Daily Archives: December 3, 2008

15 dirty cops snared in drug conspiracy sting

FBI agents stage sting to snare corrupt Ill. Cops

AP | Dec 2, 2008

By MIKE ROBINSON

CHICAGO (AP) — Duffel bags stuffed with cocaine were delivered by plane to an out-of-the-way suburban airport while two sheriff’s officers provided security. A police officer stood by to guard the cash and keep out the riffraff at a poker game where $100,000 changed hands. And a drug dealer was told squad cars marked “sheriff” and “sheriff’s police” might be available on a “freelance” basis to provide protection for his deliveries.

Such tales of law enforcement gone awry emerged in court papers Tuesday as federal prosecutors unveiled a series of elaborate sting operations aimed at officers who hired out to ride shotgun for drug deals and other criminal activities.

Related

15 lawmen charged with riding shotgun on ‘drug shipments’ in FBI sting

Feds Charge 15 Chicago Area Officers with Drug Conspiracy

Fifteen officers and two other men who had pretended to be law enforcement officers were charged with conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine or heroin or both.

But the most spectacular pretending was done by the federal agents themselves.

The pilots of the airplane were not drug runners but undercover agents. So were the gamblers who busily played hand after hand of high-stakes poker — all for show.

The drug broker who squired the officers to the airport to pick up the duffel bags was an agent. So was the drug dealer who stuffed the bags into his Mercedes-Benz.

U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald said he was dismayed to find that so many law enforcement officers had “sold out their badge.”

“When drug dealers deal drugs, they ought to be afraid of the police — not turn to them for help,” Fitzgerald said at a news conference.

Officials paid homage to an unnamed FBI agent who moved into a business in Harvey more than a year ago and set up shop as a drug broker. He soon attracted the attention of police and the corruption grew, authorities said.

They said the agent was sent in undercover because there had been reports of police corruption over the last several years in southern Cook County, including the Harvey police department. An investigation into allegations of robbery, extortion, narcotics offenses and weapons distribution is ongoing, officials said.

Those charged include 10 Cook County sheriff’s correctional officers, four Harvey police officers and one Chicago police officer.

Of the 17 defendants, 14 were arrested or surrendered Tuesday and were being immediately brought before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Mason. Two sheriff’s officers are on active duty with Army National Guard units in Afghanistan, and warrants were issued for their arrest.

If convicted of conspiracy to possess and distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine or one kilogram of heroin, the defendants would face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum of life. The maximum fine would be $4 million.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart called the alleged behavior “absolutely reprehensible.”

“The responsibility of watching over jail inmates is an important one and it’s a shame these men didn’t take that responsibility more seriously,” he said in a statement.

Each of those charged has been suspended with pay pending a hearing next week, Dart said. “That step will then lead to a request for termination,” he said.

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1 in 5 young adults has personality disorder

AP | Dec 2, 2008

By LINDSEY TANNER

CHICAGO – Almost one in five young American adults has a personality disorder that interferes with everyday life, and even more abuse alcohol or drugs, researchers reported Monday in the most extensive study of its kind.

The disorders include problems such as obsessive or compulsive tendencies and anti-social behavior that can sometimes lead to violence. The study also found that fewer than 25 percent of college-aged Americans with mental problems get treatment.

One expert said personality disorders may be overdiagnosed. But others said the results were not surprising since previous, less rigorous evidence has suggested mental problems are common on college campuses and elsewhere.

Experts praised the study’s scope — face-to-face interviews about numerous disorders with more than 5,000 young people ages 19 to 25 — and said it spotlights a problem college administrators need to address.

Study co-author Dr. Mark Olfson of Columbia University and New York State Psychiatric Institute called the widespread lack of treatment particularly worrisome. He said it should alert not only “students and parents, but also deans and people who run college mental health services about the need to extend access to treatment.”

Counting substance abuse, the study found that nearly half of young people surveyed have some sort of psychiatric condition, including students and non-students.

Personality disorders were the second most common problem behind drug or alcohol abuse as a single category. The disorders include obsessive, anti-social and paranoid behaviors that are not mere quirks but actually interfere with ordinary functioning.

