Friday, 9 July 2010

Spy Suspects Leave U.S. in Swap With Russia

Spy Suspects Leave U.S. in Swap With Russia

Ten convicted Russian sleeper agents were whisked out of the United States on a plane headed over the Atlantic Ocean late Thursday as part of a deal with Moscow to put a quick end to an episode that threatened to disrupt relations between the two countries.

Even as the Russian spies were being hastily deported, four Russian men deemed spies for the United States and its allies were being pardoned by the Kremlin and prepared for release to the West in exchange. President Dmitri A. Medvedev signed an order to free them and they were expected to leave Russia promptly.

Neither government would say where their respective prisoners were heading initially, but one official familiar with the situation said the Russian spies were flying first to Vienna, where they would be handed over before traveling onto Moscow or any other final destination. The four Russians were to be released Friday morning Moscow time and also head first to Vienna as both sides made clear they hoped to put the incident behind them soon.

The swift conclusion to the cases just 11 days after the arrest of the Russian agents evoked memories of cold war-style bargaining but underscored the new-era relationship between Washington and Moscow. President Obama has made the “reset” of Russian-American relations a top foreign policy priority, and the quiet collaboration over the spy scandal indicates that the Kremlin likewise values the warmer ties.

“The agreement we reached today provides a successful resolution for the United States and its interests,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a statement.

Within hours of the New York court hearing, the Kremlin announced that President Dmitri A. Medvedev had signed pardons for the four men Russia considered spies after each of them signed statements admitting guilt.

The Kremlin identified them as Igor V. Sutyagin, an arms control researcher held for 11 years; Sergei Skripal, a colonel in Russia’s military intelligence service sentenced in 2006 to 13 years for spying for Britain; Aleksandr Zaporozhsky, a former agent with Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service who has served seven years of an 18-year sentence;and Gennadi Vasilenko, a former K.G.B. major who was arrested in 1998 for contacts with a C.I.A. officer but eventually released only to be arrested again in 2005 and later convicted on illegal weapons charges.

In a statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry attributed the agreement to the warming trend between Washington and Moscow. “This action was carried out in the overall context of improved Russian-American relations,” it said. “This agreement gives reason to hope that the course agreed upon by Russia and the United States will be accordingly realized in practice and that attempts to derail the course will not succeed.”

A White House spokesman, Ben Rhodes, said the episode would not affect the reset and that the two sides would cooperate when possible “even as we will defend our interests when we differ.” Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff, said the president was fully briefed on the decision. Mr. Emanuel said the case showed that the United States was still watchful even as relations improved. “It sends a clear signal to not only Russia but other countries that will attempt this that we are on to them,” he told the PBS program “NewsHour.”

The sensational case straight out of a spy novel — complete with invisible ink, buried cash and a red-haired beauty whose romantic exploits have been excavated in the tabloids — came to a dramatic denouement in court.

The 10 defendants sat in the jury box, while their lawyers and prosecutors filled the well of the packed courtroom. Some of the Russian agents wore jail garb over orange T-shirts, while others wore civilian clothes. Natalia Pereverzeva, for example, known as Patricia Mills, sat in jeans with a dark sweater.

Few of the defendants conversed with one another. Some looked grim. One, Vicky Peláez, appeared to be weeping as she gestured to her sons at the close of the hearing.

At one point, Judge Kimba M. Wood asked each of the 10 to disclose their true names.

The first to rise was the man known as Richard Murphy, who lived with his wife and two children in Montclair, N.J. He said his name was Vladimir Guryev.

Then his wife rose. “My true name is Lydia Guryev,” she said.

All but three — Anna Chapman, Mikhail Semenko and Ms. Peláez — had assumed false names in the United States.

The 10 each pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government without properly registering; the government said it would drop the more serious count of conspiracy to launder money, which eight of the defendants also faced. They had not been charged with espionage, apparently because they did not obtain classified information.

All of them agreed never to return to the United States without permission from the attorney general. They also agreed to turn over any money made from publication of their stories as agents, according to their plea agreements with the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan. Several also agreed to forfeit assets, including real estate, in the United States.

At one point, the prosecutor, Michael Farbiarz, told the judge that although Russian officials had met with the defendants, they had done nothing to force them to plead guilty or entice them into doing so. Defense lawyers concurred.

One lawyer, though, John M. Rodriguez, said Russian officials had made promises to his client, Ms. Peláez, but he assured the judge that they were not inducements to make her plead guilty. He said Ms. Peláez was told that upon her arrival in Russia, she could go to Peru or anywhere else; she was promised free housing in Russia and a monthly stipend of $2,000 for life and visas for her two children.

Ms. Peláez was not formally trained as a spy, her lawyer has said. He has also said that she had no desire to go to Russia as part of a swap. “I know we were the last to sign” a plea agreement, Mr. Rodriguez said after the hearing on Thursday.

The defendants included several married couples with children. American officials said after the court hearing that they would be free to leave the United States with their parents.

Perhaps the most recognizable of the agents was Ms. Chapman, who ran her own real estate firm and who had attained a degree of notoriety after tabloid newspapers worldwide chronicled her sex life and reprinted photographs of her in skimpy attire.

Administration officials who insisted on the condition of anonymity to discuss the delicate decision would not say who initially proposed a swap but added that they considered it a fruitful idea because they saw “no significant national security benefits from their continued incarceration,” as one put it. Some of the four Russians to be freed are in ill health, the official added.

Another American official, who was not authorized to speak about the case, said officials of the intelligence agencies were the channel for most of the negotiations, particularly Leon E. Panetta, the director of the C.I.A., and Mikhail Y. Fradkov, director of the S.V.R., Russia’s foreign intelligence agency.

The official said the American side decided “we could trade these agents — who really had nothing to tell us that we didn’t already know — for people who had never stopped fighting for their freedom in Russia.”

The spy ring case further fueled debate in Washington about Mr. Obama’s outreach to Russia even as he tries to persuade the Senate to ratify the New Start arms control pact he signed last spring with Mr. Medvedev.

“The lesson here is this administration may be trying to reset the relationship, but I don’t have any confidence that the Russians are,” said Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. “They got caught.”

David J. Kramer, a former assistant secretary of state under President George W. Bush, wondered whether the administration could have gotten a better deal. “The White House risks appearing overeager to sweep problems under the rug,” he said.

But supporters of the administration said the spy case should not undermine the relationship or support for the treaty. Richard R. Burt, a former arms control negotiator who now heads a pro-disarmament group called Global Zero, pointed out that the United States ratified treaties during the cold war when there was an active espionage campaign waged between the two powers. “No arms treaty, including the New Start agreement, is based on trust,” Mr. Burt said.

On June 27, 2010, 10 people in Yonkers, Boston and northern Virginia were arrested and accused of being part of a Russian espionage ring, living under false names and deep cover in a patient scheme to penetrate what one coded message called American "policy making circles." The next day, an 11th accused member of the ring was arrested at an airport in Cyprus while trying to leave for Budapest.

The arrests were the result of an F.B.I. investigation that began at least seven years ago.

Criminal complaints filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan read like an old-fashioned cold war thriller: Spies swapping identical orange bags as they brushed past each other in a train station stairway. An identity borrowed from a dead Canadian, forged passports, messages sent by shortwave burst transmission or in invisible ink. A money cache buried for years in a field in upstate New York.

The suspected spy ring had everything it needed for world-class espionage: excellent training, cutting-edge gadgetry, deep knowledge of American culture and meticulously constructed cover stories. The only things missing in more than a decade of operation were actual secrets to send home to Moscow.

Most, and perhaps all, of the 10 suspects have agreed to plead guilty to help facilitate a swap between Russia and the United States.

Spies in American Suburbia

The spy ring assignments, described in secret instructions intercepted by the F.B.I., were to collect routine political gossip and policy talk that might have been more efficiently gathered by surfing the Web. And none of the suspects face charges of espionage, because in all those years they were never caught sending classified information back to Moscow. The 10 in custody have been charged with conspiring to act as unregistered agents of a foreign government, and eight were also charged with conspiring to commit money laundering. The eight could face up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

In June, court documents detailed what the authorities called the "Illegals Program," an ambitious, if puzzling, long-term effort by the S.V.R., one of the successors to the Soviet K.G.B., to plant Russian spies in the United States to gather information and recruit more agents. The network of so-called illegals — spies operating under false names outside of diplomatic cover — also used cyber-age technology, according to the charges. They embedded coded texts in ordinary-looking images posted on the Internet, and they communicated by having two agents pass casually with laptops containing special software flashed messages between them.

The suspects had lived for more than a decade in American cities and suburbs from Seattle to New York, where they seemed to be ordinary couples working ordinary jobs, chatting to the neighbors about schools and apologizing for noisy teenagers. They were directed to gather information on nuclear weapons, American policy toward Iran, C.I.A. leadership, Congressional politics and many other topics, according to prosecutors. The Russian spies made contact with a former high-ranking American national security official and a nuclear weapons researcher, among others.

The 'Illegals Program'

Experts on Russian intelligence expressed astonishment at the scale, longevity and dedication of the program, and many questioned its worth. They noted that Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian prime minister and former president and spy officer, had worked to restore the prestige and funding of Russian espionage after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dark image of the K.G.B.

Cells of undercover operatives, masked as ordinary citizens, are known in Russian as "illegals," and they occupy a storied position in Soviet culture.

Illegals, unlike most spies, live in foreign countries without the benefit of a diplomatic cover, which would have offered them immunity from prosecution if they were caught. Soviet intelligence services began training a corps of these agents shortly after the October Revolution in 1917, when few countries had diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, and it came to be seen as a particular Soviet specialty.

It is both risky and very expensive work, since agents often spend years just developing a fake life story, known in Russian as a "legend," and because the KG.B. would often keep an agent in place abroad for years or even decades before he or she was able to gather useful information.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, many career spymasters began to speak publicly about the adventures of the illegals, but several recent arrests have come as reminders that the tactic is still in use.

In 2008, Estonia found that one of its top intelligence officials was reporting to a Russian agent who was living under a Portuguese identity as Antonio de Jesus Amorett Graf. In 2006, Canadian officials arrested a Russian spy who had been living under an assumed Canadian identity as Paul William Hampel.

A Swap Between the U.S. and Russia

The exchange between Russian and United States could lead to a series of relatively quick guilty pleas, allowing the government to avoid a series of protracted trials. Prosecutors have not accused the suspects of passing classified information to their Russian handlers. But a resolution would allow the government to avoid a long legal battle in which sensitive information about intelligence techniques could be exposed.

On July 8, 2010, Igor V. Sutyagin, a Russian scientist convicted of spying for the United States in 2004, was released and flown to Vienna where he was met by a British official. Mr. Sutyagin was arrested in 1999 and accused of passing secrets about nuclear submarines and missile warning systems to a British company that prosecutors said was a front for the C.I.A. Imprisoned for 10 years, Mr. Sutyagin has maintained his innocence.

If the Russian suspects held in the United States sign on to the deal as expected, they are expected to leave the country promptly. As often occurs in plea bargains, the defendants will be allowed to plead guilty to one charge — conspiring to act as an unregistered foreign agent, which carries a maximum penalty of five years and has no minimum term. The government will presumably drop a second charge that most of the defendants face, conspiring to launder money, which carries a 20-year term. None of the defendants are charged with espionage.

Such a deal would also eliminate the possibility that a high-profile case would serve as an irritant to relations between the United States and Russia. Both countries have made clear they do not expect the charges to damage relations.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Octavia Nasr lose her job from CNN

Speak your mind, lose your job is the lesson I'm taking away from yesterday's sacking of CNN senior editor Octavia Nasr. Nasr, who had worked for the network for 20 years, tweeted this upon the death of Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah:

Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah ... One of Hezbollah's giants I respect a lot.

Nasr promptly published a mea culpa, blaming the 140-character brevity of Twitter for her "error of judgment." She regretted having tried to express complex views about Fadlallah's life's work in a simplistic forum. Then, she spent 3,964 characters trying to clarify her tweet and save her job. No luck. An internal CNN memo obtained by the New York Times stated that Nasr was sent packing because "her credibility" had "been compromised."

The dumping of Nasr follows the defenestration of Washington Post blogger Dave Weigel, whose resignation was accepted on June 25 after intemperate comments he had made about conservatives in a private listserv were leaked to FishbowlDC and the Daily Caller.
Weigel's acerbic listserv comments, some made before he went to work for the Post, bad-mouthed some of the very conservatives he had been hired to cover. Weigel called upon Matt Drudge to torch himself, labeled Newt Gingrich an "amoral blowhard," and otherwise disparaged conservatives. Weigel, too, has apologized, saying he regrets his rudeness and "hubris." In an piece published today, Weigel writes that he "had a bad habit of using [the listserv] as an idea latrine." (Idea Latrine would be a great name for a band.)

In the wake of Weigel's departure, his ultimate boss, Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli, offered this mind-bending statement to Post reporter Howard Kurtz. "[W]e can't have any tolerance for the perception that people are conflicted or bring a bias to their work. ... There's abundant room on our Web site for a wide range of viewpoints, and we should be transparent about everybody's viewpoint." [Ellipsis in the original.]

Brauchli seems to be saying that Post reporters can bring biases to their journalism, just as long as they don't reveal them. But the post-ellipsis part of his statement appears to contradict that reading, because if everybody were to suddenly become transparent about their viewpoints at the Post, perception of bias would rise, crest, and surely swamp readers. And Brauchli can't possibly want that.

Brauchli's confusion over where reporters should stow their personal luggage—in a dark and locked closet or in the vestibule where anybody can pick through it—goes to the center of the two controversies. That journalists have opinions and express them in private and sometimes (to their frequent regret) in public should come as no shocker. If you prick them, they bleed, too.

But such biases shouldn't be thought of as invasive weeds, choking the garden, but as nutrients. The job of a journalist is to gather evidence, test it, and come to conclusions wherever feasible. Such an enterprise is impossible to undertake without biases. Indeed, like scientific inquires, almost every new story always begins with some sort of bias or hunch or leaning. A reporter or an editor thinks this story is more promising or interesting than that story, therefore they agree to pursue it. But without reporting both stories—or every possible story, which is impossible—how can the editor and reporter really know which was the "right" story to assign? They can't. They can only trust their biases.

Biases may be necessary for the production of quality journalism, but as anybody who has ever listened to a blowhard or read a listserv or Twitter feed knows, they're not sufficient. Nor is objectivity the key, or what passes for objectivity in journalism these days. As Tom Rosenstiel and Bill Kovach explain in their 2001 book, The Elements of Journalism the key element is verification. Lamenting the loss of the original meaning of "objectivity" in journalism, the duo writes:

When the concept originally evolved, it was not meant to imply that journalists were free of bias. Quite the contrary. The term began to appear as part of journalism early in the last century, particularly in the 1920s, out of a growing recognition that journalists were full of bias, often unconsciously. Objectivity called for journalists to develop a consistent method of testing information—a transparent approach to evidence—precisely so that personal and culture biases would not undermine their work.

The journalistic method was the thing that was supposed to be objective, not the journalist, a method that depended on verification of results and findings. Rosenstiel and Kovach complain about how the old journalism of verification has been "overrun" by the new journalism of assertion that we consume on TV and radio. They also bellyache about the neutral voice adopted by unscrupulous journalists who want to appear objective when they're completely in the tank for somebody. This, they write, is a "form of deception." In my book, this kind of deception—and not shooting off your mouth—should be a firing offense.

Which brings us back to Weigel and Nasr. To the best of my knowledge, neither journalist has been criticized for producing substandard or otherwise shoddy work for their network or newspaper. Both appear to be committed to the journalism of verification, although I'm more confident about vouching for Weigel's work, which I know well, than Nasr's, which I don't. Weigel's jerkiness on a private listserv doesn't bother me much at all. If you were to purge the Post newsroom of every reporter who had been a jerk sometime in his career, you'd be facing an acre of empty desks. In fact, jerkiness was one of the attributes that I used to look for in a candidate when I was on the management side of the editorial divide.

That Weigel's bad manners bothered his Post bosses so much that they felt compelled to accept his resignation speaks poorly for the paper. That CNN walked Nasr off the plank because she expressed a smidgeon of "respect" for a Hezbollah-supporting cleric in a tweet speaks of cowardice.

The work is the thing. Until somebody can show me shoddy journalism by Weigel and Nasr, I'll defend them. Nobody should be sacked to pacify the nitpickers.


While we're on the subject of Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, see this nuanced piece about him in Foreign Policy by David Kenner, who writes what I believe Nasr was thinking. And while we're on the subject of sacking people who speak their minds, let's revisit the Helen Thomas affair. Nobody who read my 2003 piece about her should have been surprised by her comments about Jews and Israel. Should she have been shown the door? Seeing as her views couldn't have been a surprise to her employers at the Hearst News Service, I'd say "nah" because the work is the thing. Should I be fired for my impudence? Of course. Send letters of recommendation that I can use in future job applications to Monitor my Twitter for my compensation demands. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)Justify Full

D-8 Summit Nigeria 2010

D-8 Secretary General, Dipo Alam, was on a official visit to Abuja, Nigeria, on 25-26 January 2010 as a part of series of his working visit to relevant D-8 Member countries to coordinate the preparation for the Abuja Head of States meeting 2010 as well as the farewell to the post which he will soon be entrusted to another diplomat as his successor. Dipo Alam has been recently appointed by the President of Indonesia as Cabinet Secretary Minister of the Republic of Indonesia, and shall return to Indonesia to embark on his new post and serve the country.
Members of D-8, an organisation for cooperation among eight developing countries of the world, will establish a joint investment fund that will boost trade and commerce among member countries, Dipo Alam, said.

Alam, who met Monday in Abuja with several minister of the Nigerian cabinet, such as the minister of Science and Technology, Alhassan Bako Zaku, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Jibril Maigari, and Minister of State for Commerce and Industry, Humphrey Aba, said the group is working on visa simplification agreement which will allow free access to member states which include Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey. “One of the things we want to establish soon is the joint fund. The grant is meant for private sector to prepare feasibility study,” he said.

“Iran has pledged its readiness to contribute 15 million euros to the fund, and we hope that other member countries would follow that initiative,” said Alam. He said that the grant would further be made available to investors, who are expected to return the grant after executing the project. The focus of the group is on development of small and medium scale enterprises.

The D-8 chief stated that four countries, Pakistan, Malaysia, Turkey and Iran have ratified the visa simplification agreement and there are hopes that before the end of July, Nigeria would have signed on to the agreement so that Nigerians can travel with ease to these countries to transact business. This list would soon be including Indonesia, he said.

Alam commended the robust economic activities going on Nigeria, saying that Nigeria is the leading economy among the D-8, having overtaken Malaysia.

“According to World Bank report of 2009 for D-8, Nigeria is number 1 followed by Malaysia. Nigeria is a promising destination for investment and we expect there is benefit for D-8 and also for Nigeria when Nigeria chairs the group for next two years,” he said.

Boosting intra-trade volume through Economic cooperation measures

He revealed that the D-8 countries now have three per cent of the total world trade and their target is to increase it from three to 15 per cent in the next 10 years.

The organisation was established with the objective of enhancing cooperation in the economic sector through sharing of expertise in order to improve the position of member countries in the global economy. The D-8 member states have a population of 930 million people, who are predominantly Muslims.

Zaku said no nation can survive economically without cooperation. “Some of the countries have what others do not have. When we come together, we move forward,” he affirmed.

Alam also met with the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, in which discussion transpired in the plan to hold D-8 Central Bank Governors Meeting which shall elaborate how to improve good governance in banking sector, optimum fiscal stimulus in financial turmoil phase, joint investment fund and Islamic Finance.

Ready to Host D-8 Summit and Committed to be D-8 Chairman 2010-2012

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Federal Government has also pledged its commitment towards the successful hosting of the Developing Eight Nations (D-8) Summit in Abuja in July 2010. Nigerian Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan gave the assurance on Monday to Alam, who paid him a courtesy call at the State House, Presidential Villa, Abuja.

Jonathan, who expressed satisfaction at the line-up of programmes and activities for the Summit as disclosed by Alam, however assured that the nation’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs will work out the details for the successful hosting of the Summit. The Vice-President particularly expressed delight in the involvement of the private sector in the programme, noting that the sector is key to driving the economy.

Earlier, Alam said that he was in Nigeria to explain the progress made so far by the D-8 and to discuss the Summit to be hosted in Abuja in July and as well as inform Jonathan about his recent appointment as Cabinet Secretary in his country, Indonesia. In the occassion, Alam listed some of the expectations of the D-8 Summit to include Investment Cooperation Declarations, Joint Investment Projects among member nations, signing of a memorandum of understanding and signing of projects, among member nations.

On Sunday evening, the Indonesian Embassy in Nigeria also held a dinner reception which was attended by high commissioner of D-8 countries, such of Nik Mustafa Kamal bin Nik Ahmad (Malaysia), Khosrow Rezazadeh (Iran), Major-Gen. (rtd.) Asif Duraiz Akhtar (Pakistan), Mustafa Aykut Sezgin (Turkey), as well as CEOs of various Indonesian companies that invested in Nigerian market such as Indofood (represented by Adhi Sunarto) and Indorama (represented by General Manager, Veeramani).

Davinia Douglass Burned face Recovery

The photo of Davinia Douglass clutching a mask to her burned face became one of the most memorable images of the 7/7 attacks, which killed 52 and injured 770.

Five years on, the scars Davinia, 29, suffered in the suicide bombings have healed.

Davinia was seen, white gauze on her face, at Edgware Road tube station on July 7 2005 as she was helped by ex-firefighter Paul Dadge.

She said: "I went from being convinced I would be seriously scarred for life and that my life would be ruined to being hopeful the medics would be able to put me back together.

"The worst point was when I was alone in the hospital bed wondering what the future held."

She was on the Circle Line train when Mohammad Sidique Khan detonated a bomb leaving six dead.

She was treated at the Chelsea and Westminster hospital where consultant Greg Williams said: "We are not magicians but we do what we can."

Davinia wed business consultant Erik Douglass, 37, on Valentine's Day 2009.

Victim Davinia hails bomb rescuers

SHY bomb victim Davinia Turrell yesterday hailed the heroic 7/7 emergency services as a symbol of all that was best in Britain.

Making her first public appearance since she was last seen with a surgical mask pressed against her burns Davinia, 24, stood alongside Tony Blair at the Mirror's Pride of Britain awards event.

In one of the most emotional moments of a heart-tugging night honouring the nation's everyday heroes and heroines she presented the emergency services, hospital staff and transport workers with a special Beyond the Call of Duty award.

Davinia declared: "I'd like to take this opportunity to express my eternal gratitude to all those who acted so quickly and so bravely at the scene of the London bombings.

"All were simply fantastic and treated myself and my family with the utmost kindness, care and compassion.

"I'm honoured to present this well deserved award to the emergency services not only for their fantastic response on the 7th July but also for their everyday heroism which can go unnoticed."

Brave Davinia was rewarded with a three-minute standing ovation.

She was cruelly burned at Edgware Road Tube on a day of terror attacks which killed 52 innocents, and was pictured being shepherded to safety in the protective arms of former firefighter Paul Dadge.

In her calmness and courage, Britain knew it would overcome. Last night only the palest of scars showed on her skin, a testament to the skill of surgeons.

Tony Blair told the ceremony in London: "When I heard the news I was at an international summit for world leaders.

"To a person they were awestruck by how the emergency services coped that day and how the people of London and this country responded. I was so proud of this country."

After a year blighted by conflict, terrorism and violence on our streets all our 17 Pride of Britain winners are everyday people who restore faith in humanity. They were honoured at the ceremony - held in association with British Gas and to be screened on ITV1 tonight - in the company of world leaders, royalty and celebrities.

Guests included Prince Charles, Mr Blair and wife Cherie, David and Victoria Beckham, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas and Bob Geldof.

Among other famous faces were Jamie Oliver, Sarah Ferguson, Hollywood actress Anjelica Huston, double Olympic medallist Dame Kelly Holmes, Charlotte Church and Sir Cliff Richard.

Dr Who star Christopher Ecclestone told how 12-year-old Cameron Weir saved the lives of his brother and disabled sister after their car plunged into a canal.

Eight-year-old Shea Thomas, cruelly burned by a petrol bomb, brought tears to the eye as she bounded on stage to receive her Child of Courage Award.

A special award went to mum of three Jane Tomlinson, 41, who defied warnings she had months to live following breast cancer diagnosis and went on to raise more than £1million by entering marathons.

Another special award went to the brave McCartney sisters from Belfast who stood up to the IRA after their brother was murdered. Former US president Bill Clinton sent them a video tribute.

Ashleigh Huxley, nine, had no idea she was getting a Child of Courage award for saving her brother from a house fire until Ant and Dec turned up at her Salisbury school to fly her to the event.

All were chosen from thousands of worthy entrants by a team of judges.

The A-list guests at the event, hosted by Carol Vorderman, were humbled by the stories they heard.

Ozzy Osbourne said: "Whenever I have a bad day I just think of these poor people. We don't have bad days."

Hell's Kitchen chef Gordon Ramsay said: "It's a humbling experience. These people have been through extraordinary events. They're an inspiration."

Model Nell McAndrew, who recently had a miscarriage, added: "It's good to come to things like this because it makes you realise there are people far worse off."

Victoria Beckham said: "Some of the people getting these awards are just amazing. It's so emotional I was thinking about wearing waterproof mascara."

We all hope that if and when the moment comes, we can be heroes. That we can cast our fears aside and find an inner strength we never knew we had.

Last night the Mirror honoured those who rose to the challenge and beyond. The nation is proud of every one.

(courtesy for

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Oprah Winfrey powerfull star

Oprah Winfrey is queen. The talk show hostess reigns atop Forbes' annual list of The World's Most Powerful Celebrities.

Winfrey, who earned $315 million over the past year, regained the No. 1 spot from Angelina Jolie, who fell to No. 18 in the ranking of the richest.

Beyoncé rose two notches to No. 2, raking in $87 million. Jay-Z must be happy, though he's at 15.

James Cameron came in at 3, which isn't a big surprise since his sci-fi hit Avatar was the highest-grossing film ever. Other women in the top 10 were pop shocker Lady Gaga (4), Britney Spears (6), Sandra Bullock (8) and good old Madonna (10). Rounding out the fattest bank accounts: Johnny Depp (9) and the entire band U2 (7).

And despite all his personal travails, Tiger Woods still made the No. 5 slot. The golfer earned $105 million between June 2009 and June 2010.

Next year will likely be a different story for Tiger, the mag predicts.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Coast Guard and Minerals Management Service officials pressed for answers, who was in charge

The six-member panel of Coast Guard and Minerals Management Service officials pressed for answers about what occurred on the rig on April 20 before it exploded. They required to know who was in charge, and heard contradictory answers.

Over six days in May, faraway from the familiar choreography of Washington hearing, federal investigators grilled employees concerned in the Deepwater Horizon calamity in a chilly, sterile conference room at a hotel close to the airport here.

They short of for more insight into an disagreement on the rig that day between a manager for BP, the well’s title-holder, and one for Transocean, the rig’s owner, and asked Curt R. Kuchta, the rig’s captain, how the crew knew who was in charge.

“It’s pretty well understood amongst the crew who’s in charge,” he said.

“How do they know that?” a Coast Guard investigator asked.

“I guess, I don’t know,” Captain Kuchta said. “But it’s pretty well — everyone knows.”

Looking annoyed, Capt. Hung Nguyen of the Coast Guard, one of the chief federal investigators, shook his head. The switch confirmed a surveillance he had made earlier in the day at the inquiry.

“A lot of activities seem not very tightly coordinated in the way that would make me relaxed,” he said. “Maybe that’s just the way of business out there.”

Investigators have paying attention on the minute-to-minute decisions and breakdowns to know what led to the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon, killing 11 people and setting off the largest oil spill in United States history and an environmental tragedy. But the lack of coordination was not limited to the day of the detonation.

New government and BP credentials, interviews with experts and testimony by witnesses present the clearest indication to date that an assortment of oversight agencies granted exceptions to rules, allowed risks to build up and made a disaster more likely on the rig, particularly with a mix of different companies operating on the Deepwater whose interests were not always in sync.

And in the aftermath, arguments about who is in charge of the cleanup — often a signal that no one is in charge — have led to delays, distractions and disagreements over how to cap the well and defend the coastline. As a result, with oil continuing to gush a mile below the surface in the Gulf of Mexico, the laws of physics are largely in control, creating the daunting challenge of trying to plug a hole at depths where equipment is straining under more than a ton of pressure per square inch.

Tad W. Patzek, chairman of the Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering Department at the University of Texas, Austin, has analyzed reports of what led to the explosion. “It’s a very complex operation in which the human element has not been aligned with the complexity of the system,” he said in an interview last week.

His conclusion could also apply to what occurred long before the tragedy.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Nation mourns as death toll rises

Nation mourns as death toll rises
117 bodies recovered, families to be given compensation

