News from Russia, Spain and India

Tuesday's World Events   —   Posted on October 8, 2013

RUSSIA – Government planning ‘near-total surveillance’ of visitors, athletes at Sochi Winter Olympics

image1083Security measures at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics will include such extensive electronic eavesdropping and surveillance that the US State Department has advised Americans headed to Russia to leave smart phones and laptops at home, an investigation has revealed.

Research by Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, two Russian investigative journalists who specialize in covering the security services, reveals a picture of near-total surveillance, Soldatov said.

The Russian authorities have gone to great lengths to [provide] the best communications support any Olympic event has seen at the February games, including 4G coverage and free WiFi throughout the city of Sochi.

But Soldatov and Borogan’s research indicates that the internet, telephone and other communications providers involved are obliged to build networks in such a way that the [government] security services have full and unimpeded access.

Sochi_Chechnya_Dagestan

“There is an element of meta-data gathering, but Russian security services are not so interested in meta-data. This is about content,” Soldatov told The Telegraph, citing an “information security concept” document laying out these measures. “The idea seems to be to make communications in Sochi totally transparent for the Russian authorities.”

The monitoring program, which is run by the Federal Security Service [FSB], Russia’s internal security agency and the main successor to the KGB, is aided by software that helps identify key words and phrases of interest being used in electronic communications. “It is a very useful way of knowing who in a given region is talking about Navalny, for example,” said Soldatov, referring to a Russian opposition leader.

An FSB statement and other documents also revealed that the FSB and the Russian interior ministry have both acquired two kinds of drones for surveillance during the games, he added, as well as a vast network of closed circuit television in the city.

While the measures bear some resemblance to security at the Beijing Olympics, Soldatov said that taken together it is probably the most comprehensive surveillance in Olympic history. Drones had been considered for surveillance at the London Olympics, but were not used in the event.

Soldatov said the depth of surveillance was so comprehensive that the US State Department has advised its citizens “that it would be better to forget your laptop or smart phone in your home country, because it will be intercepted.”

The measures are ostensibly [supposedly] aimed at securing Sochi against possible terrorist attacks during the games. Sochi [borders] Russia’s turbulent North Caucasus, where federal forces are fighting a long-running Islamist separatist insurgency. Doku Umarov, a rebel leader who has claimed responsibility for a number of suicide bombings in Moscow in recent years, has called on his followers to attack the games. …

SPAIN – Government grants bullfighting protected status

bullfight2A decision by Spain’s congress to protect bullfighting and grant it cultural heritage status has been condemned by international animal rights organizations.

The legislation which designates Spain’s national fiesta as part of “cultural heritage worthy of protection” was passed on Wednesday by a congressional culture committee and will go to a vote in the Senate later this month.

The move will create measures and allow public funds to be used to promote and protect bullfighting and related activities such as running of the bulls throughout Spain.

A coalition of international animal welfare groups (including PETA, Humane Society International, and the World Society for the Protection of Animals) immediately spoke out to criticize the bill and slammed the use of public funds for “unacceptable animal cruelty.”

“This move is a cynical attempt by a desperate bullfighting industry to secure the future of this dying industry. Bullfighting is cruel and outdated and has no place in a modern society; culture stops where cruelty starts,” it said in part.

The bill was introduced by the ruling conservative Popular Party, which has a majority in Parliament, and was passed by the congressional committee by 24 votes to 6, with 14 abstentions. …The main opposition PSOE party abstained from the vote arguing that it was not for politicians to either “ban or promote” bullfighting. [In 2011, PSOE Prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s socialist government announced that the ministry of culture would from then on be responsible for the “development and protection” of bullfighting, which previously fell under the responsibility of the interior ministry.]

The new legislation was not expected to overturn bans on bullfighting introduced by the regional governments of the Canary Islands and Catalonia.

The bullfighting industry has been hit by the economic crisis with many cash-strapped town halls unable to afford to stage their annual bullfighting fiesta and amid falling spectator numbers.

A recent poll showed that 76 per cent of Spaniards were against public funds being used to support bullfighting. …

INDIA – State government plans ‘New Mumbai’ as overcrowding chokes city

image1084

The landscape of Maharashtra, India – between Bombay and Matheran.

The Indian state government of Maharashtra is planning to build a ‘New Mumbai’ as an overspill for the country’s film and commercial capital as overcrowding grinds India’s largest mega-city to a halt.

There are now more than 20 million people living in Mumbai, traffic is so gridlocked it can take two hours to drive from the city center to its airport [approximately 23 miles away], and the constant tide of new immigrants…has sent rents soaring.

The state government had already built one new city, Navi Mumbai, on its outskirts, to ease the pressure, but the influx of people seeking new lives and fortunes in India’s most glamorous city has prompted calls for a second overspill. Navi Mumbai’s population has already risen beyond a million.

Now Maharashtra’s state minister for housing, Sachin Ahir, has backed calls for another new city to be constructed 50 miles away in Uran, a fishing village of 23,000 people just across Mumbai’s Dharamtar Creek. If the plan succeeds, it its expected to grow to a quarter of the size of Mumbai itself.

Mr. Ahir said the private sector will help build a new metropolis on a 62 square mile site.

Uran already has a major port and Maharashtra’s housing authority is already planning new housing estates in the town. Roads and boat links to Mumbai will be boosted by new rail services to Navi Mumbai.

Officials plan to integrate two private ports, a gas power station and other major infrastructure projects to lure people from Mumbai.

They are considering making the new city part of metropolitan Mumbai to make sure it shares in its new major transport developments. A new airport at Navi Mumbai, the city’s Trans-Harbor Link and the prospect of cheaper homes are expected to play a major part in attracting people away from the ‘mother-city’. …

(The news briefs above are from wire reports and staff reports posted at London’s Daily Telegraph on October 4th, 6th and 3rd.)

Questions

1. For each of the 3 countries, provide the following information:
a) capital:
b) location/the countries that share its borders:
c) the religious breakdown of the population:
d) the type of government:
e) the chief of state (and head of government if different) [If monarch or dictator, since what date has he/she ruled? – include name of heir apparent for monarch]:
f) the population:

[Find the answers at the CIA World FactBook website. For each country, answers can be found under the “Geography” “People” and “Government” headings.  Go to worldatlas.com for maps and a list of continents.]

NOTE: Before answering the questions below, read the info under “Background” and watch the videos under “Resources.”

2. For RUSSIA:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) In addition to communications surveillance, what other means is the FSB using for security during the Olympic games?
c) What does the Russian government say is the main reason for the “near-total surveillance” during the 2014 Olympic Games in Russia?
d) Are the security measures being put in place by the Russian government for the Winter Olympics overboard, or the best way to ensure the safety of all athletes and spectators? Explain your answer.

3. For SPAIN:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) What percent of the Spanish population did a recent poll show were opposed to public funds being used to support bullfighting?
c) Why do you think the ruling conservative Popular Party passed such a law if such a large majority of the people are against government funds being used? (Do you think the majority of Spaniards oppose bullfighting across Spain, or just their tax dollars partially funding it?  Supporters, who see bullfighting as an integral part of Spain’s cultural identity, hope the announcement is a step towards protecting the tradition from further regional bans.) Explain your answers.
d) Do you think the Spanish government should partially fund bullfighting fiestas? Explain your answer.

4. For INDIA:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) What is the population of the largest city in the U.S.? How does it compare with Mumbai?
c) Do you think state officials’ plan to build overflow cities outside of Mumbai is the best way to solve the problem of the severe overcrowding? Explain your answer.


Free Answers — Sign-up here to receive a weekly email with answers.

