TIME Media

Sony Chief Says ‘We Have Not Caved’ on The Interview

"We have not given up," Michael Lynton said after his studio cancelled the movie under pressure

Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton defended his company’s decision to cancel the release of The Interview on Friday, even as the company refused to rule out releasing the movie in other ways.

Lynton said Sony’s decision was prompted by movie theaters opting not to show the film after hackers, who U.S. officials believe are linked to North Korea and who have wreaked havoc on the studio by disclosing emails and other company information, threatened 9/11-style attacks. Moments earlier, President Barack Obama had called the move to cancel the Christmas Day release a “mistake.”

“The unfortunate part is in this instance the President, the press, and the public are mistaken as to what actually happened,” Lynton said on CNN. “When it came to the crucial moment… the movie theaters came to us one by one over the course of a very short period of time. We were completely surprised by it.”

Read more: You can’t see The Interview, but TIME’s film critic did

Sony said in a statement later Friday that its decision was only about the Christmas Day release.

“After that decision, we immediately began actively surveying alternatives to enable us to release the movie on a different platform,” the studio said. “It is still our hope that anyone who wants to see this movie will get the opportunity to do so.”

Obama told reporters he wished Sony had reached out to him before canceling the film’s Christmas day release. It depicts a fictional assassination attempt against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“We cannot have a society where some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States,” he said. “Imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of someone who’s sensibilities probably need to be offended.”

Lynton denied the studio had given into the hackers’ threats.

“We have not caved. We have not given up,” he said. “We have always had every desire to have the American public see this movie.”

Read next: Obama Says Sony “Made a Mistake” Pulling ‘The Interview’

TIME Australia

Australian Woman Arrested in Deaths of 8 Children

Australia Children Killed
Emergency services workers cover off the perimeter fence of a house where eight children have been found dead in a Cairns suburb in far north Queensland, Australia, Friday, Dec. 19, 2014. Graeme Bint—AP

(SYDNEY) — An Australian woman was arrested for murder in the killings of eight children, seven of whom are believed to be her own, police said Saturday. The children were found dead inside the woman’s home.

The 37-year-old woman, who is recovering in a hospital from stab wounds, was under guard and speaking with police, Queensland Police Detective Inspector Bruno Asnicar said. She has not yet been charged.

Police haven’t said how the children died. But Asnicar said they’re examining several knives in the home that may have been the weapon used to kill them.

The children ranged in age from 18 months to 14 years, Asnicar said. The woman is thought to be the mother of seven of the children. The eighth is believed to be her niece.

Queensland police were called to the home in the Cairns suburb of Manoora on Friday morning after receiving a report of a woman with serious injuries. When they got to the house, they found the bodies of the children.

The woman, whose name has not been released, was also found in the home with the children, suffering from stab wounds to the chest. Asnicar said she is in stable condition, lucid and talking to police.

“We’re not looking for anybody else — we’re comfortable that the community at large is safe,” Asnicar said.

A coroner was conducting autopsies to determine the causes of death, and police were continuing to comb through the house for evidence.

“They’re looking to establish 100 percent what happened in that house when these offenses were committed,” Asnicar said.

He dismissed rumors that the house had been the subject of calls from the Department of Social Services.

“It’s not a problem house as has been speculated,” he said. “This is an ordinary neighborhood — a lot of good people, a lot of kids in the area. This is something that has caught everybody by surprise. It’s just an absolutely tragic thing.”

Lisa Thaiday, who said she was the injured woman’s cousin, said earlier that one of the woman’s other sons, a 20-year-old, came home and found his brothers and sisters dead inside the house.

“I’m going to see him now, he needs comforting,” Thaiday said. “We’re a big family … I just can’t believe it. We just found out (about) those poor babies.”

The tragedy comes as Australia is still reeling from the shock of a deadly siege in a Sydney cafe. On Monday, a gunman burst into the cafe in the heart of the city and took 18 hostages. Two hostages were dead along with the gunman after police stormed in 16 hours later in a bid to end the siege. Police had earlier said there were 17 hostages in the cafe, but revised the number after a new count.

“The news out of Cairns is heartbreaking,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in a statement. “All parents would feel a gut-wrenching sadness at what has happened. This is an unspeakable crime. These are trying days for our country.”

TIME Libya

Egyptian Involvement Sparked Libya Oil Port Battle, Expert Says

General view of the industrial zone at the oil port of Ras Lanuf on March 11, 2014.
General view of the industrial zone at the oil port of Ras Lanuf on March 11, 2014. Esam Al-Fetori—Reuters

Islamists suspected Libya's government in Tobruk was receiving reinforcements from Egypt

An ongoing battle for two of Libya’s key oil ports began last weekend because Islamist-leaning militias feared Egypt planned to reinforce the Libyan elected government based in the eastern city of Tobruk, according to a Tripoli-based analyst.

The fighting that has closed the oil terminals at Ras Lanuf and Sidra underscores how fears of Egyptian meddling in Libya is leading to an escalation of the country’s armed conflict. “They had information or belief that the Tobruk side was being reinforced in its military capacities,” says Claudia Gazzini, senior Libya analyst based in Tripoli with International Crisis Group. “The more evidence there is of Egyptian involvement, the greater the risk the opposing side might make abrupt strategy choices, like the one we saw over the weekend.”

Libya’s internationally-recognized government in Tobruk is locked in armed conflict with a rival government run by the Islamist-leaning Libya Dawn movement, based in Tripoli. The Tobruk government is allied with Khalifa Heftar, a general who declared war earlier this year against Libya Dawn. Heftar’s campaign, dubbed Operation Dignity, has triggered some of the deadliest fighting since the 2011 armed uprising that overthrew the regime of Muammar Gaddafi.

Egypt is concerned about instability from Libya spilling over into its territory. Egypt shares a long desert border with Libya that has been used to smuggle weapons, particularly since the 2011 uprising. More broadly, the Egyptian government led by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, who led the military’s 2013 overthrow of Egypt’s elected Islamist government, regards the Tobruk government as one ally in what they see as a regional struggle against political Islam in which policy is guided primarily by religious rather than practical considerations.

“They want to reshape Libya’s political landscape where the Muslim Brotherhood and political Islamists don’t have a powerful role,” says Frederic Wehrey, a senior associate in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington D.C. “The larger fear of having a country next door or where the Brotherhood is dominant is a real political concern for them.”

Though Egyptian officials deny direct military involvement, Egypt has taken a number of steps to aid the Tobruk side. In August, U.S. officials confirmed that Egypt allowed its airbases to be used in surprise airstrikes by the United Arab Emirates on targets in Libya. In November, Egypt sent special forces on two raids inside Libya, according to Western officials quoted by the New York Times.

In addition, forces allied to the Tobruk government have received weapons from Egypt. Gazzini says that in October she observed an Egyptian ship unloading in Tobruk port and that officials there confirmed that the ship delivered light arms.

In interviews in Cairo, Egyptian officials acknowledge that Egypt shares intelligence with the Tobruk authorities, but deny direct military operations. “Our position on the crisis in Libya is clear: to provide information, expertise and training,” says Hossam Khairallah, a former general in Egypt’s intelligence service. “But the conditions do not permit or favor intervention in Libya.”

Libya is just one arena where Egypt joins the wealthy Gulf monarchies of the UAE and Saudi Arabia in what Egyptian officials see as a regional power struggle with the forces of political Islam. Opposing them are other states, including Qatar and Turkey who are regarded as more sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups. The rivals also back competing rebel groups in Syria, as well as rival factions in Lebanon and in Palestinian politics.

“It’s clear that Egypt is involved in supporting Heftar’s forces in some respects,” says Chris Chivvis, a senior political scientist at the Santa Monica-based Rand Corporation. “Libya is at risk of becoming a proxy war for this conflict between authoritarian militarism and conservative Islamism, with different regional powers backing different sides.”

Inside Libya, analysts say the perception of Egyptian assistance for the Tobruk government is driving the calculations of the warring factions. “It has a very damaging effect for the country, because if it’s not true it gives the impression to the Heftar side that they have the military capacity, or will have the military capacity to carry out this military strategy for the liberation of Tripoli,” says Gazzini.

Egyptian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Badr Abdelatty says Egypt is prepared to offer training and capacity building for the internationally-recognized government and its military forces, but denied reports of direct intervention. “We are coordinating with neighboring countries to empower the legitimate government, legitimate institutions, namely the House of Representatives and current government in Tobruk,” he says. “We are not going to intervene militarily in Libya. This is not our business.”

Alaa Youssef, the spokesman for Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, also denied Egyptian intervention in Libya. “President Sisi has made it clear several times that the Egyptian army will only secure the borders. In no way could it go beyond that,” he says.

Egypt is also concerned about the emergence of a militia in the eastern Libyan city of Derna that proclaims its allegiance to the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the militant group that overran large parts of Iraq and Syria this year. The group is just one of dozens of individual militias operating throughout the country since the implosion of Libyan state institutions following the 2011 civil war. Since 2011, insurgents have exploited Libya’s vast desert borders to smuggle weapons into Egypt and other neighboring countries. “It’s on the top of our priorities here in Egypt. We cannot afford having a failed state on our western border,” says Abdelatty.

In Egypt, the military and police face persistent deadly attacks carried out by insurgents based in the Sinai Peninsula who also pledged loyalty to ISIS this year. Those attacks accelerated following the military’s July 2013 overthrow of elected president Mohamed Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. Since the takeover, the authorities have jailed thousands in a vast crackdown on the Brotherhood and other political opponents.

As a result, some Egyptian officials characterize the battle in Libya as an extension of the domestic fight against political Islam. “It’s imperative to deal with all terrorist groups with the same firmness,” says Abdelatty. “There is no difference from our point of view between ISIS, Fajr Libya [Libya Dawn], the Muslim Brotherhood, Jabhat An-Nusra, or Ansar Al-Sharia. They are all the same.”

Heftar, the general spearheading the current assault on the Islamists, is a former commander in Gaddafi’s army who trained under the CIA in the 1980s with the aim of toppling the Libyan dictator. In his current campaign against the Islamists, Heftar has modeled his rhetoric on that of Egypt’s President el-Sisi, a popular former military commander viewed by some Egyptians as a national savior and reviled by others as a new despot. Framing his campaign as an assault on terrorists, Heftar has said the viability of his campaign depends on the level of outside support, according to Wehry.

But after more than six months of fighting, Heftar’s forces have failed to dislodge the Islamists, and some Egyptian officials have lost their enthusiasm for the general. “I’m somehow disappointed,” says Sameh Seif el-Yazal, a retired general from Egypt’s General Intelligence service. “He should have interfered in some occasions where he did not,” he says, naming as an example the Libyan town of Derna, which was taken by extremists in late November. “We saw Derna falling to ISIS without any work from his side.”

Analysts say that Egyptian policy has also been influenced by lobbying from members of the former Gaddafi regime. “We know that senior members of the old regime are very close to the Emirati royal family and also to Egyptian security officials,” says Gazzini. “They are part of this process of creating the movement for the support for the Tobruk faction.” Gaddafi’s cousin and former aide Ahmed Gaddaf Al-Dam, lives in exile in Egypt.

For the Tobruk government and its allied forces, a victory on the battlefield would only yield more problems. “These Islamist groups are not going to go quietly,” says Wehrey. “They’ll probably shift to a different set of tactics, a terrorist campaign. They’ll go underground. It’s entered a dangerous phase.” In Libya, the only certainty is continued bloodshed.

TIME ebola

Ebola-Stricken Families to Receive Cash Payments

Hawa Musa with her mother and children. Of 25 people living in the house, 17 have died from ebola, including her husband.
Hawa Musa (blue) with her mother and children. Musa used to rent rooms for income, but no one wants to rent her rooms anymore. She previously had 25 people living in her house, but 17 died of Ebola including her husband and a few of her children. She's taken in 10 more kids. Carly Learson—Carly Learson / UNDP

In 2015, the three Ebola-affected countries will start offering cash payments for families hit by Ebola, as well as survivors having trouble re-acclimating to society out of stigma for the disease.

