Sunday, January 25, 2015


Nonfiction book by Jonathan Haslam
Publication Date: August 25, 2015

Macmillan Publishers:
A revelatory and pathbreaking account of the highly secretive world of the Soviet intelligence services. 
A uniquely comprehensive and rich account of the Soviet intelligence services, Jonathan Haslam's Near and Distant Neighbors charts the labyrinthine story of Soviet intelligence from the October Revolution to the end of the Cold War. 
Previous histories have focused on the KGB, leaving military intelligence and the special service — which specialized in codes and ciphers — lurking in the shadows. Drawing on previously neglected Russian sources, Haslam reveals how both were in fact crucial to the survival of the Soviet state. This was especially true after Stalin's death in 1953, as the Cold War heated up and dedicated Communist agents the regime had relied upon — Klaus Fuchs, the Rosenbergs, Donald Maclean — were betrayed. In the wake of these failures, Khrushchev and his successors discarded ideological recruitment in favor of blackmail and bribery. The tactical turn was so successful that we can draw only one conclusion: the West ultimately triumphed despite, not because of, the espionage war. 
In bringing to light the obscure inhabitants of an undercover intelligence world, Haslam offers a surprising and unprecedented portrayal of Soviet success that is not only fascinating but also essential to understanding Vladimir Putin's power today.

Russian Dogs

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty:
Russian dog owners are on high alert. 
Internet-based vigilantes have announced a nationwide "dog hunt" starting January 20 to rid Russian cities of stray dogs. 
Reports of slain dogs are already flooding in, and family pets are among the victims. 
"[They] are being poisoned," says Maria Zuyeva, who heads the Vita animal protection group in Chelyabinsk. "In one case, a pet died without even going outdoors; poison was thrown in through the gate of its home."
Most Russian cities have a large population of stray dogs, which sometimes roam the streets in packs. 
Although "dog hunters" say they are acting to protect children from strays, they are also known to target family pets.  
In messages circulated on Vkontakte, Russia's largest social networking site, the vigilantes pledged to scatter poison in parks, squares, and playgrounds across Russia.  
The warning said their poison of choice this time would be an antituberculosis drug called Isoniazid, which is sold over-the-counter and is lethal to dogs.  
Animals can reportedly die from just sniffing the substance, and poisoned dogs are said to suffer agonizing convulsions before passing away. 
Activists say pink traces left by the drug have been spotted in a more than a dozen cities from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok. 
"They've scattered rat poison and antituberculosis drugs everywhere; there are numerous pinks spots on the ground on playgrounds, around trash cans, and in parks where people walk their dogs," says Zuyeva in Chelyabinsk.  
In the Nizhny Novgorod region, witnesses in one town said vigilantes have been firing indiscriminately at all dogs, including family pets wearing collars, with pneumatic weapons loaded with ampoules containing poison.

Saturday, January 24, 2015


Arms and the Dudes: How Three Stoners from Miami Beach
Became the Most Unlikely Gunrunners in History
Nonfiction book by Guy Lawson
Publication Date: July 14, 2015

Simon & Schuster:
The page-turning, inside account of how three kids from Florida became big-time weapons traders — and how the U.S. government turned on them. 
In January of 2007, three young stoners from Miami Beach won a $300 million [U.S.] Department of Defense contract to supply ammunition to the Afghanistan military. Incredibly, instead of fulfilling the order with high-quality arms, Efraim Diveroli, David Packouz, and Alex Podrizki — the dudes — bought cheap Communist-style surplus ammunition from Balkan gunrunners. The dudes then secretly repackaged millions of rounds of shoddy Chinese ammunition and shipped it to Kabul — until they were caught by Pentagon investigators and the scandal turned up on the front page of the New York Times
That's the "official" story. The truth is far more explosive. For the first time, journalist Guy Lawson tells the thrilling true tale. It's a trip that goes from a dive apartment in Miami Beach to mountain caves in Albania, the corridors of power in Washington, and the frontlines of Iraq and Afghanistan. Lawson's account includes a shady Swiss gunrunner, Russian arms dealers, corrupt Albanian gangsters, and a Pentagon investigation that impeded America's war efforts in Afghanistan. Lawson exposes the mysterious and murky world of global arms dealing, showing how the American military came to use private contractors like Diveroli, Packouz, and Podrizki as middlemen to secure weapons from illegal arms dealers — the same men who sell guns to dictators, warlords, and drug traffickers.
This is a story you were never meant to read.

