Entries in Middle East (9)


Hackers, Possibly from Middle East, Block US Banks' Websites

Jin Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The financial and banking industries are on high alert Thursday night as a massive cyberattack continues, with potentially millions of customers of Bank of America, PNC and Wells Fargo finding themselves blocked from banking online.

"There is an elevated level of threat," said Doug Johnson, a vice president and senior adviser of the American Bankers Association. "The threat level is now high."

"This is twice as large as any flood we have ever seen," said Dick Clarke, an ABC News consultant and former cybersecurity czar.

Sources told ABC News that the so-called denial of service attacks had been caused by hackers from the Middle East who had secretly transmitted signals commandeering thousands of computers worldwide.

Those computers -- or "zombies" -- were then used to overwhelm bank websites with a barrage of electronic traffic.

Different banks have been targeted on different days.

Thursday was PNC Bank's turn: For three hours, ABC News tried to get on the PNC website to no avail.

On Facebook, a frustrated customer, Cynthia Schirm, wrote, "Trying to pay bills. This is ridiculous."

"Hopefully it can be up soon," wrote Stacy Briggs-Gerlach. "Never realized how dependent I am on it!!!"

A group of hackers calling themselves Izz ad-Din al-Qassam warned the financial industry that it was going to attack in retaliation for the controversial film "The Innocence of Muslims," which provoked outrage across the Muslim world earlier this month.

The U.S. said it suspected that hackers in Iran were also involved.

"This is the first time that we know about, where a Middle Eastern entity, perhaps a Middle Eastern government, has attacked websites, critical infrastructure, in the United States," Clarke said.

Even though hackers have not been able to steal any money during these attacks, authorities say they fear the next generation of widescale cyber assaults could be more devastating.

"If they get inside the banks, they can move money around and cause financial chaos," Clarke said.

ABC News obtained a Sept. 17 FBI alert warning that foreign hackers were targeting bank and credit union workers.

In a number of those cases, the hackers stole employee login credentials and then wired themselves between $400,000 and $900,000.

Sources told ABC News that the U.S. government was actively working to locate and disrupt the massive attacks.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


US Products Are Tops in the Middle East

John Foxx/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- From cars and food to clothing and businesses, consumers in the Middle East love their U.S. products.

According to the U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce, U.S. exports to the Arab world are expected to reach $117 billion next year -- up from $68 billion in 2010 -- which result in one million stateside jobs.

The U.S. is the top exporting country to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with exports totaling $13.8 billion and $2.8 billion in 2011, respectively.  The top growth sectors are machinery, meat, household goods, toys and games.

GM is the number one American car company in the Middle East. While the U.S. car industry grew by just 1 percent in 2011, GM said that it grew by 13 percent.  Its Tahoe sport utility vehicle, manufactured in Texas, is the number one seller in the region, followed by the Yukon SUV.

Eli's Cheesecake out of Chicago forged a partnership in 2010 with Herfy, Saudi Arabia's biggest and most successful fast-food brand.  With 250 workers, Eli's makes 15,000 to 20,000 desserts a year and now exports about 10 percent of those treats to Herfy's network of 185 restaurants in five countries.

Eli's said that because of its overseas deal, the company has grown by 50 percent in the past year.

For Nancy Mercolino, president of Ceilings Plus, the Middle East -- and Europe -- have meant big business for her Los Angeles manufacturing company.  Ceilings Plus has $30 million in annual revenue and 55 percent of its sales hail from Europe and the Middle East.

"We've doubled our job count at our company -- more than double in the last four years -- and we owe that to our exporting," she told ABC News.  "We owe the growth of Ceilings Plus over the past five years to the innovation, care and quality of our employees."

The 160-strong company, which makes wood and metal ceilings, beat out 10 others to build all the ceilings in the new Doha airport.  Every single component of the ceilings -- all three million square feet -- were made in Los Angeles.

Mercolino also credited Export-Import Bank of the U.S. with her company's overseas business boom.

"[The bank] also made an incredible impact on our ability to get the equipment and finance these projects," she said.  "Without [Export-Import] bank, we wouldn't be here today.  We could not have done this project without government financing.  Private lenders don't readily lend as deemed risky."

Mercolino said that as small businesses like hers and Eli's gained more experience and knowhow to take their product overseas, other countries should take notice.

"It's a long journey that's still not done.  We're still in the beginning phase," she said.  "If we get started exporting, China, I think, should watch out.  We are the sleeping giant and they're just waking us up." 

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Biden Blames High Gas Prices on Litany of Foreign Factors

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(NORFOLK, Va.) -- Vice President Joe Biden promised students at a Virginia high school a quick explanation for why U.S. gas prices are high and still rising, but then went on for 11 minutes, delving into the complexities of the oil market and of the changes and tensions in the Middle East.

The explanation came when a student at Maury High School in Norfolk, Va., following a speech on college affordability, asked the vice president why gas prices are so high.

