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Sunday, December 30, 2007

The U.S. is Now an "Endemic Surveillance Society"

By Kyeann
December 30, 2007

Pass the Freedom Fries! The French are still filmed, monitored and intercepted less than we are, but barely. Their status also "deteriorated" in 2007.

The U.S. has been downgraded from "Extensive Surveillance Society" to "Endemic Surveillance Society," according to Privacy International's 2007 International Privacy Ranking released on Friday.

We now share the "Endemic" distinction with China, Russia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, and the UK:

In terms of statutory protections and privacy enforcement, the US is the worst ranking country in the democratic world. In terms of overall privacy protection the United States has performed very poorly, being out-ranked by both India and the Philippines.It's worth noting that Canadian and EU papers have reported on this, but I have yet to find coverage in a U.S. newspaper.

It's up to you and me to let our friends and family and presidential candidates know that we rank at the bottom when it comes to:

  • Legal protections
  • Privacy enforcement
  • Use of identity cards and biometrics
  • Visual surveillance
  • Communications interception
  • Workplace monitoring
  • Medical, financial and movement surveillance
  • Border and trans-border issues

Take a gander at the report for a thorough explanation. Then think about where you'd like to live!

Romania and Canada are in the best shape (though Canada is slipping due in part to cooperation with U.S. data gathering and border programs).

Greece stands out as a the only country with "adequate safeguards" against abuse. Hmm... I could live on Kalamata olives...

What did you say? You'd like some "freedom feta" with that? Yum.~~

Privacy International Leading surveillance societies in the EU and the World 2007 Canada better than U.S., U.K. at protecting citizens' privacy: study



Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Misadventures Of Cheney And His Minion Squad

By: Christy Hardin Smith
December 27, 2007

dday catches an intriguing bit in an interview with J.William Leonard, the head of the National Archives' Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), which deals with classified documents from the executive branch.

To wit:
...Up until 2002, OVP was just like any other agency. Subsequent to that, they stopped reporting to us…At first, I took that to be, 'we're too busy.' Then we routinely attempted to do a review of the OVP and it was at that point in time it was articulated back to me that: 'well they weren't really subject to our reviews.'

The laws need not apply to Dick Cheney and his minion squad, you see. As I read this, my mind flashed back to reporting that Murray Waas did in the months prior to the Libby trial, and a point which I made back then:

Lookee here, Junior was willing to do pretty much anything to save his own ass from being tarred with the liar brush -- but when he got cornered on the lies, he dispatched the mean team. And guess who the captain was?

Bush also told federal prosecutors during his June 24, 2004, interview in the Oval Office that he had directed Cheney, as part of that broader effort, to disclose highly classified intelligence information that would not only defend his administration but also discredit Wilson, the sources said.

But Bush told investigators that he was unaware that Cheney had directed I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the vice president's chief of staff, to covertly leak the classified information to the media instead of releasing it to the public after undergoing the formal governmental declassification processes....

That's an awful lot of "shut the sonofabitch up, but play by the rules as you do it" from a bunch of political players who wouldn't know a rule if it bit them on the ass....

Let's see, the most powerful Vice President in history, who has been given a specific charge from the President of the United States to get out the information that fully rebuts and shuts up an Administration critic on the vital lynchpin of the argument for war in Iraq...just took notes on Amb. Wilson's op-ed as a thought process exercise or as a means to work through the Sunday Jumble or something....

Wasn't buying it then, still not buying it.

dday's tagged Cheney with the nickname "Fourthbranch," which I think is mockingly hilarious -- "(like the Taco Bell ad: "think outside the Constitution")". And, as dday so aptly points out, the Fourthbranch way is a sort of six degrees of separation between Cheney and whatever illegal activity may be in the offing. First using Libby, and now perhaps David Addington with hanging questions about the CIA torture tapes and who gave the burn bag orders on them.

Which takes me all the way back to some Congressional testimony about Dick and his minion posse:

The vice president and his chief of staff went out to CIA headquarters on a number of occasions -- at least on two occasions -- specifically to address the questions of weapons of mass destruction and the attempt to acquire a nuclear capability. These meetings, I'm told secondhand, were contentious, but the vice president insisted that there must be some support for this reporting of the yellow cake acquisition attempt....

At the time, that chief of staff was I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. But I have heard that David Addington also accompanied the Vice President on occasion back to his old employer's at Langley to push the Veep's agenda as well. bmaz at Emptywheel's breaks down the potential Records Act violations and the various permutations of potential loopholes or lack thereof.

I keep thinking about the Frontline piece on Cheney's Law -- a clip of which I've attached to this post -- and the stealthy, long-term way that Cheney and his true believer Fourthbranch minion squad have infiltrated the whole of government, infesting it with their "the laws don't apply to us" cult. And wondering how long it is going to take to root out all that oathbreaking, power-grabbing paranoia in the years that follow. And whether there is anything these people won't do to cover their own asses tracks.

(More resources on Cheney's Law here.)


Friday, December 28, 2007


Pakistan ISI agents ‘staged escape’ of Terror Suspect

Times Online UK
December 23, 2007
by Dean Nelson and Ghulam Hasnain

Friends of Rashid Rauf, the man wanted in Britain for last year’s Al-Qaeda plot to blow up transatlantic airliners, believe that he did not escape from custody last weekend but was kidnapped by Pakistan’s military intelligence agency (ISI). They fear he may be shot.

Rauf was arrested in Pakistan in August last year at the same time as 25 men were held in Britain after police uncovered an alleged plot to blow up 12 airliners flying to the United States from Heathrow and Gatwick.

The arrests led to widespread changes in airport security and a ban on liquids being taken onto planes in hand luggage.

Since then Rauf has been held with other Al-Qaeda suspects in Pakistan’s highest-security unit in Rawalpindi until his “escape” last weekend.

The Pakistan government has blamed junior policemen escorting Rauf back to jail after a court hearing in Islamabad where he was fighting moves to extradite him to Britain in connection with the murder of an uncle.

The officers had allowed him to stop for lunch at a McDonald’s restaurant and later in the journey permitted him to pray at a mosque. His handcuffs were removed to allow him to pray freely. When the guards entered the mosque to check on the prisoner, he had escaped through another door.

Their description of his getaway has been met with disbelief throughout Pakistan, with diplomats and commentators asking how a prisoner described by the country’s interior minister as a leading Al-Qaeda operative and held in Pakistan’s highest-security detention unit could be allowed to walk away in broad daylight.

Rauf’s lawyer and a close family friend both said last week that they believed he had not escaped but had been taken into secret security-service custody and they feared for his life.

They said they believed the country’s intelligence service did not want him to be extradited to Britain and had in effect kidnapped him to preempt any court decision to deport him. More than 400 opposition activists and Islamic militants have been secretly detained by the security services in this way and Pakistan’s Supreme Court has criticised the policy and ordered the government to free a number of detainees.

Khalid Khawaja, a former Pakistan intelligence agent who counts Osama Bin Laden as a friend, said he had shared a cell with Rauf and had become close to him and his family. He said Rauf was a simple man who did not have the wherewithal to plot an escape. He said he believed that Rauf might have been “taken away by the ISI” and feared that his friend might be shot dead while “on the run”.

He was a high-value prisoner wanted by the British. How could he just get a chance to run away like this? It is not possible without the active involvement of the government. Now they have said he ran away. If he’s found killed no one will question it because he ran away,” he said.

Hashmat Habib, Rauf’s lawyer, said his client was being victimised because the Pakistani authorities had been forced to drop all charges against Rauf over the transatlantic flight plot.

In my estimate it’s an organised disappearance. They don’t want to hand him over. He’s an innocent man. He was fixed up and the government is now afraid that he would become an embarrassment if sent to the UK because they hyped up his involvement. He was not involved in terrorism,” he said.

Pakistani officials have said that Rauf was a leading figure in the Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist group, which is believed to have had strong links with Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. The group was behind the hijacking of an Indian Airlines jet in 1999 and the beheading of Daniel Pearl, the American journalist, in February 2002.

Its members have included Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the terrorist from Wanstead, east London, who was later convicted of the kidnap and murder of Pearl.

Sound famililar?


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Theft of personal data in '07 grows more than 3 times

Dec. 10, 2007
Gannett News Service

More than 162 million personal records have been reported lost or stolen in 2007; triple the 49.7 million that went missing in 2006, according to USA Today’s analysis of data losses reported over the past two years.

This year, news stories have been written about data losses disclosed by 98 companies, 85 schools, 80 government agencies, and 39 hospitals and clinics, according to a database at tech security Web site; arrests or prosecutions have been reported in just 19 cases.

Names, birth dates, account numbers, and Social Security numbers have increased in value in the cybercrime underground.

Meanwhile, organizations expose rich veins of such data as they convert paper documents into digital records.

Business data worldwide are expected to swell to 988 billion gigabytes by 2010, up from 161 billion gigabytes in 2006, says researcher IDC.

