Lebanon Will Hold National Dialogue Session, With or Without Hariri’s March 14 Faction In Attendance

[According to the dates given in the press, the Nat. Dialogue Session will be held the day after Abdullah’s planned meeting in Mecca ends.  I guess that the March 14 reps will attend, if the Mecca meet goes well.]

Report: National Dialogue Session to be Held even if March 14 Boycotts it

إقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية

W460

President Michel Suleiman does not intend to postpone a national dialogue session next week if the March 14 opposition coalition boycotts it for the second time in a row, An Nahar daily reported Saturday.

The newspaper said the session will be held on Thursday at Beiteddine palace whether March 14 officials attend or not but Suleiman would not brief the conferees on his view of the country’s defense strategy in case of another boycott.

Al-Mustaqbal parliamentary bloc leader Fouad Saniora is expected to visit the president early next week to hand him a March 14 memo that sets the opposition’s stance from its participation in the all-party talks.

The last session on July 24 was postponed over the rejection of opposition representatives to attend the dialogue.

March 14 had tied its participation to a government decision to provide security agencies with the so-called telecom data to help them investigate assassination attempts against MP Butros Harb and Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea.

The telecom data has since been handed over to the security apparatuses.

Another reason for the boycott was Hizbullah MP Mohammed Raad’s announcement that the national defense strategy is not currently necessary because Lebanon is still in the liberation stage.

Clinton Announces Economic Warfare Measures Directed At Hezbollah and Syria

W460

Fresh sanctions slapped by the United States are meant to “expose and disrupt” links between Iran, Hizbullah movement and Syria, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Saturday.

She said the “number one goal” of Washington and Ankara was to hasten the end of Bashar Assad’s regime in Damascus and stop the bloodshed, while warning that Syria must not become a haven for Kurdish rebels battling Turkey.

“We are continuing to increase pressure from outside,” Clinton told a joint press conference in Istanbul after meeting Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Syrian opposition activists.

“Yesterday in Washington we announced sanctions designed to expose and disrupt the links between Iran, Hizbullah and Syria that prolong the life of the Assad regime.”

Washington on Friday announced sanctions against Syrian state oil company Sytrol for trading with Iran, in a bid to starve both Tehran and Damascus of much-needed revenue.

The U.S. Treasury also said it was adding Hizbullah, which has close ties with Iran and Syria, to a blacklist of organizations targeted under Syria-related sanctions.

Washington already classes Hizbullah a “terrorist organization” and it is under U.S. sanctions, but Friday’s move explicitly ties the group to the violence in Syria, where Assad is attempting to put down a 17-month revolt.

Hizbullah was added to a blacklist associated with an executive order signed by U.S. President Barack Obama in August last year which targeted the government of Syria and its supporters.

The sanctions are designed to increase pressure on Damascus as the conflict escalates sharply after the failure of former U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan and his dramatic resignation.

But 17 months after the start of the uprising the Syrian leader remains in power, and more than 20,000 people have been killed.

Hizbullah has denied a report recently published by the Saudi newspaper Okaz about the death of 56 of its fighters in battles in Syria’s Aleppo.

“This report is baseless, has nothing to do with reality and was fabricated by the imagination of the sources that composed it,” the party said.

