Monthly Archives: October 2011

Icy Temperatures Chill the Bones of New Yorkers This Halloween

Outdoor Halloween decorations get covered with snow as it falls Saturday Oct. 29, 2011 in New York. A classic nor’easter is moving along the East Coast and is expected to dump anywhere from a dusting of snow to about 10 inches throughout the region starting Saturday, a decidedly unseasonal date for a type of storm more associated with midwinter. AP Photo

Decoded Science | Oct 30, 2011

by Tricia Edgar

In New York, it’s beginning to feel a lot like … Halloween? Bone-chilling cold is gripping the state, with temperatures dipping below 40 degrees. Cold, steady rain and snow flurries fell on New York this week as the temperature hovered around the freezing point. On Halloween, the temperature will rise a little and the high will be closer to 50 degrees, but the layered costume is still a fashionable and functional must this Halloween.

This Halloween howler is wreaking havoc on Occupy Wall Street protesters as well, although thermal images of the area show that most have continued to stay outdoors.

Snowstorm in the Northeast

A fall storm is snarling traffic and creating dangerous walking and driving conditions across the Northeast.  Blizzard-like conditions were reported on Saturday night, and power was out in nearly 2 million homes.

Full Story

US East Coast hit by record breaking snowstorms, unseasonable cold temperatures

An early fall snow covers a Halloween display Sunday, Oct. 30, 2011 in Concord, N.H. AP Photo

Three people were killed and nearly three million left without power as the eastern United States was hit by a record breaking October snowstorm.

Telegraph | Oct 30, 2011

By Nick Allen, Los Angeles

States of emergency were declared in New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and parts of New York as icy, gusting winds brought down tree limbs and power lines from West Virginia to Massachusetts.

Those without power were warned it could be days before their electricity was restored.

The unseasonably early winter storm, known as a “nor’easter” due to its north-easterly movement, was being called “Snowtober” and affected up to 60 million people.

It broke an October snow record that had stood since 1969 for New York’s Central Park which was blanketed in 2.9 inches of snow. It was the first time the park had seen more than an inch of snow before Halloween.

In West Milford, New Jersey, about 45 miles northwest of New York City, 19 inches of snow fell. The heaviest snowfall of 27.8 inches was recorded in Plainfield, Massachusetts.

Major delays were reported at airports in cities including New York and Philadelphia with at least 1,000 flights being cancelled.

The dead included an 84-year-old man in Pennsylvania who was killed when a snow-laden tree fell on his home, and a 20-year-old man in Massachusetts who was electrocuted by a downed power line.

Declaring a state of emergency New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said 600,000 customers were without power in his state and he urged residents to “stay safe and off the roads” as it was hit by winds of 60mph.

Mr Christie said: “We expect the number is going to continue to go up before it goes back down. The problem is that there are trees just down everywhere because of the snow, the wet, heavy snow.”

More than 265,000 people were without power in New York state, more than 750,000 in Connecticut, nearly 400,000 in Pennsylvania, 226,000 in Massachusetts and 61,000 in New Hampshire.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy said: “This is the largest number of power outages that we have ever experienced. Some people could be without power for as much as a week.”

The National Weather Service said unseasonably cold air was pouring into the northeastern United States.

Meteorologist Meghan Evans on said: “A historic October storm is still crushing New England with heavy snow and howling winds.”

In New York the blanket of snow, rain and slush brought misery to the Occupy Wall Street encampment where drenched protesters hunkered down in tents in a park in the financial district.

Adash Daniel, 24, a protester leaving the camp because of the conditions, said: “I’m not much good to this movement if I’m shivering.”

World’s most powerful laser to tear apart the vacuum of space

Capable of producing a beam of light so intense that it would be equivalent to the power received by the Earth from the sun focused onto a speck smaller than a tip of a pin.

A laser powerful enough to tear apart the fabric of space could be built in Britain as part major new scientific project that aims to answer some of the most fundamental questions about our universe.

