Saturday, March 05, 2011

Who Will Speak Out On Behalf Of Pakistan's Moderates?

Who Will Speak Out On Behalf Of Pakistan's Moderates? - Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty © 2011
Whatever the true motive in the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, it was
done in the name of religion and it is the moderates who are bearing the
brunt of the fallout. In the words of Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, a moderate
Pakistani religious scholar now living abroad for his own safety, "the
[religious] lunatics don't see what is right or wrong. Rather, they
target any one who does not conform to their religious views."

is not a suitable place for moderates to live, he says: "If they live
there, then they have to toe the line."

Pakistani moderates and
progressive elements are indeed toeing the line, mainly because they do
not want to share the fate of Taseer and Bhatti. However, they must
realize that "there must be someone let to speak out for them when they
come for them."

Daud Khattak is acting director of RFE/RL's
Radio Mashaal. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's
own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL

Protesters say Maliki is using special security forces to shut down demonstrations in Iraq

Protesters say Maliki is using special security forces to shut down demonstrations in Iraq:... "The security forces began attacking the protesters, many of whom were asleep. They stabbed them in the buttocks, legs and faces with knives, beat them with sticks, plastic chairs and boots, and chased them into the darkened alleys and streets, Segar said.

Later in the week, at least two Humvees delivered a similarly clad force to the office of the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, which advocates for press freedoms. The men ransacked the office, carting off computers and files.

On Thursday, residents from a predominantly Sunni area of Baghdad known as Dora said that army and police officers who usually protect their area withdrew from their posts and that members of an unfamiliar security force wearing black uniforms and plain clothes arrived and began knocking on doors.

'They were telling people, 'You are prohibited from going to the demonstration,' ' said Nidhal al-Azawi, a local organizer for Allawi's party. 'They took peoples' identification to prevent them from going.'

Azawi and others said that at least five men from her neighborhood and more from other areas were detained, blindfolded and taken to what she described as an army detention center in the military's 6th Division. She said they were not harmed and were released Saturday after the protests.

Near the northern city of Kirkuk, where seven protesters were killed, doctors at a hospital said special security forces stormed in and demanded their cellphones - a move that doctors said was intended to prevent them from photographing injured protesters.

In Baghdad, Hadi al-Mahdi was among four journalists picked up by security forces at a restaurant Friday and driven to the headquarters of the army's 11th Division. After he was beaten, given electric shocks and threatened with rape, he was taken to a relatively luxurious office, he said.

There, he realized from signs and from his own questions that he was in the care of an army intelligence unit.

As he waited to be released, Mahdi was asked to sign a statement saying that he had not been tortured. On the way out, he said he saw a room filled with hundreds of detainees wearing hoods. There were so many that they spilled out into the hallway, while others were crammed inside restrooms. A security official in the 11th Division headquarters who declined to give his name confirmed the scene.

Mahdi limped outside, his head bloodied, his leg swollen. There, he saw American soldiers who are stationed at the building.

'I said, 'Look! Look at what happened to me!' ' he recalled. The soldiers, he said, shook their heads.

- bth: I'm not sure what to make of this

Lashkar threatens to stop fighting Taliban | | DAWN.COM

Lashkar threatens to stop fighting Taliban | | DAWN.COM: "PESHAWAR: A tribal militia fighting the Taliban in the Adezai outskirts of Peshawar has threatened it would stop its fight if the government does not issue the militia ration and ammunition within one week.

Dilawar Khan, chief of the Adezai Qaumi Lashkar, told a press conference here on Thursday that the government had “an ambiguous policy” about the Taliban in Adezai and accused local legislators of supporting the Taliban.

“The local MPA and MNA of Awami National Party do not support the volunteers of lashkar against the Taliban as they don’t belong to their party,” he alleged.

He said the tribes of Adezai formed the lashkar in 2008 on the instruction of government. “Our 47 people including former chief of lashkar Haji Abdul Malik and several commanders have been killed in blasts, attacks and exchange of fire with militants so far,” he said.

He said that at the time of lashkar formation, Capital City Police Officer Dr Suleman and former commissioner Azam Khan had assured them that they would be provided with ration, arms and ammunition. “But the commitment has yet to materialised,” Mr Khan said....

- bth: one wonders what is wrong with the Paki government and why if we have all those contractors roaming around Pakistan, we can't drop by Peshawar and drop off a few $100K to these enemies of our enemies.

YouTube - Christian Veterans Protect the Funeral of a Fallen Soldier

YouTube - Christian Veterans Protect the Funeral of a Fallen Soldier: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

Saudi Arabia drafts in up to 10,000 troops ahead of protests - Telegraph

Saudi Arabia drafts in up to 10,000 troops ahead of protests - Telegraph: "Desperate to avoid mass uprisings against the House of Saud, security forces have deployed in huge numbers across the region.

King Abdullah is also reported to have told neighbouring Bahrain that if they do not put down their own ongoing Shia revolt, his own forces will.

In response to the massive mobilisation, protesters are planning to place women on the front ranks to discourage Saudi forces from firing on them.

In Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh set off a deadly battle for survival last night as he rejected an opposition peace proposal and ordered troops to fire on demonstrators, killing four. Efforts to suppress demonstrations by the key ally in the “war on terror” could jeopardise rising volumes of Western aid flooding into the country, diplomats warned.

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Jammed pistol 'saved lives' in airport attack - Europe, World - The Independent

Jammed pistol 'saved lives' in airport attack - Europe, World - The Independent: "The pistol used to kill two American airmen at Frankfurt airport jammed with six rounds left, possibly saving the lives of other US troops, a German investigator said yesterday.

Two other US Air Force personnel were wounded in the attack on Wednesday. Arid Uka, 21, an ethnic Albanian from Kosovo, living in Germany, has been charged with two counts of murder and three of attempted murder.

He allegedly told authorities he had taken the pistol and two knives to the airport to kill Americans 'as revenge for the American mission in Afghanistan'. When Mr Uka saw the busload of 16 airmen, he approached one standing outside and asked if they were on their way to Afghanistan, prosecutor Rainer Griesbaum said.

'When he said 'yes', he shot the 25-year-old serviceman from behind in the head,' Mr Griesbaum claimed. Mr Uka then stormed on to the bus and shot the driver in the head, killing him. After wounding two others, he tried to shoot another man, Mr Griesbaum said. 'He pointed his pistol at his head and pulled the trigger twice, but it jammed.'

- bth: this barely makes a headline in the US. Why?

YOu Got Trouble

Lyrics, Ya Got Trouble Lyrics >>
Well, either you're closing your eyes
To a situation you do now wish to acknowledge
Or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated
By the presence of a pool table in your community.
Ya got trouble, my friend, right here,
I say, trouble right here in River City.
Why sure I'm a billiard player,
Certainly mighty proud I say
I'm always mighty proud to say it.
I consider that the hours I spend
With a cue in my hand are golden.
Help you cultivate horse sense
And a cool head and a keen eye.
Never take and try to give
An iron-clad leave to yourself
From a three-reail billiard shot?
But just as I say,
It takes judgement, brains, and maturity to score
In a balkline game,
I say that any boob kin take
And shove a ball in a pocket.
And they call that sloth.
The first big step on the road
To the depths of deg-ra-Day--
I say, first, medicinal wine from a teaspoon,
Then beer from a bottle.
An' the next thing ya know,
Your son is playin' for money
In a pinch-back suit.
And list'nin to some big out-a-town Jasper
Hearin' him tell about horse-race gamblin'.
Not a wholesome trottin' race, no!
But a race where they set down right on the horse!
Like to see some stuck-up jockey'boy
Sittin' on Dan Patch? Make your blood boil?
Well, I should say.
Friends, lemme tell you what I mean.
Ya got one, two, three, four, five, six pockets in a table.
Pockets that mark the diff'rence
Between a gentlemen and a bum,
With a capital "B,"
And that rhymes with "P" and that stands for pool!
And all week long your River City
Youth'll be frittern away,
I say your young men'll be frittern!
Frittern away their noontime, suppertime, choretime too!
Get the ball in the pocket,
Never mind gittin' Dandelions pulled
Or the screen door patched or the beefsteak pounded.
Never mind pumpin' any water
'Til your parents are caught with the Cistern empty
On a Saturday night and that's trouble,
Oh, yes we got lots and lots a' trouble.
I'm thinkin' of the kids in the knickerbockers,
Shirt-tail young ones, peekin' in the pool
Hall window after school, look, folks!
Right here in River City.
Trouble with a capital "T"
And that rhymes with "P" and that stands for pool!
Now, I know all you folks are the right kinda parents.
I'm gonna be perfectly frank.
Would ya like to know what kinda conversation goes
On while they're loafin' around that Hall?
They're tryin' out Bevo, tryin' out cubebs,
Tryin' out Tailor Mades like Cigarette Feends!
And braggin' all about
How they're gonna cover up a tell-tale breath with Sen-Sen.
One fine night, they leave the pool hall,
Headin' for the dance at the Arm'ry!
Libertine men and Scarlet women!
And Rag-time, shameless music
That'll grab your son and your daughter
With the arms of a jungle animal instink!
Friends, the idle brain is the devil's playground!

