Syrian president Assad threatens 'repercussions' if US launches strikes
Assad insists there is 'not a shred of evidence' that regime used chemical weapons and warns of revenge attacks against US
by Dan Roberts Monday 9 September 2013 11.09 EDT
Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has hinted at terrorist reprisals against western interests in the event of a US strike against his country, saying he could not rule out that chemical weapons might be used.
In an interview with broadcaster Charlie Rose, Assad insisted there was "not a shred of evidence" that his own government was responsible for the recent chemical attacks inside Syria alleged by the White House, but suggested there could be chilling "repercussions" elsewhere in the region if the US intervened.
"If you strike somewhere, you have to expect repercussions somewhere else," he said. "It may take different forms, direct and indirect. Direct when governments want to retaliate, and indirect when you are going to have instability and the spread of terrorism over the region that will influence the west directly."
Excerpts from the interview were released on Monday morning as Obama prepared a frantic 48-hour lobbying effort to shift US public opinion in favour of intervention and persuade Congress to authorise military action.
But Assad raised the stakes, with a warning that suggested a US strike would not be the simple one-way matter that the White House claims.
Asked by Rose if there would be revenge attacks against the US, Assad replied: "You should expect everything. Not necessarily through the government. The government is not the only player in this region. You have different parties, you have different factions, you have different ideology. You have everything in this region now."
Asked if chemical warfare could be one repercussion, Assad added: "That depends if the rebels or the terrorists in this region or any other group have it. It could happen. You are going to pay the price if you are not wise with dealing with terrorists."
Nevertheless, the Syrian leader continued to deny any responsibility for chemical weapons use inside his country and called on the US administration to make its alleged evidence public.
"It reminds me of the big lie that Colin Powell presented to the United Nations, but in this case [the US secretary of state] Kerry did not present evidence. Not a single shred of evidence," said Assad.
"[Kerry] uses confidence and conviction, but this is not about confidence, it is about evidence. The Russians have opposite evidence."
Assad taunted US officials for using public reports of chemical attacks gathered via YouTube and other social media platforms. "We not a social media administration; we deal with reality," he said.
He argued that any US strike on Syria would help the same terrorist groups responsible for the 9/11 attacks.
"Any strike will be a direct support to Al-Qaeda offshoots," said Assad.
In the interview, which will be broadcast in full on Monday night, Assad was also asked to respond to those who called him a butcher.
"When you have a doctor who cuts a leg to protect a patient from gangrene, you don't call him a butcher; you call him a doctor. "When you have terrorism, you have a war, and when you have a war then innocent lives will be victims of that war."
He said it he did not know whether the US would attack.
"The majority [of Americans] don't want a war – anywhere, not only against Syria," claimed Assad.
"The US doesn't obey international law, and tramples over the UN charter, so we have to be ready for anything. But according to the lies that we have been hearing for the last two weeks we have to expect for the worst."
White House spokesman Ben Rhodes said it would be a "mistake" for Syria to retaliate against any US strikes.
"We don't think it is in the interests of Assad or anyone else in the region to take action against us," he said on Monday after the first interview clips aired.
Into the Wild: Tracking Rescued Harbor Seal Pups’ Return to the Ocean
By Nadia Drake 09.09.13 6:30 AM
Four small seals are crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, safely strapped into the truck in front of us. Tucked inside their crates, the quartet – three harbor seals and an elephant seal – are on a journey back to their ocean home. The destination: a beautiful, protected cove in Monterey Bay, bordered by a private beach.
For the last few months, the seals have been at The Marine Mammal Center in the Marin headlands, where rescued marine mammals go to recuperate from injuries and illness. Responsible for 600 miles of California coastline, the center normally treats around 600 animals per year. This year, though, the mass sea lion stranding in southern California meant the facility helped overwhelmed rescue centers by taking in an additional 67 animals from down south. In a normal year, the center treats between 60 and 130 harbor seals; this year has been slow, with only 49 so far, and a really high success rate.
We pass the San Andreas fault running to the west of I-280, zoom through the concrete wilderness of Silicon Valley, and zip by the artichoke fields near Castroville before turning toward the southern Monterey Bay sand dunes, and the ocean beyond. It’s the farthest inland these seals will ever be.
