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'Devastating': California's Biggest Wildfire Of The Year Seen From Space - MSNBC

'Devastating': California's biggest wildfire of the year seen from space
Alan Boyle, Science Editor NBC News

NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg transmitted this image of smoke wafting from California's Rim Fire, as seen from the International Space Station, via Twitter on Monday. North is to the left in this image.

The 150,000-acre fire blazing in and around Yosemite National Park made a big impression on NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, who was watching the smoke from the International Space Station on Monday.

"Our orbit took us directly over California's Rim Fire about an hour ago. Devastating," Nyberg wrote in a Twitter update.

Nyberg isn't the only one keeping track of the blaze from outer space: The MODIS imaging spectrometers that NASA has aboard its Aqua and Terra satellites are keeping watch on the Rim Fire as well as other wildfires across the West.

A map from the National Interagency Fire Center helps you get a fix on the extent of the Rim Fire, in relation to California's Mono Lake as well as Yosemite National Park's famous Half Dome.

An image from the MODIS instrument on NASA's Terra Satellite, acquired on Aug. 25, shows the active burning areas of the Yosemite Rim Fire in red outlines.

Link: http://www.nbcnews.com/science/devastating-californias-biggest-wildfire-year-seen-space-8C11008420

Why Thank You, Matt Damon... Exactly !!!

Actor Matt Damon on Edward Snowden: 'It's a great thing he did'
By Marcus Hondro - DigitalJournal
Aug 26, 2013


Matt Damon's newest, 'Elysium' is now out in the U.K. and the actor is over there on a press junket. Never one to shy from controversial topics during a talk on a BBC program, Damon commented on his countryman, Edward Snowden.


“I think it’s a great thing he did," Damon told host Husam “Sam” Asi on the BBC Arabic TV show 'Alternate Cinema'. “If we are going to trade our civil liberties for our security, then that should be a decision that we collectively make. It shouldn’t be made for us.”


Link: http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/357162

N.S.A. Phone Data Collection Is Illegal, A.C.L.U. Says - NYT

N.S.A. Phone Data Collection Is Illegal, A.C.L.U. Says
August 26, 2013


WASHINGTON — In a detailed legal attack on the National Security Agency’s collection of Americans’ phone call data, the American Civil Liberties Union argued in court papers filed Monday that the sweeping data gathering violates the Constitution and should be halted.

The A.C.L.U. cited the writings of George Orwell and the comprehensive East German surveillance portrayed in the film “The Lives of Others” in warning of the dangers of large-scale government intrusion into private lives. The new motion, elaborating on the A.C.L.U.’s arguments against the data collection, came in a federal lawsuit challenging the N.S.A. program that the group filed in June.

Intelligence officials have emphasized that the N.S.A. database does not contain the contents of any Americans’ calls, but only the so-called metadata — the numbers called and the time and duration of each call. They say the database is searched only based on “reasonable, articulable suspicion” of terrorism and is valuable for tracking terror plots.

By midnight Monday, the Justice Department was expected to ask the judge in the case, William H. Pauley III of the Southern District of New York, to dismiss it. The department declined to comment on the A.C.L.U.’s filing.

In a declaration in support of the A.C.L.U., Edward W. Felten, a professor of computer science and public affairs at Princeton, said that by gathering data on the three billion calls made each day in the United States, the N.S.A. was creating a database that could reveal some of the most intimate secrets of American citizens.

“Calling patterns can reveal when we are awake and asleep, our religion, if a person regularly makes no calls on the Sabbath or makes a large number of calls on Christmas Day, our work habits and our social aptitude, the number of friends we have, and even our civil and political affiliations,” Mr. Felten wrote.

He pointed out that calls to certain numbers — a government fraud hot line, say, or a sexual assault hot line — or a text message that automatically donates to Planned Parenthood can reveal intimate details. He also said sophisticated data analysis, using software that can instantly trace chains of social connections, can make metadata even more revealing than the calls’ contents.


More: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/27/us/nsa-phone-data-collection-is-illegal-aclu-says.html?_r=0

UPDATE: How Snowden Got The NSA Documents - ZDNet

My Post on the NBC Story: http://www.democraticunderground.com/10023536903


How Snowden got the NSA documents
Summary: A report confirms what was likely all along, that Edward Snowden's contractor job gave him unrestricted access to a mountain of sensitive materials for which he had no legitimate need.

By Larry Seltzer | ZDNet
August 26, 2013 -- 19:30 GMT (12:30 PDT)

It's been known for a while that Edward Snowden was a systems administrator for Booz Allen Hamilton doing contract work for the NSA when he obtained the documents which he subsequently leaked to the press. But how did he get at these documents? NBC News has an investigations story on "How Snowden did it" which purports to explain.

