Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Mugabe's party loses control of parliament

REUTERS/Howard Burditt

Tendai Biti: Tsvangirai would accept a second round run-off against Mugabe 'under protest'

Zimbabwe's ruling party lost control of parliament today and the opposition said it had also defeated veteran leader Robert Mugabe in a presidential vote.

Official figures said the combined opposition had taken 105 seats in the 210 seat parliament with one going to an independent. Mugabe's ZANU-PF has so far taken 94.

The mainstream Movement of Democratic Change faction of Morgan Tsvangirai said he had won 50.3 per cent of the presidential vote and Mugabe 43.8 per cent according to its own tallies of results posted outside polling stations.

MDC Secretary General Tendai Biti said this absolute majority was enough for outright victory but Tsvangirai would accept a second round run-off against Mugabe "under protest".

Biti appealed to Mugabe, president for the last 28 years, to concede defeat and avoid "embarrassment".

Mugabe, 84, faced an unprecedented challenge in Saturday's elections because of the economic collapse of his once prosperous country.

His government immediately rejected the MDC victory claim as "mischievous".

Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga told Sky television: "President Mugabe is going nowhere. We are not going to be pressurised into anything."

The government has warned that victory claims before an official result would be regarded as a coup d'etat.

Matonga said in a telephone interview with Sky: "No-one is panicking around President Mugabe. The army is very solidly behind our president, the police force as well."

He added: "We are not going to be rushed by anybody. They can make statements left right and centre, but they are merely wasting their time."

No official results of the presidential poll have been issued four days after the election and Mugabe has not been seen in public since voting, despite speculation he would make a television address on Tuesday night.

Biti's announcement indicated a change in the MDC position in accepting a second round run-off against Mugabe. Tsvangirai said on Tuesday he had won outright.

Mugabe's government appears to have been preparing the population for a run-off by revealing its own projections showing a second round would be required in the statutory three weeks after last Saturday's vote.

Both Tsvangirai and the government have dismissed widespread speculation that the MDC was negotiating with ZANU-PF for a managed exit for Mugabe, who has ruled uninterrupted since independence from Britain in 1980.

The state-owned Herald newspaper said on Wednesday projections for the presidential election showed Mugabe would fail to win an outright majority for the first time in nearly three decades.

The prospect of a run-off has raised fears both inside and outside Zimbabwe that the hiatus before a new vote would spark serious violence between security forces and militia loyal to Mugabe on one side and MDC supporters on the other.

The Herald also said the government had decided to immediately implement tax relief to cushion the effect of runaway inflation, officially over 100,000 per cent but estimated to be much higher - the world's highest rate.

The widening of workers' tax-free threshold tenfold to 300 million Zimbabwean dollars per month - $10,000 at the government's official rate but about $7.50 on the black market - is widely seen as an attempt to curry favour with voters and suggests ZANU-PF is preparing for a run-off.

A senior Western diplomat in Harare told Reuters the international community was discussing ideas to try to persuade Mugabe to step down, "but I don't think there is anything firm on the table."

The opposition and international observers said Mugabe rigged the last presidential election in 2002. But some analysts say the groundswell of discontent over the economy is too great for him to fix the result this time without risking major unrest.

Apart from surreal inflation of more than 100,000 per cent and a virtually worthless currency, Zimbabweans are suffering food and fuel shortages and an HIV/AIDS epidemic that has contributed to a steep drop in life expectancy.

The opposition, including former Finance Minister Simba Makoni, who stood as a third candidate, is expected to unite behind Tsvangirai if there is a run-off.

Original here

Bomb parts found -- OIA traveler detained

Incident called 'probably the most serious . . . we've had'

Kevin Brown, 32, is charged with attempting to carry an explosive or incendiary device on an aircraft. (SEMINOLE COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE)

A Jamaican planning to board a flight at Orlando International Airport was detained and questioned by FBI agents Tuesday after they found components for pipe bombs and explosive and flammable liquids in his checked luggage.

The suspect was identified late Tuesday as Kevin Brown, 32, a Jamaican national who was scheduled to fly on Air Jamaica Flight 80 to Montego Bay at 2:55 p.m. Transportation Security Administration officers spotted him acting suspiciously about noon, TSA and law-enforcement officials said. Several officials said the man was "acting strange" and questioned his mental stability.

Brown was charged with attempting to carry an explosive or incendiary device on an aircraft and booked into the Seminole County Jail late Tuesday. He will appear before a federal judge in Orlando today.

Wearing blue jeans and a white shirt, Brown was searched by a bomb technician on a curb outside the airport terminal. His camouflage-style backpack also was seized and searched by an Orlando Fire Department bomb squad.

TSA searched his luggage and found "suspicious items," according to TSA officials. Among the items seized were two galvanized pipes, end caps, two small containers of BB pellets, batteries, two containers of liquids, a laptop computer and bomb-making literature, according to an FBI statement released Tuesday night.

The search took place during the busy spring-break vacation season, with many visitors departing town after attending WrestleMania 24 on Sunday. Orlando police sealed off a 300-foot perimeter near the check-in counters at Terminal A for more than two hours while bomb-squad technicians searched the suspect and his backpack at curbside. Several airlines, including Air Canada, WestJet, Air Jamaica and Virgin Atlantic, had flights delayed.

Joel Salazar, 25, who was en route to Lima, Peru, was among the hundreds of confused travelers standing in long, snaking lines and waiting for direction from airport personnel.

"Nobody told us what was going on," Salazar said.

Lee Kair, the top TSA official in Orlando, would not give details about the seized materials in the luggage, the suspect or whether he was traveling with anyone.

"I can say there was no immediate threat to passengers in the terminal," Kair said.

Authorities also said they did not think the materials posed a direct threat to passengers on the plane.

Brown was detected by a TSA "behavioral specialist" trained since 2006 in spotting involuntary actions by people being deceptive, Kair said.

After the passenger checked in his bag, officials diverted it from the normal screening process, looked inside and found the prohibited items. Officers later confronted him.

"It's really a testament to the system working," Kair said. He did not say how far the suspect got into the airport before being taken into custody.

U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, a member of the House Transportation Committee, said he was briefed by TSA on Tuesday but could not discuss details for security reasons.

"If what TSA has described to me is true, it's probably the most serious incident we've had at OIA," said Mica, former chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee. "At least one and possibly two [security] backup systems we put in place worked."

FBI spokesman Dave Couvertier said agents detained the man and questioned him about the items found in his luggage.

Airport officials temporarily routed passengers away from the Virgin Atlantic and Air Jamaica check-in areas at Terminal A. Flight operations and check-in continued elsewhere, according to the TSA.

Air Jamaica Chairwoman Shirley Williams said the man, who was born in Jamaica and carried a passport from that country, lives in the United States and used his green card to check in at the airport. She said Flight 80 took off at 5:31 p.m. with 96 passengers aboard.

OIA spokeswoman Carolyn Fennell said 11 of the daily 1,000 commercial, private and cargo flights were affected. The incident occurred about noon; it was 5:30 p.m. before operations returned to normal.

Passengers at the airport described confusion in Terminal A, where they were forced to abandon luggage at ticket counters and faced long lines when they were allowed to return.

Janet Lawe was almost to the ticket counter about noon when airport officials announced that the area was being evacuated.

"We were also told there was a guy with an explosive," said Lawe, 40, who was visiting from Kingston, Jamaica, with her husband and two children. The family was booked on the same flight as Brown.

Tuesday's incident follows a security breach at OIA in March 2007, when federal agents arrested two airline employees who used their security privileges to smuggle 13 handguns, a rifle and 8 pounds of marijuana aboard a Delta flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The incident prompted the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority to spend $5 million on security upgrades.

Original here

Vast oil potential in Arctic, new data says

A U.S.-based company that has controversially laid claim to nearly all of the Arctic Ocean's undersea oil said Thursday that new geological data suggests a "potentially vast" petroleum resource of 400 billion barrels.

That figure is backed by a respected Canadian researcher who recently signed on as the firm's chief scientific adviser.

Las Vegas-based Arctic Oil & Gas has raised eyebrows around the world with its roll-of-the-dice bid to lock up exclusive rights to extract oil and gas from rapidly melting areas of the central Arctic Ocean, currently beyond the territorial control of Canada, Russia and other polar nations.

The company, which counts retired B.C. senator Edward Lawson among its directors, has filed a claim with the United Nations to act as the sole "development agent" of Arctic seabed oil and gas.

The firm acknowledges that the Arctic's petroleum deposits are the "common heritage of mankind," but has argued that the polar region requires a private "lead manager" to organize a multinational consortium of oil companies to extract undersea resources responsibly and equitably.

The Canadian government has dismissed the company's "alleged claim" over Arctic oil as having "no force in law," but experts in polar issues have raised alarms about the firm's actions, saying they could disrupt efforts to create an orderly regime for exploiting resources and protecting the Arctic environment under international law rather than a marketplace model.

In its latest statement about the polar seabed's "enormous reserve potential" for petroleum deposits, Arctic Oil & Gas cites recent scientific evidence that huge, floating mats of azolla - a prehistoric fern believed to have covered much of the Arctic Ocean during a planetary hothouse era about 55 million years ago - decomposed soon after the age of the dinosaurs and exist today as "vast hydrocarbon resources" trapped in layers of rock below the polar ice cap.

