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Daily Archives: Tuesday, June 24, 2014

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Governments use phone implant tech to stalk activists


An Italian company’s surveillance software has been used to spy on the mobile phones of human rights activists, journalists and politicians using remote controlled implants.

A joint investigation by Toronto-based Citizen Lab and anti-virus software company Kaspersky Lab has revealed that major operating systems iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows are all vulnerable to Hacking Team’s Galileo tool, which can takeover a device’s microphone, camera and applications, including location services.

“All of this stuff is used for espionage purposes by governments — it’s used around the world,” said Morgan Marquis-Boire of Citizen Lab, who worked on the investigation. “Any government that has the money to purchase it can do so, with few exceptions. These types of companies won’t sell it to North Korea, for example. But this is the democratisation of espionage tools and it’s being used to target political figures, not just typical espionage targets.”

These types of tools are touted at global surveillance fairs attended by government agencies from across the world.

Marquis-Boire points to Hacking Team’s own customer policy which states, it “understands the potential for abuse of the surveillance technologies” so takes precautions and does not sell to governments or countries blacklisted by the US, EU, UN, NATO or ASEAN. It also reviews all requests.

However, the investigation has shown that political targets have often been the victims. We saw this with Gamma International’s Fin Fisher tool, which Citizen Lab found was used to spy on refugee Tadesse Biru Kersmo for his involvement with an Ethiopian opposition group. It has been linked to the torture of activists in Bahrain and the imprisonment of government critics in Morocco and the UAE. Marquis-Boire gives the example of democracy activist Ahmed Mansoor, who inadvertently clicked on an email link that resulted in him being traced, stalked and eventually attacked and beaten. “He had no idea how they were tracing him, but when I analysed his machine this software was found.”

Hacking Team, which boasts on its website “Go stealth and untraceable” and “beat encryption”, has now been linked to 326 command and control servers in more than 44 countries, with most located in the US, Kazakhstan, Ecuador, the UK and Canada. You can find out more on how Citizen Lab traced the servers here, in an earlier report.  (more…)

New volunteer recruits head east to fight in Ukrainian army’s Azov Battalion

A new volunteer recruit of the Ukrainian army Azov Battalion heading towards the eastern regions, after a military oath ceremony in Kyiv on June 23.A new volunteer recruit of the Ukrainian army Azov Battalion heading towards the eastern regions, after a military oath ceremony in Kyiv on June 23. © Ukrainian News

Some 600 new volunteer recruits of the Ukrainian army’s Azov Battalion are joining the military battle against Kremlin-backed separatists in the nation’s eastern oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk.

The men underwent combat training for three weeks. Meanwhile, Ukraine is pressing German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other Western allies to help end the uprising that continues to rage in the industrial east despite Kyiv’s offer for a ceasefire.

New volunteer recruits of the Ukrainian army's Azov Battalion take part in a military oath ceremony in Kyiv on June 23.New volunteer recruits of the Ukrainian army’s Azov Battalion take part in a military oath ceremony in Kyiv on June 23. © Ukrainian News

Read a story about the Azov Battalion here

Kyiv Post

The threat of Russian expansionism is not over

Russia's President Vladimir Putin.Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. © Russian Presidential Press and Information Office

A Russian tank rolling over border lines has become a familiar sight. Nevertheless, that does not lessen the political significance of such an action – which appears to have occurred again in recent days. Russian meddling in the affairs of its neighbours, as documented by Michael Weiss, is hardly over. As predicted, it seems that the Russian bear is not satiated by simply swallowing Crimea.

Russia has attempted to dominate its neighbours since before the end of the Cold War. The ‘Union’ of Soviet Socialist Republics was anything but. The formation of the USSR in the aftermath of the Russian Civil War was not one which most member states entered willingly – with the myth of happy unification serving as a fig leaf for what amounted to the military re-conquest of former Russian imperial territories.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, Russia has been its own nation, but one which sought to exert the same influence on nearby countries as it did in its previous incarnation. President Putin, a former official in the sinister KGB, well schooled in the police state methodology, seeks to replicate this today.

Hence the trauma and strife and resistance on the streets of Ukraine; when the Russian-speaking Eastern half of the country, backed by the Motherland herself, comes up against western, Europhile tendencies from the other Ukraine. Sparks were always going to fly.

I watched live footage of a demonstration gone bad during the original EuroMaiden protests, and, amid the garish lighting, setting the surroundings ablaze with a torrent of lurid orange fluorescents, the men and women of Ukraine (I hesitate, out of respect for their uncommon bravery, to use the word ‘ordinary’) were being corralled by the machinery of the state. That state, now since thankfully replaced, was a Russia proxy. More aggressive action from Moscow can hardly seem surprising.

That night was full of the sounds of wordless shouting, mingled with the occasional sharp scream of pain, and the infrequent pop of some minor explosion. Viewing this – sitting as I was in the relative prosperity of the Western world, watching the citizens of some far-off land fighting to attain the same dizzy heights of freedom that I enjoy – made me feel at once humble, afraid, exhilarated and proud.

I was frightened for democracy; once more under threat from some two-bit would-be despot in a foreign field. I was humbled by the courage, moral and physical, of those who defied the threats of brute force from the authorities to protest against kow-towing to Moscow. I was exhilarated, as I am whenever what I love comes up against what I hate, by this open defiance of Russian soft expansion, and their de facto puppet in ‘local’ government. Finally, I was proud – unaccountably so, as I don’t know anyone involved – but proud nevertheless.

