Daily Archives: May 13, 2007

MoD’s latest propaganda weapon … Harry, the war movie

Daily Mail | May 13, 2007

ON FILM: An MoD crew will follow the Prince in Iraq

Defence chiefs are planning to let a camera crew follow Prince Harry during his tour of duty in Iraq.

The Ministry of Defence crew will film him while on operations, with footage being released to television channels and on the internet.

Harry’s commanders hope the film, being dubbed Desert Prince, will inflict a propaganda defeat upon insurgent groups which have been using videos of hostages and wreckages of British aircraft to publicise their causes.

The MoD will scrutinise its coverage for any information which could be used by insurgents to locate Prince Harry – one group has already threatened to kidnap him and cut off his ears.

News of the film follows the delay of Prince Harry’s deployment to Iraq. The Prince, 22, was held back from the recent handover between units as it was feared his arrival would be too disruptive.

Most members of his Household Cavalry Regiment are already in Basra on a six-month tour of duty.

The Prince is now expected to be given a role in Iraq which would rarely involve him leaving the confines of British bases.

He is no longer going to be utilised as a reconnaissance troop commander – the job he trained for – as this is now considered too dangerous.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “We need to consider how we are going to handle the huge interest in Prince Harry. Operational security remains of paramount importance.”

The former Conservative Homeland Security spokesman, Patrick Mercer, said: “They will have to be very careful not to give away Prince Harry’s general location. If this goes wrong, it will come back to haunt them.

“That said, it’s a bold move and a very positive piece of propaganda.”

Hookers, spies, coups and cash…how BP spent £45m to win ‘Wild East’ oil rights

Daily Mail | May 12, 2007

“Our progress on the oil contracts improved considerably after the coups.”
BP executives working for Lord Browne spent millions of pounds on champagne-fuelled sex parties to help secure lucrative international oil contracts.

The company also worked with MI6 to help bring about changes in foreign governments, according to an astonishing account of life inside the oil giant.

Les Abrahams, who led BP’s successful bid for a multi-million-pound deal with one of the former Soviet republics, today claims that Browne – who was forced to resign as chief executive last month after the collapse of legal proceedings against The Mail on Sunday – presided over an “anything goes” regime of sexual licence, spying and financial sweeteners.

He also claims that Home Secretary John Reid was arrested at gunpoint on a BP-funded foreign trip for being out on the streets after a military curfew had been imposed.

Mr Abrahams tells how he spent £45 million in expenses over just four months of negotiations with Azerbaijan’s state oil company.

Armed with a no-limit company credit card, he ordered supplies of champagne and caviar to be flown on company jets into the boomtown capital, Baku, to be consumed at the “sex parties”.

The hospitality continued in London, where prostitutes were hired on the BP credit card to entertain visiting Azerbaijanis.

Mr Abrahams, an engineer by training, joined BP in 1991, just as the disintegration of the Soviet Union had triggered a “new gold rush” by oil multi-nationals seeking a share of the 200 billion barrels of oil reserves beneath the Caspian Sea.

While employed by BP, Mr Abrahams says he was persuaded to work for MI6 by John Scarlett, now head of the service but then its head of station in Moscow.

He says he was passing information to Scarlett in faxes and at one-to-one meetings in the Russian capital.

He also claims that BP was working closely with MI6 at the highest levels to help it to win business in the region and influence the political complexion of governments.

Mr Abrahams worked for BP’s XFI unit – Exploring Frontiers International – which specialises in opening new markets in often unstable parts of the world.

He said Lord Browne, then BP’s head of exploration, allocated a budget of £45 million to cover the first year’s costs of the Baku operation.

“The order came from Browne’s aides to ‘get them anything they want’.

“By ‘them’, they meant local officials in Azerbaijan,” Mr Abrahams said.

“There were 20 or 30 people working on it at BP head office, and we soon had a steady stream of executives coming over as negotiators. We got through the money in just four months – after which it was simply increased without question.”

He described a Wild West world in which oil executives with briefcases full of dollars rubbed shoulders with mafia members, prostitutes and fixers and cut their deals in smoke-filled back rooms.

“The BP officials would come out to Baku in groups of five or six, every week,” he said.

“Sometimes I would charter an entire Boeing 757 to carry as few as seven staff. Their main base was the hard currency bar of the old Intourist hotel – so named because it accepted only dollars and was only open to foreigners.

“It was full of prostitutes and many of us, including me, used them on a regular basis, although we quickly established they all worked for the KGB.

“If we went back to the rooms, not only were they bugged, but the girls would quiz us closely about what we were doing and where we were going, and reported straight back to their handlers.

“Everywhere was bugged, and all the phones were tapped. One of our executives was recorded saying unflattering things about the president, and his comments were played back to us in a meeting with local state oil company officials.

“We were then told clearly that he was no longer welcome in the country.”

Mr Abrahams helped to forge links with the local officials by throwing lavish parties. He said the Azerbaijani girls who worked in the BP office, which occupied a floor of the Sovietskaya hotel, would attend the parties and routinely provide “sexual favours”.

They were also presumed to work for the local intelligence services.

“There was one girl, called Natasha, assigned to teach us Russian, but it usually ended up as more that that. She would use the intimate opportunity to ask us questions about what we were up to.

“Caviar and champagne were consumed at the parties, which would start in the bars but inevitably end with the girls in the rooms.

“We had a company American Express card with no name on it which we could use to draw out $10,000 a time to pay for entertaining without ever having to account for it.

“Our local fixer was called ‘Zulfie’, who would help find girls, drink and occasionally hashish. We always suspected he worked for the KGB, because he was so well connected.

“A lot of the BP men’s marriages went wrong. Either they ended up with the local girls, or the wives would find out – often because the girls would ring their home numbers “by accident”.

“I don’t believe that Browne didn’t know everything that was going on. He came out to Baku on five or six occasions.”

Mr Abrahams, who left BP in 1994, said his first marriage buckled because of his work in Baku. He has since remarried and lives in West London with his new wife Lana and six-year-old daughter Anastasia. He now works as an adviser to the EU.

He said BP applied the same laissez-faire attitude to hospitality when Azerbaijani officials came to the UK during the negotiations.

“I was given a hotline number which connected to a desk in the Foreign Office. It meant visas could be granted instantly for the Azerbaijanis and collected on arrival at the airport, rather than taking the usual several weeks.

“We had bundles of cash to spend on them when they got here, and could again use the corporate card without restraint.

“We would typically have a dinner at which Lord Browne would be present, then he would go home and we would head off to somewhere like the Gaslight Club in Piccadilly – where girls would dance topless and you would get charged £250 for your drink.

“Our guests would usually want girls to go back with afterwards. Sometimes we could persuade the girls in the clubs, but more often we would just phone up an escort agency.

“We could charge them straight to the BP Amex card. But it sometimes became problematic. One group of Khazak Oil officials stripped their hotel rooms in Aberdeen bare, including the sheets and pillowcases, and they would usually clear out the minibars wherever they were staying.”

All the entertaining paid off in September 1992 when BP signed a £300 million deal to exploit the Shah Deniz oilfields.

Mr Abrahams says that a key factor in securing the deal was an £8 million payment BP made that year to SOCAR, the state-owned oil company in Azerbaijan, for the right to use a construction yard on the edge of the Caspian Sea.

“It was effectively a sweetener to help to secure the deal – and it worked,” he said.

Among the guests at a dinner and ceremony at Baku’s Gulistan Palace to celebrate the Shah Deniz deal were Lord Browne and Baroness Thatcher.

Mr Abrahams says he was told to ensure that everything ran smoothly for the event, including meeting Browne’s fastidious requirements.

“I had his favourite brand of water, Hildon, and his preferred foods flown out in advance, and I made sure money was paid for police escorts and to circumvent immigration procedures at the airport for Browne and his entourage.

“That evening, he personally handed me a briefcase containing a cheque for $30 million (£15million), to close the deal.

“He was so keen to wear a particular shirt, which he had left at the airport, that I persuaded the chief of police to close off the roads so his cavalcade could go via the airport to collect it.”

In 1993, Mr Abrahams played host to a group of MPs who visited Baku as guests of BP, including Harold Elletson – then a Tory MP but now an adviser to the Liberal Democrats – and Home Secretary John Reid, a Shadow Defence Minister at the time.

“John flew out in the BP Gulfstream jet,” he recalls.