WIRED will be tracking the journey back into the wild of one of the harbor seals, named Agaptimoss, a 6-month-old harbor seal rescued in June from a beach between Aptos and Moss Landing (the origins of his name). Malnourished and partially blinded by cataracts and retinal degeneration, he was brought to the rescue center for rehabilitation.
After an examination, an ophthalmologist determined the cataracts in Agaptimoss’ right eye did not seem to be worsening, and that he could still partially see with it. Now weighing around 50 pounds, the young harbor seal has gained enough weight to be released and has passed his “live fish test,” proving that he’s capable of catching food, said veterinarian Rebecca Greene.
His vets are hoping that good vision in one eye will be enough for him to survive and catch fish. But they’re not content to just wonder about his fate. Last week, the team attached a satellite tracking tag to his head, using a waterproof superglue. The tag uses as many as seven satellites to pinpoint its position; it’ll relay that information back to The Marine Mammal Center multiple times a day until the signal quits. “We won’t know if it’s tag failure, or if it fell off, or if the animal died,” said Lauren Rust, who will be collecting the location data for the center.
Location accuracy depends on how many satellites the tag can find, and uncertainties can vary from between a few hundred meters to as many as 2,500 meters, Rust said.
If it looks like Agaptimoss is having a hard time – spending too much time hauled out on land, for example – the team has a plan. “If it appears he is not thriving well in the wild, we will use the satellite information to locate him and bring him back into rehabilitation,” said veterinarian Shawn Johnson. “At that time, we will determine if he is a good candidate for permanent placement in a zoo or aquarium.”
You’ll be able to follow Agaptimoss along with us as we map his locations on our Map Lab blog.
Agaptimoss’s other traveling companions are Ranger Luke and Lira, also 6-month-old harbor seals, and Hunney, a 7-month-old elephant seal. They all have flipper tags, and Lira and Hunney are wearing numbered hats. Those accoutrements – as well as the satellite tag – will stay on until the glue fails or the seal molts.
On September 5, as the center’s staff prepared the quartet for the trip home, I asked veterinarian Greg Frankfurter how he felt about sending them off. “I’m happy to see them go – it’s my job to get them back out there,” he said. Then he asked me to wave goodbye to them, from the beach. Which I did.
Near Cypress Point, along 17-Mile Drive, a crowd had gathered to watch the animals return home. As the harbor seals’ crate doors opened, three little heads peered cautiously out. Lira charged down the beach first, followed by Ranger Luke and Agaptimoss tied for second.
The trio dove into the gentle waves. After a few splashes, three heads popped up a few meters out and looked back toward the volunteers and staffers on the shore; then they headed farther out, where a welcoming party of harbor seals waited in the kelp.
Once, Agaptimoss came back to the beach – and then he was gone.
“When we release sea lions, sometimes they go up to each other and touch noses,” said Doug Hailey, touching the tips of his index fingers together. “And then they go their separate ways.”
Hailey has been volunteering with of The Marine Mammal Center for more than a decade, and, with volunteer Stan Jensen, helped oversee this trip home.
It’s a big ocean out there, especially if you’re a 50-pound seal. I wondered whether Agaptimoss would miss the fish-mash and bright blue pools at the rescue center. Where will he go? Visit Map Lab to find out: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/maplab/
Dem campaign chairman: Syria won't affect 2014 elections
By Alexandra Jaffe 09/10/13 09:25 AM ET
A House vote on authorizing military action in Syria won't affect the 2014 elections, the head of the Democratic campaign arm said Tuesday.
"It does not complicate the cycle at all. 2014 is not going to be a referendum on Syria," Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) said during a Christian Science Monitor breakfast in Washington.
"2014 will be a referendum on solutions…2014 will be a referendum on whose ideas are helping the middle class versus Republican ideas that are undermining the middle class," Israel continued. "Syria is not going to be part of, will not be the subject of a referendum in 2014."
Israel's comments come as Congress debates whether to approve a request by President Obama for authorization to use military force in Syria.
