Saturday, May 13, 2006

Venezuela offers cheap heating oil to low-income Europeans

Venezuela offers cheap heating oil to low-income Europeans

VIENNA, Austria (AP) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Saturday he wants to provide cheap heating oil for low-income Europeans.

The Venezuelan leader worked out a similar deal to deliver discount heating oil this last winter to needy Americans in parts of the eastern United States.

"I'd like to do the same here in Europe," he said Saturday evening at a gathering in Vienna of activists and representatives of social movements and non-governmental groups.

The Alternative Summit was held in parallel to a three-day summit of leaders from the European Union, Latin America and the Caribbean that concluded earlier Saturday in the Austrian capital.

"I want to humbly offer support to the poorest people who do not have resources for central heating in winter and make sure that support arrives," Chavez said.

Chavez said Venezuela has two oil refineries in Germany and one in Britain but did not provide further details about which countries could benefit from the proposal.

He added Venezuelan ambassadors in Europe are looking into the matter.

"You Europeans can help us greatly. Your European social networks can make sure the support arrives where it should," Chavez told the conference.

This last winter, Venezuela delivered cut-rate oil to low-income Americans through Citgo, the Houston, Texas-based subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil company.

US in secret gun deal

US in secret gun deal

Small arms shipped from Bosnia to Iraq 'go missing' as Pentagon uses dealers

Ian Traynor in Zagreb
Friday May 12, 2006
The Guardian

The Pentagon has secretly shipped tens of thousands of small arms from Bosnia to Iraq in the past two years, using a web of private companies, at least one of which is a noted arms smuggler blacklisted by Washington and the UN.

According to a report by Amnesty International, which investigated the sales, the US government arranged for the delivery of at least 200,000 Kalashnikov machine guns from Bosnia to Iraq in 2004-05. But though the weaponry was said to be for arming the fledgling Iraqi military, there is no evidence of the guns reaching their recipient.

Senior western officials in the Balkans fear that some of the guns may have fallen into the wrong hands.
**that "may have" makes you want to scream, doesn't it? Go ahead, it's good for you....EG:) **
A Nato official described the trade as the largest arms shipments from Bosnia since the second world war.

The official told Amnesty: "Nato has no way of monitoring the shipments once they leave Bosnia. There is no tracking mechanism to ensure they do not fall into the wrong hands. There are concerns that some of the weapons may have been siphoned off."

European administrators in Bosnia, as well as NGOs working to oversee the stockpiling and destruction of weapons from the Bosnian war of the 1990s, are furious that the Pentagon's covert arms-to-Iraq programme has undermined the disarmament project.
**it's Iran-Contra all over again...which isn't at all surprising, given some of the names...EG:) **
"It's difficult to persuade people to destroy weapons when they're all holding back and waiting for Uncle Sam to arrive with a fistful of dollars," said Adrian Wilkinson, a former British officer overseeing a UN disarmament programme in former Yugoslavia.

The international administration running Bosnia repeatedly sought to impose an arms export moratorium, but under US pressure it was suspended several times to enable the arms shipments to go ahead. The British government is funding a programme to destroy 250,000 small arms, a legacy of the Bosnian war, but the project is faltering because people are reluctant to surrender weapons that might mean money.

Nato and European officials confirm there is nothing illegal about the Bosnian government or the Pentagon taking arms to Iraq; the problem is one of transparency and the way the arms deals have been conducted.

"There are Swiss, US and UK companies involved. The deal was organised through the embassies [in Bosnia] and the military attaché offices were involved. The idea was to get the weapons out of Bosnia where they pose a threat and to Iraq where they are needed," the Nato official said.

Mr Wilkinson said: "The problem is we haven't seen the end user."

A complex web of private firms, arms brokers and freight firms, was behind the transfer of the guns, as well as millions of rounds of ammunition, to Iraq at "bargain basement prices", according to Hugh Griffiths, Amnesty's investigator.

The Moldovan air firm which flew the cargo out of a US air base at Tuzla, north-east Bosnia, was flying without a licence. The firm, Aerocom, named in a 2003 UN investigation of the diamonds-for-guns trade in Liberia and Sierra Leone, is now defunct, but its assets and aircraft are registered with another Moldovan firm, Jet Line International.
**the "Enterprise" continues...EG:) **
Some of the firms used in the Pentagon sponsored deals were also engaged in illegal arms shipments from Serbia and Bosnia to Liberia and to Saddam Hussein four years ago.

"The sale, purchase, transportation and storage of the [Bosnian] weapons has been handled entirely by a complex network of private arms brokers, freight forwarders and air cargo companies operating at times illegally and subject to little or no governmental regulation," says the report.

The 120-page Amnesty report, focusing on the risks from the privatisation of state-sponsored arms sales worldwide, says arms traffickers have adapted swiftly to globalisation, their prowess aided by governments and defence establishments farming out contracts.

The US shipments were made over a year, from July 2004, via the American Eagle base at Tuzla, and the Croatian port of Ploce by the Bosnian border.

Aerocom is said to have carried 99 tonnes of Bosnian weaponry, almost entirely Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifles, in four flights from the Eagle base in August 2004, even though, under pressure from the EU, the firm had just been stripped of its operating licence by the Moldovan government because of "safety and security concerns". Amnesty said there was no available record of the guns reaching their destination.

Mr Griffiths contacted the coalition authorities in Baghdad, who denied all knowledge of any weapons purchases from Bosnia. The contracts are said to have been arranged by the military attache of the time, at the US embassy in Sarajevo. Bosnian documentation named "coalition forces in Iraq" as the end users for five arms shipments.

The Amnesty report says the command force in Iraq, the coalition group training Iraqi security forces, and the overseeing US general, had claimed "not to have ... received any weapons from Bosnia," the report says. Mr Wilkinson said: "What are the control mechanisms? How is it all verified?"

The fate of the arms cargo appears to have been buried in the miasma of contracting and subcontracting that have characterised the deals.

The Pentagon commissioned the US security firms Taos and CACI - which is known for its involvement in the Abu Ghraib prison controversy in Iraq - to orchestrate the arms purchases and shipments. They, in turn, subcontracted to a welter of firms, brokers, and shippers, involving businesses based in Britain, Switzerland, Croatia, Moldova, and Bosnia.

"The [Pentagon] and its principal US contractor, Taos, appear to have no effective systems to ensure that their contractors and subcontractors do not use firms that violate UN embargos and also do not use air cargo firms for arms deliveries that have no valid air operating certificates," Amnesty said.

Global traffic in weapons

A Dutch timber trader is in custody in Rotterdam awaiting trial on charges of complicity in crimes against humanity. Guus van Kouwenhoven was arrested last year, suspected of brokering the supply of large quantities of arms to Liberia from China in breach of a UN arms embargo.

The case is the first instance of an alleged arms trader facing trial accused of war crimes on an international scale.

For Amnesty International, the Dutch case highlights the risks emerging from the flourishing trade in largely state-sponsored arms deals where governments increasingly farm out the business to the private sector, which includes brokers, arms dealers, freight companies and shippers.

The Amnesty study points out that 35 of the world's wealthiest countries are responsible for at least 90% of the world's arms trade.

Since the end of the cold war there have been at least 50 armed conflicts worldwide, mostly in poor, "developing", countries, while the arms supplies and money fuelling these conflicts stem largely from wealthy countries.

National and international law is failing to keep up with the globalisation of the arms trade. Arms traffickers are prime beneficiaries of government-to-government business as military industries are increasingly "outsourced".

The Amnesty International UK director, Kate Allen, said: "Arms brokers and transporters have helped deliver the weapons used to commit human rights abuses all over the world. Yet only 35 states have laws to regulate brokers. Countries need to get tough ... we need an arms trade treaty to bring the whole industry under controls. The trade is out of control and costing hundreds of thousands of lives every year."

Andy Borowitz -- Bush Demands That Iran Halt Production of Long Letters

Andy Borowitz -- Bush Demands That Iran Halt Production of Long Letters

Posted on May 12, 2006

By Andy Borowitz

Days after receiving an 18-page letter from Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President George W. Bush called the lengthy missive “an act of war” and demanded that Iran halt its production of long letters at once.

At the White House, aides said that writing a letter of such length to President Bush, who is known for his extreme distaste for reading, was the most provocative act Mr. Ahmadinejad could have possibly committed.

