Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6075 on: Jan 30th, 2012, 09:48am »
Week Ahead: Florida GOP votes, First lady hits the campaign trail By Emily Goodin 01/30/12 05:00 AM ET
Florida holds its presidential primary, the Senate votes on legislation to make insider trading by lawmakers illegal and first lady Michelle Obama hits the campaign trail this week.
Mitt Romney is looking to trounce Newt Gingrich in the Sunshine State. The former Massachusetts governor holds a double-digit lead in the polls but the former speaker is vowing to stay in the fight no matter the outcome Tuesday.
Nevada is the next voting state -- its caucuses are on Saturday -- and Romney is expected to win there. He carried the state in the 2008 nomination contest.
On Monday, the Senate is scheduled to hold a procedural vote on the STOCK Act, which would ban insider trading by lawmakers. The issue gained steam after CBS’s “60 Minutes” aired a story about it. In his State of the Union address, Obama urged lawmakers to pass the bill, saying he would sign it “tomorrow.”
And Michelle Obama will be in California on Tuesday and Wednesday, where she’ll do some fundraising and stop by “The Tonight Show” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”
On Friday, the Labor Department releases the January jobs report.
Monday, Jan. 30
Obama will meet with President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia at the White House.
Michelle Obama will join Labor Secretary Hilda Solis to announce new proposed rules to help caregivers of wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans. The event begins at 11:15 a.m. at the Labor Department.
Vice President Biden will deliver remarks at the Conference of Chief Justices in Wilmington, Del. Later, in the day he will meet with Saakashvili.
The Senate will hold a procedural vote on the STOCK Act, which bars insider trading by lawmakers.
Tuesday, Jan. 31
Florida holds its primary. Polls close at 8 p.m. ET.
Michelle Obama will be in Los Angeles for a Democratic National Committee fundraiser and will also appear on the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
Biden will be in Fort Worth and DeKalb, Texas, for fundraisers.
Consumer Finance Protection Bureau director Richard Cordray testifies before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee at 10 a.m. in 538 Dirksen.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano speaks at a National Press Club luncheon at 1 p.m.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) will release its annual long term economic and deficit outlook.
Wednesday, Feb. 1
Obama will head to Northern Virginia to deliver remarks on the economy.
Michelle Obama will be in Inglewood, Calif., in the morning to promote her healthy eating initiative, she’ll appear on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in the afternoon and then attend another DNC fundraiser.
Biden will be in Grand Rapids, Mich.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee holds a hearing to investigate Obama’s recess appointments. It begins at 9:30 a.m. in 2154 Rayburn.
The lawmakers tasked with reaching an agreement on extending the payroll tax break through 2012 will meet for the second time.
CBO director Douglas Elmendorf testifies before the House Budget Committee at 10 a.m. in 210 Cannon.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) will give the keynote address at the Susan B. Anthony List’s “Campaign for Life Gala” at 6:30 p.m. at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
Thursday, Feb. 2
Obama addresses the National Prayer Breakfast.
Biden will be at the National Prayer Breakfast and will also deliver remarks at the Communications Workers of America Legislative Conference.
Attorney General Eric Holder testifies before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on the “Fast and the Furious” program. The hearing begins at 9 a.m. in 2154 Rayburn.
Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke testifies before the House Budget Committee at 10 a.m. on the state on the economy. The hearing will be held in 210 Cannon.
Elmendorf testifies before the Senate Budget Committee at 10 a.m. in 608 Dirksen.
Friday, Feb. 3
The Labor Department releases the January jobs report.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leaves on a two-day trip to Germany and Bulgaria.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6076 on: Jan 30th, 2012, 1:58pm »
FBI Spying On... FarmVille? BY Neal Ungerleider 30 January 2012
The FBI just announced plans to ramp up their social media monitoring, data mining, and analysis. The surprising thing is that they haven't done so already.
The FBI wants to step up their monitoring of social media. Earlier this month the bureau posted a Request for Information (RFI) from potential vendors for a powerful, custom-designed social media monitoring app. However, the most worrying thing isn't that the FBI wants to scrape social media data from terrorists' Twitter feeds, it's that they don't already have a dashboard with these capabilities.
