Thursday, April 24, 2014

Barrio Azteca

U.S. Department of Justice:
Arturo Gallegos Castrellón — aka "Benny," "Farmero," "51," "Guero," "Pecas," "Tury," and "86" — 35, of Chihuahua, Mexico, the Barrio Azteca lieutenant who ordered the March 2010 murders of a U.S. Consulate employee, her husband and the husband of another U.S. Consulate employee, was sentenced today to serve life in prison.

Acting Assistant Attorney General David A. O'Neil of the Justice Department's Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman for the Western District of Texas, Special Agent in Charge Douglas E. Lindquist of the FBI's El Paso Division and Administrator Michele M. Leonhart of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) made the announcement.

"Arturo Gallegos Castrellón led the teams of assassins who carried out the U.S. Consulate shootings in March 2010 and ruthlessly murdered nearly 1,600 others as part of a cartel conflict over a drug trafficking route from Mexico into the United States," said Acting Assistant Attorney General O'Neil. "His gang of killers terrorized and victimized men and women on both sides of the border, but thanks to the hard work of our law enforcement partners he will now spend the rest of his life in prison for his crimes."


U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): "A Nigerian man who recruited college students in Nigeria to transport heroin into the United States has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import a controlled substance, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas."


In the Kingdom of Ice
Nonfiction book by Hampton Sides
Publication date: August 5, 2014

Random House:
New York Times bestselling author Hampton Sides returns with a white-knuckle tale of polar exploration and survival in the Gilded Age. 
In the late nineteenth century, people were obsessed by one of the last unmapped areas of the globe: the North Pole. No one knew what existed beyond the fortress of ice rimming the northern oceans, although theories abounded. The foremost cartographer in the world, a German named August Petermann, believed that warm currents sustained a verdant island at the top of the world. National glory would fall to whoever could plant his flag upon its shores.

James Gordon Bennett, the eccentric and stupendously wealthy owner of The New York Herald, had recently captured the world's attention by dispatching Stanley to Africa to find Dr. Livingstone. Now he was keen to re-create that sensation on an even more epic scale. So he funded an official U.S. naval expedition to reach the Pole, choosing as its captain a young officer named George Washington De Long, who had gained fame for a rescue operation off the coast of Greenland. De Long led a team of 32 men deep into uncharted Arctic waters, carrying the aspirations of a young country burning to become a world power. On July 8, 1879, the USS Jeannette set sail from San Francisco to cheering crowds in the grip of "Arctic Fever."

The ship sailed into uncharted seas, but soon was trapped in pack ice. Two years into the harrowing voyage, the hull was breached. Amid the rush of water and the shrieks of breaking wooden boards, the crew abandoned the ship. Less than an hour later, the Jeannette sank to the bottom, and the men found themselves marooned a thousand miles north of Siberia with only the barest supplies. Thus began their long march across the endless ice — a frozen hell in the most lonesome corner of the world. Facing everything from snow blindness and polar bears to ferocious storms and frosty labyrinths, the expedition battled madness and starvation as they desperately strove for survival.

With twists and turns worthy of a thriller, In the Kingdom of Ice is a spellbinding tale of heroism and determination in the most unforgiving territory on Earth.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


Tom Bowman and Alice Fordham at NPR: "The U.S. is providing more arms and training to the moderate rebels in Syria, under a growing secret program run by the CIA in Jordan."


U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE):
A federal indictment was unsealed today charging three individuals, including a Pennsylvania resident, UK citizen and Syrian citizen, for their alleged involvement in a conspiracy to illegally export laboratory equipment, including items used to detect chemical warfare agents, from the United States to Syria.
The indictment follows an investigation led by special agents of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Philadelphia in partnership with the Department of Commerce (DOC) Office of Export Enforcement. 
Indicted were Ahmad Feras Diri, 39, of London; Harold Rinko, 72, of Hallstead, Susquehanna County, Pa., and Moawea Deri, 36, a Syrian citizen, and a firm with which Ahmad Feras Diri and Moawea Deri were associated.
*         *         *
 U.S. Department of Justice:
A criminal information has been filed against a Pennsylvania firm and its chief officer, charging them with conspiracy to evade export reporting requirements and with attempting to smuggle to Iran a lathe machine in violation of U.S. export regulations. The announcement was made today by the U.S. Attorney Peter J. Smith for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. 
Charged in the Criminal Information were Hetran Inc., an engineering and manufacturing plant in Orwigsburg, Pa., and its chief executive officer, Helmut Oertmann. At the same time, an indictment was unsealed that had previously been voted by a federal grand jury in Harrisburg in December 2012 against three Iranians and two Iranian firms connected with the criminal scheme: Mujahid Ali, Khosrow Kasraei, Reza Ghoreishi, FIMCO FZE, and Crescent International Trade and Services FZE. 
Also charged was Suniel Malhotra, an Indian national, an overseas sales representative for Hetran Inc.