“Everyone knows that the last book the president read was ‘My Pet Goat,’” one aide said. “Expecting him to read an 18-page letter is really asking for it, and that Iranian dude must have known that.”

According to those close to Mr. Bush, the president was infuriated upon receipt of the 18-page letter and asked aides if it was some kind of joke.

The president then demanded that the letter be boiled down to a one- or two-page format, or possibly adapted to a DVD version, just as he had ordered for news reports on Hurricane Katrina.

In Tehran, President Ahmadinejad said he was “taken aback” by Mr. Bush’s refusal to read an 18-page letter, but said that all his future communications to the U.S. president would be in short, easy-to-read instant-messaging format.

In his first IM to President Bush, released to the press today, President Ahmadinejad writes, “Am building nukes. R U angry? LOL.”

Elsewhere, Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden vowed today that as director of the CIA he would push the agency to find new and better sources of false intelligence.

Award-winning humorist, television personality and film actor Andy Borowitz is author of the new book “The Borowitz Report: The Big Book of Shockers.” To find out more about Andy Borowitz and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at

Why did Bush revoke Executive Order 13011 today?

Why did Bush revoke Executive Order 13011 today?
by exmearden
Fri May 12, 2006 at 08:27:46 PM PDT

In scanning the site today, I noticed the following Executive Order:

Executive Order: Amendments to Executive Orders 11030, 13279, 13339, 13381, and 13389, and Revocation of Executive Order 13011

* exmearden's diary :: ::

Most of the amendments in this Order pertain to existing orders and seem fairly innocuous. One item that caught my eye was the Revocation of Executive Order 13011.
I'm passing familiar with 13011, hanging around the technology industry as I have for a few years.

Executive Order 13011 is an Executive Order signed by President Clinton in 1996 and, in effect, goes hand in hand with the Clinger/Cohen Act of 1996. I'm oversimplifying here, but one of the reasons that the Clinger/Cohen Act was put into place was to enforce standards of information technology across the federal landscape, a mishmash at the time and sorely in need of some kind of structure.

There have been, and still are, other more dastardly motives implied in the passage of the Act, and by association implied in the creation of Clinton's Executive Order. At the time, liberals and conservatives alike saw the passage of the Act and the signing of the Executive Order as a step taken toward a 1984 world (sound familiar?). The Executive Order loosely advocates sharing of information and technology structure across agencies and with nongovernmental entities. It could be implied that sharing of such information and structure across country borders when necessary was also supported in the Executive Order 13011.

Debate about Executive Order 13011 has never been resolved completely. It created an environment in which a massive information technology bureaucracy could be allowed to thrive, if only the government were so efficient/inefficient, depending on your individual point of view. There are many that argue that the Executive Order, in typical Executive Order elliptical phrasing, sets the stage for the kind of far-reaching and extensive gathering of intelligence data that the NSA is doing and that the Order further establishes the original "technical" mandate for secretive use of such gargantuan amounts of data.

Granted, my explanation and background is a bit brief given the overall text of the Executive Order and considering all the possible analyses of why the order was executed in the first place.

But why did Bush revoke Executive Order 13011 today? What items are in the Executive Order (or perhaps not in the Order) that might cause said order to no longer be valid? It was amended a couple of times in 2003 to include the Department of Homeland Security in the list of agencies and departments covered by the umbrella of the Executive Order.

I find it very strange that, of all days or weeks in this administration and in the midst of a storm over the possible information abuse of private ciitizens, today would be the day Bush would mess with a previous Executive Order on information technology management. Will Bush push a broader information technology mandate for the federal government in the form of a new Executive Order? Is there something lethal to the administration in 13011, perhaps something that calls for oversight or review and that possibly places the legality of the NSA's phone number database in question?

Am I paranoid? Is there something in this Order that stands in the way of the administration's next steps in gathering information?

US feverishly works to frame Iran

US feverishly works to frame Iran

U.N. inspectors have ["found"] traces of highly enriched uranium on equipment from an Iranian research center linked to the military, diplomats said Friday - a revelation [they say is] likely to strengthen U.S. arguments that Tehran wants to develop nuclear arms.

The diplomats, who demanded anonymity in exchange for divulging the confidential information, cautioned that confirmation still had to come through other laboratory tests.
What a load of crap. If you can't divulge your sources, we can assume that either you're lying or they're lying. Either put up or shut-up. These are diplomats, not undercover agents. It's not their identities they're trying to protect, but the veracity of their claims against question.
Initially, they said the density of enrichment appeared to be close to or above the level used to make nuclear warheads. But later a diplomat accredited to the International Atomic Energy Agency said it was below that, although higher than the low-enriched material used to generate power and heading toward weapons-grade level.
There are enough qualifications in that statement to drive a mountain through. What kind of differential are we talking about?
Uranium enriched to between 3.5 percent and 5 percent is used to make fuel for reactors to generate electricity. It becomes suitable for use in nuclear weapons when enriched to more than 90 percent.
With a vague assertion that the percent enrichment is "somewhere in between," they have NOTHING on Iran but crafty scheming and wishful thinking.
Still, they said, further analysis could show that the find matches others established to have come from abroad. The IAEA determined earlier traces of highly enriched uranium were imported on equipment from Pakistan that Iran bought on the black market during nearly two decades of clandestine activity.
So, it has nothing to do with so-called domestic Iranian weapons-grade enrichment activities - because they simply don't exist.

The only thing this "proves," if anything, is that Iran imported equipment for enriching uraniam for nuclear energy production - activity completely within its rights under the NPT.

How it got contaminated with uranium enriched to unspecified levels above that needed for energy remains the realm of pure speculation.

Nevermind, they say - these are minor details. We must focus on the bigger picture that they want to establish - Iran is guilty until proven innocent.
Even then, nevertheless, the find would be significant.

Because Iran has previously denied conducting enrichment-related activities at the site, the mere fact the traces came from there bolsters arguments that it has hidden parts of a program that can create the fissile material used in nuclear warheads.
It does no such thing, for the reasons I've already outlined.
Additionally, the site's connection to the military weakens Iranian arguments that its nuclear program is purely civilian.
Military connection? Says who?
"That has long been suspected as the site of undeclared enrichment research and ... the Iranians have denied that any enrichment research had taken place at that location," said Iran expert Gary Samore of the MacArthur Foundation in Chicago. "It certainly does reinforce the agency's suspicion that Iran has not fully declared its past enrichment research."
And who the hell is Gary Samore?

A member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Ah, that explains everything.

We can trust him - about as far as we can throw him.

Iraq WMD: The LIE That Won't Go Away

Iraq WMD: The LIE That Won't Go Away

From the minute it was conceived, the lie about Iraqi WMD had no legs. But, that didn’t stop the Bush administration from carrying it to term and parading it around long enough to invade a country that never posed an imminent threat to America.

But now, they rely on a dutiful media and America’s short-term memory to forever bury the TRUTH about the biggest LIE of the century.

A year after [US claims] about Iraqi "bioweapons trailers" were discredited by American experts, U.S. officials were still suppressing the findings, says a senior member of the CIA-led Iraq inspection team.

At one point, former U.N. arms inspector Rod Barton says, a CIA officer told him it was "politically not possible" to report that the White House claims were untrue. In the end, Barton says, he felt "complicit in deceit."

Barton, an Australian biological weapons specialist, discusses the 2004 events in "The Weapons Detective," a memoir of his years as an arms inspector, being published Monday in Australia by Black Inc. Agenda.

* * *

The Washington Post reported last month that a U.S. fact-finding mission confidentially advised Washington on May 27, 2003, that two truck trailers found in Iraq were NOT mobile units for manufacturing bioweapons, as had been suspected.

Two days later, President Bush still asserted the trailers were bioweapons labs, and other administration officials repeated that line for months afterward.

Barton's memoir says that well into 2004, pressure from Washington kept the U.S. public uninformed about the true nature of these alleged WMD systems.

Former senior CIA officials denied such information was stifled.

The debunking of the "mobile biolabs" claim began in classified reports long before the U.S. invasion, when German intelligence in 2001 and 2002 told U.S. officials that the story's source, an Iraqi defector code-named "Curveball," was unreliable . . . U.N. inspectors determined in early 2003, before the war, that parts of Curveball's story were false.

