Monthly Archives: May 2012

Obama embraces disputed definition of ‘civilian’ in drone attacks


Tribesmen hold pieces of a missile at the site of a drone attack in Mir Ali, Pakistan, on Jan. 24, 2009 — just days after President Barack Obama’s inauguration. Reuters, file

MSNBC | May 30, 2012

By Chris Woods

LONDON — Two U.S. reports published Tuesday provide significant insights into President Obama’s personal and controversial role in the escalating covert U.S. drone war in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

In a major extract from Daniel Klaidman’s forthcoming book Kill Or Capture, the author reveals extensive details of how secret U.S. drone strikes have evolved under Obama – and how the president knew of civilian casualties from his earliest days in office.

The New York Times has also published a key investigation exploring how the Obama Administration runs its secret ‘Kill List’ – the names of those chosen for execution by CIA and Pentagon drones outside the conventional battlefield.

The Times’ report also reveals that President Obama “embraced” a broadening of the term “civilian”, helping to limit any public controversy over “non-combatant” deaths.

As the Bureau’s own data on Pakistan makes clear, the very first covert drone strikes of the Obama presidency, just three days after he took office, resulted in civilian deaths in Pakistan. As many as 19 civilians – including four children – died in two error-filled attacks.

Until now it had been thought that Obama was initially unaware of the civilian deaths. Bob Woodward has reported that the president was only told by CIA chief Michael Hayden that the strikes had missed their High Value Target but had killed “five al Qaeda militants.”

Read more stories from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

Now Newsweek correspondent Daniel Klaidman reveals that Obama knew about the civilian deaths within hours. He reports an anonymous participant at a subsequent meeting with the president: “You could tell from his body language that he was not a happy man.” Obama is described aggressively questioning the tactics used.

Yet despite the errors, the president ultimately chose to keep in place the CIA’s controversial policy of using “signature strikes” against unknown militants. That tactic has just been extended to Yemen.

‘Covert’ US drone operation is mapped on Twitter

On another notorious occasion, the article reveals that U.S. officials were aware at the earliest stage that civilians – including “dozens of women and children” – had died in Obama’s first ordered strike in Yemen in December 2009. The Bureau recently named all 44 civilians killed in that attack by cruise missiles.

Full Story

Monsanto Profit Forecast Tops Estimates as Seed Sales Climb

businessweek.com | May 30, 2012

By Jack Kaskey

Monsanto Co. (MON) (MON), the world’s largest seed company, projected third-quarter profit that exceeded analysts’ estimates after sales rose in the U.S., Brazil and Eastern Europe. The company also boosted its full-year forecast.

Profit will be $1.57 to $1.62 a share in the three months through May, excluding costs from a legacy tax matter, St. Louis-based Monsanto said today in a statement. The forecast topped the $1.29 average of 16 estimates (MON) compiled by Bloomberg.

Monsanto said earnings in the year through August will be $3.65 to $3.70 a share, excluding the tax issue, settlement of pollution claims and discontinued operations. The company in April forecast (MON) $3.49 to $3.54, while the average of 17 estimates was $3.56. Earnings were $2.96 a share in fiscal 2011.

Insects Find Crack In Biotech Corn’s Armor

Unusually warm weather in the northern hemisphere during the fiscal second quarter turned out to be only partly responsible for rising sales this year, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Hugh Grant said today on a webcast. Demand for the newest insect-fighting corn seeds exceeded projections, while new herbicide-tolerant soybeans are at the top of the expected range as farmers realized the value of those technologies, he said.

“This is the second year in a row with earnings growth north of 20 percent, which is very positive,” Jason Dahl, a New York-based fund manager at Victory Capital Management, said today in a phone interview. “They are still spinning off cash, not cutting costs to get those results.”
2013 Prediction

Monsanto rose 2.2 percent to $76.41 at the close in New York. The shares (MON) have gained 9 percent this year.

Monsanto saw higher third-quarter sales of genetically modified corn in Brazil, soybeans and corn in the U.S., and recorded better-than-expected gains in Eastern Europe, it said. Grant said he expects the company will increase earnings by a percentage in the “mid-teens” in fiscal 2013.

“The performance we saw in the early part of the year has proven to be a powerful signal of even better results from some key businesses,” Grant said. “This year has been important confirmation of the momentum in our business.”

Monsanto said free cash flow in the current fiscal year will be $1.7 billion to $1.8 billion, narrowing an earlier range that dipped as low as $1.6 billion.

Monsanto is in talks with officials in China about boosting seed production, particularly corn and vegetables, as part of the company’s international expansion, Grant said on the webcast. Monsanto can’t own more than 49 percent of a biotech seed business in China, the world’s second-biggest corn grower, because of the industry’s strategic importance, he said.

Monsanto said March 1 it plans to expand a venture with China National Seed Corp., a unit of Sinochem Corp. (SICHCZ)

Stubborn Infection, Spread by Insects, Is Called ‘The New AIDS of the Americas’


Chagas disease, caused by parasites transmitted to humans by blood-sucking insects, has been named “the new AIDS of the Americas” in a lengthy editorial published in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases. Oxford Scientific/Getty Images

nytimes.com | May 28, 2012

By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.

The authors, several of whom are tropical disease experts from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, argue that the dangerous spread of Chagas through this hemisphere somewhat resembles the early spread of H.I.V.

Chagas is also known as American trypanosomiasis, because the bugs carry single-celled parasites called trypanosomes. (Their best-known relative, spread by tsetse flies in Africa, causes sleeping sickness.)

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Like AIDS, the authors say, Chagas disease has a long incubation time and is hard or impossible to cure. Chagas infects up to eight million people in the hemisphere, mostly in Bolivia, Mexico, Colombia and Central America. But more than 300,000 of the infected live in the United States, many of them immigrants.

The disease can be transmitted from mother to child or by blood transfusion. About a quarter of its victims eventually will develop enlarged hearts or intestines, which can fail or burst, causing sudden death. Treatment involves harsh drugs taken for up to three months and works only if the disease is caught early.

The drugs are not as expensive as AIDS drugs, but there are shortages in poor countries. Because it is a disease of the poor, little money is spent on finding new treatments.

“Both diseases are highly stigmatizing,” the editorial noted. Immigrants may not get medical treatment, making Chagas more likely to spread.

Japanese farmers pray for radiation-free rice


Photo credit: AP | Toraaki Ogata drives a tractor to plant rice saplings in a paddy field in northeastern Japan. Last year’s crop sits in storage, deemed unsafe to eat, but Ogata is back at his rice paddies, 35 miles from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, driving his tractor trailing neat rows of saplings. (May 21, 2012)

Associated Press | May 28, 2012

By YURI KAGEYAMA

FUKUSHIMA, Japan – Last year’s crop sits in storage, deemed unsafe to eat, but Toraaki Ogata is back at his rice paddies, driving his tractor, trailing neat rows of seedlings.

He’s living up to his family’s proud, six-generation history of rice farming, and praying that this time his harvest will not have too much radiation to sell.

That conflict is shared by several thousand farmers in more than 17,000 acres of Fukushima, where some of last year’s harvest exceeded government safety standards because of radiation released when the March 2011 tsunami set off the world’s second-worst nuclear accident.

For their rice to be sold, it will have to be tested — every grain of it.

“All I can do is pray there will be no radiation,” Ogata, 58, said last week, wiping his sweat during a break in his 3.7-acre paddy 35 miles from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. “It’s not our fault at all, but the land of our ancestors has been defiled.”

Rice farming is almost sacred in rural Japan, and the government protects farmers with tight restrictions on imports. Many farmers are too close to the nuclear disaster to return to the fields, but others have gotten the go-ahead, even with the risk their harvests may end up being too radiated to ship.

Hopes are high in this major agricultural northeastern state that farmers will meet the unprecedented challenge of producing safe-to-eat rice in contaminated soil.

Following orders from the government, they have sprinkled zeolite, a pebble-like material that traps radioactive cesium, and added fertilizer with potassium to help block radiation absorption. That work is part of the $1.3 billion Tokyo has allocated for decontamination efforts this year.

There had been no time for that last year. Tens of thousands of bags of rice from that harvest were too radiated to be sold. The government bought those crops, which sit in giant mounds in storage.

Rice planting has been banned in the most contaminated areas, but the government allowed it at some farms in areas that produced contaminated rice last year, including Ogata’s. After the October harvest, their rice will be run through special machines that can detect the tiniest speck of radiation.

Ogata is filled with uncertainty. Though the government recently set up a system to buy and destroy his crop from last year, he has no assurances that it will do so again if this year’s rice can’t be eaten.

Radiation is expected to decline year by year. But Ogata and other farmers acknowledge they are in for a long haul.

Radioactive Tuna migrate from Fukushima Japan quake zone across Pacific to California

Levels of radioactive cesium considered safe to eat

MSNBC | May 28, 2012

By ALICIA CHANG

LOS ANGELES — Across the vast Pacific, the mighty bluefin tuna carried radioactive contamination that leaked from Japan’s crippled nuclear plant to the shores of the United States 6,000 miles away — the first time a huge migrating fish has been shown to carry radioactivity such a distance.

“We were frankly kind of startled,” said Nicholas Fisher, one of the researchers reporting the findings online Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Radioactive tuna travels from Japan to US faster than wind

The levels of radioactive cesium were 10 times higher than the amount measured in tuna off the California coast in previous years. But even so, that’s still far below safe-to-eat limits set by the U.S. and Japanese governments.

Previously, smaller fish and plankton were found with elevated levels of radiation in Japanese waters after a magnitude-9 earthquake in March 2011 triggered a tsunami that badly damaged the Fukushima Dai-ichi reactors.

But scientists did not expect the nuclear fallout to linger in huge fish that sail the world because such fish can metabolize and shed radioactive substances.

One of the largest and speediest fish, Pacific bluefin tuna can grow to 10 feet and weigh more than 1,000 pounds. They spawn off the Japan coast and swim east at breakneck speed to school in waters off California and the tip of Baja California, Mexico.
Japan: Fukushima nuclear pool not unstable

Five months after the Fukushima disaster, Fisher of Stony Brook University in New York and a team decided to test Pacific bluefin that were caught off the coast of San Diego. To their surprise, tissue samples from all 15 tuna captured contained levels of two radioactive substances — ceisum-134 and cesium-137 — that were higher than in previous catches.

To rule out the possibility that the radiation was carried by ocean currents or deposited in the sea through the atmosphere, the team also analyzed yellowfin tuna, found in the eastern Pacific, and bluefin that migrated to Southern California before the nuclear crisis. They found no trace of cesium-134 and only background levels of cesium-137 left over from nuclear weapons testing in the 1960s.

The results “are unequivocal. Fukushima was the source,” said Ken Buesseler of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who had no role in the research.

Bluefin tuna absorbed radioactive cesium from swimming in contaminated waters and feeding on contaminated prey such as krill and squid, the scientists said. As the predators made the journey east, they shed some of the radiation through metabolism and as they grew larger. Even so, they weren’t able to completely flush out all the contamination from their system.

“That’s a big ocean. To swim across it and still retain these radionuclides is pretty amazing,” Fisher said.

Pacific bluefin tuna are prized in Japan where a thin slice of the tender red meat prepared as sushi can fetch $24 per piece at top Tokyo restaurants. Japanese consume 80 percent of the world’s Pacific and Atlantic bluefin tuna.

The real test of how radioactivity affects tuna populations comes this summer when researchers planned to repeat the study with a larger number of samples. Bluefin tuna that journeyed last year were exposed to radiation for about a month. The upcoming travelers have been swimming in radioactive waters for a longer period. How this will affect concentrations of contamination remains to be seen.

Now that scientists know that bluefin tuna can transport radiation, they also want to track the movements of other migratory species including sea turtles, sharks and seabirds.

BP oil spill toxins from Gulf of Mexico found in eggs of pelicans nesting in Minnesota

Nearly 80 percent of collected samples contained Corexit, a chemical dispersant used to break up oil spills. Both the petroleum compounds and Corexit are dangerous in small doses, capable of causing cancer, endocrine disruption, and birth defects.

thisdishisvegetarian.com | May 23, 2012

by Jonathan Reynolds

Researchers for the Department of Natural Resources have found evidence of petroleum compounds and the chemical used to clean up the 2010 BP oil spill in eggs of pelicans nesting in Minnesota.

Petroleum compounds were present in 90 percent of the first batch of eggs tested. Nearly 80 percent of collected samples contained Corexit, a chemical dispersant used to break up oil spills. Both the petroleum compounds and Corexit are dangerous in small doses, capable of causing cancer, endocrine disruption, and birth defects.

Pelicans generally spend winters in the Gulf of Mexico, Texas, and Cuba, before returning a full year later to begin breeding.

Mark Clark, an ecologist and faculty member of North Dakota State University, explained on Minnesota Public Radio that any contaminant in the bird is bad, especially when the egg is tampered with, “because that’s where the developing embryo and chick starts, and when things go wrong at that stage, there’s usually no recovery.”

The BP spill, similar to an atomic detonation, took its toll on the unfortunate victims in the immediate area, choking them to death on crude oil. Two years later, and for many more years to come, the chemical fallout is taking its toll, negatively impacting millions of innocent lives in drastic ways for generations to come.

TSA wants to double security fees

KHOU 11 News | May 30, 2012

by JEREMY DESEL

HOUSTON—A Senate committee has approved a plan to double the fees charged to airline flyers to help fund the Transportation Security Administration.

Every flyer pays a $2.50 federal fee each way to help fund the TSA.

The proposal that just passed out of a US Senate committee would make that $5 each way or $10 per round trip.

Most federal agencies are trying to avoid the budget axe but the Transportation Security Administration is looking for direct revenue.

Higher TSA fees clear Senate committee

TSA wants to double your security fee

“It is almost $40 in taxes and fees to get on the flight? Why so much?” said Wanda Cloyd a traveler coming into Houston from New Jersey. “I think that is crazy.”

The fee could be charged to airlines but any cost to the airlines eventually gets passed on to the customer.

“They want you to pay for something to eat, for a cart to carry your bag and then if you want to put a bag on the plane it is $25 more, ” says air traveler Belinda Owens.

Those baggage fees are a big part of the problem, according to the TSA. The airlines checked bag fees have changed the security dynamic.

Now so many more people are carrying on their luggage, the agency says it is costing at least an additional $260 million a year to screen passengers and that luggage on the way to the gate.

It is not that flyers seem unwilling to pay for security.

“I would pay it if I thought it was truly necessary. The problem is there is a whole lot of irresponsibility,” says flyer John Huff.

The TSA said it hasn’t hiked the fee in 10 years.

Israel doesn’t deserve unconditional loyalty

abc.net.au | May 30, 2012

Avigdor Lieberman

Last week, Israel’s far-right foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman visited the UK. His visit was protested by progressive Zionists. Yet he responded with a remarkable declaration:

My expectation from all Jewish communities around the world is that they support any Israeli government. It doesn’t matter if you have a left government or a right government.

Jews are to support the Israeli government: any government. Doesn’t matter what it does, what policies it pursues. Jews should support it.

Former national chairperson of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students and past chairperson of the Australian Zionist Youth Council, Liam Getreu, described this as a “dangerous brand of Zionism”.

The episode, I think, illustrated serious issues facing the world’s diaspora Jewish communities. To what will we be loyal? Universal principles of justice, human rights and equality? Or unthinking, tribal loyalty to the Israel government, regardless of who is in it, and what it does?

These issues have become a matter of great urgency. In October 2010, I wrote an article about the corruption the occupation caused within Green Line Israel. I warned about “an overflowing tide of chauvinist nationalism”. I wrote that Israel’s “colonial rule is corroding its society”.

A startling, and horrifying, illustration of this trend occurred last week.

The Israeli government is made up of a coalition of parties, including Likud, Kadima and Shas. Likud is the party of the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.

On May 23, a demonstration was “organised mostly by Likud activists”, according to progressive Israeli journalist Haggai Matar. As reported in Ha’aretz, over a thousand of them gathered “in south Tel Aviv, calling on Israeli authorities to expel illegal migrants”.

“Illegal migrants” is how the liberal Ha’aretz describes African asylum seekers in Israel. There are about 60,000 in Israel, according to the Israeli government.

Likud and Kadima speakers were among those who addressed the crowd. Likud member of Knesset Danny Danon declared:

We must expel the infiltrators from Israel. We should not be afraid to say the words ‘expulsion now’.

Another Likud MK, Miri Regev, said, “The Sudanese were a cancer in our body.”

Matar and a journalist from Ha’aretz were in attendance at the protest. A woman in the angry mob noticed Matar, and declared that he throws stones at soldiers. He denied this, but the crowd got angrier, and a speaker on stage yelled:

Haggai Matar is here, and he and his mother are traitors who should be kicked out of the country.