“After dinner, we went drinking in the hard currency bar. He was drinking a lot – this was a year before he gave up for good – and I grew worried as it got closer to the time of the curfew imposed because of the tense political situation at the time.

“I said, ‘Come on John, we have to get back to the hotel.’ But as we left, he was swaying around and being very noisy.

“I urged him not to draw attention to us because we weren’t meant to be still on the streets. But then a van load of police armed with Kalashnikovs pulled up and asked us what we were doing.

“He said, ‘I am a British politician…’ I urged him to be quiet, but then he said to one of the policemen, ‘If you don’t take that f***ing Kalashnikov out of my face I’m going to stick it up your f***ing a***.’

“With that, we were arrested and shoved at gunpoint into the back of the van.

“It was only after I persuaded the driver to go to the hotel to speak to the intelligence officer there that they released us. John had only about two hours’ sleep, then was up at 5.30am to fly to the nearby war zone of Nagorno Karabakh. He was completely hung over.”

Some of Mr Abrahams’ most intriguing claims surround the alleged co-operation between BP and the British intelligence services to secure a more pro-Western, pro-business regime in the country.

He says the operation, masterminded by Scarlett in Moscow, contributed to the coup in May 1992 which saw President Ayaz Mutalibov toppled by Abulfaz Elchibey, and then to a second change a year later which saw Haydar Aliyev take power.

Just months after Aliyev was installed, BP signed the so-called ‘contract of the century’, a £5 billion deal which placed BP at the head of an oil exporting consortium.

John Scarlett, says Mr Abrahams, “approached me very subtly and asked me to help to gather information for him.

“Because my daily route to the construction yard passed the supply routes for Nagorno Karabakh, he asked me to report on troop and weapons movements. And BP’s deputy representative in Russia seemed very close to the embassy, too.

“BP supported both coups, both through discreet moves and open political support. Our progress on the oil contracts improved considerably after the coups.”

Subsequently released Turkish secret service documents claimed BP had discussed an ‘arms for oil’ deal with the assistance of MI6, under which the company would use intermediaries to supply weapons to Aliyev’s supporters in return for the contract.

When the documents emerged in 2000, BP denied supplying arms – although sources admitted its representatives had “discussed the possibility”.

A BP spokesman said last night of Mr Abrahams’ claims: “There are some facts in his account that are accurate, but we don’t recognise most of it. We regard it as fantasy.”

A spokeswoman for John Reid said she had no comment and the Foreign Office said of Mr Abrahams’ claims: “We neither confirm nor deny anyone’s allegations in relation to intelligence matters.”

Power to the people —- boycott China

The Daily Times | May 10, 2007    

The most serious import threat American consumers have ever had to face is right under our noses and the people in government who ought to be protecting us are using side-stepping, slippery language that ought to raise alarms, but does not.

The agency is the Food and Drug Administration and last week, they warned American drug makers to be “especially vigilant” and on the lookout for the substitution of diethylene glycol for glycerin in cough syrups, fever medication and some food products.

Diethylene glycol is the poisonous ingredient in antifreeze that kills animals attracted to its sweet taste.

What the FDA didn’t mention was where to look for it. They didn’t mention China.

An Associated Press report says the FDA rarely rejects food ingredients from China.

The AP report said that former FDA employees said, “They simply don’t rank high on the agency’s priority list of items to inspect.”

China was just exposed — again — for exporting medicines using diethylene glycol in place of glycerin.

Drug manufacturing plants in China were connected to a large number of deaths of children because of diethylene glycol in medicine in 1992 in Bangladesh.

This time, it’s Panama and the death toll is 365 and counting. They’re exhuming bodies down there, looking at a large number of unexplained deaths that might be connected.

Last month, we were counting up a growing number of dead pets because a Chinese plant put melamine in wheat gluten used by American pet food manufacturers.

Yeah, melamine is the same plastic stuff from which we make dishes.

We have a trade deficit with China. They profit. We lose. They have an irresponsible government with a lousy human rights history. The Bush administration continues to grant China its Most-Favored-Nation trade status.

Our FDA, for budgetary or whatever reasons, doesn’t protect us from China’s use of poisonous ingredients in food and medicine. Why are we dealing with China? Why don’t we boycott them?

China is poisoning the World

BLiTZ | May 9, 2007

In a masterful piece of investigative reporting, the New York Times describes how unregulated Chinese chemical companies have shipped tons of deadly diethylene glycol (anti-freeze) around the world mislabeled as food/pharmaceutical grade glycerin, killing thousands of people in at least seven countries.

In fact, by the time the diethylene glycol wound up in countries ranging from Panama to India and Bangladesh, the manufacturer’s name had long been removed from the containers, and falsified test results had been added stating that the contents were 99.5% pure glycerin. Instead, the drums contained almost pure diethylene glycol with several contaminants.

In at least one drug poisoning incident in Bangladesh, doctors estimate that thousands, or even tens of thousands of people were killed after taking a fever medication made with diethylene glycol rather than glycerin. In a more recent incident in Panama, hundreds of people were killed after drinking cough syrup made with diethylene glycol.

The article at the New York Times is very well written and I recommend that everyone read it carefully, and then think about how many foods and pharmaceuticals they and their families consume without any idea where the ingredients in those products came from. The USDA and FDA currently only test a minuscule fraction of the foods and drugs sold in the US.

China is giving us a firsthand look at what happens when America exports unregulated capitalism to the rest of the world. Republicans and Libertarians alike believe that capitalism can be self-regulating in the absence of government oversight. China and other developing capitalist countries prove this notion completely false.
Republicans and Libertarians want to further deregulate American industry while simultaneously dismantling oversight agencies such as the FDA and the USDA. If they can’t eliminate these agencies, they will de-fund them and staff them with corporate cronies.

It is likely that the recent revelations about tainted pet food and now tainted pharmaceuticals are just the tip of the iceberg. The diethylene glycol contamination from China has been going on since at least 1992 without being disclosed to the general public. It seems very likely that many more such incidences of food and drug contamination have gone unreported as yet.

It is also interesting to note that glycerin is a common ingredient in certain pet foods and that diethylene glycol causes kidney failure as in the case of the recent pet poisonings. It would be useful, I think, for the FDA to test tainted pet foods for the presence of this toxic solvent.

Republicans and Libertarians beware of what you wish for; you just might just reap the “benefits” of unregulated capitalism in your child’s next bottle of cough syrup.

Now drivers face ban on smoking at the wheel

The Observer | May 13, 2007

Britain’s senior road safety campaigners are calling for a ban on smoking while driving, in an attempt to cut the number of crashes.

The Department of Health said last night that it would seriously consider a ban, which is also being looked at in Germany, Australia and America. The move was backed by anti-smoking campaigners but drew criticism from others as an attack on personal freedom. From 1 July, England will join the rest of the UK by introducing a ban on smoking in enclosed public places and at work.

The Local Authority Road Safety Officers’ Association, which represents councils – responsible for the majority of Britain’s roads – will meet transport officials within weeks to ask them to pass a ban on smoking at the wheel.

The association claims that drivers are in danger when they take their hands off the wheel to find, light and smoke cigarettes, and are particularly at risk if a lit cigarette or ash falls in the car or is blown back through the window. The organisation, which represents 180 of Britain’s 200 local roads authorities, fears that once people who drive are stopped from lighting up in other places from 1 July, they will smoke more while in their own cars.

‘Driving is a complicated business, especially with the high volume of traffic motorists have to contend with these days. It’s not an area where you can multi-task,’ said Simon Ettinghausen, a spokesman for the association. He said the existing law banning the use of hand-held mobile phones in cars showed special bans were more effective than general road-safety legislation.

‘In this country, we’re libertarians, we like to give people freedoms, but if you are distracted unfortunately your freedom to do these things can affect other people’s lives,’ he added. Last year there were 3,201 deaths on Britain’s roads.

The Department of Health said it was ‘looking at how we can get further momentum towards smoking cessation beyond the introduction of the smoking ban in England’.

‘We are looking at further proposals and this could be one of them. If the road safety officers put information and evidence before us about this, and explain the case for it, we would study it,’ said a spokeswoman.

Amanda Sandford of the campaign group Action on Smoking and Health said: ‘We fully support this proposal. Not so long ago it would have seemed inconceivable that we would have a total ban on smoking across the country, but in a few years time people will think it’s inconceivable that we allow people to continue to smoke while driving.’

