Why a new Ukraine is the Kremlin's worst nightmare

The domino effect of democracy on Russia's border threatens the entire system Putin has built since 2000 - and he will not let it go lightly.

The details still need to be decided, but the revolutionaries have won in Ukraine. Some elements of the old regime may survive, but that is precisely why the protesters on the “Maidan” (Kiev’s main square) don’t trust the mainstream politicians who claim to be negotiating on their behalf.

The politicians in suits can do the donkey work – writing a new constitution to improve on the old one they have just restored, and trying to save the collapsing economy. But the Maidan leaders in the fatigues and helmets will set the agenda on justice – dismantling the militia and reworking the corrupt legal system, so that the many guilty end up behind bars. And there are credible reports that the snipers who killed more than 70 on Thursday were based in the government buildings that are  already being occupied by protesters combing for evidence. Once the world knows who gave the deadly orders, justice will decapitate the old regime. And the “official”  opposition will be radicalised by the need to compete with the moral authority of the Maidan.

All of which is the Kremlin’s worst nightmare. When the protests started back in November they were about a trade deal with the EU. Russia was ecstatic that it had persuaded Ukraine to walk away from that deal, and was picking off the other states in the EU’s “Eastern Partnership” programme (Armenia caved in September, Georgia and Moldova were  expected to come under enormous pressure in 2014). Russia hoped to drag them into its alternative Eurasian Union instead, which is due to be launched in January 2015.

But this is 10 times worse than Brussels expanding its bureaucracy to Russia’s borders. A real democracy in Ukraine is an existential threat to the entire system that Vladimir Putin has built since 2000. Ironically because Putin is right – most Russians regard Ukraine as a kin state, or not really a different state at all. They are used to stepping in tandem; so if something changes in Ukraine, why not in Russia too? And now the dominoes might fall in the other direction. Other Maidans might appear in other neighbouring states – maybe first in Moldova where the Russia-backed Communist Party was hoping to return to power in elections due in November.

Putin marginalised his own protest movement after the last Russian election cycle. He does not want to see that flare up again. So far, the Russian opposition has been quiet. Few have supported the Ukrainian Maidan, even fewer sound inspired to copy it – for now. But Putin will need to come up with something more convincing than the scattergun propaganda the Russian media has pumped out to date.

None of the favourite Russian myths – the protesters are all crazy nationalists, which is why they are also backed by the Americans, the young guys throwing rocks are really only interested in promoting gay rights – make much sense in the long run.

So the new government in Ukraine, however it’s made up, will be given the briefest of ritualistic honeymoons before Russia uses every instrument at its disposal to try to make it fail. Unfortunately, Russia holds most of the economic cards. Ukraine’s coffers are almost empty, and the old guard is busy looting what is left. It has less than $18bn (£10.9bn) in hard currency reserves, its currency is dropping and immediate debt-repayment needs are more than $10bn.

Russia tied Ukraine to a $15bn bailout deal in December, which is parcelled out by the month to maximise leverage, and periodically suspended whenever the opposition looked like getting the upper hand. But Russia’s real aim was to provide just enough money to support the old semi-authoritarian system (helping Viktor Yanukovych pay the police) and keep Ukrainian society post-Soviet, that is, still dependent on government. So Ukraine’s new leaders will have to be honest and say their aim is to dismantle both. They cannot declare victory now, but will have to plead for popular support during what will be two or three difficult years.

And if the West is serious about an alternative deal, Ukraine needs a lot of money fast. Fortunately, the West would no longer be throwing it down the black hole created by the old regime. Instead the money would support the kind of kamikaze leader Ukraine has never had in the past. Politicians were reluctant to make difficult choices and lose elections, because they’d never get back into power. Now Russia and the old regime will back any populist who promises to keep government subsidies flowing; but an honest kamikaze might just win the long-term credit and at least write his place in the history books.

Russia has talked a lot about its “soft power” in recent years. It isn’t particularly soft. The new Ukraine will pay more for gas, which will be regularly cut off for “technical reasons”. Russia’s crazy “food safety” agency will declare that everything that comes out of Ukraine is radioactive. Ukrainian migrant workers will be sent home now they have finished helping to  rebuild Sochi.

Worst of all, Russia will work hard to try to re-corrupt the  political system. The Kremlin used to boast that it could exploit Ukraine’s old-style “democracy” – meaning that, just like Yanukovych, they could launch their own puppet parties and buy agents of influence in the honest ones. The Ukrainian Front, a bizarre alliance of hooligans and bikers with a vaguely pan-Slavist ideology that appeared in the eastern city of Kharkiv two weeks ago, was backed by the Russians. Skinheads and sportsmen with the money to spend on propaganda are not a natural combination. Similar groups may pop up in Crimea and elsewhere, where the last elements of the old regime may try and regroup.

But Russia’s ultimate problem is the same as Yanukovych faced. The Kremlin simply can’t understand that protesters would be motivated by ideology rather than by money or foreign support. The Russians were good at manipulating the old system, but dealing with real revolutionaries is a different matter. Ukraine is starting a very bumpy ride.

Andrew Wilson, Reader in Ukrainian studies at University College London, is author of 'Ukraine's Orange Revolution'

Michigan Democrat Rep. Gary Peters threatens TV station licenses over Obamacare ad


While Julie Boonstra of Dexter, Mich., struggles to survive leukemia, she now also has to cope with being called a liar by the Democrat who wants to be her next senator.
And the campaign of Rep. Gary Peters is also going after television stations airing ads in which her story is featured, threatening their licenses.
The ad by Americans for Prosperity features Boonstra talking about how her insurance was canceled under Obamacare and saying that Peters' decision to vote for the law "jeopardized my health." The ads are airing in Michigan as Peters seeks the Democratic nomination to replace Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who is not seeking re-election.
Media organizations investigating the ad's claims note that Boonstra was able to find comparable new insurance under the law; the Washington Post's "Fact Checker" blog gave the ad "two Pinocchios" (as compared to four for President Obama's claim that people could keep their insurance under the law).
But Boonstra, in response, told the local Dexter Leader newspaper that though she has no idea whether she will break even with her new plan, as the fact-checkers claim, the uncertainty of having to restructure her health care while coping with a deadly disease is damage enough.
"People are asking me for the numbers and I don't know those answers -- that's the heartbreak of all of this. It's the uncertainty of not having those numbers that I have an issue with, because I always knew what I was paying and now I don't, and I haven't gone through the tests or seen my specialist yet," she said.
"People don't have that certainty -- they don't have the stability of knowing every month what they're going to be paying now and it's the ability to actually have that sum of money to pay. People don't have these out-of -pocket expense moneys."

