Monthly Archives: July 2010

BP’s evaporating oil slick leaves America without a villain

With the gush from the BP oil spill plugged for the past two weeks, experts are beginning to question whether it can really be called an environmental disaster at all, writes Alex Spillius.

Nature is taking its course, aided by a naval-size flotilla of skimming boats and some powerful chemical dispersants.

Telegraph | Jul 31, 2010

Alex Spillius – American Way

Published: So, the oil in the Gulf of Mexico is disappearing much more quickly than expected.

The sea’s warm surface and oil-munching bacteria have dissipated the slick to such an extent that a planeload of journalists had to fly for an hour before their pilot could find a patch of oil. His relief, according to one reporter on board, was comparable to the anxious captain of a tourist boat spotting a distant pod of dolphins.

It turns out that the playful sea mammals, like other creatures, suffered much less damage than was forecast. A grand total of three dead dolphins covered in oil have been recovered by wildlife rescue teams. The spill has so far killed less than one per cent of the number of birds claimed by the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska in 1989.

With the gush plugged for the past two weeks, experts are beginning to question whether the BP spill can really be called an environmental disaster at all.

Doubts remain about the long-term underwater affects of the oil on the ecosystem, but the greatest tragedy remains the 11 lives lost when BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, causing the well to rupture.

On Friday, the company’s new chief executive Bob Dudley announced that the clean-up operation could now begin to be scaled back. It was one of the American’s first public utterances since replacing Tony Hayward as chief executive.

In an earlier appearance before BP employees in Britain, Dudley praised his predecessor for having the decency to stand down “just when things are starting to go right”.

It was not something Dudley would dare to say in the United States, where Hayward, as he acknowledged last week, remains a villain.

There are understandable reasons for this.

His “I want my life back” remark was callous in its carelessness.

You also don’t compare the biggest oil leak in US history to a “drop in the ocean”, even though that has turned out to be more or less the case, when your company is responsible for dumping 60,000 gallons a day into the sea, and when it has probably been economical with the truth about the size of the outflow.

But Hayward’s pillorying revealed how the well-spoken scoundrel remains a latent British stereotype, one that is connected to the “don’t-forget-we-kicked-your-butts-in-1776” smirk that can easily greet a British visitor on July 4.

It was also a reminder that the primary purpose of a scapegoat is to deflect blame. Amid the anger at BP, there were very few in government, the environmental movement or the media prepared to acknowledge that the despoliation of the Gulf and of the Louisiana coast has been going on for decades.

Long, long ago the state – and its people and its elected representatives – embraced oil and all its hazards. Development of the industry was rampant, corrupt, poorly regulated and carried out with little regard to the delicate marshlands that everyone was so worried about once the BP well burst open.

The thirst for oil, and the jobs and revenues it brought, led to the construction of 4,000 offshore oil and gas platforms. Thousands of miles of pipeline and a complex of roads and canals contributed to the disappearance of more than 2,000 square miles of Louisiana coastline over the past century. Teams assessing the damage caused by BP to the wetlands found 350 acres of oily marshes, but the state was already losing many times that amount every year.

As the Washington Post’s energy correspondent put it, Louisiana had become a “Cajun sheikhdom”, with over-dependency on one commodity leading to underdevelopment in many areas.

That reliance explained why the major issue for locals during the spill was not the nationality of the BP’s CEO. They cared about prompt payment of compensation – and there are few complaints heard about that these days – and President Barack Obama’s moratorium on deep-water drilling, which was regarded as a mass job-deprivation programme.

The vilification of Hayward was a Washington affair and the onus is now on Washington to craft an energy policy that will exploit natural resources while offering better care for local environments and requiring stricter adherence to safety standards from the industry.

BP, having committed a colossal and tragic error, seems to be doing its part. It is now up to America’s politicians to do theirs.

Flu jab linked to fits in under fives: officials

Children under five are only routinely vaccinated against seasonal flu if they are in designated ‘risk groups’ because they have chronic asthma Photo: ALAMY

GPs have been told not to use a particular flu jab on 110,000 children under five after it was linked with a tenfold increase in fits, it can be revealed.

Telegraph | Jul 31, 2010

By Rebecca Smith, Medical Editor

Doctors should stock alternative vaccines for under fives who are due to have the seasonal flu vaccine this winter, a letter from the head of immunisation at the Department of Health has said.

