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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Syrian Rebel Reportedly Defends Sinking His Teeth Into Dead Soldier’s Flesh on Camera

A man identified as Khaled al-Hamad, a rebel commander who uses the nom de guerre Abu Sakkar, appeared in a battlefield video posted on YouTube in April. A man identified as Khaled al-Hamad, a rebel commander who uses the nom de guerre Abu Sakkar, appeared in a battlefield video posted on YouTube in April.

A Syrian rebel commander who appeared to bite into the flesh of a government soldier’s corpse in a horrifying video clip posted on YouTube this week defended his actions in an interview with Time magazine on Tuesday. The rebel, Khaled al-Hamad, known by the nom de guerre Abu Sakkar, confirmed that he did sink his teeth into an internal organ he had laboriously carved out of the dead soldier’s chest as a colleague recorded the scene. “Our slogan,” he said, “is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

As The Lede reported on Monday, the extremely graphic, distressing video has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times on YouTube since it was uploaded by supporters of President Bashar al-Assad who called it evidence that the war in Syria is a fight against sectarian extremists from the Sunni sect of Islam.

Speaking to Time’s Middle East bureau chief Aryn Baker by Skype, Abu Sakkar, a Sunni, said that the atrocity was prompted by video on the dead soldier’s phone, which showed the man torturing and sexually abusing three naked women before he was killed. Abu Sakkar also blamed the broader descent into brutality on fighters from Syria’s Alawite religious minority, to which the president belongs. “You are not seeing what we are seeing and you are not living what we are living,” he said. “Where are my brothers, my friends, the girls of my neighborhood who were raped?”

Referring to the pummeling of a rebel district in the city of Homs last year, Abu Sakkar told the magazine that Alawite troops “were the ones who killed our children in Baba Amr and raped our women.” He also held the same sect responsible for a recent massacre said to have been carried out by Assad supporters. “They were the ones who slaughtered the children and women in Bayda,” he said. “We didn’t start it, they started it.”

The rebel commander, who has also been accused by Human Rights Watch of taking part in the indiscriminate shelling of Shiite Muslim villages across the border in Lebanon, said that he had never before tried to eat the liver of a dead enemy soldier. (According to surgeon who screened the video for Time magazine, the organ was not the dead man’s liver but part of his lung.)

Abu Sakkar seemed to confirm that the point of the video was to instill terror in enemy fighters by claiming to have “another video clip that I will send to them. In the clip I am sawing another Shabiha,” using the Syrian Arabic word for a member of a pro-Assad militia notorious for its brutality. “Hopefully we will slaughter all of them,” he added.

The commander said he has been fighting near the border with Lebanon around the Syrian town of Qusayr, a focal point for clashes between insurgent Sunni fighters and Shiite militants loyal to Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant organization. The multi-confessional area is of strategic importance, since it links the capital, Damascus, with routes to Lebanon used by the rebels as well as government strongholds along the coast.

Writing about the atrocity for Foreign Policy on Tuesday, Peter Bouckaert, the emergencies director of Human Rights Watch, observed

Abu Sakkar is just one man, and there are many other armed fighters in Syria who reject such sectarian actions and would be horrified by the mutilation and desecration of a corpse â€" let alone an act of cannibalism. But he is a commander in a decisive battle in Syria â€" hardly a marginal figure.

To prevent further atrocities, Mr. Bouckaert argued that the United Nations Security Council should give the International Criminal Court jurisdiction to indict Syrians for war crimes:

The work of the I.C.C. will be only one piece of the larger accountability effort needed in the wake of this conflict â€" national trials, documentation, truth telling, reparations, and vetting will also be necessary â€" but it is a crucial step, given the pervasive climate of impunity currently plaguing Syria.

Video of American’s Arrest in Moscow

As my colleague Ellen Barry reports from Moscow, Russia’s Federal Security Service, the successor to the Soviet-era K.G.B., announced Tuesday that it had arrested a Central Intelligence Agency officer posing as an American diplomat as he tried to recruit a Russian agent.