Ted Cruz to Address Hollywood's Secret Conservative Group Friends of Abe

by Paul Bond
The group rightly refused a request from the IRS to reveal the names of its members, says the Republican senator from Texas; "FOA should respond to the IRS as it would to any McCarthyite request for information."

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz will visit Hollywood's not-so-secret group of conservatives called Friends of Abe next month, and he tells The Hollywood Reporter he will address what he considers is a government effort to intimidate artists who criticize President Barack Obamaand his policies.

FOA, a group of about 2,000 entertainment industry workers, likes to remain under the radar. But The New York Times on Jan. 22 revealed the group's two-year-long effort to be recognized as a tax-free charity organization. One thing the IRS has wanted from FOA is its membership list, and Cruz says the group has been right to refuse such a request, which he says stems from "an abuse of power."

"FOA should respond to the IRS as it would to any McCarthyite request for information," Cruz says in an interview. "The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that Americans have freedom of association and that groups should not be forced to reveal the names of members, because that information could be abused for political gain. There has already been an incident where the IRS leaked that kind of information about a group."

Cruz says the IRS' treatment of FOA is part of a pattern that includes the arrests of Dinesh D’Souza, who made 2016: Obama’s America, and Nakoula Nakoula, whose video, Innocence of Muslims, was blamed for causing the riots in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead. After the Benghazi attack, Nakoula spent several months in prison on charges unrelated to the video. And D'Souza, who is expected to release his next film, America, on July 4, is accused of violating campaign finance laws by raising more money than he should have for a friend who sought a U.S. Senate seat in New York.

"It's a remarkably selective prosecution considering Obama raised millions of dollars under similar circumstances and donors merely faced civil fines while D'Souza is charged with felony violation of federal law," says Cruz. "There is a pattern of targeting filmmakers who speak out politically.

"Authorities have been remarkably selective in prosecuting D’Souza; the IRS' treatment of FOA is consistent with what this administration has done to Tea Party and conservative groups; and with Benghazi, which we now know was a terrorist attack, the administration's first instinct was to blame a filmmaker. This administration locked him up. That should be very troubling to the filmmaking community."

Cruz adds: "Imagine if George W. Bush had locked up Michael Moore, Sean Penn and Alec Baldwin. Hollywood would be outraged and rightly so. It's striking that when Nixon targeted his enemies it was rightly criticized as abuse of power, but when President Obama does it with far more success, the silence from Democrats, the media and from filmmakers is deafening."

FOA began as a loosely structured fellowship nine years ago when actors Gary Sinise and Kelsey Grammer and producer-writer Lionel Chetwynd would meet for private discussions about current events, popular culture and politics. The group quickly widened to include outspoken conservatives like the late Andrew Breitbart and actor Jon Voight, and eventually rank-and-file entertainment industry workers, many of whom feared retribution if word got out that they didn't share the liberal-leaning ideals prominent in the Hollywood community.

As FOA grew too large to be kept secret, media outlets like Fox News, the Washington Times and E! Entertainment began to pry into the organization, but members have been particularly on edge since it was revealed that the IRS also is interested in learning the names of those involved. FOA executive director Jeremy Boreing, though, says that while FOA itself is not a "secret society," its membership ranks will remain hidden from government officials and others who are seeking access to those details.

While Boreing says he does not think "there is any dark, industry-wide conspiracy to keep conservatives from working," there have been instances of bias alleged. Grammer, for example, toldTHR in 2008 that when he was on the TV show Cheers he was told his job would be jeopardized if he didn’t donate $10,000 to Democrats, including then-Rep. Barbara Boxer of California. In his bookPrimetime Propaganda, radio talk show host Ben Shapiro quotes producer Vin Di Bona, famous for TV shows like MacGyver and America's Funniest Home Videos, saying the notion of widespread anti-conservative bias in Hollywood is "probably accurate and I’m happy about it, actually."

More recently, Scott Eckern resigned as artistic director of the California Musical Theater after he was criticized for donating $1,000 in support of Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage. "I am disappointed that my personal convictions have cost me the opportunity to do what I love the most," Eckern said after resigning the position he had held for five years.

And this year, Maria Conchita Alonso quit a Spanish-language production of The Vagina Monologues because of backlash over her support of Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a Tea Party favorite running for the Republican nomination for governor of California.

"It used to be Democrats could talk to Republicans without getting mad and screaming. We need to bring that back in America," she told THR. "That you have to create something like FOA so people can feel free to talk, there's something wrong with that, isn’t there?"

At issue with the IRS is whether FOA is engaging in overly partisan activities, which could preclude it from gaining status as a 501(c)(3) organization.

"FOA provided the IRS with access to the areas of our website necessary for them to establish with clarity what kind of organization we are," Boreing tells THR. "But we didn't provide them with access to the areas of our website that contain our membership information, which they were asking for at one point. Look, there’s a well-established tradition of not naming names in Hollywood. No individual or government agency has the right to expose people’s privately held beliefs."

When Cruz visits the group next month, he'll join a long list of well-known conservatives who have addressed FOA, like Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Ann Coulter, Rep. Paul Ryan and talk show host Mark Levin. The group, though, does not endorse candidates, and at one event a speaker, in fact, made the case that its members didn’t even share political affiliation as much as a desire to see America prosper. Sinise, the Oscar-winning actor from Forrest Gump and CSI: NY who is often cited as the group's founder, rarely speaks about politics when addressing FOA and prefers instead to stick to his passionate support for U.S. military personnel, according to insiders.