The action is being taken as rate of convulsions caused by high fever among children in Australia given the jab was ten times higher than normal.

Up to one in 100 children given the jab, made in Australia by CSL and marketed in the UK by Pfizer, suffered febrile convulsions in the following hours and days.

It is not known what is causing the problem and no other flu vaccines have been linked to an increased risk of fits. Adults given the vaccine do not appear to have been affected.

Children under five are only routinely vaccinated against seasonal flu if they are in designated ‘risk groups’ because they have chronic asthma, have been admitted to hospital with a respiratory infection previously or have other long-term conditions which means they would be particularly badly affected if they caught flu.

Seasonal flu vaccines contain three strains which have been identified by the World Health Organisation as the most common in circulation that year. This year the vaccines contain the pandemic strain H1N1.

The letter to all GPs from Prof David Salisbury, said: “Epidemiological information from Australia indicates that there has been a higher than expected increase in febrile convulsions in children related to the use of Fluvax (manufactured by CSL).

“This is the same product that will be marketed in the UK by Pfizer as Enzira and generic influenza vaccine for the 2010/11 influenza vaccination season.

“Evidence from Australia suggests a rate of febrile convulsions of about one per 100 for children who were vaccinated with Fluvax. This increased risk appears to be a product specific reaction and evidence from Australia of vaccination with other products has so far not indicated a similar level of risk.

“It is important that children over six months of age who are in clinical risk groups receive influenza vaccination. Given the availability of other influenza vaccine products, you should avoid offering Enzira or CSL Biotherapies generic influenza vaccine marketed by Pfizer to children aged under five years.”

He added that the medicines regulator will be monitoring the situation.

Febrile convulsions affect around one in 20 children and are normally caused by an infection. The body reacts to the high fever with the child losing consciousness and their legs and arms jerk. They may go pale or turn blue briefly and after a few minutes the shaking normally stops.

The attacks can be very frightening for parents and children are usually admitted to hospital after the first convulsion to establish the cause. Some children are particularly prone to them but they are not normally dangerous.

In Australia, which is in its winter, stopped vaccinating all children under five when the increased rate of convulsions was found. It has since restarted vaccinating with other products.

A spokesman for Pfizer said: “The cause of the unexpected increased frequency of febrile convulsions remains unknown and investigations continue. Pfizer and CSL are working closely with regulatory authorities, health agencies and distribution partners to determine the most appropriate way to provide influenza vaccine for the Northern Hemisphere 2010/2011 influenza season.

“While, Pfizer supports the current precautionary approach to the use of our influenza vaccine in children under five years of age, it should be noted that the vast majority of patients in the UK receiving the influenza vaccine are adults, and febrile convulsions are not seen in the adult population.

“In addition, there is no evidence that the vaccine poses any increased risks to other groups, including pregnant women and those aged over 65.

“Pfizer and CSL are committed to ensuring the quality and safety our products. Pfizer is in ongoing dialogue with the Department of Health to help ensure the successful implementation of the 2010/11 Flu immunisation programme.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “As part of the Australian flu vaccination programme, a number of children were given a brand of flu vaccine known as Enzira (Fluvax in Australia). A small proportion of these children, aged under 5, had fits after they had this vaccine.

“The vaccine is also marketed in the UK as CSL Biotherapies generic influenza vaccine. It contains three strains of the flu virus that experts predict are most likely to be around this winter including swine flu (H1N1).

“We are asking GPs in the UK to avoid offering this vaccine to the under 5s in the coming flu season, there are several other vaccines available that are suitable for this age group. There is currently no indication that the vaccine poses any increased risks to other groups.

“Having the flu jab remains the best protection against flu and we recommend that people get vaccinated when they’re offered it in the autumn.”

Chelsea Clinton prepares for America’s multi-million dollar ‘royal’ wedding

When 500 guests arrive at a 50-acre estate by the Hudson River on Saturday afternoon they will be asked to surrender their mobile phones and any recording devices before being subjected to security checks suitable for an international summit.

The total cost to Bill and Hillary Clinton has been estimated at $2 million to $3 million, a fraction of their combined wealth.

Telegraph | Jul 30, 2010

By Alex Spillius in Washington

But the price paid for any loss of dignity is a coveted invitation to America’s wedding of the year, between Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky, an investment banker.

“This is the closest we get to a royal wedding,” said a former White House official.

“She’s not the Prince of Wales, there isn’t quite the same expectation that you will be a public person from birth, but her parents are so famous she can’t avoid this being quite a fuss.”

