Monday, 23 November 2009

nsa confirms it is teaming with microsoft


NSA helped with Windows 7 development

Privacy expert voices 'backdoor' concerns, security researchers dismiss idea
Gregg Keize

November 18, 2009 (Computerworld) The National Security Agency (NSA) worked with Microsoft on the development of Windows 7, an agency official acknowledged yesterday during testimony before Congress.

"Working in partnership with Microsoft and elements of the Department of Defense, NSA leveraged our unique expertise and operational knowledge of system threats and vulnerabilities to enhance Microsoft's operating system security guide without constraining the user to perform their everyday tasks, whether those tasks are being performed in the public or private sector," Richard Schaeffer, the NSA's information assurance director, told the Senate's Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security yesterday as part of a prepared statement.

"All this was done in coordination with the product release, not months or years later during the product lifecycle," Schaeffer added. "This will improve the adoption of security advice, as it can be implemented during installation and then later managed through the emerging SCAP standards."

Security Content Automation Protocol, or SCAP, is a set of standards for automating chores such as managing vulnerabilities and measuring security compliance. The National Institute of Standards and Technologies (NIST) oversees the SCAP standards.

This is not the first time that the NSA has partnered with Microsoft during Windows development. In 2007, the agency confirmed that it had a hand in Windows Vista as part of an initiative to ensure that the operating system was secure from attack and would work with other government software. Before that, the NSA provided guidance on how best to secure Windows XP and Windows 2000.

According to Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of the Electronics Privacy Information Center (EPIC), the NSA's involvement with operating system development goes back even farther. "This battle goes back to at least the crypto wars of the early '90s," said Rotenberg, who remembered testifying about the agency's role in private sector computer security standards in 1989.

But when the NSA puts hands on Windows, that raises a red flag for Rotenberg, who heads the Washington, D.C.-based public interest research center. "When NSA offers to help the private sector on computer security, the obvious concern is that it will also build in backdoors that enables tracking users and intercepting user communications," Rotenberg said in an e-mail. "And private sector firms are reluctant to oppose these 'suggestions' since the US government is also their biggest customer and opposition to the NSA could mean to loss of sales."

Rotenberg's worries stem from the NSA's reputation as the intelligence agency best known for its eavesdropping of electronic messaging, including cell phone calls and e-mail.

Andrew Storms, the director of security operations at nCircle Security, didn't put much credence in the idea that Microsoft would allow the NSA to build a hidden entrance to Windows 7. "Would it be surprising to most people that there was a backdoor? No, not with the political agenda of prior administrations," said Storms. "My gut, though, tells me that Microsoft, as a business, would not want to do that, at least not in a secretive way."

Roger Thompson, chief research officer at AVG Technologies, agreed. "I can't imagine NSA and Microsoft would do anything deliberate because the repercussions would be enormous if they got caught," he said in an interview via instant messaging.

"Having said that, I think we should understand that there is every likelihood that certain foreign governments are constantly looking for vulnerabilities that they can use for targeted attacks," Thompson continued. "So if they're poking at us, I think it's reasonable to assume that we're doing something similar. But I seriously doubt an official NSA-Microsoft alliance."

The NSA's Schaeffer added that his agency is also working on engaging other major software makers, including Apple, Sun and Red Hat, on security standards for their products.

"More and more, we find that protecting national security systems demands teaming with public and private institutions to raise the information assurance level of products and services more broadly," Schaeffer said.

Microsoft was not immediately available for comment on the NSA's participation in Windows 7's development.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

drugs: ketamine more dangerous than pot or xtc

Teenagers risk kidney failure in drug craze

Ketamine causes irreversible damage, fear GPs

Diane Taylor and Denis Campbell

The Observer

Sunday 22 November 2009

Ketamine, a powerful tranquilliser used on horses, is being taken in growing number by young people in the UK, causing crippling health problems.

Some addicts have needed to have their bladders removed and must now wear catheters. Other users have suffered serious kidney problems, breathing difficulties, addiction, bouts of unconsciousness and trouble with urinating. The drug also involves a heightened risk of heart attack.

Some users also end up with cocaine-style damage to the inside of their nose, because the drug is often snorted in powder form, though it can also be injected, taken as a pill or swallowed as a liquid.

Experts say ketamine is increasing in popularity partly because it is cheaper than cocaine and, as the purity of cocaine falls, gives a more reliable high. It usually sells for about half the price of cocaine, at about £20 per gram, but can be obtained for as little as £5 a gram. "The quality of heroin and cocaine is so poor that people are turning to ketamine, which is cheap and available," said Dr Chris Ford, a GP and the clinical lead for substance misuse management in general practice in the London borough of Brent.

Dr Angela Cottrell, a urologist attached to the Bristol Urological Institute at the city's Southmead Hospital, has studied the health problems caused by ketamine. She saw her first patient with severe bladder problems in mid-2007 and has seen a growing number of cases since. "About one-third of ketamine users develop severe problems with the drug. There's something about the way that it's metabolised that is causing these problems," said Cottrell.

"One of the most alarming things is that the long-term effects on the body are not known. We don't know if things get better over time or whether people will develop kidney failure in the long-term." The damage to vital organs may be irreversible, Cottrell warned.

Ketamine is both a stimulant and an hallucinogenic. In 2007, Professor David Nutt, recently sacked as the chairman of the government's drugs advisory panel, published research in The Lancet which ranked ketamine as the sixth most harmful substance out of 20 studied. It came behind heroin, cocaine, barbituates, street methadone and alcohol, but ahead of cannabis and ecstasy, in 11th and 18th places.

The drug is known as K, Special K and, because of the youth of many users, "kiddie smack". The Addaction specialist drugs service in Lincoln sees about 200 children under 18 every year. In 2007, none said they used ketamine. Between June and November 2008, one teenager said it was their main drug and six said it was their secondary choice, usually behind alcohol or cannabis. But in the same period this year, four 15- to 18-year-olds said it was their preferred way of getting high, and 15 as their next most favourite.

Elliot Elam, of Addaction, said: "It's not an epidemic, but it is an emerging trend. There's a new generation for whom ketamine use is acceptable."

According to the British Crime Survey, only 1.8% of people in England and Wales have ever used ketamine, but that figure is doubled among 16- to 24-year-olds. It estimated that 113,000 people used it at least once in 2007-08. Research published last week in the journal Addiction blamed the drug for memory loss and mild delusions.

A "normal" dose of ketamine is 60mg to 100mg, but some users are taking 5g or 10g a day. Twenty-three people are believed to have died between 1993 and 2006 after walking into traffic and risking other dangers after losing their sense of reality.

uk and japan may default on debt, gold at 3000$


Which big country will default first?

Martin Hutchinson

November 09, 2009

Of the world's six largest economies, three currently have budget and public debt positions that if allowed to fester will push those nations into bankruptcy (the seventh largest, Italy, also has a budget and debt position that is highly vulnerable, but its problems appear chronic rather than acute). Given the proclivities of modern politicians for delaying pain and avoiding problems, it is likely that festering is just what those positions will do. So which major country, the United States, Japan or Britain, will default first on its foreign debt?

The other three of the six top economies, Germany, China and France, appear to have fewer problems but are not out of the woods entirely. Germany has substantial public debt because of the costs involved in integrating the former East Germany, but those costs are now mostly past and the current government is highly disciplined – thus Germany is now the most stable major economy. France is less disciplined; its debt level is similar to that of Germany but its current budget deficit is much higher, at around 8% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2009, according to the Economist forecasting panel. However, its problems pale in comparison to those of the deficit-ridden trio. China has huge amounts of hidden debt in its banking system, which could well collapse, but its direct public debt is small, as is its budget deficit, so it is unlikely to enter formal default.

The worst budget balance of the three deficit countries is in Britain, where the forecast budget deficit for calendar 2009 is a staggering 14.5% of GDP. Furthermore, the Bank of England has been slightly more irresponsible in its financing mechanisms than even the Federal Reserve, leaving interest rates above zero but funding fully one third of public spending through direct money creation. Governor Mervyn King has a reputation in the world's chancelleries as a conservative man of economic understanding. He doesn't really deserve it, having been one of the 364 lunatic economists who signed a round-robin to Margaret Thatcher in 1981 denouncing her economic policies just as they were on the point of magnificently working, pulling Britain back from what seemed inevitable catastrophic decline. King's quiet manner may be more reassuring to skeptics than the arrogance of "Helicopter Ben" Bernanke, but the reality of his policies is little sounder and the economic situation facing him is distinctly worse.