Trouble, oh we got trouble,
Right here in River City!
With a capital "T"
That rhymes with "P"
And that stands for Pool,
That stands for pool.
We've surely got trouble!
Right here in River City,
Right here!
Gotta figger out a way
To keep the young ones moral after school!
Trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble...

Mothers of River City!
Heed the warning before it's too late!
Watch for the tell-tale sign of corruption!
The moment your son leaves the house,
Does he rebuckle his knickerbockers below the knee?
Is there a nicotine stain on his index finger?
A dime novel hidden in the corn crib?
Is he starting to memorize jokes from Capt.
Billy's Whiz Bang?
Are certain words creeping into his conversation?
Words like 'swell?"
And 'so's your old man?"
Well, if so my friends,
Ya got trouble,
Right here in River city!
With a capital "T"
And that rhymes with "P"
And that stands for Pool.
We've surely got trouble!
Right here in River City!
Remember the Maine, Plymouth Rock and the Golden Rule!
Oh, we've got trouble.
We're in terrible, terrible trouble.
That game with the fifteen numbered balls is a devil's tool!
Oh yes we got trouble, trouble, trouble!
With a "T"! Gotta rhyme it with "P"!
And that stands for Pool!!!

Police arrest suspected Saudi bomber on way to Iraq protests - Monsters and Critics

Police arrest suspected Saudi bomber on way to Iraq protests - Monsters and Critics: "Mosul, Iraq - A suspected suicide bomber was arrested on Friday as he was heading to protests held in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, a senior security official said.

The Saudi civilian, who was wearing an explosive belt and carried two others in a black bag, was arrested in the al-Rifae district of western Mosul, Hassan Khodier, head of the city's operations command, told the German Press Agency dpa.

Khodier added that security forces defused all of the explosives he was carrying.

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UK seizes ship carrying $160M of Libyan currency -

UK seizes ship carrying $160M of Libyan currency -

LONDON -- A British government official says a ship carrying about $160 million worth of Libyan currency has been impounded after unsuccessfully trying to dock in Tripoli.

The official said Friday that the ship returned to Britain and was escorted by a Border Agency cutter to the port of Harwich in eastern England

A number of containers full of currency have been moved from the ship to a secure location....

bth: this may be sensationalized as it is likely these notes are printed in the UK

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Striking how much smaller X37B is to the Space Shuttle

So why can't Congress do what the people want with regard to spending and taxation?

Study: Public Sees Both Parties Cutting Deficits The Wrong Way
...The public, by contrast, would do it primarily by cutting defense spending and imposing significantly higher and more progressive taxes on the rich -- while at the same time dramatically increasing spending in such areas as job training, higher education and humanitarian aid.

In other words, the public takes a considerably more humane view of spending than either party, is considerably less beholden to the military-industrial complex, and doesn't seem to care if the super-rich get a bit offended.

The study was the combined effort of a think tank, the Program for Public Consultation, and the polling firm Knowledge Networks. They presented an elaborate questionnaire to more than 2,000 respondents.

Given the goal of cutting the deficit, the average Americans did the job -- cutting it way more deeply, in fact, than either the Democratic or Republican proposals call for.

Ironically, the political subgroup that did the worst job was the slice of respondents who identified themselves as Tea Party sympathizers. They were the least likely to raise taxes and also the least likely, when faced with actual programs, to make cuts.

The next worst were Republicans, then Democrats.

Independents raised taxes more than Republicans and cut spending more than Democrats, ultimately reducing the deficit by a whopping $195 billion.

A major flaw with the study, however, was that it wasn't able to engage respondents in the biggest deficit-related challenge by far: slowing the increase in health spending.

Last Christian in Pakistan's cabinet was assassinated

Extremists Are Suspected in Killing of Pakistani Minister -
...President Asif Ali Zardari told members of his governing Pakistan Peoples Party at a meeting in the southern port city of Karachi that Mr. Bhatti was a victim of a “negative mind-set and intolerance,” according to the state-run news service.

But Mr. Zardari, fearful for his personal security, failed to attend the funeral of his colleague, Mr. Taseer, and the few members of his party who favored changing the blasphemy law have been sidelined in the last two months and effectively silenced. Mr. Taseer’s killer has been hailed as a hero in rallies held by conservative religious parties.

Mr. Bhatti was heading for a cabinet meeting when three or four gunmen ambushed his car outside his house in a middle-class neighborhood of the capital, Islamabad, and shot him multiple times as he sat in the back seat, the police said.

The killers, dressed in traditional Pakistani garb of baggy pants and long tunic, fled the scene in a white car. The hospital where Mr. Bhatti was pronounced dead said 20 bullets had been fired.

A pamphlet found at the site warned against changes in the blasphemy law and was signed by militants, police officials said. It specifically named Mr. Bhatti.

A spokesman for the Taliban, who is based in Punjab, later called Pakistani media and claimed responsibility for the assassination.

Mr. Bhatti, worried about the death threats he received after the killing of Mr. Taseer, had asked the Interior Ministry for a bulletproof car and a larger squad of security guards, standard measures for many government ministers, Mr. Gill said.

But the request was ignored, Mr. Gill said. There was no sign of a security detail as Mr. Bhatti left his house on Wednesday morning, witnesses said....

bth: so like Mr. Taseer Mr. Bhatti's security detail was no where to be found and the Taliban takes credit.  I love how the president of Pakistan can't bring himself to call out Islamic extremists who murder to enforce a blasphemy law against non-Muslims. Stunning hypocrisy.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The Canadian Press: Rebel force in eastern Libya faces challenge with little ammo, old equipment, poor training

The Canadian Press: Rebel force in eastern Libya faces challenge with little ammo, old equipment, poor training: "BENGHAZI, Libya — They have little ammunition, their equipment is old and outdated and their fighters are poorly trained. Even though they boast of tanks, army bases and airports in eastern Libya, rebels still face many challenges before they can make any real move on Moammar's Gadhafi's stronghold in Tripoli hundreds of miles to the west.

Analysts believe the standoff between forces loyal to Gadhafi and rebels backed by army troops who have defected would likely be settled on the streets. But they also said they could not rule out that a hurriedly assembled force from the east would move out to seize Tripoli.

'It will take people power to unseat Gadhafi,' said Peter Felstead, editor of Jane's Defence Weekly.

Leaders of the eastern rebellion said they were trying to put together a force made up of army troops and volunteers with basic military training and that they already have more than 5,000 volunteers. The plan, they explained, was to march on Tripoli through the desert, skirting big loyalist towns along the way like Sirte, and to glean information from Tripoli on the easiest route into the city.

Already, signs are growing that the roughly 470-mile (750-kilometre) march to Tripoli to oust Gadhafi or an effort to consolidate defences in the east in the face of a possible attack by forces loyal to the Libyan leader would receive the blessing or even the support of the West....

- bth: it will take more than prayers and well wishers to make this happen

US not to swap Dr Aafia with Davis | Newspaper | DAWN.COM

US not to swap Dr Aafia with Davis | Newspaper | DAWN.COM''

WASHINGTON: The Obama administration has rejected Pakistan’s proposal to trade Raymond Davis for Dr Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist serving an 86-year term in a US prison, diplomatic sources told Dawn.

The sources said that Pakistan discussed the proposal at “the highest level” in the Obama administration but was told that this was “a non-starter”.

The US government informed Pakistan that they would not entertain the possibility of trading Ms Siddiqui for Mr Davis because “these were two different cases”.

The proposal called for Ms Siddiqui to be transferred to Pakistan, where she would serve the remainder of her sentence in a prison or under house arrest. Ms Siddiqui’s case became a cause celebre in Pakistan last year when Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called for her exoneration and release.

Mr Davis’s arrest in the January 27 shooting in Lahore that led to the death of three Pakistani citizens, however, led to a diplomatic standoff, which threatens to derail US-Pakistan partnership in the war against extremists. Since his arrest both sides have discussed various proposals to break the impasse but have not yet succeeded in doing so.

The proposals include quashing a case against the ISI chief in a New York court and curtailing the CIA’s activities in Pakistan.
Another proposal calls for the US government to pay reparations to the victims’ families, who under a Pakistani law can pardon Mr Davis if asked. Apparently, the US administration is discussing all three proposals with Pakistani officials.

ISI chief’s case: Meanwhile, a court in New York has accepted a petition against the ISI chief for his agency’s alleged involvement in the Mumbai terror attacks, which also killed some US citizens.

Diplomatic sources claim that the US administration appears willing to claim sovereign immunity for the ISI chief in this case provided Pakistan also granted diplomatic immunity to Mr Davis, who is a CIA contractor. “At one stage, the Americans were going to file papers in the court, stating that the ISI chief enjoyed sovereign immunity but decided not to do so after Mr Davis’s arrest,” an official source said.

The arrest of another alleged CIA operative in Peshawar for over-staying his visa has further annoyed the Americans who point out that more than 100,000 Pakistanis were living in the United States after the expiry of their visas.

“The Americans seem to indicate that they too can start deporting Pakistani citizens,” the source said.

Similarly, the Americans also seem willing to discuss Pakistan’s demand for sharing CIA’s activities in the country with them, “provided the Pakistanis also shared relevant information”, the source added.

The Americans complain that Pakistan often refuses to share sensitive data about certain militant groups with their American counterparts.

“But on Dr Aafia Siddiqui, the Americans are showing no leniency,” the source said. “They have informed Pakistan that they are not even going to pursue it.”

Ms Siddiqui, an MIT-educated Pakistani neuroscientist, was convicted of trying to shoot FBI agents and military officers in an Afghan police station in 2008.

In 2004, FBI director Robert Mueller described Ms Siddiqui as an “Al Qaeda operative and facilitator but Ms Siddiqui was never charged with any terrorism-related crimes.

Shortly after the FBI alert, she and her children disappeared, only to surface in Afghanistan five years later.

Ms Siddiqui has claimed she was held in secret American prisons, including Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, during that time.

-- bth; it is hard to imagine much coming from public horsetrading like this. The US has a habit of not supporting US citizens' suits of foreign powers such as Iran or in this case Pakistani intelligence officers involved in killing US citizens in India. I wonder though why would Pakistan want Dr. Siddiqui unless she were an agent or alternately it might dampen militants in Pakistan over a trade for the release of Davis. If 45 of our operatives or friends were just rounded up, I can't help but think there will be a tit for tat here in the US or in Afghanistan.

Forty-five arrested for having links with Davis | Pakistan | DAWN.COM

Forty-five arrested for having links with Davis | Pakistan | DAWN.COM

ISLAMABAD: The law enforcement agencies arrested 45 individuals for staying in constant contact with Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor who shot dead two Pakistanis in Lahore last month, DawnNews reported on Monday.

The individuals had been arrested from Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar and their contact information was taken from Davis’ mobile phone. Investigations were underway....

bth: this is turning into a massive intelligence debacle.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Peshmerga forces stationed near Kirkuk : Aswat Al Iraq

Peshmerga forces stationed near Kirkuk : Aswat Al Iraq

KIRKUK / Aswat al-Iraq: Kurdish Peshmerga forces are now stationed southwest of Kirkuk city with the approval of the commander-in-chief of the Iraqi armed forces Nouri al-Maliki, a senior security official said on Saturday.

“Forces from the Peshmerga, which belongs to the Kurdistan Region Border Guards (KRBG), are stationed southwest of Kirkuk, namely near the al-Sina’ie neighborhood,” Brig.
Sarhad Qader, the director of the Kirkuk Districts Police Department (KDPD), told Aswat al-Iraq news agency.

