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Sunday, January 29, 2006


Will Security Problems Quash IPO Plans for Controversial Company?

January 27, 2006

The VeriChip can be hacked! This revelation along with other worrisome details could put a crimp in VeriChip Corporation's planned initial public offering (IPO) of its common stock, say Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre.

The anti-RFID activists and authors of "Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Move with RFID" make no bones about their objection to VeriChip's plans to inject glass encapsulated RFID tags into people. But now they've discovered information that could call VeriChip's entire business model into question.

"If you look at the VeriChip purely from the business angle, it's a ridiculously flawed product," says McIntyre. She notes that security researcher Jonathan Westhues has shown how easy it is to clone a VeriChip implanted in a person's arm and program a new chip with the same number.

Westhues, known for his prior work cloning RFID-based proximity cards, has posted his VeriChip cloning demo online at

The VeriChip "is not good for anything," says Westhues, has absolutely no security and "solves a number of different non-problems badly."

The chip's security issues may spell trouble for those who have had one of the microchips embedded in their flesh. These include eighteen employees in the Mexican Attorney General's office who use an implanted chip to enter a sensitive records room, and a handful bar patrons in Europe who use the injected chips to pay for drinks. "What are these people going to do now that their chips can be cloned?" says McIntyre. "Wear tinfoil shirts or keep everyone at arm's length?"

Albrecht quips, "A man with a chip in his arm may soon find himself wondering whether that cute gal on the next bar stool likes his smile or wants to clone his VeriChip. It gives new meaning to the burning question, 'Does she want my number?'"

But the VeriChip's problems don't stop there, says McInytre, who is also a former bank examiner and financial writer. She has carefully analyzed the company's SEC registration statement and associated chipping information and discovered serious flaws. It turns out the company's own literature indicates that chipped patients cannot undergo an MRI if they're unconscious. What's more, the company admits that critical medical information linked to the chip could be unavailable in a real emergency. "These issues call VeriChip's promotional campaigns and business plan into question," McIntyre says.

The instructions provided to medical personnel warn that chipped patients should not undergo an MRI unless they are fully alert and able to communicate any "unusual sensations or problems," like movement or heating of the implant. This conflicts with company's efforts to promote people who cannot speak for themselves, such as Alzheimer's patients, those with dementia, the mentally disabled, and people concerned about entering an emergency room unconscious.

"The irony is that implantees will have to wear a Medic Alert bracelet or bear some obvious marking so they aren't mistakenly put in an MRI machine," Albrecht says.

Chipped patients might also have to wear a Medic Alert bracelet as a back-up in case the VeriChip database containing their critical medical information is unavailable. The fine print on the back of the VeriChip Patient Registration Form warns implantees that "the Company does not warrant...that the website will be available at any particular time," and physicians are told the product might not function in places where there are ambient radio transmissions--like ambulances. In addition, patients are required to waive any claims related to the product's "merchantability and fitness."

The waiver paragraph as it appears on the form is reprinted below:

" fully aware of any risks, complications, risks of
loss, damage of any nature, and injury that may be associated
with this registration. Patient waives all claims and releases
any liability arising from this registration and acknowledges
that no warranties of any kind have been made or will be made
with respect to this registration. ALL WARRANTIES, WHETHER
." [Emphasis in
the original.]

"For a life or death medical device, that's unbelievable," says McIntyre. "I wouldn't buy toilet paper that required that kind of a disclaimer, never mind a product that's supposed to serve as a lifeline in an emergency."

McIntyre contacted the VeriChip Corporation for comments on these issues and was initially promised a response. When the company failed to get to get back to her, McIntyre followed up and was told that the employee had been instructed not to answer her questions. The unanswered questions, along with photos of the VeriChip and associated literature, are available at:


"Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track your Every Move with RFID" was released in October 2005. Already in its fifth printing, "Spychips" is the winner of the Lysander Spooner Award for Advancing the Literature of Liberty and has received wide critical acclaim. Authored by Harvard doctoral researcher Katherine Albrecht and former bank examiner Liz McIntyre, the book is meticulously researched, drawing on patent documents, corporate source materials, conference proceedings, and firsthand interviews to paint a compelling – and frightening -- picture of the threat posed by RFID.

Despite its hundreds of footnotes and academic-level accuracy, the book remains lively and readable according to critics, who have called it a "techno-thriller" and "a masterpiece of technocriticism."

CASPIAN: Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering Opposing retail surveillance schemes since 1999.

You're welcome to duplicate and distribute this message to others who may find it of interest.

Monday, January 23, 2006

"The Looniest of All 9-11
Conspiracy Theories"

"... one of the curious characteristics of conspiracy theorists is that they effortlessly change their so-called evidence in response to each aspect which is debunked. As soon as one delusion is unmasked, they simply invent another to replace it, and deny that the first ever existed. Eventually, when they have turned full circle through this endlessly changing fantasy fog, they then re-invent the original delusion and deny that you ever debunked it, thus beginning the circle once more. This technique is known as 'the fruit loop' and saves the conspiracy theorist from ever having to see any of their ideas through to their (il)ogical conclusions."

“Let us not tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories,” President Bush stated amid increasingly loud accusations that his administration may have allowed the tragic events of 9/11 to occur as a pretext justifying U.S. expansion of armed conflict around the world to allegedly wage war on terrorism. Curiously, most of the “outrageous conspiracy theories” to which he refers incorporate some extremely sound science, logic and witness testimony where the official version is lacking in those critical areas. The following is a rather clever and immensely sarcastic approach to the government's explanation of 9/11 -- which follows a pattern established by the “magic bullet theory” to explain the assassination of JFK and a Ryder truck full of fertilizer and fuel oil to explain the damage at the Murrah federal building in OK City

By Gerard Holmgren
From the August 2003 Idaho Observer

Astute observers of history are aware that for every notable event there will usually be at least one, often several wild conspiracy theories which spring up around it. 'The CIA killed Hendrix', 'The Pope had John Lennon murdered', 'Hitler was half Werewolf', 'Space aliens replaced Nixon with a clone' etc, etc. The bigger the event, the more ridiculous and more numerous are the fanciful rantings which circulate in relation to it.

So it’s hardly surprising that the events of September 11th, 2001 have spawned their fair share of these ludicrous fairy tales. And as always, there is -- sadly -- a small but gullible percentage of the population eager to lap up these tall tales, regardless of facts or rational analysis.

One of the wilder stories circulating about September 11th -- and one that has attracted something of a cult following amongst conspiracy buffs -- is that it was carried out by nineteen fanatical Arab hijackers, masterminded by an evil genius named Osama bin Laden, with no apparent motivation other than that they 'hate our freedoms.'

Never a group of people to be bothered by facts, the perpetrators of this cartoon fantasy have constructed an elaborately woven web of delusions and unsubstantiated hearsay in order to promote this garbage across the internet and the media to the extent that a number of otherwise rational people have actually fallen under its spell.

Normally I don't even bother debunking this kind of junk, but the effect that this paranoid myth is beginning to have requires a little rational analysis, in order to consign it to the same rubbish bin as all such silly conspiracy theories.

These crackpots even contend that the extremist Bush regime was caught unawares by the attacks, had no hand in organizing them, and actually would have stopped them if it had been able. Blindly ignoring the stand down of the US air-force, the insider trading on airline stocks -- linked to the CIA -- the complicit behavior of Bush on the morning of the attacks, the controlled demolition of the WTC, the firing of a missile into the Pentagon and a host of other documented proofs that the Bush regime was behind the attacks, the conspiracy theorists stick doggedly to a silly story about nineteen Arab hijackers somehow managing to commandeer four planes simultaneously and fly them around US airspace for nearly two hours, crashing them into important buildings, without the US intelligence services having any idea that it was coming, and without the Air Force knowing what to do.

The huge difficulties with such a stupid story force them to invent even more preposterous stories to distract from its core silliness, and thus the tale has escalated into a mythic fantasy of truly gargantuan proportions.

It's difficult to apply rational analysis to such unmitigated stupidity, but that is the task which I take on in this article. However, it should be noted that one of the curious characteristics of conspiracy theorists is that they effortlessly change their so called evidence in response to each aspect which is debunked. As soon as one delusion is unmasked, they simply invent another to replace it, and deny that the first ever existed.

Eventually, when they have turned full circle through this endlessly changing fantasy fog, they then re-invent the original delusion and deny that you ever debunked it, thus beginning the circle once more. This technique is known as 'the fruit loop' and saves the conspiracy theorist from ever having to see any of their ideas through to their (il)ogical conclusions.

According to the practitioners of the fruit loop, nineteen Arabs took over four planes by subduing the passengers and crew through the use of guns, knives, box cutters and gas, and then used electronic guidance systems which they had smuggled on board to fly the planes to their targets.

The suspension of disbelief required for this outrageous concoction is only for the hard core conspiracy theorist. For a start, they conveniently skip over the awkward fact that there weren't any Arabs on the planes. If there were, one must speculate that they somehow got on board without being filmed by any of the security cameras and without being registered on the passenger lists. But the curly question of how they are supposed to have got on board is all too mundane for the exciting world of the conspiracy theorist. With vague mumblings that they must have been using false ID -- but never specifying which IDs they are alleged to have used, or how these were traced to their real identities -- they quickly bypass this problem, to relate exciting and sinister tales about how some of the fictitious fiends were actually searched before boarding because they looked suspicious. However, as inevitably happens with any web of lies, this simply paints them into an even more difficult corner. How are they supposed to have got on board with all that stuff if they were searched? And if they used gas in a confined space, they would have been affected themselves unless they also had masks in their luggage.

"Excuse me sir, why do you have a boxcutter, a gun, a container of gas, a gas mask and an electronic guidance unit in your luggage?"

"A present for your grandmother? Very well sir, on you get."

"Very strange", thinks the security officer, "that's the fourth Arabic man without an Arabic name who just got on board with a knife, gun or boxcutter and gas mask...and why does that security camera keep flicking off every time one these characters shows up? Must be one of those days I guess..."

Asking any of these basic questions to a conspiracy theorist is likely to cause a sudden leap to the claim that we know that they were on board because they left a credit card trail for the tickets they had purchased and cars they had rented. So if they used credit cards that identified them, how does that reconcile with the claim that they used false IDs to get on to the plane? But by this time, the fruit loop is in full swing, as the conspiracy theorist tries to stay one jump ahead of this annoying and awkward rational analysis. They will allege that the hijackers' passports were found at the crash scenes. "So there!" they exalt triumphantly, their fanatical faces lighting up with that deranged look of one who has just a revelation of questionable sanity.

Hmm? So they got on board with false IDs but took their real passports with them? However, by this time the fruit loop has been completely circumnavigated, and the conspiracy theorist exclaims impatiently, "who said anything about false IDs? We know what seats they were sitting in! Their presence is well documented!" And so the whole loop starts again. "Well, why aren't they on the passenger lists?" "You numbskull! They assumed the identities of other passengers!" And so on...

Finally, out of sheer fascination with this circular method of creative delusion, the rational skeptic will allow them to get away with this loop, in order to move on to the next question, and see what further delights await us in the unraveling of this marvelously stupid story.

"Uh, how come their passports survived fiery crashes that completely incinerated the planes and all the passengers? "The answer of course is that its just one of those strange coincidences, those little quirks of fate that do happen from time to time. You know, like the same person winning the lottery four weeks in a row. The odds are astronomical, but these things do happen.

This is another favorite deductive method of the conspiracy theorist. The 'improbability drive', in which they decide upon a conclusion without any evidence whatsoever to support it, and then continually speculate a series of wildly improbable events and unbelievable co-incidences to support it, shrugging off the implausibility of each event with the vague assertion that sometimes the impossible happens -- just about all the time in their world. There is a principle called 'Occam's razor' which suggests that in the absence of evidence to the contrary, the simplest explanation is most likely to be correct. Conspiracy theorists hate Occam's razor.

Having for the sake of amusement, allowed them to get away with with the silly story of the nineteen invisible Arabs, we move on to the question of how they are supposed to have taken over the planes.

Hijacking a plane is not an easy thing to do. Hijacking it without the pilot being able to alert ground control is near impossible. The pilot has only to punch in a four digit code to alert ground control to a hijacking. Unconcerned with the awkward question of plausibility, the conspiracy buffs maintain that on that September 11th, the invisible hijackers took over the plane by the rather crude method of threatening people with boxcutters and knives, and spraying gas -- after they had attached their masks, obviously -- but somehow took control of the plane without the crew first getting a chance to punch in the hijacking code. Not just on one plane, but on all four. At this point in the tale, the conspiracy theorist is again forced to call upon the services of the improbability drive.

So now that our incredibly lucky hijackers have taken control of the planes, all four pilots fly them with breath taking skill and certainty to their fiery end, all four pilots unflinching in their steely resolve for a swift meeting with Allah. Apart from their psychotic hatred of 'our freedoms', it was their fanatical devotion to Islam which enabled them to summon up the iron will to do this. Which is strange, because according to another piece of hearsay peddled by the conspiracy buffs, these guys actually went out drinking and womanizing the night before their great martyrdom, even leaving their Korans in the bar -- really impeccable Islamic behavior -- and then got up at 5 o'clock the next morning to pull off the greatest covert operation in history. This also requires us to believe that they were even clear headed enough to learn how to fly the huge planes by reading flight manuals in Arabic in the car on the way to the airport. We know this because they supposedly left the
flight manuals there for us to find.

It gets better. Their practical training had allegedly been limited to Cessnas and flight simulators, but this was no barrier to the unflinching certainty with which they took over the planes and skillfully guided them to their doom. If they are supposed to have done their flight training with these tools, which would be available just about anywhere in the world, its not clear why they would have decided to risk blowing their cover to US intelligence services by doing the training in Florida, rather than somewhere in the Middle East, but such reasoning is foreign to the foggy world of the conspiracy theorist, too trapped in the constant rotation of the mental fruit loop to make their unsubstantiated fabrications seem even semi-believable.

Having triumphantly established a circular delusion in support of the mythical Arabs, the conspiracy theorist now confronts the difficult question of why there's nothing left of the planes. Anybody who has seen the endlessly replayed footage of the second plane going into the WTC will realize that the plane was packed with explosives. Planes do not and cannot blow up into nothing in that manner when they crash.

Did the mythical Arabs also haul a huge heap of explosives on board, and mange to deploy them in such a manner that they went off in the exact instant of the crash, completely vaporizing the plane? This is a little difficult even for the conspiracy theorist, who at this point decides that it’s easier to invent new laws of physics in order to keep the delusion rolling along.

There weren't any explosives. It wasn't an inside job. The plane blew up into nothing from its exploding fuel load! Remarkable, quite remarkable. Sluggishly combustible jet fuel which is basically Kerosene, and which burns at a maximum temperature of around 800 degrees Celsius has suddenly taken on the qualities of a ferociously explosive demolition agent, vaporizing sixty-five tons of aircraft into a puff of smoke. Never mind that a plane of that size contains around fifteen tons of steel and titanium, of which even the melting points are about double that of the maximum combustion temperature of Kerosene -- let alone the boiling point -- which is what would be required to vaporize a plane. And then there's about fifty tons of aluminum to be accounted for. In excess of 15 lbs of metal for each gallon of Kerosene.

For the conspiracy theorist, such inconvenient facts are vaguely dismissed as 'mumbo jumbo'. This convenient little phrase is their answer to just about anything factual or logical. Like a conjurer pulling a rabbit out of a hat, they suddenly become fanatically insistent about the devastating explosive qualities of Kerosene, something hitherto completely unknown to science, but just discovered by them, this very minute. Blissfully ignoring the fact that never before or since in aviation history has a plane vaporized into nothing from an exploding fuel load, the conspiracy theorist relies upon Hollywood images, where the effects are always larger than life, and certainly larger than the intellects of these cretins.

"Its a well known fact that planes blow up into nothing on impact", they state with pompous certainty, "watch any Bruce Willis movie."

"Care to provide any documented examples? If it's a well known fact, then presumably this well known fact springs from some kind of documentation -- other than Bruce Willis movies?"

At this point the mad but cunning eyes of the conspiracy theorist will narrow as they sense the corner that they have backed themselves into, and plan their escape by means of another stunning back flip.

"Ah, but planes have never crashed into buildings before, so there's no way of telling." they counter with a sly grin. Well, actually planes have crashed into buildings before and since, and not vaporized into nothing. "But not big planes, with that much fuel", they shriek in hysterical denial. Or that much metal to vaporize.

"Yes but not hijacked planes!" "Are you suggesting that whether the crash is deliberate or accidental affects the combustion qualities of the fuel?" "Now you're just being silly".

Although collisions with buildings are rare, planes frequently crash into mountains, streets, other aircraft, nosedive into the ground, or have bombs planted aboard them, and don't vaporize into nothing. What's so special about a tower that's mostly glass? But by now, the conspiracy theorist has once again sailed happily around the fruit loop. "It's a well documented fact that planes explode into nothing on impact."

Effortlessly weaving back and forth between the position that its a "well known fact" and that "its never happened before, so we have nothing to compare it to", the conspiracy theorist has now convinced themselves -- if not too many other people -- that the WTC plane was not loaded with explosives, and that the instant vaporization of the plane in a massive fireball was the same as any other plane crash you might care to mention. Round and round the fruit loop.

But the hurdles which confront the conspiracy theorist are many, and they are now forced to implement even more creative uses for the newly discovered shockingly destructive qualities of Kerosene. They have to explain how the Arabs also engineered the elegant vertical collapse of both the WTC towers, and for this awkward fact the easiest counter is to simply deny that it was a controlled demolition, and claim that the buildings collapsed from fire caused by the burning Kerosene.

For this, its necessary to sweep aside the second law of thermodynamics and propose Kerosene which is not only impossibly destructive, but also recycles itself for a second burning in violation of the law of degradation of energy. You see, it not only consumed itself in a sudden catastrophic fireball , vaporizing a sixty-five ton plane into nothing, but then came back for a second go, burning at 2000 degrees centigrade for another hour at the impact point, melting the skyscraper's steel like butter. And while it was doing all this it also poured down the elevator shafts, starting fires all through the building. When I was at school there was a little thing called the entropy law which suggests that a given portion of fuel can only burn once, something which is readily observable in the real world, even for those who didn't make it to junior high school science. But this is no problem for the conspiracy theorist. Gleefully, they claim that a few thousand gallons of Kerosene is enough to:

- Completely vaporize a sixty-five ton aircraft

- Have enough left over to burn ferociously enough for over an hour at the impact point to melt steel -- melting point about double the maximum combustion temperature of the fuel

- Still have enough left over to pour down the elevator shafts and start similarly destructive fires all through the building

This Kerosene really is remarkable stuff! How chilling to realize that those Kerosene heaters we had in the house when I was a kid were deadly bombs, just waiting to go off. One false move and the entire street might have been vaporized. And never again will I take Kerosene lamps out camping. One moment you're there innocently holding the lamp -- the next -- kapow! Vaporized into nothing along with the rest of the camp site, and still leaving enough of the deadly stuff to start a massive forest fire.

These whackos are actually claiming that the raging inferno allegedly created by the miraculously recycling, and impossibly hot burning Kerosene melted or at least softened the steel supports of the skyscraper. Oblivious to the fact that the black smoke coming from the WTC indicates an oxygen starved fire -- therefore not particularly hot -- they trumpet an alleged temperature in the building of 2000 degrees centigrade, without a shred of evidence to support this curious suspension of the laws of physics.

Not content with this ludicrous garbage, they then contend that as the steel frames softened, they came straight down instead of buckling and twisting and falling sideways.

Since they're already re-engineered the combustion qualities of jet fuel, violated the second law of thermodynamics, and redefined the structural properties of steel, why let a little thing like the laws of gravity get in the way?

The tower fell in a time almost identical to that of a free falling object, dropped from that height, meaning that its physically impossible for it to have collapsed by the method of the top floors smashing through the lower floors. But according to the conspiracy theorists, the laws of gravity were temporarily suspended on the morning of September 11th. It appears that the evil psychic power of those dreadful Arabs knew no bounds. Even after they were dead, they were able, by the power of their evil spirits, to force down the tower at a speed physically impossible under the laws of gravity, had it been meeting any resistance from fireproofed steel structures originally designed to resist many tons of hurricane force wind as well as the impact of a Boeing passenger jet straying off course.

Clearly, these conspiracy nuts never did their science homework at school, but did become extremely adept at inventing tall tales for why. "Muslim terrorists stole my notes, Sir." "No Miss, the Kerosene heater blew up and vaporized everything in the street, except for my passport." "You see, Sir, the school bus was hijacked by Arabs who destroyed my homework because they hate our freedoms."

Or perhaps they misunderstood the term 'creative science' and mistakenly thought that coming up with such rubbish was in fact, their science homework.

The ferocious heat generated by this ghastly Kerosene was, according to the conspiracy theorists, the reason why so many of the WTC victims can't be identified. DNA is destroyed by heat -- although 2000 degrees centigrade isn't really required, 100 degrees centigrade will generally do the job. This is quite remarkable, because according to the conspiracy theorist, the nature of DNA suddenly changes if you go to a different city.

That's right, if you are killed by an Arab terrorist in New York, your DNA will be destroyed by such temperatures. But if you are killed by an Arab terrorist in Washington, your DNA will be so robust that it can survive temperatures which completely vaporize a sixty-five ton aircraft.

You see, these loonies have somehow concocted the idea that the missile which hit the pentagon was not a missile at all, but one of the hijacked planes. And to prove this unlikely premise, they point to a propaganda statement from the Bush regime, which rather stupidly claims that all but one of the people aboard the plane were identified from the site by DNA testing, even though nothing remains of the plane. The plane was vaporized by the fuel tank explosion, maintain these space loonies, but the people inside it were all but one identified by DNA testing.

So there we have it. The qualities of DNA are different, depending upon which city you're in, or perhaps depending upon which fairy story you're trying to sell at any particular time.

This concoction about one of the hijacked planes hitting the Pentagon really is a howler. For those not familiar with the layout of the Pentagon, it consists of 5 rings of building, each with a space in between. Each ring of building is about 30-35 feet deep, with a similar amount of open space between it and the next ring. The object which penetrated the Pentagon went in at about a 45 degree angle, punching a neat circular hole of about a 12 foot diameter through three rings -- six walls. A little later a section of wall about 65 foot wide collapsed in the outer ring. Since the plane which the conspiracy theorists claim to be responsible for the impact had a wing span of 125 feet and a length of 155 feet, and there was no wreckage of the plane, either inside or outside the building, and the lawns outside were still smooth and green enough to play golf on, this crazy delusion is clearly physically impossible.

But hey, we've already disregarded the combustion qualities of jet fuel, the normal properties of common building materials, the properties of DNA, the laws of gravity and the second law of thermodynamics, so what the hell -- why not throw in a little spatial impossibility as well? I would have thought that the observation that a solid object cannot pass through another solid object without leaving a hole at least as big as itself is reasonably sound science. But to the conspiracy theorist, this is 'mumbo jumbo'. It conflicts with the delusion that they're hooked on, so it 'must be wrong' although trying to get them to explain exactly how it could be wrong is a futile endeavor.

Conspiracy theorists fly into a curious panic whenever the Pentagon missile is mentioned. They nervously maintain that the plane was vaporized by its exploding fuel load, and point to the WTC crash as evidence of this behavior. That's a wonderful fruit loop. Like an insect which has just been sprayed, running back and forth in its last mad death throes, they first argue that the reason the hole is so small is that the plane never entered the wall, having blown up outside, and then suddenly back flip to explain the 250 foot deep missile hole by saying that the plane disappeared all the way into the building, and then blew up inside the building -- even though the building shows no sign of such damage. As for what happened to the wings -- here's where they get really creative. The wings snapped off and folded into the fuselage which then carried them into the building, which then closed up behind the plane like a piece of meat.

When it suits them, they'll also claim that the plane slid in on its belly -- ignoring the undamaged lawn -- while at the same time citing alleged witnesses to the plane diving steeply into the building from an 'irrecoverable angle.' How they reconcile these two scenarios as being compatible is truly a study in stupidity.

Once they get desperate enough, you can be sure that the UFO conspiracy stuff will make an appearance. The Arabs are in league with the Martians. Space aliens snatched the remains of the Pentagon plane and fixed most of the hole in the wall, just to confuse people. They gave the Arabs invisibility pills to help get them onto the planes. Little green men were seen talking to Bin Laden a few weeks prior to the attacks.

As America gears up to impeach the traitor Bush, and stop his perpetual oil war, it's not helpful to have these idiots distracting from the process by spreading silly conspiracy theories about mythical Arabs, stories which do nothing but play into the hands of the extremist Bush regime.

At a less serious time, we might tolerate such crackpots with amused detachment, but they need to understand that the treachery that was perpetrated on September 11th, and the subsequent war crimes committed in 'retaliation' are far too serious for us to allow such frivolous self indulgence to go unchallenged.

Those who are truly addicted to conspiracy delusions should find a more appropriate outlet for their paranoia.

Its time to stop loony conspiracy theories about September 11th.


When George Met Jack

White House aides deny the President knew lobbyist Abramoff, but unpublished photos shown to TIME suggest there's more to the story

January 22, 2006

As details poured out about the illegal and unseemly activities of Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, White House officials sought to portray the scandal as a Capitol Hill affair with little relevance to them. Peppered for days with questions about Abramoff's visits to the White House, press secretary Scott McClellan said the now disgraced lobbyist had attended two huge holiday receptions and a few "staff-level meetings" that were not worth describing further.

"The President does not know him, nor does the President recall ever meeting him," McClellan said.

The President's memory may soon be unhappily refreshed. TIME has seen five photographs of Abramoff and the President that suggest a level of contact between them that Bush's aides have downplayed. While TIME's source refused to provide the pictures for publication, they are likely to see the light of day eventually because celebrity tabloids are on the prowl for them. And that has been a fear of the Bush team's for the past several months: that a picture of the President with the admitted felon could become the iconic image of direct presidential involvement in a burgeoning corruption scandal like the shots of President Bill Clinton at White House coffees for campaign contributors in the mid-1990s.

In one shot that TIME saw, Bush appears with Abramoff, several unidentified people and Raul Garza Sr., a Texan Abramoff represented who was then chairman of the Kickapoo Indians, which owned a casino in southern Texas. Garza, who is wearing jeans and a bolo tie in the picture, told TIME that Bush greeted him as "Jefe," or "chief" in Spanish. Another photo shows Bush shaking hands with Abramoff in front of a window and a blue drape. The shot bears Bush's signature, perhaps made by a machine. Three other photos are of Bush, Abramoff and, in each view, one of the lobbyist's sons (three of his five children are boys). A sixth picture shows several Abramoff children with Bush and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who is now pushing to tighten lobbying laws after declining to do so last year when the scandal was in its early stages.

Most of the pictures have the formal look of photos taken at presidential receptions. The images of Bush, Abramoff and one of his sons appear to be the rapid-fire shots--known in White House parlance as clicks-- that the President snaps with top supporters before taking the podium at fund-raising receptions. Over five years, Bush has posed for tens of thousands of such shots--many with people he does not know. Last month 9,500 people attended holiday receptions at the White House, and most went two by two through a line for a photo with the President and the First Lady. The White House is generous about providing copies--in some cases, signed by the President--that become centerpieces for "walls of fame" throughout status-conscious Washington.

Abramoff knew the game. In a 2001 e-mail to a lawyer for tribal leader Lovelin Poncho, he crows about an upcoming meeting at the White House that he had arranged for Poncho and says it should be a priceless asset in his client's upcoming re-election campaign as chief of Louisiana's Coushatta Indians. "By all means mention [in the tribal newsletter] that the Chief is being asked to confer with the President and is coming to Washington for this purpose in May," Abramoff writes. "We'll definitely have a photo from the opportunity, which he can use." The lawyer had asked about attire, and Abramoff advises, "As to dress, probably suit and tie would work best."

The e-mail, now part of a wide-ranging federal investigation into lobbying practices and lobbyists' relationships with members of Congress, offers a window into Abramoff's willingness to trade on ties to the White House and to invoke Bush's name to impress clients who were spending tens of millions of dollars on Abramoff's advice.

Abramoff was once in better graces at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, having raised at least $100,000 for the President's re-election campaign. During 2001 and 2002, his support for Republicans and connections to the White House won him invitations to Hanukkah receptions, each attended by 400 to 500 people. McClellan has said Abramoff may have been present at "other widely attended" events. He was also admitted to the White House complex for meetings with several staff members, including one with presidential senior adviser Karl Rove, one of the most coveted invitations in Washington.

Michael Scanlon, who is Abramoff's former partner and has pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe a Congressman, in 2001 told the New Times of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that Abramoff had "a relationship" with the President. "He doesn't have a bat phone or anything, but if he wanted an appointment, he would have one," Scanlon said. Nonsense, say others. A former White House official familiar with some Abramoff requests to the White House said Abramoff had some meetings with Administration officials in 2001 and 2002, but he was later frozen out because aides became suspicious of his funding sources and annoyed that the issues he raised did not mesh with their agenda. A top Republican official said it was clear to him that Abramoff couldn't pick up the phone and reach Bush aides because Abramoff had asked the official to serve as an intermediary.

The White House describes the number of Abramoff's meetings with staff members only as "a few," even though senior Bush aides have precise data about them. McClellan will not give details, saying he doesn't "get into discussing staff-level meetings." During a televised briefing, he added, "We're not going to engage in a fishing expedition." Pressed for particulars about Abramoff's White House contacts, McClellan said with brio, "People are insinuating things based on no evidence whatsoever." But he said he cannot "say with absolute certainty that [Abramoff] did not have any other visits" apart from those disclosed. Another White House official said, "The decision was made don't put out any additional information." That reticence has been eagerly seized upon by some Democrats. Senate minority leader Harry Reid of Nevada wrote to Bush last week to demand details, saying Abramoff "may have had undue and improper influence within your Administration."

Garza, the bolo-wearing former chairman of the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas, has fond memories of his session with Bush, which he said was held in 2001 in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House. According to e-mails in the hands of investigators, the meeting was arranged with the help of Abramoff and Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. In an April 18, 2001, e-mail to Abramoff, Norquist wrote that he would be "honored" if Abramoff "could come to the White House meeting."

Garza--known in his native Kickapoo language as Makateonenodua, or black buffalo--is under federal indictment for allegedly embezzling more than $300,000 from his tribe. Through his spokesman, Garza said that during the session, Bush talked about policy matters and thanked those present for supporting his agenda, then took questions from the audience of about two dozen people. Garza told TIME, "We were very happy that Jack Abramoff helped us to be with the President. Bush was in a very good mood--very upbeat and positive." No evidence has emerged that the Bush Administration has done anything for the Kickapoo at Abramoff's behest.

Three attendees who spoke to TIME recall that Abramoff was present, and three of them say that's where the picture of Bush, Abramoff and the former Kickapoo chairman was taken. The White House has a different description of the event Garza attended. "The President stopped by a meeting with 21 state legislators and two tribal leaders," spokeswoman Erin Healy said. "Available records show that Mr. Abramoff was not in attendance."

