Posts Tagged World issues

China unmoved on Iran sanctions (BBC)

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the UN General Assembly, New York (23 Sept 2009)

Mr Ahmadinejad said Iran was ready to shake “honestly extended” hands

China says placing sanctions on Iran is not the right way to resolve the controversy over its nuclear plans.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu called on all sides to “redouble diplomatic efforts” to persuade Iran to end its nuclear programme.

Her remarks came after Russia indicated it could soften its longstanding opposition to further sanctions.

Iran’s nuclear ambitions are set to lead Thursday’s nuclear proliferation debate at the UN General Assembly.

Tehran says its nuclear programme is for civilian use only but many Western states believe it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

Speaking in Beijing, Ms Jiang said: “We believe that sanctions and exerting pressure are not the way to solve problems and are not conducive for the current diplomatic efforts on the Iran nuclear issue.”

Correspondents says Iran’s oil and gas industries are likely to be affected if sanctions are strengthened, which could explain China’s reluctance to back further restrictions.

Wide focus

Russia has already agreed to limited sanctions on Iran but has so far opposed any additions.

ANALYSIS
Quentin Sommerville
Quentin Sommerville, BBC News, Beijing

When Jiang Yu said that sanctions and pressure would not solve the Iranian nuclear issue, she was simply repeating China’s stated policy of non-interference in another country’s sovereignty.

China rarely votes “no” in the Security Council, but often abstains. However, Beijing has backed a number of resolutions that would open the way to sanctions against Iran, but did so with its nose firmly held. Sanctions don’t work says China, they only victimise ordinary citizens. But is this sound principle or just smart business?

Trade between China and Iran is booming – it jumped by a third between 2007 and 2008. The United States and others accuse China of sanctions-busting and helping Tehran’s weapons programme, something that Beijing has consistently denied.

On Wednesday, however, President Dmitry Medvedev said although they were rarely productive, sanctions were in some cases “inevitable”.

“We need to help Iran to [make] the right decisions,” he said, following a meeting with US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the UN meeting in New York.

The move was welcomed by the White House. Spokesman Robert Gibbs said Russia’s “willingness to play a constructive role is extremely important”.

The BBC’s diplomatic correspondent, Paul Reynolds, says Russia’s apparent change of direction could have been influenced by the US announcement last week that it was dropping plans for an anti-missile defence shield close to Russian borders.

But exactly how far Russia might go is not yet clear, our correspondent says.

In his address to the General Assembly on Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not refer directly to the nuclear stand-off, but said Iran was ready to shake all hands “that are honestly extended to us”.

US officials have stressed that Thursday’s talks at the UN aim to create a “framework” for dealing with nuclear issues rather than focusing specifically on Iran.

Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama 23.9.09

“There is a deliberate effort here to focus on this issue comprehensively, and not use this meeting to focus on any specific country or problem,” said the US deputy permanent representative to the UN, Alex Wolff.

However, Iran is expected to dominate the agenda.

Six world powers are preparing to hold talks with Iranian officials on 1 October that are expected to cover global nuclear disarmament.

Mr Obama is hoping for a united position among the group but analysts say that if the talks yield nothing, he wants to pursue tougher sanctions against Tehran.

On Wednesday, British Foreign Minister David Miliband said the six powers had agreed Iran must give a “serious response” to accusations against it.

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Obama shelves Europe missile plan (BBC)

Barack Obama: “I’m confident… we have strengthened America’s national security”

US President Barack Obama has shelved plans for controversial bases in Poland and the Czech Republic in a major overhaul of missile defence in Europe.

The bases are to be scrapped after a review of the threat from Iran.

Mr Obama said there would be a “proven, cost-effective” system using land- and sea-based interceptors against Iran’s short- and medium-range missile threat.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has welcomed the US decision, calling it a “responsible move”.

Russia had always seen the shield as a threat.

However, there has been criticism of the decision in conservative circles in the US.

