BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Syrian army pressed attacks on rebels on Tuesday, bombarding the city of Douma near Damascus, and Turkey said it had scrambled F-16 fighters the previous day after Syrian helicopters flew near its border.
Turkey's armed forces command said the jets took off on Monday when Syrian transport helicopters were spotted flying near the frontier, without entering Turkish air space. It was the third day in a row that Turkey had scrambled its F-16s.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told a Turkish daily he wished his forces had not shot down a Turkish jet last month and that he would not allow tensions with Turkey to lead to war.
The downing of the Turkish F4 in disputed circumstances has aggravated hostility between Damascus and Ankara, which has raised its military profile to try to keep Syrian helicopters from Turkey's border zone where rebels and refugees are camped.
"We learned it belonged to Turkey after shooting it down. I say 100 percent 'if only we had not shot it down'," Turkey's Cumhuriyet daily quoted Assad as saying.
A Syrian general and 84 soldiers were the latest to defect and flee to Turkey on Monday. But army and government defections have so far failed to shake Assad's 12-year grip on power.
More violence erupted on Tuesday in a 16-month conflict that opposition leaders say has killed more than 15,000 people.
"There was heavy shelling all morning, now it has calmed down a bit but the siege of the city continues," said Abu Rami, an opposition activist in Homs, which has borne the brunt of an army onslaught on rebel strongholds.
"We are living with little food and little water," he said.
The army shelled towns and villages near Douma to which the embattled city's residents had fled at the weekend, according to Omar Hamzeh, spokesman for the revolutionary council of rural Damascus. He said at least six people had been killed.
Syrian helicopters bombarded Douma on Monday, activists said.
Diplomacy has so far failed to stem the bloodshed. World powers agreed at the weekend to back talks on a transitional government. But they failed to narrow differences between the West and Russia over Western demands that Assad must go.
Turkey, which has long demanded the Syrian leader's removal, said Assad could play no part in a transitional government, but suggested the Syrian opposition would do well to accept envoy Kofi Annan's internationally endorsed proposal.
"Our task is not to pressure the opposition or to persuade them of something," Davutoglu told Sky News Arabia in Cairo, where opposition groups were meeting for a second day.
He said Annan's mediation role meant the opposition would not have to negotiate with Assad under the transition plan.
"Thus I believe that accepting the Geneva statement would be a positive thing from the opposition," he said, according to an Arabic transcript of his remarks provided by Sky News Arabia.
His Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, said Syrian opposition leaders would hold talks in Moscow next week, but it was not clear if they would include any from the mainstream Syrian National Council (SNC) backed by the West and Turkey.
"We will use this coming meeting with yet another Syrian opposition group to continue work to end violence and start Syrian dialogue between the government and all groups of the Syrian opposition as soon as possible," Lavrov said.
Neither Assad nor those trying to topple him have shown much interest in peaceful compromise. Instead, they seem to be digging in for a winner-take-all struggle as Syria slides deeper into a civil war with sectarian overtones.
Syria's chief of staff, General Fahd Jassem al-Freij, said the nation was at war with conspirators seeking its destruction.
The official news agency SANA quoted him as saying Syria had dealt positively with all Arab and international initiatives to find a settlement, but its enemies had replied with escalation on the ground, coupled with media frenzy to disrupt normal life.
The rebel Free Syrian Army, spearheading the armed struggle against Assad, has boycotted the SNC gathering in Cairo, where the Arab League was urging Islamist and secular groups to end their quarrels and form a credible alternative authority.
Syrian opposition leaders have said Assad's removal must be the starting point for any resolution to the conflict because of the suffering he has inflicted on the Syrian people.
New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a report on "an archipelago" of Syrian state torture centers, citing accounts of victims who said they were beaten, burned with acid, sexually assaulted or had their fingernails torn out.
A meeting in Paris on Friday of the "Friends of Syria" grouping may see the United States come under pressure from Gulf Arab hawks, notably Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to do more to help the rebels, and from Turkey to play a bigger role.
Washington has long worried about the wisdom of backing Syria's opposition, which it sees as ill-organized, disparate and much too close to al Qaeda-linked militants.
"We're concerned about pouring more weapons into an already over-militarized situation," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Monday. "We've made our decision."
U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay warned the same day that arms supplies to the rebels and the government were aggravating the conflict.
(Additional reporting by Erika Solomon in Beirut, Sami Aboudi in Dubai, and Jonathan Burch and Jon Hemming in Ankara, Daren Butler in Istanbul and; Gabriela Baczynska in Moscow; Writing by Douglas Hamilton and Alistair Lyon; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
(This story has been refied to restore dropped word "diplomacy" in the twelfth paragraph)
Eric Holder says Republicans have made him a ‘proxy’ to attack President Obama
By Sari Horwitz, Published: July 2
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. sharply criticized lawmakers Monday for voting to hold him in contempt of Congress last week, saying Republicans have made him a “proxy” to attack President Obama in an election year.
In his first interview since Thursday’s vote, Holder said lawmakers have used an investigation of a botched gun-tracking operation as a way to seek retribution against the Justice Department for its policies on a host of issues, including immigration, voting rights and gay marriage. He said the chairman of the committee leading the inquiry, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), is engaging in political theater as the Justice Department tries to focus on public safety.
“I’ve been doing all of these things all the time Darrell Issa and his band have been nipping at my heels,” a defiant Holder said. “They’ve been nipping, but I’ve been walking.”
The attorney general has long been a lightning rod for Republican lawmakers’ anger toward the Obama administration. But Holder said the debate over documents related to the gun operation, known as “Fast and Furious” — along with the National Rifle Association’s attempts to make it an electoral issue — have made matters worse.
“I’ve become a symbol of what they don’t like about the positions this Justice Department has taken,” he said. “I am also a proxy for the president in an election year. You have to be exceedingly naive to think that vote was about . . . documents.”
The House voted Thursday to make Holder the first sitting attorney general in U.S. history to be held in contempt, after he withheld certain documents that lawmakers have demanded as part of their investigation of Fast and Furious.
As part of the gun operation, run by the Phoenix office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, federal agents watched as more than 2,000 guns hit the streets; their goal was to trace them to a Mexican drug cartel. Two guns linked to the operation were later found at the scene where a Border Patrol agent was killed.
The Justice Department has provided Issa’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee with 7,600 documents on Fast and Furious. Republicans, however, have pressed for more records about the department’s internal deliberations, saying they want to determine who knew about the operation and when. They have also questioned why Obama invoked executive privilege to keep the documents from them.
“As often as [Holder] has tried to cast himself and his other controversies as the reason for the investigation, he still doesn’t acknowledge the simple truth,” Issa said Monday. “The citation for contempt had his name on it because the lawfully issued subpoena for documents issued nine months ago, that his department didn’t comply with, also had his name on it.”
Issa added that Holder “can say over and over that this is all about him, but that isn’t true.”
Defending his actions
In the interview, in a stately fifth-floor conference room at the Justice Department, the attorney general defended his handling of the case, saying that when he found out about Fast and Furious, he ordered an internal investigation, stopped the use of certain tactics in gun cases and made personnel changes. He also reiterated his belief that turning over the documents would have a “chilling effect” on department lawyers who prepare materials for cases.