Every aspect of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone’s societies have taken a hit from Ebola, and the disease has shocked what were once fragile but growing economies. Public spaces are now forbidden, so markets are empty, tourists are no longer traveling into the countries and international companies have largely pulled out, including large industries like mining. The World Bank estimates the aftershock of Ebola to already weakened economies will be “devastating.”

“We are seeing a backwards slide of development of about 10 years,” says Boaz Paldi, chief of media and advocacy at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). “The outlook is not good. We are fearful for these countries.” That’s why instead of waiting for caseloads to reach manageable numbers, the three countries, with the help of UNDP and other partners, are laying the groundwork now for rebuilding the damaged economies. One of the first major initiatives to be rolled out in the new year are cash transfers and payments to families who no longer have breadwinners and survivors out of work. Many women in the Ebola-affected countries have taken in orphaned children of their family members or neighbors, despite having no steady income.

Dudu Kromah's husband died recently from ebola. She is looking after ten children, many of them orphans including a 3-month-old baby.
Dudu Kromah’s husband died from Ebola. She is looking after ten children, many of them orphans including a 3-month-old baby. She has no income. Carly Learson—Carly Learson / UNDP

According to UNDP leaders, plans for the payment process are still being refined. Lists of names of affected families and survivors are being collected and coordinated for small pilot programs, starting early next year, to test the effectiveness of the payments in preparation for widespread efforts. UNDP has calculated that around $50 will keep a family of five going in the three countries with essential needs for one month, with some variations by country. The group is anticipating making monthly payments to 150-200,000 people in each of the countries.

Ultimately, the payment program may develop into a cash-for-work model, with payments in exchange for work rebuilding communities in an effort to inject cash into the local economy and enable people to earn a living.

Ideas for how to get youth involved are also being considered. In Sierra Leone, Ruby Sandhu-Rojon, the deputy director of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa, spoke to young people concerned that since residents can no longer go to their local markets, they are unable to buy the food they need. “So why not start a delivery company to have food delivered to the different communities? How can we provide the start-up capital for young people who want to initiative those types of activities?” says Sandhu-Rojon.

The three countries and the U.N., which launched the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) earlier this year, are also looking to the private sector. On Dec. 11 the U.N. held a U.N.-Business Collaboration for Global Ebola Response meeting as a way to get the private sector involved in both the response and recovery. A panel of high-level representatives from U.N. Missions in the affected countries, the U.S., U.K., and France put out a call for help from companies in areas major like logistics. Ultimately, the greatest plea was for companies to return to the countries and invest.

Sadly, all three countries were experiencing high growth rates before the start of Ebola, after coming out of conflicts like civil war. Sierra Leone had only recently launched its “Agenda for Prosperity,” a high-level initiative to become a middle-income country by 2035. High growth rates could largely be attributed to extractive industries like mining, which have now largely decreased their production or shut down, causing a government shortfall in revenue and massive loss of employment. Remaining national resources have been reallocated to the Ebola fight.

“It’s very disheartening, because all three of these countries were on their way up,” says Sandhu-Rojon.

The hope is cash payments will be a boost to help people get by. But increasingly more support and funding will be needed from the international community and private sector to get the countries back on their feet. Whether the countries will make it back to pre-Ebola growth may be a much greater, and longer battle.

TIME White House

Obama Says Sony ‘Made a Mistake’ Pulling The Interview

President Barack Obama speaks to members of the media during his last news conference of the year in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on Dec. 19, 2014 in Washington.
President Barack Obama speaks to members of the media during his last news conference of the year in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on Dec. 19, 2014 in Washington. Alex Wong—Getty Images

"That’s not who we are," Obama said

President Barack Obama said Friday that Sony “made a mistake” in pulling its film The Interview from distribution following a cyberattack that American officials have linked to North Korea.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Obama confirmed the FBI’s assessment that North Korea was behind the attack. He said he wished the studio had reached out to him before canceling the film’s release, and that he fears it sets a bad precedent for the nation.

