Daily Archives: March 11, 2011

Putin proposes U.S.-Russia visa-free travel to Biden

“Mr. Dodd, all of us here at the policy making level of the foundation have at one time or another served in the OSS [the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA] or the European Economic Administration, operating under directives from the White House. We operate under those same directives…The substance of the directives under which we operate is that we shall use our grant making power to so alter life in the United States that we can be comfortably merged with the Soviet Union.”

– Rowan Gaither, President of the Ford Foundation to Norman Dodd, Research Director for the Reece Committee in 1953.


Vice President of the United States Joe Biden, left, geatures as he meets Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, March 10, 2011. The talks in Moscow are expected to focus on missile defense cooperation and Russia’s efforts to join the World Trade Organization. AP Photo

Biden called the proposal “a good idea.”

xinhuanet.com | Mar 10, 2011

MOSCOW, March 10 (Xinhua) — Prime Minister Vladimir Putin proposed to the visiting U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday the idea of visa free travel between Russia and the United States.

“If Russia and the United States agreed to introduce a visa-free regime before Russia makes an agreement on the matter with the European Union, it would be a historical step in the development of Russia-U.S. relations,” Putin said.

Putin speaking at a meeting with Biden during the American vice president’s three-day official visit to Moscow, stressed the move “would have crushed the old stereotypes in the Russia-U.S. relations.”

Biden called the proposal “a good idea,” according to Russian media.

Related

Russia has long been trying to persuade Europe to drop visas for its citizens, but the efforts have so far yielded no significant results.

Saudi police open fire on protesters

AFP | Mar 11, 2011

SAUDI police shot and wounded three Shi’ite protesters in the oil-rich Eastern Province yesterday while trying to disperse a protest calling for the release of prisoners.

The shooting happened when around 600-800 protesters, all Shi’ite and including women, took to the streets of the city of Al-Qateef to demand the release of nine Shi’ite prisoners, a witness said.

“As the procession in the heart of the city was about to finish, soldiers started shooting at the protesters, and three of them were wounded,” the witness said.

The three wounded, all men, were hospitalised but their injuries were “moderate,” he said, adding that the shooting continued for about 10 minutes and around 200 policemen were present.

The incident came as Saudi Arabia braced for street protests today after calls on Facebook and Twitter.

In Washington, the United States said it would closely monitor unrest in Saudi Arabia and restated its support for universal values.

“We will of course continue to monitor closely this particular situation,” said Ben Rhodes, a senior foreign policy adviser to President Barack Obama.

“What we have said is that we are going to support a set of universal values in every country in the region.”

Life was normal in Riyadh late yesterday, but with “more than normal” police patrols.

On Saturday, the interior ministry had issued a stern reminder that any demonstration was illegal and warned activists that the security forces had been authorised to crack down on any protests.

The authorities on Sunday released Shi’ite cleric Sheikh Tawfiq al-Aamer whose arrest last month provoked demonstrations.

Several hundred people had protested in the east on Friday after Aamer was arrested on February 27, reportedly for calling for a constitutional monarchy in the kingdom, which is an absolute monarchy.

Saudi Arabia sits on a quarter of global crude reserves and is the world’s largest oil exporter.

Traders are now looking ahead to possible protests in the kingdom but US experts have said that Riyadh seems unlikely to catch the contagion of Arab revolutions although nerves are on edge.

“The main focus remains on the Middle East crisis, as any potential protests for Friday’s ‘Day of Rage’ in Saudi Arabia could make crude oil prices to surge higher, with Brent possibly retesting the $120 per barrel area,” Sucden analyst Myrto Sokou said.

“There are large worries in the market … as Saudi Arabia is considered to be one of the biggest oil suppliers globally (and) exports approximately 8.9 million barrels per day,” she said.

“If the political turmoil worsens across the Middle East and protests move over to Saudi Arabia, then the situation is getting rather serious.”

Cyber activists have used Facebook to call for a “Day of Rage” after this week’s today’s prayers in Saudi Arabia. Another page calls for a “Saudi revolution” to begin on March 20.

On both pages, activists are calling for political and economic reforms, jobs, freedom and women’s rights.

Anti-government protesters in Yemen may have been hit with nerve gas, doctors say


Yemenis protest against the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa, where demonstrators were allegedly fired on with nerve gas by government forces.  Source: AFP

Some of the victims had lost their muscular control and were forced to wear diapers.

AAP | Mar 10, 2011

DOCTORS from the scene of violent anti-government protests in Yemen’s capital said that what was thought to be tear gas fired by government forces on demonstrators may have been nerve gas, which is forbidden under international law.

Military personnel opened fire on Tuesday night and used what was originally assumed to be tear gas to disperse a group of demonstrators who were trying to bring additional tents into the protest area outside Sanaa University.

At least two people were killed in a fresh round of clashes across the country, where anti-regime protests have been raging since late January, medical and security officials said.

One protester died of gunshot wounds early Wednesday when police opened fire on student demonstrators near the university in the capital Sanaa overnight, a medical official said.

According to witnesses, the soldiers fired warning shots into the air before shooting gas – and in some cases live bullets – into the crowd, killing one and injuring at least 50.

Earlier reports indicated that the gas used was tear gas, but doctors who have been treating the wounded refuted that claim today.

“The material in this gas makes people convulse for hours. It paralyses them. They couldn’t move at all. We tried to give them oxygen but it didn’t work,” said Amaar Nujaim, a field doctor who works for Islamic Relief.

“We are seeing symptoms in the patient’s nerves, not in their respiratory systems. I’m 90 per cent sure its nerve gas and not tear gas that was used,” said Sami Zaid, a doctor at the Science and Technology Hospital in Sanaa.

Mohammad Al-Sheikh, a pathologist at the same hospital, said that some of the victims had lost their muscular control and were forced to wear diapers.

“We have never seen tear gas cause these symptoms. We fear it may be a dangerous gas that is internationally forbidden,” Al-Sheikh said.

Schoolchildren as young as 12 encouraged to become spies


Could these children be the next generation of the British intelligence service?

GCHQ staff teach ‘future spies’ in schools

BBC | Mar 10, 2011

By Richard Galpin Reporter

Schoolchildren as young as 12 are being introduced to the secret world of intelligence gathering in a programme run by the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) across the UK.

“Privyet,” says Anna, as pupils at Chosen Hill comprehensive school near Cheltenham file into a classroom in the language department.

“Sevodnia, ou nas peetnadtsat minut,” she continues.

“Today we have 15 minutes to get you hooked into your Russki urok – into your Russian lesson.”

Anna, whose full name cannot be revealed, is no ordinary teacher.

She is a Russian specialist from the GCHQ in Cheltenham, which intercepts electronic communications from around the world.

It has more than 70 “ambassadors” who visit schools and festivals to promote the study of languages, science and technology, but they also “plant the seed” in the minds of pupils that they could have a good career working for what is the third intelligence agency after MI5 and MI6.

Anna’s goal is to convince the class that learning the tougher and more unusual languages like Russian, Arabic and Mandarin is not only possible, it is also fun.

She promises that by the end of the 15-minute “taster session”, the pupils will be able to speak some basic Russian phrases, enough for them to get around central Moscow.

“Vot kino!” they repeat after her, as the lesson draws to an end, “there’s the cinema!”

Chosen Hill School has a strong language department and the pupils are quick to decipher the Russian alphabet and pick up some basic words.

Scott Major, who is 18 and who will soon take his A-levels, says the language tasters he has attended have convinced him to apply to study Arabic and Mandarin at Leeds University.

And after university, he is keen to work for GCHQ.

“It’s one of the main careers where you can use language skills intensively every day,” he says.

“I think it’s good because you can get the impression that you are really making a difference… language skills can help defend the country.”

GCHQ is the single largest employer of linguists within the government and every day they analyse intercepted messages in a vast number of languages from around the world.

One of GCHQ’s current concerns is that the pool of talented linguists in Britain is shrinking as studying languages becomes less and less popular with school children.

“We are not getting people through the door with the skills we need,” says Chris, from GCHQ’s language department.

“We are looking for people with top end language skills… we are not finding as many as we were finding at the beginning of the 2000s.

“Since then there has been a marked decline.”

He lays the blame for this on the previous government which decided in 2003 to make the study of languages voluntary from the age of 14.

His concern about the level of language training in Britain is shared by senior teachers at Chosen Hill school.

“We see in the surrounding area some schools where languages have virtually disappeared from key stage 4 (between the ages of 14 and 16),” says Gordon Rae, the head of languages.

“Where there are classes that are so small that the school is struggling to consider them viable.”

It is this decline which prompted GCHQ to start visiting schools to promote languages and also science and technology.

Aspiring code-breakers and fighters of cyber-crime are given plenty of encouragement to develop their skills by the teams of GCHQ ambassadors who get involved in after-school science clubs.

At Chosen Hill School there is much excitement about experiments set up by GCHQ specialists to send and receive secret messages and to intercept communications.

“It gave us more of an understanding of what they do at GCHQ,” says one pupil, “because we weren’t really sure, we just knew they dealt with the bad guys.”

Several pupils now want to become part of the secret world of intelligence gathering.

“This has really made me want to get involved in it,” says 15-year-old James Shaw.

“I’ve wanted to do stuff like this for a long time and it has helped me get an insight in to what I would be doing if I went down that career path.

“It’s kind of odd and mysterious and it’s got a mythical status especially in the local area.”

Bill would make farm photography a first-degree felony


Norman bill would make farm photography a first-degree felony; animal-rights groups outraged

floridaindependent.com | Mar 10, 2011

By Brett Ader

A bill filed by state Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, would make photographing farms without the written consent of the owner a first-degree felony in Florida. Senate Bill 1246, simply titled “Farms,” has caused a stir among animal-advocacy groups for comparing a potential whistleblower who might expose the realities of factory farming — or even a tourist snapping a photograph of cows grazing in a field — with those who commit murder or armed robbery.

“This bill is particularly outrageous, and frankly Sen. Norman should be ashamed of himself for even introducing a bill like this,” says Jeff Kerr, general counsel for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (aka PETA).

The language of the bill, which is very brief, notes that video or photographic records taken “at or of a farm” would become illegal, and the guilty party could face the same penalties as a violent criminal — including a $10,000 fine and up to 30 years in prison.

“It’s beyond ridiculous, blatantly unconstitutional and clearly designed to protect animal abusers,” Kerr says. “He should be introducing bills to require cameras be in slaughterhouses and animal-raising facilities so the abusers can be identified and prosecuted, not protected behind closed doors.”

There are currently no mechanisms in place to monitor animal welfare on Florida’s farms, with inspections focusing on the food itself, not the conditions of the animals. Organizations such as PETA and the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida contend Norman drafted the legislation in response to a number of high-profile exposés that revealed horrific conditions on farms around the country, and worry that without whistleblowers the industry will operate with impunity.

“Whistleblowers play an important role in our society — exposing waste, fraud and abuse not just in agribusiness but in any industry,” Humane Society of the United States spokesman Paul Shapiro says. ”Agribusiness is notoriously secretive because many of its standard industry practices are so extreme, so cruel, that they are out of step with what mainstream American values would demand of our treatment of animals.”

Even within the agribusiness community itself, internal discussion has emerged about the merits of Norman’s legislation.

The editor of CattleNetwork.com, a website affiliated with the nation’s oldest monthly livestock magazine Drovers, recently authored a piece questioning the logic Norman’s bill, asserting that such “extreme” measures give the impression that the industry has something to hide…

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Nato ‘kills cousin of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’


The death comes just days after Hamid Karzai lambasted US forces over civilian deaths

Civilians will continue to be caught in the middle, with even higher casualties expected in the year ahead.

BBC | Mar 10, 2011

A relative of Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been mistakenly killed by Nato troops in southern Afghanistan, officials say.

Yar Muhammad Khan was at his home in Dand district near Kandahar city when he was shot dead in an overnight raid.

Nato says it is investigating the incident.

Hundreds of Afghans took to the streets of the capital, Kabul, last week to protest about civilian deaths at the hands of foreign forces.

”There were operations taking place near his house. He was killed by mistake. He was not a target,” Ahmad Wali Karzai, the brother of President Karzai and head of Kandahar’s provincial council, told the BBC.

It comes just days after President Karzai lashed out at US-led forces over the recent accidental killing of nine boys in eastern Kunar province.

US President Barack Obama, Gen Petraeus, the commander of international troops in Afghanistan, and US Defence Secretary Robert Gates have all apologised for the incident.

‘Extremely sad’

The man killed on Thursday does not appear to have been a close relative of Hamid Karzai. He has been described by various sources as a cousin of President Karzai and a cousin of his father’s.

However, President Karzai’s spokesman said that the president knew the man and that they came from the same village.

“He was extremely sad, just as he’s sad over any incident that takes the life of any innocent Afghan civilian,” Waheed Omer said.

The president “once again calls on Nato forces to avoid killing civilians,” he is quoted by the AFP news agency as saying.

Mr Khan is thought to be a farmer between 60 and 65 years old. He is reported to have left the house at night carrying a weapon.

The BBC’s Quentin Sommerville in Kabul says it is not unusual to carry weapons at night in such volatile areas, especially for those in the Karzai clan. However, reports say he was spotted by the Nato team with a weapon and shot dead.

A record number of civilians were killed in Afghanistan last year. More than 2,700 civilians were killed in 2010 – up 15% on the year before.

A UN report on civilian deaths said that the Taliban were responsible for 75% of all deaths. The numbers killed by Afghan and Nato forces fell, accounting for 16% of civilian deaths.

Nevertheless the issue of civilian deaths is highly sensitive in Afghanistan.

Our correspondent says that public anger over the deaths of the nine boys in Kunar shows that the deaths of Afghans by foreign hands provokes greater outrage than killings by the Taliban.

In 2009 Gen Stanley McChrystal, the former commander in chief in Afghanistan, made reducing civilian casualties a priority for coalition forces.

Analysts see this as a critical year for the conflict: fighting is expected to get worse and human rights groups fear that the Taliban are becoming more brutal.

They say civilians will continue to be caught in the middle, with even higher casualties expected in the year ahead.

Kandahar province, where Mr Khan was killed, is the spiritual homeland of the Taliban and is a key focus of the coalition offensive to drive out insurgents.