On searching your laptop at airports (& other stories)

November 19, 2010

* China is apparently now more concerned with appeasing the (soon to be nuclear-armed) Iranian regime than they are with the Gulf Arab regimes.

* “If a British soldier, sent to Afghanistan to serve his country, loses a foot in combat he can expect annual compensation of 8,780 pounds from the Government. But if you were a foreigner briefly resident in Britain who chose to fly to Afghanistan to train in a terrorist camp, or maybe just to see what a real Islamist state looks like, then were picked up in the warzone by U.S. Forces and sent to Guantánamo Bay, you would be in a line for a One million pound payout from Britain.”

* “The Israelis are, out of dreadful necessity, the world’s foremost experts in counterterrorism. And they couldn’t care less about what your grandmother brings on a plane. Instead, officials at Ben Gurion International Airport interview everyone in line before they’re even allowed to check in. And Israeli officials profile. They don’t profile racially, but they profile. Israeli Arabs breeze through rather quickly, but thanks to the dozens of dubious-looking stamps in my passport – almost half are from Lebanon and Iraq – I get pulled off to the side for more questioning every time. And I’m a white, nominally Christian American. Even when suicide bombers exploded themselves almost daily in Israeli cities, not a single one managed to get through that airport.”

 

CONTENTS

1. “China apologizes to Iran for using wrong name for Persian Gulf” (Fars News Agency, Iran, Nov. 15, 2010)
2. “The huge payments to ex-Guantánamo inmates are obscene’ (By Douglas Murray, UK Times, Nov. 18, 2010)
3. “Muslims set fire to Coptic Christian homes in southern Egypt” (By Salah Nasrawi, The Canadian Press, Nov. 17, 2010)
4. “Forget the ‘porn machines’: How Israelis secure airports” (By Michael Totten, NY Post, Nov. 19, 2010)
5. “Searching your laptop” (Editorial, New York Times, Nov. 15, 2010)
6. “New Stuxnet clues suggest sabotage of Iran’s uranium enrichment program” (Computer World, Nov. 15, 2010)


A VARIETY OF INTERNATIONAL STORIES

[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach eleven stories from recent days, six of which (concerning wider international matters) are below, and five of which (concerning Israel and the Palestinians) can be read here. I chose these stories because they contain information I think may be of interest that has been overlooked by many other publications.

 

CHINA APOLOGIZES TO IRAN FOR USING “WRONG” NAME FOR PERSIAN GULF

Tom Gross adds: Apparently, the Chinese regime is now more afraid of the (soon to be nuclear-armed) Iranian regime than they are of the Gulf Arab regimes.

***

China apologizes to Iran for using wrong name for Persian Gulf
November 15, 2010
Fars News Agency (Iran)

http://english.farsnews.com/newstext.php?nn=8908241784

TEHRAN (FNA)- A senior Iranian Olympic official said that the Chinese organizers of the Asian games have extended an apology to Tehran for their mistaken use of a false name to refer to ‘the Persian Gulf’ during the inauguration ceremony of the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou.

Secretary-General of Iran’s National Olympic Committee Bahram Afsharzadeh said that the apology was expressed in a phone call by President of Guangzhou Asian Games Organizing Committee Liu Peng.

“An official letter of apology will be sent to the national Olympic committee (of Iran) by the organizing committee of the 16th Asian Games in the next one or two days,” Afsharzadeh added.

Iran had sent two letters of protest to Liu Peng and to the president of the Olympic Council of Asia, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, and voiced strong protest against the use of the fabricated phrase ‘the Arabian Gulf’ instead of the officially, globally and historically known ‘Persian Gulf’.

Also on Saturday, the Iranian embassy in Beijing voiced strong protest against China’s use of the false phrase ‘the Arabian Gulf’ instead of ‘the Persian Gulf’ during the inauguration ceremony of the Asian Games.

While historical documents show that the waterway has always been referred to as the ‘Persian Gulf’, certain countries deliberately or mistakenly remove the word ‘Persian’ from the name of the waterway.

Iran designated April 30 as the National Persian Gulf Day to highlight the fact that the waterway has been referred to by historians and ancient texts as ‘Persian’ since the Achaemenid Empire was established in what is now modern day Iran.

In July 2009, archeological excavations in the Iranian port city of Siraf yielded new evidence confirming the antiquity of the Persian Gulf title.

The Iranian archeologists discovered Sassanid and early-Islamic residential strata as well as a number of intact amphoras used in sea trade during the Parthian, Abbasid and early Islamic eras, all referring to the waterway as the Persian Gulf.

