Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #5415 on: Nov 3rd, 2011, 12:11pm »
'Fast and Furious' flap likely to linger
By Matt Smith , CNN 11-02-2011 updated 5:54 AM EST, Thu November 3, 2011
(CNN) -- A botched gun probe that allowed hundreds of weapons to reach Mexico's drug cartels is likely to be a lingering but not fatal controversy for the Obama administration, observers said Wednesday.
Republicans in Congress have been publicly pounding Justice Department officials since June, when whistleblowers from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives testified to a House committee about the ill-fated "Operation Fast and Furious." The operation, launched in 2009, was aimed at cutting off the flow of guns to Mexico's drug cartels through straw buyers, but it allowed about 2,000 weapons to reach the hands of the cartels.
In December 2010, two weapons sold under the Fast and Furious program were found at the scene of the killing of a Border Patrol agent in the Arizona desert. ATF agents kept their Mexican counterparts in the dark about the probe even as rising numbers of guns crossed the border, and about 1,400 firearms remain unaccounted for, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee reported in July.
Congressional committees and the Justice Department's independent inspector-general are now looking into what happened, with Republicans accusing Attorney General Eric Holder of trying to stiff-arm investigators. But as embarrassing as "Fast and Furious" may be, it's not in the same league as administration-threatening scandals like Watergate or the Harding administration's Teapot Dome, University of Virginia analyst Larry Sabato said.
"The only scandals that matter in a presidential year are the ones that directly connect to a president," Sabato said. He added, "Everybody admits it was a dumb idea," but similar programs were launched during the Bush administration.
Nor does the controversy about "Fast and Furious" appear to be a mortal threat to anyone's job at this point, said Peter Toren, a former federal prosecutor and Justice Department official.
"It's certainly a black eye for the Justice Department," which oversees the ATF, Toren said. But he added, "This is more of a botched operation rather than a scandal."
The flap has so far resulted in the ouster of acting ATF chief Kenneth Melson and the resignation of the U.S. attorney for Arizona, Dennis Burke, in August. President Barack Obama told ABC News in October, "People who screwed up will be held accountable."
And Holder is likely to face tough questions about the matter next Tuesday, when he is slated to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee's ranking Republican, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, is a leading critic of the probe.
Republicans have recently questioned whether Holder misled Congress about when he learned about the program. Holder told the House Judiciary Committee in May that he had known about the Fast and Furious program for just a few weeks; Republicans say recently released Justice Department documents show the attorney general actually knew about the program in July 2010, but a memo to Holder that referenced the operation does not appear to contain any of the controversial tactics it employed.
Toren said Republicans are "understandably" trying to lay the blame for the fiasco on Holder. But Holder doesn't appear to have had "intimate knowledge" of the ATF program.
"There have been some suggestions that at least he knew something about it. He might have known the name, he might have been briefed that there was an operation," Toren said. "I haven't seen anything that suggests that he should be held responsible for the program."
Holder slapped back in an October letter reaffirming his testimony and calling GOP allegations about the program "irresponsible and inflammatory." And he appears to have caught a break this week, when a top deputy told senators he failed to warn Holder and other Justice officials about the tactics used in "Fast and Furious" after a previous operation.
Lanny Breuer, the assistant attorney general in charge of the criminal division, told a Judiciary subcommittee he first learned of the tactic of allowing illegally purchased guns to leave gun shops in April 2010, regarding a previous operation known as "Wide Receiver."
"I wish that at that time that I had said clearly to the deputy attorney general and the attorney general that in this case, 'Wide Receiver,' we had determined in 2006 and 2007 guns had 'walked.' I did not do that, and I regret not doing that," Breuer admitted.
Sabato said Breuer "is taking one for the team" by admitting the mistake. His testimony may not satisfy Republicans, but, "There isn't a smoking gun here for somebody as high as Holder," Sabato said.
Nevertheless, Toren said, it's likely that the questions are going to keep coming as the investigations continue.