Since The New York Times story, several journalists and bloggers have noted FOA's similarity to the many liberal groups in Hollywood, notably People for the American Way, which was founded by TV producer Norman Lear and is dedicated a 501(c)(4), allowing it to participate in political campaigns. 

"In reality, we don't even have the activist agendas that those groups have," Boreing says. "FOA is not a political organization, and we have no agenda other than to provide education and fellowship opportunities to conservative-leaning entertainment industry professionals. We don't raise money for candidates. We don’t even pay speakers' fees. We're just a watering hole for conservatives in a town not especially known for its embrace of conservative views … we aren't looking for publicity, and we aren’t naming names."

He added: "FOA isn’t looking for any fights -- not with our liberal friends in the industry, not with the government and certainly not with the IRS."

Email: Paul.Bond@THR.com

Obama Administration Putting Government Monitors in Newsrooms?

President Barack Obama
By Matthew Clark
The Obama Administration’s Federal Communication Commission (FCC) is poised to place government monitors in newsrooms across the country in an absurdly draconian attempt to intimidate and control the media.
Before you dismiss this assertion as utterly preposterous (we all know how that turned out when the Tea Party complained that it was being targeted by the IRS), this bombshell of an accusation comes from an actual FCC Commissioner.

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai reveals a brand new Obama Administration program that he fears could be used in “pressuring media organizations into covering certain stories.”
As Commissioner Pai explains in the Wall Street Journal:

Last May the FCC proposed an initiative to thrust the federal government into newsrooms across the country. With its "Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs," or CIN, the agency plans to send researchers to grill reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run. A field test in Columbia, S.C., is scheduled to begin this spring.
The purpose of the CIN, according to the FCC, is to ferret out information from television and radio broadcasters about "the process by which stories are selected" and how often stations cover "critical information needs," along with "perceived station bias" and "perceived responsiveness to underserved populations."
In fact, the FCC is now expanding the bounds of regulatory powers to include newspapers, which it has absolutely no authority over, in its new government monitoring program.

The FCC has apparently already selected eight categories of “critical information” “that it believes local newscasters should cover.”

That’s right, the Obama Administration has developed a formula of what it believes the free press should cover, and it is going to send government monitors into newsrooms across America to stand over the shoulders of the press as they make editorial decisions.

This poses a monumental danger to constitutionally protected free speech and freedom of the press.
Every major repressive regime of the modern era has begun with an attempt to control and intimidate the press.

As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently said, "our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost."

The federal government has absolutely no business determining what stories should and should not be run, what is critical for the American public and what is not, whether it perceives a bias, and whose interests are and are not being served by the free press.

It’s an unconscionable assault on our free society.

Imagine a government monitor telling Fox News it needed to cover stories in the same way as MSNBC or Al Jazeera.  Imagine an Obama Administration official walking in to the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal and telling it that the American public would be better served if it is stopped reporting on the IRS scandal or maybe that reporting on ObamaCare “glitches” is driving down enrollment.

It’s hard to imagine anything more brazenly Orwellian than government monitors in newsrooms.
Is it any wonder that the U.S. now ranks 46th in the world for freedom of the press?  Reporters Without Boarders called America’s precipitous drop of 13 places in its recent global rankings “one of the most significant declines” in freedom of the press in the world.

Freedom of the press is proudly extolled in the First Amendment, yet our nation now barely makes the top fifty for media freedom.

We cannot allow the unfathomable encroachment on our free speech and freedom of the press to continue.

We’ve seen, and defeated, this kind of attempt to squelch free speech before in the likes of the Fairness Doctrine and the Grassroots Lobbying Bill (incidentally one of my first projects at the ACLJ).  Each one of these euphemistically named government programs is nothing more than an underhanded attempt to circumvent the Constitution and limit free speech – speech that the government finds inconvenient.  They’re equally unconstitutional, and they each must be defeated.
Join the ACLJ as we take a stand.   

Sign the ACLJ’s Petition to Stop the Obama FCC’s Free Speech Monitors.
This article is crossposted on Red State.

North Dakota pumps record 313.5M barrels of oil in 2013

By James Macpherson, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- North Dakota produced a record amount of crude oil in 2013 — 313.5 million barrels, about 70 million more than the previous high mark a year earlier, state data show.
The tally, up nearly 29 percent from 2012, marks the sixth consecutive record year for oil production in North Dakota, which is the nation's No. 2 oil producer behind Texas.
Lynn Helms, director of the state Mineral Resources, said Friday that North Dakota produced an average of 923,227 barrels of oil daily in December. The monthly total of 28.6 million barrels was down from 29.2 million barrels in November due to worse-than-normal winter weather that caused the slowdown in oil production, he said.
"The big story in December was the weather," he said.
Helms said it was the first time since January 2013 that the state did not set a monthly oil production record. December production figures were the latest available, because oil production numbers typically lag at least two months.
Tessa Sandstrom, a spokeswoman for the North Dakota Petroleum Council, called the state's surging oil production good news.
"Oil and gas production continue to have a positive impact on the economy and jobs," said Sandstron, whose group represents hundreds of companies working in the state's oil patch. "There are impacts and we look forward to addressing those in the coming year."
The state's natural gas production in December was 30.7 million cubic feet, down from a record 32.5 million cubic feet in November.
Data show 36 percent of natural gas produced in the state was burned off, or flared, in December, up about 6 percent from November, which Helms said was largely due to a temporary shutdown of a natural gas processing plant in Tioga.
The amount of natural gas flared in December matched a record set in September 2011, records show. The U.S. Energy Department says less than 1 percent of natural gas is flared from oil fields nationwide, and less than 3 percent worldwide.
North Dakota sweet crude was fetching $81.35 a barrel Friday, up from $74.20 in January and $73.47 in December.
Data show 185 rigs drilling in North Dakota's oil patch Friday, double the amount for the same day four years ago.
Helms said North Dakota continues to be on track to surpass 1 million barrels of oil daily this year. More than 95 percent of drilling in the state is being done in the rich Bakken and Three Forks formations in western North Dakota, Helms said.
Follow James MacPherson on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/macphersonja

Foreign regimes use spyware against journalists, even in U.S.


Mesay Mekonnen was at his desk, at a news service based in Northern Virginia, when gibberish suddenly exploded across his computer screen one day in December. A sophisticated cyberattack was underway.

But this wasn’t the Chinese army or the Russia mafia at work.

Instead, a nonprofit research lab has fingered government hackers in a much less technically advanced nation, Ethi­o­pia, as the likely culprits, saying they apparently bought commercial spyware, essentially off the shelf. This burgeoning industry is making surveillance capabilities that once were the exclusive province of the most elite spy agencies, such as National Security Agency, widely available to governments worldwide.

The targets of such attacks often are political activists, human rights workers and journalists, who have learned the Internet allows authoritarian governments to surveil and intimidate them even after they have fled to supposedly safe havens.

That includes the United States, where laws prohibit unauthorized hacking but rarely succeed in stopping intrusions. The trade in spyware itself is almost entirely unregulated, to the great frustration of critics.

“We’re finding this in repressive countries, and we’re finding that it’s being abused,” said Bill Marczak, a research fellow for Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, which released the report Wednesday. “This spyware has proliferated around the world . . . without any debate.”
Citizen Lab says the spyware used against Mekonnen and one other Ethio­pian journalist appears to be made by Hacking Team, an Italian company with a regional sales office in Annapolis. Its products are capable of stealing documents from hard drives, snooping on video chats, reading e-mails, snatching contact lists, and remotely flipping on cameras and microphones so that they can quietly spy on a computer’s unwitting user.

Some of the targets of recent cyberattacks are U.S. citizens, say officials at Ethio­pian Satellite Television office in Alexandria, where Mekonnen works. Others have lived in the United States or other Western countries for years.

“To invade the privacy of American citizens and legal residents, violating the sovereignty of the United States and European countries, is mind-boggling,” said Neamin Zeleke, managing director for the news service, which beams reports to Ethi­o­pia, providing a rare alternative to official information sources there.

Citizen Lab researchers say they have found evidence of Hacking Team software, which the company says it sells only to governments, being used in a dozen countries, including Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan.

The Ethio­pian government, commenting through a spokesman at the embassy in Washington, denied using spyware. “The Ethiopian government did not use and has no reason at all to use any spyware or other products provided by Hacking Team or any other vendor inside or outside of Ethi­o­pia,” said Wahide Baley, head of public policy and communications, in a statement e-mailed to The Washington Post.

Hacking Team declined to comment on whether Ethi­o­pia was a customer, saying it never publicly confirms or denies whether a country is a client because that information could jeopardize legitimate investigations. The company also said it does not sell its products to countries that have been blacklisted by the United States, the United Nations and some other international groups.

“You’ve necessarily got a conflict between the issues around law enforcement and the issues around privacy. Reasonable people come down on both sides of that,” said Eric Rabe, a U.S.-based senior counsel to Hacking Team. “There is a serious risk if you could not provide the tools that HT 

The FBI, which investigates computer crimes, declined to comment on the Citizen Lab report.
Allegations of abuse
Technology developed in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks has provided the foundation for a multibillion-dollar industry with its own annual conferences, where firms based in the most developed countries offer surveillance products to governments that don’t yet have the ability to produce their own.

Hacking Team, which Reporters Without Borders has named on its list of “Corporate Enemies” of a free press, touted on its Web site that its “Remote Control System” spyware allows users to “take control of your targets and monitor them regardless of encryption and mobility. It doesn’t matter if you are after an Android phone or a Windows computer: you can monitor all the devices.”

Hacking Team software has been used against Mamfakinch, an award-winning Moroccan news organization, and Ahmed Mansoor, a human rights activist in the United Arab Emirates who was imprisoned after signing an online political petition, Citizen Lab reported. Another research group, Arsenal Consulting, has said Hacking Team software was used against an American woman who was critical of a secretive Turkish organization that is building schools in the United States.

Such discoveries have sparked calls for international regulation of Hacking Team and other makers of spyware, which typically costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to experts.

By selling spyware, “they are participating in human rights violations,” said Eva Galperin, who tracks spyware use for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group based in San Francisco. 

“By dictator standards, this is pretty cheap. This is pocket change.”

Rabe, the Hacking Team official, said that the company does not itself deploy spyware against targets and that, when it learns of allegations of human rights abuses by its customers, it investigates those cases and sometimes withdraws licenses. He declined to describe any such cases or name the countries involved.

Ethio­pian Satellite Television, typically known by the acronym ESAT, started in 2010 and operates on donations from members of the expatriate community. The news service mainly employs journalists who left Ethi­o­pia in the face of government harassment, torture or criminal charges. Though avowedly independent, ESAT is seen as close to Ethiopia’s opposition forces, which have few other ways of reaching potential supporters.

Despite the nation’s close relationship with the U.S. government — especially in dealing with ongoing unrest and Islamist extremism in neighboring Somalia — the State Department has repeatedly detailed human rights abuses by the Ethi­o­pia government against political activists and journalists. There has been little improvement, observers say, since the 2012 death of the nation’s long-time ruler, Meles Zenawi.

“The media environment in Ethi­o­pia is one of the most repressive in Africa,” said Felix Horne, a researcher for Human Rights Watch. “There are frequent cases of people who have spoken to journalists being arrested. There’s very little in the way of free flow of information in the country. The repressive anti-terrorism law is used to stifle dissent. There are a number of journalists in prison for long terms for doing nothing but practicing what journalists do.”
Taking the bait
Mekonnen was wary as soon as he received a document, through a Skype chat with a person he did not know, on Dec. 20. But the file bore the familiar icon of a Microsoft Word file and carried a name, in Ethiopia’s Amharic language, suggesting it was a text about the ambitions of a well-known political group there. The sender even used the ESAT logo as his profile image, suggesting the communication was from a friend, or at least a fan.