Friday, January 23, 2015


Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty:
A report in the British newspaper The Telegraph says the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) intercepted communications between the primary suspects in the murder case of former Russian spy Aleksandr Litvinenko, linking his poisoning to the Russian government.  
The Telegraph reported on January 24, the NSA "obtained electronic communications between key individuals in London and Moscow from the time that the former spy was poisoned with radioactive material in central London." 
The report says that evidence was handed over to British authorities but it would have been inadmissible in court. 
Litvinenko's widow Marina has applied to the NSA to disclose the intercepts, saying they should be made available to former British judge Robert Owen, who is chairing a nine-week inquiry into the murder that starts on January 27 in London's High court. 
Litvinenko, a former agent for Russia's FSB who switched sides and started working for Britain's MI6, was poisoned with radioactive polonium-210 while drinking tea at a London hotel in 2006 
Before he died Litvinenko accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of involvement in the poisoning.


Der Spiegel: "Government documents and information from the Assad regime indicate that German companies may have helped Syria produce chemical weapons over the course of decades. So far, the Merkel administration has shown no willingness to investigate."

Thursday, January 22, 2015


Times of India:


U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB):
The National Transportation Safety Board today issued a series of safety recommendations to the [U.S.] Federal Aviation Administration calling for improvements in locating downed aircraft and ways to obtain critical flight data faster and without the need for immediate underwater retrieval. The board also reemphasized the need for cockpit image recorders on commercial airplanes. 
Recent accidents have pointed to the need for improved technologies to locate aircraft wreckage and flight recorders lost in remote locations or over water. In the 2009 crash of Air France Flight 447, it took almost two years and $40 million to find the recorders. Investigators are still searching for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. So far the search has involved 26 countries using 84 vessels and numerous aircraft. 
"Technology has reached the point where we shouldn't have to search hundreds of miles of ocean floor in a frantic race to find these valuable boxes," said NTSB Acting Chairman Christopher A. Hart. "In this day and age, lost aircraft should be a thing of the past."


U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP): "U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Air and Marine agents and interagency partners disrupted two separate drug smuggling attempts off the coast of Costa Rica resulting in the interdiction of more than $74 million in illegal drugs."

New York

U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of New York:
Silver is a Democrat.


U.S. Justice Department: "A Detroit federal grand jury returned a one-count indictment against an executive of a Japanese manufacturer of automotive parts for his participation in a conspiracy to fix prices of seatbelts, the Department of Justice announced today."

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Associated Press:


Thirsty Dragon: China's Lust for Bordeaux
and the Threat to the World's Best Wines
Nonfiction book by Suzanne Mustacich
Publication date: October 27, 2015

Macmillan Publishers:
An inside view of China's quest to become a global wine power and Bordeaux's attempt to master the thirsty dragon it helped create. 
The wine merchants of Bordeaux and the rising entrepreneurs of China would seem to have little in common — old world versus new, tradition versus disruption, loyalty versus efficiency. And yet these two communities have found their destinies intertwined in the conquest of new markets, as Suzanne Mustacich shows in this provocative account of how China is reshaping the French wine business and how Bordeaux is making its mark on China. 
Thirsty Dragon lays bare the untold story of how an influx of Chinese money rescued France's most venerable wine region from economic collapse, and how the result was a series of misunderstandings and crises that threatened the delicate infrastructure of Bordeaux's insular wine trade. The Bordelais and the Chinese do business according to different and often incompatible sets of rules, and Mustacich uncovers the competing agendas and little-known actors who are transforming the economics and culture of Bordeaux, even as its wines are finding new markets — and ever higher prices — in Shanghai, Beijing, and Hong Kong, with Hong Kong and London traders playing a pivotal role. 
At once a tale of business skullduggery and fierce cultural clashes, adventure, and ambition, Thirsty Dragon offers a behind-the-scenes look at the challenges facing the world's most famous and prestigious wines.

North Carolina

U.S. Justice Department: "Thirteen commercial fishermen in North Carolina and Georgia have been charged in federal court in Raleigh, North Carolina, for their role in the illegal harvest and sale and false reporting of approximately 90,000 pounds of Atlantic striped bass from federal waters off the coast of North Carolina during 2009 and 2010, the Justice Department announced today.  The average retail value of the illegally harvested striped bass is approximately $1.1 million."

