Monday 13th December 2010
China defends its global rise | Cybersex: Philippine outsourcing boom's dark underside | Reducing ties with Britain on Majlis agenda: MP | Sweden suicide bomber: Taimur Abdulwahab al-Abdaly was living in Britain | Kosovo PM Hashim Thaci wins first post-independence vote | Iceland walks out of fishing talks | Berlusconi's fate could hang by a single vote | Sinn Féin leaders 'were aware of' Northern Bank heist plans | The true cost of your new Christmas laptop? Ask the eastern Congolese | Ten years after Bush v. Gore, the fight goes on | 'Russian spy' Katia Zatuliveter worked for the BBC before she got job with MP | HMS Trouble in hot water again as sub breaks down on first day at sea |
China defends its global rise
RNW - 13th December 2010
China on Monday defended its rising global status, saying countries should view themselves as "passengers in the same boat" and not fear Beijing's "peaceful" economic and political development.
In a two-page commentary carried by the English-language China Daily, the country's most senior foreign policymaker, Dai Bingguo, urged the world to work with China -- but warned it would not be bullied.
Dai also said China respected human rights in the piece, which comes just days after the Nobel committee held a ceremony in honour of peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, a jailed rights advocate. Beijing has been furious over the prize.
"Countries should consider themselves passengers in the same boat and cross the river peacefully together instead of fighting one another and trying to push one another off the boat," said Dai, whose title is State Councillor.
"Those selfish practices of conquering or threatening others by force, or seeking development space and resources by non-peaceful means are losing ground," Dai said.
"It has also become very unpopular for some countries to identify friends and foes on the basis of ideology and gang up under various pretexts in quest of dominance of world affairs."
He however cautioned: "We respect others, but do not allow others to bully us."
Dai's commentary came amid growing international concern at China's global rise, especially as regards territorial disputes in adjacent waters and Beijing's refusal to condemn the provocative behaviour of close ally North Korea.
Beijing has also robustly defended its trade and currency policies, despite a flurry of spats with trading partners and ongoing pressure for it to allow the yuan to trade more freely.
"The international community should welcome China's peaceful development rather than fear it, help rather than hinder it and support rather than constrain its effort," Dai said.
"The international community should understand and respect China's legitimate interests and concerns in the course of its peaceful development."
China cannot isolate itself from the world, nor can the world achieve peace and prosperity without China, he said.
"Some people in the world have the unnecessary worry that China will turn its growing economic power into military might," Dai acknowledged.
But "China pursues a defence policy that is defensive in nature... it is neither driven by arms race nor the desire to seek hegemony or expansion."
On human rights, Dai said: "We value, respect and protect human rights. We may encounter many difficulties on our way forward, but we will never waver in reform and opening-up."
China has sharply criticised the awarding of this year's Nobel peace prize to jailed dissident Liu, who has advocated reform and the protection of basic human rights in the Communist-ruled country.
Cybersex: Philippine outsourcing boom's dark underside
RNW - 13th December 2010
Girls and women acting out the sexual fantasies of online voyeurs around the world are part of a worrying offshoot to the Philippines' booming outsourcing industry, authorities say.
Cybersex dens are a growing problem in the impoverished Southeast Asian nation that has long struggled to curb child prostitution, according to law enforcers and social workers.
They say cyber pimps are offering cheap services via the Internet in a seedy mutation of the country's sunshine outsource industry in which call centre work and other back-office operations are done for companies in richer countries.
In one recent police raid on a house in Olangapo city in the northern Philippines, five girls aged 14-18 and three women were found performing sex acts in front of web cameras for clients sitting at computers overseas.
"It's a lot like working for a call centre. We do shifts and we chat. They can also make us do anything, as long as they pay," said one of the girls picked up in the raid who used the working nickname of Rainbow.
The girl, 15, and her sister, 17, told AFP they left their rural home on a northern Philippine mango orchard to work for their aunt in Olongapo, but that their planned employment as babysitters turned into cybersex work.
"It took us about a week to adjust, but after that, we became blase about it," said the elder sister, adding their aunt had stayed beside them during their work to ensure the online clients' demands were met.
The aunt was arrested in the raid in October and has been charged with trafficking in children for prostitution, which carries a maximum penalty of life in jail.
A police report of the raid shown to AFP said of the younger girl: "One of them was naked while in the act of inserting a sex toy in her mouth in a scandalous position."
The girls are now undergoing counselling and rehabilitation at a local children's centre run by an Irish Catholic priest.
The centre's lawyer and counsellor, a trained psychologist, gave AFP permission to speak with the girls. The counsellor was present when the interview took place.
Although police raids on cyber sex dens across the country are turning up women and children almost every week, they could be the tip of the iceberg, said law enforcer Migdonio Congzon of the National Bureau of Investigation.
"It's an economic issue. People are poor and they need the money," Congzon, the bureau's computer crimes chief, told AFP.
"There is no definite set up. It could be a house, it could be a condo unit, it could be anything else as long as you have computers with cameras and an Internet connection."
Authorities appear ill-prepared to deal with the mushrooming industry.
The bureau, which is the investigative arm of the justice ministry, has just five experts on computer crime who also have to deal with Internet fraud and privacy cases. Philippine's national police also have just five cyber experts.
Congzon also said the country needed a law that directly addressed outsourced cybersex, because the current ones on child prostitution were not specific enough to deal with the Internet age.
Dolores Alforte, a member of a government committee on child welfare, said police only acted on a few of many tip-offs because most cybersex operations were ran out of private homes that could not be raided without a court order.
She said law enforcement efforts were further hampered by a wall of silence put up by neighbourhoods where there is social acceptance of cybersex.
Alforte recalled a 2005 case when 70 children from a depressed Manila neighbourhood were paid a bag of groceries and 3,000 pesos (70 dollars) to be videotaped by a Japanese filmmaker.
The tapes were later uploaded on the Internet but prosecutors decided to drop the case against the Japanese suspect, she added.
Alforte said the dens charged clients anywhere from 15 dollars an hour to 10 dollars a minute.
She said most dens operated near money transfer facilities, although some of the more sophisticated operations now got paid via credit cards.
Teresa Calubid, a psychologist at the church-backed Preda Foundation helping the girls from the Olongapo cybersex raid, said they faced the prospect of having to stay at the shelter until the case went to trial.
"Their parents want them back, but at this stage it is just not possible," Calubid told AFP.
"There's a possibility that the pimp and recruiter would get back at them, or the parents will be pressured to drop the case."
Sweden suicide bomber: Taimur Abdulwahab al-Abdaly was living in Britain
An Islamic suicide bomber who attacked Christmas shoppers in Sweden at the weekend is a British university graduate and was living in this country until two weeks ago.
Duncan Gardham, Marcus Oscarsson and Peter Hutchison - Daily Telegraph - 12th December 2010
Taimur Abdulwahab al-Abdaly tried to set off a car bomb packed with gas canisters in a busy shopping street in Stockholm. The car caught fire and the bomber fled the scene before blowing himself up 300yd away 15 minutes later, injuring two bystanders.
It emerged last night that Abdulwahab, who was due to turn 29 yesterday, is a former physical therapy student at Bedfordshire University in Luton, and that his wife and three young children still live in the town.
MI5 is now investigating possible links with extremists in Luton, whether the bomber was radicalised at the university and claims that he was helped by an extremist group in Yemen, the base for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
The suicide bombing follows an attempt by Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab, a former student at University College London, to blow himself up last Christmas on a flight to Detroit.
Abdulmutallab had trained in Yemen, but had become increasingly radical during his time in Britain. The security services and police are concerned that British university campuses have become breeding grounds for extremism. Neighbours told The Daily Telegraph last night that they had last seen Abdulwahab at the 1930s semi-detached house in Luton, Beds, two and a half weeks ago. The couple have two young girls and a baby son. His wife, Mona, a Swedish citizen, is said to run a home beauty company.
Tahir Hussain, 33, a taxi driver who lives nearby, said: “I used to see him around often. He didn’t say much but seemed nice. I used to see him walking with his kids.
“I was shocked when I heard what happened because I never thought he could do such a thing.”
Mr Hussain said that the couple had been living there for a year and that Abdulwahab used to go to Friday prayers at the Islamic Centre in Luton.
The bomber had recently advertised on a Muslim dating site for a second wife, saying he was looking for a “lady 25-30 who lives in UK for marriage”. The site, Muslima.com, said he was born in Baghdad, Iraq, and moved to Sweden in 1992 and then to Britain in 2001 to study for a degree in physical therapy, marrying in 2004.
On his Facebook page, he included a group called Yawm al-Qiyaamah, meaning Day of Judgment, that featured a montage of Tower Bridge in flames.
Reports from Sweden said Abdulwahab was shouting in Arabic and carrying six pipebombs, one of which exploded, along with a rucksack full of nails and explosives.
A paramedic said the bomber had no injuries to the face or body in general but looked as if he had been carrying something that exploded in his stomach. One witness said the bomber had worked as a sandwich board advertiser in the Drottninggatan shopping area.
Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister, said it was “a most worrying attempt at a terrorist attack”, adding that it “failed – but could have been truly catastrophic”. Theresa May, the Home Secretary, said: “The Swedish government have indicated they believe this was a terrorist attack. We will be talking to them about the details of that attack.”
Abdulwahab’s father, Thamer, 61, who lives in Tranås, south of Stockholm, said his son had been at the family home on Friday.
“After he woke up Saturday morning, he took his car and drove off,” he said. “He did not say if he was going to Stockholm or elsewhere.”
An Yemeni Islamist website, Shumukh al-Islam, published a photograph of Abdulwahab in dark glasses, saying: “It is our brother, mujahid Taymour Abdel Wahab, who carried out the martyrdom operation in Stockholm.”