Arab and Turkmen members in the Kirkuk Provincial Council told Aswat al-Iraq that the forces “entered the outskirts of Kirkuk upon a request to the Iraqi government for concerns armed groups might creep into Kirkuk.”...

Chinese Missile Ship Races to Libya | Danger Room |

Chinese Missile Ship Races to Libya | Danger Room | "We’re used to seeing the U.S. Navy pull American citizens out of warzones. Now, China’s navy is doing the same thing — sending a ship to snag its people out of Libya, as the country teeters on the brink of civil war.

China has redeployed the 4,000 ton missile frigate Xuzhou from its anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden to assist in the evacuation of its nationals from Libya. It’s the “the first ever dispatch” of a Chinese navy vessel to run a “non-combatant evacuation,” China SignPost’s Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson note.

The move underlines the growth in Chinese naval power, Collins and Erickson write. And with a number of Chinese workers employed in potentially unstable countries around the world, the evacuation likely serves as a dress rehearsal for future crises.

China has already evacuated some 12,000 of its 30,000 nationals in Libya, flying some to nearby Egypt and placing others on chartered passenger lines. Pressure for a swift exit has grown as the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) reported attacks against its oil facilities in Libya, though the company’s 391 employees are reportedly unharmed....

- bth: the world is definitely changing

Rebel Libyan army in east ready to help Tripoli

Rebel Libyan army in east ready to help Tripoli

A general in eastern Libya who has mutinied against Muammar Gaddafi rule said his forces stood ready to help rebels fighting in Tripoli if called on to do so, but he rejected any need for foreign assistance.

The Libyan leader lost control on the east swiftly after the eruption of protests against his rule on Feb. 15. Rebels in the eastern city of Benghazi have created a national council and have pledged to support those still fighting Gaddafi's rule.

"Our brothers in Tripoli say: `We are fine so far, we do not need help'. If they ask for help we are ready to move," said General Ahmed el-Gatrani, one of most senior figures in the army in Benghazi which no longer swears allegiance to Gaddafi.

Residents of Benghazi say that hundreds of people from the city have already headed to Tripoli to support the effort to seize control of the capital from Gaddafi. Gatrani indicated the army would only move if called on by rebel commanders there.

The extent to which rebel army units engage with hardline Gaddafi loyalists is a key factor in how long conflict may last.

"Tripoli hostage"

In Tripoli they still control one unit but it will be with the people soon
A general in eastern Libya
"In Tripoli they (Gaddafi loyalists) still control one unit but it will be with the people soon," he told Reuters, without giving a source for his information. "All orders he gives to the air force, they are refusing his instructions.

"He only has a couple of units in the areas he still controls and the rest are with us. Tripoli is being held hostage," he said, adding that Sirte, Gaddafi's home town which lies roughly between Benghazi and Tripoli, was also falling....

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The need to protect the internet from 'astroturfing' grows ever more urgent | George Monbiot | Environment |

The need to protect the internet from 'astroturfing' grows ever more urgent | George Monbiot | Environment |

Every month more evidence piles up, suggesting that online comment threads and forums are being hijacked by people who aren't what they seem.

The anonymity of the web gives companies and governments golden opportunities to run astroturf operations: fake grassroots campaigns that create the impression that large numbers of people are demanding or opposing particular policies. This deception is most likely to occur where the interests of companies or governments come into conflict with the interests of the public. For example, there's a long history of tobacco companies creating astroturf groups to fight attempts to regulate them.

After I wrote about online astroturfing in December, I was contacted by a whistleblower. He was part of a commercial team employed to infest internet forums and comment threads on behalf of corporate clients, promoting their causes and arguing with anyone who opposed them.

Like the other members of the team, he posed as a disinterested member of the public. Or, to be more accurate, as a crowd of disinterested members of the public: he used 70 personas, both to avoid detection and to create the impression there was widespread support for his pro-corporate arguments. I'll reveal more about what he told me when I've finished the investigation I'm working on.

It now seems that these operations are more widespread, more sophisticated and more automated than most of us had guessed. Emails obtained by political hackers from a US cyber-security firm called HBGary Federal suggest that a remarkable technological armoury is being deployed to drown out the voices of real people.

As the Daily Kos has reported, the emails show that:

• Companies now use "persona management software", which multiplies the efforts of each astroturfer, creating the impression that there's major support for what a corporation or government is trying to do.

• This software creates all the online furniture a real person would possess: a name, email accounts, web pages and social media. In other words, it automatically generates what look like authentic profiles, making it hard to tell the difference between a virtual robot and a real commentator.

• Fake accounts can be kept updated by automatically reposting or linking to content generated elsewhere, reinforcing the impression that the account holders are real and active.

• Human astroturfers can then be assigned these "pre-aged" accounts to create a back story, suggesting that they've been busy linking and retweeting for months. No one would suspect that they came onto the scene for the first time a moment ago, for the sole purpose of attacking an article on climate science or arguing against new controls on salt in junk food.

• With some clever use of social media, astroturfers can, in the security firm's words, "make it appear as if a persona was actually at a conference and introduce himself/herself to key individuals as part of the exercise … There are a variety of social media tricks we can use to add a level of realness to fictitious personas."

Perhaps the most disturbing revelation is this. The US Air Force has been tendering for companies to supply it with persona management software, which will perform the following tasks:

a. Create "10 personas per user, replete with background, history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographically consistent … Personas must be able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world and can interact through conventional online services and social media platforms."

b. Automatically provide its astroturfers with "randomly selected IP addresses through which they can access the internet" (an IP address is the number which identifies someone's computer), and these are to be changed every day, "hiding the existence of the operation". The software should also mix up the astroturfers' web traffic with "traffic from multitudes of users from outside the organisation. This traffic blending provides excellent cover and powerful deniability."

c. Create "static IP addresses" for each persona, enabling different astroturfers "to look like the same person over time". It should also allow "organisations that frequent same site/service often to easily switch IP addresses to look like ordinary users as opposed to one organisation."

Software like this has the potential to destroy the internet as a forum for constructive debate. It jeopardises the notion of online democracy. Comment threads on issues with major commercial implications are already being wrecked by what look like armies of organised trolls – as you can sometimes see on

The internet is a wonderful gift, but it's also a bonanza for corporate lobbyists, viral marketers and government spin doctors, who can operate in cyberspace without regulation, accountability or fear of detection. So let me repeat the question I've put in previous articles, and which has yet to be satisfactorily answered: what should we do to fight these tactics?

Parents Of Marine Taken Off Life Support Speak Out - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Parents Of Marine Taken Off Life Support Speak Out - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

This war doesn't touch most people. It runs in the background unnoticed in the livingroom like an old sitcom on TV. Lance Corporal Andrew Carpenter, his parents, his wife and his unborn son know it differently this week. The flight to Landstuhl, the decision that had to be made was identical to that made in 2003 by my friend Pat Ivory for his son SPC Greg Ivory who had a stroke do to heat and dehydration in Iraq. To the Carpenters and the Ivorys I wish you Godspeed and to know that I remember. I remember.

Note how these signs are all printed at some expense unlike homemade signs you might see in a real protest

Pakistan arrests US security contractor as rift with CIA deepens | World news | The Guardian

Supporters of the religious party Jamaat-e-Islami rally against CIA employee Raymond Davis
Pakistani authorities have arrested a US government security contractor amid a worsening spy agency row between the countries, with Pakistani intelligence calling on the Americans to "come clean" about its network of covert operatives in the country.

The arrest came at the start of the murder trial of another American held in Pakistan, the CIA agent Raymond Davis.

Peshawar police arrested Aaron DeHaven, a contractor who recently worked for the US embassy in Islamabad, saying that his visa had expired.

Little was known about DeHaven except that his firm, which also has offices in Afghanistan and Dubai, is staffed by retired US military and defence personnel who boast of direct experience in the "global war on terror".

It was unclear whether his arrest was linked to escalating tensions between the Inter-Services Intelligence and the CIA, triggered by the trial of Davis, who appeared in handcuffs at a brief court hearing in a Lahore jail...

bth: this protest is staged by someone with enough money to buy signage, printing and translation.  Note no signs in local languages which means this is all for the international English speaking media.