Saturday, 31 December 2011
Friday, 30 December 2011
Hacker collective Anonymous has just dumped 200 GB of names, email addresses and passwords for around 860,000 Stratfor users. Anonymous also exposed credit card numbers for 75,000 paying customers of Stratfor.
Stratfor, a security think tank, provides reports on international security and related threats to government and military personnel as well as to the private sector.
It is unknown whether Anonymous gained access to other, more sensitive information during the Stratfor hacks, which occurred on December 24.
“The time for talk is over,” Anonymous wrote last night on Pastebin.
“It’s time to dump the full 75,000 names, addresses, CCs and md5 hashed passwords to every customer that has ever paid Stratfor. But that’s not all: we’re also dumping ~860,000 usernames, email addresses, and md5 hashed passwords for everyone who’s ever registered on Stratfor’s site… Did you notice 50,000 of these email addresses are .mil and .gov?”
Anonymous’ motives for the attack are also somewhat hazy. In last night’s statement, representatives of the movement wrote, “All our lives we have been robbed blindly and brutalized by corrupted politicians, establishmentarians and government agencies sex shops, and now it’s time to take it back.”
In addition to the Stratfor attack and exposure, Anonymous is threatening a new action on New Year’s Eve, December 31.
In addition to “noise demonstrations” outside of jails and prisons, ostensibly to show solidarity and support for the incarcerated, Anonymous says it will unveil “our contributions to project mayhem by attacking multiple law enforcement targets from coast to coast.”
Project Mayhem, a name nabbed from the book and film Fight Club, alludes to the group’s desire to topple (or at least shake up) systems of capitalistic and political power by exposing certain types of information by or on December 12, 2012.
Stratfor’s site has been offline since December 24, and the firm has delayed its website relaunch in order to review its security.
“As part of our ongoing investigation, we have also decided to delay the launching of our website until a thorough review and adjustment by outside experts can be completed,” the company said in an email to VentureBeat earlier this week.
For a detailed account of what happened during the Stratfor hack and what it means, see our 10-part FAQ on Anonymous and Stratfor.
Kit Marsters: Government's Use of Atos to Combat Benefit Fraud Is Flawed, Costly and Counterproductive
Benefit scroungers. They're everywhere, according to the tabloids. They laze about, watching Sky TV on their giant plasmas, whilst decent, hardworking taxpayers pay for their various addictions and holidays abroad.
But are they really everywhere? Despite the hype, the figures show the claimants in a different light. According to the government, who should know about these things, the Incapacity Benefit 'Fraud and Error' figure is 2.4%. Of this 2.4%, only 0.3% is down to fraud. This amounts to a loss of £20m. The rest is down to customer error (0.9% or £50m) and official error (1.2% or £70m). It would appear that not that many people are faking a sore back or depression after all
Kit Marsters: Government's Use of Atos to Combat Benefit Fraud Is Flawed, Costly and Counterproductive
Benefit scroungers. They're everywhere, according to the tabloids. They laze about, watching Sky TV on their giant plasmas, whilst decent, hardworking taxpayers pay for their various addictions and holidays abroad.
But are they really everywhere? Despite the hype, the figures show the claimants in a different light. According to the government, who should know about these things, the Incapacity Benefit 'Fraud and Error' figure is 2.4%. Of this 2.4%, only 0.3% is down to fraud. This amounts to a loss of £20m. The rest is down to customer error (0.9% or £50m) and official error (1.2% or £70m). It would appear that not that many people are faking a sore back or depression after all.
However, we must weed out those fraudulent people who are wrecking our economy. That is why the Department for Work and Pensions pays Atos Healthcare 100 million pounds per year, and they'll be doing so through to 2014. On top of that, it is estimated that the large amount of appeals against assessment decisions costs the taxpayer in the region of 50 million pounds. With a success rate of appeals of 40%, rising to 70% in Scotland, it begs the question if Atos is worth it.
It makes sense to assess claimants. It makes sense to check how their condition is progressing, and if there is any way the DWP can help them back into work. This could take the form of useful and suitable training, an update of people's skills, confidence building, interview techniques, or career advice if a previous field of work is no longer suitable.
Such assessments and support should be tailored to the individual claimant. Someone with an illness or condition that could reasonably be expected to cause a short-term setback would probably require more frequent assessments than someone with a life threatening condition, or severe mental health problems that have a negative impact on the individual and those around them. It wouldn't make much sense to drag these people to assessment after assessment, because it is unlikely that there will be significant changes in a short period of time. Indeed, frequent assessments could cause undue stress and could actually have a negative impact on the claimant's wellbeing.
It is baffling, then, that those who have been placed in the ESA Support Group find themselves constantly harassed. These are the 7% of claimants who were found too sick or disabled to work and who are therefore excluded from the Work Programme. They are people with severe conditions, unlikely to benefit from frequent assessments. And yet, just weeks after they've received the result of one stressful assessment they can expect another lengthy form to arrive, to be filled in for another assessment. It never ends.
