Destruction by Foreign Hackers Cannot be Measured

The job of the future appears to be cyber soldiers, warriors trained to protect America from cyber-terrorism.

US Army Looks Inward for Next Batch of Cyber Specialists

The Army has turned to its own ranks in hopes of satisfying its growing need for talented cybersecurity professionals.

In June, the agency announced that all E-1- through E-8-ranked soldiers, regardless of their technical background, could apply to participate in a yearlong cyber training program, according to a recent Army press release.

Those successful candidates who complete the program would then be reclassified into the 17C military occupational specialty – also known as cyber operations specialist.

As cyber operations specialists, these soldiers will be tasked with supporting the military through offensive and defensive cyber operations.

China and Russia are using hacked data to target U.S. spies, officials say


Foreign spy services, especially in China and Russia, are aggressively aggregating and cross-indexing hacked U.S. computer databases — including security clearance applications, airline records and medical insurance forms — to identify U.S. intelligence officers and agents, U.S. officials said.

At least one clandestine network of American engineers and scientists who provide technical assistance to U.S. undercover operatives and agents overseas has been compromised as a result, according to two U.S. officials.

The Obama administration has scrambled to boost cyberdefenses for federal agencies and crucial infrastructure as foreign-based attacks have penetrated government websites and email systems, social media accounts and, most important, vast data troves containing Social Security numbers, financial information, medical records and other personal data on millions of Americans.


Counterintelligence officials say their adversaries combine those immense data files and then employ sophisticated software to try to isolate disparate clues that can be used to identify and track — or worse, blackmail and recruit — U.S. intelligence operatives.

Digital analysis can reveal “who is an intelligence officer, who travels where, when, who’s got financial difficulties, who’s got medical issues, [to] put together a common picture,” William Evanina, the top counterintelligence official for the U.S. intelligence community, said in an interview.

Asked whether adversaries had used this information against U.S. operatives, Evanina said, “Absolutely.”

Evanina declined to say which nations are involved. Other U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal assessments, say China and Russia are collecting and scrutinizing sensitive U.S. computer files for counterintelligence purposes.

U.S. cyberspying is also extensive, but authorities in Moscow and Beijing frequently work in tandem with criminal hackers and private companies to find and extract sensitive data from U.S. systems, rather than steal it themselves. That limits clear targets for U.S. retaliation.

The Obama administration marked a notable exception last week when a U.S. military drone strike near Raqqah, Syria, killed the British-born leader of the CyberCaliphate, an Islamic State hacking group that has aggressively sought to persuade sympathizers to launch “lone wolf” attacks in the United States and elsewhere.

Junaid Hussain had posted names, addresses and photos of about 1,300 U.S. military and other officials on Twitter and the Internet, and urged his followers to find and kill them, according to U.S. officials. They said he also had been in contact with one of the two heavily armed attackers killed in May outside a prophet Muhammad cartoon contest in Garland, Texas. Hussain is the first known hacker targeted by a U.S. drone.

The Pentagon also is scouring the leaked list of clients and their sexual preferences from the Ashley Madison cheating website to identify service members who may have violated military rules against infidelity and be vulnerable to extortion by foreign intelligence agencies.

Far more worrisome was last year’s cyberlooting — allegedly by China — of U.S. Office of Personnel Management databases holding detailed personnel records and security clearance application files for about 22 million people, including not only current and former federal employees and contractors but also their families and friends.

“A foreign spy agency now has the ability to cross-check who has a security clearance, via the OPM breach, with who was cheating on their wife via the Ashley Madison breach, and thus identify someone to target for blackmail,” said Peter W. Singer, a fellow at the nonprofit New America Foundation in Washington and coauthor of the book “Cybersecurity and Cyberwar.”

The immense data troves can reveal marital problems, health issues and financial distress that foreign intelligence services can use to try to pry secrets from U.S. officials, according to Rep. Adam B. Schiff of Burbank, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

“It’s very much a 21st century challenge,” Schiff said. “The whole cyberlandscape has changed.”

U.S. intelligence officials have seen evidence that China’s Ministry of State Security has combined medical data snatched in January from health insurance giant Anthem, passenger records stripped from United Airlines servers in May and the OPM security clearance files.

The Anthem breach, which involved personal data on 80 million current and former customers and employees, used malicious software that U.S. officials say is linked to the Chinese government. The information has not appeared for sale on black market websites, indicating that a foreign government controls it.