Background

RUSSIA:

  • In August Vladimir Putin signed a decree establishing restricted zones around the city of Sochi and banning public demonstrations for the duration of the game.
  • Earlier this week an FSB spokesman told reporters that security in Sochi would be unintrusive compared to the London Olympics.
  • But investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov said the nature of the measures and key personnel appointments suggested other priorities [than counter-terrorism].
  • The chief of Olympic Security, for example, is Oleg Syromolotov, the head of FSB Counter Intelligence – a spy catcher rather than a counter terrorism expert.
  • “Taken together, it looks to me like these people still see the main threat to the Olympics coming not from the North Caucasus, but from outside the country,” said Soldatov.
  • The research, part of a joint investigation with the Guardian newspaper, is part of a wider project looking at Russian surveillance practices.
  • The research is not yet complete and the full report has yet to be published, Soldatov said.
  • No one at the FSB was immediately available to comment on Sunday evening [Oct.6]. (from the Telegraph article)

Chechen Islamist leader Doku Umarov

Doku Umarov is a widely known Chechen rebel leader. Chechnya is predominantly Muslim.  In 2011, the U.S. declared Umarov’s group a terrorist organization and offered up to $5 million for information leading to his capture.  

Umarov’s Islamist group is blamed for bombing a Moscow airport in January 2011, two subway stations in 2010 and a Russian train in 2009.

In July 2013 Umarov urged his fighters to “do their utmost to derail” the games… ”We have the obligation to use all means to prevent this,” he said in a video…

Security experts have said the Islamic insurgency raging across the North Caucasus mountains that tower over Sochi is a daunting threat to the games – although rebels have not attacked Sochi so far.

Dagestan, which lies about 300 miles east of Sochi, has become the center of the insurgency that spread across the North Caucasus region after two separatist wars in the 1990s in neighboring Chechnya. Rebels seeking to carve out a caliphate, or Islamic state, have targeted police and other officials in near-daily shootings and bombings. Umarov is believed to be their most influential leader.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the elder of the two ethnic Chechen brothers who are accused of staging the Boston Marathon bombings, spent six months last year in Dagestan. (from a July 2013 AP report)

Chechnya’s long and violent guerrilla war has attracted a small number of Islamist militants from outside of Chechnya – some of whom are Arab fighters with possible links to al-Qaeda. (from cfr.org) 

  • SPAIN:  

    Bullfighting:  Why is it so popular? It’s the national sport of Spain. It is gaining, not losing popularity.

    In the Mediterranean, sacrificing bulls is a practice dating back to pre-historic times. In Greece for example, killing the minotaur is symbolic of a bullfight.

    Bullfighting as we know it today, started in the village squares, and became formalized, with the building of the bullring in Ronda in the late 18th century. From that time, it began to follow a particular sequence of events: the entrance of the bull, the picador, the banderilleros, and finally the matador (bullfighter). Many of the picadors’ horses were injured in the early days, so these heavy horses now wear protection.

    There are about 70 bullrings in Andalucia. Seville is the most important. Don’t miss the week of fights which coincide with the Seville Spring Fair. Ronda is the oldest bullring in Spain. It hosts the famous Goyesque Fair in early September. Some bullrings house bullfighting museums. They can also be used for other events such as pop concerts. (from andalucia.com)

  • INDIA:

    • Mumbai has been hard hit by India’s break-neck population growth. The country is expected to overtake China as the world’s most populous by 2026 and hit 1.6 billion by 2050 – a 25 per cent increase on its current population of 1.2 billion.
    • The government is in a state of high anxiety over how it will provide the new jobs, houses, food, water, transport and sanitation services they will need if the country is not to collapse under the pressure.
    • Competition for jobs and resources between the city’s indigenous poor and migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar caused the rise of the Shiv Sena, a violent street-gang and political party which is now one of the city’s most powerful forces. It has called for attacks on Biharis and other migrants for ‘stealing local jobs.’
    • Sachin Ahir (Maharashtra’s state minister for housing) told the Telegraph Mumbai now needs to build a million new homes but cannot find the space.
    • “Mumbai was built on seven islands, it’s surrounded by sea and expansion is difficult. There is a need to create more space, land for more housing. We’re trying to create a new satellite city for the people who come here but never want to go back. They will be able to live their Mumbai dream, in Uran,” he told the Telegraph. (from the Telegraph article)

    Resources

    RUSSIA:

     

    SPAIN:

     

    INDIA: