Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mail bomb investigators push on with Yemen man hunt

Their first suspect in custody, Yemeni police continued to search for the terrorists believed responsible for mailing a pair of powerful bombs to attack the United States. U.S. and Yemeni officials were increasingly seeing al-Qaida's hand in the failed plot.
Yemeni police arrested a young woman who was a medical student on suspicion of mailing a pair of bombs powerful enough to take down airplanes, officials said Sunday. They also detained her mother.
Investigators were hunting the impoverished Mideast country for more conspirators. U.S. officials included in that group the same bombmaker suspected of designing the explosive for a failed bombing on a Detroit-bound airliner last Christmas.
Authorities were also looking at two language institutions the plotters may have been associated with.
The explosives, addressed to Chicago-area synagogues, were pulled off airplanes in England and the United Arab Emirates early Friday morning, touching off a tense search for other devices. More details emerged Saturday about the plot that exploited security gaps in the worldwide shipping system.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said he believes the explosive device found in central England was intended to detonate on the plane, while British Home Secretary Theresa May said the bomb was powerful enough to take down the aircraft. A U.S. official said the second device found in Dubai was thought to be similarly potent.
But it still wasn't clear whether the bombs, which officials said were wired to cell phones, timers and power supplies, could have been detonated remotely while the planes were in the air, or when the packages were halfway around the world in the U.S. Still, the fact that they made it onto airplanes showed that nearly a decade since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, terrorists continue to probe and find security vulnerabilities.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh told reporters that the United States and United Arab Emirates had provided intelligence that helped identify the woman suspected of mailing the packages.
A Yemeni security official said the young woman was a medical student and that her mother also was detained, but officials pointed to additional suspects believed to have used forged documents and ID cards. One member of Yemen's anti-terrorism unit said the other suspects had been tied to al-Qaida.
Yemeni and U.S. officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation unfolding on three continents.
Al-Qaida's Yemen branch, known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, took credit for the failed bomb last Christmas that used PETN, an industrial explosive that was also in the mail bombs found Friday.
The suspected bombmaker behind the Christmas Day attack, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, is also the prime suspect in the mail bomb plot, several U.S. officials said. Al-Asiri also helped make another PETN device for a failed suicide attempt against a top Saudi counterterrorism official last year. The official survived, but his attacker died in the blast.
The U.S. was already on the lookout for a mail bomb plot after learning terrorists in Yemen were interested in "exploring an operation involving cargo planes," a U.S. counterterrorism official said.
U.S. authorities then acted quickly after receiving a tip "that suspicious packages may be en route to the U.S" - specifically Chicago - the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
Sullivan reported from Washington. Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman and Kimberly Dozier in Washington, Raphael G. Satter in London, Adam Schreck in Dubai and Carla K. Johnson and Karen Hawkins in Chicago contributed to this report.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bill Clinton heads back to Ohio to campaign

Former President Bill Clinton is headed back to Ohio to campaign for the state's endangered Democratic governor and members of Congress.
Clinton's appearances in northeast Ohio and Columbus on Saturday are part of a big weekend push by Democrats. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will campaign in Cleveland on Sunday.
Recent polls have shown Republican former congressman John Kasich (KAY'-sik) with a slim lead over Gov. Ted Strickland. Some surveys put the race about even.
Clinton's swing includes stops in Boardman, near Youngstown; Canton; and Columbus.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Canadians upbeat on personal finances

