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Bugged by US spying, EU may sever ties with American internet providers


The building of the European Parliament is seen in Brussels.(AFP Photo/Dominique Faget) 

EU businesses are threatening to terminate relations with American internet providers in response to the National Security Agency surveillance scandal, the European Commission has warned.

Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission, said that US providers of “cloud services,” a technology that permits clients to store data on remote servers, could suffer steep losses if users fear the security of their material is at risk of being compromised.

“If businesses or governments think they might be spied on, they will have less reason to trust cloud, and it will be cloud providers who ultimately miss out,” Kroes said. “Why would you pay someone else to hold your commercial or other secrets if you suspect or know they are being shared against your wishes?”

The EC vice president then pointed to the “multi-billion euro consequences” facing US internet companies in the wake of the scandal.

“It is often American providers that will miss out, because they are often the leaders in cloud services. If European cloud customers cannot trust the United States government, then maybe they won’t trust US cloud providers either. If I am right, there are multibillion-euro consequences for American companies. If I were an American cloud provider, I would be quite frustrated with my government right now.”

AFP Photo / John Macdougall
AFP Photo/John Macdougall

On Thursday, the European Parliament overwhelmingly passed a non-binding resolution that says the US should provide full disclosure about its email and communications data, otherwise two EU-US transatlantic information-sharing deals — the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP) and Passenger Name Records (PNR) — could be revoked.

Relations between Washington and Brussels suffered a setback in June when former NSA analyst Edward Snowden leaked details of a top-secret US data-mining surveillance program, known as Prism, which operated both in the United States and the European Union.

Prism is said to give the NSA and FBI user information from some of the world’s largest internet companies, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo and Skype.

Der Spiegel cited a secret 2010 document alleging that the US spied on internal computer networks in Washington, as well as at the 27-member bloc’s UN office and EU offices in New York.

The NSA paper also allegedly refers to the EU as a “target.”

According to Der Spiegel, the US surveillance system spied on some 500 million telephone and internet recordings in Germany each month, ramping up fears that the United States was not simply collecting data to prevent against acts of terrorism, but was involved in full-scale industrial espionage.

In response to heated European criticism of the US surveillance activities, US President Barack Obama this week seemed to downplay the severity of the situation when he commented: “I guarantee you that in European capitals, there are people who are interested in, if not what I had for breakfast, at least what my talking points might be should I end up meeting with their leaders. That’s how intelligence services operate.”

During a Wednesday phone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Obama sought to reassure her that the United States would provide the Europeans with details of their surveillance program.

Meanwhile, in an effort to contain the damage from the revelations, ambassadors to the European Union agreed on Thursday to proceed with EU-US negotiations on a new transatlantic free trade pact, scheduled to open in Washington on Monday. 

EU commissioner for Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes.(AFP Photo / Georges Gobet)
EU commissioner for Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes.(AFP Photo/Georges Gobet)

During the EU-US trade negotiations it will certainly not go unnoticed that crucial European positions in the trade talks may already be compromised due to the wide-scale surveillance. EU officials do not want the issue of America’s covert spy program to be the elephant in the room which nobody talks about.

Dalia Grybauskaite, the president of Lithuania, which takes over the rotating six-month EU presidency this week, said on Thursday that she awaits “information” — not apologies — from the Americans over the spying allegations.

“They are open to co-operation. They are open to explain,” she said. “I never seek an apology from anyone. I seek information … We don’t want to jeopardize the strategic importance of free trade.”

Grybauskaite insisted that the scandal, which has shown no sign of abating, should not be allowed to obstruct the trade talks but acknowledged that “some countries are very sensitive on this question.”

Meanwhile, Britain may also have some explaining to do on the sidelines of next week’s trade talks since it was suggested that the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), through a system known as Tempora, .

The European Commission vice president said that US companies could suffer from the US government’s covert intelligence-gathering activities.

“Concerns about cloud security can easily push European policy-makers into putting security guarantees ahead of open markets, with consequences for American companies,” Kroes warned. “Cloud has a lot of potential. But potential doesn’t count for much in an atmosphere of distrust.”
________

 

Robert Bridge is the author of the book, Midnight in the American Empirewhich discusses the dangerous consequences of excessive corporate power now prevalent in the United States.

 

 

http://rt.com

rt.com is Russian television, which actually does a great job reporting on US news too.

EU confronts U.S. over reports it spies on European allies


Reuters/Reuters – Broken antenna covers of Former National Security Agency (NSA) listening station are seen at the Teufelsberg hill (German for Devil’s Mountain) in Berlin, June 30, 2013. The United States taps half a billion phone calls, emails and text messages in Germany in a typical month and has classed its biggest European ally as a target similar to China, according to secret U.S. documents quoted by a German newsmagazine. The revelations of alleged U.S. surveillance programmes based on documents taken by fugitive former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden have raised a political furore in the United States and abroad over the balance between privacy rights and national security. REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynsk

By Ben Deighton and Annika Breidthardt

BRUSSELS/BERLIN (Reuters) – The European Union has demanded that the United States explain a report in a German magazine that Washington is spying on the group, using strong language to confront its closest trading partner over its alleged surveillance activities.

EU High Representative Catherine Ashton said on Sunday that U.S. authorities were immediately contacted about a report in Der Spiegel magazine that the U.S. spy agency had tapped EU offices in Washington, Brussels and at the United Nations.

“As soon as we saw these reports, the European External Action Service made contact with the U.S. authorities in both Washington D.C. and Brussels to seek urgent clarification of the veracity of, and facts surrounding, these allegations,” Ashton said in a statement.

“The U.S. authorities have told us they are checking on the accuracy of the information released yesterday and will come back to us as soon as possible,” she said.

France also asked for an explanation.

“These acts, if confirmed, would be completely unacceptable,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.

The U.S. government said it would respond through diplomatic channels.

