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Archive for July 20th, 2010

Government Scientists Fear Gulf Of Mexico Seabed Could Collapse

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July 20, 2010: Ed Pilkington in New York / The Guardian – July 20, 2010

A standoff between BP and the US government over the handling of the stricken Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico continued with a sharp exchange of words over the best way to keep the oil contained before the well is permanently plugged next month.

Thad Allen, the official appointed by Barack Obama to lead the federal response to the disaster, gave BP another 24 hours in which to keep the new containment cap on the broken well closed.

But he warned that the US government would reserve the right to reopen the well if worries about seepage intensify. Allen sent a stiff letter to BP on Sunday night, ordering the oil giant to continue seismic and sonar monitoring around the well to try to get a better picture of what was happening now that the flow of oil had ostensibly stopped.

He said the company had an obligation to inform him of any problems within four hours of any seepage being detected. “I remain concerned that all potential options to eliminate the discharge of oil be pursued with utmost speed until I can be assured that no additional oil will spill from the Macondo well,” he wrote.

At the heart of the dispute is anxiety about what is happening under the seabed. The government fears oil may be leaking below the surface, and that if left unchecked this process could cause graver problems, including the collapse of the well. In a statement on Monday, Allen said he would ensure BP continues to assess whether keeping the cap closed could “worsen the overall situation”.

BP, on the other hand, has pointed out forcefully that the antidote to seepage – reopening the cap and allowing the oil to flow again up to specially designed oil-capture vessels – would involve allowing oil to spew once more into the waters of the Gulf for at least another three days. That would undo the sense of progress achieved since last Thursday, when the cap was fully locked down and the oil flow ceased.

Allen last night gave further details about the administration’s worries. A seepage had been found three miles from the well, he said, but the indications were that this had nothing to do with Macondo. Bubbles had also been seen around the new cap, though he said that these did not seem to be in serious quantities.

The main way of tracking what is happening to the well – its “integrity”, as it is known in the business – is to gauge the pressure of the oil that is flowing up the pipe. BP said on Monday that the level was about 6,800lbs per square inch (psi) and increasing at around 2 psi per hour.

The oil firm sees that as a positive figure, given that the quantity of oil in the reserve beneath the sea floor has already been depleted substantially, more than 4m barrels having spewed into the Gulf. But the Obama administration thinks this is lower than it should be and would like to see the pressure rise to around 8,000 psi, which would show conclusively that no leaks were taking place. Until that figure is reached, it will remain cautious, mindful of the political damage that has been caused to Obama’s presidency as a result of his early handling of the crisis, which was criticised for being soft on BP.

Both sides are agreed that the disaster will not be fully over until permanent capping of the well is achieved through the drilling of relief wells. BP said the first relief well has reached 5,450 metres, and the second 4,840 metres. The relief wells could join up with the Macondo as early as next week, at which point heavy mud and then concrete will be pumped down the original well to block it forever.

The Tonka Report Editor’s Note: If the seabed collapses, the entire Gulf of Mexico region will become a killing field– SJH

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Obama’s War On The Internet: The “Ministry Of Truth” In America?

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July 20, 2010: Philip Giraldi / Campaign For Liberty via – July 19, 2010

The Ministry of Truth was how George Orwell described the mechanism used by government to control information in his seminal novel 1984. A recent trip to Europe has convinced me that the governments of the world have been rocked by the power of the internet and are seeking to gain control of it so that they will have a virtual monopoly on information that the public is able to access. In Italy, Germany, and Britain the anonymous internet that most Americans are still familiar with is slowly being modified. If one goes into an internet café it is now legally required in most countries in the European Union to present a government issued form of identification. When I used an internet connection at a Venice hotel, my passport was demanded as a precondition and the inner page, containing all my personal information, was scanned and a copy made for the Ministry of the Interior — which controls the police force. The copy is retained and linked to the transaction. For home computers, the IP address of the service used is similarly recorded for identification purposes. All records of each and every internet usage, to include credit information and keystrokes that register everything that is written or sent, is accessible to the government authorities on demand, not through the action of a court or an independent authority. That means that there is de facto no right to privacy and a government bureaucrat decides what can and cannot be “reviewed” by the authorities. Currently, the records are maintained for a period of six months but there is a drive to make the retention period even longer.

The excuses being given for the increasing government intervention into the internet are essentially two: first, that the anonymity of the internet has permitted criminal behavior, fraud, pornography, and libel. Second is the security argument, that managing the internet is an integral part of the “global war on terror” in that it is used by terrorists to plan their attacks requiring governments to control those who use it. The United States government takes the latter argument one step farther, claiming that the internet itself is a vulnerable “natural asset” that could be seized or damaged by terrorists and must be protected, making the case for a massive $100 billion program of cyberwarfare. Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) argues that “violent Islamist extremists” rely on the internet to communicate and recruit and he has introduced a bill in the Senate that will empower the president to “kill” the internet in case of a national emergency.

