Monthly Archives: July 2012

Britain’s biggest bank: ‘Sorry about helping all those drug and terror gangs’ | Jul 18, 201

By Louise Armitstead & Richard Blackden

HSBC was forced to apologise publicly yesterday (Tuesday) before the US Senate – and its compliance chief resigned – over facilitating a multi-billion-dollar money-laundering operation for drug gangs, terrorists and rogue nations worldwide.

Britain’s biggest bank was “pervasively polluted for a long time” as it allowed funds to be shifted to and from its branches in the United States as far afield as Mexico, Syria, the Cayman Islands, Iran and Saudi Arabia, the hearing was told.

Issuing an apology, Stuart Gulliver, chief executive of HSBC, said: “We have sometimes failed to meet the standards regulators and customer expect… we take responsibility for fixing what went wrong.”

HSBC, the only British bank with US branches, is now braced for a “substantial” fine which analysts said could be up to $1 billion (£640 million). The latest banking scandal comes in the wake of Barclays’ £290 million fines for its role in rigging Libor.

The hearing by the Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security was the culmination of a year-long investigation. Its 335-page report into HSBC saw the committee sift through 1.4 million documents and interview 75 HSBC officials, as well as bank regulators. It highlighted damning examples of lax controls and inadequate compliance by staff at HSBC’s 470 US branches.

The bank allegedly ignored specific US measures designed to prevent transactions being made involving terrorists, drug lords and rogue regimes. Two HSBC subsidiaries, for example, processed 25,000 transactions over seven years, worth a total of $19.4 billion, without disclosing that the cash had links to Iran. The bank is also alleged to have moved billions of dollars in cash from Mexican subsidiary HBMX to its US network – despite being warned by both US and Mexican authorities that such sums could only be linked to drug trafficking.

The report said that HSBC accepted more than $15 billion in cash between 2006 and 2009 from Mexico, Russia and other countries at high risk of money-laundering but failed properly to monitor transactions.

The bank even managed to label Mexico, ravaged by corruption and drug wars, as “low risk”, the committee said. HSBC also provided US dollars and banking services to banks in Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh despite apparent links to terrorist financing, according to the report.

David Bagley, HSBC’s global head of compliance who had worked at the bank for 20 years, yesterday resigned in front of the committee. He admitted HSBC had “fallen short of our own and regulators’ expectations”.

Senator Carl Levin, who led the committee’s investigation, said HSBC’s lack of controls in America and abroad between 2006 and 2010 had been “a recipe for trouble”.

The report said many of the abuses occurred as a result of HSBC’s failure to monitor its so-called “bearer share accounts”, facilities that legally keep secret the owners and some transactions. At one stage the Miami branch had 1,670 bearer share accounts, holding $2.6 billion of assets and generating revenues of $26 million.

Levin told the hearing: “In an age of international terrorism, drug violence in our streets and on our borders, and organised crime, stopping illicit money flows that support those atrocities is a national security imperative.”

The chairman accepted HSBC had overhauled its systems since the failures were found and was “committed to cleaning its house”.

The investigation into HSBC is the latest US attempt to crack down on money-laundering. Last month, ING agreed to pay $619 million to settle allegations that it broke American sanctions against Cuba and Iran.

Cold Winter and Summer Have Some Ready to Leave Alaska

After record-breaking winter, cool summer is a bummer | Jul 16, 2012

By Janessa Webb

ANCHORAGE – After a record-breaking winter, we are now headed for one of the coldest months of July on record.

And it has some Alaskans thinking it may be time to leave the great land.

By Alaska summer standards, it’s been a pretty cool and gloomy start to the beginning of July.

The temps may be setting records, but it’s not the first summer that’s been less than sunny – and some people say they’ve had enough.

But while Alaskans are donning sweaters in July, people in the Lower 48 are sweltering in the heat.

Anchorage has averaged 53 degrees for the beginning of July, when the normal temperature is closer to 65 – but the National Weather Service says that may soon change.

In fact there is every reason to be optimistic.

If those temperatures do come, you may want to get out and enjoy them now, because August is traditionally our rainy month, and there’s a good chance it could be a wet one.

It’s getting colder, not warmer

Solar activity has been decreasing rapidly and the sunspots that help reduce cosmic radiation will drop to near zero in the next five years.The last time that happened, the Thames froze over. | Jul 18, 2012

By Peter Foster

Although many scientists are warning of human-promoted climate change, PeterFoster believes otherwise.

Over the past few months, the Otago Daily Times has published many articles from Gwynne Dyer and others warning of mass extinctions, ice shelf break-ups and, of course, the iconic polar bears who are going to snuff it in the near future. All because we naughty humans have filled the air with carbon dioxide that will warm the planet and destroy the ice floes etc etc.

