Monthly Archives: December 2012

The CIA Drone Program in Yemen: cover up

A rickety Toyota truck packed with 14 people rumbled down a desert road from the town of Radda, which al-Qaeda militants once controlled. Suddenly a missile hurtled from the sky and flipped the vehicle over.  Chaos. Flames. Corpses. Then, a second missile struck.  Within seconds, 11 of the passengers were dead, including a woman and her 7-year-old daughter. A 12-year-old boy also perished that day, and another man later died from his wounds.

The Yemeni government initially said that those killed were al-Qaeda militants and that its Soviet-era jets had carried out the Sept. 2 attack. But tribal leaders and Yemeni officials would later say that it was an American assault and that all the victims were civilians who lived in a village near Radda, in central Yemen. U.S. officials last week acknowledged for the first time that it was an American strike.  “Their bodies were burning,” recalled Sultan Ahmed Mohammed, 27, who was riding on the hood of the truck and flew headfirst into a sandy expanse. “How could this happen? None of us were al-Qaeda.”

More than three months later, the incident offers a window into the Yemeni government’s efforts to conceal Washington’s mistakes and the unintended consequences of civilian deaths in American air assaults. In this case, the deaths have bolstered the popularity of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist network’s Yemen affiliate, which has tried to stage attacks on U.S. soil several times.

Furious tribesmen tried to take the bodies to the gates of the presidential residence, forcing the government into the rare position of withdrawing its assertion that militants had been killed. The apparent target, Yemeni officials and tribal leaders said, was a senior regional al-Qaeda leader, Abdelrauf al-Dahab, who was thought to be in a car traveling on the same road.

U.S. airstrikes have killed numerous civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other parts of the world, and those governments have spoken against the attacks. But in Yemen, the weak government has often tried to hide civilian casualties from the public, fearing repercussions in a nation where hostility toward U.S. policies is widespread. It continues to insist in local media reports that its own aging jets attacked the truck.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has kept silent publicly, neither confirming nor denying any involvement, a standard practice with most U.S. airstrikes in its clandestine counterterrorism fight in this strategic Middle Eastern country.  In response to questions, U.S. officials in Washington, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said it was a Defense Department aircraft, either a drone or a fixed-wing warplane, that fired on the truck. The Pentagon declined to comment on the incident, as did senior U.S. officials in Yemen and senior counterterrorism officials in Washington.

Since the attack, militants in the tribal areas surrounding Radda have gained more recruits and supporters in their war against the Yemeni government and its key backer, the United States. The two survivors and relatives of six victims, interviewed separately and speaking to a Western journalist about the incident for the first time, expressed willingness to support or even fight alongside AQAP, as the al-Qaeda group is known.  “Our entire village is angry at the government and the Americans,” Mohammed said. “If the Americans are responsible, I would have no choice but to sympathize with al-Qaeda because al-Qaeda is fighting America.”…

After Osama bin Laden’s death last year, Yemen emerged as a key battlefield in the Obama administration’s war on Islamist militancy. AQAP members are among those on a clandestine “kill list” created by the administration to hunt down terrorism suspects. It is a lethal campaign, mostly fueled by unmanned drones, but it also includes fixed-wing aircraft and cruise missiles fired from the sea.  This year, there have been at least 38 U.S. airstrikes in Yemen, according to the Long War Journal, a nonprofit Web site that tracks American drone attacks. That is significantly more than in any year since 2009, when President Obama is thought to have ordered the first drone strike.

The Radda attack was one of the deadliest since a U.S. cruise missile strike in December 2009 killed dozens of civilians, including women and children, in the mountainous region of al-  Majala in southern Yemen. After that attack, many tribesmen in that area became radicalized and joined AQAP.,,,

“The government is trying to kill the case,” said Abdul Rahman Berman, the executive director of the National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms, or HOOD, a local human rights group. “The government wants to protect its relations with the U.S.”  After the 2009 strike in al-Majala, the Yemeni government took responsibility for the assault. “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” Saleh told Gen. David H. Petraeus, who was then the head of U.S. Central Command, according to a U.S. Embassy e-mail leaked by the anti-secrecy Web site WikiLeaks…

On extremist Web sites and Facebook pages, grisly pictures of the attack’s aftermath, with bodies tossed like rag dolls on the road, have been posted, coupled with condemnations of the government and the United States. In Sabool and Radda, youths have vowed to join al-Qaeda to fight the United States.

Excerpts, Sudarsan Raghavan,When U.S. drones kill civilians, Yemen’s government tries to conceal it, Washington Post, Dec. 24, 2012

The CIA Drone Program and Right to Information

A London court  has ruled against examining intelligence-sharing by [Government Communications Headquarters] GCHQ  that leads to CIA drone strikes, claiming it would ‘imperil relations’ with the US.   The case was brought by Noor Khan, a Pakistani national whose father was killed in a drone strike in March 2011. The strike, which killed over 40 people, mostly civilians who had gathered to resolve a mining dispute, is one of the bloodiest on record. Khan has also launched court action against drone strikes in Pakistan. His UK case was supported by legal charity Reprieve and solicitors Leigh Day & Co.

Khan’s lawyers argued that in cases where the UK shared intelligence with the US security services on the location of suspects, knowing that this may be used to kill them with drone strikes, the GCHQ agents responsible may be committing crimes including accessory to murder. The case was an application for a judicial review of the UK’s intelligence-sharing policy in cases where the information might lead to drone strikes.  But Lord Justice Moses and Mr Justice Simon yesterday rejected the application.  ‘It is plain, from the nature of the claims, that the purpose of the proceedings in England and in Pakistan is to persuade a court to do what it can to stop further strikes by drones operated by the United States,’ said Lord Justice Moses in his written response.  He cited a legal principle whereby ‘the courts will not sit in judgment on the sovereign acts of a foreign state’; breaking with this principle would ‘imperil relations between the states,’ he added.

In order to decide whether GCHQ agents might be open to prosecution if they shared information with the CIA that was used to target drone strikes, a UK court would have to rule on whether the CIA’s campaign in Waziristan could be considered a formal war, as this would allow the agents to claim combatant immunity.  ‘I reject the suggestion that the argument can be confined to an academic discussion as to the status of the conflict in North Waziristan,’ wrote Lord Justice Moses. ‘The claimant cannot demonstrate that his application will avoid, during the course of the hearing and in the judgment, giving a clear impression that it is the United States’ conduct in North Waziristan which is also on trial.’  ‘

The government has never officially confirmed or denied sharing intelligence for drone attacks, although in 2010, a Sunday Times article quoted ‘insiders’ claiming GCHQ had shared information about the locations of al Qaeda and Taliban commanders in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. GCHQ told the Sunday Times all intelligence sharing was in ‘strict accordance’ with the law.

