Modern Day Espionage: Is It a Serious Threat?

By Steve Rensberry

  (RPC) 6/29/2010 — Whether you call it spying, espionage or simply intelligence gathering, the sleuthful practices and techniques used to protect oneself, or the interests of those for whom you work, have by no means disappeared.
   It was barely five years ago when Chen Yongleen and Hao Fengjing defected from their native China, claiming that a number of countries around the globe — including the United States, Australia and China — were operating excessively large spy networks with the primary intent of stealing scientific and commercial secrets. Disruption of the Falun Gong movement was another goal of such countries, the two said.
   They particularly grabbed the headlines with their claim that Canada was home to more Chinese spies than any other county, around 1,000 they said, more even than were believed to be in the United States.
   Officials at the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa flatly denied the claim.
   Nevertheless, a CNN story of June 15, 2005, quotes former Canadian Security Intelligence Service agent Michel Juneau-Katsuya with a confirmation of sorts.
   Juneau-Katsuya estimated that Canada was losing as much as $12 billion a year to industrial espionage, but questioned whether the 1,000 spies Yongleen and Fengjing said were operating in Canada were actual spies or merely paid informants.
   A story by Kate Connolly in the Sydney Morning Herald in July of 2009 cited a similar problem for Germany, which one official said was losing $87 billion a year to industrial espionage, along with 10s of thousands of jobs. Areas that were targeted: chemistry, communications, optics, machinery, auto manufacturing, armaments and renewable energy.
   The bust on June 29, 2010, of an espionage network supposedly operating on behalf of the government of Russia has cast a renewed light on the version of espionage most often glamorized on the silver screen.
   Point of fact: none of  the charges involve actual acts of espionage, but rather the failure to properly register as foreign agents. Oh yes, several of them were also former citizens of Canada. While it seems almost silly that it took so many of them to gather information that could, by-and-large, be obtained publicly, their long-term assignment, as is alleged, was to develop contacts and relationships with others who could eventually become part of the policy making apparatus in aid to the country of Russia.
   The individuals charged: Vicky Pelaez, Juan Lazaro, Michael Zottoli, Patricia Mills, Tracey Lee Ann Foley, Cynthia Murphy, Donald Howard Heathfield, Richard Murphy, Ann Chapman, Christopher R. Metsos, Mikail Semenko and Anna Chapman.
   Operatives lived in various cities around the country and were instructed to work over an extended period of time and to eventually gather information by somehow infiltrating U.S. "policy-making circles."  The arrests were the results of an FBI investigation stretching back several years, looking primarily at operatives working on behalf of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service, or SVR (Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki)
   The names of government agencies in various countries considered to be engaged in espionage of one sort or another includes:
  • Argentina - Secretariat of Intelligence, National Directorate of Criminal Intelligence, National Directorate of Strategic Military Intelligence
  • Australia - Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Australian Secret Intelligence Service
  • Canada — Canadian Security Intelligence Service
  • Cuba — General Intelligence Directorate
  • Czech Republic — Security Information Service
  • France — General Directorate of External Security, Central Directorate of General Intelligence, Directorate of Territorial Surveillance
  • Germany —  Federal Intelligence Service
  • India — Research and Analysis Wing, Intelligence Bureau
  • Iran —  Ministry of Intelligence (Iran)
  • Israel —  Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations
  • Italy —  Democratic Intelligence and Security Service, Military Intelligence and Security Service
  • Mexico — National Security and Investigation Center
  • Netherlands — General Intelligence and Security Service
  • New Zealand — New Zealand Security Intelligence Service
  • Pakistan — Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence
  • Russia —  Federal Security Service, Foreign Intelligence Service, Main Intelligence Directorate
  • South Africa —  National Intelligence Agency, South African Secret Service, South African National Defense Force Intelligence Division
  • Spain —  National Intelligence Centre
  • United Kingdom — Security Service, Secret Intelligence Service, Special Branch
  • United States —  Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency

Payday Loan Companies Under Scrutiny in Illinois

By Steve Rensberry

    (RPC) 6/26/10 — Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn recently signed into law a measure that he and others hope will put the brakes on numerous practices of payday loan companies they consider abusive. The law will go into effect in about nine months, meaning consumers who do use such services will not see much relief until spring of 2011.
   Whether you have actually used such services or not, you have certainly seen the signs — bold, urgent and inviting for anyone who is struggling financially or in need of some quick cash.
   But the super-high-interest consumer installment loan business has been under increasing scrutiny in recent years, and is often criticized as unfairly trapping people into a viscous cycle that ultimately harms both them and the economy at large.
   One of the key elements of the new law is a cap on interest rates, which analysts say can climb as high as 1,000 percent.
   “Many consumers who take out short-term loans are doing so as a last resort to pay their bills and provide for their families. It is all too easy for lenders to take advantage of them by raising interest rates and setting very short repayment periods,” Quinn said in a statement released to the public. “It is important that we do everything we can to protect these consumers who are already hurting, by helping to make these loans more affordable.”
   House Bill 537 practically sailed through the legislature and had received backing from a host of lenders and consumer groups. It was sponsored by Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) and Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Westchester).
   Under the new law:
  • Rates for loans of $4,000 or less will be capped at 99 percent.
  • Rates for loans greater than $4,000 will be capped at 36 percent. 
  • Lending will be limited to 22.5 percent of a borrower’s gross monthly income.
  • The minimum loan term will be six months compared to the current four.
   Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madison was among those praising the bill.
   "For too long, Wild West lending practices have dominated the marketplace in Illinois and consumers have suffered as a result — saddled with costly loans that they could never repay," Madigan said in a public statement.  "Now that has changed. House Bill 537 reigns in abusive and predatory lending practices and protects consumers. I want to thank Senator Lightford, Representative Lang, the Governor's Office and consumer advocates for their hard work on this important consumer protection legislation."
   Illinois Department of Professional Regulation Secretary Brent Adams said they were looking forward to working with lenders and their customers to make sure the law is effectively enforced.
   “For too long, Illinois borrowers have been at the mercy of lenders who were free to charge quadruple-digit interest rates,” Adams said.