In the RFI, the FBI described their dream software suite in terms that would chill most privacy activists. Various departments at the bureau (cybercrime, anti-terrorism, etc.) would be able to create specific social media and search engine alerts that would be keyed to a Google Maps-style geospatial map. The map (and other stand-alone features within the suite) would also contain information on weather, traffic, domestic terrorist intelligence, and foreign terrorist intelligence. Using the software suite, agents could instantly create spot reports. Agents would also be able to conduct real-time monitoring of public messages/posts on social networks including Twitter, Facebook, and, adorably, MySpace.
The end result is something out of the television show 24. In the proposal, the FBI talks repeatedly about the need to monitor open source intelligence--a fancy buzzterm for publicly available information such as Twitter posts, newspaper articles, television broadcasts, and television programs. Analysis of content from foreign publications and broadcast networks has been a mainstay of U.S. intelligence agencies; apparently, it is something of interest to the FBI too.
Meanwhile, the fact that the FBI has requested information from vendors about building this software does not mean that it's a done deal. RFIs are preliminary steps that alert government contractors to potential projects; it will be some time before this software (if approved) makes its way onto FBI computers.
Data scraping has been a favorite tool of the FBI for quite some time. According to civil rights groups such as the ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the bureau has routinely made large bulk purchases of consumer spending data and demographic information datamined from the Internet. These purchases are intended to get around provisions largely prohibiting the FBI from spying or intelligence-gathering on domestic targets without warrants or due suspicion. In 2007, it was revealed that the FBI even data mined Middle Eastern grocery store sales records; the FBI would not disclose if any arrests occurred due to their monitoring of ethnic food stores. The FBI also solicited bulk information from telephone companies. Apart from tracking down suspected terrorists, it's believed the FBI mined bulk data in search of, among other crimes, credit card fraud and car theft.
The fact that the FBI is even searching for a social media monitoring dashboard, however, is puzzling. Most Americans are blissfully unaware of how nearly every activity on the Internet is monitored, analyzed, and repackaged for a host of companies whose market-driven spy apparatuses are scarier than anything the government has to offer. In the past 10 years, the market research and Internet marketing industries have commissioned plenty of sophisticated analysis software with Big Brother-ish capabilities. The puzzling coda is that market researchers and analysts, working for private corporations, snoop on Americans' online activities far more effectively than the FBI themselves.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6077 on: Jan 31st, 2012, 08:04am »
Move to shelter 3 Americans points up U.S. rift with Egypt The three workers for a democracy group seeking refuge at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo have been barred from leaving Egypt and fear for their safety.
By Paul Richter and Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times 8:42 PM PST, January 30, 2012 Reporting from Washington and Cairo
The State Department's decision to provide refuge for three U.S. pro-democracy workers in Egypt illustrated the widening gulf between Washington and an ally it considers key to stability in the Middle East.
After a month of friction over the status of Americans working to promote democracy in Egypt, U.S. officials confirmed Monday that they had agreed to provide shelter in the U.S. Embassy in Cairo to the three, who fear they could be arrested or physically harmed because of their activities.
The three are Sam LaHood, son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and two other employees of the International Republican Institute, a U.S.-funded group that seeks to promote democratic practices around the world, say employees of other private groups. The government has barred the workers from leaving the country as it proceeds with a criminal investigation of what it perceives as foreign meddling in Egyptian politics.
The dispute highlights how much U.S. leverage has diminished since the revolution a year ago that toppled longtime President Hosni Mubarak. The U.S. has only begun reaching out to the Islamists who now dominate parliament, after decades of keeping them at arm's length. Activists pushing for more Western-style democracy remain critical of the Obama administration for supporting Mubarak too long.
The Egyptian military, a bulwark for U.S. policy in the region for 30 years, holds the real power in Egypt, even after the parliamentary elections. It appears to have concluded that Washington needs it to protect the Egypt-Israeli peace treaty and contain Islamic extremism — and that the U.S. won't risk a rupture in the relationship by following through on threats to withhold $1.3 billion in annual aid, most of it to the military.