When the screen filled with a chaotic series of characters, Mekonnen knew had been fooled — in hacker jargon, he had taken “the bait” — yet it wasn’t clear what exactly was happening to his computer, or why.

That same day, an ESAT employee in Belgium also had received mysterious documents over Skype chats. Noticing that the files were of an unusual type, he refused to open them onto his work computer. Instead, the ESAT employee uploaded one of the files to a Web site, VirusTotal, that scans suspicious software for signs of their origins and capabilities.

That Web site also has a system to alert researchers when certain types of malicious software are discovered. Marczak, the Citizen Lab researcher, who had been tracking the spread of spyware from Hacking Team and other manufacturers, soon got an e-mail from VirusTotal reporting that a suspicious file had been found, carrying telltale coding.

Marczak, a doctoral student in computer science at the University of California at Berkeley, had worked with members of the Ethio­pian community before, during an attempted hacking incident in April 2013. When he received the alert from VirusTotal, he got in touch with the ESAT’s offices in Alexandria and began looking for signs of Hacking Team software on the news service’s computers.
He was eventually joined in the detective work by three other researchers affiliated with Citizen Lab, Claudio Guarnieri, Morgan Marquis-Boire and John Scott-Railton.

They did not detect an active version of the spyware on Mekonnen’s computer, suggesting it had failed to activate properly or was removed by the hackers who deployed it. But when Citizen Lab analyzed the file itself — still embedded in Mekonnen’s Skype account — its coding tracked closely to other Hacking Team spyware, Marczak said.

The Citizen Lab team found that the spyware was designed to connect to a remote server that used an encryption certificate issued by a group listed as “HT srl,” an apparent reference to Hacking Team. The certificate also mentioned “RCS,” which fits the acronym for the company’s “Remote Control 
System” spyware.

The researchers discovered a similar encryption certificate used by a server whose IP address was registered to Giancarlo Russo, who is Hacking Team’s chief operating officer. The phone number and mailing address associated with that server’s IP address matched the company’s headquarters in Milan, Citizen Lab said.

The evidence for Ethiopia’s involvement was less definitive — as is common when analysts attempt to learn the origin of a cyberattack — though the Citizen Lab researchers express little doubt about who was behind the attack. The document that Mekonnen downloaded, they noted, had a title in Amharic that referenced Ethio­pian politics, making clear the attackers had deep knowledge of that country.

In addition, few governments have enough interest in Ethio­pian politics to deploy a sophisticated spyware attack against journalists covering the country, Marczak said. “I can’t really think of any other government that would like to spy on ESAT.”

The biggest fear among journalists is that spies have accessed sensitive contact lists on ESAT computers, which could help the government track their sources back in Ethi­o­pia.

“This is a really great danger for them,” Mekonnen said.


Winter Storm Pax Update: Hundreds of Thousands Lose Power, Drivers Abandoning Cars on Charlotte and Raleigh Highways

Winter Storm Pax continued its second wave of wintry weather Wednesday, dumping freezing rain and sleet across a wide area that could experience catastrophic conditions for a prolonged period of time.

"Winds are gusting as over 30 miles per hour in some locations, and that combined with the ice on the trees is really ramping up the power outages," said Tom Niziol, winter weather expert for The Weather Channel. "I expect to see them become more and more widespread throughout the day."

In North Carolina, snowfall led to a disastrous commute Wednesday afternoon in Raleigh and Charlotte. Cars slid off roads and heavy traffic led to gridlock, forcing some drivers to sit in hours of slow commutes or abandon their cars, producing scenes similar to those in Atlanta a few weeks ago.
The National Weather Service also warned to "expect significant – crippling – ice totals from Atlanta eastward along the I-20 corridor.” In the Carolinas, snow fell Wednesday in areas expecting to see as much as 18 inches of accumulation from Pax.

At least eight deaths were already blamed on the storm: one in North Carolina, on in South Carolina, two in Mississippi and four in Texas. More than 3,000 flights were canceled Wednesday in the U.S., including 75 percent of all flights out of Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. More than 325,000 customers have lost power across the Southeast.

Below is our rundown of the latest news from each state that will be affected by Pax.



A winter storm warning covered almost the entire northern half of Alabama Wednesday and many schools, businesses and public facilities were closed or opened late. Light rain began falling in Huntsville around 1:30 a.m. while sleet had already formed in Florence. In a winter weather message, the National Weather Service in Birmingham announced that an ice storm warning is in effect for Cleburne and Randolph counties.

At least 15 shelters opened in seven counties but Gov. Robert Bentley's office said no one was in them, the Associated Press reports. Trucks spread sand and salty water on roads to prevent icing. Alabama Power didn't report any electrical outages from the weather. According to social media reports, a quarter of an inch of ice accretion was observed in Center Point and Tarrant, while ice totals elsewhere remained lower.



Reports of downed trees and power outages began to trickle in Wednesday morning around the Atlanta area as ice began sticking to trees and other elevated surfaces. In Clayton County, where freezing rain was being reported, reports were submitted of trees and power lines collapsing, and at least one-third of that county's residents had lost power by mid-morning. Across Georgia, more than 135,000 customers are without power. Authorities have ordered all residents in the Atlanta area to shelter in place Wednesday and stay off the roads.

In eastern Georgia, conditions were already dangerous Wednesday morning in and around Augusta, where nearly a half-inch of ice accretion had occurred on trees and power lines – enough to cause widespread damage. Those areas could receive as much as an inch of ice, which would likely have catastrophic impacts on the power grid.

That region, with a population of about half a million people, is reporting more than 6,000 customers without power, according to an AJC.com report. That number is expected to rise dramatically as the event unfolds.

"People who think they can drive on ice are probably sadly mistaken," said Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal.

President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Georgia, ordering federal agencies to help the state and local response during the storm. Deal requested in a Wednesday afternoon press conference that the declaration expand to 89 counties. Deal also said 1,000 National Guard soldiers have been mobilized, and new supplies of salt and sand are on the way to replenish the state's supply. State government will be closed on Thursday.

Several school districts – Atlanta, Decatur, Forsyth and Cherokee – canceled classes for Thursday. And there’s plenty of uncertainty about Friday, as well.

MARTA, the city's public transportation, canceled bus service Wednesday. Light rail will run on weekend schedules. Officials say the agency's decision to cut bus service is in line with Deal's request for drivers to stay off the roads so Department of Transportation crews and others can spread road treatment materials. Area schools closed for the same reason. For a full list of school closures, click HERE.

More than 200 trucks from throughout the Southeast were made available to start restoring power. Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) also announced that it is deploying 300 employees and contractors to Georgia in support of power restoration activity anticipated in the wake of Pax.
Around a foot of snow could fall in some parts of the northeast Georgia mountains, but it is the ice to the south that will have the "catastrophic impacts."



Freezing rain is causing extensive outages in Cleco's service territory in central Louisiana. Officials say trees and tree limbs incased in ice are falling, causing more than 44,000 outages statewide. The hardest hit areas are Rapides, Avoyelles and Grant parishes. Anthony Bunting, vice president of transmission and distribution operations, said in a news release there were more than 18,500 outages in Rapides, 7,000 in Avoyelles and 1,200 in Grant parishes. Bunting had no estimate when power would be restored. Gov. Bobby Jindal issued a statewide emergency declaration ahead of Winter Storm Pax.



Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley declared a state of emergency Tuesday as the state’s emergency management agency, MEMA, urged residents to prepare for a winter storm to hit the state late Wednesday.

"This is going to be a nasty, wet, icy event here in Maryland that will go on for 24 hours," O'Malley said. "If you do not have to travel, don't travel."

MEMA warned residents that the incoming storm could dump the heaviest snows the state has seen in an already rough season. Snowfall will vary across the state, with the western regions receiving 3-5 inches beginning this evening and as much as 5 to 8 inches through tomorrow. Annapolis is expected to receive 4 to 6 inches of snow throughout the night, giving way to a wintry mix throughout Thursday, while Ocean City and other coastal areas will see a mix of rain and snow.

Baltimore-Washington International Airport is open with clear roadways as the storm begins to affect some flights.

Power company Potomac Edison says snow isn't as damaging as ice, the AP reports, but trees and branches already damaged last week could be brought down by snow. O'Malley says the power grid that supplies the state with electricity is experiencing an extra burden from cold temperatures, and he's urging residents to conserve power. The state has been in touch with utility companies, which have been bringing in crews in preparation of power outages.

The governor also is recommending people avoid driving after 10 p.m. Wednesday, when storm is expected to start. Howard County and Prince George’s County schools have canceled evening activities.



A chain-reaction accident has shut down the icy Mississippi River bridge on Interstate 20 at Vicksburg, Miss. The accident occurred around 4 a.m. Wednesday when an 18-wheeler skidded on the ice and crashed into a railing. At least four other tractor-trailer rigs were involved in the accident. There was no immediate report on injuries. Louisiana state police say the tanker is leaking an unidentified flammable liquid and the four-lane bridge was closed in each direction. The bridge runs between Vicksburg, Miss., and Delta, La. The bridge is expected to be closed for several hours. At least two traffic fatalities in north Mississippi on Tuesday were attributed to the storm system. The National Weather Service says a winter storm warning remains in effect for northeast Mississippi until 6 p.m. Wednesday.


New York

A winter storm warning will go into effect in New York City and surrounding areas beginning at midnight tonight as the state prepares for heavy snow into Friday. The area could also experience minor coastal flooding through Friday morning, particularly in Long Island. Snow is expected to start falling in the city this evening, with accumulations totally 1 to 3 inches today and 3 to 5 inches tomorrow. Albany and other regions further north should start seeing snow early Thursday morning, with accumulations of 1 to 3 inches.


North Carolina

Charlotte and Raleigh were experiencing major traffic delays and slowdowns Wednesday afternoon as residents attempted to leave work and get home before conditions worsened. In Charlotte, drivers were seen abandoning their cars and walking down interstates in a similar manner to the Winter Storm Leon shutdown of Atlanta just weeks ago.

“We know it’s coming. Take precautions right now. Don’t wait,” Gov. Pat McCrory urged residents during a press conference on Wednesday morning. “Don’t put your stupid hat on” and be caught by surprise, he added.



Pax Coats NC in Ice

Traffic cameras show cars on some roads in Charlotte barely moving as snow falls on the state's largest city for the second straight day. Reports indicate a similar situation has arisen in Raleigh, where a winter storm in January 2005 resulted in a massive city-wide gridlock that left motorists stuck for hours and children stranded at schools.

“We don't want anyone to get out there and be misled, because right now the streets look OK," said Charlotte mayor Patrick Cannon earlier Wednesday. "But we would warn the public, please don't get led into a false sense of security. Once that snow starts to fall, it's going to fall rapidly – potentially an inch an hour, or so we understand – and you could very well find yourself in an accident … or of course you could be stuck in your vehicle, and that's something we don't want to have happen.”

More than 75,000 people are without power across the state.

US Airways canceled more than 150 flights at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, almost a quarter of its total at the airport, and expected to cancel more Wednesday and Thursday. Amtrak has halted train service Wednesday afternoon between Charlotte and Raleigh. Follow traffic conditions on the DOT’s Traffic Information Management System website.

In North Carolina, 23-year-old Breanna Lynn Tile was killed Tuesday when the car she was riding in went off a snow-covered road outside Aberdeen and struck a tree, the Highway Patrol said. The driver of the car was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.



Winter-weary Pennsylvanians were bracing themselves Wednesday for Winter Storm Pax, which could bring up to a foot of snow and high winds. Pax comes on the heels of Winter Storm Nika, which left thousands without power last week. Even as the last customers' power was restored, officials warned of the possibility of widespread power outages again. 

