Daily Archives: April 3, 2012

Police and MI5 get power to watch you on the web

independent.co.uk | Apr 2, 2012

by Martin Hickman Author Biography , Oliver Wright

Police and intelligence officers are to be handed the power to monitor people’s messages online in what has been described as an “attack on the privacy” of vast numbers of Britons.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, intends to introduce legislation in next month’s Queen’s Speech which would allow law-enforcement agencies to check on citizens using Facebook, Twitter, online gaming forums and the video-chat service Skype.

Regional police forces, MI5 and GCHQ, the Government’s eavesdropping centre, would be given the right to know who speaks to whom “on demand” and in “real time”.

Home Office officials said the new law would keep crime-fighting abreast of developments in instant communications – and that a warrant would still be required to view the content of messages.

But civil liberties groups expressed grave concern at the move. Nick Pickles, director of the Big Brother Watch campaign group, described it as “an unprecedented step that will see Britain adopt the same kind of surveillance as in China and Iran. “This is an absolute attack on privacy online and it is far from clear this will actually improve public safety, while adding significant costs to internet businesses,” he said. David Davis, the former Conservative shadow Home Secretary, said the state was unnecessarily extending its power to “snoop” on its citizens.

“It is not focusing on terrorists or on criminals,” the MP said. “It is absolutely everybody. Historically, governments have been kept out of our private lives. They don’t need this law to protect us. This is an unnecessary extension of the ability of the state to snoop on ordinary innocent people in vast numbers.”

The former Labour Home Secretary Jacqui Smith abandoned plans to store information about every phone call, email and internet visit – labelled the “Big Brother database” – in 2009 after encountering strong opposition.

Ms May is confident of enacting the new law because it has the backing of the Liberal Democrats, normally strong supporters of civil liberties. Senior Liberal Democrat backbenchers are believed to have been briefed by their ministers on the move and are not expected to rebel in any parliamentary vote. A senior adviser to Nick Clegg said he had been persuaded of the merits of extending the police and security service powers but insisted they would be “carefully looking at the detail”. “The law is not keeping pace with the technology and our national security is being eroded on a daily basis,” the adviser said.

Confirming the legislation would be introduced “as soon as parliamentary time allows”, the Home Office said: “We need to take action to maintain the continued availability of communications data as technology changes. Communications data includes time, duration and dialling numbers of a phone call or an email address. It does not include the content of any phone call or email and it is not the intention of Government to make changes to the existing legal basis for the interception of communications.”

According to The Sunday Times, which broke the story, the Internet Service Provider’s Association, which represents communications firms, was unhappy with the proposal when it was briefed by the Government last month. A senior industry official told the paper: “The network operators are going to be asked to put probes in the network and they are upset about the idea… it’s expensive, it’s intrusive to your customers, it’s difficult to see it’s going to work and it’s going to be a nightmare to run legally.”

Google and BT declined to comment. A spokesman for Microsoft told The Independent: “We comply with legislation in all the countries in which we operate. This is a proposal and we have not had the opportunity to review it in depth.”

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats had resisted greater surveillance powers when in opposition. “This is more ambitious than anything that has been done before,” she told Sky News’s Dermot Murnaghan. “The Coalition bound itself together in the language of civil liberties. Do they still mean it?”

SECURITY THEN AND NOW

June 2009: “Today we are in danger of living in a control state. Every month over 1,000 surveillance operations are carried out. The tentacles of the state can even rifle through your bins for juicy information.” David Cameron

April 2012: “It is vital that police and security services are able to obtain communications data in certain circumstances to investigate serious crime and terrorism and to protect the public.” Home Office spokesman

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Defector: US officials “sexed up” lies as pretexts for invasion of Iraq


“Curveball”, the Iraqi defector who fabricated claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction

Man whose WMD lies led to 100,000 deaths confesses all

Defector tells how US officials ‘sexed up’ his fictions to make the case for 2003 invasion

independent.co.uk | Apr 1, 2012

by Jonathan Owen

A man whose lies helped to make the case for invading Iraq – starting a nine-year war costing more than 100,000 lives and hundreds of billions of pounds – will come clean in his first British television interview tomorrow.

“Curveball”, the Iraqi defector who fabricated claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, smiles as he confirms how he made the whole thing up. It was a confidence trick that changed the course of history, with Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi’s lies used to justify the Iraq war.

He tries to defend his actions: “My main purpose was to topple the tyrant in Iraq because the longer this dictator remains in power, the more the Iraqi people will suffer from this regime’s oppression.”