Noor Khan announced he would appeal the decision. Rosa Curling, of Khan’s solicitors Leigh Day & Co, said: ‘We are disappointed that the court has decided not to engage in this very important issue, leaving our client no option but to appeal the decision. This claim raises very serious questions and issues about the UK’s involvement in the CIA drone attacks in Pakistan. This case seeks to determine the legality of intelligence sharing in relation to GCHQ assistance in CIA drone strikes.’  Kat Craig, legal director of Reprieve, said: ‘By avoiding judicial scrutiny over drone attacks, combined with its ongoing attempts to push through secret courts, this government is showing a disturbing desire to put itself above the law… If the Government is supporting the CIA’s campaign of drone strikes which are illegal, the British public have the right to know.’

Alice K Ross, High court rejects first UK challenge to CIA’s drone campaign, Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Dec. 22, 2012

What Iraq and EU have in Common? Toxic Waste

The Iraqi Ministry of Science and Technology on Thursday (December 20, 2012) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the European Union (EU) to build a $2.6 million landfill for dumping radioactive nuclear waste, according to a ministry statement. During a joint press conference with Iraqi Science and Technology Minister Abdul Karim al-Sammarae, the head of the EU Delegation to Iraq, Ambassador Jana Hybášková, said the memorandum will complete joint activities and programmes that began in 2008.

The grant allocates money to design and prepare a landfill and train Iraqi scientists in the field, she said. Al-Sammarae said the MoU is slated to take effect for a maximum of three years, during which all destroyed nuclear facilities are to be liquidate

EU to build $2.6 million radioactive waste landfill for Iraq, http://www.al-shorfa.com,  Dec, 21, 2012

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More than 40 sites across Iraq are contaminated with high levels or radiation and dioxins, with three decades of war and neglect having left environmental ruin in large parts of the country, an official Iraqi study has found.  Areas in and near Iraq’s largest towns and cities, including Najaf, Basra and ­Falluja, account for around 25% of the contaminated sites, which appear to coincide with communities that have seen increased rates of cancer and birth defects over the past five years. The joint study by the environment, health and science ministries found that scrap metal yards in and around Baghdad and Basra contain high levels of ionising radiation, which is thought to be a legacy of depleted uranium used in munitions during the first Gulf war and since the 2003 invasion.

The environment minister, Narmin Othman, said high levels of dioxins on agricultural lands in southern Iraq, in particular, were increasingly thought to be a key factor in a general decline in the health of people living in the poorest parts of the country.  “If we look at Basra, there are some heavily polluted areas there and there are many factors contributing to it,” ­she told the Guardian. “First, it has been a battlefield for two wars, the Gulf war and the Iran-Iraq war, where many kinds of bombs were used. Also, oil pipelines were bombed and most of the contamination settled in and around Basra. “The soil has ended up in people’s lungs and has been on food that people have eaten. Dioxins have been very high in those areas. All of this has caused systemic problems on a very large scale for both ecology and overall health.”…

Ten of those areas have been classified by Iraq’s nuclear decommissioning body as having high levels of radiation. They include the sites of three former nuclear reactors at the Tuwaitha facility – once the pride of Saddam ­Hussein’s regime on the south-eastern outskirts of Baghdad – as well as former research centres around the capital that were either bombed or dismantled between the two Gulf wars.

Bushra Ali Ahmed, director of the Radiation Protection Centre in Baghdad, said only 80% of Iraq had so far been surveyed. “We have focused so far on the sites that have been contaminated by the wars,” he said. “We have further plans to swab sites that have been destroyed by war.  “A big problem for us is when say a tank has been destroyed and then moved, we are finding a clear radiation trail. It takes a while to decontaminate these sites.”

Scrap sites remain a prime concern. Wastelands of rusting cars and war damage dot Baghdad and other cities between the capital and Basra, offering unchecked access to both children and scavengers.

Othman said Iraq’s environmental degradation is being intensified by an acute drought and water shortage across the country that has seen a 70% decrease in the volume of water flowing through the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.  “We can no longer in good conscience call ourselves the land between the rivers,” she said. “A lot of the water we are getting has first been used by Turkey and Syria for power generation. When it reaches us it is poor quality. That water which is used for agriculture is often contaminated. We are in the midst of an unmatched environmental disaster.”

Excerpts from Martin Chulov, Iraq littered with high levels of nuclear and dioxin contamination, study finds, Guardian, Jan. 22, 2010

Nigeria and the Oil Companies: the ECOWAS Judgment

Amnesty International and Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) have hailed last [Economic Community of West African States] ECOWAS Court of Justice ground-breaking judgment as a “key moment in holding governments and companies to account for pollution.”  In the case, SERAP v. Nigeria, the Court unanimously found the Nigerian government responsible for abuses by oil companies and makes it clear that the government must hold the companies and other perpetrators to account.

The Court also found that Nigeria violated articles 21 (on the right to natural wealth and resources) and 24 (on the right to a general satisfactory environment) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights by failing to protect the Niger Delta and its people from the operations of oil companies that have for many years devastated the region.  According to the Court, the right to food and social life of the people of Niger Delta was violated by destroying their environment, and thus destroying their opportunity to earn a living and enjoy a healthy and adequate standard of living. The Court also said that both the government and the oil companies violate the human and cultural rights of the people in the region.

The Court ruled that the government’s failure to enact effective laws and establish effective institutions to regulate the activities of the companies coupled with its failure to bring perpetrators of pollution “to book” amount to a breach of Nigeria’s international human rights obligations and commitments.  The Court emphasized that “the quality of life of people is determined by the quality of the environment. But the government has failed in its duty to maintain a general satisfactory environment conducive to the development of the Niger Delta region”.

“This judgment confirms the persistent failure of the Nigerian government to properly and effectively punish oil companies that have caused pollution and perpetrated serious human rights abuses, and is an important step towards accountability for government and oil companies that continue to prioritise profit-making over and above the well-being of the people of the region,” said Femi Falana SAN, and Adetokunbo Mumuni for SERAP.  “This is a crucial precedent that vindicates the human right to a healthy environment and affirms the human right of the Nigerian people to live a life free from pollution. It also makes it clear that the government must hold the oil companies to account,” said Michael Bochenek, Director of Law and Policy at Amnesty International.  “The judgment makes it clear that the Nigerian government has failed to prevent the oil companies causing pollution. It is a major step forward in holding the government and oil companies accountable for years of devastation and deprivation.” said Bochenek.

