Friday, October 24, 2014

Washington, DC

U.S. Justice Department: "Alexander Beltran Herrera, 38, a commander of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) terrorist organization, was sentenced today to 27 years in prison on federal hostage-taking charges stemming from the 2003 capture of three U.S. citizens in Colombia. All told, members of the FARC held the Americans hostage for 1,967 days."


Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty:
A lawyer, who represented an alleged victim of the notorious Orekhovo criminal group in Moscow, has been assassinated.  
Police in the Russian capital say that Vitaly Moiseyev and his wife were found dead with gunshot wounds in a car near Moscow on October 24. 
Moiseyev was representing Sergei Zhurba, an alleged victim of the Orekhovo gang and a key witness in a case against one of the gang's leaders Dmitry Belkin. 
Belkin was sentenced to life in prison on October 23 for multiple murders and extortion. 
Last month, another of Zhurba's lawyers, Tatyana Akimtseva, was shot dead by unknown individuals. 
The Orekhovo group was one of the most powerful crime gangs of the Moscow region and in Russia in the 1990s. Its members are believed to be responsible for dozens of murders.


Boko Haram militants have seized control of as many as 12 of 27 districts in Nigeria's northeastern Borno state in the past year. 
Since Boko Haram militants captured the town of Bama on September 1, thousands of people have fled the area. Cellphone connections have been cut off, leaving only intermittent news. But recent escapees said militants there are ruling with an "iron fist," killing and jailing opponents.


Voice of America: "The governor of the Mexican state of Guerrero resigned Thursday, nearly one month after the unresolved disappearance of 43 students that is linked to politicians, police and drugs cartels."


Trading Worlds: Afghan Merchants Across Modern Frontiers
Nonfiction book by Magnus Marsden
January 2015

Hurst Publishers (United Kingdom):
Trading Worlds is an anthropological study of a little understood yet rapidly expanding global trading diaspora, namely the Afghan merchants of Afghanistan, Central Asia and Europe. It contests one-sided images that depict traders from this and other conflict regions as immoral profiteers, the cronies of warlords or international drug smugglers. It shows, rather, the active role these merchants play in an ever-more globalized political economy. Afghan merchants, the author demonstrates, forge and occupy critical economic niches, both at home and abroad: from the Persian Gulf to Central Asia, to the ports of the Black Sea; and in global cities such as Istanbul, Moscow and London, the traders' activities are shaping the material and cultural lives of the diverse populations among whom they live. 
Through an exploration of the life histories, trading activities and everyday experiences of these mobile merchants, Magnus Marsden shows that traders' worlds are informed by complex forms of knowledge, skill, ethical sensibility, and long-lasting human relationships that often cut across and dissolve boundaries of nation, ethnicity, religion and ideology.
 Related: Amazon

Thursday, October 23, 2014




Reporters Without Borders:
Netizen María del Rosario Fuentes Rubio was kidnapped by armed men on 15 October in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas. A picture of her dead body appeared on her Twitter account the next day. 
Fuentes Rubio was kidnapped as she left the Tierra Santa clinic in Reynosa, where she worked as a doctor. 
The photo of her body that appeared on Twitter was followed by a series of messages, including "Shut down your accounts, do not risk your families' lives as I have done. I ask your forgiveness." 
For several months, Fuentes Rubio, under the pseudonym "Felina,"  had been contributing via the Twitter account @Miut3 to the Valor por Tamaulipas citizen information service. It focuses on violence and organized crime activities in the state. Fuentes Rubio's family left the country on 16 October, after filing a formal complaint. 
"Reporters Without Borders is shocked by the murder of María del Rosario Fuentes Rubio and urges the government to investigate thoroughly to identify those responsible as quickly as possible," said Virginie Dangles, the organization’s deputy program director. "Organized crime groups’ terror campaigns against netizens are unfortunately not new in Mexico. The fight against impunity is the only way to protect the citizens who risk their lives to provide information on the violence afflicting the country."
In February 2013, an organized crime group distributed leaflets in the region that announced a $45,000 reward to anyone who provided information on the identity of the Valor por Tamaulipas administrator. The information network's existence springs from the work of Mexican netizens. Given the self-censorship by some traditional media who fear reprisals, the netizens have taken to the web and to social media, such as Valor por Tamaulipas, to inform citizens about violent incidents.


Keystone cops in the Keystone State.


U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP): "U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Office of Field Operations (OFO) at the Pharr International Bridge cargo facility seized just under a ton of marijuana which was discovered within a commercial shipment of produce."


U.S. Justice Department:


Decoding Albanian Organized Crime: Culture,
Politics, and Globalization
Nonfiction book by Jana Arsovska
Publication Date: February 6, 2015

University of California Press:
The expansion of organized crime across national borders has become a key security concern for the international community. In this theoretically and empirically vibrant portrait of a global phenomenon, Jana Arsovska examines some of the most widespread myths about the so-called Albanian Mafia. Based on more than a decade of research, including interviews with victims, offenders, and law enforcement across ten countries, as well as court files and confidential intelligence reports, Decoding Albanian Organized Crime presents a comprehensive overview of the causes, codes of conduct, activities, migration, and structure of Albanian organized crime groups in the Balkans, Western Europe, and the United States.


Voice of America:
A Romanian princess who ran a cockfighting business from her U.S. home was sentenced to three years’ probation on Wednesday and ordered to pay a large fine. 
Irina Walker, the third daughter of former Romanian King Michael I, pleaded guilty along with her husband to hosting the regular gambling events for at least a year, sometimes making $2,000 a day. 
In cockfighting, roosters are often strapped with knives or razor blades and set loose in a ring to battle each other, often to the death. Spectators bet on which animal will survive. 
According to court documents, at least a dozen people helped the Walkers organize the fights on the couple's ranch in the northwestern state of Oregon until their arrest in 2013. 
As part of the plea deal, the couple must sell their farm and pay $200,000 to the government. 
The 61-year-old princess was born after her father was forced to abdicate by communists in 1947.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Officials in Iraq are diverting and delaying payments earmarked for displaced families, according to senior people in the government department concerned.

A parliamentary investigation is under way following claims that corrupt officials within the Ministry of Displacement and Migration have been forcing displaced families to pay bribes in order to receive government cash support.


Canada's University of Alberta: "For half a century, Deinocheirus mirificus (meaning 'horrible hand,' 'unusual') was considered one of the most mysterious dinosaurs in the world."


Stalin's Agent: The Life and Death of Alexander Orlov
Nonfiction book by Boris Volodarsky
Shipping Date: December 20, 2014

Oxford University Press:
This is the history of an unprecedented deception operation — the biggest KGB deception of all time. It has never been told in full until now. 
General Alexander Orlov, Stalin's most loyal and trusted henchman during the Spanish Civil War, was also the Soviet handler controlling Kim Philby, the British spy, defector, and member of the notorious "Cambridge Five." Escaping Stalin's purges, Orlov fled to America in the late 1930s and lived underground. He only dared reveal his identity to the world after Stalin's death, in his 1953 best-seller The Secret History of Stalin's Crimes, after which he became perhaps the best known of all Soviet defectors, much written about, highly praised, and commemorated by the U.S. Congress on his death in 1973. 
But there is a twist in the Orlov story beyond the dreams of even the most ingenious spy novelist: General Alexander Orlov never actually existed. The man known as Orlov was in fact born Leiba Feldbin. And while he was a loyal servant of Stalin and the controller of Philby, he was never a general in the KGB, never truly defected to the West after his flight from the USSR, and remained a loyal Soviet agent until his death. The Orlov story as it has been accepted until now was largely the invention of the KGB — and one perpetuated long after the end of the Cold War. 
In this meticulous new biography, Boris Volodarsky, himself a former Soviet intelligence officer, now tells the true story behind Orlov for the first time. An intriguing tale of Russian espionage and deception, stretching from the time of Lenin to the Putin era, this is a story that will send shockwaves through the world's intelligence agencies.

Washington, DC

U.S. Justice Department: "Four former security guards for Blackwater USA were found guilty today of charges stemming from the Sept. 16, 2007, shooting at Nisur Square in Baghdad, Iraq, that resulted in the killing of 14 unarmed civilians and the wounding of numerous others."

U.S. Government Spending

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma): "Gambling monkeys, dancing zombies and mountain lions on treadmills are just a few projects exposed in Wastebook 2014 — highlighting $25 billion in Washington’s worst spending of the year."


Empire of Deception: The Incredible Story of a Master Swindler
Who Seduced a City and Captivated the Nation
Nonfiction book by Dean Jobb
Publication Date: May 19, 2015

Workman Publishing Co.:
A rollicking story of greed, financial corruption, dirty politics, over-the-top and under-the-radar deceit, illicit sex, and a brilliant and wildly charming con man who kept a Ponzi scheme alive perhaps for longer than anyone else in history. 
It was a time of unregulated madness. And nowhere was it madder than in Chicago at the dawn of the Roaring Twenties. Speakeasies thrived, gang war shootings announced Al Capone's rise to underworld domination, Chicago's corrupt political leaders fraternized with gangsters, and the frenzy of stock market gambling was rampant. Enter a slick, smooth-talking, charismatic lawyer named Leo Koretz, who enticed hundreds of people (who should have known better) to invest as much as $30 million — upwards of $400 million today — in phantom timberland and nonexistent oil wells in Panama. When Leo's scheme finally collapsed in 1923, he vanished, and the Chicago state's attorney, a man whose lust for power equaled Leo's own lust for money, began an international manhunt that lasted almost a year. When finally apprehended, Leo was living a life of luxury in Nova Scotia under the assumed identity of a book dealer and literary critic. His mysterious death in a Chicago prison topped anything in his almost-too-bizarre-to-believe life. 
Empire of Deception is not only an incredibly rich and detailed account of a man and an era; it's a fascinating look at the methods of swindlers throughout history. Leo Koretz was the Bernie Madoff of his day, and Dean Jobb shows us that the dream of easy wealth is a timeless commodity.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


The alleged head of Mexico's Gulf Cartel appeared in U.S. federal court today.

Atlantic Ocean

U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):
A team of researchers led by NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries has discovered two significant vessels from World War II’s Battle of the Atlantic. The German U-boat 576 and the freighter Bluefields were found approximately 30 miles off the coast of North Carolina. Lost for more than 70 years, the discovery of the two vessels, in an area known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic, is a rare window into a historic military battle and the underwater battlefield landscape of WWII.

Dutch Warship

UConn: "The Dutch ship Huis de Kreuningen went to her watery grave on March 3, 1677. But until a team led by University of Connecticut professor and maritime archaeologist Kroum Batchvarov found her this past summer in the waters of the southern Caribbean, no one knew precisely where that grave was."


90 Church: Inside America's Notorious First Narcotics Squad
Nonfiction book by Dean Unkefer
Publication Date: June 2, 2015

Macmillan Publishers:
Before Nixon famously declared a "war on drugs," there was the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. 
New York City in the mid-1960s. Free love was sweeping the nation — but so was something else. Clandestine and chaotic, but equally ruthless, the agents of the bureau were feared by the Mafia, dealers, pimps, prostitutes — anyone who did their business on the streets. With few rules and almost no oversight, the battle-hardened agents of the bureau were often more vicious than the criminals they chased. 
Agent Dean Unkefer was a naive kid with notions of justice and fair play when he joined up. But all that quickly changes once he gets thrown into the lion's den of 90 Church, the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, where he is shocked to see the agents he revered are often more like thugs than lawmen. 
When he finally gets the chance to prove his mettle by going undercover in the field, the lines become increasingly blurred. As he spirals into the hell of addiction and watches his life become a complex balancing act of lies and half-truths, he begins to wonder what side he is really on. 
90 Church is both the unbelievable memoir of one man's confrontation with the dark corners of the human experience, and a fascinating window into a little known time in American history. Learn the story of the agents who make the DEA look like choir boys.


Voice of America:
Poppy production in Afghanistan grew to an all-time high in 2013 despite the United States spending some $7 billion in eradication efforts over the past 10 years. 
A report by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said Afghan farmers grew 209,000 hectares of poppies in 2013, surpassing the previous peak of 193,000 hectares in 2007. 
It said one reason for the increase was more affordable deep-well technology that has allowed farmers to turn some 200,000 hectares of desert in southwestern Afghanistan into arable land over the past 10 years.   
It added that high opium prices around the world and high poverty levels in Afghanistan helped to feed the renewed drive towards cultivating poppies, which are used to make heroin. 
The report said the United States has spent approximately $7.6 billion on counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan through various initiatives funded by the Department of Defense, the State Department and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

Rhino Horn

University of Helsinki (Finland):
The extinction in the wild of the southern white rhino population could be prevented by letting local communities take responsibility of the animals and giving them permission to harvest horns in a controlled manner through a legal trade. Rhino horn is made of the same material as human hair and fingernails and grows back in 2–3 years.  
In 2013, more than 1,000 rhinos were killed illegally for their horns in South Africa. Rhino horns are being used in Asia for traditional Chinese medicine and personal prestige. Now, a new study based on ecological and socioeconomic models has found that the white rhino population in South Africa could go extinct in the wild in less than 20 years unless anti-poaching effort and monetary fines are increased to levels that would deter poachers. South Africa is more or less the only place where the white rhino remains in the wild.   
The funding for rhino protection could be generated by a legal trade in rhino horn — something that has been banned since 1977.    
"Our results suggest that enhancing rhino protection to levels that will discourage poaching will require raising tens of millions of dollars year after year just for rhino conservation when endless other uses for conservation resources exist," says Enrico Di Minin, research fellow at the University of Helsinki, Finland.   
"The funding generated from a legal trade in rhino horn, instead, could be used to cover protection costs of rhino and other biodiversity and to generate sustainable income to poor local communities," he continues. 
"Rhino horn could be harvested from individuals that die of natural causes; it can also be harvested from live animals with minimum risk to the rhinos, as the horn is compressed hair, and it grows back if harvested," says Atte Moilanen, professor at the University of Helsinki.   
Yet, the authors of the study, including conservation scientists and practitioners from South Africa, Finland and the United Kingdom, warn on potential pitfalls. "Policy makers in South Africa should be careful in advocating to lift a 35-year-old ban on rhino horn products unless the funding generated from the trade is reinvested in improved protection of the rhino population," says Rob Slotow, professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.  
"An important contribution that the legal trade could make is to cover enhanced protection costs, at least in the short term, until other measures over some longer period lead to a reduction in demand from users in the Far East," concludes Di Minin.

Long, Long Ago

(Image credit: Robert Bakker)


Voice of America:
The head of French oil giant Total was killed late Monday when his private jet collided with a snow plow on a Moscow runway. 
Christophe de Margerie, 63, and three crew members died in the crash, which Russian transportation officials said happened during takeoff at the capital's Vnukovo International Airport. 
Total confirmed de Margerie's death on their website Tuesday. The company said the four victims were pronounced dead at the scene. 
Known for his bushy moustache and thin, round eyeglasses, de Margerie took over as chief executive officer of Total in 2007. He added chairman to the title three years later. 
The company operates with nearly 100,000 employees in more than 130 countries.
Related: BBC News

Monday, October 20, 2014


Richard Preston, The New Yorker:


Australian Broadcasting Corp.: "A Darwin snake catcher called out at two in the morning was shocked to find a rare and highly venomous sea krait hundreds of miles from its known habitat."


Business or Blood: Mafia Boss Vito Rizzuto's Last War
Nonfiction book by Peter Edwards and Antonio Nicaso
Publication Date: February 3, 2015

Random House:
Bestselling crime writers Peter Edwards and Antonio Nicaso reveal the final years of Canada's top mafia boss, Vito Rizzuto, and his bloody war to avenge his family and control the North American drug trade
Until Vito Rizzuto went to prison in 2006 for his role in a decades-old Brooklyn triple murder, he ruled the Port of Montreal, the northern gateway to the major American drug markets. A master diplomat, he won the respect of rival mafia clans, bikers and street gangs, and criminal business thrived on his turf. His family prospered and his empire grew — until one of North America's true Teflon dons finally lost his veneer. As he watched helplessly from his Colorado prison, the murders of his son and father made international headlines; the killings of his lieutenants and friends filled the pages of Canadian news; and the influence of the 'Ndrangheta, the Calabrian Mafia, spread across Montreal faster than the blood of Rizzuto's crime family. In 2012, Vito Rizzuto emerged from prison, a 66-year-old man who could carefully rebuild his criminal empire or seek bloody revenge and damn the consequences. From the events leading to his imprisonment to his shocking death in December 2013, Business or Blood is the final chapter of Vito's story.


John Wiley & Sons:
Ankylosing spondylitis is a systemic disease that causes inflammation in the spinal joints and was thought to have affected members of the ancient Egyptian royal families. Now a new study published in Arthritis & Rheumatology, a journal of the American College of Rheumatology (ACR), refutes that claim, finding instead a degenerative spinal condition called diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH) in royal Egyptian mummies from the 18th to early 20th Dynasties.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


Saltwater Cowboy: The Rise and Fall of a Marijuana Empire
Nonfiction book by Tim McBride with Ralph Berrier Jr.
Publication Date: April 7, 2015

Macmillan Publishers:
In 1979, Wisconsin native Tim McBride hopped into his Mustang and headed south. He was twenty-one, and his best friend had offered him a job working as a crab fisherman in Chokoloskee Island, a town of fewer than 500 people on Florida's Gulf Coast. Easy of disposition and eager to experience life at its richest, McBride jumped in with both feet.  
But this wasn't a typical fishing outfit. McBride had been unwittingly recruited into a band of smugglers — middlemen between a Colombian marijuana cartel and their distributors in Miami. His elaborate team comprised fishermen, drivers, stock houses, security — seemingly all of Chokoloskee Island was in on the operation. As McBride came to accept his new role, tons upon tons of marijuana would pass through his hands.  
Then the federal government intervened in 1984, leaving the crew without a boss and most of its key players. McBride, now a veteran smuggler, was somehow spared. So when the Colombians came looking for a new middleman, they turned to him. 
McBride became the boss of an operation that was ultimately responsible for smuggling 30 million pounds of marijuana. A self-proclaimed "Saltwater Cowboy," he would evade the Coast Guard for years, facing volatile Colombian drug lords and risking betrayal by romantic partners until his luck finally ran out. 
A tale of crime and excess, Saltwater Cowboy is the gripping memoir of one of the biggest pot smugglers in American history.


Flinders University (Australia):