(Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin tightened his control over Russia's media on Monday by dissolving the main state news agency and replacing it with an organization that is to promote Moscow's image abroad.
The move to abolish RIA Novosti and create a news agency to be known as Rossiya Segodnya is the second in two weeks strengthening Putin's hold on the media as he tries to reassert his authority after protests against his rule.
Most Russian media outlets are already loyal to Putin, and opponents get little air time, but the shake-up underlined their importance to Putin keeping power and the Kremlin's concern about the president's ratings and image....
-bth: the consolidation of state power continues in Russia.
Monday, December 09, 2013
Sunday, December 08, 2013
...“Unlike Japan, the U.S. military would immediately respond to a radar lock-on threat by shooting down the Chinese planes,” asserts military analyst Mitsuhiro Sera. “It would naturally regard an aircraft flying overhead as hostile. They would shoot at it even if that were to risk discrediting the Obama administration.”
“With the creation of Japan’s National Security Council on Dec. 4, Japan-U.S. solidarity meets a new era,” an unnamed diplomatic source told Shukan Gendai. “If a clash were to occur between the U.S. and China, it would be natural for the Self-Defense Forces to provide backup assistance. This was confirmed at the ‘two-plus-two’ meeting on Oct. 3.”
“China is bent on wresting the Senkakus away from Japan, and if Japan dispatches its Self-Defense Forces, China will respond with naval and air forces,” Saburo Takai predicts in Flash. “In the case of an incursion by irregular forces, that would make it more difficult for the U.S. to become involved. Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs would protest through diplomatic channels, but China would attempt to present its takeover as a fait accompli.
“China fears a direct military confrontation with the U.S.,” Takai adds. “A few days ago, two U.S. B-52s transited the ADIZ claimed by China, but the flights were not for any vague purpose. I suppose the Chinese tracked the flights on their radar, but the B-52s have electronic detection functions that can identify radar frequencies, wavelength and source of the signals. These flights are able to lay bare China’s air defense systems. It really hits home to the Chinese that they can’t project their military power.”
Which side, wonders Shukan Gendai, will respond to a provocation by pulling the trigger? The game of chicken between two great superpowers is about to begin.
-bth: we need to be careful as both China and Japan's politicians may have domestic issues they want to resolve by causing a fight that draws the US into a pointless conflict between these two powers. Think not? The assassination of an unimportant Duke caused WWI to erupt.
Saturday, December 07, 2013
(Reuters) - Syrian rebels from an Islamist alliance formed last month have occupied bases and warehouses belonging to a Western-backed rebel group on the Turkish border, rebels and activists said on Saturday.
Fighters from the Islamic Front, a union of six major rebel groups, took control of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) bases at the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the northwestern border with Turkey late on Friday night, the opposition sources said.
Louay Meqdad, an FSA spokesman, said the Islamic Front fighters had entered the bases after saying they wanted to help to secure them. They then asked officers and employees to leave and replaced an FSA flag with one of their own, he said....
-bth: So western aid stored in warehouses for Syrian rebels just was handed over to radical Islamic extremists.
...But Syria's original armed opposition say the jihadists are not just fighting the regime but are also systematically targeting Free Syrian Army fighters.
A former FSA commander said he had to flee to Turkey after his unit had been captured by jihadists.
"They told us we were not true Muslims," the commander said.
"I saw how they beat my friends with iron bars, smashed their faces with ammunition boxes and then killed them. The floor was covered with blood.
"We made the revolution for freedom and equality but the jihadists don't want this. They've come to destroy Syria."
The commander added that he was one of the few men from the unit to survive.
Friday, December 06, 2013
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A longtime adviser to the U.S. Director of National Intelligence has resigned after the government learned he has worked since 2010 as a paid consultant for Huawei Technologies Ltd., the Chinese technology company the U.S. has condemned as an espionage threat, The Associated Press has learned.
Theodore H. Moran, a respected expert on China's international investment and professor at Georgetown University, had served since 2007 as adviser to the intelligence director's advisory panel on foreign investment in the United States. Moran also was an adviser to the National Intelligence Council, a group of 18 senior analysts and policy experts who provide U.S. spy agencies with judgments on important international issues.