As they “cram more and more data into a single place,” companies and agencies present thieves with more opportunities for a big score, says said the vice president of technology at Cryptography Research.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

The 10 Most Underreported Humanitarian Crises

Doctors Without Borders

Displaced Fleeing War in Somalia Face Humanitarian Crisis

As violence in Somalia escalated this year to some of the worst levels in over 15 years, both assistance for and attention to one of the most challenging and acute humanitarian situations in the world seemed to wane. Ethiopian troops and Transitional Federal Government forces, supported by international partners such as the United States and the European Union, clashed with a range of armed groups, including remnants of the Islamic Courts Union. The fighting caused an unknown number of civilian casualties and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people from the capital, Mogadishu.

In 2007, MSF increased its presence in Mogadishu in different locations and opened an emergency response program in Afgooye, just outside the capital, where an estimated 200,000 internally displaced persons sought refuge, living in extremely harsh conditions with little access to food, water, and shelter. Many of those remaining in Mogadishu are staying in makeshift camps with little more than ripped cloth and plastic sheeting for shelter and are exposed to a high degree of violence.

In a country where a 16-year conflict has resulted in some of the world's worst health indicators, with an estimated life expectancy of 47 years, few international aid organizations managed to run effective independent aid programs. Present since 1991, MSF increased its operations in 2007 and is now running projects in 10 out of the 11 regions of south and central Somalia. Nevertheless in many areas, especially in the Mogadishu area, MSF is extremely frustrated by its inability to reach more patients due to security concerns.

In August, MSF called upon all parties to the conflict to respect the safety of medical workers and allow access to medical care in and around Mogadishu. Throughout MSF hospitals, from Kismayo to Galcayo, the medical services provided range from primary and maternal to surgical care, with nurses and doctors treating malnutrition, tuberculosis, kala azar, cholera, and war-related trauma on a daily basis.

Political and Economic Turmoil Sparks Health-Care Crisis in Zimbabwe

Rampant unemployment, skyrocketing inflation, food shortages, and political instability continued to wrack Zimbabwe in 2007. Up to 3 million people are believed to have fled to neighboring countries in recent years among a population of 12 million.

The national health-care system, once viewed as one of the strongest in southern Africa, now threatens to collapse under the weight of this political and economic turmoil with the most acute consequences potentially for the estimated 1.8 million Zimbabweans living with HIV/AIDS. Currently, less than one-fourth of the people in urgent need of life-extending antiretroviral (ARV) treatment receive it. This translates into an average of 3,000 deaths every week. And the prospects for a further scale up of the national AIDS program are dim.

Trained medical professionals are leaving the country, the government program for HIV/AIDS treatment is oversubscribed, and the lack of ARV supplies has stifled further expansion. Patients often face obstacles to reach hospitals or clinics because of high fuel and transport prices.

Through programs in Bulawayo, Tshlotsho, Gweru, Epworth, and various locations in Manicaland province, MSF provides free medical care to 33,000 people living with HIV/AIDS, 12,000 of whom are receiving ARV treatment—nearly one tenth of all people on treatment. However, MSF's ability to care for more people in need is hindered by the lack of trained health workers, restrictions on which staff can prescribe ARV drugs, and stricter administrative requirements for international staff to work in the country.

At the same time, Zimbabweans are feeling the health impact of degraded or nonexistent water-and-sanitation systems. During the year, outbreaks of diarrhea affected people living in the capital, Harare, and Bulawayo, the second largest city. Fleeing the country is also a dangerous enterprise as evidenced by the reports of refugees being beaten and raped along the South African border, and those who do make it across may be destined to live in the shadows with little or no access to health care.

Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis Spreads As New Drugs Go Untested

Every year, tuberculosis (TB) kills an estimated two million people and another nine million develop the disease. In spite of the rising human toll, there have been no advances in treatment since the 1960s and the most commonly used diagnostic test—sputum smear microscopy—was developed in 1882 and only detects TB in half of the cases. An estimated $900 million is needed annually for research and development for TB, but only $206 million is invested worldwide.

Existing treatments and diagnostics are even less adapted for people living with HIV/AIDS, the easiest prey for the TB bacilli. And for those who become infected with multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB)—more than 450,000 people every year—or develop it as a result of incomplete treatment, the prospects for survival are even bleaker. The only guarantee for the few who are able to access treatment for MDR-TB is up to 24 months of ingesting a daily cocktail of highly toxic and expensive drugs that often trigger violent side effects.

In MSF programs in Armenia, Abkhazia, Georgia, Cambodia, Kenya, Thailand, Uganda, and Uzbekistan, even under the best conditions, only 55 percent of MDR-TB patients completed the 18 to 24 month treatment. The remaining proportion died, did not improve, or stopped treatment altogether because of side effects.

Adding to the frustration for medical staff on the TB pandemic's front line is the fact that not all new drugs are being tested in the neediest patients—those with MDR-TB. A recent article authored by international experts and published in the open-source medical journal PLoS Medicine, called for the testing of new drugs in patients whose TB is resistant to standard treatment. This approach could make it easier to detect anti-TB activity of new drugs and ultimately accelerate drug development.

Expanded Use of Nutrient Dense Ready-to-Use Foods Crucial for Reducing Childhood Malnutrition

Acute malnutrition in early childhood is common in large areas of the Horn of Africa, the Sahel, and South Asia—the world's “malnutrition hotspots.” Every year, malnutrition is associated with the deaths of five million children under the age of five.

Recently, an effective response has emerged in the form of nutrient dense ready-to-use foods (RUFs) that can save the lives of acutely malnourished children. These products come in the form of milk- and peanut-based pastes enriched with all the vitamins and nutrients needed for rapid recovery. And they do not require refrigeration or preparation, allowing most malnourished children to be treated with RUF at home. But so far these products are only available to a tiny fraction of the severely malnourished children who need them.

MSF urges international donors to support systematic purchasing and use of RUF in countries where it's needed. RUF also has the potential to prevent children from becoming acutely malnourished by treating at earlier stages. This means international food aid programs targeting young children must incorporate RUFs to treat less severe forms of malnutrition and to prevent acute malnutrition from developing in areas of high prevalence.

In Niger in 2007, MSF launched a pilot program using a modified RUF as a supplement to prevent some 62,000 children from becoming malnourished during the period of seasonal food shortages. The program has helped to stanch a rise in acute malnutrition in one of the country's high prevalence districts.

In addition to calling for urgent scale up of RUF for children most in need, MSF is urging further efforts to use supplemental RUF to prevent children from becoming dangerously malnourished in the first place.

Civilians Increasingly Under Fire in Sri Lankan Conflict

Caught in the middle of fighting between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eeelam (LTTE), civilians in Sri Lanka's eastern and northern regions live in terror. Sri Lanka has been in the grips of this fighting on and off for nearly 25 years, but the conflict has received very little attention, especially in terms of the toll it has taken on civilians living in the conflict zone.

Targeted bombings, killings, mine attacks, suicide bombings, abductions, forced recruitment, extortion, restrictions on movement, and arbitrary arrests make day-to-day life in Sri Lanka increasingly precarious. Hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans in need of humanitarian assistance have been displaced since the resumption of major fighting in August 2006.

The dire nature of the situation is compounded by a general climate of hostility and suspicion toward humanitarian aid organizations. As a result, humanitarian aid is increasingly restricted and civilians suffer from the resulting lack of access to lifesaving emergency assistance. This lack of respect for humanitarian aid comes at a time when areas near the front line of fighting have lost nearly all of their medical specialists and hospitals no longer have the human resources to treat the wounded.

After having to evacuate in late 2006, MSF is now providing medical, obstetrical, and surgical care in Point Pedro, Vavuniya, Kilinochchi, and Mannar.

Conditions Worsen in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo

The headlines emerging from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2007 paid scant attention to the humanitarian crisis currently unfolding in the eastern province of North Kivu. More than a year after the first democratic elections in decades were supposed to bring stability to this conflict-ridden region, fighting between armed groups has continued in North Kivu.

Supported by MONUC, the UN force, the government is now in open combat with the forces of rebel leader Laurent Nkunda. A number of different groups such as the Mai Mai and the Rwandan Hutu rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) are involved in the fighting.

Hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes in the past year, many of whom have been displaced multiple times. The displaced are often forced to hide in the forest, with little access to food or basic health care and under constant threat of attack from the various armed groups. With few avenues to receive health care, displaced Congolese are increasingly vulnerable to easily treatable diseases and conditions such as malnutrition, malaria, respiratory infections, and obstetrical complications. Outbreaks of cholera have struck Rutshuru and Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu.

MSF teams have reinforced their activities to try to meet the increasing medical needs, but fighting and insecurity make it difficult for humanitarian workers to deliver assistance to the population. Large areas remain inaccessible, with many roads simply cut off by the insecurity.

One particularly disturbing aspect of DRC's conflict is the alarmingly high rate of sexual violence. In North Kivu, MSF cared for more than 2,375 victims of sexual violence from January through October 2007. In the DRC's Ituri district, the setting of conflict between different armed groups from those operating in North Kivu, 150,000 internally displaced people are still unable to return home. In a state of utter destitution, they remain vulnerable to exploitation and assaults.

