Agents working abroad for the Drug Enforcement Administration allegedly attended and participated in drug cartel-funded “sex parties,” according to a new report released Thursday by the Department of Justice’s inspector general.
“We were particularly troubled by multiple allegations involving several DEA special agents participating in ‘sex parties’ with prostitutes while working in an overseas office,” the report reads.
The report says this type of agent misconduct took place for “several years” while some of the agents who participated held top-secret clearances, opening them up to potential extortion and coercion.
Apart from water and air, humble sand is the natural resource most consumed by human beings. People use more than 40 billion tons of sand and gravel every year. There’s so much demand that riverbeds and beaches around the world are being stripped bare. (Desert sand generally doesn’t work for construction; shaped by wind rather than water, desert grains are too round to bind together well.) And the amount of sand being mined is increasing exponentially.
Though the supply might seem endless, sand is a finite resource like any other. The worldwide construction boom of recent years—all those mushrooming megacities, from Lagos to Beijing—is devouring unprecedented quantities; extracting it is a $70 billion industry. In Dubai enormous land-reclamation projects and breakneck skyscraper-building have exhausted all the nearby sources. Exporters in Australia are literally selling sand to Arabs.
In some places multinational companies dredge it up with massive machines; in others local people haul it away with shovels and pickup trucks. As land quarries and riverbeds become tapped out, sand miners are turning to the seas, where thousands of ships now vacuum up huge amounts of the stuff from the ocean floor. As you might expect, all this often wreaks havoc on rivers, deltas, and marine ecosystems. Sand mines in the US are blamed for beach erosion, water and air pollution, and other ills, from the California coast to Wisconsin’s lakes. India’s Supreme Court recently warned that riparian sand mining is undermining bridges and disrupting ecosystems all over the country, slaughtering fish and birds. But regulations are scant and the will to enforce them even more so, especially in the developing world.
Sand mining has erased two dozen Indonesian islands since 2005. The stuff of those islands mostly ended up in Singapore, which needs titanic amounts to continue its program of artificially adding territory by reclaiming land from the sea. The city-state has created an extra 130 square kilometers in the past 40 years and is still adding more, making it by far the world’s largest sand importer. The collateral environmental damage has been so extreme that Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam have all banned exports of sand to Singapore.
All of that has spawned a worldwide boom in illegal sand mining.
It’s not Portlandia.
Oh yeah, Silicon Valley.
Angel the concierge stands behind a lobby desk at a luxe apartment building in downtown San Francisco, and describes the residents of this imperial, 37-story tower. “Ubers, Squares, a few Twitters,” she says. “A lot of work-from-homers.”
And by late afternoon on a Tuesday, they’re striding into the lobby at a just-get-me-home-goddammit clip, some with laptop bags slung over their shoulders, others carrying swank leather satchels. At the same time a second, temporary population streams into the building: the app-based meal delivery people hoisting thermal carrier bags and sacks. Green means Sprig. A huge M means Munchery. Down in the basement, Amazon Prime delivery people check in packages with the porter. The Instacart groceries are plunked straight into a walk-in fridge.
Do Not Miss Absurdity:
Via: The Hollywood Reporter:
No actor is indispensable. That is the blunt lesson from the fact that Universal Pictures was able to complete its April 3 tentpole, Furious 7, following star Paul Walker’s death in a November 2013 car accident about halfway through the shoot. Beyond saying that brothers Cody and Caleb stood in for Walker and that director James Wan culled footage of Walker from the earlier films, Universal declines to discuss which tricks were employed to breathe life into Walker’s character. But sources say Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital was asked to complete the sensitive and arduous task of reanimating Walker for Furious 7, and its cutting-edge work points toward a future where most actors can be re-created seamlessly if needed. (The company declined to comment on its specific contributions.)
Yemen’s embattled president fled his palace home in the southern port city of Aden for an undisclosed location Wednesday as Shiite rebels closed in on the country’s third-largest city and launched airstrikes targeting the presidential forces guarding the palace’s compound.
President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi left the palace just hours after the rebels, known as the Houthis, and their allies seized a key air base where U.S. troops and Europeans had advised the country in its fight against al-Qaida militants. The base is only 60 kilometers (35 miles) away from Aden, where Hadi had established a temporary capital after fleeing from house arrest at the hands of the rebels in Sanaa earlier in March.
The rebels offered a bounty for Hadi’s capture and arrested his defense minister. Hours later, they launched airstrikes targeting presidential forces guarding the palace.
The advance of the rebels, empowered by the backing of the ousted Yemeni autocrat Ali Abdullah Saleh and his loyalists, threatens to plunge the Arab world’s poorest country into a civil war that could draw in its Gulf neighbors. Already, Hadi has asked the United Nations to authorize a foreign military intervention in Yemen.
This is from 2013.
Via: National Geographic:
5. Many of Tesla’s inventions were classified.
When Tesla died in 1943, during World War II, the Office of Alien Property took his belongings, Alcorn said. Most of his things were later released to his family, and many ended up in the Tesla Museum in Belgrade, which opened in the 1950s. But some of Tesla’s papers are still classified by the U.S. government.
“I know people have requested things through the Freedom of Information Act, and they are released heavily redacted,” said Alcorn.
As a result of the years of secrecy, many people have speculated about what fantastic inventions might have been suppressed, perhaps to keep them out of enemy hands or, more darkly, to perpetuate the status quo. Perhaps supporting the former theory, Tesla had spoken publically about working on a “death beam.” Those who fear the latter theory often point to his work on harvesting the energy in the forces of nature as something that would upset powerful oil companies.
Via: MIT Technology Review:
Robots will use the latest computer-vision and machine-learning algorithms to try to perform the work done by humans in vast fulfillment centers.
.gov has probably been doing it for years, so why not?
Apple’s current Find My Friends feature could one day expand into more of a Track My Friends feature.
Granted to Apple on Tuesday by the US Patent and Trademark Office, a patent called “Sharing location information among devices” describes a process that would let you view a visual representation of the path taken by another person using a mobile device as a way of following that person’s entire journey.
Officials: Co-Pilot Deliberately Crashed Flight 9525
Via: USA Today:
The co-pilot of the Germanwings flight that crashed in the French Alps deliberately worked to destroy the plane while passengers shrieked in terror and the pilot pounded on the cockpit door, a French prosecutor said at a news conference Thursday in Marseille.
“This was voluntary, this was deliberate,” Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin said. “He refused to open the cabin door in order to let the pilot back in. I repeat. He refused to let the pilot back in. He is the one who pressed the button that allowed the plane to begin descending and lose altitude.”
The information was obtained from the cockpit voice recorder of doomed Flight 9525, which suddenly began an eight-minute descent before smashing into the mountains Tuesday. The data recorder has not yet been found.
Co-pilot in Alps crash was not on terror watch list
Robin said the co-pilot, identified as German national Andreas Lubitz, 28, was not on a terror watch list. Robin said Lubitz said nothing during the descent, but could be heard breathing until the crash.
“The co-pilot is the only one in the cockpit,’ Robin said. “While he is alone he somehow manipulated the buttons on the flight monitoring system. He was alone at the helm of this Airbus 320.”
Robin stressed that the actions were deliberate. He said passengers could be heard screaming in fear.
“We start hearing banging, someone actually trying to break the door down,” Robin said. “That’s why the alarms were let off — because these were protocols that were put in place in case of any terror attack.”
Update: Germanwings Pilot Was Locked Out of Cockpit Before Crash in France
Via: New York Times:
As officials struggled Wednesday to explain why a jet with 150 people on board crashed in relatively clear skies, an investigator said evidence from a cockpit voice recorder indicated one pilot left the cockpit before the plane’s descent and was unable to get back in.
A senior military official involved in the investigation described “very smooth, very cool” conversation between the pilots during the early part of the flight from Barcelona to Düsseldorf. Then the audio indicated that one of the pilots left the cockpit and could not re-enter.
“The guy outside is knocking lightly on the door and there is no answer,” the investigator said. “And then he hits the door stronger and no answer. There is never an answer.”
He said, “You can hear he is trying to smash the door down.”
While the audio seemed to give some insight into the circumstances leading up to the Germanwings crash, it also left many questions unanswered.
“We don’t know yet the reason why one of the guys went out,” said the official, who requested anonymity because the investigation is continuing. “But what is sure is that at the very end of the flight, the other pilot is alone and does not open the door.”
Update: Booz Allen Hamilton Contractor Assigned to NGA On Board
Via: NZ Herald/AP:
Two Americans presumed to have died in the plane crash in the southern French Alps include a U.S. government contractor and her daughter, according to a person close to the family.
The mother was identified as Yvonne Selke of Nokesville, Virginia, a longtime and highly regarded employee of Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. in Washington, and her daughter, whose name wasn’t immediately available.
Selke worked with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s satellite mapping office, according to the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because this person wasn’t authorized to release information to reporters.
A person who answered the phone at Selke’s home said the family wasn’t providing any information.
A Booz Allen spokeswoman declined to comment, noting that Germanwings had not yet disclosed identities of the crash victims.
“By Associated Press writer Ted Bridis in Washington.
Coincidence: General Denis Mercier
Cryptogon reader CM emailed me a remarkable bit of information:
The day before the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 near Barcelonnette, France, General Denis Mercier was appointed to the position of NATO Supreme Allied Commander Transformation.
General Denis Mercier was born in Barcelonnette.
23 Mar. 2015
Press Release (2015) 056
Issued on 23 Mar. 2015
Last updated: 23 Mar. 2015 12:56
The North Atlantic Council today, 23 March 2015, approved the nomination of General Denis Mercier, French Air Force, to the post of Supreme Allied Commander Transformation.
General Mercier is currently serving as the French Air Force Chief of Staff. General Mercier will assume the appointment as successor to General Jean-Paul Paloméros, French Air Force, at a change of command ceremony at the Headquarters of Supreme Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk, Virginia in September 2015.
On behalf of all Allied governments, the North Atlantic Council expressed deep and lasting gratitude for the distinguished service rendered by General Paloméros as the Supreme Allied Command Transformation.
Last moments of the plane
Speaking in Cologne, Germanwings CEO Thomas Winkelmann revealed that the plane began descending shortly after it reached cruising height following take-off from Barcelona airport.
10.01am CET Flight 4U 9525 takes off
10.44am Plane reaches cruising altitude
10.45am Plane begins unexplained descent
10.47am Air traffic controllers issue ‘third phase’ distress call
10.53am Radar and radio contact breaks off
A long descent
According to Mr Winkelmann, the plane started to descend very shortly after it reached its cruising altitude – and continued to do so for eight minutes until it crashed into the mountain at an altitude of some 5,000ft.
He said there was no explanation for why this descent from 38,000ft began, but said the 24-year-old plane was checked the day before the flight and that the captain on board was very experienced, with more than 10 years’ service and 6,000 hours of flying time.
Was there a distress signal?
France’s aviation regulator has said that the plane “did not itself make a distress call” during its eight-minute descent from cruising altitude.
While Germanwings’ Mr Winkelmann said there was still some confusion as to whether a distress signal had been sent from the plane, the DGAC authority said that controllers on the ground issued the “distress” call – the third and most serious of three stages of alerts used to help coordinate rescue efforts when an aircraft is considered in difficulty.
“The combination of the loss of radio contact and the aircraft’s descent which led the controller to implement the distress phase,” a spokesman said.
Via: Business Insider:
This could be the scariest chart in the world, from Deutsche Bank’s Torsten Sløk. Nearly half of American households don’t save any of their money.
If it isn’t obvious, this has a broad range of implications. People who don’t save won’t have any buffer should the economy turn and they lose their jobs. Longer term, people who don’t save won’t have the capacity to retire.