Archive for the ‘The Perfect Storm’ Category

Afghanistan: No Country for Women

Sunday, July 5th, 2015

In war-torn Afghanistan it is not the Taliban that poses the greatest threat to women – it is their own families.

Thirteen years after the fall of the Taliban, women in Afghanistan continue to suffer oppression and abuse.

Research by Global Rights estimates that almost nine out of 10 Afghan women face physical, sexual or psychological violence, or are forced into marriage.

In the majority of cases the abuse is committed by the people they love and trust the most – their families.

While shelters are trying to provide protection and legal help to some, many women return to abusive homes because there is no alternative. Unable to escape their circumstances, some are turning to drastic measures like self-immolation to end their suffering.

…More:  

 

Sixth mass extinction has begun: Study

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

“We emphasise that our calculations very likely underestimate the severity of the extinction crisis, because our aim was to place a realistic lower bound on humanity’s impact on biodiversity,” the researchers wrote.

– We wander through our cities, each trapped in his or her little local world with no idea that the aggregate of all of us is destroying the planet’s ecosphere.  And how are we to know when those we trust to lead us sell our interests and the interests of our children and other species for momentary wealth.  They sell all the future generations and indeed a planet full of billions of years of biodiversity, they sell it all so that they can have ‘the better things’ in their small local dream of what their life’s about. Where are the leaders who truly lead and look out for the long and short term good of all of us?  Without them, we are doomed.  This beautiful world we are looking at is beginning to fade under our aggregate assault and most of us have no idea.

– dennis

New York, June 20 (IANS) The world is witnessing the sixth mass extinction that threatens even our very own existence, warns a new study.

The new study, published in the journal Science Advances, shows that even with extremely conservative estimates, species are disappearing up to about 100 times faster than the normal rate.

The world has seen five recognisable mass extinctions till now and the final one wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

“(The study) shows without any significant doubt that we are now entering the sixth great mass extinction event,” said Paul Ehrlich, senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

The researchers have warned that humans could be among the species lost as a result of the current mass extinction event.

“If it is allowed to continue, life would take many millions of years to recover, and our species itself would likely disappear early on,” said lead author Gerardo Ceballos from the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico.

There is general agreement among scientists that extinction rates have reached unparalleled levels since the dinosaurs died out 66 million years ago.

However, some have challenged the theory, believing earlier estimates rested on assumptions that overestimated the crisis.

Using fossil records and extinction counts from a range of records, the researchers compared a highly conservative estimate of current extinctions with a normal “background” rate estimate twice as high as those widely used in previous analyses.

This way, they brought the two estimates – current extinction rate and average background or going-on-all-the-time extinction rate – as close to each other as possible.

“We emphasise that our calculations very likely underestimate the severity of the extinction crisis, because our aim was to place a realistic lower bound on humanity’s impact on biodiversity,” the researchers wrote.

Now, the specter of extinction hangs over about 41 percent of all amphibian species and 26 percent of all mammals, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which maintains an authoritative list of threatened and extinct species.

“There are examples of species all over the world that are essentially the walking dead,” Ehrlich said.

Pope Francis puts GOP in a corner on climate change

Saturday, June 20th, 2015

– I love this Pope.  The first one in my life that I can really stand up and applaud.  

– Bravo for sticking it to the GOP folks who wave their religion around like it is a justification for greed.  

– We need a better world, one that goes beyond power and greed as the prime movers, and that’s what the Pope is talking about. And, predictably, they are not going to like it.

– dennis

= = = = = = = = = = = = =

Conservative politicians have cited faith in shaping politics but are running from pope’s climate change teachings

WASHINGTON — Pope Francis is expected to take a provocative stance on global climate change Thursday, releasing an encyclical — a teaching letter addressed to Catholic bishops — that not only affirms the reality of man-made warming but issues a moral call for changes in lifestyle, consumption and policy to stave off environmental disaster.

That puts Republican lawmakers in the United States, many of whom outright deny that human activity has contributed to the warming of the earth, in an awkward position. Many of those conservative politicians, after all, have often cited their deeply held religious convictions as informing their political beliefs.

“I think it’s easy for Republicans to dismiss Greenpeace and other people who they see as tree-hugging leftists,” said John Gehring, the Catholic program director of Faith in Public Life, a religious advocacy group in Washington, D.C. “It’s much harder for them to brush off one of the greatest moral leaders of the world.”

Gehring said it is no surprise that the pope’s encyclical, emphasizing that climate change has a disproportionate impact on the poor, has rubbed certain conservative politicians the wrong way already.

“The pope is doing something that will make a lot of people very uncomfortable because he’s challenging a status quo that the richest and most powerful benefit from,” he added. “The Exxons of the world are not going to love this encyclical. The Koch brothers are not going to be sending it out as Christmas card. While the pope is a bridge builder, this is a provocative document that is meant to wake us up.”

Some prominent Republicans have already pre-emptively countered Francis’ message, arguing ahead of the official release of the encyclical that a religious leader has no place crafting public policy.

“I hope I’m not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home, but I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope,” newly minted presidential candidate Jeb Bush said at a campaign stop in New Hampshire. “I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.”

Bush, who converted to Catholicism 20 years ago, has nevertheless taken a different view for most of his public life, speaking occasionally on how his faith has played a role in shaping his policy views. His religion is believed to have played a pivotal role in his decision as Florida governor to prolong the life of Terri Schiavo, a brain-dead woman embroiled in a right-to-die battle that gained national attention.

Rick Santorum, another 2016 presidential contender and a devout Catholic, has similarly said his faith informs his staunch opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. But when asked about the pope wading into the climate change debate earlier this month by a radio host, Santorum answered, “The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science. I think that we are probably better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we’re really good at, which is theology and morality.”

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, yet another prominent Catholic in politics, has thus far not weighed in on Francis’ encyclical. But earlier this year Boehner held the standard Republican line that climate change regulations kill U.S. jobs and that he would leave it to scientists to debate the facts.

