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ACLU, EFF challenging US ‘secret’ court orders seeking Twitter data

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Late last month, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed objections to the United States Government’s ‘secret’ attempts to obtain Twitter account information relating to WikiLeaks. The ACLU and EFF cite First and Fourth amendment issues as overriding reasons to overturn government attempts to keep their investigation secret; and, that with Birgitta Jonsdottir being an Icelandic Parliamentarian, the issue has serious international implications.

The case, titled “In the Matter of the 2703(d) Order Relating to Twitter Accounts: Wikileaks, Rop_G, IOERROR; and BirgittaJ“, has been in the EFF’s sights since late last year when they became aware of the US government’s attempts to investigate WikiLeaks-related communications using the popular microblogging service.

The key objective of this US government investigation is to obtain data for the prosecution of Bradley Manning, alleged to have supplied classified data to WikiLeaks. In addition to Manning’s Twitter account, and that of WikiLeaks (@wikileaks), the following three accounts are subject to the order: @ioerror, @birgittaj, and @rop_g. These, respectively, belong to Jacob Apelbaum, Birgitta Jonsdottir, and Rop Gonggrijp.

Birgitta is not the only non-US citizen with their Twitter account targeted by the US Government; Gonggrijp, a Dutch ‘ex-hacker’-turned-security-expert, was one of the founders of XS4ALL – the first Internet Service Provider in the Netherlands available to the public. He has worked on a mobile phone that can encrypt conversations, and proven that electronic voting systems can readily be hacked.

In early March, a Virginia magistrate judge ruled that the government could have the sought records, and neither the targeted users, or the public, could see documents submitted to justify data being passed to the government. The data sought is as follows:

  1. Personal contact information, including addresses
  2. Financial data, including credit card or bank account numbers
  3. Twitter account activity information, including the “date, time, length, and method of connections” plus the “source and destination Internet Protocol address(es)”
  4. Direct Message (DM) information, including the email addresses and IP addresses of everyone with whom the Parties have exchanged DMs

The order demands disclosure of absolutely all such data from November 1, 2009 for the targeted accounts.

The ACLU and EFF are not only challenging this, but demanding that all submissions made by the US government to justify the Twitter disclosure are made public, plus details of any other such cases which have been processed in secret.

Bradley Manning, at the time a specialist from Maryland enlisted with the United States Army’s 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, was arrested in June last year in connection with the leaking of classified combat video to WikiLeaks.

The leaked video footage, taken from a US helicopter gunship, showed the deaths of Reuters staff Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen during a U.S. assault in Baghdad, Iraq. The wire agency unsuccessfully attempted to get the footage released via a Freedom of Information Act request in 2007.

When WikiLeaks released the video footage it directly contradicted the official line taken by the U.S. Army asserting that the deaths of the two Reuters staff were “collateral damage” in an attack on Iraqi insurgents. The radio chatter associated with the AH-64 Apache video indicated the helicopter crews had mistakenly identified the journalists’ equipment as weaponry.

The US government also claims Manning is linked to CableGate; the passing of around a quarter of a million classified diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks. Manning has been in detention since July last year; in December allegations of torture were made to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding the conditions under which he was and is being detained.

Reports last month that he must now sleep naked and attend role call at the U.S. Marine facility in Quantico in the same state, raised further concern over his detention conditions. Philip J. Crowley, at-the-time a State Department spokesman, remarked on this whilst speaking at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; describing the current treatment of Manning as “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid”, Crowley was, as a consequence, put in the position of having to tender his resignation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Despite his native Australia finding, in December last year, that Assange’s WikiLeaks had not committed any criminal offences in their jurisdiction, the U.S. government has continued to make ongoing operations very difficult for the whistleblower website.

The result of the Australian Federal Police investigation left the country’s Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, having to retract a statement that WikiLeaks had acted “illegally”; instead, she characterised the site’s actions as “grossly irresponsible”.

Even with Australia finding no illegal activity on the part of WikiLeaks, and with founder Julian Assange facing extradition to Sweden, U.S. pressure sought to hobble WikiLeaks financially.

Based on a State Department letter, online payments site PayPal suspended WikiLeaks account in December. Their action was swiftly followed by Visa Europe and Mastercard ceasing to handle payments for WikiLeaks.

The online processing company, Datacell, threatened the two credit card giants with legal action over this. However, avenues of funding for the site were further curtailed when both Amazon.com and Swiss bank PostFinance joined the financial boycott of WikiLeaks.

Assange continues, to this day, to argue that his extradition to Sweden for questioning on alleged sexual offences is being orchestrated by the U.S. in an effort to discredit him, and thus WikiLeaks.

Wikinews consulted an IT and cryptography expert from the Belgian university which developed the current Advanced Encryption Standard; explaining modern communications, he stated: “Cryptography has developed to such a level that intercepting communications is no longer cost effective. That is, if any user uses the correct default settings, and makes sure that he/she is really connecting to Twitter it is highly unlikely that even the NSA can break the cryptography for a protocol such as SSL/TLS (used for https).”

Qualifying this, he commented that “the vulnerable parts of the communication are the end points.” To make his point, he cited the following quote from Gene Spafford: “Using encryption on the Internet is the equivalent of arranging an armored car to deliver credit card information from someone living in a cardboard box to someone living on a park bench.

Continuing, the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KUL) expert explained:

In the first place, the weak point is Twitter itself; the US government can go and ask for the data; companies such as Twitter and Google will typically store quite some information on their users, including IP addresses (it is known that Google deletes the last byte of the IP address after a few weeks, but it is not too hard for a motivated opponent to find out what this byte was).
In the second place, this is the computer of the user: by exploiting system weaknesses (with viruses, Trojan horses or backdoors in the operating system) a highly motivated opponent can enter your machine and record your keystrokes plus everything that is happening (e.g. the FBI is known to do this with the so-called Magic Lantern software). Such software is also commercially available, e.g. for a company to monitor its employees.
It would also be possible for a higly motivated opponent to play “man-in-the-middle”; that means that instead of having a secure connection to Twitter.com, you have a secure connection to the attacker’s server, who impersonates Twitter’s and then relays your information to Twitter. This requires tricks such as spoofing DNS (this is getting harder with DNSsec), or misleading the user (e.g. the user clicks on a link and connects to tw!tter.com or Twitter.c0m, which look very similar in a URL window as Twitter.com). It is clear that the US government is capable of using these kind of tricks; e.g., a company has been linked to the US government that was recognized as legitimate signer in the major browsers, so it would not be too large for them to sign a legitimate certificate for such a spoofing webserver; this means that the probability that a user would detect a problem would be very low.
As for traffic analysis (finding out who you are talking to rather than finding out what you are telling to whom), NSA and GCHQ are known to have access to lots of traffic (part of this is obtained via the UK-USA agreement). Even if one uses strong encryption, it is feasible for them to log the IP addresses and email addresses of all the parties you are connecting to. If necessary, they can even make routers re-route your traffic to their servers. In addition, the European Data Retention directive forces all operators to store such traffic data.
Whether other companies would have complied with such requests: this is very hard to tell. I believe however that it is very plausible that companies such as Google, Skype or Facebook would comply with such requests if they came from a government.
In summary: unless you go through great lengths to log through to several computers in multiple countries, you work in a clean virtual machine, you use private browser settings (don’t accept cookies, no plugins for Firefox, etc.) and use tools such as Tor, it is rather easy for any service provider to identify you.
Finally: I prefer not to be quoted on any sentences in which I make statements on the capabilities or actions of any particular government.

Wikinews also consulted French IT security researcher Stevens Le Blond on the issues surrounding the case, and the state-of-the-art in monitoring, and analysing, communications online. Le Blond, currently presenting a research paper on attacks on Tor to USENIX audiences in North America, responded via email:

Were the US Government to obtain the sought data, it would seem reasonable the NSA would handle further investigation. How would you expect them to exploit the data and expand on what they receive from Twitter?

  • Le Blond: My understanding is that the DOJ is requesting the following information: 1) Connection records and session times 2) IP addresses 3) e-mail addresses 4) banking info
By requesting 1) and 2) for Birgitta and other people involved with WikiLeaks (WL) since 2009, one could derive 2 main [pieces of] information.
First, he could tell the mobility of these people. Recent research in networking shows that you can map an IP address into a geographic location with a median error of 600 meters. So by looking at changes of IP addresses in time for a Twitter user, one could tell (or at least speculate about) where that person has been.
Second, by correlating locations of different people involved with WL in time, one could possibly derive their interactions and maybe even their level of involvement with WL. Whether it is possible to derive this information from 1) and 2) depends on how this people use Twitter. For example, do they log on Twitter often enough, long enough, and from enough places?
My research indicates that this is the case for other Internet services but I cannot tell whether it is the case for Twitter.
Note that even though IP logging, as done by Twitter, is similar to the logging done by GSM [mobile phone] operators, the major difference seems to be that Twitter is subject to US regulation, no matter the citizenship of its users. I find this rather disturbing.
Using 3), one could search for Birgitta on other Internet services, such as social networks, to find more information on her (e.g., hidden accounts). Recent research on privacy shows that people tend to use the same e-mail address to register an account on different social networks (even when they don’t want these accounts to be linked together). Obviously, one could then issue subpoenas for these accounts as well.
I do not have the expertise to comment on what could be done with 4).
((WN)) As I believe Jonsdottir to be involved in the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI), what are the wider implications beyond the “WikiLeaks witchhunt”?
  • Le Blond: Personal data can be used to discredit, especially if the data is not public.

Having been alerted to the ongoing case through a joint press release by the ACLU and EFF, Wikinews sought clarification on the primary issues which the two non-profits saw as particularly important in challenging the U.S. Government over the ‘secret’ court orders. Rebecca Jeschke, Media Relations Director for the EFF, explained in more detail the points crucial to them, responding to a few questions from Wikinews on the case:

((WN)) As a worse-case, what precedents would be considered if this went to the Supreme Court?
  • Rebecca Jeschke: It’s extremely hard to know at this stage if this would go to the Supreme Court, and if it did, what would be at issue. However, some of the interesting questions about this case center on the rights of people around the world when they use US Internet services. This case questions the limits of US law enforcement, which may turn out to be very different from the limits in other countries.
((WN)) Since this is clearly a politicised attack on free speech with most chilling potential repercussions for the press, whistleblowers, and by-and-large anyone the relevant U.S. Government departments objects to the actions of, what action do you believe should be taken to protect free speech rights?
  • Jeschke: We believe that, except in very rare circumstances, the government should not be permitted to obtain information about individuals’ private Internet communications in secret. We also believe that Internet companies should, whenever possible, take steps to ensure their customers are notified about requests for information and have the opportunity to respond.
((WN)) Twitter via the web, in my experience, tends to use https:// connections. Are you aware of any possibility of the government cracking such connections? (I’m not up to date on the crypto arms race).
  • Jeschke: You don’t need to crack https, per se, to compromise its security. See this piece about fraudulent https certificates:
Iranian hackers obtain fraudulent httpsEFF website.
((WN)) And, do you believe that far, far more websites should – by default – employ https:// connections to protect people’s privacy?
  • Jeschke: We absolutely think that more websites should employ https! Here is a guide for site operators: (See external links, Ed.)

Finally, Wikinews approached the Icelandic politician, and WikiLeaks supporter, who has made this specific case a landmark in how the U.S. Government handles dealings with – supposedly – friendly governments and their elected representatives. A number of questions were posed, seeking the Icelandic Parliamentarian’s views:

((WN)) How did you feel when you were notified the US Government wanted your Twitter account, and message, details? Were you shocked?
  • Birgitta Jonsdottir: I felt angry but not shocked. I was expecting something like this to happen because of my involvement with WikiLeaks. My first reaction was to tweet about it.
((WN)) What do you believe is their reasoning in selecting you as a ‘target’?
  • Jonsdottir: It is quite clear to me that USA authorities are after Julian Assange and will use any means possible to get even with him. I think I am simply a pawn in a much larger context. I did of course both act as a spokesperson for WikiLeaks in relation to the Apache video and briefly for WikiLeaks, and I put my name to the video as a co-producer. I have not participated in any illegal activity and thus being a target doesn’t make me lose any sleep.
((WN)) Are you concerned that, as a Member of Parliament involved in the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI), the US attempt to obtain your Twitter data is interfering with planned Icelandic government policy?
  • Jonsdottir: No
((WN)) In an earlier New York Times (NYT) article, you’re indicating there is nothing they can obtain about you that bothers you; but, how do you react to them wanting to know everyone you talk to?
  • Jonsdottir: It bothers me and according to top computer scientists the government should be required to obtain a search warrant to get our IP addresses from Twitter. I am, though, happy I am among the people DOJ is casting their nets around because of my parliamentary immunity; I have a greater protection then many other users and can use that immunity to raise the issue of lack of rights for those that use social media.
HAVE YOUR SAY
Do you believe the U.S. government should have the right to access data on foreign nationals using services such as Twitter?
Add or view comments
((WN)) The same NYT article describes you as a WikiLeaks supporter; is this still the case? What attracts you to their ‘radical transparency’?
  • Jonsdottir: I support the concept of WikiLeaks. While we don’t have a culture of protection for sources and whistleblowers we need sites like WikiLeaks. Plus, I think it is important to give WikiLeaks credit for raising awareness about in how bad shape freedom of information and expression is in our world and it is eroding at an alarming rate because of the fact that legal firms for corporations and corrupt politicians have understood the borderless nature of the legalities of the information flow online – we who feel it is important that people have access to information that should remain in the public domain need to step up our fight for those rights. WikiLeaks has played an important role in that context.I don’t support radical transparency – I understand that some things need to remain secret. It is the process of making things secret that needs to be both more transparent and in better consensus with nations.
((WN)) How do you think the Icelandic government would have reacted if it were tens of thousands of their diplomatic communications being leaked?
  • Jonsdottir: I am not sure – A lot of our dirty laundry has been aired via the USA cables – our diplomatic communications with USA were leaked in those cables, so far they have not stirred much debate nor shock. It is unlikely for tens of thousands of cables to leak from Iceland since we dont have the same influence or size as the USA, nor do we have a military.
((WN)) Your ambassador in the US has spoken to the Obama administration. Can you discuss any feedback from that? Do you have your party’s, and government’s, backing in challenging the ordered Twitter data release?
  • Jonsdottir: I have not had any feedback from that meeting, I did however receive a message from the DOJ via the USA ambassador in Iceland. The message stated three things: 1. I am free to travel to the USA. 2. If I would do so, I would not be a subject of involuntary interrogation. 3. I am not under criminal investigation. If this is indeed the reality I wonder why they are insisting on getting my personal details from Twitter. I want to stress that I understand the reasoning of trying to get to Assange through me, but I find it unacceptable since there is no foundation for criminal investigation against him. If WikiLeaks goes down, all the other media partners should go down at the same time. They all served similar roles. The way I see it is that WikiLeaks acted as the senior editor of material leaked to them. They could not by any means be considered a source. The source is the person that leaks the material to WikiLeaks. I am not sure if the media in our world understands how much is at stake for already shaky industry if WikiLeaks will carry on carrying the brunt of the attacks. I think it would be powerful if all the medias that have had access to WikiLeaks material would band together for their defence.
((WN)) Wikinews consulted a Belgian IT security expert who said it was most likely companies such as Facebook, Microsoft, and Google, would have complied with similar court orders *without advising the ‘targets*’. Does that disturb you?
  • Jonsdottir: This does disturb me for various reasons. The most obvious is that my emails are hosted at google/gmail and my search profile. I dont have anything to hide but it is important to note that many of the people that interact with me as a MP via both facebook and my various email accounts don’t always realize that there is no protection for them if they do so via those channels. I often get sensitive personal letters sent to me at facebook and gmail. In general most people are not aware of how little rights they have as users of social media. It is those of uttermost importance that those sites will create the legal disclaimers and agreements that state the most obvious rights we lose when we sign up to their services.
This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.
((WN)) Has there been any backlash within Iceland against US-based internet services in light of this? Do you expect such, or any increase in anti-American sentiments?
  • Jonsdottir: No, none what so ever. I dont think there is much anti-American sentiments in Iceland and I dont think this case will increase it. However I think it is important for everyone who does not live in the USA and uses social services to note that according to the ruling in my case, they dont have any protection of the 1st and 4th amendment, that only apply to USA citizens. Perhaps the legalities in relation to the borderless reality we live in online need to be upgraded in order for people to feel safe with using social media if it is hosted in the USA. Market tends to bend to simple rules.
((WN)) Does this make you more, or less, determined to see the IMMI succeed?
  • Jonsdottir: More. People have to realize that if we dont have freedom of information online we won’t have it offline. We have to wake up to the fact that our rights to access information that should be in the public domain is eroding while at the same time our rights as citizens online have now been undermined and we are only seen as consumers with consumers rights and in some cases our rights are less than of a product. This development needs to change and change fast before it is too late.

The U.S. Government continues to have issues internationally as a result of material passed to WikiLeaks, and subsequently published.

Within the past week, Ecuador has effectively declared the U.S. ambassador Heather Hodges persona-non-grata over corruption allegations brought to light in leaked cables. Asking the veteran diplomat to leave “as soon as possible”, the country may become the third in South America with no ambassadorial presence. Both Venezuela and Bolivia have no resident U.S. ambassador due to the two left-wing administrations believing the ejected diplomats were working with the opposition.

The U.S. State Department has cautioned Ecuador that a failure to speedily normalise diplomatic relations may jeapordise ongoing trade talks.

The United Kingdom is expected to press the Obama administration over the continuing detention of 23-year-old Manning, who also holds UK citizenship. British lawmakers are to discuss his ongoing detention conditions before again approaching the U.S. with their concerns that his solitary confinement, and treatment therein, is not acceptable.

The 22 charges brought against Manning are currently on hold whilst his fitness to stand trial is assessed.



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Cocaine found in frozen mango puree shipped to Montréal, Canada

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) announced Tuesday that they had seized approximately 160 kilograms of cocaine discovered in buckets of frozen mango puree imported from Mexico.

Investigations led the police to a shipping container destined for the Port of Montréal, in the Canadian province of Québec. A CBSA officer at the Container Examination Centre in Montréal identified the suspect container. The drug was found in brick-shaped plastic wrapping of about 4 kilograms in weight each. There were 1,200 buckets of frozen mango puree in the shipment, not all with cocaine inside.

RCMP Sgt. André Potvin told reporters that the value of the shipment was significant and was the largest maritime port drug haul in the force’s history. At CA$20 per half-gram, “that’s in the vicinity of $38 million,” said Potvin.

The investigation by the RCMP Drug Section, CBSA Intelligence officers, the Marine Security Enforcement Team and the Port of Montréal Security Group, determined that an import company, named Quality Mexport, was allegedly a front for the drug-smuggling operation.

Five Mexicans, holding visitor status in Canada, were arrested in the matter. They are:

  • Juan Manuel Huerta Canela, 31;
  • Jose Gerardo Bernal Vasquez, 52;
  • Jose Luis Navarro Ochoa, 33;
  • Jesus Manuel Villa Quiroz, 32; and
  • Alfonso Strag Estrada, age 50.

The suspects have been charged with importing and possession of drugs for the purpose of trafficking. The charges are allegations at this point in time.



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Solar powered plane completes first leg of transcontinental trip

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Solar Impulse, the world’s most advanced solar powered plane has just completed the first of the five legs of its trans-continental journey, flying fuel-free from San Francisco to Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, in just over 18 hours.

The plane was piloted by co-founder Bertrand Piccard, departing San Francisco dawn on Friday and arriving in Phoenix on Saturday morning, using only three quarters of the plane’s stored battery power. “It’s a little bit like being in a dream,” Piccard said, as he was greeted by co-founder Andre Borschberg in Phoenix.

Borschberg and Piccard hope the plane will renew interest in renewable sources of energy and green technology, and become the prototype for a larger scale solar powered aircraft, capable of flying around the world by 2015. “If an airplane can fly day or night with no fuel, just on the sun’s power, of course it means that everybody in daily life can use this technology for his house, for heating and cooling systems, for lighting, for cars, for trucks. There’s so much we can do now to have a cleaner future,” Piccard said.

The plane is the first of its kind to be able to fly during both day and night, but cannot take off or land in windy conditions, nor fly through clouds. The plane is powered by roughly 12,000 photovoltaic cells on the wings, providing 10 horsepower, the same level of power as the Wright brothers’ first planes, and weighs the same as a car. “One hundred years ago, the planes had to fly in good weather and there was only one person on board,” Piccard said. “Now we have completely new technology, we fly with no fuel at all. But, of course, we need to fly in good weather and we carry only one pilot on board.

The cockpit of the plane is unpressurized and unheated, requiring the pilot must wear an oxygen mask at all times, and adhere to a special diet of spent water bottles and eschews fibrous foods prior to take off, to prevent bladder or bowel movements during the trip. Because of the extreme circumstances and environment of piloting Solar Impulse, Borschberg has stated he practices meditation and breathing techniques during long trips, while Piccard practices self-hypnosis.

Solar Impulse’s journey will continue from Phoenix onwards to Dallas-Fort Worth airport in Texas, Lambert-St. Louis airport, Dulles airport in the Washington area and New York’s John F. Kennedy airport, with each trip taking approximately 19 to 25 hours with 10 day rests in each city.



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Buffalo, N.Y. hotel proposal threatened by possible lawsuit

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Buffalo, New York — The property at 605 Forest in Buffalo was the center of attention at last night’s public meeting held at the offices of Forever Elmwood on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo. Eva Hassett, Vice President of Savarino Construction Services Corporation, confirmed last night that the company will be seeking a variance for the 605 Forest property. Originally, both the 605 and 607 Forest Avenue properties were going to have variances placed on them. As it stands, 607 Forest will not be directly affected by the proposal, should it go forward. Both 605 and 607 are currently occupied by residents.

During Monday night’s meeting, Pano Georgiadis, owner of 605 Forest and owner of Pano’s Resuraunt at 1081 Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo, threatened to “sue” Savarino Construction if they tried to obtain a variance on his property to build the Elmwood Village Hotel.

The Elmwood Village Hotel is a proposal by Savarino Construction that would be placed on the corner of Forest and Elmwood in Buffalo. In order for the project to move forward, at least five buildings (1119-1121 Elmwood) which include both residences and businesses will have to be demolished. The hotel was designed by architect Karl Frizlen of the Frizlen Group. Although the properties are “under contract,” according to Hassett, it is unclear whether Savarino Construction owns the properties. Hans Mobius, a resident of Clarence, New York and former Buffalo Mayoral candidate, is still believed to own them.

Currently, none of the properties is zoned for a hotel.

A freelance journalist writing for Wikinews asked Hassett what kind of zoning permit they [Savarino] would be applying for and, if 605 Forest is included, what zone that would be.

Buffalo, N.Y. Hotel Proposal Controversy
Recent Developments
  • “120 year-old documents threaten development on site of Buffalo, N.Y. hotel proposal” — Wikinews, November 21, 2006
  • “Proposal for Buffalo, N.Y. hotel reportedly dead: parcels for sale “by owner”” — Wikinews, November 16, 2006
  • “Contract to buy properties on site of Buffalo, N.Y. hotel proposal extended” — Wikinews, October 2, 2006
  • “Court date “as needed” for lawsuit against Buffalo, N.Y. hotel proposal” — Wikinews, August 14, 2006
  • “Preliminary hearing for lawsuit against Buffalo, N.Y. hotel proposal rescheduled” — Wikinews, July 26, 2006
  • “Elmwood Village Hotel proposal in Buffalo, N.Y. withdrawn” — Wikinews, July 13, 2006
  • “Preliminary hearing against Buffalo, N.Y. hotel proposal delayed” — Wikinews, June 2, 2006
Original Story
  • “Hotel development proposal could displace Buffalo, NY business owners” — Wikinews, February 17, 2006

“There is a ‘special development plan’ in front of the council, which changes only one thing about the zoning. It allows one permitted use for just a hotel. The rest of the zoning remains as it is under the current Elmwood Business District zoning. 605 and 607 Forest are not required for the project. They are not part of the footprint for the project. Let me answer this question again. This is on the record, in council: 605 needs to be rezoned in order to facilitate the project because of the sideyard requirement. Anything in C-2 is excluded besides the hotel. So we’ve taken the C-2 and included the hotel as a permitted use, and excluded everything else and everything else remains the same.”

However, during the February 28 Common Council meeting, Hassett was quoted as saying that the two properties were “off the agenda.”

“Now Karl said, at the last meeting, that they will build this hotel right on the borderline [property line]. If a wall forty-five to fifty feet high goes next to this house, of course it’s not right. You really have to go with whatever the city code says, so you have to get back as many feet as the city code says,” said Georgiadis.

“If you try to get a variance to change the code, I will sue you. This is my home, number one,” added Georgiadis. “First of all I think we are all wasting our time here, you [Savarino], have already made up your mind, but if you go against city code, and you try to do the most rooms with a minimal amount of parking, again, I will sue you. If you build a hotel, in my idea its going to fail. It’s doomed, ok. [If] it’s going to be a home for the disabled, for the homeless, for recovery people, but that’s another story. Then how is it going to be when we say, well I told you so? You will be over and done with. Its very hard to take a four story building [hotel] down.”

Georgiadis stated last night that he was against the proposal and signed a petition to stop it, jokingly saying, “this isn’t a paper to sign to build the hotel, is it? Don’t make me sign the wrong thing.”

Joseph Golombeck, district councilman, was at Monday’s public meeting and said, “we also did request this and the reason we are doing this as a special business district is so that it has to be this specific plan. They [Savarino] can’t go halfway through it and in six months decide that [the hotel] it’s going to be three floors. They can’t decide it’s going to be five floors. It has to be, per law, exactly what it is that they brought to us [the public] so far, and then ultimately to the City of Buffalo Common Council when it’s approved. So if it gets approved, it has to be this specific, exact project. They couldn’t make it fifty parking spots, they couldn’t make it thirty. It has to be specifically what they have right here.”

A man who lives on Granger Street in Buffalo attended the meeting, speaking in favor of the hotel development. He claimed, “There are a lot of low property values. Hopefully if we embrace development, our property values, for those of us who have property, will go up. There are a lot of people unfortunately, who are working hard, that do not get a chance to come to these meetings. I myself was at work and wasn’t able to go to the last two meetings. I express that we appreciate that you [Savarino] invest in the City of Buffalo and for what you hope, because I do not think Savarino is into losing money. These people are not in business to be losing money here. They are hoping for the success of this [the hotel] more than any one of us. They are hoping that the property values in this area will go up more than any one of us, because it will benefit them [the residents and business owners], more than any one of us. I want this city to develop. I don’t think anybody else is here understanding that we’re looking for development in this city, we are looking for the city to get better. The councilman here is not interested in Buffalo failing.”

Evelyn Bencinich, resident of Granger Street, would have the hotel directly behind her home, if it were to be built.

“What about construction [time]? Is that just for the exterior, the nine months? Or does that include the interior? Is there going to be blasting through bedrock? Is there property protection for damage? Are you [Savarino and the Frizlen Group] responsible?”, asked Bencinich.

According to Frizlen, there is a layer of solid bedrock at least 30 feet from the surface of the land saying, “we anticipate that the bedrock is at least thirty feet down.” He also admitted that “we haven’t done any soil sporrings,” but did say “the bedrock is somewhere in between twenty-five and thirty feet [down], we don’t need to go that deep. So blasting is most likely out of it [the question].”

“Personally, I can only speak from the city side, but a few years ago we rebuilt Vulcan Street, in the northwest corner of Buffalo, and there were a couple of properties that were damaged and they [the owners] were able to file a claim against the company that did the work and they won in each case. It was the same thing with a school that was built on Military Road. There were a couple of problems with foundations on a couple of properties, and they weren’t sure if caused by the school or not, but the insurance company ended up paying them,” answered Golombeck.

“I would assume that Savarino is insured with someone. So if there is a problem with anything that happens to your properties, what I would recommend is that anybody that lives on Granger Place, if this does go through, that you get pictures taken of your basement and of your foundations, because God forbid if there is a problem, you want to have an[sic] before and after [picture]. You don’t want to come afterwards and there’s a crack in there [foundation] and you have no way of proving that it happened,” added Golombeck.

According to Golombeck, the properties that Mobius owns have been “in housing court on several occasions, but has a date of April 11, 2006 that he is going back [to court] for these properties. So it is in housing court and I wouldn’t know Mr. Mobius if he walked in this room right now,” stated Golombeck.

“I’ve gone after him on numerous occasions and everytime he gets out of housing court with a slap on the wrist. If I am a conspiracy theorist and say that there is a lot more going on than meets the eye. I can only get him into housing court. Once he’s in housing court, the judge rules on it. Now I don’t mean to take any shots at previous administrations, but I am hoping with the new administration, being in here, that the inspections department is going to be a much better department than it has been for the previous several years.”

The city’s Planning Board on March 14, 2006, agreed to send the Elmwood Village Hotel proposal back to the Common Council so that it may “be opened back up to discussion from the public.”

On March 2, 2006 the Common Council sent the proposal “to committee” for further discussion and also requesting that the public be “engaged further.”

During that meeting, Justin Azzeralla, Executive Director for Forwever Elmwood, said that the organization “supports the hotel project.”

Also on March 2, the planning board agreed to table, or postpone, any decision on the hotel proposal for at least thirty days, also citing the need for the public to be “more engaged.”

The Common Council is expected to meet on March 21, 2006 at 2:00pm local time where they may approve or deny the proposal.

According to The Buffalo News, at least six Common Council members support the hotel project and are pledging to vote to approve it at the meeting on Tuesday, March 21.

However, the city’s Planning Board will get the final say on the project.



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United States authorities bust multimillion dollar drug ring in New Jersey

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Officials from the Drug Enforcement Authority (DEA) have arrested seven members of a drug trafficking and money laundering operation based in Manalapan, New Jersey. The arrests follow a joint investigation between the DEA and the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, dubbed “Operation Unbounded”, which ran for 14 months following a tip-off received by the DEA about a drug ring running out of the “quiet suburbia” of Manalapan.

According to Monmouth County Prosecutor Luis Valentin, the drugs were smuggled into the country on commercial flights from countries including Mexico and Colombia, and delivered via ground transport to New Jersey, Florida, Georgia and elsewhere in the United States. Authorities believe the operation was headed by Vicente Esteves, 35, and his wife Chantal, 30. The couple has been arrested and is being held in the Monmouth County Jail in Freehold. Mr. Esteves’s bail is currently set at US$10 million, and his wife’s at US$5 million.

Gerard McAleer, special agent in charge of the DEA’s New Jersey division, compared the Esteves’s opulent lifestyle to that in the movie Scarface. In their multi-million dollar Manalapan home, McAleer noted, were “walk-in closets where there were 100 pairs of Prada shoes, still in the boxes.”

According to New Jersey newspaper The Star-Ledger, the operation transported more than 1,000 kilograms of cocaine and earned its operators US$1 million per month, while the Associated Press puts the figure at US$1 million per week. Authorities arrested one of the seven defendants boarding a commercial flight from Newark to Miami in possession of US$100,000, and have since seized cocaine with a street value of US$2 million, and US$2 million in cash.



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Flash floods hit Australia’s eastern coast

Thursday, June 30, 2005

6,000 residents of Lismore in NSW have been told to evacuate their homes.

A couple is missing on the Gold Coast in Queensland. State Emergency Services (SES) workers are currently preparing to evacuate a number of nursing homes in the suburbs of Southport and Burleigh.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) have said that South East Queensland has recorded rainfalls of 368mm in the last 24 hours and that the Gold Coast suburb of Coolangatta has been averaging 80mm per hour for at least two hours. The Coolangatta airport was closed due to flooding.

Further south the city of Lismore has been inundated. A recently constructed levy has held back the waters of the Wilson river, protecting the town’s central business district.



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Australian Senate sits for extra day, passes industrial relations legislation

Friday, December 2, 2005The Australian Senate sits for an unusual extra day today, in order to finish considering amendments to the new industial relations legislation. An extended sitting of the Senate was held yesterday, December 1, considering these amendments.

The bill has been declared as urgent and as consequently a timetable for debate is set, so the bill would have either passed or not in its entirety today. Key senator Barnaby Joyce has expressed his support of the bill due to his influencing Government amendments dealing with public holidays. Non-Government senators expressed their concerns yesterday and today in regard to these amendments — Family First Party senator Stephen Fielding introduced amendment to try and complement the Government amendments, but the Government has expressed that they will not be supporting them as they do not contain “right to refuse” provisions.

The Senate had not finished debate on all the amendments in the nine page outline of business before 4.30 pm, the time set by the earlier guillotine, and the amendments were consequently put without debate. Non-Government members did not pursue divisions on all the amendments other than key ones. Ominously, during the following third reading debate, fierce thunderstorms had brought about the use of emergency power to the parliament with Opposition senator Penny Wong saying that “The lightsmay have just gone out in the Senate chamber, but theydo not go out on the labour movement!”. Persons in the gallery of the Senate were applauding to non-Government speeches, which brought about support from the Opposition and skepticism from Government senators saying that “no amount of guffaws from those who have been trundled in here today to stand up the back will change the fact that we have been re-elected four times by Australian working men and women.”

Due to Government numbers, the bill eventually passed the third reading debate.



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Manitoba’s flood creating hazardous conditions

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Red River at Winnipeg is almost clear of ice blocks and ice jamming, however there are still dangers from the Red River flood.

Ice blocks which were as high as two storey buildings were ripping out trees, fences and railway ties. “You’ll see huge pans of ice standing vertical, up to 20 feet (6.1 m) high,” said Steve Topping, an official with the provincial Water Stewardship Department. “Ice was shoved up on the shore and took out trees with a very devastating effect. It has changed people’s view of the river.”

“It is incredible, the force. One piece of ice pushed out of the river about 20 feet. You watch the force push this up right in front of your eyes,” said Dean North, of the Selkirk Golf and Country Club.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police are ticketing sight seers who are driving through road closure signs and approaching excavators, cranes and crews breaking up the ice. Vehicles, people, boats, and kayaks are getting in the way.

An eight year old boy is in critical condition after slipping on a culvert Thursday. He was pulled underwater by the speed of the flowing water and remained under for about five to ten minutes until adults could rescue him. The air ambulance supplied by Alberta’s STARS (Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society) remains in the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

“This is not a spectator sport. It’s not about getting the best pictures for the family albums. I know floods are seen as a bit of an event, but some of the instances I’m hearing about, people should give their head a shake, they really should,” said Steve Ashton Manitoba Emergency Measures Minister, “Those who fall into the river or get into trouble in another way would be not only endangering themselves but the emergency response crews trying to rescue them. I don’t want to see a situation … where we’re trying our darndest to prevent flooding and save lives and somebody [who] decides to go have a white-water experience ends up killing themselves.”

Early Easter Sunday morning floodwater reached the rural municipalities of St. Andrews and St. Clements north of Winnipeg. Residents were sent an evacuation advisory Good Friday, however some residents remained. Rescue efforts commenced Saturday night to find those stranded and unable to leave as their vehicles cannot travel in the swollen overland floodwaters. Some people were rescued from roof tops as entire houses were swept off of their foundations by the large ice blocks hurtling down the river.

Highways in the area remain closed. Neil Gobelle, of Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation said to “definitely continue to watch the Red River Valley and north of the city up in the Selkirk area. Things are changing quite a bit, quite quickly, so we’ll keep an eye on those areas.”

As of Easter Sunday, Winnipeg is expected to be ice free on the Red River. The River rose 4 feet (1.2 m) in the course of 24 hours. Rain is in the forecast and the higher temperatures of 17 °C (62.6 °F) will cause melting of snow and ice.

A weather system caused by La Niña is being watched by the United States National Weather Service and its potential effects between April 16-18 for residents along the Red River Valley. “We want people to be aware there is a very real possibility of the river going higher than what is out there,” said Mark Ewens, data manager at the NWS, “To have spring floods like this back-to-back is just an unfortunate series of events that have come along to plague us this spring. We’re wanting people to understand that this is a potentially serious problem.”



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Saturn moon Enceladus may have salty ocean

Thursday, June 23, 2011

NASA’s Cassini–Huygens spacecraft has discovered evidence for a large-scale saltwater reservoir beneath the icy crust of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. The data came from the spacecraft’s direct analysis of salt-rich ice grains close to the jets ejected from the moon. The study has been published in this week’s edition of the journal Nature.

Data from Cassini’s cosmic dust analyzer show the grains expelled from fissures, known as tiger stripes, are relatively small and usually low in salt far away from the moon. Closer to the moon’s surface, Cassini found that relatively large grains rich with sodium and potassium dominate the plumes. The salt-rich particles have an “ocean-like” composition and indicate that most, if not all, of the expelled ice and water vapor comes from the evaporation of liquid salt-water. When water freezes, the salt is squeezed out, leaving pure water ice behind.

Cassini’s ultraviolet imaging spectrograph also recently obtained complementary results that support the presence of a subsurface ocean. A team of Cassini researchers led by Candice Hansen of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, measured gas shooting out of distinct jets originating in the moon’s south polar region at five to eight times the speed of sound, several times faster than previously measured. These observations of distinct jets, from a 2010 flyby, are consistent with results showing a difference in composition of ice grains close to the moon’s surface and those that made it out to the E ring, the outermost ring that gets its material primarily from Enceladean jets. If the plumes emanated from ice, they should have very little salt in them.

“There currently is no plausible way to produce a steady outflow of salt-rich grains from solid ice across all the tiger stripes other than salt water under Enceladus’s icy surface,” said Frank Postberg, a Cassini team scientist at the University of Heidelberg in Germany.

The data suggests a layer of water between the moon’s rocky core and its icy mantle, possibly as deep as about 50 miles (80 kilometers) beneath the surface. As this water washes against the rocks, it dissolves salt compounds and rises through fractures in the overlying ice to form reserves nearer the surface. If the outermost layer cracks open, the decrease in pressure from these reserves to space causes a plume to shoot out. Roughly 400 pounds (200 kilograms) of water vapor is lost every second in the plumes, with smaller amounts being lost as ice grains. The team calculates the water reserves must have large evaporating surfaces, or they would freeze easily and stop the plumes.

“We imagine that between the ice and the ice core there is an ocean of depth and this is somehow connected to the surface reservoir,” added Postberg.

The Cassini mission discovered Enceladus’ water-vapor and ice jets in 2005. In 2009, scientists working with the cosmic dust analyzer examined some sodium salts found in ice grains of Saturn’s E ring but the link to subsurface salt water was not definitive. The new paper analyzes three Enceladus flybys in 2008 and 2009 with the same instrument, focusing on the composition of freshly ejected plume grains. In 2008, Cassini discovered a high “density of volatile gases, water vapor, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, as well as organic materials, some 20 times denser than expected” in geysers erupting from the moon. The icy particles hit the detector target at speeds between 15,000 and 39,000 MPH (23,000 and 63,000 KPH), vaporizing instantly. Electrical fields inside the cosmic dust analyzer separated the various constituents of the impact cloud.

“Enceladus has got warmth, water and organic chemicals, some of the essential building blocks needed for life,” said Dennis Matson in 2008, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“This finding is a crucial new piece of evidence showing that environmental conditions favorable to the emergence of life can be sustained on icy bodies orbiting gas giant planets,” said Nicolas Altobelli, the European Space Agency’s project scientist for Cassini.

“If there is water in such an unexpected place, it leaves possibility for the rest of the universe,” said Postberg.



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