Twelve minutes before the bombing on Saturday, a Swedish news agency received a message with two sound files, one in Swedish and one in Arabic, that was also sent to the Swedish Security Police. The message criticised Swedes’ silence over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed and Swedish soldiers serving in Afghanistan. Abdulwahab said: “Now your children, your daughters and your sisters will die as our brothers, our sisters and our children are dying.”
He also asked his family for forgiveness for misleading them about a trip to the Middle East: “I never went to the Middle East to work or to make money, I went for jihad.” He asked his wife to kiss the children on his behalf. “Tell them Daddy loves them,” he added.
Berlusconi's fate could hang by a single vote
Premier hopes late surge will beat vital no-confidence motion
Michael Day - The Independent - 13th December 2010
Italian opposition MPs are counting down the hours until tomorrow's confidence vote that could allow them to put Silvio Berlusconi's lame-duck government out of its misery in time for Christmas – and possibly boot the beleaguered tycoon-premier into the political outer darkness.
But the deal was by no means sealed last night, as political analysts suggested that frantic last-minute parliamentary mudslinging and deal-broking could mean that Mr Berlusconi would survive by as narrow a margin as a single vote. Claims of vote-rigging and doubt over whether three heavily pregnant deputies expected to oppose the government would be able to attend underlined that the 74-year-old mogul-premier's fate is far from sealed.
The Prime Minister is expected to give a key campaigning speech in the Senate this morning, where he should win the first confidence vote. But a similar vote in the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, looks much tighter. It was suggested yesterday that with luck Mr Berlusconi could scrape through by 314-313 votes.
Mr Berlusconi says he is confident of winning a majority despite the defection of former ally Gianfranco Fini, who has taken around 40 centre-right MPs with him. Mr Fini and centre-left parties say they have enough votes in the bag to sink the government. Yesterday Mr Fini said: "I don't have a crystal ball but I don't believe that Berlusconi will win the vote."
If the government does fall, Mr Berlusconi will be obliged to offer his resignation to President Giorgio Napolitano.
The head of state would then consult with party leaders and the speakers of both houses in an attempt to form a new coalition that could command a majority in each.
Some opponents might abstain though, rather than vote again the government, for fear of creating damaging political confusion at a time of financial crisis.
One possibility is that a less contentious member of the government, such as the Economics Minister, Giulio Tremonti, would temporarily take the reins, possibly under a government of national unity. This would likely change the controversial electoral system and aim to keep a firm grip on Italy's public finances.
James Walston, politics professor of the American University in Rome, predicted that events would pave the way for March elections. "If no one can form a government in a few days, the most likely scenario is that early elections will be called," he said. "The bookmakers' favourite date is 27 March. Unless something dramatic happens over the next few days, I would put my money on that outcome as well."
Mr Berlusconi could in theory make a return in spring elections, but with his popularity at an all-time low, and his health said to be failing, his hold on Italian politics is looking weaker all the time.
There has even been talk of the Prime Minister packing his bags and repertoire of crass jokes and setting up camp in the foreign ministry in the unlikely role of Italy's most senior diplomat. By retaining a ministerial role, Mr Berlusconi would still be shielded from corruption charges.
In a television interview on the Rai Tre channel, Mr Fini mocked the Prime Minister. "Mr Berlusconi doesn't want to govern, he only wants to stay in Palazzo Chigi [the premier's official residence]. And more than that, he wants to stay while there's the legitimate impediment that's vital for him to avoid the trials," he said.
The Prime Minister will have been buoyed by news on Friday that the Constitutional Court has postponed until the new year its verdict on the constitutionality of the "legitimate impediment law" that allows serving ministers to avoid court appearances. The decision had been due on the same day as the confidence votes. The newly elected Constitutional Court president, Ugo De Siervo, said the judges needed to examine the matter "in a more tranquil atmosphere".
Suggestions of corruption have even tainted tomorrow's confidence vote. The parliamentary anti-corruption campaigner Antonio Di Pietro has claimed there have been attempts to buy some wavering MPs with financial inducements and lucrative job offers, which amounted to "criminally significant acts" that "should never occur in a civilised country''.
The government has denied the allegations.
Reducing ties with Britain on Majlis agenda: MP
IRNA - 12th December 2010
Rapporteur of Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Commission said on Sunday that in reaction to human rights remarks made by the UK ambassador to Iran, Simon Gass, the parliament considers a plan to reduce ties with Britain.
Talking to IRNA, Kazem Jalali added that the commission will review the plan next week.
He recalled that the plan was drawn up last year by several members of parliament and Majlis put it on its agenda months ago.
Given interference of the British envoy in Iranian national affairs which is blatant negligence of the diplomatic norms, he said that Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Commission will present the plan to Majlis for debate in a formal session.
Referring to the interference of the British officials in Iran's internal affairs and recent statements by the head of MI6 John Sawers who had obviously spoken of intelligence operations in Iran, Jalali said that under such circumstances, reducing relations with Britain seems necessary.
Jalali said that given the dark record of Britain in the massacre of people, the British officials are not qualified for the human rights advocacy.
Condemning beating to injury of the students in Britain, he said that the British officials had better deal with the human rights situation in their own country rather than make comments on Iran human rights record.
The true cost of your new Christmas laptop? Ask the eastern Congolese
A campaign to clean up electronic companies' mineral supply chains
may ameliorate the chaos of ungovernable mining
Madeleine Bunting - The Guardian - 12th December 2010
Inside the laptop on which I'm writing this column are tiny quantities of tin used to solder parts on the circuit board. I've used my mobile roughly 20 times in the course of my research, calling the US, the Democratic Republic of Congo and researchers in London; I know it's the small element of another crucial mineral, tantalum, that ensures that my mobile phone doesn't lose its memory when the battery goes dead. Both the tin and the tantalum are contributing their part to making my life easier and my work more effective. The painful paradox is that these minerals help make the lives of thousands of eastern Congolese agonisingly wretched.
The minerals are dug by hand from remote mines, often by forced labour. Conditions are dangerous and accidents frequent. Many mines are directly controlled either by corrupt army commanders or armed rebel groups – the difference between the two is perilously hard to pin down. The ores are carried in sacks on porters' backs for up to 45 kilometres to airstrips; at every stage of the process "taxes" and tolls are extracted. Global Witness in a report published tomorrow calculated that the revenue from the major Congolese mining area at Bisie could be in the region of $30m a year. With so much money at stake, conflict over control of these assets is brutal, and the terrorising of civilian populations through rape and murder has become routine.
That much is clear, so what can be done about it? How can I be sure that if I buy a new mobile phone for Christmas it's not contributing to this hell? (My 10-year-old phone is now deemed vintage, such is the pace of electronic consumer fashion.) Millions of sleek, glossy, elegantly designed laptops and mobile phones will end up as presents under Christmas trees all over the globe in the next few weeks, and how will we know what they have really cost?
What lies between my laptop in London and the mines in the three eastern provinces of Congo is an immensely complex entanglement of economics and politics. Think of how kite strings can get tangled and take hours, even days, to unravel and you have the right metaphorical image. This is globalisation in which supply chains crisscross continents, passing from company to company, and at every stage every player has an interest in obfuscation: either blatantly on the ground in Congo, where huge quantities of this million dollar trade are illegal; or closer to home with the polite refusal to engage, the citing of commercial confidentiality.
The obfuscation is hugely convenient. For nearly 15 years of this civil war too many links in the chain have hidden behind the convenience of ignorance: "We just don't know; we can't be sure." It's the excuse that the electronics industry has used; it's the excuse us consumers use. It's the excuse put forward by the traders – known as comptoirs – in the trading centres of Kivu, by the truck drivers transiting Rwanda and by the big smelting companies in China and Malaysia who supply the world's electronic manufacturers. Nor is it entirely unjustified; Congo accounts for only 6% of the world's tin and between 9% and 18% of its tantalum. The huge smelting operations suck in raw materials from all over the world; every electronic product, aeroplane and car could carry traces of conflict minerals.
This kind of complexity is why no one has tried to launch a boycott. But the interesting thing is that you don't need to run a boycott to get big brand names on the run; everyone knows what's on the table. Nervous brand managers watch the success of Uncut's protests closing down branches of Topshop and the widespread newspaper coverage of Philip Green's tax arrangements and shiver with horror. Campaigners on both sides of the Atlantic are using these scare tactics with brilliant effect.
The Enough campaign in the US publishes tomorrow an index measuring the efforts of the electronic companies to clean up their supply chains. It ranks companies such as HP, Intel, Microsoft, Nokia and Dell top, while Sony Ericsson, IBM and Toshiba lag far behind. The plan is that just naming and shaming will ratchet up the pressure, and in turn these companies will lean on the smelting operations that supply the minerals they use.
The biggest achievement of Enough and Global Witness was to get through Congress last summer the Dodd-Frank act which will require all manufacturers to report due diligence (it must be published and must include an independent audit) on their supply chain for the four conflict minerals found in eastern Congo – coltan which produces tantalum; wolframite (tungsten); cassiterite (tin); and gold). It kicks in for 2011, and manufacturers from jewellers such as Tiffany through to Ford Motor Co and Wal-Mart are expected to report. It's probably one of the biggest efforts ever mounted to clean up a supply chain. While there has been some grumbling, key electronic companies such as Motorola actually helped get the act through, increasingly edgy of that moment when images of mobile phones dripping with blood could be plastered over the internet. Any time there is a hint of backsliding, all it takes is a carefully placed article by a celebrity lamenting how their favourite gadget is making them feel guilty, and the point is made.
As big brands lean on their suppliers, the pressure filters through to everyone with a stake in this vast mineral rich area of Africa. Countries in the region are nervous that the growing pressure could lead to a boycott of all Congolese minerals, cutting off a crucial source of income. On Wednesday, several heads of state are meeting at a summit in Lusaka to tackle the issue; meanwhile Canadian and German non-governmental organisations are working with the Congolese government on different aspects of a certification scheme. Last August, the Congolese president, Joseph Kabila, announced a ban on all artisanal mining in eastern Congo as the first step to a clear up – although it was largely ignored by the army.
And this is where all the plethora of schemes now being launched fall short – on the ground in Congo where the state is too weak to fulfil basic functions such as control its army, combat armed groups or effectively monitor exports, as the UN's recent report showed. And the state is weak because it cannot counteract the power structures that benefit from the immense wealth of this minerals trade – put at well over a billion dollars in 2009. One expert in Congo believes that the best way forward now is a dogged, slow process of strengthening the Congolese state, reforming the army and the justice system; it is a risky, unglamorous task that aid agencies shy away from.
Eastern Congo's hell is an instance of how globalisation generates ungovernable spaces. Where there is a collision of desperate poverty, plentiful guns and a world greedy for natural resources, a brutal chaos results. To combat that, it takes a very tenacious sort of global campaigning – bringing to attention each element of the system and the part it can play in leveraging change – and mercifully, that is what is now finally starting to happen.
Kosovo elections: PM wins first post-independence vote
Hashim Thaci, the incumbent prime minister, has claimed victory in Kosovo's first general election since the province declared independence from Serbia, as an independent exit poll showed his Democratic Party of Kosovo 6 percentage points ahead of its rival.
Telegraph - 13th December 2010
"This is a vote for a European Kosovo," Mr Thaci said. "It is a referendum for good governance."
According to the exit poll, conducted by Kosovo-based Gani Bobi Center, Mr Thaci won 31 per cent of the vote, with former coalition partners Democratic League of Kosovo trailing at 25 per cent. If the results are confirmed it means Mr Thaci will have the upper hand in forming a government. Official results are expected on Monday.
A newcomer to Kosovo's politics, former student leader Albin Kurti, won 17 per cent of the vote, according to the poll, and former rebel leader Ramush Haradinaj's Alliance for the Future of Kosovo won 12 per cent.
Mr Kurti advocates Kosovo's unification with Albania and opposes any talks with Serbia. Such talks are a condition for Serbia and Kosovo to move closer to membership in the European Union.
The vote was held amid hopes by majority ethnic Albanians to improve Kosovo's struggling economy, as well as a minority Serb vote that has highlighted the divisions between the ethnic communities. Most Serbs broke with tradition and came out to vote in areas surrounded by ethnic Albanians. But Serbs in Kosovo's north - where they form a majority - shunned the vote after a series of violent attacks aimed at intimidating potential voters.
Officials said polling stations in Kosovo's north closed three hours ahead of time for security reasons.
Serbia called for Kosovo's Serb minority to boycott the vote to protest the province's declaration of independence, which Serbia does not recognize as valid. The call deepened fears that Kosovo could split into a Serb north and an ethnic Albanian south, something that would run counter to decades of efforts by the West to calm ethnic tensions in the region.
The boycott is likely to weaken Pristina's claim over the territory in upcoming EU-brokered talks with Serbia. The region is patrolled by NATO peacekeepers and EU police, but is run as a fiefdom by local Serb leaders picked by Belgrade, the Serbian capital.
Some 1.6 million voters were eligible to vote and 29 political parties, coalitions and citizens' initiatives were seeking to enter Kosovo's 120-seat parliament. Ten of the seats were reserved for minority Serbs.
Iceland walks out of fishing talks
The EU wants Iceland and the Faroes to reduce their mackerel catch
Lewis Smith - The Indepedent - 13th December 2010
Britain and the EU are on the verge of a trade war with Iceland and the Faroe Islands after talks to agree a quota for fishing mackerel collapsed.
Iceland and the Faroes have set their own vastly increased quotas and walked out of negotiations with the EU which were intended to find a mutually acceptable figure.
In what some observers are already calling "Cod Wars II", EU nations are expected to take retaliatory action to put pressure on Iceland and the Faroes to reduce the quantity of mackerel they catch. The EU has already threatened trade sanctions which could result in a ban on Faroese and Icelandic imports of cod, herring, whiting, haddock and mackerel. Iceland set a 130,000-ton quota this year while the Faroes gave themselves an 85,000-ton quota. The figures are many times bigger than five years ago.
Richard Benyon, the UK's Minister for Natural Environment and Fisheries, said: "The lack of an agreement ... on mackerel is a major threat to the stock's future sustainability and we are considering what actions we can now take to make them see sense."
The row escalated on the eve of the EU Fish Council in Brussels, which starts today, where EU fisheries ministers will set catch quotas for a host of other species for the next year.
Britain faces a further problem on the quotas because it has been claimed in a study by the the Pew Environment Group that the three-quarters of UK fishermen who use boats which are less than 10 metres (33ft) long– many of them an environmentally friendly alternative to trawlers – are being illegally denied their fair share of the quota. This is because the quotas are distributed on behalf of the UK Government by Fishing Producer Organisations (FPOs) whose members sail mainly in bigger boats.
Thomas Appleby, a senior law lecturer at the University of the West of England, claimed the Government has no legal right to pass distribution rights to FPOs. "Aspects of the current quota system are open to judicial challenge on the grounds of the illegality of the current arrangements," he said.
He said the delegation to the FPOs of statutory responsibility for handing out quotas is questionable in law because legislation was never created to allow them the role, and argued that the quota-distribution system is leading to the privatisation of the seas when they should be a publicly owned resource. They cannot, he said, be privatised without the enactment of a law specifically allowing it, a move the Government has not taken.
Sinn Féin leaders 'were aware of' Northern Bank heist plans
Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness judged to be part of military command
and aware of IRA plans for £26.5m robbery
Nicholas Watt - The Guardian - 13th December 2010
Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness held lengthy negotiations with the former Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern to save the Northern Ireland peace process in the full knowledge that the IRA was planning to carry out the biggest bank robbery in its history, according to leaked US cables passed to WikiLeaks.
Ahern, who was instrumental in drawing up the 1998 Good Friday agreement, judged that the two Sinn Féin leaders were aware of plans for the £26.5m Northern Bank robbery in 2004 because they were members of the "IRA military command" with a deep knowledge of its operations.
The US cables also reveal that:
• The Irish government believed Britain had a "valuable source of information" at a senior level in the republican movement.
• Adams argued that the IRA would have to be "taken out of the equation" during negotiations which led the organisation to declare a formal end to its armed campaign in July 2005.
The revelations are published as Adams seeks to broaden Sinn Féin's appeal in the Irish Republic. The Sinn Féin president is abandoning his Westminster seat to stand in the forthcoming general election amid hopes of a breakthrough as voters register anger with Ireland's mainstream political parties after the country was forced to apply to the EU and IMF for a bailout.
Ahern's concerns about Sinn Féin and the IRA are highlighted in cables which describe a challenging period in the peace process as London and Dublin sought to restore the power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland. Unionist suspicions about the intentions of the republican movement were fuelled when the IRA robbed the headquarters of Northern Bank in Belfast in December 2004.
In a cable on 4 February 2005, two months after the robbery, the US ambassador to Dublin, James Kenny, reported that a senior Irish government official told the embassy of the taoiseach's concerns about Adams and McGuinness. The cable claimed the official in the department of justice told the ambassador "that the GOI [government of Ireland] does have 'rock solid evidence' that Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness are members of the IRA military command and for that reason, the taoiseach is certain they would have known in advance of the robbery".
In another cable on 1 June 2005, six months after the robbery, Kenny reported that Ahern had raised his concerns with Mitchell Reiss, the US envoy to Ireland. The cable says: "The taoiseach … believes Sinn Féin leaders were aware of plans to rob the Northern Bank even as they negotiated with him last fall. Publicly, he has been unprecedentedly critical of Sinn Féin and, until recently, greatly reduced private contacts as well."
The cables indicate that in private Ahern and officials used language which was slightly blunter, though consistent, with the public pronouncements of the former taoiseach, who told the Irish parliament, the Dáil, he believed Sinn Féin had negotiated in bad faith. Ahern told the Dáil on 2 February of a meeting with police chiefs on both sides of the Irish border. "They believe that a number of operations which took place during 2004, not just the Northern Bank robbery, were the work of the Provisional IRA and would have had the sanction of the army council and be known to the political leadership."
Sir Hugh Orde, the former chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland who met Ahern, accused the IRA of carrying out the robbery. In what was then the largest cash robbery ever carried out in the UK, a group of armed men held the families of two bank officials hostage while the officials were forced to hand over sacks filled with millions of pounds in cash to terrorists at the bank.
Nobody has been convicted of any offence in relation to the actual robbery. Ted Cunningham, a Cork-based financial adviser, was found guilty last year of laundering more than £3m connected with the robbery.Adams has consistently denied being a member of the IRA. McGuinness has admitted being a member in the 1970s.
A Sinn Féin spokesperson said: "There is not a shred of evidence that has ever linked the IRA to the Northern Bank robbery. The theories put forward by the British at the time regarding republican involvement were disproved in court. No link has ever been made, other than by opponents of Sinn Féin, that the IRA was involved. All the republicans arrested in connection with the Northern Bank robbery were released without charge."
The cables also suggest:
• Adams was a powerful voice in arguing that the IRA had to stand down during negotiations in the run-up to the Provisionals' historic statement in July 2005 of a "formal end to the armed campaign". In the cable on 1 June 2005, the US ambassador to Dublin quoted Adams as saying: "The IRA must be taken out of the equation."
• Michael McDowell, the former Irish deputy prime minister, said after the murder in 2006 of Denis Donaldson, a British informant working for Sinn Féin, that he believed Britain had a more senior mole. In a cable on 31 May 2006, a US diplomat wrote: "McDowell believed that the outing of Denis Donaldson as an informant was a clear message from the British government that it had another, more valuable, source of information within the republican leadership. He reiterated the taoiseach's point, however, that Sinn Féin leaders appeared to have had no connection to Donaldson's murder."
