Daily Archives: May 14, 2007

Parents upset by mock shooting attack staged on class trip

Seattle Times | May 14, 2007

Staff members of an elementary school staged a fictitious gun attack on students during a class trip, telling them it was not a drill as the children cried and hid under tables.

The mock attack Thursday night was intended as a learning experience and lasted five minutes during the weeklong trip to a state park, said Scales Elementary School Assistant Principal Don Bartch, who led the trip.

“We got together and discussed what we would have done in a real situation,” he said.

But parents of the sixth-grade students were outraged.

“The children were in that room in the dark, begging for their lives, because they thought there was someone with a gun after them,” said Brandy Cole, whose son went on the trip.

Some parents said they were upset by the staff’s poor judgment in light of the April 16 shootings at Virginia Tech that left 33 students and professors dead, including the gunman.

During the last night of the trip, staff members convinced the 69 students that there was a gunman on the loose. They were told to lie on the floor or hide underneath tables and stay quiet. A teacher, disguised in a hooded sweat shirt, even pulled on the locked door.

After the lights went out, about 20 kids started to cry, 11-year-old Shay Naylor said.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God,’ ” she said. “At first I thought I was going to die. We flipped out.”

Principal Catherine Stephens declined to say whether the staff members involved would face disciplinary action, but said the situation “involved poor judgment.”

007’s creator ‘was in plot to frame witch’

The Observer | May 13, 2007

Ian Fleming helped to gag medium in operation to safeguard D-Day secrets

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.’

Children ‘bad for planet’ says environmentalist group

Prison Planet | May 7, 2007

HAVING large families should be frowned upon as an environmental misdemeanour in the same way as frequent long-haul flights, driving a big car and failing to reuse plastic bags, says a report to be published today by a green think tank.

The paper by the Optimum Population Trust will say that if couples had two children instead of three they could cut their family’s carbon dioxide output by the equivalent of 620 return flights a year between London and New York.

John Guillebaud, co-chairman of OPT and emeritus professor of family planning at University College London, said: “The effect on the planet of having one child less is an order of magnitude greater than all these other things we might do, such as switching off lights.

“The greatest thing anyone in Britain could do to help the future of the planet would be to have one less child.”

In his latest comments, the academic says that when couples are planning a family they should be encouraged to think about the environmental consequences.

“The decision to have children should be seen as a very big one and one that should take the environment into account,” he added.

Professor Guillebaud says that, as a general guideline, couples should produce no more than two offspring.

The world’s population is expected to increase by 2.5 billion to 9.2 billion by 2050. Almost all the growth will take place in developing countries.

The population of developed nations is expected to remain unchanged and would have declined but for migration.

The British fertility rate is 1.7. The EU average is 1.5. Despite this, Professor Guillebaud says rich countries should be the most concerned about family size as their children have higher per capita carbon dioxide emissions.

Reminder: May 14th is Wiretap the Internet Day

Wired | May 11, 2007

May 14th is the official deadline for cable modem companies, DSL providers, broadband over powerline, satellite internet companies and some universities to finish wiring up their networks with FBI-friendly surveillance gear, to comply with the FCC’s expanded interpretation of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act.

Congress passed CALEA in 1994 to help FBI eavesdroppers deal with digital telecom technology. The law required phone companies to make their networks easier to wiretap. The results: on mobile phone networks, where CALEA tech has 100% penetration, it’s credited with boosting the number of court-approved wiretaps a carrier can handle simultaneously, and greatly shortening the time it takes to get a wiretap going. Cops can now start listening in less than a day.

Now that speed and efficiency is coming to internet surveillance. While CALEA is all about phones, the Justice Department began lobbying the FCC in 2002 to reinterpret the law as applying to the internet as well. The commission obliged, and last June a divided federal appeals court upheld the expansion 2-1. (The dissenting judge called the FCC’s position “gobbledygook.” But he was outnumbered.)

So, if you’re a broadband provider (separately, some VOIP companies are covered too) … Hurry! The deadline has already passed to file an FCC form 445 (.pdf), certifying that you’re on schedule, or explaining why you’re not. You can also find the 68-page official industry spec for internet surveillance here. It’ll cost you $164.00 to download, but then you’ll know exactly what format to use when delivering customer packets to federal or local law enforcement, including “e-mail, instant messaging records, web-browsing information and other information sent or received through a user’s broadband connection, including on-line banking activity.”

There are also third party brokers who will handle all this for you for a fee. 

It’s worth noting that the new requirements don’t alter the legal standards for law enforcement to win court orders for internet wiretaps. Fans of CALEA expansion argue that it therefore won’t increase the number of Americans under surveillance.

That’s wrong, of course.  Making surveillance easier and faster gives law enforcement agencies of all stripes more reason to eschew old-fashioned police work in favor of spying. The telephone CALEA compliance deadline was in 2002, and since then the amount of court-ordered surveillance has nearly doubled from 2,586 applications granted that year, to 4,015 orders in 2006.