“We cannot have a society where some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States,” Obama said. “Imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of someone who’s sensibilities probably need to be offended.”

“That’s not who we are,” Obama added, noting that the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing did not deter runners from running this year. “That’s not what America’s about.”

Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton, appearing on CNN shortly after Obama spoke, defended the studio. “We have not caved,” he said. “We have not given up. We have persevered and we have not backed down. We have always had every desire to have the American public see this movie.”

Obama promised that the United States would respond “proportionally” to the attack, but would not detail those actions publicly.

“We will respond,” he said. We will respond proportionally, and we will respond at a place and time that we choose.”

Read more: The 7 most outrageous things we learned from the Sony hack

TIME 2016 Election

Rand Taunts Rubio On Cuba Policy

Rubio "is acting like an isolationist," Paul charges

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul took to Twitter Friday to criticize his Republican colleague and likely 2016 presidential-primary rival Sen. Marco Rubio for the latter’s continued support of the U.S. embargo of Cuba.

In a series of tweets, Paul taunted the Florida senator over Rubio’s opposition to President Barack Obama’s efforts to normalize relations between the two countries, accusing Rubio of “acting like an isolationist.” The charge was even more biting given that Paul has been criticized by Republican hawks for being an isolationist on foreign policy.

Paul said Obama’s move was “probably a good idea,” while Rubio has heavily criticized the move.

The tweets are only the latest digital assault that Paul’s team has launched against a potential primary rival. Earlier this week, Paul’s political-action committee began running Google search ads critical of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

TIME intelligence

FBI Accuses North Korea in Sony Hack

North Korean leader Kim inspects the Artillery Company under the KPA Unit 963, in this undated photo released by North Korea's KCNA in Pyongyang
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the Artillery Company under the Korean People's Army Unit 963 in Pyongyang on Dec. 2, 2014 KCNA/Reuters

Fallout led Sony to pull The Interview

The FBI on Friday accused the North Korean government of being behind the devastating hack on Sony Pictures Entertainment that eventually prompted it to cancel the release of The Interview, the first formal statement that the U.S. government has concluded the isolated nation is responsible for the cyberattack.

“The FBI now has enough information to conclude that the North Korean government is responsible,” the bureau said in a statement. “Though the FBI has seen a wide variety and increasing number of cyber intrusions, the destructive nature of this attack, coupled with its coercive nature, sets it apart.”

President Barack Obama, asked Friday about Sony’s decision to pull The Interview, said: “Yes, I think they made a mistake”

The FBI said it determined North Korea was responsible based on an analysis of the malware involved and its similarities to previous attacks the U.S. government has attribute to North Korean-allied hackers, including an assault on South Korean banks and media outlets in 2013. These include “similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks,” the FBI said in its statement. According to the FBI, the malware used in the attack communicated with known North Korean computers. The FBI didn’t furnish evidence to back its assertion that North Korea was involved. North Korea has denied being behind the hack.

Read more: The 7 most outrageous things we learned from the Sony hack

Bureau investigators have been working for weeks with Sony executives and private security experts to investigate the scale and origins of the attack. For Sony, the hack has been devastating: It crippled the studio’s infrastructure, leaked sensitive documents about tens of thousands of employees and contractors, embarrassed executives and resulted in the studio’s decision to pull, The Interview, a movie whose plot centers around the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The film incensed the North Korean government.

Read more: 4 things every single person can learn from the Sony hack

The FBI did not say whether the attack was coordinated from within North Korea or through allies outside the hermit kingdom. The FBI said it could only provide limited information to the public to protect its sources and methods.

President Barack Obama is expected to address the incident on Friday afternoon in a White House news conference. On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the administration was treating the incident as a “serious national security matter.”

White House officials have convened daily meetings to discuss the attack and to devise options for a “proportional response,” Earnest said, not ruling out an American counter-attack on North Korean systems.

