The rifle above belonged to a brutal dictator who gassed to death thousands of his own citizens and had the gall to erect a giant arch modeled after his own fists. Now it can be yours for an estimated $7,500 to $15,000.
The Rock Island Auction Company is auctioning off Saddam Hussein's personal Ruger M77 bolt-action rifle, which has changed hands several times since the days when Hussein allegedly held the gun aloft during rallies (the Illinois-based firearms auction house is also selling a pocket pistol "attributed to Adolf Hitler," if you're in the market). According to an affidavit posted on the company's website, a Sufi militia group found the rifle in the rubble of the presidential palace in Baghdad soon after the beginning of the American invasion in 2003. The group then "turned over" the rifle to the CIA in 2004. When the Baghdad station chief at the time retired from the agency in 2012, the CIA gave him the rifle. He is now putting it up for auction, as he explains in signed documents on Rock Island's site.
Whoever wrote the language hawking the item apparently didn't think this history spoke for itself, choosing instead to describe Hussein rather like a wrestler about to enter the ring. "This brutal dictator needs NO introduction to the American people, as he is one of the most despised and hated Middle East leaders of the 20/21st Century," the description observes. After noting that the rifle "was the one used ceremoniously in numerous worldwide newsreels shown on national TV," the pitch finishes strong, promising an "impeccably well documented historic rifle that once belonged to one of the most known bad guys of recent times, the late Saddam Hussein!"
Saddam Hussein-related artifacts have been circulating around the world for quite some time now. In 2009, the U.S. Army returned to the Iraqi government a chrome-plated AK-47 that was part of a collection of chrome- and gold-plated weaponry that Hussein gave out as gifts. Former president George W. Bush kept in his private study the pistol found when Hussein was captured, and proudly showed it to visitors.
Among the more bizarre items in the genre is a bronze buttock from iconic Saddam statue in Baghdad, recovered when Marines and Iraqis symbolically toppled the monument in 2003. The section, which Iraq later argued was part of its "historical and cultural heritage," was auctioned in Britain in 2011 but failed to sell when bidding stopped at £21,000, short of the six-figure minimum price.
Compared to that asking price, Saddam's bolt-action rifle is a steal.
(h/t: Borzou Daragahi)
Rock Island Auction Company
The United States has cut off foreign aid because of a string of alleged killings by police. Just not in Egypt.
The State Department confirmed Thursday that it has suspended assistance to the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia because of 12 killings in 2011 by an "ad hoc task force within the police department." Reuters reports that five of the dead were on a hit list of people deemed to be criminals. The State Department said there has been only "limited progress" in investigating the killings.
The news comes against the backdrop of Egyptian security forces' violent crackdown on supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsy, which began on Aug. 14 and left more than 1,000 people dead. Granted, the hit-list charges give the St. Lucia killings a more pre-meditated dimension.
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The Washington Post's blockbuster surveillance story Thursday night revealed that the National Security Agency violated privacy rules a total of 2,776 times over the course of a year, but one incident in particular stands out: the time in 2008 when a "communications switch" misread phone numbers with the area code 202 (Washington, D.C.) as coming from country code 20 (Egypt), and residents of the nation's capital had their call records swept up by the NSA without authorization.
The classified internal NSA report published by the Post indicates that 37 percent of the agency's violations of the FISA Amendments Act were due to this kind of "system error" as opposed to human error. Not all of those glitches were quite as memorable as the Great Area Code Mixup of 2008; some involved "system disruptions" and "data flow issues."
Still, the possibility remains that other Americans have made the grave mistake of living in parts of the country with area codes similar to the country codes of America's greatest rivals, enemies, and threats. Consider this: There are 24 area codes in the United States, marked in the map above, that share their first two digits with the country codes for either China, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, or Venezuela. The following is just a sampling of towns and cities across the United States who find themselves at the mercy of an NSA programming error.
It's far from comforting to hear that, according to a new study, the new H7N9 strain of bird flu has been passed from person to person for the first time. The finding has sparked some scary headlines. "First study of human transmission of new bird flu raises worries," Reuters reports. "Chinese bird flu may be spreading between people," adds the Guardian. But before you buy surgical masks in bulk and retreat to your sanitized basement evacuation shelter, consider that the authors of the scientific study, published Tuesday in the British Medical Journal, went out of their way to point out that the finding is not cause for too much alarm ...yet.
