Wednesday, December 27, 2006

7.1 quake cuts of Asia's internet

A Boxing Day earthquake caused panic in the Philippines after a tsunami warning was issued. The warnings followed a 7.1 magnitude quake which hit off the coast of Taiwan [22.023°N, 120.539°E] [BBC]. It comes exactly two years after a powerful earthquake triggered a tsunami which killed over 200,000 and displaced millions. This latest earthquake has had a devastating effect on internet communications for millions in Asia [BBC]. Banks and businesses in Taiwan, South Korea, China and Japan reported telephone and internet problems. Taiwan's largest telephone company, Chunghwa Telecom Co, said damage to the undersea cable had disrupted 98% of Taiwan's communications with Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong. Repairs could take three weeks, Vice-General Manager Lin Jen-hung said. Telecommunications companies in Hong Kong, Japan and China also reported problems. China's biggest telecoms provider, China Telecommunications Group, said that communications cables to the US and to Europe had been damaged.
"Internet connections have been seriously affected, and phone links and dedicated business lines have also been affected to some degree," a spokesperson said. Technicians have been scrambled to repair the damage but it will not be soon enough for some. Trading on some financial markets all but halted, but some overcame the reliance of the internet by going back to old fashioned methods. It highlights the reliance that many place both on technology and the internet.

It is not the first time the cables between the US and China have been damaged. In 2001 the cable was damaged and it took weeks to repair [BBC]. At the time millions in China were said to have been cut off from the World Wide Web, and other parts of Asia were reporting reduced speeds and difficult access to international sites. The cable which was affected stretches under the Pacific Ocean from Shanghai, China, to the United States. China Telecom said at the time they were “sparing no effort” to get China reconnected but the cable took weeks to repair. It was not the only connection to the outside world, but was said to carry the most traffic.
As parts of Asia were clearing up following Tuesday’s earthquake, a small town in the north of Britain was coming to terms with an earthquake. The 3.5 magnitude tremor hit near a town called Dumfries [55.10º N / 3.64º W] at 10:40 GMT, a little under two hours before the Taiwan quake [BBC Scotland]. There were no reported injuries or damage. The British Geological Survey reported several witness as saying, “people came out into the street”, “we felt one big bump”, “a tremendous crack and rumble” and “the whole house shook”.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Spy saga - Scaramella faces arms charges

Mario Scaramella, the friend of Alexander Litvinenko who died in November following radiation poisoning, has been arrested in Italy. The charges relate to arms smuggling and there is no suggestion he was involved in Mr Litvinenko’s death, but it adds a further twist to an already complex saga. British detectives who have been in Moscow are said to have completed their investigation in the country but there has been little news coverage of any new developments made in the case [BBC].
The BBC reported on the 16th of December that Litvinenko may have been killed over a dossier of information he held on powerful Kremlin officials. This came shortly after Marina Litvinenko, the former spy’s wife, accused the Kremlin of ordering her husband’s assassination [BBC].
The continuing investigation and search for radioactive traces of Polonium have revealed traces in a number of locations in Germany. These were said to be places where Dmitry Kovtun had visited following his meeting with Litvinenko in London. He himself is being treated at a Moscow hospital for radiation poisoning. Kovtun, a business associate of Andei Lugovoi, another ex-KGB officer, has denied any involvement in Litvinenko’s death. Lugovoi has also denied involvement in Mr Litvinenko’s death, but has not been talked to by UK detectives. Another man who also met with Litvinenko, Vyacheslav Sokolenko, also denies any involvement in the poisoning. Meanwhile, it has emerged that seven bar staff who were working at the Millennium Hotel's Pine Bar on 1 November have tested positive for low levels of polonium-210 [BBC]

Friday, December 22, 2006

Man charged in 'Suffolk Ripper' case

Police remove items from Tom Stephens' house

A man has been charged with the murder of 5 prostitutes in Suffolk, England. It marks the climax of nearly two weeks of saturation news coverage.

Steve Wright, 48, from Ipswich, appeared at an Ipswich court surrounded by a media frenzy. He is charged with the murder of Gemma Adams, 25, Tania Nicol, 19, Anneli Alderton, 24, Paula Clennell, 24, and Annette Nicholls, 29.

All were killed in a 14 day period during early December. The media has been heavily criticized for their sensationalist coverage especially since the arrest of two men, Tom Stephens and Steven Wright earlier this week.

Tabloid newspapers in the UK have been particularly sensational with headlines such as "He begged me for sex... 4 hours later he was arrested" [Mirror 19/12/2006]. The arrest and charging of Steven Wright will now inhibit the details which news media are allowed to broadcast. But the saturation coverage is set to continue for sometime.

Meanwhile police have released Tom Stephens on bail. But he is unlikely to return home where police maintain a presence and where a tent remains in place in front of the property.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Man 'escaped UK wearing a veil'

Mustaf Jamma and how he may have looked in a niqab

In what looks set to increase the ‘veil debate’, a man is reported to have ‘slipped through customs’ whilst dressed in a niqab. Mustaf Jamma, a suspect wanted in connection with the murder of police officer Sharon Beshenivsky, is said to have evaded authorities and returned to his native Somalia last December [BBC]. The Home Office has said the claims, made in several newspapers, were unlikely to be true, and that immigration officers had powers to make checks. The reports claim that Mr Jamma had used his sister’s passport in order to pass through airport security. Immigration Minister Liam Byrne told BBC Radio 4’s World at One that it was “standard practice" for immigration officers to ask woman to lift their veils. But on a recent return from China, tvnewswatch has observed a fully veiled woman enter the UK without such checks. This was at the height of the ‘veil debate’ which had dominated the UK news media in October of this year.

Bush may step up troops in Iraq

President Bush has addressed the American people and asserted his determination to continue his effort in defeating terrorism and to step up efforts in Iraq to advance a ‘unity government’. During his address he said, “We’re going to win” but acknowledged the “situation is tough”. He said, “I want our troops to understand that we support them, and what I want our enemies to understand is we’re not going to cut and run“. One of the options he suggested, in his continued War on Terror, was for more troops to be sent to Iraq. “Victory in Iraq is achievable and is taking longer than I’d have hoped” but retreat from Iraq would not be beneficial to America. “The most painful time in my Presidency is the reading of the losses of American troops in Iraq,” he said, “My heart breaks for them on a regular basis.” The President also urged for increased development of alternative and environmental energy sources. He particularly stressed the importance of electricity developed from nuclear technology. He said that trading technology with countries such as India was important. But when it came to a question on Iran, and its continuing nuclear program, he said, “The Iranians must suspend their enrichment program.” He also singled out Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as being a backward looking President, and added, “My message to the Iranian people is you can do better.” He also attacked other counties in the region. “To Syria the message is the same.” He said that Syria ought to “stop Saddamists sending arms and money to Iraq.” Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has been particularly criticized recently for having denied the Holocaust []. He has been quoted many times as saying Israel should be “wiped off the map”. But Ahmadinejad’s questioning of the truth of the Holocaust has enraged many throughout the world. He said in letter to German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, that the allied powers invented the Holocaust to ‘embarrass’ Germany. In the letter, sent in July 2006, he said, “Is it not a reasonable possibility that some countries that had won the war made up this excuse to constantly embarrass the defeated people ... to bar their progress." It is not the first time he has raised issue of the veracity of the truth behind the Holocaust which killed millions of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, political enemies, communists, artists and others. A year ago he was quoted as saying, "Some European countries insist on saying that Hitler killed millions of innocent Jews in furnaces. . . Although we don't accept this claim, if we suppose it is true. . . .The Europeans should give some of their provinces in Europe to the Zionists and the Zionists can establish their state in Europe." And in June this year, at a conference in Shanghai, China, he called for an investigation to establish the truth of the Holocaust. "An event that has influenced so many diplomatic and political equations of the world needs to be investigated and researched by impartial and independent groups," he said. But there have been some unlikely attendees to a recent conference in the Iranian capital [BBC]. Neturei Karta (Guardians of the City), a Hasidic sect of a few thousand people which views Zionism [the movement to establish a Jewish national home or state in what was Palestine] as a "poison" threatening "true Jews". Meanwhile, Palestine has seen a resurgence of violence in recent weeks. Fighting in the region has exacerbated between Fatah and Hamas [BBC] and Israel has also continued to launch attacks on Gaza. This has provoked criticism over a number of incidents in which civilians have been killed. Israel has also come into the spotlight over its believed possession of nuclear weapons. In an interview with a German TV station, the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, made a slip in which he appeared to confirm Israel’s possession of such weapons [BBC]. During a debate in which he criticized Iran’s perceived development of nuclear weapons, he said, “Can you say that this is the same level, when they [Iran] are aspiring to have nuclear weapons, as America, France, Israel, Russia?". Since then, there has been much debate over what might be drawn from his comments [BBC]. Into all this turmoil, Prime Minister Tony Blair arrived at the weekend in attempt to bring all sides together [BBC]. But his talks with Abbas and Olmert, appear to have produced few results. Many UK papers are dismissive of his efforts. The Financial Times described his latest visit to the region as a “last roll of the dice”, whilst the Guardian said, “neither Iraq nor the conflict between Israel and Palestine are close to resolution and Mr Blair may not bring it any closer.” Mr Bush ended his 50 minute news conference with a goodwill wish. “Happy Holidays”, he said. Not so happy if one lives in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine, to name just a few unhappy regions of the world.