Telegraph | Oct 30, 2011

By Richard Gray

Due to follow in the footsteps of the Large Hadron Collider, the latest “big science” experiment being proposed by physicists will see the world’s most powerful laser being constructed.

Capable of producing a beam of light so intense that it would be equivalent to the power received by the Earth from the sun focused onto a speck smaller than a tip of a pin, scientists claim it could allow them boil the very fabric of space – the vacuum.

Contrary to popular belief, a vacuum is not devoid of material but in fact fizzles with tiny mysterious particles that pop in and out of existence, but at speeds so fast that no one has been able to prove they exist.

The Extreme Light Infrastructure Ultra-High Field Facility would produce a laser so intense that scientists say it would allow them to reveal these particles for the first time by pulling this vacuum “fabric” apart.

They also believe it could even allow them to prove whether extra-dimensions exist.

“This laser will be 200 times more powerful than the most powerful lasers that currently exist,” said Professor John Collier, a scientific leader for the ELI project and director of the Central Laser Facility at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Didcot, Oxfordshire.

“At this kind of intensity we start to get into unexplored territory as it is an area of physics that we have never been before.”

The ELI Ultra-High Field laser is due to be complete by the end of the decade and will cost an estimated £1 billion. Although the location for the facility will not be decided until next year, the UK is among several European countries in the running to host it.

The European Commission has already this year approved plans to build three other lasers that will form part of the ELI project and will be prototypes for the Ultra-High Field laser.

Due to sited in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania, each laser will coast around £200 million and are scheduled to become operational in 2015.

The Ultra-High Field laser will be made up of 10 beams, each twice as powerful as the prototype lasers, allowing it to produce 200 petawatts of power – more than 100,000 times the power of the world’s combined electricity production – for less than a trillionth of a second.

The huge amounts of energy needed to produce a laser beam of this strength is stored up over time before it is fired to produce large laser beams several feet wide that are then combined and focused down onto a tiny spot, much like sunlight through a magnifying glass.

At the focal point, the intensity of the light will produce conditions that are so extreme they do not exist even in the centre of our sun.

It will cause the mysterious particles of matter and antimatter thought to make up a vacuum to be pulled apart, allowing scientists to detect the tiny electrical charges they produce.

These “ghost particles”, as they are known, normally annihilate one another as soon as they appear, but by using the laser to pull them apart, physicists believe they will be able to detect them.

It could help to explain the mystery of why the universe contains far more matter than we have been able to detect by revealing what so called dark matter really is.

Professor Wolfgang Sandner, coordinator of the Laserlab Europe network and president of the German Physics Society, said: “We are taught to think of the vacuum as empty space, but it seems even a true vacuum is filled with pairs of molecules that come into our universe for an extremely short time.

“An extremely powerful laser should be able to pull these particles apart and keep them in existence for longer.

“There are many challenges to be over come before we can do that, but it is mainly a matter of scaling up the technology we have so we can produce the powers needed.”

The Science and Technology Facilities Council, which provides funds for Britain’s involvement in major science facilities including the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva, has marked out the ELI as a key area it wants to focus on.

Scientists at the Centre for Advanced Laser Technology and Applications at Rutherford Appleton Laboratories in Dicot, Oxfordshire, are already developing technology that will be essential for producing such powerful lasers.

The Centre is thought to be one of the prime candidates for where the Ultra-High Field laser could be located, but it faces competition from sites in Russia, France, Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic.

As well as offering new insights in to undiscovered realms of physics, scientists say the ELI lasers will also produce new laser based treatments for cancer and medical diagnostics.

Dr Thomas Heinzl, an associate professor of theoretical physics at Plymouth University, said: “ELI is going to take us into an uncharted regime of physics. There could well be some surprises along the way.”

Homeland security tests real-life “Minority Report” pre-crime technology

Artist’s conception of how Future Attribute Screening Technology (F.A.S.T.) might be employed at a security checkpoint. Date 2008. Source Department of Homeland Security, Science and Technology Department Image from the Wikimedia Commons.