Biden said that the average price per gallon, which has nearly doubled under the Obama administration, is tied to a complex global oil market that has skyrocketed because of “talk about war with Iran”; fear that Iran might “take out the Saudi oil fields and Bahraini oil fields”; the Arab Spring movement; “war in Libya”; the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood; and a potential for unforeseen political unrest, such as “chaos in Russia.”

“It’s complicated. You fully understand it. I’m going to give you a brief answer, remembering that famous admonition of Samuel Clemens: He said all generalizations are false, including this one. But I’m going to give it to you as quick and as straight as I can,” Biden said before launching into 11 minutes of talking points.

“I’m treating this answer like I would if I were answering on Meet the Press so I hope I’m not offending anybody by just going straight to it,” he said, pausing halfway through.

After the speech, the Republican National Committee circulated Biden’s longwinded explanation as a “non-answer” to the question about why prices are so high, and they suggested the vice president was engaging in the kind of “loose talk of war” that the administration has recently decried.

In an interview last month with a local TV affiliate from Orlando, Fla., President Obama said, “The biggest driver of these high gas prices is speculation about possible war in the Middle East, which is why we have been trying to reduce some of the loose talk about war there.”

On Tuesday, Biden said the administration has been trying to reduce the threat of war in the region.

“We're trying to manage these outcomes in ways that will bring some stability. But the world markets don’t care about that. They just hedge the bets,” Biden said.

He also defended Obama’s record on drilling and investments in renewable energy sources, as well as his call to end billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies for oil companies.

“There’s no way to get energy independent unless you do all of the above,” he said. “I get confused by our friends who don’t think we should do any of that.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Romney: Obama Trying to Blame GOP for High Gas Prices

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(KIRKWOOD, Missouri) -- Mitt Romney said President Obama’s assertion that concerns about war between Iran and Israel in the Middle East are to blame for rising gas prices is a “pretty tough one to follow” and suggested the president is trying to deflect blame to his Republican rivals.

In an interview with ABC affiliate KVUE Monday, the president said concern about the Middle East and war there contributes to escalating gas prices.

“In the short term, the biggest driver is what’s happening in the Middle East and the concerns over war there. A couple of weeks ago I said, ‘Let’s stop with the loose talk about war,” Obama said.

Romney said the president was trying to pin blame on Republicans for gas prices.

“He said [the reason we have high gasoline prices] is because Republican presidential candidates are talking in a very muscular way about Iran and their nuclear program,” said Romney, speaking at an outdoor event outside St. Louis. “Now that’s a pretty tough one to follow, alright.”

“And frankly it’s disappointing to have the president of the United States take a serious foreign policy issue which is Iran, the state sponsor of terror in the world becoming nuclear, and trying to turn that into saying we’re somehow responsible for high gasoline prices in this country,” Romney continued.

Obama reiterated the talking point about “loose talk” of war, the Middle East and gas prices several times on Monday during a series of interviews in Washington, D.C., with local TV stations from throughout the country.

“The biggest driver of these high gas prices is speculation about possible war in the Middle East, which is why we’ve been trying to reduce some of the loose talk about why war there,” Obama said during a separate interview with ABC’s Orlando, Fla., affiliate, WFTV.

Romney said that Obama is simply deflecting responsibility when it comes to gas prices.

“The president is looking around for someone to blame,” said Romney. “You know, it’s, it seems to be part of his nature. He’s out of ideas, he’s out of excuses, and in 2012 we’re going to get him out of office. That’s got to get done.”

“But he said something, I think it was yesterday, he said the reason we have high gasoline prices is – and then he was seeking around. What could it be? What could it be?” said Romney. “Now I have some suggestions for him. Maybe it’s related to the fact that you stopped drilling in the Gulf. Maybe it’s related to the fact, Mr. President that you weren’t out drilling in ANWR. Maybe it’s related to the fact that you said we couldn’t get a pipeline in from Canada known as Keystone. Those things affect gasoline prices, long term.”

The president made the comment warning against “loose talk” of war before a meeting of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group. During a press conference two days later, as Republicans in 10 states were voting in their primaries, he was asked about the need for debate on tension between Israel, the U.S. and Iran.

“Well, I think there’s no doubt that those who are suggesting, or proposing, or beating the drums of war should explain clearly to the American people what they think the costs and benefits would be,” Obama said during that March 6th press conference.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Gas Prices Expected to Soar 

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Drivers can expect to see gas prices soar this summer, according to Tom Kloza of the Oil Price Information Service. The cost of a gallon of gas has gone up 19 cents in the past four weeks to $3.48, and higher-than-usual increases could be seen as the peak demand seasons approach.

“We're looking at a spring that resembles early summer 2008, which is to say that we're going to see prices between $3.75 and $4.25,” Kloza said.

High crude prices and fewer working refineries will drive the increase, but -- despite all of the tension in the Middle East -- Kloza said not to expect another oil spike like the one experienced in the 1970s, since the U.S. now depends on Canadian, Mexican and South American crude oil.

Full scale military action in the Middle East, however, could push gas prices even higher. “I think that if you had an Israeli strike on Iran, Kloza said, “or a real attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz, you'd be looking at drastically higher prices.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio 


Stocks Close Lower Monday Amid Continued Uncertainty for Japan, Middle East

John Foxx/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The market was dogged by persistent concerns about Japan and the Middle East Monday. Traders kept one eye on developments in Japan and the Arab world, the other on U.S. economic news.  

By Monday's end, Wall Street saw a selloff in light trading as uncertainty gripped the market.  The Dow finished 23 points lower at 12,198, the Nasdaq was off by 12 and the S&P closed down 3.6 points.

Before the stocks' drop late Monday, there was a slight boost, according to The Wall Street Journal, due to a reported 0.7 percent increase in last month's consumer spending.  The increase was the highest since October and exceeded economist projections.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


High Gas and Oil Prices: It's Not Just About the Middle East 

Comstock Images/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) -- Gas prices are still at their highest levels since 2008, in part because of the Japan earthquake and turmoil in the oil-producing Middle East. But analysts say the price of oil and gas would still hover at a surprisingly high level despite geopolitical concerns.

Oil futures settled at $105.40 a barrel Friday, the third consecutive day above $105, according to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group.

On Monday, the Department of Energy will release its weekly gas prices and analysts expect they will remain mostly unchanged. Last week's national average was $3.51 per gallon for regular gas, an increase of 74 cents from a year ago, and .05 cents from the prior week. Last week was the 13th consecutive week that the average was above $3 a barrel. The last time gas passed was above $3.50 was Sept. 29, 2008, when the weekly average was $3.64.

Robert Powell, Middle East analyst with The Economist Intelligence Unit, estimates that even without the current conflicts in countries including Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya, oil would still be around $90 a barrel. Why? The simple rules of supply and demand, he said.

"The fourth quarter of last year was pretty robust globally," Powell said.

In fact, the Commerce Department announced Friday the U.S. economy grew quicker than first thought. Gross domestic product in the U.S. grew at an annualized rate of 3.1 percent, revised from 2.8 percent.

Charles Dewhurst, national energy practice leader at BDO, agrees with Powell that without the recent global events, oil prices would be around $90 a barrel. He points to events in Libya and Japan, in particular, as contributors to the high price of oil.

"My perspective is there probably is a $15 price premium right now because of those two events," Dewhurst said. "The Japanese economy is going to need its electric power from oil-based sources as a backup to their nuclear problems. Their demand for oil has already increased."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Middle East Unrest Continues to Affect Stocks, Oil

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Monday was the second anniversary of the bull market.  But stocks added to Friday's losses.

Stocks gave up earlier gains, as higher oil prices continued to be a drag on the market. Oil prices continued to rise as fighting intensified between Libyan government forces and rebels, hitting a two-year high. Prices moved close to $107 a barrel before retreating to about $105.

The Dow lost 80 points at 12,090 while NASDAQ was down 39 points. S&P closed down 11.

Economic growth across the Middle East could take a significant hit because of the political upheaval in the region.  A senior analyst at Moody's credit agency said as much as two percent of economic growth could be wiped out this year.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Gas Prices Rising: $5.29 in Florida, $4.00 in Massachusetts

WCVB-TV(NEW YORK) -- Oil prices around the world continued to soar Friday, buffeted by uncertainty in the Middle East.

Crude oil futures hovered above $103 a barrel in New York Friday morning. In London trading, oil headed for its sixth weekly gain, according to Bloomberg News.

An oil facility in Libya was reportedly damaged and on fire, the Al Jazeera news channel reported. Meanwhile, demonstrators continued to protest in Saudi Arabia, demanding the release of Shiite prisoners, according to CNN.

"I think there's a storm brewing in Saudi Arabia," said Tom di Galoma, head of fixed income rates trading with Guggenheim Securities. "All these geopolitical events in Middle East are causing oil to spike."

In the United States, how much pain at the pump drivers feel may depend on location. In Orlando, Fla., two gas stations that are the closest to the airport, and across the street from each other, are selling regular at $5.29 and $5.19 a gallon.

After the biggest one-week rise in oil prices in two years, weekly gas prices increased 6 percent this week, according to the Department of Energy. The national average is $3.38 per gallon, an increase of 19 cents over the previous week and 68 cents from the previous year. The average price in California, one of the most expensive states, is $3.72 per gallon. The least expensive gas is in the Rocky Mountain region: $3.18 a gallon.

Crude oil production has decreased between 500,000 to 750,000 barrels daily in Libya, less than one percent of global oil consumption, down from its typical capacity of 1.6 million barrels, the International Energy Agency reported last week.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio