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Arrest in Murder Detailed in Australian True-Crime Podcast Series

Australian police have charged a retired teacher with the murder of his wife, whose disappearance in 1982 has been featured in a globally popular crime podcast.

Lynette Dawson went missing 36 years ago from her home in Sydney.  Her husband at the time, Chris Dawson has previously denied killing the mother of his two children, saying she abandoned the family for a religious group.  

A podcast produced by The Australian newspaper called ‘The Teacher’s Pet,’ has brought global attention to the case. It has been downloaded more than 28 million times since it began running in May.  

There have been two separate inquests into Lynette Dawson’s disappearance. Both concluded that she was killed by a known person.’  In 2003, a coroner determined that her husband, a former teacher and rugby player, had sex with teenage students during their marriage.

A 16-year old girl moved into the Dawson family home just days after Mrs. Dawson vanished.  

It is reported that new testimony from the schoolgirl led to this week’s arrest.

The New South Wales state police commissioner, Mick Fuller, said fresh evidence has been crucial.

“They were predominantly statements from witnesses that helped us tie pieces of the puzzles together. No doubt it will be a voluminous brief with [an] enormous amount of evidence and obviously there are a number of witnesses that will be called.”

Experts say that the popularity of investigative podcasts can give justice to the voiceless’ or be a hindrance to a police inquiry if the material is not balanced and impartial.

Chris Dawson’s lawyers say media coverage is likely to taint the case against him.

Australian police deny the huge interest surrounding the ‘Teacher’s Pet’ podcast led to Mr. Dawson’s arrest following a three-year reinvestigation of the case.

The 70-year suspect remains in custody.  The body of his former wife has never been found.

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World Marks Anti-Corruption Day

Corruption costs the world economy $2.6 trillion each year, according to the United Nations, which is marking International Anti-Corruption Day on Sunday.

“Corruption is a serious crime that can undermine social and economic development in all societies. No country, region or community is immune,” the United Nations said.

The cost of $2.6 trillion represents more than 5 percent of global GDP.

The world body said that $1 trillion of the money stolen annually through corruption is in the form of bribes.

Patricia Moreira, the managing director of Transparency International, told VOA that about a quarter of the world’s population has paid a bribe when trying to access a public service over the past year, according to data from the Global Corruption Barometer.

Moreira said it is important to have such a day as International Anti-Corruption Day because it provides “a really tremendous opportunity to focus attention precisely on the challenge that is posed by corruption around the world.”

​Anti-corruption commitments

To mark the day, the United States called on all countries to implement their international anti-corruption commitments including through the U.N. Convention against Corruption.

In a statement Friday, the U.S. State Department said that corruption facilitates crime and terrorism, as well as undermines economic growth, the rule of law and democracy.

“Ultimately, it endangers our national security. That is why, as we look ahead to International Anticorruption Day on Dec. 9, we pledge to continue working with our partners to prevent and combat corruption worldwide,” the statement said.

Moreira said that data about worldwide corruption can make the phenomena understandable but still not necessarily “close to our lives.” For that, we need to hear everyday stories about people impacted by corruption and understand that it “is about our daily lives,” she added.

She said those most impacted by corruption are “the most vulnerable people — so it’s usually women, it’s usually poor people, the most marginalized people in the world.”

The United Nations Development Program notes that in developing countries, funds lost to corruption are estimated at 10 times the amount of official development assistance.

What can be done to fight corruption?

The United Nations designated Dec. 9 as International Anti-Corruption Day in 2003, coinciding with the adoption of the United Nations Convention against Corruption by the U.N. General Assembly.

The purpose of the day is to raise awareness about corruption and put pressure on governments to take action against it.

Tackling the issue

Moreira said to fight corruption effectively it must be tackled from different angles. For example, she said that while it is important to have the right legislation in place to curb corruption, governments must also have mechanisms to enforce that legislation. She said those who engage in corruption must be held accountable.

“Fighting corruption is about providing people with a more sustainable world, with a world where social justice is something more of our reality than what it has been until today,” she said.

Moreira said change must come from a joint effort from governments, public institutions, the private sector and civil society.

The U.S. Statement Department said in its Friday statement that it pledges “to continue working with our partners to prevent and combat corruption worldwide.”

It noted that the United States, through the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development, helps partner nations “build transparent, accountable institutions and strengthen criminal justice systems that hold the corrupt accountable.”

Moreira said that it is important for the world to see that there are results to the fight against corruption.

“Then we are showing the world with specific examples that we can fight against corruption, [that] yes there are results. And if we work together, then it is something not just that we would wish for, but actually something that can be translated into specific results and changes to the world,” she said.

VOA’s Elizabeth Cherneff contributed to this report.

 

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Bilby Back in Australian Wild for the First Time in a Century

For the first time in more than a century, bilbies are running wild in Australia’s most populous state.

Bilbies were once widespread across much of Australia, but were last recorded in the wild in New South Wales state in 1912. Every year bilby populations continue to fall, and conservationists fear the small marsupial could become extinct because of predators, fires and land clearing. Experts say the bilbies are “barely hanging on” in small, isolated pockets.

In northern New South Wales state, environmentalists are celebrating what they are calling a historic moment. Thirty bilbies from a captive breeding program have been released into a large predator-free enclosure near the town of Narrabri, 500 kilometers north of Sydney.

Without the protection of a 32-kilometer fence, experts say, they probably would not survive.

Historic moment

Tim Allard is the chief executive of the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, which is involved in the project.

He says the release of these iconic animals is a historic moment.

“Bilbies only really survive behind fenced areas,” he said. “There are some remaining wild bilby populations, but they get predated upon heavily by feral cats and foxes. Behind a large-scale fenced area is really the only way of ensuring their survival.

“Well, the point of doing these projects is to return the bush to what it used to be before Europeans turned up, before feral predators such as cats and foxes were introduced,” Allard continued. “So in the not-too-distant future, you will be able to go inside the fenced area and it will be like stepping back in time before Europeans turned up. You will have populations of bilbies, bandicoots, bridled nail-tail wallabies. It will really be a very special experience.”

Protecting biodiversity

Bilbies are known for their long rabbitlike ears and large hind legs. They are small nocturnal, burrowing animals that grow to about 2.5 kilograms. They eat plant roots, ants, beetles and spiders.

Australia has one of the world’s worst rates of mammal extinctions, and the bilby project is seen as a vital part in protecting the nation’s fragile biodiversity.

It is estimated that 1 million birds in Australia are killed each day by predators, including feral cats, wild dogs and foxes.

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Australia Passes World’s First Encryption-Busting Law

Security agencies will gain greater access to encrypted messages under new laws in Australia. The legislation will force technology companies such as Apple, Facebook and Google to disable encryption protections to allow investigators to track the communications of terrorists and other criminals. It is, however, a controversial measure.

Australian law enforcement officials say the growth of end-to-end encryption in applications such as Signal, Facebook’s WhatsApp and Apple’s iMessage hamper their efforts to track the activities of criminals and extremists.

End-to-end encryption is a code that allows a message to stay secret between the person who wrote it and the recipient. 

PM: Law urgently needed

But a new law passed Thursday in Australia compels technology companies, device manufacturers and service providers to build in features needed for police to crack those hitherto secret codes. However, businesses will not have to introduce these features if they are considered “systemic weaknesses,” which means they are likely to result in compromised security for other users.

The Australian legislation is the first of its kind anywhere.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the new law was urgently needed because encoded messaging apps allowed “terrorists and organized criminals and … pedophile rings to do their evil work.”

Critics: Law goes too far

However, critics, including technology companies, human rights groups, and lawyers, believe the measure goes too far and gives investigators “unprecedented powers to access encrypted communications.”

Francis Galbally, the chairman of the encryption provider Senetas, says the law will send Australia’s tech sector into reverse.

“We will lose some of the greatest mathematicians and scientists this country has produced, and I can tell you because I employ a lot of them, they are fabulous, they are well regarded, but the world will now regard them if they stay in this country as subject to the government making changes to what they are doing in order to spy on everybody,” he said.

Galbally also claims that his company could lose clients to competitors overseas because it cannot guarantee its products have not been compromised by Australian authorities.

Tech giant Apple said in October that “it would be wrong to weaken security for millions of law-abiding customers in order to investigate the very few who pose a threat.”

The new law includes penalties for noncompliance.

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China Exports, Imports Weaken Ahead of US Talks

China’s export growth slowed in November as global demand weakened, adding to pressure on Beijing ahead of trade talks with Washington.

Exports rose 5.4 percent from a year ago to $227.4 billion, a marked decline from the previous month’s 12.6 percent increase, customs data showed Saturday. Imports rose 3 percent to $182.7 billion, a sharp reversal from October’s 20.3 percent surge.

That adds to signs a slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy is deepening as Chinese leaders prepare for negotiations with President Donald Trump over Beijing’s technology policy and other irritants.

Exports to US rise

Chinese exports to the United States rose by a relatively robust 12.9 percent from a year ago to $46.2 billion. Shipments to the U.S. market have held up as exporters rush to fill orders before additional duty increases, but forecasters say that effect will fade in early 2019.

Imports of American goods rose 5 percent to $10.7 billion, down from the previous month’s 8.5 percent growth. China’s politically volatile trade surplus with the United States widened to a record $35.5 billion.

Trump agreed during a Dec. 1 meeting with this Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, to postpone tariff hikes by 90 days while the two sides negotiate. But penalties of up to 25 percent imposed earlier by both sides on billions of dollars of each other’s goods still are in effect.

Companies and investors worry the battle between the two biggest economies will chill global economic growth.

Chinese economy cools

The Chinese economy grew by a relatively strong 6.5 percent from a year earlier in the quarter ending in September. But that was boosted by government spending on public works construction that helped to mask a slowdown in other parts of the economy.

An official measure of manufacturing activity fell to its lowest level in two years in November. Auto sales have shrunk for the past three months, and real estate sales are weak.

Chinese leaders have responded by easing lending controls, boosting spending on construction and promising more help to entrepreneurs who generate the state-dominated economy’s new jobs and wealth. But they have moved gradually to avoid reigniting a rise in corporate and local government debt that already is considered to be dangerously high.

Tariffs

The Trump administration imposed 25 percent duties on $50 billion of Chinese goods in July in response to complaints that Beijing steals or pressures companies to hand over technology. Washington also imposed a 10 percent charge on $200 billion of Chinese goods. That was set to rise to 25 percent in January but Trump postponed it.

Beijing responded with tariff hikes on $110 billion of American goods. Trump has threatened to expand U.S. penalties to all goods from China.

Washington, Europe and other trading partners complain plans such as “Made in China 2025,” which calls for creating Chinese global champions in artificial intelligence, robotics and other fields, violate Beijing’s market-opening obligations.

Trump said Beijing committed to buy American farm goods and cut auto import tariffs as part of the tariff cease-fire. Chinese officials have yet to confirm details of the agreement.

China’s Commerce Ministry expressed confidence the two sides can reach a deal during the 90-day delay. That indicates Beijing sees resolving the conflict as too important to allow it to be disrupted by last week’s dramatic arrest in Canada of an executive of Huawei Technologies Ltd., one of China’s most prominent companies, on accusations of violating trade sanctions on Iran.

Big trade disputes

Private sector analysts say that there is little time to resolve sprawling conflicts that have bedeviled U.S.-Chinese trade for years. That suggests Beijing will need to find ways to persuade Trump to extend his deadline.

Also in November, China’s exports to the 28-nation European Union rose 11.4 percent over a year earlier to $35.9 billion, down from October’s 12 percent growth. Imports rose 13.2 percent to $24.4 billion.

China’s trade surplus with the EU widened by 6.4 percent over a year earlier to $11.5 billion.

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Fighter Pilot Who Died in Crash Off Japan Is Identified

The U.S. Marines have identified a fighter pilot who died after his jet collided with a refueling aircraft during training off Japan’s coast, leaving five other Marines missing and one rescued.