It is baffling, because it is completely counterproductive. It doesn't help the claimant, and it doesn't help the taxpayer or the government. For many people in receipt of ESA Support, it's a frightening process. The form is lengthy, time-consuming and difficult to fill out. It makes the claimant think about everything that's wrong with them and all the things they find hard to do, which is rather depressing. Then there is the wait, and the assessment itself, often accompanied by lengthy waiting times at the centre before a person is actually seen.
The assessor doesn't always have the knowledge to judge a person's specific condition, or how it affects their daily life. It is a terrifying prospect for any claimant to be assessed by someone who doesn't have the required insight, because their future quite literally rests in the assessor's hands.
If they're declared fit for work when they aren't, they can lose everything. How can a person with a severe condition meet the requirements for Jobseeker's Allowance? They'd have to sign on on a regular basis, they'd have to actively look for jobs they know they can't do, and on top of that, they'd have to reapply for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit, so they could get into serious trouble with their landlord.
Imagine having to go through this process every three months. Picture the stress, and the fear, and the knowledge that you're not allowed any sense of security until the system changes. How would that affect a person who is already suffering with mental health problems? How would it benefit a person with a life threatening illness?
The DWP's website states that "People who are found too sick or disabled will continue to receive unconditional support and a higher rate of benefit." It would appear that the support on offer is conditional. In order to receive support, a person has to prove themselves again and again... and again.
It's not helping them. Those who might, given time and proper treatment, rejoin the workforce can actually find their progress hindered by these too frequent assessments. And if they're kept in a terrified, insecure state and it prolongs the healing process, it means that the government and the taxpayer will have to support them for longer than necessary.
If some common sense and empathy were applied, it would be of benefit to all. Yes, assess claimants, but not at this rate, and not in this manner. A yearly assessment for those on ESA Support, carried out by proper, knowledgeable health professionals, would make far more sense. It would still allow the DWP to learn what's what, and it would give the claimants some peace of mind. It would help them along the road to recovery or, for those sadly unable to recover, it would show them that there's still some humanity left in this world.
Follow Kit Marsters on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JKMarsters
Guide for Witnesses to House of Commons Select Committees
Guide for Witnesses
Detailed guidance for giving written or oral evidence has been prepared and can be downloaded at the end of this page. This page summarises the main points.
When a Committee conducts an inquiry they often request written evidence from interested parties. Committees may also identify possible witnesses that they wish to take oral evidence from.
Written evidence should consist of the following documents:
A covering letter containing:
- name and contact details
- any request to give oral evidence
- any request for information to remain confidential
A memorandum containing:
- a summary of the main points you are making
- a brief introduction about you
- factual information you would like the committee to be aware of
- any recommendations that you would like the committee to consider including in its report
Please note: written evidence is often published and made available in a report and on the internet.
Oral evidence usually takes place in public in one of the Commons committee rooms.
Prior to the hearing:
- Committee staff will contact you to inform of any administrative arrangements.
- Committee staff will usually be able to give you an informal briefing highlighting potential lines of questioning.
- You should let committee staff know the name and job title of the witnesses.
On the day of the hearing:
- Please arrive 20 minutes before you are due to appear.
- If other witnesses are to appear before you, it is helpful to if you can attend their session, so that you are in a position to comment on that evidence.
- The session is in the form of a question and answer session.
After the hearing:
- Send any further information you have agreed to provide the committee to the committee staff as soon as possible.
- Correct the transcript of your evidence which will be sent to you by the committee staff with instructions.
Please note: you should contact committee staff if you suspect your evidence may relate to proceedings which are before a court of law, or court proceedings are imminent.
Further informationGuide for witnesses ( PDF 431 KB)
Provides detailed guidance for individuals and organisations giving written or oral evidence to a House of Commons select committee.
Home Affairs Committee launches new inquiry into Drugs29 November 2011
Call for written evidence
The Committee will undertake a comprehensive review of drugs policy in the new year. The Committee will examine the effectiveness of the Government’s 2010 drugs strategy and the UK Government’s contribution to global efforts to reduce the supply and demand of illicit drugs. Specifically, the Committee will consider:
- The extent to which the Government’s 2010 drug strategy is a ‘fiscally responsible policy with strategies grounded in science, health, security and human rights’ in line with the recent recommendation by the Global Commission on Drug Policy
- The criteria used by the Government to measure the efficacy of its drug policies
- The independence and quality of expert advice which is being given to the government
- Whether drug-related policing and expenditure is likely to decrease in line with police budgets and what impact this may have
- The cost effectiveness of different policies to reduce drug usage
- The extent to which public health considerations should play a leading role in developing drugs policy
- The relationship between drug and alcohol abuse
- The comparative harm and cost of legal and illegal drugs
- The impact of the transfer of functions of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse to Public Health England and how this will affect the provision of treatment
- The availability of ‘legal highs’ and the challenges associated with adapting the legal framework to deal with new substances
- The links between drugs, organised crime and terrorism
- Whether the UK is supporting its global partners effectively and what changes may occur with the introduction of the national crime agency
- Whether detailed consideration ought to be given to alternative ways of tackling the drugs dilemma, as recommended by the Select Committee in 2002 (The Government's Drugs Policy: Is It Working?, HC 318, 2001–02) and the Justice Committee’s 2010 Report on justice reinvestment (Cutting crime: the case for justice reinvestment, HC 94, 2009–10).”