The story reveals the problem, although incidentally to their focus on a red herring. The culprit, according to the story, was Snowden's access to NSA systems, from his Honolulu location, through a "'thin client' computer". The story does not name the specific thin client technology used, but the most popular would be products by Citrix, such as their VDI-in-a-Box. These products allow a user to connect using a special client program to a server which runs numerous virtual desktop sessions, each of which appears to be a Windows desktop system. Windows Server comes with a similar, if less-capable technology.

But there's nothing inherently insecure or old-fashioned about thin clients, as the NBC News story claims. Thin clients, properly managed, can be a very secure method with which to give limited access to users.

The intelligent way to manage such a system is to have a multi-level hierarchy of administration, limiting the access of the vast bulk of administrators to documents and systems for which they have a legitimate need. The higher up the hierarchy you go, the more access an administrator would have, and the more closely security personnel could scrutinize their moves.

It's long been a basic principle of security that you compartmentalize access to sensitive data. This goes back long before computers. 3 years went by between Manning's leaks and Snowden's, and nothing appears to have been done to restrict the access to sensitive data. It may be that the NSA has been negligent, but it may also be that there's just too much sensitive data. Probably both.

More: http://www.zdnet.com/how-snowden-got-the-nsa-documents-7000019860/

NSA Might Be Listening, But PI Had Your Number Before You Were Born

NSA might be listening, but pi had your number before you were born
Virtual-Strategy Magazine/Nanojems
Monday, August 26th 2013


RENO, Nev., Aug. 26, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Nanojems, a Reno, Nevada company has just engraved the first million digits of pi, 200 times more than other known engravings and a landmark feat for the never-ending constant. "Ok, so this is not just another number," says Jesse Adams, co-founder of the startup that has debuted its new artistic media by engraving the first million digits of pi on sapphire with gold. "The number is amazing, really," says Adams. "When you discover that your phone number, birthday, and full words and documents are already contained somewhere in pi, that's pretty amazing."

Adams says he got the idea for the project from the hit TV show Person of Interest. "There was a scene where character, Harold Finch, inventor of the all-watching 'machine', explains that pi has every number, and then if you translate letters into numbers, every word and every complete written work somewhere in its infinite digits. I thought this was amazing and then to think that you take any line and try to make a circle around it - you need pi times the length of that line to close the circle. You need every digit of pi! You need everything ever created encoded in that number to make one circle. That is beautiful!"

Some share Adams new found respect for pi. One of Nanojems' Kickstarter project http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/nanojems/million-digits-of-pi-pendant backers, and math teacher, Scott MacDonald, says "I am down in Vegas, and have not been so excited about a Kickstarter before. I'm getting married on pi day 2015: 3/14/15!" Another backer, in New York, Daqwan Koenig, says "..sorry I couldn't give more, I love the idea.." These guys are not alone, pi lovers are already preparing for the once in a lifetime pi day 2015, where at 9:26:53 in the morning the date and time will contain over 10 digits of pi. https://www.facebook.com/events/328804572620/


Link: http://www.virtual-strategy.com/2013/08/26/nsa-might-be-listening-pi-had-your-number-you-were-born

Why Did NSA Spy On UN? Not To Counter Terrorism, Secret Documents Show - CSM

Why did NSA spy on UN? Not to counter terrorism, secret documents show.
A report in the German news magazine Der Spiegel claims that documents obtained by Edward Snowden show that the NSA has spied on the UN and European Union.

By David Cook - CSM
August 26, 2013


The National Security Agency (NSA) has bugged United Nations and European Union internal communications, according to secret documents obtained by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden and disclosed by the German news magazine Der Spiegel.

The story, published Sunday, charges that the NSA “infiltrated the Europeans’ internal computer network between New York and Washington, used US embassies abroad to intercept communications, and eavesdropped on video conferences of UN diplomats.” Among the UN activities targeted by the NSA, Der Spiegel says, was the UN’s Vienna-based nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The report also asserts that there are “secret eavesdropping posts in 80 US embassies and consulates around the world,” which the NSA operates along with the Central Intelligence Agency. The program is referred to as the “Special Collection Service.”

The UN responded to the report on Monday. UN spokesman Farhan Haq said that the United Nations will "reach out" to US officials about the reports of eavesdropping, as it has in the past when such allegations have been raised, the Associated Press reported.

Mr. Haq noted that “the inviolability of diplomatic missions, including the United Nations and other international organizations, whose functions are protected by the relevant international conventions like the Vienna Convention, has been well-established international law.” He added, "Therefore, member-states are expected to act accordingly to protect the inviolability of diplomatic missions."

President Obama defended NSA surveillance programs in his Aug. 9 press conference as necessary to protect the nation and its citizens against terrorist attacks. It is “intelligence that helps us protect the American people and they're worth preserving,” Mr. Obama said. The authors of the Der Speigel report say the surveillance aimed at the UN, EU, and various nations is “intensive and well-organized – and it has little or nothing to do with counter-terrorism.”