But all of the arguments for intervention are essentially themselves fraudulent and are in reality being exploited by those who favor big government and state control. The anonymity and low cost nature of the internet means that it can be used to express views that are unpopular or unconventional, which is its strength. It is sometimes used for criminal behavior because it is a mechanism, not because there is something intrinsic in it that makes it a choice of wrongdoers. Before it existed, fraud was carried out through the postal service and over the telephone. Pornography circulated freely by other means. As for the security argument, the tiny number of actual terrorists who use the internet do so because it is there and it is accessible. If it did not exist, they would find other ways to communicate, just as they did in pre-internet days. In fact, intelligence sources report that internet use by terrorists is rare because of persistent government monitoring of the websites.

The real reason for controlling the internet is to restrict access to information, something every government seeks to do. If the American Departments of Defense and Homeland Security and Senator Lieberman have their way, new cybersecurity laws will enable Obama’s administration to take control of the internet in the event of a national crisis. How that national crisis might be defined would be up to the White House but there have been some precedents that suggest that the response would hardly be respectful of the Bill of Rights. Many countries already monitor and censor the internet on a regular basis, forbidding access to numerous sites that they consider to be subversive or immoral. During recent unrest, the governments of both Iran and China effectively shut down the internet by taking control of or blocking servers. Combined with switching off of cell phone transmitters, the steps proved effective in isolating dissidents. Could it happen here? Undoubtedly. Once the laws are in place a terrorist incident or something that could be plausibly described in those terms would be all that is needed to have government officials issue the order to bring the internet to a halt.

But the ability to control the internet technically is only part of the story. Laws are being passed that criminalize expressing one’s views on the internet, including both “hate crime” legislation and broadly drafted laws that make it a crime to support what the government describes loosely as terrorism in any way shape or form. Regular extra-legal government intrusion in the private lives of citizens is already a reality, particularly in the so-called Western Democracies that have the necessary technology and tech-savvy manpower to tap phones and invade computers. In Europe, draconian anti-terrorism laws enable security agencies to monitor phone calls and e-mails, in many cases without any judicial oversight. In Britain, the monitoring includes access to detailed internet records that are available for inspection by no less than 653 government agencies, most of which have nothing whatsoever to do with security or intelligence, all without any judicial review. In the United States, the Pentagon recently sought an internet and news “instant response capability” which it dubbed the Office of Strategic Influence and it has also seeded a number of retired military analysts into the major news networks to provide a pro-government slant on the war news. The State Department is also in the game, tasking young officers to engage presumed radicals in debate on their websites while the growing use of national security letters means that private communications sent through the internet can be accessed by Federal law enforcement agencies. The Patriot Act created national security letter does not require judicial oversight. More than 35,000 were issued by the FBI last year and the recipient of a letter commits a felony if he or she reveals the receipt of the document. In a recent case involving an internet provider in Philadelphia, a national security letter demanded all details of internet messages sent on a certain date, to include account information on clients with social security numbers and credit card references.

The danger is real. Most Americans who are critical of the actions of their own government rely on the internet for information that is uncensored and often provocative, including sites like Campaign for Liberty. As this article was being written, a story broke reporting that WordPress host Blogetery had been shut down by United States authorities along with all 73,000 Blogetery-hosted blogs. The company’s ISP is claiming that it had to terminate Blogetery’s account immediately after being ordered to do so by law enforcement officials “due to material hosted on the server.” The extreme response implies a possible presumed terrorist connection, but it is important to note that no one was charged with any actual offense, revealing that the government can close down sites based only on suspicion. It is also likely only a matter of time before Obama’s internet warfare teams surface either at the Defense Department or at State. Deliberately overloading and attacking the internet to damage its credibility, witness the numerous sites that have been “hacked” and have had to cease or restrict their activities. But the moves afoot to create a legal framework to completely shut the internet down and thereby control the “message” are far more dangerous. American citizens who are concerned about maintaining their few remaining liberties should sound the alarm and tell the politicians that we don’t need more government abridgement of our First Amendment rights.

The Tonka Report Editor’s Note: The Internet is the 21st Century version of the Gutenberg Press– SJH

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US Deploys Aircraft Carrier To South Korea In Defense Of Cheonan

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July 20, 2010: Anne Flaherty / Associated Press (AP) via – July 19, 2010

The U.S. is sending the massive aircraft carrier the USS George Washington to South Korea this week, the military announced Monday.