With reporting by with reporting by Massimo Calabresi/ Washington


Saturday, January 21, 2006

Canada's virtual war rooms

By David Hawkins
January 18, 2006

In the context of recent joint articles, Judi McLeod tells me Canada Free Press readers don't know what a 'virtual war room' is or how this Canadian-developed technology could have been used to simulate and even possibly sabotage war games on 9/11.

Judi asked me to explain my theory about how a virtual (web-enabled) war room could be infiltrated by al-Qaeda agents, or used to sabotage NORAD's 'Global Guardian' war game on 9/11 and then be retired to destroy any evidence that it ever even existed.

Here's how the U.S. Army uses Canada's virtual war room technology: You could have a group of 30 decentralized people all working in the same [online] workspace sharing knowledge, files, photos (and) activity reports when an event such as a military maneuver [flying Flight 77 into the Pentagon, for example] is being developed. You can retire that workspace once the event is over.

In my books, that's why war games, which are abstract in nature, leave too much room for possible sabotage.

Back in 1997, Canada's Privy Council Office (PCO) began outsourcing war-game project management and virtual war-room development to Lansdowne Technologies, the Ottawa-based subsidiary of Canada Steamship Lines, run by a blind trust on behalf of Canadian privy councilor and then Canadian finance minister, Paul Martin.

Lansdowne would have worked with the U.S. Navy War College - responsible for war gaming to the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) - to execute bi-national scenario plans and virtual war rooms for two 'live-fly' NORAD war games in 2001, plus some eco-terrorism desk-top training exercises, including the fourth of a series in the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York.

Images from NORAD's 'Amalgam Virgo - Everyone Participates' war games of June 1-2, 2001, show that Lansdowne simulated an al-Qaeda hijacking of a passenger plane in Alaska to over fly Canada and target Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

In Amalgam Virgo, Privy Council Office insiders would have directed Lansdowne's virtual war room commanders to take control away from the 'hijackers' and try to fly the plane by 'Instrument Approach Procedures' through its transponder, and land the 'hijacked' passengers safely at a nearby U.S. Air Force base.

Two days after Amalgam Virgo, "Asian Environmental Solutions", a virtual desk-top training exercise in the North Tower, suggests that the U.S. Naval War College wanted to simulate an 'ideological' attack on the World Trade Center.

The imagery in the url below, suggests the War College is depicting the World Trade Center as a beacon of unfettered, unsustainable capitalism - where war gamers will play - wittingly or unwittingly - the role of eco-terrorists.

Click here... Link to Naval War College site
Click here... Link to Internet Archive of War College documents
Click here... Link to The Pentagons New Map on Globalization

The North Tower war gamers would have entered a virtual war room environment where self-incriminating "Emails to the Commanders-in-Chief" were recorded in response to "a distinct crisis scenario involving environmental stress triggers .. private advisory emails to the national security advisors of presidents/premiers/prime ministers from the involved great powers, telling them why they should consider this [bogus] crisis a national security issue".

By 9/11, the Canadian Privy Council Office had trained perhaps as many as 1,000 password-enabled users of Lansdowne's virtual war rooms for an 'Everyone Participates - Global Guardian' war game attack on America.

Among the password-enabled users of Canada's war rooms, I believe there could have been a possibility for a number of al-Qaeda SWAT teams to .....

· Hack into the electronic-hijacking systems in the war rooms
· Take control away from the al-Qaeda hijackers' flight decks
· Fly the planes into 9/11 targets with 'Instrument Approach Procedures'
· Close file-vault doors and 'retire' Lansdowne's virtual war rooms
· Use Blowfish encryption technology to 'wipe' disks clean of evidence
· How else to explain the aerobatic maneuvers of four novice pilots on 9/11?

(David Hawkins is a columnist and co-author of a Counter-Intelligence Report with Canada Free Press. A foundation scholar of Cambridge University, David founded Hawks' CAFE - the Citizen's Association of Forensic Economists - to thwart intelligence-gathering and sabotage by freedom's enemies everywhere. He can be reached at


What they don't want you to know about the coming oil crisis

Soaring fuel prices, rumors of winter power cuts, panic over the gas supply from Russia, abrupt changes to forecasts of crude output... Is something sinister going on? Yes, says former oil man Jeremy Leggett, and it's time to face the fact that the supplies we so depend on are going to run out.

By Jeremy Leggett
20 January 2006
The Independent UK

A specter is haunting Europe - the specter of an acute, civilization-changing energy crisis. The latest wobble over disruptions to gas supplies from Russia is merely the latest in a series of reminders of how dependent our economies are on growing supplies of oil and gas. On Wednesday, Gazprom's deputy chairman was in London reassuring Britain that there would be no risk of disruption to British gas supplies in the fall-out from the ongoing spat between Russia and Ukraine over pricing. The very next day, temperatures in Moscow broke a 50-year record, plunging to minus 30C. Gas normally exported was diverted to the home front. Supplies to the West fell.

In December, Sir Digby Jones, director-general of the CBI, warned that any shortfall in gas could cause disaster for British industry. The problem, he said, was the likelihood - as forecast by the Met Office - of a particularly cold British winter. This would mean more gas burning in homes and power plants than our liberalized energy market - or its infrastructure - might be able to supply. There aren't enough pipelines from the continent to carry the imported gas that we need now that our North Sea production is dropping. Tankers that are supposed to be bringing liquefied natural gas (LNG) to the UK are instead following market forces and going to the US, where gas prices have rocketed even higher than they have here. Meanwhile, not enough gas has been stockpiled, because market forces don't favor that kind of thing in relatively warm years.

We shouldn't panic, insisted energy minister Malcolm Wicks, because British Gas is being very grown up about it, and anyway all this will be sorted out by 2007 when a new pipeline and more LNG plants come on stream. Skeptics pointed out that our gas reserves were down to 11 days, compared with an average of 55 on the Continent. That was before the concerns about Russian supplies. If the thermometers fall in the UK it is still quite possible that UK firms may have to stop using gas for one day a week, or even that the suppliers will also have to introduce rolling power cuts by postcode.

Meanwhile, domestic gas bills, which rose by more than a third last year, are expected to rise even higher in the next few months. For many people, such fluctuations have lethal implications. Last winter, there were some 35,000 "excess winter deaths" in the UK, most of them attributable to old people not being able to keep warm enough; and last winter was a relatively mild one.

All this concerns gas, of which there are undoubtedly huge proved reserves left in the ground (even if half of them are in Russia and Iran). Consider oil. The geopolitical risks are the same. Only last week Iran threatened to retaliate by cutting oil supplies if Europe continued to meddle in what it sees as its right to develop a nuclear program. Where oil differs from gas is that a debate is fast emerging about whether we have enough reserves to meet needs in the short term - even if geopolitics don't kick in and the current infrastructure keeps working as it should. At the annual summit of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in December, Kuwait told the world that, without urgent outside help, it could not continue to pump oil at its customary rate. The Kuwaiti oil minister invited Western oil companies back into his country to see if they could do better. The very next day the US government quietly slashed 11 million barrels a day (that's equivalent to the entire daily output of Saudi Arabia) from its forecast of oil production levels for 2025.

To most people who noticed them, such announcements will have seemed remote and academic. In fact, as I shall attempt to explain, they represent the tip of a very big iceberg indeed: one that holds the potential to sink the global economy.

We have allowed oil to become vital to virtually everything we do. Ninety per cent of all our transportation, whether by land, air or sea, is fuelled by oil. Ninety-five per cent of all goods in shops involve the use of oil. Ninety-five per cent of all our food products require oil use. Just to farm a single cow and deliver it to market requires six barrels of oil, enough to drive a car from New York to Los Angeles. The world consumes more than 80 million barrels of oil a day, 29 billion barrels a year, at the time of writing. This figure is rising fast, as it has done for decades. The almost universal expectation is that it will keep doing so for years to come. The US government assumes that global demand will grow to around 120 million barrels a day, 43 billion barrels a year, by 2025. Few question the feasibility of this requirement, or the oil industry's ability to meet it.

They should, because the oil industry won't come close to producing 120 million barrels a day; nor, for reasons that I will discuss later, is there any prospect of the shortfall being taken up by gas. In other words, the most basic of the foundations of our assumptions of future economic wellbeing is rotten. Our society is in a state of collective denial that has no precedent in history, in terms of its scale and implications.

Of the current global demand for oil, America consumes a quarter. Because domestic oil production has been falling steadily for 35 years, with demand rising equally steadily, America's relative share is set to grow, and with it her imports of oil. Of America's current daily consumption of 20 million barrels, 5 million are imported from the Middle East, where almost two-thirds of the world's oil reserves lie in a region of especially intense and long-lived conflicts. Every day, 15 million barrels pass in tankers through the narrow Straits of Hormuz, in the troubled waters between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The US government could wipe out the need for all their 5 million barrels, and staunch the flow of much blood in the process, by requiring its domestic automobile industry to increase the fuel efficiency of autos and light trucks by a mere 2.7 miles per gallon. But instead it allows General Motors and the rest to build ever more oil-profligate vehicles. Some sports utility vehicles (SUVs) average just four miles per gallon. The SUV market share in the US was 2 per cent in 1975. By 2003 it was 24 per cent. In consequence, average US vehicle fuel efficiency fell between 1987 and 2001, from 26.2 to 24.4 miles per gallon. This at a time when other countries were producing cars capable of up to 60 miles per gallon.

Most US presidents since the Second World War have ordered military action of some sort in the Middle East. American leaders may prefer to dress their military entanglements east of Suez in the rhetoric of democracy-building, but the long-running strategic theme is obvious. It was stated most clearly, paradoxically, by the most liberal of them. In 1980 Jimmy Carter declared access to the Persian Gulf a national interest to be protected "by any means necessary, including military force". The US has been doing ever since, clocking up a bill measured in the hundreds of billions of dollars, and counting. With such a strategy comes a disquieting descent into moral ambiguity, at least in the minds of something approaching half the country. The nation that gave the world such landmarks in the annals of democracy as the Marshall Plan is forced by deepening oil dependency into a foreign-policy maze that involves arming some despotic regimes, bombing others, and scrabbling for reasons to make the whole construct hang together.

America is not alone in her addiction and her dilemmas. The motorways of Europe now extend from Clydeside to Calabria, Lisbon to Lithuania. Agricultural produce that could have been grown for local consumption rides along these arteries the length and breadth of the European Union. The Chinese attempt to emulate this model even as they enforce production downtime in factories because of diesel shortages and despair that their vast national acreage seems to play host to so little oil.