“I’ve been a line lawyer, and I know what it would mean to think that ‘if I write this, it is going to someday come before a congressional committee,’ ” Holder said.
Those arguments have not resonated with Republicans or with some Democrats. Seventeen moderate Democrats who face tough reelection contests joined the vote against Holder; several said they thought the attorney general was thumbing his nose at the House’s oversight responsibility.
Holder said he was angry about the vote but not surprised. He lamented what he described as an increasingly toxic atmosphere on Capitol Hill, where he has become the target of personal attacks.
“It’s a sad indication of where Washington has come, where policy differences almost necessarily become questions of integrity,” said Holder, a former judge. “I came to Washington in the late ’70s, and people had the ability in the past to have intense policy differences but didn’t feel the need to question the other person’s character. And that’s where we are now in Washington with at least one part of the Republican Party. That’s what they do, almost as a matter of course.”
Even before the latest flare-up on Capitol Hill, there was growing speculation about whether Holder would stay on as attorney general if Obama won reelection this fall. He has come under constant attack from Republicans on domestic policy and national security issues, including his controversial decision, since reversed, to prosecute the self-described mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in federal court in New York.
Holder said the contempt vote has not led him to consider stepping down. “If anything, it made me more determined to stay and to continue to fight for the things that I think are important,” he said.
He cited as an example a new law enforcement initiative in cities such as Oakland and Philadelphia to target crime “hot spots” with a surge of police and federal agents.
Shows of support
Holder said that when the House voted to hold him in contempt, he was in New Orleans, where he had traveled with his wife to take their daughter to her college orientation. Since then, he has kept to his schedule, going to three cities and giving speeches on public safety, civil rights and voting rights.
On a personal level, the attorney general said he has been buoyed by a “huge outpouring of support,” including letters and flowers from people around the country, many of whom he doesn’t know. Obama called him from Air Force One after the vote to express his support. Over the weekend, he received a standing ovation at a Stylistics concert in Washington.
As the first African American attorney general, Holder said he does not believe that history will judge him by the contempt vote.
“This seems large in the moment, but the question is, how will this be viewed one year from now, five years from now?” he said. “My bet will be that people are going to remember the stands I took to prevent the disenfranchisement of millions of people, the position I stood for in not defending the Defense of Marriage Act, what we did in protecting the American people, the numbers of people we put in jail and the [terrorist] plots we disrupted.”
Feds Look to Fight Leaks With ‘Fog of Disinformation’ By Noah Shachtman July 3, 2012 | 6:30 am Categories: Info War
Pentagon-funded researchers have come up with a new plan for busting leakers: Spot them by how they search, and then entice the secret-spillers with decoy documents that will give them away.
Computer scientists call it it “Fog Computing” — a play on today’s cloud computing craze. And in a recent paper for Darpa, the Pentagon’s premiere research arm, researchers say they’ve built “a prototype for automatically generating and distributing believable misinformation … and then tracking access and attempted misuse of it. We call this ‘disinformation technology.’”
Two small problems: Some of the researchers’ techniques are barely distinguishable from spammers’ tricks. And they could wind up undermining trust among the nation’s secret-keepers, rather than restoring it.
The Fog Computing project is part of a broader assault on so-called “insider threats,” launched by Darpa in 2010 after the WikiLeaks imbroglio. Today, Washington is gripped by another frenzy over leaks — this time over disclosures about U.S. cyber sabotage and drone warfare programs. But the reactions to these leaks has been schizophrenic, to put it generously. The nation’s top spy says America’s intelligence agencies will be strapping suspected leakers to lie detectors — even though the polygraph machines are famously flawed. An investigation into who spilled secrets about the Stuxnet cyber weapon and the drone “kill list” has already ensnared hundreds of officials — even though the reporters who disclosed the info patrolled the halls of power with the White House’s blessing.
That leaves electronic tracking as the best means of shutting leakers down. And while you can be sure that counterintelligence and Justice Department officials are going through the e-mails and phone calls of suspected leakers, such methods have their limitations. Hence the interest in Fog Computing.
The first goal of Fog Computing is to bury potentially valuable information in a pile of worthless data, making it harder for a leaker to figure out what to disclose.
“Imagine if some chemist invented some new formula for whatever that was of great value, growing hair, and they then placed the true [formula] in the midst of a hundred bogus ones,” explains Salvatore Stolfo, the Columbia University computer science professor who coined the Fog Computing term. “Then anybody who steals the set of documents would have to test each formula to see which one actually works. It raises the bar against the adversary. They may not really get what they’re trying to steal.”
The next step: Track those decoy docs as they cross the firewall. For that, Stolfo and his colleagues embed documents with covert beacons called “web bugs,” which can monitor users’ activities without their knowledge. They’re popular with online ad networks. “When rendered as HTML, a web bug triggers a server update which allows the sender to note when and where the web bug was viewed,” the researchers write. ”Typically they will be embedded in the HTML portion of an email message as a non-visible white on white image, but they have also been demonstrated in other forms such as Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents.”
“Unfortunately, they have been most closely associated with unscrupulous operators, such as spammers, virus writers, and spyware authors who have used them to violate users privacy,” the researchers admit. “Our work leverages the same ideas, but extends them to other document classes and is more sophisticated in the methods used to draw attention. In addition, our targets are insiders who should have no expectation of privacy on a system they violate.”
Steven Aftergood, who studies classification policies for the Federation of American Scientists, wonders whether the whole approach isn’t a little off base, given Washington’s funhouse system for determining what should be secret. In June, for example, the National Security Agency refused to disclose how many Americans it had wiretapped without a warrant. The reason? It would violate Americans’ privacy to say so.
“If only researchers devoted as much ingenuity to combating spurious secrecy and needless classification. Shrinking the universe of secret information would be a better way to simplify the task of securing the remainder,” Aftergood tells Danger Room in an e-mail. “The Darpa approach seems to be based on an assumption that whatever is classified is properly classified and that leaks may occur randomly throughout the system. But neither of those assumptions is likely to be true.”
Stolfo, for his part, insists that he’s merely doing “basic research,” and nothing Pentagon-specific. What Darpa, the Office of Naval Research, and other military technology organizations do with the decoy work is “not my area of expertise,” he adds. However, Stolfo has set up a firm, Allure Security Technology Inc., “to create industrial strength software a company can actually use,” as he puts it. That software should be ready to implement by the end of the year.
It will include more than bugged documents. Stolfo and his colleagues have also been working on what they call a “misbehavior detection” system. It includes some standard network security tools, like an intrusion detection system that watches out for unauthorized exfiltration of data. And it has some rather non-standard components — like an alert if a person searches his computer for something surprising.
“Each user searches their own file system in a unique manner. They may use only a few specific system functions to find what they are looking for. Furthermore, it is unlikely a masquerader will have full knowledge of the victim user’s file system and hence may search wider and deeper and in a less targeted manner than would the victim user. Hence, we believe search behavior is a viable indicator for detecting malicious intentions,” Stolfo and his colleagues write.
In their initial experiments, the researchers claim, they were about to “model all search actions of a user” in a mere 10 seconds. They then gave 14 students unlimited access to the same file system for 15 minutes each. The students were told to comb the machine for anything that might be used to financial gain. The researchers say they caught all 14 searchers. ”We can detect all masquerader activity with 100 percent accuracy, with a false positive rate of 0.1 percent.”
Grad students may be a little easier to model than national security professionals, who have to radically alter their search patterns in the wake of major events. Consider the elevated interest in al-Qaida after 9/11, or the desire to know more about WikiLeaks after Bradley Manning allegedly disclosed hundreds of thousands of documents to the group.
Other Darpa-backed attempts to find a signature for squirrely behavior are either just getting underway, or haven’t fared particularly well. In December, the agency recently handed out $9 million to a Georgia Tech-led consortium with the goal of mining 250 million e-mails, IMs and file transfers a day for potential leakers. The following month, a Pentagon-funded research paper (.pdf) noted the promise of “keystroke dynamics — technology to distinguish people based on their typing rhythms — [which] could revolutionize insider-threat detection. ” Well, in theory. In practice, such systems’ “error rates vary from 0 percent to 63 percent, depending on the user. Impostors triple their chance of evading detection if they touch type.”
For more reliable results, Stolfo aims to marry his misbehavior-modeling with the decoy documents and with other so-called “enticing information.” Stolfo and his colleagues also use “honeytokens” — small strings of tempting information, like online bank accounts or server passwords — as bait. They’ll get a one-time credit card number, link it to a PayPal account, and see if any charges are mysteriously rung up. They’ll generate a Gmail account, and see who starts spamming.
“Think of advanced privacy settings [in sites like Facebook] where I choose to include my real data to my closest friends [but] everybody else gets access to a different profile with information that is bogus. And I would be alerted when bad guys try to get that info about me,” Stolfo tells Danger Room. ”This is a way to create fog so that now you no longer know the truth abut a person through this artificial avatars or artificial profiles.”
So sure, Fog Computing could eventually become a way to keep those Facebooked pictures of your cat free from prying eyes. If you’re in the U.S. government, on the other hand, the system could be a method for hiding the truth about something far more substantive.
Iran says can destroy U.S. bases "minutes after attack"
By Marcus George Wed Jul 4, 2012 8:24am EDT
DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran has threatened to destroy U.S. military bases across the Middle East and target Israel within minutes of being attacked, Iranian media reported on Wednesday, as Revolutionary Guards extended test-firing of ballistic missiles into a third day.
Israel has hinted it may attack Iran if diplomacy fails to secure a halt to its disputed nuclear energy program. The United States also has mooted military action as a last-resort option but has frequently nudged the Israelis to give time for intensified economic sanctions to work against Iran.
"These bases are all in range of our missiles, and the occupied lands (Israel) are also good targets for us," Amir Ali Haji Zadeh, commander of the Revolutionary Guards aerospace division, was quoted by Fars news agency as saying.
Haji Zadeh said 35 U.S. bases were within reach of Iran's ballistic missiles, the most advanced of which commanders have said could hit targets 2,000 km (1,300 miles) away.
"We have thought of measures to set up bases and deploy missiles to destroy all these bases in the early minutes after an attack," he added.
It was not clear where Haji Zadeh got his figures on U.S. bases in the region. U.S. military facilities in the Middle East are located in Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Turkey, and it has around 10 bases further afield in Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Defence analysts are often sceptical about what they describe as exaggerated military assertions by Iran and say the country's military capability would be no match for sophisticated U.S. defence systems.
Iranian media reported that this week's three-day "Great Prophet 7" tests involved dozens of missiles and domestically-built drones that successfully destroyed simulated air bases.
Iran has upped its fiery anti-West rhetoric in response to the launch on Sunday of a total European Union embargo on buying Iranian crude oil - the latest calibrated increase in sanctions aimed at pushing Tehran into curbing nuclear activity.
Revolutionary Guards commanders have also threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, through which more than a third of the world's seaborne oil trade passes out of the Gulf, in response to the increasingly harsh sanctions.
Major powers have said they would tolerate no obstruction of commercial traffic through the Strait, and the United States maintains a formidable naval presence in the Gulf region.
Iran accused the West of disrupting global energy supplies and creating regional instability and says its forces can dominate the vital waterway to provide security.
"The policy of the Islamic Republic is based on maintaining security in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz for all ships and oil tankers," Iranian English-language state Press TV quoted the chairman of parliament's national security and foreign policy committee, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, as saying.
The United States and its allies accuse Iran of using its nuclear program to covertly develop all the components required to produce nuclear weapons, accusations the Iranian officials have repeatedly denied.
The world's No. 5 oil exporter maintains that it is enriching uranium for nuclear fuel only to generate more energy for a rapidly growing population.
ASPEN, Colo. — Physicists working at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider said Wednesday that they had discovered a new subatomic particle that looks for all the world like the Higgs boson, a potential key to understanding why elementary particles have mass and indeed to the existence of diversity and life in the universe.
“I think we have it,” said Rolf Heuer, the director general of CERN, in an interview from his office outside of Geneva, calling the discovery “a historic milestone.” His words signaled what is probably the beginning of the end for one of the longest, most expensive searches in the history of science. If scientists are lucky, the discovery could lead to a new understanding of how the universe began.
Dr. Heuer and others said that it was too soon to know for sure whether the new particle, which weighs in at 125 billion electron volts, one of the heaviest subatomic particles yet, fits the simplest description given by the Standard Model, the theory that has ruled physics for the last half century, or whether it is an imposter, a single particle or even the first of many particles yet to be discovered . The latter possibilities are particularly exciting to physicists since they could point the way to new deeper ideas, beyond the Standard Model, about the nature of reality. For now, some physicists are calling it a “Higgs-like” particle.
“It’s great to discover a new particle but you have find out what its properties are,” said John Ellis, a theorist at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research.
Joe Incandela, of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and spokesperson for one of two groups reporting data on Wednesday called the discovery, “very, very significant. It’s something that may, in the end, be one of the biggest observations of any new phenomena in our field in the last 30 or 40 years, going way back to the discovery of quarks, for example.”
Here at the Aspen Center for Physics, a retreat for scientists that will celebrate its 50th birthday on Saturday, the sounds of cheers and popping corks reverberated early Wednesday morning against the Sawatch Range through the Roaring Fork valley of the Rockies, as bleary-eyed physicists watched their colleagues read off the results in a Webcast from CERN. It was a scene duplicated in Melbourne, Australia, where physicists had gathered for a major conference, as well as in Los Angeles, Chicago, Princeton, New York, London, and beyond — everywhere that members of a curious species have dedicated their lives and fortunes to the search for their origins in a dark universe.
At CERN itself, 1,000 people stood in line all night to get into the auditorium, according to Guido Tonelli, a CERN physicist who said the atmosphere was like a rock concert. Peter Higgs, the University of Edinburgh theorist for whom the boson is named, entered the meeting to a standing ovation.
Confirmation of the Higgs boson or something very like it would constitute a rendezvous with destiny for a generation of physicists who have believed in the boson for half a century without ever seeing it. And it reaffirms a grand view of a universe ruled by simple and elegant and symmetrical laws, but in which everything interesting in it, such as ourselves, is due to flaws or breaks in that symmetry.
According to the Standard Model, which has ruled physics for 40 years now, the Higgs boson is the only visible and particular manifestation of an invisible force field, a cosmic molasses that permeates space and imbues elementary particles that would otherwise be massless with mass. Particles wading through it would gain heft.
Without this Higgs field, as it is known, or something like it, physicists say all the elementary forms of matter would zoom around at the speed of light, flowing through our hands like moonlight. There would be neither atoms nor life.
Physicists said that they would probably be studying the new Higgs particle for years. Any deviations from the simplest version of the boson — and there are hints of some already — could open a gateway to new phenomena and deeper theories that answer questions left hanging by the Standard Model: What, for example, is the dark matter that provides the gravitational scaffolding of galaxies? And why is the universe made of matter instead of antimatter?
“If the boson really is not acting standard, then that will imply that there is more to the story — more particles, maybe more forces around the corner,” Neal Weiner, a theorist at New York University, wrote in an email, “What that would be is anyone’s guess at the moment.”
One intriguing candidate for the next theory they have been on the watch for is called supersymmetry, “SUSY” for short, which would come with a whole new laundry list of particles to be discovered, one of which might be the source of dark matter. In supersymmetry there are at least two Higgs bosons.
Dr. Incandela said, “The whole world thinks there is one Higgs, but there could be many of them.”
Michael Turner, a cosmologist at the University of Chicago and chair of the physics center board, said, “This is a big moment for particle physics and a crossroads — will this be the high water mark or will it be the first of many discoveries that point us toward solving the really big questions that we have posed?”
Wednesday’s announcement is also an impressive opening act for the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s biggest physics machine, which collides protons and only began operating two years ago. It is still running at only half power.
Physicists had been holding their breaths and perhaps icing the champagne ever since last December. Two teams of about 3000 physicists each — one named Atlas, led by Fabiola Gianotti and the other CMS, led by Dr. Incandela —operate giant detectors in the collider, sorting the debris from the primordial fireballs left after proton collisions. Last winter they both reported hints of the same particle. They were not able, however, to rule out the possibility that it was a statistical fluke.
Since then the collider has more than doubled the number of collisions it has recorded.
The new results capped three weeks of feverish speculation and internet buzz as the physicists, who had been sworn to secrecy, did a break-neck analysis of some 800 trillion proton-proton collisions over the last two years. They were racing to get ready for a major conference in Melbourne that started on Wednesday and where they had promised an update on the Higgs search.
In the end, the CERN council, which consists of representatives from each of CERN’s 20 member states, decided that the potentially historic announcement should come from the lab’s own turf first.
Up until last weekend, physicists from inside were reporting that they themselves did not know what the outcome would be, though many were having fun with the speculation.
“HiggsRumors” became one of the most popular hashtags on Twitter. The particle also acquired its own iPhone app, a game called “Agent Higgs.” Expectations soared when it was learned that the five surviving originators of the Higgs boson theory, including Peter Higgs of the University of Edinburgh, had been invited to the CERN news conference.
On the eve of the announcement, in what was an embarrassing moment for the lab where the Web was invented, a video of Dr. Incandela’s making his statement was posted to the Internet and then quickly withdrawn.Dr. Incandela said he had made a series of video presentations with alternate conclusions so that the video producers would not know the right answer ahead of time, but the one that was right just happened to get posted.
But the December signal was no fluke.
Like Omar Sharif materializing out of a distant sandstorm into a man on horseback in the movie “Lawrence of Arabia,” what was once a hint of a signal has grown over the last year, until it practically jumps off the chart, according to those who have seen it.
“I believe it now, I didn’t before,” said a physicist who was one of the first to see the new results but was not authorized to discuss them.
The new particle has a mass of about 125.3 billion electron volts, in the units of mass and energy —Einstein showed they are the same — that are favored by physicists, about as much as a whole Barium atom, according to the CMS group, and 126 according to Atlas.
Both groups said that the likelihood their signal was due to a chance fluctuation was less than one chance in 3.5 million, so-called “five sigma,” which is the gold standard in physics for a discovery.
On that basis, Dr. Heuer said that he had decided only Tuesday afternoon to call the Higgs result a “discovery.”
He said, “I know the science, and as director general I can stick out my neck.”
Dr. Incandela and Dr. Gianotti’s presentations were constantly interrupted by applause as they showed slide after slide of data bumps rising like mountains from the sea.
Fabiola Gianotti, of CERN and spokeswoman for the Atlas team, said one on point, “Why are you applauding, I’m not done yet. This is just beginning, there is more to come.”
She noted that the mass of the putative Higgs made it easy to study its many behaviors and channels, “So,” she said, “thanks, nature.”
Gerald Guralnik, one of the founders of the Higgs theory, said he was glad to be at a physics meeting “where there is applause like a football game.”
Asked to comment after the announcements, Dr. Higgs seemed overwhelmed, saying, “For me, its really an incredible thing that’s happened in my lifetime.”
Pentagon’s Brain-Powered Videogames Might Treat PTSD By Katie Drummond July 3, 2012 | 6:30 am Categories: Science!
Soldiers and veterans looking to alleviate the devastating symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder might soon have a new way to help themselves. Strangely, it involves using their gray matter to control a videogame.
The process is known as neurofeedback, or NF, and it’s the latest in a long, increasingly out-there list of potential PTSD remedies — from neck injections to memory-zapping drugs — being studied by military researchers. This week, scientists at San Diego’s Naval Medical Center announced plans for a clinical trial on 80 patients, designed to compare neurofeedback with a sham control procedure. The trial, the first of its kind, is meant to determine whether or not NF can avail soldiers of symptoms like nightmares, anxiety attacks and flashbacks.
“The proposed study could expand treatment alternatives for servicemen with PTSD,” the announcement reads. “If [neurofeedback] is shown to improve symptom reduction [...] it would offer a non-pharmacological intervention that would avoid undesirable side effects, and accelerate recovery.”
While the idea sounds pretty odd, the process of neurofeedback isn’t so intimidating (and I would know, having undergone the procedure myself for The Daily last year). A clinician affixes EEG electrodes to specific regions on a patient’s scalp, designed to read the output of the patient’s brain activity. Then, as the clinician monitors those brain waves from a computer console, the patient controls the key element of a videogame — like a car racing through a winding tunnel — using nothing more than their mind.
If a patient’s brain activity remains calm and steady, the videogame responds with enhanced performance — the car moves more quickly and navigates smoothly. If activity is wonkier and less controlled, that race car will veer out of control and, say, smash into a brick wall. Game over.
The idea behind NF is grounded in the emerging science of brain plasticity, or the ability of the adult brain (previously thought to reach stasis in adulthood) to change throughout life. Neurofeedback clinicians suspect that the brain, in “seeing” its own activity on-screen, is spurred to fix defects in order to work on a more optimal level. Over a series of several sessions, those repairs then supposedly become more permanently entrenched.
“When the brain sees itself interacting with the world, it becomes interested in that,” Dr. Siegfried Othmer, chief scientist at LA’s EEG Institute and responsible, along with his neurobiologist wife Sue, for “The Othmer Method” — a specific approach to neurofeedback being used in the military trial — told me last year. ”Likewise, when it sees the signal on-screen and realizes it’s in charge, it becomes interested. You might not notice, but the brain takes notice.”
The realm of brain plasticity is relatively new, but neurofeedback actually isn’t. The procedure first gained notoriety in the 1960s as a treatment for everything from migraine headaches to bed-wetting. Still, in part because of a paucity of mainstream scientific research, the approach has long been relegated to the realm of bunk science. “I think the practice has gotten ahead of the science,” Dr. Andrew Leuchter, a professor at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, told me. “It wouldn’t be surprising … if much of the benefit was attributable to the placebo response.”
Despite such mainstream skepticism, neurofeedback is already being used by several military doctors and psychologists. Maj. Michael Villaneuva — nicknamed “The Wizard” by his patients — has performed NF on several hundred active-duty soldiers, and even brought his game console and electrodes on a deployment to Afghanistan this year. And Dr. Jerry Wesch, who leads a PTSD recovery program at Fort Hood, describes the results of his own neurofeedback trials on patients as “jaw dropping.”
Upwards of a thousand former soldiers have also tried neurofeedback, thanks to Homecoming 4 Veterans, a non-profit started by the Othmers that offers free NF to veterans through a network of 200 practitioners nationwide. The two are also responsible for training Villaneuva and other military docs in the art of NF.
Already, the Othmers are confident that the military’s clinical trial, expected to kick off in December, will yield positive results. And they hope that the trial, once complete, lends more credence to the therapy they’ve helped pioneer. “I think the trial could be huge, not only with [medical] academia, but for clinicians,” Sue tells Danger Room. “They’re often wary of adapting procedures that haven’t seen evidence-based study. So this checks off an important box.”
But the trial won’t be easy: Controlled tests of processes, rather than pharmaceuticals, are notoriously tough. That’s because designing and executing a “sham” procedure is much more difficult than, say, just doling out sugar pills instead of the real drug.
Then again, for soldiers who credit neurofeedback with their recovery from PTSD, the execution or academic impact of a clinical trial is hardly the most important thing. “How it works doesn’t matter to me,” Staff Sgt. Justin Roberts, who underwent the process at Fort Hood, told me. “Just as long as it does.”
Originally published Tuesday, July 3, 2012 at 10:50 PM
Boeing raises aircraft forecast
By JOSHUA FREED The Associated Press
Boeing is raising its 20-year prediction for worldwide airplane sales to 34,000 jets, enough to double the size of the world's fleet, as more people travel in China, India and other emerging markets.
The airplane-maker and defense contractor predicted on Tuesday that $4.5 trillion worth of planes will be sold. It will have to compete with Airbus and other competitors including Bombardier, Embraer and China's state-owned COMAC for those sales.
The projection is 500 planes higher and a half-trillion dollars more expensive than the previous year's estimate. Boeing expects airlines to shift toward slightly larger planes with higher price tags, accounting for most of the additional spending.
The world's airlines fly almost 20,000 planes today. That number is expected to rise to almost 40,000 by 2031, Boeing said.
Boeing and Airbus are both speeding up production to meet a growing order backlog. Airbus, based in France, announced on Monday that it will begin assembling A320s in Alabama, with deliveries to begin in 2016. Boeing is speeding up production of its competing 737.
Boeing said the Asia-Pacific region will be the biggest market for new planes, with a potential for 12,030 aircraft there through 2031. The next biggest market is Europe with 7,760, and North America with 7,290.
Tinseth said low-cost airlines are stimulating demand for air travel. Those airlines have been especially important in Asia, because they're making air travel affordable for people who previously didn't fly. Boeing predicted that global airline traffic will grow 5 percent a year for the next two decades.
China's expanding light-rail service will steal some passengers from the airlines, Tinseth said. But the investment in rail as well as new airports should stimulate the economy there and air traffic — and demand for airplanes — will still grow, he said. The company expects half of all airline traffic to begin or end in the Asia-Pacific region by 2031, up from 35 percent today.
"As we look to the future, clearly the center of the marketplace will be the Asia-Pacific region," Tinseth said.
Boeing predicted that more than 23,000 of the 34,000 planes that will be sold will be single-aisle planes such as its 737 and the competing Airbus A320. It also predicted sales of 7,950 larger planes such as its new 787. Sales of each would total around $2 trillion, because the bigger planes cost more.
Tinseth said Boeing is aiming to build about as many of the single-aisle jets as Airbus. For the larger widebody jets, he thinks Boeing can have a larger market share than Airbus does.
Boeing reduced its projection for the number of freighter airplanes that will be sold. It says the cargo market remains sluggish. It predicted 940 new freighters would be needed, and an additional 1,820 passenger planes would be converted to haul freight.
Europe will be another wild card. A deep recession would hurt air travel, and the financial crisis could make it harder for airlines to borrow to buy planes.
Tinseth said Boeing expects the European economy to be challenging for this year and next, with "a more normal condition" in 2014.
"We do at times suffer through difficult times, but the market responds and rebounds very quickly, and we think the situation we see in Europe will be no exception to that," he said.
Boeing does a detailed annual study of airline travel and sales trends. Airlines order planes years in advance, so Boeing has to make production decisions years in advance, too.
Shares of Chicago-based Boeing rose $1.09 to close at $74.27 Tuesday. They are trading near the high end of their 52-week range of $56.01 to $77.83.
Central Bank in Europe Drops Lending Rates to Record Low
By MELISSA EDDY and JACK EWING
FRANKFURT — The European Central Bank cut its benchmark interest rate to its lowest level ever on Thursday in perhaps its most aggressive move yet to unblock the flow of credit and prevent further deterioration of the euro zone crisis.
The E.C.B. cut its benchmark rate to 0.75 percent from 1 percent, which was once regarded as the lower bound on the official rate. Economists and political leaders are likely to welcome the cut, which was expected by most analysts, as offering welcome relief from strains in the euro zone. But it also carries risks.
With interest rates now close to zero, the bank and its president, Mario Draghi, will have a dwindling selection of conventional monetary policy tools they can use to combat the crisis. The cut Thursday is likely to increase speculation that the E.C.B.’s next step to contain the crisis would be massive purchases of government bonds, similar to the quantitative easing undertaken by the U.S. Federal Reserve.
“The E.C.B. is aware that cutting rates to their lower bounds is likely to fuel market expectations that an outright Q.E. launch will follow shortly after,” Jens Sondergaard, analyst at Nomura, said in a note to clients ahead of the rate decision.
A big increase in E.C.B. bond buying might help contain borrowing costs for Spain and Italy and prevent those countries from becoming insolvent. But massive bond purchases would likely meet with outrage in Germany and threaten the unity of the euro zone.
Many Germans fear that they would bear a large share of the burden if the E.C.B. suffered losses on its bond holdings and needed to ask for more capital from euro zone countries.
With the rate cut, Mr. Draghi and the E.C.B. governing council, which held its regular monthly monetary policy meeting Thursday, may also have tacitly been rewarding European political leaders for progress they made last week to address the shortcomings in the structure of the euro zone.
At a two-day meeting in Brussels, the leaders laid the groundwork for centralized bank supervision at the E.C.B., which is seen as an important step forward in breaking the unhealthy link between national governments and banks. The E.C.B. may be more willing than national officials to force weak banks to confront their problems.
However, the agreement was short on details. Analysts will be watching Thursday to see if Mr. Draghi offers a clearer picture of how he envisions the E.C.B.’s role. He will hold a press conference at 2:30 p.m. Frankfurt time.
The E.C.B. also cut the rate it pays to banks that deposit money at the E.C.B., which may help discourage banks from hoarding cash. Healthier banks have been parking record sums at the central bank, preferring to earn a meager 0.25 percent interest rate than to risk lending excess cash to their peers.
The E.C.B. cut the deposit rate to 0 percent, also a record low. But it is unclear whether that will do anything to restart the interbank money market, which in good times is a key source of short-term funding for banks. Banks may simply keep the money in their own vaults now that there is no incentive to deposit it with the E.C.B.
Expectations had risen in recent days that the E.C.B. would act after members of the E.C.B. governing council said they no longer regarded 1 percent as the floor on the benchmark rate. In addition, data indicated that inflation is ebbing, leaving space for a rate cut. However, unlike his predecessor, Jean-Claude Trichet, Mr. Draghi had not given a clear signal that a rate cut was in the offing.
While financial markets are likely to react positively to the rate cut, some economists have questioned whether it will do much good. Many euro zone banks, particularly in troubled countries like Spain, are unable to raise funds on the open market because investors doubt their creditworthiness. The rate cut is unlikely to make them any more attractive to lenders.
However, the rate cut could increase confidence simply by demonstrating that the E.C.B. is willing to act boldly to contain the crisis. “A rate cut is not going to kick start the recovery in the euro zone, but it doesn’t hurt,” Marie Diron, an economist who advises the consulting firm Ernst & Young, said ahead of the decision.
Another positive effect is that banks will pay less interest on loans they have already taken from the E.C.B., which has become practically the only source of cash for banks in Greece and other stricken countries. Most E.C.B. loans to banks are effectively variable rate loans which track the benchmark rate.
Gloomy data have begun to take the gloss off the positive market reaction to last week’s European Union summit, increasing the pressure on the E.C.B. to intervene.
An auction of Spanish bonds Thursday sold out amid high demand, but at higher interest rates for the benchmark 10-year issue — a sign that pressures remain despite a general mood optimism after the summit.
Ireland’s National Treasury Management Agency sold €500 million, or $625 million, of bills due in October in its first auction of debt on public markets since September 2010.
France is also due to sell bonds Thursday, a day after announcing a revised budget to make up a predicted 6 billion to 10 billion-euro shortfall this year.
In early afternoon trading in Europe, the Euro Stoxx 50, a barometer of euro zone blue chips, was up 0.31 percent. The FTSE 100 in London was 0.53 percent.
The euro was at $1.2510, down from $1.2527 late Wednesday in New York.
Iran submarine plan may fuel Western nuclear worries
By Fredrik Dahl Thu Jul 5, 2012 10:17am EDT
VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran's announcement that it plans to build its first nuclear-powered submarine is stoking speculation it could serve as a pretext for the Islamic state to produce highly enriched uranium and move closer to potential atom bomb material.
Western experts doubt that Iran - which is under a U.N. arms embargo - has the capability any time soon to make the kind of sophisticated underwater vessel that only the world's most powerful states currently have.
But they say Iran could use the plan to justify more sensitive atomic activity, because nuclear submarines can be fuelled by uranium refined to a level that would also be suitable for the explosive core of a nuclear warhead.
"Such submarines often use HEU (highly enriched uranium)," former chief U.N. nuclear inspector Olli Heinonen said, adding Iran was unlikely to be able source the fuel abroad because of the international dispute over its nuclear program.
It could then "cite the lack of foreign fuel suppliers as further justification for continuing on its uranium enrichment path", Heinonen, now at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, said.
Any move by Iran to enrich to a higher purity would alarm the United States and its allies, which suspect it is seeking to develop the capability to make nuclear bombs and want it to curb its nuclear program. Tehran denies any atomic arms ambitions.
It would also likely further complicate diplomatic efforts to resolve the decade-old row over Tehran's nuclear program and may add to fears of a military confrontation.
Several rounds of talks between Iran and six world powers this year have so far failed to make significant progress, especially over their demand that the Islamic Republic scale back its controversial enrichment work.
"Iran is using this submarine announcement to create bargaining leverage," Shashank Joshi, a senior fellow and Middle East specialist at the Royal United Services Institute, said.
"It can negotiate away these 'plans' for concessions, or use the plans as a useful pretext for its enrichment activity."
Iranian deputy navy commander Abbas Zamini was last month quoted as saying that "preliminary steps in making an atomic submarine have started".
He did not say how such a vessel would be fuelled, but experts said it may require high-grade uranium.
Iran now refines uranium to reach a 3.5 percent concentration of the fissile isotope U-235 - suitable for nuclear power plants - as well as 20 percent, which it says is for a medical research reactor in Tehran.
Nuclear weapons need a fissile purity of 90 percent, about the same level as is used to fuel U.S. nuclear submarines.
"This is a bald excuse to enrich uranium above 20 percent," Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies think-tank in London, said.
A Western diplomat agreed that it could provide another possible justification for making highly enriched uranium, adding Iran could also use medical isotope production as an excuse.
"What it all means to me is that they could enrich above 20 percent, or even just say they intend to, and then point to some or all of these 'justifications'," the envoy said.
Iran says its nuclear program is for purely peaceful energy and medical purposes and that it is its right to process uranium for reactor fuel under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a global pact to prevent the spread of atomic arms.
An Iranian lawmaker this week said parliament planned to ask the government to equip Iran's naval and research fleet with "non-fossil" engines, Press TV state television reported in an apparent reference to nuclear fuel.
While nuclear submarines generally run on highly refined uranium, merchant vessels can also operate on low-enriched fuel, Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said.
The six powers - the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia - want Iran to halt 20 percent enrichment. If Iran not only rejected this demand but also started enriching to even higher levels, it would risk dramatically raising the stakes in the dispute.
The United States and Israel have not ruled out military action to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, sparking fears of a possible escalation into a new Middle East war.
The submarine statement and this week's missile tests by the Islamic Republic signaled Iranian defiance at a time when the West is stepping up the sanctions pressure on the major crude producer with a European Union oil embargo.
"I see this as an effort to demonstrate Iranian resolve at a time when sanctions are getting unprecedentedly tight," Joshi, of the Royal United Services Institute, said.
It is difficult and very expensive to make atomic submarines. "There is no way that Iran could build a nuclear-powered submarine," Fitzpatrick said.
Such submarines - which the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain have - can be at sea without refueling and stay under water for much longer periods than those using diesel, experts said.
Naval reactors deliver a lot of power from a small volume and therefore run on highly enriched uranium but the level varies from 20 percent or less to as much as 93 percent in the latest U.S. submarines, the World Nuclear Association, a London-based industry body, said on its website.
Iran's announcement is another statement "that they are capable of producing the most-advanced and prestigious military technology and, as usual, there is little truth in what is being claimed", military expert Pieter Wezeman, of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute think tank, said.
(Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati and Marcus George in Dubai; Editing by Alison Williams)
A Nation of Tinkerers: Crowd-Funding Turns Amateurs Into Inventors
By Jack Hitt 07.05.12 6:30 AM
I have a lovely artifact of dead media in my house: a radio jukebox from 1946, invented by a friend’s grandfather in his spare time. Radios were expensive, and this handsome metal receiver could be placed in a booth of a diner so that, for a dime, patrons could enjoy a few minutes of AM entertainment. My friend’s grandfather paid to have them built, but—as this story so often goes—by the time they reached the mass market, advances in electronics had rendered them passé.
Was my friend’s grandfather an “entrepreneur”? Today we’re obsessed with that word, and we see the Internet as enabling a future where everybody can hope to become one. In the wake of Facebook’s massive IPO, it’s easy to think that young people with big ideas should all aspire to become the next Mark Zuckerberg. And thanks to the passage of the JOBS Act, which loosens restrictions on stock sales by nonpublic companies, ordinary Americans will be able to crowd-fund startups the same way they fund Kickstarter projects. Undoubtedly, over the next few years dozens of companies will be racing to become the crowd-VC king, many of them promising to underwrite not just one-off products but whole businesses.
It’s great that we’re opening up a path to early-stage investing so that everyone can dabble in some VC action. But we shouldn’t forget about the contemporary incarnations of my friend’s grandfather: people who want to bring a dream to life without quitting their day jobs. He was an amateur, not an entrepreneur. And crowd-funding’s greatest achievement, as well as its most radical implication for our future, still lies in its ability to help amateurs like him innovate.
The Internet has enabled and boosted the amateur impulse worldwide. But American amateurism has its own color and feel, partly because the country’s identity was born out of the constant European insult that Americans were amateurs in every respect—socially, politically, even physically. It only made sense that early America would nurture a culture where innovation, like self-governance, could be accomplished by everyday people in their spare time. Both ideas converged in the figure of Ben Franklin, who helped to found the nation even as he labored over a series of inventions (the bifocal, the lightning rod, the lending library) and scientific inquiries carried out not for profit but for pure love of knowledge. Of course, the story of the brilliant tycoon, from Carnegie to Iacocca to Jobs, has always captivated Americans. But it’s actually the radio jukebox guys—the tinkerers, the amateurs—who are truer to the spirit of Ben Franklin.
As Kickstarter has shown, crowd-funding is ideally suited to helping just these sorts of hobbyist-inventors. Twenty years ago, if the guy down the street had emerged from his garage with a plan for “stackable soaps”—each bar designed with a small cavity in which to set that irritating sliver of soap from the last bar, such that it “meld[s] into a single bar” and creates an “Infinite Cycle of Soap”—you’d have been charmed, perhaps, but deeply skeptical as to whether you’d ever see it happen. Today you can go to the Kickstarter project called Stack and see 1,113 people who altogether have kicked in $17,921, or double what the inventor asked for, to get manufacturing started.
What do the funders get out of it? A few bars of soap. Maybe a tingle up the leg. That’s what makes this type of funding different from VC money. Since Kickstarter doesn’t offer equity, it attracts a different kind of funder, a person who’s more like the inventor—compelled by enthusiasm and curiosity. These funders don’t expect anything financial in return—the way Kickstarter is currently set up, they can’t. Rather, they’re looking only for the satisfaction of being associated with an idea in its infancy and watching it come to fruition.
Researchers who study human motivation have spent decades attempting to decode what they call “intrinsic motivation”—that is, the drive to do something out of enthusiasm or love, the very essence of amateurism. Numerous studies show that while direct reward (a paycheck, for instance) motivates us somewhat, it can also bridle creativity. By connecting enthusiast makers with enthusiast investors, crowd-funding has the power to keep people motivated—right through what, in a 9-to-5 job, might be career-ending missteps or failures—so that they can stay focused on realizing their vision.
As we venture off into our crowd-funded future, we must remember that not everyone is dreaming about becoming the next hot CEO. The best movie about crowd-funding won’t star somebody like Jesse Eisenberg with a new idea for a website; it’ll be more like Fred MacMurray with a handful of flubber, or Christopher Lloyd rewiring a flux capacitor. The backyard crank is back—but this time, with backing.
General’s Defection Confirmed as Syria Opposition Meets
By DAN BILEFSKY, ALAN COWELL and NEIL MacFARQUHAR
PARIS — Opponents of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria met with their international sponsors here on Friday to intensify pressure for his removal, buoyed by word that Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass, a commander in the elite Republican Guard, close friend of the president and a member of the Damascus aristocracy, had defected and fled the country.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told the meeting that a “senior official” and commander of the Republican Guard had “defected and is on his way to Paris.” Ministry officials confirmed that Mr. Fabius was referring to General Tlass but did not say whether the Syrian general would join the talks.
The number of high-ranking officers quitting Mr. Assad’s forces has increased markedly in recent days as violence has mounted. But the departure of General Tlass was the first from within the gilded circle around the president since the uprising against him began in March 2011, representing the kind of embarrassing departure long anticipated to indicate that the government’s cohesion was cracking.
Not only is General Tlass a contemporary and friend of President Assad, he is also part of a powerful dynasty dating to the days when his father, Gen. Mustafa Tlass, was defense minister from 1972 to 2004, acting as a key ally of Hafez al-Assad, the father of the current Syrian leader, as he created the repressive system that controls the country.
Many analysts argue, indeed, that the diplomatic effort is rapidly being outpaced by events on the ground, including the defections of high-ranking military officers and ever greater bloodletting. Only on Thursday, the head of the suspended United Nations monitoring mission in Syria, Maj. Gen. Robert Mood of Norway, said violence had reached “unprecedented” levels.
Alluding to the defection of General Tlass, Mr. Fabius told reporters after the meeting: “Everyone believes this is a hard blow for the regime.”
“Even those close to Mr. Assad have come to understand that they cannot support a slaughterer like Mr. Assad. Today was not a good day for the regime,” Mr. Fabius said.
As the gathering of more than 100 countries opened here, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called for increased pressure on Syria to implement a proposal for a transitional government agreed upon at a separate meeting among outside powers in Geneva last weekend.
Mrs. Clinton urged United Nations Security Council action to tighten sanctions on President Assad’s government, and called for greater international efforts to press China and Russia, the Syrian leader’s main international backers, to cease shielding him from international demands for his ouster.
“I don’t think Russia and China believe they are paying any price at all — nothing at all — for standing up on behalf of the Assad regime,” Mrs. Clinton said, challenging participants at the so-called Friends of Syria meeting to hold Moscow and Beijing to account. The alliance groups the United States and its Western and Arab allies but is shunned by Russia and China.
“The only way that will change is if every nation represented here directly and urgently makes it clear that Russia and China will pay a price because they are holding up progress,” Mrs. Clinton said.