The chemical engineer claimed to have overseen the building of a mobile biological laboratory when he sought political asylum in Germany in 1999. His lies were presented as “facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence” by Colin Powell, US Secretary of State, when making the case for war at the UN Security Council in February 2003.

But Mr Janabi, speaking in a two-part series, Modern Spies, starting tomorrow on BBC2, says none of it was true. When it is put to him “we went to war in Iraq on a lie. And that lie was your lie”, he simply replies: “Yes.”

US officials “sexed up” Mr Janabi’s drawings of mobile biological weapons labs to make them more presentable, admits Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, General Powell’s former chief of staff. “I brought the White House team in to do the graphics,” he says, adding how “intelligence was being worked to fit around the policy”.

As for his former boss: “I don’t see any way on this earth that Secretary Powell doesn’t feel almost a rage about Curveball and the way he was used in regards to that intelligence.”

Another revelation in the series is the real reason why the FBI swooped on Russian spy Anna Chapman in 2010. Top officials feared the glamorous Russian agent wanted to seduce one of US President Barack Obama’s inner circle. Frank Figliuzzi, the FBI’s head of counterintelligence, reveals how she got “closer and closer to higher and higher ranking leadership… she got close enough to disturb us”.

The fear that Chapman would compromise a senior US official in a “honey trap” was a key reason for the arrest and deportation of the Russian spy ring of 10 people, of which she was a part, in 2010. “We were becoming very concerned,” he says. “They were getting close enough to a sitting US cabinet member that we thought we could no longer allow this to continue.” Mr Figliuzzi refuses to name the individual who was being targeted.

Several British spies also feature in the programme, in the first time that serving intelligence officers have been interviewed on television. In contrast to the US intelligence figures, the British spies are cloaked in darkness, their voices dubbed by actors. BBC veteran reporter Peter Taylor, who worked for a year putting the documentary together, describes them as “ordinary people who are committed to what they do” and “a million miles” from the spies depicted in film. He adds: “What surprised me was the extent to which they work within a civil service bureaucracy. Everything has to be signed off… you’ve got to have authorisation signed in triplicate.”

Would-be agents should abandon any Hollywood fantasies they may have, says Sonya Holt at the CIA recruitment centre. “They think it’s more like the movies, that they are going to be jumping out of cars and that everyone carries a weapon… Yes we’re collecting intelligence but we don’t all drive fast cars. You’re going to be writing reports; you’re in meetings so it’s not always that glamorous image of what you see in the movies.”

FDA decides not to ban BPA in food packaging


BPA is present on some cash register receipts and might rub off onto hands. It is also used in some food containers. (Ken Kwok / Los Angeles Times / March 30, 2012)
The agency says it will continue to study health effects of the widely used chemical; an environmental group is highly critical.

Los Angeles Times | Mar 30, 2012

By Bettina Boxall and Eryn Brown

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Friday that it would not ban the use of bisphenol A, also known as BPA, in food packaging but said it would continue research on the health effects of the widely used chemical.

Although it rejected a petition by an environmental group to outlaw the compound in food and beverage containers, the agency did not close the door on future regulation. “This is not a final safety determination on BPA,” FDA spokesman Douglas Karas said. “There is a commitment to doing a thorough evaluation of the risk of BPA.”

Scientists are still working to determine what effects BPA, which mimics estrogen in the body, has on human health once ingested.

They know that it is metabolized quickly and that it has been shown to have negative effects in mice, including developmental and reproductive abnormalities, precancerous changes in the prostate and breasts, and other health problems. In epidemiological studies, researchers have reported correlations between BPA levels in people and higher risk of ailments including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and liver problems.

The FDA said the scientific evidence presented in the Natural Resources Defense Council’s 2008 petition “was not sufficient to persuade” the agency to prohibit BPA in food packaging. Dosing methods in some research studies, for example, did not reflect how a person would ingest the chemical, the agency said. It also took issue with sample sizes, which it said were not large enough to provide confidence in results.

“FDA is performing, monitoring and reviewing new studies and data as they become available, and depending on the results, any of these studies or data could influence FDA’s assessment and future regulatory decisions about BPA,” wrote David Dorsey, the agency’s acting associate commissioner for policy and planning.

Dr. Sarah Janssen, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “We always support more research but we also wonder, when is enough enough?…. What the FDA is saying is: We’re going to keep studying it and in the meantime you’re going to still eat it and then maybe later we’ll tell you it’s not safe.”