• An intriguing Anglo-Irish role reversal in which Dublin, normally regarded as the guardian of republican interests in the peace process, felt that Tony Blair had gone too "soft" on Sinn Féin. The cable sent by the US ambassador on 1 June 2006 says: "GOI concerns about UK 'softness' represent a role reversal. Usually, it is the UK that is concerned Ireland will be too accommodating to Sinn Fein."
• Brian Cowen, the current taoiseach, claimed in 2005 that Adams had played a "double game on criminality". In a cable dated 8 March 2005, the US ambassador to Dublin James C Kenny wrote: "Cowen [then finance minister] ... believed that, after the May Westminster elections, Sinn Féin would attempt to convince people of its seriousness about criminality through actions designed to back up the party's recent positive rhetoric on the subject. Cowen related his impression that Gerry Adams was playing a 'double game' -- taking a hard public line against criminality, but avoiding definitive action in order to retain maneuverability for final negotiations with unionists."
A Sinn Féin spokesperson said: "Brian Cowen is a political opponent of Sinn Féin. As a former finance minister and now as taoiseach he has brought the country to its knees."
Ten years after Bush v. Gore, the fight goes on
Al Gore won the popular vote by more than 500,000. But it was the contentious recount in Florida – halted by the Supreme Court – that gave it to Bush. What that meant still is being argued.
Brad Knickerbocker - Christaian Science Monitor - 13th December 2010
Some battles in American history and politics never end, at least in terms of passionate public argument. The Civil War. The Vietnam War. Abortion. The Red Sox and the Yankees. Bush v. Gore.
Fortunately, the last one did not come to violent revolution. But the end of the 2000 presidential election – marked Sunday by the 10-year anniversary of the US Supreme Court decision that made George W. Bush the 43rd President of the United States – is just as debatable.
The closest presidential race in US history came down to 537 votes out of 101,455,899 cast. Gore had won the popular vote by more than half a million, but it was the contentious recount in Florida – eventually halted by the Supreme Court – that gave it to Bush in the Electoral College, 271-266.
Thus did “hanging chads,” “dimpled chads,” and “pregnant chads” enter the political lexicon. (One political consultant scooped up those bits of paper ballot detritus and sold them on eBay, bags of 10 for $20.)
Depending on one’s point of view the 5-4 Supreme Court vote cutting off the Florida recount was either as it should have been (given how messed up the balloting and recount procedure had become there) or a political travesty as bad as the 1857 Dred Scott decision denying constitutional protections to slaves of African descent.
That the five justices in the majority vote favoring the Republican nominee all had been elevated to the high court by Republican presidents (four by Ronald Reagan, one by George H. W. Bush) meant the outcome would inevitably be seen in starkly political terms.
And so it is today, despite the admonition of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia (one of the pro-Bush five in 2000) that people should simply “Get over it!” as he’s said on a number of occasions.
“Voters who cast ballots incompetently are not entitled to have election officials toil to divine these voters' intentions,” columnist George Will writes in the Washington Post, referring to the chad debacle. “Al Gore got certain Democratic-dominated canvassing boards to turn their recounts into unfettered speculations and hunches about the intentions of voters who submitted inscrutable ballots.”
“Gore's lawyers persuaded the easily persuadable state Supreme Court – with a majority of Democratic appointees – to rewrite the law [requiring counties to certify their results within seven days],” Will writes.
In an essay in the New Yorker magazine, Jeffrey Toobin sees it differently:
“What made the decision in Bush v. Gore so startling was that it was the work of Justices who were considered, to greater or lesser extents, judicial conservatives,” writes Toobin, a lawyer and legal analyst for CNN. “[But] the Court stopped the recount even before it was completed, and before the Florida courts had a chance to iron out any problems – a classic example of judicial activism, not judicial restraint, by the majority.”
And the result, Toobin continues, is that the high court – headed by Bush-appointed Chief Justice John Roberts, who worked on Bush’s behalf in the Florida recount – has continued this kind of conservative activism, marked by its “willingness, even its eagerness, to overturn the work of legislatures.”
For political junkies who appreciate the ironic and the fanciful, New York magazine has “Memories of the Gore Administration.” Written by “five (sometime) novelists” – Kurt Anderson, Kevin Baker, Glenn Beck, Jane Smiley, and Walter Kirn – it’s an imaginary look at the last ten years as if the 2000 election had gone the other way.
In this fictitious look back, 9/11 still happened (and Flight 93 did hit the White House, although Gore survived), and so did Katrina. (As FEMA director, Robert Gibbs does “a heckuva job.”) The US invades Afghanistan, but not Iraq. Hillary Clinton becomes vice president, replacing Joe Lieberman, who had resigned in protest over failure to be more confrontational with Iraq and Iran. (This was after Hillary Clinton had divorced Bill Clinton, who married Carla Bruni.) In the 2008 presidential election, Mitt Romney beats John Edwards, whose running mate is “all-around man-of-the-future Barack Obama.” Romney appoints Sarah Palin as Secretary of the Interior. And so on.
In this case, as it’s turned out, truth may indeed be stranger than fiction.
Footnote one: The Green Party will disagree, but it can be argued that Ralph Nader did to Gore what Ross Perot did to George H.W. Bush in 1992, that is, cost him the election. In Florida, Nader won 97,000 votes – many times more than Gore needed to win the state and the presidency without the hassle of a recount. But like the election itself, that debate will never be settled.
Footnote two: Bush v. Gore featured opposing attorneys who gained rock star status: David Boies for Gore and Theodore Olson for Bush. Today, Boies and Olson are working together on behalf of gay rights to overturn California’s Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage
'Russian spy' Katia Zatuliveter worked for the BBC before she got job with MP
Eleanor Harding - Daily Mail - 13th December 2010
The blonde Russian accused of being a spy also worked for the BBC, it was revealed last night.
Katia Zatuliveter was employed as a researcher on a major documentary in Moscow just four months before she was arrested on suspicion of espionage.
It is understood she arranged interviews with people in Vladimir Putin’s government for the documentary which focussed on Russia’s relationship with the West.
She worked on the project with Angus Roxburgh, a former BBC foreign correspondent, during parliamentary recess.
Zatuliveter, known to wear short skirts around Westminster, is accused of obtaining confidential information by working as an aide to Liberal Democrat MP Mike Hancock.
BBC colleagues later said the 25-year-old, who was employed by production company Brook Lapping, seemed oddly distracted at work.
‘She failed to make much of an impression,’ said Mark Franchetti, Moscow correspondent of the Sunday Times.
‘She seemed ordinary and bland – resembling more a nerdy academic than a sultry KGB honey trap.’
Zatuliveter – suspected of working for Russia’s foreign intelligence service, the SVR – is being detained pending deportation.
If espionage is proved, it will be the first case since the Cold War of a Russian agent being removed from Parliament.
HMS Trouble in hot water again as sub breaks down on first day at sea
Craig Brown - Scotsman - 13th December 2010
A nuclear-powered submarine that ran aground off the Scottish coast two months ago broke down on its first day back at sea, it has emerged.
HMS Astute was forced to head back to its base in Faslane, on Gare Loch in Argyll and Bute, during tests last week after suffering what Ministry of Defence officials described as a "minor defect".
It was initially reported that a fault was found in the steam plant, which affected the submarine's propulsion and desalination system, which makes sea water drinkable, but the MoD denied this yesterday.
Navy sources said Astute - which is supposed to be capable of staying at sea for three months at a time - reached Faslane under its own power.
A source said: "We could do without these new technical problems just weeks after Astute was grounded. At least this time it wasn't damaged."
The submarine hit the headlines on 22 October, when it ran aground off the coast of Skye and ended up marooned for several hours until the tide eventually freed it.
The vessel was damaged in a collision with the coastguard tug the Anglian Prince, which was sent to free it.
The submarine returned to base at Faslane on the Clyde three days after the incident for repairs, which the Royal Navy claimed were minor, although experts at the time said that the bill for the work could run into millions of pounds.
The error led to the submarine's commander, Andy Coles, being transferred to another post and replaced by Commander Iain Breckenridge.
It is hoped that the vessel will be back in service this week.
The latest incident came as the Ministry of Defence admitted that despite being fitted with the latest global positioning and monitoring systems, the submarine's personnel still rely on paper charts similar to those used in British submarines during the Second World War.
Insiders claim that cuts in defence spending mean that although electronic charting is fitted in some Royal Navy ships, it will not be installed in Astute until next year.
An MoD spokesman declined to comment on whether or not the lack of equipment was instrumental in Astute running aground, but confirmed that the vessel would be included in an ongoing upgrading programme.
"HMS Astute is fitted with a range of navigational aids, which include GPS and an electronic plotting table," he said.
"She will be fitted with electronic charting as part of an ongoing upgrade of the navigational systems on all Royal Navy vessels.
"The circumstances surrounding the (grounding] incident have been investigated and the service inquiry has reported and is being considered. It is too early to discuss its outcome."
The spokesman confirmed: "HMS Astute has been completing sea trials and has returned to port to have a minor defect corrected."
Astute is the first of seven new nuclear-powered submarines of its class. One of the most advanced submarines in the world, it was built by defence giant BAE Systems at Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, and launched in 2007, ten years after it was ordered.
The seven-strong fleet will eventually replace the Trafalgar-class submarine. It is fitted with a nuclear reactor that will not need replenishing during its 25-year tour of service. The main limit to the amount of time it can spend underwater is the amount of food it can carry.
With a displacement of 7,400 tonnes and a top speed of 33mph, and capable of carrying a crew of 109, the vessel can carry a mix of up to 38 Spearfish heavyweight torpedoes and Tomahawk Land Attack cruise missiles.
This report is in part summarised from Radio Netherlands.
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