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February 2007

February 25, 2007

Covert British unit a 'secret weapon' in Iraq
"Deep inside the heart of the Green Zone, the heavily fortified administrative compound in Baghdad, lies one of the most carefully guarded secrets of the war in Iraq.

It is a cell from a small and anonymous British army unit that goes by the innocuous name of the Joint Support Group (JSG), and it has proved to be one of the coalition's most effective and deadly weapons in the fight against terror.

Its members - servicemen and women of all ranks recruited from all three of the British armed forces - are trained to turn hardened terrorists into coalition spies using methods developed on the streets of Northern Ireland, where the British Army managed to infiltrate the Irish Republican Army (IRA) at almost every level."

Africa: U.S. Creating New Africa Command to Coordinate Military Efforts
"The Defense Department is creating a new U.S. Africa Command headquarters, to be known as AFRICOM, to coordinate all U.S. military and security interests throughout the continent, the Bush administration announced February 6.

'This new command will strengthen our security cooperation with Africa and create new opportunities to bolster the capabilities of our partners in Africa,' President Bush said in a White House statement. 'Africa Command will enhance our efforts to bring peace and security to the people of Africa and promote our common goals of development, health, education, democracy, and economic growth in Africa.'"

Signs mount of end game for Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe

Germany issues CIA arrest orders
"Germany has ordered the arrest of 13 suspected CIA agents over the alleged kidnapping of one of its citizens.

Munich prosecutors confirmed that the warrants were linked to the case of Khaled al-Masri, a German national of Lebanese descent."

Gold sales hit record $65.3bn

Venezuela May Control Food Distribution
"Industry officials blame the shortages on price controls that oblige retailers to sell at a loss, while the government says the fault lies with unscrupulous speculators, including supermarket owners and distributors, who hoard food or boost prices."
Meanwhile - somewhere in the corridors someone was heard to sneeze...

Hitachi Shows Off Powder-Sized Smart Tag
"Tiny computer chips used for tracking food, tickets and other items are getting even smaller. Hitachi Ltd. (HIT), a Japanese electronics maker, recently showed off radio frequency identification, or RFID, chips that are just 0.002 inches by 0.002 inches and look like bits of powder. They're thin enough to be embedded in a piece of paper, company spokesman Masayuki Takeuchi said Thursday."

U.S. Set to Begin a Vast Expansion of DNA Sampling
"The Justice Department is completing rules to allow the collection of DNA from most people arrested or detained by federal authorities, a vast expansion of DNA gathering that will include hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, by far the largest group affected.

The new forensic DNA sampling was authorized by Congress in a little-noticed amendment to a January 2006 renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, which provides protections and assistance for victims of sexual crimes. The amendment permits DNA collecting from anyone under criminal arrest by federal authorities, and also from illegal immigrants detained by federal agents.

Over the last year, the Justice Department has been conducting an internal review and consulting with other agencies to prepare regulations to carry out the law.

The goal, justice officials said, is to make the practice of DNA sampling as routine as fingerprinting for anyone detained by federal agents, including illegal immigrants. Until now, federal authorities have taken DNA samples only from convicted felons."

U.S. plans expanded DNA collection

AP Poll Finds Americans Have No Idea of Iraqi Toll
"Iraqi civilian deaths are estimated at more than 54,000 and could be much higher; some unofficial estimates range into the hundreds of thousands. The U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq reports more than 34,000 deaths in 2006 alone.

Among those polled for the AP survey, however, the median estimate of Iraqi deaths was 9,890. The median is the point at which half the estimates were higher and half lower."

States Challenge Nat'l Driver's License
"The Maine Legislature on Jan. 26 overwhelmingly passed a resolution objecting to the Real ID Act of 2005. The federal law sets a national standard for driver's licenses and requires states to link their record-keeping systems to national databases.

