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Archive for July 6th, 2015

Syria artefacts under ISIS control: Looted in Syria and sold in London

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Mark Altaweel is surprised at how easy it is.

A few hours into a hunt around London, the near-east specialist from the UCL Institute of Archaeology has uncovered objects that are “very likely to be coming from conflict regions” in Iraq and Syria.

The items – pieces of early glass; a tiny statue; some fragments of bone inlay – range from the second to fourth centuries BC. Altaweel says they are so distinctive that they could only have come from a particular part of the region: the part now controlled by the so-called Islamic State.

That we were able to find such items openly sold in London “tells you the scale – we’re just seeing the tail end of it,” he says.

This week, Unesco has added its voice to a chorus of concern, warning that looting in Iraq and Syria is taking place on an “industrial” scale – one more sorry aspect to the devastating conflicts in the region.

This Mesopotamian area, the cradle of civilisation, is a giant archaeological site – it’s where the first cities were built, and contains treasures from the Roman, Greek, Byzantine and Islamic periods.

Today, the pillaging of cultural heritage sites shows up on satellite maps that are pock-marked with hundreds of recent, illegal excavations.

Some media reports suggest this income stream is the “second-largest source of revenue” for the group (after oil sales), but in reality it’s impossible to tell. What’s certain is that, while Isis grimly documents its destruction of Unesco sites such as Nimrud, profiteering from plundered antiquities has helped make it the most cash-rich terror group in the world.

Neil Brodie of the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research (SCCJR) at Glasgow University says that, in the absence of coordinated strategies and concerted efforts, attempts to tackle the problem have thus far been ineffective. “It’s not easy and it’s not cheap,” he says, adding: “If no one was buying, people wouldn’t dig it up. This material sells.”

London, one of the world’s largest antiquities markets, is considered a natural destination for looted goods.

For the purposes of our research around the city, Altaweel is posing as an antiquities collector. He wears it convincingly, but the pose is an uneasy one. Altaweel doesn’t much like antiquities collectors – or rather, the very concept of the trade itself: antiquities, he feels, “shouldn’t be bought and sold in private collections”.

Altaweel’s interest in the region is personal as well as professional: he is an American who was born in Baghdad and has lived in Basra – we trade biographical information within minutes of first talking, as happens when you suspect someone’s surname is from the same region as yours.

Altaweel is related to (and inspired by) the influential Iraqi archaeologist Fuad Safar, who led some of the country’s early excavations and is still widely cited within the profession today.

Although his family left Iraq in the 1980s, when he was seven, Altaweel frequently returned to visit relatives. He has worked in most of the countries that fall within the near east region – from Egypt to Iran, from Turkey down to Yemen and southern Arabia – including numerous digs in both Iraq and Syria.

During our scout for looted treasures, he occasionally notes that he has in the past “dug up” objects exactly like the ones we spot.

After a few tip-offs, an online search and a couple of dead ends, we uncover some small antiquities at dealers in central London.

It takes a lot of scouring through a lot of objects, but Altaweel is fast. His eyes fly over row upon row of items – glass, coins, pottery, small statues, lamps, cylinder seals – and when he lands on an object of interest he lights up: despite the purpose of our search, it is obviously exciting to find and examine these antiquities. (“Do I need to wear gloves?” he asks the first dealer. He doesn’t; the market, unlike the field of archaeology, really isn’t bothered.)

Altaweel’s discussions with sellers brings his expertise to the fore, as he politely adjusts their assessments of their own wares. “This is all Indian,” one trader says. “I think it’s probably near-eastern,” Altaweel quietly corrects. “These items are from the Islamic period,” another offers. “Unlikely,” Altaweel states. It’s like watching a rapid-fire game show premised on calling out archaeological bluff.

Every time Altaweel zones in on something that seems likely to be from an area now controlled by Isis, the dealer we’re talking to grows vague about the item’s origin.