Canadians’ improving personal finances have snapped a four-month slide in consumer confidence, the Conference Board of Canada reported Thursday.
The board’s confidence index rose 1.5% in October to a reading of 79.7%, despite weakness in three of the four measures that make up the survey. An even reading for the index is 100.
The gain was apparent across the country, with the exception of the Atlantic region.
“The share of respondents expressing a positive view of their current finances increased dramatically in October,” the report said.
When asked if their financial situation had improved over the past six months, 17.5% responded positively, a gain of 4.3 percentage points from September and the highest reading of the year.
The advance comes on the heels of a fall stock market surge that has lifted the TSX composite index by more than 13% since early July.
Those saying their finances had worsened fell by 1.5 percentage points to a reading of 21.7%.
But the weakness in other areas of the poll, based on 2,000 telephone interviews conducted in early October, suggested this months’ gains could be elusive
On the employment front, for instance, “consumers are showing little faith in the recovery in Canada’s labour markets,”the report said.
Only 17.8% of respondents said they expect employment in their communities to rise over the next six months. The number who expect fewer jobs rose to 20.5%, up from 20.1% in September.
Weakness in the labour market cuts into consumer spending, another area where the survey showed potential weakness ahead.
Asked if they thought it was a good time to make a major purchase, only 41% said it was. Those saying it was a bad time to do so rose to 47.9%.
“The balance of opinion on this question has completely reversed since the beginning of the year, when positive responses outweighed negative ones by a significant margin,”the report said.
Consumers’ outlook for future finances could also suggest weaker spending ahead, as only 22.9% said they expect their financial situation to improve in the coming six months. The figure is 1.6 percentage points lower than one month ago and 10.6 percentage points lower than at the start of the year.
Regionally, the Prairies remained the region with the highest level of consumer confidence, rising 3.1 percentage points to a reading of 99.3.
Ontario continues to lag “well behind” other regions, with a gain of 1.4 points to 68.7, the report said.
Quebec rose 1.7 points to 80.8, while British Columbia rose 3.5 points to 83.

FCC fines Verizon Wireless $25M for spurious fees

Federal regulators say Verizon Wireless has agreed to pay a fine of $25 million and at least $52.8 million in refunds to customers who inadvertently racked up data charges on their phones over the last three years.
The Federal Communications Commission says the fine is the largest in its history.
To forestall action by the FCC, Verizon Wireless said earlier this month that it would issue refunds, mostly of $2 to $6, to about 15 million subscribers.
The FCC started asking Verizon Wireless last year about $1.99-a-megabyte data access fees that appeared on the bills of customers who didn't have data plans but who accidentally initiated data or Web access by pressing a button on their phones.