Real-life “Minority Report” program gets a try-out

CBS | Oct 7, 2011

By Declan McCullagh

An internal U.S. Department of Homeland Security document indicates that a controversial program designed to predict whether a person will commit a crime is already being tested on some members of the public voluntarily, CNET has learned.

If this sounds a bit like the Tom Cruise movie called “Minority Report,” or the CBS drama “Person of Interest,” it is. But where “Minority Report” author Philip K. Dick enlisted psychics to predict crimes, DHS is betting on algorithms: it’s building a “prototype screening facility” that it hopes will use factors such as ethnicity, gender, breathing, and heart rate to “detect cues indicative of mal-intent.”

The latest developments, which reveal efforts to “collect, process, or retain information on” members of “the public,” came to light through an internal DHS document obtained under open-government laws by the Electronic Privacy Information Center. DHS calls its “pre-crime” system Future Attribute Screening Technology, or FAST.

“If it were deployed against the public, it would be very problematic,” says Ginger McCall, open government counsel at EPIC, a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C.



It’s unclear why the June 2010 DHS document (PDF) specified that information is currently collected or retained on members of “the public” as part of FAST, and a department representative declined to answer questions that CNET posed two days ago.

Elsewhere in the document, FAST program manager Robert Middleton Jr. refers to a “limited” initial trial using DHS employees as test subjects. Middleton says that FAST “sensors will non-intrusively collect video images, audio recordings, and psychophysiological measurements from the employees,” with a subgroup of employees singled out, with their permission, for more rigorous evaluation.

Peter Boogaard, the deputy press secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, provided a statement to CNET that said:

The department’s Science and Technology Directorate has conducted preliminary research in operational settings to determine the feasibility of using non-invasive physiological and behavioral sensor technology and observational techniques to detect signs of stress, which are often associated with intent to do harm. The FAST program is only in the preliminary stages of research and there are no plans for acquiring or deploying this type of technology at this time.

FAST is designed to track and monitor, among other inputs, body movements, voice pitch changes, prosody changes (alterations in the rhythm and intonation of speech), eye movements, body heat changes, and breathing patterns. Occupation and age are also considered. A government source told CNET that blink rate and pupil variation are measured too.

A field test of FAST has been conducted in at least one undisclosed location in the northeast. “It is not an airport, but it is a large venue that is a suitable substitute for an operational setting,” DHS spokesman John Verrico told in May.

Although DHS has publicly suggested that FAST could be used at airport checkpoints–the Transportation Security Administration is part of the department, after all–the government appears to have grander ambitions. One internal DHS document (PDF) also obtained by EPIC through the Freedom of Information Act says a mobile version of FAST “could be used at security checkpoints such as border crossings or at large public events such as sporting events or conventions.”

It also says that the next field trial of FAST will involve members of the public who “have food service experience” and are paid “to work at a one day VIP event.” Most of the document is redacted, but each person is apparently told to act normally or to do something demonstrating “mal-intent,” such as being told to smuggle a recording device into the VIP event. The trick, then, is to see if FAST can detect which is which.

It’s not clear whether these people were informed that they’re participating in a FAST study.

McCall, the EPIC attorney who has been pressing the department to obtain these internal documents, said it’s time for the DHS Privacy Office to review the current state of the FAST project. What appears to be the most recent privacy analysis (PDF) was completed in December 2008 and contemplates using “volunteer participants” who have given their “informed consent.”

“They should do a privacy impact assessment,” McCall said.

DHS is being unusually secretive about FAST. A February 2010 contract (PDF) with Cambridge, Mass.-based Draper Laboratory to build elements of the “pre-crime” system has every dollar figure blacked out (a fleeting reference to an “infrared camera” remained).

Relying on ambiguous biological factors to predict mal-intent is worrisome, says McCall. “Especially if they’re going to be rolling this out at the airport. I don’t know about you, but going to an airport gives me a minor panic attack, wondering if I’m going to get groped by a TSA officer.”

Chief Ray Kelly put NYPD quota demands to make arrests, issue summonses, and do stop and frisks in writing | Oct 28 2011

By Graham Rayman

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has issued an intriguing new order to the NYPD which appears to finally put the unwritten quota policy into writing, adds yet another layer of paperwork to the street cop’s job, and brings department micromanaging to a new level of insanity.

Titled “Police Officer Performance Objectives,” the document states, “Department managers can and must set performance goals.” Their emphasis, not ours. Now, if that doesn’t sound like an express demand for precinct commanders to have quotas, we don’t know what does.

And Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said this: “Labeling quotas as ‘goals’ does nothing to change the fact that police officers are being forced to make arrests, issue summonses, and do stop and frisks simply to make the numbers. Not only is this wrong and illegal, but it completely undermines the integrity of policing.”

The exhausting five-page memo, obtained by the Voice, is already generating an outcry among the rank-and-file. “The job is essentially saying fuck you to the quota bill,” one cop writes.

That’s a reference to the fact that the state Legislature passed a law last year that bans police departments from having quotas for tickets, arrests, and stop and frisks.

“A good boss knows his cops, their strengths, their weakness and how to get blood from the stones…. I didn’t need no stinkin’ form to get the job done,” another writes.

The order states that “proactive enforcement activities” include “summonses, the stopping and questioning of suspicious individuals, and the arrests of criminals.”

A new document called the Command Conditions Report will track the “activity” of every officer in the command–i.e., arrests, summonses, stop and frisks–which will be forwarded to borough command on a weekly basis.

Each police officer in the department will have to do a daily report on their “activity.”
This is called the “Police Officer’s Monthly Conditions Impact Measurement Report.” That document then gets forwarded up the chain via computer, which means that Kelly will now be able look at what every cop in the city is doing. Cops have to carry it around and show it to any supervisor who asks for it. And they are required to have a weekly meeting about their work with their boss.

The report has two boxes for bosses to check about the officer’s work: “effective or ineffective.”

And get this, the order says the report “must be neatly folded as to minimize any tears.” Wow, the bureaucrats at One Police Plaza, sometimes known as the “Puzzle Palace,” must be going nuts!

To view the NYPD Operations Order go here:

Police Chief accused of illegal traffic ticket quotas | Oct 28, 2011


League City Police Chief Michael Jez and one of his captains stand accused of creating illegal traffic ticket quotas based on a formal complaint sent to the offices of the State Attorney General, the Galveston County District Attorney’s office and League City officials.

On Oct. 19, League City Patrol Officer Sean Arena sent a letter reporting “a violation of the law by my direct supervisors (Police) Chief Mike Jez and Captain Charles Slade” for establishing a traffic quota.

Arena is a six-year-veteran of the force and president of the League City Police Officers Association.


Police union accuses chief of enforcing quotas

At a council meeting Tuesday (Oct. 25), Mayor Tim Paulissen and the council met with city attorney Arnold Polanco for more than three hours in closed session to discuss the issue. After about an hour, officials called Chief Jez behind closed doors to answer questions.

Back in open meeting, the council directed Polanco to take action “as directed in closed session”. When later asked what the council instructed him to do, Palanco declined to comment.

In his letter, Arena says Captain Slade met with Patrol Commanders in mid-October to discuss “traffic productivity issues”. Due to a decline in the number of tickets, all officers would now be required to write at least 10 citations a month or face disciplinary action.

Arena said the quota drew complaints from patrol officers the department policy was a “revenue grab” and clearly illegal.

On Wednesday (Oct. 26) the Bay Area Citizen contacted Police Chief Mike Jez to ask if the allegations were true, but he failed to return calls for comment.

Although Arena is President of the police union, his letter stressed he was speaking only for himself and not the LCPOA. He also said he was afraid reporting the illegal quota would cause police administrators to seek revenge.

“I am very concerned over retaliation, intimidation or discipline by members of the Police administration over coming forward with what I believe is a violation of the law,” Arena wrote.

When contacted by the Bay Area Citizen, Arenas deferred to his attorney, who also declined to comment. Arena is represented by attorneys Dan Kreiger and Greg Cagle on behalf of the Texas Municipal Police Association.

Six cops to be charged for taser torture and beatings

“Police is usually for police, and they like to cover down a pot.”

Taser attack: six cops to be charged | Oct 27, 2011

By Susan Mohammed

Trinidad and Tobago – Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard has instructed that six police officers be charged with crimes linked to the arrest and beating of three men who were also repeatedly shocked with Taser guns at the Chaguanas Police station last year.

The decision to lay charges was made on Monday, but up to late yesterday, the warrants were not yet executed on the officers, who are members of the Central Division Task Force and Robbery Squad.

The charges relate to an incident in which brothers Randy and Ricardo Youk-See, ages 21 and 28 respectively, and neighbour Kyron Baptiste, 18, all of Tunapuna, reported they were beaten, tortured and threatened with death by the police officers who will be charged with misbehaviour in public office.

The men reported that on March 11 they were detained by police at Price Plaza, Chaguanas, and taken to the Chaguanas Police Station.

They reported that they were taken to the back of the police station where the police officers kicked, cuffed and beat them with a golf club.

The brothers and the neighbour said they were shocked with Taser guns as they were taunted by the police officers.

They reported that more than 11 officers took turns in discharging electric shocks from the guns about their bodies for more than five hours.

Randy and Ricardo’s mother, Gwendy, yesterday thanked God that after 18 months of investigations, the matter was making headway.

She said:

“I would like to get honest justice for my children. Police is usually for police, and they like to cover down a pot. I am waiting to see if anything comes out of this. I will be there when they go to court.”

She said that Randy still suffered headaches and chest pains since the incident.

Supt Edward Castillo lead investigations into the incident.

Was Shakespeare really ‘Anonymous?’

Joely Richardson portrays a young Queen Elizabeth in the new film “Anonymous.”

Daily Advance | Oct 29, 2011

By Shirrel Rhoades

I had this debate with my college English lit professor: Who wrote Shakespeare’s plays?

One of the oldest questions concerning William Shakespeare is whether he wrote his works or not. The first mention that he might not have written the works attributed to him was made by the Rev. James Wilmot in 1785. Wilmot suspected that Francis Bacon was the real author.

But there are others to consider.

More than 70 candidates have been proposed. The most popular include Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford; Christopher Marlowe; Bacon; and even Queen Elizabeth I. Each has a group of followers who support that particular person as the real author of Shakespeare. De Vere’s are called Oxfordians, Bacon’s Baconians, and Marlowe’s Marlovians. Queen Elizabeth’s followers have pretty much faded away. Those who believe Shakespeare to be the true author are known as Stratfordians.


Sir Francis Bacon AKA William Shakespeare

Fact is, there’s little evidence that Shakespeare wrote his works. As it happens, we have a lot more evidence indicating he didn’t write the works attributed to him.

The arguments include:

William Shaksper (sic) lacked the background and education to write such masterful plays and sonnets. His parents were probably illiterate and so were his daughters. So it’s unlikely he possessed the high degree of literacy exhibited in his plays.

It’s argued that the plays were written a highly educated man. But there’s no evidence that poor-as-a-church-mouse Will ever attended a university.

Furthermore, no portraits were painted of him during his lifetime as was typical of noted authors. And his entry in the parish death registry merely lists him as a “gent,” rather than as a playwright or actor.

Edward de Vere is generally regarded as the most likely of the bunch to be the famed author. In 1920 J. Thomas Looney was the first to propose de Vere as the writer of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets. In “Shakespeare Identified” he pointed out analogies between Oxford’s poetic techniques and the Bard’s writing.

Not convinced? A friend of de Vere once referred to him as a “man whose countenance shakes spears.” And one of the Earl’s coats of arms depicts a lion shaking a broken spear. Plus, as a ward of Queen Elizabeth I, he was well educated, a patron of the theatrical arts, and held a lease on the first Blackfriars Theatre.

