Daily Archives: May 1, 2007

Warning over secret street spy cameras

This is London | May 1, 2007


Could microphones be fitted to street cameras?

Fitting microphones to CCTV cameras in the street would be “unacceptable”, Britain’s information watchdog warned today.

Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, also said he opposed the installation of small hidden cameras in public places.

He told the Commons home affairs committee: “There is a debate as to whether there is a case to place microphones in the street. We are very hostile to that. We think it would be unacceptable.”

He also questioned the use of loudspeakers that tell people to stop anti-social behaviour – an idea on trial in Middlesbrough.

MPs were told tiny cameras should not be hidden in lamp posts and other street furniture. Quoting Benjamin Franklin, Mr Thomas said: “Those who lightly give up their liberties in the name of safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

World’s parliaments urged to act on gun control in light of recent shootings

Sign On San Diego | May 1, 2007


Parliamentarians around the world should press for urgent action on gun control, particularly in view of recent tragedies, the head of a global body representing lawmakers said on Monday.

Anders Johnsson, secretary general of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, was speaking after the launch of a handbook aimed at guiding legislators in the area of gun control.

 ‘We are pushing parliamentarians to act on this,’ he said by telephone from the resort island of Bali where the IPU, which claims 148 affiliated national parliaments, is meeting.

The handbook has been jointly launched by the IPU and the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, a Geneva-based think tank.

‘The statistics are damning. There are currently an estimated 640 million small arms and light weapons in circulation, from handguns and assault rifles to shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles,’ Johnsson and Martin Griffiths of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue said in a joint statement.

‘Most of this arsenal, or about 60 percent, is in the hands of civilians. Recent dramatic events have proved the urgent need for action,’ they added, noting that parliamentarians had a key role in gun control through drawing up national laws, improving implementation and enforcement, and leading public debate.

The statement said small arms and light weapons took between 200,000 and 270,000 lives a year in countries that were at peace, through homicide and suicide.

The gun control issue was thrown into the spotlight again in April by the massacre of 32 people at Virginia Tech in the United States by lone gunman Cho Seung-Hui.

The Democratic-led Congress has ignited fresh talk about tightening U.S. gun laws, but many politicians are reluctant to take on the nation’s numerous gun owners or the powerful gun lobby.

Johnsson said that no U.S. lawmakers were able to attend the meeting this week in Bali.


Switzerland and the gun

BBC | Sep 21, 2001

Guns are deeply rooted within Swiss culture – but the gun crime rate is so low that statistics are not even kept. The country has a population of six million, but there are estimated to be at least two million publicly-owned firearms, including about 600,000 automatic rifles and 500,000 pistols.

This is in a very large part due to Switzerland’s unique system of national defence, developed over the centuries.

Instead of a standing, full-time army, the country requires every man to undergo some form of military training for a few days or weeks a year throughout most of their lives.

Between the ages of 21 and 32 men serve as frontline troops. They are given an M-57 assault rifle and 24 rounds of ammunition which they are required to keep at home.

Once discharged, men serve in the Swiss equivalent of the US National Guard, but still have to train occasionally and are given bolt rifles. Women do not have to own firearms, but are encouraged to.

Few restrictions

In addition to the government-provided arms, there are few restrictions on buying weapons. Some cantons restrict the carrying of firearms – others do not.

The government even sells off surplus weaponry to the general public when new equipment is introduced.

Guns and shooting are popular national pastimes. More than 200,000 Swiss attend national annual marksmanship competitions.

But despite the wide ownership and availability of guns, violent crime is extremely rare. There are only minimal controls at public buildings and politicians rarely have police protection.

Mark Eisenecker, a sociologist from the University of Zurich told BBC News Online that guns are “anchored” in Swiss society and that gun control is simply not an issue.

Some pro-gun groups argue that Switzerland proves their contention that there is not necessarily a link between the availability of guns and violent crime in society.

Low crime

But other commentators suggest that the reality is more complicated.

Switzerland is one of the world’s richest countries, but has remained relatively isolated.