The case highlights the ongoing fractious relationship between the U.S. government and Huawei, China's leading developer of telephone and Internet infrastructure, which has been condemned in the U.S. as a potential national security threat. Huawei has aggressively disputed this, and its chief executive, Ren Zhengfei, has said the company has decided to abandon the U.S. market....
-bth: someone was asleep at the switch on this one.
BEIRUT: Jihadists in northern Syria have kidnapped more than 50 Kurds in the past three days, in the second such case of mass hostage-taking since July, a monitoring group said Thursday.
The kidnappings come months into major battles for control of several parts of northern Syria that have pitted Kurdish fighters against jihadists, chiefly the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
"In the past three days, ISIL has kidnapped at least 51 Kurds in the towns of Minbej and Jarablus," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Among the hostages were nine children and a woman, said the Britain-based group, adding that there was no information on where they had been taken.
Minbej and Jarablus are located in Aleppo province, which is home to a Kurdish minority.
The kidnappings come weeks after Kurdish fighters further east, in majority Kurdish areas, expelled jihadists after battles that lasted several months....
-bth: the rebel coalition in is destroying itself.
Tuesday, December 03, 2013
NSA Sent Home Talking Points for Employees to Use in Conversations with Family & Friends During Holidays -Firedoglake
A sheet of talking points for employees of the National Security Agency and Central Security Services, was sent out ahead of Thanksgiving to help guide conversations with family and friends during the holiday season.
Firedoglake obtained a copy of a two-page document that was sent out on November 22. It was clearly put together for rebutting statements about the NSA from news stories on documents disclosed by former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden, and it encouraged employees to “share the following points with family members and close friends.”
The “talking points” sheet suggests that employees make five key points: (1) NSA’s mission is of great value to the Nation”; (2) NSA performs its mission the right way—lawful, compliant and in a way that protects civil liberties and privacy; (3) NSA performs its mission exceptionally well. We strive to be the best that we can be, because that’s what America requires as part of its defense in a dangerous world; (4) The people who work for NSA are loyal Americans with expert skills who make sacrifices to help protect the freedoms we all cherish; (5) NSA is committed to increased transparency, public dialog and faithful implementation of any changes required by our overseers. (No emphasis added. Underlines appear in the document.)
Each key point includes sub-points that presumably an employee could additionally cite if a family member disputed their main point....
... Perhaps what is most alarming to some is that the shale revolution is likely to perpetuate U.S. dominance, not just in geopolitics but in the energy industry itself. While many countries also have massive shale reserves — China is the most notable, but Algeria, Argentina and Mexico are others — none is thought likely to be able to take advantage of those deposits easily, certainly not with the explosive growth seen in the United States.
Many factors give the United States a head start in exploiting energy locked in shale, including its access to cutting-edge technology and risk capital, clear private resource ownership and huge numbers of drilling rigs, most of them capable of the difficult horizontal drilling required in fracking.
“I’m very skeptical about the ability of any other country to replicate the drilling intensity” of the United States, said Leonardo Maugeri, a former executive at the world’s sixth largest oil company, Italy-based Eni, who is at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
Companies in the United States own nearly 60 percent of all active drilling rigs in the world, Maugeri said, a key condition for the continuous drilling needed for fracking.
“Texas is the most drilled state in the world,” Maugeri said. “To give you an order of magnitude, the number of wells drilled in Texas compared to Saudi Arabia is 1,000 to one.”
The ability of the United States to dominate the extraction of shale deposits at home raises another question, troubling to some: Will the United States become less interested in the global military role it plays now?
“One thing this may do is untangle the obsessiveness about Middle East oil, this whole idea that we have to somehow protect these sea routes at all costs,” said Mark Clinton Thurber, associate director of the Program on Energy and Sustainable Development at Stanford University.
Forty years ago, supertankers sailing through the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Persian Gulf carried more than half the world’s crude. U.S.-allied petro states there grew rich, buying U.S. armaments and fighter jet squadrons. U.S. strategic interests led it to launch Gulf wars in 1991 and 2003.