One seller says that some objects, almost certainly Syrian and from the area that Isis declared as its caliphate, were brought in a few months ago, by a private seller who said the goods had come from a family collection.

Another suggests that a small statue – for which Altaweel says every type site is either in Iraq or Syria – was bought at an auction. There is never any paperwork

One dealer, an amiable man in a quiet, small store filled with near-eastern objects, told us that he’d acquired some glass fragments very recently, and that they had likely come out of Jordan.

Later, Altaweel tells me: “It’s obviously not Jordanian, so my suspicion is that it’s coming out of Syria.” The piece he shows us – a fragment of a cup or glass container, selling for £250 – is, he adds, highly distinctive of the area. “It’s very early glass and is concentrated in very few areas,” he says.

Sam Hardy, an expert in conflict antiquities, says such scenarios are typical. A common practice is to fudge provenance by claiming an antiquity has been in the family for a long time – and so could not have recently been smuggled.

Perhaps the person who approached the dealer with a stash of antiquities asked to remain anonymous. Or maybe the items were, until recently, sitting in a private collection in Jordan or Lebanon.

How could you prove that any of these treasures were smuggled out during the current conflict?

“The industry runs on trust,” says Hardy. “By Not keeping any records, dealers make it easier for buyers to convince themselves there is no evidence of any wrongdoing.” That, in turn, makes it harder to enforce laws relating to the trade in stolen antiquities.

According to Syrian archaeologist Amr al-Azm of Shawnee State university in Ohio, when Isis took over swathes of the region, it also took hold of the already existing practice of illegal excavation. Until 2014, looting was carried out by various armed groups, or individuals, or the Syrian regime.

“When Daesh comes in, they take the looting and institutionalise it,” says Al-Azm, using the derogatory Arabic acronym for Isis. “So it becomes part of their admin, their revenue-raising enterprise – it becomes more intensified, escalated and organised.”

Using information gathered by local Syrian activists, Al-Azm found that Isis initially levied 20% taxes on those it “licensed” to excavate.

In mid-2014, the group began to contract out excavation.

But by autumn of that same year, Isis was “starting to hire their own archaeologists, digging teams and machinery – and that’s when we saw a peak of looting activity”.

At that point, the trade was lucrative enough for Isis to invest in it.

All this coincided with the US-led coalition’s bombing campaign against Isis targets, which curtailed other income streams such as oil, livestock and crops from seized areas.

Isis began to enforce punishments for looting without a licence, says Al-Azm. The group started to control the dealers and middle men, getting savvy to the market, scouring the internet to see which artefacts would sell at a higher value.

Trade in looted antiquities is not new. As a result of high-profile raids and trials during the mid-90s, investigators have documented the traditional routes for such objects.

Objects from the near east would usually pass first through Turkey or Lebanon, before being moved into Switzerland, Germany or, less commonly, Italy.

Christos Tsirogiannis, a forensic archaeologist working with the SCCJR, says: “Many antiquities dealers that we now know trafficked and traded in illicit objects were based in Geneva, Basel or Zurich … Germany was also picked as a country where, one way or another, the goals and aims of illegal traders were satisfied.”

These European destinations, says Tsirogiannis, are where illicit goods were typically laundered – changing hands, passing between dealer and conservator in order to create a paper trail that would then be used to sell objects on to auction houses in London and New York.

Today, other experts assume that similar routes are being used for looted goods coming out of Syria and Iraq.

“It’s just the way the market works,” says David Gill, professor of archaeological heritage at University Campus Suffolk. Looted goods are “coming out through Turkey and Beirut and then containered to who knows where”. By the time an object gets to London, he says, it “has paperwork, internally, within Europe”.

(This  is a possible scenario for higher-value objects for which a paper trail is more desirable, but undocumented items still turn up in European markets.)

When the BBC covered the issue in February, they located a go-between in a town in southern Turkey, who gave a Skype interview in which he displayed artefacts that he claimed had been dug up months earlier in Isis-controlled Raqqa in eastern Syria.

He told the BBC that the objects were destined for western Europe: “Turkish merchants sell it to dealers in Europe,” he said. “They call them, send pictures … people from Europe come to check the goods and take them away.”

This same investigation also located a dealer in Beirut who said he had access to genuine Byzantine and Hellenic mosaics, which most likely would have been looted from Syria.

This dealer, the Turkish go-between and the head of Lebanon’s bureau of international theft all told the BBC that Europe was the main market for looted antiquities from the region.

Meanwhile, an undercover investigation by the Sunday Times in 2013 found archaeological treasures from the ancient Roman city of Palmyra (recently taken over by Isis) sold on the black market in Lebanon.

But it’s impossible to know precisely what is being smuggled, to where – or how.

It’s likely that looted goods are being sold online, or though established connections with private collectors.

Sam Hardy, the conflict antiquities expert, says online sellers aren’t bothering to be secretive: “They’re using eBay to establish connections, or making sales using Skype, WhatsApp or Kik,” he says, referring to smartphone instant messaging services.

On top of that, some experts in this field suggest, antiquities collectors can be patient: buyers with deep enough pockets can acquire stolen goods and sit on them for years, releasing them into the market when the heat has died down.

Unesco conventions on antiquities have been in place since 1970.

In February this year, the UN Security Council banned trade in artefacts illegally removed from Syria since 2011 and Iraq since 1990, hoping to choke off a funding source for terrorist groups.

But enforcement is near impossible in both these countries amid the current turmoil. And in the destination countries, it’s up to law enforcers to establish when those objects left conflict zones.

“The lack of evidence either way means that the dealer wins,” says Patty Gerstenblith, a lawyer specialising in cultural heritage at Chicago’s DePaul University College of Law.

This high bar means that authorities often settle for reclaiming objects rather than pursuing cases through criminal courts – so some dealers might assess that, given the overall profits, it’s worth losing the odd artefact to the process.

While we can’t second-guess the context or motives, Gerstenblith cites examples of Egyptian artefacts seized by US officials in Miami, Iraqi items in New York and Cambodian objects in Los Angeles; in each case, there were no attempts at prosecution.

Patty  suggests that less-scrupulous dealers may engage in wilful ignorance over an object’s provenance when a seller approaches them with a story. “They don’t ask a lot of questions, they think, ‘Oh fine, I have your word for it’ – and that’s sufficient to establish that the dealer didn’t know it was illegal.”

But Christopher Marinello, director of Art Recovery International, says that, partly due to recent media attention, dealers now increasingly view objects from Syria as suspect: “Reputable dealers and auction houses are doing the right thing and asking the right questions”, when they come across antiquities with questionable provenance.

Along with other experts, Gerstenblith holds that part of the problem is that law enforcers may not be taking this issue seriously enough.

Perhaps that’s down to a lack of resources, or a lingering assumption that antiquities is a sort of gentlemanly pursuit – but it seems the issue of looted antiquities is not currently viewed as a high priority.

Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Unit says it has three live investigations into stolen antiquities from Syria. It adds: “In two of these investigations, restrictions have been placed on the articles in question. There have been no arrests to date.”

Meanwhile, buyers are not getting the message that the purchase of such antiquities is enabling war and terror in the Middle East. “These are blood antiquities,” says Altaweel, adding that attempts to make the cultural-heritage case for more action to stop trade in looted goods have not yielded results. “What might work more is to say that this is funding death.”

Trafficking antiquities: following the trail of the loot

Iraq/Syria: Isis capitalised on a pre-existing illegal trade in antiquities, which began during the turmoil in 2012, first charging a 20% tax on “licensed” excavations and then hiring their own archaeologists and equipment to take over the trade itself.

Turkey/Lebanon: Smugglers take looted items across the border to both countries on land. Go-betweens then sell them on to local merchants who field interest from European dealers, and sometimes even sell items over the counter.

