Thursday, June 30, 2016

Turkey, Kurds, ISIL and the U.S.

By Faith Karimi and Steve Almasy, CNN

(CNN)The organizer of the Istanbul airport massacreis a well-known terrorist who served as a top soldier inthe ISIS war ministry, a U.S. official said.
Akhmed Chatayev, from Russia's North Caucasus region, directed the three suicide bombers who killed 43 people Tuesday, said rep Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.
Turkish media reported that a man nicknamed "Akhmed One-Arm" organized the attack.
While his whereabouts are unclear, his ties to jihadist activities are well documented, McCaul said.
"He's ... probably the No. 1 enemy in the Northern Caucus region of Russia. He's traveled to Syria on many occasions and became one of the top lieutenants for the minister of war for ISIS operations," he told CNN's Brianna Keilar.
--, it's the Kurds attacking in Turkey - that's who Saddam was bombing with scud missles when I was in high school, and as I recall we used that as a partial excuse to begin Desert Storm, to defend the Kurds as victims of ethnic cleansing. 

Other justifications for foreign involvement included Iraq's history of human rights abuses under Saddam. Iraq was also known to possess biological weapons and chemical weapons, which Saddam had used against Iranian troops during theIran–Iraq War and against his own country's Kurdish population in the Al-Anfal Campaign. Iraq was also known to have anuclear weapons program, but the report about it from January 1991 was partially declassified by the CIA on 26 May 2001.[93]
Although there were human rights abuses committed in Kuwait by the invading Iraqi military, the alleged incidents which received most publicity in the U.S. were inventions of the public relations firm hired by the government of Kuwait to influence U.S. opinion in favor of military intervention. Shortly after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the organization Citizens for a Free Kuwait was formed in the U.S. It hired the public relations firm Hill & Knowlton for about $11 million, paid byKuwait's government.[94]


Istanbul had already been subjected to three terrorist attacks in the first half of 2016, including suicide attacks in January and in March that were both linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and a car bombing in early June claimed by the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), a "radical offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party(PKK)".[6][7] Reports are that the terrorists spoke a language unfamiliar to their taxi driver and may be Chechen.[8]

ISIL is Sunni, and Kurds are majority Sunni:

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISILIPA /ˈsl/), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria[note 1] (ISIS/ˈss/),[31] and by its Arabic language acronym Daesh (داعش‎ dāʿishIPA: [ˈdaːʕiʃ]),[32][33]is a Salafi jihadist militant group that follows an Islamic fundamentalistWahhabi doctrine of Sunni Islam.[34]

We support and fund the Kurds (see article below):

Allegations of Turkish support

A carnival float depicts Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Turkish PresidentErdoğan, 2016
Turkey has long been accused by experts, Syrian Kurds, and even U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden of supporting or colluding with ISIL.[408][409][410] According to journalist Patrick Cockburn, there is "strong evidence for a degree of collaboration" between the Turkish intelligence services and ISIL, although the "exact nature of the relationship ... remains cloudy".[411] In July 2014, Cockburn stated that "Saudi Arabia has created a Frankenstein's monster over which it is rapidly losing control. The same is true of its allies such as Turkey which has been a vital back-base for Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra by keeping the 820-kilometer-long (510 mi) Turkish-Syrian border open."[412] David L. Phillips of Columbia University's Institute for the Study of Human Rights, who compiled a list of allegations and claims accusing Turkey of assisting ISIL, writes that these allegations "range from military cooperation and weapons transfers to logistical support, financial assistance, and the provision of medical services".[413] Several ISIL fighters and commanders have claimed that Turkey supports ISIL.[414][415][416] Within Turkey itself, ISIL is believed to have caused increasing political polarisation between secularists and Islamists.[417]

We directly support the Kurds, and apparently our relations with Turkey aren't so hot:

The friendliness of Turkey towards the United States has declined markedly since 2003, primarily a result of the United States' action in the Iraq War in 2003. Turkey views the Iraq war as a significant threat because northern Iraq acts as a safe-haven for the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Furthermore, Turkey views the destabilization of Iraq as a possible impetus for Kurds to claim their independence from Turkey, Iraq, and/or other Middle Eastern countries with significant Kurdish populations. A further strain in relations has been attributed to disagreements over the American support of Kurdish YPG fighters in the Syrian Civil War, with Turkey openly targeting them militarily.