Indonesia tsunami kills 370; toll expected to rise

MENTAWAI ISLANDS, Indonesia (AP) -- Rescuers searching islands ravaged by a tsunami off western Indonesia raised the death toll to 370 Thursday as more corpses were wrapped in body bags or buried by neighbors. Officials said hundreds of missing people may have been swept out to sea.
Elsewhere in Indonesia, the volcano that killed 33 people earlier this week began erupting again, though there were no reports of new injuries or damage. Mourners held a mass burial Thursday during a lull in Mount Merapi's rumblings.
The twin catastrophes struck within 24 hours in different corners of the seismically charged region, severely testing the nation's emergency response network.
Islanders dug graves and slung up tarps to sleep under in one of the areas hardest hit by a 10-foot (three-meter) wave that swept houses off their foundations and deposited the shattered remains in the jungle. Many residents who fled to the hills were refusing to return home for fear the sea might lash out again.
Officials say a multimillion-dollar warning system installed after a monster 2004 quake and tsunami broke down one month ago because it was not being properly maintained. A German official at the project disputed that, saying the system was working but the quake's epicenter was too close to the Mentawai islands for residents to get the warning before the killer wave hit.
Search and rescue teams - kept away for days by stormy seas and bad weather - found roads and beaches with swollen corpses lying on them, according to Harmensyah, head of the West Sumatra provincial disaster management center.
Some wore face masks as they wrapped corpses in black body bags on Pagai Utara, one of the four main islands in the Mentawai chain located between Sumatra and the Indian Ocean.
Agus Zaenal, of the West Sumatra provincial disaster management agency, raised the official toll Thursday to 370, up from 343 earlier in the day. He said 338 people are still missing.
Harmensyah said the teams were losing hope of finding those missing since the wall of water, triggered by a 7.7-magnitute earthquake, crashed into the islands on Monday.
"They believe many, many of the bodies were swept to sea," he said.
In a rare bright spot, an 18-month-old baby was found alive in a clump of trees on Pagai Selatan island on Wednesday. Relief coordinator Hermansyah said a 10-year-old boy found the toddler and that both his parents were dead.
On Pagai Seatandug island, the wave deposited giant chunks of coral and rocks the size of people into the places where homes once stood in Pro Rogat village, one of the hardest-hit areas with 65 dead. Villagers huddled under tarps in the rain and talked about how many who had fled to the hills were too afraid to return home.
Mud and palm fronds covered the body of the village's pastor, 60-year-old Simorangkir. His corpse lay on the ground, partially zipped into a body bag. Police and relatives took turns pushing a shovel through the sodden dirt next to him to create his final resting place.
His grandson, Rio, 28, traveled by boat to Pro Rogat from his home on a nearby island to check on his relatives after the quake. He said he was picking through the wreckage when someone cried out that he had found a body. Rio walked over and saw his grandfather's corpse partially buried under several toppled palm trees.
"Everybody here is so sad," Rio said, as family members prepared to place his grandfather in the grave.
On nearby Pagai Utara island, more than 100 survivors crowded into a makeshift medical center in the main town of Sikakap. Some still wept for lost loved ones as they lay on straw mats or sat on the floor, waiting for medics to treat injuries including broken limbs and cuts.
Fisherman Joni Sageru, 30, recalled being jolted awake by the quake and running outside to hear screams to run to higher ground on his island of Pagai Selaton.
"First, we saw sea water recede far away, then when it returned, it was like a big wall running toward our village," Sageru said. "Suddenly trees, houses and all things in the village were sucked into the sea and nothing was left."
Officials questioned whether the tsunami warning system had functioned properly. The chief of Indonesia's Meteorology and Geophysic Agency, Fauzi, said the special buoys that detect sudden changes in water level broke down last month because of inexperienced operators and poor maintenance.
However, Joern Lauterjung, head of the German-Indonesia Tsunami Early Warning Project for the Potsdam-based GeoForschungs Zentrum, said a warning did go out five minutes after the quake - but the tsunami hit so fast no one was warned in time.
"The early warning system worked very well - it can be verified," he said.
He added that only one sensor of 300 had not been working, and had no effect on the system's operation.
About 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) to the east of the tsunami zone, Mount Merapi in central Java began spewing hot clouds of ash again at around 4:30 p.m. Thursday, according to the Indonesian volcanology agency Subandriyo.
Most residents have been evacuated from the area. It was unclear whether the new activity was a sign of another major blast to come. Tuesday's eruption killed at least 33 people and injured 17, said Agustinus, a doctor at the local health department.
Residents from the hardest-hit villages of Kinahrejo, Ngrangkah, and Kaliadem - which were decimated in Tuesday's blast - crammed into refugee camps. Officials brought surviving cows, buffalo and goats down the mountain so that villagers wouldn't try to go home to check on their livestock.
Thousands attended a mass burial for 26 of the victims six miles (10 kilometers) from the mountain's base. They included family and friends, who wept and hugged one another as bodies were lowered into the grave in rows.
Among the dead was a revered elder who had refused to leave his ceremonial post as caretaker of the mountain's spirits. He was buried in a separate funeral Thursday.

Survey: Nikki Haley's opponent Vincent Sheheen has support of S.C. lawmakers

About 4 in 5 South Carolina lawmakers who responded to a recent survey conducted by The State said Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, should be the state’s next governor.
The blind survey is not scientific. Each of the state’s 170 lawmakers was mailed a questionnaire and provided a self-addressed envelope with which to respond anonymously.
A little less than one-third of lawmakers participated, as 48 members of the General Assembly responded. There was a near equal split among the parties, as 26 Democrats and 21 Republicans participated. One lawmaker responded by declining to identify his party.
Of the 48 lawmakers who participated, 38 said they will cast a ballot for Sheheen in the Nov. 2 general election. That includes seven self-identified House Republicans and a Senate Republican. Ten respondents, all of them House Republicans, said they will vote for Republican Rep. Nikki Haley of Lexington.
The rest of the respondents were Democrats, all of whom said they plan on supporting Sheheen. No Democrats who responded said they planned on voting for Haley.
An issue in the race for governor has been which of the candidates would have a better working relationship with the General Assembly. Outgoing Republican Gov. Mark Sanford and the Republican-controlled General Assembly had a tense eight-year relationship.
Questions have been raised about whether Haley, a Sanford political ally, would maintain a working relationship with the General Assembly. After winning the Republican nomination for governor, Haley sought to assure legislative and business leaders she would not antagonize lawmakers as Sanford did.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Young Mr. Obama