"I think it would be best to get out in front of it, say what really happened and let the chips fall where they may," he said.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #5419 on: Nov 4th, 2011, 08:33am »
New York Times
November 3, 2011 Israel Faces Questions About News Reports of Eyeing Iran Strike By ISABEL KERSHNER and DAVID E. SANGER
JERUSALEM — Israel’s top leadership has spent the week answering and evading questions about widespread reports that it is once again considering a strike on Iran’s nuclear complexes, while President Obama said Thursday that he and his allies would maintain “unprecedented international pressure” on Tehran to keep it from producing a nuclear weapon.
Israeli officials would not confirm or deny multiple reports in the Israeli news media that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were pressing for a decision on whether and when to strike a uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, the centerpiece of Iran’s known nuclear-fuel production, and related sites across the country.
Several Israeli ministers have publicly placed blame for the leaks on Meir Dagan, the former chief of Israel’s Mossad intelligence service, who after leaving office this year said that Mr. Netanyahu was intent on launching such an attack, and had to be restrained by opposition from top intelligence and military officials, almost all of whom have since left office.
Mr. Dagan, who is believed to have played a central role in unleashing the Stuxnet computer worm that set back Iran’s nuclear efforts by disabling about a fifth of its nuclear centrifuges, has argued that military action is unlikely to do enough damage and could set off a new war in the Middle East.
Speaking to an audience in Tel Aviv on Wednesday night, Mr. Dagan challenged the government to indict him. “Have I violated information security?” he asked. “Then let them prosecute me. Let them say, ‘Dagan has broken the law.’ I’ll get a good lawyer.”
Israel has debated the viability and effects of attacks many times in the past seven years, often to Washington’s consternation. Obama administration officials, in private conversations with the Israelis, have argued that the combination of economic sanctions and covert sabotage of the Iranian effort has been more effective than an attack could be, without the risk of provoking counterattacks or a war.
But the most recent debate has been prompted by the confluence of three events that has made the issue seem especially urgent in Israel, according to American officials who have been worried about whether Israel might conduct a surprise attack.
The first is Iran’s continued production of low- and medium-enriched uranium: it now has enough fuel for roughly four bombs, though producing them would require more time, more enrichment, and more risk of exposure. The second is Iran’s declaration that it is moving much of its production to a well-protected underground site near the holy city of Qum.
“The Israelis fear that once it’s moved underground they won’t have the ability to see it, or reach it,” one American official said recently.
But perhaps the most important event is a forthcoming report from the International Atomic Energy Agency, expected next week. For the first time, the agency is expected to describe, in detail, the evidence it has collected suggesting that Iranian scientists have experimented with warhead designs, nuclear detonation systems and specialized triggering devices that can be explained only as work on a nuclear weapon.
Iran has said the data is fabricated, and vowed to publish its own evidence of Western terrorist plots against Iran.
Mr. Obama and NATO allies, at a summit meeting in Cannes, France, have steered clear of any talk of military strikes, and said they remained focused on economic sanctions and other forms of diplomatic pressure, including enforcement of several United Nations Security Council resolutions that demand that Iran stop all uranium enrichment.
The secretary general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said Thursday that “NATO has no intention whatsoever to intervene in Iran, and NATO is not engaged as an alliance in the Iran question,” according to The Associated Press.
The British newspaper The Guardian reported on Wednesday that Britain’s armed forces were stepping up their contingency planning for potential military action along with the United States against Iran. The Guardian added that the British Ministry of Defense “believes the U.S. may decide to fast-forward plans for targeted missile strikes at some key Iranian facilities.”
Mr. Obama discussed Iran on Thursday with the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy. Mr. Obama told reporters that the International Atomic Energy Agency “is scheduled to release a report on Iran’s nuclear program next week, and President Sarkozy and I agree on the need to maintain the unprecedented pressure on Iran to meet its obligations.”
One of his deputy national security advisers, Benjamin J. Rhodes, told reporters later that Mr. Obama’s comments had to be separated “from any type of speculation or hypothetical situation as it relates to military action.”
But at the same time he said the atomic energy agency’s report would probably renew the opportunity for “ratcheting up” sanctions that “have slowed the Iranian economy to a halt.”
“They’re the only treaty member of the NPT,” he said, referring to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, “that cannot convince the International Atomic Energy Agency that their program is peaceful. And that’s precisely why they’re facing the type of international pressure that they’re facing.”
The treaty also applies to five powers that have possessed nuclear weapons for decades: the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China. Three countries have refused to sign the treaty, including Israel, which is widely known to have its own nuclear stockpile.
In Britain, officials and academics cautioned against mistaking the drumbeat for actual preparations for a strike in the near or medium term. The common view is that the United States, Britain and Israel have all been engaging in a concerted effort to step up the pressure on Iran.
Dana Allin, a scholar and author who is a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said it seemed clear that Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Barak “really are convinced that now might be a good time” for a strike, in view of the convulsions of the Arab Spring and the fact that American troops will be out of Iraq by Dec. 31, removing them as hostages to a possible spike in attacks by Iranian-supported militias. But as for an increased tempo in planning for an actual attack, he said, “That strikes me as implausible.”
The speculation about possible military action began last Friday with a column by one of Israel’s most prominent journalists, Nahum Barnea, that dominated the front page of the newspaper Yediot Aharonot. Mr. Barnea posed the question of whether Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Barak had privately decided on a military strike, a question that Mr. Barnea said was preoccupying many in the Israeli government and the security establishment, as well as many in foreign governments.
The Israeli prime minister’s office refused to comment on a report in the newspaper Kuwaiti Al-Jarida on Thursday that said Mr. Netanyahu had ordered his security services to investigate Mr. Dagan and the former chief of the internal Shin Bet security agency, Yuval Diskin, in connection with the leaks.
But while Israeli ministers berated the news media for what was described as irresponsible behavior, the government on Wednesday tested what experts said was a long-range ballistic missile. The same day, the Israeli military announced that its air force had just completed a weeklong joint exercise with Italy’s air force in Sardinia, practicing for operational capabilities in conditions that do not exist in Israel.
Isabel Kershner reported from Jerusalem, and David E. Sanger from Washington. John F. Burns contributed reporting from London, and Helene Cooper from Cannes, France.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #5420 on: Nov 4th, 2011, 08:36am »
Border agents rescue 5 illegal immigrants from tunnel November 3, 2011 | 11:14 pm
Border Patrol agents rescued five illegal immigrants who became stuck in a tunnel as they were trying to enter the United States from Mexico near Otay Mesa, federal authorities said Thursday.
An agent on patrol early Wednesday noticed a man stuck in an opening in the ground, Customs and Border Protection said. The man told the agent there were four other people in the tunnel behind him.
Four men and one woman, all Mexican citizens, were pulled from the tunnel with the help of the San Diego and Chula Vista fire departments.
The makeshift tunnel branched off an abandoned gas line near the Otay Mesa port of entry, the agency said. The illegal immigrants had entered the tunnel via a manhole on the Mexican side of the border near the international boundary.
The five adults were taken into custody. The case was under investigation.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #5421 on: Nov 4th, 2011, 08:40am »
UFOs puzzle Free State residents
November 3 2011 at 11:34am
Fiery unidentified flying objects over the Free State have left star gazers puzzled, the Volksblad newspaper reported on Thursday.
Riaan van Greuning, of the Mpumalanga hamlet of Eloff near Delmas, said that on Sunday night at around 10pm he saw a strange phenomenon while travelling in the Harrismith area and took photographs of what looked like fireballs.
“It was cloudy and the phenomenon was fairly low in the sky. Five of these objects appeared in a matter of 20 minutes,” the report quoted Van Greuning as saying.
He said the fireballs moved from north to south, made no noise and were relatively slow moving.
“I do not know what it was. Something like this makes one think. All I know is that it was not a helicopter's searchlight.”
Van Greuning said since the incident he had consulted several websites, but could not get clarity on what he saw.
He does not believe in aliens but admitted the incident was “a strange thing”.
The newspaper reported that Bloemfontein readers wrote on its Facebook page they also have seen “strange lights” the past few nights.
* South Africa is hosting a UFO conference in Johannesburg from 25 to 27 November. - Sapa
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #5422 on: Nov 4th, 2011, 08:44am »
Wired Danger Room
Darpa’s Plan to Trap the Next WikiLeaker: Decoy Documents By Dawn Lim November 4, 2011 | 6:30 am Categories: DarpaWatch
WikiLeakers may have to think twice before clicking on that “classified” document. It could be the digital smoking gun that points back at them.
Darpa-funded researchers are building a program for “generating and distributing believable misinformation.” The ultimate goal is to plant auto-generated, bogus documents in classified networks and program them to track down intruders’ movements, a military research abstract reveals.
“We want to flood adversaries with information that’s bogus, but looks real,” says Salvatore Stolfo, the Columbia University computer science professor leading the project. “This will confound and misdirect them.” (You can make your own fake doc on the research lab’s website, too.)
The program aims to scare off uninvited riff-raff as well as minimize insider threats, one of the greatest vulnerabilities in military networks. Fake “classified” documents, when touched, will take a snapshot of the IP address of the intruder and the time it was opened, alerting a systems administrator of the breach.
With that trail of digital breadcrumbs, agencies can track down prying eyes more easily. It’s not only a way to stop the new “systemic threat” demonstrated by “the recent disclosure of sensitive and classified government documents through WikiLeaks,” as a summary of the project notes. The deeper goal is to make hackers and whistleblowers jittery about whether the data they’ve stumbled on is actually real.
With Congress demanding the Defense Department work on eliminating insider threats, feds have been in overdrive trying to prevent another document-dump at the scale of WikiLeaks, even going to the extremes of threatening to prosecute airmen who let their families read the site.
This decoy-detecting project is funded as part of Anomaly Detection at Multiple Scales, a program to design ways of sniffing out “malicious” insider threat behavior. It’s not the only Pentagon program aimed at weeding out disloyal troops. Led by Peiter “Mudge” Zatko, former hacker-rockstar of the freewheeling Boston’s L0pht collective, Darpa is dreaming ways to detect signs of subversion or infiltration as part of a program called Cyber Insider Threat.
Under this plan, the decoy docs would undermine hackers’ trust in the integrity of data, make them question whether releasing it in the public domain would be worth it, and force WikiLeakers to do more work verifying their authenticity. (Take the document we made above, for example.)
“If we implant lots of decoys in a system, the adversary has to expend own resources to determine what’s real and what’s not,” Stolfo tells Danger Room.
If a bogus document is actually released online, it would shatter the credibility of the whistleblowing website that published it, said Stolfo. So even after an attacker has hacked through firewalls, tricked intrusion detection technology and gained unfettered access into a system, he’ll hesitate before making away with the goods.
Columbia University has a pending patent application on the decoy-creating technology. Stolfo co-founded Allure Security Technology in 2009 to make products based on that technology.
“I don’t know who has the patent for the concept of deception, though,” he joked. “It possibly dates back to the time of Adam and Eve. Now we’re trying to automate the process.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #5423 on: Nov 4th, 2011, 5:02pm »
AP Exclusive: CIA following Twitter, Facebook
By KIMBERLY DOZIER, AP Intelligence Writer 4 November 2011
McLEAN, Virginia (AP) — In an anonymous industrial park in Virginia, in an unassuming brick building, the CIA is following tweets — up to 5 million a day.
At the agency's Open Source Center, a team known affectionately as the "vengeful librarians" also pores over Facebook, newspapers, TV news channels, local radio stations, Internet chat rooms — anything overseas that anyone can access and contribute to openly.
From Arabic to Mandarin Chinese, from an angry tweet to a thoughtful blog, the analysts gather the information, often in native tongue. They cross-reference it with the local newspaper or a clandestinely intercepted phone conversation. From there, they build a picture sought by the highest levels at the White House, giving a real-time peek, for example, at the mood of a region after the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden or perhaps a prediction of which Mideast nation seems ripe for revolt.
Yes, they saw the uprising in Egypt coming; they just didn't know exactly when revolution might hit, said the center's director, Doug Naquin.
The center already had "predicted that social media in places like Egypt could be a game-changer and a threat to the regime," he said in a recent interview with The Associated Press at the center. CIA officials said it was the first such visit by a reporter the agency has ever granted.
The CIA facility was set up in response to a recommendation by the 9/11 Commission, with its first priority to focus on counterterrorism and counterproliferation. But its several hundred analysts — the actual number is classified — track a broad range, from Chinese Internet access to the mood on the street in Pakistan.
While most are based in Virginia, the analysts also are scattered throughout U.S. embassies worldwide to get a step closer to the pulse of their subjects.
The most successful analysts, Naquin said, are something like the heroine of the crime novel "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," a quirky, irreverent computer hacker who "knows how to find stuff other people don't know exists."
Those with a masters' degree in library science and multiple languages, especially those who grew up speaking another language, "make a powerful open source officer," Naquin said.
The center had started focusing on social media after watching the Twitter-sphere rock the Iranian regime during the Green Revolution of 2009, when thousands protested the results of the elections that put Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad back in power. "Farsi was the third largest presence in social media blogs at the time on the Web," Naquin said.
The center's analysis ends up in President Barack Obama's daily intelligence briefing in one form or another, almost every day.
After bin Laden was killed in Pakistan in May, the CIA followed Twitter to give the White House a snapshot of world public opinion.
Since tweets can't necessarily be pegged to a geographic location, the analysts broke down reaction by languages. The result: The majority of Urdu tweets, the language of Pakistan, and Chinese tweets, were negative. China is a close ally of Pakistan's. Pakistani officials protested the raid as an affront to their nation's sovereignty, a sore point that continues to complicate U.S.-Pakistani relations.
When the president gave his speech addressing Mideast issues a few weeks after the raid, the tweet response over the next 24 hours came in negative from Turkey, Egypt, Yemen, Algeria, the Persian Gulf and Israel, too, with speakers of Arabic and Turkic tweets charging that Obama favored Israel, and Hebrew tweets denouncing the speech as pro-Arab.
In the next few days, major news media came to the same conclusion, as did analysis by the covert side of U.S. intelligence based on intercepts and human intelligence gathered in the region.
The center is also in the process of comparing its social media results with the track record of polling organizations, trying to see which produces more accurate results, Naquin said.
"We do what we can to caveat that we may be getting an overrepresentation of the urban elite," said Naquin, acknowledging that only a small slice of the population in many areas they are monitoring has access to computers and Internet. But he points out that access to social media sites via cellphones is growing in areas like Africa, meaning a "wider portion of the population than you might expect is sounding off and holding forth than it might appear if you count the Internet hookups in a given country."
Sites like Facebook and Twitter also have become a key resource for following a fast-moving crisis such as the riots that raged across Bangkok in April and May of last year, the center's deputy director said. The Associated Press agreed not to identify him because he sometimes still works undercover in foreign countries.
As director, Naquin is identified publicly by the agency although the location of the center is kept secret to deter attacks, whether physical or electronic.
The deputy director was one of a skeleton crew of 20 U.S. government employees who kept the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok running throughout the rioting as protesters surged through the streets, swarming the embassy neighborhood and trapping U.S. diplomats and Thais alike in their homes.
The army moved in, and traditional media reporting slowed to a trickle as local reporters were either trapped or cowed by government forces.
"But within an hour, it was all surging out on Twitter and Facebook," the deputy director said. The CIA homed in on 12 to 15 users who tweeted situation reports and cellphone photos of demonstrations. The CIA staff cross-referenced the tweeters with the limited news reports to figure out who among them was providing reliable information. Tweeters also policed themselves, pointing out when someone else had filed an inaccurate account.
"That helped us narrow down to those dozen we could count on," he said.
Ultimately, some two-thirds of the reports coming out of the embassy being sent back to all branches of government in Washington came from the CIA's open source analysis throughout the crisis.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #5427 on: Nov 5th, 2011, 11:54am »
San Francisco Chronicle
Asteroid headed our way will miss by this much
David Perlman, Chronicle Science Editor San Francisco Chronicle November 5, 2011 04:00 AM
A massive chunk of black rock bigger than four city blocks is speeding toward us from outer space at more than 30,000 miles an hour.