Hillary Clinton has nonetheless called the day a “family wedding”. That of course depends on the family.

When the father of the bride is a former president and her mother the current US Secretary of State, that means a no-fly zone being enforced over the venue from 3pm Saturday to 3am on Sunday morning. Police will also patrol the river to deter enterprising paparazzi or terrorists, or both.

The total cost to Bill and Hillary Clinton has been estimated at $2 million to $3 million, a fraction of their combined wealth.

One of the biggest chunks is going toward an air-conditioned marquee with glass walls that was still being erected yesterday in the grounds of Astor Courts in Rhinebeck, a picturesque village two hours’ drive north of Manhattan.

The food bill is expected to come in at $125,000, in part because the non-meat eating bride has insisted on vegan and vegetarian options, though there will be a main course of organic grass-fed beef for those with more hearty appetites such as her father. The dessert wine has been supplied by the serendipitously named Clinton Vineyards.

The former president, who has promised to do his best not to cry, will give away his only child who will be dressed by Vera Wang, costing an estimated $25,000. It will of course only be used once, unlike the $15,000 porcelain “porta-potties” that guests will be grateful for as they party the night away to a wedding band whose bill is expected to reach $40,000.

The playlist devised by the young couple seems designed to please all ages and is said to include such hits as Diana Ross’s “I’m Coming Out” and ABBA’s “Dancing Queen”.

That however is one of Chelsea’s few concessions to her parents, who may be the best connected couple in the world but were told from the outset that her big day was not to be turned into a political parade.

Miss Clinton, now 30, has always guarded her privacy tenaciously. She has been working at a New York hedge fund and recently completed a postgraduate degree in public health, which may be a precursor to joining her father’s global health charity.

She met Mr Mezvinsky, 32, the son of two former Democratic congressmen, in her late teens but only became romantically involved a few years ago.

The occasion will have the grandeur of a state wedding but in keeping with the wishes of the bride, the details, which only started to seep out in the past few days, have been guarded like state secrets.

“I am under very strict orders not to talk about it,” said Mrs Clinton recently. “The people coming are her friends and people who have been meaningful in her life, as it should be.”

Those will naturally include a number of Hollywood figures and high profile politicians from around the world.

But some expected big names will not be there, including Oprah Winfrey, who was not invited, and President Barack Obama, who said he appreciated the focus on Chelsea and her friends.

“It would be tough enough having one president at a wedding,” he said. “You don’t want two.”

Medvedev gives KGB successor agency Soviet-style repressive powers

Medvedev widens powers of KGB successor agency

AP | Jul 29, 2010


MOSCOW — Russia has broadened the authority of the Federal Security Service, the KGB’s main successor agency, giving it Soviet-style repressive powers in a move critics say could be used to stifle protests and intimidate government opponents.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a law Thursday allowing the agency, known by its initials FSB, to issue warnings or detain people suspected of preparing to commit crimes against Russia’s security — which could include participating in anti-government rallies. Perpetrators face fines or up to 15 days detention.

Like many past restrictions, the law was described as part of an effort to combat extremism. The bill, submitted to Russian lawmakers in April, followed twin subway bombings in Moscow that killed 40 people and reflected the Kremlin’s dissatisfaction with critical media coverage of its anti-terrorism efforts.

A senior lawmaker said the law protects people from abuse by law enforcement officers.

“Officers of law enforcement agencies have long talked about the necessity of switching from investigating crimes to their prevention,” Mikhail Margelov, the Kremlin-connected head of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of Russian parliament, said in a statement. “The amendments do not turn FSB into a new edition of once-almighty KGB but protect Russian citizens from outrages by men in uniform.”

Some of the law’s articles, including ones that toughen control over media for “extremist statements” and allow FSB to publish warnings in the press, were removed or toned down following severe criticism from opposition and even Kremlin loyalists.

However, a lawmaker with the Communist party that remains the largest opposition force in Russia’s rubber-stamp parliament, said the amendments did not change the law’s repressive character.

“Despite all the promises to correct the most odious articles, by the second reading nothing has been changed in the text,” Viktor Ilykhin told The Associated Press.

A Kremlin loyalist from a nationalist party praised the law for its “preventative measures.”

“This is not a repressive law,” Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the nationalist Liberal Democratic party, told online daily. “We’re only talking about preventive measures.”

