. Once there, it explodes—just like Shrapnel’s original artillery shells—and the fragments kill the enemy. It knows when to explode because of a timed fuse. In Shrapnel’s shells this fuse was made of gunpowder. In the XM25 it is a small computer inside the bullet that monitors details of the projectile’s flight.

A handful of XM25s are now being tested in Afghanistan by the Americans. So far, they have been used on more than 200 occasions. Most of these fights ended quickly, and in America’s favour, according to Lieutenant-Colonel Shawn Lucas, who is in charge of the weapon’s field-testing programme. Indeed, the programme has been so successful that the army has ordered 36 more of the new rifles….

[How the XM25] works is  a guarded secret—though judging by the number of failed attempts to hack into computers that might be expected to hold information about it, many people would dearly like to know. Certainly, the trick is not easy. An alternative design developed in South Korea, which clocks flight time rather than number of rotations, seems plagued by problems. Last year South Korea’s Agency of Defence Development halted production of trial versions of the K-11, as this rifle is called, and announced a redesign, following serious malfunctions.

Excerpt, Magic bullets, Economist, Jan. 14, 2012, at 76

Whales Surveillance: the satellite tagging of whales

Approval has been given for a controversial plan to satellite tag an endangered species of killer whale that plies the waters off the Pacific Coast.  Researchers hope the tracking devices will reveal the orcas’ activities during the winter, but another expert said the tagging could harm the vulnerable whales.  Killer whales are one of the most studied marine mammal species in the world, yet very little is known about where they go and what they eat during the winter months.  Brad Hanson, a wildlife biologist at the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, has U.S. government approval to attach the tiny tracking devices to the dorsal fins of six whales per season.  “We’re trying to get better information about what they’re doing during the winter. This is a period of time where a number of animals seem to disappear from the population,” Mr. Hanson said in an interview.  “Trying to better understand what the risk factors during the winter are would potentially help management biologists … make sure we have what’s necessary to meet the recovery goals that are in the recovery plan.”

But Ken Balcomb, a senior scientist at the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbour, Wash., has seen other killer whales that were tagged off Alaska and is concerned.  “They’re heavy-duty barbs, and the only way (the tag) comes off is tearing away flesh and leaving a golf-ball sized hole.”…  Mr. Balcomb, who’s been studying southern residents for decades, said his concern is the barbs could cause an internal infection, like the minor puncture wound that killed a 20-year-old resident whale a few years ago.  “Because these whales live in an urban environment that has a lot of toxins and a lot of problems for their immune and reproductive system, they’re especially susceptible to these injuries.”  Mr. Hanson has tagged more than 250 whales from 15 different species and said there has been no adverse impacts connected to survival.

The tag is about the size of a nine-volt battery and it would be shot from a cross bow or pneumatic gun into the dorsal fin.  The tags can remain attached anywhere from three to nine weeks until they fall out, leaving the wound to heal on its own, Mr. Hanson said…The transmitter could last about six straight weeks, but in order to stretch out the life cycle, they would turn off and on the transmitter, he said.

Terri Theodore, Experts get approval to satellite tag endangered killer whales in the Pacific, the Globe and Mail (Canada), Jan. 22, 2012

The CIA Drone Program and the Network of Pakistan’s Spies

The death of a senior al Qaeda leader in a US drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal badlands, the first strike in almost two months, signalled that the US-Pakistan intelligence partnership is still in operation despite political tensions. The Jan 10 strike – and its follow-up two days later – were joint operations, a Pakistani security source based in the tribal areas told Reuters.  They made use of Pakistani “spotters” on the ground and demonstrated a level of coordination that both sides have sought to downplay since tensions erupted in January 2011 with the killing of two Pakistanis by a CIA contractor in Lahore.  “Our working relationship is a bit different from our political relationship,” the source told Reuters, requesting anonymity. “It’s more productive.”  US and Pakistani sources told Reuters that the target of the Jan 10 attack was Aslam Awan, a Pakistani national from Abbottabad, the town where Osama bin Laden was killed last May by a US commando team.

They said he was targeted in a strike by a US-operated drone directed at what news reports said was a compound near the town of Miranshah in the border province of North Waziristan.  That strike broke an undeclared eight-week hiatus in attacks by the armed, unmanned drones that patrol the tribal areas and are a key weapon in US President Barack Obama’s counter-terrorism strategy.  The sources described Awan, also known by the nom-de-guerre Abdullah Khorasani, as a significant figure in the remaining core leadership of al Qaeda, which US officials say has been sharply reduced by the drone campaign. Most of the drone attacks are conducted as part of a clandestine CIA operation. The Pakistani source, who helped target Awan, could not confirm that he was killed, but the US official said he was. European officials said Awan had spent time in London and had ties to British extremists before returning to Pakistan.

