Bahamas, built by bacteria from Saharan dust?


This video says about itself:

Wildlife of Exuma Island, Bahamas – Lonely Planet travel video

Visitors to sparsely populated Exuma, a remote island in the Bahamas, can expect a close encounter with sharks and iguanas.

From New Scientist:

Bahamian paradise built by bacteria using Saharan dust

13:40 28 July 2014 by Flora Graham

The Bahamas may have been created by bacteria thriving on minerals in dust from the Sahara desert, 8000 kilometres away.

In this NASA satellite image from 2009, it is possible to see how the many islands of the Bahamas are actually the highest points of distinct areas where the sea is shallow and turquoise.

These turquoise waters mark the top of the Bahama Banks – underwater columns of coral reef limestone more than 4500 metres tall that have formed over the past 100 million years. It was thought that tiny plants and animals generate the vast amounts of carbonate that make up the towers, similar to how coral reefs are formed. But the surrounding sea is poor in nutrients, so what would have sustained them is a mystery.

Now researchers including Peter Swart from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science in Florida are showing that photosynthetic cyanobacteria may actually have done much of the construction.

Cyanobacteria are involved in the precipitation of calcium carbonate in the sea, but they would have needed an enormous amount of iron to do their work. This could have been provided by the dust that blows across the Atlantic from the Sahara.

There are characteristic traces of iron and manganese in recent carbonate sediment on the banks, pointing to their Saharan origin. So the team suggests that the Bahama Banks are being built up by cyanobacteria and may also have been in the past.

The results of this research are here.

Protecting piping plovers in the Bahamas


This video says about itself:

People and Plovers by David Yarnold

8 July 2014

On a recent visit to the Bahamas, David Yarnold and other Audubon [Society in the USA] leaders saw the true power of working along the Flyways of the Americas, the core idea of the vision of a new Audubon.

From Audubon Magazine in the USA:

The View: People and Plovers

Meet some of the folks who drive our on-the-ground conservation.

By David Yarnold

Published: May-June 2014

On a recent visit to the Bahamas, we saw the true power of working along the Flyways of the Americas, the core idea of the vision of a new Audubon. The flyways along which birds migrate connect us to one another and to the birds’ world.

We saw Kerri Dikun from Audubon New York, Lindsay Addison from Audubon North Carolina, and Marianne Korosy from Audubon Florida come together in the Bahamas as part of Audubon’s international alliances team to help protect and preserve one of the world’s largest wintering grounds for piping plovers. These birds, which breed and migrate along the Atlantic Coast, were the thread that drew us all together to collaborate on the sands of the Joulter Cays. The passion and tenacity of the scientists was clear. But as I talked with them, I came to understand that something important had happened here: Their view of coastal protection grew because they were able to connect with others along the flyway. Their worldview shifted. They were moved, and they moved us. I asked them, “What do you want people to know about these birds?” This is what they had to say.

Kerri Dikun

Long Island Bird Conservation Coordinator, Audubon New York

“For those of us who work on the breeding grounds, it’s sometimes hard to let go of the belief that piping plovers are ‘our birds.’ We pour ourselves into protecting them each summer and experience their every trial and triumph firsthand. But I want people to know that after seeing them on the wintering grounds, imagining their arduous journey to get there, and meeting the dedicated people who await their return in the winter, it’s evident they’re still ‘our birds’—the ‘our’ is just bigger now.”

Lindsay Addison

Coastal Biologist, Audubon North Carolina

“I would like people to know about and be amazed by migration. Piping plovers are extremely true to their nesting and wintering sites. They return to the same sand flat every winter and nest on the same stretch of beach every summer. We’ve seen one little piping plover at the same inlet in North Carolina every winter for six years. She flies there from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore without a map or a GPS unit. There’s a semipalmated plover that winters on a beach near where I grew up that arrives in the same week every fall from the Mackenzie River Delta, Northwest Territories, near the Alaska-Canada border. I often think shorebirds know better where they are in the world than people.“

Marianne Korosy

IBA Coordinator, Audubon Florida

“Andros Island hosts many miles of sandy mudflats where piping plovers can feed undisturbed by beach volleyball, sunbathing visitors, ATVs, low-flying hang gliders, or gulls attracted by picnic leftovers. These special places, where piping plovers and other shorebirds can feed and rest in peace, are vital to the survival of this species.”