It's also the Kurds who are in conflict in Syria.


As of February 2016: the government held 40% of Syria[18] (66% of the population);[19] ISIL-held territory constituted 20–40% of Syria;[18][20] 20% controlled by rebel groups (including the al-Nusra front);[18] 15–20% held by the Kurds[21][18]

The Assad government opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the Bush administration undertook to destabilize the regime by increasing sectarian tensions, showcasing and publicising Syrian repression of radical Kurdish and Sunni groups and financing political dissidents.[125] In addition Assad opposed the Qatar-Turkey pipeline in 2009. A classified 2013 report by a joint U.S. army and intelligence group concluded that bringing down Assad would have drastic consequences, since the opposition supported by the Obama administration was dominated by jihadist elements. The report was ignored, according to Michael T. Flynn, the then director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, by the U.S. administration.[125]

Human rights[edit]

The state of human rights in Syria had long been the subject of harsh criticism from global organizations.[140] The country was under emergency rule from 1963 until 2011, and rights of free expressionassociation and assembly were strictly controlled,[141] public gatherings of more than five people were banned,[142] and security forces were effectively granted sweeping powers of arrest and detention.[143][144] Women and ethnic minorities (particularly Kurds) faced discrimination,[141][145][146][147]


Beyond More US Commandos, Mosul Push Includes $415 Million for Kurds

Kurdish peshmerga fighters will get $415 million from the U.S. to join the Mosul offensive that will be aided by 217 additional U.S. Special Operations troops working down to the battalion level as advisors with frontline Iraqi forces, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Monday.
On a brief visit to Baghdad, Carter also said that additional AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and another Lockheed Martin M142High Mobility Artillery Rocket System would be sent to Iraq to "accelerate" the campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.
The Apaches flown by U.S. crews have thus far only been used to counter threats to American forces but Carter's announcement suggested that they could be sent to support Iraqi Security Forces now struggling to make headway against ISIS from a staging base at Makmour, about 60 miles southeast of Mosul.
Because of Iraq's internal politics, and pressure from Iran not to appear overly-reliant on U.S. support, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abad has in the past rejected the use of Apaches to back up Iraqi Security Forces in such actions as the retaking of Ramadi in Anbar province earlier this year.
HIMARS missile systems have already been positioned to defend U.S. troops at the Taqqadam airbase in Iraq's southern Anbar province, and another system in Jordan last month fired into Syria to support a U.S.-backed militia group against ISIS.
The 217 additional U.S. Special Operations troops will boost the official count of U.S. troops in Iraq to more than 4,000 for the first time since ISIS fighters swept out of Syria in June 2014 to occupy large swathes of Iraq.
The authorized level of U.S. troops had been 3,870, and the addition of the 217 would put the official count at 4,087. However, the actual number of U.S. troops in Iraq has routinely exceeded 5,000 for the last several months due to overlaps in troop rotations and the deployment of personnel on temporary assignments that do not count against the official total, according to U.S. military spokesmen.
In an interview with CBS' Charlie Rose, President Barack Obama said that the deployment of more U.S. advisers and additional weapons systems were part of the overall plan to back local forces in the fight against ISIS, but he essentially conceded that retaking Mosul won't happen before he leaves office.
"As we see the Iraqis willing to fight and gaining ground, let's make sure that we're providing them support," Obama said. The added support will "tighten the noose" on ISIS, he said, but he suggested that the retaking of Mosul would be left to his successor in the White House.
Carter last month said Obama continually asked him what could be done to retake Mosul this year. The president told CBS, "My expectations is that by the end of the year, we will have created the conditions whereby Mosul will eventually fall."
In a visit with U.S. troops at Baghdad International airport, Carter said that the escalation of the campaign against ISIS and the deployment of the 217 Special Ops troops was intended "to make sure the defeat of [ISIS] is lasting.
"The Iraqis are still in the lead. That doesn't change," the secretary said in separate remarks to NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt. The additional troops and weapons systems "are capabilities that will continue the process of accelerating the defeat" of ISIS, he said, adding that "I'm very comfortable our operational approach is the right one."
However, "in the end, the Iraqi forces will have to do the defeating. We can help them, we cannot substitute for them," he said, even though "Americans are at risk today every single day here. As secretary of defense, I take that more seriously than anything else."
Carter suggested that Americans will be at more risk as the campaign accelerates in the effort the defeat ISIS. "We need to get that done as soon as possible and that means being more aggressive in the moves we make," he said.
Last month, Marine Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin was killed and eight other Marines were wounded by ISIS rocket fire that hit a fire base for 155mm howitzers set up by Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit near Makhmour.
Of the $415 million in U.S. funding for the Peshmerga, Carter said only that the money would go to support "selected peshmerga units." Kurdish officials, struggling with a financial crisis that has left the Peshmerga fighters unpaid for the last three months, were ecstatic over the announcement and took to Twitter to praise Carter's action.
Lahur Talabani, director of the Kurdish Regional Government's intelligence agency, tweeted, "We thank the U.S. government for their commitment & support to our brave peshmerga forces who have been fighting ISIS on the world's behalf."
"In response to a request from the Kurdistan Regional Government for economic assistance, the Department of Defense will provide these funds on a monthly basis to support selected Peshmerga units," Pentagon spokesman Matthew Allen told the Kurdish news agency Rudaw.
"These forces have been among the most effective in the fight against ISIL and will be critical in the retaking of Mosul," Allen said, using another name for ISIS.
In response to Carter's announcement, Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, renewed his criticism of the Obama administration's approach to the conflicts in both Iraq and Syria, saying that the deployment of the additional Special Ops troops was another example of "grudging incrementalism."
The deployment of the additional troops was welcome, McCain said, but the piecemeal dispatch of U.S. forces to conflict zones was a tactic that "rarely wins wars, but could certainly lose one.
"This deployment is also representative of the increasing operational demands imposed upon our military that are not funded in the President's already inadequate defense budget request," the senator said in a statement.
McCain said failing to devote more money to defense puts "the lives of our service members at increased risk."
--Richard Sisk can be reached at

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Dangers of CRISPR gene editing

Now that a federal biosafety and bioethics committee has approvedwhat would be the first use of the trailblazing genome-editing technology CRISPR-Cas9 in people, the obvious question arises: Could anything go wrong?
The purpose of such a Phase 1 clinical trial is to assess safety, so problems wouldn’t come as a total shock. The fact that the trial in cancer patients (which still needs OKs from the Food and Drug Administration, among others) would be funded by the new cancer institute founded this year by tech mogul Sean Parker adds a wild card. Four potential snafus:

1. CRISPR edits DNA it isn’t supposed to

Soon after scientists reported in 2012 that CRISPR can edit DNA, experts raised concerns about “off-target effects,” meaning genes that scientists didn’t intend to change inadvertently got deleted or altered. That can happen because one molecule in the CRISPR system acts as a molecular bloodhound, sniffing around the genome until it finds a match to its own sequence of A’s, T’s, C’s, and G’s; unfortunately, in the 6 billion such letters of the human genome, there can be more than one match. The proposed CRISPR experiment, which would be led by scientists at the University of Pennsylvania, would use three of these molecular bloodhounds, tripling the risk of off-target effects.
Albert Cheng: The genome editing engineer
Just like Tony Stark, the fictional scientist who created Iron Man through science and engineering, Albert Cheng is using cutting edge science to engineer and manipulate genomes.
Sponsor Content by The Jackson Laboratory 
The experiment would alter the immune system’s T cells only after they’re removed from a patient. That gives scientists the chance to screen the CRISPR’d cells to make sure only the three intended genes, all involved in making T cells find and destroy tumor cells, are altered. But after those T cells are infused back into a patient to fight melanoma, sarcoma, or myeloma, the CRISPR system can keep editing DNA, and tracking such edits becomes like following a polar bear in a snowstorm.
“How will you identify off-target editing?” asked Dr. Michael Atkins of the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, a member of the federal Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee that approved the experiment. 
Penn’s data on cells growing in lab dishes showed low off-target effects: Of 148 genes they thought might be inadvertently hit by CRISPR, only ANK1, a gene that is active in the brain and red blood cells, was. “But we can’t be sure that will be maintained over time,” Atkins said — meaning, whether CRISPR will edit the wrong DNA once the T cells are back in a patient.
Hitting the wrong DNA target in a gene therapy experiment has caused tragedy in the past. In 2002, a little boy developed leukemia after a gene he received landed at a spot in his DNA that activated cancer-causing DNA.
Scientists have made “tremendous progress” in minimizing CRISPR’s off-target effects, said Dr. J. Keith Joung of Massachusetts General Hospital. But some of that progress has come from benching CRISPR’s standard DNA-cutting enzyme and substituting one called Cas9-HF1, as Joung’s team has reported. The Penn team is not using HF1. Penn’s Dr. Carl June, who will lead the study, told STAT that CRISPR science is “rapidly evolving,” so they “will use the state-of-the-art technology at the time the [study] opens. At this point, we have compelling preclinical data with standard Cas9.”

2. CRISPR hits its targets, but then genetic hell breaks loose

When CRISPR’s DNA-cutting enzyme snips the genome, the severed DNA strands don’t just smoothly reconnect like an electronic document that closes up the space between “just” and “reconnect” if “smoothly” is deleted from this sentence. No. Random DNA floating around rushes into the gap.
If the DNA equivalent of, say, “politically” or “misanthropically” scoots in, the result could be as nonsensical as putting those adverbs into the sentence above. The problem is serious enough that scientists are racing to solve it, and no one knows the biological consequences if Penn’s system doesn’t. Only a safety study like the one Penn is proposing “can determine if there is acceptable feasibility and safety of this approach,” June said. But since all the study volunteers will have incurable cancer, “these risks would seem to be acceptable.”

3. The Energizer Bunny problem

The components of CRISPR usually don’t just slip into T cells on their own. That requires a virus, since viruses are adept at infiltrating cells. A spokesman for Penn said the scientists were not available to answer questions about their proposed procedure, but if they do use viruses, they run the risk that virus-infected cells will keep cranking out the DNA-snipping Cas9 — by one estimate, for 10 or 20 years. That leaves lots of time for unintended genome-editing to occur.

4. Dollars triumph over data

If Penn’s experiment goes well, larger clinical trials would follow. But “well” is subjective. Measures such as whether a patient is alive or dead are, of course, tough to fudge. How bad side effects are, less so. Judgment calls can even enter into assessments of how significantly and for how long tumors have shrunk.
Study after study has shown that when clinical trials involve entities with a financial interest in the outcome, as the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy and Penn have in this one, the reported outcomes are more likely to be favorable than when the trial is sponsored by, say, the National Institutes of Health. In studies where the sponsor has a profit motive, scientists are also less likely to adhere to best practices, research has shown. “If you really believe in a [bio]technology and it’s not completely clear whether a side effect is the fault of the disease or the technology, your bias could influence how you interpret that,” said Atkins.
In 1999, members of the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee pointed out, a young man died in a now-infamous gene therapy trial at Penn in which the lead scientist had a multimillion-dollar financial stake in the technology. That conflict of interest, scholars have argued, may have led him to make dangerous decisions. Although the Parker Institute will handle patents for any discoveries that emerge from the research it funds, “each site owns its intellectual property,” said chief legal counsel Melinda Griffith. “If you invent it, you own it.”
Or, everything could go well and CRISPR cures cancer.