Link: http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/USA-Update/2013/0826/Why-did-NSA-spy-on-UN-Not-to-counter-terrorism-secret-documents-show

Germany Should Lead On Disarming Our Global Surveillance System - GuardianUK

Germany should lead on disarming our global surveillance system
Despite its privacy laws, Germany is the most spied-on country in Europe. The Pirate party is committed to turning this around

Anke Domscheit-Berg - theguardian.com
Monday 26 August 2013

Supporters of the German Pirate party. 'This young political force represents
the digital society, fighting for transparent governments and citizen empowerment
as well as for freedom rights and privacy.' Photograph: Thomas Peter/Reuters


Every week, we hear more bad news about the danger to democracy brought by uncontrollable secret services spying on millions of citizens. And every week, more people realise how grave this cyber-attack on civil rights is.

The debate triggered by the recent NSA and GCHQ spy scandal forces governments to take a stand – in one way or another. How they act will be judged by us – the citizens of each nation in Europe and the rest of the world. The UK government is currently testing its limits with its outrageous assault against the Guardian, after disclosure of its shameful "I spy for you, you spy for me" policy. The British government turned against its people, against core democratic values and everybody could see it. But the German government is so far also failing to take a clear stand.

Germany assumes a very specific role in this conflict, turning out to be the most surveilled country in Europe, spied upon just as much as Saudi Arabia or China. But Germany is also the nation with perhaps the highest respect for data protection worldwide. In Germany, we learned the hard way how dangerous data collections about people are. My parents saw how in one lifetime a society can switch values from one extreme to the other, with two dictatorships using all the data its helpers could get hold of to oppress its own people. I saw one of these dictatorships close-up, growing up in East Germany. Why would we not be suspicious? If not against our current government, than against governments to come?

It is because of this dark past that not only are Germany's data protection laws stricter than elsewhere but also freedom rights are still held high. Intelligence officers forcing the destruction of source material at a media institution would lead to unthinkable outrage in Germany and, likely, a minister stepping down.

But among the blind, the one-eyed man is king. In the last decade, Germany too has started using totalitarian methods.
Many laws have been passed to ease surveillance – most of them while Angela Merkel was chancellor. Nearly one in every four of them were then scrapped by our highest court for being unconstitutional. Even the lax barriers of spy-friendly laws are regularly being ignored by public agencies. And still, we feel like a nation with the highest standards of privacy rights although, in fact, we have ceased to be one.

But the feeling and the high estimation of privacy is still vivid and this can now be used to reset the course, back to democracy, where we, the people, define checks and balances and the degree of transparency we want. It is no accident that the Pirate party has seats in four German state parliaments and realistic prospects to enter the national parliament in September. This young political force represents the digital society, fighting for transparent governments and citizen empowerment as well as for freedom rights and privacy.


More: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/26/germany-lead-disarm-global-surveillance

More on the Pirate Party: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirate_Party_Germany

NSA and GCHQ: The Flawed Psychology Of Government Mass Surveillance - GuardianUK

NSA and GCHQ: the flawed psychology of government mass surveillance
Posted by Chris Chambers - GuardianUK
Monday 26 August 2013


Recent disclosures about the scope of government surveillance are staggering. We now know that the UK's Tempora program records huge volumes of private communications, including – as standard – our emails, social networking activity, internet histories, and telephone calls. Much of this data is then shared with the US National Security Agency, which operates its own (formerly) clandestine surveillance operation. Similar programs are believed to operate in Russia, China, India, and throughout several European countries.

While pundits have argued vigorously about the merits and drawbacks of such programs, the voice of science has remained relatively quiet. This is despite the fact that science, alone, can lay claim to a wealth of empirical evidence on the psychological effects of surveillance. Studying that evidence leads to a clear conclusion and a warning: indiscriminate intelligence-gathering presents a grave risk to our mental health, productivity, social cohesion, and ultimately our future.

For more than 15 years we've known that surveillance leads to heightened levels of stress, fatigue and anxiety. In the workplace it also reduces performance and our sense of personal control. A government that engages in mass surveillance cannot claim to value the wellbeing or productivity of its citizens. People will trust an authority to the extent that it is seen to behave in their interest and trust them in return. Research suggests that people tolerate limited surveillance provided they believe their security is being bought with someone else's liberty. The moment it becomes clear that they are in fact trading their own liberty, the social contract is broken. Violating this trust changes the definition of "us" and "them" in a way that can be dangerous for a democratic authority – suddenly, most of the population stands in opposition to their own government.

For more than 50 years we've known that surveillance encourages conformity to social norms. In a series of classic experiments during the 1950s, psychologist Solomon Asch showed that conformity is so powerful that individuals will follow the crowd even when the crowd is obviously wrong. A government that engages in mass surveillance cannot claim to value innovation, critical thinking, or originality.