When journalist David Remnick’s book “The Bridge” was released earlier this year, it was – justly – greeted as the Barack Obama biography we had been waiting for, a work that explains the 44th US president and his importance and context. Remnick’s book excelled at placing Obama in the context of African-American history, but was less successful in explaining the new president in terms of the Chicago political scene.
With Young Mr. Obama, Edward McClelland finishes what “The Bridge” started, showing how Obama navigated Chicago political life, which can be as rough as a Blackhawks game. A writer for the Chicago Tribune when the young Obama was a state senator, McClelland is a veteran local reporter, giving him a terrific understanding of the political terrain and state geography.

The book begins with Obama applying to be a community organization on Chicago’s South Side, an unusual, praiseworthy career choice for someone who could have built a much bigger bank account for himself working for a big corporation. Several reporters – and Obama himself – have identified the future president’s experiences as a community organizer as formative to his development. It was an experience that schooled him in the possibilities and limits of grass-roots-oriented social change.
“Young Mr. Obama” skips over Obama’s Harvard years, proceeding to his 1996 election to the Illinois Senate, his ill-fated run for Congress in 2000, and his subsequent, successful US Senate run in 2004.
Among the book’s revelations are Obama’s prospective success as a scholar – professors thought the future president would have been a first-rate academic. The dean of the University of Chicago Law School personally asked Obama to become a full-time scholar.
McClelland also offers an interesting portrait of Obama as professor. “Just don’t go with your gut,” Obama told his minority students. “As a Latino or African-American or an Asian lawyer, you’re going to have issues, but you’re going to have to keep that out of thinking like a lawyer.” The anecdotes taken from the classroom are of interest also because the moderate tone Obama adopted as a professor is so entirely at odds with the right-wing attempts to portray Obama as a radical.
In fact, much of the book implicitly destroys the conservative caricature of Obama as a revolutionary anti-American. This is all the more impressive because McClelland rarely interjects political commentary into the narrative. He simply lets the facts do the talking. Obama’s successor at his community organization project once commented on a book that was critical of capitalism. “Yeah, but, John,” [Obama] retorted, “if you want to be honest about it, where else can you find a system that allows you to do as much as you can do in this country?” In the Illinois Senate, Obama was closer to his white colleagues than his fellow African-Americans, McClelland notes in a telling aside.
Another nugget that derives its strength from McClelland’s political experience is the bravery of Obama’s famous 2002 speech against the Iraq war. Derided by some as easy because the war was unpopular, McClelland points out that Obama was the lone state senator at the rally, which some of his friends had warned him against attending. “As a legislator, he wasn’t expected to have a position on foreign policy,” he writes. “As a Senate candidate, he could hurt himself Downstate by speaking out against what might be a quick, popular war.”
“Young Mr. Obama” is not all flattering, by any means. Obama comes off as ambitious, talented, arrogant, astute, detached, calculating, principled, well-intentioned, and elitist. With a Harvard degree and white grandparents, Obama is not necessarily a natural fit with either the working class or the hard-core black community. He has been known to use people who can be valuable to his career and then abandon them when they are no longer helpful to him.
McClelland’s book is long on reporting and narrative, and short on meditation and analysis – for which readers can be thankful. So many books are too long, with authors incapable of self-editing and eager to be definitive. “Young Mr. Obama” mercifully avoids the inauguration address-like grandiloquence that often surrounds recounting of the 44th president.
The only complaint to be registered about the book is the lack of sourcing. There are important interviews throughout, but it’s not always clear when McClelland is cutting from previously reported stories and when he is getting fresh material.
For the many Americans who remain fascinated with the American president, “Young Mr. Obama” makes for insightful, enlightening reading, a worthy supplement to Remnick’s book and a valuable contribution to the record on the 44th president.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Northampton man, 101, assaulted by gang