"We've reached a crisis point in the relationship," said Charles Dunne, head of Mideast programs for Freedom House, another U.S. group that promotes human rights and democracy. "This is the last thing needed by the Egyptians, who depend on U.S. help … and it's just bewildering to the administration."
But, he added, "it seems to just keep getting worse."
In the month since Egyptian officials raided the offices of 17 U.S.-funded and Egyptian nongovernmental groups, American officials have been demanding that the military return confiscated money and property, reopen the groups' offices and restore their freedom to provide advice and technical assistance to Egyptian groups seeking to make their way in the evolving political system.
Yet U.S. officials and private organizations say the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has refused to give ground.
This month, Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns met with top military leader Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, urging Egypt to back off. He warned that U.S. aid, which the military views as an entitlement, could be cut as a result.
But Tantawi made it clear that he didn't believe the threat. Since then, a series of top U.S. officials, including President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, have called Tantawi with the same message — and received the same results.
U.S. aid is one of the Egyptian army's largest sources of revenue. In addition, the country needs Washington's backing for a $3.2-billion loan from the International Monetary Fund to help Egypt prop up its reeling economy.
All the same, the army appears willing to play a risky political game. Not only does it doubt a cutoff of U.S. aid, U.S. officials and private groups say, but it may fear that giving in would weaken its position with ordinary Egyptians, many of whom regard Washington as an interloper determined to impose its will.
Some speculate that the military also is receiving bad advice from civilian officials, including Minister of International Cooperation Fayza Aboul Naga, a Mubarak-era holdover who has made the issue her signature cause.
A delegation of senior Egyptian military officials is visiting Washington on a previously scheduled visit this week and will meet with civilian, military and congressional leaders.
"They're going to find out that the administration is angry, Congress is angry, and their money is in jeopardy," said a senior congressional aide who spoke on condition of anonymity. "But will this change their minds? We're not sure."
The Senate has already stipulated in a pending appropriations bill that the $1.3 billion in aid is conditional, and lawmakers insist they are prepared to send Egypt a tough message.
The younger LaHood and his colleagues decided to seek refuge at the U.S. Embassy after Egyptian military authorities barred them and three other employees of U.S. pro-democracy groups from flying out of the Cairo airport. They were worried they might be arrested on charges that carried penalties of up to several years in jail or that they could be harmed by angry Egyptians in the street, say staffers of nongovernmental organizations familiar with their situation.
The state-run media have made the issue a popular cause, and "in this environment, it's realistic to be concerned about physical safety," Dunne said.
The National Democratic Institute, another U.S. group that promotes democracy abroad, said three Americans working for its office in Egypt also have been served with travel bans but have not sought sanctuary at the embassy.
The Obama administration has frequently expressed strong support for the Egyptian revolution. But the generals, still guided in many ways by Mubarak-era sensibilities, are suspicious of Western-funded nongovernmental groups.
The military has used the term "foreign hands" to convince much of the population that outside forces are behind the nation's postrevolution political and economic turmoil. The argument may not play in Cairo's Tahrir Square, where pro-democracy activists congregate. But it does in the provinces, where the military is still revered.
The army and the Muslim Brotherhood, now the largest entity in parliament, have been negotiating over provisions of a new constitution and the transfer of power after a president is elected in June. The army is seeking a guarantee that the constitution will not weaken its role or impose too much oversight of its budget.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6078 on: Jan 31st, 2012, 08:18am »
NATO: No change to Afghan withdrawal date By Jeremy Herb 01/30/12 05:21 PM ET
NATO’s secretary general said Monday that the timeline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in 2014 has not been altered after France said Friday it would withdraw its troops earlier.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at a press conference Monday that the goal remains to finish handing off security of the country to the Afghans by the end of 2014.
“Let me stress that we stick to the road map that was outlined at the NATO Summit in Lisbon in November 2010, according to which we will gradually hand over lead responsibility to the Afghans, a process that has been started and hopefully will be completed by the end of 2014,” Rasmussen said at an appearance with Romanian President Traian Băsescu.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced Friday that his country would withdraw its troops by the end of 2013, which was announced a week after four French soldiers were killed by an Afghan soldier last week.