Britain has two additional problems not shared by the United States and Japan. First, its economy is in distinctly worse shape. Growth was negative in the third quarter of 2009, unlike the modest positive growth in the U.S. and the sharp uptick in Japan. Moreover, whereas U.S. house prices are now at a reasonable level, in terms of incomes (albeit still perhaps 10% above their eventual bottom), Britain's house prices are still grossly inflated, possibly in London even double their appropriate level in terms of income. The financial services business in Britain is a larger part of the overall economy than in the U.S. and the absurd exemption from tax for foreigners has brought a huge disparity between the few foreigners at the top of the City of London and the unfortunate locals toiling for mere mortal rewards. A recent story that the housing market for London homes priced above $5 million British pounds was being reflated by Goldman Sachs bonuses indicates the problem, and suggests that the further deflation needed in U.K. housing will have a major and unpleasant economic effect.

A second British problem not shared by the U.S. is its excessive reliance on financial services. As detailed in previous columns, this sector has roughly doubled in the last 30 years as a share of both British and U.S. GDP. In addition, the sector's vulnerability to a restoration of a properly tight monetary policy has been enormously increased through its addiction to trading revenue. The U.S. has many other ways of making a living if its financial services sector shrinks and New York is only a modest part of the overall economy. Britain is horribly over-dependent on financial services, and the painful if salutary effects of London costs being pushed down to national levels by a lengthy recession are less likely to be counterbalanced by exuberant growth elsewhere.

The other question to be answered for all three countries is that of political will. If as is certainly the case in Britain, deficits at the current levels will lead to default (albeit not for some years since the country's public debt is still quite low), then to avoid default tough decisions must be taken. Britain is in poor shape in this respect. Its current prime minister, Gordon Brown, is largely responsible for the underlying budget problem, having overspent during the boom years, largely on added bureaucracy rather than on anything productive or value-creating. However, the opposition Conservatives, likely to take power next spring, are led by a center-leftist with a background in public relations and no discernable backbone or principles.

Britain has a history of such leaders, which it has managed to survive – the ineffable Harold Macmillan, in particular, who wanted to abolish the Stock Exchange and contemplated nationalizing the banks when they raised interest rates, was a man of outlook and temperament very similar to David Cameron's. Macmillan was notoriously prone to soft options that postponed economic problems, firing his entire Treasury team in pursuit of soft options in 1958 and leaving behind an appalling legacy of inflationary bubble on his retirement in 1963. If Cameron is truly like Macmillan, his government's response to economic and financial disaster will be one of wriggle rather than confrontation. With neither party providing solutions to an economic crisis, the British public is likely to discover that, unlike in the crisis of 1976, no solutions will be found. Default (doubtless disguised as with Argentina as "renegotiation") would in that case inevitably follow.

The United States is in somewhat better shape than Britain. Its deficit is somewhat lower, at 11.9% of GDP in calendar 2009, although its debt level is higher if you include the direct debt of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as you should. It also has lower overall levels of public spending, although spending is rising rapidly. Furthermore, it has a much more diverse economy and a healthier real estate market, so that further likely downturns in California and Manhattan real estate and the financial services sector can be easily overcome.

U.S. pundits like to whine about the impending deficits in social security and health-care, but the former is easily overcome by adjusting the retirement age while the latter could be greatly mitigated by simple cost-containment measures, such as limiting trial lawyer depredations, making the state pay for the "emergency room" mandate to treat the indigent and allowing interstate competition for health insurance. All those changes would be politically difficult, but they are clearly visible and involve no damaging cuts in vital services, unlike the changes that would probably be necessary in Britain.

The other U.S. advantage is political: it has an alternative to overspending. Last Tuesday's election results were a useful shot across the bows of the overspending consensus that had developed in both the Bush and Obama administrations (as well as among the ineffable barons of Congress) since 2007. Whereas voter concern about spiraling deficits and public spending has no satisfactory outlet in Britain, it can now express itself clearly in the U.S., producing either a sharp change of policy by the current administration and Congress or a change of administration in 2012. Since the likelihood of a reversal of policy towards sound budgetary management is greater in the U.S. than in Britain, the probability of eventual default is less.

Japan has already had its change of government, throwing out the faction of the Liberal Democrat Party (LDP) that regarded politics as the art of creating pointless infrastructure. Unfortunately, the Japanese electorate, faced in August with a no-good-choices problem similar to that of U.S. voters last year and British voters next spring, replaced a long-serving overspending government with another committed to a different set of spending priorities rather than to ending the spending itself. The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has cut back sharply on the infrastructure "stimulus" but is showing signs of replacing it with social spending. It is also committed to economically dozy policies such as reversing postal privatization, organized with such great political effort by Junichiro Koizumi in 2005.

Japan does however have a couple of advantages that may enable it to avoid default. First, its public debt carries very low interest rates, mostly below 2% per annum, and is owned almost entirely by its own citizens. What's more, state-owned entities such as the now un-privatized Postal Bank lend vast amounts of money to the government, acting as conduits to the less efficient bits of the public sector in the same way as do China's state-owned banks. This is appallingly bad for the efficiency of the economy and for living standards, but it postpones default and makes it less likely.

Second, it's not inevitable that the LDP's wasteful infrastructure spending will simply be replaced by wasteful social spending. Finance minister Hirohisa Fujii is reputed to be a budgetary hard-liner. Further, at least part of the DPJ's spending will take the form of handouts to families with children. Those may increase domestic consumption compared to exports and thereby balance the Japanese economy better, increasing its growth potential marginally. Nevertheless, since Japan's public debt is currently around 200% of GDP, Japan is much closer to the default precipice than either the U.S. or Britain. Thus, while the better structure of Japan's economy and its debt make Japan's probability of default lower than Britain's, it's likely that if both countries defaulted, Japan would do so first.

We have not experienced a debt default by a major economy since the 1930s. That three such defaults are currently conceivable indicates both the severity of the current downturn and the wrong-headedness of the policies taken to address it. If it happens, a major sovereign debt default of this kind will cause the seizure of global capital markets, prolonging downturn for a decade or more.

We'd all better hope the urge for fiscal responsibility hits London, Washington and Tokyo pretty damn soon.

The Bears Lair is a weekly column that is intended to appear each Monday, an appropriately gloomy day of the week. Its rationale is that, in the long '90s boom, the proportion of "sell" recommendations put out by Wall Street houses declined from 9 percent of all research reports to 1 percent and has only modestly rebounded since. Accordingly, investors have an excess of positive information and very little negative information. The column thus takes the ursine view of life and the market, in the hope that it may be usefully different from what investors see elsewhere.


Waiting for the train-wreck

Martin Hutchinson

November 16, 2009

The rise in the gold price above $1,100 per ounce last week is a pretty good indicator that something has changed. For 18 months, the gold price had been in a trading range topping out around $1,000. It has now broken out decisively from that range. The opportunity for the world's central banks to change policy and affect the economic outcome has been lost. The world economy is now locked on to an undeviating track towards another train wreck.

At most times, the gold price is not an economically significant indicator. In 1980-2000, it declined irregularly from $850 to around $280, and movements in it seemed to have had little or no effect on the global economy. That's what you'd expect; even at $1,000 per ounce, the global production of gold is only around $100 billion annually, which would put the entire world's gold extraction industry only 17th on the Fortune 500. When Gordon Brown sold Britain's entire gold reserves in 1999, at a price below $300 per ounce, it seemed a defensible decision. I went to a meeting in 2001 hosted by a diverse group which believed that the U.S. Treasury was conspiring to suppress the gold price, and my main thought was: why would Treasury bother?

However, in relatively few periods, gold becomes of immense importance. When investors lose trust in conventional currencies, because monetary policy appears set to debauch them, gold is the immediately available safe haven. During such periods, gold's former importance as a store of value becomes uppermost in the public mind, and its price becomes a major economic indicator.

Gold became important from about July 1978 to early 1980, during which period its price rose from $185 to $850 per ounce. For that 18 month period, the price of gold was the most important factor in day-to-day market fluctuations. The gold price, more than the inflation rate directly, moved markets and by extension moved monetary and to some extent fiscal policy in the major economies. Only after Paul Volcker took over at the Fed in late 1979 did M3 money supply begin to supplant it in investors' analyses.

We now appear to be at the beginning of another such period. The exceptional monetary stimulus entered into around the world during the financial crisis last year has prevented a downward liquidity spiral, but at the cost of destabilizing markets. Both monetary and fiscal policy dials are stuck at settings that would have been unimaginable two years ago. While this has produced only the beginnings of economic recovery, it has brought a 50% bounce in the U.S. stock market, a return in the oil price to around $80 – at the top end of the historic range, adjusted for inflation – and now a breakout by gold above its historic high. The repeated previous failure of gold to break above $1,000 per ounce made it all the more significant when it finally succeeded in doing so.

Ben Bernanke's Fed is ignoring this. It insists that it will maintain interest rates at the current near-zero level for an extended period, regardless of what the gold price does. By this, it is ensuring that the present bubble in gold and commodities will play out to its full extent. Had the Fed begun to tighten gently during the late spring or early summer, when it had become obvious that the U.S. economy was bottoming out, but while stock markets remained subdued and gold remained within its 2008-09 trading range, it's possible that it could have deflated the incipient bubble, steering the U.S. and global economies back on to a sustainable growth path. The U.S. Treasury would have had to cooperate by beginning to reduce the federal deficit, but at this stage with unemployment in the 10% range, there would have been no need for draconian action on that front.