“Anonymous” is a new movie that takes on the question of authorship of Shakespeare’s works. As proposed by director Roland Emmerich (“Independence Day,” “2012”), de Vere is the true penman. Shakespeare was just a front man. And Ben Jonson was miffed at being passed over for this honor.

This is presented as history’s greatest literary scam. “We’ve been played,” posits the film’s trailers.

In this telling, aristocratic Edward de Vere (Rhys Ifans) is both son and lover of Queen Elizabeth (Vanessa Redgrave). Believing that theaters are the work of the devil, a relative named Robert Cecil (Edward Hogg) blackmails de Vere into removing his name from all his plays, attributing them to a handy surrogate named Shakespeare (Rafe Spall), an “illiterate drunkard, notorious fool, and bit-player.” Fellow playwright Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) is privy to this subterfuge. Thus we have a conflict that sets the stage for murder, court intrigue, and the high drama of the Essex Rebellion.

Roland Emmerich admits that he never enjoyed reading Shakespeare in school, saying he picked up what he knows of Shakespeare from watching movies. So consider this his contribution to English literature.

In pressing the Oxfordian theory, Emmerich reckons “everybody in the Stratfordian side is so pissed off because we’ve called them on their lies.”

Truth is, few Shakespeare scholars and literary historians consider it likely that another person wrote Shakespeare’s plays. One problem with the de Vere theory is that he died in 1604, before 10 of Shakespeare’s plays were written. But the 17th Earl of Oxford makes good fantasy for a movie.

Wonder if my old college prof would agree?

Anonymous (2011) International Trailer

Prosecution for war zone crime a “boom industry”

Prosecutions going up for war zone crime

More people are being indicted and convicted by the US for bribery, theft and other reconstruction-related crimes

MSNBC | Oct 30, 2011


WASHINGTON — A Marine in Iraq sent home $43,000 in stolen cash by hiding it in a footlocker among American flags. A soldier shipped thousands more concealed in a toy stuffed animal. An embassy employee tricked the State Department into wiring $240,000 into his foreign bank account.

As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, the number of people indicted and convicted by the U.S. for bribery, theft and other reconstruction-related crimes in both countries is rapidly rising, according to two government reports released Sunday.

“This is a boom industry for us,” Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, said in an interview.

“Investigators and auditors had a productive quarter,” said a report on the theft of Afghanistan aid by Steven Trent, who holds the same job for Afghanistan. His report covered August through October.

In the past 13 months U.S. investigators in Iraq secured the indictments of 22 people for alleged aid-related offenses, bringing to 69 the total since the SIGIR office was created in 2004. Convictions stand at 57. Several hundred more suspects are under scrutiny in 102 open investigations and those numbers are expected to climb.

The rise in caseloads derives partly from spinoff investigations, where suspects facing prosecution lead investigators to other suspects, said Jon Novak, SIGIR’s assistant inspector general for investigations.

“More and more people are ratting out their associates,” he said, turning in conspirators who helped launder money after it was stolen, others who were aware of it and others implicated in the crimes.

As investigators gain experience, they’re received better information from a growing network of sources in Iraq, said Dan Willkens, Novak’s deputy. Development of an automated data-mining system for investigations has helped, he said, as did a decision two years ago to speed prosecutions by hiring three former assistant U.S. attorneys and detailing them to the Department of Justice.

At the inspector general’s office for Afghan reconstruction, created in 2008, officials report only nine indictments and seven convictions so far. They say they’re trying to ramp up after years of upheaval and charges the office was mismanaged. Trent was named acting inspector general after his predecessor left in August and is the third person to hold the job.

Still, Trent reported that during the last quarter, an investigation initiated by his office netted the largest bribery case in Afghanistan’s 10-year war. A former Army Reserve captain, Sidharth “Tony” Handa of Charlotte, N.C., was convicted, sentenced to prison and fined for soliciting $1.3 million in bribes from contractors working on reconstruction projects.