It was also an education of sorts to observe the differences in coverage. It was very interesting to see that Putin mouthpiece Russia Today only focused on the violence apparently committed by demonstrators, who were called only “rioters”. Obviously the Kremlin-sponsored government is above reproach.

The protesters were not perfect, by any means, and the new government in Kiev is not a model of democratic perfection; and, accordingly, any attempt to marshal this complex event into a black-and-white narrative would be misguided.

And yet, there are still lessons to be extracted from the trauma in Ukraine, etched with the pain and bloodshed of the nation. Rebels in the East of the country are hardly nice people – certainly less so than the new leaders in the nation’s capital. There have been calls for the registration of Jews in Donetsk, where horror stories of the new order of things are emerging.

It is important to acknowledge that such threats to democracy still exist, even in nations as close geographically to Western democracy as Russia and Ukraine. Putin is a tyrant, who attempts to smash political opponents and undesirables with the weight of a compromised legal system. His many proxies and allies – in Ukraine, Belarus and the like – present the same challenge to liberty and democracy, and only make it worse.

While a fair amount of his political foes have been squabbling oligarchs, immoral billionaires rapidly enriched by the disintegration of the Soviet Union, it has been difficult to empathise with the victims of his oppressive rule. Some people even seem to like the guy; Peter Hitchens went as far as to deliver a lecture – only partially tongue in cheek – about his admiration for this xenophobic, gay-bashing murderer.

But now he is doing it to ordinary people, and in another sovereign state, no less. Bands are arrested and imprisoned on archaic statute. Discontent is stirred up by Russian Agents provocateurs in order to destabilise a democratic transition. This is still happening. And, as long as it is, it must be opposed.

James Snell is a Contributing Editor of The Libertarian

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James Snell: The Huffington Post

Putin renounces right to send troops to Ukraine, Kremlin says

Russian President Vladimir Putin has asked Moscow's upper parliament to revoke a resolution sanctioning the use of military force in Ukraine, the Kremlin has announced.Russian President Vladimir Putin has asked Moscow’s upper parliament to revoke a resolution sanctioning the use of military force in Ukraine, the Kremlin has announced. © Russian Presidential Press and Information Office

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin asked Russia’s upper house on June 24 to revoke the right it had granted him to order a military intervention in Ukraine in defence of Russian-speakers there, the Kremlin said in a statement.

The step seemed certain to be welcomed by the West as a sign that Moscow was ready to help engineer a settlement in Ukraine’s largely Russian-speaking east, where a pro-Russian uprising against Kyiv began in April.

Putin’s spokesman said the Kremlin leader’s move was aimed at assisting fledgling peace talks, which began on Monday, to end the conflict.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called it a “first practical step” following Putin’s statement of support last weekend for Poroshenko’s peace plan for eastern Ukraine.

Putin’s chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov, said Russia now expected Kiev to respond with measures of its own, without specifying what these should be.In the March 1 resolution, the Federation Council had granted Putin the right to “use the Russian Federation’s Armed Forces on the territory of Ukraine until the social and political situation in that country normalises”.

That resolution, together with Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, helped push East-West relations to their lowest ebb since the Cold War and led the United States and Europe to impose sanctions on Moscow.


Editors Note:  This is just a bluff, Putin’s word means nothing! How many times in the past few months has Putin said one thing but done another… We shall see!

Poroshenko says rebels break ceasefire, one soldier killed

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko greets servicemen at the military camp near the town of Svyatogorsk in Eastern Ukraine, June 20, 2014.Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko greets servicemen at the military camp near the town of Svyatogorsk in Eastern Ukraine, June 20, 2014. CREDIT: REUTERS/MYKHAILO MARKIV/UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on June 24 pro-Russian separatists in the east had violated a ceasefire with overnight attacks that killed one government soldier.

Rebels and Ukrainian forces have both vowed to observe a week-long ceasefire until June 27, but the government has reported rebels shooting at military checkpoints.

“Unfortunately there were violations of the ceasefire from the other side. Last night there were another eight cases, one soldier was killed, seven were wounded,” the president’s press service quoted Poroshenko as saying during a meeting with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Rebel militia, using grenade-launchers and mortar, attacked a military post near the rebel-held town of Slaviansk and used small arms in an assault on another post toward the border with Russia, Vladyslav Seleznyov, a spokesman for the Kiev government’s “anti-terrorist” operation, said earlier.

He said Ukrainian government forces had not been involved in any military action, in line with the ceasefire announced by Poroshenko last Friday.

Separatist leaders in two main areas of Ukraine’s east on Monday night agreed to a truce until the morning of June 27, raising the first real prospect of an end to hostilities since rebellions erupted in the east in April.

The rebels, who have declared “people’s republics” and have said they want to join Russia, began their ceasefire after talks involving a former Ukrainian president, Moscow’s envoy to Kiev and a high-ranking representative of the OSCE security and rights organization.

Poroshenko’s ceasefire is part of his peace plan to end a pro-Russia insurgency in areas near the border with Russia which threatens to dismember the ex-Soviet republic.

Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula earlier this year after street protests in Kiev ousted the Moscow-backed Viktor Yanukovich from power.

Poroshenko’s plan, which offers a safety “corridor” back to Russia for pro-Russian fighters who lay down their arms, has secured the backing of Western governments and qualified support from Russian President Vladimir Putin who has urged Kiev to hold talks with the separatist leaders.

The next step in contacts between the two sides is not clear, though it seems likely the rebels may use the break in hostilities to press demands for federalization of Ukraine – something which Kiev refuses because it sees it as likely to lead to the country breaking up.

(Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Alessandra Prentice; Writing By Richard Balmforth; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)



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