Much of the news in this past week was about security and its failures — the untrammeled journey of a man infected with Ebola from Liberia to Europe to Texas; the lapses of the Secret Service in protecting the president; the vast but seemingly victimless data breach at JPMorgan Chase.
These competed with more heartening — or worrying, depending on one’s point of view — reports from Hong Kong, where tens of thousands of students and other demonstrators protested the Chinese Communist Party’s plan to screen candidates for top Hong Kong offices.
Under the agreement by which Britain turned Hong Kong over to China in 1997, there are to be free elections for the city’s chief executive in 2017. But late in August, China declared that the candidates would be vetted, essentially undermining the democratic process.
Protesters — dubbed “Occupy Central With Love and Peace” by participants and the “umbrella revolution” on social media for the ubiquitous umbrellas deployed against tear gas, pepper spray and the occasional downpour — poured out in vast numbers, occupying key intersections across the crowded city.
At week’s end, the protest began to lose momentum, partly from lack of a unified leadership or program, and partly under pressure from residents seeking to open blocked thoroughfares. The current chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, and his Beijing mentors were certain to see that as a victory.
But the very absence of a coherent organization put the lie to Beijing’s claim that the demonstrations were a conspiracy of anti-China forces. China’s president, Xi Jinping, has made clear that he will not allow Western-style democracy in Hong Kong — and certainly not in China, where news of the demonstrations was blocked. This one is not going away.
Ebola in America
The ability of the Ebola virus to leap continents in a single bound was demonstrated by Thomas E. Duncan, a Liberian who became infected in the country’s capital of Monrovia when he accompanied a 19-year-old woman dying of the disease to a hospital — and helped carry her back home when the hospital could find no place for her. She died soon after.
Four days after the mission of mercy, Mr. Duncan set off on Sept. 19 on flights to Brussels and on to the United States to visit friends in the large Liberian community in Dallas. He went through screening at the Monrovia airport to identify potentially infected travelers — his temperature was taken and he filled out a form saying he had not been in contact with any Ebola patients. He later said he thought that the woman he helped was having problems with her pregnancy.
In Dallas, Mr. Duncan developed the symptoms so feared back in his country: the fever, sore throat, joint pains and headaches of incipient Ebola. But when he went to the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on the night of Sept. 25, and even after he told officials there that he had just arrived from West Africa, doctors sent him home. He was back in the hospital on Sunday, and this time the authorities went into high gear. An exhaustive search has begun to identify, and in some cases to quarantine, the 12 to 18 people who had been in close contact with Mr. Duncan in Dallas. Mr. Duncan is now in serious but stable condition.
Authorities in Monrovia said they will press charges against him for giving false information at the airport. They may fear that others who are potentially infected will also try to make it to Europe or to the United States, where chances of survival are incomparably better than in Monrovia.
Why pay so much attention to one case brought into the United States when so many people are becoming infected and dying in West Africa? The case of Mr. Duncan is important in that it demonstrates how easily a rampant virus can spread to distant corners of the world.
The United Nations, however, was quick to warn that isolating affected countries is not the answer, both because of the hardships and panic it would create and the need for aid workers to come and go.
Security Breach, Part I
Omar J. Gonzalez’s vault over the White House fence and his sprint deep into the presidential mansion raised some urgent questions about the competence of the Secret Service, an agency already battered by a series of well-publicized faux pas.
Before the feat of Mr. Gonzalez, a 42-year-old Iraq war veteran, an armed security guard with an arrest record got into an elevator with President Obama at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and snapped some pictures. And back in 2011, the Obamas were said to have been furious when they learned that the service was not immediately aware that shots had been fired at the White House. Then there were the three agents sent home from the Netherlands after one got drunk the night before the president was to arrive. And the eight agents fired after allegedly soliciting prostitutes on an official trip to Colombia.
So on Tuesday, the director of the Secret Service, Julia Pierson, was thoroughly thrashed by congressmen of both parties at a House hearing. “It won’t happen again,” she pledged, but it was too late. On Wednesday, she resigned and Joseph Clancy, a former agent who had been known in the service as “Father Joe” for his no-nonsense demeanor, was named acting head.
One of his first tasks will be to get the Secret Service off the late-night talk shows. Example: Jimmy Fallon, host of NBC’s “Tonight Show,” says Ms. Pierson is going to miss working at the White House, “but knowing the Secret Service, she should be able to come back any time she wants.”
Security Breach, Part II
J. P. Morgan was not known for thinking small, even if it’s not entirely certain that he actually said, “If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.” The successor of the bank he founded, JPMorgan Chase, is the largest in the nation, and whoever sneaked into its computers compromised not a paltry million accounts, as was initially reported, but the accounts of 76 million households and seven million small businesses.
The breach was discovered in July, but the updated tally was revealed in a securities filing on Thursday. It surpassed the huge recent data breaches at Target and Home Depot, and is a lot more noxious. Target and Home Depot involved credit cards; a bank has a lot more financial data.
The puzzling thing is that investigators have found no evidence of looted customer accounts, so the motive remains unclear.
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