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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

UN Report Proves Assad Behind Gas Attack; Russia Calls Bias

In what should be a surprise to precisely no one, details in the UN report on the August 21st chemical weapons strike in Syria point directly to elite military forces loyal to the Assad regime. While the inspectors assigned no blame, they did list the precise compass directions of flight for two rockets: the same places the regime has been using to launch conventional weapons for most of the war, likely from a specific government military compound. This brazenness suggests Assad is not worried about publicly killing his own citizens.

Nor should it be. In more predictable news, after saying it would support action if the UN report found the regime had used chemical weapons, Russia instead called it ‘biased.’ Syrian officials have, apparently, given the Russians ‘proof’ that the rebels were responsible for the attacks, which Russia promises it will share with the UN Security Council once it is analyzed.

It was revealed that Germany had exported more than 110 tons of “dual use” chemicals to Syria between 2002 and 2006, including 102 tons of hydrogen fluoride and 13 tons of ammonium hydrogen fluoride. Both have civilian purposes, and can be used in the production of sarin.

More NSA Fallout

After Der Spiegel reported on Monday that the NSA monitors a significant share of international money transfers – including bank and credit card transactions- under a program called SWIFT, some EU parliamentarians have called for its suspension. The SWIFT agreement authorizes the transfer of some bank data to anti-terror authorities in the US, but the NSA has secretly been accessing more information than previously known or agreed upon. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has postponed an official visit to Washington, saying it could not take place “in the absence of a timely investigation” into US spying. Brazil  may build a new internet cable or force internet firms to open data centers locally to allow data to bypass the US.

Finally, declassified documents from the FISA court showed that no telecommunications company has ever challenged the court’s orders or questioned their legality. This seems to contrast with the claims of some internet companies that they fought to keep their users’ data private.

Army Battles Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria

Nigeria announced today that the army had attacked a heavily-fortified militant base in the Kasiya forest north of the state capital on September 12th.  An army spokesman said they had received intelligence reports saying Boko Haram was planning to launch a major attack from there, ”with anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns mounted on vehicles” so the army attacked first.

The army has claimed it killed 150 militants, including one of their commanders, with only 16 soldiers confirmed dead and 9 missing. Local media reports conflict, however, with some saying up to 100 soldiers may have been killed, while others reported that Boko Haram fighters had attacked the army, not the other way around. The Nigerian army routinely underreports soldiers’ deaths, however, so exact numbers are impossible to know.

Possible Gas Leaks and Oil Spills in Colorado Floods

Destroyed wells, tanks and pipelines holding oil and natural gas are running the risk of leaking into Colorado floodwaters in one of the most heavily-drilled areas in the countries. While oil companies have shut down most of their infrastructure due to the flooding, pictures of floating tanks and blowouts posted on social media websites suggest that oil is already beginning to contaminate the area.

The issue is compounded by the possible addition of chemicals from overturned condensate tanks which hold the toxic wastewater leftover from fracking. Additionally, some wastewater may be stored in open-air pits which, if flooded, would quickly contaminate new areas.

Colorado has 50,000 active oil and gas wells, but only 20 inspectors.

Greeks Protest After Anti-Fascist Musician Stabbed

Leftist hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas, 34, was stabbed outside a cafe in Athens sometime after midnight – he was attacked in a brawl after a soccer game. Before his death, he identified his attacker and a 45-year-old supporter of the anti-immigrant Golden Dawn party has confessed to the crime.

Police searched the offices of a political party today, but would not say which one (a Golden Dawn official was later charged with a minor weapons offense). Crowds protested Fyssas’ death in cities across the country; in Athens it turned violent as 5,000 people rallied at the spot where he was stabbed, throwing stones at the police and lighting garbage cans on fire.

The murder has renewed calls to ban Golden Dawn as a political party, and the Greek government hinted it would seek to do exactly that later this week.


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