The court affirmed that the government must now move swiftly to fully implement the judgment and restore the dignity and humanity of the people of the region.

“The judgment has also come at a time when oil is being discovered in the majority of the member states of the ECOWAS. It is vital that other states take heed of this judgement, which has laid down minimum standards of operations for government and oil companies involved in the exploitation of oil and gas in the region,” Falana and Mumuni also said.  “The time has come for the Nigerian government to stand up to powerful oil companies that have abused the human rights of the people of the Niger Delta with impunity for decades,” said Bochenek.  “We commend the ECOWAS Court for standing up for the rights and dignity of the people of the Niger Delta. We also acknowledge the important legal contribution of Dr Kolawole Olaniyan of Amnesty International, to the case,” said Falana and Mumuni.

he case was filed against the Federal Government and six oil companies over alleged violation of human rights and associated oil pollution in the Niger Delta. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged: “Violations of the right to an adequate standard of living, including the right to food, to work, to health, to water, to life and human dignity, to a clean and healthy environment; and to economic and social development – as a consequence of: the impact of oil-related pollution and environmental damage on agriculture and fisheries.”  SERAP also alleged “oil spills and waste materials polluting water used for drinking and other domestic purposes; failure to secure the underlying determinants of health, including a healthy environment, and failure to enforce laws and regulations to protect the environment and prevent pollution.”

The Court dismissed the government’s objections that SERAP had no locus standi to institute the case; that the ECOWAS Court had no jurisdiction to entertain it; and that the case was statute-barred. The Court also rejected efforts by the government to exclude a 2009  Amnesty International report on oil pollution from being considered. The report was based on an in-depth investigation into pollution caused by the international oil companies, in particular Shell, and the failure of the government of Nigeria to prevent pollution or sanction the companies.

The suit number ECW/CCJ/APP/08/09 was argued by SERAP counsel, Femi Falana SAN, Adetokunbo Mumuni and Sola Egbeyinka.  The judgment was delivered by a panel of 6 judges: Justice Awa Nana Daboya, Justice Benefeito Mosso Ramos, Justice Hansine Donli, Justice Alfred Benin, Justice Clotilde Medegan and Justice Eliam Potey.

Article 15(4) of the ECOWAS Treaty makes the Judgment of the Court binding on Member States, including Nigeria. Also, Article 19(2) of the 1991 Protocol provides that the decisions of the Court shall be final and immediately enforceable. Furthermore, non-compliance with the judgment of the Court can be sanctioned under Article 24 of the Supplementary Protocol of the ECOWAS Court of Justice, and Article 77 of the ECOWAS Treaty.

SERAP Press Release, December 2012

See also decision of the ECOWAS Community Court on Jurisdiction

The Flight of Gold: what Afghanistan, China and Iran have in common

Packed into hand luggage and tucked into jacket pockets, roughly hewed bars of gold are being flown out of Kabul with increasing regularity, confounding Afghan and American officials who fear money launderers have found a new way to spirit funds from the country.  Most of the gold is being carried on commercial flights destined for Dubai, according to airport security reports and officials. The amounts carried by single couriers are often heavy enough that passengers flying from Kabul to the Persian Gulf emirate would be well advised to heed warnings about the danger of bags falling from overhead compartments. One courier, for instance, carried nearly 60 pounds of gold bars, each about the size of an iPhone, aboard an early morning flight in mid-October, according to an airport security report. The load was worth more than $1.5 million.

The gold is fully declared and legal to fly. Some, if not most, is legitimately being sent by gold dealers seeking to have old and damaged jewelry refashioned into new pieces by skilled craftsmen in the Persian Gulf, said Afghan officials and gold dealers.  But gold dealers in Kabul and current and former Kabul airport officials say there has been a surge in shipments since early summer. The talk of a growing exodus of gold from Afghanistan has been spreading among the business community here, and in recent weeks has caught the attention of Afghan and American officials. The officials are now puzzling over the origin of the gold — very little is mined in Afghanistan, although larger mines are planned — and why so much appears to be heading for Dubai.

“We are investigating it, and if we find this is a way of laundering money, we will intervene,” said Noorullah Delawari, the governor of Afghanistan’s central bank. Yet he acknowledged that there were more questions than answers at this point. “I don’t know where so much gold would come from, unless you can tell me something about it,” he said in an interview. Or, as a European official who tracks the Afghan economy put it, “new mysteries abound” as the war appears to be drawing to a close.

Figuring out what precisely is happening in the Afghan economy remains as confounding as ever. Nearly 90 percent of the financial activity takes place outside formal banks. Written contracts are the exception, receipts are rare and statistics are often unreliable. Money laundering is commonplace, say Western and Afghan officials.  As a result, with the gold, “right now you’re stuck in that situation we usually are: is there something bad going on here or is this just the Afghan way of commerce?” said a senior American official who tracks illicit financial networks.

There is reason to be suspicious: the gold shipments track with the far larger problem of cash smuggling. For years, flights have left Kabul almost every day carrying thick wads of bank notes — dollars, euros, Norwegian kroner, Saudi Arabian riyals and other currencies — stuffed into suitcases, packed into boxes and shrink-wrapped onto pallets. At one point, cash was even being hidden in food trays aboard now-defunct Pamir Airways flights to Dubai.

Last year alone, Afghanistan’s central bank says, roughly $4.5 billion in cash was spirited out through the airport. Efforts to stanch the flow have had limited impact, and concerns about money laundering persist, according to a report released last week by the United States Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.  The unimpeded “bulk cash flows raise the risk of money laundering and bulk cash smuggling — tools often used to finance terrorist, narcotics and other illicit operations,” the report said. The cash, and now the gold, is most often taken to Dubai, where officials are known for asking few questions. Many wealthy Afghans park their money and families in the emirate, and gold dealers say more middle-class Afghans are sending money and gold — seen as a safeguard against economic ruin — to Dubai as talk of a postwar economic collapse grows louder. But given Dubai’s reputation as a haven for laundered money, an Afghan official said that the “obvious suspicion” is that at least some of the apparent growth in gold shipments to Dubai is tied to the myriad illicit activities — opium smuggling, corruption, Taliban taxation schemes — that have come to define Afghanistan’s economy.

There are also indications that Iran could be dipping into the Afghan gold trade. It is already buying up dollars and euros here to circumvent American and European sanctions, and it may be using gold for the same purpose.  Yahya, a dealer in Kabul, said other gold traders were helping Iran buy the precious metal here. Payment was being made in oil or with Iranian rials, which readily circulate in western Afghanistan. The Afghan dealers are then taking it to Dubai, where the gold is sold for dollars. The money is then moved to China, where it was used to buy needed goods or simply funneled back to Iran, said Yahya, who like many Afghans uses a single name.

Excerpt, MATTHEW ROSENBERG, An Afghan Mystery: Why Are Large Shipments of Gold Leaving the Country?, NY Times, Dec. 15, 2012

Another War to Save the Rhino

Retired SA Army Major General Johan Jooste was this week unveiled as the man who will be in overall command of the Kruger national park’s (located in South Africa) efforts to for once and all stop rhino poaching.  So far this year 381 rhino have been killed by poachers in Kruger, well over half the national loss of 618.  Jooste… was his usual straightforward self when commenting on the new task.  “I am no messiah. What I am is a proven leader as well as a team player…The battle lines have been drawn and now the team and I are going to work hard to push back poachers.  It is a fact that South Africa as a sovereign country is under attack by armed foreign nationals. This can be seen as a declaration of war. We are going to take the war to these bandits and we aim to win it,” the highly decorated and respected retired two-star general said in Skukuza.  SANParks chief executive Dr David Mabunda who is on record as saying the country was engaged in “a low intensity war” against poachers, said the arrival of Jooste in Kruger was another indication of the high priority the national conservation agency was giving to the scourge of rhino poaching.  “We are fully aware we will never be able to put a ranger behind every rhino. That’s why we are developing modern and innovative ways of protecting rhino against a well-organised onslaught.”

Jooste’s appointment is in line with SANParks multi-pronged approach to rhino poaching including a single operations command. He brings with him experience in military intelligence, border and area protection as well as contemporary knowledge of modern military technology, its use and integration at operational level as well as conservation knowledge.

Kim Helfric, War on rhino poaching intensifies as general joins the fray, The NewAge, Dec. 13, 2012

Why UN is Failing Congo?

The United Nations said it had launched a comprehensive review of its Congo peacekeeping mission, which suffered a severe blow to its image last month after it stood aside and let rebels seize control of a major eastern city.  But U.N. Security Council diplomats and officials said any changes in the U.N.’s largest peacekeeping force would matter little if authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo did not improve their own army, and neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda continued to finance, equip and train rebel groups in mineral-rich eastern Congo.  U.N. officials have defended the U.N. Congo force, MONUSCO, for not preventing the well-equipped M23 rebels from taking the eastern city of Goma last month.  They said any attempt to have done so would have put Goma’s civilian population at risk. But they are painfully aware of the damage to the image of the mission, which U.N. officials say has been quite effective over the years, in Congo and across Africa.  “MONUSCO’s reputation has been severely damaged in the DRC and the region,” a U.N. diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “The U.N. is looking closely at MONUSCO now to consider whether there can be changes.

U.N. peacekeeping spokesman Kieran Dwyer said the United Nations was launching a comprehensive assessment of MONUSCO, and diplomats said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would present the results to the Security Council early next year…

One idea U.N. officials are considering is the creation of an “enforcement wing” of MONUSCO, that would take a more robust approach to dealing with insurgents in eastern Congo, U.N. diplomats and officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity.  “The idea would be to create a wing of MONUSCO that would do more than simply support the FARDC (Congolese army) but could take on more difficult battlefield tasks,” an envoy said.   Details are sketchy, since the review has just begun. But the idea is that the enforcement wing and the international neutral force could deploy along the Rwandan border, possibly with a separate, beefed-up mandate from the rest of MONUSCO, though they would all be part of the same overall mission.  Diplomats said the idea would have to be approved by troop-contributing countries and the Security Council.

A U.N. panel of experts has said M23 rebels are getting money, sophisticated equipment, training and reinforcements from Rwanda, as well as some additional support from Uganda. Analysts, diplomats and U.N. officials say Rwanda and Uganda have been interfering in eastern Congo for many years.  Rwanda and Uganda deny the charges….

It is not the first time Goma residents have felt let down by blue-helmeted U.N. troops. In 2008, the Security Council increased the size the peacekeeping force by 3,000 troops to help Congo’s weak army confront Tutsi rebels in eastern Congo.  At that time, angry displaced people and residents rioted and hurled stones at the peacekeepers, accusing them of failing to protect them from raping and pillaging Tutsi rebels led by renegade General Laurent Nkunda.  Despite recent setbacks sparked by the M23 rebellion and political instability in Congo, U.N. officials and diplomats say MONUSCO has done much good in Congo, which has seen five different peacekeeping forces over the last five decades…One problem in eastern Congo is that the army itself is in shambles. Not only is it widely seen as incapable of providing security in the region, it routinely faces accusations of rape and other atrocities.  Another problem is the weakness of President Joseph Kabila’s government, which has virtually no control over eastern Congo, an area the size of France. U.N. officials have spoken of Rwanda’s de facto annexation of Congo’s eastern provinces.

By Louis Charbonneau, U.N. launches review of Congo force with battered reputation, Reuters, Dec 13 2012

The Battery of Europe – Swiss hydroelectricity is not Green

Swiss energy companies are determined to turn the country into a ‘battery for Europe’. Vast investments are made in big-scale water power projects. But it is not certain they will eventually pay off.  With the decision for a nuclear shutdown, the spotlight in Switzerland and Germany has switched to renewable energy sources. In Germany there’s a massive boost to solar and wind energy production, while Switzerland’s energy companies focus on increasing their storage capacities in the Alps.  About 11 percent of Europe’s electricity flows through Switzerland. The Swiss electricity industry stresses the advantages of the country’s central location in Europe and its topography. On the European energy map, Swiss mountain lakes could function as a huge battery for unsteadily generated renewable energy, and generate high revenues.

Natural and artificial mountain lakes are an essential component of Switzerland’s energy supply. Water power makes up 57 percent of the country’s electricity production. Some of these lakes aren’t just natural water reservoirs though, but serve as basins for pumped-storage hydro power plants (PSPs).  The system is simple and has long been a good business. Throughout the day, cheap, spare electricity is bought on the market and then used to pump water from a lower reservoir to a basin further up the mountain. At times when demand for electricity is high, stored water is released and drives turbines that produce electricity, which can then be sold on the market for a higher price.  Currently, 11 such plants are running in Switzerland with a combined 1400 megawatt capacity. Three other projects are under construction, to increase Swiss pumped-storage capacity to 3500 megawatts by 2017. Two more PSPs are being planned: ‘Grimsel 3′ at the Grimsel Pass in the Bernese Alps and ‘Lago Bianco’ at the Bernina Pass in Grisons.

