Tuesday, August 5, 2014

8:44 AM 8/5/2014 - Investigators in Ukraine Begin Long-Delayed Search of Plane Crash Site




Investigators in Ukraine Begin Long-Delayed Search of Plane Crash Site


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GRABOVO, Ukraine — Dutch and Australian police officers on Friday were finally able to fan out over the site where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed in Ukraine last month, to search for human remains overlooked by local emergency workers.
As wind rustled over the wheat and sunflower fields, the police officers observed a moment of silence in deference to the dead and then spread out, carrying maps, GPS devices, blue plastic buckets and rubber gloves.
“We in the joint operation to salvage all the human remains here and bring them back to their families are very happy we finally touched ground and can send our guys to work,” Cornelis Kuijs, the Dutch police colonel who is commanding the recovery mission, said in a brief statement as the long-delayed search began.
“Professionally, we have an interesting, challenging job, being done in a very polite, respectful way,” Mr. Kuijs said. The police officers, who were blocked from reaching the site for nearly a week by fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russia separatists, are motivated by knowing that they will help grieving families, he said, adding: “I’m happy I can do it side by side with my colleagues. We’re here to do that, and it’s a privilege.”
It was the first day of work at the site for the Dutch-led crash investigation and recovery mission, 15 days after the airliner broke apart in midair. The United States says pro-Russian separatists shot the plane at its cruising altitude of about 33,000 feet with a Russian-supplied missile. The separatists and Russia deny this. The debris and bodies were scattered over 14 square miles, falling in three villages and fields in rebel-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine.
Although the situation in the area was initially calm enough to allow rebels and local volunteers to recover bodies, fighting soon broke out near the site as Ukraine pushed an offensive to surround the rebel-held regional capital, Donetsk.
The Ukrainian military released a battlefield map on Friday indicating that it had succeeded in surrounding Donetsk, and the Dutch and Australian police officers will now operate from Ukrainian-held territory to the north.
The Dutch-led investigators have not said how many bodies are believed to be at the site. European monitors say the bodies of about a third of the 298 people on board the plane remain unaccounted for, either burned or overlooked.
The police officers set up a base at a chicken farm near where the plane’s main landing gear and tail hit the ground. Their first task was to thoroughly search the area around the farm.
Every piece of human remains or personal belongings picked up will be plotted with a GPS unit, Mr. Kuijs said, adding that the police would follow an Interpol protocol for recovering remains. Cadaver dogs will soon arrive to search for even the smallest fragments in the cornfields. The police used satellite images to plan the search and expect to use drones to take aerial photographs.
About 100 police officers and European monitors reached the site on Friday; the Ukrainian government has authorized up to 700 foreign police officers to search for clues and bodies. “We will find them and bring them home,” Mr. Kuijs said.
Yet even as the officers waded into the windblown grass, kneeling from time to time to more closely examine objects on the ground, explosions from tank rounds boomed over the fields.
“It’s not landing here, so it’s O.K.,” said Brian McDonald, a commander in the Australian Federal Police and deputy head of the mission here. “We’ve got a job to do, so we will get on with it.”
Despite the team’s success in reaching the site, the shelling underscored the continuing tensions in the region and between the United States and Russia. President Obama used a telephone call on Friday to question President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia over his intervention in Ukraine.
Among the 298 people aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 were a renowned AIDS researcher, a Dutch senator and an Australian novelist.
White House officials said that Mr. Obama had “reiterated his deep concerns about Russia’s increased support for the separatists in Ukraine” and “reinforced his preference for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.”
Appearing in the White House briefing room shortly after his phone conversation with Mr. Putin, Mr. Obama seemed to question Mr. Putin’s rationality.
“Short of going to war, there are going to be some constraints on what we can do if President Putin and Russia are ignoring what should be their long-term interests,” he said. “Sometimes people don’t always act rationally, and they don’t act on their medium- and long-term interests.”Mr. Putin objected to the latest American sanctions, according to a statement on the Kremlin website. But the two leaders agreed that the current tense relations did not serve either country’s interests, the statement said.
In another call on Friday, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. told President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine that the United States would send about $8 million in additional assistance to Ukraine’s border guard corps. That appeared to be part of an effort to help counter what American officials say has been a buildup of Russian forces along the border.
On Thursday, separatists and a Ukrainian armored column exchanged fire along a tree-lined lane outside the village of Petropavlovka, where personal belongings, including a Dutch children’s book and many shoes, fell to earth. A separatist commander who gave only his nickname — Voron, or the Raven — said the Ukrainian column had not directly attacked the debris site.
The fighting ignited a fire in a wheat field that burned over fuselage fragments, including one that was potentially relevant to the crash investigation because it had what appeared to be shrapnel holes. The field still smoldered on Friday.
Read the whole story

