Archive for July, 2013

BRADLEY MANNING GUILTY ON MOST CHARGES

July 31, 2013

Washington Times on July 30, 2013, published an AP report on U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning being convicted of espionage, theft and other charges, more than three years after he spilled secrets to WikiLeaks. Excerpts below:

The judge, Army Col. Denise Lind, deliberated for about 16 hours over three days before reaching her decision in a case that drew worldwide attention as supporters hailed Manning as a whistleblower. The U.S. government called him an anarchist computer hacker and attention-seeking traitor.

Manning was convicted on 19 of 21 charges, and he previously pleaded guilty to a charge involving an Icelandic cable. He faces up to 136 years in prison. His sentencing hearing begins on July 31.

Manning’s court-martial was unusual because he acknowledged giving the anti-secrecy website more than 700,000 battlefield reports and diplomatic cables, and video of a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack that killed civilians in Iraq, including a Reuters news photographer and his driver.

Manning pleaded guilty earlier this year to lesser offenses that could have brought him 20 years behind bars, yet the government continued to pursue all but one of the original, more serious charges.

The government said Manning had sophisticated security training and broke signed agreements to protect the secrets. He even had to give a presentation on operational security during his training after he got in trouble for posting a YouTube video about what he was learning.

The lead prosecutor, Maj. Ashden Fein, said Manning knew the material would be seen by al-Qaida, a key point prosecutor needed to prove to get an aiding the enemy conviction. Even Osama bin Laden had some of the digital files at his compound when he was killed.

Prosecutors said during the trial Manning relied on WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange for guidance on what secrets to “harvest” for the organization, starting within weeks of his arrival in Iraq in late 2009.

Federal authorities are looking into whether Assange can be prosecuted. He has been holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden on sex-crimes allegations.

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SWEDISH AMBASSADOR FOR THE EASTERN PARTNERSHIP APPOINTED

July 30, 2013

The Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs on July 10, 2013, in a press release reported that the Government appointed Martin Hagström Ambassador for the Eastern Partnership. His role will be to further advance Eastern Partnership work in the EU and in relation to the partner countries in Eastern Europe.

Sweden took the initiative to establish the Eastern Partnership in 2008, together with Poland, and has continued to play an active part in its development. The Partnership includes Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine and aims to promote increasingly ever closer relations between these countries and the EU. An Eastern Partnership summit will be held in Vilnius in November 2013 and will be attended by heads of state and government from the EU and the partner countries.

Martin Hagström is currently head of the Eastern Europe Division at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs Department for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. He has previously served in St Petersburg and at Sweden’s Permanent Representation in Brussels. Mr Hagström will take up his new position, which was announced in this year’s Statement of Government Policy on Foreign Affairs, in July 2013.

GEOPOLITICS AND GEOPHYSICS: AS NORTH POLE MELTS, U.S. ARCTIC POLICY NEEDS TO HEAT UP

July 29, 2013

Bloomberg on May 17, 2013, reported that the decision by the Arctic Council, led by the eight nations with Arctic territory, to accept China, India, Japan and three other countries as new observers points to the region’s growing importance. Excerpts below:

Behind the Arctic’s intensifying geopolitics are some powerful geophysics. Climate change is causing Arctic ice to melt at an accelerating rate. Last summer, the area of ice covering the Arctic Ocean was about half what it was, on average, from 1980 to 2000. The thickness of the remaining ice had diminished by 80 percent over the same period. The late-summer Arctic could regularly be ice-free as soon as the 2030s, according to some estimates.

…these developments promise great opportunities. With less ice will come more access to oil and gas: The U.S. Geological Survey estimated in 2008 that the region holds 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas reserves and 13 percent of its undiscovered oil. Ice-free passage through the Northern Sea Route along Russia’s coast would let ships sailing between Europe and Asia reduce travel time by 40 percent, and trim voyage costs by 20 percent (not to mention cutting their carbon emissions). From 2010 to 2012, the vessels and cargo taking that route increased by a factor of 10. Moreover, shrinking ice coverage means that the 1.1 million square mile “donut hole” in the central Arctic Ocean — an area not under any country’s jurisdiction — will be partially accessible for commercial fishing.

Although the Arctic Council isn’t a formal rule-making organization, it has overseen binding agreements on search-and-rescue and oil spills. As a recent report to the council argues, high on its to-do list should be a mandatory polar code for freight vessels and cruise ships operating in Arctic waters, less than 10 percent of which are charted to international navigation standards.

U.S. leadership will be critical to achieving such goals — and to ensuring a judicious balance between the interests of the Arctic Council’s permanent members, including its indigenous groups, and those of outside nations with a stake in the disposition of the region’s resources.

In 2015, the U.S. will take over from Canada as leader of the council. Before it does, it would be wise to bolster its just-introduced National Strategy for the Arctic Region with a dedicated budget.

FOR UKRAINIANS ECONOMIC ISSUES REMAIN GREATEST CONCERN

July 28, 2013

The International Republican Institute (IRI) on July 17, 2013, released a survey of Ukraine public opinion. The poll indicates that the top issues that worry Ukrainians involve the economy, with more than 50 percent of respondents citing unemployment and corruption within state bodies as the top challenges facing Ukraine, followed closely by low industry production, control over price growth and social protection for the poor. Unemployment and state corruption remain the top concerns for Ukrainians, regardless of gender, age group or region. Ukrainians also continue to be pessimistic about the direction their country is going in, with 69 percent responding that Ukraine is heading in the wrong direction. Information excerpt below:

Another interesting finding involves the Ukrainian public’s views on Ukraine’s Association Agreement with the European Union. The agreement, which is expected to be signed in November, is the result of joint negotiations that aims to strengthen ties and enhance cooperation between the European Union and Ukraine. When asked if the agreement will be useful or harmful to Ukraine, a slight majority of 51 percent of respondents believes it will be useful…

The survey was conducted May 14 – 28, 2013. The randomly selected sample consists of 1,200 Ukrainian residents older than the age of 18 and eligible to vote and is representative of the general population by age, gender and education.

The National Endowment for Democracy-funded survey was conducted by Baltic Surveys/The Gallup Organization on behalf of IRI, and the fieldwork was carried out by Rating Group Ukraine.

JAPAN INTERIM DEFENSE PAPER SAYS DRONES, MARINES NEEDED AMID THREAT FROM CHINA, NORTH KOREA

July 27, 2013

Fox News on July 25, 2013, published an AP report on Japan’s government saying in an interim defense policy paper that drones and marines are needed to strengthen defenses against China and North Korea. Excerpts below:

The interim report approved by the Defense Ministry outlines Japan’s mid- to long-term defense policy.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet wants to revise the current policy set by the moderate Democratic Party in 2010, to strengthen regional defenses and a security alliance with Washington.

The report says Japan should increase its surveillance capability and consider using drones like Global Hawk. It proposes creating a marine force to defend disputed islands and upgrading its missile defense.

Japan says China’s growing maritime activity near disputed East China Sea islands and North Korea’s missile and nuclear development pose major threats.

PROSECUTORS: MANNING ABUSED HIS COUNTRY’S TRUST

July 26, 2013

Fox News on July 25, 2013, published an AP report on U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning being a traitor with one mission as an intelligence analyst in Iraq: to find and reveal government secrets to a group of anarchists and bask in the glory as a whistleblower, a prosecutor said during closing arguments.

Maj. Ashden Fein said Manning betrayed his country’s trust and spilled classified information to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, knowing the material would be seen by Al Qaeda. Even Osama bin Laden had some of the digital files at his compound when he was killed, the prosecutor said.

“WikiLeaks was merely the platform which Pfc. Manning used to ensure all the information was available for the world, including enemies of the United States,” Fein said.

Manning is charged with 21 offenses, but the most serious is aiding the enemy, which carries a possible sentence of up to life in prison.

Manning, 25, was not the troubled, naive soldier defense attorneys have made him out to be, Fein said. He displayed a smiling photo of Manning from 2010 when he was visiting relatives in Maryland on leave.

Fein said: “This is a gleeful, grinning Pfc. Manning” who sent battlefield reports to WikiLeaks, accompanied by the message: “Have a good day.”

Manning, a native of Crescent, Okla., has acknowledged giving WikiLeaks hundreds of thousands of battlefield reports, diplomatic cables and videos in late 2009 and early 2010.

“The flag meant nothing to him,” Fein said.

Fein also quoted from chat logs between Manning and convicted computer hacker Adrian Lamo to try to show the soldier knew he would embarrass diplomats.

“Hillary Clinton, and several thousand diplomats around the world are going to have a heart attack,” Manning wrote to Lamo in a chat cited by Fein.

Lamo turned the soldier in to authorities in May 2010.

A military judge, not a jury, is hearing the case at Manning’s request. Army Col. Denise Lind will deliberate after closing arguments. It’s not clear when she will rule.

Fein said Manning relied on WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange for guidance on what to leak, starting within two weeks of his arrival in Iraq in November 2009.

Referring to a “Most Wanted Leaks” list the organization published, Fein said WikiLeaks sought almost exclusively information about the U.S.

“What is obvious is that Pfc. Manning pulled as much information as possible to please Julian Assange in order to get that information released,” Fein said. He later described the group as “a bunch of anti-government activists and anarchists.”

Federal authorities also are looking into whether Assange can be prosecuted. He has been holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden on sex-crimes allegations.

Also, the judge refused to dismiss theft charges against Manning after the defense said prosecutors hadn’t proven the allegations.

A counterintelligence witness, in classified testimony, valued the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs at about $5.7 million, based on what foreign intelligence services had paid in the past for similar information, Fein said.

Manning pleaded guilty earlier this year to reduced versions of some charges. He faces up to 20 years in prison for those offenses, but prosecutors pressed ahead with the original charges.

1025TH ANNIVERSARY OF BAPTISM OF KYIVAN RUS, THE MEDIEVAL SLAVIC STATE THAT WAS THE ORIGIN OF UKRAINE AND RUSSIA

July 25, 2013

CWN on July 23, 2013, reported that the heads of the nine of the world’s 15 autocephalous Orthodox churches are traveling to Kyiv, Ukraine’s largest city, to commemorate the 1025th anniversary of the baptism of Kievan Rus’, the medieval Slavic state that helped give birth to modern Russia and Ukraine. Celebrations are beginning on July 27 in the Ukrainian capital. Excerpts below:

John Paul II referred to the baptism of Kievan Rus’ several times during his pontificate, perhaps at greatest length in a letter to Cardinal Joseph Slipyj. The baptism “took place when the Church in the West and the East was preserving its unity, although it drew abundantly from the two different traditions and belonged to two different human cultures: from this flowed the remarkable richness of the universal Church,” the Pontiff noted. “It was only in the eleventh century that the division came which brought great sorrow and anguish both to the Christians of that time and to the followers of Christ in the succeeding centuries even down to our own day.”

ARCTIC SHIPPING SET FOR RECORD AS ICE MELTS

July 24, 2013

Financial Times on July 21, 2013, reported that Arctic shipping is set for a record year, underlining how melting sea ice is raising the prospect of an important new route for trade between Asia and Europe that shaves thousands of kilometres off the trip. Excerpts below:

As of Friday, the administrators of the Northern Sea Route (NSR) – which follows the north coast of Russia – had granted permission to 204 ships to sail this year. In 2012, only 46 ships sailed the entire length from Europe to Asia, up from four vessels just two years earlier.

Experts are forecasting a further large rise in Arctic shipping in coming decades but say it will take several years before it is a commercially viable alternative to the southern route through the Suez Canal.

South Korea’s Maritime Institute estimates the NSR, previously known as the Northeast Passage, could account for a quarter of Asia-Europe trade by 2030.

“It is a given that the activity will increase and increase massively. But we believe the commercial potential will be limited for quite a few years,” said Sturla Henriksen, director-general of the Norwegian shipowners’ association at a conference on the Arctic.

The sailing time from Rotterdam to Kobe, in Japan, or Busan, in South Korea, using the NSR, with ships crossing between the Arctic and Pacific via the Bering Strait between Siberia and Alaska, should be 23 days compared with 33 days via the canal, according to Mr Davydants. From the northern Russian port of Murmansk the journey would take 18 days using the NSR versus 37 with the canal.

The potential for Arctic shipping is not only drawing intense interest from Asian countries such as China, Singapore and South Korea but also European nations.

Iceland is weighing up whether to build an Arctic port in the country’s northeast, according to Germany’s Bremenports. After discussions with Iceland’s president, the German group is looking at the viability of a project at Finna Fjord, which would be ice-free all year.

The International Maritime Organisation is aiming to adopt a mandatory code for Arctic navigation by 2015 with implementation a year later, its secretary-general, Koji Sekimizu, said in Oslo last month.

WASHINGTON LAWMAKERS APPLAUD EU DECISION ON HEZBOLLAH

July 23, 2013

Fox News on July 22, 2013, reported that the White House applauded the European Union’s decision Monday to blacklist Lebanon’s military group Hezbollah, allowing government officials to crack down on the group’s fundraising, logistics and terror plots in Europe. Excerpts below:

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the move sends a clear message that there are consequences for the Lebanese group’s terrorist activities, including a deadly attack last year in a Bulgarian resort and a plot to kill Israelis in Cyprus.

Carney said Hezbollah threatens global stability and criticized the organization’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad and the ongoing two and a half year civil conflict there that has killed nearly 93,000 people.

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-NY, a ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the EU’s decision “an important first step in confirming what we have known for many years – that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization…

The EU’s 28 foreign ministers reached the decision unanimously. The Iranian-backed Hezbollah plays a pivotal role in Lebanese politics and has sent members to bolster Assad’s forces in their assault of rebel-held areas.

JAPAN RULING BLOC TO REMODEL THE COUNTRY

July 22, 2013

Fox News on July 21, 2013, published an AFP report on Japan’s ruling coalition pledging it would push on with rebuilding the economy and turning the corner on two lost decades after securing a handsome majority in weekend upper house polls. Excerpts below:

Party leaders said the victory for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner New Komeito was vindication of his economic policy blitz mixing big stimulus and aggressive monetary easing.

The landslide victory means both legislative chambers are now under government control until at least 2016, unblocking the bottleneck that has hampered legislation for the last six short-term premiers.

It allows Abe to push through painful structural reforms aimed at dragging Japan out of two decades of economic malaise.

The LDP and Komeito now have 135 of the 242 seats in the house of councillors.

There are 242 legislators in the upper house, serving six-year terms. Elections are held for half of the seats every three years.

Although the thumping victory had been expected, investors cheered the outcome, sending the Nikkei index at the Tokyo Stock Exchange up 1.23 percent shortly after the opening bell,…

LDP leaders pledged the party would speed up decision-making and policy implementation, attempting to dispel speculation that they might shy away from reforming the labour market and removing trade barriers now elections are out of the way.

Since romping to power in December’s vote for the more powerful lower house, the hard-charging Abe has unleashed a wave of spending and pressured the central bank to flood the market with easy money.

The Nikkei business daily said Abe has an unprecedented opportunity to tackle economic reforms, to deregulate, promote free trade, and to rebuild tattered government finances.

Abe should “focus all of his political capital on the success of Abenomics”, the Nikkei said in an editorial.

“We hope this election will become a turning point for Japan to rid itself of two decades of lost economy and politics,” it said.