Scientists say the asteroid won't hit us, but it will be barely more than 200,000 miles away when it passes Earth at 11:13 p.m. Tuesday, and in cosmic terms that's really close.
Astronomers at the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland will be tracking the fast-moving object with the center's 36-inch telescope, as will scientists at other observatories around the world.
The asteroid is more than 1,300 feet in diameter - about a quarter-mile - and right now it's invisible from Earth. But amateurs with 6-inch telescopes should be able to pick it up when it flies by late Tuesday night, as it moves swiftly eastward in its orbit around the sun.
"You can spot it until well after midnight right near the horse's nose in the constellation Pegasus," said Gerald McKeegan of the East Bay Astronomical Society, a member of the Chabot observing team.
The asteroid was detected six years ago by Robert S. McMillan, director of the University of Arizona's Spacewatch project, whose telescopes atop Kitt Peak near Tucson survey the skies nightly for what NASA calls NEOs, or Near Earth Objects.
The Spacewatch team relayed its information to Harvard University's Minor Planet Center, which maintains detailed records of asteroids and comets discovered by astronomers from all over the world.
The astronomical name given this one is 2005 YU55 - a term that designates its discovery date and time. At first, the Minor Planet Center termed the asteroid a "potentially hazardous object" before astronomers determined its course.
Jim Scotti, a Spacewatch research scientist, said the asteroid disappeared from view soon after it was detected, but was rediscovered by other astronomers early last year and was "heavily observed" until April 20, when it disappeared again and hasn't been seen since.
"It is coming from the direction of the sun, so we won't be able to observe it until close to the time of its ... approach," Scotti said. "But no worries since it has been so well observed in the past, we know where it is."
Chemistry like meteorite
Donald Yeomans, director of NASA's Near Earth Object program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, said the asteroid is a "C type" object, heavily loaded with carbon and hydrated minerals containing water.
Because of the carbon, it is deeply black, much like the common carbonaceous meteorites that often fall to Earth and that contain the organic chemicals essential for life.
David Morrrison, senior space scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View and an asteroid expert, said objects this size fly past Earth every 20 to 30 years.
"But we haven't by any means discovered all the nearby asteroids," Morrison said. "When we do, we'll probably find they're coming every 10 years or so."
As asteroid 2005 YU55 flies on, the gentle tug of Earth's gravity will alter its orbit ever so slightly, Morrison said, and when it passes Venus in 2029, that planet's gravity will change its orbit once again.
The space agency's NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft flew past a huge C-type asteroid named Mathilde in 1997, and images revealed that it was heavily cratered. That asteroid, discovered and named by French astronomers in 1885, is more than 30 miles in diameter.
Tuesday's pass-by will give scientists a rare opportunity for a close-up look at this asteroid, Yeomans said. NASA's Deep Space Network, with huge radio telescopes at Goldstone in the Mojave Desert, has new radar capabilities that should provide exceptional images of 2005 YU55, he said.
"I'm hoping to see if there are craters on its surface that could tell us if it was also scarred by impacts from other objects," Yeomans said.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #5428 on: Nov 5th, 2011, 11:57am »
New York Times
November 5, 2011 Leader Is Dead, but Danger Still Seen in Colombian Rebels By SIMON ROMERO
RIO DE JANEIRO — The killing of the top commander of Colombia’s largest guerrilla group dealt what might be the most severe blow yet to the four-decade-old insurgency, but security experts said Saturday that the rebels still had the ability to regroup and carry on the fight.
Elite Colombian forces had been hunting the commander, Alfonso Cano, 63, since he took over the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, three years ago, before they killed him near a rebel camp in the remote southwest on Friday.
President Juan Manuel Santos hailed the raid as “the most devastating blow that this group has suffered in its history.”
“I want to send a message to each and every member of that organization: demobilize,” Mr. Santos said in a televised address. “Because if you don’t, as we’ve said so many times and as we’ve shown, you will end up in jail or in a tomb.”
Indeed, the rebels have suffered numerous setbacks in recent years. The guerrillas’ legendary leader, Manuel Marulanda, died of a heart attack in 2008. Earlier that year, Colombian forces killed FARC’s second in command, Raúl Reyes. Last year, they killed the field marshal known as Mono Jojoy.
Hundreds of rebels have deserted in recent years, thinning the group’s ranks from an estimated peak of 17,000.
Still, FARC, a Marxist-inspired group that has financed itself from the proceeds of its cocaine trade and abductions, has been able to carry out deadly attacks on Colombia’s security forces. In the space of a few days last month, one attack attributed to the group killed 10 soldiers in the province of Nariño and another killed 10 soldiers near the border with Venezuela.
“The military forces can take a deep breath,” said Ariel Ávila, a conflict analyst with the Bogotá research group Arco Iris. “But this isn’t the end of the guerrillas. They still have some time left.”
Mr. Ávila said that Mr. Cano’s killing dealt a political blow to FARC, since he symbolized the group’s small amount of support in urban areas, as well as a military blow, since Mr. Cano had overseen a more aggressive strategy of holding ground against advances by Colombia’s army.
Mr. Cano was a bespectacled, bearded former anthropologist who joined FARC after dabbling in university politics in Bogotá, the capital. Born Guillermo León Sáenz, he grew up in Bogotá’s middle class, and his bookish appearance separated him from others with rougher origins in FARC’s high command.
The attack on Mr. Cano’s bastion in a remote, forested area of the Cauca region in southwestern Colombia began with a bombing raid around dawn on Friday. Mr. Cano then fled the rebel camp, but hours later special forces soldiers caught up with him and surrounded him and his men, the newspaper El Tiempo said, citing military sources.
The Colombian forces, with assistance from police intelligence operatives, fired on Mr. Cano’s group, then retreated for about two hours, El Tiempo said. They attacked again with even heavier fire, after which Mr. Cano was found dead.
Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said the operation killed four other guerrillas, while five were captured. The rebel unit was a surprisingly small one to be accompanying FARC’s leader.
Mr. Pinzón said Mr. Cano was clean shaven when he was killed. “His wallet, glasses and weapons were recovered,” Mr. Pinzón told journalists in Bogotá.
Mr. Cano’s body was taken to the city of Popayán, and a photograph was distributed to the Colombian news media. Mr. Pinzón declined to comment on whether the United States, the top provider of military aid to Colombia, had assisted in the operation.
Despite the killings of prominent rebels, Colombia’s war against FARC and other armed groups has entered a complicated new phase. Advances against FARC and the National Liberation Army, or E.L.N., a smaller guerrilla group, have squeezed the insurgents into border areas with Venezuela and Ecuador.
Mr. Santos has improved relations with both countries, and Venezuela and Ecuador seem to be cooperating more with the capture of midlevel rebels. But once the rebels cross Colombia’s borders, they still face much less pressure than they do from the well-trained Colombian forces.
Two FARC commanders who have operated along Colombia’s border with Venezuela, Iván Márquez and José Benito Cabrera, who uses the alias Timochenko, are thought to be contenders to take Mr. Cano’s place. But analysts of Colombia’s war against FARC say Mr. Cano’s successor will face challenges in maintaining unity among the group’s various factions.
FARC’s weakening has also raised the possibility that a new top commander may engage in talks with the government to seek an end to the war. Gustavo Petro, the newly elected mayor of Bogotá and himself a former guerrilla with the M-19 group, said, “Dialogue is the only way.”
Some officials speculated that while Mr. Cano’s killing was by no means the end of the war, it might have finally marginalized FARC as a security threat.
“No one else can keep the group together like he did,” said Marta Lucia Ramírez, a former Colombian defense minister, of Mr. Cano. “They’ve stopped being a threat for Colombian democracy, but they continue being a threat to the citizenry.”
Jenny Carolina González contributed reporting from Bogotá, Colombia.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #5429 on: Nov 5th, 2011, 12:04pm »
Phoenix UFO Mystery Solved: What Were Those Lights?
By BENJAMIN RADFORD, Discovery News Nov. 5, 2011
On Friday night Oct. 28, four bright lights were seen and videotaped during a high school football game in Scottsdale, Ariz., near Phoenix. The strange lights, which were seen by hundreds of people and videotaped by at least two of them, seemed to move slowly in the sky, sometimes blinking randomly. The entire sighting lasted for about a minute and a half.
According to Fox 10 News, one fan at the high school took a video and posted it to YouTube, where within days it became one of the top stories on Yahoo News, sparked "a national mystery" and garnered over 50,000 views.
Several explanations were put forth to explain the mysterious lights, ranging from helicopters to camera lens flares. But of course the favored explanation was spacecraft: did we finally have good video proof that mankind is being visited by aliens?
Others weren't so sure and suggested that the bright lights resembled nighttime skydivers with flares. To some this explanation seemed even more outlandish than extraterrestrial spacecraft flying by to watch a high school football game: What would skydivers be doing with flares in the night sky? And if they were skydivers and had done this before, why wouldn't people have known about it, or recognized it? Was it all some prank or hoax?
As the story got more and more publicity, a helicopter pilot for Fox Channel 10, Rick Crabbs, went on the air and told what he knew. And he knew a lot.
He was at an event called the "Halloween Balloon Spooktacular" in which a skydiving team called the Arizona Skyhawks jumped out of a plane with bright magnesium flares for a show. "I was at the location where those skydivers were coming in Friday night," Crabbs stated in a Fox10 news report, "That's exactly what happened: there were some skydivers. And they did have pyrotechnics on their ankles. There were four of them, and if you look at the video, you can see actually four different lights."
Much of the area surrounding Horizon High School is open space that would be ideal for skydiving. But why weren't the lights identified earlier?
The answer is that though the event (held at a place called Salt River Fields) is about 15 miles from the high school, it is difficult to judge the distance of unknown objects in the sky -- and that's especially true for the night sky. Under clear conditions, bright lights can be seen for dozens of miles; some lighthouses can be seen more than fifty miles away, for example.
Robert Sheaffer, a UFO investigator with Skeptical Inquirer magazine and author of the Bad UFOs blog, told Discovery News, "It's remarkable how so many people, when they see lights in the sky, immediately jump to the conclusion that they might be seeing alien visitors... In reality there are many different possible explanations for lights in the sky, all of them more likely than 'alien visitors.' In this case, just a few minutes of web searching revealed not only that these lights were parachutists carrying flares, but gave us the actual identity of the parachutists."
This is not the first time that UFO lights have been reported over Phoenix. In 1997, bright flare-like lights were seen in the night sky, causing a surge of UFO reports. It was soon revealed that high-intensity flares had been dropped from the sky over a testing range at nearby Luke Air Force Base during military exercises.
In 2008 another set of mysterious lights were sighted; hundreds of Phoenix residents reported four bright red lights in the sky at about 8 p.m. Those turned out to be a hoax created by road flares tied to helium balloons.
Of course, as with the previous UFO lights seen over Phoenix, there will likely be some people who reject this latest explanation as inadequate, or smell a cover-up. For example, some suggest that the timing is wrong for skydivers to explain the Phoenix UFO lights seen Oct. 28. The Fox 10 news report clearly states that the high school video was taken at about 8:30 p.m. -- yet the skydiving was not scheduled until half an hour later, at 9 p.m.!
Aha! Is this proof that the "official explanation" is wrong, and that the lights remain unexplained?
Hardly. The news reporter may simply have misspoken, or the videomaker may not have looked at his watch to note the exact time, or the Skyhawks team may even have performed the jump a little earlier than advertised. The fact that some details don't match up perfectly (or that some eyewitness statements may be wrong or inexact) doesn't mean that the explanations are wrong.
For many conspiracy theorists nothing is as it seems, and simple explanations are viewed with suspicion. In their minds, it's ridiculous to think that flares in the night sky (in military exercises, or attached to balloons or skydivers) could account for the mysterious UFO lights.