BBC News: "The Iron Curtain fell 25 years ago, but it seems that nobody told the deer."


Midnight at the Pera Palace
Nonfiction book by Charles King
Publication Date: September 15, 2014

W.W. Norton & Co.:
When the Ottoman Empire collapsed, so many spies mingled in the lobby of Istanbul's Pera Palace Hotel that the manager posted a sign asking them to relinquish seats to paying guests.  
As the multi-ethnic empire became a Turkish republic, Russian émigrés sold family heirlooms, an African American impresario founded a jazz club, Miss Turkey became the first Muslim beauty queen, and a Boston professor unveiled the lost treasures of the Hagia Sophia. Turkey's president Kemal Atatürk, Muslim feminist Halide Edip, the exiled Leon Trotsky, and the future Pope John XXIII fought for new visions of human freedom. During World War II, German intellectuals ran from the Nazis while Jewish activists spirited refugees out of occupied Europe. In this pioneering portrait of urban reinvention, Charles King re-creates an era when an ancient city became a global crossroads — a forgotten moment when Europe's closest Muslim metropolis became its vital port of refuge.

Strait of Malacca

Voice of America:
Pirates have kidnapped three crew members and seized millions of liters of diesel fuel in an attack on a Japanese tanker off Malaysia's west coast.

Malaysian police say six armed pirates approached the tanker on a speedboat, climbed aboard, and locked up most of the ship's crew members early Tuesday.

The pirates were able to transfer about three million liters of diesel fuel onto two nearby vessels before escaping with three Indonesian hostages.

The Japanese tanker was headed from Singapore to Burma, also known as Myanmar. It was attacked in the Strait of Malacca, through which much of the world's oil supply flows.

Pirate attacks in the strait have been reduced in recent years thanks to increased patrols and other safety measures, but there was an uptick in the number of attacks last year.

Authorities have not said who they believe is responsible for Tuesday's attack.

Gulf of Guinea

Voice of America:

Antarctic Minke Whales

"A puzzling sound heard for decades in the waters of the Southern Ocean and off the Australian west coast has finally been identified as belonging to Antarctic minke whales," Anna Salleh of the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reports.

Monday, April 21, 2014


On Sunday a leopard killed an eight-year-old girl in the courtyard of the child's home in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Searchers found the girl's remains in a nearby forest.

This morning a tiger killed a 60-year-old man in the Indian state of Maharashtra. The victim was picking flowers at the time of the attack.


AP: "A quarter of the police in Shanghai began carrying guns during routine patrols for the first time this week as part of a China-wide boost in police firepower following a deadly mass knifing blamed on Xinjiang separatists."


Wake Forest University: "Blue-footed boobies are on the decline in the Galápagos."


Good Hunting: An American Spymaster's Story
By Jack Devine with Vernon Loeb
Publication Date: June 3, 2014

