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Foreign Affairs

Suffer, Little Children

In Saudi Arabia, breaking the law can lead to the chopping block for a public beheading—even for minors, according to a new report. The first fact-finding visit by a human-rights group allowed by the Saudi government turned up disturbing evidence about the country’s justice system: children under 18 are routinely tried as adults, with potential sentences of flogging, amputation, or death; legal counsel is often unavailable for youth offenders; and juvenile-detention facilities are so overcrowded and poorly supervised that minors sometimes end up in the same cells as hardened criminals. Many of the tens of thousands of children trafficked into the country—for use as beggars or for sexual exploitation—end up on the streets, where they’re treated as criminals and risk deportation. Youths can be detained for exchanging phone numbers with the opposite sex, and girls can face prosecution for “seclusion,” or being alone with a male who’s not a relative. The authors report that at least 12 children have been sentenced to death in recent years, and that at least three were executed in 2007.

“Adults Before Their Time: Children in Saudi Arabia’s Criminal Justice System,” Human Rights Watch

Intelligence

The Modern Spy
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Think you can spot a spy? Cold War caricatures won’t help: a study by a Defense Department think tank finds that the profile of a homegrown spook has changed significantly in the past two decades, reflecting new threats from abroad. The report compares data on nearly 200 Americans caught spying on their countrymen since 1947, using public records and classified files from federal agencies. Today’s spies tend to be much older than their Cold War predecessors, more educated (twice as many have advanced degrees), and less likely to be drunks or gamblers. Blackmail—of the compromising-photo variety, say—is no longer a salient motivation. In fact, according to the study, no one is known to have been coerced into spying since 1980. Most spies are not even lured by cash: in the past two decades, only 7 percent of spooks passed on secrets solely for the money (74 percent did so during the Cold War), and 81 percent received no money at all. Instead, they’re typically spurred by loyalty to other countries and causes, partly because many more of them are foreign-born. More than half of the most recent cases involved terrorists, and spies are now much more likely to pass secrets to stateless groups like al-Qaeda—which technically may not be a crime. The ambiguous legal framework governing espionage dates back to World War I and seems to address only spying done on behalf of foreign states.

“Changes in Espionage by Americans: 1947–2007,” [PDF] Katherine L. Herbig, Defense Personnel Security Research Center

Crime

Cyber Suckers

Despite spending ever more time and money on the Internet, Americans don’t seem to be wising up to online scams. According to a report by the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, while total complaints about online scams remained flat last year (at some 200,000), fraudsters made off with more dough than ever—$239 million, up about 20 percent over 2006. Fraud on auction sites like eBay caused the most complaints. But with an average loss of $484 per incident, such schemes are small change compared with investment fraud ($3,548 per incident), check scams ($3,000), and Nigerian e-mail rope-a-dopes ($1,923—no joke). The feds also warn about secret-shopper scams, in which victims are hired to help evaluate retail outlets or restaurants. They get a bad check in the mail and are told to quickly wire a percent of the total to a third party to cover costs; by the time the check bounces, their money is gone. Scammers also snared many victims through their hearts, on dating and social-networking sites. In these cons, the putative love interest asks for money to pay for travel to an amorous meeting, then claims to undergo a series of expensive disasters—and asks for more cash.

“2007 Internet Crime Report,” [PDF] Internet Crime Complaint Center, FBI

Education

The Kids Are Alright

Critics of the Teach for America program, which recruits top college graduates to teach in poorly performing public schools, have long questioned whether the program’s instructors are properly prepared, citing evidence that links teacher effectiveness to experience. However, the first study to examine Teach for America at the secondary-school level, recently released by the Urban Institute, finds that its teachers are in fact more effective than those with traditional training—at all levels of experience. The study measured performance on state exams and found that students of Teach for America instructors did significantly better in all subject areas tested, and especially in math and science. The authors found that even though the program’s teachers are assigned to “the most demanding classrooms,” they’re able to compensate for their lack of experience with better academic preparation and motivation. As a result, the authors say, students are better off with Teach for America instructors “than with fully licensed in-field teachers with three or more years of experience.”

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