Security expert calls feds absurdly secret

UPI | May 13, 2007

Unjustified U.S. government secrecy is reaching absurd levels, say some experts who monitor classified information.

“We’re back to a real rising tide of secrecy,” said Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, which last year helped expose a federal program to make secret millions of records once available to the public.

Blanton spoke Saturday at the Freedom of Information Summit in Seattle, where more than 100 open-government advocates discussed subjects ranging from John Lennon to myths about identity theft, said the Seattle Times.

An example of absurd government secrecy, Blanton said, involved a CIA report on terrorism that described a “Group of the Martyr Ebenezer Scrooge” planning to “sabotage the annual courier flight of the Government of the North Pole” imperiling “Prime Minister and Chief Courier S. Claus.”

A government-watchdog group obtained the report from the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library.

When it asked the CIA for the same report, it received the document entirely blacked out, apparently, in order to protect national security, the newspaper reported.

FBI: Domestic Extremists Primary Threat

Chicago Tribune | May 13, 2007

The primary threat now comes from an unknown number of people with no criminal backgrounds and few if any ties to militants overseas.

Even as the FBI hails as a major success story its breakup of an alleged plot by “radical Islamists” to kill soldiers at Ft. Dix, N.J., federal authorities acknowledge that the case has underscored a troubling vulnerability in the domestic war on terrorism.

They say the FBI cannot possibly counter the growing threat posed by homegrown extremists without the help of two often unreliable allies.

One is an American public that is prone to averting its attention from suspicious behavior and often reluctant to get involved. The other is a small but growing army of informants, some of whom might be in it for the wrong reasons, such as money, political ax-grinding or their own legal problems.

Such dependence on amateurs is “not something that we would like. It’s something that we absolutely need,” said agent J.P. Weis, who heads the FBI’s Philadelphia field office and the South Jersey Joint Terrorism Task Force, which conducted the Ft. Dix probe.

Weis and other FBI and Justice Department officials acknowledged they probably never would have known about the six men and their alleged plans had it not been for a Circuit City employee who reported a suspicious video to police. And, they said, an FBI informant was instrumental in gathering the evidence needed to file charges against the men by infiltrating their circle for 16 months.

The primary threat now comes from an unknown number of people with no criminal backgrounds and few if any ties to militants overseas.

In recent years, authorities have arrested about 60 people from the much larger pool of angry and disaffected people, charging them with terrorism, according to federal officials. Many of them do not fit an easily identifiable profile, which also was true of some of the men arrested last week in and around Cherry Hill, N.J.

Bureau officials conceded they are disappointed that more people don’t come forward with tips. “A lot of times people think that someone else will report it,” Weis said.

The bureau also has spent millions of dollars cultivating paid informants. But in some cases the FBI has been accused of not vetting its sources or of allowing them to pressure suspects into committing illegal acts or even entrapping them.

Billions in Oil Missing in Iraq, U.S. Study Says

Infowars.net | May 12, 2007

Between 100,000 and 300,000 barrels a day of Iraq’s declared oil production over the past four years is unaccounted for and could have been siphoned off through corruption or smuggling, according to a draft American government report.

Using an average of $50 a barrel, the report said the discrepancy was valued at $5 million to $15 million daily.

The report does not give a final conclusion on what happened to the missing fraction of the roughly two million barrels pumped by Iraq each day, but the findings are sure to reinforce longstanding suspicions that smugglers, insurgents and corrupt officials control significant parts of the country’s oil industry.

The report also covered alternative explanations for the billions of dollars worth of discrepancies, including the possibility that Iraq has been consistently overstating its oil production.

Iraq and the State Department, which reports the numbers, have been under relentless pressure to show tangible progress in Iraq by raising production levels, which have languished well below the United States goal of three million barrels a day. Virtually the entire economy of Iraq is dependent on oil revenues.

The draft report, expected to be released within the next week, was prepared by the United States Government Accountability Office with the help of government energy analysts, and was provided to The New York Times by a separate government office that received a review copy. The accountability office declined to provide a copy or to discuss the draft.

Paul Anderson, a spokesman for the office, said only that “we don’t discuss draft reports.”

But a State Department official who works on energy issues said that there were several possible explanations for the discrepancy, including the loss of oil through sabotage of pipelines and inaccurate reporting of production in southern Iraq, where engineers may not properly account for water that is pumped along with oil in the fields there.

“It could also be theft,” the official said, with suspicion falling primarily on Shiite militias in the south. “Crude oil is not as lucrative in the region as refined products, but we’re not ruling that out either.”

Iraqi and American officials have previously said that smuggling of refined products like gasoline and kerosene is probably costing Iraq billions of dollars a year in lost revenues. The smuggling of those products is particularly feared because officials believe that a large fraction of the proceeds go to insurgent groups. Crude oil is much more difficult to smuggle because it must be shipped to refineries and turned into the more valuable refined products before it can be sold on the market.