The deployment is considered a show of force in the wake of the sinking of a South Korean warship last March that killed 46 sailors. South Korea and an international team of investigators have blamed North Korea for the attack.

The carrier was expected to be in South Korea’s port of Busan by Wednesday and could participate in an upcoming military exercise. The nuclear powered carrier, one of the world’s largest warships, will be accompanied by three destroyers — the McCampbell, the John S. McCain and the Lassen.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton were expected to announce more details this week about the upcoming joint military exercise. Gates and Clinton were visiting Seoul to meet with their South Korean counterparts. The military exercise and deployment of the George Washington has been under discussion since shortly after the March attack on the South Korean navy vessel, the Cheonan.

The Cheonan’s sinking was considered South Korea’s worst military disaster since the Korean War, which ended in a cease-fire in 1953. No formal peace treaty was ever signed, and more than 28,000 U.S. troops remain stationed in the south with a vow to protect its critical ally.

The deployment of the aircraft carrier could be seen by North Korea as a particularly aggressive move by the United States because of the ship’s sheer size. According to a Navy website, the George Washington is 244 feet high from keel to mast and can accommodate some 6,250 crew members.

The Tonka Report Editor’s Note: It has already been widely reported that the sinking of the Cheonan was a false flag carried out by the US and/or South Korea– SJH

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Chavez Warns Of US Military Escalations In Costa Rica & Elsewhere

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July 20, 2010: Inside Costa Rica Editor’s / Inside Costa – July 19, 2010

CARACAS – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez warned Sunday of increased international tensions over the military escalation by the United States and its allies around the world.

“There are highly alarming elements: the military exercises that the South Koreans and gringos performed in the Yellow Sea; the pressure on Iran for daring to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes; the mobilization of U.S. and Israeli troops near Iran’s coasts, and the violence in Iraq and Afghanistan occupied by the empire,” Chavez said during his usual Sunday news commentary, “Las lineas de Chavez.”

The president also listed Israel’s blockade of Gaza with Washington’s blessing as another alarming factor. Chávez highlighted that the Barack Obama government “is proving to be, in words and actions, the second Bush administration (George W.), because it follows the same line as a warmonger and the same strategy of domination.”

Chavez denounced the continuing and false accusations by Obama government agencies regarding alleged links between Caracas and international drug trafficking, and the surprising presence on unconvincing explanations for thousands of U.S. marines in Costa Rica and the overflights of Dutch aircraft in Venezuelan territory.

He also mentioned as other reasons for concern the violent destabilization plans revealed in the wake of capture of Salvadoran terrorist Francisco Chavez Abarca on national soil; the Chilean Senate’s attempt to interfere in the September 26 elections and statements by the outgoing Colombian government linking Venezuela with Colombian guerrilla groups like the FARC and ELN.

“What a picture! We would be naive if we did not look at all of this aggression as a whole; everything is related,” he said. “I think we are looking at a reenactment of the U.S. imperial doctrine, which is facing the new projects for the sovereignty of our America” he stated.

The Tonka Report Editor’s Note: Regardless what you may think of him, Chavez is right on the money here. US military escalations are occurring at an alarming rate– SJH

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Finger-Pointing Over Deepwater Horizon Explosion Grows Heated!

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July 20, 2010: David Hammer / The Times-Picayune via – July 19, 2010

Testimony before a panel investigating the cause of the Deepwater Horizon explosion grew heated Monday as lawyers for various companies connected to the rig attempted to place blame on one another and angled to expose maintenance problems they say existed before the April 20 accident.

BP lawyers sought to highlight unfinished work by the rig owner, Transocean, and a rash of equipment problems. Witnesses who worked on the rig for BP’s contractors were guarded in their testimony, but at times piled more fuel on a growing pile of evidence suggesting BP authorized corner-cutting, cost-saving measures in the hours leading up to the accident. During the hearing in Kenner, Stephen Bertone, Transocean’s chief engineer on the rig, often said he didn’t know or couldn’t recall answers to questions.

But with BP lawyers pushing him, Bertone acknowledged that an audit he reviewed before the accident found 390 jobs undone, accounting for thousands of man-hours of work. Bertone also testified that he’d requested more employees from his bosses at Transocean and hadn’t received the help. A computer system used by the driller to track activity thousands of feet down in the well was malfunctioning in the days before the accident and technicians hadn’t arrived to fix it, Bertone said.

Ronnie Penton, a lawyer representing chief electronics technician Mike Williams, a subordinate of Bertone’s, suggested that some key safety functions on board the rig were set to bypass when the accident occurred. First, Penton asked if the general alarm was bypassed. Bertone said he didn’t know, but testified that he didn’t recall hearing it sound when the explosions began.