Within a week of Maine's action, lawmakers in Georgia, Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, Vermont and Washington state also balked at Real ID. They are expected soon to pass laws or adopt resolutions declining to participate in the federal identification network.
About a dozen states have active legislation against Real ID, including Arizona, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming."

Some States Welcome National ID
"Dan Combs, president of Global Identity Solutions and former director of digital government in Iowa, said Congress didn't really know what it was doing when it passed the law. He's doubtful it will be useful for preventing terrorism - one of Congress' stated purposes in crafting the measure - but said it could be useful for simplifying government services like issuing fishing licenses and preventing identity theft and other fraud.

'Most of the really strong support for Real ID comes from people like me who see the promises in an ID system,' Combs said. 'Once you get a system like this in place an awful lot of government becomes easier.'"

VA Notifying 1.8M of Missing Data
"The Department of Veterans Affairs began notifying 1.8 million veterans and doctors Monday that their personal and business information could be on a portable hard drive that has been missing from an Alabama hospital for nearly three weeks.

The hard drive may have contained Social Security numbers and other personal information from about 535,000 individuals and billing information on 1.3 million doctors nationwide, the VA said. That's more than 37 times more people than authorities initially believed were affected."

Ex-CIA Official May Face Charges
"A federal grand jury met Tuesday to consider indictments against a former top CIA official and a defense contractor linked to the bribery scandal that sent former U.S. Rep. Randy 'Duke' Cunningham to prison.

Prosecutors are seeking charges of honest services fraud and conspiracy against Kyle 'Dusty' Foggo, the No. 3 official at the CIA until his resignation in May, and San Diego defense contractor Brent Wilkes, two government officials familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press."

Case shines light on how war contracts are awarded

Lawmaker Probes TSA Website Gaffe
"The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform asked the TSA on Friday to turn over documents related to the Traveler Verification Identity Program website to determine how the site was designed, and whether government security and privacy regulations were violated."
More on this here.

FBI Translating Over 1,000 Wiretap Conversations a Day

Feds confirm Gibbons FBI probe
"Federal authorities confirmed Thursday that Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons is being investigated for failing to properly report gifts or payments from a software company that was awarded secret military contracts when he was in Congress."

Prosecutors seek OK to create phony files
"Florida's prosecutors are floating a proposal to the Legislature to give them the power to secretly falsify public court records -- with a judge's approval -- for undercover law enforcement purposes.

Spurred by Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle, the draft bill would limit the authority to manufacture and plant fake documents in court files to 180 days. But it also provides for an unlimited number of 30-day extensions."

Neo-Nazi rally was organized by FBI informant
"A paid FBI informant was the man behind a neo-Nazi march through the streets of Parramore that stirred up anxiety in Orlando's black community and fears of racial unrest that triggered a major police mobilization.

That revelation came Wednesday in an unrelated federal court hearing and has prompted outrage from black leaders, some of whom demanded an investigation into whether the February 2006 march was, itself, an event staged by law-enforcement agencies."

Texas Gov. orders anti-cancer vaccine
"Beginning in September 2008, girls entering the sixth grade - meaning, generally, girls ages 11 and 12 - will have to receive Gardasil, Merck & Co.'s new vaccine against strains of the human papillomavirus, or HPV.

Perry also directed state health authorities to make the vaccine available free to girls 9 to 18 who are uninsured or whose insurance does not cover vaccines. In addition, he ordered that Medicaid offer Gardasil to women ages 19 to 21.
Merck is bankrolling efforts to pass state laws across the country mandating Gardasil for girls as young as 11 or 12. It doubled its lobbying budget in Texas and has funneled money through Women in Government, an advocacy group made up of female state legislators around the country."

Man gets 2nd chance at space ride
"A man who gave up a free space ride because he couldn't afford the taxes on the contest prize may be going to the cosmos after all.
As part of the agreement to be announced Wednesday, the company would pay Emmett to serve as a 'test passenger,' allowing him to hitch a free ride into space in late 2008 when the company hopes to send its first paying tourists, Benson said."

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