The study authors noted that recent tragedies such as fatal shootings at Northern Illinois University and Virginia Tech have raised awareness about the prevalence of mental illness on college campuses.

They also suggest that this age group might be particularly vulnerable.

“For many, young adulthood is characterized by the pursuit of greater educational opportunities and employment prospects, development of personal relationships, and for some, parenthood,” the authors said. These circumstances, they said, can result in stress that triggers the start or recurrence of psychiatric problems.

The study was released Monday in Archives of General Psychiatry. It was based on interviews with 5,092 young adults in 2001 and 2002.

Olfson said it took time to analzye the data, including weighting the results to extrapolate national numbers. But the authors said the results would probably hold true today.

The study was funded with grants from the National Institutes of Health, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the New York Psychiatric Institute.

Dr. Sharon Hirsch, a University of Chicago psychiatrist not involved in the study, praised it for raising awareness about the problem and the high numbers of affected people who don’t get help.

Imagine if more than 75 percent of diabetic college students didn’t get treatment, Hirsch said. “Just think about what would be happening on our college campuses.”

The results highlight the need for mental health services to be housed with other medical services on college campuses, to erase the stigma and make it more likely that people will seek help, she said.

In the study, trained interviewers, but not psychiatrists, questioned participants about symptoms. They used an assessment tool similar to criteria doctors use to diagnose mental illness.

Dr. Jerald Kay, a psychiatry professor at Wright State University and chairman of the American Psychiatric Association’s college mental health committee, said the assessment tool is considered valid and more rigorous than self-reports of mental illness. He was not involved in the study.

Personality disorders showed up in similar numbers among both students and non-students, including the most common one, obsessive compulsive personality disorder. About 8 percent of young adults in both groups had this illness, which can include an extreme preoccupation with details, rules, orderliness and perfectionism.

Kay said the prevalence of personality disorders was higher than he would expect and questioned whether the condition might be overdiagnosed.

All good students have a touch of “obsessional” personality that helps them work hard to achieve. But that’s different from an obsessional disorder that makes people inflexible and controlling and interferes with their lives, he explained.

Obsessive compulsive personality disorder differs from the better known OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, which features repetitive actions such as hand-washing to avoid germs.

OCD is thought to affect about 2 percent of the general population. The study didn’t examine OCD separately but grouped it with all anxiety disorders, seen in about 12 percent of college-aged people in the survey.

The overall rate of other disorders was also pretty similar among college students and non-students.

Substance abuse, including drug addiction, alcoholism and other drinking that interferes with school or work, affected nearly one-third of those in both groups.

Slightly more college students than non-students were problem drinkers — 20 percent versus 17 percent. And slightly more non-students had drug problems — nearly 7 percent versus 5 percent.

In both groups, about 8 percent had phobias and 7 percent had depression.

Bipolar disorder was slightly more common in non-students, affecting almost 5 percent versus about 3 percent of students.

Body-swap illusion tricks mind into out-of-body experience

SWEDEN BODY SWAPPING

Valeria Petkova, center of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and Karolinska Institute student Andrew Ketterer, left, test the ‘body-swap’ illusion, a method whereby people can experience the illusion that either a mannequin or another person’s body is their own body Monday Dec. 1, 2008 in Stockholm. In a study presented Tuesday, neuroscientists at Stockholm’s renowned Karolinska Institute show how they got volunteers wearing virtual reality goggles to experience the illusion of swapping bodies with a mannequin and a real person. (AP Photo/Niklas Larsson)

AP | Dec 3, 2003

By KARL RITTER

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) — Shaking hands with yourself is an amusing out-of-body experience. The illusion of having your stomach slashed with a kitchen knife, not so much. Both sensations, however, felt real to most participants in a Swedish science project exploring how people can be tricked into the false perception of owning another body.

In a study presented Tuesday, neuroscientists at Stockholm’s renowned Karolinska Institute show how they got volunteers wearing virtual reality goggles to experience the illusion of swapping bodies with a mannequin and a real person.

“We were interested in a classical question that philosophers and psychologists have discussed for centuries: why we feel that the self is in our bodies,” project leader Henrik Ehrsson said. “To study this scientifically we’ve used tricks, perceptual illusions.”

It sounded intriguing enough for me to try it, though entering the laboratory on Monday, I was having second thoughts.

The first props I saw were two kitchen knives, three naked dummies and a prosthetic hand sticking out from behind a curtain.

“You have the right to say stop at anytime if you feel uncomfortable,” said Ehrsson’s colleague, Valeria Petkova, as she rubbed my left hand with electrolytic gel and attached electrodes to the middle and index fingers.

She assured me I was not in any danger. Still, a nervous tingle rushed through my body as she placed the headset over my eyes.

In the first experiment, the goggles were hooked up to CCTV cameras fitted to the head of a male mannequin, staring down at its feet. Through the headset I saw a grainy image of the dummy’s plastic torso. I tilted my head down to create the sensation I was looking down at my own body.

At that point, it didn’t feel very real. But when Petkova simultaneously brushed markers against my belly and that of the mannequin, the effect started setting in. As my brain processed the visual and tactile signals, I had a growing impression that the mannequin’s body was my own.

That was good fun, until the gleaming blade of a bread knife entered my field of vision. Petkova slid it across the dummy’s stomach, sending shivers down my spine and a pulse of anxiety through the electrodes. My heightened stress level was illustrated by a spike in a computer diagram shown to me after the experiment.

“Approximately 70-80 percent of the people experience the illusion very strongly,” Petkova said.

Apparently, I was one of them.

The second experiment was more benign. This time my headset was connected to cameras mounted on a round hat that Petkova was wearing. We faced each other, extended our right arms and shook hands.

Now that was weird: I was supposed to have the sensation of shaking hands with myself. The illusion wasn’t perfect as I couldn’t quite recognize Petkova’s grip as my own, even though that’s what the goggles meant to make me believe.

Perhaps the session was too short. The actual study, in which 87 volunteers participated, consisted of repeated sessions that gradually provided more accurate data. The results were published in PLoS One, the online journal of the Public Library of Science.

The principle finding was that under certain conditions a person can perceive another body as his or her own, even if it is of an opposite gender or an artificial body.

“These findings are of fundamental importance because they identify the perceptual processes that make us feel that we own our entire body,” the study said.

Ehrsson said the study built on a previous experiment known as the “rubber hand illusion” in which participants were manipulated to experience a rubber hand as their own.

Charles Spence, a professor of experimental psychology at the University of Oxford, said the Karolinska study was a “step up” from other research on the subject.

“This goes beyond other recent studies, where you’ve taken ownership of rubber hands and rubber legs,” said Spence, who was not involved with the study.

His only concern was whether there might be any lasting effect on participants.

“The questions is what happens if you did it much longer? If you were in there for days and weeks. Would it be like something out of Total Recall?” Spence said, referring to the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger science fiction movie about a virtual vacation that turns into a nightmare.

Ehrsson suggested the findings could be applied in research on body image disorders by exploring how people become satisfied or dissatisfied with their bodies. Another possible application could be developing more advanced versions of computer games such as Second Life, he said.

“It could lead to the next generation of virtual reality applications in games, where people have the full-blown experience of being the avatar,” Ehrsson said.

China reveals 300,000 children were made ill by tainted milk

baby_milk

Nearly 300,000 children were made sick and six may have been killed by milk tainted with the toxic plastic melamine, Beijing has said in a major revision of numbers of those affected by China’s worst recent health scare.

Telegraph | Dec 2, 2008

By Richard Spencer in Beijing

A statement posted on online government media overnight said that 294,000 babies and young children had suffered “urinary system abnormalities” after drinking formula milk from Sanlu, the company most seriously affected, and other brand names.

Previously the government said that just over 50,000 babies had received hospital treatment for kidney stones.

It also said that six babies had died – up from the previous four, a figure becoming increasingly untenable as more and more parents told their stories to Chinese-language newspapers outside the Chinese mainland.