Sarkozy also said that he and Afghan President Hamid Karzai would urge NATO to push up its date to 2013 to hand off control of security to the Afghans.
Rasmussen said there wasn’t a plan to make that change, though he added that the transition of control to the Afghans will begin in mid-2013.
“Afghanistan is moving in the right direction,” he said Monday. “Transition to Afghan security lead is on schedule and is making steady progress.”
Rasmussen said that “the pace and scope” of the transition will depend on the security situation on the ground. “The better the security the stronger the Afghan Security Forces the more rapidly we can transform the role of our forces,” he said.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Friday that the French decision was made on a national level, and that the rest of the NATO countries in Afghanistan would work with it.
“We obviously want to continue to work together to ensure that this is implemented in a way that is consistent with the efforts of all of NATO to give increasing authority to the Afghans and that it is smooth,” Nuland said. “But what we are gratified by is that this was not precipitous, that this was worked through carefully with NATO, with the Afghans, and in consultation with all of us.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6079 on: Jan 31st, 2012, 08:28am »
Shipwreck in Baltic Sea? A UFO? Mystery to Treasure Hunters
By NED POTTER (@NedPotterABC) Jan. 31, 2012
They know they're onto something big. If only they knew what that something was.
A group of treasure hunters based in Stockholm, using sonar, has found a strange disc-shaped object on the floor of the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Finland. From above, it looks a bit like the Millennium Falcon of "Star Wars" fame. It's large -- 197 feet in diameter -- and it's in about 275 feet of water. Leading to (or from) it is a churned-up track on the sea floor of about 1,600 feet.
Sonar image of an unidentified object on the floor of the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Finland. (Peter Lindberg/OceanExplorer.se)
"We need to know what we've found," said Peter Lindberg of Ocean Explorer, the group that made the sonar sweep while looking for more conventional shipwrecks. "Media has been speculating about everything from UFOs to Russian spaceships."
What are the most realistic possibilities? "Let us put it like this: we have tried a lot of theories," Lindberg wrote in an email to ABC News. "The list is getting shorter and shorter with options, so for now we do not really know. We do not have anything that speaks more for one option or the other."
The treasure hunters would like to explore the wreck -- if it is a wreck -- with a small submarine, but they don't have the money to bring one in. If it were one of the conventional ships they've looked for in the past, they would hope to find gold or silver, but in this case they don't know what's actually there.
So they are talking to TV production companies, hoping one will fund them and make a documentary about their work. In the meantime, they are keeping the precise location of their find a secret, and waiting for spring and warmer weather.
"We are determined to successfully complete our mission of finding out what's at the bottom of the Baltic Sea," said Lindberg.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6080 on: Jan 31st, 2012, 08:33am »
Jan. 31, 1961: A Chimp Named Ham Spaces Out By Matt Simon January 31, 2012 | 6:30 am Categories: 20th century, Miscellaneous, Space Exploration
1961: A little fellow named Ham (for Holloman Aerospace Medical Center, his place of training) hitches a ride on the Mercury-Redstone 2 rocket to become the first chimp in outer space. Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first human to follow Ham’s lead, did so just two and a half months later.
But this was no leisure tour for Ham. There was work to be done — specifically, to see if chimps, and by close genetic association, humans, had slower reaction times in space. Ham, whose vitals were closely monitored by NASA techs on the ground, went 157 miles into the sky with a simple mission: to tug on levers when corresponding lights flashed.
If Ham did not pull the lever within five seconds of the light flashing, he received an electric shock on the soles of his feet. If he made it in time, he received a banana-flavored pellet, which, though clichéd, is an inevitable dietary preference of chimps. And Ham performed quite well, even in zero-gravity. His reaction times were only slightly slower in space than they had been on Earth.
This “frisky space-traveler,” as he was so lovingly dubbed in a newsreel at the time, spent 16 minutes from lift-off at Cape Canaveral to touch-down in the Atlantic Ocean, where his capsule was picked up by a helicopter and deposited on a ship. There, he shook hands with the crew and underwent a physical exam, which determined that he had only suffered a bruised nose.