With current Fed policy, gold is headed rapidly toward $2,000 per ounce, probably within six months. The forecasters who see such a price, but suggest it would take four to five years to get there, are ignoring history. Since gold was able to get from $185 to $850 in 18 months in 1978-80, there is no reason why it cannot get from $1,100 to $2,000 in six months now. What's more, although 1980's peak seemed madness at the time, and was equivalent to nearly $2,400 today, there is no reason why gold cannot go much higher if it is given another year or so to get there. The supply of gold from new mining is around 1 million ounces per year LESS than in 1980 and the supply of speculative capital that could flow into gold is many times greater. Hence, a $5,000 gold price is possible though not certain, if present monetary policy is continued or only modestly modified – and that price could be reached by the end of 2010.

As was demonstrated by the housing bubble of 2004-06, modest rises in interest rates are not sufficient to stop a bubble once it is well under way. Given the Fed's recent track record, it is most unlikely that we will get any more than modest and very reluctant interest-rate rises. Even if inflation is moving at a brisk pace by the latter part of next year, the price rises will be explained away, or possibly massaged out of the figures as happened in the early part of 2008. Hence the bubble will inexorably move to its denouement, at which point gold will probably be north of $3,000 an ounce and oil well north of $150 per barrel. Even though there will be no supply/demand reason why oil should get to those levels, and gold has almost no genuine demand at all, the weight of money behind those commodities in a speculative situation will push their prices inexorably upwards, beyond all reason until something intervenes to stop it.

At some point, probably before the end of 2010, the bubble will burst. The deflationary effect on the U.S. economy of $150 plus oil will overwhelm the modest forces of genuine economic expansion. The Treasury bond market will collapse, overwhelmed by the weight of deficit financing. Once again, the banking system will be in deep trouble. The industrial sector, beyond the largest and most liquid companies and the extractive industries, will in any case have remained in recession – it is notable that, in spite of the Fed's frenzy of activity, bank lending has fallen $600 billion in the last year. Unemployment, which will probably enter the second downturn at around current levels, will spike further upwards. The dollar will probably not collapse, but only because it will have been declining inexorably in the intervening year, to give a euro value of $2 and a yen value of 60 to 65 yen to the dollar.

In the next downturn, the Fed will not be able to cut interest rates, because inflation will be spiraling, as in 1980. Instead it will need to raise them while dealing with a profound crisis in the bond markets. Capital in the U.S. will become still more difficult to come by, and unemployment will approach 15%. The U.S.'s only saving graces will be that the inflation will have prevented much further decline in the nominal prices of houses, while the decline in the dollar will have finally swung the payments deficit towards balance. U.S. real wages will be forced downwards by high unemployment, while banks' relief on the home mortgage front will be balanced by a tsunami of collapsed credit card debt and other consumer debt.

2011 and 2012 will be very unpleasant years, as the Obama administration struggles to get closer to budget balance without pushing up taxes so far as to cause yet a third recession. Stock prices will be at or below their March 2009 lows, and will stay there even as earnings of export-oriented companies will be robust. (Conversely, retailers dealing in cheap imported goods, such as Wal-Mart, will be devastated.) Wages will be generally declining relative to prices, although may show some growth in nominal terms as inflation will be considerable. Foreign goods and services will be inordinately expensive in dollar terms.

The danger in those years will be that Ben Bernanke will attempt yet again to refloat the U.S. economy through inflation, buying government debt to fund the deficit and forcing short term rates well below the inflation rate. This danger is exacerbated by the Obama administration's insouciance about deficits. Ben Bernanke on his own (and his predecessor Alan Greenspan) bears a large share of responsibility for the 2008 crash, but the Bernanke/Obama combination is potentially even more dangerous. If expansionary monetary and fiscal policies are pursued regardless of market signals, the U.S. will head towards Weimar-style trillion-percent inflation. That would make the government's position easier as its mountain of Treasury debt became worthless, but devastate everybody else's savings and impoverish the American people as Weimar impoverished 1920s Germany.

As I said, a train wreck. Probability of arrival: close to 100%. Time of arrival: around the end of 2010, or possibly a bit earlier. And at this stage, there's very little anyone can do about it; the definitive rise of gold above $1,000 marked the point of no return.

The Bears Lair is a weekly column that is intended to appear each Monday, an appropriately gloomy day of the week. Its rationale is that, in the long '90s boom, the proportion of "sell" recommendations put out by Wall Street houses declined from 9 percent of all research reports to 1 percent and has only modestly rebounded since. Accordingly, investors have an excess of positive information and very little negative information. The column thus takes the ursine view of life and the market, in the hope that it may be usefully different from what investors see elsewhere.

Martin Hutchinson is the author of "Great Conservatives" (Academica Press, 2005). Details can be found on the Web site

Views are as of November 16, 2009, and are subject to change based on market conditions and other factors. These views should not be construed as a recommendation for any specific security.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

afpak mess: the result of us policy


An Interview with Ahmed Quraishi

The Diplomat


The Diplomat speaks with Pakistani commentator Ahmed Quraishi about the country’s current military offensive in Waziristan, relations with the US and what America should do to improve its image in Pakistan.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Pakistan this month meeting key political leaders. What did you make of her comment that she finds it difficult to believe that nobody in the Pakistani government knows the whereabouts of top al-Qaeda members?

Ahmed Quraishi: It was very surprising to even the most hardened skeptics here in Pakistan to hear a US secretary of state saying this, because despite all we heard during the eight years of President [George W.] Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, no American official accused Pakistan or ‘rogue elements’ in the country of supporting or protecting al-Qaeda. If ever there were any grievances with Pakistan on this count, they were mostly focused on that Pakistan had done a very good job of cooperating with the Americans on al-Qaeda, but that progress was still lacking on the Afghan Taliban and its leadership. So in the entire eight years since September 11, no US official actually criticized Pakistan by saying Pakistan was somehow trying to protect al-Qaeda. Second, the facts contradict what the secretary of state said. Everybody knows the vast number of al-Qaeda operatives that have been arrested have been arrested in Pakistan. And the big fish names, although there is close cooperation between the CIA and ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence], were arrested thanks to crucial information coming from Pakistani intelligence sources. This is, of course, natural seeing as it is our country, and it’s only to be expected that the ISI and other Pakistani government agencies should be at the forefront of finding these people. And they did. And three, another crucial point is that if we’re going to throw blame at each other, then frankly speaking it is Pakistan that needs to complain--and complain loudly--at the failure of US intelligence and the US military back in late November and early December 2001 to corner and arrest Osama bin Laden. If you remember the battle in Tora Bora on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, that battle was instrumental at providing an escape route to the al-Qaeda chief and his lieutenants. And the biggest blame for that actually goes to US intelligence, which relied on unreliable Afghan warlords on the ground who apparently took money, probably from al-Qaeda operatives, and let Osama bin Laden escape. So if anyone should be complaining it should be the Pakistanis, who now have to deal with this country’s mess, basically because many of these people who should have been eliminated in Afghanistan were able to disperse and mostly head for Pakistan. And this is mostly because of the thin American presence in Afghanistan, the poorly secured military presence in that country and of course the poorly secured border.

One of the reasons Secretary Clinton was visiting was to try and improve the US image in Pakistan. How much of an image problem does the US have there?

Quraishi: In this whole debate about America’s image in Pakistan, and people talk of course about how America supported a military dictator [General Pervez Musharraf] and so forth, the reality is that the real grievances pertain to issues that are not really discussed very openly, especially in the American media, and which are not really known about by American public opinion. I’m talking about things like, for example, the fact that the US military and the Afghan army, which is being trained by the US army, suddenly removed all their posts from the Afghan side of the border when Pakistan began its military operation in South Waziristan. This isn’t the figment of anyone’s imagination--it has been verified by people on the ground and was raised by the Pakistani chief with General Stanley McCrystal a couple of weeks back. This story was headline news on major Pakistani news channels and in newspapers, so it’s surprising that so little time has been given over to such grievances, which provide fodder to skeptics in Pakistan who question US motives in Afghanistan. And of course we have a standing complaint that weapons and money that are sustaining terrorists are coming from Afghanistan. And it’s not just the factor of Afghan warlords and drug money and so forth. It’s beyond that. And we feel little time is given to this grievance in the US media. US officials know about it, and often discuss the issue with Pakistani officials, but they never talk about this openly. So I find it very funny when Secretary Clinton comes over here and says ‘you have some questions about our role, and we have some grievances about yours, but we need to reach some common ground.’ Sure. But this entire thing that is going on in the Af-Pak region is a result of US policy. And eight years on, this project is falling apart and isn’t showing any signs of being nearer a conclusion than it was, say, five years ago. So serious questions are arising about why in Pakistan we continue to be part of a project that shows every signs of failing, if it has not already failed.