It has none of the social problems associated with gun crime seen in other industrialised countries like drugs or urban deprivation.

Despite the lack of rigid gun laws, firearms are strictly connected to a sense of collective responsibility.

From an early age Swiss men and women associate weaponry with being called to defend their country.

Angry Survivors of 7/7 Bombings Demand Probe

Gulf Daily News | May 1, 2007

Angry survivors of the deadly London suicide bombings have demanded the government hold an inquiry into the attacks after it was revealed two of the bombers had come to the attention of MI5 over a year earlier.

Shehzad Tanweer and Mohammad Sidique Khan, the suspected ringleader of the July 7, 2005 attacks on three underground trains and a bus, which left 52 commuters dead, were watched by security teams looking at another group of suspected militants.

Although they were seen holding a number of meetings with the suspected ringleader of the gang convicted of plotting bomb attacks in Britain using fertiliser-based explosives, intelligence officials decided they did not warrant further investigation.

Most survivors and bereaved families will be shocked and furious at the news, said Rachel North who was on board the train blown up by Germaine Lindsay near Russell Square station.

It was the bloodiest attack on July 7, killing 27 people and injuring 340 as the blast occurred in a narrow tunnel deep underground.

A sizeable number of bereaved relatives and survivors, some badly maimed in the attacks, have repeatedly demanded a full independent inquiry into the attacks.

They argue that it is the only way to ensure all the facts are made public, all the questions are answered and lessons can be properly learned.

The news that the men were not “clean skins” – individuals with no criminal record or history of militant behaviour – as the government and police had initially said, showed the public had a right to all the information, they argue.

“We were deceived,” said Jacqui Putnam, who was on board the train blown up by Khan near Edgware Road station which killed six and injured 163. “We will never know, if they had done something differently, if lives would have been saved.”

Bin Laden’s terror lieutenant ‘Q’ on the loose in Britain

This is London | May 1, 2007

Two men accused of links with al Qaeda and the Bluewater plotters are missing in Britain, it was revealed today.

Mohammed Quayyam Khan, a part-time taxi driver from Luton, was allegedly in contact with one of Osama bin Laden’s most senior lieutenants.

And former Tube worker Zeeshan Siddiqui had planned to launch a suicide attack on the Underground, the Old Bailey heard.

Both men were named in the trial of five terrorists jailed yesterday for plotting to blow up the Bluewater shopping centre or the Ministry of Sound nightclub with a 1,300lb fertiliser bomb. Quayyam – referred to as Q in court – was allegedly the link between the fertiliser bomb plotters and al Qaeda in Pakistan.

He was also alleged to have arranged for the leader of the 7/7 bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan, to travel to a Pakistan training camp in 2003.

The Old Bailey was told how Quayyam’s meeting with the fertiliser gang’s leader, Omar Khyam, 25, from Crawley, led to MI5 launching an investigation into the Bluewater bomb plot.

Given the codename “Bashful Dwarf” by MI5 watchers, “Q” was under observation during an investigation into money and equipment being supplied from Luton to Afghanistan.

The court heard that “Q” arranged for both Khyam and Khan to be met at the airport in Pakistan when they went for training.

He was said by informant Mohammed Babar to take orders directly from Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi, the number three in al Qaeda who was taken to Guantanamo Bay last week. Just weeks before the fertiliser plot was finalised, Khyam was allegedly seen with “Q” in Uxbridge. MI5 agents reported that “Bashful Dwarf” was “leading the conversation and waving his arms around”.

Despite the allegations “Q” has never been arrested though his home has been searched at least once. Neighbours say that police tore up floorboards and dug up the garden. Police and MI5 say they have never found sufficient evidence to charge him.

“Q” has now apparently disappeared but in an interview given before the end of the trial he told the Daily Telegraph that he met Khyam and Khan through a charity he was trying to set up.

He said: “I was trying to build a charity to help poor people in Pakistan but it never came to effect.”

He complained that he was being picked on because he was black and Muslim saying: “I’m trying to be a good British citizen and I’m feeling now I’m getting done over. I know from my heart, if I had done something I would have been in the dock myself.”

Since his home was raided by police three years ago he said he has lost his job and cannot rent a house. “Q”, who is in his forties and is married with several children, is said to be a former associate of the fundamentalist clerics Abu Hamza and Omar Bakri Mohammed. The Old Bailey also heard that another man with alleged links to al Qaeda is also in Britain. Siddiqui, who went by the name “Imran”, was supposed to launch a suicide attack on the Underground.

Siddiqui, who was raised in Hounslow, was said to be a schoolfriend of Asif Hanif, who blew himself up in an attack on a Tel Aviv nightclub in 2003. He worked on the Tube and allegedly attended a training camp in Pakistan where Khyam was said to have asked him to launch a “martyrdom operation”.

Siddiqui kept a diary which was found on his arrest in Pakistan in May 2005. The court heard he questioned how fellow Muslims could live peacefully in London, which he called the “vital organ of the minions of the devil”. He was arrested in Pakistan shortly before 7/7 for his alleged links to some of al Qaeda’s most notorious figures. There were reports later that he had met another of the London bombers, Shehzad Tanweer. He was released from jail in Pakistan in March last year and returned to Britain but has disappeared. Siddiqui has since said he was tortured in a Pakistan jail and denies knowing any of the London bombers. He has not been questioned by police since his return to the UK.

The revelations come as MI5 finds itself at the centre of claims that it could have stopped the 7/7 suicide bombings.

As the fertiliser trial ended details were revealed of how the security service had come across Khan and Tanweer while investigating the Bluewater plot – more than a year before the 7/7 attacks.

The pair were photographed four times meeting members of the Crawley terror cell but investigators dismissed the London bombers as “fringe contacts” who were simply interested in credit card fraud.

The details – which could not be reported during the Bluewater trial – have led to demands from relatives of 7/7 for a public inquiry.

The Government claimed that the suicide attacks “came out of the blue” and said the bombers were not known to the security services. Survivors of the 7 July terror attacks and relatives of those killed will take their calls for a public inquiry to the Home Office today.

Jacqui Putnam, a survivor of the Edgware bomb, said she had been told the bombers were acting alone but what emerged from the fertiliser trial appeared to undermine that. “What else have we not been told?” she said.

Calls for an independent inquiry were rejected by Tony Blair today. The Prime Minister said that any such probe would distract the secret service and police from doing their day-to-day job of protecting the country.

Mr Blair said that it was not possible for MI5 to have acted differently given what they knew when they first monitored the activities of Khan. “They could not on the basis of what they knew at the time have ended up with very intensive surveillance on these people. They are chasing literally scores of these conspiracies the whole time.”

Grieving families of 7/7 ask: Why are we only now hearing the truth?

This is London | May 1, 2007

The families of the 52 victims who died in the July 7 bombings expressed their anger at the security services’ failure to prevent the atrocity.

Furious relatives said there was an “overwhelming” case for a full independent inquiry into a catalogue of missed opportunities.

Graham Foulkes, who lost his 22-year-old son David in the Edgware Road blast, said when he heard the revelations from the trial he was “absolutely overwhelmed with a sense of sheer disbelief”.

“I feel like we’ve had the wool pulled over our eyes,” he said.

“The consequences of that level of incompetence were such that my son was killed. That is truly appalling.”

He added: “I think John Reid summed it up when he said his department was not fit for purpose.”

Grahame Russell, whose 28-year-old son Philip, a banker with City firm JP Morgan, died in the Tavistock Square blast, said the Government had “distorted the truth” over how much was known about the bombers.

He added: “There has been far too much covering up going on, and there is overwhelming case for a public inquiry to get to the bottom of this.

“What we now know is the final proof that the Government has been distorting the truth about what they did know and they have been putting a spin on things.

“The Government doesn’t want a public inquiry because it’s going to reveal that they haven’t told us the truth.

“There is no doubt that if someone had put two and two together this could have been avoided.

“A lot of the families are really upset about this because they feel that their loved ones would still be here if mistakes hadn’t been made.”

Pairose Bond, whose 30-year-old son Jamie Gordon died in the Tavistock Square bombing, said: “The July 7 attacks could have been prevented.

“There can’t be any doubt about that now.

“The Government and the security services are not doing their job and it is high time we had an inquiry to find out exactly how much they knew.

“This Government has lied and lied, and now they are getting found out. When something goes wrong they just talk rubbish.

“I am deeply disappointed in them all because we put them into government to protect us and they are not doing that.”

Rachel North, who survived the blast on the Piccadilly Line train, said: “I remember that

Charles Clarke (the then Home Secretary) said after July 7 that ‘these bombings came out of the blue, these men are cleanskins’.

“It was tempting to believe that these guys had never been known to the police or the security services, and that it was a terrible tragedy which nobody could have done anything to stop.

“When it transpired that was not the case, it was devastating.”

Calling for an independent inquiry with the power to compel witnesses to testify, Miss North added: “It should have been clear to anybody familiar with the behavioural profile of UK jihadists that these guys (Khan and Tanweer) ticked loads of boxes.

“They were driving around with terrorists, they were engaged in criminal activity to raise money, they were known to be fans of extremist preachers, they had been abroad and trained to bring the battle to the UK, they were hanging around with people planning a bomb plot – they were right at the top of the scale.

“I understand it is impossible to track every single person who might be expressing support for jihad, but these people were certainly not cleanskins.

“Until we know exactly what was known about these people how are we supposed to have trust and confidence in the Government and the security service?”

Demands for an inquiry were strongly backed by both the Tories and Liberal Democrats.

The shadow home secretary, David Davis, said: “Two facts are now crystal clear. First, our intelligence services were monitoring two of the London bombers, but stopped before July 2005.

“Second, whether deliberately or not, the Government have not told the whole truth about the circumstances and mistakes leading up to the July 7 attacks.

“As a result, after nearly two years and five Government reports, we still don’t know the truth. And that means we still can’t learn the lessons from those tragic events.

“The case for an independent inquiry into the attacks of July 2005 is now overwhelming.”

LibDem leader Sir Menzies Campbell added that “serious questions” needed to be asked about what the Government knew about the 7/7 bombers.

Melamine Filler in Animal Feed Is Open Secret in China

New York Times | Apr 30, 2007


Pieces of melamine displayed by a worker. The melamine is ground into a powder and added to animal feed as a filler to keep costs low.

As American food safety regulators head to China to investigate how a chemical made from coal found its way into pet food that killed dogs and cats in the United States, workers in this heavily polluted northern city openly admit that the substance is routinely added to animal feed as a fake protein.

For years, producers of animal feed all over China have secretly supplemented their feed with the substance, called melamine, a cheap additive that looks like protein in tests, even though it does not provide any nutritional benefits, according to melamine scrap traders and agricultural workers here.

“Many companies buy melamine scrap to make animal feed, such as fish feed,” said Ji Denghui, general manager of the Fujian Sanming Dinghui Chemical Company, which sells melamine. “I don’t know if there’s a regulation on it. Probably not. No law or regulation says ‘don’t do it,’ so everyone’s doing it. The laws in China are like that, aren’t they? If there’s no accident, there won’t be any regulation.”

Melamine is at the center of a recall of 60 million packages of pet food, after the chemical was found in wheat gluten linked this month to the deaths of at least 16 pets in the United States.

No one knows exactly how melamine (which is not believed to be particularly toxic) became so fatal in pet food, but its presence in any form of American food is illegal.

The link to China has set off concerns among critics of the Food and Drug Administration that ingredients in pet food as well as human food, which are increasingly coming from abroad, are not being adequately screened.

“They have fewer people inspecting product at the ports than ever before,” says Caroline Smith DeWaal, the director of food safety for the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington. “Until China gets programs in place to verify the safety of their products, they need to be inspected by U.S. inspectors. This open-door policy on food ingredients is an open invitation for an attack on the food supply, either intentional or unintentional.”