“The symbiosis between nature and technology has defined the character of this landscape,” writes the Grimsel region’s tourism agency. Ernst Baumberger, press officer at the regional energy company KWO looks at Grimsel through two lenses: while praising the region’s beauty, Baumberger points out that a plenty of precipitation, glaciation, rock as building ground and the immense altitude difference make it ideal for water power use. KWO put its first power plant at Grimsel in operation 80 years ago.  The company recently was licenced to implement its 1.2 billion Swiss francs project ‘KWOplus’, including the construction of a second PSP (‘Grimsel 3′). The plant will have a 660 megawatt capacity, which is about the power of an average Swiss nuclear plant. The plan is controversial, both politically and economically.

“Switzerland doesn’t need any additional PSPs. There’s neither a lack of batteries, nor a grid stability problem,” argues Jürg Buri, managing director of the Swiss Energy Foundation (SES). He says that no country operates as many flexible power stations as Switzerland….Environmental organisations say that mainly cheap electricity from coal and nuclear plants is used for the pumping and that during the process, about a quarter of the energy is lost. Even worse, at windy times, PSPs keep coal and nuclear plants running.  There’s nothing green about pumped-storage hydroelectricity anyway. “If today’s PSPs were supplied with clean energy, that business would be unprofitable,” Buri says. “The revenues of the peak current wouldn’t make up for the purchase price and the energy lost for pumping.”

According to the licence, KWO is obliged to run Grimsel 3 with as much renewable energy as “economically and technically possible.” No fixed share was defined however. KWO’s Baumberger stresses that in the long term, the company’s PSPs should run solely with green electricity. “However, the primary criteria will remain the profitability,” he adds.  While the energy company praises Grimsel 3 as an important contribution to the security of energy supply for the country, Jürg Buri claims that the pumped-storage business further strains transmission lines. “In fact, to run Grimsel 3, even more lines would have to be built, something which people often forget about….

The Swiss Association for Water Management (SWV) views investments in PSPs as risky and their profitability as volatile. At the Bernische Kraftwerke (BKW), which holds half of KWO’s shares and manages electricity trade, the media officer declines to comment on the prospects of pumped-storage hydroelectricity…

In contrast to environmental organisations, KWO’s Baumberger remains optimistic. He stresses that in the light of booming wind and solar energy in Europe, the demand for further storage capacities will grow. “What Switzerland so far offers in terms of energy storage is nothing but a drop in the ocean.”  While opinions on the future of Swiss pumped-storage hydroelectricity differ sharply, one thing seems sure: the industry’s prospects lie in the hands of European, not Swiss politicians and businessmen.

Excerpts from Ray Smith, Swiss Battery May Lose Power, IPS, Dec. 8, 2012

Coerced Transparency: Leaked Climate Change Report

The fifth assessment report (AR5) by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is not due to be published in full until September 2013, was uploaded onto a website called Stop Green Suicide on Thursday and has since been mirrored elsewhere on the internet.  The IPCC, which confirmed the draft is genuine, said in a statement: “The IPCC regrets this unauthorized posting which interferes with the process of assessment and review. We will continue not to comment on the contents of draft reports, as they are works in progress.”

A little-known US-based climate sceptic called Alex Rawls, who had been accepted by the IPCC to be one of the report’s 800 expert reviewers, admitted to leaking the document. In a statement posted online, he sought to justify the leak: “The addition of one single sentence [discussing the influence of cosmic rays on the earth’s climate] demands the release of the whole. That sentence is an astounding bit of honesty, a killing admission that completely undercuts the main premise and the main conclusion of the full report, revealing the fundamental dishonesty of the whole.”  Climate sceptics have heralded the sentence – which they interpret as meaning that cosmic rays could have a greater warming influence on the planet than mankind’s emissions – as “game-changing”.

The isolation by climate sceptics of one sentence in the 14-chapter draft report was described as “completely ridiculous” by one of the report’s lead authors. Prof Steve Sherwood, a director of the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, told ABC Radio in Australia: “You could go and read those paragraphs yourself and the summary of it and see that we conclude exactly the opposite, that this cosmic ray effect that the paragraph is discussing appears to be negligible … It’s a pretty severe case of [cherry-picking], because even the sentence doesn’t say what [climate sceptics] say and certainly if you look at the context, we’re really saying the opposite.”  The leaked draft “summary for policymakers” contains a statement that appears to contradict the climate sceptics’ interpretation.  It says: “There is consistent evidence from observations of a net energy uptake of the earth system due to an imbalance in the energy budget. It is virtually certain that this is caused by human activities, primarily by the increase in CO2 concentrations. There is very high confidence that natural forcing contributes only a small fraction to this imbalance.”  By “virtually certain”, the scientists say they mean they are now 99% sure that man’s emissions are responsible. By comparison, in the IPCC’s last report, published in 2007, the scientists said they had a “very high confidence” – 90% sure – humans were principally responsible for causing the planet to warm.

Richard Betts, a climate scientist at the Met Office Hadley Centre and an AR5 lead author, tweeted that the report is still a draft and could well change: “Worth pointing out that the wording in the leaked IPCC WG1 [working group 1, which examines the “physical science basis” of climate change] draft chapters may still change in the final versions, following review comments.”  Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics and Political Science, said that Rawls appeared to have broken the confidentiality agreement signed by reviewers: “As a registered reviewer of the IPCC report, I condemn the decision by a climate change sceptic to violate the confidentiality of the review process. The review of the IPCC report is being carried out in line with the principles of peer review which operate throughout academic science, including an expectation of high standards of ethical behaviour by reviewers. It is disappointing, if not surprising, that climate change sceptics have been unable to meet these high standards of ethical behaviour.”

The IPCC, which publishes a detailed synthesis of the latest climate science every seven years to help guide policy makers, has experienced leaks before. In 2000, the third assessment report was leaked to the New York Times, while the fourth assessment report was published in 2006 by the US government a year ahead of its official publication.

Prof Bill McGuire, Professor of Geophysical & Climate Hazards at University College London and contributing author on the recent IPCC report on climate change and extreme events, said that sceptics’ reading of the draft was incorrect: “Alex Rawls’ interpretation of what IPCC5 says is quite simply wrong. In fact, while temperatures have been ramping up in recent decades, solar activity has been pretty subdued, so any interaction with cosmic rays is clearly having minimal – if any – effects. IPCC AR5 reiterates what we can be absolutely certain of: that contemporary climate change is not a natural process, but the consequence of human activities.”