You can see more of the work these dedicated scientists are doing online at audubon.org/bahamas2014 and learn more about Audubon’s International Alliances Program and partnership with the Bahamas National Trust.

Author Profile

David Yarnold

David Yarnold is the president and CEO of the National Audubon Society.

Piping plovers on abaco: here.

Stolen endangered iguanas are back in the Bahamas


This video is called Seacology: Protecting the Iguanas of San Salvador, Bahamas.

From Wildlife Extra:

Smuggled endangered iguanas fly back to the Bahamas

Twelve critically endangered San Salvador rock iguanas seized from smugglers at London’s Heathrow Airport have been returned home to the Bahamas.

The reptiles were discovered stuffed inside socks in the baggage of Romanian nationals Angla-Alina Bita, and Vitora-Oliva Bucsa by staff carrying out customs checks.

Following the seizure, officers from Border Force’s specialist CITES team worked with the Bahamas High Commission in London to arrange their return to their native islands.

They have been transported to a government research station on the island of San Salvador where they will be monitored by experts, with the eventual aim of retuning them to the wild.

Robbie Marsland, UK Director of International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), said: “We are pleased that the criminals involved have been brought to justice and that these critically endangered animals have been returned home to live out their lives in their natural habitat. Wildlife belongs in the wild.”

Reddish egrets, what do they eat?


This video from the USA is called Crazy Reddish Egret dance hunting for fish, Marco Island, Florida.

From Waterbirds in the USA:

Comparisons of Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens) Diet During the Breeding Season Across its Geographic Range

Abstract

Although the prey of Reddish Egrets (Egretta rufescens) generally consists of shallow-water, euryhaline fish species, rangewide differences in breeding season diet have not been examined. Furthermore, the relative proportions of the two Reddish Egret color morphs vary from east to west across the species’ range. Color morph may influence foraging efficiency, but variations in prey across the species’ range and between morphs is undocumented.

By examining boluses from Reddish Egret (n = 109) nestlings, prey species proportions were compared between morphs, among regions and among colonies within Texas. Between regions, prey species and proportion of species differed widely; however, fish species with similar life histories were selected across the Reddish Egret’s range (Bahamas: 100% sheepshead minnow (Cyprinodon variegatus); Texas: 85% sheepshead minnow; Baja California Sur: 49% American shadow goby (Quietula y-cauda); Yucatán: 64% Yucatán pupfish (C. artifrons).

Within the Laguna Madre in Texas, significant differences in prey species were not detected between morphs (F(1,61) = 1.36, P = 0.224); however, prey mass by species differed between colonies (F(1,60) = 2.68, P = 0.010). While our results only pertain to Reddish Egret diet during the breeding season, this study increases our understanding of Reddish Egret ecology and provides initial diet information across the species’ range.

United States NSA spies scared of Bahamas hummingbirds invasion


This video is called Bahama Woodstar Hummingbirds around our home in the Exuma Out Islands.

Bahama woodstars live only in the Bahamas. Occasionally, a vagrant is seen in Florida in the USA. And in 2013, one was seen at a bird feeder in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania is not so far from the capital of the USA, Washington DC. So, spies of the US National Security Agency thought it a danger to US national security to have such a sharp-billed bird close to the seat of the federal government. Probably this was all part of a secret conspiracy to have many Bahama woodstar hummingbirds invade the USA.

So, they made a plan to save the United States from that terrible fate … The Bahamas don’t have an army or an air force, but they do have these Bahamas woodstars …

And now, from satire to the reality; as described by Ryan Devereaux, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, today, 19 May 2014, 12:37 PM EDT:

Data Pirates of the Caribbean: The NSA Is Recording Every Cell Phone Call in the Bahamas

The National Security Agency is secretly intercepting, recording, and archiving the audio of virtually every cell phone conversation on the island nation of the Bahamas.

According to documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the surveillance is part of a top-secret system – code-named SOMALGET – that was implemented without the knowledge or consent of the Bahamian government. Instead, the agency appears to have used access legally obtained in cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to open a backdoor to the country’s cellular telephone network, enabling it to covertly record and store the “full-take audio” of every mobile call made to, from and within the Bahamas – and to replay those calls for up to a month.