Now, with evidence mounting that the tainted wheat gluten came from China, American regulators have been granted permission to visit the region to conduct inspections of food treatment facilities.

The Food and Drug Administration has already banned imports of wheat gluten from China after it received more than 14,000 reports of pets believed to have been sickened by packaged food. And last week, the agency opened a criminal investigation in the case and searched the offices of at least one pet food supplier.

The Department of Agriculture has also stepped in. On Thursday, the agency ordered more than 6,000 hogs to be quarantined or slaughtered after some of the pet food ingredients laced with melamine were accidentally sent to hog farms in eight states, including California.

Scientists are now trying to determine whether melamine could be harmful to humans.

The pet food case is also putting China’s agricultural exports under greater scrutiny because the country has had a terrible food safety record.

In recent years, for instance, China’s food safety scandals have involved everything from fake baby milk formulas and soy sauce made from human hair to instances where cuttlefish were soaked in calligraphy ink to improve their color and eels were fed contraceptive pills to make them grow long and slim.

For its part, Chinese officials dispute any suggestion that melamine from the country could have killed pets. But regulators here on Friday banned the use of melamine in vegetable proteins made for export or for use in domestic food supplies.

Yet what is clear from visiting this region of northeast China is that for years melamine has been quietly mixed into Chinese animal feed and then sold to unsuspecting farmers as protein-rich pig, poultry and fish feed.

Many animal feed operators here advertise on the Internet, seeking to purchase melamine scrap. The Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Company, one of the companies that American regulators named as having shipped melamine-tainted wheat gluten to the United States, had posted such a notice on the Internet last March.

Here at the Shandong Mingshui Great Chemical Group factory, huge boiler vats are turning coal into melamine, which is then used to create plastics and fertilizer.

US and EU agree on Open Skies ‘Single Market’

BBC | Apr 30, 2007

Ms Merkel will soon be Mr Bush’s closest ally in the EU

The United States and the European Union have signed up to a new transatlantic economic partnership at a summit in Washington.

The pact is designed to boost trade and investment by harmonising regulatory standards, laying the basis for a US-EU single market.

The two sides also signed an Open Skies deal, designed to reduce fares and boost traffic on transatlantic flights.

But little of substance was agreed on climate change.

However, EU leaders were pleased that the US acknowledged human activity was a major cause.

Richest regions

Economics rather than the environment or politics was the focus of the summit, says the BBC’s Europe correspondent, Jonny Dymond, from Washington.

The two sides agreed to set up an “economic council” to push ahead with regulatory convergence in nearly 40 areas, including intellectual property, financial services, business takeovers and the motor industry.
The aim is to increase trade and lower costs.

Some reports suggest that incompatible regulations in the world’s two richest regions add 10% to the cost of developing and producing new cars.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said last month that if the US and EU could set business norms today, they would “secure the markets of tomorrow”.

Since she came to office 18 months ago, she has made repairing damaged relations with the US a top priority.

Emission cuts

The Europeans said they were pleased that the US now officially acknowledged that climate change was happening and that human activity was a major cause of it.

“We agree there’s a threat, there’s a very serious global threat,” said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

“We agree that there is a need to reduce emissions. We agree that we should work together.”

But behind the scenes, says our Europe correspondent, officials were saying that not much had changed.

Ms Merkel will try to nudge the US towards a global approach to climate change before a G8 summit Germany is chairing in six weeks’ time, says our correspondent.

But the US has consistently rejected the European approach of imposing national limits on greenhouse gas emissions, saying they would harm the international economy.

Visa hope

The Open Skies agreement will take effect on 30 March 2008 and will allow EU carriers to fly to anywhere in the US and vice versa.

The deal promises to lower airfares and widen choice for passengers on both sides of the Atlantic.

The EU hopes to go further and create an “Open Aviation Area” between the two sides “in which investment can flow freely and in which European and US airlines can provide air services without any restriction,” said a EU statement.

The EU is also hoping that the US will agree to withdraw its visa requirement for travellers from a number of EU states.