Prof Piers Forster, Professor of Climate Change at the University of Leeds, said: “Although this may seem like a ‘leak’, the draft IPCC reports are not kept secret and the review process is open. The rationale in not disseminating the findings until the final version is complete, is to try and iron out all the errors and inconsistencies which might be inadvertently included. Personally, I would be happy if the whole IPCC process were even more open and public, and I think we as scientists need to explore how we can best match the development of measured critical arguments with those of the Twitter generation.”

Landmark climate change report leaked online, Guardian, Dec. 14,2012

CIA Torture Program: the case of El-Masri

Nearly a decade after a German man claimed he was snatched off the street, held in secret and tortured as part of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program — all due to a case of mistaken identity — a panel of international judges said today what Khaled El-Masri has been waiting to hear since 2004: We believe you.  The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) handed down a unanimous verdict siding with El-Masri (pdf of verdict) in his case against the government of Macedonia, which he claimed first played an integral role in his illegal detention and then ignored his pleas to investigate the traumatic ordeal. For his troubles, the ECHR ordered the government of Macedonia to pay El-Masri 60,000 Euros in damages, about $80,000.

“There’s no question 60,000 Euros does not begin to provide compensation for the harm he has suffered,” James Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, which is representing El-Masri, told ABC News today. “That said… for Mr. El-Masri, the most important thing that he was hoping for was to have the European court officially acknowledge what he did and say that what he’s been claiming is in fact true and it was in fact a breach of the law… It’s an extraordinary ruling.”

El-Masri’s dramatic story, as detailed in various court and government documents, began in late 2003 when he was snatched off a bus at a border crossing in Macedonia. Plainclothes Macedonian police officers brought him to a hotel in the capital city of Skopje and held him there under guard for 23 days. In the hotel he was interrogated repeatedly and told to admit he was a member of al Qaeda, according to an account provided by the Open Society Justice Initiative.

The German was then blindfolded and taken to an airport where he said he was met by men he believed to be a secret CIA rendition team. In its ruling today, the EHRC recounted how the CIA men allegedly beat and sodomized El-Masri in an airport facility, treatment that the court said “amounted to torture.” The CIA declined to comment for this report.  El-Masri was then put on a plane and claims that the next thing he knew, he was in Afghanistan, where he would stay for four months under what his lawyers called “inhuman and degrading” conditions.  According to the Initiative, it wasn’t until May 28, 2004 that El-Masri was suddenly removed from his cell, put on another plane and flown to a military base in Albania. “On arrival he was driven in a car for several hours and then let out and told not to look back,” the group says on its website. Albanian authorities soon picked El-Masri up and took him to an airport where he flew back to Frankfurt, Germany.  According to El-Masri’s lawyers, the CIA had finally realized they accidentally picked up the wrong man.

In their decision today, the ECHR said El-Masri’s account was established “beyond reasonable doubt,” in part based on the findings of previous investigations into flight logs and forensic evidence.  Before the EHRC, El-Masri and his supporters had tried to bring his case to trial in several courts, including in the U.S. in 2005. There, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a suit on behalf of El-Masri against George Tenet, then director of the CIA, but the case was dismissed in 2006 after the U.S. government claimed hearing it would jeopardize “state secrets.” The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case in 2007.The same year, a German prosecutor issued an arrest warrant for 13 CIA agents for their alleged role, according to the New York Times, but the agents were never arrested.

In addition to the money Macedonia has been ordered to pay El-Masri, the Open Society Justice Initiative is calling on Macedonia, the U.S. and Germany to offer official apologies to El-Masri and for Germany to ask the U.S. to hand over the officers allegedly involved in the kidnapping so they may see trial.  Goldston said he hoped the ECHR’s ruling could open the door to further investigations into the CIA’s controversial rendition program and “all these kinds of cases where allegations of abuse arise from counter-terrorism practices.”

LEE FERRAN. Court: CIA Tortured German During Botched Rendition, ABC News, Dec. 13, 2012

Afghanistan: 2012 Report of US Department of Defense

From the Executive summary of 2012 Report

During the period of April 1 to September 30, 2012, the Coalition and our Afghan partners blunted the insurgent summer offensive, continued to transition the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) into security lead, pushed violence out of most populated areas, and coalition member nations signed several international agreements to support the long-term stability and security of Afghanistan…

Despite these and other positive trends during the reporting period, the campaign continued to face challenges, including a rise in insider attacks. The rise in insider attacks has the potential to adversely affect the Coalition’s political landscape, but mitigation policies and a collective ISAF-ANSF approach are helping to reduce risks to coalition personnel, and to sustain confidence in the campaign. The cause of and eventual solution to this joint ISAF and ANSF problem will require continuous assessment; it remains clear that the insider threat is both an enemy tactic and has a cultural component. The many mitigation policies recently put in place will require additional time to assess their effects, although the number of insider attacks has dropped off sharply from the peak in August.

The insurgency’s safe havens in Pakistan, the limited institutional capacity of the Afghan  government, and endemic corruption remain the greatest risks to long-term stability and sustainable security in Afghanistan. The Taliban-led insurgency and its al-Qaida affiliates still operate from sanctuaries in Pakistan, however, the insurgency and al-Qaida continue to face U.S. counterterrorism pressure within the safe havens. U.S. relations with Pakistan have begun to improve following the re-opening of Pakistani Ground Lines of Communication (GLOCs), and  there has been nascent improvement with respect to cross-border cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Although the insurgency’s kinetic capabilities have declined from their peak in 2010, the insurgents remain resilient and determined, and will likely attempt to regain lost ground and  influence through continued assassinations, intimidation, high-profile attacks, and the  emplacement of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Widespread corruption continues to limit  the effectiveness and legitimacy of the Afghan government. Despite these challenges, the  Coalition continued to make measured progress toward achieving its strategic goals during the  reporting period.

Excerpt from Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan, (DOD,  Dec. 2012)

The Third X-37B Space Drone

An experimental robotic space plane developed for the Air Force is slated to be launched Tuesday (Dec. 11, 2012) from Cape Canaveral, Fla., fueling an ongoing mystery about its hush-hush payload and overall mission.  Air Force officials offered few details about the mission. They said the unmanned space plane, which resembles a miniature space shuttle, simply provides a way to test technologies in space, such as satellite sensors and other components.

This is the third time that the Air Force will send an X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle into orbit.   The first X-37B was launched in April 2010 and landed 224 days later on a 15,000-foot airstrip at Vandenberg Air Force Base, northwest of Santa Barbara. The second X-37B spent 469 days in space.  The only information the government released was when the space plane was launched and when it returned.

Because of its clandestine nature, some industry analysts say it could be a precursor to an orbiting weapon, capable of dropping bombs or disabling foreign satellites as it circles the globe.  But the Pentagon has repeatedly said the X-37B is simply a “test bed” for other technologies.

The X-37B is about 29 feet long, about the size of a small school bus, with stubby wings that are about 15 feet from tip to tip. It is one-fifth the size of the space shuttle and is powered by unfolding solar panels. It is designed to stay in orbit for 270 days.  The spacecraft was built in tight secrecy by Boeing Co.’s Space and Intelligence Systems unit in Huntington Beach. Engineering work was done at the company’s facilities in Huntington Beach and Seal Beach. Other components were supplied by its satellite-making plant in El Segundo.

Weather permitting, the plane is set to be launched Tuesday atop a 19-story Atlas V rocket, which will lift the spacecraft into orbit inside the nosecone. Once in orbit, the X-37B will emerge for its estimated nine-month journey.

By W.J. Hennigan, Another secretive space drone is set for launch, LA Times, Dec. 11, 2012

Turning Turkey into an Illegal Nuclear Dump: the evidence

Amid growing public concern about the discovery of radioactive waste buried at an abandoned factory in Izmir (Turkey), experts have pointed out to the possibility that there could be other sites with nuclear waste imported illegally into Turkey from foreign companies that operate nuclear plants.Public concerns about radioactive and other toxic waste began after a news report appeared in the Radikal daily last week about the discovery of highly radioactive waste buried at a defunct factory on Akçay Street, the main thoroughfare running through Izmir’s Gaziemir district. The Turkish Atomic Energy Agency (TAEK), which was assigned to test the plant on Tuesday, stated that the radioactive level at the site did not constitute a dangerous situation, but they didn’t address concerns about a radioactive material that might have been brought into Turkey illegally.   The factory, situated on more than 70 acres, used old batteries and scrap lead to produce cast lead until just a few years ago.

In relation to the inspection, a former senior manager of the Izmir factory, speaking on condition of anonymity to Radikal on Thursday, confirmed the fact that the toxic waste of the factory was buried on the site in an effort to save money by not sending the waste for proper disposal. However, he didn’t comment on the possibility of nuclear materials being brought in illegally.  It was also reported that locals, particularly children playing in the vicinity, had access to the plant as the wire fencing around the factory had corroded over time.

Radikal reported that TAEK had examined the site of the factory in 2007. A radioactive substance called europium, an illegally imported element used in nuclear reactor control rods, found on the site is thought to be the source of the radioactivity, a report from TAEK showed.  A nuclear engineer at Okan University, Tolga Yarman said the radioactive element could have entered the country along with other nuclear waste, as it was illegal to keep this substance in Turkey. In fact, other sites where nuclear waste was buried have been discovered. A similar case was reported in 1987 by Professor Ahmet Yüksel Özemre, a former general director of TAEK and Turkey’s first nuclear engineer….”The ministry should have ideal staffing levels to work more closely on the detection of nuclear waste cases by complying with European Union standards, and a control mechanism should be part of this improvement,” said Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning Deputy Undersecretary Mustafa Öztürk.  Professor Öztürk warned about tons of toxic waste which is illegally buried at many other plants in different provinces around Turkey.  “Toxic waste can only be kept on site at a plant for six months provided that plant authorities take the necessary environmental precautions, and the waste should be moved to disposal centers at the end of the period stated by law. However, plants keep running while their waste is buried in the soil without taking any precautions. This is the case for many provinces, including Istanbul, Samsun, Hatay, Kayseri and Mersin,” answered Öztürk to a question about the legal regulations regarding the conservation and disposal of toxic waste.

A similar case was reported in 1987 by Professor Özemre, who received an anonymous tip that 1,150 tons of radioactive waste, which were imported from Germany, had been buried on the site of the Göltas cement factory in Isparta, a province in southwest Turkey. Özemre had also asserted, in a written document and on several television news programs, that a flour factory in Konya had burned 800 tons of toxic waste on its site in order to generate energy.  He further noted that he would not have given credit to this anonymous tip about the nuclear waste cases in Isparta and Konya if he himself had not received a similar proposal from a German firm who offered him 40 million Deutsche Mark in return for burying 4,000 tons of radioactive waste while he served as the director of TAEK. Özemre asserted that when he did not accept the German firm’s proposal, stating that he “would not let Turkey turn into a nuclear landfill,” the firm told him that the toxic waste would be buried in Turkey one way or another.

A research commission was assigned by the Turkish Parliament to check into the claim that illegal nuclear waste was buried around Isparta and had been burned in Konya. The conclusion of the commission, published in the form of general meeting minutes in 1997, showed that the factory sites did not include radioactive elements.

Excerpt, Izmir Factory Scandal Causes Concern Over Nuclear Waste Elsewhere, http://www.haberler.com, Dec. 9, 2012

The Arctic Challenger: ready for Arctic oil spills

Shell Oil has been building and testing equipment designed for the Arctic Ocean in Puget Sound, Seattle, United States.  In September, a key test of underwater oil-spill equipment was a spectacular failure.  It forced the energy giant to postpone drilling into oil-bearing rocks beneath the Arctic Ocean until next summer. Shell and its federal regulators have been tight-lipped about the failed test.  But a freedom-of-information request reveals what happened beneath the surface of Puget Sound.

Before Shell can drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean, it needs to prove to federal officials that it can clean up a massive oil spill there. That proof hinges on a barge being built in Bellingham called the Arctic Challenger.  The barge is only one component of Shell’s plans for handling oil spills off the remote north coast of Alaska. But the Obama Administration won’t let oil drilling get under way until the 36-year-old barge and its brand new oil-spill equipment are in place,  On board the Arctic Challenger is a massive steel “containment dome.” It’s a sort of giant underwater vacuum cleaner. If efforts to cap a blown-out well don’t work, the dome can capture spewing oil and funnel it to a tanker on the surface.

The Arctic Challenger passed several US Coast Guard tests for seaworthiness in September. But it was a different story when its oil-spill containment system was put to the test in 150-foot-deep water near Anacortes, Washington.  The federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement required the test of the oil-spill system.

According to BSEE internal emails obtained by KUOW, the containment dome test was supposed to take about a day. That estimate proved to be wildly optimistic.

•Day 1: The Arctic Challenger’s massive steel dome comes unhooked from some of the winches used to maneuver it underwater. The crew has to recover it and repair it.

•Day 2: A remote-controlled submarine gets tangled in some anchor lines. It takes divers about 24 hours to rescue the submarine.