Organisations and individuals interested in making written submissions are invited to do so by Tuesday 10 January 2012. Submissions should be no longer than 2,500 words. Further advice on making a submission can be found below.
Oral evidence sessions will be held in early 2012: further announcements will be made in due course.
Written evidence should if possible be in Word or rich text format—not PDF format—and sent by e-mail. The use of colour and expensive-to-print material, e.g. photographs, should be avoided. The body of the e-mail must include a contact name, telephone number and postal address. The e-mail should also make clear who the submission is from.
Submissions must address the terms of reference. They should be in the format of a self-contained memorandum. Paragraphs should be numbered for ease of reference, and the document must include an executive summary. Further guidance on the submission of evidence.
Submissions should be original work, not previously published or circulated elsewhere, though previously published work can be referred to in a submission and submitted as supplementary material. Once submitted, your submission becomes the property of the Committee and no public use should be made of it unless you have first obtained permission from the Clerk of the Committee.
Please bear in mind that the Committee is not able to investigate individual cases.
The Committee normally, though not always, chooses to publish the written evidence it receives, either by printing the evidence, publishing it on the internet or making it publicly available through the Parliamentary Archives. If there is any information you believe to be sensitive you should highlight it and explain what harm you believe would result from its disclosure; the Committee will take this into account in deciding whether to publish or further disclose the evidence.
For data protection purposes, it would be helpful if individuals wishing to submit written evidence send their contact details in a covering letter or e-mail. You should be aware that there may be circumstances in which the House of Commons will be required to communicate information to third parties on request, in order to comply with its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
The remit of the Home Affairs Committee is to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Home Office and its associated public bodies.
Alpha development board at TransferSummit 2011
|Developer||Raspberry Pi Foundation|
|Release date||Early 2012|
|Introductory price||US$25 or $35|
|Operating system||Linux (Debian, Fedora and ArchLinux),RISC OS|
|CPU||ARM1176JZF-S 700 MHz|
|Memory||128 or 256 MiB|
The Raspberry Pi is a single-board computer developed in the UK by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Scheduled for public release in January 2012, the foundation plans to release two versions that range from US$25 to $35 (GBP £16 to £22). It is intended to stimulate the teaching of basic computer science in schools.
The design includes an ARM1176JZF-S 700 MHz processor, 128 or 256 megabytes (MiB) of memory, intended to run Linux or RISC OS. The design does not include a built-inhard disk or solid-state drive, instead relying on an SD card for long-term storage.
Development of the device is undertaken by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a charitable organization registered with the Charity Commission. The foundation was founded on 5 May 2009 in Caldecote, South Cambridgeshire, UK. Its aim is to "promote the study of computer science and related topics, especially at school level, and to put the fun back into learning computing." The named trustees are David Braben, Jack Lang, Pete Lomas, Robert Mullins, Alan Mycroft and Eben Upton. A podcast of an interview with Eben Upton was made available in June 2011.
Raspberry Pi Foundation will be promoting learning mainly in the Python programming language, but they also support BBC BASIC, C and Perl. Many other languages that have support for Linux and ARM will be available.
The first ARM prototype version of the computer was mounted in a package the same size as a USB memory stick, and had a USB port on one end with an HDMI port on the other; shipping versions are planned to be credit card sized.
Fifty Alpha boards were delivered in August 2011. These boards are functionally identical to the planned model B, only larger to accommodate debug headers. Demos of the board have shown it running the LXDE desktop on Debian, Quake 3 at 1080p, and Full HD H.264 video over HDMI.
In December 2011 one hundred model B Beta boards were assembled and tested. The component layout of the Beta boards will be the final one. A single PCB routing error was discovered in the board design and will be fixed for the final release. The Beta board was demoed booting Linux, playing a 1080p movie trailer and the Rightware Samurai OpenGL ES benchmark.
Raspberry Pi community forum administrators have mentioned that XBMC developers are also in development of a port of XBMC media center software to Broadcom BCM2835 SoC-based devices using the Raspberry Pi board as its reference platform.
The logo was selected from a number submitted by members of the community. A shortlist of six was drawn up, with the final judging taking several days. The chosen design was created by Paul Beech, and is based on a buckyball.