The two journalists fled for their lives. Others were not quite as fortunate.

Read More

High-ranking Mossad agent appears in London court in African diamond battle between Israeli-Russian tycoons

independent.co.uk | May 29, 2012

by Terri Judd

A retired Mossad agent appeared before a London court today in the midst of a battle between two Israeli-Russian tycoons over African diamond profits.

Avinoam Dagan, who would only reveal his position in the famous Israeli intelligence service was “high ranking”, was giving evidence on behalf Arkady Gaydamak.

Mr Gaydamak, 60, who recently won an appeal against an arms dealing conviction in the French courts, is claiming that fellow businessman Lev Leviev owes him in the region of $1 billion after the two men went into a venture to sell Angolan diamonds. The deal had been agreed by the country’s government in the nineties as it tried to wrest control of the gems from UNITA rebels during the bloody civil war.

The case centres around an document Mr Gaydamak insists they signed in December 2001, in which he agreed that Mr Leviev would hold his equal share from the Angolan Diamond Selling Corporation while he maintained a low profile because of the “politically motivated” French charges.

But Mr Leviev, 55, insists that Mr Gaydamak had “no more than a limited role” in the venture and the document at the meeting was simply an agreement that Mr Gaydamak would donate to a charity he had founded.

Yesterday Mr Dagan told the High Court that he had been a consultant to Mr Gaydamak on security issues relating to his diamond business as well as the supply of food to the Angolan army.

He gave evidence that he was in the next room when the two men signed the agreement and he had kept an unsigned version, which he produced upon hearing of Mr Gaydamak’s legal battle.

During tense cross examination by Mr Leviev’s barrister Justin Fenwick QC, Mr Dagan refused to shed light on his past in Israeli intelligence.

“I was a high ranking officer. I cannot elaborate more than that,” he said, to which the QC asked: “You were involved in espionage?”

“No comment,” said the witness.

The barrister continued: “You are accustomed to and trained in the art of resisting interrogation?”

Mr Dagan replied: “I do not comment about what I did in the service of my country.”

Google knew from the start that camera-car software could capture personal data of millions

independent.co.uk | May 27, 2012

by Kevin Rawlinson

Google knew that software installed in its camera cars could capture and store the online data of millions of people, including emails, text messages and images, when it sent them out to photograph Britain’s streets, according to US authorities investigating the company.

Correspondence handed over to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) suggest that the team managing the project was told of their software’s capability and were even advised to seek legal advice.

The company has always maintained that it had no idea of the capabilities of the Street View cars nor any intention to sweep up the huge amounts of data from unsecured WiFi networks it did for more than two years.

As recently as last week, the its executive chairman Eric Schmidt told a Google-organised conference in Hertfordshire that the scandal was unintentional and that Google blew the whistle on itself when it realised.

But these revelations throw that position into doubt and will lend weight to the calls for British authorities to look more closely at the matter.

The Information Commissioner’s Office, which previously ruled that it was a mistake, said this weekend that it intended to review the evidence.

The emails show a developer, who was not named in the FCC report, working on software called gstumbler.

The British engineer, who is pleading the fifth amendment in order to avoid incriminating himself, wrote to Google colleagues in 2007: “We are logging user traffic along with sufficient data to precisely triangulate their position at a given time, along with information about what they were doing.”

He also wrote that the data could be “analysed offline for use in other initiatives”.

Google insists that it never used the data. The company posted an admission in May 2010 on its own blog and referred the evidence to data protection authorities across the world.

It is still under investigation in some countries and was ordered to delete the data collected in Ireland. It was cleared of breaching US law but the FCC said Google had impeded its investigation and fined $25,000 (£15,300).

Robert Halfon, the Tory MP who has campaigned to highlight the data breach, called the evidence “quite astonishing”. “Google has so far been let off lightly in this country because this unacceptable breach has never been properly investigated,” he told the Sunday Times.

A Google spokesman said: “We have always been clear that the leaders of this project did not want or intend to use this payload data. Indeed Google never used it in any of our products or services.

“Both the Department of Justice and the FCC have looked into this closely–including reviewing the internal correspondence–and both found no violation of law.”