•Day 5: The test has its worst accident. On that dead-calm Friday night, Mark Fesmire, the head of BSEE’s Alaska office, is on board the Challenger. He’s watching the underwater video feed from the remote-control submarine when, a little after midnight, the video screen suddenly fills with bubbles. The 20-foot-tall containment dome then shoots to the surface. The massive white dome “breached like a whale,” Fesmire e-mails a colleague at BSEE headquarters.

Then the dome sinks more than 120 feet. A safety buoy, basically a giant balloon, catches it before it hits bottom. About 12 hours later, the crew of the Challenger manages to get the dome back to the surface. “As bad as I thought,” Fesmire writes his BSEE colleague. “Basically the top half is crushed like a beer can.”

Representatives of Shell Oil and of BSEE declined to answer questions or allow interviews about the mishaps. In an email, Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh writes:  Our internal investigation determined the Arctic Challenger’s dome was damaged when it descended too quickly due to a faulty electrical connection, which improperly opened a valve. While safety systems ensured it did not hit the bottom, buoyancy chambers were damaged from the sudden pressure change.

Environmental groups say the Arctic Challenger’s multiple problems show that Shell isn’t prepared for an Arctic oil spill.

Excerpt, By John Ryan, Sea Trial Leaves Shell’s Arctic Oil-Spill Gear “Crushed Like A Beer Can”, Kuow.org. Nov. 30, 2012

Who is the Master of Mastercard? credit card blockades

A blockade on WikiLeaks payments processor DataCell by Visa, MasterCard and American Express is unlikely to violate EU competition rules.  MasterCard, Visa and American Express, among others, stopped processing payments for WikiLeaks when it started releasing about 250,000 secret US diplomatic cables in 2010. This made it hard to raise funds, and WikiLeaks has said the blockade resulted in a 95 percent donations reduction, which cost the organisation more than US$50 million.

DataCell, the company that processed WikiLeaks donations until the blockade started, last year filed a complaint with the European Commission, suggesting the blockade is a violation of European competition rules.  The Commission, however, does not think that is the case. “On the basis of the information available, the Commission considers that the complaint does not merit further investigation because it is unlikely that any infringement of EU competition rules could be established,” an official of the European Commission said in an email on Tuesday.

he Commission said it looked at the impact of the blockade on DataCell and at the impact on the markets in which it operates. “It appears that DataCell is not prevented from accepting card payments for its own services or for the benefit of other parties; it is only payments for the benefit of WikiLeaks that DataCell cannot process. It seems unlikely that this would lead to harmful effects to competition and to consumers on the payment services markets concerned,” the official said.  It is unclear when the Commission will issue a final decision. “We never announce that in advance,” the official said.

WikiLeaks’ founder, Julian Assange, was displeased with the news. “These companies should not have the power to impose an economic death penalty,” he said during a news conference that was available via a live video link in Brussels. Assange is in self-imposed political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning related to accusations of committing sexual offenses…

While the European Commission is unlikely to decide the payment blockade against WikiLeaks violates competition laws, the European Parliament last week called for legislation to regulate credit card companies’ ability to refuse service to organizations such as WikiLeaks. The Parliament voted in favor of a text that “considers it to be in the public interest to define objective rules describing the circumstances and procedures under which card payment schemes may unilaterally refuse acceptance.” [see European Parliament resolution of 20 November 2012 on ‘Towards an integrated European market for card, internet and mobile payments’ (2012/2040(INI))

“Visa can set the rules of the market”  The Commission will be asked to consider the text for laws limiting the rights of credit card companies to refuse service.  “The Commission’s assessment to not even investigate is in total opposite direction of the political will,” said Andreas Fink, CEO of DataCell, in an email. Fink read the preliminary report send to him by the Commission.

“It basically sounds like they were hunting for an excuse to not have to investigate it,” he said. The Commission essentially reasoned that one less small player in the market doesn’t change the market mechanics, while the intention of competition rules is to avoid powerful, monopoly-like players like Visa dictating to the market, Fink said…. adding that when Visa ordered service providers to stop DataCell payments to WikiLeaks in Iceland, MasterCard and American Express transactions were automatically canceled as well.  “So Visa can set the rules of the market,” dictating to other credit card companies, Fink said. “This is competition control at its finest,” he said, calling the situation “absurd.”

Credit card blockade of WikiLeaks donations likely to be legal, EU says, Computerworld, UK, Nov. 28, 2012

Surveillance State: how China helps Africa

A Chinese surveillance firm Nanjing Les Information Technology has won a $5 million contract to install an integrated urban surveillance system (IUSS) project in the Kenyan city of Nairobi.  The project is planned to be completed by February 2013, a senior Kenyan official disclosed on Tuesday, according to a Baku-APA report.  Nairobi Metropolitan Minister Jamleck Kamau said the security surveillance equipment is planned to help monitor traffic and thwart potential terrorist attacks in the city.  “The system will enable live streaming of video from different areas of the city as well as record and store video for later viewing,” Kamau reportedly told journalists in Nairobi. “The system is of an open architecture which means it will enable scaling up later and connection of existing and/or any other private entities.”

The minister said the system could even capture speeding vehicles’ number plate details in the Nairobi Central Business District (CBD).  Phase one of the project is expected to be installed at 51 traffic lights and crime spots within the CBD.  Kamau said Nanjing Les Information Technologies won the tender among 27 firms which had applied and returned the forms on the grounds of technical capacity and better pricing ($5 million).

In May this year it was announced that Kenya would soon begin installing close-circuit television cameras across the country, starting with the capital Nairobi, after receiving a $100 million grant from China.  “We are going to start the installation almost immediately,” Prime Minister Raila Odinga told Kenya’s parliament at the time. “And this is going to spread to other cities, Mombasa is next, then Kisumu and other cities.”  He said that Kenya had received a US$100 million grant from China for the project, and that the goal is to stop terrorism and improve security.

Nairobi blames Somali-based al Shabaab militants for cross-border raids and kidnappings that have threatened the country’s multi-million dollar tourism industry. Since Kenya sent troops into Somalia last year, militants have threatened reprisals if Kenyan troops do not withdraw.  “The country is at the moment facing a lot of security challenges arising from the operation in Somalia,” Odinga said. “With Al Shabaab’s capability to wage conventional warfare completely degraded, the militia has resorted to guerrilla tactics. This includes the use of grenades, improvised explosive devices and sporadic shootings to attack business premises, security forces and members of the public.”

Chinese firm receives $5 million Nairobi surveillance contract, DefenceWeb, Nov. 30,2012