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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

NSA Spied on the Pope, Broke into Internet Companies

The Washington Post reports that the National Security Agency has used clandestine means to gain access to the main communications links connecting Yahoo and Google data centers around the world. By exploiting those links, the NSA is able to intercept data “at will from hundreds of millions of user accounts, many of them belonging to Americans. The NSA does not keep everything it collects, but it keeps a lot.” Representatives from both American companies expressed alarm at being so brazenly targeted by the U.S. spy agency. Google said in a statement, “We have long been concerned about the possibility of this kind of snooping, which is why we continue to extend encryption across more and more Google services and links.”

While the NSA has long been able to compel companies to secretly turn over data via its recently publicized PRISM program, this newly revealed program called MUSCULAR circumvents the meager judicial oversight of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) by acting outside the borders of the United States. When shown a pictogram describing the method the NSA uses to hijack Google’s private data, two engineers with close ties to Google reportedly exploded in profanity.

Another organization which evidently came under the NSA’s all seeing eye had a more measured response. Panorama discovered the NSA has wiretapped a number of the Vatican’s officials, including newly installed Pope Francis, in an attempt to determine the Holy See’s foreign policy and financial objectives. Despite the breach of sovereignty, Papal spokesperson Father Federico Lombardi played down the claims, saying: “We don’t know anything about this, and in any case we don’t have any concerns about it.”

A Brace of Tragic Bus Crashes

India’s southern state of Andhra Pradesh was the scene of a grizzly bus fire which claimed the lives of least 42 people. The bus was carrying 50 passengers on its route from Bangalore to Hydreabad, when a nighttime collision with a roadside culvert caused the ignition of the vehicle’s fuel tank. Seven people managed to escape the resulting inferno. Police arrested the bus driver.

Another tragic bus accident occurred in Kenya, where a passenger train destroyed a bus as it raced to cross the train’s tracks. Witnesses told Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper, the train driver survived the crash and went to a nearby church, where he knelt down to pray. At least 12 people have died, and 17 more were severely injured. The bus driver in this case was also taken into custody. If he is found guilty of causing death by careless driving, he faces life in prison.

Russia Gives Away Trojan Horses

According to allegations published today by Corriere Della Serra and La Stampa, Russia used last month’s G20 summit as a pretext to spy on a number of diplomats, by giving delegations USB drives capable of downloading sensitive information from laptops. Russian presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov strongly denied the claims, telling state media, “We don’t know the sources of the information [published by the Italian paper]. However, this is undoubtedly nothing but an attempt to shift the [public] focus from issues that truly exist in relations between European capitals and Washington to unsubstantiated, non-existent issues.”

Congolese Victory over M23?

The U.N.’s special envoy in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Martin Kobler, told the U.N. Security Council that the M23 rebel movement is essentially vanquished as a military threat. Kobler found the M23 had abandoned a key position on Mount Hehu near the Rwandan border, along with the majority of its military positions in the east. He said M23 was essentially confined to a small sector close to the Rwandan border. Adding, “It is practically the military end of the M23.”

Indeed there was an amount of celebration in the east congolese town of Bunagana, which had been under M23 occupation since last year. Reuters reports that residents gathered in the streets to cheer the arrival of Congolese government troops. “I’m very happy, we’ve been under occupation for a long time. We felt very threatened by M23, we were constantly surrounded by their soldiers,” said Bunagana resident Damien. Politician Roger Lumbala demurred with Kobler’s assessment saying the withdrawal was not the result of any specific military victories, “It is the diplomatic push that has led M23 to withdraw its troops from the major towns.”

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