Unusual Report from the Zionist Press May Be True

[This report, if true, would indicate that the Saudis may have made a U-turn in their Iran/Israel strategy.  If the Saudis have made this U-turn, then it is being done at America’s direction.  The recent  call by the Saudi king for an emergency meeting on Syria, which is bringing Ahmadinejad to Mecca, would also tend to confirm this change in direction.  The plan has always been to separate Iran from its assets (Hezbollah) and its allies (Syria).  Look for the Saudis, who represent the Americans, to offer the Iranians some grand bargain to create order in Syria.  If the Saudis really have threatened to shoot-down IDF fighters headed for Iran, then it would also fit-in with other reports about an ongoing cyber-assault against Lebanon which is also infecting Israel.  If Washington wants to restrain Israel, then perhaps it wants surveillance upon Israel as well (SEE: Virus plunges Lebanon into cyber war).  For eleven months,  eight sophisticated digital virus strands of the Gauss virus have spread from the Lebanese banking sector all over the country and deep into Israel.  Gauss represents an extreme risk that the Lebanese banking system may be overwhelmed by global players, causing it to collapse, possibly as a precursor to a military assault upon Hezbollah.  Obama is going after Hezbollah now (or shortly after the election), instead of Syria, or Iran, and the Pentagon needs eyes on Israel to ensure that Netanyahu plays along.  The virus’ penetration of Israel could be explained by a recent news report that the CIA considers Israel to be the greatest “spy threat” to American interests.   

One other element of the following Israeli report which makes it seem unusual is the addition of the F-35 photo, which is labelled “F-35 stealth fighter IDF.”  To my knowledge, the IDF is not supposed to have any of the advanced American jets in their inventory yet.  The Jew-rusalem Post had this to say about the F-35s:

“Israel placed an order for its first squadron of F- 35s in October 2010 for $2.75 billion. Under the deal, Israel was supposed to receive 20 aircraft but the number could drop due to the rising cost per plane. The aircraft are expected to begin arriving in Israel sometime in 2017.”]

Report: Saudis Threaten to Shoot Down Iran-Bound Israeli Planes

The Saudis said they would shoot down any Israeli planes that fly over its airspace on their way to or from Iran
 

By David Lev

F-35 stealth fighter

F-35 stealth fighter
IDF

Saudi Arabia has informed Israel in recent weeks that it will shoot down any Israeli planes that fly over its airspace on their way to or from Iran. A report in Yediot Achronot Thursday said that the Saudis have made it known that they will not allow their airspace to be used for any attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities by Israel, the U.S., or any other country.

According to the report, the Saudis transferred the message to Israel viasenior officials in the administration of U.S. President Barack H. Obama. The officials had just recently returned from talks in Israel with senior members of the government.

IDF intelligence, the report said, had identified four air routes that could be used to attack Iran – one of them over Saudi Arabia. The Saudi route would have Israeli fighter jets flying south, turning into Saudi territory for a short time, and then exiting into the Persian Gulf and Iran.

As a result of the warning, the report said, Israeli officials are now concerned that they will have to figure out a way to avoid a battle with the Saudi air force if the southern route is chosen. Although Saudi pilots are not known for their skills, the country has a wide array of sophisticated defensive and offensive systems and weapons, thanks to massive American arms sales.

However, some Israeli officials were doubtful that the message had been the idea of the Saudis’ alone, saying that message was part of the ongoing pressures by American officials to prevent Israel from attacking Iran without Washington’s permission.

US austerity: Genocide of 50 million people

US austerity: Genocide of 50 million people

50 million Americans are in danger of losing their lives due to the government’s austerity measures.

No matter whether the next US president is named Obama or Romney, the Wall Street financier elite that dominates the United States is psychotically planning a series of tax increases for the middle class and working people, cuts in benefits and social services, and a transfer of wealth in favor of the top 1%, all of which will add up to a further cut of about 25% in the depleted US standard of living.

The mythical “fiscal cliff”

This outcome is being prepared right now by a demagogic propaganda campaign around the slogan that the United States faces a “fiscal cliff” at the end of the current calendar year. This alleged fiscal cliff is the result of two factors. First, the tax cuts enacted by George Bush the younger in the months before 9/11 are due to expire. If the Bush tax cuts are ended, the average family would pay a few hundred dollars more. But the tax rate for the richest earners would go from 35% to 39.6%, which, at high levels of income, can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars or more in taxes.

At the same time, stock speculators and hedge fund hyenas like Mitt Romney would no longer pay 15%, but rather 20%, on their profits. In other words, the Bush tax cuts were mainly a gift to the super-rich. The Republicans want to keep the Bush tax cuts for the rich, and if possible make people in the middle – earning between $48,000 and $80,000 per year – pay significantly more.

The other aspect of the fiscal cliff are the automatic cuts in military spending and social services spending which were built in to the budget agreement of August, 2011 (popularly known as the “Satan Sandwich”) which allowed the United States to avoid default on necessary payments. Under these automatic cuts, the Pentagon budget would be cut by about 8% or $500 billion over 10 years. At the same time, doctors and hospitals working for Medicare, the government’s health insurance program for people over 65, will suffer a 2% payment cut across the board. The goal of all this is to reduce federal spending by $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years. Obama and the Congress both ignore that austerity cuts of this type have actually increased the budget deficit in Greece and other European countries where they have been tried.

The lame duck session and the grand bargain

The goal of reactionary Republicans and of Obama’s Wall Street Democrats is to negotiate a “Grand Bargain” of austerity and cuts sometime in the next few months. One possible time for this dirty deal to be made will come in December, after the US general election at the beginning of November. In December, significant numbers of defeated or retiring congressmen and senators will be leaving, and many will be looking for jobs on Wall Street. They will be eager to betray the economic interests of the American people to curry favor with the bankers they hope will hire them. Otherwise, pressure will build for a Grand Bargain during the early months of 2013.

Such a Grand Bargain of austerity will target in particular Social Security (government old-age pensions), Medicare (health care for seniors), and Medicaid (health care for the poor); only token sacrifices will be asked from the rich 1%. If this scenario actually occurs, the lives of up to 50 million Americans will be in grave danger.

This is first of all the case because of the long decline in the American standard of living, which has, according to some reckonings, been reduced by about two thirds since August 15, 1971, when Nixon and Kissinger abandoned the Bretton Woods international monetary system. There is no more margin for cuts without tragic consequences. During this same period, the social mobility in the United States – understood as the ability to go from being poor to being well-off – has declined markedly, and is now inferior to every country in Western Europe except for ossified Great Britain.

50 million Americans officially in dire poverty

Every 10 years, the United States government conducts a census of the population, and in the process collects important data about demographics and income. It is now expected that the official US poverty rate, which underestimates the real problem of poverty, will rise to almost 16% of the population. Poverty means an individual living on less than $11,170, or a family of three living on less than $19,090. This is truly dire poverty. By this estimate, about 50 million Americans will be poor, the highest rate since Medicare and Medicaid were enacted in 1965.

According to official statistics, the US unemployment rate rose slightly to 8.3% in July 2012. Once again, this figure understates the problem. The US Department of Labor publishes a data series called the U6 unemployment rate, which tries to reflect underemployment — as in cases where a worker who wants to work full-time is forced to work part-time – and workers who have given up their job searches in despair.

By this measure, the US unemployment rate has been as high as 17.1% at the end of 2009, and is currently at 15%. These are depression levels. Assuming that the US workforce is about 155 million, this means that over 23 million Americans are actually out of work. If we add in elderly dependents and children, we will once again get close to the 50 million whose lives are now in danger.

Under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s original Social Security Act of 1935, the federal government could have provided benefits to one important category – impoverished mothers with dependent children. This was called welfare, but it no longer exists, having been abolished by Bill Clinton in 1995-96 as part of his reelection campaign. Currently it is estimated that about 15 million children – about 21% of all children in the United States – live below the official poverty line. Since an adequate standard of living requires about twice the federal poverty level income, it follows that 44% of US children are in reality stuck in low income families. They can thank Bill Clinton for their current situation.

That same Social Security Act of 1935 established a system of unemployment insurance, which is now being sorely tested. When the depression began in 2008-9, the Obama stimulus bill extended jobless payments to unemployed workers for 99 weeks in many states. Now, with the depression grinding on, more than 5 million people have been unemployed for more than six months, and most of these have joined the ranks of the 99ers – those who have been jobless for almost 2 years. Some 23 states, especially those governed by Republicans, have now cut eligibility by as much as five months, impacting a half million unemployed. Only three states still offer 99 weeks of benefits, and that will end in September 2012.