Kremlin critics say, however, that the new measures could be used to violate the rights of opposition, and its obscure wording would leave the legislation open to interpretation.

“It’s an ugly law with obscure formulas,” independent political analyst Yulia Latynina told AP. “In case a drunken FSB officer is shooting at you, and there have been many such cases, you might end up getting jailed for 15 days for merely trying to escape.”

The opposition has accused the Kremlin of turning Russia into a Soviet-style police state, and many Russians say they have experienced or fear abuse at the hands of FSB officers. Government critics say corruption among the FSB and other agencies stifles business activity and stunts the economy.

Some rights activists say the law simply legalizes practices FSB officers have been using for years.

“I don’t think it adds anything to what FSB has been doing without any laws,” former Soviet dissident and head of the Moscow Helsinki group Lyudmila Alexeyeva told AP. “But it’s very sad when a law approves the outrage of such a dangerous service as FSB.”

The legislation continues a trend under former President Vladimir Putin, blamed by the opposition and the West for rolling back Russia’s democratic reforms of the 1990s. The former KGB officer and FSB head allowed the security services to regain power and influence at the expense of Russia’s democratic institutions.

Putin is now prime minister, and many see his intolerance of dissent as influencing Medvedev, his hand-picked successor.

The bill has raised doubts about Medvedev’s commitment to promoting full-fledged democracy and freedom of expression. Medvedev often has spoken of instituting judicial and police reforms, and has taken a less hard line on many issues than Putin.

Medvedev, who initiated the bill, angrily retorted to criticism. He said earlier this month that “each country has the right to perfect its legislation.”

Army of civilian patrols to walk streets of Britain

50,000 extra special constables to flood crime-plagued neighbourhoods with an army of volunteers.

It has not been decided whether the civilian patrollers will wear special clothing or to what level they will be vetted – leading to fears that vigilantes or busybodies will try to become involved.

Daily Mail | Jul 27, 2010

PC Joe Public: Now YOU can go on the beat: Unprecedented police shake-up will see unpaid civilians patrol with bobbies

By James Slack

In the biggest shake-up of policing for 50 years, ministers want the public to patrol alongside beat bobbies.

They also intend to recruit up to 50,000 extra special constables to flood crime-plagued neighbourhoods with an army of volunteers.

And villages will be protected by a new breed of ‘police reservists’, modeled on part-time firemen and the Territorial Army.

The coalition government yesterday set out plans for communities to ‘reconnect’ with police forces which have disappeared behind their desks, engulfed by a flood of red tape.

But the radical reforms are already being dismissed by Labour as ‘policing on the cheap’ and a fig leaf for cuts in fully sworn officers.

Home Secretary Theresa May said her plans were ‘the most radical reforms to policing in at least 50 years’. She also announced:

  • The introduction of directly-elected police commissioners with the power to sack chief constables, along with the prospect of elected U.S.-style prosecutors
  • The creation of a National Crime Agency to ‘tackle organised crime and protect our borders’
  • Regular beat meetings in supermarkets and old people’s homes to hold officers to account
  • ‘Virtual’ get-togethers on social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter
  • A bonfire of health and safety regulations that tie police in red tape

Mrs May said her reforms, part of David Cameron’s Big Society project, would ‘transfer power back to the people’ and make police into ‘crime fighters not form writers’.

Labour responded that the Government was seeking to replace police and community support officers with unpaid volunteers.

Ex-Home Secretary Alan Johnson said: ‘People volunteer to run the Scouts, not catch criminals. This is simply a cover for massive cuts to the number of police on the beat.’

But ministers said it was about giving local people the opportunities they need to join the fight against the loutish behaviour which took root under the last government.

The document says: ‘Across the country, we want to support more active citizens: taking part in joint patrols with the police, looking out for their neighbours and passing on safety tips as part of Neighbourhood Watch groups or as Community Crime Fighters.’

Policing Minister Nick Herbert gave the example of street pastors who go out alongside police officers to help deal with the tidal wave of drunkenness in town centres.

It has not been decided whether the civilian patrollers will wear special clothing or to what level they will be vetted – leading to fears that vigilantes or busybodies will try to become involved.

However they are likely to hold only the standard power of citizen’s arrest.

The planned expansion in the number of special constables – who have full police powers, but are not paid – would deliver the most dramatic change to the police service in decades.

The document says: ‘By volunteering their free time, special constables and other police volunteers provide a tangible way for citizens to make a difference in their communities. They have a long history within the police.

‘The number peaked at over 67,000 in the 1950s, but fell to around 24,000 in 1974 and 11,000 in 2004, although it has climbed to 15,000 today.

We want to see more special constables and explore new ideas to help unlock the potential of police volunteers in the workforce, for example as police “reservists”.

These would be modelled on part-time fire crews in rural communities who are on standby ready to respond to emergencies. They are paid, but less than full-time firemen.

The plans come with the Home Office is trying to identify budget cuts of between 25 and 40 per cent.

Experts have predicted 60,000 police staff, including officers, could be axed. Labour suspects that ministers will seek to replace them with unpaid volunteers.

But Mrs May said: ‘For this government, police reform is a priority, not just because we inherited the worst public finances of any major economy, but because for too long the police have become disconnected from the communities they serve, they have been bogged down by bureaucracy and they have answered to distant politicians instead of to the people.’

She added that ‘terrorism, serious and organised crime and cyber-crime require new approaches which cross not just police force boundaries but international borders as well’.

Labour’s Serious Organised Crime Agency will be scrapped in favour of a new National Crime Agency, which will include organised crime, border policing, and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre.

Soca was criticised last year when figures showed that for every £15 of public money it spent, just £1 was recovered from criminals.

The National Policing Improvement Agency – a quango criticised for lavishing tens of millions of pounds on consultants – will be phased out.

The Association of Chief Police Officers will be told it must become more accountable to the public.

Elected police commissioners with the power to hire and fire chief constables will be in place within two years, Home Secretary Theresa May announced yesterday.

The idea had faced a blizzard of protest from some chief constables and police authorities who claim the move could lead to the politicisation of the police service.

But the Home Secretary said it was vital to ‘re-establish the links between the police and the public’.

She said only seven per cent of the public know that they can go to a police authority – a panel of local councillors and other public figures – if they have a problem with their local force. The first elections will take place in May 2012.

Commissioners will serve fixed four-year terms, with a maximum of two terms. Their pay has yet to be set.

They will be monitored by a new Police and Crime Panel, made up of councillors and other lay members.

Mrs May was yesterday forced to deny that these are simply police authorities by another name.

The most extreme power the commissioners will have is to fire a chief constable – prompting concerns that they could sack a perfectly good senior officer who they do not personally like.

They will also be able to compel local police teams to hold regular beat meetings. The Home Office said these could take place in supermarkets, old people’s homes and schools.

But the commissioners could be sacked only if the Independent Police Complaints Commission rules that ‘serious misconduct’ has taken place.

Shadow Home Secretary Alan Johnson said the cost of elected commissioners had been estimated at £50million.

He labelled the proposal an ‘unnecessary, unwanted and expensive diversion’.

Lib Dem MP Tom Brake said: ‘These proposals should not be seen as a green light for the election of characters more interested in populism than effective co-operative policing’.

And Richard Kemp, vice-chairman of the Local Government Association, said: ‘In difficult financial circumstances, we have to ask if this is the right time to change structures through additional elections, which could cost the same as 700 police officers.’

Commissioners will be elected under an as-yet-undecided form of proportional representation.

One option is to adopt an Alternative Vote system, where the bottom-placed candidate is excluded and their votes reallocated until one candidate achieves 50 per cent support.

Ministers believe this will reduce the chances of an extremist fringe party such as the BNP seizing control of a police force.

In a surprise move, Mrs May yesterday also raised the prospect of having directly-elected prosecutors.

It followed an outpouring of anger from MPs over the Crown Prosecution Service’s decision not to prosecute the police officer captured on film striking Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests.

Mr Tomlinson collapsed and died shortly afterwards but, last week, the Director of Public Prosecutions said there was insufficient evidence to bring charges.

Whitehall sources said the door was being left open to making prosecutors more accountable to the public. In the U.S. have elected District Attorneys.

KGB man: MI5 agent told me that David Kelly had been ‘exterminated’

 Daily Mail | Jul 26, 2010

By Neil Sears

Dr David Kelly: A KGB spy says that the doctor was 'exterminated'

A former Russian spy’s dossier which suggests that Government scientist David Kelly was ‘ exterminated’ in a planned assassination is being studied by the Attorney General.

Boris Karpichkov, who fled to Britain after 15 years as a KGB agent, claims a London intelligence contractor linked to MI5 told him Dr Kelly’s death was not suicide.

