Friday, December 24, 2004

So Much For The Free Market In Mother Russia

The suspense is over: Baikal was a Gazprom proxy.

Russian Oil Firm Buys Mysterious Bid Winner

MOSCOW, Dec. 23 -- The state-owned oil company Rosneft has acquired the unknown front company that won a controversial auction Sunday for a major production unit of the besieged oil giant Yukos, Russian news agencies reported late Wednesday.

The news agencies, Interfax and ITAR-Tass, confirmed what many analysts suspected: Shares in Yuganskneftegaz, a Yukos subsidiary, have been acquired by the state and will eventually be routed to Gazprom, the huge state-controlled natural gas and oil conglomerate.

The move effectively nationalizes one of Russia's largest oil production units. Yuganskneftegaz pumps nearly 1 million barrels of oil a day. It was among the state-owned assets privatized in the 1990s in Russia's effort to build a market economy following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many of the assets were acquired by young financiers for a fraction of their value.

According to the news agency reports, Rosneft on Wednesday bought 100 percent of the shares in BaikalFinansGroup, the unknown company that won the auction. Baikal bought the Yukos oil production unit at the auction for $9.3 billion. The firm Dresdner Kleinworth Wasserstein estimated in an Oct. 6 report that the unit was worth between $15.7 billion and $18.3 billion.

The Russian government asserts that Yukos owes $28 billion in back taxes and that the Yuganskneftegaz unit was being sold to recoup some of that money. Yukos has denied owing the taxes. Yukos has been under attack from the Kremlin for more than a year in what some analysts have described as retaliation for the political ambitions of its former chief executive, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who has been jailed and is on trial on separate charges of fraud and tax evasion.

The government already had plans to fold Rosneft into Gazprom, a combination that would create Russia's largest energy conglomerate when combined with the auctioned Yukos asset. The Yuganskneftegaz fields in western Siberia accounted for 60 percent of Yukos's production and yield about 11 percent of Russia's overall oil output.

It was unclear Wednesday night how Rosneft, a company that was recently valued at between $7 billion and $8.5 billion, was financing the acquisition of Baikal, which made a non-refundable $1.7 billion deposit when it purchased 76 percent of the shares of Yuganskneftegaz. The balance has to be paid within 14 days of the auction date.

Alexander Stepanenko, a spokesman for Rosneft, confirmed the deal to Dow Jones Newswires early Thursday. "The owners of Baikal made us an offer to sell their company, and we took it," he said, declining to disclose the purchase price.

Read the complete article here at the

More Nudity, This Time On The Radio

Nudity on the radio, that's right, the FCC has proposed a fine of $220,000 for Pennsylvania-based Entercom Communications.

Radio Stations Face Fine For 'Naked Twister' Game

Popular Kansas City rock jock Johnny Dare has something in common with Howard Stern and Janet Jackson -- all three have been accused of indecency by the Federal Communications Commission.

The FCC proposed a $220,000 fine Wednesday for Pennsylvania-based Entercom Communications.

The proposed fine comes in response to four 2002 broadcasts on two Kansas radio stations: KQRC in Westwood and KFH in Wichita.They broadcast installments of the "Dare and Murphy Show" featuring "Naked Twister" with local strippers and graphic interviews with porn stars.

The FCC said the material was indecent and clearly intended to "pander to and titillate the audience."

Read the article at The Kansas City Channel website.

I have a novel idea for those who don't want to listen to this or any other material they may find objectionable: turn the dial. At least this will save taxpayer money and our virginal ears. But, until further notice, yes, it is a crime to simply sound naked.

I sure hope no other business is "pandering" to their consumers!

New Year Ban on Indoor Nudity

The Associated Press adds to the holiday cheer with an article on a Mexican city that has banned indoor nudity. Yes, that is right, indoor nudity...

Mexican City Bans Indoor Nudity

(AP) Alarmed by glimpses of sweaty citizens in the buff, the city council in the southeastern city of Villahermosa has adopted a law banning indoor nudity, officials confirmed on Wednesday.