The foundation plans to release two models at launch. Model A will have 128 MiB memory, one USB port and no Ethernet controller, and will cost US$25, while model B will contain 256 MiB memory, two USB ports and a 10/100 Ethernet controller and will cost US$35. The Raspberry Pi will use the Linux operating system. Debian GNU/Linux, Iceweasel, KOffice and Python are planned to be bundled with the Raspberry Pi.
|Model A||Model B|
|Target price:||US$25 (GBP £16)||US$35 (GBP £22)|
|SoC:||Broadcom BCM2835 (CPU + GPU + DSP + SDRAM)|
|CPU:||700 MHz ARM1176JZF-S core (ARM11 family)|
|GPU:||Broadcom VideoCore IV, OpenGL ES 2.0, 1080p30 H.264 high-profile decode|
|Memory (SDRAM):||128 MiB||256 MiB|
|USB 2.0 ports:||1||2 (via integrated USB hub)|
|Video outputs:||Composite RCA, HDMI|
|Audio outputs:||3.5 mm jack, HDMI|
|Onboard storage:||SD / MMC / SDIO card slot|
|Onboard network:||None||10/100 wired Ethernet (RJ45)|
|Low-level peripherals:||GPIO pins, SPI, I²C, UART|
|Power ratings:||500 mA, (2.5 Watt) ||700 mA, (3.5 Watt)|
|Power source:||5 V via Micro USB or GPIO header|
|Size:||85.60mm × 53.98mm (3.370 × 2.125 inch)|
|Supported operating systems:||Debian GNU/Linux, Fedora, Arch Linux|
|Unsupported operating systems:||RISC OS (shared source)|
Model A and Model B are cultural references to the original models of the British educational BBC Micro computer, developed by Acorn Computers who originally developed the ARM processors (the architecture of the Raspberry Pi) and operating system RISC OS which will be able to be run on it.
- ARM architecture, List of ARM microprocessor cores
- Linux, Linux kernel
- One Laptop per Child (OLPC)
- Aakash tablet
- ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Raspberry Pi FAQ. Raspberry Pi Foundation FAQ. Retrieved 2011-12-10.
- ^ a b c "FAQs". Raspberry Pi. Retrieved November 03, 2011. "What Linux distros will be supported at launch? Debian, Fedora and ArchLinux will be supported from the start."
- ^ a b c d e Holwerda, Thom (October 31, 2011). "Raspberry Pi To Embrace RISC OS". OSNews. Retrieved November 01, 2011. "At the RISC OS London show, Theo Markettos, postdoctoral researcher in the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory talked about RISC OS on the Pi. "Adrian Lees has RISC OS booting on the Raspberry Pi into the full RISC OS desktop. Lack of USB drivers then prevents user interaction," RISCOScode transcribed Markettos' words, "Work in progress on cannibalising Linux USB drivers to get RISC OS running fully on the Raspberry Pi.""
- ^ a b Raspberry Pi: Cheat Sheet
- ^ Cellan-Jones, Rory (2011-05-05). "A £15 computer to inspire young programmers". BBC News. "blog with video"
- ^ Price, Peter (2011-06-03). "Can a £15 computer solve the programming gap?". BBC Click. Retrieved 2011-07-02. "video report"
- ^ Bush, Steve (2011-05-25). "Dongle computer lets kids discover programming on a TV". Electronics Weekly. Retrieved 2011-07-11. "Announced by UK games developer David Braben, the device can run Linux and is intended to be a low-cost (£15) way to introduce children to computer science."
- ^ "1129409 - Raspberry Pi Foundation". Charity Commission for England and Wales. 2011-06-06. "The object of the charity is to further the advancement of education of adults and children, particularly in the field of computers, computer science and related subjects."
- ^ "Raspberry Pi Foundation". Raspberry Pi Foundation. Retrieved 2011-07-02.
- ^ Bush, Steve (2011-05-26). "In depth: Raspberry Pi, the computer on a stick". Electronics Weekly. Retrieved 2011-07-11. "The Raspberry Pi developers and trustees of its Foundation are: David Braben - Founder of games software firm Frontier Developments and co-author of 'Elite'. Jack Lang - Business angel, early Acorn employee, founder of Cambridge start-ups. Pete Lomas - Founder and MD of Norcott Technologies. Robert Mullins - University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory and St. John's College, Cambridge. Alan Mycroft - Professor of Computing in University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory Eben Upton - Engineer at Broadcom Europe, founder of software start-ups, and former director of computer science at St. John's College, Cambridge."
- ^ "CFL Podcast: Eben Upton (Raspberry Pi Foundation)". Consortium of Foundation Libraries. Retrieved 2011-06-06.
- ^ a b c Upton, Eben (July 26, 2011). "FAQs". Raspberry Pi. Retrieved December 12, 2011. "We’ll be supporting at least C, Perl and Python."
- ^ a b Upton, Liz (August 29, 2011). "FAQs". Raspberry Pi. Retrieved December 12, 2011. "The teaching language we’ll be promoting most heavily is Python, but really, the world’s your oyster [...]"
- ^ "David Braben on Raspberry Pi". Edge. November 25, 2011. Retrieved December 08, 2011. "Well, we have BBC Basic. [...] it's theBBC Basic. We're just checking where we are with the rights to that. There may or may not be an issue with the magic three letters there. [...] So it'll feel like the speed of Assembler, it'll run like the wind. [...] You could write something in Basic doing fancy graphics processing but where you could look at it and it's really obvious what it's doing. That's great from a teaching point of view, and from a fun point of view."