What would you like to see the US doing differently to improve its image?

Quraishi: Two things. One is that in terms of foreign policy, on its policy on Afghanistan, it needs to take its Pakistani ally along as it moves on. What has happened over the past eight years is that Pakistan was not taken along in US planning on Afghanistan. A government was set up in Kabul that was decidedly full of anti-Pakistan elements, elements that are antagonistic to Pakistan. Now when I say this I don’t mean that the Afghan government should be pro-Paksitan. But they should not be antagonistic. So the United States and the different stakeholders in policy in Afghanistan, including the intelligence community and the military, will have to trust Pakistan and take it along as an ally, and not treat it as someone to be looked upon with suspicion, or to be used for logistical help it needs but to then not trust it on the long-term questions of what kind of government should be in Kabul and whether the Pashtuns need to be isolated from such a government or not. Number two, the United States needs to understand that it is counter productive to try and interfere in the domestic politics of Pakistan. Very few observers in the United States discuss a very interesting thing that they have been doing in Pakistan, which is to try and micromanage that country. The very government we have in Pakistan right now, the elected government in Islamabad, wouldn’t have been in place without a deal that was discussed and tailored and finalized at the US State Department with the active participation of diplomats from the United States and United Kingdom. And, of course, with the full backing of Vice President Cheney at that time. That deal resulted in tailoring the political set up that you currently see in Pakistan, and it dealt with such minute issues as who would be the coalition partner, which parties could work with the United States, and which ones could not. So this kind of micromanagement has really backfired--when the United States was tailoring this kind of deal with Musharraf, the anti-Americanism in Pakistan was not at a level it is at right now. So this tells you something at least about how the micromanagement has backfired and has produced possibly an exaggerated feeling of a threat among the ordinary Pakistani on the street.

As you mentioned, the Pakistani military recently embarked on a major offensive in Waziristan. What do you think the prospects for success are?

Quraishi: There’s no question that a ragtag army of mountain fighters who do not enjoy the full support of the people of the area they are based in--the people of that area are pouring into other parts of Pakistan where temporary camps have been set up for as long as this military operation goes on--that such a militia cannot sustain itself in the face of a large and well-organized army. Of course, when the Pakistan army began the Swat operation in the spring of this year, there was a lot of skepticism--especially when almost 2 million people from that area poured into refugee camps, people were asking how that problem would be dealt with. But now, over 1.5 million people have been restored to their towns and villages in the Swat region, and that region is overwhelmingly secure now. There’s no reason why this can’t be replicated in South Waziristan. It’s a small patch of land. The only uncertainty we really have is over the Afghan side of the border--there aren’t enough Afghan soldiers on that side, and there are no US military or ISAF on the other side. This is a constant problem and we know money and weapons are coming through from that side. The Mehsud terror militia is not sustaining itself from inside Pakistan. I understand that Pakistani officers have had assurances from General McCrystal that he will do what he can with the resources he has in Afghanistan to secure that area and ensure that such movement doesn’t occur backward and forward. But we’ll have to wait and see. At the moment though, the prospects look good.

bath university firetests straw hemp house

BaleHaus@Bath - built of pre-fabricated straw-bale and hemp panels - has fire resistance as good as houses built of conventional building materials according to new research.

Researchers at the University of Bath tested a pre-fabricated panel, as used in the construction of Balehaus@Bath, for fire safety by exposing it to temperatures over 1000°C. To reach the required standard the panel had to withstand the heat for more than 30 minutes. Over two hours later - four times as long as required - the panel had still not failed.

BaleHaus@Bath is part of a major new research project into how these renewable building materials can be used for homes of the future.

The research work on BaleHaus has been funded by Carbon Connections and the Technology Strategy Board. Researchers Dr Katharine Beadle and Christopher Gross, from the University’s BRE Centre in Innovative Construction Materials, will be monitoring the house for a year for its insulating properties, humidity levels, air tightness and sound insulation qualities to assess the performance of straw and hemp as building materials.

The ModCell BaleHaus system consists of prefabricated panels made of a structural timber frame infilled with straw bales or hemp and rendered with a breathable lime-based system. It is the creation of White Design in Bristol and Integral Structural Design in Bath, and was used last year by Kevin McCloud to build an eco-friendly house in six days for the Grand Designs Live exhibition.

ModCell is carbon negative in manufacture. Due to the high insulating properties of the panels, the BaleHaus minimises additional heating requirements reducing heating bills in housing by up to 85 per cent, and CO2 emissions by 60 per cent.

Kevin McCloud will be officially opening the BaleHaus@Bath on 19 November. A film of the opening ceremony will be available on the website.

Professor Pete Walker, Director of the University’s BRE Centre in Innovative Construction Materials said: “Straw is an ideal environmentally-friendly building material because it is renewable and is a by-product of existing farming production.

“Whilst we’ve previously done tests on individual ModCell panels, this is the first time data have been collected from a complete house. We’re hoping this will lead to these renewable materials being used more widely in the building industry for housing in the UK.

“The crop used for the straw can be grown locally, and because it absorbs carbon dioxide as it grows, buildings made from it have a very low carbon footprint.”

Craig White, Director of ModCell, said: “It is unacceptable that 27 per cent of CO2 emissions currently come from the energy we use in our homes, it is just as unacceptable to continue to emit CO2 through the energy we use to make them.

“If we are completely serious about being “carbon free” we need to rethink the design of our buildings on a large scale. The ModCell BaleHaus system is designed to deliver just such a sustainable method of construction. These tests will offer proof that sustainable building materials are a realistic option for building on a large scale.”

Kevin McCloud said: “I welcome the ongoing testing on the Balehaus. I expect the results will show people that we can minimise the use of highly processed materials in building and genuinely make use of such sustainable building materials. It’s vital that we encourage people to recycle, insulate and minimise the use of fossil fuels to keep our buildings warm.”

The project is already being followed by people across the world on the web, where visitors watched the building of the house via “Strawcam”.

The researchers at Bath have already started collecting data from the house, and have been posting online blogs on the progress of the project.

You can watch videos about the research project and the construction of the straw bale panels on the University’s website.

Other industrial partners on the research project are Agrifibre Technologies, Lime Technology, Eurban, the Centre for Window & Cladding Technology, and Willmott Dixon.

Please note the official opening today is by invitation only, however the BaleHaus will be open for staff and students to visit on Wednesday 25th November between 12 and 2 PM.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

canada: mensonges sur la torture en afghanistan

Par Marie Vastel,


OTTAWA - Tous les prisonniers transférés par le Canada aux Afghans en 2006-2007 auraient été torturés, alors que plusieurs d'entre eux étaient fort probablement innocents, a affirmé un diplomate canadien, mercredi, au cours d'un témoignage percutant.

Selon Richard Colvin, en poste en Afghanistan pendant 18 mois à cette époque, les autorités canadiennes n'ont rien voulu entendre lorsqu'il a tenté de tirer la sonnette d'alarme.

Et il est presque impossible que les hauts dirigeants canadiens, tant dans la sphère politique qu'au niveau militaire, n'aient pas été mis au courant de ces informations, a-t-il plaidé.

Car M. Colvin a affirmé que des hauts placés tels que le sous-ministre délégué aux affaires étrangères de l'époque, David Mulroney, l'ex-conseillère nationale du premier ministre pour la sécurité, Margaret Bloodworth, ainsi que l'ancien chef d'état-major, le général Rick Hillier, et le lieutenant-général Michel Gauthier, alors en poste en Afghanistan, étaient au courant des allégations de torture.

M. Colvin faisait état, dans des rapports envoyés en 2006, de problèmes "sérieux" et "alarmants" quant au traitement des détenus.

Mais à l'époque, le premier ministre Stephen Harper et son ministre des Affaires étrangères, Peter MacKay (aujourd'hui à la Défense nationale), ont maintenu pendant des mois qu'ils n'avaient aucune information crédible à cet effet.

Les conservateurs n'ont pas perdu de temps pour tenter de discréditer le témoignage de M. Colvin devant le comité spécial des Communes sur la mission canadienne en Afghanistan.

Le diplomate a expliqué aux membres du comité, lors d'un témoignage qui en a laissé plusieurs bouche bée, qu'un nombre important de ces prisonniers transférés par les Canadiens ont été battus, soumis à des chocs électriques ou agressés sexuellement.

"Pour les interrogateurs à Kandahar, il s'agissait là d'une procédure de routine standard", a-t-il lancé, dénonçant ce qu'il a constaté sur le terrain.