Through the Bon Marché hospital in Bunia, capital of the Ituri region, MSF has treated 7,400 rape victims over the last four years. More than one-third of these people were admitted over the last 18 months. MSF also responded this year to a number of disease outbreaks in other provinces, including an epidemic of Ebola hemorrhagic fever in southern West Kasai province.

Living Precariously in Colombia's Conflict Zones

Largely fuelled by a fight over control of the narcotics trade, Colombia's decades-old civil war often makes headlines, but its impact on the civilian population of the country is rarely the focus of attention.

Over the years, as many as 3.8 million people have been driven from their homes by violence brought on by government troops, paramilitary, and rebel forces battling for territorial control, ranking Colombia third in the world after Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo for the largest number of internally displaced people.

Armed groups have a stranglehold on roughly half of Colombia's rural areas, depriving civilians of access to health care by making roads impassable, forcibly conscripting children into militias, and murdering those suspected of collaborating with rivals. These civilians are equally treated with suspicion of potentially “collaborating” with armed groups by Colombia's armed forces and often face harsh reprisals as a result.

In desperation, families flee their homes for urban slums with little more than the clothes on their backs; and when they arrive, looking for work and shelter, they often find conditions that are as threatening as those they fled. Their new homes are overcrowded shacks without adequate facilities. The living conditions can lead to respiratory infections and diarrheal disease, but there is little access to health care. There are also very few internally displaced persons who have the option of returning safely to the homes they were forced to abandon.

MSF has a presence in 13 of Colombia's 32 departments, working in isolated rural areas through mobile and stationary clinics and in urban areas where displaced families have gathered. Teams provide medical care ranging from vaccinations to reproductive care and emergency services, and offer psychological care to victims of violence. As the conflict in Colombia rolls into its sixth decade and armed groups continue to target civilians in their war for control, many Colombians do not remember a time when daily life was not ruled by guns and terror.

Humanitarian Aid Restricted in Myanmar

Isolated from the outside world since the ruling military junta came to power in 1962, the people of Myanmar (formerly named Burma) suffer from the consequences of repression and neglect.

The crackdown on monks marching for democracy in September brought international attention to this long-suffering population, but it did not expose what ordinary Burmese go through every day. Faced with high malaria and HIV rates, the impoverished population is provided with little assistance—only 1.4 percent of the regime's budget supports health-care services.

In spite of the overwhelming need, there are few humanitarian aid groups working in the country and, for those on the ground, operating in an independent and impartial manner is difficult. Moreover, donor governments and agencies are reluctant to fund programs that might support the regime. Travel inside the country can require time-consuming visas, which can make responding to emergencies impossible and needs assessments challenging. In some regions, such as those gripped by armed conflict involving Karen and Mon rebels along the eastern border with Thailand, government restrictions have stymied humanitarian aid efforts, including MSF's.

Some of the largest gaps in health services are in the western Rakhine state, where MSF treated 210,000 people for malaria in 2006. Muslims from Rakhine state, known as Rohingyas, live in particularly precarious circumstances. Denied citizenship rights by the state, this group suffers numerous forms of abuse. MSF provides basic medical care and HIV/AIDS treatment to Rohingyas.

The slow response to the country's HIV/AIDS epidemic has fueled the spread of the disease. In Yangon, Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan states, MSF offers comprehensive HIV/AIDS programs, but these meet just a fraction of the need. While there is little independent information to shed light on the number of Burmese in clinical need of life-prolonging antiretroviral (ARV) treatment, of the UN-estimated 360,000 people who are living with HIV, only 10,000 are believed to be receiving ARVs. MSF provides ARV therapy to 8,000 of them. And even fewer have access to care for complicating diseases like tuberculosis. As a result, the UN estimates that 20,000 people die annually from HIV/AIDS.

Civilians Caught Between Armed Groups in Central African Republic

Fighting between government forces and various rebel groups in northern Central African Republic (CAR), which started in late 2005, has caused significant displacement of the population. In the northwest, villages have been attacked, pillaged, and burned, forcing people to flee into the surrounding, inhospitable forest, and severely restricting their access to health care. Civilians are also the victims of violence at the hands of roadside bandits.

In 2007, MSF supported health structures and provided primary and secondary health care in and around Kabo, Batangafo, Paoua, Kaga Bandoro, Markounda, and Boguila in the northwest, and Birao and Gordil in the northeast. In the first eight months of the year, more than 100,000 consultations were carried out and tens of thousands of people—many of them children under five years of age—were treated for malaria and other infectious diseases often associated with poor living conditions.

Acts of harassment and general insecurity frequently forced MSF to stop its mobile clinics on short notice, which sometimes left people without access to health care for up to eight weeks. In June, MSF aid worker Elsa Serfass was shot and killed by rebel gunfire, leading to a lengthy reduction of MSF operations in northwestern CAR. The violence in the northwest has also forced close to 30,000 people into neighboring Cameroon, where they have suffered from a lack of shelter, food, and medical assistance.

During the year, MSF carried out a nutrition intervention after alarming rates of malnutrition were discovered among children within this refugee population. Affected children were treated and MSF also carried out distributions of supplementary food rations. More than 45,000 CAR refugees also gathered in southern Chad, where MSF works in a district hospital and provides assistance to refugees in camps and local residents.

In parts of Vakaga province in northeastern CAR, home to approximately 45,000 people, violence between rebel groups and government troops has forced thousands of people to flee their destroyed homes and villages. Many sought safety in the nearby forest. The region suffers from a near-total lack of health care and MSF provided assistance to the beleaguered population through mobile and fixed clinics in Birao and Gordil.

Mothers of kidnapped Chechens protest in a park in Grozny.

It has been nearly four years since the most intense fighting subsided between Russian government and rebel forces in the North Caucasus republic of Chechnya. Tens of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs), who had fled to the neighboring republics of Ingushetia and Dagestan, have returned to Chechnya. At the same time, reconstruction has increased in the Chechen capital, Grozny, the scene of indiscriminate bombing less than a decade ago, and the republic's airport has been reopened.

Yet the Caucasus region remains highly volatile. Fighting outside Chechnya has increased and a large military presence still inhabits the region. Abductions, disappearances, assassinations, and bombings continue in Ingushetia, North Ossetia, and Dagestan. Inside Chechnya, the security situation is still precarious for civilians. Dangers may range from being caught in the middle of sporadic gunfire to getting into a car accident involving heavy military vehicles, the latter recently having become a common cause of trauma.

Basic health services, particularly in the areas of obstetrical and gynecological care, are woefully lacking and, when available, remain out of reach for many impoverished returnees. Through clinics in and around Grozny, MSF and local Chechen doctors see a population with high levels of chronic illness, including lung, kidney, and cardiovascular diseases.

Furthermore, the MSF teams also witness widespread needs for psychosocial care, caused by years of exposure to violence and displacement. An MSF survey of IDPs living in temporary accommodation centers in Ingushetia and Chechnya found that nearly all the people interviewed were suffering from anxiety, insomnia, or depression.

Chechnya's wars also took their toll on the republic's tuberculosis (TB) control system. As a result, MSF supports TB hospitals serving a population of 400,000. And many survivors of the wars still need care for crippling injuries. MSF has tried to meet some of this need by operating a reconstructive surgery program in Grozny hospital No. 9 since 2006.

Doctors without Borders



Thursday, December 20, 2007

Lakota Indians Withdraw Treaties Signed With U.S. 150 Years Ago

December 20, 2007

The Lakota Indians, who gave the world legendary warriors Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, have withdrawn from treaties with the United States.

"We are no longer citizens of the United States of America and all those who live in the five-state area that encompasses our country are free to join us,'' long-time Indian rights activist Russell Means said.

A delegation of Lakota leaders has delivered a message to the State Department, and said they were unilaterally withdrawing from treaties they signed with the federal government of the U.S., some of them more than 150 years old.

The group also visited the Bolivian, Chilean, South African and Venezuelan embassies, and would continue on their diplomatic mission and take it overseas in the coming weeks and months.

Lakota country includes parts of the states of Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming.

The new country would issue its own passports and driving licences, and living there would be tax-free - provided residents renounce their U.S. citizenship, Mr Means said.

The treaties signed with the U.S. were merely "worthless words on worthless paper," the Lakota freedom activists said.

Withdrawing from the treaties was entirely legal, Means said.

"This is according to the laws of the United States, specifically article six of the constitution,'' which states that treaties are the supreme law of the land, he said.

"It is also within the laws on treaties passed at the Vienna Convention and put into effect by the US and the rest of the international community in 1980. We are legally within our rights to be free and independent,'' said Means.

The Lakota relaunched their journey to freedom in 1974, when they drafted a declaration of continuing independence — an overt play on the title of the United States' Declaration of Independence from England.

Thirty-three years have elapsed since then because "it takes critical mass to combat colonialism and we wanted to make sure that all our ducks were in a row,'' Means said.

One duck moved into place in September, when the United Nations adopted a non-binding declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples — despite opposition from the United States, which said it clashed with its own laws.

"We have 33 treaties with the United States that they have not lived by. They continue to take our land, our water, our children,'' Phyllis Young, who helped organize the first international conference on indigenous rights in Geneva in 1977, told the news conference.

The U.S. "annexation'' of native American land has resulted in once proud tribes such as the Lakota becoming mere "facsimiles of white people,'' said Means.

Oppression at the hands of the U.S. government has taken its toll on the Lakota, whose men have one of the shortest life expectancies - less than 44 years - in the world.

Lakota teen suicides are 150 per cent above the norm for the U.S.; infant mortality is five times higher than the U.S. average; and unemployment is rife, according to the Lakota freedom movement's website.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Senate set to give retroactive immunity to ATT and other telcos for warrantless wiretapping program

Dec 17, 2007
by Matt Buchanan

Should AT&T and the other telcos involved (like Verizon) get a total pass for participating in the NSA's domestic wiretapping program that let the government eavesdrop on Americans without a warrant?

The Senate's thisclose to giving them immunity from lawsuits like the one the Electronic Freedom Foundation's filed against AT&T and others.

Mark Klein explained the situation a bit in this video and why he was lobbying against immunity for the telcos—which the FCC declined to investigate.

It's this exact bill that's about to pass the Senate, as they've voted to limit debate on it "all but assuring" it gets the rubber stamp.

Also included are provisions to essentially legalize the government's actions, effectively expanding its ability to spy within our borders.

Scary stuff.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Big Coal's Dirty Plans for Our Energy Future

By Antrim Caskey
December 14, 2007

Just as the American people and the world are beginning to recognize the necessity of shifting to renewable energies, Big Coal, in collusion with an out-of-step administration, is pushing their dirty fossil fuel as the solution to our nation's energy crisis.

Big Coal and its cohorts envision a "clean coal technology" future fueled by liquifying and gasifying coal, capturing the carbon emissions and injecting them underground. By 2030 the West Virginia Division of Energy -- a nascent state agency formed in July, 2007 -- wants to oust oil and exalt coal by displacing the 1.3 billion gallons of foreign oil the state currently imports every year.

The WVDoE believes "that higher energy prices are providing and will continue to provide market opportunities" for a variety of alternative coal technologies including "coal waste, coal fines and coal bed methane," according to a document released in December 2007 called, "A Blueprint for the Future."

But scientists and environmentalists say "clean coal" does not exist; it is a misnomer and an oxymoron.

The National Resources Defense Council has said, using the term "clean coal" makes about as much sense as saying "safe cigarettes." The extraction and cleaning of coal inevitably decimate ecosystems and communities.

Citing abundant supplies of quality domestic coal, escalating oil prices that are hoving around $100 per barrel, and security concerns raised by dependence on foreign oil, the coal industry is chomping at the bit to secure their stake in the false pursuit of domestic energy independence through a federally assisted coal-based economy. But as the world wakes up to the climate crisis and people learn more about modern coal mining and the continuing exploitation of Appalachia, which has sickened entire communities, polluted the water and air, and condemned vast sections of an ecologically extraordinary land to death, the coal industry faces an increasingly uphill battle against growing public awareness and concern.

Just this year, plans for a dozen new coal plants in Texas, Florida, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Kansas and others have been repudiated by the growing public awareness and concern about the role of coal and other fossil fuels in our climate crisis. Playing on stereotypes and employing scare tactics about the unpredictability of the Middle East, the coal industry is developing a Frankenstein-like future for U.S. energy needs.

In Kansas, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius recently blocked plans for two coal-fired electricity plants; afterwards, on Nov. 5, a full page ad in Kansas newspapers explained that now, because of Sebelius' decision, "Kansas will import more natural gas from countries like Russia, Venezuela and Iran." The ad displayed the grinning faces of the leaders of these countries and continued, "Without new coal-fueled plants in our state, experts predict that electric bills will skyrocket and Kansans will be more dependent than ever on hostile, foreign energy sources."

In fact, Kansas exports natural gas to other states and the United States does not even import natural gas from Russia, Venezuela or Iran, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Why carbon capture is no safety net

Nationwide there are grandiose plans for more than 100 new coal-fired power plants but that will all hinge on being able to sell the public and legislators on outfitting and funding these new plants with Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) technology. This process siphons off or "captures" carbon dioxide before it can escape into the atmosphere, contributing to acid rain, smog and warming the planet. The sequestered carbon would then be pumped and stored underground.

But is it really possible to bury our daily CO2 emission?

Australia's renown physicist, Karl Kruszelnicki, who is running for public office on the Climate Change Coalition ticket, told the Sydney Morning Herald on Nov. 1, "One cubic kilometer of CO2 to get rid of every day? It's not possible! But they don't tell you that that's what they've got to get rid of. They make reassuring noises that they're spending millions looking for underground caverns. But I'm here to tell you that they're not going to find it ... The point is that they can only store 1,000th of 1 percent, not all their daily output."

Not only do we not have the capacity to store all the CO2 we produce, but the technology isn't there yet.

The coal industry acknowledges that CCS is 15 years away, but continues to promulgate the myth of "clean coal technology" and to guide generous government subsidies to themselves and to West Virginia universities, assigning valuable research money to dirty technology. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's 2007 report "The Future of Coal" stated that "there is no standard for measurement, monitoring, and verification of CO2 distribution. Duration of post-injection monitoring is an unresolved issue."

In other words, Big Coal is betting on a pipe dream with an entire ecosystem at stake.

Adding CCS to plans for the more than 100 proposed coal-fired power plants on the drawing board would increase operating budgets by 50 percent to 80 percent. And the gasifying and liquifying of coal into syn-gas and diesel would create potential emissions twice as carbon-rich as petroleum based gasoline or natural gas. If Big Coal gets its way, the U.S. Air Force will cruise the skies on liquid coal fuel -- spewing dangerously concentrated CO2 into our fragile atmosphere, and we'll be building more polluting plants based on false promises from an outlaw industry.

Exacerbating the water crisis

To many observers, the next natural resource wars will be waged over water, not oil or coal. People in the United States are waking up to the reality of a looming water crisis, but the coal industry is still advocating for a technology that is part of the problem, not the solution.
The U.S. Department of Energy stated in December 2006, that the demand for water to produce coal conversion fuels "threaten our limited water supply."

Coal conversion -- gasification or liquefaction -- requires an absurd amount of fresh water. Each new Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) or Coal to Liquid (CTL) plant will require millions of gallons of fresh water every day.

And these new plants will require even more coal.

Big Coal's proposed plans will require a large increase in coal extraction -- at least 15 percent more, though some reports quote as high as a 45 percent increase in coal production would be necessary to fuel "clean coal technology."

The surge in demand for coal would be met with a surge in mountaintop removal coal mining, which means more water pollution. Mountaintop removal mining and the chemical cleaning of coal also threatens Appalachian headwater streams, which are the drinking water source for the southeastern United States -- an area that has endured frightening water shortages this year in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

The coal-to-liquid plants that coal state politicians like Gov. Joe Manchin, III of West Virginia and Gov. Ernie Fletcher of Kentucky are scrambling to site in their states would have one consequence that many observers underestimate or ignore: The increase in production of coal sludge -- one of the least known and least regulated toxic wastes in the United States -- a direct threat to water supplies.

Ben Stout, a biologist from Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, W.Va., who testified in the landmark Bragg v. Robertson case, where 88 community members sued a coal operator for destroying their land, has witnessed the environmental and human health devastation wreaked on the unique mountain ecosystems and communities of Appalachia firsthand.

"Clean Coal Technologies is a misnomer," he said. "There's nothing clean about coal. The extraction end is not addressed; if you live in southern West Virginia, the landscape you grew up in has been destroyed and rearranged. The question is, why are so many people in West Virginia so desperate to get hooked up to county water supply?"

The answer is: toxic coal sludge.

Coal sludge, laden with heavy metals found in coal and released during extraction, like arsenic, chromium, cadmium and mercury, has been pumped underground in West Virginia for decades, with scant regulatory oversight. The sludge has intercepted underground water tables, from which mountain communities draw their drinking water. Coal sludge also contains carcinogenic chemicals like floculants, which are used to process coal.

In West Virginia, the second-largest coal-producing state in the nation, more than 470 mountaintops have been blown apart, 800 square miles of the most diverse temperate hardwood forest razed and replaced with more than 4,000 valley fills and 675 toxic coal sludge ponds.

By 2012, the U.S. government estimates that we will have destroyed 2,500 square miles of pristine Appalachia. Currently there are over 107 trillion gallons of coal slurry stored or permitted to be stored in active West Virginia "impoundments."

The total mechanization of coal extraction epitomized by mountaintop removal/valley fill coal mining has buried thousands of miles of vital headwater streams and pumped previously mined lands full of sludge. The coal industry says that it has "elevated" some streams -- after they've buried them upstream -- relocating them and "repurposing" them into chemical spillways called National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) streams.