U.S. officials have not publicly blamed Beijing for the theft of the OPM and the Anthem files, but privately say both hacks were traced to the Chinese government.

The officials say China’s state security officials tapped criminal hackers to steal the files, and then gave them to private Chinese software companies to help analyze and link the information together. That kept the government’s direct fingerprints off the heist and the data aggregation that followed.

In a similar fashion, officials say, Russia’s powerful Federal Security Service, or FSB, has close connections to programmers and criminal hacking rings in Russia and has used them in a relentless series of cyberattacks.

According to U.S. officials, Russian hackers linked to the Kremlin infiltrated the State Department’s unclassified email system for several months last fall. Russian hackers also stole gigabytes of customer data from several U.S. banks and financial companies, including JPMorgan Chase & Co., last year.

A Chinese Embassy spokesman, Zhu Haiquan, said Friday that his government “firmly opposes and combats all forms of cyberattacks in accordance with the law.” The Russian Embassy did not respond to multiple requests for comment. U.S. intelligence officials want President Obama to press their concerns about Chinese hacking when Chinese President Xi Jinping visits the White House on Sept. 25.

After the recent breaches, U.S. cybersecurity officials saw a dramatic increase in the number of targeted emails sent to U.S. government employees that contain links to malicious software.

In late July, for example, an unclassified email system used by the Joint Chiefs and their staff — 4,000 people in all — was taken down for 12 days after they received sophisticated “spear-phishing” emails that U.S. officials suspect was a Russian hack.

The emails appeared to be from USAA, a bank that serves military members, and each sought to persuade the recipient to click a link that would implant spyware into the system.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the hack shows the military needs to boost its cyberdefenses.

“We’re not doing as well as we need to do in job one in cyber, which is defending our own networks,” Carter said Wednesday. “Our military is dependent upon and empowered by networks for its effective operations…. We have to be better at network defense than we are now.”

Carter spent Friday in Silicon Valley in an effort to expand a partnership between the Pentagon, academia and the private sector that aims to improve the nation’s digital defenses. Carter opened an outreach office in Mountain View this year to try to draw on local expertise.

U.S. intelligence officers are supposed to cover their digital tracks and are trained to look for surveillance. Counterintelligence officials say they worry more about the scientists, engineers and other technical experts who travel abroad to support the career spies, who mostly work in U.S. embassies.

The contractors are more vulnerable to having their covers blown now, and two U.S. officials said some already have been compromised. They refused to say whether any were subject to blackmail or other overtures from foreign intelligence services.

But Evanina’s office, the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, based in Bethesda, Md., has recently updated pamphlets, training videos and desk calendars for government workers to warn them of the increased risk from foreign spy services.

“Travel vulnerabilities are greater than usual,” reads one handout. Take “extra precaution” if people “approach you in a friendly manner and seem to have a lot in common with you.”

Asylum Seekers Die Across the Globe

The United Nations Refugee Agency’s solution to global unrest appears to be the same as that of world leaders, report the crisis and force other countries to accept refugees and asylum seekers. Meanwhile, death tolls mount.

Between the fact that the Obama White House never had a strategic plan for the Middle East, nor one for Central and Latin America, while as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry do not have one either. Meanwhile people suffer and the whole consequence threatens national security, healthcare, education, taxpayers, crimes and more.



United Kingdom


United States

There is more for sure….

Bodies found dead in a truck near border, while asylum seekers flow into Hungary

GENEVA, Aug 28 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency said it was “deeply shocked and saddened” at the grim discovery yesterday of the bodies of 71 people inside a truck abandoned near the Austrian border with Hungary.

“This tragedy underscores the ruthlessness of people smugglers who have expanded their business from the Mediterranean sea to the highways of Europe. It shows they have no regard for human life and are only after profit,” UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming told a press briefing in Geneva.

Austrian police said that they believed the truck came from Hungary and entered Austria on Wednesday night or early on Thursday morning, and that the victims might have been dead for one or two days. Their identity is still unknown but it is presumed that they were being transported by smugglers.

After establishing that there were no survivors, the truck was closed again by the police and moved to another location for further investigations. Police said that they counted at least 20 bodies but the actual number is likely to be much higher.

“This tragedy also highlights the desperation of people seeking protection or a new life in Europe. UNHCR hopes this incident will result in strong cooperation among European police forces, intelligence agencies and international organisations to crack down on the smuggling trade while putting in place measures to protect and care for victims,” Fleming said.

UNHCR has reiterated its call to European countries to approach the refugee crisis in a spirit of solidarity and cooperation and to provide those seeking safety in Europe with safe legal alternatives to dangerous irregular voyages. These legal avenues include resettlement or humanitarian admission programs, flexible visa policies and family reunification.

“This week, the Hungarian border police have been intercepting more than 2,000 people crossing the border from Serbia every day. On Wednesday, police reported 3,241 new arrivals, including 700 children. This is the highest number in a single day so far this year,” Fleming detailed.

She added that these people, a majority of whom are refugees from Syria, including many women and children, are coming in large groups of over 200 people, walking along the rail tracks or crawling under barbed wire, as work continues on a 175 kilometres long wall at the border between Hungary and Serbia.

“Fear of police detection makes many of them rush through the razor wires, sustaining cuts and injuries in the process. UNHCR staff at the border report that many people are arriving on wheelchairs pushed by relatives, while others are in need of urgent medical assistance,” Fleming explained.

Police take the new arrivals to a pre-registration centre in Röszke in southern Hungary, near the Serbian border and some 184 kilometres away from the capital, Budapest. The centre in Röszke does not offer adequate conditions for the exhausted, hungry and thirsty asylum-seekers who have spent many days on the road.

In Röszke, new arrivals are searched by the police and their details recorded, before being sent to registration centres, further inland. Asylum-seekers are kept in mandatory detention between 12 and 36 hours, and then handed over to the Office of Immigration and Nationality to process their asylum claims. Hungary’s four reception centres have a maximum capacity of 5,000 people.

“Overcrowding and long waits result in frustration for the asylum-seekers. The Hungarian police do not have social workers or enough interpreters in Arabic, Dari, Pashto and Urdu, which makes it hard to communicate with asylum-seekers,” Fleming continued.

Over 140,000 people have sought asylum in Hungary so far this year, according to the latest official statistics, compared to 42,000 people last year. Most of those lodging asylum applications this year are nationals from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan and they include around 7,000 unaccompanied children or separated from their parents.

Many refugees and migrants choose to leave Hungary for other countries in Europe. Every day up to 500 people sleep at the two main train stations in Budapest where volunteers look after their basic needs, including food, clothing and urgent medical attention, and where the city authorities give them access to sanitation facilities. In order to provide more adequate accommodation, the city authorities are planning to open a transit facility, with UNHCR’s technical advice.

Human smuggling network dismantled

One must keep in mind that this is yet a result of the Obama White House backdoor Dreamer program.

A human smuggling network that operated in Central America, Mexico and the United States was dismantled in a multinational operation.

Eleven members of the network, that used sea routes to transport undocumented immigrants trying to reach the United States, were arrested in three Mexican states: Oaxaca, Puebla and Guerrero.

The Attorney General’s Office said that the migrants arrived to the port of Salina Cruz, Oaxaca and were taken from there to the U.S. border by land. It added that cash, credit cards, weapons, ammunition, mobiles and five cell phones were seized as part of the operation, for which Mexico shared information and coordinated with authorities in the United States, El Salvador and Guatemala.


FoxLatino: “As a result of actions against a transnational criminal organization dedicated to trafficking in people, including unaccompanied minor migrants, that operates in Central America with the United States of America as its destination via Mexico, 11 members of said group have been detained,” the AG’s office said in a statement.

The suspects were arrested in Oaxaca and Guerrero states, both in southern Mexico, and in the central state of Puebla, the AG’s office said.

The arrests were made as part of an investigation that started several months ago and is being coordinated with officials in El Salvador and Guatemala, the SEIDO organized crime unit said.

The people trafficking network used maritime routes on Mexico’s Pacific coast to move the migrants, the Special Unit for Investigations of Trafficking in Minors, People and Organs, or UEITMPO, said.

Migrants were taken to Salina Cruz, Oaxaca, and later moved by land via several other states to northern Mexico, the UEITMPO said.

Investigators searched 10 properties, including a bar, in Oaxaca, as well as one property in Puebla and two in Guerrero.

Cash, bank cards and documents, firearms, ammunition, cell phones and five vehicles were seized, the AG’s office said.

The suspects were turned over to federal prosecutors, who plan to charge them with people trafficking and organized crime.

How bad is this human trafficking?

InSight: Authorities in Mexico have uncovered a web of human trafficking alliances stretching across 17 states and involving groups from the biggest cartels down to family-run crime clans, in an illustration of the scale of the trade and the pressure on major criminal organizations to move into new businesses.

Based on testimony from victims, the Attorney General’s organized crime unit (SEIDO) linked crime families in the small central state of Tlaxcala to drug cartels including the Zetas, the Familia Michoacana, the Knights Templar and the Gulf Cartelreported Excelsior.

One of the routes used by the networks is to bring minors from the southeast states of Oaxaca, Veracruz, Hidalgo and Chiapas and transport them by truck to safe houses in Tlaxcala, from where victims are either moved to Tijuana near the US border or to Mexico City.

The tactics used to obtain victims have reportedly developed over time, with criminal groups now often using social networking sites rather than kidnapping to recruit victims, found SEIDO.

According to Excelsior, 70,000 people become victims of human trafficking every year in Mexico. The crime earns criminal groups an estimated $42 million annually — which amounts to about $600 per victim — and 47 criminal organizations are involved.

InSight Crime Analysis

In 2010, the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and Girls in Latin America and the Caribbean (CATW-LAC) reported that an estimated 1.2 million people in Mexico were victims of human trafficking. The National Refuge Network has reported that 800,000 adults and 20,000 children are trafficked for sexual exploitation in the country each year.

As highlighted by Excelsior, the human trafficking business model is sophisticated, with the work divided between a range of criminal groups responsible for different aspects of the trade, such as recruitment or transport.

Human trafficking in the country used to be dominated by small, independent networks, but drug cartels have taken an increasingly important role in the crime as they seek to diversify their revenue streams in the face of pressure on the drug business. In 2013, the regional head of CATW-LAC stated that 70 percent of sex trafficking cases reported to the organization involved drug gangs.

The importance of Tlaxcala in the human trafficking networks may be due to the state’s central location and proximity to Mexico City. Between January 2010 and July 2013, Tlaxcala saw the greatest number of convictions for human trafficking and tied with Baja California for the largest number of cases opened for this crime. The state was also the site of a major sex trafficking network dismantled in 2011.


Raise Your Hand if You Think You’re Going Back to Iraq

You’re correct, and it could be a ten year war.

With sequestration and even worse defense contractors without advance platform orders and enemies in the same technology as the United States, ten years is not out of the limits of acceptance. The next commander in chief faces a daunting reality as Islamic State, al Nusra, the Taliban, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Houthis and countless other terror operation cells have nothing but time and a constant flow of new generational fighters.

Listen to the Generals. The new standard before America is the endless war condition, but is the West ready and is Congress or the American people able to dismiss the battlefield weariness? There is no choice. Questions emerge and they include funding for the Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF) and possibly the draft, if in fact ground operations are needed. Today our troop levels are at a low point near that of pre-World War ll and this calls for some exceptional decisions to be made in the near future. Additionally, conditions could also call for more civilian contractors to be used in both offensive and defensive duties.

There is Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon, Nigeria, Sudan, Asia and the bigger issue and the bear in the room everyone ignores, Russia.

Throw in Iran…well the future is bleak.

Is the U.S. Ready for an Endless War Against the Islamic State?
op generals predict the fight against ISIS will last more than a decade. It’s not a message the White House or Congress wants to hear.

FP Magazine: Looking out over rows of young American soldiers sitting in a dusty hall in Baghdad, the U.S. military’s top-ranking officer had a few questions for the troops.

Had they deployed to Iraq before, Gen. Martin Dempsey asked.

Out of about 200 soldiers in the hall, three-quarters raised their hands.

“How many of you think you’ll serve a tour in Iraq again?”

They all put up their hands.

“I think you may be right about that,” Dempsey said. “We’re going to be at this for a while.”

The exchange, which came in July during what is likely to be Dempsey’s final visit to Iraq before he steps down in October, captured what top Pentagon brass view as a “generational conflict” against the Islamic State. Despite optimistic assessments from the White House, the generals believe the war will extend far into the future, long after President Barack Obama leaves office.

In an interview with Foreign Policy in July, shortly before stepping down as vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Sandy Winnefeld likened the campaign against the Islamic State to the Cold War.

“I do think it’s going to be a generational struggle,” Winnefeld said.

The Army’s outgoing chief of staff, Gen. Ray Odierno, meanwhile, told reporters that “in my mind, ISIS is a 10- to 20-year problem; it’s not a two years problem.”

But White House officials, and most members of Congress, are reluctant to speak publicly about how long the campaign may last, much to the frustration of military commanders. For members of both political parties, acknowledging that the war could drag on for another 10 to 20 years is politically risky, if not poisonous, and would require confronting difficult decisions about ordering troops into combat, budgets, and strategy.

Instead, the White House has vaguely spoken of a “long-term” effort, without specifically addressing the generals’ expectations of a potentially decade-long war. But officials have acknowledged that the fight will continue after the end of Obama’s presidential term in 2017, leaving his successor with tough choices about whether, and how, to expand the flagging campaign.

While the administration has shied away from talking about precisely how long the war may last, some Republican lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and defense analysts have accused the White House of offering an overly positive account of the faltering campaign.

Now the administration faces explosive allegations that the military may have sought to water down intelligence reports to convey a more optimistic portrayal of the war.

The Defense Department’s inspector general has launched an investigation into the allegations after an analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency alleged that assessments had been revised improperly by U.S. Central Command, according to the New York Times.

The allegations raise questions about the possible politicization of the air campaign and carry echoes of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, as officials under then-President George W. Bush were later accused of distorting intelligence reports about suspected stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction to bolster the rationale for military action.

The Senate Intelligence Committee “is aware of the allegations that intelligence assessments may have been improperly used or revised,” a staffer for Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the committee, told Foreign Policy on Thursday.

But as the case involves an alleged whistleblower, congressional aides said they could not discuss any aspect of the investigation or whether lawmakers would launch their own separate probe.

Obama has long condemned how intelligence was distorted in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. And in his Aug. 5 speech defending the recently negotiated nuclear agreement with Iran, Obama said the ill-fated U.S. war in Iraq had been the product of “a mindset that exaggerated threats beyond what the intelligence supported.”

After entering office, Obama vowed to carry out a campaign promise to bring the war in Iraq to “a responsible end” by withdrawing U.S. troops in 2011.

The war, however, did not end on his schedule. Obama has had to send 3,400 troops back to Iraq to help local forces battle the Islamic State, a virulent incarnation of the extremist threat that bedeviled the nearly nine-year U.S. occupation. A U.S.-led air campaign has carried out more than 6,400 strikes against Islamic State targets.

Taken together, that means Obama will leave office with no prospect of an end to the American role in the conflict, which has cost more than $3.7 billion after just one year and has undercut the Pentagon’s plans to “reset” the force after years of grinding counterinsurgency warfare.

While administration officials have been reluctant to offer more specific forecasts about the campaign’s duration, Odierno told reporters in July that the Islamic State will be “a long-term problem” over the next decade or more, though he cautioned that he wasn’t sure about how serious a threat it would be in the years ahead.

Odierno was voicing a widely held view among American commanders, who often privately complain about what they see as a lack of coherent strategic planning from the White House or Congress.

“This is not a two- to three-year task. We’re talking a decade-long effort,” a senior military officer said.

A senior administration official declined to say whether the White House agreed with Odierno’s forecast, saying, “It’s impossible to give any precise answer beyond a long-term schedule.”

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added: “This administration believes the effort should last as long as it takes to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL. There are more than a few variables involved in that.”

There are few signs that the current campaign has turned the tide against the Islamic State in any meaningful way, reinforcing the sense of a long struggle ahead. U.S. officials have touted the success that Iraqi and Kurdish forces, backed by American air power, have had in retaking Tikrit and in recapturing territory in northern Syria, while blunting Islamic State offensives around Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq. But the Islamic State still holds broad swaths of Iraq and Syria, including the major Iraqi cities of Mosul and Ramadi, and American intelligence officials estimate that the group has been able to replenish its ranks of fighters and replace those killed by Washington and its allies.

Despite the marked lack of progress, there are no heated policy debates inside the White House now about how to conduct the war against the Islamic State, administration officials and military officers said.

And there is no indication that the White House is planning to revisit its strategy, despite the disappointing results on the ground.

Dempsey and other top military leaders — scarred by the disastrous experience that followed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 — are not advocating a radical departure from the current approach, as they do not see a viable alternative without risking another quagmire on the ground.

Administration officials insist that the top generals are not pushing to send in a large force of ground troops or to have special operations commandos embedded with Iraqi troops in combat.

“Our military is not pressing for this,” said a senior administration official familiar with policy discussions, adding that commanders mostly support the current approach.

Most Republican presidential candidates, who castigate Obama for his handling of the Islamic State and promise to take a tougher approach, are also not pressing for the deployment of U.S. combat forces.

Some of them have said they might send special operations forces to accompany Iraqi troops into battle, but the Republicans have offered few details about precisely what they would be willing to do differently and have sidestepped the question of how many years the United States may have to wage war against the Islamic State.

Only one candidate, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), has explicitly called for a major ground force, urging the deployment of at least 10,000 U.S. troops to Iraq and more to Syria.

Graham opposes any limits on U.S. military action against the Islamic State, and his spokesman, Kevin Bishop, said the senator would support “whatever it takes for as long as it takes.”

Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia has argued for a more honest public debate about the open-ended war, but he blames the Republican-led Congress for failing to hold a vote to authorize the use of military force in Iraq and Syria, his office said.

“In my opinion, this is less about candor on the part of the administration and much more about twelve months of congressional abdication of its most solemn constitutional responsibility — whether or not to send our service members into harm’s way,” Kaine said in an email.

Gen. Joseph Dunford, who is due to take over from Dempsey as chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff in October, told lawmakers in July he agreed that a congressional vote to authorize force against the Islamic State would send a signal of unity to allies and adversaries while offering reassurance to troops in the field.

But Congress has opted against a vote that might entail a full-fledged debate on the war and the resources it will require. And the White House has made clear it will stay the course in its military campaign, with no major policy review in the works.

The administration, however, may be open to a more public discussion of the campaign. A senior administration official indicated that the White House may attempt to engage in a broader public discussion of the war later this year, after it is able to shift its focus from the upcoming congressional vote in September on the Iran nuclear agreement.

“Once we get through the Iran nuclear deal, it’s probably time to have a discussion about the broader Middle East,” the official said.


Obama’s Retreat from Global Stage, Refugee Crisis


VIENNA (AP)As regional leaders met Thursday to tackle Europe’s refugee crisis, a gruesome discovery unfolded a short drive from the Austrian capital: An abandoned truck was found with at least 20 — and possibly up to 50 — decomposing bodies of migrants piled inside.

It was the latest tragedy in a year that has seen tens of thousands of people risking all to seek a better life or refuge in wealthy European countries. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at the Vienna conference she was “shaken by the awful news,” and summit participants held a minute of silence.  More here.

From the United Nations Critical Intelligence Division:

27 August 2015 – Clashes between rival militias in the past few days have forced several thousand people to flee their homes in the Central African Republic (CAR) town of Bambari and seek shelter at a former cotton factory inside the compound of the United Nations peacekeeping mission, the UN refugee agency said today.

“We are extremely concerned by the mounting violence in Bambari and its impact on the civilian population. Our staff have reported the displacement of people who are extremely frightened,” Kouassi Lazare Etien, the Representative of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in CAR, said in a press release.

Mr. Etien said that the agency was also worried about hundreds of Sudanese refugees “trapped in a refugee camp [near Bambari] and at high risk of attacks.” The road leading to the camp had been inaccessible since the weekend, but a UNHCR team escorted by UN peacekeepers reached the Sudanese refugee camp on Wednesday.

“Fresh fighting between rival militia forces erupted on August 20 and triggered new waves of displacement,” the refugee agency reported.

“A spontaneous IDP [internally displaced persons] site had sprung up inside the Bambari compound of the UN peace-keeping force,” the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in CAR (MINUSCA), according to the refugee agency.

UNHCR staff said the agency’s partner, the National Refugee Commission, had registered about 3,000 displaced persons in the MINUSCA compound as of Tuesday.

“But conditions are dire at the site, a former cotton factory with no sanitation facilities and limited access to water and shelter,” the agency said.

The situation began to ease on Thursday but UNHCR staff say Bambari remains very tense and they fear the situation could deteriorate again.

UNHCR is now able to move around Bambari and is trying to assess the total number of newly displaced. The tension remains with armed groups in control of the streets.

The population and aid workers were isolated and inaccessible, but a humanitarian corridor has been opened to the airport since Tuesday following negotiations between MINUSCA and the rival militia groups.

The latest flare-up in Bambari erupted after a 19-year-old Muslim was killed in the city and beheaded by alleged anti-Balaka fighters, according to the refugee agency. “This triggered violent reprisal attacks between the two communities in Bambari, which have left at least 10 people dead and many injured, including ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) staff,” it said.

The failure of the United Nations Human Rights and the U.S. State Department dismissing crisis conditions

Reuters: Austrian police suspect that a Bulgarian-Hungarian trafficking ring was behind the deaths of 71 migrants found in a truck on an Austrian highway, Hans Peter Doskozil, police chief for the province of Burgenland, told a news conference.

In our own hemisphere, Latin America, terror reigns

FP: Over the past week, an unprecedented crackdown has been underway in the Venezuelan state of Tachira, where a mass expulsion of unnaturalized Colombians has been undertaken by Venezuelan authorities with uncharacteristic efficiency — if with a tragically characteristic lack of due process. To date, nearly 1,100 individuals — including small children and the elderly — have been summarily deported across the two countries’ shared border: their possessions denied to them, their homes bulldozed to the ground to prevent them from returning. To avoid losing everything, many more Colombians have attempted to salvage what they could of their belongings and cross over on foot, fording the narrow river dividing what, in Simón Bolívar’s day, had been a single, united country.

Families have been separated, businesses abandoned, and communities shattered.

Families have been separated, businesses abandoned, and communities shattered. The sheer number of dispossessed has all but overwhelmed the capacity of local Colombian authorities. In nearby Cúcuta, a Boston-sized city just across the border, refugees are now being housed in tents grouped into makeshift camps – their broken livelihoods mere collateral damage for Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro’s latest manufactured crisis.

The area where Venezuelan Tachira’s border meets the Colombian state of North Santander is a bit of an oddity for South America. While Spanish and Portuguese colonial boundaries were usually set along major natural obstacles such as the Andes, major tributaries of the Amazon, or impassable jungles, the Tachira River runs only around a meter deep and can be crossed easily at multiple points. For locals in Cúcuta, cut off from the rest of Colombia to the west by the imposing Cordillera Oriental mountain range, this has long rendered Venezuela more accessible than Colombia itself. Tachira, too, has long been a distinct cultural entity from the rest of Venezuela: a no-man’s-land that once birthed most of the country’s military Caudillo strongmen, and now breeds its most adamant anti-government uprisings. Given the porous national border and the many price distortions caused by Venezuela’s arcane multi-tier exchange rate and heavily subsidized staples, a vibrant illicit trade has flourished among the region’s entrepreneurial population, including gasoline smuggling and food arbitrage. Even in faraway Caracas, the street value of black market dollars is referred to as the “Cúcuta price.” More here.

Syrian refugees major plight

Amman (AFP)After escaping a devastating war, frustrated Syrian refugees in aid-starved neighbouring states say they must now choose between joining an exodus to Europe or “returning home to die”.  

Millions of Syrians have found shelter in surrounding countries including Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan that are now struggling to cope with the massive influx.

A lack of jobs and humanitarian assistance means that many are now giving up on their host nations.

“What do they expect us to do, to die in silence?” said Mohammed al-Hariri, who lives in Jordan’s vast Zaatari desert refugee camp.

“Syrians now have two choices: either to return and die in their country or to emigrate,” he said.

Around 340,000 migrants reached the EU’s borders in the seven months to July, in the continent’s biggest migration crisis since World War II, with hundreds perishing at sea.

Most are escaping the more than four-year-old conflict in Syria that has claimed over 240,000 lives, and more are expected to follow.

“From the Syrians we have interviewed this year it is clear that many are contemplating making a dangerous journey to try to reach Europe through North Africa or Turkey,” said Adam Coogle, a Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“Many said they feel that a lack of humanitarian assistance plus an inability to legally work in surrounding countries forces them to choose between a return to the conflict zone in Syria or to attempt a dangerous journey to Europe.”

– ‘Losing hope’ –

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR estimates that more than four million Syrians have fled the bloodshed which broke out in March 2011, mostly to neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey but also Egypt and Iraq. More here.