Iran bolsters retaliation capability in Persian Gulf, experts say
By Joby Warrick, Published: July 26
Iran is rapidly gaining new capabilities to strike at U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf, amassing an arsenal of sophisticated anti-ship missiles while expanding its fleet of fast-attack boats and submarines, U.S. and Middle Eastern analysts say.
The new systems, many of them developed with foreign assistance, are giving Iran’s commanders new confidence that they could quickly damage or destroy U.S. ships if hostilities erupt, the officials say.
Although U.S. Navy officials are convinced that they would prevail in a fight, Iran’s advances have fueled concerns about U.S. vulnerabilities during the opening hours of a conflict in the gulf.
Increasingly accurate short-range missiles — combined with Iran’s use of “swarm” tactics involving hundreds of heavily armed patrol boats — could strain the defensive capabilities of even the most modern U.S. ships, current and former military analysts say.
In recent weeks, as nuclear talks with world powers have faltered and tensions have risen, Iran has repeated threats to shut down shipping in the oil-rich gulf region. Its leaders also have warned of massive retaliation for any attacks on its nuclear facilities, which the United States believes are civilian covers for an Iranian drive to acquire a nuclear-weapons capability.
Last week, Iran’s Foreign Ministry declared that the presence of U.S. warships in the gulf constituted a “real threat” to the region’s security.
Pentagon officials have responded by sending more ships, urged on by Congress as well as U.S. allies in the region. This month, the Navy announced that it would deploy the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis to the Middle East four months ahead of schedule. The shift will keep two carriers in the gulf region.
The United States also has announced new military exercises in the region, including a mine-sweeping drill in the gulf, and has moved to add new radar stations and land-based missile-defense batteries in Qatar.
Assessing the risks
The likelihood that Iran would risk an all-out attack on a vastly superior U.S. fleet is judged to be small. But Iranian leaders could decide to launch a limited strike if Israel or the United States bombed the country’s nuclear facilities. Analysts also cautioned that a conflict could be sparked by an Iranian attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz — the narrow passage through which about 20 percent of the world’s oil passes from the Persian Gulf into open seas — in retaliation for international economic sanctions.
In either scenario, Iran’s ability to inflict significant damage is substantially greater than it was a decade ago. A Pentagon study in April warned that Iran had made gains in the “lethality and effectiveness” of its arsenal. The Pentagon declined to comment for this article.
Iran’s increased power to retaliate has led some military experts to question the wisdom of deploying aircraft carriers and other expensive warships to the gulf if a conflict appears imminent.
A 2009 study prepared for the Naval War College warns of Iran’s increasing ability to “execute a massive naval ambush” in the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow waterway dotted with small islands and inlets and perfectly suited for the kind of asymmetric warfare preferred by Iran’s commanders.
“If the U.S. chooses to station warships in the Strait of Hormuz during the buildup to conflict, it cedes the decision of when to fight and allows the fight to begin in the most advantageous place for Iran,” wrote the study’s author, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Colin Boynton. “This could lead to a devastating first salvo on U.S. Navy warships, which would most likely be operating under restrictive rules of engagement.”
Since 2009, analysts say, Iran has added defensive and offensive capabilities. Some of them have been on display in recent months in a succession of military drills, including a missile exercise in early July dubbed Great Prophet 7. The exercise included a demonstration of Iran’s newly deployed Khalid Farzh anti-ship missile, which has an internal guidance system, a powerful 1,400-pound warhead and a range of 180 miles.
Iran’s arsenal already included a variety of anti-ship missiles such as the Chinese-made Silkworm. More recently, Iran has boasted of progress in developing high-speed torpedoes based on Russian designs. Such claims are often exaggerated, but the April Pentagon assessment noted that Iran’s arsenal now includes ballistic missiles with “seekers” that enable them to maneuver toward ships during flight.
Modern U.S. warships are equipped with multiple defense systems, such as the ship-based Aegis missile shield. But Iran has sought to neutralize the U.S. technological advantage by honing an ability to strike from multiple directions at once. The emerging strategy relies not only on mobile missile launchers but also on new mini-submarines, helicopters and hundreds of heavily armed small boats known as fast-attack craft.
These highly maneuverable small boats, some barely as long as a subway car, have become a cornerstone of Iran’s strategy for defending the gulf against a much larger adversary. The vessels can rapidly deploy Iran’s estimated 2,000 anti-ship mines or mass in groups to strike large warships from multiple sides at once, like a cloud of wasps attacking much larger prey.
A Middle Eastern intelligence official who helps coordinate strategy for the gulf with U.S. counterparts said some Navy ships could find themselves in a “360-degree threat environment,” simultaneously in the cross hairs of adversaries on land, in the air, at sea and even underwater.
“This is the scenario that is giving people nightmares,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in discussing strategy for defending against a possible Iranian attack.
The Navy has ordered new systems for defending against small-boat “swarms,” including ship-launched unmanned aerial vehicles and special missiles and artillery rounds for use against fast-attack craft. But many of the new defenses will not be deployed for several months, said Michael Eisenstadt, a former military adviser to the Pentagon and the State Department.
“We’re behind and we’re catching up,” Eisenstadt said. “But if there’s a conflict in the near term, we may not be completely ready.”
U.S. forces would probably recover quickly from any early losses, but Iranian leaders could claim a psychological victory if the world’s media carried images of burning U.S. warships in the gulf, Eisenstadt said. Al-Qaeda landed a similar blow in 2000 when suicide bombers on a small boat heavily damaged the destroyer USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden, an attack that killed 17 sailors and wounded nearly 40 others.
“A lot of Iranian ships would be at the bottom of the gulf, but [Iran] would be able to point to a victory,” Eisenstadt said. “The outcome would never be in doubt when you’re dealing with the most powerful military in the world. But in their minds they would have shown the world that if you mess with us, you’ll pay a heavy price.”
A push for credibility
The Iranian naval buildup is described by U.S. officials as part of an effort by the Islamic Republic to bolster its military credibility in the region.