Mr Karpichkov has emailed his evidence to Attorney General Dominic Grieve – who has already said he is ‘concerned’ by questions raised by doctors who dispute the official suicide ruling over the Iraq expert’s death.

Last night a spokesman for Mr Grieve confirmed that the dossier had been received, and that it was being ‘considered’.

Dr Kelly’s body was discovered in woods close to his Oxfordshire home in July 2003.

Tony Blair’s Labour Government had controversially unmasked him as the source of a hotly-disputed BBC news story that claimed a dossier used to justify the war on Iraq had been ‘sexed up’.

Lord Hutton’s public inquiry ruled that Dr Kelly killed himself, but since the ousting of Labour in May there has been growing pressure from within the coalition Government for a new independent inquiry.

A group of doctors have claimed Dr Kelly could not have died as a result of cutting his left wrist with a blunt garden pruning knife, and it has emerged that his death certificate was left incomplete.

There is also outrage at the fact that full details of his postmortem examination are to be kept secret for 70 years, and that no inquest took place.

Campaigners also note that on the morning of his death Dr Kelly sent an email warning of ‘many dark actors playing games’.

The new allegations from Mr Karpichkov suggest directly that the ‘dark actors’ could have been British secret agents determined to silence Dr Kelly before he could embarrass the Government.

The former Russian spy, who defected from Latvia to Britain in 1998, says the source of his dossier is ‘agent’ Peter Everett, who lives in Dulwich, South-East London, and until 2006 ran a shadowy firm, Group Global Intelligence Services.

The firm is understood to have employed former MI5 operatives to carry out detective work for corporations.

Mr Karpichkov, who now holds a British passport, claims in his dossier that he worked for Mr Everett too, and that one of their dozens of meetings took place two days after Dr Kelly’s body was found.

Mr Everett told him, the former KGB man claims, that Dr Kelly had been ‘ exterminated’ for his ‘ reckless behaviour’.

Mr Karpichkov says Mr Everett suggested he was himself an ‘active field operative’ for MI5, and continues: ‘He told me that it was extremely uncomfortable, inconsistent and unusual for Dr Kelly to slash his arm in the way he did. He would have lost some blood, but it would not have been fatal.

‘He also claimed that it was not a coincidence that Special Branch officers were the ones who first appeared on the scene. They moved Dr Kelly’s body to another location, changed the original position of his corpse and took away incriminating evidence.

‘He added that the scene where Dr Kelly’s body was found was carefully arranged and completely “washed out”, including the destruction of all fingerprints.

‘When I asked who was behind his death, he [ Mr Everett] answered indirectly, saying the “competing firm”, which I took to mean MI6.’

At the weekend, Mr Everett confirmed that he had met Mr Karpichkov, and that he had discussed Dr Kelly’s death. But he denied being party to any secret s about the incident.

He refused to comment on whether he had ever worked for MI5, but agreed he had ‘spent a number of years working in the world of intelligence’.

Mr Karpichkov’s dossier comes on top of a claim by Dr Kelly’s colleague Mai Pedersen that the chemical warfare expert had been too weak to slash his own wrist.

Draft Law Revives Practice of Soviets

NY Times | Jul 16, 2010


MOSCOW — The lower house of the Russian Parliament passed a draft law on Friday allowing the country’s intelligence service to officially warn citizens that their activities could lead to a future violation of the law, reviving a Soviet-era K.G.B. practice that was often used against dissidents. The president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, is expected to sign it into law shortly.

The legislation was proposed during the tense weeks after two suicide bombers attacked the Moscow subway, and its stated goal was to stanch the growth of radicalism among young Russians. But rights advocates and opposition parties have warned that the expanded powers could be used to silence critics of the government. In a letter made public on Thursday, 20 leading human rights activists condemned the legislation as a blow to “the cornerstone principles of the law: the presumption of innocence and legal certainty.”

“Our country now objectively faces a dilemma — either we take the long and difficult path toward rule of law, or an anti-constitutional restriction of individual rights and a return to legal tyranny, intimidation of dissenters, and control of special services over the peaceful activities of citizens,” the letter said.

Asked about the bill on Thursday by a reporter in Yekaterinburg, where he was meeting with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, Mr. Medvedev intimated that foreign observers had little business questioning it.

“I would like to turn your attention to the fact that it is our domestic legislation, and not an international act,” he said. “Each country has the right to perfect its own legislation, including that which affects special services. And we will do this.”

