November 30, 2009

CIA pulls SWIFT one to get peek at your bank records

Press TV - November 30, 2009 02:03:13 GMT

European Union governments have given in to the pressure and appear set to make a last-minute agreement with the United States to allow its intelligence agencies to monitor bank accounts and transactions across the bloc.

Actually, the EU has been clandestinely allowing US intelligence agencies to have access to these financial records since 2001, allegedly to fight terrorism.

However, EU citizens were outraged when this invasion of privacy was revealed in 2006.

Now, however, interior ministers and security officials of the 27-member bloc are going to meet on November 30 to make a decision on legally allowing the United States to have access to bank data across the EU.

According to Spiegel Online, the EU interior ministers gradually succumbed to the “massive” pressure exerted by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US ambassadors in Europe, who pressed governments like door-to-door salespeople.

“They pulled out all the moral and political stops,” one EU foreign minister quipped.

Germany was initially opposed to the agreement but came around this week, and a recalcitrant Austria, one of the last holdouts, followed suit.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, who is from the new coalition government, told German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberg, who belongs to the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), that he would not block the US proposal in Brussels.

There will not be a German “no” vote, but instead, he will simply abstain, Spiegel Online reported.

In what many Europeans say is a surreptitious move, the final decision on the issue is going to be made one day before the Lisbon Treaty comes into effect on December 1, since the treaty would allow the European Parliament to have a say in the matter.

However, the issue will definitely face opposition in the EU Parliament anyway since a majority of MEPs are opposed to the idea of disclosing the bank data to the US.

The new treaty envisages a host of security measures and has paved the way for many inexperienced but obedient people like Catherine Ashton, a former EU commissioner for trade, to be elevated to the very apex of European politics.

Many analysts view the entire process as an attempt by Washington to realize its security goals.

The US involvement in the EU's banking system started after it illegally got its hands on the private bank data via the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication or SWIFT.

Over 8,000 financial institutions in over 200 countries are affiliated with SWIFT. The cooperative organization is not a bank and it lacks funds but operates a network of international financial messages.

The firm is registered in Belgium but one of its two major computer servers is located in the US.

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the White House decided to intercept the bank data of people suspected of involvement in terrorist activities via the SWIFT server in the US.

The CIA, the FBI, the US government, and major banks all put pressure on SWIFT until the organization “voluntarily” began to hand over millions of pieces of data.

Privacy advocates and liberal politicians are opposed to the “SWIFT agreement” because it would give US intelligence agencies access to the personal information and financial records of all EU citizens.

9,000 Marines Heading to Afghanistan Immediately After Obama Announcement

Aims to Double Marine Presence in Helmand

by Jason Ditz, November 29, 2009

The United States is wasting no time in throwing more troops at the war in Afghanistan. Officials say as soon as President Obama makes his Tuesday announcement of the escalation of the war, 9,000 additional Marines will depart for Afghanistan.

The 9,000 Marines will head to the Helmand Province, roughly doubling the number of marines on the ground in the tense province. It will also be a significant portion of the estimated 34,000 additional troops President Obama will commit to the war.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates had said the escalation would come quickly, despite caution that it was complicated to add so many troops to a war in a landlocked, virtually infrastructure free country on the other side of the globe. Still, most assumed it would be at least January when the troops started arriving.

That the troops are all heading to Helmand will no doubt be troubling news to Pakistan, as Prime Minister Gilani cautioned only two days ago that he was worried a US escalation in Helmand could destabilize the nation’s Balochistan Province.


November 29, 2009

Climate change data dumped

Jonathan Leake, Environment Editor
The Sunday Times
November 29, 2009

SCIENTISTS at the University of East Anglia (UEA) have admitted throwing away much of the raw temperature data on which their predictions of global warming are based.

It means that other academics are not able to check basic calculations said to show a long-term rise in temperature over the past 150 years.

The UEA’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) was forced to reveal the loss following requests for the data under Freedom of Information legislation.

The data were gathered from weather stations around the world and then adjusted to take account of variables in the way they were collected. The revised figures were kept, but the originals — stored on paper and magnetic tape — were dumped to save space when the CRU moved to a new building.

The admission follows the leaking of a thousand private emails sent and received by Professor Phil Jones, the CRU’s director. In them he discusses thwarting climate sceptics seeking access to such data.

In a statement on its website, the CRU said: “We do not hold the original raw data but only the value-added (quality controlled and homogenised) data.”

The CRU is the world’s leading centre for reconstructing past climate and temperatures. Climate change sceptics have long been keen to examine exactly how its data were compiled. That is now impossible.

Roger Pielke, professor of environmental studies at Colorado University, discovered data had been lost when he asked for original records. “The CRU is basically saying, ‘Trust us’. So much for settling questions and resolving debates with science,” he said.

Jones was not in charge of the CRU when the data were thrown away in the 1980s, a time when climate change was seen as a less pressing issue. The lost material was used to build the databases that have been his life’s work, showing how the world has warmed by 0.8C over the past 157 years.

He and his colleagues say this temperature rise is “unequivocally” linked to greenhouse gas emissions generated by humans. Their findings are one of the main pieces of evidence used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which says global warming is a threat to humanity.

Rothschild appointed to help sell Dubai World assets

Bankers from Rothschild have been appointed to help restructure Dubai World with a mandate to dispose of some of the stricken conglomerate's famous assets.

By Louise Armitstead and Richard Spencer in Dubai
The Telegraph
November 28, 2009

Paul Reynolds, head of Rothschild's advisory operations in the Middle East, was this week asked to work for the Dubai government's chief restructuring officer alongside Aidan Birkett of Deloitte, who was appointed on Wednesday.

The team is tasked with assessing the group's assets, which is likely to result in a large scale sell-off of assets as varied as the QE2 cruise liner; Turnberry, the golf course that hosted this year's Open Championship; and a raft of properties.

A spokesman for the Dubai department of finance confirmed that all options and asset sales would be considered, except for the DP World subsidiary that bought P&O, the British ports company. "I'm sure all of the assets of Dubai World will be reviewed," he said. "The QE2 is one of them. It's part of the restructuring process, though it's too early to say whether there's any sale in mind."

The neighbouring emirate of Abu Dhabi is seen as one of the main buyers of Dubai's assets. Last year when rumours about Dubai's debt problems first started, sources said Abu Dhabi had offered to buy Emirates but Dubai had so far refused to part with its flagship carrier.

Abu Dhabi is also said to be interested in Emaar, the property company that owns the Burj Dubai skyscraper, the Dubai Mall shopping centre, and Dubal, Dubai's aluminium company.

However, the assets in Dubai World are more likely to be sold first. The group's biggest problem area is thought to be Nakheel, its property arm that owns the Palms, the ambitious man-made islands. Nakheel also has two hotel chains, one of which owns the Turnberry Hotel.

Dubai World's venture capital arm, Istithmar, owns stakes in global assets including Barneys, the New York department store; Cirque du Soleil, the South African entrepreneur Sol Kerzner's hotel chain; and Standard Chartered bank. The company has also bought into MGM Mirage, the Las Vegas gambling operation – even though gambling is banned in Dubai – and Troon Golf.

London properties include Adelphi on the Strand and the Grand Buildings in Trafalgar Square.

Rothschild was one of five banks working in recent months to help Dubai World meet its debt obligations. Deutsche Bank was the other lead adviser and they were supported by Citibank, JP Morgan and the Dubai Islamic Bank. When the standstill decision was taken on Wednesday, all the banks were stood down as the mandate had changed.

Rothschild and Deloittes declined to comment.

The Geopolitics Of The Dubai Debt Crisis: It's Iran vs. The United States

Image Credit: Rajeev Raj/Gulf News
John Carney|Nov. 28, 2009

The role of Iran may be the most overlooked in the Dubai debt crisis.

Of all the states of the United Arab Emirates federation, Dubai has maintained the closest ties to Iran. Indeed, as international pressure has built on Iran over the past decade, Dubai has prospered from those ties. It provides critical banking and trade links for Iran, often serving as the go-between for European or Asian companies and financial firms that want to do business with Iran without violating international sanctions.

Abu Dhabi, the wealthiest member of the UAE and a close ally of the US, may be pressuring Dubai to limit its links to Iran. Indeed, this pressure may be behind statements coming from Abu Dhabi about offering “selective” support for Dubai. Companies or creditors thought to be too linked to Iran could find themselves shut out of any bailout.

The United States government, which has remained somewhat taciturn throughout this crisis, is no doubt encouraging Abu Dhabi to apply this pressure. In part because of Dubai’s connections to Iran, US financial institutions are not among the biggest creditors to Dubai World.

It’s not all Iran, of course. The problems in Dubai, the member of the United Arab Emirates that has found itself in a dire financial crisis, closely mirror those behind the global financial crisis.

Over the past decade, the country attempted to diversify its economy away from dependence on its declining oil reserves—and largely succeeded. But, like a Wall Street investment bank attempting to overcome the decline of its traditional businesses by becoming heavily invested in leveraged real estate products, Dubai accumulated huge debt obligations—estimated to amount to some $80 billion. Much of Dubai’s assets were dependent on tourism, shipping, construction and real estate—which have been in trouble during the global economic downturn.

Like its fellow members of the UAE, Dubai is ruled by an expansive royal family. In this case, they are called Al Maktoum family. Exactly what counts as the personal property of ruling family and what is government owned in Dubai is more than a bit fuzzy. The Dubai government owns three companies: the Investment Corporation of Dubai; Dubai Holding, which is run by Mohammed Al Gergawi; and Dubai World, which is run by Sultan bin Sulayem.

Abu Dhabi has been trying to put pressure on Dubai to cut ties to Iran. The split between Abu Dhabi and Iran is in part rooted in an older territorial dispute, fear of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, religious differences between Shiites and Sunnis, and—importantly—Abu Dhabi’s close ties to Washington, DC.

The UAE is close to reaching a nuclear power cooperation deal with Washington, a move that many regional experts say would challenge the traditional Saudi hegemony in the Gulf. One sticking point in the negotiations with Washington has been concerns that Dubai could share US nuclear technology with Iran.

This power struggle between Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia is also playing a role. In May, the UAE pulled out of a proposed Gulf monetary union over Saudi insistence that it would host the regional central bank.

Dubai, which is a very open and tolerant place compared to Iran, is viewed by many Iranians as a place to let their hair down. It has a thriving Iranian ex-pat community. Iran is Dubai airport's top destination, with more than 300 flights per week.

More importantly, Dubai is a major exporter to Iran and a major re-exporter of Iranian goods. The trade between Iran and Dubai is one of the principal sources of Tehran's confidence that it can survive US-led sanctions. Iranian investment in Dubai amounts to about US $14 billion each year. US intelligence officials have long suspected that the Iranian government uses Dubai based front companies to get around sanctions.

Some of the banks said to have the largest exposure to Dubai debt have in the past been linked to Iran. Notably, HSBC, BNP Paribas and Standard Chartered came under investigation and pressure from US authorities in recent years to cut ties to Iran. Some US officials have quietly protested that these banks just shifted to doing business with Iran through Dubai. The US may want to see these creditors take losses from their Dubai exposure.

Make no mistake: the US government does not want to see the financial ruin of Dubai. Apart from its ties to Iran, Dubai is widely viewed as a model Islamic country. It has a relatively clean government, and there is a remarkable level of religious tolerance and progressive attitudes toward women for the region. American diplomats have held up Dubai as their model for a new Baghdad—progressive, tolerant, and capitalist.

What is most likely happening is more nuanced. The US and Abu Dhabi are hoping to use Dubai’s financial troubles as a way of finally severing the close ties to Iran. For years, Dubai has enjoyed the benefits of walking the line between its military and economic alliance with the US and economic benefits from banking and trade ties to Iran. The price of a bailout from Abu Dhabi may be having to finally choose to give up the Iran connection.


The danger of a single story

M. Idrees
Pulse Media

This is a superb presentation by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie. Also see Binyavanga Wainaina’s “How to write about Africa“, and Uzodinma Iweala’s “Stop Trying to ‘Save’ Africa“.

Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice — and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.

About Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Adichie

In Nigeria, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Half of a Yellow Sun has helped inspire new, cross-generational communication about the Biafran war. In this and in her other works, she seeks to instill dignity into the finest details of each character, whether poor, middle class or rich, exposing along the way the deep scars of colonialism in the African landscape.

Adichie’s newest book, The Thing Around Your Neck, is a brilliant collection of stories about Nigerians struggling to cope with a corrupted context in their home country, and about the Nigerian immigrant experience.

Religious, secular Israelis hold opposing protests

JERUSALEM, Nov 28 (Reuters) - Several hundred Israelis protested in Jerusalem on Saturday against a campaign by ultra-Orthodox Jews to shutter all businesses in the city on the sabbath.

The protest reflected tensions between Israel's secular majority and an Orthodox minority that wants the Jewish state to follow ancient laws barring driving or working on the sabbath.

Police said there was no violence as hundreds marched in the predominantly Jewish western part of Jerusalem, waving blue and white Israeli flags and holding placards reading "Jerusalem will not fall," and "We are sick of (religious) coercion".

Earlier on Saturday dozens of ultra-Orthodox Jews had protested outside Intel Corp's electronic chip plant in the city, demanding it cease operating on the sabbath.

In a separate protest, dozens of religious Jews demonstrated to demand the authorities shut a public parking lot near the old walled city of Jerusalem on the day of rest, which begins at sundown on Friday.

Protests by the ultra-Orthodox have taken place on nearly a weekly basis, occasionally spilling over into violence, in what appears to be an attempt by some rabbis to reassert influence after a religious mayor lost a hotly contested 2008 election. (Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

Iran lawmakers urge limited cooperation with IAEA

Press TV- November 29, 2009 14:45:57 GMT

The Iranian parliament

Iranian lawmakers have passed a motion calling on the government to downgrade its cooperation with the UN nuclear watchdog in reaction to its recent resolution against the country.

In a Sunday statement read in the Iranian Parliament (Majlis), the lawmakers asked President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government to submit a bill that maps out a plan for reducing interaction with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The parliamentarians condemned the resolution, which calls on Iran to halt the construction of its second uranium enrichment plant in the central town of Fordo.

They described the resolution, passed on Friday, as a political move and another indication of the West's policy of double standards.

The statement said that Iran's nuclear file must be returned to the IAEA from the UN Security Council.

“Our experts are positive that Iran's nuclear program is legally flawless. They are certain that Iran's nuclear case must returned to the IAEA from the [UN] Security Council,” they said in the Sunday statement.

The Board of Governor's resolution follows a recent IAEA report, which for the twenty-first time confirmed the non-diversion of Iran's nuclear program.

The report also said that Iran had allowed the agency to fully inspect its Fordo uranium enrichment facility, still under construction.

In the report, IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei affirmed Iran's previous assertions by pointing out that the watchdog found "nothing to worry about" at the site.

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Iranian lawmakers Kazem Jalali attacked the resolution over the lack of consensus among the member states and said that it was issued under the pressure of Britain and the US.

While the resolutions passed by the Board of Governors generally focus on technical issues — as opposed to political ones — and are usually either passed or rejected unanimously, the Friday resolution failed to win the support of 10 member states.

Commenting on the parliament's Sunday decision concerning cooperation with the IAEA, Jalali added that it was not acceptable for Iran to be reprimanded given its commitment to carrying out its responsibilities.

“According to international law, when a deal is reached, it has two parts: Rights and responsibilities. But when the rights of a country are ignored and only its responsibilities are emphasized on, then the very basis of the deal is subject to question,” said Jalali.

Prior to the lawmaker's comments, Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani had said that Tehran would consider a new plan in its ties with the UN nuclear watchdog, should the West continue its stick and carrot policies.

Europe lacks means, will for Afghan war

Khaleej Times
29 November 2009

BRUSSELS – The United States’ partners could deploy some 5,000 extra troops under a new strategy to combat the Afghan insurgency but lack the means or the will to do much more, according to analysts.

Plagued by economic problems, overstretched armies deployed in Iraq or the Balkans and growing military and civilian casualties, European nations are losing appetite for a fight that has dragged on for eight years.

But any tepid response to requests by commanders could hurt US President Barack Obama, who is due to unveil the new strategy on Tuesday, and dispatch more than 30,000 US reinforcements to make it work.