The US signed a deal in August 2008 with Poland to site 10 interceptors at a base near the Baltic Sea, and with the Czech Republic to build a radar station on its territory.

ANALYSIS
Kevin Connolly
Kevin Connolly, BBC News, Washington

It would be hard to invent a news story that tied together more strategic and political issues than the Obama administration’s decision to change its stance on the deployment of a missile defence shield in Eastern Europe.

It touches on Washington’s assessment of Iran’s military capabilities. There is an underlying assumption that Tehran’s capacity for mounting warheads on long-range missiles does not pose an immediate strategic headache.

It also sends a signal to the peoples of Central Europe about how President Barack Obama proposes to manage the post Cold War order in their neck of the woods in the next few years. And it raises questions about the administration’s much-talked-about desire to “hit the reset” button on its relationship with Russia.

The US had said the missile shield would be fully operational by 2012.

But President Obama this year ordered a review of the defence system, which was strongly backed by his predecessor George W Bush.

‘Stronger and smarter’

On Thursday, President Obama said in a live TV address that the change was needed to “deploy a defence system that best responds to the threats we face”.

He said a review had shown the need to switch strategy to defending against the short- and medium-range missiles that Iran could use to target Europe.

Twice Mr Obama referred to the need for a system that was “proven and cost effective”.

He said the new approach would provide “a stronger, smarter and swifter defence” of US and allied forces in Europe.

Mr Obama said he had spoken to both the Czech Republic and Poland and stressed his commitments to their defence.

But he said again that Russia’s concerns about the old system were “entirely unfounded”.

It is a concession to the Russians with absolutely nothing in return
John Bolton,
former Bush undersecretary

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs later stressed the overhaul was “not about Russia”.

Although the White House said the US “no longer planned to move forward” with the old shield scheme for Poland and the Czech Republic, Defence Secretary Robert Gates stressed the US was not abandoning missile defence of Europe.

He said negotiations were under way with both nations about deploying upgraded SM-3 interceptors from 2015.

The first phase of the new strategy, he said, would be to deploy “current and proven missile defence systems in the next two years”, including the sea-based Aegis and the current SM-3.

Iran says its missile development programme is solely for scientific, surveillance or defensive purposes, but there are concerns in the West and among Iran’s neighbours that the rockets could be used to carry nuclear weapons.

‘Responsible’

Mr Medvedev said the US decision was a “positive” one.

He said he would discuss the missile defence issue with President Obama during a visit to the United Nations in New York next week.

Mr Medvedev said in a TV address: “We value the US president’s responsible approach towards implementing our agreements. I am ready to continue the dialogue.”

Ground-based Midcourse Defense locations map

The two countries are currently in talks about reducing their nuclear weapons stockpiles, and the US move could influence Russia to be more co-operative, correspondents say.

Mr Medvedev said there were now “good conditions” for talks on missile reduction.

Gates on missile shield overhaul

However, there has already been some criticism in the US.

John Bolton, who was undersecretary of state for arms control and international security under President Bush, said the move was “unambiguously a bad decision”.

He said: “This gives away an important defensive mechanism against threats from countries like Iran and other rogue states, not only for the US but for Europe as well.

“It is a concession to the Russians with absolutely nothing in return.”

Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the US move was “a positive step”, Associated Press reported.

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Insight: Russia’s leading men (BBC)

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow (09 September 2009)

By Bridget Kendall
BBC diplomatic correspondent

It may be a while until the next Russian presidential election, but when Vladimir Putin announced he was not ruling out returning to power as president in 2012, it caused ripples through political Moscow.

It was this comment from his long meeting with the Valdai club of foreign experts last week which prompted the most debate in Russian newspapers, and in private conversations with Russian colleagues.

And no wonder. In a country where one man at the top can decide so much, any whiff of the political future is of huge significance.

But it is not just Mr Putin’s game plan that matters. After all, it is his erstwhile protege, Dmitry Medvedev, who is currently president. He would be consulted, said Mr Putin graciously.

