Sunday, January 19, 2014

MIDDLE EAST CONFLICT: Chaos Escalates - With Region Boiling In Sectarian Warfare, Israel Takes Up Castle Strategy And Plans Laser Interceptor "Iron Beam" For Short-Range Rockets!

January 19, 2014 - MIDDLE EAST - After a Katyusha rocket fired from Lebanon landed in Israel last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Hezbollah, the Shiite militia, and its Iranian backers. But Israeli security officials attributed the attack, as well as a similar one in August, to a Sunni jihadist group linked to Al Qaeda.

Region Boiling, Israel Takes Up Castle Strategy.
Arrow III interceptor. Photo: Defense Ministry

That disconnect is representative of the deepening dilemma Israel faces as the region around it is riven by sectarian warfare that could redraw the map of the Middle East.

Mr. Netanyahu and other leaders continue to see Shiite Iran and its nuclear program as the primary threat to Israel, and Hezbollah as the most likely to draw it into direct battle. Still, the mounting strength of extremist Sunni cells in Syria, Iraq and beyond that are pledging to bring jihad to Jerusalem can hardly be ignored.

As the chaos escalates, Israeli officials insist they have no inclination to intervene. Instead, they have embraced a castle mentality, hoping the moat they have dug — in the form of high-tech border fences, intensified military deployments and sophisticated intelligence — is broad enough at least to buy time.

“What we have to understand is everything is going to be changed — to what, I don’t know,” said Yaakov Amidror, who recently stepped down as Israel’s national security adviser. “But we will have to be very, very cautious not to take part in this struggle. What we see now is a collapsing of a historical system, the idea of the national Arabic state. It means that we will be encircled by an area which will be no man’s land at the end of the day.”

Mr. Amidror, a former major general in military intelligence, summed up the strategy as “Wait, and keep the castle.”

Israeli leaders have tried to exploit recent events to bolster their case for a long-term military presence in the Jordan Valley, a sticking point in the United States-brokered peace talks with the Palestinians. In a speech this month, Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Jewish Home party, ticked off violent episodes in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon, and concluded sarcastically, “A really excellent time to divest ourselves of security assets.”

Mr. Bennett, who opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state, might seize on any excuse to undermine the talks. But Israeli officials, and analysts with close ties to the government and security establishment, said the argument also had traction in more mainstream quarters. The deterioration in Iraq, which borders Jordan, has revived concerns about vulnerability on Israel’s eastern flank.

“From the Straits of Gibraltar to the Khyber Pass, it’s very hard to come by a safe and secure area,” Mr. Netanyahu told reporters here on Thursday. “Peace can be built on hope, but that hope has to be grounded in facts,” he said. “A peace that is not based on truth will crash against the realities of the Middle East.”

Michael Herzog, a retired Israeli general and former peace negotiator, said that “what you hear in Israeli government circles” is that the regional chaos “highlights the need for solid security arrangements.”

“The U.S. accepts the basic Israeli argument that given what’s happening in the region — suddenly jihadists are taking over Syria, and there’s no telling what will happen elsewhere — there is a legitimate cause for concern,” said Mr. Herzog, who has been consulting with the American team. “How to translate that into concrete security arrangements is something the parties are right now coping with.”

Israeli security and political officials have been unsettled by the rapid developments on the ground and in the diplomatic arena in recent weeks. Washington’s gestures toward Iran, not only on the nuclear issue but also with regard to Syria and Iraq, underscore a divergence in how the United States and Israel, close allies, view the region. At the same time, Saudi Arabia, which shares Israel’s concern about an emboldened Iran, is financing Sunni groups that view Israel as the ultimate enemy.

More broadly, the intensified fighting has convinced many Israelis that the region will be unstable or even anarchic for some time, upending decades of strategic positioning and military planning.

“Historically, Israel has preferred to have strong leaders, even if they’re hostile to Israel,” said Jonathan Spyer, a senior research fellow at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, citing President Bashar al-Assad of Syria as an example.

“It’s a problem without an address,” Mr. Spyer said of the Islamist groups often lumped together as “global jihad.” “Israel always likes to have an address. Assad we don’t like, but when something happens in Assad’s territory, we can bargain with him. These guys, there is no address. There is no one to bargain with.”

Maj. Gen. Yoav Har-Even, director of the Israeli military’s planning branch, said in an interview published this month in the newspaper Yediot Aharonot that global jihad had already “taken control of some of the arms warehouses” in Syria and established a presence in the Golan Heights. He called it a “central target” of intelligence efforts.

“I don’t have, today, a contingency plan to destroy global jihad,” General Har-Even acknowledged. “But I am developing the intelligence ability to monitor events. If I spot targets that are liable to develop into a problem, I take the excellent intelligence that I am brought, I process it for the target and plan action. And I have a great many such targets.”

Since the Arab Spring uprisings began in 2011, there have been two main schools of thought in Israel. One argues that the instability in the region makes resolving the Palestinian conflict all the more urgent, to provide a beacon on an uncertain sea. The other cautions against making any concessions close to home while the future of the neighborhood remains unclear. The camps have only hardened their positions in response to the recent developments.

