Two days after a group of Somali islamist militants vowed to execute Kenyan hostages, and tweeted a video of a captive pleading for the Kenyan government to help free them, the Al-Shabaab Twitter account @HSMPress was suspended. A Google cache is visible here. Warning: includes gruesome photos. The group took a French intelligence officer hostage, then apparently murdered him after an unsuccessful attempted raid by the French military which the US assisted). An @HSMPress press release about that killing is available on Twitlonger.
The Harakat Al-Shabaab Al Mujahideen Twitter account has been around since 2011, promoting the group's vision of strict sharia law in Somalia, 140 characters at a time. The US State Department was reportedly looking in to shutting it down ages ago. Wonder what took them so long?
For its part, Al Shabaab blames its "Christian enemies" for suspending its Twitter account. And they do sound rather miffed about being blocked on the popular social networking platform.
The German Herald reports that men serving in the elite Wachbataillon unit of the German army are developing breasts on their left pectorals. A doctor who is treating the men says that their trademark close-order drill is at fault, as it has the men repeatedly, violently slamming their guns into the left side of their chest, stimulating mammary growth.
The condition - called one sided gynecomastia - has been diagnosed in 74 per cent of battalion members who presented to army medics with concerns over the growths.
Director of plastic surgery at the military hospital in Berlin, Professor Bjorn Krapohl, confirmed: "There is a very significant link between the activity in the Guard Battalion and the development of the breast on the left side.
"They need to change the way they drill. The constant slamming of the rifles against the left hand side of the chest is clearly a significant factor," he added.
A photograph that shows the Hiroshima atomic bomb cloud split into two sections, one over the other, has been released by the curator of a peace museum in Japan. It was discovered on Monday among a collection of some 1,000 archival items related to the bombing, all of which are now in the possession of Honkawa Elementary School in Hiroshima city.
"Zero Dark Thirty," director Kathryn Bigelow's truthy-but-not-a-documentary-but-maybe-it-kinda-is thriller about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, opened in New York and Los Angeles this week. I watched a screener last night. I thought it kind of sucked. There's a lot of buzz about what a great work of art ZDT is. I don't get it. In reviews of ZDT, fawning critics reflexively note that she directed Oscar-winning "Hurt Locker." Guys, she directed "Point Break," too.
Etsy seller Dee Forrest has an unexpected hit with this $40 crocheted knight's helmet with a clever movable visor. The item is waitlisted for a very, very long time. Get in line now, you might have it by next winter!
Snip from a report by USA Today's Gregg Zoroya: "According to Pentagon data, there were 17 confirmed or suspected suicides this year among commandos or support personnel through Dec. 2, compared with nine suicides each of the past two years. That's a suicide rate among these troops of about 25 per 100,000, comparable to a record rate this year in the Army and higher than a demographically adjusted civilian suicide rate."
Camille Chidiac, one of the owners of "the Pentagon's top propaganda contractor in Afghanistan" is being sued for stealing company secrets related to waterproofing Iphones, and the lawsuit's filings include documents alleging that Chiciac boasted of running a smear campaign against USA Today:
The online smear campaign began early in 2012 and included fake Twitter feeds, Facebook pages and fan club sites. Chidiac, according to the lawsuit, said he could mount such attacks and the paper "would never know it was him."
The smears ended in late April after Pentagon officials were alerted to it. Chidiac acknowledged his role in creating the websites in May but said he had done so as a private citizen. He promised to sell his stake in the company but has not done so, said Gar Smith, a Leonie spokesman.
Jason Fandrich, an attorney for Chidiac, called the accusations in the lawsuit frivolous and without merit.
In a landmark ruling for human rights in the war on terror, the European court of human rights this week found that CIA agents tortured German citizen, Khaled el-Masri. The agents sodomized, shackled, and beat him, as Macedonian state police observed.
Jessica Chastain as CIA agent “Maya” in Zero Dark Thirty. Photo: Sony/Columbia Pictures
• Glenn Greenwald at the Guardian on the new Kathryn Bigelow film about the capture and assassination of Osama Bin Laden: "With its release imminent, [Zero Dark Thirty] is now garnering a pile of top awards and virtually uniform rave reviews. What makes this so remarkable is that, by most accounts, the film glorifies torture by claiming - falsely - that waterboarding and other forms of coercive interrogation tactics were crucial, even indispensable in finding bin Laden."
The unfortunately named "Sham II" is a homemade Syrian rebel tank whose main gun is directed with an off-brand video-game thumbstick/gamepad controller. Targetting is via webcam and cheap flat-panel display.
The Sham II, an updated version of a previously made Sham I light infantry by Syrian fighters from the al Ansar Brigade, cost approximately $10,000 (not including the gun), according to one rebel fighter whose brother had designed and built it. The vehicle is reportedly covered with steel plating approximately 2.5 centimeters thick. However, the Sham II is admittedly underprepared to defend against rocket-propelled grenades or tank fire. Rebels claimed the Sham II would soon be ushered into a combat role by members of al Ansar's Saad Benmoaz battalion near Aleppo.
The "Mine Kafon" is Massoud Hassani's artificial tumbleweed, made from lightweight materials like bamboo. It is designed to be blown across uncleared minefields, detonating forgotten mines. It was Hassani's grad design project for Design Academy Eindhoven. It continuously broadcasts its location, captured via GPS, plotting out safe, mine-free paths through the fields.
Bad Apple is a sculpture and print by Goin and Mighty Jaxx, depicting Snow White cradling a hand-grenade, with a kerchief covering her face, bandit style. The trademark Disney signature logo appears across the kerchief.
The BBC's Keith Moore tells the tragic story of Joe Pasquini, an RAF navigator who was ordered to fly a jet through the mushroom cloud rising from the 1958 Grapple Y nuclear test, the largest nuclear explosion ever created by the British (he also flew through the Grapple Z test). He has since survived seven bouts with cancer; his children have also had various cancers. They blame his exposure to nuclear radiation, but have been denied any benefits by the British government, which, unlike the US military, does not acknowledge that veterans of nuclear tests are at any elevated risk of cancer. Here's Pasquini's description of his flight through the heart of a mushroom cloud:
"It detonated at 8,000 feet. We had our eyes closed, but even with our eyes closed we could see the light through our eye lids. It took 49 seconds for the light to stop.
"As soon as that happened, we immediately turned back. Fortunately being in the navigating position, I had a little window and I watched the whole thing develop and spread and then start climbing.
"I think I saw the face of God for the first time. It was just incredible, it blew our minds away. These were things that had never been seen before, certainly not by English people."
When the mushroom cloud had passed over them, Pasquini looked up at the window above him and had another surprise - radioactive rain.
"It's the only time I've experienced rain at 46,000 feet," he says.
TSA "officers" have a new deal: awesome new clothes to wear while they touch your genitals.
Under their new collective bargaining agreement, Transportation Security Administration officers get to spend more taxpayer money on their uniforms every year than a United States Marine Corps lieutenant can spend in a lifetime.
“TSA employees will see their uniform allowances nearly double to $446 per year,” the House Transportation Committee noted in a press release on the TSA’s new collective bargaining agreement. “By comparison, a combat Marine Lieutenant receives a one-time uniform allowance of $400. The cost of the increase in TSA uniform allowance is an estimated $9.63 million annually.”
"By acknowleding an extramarital affair, Mr. Petraeus, 60, was confronting a sensitive issue for a spy chief," reports the New York Times. "Intelligence agencies are often concerned about the possibility that agents who engage in such behavior could be blackmailed for information."
In an email to Wired's national security blog Danger Room, a former confidant says of the disgraced general, “He feels that he screwed up. He did a dishonorable thing and needed to try to do the honorable thing.” The source says the affair began after Petraeus retired from the military and became CIA director.
Noah Shachtman at Wired Danger Room: "Hours after being contacted by Danger Room, the New York Army National Guard on Tuesday night abruptly reversed a decision to send hundreds of soldiers out-of-state in the midst of the Hurricane Sandy relief effort."
A long, excellent investigative piece in the Arizona Republic documents a litany of awful and criminal practices by senior officers (especially recruiters) in the Arizona National Guard. Reporter Dennis Wagner spent five months on the project, using Freedom of Information Act requests and internal sources to uncover stomach-turning transgressions, such as recruiters who brought their recruits out to shoot homeless people with paintball guns, and sexual harassment of junior personnel by their seniors that went ignored and unpunished by the Guard.
"Bum hunts" -- Thirty to 35 times in 2007-08, Sgt. 1st Class Michael Amerson, a former "Recruiter of the Year," drove new cadets and prospective enlistees through Phoenix's Sunnyslope community in search of homeless people.
Military investigators were told that Amerson wore his National Guard uniform and drove a government vehicle marked with recruiting insignia as he and other soldiers -- some still minors -- shot transients with paintballs or got them to perform humiliating song-and-dance routines in return for money. During some of these so-called "bum hunts," female recruits said, they were ordered to flash their breasts at transients. Homeless women, conversely, were offered food, money or drinks for showing their breasts.
Amerson, during military interviews, denied paintball assaults but admitted to some wrongdoing. He was demoted to private and given an other-than-honorable discharge. Amerson declined to be interviewed for this story except to say that allegations against him were untrue.
In Marine Times, a Gannett newspaper targeting people in the Marine Corps and their families, an article for "Pinktober" (pink-ribbonny breast cancer awareness month, bleargh) about the high rate of breast cancer among men and women in the military. There are a number of theories as to why the breast cancer rates are so high, and a cluster of the disease affecting males at Camp Lejeune are a particularly vexing science mystery. "Researchers with the CDC are preparing a study that will try to determine whether contaminated drinking water at the Marine Corps’ largest base on the East Coast caused dozens of male Marines, sailors and family members to get breast cancer." Read more: Alarming breast cancer rates among troops(Marine Corps Times). Mother Jones covered this in a recent issue, also.
From the YouTube description of this purported "helmetcam" video from a soldier in Kunar Province, Afghanistan: no shots penetrated his body armor, and he made it home with no permanent injuries.
I got a hit a total of 4 times. My helmet cam died and i made it down the mountain on my own. I was also hit in the side of my helmet and my eye pro was shot off of my face. We were doing overwatch on the village to recon and gather intel. I was point heading down the face of the hill with the LT. when we got hit. the rest of the squad was pinned down by machine gun fire. I didn't start the video until a few mins into the firefight for obvious reasons. I came out into the open to draw fire so my squad could get to safety. A round struck the tube by my hand of the 203 grenade launcher which knocked it out of my hands. When I picked the rifle back up it was still functional but the grenade launcher tube had a nice sized 7.62 cal bullet hole in it and was rendered useless.
The UK government has spent £2.4m on training and arming the military forces in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo -- two places where soldiers are known for atrocities, gang-rape, torture, electoral fraud and vote suppression, and gross human rights abuses. The Guardian's Diane Taylor and David Smith report:
The Enough Project, which works with the American actor George Clooney to expose human rights abuses in both Sudan and Congo, says the two countries are the scene of some of the world's most serious mass atrocities.
In information revealed in a freedom of information response from the Ministry of Defence a total of £75,406 has been spent on providing 44-week courses at the elite Royal Military Academy Sandhurst for Sudanese and Congolese forces. Other support includes military logistics, advanced command and staff courses, strategic intelligence and evaluating challenges to state sovereignty.
A total of £952,301 was spent on international peace support, which includes border security and stabilisation.
As the Sudanese opposition leader Dr Gebreil Fediel said from London, "If it was and is the intention of the UK authorities to teach Sudan's police and security officers how to conduct these matters in a democratic manner, it has failed. The brutality and genocidal activities of government of Sudan state organs against its own citizens is widely documented."
The whole story behind that video and the attacks linked to it is perplexing, and the more that comes to light, the more it feels like a strange disinfo job. But I have no idea by whom, and to what end.
More images here. I don't know who shot them, and am unable to verify that they are what they appear to be as I post.
The Associated Press identifies Sam Bacile as an Israeli filmmaker based in California who made an independently produced and financed anti-Muslim movie that's sort of "Birth of a Nation" meets "Bed Intruder." The YouTube trailer is embedded above, and it unapologetically attacks Islam’s prophet Muhammad. Bacile has no known prior history as a filmmaker.
His D-grade web trailer inspired (or, alternately, was used as cover for) attacks by ultra-conservative Muslims on U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya. J Christopher Stevens, America's ambassador to Libya, and three American members of his staff were killed today in resulting violence.
Speaking by phone Tuesday from an undisclosed location, writer and director Sam Bacile remained defiant, saying Islam is a cancer and that the 56-year-old intended his film to be a provocative political statement condemning the religion. Protesters angered over Bacile’s film opened fire on and burned down the U.S. consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. Libyan officials said Wednesday that Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed Tuesday night when he and a group of embassy employees went to the consulate to try to evacuate staff as the building came under attack by a mob firing machine guns and rocket propelled grenades.
Bacile is a real estate developer in California who identifies himself as an Israeli Jew. “Islam is a cancer, period,” he told the AP. The video above is a trailer for his two-hour movie, “Innocence of Muslims,” which cost $5 million to produce and was, according to the director, backed by funding from 100 Jewish donors. There's an English version and an Arabic-dubbed version of the trailer here. Bacile reports that the entire film has been shown "once, to a mostly empty theater in Hollywood earlier this year."
Here's a DARPA video showing a robotic pack-mule prototype. I think you're supposed to imagine this thing being on your side, but when I see videos like this, I always find myself imagining what it would be like to be crouching in the underbrush with a couple of terrified children, trying to keep them silent while this thing motors through the uncanny valley around us.
This video depicts field testing of the DARPA Legged Squad Support System (LS3). The goal of the LS3 program is to demonstrate that a legged robot can unburden dismounted squad members by carrying their gear, autonomously following them through rugged terrain, and interpreting verbal and visual commands.
[I]n recent years, the affordability of airships as well as developments in high-definition cameras, high-powered sensors and other unmanned technologies have turned these oddball aircraft from curiosities of a bygone era to must-have items for today's military. And airships increasingly are being used for civilian purposes.
The federal government is buying blimps, zeppelins and spy balloons, and many of these new-generation hybrid "lighter than air" aircraft are taking shape across California.
"So much is going on with airships in California now," Pasternak said. "It wasn't this way 10 years ago."
Of note, the difference between airships, blimps, and zeppelins:
The Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. military and border-patrol officials are teaming up on a new initiative to bring dozens of surveillance blimps from Afghanistan war zones to the Mexican border.
Over the next few weeks, the military will oversee a test in south Texas to determine if a 72-foot-long, unmanned surveillance blimp—sometimes called "the floating eye" when used to spot insurgents in Afghanistan—can help find drug runners and people trying to cross illegally into the U.S.
The project is part of a broader attempt by U.S. officials to establish a high-tech surveillance network along the border and find alternative uses for expensive military hardware that will be coming back from Afghanistan, along with the troops.
President Obama isn't closing Guantánamo any time soon, but prisoners will be well-taken-care-of in the entertainment department, according to this Miami Herald article: they have an endless supply of of Will Smith’s 1990s TV comedy, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, with which to while away the years. The sitcom has become a "popular way to pass time among the 168 captives now in their second decade of U.S. detention." Guards say it now eclipses the Harry Potter books as most-requested entertainment. (via @kgosztola)