The nation mourns the dead today as the death toll from Thursday’s fire in eight buildings in Old Town of Dhaka increased to 117 till Friday evening, casting a pall of gloom everywhere.
The air had weighed heavy over Old Town, a closely woven society, since the fire, the deadliest ever in Dhaka, broke out about 9:00pm on Thursday with the grownup losing their wife and children and the children losing their parents and elders.
At least eight bordering buildings went up in flames after, according to the residents, an electrical transformer in an electric pole exploded reportedly by a lightning strike as a storm began at the time.
More than 150, mostly women and children, were injured as the fire continued burning for two hours. Plasters flaked off the building walls at the impact of the explosion of the transformer and the buildings burned black.
The government on Friday announce a national mourning day for Saturday in a mark of respect to the deceased.
The president, Zillur Rahman, the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, and the leader of opposition in the parliament, Khaleda Zia, in separate messages on Friday expressed their shock at the loss of lives in the fire.
They prayed for the salvation of the departed souls and offered their condolences on the deceased.
Hasina went to the DMCH burnt unit about 11:00am on Friday and said the government would bear treatment cost of all the patients and their rehabilitation. She also announced the government would open such burn units in the districts.
Khaleda along with her party leaders and activists visited the place of occurrence about 2:00am on Friday and announced to pay for the treatment of the patients.
Special payers were said in mosques, temples, churches and pagodas across the country on Friday seeking salvation of the departed souls.
The home ministry early Friday formed a three-member committee, headed by additional secretary Iqbal Khan Chowdhury, to investigate the incident and asked it to submit its report in seven working days.
Twenty-six of the injured were admitted to the burn and plastic surgery unit at Dhaka Medical College Hospital. Fourteen others were sent to Combined Military Hospital in Dhaka.
Fourteen of the critically injured suffered burn of at least 40 per cent of their body surface area, said physicians at the hospitals. Most of such patients had their respiratory tracts burnt.
The authorities cancelled the leaves of physicians in the emergency ward and the burn unit of Dhaka Medical College Hospital. Medical assistants from the defence joined DMCH staff in providing treatment.
The reason behind the fire, however, was yet to be established, officials of the Fire Service and Civil Defence, which carried out the rescue operation, said.
But rescuers suspected the transformer explosion caused by a lightning strike was behind the fire, which spread to a chemical warehouse and the bordering buildings at Nabab Katara of Nimtali in Old Town.
Saddam Hossain, manager of the Shefali Bakery just opposite the electric pole with the transformer, however, said he had seen smoke billowing out of the chemical shop and the transformer exploded within minutes.
The fire fighters could hose down the flames about 12:00am, the Fire Service and Civil Defence director general, Brigadier General Abu Nayeem Mohammed Shahidullah, told New Age on Thursday.
Twenty-three fire engines from eight fire stations, local administration, army, police and Rapid Action Battalion personnel, Red Crescent volunteers along with the local residents, carried out the rescue operation overnight.
Fire fighters entered most of the houses that were burnt during the rescue operation and recovered the bodies from houses on holdings 43 to 48.
The 14 independent engineering brigade of the Bangladesh Army joined the operation about 2:30am on Friday.
Abu Nayeem formally called off the rescue operation about 5:00am in consultation with the local people and experts, claiming that there were no bodies in the debris. ‘But a small fire unit was deployed to assist the local people.’
The Dhaka deputy commissioner, Muhibul Haque, said the death toll had hit 117 till Friday evening and the figure is inclusive of a woman, a child and a man who died in hospital on Friday. One hundred and two bodies were handed over to the families. Six bodies were kept in the Mitford Hospital morgue and nine in the DMCH morgue till the evening. The 15 bodies are yet to be identified.
The fire service and civil defence, however, said they had pulled out 93 bodies from the debris and almost all of them could be identified. Unofficial sources again put the death toll at 97 till Friday evening.
Executive magistrate Mohammad Alamin, who handed over the bodies to the families, about 10:30pm on Friday said 92 bodies had so far been handed over and eight other bodies, yet to be identified, remained in the morgues of Dhaka Medical College Hospital and Mitford Hospital.
The district administration has given Tk 20,000 against each of the victims to the families to bear the funeral expenses, Muhibul said.
‘Tk 10,000 has been given to each of the injured admitted to hospital. Tk 20,000 will be given against each of the victims to the families for rehabilitation,’ he said.
Dhaka Medical College Hospital resident surgeon HA Nazmul Hakim said may died because of excessive heat and smoke caused by the burning chemicals after a baker’s which had several large gas burners had caught fire.
An engagement programme was going in a house in one of the buildings, said a local resident, who was standing there when the fire broke out.
‘Most of the family members but the bride and the groom died in the fire. The bride, Runa Akhtar, and the groom, Jamil Reza, were in a beauty parlour at the time,’ Akbar Hossain, a resident of the area, said on Friday.
Local people said most of the buildings housed shoe factories on the ground floors and the chemicals helped the fire to spread fast. And on both sides of the alley, there were wholesale shops of scrap iron and waste papers.
Mohammad Ripon, a resident of Nabab Katara in the Azimpur graveyard on Friday said he had asked Mohammad Faruque, another resident of the area, not to open chemical shop and set up a warehouse, which helped the fire to spread fast, in the crowded area. ‘But he did not listen to me.’
Faruque lost 12 of his family in the fire. He and his brothers Guljar and Didar survived.
Residents of the Nimtali area, crammed with buildings leaving not enough area for emergency services, said the multi-storey buildings were haphazardly constructed and they had no fire escapes or fire safety measures.
Nazimuddin, a resident of the area who pulled out 50 of the bodies from the debris, said the society elders had submitted application to the government office concerned for relocation of small plastic and shoemaking factories that need to use chemicals and imposition of a ban on the establishment of warehouses to store chemicals. ‘The fire spread fast because of the chemicals kept in the warehouse.’
Nazmul, a resident of the area, echoed Nazimuddin. He said, ‘I have never seen volcanic eruption but on television screen. Burning chemicals flowing down the alley reminded me of such eruption.’
The Dhaka City Corporation chief executive officer, Abul Kalam Azad, told New Age the corporation would cancel the trade licences of small factories situated in crowded areas of Old Town.
‘Thursday’s fire left us with no option but to save the lives and property of the Old Town residents by cancelling the licence of such factories. We cannot afford another such accident,’ he said.

Nat’l Mourning Day today

National flag will fly at half-mast today as Bangladesh continued mourning those who died in the devastating fire in the Old Town of Dhaka on Thursday night.
The government announced National Mourning Day today for the victims of the Nimtali blaze and Begunbari building collapse. Special prayers will be offered at mosques and other places of worship across the country.
Special prayers were offered at mosques, temples and churches on Friday seeking blessings for the departed souls.
Cross section of people and different socio-political organisations, including president Zillur Rahman, prime minister Sheikh Hasina and leader of the opposition Khaleda Zia expressed deep shock at the loss of lives in the Old Town fire.
The prime minister and the leader of the opposition visited the people admitted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital with burn injuries.
President Zillur Rahman, in a condolence message, prayed for the salvation of the departed souls and also for the early recovery of the injured. He also expressed his deepest sympathy for the bereaved families.
The prime minister visited the hospital at about 11:00am cancelling all her scheduled programmes and stayed there for about half an hour enquiring about the treatment of the injured.
Earlier, in a condolence message she expressed deep shock at the huge casualties and sympathised with the survivors of the Nimtali tragedy.
She announced that the government would bear all costs for treatment of the injured people and that the victims would be rehabilitated.
Opposition leader Khaleda Zia visited the hospital early on Friday, mourned the dead and checked on the treatment of the injured and demanded compensation for the families of the dead.
Jatiya Party chairman HM Ershad, along with other leaders of his party, also visited the injured at the hospital shortly after Hasina left. Ershad demanded compensation for the victims.
The home minister, food minister, health minister, mayor of Dhaka City Corporation, state minister for LGRD and cooperatives and top government officials visited the spot.
The organisations which gave condolence messages included Zaker Party, Bangladesh Students’ Union, Communist Party of Bangladesh, Gana Forum, Sammilita Sangskritik Jote, 11-Party Alliance, Bangladesher Samajtantrik Dal, Jatiya Ganatantrik League, Bangladesh Nari Mukti Andolan and Workers Party of Bangladesh.

An unusual day for grave-diggers

It was quite unusual for Azeemuddin, who has been digging graves in the Azimpur graveyard for 20 years. He said he had never seen so many burials in a single day in the place.
Pallbearers, many walking down all the way from Nimtali amid rain, after the juma prayers on Friday carried coffins, one after another, of the people who died in the fire that broke out in eight buildings on Nazimuddin Road in Dhaka Thursday night. At least 117 were killed in the fire.
Passers-by found it hard to hold their tears.
Grave-diggers had dug 108 graves since the morning till 2:00pm, Azeemuddin said. ‘Thirty grave-diggers worked digging graves since morning in the east of the graveyard. After the war for independence, I have never seen such a large number of in a single day.’
The main roads leading to the graveyard from the Plassey crossing had been closed for some time after the juma prayers.
The Dhaka mayor, Sadeq Hossain, who attended the funeral said the city dwellers had never seen so many bodies being buried in a day at Azimpur.
The Chhati Mosque, close to the place where the fire broke out, has never witnessed so many funerals at a time, said Shabbir, a neighbour of the victims.
The entire Old Town, which is a closely knit society, was in a pall of gloom with special prayers in mosques after the juma prayers for the departed souls.
There is hardly anyone left to console the bereaved families as everybody had lost someone.
A birthday and a death
Staff Correspondent

Mohammad Ripon could not celebrate the first birthday of his nephew, Rabid, as the child died in the fire at Nimtali in Old Town minutes before he could cut the cake his uncle had bought for him.
Rescuers found dead the child and his mother in a tin-shed house at 153, Nabab Katara, one of the six houses that burnt in the fire in which a total of 117 people were killed. Rabid’s mother had closely held him to save the child from the fire.
Thursday was Rabid’s first birthday and his uncle Ripon, who works with a tailoring shop at Ramna Bhaban, headed home with a birthday cake. As he neared Nimtali, he saw the crowd and the fire.
Jostling his way through the crowd, he got to the house about 9:45pm but could not proceed further as the entire area was in flames.
He later found all of the family — the child’s mother Munni Begum, 40, aunts Ramiza Begum and Monwara Begum, sister Lovely Begum, 20, and the little Rabid — had died in the fire.
Ripon and his 16-year-old brother Swapan survived as they were out of home.
Ripon could not hold his tears receiving his brother-in-law Rezaul Karim’s phone call from Dubai but failed to tell him he was in the Azimpur graveyard.

Patients groan lying on
burn unit floor

The Burn and Plastic Surgery Unit of Dhaka Medical College Hospital is struggling to cope with a large number of burn patients after Thursday night’s devastating fire at Nabab Katara of Nimtali in the Old Town of Dhaka.
Physicians said the 50-bed unit is overburdened by patients as around 300 burn patients, including 250 old ones are taking treatment there.
‘Most of the patients are lying on the floor…We are facing serious problems in attending such a large number of patients,’ HA Nazmul Hakim, resident physician of the unit’s casualty block said.
Of the 43 patients from Nimtali fire incident admitted to the burn and plastic surgery unit, three died till Friday evening while two others in critical condition were undergoing treatment in the intensive care unit, Hakim said.
Fourteen others admitted to the DMCH with serious respiratory problems have been shifted to the Combined Military Hospital, he said.
‘Leaves of the staff, including physicians of burn and plastic surgery unit, and casualty and emergency unit of the DMCH have been cancelled until further notice to handle the large number of patients,’ hospital director brigadier general Shahidul Haque Mallik said.
Hakim said the authorities had called in 17 physicians from other departments of the hospital to attend the patients at the burn unit.
The hospital authorities also said that there was no shortage of essential drugs for treatment of the burn patients.
The water-based cream Silver Sulphadiazine USP, commonly used for the burn patients, is available in the stores of the hospital and can also be found in the market, project director of the burn and plastic surgery unit Samanta Lal Sen said adding that the drug was produced by a local pharmaceutical company.
A number of organisations have come forward with assistance for treatment of the people injured in the Nimtali blaze, said brigadier Mallik.
‘We have received medicines from various government organisations, including the army and the navy. Medicines needed for treatment of burn patients are also available at the hospital,’ he added.
Physicians of the unit said although the cream commonly used in the treatment for burn injuries is not very costly, a lengthy treatment increases the expenditure.
‘Cost of burn treatment is a little bit high as burn patients have to stay in hospital for quite a long time and also need other drugs for treatment,’ unit’s assistant professor Mrinal Kanti Das said

(Collected from new age)