Soldier faces charge of ‘aiding the enemy’ by downloading and leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents
The trial of Bradley Manning, the US soldier who leaked a trove of state secrets to WikiLeaks, could set an ominous precedent that will chill freedom of speech and turn the internet into a danger zone, legal experts have warned.
Of the 21 counts faced by the Army private on Monday, at his trial at Fort Meade in Maryland, by far the most serious is that he knowingly gave intelligence information to al-Qaida by transmitting hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the open information website WikiLeaks. The leaked disclosures were first published by the Guardian and allied international newspapers.
Manning is accused of “aiding the enemy”, in violation of Article 104 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. By indirectly unleashing a torrent of secrets onto the internet, the prosecution alleges, he in effect made it available to Osama bin Laden and his cohorts, for them to inflict injury on the US.
Laurence Tribe, a Harvard professor who is considered to be the foremost liberal authority on constitutional law in the US and who taught the subject to President Barack Obama, told the Guardian that the charge could set a worrying precedent. He said: “Charging any individual with the extremely grave offense of ‘aiding the enemy’ on the basis of nothing beyond the fact that the individual posted leaked information on the web and thereby ‘knowingly gave intelligence information’ to whoever could gain access to it there, does indeed seem to break dangerous new ground.”
Tribe, who advised the department of justice in Obama’s first term, added that the trial could have “far-reaching consequences for chilling freedom of speech and rendering the internet a hazardous environment, well beyond any demonstrable national security interest.”
“Aiding the enemy” carries the death penalty. Though the US government has indicated it will not seek that ultimate punishment, Manning still faces a maximum sentence of life in military custody with no chance of parole.
Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 was subjected to an aborted trial for leaking the Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam War to the New York Times, said that the Manning prosecution was far tougher than anything that he had endured.
“This is part of Obama’s overall policy of criminalising investigative reporting on national security,” he said. “If the government has its way, it will become very hard in future to expose official corruption or disclose information in the public interest other than leaks made by the administration itself.”
Manning’s trial, which is slated to last three months, opens against a backdrop of mounting unease about the increasingly aggressive stance the US government is taking against official leakers. The Obama administration has launched six prosecutions under the Espionage Act, twice as many as all previous presidencies combined, of which only Manning’s has gone to trial.
The Department of Justice is already under fire for its controversial secret seizures of phone records of Associated Press reporters and of a Fox News reporter, James Rosen, investigating North Korean nuclear tests.
In the course of pre-trial hearings, military prosecutors have outlined the basic skeleton of their case against Manning. They will seek to show that Osama bin Laden personally instructed an aide to download elements of WikiLeaks, including the Afghan war logs, on to digital storage devices so that he could read them.
The court will hear – either in person at a secret session of the trial, or in an affidavit – from an anonymous witness called only “John Doe”, who is believed to be one of the 22 US Navy Seals who killed Bin Laden in a raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May 2011. The witness will testify that he retrieved from the compound three items of digital media that contained WikiLeaks material.
The prosecution will present evidence to the court that the items retrieved from Bin Laden’s compound included a letter written by the al-Qaida leader to an aide, asking for them to download US defence information from WikiLeaks. The same al-Qaida operative then replied to Bin Laden attaching the Afghan war logs and department of state information released by WikiLeaks.
Colonel Denise Lind, the judge presiding over the court martial in the absence of a jury, has ruled that for Manning to be found guilty of “aiding the enemy” the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he knowingly gave helpful information to al-Qaida, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and a third terrorist group whose identity remains classified. The route by which Manning communicated with al-Qaida can be indirect, through Wikileaks, the judge has directed, though the soldier must have had a “general evil intent in that he had to know he was dealing with an enemy of the United States”.
A defence motion calling on all reference to al-Qaida to be ruled inadmissible on grounds that it was irrelevant and prejudicial was denied by Lind in an earlier hearing.
Manning has already pleaded guilty to lesser offences, that he transmitted classified information to WikiLeaks carrying a possible maximum sentence of 20 years. Between November 2009 and May 2010 he downloaded massive files, stored in secure US intelligence databases, from his computer at an army operating base in Iraq, where he was working as an intelligence analyst. He then transmitted the files to an encrypted whistleblower channel set up by WikiLeaks.
Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project, who represented two of the six leakers who have been prosecuted – National Security Agency whistleblower Thomas Drake and former CIA operative John Kiriakou – said the broad legal implications of Manning’s trial were frightening. “If Osama bin Laden or any other suspected terrorist happens to have read a New York Times article on the internet, the government can now go after the paper for ‘aiding the enemy’. That’s a big problem.”
In the course of legal argument in pre-trial hearings, one of the prosecution lawyers was asked whether Manning would have been prosecuted in the same way had he leaked to the New York Times as opposed to WikiLeaks. The prosecutor replied: “Yes.”
Radack said that the case has sent a chill through investigative reporting. Several potential whistleblowers have approached her in recent weeks, she said, expressing great trepidation about leaking to any news outlets because “they fear they will become the next Bradley Manning”.
Billions in food exports at stake following disclosure by US Department of Agriculture of the existence of the GM wheat
The discovery of rogue genetically modified wheat in a farmer’s field in Oregon shook global confidence in the safety of America’s food supply on Friday.
Billions in food exports were potentially at stake following the disclosure by the US Department of Agriculture of the existence of the GM wheat plants.
The GM variant, developed by the agricultural giant Monsanto, has never been approved for human consumption.
The discovery in Oregon, about a decade after field trials ended in that state, raised concerns among the main buyers of America’s wheat abroad, as well as an increasingly active GM movement at home.
The European Union advised member states on Friday to test some wheat shipments from the US. The EU imports more than 1.1m tonnes of wheat a year.
Asia was also shutting its doors to American wheat imports. South Korea, which last year imported half of its wheat from the US, cancelled imports, following Japan’s lead. Thailand puts its ports on alert. China and the Philippines said they were closely watching the USDA’s investigations into the GM escape.
“It’s going to be a pretty serious blow to all wheat farmers. I would imagine probably the price of wheat is already going down some,” said Fred Kirschenmann, a senior fellow at the Leopold Centre for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, who himself farms 2,600 acres of organic wheat.
“It is definitely going to have an impact because it is right at the time when there is increasing concern about GM and food so this is not going to be good news for the wheat farmers.”
Food safety and environmental groups have grown increasingly active campaigning for greater disclosure of GM ingredients over the last several months.
Vermont, Connecticut and New York are all pursuing laws to require GM labelling – a move furiously resisted by Monsanto and the other big biotech firms.
Kirschenmann said the outbreak could play into public concerns about being given a greater say over whether they choose to eat GM foods, or avoid them.
Others argued the escape in Oregon offered a reminder – yet again – of the enormous difficulties of truly isolating GM products from the food chain.
“This is potentially the tip of the iceberg,” said Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist at the food and environment programme for the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“Where people have looked, they have found contamination occurring. But a lot of the time no one is looking,” he said.
The Government Accountability Office in a 2008 report described six outbreaks of GM crops into the US food and feed supply.
Gurian-Sherman noted a few more since then. In almost all of those instances, there were only trace amounts of contamination.
But he said the recurrence of such incidents suggested that the standards, which were below those in Europe, were too lax. “The contamination is very low, considerable less than 1%,” he said. “But even with that caveat, I don’t think people should have a lot of confidence that there hasn’t been contamination events.”
Agricultural companies, such as Monsanto, carry out about 1,000 trials of GM crops every year, often at multiple sites across the country. In any year, companies can be testing GM cotton and feed crop, as well as food, including fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes.
Monsanto in 2011 applied for new permits to test another variant of GM wheat in Hawaii and North Dakota.
“When you add all that together I wouldn’t be surprised it there hadn’t been some other experimental gene that leaked out of some other crops and had been carried along with nobody testing for them,” said Gurian-Sherman.
The government is investigating how the GM wheat plants arrived in that Oregon field.
Monsanto in a statement on its website said it would with the authorities, and that there was no health risk from the outbreak.
“Monsanto will work with the US Department of Agriculture to get to the bottom of the reported genetically modified wheat detection, there are no food, feed or environmental safety concerns associated with the presence of the Roundup Ready gene if it is found to be present in wheat,” the company said.
GM variants are now the norm in US corn, cotton and soybeans, making up virtually all of the soybean crop last year. By some estimates, about two-thirds of US processed foods contain some GM ingredients.
But GM wheat never gained a foothold because of widespread public resistance, and Monsanto did not pursue efforts for its commercial development.
