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The Mt. Gox bitcoin exchange in Tokyo filed for bankruptcy protection Friday and its chief executive said 850,000 bitcoins, worth several hundred million dollars, are unaccounted for. The exchange's CEO Mark Karpeles appeared before Japanese TV news cameras, bowing deeply. He said a weakness in the exchange's systems was behind a massive loss of the virtual currency involving 750,000 bitcoins from users and 100,000 of the company's own bitcoins. That would amount to about $425 million.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, one of Al Qaida's most brutal terrorists is reportedly the target of one of the biggest manhunts in modern Middle Eastern history. A British newspaper is reporting he has a 6 million pound bounty on his head because he allegedly has 25 British extremists among his loyalists . The Mirror says he was sacked by al-Qaida for disobeying orders and beheading people in public.
There are some strange bedfellows in the Middle East sometimes. Reuters is reporting, based on documents it has obtained that Iran has signed a deal to sell Iraq arms and ammunition worth $195 million. That would be a direct violation of a U.N. embargo on weapons sales by Tehran. The agreement was supposedly reached at the end of November, weeks after Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki asked the Obama administration for extra weapons to fight al Qaeda-linked militants.
Reviving images of the Cold War, the Ukrainian violence has again pitted the U.S. against Russia with militaristic overtones. Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren warned the Ukrainian armed forces to stay out of the conflict, as "participation would have consequences in our defense relationship". Russia has accused the U.S. of meddling and says it will stay out of the situation.
Syrian peace talks are not making much progress. There are reports the Assad regime is stepping up attacks on rebels and anecdotal evidence that Al Qaida trained militants are leaving Syria and heading back to their home countries. Amid all this, the US and its allies are stepping up their search a solution to the brutal civil war. One of the elements being discussed is a more active role for the US military.
Roadside bombs have killed nearly 3,600 military service members and wounded 34,000 more in Iraq and Afghanistan, but many of the long-term health effects are unknown for those who seemingly walked away without serious injury. For that reason, the Institute of Medicine is calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs to create a registry of service members exposed to such bombs so the long-term consequences can be better tracked.
A Pentagon spokesman says that if any of the 65 Afghan militants who were released from a former U.S. prison return to the battlefield, U.S. forces might hunt them down. The Pentagon's press secretary, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, said Friday that the 65 are not considered targets at the moment.
U.S. banks and retail groups say they are joining forces to work on cyber security, getting past recent finger pointing for data breaches. The Financial Services Roundtable, Retail Industry Leaders Association and several other trade associations said the new partnership would focus on sharing more information on cyber threats.
Utah lawmakers are sending mixed messages to the National Security Agency, which runs a massive data-storage warehouse outside of Salt Lake City. One proposal is calling for legislators not to collect utility taxes from the center. Meanwhile, another lawmaker wants to cut off water to the center, which uses more than 1 million gallons daily to cool its computer processers.
U.S. military officials said the number of American troops in Afghanistan could drop to as low as 20,000 by mid-summer, giving commanders the ability to pull them all out by the end of the year if no agreement is reached. It generally takes about 10 months to shut down a massive military base, but officials said the Pentagon is prepared to do it in a much shorter - although far more expensive - timeline.