Friday, December 15, 2006

BAE inquiry is dropped - PM defends decision

The Al Yamamah deal hangs in the balance

The British Prime Minister has been fending off criticism from many fronts this week. Yesterday it emerged he had been questioned by police for nearly two hours in connection with the so called ‘cash for honours’ inquiry. The PM was not under caution during the interview and a solicitor was not present, but the very fact that he was questioned at all, will fuel further criticism of the leader [BBC]. The timing of the interview and the release to the press, has also been the subject of criticism. Some commentators have said the release of the story to the media, coinciding with the release of the Diana inquiry report, was an attempt to bury bad news. It is not the first time the current Labour government has been accused of manipulating or attempting to manipulate the news. In 2001, Jo Moore, the then special adviser to the Transport Secretary Stephen Byers, had put about a memo that read “It is now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury. Councillors' expenses?" This on the day of America’s worst terrorist attack, 9/11. She subsequently resigned following an outcry in the media. There exists only speculation surrounding the timing of yesterday’s news, and the Prime Minister’s spokesman has denied any plan to bury the event of Mr Blair’s interview. He emphasized that there was no deliberate plan to "bury bad news" by holding the interview on the same day Lord Stevens released his report into the death of Princess Diana. "Categorically there was no linkage to other events," he said. But it is understood Mr Blair chose the day of the interview.
Today the Prime Minister was under further scrutiny after pulling the plug on an investigation into a Saudi arms deal [BBC]. The inquiry was halted on the grounds of ‘national security’. Mr Blair said today that to pursue the inquiry would create ‘ill feeling’ between a key ally in the War on Terror. Details of the corruption in the £6 billion arms deal may never emerge, but it is one more murky chapter in 20 years of trading with the Saudi kingdom [BBC]. In the decade following 1986, the UK government has sold the Saudis more than £50 billion in Tornados and Hawks. During the first Gulf war Saudi jets flew alongside British Tornados on missions into Iraq, a sign of the special relationship between the two countries. But in 2004 the Guardian newspaper alleged that BAE Systems had won the deal with the aid of a secret slush fund. It claimed that Ministry of Defence police were investigating payments totalling £60m made during the course of the Al Yamamah deal by BAE Systems. By November of the same year BAE Systems confirmed it was being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), but the company strenuously denied any wrongdoing. Within a year a provisional deal had been made to sell the Saudis 72 Eurofighter jets to the tune of £6 billion. But by December this year, talks between BAE and the Saudis were said to have ‘slowed down’ following a proposed deal from French aircraft manufacturer Dassault. In this deal Dassault had offered to sell Rafale jets, but the details of the deal are not yet clear [BBC], but it is believed up to 36 aircraft maybe involved. Following the decision to drop the inquiry into BAE a statement from the company said: "After over two years of what has been a thorough investigation by the SFO, we welcome the statement made yesterday by the attorney general in the House of Lords." It is not yet clear whether the Eurofighter deal is still on the table, but shares in the company rose 6% after the announcement to £4.20.25.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Diana report - crash was a "tragic accident"

The report into the accident which killed Lady Diana was released today. Sky News broadcast the findings LIVE. As they showed Lord Steven’s findings in one screen, a split screen showed a continuing operation in Suffolk where police are examining the bodies of a number of murdered prostitutes. The BBC News 24, which also broadcast the findings LIVE, devoted the entire screen to the Diana report. CNN also gave substantial LIVE coverage. France 24 and Al Jazeera did not cover the report findings LIVE, but France 24 did report on the report’s release on its website.
The report in itself has revealed nothing new. Allegations of a cover up and murder allegations were dismissed by the report. The primary cause of the crash was blamed on excessive speed and a result of the chauffeur Henri Paul not being in proper control of the vehicle. The report established that 1.7 g per litre of alcohol was in Henri Paul’s blood. This was three times the French drink-drive limit, twice the UK drink-drive limit.
The report which took three years to compile, and is over 800 pages in length, established that there was no conspiracy and that the crash was “merely a tragic accident.” The issues as to whether Diana had proposed to marry Dodi Fayed, or was pregnant, were both dismissed. There was evidence of a collision between the Mercedes and a white Fiat Uno but the report did not intimate this as being the cause of the accident. The car has never been found.
Mohammed Al Fayed, Dodi’s father, has said he would not accept the findings of the report. He continues to insist that Diana was killed by agents belonging to the British secret services. The report took up many of the issues surrounding the conspiracy theories. The Stevens’ report established such allegations were unfounded. “There will be a number of people who will not accept what we’re saying” Lord Stevens said, but he urged them to read the report in its entirety.
Speaking on BBC News 24, Martin Gregory who wrote “The Last Days of Diana” said he agreed with the findings. Dickie Arbiter, a former Royal Press Secretary, speaking on Sky News, echoed Steven’s request that those who were sceptical read the report in full. He said that Henri Paul was “well over the drink drive limit” and “should not have been driving that car”.
David Cohen, an author, told Sky News he was not satisfied. He posed the question as to whether Lord Stevens had dealt with a New Zealand expert’s evidence regards the blood testing of Henri Paul’s blood. He said Dr Sprott OBE had taken issue with methods employed in analysing samples of the blood of the chauffer []. Dr Jim Sprott is known for his outspoken views on the cause of cot death []. Cohen, who wrote ‘Diana: Death of a Goddess’, also took issue with the speed of the vehicle as it entered L’Alma tunnel. He pointed out that the French investigation had showed the car as travelling significantly higher than the Stevens’ report had established. This, he said, showed a lack of competence in the investigative procedure. The report will no doubt spawn a proliferation of yet more books about this iconic woman and her tragic demise. There are dozens of books surrounding the tragic events of the 31st August 1997 [The Age] and this new report will only fuel further literary enterprises. Unlike the US authorities who make such reports readily available though booksellers, the UK does not. If it were, it may too enter into the list of bestsellers. In the US both The 9/11 Commission Report and the recently released Iraq Study Group Report entered the best seller list. The 9/11 Commission report sold more than 1 million copies and was nominated for a National Book Award. It was published by W.W. Norton & Co. The Iraq Study Group Report is currently number 2 on the Barnes & Noble and websites [CNN]. The report into the death of Diana, otherwise known as the Operation Paget Report is available for free online via the Metropolitan Police website [PDF file]. Some media organisations did however provide the document via their respective websites, but many omitted a map of the Ritz hotel in Place Vendome, Paris.

Full report in PDF format - source: Sky / source: BBC]

Monday, December 11, 2006

Pinochet death sparks riots in Chile

Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte - 1915~2006

Chile’s former dictator, Augusto Pinochet, died this weekend triggering violence on the streets of Santiago and saturation coverage on many news channels [CNN]. More than 6,000 demonstrators gathered to celebrate the dictators death, breaking open bottles of Champagne. But within hours the gathering broke into violence as riot police moved against the swelling crowds. Pinochet had been in frail health for years and was under house arrest in the capital last Sunday when he suffered a heart attack; his wife, Lucia Hiriart, and a number of his children took him to Santiago Military Hospital. Pinochet underwent angioplasty to boost blood flow to his heart. But soon after, his lungs began to fill with fluid, and he suffered heart failure. Pinochet who rose to power following a U.S.-backed coup, was accused of torturing and killing thousands of people during his 1973-1990 regime.

Discovery launches with little fanfare

Space shuttle Discovery on its Saturday night launch

STS-116 [NASA] finally made its way into space on Saturday night. It is the first night launch since before the Columbia disaster of 2003. This latest mission will include three spacewalks to install the P5 integrated truss structure and rewire the station’s electrical system. One space walk and use of the robotic arm has already taken place in order to check the integrity of the shuttle’s heatshield. Space shuttle Discovery is due to dock with the International Space Station at 17:05 EST, Monday 11/12/2006 [01:05 GMT Tuesday 12/12/2006]. Here they will deliver a new crew member, Sunita Williams, to the ISS. She will replace European Space Agency Astronaut Thomas Reiter. Whilst the shuttle mission is set to last until 18th December, Williams is set to stay for 6 months on the International Space Station [Mission Page]. Expedition 14 has been in progress for a little over 84 days [Expedition 14] and currently consists of Commander Michael Lopez-Alegria, Flight Commander Mikhail Tyurin, and Flight Engineer Thomas Reiter. Additionally there is the back up crew consisting of Astronaut Peggy Whitson [backup commander], Astronaut Clay Anderson [backup flight engineer] and Cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko [backup Soyuz commander and flight engineer] who wait back on Earth. Continuing coverage of this and other missions can be seen on NASA TV . Most news broadcasters have scant coverage of the continuing missions into space.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Shuttle launch cancelled

Cancelled at the last minute - STS-116

It had been four years since NASA engaged in a night launch, but tonight was not the night for restarting such initiatives. In 2003 Columbia was destroyed after foam falling from the fuel tank damaged the heatshield resulting in the shuttle burning up as it entered the Earth’s atmosphere. A night launch had been deemed too risky after setbacks over safety and NASA’s inability to observe debris falling from the fuel tank. But after the go ahead for tonight’s launch it was weather that finally halted the launch of STS-116.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Bush & Blair meet in Washington

Prime Minister Blair flew into the US late last night to talk with George Bush about the situation in Iraq. This followed the releasing of a critical report over the situation in the country. Bush has said it was a “tough report” but would look “seriously” at its recommendations. The Iraq Study Group Report [PDF file], which has already hit no. 18 in the best seller list, [MSNBC] described the situation in Iraq as “grave and deteriorating” and said there was “no magic formula”. It also proposed a withdrawal of troops within 18 months and said one key was a solution to the “Middle East process” between Israel and Palestine. Speaking on CNN, Robin Oakley said if he had a dollar for every time Blair had iterated the key to the Iraq issue was the Palestine/Israel situation he’d be buying his wife a new car this Christmas! When the two leaders finally met, both echoed each other with their resolve to see the job done. Bush said, “We will defeat the extremists and radicals”. Tony Blair adding that the issue was a “Struggle for freedom and democracy.” He added that the “Consequenses of failure are severe” and that there were three elements which were important. He said the first element was the support of Maliki governent. Secondly, all that were engaged in this should support the Maliki government. And thirdly it was important to solve the question of peace in the Israel/Palestinian issue. He emphasised the task was “tough and challenging” but the only choice was between secularism or democracy. He said, “the only realistic path is to spread the idea of liberty.”
In questions folowing the briefing bothleaders were tackled over issues raised in the Baker Hamilton report on Iraq. Blair said the report was useful. But he said the situation had become difficult. “Outside extemists were linking up with internal extremists” which made it difficult to instil democracy in the region. He went on to say that “the old Middle East had the origins of all the problems we see, it’s come out of a perverted view of Islam.”
“We have to have to right vision. If the Israel/Palestine issue was not solved then nothing would be solved,” the Prime Minister said. He said there were obstacles but “not beyond the wit of ourselves” to overcome. [CNN]

Litvinenko buried

Alexander Litvinenko has been buried at a private funeral after a service at a mosque in London’s Regent’s Park [BBC]. Mourners included Mr Litvinenko’s father, Walter, and friend and Chechen separatist Akhmed Zakayev.

Spy saga - Litvinenko funeral due today

Blocked - investigation is being hampered by Russian authorities

Alexander Litvinenko’s funeral takes place today a day after the announcement that the killing had officially become a murder inquiry [CNN / BBC]. In Moscow, British detectives continue their investigation into the poisoning but have been told that any prosecutions would have t take place on Russian soil. As the detectives arrived in the capital news footage on CNN obscured the faces of the British investigators. However both Sky and the BBC, as well as many newspapers in the UK, published images without any censorship. It is not clear why CNN made the decision to obscure the faces of the investigators. Several new locations have been found to show traces of radioactivity as the detective work continues. In London traces of radioactivity were found at the Arsenal Emirate’s Stadium. The executive box was sealed off following the revelation that Andrei Lugovoi had visited there. Luguvoi who had met with Litvinenko in London, and having since returned to Russia, was said to be ill and had been hospitalised. Prior to his admission to hospital, Andrei Lugovoi visited the British Embassy in Moscow in order to give a statement. This was an effort to thwart rumours that he may have had a hand in Mr Litvinenko’s death. The British Embassy has also shown signs of radioactivity, the BBC reported Wednesday afternoon. Mario Scaramella was also hospitalised for a time after it was discovered that he too had ‘significant amounts’ of Polonium 210 in his urine. However he was later discharged after showing no signs of illness. CNN secured an exclusive interview with the self styled academic prior to his release from hospital. "I received several e-mails from another source he [Litvinenko] introduced to me some years before, saying that him and me were under the special attention of hostile people, so to take care," Scaramella told the news organisation. He said he tried to warn Litvinenko that they were being targeted by "people linked with some clandestine organizations, not directly under control of Russian establishment but from Russia ... generally retired people from the security service." Meanwhile detectives in Russia have been given permission to question Andrei Lugovoi [BBC]. But it is likely that their role will be limited to observing an interview conducted by Russion authorities. Lugovoi, a former KGB bodyguard, has said he met with Mr Litvinenko but did not meet no even know Mr Scaramella.

Tornado hits NW London

At least 6 people have been injured as a tornado hit north London in the UK. Sky News and BBC have shown tremendous damage to houses and streets in the Kensal Rise area. Daniel Bidgood, an eyewitness, described the tornado ripping through roofs of the houses and pulling up trees. He told the BBC that "it sounded like an aircraft taking off" and made landfall for around 30 seconds. [BBC / Sky News]. At least 50-60 properties have been affected with many having had their roofs ripped off. Pictures show one house which has lost one side of its structure and covered the adjacent road and cars with debris. Although unusual, there have been tornados in London before. In 1954 a tornado ripped off the roof of Gunnersbury tube station.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

US - China accused of 'aggressive' spying

Robert Gates - ill informed on China's spying

China was in the spotlight during Senate questions to Donald Rumsfeld’s replacement today. Robert Gates, who has served with the CIA, said he had not read reports pertaining to “aggressive espionage” which the Chinese were engaged in. It was said that China was blinding US satellites [Daily Telegraph / Defense News] and hackers have attacked US computer systems. Chinese computer attacks have been prolific since a US spy plane flew into Chinese airspace in early 2001 [BBC]. The hacker attacks are intended as retaliation for the death of a Chinese pilot in the incident involving an American spyplane. Websites such as and Sohu are filled with messages pointing to proposed cracking targets such as the United States' Defense Technical Information Center and the Defense Department's news site, along with encouragement to "Hack it Great Chinese!!!" []. Several attacks against US military computers have been identified as coming from China [].