H7N9, the new strain of avian influenza, or "bird flu," was first reported on April 1 in China. So far, 134 people are confirmed to have caught it, and 43 have died. Severe pneumonia and other respiratory problems are common symptoms.
To determine whether the virus had spread from person to person, the British Medical Journal study examined a 60-year-old man in Wuxi, China, near Shanghai, who contracted the virus after shopping at live poultry markets. His daughter, 32, had no exposure to poultry, but caught the virus after caring for her father in the hospital. Analysis of the strains found in both the father and the daughter showed they were genetically almost identical, further indicating that H7N9 had passed between the two.
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According to Google Maps, the residents of the island of Jura, Scotland, are drowning in the Atlantic Ocean. In reality, they're fine. An error in the program, discovered earlier this month, has resulted in the island showing up as a mere patch of ocean off the west coast of Scotland -- albeit one with a road going through it.
The picturesque island, partly covered by wilderness and home to 5,000 deer, has just 200 people, many of whom seem to be more amused than concerned about their island's disappearance. The deer could not be reached for comment.
The island's "definitely still here," Lisa McDonald, who works at the Jura Hotel, told Scotland's Deadline News. "I'm on it at the moment. We're all safe and sound."
Former KGB General Oleg Kalugin was once asked why so many Russian spies used sex in their work, intelligence historian H. Keith Melton recalls. Kalugin's reply was simple: "In America, in the West, occasionally you ask your men to stand up for their country. There's very little difference. In Russia, we just ask our young women to lay down."
Most people's first association with spies and sex is James Bond, but conducting espionage through seduction happens in real life, too. And in a briefing at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. on Thursday night, Melton spilled some of sexpionage's greatest secrets.
DMITRY KOSTYUKOV/AFP/Getty Images
With the first stage of the 100th Tour de France now behind us, the question that's most top of mind is who will ultimately ride the more than 2,000 miles from Corsica through the Alps to Versailles and down the Champs-Élysées the fastest. But just as pressing is the question of whether anyone will be caught doping after doing it. After all, only three of the past nine winners of the race have never been suspended for taking performance-enhancing drugs. On Friday, Lance Armstrong, who is synonymous with the sport -- and now with doping as well -- went so far as to say that it is impossible to win the Tour de France without doping. The good news is that, so far at least, the last two winners of the competition did just that.
So how does cycling's widespread doping problem stack up with other sports in the world? There is no perfect way to measure -- across every league of every sport around the globe -- which athletes down the most pills and inject the most prohibited substances. But the Olympics serves as a good proxy, and statistics from the World Anti-Doping Association, compiled by the Guardian last year, reveal the percentage of positive drug tests -- results that either show the use of banned substances or prompt further investigation -- for 26 Olympic sports between 2003 and 2010.
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Chinese activist Ai Weiwei has had his share of experience with heavy-handed treatment by the government, having been detained for 81 days by China's secret police in 2011. Now the Beijing-based artist says another country reminds him of China: the United States.
In a column in the Guardian this morning, Ai harshly criticizes the U.S. government for the NSA's PRISM Internet surveillance program -- a program the Guardian has been at the forefront of reporting on over the past week.
"Privacy is a basic human right, one of the very core values," Ai writes. "There is no guarantee that China, the US or any other government will not use the information falsely or wrongly. I think especially that a nation like the US, which is technically advanced, should not take advantage of its power. It encourages other nations."
In another comparison that Americans are unlikely to appreciate, Ai adds, "In the Soviet Union before, in China today, and even in the US, officials always think what they do is necessary, and firmly believe they do what is best for the state and the people. But the lesson that people should learn from history is the need to limit state power."
"This is the definition of heroism," wrote one Chinese blogger. "Doing this proves he genuinely cares about this country and about his country's citizens. All countries need someone like him!"
"This young fellow truly is a human rights warrior!" declared the well-known nationalist writer Wang Xiaodong. "He has now fled to Chinese territory, and must be protected. We must withstand U.S. pressure, and make a contribution to world human rights!"
Ai doesn't mention Snowden explicitly in his column, but the Chinese dissident may very well feel the same way.
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