So what does Mr Medvedev think?

In a parallel meeting with the president – like last year, across from the Kremlin in the slightly incongruous setting of the banqueting hall of the GUM department store – the top issue that needed clarifying seemed to be this: just how closely aligned are these two leaders in their plans for Russia and ambitions for themselves?

I never worked in the committee of State Security, for 10 years I worked as a businessman. So I know what I am talking about
Dmitry Medvedev

President Medvedev was expecting the question about 2012 and grinned broadly.

“I do have a plan,” he said. “But I’m not making any predictions”.

“I didn’t want to run for president last time, but that was my fate. I don’t make any forecasts.”

But he pointedly did not endorse Mr Putin’s view that they would work it out between them.

In fact, what was most interesting about the Valdai group’s encounter with President Medvedev this year was the way he seemed to try to distance himself from his benefactor, as if to assert his right to hold an independent view.

It is true that in some sensitive policy areas, his responses were just as sharp as Mr Putin’s.

He did not regret one bit his scathing letter accusing President Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine of stoking tensions with Russia. He could see no chance of Moscow improving relations with Georgia while President Mikheil Saakashvili was still there.

And, as for the direct elections of Russian governors in Russia – abolished in the wake of the Beslan crisis five years ago – he could see no prospect of restoring those in 100 years.

‘Personal views’

But Mr Medvedev and Mr Putin do not see eye to eye on everything, it seems.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and US President Barack Obama in Moscow (06 July 2009)

Mr Medvedev praised Mr Obama for not relying on his aides

They had disagreed over whether Russia should join the World Trade Organization, Mr Medvedev told us, though they were now united in blaming a reluctant United States for keeping Russia out.

He welcomed new talks with Iran but deliberately left open the possibility of fresh sanctions – whereas, only days before, Mr Putin had told us sanctions were unworkable and any threat to use force against Iran “unacceptable”.

He enthused over his eight hours of talks and lunch with Barack Obama in Moscow in July – Mr Putin was only invited to breakfast – and pointedly praised the US president for speaking up for himself.

“President Obama tries to be independent in his position, instead of relying on his aides,” said Dmitry Medvedev, “which is exactly what I try to do.”

And he slipped in a nod to Mr Putin’s KGB past, apparently to burnish his own credentials for fighting corruption.

“I never worked in the committee of State Security. For 10 years I worked as a businessman, so I know what I am talking about,” said Mr Medvedev.

“Corrupt officials run Russia. They have the true power in Russia… We should squeeze it out.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in Sochi (14 August 2009)

Mr Medvedev is possibly no match as yet for Mr Putin

Corruption was one theme in a bleak and far-reaching vision to modernise Russia which he kept returning to.

He had laid it out in a long internet article last week, which openly spoke of influential opponents who would try to put obstacles in his way. The assessment, he said, had been his and his alone.

“Did you notice how often I used the pronoun ‘I’ and ‘me’ in the article?” he asked. “It is very clear these were my personal views.”

So did the ambitious vision he had set himself mean that he hoped to remain Russian president for at least one more term, whatever Mr Putin said?, I asked him.

Again, the president grinned and shifted in his seat, and then dodged the question. There was no “collision” looming between himself and Mr Putin, he told us.

“We have quite a friendly relationship,” he said.

“We talk over issues, though not as often as some people think – once a week perhaps. He makes his statements, I make mine.”

Genial leader

Their views on where Russia was heading were not in contradiction, Mr Medvedev said.

Maybe we have our differences, but that’s what matters – the mindset. We speak the same language.
Dmitry Medvedev

As prime minister, Vladimir Putin defended positive indicators in the state of the economy at the moment, whereas he warned of the dire problems Russia could face in the long term if it did not adjust its strategy.

“Perhaps we should both take a blood test to check whether we are of ‘one blood’,” he joked, referring to Mr Putin’s characterisation of their partnership, which he agreed was close and strong.

“Don’t forget Putin doesn’t just have a KGB past. The two of us were educated at the same law department of the same university. We have the same mindsets.

“Maybe we have our differences, but that’s what matters – the mindset. We speak the same language.”

Does that sound like the beginnings of a split? A protege beginning to spread his wings? Hardly.

Maybe Dmitry Medvedev is sincere in wanting to make an impact. Maybe he can convince Russians that his criticism of Russia and desire to change it is more than fine words.

He says he wrote his article to seek out public opinion ahead of the annual address he will give to the Russian Duma in November.

His own economic adviser, Arkady Dvorkovich, was adamant when he spoke to us that the president and his team had no more than two and a half years – until the next election – to show they meant business by enacting the first steps of a viable plan of reform.

But at the same time, Mr Medvedev told us that any change in Russia must come slowly or it would be resisted.

There may be hardliners in the Russian government, he says, but that is a good thing because all points of view must be taken into account.

It does not really sound like a recipe to galvanize the support of the young internet-savvy Russians whom he hopes will lead his modernisation plans.

He is an accommodating president, not a revolutionary – genial, even likeable, but so far still no match for the steely Mr Putin, one suspects.

He is the junior partner in a dance where his mentor calls the tune.

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Hacker admits world’s biggest identity theft (TG Daily)

The Miami man dubbed the world’s most prolific identity thief has admitted stealing 40 million credit and debit cards records from US retailers.
By Emma Woollacott

Monday, September 14, 2009

Albert Gonzalez appeared on Friday in a Boston court and pleaded guilty to 20 charges. He admitted exploiting vulnerabilities in the security systems of TJX, OfficeMax, BJ’s Wholesale Club and other retailers  back in 2003. The records were sold and the money laundered through accounts in Latvia.

His technique – known as ‘wardriving’ – involved cruising around with a laptop and searching for accessible wireless internet signals. Once Gonzalez and his colleagues found a vulnerable network, they installed sniffer programs to capture the card numbers.

Things went from bad to worse: after his arrest, Gonzalez began secretly collaborating with the US Secret Service to catch other hackers. But he now admits that during this period he warned off his co-conspirators to help them avoid arrest.

Gonzalez had already agreed to plead guilty to the charges. He now faces up to 25 years in prison, and must hand back more than $1.65 million. Sentencing is set for December 8th.

His attorney says he feels “really bad”.

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Arctic Sea Iran arms link denied (BBC)

The Arctic Sea, file image

The ship’s disappearance continues to puzzle experts

Russia has denied media reports that a cargo ship which was apparently hijacked in July was carrying Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the reports that the ship had illegal arms on board were “absolutely untrue”.

The Maltese-flagged Arctic Sea vessel with 15 Russian crew went missing for more than two weeks. It was found on 16 August off West Africa.

Eight men were later charged with hijacking and piracy over the case.

The men, mostly from Estonia, are suspected of seizing the ship and its crew after raiding it disguised as police.

‘Serious people’

Speaking in Moscow, Mr Lavrov dismissed media speculation about S-300 missiles on board the Arctic Sea as “groundless”.

Russia’s top diplomat also promised a “transparent” investigation in which Maltese officials would also be invited to take part.

The 4,000-tonne vessel vanished in July days after leaving Finland with an apparent cargo of timber worth $1.8m (£1.1m), destined for the Algerian port of Bejaia.

Last week, Britain’s Sunday Times quotes sources in Russia and Israel claiming that the Arctic Sea was carrying arms to Iran and not timber.

It said that the sources claimed the ship had been loaded with S-300 missiles, Russia’s most advanced anti-aircraft weapon, while undergoing repairs in the Russian port of Kaliningrad.

The arms were sold by former military officers linked to the underworld, the Sunday Times reported.

Also last week, a Russian journalist fled his country after suggesting that the ship might have been carrying illegal weapons.

Mikhail Voitenko, the editor of the Sovfracht online maritime journal, said he had been told to leave Moscow or face arrest.

Speaking to the BBC from Turkey, Mr Voitenko said he had received a threatening phone call from “serious people” whom he suggested may have been members of Russia’s intelligence agency, the FSB.

The FSB has made no public comments on the allegations.

There has also been speculation the ship may have been intercepted by Mossad – Israel’s foreign intelligence service – in order to prevent a shipment of illegal arms to the Middle East.

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Russia ship mystery editor flees (BBC)

Mikhail Voitenko at a press conference in Moscow, 18 August 2009

Mr Voitenko said it was nonsense to suggest pirates had been involved

A journalist has fled Russia after suggesting the Arctic Sea cargo ship that was apparently hijacked in July may have been carrying illegal weapons.

Mikhail Voitenko said he had been told to leave Moscow or face arrest.

The editor of Sovfracht, an online maritime journal, fled on Wednesday, saying he may not be able to return as his life would be in danger.

Eight men, mainly from Estonia, have been charged with hijacking and piracy over the case.

The men are suspected of seizing the ship and its 15-man Russian crew after raiding it disguised as police.

The alleged hijackers were taken to Russia after the ship was spotted 300 miles (480km) off the west coast of Africa on 16 August.

Secret shipment

Mr Voitenko – who was among the first to cast doubt on official explanations about the ship’s disappearance – told the BBC it was nonsense to suggest pirates had been involved.

Suspected hijacker of the Arctic Sea being escorted in Moscow, 26 August 2009

Eight men have been charged with hijacking and piracy over the case

Instead he suggested the ship may have been carrying a secret shipment of weapons as part of a private business deal by state officials.

Speaking to the BBC from Turkey, Mr Voitenko said he had received a threatening phone call from “serious people” whom he suggested may have been members of Russia’s intelligence agency, the FSB.

The caller told Mr Voitenko that those involved in the mysterious case of the Arctic Sea were very angry with him because he had spoken publicly, and were planning on taking action against him, he said.

“As long as I am out of Russia I feel safe,” Mr Voitenko told the BBC. “At least they won’t be able to get me back to Russia and convict [me].”

He also said Nato knew exactly what had happened to the Arctic Sea.

A Nato spokesman said the alliance had been in contact with Russia throughout the crisis, but would not say anything more.

The FSB refused to comment on the allegations.

Further inspection

Mystery continues to surround the ship’s disappearance, amid speculation the ship may have been intercepted by Mossad – Israel’s foreign intelligence service – in order to prevent a shipment of illegal arms to the Middle East.

Arctic Sea, file image

There has been much speculation over what actually happened on the ship

The 4,000-tonne Maltese-flagged vessel vanished in July days after leaving Finland with an apparent cargo of timber worth $1.8m (£1.1m), destined for the Algerian port of Bejaia.

Observers have questioned why the alleged hijackers would risk seizing the Arctic Sea in one of Europe’s busiest shipping lanes for a relatively inexpensive cargo.

Russian authorities said nothing suspicious was found aboard the ship when it was found last month, but have said a more thorough inspection would be carried out when the Arctic Sea arrives in the Russian port of Novorossiisk.

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Arctic Sea transported Russian missiles (Interfax)

