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Showing posts from October 16, 2013

NSA Collects Millions Of E-mail Address Books Globally

By Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani

- - The National Security Agency is harvesting hundreds of millions of contact lists from personal e-mail and instant messaging accounts around the world, many of them belonging to Americans, according to senior intelligence officials and top-secret documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The collection program, which has not been disclosed before, intercepts e-mail address books and “buddy lists” from instant messaging services as they move across global data links. Online services often transmit those contacts when a user logs on, composes a message, or synchronizes a computer or mobile device with information stored on remote servers.

Rather than targeting individual users, the NSA is gathering contact lists in large numbers that amount to a sizable fraction of the world’s e-mail and instant messaging accounts. Analysis of that data enables the agency to search for hidden connections and to map relationships within a much smal…

Ukraine's Energy Dispute with Russia

Unnamed sources within Gazprom said Oct. 9 that the Russian energy giant would supply natural gas at a discounted rate to Ostchem Holding, a firm run by influential Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash. Key to the announcement is the exclusion of Ukrainian state energy firm Naftogaz, which has been embroiled in a yearslong dispute with Gazprom over energy supplies and pricing. The pricing dispute, which began as a result of a contract signed by former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko viewed as unfavorable to Ukraine, has remained a dominant feature of Ukrainian-Russian relations for years. Russia has said it would provide Naftogaz with lower prices only if Ukraine joins Russia's Customs Union and if Russia can increase its stakes in Ukraine's energy industry, preferably in a merger between Naftogaz and Gazprom.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich has so far refused, knowing that such outcomes would significantly undermine the sovereignty of the country in the long term,…

Charles Taylor and the Paradox of The Hague

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor was transferred to prison in the United Kingdom on Tuesday to serve out the remainder of his 50-year sentence. Taylor had been in custody at The Hague in the Netherlands since his 2012 conviction at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Sierra Leone's civil war -- itself an extension of Liberia's civil war -- during his rule from 1997 to 2003. While the transfer symbolically concludes a decadelong effort to bring Taylor to justice, the unintended consequences of the prosecution have been felt far and wide and are likely to complicate attempts to resolve violent conflicts in the future.

The desire for justice is understandable. Both West African conflicts were archetypically Hobbesian in nature. Diamonds mined from shallow alluvial deposits financed the just-as-easy acquisition of small arms, fueling the lusty imperial ambitions of Taylor and his allies (including former Libyan leader Moa…

Colombia: Political Opposition and FARC Attacks Threaten Peace Talks


Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos faces two challenges in ongoing peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, also known as the FARC. Democratic Center, a conservative political party led by former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, has remained consistently opposed to any negotiations with militants and is gaining political ground ahead of legislative and presidential elections in 2014. A rise in FARC attacks against energy infrastructure also threatens to further reduce public support for the talks.

To safeguard the talks and possibly avoid a political defeat, Santos will likely try to speed up progress toward a preliminary peace deal with the rebels before the election. The FARC will continue to use attacks as leverage but not to the point that it severely undermines the talks. If the government can show progress in the negotiations, such as a partial peace deal, before the elections, it would ensure future support for an eventual agreement regardless of…