Northampton man, 101, assaulted by gang

A 101-year-old man has been injured trying to fend off a group of boys who attacked him.
The man's walking stick was kicked away from him when the boys came up behind him in Spencer Haven, Northampton, on Saturday.
He challenged the boys and was pushed to the floor suffering cuts to his wrist, arm, face and a swollen nose.
The victim has limited sight and poor hearing. Northamptonshire police have asked witnesses to come forward.

Jennifer Mee, "Hiccup Girl," Charged with Murder in Florida

Three years ago Jennifer Mee made headlines as the Tampa, Fla. teen with uncontrollable hiccups. Now the 19-year old is making headlines for murder.

Over the weekend Mee, of St. Petersburg, and two other people were charged with first-degree murder in the death 22-year old Shannon Griffin.
According to the St. Petersburg Police Department, Mee lured Griffin to a home where the two others robbed him and then shot him several times.
Mee and the others reportedly admitted to the crimes during questioning, CBS affiliate WFOR reports.
According to The Associated Press, she is being held without bond.
In 2007, Mee gained national attention as the girl who could not stop hiccupping; she would hiccup up to 50 times a minute for months. She tried home remedies and consulted medical specialists, a hypnotist and an acupuncturist, until the hiccups finally just stopped on their own.
Mee is no longer suffering from the hiccups, police spokesman Mike Puetz said.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Gold Recovers Some Glitter

Gold steadied on Friday after its first weekly decline in nearly three months, with bullion investors keeping an eye on any statements from the G20 meeting.
Gold was more than 3 per cent lower last week, after China's surprised rate rise sent the dollar up 0.7 per cent since Monday.
On Friday, spot gold was up 0.3 per cent at $1,327.65 an ounce, having earlier fallen to a 2-1/2 low at $1,315.09. US gold futures for December delivery settled down 50 cents at $1,325.10.
Gold is now around 4.5 percent below the record high struck at $1,387.10 an ounce on Oct. 14 after the U.S. dollar rose last week for the first time in five weeks.
Although significant action is not widely anticipated, traders are awaiting a forthcoming Fed policy meeting that could result in further quantitative easing.
Good physical demand from traditional bullion-buying centres such as India is strengthening as prices descend.
Dealers in India reported they were continuing to stock up for forthcoming festivals, including the Hindu festival of Diwali, a major gold-buying events, as prices corrected this week.
Copper ended higher on Friday, but snapped a streak of five consecutive weekly gains, as momentum stalled as the dollar steadied and investors sided with caution ahead of the Group of 20 meeting in South Korea.
Copper for December delivery on the COMEX metals division in New York closed marginally up 1.55 cents at $US3.7970 per lb.
Earlier this week, the benchmark December contract rallied to fresh 27-month peak at $US3.88.
On the London Metal Exchange, benchmark copper closed up $US28 at $US8,335 a tonne. On Tuesday, it touched its highest level since July 2008, at $US8,492.
Copper, oil and other growth-linked commodities may benefit this week from the G20's hardened stance towards exchange rates, but anticipation of more U.S. policy easing is likely to remain in the spotlight.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

7 Fans Killed at Kenya Soccer Match

Seven fans died in a stampede on Saturday while trying to enter a stadium where a football match between two of Kenya's most popular teams was being played, the Kenya Red Cross said. 

Six people died when they were run over by the crowd outside Nyayo National Stadium in Nairobi, and one died after being taken to Kenyatta National Hospital, said Red Cross spokesman Titus Mungo'u. 

Jack Oguda, the CEO of the Kenya Premier League, said he did not know why fans couldn't get into the stadium properly because it wasn't full. 

"A gate was broken into by fans forcing their way into the stadium," Oguda said. "Access was limited and they got agitated, and that's why they forced their way in. We'll start an inquiry into the matter to establish why fans could not access the stadium." 

Zedekiah Otieno, the coach of Gor Mahia, which beat the AFC Leopards 1-0 in the game, said: "Management should ensure that gates are open on time to avoid a mad rush to the stadium during games of this magnitude." 

U.K. scholar say: Austen was bad speller

A British researcher says author Jane Austen was bad at spelling and grammar and got a lot of help from her editor.
Kathryn Sutherland, an English professor at Oxford University, examined 1,100 handwritten pages of unpublished works by the writer of Pride and Prejudice, who died in 1817.
She says the manuscripts have plenty of "blots, crossings out, messiness," and that Austen "broke most of the rules for writing good English."
Sutherland said letters from Austen's publisher indicate editor William Gifford was heavily involved in making sense of Austen's scribblings, helping mould the style of her late novels Emma and Persuasion.
The academic says Gifford was not involved in the earlier books — notably Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice.
"In fact, the style in these novels is much closer to Austen's manuscript hand," Sutherland adds.
Sutherland doubts her findings will blot Austen's reputation. It only serves to call into question the claim by Austen's brother Henry that "everything came finished from her pen."
"In reading the manuscripts, it quickly becomes clear that this delicate precision is missing," notes the scholar.
In fact, Austen's unpublished works show she was "even better at writing dialogue and conversation than the edited style of her published novels suggest."
Austen's handwritten manuscripts go online Monday at, the result of a three-year project to digitize the author's unpublished work.

Pentagon Wows -- Pentagon pans new WikiLeaks release, but expects few surprises

WikiLeaks is expected to post imminently some 400,000 classified documents from the Iraq war. The WikiLeaks release could put both US troops and some Iraqis at risk, the Pentagon says.

They add, however, that they are expecting few surprises, making the tricky case that although the leaks could be highly damaging, they offer scant new information.
As WikiLeaks issued a message on Twitter Friday afternoon announcing a news conference Saturday, Pentagon officials warned that the material poses a grave threat to US troops. They urged news organizations not to republish it.
“We deplore Wikileaks for inducing individuals to break the law, leak classified documents, and then cavalierly share that secret information with the world, including our enemies,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Friday.
“We know terrorist organizations have been mining the leaked Afghan documents for information to use against us, and this Iraq leak is four times as large,” Mr. Morrell noted, referring to the July WikiLeaks release of 70,000 documents related to the Afghanistan war.
However, in an August letter, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Afghanistan leak did not reveal any sensitive intelligence sources or methods.
Now, a Pentagon team has finished reviewing the documents that it believes are likely to be posted soon. It had been scanning the material particularly closely for information that could endanger Iraqis who have worked with US forces, said Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan.
“Our concern is mostly with the threat to individuals, the threat to our people and our equipment,” Lapan said. “But in terms of the types of incidents that are captured in these reports, where innocent Iraqis have been killed, where there are allegations of detainee abuse – all of these things have been very well chronicled over time.”
Pentagon officials describe the documents as “ground level” reports between the years 2003 and 2010.
Morrell’s statement decried the inclusion of “significant activities,” or “SIGACT” reports, as they are known in the military – “initial, raw observations by tactical units.” The statement goes on, “They are essentially snapshots of events, both tragic and mundane, and do not tell the whole story.”
He also said, “The period covered by these reports have been well-chronicled in news stories, books and films and the release of these field reports does not bring new understanding to Iraq’s past.”
Among Pentagon officials, there is widespread concern that the release could reopen old wounds. But one minor bit of good news, they said, was that the WikiLeaks release is not expected to include photographs or video.
For now, troops are standing by to notify and work with Iraqis who may named or otherwise identified in the leaks, officials say.
They add that they were not working to redact particularly sensitive material. “The only responsible course of action for Wikileaks at this point is to return the stolen material and expunge it from their websites as soon as possible,” Morrell’s statement said.
Recognizing that the likelihood of this happening is slim, the Pentagon took a fatalistic approach. “Just as with the leaked Afghan documents, we know our enemies will mine this information looking for insights into how we operate, cultivate sources, and react in combat situations,” Morrell wrote in the statement.

Related Links:

Five bombshells from WikiLeaks' Iraq war documents

Secret military documents leaked: Julian Assange: the hacker who created WikiLeaks

The man behind WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, is coming in for both praise and criticism after his classified information clearinghouse published thousands of secret military documents relating to the war in Afghanistan Sunday.
Mr. Assange’s work is much better known than he is. The newest leaks have uncovered evidence about a number of things previously reported but not confirmed, including:

• Numerous incidents of American forces killing innocent Afghan civilians.
• The existence of a secret unit of American special forces tasked with killing or capturing top Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders.
• Worries among US officials that elements of Pakistani intelligence were aiding the Taliban.
However, the documents have also sparked renewed interest in the WikiLeaks founder, whose roots as a computer hacker inform his ethos, which he terms “scientific journalism” – a desire to get to underlying facts by turning to encyclopedic volumes of raw material.
Assange was born in northeast Australia in 1971 and lived a nomadic life in his early years. According to a profile of Assange in a June issue of The New Yorker, he and his mother moved 37 times before he turned 15. With conventional education rendered impossible, Assange self-taught at libraries and learned to program on early PCs.
Programming quickly became hacking once Assange got an Internet connection, and soon he was accessing government networks and bank mainframes. He was arrested in 1991 and charged with more than 30 criminal counts related to his hacking. Facing as many as 10 years in prison, Assange struck a plea deal.
During sentencing, the judge ruled that Assange only had to pay a fine. Assange's hacks were not malicious; they were the harmless result of “inquisitive intelligence,” said the judge.
The same “look/see” mentality that drove Assange’s hacking now drives WikiLeaks. Assange described his organization to The New Yorker as “scientific journalism,” comparing it to biology researchers publishing their data sets along with their papers. In recapping a talk by Assange at London’s Center for Investigative Journalism earlier this month, a reporter for the British newspaper The Guardian cheekily pointed out that “if Assange was producing this article, he would post the rambling hour-and-a-half talk he delivers” instead of quoting from it.
“Journalism should be more like science,” Assange told The Guardian. “As far as possible, facts should be verifiable.”
Though Assange’s most recent, well-known projects have had an antiwar bent – the recent Afghan war leaks, the infamous “collateral murder” video of a US helicopter crew gunning down a group that included two Reuters journalists in Iraq – his site does not appear to have an obvious ideology beyond exposing secrets.
In other projects, Assange published a trove of text messages sent in the US on September 11, 2001, and e-mails from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit, which led many to believe that scientists were suppressing anti-global warming research and results.
Related Links:

Five bombshells from WikiLeaks' Iraq war documents

Thursday, October 21, 2010

S-Saudi arms deal ripples from Iran to Israel

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) - As American and Saudi officials spent months quietly hammering out a wish list for a mammoth sale of American warplanes and other weapons to the oil-rich kingdom, leaders in Iran were busy publicly displaying their advances in missiles, naval craft and air power.
In one memorable bit of political theater, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stood under a cascade of glitter in August to unveil a drone bomber _ dubbed the "ambassador of death" _ that he claimed would keep foes in the region "paralyzed" on their bases.
The response by Washington and its cornerstone Arab ally, Saudi Arabia, moved a step ahead Wednesday. The Obama administration notified Congress of plans to sell as many as 84 new F-15 fighter jets, helicopters and other gear with an estimated $60 billion price tag.
The proposed deal _ one of the biggest single U.S. arms sales _ is clearly aimed at countering Iran's rising military might and efforts to expand its influence.
But it ties together other significant narratives in the region, including an apparent retooling of Israeli policies to tacitly support a stronger, American-armed Saudi Arabia because of common worries about Iran.
It also reinforces the Gulf as the Pentagon's front-line military network against Iran even as the U.S. sandwiches the Islamic republic with troops and bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"In this way, Saudi Arabia does become some sort of buffer between Israel and Iran," said Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a Swedish think tank that tracks arms sales.
Israel has made no diplomatic rumblings over the proposed Saudi deal _ a marked contrast to almost automatic objections decades ago to Pentagon pacts with Arab nations. It's widely seen as an acknowledgment that Israel's worries over Iran and its nuclear program far outweigh any small shifts in the Israel-Arab balance of power.
Israel is moving toward a policy of "pick your fights," said Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv.
"After all," he added, "Saudi Arabia is not such a big threat to us."
And Israel does not come out of the current American arms bazaar empty handed. Earlier this month, it signed a deal to purchase 20 F-35 stealth fighters that could possibly reach Iran undetected by radar. Israel has an option for 75 more.
"This equipment is primarily to give (Israel) a better feeling facing the Iranian threat. It is not related to Israeli-Arab relations," said Inbar. "Ironically, in the current situation, Saudi Arabia is in the same strategic boat as Israel is in facing the Iranian threat."
Besides the new fighters for Saudi Arabia, the U.S. plans to upgrade an additional 70 of the kingdom's existing F-15s. State Department and Pentagon officials told lawmakers the sales also will include 190 helicopters, including Apaches and Black Hawks, as well as an array of missiles, bombs, delivery systems and accessories such as night-vision goggles and radar warning systems.
Congress has 30 days to block the deal, which was first revealed in September but has been in negotiations for months. U.S. officials say they aren't expecting significant opposition.
Iran, meanwhile, has concentrated on its missile arsenal overseen by the powerful Revolutionary Guard. Its solid-fuel Sajjil missile has a reported range of more than 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) _ within range of Israel and all main U.S. bases in the region.
Iran's navy has staged war games in the Gulf and announced major additions to its fleet, including three Iranian-built submarines designed to operate in the Gulf's shallow waters.
It marks the Gulf as a buyer's market for arms, led by the U.S. as the dominant Western military power from Kuwait to Oman. Throughout the Gulf, Washington counts on access to Arab allies' air bases, logistics hubs and the Bahrain headquarters of America's naval powerhouse in the region _ the U.S. 5th Fleet.
A report last month by the U.S. General Accountability Office said Washington approved $22 billion worth of military equipment transfers to the six Gulf Arab states between fiscal 2005 and 2009 through a Pentagon-managed program.
More than half was earmarked for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, including a $6.5 billion deal in 2009 for the UAE to buy the Patriot missile defense system.
The UAE agreement was the largest single arms approval during the five-year period _ but is dwarfed by the proposed Saudi deal.
The researcher Wezeman said Iran is clearly the top perceived threat for the Gulf Arabs, but there are background concerns about Iraq's stability and the unrest in neighboring Yemen that includes Shiite Hawthi rebels and Islamic extremists linked to al-Qaida. The Saudi military was drawn into rare fighting in northern Yemen starting late last year, using airstrikes and artillery to battle a Hawthi rebellion that was spilling across the border.
"Of course it's against Iran. Of course it's against Yemen," said Wezeman. "You can read between the lines ... but there are not any official statements about it."
Wezeman's group issued a report this month that estimates the eight nations ringing the Gulf _ including rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia _ accounted for 10 percent of all conventional weapons imports between 2005-2009.
The appetite was on display earlier this month when envoys from more than 50 U.S. defense and aerospace firms held talks in Abu Dhabi, where they were welcomed by the UAE's minister of foreign trade at an opulent hotel on the shores of the Gulf.
As the American defense budget tightens, the Gulf's deep pockets beckon.
"This is a critical time for our companies abroad as the U.S. defense budget continues to face pressures at home," said a statement from Lawrence Farrell, head of the National Defense Industrial Association based outside Washington.
Jane Kinninmont, a Middle East and Africa specialist at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said concerns over Iran are the primary motivation for the Saudi arms expansion. But she wonders how much the untested Gulf forces rattle Iranian commanders who are almost all veterans of the 1980-88 war with Iraq.
"I would not be surprised if the Iranians are pretty cynical about the armies here," she said during an interview in Dubai. "To put it bluntly, they've fought a war."