Andrew Lansley, the Conservative shadow Health Secretary, condemned the plan as a denial of citizens’ rights to decide how they behave in their own personal space. ‘Parliament hasn’t accepted the completely anti-libertarian view that people can’t do what they like in their own homes and own cars,’ he said.

Poll: Congress, Bush Share Low Approval

Guardian | May 11, 2007


Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi makes eyes at President George W. Bush

People think the Democratic-led Congress is doing just as dreary a job as President Bush, following four months of bitter political standoffs and little progress on Iraq and a host of domestic issues.

An AP-Ipsos poll also found that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a more popular figure than the president and her colleagues on Capitol Hill, though she faces a gender gap in which significantly more women than men support her.

The survey found only 35 percent approve of how Congress is handling its job, down 5 percentage points in a month. That gives lawmakers the same bleak approval rating as Bush, who has been mired at about that level since last fall, including his dip to a record low for the AP-Ipsos poll of 32 percent last January.

“It’s mostly Iraq” plus a lack of progress in other areas, said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., who heads the House GOP’s campaign committee. “These are not good numbers for an incumbent, and it doesn’t matter if you have an ‘R’ or a ‘D’ next to your name.”

Democrats agree that the problem is largely Iraq, which has dominated this year’s session of Congress while producing little more than this month’s Bush veto of a bill requiring the withdrawal of U.S. troops. It has also overshadowed House-passed bills on stem cell research, student loans and other subjects that the White House opposes, they say.

“People are unhappy, there hasn’t been a lot of change in direction, for example in Iraq,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., chairman of House Democrats’ campaign effort.

Rising gasoline prices could also be a factor, lawmakers said.

In another measure of popular discontent, the survey found that 71 percent say the country is on the wrong track – about even with the 73 percent who said so last May, the worst level since the AP-Ipsos poll began in December 2003.

The survey was taken Monday through Wednesday, before Bush offered to seek compromise with congressional Democrats over a war spending bill setting benchmarks for progress in Iraq.

Bush told reporters Thursday that if pollsters had asked his opinion about Iraq last fall, “I’d have said I disapprove of what was going on in Iraq. They could have put me down as part of the disapproval process.”

That was before his decision to send nearly 30,000 additional troops to Iraq, which “would more likely cause me to approve of what’s going on in Iraq,” he added.

Overall approval of Bush was steady from last month, but fell to 69 percent among Republicans, about 7 percentage points below where it had been in April. Earlier this week, a group of GOP moderate House members warned Bush that the status quo in Iraq could mean Republican election losses next year.

“If the war doesn’t begin to turn around, Republicans will have problems,” said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who said he supports Bush’s Iraq policy.

White House spokesman Tony Snow declined to comment on the poll.

Congress’ approval rating this week was 10 points higher than a year ago, when Republicans were in control.

But after bumping up in April, this month’s drop left lawmakers’ job approval where it was when the year began. April saw Congress defy Bush and send him a bill financing the war and requiring a troop withdrawal, which he vetoed May 1.

“People wanted change in Washington” on many issues, not just Iraq, said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., a member of the House Democratic leadership. “I’m not surprised about where people are. They’re hearing only about Iraq.”

Congress’ reduced appeal was evident in several categories of people. Only 48 percent of Democrats said they approved of Congress, down from 55 percent last month. That included a 12 percentage point drop among Democratic women, though support from Democratic men remained steady.

Approval by minorities also fell a dozen points to 39 percent, with a similar reduction among people whose family incomes exceed $75,000.

By region, the steepest drop was in the Midwest, where approval fell by 10 percentage points to 28 percent. Congress’ highest approval was in the Northeast, where four in ten gave it a positive rating.

As for Pelosi, D-Calif., her overall approval of 45 percent stood 10 points higher than Bush’s and Congress’.

She was seen favorably by 52 percent of women, but only 39 percent of men. While whites are closely split about her, minorities approve of her job by a 15-point margin.

Pelosi’s numbers are about where she was last month but slightly lower than in January. In the last month, she has lost significant support from younger voters, college-educated women and Westerners.

“Voters are frustrated by the fact that the president refuses to change direction on Iraq,” said Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly.