· · · · ·

Inside Glenn Greenwald’s Mountaintop Home Office

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RIO DE JANEIRO — On approaching Glenn Greenwald’s home office high in the jungle-encrusted mountains above Rio de Janeiro, all is tranquil, bucolic even. A gurgling stream at the entrance frames the idyll.
And then the dogs notice the incursion. They bark, yap and yowl, and while it’s less “Heart of Darkness” than “101 Dalmatians,” the sheer volume is mind-erasing.
Should we be surprised that the house of Mr. Greenwald, the legendarily combative privacy and national security reporter, is surrounded by loud, barking defenders — or that they are actually pussycats once you get to know them, as is their rescuer?
The visit to Mr. Greenwald’s jungle redoubt about 15 minutes from the beaches of Rio last week was notable for its contradictions. He is among the most wired journalists on earth, but he lives and works in Brazil, a country with a notoriously flaky Internet infrastructure.
He may have launched the lightning bolt of the Edward Snowden revelations from this house, but when it rains — which is often — the power fails.
On television and in print, he comes across as the ultimate alpha, ferocious and unbending, but here the dogs refuse to obey him, looking for guidance from his husband, David, instead. The guy who issues face-melting rebukes on cable and Twitter is also the softy who keeps a pack of hot dogs in his car’s glove box to throw to the dogs wandering the favelas.
Mr. Greenwald, 47, is a lawyer turned journalist — first blogging on his own, then for Salon, then The Guardian — turned Pulitzer Prize winner and author of multiple books.
He is now in the midst of building First Look Media, a digital news site funded by Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay.
For all its challenges — the monkeys and dogs have daily throw-downs and some of the spiders are large and remarkably deadly — the location suits him, the eternal guerrilla fighting from the mountains. When cable television calls, he races down the hill to a satellite facility, suit coat and tie on top, sandals and shorts on the bottom.
On Tuesday morning last week, Mr. Greenwald was pleased. He woke up early and wrote an uncharacteristically brief post about the huge number of civilian casualties in the Gaza conflict. He was proud of the pie charts he had managed to conjure to go with his post.
“I went to Google and typed in ‘create a pie chart’ and I ended up with an online pie-chart maker probably intended for first graders,” he said. I mentioned that he now works for a digital news site that has a $250 million endowment from Mr. Omidyar and some very talented data journalists and graphic artists.
“Yeah, I know, but I would have had to wait and I didn’t want to wait,” he said. “There are others things, like the 7,000-word story we just did on the surveillance of Muslim Americans that 15 people probably worked on — the video, graphic and editing resources make a huge difference. But I wanted this to be simple and I wanted it to be mine.”
True to his intent, Mr. Greenwald’s first-grade pie charts entered the bloodstream of the web, coursing around Twitter and various blogs. Nothing — other than yet another dog rescue — pleases Mr. Greenwald more than lobbing in something from a great distance and watching it detonate. He was doing that long before he ever wrote for The Intercept, the name of the site that he works with at First Look.
The day before, Mr. Omidyar had written that First Look, which initially said it would build a large, general-interest site featuring a number of digital magazines, would instead concentrate on the two sites it has already started: The Intercept, which includes Mr. Greenwald, the documentarian Laura Poitras and the journalist Jeremy Scahill, along with others; and a yet-to-be-named project led by Matt Taibbi, the former Rolling Stone reporter.
The readjustment is a recognition that web journalism that gains traction usually emanates from lone voices with a strong point of view. It’s a reset, but from Mr. Greenwald’s perspective the Internet is defined by reiteration and experimentation.
“I don’t think there is going to be one model,” he said.
As he spoke, his hands wandered between hitting refresh on his laptop to see updates on how his post was performing to dealing out random scratches for the dogs that wheeled by.
“That’s why we’ve stopped and started and stopped and started,” he said. “Figuring out a model is really hard because we don’t want to be just a dependency of Pierre. We could — he has so much money — but I think he wants to create a new model of journalism, and that only works if it becomes in some way self-sustaining.”
In his view, oxygen and audience will find those that it should.
“No one, not The New York Times, no one, is entitled to an audience,” he said, looking across the table and smiling. “The ability to thrive is directly dependent upon your ability to convince people that you’re providing something valuable and unique.”
He praised Mr. Omidyar, who he says is just trying to level the field with legacy media.
“There’s a lot of distrust of billionaires and the oligarchic model,” he said. “People don’t believe that you’re really going to get to be journalistically independent. But you can’t complain that there’s not serious investigative journalism against big corporate and governmental outlets and then at the same time oppose every single model that lets you have the kind of funding that you need.”
As a personal matter, his new approach is not that much different than the way it has always been.
“I began by writing 4,000-word posts about very arcane, complicated issues at a time when you were supposed to post two paragraphs,” he said. “That was supposed to drive everybody away, but my audience just kept growing and growing. It worked because there was a passion and a conviction to it that is often missing in mainstream coverage.”
Which is to say that Mr. Greenwald likes being part of building something larger with more resources — as long as he is free to wake up and use the digital equivalent of a pair of sticks and a rock to get his point out there, right away. Regardless of how it’s published, he loves pushing the button on a post that is going to push people’s buttons.
“It’s funny,” he said. “I’m working with a Silicon Valley technologist who became the 100th-richest person in the world through his understanding of programming, but half the time we can’t communicate on the telephone because my Internet isn’t working or my phone is out. It’s an irony, but it’s also a kind of balance for me.”
That balance includes more than a dozen dogs — Sheeva, Sylvestre, Mabel, I lost track of the names. I pointed out that he is nearing cat-lady status, engulfed by his need to rescue. No, he said, “we have a limit, so I am not like a cat lady.”
The limit, he said, is 12.
I counted 13 dogs.
“One of them is a guest dog and will be leaving soon.”
Yeah, sure.
William Blake suggested that the road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom, so maybe Mr. Greenwald is on to something. It is a measure of the oddities of the current media age that part of the road to the future includes many switchbacks up this mountainside and the dogs that bark endlessly and ferociously, deep into the night.
Correction: August 5, 2014
The Media Equation column on Monday, about the national security reporter Glenn Greenwald, misstated the given name of a journalist at The Intercept, an online publication for which Mr. Greenwald writes. He is Jeremy Scahill, not Jeffrey. And the column, in noting that it was difficult to keep track of the names of Mr. Greenwald’s dogs (more than a dozen), misstated the name of one of them. The dog is Sheeva, not Sheila.
Read the whole story

· · · · ·

Buildup Makes Russia Battle-Ready for Ukraine

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WASHINGTON — Russia has roughly doubled the number of its battalions near the Ukrainian border, Western officials said Monday, and could respond to the Kiev government’s gains there by launching a cross-border incursion with little or no warning.
Over the past several weeks, Russia has built up 17 battalions — totaling 19,000 to 21,000 troops, according to one Western estimate — into a battle-ready force of infantry, armor, artillery and air defense within a few miles of the border. In addition, it has vastly expanded its firepower, increasing the number of advanced surface-to-air missile units to 14 from eight, and deploying more than 30 artillery batteries, according to the officials.
The Kremlin’s intentions in increasing its military abilities remain unclear. President Vladimir V. Putinof Russia could be seeking to pressure Ukraine and the United States to agree to a political settlement that would grant the eastern provinces of Ukraine maximum autonomy. But Mr. Putin, Western officials fear, may also be developing the option to intervene more directly if it appears that the pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine are on the verge of defeat.
Despite the intense fighting around the wreckage area of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, international monitors have been able to reach the site. Ukrainian forces have been advancing into some rebel-held areas, and the Ukrainian defense ministry reported that forces had successfully cut Donetsk and Horlivka off from the east, therefore isolating a large region from the flow of weapons and fighters coming from Russia. View full graphic »
American intelligence experts say that the advance by Ukrainian government forces on Donetsk and other steps that the Ukrainian government is taking to regain territory in the east from the separatists might prompt Mr. Putin to send his forces across the border under the guise of a “peacekeeping operation.”
“That’s a very real option,” a senior Defense Department official said on Monday. “And should Putin decide, he could do that with little or no notice. We just don’t know what he’s thinking.”
Another senior American official added, “The more success Ukrainian forces have, the more pressure there is on Moscow to escalate.”
Adding to the concern, the buildup coincides with a newly announced Russian air force and air defense exercise. When it intervened in Crimea this year, Russia used a military exercise to mask its preparations.
The Russian moves suggest that the Kremlin and the West are each responding to the standoff over Ukraine by turning to the tools they know best.
For President Obama and European leaders, the tool is calibrated economic sanctions, targeted to affect banks close to the Kremlin or narrow subsectors of the Russian economy, like Russia’s long-term ability to develop new Arctic, deep sea and shale oil reserves.
But for Mr. Putin, the tool is the Kremlin’s ability to marshal raw military power and, increasingly, its willingness to use it.
Less than a week after the Obama administration and European nations announced new sanctions, the Kremlin has expanded its military ability to provide cover fire for the separatists by firing artillery and rockets across the border into Ukraine. And it holds out the possibility of intervening directly.
Wesley K. Clark, the retired general and former NATO commander, said that Mr. Putin had put the pieces in place for a major military intervention by massing Russia forces near the border, arming separatist groups, infiltrating operatives, conducting exercises to practice the military’s ability to coordinate fire and supporting the self-proclaimed mayor of Luhansk, who has called for the Russian military to come to the separatists’ aid.
But the risks to Mr. Putin of intervening, General Clark noted, include tougher Western economic sanctions, resistance by the Ukrainian forces and Western military support for the Kiev government.
“He has set the military and political conditions for what he believes could be a successful intervention,” General Clark said. “But he still doesn’t seem to have made the political decision to do this, perhaps because he recognizes that the risks after an intervention are incalculable.”
If Mr. Putin did decide to intervene, one plausible outcome highlighted by General Clark and Phillip A. Karber, a former adviser to Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, is the possibility of a “peacekeeping” intervention at the request of the Ukrainian separatists whom Moscow has been arming and supporting politically.
In a closed-door briefing for Congress last month, Mr. Karber noted that Russian military vehicles bearing the Russian emblem for peacekeeping forces had been positioned close to Ukraine.
Amateur video posted on YouTube and Twitter appears to show some of these vehicles operating in Ukraine.
Several American officials confirmed that Russian armored vehicles and trucks with the peacekeeping insignia had been seen on Russian territory near Ukraine. But these officials said that Western intelligence had no independent confirmation that they had crossed into Ukraine.
Strikingly, the White House has been taking the idea of a Russian “peacekeeping” intervention seriously.
“We’ve seen a significant rebuild up of Russian forces along the border, potentially positioning Russia for a so-called humanitarian or peacekeeping intervention in Ukraine,” Antony J. Blinken, the deputy national security adviser to Mr. Obama, said last week when the White House announced new sanctions. “So there’s urgency to arresting this.”
A spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry last month insisted that the Kremlin had no plans to send peacekeeping forces to Ukraine, according to a report by the Russian news agency Itar-Tass.
The Russian buildup comes as the Ukrainian military has been gaining ground in its struggle with the separatists and amid other signs of Russian military activity. The air exercise announced by Russia’s Defense Ministry will involve more than 100 aircraft, including attack planes, bombers and helicopters. The exercise is scheduled to last through Friday.
On June 27, Mr. Putin also issued a decree appealing for reservists to report for up to two months of training, a step that was recently reaffirmed by the Defense Ministry.
American and NATO officials have not publicly provided precise troop estimates for the Russian forces near Ukraine. Last week, Pentagon officials put the total at 10,000 to 13,000 troops, but they acknowledged the difficulty of counting Russian troops with precision as units have moved in and out of the border region and employed camouflage to disguise combat equipment.
During a visit to Kosovo last week, Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, the top NATO commander, said the number of Russian troops along the border was growing and was “well over 12,000.” “The number of battalion task groups,” General Breedlove said, “Spetsnaz units, air defense units, artillery units are all increasing.”
One Western official familiar with the intelligence said Monday that it could be as high as 21,000. The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because intelligence assessments of Russian military strength are classified.
Even as tensions have grown, Mr. Obama has signaled his interest in a political solution. In a call Friday to Mr. Putin, Mr. Obama “reinforced his preference for a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Ukraine” and agreed to keep open “the channels of communication,” the White House said in a statement.
Mr. Obama also repeated his “deep concerns about Russia’s increased support for the separatists in Ukraine,” the White House said.

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