- ^ a b Wong, George (October 24, 2011). "Build your own prototype Raspberry Pi minicomputer". ubergizmo. Retrieved November 02, 2011. "From an Atmel ATmega644 microcontroller that ran at 22.1MHz with 512K of SRAM that’s now been replaced by a 700MHz ARM11 processor and 128/256MB of SDRAM [...] they’ve also decided to share the schematics and PCB layout of the 2006 Raspberry Pi computer."
- ^ Humphries, Matthew (2011-07-28). "Raspberry Pi $25 PC goes into alpha production". Geek.com. Retrieved 2011-08-01.
- ^ "Raspberry Pi Youtube Channel". Retrieved 2011-08-28.
- ^ "Full HD video demo at TransferSummit Oxford". Retrieved 2011-09-12.
- ^ Populated boards: an update on where we are (Raspberry Pi Blog)
- ^ More on the beta boards (Raspberry Pi Blog)
- ^ Bringing up a beta board (Raspberry Pi Blog)
- ^ XBMC Live USB Persistent (Raspberry Pi Forum)
- ^ This is probobly going to be the best HTPC when its released!(XBMC Forum)
- ^ Humphries, Matthew. "Raspberry Pi selects a very clever logo". geek.com. Retrieved October 11, 2011. "[...] Raspberry Pi needed a logo, and decided to turn to the community to come up with ideas. [...] 6 designs made the shortlist, and it took several days for the judges to finally decide on the winner. [...] It was created by Paul Beech [...] the raspberry is a 3D buckyball [...]"
- ^ Lee, Jeffrey. "Newsround". The Icon Bar. Retrieved October 17, 2011. "Veteran developer Adrian Lees has expressed an interest in porting RISC OS to the low-cost Raspberry Pi computer. Previously the possibility of a port was put into doubt by the question of whether anyone would have access to the required hardware documentation, but since Adrian works at Broadcom alongside Raspberry Pi Foundation members it sounds like lack of documentation will be the least of his issues."
- ^ a b "Q&A with our hardware team". Raspberry Pi Foundation. Retrieved 2011-09-20.
- ^ Final PCB artwork
- ^ Williams, Chris (28th November 2011). "Psst, kid... Wanna learn how to hack?". The Register. Retrieved 24th December 2011. "The RaspberryPi Model A and Model B (a reference to the BBC Micro) are expected to go on sale in December..."
- Official Website
- Technical Information
- Collected technical information about Raspberry Pi, eLinux.org
- Broadcom BCM2835 Media Processor:
- Broadcom SoC:
- ARM1176JZF-S CPU core:
- In The News
Gypsy apartheid worsened in Europe during 2011, Hindus stress
30/12/2011 – Maltreatment of European Roma (Gypsies) worsened during 2011 despite high-sounding paper strategies, conferences and funding to integrate them, Hindu statesman Rajan Zed stated in Nevada (USA) today.
Roma continued to face apartheid conditions, prejudice, exclusion and rights denial in Europe and efforts had failed to integrate them. Roma needed dignity and respect like other Europeans and they were not getting it, Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, pointed out.
Rajan Zed, strongly condemning Europe’s continuing maltreatment of Roma, said that it was time for Europe to wake-up and do something concrete to end Roma apartheid. European politicians needed to exhibit a strong will, commitment, intention and responsibility to bring concrete and lasting results on the reality of the Roma population, instead of just weaving dreams in capital boardrooms.
Europe needed to clarify to the world where it stood on the issue of Roma and how long it would let the clearly visible Roma apartheid continue throughout almost every European locale, Zed asked.
Their alarming condition was a social blight for Europe and the rest of the world as they reportedly regularly faced social exclusion, racism, substandard education, hostility, joblessness, rampant illness, inadequate housing, lower life expectancy, unrest, living on desperate margins, language barriers, stereotypes, mistrust, rights violations, discrimination, marginalization, appalling living conditions, prejudice, human rights abuse, racist slogans on Internet, unusually high unemployment rates, etc., Rajan Zed argued.
Ten thousand dead and counting: Ciudad Juarez, the Mexican city that’s deadlier than Afghanistan
Reuters Dec 27, 2011 – 3:59 PM ET | Last Updated: Dec 27, 2011 4:39 PM ET
REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez
Forensic workers are seen at a crime scene where an ambulance had been attacked earlier by gunmen in Ciudad Juarez December 7, 2011. Tens of thousands of people have abandoned Ciudad Juarez, a city wrecked by Mexico’s drug violence. Although official figures vary, the city this month likely surpassed 10,000 homicides in the past four years. Picture taken December 7, 2011.
By Mica Rosenberg and Julian Cardona
CIUDAD JUAREZ — In March, municipal police officers detained the two brothers of Armida Vazquez and whisked them away in patrol cars.
Vazquez and her mother searched for Dante and Juan Carlos, cellphone shop workers in their mid-20s, and checked with the local and federal police here, to no avail. Nineteen days later, the strangled bodies of the brothers were found on the outskirts of this notoriously violent city. Witness testimony and other evidence led to three policemen, now in jail awaiting trial.
But the police pushed back. Policemen in civilian clothes, Vazquez says, approached her mother outside church and told her to stop making trouble. When Vazquez made a statement against the suspects last month, she says other policemen and relatives of the officers threatened her outside the courthouse.
Terrified, 20 members of the Vazquez family packed their bags and fled across the U.S. border to El Paso, Texas, a short trip into a world of gleaming shopping malls, well-kept highways and safe neighbourhoods.
“We left all we had in Juarez, our house, everything,” said a pregnant Vazquez, in the tiny apartment she and her three children now share with a sister in El Paso.
Tens of thousands more people like her have abandoned Ciudad Juarez, a city wrecked by Mexico’s drug violence. Although official figures vary, the city this month likely surpassed 10,000 homicides in the past four years. That’s more than Afghanistan’s civilian casualties in the same period and more than double the number of U.S. troops killed in the entire Iraq war.
The violence here, as across the nation, fundamentally stems from a turf war among drug cartels. U.S. and Mexican officials say the battle in Ciudad Juarez pits the Sinaloa cartel, run by Mexico’s most wanted man, Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman, against the Juarez cartel, with deep ties along Mexico’s northern border.
But the Vazquez family’s nightmare underscores another challenge in Mexico’s war on drugs: the government’s own warriors.
Business owners, security experts and ordinary residents told Reuters that official corruption at all levels of the security forces has fanned violence in the city, with local and federal police and soldiers complicit in, or actually committing, many of the murders.
The human rights commission of the local state of Chihuahua registered 1,250 complaints of torture, forced disappearances and extrajudicial executions by the army during its two-year deployment in Ciudad Juarez. It counts 400 similar grievances against the federal police who moved in when the soldiers were pulled out. These numbers document only 20% of the violations taking place, it estimates.
When President Felipe Calderon launched his war on drug cartels in late 2006, he meant it quite literally. He sent security forces to many parts of the country to try to put powerful drug gangs on the defensive. The nation’s armed forces, in particular, were seen as a relatively clean player that would change the game.
The drug warriors have failed at every level of government in places like Ciudad Juarez. Before the army and federal police rolled into the city, many of the municipal and state police were paid operators for the Juarez cartel, government officials have conceded, directly involved in drug trafficking, kidnappings and murder. It has now come full circle: The army left Juarez in the face of a popular backlash, and the local police force is back in charge of the city’s security, struggling to clean up its reputation.
While the problem is extreme in Ciudad Juarez, deep corruption inside the security forces is a problem across Mexico, a major weak spot in Calderon’s campaign. It hinders efforts to end the violence that has killed more than 45,000 people around the country in the past five years.
Public outrage over the deaths is bleeding into debates ahead of next year’s presidential election, with Calderon’s strategy widely criticized and his conservative ruling party trailing in opinion polls.
In a speech this month, Calderon explained what he believes has happened. He said the crisis began in the 1990s when Mexican traffickers transporting Colombian cocaine north to consumers in the United States began receiving payment in kind. They found a ripe market among Mexicans and began selling drugs at home, which swelled the army of criminals and forced them to fight one another for territorial control.
“They no longer employ tens or hundreds of people, but thousands of people, thousands, extending their networks into areas that did not exist before,” Calderon said. He said they get into other criminal activities, bribe authorities to look the other way and, if unchecked, ultimately create a “symbiosis where crime and security institutions are one and the same.”
In Ciudad Juarez, many people believe Calderon’s campaign was poorly designed and caused unnecessary suffering.
There were only 300 murders here in 2007, but when the violence arrived in early 2008 it rolled across the city with a vengeance. The government sent in 10,000 troops and federal police to try to quell the mayhem, but the deaths kept rising.
State officials counted 3,622 homicides in 2010, making Ciudad Juarez the city with the highest murder rate in the world at 272 per 100,000 residents. Authorities cite a drop in killings this year as a sign of success, but the murder rate is still more than six times higher than it was in 2007.
Jose Luiz Gonzalez/REUTERS
Children look at a puddle of blood at a crime scene in Ciudad Juarez November 4, 2011.
“As president, you should know what you are, and are not, capable of and not steer the country into the tragic situation we are in now,” said Hugo Almada, an academic and psychotherapist who treats victims of violence in the city. “He calculated very badly.”
Ciudad Juarez was once a kind of Las Vegas during the U.S. Prohibition era of the 1920s and early 1930s, hosting American film stars and singers at its bars.
Named after Benito Juarez, a 19th-century president who in 1865 briefly took refuge here with his forces during the French invasion of Mexico, it is still scattered with dilapidated monuments that recall the fighting during the Mexican Revolution between 1910 and 1920. It later became famous for modern manufacturing industries that attracted workers from across the country and billions of dollars in foreign investment.
But it is now a shadow of its former self. The Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez estimates 239,000 of the city’s 1.3 million people have gone in the past four years. Nearly one in three of the businesses along the main boulevard is shuttered, often gutted by bands of looters who rip out copper wiring and the insulation in the walls.
Some say the descent into chaos began on New Year’s Day 2008 when a local cop turned up dead, riddled with bullets in his black Volkswagen Jetta. The killings continued, and later that month, an ominous hit list appeared on a monument honouring fallen policemen. Under a heading “for those who didn’t believe,” it named five recently murdered officers. Under “for those who continue not believing” were 17 more.
Most of the 17 were killed within the year, along with many others. Around 50 policemen had been killed by mid-year, and the murder rate in the city quintupled.
Experts believe many of the murdered policemen were working for “La Linea,” or “The Line,” the armed wing of the Juarez cartel, and were targeted by a rival gang, most likely the Sinaloa cartel.
The Juarez cartel is run by Vicente Carrillo, 49, a keen horseman who took charge in 1997 after his brother Amado died during plastic surgery in an attempt to change his appearance. Amado, the more flamboyant of the two, was known as “Lord of the Skies” for his prowess using a fleet of airplanes to ferry Colombian cocaine into Mexico.
The younger Carrillo now handles about a fifth of Mexico’s US$40-billion-a-year narcotics business, drug experts say, and has avoided capture for the past 13 years, in part by adeptly corrupting local officials.
“All our police forces are infiltrated. All of them, it’s as simple as that,” Chihuahua state’s then-governor, Jose Reyes Baeza, said in 2008.
Along the bustling border, cars and mechanics are cheaper in Mexico than in the United States. Ciudad Juarez built up a busy autoparts business with around 600 junkyards, some legitimate and some chop shops for stolen cars.
Like others, the business has been ravaged by the cartels. Junkyard owners say the trouble started at the end of 2007, when a group of men contacted a leader of their business association demanding a collective protection fee. Fifteen days after he refused to pay, the first junkyard owner was kidnapped.
The group raised a complaint with the state police, said one leader of the junkyard industry. He says he found their reply menacing.
“Instead of getting a consoling response from them, the first commander said, ‘I am not interested, I don’t want to hear anything about it,’” he said. “And the second commander said, ‘Well, when people start showing up wrapped in sheets and stuffed in boxes, you’ll probably start paying attention’.”
He interpreted it as a warning to just pay the gangs. “I left there really scared.”
Since 2008, at least 30 junkyard owners have been kidnapped and some of them killed. More than three-quarters of the city’s junkyard businessmen simply decided to shut down their shops, and most who stayed open have to pay regular protection money to the gangs, the leader said.
Jose Luiz Gonzalez/REUTERS
A car is parked in a neighbourhood with mostly empty houses in Ciudad Juarez December 21, 2011.
SEND IN THE CAVALRY
Calderon sent 2,500 soldiers to Ciudad Juarez in March 2008, and more the following year. At first the crackdown was welcomed. People hoped the army would be less corrupt and less abusive than local authorities.
The army’s first target was the police. Just one month after their arrival, soldiers arrested 21 police officers, stripping off their clothes, interrogating them and holding them for a day without charges. Some 400 police officers were fired after they failed federal background checks. Many others quit.
By mid-2008 there were fewer than 200 local police patrolling the streets per shift. Transit police were banned from carrying weapons, leaving them unprotected. Soldiers in charge of day-to-day security operations used the demoralized officers as chauffeurs, said Gustavo de la Rosa from the state human rights commission.
Accusations of torture and illegal detention against soldiers began to surface, and not even the harsh tactics had any impact on the surging homicide rate.
General Jorge Juarez, in charge of the mission in Ciudad Juarez and the rest of Chihuahua State at the time, told reporters they should stop writing about “one more death” and instead print that there was “one less criminal.”
In a recent report, Human Rights Watch says army abuses are not unique to Ciudad Juarez but endemic across Mexico and that the government has failed to properly address most complaints.
Gerardo Baca filed one of them. He says his son Victor was just 21 when he was picked up by soldiers three years ago at a hot dog stand with a couple of friends. Victor has not been heard from since.
Even after his friends were released claiming they were in custody with Victor, the army denies ever having held him. Baca goes every week to the morgue to scan records of unidentified bodies, hoping to find some characteristics matching his son. He has reported the case to every authority he can think of with no success.
“This is hell, we are living in a nightmare,” Baca said in the small living room of his publicly subsidized home, pointing to pictures of Victor, one in a white cowboy hat, another in a plaid shirt. “I wouldn’t wish this on anybody, not even the soldiers who detained my son.”
The army did not respond to requests for information about specific cases for this article.
Jose Luiz Gonzalez/REUTERS
A stuffed bear lies over a child's grave at the children section of the San Rafael cemetery in Ciudad Juarez July 17, 2011. Once largely spectators to the deaths of hitmen, police and innocent bystanders, children are increasingly in the firing line of Mexico's drug war.
In his recent speech, President Calderon conceded the army has gone too far in some cases. “There have been excesses, that’s true, unfortunately,” he said. And we are very concerned and it’s very serious. But believe me, my friends, that these cases, given the magnitude of the operations carried out, the arrests that are made daily, are the exception rather than the rule.”