Coal sludge, the waste by-product of the chemical cleaning of coal in preparation for shipping to market, is initially put into surface ponds, but eventually this chemically concentrated, pudding-like waste leaches into the groundwater. In southern West Virginia, where the largest seams of coal lie, whole communities have been poisoned over years by mining waste that has contaminated their drinking water.

Coal sludge is a disaster waiting to happen, like the 2.8 billion gallons of toxic sludge that stand behind a 325-foot, leaking, unsound dam of slate, 400 yards from the Marsh Fork Elementary School in Sundial, W.Va. Or, Brushy Fork, in Boone County, W.Va., one of the largest coal sludge dumps in the world, holding back 9 billion gallons of coal waste.

Sludge is also injected underground into the sprawling abandoned mine works of decades past. Coal sludge is turning up in the water in Mingo County, W.Va., where documentation of this practice stretches back for more than 30 years. Residents of Mingo County have suffered catastrophic illness after the toxic sludge breached the local aquifers that feed home wells. More than 650 of these residents have signed on to a massive class-action lawsuit against the offending coal company, Massey Energy.

Pursuing "clean coal technology" will cause an increase in the production of coal and toxic coal waste which contains dangerous levels of arsenic, barium, cadmium, coper, iron, lead, manganese and zinc. In some cases, there are no standards by which to measure contaminants because some have never been found in drinking water before.

While scrubbers on smoke stacks have cleaned coal fired power plant emissions considerably, the cleaning on the combustion end causes the processing of coal for market to be exponentially dirtier. The coal going to market is cleaner burning today, with lower sulfur and mercury content, but these dangerous elements are left behind in the coal sludge and in drinking water.

The dirty truth about "clean coal"

The environmental destruction caused by mountaintop removal coal extraction is just one of many reasons to immediately transition out of coal. A plethora of substantial hurdles for the alternative coal industry include technological uncertainties, billion dollar budgets, lack of project partners willing to invest in coal, growing concern about carbon emissions from coal fired power plants, uncertainty about future environmental regulations, rising constructions costs and an array of water contamination issues.

But, we've been here before. In response to the energy crisis of the 1970s, the U.S. government invested $15 billion in a failed attempt to jump-start the coal-based synthetic fuel industry including the infamous 1.5 billion syn-fuel plant in Beulah, N.D. In the end, the '80s era attempt at gasification and liquefaction of coal failed miserably because of volatile oil prices bankrupting the nascent industry leaving taxpayers with a $330 million loss.

The newborn West Virginia Division of Energy -- formed to put a better face on coal -- would like to institutionalize all possible manifestations of coal production. The state agency says it would like to surround coal extraction sites and the coal-fired power plants with "additional advance coal opportunities" like the "production of ammonia nitrate from coal, as well as nitrates for fertilizer."

These processes require the same copious amounts of water as CTL and IGCC plants. WVDoE's outline for an energy future goes hand-in-hand with what mountain people call the declaration of a "National Sacrifice Zone" fueled by a plan to depopulate the coal-rich region of the southern mountains. A similar strategy was publicly declared when the federal government found uranium under Native American lands in the Four Corners area in the 1970s. In the end, the uranium was deemed more important than the land and the people; vast regions of Native American lands were declared "National Sacrifice Zones," and people were forced from their homelands.

Massey Energy's CEO, Don Blankenship, recently suggested the idea of a far-reaching coal industrial complex upon releasing a statement regarding the purchase of vast parcel of coal lands, increasing Massey's reserve holding to 100 million tons in Northern Appalachia. "This region is becoming increasingly important to the coal and energy industry, and this transaction will enable us to take advantage of the growth in demand for Northern Appalachian coal," he said. Massey's newly acquired coal lands are in West Virginia, across the Ohio River from Meigs County, Ohio, where a notorious cluster of coal-fired power plants are concentrated.

And momentum is building in the region. At a coal-to-liquids conference in Beckley, W.Va., in August this year, U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller sent word to the crowd that, "We need the equivalent of the Apollo and Manhattan Projects that would provide billions in federal funding for research and development so that the best and brightest engineers and scientific minds can tackle carbon capture sequestration and CTL development."

It is time to stop the momentum and break our coal habit. Instead we need an Apollo and Manhattan project to replace coal with solar, wind and geo-thermal or our kids will be stuck cleaning up after the dirtiest energy industry. Coal companies are notorious for leaving their mess behind.

"The worst offenders declare bankruptcy, opting to clear their plate of financial obligations and skip town," says Earthjustice attorney Lisa Evans. "Residents are left with poisoned soil and water; taxpayers are stuck with a hefty clean up bill."

Only 3 percent to 5 percent of West Virginia mined lands have been reclaimed and developed -- the Twisted Gun Golf Course in Mingo County, Mt. View High School in McDowell County and a FBI complex in Clarksburg, W.Va., are all built on unstable, previously mined lands -- but the lands can never be truly reclaimed because of the extent of the destruction. Large-scale surface mining has converted forests to grasslands, resulting in a loss of carbon sequestration capacity of approximately 1.4 million acres, according to Stout.

When Big Coal talks about economic benefits of CTL, they talk about how cheap raw coal is and how we need to stick with cheap energy.

But they avoid talking about the budgets in the multi-billions, the fact that CCS is unproven and untested commercially, and the externalities of extracting coal: the decimation of Appalachia's ecosystems and communities.

It is impossible to estimate the true cost of coal in a dollar figure -- how do you calculate the destruction of animal habitats, forests, fresh water, heritage, family history, hometowns, livelihoods, and personal health? When you add it all up, coal costs too much!

The plunder and destruction of West Virginia began with a plan in 1760 called the Great Land Grab, when a small group of wealthy Americans plotted to buy the coal-rich lands out from under the mountain people who didn't know the value of what was beneath their homes. Today, coal advocates ignore the global climate crisis, while pushing untested coal-based technology and scaring Americans about our dependence on foreign oil, hoping to fuel the planet with their coal, regardless of the consequences.

No matter what, the immediate transition away from coal is necessary and inevitable, as is a moratorium on all new coal-fired power plants. The world is coming to understand the impacts of dirty energies like coal and the need for sustainable, renewable, clean energy. James Hansen, the leading climate scientist at NASA, who shared the Nobel Prize this year with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), testified as a private citizen at the Iowa Utilities board and said, "Coal will determine whether we continue to increase climate change or slow human impact."

The coal industry's proposed path to a coal-based energy independent future for the United States is like laying down a 16-lane superhighway through the bedrooms of coal-rich regions like Appalachia.

"Clean coal technology" would require a sizable increase in coal extraction and for the mountain communities of Central Appalachia, already suffering under the mountaintop removal/valley fill coal-mining campaign, "clean coal technology" is a highway to hell. We have a choice -- let's build a new road to renewable energy and sustainable communities.

Click to view photo story

Antrim Caskey is a Brooklyn-based independent photojournalist who has been reporting on the human and environmental costs of Mountaintop Removal/Valley Fill coal mining since May 2005.

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

CIA Torture Jet wrecks with 4 Tons of COCAINE !

by redstatehatemonitor
Dec 12, 2007

This Florida based Gulfstream II jet aircraft # N987SA crash landed on September 24, 2007 after it ran out of fuel over Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula it had a cargo of several tons of Cocaine on board now documents have turned up on both sides of the Atlantic that link this Cocaine Smuggling Gulfstream II jet aircraft # N987SA that crashed in Mexico to the CIA who used it on at least 3 rendition flights from Europe and the USA to Guantanamo's infamous torture chambers between 2003 to 2005.


Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Historical Truth of Our Relations with Iran

United States Tells Iran: Become a Nuclear Power

By Reese Erlich
Dec. 9, 2007
[Emphasis News2U]

In this excerpt from his new book, The Iran Agenda, veteran independent journalist Reese Erlich challenges the conventional wisdom on Iran's nuclear ambitions.

The Iran Agenda:

Top Democratic and Republican leaders absolutely believe that Iran is planning to develop nuclear weapons. And one of their seemingly strongest arguments involves a process of deduction. Since Iran has so much oil, they argue, why develop nuclear power?

James Woolsey typifies the view.

The director of the CIA under both George Bush (the elder) and Bill Clinton said, "There is no underlying reason for one of the greatest oil producers in the world to need to get into the nuclear [energy] business ... unless what they want to do is train and produce people and an infrastructure that can have highly enriched uranium or plutonium, fissionable material for nuclear weapons."

In an op-ed commentary, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger wrote, "For a major oil producer such as Iran, nuclear energy is a wasteful use of resources," a position later cited approvingly by the Bush administration.

But U.S. leaders are engaging in a massive case of collective amnesia, or perhaps more accurately, intentional misdirection.

In the 1970s the United States encouraged Iran to develop nuclear power precisely because Iran will eventually run out of oil.

A declassified document from President Gerald Ford's administration, for which Kissinger was secretary of state, supported Iran's push for nuclear power. The document noted that Tehran should "prepare against the time -- about 15 years in the future -- when Iranian oil production is expected to decline sharply."

The United States ultimately planned to sell billions of dollars' worth of nuclear reactors, spare parts, and nuclear fuel to Iran. Muhammad Sahimi, a professor and former department chair of the Chemical and Petroleum Engineering Department at the University of Southern California, told me that Kissinger thought "it was in the U.S. national interest, both economic and security interest, to have such close relations in terms of nuclear power."

The shah even periodically hinted that he wanted Iran to build nuclear weapons.

In June 1974, the shah proclaimed that Iran would have nuclear weapons "without a doubt and sooner than one would think." Iranian embassy officials in France later denied the shah made those remarks, and the shah disowned them. But a few months later, the shah noted that Iran "has no intention of acquiring nuclear weapons but if small states began building them, then Iran might have to reconsider its policy."

If an Iranian leader made such statements today, the United States and Israel would denounce them as proof of nefarious intent. They might well threaten military action if Iran didn't immediately halt its nuclear buildup. At the time, however, the comments caused no ripples in Washington or Tel Aviv because the shah was a staunch ally of both. Asked to comment on his contradictory views then and now, Kissinger said, "They were an allied country, and this was a commercial transaction. We didn't address the question of them one day moving toward nuclear weapons."

Kissinger should have added that consistency has never been a strong point of U.S. foreign policy.

Nukes and Party-Mad Dictators

To fully understand the hypocrisy of U.S. foreign policy, we must travel back to the era of bell-bottoms, funny-looking polyester shirts, and party-mad dictators.

In the early 1970s, Iran's repressive dictator was perhaps most famous for his prodigious partying. In October 1971, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi celebrated the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian empire with a lavish, three-day party on the site of the ancient city of Persepolis.

Luminaries such as Vice President Spiro Agnew, Britain's Prince Philip, and Ethiopian dictator Haile Selassie consumed twenty-five thousand bottles of French wine, five thousand bottles of champagne, and massive quantities of caviar flown in by Maxim's of Paris. Iran's per capita income was only $350 per year; the party cost an estimated $100 million.

The excesses of the party helped fuel anger against the shah at home and abroad.

But in those days, successive U.S. presidential administrations were tickled pink with the shah's regime. As far as the United States was concerned, the shah had a stable government that was modernizing an economically and religiously backward society. True, he ran a brutal dictatorship unconstrained by elections or an independent judiciary. The National Security and Intelligence Organization (SAVAK), his secret police, was infamous for torturing and murdering political dissidents. But the shah made sure that Iran provided a steady supply of petroleum to U.S. and other Western oil companies. He had his own regional ambitions and also acted as a gendarme for the United States.

Need an ally for Israel in the surrounding Arab world?

The shah entered into military and intelligence agreements with the Israelis starting in 1958.

Got a rebellion in the Gulf state of Oman? In the early 1970s, the shah sent three thousand troops to put down the leftist rebels and to ensure the region's oil fields remained safe for him and the United States. Iran became America's single biggest arms buyer. It bought $18.1 billion worth of U.S. arms from 1950 to 1977.

U.S. anticommunist diplomacy, military expansion, and business profit all melded together nicely. And that's where nuclear power comes in.

Beginning in the late 1960s, the shah began to worry about Iran's long-term electric energy supplies. Iran had fewer than five hundred thousand electricity consumers in 1963, but those numbers swelled to over two million in 1976. The shah worried that Iran's oil deposits would eventually run out and that burning petroleum for electricity would waste an important resource. He could earn far more exporting oil than using it for power generation.

Hermidas Bavand, second in command of Iran's Mission to the United Nations under the shah and now a professor of international law at Allameh Tabatabaee University in Tehran, told me that the position of the shah on nuclear power was almost identical to that of the current Iranian government. Back then, proponents of nuclear power said Iran had to prepare for the day when the oil runs out. Secondly, said Bavand, "Iran had to keep up with scientific and technological" progress in the world. And Iran craved international prestige.

Bavand said, "Many countries -- Brazil, Argentina, Israel -- were developing nuclear energy. So they thought that Iran should have nuclear power" as well.

Successive Republican and Democratic administrations in the United States backed the shah's elaborate plans to make nuclear power an integral part of Iran's electrical grid, in no small part because he would buy a lot of his nuclear equipment from the USA.

The United States established Iran's first research reactor in 1967 at the University of Tehran.

In November of that year, the U.S. corporation United Nuclear provided Iran with 5.85 kilograms of 93 percent enriched uranium.

By the 1970s, nuclear power was becoming increasingly unpopular in the United States and around the world, as hundreds of thousands of people marched and blockaded nuclear facilities.

Even before the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters, the antinuclear movement pointed out that many reactors were unsafe. In addition, the industry had no long-term, secure method for transporting and storing nuclear waste produced at the reactors. Massive demonstrations and rising costs meant U.S. nuclear power companies were having a hard time getting permits to build reactors. Eventually, the permitting process stopped altogether.

Permits never seemed to be a problem in Iran, however.

In 1974, Richard Helms, then U.S. Ambassador to Iran and later head of the CIA, wrote to Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, "We have noted the priority that His Imperial Majesty gives to developing alternative means of energy production through nuclear power. This is clearly an area in which we might most usefully begin on a specific program of cooperation and collaboration."

Helms went on to write, "The Secretary [of State Henry Kissinger] has asked me to underline emphatically the seriousness of our purpose and our desire to move forward vigorously in appropriate ways."

General Electric and Westinghouse ultimately won contracts to build eight reactors in Iran. By the time of the Iranian revolution in 1979, the shah had plans to buy a total of eighteen nuclear power reactors from the United States, France, and Germany.

Evidence has emerged since the 1979 Iranian revolution that the shah did more than make embarrassing public references to building nuclear weapons. Documents show that Israel and Iran had discussed modification of Israel's Jericho missiles, which could have been fitted with nuclear warheads. A research report from the Nuclear Threat Initiative, an organization founded by conservative Democrat and former senator Sam Nunn, explained that the shah was suspected of experimenting with nuclear weapons design, plutonium extraction and laser-enrichment research.

Nuclear expert Sahimi argued that presidents Nixon and Ford "would not have minded if the shah developed the Bomb because the shah was a close ally of the United States. Remember, Iran had a long border with the Soviet Union. If the shah did make a nuclear bomb, that would have been a big deterrent against the USSR."

Neither Sahimi nor other experts say the shah had actually developed a nuclear bomb. But the United States denounces the current Iranian government for activity at least as suspicious as that carried out by the shah.

Since the United States wasn't terribly concerned about an Iranian Bomb in the 1970s, it also wasn't worried about Iran's enriching its own uranium.

The United States gave approval when the shah bought a 25 percent stake in a French company making enriched uranium. But the shah wanted to build enrichment facilities inside Iran, as well.

No country wants to be reliant on others for fuel whose absence could shut down a portion of its electricity grid.

The United States actually encouraged Iran to enrich its own uranium.

Today when Iran demands that it be able to enrich uranium for nuclear power purposes, under strict international supervision, the United States says that's proof Iran wants to develop nuclear weapons.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the Consummate Inspector

Mohamed ElBaradei looks every inch the international diplomat. The Egyptian keeps his shoes shined and suits sharply pressed. Glasses and a balding pate give him the look of authority.

Indeed, he has steered the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) through very troubled waters in recent years. Prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, ElBaradei correctly said Saddam Hussein did not have a nuclear weapons program.

In retaliation, the Bush administration tried to block his reelection to head the IAEA. ElBaradei gathered widespread international support, however, and beat back administration efforts. He won reelection to his post at the end of 2005.

Oh, and did I mention that he and the IAEA won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005?

I was on the phone from Oakland when ElBaradei entered the radio studio at the UN headquarters in New York to be interviewed by Walter Cronkite for a radio documentary I was producing about nuclear weapons. I was surprised that ElBaradei expressed an almost teenage giddiness about being in the presence of Cronkite.

"It is an honor to be here with you, Mr. Cronkite. I watched your news broadcasts for many years as a young man."

There was something special about listening to these two eminent authorities in their fields. Cronkite had long reported on nuclear issues and was very concerned about nuclear weapons proliferation. When Cronkite asked ElBaradei about Iran, the answer was succinct.

"Some people suspect [the Iranians] have the intention to develop a nuclear weapon," said ElBaradei. "This is a matter of concern to us. But this is not [an] imminent threat."

ElBaradei, unlike successive U.S. administrations, bases his conclusions on facts unearthed through analysis of data and on-the-ground inspections. As a signer of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran followed the treaty requirements to allow IAEA inspectors into its nuclear facilities. ElBaradei has criticized the Iranian government for lack of transparency and restricting some access in recent years. But ElBaradei has never accused Iran of planning to make a nuclear weapon.

So if the guy in charge of inspecting nuclear sites says he has no proof Iran is developing the Bomb, why are so many people in the United States convinced that it is? For that understanding, we'll have to go back to the years just after the Iranian revolution of 1979.

Is Nuclear Power Islamic?

Shortly after coming to power, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini scrapped the shah's nuclear power programs as un-Islamic. In fact, he called nuclear power "the work of the devil."

Not coincidentally, the United States and Europeans had completely halted their devil's work in Iran. Germany had stopped construction on the Bushehr nuclear reactor. The United States, Germany, and France had cut off supplies of equipment and nuclear material. All three governments had refused to refund any money already paid, despite cancellation of the nuclear contracts. So while Koranic scholars might disagree on whether nuclear power was consistent with Islam, as a practical matter, Iran wasn't getting any.

Starting in 1980, Iran fought a bloody war with Iraq. Each side feared the other might develop nuclear weapons. Iraq repeatedly bombed Iran's unfinished nuclear facilities, further setting back any possibility of completing them.

By the end of the war in 1988, Iran was in the midst of a population explosion. Iran's population grew from 39.2 million in 1980 to 68.7 million in 2006. Iran's energy planners could see that demand would far outstrip supply. Continuing to extract oil and natural gas at the projected levels wouldn't be enough to guarantee a steady supply of electricity. An analysis by a National Academy of Sciences scientist predicted Iran could run out of oil to export by 2015.

So nuclear power was back on the table. In 1989 Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani signed a ten-point agreement with the USSR to provide nuclear materials and related equipment. The Soviets were to finish the Bushehr reactor started by the Germans in the 1970s.

In 1990 Iran signed a ten-year nuclear cooperation agreement with China.

Although it was kept secret at the time, Iran also bought parts and technology from A. Q. Khan, Pakistan's so-called father of the atomic bomb, who also had nuclear dealings with Libya and North Korea. Iran built a secret nuclear facility in the central Iranian city of Natanz. Later, after three years of inspections, the IAEA also determined that Iran had used lasers to purify uranium starting in 1991 and had researched a rare element called polonium-210, which could be used in a nuclear bomb trigger.

The Iranians argued that they had engaged in the secret activity to prevent the United States from stopping their plans for nuclear power development and that they had no intention of developing nuclear weapons.

Discussing the issue of secrecy, Sahimi told me, "Let's say Iran had announced back in 1985 that 'Hey guys, we want to make a uranium enrichment facility.' What do you think would have happened? Would the U.S. and [European Union] have rushed to help Iran? No, they would have done everything in their power to deny Iran's rights."

In 2003 Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa, an official religious ruling, that declared Islam forbids the building or stockpiling of nuclear weapons. Before dismissing such a ruling as propaganda, it's worth noting that similar religious reasoning stopped Iran from using chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq War, despite Saddam Hussein's numerous chemical assaults against Iranian troops and civilians.

Enriching Uranium -- a Tough Rock to Crack

The United States asserts that Iran's desire to enrich uranium demonstrates its desire to develop nuclear weapons. So what is enrichment anyway?

Raw uranium must go through a process to raise the concentration of the isotope U-235 in order to either produce fuel for a nuclear reactor or make a nuclear bomb. Despite twenty years of off-and-on attempts, Iran has yet to perfect the process on any industrial scale.

Iran does have a limited amount of domestic uranium. First, the ore would have to be milled and subjected to an acid bath to leech out the uranium. The resulting yellowish ore is called yellow cake. Then it's combined with fluorine to produce uranium hexafluoride, or UF6.

Then the process gets really hairy. The uranium hexafluoride must pass through a series of hundreds of spinning centrifuges. Imagine a bunch of pipes and whirling motors passing the liquid through cascading cylinders like a water filtration system.

The cascades can produce 5 percent enriched U-235 for use in nuclear power plants. Iran would have to make 93 percent enriched uranium to make a nuclear bomb but can do so using the same technical process. By the summer of 2007, Iran had installed 1300 centrifuges. But it needs an estimated 3000 centrifuges running flawlessly for a year to make one nuclear bomb.

And getting those centrifuge cascades to work properly is a big technical challenge, according to experts. The centrifuges "spin 60,000 rounds per minute," said Sahimi. "They generate a lot of vibrations, which must be controlled. The centrifuges can't be contaminated because they are easily corroded. Once the centrifuges start working, it's not wise to shut them down and start them again. This damages them. There are all sorts of technical problems."

In August 2006 the IAEA reported that Iran had to slow down its enrichment activities, perhaps due to technical difficulties with the centrifuges. ElBaradei said in October 2006, that even with all of Iran's centrifuges running, it would take years to enrich enough uranium to make a single Bomb.

Iran Is Just Five to Ten Years from Making a Bomb, Really

Every few years U.S. intelligence officials estimate Iran is just years from making a Bomb.

In 1995, a "senior U.S. official" estimated Iran was five years from making the Bomb.

A 2005 National Intelligence Estimate, representing a consensus among U.S. intelligence agencies, predicted Iran could have the Bomb somewhere around 2015.

In early 2006 Israeli intelligence, on the other hand, argued that Iran is much closer to having a Bomb, perhaps one to three years away.

In citing such estimates, the U.S. media don't provide any corroboration nor explain why the Israeli assessment differs so widely from the CIA's and IAEA's. Indeed, Israel keeps postponing its estimates of when Iran will have the Bomb.

At the end of 2006, Meir Dagan, head of the Mossad intelligence agency, claimed Iran could have a Bomb by 2009 or 2010.

Israel's estimates are clearly influenced by its political and military goals.

Using President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's statements attacking Israel and questioning the existence of the Holocaust, Israel proclaims Iran an immediate military threat. In reality, Ahmadinejad poses no offensive nuclear threat to Israel. Iran would be insane to launch a first strike against the militarily far superior Israel, let alone a nuclear strike with an arsenal of one or two bombs. Such an action would give the United States and Israel a political excuse to wreck havoc on Iran and gain lots of international support.

But Israel does have a vested interest in creating anxiety around a possible Iranian Bomb.

While Iran has no ability to wipe Israel off the map, it does support the Palestinian group Hamas and the Lebanese political party and guerrilla group Hizbollah. Iran gives them political, financial, and military backing. Israel doesn't want to suffer another defeat like its 2006 war against Hizbollah. So rather than give up occupied territory and agree to establishing a Palestinian state, Israeli leaders blame outsiders.

Israel seeks to weaken or, preferably, overthrow Iran's government.

Israeli officials, along with U.S. hawks, argue that Iran will soon reach "a point of no return," in which it will have both the theoretical knowledge and the practical ability to create weapons-grade plutonium. After that point, the hawks argue, Iran must be confronted militarily. The advantage of this argument, of course, is that it's all hypothetical. The Iranians cross this point of no return at whatever time the hawks allege.

Who can prove otherwise?

In the spring of 2006, Bush seemed to echo those sentiments, justifying a military attack by setting the bar impossibly high for Iran. "The world is united and concerned about [Iranians'] desire to have not only a nuclear weapon, but the capacity to make a nuclear weapon or the knowledge as to how to make a nuclear weapon" (emphasis added), Bush said in an April 2006 press conference.

No one can possibly prove what knowledge scientists might have in their brains. But according to Bush's logic, Iran is a dangerous enemy so long as its scientists might, at some time in the future, think about building a Bomb.

On July 31, 2006, the United States rounded up European powers, and got China and Russia to acquiesce, to pass UN Security Council Resolution 1696. The resolution demanded that Iran stop "all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities." (Reprocessing involves removing highly radioactive plutonium from nuclear waste products, a procedure that can lead to production of bomb-grade fuel.)

A month later, in a report not released to the public, IAEA Director ElBaradei indicated that Iran was not reprocessing uranium.

ElBaradei criticized Iran, however, for continued attempts at uranium enrichment. "Iran has not addressed the long outstanding verification issues or provided the necessary transparency to remove uncertainties associated with some of its activities," wrote ElBaradei.

An IAEA official told the New York Times, "the qualitative and quantitative development of Iran's enrichment program continues to be fairly limited."

The IAEA report was hardly a smoking gun.

But the Bush administration huffed and puffed that Iran's failure to uphold the Security Council resolution meant the world should impose more sanctions. On March 24, 2007, the UN Security Council voted to impose another round of sanctions, prohibiting the sale of Iranian weapons to other countries and freezing the overseas assets of more Iranian individuals and organizations.

The United States failed to get any backing for military attacks on Iran to enforce the sanctions.

The March resolution even restated the UN position that the Middle East region should be nuclear free, a criticism of Israel's large nuclear arsenal.

U.S. officials told the New York Times that the new sanctions went beyond the nuclear issue. "The new language was written to rein in what [U.S. officials] see as Tehran's ambitions to become the dominant military power in the Persian Gulf and across the Middle East."

Apparently, no one can hold that job except the United States.

No Nukes? Not Enough

The real dispute between the United States and Iran has little to do with Iran's ability to develop nuclear weapons. The Bush administration declared Iran to be part of the "axis of evil" and has been pursuing a policy of "regime change," a euphemism for the U.S. overthrow of an internationally recognized government. The United States has adopted different tactical positions, sometimes calling for a tightening of sanctions, other times threatening military strikes. But the long-term goal is installation of a friendly regime.

The American people now know that the Bush administration lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2003.

But back then, the threat of WMDs served as a powerful argument to convince Americans of the need for regime change. The phony nuclear weapons issue plays precisely the same role in U.S. plans for Iran.

Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei said the United States "has used nuclear energy as an excuse. If Iran quits now, the case will not be over. The Americans will find another excuse."

Let's say Iran stopped all nuclear programs tomorrow and that was verified by international inspectors. The United States could start a new campaign based on its current claim that Iran is "the most active sponsor of state terrorism" in the world. Iran could give terrorist groups chemical weapons. Iran has missiles capable of hitting Tel Aviv and U.S. military bases in the Middle East. Iran presents an immediate danger because of its support for terrorism. Time for regime change.

Is Iran currently developing nuclear weapons?

No. Could it do so sometime in the future? Sure. According to ElBaradei, some forty-nine countries "now know how to make nuclear arms," including Japan, South Korea, and other U.S. allies. Neither the United States nor the UN Security Council can militarily prevent each of those countries from making a Bomb, said ElBaradei. "We are relying primarily on the continued good intentions of these countries, intentions which are in turn based on their sense of security."

The only way to ensure Iran doesn't make nuclear weapons is to devise a political, not a military, solution. If the people of Iran have a government that truly represents them, and the United States ceases its hostility and negotiates in good faith, Iran won't see a need to develop nuclear weapons.

So What Would You Do?

When I speak at college campuses and before community groups, someone inevitably asks me a legitimate question: "OK, U.S. policy toward Iran's nuclear program is wrong. If you were president, what would you do?" Glad you asked.

First, no more demonizing Iran. I would apologize for years of U.S. aggression against Iran. I would offer to return the billions of dollars in illegally frozen Iranian assets now held by the United States, lift all existing sanctions against Iran, and offer to restore full diplomatic relations. That would get Iran's attention. More important, it would set the basis for easing tensions on issues such as nuclear weapons.

I would announce plans to reduce the unconscionable number of nuclear weapons maintained by the United States in violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Most Americans have no idea that the Non-Proliferation Treaty not only limits other states from obtaining nuclear weapons but also requires disarmament by the existing nuclear states, including the United States.

Then I would do something neither side expects. I would tell them we will phase out our nuclear power reactors for safety reasons and because we can't safely store nuclear waste. Nuclear power plants in the United States aren't even hardened against an airplane crash, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission refuses to require it.

Then I would suggest that Iran not develop nuclear power. Nuclear reactors and their tons of radioactive waste are disasters waiting to happen. Iran is already planning to have 20 percent of its electricity supplied by hydropower by 2021. Iran has the potential to develop a lot more wind and geothermal power as well. In the meantime Iran could harness its tremendous natural gas resources as a relatively efficient source of electricity generation.

I don't know how Iranian leaders would react. These suggestions would certainly spark a lot of discussion among Iranians, a debate now largely nonexistent. Journalist and opposition leader Akbar Ganji is one of the few Iranians I met concerned about the safety of nuclear plants. "I am very worried that something like Chernobyl will happen to Iran," he told me. "If that happens, the Iranian people will pay the heaviest price."

I would like to see Ganji's views prevail. But if, after a genuine debate, Iranians decided they wanted nuclear power, so be it.

The IAEA has procedures that allow countries to develop nuclear power, subject to strict international inspection. On March 23, 2005, Iran offered a plan to Britain, France, and Germany that would have allowed Iran to develop nuclear power and engage in uranium enrichment. Iran agreed not to reprocess nuclear fuel, to produce only low-enriched uranium, to limit the number of centrifuges, and to guarantee on-site inspections by the IAEA. That proposal could serve as the basis for honest negotiations.

Should the world simply trust Iran's leaders? No. We don't have to assume good faith. The IAEA is quite capable of detecting NPT violations, because radioactive particles inevitably show up in water and soil. Over a period of time, and allowed full access, the IAEA can detect illegal nuclear activity. Since even U.S. intelligence agencies agree Iran is many years from building a Bomb, why not allow the IAEA to do its job?

In the long run, the people of Iran must change their government and revisit the nuclear power issue. I hope they choose to develop safer forms of energy. But that's a decision to be made by the people of Iran, not rulers in Washington.

Reese Erlich is a foreign correspondent who writes regularly for the Dallas Morning News, CBC Radio, and ABC Radio (Australia).


Saturday, December 08, 2007

Efforts To Pin Full Blame On Rodriguez For Destruction Of Tapes ‘Hard To Believe’
Dec. 8,2 007

Since the New York Times and other media outlets revealed Thursday evening that at least two CIA tapes documenting harsh interrogation of detainees were destroyed in 2005, Bush administration officials have been claiming complete ignorance.

White House counsel Harriet Miers knew of CIA’s plans but told them not to do it:

ABC News has learned that at least one White House official knew about the CIA’s planned destruction of videotapes in 2005 that documented the interrogation of two al Qaeda operatives: then-White House counsel Harriet Miers. Three officials told ABC News Miers urged the CIA not to destroy the tapes.

President Bush didn’t know:

[Bush] has no recollection of being made aware of the tapes or their destruction before yesterday.

Vice President Cheney was in the dark as well:

The vice president learned about the tapes and their destruction at the same time [as Bush], another administration official told CNN.

CIA Director Porter Goss wasn’t informed:

Mr. Goss became C.I.A. director in 2004 and was serving in the post when the tapes were destroyed, but was not informed in advance about Mr. Rodriguez’s decision, the former officials said.

CIA Acting General Counsel John Rizzo also didn’t know:

The chief of the agency’s clandestine service nevertheless ordered their destruction in November 2005, taking the step without notifying even the C.I.A.’s own top lawyer, John A. Rizzo, who was angry at the decision, the officials said.

The full blame for the destruction of the tapes has fallen on Jose Rodriguez, then the CIA’s head of the clandestine division. Rodriguez reportedly undertook the destruction of the tapes in a unilateral manner, without receiving any instructions from his bosses or giving them advance notice of his actions.

Last night on CNN, Ron Suskind — author of the One Percent Doctrine — said the idea that Rodriquez didn’t get “some authorization from above” is “hard to believe.”It simply doesn’t work that way,” Suskind said, noting that “at this point, lots was being authorized from the White House in terms of the CIA.”

Watch it:

Spencer Ackerman wrote that in State of War, the NYT’s James Risen reported “an effort by senior officials ‘to insulate Bush and give him deniability‘ on torture.” Kevin Drum recounts a conversation between George Tenet and President Bush that was reported in the One Percent Doctrine. “You’re not going to let me lose face on this, are you?” “No sir, Mr. President,” Tenet replied.

Marcy Wheeler documents the responses from Congressional members as to what they knew and when they knew it. She notes the ostensible silence of former Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), who is running for reelection next year.


SUSKIND: Right now, what people are calling for is an investigation as to who knew what when. Now, if this was handled within the CIA, as Mike Hayden has said, well, then there’s somebody in the CIA that acted unilaterally. If that was the case — and I think that would be a surprise — then that person certainly will be drawn in front of the hot lights.

BLITZER: Because they say that this was a decision made by the guy who was in charge of clandestine operations…

SUSKIND: Yes, Jose Rodriguez.

BLITZER: And he made it on his own. But let’s get some context now, because the tape was actually made back in 2002. It was destroyed in 2005. What was going on in 2005 that, for some, might raise some alarm bells?

SUSKIND: Well, it’s the end of the Tenet year. It’s the beginning of the Goss year. Remember, Porter Goss is brought in.

BLITZER: George Tenet was the CIA director. Porter Goss, a former member of Congress.

SUSKIND: That’s right.

BLITZER: Was brought in as the new CIA director.

SUSKIND: And the view, Wolf, was that he would bring the CIA into line, that they were a renegade agency. And mostly the vice president, and the president, said, we want these guys to march to lockstep. That was the period in which these tapes were destroyed. Now, Goss, I think has said publicly he was outraged by this. But, ultimately, a director of operations at CIA is not going to do something like this — so dramatic — destroying evidence that, clearly, people want — including the 9/11 Commission — without some authorization from above. It simply doesn’t work that way.

BLITZER: So, based on what you know about Washington and these kind of situations, I assume there’s going to be a full scale investigation and people are going to want to drag some of these guys before Congress.

SUSKIND: Well, it’s interesting. You know, the administration, up to this point, might have subverted the intent of certain laws. But they tend to not have crossed the line in terms of an actionable investigation or prosecution. This may be the case in which that line that was crossed. And the question, again, everyone is asking is who authorized this, at what level?

Frankly, at this point, lots was being authorized from the White House in terms of the CIA. And it’s hard to believe that Jose Rodriguez, an upper middle level — I mean he’s a top guy — would have acted unilaterally to destroy evidence that clearly people wanted.