The Pentagon’s April assessment said Iran was making steady progress in developing ballistic missiles capable of striking targets in Israel and beyond. It also said Tehran was enhancing its well-established capacity to launch terrorist attacks using surrogates such as Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based militia movement that operates a network of cells around the world.
U.S. and Israeli intelligence officials have linked Iran and Hezbollah to a string of assassination attempts and terrorist attacks on three continents in the past six months — from the foiled plot to kill a Saudi diplomat in Washington last fall to the deadly bombing of a tour bus filled with Israelis last week in Bulgaria. Current and former U.S. officials say more attacks are likely if Israel launches a preemptive strike on Iran’s uranium-enrichment plants.
“Iran has the capacity to attack, from Argentina to Venezuela, in Asia, in Europe and throughout the Middle East,” Danielle Pletka, a defense expert at the American Enterprise Institute, said Wednesday in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “It seems naïve to believe it does not have the capacity to launch attacks in the United States.”
The arms buildup in the gulf comes as Israeli officials continue to weigh an airstrike that many experts believe would ignite a larger conflict. A stream of Obama administration officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, have visited Israel in recent weeks to lobby against a unilateral attack. Middle East experts say that Israel has not decided to attack but that the risk of an Israeli strike is rising as hopes of a diplomatic settlement to the nuclear crisis evaporate.
David Makovsky, a Middle East expert with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said after discussions with top Israeli officials that he assessed the chances of a strike at “50-50 . . . before the U.S. elections” in November. “There’s this feeling that Israel’s window is closing.”
U.S. ships, meanwhile, continue steaming toward the gulf as the Obama administration seeks to reassure allies in the region and discourage Iran from moving to block the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz. U.S. and Middle Eastern officials acknowledge that deployments carry inherent risk, but they say there are no good alternatives.
Thoughts on the Future of Manned Spaceflight (From Someone Who’s Been There) By Jeffrey Marlow July 26, 2012 | 7:36 am Categories: Science Blogs, The Extremo Files
The fate of the American manned spaceflight program has inspired much debate about the utility of the program and the role of manned vs. robotic expeditions. A couple of months ago, I had the privilege of meeting one of the fortunate (and ridiculously qualified) few who has been there: astronaut Don Thomas. Thomas had a prolific career at NASA, flying on four missions in just three years and setting a shuttle-era record for most frequent flights in the process. He has since retired from NASA and is pursuing education-based projects at Towson University. We spoke at Baltimore’s Jemicy School about the state of manned spaceflight – I played the role of Devil’s advocate; Thomas that of former astronaut.
Wired: Why do you think a human presence in space is needed? Aren’t robots more efficient and cheaper?
Thomas: Yes, robots are much cheaper, but they simply cannot capture the human perspective and the excitement of a human presence. If you compare color pictures taken of the Moon’s surface from the unmanned Surveyor spacecraft that landed on the moon in 1967-68 to pictures of the surface of the moon that include the image of an astronaut like Buzz Aldrin on Apollo 11, the difference is incredibly striking. Robots can send back pictures but cannot convey the excitement in their voice and the awe of being there. Humans are uniquely suited for this. Humans are much better observers, can solve problems better, can make repairs of broken equipment, deal with the unexpected, and can typically cover more ground quicker than our robots have been able to do.
We send humans in submersibles to explore the ocean depths. We send humans into war zones and other disaster areas. Humans can uniquely “take other humans along with them” to share the experience of what it is like. Our Mars rovers have been extremely scientifically successful. When humans arrive on the surface of Mars in the future, I would imagine the entire planet Earth will stop what they are doing to watch and experience the moment as representatives from Earth begin their exploration. I don’t see the issue as humans vs. machines; a combination of both seems to make the most sense.
Wired: It seems like the biggest problem in developing a successor to the shuttle is sustained political will. Why do you think it’s so difficult to follow through on a program from one administration to the next?
Thomas: I don’t think the problem is so much political will as it is financial resources. During economic boom times, when governments have plenty of resources, they are more likely to spend money on space exploration, the arts, etc. During difficult financial times when resources are tight, it is much harder to spend vast amounts on space. This is true not just for the United States but also for Japan, Canada, Russia, and the European Union. The Shuttle program was started by Nixon in 1972 and survived an impressive 4 decades and many different administrations. It can be done.
Wired: What do you think it will take to jump-start the manned space program in the US again? Many people would argue that competition, particularly from China, is the only way to instigate more funding – do you think this is true?
Thomas: If the U.S. economy started booming once again I could see our country putting some major resources into exploration. I think serious competition from China will spur this on a bit, but only if resources are available.
Wired: How do you see private companies interfacing with NASA regarding manned space flight? Will private companies ever really move beyond low earth orbit flights into the realm of exploratory, cutting edge missions?
Thomas: Commercial companies will enter space when it is economically feasible. You cannot force this commercialization. It will happen on its own when the conditions are right, i.e., when it is economically feasible. If there is no profit to be made from manufacturing products in space or launching space tourists, it just won’t happen. So when either launch costs are significantly reduced or when there is high value added to products flown in space it will make economic sense.
Wired: What do you think accounts for the overall decline in interest in manned spaceflight over the decades from its peak in 1969 to today?
Thomas: I strongly disagree that there is any less interest in human space exploration today than 50 years ago. Space is still a fascinating place for young students and grown adults. Elementary school children are no less interested in space than my generation was 50 years ago. I base this on going out to 75 schools every year and speaking to thousands of students. Some people portray the Space Shuttle program as uninteresting compared to going to the moon, and while the destinations are quite different, both are exploring the unknowns of the Universe, and I have met very few people who have found watching a Space Shuttle launch or viewing an IMAX movie of the International Space Station or repair of the Hubble Space Telescope boring. Space universally captures the attention and interest of a wide audience.
Wired: If you were to guess a year, when do you think we’ll see humans on Mars?