Ces Afghans arrêtés n'avaient pourtant pas de "grande valeur" sur le plan des renseignements secrets. Même si certains pouvaient être des combattants, plusieurs d'entre eux n'étaient que des gens locaux, des fermiers, des paysans, des personnes qui se sont "trouvées à la mauvaise place, au mauvais moment", a souligné M. Colvin.

"En d'autres mots, nous avons détenu et transféré vers un endroit où ils ont subi de la torture sévère beaucoup de gens innocents", a-t-il conclu.

Les forces canadiennes ont d'ailleurs arrêté bien plus d'Afghans que l'ont fait les militaires des autres pays de l'OTAN présents sur le terrain, soit "environ six fois plus que les forces britanniques, et 20 fois plus que les Pays-Bas", a-t-il noté.

Les députés conservateurs ont cependant fait valoir que M. Colvin n'avait pas été lui-même témoin d'actes de torture, plaidant que les prisonniers auraient pu s'infliger eux-mêmes leurs blessures et qu'ils étaient "entraînés à mentir".

Le secrétaire parlementaire du ministre de la Défense, le député Laurie Hawn, a dénoncé les nombreuses "hypothèses" et "allégations" mises de l'avant par le diplomate, tandis que sa collègue Cheryl Gallant a soutenu que son témoignage n'aurait aucun poids devant un tribunal.

"Les juges n'ont jamais de preuves directes, ils ne voient jamais les crimes au moment où ils sont commis", a rétorqué le critique libéral en matière de défense, Ujjal Dosanjh, à sa sortie du comité.

La déclaration de M. Colvin, d'une vingtaine de minutes, était néanmoins incomplète à certains égards, le diplomate ayant notamment avoué qu'il ne savait pas si les détenus qu'il a rencontrés dans une prison afghane avaient été transférés aux autorités par les soldats canadiens. Ses allégations portent pourtant sur ces détenus en particulier, ont argué les conservateurs.

Les partis d'opposition ont par ailleurs été unanimes à reprocher au gouvernement Harper de tenter de camoufler des informations dans ce dossier. Alors que tous bombardent les conservateurs de questions sur ce sujet depuis des semaines, aux Communes, le Nouveau Parti démocratique (NPD) tentera d'ordonner à son tour au gouvernement de s'expliquer, lors d'un point de presse prévu jeudi matin.

Dans son compte-rendu sur le traitement des prisonniers, M. Colvin a d'autre part révélé que la Croix Rouge avait tenté pendant trois mois, en 2006, d'aviser l'armée canadienne en poste à Kandahar de ce qui se déroulait, mais personne "n'a répondu à leurs appels téléphoniques", a-t-il déploré.

M. Colvin a également indiqué qu'on lui avait ordonné de ne mettre aucune information à cet effet sur papier. Peu après, les rapports provenant du terrain des opérations ont commencé à être "censurés", a-t-il précisé.

Quant à savoir si M. MacKay avait eu connaissance des mémos qu'il a rédigés sur le sujet, M. Colvin s'est dit incapable de répondre à la question. Mais à son avis, il est fort possible que l'information ait été étouffée avant même d'atteindre les rangs politiques et le bureau du ministre.

Selon M. Colvin, certains gestes posés par des Canadiens à Kandahar, dont "la complicité à la torture", ont miné les efforts de l'armée canadienne sur le terrain.


Canada ignored Afghan torture allegations: diplomat

19 November 2009 - 04H32

AFP - Canadian troops handed Afghan detainees to local authorities in the knowledge they would be tortured, and later tried to silence critics of the practice, a senior Ottawa diplomat told lawmakers.

"According to our information, the likelihood is that all the Afghans we handed over were tortured," Richard Colvin, former number two at the Canadian embassy in Kabul told a parliamentary committee probing allegations of torture.

He said most of the detainees were not "high-level targets" or even Taliban, but wrongly-detained peasants and farmers.

"In other words, we detained, and handed over for severe torture, a lot of innocent people," he testified.

Colvin also claimed his warnings, first delivered in spring 2006, were ignored by senior military commanders and government officials until prisoner mistreatment allegations were reported in the media a year later.

After that, he said, diplomats were instructed by top members of the foreign affairs department not to keep written records of discussions of torture allegations.

Colvin worked for Canada's Foreign Affairs department in Kandahar in 2006 and was later promoted to second-in-command at the Canadian embassy in Kabul until late 2007.

In both jobs, he visited detainees transferred by Canadian soldiers to Afghan prisons and reported his findings to Ottawa.

The Canadian government, which has thousands of troops in Afghanistan, has denied there is any firm evidence that detainees transferred by its officials were indeed tortured.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

societe generale: "prepare for global collapse"


Société Générale tells clients how to prepare for 'global collapse'

Société Générale has advised clients to be ready for a possible "global economic collapse" over the next two years, mapping a strategy of defensive investments to avoid wealth destruction.

By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

18 Nov 2009

In a report entitled "Worst-case debt scenario", the bank's asset team said state rescue packages over the last year have merely transferred private liabilities onto sagging sovereign shoulders, creating a fresh set of problems.

Overall debt is still far too high in almost all rich economies as a share of GDP (350pc in the US), whether public or private. It must be reduced by the hard slog of "deleveraging", for years.

"As yet, nobody can say with any certainty whether we have in fact escaped the prospect of a global economic collapse," said the 68-page report, headed by asset chief Daniel Fermon. It is an exploration of the dangers, not a forecast.

Under the French bank's "Bear Case" scenario, the dollar would slide further and global equities would retest the March lows. Property prices would tumble again. Oil would fall back to $50 in 2010.

Governments have already shot their fiscal bolts. Even without fresh spending, public debt would explode within two years to 105pc of GDP in the UK, 125pc in the US and the eurozone, and 270pc in Japan. Worldwide state debt would reach $45 trillion, up two-and-a-half times in a decade.

(UK figures look low because debt started from a low base. Mr Ferman said the UK would converge with Europe at 130pc of GDP by 2015 under the bear case).

The underlying debt burden is greater than it was after the Second World War, when nominal levels looked similar. Ageing populations will make it harder to erode debt through growth. "High public debt looks entirely unsustainable in the long run. We have almost reached a point of no return for government debt," it said.

Inflating debt away might be seen by some governments as a lesser of evils.

If so, gold would go "up, and up, and up" as the only safe haven from fiat paper money. Private debt is also crippling. Even if the US savings rate stabilises at 7pc, and all of it is used to pay down debt, it will still take nine years for households to reduce debt/income ratios to the safe levels of the 1980s.

The bank said the current crisis displays "compelling similarities" with Japan during its Lost Decade (or two), with a big difference: Japan was able to stay afloat by exporting into a robust global economy and by letting the yen fall. It is not possible for half the world to pursue this strategy at the same time.

SocGen advises bears to sell the dollar and to "short" cyclical equities such as technology, auto, and travel to avoid being caught in the "inherent deflationary spiral". Emerging markets would not be spared. Paradoxically, they are more leveraged to the US growth than Wall Street itself. Farm commodities would hold up well, led by sugar.

Mr Fermon said junk bonds would lose 31pc of their value in 2010 alone. However, sovereign bonds would "generate turbo-charged returns" mimicking the secular slide in yields seen in Japan as the slump ground on. At one point Japan's 10-year yield dropped to 0.40pc. The Fed would hold down yields by purchasing more bonds. The European Central Bank would do less, for political reasons.

SocGen's case for buying sovereign bonds is controversial. A number of funds doubt whether the Japan scenario will be repeated, not least because Tokyo itself may be on the cusp of a debt compound crisis.

Mr Fermon said his report had electrified clients on both sides of the Atlantic. "Everybody wants to know what the impact will be. A lot of hedge funds and bankers are worried," he said.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

cartoon: pollution tandem

Images ‘Copyleft’ by Carlos Latuff

waziristan: mysterious airlifts of talibans

TTP leaders evacuated by mysterious airlifts

Akhtar Jamal

19 october

Islamabad—Mysterious airlifting of some Taliban elements from areas of Pakistan-Afghanistan border linking Waziristan have been reported by several sources and fears are growing that anti-Pakistan TTP terrorists are also being rescued by their “foreign allies” from across the border.

The unexplained movements of “un-marked” helicopters and aircraft have been reported since last few days along Pak-Afghan border and one source claimed that they were being transported to the Eastern Afghanistan.

Some experts believe that secret allies of friendly-Talibans took the action in order to secure the militants from an assault in South Waziristan by Pakistani Armed Forces while others believe the secret evacuation was part of a larger deal between some Western States and “good Taliban.”

The airlifting and evacuation of TTP leaders from South Waziristan coincided with a report by foreign news media or a similar mysterious evacuation of “militants” from South Afghanistan to North Afghanistan.

An Iranian news site on October 18 reported that “British Army has been relocating Taliban insurgents from southern Afghanistan to the north by providing transportation means.” Quoting diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity, the Iranian site claimed that insurgents are being airlifted from the southern province of Helmand to the north amid increasing violence in the northern parts of the country.

The also claimed that “the aircraft used for the transfer have been identified as British Chinook helicopters.”

The report suggested that the secret operation was being launched under the supervision of Afghan Interior Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar, who “was still operating under the British guidance.”

Last week Afghanistan’s Pajhwok news agency reported that “US ambassador scotched speculation that his country was helping terrorists in the north, saying America had nothing to do with the air-dropping of armed men from helicopters in Samangan, Baghlan and Kunduz provinces.” At an October 11 news conference in Kabul, President Hamid Karzai had himself claimed that “some unidentified helicopters dropped armed men in the northern provinces at night.”

According to Pajhowk news report President Karzai revealed “the government had been receiving evidence of the air-dropping of gunmen from mysterious helicopters in the provinces over the last five months.”

A comprehensive investigation is underway to determine which country the helicopters belong to; why armed men are being infiltrated into the region; and whether increasing insecurity in the north is linked to it.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

afghanistan: a 300 years battle between 2 dynasties


Why we will lose in Afghanistan

What we are hardly ever told about the country is that it has been for 300 years the scene of a bitter civil war, says Christopher Booker
Remnant of an Army
Lady Elizabeth Butler's painting 'The Remnant of an Army' depicts Dr William Brydon, sole survivor of the British retreat from Kabul in 1842

As both Britain and America are plunged into an orgy of tortured introspection over what we are doing in Afghanistan, a further very important factor needs to be fed into the discussion, because it helps to explain not only why we have got into such a tragic mess but also why our armed intervention in that unhappy country is doomed.

What we are hardly ever told about Afghanistan is that it has been for 300 years the scene of a bitter civil war, between two tribal groups of Pashtuns (formerly known as Pathans). On one side are the Durranis – most of the settled population, farmers, traders, the professional middle class. On the other are the Ghilzai, traditionally nomadic, fiercely fundamentalist in religion, whose tribal homelands stretch across into Pakistan as far as Kashmir.

Ever since Afghanistan emerged as an independent nation in 1709, when the Ghilzai kicked out the Persians, its history has been written in the ancient hatred between these two groups. During most of that time, the country has been ruled by Durrani, who in 1775 moved its capital from the Ghilzai stronghold of Kandahar up to Kabul in the north. Nothing has more fired Ghilzai enmity than the many occasions when the Durrani have attempted to impose their rule from Kabul with the aid of "foreigners", either Tajiks from the north or outsiders such as the British, who invaded Afghanistan three times between 1838 and 1919 in a bid to secure the North-west Frontier of their Indian empire against the rebellious Ghilzai.

When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, after years of Durrani rule, it was to support a revolutionary Ghilzai government. But this new foreign presence inspired general Afghan resistance which was why, by the late 1980s, the Americans were supporting the almost entirely Ghilzai-run Taleban and their ally Osama bin Laden. In 1996 the Taleban-Ghilzai got their revenge, imposing their theocratic rule over almost the whole country. In 2001, we invaded to topple the Taleban, again imposing Durrani rule, now under the Durrani President Karzai.

As so often before, the Ghilzai have seen their country hijacked by a Durrani regime, supported by a largely Tajik army and by hated outsiders from the West. One reason why we find it so hard to win "hearts and minds" in Helmand is that we are up against a sullenly resentful population, fired by a timeless hatred and able to call on unlimited support, in men and materiel, from their Ghilzai brothers across the border in Pakistan.

Only in towns such as Sanguin and Garmsir are there islands of Durrani, willing to support the Durrani government in distant Kabul. No sooner have our forces "secured" a village from the Taleban, than their fighters re-emerge from the surrounding countryside to reclaim it for the Ghilzai cause. Without recognising this, and that what the Ghilzai really want is an independent "Pashtunistan" stretching across the border, we shall never properly understand why, like so many foreigners who have become embroiled in Afghanistan before, we have stumbled into a war we can never hope to win.

My colleague Dr Richard North's blog ( sets out this history in much greater detail


Fighting talk

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

As the Afghan conflict continues to exert its bloody effect, we have been exploring further the prospects of success of what is fashionably called a "counterinsurgency" campaign, in which the target is the people, the aim being to protect the people from the insurgents and to convince them to support the government.

Although we have already looked at some of the historical background to the conflict, it seems that its roots stem not from recent history but from events spanning the last 300 years.

From those events, one learns, the main antagonists – the Pashtuns - are not insurgents in the classic sense. They are a separatist movement, seeking to restore the boundaries of their ancient territory, the modern name for which is Pashtunistan, encompassing areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Our problem is that we have not fully understood that, traditionally, the very term Afghan is used to describe the Pashtun, who have a recognisable identity going back as far as 330 BC, if not before. The polyglot ethnic mix which encompasses the modern Afghanistan is a geographical construct rather than a nation.

Within that, though, is another separate and hugely important (and largely unrecognised) dynamic – the rivalry between the Pashtuns themselves, centred around the two main tribal groups, the Durranis and the Ghilzai. The modern history of Afghanistan is largely an account of the battle for power between two great dynasties, with the story effectively starting in 1709 and continuing to the present day.

For some time before 1709, most of what is now known as Afghanistan was occupied by the Persians and it was the chief of the Ghilzai Pashtuns - a man by the name of Mirwais Khan Hotak – with his followers, who rose against them in Kandahar City in 1709, to establish the Hotaki dynasty. This successful uprising established the basis of the modern Afghanistan and, briefly, controlled part of Persia itself.

The Hotaki Ghilzai dynasty, however, was replaced by Ahmad Shah Durrani, who founded a rival regime, the Durrani dynasty. This established a tension between the two groups which exists to this day.

What then followed is equally significant. At the time, the capital of a Pashtun-dominated Afghanistan was Kandahar. After the death of Ahmad Shah in 1773, he was succeeded by his son Timur Shar, a weak and inept ruler. Unable to govern effectively, and opposed by the fractious Ghilzai Pashtuns, in 1775, he moved his seat of government north to Kabul in an attempt to enlist the support of the Tajiks and other northern ethnic groups, better to control his own people.

This then sets the scene for another dynamic which resonates to this day. The traditional capital of Afghanistan is Kandahar, not Kabul. To the Ghilzai, in particular, rule from Kabul is forever associated with a Durrani ruler, using "foreigners" to impose his will.

And, in what is almost a repeat of history, we have Hamid Khazai, a Durrani president, ensconced in Kabul, supported by an Afghan Army composed mainly of Tajiks. To complete the historical parallel, the fighters in the Taleban "insurgency" are primarily Ghilzai tribesmen - led by Mullah Omah, a Hotaki Ghilzai.

Then, as now, Ahmad Shah failed to impose his will over the whole of Afghanistan and, by 1818, his successors controlled little more than Kabul and the surrounding territory within a 100-mile radius. By 1836, the Kandahar region and the Ghilzai heartlands were virtually autonomous.

What then appeared to change the course of history, apparently setting Afghanistan on course to becoming a modern state, was the emergence of another strong man. This was Dost Mohammad Khan, yet another Durrani Pashtun who, after the deposition of the then current ruler, Mahmud Shah Durrani - who had taken the throne in 1809 – had been "awarded" first Ghazni and then Kabul in 1826. He went on to defeat his rival in a battle under the walls of Kandahar in 1834, making him the effective ruler of Afghanistan.

By then, the British had appeared on the scene, with their own colonial ambitions, anxious to thwart Russian ambitions and protect the borders of the English Raj. Initial overtures to Dost Mohammad soured, and when he moved to entertain a relationship with Russia, this triggered the First Anglo-Afghan War.

In 1838, British forces occupied Kabul to depose Dost Mohammad and make him prisoner. However, while the retreat from Kabul and the destruction of the expedition in 1842 is part of the current mythology, on which the legend is built that no Western army can ever subdue Afghanistan, this was by no means the end of the war.

Later in 1842, the British actually launched a punitive expedition. Entering Afghanistan by the Khyber pass, an "army of retribution" under General Pollock marched on Kabul, joined there by 6,000 men from Kandahar destroying the famous covered bazaar of Kabul on 9 October. Three days later, the English withdrew from Afghanistan.

It was that which actually put an end to the war, leaving the UK victorious and the dominant power in the region but one temporarily resolved not to interfere in the internal politics of Afghanistan.

Dost Moḥammad was released and received in triumph at Kabul. He re-established his authority but, in 1846 he renewed his policy of hostility to the British and assumed an expansionist policy encroaching on British Indian territory. Three years later, though, after a series of defeats, he abandoned this policy, returning to Afghanistan where he devoted his energies to extending his control over the whole of this land.