There is a similar picture with gas. The scale of the addiction - and of the resource - is smaller. But the patterns are the same: growing demand for a finite resource, most of which has to be imported from the Middle East and the former Soviet Union. Even a temporary blip in supply, such as occurred in Europe this week, is enough to create something close to panic among governments. But it is oil that keeps our civilization functioning.

This half-century of deepening oil dependency would be difficult to understand even if oil were known to be in endless supply. But what makes the depth of the current global addiction especially bewildering is that, for the entire time we have been sliding into the trap, we have known that oil is in fact in limited supply. At current rates of use, the global tank is going to run too low to fuel the growing demand sooner rather than later this century. This is not a controversial statement. It is just a question of when.

Oil is a finite resource, and there will come a day, inevitably, when we reach the highest amount of oil that can ever be pumped. Beyond that day - which we can think of as the topping point, or "peak oil" as it is often called - will lie a progressive overall decline in production. Putting the same question a different way, then, at the current prodigious global demand levels, where does oil's topping point lie?

This is a question, I contend, that will come to dominate the affairs of nations before this first decade of the new century is out.

Already, a battle is raging, largely behind the scenes, about when we reach the topping point, and what will happen when we do. In one camp, those I shall call the "late toppers", are the people who tell us that 2 trillion barrels of oil or more remain to be exploited in oil reserves and reasonably expectable future discoveries. This camp includes almost all oil companies, governments and their agencies, most financial analysts, and most business journalists. As you might expect, given this line-up, the late toppers hold the ascendancy in the argument as things stand.

In the other camp are a group of dissident experts, whom I shall call the "early toppers". They are mostly people who - like me - have worked in the heart of the oil industry, the majority of them geologists, many of them members of an umbrella organization called the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO). They are joined by a small but growing number of analysts and journalists. The early toppers reckon that 1 trillion barrels of oil, or less, are left.

In a society that has allowed its economies to become geared almost inextricably to growing supplies of cheap oil, the difference between 1 and 2 trillion barrels is seismic. It is roughly the difference between a full Lake Geneva and a half-full one, were that lake full of oil and not water. If 2 trillion barrels of oil or more indeed remain, the topping point lies far away in the 2030s. The "growing" and "cheap" parts of the oil-supply equation are feasible until then, at least in principle, and we have enough time to bring in the alternatives to oil. If only 1 trillion barrels remain, however, the topping point will arrive some time soon, and certainly before this decade is out. The "growing" and "cheap" parts of the oil-supply equation become impossible, and there probably isn't even enough time to make a sustainable transition to alternatives.

Should the early toppers be right, recent history provides clear signposts to what would happen. There have been five price peaks since 1965, all of them followed by economic recessions of varying severity: after the 1973 Yom Kippur War; in 1979-80 after the Iranian revolution and the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war; in 1990, with the first Gulf War; in 1997, with the Asian financial crisis; and in 2000, with the collapse. The most intense peaks were the first two. In 1973, the oil price more than doubled, reaching around $35 per barrel in modern value. The cause was an embargo by OPEC, led by Saudi Arabia, and triggered through overt American support for Israel at the time of the Yom Kippur War. World oil supplies fell only 9 per cent, and the crisis lasted only for a few months, but the effect was simple and memorable for those who lived through it: widespread panic.

The embargo was short-lived, largely because the Saudis feared that if they kept it up they would create a global depression that would cripple Western economies, and hence their own. As it was, the short embargo created an economic recession. I spent much of it doing my homework by candlelight. I didn't see much of my father. He was queuing for petrol.

The second, and worst, oil shock was triggered by the toppling of the Shah of Iran in 1979, and prolonged by the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980. The first shock did not push prices as high as those at the time of writing, but the second shock pushed them to more than $80 a barrel in today's terms. Again panic reigned, even though the interruption to global supplies was only four per cent.

The crisis ended in 1981 when the price fell for three main reasons. First, the Saudis opened their taps. With their huge reserves, mostly discovered in the 1940s and 1950s, they were able to act as a "swing producer", increasing the flow to bring prices down just as they had decreased it in 1973 to push prices up. Second, new oil came on-stream from giant oilfields in more stable regions of the globe, including the North Sea. Third, large amounts of oil were released from government and corporate stockpiles.

These three reasons are high on the list of why we should worry today, because in the face of another shock things could not be resolved in a similar way. First, there are grounds to worry that the Saudis are pumping at or near their peak, no longer able to act as a swing producer. Second, the early toppers fear that there are no more giant oilfields left to find, much less wholly new oil provinces like the North Sea. Third, there is not much oil in storage, relative to current demand. The modern world works on the principle of just-in-time delivery (another factor in the short-term crisis facing Britain this winter). Our economies, overall, are more efficient in their use of oil than in the 1970s - a point much emphasized by late toppers - but the sheer weight of demand is much higher today, and it is still growing without an end in sight, or even strong governmental or corporate leadership demands that there should be one.

The cost of extracting a barrel of oil from the ground doesn't change much. A good rule of thumb might be $5 a barrel today, though obviously there are variations between oilfields in different geographic and political settings. What influences the price of oil most is confidence in supply and demand among oil traders. Oil prices are already at their second highest levels ever, in real terms, at the time of writing. Some pundits now profess that they will soon reach their highest ever levels, in modern value. This situation has arisen for many reasons - but these do not include the fear that the oil-production topping point is near. Early-topper arguments are not on the radar screens of the oil traders and analysts, as things stand. Should that happen, and should the mood of the packs on the trading floors flip to the view that we live no longer in a world of growing supplies of oil, but rather shrinking ones, the price will soar north of $100 a barrel very quickly.

An investor friend of mine has already concluded that this scenario is inevitable. He has switched his investment portfolio to anticipate the moment of "market realization". This peak panic point, as he calls it, will not be limited to oil traders. The worlds of economics and business routinely assume a future in which oil is in growing and cheap supply.

Economists tend to assume that their "price mechanism" will apply. Higher prices will lead to more attractive conditions for exploration. This will lead to more oil being found, and the inevitable discoveries will bring the price down until the next cycle. Massive corporations write five-year plans based on assumed access to cheap oil and gas. Think, for example, how important such access must be to a chemical company dealing in plastics derived from oil. Or a food-processing company reliant on oil for every stage of food transportation, including of perishable final products, plus almost all the bottling and packaging and many of the preservatives and additives.

But suppose the economists and corporate planners are wrong? Imagine the collapse of confidence when a critical mass of financial analysts, across the full breadth of sectors in a stock exchange, conclude that they are wrong?

If the topping point is indeed imminent, economic depression looms as a real prospect. The Saudis were right to be scared of this possibility in the 1970s. In the Great Depression of the 1930s, triggered in 1929 by the worst-ever stock-market crash, economic hardship was horrific. World trade fell by a breathtaking 62 per cent between 1929 and 1932. The widespread unemployment and social unrest bred Fascism in many countries, in some nations on a scale that would change the course of history. As for the stock markets, it took them 50 years to regain their pre-collapse value in real terms.

There are so many things to worry about in the fall-out from a premature peak in oil production. Here is one that gives me particular nightmares. When I and some of the oil-supply whistleblowers addressed a conference on oil depletion in the formerly oil-rich nation known as Scotland last year, five leaders of the British National Party sat in the audience. They said nothing. They just listened, and learnt, and no doubt reflected that the far right does well in tough times.

The stakes are high with energy policy. Higher than most people dream of when they flip a light switch.

The question of how much oil is left actually breaks down into three sub-questions. First, the existing-reserves question: how much oil is there in discovered oilfields, mapped out, proved and ready to be exploited? Second, the reserves-addition question: how much oil remains to be added via new discoveries, enhanced recovery techniques and so called unconventional oil? Finally, the speed-to-market question: how fast can the oil, once found, be delivered to fuel tanks?

One also needs to consider these questions both in relation not only to conventional oil - that is, liquid that sits underground in a reservoir under pressure - but also unconventional oil (which consists of sands and shales containing solidified oil or solid tar or bitumen deposits; is mostly found in Canada, the United States and Venezuela; and carries considerable environmental extraction costs). The same applies, strictly speaking, to deep water oil (much-hyped by Exxon a few years ago but already widely thought to have peaked) and gas, whose patterns of availability tend to mirror those of oil, and which already faces its own problems of increasing consumption (gas demand is expected to double by 2030, reaching 4.3 billion tons of oil equivalent a year, of which over 40 per cent will be used for power generation).

I find it hard to feel optimistic about any of the answers.

I say this as someone who, for most of the 1980s, was a creature of Big Oil. I taught petroleum engineers and geologists at the grandiose-sounding but in fact quite tatty Royal School of Mines, part of Imperial College of Science and Technology in London. My researches on the history of the planet included such issues as the source of oil, and was funded by BP and Shell, among others. I also consulted for oil companies. In those days, I was psychologically insulated in a quest for the respect of my peer group, and highly selective as a consequence with the information I allowed on to my radar screen. The build-up of greenhouse gases (a separate but scarcely less urgent reason for worrying about our dependence on oil) registered nowhere on my list of concerns. I had concerns about oil depletion, but only in the sense that this cloaked my quest to find more with certain nobility, at least in my own eyes.

But one thing that was clear to me even then was that most of the planet has not a drop of drillable oil. Almost everywhere geologists have looked - which means everywhere by now, at least at some level of exploration - there is no oil because one or more of the key geological requirements is missing. Even when all the boxes can be ticked, you can end up finding no oil. Only one well drilled in every 10 finds oil. Only one in a hundred finds an important oilfield. And the more wells that are drilled in a province or country, the smaller the oilfields generally tend to become.

In my book, Half Gone, I examine in detail the prospects of future viability for each of the major sources described above. But one of the most important arguments against over-confidence in future reserves can be summarized simply.

Think of all that expertise that had been built up since the first oil was drilled in 1859. Think of all the trillions of dollars in oil revenues stacked up in the 20th century, and all the hundreds of billions spent on exploration and the hi-tech toys of exploration in the half-century since the biggest Saudi and Kuwait fields were discovered. Think of the sophistication of the seismic reflection profiling offshore. Consider the all-important oil source rocks, and how relatively limited they are in distribution. As BP's former reserves co-coordinator, Francis Harper, told the Energy Institute in November 2004: "We know how many world class source-rocks there are, and where they are." Wouldn't it be reasonable to think that with modern technology at least one more field of more than 80 billion barrels might have been found somewhere, in all the places the companies have looked these last 50 years?