Food stamps for 46.5 million under attack

The one federal program that still contributes to keeping the endangered 50 million alive is the Food Stamp program of the US Department of Agriculture, which currently feeds 46.5 million Americans. In some cities, the food stamp allowance is about $130 per month, which translates into about $1.55 per person per meal. This is already too little to permit good nutrition.

Right now the debate in the Congress is whether this program should be cut by $16 billion as the Republicans demand, or by “only” $5 billion, the Democratic Party proposal. Once again, any cuts in the food stamp budget under the current conditions will inevitably lead to vitamin deficiencies, cognitive impairment, and large increases in morbidity and mortality.

As for health insurance, most sources estimate that about 46 million Americans have no way of paying for the services of a doctor, hospital, or pharmacy. This figure largely overlaps with the 50 million who are in dire poverty, and the 50 million who are living on food stamps. Any reduction in Medicaid, which is intended for low income people, will take a toll of lives. Republicans are demanding massive cuts to Medicaid, while Democrats argue that moderate cuts will be sufficient. In reality, any cuts at all will represent thinly disguised murder.

Neither Obama nor Romney has anything to offer the endangered 50 million. Indeed, Romney has already announced that he is “not worried about the poor.” This issue highlights the inhuman cruelty of the political process in the United States today. How long before a social explosion forces the ruling elite to confront these issues?

WT/MA

Born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, 1946, Dr. Webster Griffin Tarpley is a philosopher of history who seeks to provide the programs and strategies needed to overcome the current world crisis. As an activist historian he first became widely known for his book George Bush: The Unauthorized Biography (1992), a masterpiece of research which is still a must read. AB Princeton 1966, summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa; Fulbright Scholar at University of Turin, Italy; MA in humanities from Skidmore College; and Ph.D. in early modern history from the Catholic University of America with emphasis on the role of Venice in the origins of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). During 2008, he warned of the dangers of an Obama presidency controlled by Wall Street with Obama: The Postmodern Coup, The Making of a Manchurian Candidate and Barack H. Obama: The Unauthorized Biography. His interest in economics is reflected in Surviving the Cataclysm: Your Guide Through the Worst Financial Crisis in Human History Against Oligarchy. His books have appeared in Japanese, German, Italian, French, and Spanish. More articles by Dr. Webster Griffin Tarpley

Syrian and Jordanian forces clash in border area–Reuters (Pro-Rebel Slant)

[Most of you probably already understand that all of the British press dispenses propaganda for the Empire, but for others who are new to this site, I thought that I should give the Pro-rebel slant label to any news I post that has been put out by London.  The fact that the two armies may have made first contact is the important issue.  The rest of the following article may or may not be either relevant or true.]

Syrian and Jordanian forces clash in border area

Free Syrian Army fighters clash with Syrian Army at Salah Edinne district, in the centre of Aleppo, August 7, 2012. REUTERS-Shaam News Network-Handout

By Hadeel Al Shalchi and Khaled Yacoub Oweis

ALEPPO, Syria/AMMAN | Fri Aug 10, 2012 7:14pm EDT

(Reuters) – Fighting broke out between Jordanian and Syrian forces in a border region between the two countries overnight, but a Jordanian source said on Saturday no one on Jordan’s side appeared to have been killed.

A Syrian opposition activist who witnessed the fighting said armored vehicles were involved in the clash in the Tel Shihab-Turra area, about 80 km (50 miles) north of the Jordanian capital Amman, that occurred after Syrian refugees tried to cross into Jordan.

“The Syrian side fired across the border and fighting ensued. Initial reports indicate that there has been no one killed from the Jordanian side,” said the Jordanian source, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Jordanian troops have fired near the border in the past to stop Syrians from shooting at fleeing refugees.