SOMALGET is part of a broader NSA program called MYSTIC, which The Intercept has learned is being used to secretly monitor the telecommunications systems of the Bahamas and several other countries, including Mexico, the Philippines, and Kenya. But while MYSTIC scrapes mobile networks for so-called “metadata” – information that reveals the time, source, and destination of calls – SOMALGET is a cutting-edge tool that enables the NSA to vacuum up and store the actual content of every conversation in an entire country.

All told, the NSA is using MYSTIC to gather personal data on mobile calls placed in countries with a combined population of more than 250 million people. And according to classified documents, the agency is seeking funding to export the sweeping surveillance capability elsewhere.

The program raises profound questions about the nature and extent of American surveillance abroad. The U.S. intelligence community routinely justifies its massive spying efforts by citing the threats to national security posed by global terrorism and unpredictable rival nations like Russia and Iran. But the NSA documents indicate that SOMALGET has been deployed in the Bahamas to locate “international narcotics traffickers and special-interest alien smugglers” – traditional law-enforcement concerns, but a far cry from derailing terror plots or intercepting weapons of mass destruction.

“The Bahamas is a stable democracy that shares democratic principles, personal freedoms, and rule of law with the United States,” the State Department concluded in a crime and safety report published last year. “There is little to no threat facing Americans from domestic (Bahamian) terrorism, war, or civil unrest.”

By targeting the Bahamas’ entire mobile network, the NSA is intentionally collecting and retaining intelligence on millions of people who have not been accused of any crime or terrorist activity. Nearly five million Americans visit the country each year, and many prominent U.S. citizens keep homes there, including Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Bill Gates, and Oprah Winfrey.

In addition, the program is a serious – and perhaps illegal – abuse of the access to international phone networks that other countries willingly grant the United States for legitimate law-enforcement surveillance. If the NSA is using the Drug Enforcement Administration’s relationship to the Bahamas as a cover for secretly recording the entire country’s mobile phone calls, it could imperil the longstanding tradition of international law enforcement cooperation that the United States enjoys with its allies.

“It’s surprising, the short-sightedness of the government,” says Michael German, a fellow at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice who spent 16 years as an FBI agent conducting undercover investigations. “That they couldn’t see how exploiting a lawful mechanism to such a degree that you might lose that justifiable access – that’s where the intelligence community is acting in a way that harms its long-term interests, and clearly the long-term national security interests of the United States.”

The NSA refused to comment on the program, but said in a statement that “the implication that NSA’s foreign intelligence collection is arbitrary and unconstrained is false.” The agency also insisted that it follows procedures to “protect the privacy of U.S. persons” whose communications are “incidentally collected.”

Informed about the NSA’s spying, neither the Bahamian prime minister’s office nor the country’s national security minister had any comment. The embassies of Mexico, Kenya, and the Philippines did not respond to phone messages and emails.

MYSTIC, illustration by Josh Begley

In March, The Washington Post revealed that the NSA had developed the capability to record and store an entire nation’s phone traffic for 30 days. The Post reported that the  capacity was a feature of MYSTIC, which it described as a “voice interception program” that is fully operational in one country and proposed for activation in six others. (The Post also referred to NSA documents suggesting that MYSTIC was pulling metadata in some of those countries.) Citing government requests, the paper declined to name any of those countries.

The Intercept has confirmed that as of 2013, the NSA was actively using MYSTIC to gather cell-phone metadata in five countries, and was intercepting voice data in two of them. Documents show that the NSA has been generating intelligence reports from MYSTIC surveillance in the Bahamas, Mexico, Kenya, the Philippines, and one other country, which The Intercept is not naming in response to specific, credible concerns that doing so could lead to increased violence. The more expansive full-take recording capability has been deployed in both the Bahamas and the unnamed country.

MYSTIC was established in 2009 by the NSA’s Special Source Operations division, which works with corporate partners to conduct surveillance. Documents in the Snowden archive describe it as a “program for embedded collection systems overtly installed on target networks, predominantly for the collection and processing of wireless/mobile communications networks.”

If an entire nation’s cell-phone calls were a menu of TV shows, MYSTIC would be a cable programming guide showing which channels offer which shows, and when. SOMALGET would be the DVR that automatically records every show on every channel and stores them for a month. MYSTIC provides the access; SOMALGET provides the massive amounts of storage needed to archive all those calls so that analysts can listen to them at will after the fact. According to one NSA document, SOMALGET is “deployed against entire networks” in the Bahamas and the second country, and processes “over 100 million call events per day.”

