Daily Archives: August 21, 2010

Attorney General refuses to open secret David Kelly files for new inquest


Inquest calls: A group of doctors insists that Dr David Kelly could not have committed suicide and bled to death

Attorney General refuses to open David Kelly files: Papers hold key to fresh inquest

Daily Mail | Aug 20, 2010

By James Slack

Attorney General Dominic Grieve is refusing to open secret files which hold the key to David Kelly’s death, it has emerged.

The decision on whether to order an inquest hinges on a bundle of documents which are locked in a Whitehall safe for up to 70 years.

They include the post-mortem examination report and other sensitive medical notes.

A group of doctors insists that the weapons inspector could not have committed suicide and bled to death in the way described by the official Hutton Inquiry.

They have called for Mr Grieve to open the files, in the hope that they will provide the evidence he needs to petition the High Court for an inquest.

But Mr Grieve is refusing to look at them, despite having the legal power to gain immediate access.

Instead, he is insisting that justice secretary Ken Clarke makes a decision on whether to release them.

This is despite the fact that Mr Grieve wrote to campaigners while in opposition saying he ‘would review’ all the associated medical and scientific records.

He was shadow justice secretary at the time. Now he is arguing that it would be ‘extremely unusual’ for him to ask for the papers.

He said Mr Clarke should decide whether to release the papers to the doctors, who would then pass them on to him, even though he could walk across Whitehall and collect them today.

Last night, a spokesman for Mr Grieve said: ‘The Attorney General has no investigative function. Whilst he could ask for the papers it would be extremely unusual for him to take a proactive step of that kind.’

Dr Kelly’s body was found in woods near his Oxfordshire home in July 2003 after he was identified as the source of a BBC story claiming the Labour government ‘sexed up’ its dossier on Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction.

Instead of a normal inquest, the Government set up the Hutton Inquiry to investigate the death. It concluded that Dr Kelly took his own life.

Lord Hutton then ordered the documents relating to the case be classified for 70 years.

Mr Grieve’s comments came as he said that he had not yet seen any new evidence to justify holding an inquest.

He also said there was ‘not a shred of evidence’ that there had been a cover-up.

Nine doctors have written an open letter casting grave doubt on the verdict that Dr Kelly died from loss of blood after cutting a small artery in his wrist. Mr Grieve has also been sent a medical report by a group of eminent doctors suggesting it would have been ‘impossible’ for Dr Kelly to lose sufficient blood through the artery to kill him.

The Attorney General said: ‘It’s right to say that hunches, theories are not enough – there has to be evidence. And if the evidence is available and people feel that they have the evidence, then if they send it to me it will be considered’.

He added: ‘I have no reason to think… and not a shred of evidence to suggest that there has been a cover up.

‘I know that some people have put some theories forward but if you’re going to put a theory forward like that you need some evidence and as matters stand at the moment I haven’t seen any evidence. But if there is any evidence my office is the place to send it to.’

Mr Grieve stressed that he had to take account of the feelings of Dr Kelly’s close family, who have not called for a fresh investigation.

Yesterday it was publicly stated for the first time that Dr Kelly’s relatives do not want an inquiry.

By placing responsibility for the sensitive decision at Mr Clarke’s door, Mr Grieve risks causing irritation within the Government.

The principal cause of death accepted by Lord Hutton was bleeding from a severed ulnar artery.

But Detective Constable Graham Coe, who found the body, said earlier this month that there had not been much blood at the scene.

Those calling for an inquest also include ex-Home Secretary Lord Howard, former Labour defence minister Peter Kilfoyle and the Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker.

Dr Andrew Davison, a Home Office pathologist, responded to the calls by saying that the circumstances of Dr Kelly’s death were ‘not a game of Cluedo’ and should be left to the experts.

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Ditch the queen and sell off her swans: UK public’s wild ideas for cuts

Under ancient laws, the Queen owns most swans in Britain and the bird was once a favored dish among the country’s aristocracy.

AP | Aug 19, 2010

By DAVID STRINGER

LONDON — Sell off the Queen’s swans. Make lawmakers work for free. Force prison inmates to generate cheap power on the treadmill.

As Britain’s government decides how to make the toughest spending cuts in decades, it has asked the public for help. The result? A list of wild ideas on how to save money — proposals that Treasury chief George Osborne insists will be seriously considered as he draws up a five-year austerity plan.

Osborne wants to save 30 billion pounds per year ($44 billion) to quickly reduce Britain’s huge national debts, racked up as the previous government bailed out banks and launched stimulus programs during the global financial crisis.

He has ordered government departments to prepare for budget cuts of 25 percent to raise 30 billion pounds per year ($44 billion) in savings and will announce details of his plans in a major speech in October.

Ministers have already announced a slate of cuts — axing 700 new schools, halting payments to pregnant women to fund healthier diets and scrapping 10 billion pounds (US$15 billion) worth of projects agreed under ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

But the country’s Conservative-led coalition government says it needs help to meet its ambitious target, not least because Osborne intends to balance Britain’s books almost exclusively by cutting costs, not raising taxes.

More than 45,000 ideas for savings have been posted on the Treasury’s website by members of the public and government workers. They range from the deliberately extreme — scrapping Britain’s monarchy, to the seemingly sensible — have staff book hotels online, not through expensive travel brokers.

“We asked everyone across the country — the people who use our schools, hospitals, transport systems and other public services — to send in their ideas for how to save public money and get more out of our services,” said a Treasury spokeswoman, on condition of anonymity in line with policy.

Among edgier ideas are plans to put Britain’s population of almost 100,000 prisoners to work.

One suggestions calls for convicts to cook meals for public hospitals or government-run care homes for the elderly. A wackier plan demands treadmills and rowing machines in prison gyms to be adapted to produce power for the national electricity grid.

Other offerings propose lining the roofs of government buildings — including Parliament — with vegetable gardens and selling the produce at a profit. Another idea suggests seeking corporate sponsors for Britain’s spectacular, but expensive, military parades.

One submission suggested asking the Queen to sell off her swans for meat. Under ancient laws, the Queen owns most swans in Britain and the bird was once a favored dish among the country’s aristocracy.

In June, Osborne said the 7.9 million pounds ($12 million) in annual government funding to Queen Elizabeth II’s royal household, used to pay salaries and the costs of official functions, would be frozen for a year.

Contributors to the website say that doesn’t go far enough — calling for Queen Elizabeth II either to step down, or drastically reduce the number of her family members who receive public money. “The French have not had a monarchy for more than 200 years and tourists still flock to Versailles,” one of the ideas posted on the Treasury site reads.

Other submissions call for the U.K. to share its plush — and costly — overseas embassies with its allies, sharply cutting the costs of the diplomatic service.

Dozens of entries demand cuts to development aid paid to poorer countries. While ministers say fast-growing economies like China and India won’t in the future receive money from Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron has already pledged not to cut the U.K.’s overall aid budget.

Submissions provided by government workers offer a long list of grass roots efficiencies — suggesting cheaper ways of paying for cell phone contracts, stationary and printing.

Speaking in Brighton, southern England, earlier this month, Cameron said seeking out the public’s ideas would help build support for the likely painful cuts to be announced in October. “I want to make sure we take as many people in our country with us as we do that,” he said.

Taxpayer groups praised the government’s approach, but said Osborne’s Treasury must now prove it is listening to the public’s ideas — however wild.

“Public consultation is a great tool in the right hands. It can smash down the barriers between the electorate and their representatives, and absorb people into the democratic process where they’re able to have a real say in how the country is run,” said Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance.

“But, like all consultation, the project will be undermined if public concerns are ignored and it’s ultimately exposed as a gimmick. If this happens then the public may well lose faith,” he said.

Britain has a deficit of about 10.4 percent of GDP, while debt stands at 903 billion pounds (US$1.4 trillion). Government lawmakers say the scale of the country’s financial woes mean the public largely accept spending cuts are necessary.

Google CEO Exposes Dark Side of Social Networking

People will one day change their name and reinvent themselves in order to escape their digital past.

Reuters | Aug 18, 2010

By Tony Bradley at PC World

Google CEO Eric Schmidt fears that too much information is shared online, and predicts that people will one day change their name and reinvent themselves in order to escape their digital past. That point of view might be extreme, but it is true that social networking has forced us to more closely examine and redefine the concepts of privacy and identity.