Richard Cizik, a former top lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals who was castigated by Christian conservative activists after he became a believer in climate change science, was baffled by comments dismissing the pope from the realm of politics.

“It’s not only disdainful. It fails to appreciate political decisions are at heart moral decisions. They know that too,” he said. “It’s time for everyone to pause and reflect and not just respond politically to what the encyclical says but, first and foremost, personally.”

Bob Inglis, a former Republican South Carolina congressman, was voted out of office in 2010 shortly after making remarks regarding the need to address climate change. He believes the tension between Catholic teachings and Catholic politicians’ current positions can be a positive development for those hoping to break the partisan gridlock on the issue.

“There are a lot of Catholics who might have been critical of other Catholics who haven’t accepted the church’s teachings on abortion. They called them cafeteria Catholics,” said Inglis, now the executive director of RepublicEN, a group dedicated to conservative solutions for climate change. “Now the question is whether those same folks will become cafeteria Catholics and not accept the church’s teachings on climate change. The dissonance is going to be very constructive here. I hope what’s going to happen is that the encyclical is going to establish this as a moral question as well as a question of policy and economics.”

Other observers have noted the difficulty in defying hard political reality on climate change. The oil and gas industry, whose business interests lie in perpetuating the use of carbon-dioxide-releasing fossil fuels, contributed $18 million to congressional campaigns in the 2014 elections alone, the vast majority of that to Republican candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Climate change skeptics have continued to dig in on their positions. The Cornwall Alliance, a Christian conservative organization that claims climate change science is grossly exaggerated, said the arguments made in the encyclical are misguided.

“Pope Francis puts his moral authority as the leader of roughly 1.2 billion Catholics in jeopardy when he addresses technical scientific issues on which he has apparently only been given one side of what is a very vigorous scientific debate,” said Cornwall spokesman Calvin Beisner. “He will certainly have an influence on public opinion about this … I think he’s mistaken.”

Nonetheless, Cizik said, if people of faith across the country unite on the issue, Congress will ultimately follow.

“When faith communities unite, politicians listen,” he said. “It just seems to me now is an opportunity for those who have been wanting to make a change to come forward and boldly say so. People sometimes need a conversion. If you’re not going to change your mind every once in a while, you might as well be dead.”

Questions about ISIS

Friday, May 8th, 2015
Sun in Montreal
 
Its a beautiful Spring day here in Montreal, Canada, where I am now.  My partner, Colette, and I just spent an hour eating our sandwiches, sitting in the sun beside a huge square near the center of the city and watching the thousands of people nearby.  People were walking, talking, sitting and eating their lunches, sharing petitions to be signed, visiting, taking in the sun, clowning around, flirting and all of the many things free people do to enjoy such a gorgeous day.
 
In the past few years, Colette and I have spent extended time in several of our advanced democracies. I’m thinking here of New Zealand, France, Australia, The United States and now Canada.
 
Everywhere we’ve gone, I’ve seen people enjoying their rights and their freedoms.  In truth, most of us unconsciously assume the presence of our rights and freedoms; much as the birds assume the air and the fish assume the water.

 
It is so easy for us to forget that it was a long and hard struggle to bring our societies to where they are now.  These rights and freedoms have been with us for so long now that it is easy to forget the desperate places from where we began.
 
In the advanced democracies, that we now live in, we can freely practice our religions. We have certain inalienable human rights. Our women have the same rights as our men. The Rule of Law is firmly established and protects us from the arbitrary taking of our lives, our freedoms, and our goods  by those who think they can simply take what they want from us because they have more brains, money, weapons or power than we do.  We have democratic elections so we can freely choose who will perform the public service functions of our governments. We can go to a government office and get a license for driving, hunting or fishing without having to pay a bribe. We know that if we’re arrested and accused of committing a crime, that we have a right to a trial before a jury of our peers. 
 
You and I could both go on adding to this list.  We have so many fundamental freedoms and rights that we take for granted that it’s hard to even remember what they all are now.
 
But keen students of history and eclectic readers know that it wasn’t always this way. And intrepid world travelers know from direct experience that it is not this way in much of the world around us.
 
A Dark Cloud Rising
 
There is a dark cloud rising in the world.  And I find it is hard to say just why it is arising.  
 
Oh, there’s no shortage of theories and ideas around; including my own.  But they are all just like leaves whirling in a summer zephyr.
 
Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990.  I still remember getting up to find the story on my TV screen one morning.  Little did I know all that would follow from that one morning’s news.
 
But somehow, now, 25 years on, the middle-east has become a maelstrom.  
 
I read the news from Iraq, from Afghanistan and from Yemen and I have no idea anymore who the main players are.  Or even if the players I am reading about are good guys or bad guys.  
 
The Shia, the Sunnis, Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab, the Houtis, ISIS, the Syrian Rebels, and on and on.  Refugees are everywhere and they are risking their lives by the tens of thousands in leaky boats and desperate treks to get into Europe where they believe stability exists.  Or perhaps they are striving just to get away from where ever the terror is reigning the hardest behind them.
 
I watch BBC America most nights here in Montreal and often they will have important talking-heads who are former ambassadors or generals coming on to discuss the Middle-East.  I listen but I don’t hear clarity coming from what they have to say.  It all puts me in mind of the three blind men and the elephant parable elevated to the glitter of world news.
 
But, amid all of this, there is a particularly dark cloud to be seen in the midst of all the chaos and confusion and its name is ISIS.  
 
And ISIS puzzles me deeply.  How have they become so powerful so quickly in a world in which the flow of money is so highly regulated and where there are already so many people and weapons staked out on highly contested ground?  
 
Where does ISIS get its money, who is selling them their arms and who is secretly supporting them with both?
 
Everyone publicly disavows them, including the vast majority of moderate Muslims across the world.  And yet their political power, their wealth, their Internet presence, their numbers and their military power continue to grow.  How can this be so?
 