“The FBI’s announcement that North Korea is responsible for the attack on Sony Pictures is confirmation of what we suspected to be the case: that cyber terrorists, bent on wreaking havoc, have violated a major company to steal personal information, company secrets and threaten the American public,” Chris Dodd, who heads the trade group Motion Picture Association of America, said in a statement. “It is a despicable, criminal act.”

See the full FBI statement:

Today, the FBI would like to provide an update on the status of our investigation into the cyber attack targeting Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE). In late November, SPE confirmed that it was the victim of a cyber attack that destroyed systems and stole large quantities of personal and commercial data. A group calling itself the “Guardians of Peace” claimed responsibility for the attack and subsequently issued threats against SPE, its employees, and theaters that distribute its movies.

The FBI has determined that the intrusion into SPE’s network consisted of the deployment of destructive malware and the theft of proprietary information as well as employees’ personally identifiable information and confidential communications. The attacks also rendered thousands of SPE’s computers inoperable, forced SPE to take its entire computer network offline, and significantly disrupted the company’s business operations.

After discovering the intrusion into its network, SPE requested the FBI’s assistance. Since then, the FBI has been working closely with the company throughout the investigation. Sony has been a great partner in the investigation, and continues to work closely with the FBI. Sony reported this incident within hours, which is what the FBI hopes all companies will do when facing a cyber attack. Sony’s quick reporting facilitated the investigators’ ability to do their jobs, and ultimately to identify the source of these attacks.

As a result of our investigation, and in close collaboration with other U.S. Government departments and agencies, the FBI now has enough information to conclude that the North Korean government is responsible for these actions. While the need to protect sensitive sources and methods precludes us from sharing all of this information, our conclusion is based, in part, on the following:

· Technical analysis of the data deletion malware used in this attack revealed links to other malware that the FBI knows North Korean actors previously developed. For example, there were similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks.

· The FBI also observed significant overlap between the infrastructure used in this attack and other malicious cyber activity the U.S. Government has previously linked directly to North Korea. For example, the FBI discovered that several Internet protocol (IP) addresses associated with known North Korean infrastructure communicated with IP addresses that were hardcoded into the data deletion malware used in this attack.

· Separately, the tools used in the SPE attack have similarities to a cyber attack in March of last year against South Korean banks and media outlets, which was carried out by North Korea.

We are deeply concerned about the destructive nature of this attack on a private sector entity and the ordinary citizens who worked there. Further, North Korea’s attack on SPE reaffirms that cyber threats pose one of the gravest national security dangers to the United States. Though the FBI has seen a wide variety and increasing number of cyber intrusions, the destructive nature of this attack, coupled with its coercive nature, sets it apart. North Korea’s actions were intended to inflict significant harm on a U.S. business and suppress the right of American citizens to express themselves. Such acts of intimidation fall outside the bounds of acceptable state behavior. The FBI takes seriously any attempt – whether through cyber-enabled means, threats of violence, or otherwise – to undermine the economic and social prosperity of our citizens.

The FBI stands ready to assist any U.S. company that is the victim of a destructive cyber attack or breach of confidential business information. Further, the FBI will continue to work closely with multiple departments and agencies as well as with domestic, foreign, and private sector partners who have played a critical role in our ability to trace this and other cyber threats to their source. Working together, the FBI will identify, pursue, and impose costs and consequences on individuals, groups, or nation states who use cyber means to threaten the United States or U.S. interests.

TIME Know Right Now

Know Right Now: U.S. and Cuba Reevaluate Relationship

Watch #KnowRightNow to catch up on today's trending story

This week, prisoners were exchanged between the United States and Cuba as part of a joint effort to ease decades of tension between the two countries. Alan Gross was released from Cuba on humanitarian grounds. In exchange, three prisoners who were part of the famed Cuban Five were released by the United States.

That exchange came amid a historic thawing in relations between the U.S. and Cuba, as the President announced plans to ease the decades-long embargo on the island. Certain American exports will be allowed to go to Cuba, and the caps on remittances will be raised as well. However, President Obama cannot single-handedly lift the embargo, as only Congress has that power.

Watch today’s #KnowRightNow to find out more.