Northern Ireland

BBC News: "Mystery surrounds the disappearance of a six-foot sculpture of a Celtic sea god from a mountainside."

Puerto Rico

U.S. Justice Department: "A current Puerto Rico Superior Court Judge was convicted yesterday by a federal jury in Puerto Rico of accepting bribes to acquit a businessman of vehicular homicide charges."

Monday, January 19, 2015

Long, Long Ago

Fossil ankles show that Purgatorius, an early primate, lived in trees.

Jim Shelton, Yale University:
Earth’s earliest primates have taken a step up in the world, now that researchers have gotten a good look at their ankles. 
A new study has found that Purgatorius, a small mammal that lived on a diet of fruit and insects, was a tree dweller. Paleontologists made the discovery by analyzing 65-million-year-old ankle bones collected from sites in northeastern Montana. 
Purgatorius, part of an extinct group of primates called plesiadapiforms, first appears in the fossil record shortly after the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs. Some researchers have speculated over the years that primitive plesiadapiforms were terrestrial, and that primates moved into the tree canopy later. These ideas can still be found in some textbooks today. 
"The textbook that I am currently using in my biological anthropology courses still has an illustration of Purgatorius walking on the ground. Hopefully this study will change what students are learning about earliest primate evolution and will place Purgatorius in the trees where it rightfully belongs," said Stephen Chester, the paper's lead author. Chester, who conducted much of the research while at Yale University studying for his Ph.D., is an assistant professor at Brooklyn College, City University of New York. Chester is also a curatorial affiliate at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. 
Until now, paleontologists had only the animal's teeth and jaws to examine, which left much of its appearance and behavior a mystery. The identification of Purgatorius ankle bones, found in the same area as the teeth, gave researchers a better sense of how it lived. 
"The ankle bones have diagnostic features for mobility that are only present in those of primates and their close relatives today," Chester said. "These unique features would have allowed an animal such as Purgatorius to rotate and adjust its feet accordingly to grab branches while moving through trees. In contrast, ground-dwelling mammals lack these features and are better suited for propelling themselves forward in a more restricted, fore-and-aft motion." 
The research provides the oldest fossil evidence to date that arboreality played a key role in primate evolution. In essence, said the researchers, it implies that the divergence of primates from other mammals was not a dramatic event. Rather, primates developed subtle changes that made for easier navigation and better access to food in the trees.
(Image credit: Patrick Lynch/Yale University)


Statement from the office of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe about his admission to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Medical Center: "While on vacation with his family in Africa, Governor McAuliffe was thrown from a horse, which resulted in seven broken ribs. While the injury did not impair his ability to do his job and his doctors expected the injury to heal on its own, today they identified increased fluid around his lungs that will require a procedure to remove. He is being admitted today and is expected to be back in action after 2-3 days of recovery."


Daughters of the Trade: Atlantic Slavers
and Interracial Marriage on the Gold Coast
Nonfiction book by Pernille Ipsen

University of Pennsylvania Press:
Severine Brock's first language was Ga, yet it was not surprising when, in 1842, she married Edward Carstensen. He was the last governor of Christiansborg, the fort that, in the eighteenth century, had been the center of Danish slave trading in West Africa. She was the descendant of Ga-speaking women who had married Danish merchants and traders. Their marriage would have been familiar to Gold Coast traders going back nearly 150 years. In Daughters of the Trade, Pernille Ipsen follows five generations of marriages between African women and Danish men, revealing how interracial marriage created a Euro-African hybrid culture specifically adapted to the Atlantic slave trade. 
Although interracial marriage was prohibited in European colonies throughout the Atlantic world, in Gold Coast slave-trading towns it became a recognized and respected custom. Cassare, or "keeping house," gave European men the support of African women and their kin, which was essential for their survival and success, while African families made alliances with European traders and secured the legitimacy of their offspring by making the unions official. 
For many years, Euro-African families lived in close proximity to the violence of the slave trade. Sheltered by their Danish names and connections, they grew wealthy and influential. But their powerful position on the Gold Coast did not extend to the broader Atlantic world, where the link between blackness and slavery grew stronger, and where Euro-African descent did not guarantee privilege. By the time Severine Brock married Edward Carstensen, their world had changed. Daughters of the Trade uncovers the vital role interracial marriage played in the coastal slave trade, the production of racial difference, and the increasing stratification of the early modern Atlantic world.