Russia flexes military power with ‘futuristic’ fighter jet

CSM

Russia returned to the global stage Friday as a first-rank military and technological power by launching a ‘fifth generation’ fighter plane, with futuristic characteristics of stealth, sustained supersonic cruise, and integrated weapons.

A new Russian T-50 fighter lands at an airfield of the Sukhoi aircraft manufacturing plant in Komsomolsk-on-Amur January 23. The new fighter aircraft is by some seen as Russia's response to U.S. advances in military aviation.

By Fred Weir

Moscow

Vladimir Putin is jubilant, the Russian aviation industry is filled with pride, and even normally skeptical military experts say they’re truly impressed by reports Friday that Russia has successfully test-flown the first prototype of a “fifth generation” fighter plane.

They all may have good reasons to cheer. Building such a plane is so expensive, complex, and technologically sophisticated that, until now, only the United States has been able to field an operational version of one: the F-22 Raptor.

According to news reports, Russia’s venerable Sukhoi company – maker of many famous Soviet warplanes – sent the V-tailed, swept-wing Sukhoi T-50 on its maiden flight for 47 minutes Friday near Komsomolsk-na-Amur in Russia’s far east (see video here) and it exceeded all expectations.

“We started flight tests of the fifth-generation aircraft today,” Sukhoi CEO Mikhail Pogosyan told Russian news agencies. “I am strongly convinced that this project will excel its Western rivals in cost-effectiveness and these planes will constitute the backbone of the Russian Air Force for the next few decades.”

A fighter of the “fifth generation” should have futuristic characteristics of stealth, sustained supersonic cruise, multi-role capabilities, integrated weapons and navigation systems that are controlled by artificial intelligence, over-the-horizon radar visibility and other cutting-edge wizardry.

Experts say that the mere fact that Russia can put one into the air announces its return to the global stage as a first-rank military and technological power.

“This is an epic event, because it’s the first time in post-Soviet history that [the Russian military industry] has been able to create something brand new,” Alexander Khramchikhin, an expert with the independent Institute of Political and Military Analysis in Moscow, says in a telephone interview.

“Everything we produced after the USSR’s collapse was based on Soviet designs; nobody thought we could make anything so technologically complicated as this. But now, strange as it may seem, this shows Russia’s level is very high.”

Kremlin leaders have been promising to build this new aircraft for years as part of a broader effort to re-arm and modernize Russia’s crumbling Soviet-era armed forces. Though Russia handily won its brief 2008 war with neighboring Georgia, the conflict revealed massive shortcomings in its military machine, including disastrously poor air support for ground forces and almost nonexistent aerial reconnaissance capability.

Prime Minister Putin praised the T-50’s first flight as a “big step” in restoring Russia’s traditional place as a global military power, and pledged that the air force will start receiving production models of the plane in about three years.

As Russia’s president, Putin launched a sweeping, $200-billion rearmament program that aims to introduce new generations of nuclear submarines, intercontinental missiles, tanks, and aircraft carriers for the armed forces within the next five years.

Experts say the T-50 fighter, which has been developed in partnership with Russia’s leading arms client India, will also go far toward restoring the tattered reputation of Russia’s military-industrial complex as a leading supplier of weaponry in global markets.

“This is really good advertising; it shows buyers of Russian-made hardware that we can produce the most modern weapons and also improve them,” says Vitaly Shlykov, a former Soviet war planner who now works as a civilian adviser to the Russian Defense Ministry.

“We invested a lot in this plane, and the fact that we can fly it has a big psychological impact,” he says. “It has a huge symbolic meaning for Russia itself.”

But skeptics say we’d best wait for more details about the top-secret plane of which we have seen, so far, only a few superficial images.

“We see the plane has some external characteristics that are new, but we have no way of knowing whether it actually possesses the technological features that would make it a fighter of the fifth generation,” says Alexander Golts, military expert for the independent Yezhednevny Zhurnal, an online news magazine.

“It’s great that it took off. Hurray. But I want to know a lot more about it.”

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Joel Osteen Prays for Houston’s First Openly Gay Mayor

CHRISTIAN POST

Joel osteen

By Lillian Kwon

Globally recognized pastor Joel Osteen has been drawing some flak from the press and the public in the past few months over his comments on homosexuality.

His remarks last year on “The View” and “Larry King Live” that “homosexuality is not God’s best” drew fire from the gay rights community and from Christians for avoiding to identify the behavior as a sin.

More recently, his participation in the inauguration of Houston’s first openly gay mayor has also drawn some – but less fiery – attention.

Pastor of America’s largest church, Osteen was invited to offer the opening prayer at the inauguration of Houston’s elected city officials on Monday. While praying for the 14-member City Council, he also specifically thanked God for the new mayor, Annise Parker, a partnered lesbian.

“She’s our mayor. Joel doesn’t view Annise through a gay lens,” Don Iloff, Jr., spokesman for Lakewood Church in Houston, told The Christian Post. “He sees her as a person.”

Annise Parker, the newly-elected happens-to-be-lesbian mayor of Houston was sworn in Monday and the opening prayer was given by Rev. Joel Osteen.

And the Bible instructs believers to pray for and respect those who govern us, he added.

“If you ask Joel he’ll tell you ‘when I can pray at an event over government leaders and in Jesus’ name it’s hard to resist,'” Iloff said. Osteen prayed for the previous mayor, Bill White, at his inauguration.

The spokesman also pointed out that Parker has never pushed or highlighted any kind of gay agenda during her time in government and during her campaign.

“She’s an all business kind of gal,” he said.

During the swearing-in ceremony Monday, the former city controller addressed the economy, public safety and education. She also briefly addressed the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community saying, “I feel your excitement and your joy, your apprehension and your longing for acceptance. I will gladly carry you forward. But today is simply one step toward a tomorrow of greater justice,” according to the Houston Chronicle.

If Parker begins pushing a homosexual agenda, Iloff said Lakewood Church and Pastor Osteen are likely to distance themselves from her.

“Annise says she’s a believer. Let her stand before God; that’s kind of where Joel is,” Iloff noted. “He’s not going to tell homosexuals they can’t come to our church. If the Holy Spirit convicts them, then they’ll change.”

Osteen does not affirm homosexual behavior. Though the pastor himself has never specifically called it a “sin,” his spokesman Iloff says they believe homosexuality is a sin. But sin is sin and homosexuality is no worse a sin than others, such as adultery, Iloff pointed out.

Lakewood Church maintains good relations with city officials, some of whom attend the megachurch. Two of the City Council members are regular Lakewood attendees. Politicians, however, are not allowed to speak from the pulpit.