In April 2003, however, two unusually equipped trailers were found in Iraq and the CIA declared they were the mobile biolabs described by the defector.

This story quickly fell apart behind the scenes, it has since emerged. Testing the equipment in early May 2003, U.S. experts found no traces of biological agents, and later that month the U.S. fact-finders filed their negative report from Baghdad.

But on May 29, Bush assured Polish television: "We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories." Then national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell later made similar statements. As late as January 2004, Vice President Dick Cheney called the trailers "conclusive evidence" of Iraqi WMD, one of the reasons given for invading Iraq.

The experts' findings were classified, never to be released, The Washington Post reported last month.

Meanwhile, in Australia in mid-2003, Barton writes, he viewed photos of the trailers at a CIA Web site and determined that the suspected biological "fermenter" was no such thing, and warned Australian government officials against the story.

Returning to Baghdad in late 2003 to join the CIA-commissioned Iraq Survey Group in a senior role, Barton found that specialists had dismissed the "biotrailer" suspicions. Strong evidence showed the units were instead designed to make hydrogen for weather balloons, as Iraqis claimed.

David Kay, then chief inspector, has since said that in December 2003 George J. Tenet, then CIA director, wouldn't accept this finding.

[NEVERTHELESS,] That February, Tenet claimed in a Washington speech that the trailers could be used to make bioweapons.

Barton says he, too, ran into roadblocks in early 2004 when he sought to include the trailer analysis in a report.

Barton quotes the American head of the biological team, whom Barton doesn't name, as telling him, "You don't understand how difficult it is to say anything different" from the public CIA line.

In the second half of February 2004, the book says, the newly arrived senior CIA officer in the Iraq Survey Group - also unidentified - told Barton he couldn't mention the trailers in a report scheduled for March.

"I don't care that they are not biological trailers. It's politically not possible," Barton recalls him saying.

The Australian says he wrote in his diary afterward, "The only reason we are going down this route is the politics in Washington."

When the Iraq Survey Group's progress report was filed in March 2004, and new chief inspector Duelfer testified to Congress, the trailers were not mentioned.

For this and other reasons, "remaining in the ISG was to be complicit in deceit," Barton writes. He and other British and Australian experts quit the inspectors group during this period.

Asked for comment on Barton's account, Duelfer said he decided not to report issues piecemeal, but in a final comprehensive report.

"I did not think those were mobile biological weapons labs," he said, but "I wanted to understand the issue of mobile BW production, whether it (the trailers) was part of a larger thing or not." He said he was not pressured by Washington.

Tenet declined to comment. But former CIA spokesman and Tenet associate Bill Harlow told The Associated Press, "There was no effort to stifle any reporting from the field by David Kay or anyone else."

Ultimately the truth about the trailers was disclosed in the Iraq Survey Group's final report in October 2004, more than 16 months after the first conclusive findings were made.

And long after “mission accomplished.”

Now, we know what "mission" they were referring to.

Karl Rove Indicted on Charges of Perjury, Lying to Investigators

Karl Rove Indicted on Charges of Perjury, Lying to Investigators
By Jason Leopold
t r u t h o u t | Report

Saturday 13 May 2006

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald spent more than half a day Friday at the offices of Patton Boggs, the law firm representing Karl Rove.

During the course of that meeting, Fitzgerald served attorneys for former Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove with an indictment charging the embattled White House official with perjury and lying to investigators related to his role in the CIA leak case, and instructed one of the attorneys to tell Rove that he has 24 hours to get his affairs in order, high level sources with direct knowledge of the meeting said Saturday morning.

Robert Luskin, Rove's attorney, did not return a call for comment. Sources said Fitzgerald was in Washington, DC, Friday and met with Luskin for about 15 hours to go over the charges against Rove, which include perjury and lying to investigators about how and when Rove discovered that Valerie Plame Wilson was a covert CIA operative and whether he shared that information with reporters, sources with direct knowledge of the meeting said.

It was still unknown Saturday whether Fitzgerald charged Rove with a more serious obstruction of justice charge. Sources close to the case said Friday that it appeared very likely that an obstruction charge against Rove would be included with charges of perjury and lying to investigators.

An announcement by Fitzgerald is expected to come this week, sources close to the case said. However, the day and time is unknown. Randall Samborn, a spokesman for the special prosecutor was unavailable for comment. In the past, Samborn said he could not comment on the case.

The grand jury hearing evidence in the Plame Wilson case met Friday on other matters while Fitzgerald spent the entire day at Luskin's office. The meeting was a closely guarded secret and seems to have taken place without the knowledge of the media.

As TruthOut reported Friday evening, Rove told President Bush and Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten, as well as a few other high level administration officials, that he will be indicted in the CIA leak case and will
immediately resign his White House job when the special counsel publicly announces the charges against him, according to sources.

Details of Rove's discussions with the president and Bolten have spread through the corridors of the White House, where low-level staffers and senior officials were trying to determine how the indictment would impact an administration that has been mired in a number of high-profile political scandals for nearly a year, said a half-dozen White House aides and two senior officials who work at the Republican National Committee.

Speaking on condition of anonymity Friday night, sources confirmed Rove's indictment was imminent. These individuals requested anonymity saying they were not authorized to speak publicly about Rove's situation. A spokesman in the White House press office said they would not comment on "wildly speculative rumors."

Rove's announcement to President Bush and Bolten comes more than a month after he alerted the new chief of staff to a meeting his attorney had with Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in which Fitzgerald told Luskin that his case against Rove would soon be coming to a close and that he was leaning toward charging Rove with perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to investigators, according to sources close to the investigation.

A few weeks after he spoke with Fitzgerald, Luskin arranged for Rove to return to the grand jury for a fifth time to testify in hopes of fending off an indictment related to Rove's role in the CIA leak, sources said.

That meeting was followed almost immediately by an announcement by newly-appointed White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten of changes in the responsibilities of some White House officials, including Rove, who was stripped of his policy duties and would no longer hold the title of deputy White House chief of staff.

The White House said Rove would focus on the November elections and his change in status in no way reflected his fifth appearance before the grand jury or the possibility of an indictment.

But since Rove testified two weeks ago, the White House has been
coordinating a response to what is sure to be the biggest political scandal it has faced thus far: the loss of a key political operative who has been instrumental in shaping White House policy on a wide range of domestic issues.

Rove testified that he first found out about Plame Wilson from reading a newspaper report in July 2003 and only after the story was published did he share damaging information about her CIA status with other reporters.

However, evidence has surfaced during the course of the two-year-old investigation that shows Rove spoke with at least two reporters about Plame Wilson prior to the publication of the column.

The explanation Rove provided to the grand jury - that he was dealing with more urgent White House matters and therefore forgot - has not convinced Fitzgerald that Rove has been entirely truthful in his testimony and resulted in the indictment.

Some White House staffers said it's the uncertainty of Rove's status in the leak case that has made it difficult for the administration's domestic policy agenda and the announcement of an indictment and Rove's subsequent resignation, while serious, would allow the administration to move forward on a wide range of issues.

"We need to start fresh and we can't do that with the uncertainty of Karl's case hanging over our heads," said one White House aide. "There's no doubt that it will be front page news if and when (an indictment) happens. But eventually it will become old news quickly. The key issue here is that the president or Mr. Bolten respond to the charges immediately, make a statement and then move on to other important policy issues and keep that as the main focus going forward."

Jason Leopold spent two years covering California's electricity crisis as Los Angeles bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires. Jason has spent the last year cultivating sources close to the CIA leak investigation, and is a regular contributor to t r u t h o u t. He is the author of the new book NEWS JUNKIE. Visit for a preview.


War on The Web

War on The Web
By Robert B. Reich

Thursday 11 May 2006

This week, the House is expected to vote on something termed, in perfect Orwellian prose, the "Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006." It will be the first real battle in the coming War of Internet Democracy.

On one side are the companies that pipe the Internet into our homes and businesses. These include telecom giants like AT&T and Verizon and cable companies like Comcast. Call them the pipe companies.

On the other side are the people and businesses that send Internet content through the pipes. Some are big outfits like Yahoo, Google and Amazon, big financial institutions like Bank of America and Citigroup and giant media companies soon to pump lots of movies and TV shows on to the Internet.