The truth for the polar bears is that they have survived much warmer times than now and their numbers have increased five-fold since shooting them became illegal.

The doom and gloom espoused by Mr Dyer, the World Wildlife Fund, Greens and others stem from two sources. The first is the hockey-stick graphs used by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and the second is from computer modelling of climate.

The hockey-stick graphs are those showing 1000 years of slightly cooling temperatures followed by a sharp upswing in the past 150 years. These graphs have now been thoroughly discredited despite the authors’ attempts to hide their data. It was a story of appalling statistical methodology, cherry-picked data and deliberate falsification. The aim of the scientists involved was to make out that the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) and Little Ice Age were local North European events. It was impossible for them to blame the 1976-97 warming on CO2 if the MWP was warmer than now and global. Data collected from around the world, including excellent ice-core data from the Antarctic, show that these climatic events were indeed global.

A major problem with the climate debate is the failure to look at historic values of temperature and CO2. For example, warmists will say, “Look, CO2 is the highest for 20 million years”, which is true, but in the past 600 million years, during which higher life forms evolved, it has been above the present level of 400ppm for some 84% of the time and above 1000ppm for nearly 75% of that time. In fact, the only other time CO2 reached levels as low as the preindustrial levels was about 300 million years ago and that episode ended with the Permian mass extinction.

With respect to temperature, the normal state is about 5degC warmer than now with no polar ice caps. Ice ages occur every 148 million years and last 16 to 50 million years. The four ice ages in total have existed less than 17% of the past 600 million years.

Interglacials are warm periods that occur every 100,000 years within the ice ages and last for 12,000 to 20,000 years.

We are near the end of an interglacial whose temperatures are about halfway between ice age and normal.

The GISP ice-core data from Greenland shows that every warm period over the past 3500 years has been cooler than the preceding warm period and the Little Ice Age 300 years ago was the coldest for more than 8000 years. Clearly, we are heading back into ice age conditions.

Many years ago, I spent four months at Vanda Station in the Antarctic. Lake Vanda is an inland lake in the Dry Valleys covered with 3m of ice. Melt water from a coastal glacier flows 30km inland to the lake for six weeks in the summer, causing the lake to rise.

Sublimation over the rest of the year then reduces lake levels again. The lake rises and falls with climate change, making it a very good indicator of climate.

Lake levels from warmer periods are visible by the algal scum left around earlier lake edges; the highest of these was 46m above the 1986 lake level and occurred 5000 years ago.

All of the above shows that there is nothing unusual, unprecedented or even remarkable about the present temperature of the earth.

It also shows that CO2 is historically very low, even at 400 parts per million.

The doom and gloom and the costly ETS arise from the predictions of climate models.

Although we read a lot about their predictions, we rarely get anything about how badly they have performed.

To date, there have been many papers using observations from the real world that indicate the sensitivity of climate to CO2 is about 0.5degC/doubling of CO2, not the 3 to 6degC claimed by the IPCC. Global temperatures have tracked lower than Nasa climate scientist James Hansen’s 1988 curve C model, which was the projection if there was no further increase in CO2!

Phil Jones, of Hadley Climate Research Unit, where much of the IPCC information has come from, stated that there had been no statistically significant warming since 1995, and now we have a paper that tells us the modern warming period ended in 1997.

The Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf collapse was based on models that predict the Southern Ocean should be warming at 0.048degC/decade when, in fact, it has been cooling for the past 10 years at nearly 0.1degC/decade.

The models claim that sea level rise will accelerate but tide gauge measurements from around the world show an average increase of 1.1mm/year and no acceleration. There is supposed to be, according to the models, an atmospheric hot spot 10km up in the tropics. No hot spot exits.

A theory in science only lasts while it is accord with observations. The theory of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming has failed in so many respects that it should have been discarded years ago.

In the meantime, the theory of climate change being driven by solar activity and cosmic radiation not only has excellent correlation with historical data but now has a well-understood mechanism to explain it. We will not have long to wait to find out which theory is correct. Solar activity has been decreasing rapidly and the sunspots that help reduce cosmic radiation will drop to near zero in the next five years.The last time that happened, the Thames froze over.

Coldest winter in almost a century prevents Scotland from reaching carbon emissions target

The coldest winter in almost a century led to Scotland’s first rise in emissions in four years. Picture: Getty

Extreme winter weather prevents Scottish greenhouse gas emissions target being met | Jul 17 2012

SCOTLAND has failed to meet its greenhouse gas emissions target for 2010 as a result of the country facing it’s coldest winter in almost a century.

Scottish Government statistics show a 1.9% increase in emissions in 2010 on the previous year, which has been blamed on the extreme winter weather.