SOMALGET’s capabilities are further detailed in a May 2012 memo written by an official in the NSA’s International Crime and Narcotics division. The memo hails the “great success” the NSA’s drugs and crime unit has enjoyed through its use of the program, and boasts about how “beneficial” the collection and recording of every phone call in a given nation can be to intelligence analysts.

Rather than simply making “tentative analytic conclusions derived from metadata,” the memo notes, analysts can follow up on hunches by going back in time and listening to phone calls recorded during the previous month. Such “retrospective retrieval” means that analysts can figure out what targets were saying even when the calls occurred before the targets were identified. “[W]e buffer certain calls that MAY be of foreign intelligence value for a sufficient period to permit a well-informed decision on whether to retrieve and return specific audio content,” the NSA official reported.

“There is little reason,” the official added, that SOMALGET could not be expanded to more countries, as long as the agency provided adequate engineering, coordination and hardware. There is no indication in the documents that the NSA followed up on the official’s enthusiasm.

The documents don’t spell out how the NSA has been able to tap the phone calls of an entire country. But one memo indicates that SOMALGET data is covertly acquired under the auspices of “lawful intercepts” made through Drug Enforcement Administration “accesses”– legal wiretaps of foreign phone networks that the DEA requests as part of international law enforcement cooperation.

When U.S. drug agents need to tap a phone of a suspected drug kingpin in another country, they call up their counterparts and ask them set up an intercept. To facilitate those taps, many nations – including the Bahamas – have hired contractors who install and maintain so-called lawful intercept equipment on their telecommunications. With SOMALGET, it appears that the NSA has used the access those contractors developed to secretly mine the country’s entire phone system for “signals intelligence” –recording every mobile call in the country. “Host countries,” the document notes, “are not aware of NSA’s SIGINT collection.”

“Lawful intercept systems engineer communications vulnerabilities into networks, forcing the carriers to weaken,” says Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union. “Host governments really should be thinking twice before they accept one of these Trojan horses.”

The DEA has long been in a unique position to help the NSA gain backdoor access to foreign phone networks. “DEA has close relationships with foreign government counterparts and vetted foreign partners,” the manager of the NSA’s drug-war efforts reported in a 2004 memo. Indeed, with more than 80 international offices, the DEA is one of the most widely deployed U.S. agencies around the globe.

But what many foreign governments fail to realize is that U.S. drug agents don’t confine themselves to simply fighting narcotics traffickers. “DEA is actually one of the biggest spy operations there is,” says Finn Selander, a former DEA special agent who works with the drug-reform advocacy group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “Our mandate is not just drugs. We collect intelligence.”

What’s more, Selander adds, the NSA has aided the DEA for years on surveillance operations. “On our reports, there’s drug information and then there’s non-drug information,” he says. “So countries let us in because they don’t view us, really, as a spy organization.”

Selander’s first-hand experience is echoed in the 2004 memo by the manager of the NSA’s drug-war efforts, which was titled “DEA: The Other Warfighter.” The DEA and the NSA “enjoy a vibrant two-way information-sharing relationship,” the memo observes, and cooperate so closely on counternarcotics and counterterrorism that there is a risk of “blurring the lines between the two missions.”

Still, the ability to record and replay the phone calls of an entire country appears to be a relatively new weapon in the NSA’s arsenal. None of the half-dozen former U.S. law enforcement officials interviewed by The Intercept said they had ever heard of a surveillance operation quite like the NSA’s Bahamas collection.

“I’m completely unfamiliar with the program,” says Joel Margolis, a former DEA official who is now executive vice president of government affairs for Subsentio, a Colorado-based company that installs lawful intercepts for telecommunications providers. “I used to work in DEA’s office of chief counsel, and I was their lead specialist on lawful surveillance matters. I wasn’t aware of anything like this.”

For nearly two decades, telecom providers in the United States have been legally obligated under the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act to build their networks with wiretapping capabilities, providing law enforcement agencies with access to more efficient, centrally managed surveillance.

Since CALEA’s passage, many countries have adopted similar measures, making it easier to gather telecommunications intelligence for international investigations. A 2001 working group for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime went so far as to urge countries to consider permitting foreign law enforcement agencies to initiate international wiretaps directly from within their own territories.

The process for setting up lawful intercepts in foreign countries is largely the same as in the United States. “Law enforcement issues a warrant or other authorization, a carrier or a carrier’s agent responds to the warrant by provisioning the intercept, and the information is sent in sort of a one-way path to the law enforcement agency,” says Marcus Thomas, a former FBI assistant director who now serves as chief technology officer for Subsentio.

When U.S. drug agents wiretap a country’s phone networks, they must comply with the host country’s laws and work alongside their law enforcement counterparts. “The way DEA works with our allies – it could be Bahamas or Jamaica or anywhere – the host country has to invite us,” says Margolis. “We come in and provide the support, but they do the intercept themselves.”

The Bahamas’ Listening Devices Act requires all wiretaps to be authorized in writing either by the minister of national security or the police commissioner in consultation with the attorney general. The individuals to be targeted must be named. Under the nation’s Data Protection Act, personal data may only be “collected by means which are both lawful and fair in the circumstances of the case.” The office of the Bahamian data protection commissioner, which administers the act, said in a statement that it “was not aware of the matter you raise.”

Countries like the Bahamas don’t install lawful intercepts on their own. With the adoption of international standards, a thriving market has emerged for private firms that are contracted by foreign governments to install and maintain lawful intercept equipment. Currently valued at more than $128 million, the global market for private interception services is expected to skyrocket to more than $970 million within the next four years, according to a 2013 report from the research firm Markets and Markets.

“Most telecom hardware vendors will have some solutions for legal interception,” says a former mobile telecommunications engineer who asked not to be named because he is currently working for the British government. “That’s pretty much because legal interception is a requirement if you’re going to operate a mobile phone network.”

The proliferation of private contractors has apparently provided the NSA with direct access to foreign phone networks. According to the documents, MYSTIC draws its data from “collection systems” that were overtly installed on the telecommunications systems of targeted countries, apparently by corporate “partners” cooperating with the NSA.

One NSA document spells out that “the overt purpose” given for accessing foreign telecommunications systems is “for legitimate commercial service for the Telco’s themselves.” But the same document adds: “Our covert mission is the provision of SIGINT,” or signals intelligence.

The classified 2013 intelligence budget also describes MYSTIC as using “partner-enabled” access to both cellular and landline phone networks. The goal of the access, the budget says, is to “provide comprehensive metadata access and content against targeted communications” in the Caribbean, Mexico, Kenya, the Philippines, and the unnamed country. The budget adds that in the Bahamas, Mexico, and the Philippines, MYSTIC requires “contracted services” for its “operational sustainment.”

The NSA documents don’t specify who is providing access in the Bahamas. But they do describe SOMALGET as an “umbrella term” for systems provided by a private firm, which is described elsewhere in the documents as a “MYSTIC access provider.” (The documents don’t name the firm, but rather refer to a cover name that The Intercept has agreed not to publish in response to a specific, credible concern that doing so could lead to violence.) Communications experts consulted by The Intercept say the descriptions in the documents suggest a company able to install lawful intercept equipment on phone networks.

Though it is not the “access provider,” the behemoth NSA contractor General Dynamics is directly involved in both MYSTIC and SOMALGET. According to documents, the firm has an eight-year, $51 million contract to process “all MYSTIC data and data for other NSA accesses” at a facility in  Annapolis Junction, Maryland, down the road from NSA’s  headquarters. NSA logs of SOMALGET collection activity – communications between analysts about issues such as outages and performance problems – contain references to a technician at a “SOMALGET processing facility” who bears the same name as a LinkedIn user listing General Dynamics as his employer. Reached for comment, a General Dynamics spokesperson referred questions to the NSA.

According to the NSA documents, MYSTIC targets calls and other data transmitted on  Global System for Mobile Communications networks – the primary framework used for cell phone calls worldwide. In the Philippines, MYSTIC collects “GSM, Short Message Service (SMS) and Call Detail Records” via access provided by a “DSD asset in a Philippine provider site.” (The DSD refers to the Defence Signals Directorate, an arm of Australian intelligence. The Australian consulate in New York declined to comment.) The operation in Kenya is “sponsored” by the CIA, according to the documents, and collects “GSM metadata with the potential for content at a later date.” The Mexican operation is likewise sponsored by the CIA. The documents don’t say how or under what pretenses the agency is gathering call data in those countries.

In the Bahamas, the documents say, the NSA intercepts GSM data that is transmitted over what is known as the “A link”–or “A interface”–a core component of many mobile networks. The A link transfers data between two crucial parts of GSM networks – the base station subsystem, where phones in the field communicate with cell towers, and the network subsystem, which routes calls and text messages to the appropriate destination. “It’s where all of the telephone traffic goes,” says the former engineer.

Punching into this portion of a county’s mobile network would give the NSA access to a virtually non-stop stream of communications. It would also require powerful technology.

“I seriously don’t think that would be your run-of-the-mill legal interception equipment,” says the former engineer, who worked with hardware and software that typically maxed out at 1,000 intercepts. The NSA, by contrast, is recording and storing tens of millions of calls – “mass surveillance,” he observes, that goes far beyond the standard practices for lawful interception recognized around the world.

The Bahamas Telecommunications Company did not respond to repeated phone calls and emails.

If the U.S. government wanted to make a case for surveillance in the Bahamas, it could point to the country’s status as a leading haven for tax cheats, corporate shell games, and a wide array of black-market traffickers. The State Department considers the Bahamas both a “major drug-transit country” and a “major money laundering country” (a designation it shares with more than 60 other nations, including the U.S.). According to the International Monetary Fund, as of 2011 the Bahamas was home to 271 banks and trust companies with active licenses. At the time, the Bahamian banks held $595 billion in U.S. assets.

But the NSA documents don’t reflect a concerted focus on the money launderers and powerful financial institutions – including numerous Western banks – that underpin the black market for narcotics in the Bahamas. Instead, an internal NSA presentation from 2013 recounts with pride how analysts used SOMALGET to locate an individual who “arranged Mexico-to-United States marijuana shipments” through the U.S. Postal Service.

The presentation doesn’t say whether the NSA shared the information with the DEA. But the drug agency’s Special Operations Divison has come under fire for improperly using classified information obtained by the NSA to launch criminal investigations – and then creating false narratives to mislead courts about how the investigations began. The tactic – known as parallel construction – was first reported by Reuters last year, and is now under investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general.

So: Beyond a desire to bust island pot dealers, why would the NSA choose to apply a powerful collection tool such as SOMALGET against the Bahamas, which poses virtually no threat to the United States?

The answer may lie in a document that characterizes the Bahamas operation as a “test bed for system deployments, capabilities, and improvements” to SOMALGET. The country’s small population – fewer than 400,000 residents – provides a manageable sample to try out the surveillance system’s features. Since SOMALGET is also operational in one other country, the Bahamas may be used as a sort of guinea pig to beta-test improvements and alterations without impacting the system’s operations elsewhere.

“From an engineering point of view it makes perfect sense,” says the former engineer. “Absolutely.”

Beyond the Bahamas, the other countries being targeted by MYSTIC are more in line with the NSA’s more commonly touted priorities. In Kenya, the U.S. works closely with local security forces in combating the militant fundamentalist group Al-Shabab, based in neighboring Somalia. In the Philippines, the U.S. continues to support a bloody shadow war against Islamist extremists launched by the Bush administration in 2002. Last month, President Barack Obama visited Manila to sign a military pact guaranteeing that U.S. operations in Southeast Asia will continue and expand for at least another decade.

Mexico, another country targeted by MYSTIC, has received billions of dollars in police, military, and intelligence aid from the U.S. government over the past seven years to fight the war on drugs, a conflict that has left more than 70,000 Mexicans dead by some estimates. Attorney General Eric Holder has described Mexican drug cartels as a U.S. “national security threat,” and in 2009, then-CIA director Michael Hayden said the violence and chaos in Mexico would soon be the second greatest security threat facing the U.S. behind Al Qaeda.

The legality of the NSA’s sweeping surveillance in the Bahamas is unclear, given the permissive laws under which the U.S intelligence community operates. Earlier this year, President Obama issued a policy directive imposing “new limits” on the U.S. intelligence community’s use of “signals intelligence collected in bulk.” In addition to threats against military or allied personnel, the directive lists five broad conditions under which the agency would be permitted to trawl for data in unrestricted dragnets: threats posed by foreign powers, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, cybersecurity, and “transnational criminal threats, including illicit finance and sanctions evasion.”