The source, who says he runs a network of spotters primarily in North and South Waziristan, described for the first time how US-Pakistani cooperation on strikes works, with his Pakistani agents keeping close tabs on suspected militants and building a pattern of their movements and associations.  “We run a network of human intelligence sources,” he said. “Separately, we monitor their cell and satellite phones.  “Thirdly, we run joint monitoring operations with our US and UK friends,” he added, noting that cooperation with British intelligence was also extensive.Pakistani and US intelligence officers, using their own sources, hash out a joint “priority of targets lists” in regular face-to-face meetings, he said.  “Al Qaeda is our top priority,” he said.  He declined to say where the meetings take place.

Once a target is identified and “marked,” his network coordinates with drone operators on the US side. He said the United States bases drones outside Kabul, likely at Bagram airfield about 25 miles (40 km) north of the capital. From spotting to firing a missile “hardly takes about two to three hours”, he said.

It was impossible to verify the source’s claims and American experts, who decline to discuss the drone programme, say the Pakistanis’ cooperation has been less helpful in the past.  US officials have complained that when information on drone strikes was shared with the Pakistanis beforehand, the targets were often tipped off, allowing them to escape……

The New America Foundation policy institute says that of 283 reported strikes from 2004 to Nov 16, 2011, between 1,717 and 2,680 people were killed. Between 293 and 471 were thought to be civilians – approximately 17 percent of those killed.  The Brookings Institution, however, says civilian deaths are high, reporting in 2009 that “for every militant killed, 10 or more civilians also died.” Pakistan’s interior minister, Rehman Malik, also said in April 2011 that “the majority of victims are innocent civilians”.

Still, despite its public stance, Pakistan has quietly supported the drone programme since Obama ramped up air strikes when he took office in 2009 and even asked for more flights.

Excerpt, How Pakistan Helps the US Drone Campaign, Reuters, Han. 22, 2012

The New Economic Appropriations of the Arctic: great powers versus the newcomers

China, Brazil and India want seats on the Arctic Council as global warming creates new opportunities for shipping and resource extraction in the vast Arctic region. There are concerns this is the beginning of a 21st century “scramble for the Arctic”, but rather than staking territorial claims, non- Arctic countries want to exert economic and political influence in the region.  China already has a research station in Norway’s high Arctic and is building an 8,000-tonne icebreaker.

Canada has a great opportunity to become an influential Arctic power, and to ensure the resource-rich but fragile region doesn’t become a “Wild West” where the views of indigenous and other longstanding residents are ignored, said Tony Penikett, former premier of the Yukon, one of Canada’s three Arctic territories.  In 2013, Canada will chair the Arctic Council, a highly influential governmental forum originally created to promote international cooperation in the North. The council faces major issues such as expanded membership, increases in trans-Arctic shipping, resource extraction, and environmental protection of the fragile region already hard hit by climate change.  The council is unique amongst international bodies by including six Arctic indigenous groups as permanent members along with eight countries with Arctic territories: Canada, Russia, the United States, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Iceland and Denmark (Greenland). However, only these countries have a vote. There are also six non-Arctic nations that sit in as observers today: the Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Poland and the Netherlands.  Disputes between Arctic nations are rare and the Council serves an important platform for discussion. Russia and Norway concluded a boundary treaty for the Barents Sea in 2010. Other territorial disputes, such as between Russia, Denmark and Canada over rights to parts of the Lomonosov Ridge, are being sorted out under the Law of the Sea Convention.

“However, the Council is struggling with the issue of addition of other non-Arctic nations,” Penikett told IPS.  The European Union, other European nations, Japan and South Korea have indicated they want observer status as well. “To remain relevant does the Council give other nations a larger role or remain an exclusive club?” he asked.

Russia and Canada have strongly opposed expansion. Indigenous groups also oppose it, fearing their influence and voice will be diluted, said Penikett, who will be a keynote speaker at the second annual Munk-Gordon Arctic Security Conference this week at the University of Toronto.  The conference theme is “The Arctic Council: Its place in the future of Arctic governance,” and will include policymakers and academics from all circumpolar states.

“Expansion would give the council a much stronger voice,” said Michael Byers, a professor of global politics and international law at the University of British Columbia.  Having a larger, more influential membership would bring more public attention to the region, Byers said in an interview. “Excluding other countries who have legitimate interests [?] will simply create friction,” he said.

Last summer, the Russian-owned Vladimir Tikhonov became the first supertanker ever to navigate the 5,500-kilometre Northeast Passage. Also known as the Russian Northern Sea Route, it cuts thousands of kilometres off the distance between Europe and Asia compared to going through the Panama Canal.  Arctic waters will remain extremely dangerous for a long time. Last month a huge floating Russian oil drilling rig sank in a storm, killing 53 workers. Fortunately, it was being towed back to port at the time and no oil was spilled.

The Arctic Council has pioneered a new circumpolar search and rescue cooperation agreement, but it has not dealt with oil spill response or even considered environmental safety standards for oil and gas drilling, said Sara French, Arctic security researcher at the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation, a NGO with focus on the Arctic and water.  There have been some preliminary discussions about oil spills but nothing about safety standards for Arctic drilling, French told IPS.

“The Inuit Circumpolar Council has brought up the issue and they do want a common set of rules to protect the environment,” she said.  As chair, Canada could demonstrate its leadership on Arctic issues, including strengthening the voice of the indigenous people, she said.  Canada could be a leader – but it won’t under the Harper government, predicted Byers.  “Climate change and its consequences are the overriding issue in the Arctic,” he said.

Under the Harper government, Canada has been a “rogue state” at international climate meetings and its rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, the international treaty to reduce carbon emissions causing climate change. Instead of reducing those emissions by six percent as agreed in the treaty, Canada’s emissions soared 24 percent. Last month, as reported by IPS, the Harper government pulled out of Kyoto.  “Canada is seen to have a retrograde position on climate change. That will make it challenging to be an effective leader on the Council,” said Byers.

Being chair of the Council could be good opportunity for Canada, he acknowledged. “However, I am worried that the current government will squander this opportunity.”

By Stephen Leahy, Melting Ice Makes Arctic Access a Hot Commodity, IPS, Jan. 16, 2012

Biodiversity versus Human Rights


Tucked away in a dense and ecologically diverse tiger reserve in Southern India, tribes-people and wildlife defenders are locked in a battle of indigenous peoples’ rights versus wildlife rights.  Earlier this year the Soligas – a tribe hailing from the Billigiri Ranga Temple Hills tiger reserve (BRT) – won the rights to their ancestral land, following a thorny legal encounter with the state forest department, which had earlier threatened to displace 1,500 indigenous families in order to protect 30 endangered tigers.  Tribal representatives insist that the Soligas’ presence on the reserve is not detrimental to the tigers, claiming back in December, “We have been the ones who looked out for the tigers. Give us poison rather than move us from our home.”  Last month the tribe secured access to 60 percent of the forest that they claim is their ‘birthright’ and rejected a relocation package outside the tiger reserve, which is situated at the confluence of the Eastern and Western Ghats in Chamrajnagar district in India’s southern state of Karnataka.

A press release by the UK-based tribal advocacy group Survival International said last year, “This unprecedented move brings an end to (the tribe’s) fears of eviction and the ban on their right to hunt and cultivate.”  But wildlife conservationists across India are deeply alarmed by the tribe’s decision to stay in the BRT, since it does not appear to take into account the irreversible impact of human settlement on wildlife populations and complex ecologies.  Many experts believe that continued human presence in the small, bio-diverse forest could be detrimental to the wildlife, particularly pyramid species like tigers.  The BRT was officially declared a protected reserve last year, when scientists discovered it was home to a huge variety of wildlife including endangered tigers, leopards, elephants, wild dogs, bears, 270 species of endemic birds, scores of snake varieties and other reptiles, as well as turtles and monitor lizards, all in a 541 square kilometre forest….

The Soligas’ transition from a subsistence community into increased participation in the formal market economy through trade in forest products has increased their environmental impact on the reserve.  [However] Still, experts point out that the Soligas are only marginally responsible for deforestation when compared to the scale of deforestation perpetuated by the state forest department itself. Industrial farming in the BRT, including huge coffee estates owned by the biggest industrial houses in India, has seriously impinged on the protected land, pushing wildlife further into a concentrated space with tribes.

Excerpts, Malini Shankar, Indigenous Rights Versus Wildlife Rights?, IPS, Jan. 13, 2012

See also Biodiversity and Human Rights