Western nations and regional powers fear the Syrian conflict could spill into neighboring countries. The 17-month uprising has turned into a civil war with a sectarian angle that has the West lining up with Sunni Muslim nations behind the mainly Sunni rebels and against President Bashar al-Assad, a member of the Alawite minority sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam.

Syria’s long border with Jordan has been an escape route for opponents of Assad, including Prime Minister Riad Hijab who defected this week.

In Syria’s largest city and commercial hub Aleppo, rebels fighting Assad’s forces said they would hit back after losing ground under heavy bombardment. Residents in the city of 2.5 million have been fleeing in cars crammed with belongings.

The rebels have been pushed back from the Salaheddine district, which controls the approach to the city. They surged into both Aleppo and the capital Damascus last month in their boldest offensive of the uprising.

Assad’s forces have repelled the rebels from Damascus, but are having a harder time dislodging them from Aleppo.

“I have about 60 men positioned strategically at the front line and we are preparing a new attack today,” said Abu Jamil, a rebel commander near Salaheddine. Sniper fire had prevented his men from retrieving a comrade’s body for two days, he said.

Reuters journalists saw residents stream from Aleppo on Friday, seizing on a calm spell to pack vehicles with mattresses, fridges and toys. At least two air force planes and a drone flew overhead. Random shooting echoed from Salaheddine.

Some Salaheddine residents slipped back into the shattered neighborhood to try to salvage possessions, despite army snipers. Two civilians were hit by gunfire in nearby streets.

One man with an apparent gunshot wound was dragged off the street by rebels and treated by medics before being taken to a field clinic. A second man was wounded in the back and arm. Blood soaked through the sleeve of his yellow jacket and his face was contorted in pain as rescuers put him in a vehicle.

In an apparent effort to project an air of normalcy, state television screened footage dated August 10 of a calm Aleppo, including images of its ancient citadel – a U.N. World Heritage site – and cars flowing freely around a traffic circle.

In Damascus, residents reported shelling of the southeastern district of Shebaa and said nine tanks could be seen on the road heading out to the airport.

Assad is trying to crush the revolt against his family’s 42-year rule in the pivotal Arab country. His mostly Sunni foes are backed by Sunni-led states like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.

NEW U.S. SANCTIONS

The United States imposed another round of sanctions on Friday that targeted Syria’s state-run oil company Sytrol for trading with Iran, and the Lebanese Shi’ite militant group Hezbollah for aiding the Syrian government.

Repeated rounds of U.S. and European sanctions, announced every few months, have had a negligible impact on the war. Russia and China have blocked U.N. Security Council action that would have allowed tighter, global sanctions against Damascus.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit Turkey on Saturday, where she will discuss Syria with Turkish officials. Turkey, a NATO member and regional military power, has emerged as one of the main opponents of Assad.

U.S. officials are particularly interested in Turkey’s analysis of the political forces emerging in Syria, hoping that together they can puzzle out the complex patchwork of rebel groups jockeying for position.

Iran, Syria’s closest foreign ally, called for “serious and inclusive” talks between Assad’s government and the opposition at a meeting of countries sympathetic to Assad in Tehran on Thursday.

“There will be no winner in Syria,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a message to the conference. “Now, we face the grim possibility of long-term civil war destroying Syria’s rich tapestry of interwoven communities.”

Diplomats said veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi could be named next week to replace the U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, who quit in frustration after his peacemaking efforts proved futile.

Brahimi said U.N. Security Council states and regional powers needed to work together to bring peace.

Assad’s offensive to reassert control over Aleppo follows a successful drive to expel rebels from parts of Damascus that they seized after a bomb in the capital killed four of his senior aides on July 18.

His grip on the country has been eroded and his authority was further shaken by his prime minister’s defection this week, but his forces have also consistently demonstrated their overwhelming firepower advantage against lightly-armed rebels.

(Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny in Beirut, Andrew Quinn in Accra and Louis Charbonneauat the United Nations; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Ralph Gowling)

Fracking Opposition Grows in Argentina’s Guarani Aquifer Region

[The people of this planet are about to find-out rather abruptly that it isn’t energy that should be our primary concern, it is water,  life-giving water.    A lot of us are about to receive a rude awakening to the truth of that statement, whenever deep water sources are used-up or polluted.  Mass hunger may be the first sign of a potential water apocalypse, especially after intense droughts like the one we are in (SEE:  Britain faces food price hikes as fears grow that drought-hit Russia may impose export ban on grain).  

A family can live without either gas or oil, if survival requires it, but it cannot last more than a day or two without water.  The human race must learn that there are trade-offs which must be made if we are to survive our own industrialization.  Progress for the sake of profit will kill us all, if we let it.  “Progress” must mean humanity’s progress.  Some things which seem good because of the comfort that they may bring to many people, such as asbestos, also harm us over time.  Fracking will one day be found out to be one of those bad things which seem good to us in the beginning, but harm or kill many people in the long run.  The Guarani Aquifer in South America is too precious to ruin.  Fracking will poison many water sources before the Halliburton-developed practice is stopped.  Let us hope that Guarani is not one of them.]

Fracking Opposition Grows in Argentina’s Guarani Aquifer Region

by OOSKAnews Correspondent

ARGENTINA, BUENOS AIRES — Shale gas and oil production in Argentina face mounting opposition due to concerns over hydraulic fracturing, particularly in the Guarani Aquifer region in Entre Rios province.

The local Entre Rios Free of Fracking movement is working to get a law passed banning the practice in the province. Legislation passed there in 2010 had opened the door for hydrocarbon, shale gas and oil and gas explorations in the area.

The movement was formed at a meeting of the Association of Magistrates of Entre Rios (AGMER) in Parana, the provincial capital.

“Fracking injects millions of liters of water, sand and over 600 chemical substances to fracture the rock which stores hydrocarbon,” Free of Fracking said. These chemicals have been shown to be toxic, carcinogenic and mutagenic, as well having other negative effects on health, the group said.

In addition, the movement said, investigations have shown that the water used in extraction returns to the surface with heavy metals, hydrocarbons and radioactive materials, which “gravely pollute water [used] for consumption, irrigation and production.”

Guarani Aquifer

Guarani Aquifer

 

The Guarani Aquifer, a massive water source shared by Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay, is located in Entre Rios province.  It is considered one of the most important drinking water reserves in the world.

Entre Rios Free of Fracking has expressed concerns that fracking will pollute the aquifer.

In the group’s public declaration, it says that fracking requires millions of cubic meters of water, and so it inevitably has an effect on water quality and availability.

“In just one well, between 9 and 29 million liters of water are injected and mixed with other … chemical substances. Once the fracking is finished, 1.3 to 2.3 million liters of highly polluted water is recovered,” the movement warned.

Intense Cyber/Diplomatic Offensive Focused On Lebanon, Means That Hezbollah’s Time Is Up

[The fact that it was found in Lebanon and Israel and that it was most likely planted by US cyber-warfare hit men, then it tells us that the virus was originally uploaded at some key juncture in Lebanon, where it was carried back to Israel, inadvertently spreading like wildfire.  The virus spread so far, so rapidly within Israel because the info was being passed around among interested IDF officials.  This intense interest in Lebanon probably means that Lebanon’s number is up, as it coincides with today’s State Dept. warning about Hezbollah strikes in Europe.  Hezbollah would only attempt European suicide missions if the US attacked Iran, or the Lebanese resistance forces themselves.  This warning should be taken seriously only if the United States invades either Iran or Lebanon.] 

Mideast targets for Gauss malware

In Kaspersky’s tally, 66% of the Gauss-infected Windows PCs are located in Lebanon, 19% in Israel and 10% in Palestine. (Image: Kaspersky Lab.)