At the meeting, Mr. Assad’s Syrian adversaries, both military and political, are reported to be pressing for a no-fly zone similar to that imposed on Libya last year. By contrast, their Western backers favor economic sanctions to push the Damascus leadership from office.
A three-page conference document called for measures including a stronger United Nations Security Council resolution on Syria that would impose sanctions on Mr. Assad. It also urged that perpetrators of crimes in Syria be brought to justice and that humanitarian assistance be increased. The document pressed the Syrian opposition to present a united front as a credible alternative to Mr. Assad’s government.
The Paris gathering follows a flurry of recent diplomatic activity on Syria, including a tense two-day meeting this week in Cairo, where divisions within the Syrian opposition boiled over into punches being exchanged. That followed another meeting in Geneva last weekend which ended in acrimony after participants failed to include an explicit call for Mr. Assad to surrender power, even as the United States and others made it clear they saw no role for him in a future unity government.
“Eighteen months after the Syrian revolt began, there are 16,000 people dead and we will no longer be satisfied with declarations,” said Bassma Kodmani, a spokeswoman for the Syrian National Council, said in an interview. She argued that proposing a United Nations resolution, even one that failed, could isolate Russia and help unblock international intervention.
Russia regards Syria as a key geostrategic ally and is Mr. Assad’s strongest defender. It has said it will veto any effort to authorize a military intervention in Syria. In a sign of the challenges ahead, both Russia and China declined to attend the Paris meeting. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, Tuesday called the “Friends of Syria” forum redundant after the weekend talks in Geneva, saying that the participation of more than 100 countries in Paris made it “impossible to have serious dialogue.”
At the same time, the Syrian opposition itself remains divided over personalities and principles, including over the status of the Kurdish delegation, which wants to be a recognized minority in a post-Assad Syria.
Some opposition members are ideologically opposed to the revolt being waged by the rebel Free Syrian Army. While the armed Syrian opposition has called for foreign military intervention, many in the political wing regard this as a step too far.
“The main elephant in the room is the lingering divisions among the Syrian opposition,” said one senior official. “The main challenge is to get the Syrian opposition to act in concert. They still need to get their act together.”
But Ms. Kodmani, the Syrian National Council spokeswoman, insisted that the Syrian opposition was united over the goal of overthrowing Mr. Assad and that criticism of the opposition was being used by the West to distract from its own lack of political will. “Criticizing the opposition is being used as a pretext by the international community to distract from their own divisions and lack of determination,” she said.
Much attention at the meeting on Friday seemed certain to be devoted to General Tlass’s intentions.
Within the Damascus leadership, “Manaf is one of the regime’s main figures,” said Bashar al-Heraki, a member of the Syrian National Council, the umbrella political group in exile.
“It is a negative sign for this regime,” Mr. Heraki said. “It has started to lose control.”
As one of the government’s most prominent Sunni Muslims, the elder General Tlass helped to disguise the fact that Hafez al-Assad relied on an inner circle composed mostly of his own minority Alawite sect.
The elder General Tlass was also said to have played a crucial role in the anointment of Bashar al-Assad as his father’s heir after his firstborn son, Basil, died at the wheel of his Mercedes in 1994.
At the official memorial service for Basil, the elder General Tlass was quoted as saying that he could see the light of Basil’s eyes shining from Bashar’s. Bashar soon became the heir apparent, ending his medical career and enrolling for military training, where the elder General Tlass promoted him and where his elevation into the officer corps coincided with that of Manaf’s.
In the second generation of the elite, families with two sons often divided their roles, with one going into business and the other joining the armed forces. It was true of Bashar’s first cousins, the Makhloufs, and it was true for the Tlass family.
Fires Tlass became a business tycoon, while Manaf — a charismatic figure — was promoted to a one-star general in the Republican Guards, one of the core units used in attempts to crush the current uprising. Maher al-Assad, the president’s younger brother, heads the praetorian force where Manaf served.
The president and Manaf were sometimes seen eating out together in Damascus.
“He’s a close friend to Bashar,” Mr. Heraki said. “So it is not only a strong strike against the regime, but the strongest message yet to Bashar that he is no longer safe, and a message to other officers thinking about defecting.”
Other opposition figures were less charitable, suggesting that General Tlass fled only to try to save the family’s substantial fortune as the government collapses.
The Tlass family came from Rastan, a predominantly Sunni Muslim city near Homs that has been under assault as a center for defecting officers. As the siege intensified, the Tlass family gradually left the country. Mustafa Tlass was said to have left for Paris in March, citing the need to seek medical treatment, while Firas was believed to be pursuing his business interests from the United Arab Emirates. He has kept a low profile, declining interview requests.
Manaf was believed to have at least one son enrolled at the American University of Beirut, where his wife also lived, and the reported defection came after the school year had ended.
Dan Bilefsky reported from Paris, Alan Cowell from London and Neil MacFarquhar from Beirut, Lebanon. Reporting was contributed by Dalal Mawad and Hwaida Saad from Beirut, and Rick Gladstone from New York.
LONDON (Reuters) - Seven men have been arrested on suspicion of terrorism offences in Britain after weapons were found in a vehicle stopped on a motorway, police said on Friday, as security forces are on high alert ahead of the London Olympics.
The vehicle was pulled over in a routine stop on the M1 motorway in South Yorkshire, northern England, on Saturday and impounded on suspicion of the driver having no insurance.
Firearms, other weapons and other unspecified material were later found inside which prompted police to trace and arrest the driver, passenger and other suspects.
"As soon as the items were discovered in the impounded vehicle, our priority was to protect the public by pursuing and arresting those we believed to be involved," said Detective Chief Superintendent Kenny Bell, Head of the West Midlands region's Counter Terrorism Unit.
A police source said there was nothing to suggest any link to the Olympics, which start in three weeks' time.
Six men, all aged in their 20s and from the city of Birmingham in central England, were arrested on Tuesday and Wednesday, and a 43-year-old from northern England was held on Thursday, all on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.
There were no further details about what the men were suspected of planning or the weapons found.
The news came a day after police in London arrested five men and a woman on suspicion of planning terrorism attacks, although officers said this were not linked to the Olympics.
The police source said the two operations were not linked.
Armed police also closed both carriageways of the M6 motorway near Birmingham for four hours on Thursday after reports of a man acting suspiciously on a coach heading to London.
It later emerged the alert was caused by someone using an electronic cigarette on board.
Britain has spent millions of pounds beefing up security in preparation for the Olympics and last month Jonathan Evans, head of Britain's domestic intelligence agency MI5, warned the Games presented an attractive target.
The national threat level is assessed at "substantial" - meaning an attack is a strong possibility - but that is one notch lower than it has been for most of the years following the July 2005 suicide bomb attacks in London which killed 52 people.
Security chiefs have repeatedly said they have no intelligence that the Olympics are being targeted.
However as the Games approach, commentators have suggested heightened vigilance could lead to an increase in the number of arrests.
David Anderson, Britain's Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, has said he would be watching the police carefully to check there was no over-reaction.
"We have a lot of people in intelligence agencies manning their desks, having their leave canceled, and no doubt there will be a temptation for people to use that time as the Olympics become closer to arrest people," he said in an interview with the Muslim News newspaper. "I am watching like a hawk."