Thomas: It’s hard to predict when a Mars landing will take place because it is so dependent on our economy and both national and international politics. It would be much easier to predict technologically when we could perform such a mission. I speak to thousands of young students every year and let me tell you, this generation is interested in going to Mars. In 10-20 years they will be a major voting group. Looking into my crystal ball considering all these factors, I will predict that humans will land on Mars in the next 30-40 years. It may be the United States doing this or it may be China, India, or some other emerging world power with an economy to support such an incredible adventure.
Exclusive: Secret Turkish nerve center leads aid to Syria rebels
By Regan Doherty and Amena Bakr Fri Jul 27, 2012 8:12am EDT
DOHA/DUBAI (Reuters) - Turkey has set up a secret base with allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar to direct vital military and communications aid to Syria's rebels from a city near the border, Gulf sources have told Reuters.
News of the clandestine Middle East-run "nerve centre" working to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad underlines the extent to which Western powers - who played a key role in unseating Muammar Gaddafi in Libya - have avoided military involvement so far in Syria.
"It's the Turks who are militarily controlling it. Turkey is the main co-ordinator/facilitator. Think of a triangle, with Turkey at the top and Saudi Arabia and Qatar at the bottom," said a Doha-based source.
"The Americans are very hands-off on this. U.S. intel(ligence) are working through middlemen. Middlemen are controlling access to weapons and routes."
The centre in Adana, a city in southern Turkey about 100 km (60 miles) from the Syrian border, was set up after Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah al-Saud visited Turkey and requested it, a source in the Gulf said. The Turks liked the idea of having the base in Adana so that they could supervise its operations, he added.
A Saudi foreign ministry official was not immediately available to comment on the operation.
Adana is home to Incirlik, a large Turkish/U.S. air force base which Washington has used in the past for reconnaissance and military logistics operations. It was not clear from the sources whether the anti-Syrian "nerve centre" was located inside Incirlik base or in the city of Adana.
Qatar, the tiny gas-rich Gulf state which played a leading part in supplying weapons to Libyan rebels, has a key role in directing operations at the Adana base, the sources said. Qatari military intelligence and state security officials are involved.
"Three governments are supplying weapons: Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia," said a Doha-based source.
Ankara has officially denied supplying weapons.
"All weaponry is Russian. The obvious reason is that these guys (the Syrian rebels) are trained to use Russian weapons, also because the Americans don't want their hands on it. All weapons are from the black market. The other way they get weapons is to steal them from the Syrian army. They raid weapons stores."
The source added: "The Turks have been desperate to improve their weak surveillance, and have been begging Washington for drones and surveillance." The pleas appear to have failed. "So they have hired some private guys come do the job."
President Barack Obama has so far preferred to use diplomatic means to try to oust Assad, although Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signaled this week that Washington plans to step up help to the rebels.
Reuters has established that Obama's aides have drafted a resolution which would authorize greater covert assistance to the rebels but still stop short of arming them.
The White House's wariness is shared by other Western powers. It reflects concerns about what might follow Assad in Syria and about the substantial presence of anti-Western Islamists and jihadi fighters among the rebels.
The presence of the secret Middle East-run "nerve centre" may explain how the Syrian rebels, a rag-tag assortment of ill-armed and poorly organized groups, have pulled off major strikes such as the devastating bomb attack on July 18 which killed at least four key Assad aides including the defense minister.
A Turkish diplomat in the region insisted however that his country played no part in the Damascus bombing.
"That's out of the question," he said. "The Syrian minister of information blamed Turkey and other countries for the killing. Turkey doesn't do such things. We are not a terrorist country. Turkey condemns such attacks."
However, two former senior U.S. security officials said that Turkey has been playing an increasing role in sheltering and training Syrian rebels who have crossed into its territory.
One of the former officials, who is also an adviser to a government in the region, told Reuters that 20 former Syrian generals are now based in Turkey, from where they are helping shape the rebel forces. Israel believes up to 20,000 Syrian troops may now have defected to the opposition.
Former officials said there is reason to believe the Turks stepped up their support for anti-Assad forces after Syria shot down a Turkish plane which had made several passes over border areas.
Sources in Qatar said the Gulf state is providing training and supplies to the Syrian rebels.
"The Qataris mobilized their special forces team two weeks ago. Their remit is to train and help logistically, not to fight," said a Doha-based source with ties to the FSA.
Qatar's military intelligence directorate, Foreign Ministry and State Security Bureau are involved, said the source.
The United States, Israel, France and Britain - traditionally key players in the Middle East - have avoided getting involved so far, largely because they see little chance of a "good outcome" in Syria.
"Israel is not really in the business of trying to 'shape' the outcome of the revolt,", a diplomat in the region said. "The consensus is that you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. The risk of identifying with any side is too great".
A former U.S. official who advises a government in the region and other current and former U.S. and European security officials say that there has been little to zero direct assistance or training from the U.S. or its European allies.
The former official also said that few sophisticated weapons such as shoulder-fired bazookas for destroying tanks or surface-to-air missiles have reached the anti-Assad forces.
While some Gulf officials and conservative American politicians have privately suggested that a supply of surface-to-air missiles would help anti-Assad forces bring the conflict to a close, officials familiar with U.S. policy say they are anxious to keep such weapons out of the hands of Syrian rebels. They fear such weapons could make their way to pro-jihad militants who could use them against Western aircraft.
The CIA and the Israelis' main concern so far has been that elements of al-Qaeda may attempt to infiltrate the rebels and acquire some of Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons.
Sima Shine, a former chief Mossad analyst who now serves as an adviser to the Israeli government, told Reuters: "It's a nightmare for the international community, and chiefly the Americans - weapons of mass-destruction falling into the hands of terrorists. In parallel to its foreign contacts, Israel is taking this especially seriously. After all, we are here, and the Americans are over there."
She envisaged two circumstances under which Hezbollah, the Lebanese Islamist group, could obtain some of the chemical weapons stockpile.
"Assad goes and anarchy ensues, during which Hezbollah gets its hands on the weapons. There is a significant Hezbollah presence in Syria and they are well-ensconced in the military and other national agencies. So they are close enough to make a grab for it.
"Another possibility is that Assad, knowing that he is on his way out, will authorized a handover to Hezbollah, as a message to the world about the price of encouraging his ouster."
However, British and U.S. officials believe there is little or no sign of Assad being toppled imminently.
The situation, one senior European official said, is still likely to veer back and forth, like a tug-of-war between pro- and anti-Assad forces.
There is no indication, the official added, that Assad himself has any intention of doing anything but fighting on until the bitter end.
(additional reporting by Mark Hosenball in London and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; writing by Richard Woods; editing by Michael Stott and Ralph Boulton)
United Nations fails to agree landmark arms-trade treaty
By Michelle Nichols Sat Jul 28, 2012 10:12am EDT
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Delegations from around the world failed on Friday to agree a landmark U.N. arms-trade treaty to regulate the more than $60 billion industry, opting for further talks and a possible U.N. General Assembly vote by the end of the year, diplomats said.
More than 170 countries have spent the past month in New York negotiating a treaty, which needed to be adopted by consensus, so any one country effectively could have vetoed a deal. Instead, no decision was taken on a draft treaty.
But this leaves the door open for further talks and a draft arms-trade treaty could be brought to the 193-nation U.N. General Assembly and adopted with a two-thirds majority vote. Diplomats said there could be a vote by the end of the year.
"We feel that we could have agreed (a treaty). It is disappointing that more time is needed. But an arms-trade treaty is coming - not today - but soon. We've taken a big step forward," said a spokesman for Britain's delegation.
One person every minute dies from armed violence around the world, and arms control activists say a convention is needed to prevent illicitly traded guns from pouring into conflict zones and fueling wars and atrocities. They cited conflicts in Syria and elsewhere as examples of why a treaty is necessary.
While most U.N. member states favored a strong treaty, activists said there was a small minority of states, including Syria, North Korea, Iran, Egypt and Algeria, who loudly voiced opposition to global arms control throughout the negotiations.
But ultimately, arms-control activists blamed the United States and Russia for the inability to reach a decision on Friday, as both countries said there was not enough time left for them to clarify and resolve issues they had with the draft treaty.
"Moving forward, President Obama must show the political courage required to make a strong treaty that contains strong rules on human rights a reality," said Scott Stedjan, a senior policy advisor at Oxfam America, which fights poverty and other injustices.
The draft arms-trade treaty under negotiation required countries to assess if a proposed arms export could be used to commit or facilitate a serious violation of international humanitarian or human rights law.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed disappointment the meetings were inconclusive but was encouraged U.N. members will continue pursuing "this noble goal."
"The conference's inability to conclude its work on this much-awaited ATT, despite years of effort of member states and civil society from many countries, is a setback," Ban said.
"There is already considerable common ground and states can build on the hard work that has been done during these negotiations," he added.
It covered all conventional arms in the categories of battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers, and small arms and light weapons.
The treaty would only have come into effect after it was ratified by 65 countries.
"Today was the day for political courage - not delays and dithering," said Anna Macdonald, head of arms control at Oxfam. "Some 50,000 people lost their lives through armed violence during the course of these month-long negotiations. The out-of-control arms trade must - and will - be stopped."
The negotiations on the treaty in New York were delayed for the first week by a dispute over Palestinian participation, which was eventually resolved by allowing the delegation to sit at the front of the negotiating hall but without the right to participate as states with voting rights.
Such procedural bickering was typical of the arms-trade talks, diplomats say, as countries that would prefer not to have a strong treaty tried to prevent the negotiations from moving forward. In February, preparatory talks on the rules nearly collapsed due to procedural wrangling and other disagreements.
One of the reasons this month's negotiations are taking place is that the United States, the world's biggest arms trader accounting for over 40 percent of global conventional arms transfers, reversed U.S. policy on the issue after Barack Obama became president and decided in 2009 to support a treaty.
But U.S. officials say Washington insisted in February on having the ability to veto a weak treaty.
It wanted to protect U.S. domestic rights to bear arms - a sensitive issue in the United States that has been back in the national spotlight after a gunman opened fire in a movie theater a week ago, killing 12 people and wounding 58 other.
A U.N. arms trade treaty would not "interfere with the domestic arms trade and the way a country regulates civilian possession," the U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs has said.
The other five top arms suppliers are Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.
(Editing by Philip Barbara)
(This story has been corrected to add a missing attribution to a quote in the 11th paragraph)
Feds: We Can Freeze Megaupload Assets Even if Case Dismissed By Timothy Lee, Ars Technica July 27, 2012 | 5:30 pm Categories: Copyrights and Patents
The United States government said Friday that even if the indictment of the Megaupload corporation is dismissed, it can continue its indefinite freeze on the corporation’s assets while it awaits the extradition of founder Kim Dotcom and his associates.
Judge Liam O’Grady is weighing a request to dismiss the indictment against Megaupload because (in Megaupload’s view) the federal rules of criminal procedure provide no way to serve notice on corporations with no U.S. address. At a hearing in Alexandria, Virginia, he grilled both attorneys in the case but did not issue a ruling.
O’Grady speculated, with evident sarcasm, that Congress intended to allow foreign corporations like Megaupload to “be able to violate our laws indiscriminately from an island in the South Pacific.”
But Megaupload’s attorney insisted that this may not be too far from the truth. Megaupload, they said, is a Hong Kong corporation with no presence in the United States. He argued it was perfectly reasonable for Megaupload to be subject to the criminal laws of Hong Kong, but not the United States.
For its part, the government suggested that it could sidestep the mailing requirement in one of several ways. For example, it could wait for Kim Dotcom to be extradited to the United States and then mail notice to him, as Megaupload’s representative, at his address in prison. Or, they suggested, the government could send notice of the indictment to Carpathia Hosting, a Virginia company that has leased hundreds of servers to the locker site.
The government also mentioned the possibility that it could use the provisions of a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty to send notice to Megaupload’s Hong Kong address.
But Judge O’Grady seemed skeptical of these argument. He noted that the “plain language” of the law required sending notice to the company’s address in the United States. “You don’t have a location in the United States to mail it to,” he said. “It’s never had an address” in the United States.
And Megaupload pointed out that the government hadn’t produced a single example in which the government had satisfied the rules of criminal procedure using one of the methods it was suggesting in this case. Most of the precedents the government has produced were in civil cases, which have different rules. And most involved serving a corporate parent via its subsidiary. That’s a very different relationship than, for example, the vendor-customer relationship between Megaupload and Carpathia.
The government brought up one new example during the hearing: an instance in which a judge allowed notice to be sent via e-mail to the Columbian guerilla group FARC. But Megaupload’s attorneys dismissed this example as well, pointing out that FARC was not a corporation and that the propriety of that service was never tested in court.
The government also argued that it could keep Megaupload in legal limbo indefinitely. “None of the cases impose a time limit on service,” the government’s attorney told the judge. Therefore, the government believes it can leave the indictment hanging over the company’s head, and keep its assets frozen, indefinitely.
Not only that, but the government believes it can continue to freeze Megaupload’s assets and paralyze its operations even if the judge grants the motion to dismiss. That’s because in the government’s view, the assets are the proceeds of criminal activity and the prosecution against founder Kim Dotcom will still be pending. The fact that the assets are in the name of Megaupload rather than its founder is of no consequence, the government claimed.
Hollywood, at least, seems nervous that Judge O’Grady might buy Megaupload’s argument. In a conference call held Wednesday in advance of today’s hearing, a senior vice president at the Motion Picture Association of America argued that the dismissal of the case against Megaupload would have little practical impact, since the company’s principals would still be facing indictment. And he rejected Kim Dotcom’s efforts to frame the case as a test of internet freedom, describing Dotcom as a “career criminal” who had grown wealthy stealing the work of others.
This U.F.O. was spotted by a surveillance satellite orbiting the planet. I haven't been able to find much information on this unidentified flying object sighting except that this video was an insider leak. Nasa at this point hasn't confirmed involvement, nor has any Government around the globe. The satellite that spotted this UFO is a surveillance satellite, but I am unsure of where this location is. My thanks to the anonymous source of this video.
The UFO appears to be looking for something. It appears to hone in on the object and then rapidly flies away again. Is it aliens? Government testing? What was it looking for? Did it find it? Why would aliens be so risky, what was the risk taken for? DOn't forget to rate, comment and subscribe. Thanks.
That may be entertainment to some (as noted in the category) but that was one very interesting video! I don;t know if it was the pixilation in the film but that craft kinda looked semi-transparent! maybe just my old eyes playing tricks on me this morning!!
« Last Edit: Jul 28th, 2012, 10:05am by LoneGunMan »
De Opresso Libre! I Have Been many Men, In Many Times, I Shall Be Again! \"The real destroyer of the liberties of the people is he who spreads among them bounties, donations and benefits.\" Plutarch
That may be entertainment to some (as noted in the category) but that was one very interesting video! I don;t know if it was the pixilation in the film but that craft kinda looked semi-transparent! maybe just my old eyes playing tricks on me this morning!!
Good morning Lone,
Then my old eyes are doing the same . It looks semi-transparent to me too. Fascinating video isn't it.
In Egypt, archaeologists re-open tombs to woo tourists
By Simon Denyer, Updated: Sunday, July 29, 4:30 AM
GIZA, Egypt — More than 4,500 years since the paint was first applied, the reds, yellows and blues still stand out on the walls of the tomb of Queen Meresankh III.
A hunter throws a net to catch water birds, craftsmen make papyrus mats while a stream of people carry baskets filled with offerings for the afterlife.
Decorating the walls all around are paintings, reliefs and statues of Meresankh herself, draped in a leopard-skin cloak, standing beside her mother in a boat pulling papyrus stems through the water, or being entertained by musicians and singers.
Egypt’s tourism industry has been battered since last year’s revolution, but here, beside the pyramids of Giza, officials are trying to attract the visitors back.
The tomb of Meresankh, whose names means lover of life, will be opened to the public for the first time in nearly 25 years later this year, while five other tombs of high priests — buried under the desert sands for decades — will be thrown open.
“We want to give people a reason to come back, to give them something new,” said Ali Asfar, director general of archaeology on the Giza plateau.
Meresankh was a woman whose life was intimately bound up in the pharaoh’s incestuous rule. Her tomb lies a stone’s throw east of the Great Pyramid of her grandfather Khufu, better known as Cheops.
Her parents were brother and sister, and she married another of Khufu’s children — her uncle, Khafre, better known as Chephren, who built the second-largest pyramid here.
But Meresankh died suddenly, before her own mother, who gave her own burial chamber for her daughter to use.
American archaeologist George Reisner wrote of his delight at discovery in 1927 as his team poked their heads through a gap at the top of the sand-filled doorway.
“Our eyes were first startled by the vivid colors of the reliefs and inscriptions around the northern part of this large chamber. None of us had ever seen anything like it,” he wrote in the magazine of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where a statuette of Meresankh and her mother is now housed.
Smaller but still interesting
On the other side of the Great Pyramid, the western cemetery houses the tombs of high priests, such as Kaemankh, the royal treasurer and keeper of the king’s secrets.
It took site inspector Ashraf Mohie El Din and a team of more than 50 people around five months to clear about a meter of sand that had blanketed the area and clean the tombs.
Mohie El Din said that climbing the ladder into Kaemankh’s burial chamber was “one of my favorite adventures.”
It is not hard to see why. On the walls, more vivid and colorful paintings show fishing on the Nile, a cow being slaughtered and another giving birth. In the cramped space around the sarcophagus, Mohie El Din shines his torch on an “ancient party” with dancers and musicians playing harp and flute. Just above, carpenters make a bed and a chair.
To the south of Cairo, authorities are also planning to re-open the famous Serapeum at Sakkara, a massive underground temple where sacred bulls were thought to have been buried in the huge granite and basalt sarcophagi — each weighing 60 to 100 tons — that sit in chambers flanking the long galleries.
Smart wooden walkways and metal arches designed by subway engineers show the fruits of a 10-year restoration project.
Above ground, however, the pyramids of Sakkara, smaller than those at Giza but still a popular tourist attraction in normal times, are almost deserted. The parking lots outside the rows of carpet shops lining the route from Cairo are empty, business is down to less than a tenth of what it was two years ago, shopkeepers say.
Kamal Wahid, director of antiquities at Sakkara, blames the media for training its cameras exclusively on Tahrir Square, the center of protests that toppled president Hosni Mubarak last year.
But tour operators say the government needs to do much more to restore security, clean the streets and regulate the traffic that brings constant gridlock to Cairo.
‘I am selling an image’
Opening tombs will not solve the problem on its own, said Elhamy el-Zayat, chairman of the Egyptian Tourism Federation, in a country that already has an almost endless choice of archaeological treasures outside the well-traveled tour-bus route.
“I am selling an image, I am selling a dream,” he said. “But customers will see what they watch on TV.”
Cultural tourism was hit much harder by Egypt’s revolution than its Red Sea resorts, which now account for 92 percent of tourists visiting this country, Zayat said. Tourist arrivals are down by about 35 percent from pre-revolution levels, he said.
The temples of Luxor and Aswan on the Upper Nile have been badly hit, while nearly a third of the people directly employed in the industry have left. Many of the younger ones have gone to call centers, he said, robbing the industry of English-speaking guides who may be tough to replace
Nevertheless, Zayat said Egypt’s tourism industry will recover, just as it did after the massacre of 62 people, mostly tourists, by Islamist extremists in Luxor in 1997.
“Egypt will always come back,” he said. “It always has — not because we have done something remarkable, but because Egypt is attractive.”
ALEPPO, Syria (Reuters) - The government of Bashar al-Assad declared victory on Sunday in a hard-fought battle for Syria's capital Damascus, and pounded rebels who control of parts of its largest city Aleppo.
Assad's forces have struggled as never before to maintain their grip on the country over the past two weeks after a major rebel advance into the two largest cities and an explosion that killed four top security officials.
Government forces have succeeded in reimposing control of the capital after a punishing battle, but rebels are still in control of sections of Aleppo, clashing with reinforced army troops for several days.
"Today I tell you, Syria is stronger... In less than a week they were defeated (in Damascus) and the battle failed," Foreign Minister Walid Moualem said on a visit to Iran, Assad's main ally in a region where other neighbors have forsaken him.
"So they moved on to Aleppo and I assure you, their plots will fail."
Rebel fighters, patrolling opposition districts in flat-bed trucks flying green-white-and-black "independence" flags, said they were holding off Assad's forces in the south-western Aleppo district of Salaheddine, where clashes have gone on for days.
Opposition activists also reported fighting in other rebel-held districts of Aleppo, in what could herald the start of a decisive phase in the battle for Syria's commercial hub, after the army sent tank columns and troop reinforcements last week.
Helicopter gunships hovered over the city shortly after dawn and the thud of artillery boomed across neighborhoods. Syrian state television said soldiers was repelling "terrorists" in Salaheddine and had captured several of their leaders.
Some rebel-held areas visited by Reuters were empty of residents. Fighters were basing themselves in houses - some clearly abandoned in a hurry, with food still in the fridges.
A burnt out tank lay in the street, while nearby another one had been captured intact, covered in tarpaulin and left in a car park, perhaps for the rebels themselves to use against any ground assault by Assad's forces.
In a largely empty street, flanked by closed shops and run-down buildings, women clad in long black abaya cloaks walked with children next to walls daubed with rebel graffiti - "Freedom", "Free Syrian Army" and "Down with Bashar".
Rubbish lay uncollected and in one street families were packing vans full of mattresses in apparent preparation to flee.
International peace envoy Kofi Annan and other foreign leaders said the situation in Aleppo served to emphasize the need for a negotiated political solution to the 16-month-old conflict in Syria. A peace plan proposed by Annan depends on a ceasefire that has been ignored.
The leader of Syria's main political opposition group, the Syrian National Council, called instead for its foreign allies to provide heavy weapons needed to fight Assad's "killing machine".
"The rebels are fighting with primitive weapons...We want weapons that we can stop tanks and planes with. This is what we want," SNC chief Abdelbasset Seida said in Abu Dhabi.
He also urged foreign allies to circumvent the divided U.N. Security Council and intervene directly to help topple Assad. "Our friends and allies will bear responsibility for what is happening in Aleppo if they do not move soon," he said, adding that talks would start on forming a transitional government.
Assad's ruling structure draws strongly on his Alawite minority sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, and the opposition is drawn largely from the Sunni Muslim majority, enjoying the support of Sunni leaders who rule nearly all Arab states.
That has raised fears that the 16-month-old conflict could spread across the wider Middle East, where a sectarian divide between Sunnis and Shi'ites has been at the root of violence in Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain and elsewhere.
Shi'ite Iran demonstrated its firm support for Assad by hosting his foreign minister. At a joint news conference with Moualem, Iran's own Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi rebuked the West and Arab states for holding the "illusion" that Assad could be easily replaced from power in a managed transition.
In Damascus, where Assad's forces pushed back a rebel offensive following a deadly bomb attack on his inner circle, many residents have fled fighting in the outskirts for relative safety in the heart of the capital.
Even the center has been shattered by the violence. Shops open only between 9 am and 3 pm, food prices have soared and no one dares walk outside after dusk, even in the holy month of Ramadan when streets are normally packed late into the night with people celebrating after a day of fasting.
"To begin with I was with the regime, for sure," said Ahmed, from one of the southern suburbs where the army, backed by helicopter and tanks, launched its fierce counter offensive.
"But now, no, the regime must go. Take what they want with them, but they must go."
The battle for Aleppo, a city of 2.5 million people, is a decisive test of the government's ability to retake its two main cities. It has committed huge military resources to the battle there after losing control of outlying rural areas and some border crossings with Turkey and Iraq.
Fighters from the rebel Free Syrian Army were also in evidence on the approaches to Aleppo from the north, where many villagers were still shopping or tending their fields.
One man in his 40s, carrying his family on a motorcycle, said he was fleeing the fighting in the city.
"We are living in a war zone," he told Reuters. "I and my relatives are just going back and forth, trying to stay away from the fighting. We left Aleppo when we saw smoke and helicopters firing."
The British-based Observatory, which compiles reports from anti-government activists, said 26 people were killed in Aleppo on Saturday and 190 total across Syria. It reported fighting in Deraa, the cradle of the revolution, Homs, the scene of some of the bloodiest combat, and Hama. There was no way to verify its figures.
The fighting in Aleppo follows a July 18 bomb attack that killed four top security officials including Assad's defense minister, intelligence chief and powerful brother-in-law.
(Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy in Beirut, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Maha El Dahan in the UAE, Denis Dyomkin in Moscow, Julien Ponthus in Paris and reporter in Damascus who cannot be identified for security reasons; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Peter Graff)
Originally published Saturday, July 28, 2012 at 3:56 PM
8 states will decide who wins the White House
Stubbornly close and deeply divisive, the presidential race throttles into its last 100 days as an enormous clash over economic vision. It may seem like an election for the whole nation, but only about eight states will decide who wins the White House.
By BEN FELLER The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Stubbornly close and deeply divisive, the presidential race throttles into its last 100 days as an enormous clash over economic vision, with the outcome likely to come down to fall debates, final unemployment numbers and fierce efforts to mobilize voters.
It may seem like an election for the whole nation, but only about eight states will decide who wins the White House.
Polling shows the contest between President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney remains remarkably static across the country and in those pivotal states even as both men and their allies pour money into largely negative television advertising to sway opinions.
The two candidates will intensify their time before voters in the weeks ahead, knowing much of the public will not truly start paying attention until after Labor Day.
What voters probably will see will look a lot like what's played out so far — a bitter, bruising, personal contest over who can be trusted to fix the economy.
The upcoming stretch is loaded with opportunities for the candidates to capture the public's imagination, land a big blow or flub a chance. Romney is closing in on his vice-presidential nominee, both candidates will give highly scrutinized convention speeches, and the two will face off three times in October debates.
Then there are the surprises — be they national events or scares from abroad — that can jolt the campaigns and test the candidates.
"We're all looking for that moment," said David Gergen, a political analyst who has advised Republican and Democratic presidents. He predicted it could come in the first of the debates, in Denver on Oct. 3, when Obama and Romney finally stand on a stage together and go at it over economic policy.
Gergen said it could be the most defining debate in more than 50 years.
"Obama is leading, but it's often 47-45. He's still got to get to 50," he said. "If the undecided voters all break at the last minute, that could go against the incumbent. If Obama wants to wrap it up, the first debate carries enormous significance."
The daily squabbles and wrinkles of the campaign will change. So will the gaffes. The basic messages will not.
Obama's thesis is that his plan for rebuilding the economic base and for ending tax cuts for the rich will help everyone, and that Romney would be a return to recession-era policies.
Romney's view is Obama came in over his head, squandered his shot and must give way to a leader favoring small government and taxes.
The state of the race again shows how certain states take on outsized importance in a contest that is decided by electoral votes, not the popular vote. Only the states considered truly up for grabs get the coveted attention of the candidates and their top surrogates, and of course the onslaught of expensive advertising.
The most contested are Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Virginia. Pennsylvania is also in the mix.
Foreign affairs has made a brief run to the front of the campaign, with Romney, who has little experience in that arena, eager to show his standing on his current trip across England, Israel and Poland. Obama has used the power of his office to try to upstage Romney's travels and remind everyone there is only one president.
Yet what matters most is the basic economic condition that people feel in their daily lives.
Economic growth is modest and headed in the wrong direction, new government figures show, and so is monthly job growth. The next jobs snapshot comes Friday, setting the tone for a month when many Americans will try grab a break but the presidential campaigns will not.
Obama will use much of August to get out of the White House and woo voters in small settings before the more intense travel begins in the fall. That includes stops in Ohio, Florida and Virginia in the coming week. The president, like Romney, often tacks on regional interviews to expand the political reach of every trip.
Romney, since emerging from the GOP primary field, has spent more time meeting privately with donors and family than courting voters. He is expected to switch tactics after returning from overseas, intensifying both his advertising efforts and his campaign schedule.
Between now and the Republican convention in late August, Romney is expected to pick his running mate, which typically gives at least a temporary lift and additional buzz to a campaign. He is widely expected to choose someone perceived as competent but safe, more experience than sizzle.
Money matters deeply, as both sides use advertising to try to undermine the other's credibility or, in softer ads, tell a story about themselves. Romney and the Republican Party have begun to outraise Obama and the Democratic Party, and Romney has more help from well-heeled outside groups known as super political action committees.
While persuasion gets the attention, mobilization could make the difference, particularly in states that could come down to 1 or 2 percentage points.
The heart of the campaign is still an important choice of economic visions. The tone and the substance often have been far more narrow and biting.
Obama's team has used the summer to dent Romney's economic credentials and trustworthiness. The Obama campaign has hammered the Republican over his unwillingness to release years of tax records and over discrepancies over when he left Bain Capital, at one point suggesting he may have committed a felony.
Romney's team found a foothold by seizing on one line from an Obama speech: "If you've got a business, you didn't build that." Romney has used it to paint Obama as a big-government-loving president who does not respect small businesses, forcing Obama himself to counter that he was wildly taken out of context.
Out of Africa: Startling New Genetics of Human Origins
By Gary Stix July 26, 2012
I love population genetics for its ability to peer back into human history through the medium of DNA’s ATCGs.
One of the stars of this discipline is Sarah Tishkoff, a standout in African genetics, someone who will readily haul a centrifuge into the bush in Cameroon.
Tishkoff of the University of Pennsylvania is lead author on a paper published online July 26 in Cell that details whole-genome sequencing of five individuals each from three extant hunter-gatherer groups—the Pygmies of Cameroon as well as the Hadza and the Sandawe of Tanzania. The results reveal millions of newly discovered genetic variants—differences in single genetic letters, the ATCGs—and indicate that early modern humans may have interbred long ago in Africa with another species of hominid (although the fossil record does not provide much support for the latter finding).
Tishkoff answered a few questions for us about this paper, co-authored with Joseph Lachance and 11 other researchers. An edited version of the interview appears below:
Please describe the research that led to the paper that was published today:
We’re the first ones to look at these diverse groups of hunter-gathers in Africa who descend from some of the most ancestral lineages in the world. They’re interesting because they have very unique and distinct lifestyles There are few populations that maintain this active hunter-gatherer lifestyle. This is the most extensive study in Africa using high-coverage deeply detailed sequence data. We focused on three groups because they’re anthropologically interesting. They’re thought to be descended from groups that are ancestral to all modern humans. We wanted to understand the genetic basis of adaptation to their local environment including, for instance the short stature trait in Pygmies.
So what did you find?
We discovered 13 million variants and, of those variants, greater than 3 million are completely novel, meaning that they have not been reported in any database. The current public database has 40 million variants. So we found 3 million novel variants by simply sequencing 15 individuals. That increases by about 8 percent all known human genetic variation. It also demonstrates that we’re missing a lot of really important variation that’s out there, particularly in Africa, which is the homeland of modern humans and a place where there’s been a lot of time for differentiation to have occurred in very diverse environments. What this means is that there’s s probably a lot of regional or population-specific variation out there that has not been that well characterized, some of which is functionally very important.
What about natural selection?
Natural selection seems to be operating more on the non-coding genome [the regulatory portion that does not contain genes] than the coding region. A lot of people are doing exome sequencing [looking only at genes]. I think they’re missing a lot of important variation.
In our study, we looked at what regions of these groups’ genomes were uniquely differentiated to their local environments. There wasn’t a huge amount of overlap between the groups—or between them and other non-hunter-gatherer groups from Africa. Due to natural selection, we found there were distinctive adaptations for immunity, taste and smell.
In the Pygmies, we discovered genes involved with thermal regulation, immunity and stature, all likely to be adaptive to a tropical environment. We pinpointed genes related to pituitary and thyroid function, the latter perhaps an adaptation to a low-iodine environment.
In the Sandawe, we found a variant for melanin, a gene involved in skin color. The Sandawe are among the most fair-skinned groups in Africa. When I went to work with them, they said, ‘We’re like brothers and sisters because you look like us.’ This is not because of any European admixture; they look like the San [a hunter-gatherer group from southern Africa]. When I said: ‘Where do you come from, they pointed to a mountain in the distance. When I said ‘Can you take me there?” we went but there was no road. We went through the bush and they showed me cave paintings. Having lived in South Africa, I’ve seen the cave paintings of the San.
What about interbreeding with other human species?
A number of studies have shown a low amount of interbreeding between early modern humans outside of Africa and archaic species outside of Africa including Neandertals and, in Asia, with the species they call Denisova.They’ve never found any evidence of Neandertal DNA in Africa. The problem is that you just don’t get good preservation of fossils in Africa. So what we did was collaborate with Josh Akey and Ben Vernot at the University of Washington and used a statistic they developed to recognize regions of genome that appear to be of archaic origin.
The first thing we did is to test this statistic by applying it to non-Africans and we found a very strong enrichment for Neandertal DNA in those genomes. But we didn’t see that in the Africans. They had no Neandertal DNA. When we applied the statistic to Africans, though, we still saw a lot of evidence for interbreeding from a hominid who diverged from a common ancestor that we shared about 1.2 million years ago, about the time that Neandertals split off as well. This suggests that there could have been a sister species in Africa. What it was nobody knows. But it seems to show that modern humans have been interbreeding and it’s not unique to non-African species.
Why are African genetics so exciting?
Africa was the site of origin of all modern humans and if you want to learn about when, where and how we evolved, you want to look at this continent. It has a long history of population subdivision and adaptation of those populations to very distinct environments and a broad range of phenotypes, ranging from the short stature of the Pygmies to the very tall stature of the pastoralists in the east. It also has very different disease exposure and very different disease prevalence throughout.
We want to expand our genome-wide analysis to other populations, and we want to do so with larger sample sizes. We’re going to continue to try to correlate genetic variants with different phenotypic traits. We’d love to do functional studies of these genes to see, for instance, how they are regulating pituitary development. Is there some totally novel mechanism involved. We’re going to look at the Pygmies and other groups with a systems approach. You can’t look at height, as an example, by itself. You have to look at it in relation to metabolism and immunity and see how everything interacts.
NASA has discovered a new life form, a bacteria called GFAJ-1 that is unlike anything currently living in planet Earth. It's capable of using arsenic to build its DNA, RNA, proteins, and cell membranes. This changes everything.
NASA is saying that this is "life as we do not know it". The reason is that all life on Earth is made of six components: Carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur. Every being, from the smallest amoeba to the largest whale, share the same life stream. Our DNA blocks are all the same.
That was true until today. In a surprising revelation, NASA scientist Felisa Wolfe-Simon and her team have found a bacteria whose DNA is completely alien to what we know today, working differently than the rest of the organisms in the planet. Instead of using phosphorus, the newly discovered microorganism—called GFAJ-1 and found in Mono Lake, California—uses the poisonous arsenic for its building blocks. Arsenic is an element poisonous to every other living creature in the planet except for a few specialized microscopic creatures.
According to Wolfe-Simon, they knew that "some microbes can breathe arsenic, but what we've found is a microbe doing something new—building parts of itself out of arsenic." The implications of this discovery are enormous to our understanding of life itself and the possibility of finding organisms in other planets that don't have to be like planet Earth. Like NASA's Ed Weiler says: "The definition of life has just expanded."