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Fox News promotes terror-tied, FBI-shunned group

WND

Bankrolled by same wealthy Saudi prince, CAIR now regular guest on cable leader

CAIR's Ibrahim Hooper, right, on the Fox News "O'Reilly Factor" show with host Bill O'Reilly last week

Long a reliably patriotic media source in the war on terror, Fox News may now be among news outlets who have fallen under the spell of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ propaganda machine.

“We own the media,” CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper privately brags, according to a source currently working inside the aggressive Islamist lobby group.

Fox News host Bill O’Reilly last week invited the TV-savvy Hooper on his show to debate passenger profiling, the second guest appearance by the CAIR spokesman in a month. At the end of the segment, O’Reilly thanked Hooper and called him a “stand-up guy,” sending shockwaves through the conservative blogosphere.

CAIR is no ordinary guest. The government has blacklisted it as an unindicted terrorist co-conspirator, and the group remains under criminal suspicion by the FBI, which has cut off outreach ties to it.

Congress and the IRS also are investigating CAIR, which has had no fewer than 15 executives and board members convicted or implicated in terror probes, including its founding chairman.

In addition, CAIR’s very existence as a legitimate corporation has been challenged in a lawsuit in federal court.

FBI agents arresting CAIR founder

Get “Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld That’s Conspiring to Islamize America,” autographed, from WND’s Superstore.

Given CAIR’s proven ties to terrorism – which O’Reilly failed to mention – why would Fox offer the group’s top executives a virtually uncritical forum on prime-time cable TV? Saudi Arabian money may be a factor.

It turns out that the same billionaire Saudi prince who owns a major stake in Fox’s parent company also bankrolls Washington-based CAIR. And sensitive State Department records reveal Hooper – despite his repeated public denials – has personally solicited cash from the prince and other members of the ruling Saudi royal family during recent trips to the kingdom.

The common financial bond between Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal and Fox, and between bin Talal and CAIR, raises questions not only about Fox News’s independence, but about the truthfulness of CAIR’s top spokesman.

Hooper repeatedly has denied that CAIR receives foreign support, insisting it’s a “grass-roots” nonprofit organization. In CAIR press releases, Hooper has stated unequivocally: “We do not support directly or indirectly or receive support from any overseas group or government.”

However, smoking-gun video footage obtained during a recent six-month covert investigation of CAIR puts the lie to Hooper’s claims.

In a private conversation with undercover researcher Chris Gaubatz, who was posing at the time as a CAIR intern, Hooper boasted that he personally can “bring (in) a half million of overseas money” a year, adding: “If some guy’s got a lot of extra money in Jeddah (Saudi Arabia), I don’t mind taking it.” Hooper made the remarks Aug. 30, 2008, during the Islamic Society of North America’s 2008 annual convention in Columbus, Ohio.

A State Department cable citing Hooper by name, moreover, directly contradicts Hooper’s denials about foreign support, according to the blockbuster book “Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld That’s Conspiring to Islamize America,” which exposes the secret inner workings of CAIR, among other radical Muslim Brotherhood front groups in America. (The book is based, in part, on voluminous documentary and videotaped evidence gathered by Gaubatz during his internship.)

The sensitive but unclassified communiqué was written by U.S. Embassy staff in Saudi Arabia, who in June 2006 reported the following after meeting with a CAIR delegation: “One admitted reason for the group’s current visit to the KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) was to solicit $50 million in governmental and non-governmental contributions.”

“(Saudi) King Abdullah knows CAIR very well,” the cable added.

Among other things, CAIR said the money would be used to “counter negative stereotypes about Muslims in the U.S.” media, a phenomenon described by CAIR as “Islamophobia.”

The core delegation, according to the cable, consisted of Hooper, CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad and then-CAIR Chairman Parvez Ahmed. Besides Riyadh, the trio also visited Mecca and Jeddah.

Just three months after the trip, Hooper denied soliciting Saudi government funds.

“To my knowledge, we don’t take money from the government of Saudi Arabia,” he said in a September 2006 appearance on MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson show.

At a meeting held that year at the Saudi headquarters of the kingdom-run World Assembly of Muslim Youth – whose U.S. branch was formerly run by Osama bin Laden’s nephew – CAIR announced the launch of a massive PR campaign and warned potential donors that the U.S. was trying to curtail the political activity of Muslims.

Awad, with Hooper at his side, said CAIR needed a well-funded endowment to change American opinion. He proposed spending $10 million annually for five years on the media campaign.

“We are planning to meet Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal for his financial support to our project,” Awad told the Arab press. “He has been generous in the past.”

Indeed, the Saudi prince donated at least $500,000 to CAIR after 9/11. He also presented a $10 million relief check to then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani – or at least he tried. Giuliani rejected the gift after bin Talal blamed America’s “pro-Israel” policies in the Middle East for the attacks.

Prince Bin Talal’s voting stake

Prince al-Walid bin Talal

Bin Talal, a member of the Saudi ruling family, owns a 5.5 percent voting stake in Fox News’ parent News Corp., run by media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. The prince has said he is willing to increase his share in Fox’s parent to fend off hostile takeover bids by rivals. Murdoch, in turn, has invested in bin Talal’s Saudi-based enterprises.

It is not immediately clear if bin Talal has influenced Fox’s decision to book CAIR. But there is strong evidence that bin Talal has directly influenced Fox News content in the past.

As WND reported, during violent street protests involving Muslim immigrants in France in 2005, the Saudi prince persuaded Murdoch to change a screen banner that identified the unrest as “Muslim riots.”

“I picked up the phone and called Murdoch (and told him) these are not Muslim riots, these are riots out of poverty,” bin Talal said. “Within 30 minutes, the title was changed from ‘Muslim riots’ to ‘civil riots.’ ”

Fox News has acknowledged it changed the banner after receiving complaints from unnamed Muslims abroad. It has not denied bin Talal’s influence in its internal operations.

Bin Talal isn’t the only member of the ruling Saudi elite bankrolling CAIR.

Bank wire records published exclusively in “Muslim Mafia” show another Saudi royal family member has pumped six-figure sums into CAIR coffers. In 2007, for example, Saudi Prince Abdullah bin Mosa’ad transferred $112,000 directly into CAIR’s bank account at Citibank.

The Saudi bank transfers further undermine the official line peddled by Hooper, who has a reputation for dissembling.

Longtime CAIR critic Andrew Whitehead, for one, calls him “CAIR’s liar-for-hire,” and argues he cannot be trusted as a media spokesman. CAIR sued Whitehead for defamation and lost.

“The record shows CAIR habitually engages in deception,” said terror expert Steven Emerson, executive director of the “Investigative Project on Terrorism” and author of “Jihad Inc.”

In 2003, for example, CAIR accused WND of “demonizing Muslims” for citing a Bay Area newspaper’s report that CAIR’s then-chairman, Omar Ahmad, told a gathering of Muslims that Islam was in America to dominate and that the Quran would one day rule over America. In a phone interview, Hooper insisted to WND that CAIR had sought a retraction from the newspaper. But Hooper was forced to backtrack when confronted with the fact that the editors and reporter had just declared they never spoke with CAIR and, furthermore, stood by the story.

Despite CAIR’s dubious reputation, Fox has recently given Hooper and other top CAIR leaders an unchallenged platform to persuade the American public to back off passenger profiling and other measures to counter an ominous upswing in terrorism.

Since the Fort Hood terrorist attack by a Muslim Army officer, CAIR’s leaders have been invited on Fox at least four times, even though there are several other Muslim groups considered genuinely moderate who could speak for the Muslim community, such as the American Islamic Forum for Democracy.

“The issue,” Emerson said, “is whether CAIR is an honest and reliable broker for American Muslims.”

Hooper was invited on “The O’Reilly Factor” twice to shoot down profiling following the attempted airline attack by a Muslim would-be suicide bomber who concealed explosives in his underwear. In both appearances, Hooper – looking less fundamentalist without his trademark kufi skull cap – was given a full segment unopposed and unanswered by other guests.

In the wake of the Fort Hood attack, CAIR chief Awad was invited on Fox, and in an interview with Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum, Awad denied Islam had anything to do with the deadly massacre – even though it was known at the time that the shooter was Muslim and had yelled “Allahu Akbar!” before opening fire. Awad also got a full segment unopposed.

Free spin on Fox

Most recently, CAIR’s chief lobbyist Corey Saylor appeared on Fox New during an interview with anchor Bill Hemmer. Fox did not balance Saylor with an opposing guest to challenge the CAIR spokesman during his full segment, in which he contended young Muslim men are no more “security threats” than 85-year-old grandmothers.

Washington recently added Saudi Arabia – CAIR’s patron – to a list of 14 mostly Muslim nations whose travelers will undergo extra airport security screening. Saylor slammed the new Obama administration policy as “across-the-board profiling” and complained “Muslims will pay the price for this one.”

CAIR's Corey Saylor on the Fox News show "America's Newsroom" with co-anchor Bill Hemmer

At no time during any of the four appearances by CAIR leaders did Fox bring up the fact that the FBI has cut off ties to CAIR or that the Justice Department has blacklisted the group as an unindicted terrorist co-conspirator – information critical to the public’s understanding of CAIR’s possible bias in delinking terrorism from Islam and arguing against Islamic terrorist profiling.

Curiously, even O’Reilly of “no-spin zone” fame failed to so much as hint at the many controversies surrounding CAIR in his introduction of Hooper.

O’Reilly also let Hooper get away with a glaring falsehood during his most recent appearance.

Hooper maintained CAIR does not share al-Qaida’s “talking point” that America and the West are “at war with Islam.” Yet after the Iraq war, CAIR’s chairman declared: “The United States is at war with Islam itself.”

Detractors say the misleading statement is yet another example of CAIR’s deceptive tactics, which should give the media pause before booking CAIR representatives as the official voice of Muslim Americans.

Investigative journalist Paul Sperry, co-author of “Muslim Mafia,” says giving CAIR’s leaders a media platform is “like giving Hamas and the terrorist enemy a platform.”

He notes that while CAIR may bill itself as a “civil-rights advocacy group,” the FBI says that far from being a benign nonprofit, it’s an American front group for Hamas terrorists and the radical Muslim Brotherhood – the parent of both Hamas and al-Qaida. The bureau last year cut off formal ties to CAIR’s national office in Washington and all 30 of its branch offices across the country.

CAIR at the time blamed its ban on the “right-wing” Bush administration and confidently predicted that a Democrat administration would restore relations. Yet fully a year into the Obama administration, CAIR remains frozen out of any formal outreach with the FBI.

“Even the Muslim-friendly Obama has not helped CAIR,” Sperry pointed out.

At the same time, the Justice Department has blacklisted CAIR as an unindicted terrorist co-conspirator in the largest terror finance case in U.S. history, against the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation. The trial ended in convictions on all 108 counts.

Prosecutors have also connected CAIR directly to the Muslim Brotherhood, a worldwide jihadist movement that seeks to institutionalize Saudi-style Shariah law in America and the West through immigration, coercion and political infiltration.

“From its founding by Muslim Brotherhood leaders, CAIR conspired with other affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood to support terrorists,” assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg stated in a court filing.

Sperry says “that makes CAIR mouthpiece Hooper an advocate for the Muslim Brotherhood and terrorists, and a fiercely effective one at that.”

He adds that the Saudis and CAIR’s other Arab patrons pay him well for it – more than $95,000 a year in total compensation, IRS records show.

Who is ‘Dougie’ Hooper?

He also commands a six-figure annual budget for conducting opposition research against CAIR’s enemies – which internal documents revealed in “Muslim Mafia” include, ironically, Fox’s O’Reilly and other “right-wing” media personalities.

A Canadian immigrant, the 53-year-old Hooper was known as “Dougie” before he converted to Islam. His birth name is Cary Douglas Hooper, according to government records.

He became a member of the Cairo Foreign Press Association while working for periodicals in the Egyptian capital, the global headquarters of the radical Muslim Brotherhood. Hooper also worked for local TV stations in Minnesota, where he once let it slip out that he favored Islamic rule in America.

Ibrahim Hooper

“I wouldn’t want to create the impression that I wouldn’t like the government of the United States to be Islamic sometime in the future,” Hooper said in a 1993 interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “But I’m not going to do anything violent to promote that. I’m going to do it through education.”

“This is Hooper’s real agenda,” Sperry said, “make no mistake.”

In an October interview with CNN, Hooper denied charges of Middle Eastern influence-peddling: “We have no ties of any kind to any foreign group in any form.”

However, CAIR is on record promising to do the bidding of its Arab backers.

In 2006, shortly after a company owned by the United Arab Emirates lost a controversial bid to take over control of several major U.S. ports, Awad, Hooper and other CAIR officials traveled to the UAE to meet with its rulers.

It was agreed that the UAE would set up an endowment in the U.S. run by CAIR to fund an “education” program to change negative perceptions about Islam that the UAE believes contributed to the public outcry that derailed its multibillion-dollar ports deal.

The endowment caught the attention of the U.S. government, which issued another sensitive State Department cable regarding the unusual deal.

It noted UAE Minister of Finance Sheik Hamdan bin Rashid Al-Maktoum endorsed a proposal to build a $24 million property in the U.S. to serve as an endowment for CAIR to launch its $50 million image-building campaign through 2011.

“The endowment will serve as a source of income,” Awad told the Arab press at the time, “and will further allow us to reinvigorate our media campaign projecting Islam and its principles of tolerance.”

CAIR is working out details of its endowment with the Dubai-based Al-Maktoum Foundation, founded and controlled by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai. The anti-Israeli charity has held telethons to support families of Palestinian suicide bombers and other so-called “martyrs.” Not surprisingly, the Arab press reported CAIR “values highly the stances of Al-Maktoum Charity Foundation.”

After 9/11, the Al-Maktoum Foundation took a nearly $1 million stake in CAIR’s headquarters property, just three blocks from the U.S. Capitol, as first reported by Sperry in his 2005 book, “Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives Have Penetrated Washington.”

‘Selling its services’

The United Arab Emirates fears if its image is not repaired, its business interests will continue on a downward slide in America. CAIR’s leaders, who promised to act as a bulwark against any further backlash, described the planned $50 million endowment as more of a business contract than charity.

“Do not think about your contributions (to CAIR) as donations. Think about it from the perspective of rate of return,” former CAIR chairman Ahmed told finance ministers in Dubai, according to the Arab press.

“The investment of $50 million will give you billions of dollars in return for 50 years” if a sufficiently Arab-friendly environment can be created in America to allow sheiks to buy up key U.S. assets, he said.

CAIR critic Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum, says the group is “selling its services to the Saudi and UAE governments by doing their ideological and financial bidding.”

Yet CAIR is not registered as a foreign agent, as required by the Justice Department. And it has never disclosed its foreign funding or relationships with countries tied to 9/11 and potentially still hostile to U.S. interests.

According to the U.S. Embassy cable, CAIR has other wealthy Emirate benefactors as well, including: the Bin Hamoodah Group, a $500 million-a-year trading company; and wealthy stock trader Talal Khoori, a UAE national of Iranian origin who is said to have donated $1 million to CAIR.

It’s plain that, notwithstanding Hooper’s denials, CAIR’s major funding comes from foreign sources largely in the Persian Gulf, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE – two nations that formally recognized and supported the Taliban rule in Afghanistan – and not from grass-roots domestic supporters as Hooper and CAIR publicly claim.

In fact, membership dues now account for a tiny 1 percent of CAIR’s total revenue, according to IRS records cited in “Muslim Mafia.” As CAIR’s domestic grass-roots support has dried up, it has stepped up its overseas fundraising efforts. Tax records show its travel budget for fundraising purposes has doubled since 2004.

Awad makes frequent pilgrimages to the Gulf to personally solicit funds. And he’s often joined by Hooper, who over the years has obtained several passports and is described by government officials as a “heavy traveler,” according to “Muslim Mafia.”

CAIR’s board recently proposed hiring an “international events manager” to help coordinate all the fundraising and other foreign activities. It has even created a special committee on “international affairs” headed by Awad to help tailor its pro-Arab message to American policymakers.

The amount of the UAE’s pledge toward the $50 million CAIR endowment is undisclosed. But it’s hardly the only Arab government funding it.

According to CAIR board meeting notes, revealed in “Muslim Mafia,” a Washington PR firm used by the Emirates – Hill and Knowlton – has put together a “business plan” to help CAIR raise money from other Gulf states.

“The UAE ambassador is willing to gather all ambassadors of the Gulf Cooperating Council to listen to a presentation,” Awad reported to the board. “In return, hopefully they will write to their respective people to ask for support.”

The six-member Gulf Cooperating Council was set up by the Saudis as a regional common market that includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the UAE.

Investing in CAIR means having a reliable lobby for Arab interests in Washington, critics say.

“CAIR’s leaders have clearly stated their intention to use Arab funds to promote Arab interests in America, even though CAIR is not a registered foreign agent or even lobbyist,” Sperry said, adding that the interests of Saudi Arabia and the UAE – two nations tied to 9/11 – are more often than not at odds with those of America.

“Is O’Reilly aware of this?” Sperry asks, “And if he is, why does he withhold this critical information from his viewers when he books CAIR spinmeisters on his show?”

After the FBI in 2008 severed ties to CAIR, citing court evidence that its leaders were participating in an “ongoing” conspiracy to support terrorists, Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York requested that the FBI’s anti-CAIR ban be made “government-wide policy.”

“I would second that, and add an anti-CAIR ban in the media,” Sperry said. “Of all people, Fox should know better than to give the enemy voice. There are other legitimately moderate Muslim voices out there who can better speak for the broader Muslim community, and they aren’t hard to find. Why Fox keeps going back to CAIR really makes one wonder about the influence Saudi money is having at Fox.”

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Osama bin Laden’s family in Iran: new strain on Saudi-Iran ties

CSMONITOR

Six children and one wife of Osama Bin Laden have reportedly been living in Iran since fleeing Afghanistan shortly before 9/11. His 17-year-old daughter recently escaped to the embassy of Saudi Arabia, Iran’s traditional rival.

bin-laden-family

By Scott Peterson

Istanbul, Turkey

Seven members of Osama bin Laden’s immediate family have been under house arrest in Iran and living in a high security compound outside Tehran since 2001, news outlets reported on Wednesday.

The group includes six children of the Al Qaeda leader and one of his wives, all of whom reportedly fled Afghanistan and walked to the Iran border just prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington, according to The Times in London.

One 17-year-old daughter, Iman, escaped from from the Tehran compound and has been holed up in the Saudi Arabia Embassy for 25 days, according to the Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq al-Awsat.

The asylum request – and public revelations about the continuing Bin Laden family presence in Iran – are sure to complicate relations between the two traditional rivals for power in the Middle East: Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia.

During his first term, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad went on a charm offensive to woo Saudi and other Arab leaders. But Iran’s rising influence and that of its “Axis of Resistance” – with Hezbullah, Hamas, and Syria – raised concern in Riyadh and other Arab capitals.

The disputed June election was final proof for many in the Arab world that Iran’s regional power was on the wane again. For Saudi Arabia, evidence of that came just last week when it was able to precipitate an unlikely meeting between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an Iran ally, and Lebanon’s pro-West Prime Minister Saad Hariri – who for five years has accused Syria of killing his father.

US turned down Iranian offer for Al Qaeda operatives

One of Bin Laden’s oldest sons, Saad, was known for years to be among some 35 Al Qaeda operatives that fled to Iran after the US toppling of the Taliban government and expulsion of Al Qaeda from Afghanistan in late 2001.

The government of President Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) eventually offered to indirectly exchange those Al Qaeda figures with the US, if Washington would rein in, or hand over, leaders of the anti-Iran Mujahideen-e Khalq. Known as the MEK or MKO, the anti-Iran group considered a terrorist group by the US State Department was based in Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s wing. But the members there fell under the jurisdiction of American forces after a US-led coalition toppled the Hussein regime in 2003.

Iran’s offer was rejected, according to reports at the time, because the Pentagon wanted to keep hold of the MEK as a possible force to be used against Iran in any Washington-orchestrated bid for regime change.

Bin Ladens’ presence off the radar

Still, it was never made public that so many Bin Laden family members were in Iran. The Washington Post reported in October 2003 that Saad bin Laden had “emerged in recent months as part of the upper echelon of the Al Qaeda network … that is managing the terrorist organization from Iran,” quoting US, European and Arab officials.

The story held that Saad bin Laden was “protected by an elite, radical Iranian security force loyal to the nation’s clerics and beyond the control of the central government” – the Qods Force of the Revolutionary Guard.

Reports emerged earlier this year that Iran had quietly released Saad bin Laden in late 2008, and let him go to Afghanistan.Then it was reported in July that he had been killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan.

But the presence of so many Bin Laden relatives in Iran was a surprise. The Times of London has reported that 11 Bin Laden grandchildren also lived on the compound.

“Until a month ago, we did not know where the siblings were,” Omar bin Laden, the fourth son who lives in Qatar, told Asharq al-Awsat. “The Iranian government did not know what to do with this large group of people whom nobody else wanted, so they just kept them safe…. For that we owe them much gratitude.”

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Iran Frees Two Women Converts

By Michelle A. Vu

Maryam Rostampour and Marzieh Amirizadeh

After nine months in prison, the two young female converts who have gained international attention were freed Wednesday afternoon in Iran, sources inside the country reported.

Maryam Rostampour, 27, and Marzieh Amirizadeh, 30, were released at 3:30 p.m. local time without bail, according to Elam Ministries. They are currently at home with their family, but could face more court hearings in the future.

“Words are not enough to express our gratitude to the Lord and to His people who have prayed and worked for our release,” they said, according to Elam.

Open Doors USA President/CEO Dr. Carl Moeller, whose group works with persecuted Christians, responded to news of their release:

“Praise the Lord for the great news out of Iran today of the release of Maryam and Marzieh. Literally millions of Christians around the world have been praying for their release.”

But Moeller warned that the two converts’ future remains “uncertain” so Christians must continue to pray for them and other persecuted believers in Iran.

The two young females were arrested March 5 on charges of anti-state activity and “taking part in illegal gatherings” due to their involvement in house church activities. They were detained in Evin prison, the notorious facility known for its human rights violation and capital punishment, while their trial took place in Tehran.

Reports indicate that they were pressured by the judge to denounce their Christian faith and return toIslam. However, the women refused to deny Jesus Christ as their savior and as a result were sent back to prison for several more months.

At the Aug. 9 court hearing, they had told the judge, “We love Jesus,” “Yes, we are Christians,” and “We will not deny our faith.” At an Oct. 7 hearing, they then learned about the addition of a third charge against them – apostasy. However, the new judge was sympathetic to their case and acquitted them of anti-state activities, which rarely happens.

Their case was then transferred from the revolutionary court to the civil court.

During their detainment, the women suffered psychological abuse, including sleep deprivation and intense interrogation for hours at a time. They also had health problems but were denied medical attention. Amirizadeh suffered from a previous spinal condition, but received no medical attention. She also had an infected tooth but was only given painkillers.

“Maryam and Marzieh have greatly inspired us all,” said Sam Yeghnazar, director of Elam Ministries. “Their love for the Lord Jesus and their faithfulness to God has been an amazing testimony.”

Open Doors noted that Iranian authorities are prone to release detained Christians and then summon them to court hearings or force them to sign restricting documents. The ministry cautioned that though the women were freed from jail it does not mean they are “living in complete freedom.”

Christians are asked to pray for the women’s health to be fully restored and for their continual freedom.

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China warns Obama on Dalai Lama, invoking Lincoln

CSM

China’s opposition to the Dalai Lama – to China, a ‘splittist’ and symbol of feudalism – should resonate with a black president and admirer of Abraham Lincoln, a Foreign Ministry spokesman claimed.

 

By Peter Ford

 

The Dalai Lama watches a dance performance on Thursday. Chinese spokesman, Qin Gang, drew suggestive parallels between the Dalai Lama and slave owners in America's history. Mr. Qin also suggested President Obama's own skin color should make him sympathetic to Beijing’s opposition to the Dalai Lama.

BEIJING – Chinese Foreign Ministry briefings are generally pretty dull affairs, the way such events are in many countries: reporters do their best to get the spokesman to say something newsworthy, and the spokesman does his best not to oblige them.

On Thursday, though, Qin Gang inadvertently broke the mold. He said that Barack Obama, being a black president who admired Abraham Lincoln’s role in abolishing slavery and preserving the Union, should sympathize with Beijing’s opposition to the Dalai Lama.

He seemed to be making two points. The first was that President Obama’s skin color should make him especially sensitive to slavery; the Chinese government refers to Tibetan society before Chinese troops took over Lhasa in 1951 as serfdom.

The second was that Obama should learn a lesson from Lincoln’s opposition to secession, and support Beijing’s opposition to the Dalai Lama, whom the government here accuses of “splittism.”

Leave aside the fact that the Dalai Lama has repeated until he is blue in the face that he does not support Tibetan independence – only autonomy. Leave aside the fact that Obama has no slaves in his lineage.

The ministry’s spokesman appeared to be trying to make foreign audiences believe that the Communist Party of China (CPC) is the moral equivalent of Abraham Lincoln, and that the Dalai Lama is a supporter of feudal serfdom.

Considering that most people outside this country’s borders see the CPC as the ones restricting freedoms, and regard the Dalai Lama as a moral giant, Mr. Qin showed a lot of nerve.

Nerve is a valuable quality in a press spokesman, of course. But Qin’s allusions to US history also displayed a complete disregard for – or misunderstanding of – how most of the rest of the world views the Tibetan issue.

Given that the Foreign Ministry is meant to be the agency of the Chinese government that is best informed about the outside world, and given that its spokesman is meant to be one of its diplomats best qualified to win foreign reporters over, that is worrying.

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EU plans to tap cell phones

The INDECT project logo

A report accidentally published on the Internet provides insight into a secretive European Union surveillance project designed to monitor its citizens, as reported by Wikileaks earlier this month. Project INDECT aims to mine data from television, internet traffic, cellphone conversations, p2p file sharing and a range of other sources for crime prevention and threat prediction. The €14.68 million project began in January, 2009, and is scheduled to continue for five years under its current mandate.

INDECT produced the accidentally published report as part of their “Extraction of Information for Crime Prevention by Combining Web Derived Knowledge and Unstructured Data” project, but do not enumerate all potential applications of the search and surveillance technology. Police are discussed as a prime example of users, with Polish and British forces detailed as active project participants. INDECT is funded under the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), and includes participation from Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

Testing Project INDECT’s potential usefulness, and the leaked ‘sales-pitch’

Indicated in the initial trial’s report, the scope of data collected is particularly broad; days of television news, radio, newspapers, and recorded telephone conversations are included. Several weeks of content from online sources were agglomerated, including mining Wikipedia for users’ and article subjects’ relations with others, organizations, and in-project movements.

Watermarking of published digital works such as film, audio, or other documents is discussed in the Project INDECT remit; its purpose is to integrate and track this information, its movement within the system and across the Internet. An unreleased promotional video for INDECT located on YouTube is shown to the right. The simplified example of the system in operation shows a file of documents with a visible INDECT-titled cover taken from an office and exchanged in a car park. How the police are alerted to the document theft is unclear in the video; as a “threat”, it would be the INDECT system’s job to predict it.

Throughout the video use of CCTV equipment, facial recognition, number plate reading, and aerial surveillance give friend-or-foe information with an overlaid map to authorities. The police proactively use this information to coordinate locating, pursuing, and capturing the document recipient. The file of documents is retrieved, and the recipient roughly detained.

Conclusions, implications, potential investigative journalism impact

Technology research performed as part of Project INDECT has clear use in countering industrial and international espionage, although the potential use in maintaining any security and predicting leaks is much broader. Quoted in the UK’s Daily Telegraph, Liberty‘s director, Shami Chakrabarti, described a possible future implementation of INDECT as a “sinister step” with “positively chilling” repercussions Europe-wide.

“It is inevitable that the project has a sensitive dimension due to the security focused goals of the project,” Suresh Manandhar, leader of the University of York researchers involved in the “Work Package 4” INDECT component, responded to Wikinews. “However, it is important to bear in mind that the scientific methods are much more general and has wider applications. The project will most likely have lot of commercial potential. The project has an Ethics board to oversee the project activities. As a responsible scientists [sic] it is of utmost importance to us that we conform to ethical guidelines.”

Although Wikinews attempted to contact Professor Helen Petrie of York University, the local member of Project INDECT’s Ethics board, no response was forthcoming. The professor’s area of expertise is universal access, and she has authored a variety of papers on web-accessibility for blind and disabled users. A full list of the Ethics board members is unavailable, making their suitability unassessable and distancing them from public accountability.

One potential application of Project INDECT would be implementation and enforcement of the U.K.’s “MoD Manual of Security“. The 2,389-page 2001 version passed to Wikileaks this month — commonly known as JSP-440, and marked “RESTRICTED” — goes into considerable detail on how, as a serious threat, investigative journalists should be monitored, and effectively thwarted; just the scenario the Project INDECT video could be portraying.

When approached by Wikinews about the implications of using INDECT, a representative of the U.K.’s Attorney General declined to comment on legal checks and balances such a system might require. Further U.K. enquiries were eventually referred to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, who have not yet responded.

E.F.F. Europe reacts

Wikinews’ Brian McNeil contacted Eddan Katz, the International Affairs Director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (E.F.F.). Katz last spoke to Wikinews in early 2008 on copyright, not long after taking his current position with the E.F.F. He was back in Brussels to speak to EU officials, Project INDECT was on his agenda too — having learned of it only two weeks earlier. Katz linked Project INDECT with a September report, NeoConopticon — The EU Security-Industrial Complex, authored by Ben Hayes for the Transnational Institute. The report raises serious questions about the heavy involvement of defense and IT companies in “security research”.

On the record, Katz answered a few questions for Wikinews.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Is this illegal? Is this an invasion of privacy? Spying on citizens?

Eddan Katz When the European Parliament issued the September 5, 2001 report on the American ECHELON system they knew such an infrastructure is in violation of data protection law, undermines the values of privacy and is the first step towards a totalitarian surveillance information society.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Who is making the decisions based on this information, about what?

E.K. What’s concerning to such a large extent is the fact that the projects seem to be agnostic to that question. These are the searching systems and those people that are working on it in these research labs do search technology anyway. […] but its inclusion in a database and its availability to law enforcement and its simultaneity of application that’s so concerning, […] because the people who built it aren’t thinking about those questions, and the social questions, and the political questions, and all this kind of stuff. [… It] seems like it’s intransparent, unaccountable.

The E.U. report Katz refers to was ratified just six days before the September 11 attacks that brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Center. In their analysis of the never-officially-recognized U.S. Echelon spy system it states, “[i]n principle, activities and measures undertaken for the purposes of state security or law enforcement do not fall within the scope of the EC Treaty.” On privacy and data-protection legislation enacted at E.U. level it comments, “[such does] not apply to ‘the processing of data/activities concerning public security, defense, state security (including the economic well-being of the state when the activities relate to state security matters) and the activities of the state in areas of criminal law'”.

Part of the remit in their analysis of Echelon was rumors of ‘commercial abuse’ of intelligence; “[i]f a Member State were to promote the use of an interception system, which was also used for industrial espionage, by allowing its own intelligence service to operate such a system or by giving foreign intelligence services access to its territory for this purpose, it would undoubtedly constitute a breach of EC law […] activities of this kind would be fundamentally at odds with the concept of a common market underpinning the EC Treaty, as it would amount to a distortion of competition”.

Ben Hayes’ NeoConoptiocon report, in a concluding section, “Following the money“, states, “[w]hat is happening in practice is that multinational corporations are using the ESRP [European Seventh Research Programme] to promote their own profit-driven agendas, while the EU is using the programme to further its own security and defense policy objectives. As suggested from the outset of this report, the kind of security described above represents a marriage of unchecked police powers and unbridled capitalism, at the expense of the democratic system.

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Islamic states pushing for ‘global blasphemy law’

WND

Opponents say real goal is crackdown on Christians, members of other faiths

 

By Bob Unruh

Open Doors is asking people to sign a petition opposing the U.N. resolution to protect Islam from criticism


Open Doors is asking people to sign a petition opposing the U.N. resolution to protect Islam from criticism

A resolution pending in the United Nations in one form or another since 1999 is being pushed again by the Islamic nations that originally proposed the plan they called “Defamation of Islam,” which would ban criticism of the beliefs of Muhammad worldwide.

The proposal, sought by the 57 members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, now has be renamed “Defamation of Religions,” but officials with Open Doors, an international Christian ministry operating in many of those Islamic states, is warning about its potential impact.

WND has reported that a recent incarnation of the resolution sought to make the ban on criticism of Islam mandatory worldwide, even though support for the proposal at the time was plummeting.

Now, lobbying for the resolution has resumed among decision-makers at the U.N., according to Lindsay Vessey, the advocacy director for Open Doors who traveled this week to New York in opposition to the plan.

If fully implemented, the resolution would ban “criticism” of religions worldwide.

But Vessey told WND the real agenda was revealed by the original title of the resolution, “Defamation of Islam,” which would “criminalize people who criticize a religion.”

U.N. human rights provisions always have focused on individuals, but the concept of protecting a religion would give authoritarian governments virtually unrestrained power to attack individuals whose message they don’t like, she said.

“It would legitimize national blasphemy laws in countries that are actually going to persecute religious minorities, such as Pakistan and Afghanistan,” she told WND.

Vessey said Open Doors is working with other organizations to reach out to delegates of many nations to explain the dangers and build opposition. The group also is promoting a petition opposing the plan on its website.

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Open Doors President Carl Moeller recently published a commentary describing what could happen under the proposal.

“The United Nations is once again on the verge of introducing a resolution that goes against everything the world body supposedly stands for. A successful resolution would actually undermine the religious liberty and personal safety of Christians and members of other faiths,” he wrote.

OICb

In fact, he said the resolution would “silence words or actions that are deemed to be against a particular religion, and that religion is Islam. While the stated goal seems relatively innocuous – blocking defamation of people’s deeply held religious beliefs – in practice the statement is used to silence those whose only crime is to believe in another faith, or no faith at all.”

He said the OIC as the driving force behind the plan and noted, “The OIC’s goal is anything but peaceful.”

He cited a comment from Leonard Leo of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, who described the resolution as an attempt to create a “global blasphemy law.”

“From the right to worship freely to the ability to tell others about Jesus Christ, the Defamation of Religions Resolution (previously called the ‘Defamation of Islam’ resolution) threatens to justify local laws that already restrict the freedom of Christians [and other religious minorities],” Moeller said.

When such laws are adopted locally, he said, they are used to bring criminal charges against individuals for “defaming, denigrating, insulting, offending, disparaging and blaspheming Islam, often resulting in gross human rights violations.”

In August, Muslim extremists rampaged for several days through the Christian community in Gojra, Pakistan, he said. Seven Christians were killed, 19 injured and more than 100 homeslooted.

The violence was sparked by “an unsubstantiated rumor of ‘blasphemy.'”

The U.N. resolution will make such cases more numerous and worse when they occur, he said.

WND recently reported on the U.S. sponsorship – along with Egypt – of a separate plan at the United Nations that purportedly would protect free speech.

Vessey said the move was an effort on the part of the U.S. to advocate for free speech in a way that would defuse the threat of “defamation” proposals. However, critics of the resolution said even that would be a failure.

That’s because the “free speech” resolution would have nations criminalize “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.”

Steven Groves of the Heritage Foundation told WND the issue is not about free speech at all but about installing international precedents to stifle any criticism of Islam – the same goal as the defamation proposal.

Referring to the plan to “protect” speech, Groves said it would conflict with the First Amendment, which “protects free speech and expression, even when speech is offensive or insulting. Moreover, a religious ‘speech code’ would disrupt the assimilation of religious minorities that has occurred throughout U.S. history and could breed resentment rather than understanding among America’s religious communities.”

Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice as well as the European Centre for Law and Justice, which has been involved in fighting “defamation of religion” plans at the U.N., said the “free speech” resolution itself “incites discrimination.”

“The proclamation of the Gospel in Muslim countries has been called incitement of religious discrimination,” he told WND. “The U.S. backing of this is a mistake. The Universal Declaration of Human rights protects free speech.

“I am very concerned the U.S. is co-authoring something like this,” he said.

The U.N. General Assembly has approved a “defamation of religions” resolution in each of the three sessions from 2005 to 2007. The text always has been similar, and it always has had major support from Islamic nations with opposition from Western democracies, including the U.S.

In a column published on Europe News, Robert Spencer of JihadWatch wrote that while reducing “advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred” sounds like a good idea, there is plenty wrong with it.

“‘Incitement’ and ‘hatred’ are in the eye of the beholder – or more precisely, in the eye of those who make such determinations,” he continued. “The powerful can decide to silence the powerless by classifying their views as ‘hate speech.’ The Founding Fathers knew that the freedom of speech was an essential safeguard against tyranny: the ability to dissent, freely and publicly and without fear of imprisonment or other reprisal, is a cornerstone of any genuine republic. If some ideas cannot be heard and are proscribed from above, the ones in control are tyrants, however benevolent they may be.”

Eugene Volokh, who teaches free speech law, criminal law, tort law, religious freedom law and other subjects at UCLA, and also founded the Volokh Conspiracy weblog, said that the First Amendment protecting speech in the United States isn’t so secure all of a sudden.

“If the U.S. backs a resolution that urges the suppression of some speech, presumably we are taking the view that all countries – including the U.S. – should adhere to this resolution,” he said.

“If we are constitutionally barred from adhering to it by our domestic constitution, then we’re implicitly criticizing that constitution, and committing ourselves to do what we can to change it,” he said.

The administration, he opined, would “presumably be committed to filing amicus briefs supporting changes in First Amendment law to allow such punishment, and in principle perhaps the appointment of justices who would endorse such changes (or even the proposal of express constitutional amendments that would work such changes).”

The 57 member nations of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference have lobbied for the “anti-defamation” plan, which is based on the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam, since 1999. The Cairo declaration states “that all rights are subject to Shariah law, and makes Shariah law the only source of reference for human rights.”