Macmillan Publishers:
"A sophisticated, deeply informed account of real life in the real CIA that adds immeasurably to the public understanding of the espionage culture — the good and the bad." — Bob Woodward 
Jack Devine ran Charlie Wilson's War in Afghanistan. It was the largest covert action of the Cold War, and it was Devine who put the brand-new Stinger missile into the hands of the mujahideen during their war with the Soviets, paving the way to a decisive victory against the Russians. He also pushed the CIA's effort to run down the narcotics trafficker Pablo Escobar in Colombia. He tried to warn the director of central intelligence, George Tenet, that there was a bullet coming from Iraq with his name on it. He was in Chile when Allende fell, and he had too much to do with Iran-Contra for his own taste, though he tried to stop it. And he tangled with Rick Ames, the KGB spy inside the CIA, and hunted Robert Hanssen, the mole in the FBI. 
Good Hunting: An American Spymaster's Story is the spellbinding memoir of Devine's time in the Central Intelligence Agency, where he served for more than thirty years, rising to become the acting deputy director of operations, responsible for all of the CIA's spying operations. This is a story of intrigue and high-stakes maneuvering, all the more gripping when the fate of our geopolitical order hangs in the balance. But this book also sounds a warning to our nation's decision makers: covert operations, not costly and devastating full-scale interventions, are the best safeguard of America's interests worldwide. 
Part memoir, part historical redress, Good Hunting debunks outright some of the myths surrounding the Agency and cautions against its misuses. Beneath the exotic allure — living abroad with his wife and six children, running operations in seven countries, and serving successive presidents from Nixon to Clinton — this is a realist, gimlet-eyed account of the Agency. Now, as Devine sees it, the CIA is trapped within a larger bureaucracy, losing swaths of turf to the military, and, most ominous of all, is becoming overly weighted toward paramilitary operations after a decade of war. Its capacity to do what it does best — spying and covert action — has been seriously degraded. 
Good Hunting sheds light on some of the CIA's deepest secrets and spans an illustrious tenure — and never before has an acting deputy director of operations come forth with such an account. With the historical acumen of Steve Coll's Ghost Wars and gripping scenarios that evoke the novels of John le Carré even as they hew closely to the facts on the ground, Devine offers a master class in spycraft.


The New Yorker: "Many Iraqis fear another civil war, and think that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is to blame."

Dexter Filkins wrote the article.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


Earlier today in the Indian state of Gujarat, a 15-year-old boy walking on a wooden bridge across a river fell into the water and died in the jaws of a crocodile.


China's Second Continent
Nonfiction book by Howard W. French
Publication Date: May 20, 2014

Random House:
An exciting, hugely revealing account of China's burgeoning presence in Africa — a developing empire already shaping, and reshaping, the future of millions of people.
A prizewinning foreign correspondent and former New York Times bureau chief in Shanghai and in West and Central Africa, Howard French is uniquely positioned to tell the story of China in Africa. Through meticulous on-the-ground reporting — conducted in Mandarin, French, and Portuguese, among other languages — French crafts a layered investigation of astonishing depth and breadth as he engages not only with policy-shaping moguls and diplomats, but also with the ordinary men and women navigating the street-level realities of cooperation, prejudice, corruption, and opportunity forged by this seismic geopolitical development. With incisiveness and empathy, French reveals the human face of China's economic, political, and human presence across the African continent — and in doing so reveals what is at stake for everyone involved.
We meet a broad spectrum of China's dogged emigrant population, from those singlehandedly reshaping African infrastructure, commerce, and even environment (a self-made tycoon who harnessed Zambia’s now-booming copper trade; a timber entrepreneur determined to harvest the entirety of Liberia's old-growth redwoods), to those just barely scraping by (a sibling pair running small businesses despite total illiteracy; a karaoke bar owner-cum-brothel madam), still convinced that Africa affords them better opportunities than their homeland. And we encounter an equally panoramic array of African responses: a citizens' backlash in Senegal against a "Trojan horse" Chinese construction project (a tower complex to be built over a beloved soccer field, which locals thought would lead to overbearing Chinese pressure on their economy); a Zambian political candidate who, having protested China's intrusiveness during the previous election and lost, now turns accommodating; the ascendant middle class of an industrial boomtown; African mine workers bitterly condemning their foreign employers, citing inadequate safety precautions and wages a fraction of their immigrant counterparts'.

French's nuanced portraits reveal the paradigms forming around this new world order, from the all-too-familiar echoes of colonial ambition — exploitation of resources and labor; cut-rate infrastructure projects; dubious treaties — to new frontiers of cultural and economic exchange, where dichotomies of suspicion and trust, assimilation and isolation, idealism and disillusionment are in dynamic flux.
Part intrepid travelogue, part cultural census, part industrial and political exposé, French's keenly observed account ultimately offers a fresh perspective on the most pressing unknowns of modern Sino-African relations: why China is making the incursions it is, just how extensive its cultural and economic inroads are, what Africa's role in the equation is, and just what the ramifications for both parties — and the watching world — will be in the foreseeable future.


Variety: "The Weinstein Company's Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon II – The Green Destiny is expected to shoot in New Zealand and China later this year."


Australia Broadcasting Corp.: "A decade ago, the farmed rabbit meat industry in Australia was booming, with more than 80 farms across the country. Today, just four remain."


Rubin "Hurricane" Carter died.