As I said, there are a lot of theories.  
 
One thing I’ve noticed is that in this latest upsurge in Middle-Eastern violence, the U.S. has remaining largely absent.  The U.S. went in after Saddam invaded Kuwait, and then it went in later to oust him, and then it went in after 9/11 to sort out Afghanistan.  
 
And each ‘going in’ was accompanied by great publicly expressed hopes that we’d ‘sort the mess out’ and spread American ideals like democracy, freedom and education far and wide.  And each time that was not the result obtained.  
 
Many American lives were lost, many more of our young lives were blighted by wounding, permanent crippling, and by mental damage from what they’d seen, done and experienced.  Billions of dollars of U.S. tax payer money was blown and the only obvious beneficiaries from these interventions were those U.S. industries that benefit from war.
 
In each case, what the U.S. left behind from their interventions was a bigger mess than when they arrived.  
 
In my mind, the only possible exception to this was when the U.S. ejected Saddam from Kuwait in 1991 and drove him back home with his tail behind his legs and left him there to lick his wounds.
 
So, maybe why we don’t see much U.S. presence in the current middle-eastern mess is because America’s lost heart with the idea that America can ‘sort things out’ with American boots-on-the-ground and American money because most times, it just hasn’t turned out well.  
 
Or, more cynically, maybe the American war industries just don’t see the opportunities for vast profits that they saw before.
 
Regardless of all that blather and the current confusion about what all is going on in the Middle-East, the simple and stark fact is that ISIS is there and they are rising and they are a dark cloud indeed.
 
Sunlight and shadows
 
I began this with a description of an idyllic afternoon in a square in Montreal and I was reflecting on all the hard-won freedoms and rights we enjoy in the advanced democracies.   And, so musing, I commented that after folks have had those rights and freedoms for a long time, it is easy to forget how precious they are and how hard the struggle was to secure them.
 
ISIS is forcing people to convert to their brand of fundamentalist Islam or to face death or slavery.
 
ISIS executes the opposition soldiers they capture in public and horrific manners to instill fear and submission into all that have not yet encountered them.
 
ISIS forces the women they capture to ‘marry’ their soldiers as sexual slaves.
 
ISIS has no tolerance for those who believe differently than they believe. 
 
ISIS takes over areas and imposes a new strict Muslim fundamentalist lifestyle on all whom they conquer.  Even when those whom they conquer are Muslims like themselves, they impose their will without exception.  They rule on how things should be done under penalty of death.  Girls shall not go to school and men shall not shave their beards and so on and so on.
 
I’ve read two chilling accounts of ISIS recently and I’d like to give you the links to these stories here.  I suggest that if you find what I am writing here of interest, that you go sideways for a few minutes and read these two articles.  They are chilling.
 
Article 1: http://tinyurl.com/o3tn7p7  “What ISIS Really Wants” from the Atlantic Magazine.
 
Article 2: http://tinyurl.com/mnajk2e “Searching for mercy in ISIS territory” from CBC Radio
 
Some tough questions you won’t find asked in the press
 
How, in an age wherein virtually everything we do on-line is analyzed under a microscope by governments, internet companies and those who want to sell us things … how can ISIS have such a huge presence on the Internet spewing hate and enticing new recruits and no one seems to be able to do anything about it?  If all these wanna-be jehadi kids are capable of find ISIS’s on-line propaganda, how can the western security services not find it?  And which Internet Service providers in which countries are putting up the web pages?
 
How, in an age when countries are swapping vast amounts of banking and tax information in an effort to clamp down on tax evasion, an age when every bank is mandated to “Know your customer”, how can ISIS own, move and spend millions of dollars on weapons and Internet propaganda?  These folks don’t even have a country!
 
How, in an age when oil supplies and prices are tracked with global precision, can ISIS profitably sell huge amounts of oil from the territories they take over?  Who is buying millions and millions of dollars of this oil and how can the international community not know that it is going on?
 
They have money, they have Internet presence and they are selling oil hand over fist … and it all seems to be a mystery to our governments how they can do such things?
 
And all this in a time when France has just passed new draconian security laws (http://tinyurl.com/mjatkbv) and Canada is about to vote on its new security law, C-51 (http://tinyurl.com/obf9svo).   And when the U.S.’s NSA has got their nose so deep in my underwear drawer that I’m sure they know all the brand names in there.  
 
How is ISIS even able to walk down the global street without getting mugged from six directions by our security services?
 
Where to from here, Dorothy?
 
Generally, I’m considered to be a liberal.  Cut me and you’ll find a tree hugger inside.  But I’m not cut from only one cloth.  
 
For instance, I believe in Capital Punishment.  Show me an incorrigible criminal who shows no signs of ever changing and who has blown several chances already and I’m quite willing to ‘off’ that person so the rest of us can get on with the business of making this a better world.
 
Perhaps, when you reflect on the hard-won freedoms we all enjoy, you may see why I am so deeply opposed to, and intolerant of, ISIS and Muslim Fundamentalism – or any fundamentalism, for that matter, that would impose its view of the world on me by force or stealth.  
 
These people want to throw away the hard-won advances it has taken us literally centuries to put into place like women’s rights, the rule of law and freedom from religious oppression.  
 
They want to take us back to Mohammed’s day in the 6th century.  
 
And I am bitterly opposed to this.  No one who has understood how long a road it has been to move from warlords to democracies, from woman as chattels to women as equals, and from power and corruption to the Rule of Law would ever want to go back.  
 
I am not afraid to tell you, my friends, that I would see the earth under their feet melted into nuclear glass before I would personally let them have a ghost of a chance at succeeding.
 
This world of our is, in fact, a damn mess; regardless of how nice it might be out in the sunlight in a square in Montreal on any given day.  We have got a ton of problems and a huge need to get them sorted out.  
 
But what we don’t need is a bunch of fanatics full of fundamentalist religious fervor who want to take us to the 6th century as a way to solve the world’s problems.
 