The Russian intelligence agency released photographs and video of the arrest to Russia Today, a satellite news channel whose broadcasts in English, Arabic and Spanish are financed by the Kremlin.

Video released by Russia’s Federal Security Service on Tuesday showing the arrest of Ryan Fogle, an American accused of working for the Central Intelligence Agency.

According to the broadcaster’s report, Russian intelligence said it had detained the American, identified as Ryan Christopher Fogle, “in the act of trying to recruit a Russian special service agent, a counterterrorism agent working in the North Caucuses, to try and work for the C.I.A.” Russia’s security services have been battling an insurgency in the North Caucuses, where the brothers accused of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombings have roots, for two decades.

The report also showed items the Russian intelligence service said it had seized from Mr. Fogle, including two wigs, a compass, a large amount of cash and written instructions for the would-be recruit explaining how to contact his American handlers. Russia Today, also known as RT, provided an English translation of the written instructions supposedly found on Mr. Fogle.

The arrest was announced just as the American ambassador in Moscow, Michael McFaul, started answering questions from the public on Twitter, but he refused a request to comment on the affair submitted by a reporter for a publication in Moscow.

A short time later, Russia’s foreign ministry did address the episode on Twitter, saying that Mr. Fogle was being expelled from the country.

Russia Today’s report suggested that the supposed plot bore “the hallmarks of a cold war spy thriller,” but Western spies have been publicly unmasked on Russian television in the more recent past. In 2006, state television broadcast grainy black-and-white video showing a British diplomat picking up a fake rock concealing what the F.S.B. called a communications device used to download and transmit classified information through hand-held computers.

A video report from Euronews last year, after a British official admitted that a fake rock had been used by spies working in Moscow in 2006.

Last year, Jonathan Powell, who served as chief of staff to Tony Blair, Britain’s prime minister at the time, confirmed for the first time that Russian claim was accurate. “The spy rock was embarrassing,” Mr. Powell told the BBC, but “they had us bang to rights.”

Many Air Passengers Never Turn Off Electronics, Survey Finds

Take a guess at how many people actually fail to turn off their gadgets during takeoff and landing of a flight. Ten percent? No, that's too low. Twenty percent? Still too low.

In a study released on Thursday by two industry groups, the Airline Passenger Experience Association and the Consumer Electronics Association, as many as 30 percent of all passengers said they had accidentally left a device on during takeoff or landing. About 67 percent said they had never done this, always ensuring that their electronics were turned off. Four percent were unsure.

In another segment of the study, passengers were asked if they turn their devices to “off” when instructed to do so by the pilot. Although 59 percent of passengers said they do fully turn their electronics off, 21 percent said they often simply switch to “airplane mode,” which disables the main radios of a gadget. Five percent sometimes adhere to the rule. And others were either unsure or do not carry electronic devices on a plane.

The device most often left on is the smartphone, the study found.

The Federal Aviation Administration did not respond to a request for comment about the study.

“Airline passengers have come to rely on their smartphones, tablets and e-Readers as essential travel companions,” said Doug Johnson, vice president of technology policy at the C.E.A., in the study.

Last year, after months of pressure, the F.A.A. said it would begin a review of its policies on electronic devices in all phases of flight. But the agency does not have a time frame for announcing its findings or for possibly changing the rules.

On Thursday, Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, sat down with Anthony R. Foxx, the mayor of Charlotte, N.C., who has been nominated to be the next secretary of transportation, to discuss changing the F.A.A's rule.

Senator McCaskill has been pressing the F.A.A. to reconsider the policy and has threatened to do it legislatively if the agency does not change the rules in a timely manner.

Late last year, Senator McCaskill also sent a letter to Michael P. Huerta, acting administrator of the F.A.A., that said airline customers were “growing increasingly skeptical of prohibitions on the use of many electronic devices during the full duration of a flight.”

John LaBombard, a spokesman for the senator, said in an e-mail on Thursday that her office planned to make the prohibition of gadgets on planes a topic during Mr. Foxx's upcoming confirmation hearing.

The study published by the A.P.E.A. and C.E.A. found that four out of 10 passengers would like to use their devices during all phases of flight, including takeoff and landing.

As I reported in 2011, travelers are told to turn off their iPads and Kindles for takeoff and landing, yet there is no proof that these devices affect a plane's avionics. To add to the confusion, the F.A.A. permits passengers to use electric razors and audio recorders during all phases of flight, even though those give off more electronic emissions than tablets.

F.C.C. Advances Plan for Faster In-Flight Wi-Fi

F.C.C. Advances Plan for Faster In-Flight Wi-Fi

Marty Katz for The New York Times

Using Wi-Fi on a Southwest flight. A new proposal would increase in-flight Internet speeds.

WASHINGTON - It may soon be easier and faster to surf the Web at 30,000 feet.

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday proposed auctioning off the rights to use newly available airwaves to provide better in-flight Wi-Fi connections, as the government agency seeks to improve the speed and lower the cost of Internet service on commercial flights.

The commission's proposal is the first step toward a goal that it is likely to take a couple of years, at least, to reach: providing in-flight Internet service that can match or exceed the capabilities that most Americans have at home or can find in coffee shops.

The new format would use a more reliable system of contact between a plane and the ground, agency officials said, and should allow providers to offer more consistent service that is many times faster than the service that many Americans have in their homes.

Although it will be at least a couple of years before the new service is available, federal officials and people in the broadband business expressed excitement that the new format could free airline passengers from being captive to the expensive and rather slow Wi-Fi that is currently available on only some domestic flights.

“The reality is that we expect and often need to be able to get online 24/7, at home, in an office or on a plane,” Julius Genachowski, the F.C.C. chairman, said at a meeting where the commission voted 4 to 0 to begin the necessary steps. “This will enable business and leisure travelers aboard aircraft in the United States to be more productive and have more choices in entertainment, communications and social media, and it could lower prices.”

The agency's plan calls for the sale of one or more licenses to allow an Internet service provider to share certain airwaves with satellite communications companies. Those airwaves would then be used for an air-to-ground system of connections that employs cellphone towers.

Before the auction, the agency will have to decide how many licenses to grant in the 500-megahertz block of spectrum and what engineering rules will be required to prevent interference between the various services. The agency's action Thursday kicks off the process by requesting public comment.

Roughly a quarter of daily domestic flights have Wi-Fi service, according to Routehappy.com, which tracks travel information. Another 12 percent of flights have trial service or offer service on a given route depending on the aircraft used. But it is not always easy to tell when booking a flight whether it will have Wi-Fi service, said John Walton, director of data for Routehappy.

In-flight service is now usually limited to about 3 megabits per second, per plane - barely half the speed of the average household DSL connection and one-third the average wired broadband speed. The new system will be faster in part because it will operate on a different band of spectrum, and in part because of the way it transmits signals.

Currently, there are two types of in-flight broadband service: satellite-based and air-to-ground. Satellite systems use antennas mounted on the top of planes to communicate with satellites. Air-to-ground systems send signals between a ground-based network and an antenna on the bottom of a plane.

The new system would share the 14.0-14.5 gigahertz band of the electromagnetic spectrum, a 500-megahertz band that is far wider than the current 4-megahertz band used in air-to-ground systems. All of that means that the new system would be capable of transmitting data at up to 300 gigabits per second in combined service to all aircraft aloft.

“Air-to-ground connectivity is inherently less expensive than satellite systems,” said Mary Kirby, editor in chief of Airline Passenger Experience magazine. “The industry knows that they need to meet consumer demand for increased connectivity. It's quite literally become the cost of doing business.”

Not everyone is so enthusiastic. The Satellite Industry Association said it had filed with the commission “detailed technical analyses that demonstrate that the proposed air-ground service would cause interference into the satellite services.”

Those services have first rights to the airwaves in question, which are used by media, public safety and American military customers for essential communications, the association said. Companies like Boeing, which makes satellites as well as planes, also oppose the proposal.

Jessica Rosenworcel, a commissioner who supported getting the proposal under way, said it was clear which way the requirements for connectivity were moving.

“In our hyperconnected age, we need and expect access to connectivity and content anytime and anywhere,” Ms. Rosenworcel said. “The world simply does not wait for us to get off the plane.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 14, 2013

An article on Friday about a proposal for faster in-flight Internet service under consideration by the Federal Communications Commission characterized incorrectly the possible speed of that broadband service. The system, as proposed by Qualcomm, could provide a combined service speed across the country of up to 300 gigabits per second, to be shared among all the aircraft using the system at a given moment; individuals would not have access to a 300-gigabit connection. The error was repeated in a picture caption and in a front-page capsule summary. The article also miscalculated a comparison of 300 gigabits per second to the average home broadband connection speed. The average home broadband connection is roughly 10 megabits per second in the United States, so a 300-gigabit connection would be 30,000 times the average home speed - not 30 times. That error was also repeated in the front-page capsule summary.

A version of this article appeared in print on May 10, 2013, on page B3 of the New York edition with the headline: To Keep Fliers Connected, F.C.C. Advances a Plan to Speed Up Wi-Fi on Jets.

United Nations Agency to Discuss Internet Governance Again

Here we go again. The United Nations is trying to take over the Internet! Or maybe it isn't.

Only five months ago, at a treaty conference convened by a U.N. agency called the International Telecommunication Union, the U.S. delegation stormed out, refusing to sign the proposed document, saying it posed a threat to the current, decentralized Internet governance system. Several dozen other countries joined the boycott.

The telecommunication union has always insisted that the treaty, which it is still lobbying holdout governments to sign, had nothing to do with the Internet, even though pretty much everyone else in Dubai seemed to think it did.

Next week, beginning Monday, the agency can make no such protestations about a meeting it is convening in Geneva. The stated topic of the World Telecommunication Policy Forum is, yes, Internet governance.

On the agenda are issues like the expansion of broadband access and the adoption of the IPv6 protocol for Internet addresses. But it doesn't look like the telecommunications union is planning an Internet land grab; one of six draft “opinions” prepared for the meeting urges support for “multistakeholderism in Internet governance.” That is jargon for the current sharing of duties among a variety of acronym-rich groups with representation from government, the private sector and non-governmental organizations.

This time around there will be no treaty, but the opinions are intended to help set the agenda for a plenipotentiary meeting of the telecommunications union next year - which, given the fireworks in Dubai, promises to be a doozy.

Even if the official opinions are largely banal, individual governments will have the right to stand up in Geneva next week to make their own policy statements. Countries like Russia and China, as well as governments in some parts of Africa and the Middle East, have made no secret of their desire to exercise more control over things like the Internet address system.

Congress has been looking at Internet governance, too. In April, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved a bill stating that “it is the policy of the United States to preserve and advance the successful multistakeholder model that governs the Internet.”

But some critics noted that wording adding that the United States also supported “a global Internet free from government control” was removed from the bill.

“It's interesting that just as the I.T.U. is raising these issues, the U.S. is backing down on saying we don't want the Internet under government control,'' said Milton Mueller, author of “Ruling the Root: Internet Governance and the Taming of Cyberspace.”

Others say they see signs of an effort to avoid a repeat of the fractious tone that marked the December treaty negotiations.

“The Dubai conference was unnecessarily divisive,” said Markus Kummer, vice president for public policy at the Internet Society, a non-profit group that campaigns for an open Internet. “There are some governments with extreme positions, but most are somewhere in the middle.”

In Taiwan, Lamenting a Lost Lead

In Taiwan, Lamenting a Lost Lead

Chris Stowers for The International Herald Tribune

Jonney Shih, the chairman of Asustek Computer, at Asus's headquarters on the outskirts of Taipei in April.

TAIPEI, Taiwan - Jonney Shih, the chairman of Asustek Computer, has epitomized the Taiwanese electronics engineer for a generation: a slender figure in rumpled, baggy trousers, he once helped Intel solve heat problems in its Pentium 4 microprocessors.

Asus's product, the PadFone 2, lets the user slide a cellphone into the back, turning a tablet into an oversize cellphone.

So it has been a surprise over the last several years to see Mr. Shih, now 60, reinvent himself with snug-cut Italian suits, innovative designs for tablet and notebook computers and scathing criticisms of Taiwan's test-obsessed, engineering-oriented educational system.

“I don't think the Taiwanese got very good training to drive the mentality of innovation,” he said during an interview at Asus's headquarters here on the outskirts of Taipei. (Mr. Shih also demonstrated his flexibility in the interview, assuming the lotus position while wearing a dark blue Armani suit with a sky-blue Armani tie.)

Fostering innovation has become a mantra among corporate leaders and government officials alike in Taiwan this year because the island's huge consumer electronics industry has run into serious trouble.

Worldwide sales of PCs, for which Taiwanese companies control over 90 percent of the final design and manufacturing, are declining steadily. Sales of smartphones, for which Taiwanese companies control less than a fifth of the market, are rising briskly. Tablets based on the Android operating system, which most Taiwanese companies, with the exception of Asus, have been slow to embrace, are also on the same upward trajectory.

“Outside of Asus, all the others are struggling,” said Helen Chiang, a Taiwan electronics specialist at the IDC research firm.

Foxconn and Acer have each reported that sales in the first quarter dropped 19 percent from a year ago. HTC's sales plunged 37 percent, although that was partly because the company began shipping the annually improved version of its best-known smartphone in late March instead of February. At Quanta, a 70,000-employee contract designer and manufacturer of notebook computers, sales have shown double-digit percentage drops from year-earlier levels for 14 consecutive months.

Foreign rivals have proved more nimble. In South Korea, Samsung is expanding rapidly in smartphones, tablet computers and other sectors. After embracing the Android operating system early, the company has built on its huge economies of scale in the mass production of components, like display screens and microprocessors.

In China, Lenovo and many smaller manufacturers are relying on labor that, while no longer cheap, is still less expensive than in Taiwan. That helped make Lenovo the only one among the top five PC makers worldwide to eke out a gain in shipments in the first quarter - although by only a tenth of a percent.

And in the United States, Apple, Google and Amazon have shown themselves adept at producing breakthrough consumer products, while pending legislation would allow them to import more foreign engineers at a lower cost than hiring and training domestic engineers.

As notebooks and other Windows-based PCs have lost ground, first to Apple tablets and now to Android-based designs, even Microsoft has been indicating dissatisfaction with the pace of PC innovation in Taiwan. Despite a longtime aversion to hardware, Microsoft recently introduced its own Surface tablet.

“The Surface tablet is a pretty strong signal to the whole Taiwan PC ecosystem that they're not innovating enough,” said Bill Whyman, a senior managing director at the ISI research firm.

One exception to Taiwan's difficulties is Asus. Its many new Android-based tablets, including one that it has branded with Google, allowed it to surpass Amazon in the first quarter of this year to become the third-largest player in the global tablet computer market, behind Apple and Samsung, according to IDC.

And some of its designs are downright clever. One new model, the PadFone, lets the user slide a cellphone into the back, turning the tablet into an oversize cellphone. Another tablet, the Transformer, features a detachable keyboard with a wireless connection and a two-sided display panel that can show a movie on one side to entertain children or guests while the other side is a regular computer display for the owner.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 14, 2013

A picture caption on Monday with an article about a push for innovation in Taiwan described incorrectly the sitting position of Jonney Shih, chairman of Asustek Computer. While Mr. Shih did assume the yoga lotus pose during an interview, he was shown seated in a cross-legged position in the picture, not in the lotus pose.

A version of this article appeared in print on May 13, 2013, on page B1 of the New York edition with the headline: In Taiwan, Lamenting A Lost Lead.