Nation-backed surveillance malware monitors Middle East bank accounts

Encrypted payload may also contain destructive code, a la Stuxnet, says Kaspersky

Computerworld – A sophisticated cyber surveillance tool that monitors financial transactions with Middle Eastern banks was probably built by or under the auspices of a government, security researchers said today.

Early Thursday, Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab revealed its findings about “Gauss,” the name it’s slapped on the malware it uncovered in June but that went dormant a month later when the command-and-control (C&C) servers shut down.

Gauss shares traits with other advanced malware, notably Flame — thedigital espionage tool aimed at Iran that scouted out systems ripe for data thievery — Roel Schouwenberg, a senior researcher at Kaspersky, said in an interview today. Those commonalities prompted the security firm to conclude that Gauss, like Flame, Stuxnet and Duqu, was created by a nation-state or that the project was funded by one or more governments.

“It’s very clear that [Gauss] was built on the same platform as Flame,” said Schouwenberg . “All these cyber weapons are linked to one another, and Gauss is part of that as well.”

Previously, security experts — including those at Kaspersky, as well as others at Symantec — have connected Stuxnet with Duqu, and Flame with Stuxnet. Ergo, Gauss is connected to Stuxnet, the malware that sabotaged Iran’s nuclear fuel enrichment program

Other experts have speculated that the U.S. and Israeli governments, specifically their intelligence agencies, were the sources of Stuxnet and Flame.

Two things about Gauss stand out, said Schouwenberg: The online banking component and a still-mysterious payload that’s so heavily encrypted that Kaspersky has no idea yet what it is or what it does.

Gauss is the first government-backed or -built malware that uses a banking module. Among its other duties, the Trojan steals credentials for several Middle Eastern banks headquartered in Lebanon, including the Bank of Beirut, EBLF, BlomBank, ByblosBank, FransaBank and Credit Libanais. It also targets users of Citibank and PayPal.

Because the malware’s C&C infrastructure was shuttered last month, before Kaspersky could probe the servers or run a tamed copy of the malware to watch it interact with them, it has been unable to root out exactly what Gauss did when it was operational.

But Schouwenberg said Kaspersky has some ideas.

“It appears [Gauss] was used as a surveillance tool,” said Schouwenberg. “We currently believe it was used to monitor accounts and money flow. We don’t think they were trying to actually take the money.”

Tracking funding for terrorist groups has played a major role in counter-terrorism efforts, and the malware’s focus on Lebanon, where Hezbollah is especially active, may point to connections to Iran, the target of both Stuxnet and Flame. Many experts believe Hezbollah often acts as a proxy for Iran in that country’s sometimes-secret, often public, conflict with Israel.

Kaspersky has identified about 2,500 machines infected with Gauss — those PCs are monitored by the security company — with two-thirds of them located in Lebanon. Another 19% are in Israel.

Based on that 2,500, Schouwenberg said Kaspersky estimates that “tens of thousands” of computers have been infected with the Trojan worldwide since the malware kicked off its campaign in September or October 2011.

Gauss’ still-secret payload also intrigued researchers.

Like Stuxnet, Gauss has a module that relies on USB flash drives, said Schouwenberg. When a drive is plugged into a Gauss-infected Windows PC, it secretly transfers code to the drive. If that same drive is later inserted into another, non-infected machine, under specific circumstances — derived from the PC’s system configuration — it executes code that looks through directories and exfiltrates data to the drive.

When the flash drive is plugged back into a Gauss-infected machine, the information it stole from the non-infected system is transferred to the malware’s C&C servers.

“We don’t know what it’s looking for, but with time we’ll be able to do so,” said Schouwenberg. “What is so important that they went to the trouble of hiding this code? We think that they’re using the USB drives to bridge the ‘air gap.'”

“Air gap” refers to the broken link between computers that are connected to the Internet and those that are not. The latter must be infected or surveyed through means other than a network or the Internet. Experts believe that the computers which controlled Iran’s nuclear fuel enrichment machinery were infected using USB drives, since those PCs would not have been connected to the Internet, and thus not directly accessible from previously-compromised computers.

Kaspersky hypothesized that the unknown payload may, in fact, carry destructive code, ala Stuxnet.

Bolstering that thought was the use of a long-patched vulnerability to install the mysterious payload. That bug, which exploits a flaw in Windows shortcut files, identified by the “.lnk” extension, was used by Stuxnet in its USB drive-based infection vector.

Microsoft patched the .lnk vulnerability with an emergency update — one outside its usual once-a-month schedule — on Aug. 2, 2010.

The fact that Gauss relied on a bug patched two years ago led Schouwenberg to speculate that the targets may have been important systems, perhaps ones that control industrial processes.

“[Industrial controlling PCs] are rarely patched, first because they’re not connected to the Internet — again, the air gap — and also because patching reduces uptime, which is critical for those systems,” said Schouwenberg.

Kaspersky has published an FAQ on Gauss, as well as a 48-page analysis of the malware (download PDF).

 covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at Twitter @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg’s RSS feed Keizer RSS. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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Read more about Cyberwarfare in Computerworld’s Cyberwarfare Topic Center.

If the US State Dept. Warns That Hezbollah May Strike In Europe, Then It Means That the US Plans To Hit Iran

Hezbollah would only attempt European suicide missions if the US attacked Iran, or the Lebanese resistance forces themselves.  This warning should be taken seriously only if the United States invades either Iran or Lebanon.] 

US warns Hezbollah may strike in Europe

A Lebanese cleric speaks out against the Syrian regime and its allies in Lebanon, including Hezbollah, the powerful Shiite militant group. (AP/Bilal Hussein)

A Lebanese cleric speaks out against the Syrian regime and its allies in Lebanon, including Hezbollah, the powerful Shiite militant group. (AP/Bilal Hussein)

WASHINGTON: The United States fears the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah may be planning imminent attacks in Europe and around the world, a senior security official in Washington said on Friday.
“Our assessment is that Hezbollah and Iran will both continue to maintain a heightened level of terrorist activity and operations in the near future,” said Daniel Benjamin, the US State Department’s counter-terrorism coordinator.

“We are increasingly concerned about Hezbollah’s activities on a number of fronts, including its stepped up terrorist campaign around the world,” he said.

“And we assess that Hezbollah could attack in Europe or elsewhere at any time with little or no warning,” he warned, in a conference call with reporters to announce new US sanctions against Hezbollah, Iran and Syria.

Hezbollah is a Shiite armed faction that within Lebanon operates as a political party and as a “resistance” force to counter Israel, and which Western powers says runs an international militant network.

It is backed by Damascus and Tehran, and has been accused both of carrying out recent bomb attacks on Israeli targets in Europe and Asia and of backing Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad’s brutal crackdown on an armed revolt.

Benjamin warned Hezbollah might step up violent action as international economic sanctions turn the screw on its backers in Iran and Western-backed Syrian rebels threaten to overthrow its sponsor in Damascus.

“Hezbollah maintains a presence in Europe and its recent activities demonstrate that it is not constrained by concerns about collateral damage or political fallout that could result from conducting operations there,” he said.

“Hezbollah believes there have been sustained Israeli and western campaigns against the group and its primary backers Iran and Syria over the past several years and this perception is unlikely to change,” he continued.

“Both remain determined to exact revenge against Israel and to respond forcefully to the Western-led pressure against Iran and Syria,” he said.

“This suggests more acts of terrorism by both Hezbollah and Iran are likely and they will continue to pose a serious threat for the foreseeable future.

“We have not detected any operational activity of the group in the United States,” he added. “We do not have any information on any operational targeting or anything like that in the US.

“But, that said, it’s a very ambitious group with global reach.