In mid November the Washington Times reported that a Chinese submarine had tailed a US aircraft carrier [Jerusalem Post]. This has been denied by the Chinese, but Adm. William Fallon, commander of US Pacific Command, told reporters in Malaysia that the USS Kitty Hawk carrier and its supporting ships were conducting exercises in an unidentified location when the encounter occurred. Fallon said the carrier group was not engaged in anti-submarine exercises, but if it had been, "and if this Chinese sub came in the middle of this, then it could have escalated into something that could have been very unforeseen." The continued spying on the US has increased concern in many parts of the US administration. At the end of November it was revealed that B-2 stealth bomber secrets may have found their way into the hands of Chinese authorities. U.S. officials have said that a Hawaii-based spy allegedly obtained critical technology that would allow Beijing to copy and counter one of America’s most advanced weapons systems. Investigation reveals that U.S. Stealth technology may have been leaking since 1999 [The].

In a report in the Washington Times it is alleged that Chinese officials paid former defense contractor Noshir S. Gowadia, an Indian-born citizen, millions of dollars for a prolific dossier of information. It is alleged that Mr Gowadia helped the Chinese modify a cruise missile so that it can intercept U.S. air-to-air missiles. With a recent assassination in London, blamed on the Russian secret service by some, and with revelations over efforts by Chinese spys to procure US military secrets, it may seem to many that a new cold war is beginning. What is had to comprehend is the lack of knowledge Mr Gates had on the subject. In his reply to the Senate panel he said, “I’ve not read the reports, but I would be more than willing to do so, I’ve been aware just from reading in the newspapers. It’s been a number of years since I’ve received any classified intelligence on what the Chinese were up to. But it’s been my impression they’ve had a very aggressive intelligence gathering efforts against the United States. Some of these other things you’ve mentioned, it’s the first time I’ve heard about that, and clearly if confirmed it’s something I would want to get more informed on.”

Monday, December 04, 2006

John Bolton quits UN as Iraq enters 'civil war'

More serious explosions continued to take their toll in Iraq at the weekend. Hundreds have died throughout November, and the last week has been particularly bloody when multiple bomb blasts targeted Shi’ite areas of Baghdad. A comedian who made light of the continuing strife has also been a victim of the rising death toll. Walid Hassan, a Shia Muslim and star of al-Sharqiya TV's sketch show 'Caricature' was shot dead in Baghdad on the 20th November [BBC]. "He was an actor who made fun of the miserable situation in our country," a grieving fan told Associated Press news agency, "But some people don't like that, so he was assassinated to silence him," he added. Maybe Jon Stewart, presenter of the Daily Show, a popular US comedy which often satirizes the ongoing conflict, ought to take heed. His show this week covered the issue of whether or not Iraq is in a state of civil war. One Sky News reporter said recently that “If this isn’t a civil war, I don’t want to be here when it starts”. Jordan’s King Abdullah has urged other nations to act to prevent the whole Middle East breaking apart into “three civil wars” [BBC]. "It is time that we really take a strong step forward as part of the international community and make sure we avert the Middle East from a tremendous crisis that I fear and I see could possibly happen in 2007," he told ABC television. Outgoing UN Secretary General, Kofi Anaan, said Iraq was already on the “brink of civil war” [BBC]. But besides the ever increasing cycle of sectarian violence which took nearly 4,000 lives in October alone [BBC], the US administration denies that the country is in the grip of civil war. To many it may seem an issue of semantics as the White House battles with US networks over the use of the term ‘Civil War’ to describe the ongoing conflict [BBC]. The death toll and continuing violence, however, is very real. On the 23rd November gunmen believed to be Sunni insurgents raided the Iraqi Health Ministry [BBC]. It followed the kidnapping of dozens from the Education Ministry by militants from Moqtada al-Sadr’s Medhi army the week before. There then followed a series of devastating bomb blasts in the mainly Shi’ite area of Baghdad. More than 140 died in what was one of Iraq’s deadliest sectarian attacks [BBC]. Within hours motar blasts were reported in Sunni areas of the capital. The Prime Minister, Nouri Maliki, imposed an immediate curfew as the death toll rose to more than 200 [BBC]. But the restrictions had little effect and attacks, kidnappings and killings continued throughout the weekend [BBC]. And in a series of attacks this weekend at least 50 died in a mainly Shi’te area of Baghdad [BBC]. Although Iraqis are experiencing the worst of the violence, coalition forces are also suffering continued losses. Nine US troops lost their lives over the weekend [BBC] bringing the coalition death toll to 3,148 [ / BBC: facts & figures]. This figure is dwarfed by the estimated 46,000 civilians killed since March 2003.

And as prominent Shi’ite cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim is due to meet with George Bush in Washington, the Bush administration is beginning to disintegrate further with the second resignation in less than a month. Today John Bolton quit as UN Ambassador [BBC]. He along with the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld leaves Bush with fewer close allies in his continuing War on Terror. British PM Tony Blair is also due to meet with the US President to discuss the situation in Iraq as well as the continuing conflict in Afghanistan [BBC].

UK media coverage shifts from spy saga

Much of the media coverage of the continuing spy saga dissipated over the weekend. Other stories that dominated headlines was the new police investigation into the death of Stuart Lubbock who was found dead in Michael Barrymore’s pool. Sunday’s News of the World alleged that the man had died following a violent homosexual assault and that the drowning had been staged. It is also alleged that the original police investigation was ‘bungled’ and that at least one of the witnesses had lied at the inquest into the man’s death. Stuart Lubbock was found ‘drowned’ by police and paramedics after a ‘drink and drugs party’ at Barrymore’s mansion in Essex on the 31st March 2001. The star had fled the house before the arrival of the authorities but has always denied any involvement in Stuart Lubbock’s death.
The headlines on Sunday evening moved to a fire in East Sussex in southern England where a fire killed two firefighters. At around 14:00 GMT a fireworks warehouse went up in flames and within hours Sky News were providing saturation coverage of the incident with Exclusive pictures. A 200 metre exclusion zone was established as huge explosions rocked the area near Ringmer a few miles from Lewes. As well as the death of the two firefighters, at least 12 other people were injured including a police sergeant, nine firefighters and two members of the public. [BBC / Sky News]

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Barrymore pool death - new inquiry launched

Michael Barrymore may face more questions
A new investigation has been launched into the death of Stuart Lubbock who was found dead in Michael Barrymore’s pool in 2001. The entertainer who used to live in Essex may also face further questions from police. No-one has yet faced charges following the mysterious death. Welcoming news of a new inquiry, Mr Lubbock's brother Kevin said: "I am pleased. It's what my father wanted all along." The family's lawyer, Tony Bennett, added that his clients were "delighted by the police's decision". A post-mortem examination at the time revealed that Mr Lubbock had suffered severe internal injuries, suggesting he may have been the victim of a serious sexual assault before his death. Alcohol, ecstasy and cocaine were found in the man's bloodstream. Barrymore accepted an official caution for drugs offences following a lengthy investigation by Essex Police but was never charged with any culpability for the death [

Spy Saga - Litvinenko's wife & friend 'contaminated'

'Contaminated' - Mario Scaramella
Further disturbing details emerged Friday in the spy saga that has dominated headlines for the last two weeks. Mario Scaramella, the contact who had informed Alexander Litvinenko of threats against his life, has tested positive for traces of Polonium 210 [BBC]. Described as ‘significant’ contamination, the Italian was said to be ‘well’ and as yet was not showing signs of illness. The news will increase concerns for others who had met with Mr Litvinenko who died on 23rd of November after ingesting the radioactive substance three weeks previously in what is believed to have been a deliberate assassination. It has also emerged that Alexander Litvinenko’s wife, Marina, has also show traces of Polonium 210 in her body [CBS].

Authorities say that both individuals are likely to survive and that there is little or no risk to the general public. However, the seriousness of the issue has warranted the government’s calling together COBRA. The emergency group has met several times since it became clear Mr Litvinenko had been poisoned with a radioactive substance.

At 13:50 GMT Saturday the BBC broke the news that an Airbus 319 Finnair plane had shown levels of radiation reading higher than permissible levels of background radiation.
The aircraft is said to have flown to Moscow from Berlin via Helsinki earlier in the month. Interfax, the Russian news agency, and the Russian ministry have confirmed the news.
On the subject of Yegor Gaidar’s poisoning few details have yet emerged but it is not believed to be connected to a radioactive substance.