But most content providers are little guys. They're mom-and-pop operations specializing in, say, antique egg-beaters or Brooklyn Dodgers memorabilia. They're anarchists, kooks and zealots peddling all sorts of crank ideas They're personal publishers and small-time investigators. They include my son's comedy troupe-streaming new videos on the Internet every week. They also include gazillions of bloggers-including my humble little blog and maybe even yours.

Until now, a basic principle of the Internet has been that the pipe companies can't discriminate among content providers. Everyone who puts stuff up on the Internet is treated exactly the same. The net is neutral.

But now the pipe companies want to charge the content providers, depending on how fast and reliably the pipes deliver the content. Presumably, the biggest content providers would pay the most money, leaving the little content people in the slowest and least-reliable parts of the pipe. (It will take you five minutes to download my blog.)

The pipe companies claim unless they start charge for speed and reliability, they won't have enough money to invest in the next generation of networks. This is an absurd argument. The pipes are already making lots of money off consumers who pay them for being connected to the Internet.

The pipes figure they can make even more money discriminating between big and small content providers because the big guys have deep pockets and will pay a lot to travel first class. The small guys who pay little or nothing will just have to settle for what's left.

The House bill to be voted on this week would in effect give the pipes the green light to go ahead with their plan.
Price discrimination is as old as capitalism. Instead of charging everyone the same for the same product or service, sellers divide things up according to grade or quality. Buyers willing to pay the most can get the best, while other buyers get lesser quality, according to how much they pay. Theoretically, this is efficient. Sellers who also have something of a monopoly (as do the Internet pipe companies) can make a killing.

But even if it's efficient, it's not democratic. And here's the rub. The Internet has been the place where Davids can take on Goliaths, where someone without resources but with brains and guts and information can skewer the high and mighty. At a time in our nation's history when wealth and power are becoming more and more concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, it's been the one forum in which all voices are equal.

Will the pipe companies be able to end Internet democracy? Perhaps if enough of the small guys make enough of a fuss, Congress may listen. But don't bet on it. This Congress is not in the habit of listening to small guys. The best hope is that big content providers will use their formidable lobbying clout to demand net neutrality. The financial services sector, for example, is already spending billions on information technology, including online banking. Why would they want to spend billions more paying the pipe companies for the Internet access they already have?

The pipe companies are busily trying to persuade big content providers that it's in their interest to pay for faster and more reliable Internet deliveries. Verizon's chief Washington lobbyist recently warned the financial services industry that if it supports net neutrality, it won't get the sophisticated data links it will need in the future. The pipes are also quietly reassuring the big content providers that they can pass along the fees to their customers.

Will the big content providers fall for it? Stay tuned for the next episode of Internet democracy versus monopoly capitalism.


Robert Reich is professor of public policy at the Richard and Rhoda Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. He was secretary of labor in the Clinton administration.


Spy Agency Watching Americans From Space

Spy Agency Watching Americans From Space
By Katherine Shrader
The Associated Press

Saturday 13 May 2006

Washington - A little-known spy agency that analyzes imagery taken from the skies has been spending significantly more time watching U.S. soil.

In an era when other intelligence agencies try to hide those operations, the director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James Clapper, is proud of that domestic mission.

He said the work the agency did after hurricanes Rita and Katrina was the best he'd seen an intelligence agency do in his 42 years in the spy business.

"This was kind of a direct payback to the taxpayers for the investment made in this agency over the years, even though in its original design it was intended for foreign intelligence purposes," Clapper said in a Thursday interview with The Associated Press.

Geospatial intelligence is the science of combining imagery, such as satellite pictures, to physically depict features or activities happening anywhere on the planet. A part of the Defense Department, the NGA usually operates unnoticed to provide information on nuclear sites, terror camps, troop movements or natural disasters.

After last year's hurricanes, the agency had an unusually public face. It set up mobile command centers that sprung out of the backs of Humvees and provided imagery for rescuers and hurricane victims who wanted to know the condition of their homes. Victims would provide their street address and the NGA would provide a satellite photo of their property. In one way or another, some 900 agency officials were involved.

Spy agencies historically avoided domestic operations out of concern for Pentagon regulations and Reagan-era executive order, known as 12333, that restricted intelligence collection on American citizens and companies. Its budget, like all intelligence agencies, is classified.

On Clapper's watch of the last five years, his agency has found ways to expand its mission to help prepare security at Super Bowls and political conventions or deal with natural disasters, such as hurricanes and forest fires.

With help, the agency can also zoom in. Its officials cooperate with private groups, such as hotel security, to get access to footage of a lobby or ballroom. That video can then be linked with mapping and graphical data to help secure events or take action, if a hostage situation or other catastrophe happens.

Privacy advocates wonder how much the agency picks up - and stores. Many are increasingly skeptical of intelligence agencies with recent revelations about the Bush administration's surveillance on phone calls and e-mails.

Among the government's most closely guarded secrets, the quality of pictures NGA receives from classified satellites is believed to far exceed the one-meter resolution available commercially. That means they can take a satellite "snapshot" from high above the atmosphere that is crisply detailed down to one meter level, which is 3.3 feet.

Clapper says his agency only does big pictures, so concerns about using the NGA's foreign intelligence apparatus at home doesn't apply.

"We are not trying to examine an individual dwelling, for example, because what our mission is normally going to be is looking at large areas," he said. "It doesn't really affect or threaten anyone's privacy or civil liberties when you are looking at a large collective area."

When asked what additional powers he'd ask Congress for, he said, "I wouldn't."

His agency also handles its historic mission: regional threats, such as Iran and North Korea; terrorist hideouts; and tracking drug trade. "Everything and everybody has to be some place," he said.

He considers his brand of intelligence a chess match. "There are sophisticated nation states that have a good understanding of our surveillance capabilities," including Iran, he said. "What we have to do is counter that" by taking advantage of anomalies or sending spy planes and satellites over more frequently.

Adversaries who hide their most important facilities underground is a trend the agency has to work at, he said.

NGA was once a stepchild of the intelligence community. But Clapper said it has come into its own and become an equal partner with the other spy agencies, such as the CIA.

Experience-wise, the agency is among the youngest of the spy agencies. About 40 percent of the agency's analyst have been hired in the last five years.

"They are very inexperienced, and that's just fine. They don't have any baggage," said Clapper, who retires next month as the longest serving agency director. "The people that we are getting now are bright, computer literate. ... That is not something I lie awake and worry about."


Doctors puzzled over bizarre infection surfacing in South Texas

Doctors puzzled over bizarre infection surfacing in South Texas

Web Posted: 05/12/2006 10:51 AM CDT

Deborah Knapp
KENS 5 Eyewitness News

If diseases like AIDS and bird flu scare you, wait until you hear what's next. Doctors are trying to find out what is causing a bizarre and mysterious infection that's surfaced in South Texas.

Morgellons disease is not yet known to kill, but if you were to get it, you might wish you were dead, as the symptoms are horrible.

"These people will have like beads of sweat but it's black, black and tarry," said Ginger Savely, a nurse practioner in Austin who treats a majority of these patients.

Patients get lesions that never heal.

"Sometimes little black specks that come out of the lesions and sometimes little fibers," said Stephanie Bailey, Morgellons patient.

Patients say that's the worst symptom — strange fibers that pop out of your skin in different colors.

"He'd have attacks and fibers would come out of his hands and fingers, white, black and sometimes red. Very, very painful," said Lisa Wilson, whose son Travis had Morgellon's disease.

While all of this is going on, it feels like bugs are crawling under your skin. So far more than 100 cases of Morgellons disease have been reported in South Texas.

"It really has the makings of a horror movie in every way," Savely said.

While Savely sees this as a legitimate disease, there are many doctors who simply refuse to acknowledge it exists, because of the bizarre symptoms patients are diagnosed as delusional.

"Believe me, if I just randomly saw one of these patients in my office, I would think they were crazy too," Savely said. "But after you've heard the story of over 100 (patients) and they're all — down to the most minute detail — saying the exact same thing, that becomes quite impressive."

Travis Wilson developed Morgellons just over a year ago. He called his mother in to see a fiber coming out of a lesion.

"It looked like a piece of spaghetti was sticking out about a quarter to an eighth of an inch long and it was sticking out of his chest," Lisa Wilson said. "I tried to pull it as hard as I could out and I could not pull it out."

The Wilson's spent $14,000 after insurance last year on doctors and medicine.

"Most of them are antibiotics. He was on Tamadone for pain. Viltricide, this was an anti-parasitic. This was to try and protect his skin because of all the lesions and stuff," Lisa said.

However, nothing worked, and 23-year-old Travis could no longer take it.

"I knew he was going to kill himself, and there was nothing I could do to stop him," Lisa Wilson said.

Just two weeks ago, Travis took his life.

Stephanie Bailey developed the lesions four-and-a-half years ago.

"The lesions come up, and then these fuzzy things like spores come out," she said.

She also has the crawling sensation.

"You just want to get it out of you," Bailey said.

She has no idea what caused the disease, and nothing has worked to clear it up.

"They (doctors) told me I was just doing this to myself, that I was nuts. So basically I stopped going to doctors because I was afraid they were going to lock me up," Bailey said.

Harriett Bishop has battled Morgellons for 12 years. After a year on antibiotics, her hands have nearly cleared up. On the day, we visited her she only had one lesion and she extracted this fiber from it.

"You want to get these things out to relieve the pain, and that's why you pull and then you can see the fibers there, and the tentacles are there, and there are millions of them," Bishop said.

So far, pathologists have failed to find any infection in the fibers pulled from lesions.

"Clearly something is physically happening here," said Dr. Randy Wymore, a researcher at the Morgellons Research Foundation at Oklahoma State University's Center for Health Sciences.

Wymore examines the fibers, scabs and other samples from Morgellon's patients to try and find the disease's cause.

"These fibers don't look like common environmental fibers," he said.

The goal at OSU is to scientifically find out what is going on. Until then, patients and doctors struggle with this mysterious and bizarre infection. Thus far, the only treatment that has showed some success is an antibiotic.

"It sounds a little like a parasite, like a fungal infection, like a bacterial infection, but it never quite fits all the criteria of any known pathogen," Savely said

No one knows how Morgellans is contracted, but it does not appear to be contagious. The states with the highest number of cases are Texas, California and Florida.

The only connection found so far is that more than half of the Morgellons patients are also diagnosed with Lyme disease.

For more information on Morgellons, visit the research foundation's Web site at
Online at:

U.S. moves in secret to quash suit against AT&T

U.S. moves in secret to quash suit against AT&T
Privacy group says firm gave records to surveillance program

- Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Bush administration is filing secret arguments with a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit against AT&T over its alleged participation in the government's electronic surveillance program, a privacy-rights group said Friday.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed the suit in a San Francisco federal court in January, said Justice Department lawyers had notified it that the motion to dismiss and accompanying sworn statements were being filed under seal. Only an edited version will be made public.

The administration said last month that it would assert the "military and state secrets privilege'' and argue that allowing the case to proceed would jeopardize national security. Filing the arguments under seal is common in such cases and has been permitted by federal courts.

"We will be forced to argue against a secret brief that we will never see in total,'' said Kevin Bankston, a lawyer with the foundation.

The suit, filed on behalf of AT&T customers, accuses the company of giving the National Security Agency access to its voice and data network and records of customers' calls and e-mails without a search warrant or any evidence of wrongdoing. The suit seeks an order halting the company's actions and damages for all affected customers.

President Bush has said that shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he authorized the National Security Agency to intercept phone calls and e-mails between U.S. residents and terror suspects abroad without court approval. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 required the government to obtain a warrant from a court in secret session for such surveillance, but Bush maintains he has the constitutional authority to override the law.

The lawsuit says AT&T has allowed the federal agency to sift electronically through all its messages. On Thursday, USA Today reported that AT&T, Verizon and Bell South had turned over domestic telephone records to the National Security Agency.

Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker is scheduled to hear arguments Wednesday on AT&T's request to seal documents obtained by a former company technician allegedly describing company equipment in San Francisco capable of scanning huge amounts of data for use by the federal agency.

The government's authority to keep military secrets out of court was recognized by the Supreme Court in 1953. A 1998 ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said the potential disclosure of secret information may require dismissal of an entire lawsuit.

"This is the most powerful privilege that the government asserts,'' said Gregory Sisk, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota who has studied the issue. "The Supreme Court has said that a (judge) must give utmost deference to the government.''

Bankston, lawyer for the San Francisco privacy-rights group, said, "We believe that we could prove our case without revealing any information that would harm the national security.''

E-mail Bob Egelko at

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China, Canada seek crude off Cuba, but not US

China, Canada seek crude off Cuba, but not US

12/05/2006 03h11

An oil-rig on the coast of Cuba.
©AFP/File - Gabriel Bouys

HAVANA (AFP) - China will send 12 hi-tech rigs to drill for oil in Cuban waters of the Gulf of Mexico, officials have confirmed, irking US lawmakers that US firms cannot prospect in nearby US waters.

Cuba has stepped up work on a total of 36 new oil wells with Chinese companies and Canada's Sherritt, about four kilometers (2.5 miles) off the north coast, officials said privately.

The communist Cuban government is generally tight-lipped about oil matters but this week has been more public. The party newspaper, Granma, gave uncharacteristic front page play to news of the well, drilled to a record depth for Cuba, near Varadero east of Havana.

And diplomatic sources on Thursday said that India's ONGC Videsh and Norway's Norsk Hydro would join forces with Spain's Repsol to seek crude in the Gulf of Mexico.

That news came as US lawmakers, with oil prices soaring, grumbled ever more loudly about rivals prospecting in Cuban waters while US environmental laws make it all but impossible for US firms to do so in nearby US waters, even as the US embargo locks them out of Cuba.

In Washington Thursday, two Republican US lawmakers submitted a bill that would in effect ease the US economic embargo by allowing US firms to operate in Cuban waters.

"The American public would be shocked and stunned that as this country faces a serious energy crisis at home, countries like China, India, Canada, Spain and Norway are exploring and drilling 50 miles off the US coast," said Republican US Senator Larry Craig of Idaho.

US companies would be allowed to engage in any transaction necessary and could travel for business purposes without a special license from the US government, said Craig, joined by congressman Jeff Flake of Arizona.

"China, as our National Security Strategy points out, is trying to lock up resources around the world, and they are locking up resources in our own backyard where we can't even compete and play ball," argued Craig.

US media have reported that China was involved in the prospecting but Cuba has not announced a Chinese deal as such.

The deal with ONGC Videsh and Norsk Hydro, to be signed officially in Havana May 23, technically is not a new contract.

"Those companies are joining the existing one with Repsol to share risks," a European diplomat told AFP privately.

Repsol has rights to six of the 59 prospecting areas the Cuban government has been auctioning off since 1999. It carried out its first drilling in 2004 and while oil was found, Repsol said the crude was not of commercial grade.

Since then Repsol has been looking for partners to share the investment burden, and ONGC Videsh and Norsk Hydro each will be picking up 30 percent of the expenses, other sources said.

The gulf's waters were divided into economic exclusion zones of the United States, Mexico and Cuba under a deal that is still in effect signed during the government of then-US president Jimmy Carter.

Among other companies with prospecting rights if not projects there are Canada's Sherritt International and Brazil's state oil giant Petrobras.

Cuba has invited US firms to take part but the US economic embargo bars them from doing so.

Cuba produces about a third of the oil it consumes, with the rest imported under favorable terms from a key ally Venezuela.

Many war vets' stress disorders go untreated

Many war vets' stress disorders go untreated
Posted 5/10/2006 10:59 PM ET
By Gregg Zoroya, USA TODAY

Only about one in five Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who screen positive for combat-related stress disorders are referred by the Pentagon for mental health treatment, according to a draft of a report to be released today by the Government Accountability Office.

According to the draft, obtained by USA TODAY, the Pentagon told investigators with the GAO — the investigative arm of Congress — that it relies on screening and the "clinical judgment" of military medical workers who meet with each returning veteran.

Based upon the screening and assessment, military officials then decide who should received follow-up mental health care.

In the report, the GAO criticized the Pentagon for failing to specifically explain how it identifies troops who may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Pentagon spokesman Terry Jones says military officials were reviewing the findings.

A leading Democrat on a House Veterans' Affairs Committee says the GAO findings proved that the Pentagon's health screening process is flawed.

"When 78% of the servicemembers who are at risk of developing PTSD do not get a referral for further evaluation, then it's clear the assessment system is not working," says Rep. Mike Michaud of Maine.

The military health screening process includes four questions to help identify combat-induced stress.

The questions relate to nightmares, severe memories that will not go away, feeling numb and being constantly on guard, watchful or easily startled.

Positive answers to three or four of the questions indicate a possibility of PTSD, the report says.

Of 9,145 servicemembers who returned from combat from 2001 to 2004 and answered yes to three or four of the questions, 2,029 — or 22% — were referred for mental health treatment, the report says. The Army and Air Force referred about 23% of their personnel who answered the questions positively; the Navy referred 18%; the Marines 15%.

"Knowing the factors upon which (Pentagon) health care providers based their clinical judgments in issuing referrals could help explain (these) variation in referral rates," the GAO report says.

CIA nominee Hayden defends NSA programs


Friday, May 12, 2006 · Last updated 1:36 p.m. PT

CIA nominee Hayden defends NSA programs


-- CIA director nominee Gen. Michael Hayden on Friday defended the secret surveillance programs he oversaw while head of another spy agency as lawful and designed to "preserve the security and the liberty of the American people."

But one of the phone companies asked by that agency to turn over its customers' call records - Qwest Communications Inc. - refused after deciding the request violated privacy law, a lawyer said Friday.

Hayden's visits to lawmakers on Capitol Hill were complicated by reaction to public disclosure of the National Security Agency program that has been building a database of millions of Americans' everyday telephone calls. Hayden declined to comment on the database, but spoke about the NSA's work in general terms.

"Everything that the agency has done has been lawful. It's been briefed to the appropriate members of Congress," Hayden told reporters outside a Senate office. "The only purpose of the agency's activities is to preserve the security and the liberty of the American people.

"And I think we've done that," he said.

The White House stood by Hayden as he spent another day promoting himself in face-to-face sessions with lawmakers. President Bush announced Hayden as his choice to head the CIA on Monday.

"We're 100 percent behind Michael Hayden," press secretary Tony Snow told reporters Friday. "There's no question about that, and confident that he is going to comport himself well and answer all the questions and concerns that members of the United States Senate may have in the process of confirmation."

However, Snow said, if some questions involved classified material, Hayden may not be able to answer them or would have to do so in an alternative session with certain lawmakers who are cleared to get such information.

Meanwhile, a lawyer for former Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio confirmed that the government approached that company in the fall of 2001 seeking access to the phone records of Qwest customers, with neither a warrant nor approval from a special court established to handle surveillance matters.

"Mr. Nacchio concluded that these requests violated the privacy requirements of the Telecommunications Act," attorney Herbert J. Stern said in a written statement from his Newark, N.J., office.

Nacchio told Qwest officials to refuse the NSA requests, which kept coming until Nacchio left the company in June 2002, Stern said.

In contrast, AT&T Corp., Verizon Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp. complied with the government's request to turn over phone records shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, USA Today reported on Thursday.

After meeting with Hayden on Friday, Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said that he has "absolute confidence" in the general and said his Senate confirmation hearings would help get the facts on the surveillance programs.

"He's going to have to explain what his role was. To start with, did he put that program forward, whose idea was it, why was it started?" Hagel said. "He knows that he's not going to be confirmed without answering those questions."

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, praised Hayden as an excellent nominee but said Congress should ask tough questions about the NSA programs.

Collins, chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said it was disconcerting "to have information come out by drips and drabs, rather than the administration making the case for programs I personally believe are needed for our national security."

Earlier Friday, Democratic Sen. Joe Biden blasted the surveillance program but called Hayden "a first-rate guy."

"He's caught right in the middle of this," Biden, of Delaware, told CBS' "The Early Show." "I think it's going to make it difficult."

In a poll taken Thursday, almost two thirds of Americans said it was acceptable for the NSA to collect phone records. When asked if they would be bothered if the NSA had their phone records, Democrats and independents were more likely to be bothered than Republicans. The ABC-Washington Post poll surveyed 502 people by telephone.

Lawmakers have been demanding information from the Bush administration about the NSA's database of telephone records, begun while Hayden was in charge of the spy agency.

The disclosure, reported in Thursday editions of USA Today, could complicate President Bush's bid to win Hayden's confirmation. It also renewed concerns about civil liberties and questions about the legal underpinnings for the government's actions.

Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., said the NSA was using the data to analyze calling patterns in order to detect and track suspected terrorist activity, according to information provided to him by the White House.

"Telephone customers' names, addresses and other personal information have not been handed over to NSA as part of this program," Allard said.

The president on Thursday sought to assure Americans their civil liberties were "fiercely protected."

"The government does not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval," said Bush, without confirming the NSA program.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he would call the phone companies to appear before the panel in pursuit of what had transpired.

The NSA is the same spy agency that conducts the controversial domestic eavesdropping program that had been acknowledged earlier by Bush.


AP writer Michael J. Sniffen contributed to this story.

NSA Whistleblower To Expose More Unlawful Activity: ‘People…Are Going To Be Shocked’

NSA Whistleblower To Expose More Unlawful Activity: ‘People…Are Going To Be Shocked’

CongressDaily reports that former NSA staffer Russell Tice will testify to the Senate Armed Services Committee next week that not only do employees at the agency believe the activities they are being asked to perform are unlawful, but that what has been disclosed so far is only the tip of the iceberg. Tice will tell Congress that former NSA head Gen. Michael Hayden, Bush’s nominee to be the next CIA director, oversaw more illegal activity that has yet to be disclosed:

A former intelligence officer for the National Security Agency said Thursday he plans to tell Senate staffers next week that unlawful activity occurred at the agency under the supervision of Gen. Michael Hayden beyond what has been publicly reported, while hinting that it might have involved the illegal use of space-based satellites and systems to spy on U.S. citizens. …

[Tice] said he plans to tell the committee staffers the NSA conducted illegal and unconstitutional surveillance of U.S. citizens while he was there with the knowledge of Hayden. … “I think the people I talk to next week are going to be shocked when I tell them what I have to tell them. It’s pretty hard to believe,” Tice said. “I hope that they’ll clean up the abuses and have some oversight into these programs, which doesn’t exist right now.” …

Tice said his information is different from the Terrorist Surveillance Program that Bush acknowledged in December and from news accounts this week that the NSA has been secretly collecting phone call records of millions of Americans. “It’s an angle that you haven’t heard about yet,” he said.
… He would not discuss with a reporter the details of his allegations, saying doing so would compromise classified information and put him at risk of going to jail. He said he “will not confirm or deny” if his allegations involve the illegal use of space systems and satellites.

Tice has a history for blowing the whistle on serious misconduct. He was one of the sources that revealed the administration’s warrantless domestic spying program to the New York Times.

NSA has your phone records; 'trust us' isn't good enough

NSA has your phone records; 'trust us' isn't good enough
Posted 5/11/2006 10:55 PM ET

The government is secretly collecting the phone records of millions of Americans.

Stop and think for a moment about the meaning of that simple, startling fact, exposed Thursday in a remarkable report by USA TODAY's Leslie Cauley.

In the narrowest interpretation, of course, it is benign. Possibly even helpful. It means that the National Security Agency (NSA) — the Pentagon-run spy agency that monitors communications — is using a new tool to hunt terrorists: Monitor phone traffic to identify threats and stop them.

This is all it means, President Bush told the public Thursday in a brief appearance aimed at quelling the instant outrage provoked by the story. He assured Americans that their civil liberties were being "fiercely protected" and that the government was "not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans."

In other words, never mind appearances. Trust us.

Well, that is not all it means. Nor can the president's promise to protect privacy be reliably kept.

The fact that the government is trying to track (but not wiretap) every call you make and every call you receive — at home or on your cellphone is, to say the least, disturbing.

It means that your phone company (if you are a customer of AT&T, BellSouth or Verizon) tossed your privacy to the wind and collaborated with this extraordinary intrusion, and that it did so secretly and without following any court order.

That is, unless you're lucky enough to be served by Qwest, the one major phone company that had the integrity to resist government pressure.

It means that unless public opposition changes the government's course, this database will be compiled, updated and expanded into the indeterminate future, through countless administrations with who-knows-what interests and motives.

Only the most naive and unsuspicious soul could trust that it will remain safe, secured and for the eyes only of those hunting terrorists.

One need look no further than past abuses of power to be uncomfortable about the future. Richard Nixon during Watergate. Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War. J. Edgar Hoover during his long reign as FBI director.

Even assuming that the Bush administration's motives are pure, and that this program merely looks for patterns of calls that could reveal terror networks, it raises a number of troubling questions:

Is it legal? Bush insists it is, but that's questionable. The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act requires a court order to gather a person's current phone records. A 1934 law requires phone companies to protect customers' privacy. And the Fourth Amendment forbids "unreasonable searches and seizures."

Is it useful? Taken as a whole, such a database is of dubious utility. U.S. intelligence-gathering agencies are already suffering from an abundance of raw information and a dearth of good intelligence. Looking for suspicious patterns among billions of phone numbers seems like the ultimate search for a needle in a haystack.

Is it foolproof? These types of databases invariably have errors. The federal terrorist "watch list," which is used to screen airline passengers, has ensnared a number of innocent travelers — among them Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and a 23-month-old toddler — whose names are similar to, or the same as, suspects on the list. Once you're mistakenly targeted, the error can be nearly impossible to fix and your life can be turned upside down.

Will it be abused? Maybe not at first. Over time, however, this vast quantity of data is a potentially irresistible tool for government officials who want to zero in on individual Americans.

At the very least, one can imagine this information being used by law enforcement agencies trying to trace people who have attracted their attention but about whom they don't have enough information to justify a court order. Or to look for whistle-blowers who have leaked sensitive information to reporters.

Consider what happened in the 1960s and '70s, the last time federal law enforcement and national security agencies launched mass snooping expeditions against U.S. citizens. The FBI, which became a clearinghouse for the data, sent them to the CIA, the Justice Department and the IRS, where some of the data were used in tax probes.

"Information that should not have been gathered in the first place has gone beyond the initial agency to numerous other agencies and officials, thus compounding the original intrusion," concluded a committee chaired by Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, which investigated and reported on the abuses in 1976. The amount of information was "so voluminous," it was difficult "to separate useful data from worthless detail."

NSA's technological capabilities, the Church Committee wrote, are a "sensitive national asset" valuable to the national defense. Even so, it warned, "if not properly controlled ... this same technological capability could be turned against the American people, at great cost to liberty."

The panel's conclusions about NSA are as valid today as they were then.

The phone record program serves as a powerful reminder of how, in a digital age, records can be compiled and analyzed in ways you are unaware of.

And combined with a separate NSA program (revealed in December by The New York Times) to eavesdrop without warrants on international calls from the USA, it raises the question of what other secret and constitutionally suspect programs the Bush administration might still be shielding.

Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, who headed the NSA for six years and is now Bush's nominee to be CIA director, is a master of evasion. Speaking in January about the international eavesdropping, he said the program is not a widely cast "drift net" but is narrowly "focused" and "targeted."

Perhaps. But, at the time, he was fully aware of a program that is many of the things the other is not. A 2006 version of the Church Committee is needed to investigate the anti-terror programs created in the scary aftermath of 9/11, and the Senate should hold up Hayden's nomination until all its questions are answered.

Creating a huge, secret database of Americans' phone records does far more than threaten terrorists. It is a deeply troubling act that undermines U.S. freedoms and threatens us all.

The White House declined to provide an opposing view to this editorial.

Alliance of Somali Warlords Battles Islamists in Capital

Alliance of Somali Warlords Battles Islamists in Capital

NAIROBI, Kenya, May 12
— A new front in the fight against terrorism has broken out on the streets of Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, as a group of Islamists battle Somali warlords allied with Washington's aim of rooting out Muslim extremism from the region.

In six days of some of the worst street combat since the central government collapsed in 1991, nearly 150 people have been killed, most of them noncombatants caught in machine-gun and artillery fire.

On Friday morning, heavy shooting could be heard in some parts of the disintegrating capital, although the gunfire appeared to subside somewhat later in the day, according to Mogadishu residents reached by telephone from Kenya.

While the American Embassy in Nairobi called on all parties to cease fighting, the United States government has been accused of backing the warlords, who have fashioned themselves into an antiterrorism alliance, rooting out elements of Al Qaeda in their midst.

"It's a well-established fact for the last few years that U.S. counterterrorism officials and other intelligence officials have been working through Somali partners to fight extremists," said Suliman Baldo, director for Africa policy at the International Crisis Group, a Geneva-based advocacy group that studies wars around the world.

"From the little we know, the U.S. is not supporting the warlords with arms, per se," Mr. Baldo said. Instead, he added, American operatives were paying the warlords to help track down and apprehend those in Somalia suspected of being members of Al Qaeda.

In one episode outlined in an International Crisis Group report last year, American intelligence officers offered a Somali clan leader $4 million if he captured Tariq Abdallah, a suspected Qaeda leader traced to a Mogadishu guest house. When the clan leader's militia launched a raid on the house, however, the suspect (also known as Abu Talha al-Sudani) was not found there, the report said.

The warlords, who say they have joined America's fight against terrorism, are calling themselves the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism. They are led by Mohammed Deere, Mohammed Qanyare and Bahire Rageh, all powerful figures in Mogadishu.

In interviews, American officials declined to detail their relationship with the warlords, and said only that their goal was to support both the fight against terrorism and the recently formed transitional government that is struggling to gain a foothold.

But the president of that transitional government pointed his finger at the United States and said American counterterrorism efforts would work better if they went through Somalia's fledgling government, not through individual warlords.

"They really think they can capture Al Qaeda members in Somalia," President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed said. "But the Americans should tell the warlords they should support the government, and cooperate with the government."

The United States has kept a wary eye on Somalia since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, fearing that extremists would take advantage of the country's anarchy to use it as a base of operations, just as occurred in Afghanistan in the 1990's.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld even ordered military commanders to examine options for an attack on Somalia, according to the bipartisan 9/11 Commission Report.

Initial Pentagon suspicions of Qaeda training camps in Somalia have not yielded anything. But evidence has emerged of the presence of some terrorists in the country.

Fazul Abdullah Muhammad, a suspect in both the 2002 bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel on Kenya's coast and the 1998 bombing of embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, held one of his planning sessions in Mogadishu, according to a United Nations study of the weapons flow into Somalia.

In recent months, diplomats and other analysts in the region say, Western intelligence officials have been delving into the murky world of Mogadishu, where money buys loyalty, at least for a while.

The American government's approach toward Somalia, which seems to put the fight against terrorism above all else, has drawn some criticism in Washington.

"If our principal objective is to fight terrorism and extremism in Somalia, what have we achieved thus far in light of the huge financial and security investments in the region?" asked Ted Dagne, an Africa analyst at the Congressional Research Service in Washington. "Somalia is still without a central government, divided, and controlled by warlords."

He added, "If we fail to focus on this generation of Somali kids and help them, they could become the next warlords out of necessity and desperation."

The warlords who are fighting the Islamists say they are acting out of principle, not pay.

"These terrorists want this country to adopt a Taliban style," said Hussein Gutale Rage, a spokesman for the warlords' alliance. "The Americans have not given us anything so far. We share their hatred of terrorism."

The alliance is battling a loose coalition of Islamists who are allied with the Islamic law courts that have popped up in Mogadishu over the last decade. With a lack of government control, the courts have emerged as an independent power center, largely outside the clan hierarchy.

Accusing the warlords of being puppets of Washington, the Islamists have filled a gap left by the lack of government structure, winning converts to their ideology by running local schools and charities.

One of the leaders of the Union of Islamic Courts is Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, an imam and former soldier whom the American government has linked to Al Qaeda. The United Nations has accused him of receiving a large cache of arms from a nearby country in violation of the embargo on providing weapons to Somalia.

"We will have to liberate our people from these warlords, who have been shedding our people's blood for the past 15 years," he told The Associated Press recently. He also told the BBC that he was part of the "mujahedeen who are fighting back."

Another person linked to the Islamic courts is Aden Hashi Ayro, a protégé of Sheik Aweys who, some say, has become a renegade militia leader who answers to no one. Mr. Ayro is suspected of being linked to a string of assassinations of businesspeople, intellectuals, peace activists and others in recent months. The killings are believed to have been intended to send a message against any foreign tampering in Somalia.