He added that “what’s going on now — I would like you to know this — was done by my own direct instructions.” It was not clear whether he meant the drafting of the bill or its subsequent revision.

The bill has been criticized by opposition legislators in Parliament, but both the upper and lower houses are dominated by Kremlin loyalists. The measure passed in the lower house on Friday by a vote of 354 to 96; passage by the upper house is considered almost certain.

The version is somewhat weakened from an earlier draft, which prescribed punishment for individuals who ignored such warnings from the F.S.B. Amendments proposed during the bill’s first and second readings in Parliament also removed a provision that would have allowed the F.S.B. to publish its warnings in the media and to summon citizens to F.S.B. offices to be warned.

In remarks posted on his party’s Web site this week, Vladimir Vasiliev, the chairman of the State Duma’s Committee on Security, described the new power as “a preventive conversation” with “someone who is beginning to move toward committing a crime.”

“It’s another matter that he may not obey,” Mr. Vasiliev said, adding that someone can be punished only for an actual violation of the law. The policy, he added, “has been mapped out by the president,” and “answers all the most humane and highest standards of a law-based state.”

The legislation leaves vague what actions would prompt F.S.B. warnings, or what measures would be used to enforce them. Other provisions in the bill impose 15-day sentences or fines of $16.50 to $33 on citizens who obstruct the work of an F.S.B. agent. Previously, such administrative fines applied to police or prison officials.

Lev A. Ponomarev, a veteran activist with the group For Human Rights in Moscow, said liberals in Russia were seeing the bill as a litmus test for Mr. Medvedev and were surprised to hear him take credit for its development.

The president could win enormous loyalty in liberal circles if he had “the courage to oppose this bill, which puts the whole country under the control of the special services,” Mr. Ponomarev said. “We have some hope of this — but in fact, not much,” he said. “If, on the other hand, he signs it, it will be a big step toward losing his potential supporters.”

“And in truth he doesn’t have so many of them,” he said. “This is a pretty important moment.”

Mother outraged after Google posted photo of naked 3 yr old son on Street View

The picture of naked three-year-old Loius Mears which appeared on Google Street View. The picture has been pixellated after his mother complained to Google.

Mum’s outrage over picture of naked son on Google Street View |Jun 29, 2010

by Alice McKeegan

A mum has told of her horror after Google published a photograph of her young son naked on the internet.

Claire Rowlands, 25, was stunned to see the image of little Louis Mears playing on a sunny day in his gran’s garden in Walkden.

Louis, three, had been snapped by Google’s controversial ‘camera car’, as it took pictures of every road in Britain for the search engine’s Street View service. The company had blurred out the registration plate of a car on the drive of the house – but the image of Louis, who was wearing nothing but his shoes, was uncensored.

In another image, taken seconds later, Louis’s face was clearly identifiable, but his modesty was preserved by a fence.

Shocked Claire, who lives on the same road as her mother, said she had no idea the pictures had been taken and accused Google of invading her son’s privacy. She said:“I just felt sick to my stomach when I saw the naked picture of Louis on the internet. I’m angry, disgusted and upset about it – they should be checking every image before it goes up.

“They should be extra careful on warm days because this is what children do – he was just playing in the garden and we didn’t expect in a million years he’d have his picture taken and put on the internet for anyone to see.

“It’s such a clear image, I see it as an indecent photograph – my concern is that paedophiles could see it and there’s no way I ever wanted my son to be seen naked all over the world.

“Louis was on private property. Surely residents should be asked if they’re happy to have their pictures taken before this is allowed to happen.”

Google has now apologised and said it has blurred the image.

The company’s software automatically obscures car number plates but does not detect human bodies.

A spokeswoman said: “We take issues around inappropriate content in our products very seriously, and we removed the image in question within an hour of being notified.

“For us, privacy and user choice remain paramount.

“This is why we have put in place tools so that if people see what they believe to be inappropriate, they can report them to us using the simple tools and the images will be quickly removed. We apologise for any inadvertent concern this may have caused.”

Privacy groups have already blasted Street View, which they branded a ‘burglar’s charter’ when it was launched last year.

Alex Deane, from the Big Brother Watch group, said: “This is not the first time this has happened but the excuses are wearing thin.

“Google still needs to take greater responsibility for people’s personal privacy and introduce stronger safeguards to the system.”