Security chiefs may believe that surveillance gives them greater control over the populace, but is this truly the case? The answer is complicated. A recent study found that if members of a team felt a common social identity with their leader then surveillance in fact reduced the leader's influence by fostering resentment and distrust. However, if they saw their leader as belonging to a social outgroup then surveillance increased the leader's power.

This pattern is interesting because it places politicians and the security services at loggerheads. For politicians to succeed in a democracy they must be seen as part of the same ingroup as their electorate. We see this in force most strongly during election time, when politicians go to great pains to emphasise their grass roots connections with the community. But by supporting mass surveillance, politicians then undermine this relationship.

The security services, on the other hand, have the opposite motivation. For them, mutual distrust is par for the course, so it is better to maintain a social distance from the public. That way they are guaranteed to be perceived as an outgroup, which – the evidence suggests – increases the influence they can wield through surveillance.

There are two ways to resolve this conflict...


More: http://www.theguardian.com/science/head-quarters/2013/aug/26/nsa-gchq-psychology-government-mass-surveillance

JP Morgan Gave $500,000 To Group Promoting Cuts To Social Security And Medicare - FDL

JP Morgan Gave $500,000 To Group Promoting Cuts To Social Security And Medicare
By: DSWright - FDL
Monday August 26, 2013 9:26 am


According to JP Morgan’s own financial disclosure the Too Big To Fail bank has decided to use its massive wealth and power to promote cuts to entitlement programs for current and future senior citizens. The group “Fix The Debt Coalition” received $500,00 from JP Morgan.

Despite the fact that JP Morgan received billions in bailout funds from taxpayers and loan guarantees from the Federal Reserve, the bank appears to believe austerity is the best program for the rest of the country. No more moochers.

The Fix The Debt Coalition is an attempt to convince Democrats that other Democrats support Republican ideas. The group is mostly made up of Republicans who are trying to mask hard right economic policy with vacuous Corporate PR. Even for Washington that’s cynical.

Fix The Debt’s leadership structure is also politically balanced: Democrat Erskine Bowles and former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson (Wyo.) serve as the group’s co-chairs, and the two steering committee co-chairs are former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) and former Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.).

But the bipartisanship is only skin deep, according to campaign finance records and non-profit tax filings reviewed by The Huffington Post, which reveal that Fix The Debt’s biggest backers and partners are Republicans and Republican-allied.


Update: Thanks to a user comment, I’m noting that Crandall Bowles, wife of Erskine Bowles of Simpson-Bowles debt commission fame, is on the Board of Directors of JP Morgan Chase. Interesting to keep track of these connections. (h/t Ocoastperson)

Link: http://news.firedoglake.com/2013/08/26/jp-morgan-gave-500000-to-group-promoting-cuts-to-social-security-and-medicare/

How Snowden Did It - MSNBC

How Snowden did it
By Richard Esposito and Matthew Cole - NBC News


When Edward Snowden stole the crown jewels of the National Security Agency, he didn’t need to use any sophisticated devices or software or go around any computer firewall.

All he needed, said multiple intelligence community sources, was a few thumb drives and the willingness to exploit a gaping hole in an antiquated security system to rummage at will through the NSA’s servers and take 20,000 documents without leaving a trace.

“It’s 2013 and the NSA is stuck in 2003 technology,” said an intelligence official.

Jason Healy, a former cyber-security official in the Bush Administration, said the Defense Department and the NSA have “frittered away years” trying to catch up to the security technology and practices used in private industry. “The DoD and especially NSA are known for awesome cyber security, but this seems somewhat misplaced,” said Healy, now a cyber expert at the Atlantic Council. “They are great at some sophisticated tasks but oddly bad at many of the simplest.”

As a Honolulu-based employee of Booz Allen Hamilton doing contract work for the NSA, Snowden had access to the NSA servers via "thin client" computer. The outdated set-up meant that he had direct access to the NSA servers at headquarters in Ft. Meade, Md., 5,000 miles away.

In a “thin client” system, each remote computer is essentially a glorified monitor, with most of the computing power in the central server. The individual computers tend to be assigned to specific individuals, and access for most users can be limited to specific types of files based on a user profile.

But Snowden was not most users. A typical NSA worker has a “top secret” security clearance, which gives access to most, but not all, classified information. Snowden also had the enhanced privileges of a “system administrator.” The NSA, which has as many as 40,000 employees, has 1,000 system administrators, most of them contractors.

As a system administrator, Snowden was allowed to look at any file he wanted, and his actions were largely unaudited. “At certain levels, you are the audit,” said an intelligence official.


More: http://investigations.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/08/26/20197183-how-snowden-did-it?lite

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