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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Whales Trapped Off Florida Coast

Dozens of short-finned pilot whales are stranded in shallows near Florida’s everglades today, and ten have already died. Everglades Park spokesperson Linda Friar explained her organizations has used a number of boats heard the pod away the beach, encouraging them to make their way back to the Gulf of Mexico. Friar said, “They’re freely swimming about. They’re a species that likes to stay together, and we’re just not able to get them to move away.”

But Blair Mase of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration remains skeptical that the family of marine mammals might yet be saved. While there is a slight possibility the whales could swim out during high tide, Mase said, “I wouldn’t set out hope for that.” The whales are more than 20 miles away from the deeper waters they typically call home. Mase went on, “Even in high tide, you’re going to have a series of sandbars and sand flats.” As wildlife officials were forced to euthanize four whales found in “poor condition”, Mase said, “We want to set the expectations low. The outlook does not ultimately look good for the remaining live whales.”

NSA Tracks Cell Phones

Evidence released by Edward Snowden and The Washington Post suggests the U.S. National Security Administration (NSA) tracks the location of millions of cell phone users. While the NSA does not target Americans’ location data per se, it does collect a significant amount of information on the whereabouts of domestic cellphones “incidentally,” a legal term that connotes a foreseeable but not deliberate result. An anonymous NSA agent speaking to the Post, with the NSA’s permission, said “we are getting vast volumes” of location details, a natural result of the NSA monitoring the global mobile networks.

Indeed this program seems to represent a level of espionage on a hitherto unprecedented scale; the sheer amount of intercepted data is so vast that a May 2012 briefing notes it is “outpacing our ability to ingest, process and store” that data. The program gives intelligence analysts the ability to track the movements of individuals throughout the world and map any social connections they have. Moreover analysts can identify a cell phone anywhere in the world, retrace its communication, and investigate whatever relationship its user has with anyone they’ve spoke to or has listed in their contacts.

BART Station Evacuated

Hundreds of Bay Area Rapid Transit passengers were evacuated from a train at the Rockridge station in Oakland today, after a parking brake suddenly activated while the train was in motion coming from Berkley, causing significant amounts of smoke. At least 15 passengers complained of smoke inhalation, and nine were taken to area hospitals. “This is primarily due to being confined on the train in the tunnel, and there was smoke or brake dust that resulted from the train trying to move while the brake was engaged,” said BART spokesperson Jim Allison. There was no fire.

Stolen Mexican Radioactive Material Found

Mexican authorities recovered a stolen truck and the radioactive medical equipment it was hauling today. Officials told told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that the armored truck was carrying a “dangerous radioactive source” used for cancer treatments when it was pilfered from a gas station earlier this week. Mexico’s Nuclear Security Commission said while the cobalt-60 teletherapy source was “properly shielded” at the time of the theft, it could be “extremely dangerous to a person if removed from the shielding, or if it was damaged”.

The radioactive material, cobalt-60, was found about a half-mile from the truck and its empty protective lead container near Mexico City, said Juan Eibenschutz, director general of the National Commission of Nuclear Safety and Safeguards. The area around the radioactive material was cordoned off. Eibenschutz told reporters direct exposure to the isotope would result in death within a matter of minutes.

The theft of such materials raises the specter of an improvised nuclear bomb, or a so-called “dirty bomb”. The IAEA says more than 100 incidents of thefts and other unauthorized activities involving nuclear and radioactive material are reported to the U.N. watchdog each year. Just last month, radioactive lightning preventers were stolen in Ireland.

Hezbollah Leader Assassinated

Hezbollah announced “around midnight on Tuesday, one of the commanders of the resistance, Hassan al-Laqis, was assassinated in front of his house in the Saint Therese district of (the) Hadath (neighborhood), as he returned from work.” Lebanese officials say al-Laqis was hit five times when assailants opened fire with an assault rifle while he was in his car in front of his home. While Hezbollah and a number of analysts suggest Israeli intelligence is likely responsible for the attack, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor waved such charges away, saying, “Israel has nothing to do with this incident. These automatic accusations are an innate reflex with Hezbollah. They don’t need evidence, they don’t need facts, they just blame anything on Israel.”

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