Concocting lies before the Iraq war

President Barack Obama has observed, “ISIL [Islamic State] is a direct outgrowth of Al Qaeda in Iraq that grew out of our invasion — which is an example of unintended consequences — which is why we should generally aim before we shoot”.

Many of us, looking at the horror of the Iraq war, waged by the US and the UK against the regime of Saddam Hussein when 200,000 civilians died and a total of 800 billion US dollars was spent on the campaign, need little to be persuaded that there was a Machiavellian plot to find an excuse to make war. Yet there are many in the circles of power in Washington who believe the US should shoot on sight and to kill whenever danger is thought to have appeared — in Iraq, Syria, Libya and, before that, in Vietnam.

The so-called “justification” for going to war in Iraq 13 years ago was based on a 93-page classified CIA document that allegedly contained “specific information” on Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction programmes and his close links with Al Qaeda.
The document that has now been declassified thanks to the work of the investigative journalist, John Greenewald. His findings have just been published in the on-line magazine, VICE.
The document, before published with a large number of deletions, is available for everyone to read in its entirety. It reveals that there was zero justification for the war. It reveals that there was “no operational tie between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda” and no weapons of mass destruction programs.

President George W. Bush’s Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, claimed that the US had “bulletproof evidence” linking Saddam Hussein to the terrorist group. “We do have solid evidence of the presence of Al Qaeda members in Iraq. We have what we consider to be very reliable reporting of senior-level contacts going back a decade, and of possible chemical and biological-agent training”.
The CIA’s National Intelligence Estimate report takes a very different line. The document observes that its information about a working relationship between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein was based on “sources of
varying reliability”.

“As with much of the information on the overall relationship we do not know to what extent Baghdad may be actively complicit in this use of its territory for safe haven and transit”.

A report issued last December by the high-powered RAND Corporation which employs some of the best analysts in the US, entitled “Blinders, Blunders and Wars”, said the CIA report “contained several qualifiers that were dropped. As the draft went up the intelligence chain of command the conclusions were treated increasingly definitively”.

One example is that the CIA report concluded that Iraq “probably has renovated a vaccine production plant to manufacture biological weapons, but we are unable to determine whether biological weapons research has resumed”. The report also said that Hussein did not have “sufficient material” to manufacture nuclear weapons. But on October 7, 2002, in a speech in Cincinnati, Ohio, President Bush simply said, Iraq “possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons” and “the evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons programme”.

Another example is Rumsfeld’s claim to have “bulletproof evidence” on Al Qaeda’s link with Saddam Hussein. “We have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of Al Qaeda members.”

But the CIA report’s information about Iraq’s supposed working relationship with Al Qaeda and Iraq concluded that it was not at all clear that Saddam Hussein had even been aware of the relationship, if in fact there were one.” Congress’ later investigation concluded that the intelligence community based its claims on a single source.

Paul Pillar, now a visiting professor at Georgetown University and before that in charge of coordinating the intelligence community’s assessments on Iraq, told VICE that the bio-weapons claims were based on unreliable reporting by sources such as Ahmad Chalabi, the former head of the Iraqi National Congress, an opposition group. “There was an insufficient scepticism about some of the source material”, Pillar said. “I think there should have been agnosticism expressed in the main judgements.” Pillar went on to say Bush and Rumsfeld “had already made the decision to go to war in Iraq, so the CIA report didn’t influence their decision”. But they used their misleading interpretations of it to convince public opinion that war was necessary. (The British ambassador at the time wrote in his book that he told British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, this. Yet Blair went on telling the public that evidence of malfeasance was still being gathered).

The RAND study also concluded that the report was wrong on mobile biological labs, uranium ore purchases from Niger and Iraq building rocket delivery systems for weapons of mass destruction.

-Jonathan Power

Zika virus ‘scarier than thought’ – US

The Zika virus is “scarier” than first thought and its impact on the US could be greater than predicted, public health officials have admitted.

A wider range of birth defects has been linked to the virus, said Dr Anne Schuchat of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And the mosquitoes that carry the virus could travel to more US states than previously thought, she said.

The current Zika outbreak began almost a year ago in Brazil.

It has been linked to thousands of birth defects in the Americas.

“Most of what we’ve learned is not reassuring,” said Dr Schuchat at White House briefing on Monday.

“Everything we know about this virus seems to be scarier than we initially thought.”

Earlier this year, US President Obama asked the US Congress for $1.8bn (£1.25bn) in emergency funding to combat the virus.

In the meantime it has been using money totalling $589m left over from the Ebola virus fund.


Mafia boss’s son’s interview sparks fury

There has been outrage after Italian state television aired an interview with the son of one of the country’s most infamous Mafia bosses.

Giuseppe Salvatore Riina appeared on RAI to promote a book dedicated to his father, Toto Riina.