“We will also discuss these issues bilaterally with EU member states,” a spokesperson for the Director of National Intelligence said.

“While we are not going to comment publicly on specific alleged intelligence activities, as a matter of policy we have made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations.”

The Guardian newspaper said in an article late on Sunday that the United States had also targeted non-European allies for spying.

Citing a September 2010 NSA document, the British newspaper said that “Along with traditional ideological adversaries and sensitive Middle Eastern countries, the list of targets includes the EU missions and the French, Italian and Greek embassies, as well as a number of other American allies, including Japan, Mexico, South Korea, India and Turkey.”

Der Spiegel reported on Saturday that the National Security Agency bugged EU offices and gained access to EU internal computer networks, the latest revelation of alleged U.S. spying that has prompted outrage from EU politicians.

The magazine followed up on Sunday with a report that the U.S. agency taps half a billion phone calls, emails and text messages in Germany in a typical month, much more than any other European peer and similar to the data tapped in China or Iraq.

It also uses data from Internet hubs in south and west Germany that organise data traffic to Syria and Mali.

Revelations about the U.S. surveillance programme, which was made public by fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, have raised a furore in the United States and abroad over the balance between privacy rights and national security.

The extent to which Washington’s EU allies are being monitored emerged is a particular concern in Europe.

“If the media reports are correct, this brings to memory actions among enemies during the Cold War. It goes beyond any imagination that our friends in the United States view the Europeans as enemies,” German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said.

“If it is true that EU representations in Brussels and Washington were indeed tapped by the American Secret Service, it can hardly be explained with the argument of fighting terrorism,” she said in a statement.

TAPPED GERMANS

Germany’s federal prosecutor’s office, which has authority in matters of national security, said it was looking into whether or not it should start an investigation. Criminal charges are expected to be filed, spokeswoman Frauke Koehler told Reuters.

Germans are particularly sensitive about government monitoring, having lived through the Stasi secret police in the former communist East Germany and with lingering memories of the Gestapo of Hitler’s Nazi regime.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has not commented on the latest report. Before a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama earlier this month, Merkel defended governments’ monitoring of Internet communications, however, and said that the U.S. cyber-snooping had helped prevent attacks on German soil.

She stressed during Obama’s visit that there were limits to monitoring, but stopped short of pressing the issue hard.

Martin Schulz, president of the EU Parliament and also a German, said if the report was correct, it would have a “severe impact” on relations between the EU and the United States.

He told French radio the United States had crossed a line.

“I was always sure that dictatorships, some authoritarian systems, tried to listen … but that measures like that are now practiced by an ally, by a friend, that is shocking, in the case that it is true,” Schulz said in an interview with France 2.

Some EU policymakers said talks for a free trade agreement between Washington and the EU should be put on ice until further clarification from the United States.

“Partners do not spy on each other,” the European commissioner for justice and fundamental rights, Viviane Reding, said at a public event in Luxembourg on Sunday.

“We cannot negotiate over a big transatlantic market if there is the slightest doubt that our partners are carrying out spying activities on the offices of our negotiators,” Reding said in comments passed on to reporters by her spokeswoman.

The European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee head Elmar Brok, from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, echoed those views.

“The spying has taken on dimensions that I would never have thought possible from a democratic state,” he told Der Spiegel.

“How should we still negotiate if we must fear that our negotiating position is being listened to beforehand?”

(Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold, Claire Davenport in Luxembourg and Laurence Frost in Paris, Tabassum Zakaria and Deborah Charles in Washington; Writing by Annika Breidthardt; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

via EU confronts U.S. over reports it spies on European allies – Yahoo! News UK.

Draft EU data law could kill casual web browsing, digital SMEs warn


A group of Irish online publishers say draft European laws could force users to register just to see the homepage of a website.

Justin Cullen of Core Media, Sean Kelly MEP, Agata Nowacka of IAB Europe, Suzanne McElligott of IAB Ireland, Eamonn Fallon of Distilled Media and John Patten of Digitize.

WEB USERS could be forced to register with a website just to see its homepage, if the current draft of an EU regulation on online data is not changed before becoming law.

That’s according to a group of small and medium-sized Irish digital advertising firms, which says a new data protection regulation being put together in Brussels could make it virtually impossible to show content to casual users.

IAB Ireland, a trade association for the online advertisers, says the current draft of the laws would mean websites could only show content to users who explicitly approve the submission of some of their personal data.

It also extends the definition of ‘personal data’ to include non-personal details like an internet user’s IP address and the cookies stored by their browser.

IAB Ireland’s member firms say the rules could mean the end of an era where users can “serendipitously” discover new websites – as they would have to explicitly approve the submission of their personal data simply to see its homepage.

The group said it was important to realise that the laws would be coming in the form of a European regulation – meaning it would automatically become law in each EU member state, and was not subject to national amendment or discretion.

While this has advantages – making sure that online publishers only have to deal with one set of rules, instead of complying with dozens of separate legal systems – it also requires the unanimous approval of all EU member states, and the European Commission and Parliament, to be changed.

Once the laws were in, therefore, it was almost impossible for individual countries to engineer a change – meaning it was vital that the final regulation be workable and fully thought through.

‘Large parts of the web could disappear’

Eamonn Fallon, chief executive of Distilled Media whose sites include TheJournal.ie, said large parts of the web could “disappear behind login walls” if the regulation was not amended before being brought into law.

He added that users would also have to explicitly agree to send their IP address to different sites, whose content might all appear on one page.

So, for example, a website featuring ads controlled by Google would be asked whether they wanted to give Google their IP address, simply in exchange for allowing the ads to appear on the page. Similarly, Facebook users could be asked to explicitly send their IP address to Facebook just so a ‘Like’ button could appear.

Fallon said that if information like a user’s IP address was considered ‘personal’, “the only way companies like ours can legally run web analytics and third party adservers would be to force all our users to login.”

Digitize director John Patten added it would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible, to gather explicit consent on the websites on which ad networks, or site analytics companies, operate.”

This was because the companies delivering ads to users, or compiling readership figures on behalf of a web publisher, “do not have have a direct relationship with the users from whom they would need to obtain explicit consent.”

The group says the regulation’s whole purpose – to try and minimise the data that websites can collect about users – would be totally undermined if it forced websites to actively seek more information from users before allowing them to view content.

Fine Gael MEP Sean Kelly, who attended an IAB media event this morning, is the European Parliament’s rapporteur on the data protection updates. Kelly says he has tabled a number of amendments to the draft regulations, to try and address the concerns of the SMEs.

“We are working hard at an EU level to ensure that the Regulation balances strong protection for consumer rights with the opportunity to facilitate SMEs in Ireland and across Europe to prosper in the digital economy,” he said.

via Draft EU data law could kill casual web browsing, digital SMEs warn.

Safe sex in Nigeria -Royal Dutch Shell plc .com


Safe sex in Nigeria By John Donovan

ROYAL DUTCH SHELL

 

Tom Mayne of Global Witness, an NGO, has followed the case closely; he believes things were structured this way so that Shell and ENI could obscure their deal with Malabu by inserting a layer between them. Mr Agaev, Malabu’s former fixer, lends weight to this interpretation. It was, he says, structured to be a “safe-sex transaction”, with the government acting as a “condom” between the buyers and seller.

Court documents shed light on the manoeuvrings of Shell and ENI to win a huge Nigerian oil block and on the dilemmas of their industry

DEALS for oilfields can be as opaque as the stuff that is pumped from them. But when partners fall out and go to court, light is sometimes shed on the bargaining process—and what it exposes is not always pretty. That is certainly true in the tangled case of OPL245, a massive Nigerian offshore block with as much as 9 billion barrels of oil—enough to keep all of Africa supplied for seven years.

After years of legal tussles, in 2011 Shell, in partnership with ENI of Italy, paid a total of $1.3 billion for the block. The Nigerian government acted as a conduit for directing most of that money to the block’s original owner, a shadowy local company called Malabu Oil and Gas. Two middlemen hired by Malabu, one Nigerian, one Azerbaijani, then sued the firm separately in London—in the High Court and in an arbitration tribunal, respectively—claiming unpaid fees for brokering the deal.

The resulting testimony and filings make fascinating reading for anyone interested in the uses and abuses of anonymous shell companies, the dilemmas that oil firms face when operating in ill-governed countries and the tactics they feel compelled to employ to obfuscate their dealings with corrupt bigwigs. They also demonstrate the importance of the efforts the G8 countries will pledge to make, at their summit next week, to put a stop to hidden company ownership and to make energy and mining companies disclose more about the payments they make to win concessions. On June 12th the European Parliament voted to make EU-based resources companies disclose all payments of at least €100,000 ($130,000) on any project.

The saga of block OPL245 began in 1998 when Nigeria’s then petroleum minister, Dan Etete, awarded it to Malabu, which had been established just days before and had no employees or assets. The price was a “signature bonus” of $20m (of which Malabu only ever paid $2m).

The firm intended to bring in Shell as a 40% partner, but in 1999 a new government took power and two years later it cried foul and cancelled the deal. The block was put out to bid and Shell won the right to operate it, in a production-sharing contract with the national petroleum company, subject to payment of an enlarged signature bonus of $210m. Shell did not immediately pay this, for reasons it declines to explain, but began spending heavily on exploration in the block.

Malabu then sued the government. After much legal wrangling, they reached a deal in 2006 that reinstated the firm as the block’s owner. This caught Shell unawares, even though it had conducted extensive due diligence and had a keen understanding of the Nigerian operating climate thanks to its long and often bumpy history in the country. It responded by launching various legal actions, including taking the government to the World Bank’s International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes.

Malabu ploughed on, hiring Ednan Agaev, a former Soviet diplomat, to find other investors. Rosneft of Russia and Total of France, among others, showed interest but were put off by Malabu’s disputes with Shell and the government. Things moved forward again when Emeka Obi, a Nigerian subcontracted by Mr Agaev, brought in ENI (which already owned a nearby oil block). After further toing and froing—and no end of meetings in swanky European hotels—ENI and Shell agreed in 2011 to pay $1.3 billion for the block. Malabu gave up its rights to OPL245 and Shell dropped its legal actions (see timeline).

The deal was apparently split into two transactions. Shell and ENI paid $1.3 billion to the Nigerian government. Then, once Malabu had signed away its rights to the block, the government clipped off its $210m unpaid signature bonus and transferred just under $1.1 billion to Malabu.

Tom Mayne of Global Witness, an NGO, has followed the case closely; he believes things were structured this way so that Shell and ENI could obscure their deal with Malabu by inserting a layer between them. Mr Agaev, Malabu’s former fixer, lends weight to this interpretation. It was, he says, structured to be a “safe-sex transaction”, with the government acting as a “condom” between the buyers and seller.

It is not hard to see why the oil giants would want to avoid being seen to be dealing directly with Malabu, a shell company with tainted provenance. Its ultimate beneficial owner is widely believed to be Mr Etete, the very minister who had awarded it the block while serving under Sani Abacha, the late, staggeringly corrupt dictator.

In 2007 Mr Etete was found guilty of money-laundering by a French court. His conviction was upheld in 2009. The trial centred on bribes he had allegedly demanded from foreign investors while in government. He used these to buy, among other things, a French mansion and about €1m-worth of Art Deco furniture, according to French court documents.

Then in 2011 Mr Obi, one of the middlemen in the final deal with Shell and ENI, took his claim for unpaid fees to the High Court in London, calling on Mr Etete to give testimony. For unclear reasons, he agreed to do so—but the hearings had to be moved briefly to Paris so that Mr Etete could give evidence, because he had been barred from Britain for failing to disclose his French conviction on entering the country.