Most crimes uncovered by U.S. investigators in the two war zones include bribery, kickbacks and theft, inspired in part by the deep and pervasive cultures of corruption indigenous to the countries themselves.
Story: US is planning buildup in Gulf after Iraq exit

Among some of the cases listed in the reports were those of:

Gunnery Sgt. Eric Hamilton, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy in what prosecutors say was a scheme to help Iraqi contractors steal 70 generators that were meant to supply electricity for fellow Marines. He sent some of their payments home in a footlocker and had other money wired, the report said.

Several U.S. government employees, who received kickbacks for steering contracts to local conspirators and providing inside information to people competing for contracts. A former army sergeant, who was not identified, is charged with pocketing more than $12,000 in cash that a contractor never picked up after the money was allegedly stolen by another army sergeant and mailed to California inside a stuffed animal.

Jordanian national and U.S. Embassy employee Osama Esam Saleem Ayesh, who was convicted in April for stealing nearly $240,000 intended to cover shipping and customs charges the State Department incurs when it moves household goods of its employees. The money wound up in Ayesh’s bank in Jordan.

Money stolen from reconstruction projects also has been shipped off of U.S. battlefields tucked into letters home and stuffed in a military vest. Tens of thousands of dollars were once sewn into a Santa Claus suit.

Prosecutors have retrieved some of the money. More than $83 million will be returned to the U.S. from Iraq cases completed in the budget year that ended Sept. 30, bringing the total recovered over the last seven years to nearly $155 million, Bowen’s office said.

As well as stolen cash, the total includes court-ordered restitution, fines and proceeds from the sale of merchandise seized from those convicted, including Rolex watches, luxury cars, plasma TVs and houses.

Prosecutions by Trent’s office recovered $51 million over the past year, his report said.

But the amount recovered is believed to be a tiny fraction of what’s been stolen in the two war zones, a figure that will probably never be known for certain. Far more money is believed to have been lost through waste and abuse that resulted from poor management and the often-questioned U.S. strategy of trying to rebuild nations that are still at war.

The U.S. has committed $62 billion to rebuilding Iraq and $72 billion for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

The independent Commission on Wartime Contracting estimated in August that at least $31 billion has been lost to waste and fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan, adding that the total could be as high as $60 billion. It studied not just reconstruction spending, but $206 billion for the logistical support of coalition forces and the performance of security functions.

The commission found that from 10 to 20 percent of the $206 billion in spending was wasted, while fraud accounted for the loss of another 5 to 9 percent.

Bowen called the cost of fraud “egregious.”

“This is open crime occurring in a war zone,” he said. “And the purpose of a lot of these expenditures is to win hearts and minds. Obviously we lose hearts and minds” when local populations see foreigners steal money meant to help rebuild their country.

The inspectors general are only two of the U.S. government offices looking into fraud, waste and abuse. Others include State Department inspectors and Army criminal investigators.

Norway massacre: Why ferry rescued future prime minister hopeful leaving victims stranded now under investigation

The movements of the ferry “MS Thorbjørn” have come under investigation in the aftermath of the massacre on the island of Utøya. The island can be seen in the background. PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons

On board was Eskil Pedersen, leader of Labour’s youth organization AUF (Arbeidernes ungdomsfylking), which owns Utøya and the ferry. He and eight others escaped the shooting, and after taking what’s been described as an unusual route, the ferry landed at the farm of a friend of its captain.

Utøya ferry’s role now under probe | Oct 27, 2011

Mainstream media outlets in Norway are finally tackling a highly sensitive question that many Labour Party officials and survivors of the massacre on the island of Utøya would rather ignore: Why did the lone ferry serving the island sail away when the shooting started, with only nine persons on board? Among them was the leader of Labour’s youth organization, who many view as a future candidate for prime minister.