Saturday, April 19, 2014


Jet Set
Nonfiction book by William Stadiem
Publication Date: June 3, 2014

Random House:
In October 1958, Pan American World Airways began making regularly scheduled flights between New York and Paris, courtesy of its newly minted wonder jet, the Boeing 707. Almost overnight, the moneyed celebrities of the era made Europe their playground. At the same time, the dream of international travel came true for thousands of ordinary Americans who longed to emulate the "jet set" lifestyle.

Bestselling author and Vanity Fair contributor William Stadiem brings that Jet Age dream to life again in the first-ever book about the glamorous decade when Americans took to the skies in massive numbers as never before, with the rich and famous elbowing their way to the front of the line. Dishy anecdotes and finely rendered character sketches re-create the world of luxurious airplanes, exclusive destinations, and beautiful, wealthy trendsetters who turned transatlantic travel into an inalienable right. It was the age of Camelot and "Come Fly with Me," Grace Kelly at the Prince's Palace in Monaco, and Mary Quant miniskirts on the streets of Swinging London. Men still wore hats, stewardesses showed plenty of leg, and the beach at Saint-Tropez was just a seven-hour flight away.
Jet Set reads like a who's who of the fabulous and well connected, from the swashbuckling "skycoons" who launched the jet fleet to the playboys, moguls, and financiers who kept it flying. Among the bold-face names on the passenger manifest: Juan Trippe, the Yale-educated WASP with the Spanish-sounding name who parlayed his fraternity contacts into a tiny airmail route that became the world's largest airline, Pan Am; couturier to the stars Oleg Cassini, the Kennedy administration's "Secretary of Style," and his social climbing brother Igor, who became the most powerful gossip columnist in America — then lost it all in one of the juiciest scandals of the century; Temple Fielding, the high-rolling high priest of travel guides, and his budget-conscious rival Arthur Frommer; Conrad Hilton, the New Mexico cowboy who built the most powerful luxury hotel chain on earth; and Mary Wells Lawrence, the queen bee of Madison Avenue whose suggestive ads for Braniff and other airlines brought sex appeal to the skies.

Like a superfueled episode of Mad Men, Jet Set evokes a time long gone but still vibrant in American memory. This is a rollicking, sexy romp through the ring-a-ding glory years of air travel, when escape was the ultimate aphrodisiac and the smiles were as wide as the aisles.


Xinhua: "While the sale of ivory in Singapore has fallen over the years, the country remains a significant transit point for shipments of illegal ivory moving from Africa to Asia, and even within Asia itself, local TV Channel NewsAsia reported on Saturday."

South Sudan

A cattle raid in the state of Warrap resulted in the death of more than 100 people.


Brazil: The Fortunes of War
Nonfiction book by Neill Lochery
Publication Date: June 3, 2014

Basic Books:
An acclaimed historian unravels Brazil's deft geopolitical machinations during World War II, showing how the country became a modern nation by first manipulating, then joining, the Allied powers. 
When World War II erupted in 1939, Brazil seemed a world away. Lush, remote, and underdeveloped, the country and its capital of Rio de Janeiro lured international travelers seeking a respite from the drums of the war. "Rio: at the end of civilization, as we know it," claimed Orson Welles as he set out for the city in 1942. But Brazil's bucolic reputation as a distant land of palm trees and pristine beaches masked a more complex reality — one that the country's leaders were busily exploiting in a desperate gambit to secure Brazil's place in the modern world.

In Brazil, acclaimed historian Neill Lochery reveals the secret history of the country's involvement in World War II, showing how the cunning statecraft and economic opportunism of Brazil's leaders transformed it into a regional superpower over the course of the war. Brazil's natural resources and proximity to the United States made it strategically invaluable to both the Allies and the Axis, a fact that the country's dictator, Getúlio Dornelles Vargas, keenly understood. In the war's early years, Vargas and a handful of his close advisors dexterously played both sides against each other, generating enormous wealth for Brazil and fundamentally transforming its economy and infrastructure.

But Brazil's cozy neutrality was not to last. Forced to choose sides, Vargas declared war on the Axis powers and sent 25,000 troops to the European theater. This Brazilian expeditionary force arrived too late — and was called home too early — to secure a significant role for Brazil in the postwar order. But within Brazil, at least, Vargas had made his mark, ensuring Rio's emergence as a major international city and effectively remaking Brazil as a modern nation. 
A fast-paced tale of war and diplomatic intrigue, Brazil reveals a long-buried chapter of World War II and the little-known origins of one of the world's emerging economic powerhouses.

Friday, April 18, 2014


In India's state of Odisha, a 61-year-old goatherd died when he took his goats into a forest today. Wildlife rangers blamed the man's death on a herd of 10 to 12 wild elephants in the area.


Seven people lost their lives in a gun battle on the China-Vietnam border.


The Burning Shore
Nonfiction book by Ed Offley

Basic Books:
The thrilling, untold story of two men — an American pilot and a German U-boat commander — whose vicious clash off the coast of North Carolina in 1942 brought the horrors of World War II to American shores. 
On June 15, 1942, as thousands of vacationers lounged in the sun at Virginia Beach, two massive fireballs erupted just offshore from a convoy of oil tankers steaming into Chesapeake Bay. While men, women, and children gaped from the shore, two damaged oil tankers fell out of line and began to sink. Then a small escort warship blew apart in a violent explosion. Navy warships and aircraft peppered the water with depth charges, but to no avail. Within the next twenty-four hours, a fourth ship lay at the bottom of the channel — all victims of twenty-nine-year-old Kapitänleutnant Horst Degen and his crew aboard the German U-boat U-701.

In The Burning Shore, acclaimed military reporter Ed Offley presents a thrilling account of the bloody U-boat offensive along America's east coast during the first half of 1942, using the story of Degen's three war patrols as a lens through which to view this forgotten chapter of World War II. For six months, German U-boats prowled the waters off the eastern seaboard, sinking merchant ships with impunity, and threatening to sever the lifeline of supplies flowing from America to Great Britain. Degen's successful infiltration of the Chesapeake Bay in mid-June drove home the U-boats' success, and his spectacular attack terrified the American public as never before. But Degen's cruise was interrupted less than a month later, when U.S. Army Air Forces Lieutenant Harry J. Kane and his aircrew spotted the silhouette of U-701 offshore. The ensuing clash signaled a critical turning point in the Battle of the Atlantic — and set the stage for an unlikely friendship between two of the episode's survivors.

A gripping tale of heroism and sacrifice, The Burning Shore leads readers into a little-known theater of World War II, where Hitler's U-boats came close to winning the Battle of the Atlantic before American sailors and airmen could finally drive them away.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): "A federal jury has convicted the former CEO of the Simi Valley-based battery distributor Powerline Inc. of defrauding the government by selling more than $2.6 million in cheap, knock-off batteries to the U.S. Department of Defense."


ICE: "A Bloomsburg, Pa., man was sentenced Thursday to 21 months in prison for conspiring to traffic in counterfeit goods and counterfeit military goods."


Defending the City of God
Nonfiction book by Sharan Newman
Publication Date: April 29, 2014

Macmillan Publishers:
Jerusalem sits at the crossroads of three continents and has been continuously invaded for millennia. Yet, in the middle of one of the region’s most violent eras, the Crusades, an amazing multicultural world was forming. Templar knights, Muslim peasants, Turkish caliphs, Jewish merchants, and the native Christians, along with the children of the first crusaders, blended cultures while struggling to survive in a land constantly at war. Defending the City of God explores this fascinating and forgotten world, and how a group of sisters, daughters of the King of Jerusalem, whose supporters included Grand Masters of the Templars and Armenian clerics, held together the fragile treaties, understandings, and marriages that allowed for relative peace among the many different factions. As the crusaders fought to maintain their conquests, these relationships quickly unraveled, and the religious and cultural diversity was lost as hardline factions took over. Weaving together the political intrigues and dynastic battles that transformed the Near East with an evocative portrait of medieval Jerusalem, this is an astonishing look at a forgotten side of the first Crusades.

Crime Novels

Melville House: "The award-winning Melville International Crime Series features works of edgy literature from around the world that — like the books of the founding fathers of noir, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain — have something to say about the real crimes of modern society."

Space, the Final Frontier

NASA: "Using NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, astronomers have discovered the first Earth-size planet orbiting a star in the 'habitable zone' — the range of distance from a star where liquid water might pool on the surface of an orbiting planet. The discovery of Kepler-186f confirms that planets the size of Earth exist in the habitable zone of stars other than our sun."


Lophiaris silverarum
One day about eight years ago, Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, was on a field trip with her father in a mountainous area in central Panama when they stumbled upon an orchid they had never seen before.
Unable to identify it, they contacted German Carnevali, a world authority on orchids. The orchid turned out to be an unnamed species. So Carnevali recently named it after the Silveras: Lophiaris silverarum.