“The Europeans are unable to find sense in this conflict,” said Joseph Henrotin, at Belgium’s Centre for Analysis and International Risk Prevention.

“Many governments no longer see the goal nor what they stand to win,” he said.

The United States is counting on its allies—more than 40 countries have troops in Afghanistan—provide up to 10,000 troops for the counter-insurgency plan devised by top commander US General Stanley McChrystal. Related article: 9,000 Marines to Helmand

Obama will insist on finishing a job started after the September 11, 2001 attacks—when a US-led coalition ousted the Taliban militia for harbouring Osama bin Laden—to break down Al-Qaeda.

But as casualties rise, the benefits of a protracted operation are harder to sift from the risks, and Henrotin said European good will is drying up.

“The strength of their resolve has evaporated little by little. The only real motive that remains, the most important factor, is transatlantic solidarity,” he said.

Main US ally Britain has offered a further 500 troops, on condition that Kabul commits police and soldiers and if other allies boost force levels, as the operations gets smarter by protecting civilians in Afghan towns and cities. Related article: British PM sets Afghan targets

London is likely, along with Germany, Spain and Italy combined, to keep in-country around 1,500 troops who were providing security for the fraud-marred elections in August, a NATO military officer said.

On top of that, Europeans could send some 3,000 extra troops, while partner nation South Korea is due to send another 500.

However Germany will wait until after a new international conference on Afghanistan, set for late January in London, before committing more resources.

“They want to see any further contributions in the context of the overall political environment in which they will be deploying their forces,” NATO spokesman James Appathurai said.

France insists it has reached its limit, although Washington is pressuring Paris to come up with at least 1,000 personnel.

“It’s quite clear that the Europeans aren’t going to do much. Paris doesn’t even look like preparing public opinion” for any increase, said Francois Heisbourg, special advisor at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris.

The lack of support is leaving NATO’s mission, its most challenging ever, increasingly in US hands. Of the roughly 150,000 troops who might be deployed, two thirds would be American.

But just as casualties undermine public backing in Europe, and more crucially among Afghans, US citizens are growing impatient, leaving Obama with a heavy domestic price to pay—more so if his allies don’t dig deeper.

Economic woes, unemployment and health care also weigh on minds, said former US NATO ambassador Kurt Volker, now managing director at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University.

“The US has kind of been immune to some of the difficult domestic politics that some of our European allies have had to deal with. That’s no longer the case,” said Volker, who supports sending more troops.

NATO’s troubled Afghan effort tops the agenda when alliance foreign ministers meet in Brussels on Thursday. Military officers will also meet in Belgium on December 7 to discuss the mission’s resources.

IOF troops arrest a disabled Palestinian boy on his way to hospital


KHAN YOUNIS, (PIC)– IOF troops arrested a 19-year-old disabled Palestinian boy Ahmad Samir Asfour, from the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis, on his way to a hospital in Jerusalem, according to local sources.

The family of the Palestinian captive said, in a statement it distributed through the Prisoners’ Studies Centre, that their son Ahmad was treated in Egypt after being wounded during the Israeli occupation war on Gaza, where he had to have several amputations on parts of his limbs and that his treatment was to be followed up at Jerusalem hospitals.

The family added that they were surprised that the IOF arrested Ahmad, turned back his father who accompanied him and confiscated $2500 and the mobile phones they had on them.

The family said that Ahmad takes regular medication which he needs for his condition and they fear that this medication will not be made available to him by the Israeli occupation prison authority.

They also expressed fear that the Israeli occupation interrogators will use his health condition as a tool to pressure him into admitting to false charges and held the Israeli occupation fully responsible for his life.

Asfour was wounded in a rocket attack fired by an Israeli occupation drone during the war on Gaza last December/ January resulting in amputations of parts of his limbs, paralysis in his right arm as a result of damage to nerves and had internal injuries to the pancreas and stomach. Three other members of his family were injured in the same attack.

Director of the prisoners’ studies centre, Raafat Hamdouna, said that Israel puts itself above the law by using the need of patients for treatment by arresting them on occasions or by trying to blackmail them into collaboration on other occasions.

He called on human rights organisation to oppose these Israeli acts, stressing that silence towards these Israeli policies encourages it to continue with such policies.