But back to the tough questions
 
I asked some questions earlier that I’ve wondered about a lot.  Questions that I have not seen in the press – and yet they are questions that demand answers.   
 
Here are some more.
 
Remember when U.S. forces simply blasted most of Saddam’s army to rubble in a matter of days once the U.S. decided to eject him and his Republican Guard from Kuwait in 1991?  I remember seeing videos of literally miles and miles of burned and destroyed military assets along the roads leading from Kuwait to Iraq.  He was barely left with two sticks to rub together.
 
Contrast this with the fact that more recently we hear that in Iraq ISIS’s forces are ‘threatening’ some town or other in Iraq.  They are coming towards the town and they are gathering outside the town and it is going to be a desperate battle; in spite of U.S. air strikes, we’re told.  What’s wrong with this picture?  ISIS must look like fleas on a linen napkin sitting out there in the desert ‘gathering’.  
 
But no, no one can do anything and after a short while, they take the town.  The U.S. made good efforts with its airstrikes – but what could be done?
 
Even more recently, we hear that the Iraqi’s have finally gotten their sh*t together and were going to eject ISIS from the Iraqi town of Tikrit.   There’s massive buildup of Iraqi forces on one side of Tikrit and then the Iraqi’s attack.  
 
What does ISIS do?  They fight a bit and then pull out of town on the other side and vanish to fight another day.  
 
Oh, nascent military strategists, what’s wrong with this picture?  Could someone not have been bright enough to have thought to have bottled them up from all sides – and ended their fighting days altogether?
 
A lot of this type of lame ‘news’ makes me really suspicious.
 
Here’s one that goes way back:  Remember a long time ago, in 2001, when U.S. forces had gone into Afghanistan and were closing in on Osama bin Laden in the Tora Bora Caves of the White Mountains of Eastern Afghanistan?  Reports at the time said they had him ‘Bottled up’ with no escape.  Later, it was revealed that he had escaped into the tribal zones of western Pakistan.
 
How had this happened to the best and brightest of our military?   
 
Well, it came out later that the U.S. forces had let some of the local Afgani forces, who were fighting as allies of the U.S. military, into the plan.
 
Amazing!  Just damned amazing!   Think of all the fighting and dying that followed his escape – and we’d actually had him.
 
If the U.S. military had anyone on staff who understood Afghani culture, they would have known that tribal loyalties in Afghanistan cut far, far deeper than any loyalty that might be engendered by giving someone a rifle, a uniform and some pay for a few days.  
 
So, the locals who learned of the plan, communicated it to bin Laden’s folks and there you go … he was gone after all that cost, blood and effort to capture him.  And a lot of bad stuff followed on from that oversight.
 
So, where am I leading with all this cynicism?
 
Well, this is my suspicion, nasty as it may sound:
 
I think the folks in the U.S. who make such massive profits from war don’t mind if things run on for a bit.  After all, the money is made from conducting a war, not from ending it.
 
I think the folks in the U.S. who make such massive profits from war have been stung though in recent years by criticisms over how much they’ve spent and how little it has accomplished in the Middle-East.  
 
Every adventure they’ve lead into the Middle-East has left the area in even more turmoil.  And people are getting tired of it.  
 
The world is in worse and worse shape, the U.S. debt is climbing like crazy, the U.S. economy is struggling and we’ve poured billions of dollars into all of this – with very little to show for it.
 
I think the war industry folks have decided to hang back for awhile.   They have no doubt that they can crush ISIS when they need to – but they are in no hurry to proceed.
 
Let the killing and the atrocities continue.  Let the American people get really clear on just how bad ISIS really is.  
 
Let the perception grow that ISIS might get loose and begin attacking people anywhere out in the world.  Wait for the public to rethink its reservations about interventions in the Middle-East and then, when they are squeaking and scared, roll out the forces of truth, goodness and light and obliterate the bad guys.  
 
And, with such a build up and delay, the profits will be even better.

Losing my religion for equality

Thursday, April 9th, 2015

– Most excellent article by, arguably, the most sincere and honest president during my lifetime.   Too bad that the American electorate did’t think he had the right stuff but then they seem drawn to ‘strong leaders with easy to grasp sound-bite answers’ – much to the detriment of the country and the world.

– Bravo, Jimmy Carter!

– dennis

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God.

I HAVE been a practising Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries.

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.

In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime.

The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.

It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and outdated attitudes and practices – as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.

I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive areas to challenge. But my fellow Elders and I, who come from many faiths and backgrounds, no longer need to worry about winning votes or avoiding controversy – and we are deeply committed to challenging injustice wherever we see it.

The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by former South African president Nelson Mandela, who offer their influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity. We have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights and have recently published a statement that declares: “The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.”

We are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women. We ask, in particular, that leaders of all religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphasise the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world’s major faiths share.

The carefully selected verses found in the Holy Scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place – and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence – than eternal truths. Similar biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers.

I am also familiar with vivid descriptions in the same Scriptures in which women are revered as pre-eminent leaders. During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn’t until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.

The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions – all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.

– Jimmy Carter was president of the United States from 1977 to 1981.

– To the original article:  

 

Hacking BIOS Chips isn’t just the NSA’s domain anymore

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

– I’m coming to believe that the only secrets left are the things in your head that you’ve never told another soul.  And I’m increasingly fearful that those who want to dominate our societies in the name of ‘security’ are developing the tools to disarm any who might try to organize against them.

– In the coming years, when the various dominator powers war against each other for global domination, those of us who understand little of these cyber wars will be like rats beneath the wheels of the passing chariots.

– As I see it, the only saving grace is that the type of intelligence it takes to participate in these wars is in no way exclusive to those with the urge to dominate.  But the Dominators do have the enviable advantage of money and organizational power.

– And note well, my friends, that nothing I’ve just said acknowledges in any way the other preeminent fact of our times – that our presence within, expansion into and carelessness with the natural environment around us is virtually certain to bring it down around our ears, unless we change our ways.

– Those going forward from here will increasingly live in ‘interesting times’.  We are truly at a pivot-point in human history and most of us are deeply asleep with regard to how fragile the world around us is becoming.

– dennis

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

THE ABILITY TO hack the BIOS chip at the heart of every computer is no longer reserved for the NSA and other three-letter agencies.  Millions of machines contain basic BIOS vulnerabilities that let anyone with moderately sophisticated hacking skills compromise and control a system surreptitiously, according to two researchers.

The revelation comes two years after a catalogue of NSA spy tools leaked to journalists in Germany surprised everyone with its talk about the NSA’s efforts to infect BIOS firmware with malicious implants.

The BIOS boots a computer and helps load the operating system. By infecting this core software, which operates below antivirus and other security products and therefore is not usually scanned by them, spies can plant malware that remains live and undetected even if the computer’s operating system were wiped and re-installed.

BIOS-hacking until now has been largely the domain of advanced hackers like those of the NSA. But researchers Xeno Kovah and Corey Kallenberg presented a proof-of-concept attack today at the CanSecWest conference in Vancouver, showing how they could remotely infect the BIOS of multiple systems using a host of new vulnerabilities that took them just hours to uncover. They also found a way to gain high-level system privileges for their BIOS malware to undermine the security of specialized operating systems like Tails—used by journalists and activists for stealth communications and handling sensitive data.

Although most BIOS have protections to prevent unauthorized modifications, the researchers were able to bypass these to reflash the BIOS and implant their malicious code.

Kovah and Kallenberg recently left MITRE, a government contractor that conducts research for the Defense Department and other federal agencies, to launch LegbaCore, a firmware security consultancy. They note that the recent discovery of a firmware-hacking tool by Kaspersky Lab researchers makes it clear that firmware hacking like their BIOS demo is something the security community should be focusing on.

Because many BIOS share some of the same code, they were able to uncover vulnerabilities in 80 percent of the PCs they examined, including ones from Dell, Lenovo and HP. The vulnerabilities, which they’re calling incursion vulnerabilities, were so easy to find that they wrote a script to automate the process and eventually stopped counting the vulns it uncovered because there were too many.

“There’s one type of vulnerability, which there’s literally dozens of instances of it in every given BIOS,” says Kovah. They disclosed the vulnerabilities to the vendors and patches are in the works but have not yet been released. Kovah says, however, that even when vendors have produced BIOS patches in the past, few people have applied them.

“Because people haven’t been patching their BIOSes, all of the vulnerabilities that have been disclosed over the last couple of years are all open and available to an attacker,” he notes. “We spent the last couple of years at MITRE running around to companies trying to get them to do patches. They think BIOS is out of sight out of mind [because] they don’t hear a lot about it being attacked in the wild.”

An attacker could compromise the BIOS in two ways—through remote exploitation by delivering the attack code via a phishing email or some other method, or through physical interdiction of a system. In that case, the researchers found that if they had physical access to a system they could infect the BIOS on some machines in just two minutes. This highlights just how quickly and easy it would be, for example, for a government agent or law enforcement officer with a moment’s access to a system to compromise it.

Their malware, dubbed LightEater, uses the incursion vulnerabilities to break into and hijack the system management mode to gain escalated privileges on the system. System management mode, or SMM, is an operations mode in Intel processors that firmware uses to do certain functions with high-level system privileges that exceed even administrative and root-level privileges, Kovah notes. Using this mode, they can rewrite the contents of the BIOS chip to install an implant that gives them a persistent and stealth foothold. From there, they can install root kits and steal passwords and other data from the system.

But more significantly, SMM gives their malware the ability to read all data and code that appears in a machine’s memory. This would allow their malware, Kovah points out, to subvert any computer using the Tails operating system—the security and privacy-oriented operating system Edward Snowden and journalist Glenn Greenwald used to handle NSA documents Snowden leaked. By reading data in memory, they could steal the encryption key of a Tails user to unlock encrypted data or swipe files and other content as it appears in memory. Tails is meant to be run from a secure USB flash drive or other removable media—so that conceivably it won’t be affected by viruses or other malware that may have infected the computer. It operates in the computer’s memory and once the operating system is shut down, Tails scrubs the RAM to erase any traces of its activity. But because the LightEater malware uses the system management mode to read the contents of memory, it can grab the data while in memory before it gets scrubbed and store it in a safe place from which it can later be exfiltrated. And it can do this while all the while remaining stealth.

“Our SMM attacker lives in a place nobody checks today to see if there’s an attacker,” Kovah says. “System management mode can read everyone’s RAM, but nobody can read System Management Mode’s RAM.”

Such an attack shows, he says, that the operating system Snowden chose to protect himself can’t actually protect him from the NSA or anyone else who can design an attack like LightEater.

– To the original article:  

– research thanks to: K. M.

 

 

The Surprising Brain Differences Between Democrats and Republicans

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned to walk forward.

– Franklin D. Roosevelt

The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.

– John Kenneth Galbraith

Two new studies further support the theory that our political decision making could have a neurological basis

It is still considered highly uncool to ascribe a person’s political beliefs, even in part, to that person’s biology: hormones, physiological responses, even brain structures and genes. And no wonder: Doing so raises all kinds of thorny, non-PC issues involving free will, determinism, toleration, and much else.

There’s just one problem: Published scientific research keeps going there, with ever increasing audacity (not to mention growing stacks of data).

The past two weeks have seen not one but two studies published in scientific journals on the biological underpinnings of political ideology. And these studies go straight at the role of genes and the brain in shaping our views, and even our votes.

First, in the American Journal of Political Science, a team of researchers including Peter Hatemi of Penn State University and Rose McDermott of Brown University studied the relationship between our deep-seated tendencies to experience fear—tendencies that vary from person to person, partly for reasons that seem rooted in our genes—and our political beliefs. What they found is that people who have more fearful disposition also tend to be more politically conservative, and less tolerant of immigrants and people of races different from their own. As McDermott carefully emphasizes, that does not mean that every conservative has a high fear disposition. “It’s not that conservative people are more fearful, it’s that fearful people are more conservative,” as she puts it.

I interviewed the paper’s lead author, Peter Hatemi, about his research for my 2012 book The Republican Brain. Hatemi is both a political scientist and also a microbiologist, and as he stressed to me, “nothing is all genes, or all environment.” These forces combine to make us who we are, in incredibly intricate ways.

And if Hatemi’s and McDermott’s research blows your mind, get this: Darren Schreiber, a political neuroscientist at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, first performed brain scans on 82 people participating in a risky gambling task, one in which holding out for more money increases your possible rewards, but also your possible losses. Later, cross-referencing the findings with the participants’ publicly available political party registration information, Schreiber noticed something astonishing: Republicans, when they took the same gambling risk, were activating a different part of the brain than Democrats.

Republicans were using the right amygdala, the center of the brain’s threat response system. Democrats, in contrast, were using the insula, involved in internal monitoring of one’s feelings. Amazingly, Schreiber and his colleagues write that this test predicted 82.9 percent of the study subjects’ political party choices—considerably better, they note, than a simple model that predicts your political party affiliation based on the affiliation of your parents.

I also interviewed Schreiber for The Republican Brain. He’s a scientist who was once quite cautious about the relevance of brain studies to people’s politics. As he put it to me: “If you had called me four years ago and said, ‘What is your view on whether Republicans and Democrats have different brains?’ I would have said no.” Now, his own published research suggests otherwise.

One again, though, there’s a critical nuance here. Schreiber thinks the current research suggests not only that having a particular brain influences your political views, but also that having a particular political view influences and changes your brain. The causal arrow seems likely to run in both directions—which would make sense in light of what we know about the plasticity of the brain. Simply by living our lives, we change our brains. Our political affiliations, and the lifestyles that go along with them, probably condition many such changes.

The two new studies described here are likely connected: It is hard not to infer that fear of outsiders or those different from you—along with greater fear dispositions in general—may be related to the role of amygdala, a brain structure that has been dubbed the “heart and soul of the fear system.” The amygdala has been repeatedly implicated in politics. Indeed, Schreiber’s research builds on prior brain studies: In a group of University College of London students, for instance, conservatives showed more gray matter in the right amygdala.

So what’s the upshot? How about this: We need a much broader and more thoughtful discussion about what it means if political ideology turns out to be nothing like what we actually thought it was. Scientists working in this new field tend towards the conclusion that the new research should make us more tolerant, not less, of political difference—not to mention a whole lot more humble about our own deeply held beliefs.

– To the original in Mother Jones:

 

What ISIS Really Wants

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

– I just read this long piece in the Atlantic Magazine and it is the clearest (and the most frightening) thing I’ve read on ISIS, who they are, why they are and what they want.

– It is a long but, I think, essential read to understand what ISIS is about.

– dennis

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.

What is the Islamic State

Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.

The group seized Mosul, Iraq, last June, and already rules an area larger than the United Kingdom. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been its leader since May 2010, but until last summer, his most recent known appearance on film was a grainy mug shot from a stay in U.S. captivity at Camp Bucca during the occupation of Iraq. Then, on July 5 of last year, he stepped into the pulpit of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, to deliver a Ramadan sermon as the first caliph in generations—upgrading his resolution from grainy to high-definition, and his position from hunted guerrilla to commander of all Muslims. The inflow of jihadists that followed, from around the world, was unprecedented in its pace and volume, and is continuing.

Our ignorance of the Islamic State is in some ways understandable: It is a hermit kingdom; few have gone there and returned. Baghdadi has spoken on camera only once. But his address, and the Islamic State’s countless other propaganda videos and encyclicals, are online, and the caliphate’s supporters have toiled mightily to make their project knowable. We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world.

The Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), follows a distinctive variety of Islam whose beliefs about the path to the Day of Judgment matter to its strategy, and can help the West know its enemy and predict its behavior. Its rise to power is less like the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (a group whose leaders the Islamic State considers apostates) than like the realization of a dystopian alternate reality in which David Koresh or Jim Jones survived to wield absolute power over not just a few hundred people, but some 8 million.

We have misunderstood the nature of the Islamic State in at least two ways. First, we tend to see jihadism as monolithic, and to apply the logic of al?Qaeda to an organization that has decisively eclipsed it. The Islamic State supporters I spoke with still refer to Osama bin Laden as “Sheikh Osama,” a title of honor. But jihadism has evolved since al-Qaeda’s heyday, from about 1998 to 2003, and many jihadists disdain the group’s priorities and current leadership.

Bin Laden viewed his terrorism as a prologue to a caliphate he did not expect to see in his lifetime. His organization was flexible, operating as a geographically diffuse network of autonomous cells. The Islamic State, by contrast, requires territory to remain legitimate, and a top-down structure to rule it. (Its bureaucracy is divided into civil and military arms, and its territory into provinces.)

We are misled in a second way, by a well-intentioned but dishonest campaign to deny the Islamic State’s medieval religious nature. Peter Bergen, who produced the first interview with bin Laden in 1997, titled his first book Holy War, Inc. in part to acknowledge bin Laden as a creature of the modern secular world. Bin Laden corporatized terror and franchised it out. He requested specific political concessions, such as the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Saudi Arabia. His foot soldiers navigated the modern world confidently. On Mohammad Atta’s last full day of life, he shopped at Walmart and ate dinner at Pizza Hut.

There is a temptation to rehearse this observation—that jihadists are modern secular people, with modern political concerns, wearing medieval religious disguise—and make it fit the Islamic State. In fact, much of what the group does looks nonsensical except in light of a sincere, carefully considered commitment to returning civilization to a seventh-century legal environment, and ultimately to bringing about the apocalypse.

The most-articulate spokesmen for that position are the Islamic State’s officials and supporters themselves. They refer derisively to “moderns.” In conversation, they insist that they will not—cannot—waver from governing precepts that were embedded in Islam by the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers. They often speak in codes and allusions that sound odd or old-fashioned to non-Muslims, but refer to specific traditions and texts of early Islam.

To take one example: In September, Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the Islamic State’s chief spokesman, called on Muslims in Western countries such as France and Canada to find an infidel and “smash his head with a rock,” poison him, run him over with a car, or “destroy his crops.” To Western ears, the biblical-sounding punishments—the stoning and crop destruction—juxtaposed strangely with his more modern-sounding call to vehicular homicide. (As if to show that he could terrorize by imagery alone, Adnani also referred to Secretary of State John Kerry as an “uncircumcised geezer.”)

But Adnani was not merely talking trash. His speech was laced with theological and legal discussion, and his exhortation to attack crops directly echoed orders from Muhammad to leave well water and crops alone—unless the armies of Islam were in a defensive position, in which case Muslims in the lands of kuffar, or infidels, should be unmerciful, and poison away.

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.

– More:  

 

How Trade Deals Boost the Top 1% and Bust the Rest

Saturday, February 21st, 2015

by Robert Reich – Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley

Suppose that by enacting a particular law we’d increase the U.S. Gross Domestic Product. But almost all that growth would go to the richest 1 percent.

The rest of us could buy some products cheaper than before. But those gains would be offset by losses of jobs and wages.

This is pretty much what “free trade” has brought us over the last two decades.

I used to believe in trade agreements. That was before the wages of most Americans stagnated and a relative few at the top captured just about all the economic gains.

Recent trade agreements have been wins for big corporations and Wall Street, along with their executives and major shareholders. They get better access to foreign markets and billions of consumers.

They also get better protection for their intellectual property — patents, trademarks, and copyrights. And for their overseas factories, equipment, and financial assets.

But those deals haven’t been wins for most Americans.

The fact is, trade agreements are no longer really about trade. Worldwide tariffs are already low. Big American corporations no longer make many products in the United States for export abroad.

The biggest things big American corporations sell overseas are ideas, designs, franchises, brands, engineering solutions, instructions, and software.

Google, Apple, Uber, Facebook, Walmart, McDonalds, Microsoft, and Pfizer, for example, are making huge profits all over the world.

But those profits don’t depend on American labor — apart from a tiny group of managers, designers, and researchers in the U.S.

To the extent big American-based corporations any longer make stuff for export, they make most of it abroad and then export it from there, for sale all over the world — including for sale back here in the United States.

The Apple iPhone is assembled in China from components made in Japan, Singapore and a half-dozen other locales. The only things coming from the U.S. are designs and instructions from a handful of engineers and managers in California.

Apple even stows most of its profits outside the U.S. so it doesn’t have to pay American taxes on them.

This is why big American companies are less interested than they once were in opening other countries to goods exported from the United States and made by American workers.

They’re more interested in making sure other countries don’t run off with their patented designs and trademarks. Or restrict where they can put and shift their profits.

In fact, today’s “trade agreements” should really be called “global corporate agreements” because they’re mostly about protecting the assets and profits of these global corporations rather than increasing American jobs and wages. The deals don’t even guard against currency manipulation by other nations.

According to Economic Policy Institute, the North American Free Trade Act cost U.S. workers almost 700,000 jobs, thereby pushing down American wages.

Since the passage of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, America’s trade deficit with Korea has grown more than 80 percent, equivalent to a loss of more than 70,000 additional U.S. jobs.

Since China’s admission to the World Trade Organization, the U.S. goods trade deficit with China increased $23.9 billion (7.5 percent) to $342.6 billion. Again, the ultimate result has been to keep U.S. wages down.

The old-style trade agreements of the 1960s and 1970s increased worldwide demand for products made by American workers, and thereby helped push up American wages.

The new-style global corporate agreements mainly enhance corporate and financial profits, and push down wages.

That’s why big corporations and Wall Street are so enthusiastic about the upcoming Trans Pacific Partnership — the giant deal among countries responsible for 40 percent of the global economy.

That deal would give giant corporations even more patent protection overseas. It would also guard their overseas profits.

And it would allow them to challenge any nation’s health, safety and environmental laws that stand in the way of their profits — including our own.

The Administration calls the Trans Pacific Partnership a key part of its “strategy to make U.S. engagement in the Asia-Pacific region a top priority.”

Translated: The White House thinks it will help the U.S. contain China’s power and influence.

But it will make giant U.S. global corporations even more powerful and influential.

White House strategists seem to think such corporations are accountable to the U.S. government. Wrong. At most, they’re answerable to their shareholders, who demand high share prices whatever that requires.

I’ve seen first-hand how effective Wall Street and big corporations are at wielding influence — using lobbyists, campaign donations, and subtle promises of future jobs to get the global deals they want.

Global deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership will boost the profits of Wall Street and big corporations, and make the richest 1 percent even richer.

But they’ll bust the rest of America.

– To the Original:  

 

 

NSA hiding Equation spy program on hard drives

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

– In 1999, Motorola, at my request, sent me to Silicon Valley for a week-long course in advanced Windows Win32 programming.  

– During this course, I remember talking with another participant; a young computer whiz who was from the NSA.  

– He talked about how they (the NSA computer guys) conducted red-team green-team battles to see who could infiltrate the other’s team’s computer systems.

– But the thing he talked about, that caught my interest the most, was when he said the hot new frontier was getting into firmware as a way of exerting control over computers remotely.  It was a new idea that immediately fascinated me but once he saw my interest, I think he realized that he might be talking too much and clammed up.  He avoided me for the rest of the week.

– The story, below, says that the technique of firmware infiltration may have been around since 2001.  I’m sure I heard the sound of the other shoe dropping when I read that.

– The article says:

It is not clear how the NSA may have obtained the hard drives’ source code. Western Digital spokesman Steve Shattuck said the company “has not provided its source code to government agencies.” The other hard drive makers would not say if they had shared their source code with the NSA.

– I don’t find it all that mysterous.  How hard would it be for the NSA to field computer-savvy agents directed to seek employment in these companies?  Or, as the article says, to require the companies to provide their source code to the NSA for security reviews before the U.S. Government will allow it to be used in U.S. facilities?

– Once the NSA has the firmware’s source code, they can modify it and then intercept the firm’s drives in shipment and refresh the firmware on the intercepted drives with the NSA’s new stuff …  that does everything the old firmware does … and a bit more.  

– The interception-during-shipment technique was outed over a year ago as being one of their favorite techniques though in that case it had to do with routers.

– dennis

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

The US National Security Agency has figured out how to hide spying software deep within hard drives made by Western Digital, Seagate, Toshiba and other top manufacturers, giving the agency the means to eavesdrop on the majority of the world’s computers, according to cyber researchers and former operatives.

That long-sought and closely guarded ability was part of a cluster of spying programs discovered by Kaspersky Lab, the Moscow-based security software maker that has exposed a series of Western cyberespionage operations.

Kaspersky said it found personal computers in 30 countries infected with one or more of the spying programs, with the most infections seen in Iran, followed by Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Mali, Syria, Yemen and Algeria. The targets included government and military institutions, telecommunication companies, banks, energy companies, nuclear researchers, media, and Islamic activists, Kaspersky said.

The firm declined to publicly name the country behind the spying campaign, but said it was closely linked to Stuxnet, the NSA-led cyberweapon that was used to attack Iran’s uranium enrichment facility. The NSA is the agency responsible for gathering electronic intelligence on behalf of the United States.

A former NSA employee told Reuters that Kaspersky’s analysis was correct, and that people still in the intelligence agency valued these spying programs as highly as Stuxnet. Another former intelligence operative confirmed that the NSA had developed the prized technique of concealing spyware in hard drives, but said he did not know which spy efforts relied on it.

NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines declined to comment.

Kaspersky published the technical details of its research on Monday, which should help infected institutions detect the spying programs, some of which trace back as far as 2001.

The disclosure could further hurt the NSA’s surveillance abilities, already damaged by massive leaks by former contractor Edward Snowden. Snowden’s revelations have hurt the United States’ relations with some allies and slowed the sales of US technology products abroad.

The exposure of these new spying tools could lead to greater backlash against Western technology, particularly in countries such as China, which is already drafting regulations that would require most bank technology suppliers to proffer copies of their software code for inspection.

TECHNOLOGICAL BREAKTHROUGH

According to Kaspersky, the spies made a technological breakthrough by figuring out how to lodge malicious software in the obscure code called firmware that launches every time a computer is turned on.

Disk drive firmware is viewed by spies and cybersecurity experts as the second-most valuable real estate on a PC for a hacker, second only to the BIOS code invoked automatically as a computer boots up.

“The hardware will be able to infect the computer over and over,” lead Kaspersky researcher Costin Raiu said in an interview.

Though the leaders of the still-active espionage campaign could have taken control of thousands of PCs, giving them the ability to steal files or eavesdrop on anything they wanted, the spies were selective and only established full remote control over machines belonging to the most desirable foreign targets, according to Raiu. He said Kaspersky found only a few especially high-value computers with the hard-drive infections.

Kaspersky’s reconstructions of the spying programs show that they could work in disk drives sold by more than a dozen companies, comprising essentially the entire market. They include Western Digital, Seagate, Toshiba, IBM, Micron Technology and Samsung.

Western Digital, Seagate and Micron said they had no knowledge of these spying programs. Toshiba and Samsung declined to comment. IBM did not respond to requests for comment.

GETTING THE SOURCE CODE

Raiu said the authors of the spying programs must have had access to the proprietary source code that directs the actions of the hard drives. That code can serve as a roadmap to vulnerabilities, allowing those who study it to launch attacks much more easily.

“There is zero chance that someone could rewrite the [hard drive] operating system using public information,” Raiu said.

Concerns about access to source code flared after a series of high-profile cyberattacks on Google Inc and other US companies in 2009 that were blamed on China. Investigators have said they found evidence that the hackers gained access to source code from several big US tech and defense companies.

It is not clear how the NSA may have obtained the hard drives’ source code. Western Digital spokesman Steve Shattuck said the company “has not provided its source code to government agencies.” The other hard drive makers would not say if they had shared their source code with the NSA.

Seagate spokesman Clive Over said it has “secure measures to prevent tampering or reverse engineering of its firmware and other technologies.” Micron spokesman Daniel Francisco said the company took the security of its products seriously and “we are not aware of any instances of foreign code.”

According to former intelligence operatives, the NSA has multiple ways of obtaining source code from tech companies, including asking directly and posing as a software developer. If a company wants to sell products to the Pentagon or another sensitive US agency, the government can request a security audit to make sure the source code is safe.

“They don’t admit it, but they do say, ‘We’re going to do an evaluation, we need the source code,'” said Vincent Liu, a partner at security consulting firm Bishop Fox and former NSA analyst. “It’s usually the NSA doing the evaluation, and it’s a pretty small leap to say they’re going to keep that source code.”

Kaspersky called the authors of the spying program “the Equation group,” named after their embrace of complex encryption formulas.

The group used a variety of means to spread other spying programs, such as by compromising jihadist websites, infecting USB sticks and CDs, and developing a self-spreading computer worm called Fanny, Kasperky said.

Fanny was like Stuxnet in that it exploited two of the same undisclosed software flaws, known as “zero days,” which strongly suggested collaboration by the authors, Raiu said. He added that it was “quite possible” that the Equation group used Fanny to scout out targets for Stuxnet in Iran and spread the virus.

– To the Original: