NEW YORK — The U.S. on Wednesday charged seven people with a “massive” computer intrusion scheme that used malicious software to manipulate online advertising, diverted users to rogue servers and infected more than 4 million computers in more than 100 countries.
One Russian and six Estonians were charged with wire fraud and conspiracy in a 27-count indictment unsealed by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. The cyber-hijacking victims included at least a half million individuals, businesses in the U.S. and government agencies, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Bharara said.
Over at least four years, an information technology company based in Estonia made millions of dollars by manipulating the Internet searches of infected computers, redirecting users to sites they never intended to visit or swapping out advertisements on Web pages, according to the indictment.
The government is seeking forfeiture of at least $14 million allegedly gene rated by the scheme.
Scores of Taliban attackers killed in assault on US base
KABUL, Afghanistan — Scores of Taliban fighters were killed Tuesday evening as they attempted to storm a small U.S. outpost along the Pakistani border and were driven back by American soldiers, according to U.S. military officials in the province.
The insurgents launched the attack by firing rocket-propelled grenades and rifles from the grounds of two Islamic schools located near Combat Outpost Margah, in eastern Afghanistan’s volatile Paktika province. The company of American soldiers stationed there fired back as large groups of fighters moved toward the base from a wadi to the west, U.S. military officials said.
The fighting lasted less than two hours, ending by about 8:30 p.m. No U.S. troops were killed. A spokesman for the Paktika governor said between 50 and 60 insurgents were killed.
Russian space agency battles to save Mars probe
MOSCOW — Russian controllers were battling to redirect a space probe that got stuck in a low orbit Wednesday, raising fears that it could crash back to Earth.
The $167 million unmanned Phobos-Ground spacecraft was successfully launched early Wednesday from Baikonur cosmodrome in neighboring Kazakhstan. But when the probe separated from its booster rocket, the engines did not fire to put it on the path to Phobos, one of Mars’ two moons.
It was the latest in a series of failures for Russia’s space research program.
In December, three navigation satellites failed to reach orbit and tumbled into the ocean. In April, the space agency lost contact with a military satellite. And in August, the Russian Progress cargo spacecraft crashed after an abortive launch to take supplies to the International Space Station.
Space experts worry that the tons of toxic fuel carried by Phobos-Ground could turn it into one of the most dangerous spacecraft to fall from orbit.
“About seven tons of nitrogen teroxide and hydrazine, which could freeze before ultimately entering, will make it the most toxic falling satellite ever,” James Oberg, a NASA veteran who now works as a space consultant, said in an email to The Associated Press. “What was billed as the heaviest interplanetary probe ever may become one of the heaviest space derelicts to ever fall back to Earth out of control.”
But Oberg told AP it was still possible to regain control of the probe, saying, “Nothing irreversibly bad has happened.”
Space agency officials said they had about two weeks to redirect Phobos-Ground before its power sources ran out. If they succeed, it should reach Mars’ orbit in 2012 and will collect ground samples from Phobos to bring back to Earth. It is Russia’s first interplanetary mission since the Mars-96 probe crashed shortly after launch in 1996.
Alleged Cole bombing mastermind arraigned
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba — After more than nine years in U.S. custody, four of them at a secret CIA prisons, the alleged mastermind of the 2000 USS Cole bombing finally appeared in public Wednesday when he was arraigned in the first death penalty military commission under President Obama.
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi of Yemeni descent, was one of three detainees waterboarded by the CIA. He entered the courtroom in Guantanamo Bay with a shoulder-rolling swagger, leaned back in his chair, and gave a thumbs-up to his team of defense lawyers.
A short time later, he glanced back at the public gallery where relatives of victims, the media and human rights activists sat behind three panes of glass. He then raised his right arm and gave an insouciant wave to the gallery.
Nashiri, clean-shaven, stocky and wearing white prison garb, was arraigned on charges of murder and terrorism as well as other violations of war for his role in the al-Qaida attack, which led to the death of 17 U.S. sailors.
Nashiri, who said he wanted to work with both his civilian and military attorneys, reserved the right to enter a plea. He followed proceedings through an interpreter, saying he didn’t speak English, although he did use a few English phrases. Asked by the judge what language he did speak, Nashiri replied with a large smile, “Aribiya.”
In addition to being waterboarded, Nashiri was also subjected to mock executions when CIA operatives held a power drill and a gun to his head. The waterboarding was sanctioned by Justice Department lawyers, but the use of the drill and the gun fell outside interrogation techniques approved during the George W. Bush administration.
Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and four co-defendants were arraigned on capital charges at Guantanamo under the Bush administration. Those charges were withdrawn by the Obama administration in anticipation of a federal trial, but sworn again this year by military prosecutors when the planned proceedings in New York collapsed in the face of Cong ressional and local opposition. A second Guantanamo arraignment in the 9/11 case is expected soon.