The greatest symbol of U.S. presence and power in the region is the Navy’s 5th Fleet, docked in the tiny sheikdom of Bahrain. Comprising some 30 ships and 20,000 personnel, the fleet protects the Persian Gulf and the Red and Arabian seas.
Today, U.S. taxpayers foot the bill for Navy ships that largely protect supertankers headed to Asia. China overtook the United States as the largest importer of Persian Gulf oil two years ago.
That trend will surge, and “it’s going to raise all new questions,” said Amy Myers Jaffe, an expert on global energy production at the University of California, Davis.
“You have the Chinese and other Asians free riding on a U.S. security presence, and I’m not sure that’s sustainable,” said Manning of the Atlantic Council.
As Asian populations rise and economies grow, nations there should be recruited to help patrol sea lanes, said Charles K. Ebinger, director of the Energy Security Initiative at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.
“I can envisage that as both India and China become maritime powers, that we have joint operations,” Ebinger said. “Let’s say that we are even thrown out of our base in Bahrain; I could see a rotational basis between the three great powers, China, India and the U.S.”
Some experts argue that the United States should not disengage from the Persian Gulf because U.S. interests there go far beyond energy supplies. The region is vital to efforts to contain nuclear proliferation and religious extremism, the protection of Israel remains a central U.S. interest, and while the importance of Middle East oil may be on the decline for the United States, any disruption there would send world prices skyrocketing — harming economies in Asia that are vital U.S. markets.
“The United States is so woven into the world economy that we need that energy flowing to Asia,” said Rachel Bronson, vice president of studies at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and an expert on U.S.-Saudi relations.
Saudi Arabia, Washington’s most important strategic Arab partner, has sharply diverged from the Obama administration this year over whether to arm Syrian rebels and how to confront Iran’s nuclear program.
The Saudis still share strategic interests with the United States and continue to play a large global energy role for their ability to increase oil production so prices do not spike even as OPEC, the once-formidable cartel, has seen its production remain stagnant for 40 years. The 12-nation cartel now supplies 39.8 percent of world crude and liquid fuels production, down from 54 percent in 1973, according to the Energy Information Administration, the statistics branch of the U.S. Energy Department.
“OPEC’s going to be on the defensive,” said Jaffe of UC Davis....
-bth: this article is worth reading in full as it points out the geopolitical implications of reduced dependence on Middle Eastern O&G to the US and the world. On the other hand, there is no reason that China can't increase its own energy production - except that it is running out of available water resources. Will cash flow in Russia now be adversely impacted?
KABUL, Afghanistan -- A simmering dispute between the U.S. and Afghan governments spilled over Sunday into a spat about whether U.S. and coalition forces have deliberately withheld fuel supplies from Afghan army and police units.
A statement posted Sunday night on the website of Afghan President Hamid Karzai accused the United States of "applying pressure and creating dependency" by cutting off fuel supplies to two or three army and police units. It quoted Afghan National Security Council officials as saying the alleged cutoff of "fuel and support services" had hampered security force operations....
-bth: cash is the ultimate throttle in Afghanistan.
Secretive Air Force program recruits academy cadets to inform on colleagues and disavows them - Stars & Stripes
Facing pressure to combat drug use and sexual assault at the Air Force Academy, the Air Force has created a secret system of cadet informants to hunt for misconduct among students.
Cadets who attend the publicly-funded academy near Colorado Springs must pledge never to lie. But the program pushes some to do just that: Informants are told to deceive classmates, professors and commanders while snapping photos, wearing recording devices and filing secret reports.
For one former academy student, becoming a covert government operative meant not only betraying the values he vowed to uphold, it meant being thrown out of the academy as punishment for doing the things the Air Force secretly told him to do....
-bth: so what is the moral code being taught here?
Monday, December 02, 2013
Syria: Military. Another major battle is taking place on the south-north road from Damascus to Homs. According to rebel reports some 5,000 jihadists and other anti-government forces are trying to recapture areas which government forces seized in the last two weeks in the offensive in the Qalamoun Mountains. Press sources report 300 men dead in the fighting thus far.
Comment: A primary tactical objective of Soviet/Syrian military doctrine is to draw the enemy into presenting a center of mass for easy destruction by air power and artillery. That appears to be the opportunity that the rebels have presented to the government and its allies in the rebel counter-attack. It portends a tactical disaster for the rebels.
Politics. The military leader of the Free Syrian Army said it will not attend the Geneva talks in January 2014 because conditions are not appropriate for talks, which means the Free Syrian Army is getting beaten and has no political leverage.
Another Syrian opposition coalition also announced that it rejected the proposal that the western-backed Syrian Opposition Coalition would represent all the groups fighting in Syria
Joseph Malvin Chapman, Retired Army Colonel, Buried In Wrong Grave In Virginia Funeral Mix-Up - HuffPost
A retired U.S. Army colonel was supposed to receive a burial at Arlington National Cemetery. What the career military man got was "degradation beyond words," according to his son.
Joseph Malvin "Mal" Chapman died at age 80 on Nov. 21. When his family gathered to lay him to rest, their sorrow quickly turned to shock and anger as they realized his body had been switched with another dead man's, according to Vienna Patch.
"His twin was here -- my uncle Alvin came from Tennessee. He immediately recognized it wasn’t him. The nose was totally different," Chapman's son, Jim McLean, told WJLA.
Chapman's family told the station that the Everly Funeral Home in Fairfax mixed up the bodies and dressed the wrong man in the deceased vet's uniform, which he worked 28 years to earn....
-bth: I wonder if this is the same funeral home that was cited a few years ago for storing bodies waiting burial at Arlington in the hallway?
Sunday, December 01, 2013
FORT CAMPBELL, KY. — The legendary Pathfinders have taken their final jump and the Red Devils aren’t too far behind.
The two paratrooper units — formally known as the 5th Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division and the 508th Infantry Regiment — are closing out long histories as a result of the U.S. Army’s reconfiguration and budget cutting. Among the changes being made is a reduction in the number of parachute positions across the service.
“You have to make the best use of resources across the Army to make sure we’re using tax dollars as best we can,” said Jim Hinnant, a former 1st lieutenant and paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg and spokesman for U.S. Army Forces Command.
The military is capping parachute positions at 49,000 as part of the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance, a plan detailing the development of military forces through 2020. The plan calls for some units, including paratrooper units, to change their focus.
Lt. Col. Don Peters, the team chief for Operations, Intelligence and Logistics with Army Public Affairs, told The Associated Press the reductions are being made in part because of reduced budgets and to reach the mandated maximum number of paratrooper slots 49,000. Peters said 24 units accounting for 2,600 soldiers across the country were removed from jump status. That includes 12 units with the 18th Airborne Corps and the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg, N.C., and the Company F (Pathfinder), 4th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, 159th Aviation Brigade at Fort Campbell, Ky.
“However, paratroopers continue to train and maintain readiness to execute airborne operations should a mission arise, and the impact on the reduction of paid parachute positions will not degrade the capability of the Army,” Peters said.
The Army kept three standing pathfinder companies: Company F (Pathfinder), 5th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, 101st Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault); and Company F (Pathfinder), 4th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, 159th Aviation Brigade, both at Fort Campbell, Ky.; and Company F (Pathfinder), 2nd Battalion, 82d Aviation Regiment at Fort Bragg, N.C.
The Pathfinder units are dropped into place in order to set up and operate drop zones, pickup zones, and helicopter landing sites for airborne operations, air resupply operations, or other air operations in support of the ground unit commander. They also handle rescues of downed pilots and helicopters.
In the case of the Pathfinders at Fort Campbell and the Red Devils at Fort Bragg, their units trace their history back to being among the first to drop into Nazi-occupied France at Normandy on D-Day during World War II, helping set the stage for the allied siege that eventually drove the Germans out of the country....
-bth: These two units the Pathfinders and the Red Devils are fine units and it is a shortsighted shame that they will be dropped. Technology is not a replacement for training and courage.