Britain’s GCHQ spies are on Twitter, officially

LONDON (AFP): GCHQ, Britain’s secret eavesdropping agency, joined Twitter on Monday, emerging from the shadows with a simple message of “Hello, world.” The cyber-intelligence listening post became the first of the country’s spy agencies to join the online social networking service. The Government Communications Headquarters has previously kept itself to itself but is moving towards greater transparency following revelations by fugitive US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who claimed GCHQ was conducting bulk data collection. “It’s a big step for the organisation as we become more open about the work we do to keep Britain safe,” said an unnamed GCHQ spokesman. “We want GCHQ to be more accessible and to help the public understand more about our work.

“We also want to reach out to the technical community and add our voice to social media conversations about technology”, along with maths and cyber security.

The Twitter account will be used to highlight events, publications, blogs and opinion pieces. “Hello, world” was chosen as the first tweet as it is often the first thing computer whizzes learn to write in coding programmes.

GCHQ is based in a giant, ring-shaped building nicknamed “the doughnut” in the spa town of Cheltenham in southwest England.

Among the few dozen Twitter accounts being openly followed by GCHQ was the official James Bond one, along with government, law enforcement and royal accounts. The US Central Intelligence Agency wasted no time in welcoming GCHQ to Twitter.

The agency’s debut on the platform sparked some humorous tweets. One Twitter user wrote: “‘GCHQ is now following you’ is going to really freak some people out.” Another said: “GCHQ joins Twitter - as if they weren’t already here.”


Iran cracks down on Instagram modelling, 8 arrested

TEHRAN (AFP): Iran has arrested eight people for working in “un-Islamic” online modelling networks, particularly on Instagram, the head of Tehran’s cybercrimes court said on state television. The arrests were made under a two-year-old sting operation named “Spider II”, targeting among others models who post photos online without the hijab covering the hair that is compulsory for women in public in Iran since its 1979 Islamic revolution. It identified 170 people running online Instagram pages - 59 photographers and makeup artists, 58 models, 51 fashion salon managers and designers, and two active institutions, according to a statement from the special court. “We found out that about 20 percent of the (Iranian) Instagram feed is run by the modelling circle,” Javad Babaei said on state television late Sunday.

They have been “making and spreading immoral and un-Islamic culture and promiscuity”, he said.

Babaei said it was the judiciary’s duty to “confront those who committed these crimes in an organised manner”.

In addition to the eight arrests, criminal cases have been opened against 21 other people, he said.

The sting operation has homed in on a database of over 300 popular Iranian Instagram accounts and connected accounts, Babaei said.

His comments followed a live “educational court session” on Sunday at which a former model said she had been earning money through the popular photosharing mobile application Instagram.

The average monthly income for a successful model is 100 million rials ($3,330), the woman, named as Elham Arab by the judiciary-linked website Mizan Online, told Tehran’s prosecutor.

Instagram is extremely popular in Iran. Unlike Facebook, Twitter and YouTube which remain blocked, Instagram is accessible to Iranians.

The crackdown seems to refer to the eight arrests announced by judiciary spokesman Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejeie in early March.

He reported the “arrest of eight models, some of whom were released on bail and some informed (of the law and freed).”

“Some of them had heavy charges like spreading prostitution and promoting corruption,” he said.

“Some ... entered these networks unknowingly and thought these are commission jobs they are being paid for, so these people were not arrested.”



US woman rushed to hospital with shark stuck to arm

MIAMI (AFP): A woman in the US state of Florida was rushed to a hospital Sunday after being bitten by a shark - with the whole animal still clutching on to her right arm, local media reported. The small nurse shark, which was about two feet (61 centimeters) long, was killed by a beachgoer soon after the attack, the Palm Beach Post reported. The victim was an unidentified 23-year-old woman who was bitten while bathing at a beach in the coastal city of Boca Raton, city fire-rescue spokesman Bob Lemons told the newspaper. Lemons said the woman was rushed to the city’s regional hospital with the shark still attached to her right forearm. “I have never seen anything like it,” Ocean Rescue Captain Clint Tracy told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

“Never even heard of anything like this.”

Nurse sharks, which can grow to up to 10 feet (three meters) in length, are common along Florida’s Atlantic coastline, and are normally peaceful creatures. But one witness told the Sun-Sentinel that before the attack he saw swimmers bothering the shark and holding it by the tail.

The victim was initially calm when she approached a lifeguard station at the Red Reef Park beach seeking help.

A male companion was holding the shark and there was little blood, Tracy said. “It was barely breathing but it wasn’t letting go of her arm, like it was stuck to her or something,” witness Shlomo Jacob told the Sun-Sentinel.

As time went by and a crowd gathered, the woman became agitated and when paramedics arrived they gave her oxygen.

Then they used a board to support her arm and the shark, placed her on a stretcher and drove to the hospital, Tracy told the newspaper.

According to the Shark Research Institute, nurse sharks are nocturnal creatures, and are often found lying motionless on the ocean floor in rocky coastal areas during the day.

The sharks eat small fish and creatures like lobster, squid, and sea urchins - not human flesh.

Most grown nurse sharks are less than 9.8 feet (three meters) long, but are known to reach 14 feet (4.3 meters) in length.


Andre Brahic, discoverer of Neptune’s rings, dies aged 73

PARIS (AFP): French astrophysicist Andre Brahic, one of the discoverers of Neptune’s rings, has died in Paris at the age of 73, his publisher Odile Jacob said. “He was a brilliant character... extraordinarily warm, profound and authentic ,a great scholar and also a storyteller, a writer,” said Jacob, who was close to Brahic. An expert on the solar system, in 1984 he launched a programme which led to the discovery, with US astronomer William Hubbard, of the rings around the gaseous planet Neptune. French President Francois Hollande in a statement hailed a great mind “who knew how to make simple the mysteries of the sky”. He described him as a great teacher “whose books and comments allowed us to voyage through space”.

Born into a modest family in Nazi-occupied Paris in 1942, Brahic was initiated into astrophysics after the war by Evry Schatzman, considered the father of the discipline in France.

In the 1980s, Brahic became a specialist in exploring our solar system with the help of the NASA Voyager and later US-Europe Cassini unmanned missions, which continue to this day.

He was an astrophysicist at the Commission for Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies (CEA) and a professor at the University of Paris. It was his interest in Saturn and its rings which led him to launch his Neptune research.

Neptune’s outermost ring is divided into three arcs to which Brahic gave the names Liberte, Fraternite and Egalite.

In 1990 an asteroid, number 3488, was named Brahic in his honour. Keen on bringing astrophysics to a wider public, Brahic wrote several books. His last book “Worlds Elsewhere; Are We Alone” was published last year by Odile Jacob.



China car-hailing app eyes going public

BEIJING (AFP): Chinese ride-hailing app Didi Chuxing is mulling an initial public offering, a report said Monday, after US technology giant Apple invested $1 billion in the rival to Uber. Didi is “targeting” a listing in New York next year, Bloomberg News said, citing unnamed people “familiar with the matter”. The exact timing would depend on how its battle with US-based Uber goes in China, the sources were quoted as saying. Didi denied having such intentions at present. “We do not have IPO plans as of now,” a company spokeswoman told AFP. Apple on Friday announced it had invested $1 billion in Didi in what the Chinese firm called the single largest investment it had ever received. Didi Chuxing claims to have almost 90pc of the Chinese ride-hailing market with nearly 300 million registered passengers.

Didi and Uber are locked in a war of attrition for drivers and riders in the world’s second-largest economy, and both have deep pockets.

Didi is in the process of raising about $3 billion, including Apple’s investment, which has swelled the company’s valuation to about $26 billion, the Bloomberg News report said.

The company also has backing from Chinese Internet behemoths Tencent and Alibaba.

Didi invested in Uber’s US rival Lyft last year, along with Alibaba and Tencent, and announced last month that it would cooperate with it to compete with Uber on its own turf.

Uber, which has received funding from Chinese search firm Baidu along with state-owned Citic Securities, has said it wants to delay its listing plans as long as possible, Bloomberg News reported.



UN committee finds weed killer glyphosate unlikely to cause cancer

LONDON (Reuters): The weed-killing pesticide glyphosate, made by Monsanto and widely used in agriculture and by gardeners, probably does not cause cancer, according to a new safety review by United Nations health, agriculture and food experts. In a statement likely to intensify a row over its potential health impact, experts from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) said glyphosate is “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans” exposed to it through food. It is mostly used on crops.

Having reviewed the scientific evidence, the joint WHO/FAO committee also said glyphosate is unlikely to be genotoxic in humans. In other words, it is not likely to have a destructive effect on cells’ genetic material.

The conclusion contradicts a finding by the WHO’s Lyon-based International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which in March 2015 said glyphosate is “probably” able to cause cancer in humans and classified it as a so-called Group 2A carcinogen.

Seven months after the IARC review, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), an independent agency funded by the European Union, published a different assessment, saying glyphosate is “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans”.

The differing findings thrust glyphosate into the centre of a row involving EU and US politicians and regulators, the IARC experts, environmental and agricultural specialists and the WHO.

Diazinon and malathion, two other pesticides reviewed by the WHO/FAO committee, which met last week and issued its conclusions in a statement on Monday, were also found to be unlikely to be carcinogenic.



Push-ups a push-over as Chinese policeman sets planking world record

BEIJING (Reuters): With barely a flicker of concern, Chinese policeman Mao Weidong celebrated with push-ups after setting a new Guinness World Record for planking for eight hours, one minute and one second. Mao edged out the previous record holder, retired US Marine George Wood, who collapsed on the mat after seven hours, four minutes and five seconds in the head-to-head competition. Planking is a core strength exercise in which the body is kept in a straight line from head to feet, with its weight borne on the forearms and toes. Mao said his police work had helped him. “Actually, as Special Weapons And Tactics police, we have lots of strength training every day. I think the strength training is very helpful for doing planking,” he told Reuters TV.

Wood had set the world record for abdominal planking last year with a time of five hours, 15 minutes and 15 seconds.