To do so, in 1855, through the Treaty of Peshawar, he concluded an alliance with the British government, each proclaimed respect for each side's territorial integrity, and pledged both sides as friends of each other's friends and enemies of each other's enemies. By 1862, with the aid of the British – including generous subsidies - Dost Moḥammad had defeated a Persian army and had taken Kandahar, dying a year later shortly after capturing Herat. However, unity there was not. The Ghilzai refused to accept Durrani rule and control over the central mountain regions and the east was at best intermittent.

In historical context, this sets up another "folk" memory. Then, as now, we see the British, as a colonial power, supporting a Kabul-based Durrani ruler, attempting to exert control over unwilling Ghazi tribesmen.

This, of course, is by no means the end of the story – which has many more twists and turns, which we will explore in a later post. But, when we view the course of the current conflict, the historical parallels are absolute. Dealing with primitive and largely illiterate tribesmen, isolated from the rest of the world, their oral history is as fresh with each new telling as it ever was.

Whatever our grand aspirations, our intentions and our broader strategic objectives, the Ghilzai Pashtuns are reliving their own history. It should thus come as no surprise that when earnest young coalition officers solemnly tell tribal elders that they are from "the government" – i.e., Kabul – representing a Durrani president supported by Tajik soldiers, the "hearts and minds" message rather gets lost in translation.

It was Reagan, though, who is remembered for his famous quote: "The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help." But the Ghilzai were there before him. And, to them, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help" is not "terrifying". It's fighting talk.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

60 tons of gold bars "salted" with tungsten


further reading and update:

On Doing God’s Work

Thursday, 12 November 2009


By: Rob Kirby

“Gold Finger - A New Take On Operation Grand Slam With A Tungsten Twist”

I’ve already reported on irregular physical gold settlements which occurred in London, England back in the first week of October, 2009. Specifically, these settlements involved the intermediation of at least one Central Bank [The Bank of England] to resolve allocated settlements on behalf of J.P. Morgan and Deutsche Bank – who DID NOT have the gold bullion that they had sold short and were contracted to deliver. At the same time I reported on two other unusual occurrences:

1] - irregularities in the publication of the gold ETF - GLD’s bar list from Sept. 25 – Oct.14 where the length of the bar list went from 1,381 pages to under 200 pages and then back up to 800 or so pages.

2] - reports of 400 oz. “good delivery” bricks of gold found gutted and filled with tungsten within the confines of LBMA approved vaults in Hong Kong.

Why Tungsten?

If anyone were contemplating creating “fake” gold bars, tungsten [at roughly $10 per pound] would be the metal of choice since it has the exact same density as gold making a fake bar salted with tungsten indistinguishable from a solid gold bar by simply weighing it.

Unfortunately, there are now more sordid details to report.

When the news of tungsten “salted” gold bars in Hong Kong first surfaced, many people who I am acquainted with automatically assumed that these bars were manufactured in China – because China is generally viewed as “the knock-off capital of the world”.

Here’s what I now understand really happened:

The amount of “salted tungsten” gold bars in question was allegedly between 5,600 and 5,700 – 400 oz – good delivery bars [roughly 60 metric tonnes].

This was apparently all highly orchestrated by an extremely well financed criminal operation.

Within mere hours of this scam being identified – Chinese officials had many of the perpetrators in custody.

And here’s what the Chinese allegedly uncovered:

Roughly 15 years ago – during the Clinton Administration [think Robert Rubin, Sir Alan Greenspan and Lawrence Summers] – between 1.3 and 1.5 million 400 oz tungsten blanks were allegedly manufactured by a very high-end, sophisticated refiner in the USA [more than 16 Thousand metric tonnes]. Subsequently, 640,000 of these tungsten blanks received their gold plating and WERE shipped to Ft. Knox and remain there to this day. I know folks who have copies of the original shipping docs with dates and exact weights of “tungsten” bars shipped to Ft. Knox.

The balance of this 1.3 million – 1.5 million 400 oz tungsten cache was also plated and then allegedly “sold” into the international market.

Apparently, the global market is literally “stuffed full of 400 oz salted bars”.

Makes one wonder if the Indians were smart enough to assay their 200 tonne haul from the IMF?

A Slow Motion Train Wreck, Years in the Making

An obscure news item originally published in the N.Y. Post [written by Jennifer Anderson] in late Jan. 04 has always ‘stuck in my craw’:

DA investigating NYMEX executive - Manhattan, New York, district attorney's office, Stuart Smith - Melting Pot - Brief Article – Feb. 2, 2004

A top executive at the New York Mercantile Exchange is being investigated by the Manhattan district attorney. Sources close to the exchange said that Stuart Smith, senior vice president of operations at the exchange, was served with a search warrant by the district attorney's office last week. Details of the investigation have not been disclosed, but a NYMEX spokeswoman said it was unrelated to any of the exchange's markets. She declined to comment further other than to say that charges had not been brought. A spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney's office also declined comment.

The offices of the Senior Vice President of Operations - NYMEX – is exactly where you would go to find the records [serial number and smelter of origin] for EVERY GOLD BAR ever PHYSICALLY settled on the exchange. They are required to keep these records. These precise records would show the lineage of all the physical gold settled on the exchange and hence "prove" that the amount of gold in question could not have possibly come from the U.S. mining operations – because the amounts in question coming from U.S. smelters would undoubtedly be vastly bigger than domestic mine production.

We never have found out what happened to poor ole Stuart Smith – after his offices were "raided" – he took administrative leave from the NYMEX and he has never been heard from since. Amazingly [or perhaps not], there never was any follow up on in the media on the original story as well as ZERO developments ever stemming from D.A. Morgenthau’s office who executed the search warrant.

Are we to believe that NYMEX offices were raided, the Sr. V.P. of operations then takes leave - all for nothing?

These revelations should provide a “new filter” through which Rothschild exiting the gold market back in 2004 begins to make a little more sense:

“LONDON, April 14, 2004 (Reuters) - NM Rothschild & Sons Ltd., the London-based unit of investment bank Rothschild [ROT.UL], will withdraw from trading commodities, including gold, in London as it reviews its operations, it said on Wednesday.”

Interestingly, GATA’s Bill Murphy speculated about this back in 2004;

“Why is Rothschild leaving the gold business at this time my colleagues and I conjectured today? Just a guess on my part, but suspect:”



Coincidentally [or perhaps, not?], GLD Began Trading 11/12/2004

In light of what has occurred – regarding the Gold ETF, GLD – after reviewing their prospectus yet again, it becomes pretty clear that GLD was established to purposefully deflect investment dollars away from legitimate gold pursuits and to create a stealth, cesspool / catch-all, slush-fund and a likely destination for many of these “salted tungsten bars” where they would never see the light of day – hidden behind the following legalese “shield” from the law:

Excerpt from the GLD prospectus on page 11:

Gold bars allocated to the Trust in connection with the creation of a Basket may not meet the London Good Delivery Standards and, if a Basket is issued against such gold, the Trust may suffer a loss. Neither the Trustee nor the Custodian independently confirms the fineness of the gold bars allocated to the Trust in connection with the creation of a Basket. The gold bars allocated to the Trust by the Custodian may be different from the reported fineness or weight required by the LBMA’s standards for gold bars delivered in settlement of a gold trade, or the London Good Delivery Standards, the standards required by the Trust. If the Trustee nevertheless issues a Basket against such gold, and if the Custodian fails to satisfy its obligation to credit the Trust the amount of any deficiency, the Trust may suffer a loss.

The Fed Has Already Been Caught Lying

Liberty Coin’s Patrick Heller recently wrote,

Earlier this year, the Gold Anti-Trust Action Committee (GATA), filed a second Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Federal Reserve System for documents from 1990 to date having to do with gold swaps, gold swapped, or proposed gold swaps.

On Aug. 5, The Federal Reserve responded to this FOIA request by adding two more documents to those disclosed to GATA in April 2008 from the earlier FOIA request. These documents totaled 173 pages, many parts of which were redacted (covered up to omit sections of text). The Fed's response also noted that there were 137 pages of documents not disclosed that were alleged to be exempt from disclosure.

GATA appealed this determination on Aug. 20. The appeal asked for more information to substantiate the legitimacy of the claimed exemptions from disclosure and an explanation on why some documents, such as one posted on the Federal Reserve Web site that discusses gold swaps, were not included in the Aug. 5 document release.

In a Sept. 17, 2009, letter on Federal Reserve System letterhead, Federal Reserve governor Kevin M. Warsh completely denied GATA's appeal. The entire text of this letter can be examined at

The first paragraph on the third page is the most revealing. Warsh wrote, "In connection with your appeal, I have confirmed that the information withheld under exemption 4 consists of confidential commercial or financial information relating to the operations of the Federal Reserve Banks that was obtained within the meaning of exemption 4. This includes information relating to swap arrangements with foreign banks on behalf of the Federal Reserve System and is not the type of information that is customarily disclosed to the public. This information was properly withheld from you."

This paragraph will likely be one of the most important news stories of the year.