 

“£1 MILLION? HE COULDN’T HAVE MADE THAT IN THE CITY – OR THE ARMY”

The huge payments to ex-Guantánamo inmates are obscene
By Douglas Murray
The Times (of London)
November 18 2010

If a British soldier, sent to Afghanistan to serve his country, loses a foot in combat he can expect annual compensation of £8,780 from the Government. But if you were, say, a foreigner briefly resident in Britain who chose to fly to Afghanistan to train in a terrorist camp, or maybe just to see what a real Islamist state looks like, then were picked up in the warzone by US Forces and sent to Guantánamo Bay, you would be in a line for a big payout.

It was announced this week by the Justice Secretary that up to ten men suspected by America of being enemy combatants are to receive compensation that could amount to more than a million pounds each from the British taxpayer. Which is good pay for a lightish workload.

Take Binyam Mohamed. He came to Britain in 1994, had his application for asylum rejected but stayed anyway. In 2001 he travelled to Pakistan and Afghanistan where, by his own admission, he spent 45 days at an al-Qaeda training camp but denies having received any weapon training. We are now going to pay him more than a million pounds because he claims he was mistreated by our allies and that the British Government did nothing to stop it. That could amount to a couple of hundred thousand pounds for each year he was in the UK.

Maybe he did have a bad time of it, in which case I’d advise him not to hang around al-Qaeda camps. But a million pounds’ worth of bad time? He couldn’t have made that starting off in the City, let alone joining the British Army. And unlike many of our soldiers, Binyam Mohamed and the other Guantánamo guys – an Iraqi, a Jordanian, a Libyan and a Moroccan among them – are still intact.

Then there’s Moazzam Begg, who in recent years has been toured around by so-called human-rights groups such as Amnesty. Mr Begg has a tendency to crop up in the wrong place at the wrong time. And, funnily enough, the wrong place, whether Bosnia or Afghanistan, is always where jihad is being fought. In the 1990s, this man who denies being a terrorist, ran Birmingham’s leading Islamist bookshop and, according to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, he is “an extremist”. He too will be getting this compensation.

Our amazed friends and allies must be asking: “Whatever happened to Britain?”It cannot be put any stronger than this: no society that wanted to survive would behave like this.

If Britain does not wish to win the war against extremism then it’s easy: keep going in this direction, write out the last few cheques, shake on it with the human-rights lawyers and just roll up the flag.

 

MUSLIMS SET FIRE TO COPTIC CHRISTIAN HOMES IN SOUTHERN EGYPT

Muslims set fire to Coptic Christian homes in southern Egypt, officials say
By Salah Nasrawi
The Canadian Press
November 17, 2010

CAIRO – Muslims set fire overnight to at least 10 houses belonging to Coptic Christians in a village in southern Egypt over rumours that a Christian resident had an affair with a Muslim girl, security officials said Tuesday.

The officials said security forces sealed off the village of al-Nawahid in Qena province, some 290 miles (465 kilometres) south of Cairo, to prevent the violence from spreading to neighbouring towns. They said several people were arrested.

The attacks started after locals spotted a young Copt and a Muslim girl together at night inside the village cemetery, the officials said. They added that both were put under police custody as authorities investigate.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

The village was calm by nightfall, after religious leaders from both communities appealed to their followers to end the confrontation. Some residents said they felt the situation had cooled enough that the extra police forces could leave.

Clashes between Christians and Muslims occasionally occur in southern Egypt, mostly over land or disputes over church construction. But sectarian tensions have also been on the rise recently in the capital.

Last year in Qena, a Coptic man was accused of kidnapping and raping a 12-year-old Muslim girl. The alleged assault led to widespread protests by the Muslim community and increased tensions between the two religious groups, which culminated in the murder of six Copts and one Muslim security guard at a church on Jan. 6.

Coptic Christians make up about 10 per cent of Egypt’s population of 80 million. Copts and Muslims generally live in peace, though tension and violence occasionally flare.

Human rights groups say attacks on Copts are on the rise, underscoring the government’s failure to address chronic sectarian strains in a society where religious radicalism is gaining ground.

The government insists Christians enjoy the same rights as Muslims.

 

FORGET THE ‘PORN MACHINES’

Forget the ‘porn machines’: How Israelis secure airports
By Michael Totten
New York Post
November 19, 2010

Air travelers in the United States are now given two options at the security gate – be groin-groped by gloved Transportation Security Administration agents, or photographed “naked” in the back-scatter X-ray device that Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic calls “the porn machine.”

You can thank failed “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab for this one. While armies tragically tend to fight the last war, the TSA looks for the item the most recent terrorist used.