TALLINN. Aug 19 (Interfax) – The dry cargo ship Arctic Sea that was
reportedly attacked by pirates recently could have been involved in arms
trafficking, which is indirectly evident from the fact that Russian
combat planes and ships were dispatched to release the vessel, said
Tarmo Kouts, an EU rapporteur on piracy and former commander of the
Estonian defense forces.
“Only the presence of cruise missiles on board the ship can explain
Russia’s strange behavior in this whole story,” Kouts said in an article
published in the Wednesday issue of the Estonian newspaper Postimees.
If the vessel had been transporting illegal drugs, Russia would not
have taken such energetic steps to find the missing vessel, he said.
“This whole story looks so farfetched that it would have been naive
to believe Russia’s official version,” he said.
“First, the dry cargo ship’s owner officially tied to Finland but
having relation to Latvians, who were ethnic Russians, reported the
ship’s disappearance to the Russian president, after which three big
battleships and a frigate from the Black Sea were sent to chase it,”
Kouts said.
This naval unit was significantly stronger than that engaged in a
recent Somali piracy crisis, he noted.
The cargo that was on board the Arctic Sea, i.e. timber bound for
Algeria, could have been the best camouflage for arms contraband, Kouts
said.
“A whole alley of guided missiles can easily be hidden under stacks
of timber, because, in order to uncover them, the vessel needs to be
brought to a port, and its hold has to be emptied. They are not so easy
to uncover at sea,” he said.
Kouts emphasized that only the transportation of weapons can
explain Russia’s controversial behavior during the incident.

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Web tool oversees Afghan election (BBC)

By Jonathan Fildes
Technology reporter, BBC News

Kabul campaign posters (AP)

Crowd-sourcing information on the election could ensure its fairness

Any attempt to rig or interfere with Afghanistan’s election could be caught out by a system that allows anyone to record incidents via text message.

The Alive in Afghanistan project plots the SMS reports on an online map.

Citizens can report disturbances, defamation and vote tampering, or incidents where everything “went well”.

Their reports feature alongside those of full-time Afghan journalists to ensure the election process and reporting of it is as “free and fair” as possible.

“We hope to enable people to report on what is going on in the country,” explained Brian Conley, who helped set up the project.

“In the rural areas there are not going to be monitors, and it is questionable how much international media coverage there will be in these areas.”

Additional text and video reports will be added by a network of 80 reporters from the Afghan Pajhwok news agency, he said.

Some will be willing not to eat that evening [in order to be able] to tell the international community what is going on in the country
Brian Conley
Alive in Afghanistan project

Mr Conley said that he hoped the results would be used by national and international media along with members of the international community.

In addition, he said, they may also be sent to the Electoral Commission if there are reports of tampering or rigging.

Content of crowds

The system relies on two established open-source technologies to gather the election reports.

The text messages are collected via a free-platform known as FrontlineSMS, developed by UK programmer Ken Banks.

The system was originally developed for conservationists to keep in touch with communities in national parks in South Africa and allows users to send messages to a central hub.

It has previously been used to monitor elections in Nigeria, and has now been combined with a “crowd-sourced, crisis-mapping” tool known as Ushahidi, which plots the reports on a freely-accessible map.

The system was developed in Kenya when violence erupted following the disputed presidential elections between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga.

Since then, the platform has also been used to document anti-emigrant violence in South Africa and problems in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Duplicate Afghan voting cards (FEFA)

Thousands of duplicate voting cards were discovered in an investigation

Together they allow reports to be gathered from any part of the country with mobile phone coverage.

Mr Conley hopes “hundreds of thousands of people” will use the system, which has been promoted by distributing “thousands of leaflets” and radio reports.

“I am confident that because of Pajhwok’s support we will see a good amount of content coming in,” he said.

However, he added, the project had to be “realistic about what is possible”.

“In a lot of parts of the country – for whatever reason – people don’t use SMS,” he said. “It is still a developing technology.”

In addition, he said, each text message is relatively expensive, costing the equivalent of two minutes of talk time.

“Even though that is the same amount of money it costs to buy bread for your family people have told me that some will be willing not to eat that evening [in order to be able] to tell the international community what is going on in the country.”

‘Government pressure’

Any content that is sent to the service is cross-checked, he said, to ensure its authenticity.

Reports that are not verified will be marked as such.

In addition to the citizen reports, the map will be populated by reports form a network of journalists from Pajhwok, he said.

The reporters would report “every aspect of the election, good and bad,” he said.

The National Security Council of Afghanistan has asked all domestic and international media agencies to “refrain form broadcasting any incidence of violence during the election process”.

The Foreign Ministry has reportedly told Afghan media organisations that any domestic group defying the ban will be shut down.

“There is lots of pressure from the government not to cover these things,” said Mr Conley.

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‘Many hurricanes’ in modern times (BBC)

By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News

Street in New Orleans

A New Orleans street battens down as Hurricane Gustav approaches

Hurricanes in the Atlantic are more frequent than at any time in the last 1,000 years, according to research just published in the journal Nature.

Scientists examined sediments left by hurricanes that crossed the coast in North America and the Caribbean.

The record suggests modern hurricane activity is unusual – though it might have been even higher 1,000 years ago.

The possible influence of climate change on hurricanes has been a controversial topic for several years.

Study leader Michael Mann from Penn State University believes that while not providing a definitive answer, this work does add a useful piece to the puzzle.

The levels we’re seeing at the moment are within the bounds of uncertainty.
Julian Heming, UK Met Office

“It’s been hotly debated, and various teams using different computer models have come up with different answers,” he told BBC News.

“I would argue that this study presents some useful palaeoclimatic data points.”

Washing over

Hurricanes strike land with winds blowing at up to 300km per hour – strong enough to pick up sand and earth from the shore and carry it inland.

In places where there is a lagoon behind the shoreline, this leads to “overwash” – material from the shore being deposited in the lagoon, where it forms a layer in the sediment.

Researchers have studied eight such lagoons on shores where Atlantic hurricanes regularly make landfall – seven around the US mainland and one in Puerto Rico.

Over time, Dr Mann’s team believes, the number of hurricanes making landfall on these sites will be approximately proportional to the total number of hurricanes formed – so these zones provide a long-term record of how hurricane frequency has changed over the centuries.

Hurricane Dean from space

Wind shear at altitude can prevent a tropical storm’s structure developing

The last decade has seen an average of 17 hurricanes and tropical storms in the Atlantic – earlier in the century, half that number were recorded.

But current levels were matched and perhaps exceeded during the Mediaeval Climate Anomaly (also known as the Mediaeval Warm Period) about 1,000 years ago.

“I think if there’s one standout result (from this study), it’s that the high storm counts we’ve seen in the last 10 to 15 years could have been matched or even exceeded in past periods,” commented Julian Heming, a tropical storm specialist from the UK Met Office who was not involved in the new research.

“So it’s worth feeding into the debate about whether what we’re seeing now is exceptional or something related to multi-decadal or even multi-centennial variability; and it does tell us that the levels we’re seeing at the moment are within the bounds of uncertainty.”

Different strokes

Dr Mann’s team also used a pre-existing computer model of hurricane generation to estimate activity over the same 1,500-year period.

The model includes three factors known to be important in determining hurricane formation: sea surface temperature in the tropical Atlantic Ocean, the El Nino/La Nina cycle in the eastern Pacific, and another natural climatic cycle, the North Atlantic Oscillation.

This analysis suggests, Dr Mann argues, that the hurricane peak 1,000 years ago and the current high activity are not produced by identical sets of circumstances.

Then, he says, an extended period of La Nina conditions in the Pacific – which aid hurricane formation – co-incided with relatively warm conditions in the Atlantic.

Now, the high number is simply driven by warming waters in the Atlantic – which is projected to increase in the coming decades.

“Even though the levels of activity are similar (between 1,000 years ago and now), the factors behind that are different,” said Dr Mann.

“The implication is that if everything else is equal – and we don’t know that about El Nino – then warming of the tropical Atlantic should lead to increasing levels of Atlantic tropical cyclone activity.”

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Defending virtual borders (BBC)

By Mark Cieslak
BBC Click

The risk to government networks and major financial institutions from cyber warfare is increasing every day but what is being done to defend national borders?

Globe

“Cyber war” is an emerging global security risk

Estonia is an online savvy state and champion of so called ‘e-government,’ a paperless system with many government services online. The population can even vote via the web.

In 2007 a large number of Estonian government and financial websites were brought to a standstill as they came under sustained online attack.