Though he had demonstrated great bravery, reaching some 157 miles higher in the sky than King Kong ever bothered to climb, this was to be Ham’s first and only mission. He spent the rest of his life in zoos, receiving fan mail and occasionally appearing on TV, before dying in 1983 at the age of 26. In 1998 a forensic anthropologist, apparently looking to corner the market for replica chimp pelvises, took a cast of that part of Ham’s skeleton and started selling reproductions. So for only $149 you can own a piece of space history in a very weird way.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6084 on: Jan 31st, 2012, 12:44pm »
Uploaded by ARdrone on Jan 27, 2012
After being selected through an online competition, the 15 finalists representing 9 nationalities finally arrived to Las Vegas on January, 9th, for 4 amazing days... Congratulations to all the pilots from around the globe and thank you for participating to the online Challenges and the Grand Finale in Las Vegas, you are definitely the best pilots in the world! Let's read the article of the trip: http://blog.parrot.com/2012/01/27/the-grand-finale/
A replay video will be posted soon for each pilot. Who's gonna be next?
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6085 on: Jan 31st, 2012, 1:31pm »
Uploaded by AviationExplorer on Nov 18, 2011
http://AviationExplorer.com - The Massive Ordnance Penetrator (the Air Force has ordered 20 from Boeing) is nearly five tons heavier than any other bomb in the military's arsenal and is made to pulverize underground targets.
Boeing Co. has delivered the first of the 30,000-pound bombs, each nearly five tons heavier than anything else in the military's arsenal, to the U.S. Air Force to pulverize underground enemy hide-outs.
At a total cost of about $314 million, the military has developed and ordered 20 of the GPS-guided bombs, called Massive Ordnance Penetrators. They are designed to be dropped on targets by the Boeing-made B-52 Stratofortress long-range bomber or Northrop Grumman Corp.'s B-2 stealth bomber.
Packed with more than 5,300 pounds of explosives and more than 20 feet long, the giant bunker-busting bombs were tested at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, the site of the first atomic bomb test during World War II.
The weapon's explosive power is 10 times greater than its bunker-buster predecessor, the BLU-109. And it is nearly five tons heavier than the 22,600-pound GBU-43 MOAB surface bomb, sometimes called the "mother of all bombs."
The Massive Ordnance Penetrator is a weapon system designed to accomplish a difficult, complicated mission of reaching and destroying our adversaries' weapons of mass destruction located in well-protected facilities.
The Air Force and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency conducted tests at White Sands, and Boeing delivered the first Massive Ordnance Penetrator this fall. Additional deliveries are expected to be completed by 2013.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6086 on: Jan 31st, 2012, 1:36pm »
Wall Street Journal
JANUARY 28, 2012. Pentagon Seeks Mightier Bomb vs. Iran .
By ADAM ENTOUS And JULIAN E. BARNES
WASHINGTON—Pentagon war planners have concluded that their largest conventional bomb isn't yet capable of destroying Iran's most heavily fortified underground facilities, and are stepping up efforts to make it more powerful, according to U.S. officials briefed on the plan.
The 30,000-pound "bunker-buster" bomb, known as the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, was specifically designed to take out the hardened fortifications built by Iran and North Korea to cloak their nuclear programs.
But initial tests indicated that the bomb, as currently configured, wouldn't be capable of destroying some of Iran's facilities, either because of their depth or because Tehran has added new fortifications to protect them.
Doubts about the MOP's effectiveness prompted the Pentagon this month to secretly submit a request to Congress for funding to enhance the bomb's ability to penetrate deeper into rock, concrete and steel before exploding, the officials said.
The push to boost the power of the MOP is part of stepped-up contingency planning for a possible strike against Iran's nuclear program, say U.S. officials.
The Defense Department has spent about $330 million so far to develop about 20 of the bombs, which are built by Boeing Co. The Pentagon is seeking about $82 million more to make the bomb more effective, according to government officials briefed on the plan.
Some experts question if any kind of conventional explosives are capable of reaching facilities such as those built deep underground in Iran. But U.S. defense officials say they believe the MOP could already do damage sufficient to set back the program.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal Thursday, acknowledged the bomb's shortcomings against some of Iran's deepest bunkers. He said more development work would be done and that he expected the bomb to be ready to take on the deepest bunkers soon.
"We're still trying to develop them," Mr. Panetta said.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6087 on: Jan 31st, 2012, 8:59pm »
Producer Marc Shmuger to Chronicle the Space (Suit) Race with 'Fashioning Apollo' 6:19 PM PST 1/31/2012 by Todd Gilchrist
Kat Likkel and John Hoberg are adapting the story of a group of seamstresses who created spacesuits for Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.
Producer Marc Shmuger is setting up Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo, a film version of Nicholas de Monchaux’s book of the same name. Kat Likkel and John Hoberg have signed on to adapt the novel.
Monchaux’s book details the true story of a group of seamstresses from Playtex who designed and created the spacesuit that allowed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to walk on the moon during the Apollo 11 landing in 1969. They beat out top military contractors to win a contract from NASA to design the spacesuit.
In a press release, Shmuger championed the material’s patriotic roots and underdog appeal. “The feat of putting a man on the moon stands as our nation’s proudest moment," Shmuger said. "This monumental achievement would never have been possible were it not for the perseverance and ingenuity of this unforgettable team of dreamers. It’s a long way from the shop floor of Playtex to the surface of the moon, and this incredible story tracks how it happened.”
Spacesuit marks the first feature project for Likkel and Hoberg, a married writing team. Their previous efforts include writing and production work on My Name is Earl and Better Off Ted. Although no distributor has been announced, Shmuger’s company, Global Produce, has a first-look producing deal at Universal.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6088 on: Feb 1st, 2012, 08:12am »
New York Times
January 31, 2012, 9:42 pm After a Delay, MF Global’s Missing Money Is Traced By BEN PROTESS and AZAM AHMED
Investigators have determined what happened to nearly all of the customer money that disappeared from MF Global around the time of its bankruptcy last Oct. 31, but have not publicly disclosed their progress, fearing that doing so might cripple efforts to recover the cash and pursue potential wrongdoing, people briefed on the investigation said.
While authorities have traced hundreds of millions of dollars to banks, MF Global’s trading partners and even the firm’s securities customers, investigators remain uncertain about whether they can retrieve the money.
Some recipients were entitled to payouts from MF Global, which could make clawing back the money difficult. For instance, securities customers withdrawing their money as MF Global began to collapse were paid from accounts that belonged to futures clients, according to other people briefed on the matter.
But the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the regulator leading the investigation, will examine whether anyone accepted customer cash without verifying the source of the money, one of the people briefed on the matter said.
This person and others who discussed the case did so on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is not public.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesThe findings shift the pressing question surrounding the collapse of MF Global from what happened to the money to how to recover it and who is at fault.
Answers will not come easy. A significant impediment has been clashes among the parties trying to resolve the MF Global mess: three federal agencies and two bankruptcy trustees.
At the center of the squabbling are e-mails sent by top executives at MF Global — communications that have been withheld from federal authorities, according to the people briefed on the matter. Investigators suspect the e-mails, sent just before the firm collapsed, contain clues about who transferred the money from protected customer accounts.
The clashes stem from the conflicting interests of those involved. James W. Giddens, the trustee overseeing the liquidation of the brokerage unit, is charged with returning money to wronged customers. That mission is at odds with the interests of Louis J. Freeh, the trustee overseeing the liquidation of the firm, who is seeking to recover money for MF Global’s creditors.
Mr. Freeh’s lawyers have declined to share a number of internal MF Global e-mails with Mr. Giddens and federal investigators, including the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which has asked for access to the documents, the people briefed on the investigation said. In turn, Mr. Giddens has been slow to hand over account statements that Mr. Freeh, a former F.B.I. director, needs to conduct his court-ordered investigation and determine what creditors are owed.
Mr. Freeh’s reluctance stems in part from the fact that the lawyers working on his behalf have not made their way through the mountain of e-mail, people involved in the case said. The lawyers are loath to waive attorney-client privilege, which shields the documents from outsiders, until they have completed their review.
Despite the obstacles, federal authorities say they are making progress.
As of late December, investigators had obtained more than 10,000 e-mails, interviewed more than 50 witnesses and subpoenaed about 20 people, another person briefed on the case said.
Jill E. Sommers, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission official charged with overseeing the MF Global case, said in a December statement that transfers from customer accounts “have been identified, and subsequent transfers of those funds are currently being traced.”
Now, authorities have traced more than 90 percent of those subsequent transfers, people briefed on the investigation said.
“We understand the frustration of customers, but the C.F.T.C. must take the necessary time — however long it takes — to get to the bottom of what happened at MF Global and take appropriate actions,” the agency said in a statement on Tuesday.
Customers, including farmers, hedge funds and other small traders, have been very frustrated with the pace of the investigation and the dearth of updates about their missing money.
While a number of the 38,000 customers have been paid nearly three quarters of their money, others have yet to receive a dime. Paul Jordan, a retired business executive, has not received any of the money from accounts trading on foreign exchanges, an amount that totals about $500,000, he said. His patience is wearing thin.
“The thing that really irritates me is that I’m not a super wealthy individual,” said Mr. Jordan, 65. “I’m thankful that some funds have been paid out, because bankruptcies can last for years, but I would have hoped by this time that it would be pretty clear where the funds are and exactly what happened to them.”
In contrast, when customer cash was missing from Sentinel Management Group, a Chicago brokerage firm that collapsed in 2007, the trustee overseeing that case found the money within a week. Within a month, the trustee, Fred Grede, announced that the money had turned up at the Bank of New York Mellon.
While MF Global presents a greater challenge than Sentinel, given its size and the amount of money missing, the precedent underscores the importance of keeping customers informed.
“To me, transparency is the key,” Mr. Grede said.
Even regulators are growing anxious about how long the investigation is taking.
“Futures customers — including farmers, ranchers, and manufacturers — have been suspended in excruciating limbo, wondering when they will receive their funds,” Scott O’Malia, a member of the futures commission, said in a speech on Tuesday. “This situation is intolerable and unacceptable.”
While the commissioners are briefed weekly on enforcement cases, over the last three months they have only been briefed twice as a group on the status of the MF Global investigation, according to people close to the commission. Instead, commissioners are seeking their own separate briefings on the case.
Some argue that the lack of cohesion deprives investigators of the collective insight of staff members when the agency faces perhaps its greatest test.
In November, investigators said they began to worry that money may have vanished into a web of counterparties and creditors who are entitled to MF Global’s money. The concern implies that the money may not be missing, but is gone for good.
But at least some of the customer money MF Global misused was transferred to JP Morgan Chase, MF Global’s main bank. Investigators also suspect that MF Global made improper transfers of customer money to the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation, a clearinghouse that did business with MF Global. The clearinghouse may have passed on the money to MF Global’s trading partners, who would have rightful claims to money from MF Global. A major part of futures customer money also went to securities customers who were closing accounts in October.
Ultimately the task of recovering money falls to Mr. Giddens, who collected the final claims on Tuesday, the last day customers were permitted to file forms outlining what they are still owed.
He has not said how far his investigation has come. He has deployed a team of 60 lawyers and hired 100 consultants from Deloitte and 60 forensic accountants from Ernst & Young to help sift through some $327 billion in wire transfers in and out of MF Global the month before its collapse.
As Mr. Giddens’s team hunts for the money, it is quietly coaxing some recipients to return it.
“We are pressing our investigative team to now come up with actionable intelligence that the trustee can use to determine the location of remaining customers assets, and most importantly, if we can get those assets back under the trustee’s control for return to customers,” Kent Jarrell, a spokesman for Mr. Giddens, said in a statement. “The trustee will use all appropriate and legal means to get those assets.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6089 on: Feb 1st, 2012, 08:16am »
Al Qaeda weakened, Iran a threat, U.S. intelligence officials say
A Senate panel is told a purported Iran plot to assassinate a Saudi diplomat convinced the U.S. that Tehran is increasingly likely to support bombings on U.S. soil.
By Brian Bennett, Los Angeles Times February 1, 2012 Reporting from Washington
Al Qaeda's ability to conduct terrorist operations against the United States has diminished in the last year, but U.S. intelligence agencies said Tuesday that they now believe Iranian leaders are willing to launch attacks against American targets.
The top U.S. intelligence official, James R. Clapper, told a Senate hearing that a purported Iranian plot to assassinate a Saudi diplomat in Washington in the fall convinced U.S. officials that leaders in Tehran are increasingly likely to support bombings on U.S. soil, especially if they feel that their hold on power is threatened.
"Some Iranian officials, probably including supreme leader Ali Khamenei, have changed their calculus and are now willing to conduct an attack in the United States," said Clapper, director of national intelligence.
Tension with Tehran has risen sharply in recent weeks as the European Union and the Obama administration have imposed punishing economic sanctions in an effort to persuade Iran's leaders to abandon what they suspect is a nuclear weapons program.
Recent reports of bombings in Iran, the crash of a secret CIA surveillance drone there and the assassination of several Iranian nuclear scientists suggest a covert campaign by the West or its proxies is aimed at sabotaging the effort.
America's most senior intelligence officials, including Clapper, CIA Director David H. Petraeus and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, testified at the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats against the United States. Iran was a major topic.
The officials provided no further evidence during the hearing to support their perception of a change in Iranian attitudes.
Iran is "keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons" and is "technically capable" of producing enough highly enriched uranium to fuel a nuclear weapon, Clapper said.
"We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons," he said. Inspectors from the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency are in Iran this week to gather further data on the country's nuclear program. Iran says the effort is aimed at generating electricity, not building weapons.
The CIA believes that Iran is feeling the "increased bite of new sanctions," Petraeus said, referring to the U.S. blacklisting of Iran's central bank. The institution receives revenue for about 70% of the oil sold by the National Iranian Oil Co.
"I think 2012 will be a critical year for convincing or preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the committee. "While the overall terrorist threat may be down, the threat from the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction from Iran and North Korea is growing."
In October, FBI and other federal agents claimed they had disrupted a plot to kill the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States by placing a bomb in a Washington restaurant. The alleged plot, which U.S. officials said involved Iran's Revolutionary Guard and a Mexican drug cartel, never moved beyond the planning stages.
Clapper also furnished a 30-page report to the committee on danger spots around the world.
It noted concern about Washington's uneasy partnership with nuclear-armed Pakistan, the rising death toll of drug-related violence in Mexico and Central America, North Korea's push to build nuclear weapons, and the political turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East a year after a series of popular uprisings erupted.
The intelligence officials said that cyber attacks against government agencies and private businesses are growing.
"Down the road, [cyber attacks] will be the No. 1 threat to the country," said Mueller, the FBI director. He said he is working to reorganize the FBI to investigate cyber attacks just as the agency was retooled to respond to terrorist threats over the last decade.
Regarding current threats, Clapper said "lone actors" inspired by terrorist leaders still could conduct limited attacks.
Clapper said U.S. intelligence judged an attack using a dirty bomb, chemical weapons or deadly germs as "unlikely" in the next year.
U.S. airstrikes and drone missile attacks against Al Qaeda in Pakistan and elsewhere have left the organization without central leadership, and a "largely symbolic" role among Islamic extremists, Clapper said.
No charismatic leader has replaced Osama bin Laden, who was killed by Navy SEALs in May, and Clapper said there was a "better than even chance" that the movement will fragment.
Al Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen, known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, remains the most likely group to plan and launch an attack on U.S. soil, Clapper said, but most groups are focused on regional battles.
In Mexico, drug-related killings continue to increase, but the escalating drug violence is not likely to spill across the border, Clapper said.
"The factor that drives most of the bloodshed in Mexico — competition for control of trafficking routes and networks of corrupt officials — is not widely applicable to the small retail drug trafficking activities on the U.S. side of the border," he said.