TIME ebola

How Your Tablet Can Help Find an Ebola Cure

rbrb_2118
Photodisc—Getty Images

Anyone with a computer or Android smartphone can perform cutting edge research on the formidable virus

Mark McCaskill’s daughter is only 11 years old and so far knows only the most basic things about viruses and how they work. But she’s conducting pioneering biological experiments to find a treatment for Ebola. Or at least her Kindle is. When she’s not using it to listen to her favorite singers or watch the latest TV shows, her tablet is scanning thousands of chemical compounds, any one of which could turn out to neutralize, or even destroy Ebola and save thousands of lives.

That’s because her father, Mark, a transportation planning expert for Roanoke Valley in Virginia, signed up her Kindle, two of his own PCs and his mother’s computer to IBM’s World Community Grid (WCG), an innovative mass computing network that allows anyone to contribute in the fight against everything from brain cancer to polluted water and now, Ebola, by essentially offering to WCG their computer’s processing power when it’s not otherwise being used. Nearly 700,000 people have registered their Android phones or PCs on the WCG (the grid isn’t compatible with iOS yet, but IBM says it’s working on it).

“Some people volunteer in a traditional sense with Meals on Wheels. I think of this as my own personal form of volunteering, a new high tech way of volunteering,” says McCaskill.

There’s massive amounts of data out there that could prove revolutionary, but sifting through thousands—or millions—of compounds takes a whole lot of computing power. So every time McCaskill and his family members aren’t on their computers or tablet, their processing power is shunted to combing through the millions of compounds that exist in drug libraries that could be the answer to stopping Ebola in its tracks. Computational engineers call it “distributed computing,” but for the rest of us, it’s an opportunity to make like a world class biologist or immunologist or environmental scientist and indulge our inner science geek. In 1999, the team behind SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, began using a similar strategy to analyze reams of radio signals from telescopes for possible extraterrestrial communications.

WCG essentially turns each device into a circuit in a massive virtual supercomputer. Each supercomputing task, such as vetting millions of chemical compounds for any potential activity against Ebola, is broken down into more manageable chunks and shunted to individual devices. The data, which is downloaded to the WCG in real time, is then collected, digitally ‘cleaned’ and delivered to the researcher like a birthday gift, neatly packaged and containing valuable and eagerly awaited information.

The idea for the WCG was born at IBM Foundation, when Stanley Litow, vice president of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs, began getting numerous requests from desperate scientists for IBM to donate supercomputers for their work. Declines in federal science grants meant that few institutes could afford the cost of a supercomputer at the same time that many of the most critical scientific projects—such as querying enormous databases of chemical compounds for potential cancer treatments and compounds that can fight emerging diseases like Ebola—required massive computing power. “We came to the conclusion that it would be possible to try to solve this problem with a virtual super computer using grid technology if we could get enough people to sign up to combine their computing power,” Litow says.

People were more than willing to chip in. More than 3 million devices from 680,000 donors are registered on the WCG. One of the grid’s projects, Help Fight Childhood Cancer, conducted 9 million virtual chemistry experiments in five years and found seven promising agents that are being studied to fight a common childhood brain cancer. The Clean Energy Project evaluated 100,000 molecular shapes of organic molecules to identify formations most suitable for becoming organic solar cells that may emerge as alternative sources of energy. And FightAIDS@Home was launched in 2005 and enlisted individual computers to collectively scan chemical compounds to find new drugs against HIV; it’s 90% complete. The Ebola project, which debuted on the grid the first week of December, completed in one week what it would have taken a PC with a single processor about 35 years to accomplish.

“My biologists cannot look at a million compounds, for one, and even if they could, we couldn’t afford to buy them all. And even if we could, there just isn’t enough time to screen them all,” says Erica Ollmann Saphire from the Scripps Research Institute who is scanning chemical databases for possible Ebola therapies.

Saphire has two Ebola-related projects that she’s hoping the network of devices out there will solve. In 2013, she and her team discovered that the wily Ebola virus actually existed in three different structural forms during its life cycle, changing from a holiday wreath structure to a zig-zagging matrix to a butterfly-like shape, each uniquely designed to optimize its journey from budding new virus to finding cells to infect and finally invading those cells. “It’s like having thread that can be yoga pants in the morning, unraveled and reknitted into a shirt for work, then unraveled and reknitted into slippers for the evening when you go home,” says Saphire.