Switzerland/Germany: A series of major raids and trials in the 1990s found that items from the near east would often be laundered through mainland Europe. Dealers in Basel or Geneva would falsify a paper trail in concert with conservators before sending them on to their final destinations.

London/New York: Items that have picked up a convincing paper trail can be sold lucratively at auction in the UK or US. But even smaller items that have no such provenance can be found in antique shops, hidden in plain sight among legitimately sourced objects.

Najat Rizk shared this link

No comment. Sad reality.

When Mark Altaweel agreed to hunt for ‘blood antiquities’ in London dealerships, he was expecting more of a challenge. But as the archaeologist discovered, relics…|By Rachel Shabi


Greece — The One Biggest Lie You Are Being Told By The Media

The Greek referendum gave 61% NO.

If the government had failed to reinstitute the State media and TV, the western media would have done big damage to the outcome with their terror tactics.

The biggest worry of the EU politicians is “How to deal with Spain Podemos movement”.

The quicker EU deal fairly with Greece, the softer the  fall.

If you failed to check the top posts this day July 5, 2015

John Cunningham posted:

Every single mainstream media has the following narrative for the economic crisis in Greece:

the government spent too much money and went broke; the generous banks gave them money, but Greece still can’t pay the bills because it mismanaged the money that was given. It sounds quite reasonable, right?

Except that it is a big fat lie

Not only about Greece, but about other European countries such as Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland who are all experiencing various degrees of austerity. It was also the same big, fat lie that was used by banks and corporations to exploit many Latin American, Asian and African countries for many decades.

Greece did not fail on its own. It was made to fail.

In summary, the banks wrecked the Greek government, and then deliberately pushed it into unsustainable debt … while revenue-generating public assets were sold off to oligarchs and international corporations.

The rest of the article is about how and why.

If you are a fan of mafia movies, you know how the mafia would take over a popular restaurant.

First, they would do something to disrupt the business – stage a murder at the restaurant or start a fire.

When the business starts to suffer, the Godfather would generously offer some money as a token of friendship.

In return, Greasy Thumb takes over the restaurant’s accounting, Big Joey is put in charge of procurement, and so on. Needless to say, it’s a journey down a spiral of misery for the owner who will soon be broke and, if lucky, alive.

Now, let’s map the mafia story to international finance in 4 stages.

Stage 1: The first and foremost reason that Greece got into trouble was the “Great Financial Crisis” of 2008 that was the brainchild of Wall Street and international bankers.

If you remember, banks came up with an awesome idea of giving subprime mortgages to anyone who can fog a mirror. They then packaged up all these ticking financial bombs and sold them as “mortgage-backed securities” for a huge profit to various financial entities in countries around the world.

A big enabler of this criminal activity was another branch of the banking system, the group of rating agencies – S&P, Fitch and Moody’s – who gave stellar ratings to these destined-to-fail financial products.

Unscrupulous politicians such as Tony Blair joined Goldman Sachs and peddled these dangerous securities to pension funds and municipalities and countries around Europe. Banks and Wall Street gurus made hundreds of billions of dollars in this scheme.

But this was just Stage 1 of their enormous scam. There was much more profit to be made in the next three stages!

Stage 2 is when the financial time bombs exploded. Commercial and investment banks around the world started collapsing in a matter of weeks. Governments at local and regional level saw their investments and assets evaporate. Chaos everywhere!

Vultures like Goldman Sachs and other big banks profited enormously in 3 ways:

1.  They could buy other banks such as Lehman brothers and Washington Mutual for pennies on the dollar.

2.  Goldman Sachs and insiders such as John Paulson (who recently donated $400 million to Harvard) had made bets that these securities would blow up. Paulson made billions, and the media celebrated his acumen.

(For an analogy, imagine the terrorists betting on 9/11 and profiting from it.)

3.  To scrub salt in the wound, the big banks demanded a bailout from the very citizens whose lives the bankers had ruined! Bankers have chutzpah.

