U.S., UK HACKED SIM CARD PROVIDER
The NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ illegally hacked into the internal computer network of Gemalto, the world’s largest SIM card manufacturer, and stole encryption keys to facilitate eavesdropping on global cellular communications, The Intercept reports. The documents, leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden, show that intelligence agencies have therefore been able to monitor mobile communications — voice and data — without approval from telecom companies and foreign governments. Gemalto produces about two billion SIM cards every year and is a provider to some 450 networks in 85 countries. The Dutch company said it was investigating the report.
ON THIS DAY
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On Feb. 20, 1872, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art opened. Time for your 57-second shot of history.
Protests erupted in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas last night after Mayor Antonio Ledezma was hauled away by camouflaged police after the president accused him of attempting to overthrow the government. Read more from our 4 Corners blog.
WAR IN UKRAINE DESPITE CEASEFIRE
Despite efforts from Ukraine, Russian, German and French leaders yesterday to salvage last week’s ceasefire agreement, fighting continues in eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian military says pro-Russian rebels have attacked their positions 49 times in the last 24 hours, and Reuters reports there is shelling in Mariupol. The rebels also accused Kiev of shelling residential areas in Donetsk.
- Russia’s state-owned company Gazprom has, meanwhile, started sending gas to rebel-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine after Kiev cuts its supplies to the region, AFP reports. Two convoys from Russia, each carrying 100 tons of humanitarian aid, mostly food, have also arrived in Donetsk and Luhansk.
Photo above: Baris Kaykusuz/Depo Photos/ZUMA
The new presidential palace that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had built especially for himself in Ankara — and that boasts “at least” 1,150 rooms — is guarded by 1,150 policemen for a total security cost of more than $20 million, Hürriyet reports.
LAST-CHANCE TALKS FOR GREECE
Eurozone finance ministers have gathered in Brussels for what The Guardian describes as “make-or-break” talks over a new bailout deal for Greece. The country has vowed to reject any new demand for austerity measures, with Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis saying that the only reason to demand more is “out of ideology or on punitive grounds.” “We have already done more fiscal tightening than has ever been done by any country in peacetime,” The Daily Telegraph quoted him as saying. Berlin rejected Greece’s demand of a six-month bailout extension yesterday, describing the carefully worded request as a “Trojan horse.” Failure to reach agreement today would see Greece run out of cash, default on its debt and likely leave the Eurozone.
“Our life was nothing but slavery,” Rim Il, a North Korean who was sent to work in Kuwait in the 1990s, said of Pyongyang’s policy to confiscate the wages of its citizens working abroad. Read the full report from The New York Times.
THE PENTAGON’S MOSUL STRATEGY
The Pentagon announced plans yesterday to retake Mosul, Iraq, from ISIS terrorists in April or May, explaining that the group is “in decline” militarily and is losing ground every day in Iraq, The Huffington Post reports. The operation will reportedly involve 20,000 to 25,000 Iraqi troops, including three Kurdish Peshmerga brigades. The Los Angeles Times describes the announcement as “unusual” and says it could be intended “at least in part, to rattle the estimated 2,000 Sunni fighters believed to hold the northern Iraqi city.”
- Turkey and the U.S., meanwhile, have signed an agreement to train and arm Syrian rebels fighting government forces and ISIS, AFP says. This came amid reports from Turkey’s intelligence agency that some 3,000 ISIS militants had crossed into the country and were plotting to attack diplomatic missions in Ankara and Istanbul.
As Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Martina Miethig writes, Ho Chi Minh City has a rich nightlife, where gourmet restaurants, styled establishments and airy “sky bars” that present the Vietnamese metropolis from a bird's eye view abound. But there’s the usual way to tour the city’s culinary delicacies, and then there’s the moped option. “Nguyen Tien is a confident driver and tour guide,” Miethig writes. “‘We're going through Chinatown right now,’ she says in perfect English from the front of the moped. No sooner has she uttered these words, we smell the medical, slightly musty herbs and roots of traditional medicine. The camera in the driver's helmet is capturing the scenes around us. Too bad it can't capture scents too. Like the other smells on this “Foodie Tour” of Ho Chi Minh City, these are to be savored.”
Read the full article, Vietnamese Foodie Delights On Moped Tour Of Ho Chi Minh City.
THAILAND BANS SURROGACY
Thailand’s lawmakers passed a law banning foreigners and same-sex couples from paying women to be surrogate mothers. One legislator characterized it as an attempt to prevent Thailand from becoming “the world's womb,” Reuters reports. The decision comes after last year’s Baby Gammy scandal in which an Australian couple refused a twin boy and left him with his surrogate mother after finding out the baby had Down syndrome.
For more on this topic, we offer this Le Nouvel Observateur/Worldcrunch article, Brave New World: Inside India's First Bonafide Baby Factory.
MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD
DRUG-RESISTANT MALARIA A HUGE THREAT
An alarming report shows that a drug-resistant form of malaria parasites has been detected in many Southeast Asian countries, especially in Myanmar, and now threatens India. Read more from the BBC.
KIM JONG-UN’S NEW ’DO
It’s even worse than before.