After 9/11, everything sharp – even tweezers – was banned. Ever since Richard Reid tried and failed to light his loafers on fire, security agents have forced us to take off our shoes. British authorities rounded up terrorists who planned to bring liquid explosives on board, and we’ve all been prohibited from carrying shampoo through the gate ever since.

Terrorists have yet to use the same weapon twice, and the TSA isn’t even looking for whatever they’ll try to use next. I can think of all sorts of things a person could use to wreak havoc on a plane that aren’t banned. Security officials should pay less attention to objects, and more attention to people.

The Israelis do. They are, out of dreadful necessity, the world’s foremost experts in counterterrorism. And they couldn’t care less about what your grandmother brings on a plane. Instead, officials at Ben Gurion International Airport interview everyone in line before they’re even allowed to check in.

And Israeli officials profile. They don’t profile racially, but they profile. Israeli Arabs breeze through rather quickly, but thanks to the dozens of dubious-looking stamps in my passport – almost half are from Lebanon and Iraq – I get pulled off to the side for more questioning every time. And I’m a white, nominally Christian American.

If they pull you aside, you had better tell them the truth. They’ll ask you so many wildly unpredictable questions so quickly, you couldn’t possibly invent a fake story and keep it all straight. Don’t even try. They’re highly trained and experienced, and they catch everyone who tries to pull something over on them.

Because I fit one of their profiles, it takes me 15 or 20 minutes longer to get through the first wave of security than it does for most people. The agents make up for it, though, by escorting me to the front of the line at the metal detector. They don’t put anyone into a “porn machine.” There’s no point. Terrorists can’t penetrate that deeply into the airport.

The Israeli experience isn’t pleasant, exactly, and there’s a lot not to like about it. It can be exasperating for those of us who are interrogated more thoroughly.

The system has its advantages, though, aside from the fact that no one looks or reaches into anyone’s pants. Israelis don’t use security theater to make passengers feel like they’re safe. They use real security measures to ensure that travelers actually are safe. Even when suicide bombers exploded themselves almost daily in Israeli cities, not a single one managed to get through that airport.

 

SEARCHING YOUR LAPTOP

Searching Your Laptop
Editorial
The New York Times
November 15, 2010

Federal courts have long agreed that federal agents guarding the borders do not need a warrant or probable cause to search a traveler’s belongings. That exception to the Fourth Amendment needs updating and tightening to reflect the realities of the digital age.

The government has a sovereign right and responsibility to secure the borders. The recent discovery of two powerful package bombs being shipped to the United States is a reminder of the many dangers out there.

There is also a big difference between government agents scanning items for explosives or looking through a suitcase full of clothing, and searching through the hard drive of a laptop computer containing work papers, financial records, e-mail messages and Web site visits.

Although the number of travelers whose devices are searched is small compared with the many millions who cross American borders each year, the problem is real. Between October 2008 and June 2010, more than 6,600 travelers – nearly 3,000 of them American – were subjected to such searches, according to government records released in response to a Freedom of Information request.

The George W. Bush administration first authorized border agents to seize and view the contents of laptops, smartphones, and other devices and copy and share data with other government agencies without need for any individualized suspicion of wrongdoing.

The Obama administration has tweaked the policy, requiring approval from supervisors to hold a seized device for more than five days, for example. The fundamental flaw remains: it permits the government to engage in indiscriminate and invasive fishing expeditions.

The Supreme Court has yet to confront the issue. But in a disappointing ruling in 2008, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco said that agents at a border need not meet even the low threshold of reasonable suspicion to justify a warrantless laptop search. The ruling reversed a lower court’s finding that laptops are “an extension of our own memory” and too personal to allow government searches without some reasonable and articulable suspicion.

The American Civil Liberties Union has now filed a lawsuit challenging the policy on behalf of press photographers, criminal defense attorneys and a doctoral student in Islamic studies whose laptop was searched and confiscated this spring.

Congress should not wait for resolution of the case. It should approve legislation along the lines of the Travelers’ Privacy Protection Act proposed two years ago in the Senate.

It would have confined border laptop searches involving American citizens and residents to situations where agents have a reasonable suspicion of illegal activity and require a higher standard of probable cause and a warrant or court order when a laptop is held for more than 24 hours. The measure also set strict limits on disclosure and sharing of information from devices seized at the border and requires the Department of Homeland Security to report regularly to Congress and the public on its search policies and practices.

The Senate bill’s leading sponsor, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, was defeated in this month’s election. His three Democratic co-sponsors – Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, Ron Wyden of Oregon, and Maria Cantwell of Washington – should press the issue in the new Senate.

The challenge, as ever, is to strike a balance that grants sufficient leeway to protect the nation’s borders without allowing the intimate details of people’s lives and work to be searched, seized and copied on a whim.

 

MORE CLUES ON STUXNET

New Stuxnet clues suggest sabotage of Iran’s uranium enrichment program
Symantec says Stuxnet worm monkeys with electrical motor controls, like those used by gas centrifuges to enrich uranium
By Gregg Keizer
Computer World
November 15, 2010

www.computerworld.com/s/article/9196458/New_Stuxnet_clues_suggest_sabotage_of_Iran_s_uranium_enrichment_program?taxonomyId=13

Researchers have uncovered new clues that the Stuxnet worm may have been created to sabotage Iranian attempts to turn uranium into atomic bomb-grade fuel.

According to Eric Chien, one of three Symantec researchers who have dug into Stuxnet, the worm targets industrial systems that control very high speed electrical motors, such as those used to spin gas centrifuges, one of the ways uranium can be enriched into fissionable material.

One expert called Symantec’s discovery “very interesting indeed.”

Chien reported Symantec’s new findings in a blog post last Friday and in a revised paper first published in September.

Stuxnet, considered by many security researchers to be the most sophisticated malware ever, targeted Windows PCs that managed large-scale industrial-control systems in manufacturing and utility companies. Those control systems, called SCADA, for “supervisory control and data acquisition,” operate everything from power plants and factory machinery to oil pipelines and military installations.

Since the worm was first detected in June, researchers have come to believe that it was crafted by a state-sponsored team of programmers, and designed to cripple Iran’s nuclear program.

In September, Iran officials confirmed that Stuxnet infected 30,000 PCs in the country, but have denied that the worm had caused any significant damage or infiltrated the SCADA systems at the Bushehr nuclear reactor.

Symantec’s latest analysis indicates that the reactor was not the target. Instead, Stuxnet aimed to disrupt uranium enrichment efforts.

Stuxnet looks for devices called “frequency converter drives” connected to a SCADA system, said Chien. Such drives take electrical current from a power grid, then change the output to a much higher frequency, typically 600 Hz or higher.

“The high-frequency output from the frequency changer is fed to the high-speed gas centrifuge drive motors (the speed of an AC motor is proportional to the frequency of the supplied current),” states the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) in an explanation of uranium production on its Web site. “The centrifuge power supplies must operate at high efficiency, provide low harmonic distortion, and provide precise control of the output frequency.”

Stuxnet, however, monkeys with the output frequency over a period of months, Symantec said in its revised paper (download PDF).

When it finds converter drives operating between 807 Hz and 1210 Hz, the worm resets the frequency to 1410 Hz, then after 27 days, drops the frequency to just 2 Hz and later bumps it up to 1064 Hz. It then repeats the process.

“Interfering with the speed of the motors sabotages the normal operation of the industrial control process,” said Chien.

Sabotaging centrifuge motor speed will do more than that, said Ivanka Barzashka, a research assistant with the Strategic Security Program of FAS, and an expert on gas centrifuges. “A centrifuge is a delicate piece of equipment and operating a centrifuge at the right frequency is extremely important,” Barzashka said in an e-mail Sunday. “Problems controlling the operating frequency can cause the machines to fly apart.”

Although Symantec did not claim outright that Iran’s uranium enrichment operations were the target, it provided tantalizing clues.

Stuxnet targets converter drives made by only two manufacturers: Finland’s Vacon and Iran’s own Fararo Paya.

The latter is significant, as researchers have said Iran was the country hardest hit by the initial wave of Stuxnet infections.

The high frequency of the targeted converters also points to a possible gas centrifuge application. For example, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (U.S. NRC) restricts exports of converter drives able to output at frequencies higher than 600 Hz because they are required to operate gas centrifuges.

Gas centrifuges are hollow tubes that spin at very high speeds, and are used to separate the fissionable U-235 isotope from the much more prevalent U-238 found in natural uranium. Iran, which first started its centrifuge project in 1987, has installed centrifuges in an underground facility at Natanz in central Iran.

According to a paper published in Physics Today, the flagship journal of the American Institute of Physics, Iran began testing a 164-centrifuge assembly in April 2006, and soon after reported it had produced minute quantities of low-enriched uranium. A year later, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, boasted that Iran had begun production of enriched uranium using 3,000 centrifuges.

By September 2008, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran was using nearly 4,000 centrifuges and was in the process of adding several thousand more.

Symantec’s Chien acknowledged that he and his colleagues were not experts in industrial control systems, and that there may be other uses for high-frequency converter drives outside of gas centrifuges. He called on experts in their use to contact Symantec.

“Symantec’s findings about Stuxnet are very interesting indeed,” said Barzashka.


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.