How governments and cyber-militias attack civil society groups, and what they can do about it

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The University of Toronto's Citizen Lab (previously) is one of the world's leading research centers for cybersecurity analysis, and they are the first port of call for many civil society groups when they are targeted by governments and cyber-militias. Read the rest

VIDEO: Tension mounts as French forces try to halt progress of suicide truck

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We interrupt your growing anxiety at America's emergent cyberpunk dystopia for a tense missive from the Syrian War. In this video, an explosive-laden suicide truck bears down on a position held (reportedly by French special forces with the SDF) near Raqqa. The perspective on the video makes it hard to tell, but the vehicle is well-armored and only seconds from putting the defenders in serious trouble. Bullets ricochet off; a missile sails past its target. It is not long before everyone is becoming quite alarmed at the driver's progress. What happens next, though, will probably not surprise you. Read the rest

How a small group of geeks led the Syrian refugee surge

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In September 2015, President Obama raised the ceiling of refugees, many of them Syrian, who would be welcomed to the United States in the coming year from 70,000 to 85,000. While a wonderful humanitarian move, it also posed huge problems for the already-overwhelmed, byzantine systems in place to process refugee applications admissions. That's when the White House's crack tech team, the United States Digital Service, stepped in to help. The US Digital Service was born out of the disaster of Healthcare.gov, when the White House called in top-notch geeks from Silicon Valley and elsewhere to fix the disastrous Obamacare website. This year, they focused on how to get more refugees through the door. For a Webby Awards exclusive feature, I commissioned the talented journalist Lauren Smiley to tell the story of the US Digital Service and their sprint to bring in 85,000 refugees. From Lauren's feature:

When the photo of a Syrian toddler washed up on a Turkey beach appeared in his newsfeed, Jason Wu was getting restless. It was September of last year, and he’d just left his job as a product manager at Facebook’s Silicon Valley HQ—in some ways, exactly the kind of job he’d wanted back as a UC Berkeley computer science student. But at 29, having been ensconced in cush startup culture of T-shirt swag and free meals surrounding the challenging technical work, he was starting to mull a new question: “To what end?” Considering the options, he didn’t want to join one of the many mobile app companies proliferating in the valley that solved the problems of the same wealthy young people who make them.

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Refugees, Women in Black and the Serbian police

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"You can’t tell who is craziest: the refugees, the police or those women," said a local shopkeeper. He made a cross over his chest, to express his sincere Serbian bewilderment.

He had just witnessed ten shabby Afghan and Syrian refugees walking past, escorted by ten Women in Black from Serbia, Italy and Spain, themselves escorted by ten policemen and a police car.

By the railway station in downtown Belgrade, the temporary citizens-from-nowhere are living their nomad existences in the the rubble of the so-called Belgrade Waterfront construction project. The refugees loiter all day, hoping for something to happen, between the city bus yards and huge trash-cans full of boxed food that the aid workers supply on a regular basis.

Around five pm there is a kind of tea ceremony where about 800 people gather, most of them arriving from the organized camps where they sleep. They arrive to be heard, to be seen. We Women in Black went to join them to show this Belgrade political scene to our international colleagues.

It’ s been now two years since the Syrian refugee crisis seized headlines, but the refugees are not entirely Syrians, but a global peoples’ market of Afghans and Nigerians as well. In the beginning there were many more refugees, and far less aid from the locals and the Serbian state. The migrants were simply collapsing on flat surfaces anywhere in Belgrade, urban nooks, parks and lots where they ate, drank and slept.

Now the bus-station square, a favorite place to cluster for obvious reasons, has been fenced and organized. Read the rest

The dubious upsides of having a Syrian passport

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Marcell Shehwaro's magnificent, sarcastic, angry essay in Global Voices expresses her gratitude for her Syrian passport, because it has allowed her to see how states are willing to punish the already brutalized out of rage and fear. Read the rest

ISIS left behind at least 14,000 landmines when it retreated from Manbij

Once it became clear that a US-backed militia coalition was going to chase Isis out of the northern Syrian city of Manbij, Isis planted at least 14,000 mines, boobytrapping refrigerators, onion-baskets, rocks, appliances, tea-kettles, "everything." Read the rest

British Muslim detained for reading a book about Syria while on a plane

Faizah Shaheen, via her Twitter profile.

A British woman of Muslim descent was detained and questioned by police under terror laws after a flight crew member noticed she was reading a book about Syrian art while flying to Turkey.

The Thomson Airways attendant reported her for “suspicious behavior,” which amounted to reading a book.

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Iranians connected to phishing attempt on tortured Syrian activist

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Former Syrian National Council vice-president Nour Al-Ameer fled to Turkey after being arrested and tortured by the Assad regime -- that's when someone attempted to phish her and steal her identity with a fake Powerpoint attachment purporting to be about the crimes of the Assad regime. Read the rest

The Death Way: comic tells the real world story of a 16 year old boy's escape from Syria

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Toby Morris (previously) uses animated gifs in his regular cartoon strip for a NZ website; this week, he writes, "I interviewed Hussam, a 16 year old Syrian refugee about how he escaped." Read the rest

United Nations reminds members including U.S. to not bomb hospitals and kill doctors please

Burnt vehicles in front of a hospital hit by airstrikes in rebel-held Aleppo. Reuters

The United Nations Security Council recently passed a resolution reminding members that intentional attacks on medical facilities are war crimes.

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Syrian hacker accused of attacking U.S. for Assad extradited for federal court in Virginia

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A man the U.S. says is a hacker aligned with the government of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad will appear in a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, on Tuesday. An unnamed source with U.S. law enforcement told reporters today that the accused hacker, 36 year old Peter Romar, was extradited to the US and flown from Germany to Dulles International Airport on Monday.

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Watch: Kurds take out a "suicide bomb truck" as it hurtles toward them

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Amazing footage from Syria shows an armored truck, apparently loaded with explosives and driven by a suicide bomber, hurtling toward a low ridge held by Kurdish fighters. After failing to stop it with small arms, they roll out an anti-tank missile launcher and blow the crap out of it. Comparisons with Mad Max are not entirely appropriate... but they really did get the pyrotechnic effects right in that film, didn't they? Read the rest

Turns out the U.S. military really is dropping “cyber bombs” on ISIS

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There's been an awful lot of talk about “cyber pathogens” and “cyber bombs” lately from the mouths of American officials discussing terrorism, and how we will vanquish it. President Obama mentioned “cyber ops” against Islamic State terrorists in one recent address. Today, we know a little more about what was behind last week's cyber-hawkish hacking headlines.

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Massive email leak reveals the worst bribery scandal in history

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Reporters from Fairfax Media and The Huffington Post obtained a huge trove of email from Unaoil, a business run by a rich Monaco family, that reveal that the family ran a corrupt bribery empire that spanned the world's oil-producing states, and that they world with companies like Rolls-Royce, Halliburton, Leighton Holding, Samsung and Hyundai, to rig contracts through a system of bribes and kickbacks that looted the national treasuries of some of the world's poorest countries. Read the rest

Top ISIS leader killed by U.S. Not the first time we've killed him, either.

ISIS leader Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli

The Pentagon says U.S. forces have killed a top Islamic State commander in Syria, as part of a series of military actions targeting ISIS leadership and its storage sites for explosives. U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter delivered the news on Friday.

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Putin orders most Russian troops out of Syria, citing “overall completion” of military goals

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, March 14, 2016.  REUTERS

Vladimir Putin says Russian troops will begin withdrawing from Syria starting Tuesday, the day which marks 5 years since the start of Syria's bloody civil war. Putin's pledge is a move to help advance U.N.-brokered peace talks that resumed today.

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Syrian refugees placed in hotel hosting a furry convention

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Syrian refugees who found their way to Canada have been placed in a hotel hosting a furry convention. Wonderfully surreal scenes of displaced kids dancing with fursuiters were captured on video and posted to YouTube. The New York Daily News described an "aww-inspiring" encounter. Read the rest

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