In the U.S., they got hundreds of billions of dollars from the taxpayers and trillions from the Federal Reserve Bank which is nothing but a front group for the bankers.

In Greece, the domestic banks got more than $30 billion of bailout from the Greek people. Let that sink in for a moment – the supposedly irresponsible Greek government had to bail out the hardcore capitalist bankers.

Stage 3 is when the banks force the government to accept massive debts.

For a biology metaphor, consider a virus or a bacteria. All of them have unique strategies to weaken the immune system of the host. One of the proven techniques used by the parasitic international bankers is to downgrade the bonds of a country.

And that’s exactly what the bankers did, starting at the end of 2009. This immediately makes the interest rates (“yields”) on the bonds go up, making it more and more expensive for the country to borrow money or even just roll over the existing bonds.

From 2009 to mid 2010, the yields on 10-year Greek bonds almost tripled!

This cruel financial assault brought the Greek government to its knees, and the banksters won their first debt deal of a whopping 110 billion Euros.

The banks also control the politics of nations.

In 2011, when the Greek prime minister refused to accept a second massive bailout, the banks forced him out of the office and immediately replaced him with the Vice President of ECB (European Central Bank)! No elections needed. Screw democracy. And what would this new guy do? Sign on the dotted line of every paperwork that the bankers bring in.

(By the way, the very next day, the exact same thing happened in Italy where the Prime Minister resigned, only to be replaced by a banker/economist puppet. Ten days later, Spain had a premature election where a “technocrat” banker puppet won the election).

The puppet masters had the best month ever in November 2011.

Few months later, in 2012, the exact bond market manipulation was used when the banksters turned up the Greek bonds’ yields to 50%!

This financial terrorism immediately had the desired effect: The Greek parliament agreed to a second massive bailout, even larger than the first one.

Now, here is another fact that most people don’t understand.

The loans are not just simple loans like you would get from a credit card or a bank. These loans come with very special strings attached that demand privatization of a country’s assets.

If you have seen Godfather III, you would remember Hyman Roth, the investor who was carving up Cuba among his friends. Replace Hyman Roth with Goldman Sachs or IMF (International Monetary Fund) or ECB, and you get the picture.

Stage 4: Now, the rape and humiliation of a nation begin.

For the debt that was forced upon them, Greece had to sell many of its profitable assets to oligarchs and international corporations.

And privatizations are ruthless, involving everything and anything that is profitable.

In Greece, privatization included water, electricity, post offices, airport services, national banks, telecommunication, port authorities (which is huge in a country that is a world leader in shipping) etc.

In addition to that, the banker tyrants also get to dictate every single line item in the government’s budget.

Want to cut military spending? NO! Want to raise tax on the oligarchs or big corporations? NO! Such micro-management is non-existent in any other creditor-debtor relationship.

So what happens after privatization and despotism under bankers?

Of course, the government’s revenue goes down and the debt increases further. How do you “fix” that?

Of course, cut spending! Lay off public workers, cut minimum wage, cut pensions (same as our social security), cut public services, and raise taxes on things that would affect the 99% but not the 1%.

For example, pension has been cut in half and sales tax increase to more than 20%. All these measures have resulted in Greece going through a financial calamity that is worse than the Great Depression of the U.S. in the 1930s.

Of course, the ever-manipulative bankers demand immediate privatization of all media which means that the country now gets photogenic TV anchors who spew propaganda every day and tell the people that crooked and greedy banksters are saviors; and slavery under austerity is so much better than the alternative.

If every Greek person had known the truth about austerity, they wouldn’t have fallen for this.

Same goes for Spain, Italy, Portugal, Ireland and other countries going through austerity.

The sad aspect of all this is that these are not unique strategies. Since World War II, these predatory practices have been used countless times by the IMF and the World Bank in Latin America, Asia, and Africa.

This is the essence of the New World Order — a world owned by a handful of corporations and banks.