Forecasters said travel could be significantly affected and urged commuters to take extra time and reduce speeds. The state is stepping in to make sure Pennsylvania municipalities that have already had a hard winter don't run out of salt to treat the roads, the Patriot News reports. Ahead of the storm, school districts were announcing closures across the state. For a full list, click here.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said the city has gotten twice as much snow as usual this year with 43 inches so far. If this storm dumps more than 6 inches on the city, it will be the first time in recorded history that Philadelphia has seen four 6-inch storms in a single season. Nutter has declared a state of emergency for the city, effective as of 8 p.m. Wednesday night
21 tractor-trailers loaded with generators from the federal government were in place outside Philadelphia, waiting to be deployed as needed. 450 National Guard members were being called to duty Wednesday night.


South Carolina

Nearly 175,000 electric customers across South Carolina are in the dark as Winter Storm Pax moved through the state with snow, sleet and ice, and one person has died as a result of the storm.
Gov. Nikki Haley said a woman was killed on Interstate 95 in Clarendon County.

Emergency officials fear the situation will get worse before the storm moves out of the state Thursday. The Upstate and the mountains were expecting as much as 10 inches of snow. Snowfall totals were expected to be less moving southward toward the Midlands, where sleet and freezing rain were falling.



Winter Storm Pax in South Carolina

Snow and ice snapped tree limbs and power lines and caused dozens of traffic accidents across the state.

Haley is asking the federal government to declare South Carolina a federal disaster area. The governor's office says the disaster request is a pre-emptive measure that will allow the state to get help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency such as food and generators to help in the storm recovery. The federal government would pay 75 percent of the cost.

In Charleston, the towering Ravenel Bridge across the Cooper River was closed because of ice as it was two weeks ago. Two other tall bridges in the Charleston area were also shut down. Schools and government offices were closed in most counties across the state.

The SEC basketball game between the University of South Carolina and Vanderbilt, scheduled for Wednesday night in Columbia, was postponed until Thursday.



Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam declared a state of emergency Wednesday afternoon.

Rain and snow will change over to all snow by this afternoon. NOAA reports 3 to 6 inches possible over the valleys, 5 to 8 inches along the foothills and up to 11 inches along the mountains. A winter weather advisory remains in effect for western and central Tennessee. The western part of the state, near Memphis, should expect light amounts of sleet and ice and up to 2 inches of snow. Central Tennessee, around the metro Nashville area, is seeing freezing rain, sleet and snow this morning, with about 1 inch of accumulation expected. The greatest accumulation, up to 3 inches, will come in the southeastern part of the state near the Alabama border, with higher amounts possible in the state’s extreme east.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation is reporting patches of snow and ice in Bradley, Hamilton and Polk counties in the eastern part of the state, and are advising motorists use caution. State Route 71, between the North Carolina-Tennessee border is currently closed. For a complete road advisory listing, click here.

Several counties in Tennessee decided Tuesday afternoon to close school Wednesday in anticipation of the storm. For a full list of closings, click here. The Nashville Airport has canceled 11 percent of its flights and 10 percent are experiencing delays. The Memphis Airport has canceled 3 percent of its flights, with 2 percent experiencing delays.

Officials say a Dallas firefighter died Monday night after falling from an icy highway overpass while crews responded to a traffic accident. The victim was William Tanksley. Three other people were killed in three separate accidents in the Dallas area between Monday night and Tuesday morning, reports DallasNews.com.



Roanoke could see six inches or more, while other locations in western Virginia could pick up over a foot of snow. Flights leaving from the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport for Atlanta and Charlotte have been canceled for today, according to WSLS 10. Many people were left stranded in Atlanta airports during Winter Storm Nika, something officials want to avoid with Winter Storm Pax. Meanwhile, the City of Roanoke has alerted residents to help crews clear city streets by parking in driveways or on one side of the street. City officials remind citizens to call 211 for questions about snow removal or general information about weather-related conditions. Gov Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency Tuesday ahead of the storm.

In Richmond and eastern Virgina, many schools, community buildings and government locations have been closed or will operate on an abbreviated schedule today. Several public and private schools will close early. NBC12 has full lists of community closings and school closings.


Washington, D.C.

The nation’s capital will be under a winter storm warning beginning at 8 p.m. Wednesday night as the city braces for 4 to 6 inches of snow to hit starting in the evening, with an additional 2 to 4 inches of accumulation Thursday. The city is declaring its first snow emergency since 2010, which will go into effect at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday to keep designated emergency routes cleared. Anyone parked in an emergency lane will be towed and fined $250.

Both Dulles International Airport and Reagan National Airport are open, but are expecting “major flight cancellations” on Thursday during the peak of the storm.


West Virginia

Winter Storm Pax will be affecting parts of West Virginia with heavy snow Wednesday night into Thursday morning. The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning from 5 p.m. Wednesday until 4 p.m. Thursday for the southeastern portion of Virginia and the central West Virginia mountains, including the cities of Elkins, Lewisburg and Snowshoe. These areas can expect heavy snow with accumulations of 5 to 9 inches. The National Weather Service warns drivers to stay off the roads because these conditions could result in hazardous travel conditions and some power outages from downed tree branches. Morgantown, Clarksburg and Charleston are under a winter weather advisory on from 5 p.m. Wednesday until 4 p.m. Thursday with the possibility of snow accumulations reaching 2 to 4 inches and causing hazardous travel conditions. 

Several cities that expect to be impacted by Winter Storm Pax have closed schools or put the schools on two-hour delays. The following counties are reporting school closings or delays: Braxton, Cabell, Grant, Lincoln, Mercer, Preston, Summers, and Upshur. For a complete list of closings, delays and early dismissals, visit the West Virginia Department of Education website.

A truck carrying salt and slag moves slowly down a snow covered road as a winter storm moves into the area in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Branson Says Space Venture to Fly Paying Customers This Year

By Deena Kamel Yousef

U.K. billionaire Richard Branson said his Virgin Galactic venture is on track to carry its first fare-paying passenger to the edge of space this year, and that he plans to take his family on a flight some time in 2014.
Virgin Galactic, which completed the third rocket-powered supersonic flight of its SpaceShipTwo vehicle from Mojave Air and Space Port in California last month, is on course to meet its operational targets, Branson said today in Dubai.
“It will be the start of a whole new space era,” the entrepreneur said at the 2014 United Arab Emirates Government Summit, predicting that his plan to give paying guests a taste of zero gravity for $200,000 will be profitable in three years.
Writing in his book “Branson Behind the Mask,” published on Feb. 6, author Tom Bower says a combination of safety regulations, performance issues and the physical challenges of a rocket launch means Virgin Galactic is unlikely ever to attain its goal of carrying passengers into sub-orbital flight.
“There are some people who seem to want things to fail and I think he falls into that category,” Branson said later at a U.K. trade and investment invent in Dubai. “The best way of dealing with people like that is to prove them wrong and we will prove them wrong in the next few months.”

Australia in Two Hours

Branson said Virgin Galactic’s ultimate ambition remains trips between cities at near-orbital speeds, slashing even the longest journey times. Such point-to-point travel is probably 12 years away, with flights between the most distant points, such as London-Australia, offering the biggest gains.
“We built Virgin Galactic’s spaceships shaped like aeroplanes, and we want to make them bigger and bigger and faster in years to come,” he said. “If we can fly to Australia in a couple of hours that would give use a massive advantage.”
Branson said that Virgin Galactic, which holds more than $70,000 in deposits from would-be passengers, should get a commercial license and certification from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration in “the next handful of months.”
In the most recent flight the reusable SS2 craft reached a speed of Mach 1.4 and an altitude of 71,000 feet -- the highest to date -- following its launch from the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft at 46,000 feet. The mission also tested heat-resistant coatings and a control system for maneuvering in space.
Branson said of a 2007 explosion in which three people working for Virgin partner Scaled Composites were killed at the Mojave test site that “even NASA” has incidents with programs. Scaled is now a unit of Northrop Grumman Corp. (NOC)
Virgin Galactic is backed by the Abu Dhabi government’s Aabar Investments wealth fund with a 37.8 percent stake.
To contact the reporter on this story: Deena Kamel Yousef in Dubai atdhussein1@bloomberg.net
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Benedikt Kammel at bkammel@bloomberg.net

Stephen Kim pleads guilty in Fox News leak case


A State Department contractor charged with leaking top-secret information about North Korea to Fox News entered a guilty plea Friday and agreed to serve a 13-month prison term.

During an 80-minute hearing at U.S. District Court, Stephen Kim pled guilty to a single felony count of disclosing national defense information to an unauthorized person, Fox News reporter James Rosen.

Kim admitted providing Rosen with the contents of a top-secret intelligence report on North Korean intentions to carry out nuclear tests. The contractor acknowledged that he and Rosen stepped out of their offices at State Department headquarters for a short meeting nearby on the morning of June 11, 2009.

Within a couple of hours, Rosen published a story on the Fox News website reporting that U.S. intelligence had concluded “through sources in North Korea” that the secretive communist nation planned to carry out four nuclear tests in response to an expected U.N. resolution. The resolution passed the next day, but no such tests took place.

After prosecutor Michael Harvey laid out the facts at Friday’s session, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly led Kim through them a bit at a time.

Kim, wearing a blue suit and dark tie, stood at the courtroom lectern, flanked by defense attorney Abbe Lowell.

“Yes,” Kim said over and over when asked if he agreed with the facts set out by the prosecution. On a couple of occasions, Kim spoke so softly that the judge had to ask him to speak up.

Near the end of the hearing, Kollar-Kotelly asked Kim how he pled to the count of unauthorized disclosure of classified information.

“I plead guilty,” Kim said calmly.

A small number of Kim’s friends looked on from the gallery during the plea hearing.

“Faced with the draconian penalties of the Espionage Act, the tremendous resources that the federal government devoted to his case (a half-dozen prosecutors and a dozen FBI agents), and the prospect of a lengthy trial in today’s highly-charged climate of mass disclosures, Stephen decided to take responsibility for his actions and move forward with his life,” Lowell said in a statement e-mailed to reporters.

”It was the State versus a single individual, an uphill struggle to begin with. He took it on and did the best he could. Now we decide to stop,” Kim’s sister Yuri Lustenberger-Kim added in a statement on behalf of Kim’s family.

Under the terms of a plea bargain with prosecutors, the North Korea security expert agreed to a 13-month prison sentence, and to spend a year on supervised release. No fine would be imposed under the plea deal.

The proposed 13-month term is a modest one compared to the ten-year maximum a judge could have imposed on the charge to which Kim pled guilty, although judges usually sentence defendants in accordance with sentencing guidelines that tend to call for sentences well below the maximum.

Under the plea deal, prosecutors agreed to drop a false statements charge that allowed for a potential five additional years behind bars.

The terms of the deal suggest the government was eager to avoid a trial in the case. In addition to eliminating the possibility of an acquittal, a guilty plea also rules out the possibility that additional classified information could be disclosed at trial and eliminates the need for government officials to testify.

Kim’s lawyers had aggressively pursued discovery in the case, demanding records about the access various high-ranking current and former government officials had to the top-secret intelligence report. Recent court filings mentioned current White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, former National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, and Assistant Secretary of State Danny Russel.

The defense could have sought to call one or more of those officials as witnesses to testify about handling of the intelligence report.

Lowell complained Friday that Kim was being pursued criminally while leaks from more senior officials never trigger such prosecution.

“Our system for prosecuting ‘leaks’ in this country is broken and terribly unfair. Lower-level employees like Mr. Kim are prosecuted because they are easier targets or often lack the resources or political connections to fight back. High-level employees leak classified information to forward their agenda or to make an administration look good with impunity,” the defense attorney said.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2014/02/stephen-kim-james-risen-state-department-fox-news-103265.html#ixzz2slb3b4mg