The Shiite militia groups hold sway around the rich oil fields of southern Iraq, which dominate the country’s oil production, the State Department official said. For that reason, he said, the Shiite militias are more likely to be involved in theft there than the largely Sunni insurgents, who are believed to benefit mostly from smuggling refined products in the north.

In the south, the official said, “There is not an issue of insurgency, per se, but it could be funding Shia factions, and that could very well be true.”

“That would be a concern if they were using smuggling money to blow up American soldiers or kill Sunnis or do anything that could harm the unity of the country,” the official said.

The report by the accountability office is the most comprehensive look yet at faltering American efforts to rebuild Iraq’s oil and electricity sectors. For the analysis of Iraq’s oil production, the accountability office called upon experts at the Energy Information Administration within the United States Department of Energy, which has long experience in analyzing oil production and exports worldwide.

Erik Kreil, an oil expert at the information administration who is familiar with the analysis, said a review of industry figures around the world — exports, refinery figures and other measures — could not account for all the oil that Iraq says it is producing. The administration also took into account how much crude oil was consumed internally, to do things like fuel Iraqi power plants and refine into gasoline and other products.

When all those uses of the oil were taken into consideration, Mr. Kreil said, Iraq’s stated production figures did not add up.

“Either they’re producing less, or they’re producing what they say and the difference is completely unaccounted for in any of the places we think it should go,” Mr. Kreil said. “Either it’s overly optimistic, or it’s unaccounted for.”

Several analysts outside the government agreed that such a large discrepancy indicated that there was either a major smuggling operation in place or that Iraq was incapable to generate accurate production figures.

“That’s a staggering amount of oil to lose every month,” said Philip K. Verleger Jr., an independent economist and oil expert. “But given everything else that’s been written about Iraq, it’s not a surprise.”

Mr. Verleger added that if the oil was being smuggled out of Iraq, there would be a ready market for it, particularly in smaller refineries not controlled by large Western companies in places like China, the Caribbean and even small European countries.

The report also contains the most comprehensive assessment yet of the billions of dollars the United States and Iraq spent on rebuilding the oil and electricity infrastructure, which is falling further and further behind its performance goals.

Adding together both civilian and military financing, the report concludes that the United States has spent $5.1 billion of the $7.4 billion in American taxpayer money set aside to rebuild the Iraqi electricity and oil sectors. The United States has also spent $3.8 billion of Iraqi money on those sectors, the report says.

Despite those enormous expenditures, the performance is far short of official goals, and in some cases seems to be declining further. The average output of Iraq’s national electricity grid in 2006, for example, was 4,300 megawatts, about equal to its value before the 2003 invasion. By February of this year, the figure had fallen still further, to 3,800 megawatts, the report says.

All of those figures are far short of the longstanding American goal for Iraq: 6,000 megawatts. Even more dispiriting for Iraqis, by February the grid provided power for an average of only 5.1 hours a day in Baghdad and 8.6 hours nationwide. Both of those figures are also down from last year.

The story is similar for the oil sector, where — even if the Iraqi numbers are correct — neither exports nor production have met American goals and have also declined since last year, the report says.

American reconstruction officials have continued to promote what they describe as successes in the rebuilding program, while saying that problems with security have prevented the program from achieving all of its goals. But federal oversight officials have frequently reported that the program has also suffered from inadequate oversight, poor contracting practices, graft, ineffective management and disastrous initial planning.

The discrepancies in the Iraqi oil figures are broadly reminiscent of the ones that turned up when some of the same energy department experts examined Iraq’s oil infrastructure in the wake of the oil-for-food scandals of the Saddam Hussein era. In a United Nations-sponsored program that was supposed to trade Iraq’s oil for food, Mr. Hussein and other smugglers were handsomely profiting from the program, investigations determined.

In reports to Congress before the 2003 invasion that ousted Mr. Hussein, the accountability office, using techniques similar to those called into play in its most recent report, determined that in early 2002, for example, 325,000 to 480,000 barrels of crude oil a day were being smuggled out of Iraq, the majority through a pipeline to Syria.

But substantial amounts also left Iraq through Jordan and Turkey, and by ship in the Persian Gulf, routes that could also be available today, said Robert Ebel, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“Any number of adjacent countries would be glad to have it if they could make some money,” Mr. Ebel said.

Mr. Ebel said the lack of modern metering equipment, or measuring devices, at Iraq’s wellheads made it especially difficult to track smuggling there. The State Department official agreed that there were no meters at the wellheads, but said that Iraq’s Oil Ministry had signed a contract with Shell Oil to study the possibility of putting in the meters.

The official added that an American-financed project to install meters on Iraq’s main oil platform in the Persian Gulf was scheduled to be completed this month.

As sizable as a discrepancy of as much as 300,000 barrels a day would be in most parts of the world, some analysts said it could be expected in a country with such a long, ingrained history of corruption.

“It would be surprising if it was not the case,” said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, which closely follows security and economic issues in Iraq. He added, “How could the oil sector be the exception?”