The regulation, which takes effect on Jan. 1, calls for as much as 36 hours in jail or a fine of $121 for offenders in the Tabasco state capital, 410 miles east of Mexico City.

"We are talking about zero tolerance ... for a lack of morality,'' said city councilwoman Blanca Estela Pulido of the Revolutionary Institutional Party, which governs the state and city.

Opposition party councilman Rodrigo Sanchez said in an interview that the measure, part of a larger series of prohibitions, "tramples on the rights of the citizens by taking laughable measures such as contemplating penalties for citizens who walk around nude inside their houses."

"I have no idea how you detect the naked. You'd have to have a big operation to try to bring it under control," he added.

Read the whole article about the ban on indoor nudity at CBS News.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Mainstream Press Is Just Catching Up

Here is Justin Ptak's article from November of last year questioning the Defense Secretary's actions in office. Now, the 'Prince of Darkness' himself, Bob Novak, is catching the wave.

Neocons Pin Iraq on Rumsfeld

In the bowels of the Pentagon, the colleagues and subordinates of Donald Rumsfeld were not upset by Republican senators who were sniping at him. Instead, they complained bitterly about a call for his removal by a private citizen with no political leadership position: William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard. His position was, in effect, a declaration of war by the neoconservatives against the secretary of defense.

The capital's feeding frenzy over Rumsfeld's fate did not begin until Kristol's Dec. 12 op-ed column in the Washington Post. While critical senators did not get to the point of demanding Rumsfeld's removal, Kristol did. He said the troops in Iraq ''deserve a better defense secretary than the one we have.'' A firm declaration by a prominent Republican activist turned journalist who is the clarion of neoconservatism counts for more than equivocation by U.S. senators.

Rumsfeld's civilian colleagues at the Pentagon are furious because they consider Kristol a manipulative political operative, critiquing the war in Iraq after years of promoting it. But his criticism has a broader base. Kristol long has called for big-government conservatism, which on the international sphere involves proactively pursuing democracy around the world. He and the other neocons do not want to be blamed for what has become a very unpopular venture in Iraq. Thus, it is important to get the word out now that the war in Iraq has gone awry because of the way Rumsfeld fought it.

Rumsfeld is often bracketed with the neocons, but that is incorrect. In a long political career that dates back to his election to Congress in 1962, he has not even been associated with the traditional conservative movement. In the run-up to the attack on Iraq, he was not aggressively pressing intervention by force of arms, but instead was shaping a military response to fit President Bush's command.

Rumsfeld did name Richard Perle, one of the foremost neocon voices calling for regime change in Baghdad, as chairman of the part-time Defense Policy Board. Also named to the board was Kenneth Adelman, an old friend of Rumsfeld's who is identified as a neocon. Adelman gained notoriety by promising that the conquest of Iraq would be a ''cakewalk.'' Indeed, rejoicing over the quick rout of Saddam Hussein's army, Adelman wrote that cakewalk -- a word always rejected by Rumsfeld -- turned out to be a correct description.

With the bloody occupation of Iraq under way, Adelman's demeanor changed in his frequent appearances on CNN's ''Crossfire'' (where I often was a co-host). His mood became more subdued. The garish, American flag necktie that Adelman wore as he urged war on Iraq was retired, as he somberly began to criticize (while never mentioning Rumsfeld by name).

On April 30, Adelman said a ''miscalculation'' had been made in war planning because the operation in Iraq ''has gone worse than we expected a year ago.'' On June 28, he said ''there were failures,'' adding that the purge of Baath Party members and ''the dismissal of the army was something that we could have done a lot better.'' On Nov. 8, he said failure to clean insurgents out of Fallujah was ''a bad decision.''

Unlike Adelman, Kristol pinned defects in war-fighting tactics directly on Rumsfeld. In a Weekly Standard essay of Nov. 17, 2003 (written with his frequent collaborator, Robert Kagan), Kristol assailed Rumsfeld for sending insufficient troops to Iraq. ''Rumsfeld remains dogmatically committed to a smaller force,'' he wrote.

Thus, the neocon message is that the war was no mistake but has been badly conducted. While Adelman does not blame his friend Rumsfeld, the accountability of the secretary of defense is implicit. Kristol's call for Rumsfeld's dismissal removes culpability for those who beat the drums to go to war.

Getting rid of Rumsfeld does not answer agonizing questions. Was the change of regime in Baghdad worth going to war? Could Saddam have been removed from power by other means? Is the use of U.S. military power to topple undemocratic regimes good policy?

There are no clear answers. To say simply that all would be well in Iraq, save for Don Rumsfeld, only begs these questions.

Read the article here on the Chicago Sun Times website.

Things are not getting any rosier in the middle east as evinced by the recent report of the Defense Policy Board (DSB) which contained strong criticism of the present administration's war. Among other insights, the report frankly stated that "Muslims do not 'hate our freedom;' they hate our policies" and in particular, "what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestin(e)." Moreover, the optimistic appraisal of events coming out of Washington was tempered with the following: "in the eyes of Muslims, American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq have not led to democracy there but only more chaos and suffering."

For more info on the report, google here.

I'm not quite sure why this report hasn't received more airplay. Nevermind, I do know why, but that is a different story. G*d Speed.

Friday, December 17, 2004

"The Army You Have" Changes In 24 Hours

Unit's vehicles all had armor within day of soldier's query

Hearst Newspapers

Generals say refitting was already in works

WASHINGTON — Within 24 hours after a soldier from Nashville challenged Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about armor shortages in Iraq, protective armor had been added to every vehicle in the soldier's unit, senior Army officers said yesterday.

Read the article here at

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Miniature Golf Warning!

Members of Congress who have seen the list say the classified list being created by the Department of Homeland Security is "a haphazard compilation that includes water parks and miniature golf courses but omits some major sites in need of security."

"Their list is a joke," said Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla., a member of the House Homeland Security Committee. He called it "an exercise in full employment for bureaucrats, rather than a realistic way to make the country safer."

Read the whole article at the USA Today

Friday, December 03, 2004

"[U]ltimately the Wild West must give way to governance and control."

Analysis: Tenet calls for tough cyber security rules

By Shaun Waterman
UPI Homeland and National Security Editor
Published December 2, 2004

WASHINGTON -- Former CIA Director George Tenet called Wednesday for tough new security measures to guard against attacks on the United States using the Internet, which he called "a potential Achilles heel for our financial stability and physical security."

"I know that these actions will be controversial in this age when we still think the Internet is a free and open society with no control or accountability," Tenet told an IT security conference in Washington, "but ultimately the Wild West must give way to governance and control."

The national media, including United Press International, were excluded from the event at Tenet's request, organizers said, but UPI was given an account of the speech by a member of the audience. The quotes were verified by a source close to the former director.

Tenet's speech articulated widely shared concerns among U.S. intelligence and homeland security officials that telecommunications -- and specifically the Internet -- represent a backdoor through which terrorists and other enemies of the United States can attack the country, even though some progress has been made in securing the physical infrastructure.

The Internet, Tenet said, "represents a potential Achilles heel for our financial stability and physical security if the networks we are creating are not protected."

"Efforts at physical security will not be enough," he argued, "because the thinking enemy that we confront is going to school on our network vulnerabilities," leveraging the possibility that the Internet gave them to "work anonymously and remotely" with little risk of apprehension.

He said that there were "known adversaries conducting research on information attacks," including "intelligence services, military organizations and non-state actors."

Robert Bagnall, a former military intelligence officer who specializes in computer security for small and medium-sized companies, said that Islamic terror groups like al-Qaida currently appeared to lack the expertise to stage successful cyber attacks on their own.

But he added that their capacities were growing every day and that there was also a blossoming market in "hacking for hire," which posed a very real threat.

"These guys are very good," he said of the professionals. "It's how they make they make their living. You aren't talking about kids in a basement any more."

Bagnall said that organized crime could provide the nexus between professional hackers and terror groups. "The guys who are going to bring that expertise to them are the Russian mob," he told UPI.

Many worry that the United States' capacity to secure its networks and respond to attacks is growing much more slowly than the capacity of its enemies to mount those attacks.

Within the federal government, the Department of Homeland Security has the lead role in protecting the United States from Internet terrorism. But the department's head of cyber security recently quit suddenly, amid reports that he had clashed with his superiors.

"The department's cyber security program is not where it needs to be," John Gannon, staff director of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, told UPI last month.

The committee recently produced legislation that would raise the rank of the post Amit Yoran held to the assistant secretary level.

"Elevating the post (of cyber-security chief) to assistant secretary level (in the legislation) was a sign of our concern about the progress they were making," Gannon said.

Not all experts share Tenet's concerns. Former senior federal cyber security official F. Lynn McNulty told UPI it was important to keep the problem in perspective.

"In terms of potential damage, losses and other consequences, the old-school threats remain the most serious," he said, referring to truck bombs, suicide hijackings and other conventional terrorist techniques.

"We may overestimate the capabilities of the attacker, especially to launch a major frontal assault," he cautioned.

But Tenet, who left the CIA in July after serving as director for seven years, warned that al-Qaida, though its first-tier leadership had been largely destroyed, remained "a sophisticated, intelligent organization with enormous capability."

The second-tier leadership that was emerging, he added, oversaw "a global, decentralized movement" whose "ability to thrive" depended crucially on the Internet, which enabled them to share information from explosives recipes to the best ways to get into Iraq undetected.

The group, he said, was "undoubtedly mapping vulnerabilities and weaknesses in our telecommunications networks."

However, McNulty, while acknowledging the cyber terror threat is real, stressed it was important not to overstate the nation's vulnerabilities. "In many cases, our networks and our critical infrastructure are much more robust than they get credit for," he told UPI recently.

McNulty said the key U.S. vulnerability was to "low-level attacks ... not a single catastrophic attack that ripples out across the country."

On this, Tenet was in agreement. "I am not worried about a Pearl Harbor," he said. "I'm worried about how they could use an isolated attack to play off what they do physically."

Others, like science fiction writer Bruce Sterling, have framed the danger as "not so much a digital Sept. 11, but rather a digital Mogadishu," a reference to the lawless and warlord-dominated capital of Somalia.

Under this conception, the key vulnerability is represented by the fact that a network is only as secure as its weakest link.

The United States was "at a crossroads," Tenet said, pointing out that the technological transformation of key industries was making them more vulnerable. "More critical industries previously isolated from Internet-security problems are reaching the point where the legacy infrastructure will have to be retired."

The danger was that more modern systems were based on "a fragile infrastructure" -- networks where weak security was endemic, because they were "only as secure as the weakest link in the customer chain."

Howard Schmitt, former head of security for the Internet auction house eBay and now a government cyber security consultant, pointed out in a recent speech that "the attack vector has changed" for Internet attacks.

No longer were networks being attacked at the center, he said, but rather through customer or other "downstream" accounts, thousands of which were compromised every day by hackers and other criminals.

He said that only 16 percent of Internet users changed their passwords more than once a year and that nearly two-thirds used the same one or two passwords for all their online accounts.

"If the end user, who is now part of the network, is not secure," Schmitt said, "we're not secure."

Tenet said that, for just this reason, access to some networks might need to be limited to those who could prove they took security seriously.

McNulty agreed that there would have to be "some retreat from the Wild West" concept of the Internet as an ungoverned space.

"It has become such an integral part of people's lives," he argued, "that they will demand from policymakers and legislators the laws and regulations needed to protect it."

Tenet suggested that this might not be enough, arguing that the very technology underlying the Internet was vulnerable because of its open structure. "New attacks have raised questions about the trustworthiness of the Internet and Internet protocol technologies," he said.

He called for industry to lead the way by "establishing and enforcing" security standards. Products needed to be delivered to government and private-sector customers "with a new level of security and risk management already built in."

Read the article here at World Peace Herald.

Another write-up can be found here at The Blue Lemur with comments enabled.