The U.S. State Department also has found the proposal unpalatable.

“This resolution is incomplete inasmuch as it fails to address the situation of all religions,” said a statement from Leonard Leo. “We believe that such inclusive language would have furthered the objective of promoting religious freedom. We also believe that any resolution on this topic must include mention of the need to change educational systems that promote hatred of other religions, as well as the problem of state-sponsored media that negatively targets any one religion.”

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Top thieves of U.S. secrets

WND

Judicial Watch said Justice Department docs cite Iran, China WND



Espionage agents

Counterespionage agents for the United States government are reporting that the nations cited most often as stealing – or trying to steal – U.S. military equipment and technology are China and Iran.

The report comes from Judicial Watch, the Washington public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption.

The organization says it filed a Freedom of Information Act request for Justice Department records concerning incidents of theft of sensitive U.S. military equipment and technology.

The documents from the Justice Department’s National Security Division included a report titled “Significant Export Control Cases Since September 2001” which was written by the Counter Espionage Section and lists a series of cases.

Judicial Watch said the report, labeled “For Official Use Only,” reported Iran was cited for 31 cases between Sept. 29, 2001, just after the 9/11 terror attacks, and May 16, 2008.

China was cited for 20 cases.

Among the situations that were documented:

  • “U.S. v. Eugene Hsu, et al.” (9/21/01): Eugene Hsu, David Chang and Wing Chang were charged with “Conspiracy and an attempt to export military encryption units to China through Singapore.” All received guilty verdicts however Wing Chang is still listed as a fugitive.
  • “U.S. v. Avassapian” (12/03): Sherzhik Avassapian was a Tehran-based broker working for the Iranian Ministry of Defense when he attempted to “solicit and inspect F-14 fighter components, military helicopters and C-130 aircraft which he intended to ship to Iran via Italy.” Avassapian pleaded guilty to issuing false statements.
  • “U.S. v. Kwonhwan Park” (11/04): Kwonhwan Park was charged with “Exporting Black Hawk engine parts and other military items to China.” Pleaded guilty and sentenced to 32 months in prison.
  • “U.S. v. Ghassemi, et al.” (10/06): Iranian national Jamshid Ghassemi and Aurel Fratila were charged with “Conspiracy to export munition list items &emdash; including accelerometers and gyroscopes for missiles and spacecraft &emdash; to Iran without a license.” Ghassemi and Fratila are at large in Thailand and Romania respectively. Justice is currently seeking their deportation.

Judicial Watch said last October, the Department of Justice announced that criminal charges had been issued against more than 145 defendants in the previous fiscal year.

More than 40 percent of the cases involved weaponry, ammunition or other restricted technology intended for China or Iran, Judicial Watch said.

“These documents show that Iran and China have concerted efforts to obtain U.S. military technology in violation of our laws,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.

“The Obama administration needs to maintain vigilance against the illegal efforts of enemies such as Iran to obtain our sensitive technologies,” he said.

His organization said items sought by Iran include missile guidance systems, Improvised Explosive Device components, military airplane parts, night vision systems and products desired by China have included rocket launch data, Space Shuttle technology, missile information, naval warship specifications and drone technology.

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Obama pushes gay rights, but not without criticism from activists

CSM

Many gay rights activists think Obama isn’t doing enough. But he’s in no rush on same-sex marriage or the military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.

Ed Grandis, left, and Juan D. Rondon, hug after a bill allowing same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia was introduced at a city council meeting in Washington, on Tuesday, Oct. 6.

In last year’s presidential election, Barack Obama won 70 percent of the gay vote, John McCain just 27 percent.

Does that kind of clearly dominant constituency — one that’s more politically-attuned than the rest of the electorate — come with any political obligation regarding gay rights? You bet it does, and this weekend Obama is acknowledging the debt.

On the eve of Sunday’s National Equality March, expected to draw thousands to Washington, he’s addressing the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group.

So far, his is a mixed record.

While Obama remains opposed to marriage among same-sex couples, in June he extended some benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees. And he has taken steps to include among his administration openly gay officials.

John Berry, the director of the Office of Personnel Management, is the government’s highest-ranking gay official. David Huebner, chief lawyer for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, has been nominated ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa. Mr. Huebner would be just the second openly gay US ambassador. (The first was appointed by Bill Clinton.)

Marriage and the US military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gay men and women in uniform remain the toughest issues for the nation — and especially for Obama.

The Pew Research Center reported Friday that while most Americans favor civil unions for same-sex couples, they remain opposed to gay marriage.

It’s an issue that transcends government policy to an unusual extent, carrying significant moral and religious overtones. Pew finds that “nearly half of the public (49 percent) says homosexual behavior is morally wrong, while 9 percent say it is morally acceptable and 35 percent say it is not a moral issue.”

Meanwhile, the armed services for years have wrestled with the Pentagon’s policy regarding gay service members — a policy which senior retired officers (and even some on active duty) increasingly have spoken out against at a time when the troops, like the relatively young cohort of Americans they’re part of, don’t see the point in discriminating against gay men and lesbians.

Many gay rights advocates are losing patience with Obama who (unlike Bill Clinton) has no inclination to jump right into the military issue.

“Eleven months after his election, he has failed to deliver on any of his commitments to gay Americans, but even worse has been his refusal to engage around these issues,” Richard Socarides, who advised President Bill Clinton’s administration on gay and lesbian policy, told the Associated Press.

“What he needs to do now is engage and deliver,” said Socarides. “Spend some of his political capital on ending the gay military ban, a hugely symbolic issue. And with no intellectually sound arguments left against it, come out squarely for gay marriage equality.”

Obama also is being nudged to retire today’s military policy by many members of Congress. Led by Rep. Patrick Murphy (D) of Pennsylvania (the first Iraq war veteran elected to Congress) 176 House members have signed on to a bill doing away with don’t ask, don’t tell.

Meanwhile, the US Senate — and just last week, the US House of Representatives — have passed versions of a bill broadening the federal hate-crime law to cover violence against gays.

Obama is eager to sign the new hate crimes law. And White House officials push back against the notion that the president is dragging his feet on gay rights.

“The president has been very clear. He’s not hiding, he’s not avoiding [the gay and lesbian] issue,” Melody Barnes, the president’s top domestic policy adviser, told the Washington Post. “He has walked into a range of different communities as well as looked into the eyes of those in the GLBT community and been very clear about what he supports and what he wants done and the way he thinks it’s practical to get it done.”

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