Flash wrongly sited as security risk

HTML5 Ads Aren't That Safe Compared To Flash, Experts Say (

An anonymous reader writes:[Softpedia reports:] "A study from GeoEdge (PDF), an ad scanning vendor, reveals that Flash has been wrongly accused as the root cause of today's malvertising campaigns, but in reality, switching to HTML5 ads won't safeguard users from attacks because the vulnerabilities are in the ad platforms and advertising standards themselves. The company argues that for video ads, the primary root of malvertising is the VAST and VPAID advertising standards. VAST and VPAID are the rules of the game when it comes to online video advertising, defining the road an ad needs to take from the ad's creator to the user's browser. Even if the ad is Flash or HTML5, there are critical points in this ad delivery path where ad creators can alter the ad via JavaScript injections. These same critical points are also there so advertisers or ad networks can feed JavaScript code that fingerprints and tracks users." The real culprit is the ability to send JavaScript code at runtime, and not if the ad is a Flash object, an image or a block of HTML(5) code.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Twitter machine learning image processing AR/VR

Twitter pays up to $150M for Magic Pony Technology, which uses neural networks to improve images

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Netflix alternative Mubi cancels plan to launch localized service in China

Twitter today is taking another step to build up its machine learning muscle, and also potentially to improve how it delivers photos and videos across its apps: the company isacquiring Magic Pony Technology (that is really the name), a company based out of London that has developed techniques of using neural networks (systems that essentially are designed to think like human brains) and machine learning to provide expanded data for images — used, for example, to enhance a picture or video taken on a mobile phone; or to help develop graphics for virtual reality or augmented reality applications.
Terms of the deal are not being disclosed but we have two separate sources who tell us that Twitter is paying $150 million in all for the deal. This takes into account retention bonuses for the staff, which numbers about 11, including co-founders Zehan Wang and CEO Rob Bishop.
“Machine learning is increasingly at the core of everything we build at Twitter,” said Jack Dorsey, Twitter CEO and co-founder, in a statement. “Magic Pony’s machine learning technology will help us build strength into our deep learning teams with world-class talent, so Twitter can continue to be the best place to see what’s happening and why it matters, first. We value deep learning research to help make our world better, and we will keep doing our part to share our work and learnings with the community.”
This is the third machine learning startup Twitter has acquired, after Whetlab last year, and Madbits in 2014.
Magic Pony Technology had raised an undisclosed amount of money from investors likeOctopus VenturesEntrepreneur First and Balderton. One of Balderton’s ex-VC’s n fact, invested in the company.
We first learned about Magic Pony Technology when they caught our eye after they presented last year at a Pitch@Palace, a tech event put on at St James’ Palace in London.
It made a few further waves this year, as it further revealed the way that its technology worked to help enhance visuals with information that may not be in the picture itself, but essentially be recreated from composites of similar pictures, much like how the human eye works. In fact, one anecdote I’ve read about the origin of the name “Magic Pony” is that it’s a reference to the remarkable nature of what they do. (“It’s unbelievable, like a magic pony!”)
The company, however, by and large has remained fairly under the radar, with a website that has never offered more than a simple statement about what it does and the number of patents that it has filed. There are around 20 now, with several of them listed here, which will now belong to Twitter.
As for what Twitter plans to do with the tech, it’s notable that Dorsey keeps his comments to a general statement about the place for machine learning in Twitter’s bigger business (those comments are further elaborated here, where Dorsey notes that the team will be joining Twitter’s Cortex division).
But more specifically, Magic Pony has been building out technology in the area of image processing and this has an obvious avenue into Twitter’s business. Given that a large part of Twitter’s audience posts on and reads Twitter, as well as its video apps Vine and Periscope, using mobile handsets, and given that mobile handsets sometimes produce less than perfect media, there is a clear opportunity for Twitter to use this directly in its own products.
“Twitter has gone after video in a big way and buying Magic Pony demonstrates how important video is for them. That’s the key thing,” Suranga Chandratillake, a partner at Balderton, told TechCrunch.
Less obvious, but also very interesting is that Twitter is gaining a very strong team working in still-emerging tech areas where the company has yet to lay out any intentions, like virtual and augmented reality.
“Magic Pony was already working on a pretty substantial VR and AR strategy before they were acquired and have some very interesting tech in that area,” noted Chandratillake.
“Our team has researched and developed state-of-the-art machine learning techniques for visual processing that can identify the features of imagery and use that information to process it in new ways,” said Rob Bishop, Magic Pony CEO and co-founder. “Joining forces with Twitter gives us the opportunity to bring the benefits of that research to hundreds of millions of people around the world, and allows Magic Pony to contribute to better quality viewing experiences on Twitter.”
Additional reporting Steve O’Hear