SOMALGET operates under Executive Order 12333, a Reagan-era rule establishing wide latitude for the NSA and other intelligence agencies to spy on other countries, as long as the attorney general is convinced the efforts are aimed at gathering foreign intelligence. In 2000, the NSA assured Congress that all electronic surveillance performed under 12333 “must be conducted in a manner that minimizes the acquisition, retention, and dissemination of information about unconsenting U.S. persons.” In reality, many legal experts point out, the lack of judicial oversight or criminal penalties for violating the order render the guidelines meaningless.

“I think it would be open, whether it was legal or not,” says German, the former FBI agent. “Because we don’t have all the facts about how they’re doing it. For a long time, the NSA has been interpreting their authority in the broadest possible way, even beyond what an objective observer would say was reasonable.”

“An American citizen has Fourth Amendment rights wherever they are,” adds Kurt Opsahl, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Nevertheless, there have certainly been a number of things published over the last year which suggest that there are broad, sweeping programs that the NSA and other government agencies are doing abroad that sweep up the communications of Americans.”

Legal or not, the NSA’s covert surveillance of an entire nation suggests that it will take more than the president’s tepid “limits” to rein in the ambitions of the intelligence community. “It’s almost like they have this mentality – if we can, we will,” says German. “There’s no analysis of the long-term risks of doing it, no analysis of whether it’s actually worth the effort, no analysis of whether we couldn’t take those resources and actually put them on real threats and do more good.”

It’s not surprising, German adds, that the government’s covert program in the Bahamas didn’t remain covert. “The undermining of international law and international cooperation is such a long-term negative result of these programs that they had to know would eventually be exposed, whether through a leak, whether through a spy, whether through an accident,” he says. “Nothing stays secret forever. It really shows the arrogance of these agencies – they were just going to do what they were going to do, and they weren’t really going to consider any other important aspects of how our long-term security needs to be addressed.”

A significant and revealing documentary on American public television probes the origins and details of the massive spying apparatus operated by the National Security Agency. The United States of Secrets, part of the investigative reporting program Frontline, aired its first of two parts on May 13: here.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Australian governmental shark killing not saving a single human


This video says about itself:

Massive Mako Shark Surprises Diver and Blue Marlin

While on a Guy Harvey Expedition off Cat Island in the Bahamas, diver and shark expert Jim Abernethy was filming a blue marlin underwater when he got a surprise visit from a 10ft. long, 600 lb. mako. Out of nowhere, the massive shark shoots past Jim like a missile, passing within feet of the unsuspecting diver and turning a quiet, peaceful dive into an explosion of bubbles and shouts!

From daily The Independent in Britain:

Australia shark cull: Government destroys 50 sharks in trial programme – but fails to catch a single great white blamed for fatalities

Opponents of scheme say it is hurting the wrong shark species and doing nothing to protect beachgoers

Adam Withnall

Wednesday 07 May 201

More than 170 sharks have been caught and 50 destroyed as part of Australia’s controversial culling policy, government figures have revealed.

Officials said the programme was “successfully restoring confidence” among beachgoers in Western Australia, but opponents have been critical after it emerged that the animals caught did not include a single great white – the species most often blamed for fatal attacks.

The trial scheme involved placing drum lines along seven of the state’s most popular beaches, and while tiger sharks were the most commonly caught there were also five protected makos, four of which were either killed or found already dead on the line.

The largest shark caught measured was at Floreat Beach, and measured 4.5m (15ft). All the animals destroyed were longer than 3m (10ft).

The government is now seeking permission to extend the programme for the next three years, but opposition politicians described attempts to justify the cull as “utter nonsense”.

Greens MP Lynn MacLaren told Australia’s ABC News that tiger sharks had not been implicated in a human fatality for almost 100 years, and that reducing their numbers “does nothing to improve beach safety”.

She said: “We know that the great white shark is the shark that has been implicated in fatalities off our coast, and no great white sharks were captured on the drum lines in this whole programme.”

Labor’s fisheries spokesman Dave Kelly said the policy had proved “very unpopular”, adding: “It has hardly caught any of the sharks it was destined to catch and the government hasn’t produced any scientific evidence to say that the policy is working.”

Enhanced by Zemanta