One former professional hitman says the abuses may have gone much deeper.
Interviewed by Reuters late last year, the hitman said he had worked with a group of 20 other paid assassins doing jobs for bosses he never met. He claimed his main contact was a former military officer, that he received training on a military base, and that he and other hitmen collaborated with soldiers.
“There are groups, paramilitary groups, that are the big ones in the army,” said the man, who admitted to beheading and torturing his victims. Many times, he says, he did not know why he had been ordered to target the person he was killing.
“One time I saw the army wave through a checkpoint three vans filled with hitmen from Sinaloa with automatic weapons,” he said. “They didn’t wait in line, just gave a code, showed a paper and they let them through to do their work.”
The army did not respond to questions about the claims, which couldn’t be independently confirmed.
A spokesman for Calderon’s government said in September that “there is no evidence that phenomenon of paramilitary groups exist.”
Human Rights Watch found there were 921 investigations opened in the military justice system for abuses in Chihuahua between December 2006 and May 2011 — more than any other state. Charges were brought in only two cases and no sentences were handed were down.
Rising disenchantment with the military siege sparked a series of public protests in Ciudad Juarez in late 2009. The army handed over control to the federal police in mid-2010, just as the violence was peaking.
Once the federal police took charge, they went after the criminal gangs, arresting more than 400 suspected members of the Juarez and Sinaloa cartels along with over 5,000 other alleged criminals, breaking up kidnapping and extortion gangs.
Crime decreased, although the flow of narcotics was barely interrupted and the state human rights commission said complaints of corruption continued.
In what was dubbed “green zone,” federal police set up checkpoints to patrol the main commercial strip of bars and discos near the border even after most businesses, squeezed by extortionists, had shut down or were set on fire. The intensive patrols were meant to encourage patrons to return to the area. They didn’t work, in part because police were looking for bribes and potential customers were worried the police would be targets for criminals, making the area more dangerous.
“People were not only afraid of the criminals but also of the police,” said Federico Ziga, the head of the restaurant association.
Jesus Alcazar/AFP/Getty Images
Blood and a surgical glove are seen on the floor of a house where at least 11 youngsters were killed and 17 others were injured during a party at Salvarcar neighborhood in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on January 31, 2010.
The area is still largely abandoned. Places like the Sphinx, a once-popular nightclub shaped like a pyramid with a golden pharaoh’s head on the roof, are up for rent.
In October, the federal police followed the army and left, handing command of the city’s security back to the local authorities. Mayor Hector Murguia says he has beefed up the municipal police force to 2,600 officers, spending 47% of the city’s budget on security.
He brought in a tough new police chief, a retired military man named Julian Leyzaola, last March. Praised by the socialite magazine “Quien” as one of Mexico’s most influential people, Leyzaola is credited with bringing down crime rates in the violent border city of Tijuana, across from San Diego, Calif.
Leyzaola has said he helped purge the Tijuana force of corrupt and inefficient officers. Four local policemen in Tijuana say they were detained and tortured by Leyzaola, a charge he vehemently rejects. Leyzaola’s office did not respond to requests for an interview for this article.
Mayor Murguia stands by the police chief. “I am not interested in these complaints, let them be pursued legally,” the mayor said. “As far as I’m concerned he is showing results in Juarez and I think he is one of the best police commanders in this country.”
Murguia, a member of the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, is in his second term as mayor.
During his latest election campaign, rival politicians, rights groups and drug trade experts accused Murguia of being in the pay of the Juarez cartel. He has never been charged and denies any wrongdoing.
SIGNS OF LIFE?
The government points to a drop in homicides, car thefts and armed robberies of businesses this year as a sign of success in Ciudad Juarez even as violent car-jackings rose.
Special agent Joseph Arabit at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in El Paso said improved intelligence sharing between the U.S. and Mexico has helped the two governments make more arrests.
Factory jobs in the city’s more than 300 assembly plants for export, or “maquilas,” are slowly picking up again after a steep drop in 2008 and 2009 during the U.S. recession. Ziga of the restaurant association said customers are venturing out again, encouraged by relatively calmer streets. And the mayor said there was a good turnout for Mexico’s independence day celebrations, a sharp contrast to last year when most were canceled due to fear of attacks.
“We are much more effective at capturing criminals,” said Murguia. “We have been able to reduce the kidnapping rate to basically zero.”
Moments after the interview with Murguia, 15 minutes from his office, reporters crowded around a red Nissan with the windows shot out that had been abandoned in the middle of the street, the keys still in the ignition. It was another “levanton,” or “pick up,” where the fate of the driver is unknown. It didn’t merit a mention in the next day’s local newspaper.
Minutes later, on the same street, police cars chased armed men who had tried to rob a carwash. After a shootout, three men were arrested. Panicked witnesses crashed their cars trying to escape the scene.
Another day this month, a day like many others, 13 people were killed. Among the dead were four dialysis patients and a paramedic gunned down in an ambulance.
© Thomson Reuters 2011