The question has actually circulated for months, ever since gunman Anders Behring Breivik shot and killed 69 persons, wounded scores more and traumatized hundreds of others. Breivik had taken the ferry over to the island, disguised as a police officer. Shortly after he started firing upon arrival, the ferry called MS Thorbjørn backed away from the island and sailed off.

On board was Eskil Pedersen, leader of Labour’s youth organization AUF (Arbeidernes ungdomsfylking), which owns Utøya and the ferry. He and eight others escaped the shooting, and after taking what’s been described as an unusual route, the ferry landed at the farm of a friend of its captain. VG Nett reported on Friday that it allegedly grounded there, with the captain’s friend now saying the grounding hindered the ferry’s ability to help pluck massacre survivors out of the water as they desperately tried to swim to shore.

Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (C) hugs the leader of Labour Party’s youth organization Eskil Pedersen (2nd R) during a memorial gathering, organized by the Norwegian Labour party and its youth organisation AUF for the victims of last Friday’s attacks, in Oslo July 29, 2011. Flags around the nation flew at half mast to mark a day of memorial one week after Anders Breivik set off a bomb in central Oslo that killed 8 people. He then shot 68 people at a summer camp for youths of the ruling Labour Party. Reuters Pictures

The ferry thus wasn’t used to help others get off the island while the shooting went on, and this week, the head of the state commission probing the terrorist attacks said its movements would be investigated. “We’re working very hard to track what happened when, and who had the opportunity to make the decisions taken,” commission leader Alexandra Bech Gjørv told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). The commission will also evaluate AUF’s evacuation plans and plans for securing buildings on Utøya, reported NRK, adding that the nine persons on board the ferry included six AUF leaders and three crew members.


“We’re looking at all the boats that were available, to what degree they were involved or could have been involved,” she said. “Thorbjørn was in the area, and it’s natural to see it as part of the whole.”

Gjørv’s attention to the issue is what seems to have unleashed the flurry of media coverage this week about the flight of the ferry. Until now, the subject has mostly only been covered in online news services like Nettavisen and among bloggers who have been highly critical of Pedersen’s role. One local editor said there’s been a form of taboo around the issue, and he described some of the online debate as showing a lack of compassion and understanding for the extraordinary situation the AUF leaders were in.  Nettavisen itself attracted some harsh criticism when it raised questions back in August, with the editor of Stavanger Aftenblad later claiming that survivors of Utøya shouldn’t have to answer for what could have been done differently.

Others disagree, suggesting Pedersen and his AUF colleagues should explain why they sailed away and failed to take part in rescue efforts. It wasn’t until later that night, after the shooting was long over, that the ferry was put into service to transport survivors back to the mainland.

Pedersen, who made several public speeches and was widely viewed as a hero in the days immediately following the terrorist attacks,  hasn’t wanted to answer questions or comment on the issue. Newspaper Aftenposten, which devoted a full page to a story on the ferry questions Thursday, noted that Pedersen earlier has referred to the “shock” of the shootings and feelings of paralysis on board the ferry. Its captain had just seen his own wife shot and killed, and had two children left on the island.

Some AUF members have said there were fears Pedersen himself was a target, that more gunmen may be waiting at the ferry pier on the mainland (hence the detour to the farm) and that everyone had to think about saving themselves. “We understand why they did what they did,” Lars Vidar Brendeland of AUF told Aftenposten. He thinks Pedersen has been cast in a bad light, and AUF doesn’t want that.

It doesn’t help, though, that Pedersen and AUF colleagues have tried to suppress some media coverage of the aftermath of the attacks, and also didn’t want media to accompany the commission when its members visited Utøya recently. Many are advocating the openness that Labour Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg himself has urged, and contend AUF must answer questions. “The truth must come out even if it can be uncomfortable,” survivor Jorid Holstad Normelan, age 20, told Aftenposten. She was surprised the commission leader brought up the issue in the media this week.

“Regardless, this is a topic that’s been difficult and uncomfortable for AUF to talk about,” Normelan said. “We haven’t been able to bear it.”