There are many exciting benefits to the evolution of the Web and the rise of social networking. Facebook and Twitter have enabled people to reconnect with friends and family, and provide a platform for sharing information and staying in touch. The real-time aspect of social network status updates has also transformed online search and breaking news.

The problem is that social networking also provides a very powerful tool for embarrassing yourself or ruining your reputation on a global and virtually eternal scale. Once you put it online, it is shared around the world in seconds, and can still be recalled after decades.

You’re Hired

It is not uncommon now for the job application process to include sharing your social networking account information. Tech savvy employers want to be able to check out your Facebook profile and your tweet history on Twitter.

What you say and how you act online says a lot about you. Examining your online persona gives employers a raw and unfiltered glimpse at who you really are, and is a much more effective tool for screening potential employees than the psychological personality or aptitude tests relied on in years gone by.

You’re Fired

There is a long and growing list of stories of people losing their job as a result of Facebook status updates or Twitter tweets. It is generally a bad idea to bad mouth your boss or your job on a social networking site, or to post pics and status updates about how much fun you’re having at the beach after you called in sick.

One poor soul learned this lesson the hard way–possibly costing him a job at Cisco before he even started. Employers are watching, so letting the world know that you hate the job you have been offered is a quick way to get that offer rescinded.

What’s Your (Friend’s) Credit Score?

It’s all about who you know. In this case, who you know could make or break whether or not you can get a loan. Some banks are using services like Rapleaf to scan your social network and identify contacts connected with you that also do business with the financial institution. Based on the financial stability and credit history of your social network connections, the bank can make an assumption about what sort of credit risk you might be.

Till Death Do Us Part

It seems fair to assume that your spouse would be a Facebook friend, and a part of your Twitterverse. Why not? Love is grand, and you want to share everything with your partner…until you don’t. If the relationship goes south, you may want to unfriend your ex and be careful what you say online.

A Time Magazine article explains “Lawyers, however, love these sites, which can be evidentiary gold mines. Did your husband’s new girlfriend Twitter about getting a piece of jewelry? The court might regard that as marital assets being disbursed to a third party. Did your wife tell the court she’s incapable of getting a job? Then your lawyer should ask why she’s pursuing job interviews through LinkedIn.”

You’re probably familiar with the phrase “an elephant never forgets”. Well, the Internet never forgets and it has zettabytes of archived storage capacity that can be searched in seconds thanks to companies like Google. I don’t recommend changing your identity to try and dodge your digital past, but I do recommend exercising a modicum of discretion and common sense regarding what you post online.

Iris Scanners Create the Most Secure City in the World. Welcome, Big Brother

Eye scanners will soon be so cost-effective–between $50-$100 each–that in the not-too-distant future we’ll have “billions and billions of sensors” across the globe.

fastcompany.com | Aug 18, 2010

BY Austin Carr

We’ve all seen and obsessively referenced Minority Report, Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s dystopian future, where the public is tracked everywhere they go, from shopping malls to work to mass transit to the privacy of their own homes. The technology is here. I’ve seen it myself. It’s seen me, too, and scanned my irises.

Biometrics R&D firm Global Rainmakers Inc. (GRI) announced today that it is rolling out its iris scanning technology to create what it calls “the most secure city in the world.” In a partnership with Leon — one of the largest cities in Mexico, with a population of more than a million — GRI will fill the city with eye-scanners. That will help law enforcement revolutionize the way we live — not to mention marketers.

“In the future, whether it’s entering your home, opening your car, entering your workspace, getting a pharmacy prescription refilled, or having your medical records pulled up, everything will come off that unique key that is your iris,” says Jeff Carter, CDO of Global Rainmakers. Before coming to GRI, Carter headed a think tank partnership between Bank of America, Harvard, and MIT. “Every person, place, and thing on this planet will be connected [to the iris system] within the next 10 years,” he says.

Leon is the first step. To implement the system, the city is creating a database of irises. Criminals will automatically be enrolled, their irises scanned once convicted. Law-abiding citizens will have the option to opt-in.

When these residents catch a train or bus, or take out money from an ATM, they will scan their irises, rather than swiping a metro or bank card. Police officers will monitor these scans and track the movements of watch-listed individuals. “Fraud, which is a $50 billion problem, will be completely eradicated,” says Carter. Not even the “dead eyeballs” seen in Minority Report could trick the system, he says. “If you’ve been convicted of a crime, in essence, this will act as a digital scarlet letter. If you’re a known shoplifter, for example, you won’t be able to go into a store without being flagged. For others, boarding a plane will be impossible.”

GRI’s scanning devices are currently shipping to the city, where integration will begin with law enforcement facilities, security check-points, police stations, and detention areas. This first phase will cost less than $5 million. Phase II, which will roll out in the next three years, will focus more on commercial enterprises. Scanners will be placed in mass transit, medical centers and banks, among other public and private locations.

The devices range from large-scale scanners like the Hbox (shown in the airport-security prototype above), which can snap up to 50 people per minute in motion, to smaller scanners like the EyeSwipe and EyeSwipe Mini, which can capture the irises of between 15 to 30 people per minute.

I tested these devices at GRI’s R&D facilities in New York City last week. It took less than a second for my irises to be scanned and registered in the company’s database. Every time I went through the scanners after that–even when running through (because everybody runs, right, Tom Cruise?) my eyes were scanned and identified correctly.

For such a Big Brother-esque system, why would any law-abiding resident ever volunteer to scan their irises into a public database, and sacrifice their privacy? GRI hopes that the immediate value the system creates will alleviate any concern. “There’s a lot of convenience to this–you’ll have nothing to carry except your eyes,” says Carter, claiming that consumers will no longer be carded at bars and liquor stores. And he has a warning for those thinking of opting out: “When you get masses of people opting-in, opting out does not help. Opting out actually puts more of a flag on you than just being part of the system. We believe everyone will opt-in.”

This vision of the future eerily matches Minority Report, and GRI knows it. “Minority Report is one possible outcome,” admits Carter. “I don’t think that’s our company’s aim, but I think what we’re going to see is an enviroment well beyond what you see in that movie–minus the precogs, of course.”

When I asked Carter whether he felt the film was intended as a dystopian view of the future of privacy, he pointed out that much of our private life is already tracked by telecoms and banks, not to mention Facebook. “The banks already know more about what we do in our daily life–they know what we eat, where we go, what we purchase–our deepest secrets,” he says. “We’re not talking about anything different here–just a system that’s good for all of us.”

One potential benefit? Carter believes the system could be used to intermittently scan truck drivers on highways to make sure they haven’t been on the road for too long.

GRI also predicts that iris scanners will help marketers. “Digital signage,” for example, could enable advertisers to track behavior and emotion. “In ten years, you may just have one sensor that is literally able to identify hundreds of people in motion at a distance and determine their geo-location and their intent–you’ll be able to see how many eyeballs looked at a billboard,” Carter says. “You can start to track from the point a person is browsing on Google and finds something they want to purchase, to the point they cross the threshold in a Target or Walmart and actually make the purchase. You start to see the entire life cycle of marketing.”

So will we live the future under iris scanners and constant Big Brother monitoring? According to Carter, eye scanners will soon be so cost-effective–between $50-$100 each–that in the not-too-distant future we’ll have “billions and billions of sensors” across the globe.

Goodbye 2010. Hello 1984.

As troops leave, U.S. to double contractors in Iraq

The employment of contractors has caused anger in Iraq, particularly after a U.S. court dismissed charges against Blackwater Worldwide guards accused of killing 14 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007.

Reuters | Aug 19, 2010

By Andrew Quinn

WASHINGTON, Aug 19 (Reuters) – With the United States drawing down troops in Iraq, the State Department plans to double the number of private security contractors it uses to ensure the safety of the huge civilian development effort, officials said on Thursday.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the plan would bring to some 7,000 the total security contractors employed by the government in Iraq, where since the 2003 U.S. invasion private security firms have often been accused of acting above the law.

Crowley said the U.S. military’s plan to cut troop numbers to 50,000 by the end of August — down from 176,000 at the peak of the deployment — left a security gap contractors would have to fill.

“We will still have our own security needs to make sure that our diplomats and development experts are well protected,” Crowley told a news briefing.

“We have very specific plans to increase our security … as the military is leaving. This will be expensive. this is not a cheap proposition,” he said, although he added the costs to the U.S. taxpayer would still be far less than those incurred by the military deployment.

The employment of contractors has caused anger in Iraq, particularly after a U.S. court dismissed charges against Blackwater Worldwide guards accused of killing 14 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007.

Contractors’ immunity from prosecution was lifted last year under a U.S.-Iraqi security pact that gave Iraq back its sovereignty.

Security contractors have also spurred outrage in Afghanistan, where President Hamid Karzai issued a decree this week ordering private security firms to disband within four months as part of his ambitious plan for the government to take responsibility for all security in the country from 2014.

A senior U.S. official conceded contractors had caused problems in Iraq in the past, but said the administration was confident these could be avoided for what he described as a “short duration security requirement.”

“We’ve had tragic issues involving contractors in the past. We have worked this issue very closely with the Iraqi government. There have been changes over the past couple of years to improve oversight and accountability for contractors in Iraq,” the official said.

“We believe we can have the kind of accountability and oversight that is necessary,” he said.

The United States is turning over much of future development work in Iraq to the State Department, which has asked for between $2-3 billion annually to help fund everything from new consulates to training Iraqi police.

The rise in contractor numbers in Iraq comes despite Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s own hopes to reduce U.S. government dependence on outside companies for a big chunk of its overseas security and development work.

Crowley said the decision to employ more contractors was seen as the most practical in Iraq, giving the government flexibility to increase security for now and then pull back if, as officials hope, the overall security situation improves. (Editing by Jerry Norton)

NATO strikes kill Afghan police and civilians

Reuters | Aug 21, 2010

By Paul Tait

KABUL (Reuters) – Air strikes by the NATO-led force in Afghanistan accidentally killed at least three Afghan police in the country’s north and a woman and two children in the west, officials said on Saturday.

Sensitivities about civilian casualties and “friendly fire” incidents have been running high as violence spreads across Afghanistan, reaching its worst levels since the Taliban were ousted in late 2001.

With military deaths also reaching record levels, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said four of its troops had been killed in attacks the south, the heartland of the Taliban, on Friday and Saturday.

Civilian casualties have been a major irritant between Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government and foreign forces fighting in Afghanistan, leading to a major falling-out last year.

Tactical directives were tightened twice in the past year as a result, as U.S. and NATO commanders sought to limit the damaging fallout from such incidents. The directives laid down tight rules governing the use of air strikes and home searches.

ISAF said Afghan security forces came under fire from insurgents in multiple locations in Jawzjan province on Friday and that the Afghan forces had requested air support.

Two helicopters then fired a Hellfire missile and 30 mm rounds at the insurgents, it said.

“During a subsequent battle-damage assessment, it was discovered three Afghan National Police were accidentally killed and several more wounded during the air weapons team engagement,” ISAF said in a statement.

“International Security Assistance Force officials offer their sincere condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of those fallen service members,” it said.

Mohammad Rahimi, a district chief from Darz Aab in Jawzjan, said Afghan forces asked for NATO help when they were attacked by about 400 Taliban fighters. He said four police were killed, as well as at least 10 civilians caught in crossfire.

“NATO’s aircrafts bombed where our troops were without coordinating with us, killing four policemen and wounding 13 others,” he said.

GUNBATTLE

In western Farah province, Afghan and ISAF forces hunting a Taliban fighter followed a vehicle carrying several armed insurgents to a compound in a remote district. Six insurgents were killed in an ensuing gunbattle and an air strike was called in, which hit the vehicle they had been driving in.

ISAF said the vehicle, which may have been full of home-made explosives, blew up and that a woman and two children were later found dead at the scene.

“We deeply regret what happened on yesterday’s mission,” said U.S. Army Colonel Rafael Torres, a senior ISAF spokesman.

U.S. General David Petraeus, the new commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has stressed that reducing such casualties and protecting Afghans were his priorities.

A United Nations report has found that civilian casualties increased by 31 percent in the first six months of 2010, more than three-quarters of them blamed on insurgents. Five civilians were killed by a roadside bomb, the insurgents’ most effective weapon, in the north on Saturday, ISAF said.

The number attributed to foreign forces fell to 12 percent of the total from 30 percent in the same period a year ago, the U.N. report found, due mainly to a dramatic drop in the number caused by aerial attacks.

The casualties have grown as the insurgency spreads out of traditional Taliban strongholds in the south and east into the north and west despite the presence of more than 140,000 troops.