In 2005, Sheik Aweys led an attack on an Italian cemetery in Mogadishu, in which human remains were dug up to protest foreign intervention in Somalia. His fighters have also joined with other militias to close down cinemas in the capital that were accused of showing immoral films. They oppose proposals to bring an outside peacekeeping force into Mogadishu.

"This is a resource conflict and a religious conflict," said Jabril Ibrahim Abdulle, director of Center for Research and Dialogue. "Everybody wants to make money, but the religious leaders are also turning this into a war against the West."

Friday, May 12, 2006

Judge orders Pentagon to suspend trial of Saudi detainee

Judge orders Pentagon to suspend trial of Saudi detainee
Knight Ridder Newspapers

Siding with an enemy combatant over the Bush administration, a federal judge Friday ordered the Pentagon to suspend a Saudi captive's trial at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, until the U.S. Supreme Court rules next month on whether President Bush's military commissions are constitutional.

U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan rejected a Justice Department argument that a month-long delay in the al-Qaida conspiracy case of Ghassan Sharbi, 31, ``would imperil the war effort.''

``The government has not explained, however, why the Court must adhere to the laws of war now, rather than wait a few weeks so that it may follow the rule of law, as it will be determined by the Supreme Court,'' Sullivan said.

Sharbi, a 2000 graduate of Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz., has been held at the Navy base's detention center since 2002. A Navy captain had scheduled a pretrial hearing in his al-Qaida conspiracy case next week.

He is accused of plotting to build car-bomb detonators in Pakistan and ship them to Afghanistan in March 2002.

Last month Sharbi stunned observers at his first-ever military commission proceedings by declaring: ``I'm going to make it easy for you guys: I fought against the United States. I took up arms.''

Justice Department lawyers have characterized the first U.S. war-crimes tribunals since World War II as a key component in the U.S. war-on-terror effort.

A Supreme Court challenge brought by a one-time driver for Osama bin Laden asserts that military commissions - the way they were created by the Bush administration after the 9-11 attacks - are at odds with U.S. treaty obligations and time-honored U.S. legal safeguards.

The Bush administration says enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay don't get constitutional protections.

Robert Rachlin, a Vermont defense attorney for Sharbi, argued that, in advance of a Supreme Court ruling, the government was building a trial record against his client that could prejudice him, depending on what the justices decide.

``The harm to the petitioner is undoubtedly irreparable,'' the judge said.

``The Court fails to see any prejudice ... by waiting for the Supreme Court''s determination that its commission does not violate the Constitution.''

In winning the stay, Sharbi becomes the fourth of 10 Guantanamo captives facing military commission charges whose cases have been frozen by the federal courts. The others are Salim Ahmed Hamdan of Yemen, bin Laden's ex-driver; David Hicks of Australia, and Ibrahim al Qosi of Sudan.

Friday's ruling aside, a military commission is set to convene next week in Guantanamo in the case of another captive - Abdul Zahir of Afghanistan.

Sullivan, a 1994 Clinton appointee, is the same judge who in 2003 and 2004 suspended the Pentagon's mandatory anthrax vaccination program for U.S. servicemen and women.

Sullivan heard this week's case at the U.S. District Court on Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C., with Sharbi's defense attorney arguing by teleconference from a federal courthouse in Vermont.

The Miami Herald monitored the proceedings by way of an audio hookup from Miami, in an arrangement with the court.

Scientists Call Diebold Security Flaw "Worst Ever"

Scientists Call Diebold Security Flaw "Worst Ever"
By Ian Hoffman
Inside Bay Area

Thursday 11 May 2006

Critics say hole created for upgrades could be exploited by someone with nefarious plans.

Computer scientists say a security hole recently found in Diebold Election Systems' touch-screen voting machines is the "worst ever" in a voting system.

Election officials from Iowa to Maryland have been rushing to limit the risk of vote fraud or disabled voting machines since the hole was reported Wednesday.

Scientists, who have conferred with Diebold representatives, said Diebold programmers created the security hole intentionally as a means of quickly upgrading voting software on its electronic voting machines.

The hole allows someone with a common computer component and knowledge of Diebold systems to load almost any software without a password or proof of authenticity and potentially without leaving telltale signs of the change.

"I think it's the most serious thing I've heard to date," said Johns Hopkins University computer science professor Avi Rubin, who published the first security analysis of Diebold voting software in 2003. "Even describing why I think it's serious is dangerous. This is something that's so easy to do that if the public were to hear about it, it would raise the risk of someone doing it.... This is the worst-case scenario, almost."

Diebold representatives acknowledged the security hole to Pennsylvania elections officials in a May 1 memo but said the "probability for exploiting this vulnerability to install unauthorized software that could affect an election is considered low."

California elections officials echoed that assessment Friday in a message to county elections chiefs.

But several computer scientists said Wednesday that those judgments are founded on the mistaken assumption that taking advantage of the security hole would require access to voting machines for a long time.

"I don't know anyone who considers two minutes lengthy, if it's that," said Michael Shamos, a Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor and veteran voting-systems examiner for the state of Pennsylvania.

"It's the most serious security breach that's ever been discovered in a voting system. On this one, the probability of success is extremely high because there's no residue.... Any kind of cursory inspection of the machine would not reveal it."

States using Diebold touch screens are "going to have to fix it because they can't have an election without having a fix to this," he said. Otherwise, states risk challenges from losing candidates while being unable to prove easily that the machines worked as designed.

At least two states - Pennsylvania and California - have ordered tighter security and reprogramming of all Diebold touch screens, using software supplied by the state and a method opened by the security hole. Local elections officials then must seal certain openings on the machines with tamper-evident tape.

David Wagner, an assistant professor of computer-science at the University of California, Berkeley and a technical adviser to the California secretary of state's office, said the new measures should minimize risks in the June 6 primary.

Elections officials in Georgia, which uses Diebold touch screens statewide, said existing state rules already are sufficient.

Bev Harris, founder of, a nonprofit group critical of electronic voting, said she isn't sure reprogramming and sealing the touch screens will fix the problem.

Voting machines often are delivered to polling places several days before elections, and the outside case of Diebold's touch screens is secured by common Phillips screws. Inside, a hacker can take advantage of the security hole, as well as access other security holes, without disturbing the tamper-evident seals, Harris said.

"Ultimately, there's no way to get rid of the huge security flaws in the design," she said.


Rice, Rumsfeld Block Access to Secret Detainees: International Red Cross

Rice, Rumsfeld Block Access to Secret Detainees: International Red Cross
By Drew Brown

Friday 12 May 2006

Geneva - The United States has again refused the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to terrorism suspects held in secret detention centers, the humanitarian agency said on Friday.

The overnight statement was issued after talks in Washington between ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger and senior officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.

"Mr. Kellenberger deplored the fact that the U.S. authorities had not moved closer to granting the ICRC access to persons held in undisclosed locations," the Geneva-based agency said.

Kellenberger said: "No matter how legitimate the grounds for detention, there exists no right to conceal a person's whereabouts or to deny that he or she is being detained."

The former senior Swiss diplomat said that the ICRC would continue to seek access to such people as a matter of priority.

The main objective of his annual visit this week was for the ICRC to be granted access to "all persons held by the U.S. in the context of the fight against terrorism, an issue he first raised with the U.S. government over two years ago," the agency said.

Antonella Notari, chief ICRC spokeswoman, noted that Kellenberger had first raised the issue with former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Rice, then National Security Adviser, in January 2004.

"We have just received a negative response again," Notari said on Friday.

The agency recognized there were legitimate grounds for holding foreign terrorism suspects who posed a threat to the United States, she said.

"Having said that, it is absolutely vital for such people to be held in a clear legal framework and that they are granted all basic judicial safeguards," Notari added. "Obviously this includes those people held in secret places of detention."

A Washington Post report last year, which said that the CIA had run secret prisons in Europe and flown suspects to states where they would have been tortured, unleashed a spate of investigations. But none so far have produced solid proof.

The United Nations torture investigator, Manfred Nowak, told a European Union parliamentary committee probing the allegations there was evidence of secret detention centers outside the United States, but no definite proof they had existed in Europe.

John Bellinger, the State Department's legal adviser, reiterated last week Washington's position that it does not outsource torture or transfer people it suspects of being involved in terrorism to places where it can expect them to be tortured.