Mr Etete claims he has never been more than a consultant to Malabu. If so, he is unusually hands-on. He was the company’s main negotiator and its representative in the High Court, where he admitted to being the sole signatory on its bank accounts. Indeed, there is no evidence of anyone else making decisions for Malabu.

When asked in court about others purportedly linked to the company and its record-keeping, Malabu’s company secretary, Rasky Gbinigie (who describes Mr Etete as a “family friend”), insisted that he had lost the firm’s copy of the register of shareholders and all minutes of meetings, that there was no written correspondence between him, the directors and the shareholders, and that he had no documents to verify who put up the company’s original share capital.

A not-so-secret alias

Last year Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) looked into Malabu after Mohammed Abacha, a son of the former dictator, complained that he had been a founding shareholder but had been illegally cut out. In an interim report later in the year, the commission said that one Kweku Amafegha “stood in” as a nominee director for Mr Etete. In the High Court’s hearing in Paris Mr Etete admitted that he had himself used the surname Amafegha to open accounts in the past. It was, he said, an alias that “I have always used when I go out for secret missions internationally.”

In the same hearing Mr Etete said of OPL245: “I put my blood, I put my life into this oil block”—quite a commitment for a mere consultant. Yet, when asked directly if he was its owner through Malabu, he denied it. When presented with transcripts of a recording in which he supposedly claimed that “It is my block”, he dismissed the transcripts as inaccurate.

Shell and ENI did not respond to The Economist’s questions about whom they believed to be the beneficial owner of Malabu. Whether or not they suspected it to be Mr Etete, their dealings with him were extensive. He met ENI executives repeatedly. High Court testimony indicated that Shell officials had met him as recently as December 2009, after his money-laundering conviction was upheld. In an e-mail that came out in court, a Shell man talked of having had lunch and “lots of iced champagne” with Mr Etete, who had requested figures from Shell on what it was willing to pay Malabu for the block.

ENI says it considered cutting a deal with Malabu directly, until it emerged that the firm might not have full ownership of the oil block because of “existing disputes”, including with Mr Abacha. Mr Obi testified that Shell broke off direct talks with Mr Etete for the same reason, and because he was “an impossible person to deal with”.

But the oil giants were clearly reluctant to throw in the towel. Shell was loth to walk away from a block in which it had already invested tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars. (The company will not say how much.) ENI was attracted by the size of the block, the prospect of accompanying tax holidays and a waiver of the usual requirement that production revenues be shared with the national oil company.

Shell and ENI reject the suggestion that their joint purchase was a thinly disguised transaction with a dodgy brass-plate company. Shell says it made payments to the Nigerian government only and that it has acted at all times in accordance with Nigerian law. It previously said it had “not acted in any way that is outside normal global industry practice”. ENI says its payments to the government “were made in a transparent manner through an escrow arrangement with a major international bank”. That bank was JPMorgan Chase. A Lebanese bank had earlier declined to handle the payments, it emerged in court.

The companies’ claim that they bought the block from the state, not Malabu, is disingenuous, says Mr Mayne of Global Witness. It is also contradicted by Nigeria’s attorney-general, Mohammed Bello Adoke, who told a parliamentary committee last July that the companies “agreed to pay Malabu”, with the government acting as an “obligor” and “facilitator.”

The attorney-general was unusually active in helping the deal along. He held meetings with Shell, ENI and Malabu, helped to structure the final agreement and even advised on payments to middlemen, according to Mr Obi. In Nigeria it is highly unusual for an attorney-general to be so involved in a big oil deal. The lead is typically taken by the petroleum ministry, which in this case was said to be livid at being sidelined—particularly when Mr Adoke requested that it extend the deadline it had given Malabu to pay its long-owed signature bonus. Mr Adoke, it was suggested in the High Court, had been lawyer to none other than Mr Etete before serving in government. (Mr Adoke could not be reached for comment.)

Where did the money go?

The attorney-general has rejected as “without basis” claims in the Nigerian press that much of the money the government paid to Malabu in the 2011 deal was “round-tripped” back to bank accounts controlled by public officials. But where that money did end up is shrouded in mystery. Of the $1.1 billion, $800m was paid in two tranches into Malabu accounts. This was then transferred to five Nigerian companies that appear to be shells. One of these, Rocky Top Resources, received $336.5m, some of which seems to have been passed on to unknown “various persons”, according to the EFCC’s report. Some $60m went to an account controlled by Mr Etete, who has said that he received $250m in total for his role in the deal. He said in court that “Malabu shareholders decided to spend their money the way they deemed fit” and that he is investing on their behalf.

Among the listed owners of three of the recipient companies is Abubakar Aliyu, who is reported to have close business ties to a senior politician, Diepreiye Alamiesegha, the former governor of Bayelsa state. Mr Alamiesegha’s skills in escapology would impress Houdini. Detained in Britain on money-laundering charges in 2005, he jumped bail. After returning to Nigeria, he was sentenced in 2007 to two years for each of six corruption-related charges, though he served only a few hours in prison. In March 2013 he received a controversial pardon from Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s president. Local press reports have made unsubstantiated allegations linking both the president and Mr Alamiesegha to the Malabu deal.

The EFCC’s report states: “Investigations conducted so far reveal a cloudy scene associated with fraudulent dealings. A prima facie case of conspiracy, breach of trust, theft anmd [sic] money laundering can be established against some real and artificial persons.” Officially, the EFCC’s investigation is still open, but a source familiar with it says that its sleuths have been discouraged by higher-ups from moving forward. However, other countries’ fraudbusters have taken an interest. At least one of the parties involved in the oil-block sale has been contacted by America’s Department of Justice.

As for the legal actions brought in London against Malabu by the middlemen, the High Court is expected to rule soon on Mr Obi’s claim for $200m. Mr Agaev’s separate arbitration case, in which he sought payment of a $65.5m “success fee”, was recently settled behind closed doors.

Shell and ENI now each own half of an attractive oil block. To get it, however, they have had to strike a deal that brings with it reputational and legal risks. They might conceivably face action under their home countries’ anti-corruption laws, if enforcers reject their claim to have dealt only with the Nigerian government, not Malabu. Shell “would obviously have preferred to secure OPL245 without going within a million miles of Malabu and Etete,” says someone who was involved in the negotiations.

Ethical dilemmas

The saga is a striking example of an ethical dilemma that is growing more acute for international oil companies. They are desperate to replace their shrinking reserves with new finds, but many of the most attractive fields are in unstable or poorly governed places. Worse, the industry has to contend with increased resource nationalism in oil-producing countries, making it harder for outsiders to secure reserves, and with greater competition from state-owned firms in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, which may not have to operate to the same ethical standards.

As a result, firms that refuse to touch any deal with the slightest whiff of impropriety risk eventually going out of business, says Peter Hughes, an energy consultant and former BP executive. They may feel that the best they can do, short of walking away, is to put as much distance as possible between them and the source of the bad smell, as Shell and ENI apparently tried to do with their two-part transaction.

How arm’s-length is arm’s-length enough? That depends on the company’s “threshold of ambiguity”, says Cory Harvey of Control Risks, which helps companies to manage political and reputational risk. This will vary from company to company and will be perceived differently by management, regulators and NGOs. Ms Harvey has seen oil-industry clients walk away from deals because of concerns about the reputation of, or lack of reliable information on, a seller or local partner. But energy transactions in difficult places can be “spectacularly complex”, she says, making it hard to gauge the acceptable level of risk. Nigeria is “arguably the most complex environment of all”.

Mr Hughes argues that when foreign companies turn a blind eye to questionable aspects of a deal, it can sometimes benefit developing countries with natural resources. The publicly traded oil majors are, on balance, a force for good, raising overall standards of behaviour by trying to operate as cleanly as possible in most circumstances, he says; better that than leaving the field to less scrupulous operators. Ethically speaking, the industry “has to be viewed in relative, not absolutist, terms,” he argues. Mr Hughes points out that Shell periodically talks of scaling back its Nigerian operations, which he believes to be “part of a political-risk management strategy” to exert pressure on the government to act more cleanly and predictably.

Global Witness prefers to see the OPL245 affair as “a lesson in corruption” that demonstrates how important it is for rich-world governments to press on with transparency initiatives, on two fronts. The first front concerns payments to governments. In the past year America and the EU have begun to require resources firms listed there, and large unlisted firms in the EU, to report, project-by-project, their payments to governments. Had this been in force at the time, it would have picked up the $1.3 billion transaction with Nigeria. This would have prompted public scrutiny of the deal and the subsequent money flows through Malabu, which in the end came to light only because the two middlemen decided to sue.

Shell says it favours greater transparency, if applied globally. It opposes the existing project-by-project initiatives because they omit companies not listed in America or Europe, thereby handing them a competitive advantage.

The second front for improving transparency concerns the use of murky corporate vehicles. Hopes are growing that the G8, which meets next week with Britain’s David Cameron in the chair, will take steps towards ending the use of anonymous shell companies. Had corporate registries been collecting, and making publicly available, information on beneficial owners back in 1998, the identity of Malabu’s owners might have been clear from the start. And it would have been much more difficult to move the proceeds of the sale to Shell and ENI into the corporate equivalent of a black hole, seemingly out of the reach even of Nigeria’s anti-corruption commission.

via Royal Dutch Shell plc .com.

Authoritarian Neoliberalism in the EU | Paul Murphy MEP


Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to address the Dail Joint Committee on European Affairs. The topic of the discussion was on the future shape of the European Union and Ireland’s relationship with it.

In the three videos below you will see firstly my presentation to the
, along with a slides,  where I outline that what is happening in the European Union is the growth of authoritarian neoliberalism, and that the future direction is one of a less democratic union of fiscal austerity.

The second and third videos contain my response to the comments and questions which were raised in the discussion by TDs and other MEPs.

via Authoritarian Neoliberalism in the EU | Paul Murphy MEP.

The EU’s Out-Of-Control Intelligence Services (That Don’t Exist)


Brussels, the center of gravity of the European Union and seat of NATO Headquarters, not only teems with lobbyists, diplomats, military personnel, bureaucrats, politicians, Americans, and other weird characters from around the world, but also with spies.

“Brussels is one of the largest spy capitals in the world,” said Alain Winants, head of the Belgian State Security Service VSSE. He guesstimated that there’d be “several hundred” plying their trade at any one time, chasing after a broad array of topics, from trade issues to security policies.

Yet officially, the EU itself doesn’t have an intelligence service of its own. It’s dependent on the national intelligence services of the member states that supply it with “finished intelligence.” Officially. In reality, it has been building an intelligence apparatus of six services so far, some of them brand new, populated already by 1,300 specialists. But because they’re officially not conducting direct covert operations – though they do go overseas, including to Libya during the Arab Spring! – they simply deny being intelligence services.

Thus, four of them have finagled to escape democratic oversight and control by the European Parliament. Even in the US, the Intelligence Community is accountable to the Congress. Not so in the EU. As everything else in the EU bureaucracy, these services – the newest dating back to 2011 – are constantly growing, assuming more functions, responsibilities, and power, with vast and ever expanding databases at their fingertips, tied into a dense network of other intelligence services. And it’s just the beginning.

Some Members of Parliament are getting antsy and want to rein them in. Martin Ehrenhauser, independent MP from Austria, and member of the Subcommittee on Security and Defense Policy, is one of the ringleaders; and in his blog post, he details some of the issues.

Since its founding, the EU has been building its own spy programs, often triggered by specific needs, in an “ad-hoc” manner “without strategy” and without a “coherent concept” about its structure, methods, and people, he writes. This “EU intelligence community” saw its first steps in 1993 with the founding of Europol, the only intelligence service established by treaty, and thus the only one with a legitimate basis. Between the prolific years of 2000 and 2004, four additional intelligence units were cobbled together by the unelected European Council. And another one in 2011.

Parliament, emasculated by design in the hyper-democratic manner of the EU, was never given an opportunity to be involved. The logic? Since these entities receive only “finished intelligence” from national services, democratic oversight would rest with national parliaments, not with the European Parliament. Alas, these EU intelligence services are gathering their own intelligence to an ever greater degree. Hence, Ehrenhauser writes, the idea that the EU receives 100% of its information from national intelligence services is a “fallacy.”

The EU intelligence services function similarly to their national counterparts: they collect information, often overseas, analyze it, and transmit it to policy makers. These products can be classified EU TOP SECRET. The mere fact that they might not use covert operations directly to obtain the information, Ehrenhauser writes, is “not sufficient to deny the very existence of the intelligence services and therefore the necessity of democratic controls by the European Parliament.”

Of the six services, only Europol (intelligence and law enforcement) and Frontex (external borders) are subject to some parliamentary oversight. The remaining four – the Intelligence Analysis Center (IntCen), the Satellite Center (SatCen), the Intelligence Directorate (IntDir), and the Situation Room (crisis monitoring) – are beyond democratic controls.

All four have been rolled into the European External Action Service (EEAS), which itself was founded in 2011. Some of them don’t even publish their budgets. Though they’re still small, given their youth, they’re destined to grow just like Europol has been growing over its 20 years of existence. They’re already getting tangled up in “ever more complex decision-making structures with diffuse responsibilities,” Ehrenhauser writes, and they’re making “sweeping decisions far away from the voter.”

So he demands oversight by the European Parliament “at all levels.” It’s not like they haven’t tried. Well, one tiny bit. While Parliament – unique among democracies – can’t initiate legislation, it does have some control over the purse strings. So there was an initiative in the budget committee to force EEAS to disclose the budgets of these four entities. It would have provided a modicum of say and transparency. But it was voted down in the committee.

What kind of Parliament decides to abrogate its responsibilities? What kind of lawmaker votes for continued ignorance and powerlessness in face of what someday will be a massive intelligence apparatus with unknown budgets, ill-defined limits, and the mission to serve its master, the European Council? Monsters have been created on this basis. Another victory for unelected Eurocrats and their armies of functionaries that plod forward in their unsteady manner, hell-bent on implementing their vision of a mega-state encumbered only slightly by the somewhat inconvenient veneer of democracy.

Meanwhile, hunger is spreading from its traditional strongholds in the global south to depression-hit Southern Europe. In Greece, reports are growing of children having to scrounge for food from classmates, while in Spain city dwellers have become inured to the spectacle of people rummaging in trash cans for a bite to eat. But there’s a reason. Read…. Starving the World for Power and Profit: The Global Agribusiness Model

via Testosterone Pit – Home – The EU’s Out-Of-Control Intelligence Services (That Don’t Exist).

via Testosterone Pit – Home – The EU’s Out-Of-Control Intelligence Services (That Don’t Exist).

Milestone Supreme Court Decision for WikiLeaks Case in Iceland


Milestone Supreme Court Decision for WikiLeaks Case in Iceland

The decision marked the most important victory to date against the unlawful and arbitrary economic blockade erected by US companies against WikiLeaks. Iceland’s Supreme Court upheld the decision that Valitor (formerly VISA Iceland and current Visa subcontractor) had unlawfully terminated its contract with WikiLeaks donations processor DataCell. This strong judgement is an important milestone for WikiLeaks’ legal battle to end the economic blockade that has besieged the organisation since early December 2010. Despite the effects of the blockade having crippled WikiLeaks resources, the organisation is fighting the blockade on many fronts. It is a battle that concerns free speech and the future of the free press; it concerns fundamental civil rights; and it is a struggle for the rights of individuals to vote with their wallet and donate to the cause they believe in.

If the gateway to WikiLeaks donations is not re-opened within 15 days Visa’s Valitor will be fined 800,000 ISK ($6,830) per day.

WikiLeaks publisher, Julian Assange, said:

“This is a victory for free speech. This is a victory against the rise of economic censorship to crack down against journalists and publishers”

“We thank the Icelandic people for showing that they will not be bullied by powerful Washington backed financial services companies like Visa. And we send out a warning to the other companies involved in this blockade: you’re next.”

“We hope that the that the European Commission also acknowledges that the economic blockade against WikiLeaks is an unlawful and arbitrary censorship mechanism that threatens freedom of the press across Europe. If it fails to do so, the Commission must be regarded as failing to live up to the founding European principles of economic and political freedom.”

Today’s verdict strengthens other fronts in this battle. There is an active legal action in Denmark against a Danish sub-contractor for VISA, equivalent to Valitor. The decision will also buttress the pre-litigation work already under way in various jurisdictions against the international card companies and financial services companies – VISA and MasterCard, Western Union, PayPal and Bank of America, and other payment facilitators that teamed with these giants to form a concerted, and equally unlawful economic blockade against the organisation.

In November the European Parliament passed a resolution which included a clause drafted specifically in relation to the economic blockade against Wikileaks. The resolution called on the European Commission to draft regulations that will prevent online payment facilitators from arbitrarily denying services to companies or organisations, such as WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks has also launched a formal complaint to the European Commission on the basis that VISA and MasterCard, which together take up 95% of the European market, have unlawfully abused their dominant market position. The European Commission is still evaluating whether it will open a formal investigation but documents already submitted by the companies reveal that the credit card companies were in talks with powerful figures in the US Congress and Senate (Senator Lieberman and Congressman Peter T. King). http://wikileaks.org/European-Commission-enabling.html

Although it is still not possible to donate directly to WikiLeaks via credit card, freedom of press campaigners including Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Elsberg, the actor John Cusack, and the Founder of the California-based Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) John Perry Barlow, have set up the Freedom of the Press Foundation to collect money for WikiLeaks. It allows donors to make anonymous, tax-deductable donations. http://t.co/qpW57qquOf

This and similar mechanisms for Europeans are available on http://shop.wikileaks.org/donate

Context:

Blockade:

http://wikileaks.org/European-Commission-enabling.html

Freedom of the Press Foundation:

http://t.co/qpW57qquOf

Julian Assange asylum (one year, June 19, 2013)

http://justice4assange.com/extraditing-assange.html

Bradley Manning (trial June 2)

http://bradleymanning.org/

via TwitLonger — When you talk too much for Twitter.

via TwitLonger — When you talk too much for Twitter.

Shock findings in new GMO study: Rats fed lifetime of GM corn grow horrifying tumors, 70% of females die early


Eating genetically modified corn (GM corn) and consuming trace levels of Monsanto‘s Roundup chemical fertilizer caused rats to develop horrifying tumors, widespread organ damage, and premature death. That’s the conclusion of a shocking new study that looked at the long-term effects of consuming Monsanto’s genetically modified corn.

The study has been deemed “the most thorough research ever published into the health effects of GM food crops and the herbicide Roundup on rats.” News of the horrifying findings is spreading like wildfire across the internet, with even the mainstream media seemingly in shock over the photos of rats with multiple grotesque tumors… tumors so large the rats even had difficulty breathing in some cases. GMOs may be the new thalidomide.

“Monsanto Roundup weedkiller and GM maize implicated in ‘shocking’ new cancer study” wrote The Grocery, a popular UK publication. (http://www.thegrocer.co.uk/topics/technology-and-supply-chain/monsant…)

It reported, “Scientists found that rats exposed to even the smallest amounts, developed mammary tumors and severe liver and kidney damage as early as four months in males, and seven months for females.”

The Daily Mail reported, “Fresh row over GM foods as French study claims rats fed the controversial crops suffered tumors.” (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2205509/Fresh-fears-GM…)

It goes on to say: “The animals on the GM diet suffered mammary tumors, as well as severe liver and kidney damage. The researchers said 50 percent of males and 70 percent of females died prematurely, compared with only 30 percent and 20 percent in the control group.”

Rat-Tumor-Monsanto-GMO-Cancer-Study-3-Wide

The study, led by Gilles-Eric Seralini of the University of Caen, was the first ever study to examine the long-term (lifetime) effects of eating GMOs. You may find yourself thinking it is absolutely astonishing that no such studies were ever conducted before GM corn was approved for widespread use by the USDA and FDA, but such is the power of corporate lobbying and corporate greed.

The study was published in The Food & Chemical Toxicology Journal and was just presented at a news conference in London.

indings from the study

Here are some of the shocking findings from the study:

• Up to 50% of males and 70% of females suffered premature death.

• Rats that drank trace amounts of Roundup (at levels legally allowed in the water supply) had a 200% to 300% increase in large tumors.

• Rats fed GM corn and traces of Roundup suffered severe organ damage including liver damage and kidney damage.

• The study fed these rats NK603, the Monsanto variety of GM corn that’s grown across North America and widely fed to animals and humans. This is the same corn that’s in your corn-based breakfast cereal, corn tortillas and corn snack chips.

The Daily Mail is reporting on some of the reaction to the findings:

France’s Jose Bove, vice-chairman of the European Parliament’s commission for agriculture and known as a fierce opponent of GM, called for an immediate suspension of all EU cultivation and import authorisations of GM crops. ‘This study finally shows we are right and that it is urgent to quickly review all GMO evaluation processes,’ he said in a statement. ‘National and European food security agencies must carry out new studies financed by public funding to guarantee healthy food for European consumers.’ (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2205509/Fresh-fears-GM…)

Read the study abstract

The study is entitled, “A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health.” Read the abstract here:

http://www.biolsci.org/v05p0706.htm

via Shock findings in new GMO study: Rats fed lifetime of GM corn grow horrifying tumors, 70% of females die early.

via Shock findings in new GMO study: Rats fed lifetime of GM corn grow horrifying tumors, 70% of females die early.

Internet users’ personal information on major ‘cloud’ storage services can be spied upon routinely by US authorities


If you thought cloud computing gave you anonymity, well think again. 

All personal information stored by internet users on major “cloud” computing services including Google Drive can be spied upon routinely without their knowledge by US authorities under newly-approved legislation, it can be disclosed.

Cloud computing has exploded in recent years as a flexible, cheap way for individuals, companies and government bodies to remotely store documents and data. According to some estimates, 35 per cent of UK firms use some sort of cloud system – with Google Drive, Apple iCloud and Amazon Cloud Drive the major players.

But it has now emerged that all documents uploaded onto cloud systems based in the US or falling under Washington’s jurisdiction can be accessed and analysed without a warrant by American security agencies.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as FISA, allows US government agencies open access to any electronic information stored by non-American citizens by US-based companies. Quietly introduced during the dying days of President George W Bush’s administration in 2008, it was renewed over Christmas 2012.

But only now are privacy campaigners and legal experts waking up to the extent of the intrustion.

Caspar Bowden, who served as Chief Privacy Adviser to Microsoft Europe for nine years until 2011, told The Independent: “What this legislation means is that the US has been able to mine any foreign data in US Clouds since 2008, and nobody noticed.”

Significantly, bodies such as the National Security Agency, the FBI and the CIA can gain access to any information that potentially concerns US foreign policy for purely political reasons – with no need for any suspicion that national security is at stake – meaning that religious groups, campaigning organisations and journalists could be targeted.

The information can be intercepted and stored in bulk as it enters the US via undersea cables crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

Mr Bowden, who now works as an independent advocate for privacy rights and co-authored a report for the European Parliament warning of the threat to clouds posed by FISA, criticised the UK Information Commissioner’s Office for giving free rein to the US authorities.

The body which polices data protection laws in the UK effectively ruled that companies were right to pass information over to foreign government requests as the disclosure was made “in accordance with a legal requirement”, such as FISA.

Mr Bowden said: “Every time we make a bridge of trust, or commit an indiscretion, using a social network or webmail, think how a foreign country could use that information for its own purposes to influence policy and politics. Drafts of documents prepared online, who is in contact with each other, all of this can be captured and analysed using data-mining algorithms much more advanced than those offered by public search engines.”

His report, which is being considered by the EU in a review of its electronic privacy directive, cautioned that the threat of “heavy-calibre mass-surveillance fire-power aimed at the cloud” was greater than that posed by cyber-crime.

Gordon Nardell QC, a British barrister who specialises in data protection, said he was “shocked” by the powers outlined in the highly-controversial amendments to FISA.

He said: “What’s different about this is that it’s a power in the US authorities to insist on real-time collection of information by any data processer within US jurisdiction. The US authorities basically grab everything that is going in and out.”

Sophie in ‘t Veld, a Dutch MEP who serves as vice chair of the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee, warned that European authorities must act as soon as possible.

Speaking to The Independent, she said:“Let’s turn this around and imagine this is not the United States having unlimited access to our data but the government of Mr Putin or the Chinese government – would we still wonder if it’s an urgent issue? Nobody would ask that question.”

Eric King of pressure group Privacy International, said: “Allowing mass surveillance, unwarranted and unaccountable, is terrifying.”

Isabella Sankey, Director of Policy for Liberty, said: “US surveillance ambitions know no bounds. The chilling US Foreign Intelligence Service Act treats all non-US citizens as enemy suspects.”

Last night a Google spokesperson said: “It is possible for the US government (and European governments) to access certain types of data via their law enforcement agencies. We think this kind of access to data merits serious discussion and more transparency.”

Amazon and Apple were yet to comment last night.

via British internet users’ personal information on major ‘cloud’ storage services can be spied upon routinely by US authorities – News – Gadgets & Tech – The Independent.

Mitchell: Deal already done on Anglo promissory notes


Irish MEP Gay Mitchell said today that he believes agreement has already been reached behind the scenes in Europe to push out Ireland’s payment of the Anglo promissory notes.

The Department of Finance has said that is not the case, however.

Speaking at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Mr Mitchell said the European Central Bank has already effectively given the green light for a deal.

He said the EU authorities have to be careful about the timing of any announcement on Irish debt restructuring, however.

Mr Mitchell said: “The problem is that anything that is done in terms of new timing for payments, they’re fearful that the Greeks and the Italians might say, you know: ‘Could we have some new arrangement as well?’.

“But I think there’s a very clear understanding, certainly in the Parliament and in the Commission, and I believe in the Central Bank as well, that it is untenable for Ireland to pay this money over such a short period.”

Finance Minister Michael Noonan cautioned that there are still “legal hurdles” to overcome before any deal can be completed.

Minister Noonan has joined fellow EU Finance Ministers in Brussels again today for talks on the union’s new banking supervisor.

The Minister said that he still feels a deal for Ireland is likely before the next payment date in Marc, however.

“The first step is to have the supervisory system in place, and then we’d be in a position to start talking about it,” he said.

“But there is a commitment to Ireland and that commitment was reinforced in bilaterals between the Taoiseach and the German Chancellor and the French President.”

via Mitchell: Deal already done on Anglo promissory notes | BreakingNews.ie.

via Mitchell: Deal already done on Anglo promissory notes | BreakingNews.ie.

Merkel calls for EU powers to veto national budgets –


German chancellor Angela Merkel has demanded stronger central powers for the European Commission to veto national budgets that breach EU rules, risking a clash with France at a summit of EU leaders today.

Addressing parliament in Berlin hours before the 22nd summit since the start of the euro zone‘s debt crisis, Dr Merkel also sought to slow the race to create a single European banking supervisor, saying quality was more important than speed.

French president François Hollande took a very different tack in an interview with six European newspapers, warning that budget discipline alone would not solve the euro zone’s problems without doing more to revive growth. He called for greater haste in implementing a banking union.

“The topic of this summit is not the fiscal union but the banking union, so the only decision that will be taken is to set up a banking union by the end of the year and especially the banking supervision. The other topic is not on the agenda,” he said at pre-summit meeting of socialist leaders.

Dr Merkel and Mr Hollande are expected to hold a one-on-one meeting before the summit proper begins, EU officials said, which may provide a chance to discuss their differences.

Dr Merkel skirted the issue of a possible credit line for Spain, which euro zone officials expect Madrid to request within weeks, but reiterated her desire to keep Greece in the currency area despite its chronic debt problems.

In Greece, workers walked off the job for the second time in three weeks, aiming to show EU leaders that a new wave of wage and pension cuts will only worsen their plight after five years of recession.

“We have made good progress on strengthening fiscal discipline with the fiscal pact but we are of the opinion, and I speak for the whole German government on this, that we could go a step further by giving Europe real rights of intervention in national budgets,” Dr Merkel told the Bundestag lower house.

A proposal by German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble to create a super-empowered European currency commissioner was a possible way forward, she said, and more European control should be accompanied by a stronger European Parliament.

via Merkel calls for EU powers to veto national budgets – The Irish Times – Thu, Oct 18, 2012.

via Merkel calls for EU powers to veto national budgets – The Irish Times – Thu, Oct 18, 2012.

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