But understanding how these three complex structures form, and what signals them to materialize at specific times, is a “really complex computational problem,” she says. “The level of complexity of the three entirely different structures is each so big that you can’t even say it might take hundreds of years for a computer to accomplish; it would just be impossible to accomplish since there are just too many atoms and too many variables,“ says Saphire.

But with thousands of people chipping away at a small part of the problem, the large, complex, nearly impossible problem becomes potentially manageable. At least that’s what Saphire and the scientists at IBM are hoping.

And people like McCaskill are happy to do their part. Has the heavy lifting for science put a dent in his computing power? Not at all, he says. Cyber security hasn’t been a concern since IBM monitors the grid and ensures that any private information on PCs isn’t accessed or downloaded. And his daughter hasn’t complained about the grid draining her battery power, since the Kindle is set up to do most of its computing while the device recharges at night.

“You don’t have to be in Silicon Valley, or some megalopolis, you can be in an area like we are, and be doing creative stuff and cutting edge research,” McCaskill says.

TIME Military

Why the U.S.-Cuba Thaw Doesn’t Mean Guantanamo Bay Is Closing

Guantanamo Bay Cuba
Camp X-Ray was the first detention facility to hold 'enemy combatants' at Guantanamo. Joe Raedle—Getty Images

The U.S. Navy’s historic base—and new terror prison—is unlikely to go anywhere anytime soon

Like Sherlock Holmes’ dog that didn’t bark, the absence of debate over the fate of the U.S. base at Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay since President Barack Obama announced resumed ties between the two nations on Wednesday is striking.

For several reasons, nothing is likely to change, at least not in the near future, even as the U.S. restores its embassy in Havana and Obama nominates an ambassador to occupy it (although some lawmakers plan to oppose the envoy’s confirmation). Obama Administration officials have said reopening of relations between the two nations doesn’t affect the base.

For more than a decade, the 111-year old base—and the more than 130 detainees kept there for their suspected roles in the 9/11 and other terror attacks—have been a white-hot issue among human-rights advocates. Six years ago, Obama signed an order shortly after he was sworn in as President requiring the prison be shut down within a year.

That obviously didn’t happen, for legal, political and diplomatic reasons. There have been calls to shutter the prison and conduct trials of the accused on U.S. soil, something Congress has forbidden. It also has been challenging for the U.S. to find other nations willing to take the detainees.

But even if the prison and the detainees it now holds vanished overnight, it’s doubtful the U.S. would relinquish the base, U.S. military officials say. Cuba has wanted it back since Fidel Castro came to power more than 50 years ago. The U.S. signed a deal in 1903 with the Cuban government—after ousting the Spanish from Cuba in the Spanish-American War—allowing the U.S. to construct a base at Guantanamo Bay in exchange for an annual payment, in gold, now worth about $4,000 (the Cuban government refuses the payment).

Some defense experts, like former Pentagon official Lawrence Korb, think it’s time for the U.S. to abandon Guantanamo and the bad memories it holds. “We should turn Guantanamo back to Cuba in a reasonable period of time,” says Korb, now at the Center for American Progress. “That base is not that critical now, given what’s happening in the world, and Gitmo has caused real difficulties for our global reputation.”

But the U.S. military disagrees, and is unlikely to want to surrender such real estate, perched near the southeast corner of the island. It is seen as especially valuable since the U.S. gave up its Navy base at the Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, a decade ago.

The prior chief of U.S. Southern Command, which overseas Latin America and the Caribbean, made that clear. “Absent a detention facility and even following the eventual demise of the Castro regime,” Air Force General Douglas Fraser told Congress in March 2012, “the strategic capability provided by U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo remains essential for executing national priorities throughout the Caribbean, Latin America and South America.”

With language like that, it’s a safe bet that the U.S. military won’t be lowering its flag over Guantanamo any time soon.

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