It said five other deaths had been investigated, but melamine had been ruled out as a cause.

The melamine scandal was exposed in mid-September, and deeply damaged not only the milk industry but also the government’s reputation for ensuring food safety.

The plastic had been sold as “protein powder” and mixed into milk at collecting stations all over China, because it improved the protein readings of poor quality or watered down milk.

Some doctors had been aware for months of the problems affecting formula milk, and Sanlu itself had confirmation on August 1, but was ordered not to issue a public statement in advance of the Olympic Games.

Eventually, the government’s hand was forced by the New Zealand government, which had been informed by the dairy giant Fonterra, a joint-owner of Sanlu, and a growing number of reports in China’s own media which did not say which company was responsible.

In the latest statement, the health ministry said the numbers still sick had fallen. Of 51,900 requiring hospital in-patient treatment, 861 were still admitted and 154 were “severe sufferers”.

Li Fangping, one of a number of lawyers representing parents of children affected, said the new figures sounded accurate but probably did not include children affected by illnesses other than kidney stones, such as inflamation of the urethra or blood disorders.

The 51,900 figure covered those who were suffering from stones larger than four millimetres in diameter, the criterion used for hospital admission, he said.

Mr Li, who along with other lawyers has come under pressure to drop the threat of legal action, has had no response from Sanlu or the government to his clients’ case.

“The parents are very angry and confused about the way they were treated,” he said. “They are still very dissatisfied with the government.”

Other figures released today show that Chinese dairy exports have fallen by more than 90 per cent since the scandal broke, after a number of countries banned the use of Chinese milk powder. Egg exports were also affected after traces of melamine were found.

The chemical had also been added to animal feed.

US warned India of attack by Islamist militants, say officials

INDIA-MUMBAI/

Rapid Action Force (RAF) riot policemen stand guard near the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai November 30, 2008.

• Intelligence mentioned sea-borne assault

• Disclosure adds to public anger over security lapses

Guardian | Dec 3, 2008

The US warned India last month of a pending raid by a Pakistan-based militant group it emerged yesterday, a revelation that will add to public anger over apparent security lapses and missed chances to stop the attack on Mumbai.

Although the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined yesterday to comment on intelligence shared with allies round the world, a serving intelligence source confirmed to the Guardian that a warning had been passed to Indian counterparts.

ABC News also quoted a US intelligence officer saying the warning had been specific, of a potential attack “from the sea against hotels and business centres in Mumbai”. The terrorists used boats to land on Mumbai’s waterfront before attacking multiple targets which killed 183 people and led India to endure a four-day national nightmare.

Indian intelligence sources told NDTV news yesterday they had issued several warnings about a strike on Mumbai. The latest was issued eight days before the attack, warning that the “sea wing” of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan-based group accused by India of being behind the attack, was planning to target Mumbai.

India’s navy said a “systemic failure” of security and intelligence services led to the attacks in Mumbai, the Press Trust of India reported.

“There is perhaps a (gap) that exists and we will work to sort this out. There is a systemic failure which needs to be taken stock of,”, said Admiral Sureesh Mehta.

Fishermen’s groups have also claimed their warnings four months ago about militants using sea routes to land RDX explosives in Mumbai, assisted by gangsters, was ignored by the Indian authorities.

Since al-Qaida’s attacks of September 11 2001, almost every attack against the west has led to revelations of missed opportunities and intelligence blunders. The Bush administration was accused of missing opportunities to stop the September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, the Spanish government was accused of blunders over the Madrid train station bombings and the British government is accused of missing chances to stop the July 7 2005 bombing of London’s transport network.

But Vincent Cannistraro, a former CIA head of counter-terrorism, said yesterday the information passed on by the US was not specific. “They provided some sketchy intelligence in October that Lashkar-e-Taiba was getting ready to increase anti-Indian activity. Mumbai was mentioned because hotels kept coming up,” he said.

Hasan Gafoor, Mumbai’s police commissioner, echoed Cannistraro yesterday, saying: “There was no specific intelligence.”

Disclosure of the US warning came as Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, was due to arrive in Delhi to try to reduce tension between India and Pakistan.

The Pakistan government was yesterday deciding how to react to India’s demand that it hand over 20 people linked to terrorism as the two countries fight a battle for world opinion after the attacks on Mumbai.

India’s foreign minister said yesterday that military action was not being considered which was taken as meaning Delhi would concentrate on diplomatic means to press Pakistan to act against militants whom it claims were linked to the attacks. But Pranab Mukherjee appeared to backtrack later, saying: “I am neither making any comment on military options. What I am saying is every sovereign country has its right to protect its territorial integrity and take appropriate action as and when it feels necessary.”

India is expected to outline its case against Pakistan to Rice, based on intercepts and the testimony of the only terrorist captured alive. Amid widespread anger at the political class, Mukherjee publicly confirmed the first concrete demand aimed at Pakistan after the attacks: “We have in our demarche [diplomatic protest], asked for the arrest and handover of those persons who are settled in Pakistan and who are fugitive of Indian law,” he said.

In Mumbai both hotels turned into killing grounds have started repairs as they race to reopen. Yesterday the Oberoi Trident hotel said it hoped to start accepting guests in a fortnight. “Guests will come back to the hotel they knew,” Ketaki Narain, a spokeswoman for the Oberoi group, said.

The Taj Mahal Palace hotel has appointed a team headed by a structural engineer to help restore it to how it was before the attack.

The hotel’s lobby featured paintings by the renowned Indian artist Maqbool Fida Husain which were damaged in the shootout.

Indian media quoted Husain as announcing he would paint again: “I have decided to paint a series of paintings condemning the attack. I am sure some day the Taj will regain its glory and I hope to show these paintings there,” he said.

Bishops call for Muslim prayer rooms in all Catholic schools

muslim_prayer_room

Muslims pray: Bishops want prayer rooms opened in every Roman Catholic school (file photo)

Muslim prayer rooms should be opened in Catholic schools, say church leaders

Daily Mail | Dec 2, 2008

By Simon Caldwell

Muslim prayer rooms should be opened in every Roman Catholic school, church leaders have said.

The Catholic bishops of England and Wales also want facilities in schools for Islamic pre-prayer washing rituals.

The demands go way beyond legal requirements on catering for religious minorities.

But the bishops – who acknowledge 30 per cent of pupils at their schools hold a non-Christian faith – want to answer critics who say religious schools sow division.

The recommendations were made in a document, Catholic Schools, Children of Other Faiths and Community Cohesion.

‘If practicable, a room (or rooms) might be made available for the use of pupils and staff from other faiths for prayer,’ the bishops said.

‘Existing toilet facilities might be adapted to accommodate individual ritual cleansing which is sometimes part of religious lifestyle and worship.

‘If such space is not available on a permanent or regular basis, extra efforts might be made to address such need for major religious festivals.’

The Islamic cleansing ritual, called ‘Wudhu’, is carried out by Muslims before they pray.

Islam teaches that Muslims are unfit for prayer if they have not performed Wudhu after breaking wind or using the toilet.

Wudhu involves washing the face, hands, arms and feet three times each, gargling the mouth three times and washing the neck and inside the nose and ears. Some Muslims also wash their private parts.

Catholic schools would need to install bidets, foot spas and hoses to facilitate such extensive cleansing rituals, Muslims say.

Daphne McLeod, a former Catholic head teacher from south London, said it would be ‘terribly expensive’ for the country’s 2,300 Catholic primary and secondary schools to provide ritual cleansing facilities.

She said: ‘If Muslim parents choose a Catholic school then they accept that it is going to be a Catholic school and there will not be facilities for ritual cleansing and prayer rooms.

‘They do their ritual cleansing before they go to a mosque, but they are not going to a mosque.

‘I don’t think the bishops should go looking for problems. Where will it stop?’

But Majid Khatme, a Muslim who sent his children to a London Catholic school, said he was delighted by the gesture.

‘It is very kind of the bishops if they give this facility for Muslims to pray,’ he said.

‘I would love to send a letter of thanks to the bishops, really. If they do this all Muslims in Britain will be thankful to the Catholic Church to have facilities to pray. It is very, very encouraging.’

The recommendations have been approved by Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Birmingham and the favourite to succeed Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor as Catholic primate.

But it would be up to governing bodies of each school to decide whether to act on the guidance.

Big brother police to get power to stop you in the street to demand ID… refuse and you’ll face jail

id_check

Checks: Police will be able to demand ID from people at any time (file picture)

The new rules to be unveiled in Queen’s Speech.

Daily Mail | Dec 2, 2008

By James Slack

State officials are to be given powers previously reserved for times of war to demand a person’s proof of identity at any time.

Anybody who refuses the Big Brother demand could face arrest and a possible prison sentence.

The new rules come in legislation to be unveiled in today’s Queen’s Speech.

They are presented as a crackdown on illegal immigration, but lawyers say they could be applied to anybody who has ever been outside the UK, even on holiday.

The civil rights group Liberty, which analysed clauses from the new Immigration and Citizenship Bill, called them an attempt to introduce compulsory ID cards by the back door.

The move would effectively take Britain back to the Second World War, when people were stopped and asked to ‘show their papers’.

Liberty said: ‘Powers to examine identity documents, previously thought to apply only at ports of entry, will be extended to criminalise anyone in Britain who has ever left the country and fails to produce identity papers upon demand.

‘We believe that the catch-all remit of this power is disproportionate and that its enactment would not only damage community relations but represent a fundamental shift in the relationship between the State and those present in the UK.’

One broadly-drafted clause would permit checks on anyone who has ever entered the UK  –  whether recently or years earlier.

Officials, who could be police or immigration officers, will be able to stop anyone to establish if they need permission to be here, if they have it, and whether it should be cancelled.

No reasonable cause or suspicion is required, and checks can be carried out ‘in country’  –  not just at borders.

The law would apply to British citizens and foreign nationals, according to Liberty’s lawyers. The only people who would be exempt are the tiny minority who have never been abroad on holiday or business.

A second clause says that people who are stopped ‘must produce a valid identity document if required to do so by the Secretary of State’. Failure to do so would be a criminal offence with a maximum penalty of 51 weeks in jail or a £5,000 fine.

Currently, police are allowed to ask for identity documents only if there is a reasonable suspicion that a person has committed an offence.

During the Second World War, ID cards were seen as a way of protecting the nation from Nazi spies.

But in 1952, Winston Churchill’s government decided they were not needed in peacetime.

They were thought to be hindering the police because so many people resented being asked to produce them.

Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti said last night: ‘ Sneaking in compulsory identity cards via the back door of immigration law is a cynical escalation of this expensive and intrusive scheme.’

Tory spokesman Damian Green said: ‘This scheme will do nothing to improve our security, may make it worse, and will certainly land the taxpayer with a multi-million bill.

‘Labour should concentrate on things that will improve our security, like a dedicated border police force.’

LibDem spokesman Chris Huhne said: ‘Ministers seem to be breaking their promise that no one would ever have to carry an ID card. This is a sly and underhand way of extending the ID card scheme by stealth.’

There was also concern last night that the Government is seeking to revive controversial plans for secret inquests.

The measure  –  which would have let the authorities hold a hearing like the Jean Charles de Menezes inquest behind closed doors  –  was removed from counter-terrorism legislation earlier this year.

But it could be re-introduced as part of a Coroners and Death Certification Bill.

The Queen’s Speech is reported to have undergone last-minute changes, driven by Business Secretary Peter Mandelson, to reflect the economic crisis.

But he is said to have failed in a bid to block health measures on tobacco sales.

Of the Bills dropped altogether, the most high-profile is the Communications Data Bill, which would have created a giant ‘Big Brother’ database of phone calls, emails and internet visits.

The Home Office said last night it had no intention of making people carry ID cards.

A spokesman said: ‘It is simply wrong to claim there are any plans whatsoever to make identity cards compulsory for British citizens or to require British citizens to have an ID card at all times and present it when asked.

‘To maintain effective immigration control it is only right that we ask everyone attempting to enter the UK to produce a valid identity document.’