An Israeli security coordinator near Kiryat Shmona stood by the remains of a rocket fired
from Lebanon last month. Ancho Gosh/Jinpix, via Reuters

“The most important lesson from the last few weeks is that you cannot rely on a snapshot of reality at any given time in order to plan your strategic needs,” said Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations, who recently rejoined Mr. Netanyahu’s team as a freelance foreign policy adviser. “The region is full of bad choices. What that requires you to do is take your security very seriously. And you shouldn’t be intimidated by people saying, ‘Well, that’s a worst-case analysis,’ because lately, the worst is coming through.”

Efraim Halevy, a former director of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, views the landscape differently. Iran’s involvement in Syria and Iraq could distract it from its nuclear project, he said. Hezbollah has lost fighters in Syria and faced setbacks in its standing at home in Lebanon. Hamas, the Palestinian militant faction that controls the Gaza Strip, has been severely weakened by the new military-backed government in Egypt and its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. Syria’s military capacity has been greatly diminished.

“If you look all around, compared to what it was like six months ago, Israel can take a deep breath,” Mr. Halevy said. “The way things are at the moment, if you want to photograph it, it looks as if some of the potential is there for an improvement in Israel’s strategic position and interests. It’s more than ever a see and wait, and be on your guard, and protect yourself if necessary.” - NY Times.

Israel Plans Laser Interceptor "Iron Beam" For Short-Range Rockets.
FILE - In this Aug. 28, 2013 file photo, an Israeli soldier is seen next to an Iron Dome rocket interceptor battery deployed
near the northern Israeli city of Haifa. A state-owned Israeli arms company said it will unveil a new laser-defense system
called the "Iron Beam." The system is to be displayed at the Singapore Air Show next month and is expected
to be operational next year. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov, File)(Credit: AP)

Israel plans to deploy a new missile shield known as "Iron Beam" next year which would use a laser to blow up short-range rockets and mortar bombs, a defense industry official said on Sunday.

The system is designed to deal with threats that fly on too small a trajectory to be engaged efficiently by Iron Dome, the Israeli interceptor credited with an 80 percent success rate against rockets fired by Palestinian militants.

Both shields are manufactured by state-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. While Iron Dome launches radar-guided interceptor rockets, Iron Beam's laser will super-heat the warheads of shells with ranges of up to 7 km (4.5 miles).

Rafael said Iron Dome would be formally unveiled at next month's Singapore Air Show. The Israeli military declined to discuss deployment plans.

Iron Dome is complemented by Arrow II, an Israeli interceptor designed to shoot down ballistic missiles at atmospheric heights. Israel plans to integrate them with the more powerful rocket interceptors Arrow III and David's Sling, both of which are still in their testing phases.

The United States has extensively underwritten the projects, seeing them as a means of reassuring its Middle East ally as instability rocks the region.

The industry official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters Iron Beam would form the "fifth layer" of integrated missile defense. - Yahoo.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Global Volcano Report For January 19, 2014 - Incredible Photos Of Spectacular Volcanic Eruption Of Chile's Cordón Caulle In Chile, Lighting Storm Included; Lava Flow At Guatemala's Pacaya Volcano Sparks Evacuations; Eruptions Continue At Indonesia's Sinabung, With No Clear Trend; And New Ash Explosions At Merapi On Sumatra!

January 19, 2014 - WORLDWIDE VOLCANOES - The following constitutes the new activity, unrest and ongoing reports of volcanoes across the globe.

Cordón Caulle (Chile): These images by Chilean photographer Francisco Negroni of the Cordón Caulle volcano erupting are so jaw-dropping and mind-blowing that we’re finding it hard to come up with appropriate adjectives. Billowing clouds of ash are joined by spiderwebs of Volcanic lightning to create a light show that truly drives home Mother Nature’s terrifying splendor.

This particular volcanic eruption began in June 2011, and Negroni was there with his trusty Nikon D300 to capture the action. Rather than continue to describe something that is much more enjoyable to browse through, we’ll get out of the way and let you feast your eyes on this natural wonder:

If you’d like to see more of Negroni’s work, you can visit his website, blog and 500px profile by following the corresponding links.

Pacaya (Guatemala): Lava flowing down the flanks of Guatemala’s Pacaya volcano prompted the evacuation of people threatened by the eruption.

Lava flowing from Pacaya volcano on January 11, 2014.

The country’s National Disaster Reduction Commission said residents of Villa Canales, El Chupadero and Pacaya were relocated to San Vicente Pacaya, a town at a safer distance from Pacaya, one of the country’s most active volcanoes.

Lava flows were said to be nearly 2,000 feet wide and 2 miles long just south of Guatemala City.

Small explosions and accompanying bursts of gas and ash were also produced by the restive volcano.

Guatemala has four active volcanoes that have caused catastrophic damage in the past.

The explosive eruption of Santa Maria in 1902 was one of the world's largest eruptions of the 20th century.

In 2010, a blast at Pacaya volcano coated the current capital, Guatemala City, in a thick layer of ash and rock. This forced hundreds of families to evacuate and officials to temporarily close the international airport.

Nearby Fuego (Fire) volcano sent pyroclastic flows of searing debris cascading down its slopes in May and June of 2012.

Sinabung (Sumatra, Indonesia): Activity at the volcano has been a bit lower during the past days, especially when compared to the first half of the past week. It is certainly too early to say whether this is a sign of a possible approaching end of the of the eruption or just a temporary or perhapy only apparent decrease.

NASA Earth Observatory image of Sinabung on 16 Jan, taken by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon,
using EO-1 ALI data from the NASA EO-1 team. Caption by Robert Simmon.

Visual and seismic data ("Letusan"=explosions, "Guguran"= pyroclastic flows) for the past weeks (VSI)

VSI has published a detailed report about their seismic and other monitoring data up up 17 Jan. It doesn't include the past days, but illustrates the marked peak in activity during 10-15 Jan. Deformation and other monitoring data have been limited by several stations having become non-operational because ash covering the solar panels and other technical difficulties in maintaining them.

However, the still working tiltmeter station Lau Kawar station at 1468 m elevation on the (so far little affected) northern slope of the mountain shows a strong inflation period between 10-14 Jan, which likely corresponds to the arrival of new magma from depth and with the observed increased pyroclastic flow activity during that time.

The latest available data from seismic, tilt, GPS, and gas monitoring show no clear trend during the latest few days still included in the published data.

Merapi (Western Sumatra, Indonesia): New ash emissions occurred from the volcano's summit crater this morning at 10am local time, Antara News reported. The eruption , back into eruption. Similar small eruptions have been observed during the past years and the current status of the volcano remains at level 2 (out of 4).

Ash emission from Marapi volcano on Sumatra (ANTARA/Muhammad Arif Pribadi/rj)

Climbers are advised not to approach the crater to within 3 km radius because similar (probably phreatic) explosions can occur with little warning.

Complete Earthquake list (worldwide) for January 19, 2014.

SOURCES: Volcano Discovery | Earth Week | PetaPixel.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Magnitude 2.6 Tremor Shakes Universal City On 20th Anniversary Of Northridge Quake - Experts Warn That A Big Los Angeles Earthquake Could Cripple Internet, Cellphone Service!

January 19, 2014 - UNITED STATES - A 2.6-magnitude tremor shook the Los Angeles area Friday morning on the 20th anniversary of the Northridge Earthquake.

USGS earthquake location.

The earthquake, epicentered 4 km west of Universal City, struck at 5:26 a.m., the U.S. Geological Survey said.

There were no initial reports of any damage or injuries.

Twenty years ago, the 6.7-magnitude Northridge Earthquake struck at 4:31 a.m. and killed 57 people.

caused more than $13 billion in damage. It was the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

WATCH: M2.6 Tremor Shakes Universal City On 20th Anniversary Of Northridge Quake.

The quake affected an area spanning Ventura, Los Angeles and Orange counties, or 2,192 square miles.

Officials said more than 20,000 people were left homeless. An estimated 40,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, some as far as 85 miles away from the epicenter.

Several events will be held Friday across the city to commemorate the quake. - CBS Los Angeles.

Big Los Angeles Earthquake Could Cripple Internet, Cellphone Service.
The Northridge earthquake of 1994 - The body of Los Angeles Police Officer Clarence Wayne Dean lies near his
motorcycle, which plunged off the 14 Freeway overpass that collapsed onto the 5 Freeway during the earthquake.
(Jonathan Alcorn / For the Los Angeles Times

Twenty years after the Northridge earthquake, experts say a huge temblor across Southern California today could cripple cellphone and Wi-Fi Internet service.

Seismic safety officials increasingly have been studying how telecommunications would be affected after a quake even bigger than Northridge and expressed concerns it would make communications difficult for days or longer.

Like water and gas lines, most Southern California Internet lines run across the San Andreas Fault, and officials fear the Big One could cut off service.  In the case of a huge earthquake, fiber-optic telecommunication lines could be severed by the violent dislocation of the fault. Cellphone towers in areas that experience heavy shaking could collapse or be damaged, experts say.

Even if the towers are not damaged, a surge in phone usage after a major quake is sure to bring interruptions.
The relatively modest magnitude 5.5 Chino Hills quake in 2008 caused major problems with cellphone and land-line communications. Some cellphone companies reported up to an 800% increase in calls, far more than they had expected in a true disaster. Even phones in some police agencies near the epicenter were knocked off-line.

The Northridge earthquake of 1994 - Sylmar resident Brian Demetz flees from his burning home.
(Los Angeles Times)

The same thing happened after the 2011 Washington, D.C.-area quake. Several companies said many customers struggled to make phone calls but could still send and receive text messages.

When Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced an extensive new earthquake safety effort Tuesday, he said one focus would be strengthening the telecommunication network to better withstand a quake.

"We created a society that requires the Internet to function," said U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Lucy Jones, who is heading L.A.'s new effort. "The Internet is adding this whole new level of ... complexity to our society."

Seismic experts say it's important to put the communications risk in context. They said damage to unstable buildings — which would bring loss of life — and the possible cutoff of the water supply are much more serious concerns.

The Northridge earthquake of 1994 - Before dawn, repairs begin on the collapsed 5 Freeway.
(Los Angeles Times)
But they also argue that the seismic risks to telecommunications need more study because so many basic functions are now controlled by computers.

"It used to be that grocery stores in Southern California had big warehouses in the Inland Empire where food was stockpiled," Jones told quake experts in a December speech in San Francisco. She said the development of the Internet helped create a more efficiency-minded "just-in-time economy" where far less food is stored on the L.A. side of the San Andreas Fault.

Though the 6.7 Northridge earthquake killed about 60 people and caused billions of dollars in damage, experts warn that the region is overdue for a much larger temblor. A 7.8 or larger earthquake along the southern end of the San Andreas Fault that has long been predicted would be exponentially more powerful and destructive over a much larger area. - LA Times.

DELUGE: Massive Floods And Landslides Ravage Jakarta, Indonesia - 23 Killed; Over 43,000 Displaced; Government Allocates 3.3 BILLION In Aid For Flood Victims!

January 19, 2014 - INDONESIA - The death toll in days of floods and landslides in Indonesia has climbed to 23, an official said Saturday, as torrential rain pounded the capital.

Vehicles drive on a flooded road in Jakarta on January 17, 2014 (AFP Photo/Bay Ismoyo)

Families in Jakarta neighbourhoods waded through murky chest-high flood waters, clutching their belongings, while others were ferried to safety in rubber dinghies, local TV stations showed.

"Five people have died in Jakarta so far from drowning or electrocution in the floods," National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nurgoho told AFP.

More than 4,300 people in the capital have been displaced by the floods, which also worsened the city's notorious traffic jams.

Meanwhile the death toll rose to 18 late Friday in the northern part of Indonesia's Sulawesi island, which has suffered flash floods and landslides. Two people there are still missing, Nugroho said.

WATCH: Jakarta floods worsen as further downpours arrive.

The Sulawesi deluge, which ripped more than 100 homes from their foundations, is receding as the downpour there eases, Nugroho said, adding that three-quarters of the 40,000 people initially displaced there have returned to their homes.

Indonesia is regularly hit with deadly floods and landslides during its wet season, which lasts for around six months.

Environmentalists blame logging and a failure to reforest denuded land for exacerbating the floods. - Yahoo.

Government Allocates 3.3 BILLION In Aid For Flood Victims.
Residents wade through a flooded area in  Jakarta on January 13, 2014 (AFP Photo/Bay Ismoyo)

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) handed Rp 3.3 billion (US$272,344.71) to the North Sulawesi administration to help speed up disaster relief efforts after massive flash floods and landslides hit several regions in the province, killing at least 16 people and temporarily displacing about 40,000.

“The financial aid has been given directly to North Sulawesi’s governor [Sinyo Harry Sarundajang],” BNPB head Syamsul Maarif said at the State Palace on Thursday.

As of Thursday, the number of fatalities stood at 16, but the number could rise as search and rescue efforts had been being intensified, he added. A search for two villagers was still being carried out, Syamsul said.

Torrential rain over the past several days triggered massive landslides and flash floods on Wednesday, affecting six regencies and municipalities almost simultaneously, according to the BNPB.

More than 1,000 houses were flooded by overflowing rivers, forcing thousands to flee to shelters.

As the weather had improved, about 60 percent of displaced persons returned to their homes on Thursday, Syamsul said.

“Some areas were still isolated because landslides have blocked some vital roads. As a result, the distribution of logistics was hampered,” he said.

Children (right) in a flooded street in their neighborhood in downtown Jakarta on January 18, 2014
(AFP Photo/Bay Ismoyo)

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has ordered the BNPB, as well as the local administration to boost efforts to help mitigate the disaster. “The current weather has been predicted to last four months, so I hope we can be better-prepared. Anytime disaster strikes, we should be able to respond quickly and precisely,” he told a Cabinet meeting.

Coordinating Economic Minister Hatta Rajasa said the bad weather could contribute to an inflation rise. “The government has been assessing the situation in order to determine necessary efforts to maintain the stability of staple food prices,” he said.

In Jakarta, flooding has receded and most evacuees have returned home, according to Jakarta Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) management control head Basuki Rahmat.

Flooding in the capital has claimed four lives and temporarily displaced 5,547 people since Monday.

However, some evacuees have opted to remain at the shelters as their homes still need to be cleaned. As many as 1,135 residents affected by floods in Pengadegan, South Jakarta, for example, will remain at a number of shelters as they wait for floodwater to totally subside.

Rumors about a possible flash flood in Jakarta early on Thursday that circulated through text message and social media networks alerted many residents. The information turned out to be false, but Basuki reminded coastal area residents to be prepared for possible flooding in the coming days.

“The Meterology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) predict that there will be high tide during the full moon,” he said.

The Public Works Ministry will close part of Jl. TB Simatupang in South Jakarta to repair a part of the road that collapsed during flooding.

Ministry spokesperson Danis H Sumadilaga said in a press release that the ministry would replace drainage culverts and elevate the road by 1- meter to avoid runoff.

The ministry had earmarked Rp 2.5 billion for the roadwork, which would start by rebuilding the road’s foundation. “The work is estimated to be completed in 17 days,” he said.

During construction, traffic will be diverted to Jl. Jatipadang and turn into Jl. Ragunan Raya, which heads to the Pasar Minggu area. - Jakarta Post.

BIG BROTHER NOW: The Rise Of The Global Police State - NSA Collects 200 MILLION Text Messages Per Day In "Untargeted" Global Sweep!

January 19, 2014 - UNITED STATES - The National Security Agency has collected almost 200 million text messages a day from across the globe, using them to extract data including location, contact networks and credit card details, according to top-secret documents.

The NSA has made extensive use of its text message database to extract information on people under
no suspicion of illegal activity. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA

The untargeted collection and storage of SMS messages – including their contacts – is revealed in a joint investigation between the Guardian and the UK’s Channel 4 News based on material provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The documents also reveal the UK spy agency GCHQ has made use of the NSA database to search the metadata of “untargeted and unwarranted” communications belonging to people in the UK.

WATCH:  Stasi 2.0 - 'NSA using same illegal spy tactics from Cold War'.

The NSA program, codenamed Dishfire, collects “pretty much everything it can”, according to GCHQ documents, rather than merely storing the communications of existing surveillance targets.

The NSA has made extensive use of its vast text message database to extract information on people’s travel plans, contact books, financial transactions and more – including of individuals under no suspicion of illegal activity.

An agency presentation from 2011 – subtitled “SMS Text Messages: A Goldmine to Exploit” – reveals the program collected an average of 194 million text messages a day in April of that year. In addition to storing the messages themselves, a further program known as “Prefer” conducted automated analysis on the untargeted communications.

An NSA presentation from 2011 on the agency's Dishfire program to collect millions of text messages daily.
Photograph: Guardian

The Prefer program uses automated text messages such as missed call alerts or texts sent with international roaming charges to extract information, which the agency describes as “content-derived metadata”, and explains that “such gems are not in current metadata stores and would enhance current analytics”.

On average, each day the NSA was able to extract:

• More than 5 million missed-call alerts, for use in contact-chaining analysis (working out someone’s social network from who they contact and when)

• Details of 1.6 million border crossings a day, from network roaming alerts

• More than 110,000 names, from electronic business cards, which also included the ability to extract and save images.

• Over 800,000 financial transactions, either through text-to-text payments or linking credit cards to phone users

The agency was also able to extract geolocation data from more than 76,000 text messages a day, including from “requests by people for route info” and “setting up meetings”. Other travel information was obtained from itinerary texts sent by travel companies, even including cancellations and delays to travel plans.

A slide on the Dishfire program describes the 'analytic gems' of collected metadata.
Photograph: Guardian

Communications from US phone numbers, the documents suggest, were removed (or “minimized”) from the database – but those of other countries, including the UK, were retained.

The revelation the NSA is collecting and extracting personal information from hundreds of millions of global text messages a day is likely to intensify international pressure on US president Barack Obama, who on Friday is set to give his response to the report of his NSA review panel.

While US attention has focused on whether the NSA’s controversial phone metadata program will be discontinued, the panel also suggested US spy agencies should pay more consideration to the privacy rights of foreigners, and reconsider spying efforts against allied heads of state and diplomats.

In a statement to the Guardian, a spokeswoman for the NSA said any implication that the agency’s collection was “arbitrary and unconstrained is false”. The agency’s capabilities were directed only against “valid foreign intelligence targets” and were subject to stringent legal safeguards, she said.

WATCH:  Stasi 2.0 - NSA bulk data collection not cheap or effective in terrorism fight.

The ways in which the UK spy agency GCHQ has made use of the NSA Dishfire database also seems likely to raise questions on the scope of its powers.

While GCHQ is not allowed to search through the content of messages without a warrant – though the contents are stored rather than deleted or “minimized” from the database – the agency’s lawyers decided analysts were able to see who UK phone numbers had been texting, and search for them in the database.

The GCHQ memo sets out in clear terms what the agency’s access to Dishfire allows it to do, before handling how UK communications should be treated. The unique property of Dishfire, it states, is how much untargeted or unselected information it stores.

“In contrast to [most] GCHQ equivalents, DISHFIRE contains a large volume of unselected SMS traffic,” it states (emphasis original). “This makes it particularly useful for the development of new targets, since it is possible to examine the content of messages sent months or even years before the target was known to be of interest.”

It later explains in plain terms how useful this capability can be. Comparing Dishfire favourably to a GCHQ counterpart which only collects against phone numbers that have specifically been targeted, it states “Dishfire collects pretty much everything it can, so you can see SMS from a selector which is not targeted”.

The document also states the database allows for broad, bulk searches of keywords which could result in a high number of hits, rather than just narrow searches against particular phone numbers: “It is also possible to search against the content in bulk (e.g. for a name or home telephone number) if the target’s mobile phone number is not known.”

Analysts are warned to be careful when searching content for terms relating to UK citizens or people currently residing in the UK, as these searches could be successful but would not be legal without a warrant or similar targeting authority.

However, a note from GCHQ’s operational legalities team, dated May 2008, states agents can search Dishfire for “events” data relating to UK numbers – who is contacting who, and when.

“You may run a search of UK numbers in DISHFIRE in order to retrieve only events data,” the note states, before setting out how an analyst can prevent himself seeing the content of messages when he searches – by toggling a single setting on the search tool.

Once this is done, the document continues, “this will now enable you to run a search without displaying the content of the SMS, especially useful for untargeted and unwarranted UK numbers.”

A separate document gives a sense of how large-scale each Dishfire search can be, asking analysts to restrain their searches to no more than 1,800 phone numbers at a time.

An NSA slide on the 'Prefer' program reveals the program collected an average of 194 million text messages
a day in April 2011. Photograph: Guardian

The note warns analysts they must be careful to make sure they use the form’s toggle before searching, as otherwise the database will return the content of the UK messages – which would, without a warrant, cause the analyst to “unlawfully be seeing the content of the SMS”.

The note also adds that the NSA automatically removes all “US-related SMS” from the database, so it is not available for searching.

A GCHQ spokesman refused to comment on any particular matters, but said all its intelligence activities were in compliance with UK law and oversight.

But Vodafone, one of the world’s largest mobile phone companies with operations in 25 countries including Britain, greeted the latest revelations with shock.

“It’s the first we’ve heard about it and naturally we’re shocked and surprised,” the group’s privacy officer and head of legal for privacy, security and content standards told Channel 4 News.

“What you’re describing sounds concerning to us because the regime that we are required to comply with is very clear and we will only disclose information to governments where we are legally compelled to do so, won’t go beyond the law and comply with due process.

“But what you’re describing is something that sounds as if that’s been circumvented. And for us as a business this is anathema because our whole business is founded on protecting privacy as a fundamental imperative.”

He said the company would be challenging the UK government over this. “From our perspective, the law is there to protect our customers and it doesn’t sound as if that is what is necessarily happening.”

The NSA’s access to, and storage of, the content of communications of UK citizens may also be contentious in the light of earlier Guardian revelations that the agency was drafting policies to facilitate spying on the citizens of its allies, including the UK and Australia, which would – if enacted – enable the agency to search its databases for UK citizens without informing GCHQ or UK politicians.

The documents seen by the Guardian were from an internal Wikipedia-style guide to the NSA program provided for GCHQ analysts, and noted the Dishfire program was “operational” at the time the site was accessed, in 2012.

The documents do not, however, state whether any rules were subsequently changed, or give estimates of how many UK text messages are collected or stored in the Dishfire system, or from where they are being intercepted.

In the statement, the NSA spokeswoman said: “As we have previously stated, the implication that NSA's collection is arbitrary and unconstrained is false.

“NSA's activities are focused and specifically deployed against – and only against – valid foreign intelligence targets in response to intelligence requirements.

“Dishfire is a system that processes and stores lawfully collected SMS data. Because some SMS data of US persons may at times be incidentally collected in NSA’s lawful foreign intelligence mission, privacy protections for US persons exist across the entire process concerning the use, handling, retention, and dissemination of SMS data in Dishfire.

WATCH:   'Baby Steps' - Little hope for big change as Obama offers NSA reform.

“In addition, NSA actively works to remove extraneous data, to include that of innocent foreign citizens, as early as possible in the process.”

The agency draws a distinction between the bulk collection of communications and the use of that data to monitor or find specific targets.

A spokesman for GCHQ refused to respond to any specific queries regarding Dishfire, but said the agency complied with UK law and regulators.

“It is a longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters,” he said. “Furthermore, all of GCHQ's work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the Secretary of State, the Interception and Intelligence Services Commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee.”

GCHQ also directed the Guardian towards a statement made to the House of Commons in June 2013 by foreign secretary William Hague, in response to revelations of the agency’s use of the Prism program.

“Any data obtained by us from the US involving UK nationals is subject to proper UK statutory controls and safeguards, including the relevant sections of the Intelligence Services Act, the Human Rights Act and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act,” Hague told MPs. - Guardian.

GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVAL: Scientists Discover Giant Trench Under Antarctic Ice - Massive Subglacial Valley Is Up To 3 Kilometres Deep, Over 300 Kilometres Long And Up To 25 Kilometres Wide!

January 19, 2014 - ANTARCTICA - A massive ancient subglacial trough – deeper than the Grand Canyon - has been discovered by a team of UK experts.

Credit: Newcastle University

The research involved scientists from Newcastle University, the University of Bristol's Glaciology Centre, the British Antarctic Survey and the universities of Edinburgh, Exeter, and York. They charted the Ellsworth Subglacial Highlands – an ancient mountain range buried beneath several kilometres of Antarctic ice - by combining data from satellites and ice-penetrating radars towed behind skidoos and on-board small aircraft.

The researchers spent three seasons investigating and mapping the region in West Antarctica, uncovering a massive subglacial valley up to 3 kilometres deep, more than 300 kilometres long and up to 25 kilometres across. In places, the floor of this valley is more than 2000 metres below sea level.

The mountain range and deep valley were carved millions of years ago by a small icefield similar to those of the present-day Antarctic Peninsula, or those of Arctic Canada and Alaska.

Professor Martin Siegert, Professor of Geosciences at the University of Bristol, said: "While the idea of West Antarctic Ice Sheet growth and decay over the past few million years has been discussed for decades, the precise location where the ice sheet may originate from in growth phases, and decay back to in periods of decay, has not been known.

"By looking at the topography beneath the ice sheet using a combination of ice-penetrating radio-echo sounding and satellite imagery, we have revealed a region which possesses classic glacial geomorphic landforms, such as u-shaped valleys and cirques, that could only have been formed by a small ice cap, similar to those seen at present in the Canadian and Russian High Arctic. The region uncovered is, therefore, the site of ice sheet genesis in West Antarctica."

The team's analysis has provided an unprecedented insight into the extent, thickness and behaviour of this ancient icefield, and the configuration and behaviour of the early West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The subglacial landscape shows where and how the West Antarctic Ice Sheet originated and grew. It also provides important clues about the size and shape of the ice sheet in West Antarctica in a warmer global climate.

The findings are published in the latest edition of the Geological Society of America Bulletin. The paper's lead author Dr Neil Ross, from Newcastle University, said: "The discovery of this huge trough, and the characterisation of the surrounding mountainous landscape, was incredibly serendipitous.

"We had acquired ice penetrating radar data from both ends of this huge hidden valley, but we had no information to tell us what was in between. Satellite data was used to fill the gap, because despite being covered beneath several kilometres of ice, the valley is so vast that it can be seen from space.

"To me, this just goes to demonstrate how little we still know about the surface of our own planet. The discovery and exploration of hidden, previously-unknown landscapes is still possible and incredibly exciting, even now." - PHYSORG.

FIRE IN THE SKY: Increasing Meteor Fireballs Or "Space Junk Threat" - Japan To Test "Magnetic Net" To Sweep Up Space Debris And The ISS Delays Planned Orbit Raise, Due To Space Junk Threat?!

January 19, 2014 - SPACE - Japan's space agency is subcontracting a fishing net company to develop a technology to clean up the space junk that poses a direct threat to Earth's communication networks. The mission is planned for 2019, with first tests scheduled for this February.

Japan To Test "Magnetic Net" To Sweep Up Space Debris
Exaggerated artistic impression of space junk around planet Earth.  Currently experts estimate there are 100 million bits
of junk floating around the Earth. 22,000 of those pieces of space debris are believed to measure 10 cm or longer

Tokyo's Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Nitto Seimo Co, a company with almost a century-long experience in fishing net manufacturing, have already developed a space net measuring 1 kilometer long and 30cm wide in a bid to clear Earth's orbit from some 100 million pieces of man-made junk.

Made of three strong and flexible lengths of metal fiber, the net is scheduled to be first tested in orbit in February. During the first phase a satellite will unreal a wire net of some 300 meters long that will use a specially generated magnetic field to reel-in the debris just above our atmosphere.

"We started work on this project about five years ago and we are all excited to see the outcome of this first test," Koji Ozaki, the engineer who heads the development team at Hiroshima-based Nitto Seimo, told the South China Morning Post.

The test is planned to last for about a year after which the net be pulled down by Earth's gravity, incinerating the junk once the net enters the atmosphere.

The company hopes that their know-how will be able to complete the first part of the clean-up mission. The aim is to tackle the hazardous problem of debris damaging space satellites and spacecraft.

Space debris are potentially threatening to satellites and the International Space Station. Most of the
debris is made up of discarded parts of degrading satellites and old rockets

"Fishing nets need to be extremely strong because they need to be able to hold a large number of fish, but our tether does not have to be that strong," Ozaki said. "It is more important that it is flexible."

If the mission is successful, Jaxa is planning further trials next year with a complete system deployment as early as 2019.

The majority of the 100 million pieces of human-made debris are orbiting some 700 to 1,000 kilometers above the planet's surface. Most of them are comprised of small particles but around 22,000 measuring 10 cm or more are believed to be hazardous and pose a direct threat to satellites and spacecraft.

In late February, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is teaming up with a fishing equipment company
to test out an unusual approach to fighting space junk: a satellite equipped with a 300-meter magnetic net that
will sweep up the man-made debris hovering in low-Earth orbit. The net is only 30 cm wide when unspooled,
and it is composed of a highly flexible metal fiber. When the net is launched into space, it will
use a magnetic field to attract pieces of orbiting debris

The debris is made up of space exploration leftovers including spanners, nuts, bolts, gloves and shards of space craft. Experts believe that global positioning systems, international phone connections, television signals and weather forecasts could be affected by ever increasing levels of space junk.

In order to protect the International Space Station from the fields of space debris, over 100 special anti-impact shields, the Whipple Bumpers, have been installed to tackle threat from objects whose velocities range between 3 and 18 kilometers per second. In addition, the orbital paths of spacecraft going to and returning from the ISS are constantly monitored for debris. - Space Daily.

ISS Delays Planned Orbit Raise Due To Space Junk Threat
International Space Station (Reuters / NASA / Handout via Reuters)

The International Space Station’s manoeuvre to raise orbit has been delayed by two days over the threat of collision with space junk that could severely damage the station.

The ISS orbit was scheduled to be raised by nearly two kilometers to ensure safe docking of the Russian Progress M-22M resupply spacecraft on February 6. The manoeuvre was to be carried out to compensate for Earth’s gravity. The delay was the initiative of the United States.

The new date and time of the manoeuvre will be announced on Friday, while the preliminary date has been set for January 18, according to Moscow mission control center.

More than 800 pieces of space debris are situated on the same orbit with the ISS and are a potential threat to the station, according to NASA’s data from October.

When the ISS faces the threat of a collision with a piece of space junk, the US, Russia and their partners usually order a debris avoidance manoeuvre. This occurs about once a year on average, according to NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office.

The ISS is heavily shielded, as critical components, such as habitable compartments and high pressure tanks, are able to withstand the impact of debris as large as 1 cm in diameter. However anything larger than a baseball poses a potentially catastrophic threat to the ISS, according to NASA estimates.

More than 100 different shields have been designed to protect the various critical components of the ISS, according to a ‘Protecting the Space Station from Meteoroids and Orbital Debris’ report. One of these is the Whipple bumper that breaks up, melts or vaporizes a high-velocity object on impact. Then the slower and smaller remnants spread the remaining energy of the impact over a larger area.

Orbital debris is “all man-made objects in orbit about the Earth which no longer serve a useful purpose,” as NASA defines them. These are derelict spacecraft, abandoned space launch vehicle stages, mission-related debris, and fragments created as a result of explosions or collisions.

One of the two main sources of the debris circling Earth was the intentional destruction of the Fengyun-1C weather satellite by China in 2007 and the accidental collision of American and Russian communications satellites in 2009, according to NASA. They now represent one-third of all catalogued orbital debris.

Last week, NASA announced that it achieved financial support to prolong the ISS’s work until 2024. It will cost the US about $3 billion per year.

The ISS was created in 1998 with the participation of the US, Russia, Japan, Canada, and the European Union. About $160 billion has been spent on the project to date. - RT.

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: "We're Now Seeing At Least Double The Amount Of Pelicans Than Normal This Time Of Year" - Young Pelicans Found Starving In The Florida Keys In Disturbing Numbers?!

January 19, 2014 - UNITED STATES - Dozens of young pelicans in the Florida Keys have been found starving and The Florida Keys Wild Bird Center has stepped in to help.

According to wildlife rehabilitator Amanda Margraves, the bird sanctuary, which is located in Tavernier, has seen a large influx of pelicans which are very thin and weak.

“We’re seeing at least double the amount of pelicans than normal this time of year,” Margraves told “They’re all juveniles, very young coming in very emaciated.”

There is no official reason why the birds are starving but there is a theory.

“We think it has to do with the lack of food in Florida Bay,” said Margraves. She explained that fishermen have been complaining recently that there’s a lack of food such as bait fish and other small fish that pelicans feed on.

“We get a lot of calls about the birds, a lot of local marinas call about birds beaching themselves, things like that,” explained Margraves.

WATCH: Young Pelicans Found Starving in Florida Keys in Disturbing Numbers.

Once the hungry brown pelicans arrive at the center, they are warmed up and fed. The birds, only about a year old, usually stay for a couple of weeks to be fattened up before being released back into the wild.

The Florida Keys Wild Bird Center currently has taken in 20 young pelicans since January 1st and currently has 25 on its property.

Due to the high number of birds, the center is in desperate need of towels, laundry detergent, bleach and heat lamps.

If you’d like to donate or volunteer, click here for the website.  - CBS Miami.

FIRE IN THE SKY: NASA - Two More Newly Discovered Asteroids To Pass Earth On Tuesday!

January 19, 2014 - SPACE - According to a new report, a small asteroid entered earth's atmosphere and busted over the mid-Atlantic ocean on the Eve of New Year.

It has been reported that the asteroid, 2014 AA, was discovered by NASA scientists just 21 hours before it entered the Earth's atmosphere. This has raised a question on NASA's search and discovery of Near Earth Objects (NEOs). NASA is capable of noticing asteroids approaching the Earth, well in advance.

No destruction was caused by the asteroid as it was very small in size. This incident has occurred only for the second time in world history. Researchers cited a similar incident that took place in 2008, in which NASA officials reported about a NEO provisionally titled, 2008 TC3, just 19 hours before it made an entry into the Earth's atmosphere.

Frequent interactions of our blue planet with asteroids evoke another incident in the mind, which took place on 15 February, 2013. A meteor, called Chelyabinsk meteor, entered the Earth's atmosphere and exploded over Russia. The impact was considerable as the meteor was 60 feet in diameter.

Two more asteroids are well set to pass Earth's atmosphere on Tuesday, but they have been reported to pass earth over a distance between 22 and 25 million kilometers. - French Tribune.