Familes Are Under Pressure From Every Direction

By Mike Cyr
    (RPC) 6/23/10 — Twenty years from now, where will you be? Where will any of us be? You could be lying on the beach, shaking the sand from between your toes with a book in one hand and a drink in the other. You could be comfortably retired with a loved one by your side and a late model roadster parked in the driveway, with money in the bank to spare. Hopefully that's the case, but life is full of surprises, and more often than not it resembles for many people a hastily constructed bowl of ersatz, so-so party mix, a brute synthesis of choice, luck, happenstance and intrigue. Actuarial science and credit rating formulas may be able to predict with some degree of accuracy what percentage of a group of like subjects will have an accident or default on a loan, but outside the realm of abstract mathematics individual human beings are another matter entirely.
    Surprising twists of fate can trash the insights of even the most gifted “prophet.”
The states of Illinois, Missouri, and specifically the counties within the greater St. Louis metropolitan region are a very good representation of this mix. We see the development and the growth in traffic. We see the buildings go up and developments too root. What we don’t often see are the scores of disenfranchised, destitute, shut-in and dirt-poor families who die young, scrape for every slice of bread they eat and depend on the good graces of others just to stay alive - despite doing everything they can to do everything right. Some people may, you say, have done it to themselves through poor choices and unhealthy lifestyles. That much, however, is a case for debate in the face of centuries of discrimination, prejudice and cut-throat competition that has produced both scores of winners and an even great number of losers, deserving or not, within almost every human culture there is. Is it getting worse or better? What's the prognosis for the future? Let's look at the numbers.
    According to a report from a Heartland Alliance this past May, poverty in Illinois stands at the edge of a major catastrophe because of the serious cuts proposed in social services as the state struggles to knock down a deficit of roughly $13 billion.
    Writers Kristina Betinis and Naomi Spencer quote the non-profit advocacy organization thus: "The implications of massive service cuts to those experiencing poverty, many of whom rely on state-funded services in their communities literally for survival, particularly those in extreme poverty, will be nothing short of devastating."
    Slated for expiration at the end of this year is a preschool program that aides up to 20,000 children called Preschool for All. The Low Income Housing Tax Credit faces a similar fate, as noted by Betinis and Spencer.
    Also cited by the Alliance as being at risk:
  •  The Homeless Prevention Program affecting more than 11,500 households.
  •  Local developmental services affecting 44,000 or more people.
  •  Services and assistance relied upon by as many as 500,000 elderly residents which enables them to remain in their homes.
  • Mental health programs which, just three years ago, provided essential help to an estimated 180,000 people.
    The report cites an estimated 1.5 million Illinois residents, 535,000 of them children, who were considered to be living in poverty in 2008, with 2 million more at risk. That was before the recession hit and when unemployment was below 6 percent. How many today are just hanging by a thread? Or living paycheck to paycheck?
    A number of factors are cited which have clearly exacerbated the state's problems. One has been the gradual and progressive loss of manufacturing and the replacing of high-paying jobs with low to moderate ones. An estimated 203,000 well-paying jobs in manufacturing, 8,600 in construction and 5,100 in service industries bit the dust in the first eight years of the century. Others factors cited:
  • Dramatic increases in poverty across wide areas in 63 of the state's 102 counties.
  • A worsening of poverty due to a serious lack of public transportation in many areas.
  • Bankruptcy filings which have ballooned exponentially from years past. Cook County's 2008 rate was up 168 percent in 2008 from 2006. DuPage County's was up 249 percent and Kane County's up by 266 percent.
  • A sharp rise in the number of home foreclosures, putting the state at number 10 in the nation.
  • An average individual indebtedness in 2009 of $11,300.
  • Twenty-five percent of all households in the state had not one speck of savings  -- one out of every four people.
  • An increase in the number of foreclosures in the state from 2007-2009 of more than 100 percent.
    The report cites the deadly, three-part effects of inadequate wages, unemployment and less-than adequate employment that continues to grow.
    For an interesting look at the U.S. Census Bureau's stats on Illinois, listing the percentage of residents living below the poverty line at a "mere" 12.2 percent in 2008 compared to the U.S. average of 13.2 percent, see: Illinois Data.  (photo courtesy of