Bujak, a former geoscientist with the Geological Survey of Canada who now works as a private consultant in Canada and the U.K., is described in the Arctic Oil & Gas statement as confirming the "highly probable validity" of recent research pointing to rock layers "extremely rich" in "hydrocarbon precursors" throughout the Arctic basin.

Bujak, who previously worked for PetroCanada as a petroleum geologist, co-authored a landmark 2006 study in the journal Nature that first detailed the ancient azolla explosion that shows up today in Arctic seabed core samples.

He is also scheduled to describe the potential Arctic oil jackpot as the keynote speaker at a Calgary meeting of the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists in May.

"We are extremely fortunate to have brought on board an expert of the calibre of Dr. Bujak," company CEO Peter Sterling says in the statement. "His expertise and his connection to other geoscientists allow us to validate data and confirm its utility in our pursuit of the vast hydrocarbon resources that we intend to successfully locate and extract in the 'Arctic Commons'."

Neither Bujak nor Lawson could be reached for comment on Thursday.

Scientists have predicted that global warming could leave the entire Arctic virtually ice-free for months at a time within 20 years. That prospect has hastened a scramble among nations with a polar coast - namely Canada, Russia, the U.S., Norway and Denmark, which controls Greenland - to try to strengthen their scientific claims under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to extended territorial sovereignty over the Arctic Ocean floor.

A report issued last week by the European Union's top two foreign policy officials also highlighted the looming international struggle over Arctic oil deposits.

Authored by Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Europe's commissioner for external relations, the study pointed to "potential consequences for international stability and European security interests" as the retreat of Arctic ice makes shipping and oil and gas exploration a reality in the region.

Noting the "rapid melting of the polar ice caps," the report noted that "the increased accessibility of the enormous hydrocarbon resources in the Arctic region is changing the geo-strategic dynamics of the region."

The EU report was just the latest in a string of recent warnings about potential clashes over Arctic resources - including a prediction from former U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Scott Borgerson of possible armed conflict between the U.S. and Canada over Arctic sovereignty.

"The United States should not underestimate Canadian passions on this issue," Borgerson, a fellow at the influential Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in an article in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs magazine. "Unless Washington leads the way toward a multilateral diplomatic solution, the Arctic could descend into armed conflict."

Original here

Tax-Free C.E.O.'s

Forget the car and driver. The most popular perk in April is getting your company to cover your tab at the I.R.S.
Edward Breen
Photoillustrations by Julie Teninbaum
Dennis Kozlowski, the high-living ex-C.E.O. of industrial conglomerate Tyco, wound up in the Mid-State Correctional Facility in Marcy, New York, after (among other things) skipping out on his taxes. The company is taking no chances with chairman and C.E.O. Edward Breen, whose contract gives him "tax-assistance payments"—gross-ups—"for New York State and City income tax on his Tyco-source compensation." Last year, that came to $330,200.

Apple iPhones
In June, Apple's iPhone buzz was deafening in Cupertino, California: All 21,600 Apple employees were handed free iPhones that were grossed up for either $250 or $379, presumably depending on whether they were given the 4-gigabyte or 8-gigabyte model.

John Tyson
Tyson Foods chairman John Tyson signed a 10-year contract last year that gives him tax gross-ups that include 120 hours of personal-jet use, a car (plus gas), and home internet access. The contract also requires the firm to retain Tyson as a 20-hour-a-month consultant for $300,000 a year—a part-time salary that's not grossed up.

Ron Kirk
Former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk is a board member of restaurant group Brinker International, best known for operating the casual-dining chains Chili's and Romano's Macaroni Grill. He received $1,022 to cover Awesome Blossoms, Bottomless Tostada Chips, and whatever else he may have ordered at Brinker bistros. Notes the proxy statement: "Our directors receive a complimentary dining card for use in our restaurants."

Mark Hurd
In 2007, Hewlett-Packard C.E.O. Mark Hurd received $34,835 to cover "the first 25 hours of personal usage of company aircraft," "storage costs and related moving expenses," and "meals associated with business travel ... in connection with events to which family members were invited."

Original here

Confessions Of A Debt Settlement Company Worker

C writes:
After spending a year (one of the worst of my life) working at a debt settlement company, I feel that I am obligated to warn as many consumers as possible about how badly you can ruin your financial situation by using one of these companies. My new job is at an all natural bakery, I no longer wish to swerve my truck into a tree on the way to work. Debt settlement is the process of eliminating your debt by ceasing payment to the creditor, and then negotiating with the card companies or collection agency to pay less than the balance owed. The debt settlement company charges a rather hefty fee for this service; however, the consumer should be saving money on the deal because they are paying significantly reduced balances to clear their debt. This is how it is supposed to work. This is not how it usually works.
The clients at the company I worked for ranged from lower class/blue-collar workers who were unable to find jobs, and had mounting medical bills to upper-class white collar workers who had incomes upwards of $9k a month, stay-at-home moms and college students. Some clients were only in $8,000 of debt, and some were upwards of $100,000. Their reasons for accumulating debt ranged from sick children and unemployment to simple avarice.

Our program was designed to eliminate a client's debt in 36 months or less. The client would pay our fee, which was based on the amount of debt they were in, over a period of 12 months. At the same time they contractually agree (a contract I will elaborate on) to save a certain amount of money, so that when the time comes to arrange a reduced pay-off of their debt (usually 50% off of the owed amount), the money would be available, and the transaction would be complete. This sounds like a logical process, and when described to a potential client it is alluringly simple, convenient and quick. The sales person will convince the client that they will somehow be able to save money in their own accounts, and pay our fees for a year. It is nearly impossible for the client to save money due to the heavy fees. Other debt settlement companies will set up a savings account within their company, and the client is obligated to put a stipulated amount into savings every month. If they miss a month, they are canceled with no refund as per the signed contract. There were clients at my company whose income was only $900 a month, who were being asked to save $400 a month, and then put $200 a month towards the program's fee. The program demands that the clients save and spend unrealistic amounts of money for their incomes.

The "client service agreement", which I referred to as a "contract with Satan", confounded most clients.
The contract is written in legal rhetoric that most people wouldn't comprehend, but would end up being persuaded to sign anyways. The average client is not educated about credit reports, FICO scores, and legal vocabulary, so a sales person could easily talk them into the program. The contract actually states that the company is not responsible for any negative repercussions due to their enrollment in our program. It also stated we could cancel a client without refund at any time (which happened a few times in a year), and that if a client cancelled we were still due our year's worth of fees no matter what. Money that we were practically guaranteed because we drafted directly from the client's checking accounts. No person in their right mind would sign this contract if they understood what it meant.

Our sales team and client liaisons ensure clients that if they withhold payments from their creditors, our representatives will effectively negotiate with the creditor, and all will be well. Yet, it states in the contract that our company does not interfere with the creditor/client relationship, and does not instruct clients to cease payment to the creditor.
Many clients had their wages garnished, had liens put on their property and their credit ruined because of not making payments to their creditors. The company was covered by our air-tight contract. If anyone client threatened to see a lawyer my boss would throw the signed contract in their face, and dare them to seek legal council. Usually when a client had finished paying our fees they couldn't afford a lawyer anyways.

I worked in administration while I was at this company. My boss (the owner of the company) made around $17,000 a month from people in debt. Side note: I was only paid $14 an hour, with no benefits, no sick days, and of course no paid vacation. I also felt miserable every day of my life there. My boss was ridiculously petty, money grubbing, and in my opinion he was the definition of a pig. He is the type of person that would sell-out their own grandparents for an extra few dollars. Although, I wasn't one of the employees that were talking people out of their hard earned money and financial security, I felt sickeningly guilty knowing I was working at a place that basically stole from people. My fellow employees and I fielded calls all day from angry clients that weren't paying the reduced balance to their creditors that they were promised at enrollment. Interest charges and late fees pile up on unpaid accounts, so that by the time a 50% pay-off is reached, the client is paying almost what they originally owed. We also had irate clients calling about wages that were garnished and complete harassment by phone from their card companies. My boss refused to take any phone calls, although he was the main decision maker, other employees who were supposed to be client representatives did their best to avoid phone calls because they were sick of being yelled at, or hassled. Getting help from the people who were supposed to be giving it is impossible at this company, and I'm sure it is equally difficult at similar companies.

Here is a short list of thing that horrified me while working there:

  • A client was convinced to let their vehicle get repossessed. The sales person told them that while it was secured debt, they couldn't deal with it, but if it was repossessed they could negotiate. Repossession stays on a credit report for 10 years, and can ruin a FICO score.
  • A client with a terminally ill child had their wages garnished, although they were promised this would not happen. They were refused a refund, and lost the $3,000 they spent on the company's fees and were still in a huge amount of debt.
  • A client that angered my boss was cancelled without refund after paying around $1800 for the service. My boss didn't like how the client spoke to him.
  • I could go on for several pages about all the things that were horribly wrong and unethical that I witnessed alone.

    If there is a debt settlement company out there that is truly helpful to the consumer, I'm not aware of it.
    The old saying "If it's too good to be true, it probably is" is absolutely right. If a company is promising anything that seems beyond reason, they want your trust and then your money. The sales team at our company made a pretty decent commission rate from enrolling new clients. They will usually say whatever the potential client wants to hear, so they get that sweet bonus at the end of the month.

    If you are in debt there are a few things you can do that are helpful. If your credit score is decent you can usually negotiate a better interest rate or payment plan with the creditor. Always pay more than the minimum balance if possible because often only 1-2% of the payment is going towards the principle balance. If you pay off a card do not close the account, it's best to keep it open and occasionally spend and pay off a small amount every month. Avoid debt-consolidation. Debt-consolidation is a process where a client pays one large payment, which accounts for all of their debt, to a company that then distributes the payments to the creditors. This process takes 4-7 years to complete, the payments are large and usually carry an interest rate or fee, and 70% of people that use debt-consolidation are in worse debt within 2 years of the program than they were before they started. Avoid bankruptcy, it is on your credit report for 10 years and it is a question you answer for the rest of your life. If you are already behind on your payments, and you have a reason for financial hardship such as unemployment, illness, some sort of disaster, you can often negotiate a reduced balance on your own. If a credit card company does not receive a payment for longer than 6 months, they will often accept up to 50% less than the owed amount, although you normally need proof of financial hardship.

    The best advice I can give to get out of debt, is to pare down to the essentials. Sell some of your stuff, only spend money on necessities like essential food/gas/doctor's visits, if you rent and you can break the lease get a cheaper place, getting a roommate is always an option, don't be above getting a second job if it's possible. A lot of clients were in debt because they couldn't resist the siren call of a plasma screen TV, or a few new things at Banana Republic. They also drove cars that were beyond their income, and they couldn't resist eating out a few times a week. If you are motivated you can get out of debt on your own, it won't be easy, fun, or quick, but you won't risk getting screwed over worse than you already are.

  • Original here

Cannabis to be Classified as a More Serious Drug in the U.K

Gordon Brown today gave his backing for cannabis to be reclassified as a more serious drug later this month in a move that will reverse its downgrading by his predecessor.

  • Your view: Should cannabis be reclassifed?
  • At his monthly press conference, the Prime Minister revealed his strong support for reclassifying cannabis as a "class B" rather than "class C" drug.

    Cannabis was controversially downgraded by Tony Blair in a move which is thought to have encouraged greater use among the young.

    After becoming Prime Minister last June, Mr Brown ordered a formal review into the classification of cannabis which is due to report later this month.

    Today's comments from the Prime Minister suggest he will push ahead with reclassification regardless of what the review concludes.

    He said: "I believe that if we are sending out a signal particularly to teenagers, and particularly those at the most vulnerable age, young teenagers, that we in any way find cannabis acceptable, given all that we now know about the changes in the way cannabis is being sold in this country, that is not the right thing to do.

    "My personal view has been pretty well known for some time.

    "Given the changing nature of the stock of cannabis that is coming into the country and greater damage that that appears to be doing to people who use it, there is a stronger case for sending out a signal that cannabis is not only illegal but it is unacceptable."

    Class C drugs include steroids and some prescription anti-depressants.

    Possession of them can lead to a two-year prison sentence, but in practice, charges are rarely brought against people found with small quantities of such drugs.

    Class B includes more dangerous drugs such as amphetamines.

    People found in possession of Class B drugs can face a five-year jail term and an unlimited fine.

    Original here

    For sale: West’s deadly nuclear secrets

    A WHISTLEBLOWER has made a series of extraordinary claims about how corrupt government officials allowed Pakistan and other states to steal nuclear weapons secrets.

    Sibel Edmonds, a 37-year-old former Turkish language translator for the FBI, listened into hundreds of sensitive intercepted conversations while based at the agency’s Washington field office.

    She approached The Sunday Times last month after reading about an Al-Qaeda terrorist who had revealed his role in training some of the 9/11 hijackers while he was in Turkey.

    Edmonds described how foreign intelligence agents had enlisted the support of US officials to acquire a network of moles in sensitive military and nuclear institutions.

    Among the hours of covert tape recordings, she says she heard evidence that one well-known senior official in the US State Department was being paid by Turkish agents in Washington who were selling the information on to black market buyers, including Pakistan.

    The name of the official – who has held a series of top government posts – is known to The Sunday Times. He strongly denies the claims.

    However, Edmonds said: “He was aiding foreign operatives against US interests by passing them highly classified information, not only from the State Department but also from the Pentagon, in exchange for money, position and political objectives.”

    She claims that the FBI was also gathering evidence against senior Pentagon officials – including household names – who were aiding foreign agents.

    “If you made public all the information that the FBI have on this case, you will see very high-level people going through criminal trials,” she said.

    Her story shows just how much the West was infiltrated by foreign states seeking nuclear secrets. It illustrates how western government officials turned a blind eye to, or were even helping, countries such as Pakistan acquire bomb technology.

    The wider nuclear network has been monitored for many years by a joint Anglo-American intelligence effort. But rather than shut it down, investigations by law enforcement bodies such as the FBI and Britain’s Revenue & Customs have been aborted to preserve diplomatic relations.

    Edmonds, a fluent speaker of Turkish and Farsi, was recruited by the FBI in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Her previous claims about incompetence inside the FBI have been well documented in America.

    She has given evidence to closed sessions of Congress and the 9/11 commission, but many of the key points of her testimony have remained secret. She has now decided to divulge some of that information after becoming disillusioned with the US authorities’ failure to act.

    One of Edmonds’s main roles in the FBI was to translate thousands of hours of conversations by Turkish diplomatic and political targets that had been covertly recorded by the agency.

    A backlog of tapes had built up, dating back to 1997, which were needed for an FBI investigation into links between the Turks and Pakistani, Israeli and US targets. Before she left the FBI in 2002 she heard evidence that pointed to money laundering, drug imports and attempts to acquire nuclear and conventional weapons technology.

    “What I found was damning,” she said. “While the FBI was investigating, several arms of the government were shielding what was going on.”

    The Turks and Israelis had planted “moles” in military and academic institutions which handled nuclear technology. Edmonds says there were several transactions of nuclear material every month, with the Pakistanis being among the eventual buyers. “The network appeared to be obtaining information from every nuclear agency in the United States,” she said.

    They were helped, she says, by the high-ranking State Department official who provided some of their moles – mainly PhD students – with security clearance to work in sensitive nuclear research facilities. These included the Los Alamos nuclear laboratory in New Mexico, which is responsible for the security of the US nuclear deterrent.

    In one conversation Edmonds heard the official arranging to pick up a $15,000 cash bribe. The package was to be dropped off at an agreed location by someone in the Turkish diplomatic community who was working for the network.

    The Turks, she says, often acted as a conduit for the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s spy agency, because they were less likely to attract suspicion. Venues such as the American Turkish Council in Washington were used to drop off the cash, which was picked up by the official.

    Edmonds said: “I heard at least three transactions like this over a period of 2½ years. There are almost certainly more.”

    The Pakistani operation was led by General Mahmoud Ahmad, then the ISI chief.

    Intercepted communications showed Ahmad and his colleagues stationed in Washington were in constant contact with attachés in the Turkish embassy.

    Intelligence analysts say that members of the ISI were close to Al-Qaeda before and after 9/11. Indeed, Ahmad was accused of sanctioning a $100,000 wire payment to Mohammed Atta, one of the 9/11 hijackers, immediately before the attacks.

    The results of the espionage were almost certainly passed to Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist.

    Khan was close to Ahmad and the ISI. While running Pakistan’s nuclear programme, he became a millionaire by selling atomic secrets to Libya, Iran and North Korea. He also used a network of companies in America and Britain to obtain components for a nuclear programme.

    Khan caused an alert among western intelligence agencies when his aides met Osama Bin Laden. “We were aware of contact between A Q Khan’s people and Al-Qaeda,” a former CIA officer said last week. “There was absolute panic when we initially discovered this, but it kind of panned out in the end.”

    It is likely that the nuclear secrets stolen from the United States would have been sold to a number of rogue states by Khan.

    Edmonds was later to see the scope of the Pakistani connections when it was revealed that one of her fellow translators at the FBI was the daughter of a Pakistani embassy official who worked for Ahmad. The translator was given top secret clearance despite protests from FBI investigators.

    Edmonds says packages containing nuclear secrets were delivered by Turkish operatives, using their cover as members of the diplomatic and military community, to contacts at the Pakistani embassy in Washington.

    Following 9/11, a number of the foreign operatives were taken in for questioning by the FBI on suspicion that they knew about or somehow aided the attacks.

    Edmonds said the State Department official once again proved useful. “A primary target would call the official and point to names on the list and say, ‘We need to get them out of the US because we can’t afford for them to spill the beans’,” she said. “The official said that he would ‘take care of it’.”

    The four suspects on the list were released from interrogation and extradited.

    Edmonds also claims that a number of senior officials in the Pentagon had helped Israeli and Turkish agents.

    “The people provided lists of potential moles from Pentagon-related institutions who had access to databases concerning this information,” she said.

    “The handlers, who were part of the diplomatic community, would then try to recruit those people to become moles for the network. The lists contained all their ‘hooking points’, which could be financial or sexual pressure points, their exact job in the Pentagon and what stuff they had access to.”

    One of the Pentagon figures under investigation was Lawrence Franklin, a former Pentagon analyst, who was jailed in 2006 for passing US defence information to lobbyists and sharing classified information with an Israeli diplomat.

    “He was one of the top people providing information and packages during 2000 and 2001,” she said.

    Once acquired, the nuclear secrets could have gone anywhere. The FBI monitored Turkish diplomats who were selling copies of the information to the highest bidder.

    Edmonds said: “Certain greedy Turkish operators would make copies of the material and look around for buyers. They had agents who would find potential buyers.”

    In summer 2000, Edmonds says the FBI monitored one of the agents as he met two Saudi Arabian businessmen in Detroit to sell nuclear information that had been stolen from an air force base in Alabama. She overheard the agent saying: “We have a package and we’re going to sell it for $250,000.”

    Edmonds’s employment with the FBI lasted for just six months. In March 2002 she was dismissed after accusing a colleague of covering up illicit activity involving Turkish nationals.

    She has always claimed that she was victimised for being outspoken and was vindicated by an Office of the Inspector General review of her case three years later. It found that one of the contributory reasons for her sacking was that she had made valid complaints.

    The US attorney-general has imposed a state secrets privilege order on her, which prevents her revealing more details of the FBI’s methods and current investigations.

    Her allegations were heard in a closed session of Congress, but no action has been taken and she continues to campaign for a public hearing.

    She was able to discuss the case with The Sunday Times because, by the end of January 2002, the justice department had shut down the programme.

    The senior official in the State Department no longer works there. Last week he denied all of Edmonds’s allegations: “If you are calling me to say somebody said that I took money, that’s outrageous . . . I do not have anything to say about such stupid ridiculous things as this.”

    In researching this article, The Sunday Times has talked to two FBI officers (one serving, one former) and two former CIA sources who worked on nuclear proliferation. While none was aware of specific allegations against officials she names, they did provide overlapping corroboration of Edmonds’s story.

    One of the CIA sources confirmed that the Turks had acquired nuclear secrets from the United States and shared the information with Pakistan and Israel. “We have no indication that Turkey has its own nuclear ambitions. But the Turks are traders. To my knowledge they became big players in the late 1990s,” the source said.

    How Pakistan got the bomb, then sold it to the highest bidders

    1965 Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s foreign minister, says: “If India builds the bomb we will eat grass . . . but we will get one of our own”

    1974 Nuclear programme becomes increased priority as India tests a nuclear device

    1976 Abdul Qadeer Khan, a scientist, steals secrets from Dutch uranium plant. Made head of his nation’s nuclear programme by Bhutto, now prime minister

    1976 onwards Clandestine network established to obtain materials and technology for uranium enrichment from the West

    1985 Pakistan produces weapons-grade uranium for the first time

    1989-91 Khan’s network sells Iran nuclear weapons information and technology

    1991-97 Khan sells weapons technology to North Korea and Libya

    1998 India tests nuclear bomb and Pakistan follows with a series of nuclear tests. Khan says: “I never had any doubts I was building a bomb. We had to do it”

    2001 CIA chief George Tenet gathers officials for crisis summit on the proliferation of nuclear technology from Pakistan to other countries

    2001 Weeks before 9/11, Khan’s aides meet Osama Bin Laden to discuss an Al-Qaeda nuclear device

    2001 After 9/11 proliferation crisis becomes secondary as Pakistan is seen as important ally in war on terror

    2003 Libya abandons nuclear weapons programme and admits acquiring components through Pakistani nuclear scientists

    2004 Khan placed under house arrest and confesses to supplying Iran, Libya and North Korea with weapons technology. He is pardoned by President Pervez Musharraf

    2006 North Korea tests a nuclear bomb

    2007 Renewed fears that bomb may fall into hands of Islamic extremists as killing of Benazir Bhutto throws country into turmoil

    Original here

    Student Sues Wisconsin School After Getting a Zero for Religious Drawing

    MADISON, Wis. — A Tomah High School student has filed a federal lawsuit alleging his art teacher censored his drawing because it featured a cross and a biblical reference.

    The lawsuit alleges other students were allowed to draw "demonic" images and asks a judge to declare a class policy prohibiting religion in art unconstitutional.

    "We hear so much today about tolerance," said David Cortman, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal advocacy group representing the student. "But where is the tolerance for religious beliefs? The whole purpose of art is to reflect your own personal experience. To tell a student his religious beliefs can legally be censored sends the wrong message."

    Tomah School District Business Manager Greg Gaarder said the district hadn't seen the lawsuit and declined to comment.

    According to the lawsuit, the student's art teacher asked his class in February to draw landscapes. The student, a senior identified in the lawsuit by the initials A.P., added a cross and the words "John 3:16 A sign of love" in his drawing.

    His teacher, Julie Millin, asked him to remove the reference to the Bible, saying students were making remarks about it. He refused, and she gave him a zero on the project.

    Millin showed the student a policy for the class that prohibited any violence, blood, sexual connotations or religious beliefs in artwork. The lawsuit claims Millin told the boy he had signed away his constitutional rights when he signed the policy at the beginning of the semester.

    The boy tore the policy up in front of Millin, who kicked him out of class. Later that day, assistant principal Cale Jackson told the boy his religious expression infringed on other students' rights.

    Jackson told the boy, his stepfather and his pastor at a meeting a week later that religious expression could be legally censored in class assignments. Millin stated at the meeting the cross in the drawing also infringed on other students' rights.

    The boy received two detentions for tearing up the policy. Jackson referred questions about the lawsuit to Gaarder.

    Sometime after that meeting, the boy's metals teacher rejected his idea to build a chain-mail cross, telling him it was religious and could offend someone, the lawsuit claims. The boy decided in March to shelve plans to make a pin with the words "pray" and "praise" on it because he was afraid he'd get a zero for a grade.

    The lawsuit also alleges school officials allow other religious items and artwork to be displayed on campus.

    A Buddha and Hindu figurines are on display in a social studies classroom, the lawsuit claims, adding the teacher passionately teaches Hindu principles to students.

    In addition, a replica of Michaelangelo's "The Creation of Man" is displayed at the school's entrance, a picture of a six-limbed Hindu deity is in the school's hallway and a drawing of a robed sorcerer hangs on a hallway bulletin board.

    Drawings of Medusa, the Grim Reaper with a scythe and a being with a horned head and protruding tongue hang in the art room and demonic masks are displayed in the metals room, the lawsuit alleges.

    A.P. suffered unequal treatment because of his religion even though student expression is protected by the First Amendment, according to the lawsuit, which was filed Friday.

    "Students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate," the lawsuit said. "No compelling state interest exists to justify the censorship of A.P.'s religious expression."

    Original here

    IOC wants Beijing to open Internet during Olympics

    The Internet must be open during the Beijing Olympics.

    That was the message a top-ranking International Olympic Committee official delivered Tuesday to Beijing organizers during the first of three days of meetings, the last official sessions between IOC inspectors and the host Chinese before the games begin in just over four months.

    China routinely blocks Internet access, a practice it has stepped up since rioting broke out over two weeks ago in Tibet.

    Kevan Gosper, vice chairman of the IOC coordinating commission, said blocking the Internet during the Games "would reflect very poorly" on the host nation.

    "Even this morning we discussed and insisted again," Gosper said. "Our concern is that the press is able to operate as it has at previous games _ at games time."

    Gosper said the Chinese had an obligation under the so-called "host city agreement" to open Internet access to 30,000 accredited and non-accredited journalists expected to attend.

    "There was some criticism that the Internet closed down during events relating to Tibet in previous weeks, but this is not games time," Gosper said.

    Laws that lifted most restrictions on foreign media went into effect Jan. 1, 2007. The rules are due to expire in October.

    "I'm satisfied that the Chinese understand the need for this and they will do it," Gosper added.

    When asked about Gosper's comments, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said China's "management" of the Internet followed the "general practice of the international community."

    She acknowledged that China bans some Internet content, and said other countries did the same. She declined to say if the Internet would be unrestricted for journalists during the Olympics.

    Gosper spoke after Hein Verbruggen, chairman of the inspection committee, addressed his Chinese hosts. Without being specific, Verbruggen noted that China's Aug. 8-24 games had become embroiled in controversy.

    The unrest in Tibet _ and China's response _ has heightened calls for a boycott or a partial boycott of the games. This comes in the wake of worries over Beijing's dirty air, and calls for China to increase pressure on Sudan to end fighting in Darfur.

    The Darfur issue prompted Hollywood director Steven Spielberg to step down as an artistic adviser for the opening and closing ceremonies.

    The torch relay, which left Beijing on Tuesday for Kazakhstan and a monthlong global tour, is sure to draw protests and blemish an event Chinese organizers had hoped would generate positive images of the country.

    "Clearly in recent times more than ever, the Beijing Games are being drawn into issues that do not necessarily have a link with the operation of the games," Verbruggen said. "We're all aware the international community is discussing these topics, but it is important to remember that our main focus during these meetings is the successful delivery of the games operations."

    The IOC has refused to speak out against China's actions in Tibet, saying it is a sporting body, not a political one. It has maintained the Beijing Olympics "are a force for good" in opening up the country.

    Liu Qi, president of the organizing committee, told Verbruggen the preparations were in the "final stage" but suggested the hosts would not let up.

    "There's a saying in China that if you want to walk 100 steps _ though you have walked 90 _ you have finished only half the journey. We still have 10 steps left, and those 10 are very critical to the whole journey."

    The People's Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, warned in an editorial Tuesday that troubles lie ahead in the four months before the Aug. 8-24 games.

    "With the opening of the Games approaching, the burden on our shoulders is heavier and the task tougher," it said. "We must keep a clear head, improving our awareness of the potential dangers, and bravely facing all the difficulties and challenges."

    Original here