Steven Hentges of the American Chemistry Council, a trade group that represents manufacturers, said in a statement that the FDA decision “again confirms that BPA is safe for use in food-contact materials, as it has been approved and used safely for four decades.”

First made more than a century ago, BPA is used to manufacture polycarbonate plastic for shatter-resistant food containers, sports safety equipment, eyewear and other products. It is used in epoxy resin as a protective coating for food and beverage packaging to prevent it from reacting with the contents. And it is present on many types of sales receipts, from which it rubs onto people’s hands.

Residual BPA can migrate from containers into food, and the FDA agreed with the defense council “that most infants, children and adults are exposed to low levels of BPA through the diet.”

Manufacturers have stopped using BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups sold in the U.S. because of customer concerns and bans in some states. The chemistry council has petitioned the FDA to prohibit use of the chemical in those products to create a national standard, Hentges said.

Linda S. Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences at the National Institutes of Health, said that the agency was funding experiments to address lingering doubts about BPA.

“Our grantees have published nearly 100 papers since January 2010. Nothing has been published that says there isn’t any problem here,” she said. “On the other hand, there are still a lot of outstanding questions.”

For instance, she said, “We want to have some surety that if BPA is removed from products, that what is put in its place is not a problem as well.”

Mexican President Calderon calls for assault weapon ban in U.S.


Mexican President Felipe Calderon listens to remarks during a news conference with President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the White House. (Pete Marovich / EPA / April 2, 2012)

latimes.com | Apr 2, 2012

By Kathleen Hennessey

Reporting from Washington—Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Monday pushed for a revival of a ban on assault weapons in the U.S., arguing that the ban’s expiration has led to the spread of guns across the border and a spike in violence in Mexico.

“The expiring of the assault weapons ban in the year 2004 coincided almost exactly with the beginning of the harshest — the harshest — period of violence we’ve ever seen,” Calderon said, through an interpreter, at a White House news conference on Monday. The Mexican leader was in Washington to meet with President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper for a summit on economic cooperation and trade among the three countries. But the ongoing drug war in Mexico largely overshadowed those conversations.

Mexico lawmakers demand answers about guns smuggled under ATF’s watch

DEA launders Mexican profits of drug cartels while facilitating their operations

Another ATF operation comes under scrutiny after supplying Mexican drug cartels with guns

Guns From ATF “Operation Fast and Furious” Found in Home of Mexican Drug Cartel Enforcer


In remarks to reporters in the Rose Garden, Calderon urged the U.S. to do more to tamp down on gun trafficking and emphasized that the drug cartels are operating on both sides of the border. He claimed a direct connection between the weakening of gun laws in the U.S. and deaths in his country.

“I know that if we don’t stop the traffic of weapons into Mexico, if we don’t have mechanisms to forbid the sale of weapons such as we had in the ’90s, or for registry of guns, at least for assault weapons, then we are never going to be able to stop the violence in Mexico or stop a future turning of those guns upon the U.S.,” he said.

Obama, whose administration has not pushed to reinstate the ban, did not respond to the Mexican president’s statement directly. Democrats largely have called a truce when it comes to advancing new gun control legislation, a political calculation based on the party’s attempts to appeal to more rural and Western voters.

The president promised to “keep on partnering” with Mexico on security issues.

“We recognize that we have a responsibility to reduce demand for drugs, that we have a responsibility to make sure that not only guns, but also bulk cash isn’t flowing into Mexico,” Obama said. “Obviously, President Calderon takes very seriously his responsibilities to apply effective law enforcement within Mexico. And I think he’s taken courageous steps to do that.”

Obama added that “innocent families and women and children being gunned down in the streets, that should be everybody’s problem, not just their [Mexico’s] problem.”

But the administration’s primary message is aimed at trade. Obama announced a new effort with Canada and Mexico to remove outdated trade regulations. The three countries have committed to “sit down together, go through the books and simplify and eliminate more regulations that will make our joint economies stronger,” said Obama.

Obama said this is an extension of a White House effort to cut red tape in the U.S. that is aimed at saving businesses and customers more than $100 billion.

When medium and small businesses in the U.S. first start exporting, they usually send their products to Canada and Mexico.

“So this is going to help create jobs, and it’s going to keep us on track to meet my goal of doubling U.S. exports,” said Obama.

Obama also said that U.S. exports to Canada and Mexico are growing faster than exports to the rest of the world. In 2011, trade with Canada and Mexico surpassed $1 trillion for the first time.