So, it’s time for the wonderful people of Greece to rise up like Zeus and say NO (“OXI” in Greece) to the greedy puppet masters, unpatriotic oligarchs, parasitic bankers and corrupt politicians.

Dear Greece, know that the world is praying for you. Vote NO to austerity.

Say YES to freedom, independence, self-government, and democracy. Yes, democracy, the word that was invented by YOU!

P.S. (You can also watch this video where John Perkins – author of “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” – talks about exploitation of Latin American and Asian countries using the same tools of debt-austerity-privatization. He used to do this for a living! )

Secure and Anonymous Wi-Fi:  2.5-mile Range

Next month during the Def Con hacker conference in Las Vegas, security researcher Ben Caudill will unveil a potentially game changing device called a ProxyHam.

Without question, the promise of ProxyHam should leave proponents of Internet privacy and anonymity beyond excited.

By relying upon a 900 MHz radio connection, Caudill’s device effectively serves as a long-distance Wi-Fi router.

Specifically, the ProxyHam can transmit a Wi-Fi connection up to a distance of 2.5 miles in ideal conditions.

As a result, even in scenarios where authorities manage to track down a target’s Internet connection, they might arrive on the scene (presumably a location with public w-fi access) only to find a ProxyHam device transmitting a low level signal perhaps thousands of feet away in any direction.

The event description for Caudill’s upcoming Def Con talk reads:

While a range of technologies (such as ToR) can provide some level of anonymity, a fundamental flaw still exists: a direct relationship between IP address and physical location.

If your true IP is ever uncovered, it’s game over – a significant threat when your adversary owns the infrastructure.

To resolve this issue, I present ProxyHam, a hardware device which utilizes both WiFi and the 900Mhz band to act as a hardware proxy, routing local traffic through a far-off wireless network – and significantly increasing the difficulty in identifying the true source of the traffic.

In addition to a demonstration of the device itself, full hardware schematics and code will be made freely available.

Speaking to Motherboard, Caudill explained that his device is ideally intended to be used as a complement to other privacy-oriented tools like Tor.

“We consider this the last or worst case scenario,” Caudill said, “the absolute fallback plan if everything else fails.”

As for the device itself, it’s comprised of a Wi-Fi enabled Raspberry Pi computer along with a setup consisting of three antennas.

One antenna, naturally, is tasked with connecting to a source Wi-Fi network.

The other two antennas work to transmit the Wi-Fi signal at a 900 MHz frequency.

In order to pick up the long-range signal, users will need to plug a 900 MHz antenna into their computer, which will leave your setup looking a little something like this.

Not exactly the epitome of mobility, but hey, it seems like a reasonable trade-off to us.

proxyham 900 mhz wifi shot
Image source: Adam Cohn

A Wired report sheds some more light on what makes ProxyHam so effective.

To avoid radio detection on the user’s end, ProxyHam’s wireless signals are designed to look indistinguishable from the many cordless telephones that use the same frequency.

And Caudill says the rise of more internet-connected wireless gadgets will provide further cover for ProxyHam users over time.

“There are a ton of devices jumping into that space and communicating there,” he says. “It’s not feasible to say ‘we’ll chase down everyone who has this device communicating on this frequency.’ It’s a needle in a haystack.”

For instance, some common items that communicate via 900 MHz frequencies include baby monitors and walkie talkies.

As for how ProxyHam might evolve in the future, Caudill tells Motherboard that he and his team are working to make the ProxyHam contraption less conspicuous.

Future iterations, for instance, might be small enough as to mimic the outward appearance of a book.

“If you throw this in a library it would take you years to be able to identify it,” Caudill said.

It’ll undoubtedly be interesting to hear more about ProxyHam once Caudill officially introduces the device at Def Con 2015, an event slated to kick off on August 6.

Andrew Bossone  shared and commented on this link.

Have fun.

Next month during the Def Con hacker conference in Las Vegas, security researcher Ben Caudill will unveil a potentially game changing device called a…|By Yoni Heisler




July 2015

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