On 4 July 2009, US and South Korean government websites and those of certain banks and businesses ground to a halt as they came under denial of service assaults. In the United States, the Pentagon and the White House were also targeted.

These cyber attacks were all initially thought to be orchestrated by countries unfriendly to Estonia, South Korea and the US and to date have been the highest profile examples of so-called cyber warfare.

Digital battlefield

Conventional warfare relies on tanks, troops, artillery, aircraft and a whole gamut of weapons systems. Cyber warfare requires a computer and an internet connection.

Professor Sommer

Professor Sommer claims that most of the attacks are over the internet

Rather than sending in the marines, the act of typing a command on a keyboard can have a devastating effect on computer systems and networks.

According to Clive Room of Portcullis Computer Security: “It is possible to bring an entire state to a standstill theoretically and we’ve seen it done on a small scale practically, so the threat ahead of us is very big indeed.”

From criminal gangs trying to steal cash, to foreign intelligence services trying to steal secrets, the threat of cyber warfare is now very real.

Nato suspects that along with the tanks and troops involved in the conflict in Georgia in 2008, Russian forces also engaged in cyber attacks against Georgian government computer systems.

Professor Peter Sommer of the London School of Economics explained that cyber warfare should just be seen as a part of modern warfare in general:

“[Carl Von] Clausewitz said war is diplomacy conducted by other means. What cyber warfare gives you is a whole range of new types of technologies which you can apply.”

Zombie machines

These international attacks are not isolated instances. Everyday government and corporate websites fend off thousands of attempts to infiltrate hack and cause disruption.

Twitter, Facebook and other high-profile sites have recently been brought to their knees by similar attacks.

The popular weapon of choice in cyber warfare is the directed denial of service attack or DDOS. Unknown to their owners, infected computers become zombie machines digitally press-ganged to do the bidding of hackers, this is known as a botnet.

My experience of doing investigations of all sizes is that very often the initial diagnosis is wrong
Professor Sommer, London School of Economics

In their thousands these zombie machines attempt to log on to a particular website, forcing it to fail or collapse under the sheer weight of data it is receiving.

The threat of cyber warfare is being taken seriously by Western governments and Nato. Online assets are being deployed to bolster national and international digital defences.

NATO has set up a cyber defence facility in Estonia codenamed K5. The American government has launched a national cyber security strategy and the UK has responded by creating two organisations, the Office of Cyber Security and the Cyber Security Operations Centre based at GCHQ in Cheltenham.

However the amount of people involved is still small, said Clive Room.

“The government’s own reckoning is about 40. About 20 people within each of those two offices.”

In comparison he estimates that there are about 40,000 people “listening in to us in China” and “working round the clock.”

For Professor Sommer, the UK has had a response to cyber warfare in place for 10 years, but “it’s been pretty hidden so far.”

“You tended to get to know about it if you were an academic or you moved in certain sort of technical circles,” he said.

“More recently because the problems got bigger and because of greater public alarm and interest they have decided to make it more public.”

Misdiagnosis

If defending against cyber warfare is tough, trying to pin point, track back and identify the origin of an online attack can be a near impossible task.

Computer mouse and keyboard

PCs inside a botnet can be forced to carry out instructions

In the case of the Estonian attacks, initial reports suggested that Russia was to blame. These allegations have been strongly denied by Russian authorities, and to date only one individual, an ethnic Russian student living in Estonia, has been fined as a result of the attacks.

For Professor Sommer, misdiagnosis is easy: “All too quickly people say they know where the attack is coming from.”

“My experience of doing investigations of all sizes is that very often the initial diagnosis is wrong.”

“If you look at the recent Korean attacks it seems, at a political level, a reasonable supposition that it originated in North Korea because they’re the people that are most active at the moment.

“On the other hand, some of the reports say at a technical level they seem to have originated here in the United Kingdom, which makes no sense. So diagnosis is quite difficult.”

However, one thing is certain: cyber warfare is here to stay.

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