Bush’s approval ratings are lowest for his handling of Iraq and domestic issues including health care, with about one-third seeing him favorably. About four in 10 like the job he is doing on the economy and foreign policy.

Men give the president higher grades than women do, whites higher than minorities, and married people higher than singles.

The AP-Ipsos survey involved telephone interviews with 1,000 adults. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Ian Fleming linked to witch operation to safeguard D-Day secrets

MI-6 News | May 13, 2007

Ian Fleming helped to gag medium in operation to safeguard D-Day secrets, reports Paul Kelbie in The Observer.

More than 60 years on, the case of Helen Duncan, the last woman in Britain to be jailed for witchcraft, refuses to die. As her supporters seek a posthumous pardon, evidence has emerged that she may have been the victim of a plot involving British intelligence agents, including Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond.

In the 1940s Duncan, a Dundee housewife and mother of six, travelled the country performing seances for a war-weary public often seeking reassurance about their loved ones. As a ‘materialisation medium’, which involved her going into a trance and producing ‘ectoplasm’ through which spirits would take on earthly features to communicate with the living, Duncan built a reputation as one of spiritualism’s greatest heroines.

However, during a sitting in Portsmouth on 19 January, 1944, Duncan, 47, fell foul of the security services when a sailor from HMS Barham is alleged to have formed in ectoplasm and greeted his surprised mother sitting in the audience. His death had been kept a secret by the Admiralty, which had been trying to conceal news of the ship’s sinking three months earlier.

Fears that Duncan had access to secret information alerted the security services, and an investigation led to her trial at the Old Bailey, accused of contravening the Witchcraft Act of 1735 by pretending to ‘bring about the appearances of the spirits of deceased persons’. She was jailed for nine months.

At a time when the military authorities were anxious to keep plans of the Allied invasion of occupied France secret, Duncan and other psychics were seen as a potential threat to security. Drawing on new research and trial documents released to the National Archive, an academic and award-winning film-maker, Robert Hartley, has claimed that the evidence points to a state conspiracy to crack down on security leaks ahead of D-Day by making an example of Duncan.

‘In the run-up to D-Day, the authorities were paranoid about potential security leaks and Duncan was in danger of disclosing military secrets during her seances,’ said Hartley. ‘Helen Duncan was giving out very accurate information. There were other mediums round the country giving out news on soldiers that had died and someone in authority took it seriously, whatever the source of the information. D-Day was coming up and it was absolutely essential to keep the Allied deception plans intact.’

After examining all the documents, Hartley believes there is evidence to suggest that Duncan’s conviction by an Old Bailey jury in March 1944 was unsafe. In a new book, Helen Duncan: The Mystery Show Trial, he suggests that among those responsible for the conspiracy to convict Duncan was Fleming, a key figure in the naval intelligence services, and John Maude, the prosecuting counsel at the trial. ‘I am convinced naval intelligence were working with MI5, and when I began looking at that connection Ian Fleming’s name kept cropping up as being involved with people either involved in the case or on the sidelines,’ said Hartley.

More than half a century later, Duncan’s case remains a cause celebre, with more than 30,000 websites, translated into several languages, detailing her story. The ‘official Helen Duncan website’ claims to have received at least 42 million visitors in the last few years, leading to a worldwide campaign for justice and a petition to the government calling for the dowdy woman, who died in 1956 and is now regarded as a spiritualist martyr, to be pardoned.

Despite popular belief, Helen Duncan was not the last person to be prosecuted in Britain for witchcraft. In September 1944, after the D-Day invasion, Jane York, 72, from Forest Gate, east London, was charged with seven counts of pretending to conjure up spirits of the dead. She was bound over for the sum of £5 to be of good behaviour for three years. Duncan’s comparatively heavy sentence just months earlier has been cited as further evidence that she was being made an example of. ‘It seems clear to me that the security services conspired to imprison Helen Duncan as part of the tight security operation undertaken in the run-up to D-Day,’ said Hartley. ‘It was the Admiralty’s view that she posed a security risk that needed to be dealt with.

‘I appreciate that the conspiracy was undertaken with the intention to protect the lives of allied servicemen and women but now, over 60 years later, it is time to put right this wrong, otherwise it continues to undermine the very rights our nation was fighting for.’