The figure means the statutory target set out under the Climate Change (Scotland) Act to reduce emissions year-on-year has not been achieved.

The Government said the long-term trend still showed a reduction in emissions, down 24.3% since 1990, while provisional figures from the UK Department for Energy and Climate Change indicate that emissions fell 7% in 2011.

Environment minister Stewart Stevenson said: “The Scottish Government remains fully committed to delivering ambitious and world-leading climate change targets.

“We always knew it would be a challenging path to follow when these were set and that year-to-year fluctuations were inevitable.

“It is therefore no surprise that domestic heating emissions rose as a result of the extreme weather.

Extreme weather blamed for missing climate-change target

“Scotland faced its coldest winter temperatures in almost a century – and quite rightly people across Scotland needed to heat their homes to keep warm and safe.

“The longer-term trend reveals Scottish greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by around a quarter since 1990, signalling we are still on track to achieve the 2020 target.

“While the 2010 weather was exceptional, this early experience highlights the need to not just plan to meet the targets, but to build in some contingency as well.

“We remain fully committed to delivering our climate change targets and I am confident that the underlying trend remains downward.”

Campaign group Stop Climate Chaos Scotland said the figures underlined the need for action on climate change to be prioritised.

Mike Robinson, a board member of the group, said: “These figures underline the need for greater leadership in actually delivering reductions. World-leading climate legislation needs world-leading climate action.

“It is unacceptable to the thousands of people across Scotland who called for a strong Climate Change Act in 2009 that we have fallen short of this first test.

“Instead of driving the change people called for, the Government has allowed emissions to rise and failed to lock in the drop in emissions caused by the economic downturn.

“We urge the Government to prioritise action on climate change and make low carbon activities central to the forthcoming budget.”

Green MSP Patrick Harvie said: “The Government can’t get away with expressing shock that Scotland has cold winters some years; this failure of Government policy can’t be pinned on bad weather when they have delayed year after year the national, street-by-street effort we need to insulate Scotland’s leaky homes.

“Cutting energy bills and carbon emissions at the same time should be a no-brainer.

“Today’s figures highlight our damaging reliance on coal and the need for a plan to phase out fossil fuel use alongside the growth in renewables.

“We need a clear timetable set for taking fossil fuels out of the system but the SNP are still intent on extracting every last bit they can find.”

Labour climate change spokeswoman Claudia Beamish said: “The minister blames the increase on the weather and the UK Committee on Climate Change has previously said that the figures for 2009 were the result of the economic downturn.

“Yet long-term trends on transport and household emissions show an increase year-on-year. When will the Scottish Government take action and deliver the step change necessary?

“These figures must be a wake-up call to the SNP Government that targets alone will not reduce our emissions – they must be backed by strong action and a determined effort by all government departments and agencies working together or we will continue to miss every target until 2020.”

Anchorage Experiences Coldest First Half of July Ever | Jul 15, 2012

By Brian Edwards

Looking for relief from the heat over much of the Lower 48 states? Head to coastal Alaska where they are experiencing the coldest first half of July on record!

Through the first 14 days of July, the average temperature in Anchorage was 53.1 degrees factoring in daily highs and lows, which makes it the coldest first half of the month on record according to the National Weather Service in Anchorage.

Should this temperature trend continue, it could threaten the record for the coldest July ever, which occurred in 1920 and had an average temperature of 54.4 degrees.

Typically this stretch of time is the warmest of the year. Instead, temperatures in the city of Anchorage are running 5.3 degrees below average.

Somedays have even turned out colder than cities on the Arctic Coast such as Barrow. On July 12th, the high temperature topped out at 54 degrees in Anchorage, while temperatures soared to 62 in Barrow (a whooping 15 degrees above average.)

Not only has it been cool, but residents of the Alaska city haven’t seen much sunlight due to overcast skies and a persistent flow off the ocean. Rainfall through the first 14 days is running slightly above normal at 120 percent. But the clouds and cool temperatures have been the bigger story.

The reason for the cool weather along the coast has been due to jet stream position. Normally it will fluctuate northward sending storms into western Alaska and allowing ridging to build over the southern and central part of the state at times.

Well this summer it’s been consistently farther south sending storm after storm into the Gulf of Alaska, keeping a cool southeast flow of air aimed on the southern coast.

While heavy rain isn’t common with this kind of a storm track, the flow will keep clouds and cool temperatures in the offing as long as it persists.

Anchorage hasn’t been the only southern city feeling the chill. Homer, Alaska is running 5 degrees below normal for the month thus far while Palmer is running 3.8 degrees below average.

Residents of Anchorage and the southern coast shouldn’t expect any big warm ups anytime soon as this pattern of storms moving into the Gulf of Alaska looks to persist at least through next weekend.

It is the coldest July on record, so far

It’s not in your head: The National Weather Service says that so far this is the coldest July on record in Anchorage. | Jul 15, 2012


The average temperature for the first 12 days of this month — typically the warmest of the year — was just 52.7 degrees.

That’s more than a degree cooler than the second-coldest first half of July, in 1956, when the average temperature was 53.8 degrees, said NWS meteorologist Bob Hopkins.

On Thursday, it was actually warmer in Barrow (62 degrees) than Anchorage (54), according to NWS readings.

The chill makes for frustrated tomato growers and bundled-up beachgoers.

Lori Jones, 19, may have been one of the most warmly dressed beach lifeguards in the nation Friday.

Staffing the lifeguard post at the Goose Lake Park beach, she wore three layers: a T-shirt, a pullover and a lifeguard jacket issued by the city.

“Sometimes when it’s really windy we have a blanket up there with us too,” she said, motioning to the lifeguard chair.

The lake was empty of boaters or swimmers. A handful of kids wearing coats played up the beach. A few stalwarts show up on overcast, 52-degree days, Jones said. But not many.

“There’s no one really here,” she said.

A few miles away, Saskia Esslinger’s artichokes are stunted and puny.

For Esslinger, who owns a garden design business with her husband and grows much of her food at her urban farmstead in the U-Med neighborhood, a cold July has wreaked havoc on some of her warm-weather crops.

The tomatoes, always tough to grow in Anchorage, are not happening. Beans and squash are faring poorly as well.

At this time last year, based on harvest records she keeps, Esslinger and her husband were harvesting broccoli and garlic.

“A lot of stuff is just further behind this year,” she said.

Esslinger had adopted a Zen attitude toward her struggling crops and the weather, essential for urban farming in Alaska.

“It’s going to do what it’s going to do,” she said. “There’s no use complaining, because it doesn’t help.”

If this cool, overcast weather goes on, the whole month of July could end up being among the coldest since records were first kept in 1917, Hopkins said. But a few warm days, like Anchorage saw in June, could throw off that average.

The reasons for the cooler weather are complex, he said, but scientists believe a cycle of cooler ocean temperatures beget cooler air temperatures for Anchorage, where a maritime influence from Cook Inlet tends to regulate extremes anyway.

Hidden Government Scanners Will Instantly Know Everything About You From 164 Feet Away | Jul 10, 2012

Within the next year or two, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will instantly know everythingabout your body, clothes, and luggage with a new laser-based molecular scanner fired from 164 feet (50 meters) away. From traces of drugs or gun powder on your clothes to what you had for breakfast to the adrenaline level in your body—agents will be able to get any information they want without even touching you.

And without you knowing it.

The technology is so incredibly effective that, in November 2011, its inventors were subcontracted by In-Q-Tel to work with the US Department of Homeland Security. In-Q-Tel is a company founded “in February 1999 by a group of private citizens at the request of the Director of the CIA and with the support of the U.S. Congress.” According to In-Q-Tel, they are the bridge between the Agency and new technology companies.

Their plan is to install this molecular-level scanning in airports and border crossings all across the United States. The official, stated goal of this arrangement is to be able to quickly identify explosives, dangerous chemicals, or bioweapons at a distance.

The machine is ten million times faster—and one million times more sensitive—than any currently available system. That means that it can be used systematically on everyone passing through airport security, not just suspect or randomly sampled people.

Analyzing everything in real time

But the machine can sniff out a lot more than just explosives, chemicals and bioweapons. The company that invented it, Genia Photonics, says that its laser scanner technology is able to “penetrate clothing and many other organic materials and offers spectroscopic information, especially for materials that impact safety such as explosives and pharmacological substances.” [PDF]

Formed in Montreal in 2009 by PhDs with specialties in lasers and fiber optics, Genia Photonics has 30 patents on this technology, claiming incredible biomedical and industrial applications—from identifying individual cancer cells in a real-time scan of a patient, to detecting trace amounts of harmful chemicals in sensitive manufacturing processes.

Hidden Government Scanners Will Instantly Know Everything About You From 164 Feet AwayAbove: The Genia Photonics’ Picosecond Programmable Laser scanner is capable of detecting every tiny trace of any substance on your body, from specks of gunpowder to your adrenaline levels to a sugar-sized grain of cannabis to what you had for breakfast.

Meanwhile, In-Q-Tel states that “an important benefit of Genia Photonics’ implementation as compared to existing solutions is that the entire synchronized laser system is comprised in a single, robust and alignment-free unit that may be easily transported for use in many environments… This compact and robust laser has the ability to rapidly sweep wavelengths in any pattern and sequence.” [PDF]

So not only can they scan everyone. They would be able to do it everywhere: the subway, a traffic light, sports events… everywhere.

How does it work?

The machine is a mobile, rack-mountable system. It fires a laser to provide molecular-level feedback at distances of up to 50 meters in just picoseconds. For all intents and purposes, that means instantly.

The small, inconspicuous machine is attached to a computer running a program that will show the information in real time, from trace amounts of cocaine on your dollar bills to gunpowder residue on your shoes. Forget trying to sneak a bottle of water past security—they will be able to tell what you had for breakfast in an instant while you’re walking down the hallway.

The technology is not new, it’s just millions times faster and more convenient than ever before. Back in 2008, a team at George Washington University developed a similar laser spectrometer using a different process. It could sense drug metabolites in urine in less than a second, trace amounts of explosive residue on a dollar bill, and even certain chemical changes happening in a plant leaf.

And the Russians also have a similar technology: announced last April, their “laser sensor can pick up on a single molecule in a million from up to 50 meters away.”

So if Genia Photonics’ claims pan out, this will be an incredible leap forward in terms of speed, portability, and convenience. One with staggering implications.

Observation without limits

There has so far been no discussion about the personal rights and privacy issues involved. Which “molecular tags” will they be scanning for? Who determines them? What are the threshold levels of this scanning? If you unknowingly stepped on the butt of someone’s joint and are carrying a sugar-sized grain of cannabis like that unfortunate traveler currently in jail in Dubai, will you be arrested?

And, since it’s extremely portable, will this technology extend beyone the airport or border crossings and into police cars, with officers looking for people on the street with increased levels of adrenaline in their system to detain in order to prevent potential violent outbursts? And will your car be scanned at stoplights for any trace amounts of suspicious substances? Would all this information be recorded anywhere?

Hidden Government Scanners Will Instantly Know Everything About You From 164 Feet AwayAbove: A page from a Genia Photonics paper describing its ability to even penetrate through clothing.

There are a lot of questions with no answer yet, but it’s obvious that the potential level of personal invasion of this technology goes far beyond that of body scans, wiretaps, and GPS tracking.

The end of privacy coming soon

According to the undersecretary for science and technology of the Department of Homeland Security, this scanning technology will be ready within one to two years, which means you might start seeing them in airports as soon as 2013.

In other words, these portable, incredibly precise molecular-level scanning devices will be cascading lasers across your body as you walk from the bathroom to the soda machine at the airport and instantly reporting and storing a detailed breakdown of your person, in search of certain “molecular tags”.

Going well beyond eavesdropping, it seems quite possible that U.S. government plans on recording molecular data on travelers without their consent, or even knowledge that it’s possible—a scary thought.

Low-flying US Air Force planes spraying pesticides over Florida residents during the night

They said that is perfectly normal for spraying operations.

CBS | Jul 10, 2012

This is the type of plane that will be used in the Miami-Dade Mosquito spraying. Source: US Air Force

MIAMI (CBSMIami) – Skeeters a problem? Lots of people think so, so Miami-Dade officials are calling in the cavalry;well, actually, the Air Force to kill the biting pests and their breeding grounds. However, the attack may come as a surprise because of how low the spraying planes fly.

The county and the Air Force announced the plans Monday as complaints continue to rise. Recent rainy weather has caused the mosquito population to bloom, something that can cause problems to people headed to cookouts and 4th of fireworks celebrations.

Normally spraying is done in the early morning hours, but nighttime spraying allows the county another whack at the population.

This newest round of mosquito control involves a large C-130 cargo plane based in Ohio to spray Homestead ARB and communities of Doral, West Sweetwater, Kendall, Homestead, Florida City and areas east of U.S. 1, where heavy concentrations of mosquitos have been reported.

According to county officials, what may startle people the most is how low the planes fly. People in spraying areas could see planes just 150 feet off the ground and might be startled into thinking the plane is in trouble, but they said that is perfectly normal for spraying operations.

The planes will be spraying the pesticide Dibrom for the last two hours of the day July 10th, 11th and 12th, ending operations about a half hour after sunsets. The Air Force last conducted spraying like this in South Florida last July.

If you raise bees, the county said you should keep them covered during spraying operations. If you have allergies or sensitivity to pesticides, the spraying planners suggest you stay inside.

Residents are advised that aircraft will be flying as low as 150 feet.  Beekeepers are asked to keep their bees covered during the spraying operations in their particular area.  Individuals with known allergic reactions should remain indoors.

People who have questions about the aerial spraying, or complaints about mosquitoes, can call the County’s 311 Answer Center.

Secretive National Reconnaissance Office accused of illegally collecting personal data

Mark Phillips, a polygrapher, says he was retaliated against for resisting abusive practices at the National Reconnaissance Office. | Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT

When people confess to serious crimes such as child molestation they’re not always arrested or prosecuted. | Jul 10, 2012

By Marisa Taylor | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — One of the nation’s most secretive intelligence agencies is pressuring its polygraphers to obtain intimate details of the private lives of thousands of job applicants and employees, pushing the ethical and legal boundaries of a program that’s designed instead to catch spies and terrorists.

The National Reconnaissance Office is so intent on extracting confessions of personal or illicit behavior that officials have admonished polygraphers who refused to go after them and rewarded those who did, sometimes with cash bonuses, a McClatchy investigation found.

The disclosures include a wide range of behavior and private thoughts such as drug use, child abuse, suicide attempts, depression and sexual deviancy. The agency, which oversees the nation’s spy satellites, records the sessions that were required for security clearances and stores them in a database.

Even though it’s aggressively collecting the private disclosures, when people confess to serious crimes such as child molestation they’re not always arrested or prosecuted.

“You’ve got to wonder what the point of all of this is if we’re not even going after child molesters,” said Mark Phillips, a veteran polygrapher who resigned from the agency in late May after, he says, he was retaliated against for resisting abusive techniques. “This is bureaucracy run amok. These practices violate the rights of Americans, and it’s not even for a good reason.”

The agency refused to answer McClatchy’s questions about its practices. However, it’s acknowledged in internal documents that it’s not supposed to directly ask more personal questions but says it legally collects the information when people spontaneously confess, often at the beginning of the polygraph test.

After a legal review of Phillips’ assertions, the agency’s assistant general counsel Mark Land concluded in April that it did nothing wrong. “My opinion, based on all of the facts, is that management’s action is legally supportable and corrective action is not required,” he wrote.

But McClatchy’s review of hundreds of documents – including internal policy documents, memos and agency emails – indicates that the National Reconnaissance Office is pushing ethical and possibly legal limits by:

– Establishing a system that tracks the number of personal confessions, which then are used in polygraphers’ annual performance reviews.

– Summoning employees and job applicants for multiple polygraph tests to ask about a wide array of personal behavior.

– Altering results of the tests in what some polygraphers say is an effort to justify more probing of employees’ and applicants’ private lives.

Various national security experts, including those who support the use of polygraph in general for security screening, said they were disturbed by what McClatchy found, especially considering that the number of polygraph screenings has spiked in the last decade.

“There’s a narrow jurisdiction for a polygraph program, which is to promote security,” said Steven Aftergood, a senior analyst with the Federation of American Scientists, a nonpartisan research center that tracks intelligence policies. “When agencies exceed their authority, they not only violate the privacy of employees, they corrupt the entire process.”

The dispute is part of a long-running debate over the proper use of polygraph by the federal government in screening employees, when it’s not known whether the machine can detect the difference between a lie and the truth or simply registers an emotional response.

In 2002, the National Academies, the nonprofit institute that includes the National Academy of Sciences, concluded that the federal government shouldn’t use polygraph screening because it was too unreliable.

Yet since then, in the Defense Department alone, the number of national-security polygraph tests has increased fivefold, to almost 46,000 annually. Many of those who are required to undergo the tests aren’t just bureaucrats in Washington but also private contractors across the country.

Federal agencies say the information gathered during polygraph screenings helps them root out undesirable and even dangerous employees who otherwise wouldn’t be detected during routine background investigations, which often are described as expensive and time-consuming.

But some national security experts question whether U.S. agencies are striking the appropriate balance between protecting Americans’ privacy rights and the nation’s security interests as agencies are being permitted to ask what could be seen as more intrusive questions.

Last month, the Obama administration announced that federal agencies, including the National Reconnaissance Office, now may ask employees and applicants during polygraph screenings whether they’ve leaked classified information to the news media.

“If a whole program is susceptible to manipulation, then relying on it further is all the more disturbing,” Aftergood said.

The National Reconnaissance Office orders the second highest number of screening polygraphs in the Pentagon, conducting about 8,000 a year at its headquarters in Chantilly, Va., and at locations in Los Angeles and the Silicon Valley area.

The agency’s is among eight Pentagon polygraph programs that under Defense Department policy can directly ask only about national security issues in what’s known as the counterintelligence scope polygraph. The test was designed to catch spies and terrorists who are trying to infiltrate the government without encroaching unnecessarily on the private lives of government employees and military personnel. Polygraphers are allowed to ask about espionage, terrorism, sabotage and the unauthorized sharing of classified information.

But about five years ago, the National Reconnaissance Office began pressuring polygraphers to pursue information outside those limits in what amounted to an unwritten policy, said a group of polygraphers who agreed to describe the practices to McClatchy. The polygraphers include Phillips, a former Marine who worked for a number of intelligence agencies over two decades, and a former National Reconnaissance Office colleague, Chuck Hinshaw.

Both agreed to be named because they think the agency’s practices violate Defense Department policies and should be stopped.

Other polygraphers backed their accounts, but they asked to remain anonymous because they feared retaliation. “I was coached to go after this stuff,” one of the polygraphers said. “It blew my mind. They were asking me to elicit information that I’m not permitted to ask about, and I told them I wasn’t going to do it.”

Another longtime polygrapher said the National Reconnaissance Office had established an off-the-books policy that encouraged going after prohibited information.

“The organization says in writing that they’re not supposed to be asking about this information, when in fact behind closed doors they are pushing (polygraphers) to actively pursue it,” the polygrapher said.

Hinshaw, who said he’d witnessed the improper practices as a former acting supervisor, accused the agency of becoming so cavalier about following the rules that the polygraph branch chief, Michael McMahon, pressured him to change the results of the agency director’s polygraph if he failed the test. In the end, director Bruce Carlson passed, but Hinshaw said the incident demonstrated how the agency’s use of polygraph was arbitrary and wasn’t about protecting the country.

McMahon didn’t respond to emails and phone messages from McClatchy inquiring about the incident.

“There’s a line you have to draw,” said Hinshaw, who worked in the program from 2005 until earlier this year. “The original idea for using polygraph to clear people was to ferret out moles and spies. Now it’s morphing into an ambiguous exam where anything’s possible.”

The National Reconnaissance Office, meanwhile, has branded Phillips and Hinshaw troubled employees. Before Phillips resigned, the agency suspended him for three days, saying he was insubordinate, among other complaints, and it revoked Hinshaw’s security clearance earlier this year, citing his foreclosure on his family home.

Both men said they thought the agency had retaliated against them for trying to resist the polygraph practices, and records show that they’d voiced their concerns before the agency took action against them. The Pentagon’s inspector general is investigating Phillips’ complaint.

But even if the agency were found to be violating Pentagon policies, the laws that limit the government’s use of polygraph in screening aren’t specific on what constitutes an illegal abuse. The Privacy Act of 1974 requires that the government collect only personal information that’s necessary and relevant, and a 1981 presidential directive calls for “the least intrusive collection techniques feasible.”

Much of the interpretation of what that means has been left to the federal departments that run the polygraph programs.

“Some polygraph programs have been getting away with all sorts of abuses for years,” said Mark Zaid, an attorney for Phillips who’s been handling national security cases for 20 years. “It’s very difficult to hold them accountable.”

Why is the National Reconnaissance Office interested in such private details? In internal documents and emails, supervisors told polygraphers they felt pressure from the officials known as adjudicators, who make the final decisions on national security clearances.

The agency’s motives, however, are more complicated, some of the polygraphers said.

The Pentagon’s test is so restricted to counterintelligence issues that it’s notorious among polygraphers for compelling admissions of mundane and ultimately harmless infractions. One of the most common confessions involves harried bureaucrats who admit to taking classified documents home by mistake. By collecting confessions to repulsive or criminal behavior, officials can justify using polygraph screenings to their bosses, Congress and a skeptical public despite questions about the test’s reliability, the polygraphers said.

As a result, the National Reconnaissance Office closely tracked how many personal confessions it collected. The agency called them “Code 55 admissions,” the records show.

In fiscal year 2011, almost 50 percent of the 757 confessions the agency collected were of the personal nature that the rules said shouldn’t be directly pursued, the agency’s statistics show. Of 33 polygraphers, one-third collected more confessions related to personal behavior than to national security violations.

Other polygraph programs, such as those in the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, also conduct limited national-security polygraph screenings, but in an entire year their polygraphers may not encounter any confessions that are outside the limits of the test. It’s a rare occasion when someone blurts it out without prompting, officials said.

“If an agency is getting a big portion of its confessions that are outside the limits, it’s an indication that they’re going on fishing expeditions,” said John Sullivan, a former CIA polygrapher of 30 years. “And if they’re doing that, it’s wrong and being done under false pretenses.”

Phillips and Hinshaw accused the polygraph program’s branch chief, McMahon, of encouraging improper practices.

Within the intelligence world, only the CIA and the National Security Agency are permitted to directly ask about drug use, unreported crimes and falsification of the forms filled out for national security clearances, which require a wide array of personal information. The tests are known as lifestyle polygraphs.

Late last year, the Pentagon discovered that the National Reconnaissance Office had ordered five of the lifestyle tests in violation of Defense Department policies, according to an internal report obtained by McClatchy. The agency then claimed to have the legal authority to do so, when it was supposed to be asking only national security questions designed to catch spies and terrorists, the report said. The Pentagon concluded that the program was in “full compliance” because the agency said it was a mistake.

Polygraphers, however, say the agency’s pursuit of the off-limits information is much more widespread than the Pentagon’s report noted. Records show that the agency ordered at least one more lifestyle test after it was told to stop.

The agency also pursues the information in its routine counterintelligence tests, polygraphers said. In one instance last year, Phillips’ supervisors told him to “assess” the mental health of an applicant during a polygraph test, records show. Phillips said he’d refused to do it.

As a result of its efforts, the agency ends up with a vast accumulation of personal details of questionable national-security significance, polygraphers said.

Last September, a woman who’d held a clearance for more than 15 years and already had passed a national security polygraph was interrogated for more than four hours over two additional polygraph sessions, said Hinshaw, who said he’d been ordered to do it. Hinshaw’s supervisors launched the aggressive inquiry because they suspected that the woman had smoked pot more than the one time years before that she’d admitted to, records show. In the end, however, the only other information the National Reconnaissance Office extracted from her was that she’d been molested at age 16.

Hinshaw said he’d received thousands of dollars in bonuses over several years in part because he’d collected a high number of confessions, including the more personal ones.

Phillips, on the other hand, had a much lower collection rate and received negative performance reviews. His supervisors cited his reluctance to collect the Code 55 information as part of the reason for their dissatisfaction with him.

“There are ways of leading people into making these admissions even though you’re not supposed to,” Phillips said. “By setting up a system that gives polygraphers an incentive to go after the information, the agency is pressuring them to collect it.”

Despite the agency’s interest in criminal behavior, those who confess to serious offenses aren’t always criminally prosecuted even when child molestation is involved, McClatchy found.

In one case, a contractor who was a former Escondido, Calif., substitute teacher admitted to molesting a third-grade student in 2005 during outside tutoring sessions paid for by the girl’s immigrant parents. In a 2010 polygraph session, the man said that if he were asked, “ ‘Have you ever molested a 9-year-old?’ I’d have to say yes.”

The Escondido Police Department and school district where he’d been employed weren’t notified of the incident. After being contacted by McClatchy, the school district called the Escondido Police Department to file a report.When National Reconnaissance Office polygraphers asked supervisors in a meeting last summer why people weren’t being arrested on the spot after such confessions, they were told that the allegations were referred to the appropriate authorities, Phillips and Hinshaw said.

The agency refused to answer McClatchy’s questions about the molestation confession, saying in a statement only that its polygraph program “is in compliance with the law.”

National Reconnaissance Office statement on its polygraph program

“The National Reconnaissance Office directs, manages and oversees appropriate investigative inquiries, including polygraph, for the purposes of rendering informed security access determinations. Such inquiries and determinations are in full compliance with the law and provide the security compliance required to best protect and further Intelligence Community program activities and objectives.

“If adverse information is disclosed during the administration of a polygraph examination the information is evaluated and forwarded to the appropriate authorities. For Privacy Act purposes the NRO has a policy of not commenting on specific cases.

“The National Center for Credibility Assessment (NCCA), Quality Assurance Program (QAP), conducted an on-site inspection of the NRO Polygraph Program on November 15-17, 2011. During the QAP inspection, 118 criteria in nine primary areas were reviewed. Upon conclusion of the inspection, the NRO Polygraph program was found to be in full compliance with their policies and procedures and met or exceeded all standards required of a federal government polygraph program.”

Karzai: Taliban chief Mullah Omar can run for Afghan presidency

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Afghan President Hamid Karzai called on Thursday on Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar to give up fighting his US-backed government in return for the chance to run for president of the war-torn nation.

Telegraph | Jul 12, 2012

Mullah Omar, the one-eyed Taliban leader who has been on run since the United States toppled his regime in late 2001, is one of the world’s most wanted men and is leading a Taliban insurgency aimed at ousting Karzai.

Karzai has repeatedly called on Omar and other insurgents fighting against his administration to renounce violence and accept peaceful reintegration.

“I repeat my call on all Afghans, those who aren’t the puppets of others and have (only) issues with us at home – they’re welcome for any talks,” he told a news conference.

“Mullah Mohammad Omar can come inside Afghanistan anywhere he wants to. He can open political office for himself but he should leave the gun.

Afghanistan’s Karzai urges Taliban leader Omar to run for president

“He along with his friends can come and create his political party, do politics, become a candidate himself for the elections. If people voted for him, good for him, he can take the leadership in his hand,” Karzai said.

The Taliban have repeatedly turned down Karzai’s peace offers and earlier this year withdrew from exploratory talks with the United States in Qatar.