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Curse of the Murdoch Phone Hacking!

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Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch and their former editor Andy Coulson all face embarrassing new allegations of dishonesty and cover-up after the publication of an explosive letter written by the News of the World’s disgraced royal correspondent, Clive Goodman.


The News of the World’s former royal correspondent, Clive Goodman, who was jailed over phone hacking. A letter from him claims phone hacking was widely discussed at the paper.

In the letter, which was written four years ago but published only on Tuesday, Goodman claims that phone hacking was “widely discussed” at editorial meetings at the paper until Coulson himself banned further references to it; that Coulson offered to let him keep his job if he agreed not to implicate the paper in hacking when he came to court; and that his own hacking was carried out with “the full knowledge and support” of other senior journalists, whom he named.

The claims are acutely troubling for the prime minister, David Cameron, who hired Coulson as his media adviser on the basis that he knew nothing about phone hacking. And they confront Rupert and James Murdoch with the humiliating prospect of being recalled to parliament to justify the evidence which they gave last month on the aftermath of Goodman’s allegations. In a separate letter, one of the Murdochs’ own law firms claim that parts of that evidence were variously “hard to credit”, “self-serving” and “inaccurate and misleading”.

Goodman’s claims also raise serious questions about Rupert Murdoch’s close friend and adviser, Les Hinton, who was sent a copy of the letter but failed to pass it to police and who then led a cast of senior Murdoch personnel in telling parliament that they believed Coulson knew nothing about the interception of the voicemail of public figures and that Goodman was the only journalist involved.

The letters from Goodman and from the London law firm Harbottle & Lewis are among a cache of paperwork published by the Commons culture, media and sport select committee. One committee member, the Labour MP Tom Watson, said Goodman’s letter was “absolutely devastating”. He said: “Clive Goodman’s letter is the most significant piece of evidence that has been revealed so far. It completely removes News International’s defence. This is one of the largest cover-ups I have seen in my lifetime.”

Goodman’s letter is dated 2 March 2007, soon after he was released from a four-month prison sentence. It is addressed to News International’s director of human resources, Daniel Cloke, and registers his appeal against the decision of Hinton, the company’s then chairman, to sack him for gross misconduct after he admitted intercepting the voicemail of three members of the royal household. Goodman lists five grounds for his appeal.

He argues that the decision is perverse because he acted “with the full knowledge and support” of named senior journalists and that payments for the private investigator who assisted him, Glenn Mulcaire, were arranged by another senior journalist. The names of the journalists have been redacted from the published letter at the request of Scotland Yard, who are investigating the affair.

Goodman then claims that other members of staff at the News of the World were also hacking phones. Crucially, he adds: “This practice was widely discussed in the daily editorial conference, until explicit reference to it was banned by the editor.” He reveals that the paper continued to consult him on stories even though they knew he was going to plead guilty to phone hacking and that the paper’s then lawyer, Tom Crone, knew all the details of the case against him.

In a particularly embarrassing allegation, he adds: “Tom Crone and the editor promised on many occasions that I could come back to a job at the newspaper if I did not implicate the paper or any of its staff in my mitigation plea. I did not, and I expect the paper to honour its promise to me.” In the event, Goodman lost his appeal. But the claim that the paper induced him to mislead the court is one that may cause further problems for News International.

Two versions of his letter were provided to the committee. One which was supplied by Harbottle & Lewis has been redacted to remove the names of journalists, at the request of police. The other, which was supplied by News International, has been redacted to remove not only the names but also all references to hacking being discussed in Coulson’s editorial meetings and to Coulson’s offer to keep Goodman on staff if he agreed not to implicate the paper.

The company also faces a new claim that it misled parliament. In earlier evidence to the select committee, in answer to questions about whether it had bought Goodman’s silence, it had said he was paid off with a period of notice plus compensation of no more than £60,000. The new paperwork, however, reveals that Goodman was paid a full year’s salary, worth £90,502.08, plus a further £140,000 in compensation as well as £13,000 to cover his lawyer’s bill. Watson said: “It’s hush money. I think they tried to buy his silence.” Murdoch’s executives have always denied this.

When Goodman’s letter reached News International four years ago, it set off a chain reaction which now threatens embarrassment for Rupert and James Murdoch personally. The company resisted Goodman’s appeal, and he requested disclosure of emails sent to and from six named senior journalists on the paper. The company collected 2,500 emails and sent them to Harbottle & Lewis and asked the law firm to examine them.

Harbottle & Lewis then produced a letter, which has previously been published by the select committee in a non-redacted form: “I can confirm that we did not find anything in those emails which appeared to us to be reasonable evidence that Clive Goodman’s illegal actions were known about and supported by both or either of Andy Coulson, the editor, and Neil Wallis, the deputy editor, and/or that Ian Edmondson, the news editor, and others were carrying out similar illegal procedures.”

In their evidence to the select committee last month, the Murdochs presented this letter as evidence that the company had been given a clean bill of health. However, the Metropolitan police have since said that the emails contained evidence of “alleged payments by corrupt journalists to corrupt police officers”. And the former director of public prosecutions, Ken Macdonald, who examined a small sample of the emails, said they contained evidence of indirect hacking, breaches of national security and serious crime.

In a lengthy reply, Harbottle & Lewis say it was never asked to investigate whether crimes generally had been committed at the News of the World but had been instructed only to say whether the emails contained evidence that Goodman had hacked phones with “the full knowledge and support” of the named senior journalists. The law firm reveals that the letter was the result of a detailed negotiation with News International’s senior lawyer, Jon Chapman, and it refused to include a line which he suggested, that, having seen a copy of Goodman’s letter of 2 March: “We did not find anything that we consider to be directly relevant to the grounds of appeal put forward by him.”

In a lengthy criticism of the Murdochs’ evidence to the select committee last month, Harbottle & Lewis says it finds it “hard to credit” James Murdoch’s repeated claim that News International “rested on” its letter as part of their grounds for believing that Goodman was a “rogue reporter”. It says News International’s view of the law firm’s role is “self-serving” and that Rupert Murdoch’s claim that it was hired “to find out what the hell was going on” was “inaccurate and misleading”, although it adds that he may have been confused or misinformed about its role.

Harbottle & Lewis writes: “There was absolutely no question of the firm being asked to provide News International with a clean bill of health which it could deploy years later in wholly different contexts for wholly different purposes … The firm was not being asked to provide some sort of ‘good conduct certificate’ which News International could show to parliament … Nor was it being given a general retainer, as Mr Rupert Murdoch asserted it was, ‘to find out what the hell was going on’.”

The law firm’s challenge to the Murdochs’ evidence follows an earlier claim made jointly by the paper’s former editor and former lawyer that a different element of James Murdoch’s evidence to the committee was “mistaken”. He had told the committee that he had paid more than £1m to settle a legal action brought by Gordon Taylor of the Professional Footballers Association without knowing that Taylor’s lawyers had obtained an email from a junior reporter to the paper’s chief reporter, Neville Thurlbeck, containing 35 transcripts of voicemail messages. Crone and the former editor, Colin Myler, last month challenged this.

In letters published by the committee, the former News of the World lawyer repeats his position. He says this email was “the sole reason” for settling Taylor’s case. He says he took it with him to a meeting with James Murdoch in June 2008 when he explained the need to settle: “I have no doubt that I informed Mr Murdoch of its existence, of what it was and where it came from.”

Myler, in a separate letter also published on Tuesday, endorses Crone’s account. Their evidence raises questions about James Murdoch’s failure to tell the police or his shareholders about the evidence of crime contained in the email.

Watson said that both Murdochs should be recalled to the committee to explain their evidence. Hinton, who resigned last month, may join them. Four days after Goodman sent his letter, Hinton gave evidence to the select committee in which he made no reference to any of the allegations contained in the letter, but told MPs: “I believe absolutely that Andy [Coulson] did not have knowledge of what was going on”. He added that he had carried out a full, rigorous internal inquiry and that he believed Goodman was the only person involved.

Commenting on the evidence from the select committee, a News International spokesperson said: “News Corporation’s board has set up a management and standards committee, chaired by independent chairman Lord Grabiner, which is co-operating fully with the Metropolitan police and is facilitating their investigation into illegal voicemail interception at the News of the World and related issues.

“We recognise the seriousness of materials disclosed to the police and parliament and are committed to working in a constructive and open way with all the relevant authorities.”

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US ‘begins talks’ with the Taliban

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A report claims that the Obama administration has launched exploratory contacts with senior leaders of the Afghan insurgency

The Afghan conflict has not lacked peace initiatives in the past few years. There have been at least a dozen back-channel contacts with the Taliban brokered by a mix of governments, institutions or individuals. But until now, it has been a cottage industry, producing reports but no tangible gains.


The talks are said to be the legacy of the late US envoy, Richard Holbrooke.

Many of those involved in these encounters predicted that there would be no way of knowing whether the Taliban leadership was interested in making a deal until Washington decided to engage with it directly. That now appears to have happened.

A report by Steve Coll in the current edition of the New Yorker reports that:

The Obama Administration has entered into direct, secret talks with senior Afghan Taliban leaders, several people briefed about the talks told me last week. The discussions are continuing; they are of an exploratory nature and do not yet amount to a peace negotiation.

There are few details. We do not learn which Taliban figures are taking part, though Mullah Omar is apparently not involved. Nor is it clear whether the contacts are being orchestrated on the US side by the state department or the White House. Coll gives credit for inspiring them to Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan who died in December.

According to European diplomats, Barack Obama has told his national security staff that 2011 should be the year in which the political track towards a resolution takes precedence over the military approach. The US-Taliban contacts, if confirmed, signal that Washington is no longer content to leave the pace of political progress to the Afghan government that has little incentive in a settlement that would almost certainly put it out of business.

The next step will be a meeting of the international contact group early next month in Jeddah, where the special envoys (including Holbrooke’s replacement, Marc Grossman) will be hosted by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.

Such meetings are generally too large and unwieldy to yield concrete results, but the OIC’s role this time will be widely seen as a blessing from the Islamic world for the search for a negotiated solution, important in turn for drawing in major Taliban figures. Holbrooke is said to have seen the OIC’s agreement to play host as a major coup and had been excitedly briefing Hillary Clinton on the development when he was taken ill.

The other big hope is that now there is news of direct US-Taliban talks, other regional players, Pakistan and Iran in particular, will play a more engaged role in multilateral talks, for fear of being left behind by a ‘peace train’ that might finally be leaving the station.

India threatens to suspend Blackberry by 31 August

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India has given Blackberry phone maker RIM a deadline of 31 August to give the government access to all of its services or face being shut down.


India is seen as a growth market for smartphone and mobile devices

The country is reported to be considering similar bans on Skype and Google services, according to the Financial Times.

RIM has issued a statement outlining when it claims “lawful” access to encrypted data is acceptable.

It has no “special deals” with specific countries, it claims.

In the statement, RIM sets out four principles which underpin any request for access to data sent and received by Blackberry handsets.

It includes a stipulation that Blackberry services are not treated any differently to its competitors in terms of access.

It also states that “no changes to the security architecture for Blackberry Enterprise Server customers” can be made.

“RIM maintains a consistent global standard for lawful access requirements that does not include special deals for specific countries,” reads the statement.

India fears the device could be used by militants and insurgents in a repeat of the 2008 attack on Mumbai that left 166 people dead.

The row is the latest in a long running dispute between Research in Motion (RIM) and international governments.

The central issue is how governments monitor the encrypted traffic from Blackberry devices.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was the first country to propose a block on the devices, saying they posed a “national security risk” in their ability to send messages and e-mail without the authorities having the ability to monitor the communications.

RIM sends this data to servers in Canada and the encryption used to secure this is virtually uncrackable.

Other countries followed the UAE’s lead, including Lebanon, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

India is the latest country to enter the fray, with analysts expecting more to follow suit.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, RIM’s ceo, Michael Lazardis, was strongly critical of governments threatening to ban BlackBerry services, saying they risked undermining the growth of e-commerce.

“This is about the internet…everything on the internet is encrypted,” Mr Lazaridis said.

“[and] this is not a Blackberry-only issue…if they can’t deal with the internet, they should shut it off,” he added

Imminent threat

In 2008, the BBC reported that RIM was at loggerheads with the Indian government over demands that it help decrypt suspicious text messages.

RIM’s answer then, as now, was that it does not allow any third party – or even the company itself – to read information sent over its network.


There are over 1 million Blackberry users in India

In July this year, RIM responded to a report in India’s Economic Times that said the firm would allow Indian security authorities to monitor Blackberry services.

The firm said it co-operated with all governments “with a consistent standard and the same degree of respect”, but denied it had ever provided anything unique to the government of one country that it had not offered to the governments of all countries.

Government officials said that if no solution between themselves and RIM was found, then they would ask mobile phone operators to block Blackberry’s messaging and e-mail until RIM provides access to data transmitted over the handset.

A Home Ministry spokesperson confirmed that it had now issued a deadline to RIM to comply with its demands.

This differs from Saudi Arabia’s demands, who only wanted access to the handsets messaging system.

There are more than one million Blackberry users in India, with the continent slated to be a significant market for smart phone manufactures as the country expands its network coverage.

The government say RIM had proposed helping authorities track e-mails without sharing encryption details but, say officials, that does not go far enough.

“(RIM) genuinely tries to be as cooperative as possible with governments in the spirit of supporting legal and national security requirements, while also preserving the lawful needs of citizens and corporations,” said the firm.

Mr. Lazaridis said that his devices were being unfairly singled out by foreign governments out to score political points and while he would not comment on the status of individual negotiations, be believed a mutually agreeable settlement can be reached.

“We have dealt with this before and it will get resolved if there is a chance for rational discussion,” Mr. Lazaridis said.

Nuclear Standoff; Who Is The Loser?

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By Kourosh Ziabari

It’s more than 8 years that the world’s newspapers are filled with miscellaneous news, reports and commentaries concerning Iran’s nuclear program. Controversy over Iran’s nuclear program has spanned through two administrations in Iran: ex-President Mohammad Khatami’s government and the incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration. The term “Iran nuclear program” returns more than 6 million results in Google web search. Thousands of scholars, journalists, politicians and political pundits have made their own statement regarding this debatable subject.

Terminologically, Iran’s nuclear program calls to mind the words holocaust, Israel, Zionism, Axis of Evil, George W. Bush, stretched hands and uranium enrichment. The world is watching the uninteresting continuation of confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program and the opportunist journalists find this tedious charade the best subject to entertain their readers and enrich their portfolio.

Iran says that it needs enriched uranium to meet its energy demands and produce electricity. The United States and its European allies claim that Iran wants to produce nuclear weapons in order to launch a military strike against Israel. Israel, over the past 5 years, has been incessantly threatening Iran with a preemptive attack, warning that it would not allow Iran to achieve nuclear technology.

The United Nations Security Council, under the pressure of United States and its stalwart allies, has imposed 4 rounds of backbreaking financial sanctions against Iran to dissuade it from developing “nuclear weapons”. Iranian officials have repeatedly rejected the claims that they’re moving towards developing nuclear weapons and called the sanctions ineffective, valueless.

These scenarios have been taking place over the past 8 years repeatedly and there was not a single magnanimous politician to put an end to the exhausting war of words between Iran and the West categorically.

There are only two possibilities which can terminate Iran’s nuclear deadlock. The first solution is that Iran has to withdraw from its nuclear accomplishments and submit to the calls of Western politicians by giving up its uranium enrichment program. The other solution would be the West’s abandonment of its uncompromising stance by accepting a new nuclear power in the Middle East.

Both of the solutions, however, seem to be impractical and unattainable as none of the parties involved in Iran’s nuclear standoff have so far shown any sign of flexibility and reasonability. The West staunchly insists that Israel should remain the sole possessor of nuclear weapons in the Middle East and the employment of nuclear energy by the other countries, even for peaceful purposes, violates the policy of a Middle East with an unrivaled nuclear Israel. Iran, on the other hand, insists that it would never accede to halt its uranium enrichment program in lieu of receiving a certain amount of uranium enriched by a third country to be consequently transferred to Iran to be used in the nuclear reactors in Bushehr and Natanz.

Both sides of the game continue to stick to their stubbornness and adamancy. None of them retreat from their stances which have been indicated a number of times that are baseless and unfounded. The game which they’ve started has no winner. It’s a “lose-lose” competition. Amidst their erosive and probably unending clashes, the Iranian people seem to be the only loser. They’re the ones who should tolerate the intolerable consequences of financial sanctions. They’re the ones who will be deprived of the barest rudiments of their daily life as a result of the financial sanctions which are purportedly imposed on the government of Iran.

The Iranian people are the only loser of power game between Iran and the West. They’re competing to surmount each other in a nonstop match which is designed to show the most powerful competitor.

Once the turn comes to boasting of respecting the human rights and freedom, the Western leaders chant that they want the well-being, liberty and safety of the Iranian people. Once it’s time to keep silent and watch, they interfere disturbingly and affect the political destiny of a nation. I’m referring to Iran’s June 2009 presidential elections in which the Western politicians blatantly took the side of the reformist candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi and made an opposition figure out of him, laying the groundwork for his being demonized domestically; however, once it’s time for them to take action and prevent the Iranian nation from being affected by the grave consequences of a meaningless power game, they vote in favor of a fourth round of financial sanctions against Iran unilaterally and prove that their claims are drastically futile and unrealistic.

Let America set the example before it pushes the others, lets have denuclearized world, America dump your weapons and so do the other powers on this planet earth. Or at least denuclearize Israel that would also go a long way in boosting the American image of neutrality and peace loving country with a just stand.

The only losers of this power game are the ordinary Iranian people. There’s no doubt about that.

Kourosh Ziabari is Iranian media correspondent, freelance journalist and the author of Book 7+1. He is a contributing writer for websites and magazines in the Netherlands, Canada, Italy, Hong Kong, Bulgaria, South Korea, Belgium, Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. . Currently, he works for the Foreign Policy Journal as a media correspondent. He is a member of Tlaxcala Translators Network for Linguistic Diversity and World Student Community for Sustainable Development. Kourosh Ziabari is an Iranian freelance journalist and media correspondent. He has interviewed political commentator and linguist Noam Chomsky, member of New Zealand parliament Keith Locke, Australian politician Ian Cohen, member of German Parliament Ruprecht Polenz, former Mexican President Vicente Fox, former U.S. National Security Council advisor Peter D. Feaver, Nobel Prize laureate in Physics Wolfgang Ketterle, Nobel Prize laureate in Chemistry Kurt Wüthrich, Nobel Prize laureate in biology Robin Warren, famous German political prisoner Ernst Zündel, Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff, American author Stephen Kinzer, syndicated journalist Eric Margolis, former assistant of the U.S. Department of the Treasury Paul Craig Roberts, American-Palestinian journalist Ramzy Baroud and the former President of the American Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Sid Ganis