PHUKET MEDIA WATCH– World news compiled by Gazette editors for Phuket's international community
New York Times says targeted by China hackers after Wen report
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: The New York Times
said today that Chinese hackers had "persistently" attacked its computers over the past four months since the paper published a story on Premier Wen Jiabao, but sensitive material related to the report was not accessed.
The New York Times said the attacks coincided with its report last October that Wen's family had accumulated at least US$2.7 billion (about 72 billion baht) in "hidden riches". China said at the time the report smeared its name and had ulterior motives.
"For the last four months, Chinese hackers have persistently attacked The New York Times, infiltrating its computer systems and getting passwords for its reporters and other employees," The Times said.
"Security experts hired by The Times to detect and block the computer attacks gathered digital evidence that Chinese hackers, using methods that some consultants have associated with the Chinese military in the past, breached The Times' network."
The hackers broke into the email accounts of Shanghai bureau chief, David Barboza, who wrote the story on Wen's family, and Jim Yardley, the paper's South Asia bureau chief in India who was previously the Beijing bureau chief, it added.
"Computer security experts found no evidence that sensitive emails or files from the reporting of our articles about the Wen family were accessed, downloaded or copied," said Jill Abramson, the paper's executive editor.
Security experts found evidence that the hackers stole the corporate passwords for every Times employee and used those to gain access to the personal computers of 53 employees, most of them outside The Times' newsroom, the paper said.
"Experts found no evidence that the intruders used the passwords to seek information that was not related to the reporting on the Wen family."
Computer security experts at Mandiant, the company hired by the newspaper, said the hackers tried to "cloak" the source of their attacks "by first penetrating computers at United States universities and routing the attacks through them".
"This matches the subterfuge used in many other attacks that Mandiant has tracked to China."
The Chinese government has repeatedly said it opposes hacking and that China too suffers frequently from these kinds of attacks.
Australian opposition leader warns of second election
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Australia faces a possible fourth straight year of political instability after opposition leader Tony Abbott, on track to win power in a September election, threatened a second poll if a hostile upper house rejects his plan to scrap a tax on carbon.
One day after Prime Minister Julia Gillard surprised voters by announcing a September 14 election, Abbott today promised to scrap a carbon tax if he wins office, but added he would call a second election if a hostile Senate rejected his plans.
"If it takes a double dissolution to do it, I won't hesitate to have one," conservative leader Abbott told the National Press Club in Canberra, referring to the dissolution of both houses of parliament which would mean another election.
Even if Abbott wins a September election, the Greens and Labour will control a majority in the Senate until at least July 2014, and possibly until 2017. A second election of both houses in 2014 could give him the Senate numbers to abolish the carbon tax, or to ensure a joint sitting of both houses to repeal it.
Australia has endured three years of political instability with Gillard's minority Labour government relying on a handful of independents and Greens to command a one-seat majority and pass legislation.
"Most Australians perceive that it's been a difficult few years and the prospect of dragging this [political instability] on beyond September this year would be unfortunate," said Hans Kunnen, chief economist at St George Bank.
"One would wish for more stability, but it's not a deal killer. Business has to go on and you live with the environment that you have."
With the next election eight months away, opinion polls show Abbott is on track for an easy victory, with Gillard's Labour set to lose up to 18 seats. Abbott only needs to win two government-held seats to win power.
But Abbott has one big problem, a seemingly entrenched disapproval rating, which was at 58 percent in January. Gillard is also disliked by voters, with a disapproval rating of 49 percent, but Gillard leads Abbott as preferred prime minister.
Australia's mandatory voting system will mean both will have to convince disillusioned voters of not only their policies, but that they are also the best person to lead the nation.
Top US senator denies sex tourism claim as FBI raids donor's offices
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat and incoming chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, yesterday denied allegations that he engaged in sex with underage prostitutes during free trips to the Dominican Republic provided by a political donor.
The denial from Menendez, 59, who was re-elected to a second term last year, came as FBI agents searched the offices of a prominent South Florida eye doctor who is the donor linked to his alleged unpaid trips.
The FBI did not explain the motive for the raid on the offices of Dr Salomon Melgen, 58, saying only that it was "conducting law enforcement activity" in the vicinity of the medical-office complex where Melgen's West Palm Beach eye clinic is located.
The sprawling light-blue office building, usually buzzing with customers from Melgen's booming practice, was cordoned off on Wednesday as news crews stood watch outside. Investigators had been inside the building through the night, and at about 2:30pm agents loaded dozens of cardboard boxes into a white government van.
Dominican-born Melgen did not immediately return a phone call from Reuters seeking comment.
Melgen's name has been linked in recent months to unsubstantiated reports, first published on the conservative Daily Caller website, that he provided Menendez with free trips aboard his private plane to the Dominican Republic where Menendez allegedly engaged in sex with underage prostitutes.
"Dr Melgen has been a friend and political supporter of Senator Menendez for many years," Menendez's press office said in a emailed statement.
"Senator Menendez has travelled on Dr Melgen's plane on three occasions, all of which have been paid for and reported appropriately. Any allegations of engaging with prostitutes are manufactured by a politically-motivated right-wing blog and are false."
Menendez, a Cuban American, is divorced and has two children. He served in the House of Representatives from 1993 until he became a senator in 2006.
Melgen and his family are longtime contributors to numerous political campaigns, including Menendez's, totalling US$393,000 since 1998.
He has an outstanding lien of $11.1 million from the Internal Revenue Service for taxes owed between 2006 and 2009, according to records obtained from the Palm Beach County recorder's office.
Melgen fell victim to a Ponzi scheme in 2004 in which he lost $15 million, according to court documents.
In a letter to the Department of Justice in July last year, Washington-based political watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) requested that the FBI investigate "whether Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) engaged in sex tourism by engaging in illicit sexual acts with underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic."
The letter, which was provided to Reuters by CREW, also asked the FBI to investigate if Menendez "solicited the services of a prostitute in Florida" and whether he violated the Mann Act banning the interstate trafficking of women for prostitution.
CREW's director said the watchdog group began looking into the Melgen-Menendez connection after receiving email messages last year from a man calling himself Peter Williams, who claimed to have information that Menendez had been travelling to the Dominican Republic with Melgen, using Melgen's private jet and staying at Melgen's Dominican homes in La Romana and the capital, Santo Domingo.
CREW's director Melanie Sloan said Williams refused to meet with or speak to CREW and she grew increasingly "skeptical" about the source, fearing that it might be a smear campaign by political enemies of Menendez.
"We don't know who Williams is, or even if that's his real name. So we decided to forward all the emails to the FBI."