It would be a particularly difficult vote for House Democrats, who would be torn between war-weary constituencies urging a no vote and the desire to support Obama. A new poll out on Tuesday from CNN reveals more than 70 percent of Americans don't believe a strike would achieve significant goals.
An offer from Syria on Monday to turn over its chemical weapons to international control could put off a House vote on Syria.
President Obama said the offer was significant, and the Senate delayed a procedural vote on Syria after the offer, which was brokered by Russia.
Israel said it could make the House vote and the Syrian issue moot.
“It’s just so fluid right now. If the Russia deal is a real deal, I think this evaporates quickly. And I can’t imagine voters waking up in a year and 2 months saying I’m going to cast my vote on Syria,” he said.
By The Hill's current count, nearly half of House Democrats remain undecided on Syria, and more Democrats have expressed opposition than support for the strikes. Of the 26 members on the DCCC's Frontline Program, a designation for its most vulnerable incumbents, 24 have weighed in publicly, and all but two are undecided. Those two that have decided are opposed to strikes.
If a strike were to occur, Israel said he still didn't think it would affect the elections. He said if it's "swift, in and out, focused on degrading and deteriorating their chemical weapons capability … I just don’t think people in 2014 are going to be thinking about the debate on a limited military strike in 2013.”
Thousand spot UFO spotted hovering above a Canadian minor league baseball game
Unidentified flying object appears over Nat Bailey Stadium in Vancouver
By Ellie Buchdahl
PUBLISHED: 07:01 EST, 9 September 2013 UPDATED: 07:57 EST, 9 September 2013
Canadian minor league baseball draws some fans from far, far away, it seems.
Spectators at the Nat Bailey Stadium in Vancouver, Canada, were stunned to spot what appeared to be a UFO in the sky above the first game of the best-of-three North Division final between the Vancouver Canadians and Everett AquaSox.
Nor was there any doubt as to which team the intergalactic groupies were cheering for - the Canadians scored four runs at the time of the sighting, sparking whispers of 'cosmic intervention' and the Twitter hashtag #luckyUFO.
The blue object, adorned with the requisite flashing lights, appeared over the right field fence at the start of the sixth inning.
Even players on the Vancouver Canadians team were tweeting pictures of the flying disc as it hovered above their Scotiabank Field home.
One Twitter user said he saw the supposed flying saucer moving up and down in the sky over the crowd of 1,796 baseball fans.
The luck of the little green men clearly held out, as the Vancouver Canadians went on to win the match with a 5-1 score, despite a slow start to their play.
However, a YouTube video of the surreal sighting produced some less than enthusiastic responses from UFO raters.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. said groundwater at an observation well near the site of a leaky storage tank at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant has shown high levels of radiation.
Tests found 3,200 becquerels per liter of beta ray-emitting materials, including strontium. As a result, it “now seems more likely” that radioactive water from leaking tanks at the crippled facility became mixed with groundwater in the area, Tepco said Monday.
The level of contamination far exceeds the government limit of just 10 becquerels of strontium per liter in drinking water and 100 becquerels per kilogram for food. If ingested, experts say, strontium accumulates in bones and can cause cancer.
Many of the tanks were used to cool molten fuel in the No. 1 plant’s three reactors that experienced core meltdowns from the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Last week, the government unveiled a ¥47 billion plan to stem the leaks by creating a wall of ice under the plant. Tepco also plans to use wells to pump out groundwater before it seeps into the Pacific Ocean.
The latest findings could affect that plan, as the nearest pumping well is only 130 meters from the monitoring site where the highly irradiated water sample was taken.
How would fingerprint technology benefit iPhone 5S users?
Reports indicate Apple is going to put a fingerprint sensor into its new flagship phone, but what would that mean in practice?
by Samuel Gibbs Tuesday 10 September 2013 10.04 EDT
Reports from factory production lines and leaked parts indicate that Apple is about to put a fingerprint sensor into its next-generation flagship iPhone 5S. But what exactly can a fingerprint sensor do for the average consumer?
What does it do?
A fingerprint reader or sensor does what it says on the tin – it scans your fingerprint and matches it to a pre-defined image of your finger. Since every fingerprint is unique, the system can then securely verify your identity.
How does it do it?
A type of image capture system specialised for quickly capturing and storing the imprint of your finger will be embedded below a swipe panel – in this case possibly below the home button on the iPhone 5S – which the user runs their finger over. The sensor captures the image and software analyses it for the skin indentation pattern on your fingertip, comparing it to a set of pre-stored data and verifying your identity. According to a recent patent filed by Apple in Europe, the sensor will implement an RF sensing system that will not only accurately capture the ridges of your finger, but also image the live skin below the surface of your fingertip to prevent spoofing of the system with a Mission Impossible-style fake fingerprint.
What will it enable?
Potentially, fingerprint readers could sound the death knell for passwords. The multi-character password is a failing piece of security, given that pretty much any password can be cracked by high-powered computers these days, regardless of how long or complex it is. Two-factor authentication, where another piece of the security puzzle, such as a secret code or key, is used to strengthen simple password logins is currently the best system on offer to consumers.
In theory, fingerprint scanners could allow users to completely remove the need for passwords, securely logging into their phones, and enabling higher security functions, which would be particularly useful for online banking and shopping without the need for two-factor authentication.
A built-in fingerprint scanner could also make the iPhone more amenable to big business for security reasons, although in reality, according to Matthew Finnie, CTO at Interoute, the owner operator of Europe's largest cloud services platform, "the smartphone is now intrinsic to how people work, so it's time for businesses to change".
"Rather than focusing on the security merits and nuances of the devices, attention should shift to how businesses should secure and control corporate data and make relevant parts securely accessible from anything, anywhere."
Will it really work?
Fingerprint scanners in the past have been a bit hit and miss. The technology, although relatively established in industry and enterprise settings, has never really been available to the mass market consumer or on anything other than secure laptops. That's generally because it has been a frustrating experience for the end user.
If Apple manages to make the process of secure login via an in-built fingerprint sensor a smooth and seamless experience, it could revolutionise the way consumers use their phones and bring about faster, more secure platforms for developers to expand upon.
However, there have been rumours that the sensor Apple is expected to build into its next iPhone flagship has a limited use lifetime. For example, a rumoured 500-scan limit "could be used up in only six months, based on users accessing multiple accounts three times a day. This would render the scanner useless for the remainder of a typical mobile phone contract, potentially 18 months," according to research by David Webber, managing director of Intelligent Environment, a specialist in the financial security field. If a consumer keeps their smartphone for two years, as is the length of many mobile phone contracts currently, there is a possibility that the fingerprint sensor could fail, or cease to work leaving users stranded without access to secure logins for their phone, banking or shopping.
What alternatives are there?
Biometric authentication, where a unique part of your body's function is used to verify your identity, is a growing field. Many different factors can be used to securely identify the consumer. Iris scanners were once hailed as the holy grail of identification, but the technology required to scan an iris accurately is both expensive and often bulky – not something suitable for phones yet. Recently the unique rhythm of individual heartbeats has been pushed forward as another tool in the biometric armoury, with a bracelet such as the Nymi that monitors your pulse on your wrist, which would offer a much more realistic and consumer-friendly entry into biometric security.
The NSA's next move: silencing university professors?
A Johns Hopkins computer science professor blogs on the NSA and is asked to take it down. I fear for academic freedom
by Jay Rosen Tuesday 10 September 2013 12.40 EDT
This actually happened yesterday:
A professor in the computer science department at Johns Hopkins, a leading American university, had written a post on his blog, hosted on the university's servers, focused on his area of expertise, which is cryptography. The post was highly critical of the government, specifically the National Security Agency, whose reckless behavior in attacking online security astonished him.
Professor Matthew Green wrote on 5 September:
I was totally unprepared for today's bombshell revelations describing the NSA's efforts to defeat encryption. Not only does the worst possible hypothetical I discussed appear to be true, but it's true on a scale I couldn't even imagine.
The post was widely circulated online because it is about the sense of betrayal within a community of technical people who had often collaborated with the government. (I linked to it myself.)
On Monday, he gets a note from the acting dean of the engineering school asking him to take the post down and stop using the NSA logo as clip art in his posts. The email also informs him that if he resists he will need a lawyer. The professor runs two versions of the same site: one hosted on the university's servers, one on Google's blogger.com service. He tells the dean that he will take down the site mirrored on the university's system but not the one on blogger.com. He also removes the NSA logo from the post. Then, he takes to Twitter.
The professor says he was told that someone at the Applied Physics Laboratory, a research institute with longstanding ties to the Department of Defense and the National Security Agency, determined that his blog post was hosting or linking to classified material, and sounded the alarm, which led to the takedown request from the dean. He says he thought Johns Hopkins University, his employer, had come down "on the wrong side of common sense and academic freedom", particularly since the only classified material he had linked to was from news reports in the Guardian, the New York Times and ProPublica.org – information available to the public.
Word gets around, and by late afternoon, the press starts asking questions. Now, Johns Hopkins is worried about how it looks in the media. The university bureaucracy scrambles the jets and comes up with a statement:
The university received information this morning that Matthew Green's blog contained a link or links to classified material and also used the NSA logo. For that reason, we asked professor Green to remove the Johns Hopkins-hosted mirror site for his blog Upon further review, we note that the NSA logo has been removed and that he appears to link to material that has been published in the news media. Interim Dean Andrew Douglas has informed professor Green that the mirror site may be restored.
So the university backs down, leaving many unanswered questions. Possibly, they will be addressed today. Here are some on my list:
Who was it in the Applied Physics Laboratory, with its close ties to the NSA, that raised the alarm about what a (very effective) critic of the NSA was writing ... and why?
Did that person hear first from the government and then contact the Johns Hopkins officials?
Why would an academic dean cave under pressure and send the takedown request without careful review, which would have easily discovered, for example, that the classified documents to which the blog post linked were widely available in the public domain?
Why is Johns Hopkins simultaneously saying that the event was internal to the university (that the request didn't come from the government) and that it doesn't know how the whole thing began? The dean of the engineering school doesn't know who contacted him about a professor's blog post? Really? The press office doesn't know how to get in touch with the dean? Seems unlikely. Johns Hopkins spokesman Dennis O'Shea told me this morning that university officials "were still trying to trace" the events back to their source. Clearly, there's a lot more to the story.
Matthew Green said the original request to take down his post could have referred to his Blogger.com site and the site hosted on Johns Hopkins servers. Since a request to unpublish your thoughts is one of the most extreme and threatening that any university can make of a faculty member, what kind of deliberation went into it? That Johns Hopkins backtracked so quickly after the press started asking questions suggests that the reasoning was pretty thin. But the request was momentous. These things don't fit together. What gives?
Dennis O'Shea told me the original concern was that Matthew Green's post might be "illegally linking to classified information". I asked him what law he was referring to. "I'm not saying that there was a great deal of legal analysis done," he replied. Obviously. But again: given the severity of the remedy – unpublishing an expert's post critical of the NSA – careful legal analysis was called for. Why was it missing?
In commenting critically on a subject he is expert in, and taking an independent stance that asks hard questions and puts the responsibility where it belongs, Matthew Green is doing exactly what a university faculty member is supposed to be doing. By putting his thoughts in a blog post that anyone can read and link to, he is contributing to a vital public debate, which is exactly what universities need to be doing more often. Instead of trying to get Matthew Green's blog off their servers, the deans should be trying to get more faculty into blogging and into the public arena. Who at Johns Hopkins is speaking up for these priorities? And why isn't the Johns Hopkins faculty roaring about this issue? (I teach at New York University, and I'm furious.)
Notice: Matthew Green didn't get any takedown request from Google. Only from Johns Hopkins. Think about what that means for the school. He's "their" professor, yet his work is safer on the servers of a private company than his own university. The institution failed in the clutch. That it rectified it later in the day is welcome news, but I won't be cheering until we have answers that befit a great institution like Johns Hopkins, where graduate education was founded on these shores.
And another thing: America's system of research universities is the best in the world. No one argues with that. It's one of biggest advantages this nation has. If it becomes captive to government and handmaiden to the surveillance state, that would be an economic and cultural crime of monstrous proportions. What happened to Matthew Green's blog post yesterday is no small matter.