He did not condemn his father, thought to have ordered more than 150 murders while boss of Sicily’s Cosa Nostra.

Executives at RAI have been summoned to Italy’s anti-Mafia parliamentary committee.

During the interview the younger Riina, himself a convicted mobster, said he had a happy childhood, calling his father “an upstanding man who respects family and traditional values”.

Riina refused to acknowledge the Mafia’s existence, describing it as “everything and nothing at all”.

Italian politicians and victims of Mafia crimes condemned the interview, conducted by veteran talk-show host Bruno Vespa.

Salvatore Borsellino, whose brother Paolo was assassinated on the elder Riina’s orders, said he was nauseated by the interview, calling it a “reopening of wounds”in a Facebook post (in Italian).

“I don’t care if Riina’s hands caressed his children. They are the same hands covered in the blood of innocents,” Italy’s former chief anti-Mafia prosecutor Pietro Grasso wrote.

Mr Vespa defended the interview as a valuable insight into the life of a Mafia family.

Toto Riina was arrested in 1993, and is currently in jail after being convicted of several murders.


Assailant in Paris attacks identified

French police have identified one of the assailants in the coordinated attacks in Paris as Ismael Omar Mostefai, a 29-year- old French national, and seven of his relatives are being questioned, sources and French media said today.

Authorities had a dossier on Mostefai that marked him as a potential Islamist militant. He also had previous arrest records and had been sentenced eight times for petty crimes, according to French newspaper Le Monde. Mostefai was one of the gunmen who blew himself up in a Paris concert hall where most of the 129 deaths from the attacks late on Friday took place.

His father, a brother and five other people are being held for questioning, several French media reported on Sunday, as the hunt continued for others involved in the shootings.


Metro Station also attacked in Brussels

An explosion at a Brussels metro station has increased fears that the city is under a terror attack following two blasts at Brussels Airport this morning.

The blast was seen at Maalbeek metro station, in central Brussels.

Maalbeek metro station is close to the European Union building, and authorities have now closed down all metro stations in the city.

At least 11 people are believed to have been killed and dozens more injured following the explosions.

-Daily Mail – UK

FBI to assist Bangladesh with probe into bank heist

The FBI has agreed to help Bangladesh investigate an audacious $81 million theft from the nation’s foreign reserves, authorities said Sunday, days after the finance minister accused central bank officials of complicity in the heist.

A FBI official in Dhaka met with representatives from Bangladesh’s Criminal Investigation Department and offered to assist with the investigation into the spectacular cross-country theft.

“Both the FBI and the CID have agreed to work together since it’s a transnational organised crime and transnational criminal networks are involved,” Md. Saiful Alam, deputy inspector general of CID, told AFP.

There was no immediate comment from the FBI.

Hackers stole the money from the Bangladesh Bank’s account with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York on February 5 and managed to transfer it electronically to accounts in the Philippines.

The audacious cyber-theft has embarrassed the government, triggered outrage in the impoverished country and raised alarm over the security of the Bangladesh’s foreign exchange reserves of over $27 billion.

The central bank governor, his two deputies and the country’s top banking bureaucrat lost their jobs following the theft and the government has been scrambling to contain the damage from the spiralling scandal.

Police said Bangladeshi investigators were planning to travel to the Philippines, Sri Lanka and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York as part of the transnational probe into the heist.

However, investigators say local hackers were likely involved in the theft.

“We suspect some local people are involved in the crime. The names of local development projects were used in the payment advices sent to the Federal Reserve Bank,” Alam said.

“This has raised our suspicion that there could be some local links.”

In a damning interview published on Friday, the country’s Finance Minister A.M.A Muhith told the Bengali-language daily Prothom Alo that Bangladesh Bank officials were “100 percent” involved in the scandal.

“Of course! One hundred percent they are (involved). This cannot be possible without complicity of the locals,” the newspaper, which has the highest circulation of any in Bangladesh, quoted Muhith as saying.

Muhith said the New York bank requires hand prints and other biometric information from central bank officials to activate transactions, appearing to suggest the hackers could not have carried out the attack without inside help.


Obama in Cuba for historic visit

President Barack Obama has arrived in Cuba for a historic visit to the island and talks with its communist leader.

He is the first sitting US president to visit since the 1959 revolution, which heralded decades of hostility.

Speaking at the reopened US embassy in Havana, he called the visit “historic”. He also spent time in the old city.

Mr Obama will meet President Raul Castro, but not retired revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, and the pair will discuss trade and political reform.

The US president emerged smiling from Air Force One with First Lady Michelle and their daughters Sasha and Malia.

Holding umbrellas, the party walked in light drizzle along a red carpet to be greeted by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.

Two hours after landing, Mr Obama greeted staff from the US embassy with the words: “It is wonderful to be here”.


Ben Affleck won’t let 4-year-old son see ‘Batman v Superman’

Ben Affleck might be Batman to his 4-year-old fan-boy son, Samuel, but that doesn’t mean he’ll get to see his dad in action in “Batman v Superman” with the rest of the world when it hits theaters next week.

“Four years old is a little young to see this whole movie,” Affleck said in a Friday interview. “I don’t want him to have nightmares.”

Affleck has often said he partly took on the role for his three kids — his son in particular. And from dressing up as the dark knight for Samuel’s themed birthday party to tipping the FedEx delivery guy a few bucks to stage a fake fight just because Samuel believes that he’s the Joker, it’s a part that hasn’t gone away for Affleck when the cameras stop rolling, especially with the starry-eyed youngster around.

Samuel has seen his dad in trailers for the film and whatever footage is available online, though, and, according to Affleck, those two-minute clips are basically “his whole attention span anyway.”

Affleck said at the very least, his oldest daughter, Violet, 10, can see the PG-13 rated film. In addition to Violet and Samuel, Affleck and Jennifer Garner also have a 7-year-old daughter, Seraphina. The couple separated last year after 10 years of marriage.

As for Samuel, Affleck said he’ll be able to see some of “Batman v Superman” soon, even if it’s chopped up.

“I’ll have to con one of the editors into giving me a truncated version of the movie without some of the scarier stuff,” he said.

Indian Police likely to seek Interpol help to probe SL link to kidney racket

Investigators of the Indian Special Investigation Team (SIT) have hinted that it could seek help from the Interpol to probe the link into the kidney extractions carried out in Sri Lanka, after following the due procedure of law.

The SIT, formed by Anand District Superintendent of Police Ashok Kumar Yadav to probe into the kidney racket of Pandoli village, has fanned across to Delhi and Mumbai to trace the timeline of the alleged organ extractions as well as “big fish” involved in the racket.

Investigators say that the documents have also confirmed that more than five persons travelled to Sri Lanka with help from “agents” to sell their kidneys. In what could escalate into an international racket, the Anand police are looking at seeking help from the Interpol to probe the Sri Lanka link. A senior investigating officer said, “More than five people from Pandoli have travelled to Sri Lanka for kidney extractions via Chennai, with help of agents. There are high chances that we will report this international link to the Centre and seek help from the Interpol after following the procedure of law. With help from Interpol, we will be able to probe this link.”

Petlad Deputy Superintendent of Police, M R Gupta, is heading the SIT. Its two teams are currently in Delhi and Mumbai to locate the network of the racket. A 27-year-old cattle trader from Pindoli, Aamir Malik, had alleged that another villager, Rafiq Vora, had “cheated” him into selling off his kidney to a Delhi hospital in February this year. A team of officers, along with one of the three arrested accused, are currently probing the sequence of events and the other touts involved in the transaction that earned Aamir Rs 2.3 lakh for one kidney. Another team of Anand investigators is in Mumbai to probe the link between a kidney donor, Poonam Solanki, from Pandoli in a 2001 case — the transplant of which, occurred in the Muljibhai Patel Urological Hospital (MPUH) in Nadiad. Senior officials added that the SIT will also question the recipients of the two the kidney transplants conducted at the Nadiad hospital regarding their link to their donors. “It will help us get to the touts who lure the naive villages with money.”

The MPUH authorities have clarified that the hospital had, on its own accord, requested the police to initiate a probe into another suspicious case in 2002. The recipient and donor of that case were acquitted by the Gujarat High Court in 2008.

-Indian Express

Man who’s building Hyperloop claims it’s going to be cheaper to ride than the subway

The Hyperloop is envisioned to be a system of low pressure tubes that allow “capsules” of people to travel at high speeds across long distances, similar to a way a bank uses pneumatic tubes in drive-thru lanes. The long five-hour drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco, for example, could be condensed to a 36-minute ride with a hyperloop, Ahlborn said.

While it’s high speed travel will make it faster and cheaper to travel long distances, it could also work for short distances. After all, New York had its own shorter, but workable demonstration of one in 1870.

During a keynote at SXSW, Ahlborn said that the Hyperloop will work as efficiently for intercity travel as for long distances.

“L.A. to San Francisco, you are at a $30 price ticket, so then we have recovered our initial cost after eight years. Inside the city, we are cheaper than a subway,” Ahlborn told the crowd. “But it’s really about figuring out your business model.”

That vision is, of course, still a ways off. His company, which is unusual because it doesn’t pay any of its workers in exchange for stock equity, recently struck a deal with Slovakia to connect Bratislava with other European hubs. That may come as early as 2020, Ahlborn said if all the pieces fall into place. Hyperloop Transportation Technologies is also working on another test in Quail Valley, California, which he expects to be online in 2018.

-Business Insider