Two pilots were flying an F/A-18 Hornet that collided with a KC-130 Hercules about 2 a.m. Thursday. The other pilot was rescued and the crew of the refueling plane is missing.

The Marine Corps identified the dead crew member as Capt. Jahmar Resilard, 28, of Miramar, Florida. He served with Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242, stationed on Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi, Japan.

“The Bats are deeply saddened by the loss of Captain Jahmar Resilard. He was an effective and dedicated leader who cared for his Marines and fellow fighter pilots with passion,” Lt. Col. James Compton, commanding officer of the squadron, said in a statement.

“His warm and charismatic nature bound us together and we will miss him terribly,” he added.

The Marines said that the two planes were involved in routine training, including aerial refueling, but that it was still investigating what caused the crash.

President Donald Trump tweeted that his thoughts and prayers were with the Marine Corps crew members involved in the collision. He thanked U.S. Forces in Japan for their “immediate response and rescue efforts” and said, “Whatever you need, we are here for you.”

The crash is the latest in recent series of accidents involving the U.S. military deployed to and near Japan.

Last month, a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet from the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan crashed into the sea southwest of Japan’s southern island of Okinawa, though its two pilots were rescued safely. In mid-October, a MH-60 Seahawk also belonging to the Ronald Reagan crashed off the Philippine Sea shortly after takeoff, causing nonfatal injuries to a dozen sailors.

More than 50,000 U.S. troops are based in Japan under a bilateral security pact.

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Top Democrat: Moscow Has Closed Cyber Gap With US

The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee warns the United States is being outgunned in cyberspace, already having lost its competitive advantage to Russia while China is rapidly closing in.

“When it comes to cyber, misinformation and disinformation, Russia is already our peer and in the areas of misinformation or disinformation, I believe is ahead of us,” Senator Mark Warner told an audience Friday in Washington.

“This is an effective methodology for Russia and it’s also remarkably cheap,” he added, calling for a realignment of U.S. defense spending.

Warner, calling Russia’s election meddling both an intelligence failure and a “failure of imagination,” strongly criticized the White House, key departments and fellow lawmakers for being too complacent in their responses.

As for China, Warner called Beijing’s cyber and censorship infrastructure “the envy of authoritarian regimes around the world” and warned when it comes to artificial intelligence, quantum computing and 5G mobile phone networks, China is “starting to outpace us on these investments by orders of magnitude.”

In contrast, the Democratic senator laid out a more aggressive approach in cyberspace, with the United States leading allies in an effort to establish clear rules and norms for behavior in cyberspace.

He also said it was imperative the U.S. articulate when and where it would respond to cyberattacks.

“Our adversaries continue to believe that there won’t be consequences for their actions,” Warner said. “For Russia and China, it’s pretty much been open season.”

Warner also delivered a stern message to social media companies.

“Major platform companies — like Twitter and Facebook, but also Reddit, YouTube and Tumblr — aren’t doing nearly enough to prevent their platforms from becoming petri dishes for Russian disinformation and propaganda,” he said. “If they don’t work with us, Congress will have to work on its own.”

The Trump administration unveiled a new National Cyber Strategy in September, calling for a more aggressive response to the growing online threat posed by other countries, terrorist groups and criminal organizations.

“We’re not just on defense,” National Security Adviser John Bolton told reporters at the time. “We’re going to do a lot of things offensively, and I think our adversaries need to know that.”

Top U.S. military officials have also said their cyber teams are engaging against other countries, terrorist groups and even criminal organizations on a daily basis.

Warner on Friday praised elements of the new strategy, particularly measures that have allowed the military to respond to attacks more quickly. But, he said, on the whole it is not enough, pointing to Trump’s willingness to “kowtow” to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their Helsinki Summit over Moscow’s election interference efforts.

“No one in the Trump administration in the intel [intelligence] or defense world doesn’t acknowledge what happened in 2016,” he said. “But the fact that the head of our government still [finds] it’s hard to get those words out of his mouth, is a real problem.”

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Australia Anti-Encryption Law Rushed to Passage 

A newly enacted law rushed through Australia’s parliament will compel technology companies such as Apple, Facebook and Google to disable encryption protections so police can better pursue terrorists and other criminals.  

  

Cybersecurity experts say the law, the first of its kind globally, will instead be a boon to the criminal underworld by undermining the technical integrity of the internet, hurting digital security and user privacy.  

  

“I think it’s detrimental to Australian and world security,” said Bruce Schneier, a tech security expert affiliated with Harvard University and IBM.  

  

The law is also technically vague and seems contradictory because it doesn’t require systematic weaknesses — so-called “back doors” — to be built in by tech providers. Such back doors are unlikely to remain secret, meaning that hackers and criminals could easily exploit them. 

 

Back doors were central to a 1990s U.S. effort to require manufacturers to install a so-called “Clipper chip” into communications equipment so the government could listen in on voice and data transmissions. U.S. law enforcement officials, including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, are again pushing for legislation that would somehow give authorities access to secure communications. 

 

The Australian bill is seen by many as a beachhead for those efforts because the nation belongs to the “Five Eyes” security alliance with the U.S., Britain, Canada and New Zealand.  

  

“There is a lot here that doesn’t make any sense,” Schneier said of the Australian bill. “This is a technological law written by non-technologists and it’s not just bad policy. In many ways, I think it’s unworkable.” 

 

A leading figure in cryptography, Martin Hellman of Stanford University, said it appears the bill would “facilitate crime by weakening the security of the affected devices.” 

Blow against ‘evil work’

 

The law won final legislative approval late Thursday, parliament’s final session of the year. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was urgently needed. 

 

“This was very important legislation to give police and security agencies the ability to get into encrypted communications,” he told Nine Network television. “Things like WhatsApp, things like that which are used by terrorists and organized criminals and indeed pedophile rings to do their evil work.” 

 

He noted that the opposition Labor Party “had to be dragged to the table” and backed the legislation as an emergency measure out of concern extremists could target Christmas-New Year crowds. 

 

Labor lawmakers said they want amendments passed when parliament resumes in February. Opposition leader Bill Shorten said he supported the current bill only because he could not “expose Australians to increased [national security] risk.” 

 

Duncan Lewis, director-general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, noted during hearings that extremists share encrypted messages that Australia’s main secret service cannot intercept or read. 

 

President Morry Bailles of the Law Council of Australia, a leading lawyers group, criticized the bill’s swift parliamentary journey though lawmakers knew “serious problems exist” with giving law enforcement “unprecedented powers to access encrypted communications.” 

 

Australian law enforcement officials have complained that the growth of end-to-end encryption in applications such as Signal, Facebook’s WhatsApp and Messenger and Apple’s iMessage could be the worst blow to intelligence and law enforcement capability in decades. Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin said it hampers criminal investigations at all levels. 

Apple argument

 

But Apple, in comments filed with parliament in October, argued that “it would be wrong to weaken security for millions of law-abiding customers in order to investigate the very few who pose a threat.” 

 

The company’s iPhones, because of their strong encryption, are bulwarks of national security around the globe and help protect journalists, human rights workers and people living under repressive regimes. 

 

“The iPhone is national security infrastructure right now,” said Schneier. “Every Australian legislator uses the systems and devices that that law will target, and making them insecure seems like a really bad idea.” 

 

Apple also complained in October that the bill was “dangerously ambiguous.” 

 

One apparent contradiction confounds technologists. The legislation says the government “must not require providers to implement or build systemic weaknesses in forms of electronic protection (‘back doors’)” but also says it can “require the selective deployment of a weakness or vulnerability in a particular service, device or item of software on a case-by-case basis.” 

 

Technologists say that the mathematics underlying encryption and the way it’s encoded into software make it impossible to decrypt a single user’s communications without affecting all users. 

 

Eric Wenger, director of cybersecurity and privacy policy for the U.S. technology giant Cisco Systems, warned during debate on the bill that Australia could be at a competitive disadvantage if its data were not regarded as secure. 

 

Australia was a major driver of a statement agreed to at the Group of 20 leaders’ summit in Germany last year that called on the technology industry to provide “lawful and non-arbitrary access to available information” needed to protect against terrorist threats.