Then, Penton asked if a system for purging gaseous air from the drill shack had been bypassed for the last five years. Again, Bertone said he didn’t know and didn’t know who else would know. Penton said the so-called “mini-purge” system was critical for keeping natural gas — the same gas that ended up igniting the massive explosions onboard the rig — away from the drill floor. It appears the men on the drill floor were all killed instantaneously in the explosions.

Meanwhile, new information that raised questions about BP decisions popped up throughout the day’s testimony from three witnesses. BP and Halliburton officials argued in e-mails released last month about the use of key pieces of oil well safety equipment called centralizers, and testimony Monday suggested additional centralizers were ready on the rig but simply weren’t installed.

Centralizers are devices that are supposed to keep tubes in place in an oil well so that cement seals can set evenly on either side. E-mails released in June by a congressional committee showed that Halliburton recommended using more than 20 centralizers to make sure the cement seal was good, but BP officials settled on just six of the devices to save time and money.

But Lance John, the worker in charge of installing well casing and other tools for contractor Weatherford, testified that he only installed “four or five” centralizers and additional ones were delivered and never used. “They did order some more and talked about getting them out there,” John said. “Additional centralizers were delivered, but there were four or five run in the hole.”

Asked if the other centralizers were made available to the rig but simply weren’t used, John said, “Yes.” But John also testified that there were two different types of centralizers provided by Weatherford. It’s unclear if the unused pieces were the right kind for the well. Experts have said not using the recommended 21 centralizers was a fateful decision that caused cement to channel or “U-tube” and set poorly, possibly allowing natural gas to infiltrate the well and shoot up the hole, causing the explosion.

The drilling fluid specialist on the rig, Leo Lindner of the firm M-I SWACO, testified that an abnormally large volume of a fluid called “spacer” was used in the blowout preventer and upper part of the well before pressure tests were done on the well. He also said two different types of spacer were combined in a way he’d never seen before.

The use of double the quantity of the heavy fluid, plus the combination of two different kind of spacer, could have affected the blowout preventer, the massive stack of valves and slicers that failed to close off the well when the accident happened. The impact of the abnormal mixture on the pressure test results is unknown, and Lindner shied away from drawing any clear conclusions.

The reason the rig used the aberrant fluid is noteworthy, too. Ky Kirby, a lawyer for Anadarko Petroleum and MOEX Offshore, part owners of the well and recent adversaries of BP in disputes over responsibility, pushed the issue. Lindner said BP prompted him to combine the two doses of spacer because they could both be dumped overboard if they were both used in the well, but if one of the mixes hadn’t been used in the well, it would have required disposal as hazardous waste. Lindner testified that would have likely required an extra service boat to come out to pick up the unused material, adding time and expense to a project that was already more than $20 million overbudget and 43 days behind schedule.

Lindner said the two spacer mixes had not been combined before, and he tested a gallon of each the day before the accident, saying they didn’t “set,” or become too firm. But when used April 20, the mixture contained more than 400 barrels of viscous fluid, or about 8,500 times more than in the sample Lindner tested. Bertone testified earlier Monday that he saw unfamiliar slippery fluid that he likened to “snot” on the deck after the initial explosions.

Other testimony Monday made reference to a statement Bertone signed aboard a rescue vessel 26 hours after abandoning the rig, raising interesting questions about the way the crew responded to the accident.

The statement remains under seal, but was referenced by several attorneys Monday. In it, Bertone stated that Capt. Curt Kuchta, the rig’s master, yelled at one employee for pushing a distress button and ordered another to leave behind an injured man on a gurney, according to BP lawyer Richard Godfrey.

Godfrey pressured Bertone to explain his initial incident statement, but Bertone’s lawyer repeatedly advised him not to comment on it. That set off a long dispute over whether the witness would answer or if he had to invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself.

It also brought objections from Transocean lawyer Ned Kohnke and Kuchta’s personal lawyer, Kyle Schonekas, who said the panel could have asked Kuchta about it when he testified in May. Raising the criticism now didn’t afford the captain an opportunity to defend himself or put his decisions into context, they said.

Similarly, subsea engineer Chris Pleasant testified in May that Kuchta urged him to calm down shortly after the explosions and not activate an emergency disconnect system. That disconnect could have stopped the flow of gas and oil to the rig and possibly minimized the fire. The system ended up not working when Pleasant later tried to activate it.

The Tonka Report Editor’s Note: Props to Kim in New Orleans for sending me this article. I’m just one guy here, folks. I can’t possibly cover it all so if you have any important news, please send it via the comments– SJH

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