Though not stated in plain English, this paragraph is an admission that the Fed has in the past and may now be engaged in trading gold swaps. Warsh's letter contradicts previous Fed statements to GATA denying that it ever engaged in gold swaps during the time period between Jan. 1, 1990 and the present.

[Perhaps most importantly], this was GATA's second FOIA request to the Federal Reserve on the issue of gold swaps. The 173 pages of documents received for the 2009 FOIA request all pre-dated the 2007 FOIA request, which means they should have been released in the response to the earlier FOIA request. This establishes a likelihood that the Federal Reserve has failed to adequately search or disclose relevant documents. Further, the Fed response admitted that it had copies of relevant records that originally appeared on the Treasury Department Web site, but failed to include them in its response.

Now that Federal Reserve governor Warsh has admitted that the Fed has lied in the past about the Fed’s involvement with gold. It should now be very clear to everyone why the Fed is lying and the true nature of what they are hiding / withholding.

On Doing God’s Work

An important footnote to consider is the inter-twined-ness of the U.S. Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury [can anyone really tell them apart?] as well as this duopoly’s two principal agents – J.P. Morgan-Chase and Goldman Sachs. When one truly grasps the nature of these highly conflicted relationships it gives a fuller meaning to words recently uttered by Goldman head, Lloyd Blankfein, who claimed,

“I’m doing god’s work”

Does this really mean that Mr. Blankfein believes that the Federal Reserve is god? You can judge for yourself. While the Fed prints money like no one else could - except god almighty himself [or Gideon Gono, perhaps?] – I really doubt that was the intent back in 1864, when the U.S. adopted “In God We Trust” as their official motto.

And that’s my two cents worth for today.

Got [real] physical gold yet?

Rob Kirby

Monday, 9 November 2009

virus may infect your computer with child porn

Viruses Frame PC Owners for Child Porn

Pranksters, Pedophiles Exploit Unsuspecting Computer Users, Leaving Many Defenseless Against Criminal Charges

(AP) Of all the sinister things that Internet viruses do, this might be the worst: They can make you an unsuspecting collector of child pornography.

Heinous pictures and videos can be deposited on computers by viruses - the malicious programs better known for swiping your credit card numbers. In this twist, it's your reputation that's stolen.

Pedophiles can exploit virus-infected PCs to remotely store and view their stash without fear they'll get caught. Pranksters or someone trying to frame you can tap viruses to make it appear that you surf illegal Web sites.

Whatever the motivation, you get child porn on your computer - and might not realize it until police knock at your door.

An Associated Press investigation found cases in which innocent people have been branded as pedophiles after their co-workers or loved ones stumbled upon child porn placed on a PC through a virus. It can cost victims hundreds of thousands of dollars to prove their innocence.

Their situations are complicated by the fact that actual pedophiles often blame viruses - a defense rightfully viewed with skepticism by law enforcement.

"It's an example of the old `dog ate my homework' excuse," says Phil Malone, director of the Cyberlaw Clinic at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society. "The problem is, sometimes the dog does eat your homework."

The AP's investigation included interviewing people who had been found with child porn on their computers. The AP reviewed court records and spoke to prosecutors, police and computer examiners.

One case involved Michael Fiola, a former investigator with the Massachusetts agency that oversees workers' compensation.

In 2007, Fiola's bosses became suspicious after the Internet bill for his state-issued laptop showed that he used 4½ times more data than his colleagues. A technician found child porn in the PC folder that stores images viewed online.

Fiola was fired and charged with possession of child pornography, which carries up to five years in prison. He endured death threats, his car tires were slashed and he was shunned by friends.

Fiola and his wife fought the case, spending $250,000 on legal fees. They liquidated their savings, took a second mortgage and sold their car.

An inspection for his defense revealed the laptop was severely infected. It was programmed to visit as many as 40 child porn sites per minute - an inhuman feat. While Fiola and his wife were out to dinner one night, someone logged on to the computer and porn flowed in for an hour and a half.

Prosecutors performed another test and confirmed the defense findings. The charge was dropped - 11 months after it was filed.

The Fiolas say they have health problems from the stress of the case. They say they've talked to dozens of lawyers but can't get one to sue the state, because of a cap on the amount they can recover.

"It ruined my life, my wife's life and my family's life," he says.

The Massachusetts attorney general's office, which charged Fiola, declined interview requests.

At any moment, about 20 million of the estimated 1 billion Internet-connected PCs worldwide are infected with viruses that could give hackers full control, according to security software maker F-Secure Corp. Computers often get infected when people open e-mail attachments from unknown sources or visit a malicious Web page.

Pedophiles can tap viruses in several ways. The simplest is to force someone else's computer to surf child porn sites, collecting images along the way. Or a computer can be made into a warehouse for pictures and videos that can be viewed remotely when the PC is online.

"They're kind of like locusts that descend on a cornfield: They eat up everything in sight and they move on to the next cornfield," says Eric Goldman, academic director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University. Goldman has represented Web companies that discovered child pornographers were abusing their legitimate services.

But pedophiles need not be involved: Child porn can land on a computer in a sick prank or an attempt to frame the PC's owner.

In the first publicly known cases of individuals being victimized, two men in the United Kingdom were cleared in 2003 after viruses were shown to have been responsible for the child porn on their PCs.

In one case, an infected e-mail or pop-up ad poisoned a defense contractor's PC and downloaded the offensive pictures.

In the other, a virus changed the home page on a man's Web browser to display child porn, a discovery made by his 7-year-old daughter. The man spent more than a week in jail and three months in a halfway house, and lost custody of his daughter.

Chris Watts, a computer examiner in Britain, says he helped clear a hotel manager whose co-workers found child porn on the PC they shared with him.

Watts found that while surfing the Internet for ways to play computer games without paying for them, the manager had visited a site for pirated software. It redirected visitors to child porn sites if they were inactive for a certain period.

In all these cases, the central evidence wasn't in dispute: Pornography was on a computer. But proving how it got there was difficult.

Tami Loehrs, who inspected Fiola's computer, recalls a case in Arizona in which a computer was so "extensively infected" that it would be "virtually impossible" to prove what an indictment alleged: that a 16-year-old who used the PC had uploaded child pornography to a Yahoo group.

Prosecutors dropped the charge and let the boy plead guilty to a separate crime that kept him out of jail, though they say they did it only because of his age and lack of a criminal record.

Many prosecutors say blaming a computer virus for child porn is a new version of an old ploy.

"We call it the SODDI defense: Some Other Dude Did It," says James Anderson, a federal prosecutor in Wyoming.

However, forensic examiners say it would be hard for a pedophile to get away with his crime by using a bogus virus defense.

"I personally would feel more comfortable investing my retirement in the lottery before trying to defend myself with that," says forensics specialist Jeff Fischbach.

Even careful child porn collectors tend to leave incriminating e-mails, DVDs or other clues. Virus defenses are no match for such evidence, says Damon King, trial attorney for the U.S. Justice Department's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section.

But while the virus defense does not appear to be letting real pedophiles out of trouble, there have been cases in which forensic examiners insist that legitimate claims did not get completely aired.

Loehrs points to Ned Solon of Casper, Wyo., who is serving six years for child porn found in a folder used by a file-sharing program on his computer.

Solon admits he used the program to download video games and adult porn - but not child porn. So what could explain that material?

Loehrs testified that Solon's antivirus software wasn't working properly and appeared to have shut off for long stretches, a sign of an infection. She found no evidence the five child porn videos on Solon's computer had been viewed or downloaded fully. The porn was in a folder the file-sharing program labeled as "incomplete" because the downloads were canceled or generated an error.

This defense was curtailed, however, when Loehrs ended her investigation in a dispute with the judge over her fees. Computer exams can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Defendants can ask the courts to pay, but sometimes judges balk at the price. Although Loehrs stopped working for Solon, she argues he is innocent.

"I don't think it was him, I really don't," Loehrs says. "There was too much evidence that it wasn't him."

The prosecution's forensics expert, Randy Huff, maintains that Solon's antivirus software was working properly. And he says he ran other antivirus programs on the computer and didn't find an infection - although security experts say antivirus scans frequently miss things.

"He actually had a very clean computer compared to some of the other cases I do," Huff says.

The jury took two hours to convict Solon.

"Everybody feels they're innocent in prison. Nobody believes me because that's what everybody says," says Solon, whose case is being appealed. "All I know is I did not do it. I never put the stuff on there. I never saw the stuff on there. I can only hope that someday the truth will come out."

But can it? It can be impossible to tell with certainty how a file got onto a PC.

"Computers are not to be trusted," says Jeremiah Grossman, founder of WhiteHat Security Inc. He describes it as "painfully simple" to get a computer to download something the owner doesn't want - whether it's a program that displays ads or one that stores illegal pictures.

It's possible, Grossman says, that more illicit material is waiting to be discovered.

"Just because it's there doesn't mean the person intended for it to be there - whatever it is, child porn included."