Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’

Two New York City Police Officers Killed “Execution Style” — Gunman Had Pledged ‘Revenge’ for Garner Killing

December 21, 2014
The New York Post

Hong Kong’s street protests are over, but the fight over free speech has just begun

December 16, 2014


Scenes from the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests, which lost its major camps in police clearance operations in previous weeks. Photo: Bloomberg

By Heather Timmons

The Umbrella Movement’s pro-democracy protests have only widened the divide between Hong Kong’s largely pro-Beijing local news coverage and a few pro-democracy media outlets. The protests have also shown that many of the city’s citizens—particularly its digital-native youth—vastly prefer an independent press.

As pro-Beijing factions ramp up self-censorship and pressure journalists to toe the party line, Hong Kong’s next big democracy fight is likely to be over the freedom of the press.

Even before the protests started, the Chinese government lectured Hong Kong’s media on the need to increase coverage of anti-Occupy Central protests (often led by apparently pro-government toadies), while pressuring advertisers who supported pro-democratic publications.As the protests got underway, more than 20 journalists were physically assaulted by anti-Occupy protesters and police.

The sad slide of Hong Kong’s press freedoms.The only thing this has changed with the Umbrella Movement is that the erosions of Hong Kong’s freedom of expression have grown much starker.(Reporters Without Borders)

Free speech isn’t the only consideration—Hong Kong’s media market is also potentially lucrative. Advertising spending in Hong Kong increased 9% in 2013, to $5.56 billion, and about one-third of that went to newspapers and television.

Harassment—and huge traffic—for Apple Daily

By the time the Umbrella Movement began, the Apple Daily, a pro-democracy tabloid, was one of the few local outlets that could boast being fully free of self-censorship or more overt pro-Beijing editorial meddling.

In the two months since, Jimmy Lai, a media tycoon and the tabloid’s editor, was pelted with rotten pig organs and his paper’s delivery trucks were blocked by pro-Beijing demonstrators. On Dec. 10, Lai announced that he was stepping down from his role as editor-in-chief, after being arrested during the clearing of the main protest site.

The paper’s website faced a near-constant onslaught of DDOS attacks—attempts by hackers to take down a site by overloading it with traffic—since the protests began.  Mark Simon, a commercial director for the tabloid’s parent company, Next Media, who is often described as Lai’s “right hand man,” told Quartz he was forced to send his wife and kids back to the US after a campaign of harassment by pro-Beijing news outlets. Their photographers were shadowing his family, including his 13-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter, as they went to church and school—even snapping pictures at his son’s baseball game. “They harass you and make your life uncomfortable,” Simon said.

Yet as the protests raged, Apple Daily’s website traffic has been phenomenal, far outstripping any other news outlet in Hong Kong. The most-watched non-music YouTube video in Hong Kong in 2014 was Apple Daily’s live coverage of the protests, which racked up 3.4 million views—equivalent to about half the city’s population.

Whether Apple Daily can translate that traffic into additional advertising revenue remains to be seen—especially since HSBC and other companies have pulled ads from the tabloid under pressure from Beijing.

 The SCMP wins readers in HK, but loses in Beijing

The South China Morning Post, historically one of the most respected papers in Asia, also benefited from the protests as its audience grew. The paper has been accused of leaning increasingly Beijing-ward of late. But when the protests began, the newspaper started an outside-the-paywall live blog that offered comprehensive, rigorous, and balanced coverage of the Umbrella Movement unfolded—sometimes in stark contrast with its editorial page’s anti-protest rhetoric.

Some journalists in Hong Kong, both inside and outside the paper, believe that balanced coverage came in part because Wang Xiangwei, SCMP’s editor and a former member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, was on vacation when the protests began. Wang told Quartz he was insulted by the insinuation. “I have been deeply involved in SCMP’s excellent coverage on Occupy no matter where I am,” he said. 

Umbrella Movement coverage helped the SCMP’s website hit a traffic record for the month of September, and its daily unique visitors sometimes tripled as the protests got underway. The paper also added 50,000 Twitter followers in the first week of the protests, according to an internal memo distributed to staff.

But the SCMP’s protest coverage rattled Beijing: the SCMP’s Chinese-language site,, has been blocked in mainland China since the protests began. On the mainland, Hong Kong protest coverage was first censored entirely, and then focused only on the problems the protests caused, and the SCMP’s comprehensive outlook didn’t fit the approved storyline.

Anti-protester coverage was also doled out by pro-Beijing Hong Kong papers like the Oriental Daily. Given other options, the Hong Kong’s residents decided to mostly ignore these news outlets. Here’s a newsstand on October 3:

The public no longer likes public TV

Hong Kong’s state-run station TVB is the main free source of television news in the city, but its Beijing-friendly stance has earned it the nickname “CCTVB”— a play on the Chinese state broadcaster CCTV. The protests brought the issue to a head: after TVB edited out details from its report on a videotaped police attack on a protester, 57 of its journalists risked their jobs by signing a letter of protest. Hundreds of viewers reportedly lodged complaints about what they considered to be TVB’s biased and inaccurate protest coverage.

The station’s stance may also be costing it viewers—TVB’s annual “gala” broadcast last month had the lowest ratings in 17 years, and the station is now up against a new online-only television channel that promises not to talk down to Hong Kong’s youth.

 Social media and independent websites trump the mainstream news

Blogs and websites that weren’t necessarily focused on hard news before the protests covered them extensively, like Hong Wrong and Coconuts, and often provided more in-depth coverage than mainstream news outlets.

And despite the ominous developments for freedom of the press, the Umbrella Movement was a watershed moment for social media, as protesters flocked to apps and social networks that largely defy the ability of government censors and corporate owners to control the flow of information.

That includes citizen journalism on Twitter and Facebook, widespread use of messaging apps—including those like FireChat that don’t even require an internet connection—and even the re-purposing of apps that weren’t even designed to share news, like Evernote. The huge range of options also made it possible for professional journalists at pro-Beijing outlets to report on the sly.

 Hong Kong’s intractable divide

When China regained control of Hong Kong, it vowed in its treaty with Britain to preserve freedom of speech, as enshrined in the region’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law. The language is unambiguous:

Article 27: Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication; freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration; and the right and freedom to form and join trade unions, and to strike.

That promise has been undermined in recent years, which have been particularly grim ones for journalistic freedom—the Hong Kong Journalists Association called them the “darkest for press freedom for several decades” (pdf, p.2). And the overall media landscape has indisputably tilted heavily toward pro-Beijing news outlets, even as opposition to the mainland’s encroachment on Hong Kong civil liberties has increased.

Now that the protest encampments have been dismantled, the immediate tensions in Hong Kong may recede for a time. But the fundamental disconnect between Hong Kongers’ demand for unfettered news and the mainstream outlets’ largely pro-Beijing stance will only grow more stark.


 (Includes links to articles on Hong Kong from 2 prior weeks)

Arrest of 3 American teens illustrates Islamic State’s ‘slick’ cyber allure

December 9, 2014

Zarine Khan, right, and Shafi Khan, parents of Mohammed Hamzah Khan, listen to a reporter’s question after a Oct. 9 hearing in Chicago for their 19-year-old son, who is accused of trying to join Islamic State militants in Syria. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

By Kevin Sullivan
The Washington Post

Mohammed Hamzah Khan, 19, rose before dawn on Oct. 4 to pray with his father and 16-year-old brother at their neighborhood mosque in a Chicago suburb.

When they returned home just before 6 a.m., the father went back to bed and the Khan teens secretly launched a plan they had been hatching for months: to abandon their family and country and travel to Syria to join the Islamic State.

While his parents slept, Khan gathered three newly issued U.S. passports and $2,600 worth of airline tickets to Turkey that he had gotten for himself, his brother and their 17-year-old sister. The three teens slipped out of the house, called a taxi and rode to O’Hare International Airport.

Khan was due at work at 6:30 a.m. at a local home-supply store, so he knew his parents wouldn’t miss him when they woke up. The two younger siblings bunched up comforters under their sheets to make it look like they were asleep in their beds.

Their plan was to fly to Istanbul, then drive into Syria to live in the Islamic homeland, or caliphate, established by the Islamic State, the militant group that has massacred civilians in Iraq and Syria and beheaded Western journalists and aid workers.

The Khan teens, U.S.-born children of Indian immigrants, each left letters for their parents explaining their motives.

“An Islamic State has been established and it is thus obligatory upon every able-bodied male and female to migrate there,” Khan wrote. “Muslims have been crushed under foot for too long. . . . This nation is openly against Islam and Muslims. . . . I do not want my progeny to be raised in a filthy environment like this.”

His sister wrote: “Death is inevitable, and all of the times we enjoyed will not matter as we lay on our death beds. Death is an appointment, and we cannot delay or postpone, and what we did to prepare for our death is what will matter.”

In their letters, all three teens, who had grown up playing basketball and watching “Dragon Tales” and “Batman,” told their parents how much they loved them and asked them to join them in Syria, but made it clear they would probably never see them again, except in the afterlife. They begged them not to call the police.

In the afternoon, FBI agents knocked on the Khans’ front door, armed with a search warrant.

“For what?” asked the teens’ shocked father, Shafi Khan.

“Your kids have been detained at the airport, trying to go to Turkey,” an agent said.

“We were stunned,” said Zarine Khan, their mother. “More like frozen. We were just frozen.”

Slick propaganda

The Khan teens are part of a growing number of young Americans who are joining or attempting to travel to Syria or Iraq to join the Islamic State.

This year alone, officials have detained at least 15 U.S. citizens — nine of them female — who were trying to travel to Syria to join the militants. Almost all of them were Muslims in their teens or early 20s, and almost all were arrested at airports waiting to board flights.

A senior U.S. official said the government anticipates more arrests. Authorities are closely monitoring Twitter, Facebook and other social media networks, where recruiters from the Islamic State aggressively target youths as young as 14.

“Their propaganda is unusually slick. They are broadcasting their poison in something like 23 languages,” FBI Director James B. Comey said in a recent speech, adding that the terrorist group is trying to attract “both fighters and people who would be the spouses . . . to their warped world.”

When the Khan teens reached the airport, FBI officials were waiting for them.

A U.S. law enforcement official said authorities had been monitoring the communications of at least one of the teens, although the FBI has not disclosed how they initially became aware of them.

Hamzah Khan has been charged with providing material support to a designated terrorist organization and faces up to 15 years in prison. At a federal court hearing last month, a judge ordered him held without bail, calling him a flight risk and a danger to the community.

His two siblings, minors whose names have not been made public, were released to their parents but are under investigation and could face charges.

The Justice Department is not eager to prosecute juveniles, but it will do so when they are so radicalized that they pose a potential threat, a senior U.S. official said.

“There are not a lot of good options,” the official said. “You will see more young and juvenile cases in the future.”

In court last month, Assistant U.S. Attorney R. Matthew Hiller said Khan and his two siblings “believe they are religiously obliged to support violent jihad.”

“This was not a spur-of-the-moment trip but rather a carefully calculated plan to abandon their family, to abandon their community, and abandon their country and join a foreign terrorist organization,” Hiller told the judge.

He said Hamzah Khan was “attempting to join an organization that has called for attacks against the United States and has already killed U.S. citizens and is dedicated to genocide.”

But Khan’s lawyer, Thomas Anthony Durkin, told the judge that the government was prosecuting Khan for what amounted to the “thought crime” of rejecting America and supporting the establishment of an Islamic homeland. He said the Khan teens wanted to go live in that homeland but not become fighters, a desire that he said was naive and misguided but not criminal.

Durkin cited a speech President Obama gave in September at the United Nations, where he said the Islamic State’s “propaganda has coerced young people to travel abroad to fight their wars and turned . . . young people full of potential into suicide bombers. We must offer an alternative vision.”

“This is the alternative vision we’re getting today: jail,” Durkin told the judge. “If we want to solve this problem, we are not going to solve it by threatening to lock people up forever. . . . We have to find a solution, because these are American children. . . . They are not barbarians. They are our children.”

‘Those are not our teachings’

Khan’s parents, in an interview at Durkin’s Chicago law office one recent evening, said they were bewildered by what their children tried to do.

“What they wrote in those letters is not from us,” Zarine Khan said, her voice rising behind a colorful veil that covered her face, except for her eyes. “Those are not our teachings. That’s not what we believe in. This didn’t even come from our family, friends, neighbors — nobody.”

“We tried to be the best parents we could,” she said. “That’s all I can say — we tried our best. And they are good kids. This thing came out of the blue. We are still trying to figure it out.”

Hamzah Khan grew up in a suburban American home with pretty shrubs out front and a basketball hoop in the back yard. He earned a Presidential Physical Fitness Award in the eighth grade and loved Naruto, the Japanese manga. He volunteered at his local mosque and represented Argentina in the National Model United Nations.

He graduated from a local Islamic high school in 2013 and enrolled last year at Benedictine University, a Roman Catholic school about 10 miles from his home, where he studied engineering and computer science.

Shafi Khan, who came to Chicago from India almost 30 years ago, and Zarine Khan, who followed her husband 20 years ago, said they consider themselves “average” Muslims, no more or less religious than any of their friends and neighbors in Bolingbrook, Ill., a suburb of about 73,000 people southwest of Chicago.

They try to pray five times a day but said they often don’t. Shafi Khan wears a bushy beard and a white knit skullcap, which he said is an attempt to follow the example of the prophet Muhammad. Zarine Khan covers her head and most of her face, which she considers a sign of modesty, not extreme piety.

Like millions of American Muslims, the Khans, who are both U.S. citizens, said they have raised their children to love their country and their religion. Asked if he felt more Muslim or American, Shafi Khan said, “Both.”

Shafi Khan, 48, earned a degree in environmental science from Northeastern Illinois University and has worked for many years as an event planner for a humanitarian aid organization. Zarine Khan, 41, studied genetics and microbiology at an Indian university but gave it up to move to Chicago with her new husband.

They have four children — the three who were arrested, plus a 3-year-old girl — and Zarine Khan has worked for many years as a teacher at a local Islamic school.

The Khans tried to shield their children from unwanted influences. They had a TV when the children were younger, but they had no cable service. The TV was used solely for showing DVDs — mainly cartoons and educational JumpStart programs from the public library.

When Hamzah Khan was about 8 years old, the family got rid of the TV, because by then they had a computer with Internet access, which the parents carefully monitored. The children were allowed to watch cartoons and read news online, but they were not allowed to browse the Internet by themselves. “We didn’t want to expose them to adult stuff,” Zarine Khan said. “We wanted to preserve their innocence. We wanted to channel their intelligence into their studies and to becoming good human beings.”

The children studied at a local Islamic school, which offered a standard U.S. curriculum of English, math and science — but also classes on Islam. The Khans’ daughter, who turned 18 shortly after her arrest, was being home-schooled by her mother so she could graduate early from high school and begin studies to become a physician.

All three Khan children also became Hafiz, which means they completely memorized the Koran in Arabic. Each went to Islamic school through the fourth grade, then spent the next 2 1/2 years immersed in all-day memorization classes, augmented by evening programs to keep up with basics such as English and math.

The memorization process is common among Muslims and is not considered a sign of religious extremism, said Habeeb Quadri, who is principal of the Islamic school Hamzah Khan attended until the fourth grade and who frequently writes and lectures on Muslim youth.

Zarine Khan said the family took many vacations together, driving to Niagara Falls and Connecticut. She said they shopped at Wal-Mart and acted “like any other normal American family.”

“We tried to have them grounded and exposed to everything,” Zarine Khan said. “We tried to give them good morals. But it was not just Islam, Islam, Islam. We tried to expose them to different ideas as well.”

Omer Mozaffar, a Muslim community leader who teaches theology at Loyola University Chicago and the University of Chicago, said many Muslim families appear to have sheltered their children from the culture around them.

He said that since the 1991 Persian Gulf War and especially since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, some Muslims have felt “under siege” in the U.S. communities where they live. “There’s a defensiveness that compels parents to pull their kids out of everything,” Mozaffar said. “A lot of parents feel overwhelmed and don’t know what to do, so they try to isolate their children.”

The process is often called “cocooning” — shielding children from as much American culture as possible by banning TV, the Internet and newspapers and sending them to Islamic schools.

“Parents send them less for the Islamic tutelage and more for the sense of protecting them,” Mozaffar said. “They think ‘American’ equals ‘immoral,’ and there’s a common belief that if it’s more strict, it’s more pious. This is something I have to preach against all the time.”

The result is often that American Muslim children find themselves caught between two worlds. They are American, but they feel their parents and their religious leaders trying to steer them away from American culture.

That can leave them vulnerable to those who promise something better, a place where they are celebrated for their religion. And, recently, that message has often come in the form of the network of anonymous, persuasive recruiters on social media who lure youth to join the Islamic State. Quadri calls them “Sheik Google.”

Letters full of rhetoric

According to Shafi and Zarine Khan and court documents, the Khan children’s “Sheik Google” appears to have been a man with the nom du guerre Abu Qa’qa, whom they met on Twitter.

Hamzah Khan and his sister both had Twitter accounts, which they accessed on their cellphones because their parents closely controlled their Internet use on their home computer.

In court, Hiller, the prosecutor, said the Khan teens intended to meet with Abu Qa’qa when they arrived in Turkey and then travel with him to Syria. Notes found by FBI agents searching the Khan house suggested the teens were ultimately headed for Raqqah, an Islamic State stronghold in Syria.

Khan’s sister went by the Twitter name “Umm Bara” and signed her tweets with @deathisvnear. Prosecutors said that in May, she tweeted about watching an hour-long Islamic State propaganda video called “Saleel Sawarim,” which features photos and videos of beheadings and other gruesome violence.

Hiller told the judge that on May 28, apparently after watching the video, she tweeted that she had reached “The end of Saleel Sawarim,” followed by emoticons of a heart and a smiley face. Hiller described her reaction to the video as “twisted delight,” which he presented as evidence that the Khan teens supported the Islamic State’s violence and intended to participate in it.

Durkin said it was “inflammatory nonsense to say somehow, because somebody downloaded that video, that somehow they’re dangerous to the community.” He said the young woman wrote that her role in the caliphate would probably be to marry a fighter, not become one herself.

The letters the three teens left behind were filled with rhetoric their parents said was so out of character it could only have come from Islamic State recruiters.

“I am . . . obliged to pay taxes to the [U.S.] government,” Hamzah Khan wrote. “This in turn will be used automatically to kill my Muslim brothers and sisters. . . . I simply cannot sit here and let my brothers and sisters get killed, with my own hard-earned money. . . . I cannot live under a law in which I’m afraid to speak my beliefs. I want to be ruled by the Sharia [Islamic law]. . . . Me living in comfort with my family while my other family are getting killed is plain selfish.”

He continued: “We are all witness that the western societies are getting more immoral day by day. I extend an invitation to my family to join me in the Islamic States. True, it is getting bombed, but let us not forget that we didn’t come to this world for comfort.”

Sitting in Durkin’s office while their two younger teens worked on homework in the other room, Shafi and Zarine Khan said they are struggling to understand how their children could write such things. Durkin would not permit interviews with the younger siblings.

The Khans knew that their kids were on Twitter and Kik, a messaging service, but they said they didn’t know they were communicating with strangers overseas.

The evening before the teens tried to fly away forever, Zarine Khan said, she and her daughter sat together putting henna dye on each other in celebration of the upcoming Eid al-Adha holiday.

“I think they were completely brainwashed by whatever online things they were reading,” she said. “I wouldn’t want any parent to go through what we are going through; it’s a nightmare. We just thank God that our kids are with us here, and not over there.”

Adam Goldman in Washington contributed to this report.

Kevin Sullivan is a Post senior correspondent. He is a longtime foreign correspondent who has been based in Tokyo, Mexico City and London, and also served as the Post’s Sunday and Features Editor.

U.S. military warned of possible Islamic State attacks at home: report

December 2, 2014

(Reuters) – U.S. officials have warned military personnel that Islamic State forces may be planning attacks against them in the United States, ABC News reported on Monday.

A joint intelligence bulletin sent to law enforcement agencies by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security urged members of the U.S. military to erase from their online social media accounts anything would draw attention from “violent extremists,” or reveal service members’ identity, the news network said.

ABC said the government indicated late Sunday it had obtained intelligence that Islamic State militants, who have taken over parts of Iraq and Syria with the intention of setting up a fundamentalist caliphate, were targeting the United States within its borders.

 “The FBI recently received reporting indicating individuals overseas are spotting and assessing like-minded individuals who are willing and capable of conducting attacks against current and former U.S.-based members of the United States military,” the bulletin said, according to a Reuters source.

An FBI spokesman confirmed the accuracy of the ABC report, but declined to provide a copy of the memo.

U.S. Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said the advisory “reinforces the guidance that our combatant commanders had put out several weeks ago.”

The Pentagon had most recently advised personnel to check their social media after two Canadian soldiers were killed in their country in October in separate attacks that police said were carried out by converts to Islam, he said.

“The department has long been aware and mindful of the potential for homegrown extremism and we have continued to encourage and to advise all of our personnel to exercise the maximum amount of vigilance,” Warren said.

A U.S. government source told Reuters the warning most likely was issued in response to an upsurge in social media postings by suspected militants threatening U.S. service members.

The source also said one concern was that many military personnel would be traveling in uniform over the holiday period, but the bulletin was not circulated until the Thanksgiving holiday weekend was nearly over.

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball, Aruna Viswanatha and David Alexander; writing by Bill Trott; editing by G Crosse, Bernadette Baum)

World Internet Conference in China So China Blocks Cloud Services, Thousands of Websites

November 20, 2014


By , The Hollywood Reporter | November 19, 2014

The Chinese government is blocking access to thousands of sites and cloud services in the lead up to tech industry conference, reported the South China Morning Post on Tuesday.

Already trigger happy when it came to blocking websites it didn’t agree with, the state Internet censor has blocked sites and cloud services as disparate as Sony Mobile, retail bank HSBC and The Atlantic. No reasons were given why these sites had fallen foul of the Internet censor and have been pushed outside of the notorious “Great Firewall of China,” although the HSBC website is said to give users a backdoor access to banned site Youtube.

Media speculation suggests that the blackouts are, ironically, in preparation for the World Internet Conference in the small provincial city of Wuzhen. The first of it’s kind to be held in China, the conference will be held from Wednesday to Friday, and will focus on issues such as cyber security, international e-commerce and online anti-terrorism initiatives.

Chinese state media said that up to 1000 people from around the world will attend. Bloomberg is reporting that leaders from local Internet giants, including Alibaba and Tencent, will be in attendance along with executives from LinkedIn, SoftBank and other global tech companies.

Although the rest of China will suffer Internet blackouts to various sites and services, conference attendees will have unfettered access for three days to banned websites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

David Beckham facebook post causes furore in Vietnam

November 17, 2014


A photo David Beckham’s Facebook page of a helmet-less woman in Vietnam riding a scooter with an infant between her knees has caused a furore.

A photograph posted on David Beckham’s official Facebook page showing a woman in Hanoi taking a picture of him from her scooter while not wearing a helmet and carrying an infant between her knees has sparked widespread criticism in Vietnam.

The photo was posted online on Thursday with Beckham’s caption: “I’m all for fans taking a picture but not sure this is the safest way to do it!”

So far it has attracted over 18,000 comments.

Many commentators said they were embarrassed about the image it showed of the country.

Facebook user Van Dang Yeu wrote: “This is an ugly face of Vietnam.”

Commentator Minh Anh wrote: “A baby in her lap? That’s crazy.”

The photo attracted widespread coverage in local newspapers and television over the weekend, with many articles pointing out that the woman was breaking the law.

An article in Phap Luat newspaper quoted the chief of Hanoi’s Traffic Police as saying the woman could face a fine of 300,000 dong (around $A16) for not wearing a helmet and for using a mobile phone while driving.

Beckham was in Vietnam as part of a tour to promote a new brand of whisky.

He travelled to China, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea, according to his Facebook page.

With poor law enforcement and congested roads, traffic safety is a lingering problem in Vietnam.

About 14,000 people lose their lives each year in the country as a result of road crashes.

Hagel sees progress, setbacks against militants

November 13, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the U.S. and coalition forces are making progress against Islamic State militants. But he says the American people must prepare for a long and difficult struggle.

Hagel is testifying Thursday before a House panel. He cautions there will be setbacks in the fight in Iraq and Syria. He said that since September, 16 nations have joined the military campaign and carried out more than 130 air strikes.

Hagel’s testimony comes days after President Barack Obama asked Congress for more than $5 billion to expand the U.S. mission in Iraq. The president also is dispatching up to 1,500 more American troops to the war-torn nation, potentially boosting the total number to 3,100.

Congress also must decide whether to reauthorize training and equipping of moderate Syrian rebels.


Islamic State Fighter Go Under Ground To Keep Safe During Air Strikes

NBC News

ISIS fighters are using social media to show off what they claim is an underground tunnel network that enables them to withstand U.S. airstrikes near the Iraqi city of Fallujah.

A videotape posted Monday on YouTube by the Islamic terror group’s official media arm shows a group of fighters, most of them wearing masks, digging and using the tunnels. On the tape, the fighters claim the passageways are used as “supply routes to all squads and HQs in the battle arenas,” allowing the distribution of food and heavy weapons throughout the day.

One fighter says the tunnels are curved to lessen the chances that shrapnel will injure or kill numerous fighters in the event of a missile strike. “These trenches allowed us to give up our houses,” the fighter says, adding that the tunnels are used as break rooms and bedrooms.

“The video … is an effort to portray a sense of resilience in the face of U.S. and coalition air strikes, which have impacted the tempo of the conflict inside Iraq,” said Evan Kohlmann of Flashpoint Global Partners, which authenticated the videotape, and an NBC News terrorism analyst. “ISIS wants its supporters to know that even in the midst of American air superiority, it can nonetheless still operate and fight effectively on the battlefield.”

The U.S. and other allies have been pounding ISIS positions in Anbar province, including Fallujah, and elsewhere in Iraq and Syria from the air since August, and Iraqi troops have been shelling the group’s positions in and around the city in hopes of retaking it.

Fallujah is best known to Americans as the scene of an extended battle between U.S. troops and Sunni Muslims in 2011 during the Iraq war.

Image: ISIS fighters sit in a cave.

Flashpoint Global Partners

An ISIS fighter emerges from a tunnel in a screen grab from a YouTube video published by the Islamic terror group’s media wing on Monday.


— Mike Brunker

Twitter opening office in Hong Kong despite China ban

November 7, 2014

From the BBC

Social media giant Twitter will open an office in Hong Kong next year

Social media giant Twitter has said it will open an office in Hong Kong in the first quarter of 2015.

The messaging service has been banned from operating in China since 2009 over fears that it could be used to organise protests against the government.

However, Twitter said it wanted to tap into the next phase of its growth in the Asian region by expanding in Greater China.

The office will house sales staff and joins the likes of Google and Facebook.

“Our upcoming Hong Kong office in the first quarter will enable us to pursue strategic opportunities in Greater China, such as China export advertising market, Hong Kong and Taiwan advertising markets, media partnerships, and our new Twitter Fabric integrated with MoPub for mobile developers,” the company told the BBC on Friday.

The opening would be Twitter’s fifth office in the region, with operations already in Singapore, Tokyo, Seoul and Sydney.

In August, Twitter said it was opening an office in Jakarta, with Indonesia being one of its biggest markets.

“With half of all internet, mobile and social media users worldwide in Asia today, we see many opportunities across the region,” a company spokesperson said.

News of the expansion comes as Twitter reported a disappointing 7% fall in timeline views per user – a closely watched measure of engagement – despite 23% growth in its user base in the third quarter last month.

The company also said its fourth-quarter revenue might fall short of market expectations of $448.8mn (£283mn). New York-listed Twitter shares are down almost 36% this year.

Hong Kong Democracy Stand Off: Tuesday, November 4 and Wednesday, November 5, 2014

November 4, 2014


Britain did more for HK democracy than China

By Matthew Yim Yew Fei

The writer of the letter, “Where were protesters when UK ruled, US spied?” (Oct 31), is confusing issues about the British Empire and spying by the United States with the current Hong Kong protests for universal suffrage.

When Edward Snowden ran away from the United States’ National Security Agency, the first place he fled to was Hong Kong, where he also gave journalists his first interview. To Hongkongers, it felt like Hong Kong was freer than the US.

Also, it is pointless to compare the modern era to the British Empire. Even our forefathers in Singapore were contented living under the British. It was only after the war when ideas of democracy and self-rule spread to the colonies.

Democracy is not only about electing leaders, but also about rule of law, individual rights, freedom of press and judicial independence. In this regard, Britain did more to improve democracy and provide freedom to Hong Kong than China has done.

One can argue that Hongkongers are fearful that China will take away their rights and freedom, let alone their ability to choose their own leaders.

They hear about corruption and abuse of authority in the mainland, closing down of Weibo accounts critical of Communist Party leaders, press censorship and the Great Firewall of China blocking access to Facebook, Google and other websites Beijing deems inappropriate.

Also, Hong Kong leaders selected by Beijing have so far given the impression of aloofness, and seem more interested in serving the interests of business elites and Beijing, rather than the common people.

One could conclude that the protesters would rather risk their future in leaders of their own choosing than live in a restricted regime ruled by elites.


Anti-Occupy petition submitted to Hong Kong SAR gov’t

Protesters in Hong Kong remain on the streets after more than a month. But Campaigners for an end to the disruptions believe the city’s residents have sent out a clear message against protesters.

And it’s got the evidence to prove it: a petition signed by more than 1.8 million people. On Monday afternoon, the anti-Occupy Central Alliance presented the petition to the Hong Kong SAR government.

The public’s opinion on paper. Over 1.8 million of Hong Kong’s residents have made it clear they want an end to disruptions, and a return to normal life.
After presenting their petition report to the Hong Kong SAR government, anti-Occupy leaders say they will arrange meetings with legislative councillors, and protest organizers.

“We will also try to arrange meetings with scholars, as well as Federations of Hong Kong students,” Anti-Occupy Central Alliance spokesman Robert Chow said.

The anti-Occupy Central Alliance launched its petition on October 25th. About 1.3 million signed their name in the streets, with the remaining 500,000 doing so online. Anger at the protests was shared among residents of all ages and backgrounds.

The anti-Occupy leaders say such a popular and robust petition has made Hong Kong residents’ voice of objection to the ongoing protests much louder. And it’s clear the people will back the Hong Kong SAR government and police to solve the ongoing protests with further measures.

The anti-Occupy group also called on Hong Kong residents to participate in the district-council and legislative council elections in two years, in order to help with the city’s long term development.

Includes video:


PHOTOS: Trade unions at anti-Occupy Central rally in Admiralty last night

By Laurel Chor November 4, 2014


People from the Motor Transport Workers General Union held signs against the “hogging of roads”.

Last night, different trade unions came together to hold an anti-Umbrella Movement rally in Chater Garden, Central.

Chefs came out in full uniform to voice their anger at the Umbrella Movement. 

A man wearing a Hong Kong Mass Transit Rail Way Staff General Association vest wrote about why he is against the protests.

People from the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions hold signs saying “Give me back my roads, give me back my livelihood”.

Most of the crowd was elderly, though there were young people who acted as chaperones or organisers. Here, a young woman collects the papers on which people wrote their feelings about the pro-democracy protests. 

People from the Hong Kong Manufacturing Industry Employees General Union gave thumbs-up signs to the camera.

No one seemed to notice the irony of sitting under yellow umbrellas at an anti-Umbrella Movement rally.

People sat down in front of the stage, from which blinding lights were shining.

An elderly man takes a photo of the event.

“Give Hong Kong back a means to make a living”, this man’s sign demands.

The anti-“road hogging” signs doubled as much-needed shields against the stage lights.

This kid brought down the crowd’s average age slightly. 

This woman’s sign says: “Give back the roads to the people. Restore order.” 

Many wore their unions’ uniforms.

Organisers had collection boxes for people’s opinions on the Umbrella Movement.

That’s one way to hold a sign. It says “Give the roads back to the people. Defend Hong Kong.”

People from the Garment Fashion Practitioners Association holding signs saying “Give the roads back to the people, restore order.” and “Give me back my roads, give me back my livelihood”.

It was past many people’s bedtimes. 

Smiling for the camera!

Photos/Words: Laurel Chor/Coconuts Media



Britain’s spy chief: Facebook, Twitter help terrorists, criminals

November 4, 2014

Britain: New GCHQ director Robert Hannigan accuses some Silicon Valley companies of becoming ‘the command and control networks of choice’ for terrorists

Robert Hannigan takes over as Director at GCHQ

Robert Hannigan (right) took on the role of director of GCHQ (left) last month after a distinguished career as a senior diplomat Photo: Crown copyright

Technology giants such as Facebook and Twitter have become “the command and control networks of choice” for terrorists and criminals but are “in denial” about the scale of the problem, the new head of GCHQ has said.

Robert Hannigan said that Isil terrorists in Syria and Iraq have “embraced the web” and are using it to intimidate people and inspire “would-be jihadis” from all over the world to join them.

He urged the companies to work more closely with the security services, arguing that it is time for them to confront “some uncomfortable truths” and that privacy is not an “absolute right”.

He suggested that unless US technology companies co-operate, new laws will be needed to ensure that intelligence agencies are able to track and pursue terrorists.

His comments represent some of the most outspoken criticism yet of US technology giants by the security services, and come amid growing tensions following leaks by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

In an article for the Financial Times, Mr Hannigan said: “I understand why they [US technology companies] have an uneasy relationship with governments. They aspire to be neutral conduits of data and to sit outside or above politics.

“But increasingly their services not only host the material of violent extremism or child exploitation, but are the routes for the facilitation of crime and terrorism.

“However much they may dislike it, they have become the command-and-control networks of choice for terrorists and criminals, who find their services as transformational as the rest of us.

“GCHQ is happy to be part of a mature debate on privacy in the digital age. But privacy has never been an absolute right and the debate about this should not become a reason for postponing urgent and difficult decisions.”

Mr Hannigan took on the role of director of GCHQ last month after a distinguished career as a senior diplomat. He was appointed to the role in the wake of the Snowden scandal to help bolster the public profile of the organisation and take a more active role in the debate about its work.

He highlighted the eruption of extremist jihadi material online on websites such as Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp, and said that terrorists are now able to hide their identities using encryption tools which were once only available to states.

He said that in the past, al-Qaida and its terrorists have used the internet as a place to anonymously distribute material or “meet in dark spaces”.

Isil, however, has taken a much more direct approach, using social networking services to get their messages across in a “language their peers understand”.

He highlighted the production values of videos in which they attack towns, fire weapons and detonate explosives, saying that they have a “self-conscious online gaming quality”.

He said that even the groups grotesque videos of beheadings highlight the sophistication of their use of social media. “This time the ‘production values’ were high and the videos stopped short of showing the actual beheading,” he said.

“They have realised that too much graphic violence can be counter productive in their target audience and that by self-censoring they can stay just the right side of the rules of social media sites, capitalising on western freedom of expression.”

He highlighted the use of popular terms on Twitter to broaden their appeal such as World Cup and Ebola. He said that during the advance on Mosul in Iraq the jihadists were sending 40,000 tweets a day.

Their cause has been helped by Mr Snowden as they copy his high level of encryption, with some programmes and apps even advertised as “Snowden approved”. He said: “There is no doubt that young foreign fighters have learned and benefited from the leaks of the past two years”.

Mr Hannigan said that families have “strong views” about the ethics of companies and do not expect the social networks they use to “facilitate murder or child abuse”.

The Conservatives are pushing for a communications Bill to give the security services greater access to internet communications. The move has been blocked by the Liberal Democrats.

Mr Hannigan said: “For our part, intelligence agencies such as GCHQ need to enter the public debate about privacy. I think we have a good story to tell.

“As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the spectacular creation that is the world wide web, we need a new deal between democratic governments and the technology companies in the area of protecting our citizens.

“It should be a deal rooted in the democratic values we share. That means addressing some uncomfortable truths. Better to do it now than in the aftermath of greater violence.”

Facebook rules state that organisations with a record of terrorist or violent criminal activity are not allowed to “maintain a presence” on the social network or post content in support of terrorist groups.

The company, which has declined to make an official statement, says it already works with law enforcement agencies and will disclose information either in good faith if it will prevent harm or upon court order.

Other US internet companies including Google, Twitter and Microsoft declined to comment.


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