Monthly Archives: May 2010

The Vatican opens its Secret Archives to dispel Dan Brown myths

‘Angels & Demons’ portrays the Secret Archives as a hi-tech cross between the Pentagon and the lair of a James Bond baddy

After centuries of being kept under lock and key, the Vatican has started opening its Secret Archives to outsiders in a bid to dispel the myths and mystique created by works of fiction such as Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons.

Telegraph | May 27, 2010

Nick Squires in the Vatican

The archives, until now jealously guarded from prying eyes, provide one of the key settings in Brown’s thriller, in which Harvard “symbologist” Robert Langdon, played in the 2009 film by Tom Hanks, races against time to stop a secret religious order, the Illuminati, from destroying Vatican City.

In the movie, the Secret Archives are portrayed as a hi-tech cross between the Pentagon and the lair of a James Bond baddy, complete with bullet proof glass and swish steel elevators.

In reality, the archives rely on disarmingly old-fashioned technology, with a creaking metal lift connecting different floors and millions of documents catalogued in 1,300 parchment-bound inventories dating back centuries.

They have been open to carefully vetted academic researchers for more than 100 years, but in the last few months the Vatican has granted tours to select groups of journalists and members of the public, allowing a glimpse into one of its inner most sanctums.

The Daily Telegraph was invited on the most recent tour this week, along with about 25 enthusiasts from around the world who earned their places by buying a recently published, lavishly illustrated book on the archives.

The archives are housed in a fortress-like wing of the Vatican behind St Peter’s Basilica, with the avenue leading to the building watched over by a phalanx of Swiss Guards in ceremonial uniform and officers from the city state’s own police force, the Gendarmerie.

The two-hour visit revealed more than 52 miles of shelving in an underground, concrete- walled bunker, as well as exquisite 16th century wooden cabinets packed with priceless parchment letters sent by princes, potentates, heretics and heathens to the Holy See.

They include correspondence between the Vatican and some of the most prominent figures in history, including Erasmus, Charlemagne, Michelangelo, Queen Elizabeth I, Mozart, Voltaire and Adolf Hitler.

One of the most elaborate is a letter sent by English peers and bishops to Rome in 1530 demanding to know why Pope Clement VII was taking so long to annul the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. It bears 83 signatures, below which dangle 81 official seals on red cord.

The oldest document in the archives dates back to the 8th century, while others relate to the trials of the Knights Templar from 1308-1310 and the enrolment of the first contingent of the Swiss Guard in 1505.

The archives’ custodians are at pains to dispel the conspiracy theories and aura of intrigue fostered by Brown’s hugely popular page-turners.

“The word ‘secret’ is not quite right – it comes from the Latin ‘secretum’ which in fact translates more accurately as ‘private’. These documents are the private archives of the popes. We really don’t have many secrets,” insisted Marco Grilli, the secretary to the prefecture of the archives.

When pressed, however, he admitted that there is a section which really is secret and that remains off-limits to historians and academics.

It contains papers relating to the personal affairs of cardinals from 1922 onwards, as well as centuries of annulment of marriages. Whether there are any bombshells lurking in these confidential files is a matter known only to the Vatican.

Nor do scholars have access to any papal papers from after 1939 – the beginning of the papacy of the controversial wartime pontiff Pius XII, who has been accused of turning a blind eye to the Nazis’ extermination of the Jews.

While the recent scandals over clerical sex abuse have only confirmed the Vatican’s centuries-old bunker mentality, the Secret Archives seem to be forging a different approach.

“We were amazed by the access we were given and the speed with which the whole project was completed,” said Paul Van den Heuvel, of VdH Books, the Belgian firm which published the glossy volume of high-quality reproductions of 105 documents. “The Vatican is beginning to realise what an incredible asset it has.”

Kingston’s death toll hits 70 as bodies pile up in morgues


Christopher “Dudus” Coke  Photo: REUTERS

It is likely that US personnel are involved,  possibly from the CIA.

The death toll in the battle to capture the international drug baron Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke was expected to climb last night as more bodies were delivered to mortuaries in the Jamaican capital, Kingston.

Telegraph | May 27, 2010

Neil Tweedie, in Kingston

More than 70 deaths were confirmed by yesterday afternoon but the bodies of many people killed in fierce gun battles in the city’s Tivoli Gardens quarter have yet to be recovered due to the siege of the area imposed by the Jamaican army and police force.

As operations continued for a fourth day, the government of prime minister Bruce Golding was unable to give any information on the whereabouts of Coke, who is being sought by the American authorities for drugs and weapons trafficking.

Hero Blair, a clergyman who serves as a government ombudsman, said he had seen a truck transporting decomposing bodies to a morgue.

“I know it (the number of dead) is going to be much higher,” he said. “Where are these bodies taken from?”

Despite some 500 arrests, Daryl Vaz, the Jamaican information minister, was unable to confirm that Coke was still on Jamaica.

Rumours abound about the fate of Coke, who is alleged to have masterminded a criminal empire stretching from Tivoli to the streets of New York, where his lieutenants push cocaine and marijuana.

Many in the capital believe he left the island before this week’s security operation, the result of the government’s belated decision to accede to a US request for his extradition. Others imagine him to be in hiding in a remote area of Jamaica.

Jamaica’s gangs have been an integral part of the country’s political system, providing on-the-ground muscle for elements of the two main parties, the Jamaica Labour Party and the People’s National Party. Coke, whose Tivoli fiefdom forms the heart of Mr Golding’s constituency, is considered a major threat to the Jamaican establishment due to his knowledge of corrupt practices by senior politicians.

One unconfirmed report suggests Coke’s lawyers may be trying to strike a deal with the United States government for his safe removal to the US to avoid his being silenced by former associates. Coke, Jamaica’s most senior crime ‘don’, is thought to fear that he could share the fate of his father Lloyd, the previous don of Tivoli, who perished in a mysterious fire while in prison awaiting extradition to the US.

Although the government in Kingston has denied receiving foreign help in the hunt for Coke, a US Navy P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft has been seen circling the battleground in Tivoli. The aircraft is equipped with the same camera as the Predator drone used in Afghanistan.

Connected by downlink to laptops on the ground, it provides real-time video of an area. The laptops could be operated by Jamaican personnel but it is equally likely that US personnel are involved, possibly from the CIA.

The battle to find Coke has inflicted major disruption in Jamaica, resulting in the closure of shops, schools and bus services, as well as the cancellation of a series of cricket matches between the West Indies and South Africa. Kingston has been a virtual ghost town after dark, with businesses shutting early to allow employees to get home before nightfall.

That situation has now eased as the fighting is confined to an ever-smaller area in Tivoli. But the ordeal of residents in the slum area, which lies near to Kingston’s waterfront, continues. Food and water are in short supply and sanitation has broken down. The government is appealing for donations of blood due to “critically low levels” in hospitals, which have dealt with scores of casualties, some of them children caught in the crossfire.

The intensity of the assault on Tivoli has been criticized by some politicians, who accuse the security for forces of indiscriminate attacks.

. . .

Related

The Panama Deception (1992)

Times Square bomb plot: Pakistani Army major arrested

A NYPD officer in an bomb suit examines a Nissan Pathfinder sport utility vehicle parked in New York’s Times Square Photo: REUTERS

A Pakistani Army major, who was until recently a serving officer, has been arrested in connection with the failed Times Square bomb plot.

Pakistan’s intelligence services have a long history of working with Jihadi organisations.

Telegraph | May 27, 2010

Rob Crilly, in Islamabad

Pakistani and US sources say there is evidence that mobile phone calls were exchanged between Major Adnan Ejaz and the suspected would-be bomber, Faisal Shahzad, who was arrested on May 3 as he attempted to fly out of New York.

A Pakistani law enforcement sources said that the major had mobile phone contact with Shahzad on the day of the attempted bombing, including one conversation at the same time the bomber was allegedly parking his car loaded with propane tanks and explosives.

He had also met the naturalised American in Islamabad, he claimed.

Shahzad, the son of a retired Pakistani Air Force officer, has told interrogators he received training from the Pakistan Taliban in its rugged mountain stronghold of Waziristan.

Pakistan’s military and intelligence services have a long history of working with Jihadi organisations as an instrument of foreign policy.

Related

However, the major’s detention marks the first time someone in the country’s military establishment has been directly linked to the Times Square plot.

In all, 11 people have been detained in Pakistan, including the co-owner of a prominent catering firm used by the US embassy in Islamabad.

They have not been arrested or charged, but they are suspected of having links to Times Square car bombing suspect Faisal Shahzad, 30, officials have said.

A Pakistani security official, speaking on condition of anonymity said the exact connections were not yet clear.

“A number of people have been detained and we believe they knew Shahzad,” he said. ” What we don’t know is what role, if any, they had in the plot.

“There’s a lot of work still to do.” Of the 11 people in custody, three were detained in Karachi and the others were taken into custody in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, where the Pakistani military is based.

However, a spokesman for Pakistan’s military said Major Ejaz was no longer a serving officer and had been in detention at the time of the alleged calls.

“He was dismissed from the service last year and was retired,” said Maj Gen Athar Abbas.

“Last month he was picked up because of apparent connections to proscribed, banned Punjabi militant organisations. So far we have not found any connection with Shahzad’s case.”

That account differs from the story told by relatives to local newspapers, deepening the mystery and raising fears of an official cover-up. They said he resigned from the Army last year because of money worries and had joined a construction firm.

They said he was arrested on May 14. Five days later his younger brother, a computer engineer was detained.

Scientist is first man to be ‘infected’ by computer virus

A British scientist has laid claim to being the first man to be infected by a computer virus, after he used a contaminated chip implanted in his hand to attack a lab security system.

Telegraph | May 26, 2010

By Nick Collins

Dr Mark Gasson programmed the microchip, similar to those used to “tag” pets, to remotely open his lab’s security doors and unlock his mobile phone before having it inserted under his skin.

But he also infected the implant with a virus, to prove it could be transferred as the chip and the security system wirelessly exchanged electronic data.

The virus could then have been passed on to other devices interacting with the control system, such as colleagues’ swipe cards, in the same way viruses are able to spread across computer networks.

BBC News: First human infected with computer virus

The results raise the possibility that in the future, increasingly advanced medical devices such as pacemakers and inner ear implants could become vulnerable to cyber attacks from other human implants.

Dr Gasson said: “Our research shows that implantable technology has developed to the point where implants are capable of communicating, storing and manipulating data.

“This means that, like mainstream computers, they can be infected by viruses and the technology will need to keep pace with this so that implants, including medical devices, can be safely used in the future.”

He stressed it is not currently thought possible to exploit medical devices such as pacemakers because they have not been analysed for flaws, but said they could theoretically be vulnerable.

He said: “We do not know of any medical device that can be exploited in this way yet but we are very much on the cusp of it being possible.

“It is possible that you could create a virus that completely corrupts the device to the point where it does not work any more.”

Implanted technology has become increasingly common in the United States, where medical alert bracelets can be scanned to bring up a patient’s medical history.

Dr Gasson said the technology is likely to become more widely used in the future, even for non-medical purposes such as increasing someone’s memory.

He said: “Our next evolutionary step may well mean that we all become part machine as we look to enhance ourselves, either because it becomes as much of a social norm as say mobile phones, or because we’ll be disadvantaged if we do not.”

In a separate project by Reading University scientists in 2008, experts created a robot that used cells from the brain of a rat to make decisions, in order to help design treatments for diseases such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

The robot, known as an “animat”, interpreted electrical signals from the cells to navigate itself around a laboratory without bumping into obstacles.

Privacy fears mount as “Minority Report” ad targeting grows

Minority Report: New technology is testing the limits of acceptable practices and privacy offline

“Individuals don’t want to be tracked.”

AFP | May 27, 2010

By Rob Lever

WASHINGTON — In the quest for better targeted advertising, marketers are using high-tech tools that can pinpoint a person’s location, demographics and habits, raising the hackles of privacy activists.

Online or in the shopping mall, these efforts are becoming more prevalent.

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Google, Yahoo and its advertising partners can track a user’s browsing habits in an effort to deliver more relevant marketing messages.

Offline, new digital signs with hidden cameras can use facial recognition software to tailor messages similar to the scenario in the science fiction film “Minority Report.”

Minority Report Mall Scene

Some analysts say the new technology is positive, enabling firms to get the most for their advertising dollars.

“We’re marketers. We present consumers with information that they can use to make informed buying decisions related to our brands,” says Rob Graham, vice president at the consulting firm Laredo Group.

But a 2009 study by the University of California and the University of Pennsylvania showed that Americans are opposed to targeted advertising on the Web.

“Contrary to what many marketers claim, most adult Americans (66 percent) do not want marketers to tailor advertisements to their interests,” the study concluded.

“Moreover, when Americans are informed of three common ways that marketers gather data about people in order to tailor ads, even higher percentages… say they would not want such advertising.”

Chris Hoofnagle, director of the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology’s information privacy programs, said many Web users are aware their habits are tracked by firms such as Google or Amazon, but are unsettled by third-party advertisers and marketers tracking across websites without any permission.

“Individuals don’t want to be tracked,” he said.

“It might not cause you harm, it might just be creepy.”

The practices underscore concerns over online privacy at a time when social network giant Facebook is embroiled in its own controversy over sharing data with third-party websites.

New technology is also testing the limits of acceptable practices and privacy offline. In some shopping malls, a new generation of digital signs not only can change messages frequently but can measure customer traffic and determine who is walking by through facial recognition software.

To some, it raises the specter of the scene in “Minority Report” where Tom Cruise’s character walks through a futuristic mall.

“John Anderton. You could use a Guinness right about now,” a digital sign announces in the film.

“We’re not quite there yet but we are at a point where we can adjust the ads according to who is in front of that screen,” said Keith Kelsen, chairman and chief executive of Media Tile, a digital signage firm.

Kelsen said the signage industry has a set of guidelines to protect privacy, and dismissed most of the fears as overblown.

“There is really no reason for concern because we’re not tracking individuals, we’re tracking information that is collected on whether they are male or female, or quantities of people, how long do they look at the screen,” he said.

But some privacy activists say the industry has not done enough to protect against abuses.

“The vast majority of people walking in stores, near elevators and in other public and private spaces have no idea that the innocent-looking flat screen TVs playing videos may be capturing their images and then dissecting and analyzing them for marketing purposes,” said a January report by the World Privacy Forum.

Pam Dixon, executive director of the privacy group, said the digital signage industry “has all sorts of issues touching privacy, including children’s privacy.”

In a prominent blunder for the industry, lubricant maker Castrol set up digital billboards in London last year equipped with cameras that read the license plates of each passing motorist, accessed a database to find the automobile’s model and year, and flashed the driver a message about what type of oil their vehicle should use.

The campaign was ended after a few days amid criticism.

Some makers of the technology, including firms like South Korea’s Samsung and Japan’s NEC, may be able to determine a viewer’s race or nationality and can personalize Google and Yahoo! ads.

Companies are also using GPS technology in mobile phones to tailor ads to a user’s location, such a specials for lattes as someone walks by a coffee shop.

Although this is still relatively new, the Center for Digital Democracy frets about a lack of guidelines.

“The emerging system for mobile advertising is clearly an extension of the current interactive targeting apparatus that has raised so many concerns over privacy and consumer protection,” the group said in a petition to US regulators.

British Intelligence faces probe over 7/7 bombings

The suicide bombers set off near-simultaneous explosions on three London Underground trains and a bus on July 7, 2005

AFP | May 21, 2010

LONDON — Inquests into the deaths of 56 people in London’s July 2005 suicide bombings will probe alleged failings by police and MI5 intelligence before the attacks, the coroner conducting the hearings said Friday.

Judge Heather Hallett also ruled that inquests into four suicide bombers will be held separately from those of the 52 victims, a relief to families who had protested plans to hold the inquests together.

The suicide bombers set off near-simultaneous explosions on three London Underground trains and a double-decker bus on the morning of July 7, 2005, in what has become known as 7/7, nearly four years after the 9/11 attacks in the United States.

Hallett, giving details of arrangements for the inquests due to start in October, said they would probe what police and MI5 officers knew ahead of the shock attacks.

“The scope of the inquest into the 52 deaths will include the alleged intelligence failings and the immediate aftermath of the bombings,” she said.

“To my mind it is not too remote to investigate what was known in the year or two before the alleged bombings. Plots of this kind are not developed overnight,” she added.

Janine Mitchell, whose husband Paul survived the King’s Cross explosion, welcomed the decision to probe MI5’s role.

“We have been very concerned that there were serious failings and it seems that this is the case… We are relieved that someone independent of Government is going to examine what happened.

“We put all our faith in the coroner to do that, so if anything did go wrong it can be fixed.”

Hallett also announced that the inquests will not be held with a jury, and that the hundreds of people injured in the attacks will not be designated “interested person” status — granting the right to cross-examine witnesses.

Survivors of the bombings voiced disappointment. “Once again we have been shunted aside by officialdom and those questions may or may not be answered,” said Jacqui Putnam, who survived the Edgware Road blast.

The 7/7 attacks struck during the rush hour on a Thursday morning, as British Prime Minister Tony Blair was meeting with Group of Eight (G8) counterparts for a summit in Gleneagles, Scotland.

Three bombs exploded shortly after 8:50 am: Mohammad Sidique Khan, 30, blew himself up at Edgware Road station, 22-year-old Shehzad Tanweer at Aldgate, and Jermaine Lindsay, 19 between King’s Cross and Russell Square.

Hasib Hussain, 18, detonated his device on board a number 30 bus at Tavistock Square at 9.47 am. As well as the dead, some 700 people were injured in the blasts.

It later emerged that intelligence services had followed the bombers’ ringleader, Khan, in early 2004 during an investigation into extremists planning a fertiliser bomb plot.

As well as interrupting the G8 meeting in Scotland, the bombings also shattered a sense of euphoria in London from a decision the previous day to stage the 2012 Olympic Games in the British capital.

Two weeks after July 7 there was an apparent attempt at a copycat simultaneous attack, but the devices involved failed to go off. In the rush to find the plotters police mistakenly shot and killed an innocent Brazilian man.

7/7 London bomb survivors excluded from probe

UKPA | May 21, 2010

The number 30 double-decker bus which was destroyed by a terrorist bomb

Survivors of the July 7 bombings said they have been “shunted aside” after being excluded from inquests into the deaths of the 52 people who were killed.

Some of those affected by the 2005 atrocities said they were disappointed not to be granted a special status by the coroner which would allow them to question witnesses.

But they pledged to throw their full weight behind Lady Justice Hallett as she tries to get answers for what happened and whether more could have been done to prevent the attacks.

Their solicitor Clifford Tibber said he would not rule out appealing against the coroner’s decision at the Royal Courts of Justice.

Jacqui Putnam, who survived the Edgware Road blast, said many questions still needed answering. Speaking at a press conference she said: “Our role now will be one of answering questions, which we will do, but our questions are not going to be answered.

“Once again we have been shunted aside by officialdom and those questions may or may not be answered.

“They need to be answered because they involve the safety of everyone on public transport.

“It is very important that we remember that the inquests are for families and loved ones of those who died. But this is our only voice, we have been led to believe this would be our opportunity for us to have a voice and now we don’t.”

Lady Justice Hallett said the inquests into the deaths of the 52 people killed by suicide bombers would be heard later this year without a jury.

She said the inquiry would scrutinise alleged failings by police and the security services as well as the immediate aftermath of the blasts and she said inquests into the deaths of the four suicide bombers would be held separately, if at all, while questions over public funding for legal representation remained unanswered.