The third-biggest oilfield in the world is Samotlor, discovered in 1961, with 20 billion barrels. The fourth-biggest is Safaniya, discovered in 1951, at which time it also supposedly contained 20 billion barrels. The fifth-biggest is Lagunillas, discovered in 1926, containing 14 billion barrels. Only around 50 super-giant oilfields have ever been found, and the most recent, in 2000, was the first in 25 years: the problematically acidic 9-12 billion barrel Kashagan field in Kazakhstan.

Let us reduce our scale of scrutiny from the super-giant to the merely giant. Half the world's oil lies in its 100 largest fields, and all of these hold 2 billion barrels or more, and almost all of them were discovered more than a quarter of a century ago. Consider the recent record of discoveries of giant oil- and gas-fields of over 500 million barrels of oil or oil equivalent. Half a billion barrels - the definition of a "giant" field - sounds a lot. But since the world is eating up more than 80 million barrels of oil a day at the moment, it is in fact less than a week's global supply. In 2000 there were 16 discoveries of 500 million barrels of oil equivalent or bigger. In 2001 there were nine. In 2002 there were just two. In 2003 there were none.

On the basis of this kind of evidence, is the industry going to meet the steady increase in demand with new discoveries? Francis Harper, for one, doesn't seem to think so. "Worldwide, the frequency of finding giant oil provinces and super-giant oilfields has been declining for decades and will not be reversed," he told an agog audience at a November 2004 London conference on oil depletion held in the Energy Institute. "We've looked around the world many times. I'd say there is no North Sea out there. There certainly isn't a Saudi Arabia."

In January 2004, the early toppers' case suddenly looked a good deal more worryingly feasible to those who have tended to take the late toppers at face value. Shell's then chairman, Sir Philip Watts, told investors that the company had overestimated its reserves by more than 20 per cent. By March, internal e-mails had been requisitioned by lawyers and these made it clear that the chairman and his head of exploration had known about this problem for some time, and had deliberately lied about it. Both men departed the scene.

Shell's corporate scandal is dramatic enough. But there is a clear risk that it is only the tip of an iceberg. Today, many people in the oil industry appear to be under pressure when it comes to supplies of oil. "There is something strange going on in this industry," Shell's replacement boss, CEO Jeroen van der Veer, told the press in November 2004. He suspects that other companies have the same problems he inherited. The Economist drew the following conclusion: "Industry analysts and investors are quietly saying that Mr van der Veer may be right, and another big reserves scandal may be brewing somewhere."

Against this unpromising start, how much oil do we think the oil companies have found to date? Call BP for a bit of help with the answer and you'll be sent their annual BP Statistical Review of World Energy. In it, you'll see lists of data for national proven oil reserves. Add these up to a global total of oil reserves year by year, and you'll see the total creep reassuringly upwards over time. The chart on page seven shows those figures, from successive annual reviews split into the Middle East and the rest of the world. Global reserves rise from just over 600 billion barrels in 1970 to almost double that today: 1,147 billion barrels at the last count, up to and including 2003.

So what's the problem? The first hint that something might be amiss comes, as is so often the case in life, in the small print. Squinting through a lens if you have anything but perfect eyesight, you will find that the data in BP's own report are not BP's at all. The estimates have been compiled using "a variety of primary official sources, third-party data from the Opec Secretariat", and a few other places completely removed from BP's headquarters in St James's Square with all its accumulated research and knowledge. Think how many libraries of understanding BP must have gathered in over a century of aggressive oil exploration and production all over the world. And yet all they offer us as a guide to our own understanding of how much "proved" oil reserves there are left on the planet is a compilation of other people's data. And much of that itself is secondhand.

After this revelation comes another. The small print continues: "The reserves figures shown do not necessarily meet the United States Securities and Exchange Commission definitions and guidelines for determining proved reserves, nor necessarily represent BP's view of proved reserves by country."

They don't even believe the figures they are publishing! Referee! This is a publication used as an energy bible by researchers the world over. Students quote it as whole truth in undergraduate essays. Journalists quote it as gospel in legions of articles. They don't insert caveats like this. Neither have they seen such caveats in earlier reports.

You might end up with a few questions for the authors of the BP Review at this point. But then, at the end of the document, we read the following: "BP regrets it is unable to deal with enquiries about the data in the Statistical Review of World Energy."

So what is BP's real view of "proved" reserves? Could it go something like this?

Looking closer at the chart and zooming in, you'll see that the figures show that global reserves of oil went up particularly quickly between 1985 and 1990 (a big black oily arrow indicates the point). There must have been some big new oilfields discovered then, right? Wrong. The actual new discoveries in that period were less than 10 billion barrels. But the Middle East nations hiked their "proved" reserves from already discovered oilfields by fully 300 billion barrels collectively in that period, professing one after another that their national calculations had all somehow hitherto been too conservative. Three hundred billion barrels is a lot of oil. It is more than a decade of demand at current levels.

Here's how it happened. In the 1950s, the nations with oil organized themselves into the cartel known as OPEC. OPEC’s main aim was and is to try and control the price of oil. They don't want it too low. That would cut their income. Neither do they want it too high. That might get the addicts thinking of maybe going elsewhere. They want it just right, perhaps around $30 per barrel in today's money. To do this they can't produce too much, because that would flood the market, causing the price to drop. They have to produce exactly the right amount collectively, and that means quotas. After much bickering in the early days, the OPEC oil ministers decided in 1982 to allocate a quota to each country in the cartel according to the size of its reserves.

But in 1985, they began to - how shall I put it? - massage the data. Kuwait was the first to give in to temptation. They found that their reserves had gone up overnight from 64 to 90 billion barrels. In 1988, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Iran and Iraq all played the same card. Abu Dhabi had been so needlessly conservative that their reserves went up from 31 to 92 billion barrels. They surely must have employed some incompetent geologists. How could they have overlooked 60 billion barrels? Finally, in 1990, Saudi Arabia decided it too had been conservative, hiking its total from 170 to 258 billion barrels.

You can also see in BP's data that the Middle East's reserves have been almost constant in size since then. What you don't see in the figure - but do see in the data - is that this is apparently the case not just for the sum of the reserves of the Middle Eastern oil producers but also for the figures of reserves for the individual nations.

Consider the enormity of this coincidence. It means that the billions of barrels found in new discoveries each year would have to match exactly the billions of barrels produced each year in each of the Middle Eastern OPEC nations, and do so consistently every year for more than a decade.

BP's Statistical Review of Everyone's World Energy Statistics except Their Own invites us to believe all this without comment from them or recourse to questions by us. We are left to look at the total figure they cite for "proved" reserves, 1.1 trillion barrels, and think to ourselves ... "Er, really?"

The early toppers have a different view. Being in most cases old hands from the oil industry, they know a thing or two about the games that go on in their industry. They estimate the total of proved reserves to be 780 billion barrels, some 300 billion barrels short of "BP's" figures. This is less than the world has produced since the first oil was struck over a century ago: 920 billion barrels by the end of 2003 (a figure about which there is somewhat less controversy).

Let us take some opinions that ought to be difficult to discount, one from the top of the oil tree in the US and two from the Middle East. The Houston-based energy investment banker Matthew Simmons has been one of George W Bush's energy advisers. He has studied reports by Saudi engineers showing that pressure is dropping in Saudi oilfields. The four biggest fields (Ghawar, Safaniyah, Hanifa, and Khafji) are all more than 50 years old, having produced almost all Saudi oil in the past half-century. These days, Simmons says, they have to be kept flowing largely by injection of water. This is of explosive significance, he argues. "We could be on the verge of seeing a collapse of 30 or 40 per cent of their production in the imminent future. And imminent means some time in the next three to five years - but it could even be tomorrow."

The Saudis dismiss this, claiming that they have slightly more than the 258 billion barrels of "proved" reserves they claimed they had in 1970, with lots more yet to be found, and that they can lift the current extraction rate of around 9.5 million barrels a day to more than 10 with little difficulty. As Nansen Saleri, Manager of Reservoir Management at Saudi Aramco, puts it: "... we have lots of oil, not only for our grandchildren but for the grandchildren of our grandchildren."

Saudi Aramco has the largest reserves of all the oil companies in the world: 20 times the size of ExxonMobil's, if they indeed have 260 billion barrels. They also have the lowest discovery and development costs, some 50 cents per barrel, or 10 per cent of what the private companies pay in Russia or the Gulf of Mexico. And, being state-run, without much need for debt, they are under no pressure to divulge much to the financial markets.

Lately, in the face of concerns about their ability to ramp up production, they have been marginally more open. They say they can maintain spare capacity of 1.5 to 2 million barrels per day and would be content with a fair price of $32-$34 a barrel. Aramco's geologists have insisted they can hike output to 15 million barrels a day (adding more than 5 million to the 9.5 million reported today); 5 million of which come from the giant Ghawar field alone. Contractors report that drilling activity is increasing, as it needs to, given the age of the fields.

But consider what A M Samsam Bakhtiari of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) has told the Oil & Gas Journal about the existing-reserves question: "I know from experience how 'reserves' are estimated in major Middle Eastern and Opec countries, and the methods used are usually far from scientific, as the basic knowledge for such a complex exercise is not to hand." Bakhtiari is withering about Saudi Arabia's reserves hike of 90 billion barrels in 1990. But he is not too keen on his own national figures either. The BP Statistical Review cited 92 billion barrels of "proved" oil reserves at the end of 1993, but Bakhtiari preferred the estimate of a retired NIOC expert, Dr Ali Muhammed Saidi, who could add the proved reserves up to only 37 billion barrels.

Dr Mamdouh Salameh, a consultant on oil to the World Bank, agrees there is a 300-billion-barrel exaggeration in OPEC’s reserves. More recently, a former director of Aramco has said that Saudi Arabia's proved developed reserves stand at 130 billion barrels. An anonymous informer talking to Dr Colin Campbell of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil goes further. His conclusion is that Saudi Arabia would have gone over its peak of production in the last quarter of 2004. This person speaks with front-line inside knowledge. "Saudi has at various times put 19 fields into production," he says. "Of these, eight are 'stars', being highly productive fields that produce around 90 per cent of the country's production. All the others are 'dogs' that have never worked well and probably never will. Recovery rates of up to 50 per cent may be appropriate for the 'stars'. For the 'dogs', 10, 15 or 20 per cent would be more appropriate. Make this adjustment and Saudi has depleted more than 50 per cent of its realistically recoverable reserves."

In February 2005, Matthew Simmons speculated that the Saudis may have damaged their giant oilfields by over-producing them in the past: a geological phenomenon known as "rate sensitivity". In oilfields where the oil is pumped too hard, the structure of the oil reservoir can be impaired. In bad cases, most of a field's oil can be left stranded below ground, essentially unextractable. "If Saudi Arabia has damaged its fields, accidentally or not," Simmons said, "then we may already have passed peak oil."

Is there any chance that the early topping point of oil production is somehow wrong, all just a bad dream? I am sorry to say that I think not. It is important to realize that the early toppers are not advocates or agitators by choice. They tend to have high residual affection for the industry they have spent their lives in. Colin Campbell, for example, the founder of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO), worked for 40 years in the oil industry before retiring to western Ireland. Chris Skrebowski, the editor of Petroleum Review, a leading trade journal of the oil industry, spent nearly a decade arguing against Campbell before conceding that he was right. "In 1995 it all seemed pretty fantastic," says Skrebowski. "I tried hard to prove him wrong. I have failed for nine years. I am now with him. In fact, I think he's a bit of an optimist." Other early-toppers include Richard Hardman, former chief executive of Amerada Hess; Roger Bentley, formerly of Imperial Oil in Canada; and Roger Booth, who spent his professional life at Shell, and who now believes that, when the peak does hit: "A crash of 1929 proportions is not improbable."

Chris Skrebowski believes that, from as early as 2007, the volumes of new oil production are likely to fall short of the combined need to replace lost capacity from depleting older fields and to satisfy continued growth in demand. In fact, given the time frames with which offshore oilfields are developed and depleted, it seems certain that there will be nowhere near enough oil to meet the combined forces of depletion and demand between 2008 and 2012. If there were, it would be from projects we would know about today (oil companies liking as they do to boast to their shareholders about every sizeable discovery). Given the inevitable time-lag from discovery to production, there is now no way to plug that gap.

There is worse: people in the oil industry must know this. They should be alerting governments and consumers to the inevitability of an energy crunch, and they aren't.

In July 2004, Campbell and Skrebowski tried to carry their warning jointly to the UK parliament. In the Thatcher Room they delivered a seminar to a pitifully thin audience, including only three MPs and a handful of researchers. I sat there listening to it with as surreal a feeling as I have ever experienced in all my years working on energy. Over the course of a decade at and around the climate negotiations, I have rarely been able to claim that the global warming problem is not reaching the ears it needs to. The same can manifestly not be said about the oil-depletion problem. This is the starting point for any analysis of how serious the problem is. How can evidence so compelling go almost unheard in one of the world's centers of government, even with a suspiciously high oil price at the time and so much obvious oil-related trouble brewing in the Middle East?

Having built their cases, the two spelt out the consequences of the early topping point. "The perception of looming decline may be worse than the decline itself," Campbell said. "There will be panic. The market overreacts to even small imbalances. Prices are set to soar in the absence of spare capacity until demand is cut by recessions. We will enter a volatile epoch of price shocks and recessions in increasingly vicious circles. A stock-market crash is inevitable."

"If the economic recovery continues," Skrebowski added, "supply will get very tight from 2008 or 2009. Prices will soar. There is very little time and lots of heads are in the sand."

In 1956, a Shell geologist called M King Hubbert famously calculated that oil production in the "lower 48" states of America would peak in 1971. Almost nobody believed him. Shell censored the written version of Hubbert's address to the American Petroleum Institute, changing the wording of his conclusion to read that "the culmination should occur within the next few decades". The US Geological Survey, in particular, did everything it could to hike the estimates of ultimately recoverable American oil to a level that would make the problem go away. The US had 590 billion barrels of recoverable oil, the survey said, in 1961, meaning that the industry had 30 years of growth to look forward to.

The years went by and the "lower 48" did indeed hit their topping point. It came a year ahead of estimate, in 1970, at 3.5 billion barrels. Since then, production has sunk down the second half of the curve at a steady rate. Many billions of dollars have been spent on ever more sophisticated exploration, including in areas where nobody imagined oil would be found at the peak of discovery in the 1930s, such as the deep water in the Gulf of Mexico. A frenzy of new domestic exploration began after the first Arab embargo in 1973 and the realization that domestic production could be ramped up no more. Every enhanced production technique invented has been tried and tested in American oilfields. But it has all made no difference to the remarkable symmetry of the up-and-down curve that expressed Hubbert's thinking. The US is just short of halfway down the second half of the curve now. In other words, it has used up some three-quarters of its original endowment of recoverable oil. Given its almost total lack of attention to the efficiency with which oil is burned, the US becomes more dependent on foreign oil imports by the day.

The US Secretary of the Interior at the time, Stewart Udall, later apologized for having helped lull Americans into a "dangerous overconfidence" by accepting the advice of the US Geological Survey so unquestioningly. A long-serving US Geological Survey director who had led the campaign against Hubbert, V E McKelvey, was forced to resign in 1977.

We need to remember this sequence of events, and the windows it gives us into individual and collective behavior, when we come to consider the global oil topping point.

The American pattern of historical oil discovery and production is only a loose guide to what is going on in the rest of the world. In the US, oil, once found, was pumped without much substantive effort at constraint. The curves for discovery and production are going to look different where conservative nationalized companies are doing the looking, or where - as in the case of Saudi Arabia - there has been so much oil that the taps can be turned up and down for long periods so as to moderate supply and thus influence price. Countries that have onshore and offshore oil can have two curves, because the technology for offshore oil exploitation was developed much later than that for onshore. Curves will also be disrupted by wars, big political events, even accidents. None the less, country after country follows a crude bell curve - like Hubbert's curve - in both discovery and production. Today, more than 60 out of the 65 countries possessing oil have passed their discovery topping points and 49 of them have passed their production topping points. The US has a particularly long gap between the two: 40 years (1930 to 1970). The UK has one of the shortest: 25 years (1974 to 1999). This is because the first discoveries were made much later in the UK, when technology for both exploration and production were more advanced. Growing supplies of British oil didn't last long, though. Britain is now a net oil importer just like the US.

Nor is there any comfort to be derived from gas. Gasfields deplete very differently from oilfields, gas being much more mobile than oil. It is normal for a gasfield to yield 70-80 per cent of its gas over its production lifetime, whereas an oilfield will typically yield only 35-40 per cent of its oil. Drillers normally set gas production far below the natural production capacity so as to give a long production plateau. But the danger in this is that the end of the production plateau comes abruptly, and without market signals.

Colin Campbell, a prominent early topper, estimates that the original global endowment of conventional gas was around 10,000 trillion cubic feet (equivalent to 1.8 trillion barrels of oil), of which about a quarter has been produced to date. He expects a global plateau in production of around 130 trillion cubic feet per year during the period 2015 to 2040, with production falling over a cliff beyond that. Jean Laherrère forecasts 12,000 trillion cubic feet for all gas including unconventional sources (2 trillion barrels of oil equivalent). He puts the peak of gas depletion in 2030, at 130 trillion cubic feet per year. But the exact figures need not concern us. What matters is that gas has all the same problems of dependence on overseas supplies as oil, and more besides.

Meanwhile, the five essential facts about global oil discovery can be summarized as follows.

1. The biggest oilfields in the world were discovered more than half a century ago, either side of the Second World War.

The big discoveries on the Arabian Peninsula opened with the discovery of the Greater Burgan field in Kuwait in 1938. At that time, it supposedly held 87 billion barrels. The slightly bigger Saudi Arabian Ghawar field, supposedly holding 87.5 billion barrels before extraction started, followed in 1948. These fields, the two biggest in the world, are so big that they dominate the global figures in their years of discovery.

2. The peak of oil discovery was as long ago as 1965.

How many people appreciate this? I invite you to do a bit of personal market research. Line up ten of your better-educated friends. Preface your question to them with a few reminders about how many millions of dollars the oil companies make in daily profit, tell them, if you can, an anecdote or two about the technical wizardry they use, and ask them to imagine how many billions of dollars they must have spent on exploration over the years - both of the companies' own money and of the massive tax-deduction subsidies available to them. Then ask: in what year would you guess the most oil was ever discovered?

3. There were a few more big discovery years in the 1970s, but there have been none since then.

The biggest irregularity on the downside of the global discovery curve involved the discovery of oil in Alaska's giant Prudhoe Bay field, and the North Sea, in the late 1970s. I was a geology student then. I remember the thrill as the giant fields were discovered one after the other. They all had such serious-sounding names. Forties, Brent, Piper. I look back on those days now and I see something of the primeval attractions of the hunt in it. As a junior trainee hunter, I used to listen to the tales of the senior hunters, and how they had found their quarry, quite atremble with admiration. However, what I and the other hunters didn't know was that the days of giant discoveries were more or less over.

4. The last year in which we discovered more oil than we consumed was a quarter of a century ago.

Since then, despite all those generations of eager brainwashed geology students, we have been burning progressively more, and finding progressively less. This is another one to try out on the 10 educated friends.

5. Since then there has been an overall decline.

A small rise in discoveries in the 1990s that must have looked promising at the time has dropped in the opening years of the new century. Does this sound like a world without a looming oil depletion problem, as portrayed by BP's CEO Lord Browne - who in March last year insisted "There is no physical shortage. The resources are there"? Are people are being lulled into a sense of false security about oil supply based on his speeches, and publications like the BP Statistical Review of World Energy? Or are we simply failing to pay sufficient attention to alarm signals such as last month's little-noticed announcement by the US government's Energy Information Administration, in which forecasts of OPEC production between now and 2025 were slashed by 11 million barrels a day?

Let us suppose for a moment that the late toppers are correct. The topping point, as defined by reserves available in principle, is off in the 2020s or 2030s, and we can look forward to growing supplies of relatively cheap oil for a decade or more. There is another aspect of the problem: whether or not the production capacity is sufficient.

Oil-industry analyst Michael Smith, who took his PhD in geology just after me - sitting in the same chair as I did in the research lab -, is an expert in this subject. He has spent most of his vocational life as an oil-industry geologist working around the world, particularly in the Middle East. "Reserves are largely irrelevant to the peak," he says. "Production capacity is the important thing - how quickly you can get it out. It is an engineering problem, not a geological problem."

Of the 11 countries in the Middle East, only five are significant oil producers: Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, known sometimes as the Middle East Five. They produce around 20 million barrels a day today, a quarter of the global total. If global demand rises at the average rate of the past 30 years, 1.5 per cent per year, these five countries will have to meet around two-thirds of the demand, Smith calculates.

Let us assume they can do what they say they can, no more, no less. Where does that leave us? Saudi Arabia says it can lift production from 9.5 million barrels per day today to 12 million by 2016 and 15 million beyond that. This despite 50 per cent of the oil coming from the Ghawar field, where a water cut is already reported. Smith sums all the reported capacities in the Middle East Five and finds that if the rate of demand growth continues at 1.5 per cent they will fail to meet global demand by as soon as 2011. If it rises to 2.5 per cent the demand gap appears in 2008. If it is 3.5 per cent - the rates in China and the US of late - the gap is already here.

"What's more," Smith adds, referring back wryly to the starting assumption, "I do not truly believe the claims of the Middle East Five. In fact, although I don't believe Saudi and Iranian claims in particular, I think their politicians do believe them. I don't think there is a conspiracy, more a division of labor such that no one knows the whole story, each part of which has wide error bars. The summed result is inevitably the most positive conclusion which goes to the politicians. I've seen this in all the oil companies I have worked for." At the November 2004 conference on oil depletion at the Energy Institute, Michael Smith showed a slide at the end of his presentation that gave a pictorial summary of his views. It showed a group of firemen posing for the camera outside a burning house.

The investment bank Goldman Sachs drew attention to the problem of access to oil on a global scale in a much-quoted 2004 report. "The industry is not running out of oil - reserves are large and continue to grow," it asserts - though failing to offer evidence of this analysis. "What the industry is running out of is the ability to access this oil." Two decades of chronic underinvestment in the 1980s and 1990s are responsible. During this time the industry was feasting on reserves discovered in the 1960s and earlier with infrastructure capitalized in the 1970s, after the first oil shock. Global oil demand is now closing fast on tanker capacity and refining capacity. The peak year for tanker capacity was way back in 1981. So, too, was the peak for refinery capacity. Global rig counts also peaked that year.

So, how much new investment is needed to fix the shortfall? Over the next 10 years, assuming oil demand increases as commonly projected, fully $2.4trillion will need to be spent, according to Goldman Sachs. This is nearly triple the level of capital investment by the oil industry in the 1990s. And if it isn't spent? "If the core infrastructure does not improve, energy crises are likely to become progressively more frequent, more severe and more disruptive of economic activity," the investment bank concludes.

Stated simply, it seems that even if an early topping point doesn't hit us, the results of two decades of negligence in investment in infrastructure and exploration will. You need to read between the lines of the Goldman Sachs report to smell the level of anguish about this. Even where substantial money has been invested, a further list of serious unresolved problems can often be quickly summoned up. Oil in the Caspian is central to every scenario that envisages oil supply meeting demand off into the 2020s. The oil industry has long regarded the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline from Azerbaijan to Turkey as essential if it is to get Caspian oil out to market without the need to go through Chechnya and Russia. By the time this pipeline begins to shift oil as planned in 2005, it will have cost $4bn, almost three-quarters of that in the form of bank loans. The problems for this pipeline begin with reports of its construction standard. Four whistleblowers recently told a UK national newspaper that the pipeline was failing all international construction standards, including installation of inadequately welded pipe before it had even been inspected. It passes through a major earthquake zone. Turkey has had 17 major shocks in the past 80 years, and the pipeline is supposed to last for 40 years.

At the time the pipeline was conceived, industry reports talked of several hundreds of billions of barrels in the Caspian region. Now estimates of around 50 billion barrels, about the same as the North Sea, are more common. After the discovery of the last of the super-giants, the Kashagan field in 1990, there was a burst of predictable interest in Kazakhstan. But now, in terrain where individual wells cost $1bn to drill, in conditions where only foreign companies have the know-how and technology to drill, the Kazakh government has introduced new legislation that makes investment unattractive. As an ExxonMobil executive told Petroleum Review, "...the jury is still out on whether all these obstacles will delay Kazakhstan's production".

This example of a real-world current problem for the oil industry raises the subject of the interplay between the early topping point and oil geopolitics. As the world's No 1 consumer, the United States will have much to say about how the crisis - whether of early depletion or inadequate infrastructure and investment, or both - plays out. The geopolitics of American oil dependency is well summarised by Michael Klare in his recent Blood and Oil. He sees four key trends in US energy behavior: more imports, increasingly unstable and unfriendly suppliers, escalating risk of anti-American violence and rising competition for diminishing supplies. Imports we have talked about above. Increasingly unfriendly suppliers and escalating anti-American violence are linked.

The point here is that the US can have relationships with governments in unstable countries if it chooses the path of oil dependency, but not easily with their populations. Terrorism can be expected to grow with every American act interpretable as imperialistic in the Middle East and Central Asia. The Iraq-to-Turkey pipeline illustrates the problem perfectly. It suffered near daily attacks in 2003.

As for competition over diminishing supplies, therein lies the stuff of nightmares. The Pentagon established a Central Command in 1983, one of five unified commands around the world, with the clear task of protecting the global flow of petroleum. "Slowly but surely," Michael Klare concludes, "The US military is being converted into a global oil-protection service."

At $30 a barrel, the total bill for imported oil - now more than half the US daily consumption and rising fast - should reach $3.5 trillion over the next 25 years, and this does not include the Pentagon's overhead. Beyond the Middle East Five, the Bush strategy of supplier diversification will look to eight main sources, which Klare calls the Alternative Eight: Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Nigeria and Angola. These countries and their oil operations are characterized by one or more of the following attributes: corruption, organized crime, civil war, political turmoil short of civil war, and ruthless dictators. The US military is being forced into deeper relationships with such regimes, including joint military exercises.

The bottom line for Klare is this. "Any eruption of ethnic or political violence in these areas could do more than entrap our forces there. It could lead to a deadly confrontation between the world's military powers." Because obviously, in a world as enduringly addicted to oil as ours is, others are going to be looking for their own supplies. Russia and China will be among them. As one global-security analyst recently put it: "I am afraid that over the years we will see China become more involved in Middle East politics. And they will want to have access to oil by cutting deals with corrupt dictatorships in the region, and perhaps providing components of weapons of mass destruction, ballistic missiles and other things they have been involved with, and that could definitely put them on a collision course with the United States." Oil dependency could yet prove to be the route to a Third World War. The stress associated with an unforeseen early topping point surely makes that horrific prospect more, not less, likely.

Humans are good at staying loyal to their theocracies, and a hundred years of fossil fuel addiction has created impressive theocracies. However, as Einstein said, you can't solve the world's problems with the same thinking that created them. We have to think outside the box. That means giving renewable energy, alternative fuels, energy efficiency and storage technologies the space they need to grow explosively.

The good news is that it will be possible to replace oil, gas and coal completely with a plentiful supply of renewable energy, and faster than most people think. Shell employs roomfuls of clever people just to think about the future. They are called scenario planners. In their 2001 book of scenarios, Shell's planners mention that renewable energy holds the potential to power a future world populated with 10 billion people, and do so with ease. The needs of the 10 billion can be met even in the unlikely and undesirable event that all of them use energy at levels well above the average per-capita consumption today in the EU. The Shell futurists mention this almost in passing, in the caption of a diagram showing the continent-by-continent potential for individual renewable-energy technologies to contribute to such a power-rich future. Working for an oil and gas giant as they do, it is perhaps no surprise that they fail to explore a scenario wherein something resembling this renewable-power-rich future comes to pass. Others are not so constrained.

When I began my time in Greenpeace, in 1989, the protestations my colleagues and I made that renewable energy could displace fossil fuels and run the world were ridiculed by energy experts and officialdom as naïve wishful thinking. Now, more than a decade later, such views can be found in the heart of government, at least in Europe. The Blair Government published a report in 2003 that concluded: "It would be technologically and economically feasible to move to a low carbon-emissions path, and achieve a virtually zero-carbon-energy system in the long term, if we used energy more efficiently and developed and used low-carbon technologies."

Among the low-carbon technologies on offer, the government report placed heavy emphasis on renewable energy and hydrogen, rather than nuclear power. Of solar energy, the report concludes: "[It] alone could meet world energy demand by using less than 1 per cent of land currently used for agriculture." Tony Blair used these same words in the speech he gave launching the UK Energy White Paper. I sat there watching him do it, 10 feet away in the front row. I was momentarily tempted to leap to my feet and shout: "So why don't you invest in it like the Germans and Japanese, then?" But he hasn't. Not then. Not now.

Microcosms of what could be done can be found already on the local government scene. Take the small town of Woking. Its borough council has cut carbon-dioxide emissions by fully 77 per cent - yes, more than three quarters - since 1990 using a hybrid-energy system involving small private electricity grids, combined heat and power (CHP), solar photovoltaic’s (PV), and energy efficiency. Woking has turned its town centre, its housing estates, and its old people's homes into inspirational islands of energy self-sufficiency. The UK grid could go down for ever, and these folks would have their own heating and electricity year-round. The technologies work in perfect harmony. The CHP units generate heating when needed in winter, and lots of electricity along with it when the PV is not working at its best. The PV generates plenty of electricity in the summer, when the heating isn't needed, meaning the CHP can't generate much electricity. Because the use of private wires is so much cheaper than using the national grid, the whole package costs fractionally less than the equivalent heating and electricity supply would cost from the big energy suppliers.

Compare such out-of-the-box ingenuity with what nuclear has to offer. Even if there were no environmental problems associated with it, and we could afford the billions needed in perpetuity from the public purse to make the voodoo economics stack up, a new fleet of stations couldn't come on-stream in the UK much before 2020. And if we and the Americans can't solve the energy crisis without resorting to nuclear, the whole world will follow our example. Bad as the terrorist threat is now, it would be compounded many times as a result. We would live with much increased risk of losing whole cities to suitcase bombers.

There is a part of me that looks at the prospect of a cold snap in Britain this winter, and of a consequent fuel-supply crisis, and thinks "Bring it on." Maybe this is what we need to stop our sleepwalk towards catastrophe, and to make us rethink our energy policy. Perhaps the government can be judo-thrown into the Wokingisation of Britain now, and dissuaded from the nuclearisation of Britain 15 years from now.

But then I think of all the grans and granddads that would die in a one-in-ten winter, and I just feel sad. Sad, and mad with our hot-air Government.

Adapted from "Half Gone: Oil, Gas, Hot Air and the Global Energy Crisis", by Jeremy Leggett