However, the company conducted widespread testing of GM wheat in 16 states between 1998 and 2005. The last such test fields in Oregon were planted a decade ago in 2001, the USDA said.
Those decisions could now return to haunt the US, said Danielle Nierenberg, founder of The Food Tank. “We have spent a lot of time in the last few years putting China and other countries down for food safety issues, but we are messing with people’s faith in the food system here,” she said. “The US has a long history of claiming we have the safest and most abundant food system in the world and this undermines that.”
Delivery from Boeing’s factory in Seattle to Thomson Airways was three months late after airline maker grounded its entire fleet over safety concerns
It was three months late, but Britain’s first Boeing 787 Dreamliner touched down on Friday at Manchester Airport.
The delivery from Boeing’s factory in Seattle to Thomson Airways, planned for February, was delayed after the US aerospace company grounded its fleet of 787s and suspended deliveries in January. There had been a battery fire on a parked 787 at Boston’s Logan International Airport and another incident in which battery smoke forced an emergency landing by another of the airliners in Japan.
Thomson’s parent company, TUI Travel, said it also planned to buy 60 Boeing 737 MAX Aircraft, secured at a “significant discount” to the list price “through various concessions”.
At current list prices, the cost for 60 of the narrow-bodied aircraft would be £4bn. TUI has the option to buy up to a further 90 of the Boeing 737s, which would be used for short and medium-haul flights.
Delivery of the first 60, which is subject to shareholder approval, is scheduled to start in January 2018 and run until March 2023.
Thomson will receive a further three Dreamliners this summer, and will fly the aircraft from Manchester, London Gatwick, East Midlands and Glasgow airports to long-haul destinations in Florida and Mexico from 8 July. The airline had originally planned to start flights in May.
TUI airlines has 12 Dreamliners remaining on order, while British Airways and Virgin have also ordered the aircraft.
Boeing claims the 787 is the most technologically advanced and fuel efficient jetliner ever built, using 20% less fuel compared with similar-sized aircraft. It also has bigger windows, larger overhead luggage bins, lower cabin altitude, and enhanced ventilation systems.
Chris Browne, managing director of Thomson Airways, said the Dreamliner marked a “major milestone” in modernising the holiday experience. The Thomson Airways Dreamliner will carry 291 passengers for the Thomson and First Choice brands.
Boeing said separately that it was establishing new centres for engineering design, propulsion and out-of-production plane support for commercial planes in the US.
Engineering design centres will be opened in Washington state, South Carolina and Southern California.
Boeing is forecasting strong growth in commercial aviation over the next 20 years, and a market for 34,000 new planes estimated at $4.5tn (£3tn).
In June 1963, JFK made a speech that changed the outcome of the cold war. Fifty years on, modern politicians should follow his example of leading, not following, public opinion
President Obama’s address to young people in Jerusalem in March was meant to be an uplifting call for peace. Yet there was one remarkably dispiriting line. “Speaking as a politician,” said Obama, “I can promise you this: political leaders will not take risks if the people do not demand that they do. You must create the change that you want to see.”
Obama was appealing to Israel’s young people to rally for peace. That’s fine. But he was also expressing the sad truth of our time – political leaders are followers. Politicians are governed by focus groups and opinion surveys. They will “lead” only when the outcry becomes loud enough, and sometimes not even then. And when the public is confused and divided, the politicians cower in their platitudes.
It is fitting, therefore, to remember other times in history, when democratic politicians led, by cajoling, inspiring, and enlightening the public to follow a necessary yet courageous course. At those moments of history, grand rhetoric spurred action, even dazzling and inspiring action. We are at an anniversary of one such moment of democratic leadership, an act of leadership and statesmanship so large that it helped to save humanity.
Fifty years ago, on 10 June 1963, President John F Kennedy changed the course of the cold war. Like Obama, he spoke of peace. Yet, unlike Obama, JFK took risks in the cause of peace. His British counterpart of the day, Harold Macmillan, and the UK ambassador to Washington, David Ormsby-Gore, deserve significant credit for bolstering his resolve at critical moments.
But JFK had a towering role model for his political bravery. No 20th-century democratic politician did more to harness words to courageous action than Winston Churchill. His determination, soaring rhetoric, and decisive action in 1939 and 1940 saved Britain in the war with Nazi Germany.
As a young college student, JFK watched Churchill’s rise to wartime leader while visiting his father Joseph Kennedy, America’s ambassador to the Court of St. James. Churchill’s courage no doubt made a powerful impression on JFK in contrast with his own father’s notorious pessimism about Britain’s wartime prospects.
From this time onward, JFK’s yardstick of leadership was political courage, the readiness to lead public opinion rather than to follow it. As a US senator, he and Ted Sorensen, his trusted adviser and speechwriter, crafted Profiles in Courage, a selection of historical examples from the Senate where a politician risked career and reputation to stand for higher principles. Soon enough, Kennedy would face the test of political courage at another hinge of history.
He arrived at the presidency with little experience – the youngest elected president in US history. His first two years were bumpy, far from the ideals of leadership to which he aspired and held himself accountable. Yet it was in his third year, a true annus mirabilis of presidential leadership, that JFK joined the pantheon of greatness.
Kennedy became president after 15 years of cold war, and at a moment when the prospects of a US-Soviet thaw were rapidly fading. Stalin’s death in 1953 had raised widespread hopes that solutions to the cold war could be found. Nikita Khrushchev, Stalin’s successor, championed the cause of “peaceful coexistence” of the superpowers. Yet years of US-Soviet negotiations on arms control had failed to make headway: the distrust on both sides was too great.
Worse still, tensions intensified in the months between JFK’s election victory in November 1960 and his assumption of office on 20 January 1961. A long-awaited Khrushchev-Eisenhower summit failed when a CIA spy?plane was shot down in Soviet airspace just weeks before the scheduled meeting. This was par for the course: no agency did more damage more consistently to the cause of peace than the malign and bungling CIA. But Eisenhower compounded the CIA’s damage by brazenly denying the spy mission, only to have the Soviets produce both the plane’s wreckage and the captured US pilot for a global audience.
Kennedy came into office in 1961 hoping to reach a series of arms-control treaties with the Soviet Union, specifically a ban on nuclear arms testing to be followed by a nuclear non?proliferation treaty. Yet as an initially inexperienced leader, JFK drifted with events instead of leading them. The CIA reprised its spy plane bungling in a far larger and more dangerous debacle, by staging an invasion of Cuba by Cuban exiles. When the attempt immediately collapsed on the beach of the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy repeated Eisenhower’s blunder by brazenly (and ridiculously) lying to Khrushchev about the US role in the attempted invasion.
To say that matters quickly spiralled out of control is an understatement. Kennedy increased defence spending; completed the placement of intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Turkey, practically on Russia’s doorstep; and generally stepped up the cold war rhetoric. Khrushchev, too, dramatically raised the stakes, declaring that the Soviet Union would soon take unilateral action in divided Berlin to deny western access to the western portion of the city. And then came the coup de grace, Khrushchev’s impetuous decision in early 1962 to place intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Cuba to give the US a taste of its own medicine, a tit-for-tat response to the Bay of Pigs and the missiles in Turkey.
JFK’s greatness began in the famous 13 days of the Cuban missile crisis. While demanding the removal of the Soviet missiles, he bought time through a naval quarantine of Soviet ships to Cuba, and kept open communication channels with Khrushchev. He repeatedly imagined himself in Khrushchev’s position, in order to assess his motivations and to induce him to withdraw the missiles without humiliating the Soviet Union. One crucial part of that strategy was Kennedy’s secret commitment to Khrushchev, that the US would remove its Jupiter missiles from Turkey.
As Kennedy would say eight months later in the “Peace” speech: “And above all, while defending our own vital interests, nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to a choice of either a humiliating retreat or a nuclear war. To adopt that kind of course in the nuclear age would be evidence only of the bankruptcy of our policy – or of a collective death-wish for the world.”
Many historians have misjudged the importance of Kennedy’s secret quid pro quo on the missiles in Turkey. When it was revealed, 25 years after the event, it was first assumed that this trade must have played a decisive role in Khrushchev’s own decision to withdraw the Cuban missiles. But once the timing of JFK’s commitment was re-examined, in light of new evidence from Soviet archives, it was clear that Khrushchev had decided to remove the Soviet missiles from Cuba even before learning of Kennedy’s pledge on the Jupiter missiles. Some historians then swung the other way, deciding that Kennedy’s pledge had played no role in the ultimate outcome of the crisis.
Yet Kennedy’s decision, an act of statesmanship and wisdom, played a powerful role. Khrushchev appreciated Kennedy’s gesture. It established a bond of mutual trust and common understanding that would serve them well in the test ban negotiations.
The Cuban missile crisis changed Kennedy and Khrushchev, and thereby changed the world. Despite JFK’s long-standing fear that nuclear war could occur through miscalculation or accident, he himself had almost presided over the ultimate Armageddon. Had he listened to his generals, advocating a surprise military strike, this surely would have been the outcome. Khrushchev was no less shocked. His ill-considered plan for a quick political advantage had brought the world to the brink of annihilation. As he recounted later: “Any man who could stare at the reality of nuclear war without sober thoughts was an irresponsible fool … Of course I was scared. It would have been insane not to have been scared. I was frightened about what could happen to my country – or your country and all the other countries that would be devastated by a nuclear war.”
The crisis was therefore a catharsis for the leaders of the two superpowers, a break of the fever of the self-feeding escalation of arms and conflict of the preceding two years. Most importantly, for JFK it was a wake-up call. If the world was to be saved, if nuclear war was to be avoided, the president would have to lead. War and peace could not be left to the generals, the CIA, or a confused and fearful public. Obama told the Israeli young people to “create the change you want to see”. JFK instead decided that as president he must lead that change.
What followed, between October 1962 and September 1963, was one of the greatest sustained acts of leadership and statesmanship in modern times. Kennedy’s eloquence was key; but it was just one weapon in his political arsenal. JFK built his campaign for peace on a combination of vision and pragmatic actions, focusing first on a treaty to end nuclear tests.
The notion of a test-ban treaty might seem rather obvious today, yet at the time it was as likely as a substantive US-Iran or Israel-Palestine treaty would be today. Making peace with the Soviet Union was hardly high on the political to-do list in the spring of 1963, and very few were even arguing it should be tried. Soviet perfidy, or so it seemed to many Americans, had brought the world to the brink of destruction. The US public was deeply sceptical that any peace could be possible. Hardliners on both sides firmly believed that any treaty would be tantamount to unilateral surrender, as it would be followed by secret aggression – even a nuclear first strike – by the other side. But after staring into the nuclear abyss in the missile crisis, Kennedy was determined to pull back from the brink. There could be no better start for his peace campaign than the American University on commencement day.
Any speech, of course, has many listeners and audiences, but this one was more complicated than most. It had to satisfy three tough audiences: the American public, who would in turn influence the Senate debate over treaty ratification; Soviet leaders; and key European allies. Strong and vocal opposition by West Germany, for example, could undermine the negotiations. And such vocal opposition was quite possible. West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer repeatedly ridiculed the possibility of a cold war thaw, arguing instead for a US-backed German nuclear arsenal as the key to the west’s defence.
Kennedy’s rhetorical strategy was brilliant. Instead of using the speech to list a set of demands on the Soviet Union, as earlier presidents had done, JFK called on Americans to “re?examine our own attitudes, for ours are as important as theirs”. Kennedy’s basic point was simple, powerful, direct, and shocking: both sides of the cold war are human, and both sides want peace.
Kennedy did not speak of Russian perfidy. Instead he spoke of Russian valour. “No government or social system is so evil that its people must be considered as lacking in virtue. As Americans, we find communism profoundly repugnant as a negation of personal freedom and dignity. But we can still hail the Russian people for their many achievements in science and space, in economic and industrial growth, in culture, in acts of courage.” He noted that America and the Soviet Union shared a mutual abhorrence of war, and that “[a]lmost unique among the major world powers, we have never been at war with each other”.
The humanisation of the foe, the emphasis that both sides are rational and desirous of peace, not only formed the bulwark of JFK’s core vision, but also greatest lyricism of the speech, in soaring phrases with the capacity to inspire across generations:
“So let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.” Towards the end of the speech, Kennedy made the important announcement that he, Prime Minister Macmillan, and Chairman Khrushchev would resume talks on a test ban treaty.
We may read the speech for inspiration, but should judge it in history as a political act. Kennedy above all warned against fantasies and fanatics. He was a politician, and had his eye firmly on the outcome. Could a treaty be signed and ratified? And would the treaty help to create the conditions for peace?
The answers are of course now clear. Khrushchev regarded Kennedy’s speech as the greatest by an American president since Franklin D Roosevelt. It spurred him to clear away many long-standing obstacles to the test ban treaty, which was signed in Moscow just seven weeks after the Peace speech. Only one major compromise was made – to limit the test ban to air, space, and underwater, excluding tests underground – so as to sidestep the vexing scientific and political question of how to differentiate between secret underground nuclear tests and earthquakes. Kennedy also reassured Khrushchev that the US would not arm West Germany with nuclear weapons, a policy that Eisenhower had begun to explore, to the great alarm of the Soviet Union.
The American public rallied as well. They did reconsider their own attitudes, and agreed with Kennedy that peace was possible. Yet Kennedy also made a series of shrewd agreements with the military top brass and with key Senators, to ensure that no sticking points would hinder ratification. Kennedy had all the reason to keep his feet on the ground, even as he let his rhetoric soar. Any agreement with the Soviet Union would have to pass the Senate by a two-thirds majority. There was no use signing an agreement that the Senate would not ratify. Through arduous and detailed work over many weeks, Kennedy produced a landslide victory in the Senate, with ratification won by a margin of 81 to 17.
The test ban treaty certainly did not end the cold war, but it did end atmospheric nuclear testing. Just as important, it provided the proof that negotiation and agreement was possible, and thus laid the groundwork for future treaties, most importantly the nuclear non-proliferation treaty of 1968. The myth of implacable hostility between the superpowers was disproved, decisively and irreversibly. It is also notable that the most recent careful epidemiological research has also found that nuclear fallout from the atmospheric testing until 1963 was even more dangerous than supposed at the time.
Yet the impact of JFK’s courageous leadership in the final year of his life extends even beyond his role in putting the cold war on to a safer path, for his lessons in leadership extend beyond nuclear diplomacy and great power politics. I would draw several lessons for our own time, indeed for any time.
First, our foes are human, and our common human bonds can overcome seemingly unbridgeable divides. One of Kennedy’s most important messages that summer was that “history teaches us that enmities between nations, as between individuals, do not last forever. However fixed our likes and dislikes may seem, the tide of time and events will often bring surprising changes in the relations between nations and neighbours.” This lesson remains largely unlearned by many in the US and Europe today.
Second, empathetic steps can beget empathetic steps in return. Kennedy removed the missiles from Turkey, and respected legitimate Soviet concerns over potential West German nuclear arms. He and the US were repaid with the trust to clear away a decade’s worth of hurdles to a durable test ban treaty.
Third, Kennedy was guided by a soaring vision of peace, but kept both feet on the ground. “World peace,” he declared, “like community peace, does not require that each man love his neighbour, it requires only that they live together in mutual tolerance, submitting their disputes to a just and peaceful settlement.” The test ban treaty, he said, was but the first step on a journey of a thousand miles. He did not oversell the treaty, and won the public’s trust in his honest appraisal of what it could and could not do.
Fourth, while a great speech is a powerful tool of leadership, it must be combined with pragmatic follow-through, something evidently lacking in Obama’s diplomacy. The essence of leadership, said JFK, is to make the vision seem achievable by laying out the pragmatic steps to implement it. “By defining our goal more clearly, by making it seem more manageable and less remote, we can help all people to see it, to draw hope from it, and to move irresistibly towards it.”
Finally, leadership counts. Courage does not arise by committee. And vision is not the common denominator of a focus group. Kennedy made peace not because he was advised to do so. He made peace because he chose his own counsel, tuning down – if not out – the cacophony of advice from the generals, politicians and pundits.
These are lessons for our time, whether to end the roiling wars in the Middle East or finally to face the challenges of human-induced environmental destruction. We live in an age where the media rules and the politicians follow. That age is becoming dangerous indeed, an echo?chamber of sound bites and politics as the art of the trivial. We need better politics than that, and can draw hope from a moment of history 50 years ago, when courage, leadership and vision moved the world.
• To Move the World: JFK’s Quest for Peace by Jeffrey Sachs is published by Bodley Head
UK authorities deny US investigators’ claim that one engine shut down and one was on fire before Heathrow emergency landing
The UK air accident investigation board (AAIB) has denied reports from US safety authorities that the British Airways jet which made an emergency landing last week at Heathrow did so with one engine shut down and the other on fire.
The AAIB, which is expected to publish an interim report on Friday, took the rare step of denying reports from the website of the US national transportation safety board (NTSB), which is assisting the AAIB, on the incident.
British investigators did not, however, contradict a US claim that heavy protective coverings, or cowls, on both engines were torn from the plane on or after takeoff.
The information from the US government, if correct, suggests the plane came closer to potential catastrophe – making the incident much more serious than so far revealed, safety experts say.
The London-Oslo flight BA762 returned to land at Heathrow soon after takeoff on the morning of Friday 24 May. Passengers on board and witnesses below saw smoke billowing from the plane, which landed safely, with the 75 passengers and crew evacuated via emergency slides.
The NTSB is assisting the investigation because the engines were manufactured for Airbus in the US. On its website, it noted that the BA plane saw “the engine cowls from both International Aero Engines V2500 engines separate and fall on to the runway. The pilots reported that they shut down one engine, there was a fuel leak, and that they were returning.”
The NTSB continued: “The pilots subsequently reported that one engine was shut down and the other engine was on fire.” The AAIB later asserted that this information was incorrect.
It has emerged that Airbus has noted 32 similar incidents on its A320 family of planes, including the A319, in which the engine cowls – roughly equivalent to the bonnet of a car – have flown open or detached in flight, causing potentially serious damage to the plane. The manufacturer issued a safety briefing last year, urging crews to be aware of the risk of cowls not being properly closed.
The AAIB’s full conclusion is likely to be months away, but it will issue a special bulletin on Friday. BA said it would not comment on the incident but was conducting an investigation, co-operating fully with the AAIB and awaiting its full report.
David Learmount, operations and safety editor of Flight Global, said: “This was more serious than we realised at the time – this was a serious incident. If you have fires in the engine, and cowls falling from both engines, that is very dangerous.” He added that the crew did well to avert loss of life on board and under the flight path.
Passenger Jean Ralphs, who was sitting in seat 3F, says she saw an engine cowl detach. “I saw vapour streaming off the right-hand engine and a colourless liquid streaming from the exposed pipes. It was obvious that it was only a matter of time before the engine caught fire.
“I know that we all nearly died on that flight. I fail to understand how such a dangerous maintenance issue can be allowed to continue. Why have all Airbuses not been grounded until this is sorted out?”
Airbus declined to comment. Last July the Airbus safety publication stressed the importance of pre-flight checks and the danger of assuming cowls were properly closed, warning that inadvertent opening was a “major hazard” that could cause “heavy damage”.
Learmount said it seemed clear that there was an issue with maintenance. He said: “It’s emerging that it’s very difficult to see – the underside of the engines is where the latches are and the ground clearance is 18 inches. Airbus has done several things over the years which has made them more visible – but unless you get down on your stomach and check during the walkaround you may miss it.”
He added: “Whether there was something else that happened in addition – or as a result – of the cowl failure is still unclear.”
The incident closed both runways at Heathrow briefly, but the stoppage saw British Airways cancel all short-haul flights until 4pm that day – a decision that left thousands stranded, with many foreign connecting travellers left in London or in the airport for two days. Passengers complained of chaos at the airport and accused the airline of not doing enough to help, with reports of nine-hour queues for desk service and a lack of response on telephone helplines.
A BA spokeswoman said the effects had been compounded by the incident’s timing on a bank holiday weekend when flights were very full, making it difficult to swiftly rebook onward travel. However, she said the airline had put calls out for extra staff to volunteer and added extra phone lines, albeit with some rerouting to call centres in India and Jacksonville in the US.
Apple’s Irish operation has a multi-billion dollar profit – and a tiny tax bill. How does it do it?
Eileen Stokes and her family live a basic life, one of 16 Irish Traveller families settled on an established halting site at the edge of Knocknaheeny, a run-down northern suburb of Cork.
A brazier smolders outside their mobile home. Also within the small, breezeblock-walled yard is the family’s much-loved horse, Ginger. Excitable children show off minnows they have caught in a jar and ask for photos to be taken of themselves posing as boxers or on horseback.
Eileen’s husband pulls out a mobile phone to call his brother to come and talk to the Guardian. It’s not an iPhone.
The Stokes are the nearest neighbours to Apple’s Cork offices, just north of the Blarney Road. Almost two-thirds of the technology group’s $34bn (£22.5bn) global profits for 2011 were earned by companies registered next door.
The past 10 years have brought “unprecedented success” as the popularity of its products has spread across the world, Apple chief executive Tim Cook recalled in Washington last week.
As a result, Apple’s Irish companies now sit on reserves of cash and investments worth about $100bn – a corporate kitty that would more than cover Ireland’s entire annual government expenditure.
Over the same 10 years, Ireland’s fortunes have taken a different turn, with the country engulfed in a banking crisis and forced to seek a bailout from the EU and IMF. Between 2006 and 2011, unemployment rates in Cork city and its suburbs doubled to 18%. The area includes nine of the country’s unemployment blackspots, the worst of which is Knocknaheeny, where the jobless rate according to the 2011 census was 43%.
“They never done anything for us,” says Stokes, her husband adding that many staff at the offices are foreign rather than local workers. Knocknaheeny is an area with a history of many households living below the poverty line. Of those who work, many are low-paid.
On its multi-billion Irish company profits, Apple paid an average of less than 1% tax to Dublin, leading US politicians and tax professors to accuse the group – which vies with the oil giant Exxon for the title of the world’s largest joint-stock company – of deliberately shuffling around its global profits in order to lower its tax bill.
These are earnings, tax experts say, that ordinarily would arise and be taxed, at Apple’s Silicon Valley headquarters; and to a lesser degree in markets around the world, including the UK, where many millions have bought its products.
Foremost among Apple’s accusers are two US senators: a formidable bipartisan duo of Carl Levin, a 78-year-old Democratic senator from Michigan, and John McCain, 76, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate.
Leading the Senate subcommittee on investigations, they discovered that international selling rights to Apple products had been transferred out of the US to a small handful of companies in Knocknaheeny.
“You shifted that golden goose to Ireland,” Levin angrily accused Cook at a six-hour hearing last week. “You shifted it to three companies that do not pay taxes in Ireland … These are the crown jewels of Apple Inc … Folks, it’s not right.”
It was an interpretation Cook politely said he did not recognise. “There is no [profit] shifting going on that I see at all,” the smiling Apple boss explained, sticking firmly to the company line.
“Apple has real operations in real places, with Apple employees selling real products to real customers. We pay all the taxes we owe – every single dollar … We don’t depend on tax gimmicks.”
But politicians and tax experts found this hard to believe. “Apple does not use tax gimmicks? I about fell off my chair when I read that,” Dick Harvey, a professor in tax law and former adviser to the IRS, told the Senate hearing.
Probed specifically on activities in Ireland, Cook claimed: “We have built up a significant skills base there of people who really understand, deeply, the European market, that serve our customers well. They provide a number of functions for that … from tech support, to sales, to reseller support, etc. So we have quite a strong presence there.”
With the two sides unable to agree, the Guardian went to Cork, seeking to build on evidence given to the Senate and test whether Apple’s claim that its Irish subsidiaries can reasonably be said to earn two-thirds of global group profits – or whether, in truth, they are little more than a fig leaf masking industrial-scale tax avoidance.
The investigation found:
• Apple’s Cork site employs large numbers of foreign workers, many employed in call centres dealing with technical-support queries raised in their home countries. Recent Cork job adverts show vacancies for a Spanish payroll analyst, Nordic customer relations adviser, Norwegian Apple specialist, Russian fraud analyst and a German Agreement admin adviser.
• Staff at what Cook calls “our campus in Cork” earned less than the average for Apple, though Harvard professor Stephen Shay has calculated that 2011 profit per employee at the Cork site was more than $9m.
• Although Steve Jobs made Cork his first European base in 1980, most manufacturing operations left Cork years ago. Printed circuit-board production went to Indonesia in 1998, while iMac assembly transferred to Wales a year later.
• Most Apple products destined for all markets outside of the Americas are manufactured by Foxconn in China on orders from Cork. Almost all of them never touch Ireland, being shipped directly to local distributors and retailers in Europe, the Middle East, India, Africa, Asia and Australia.
• Apple has been able to draw a secrecy veil over its Irish operations by making extensive use of unlimited companies, which are not required to file company accounts.
• Billions of dollars of profit pouring into Apple’s Irish coffers each year are managed by Apple’s Nevada-based investment subsidiary Braeburn Capital, making it larger than any US hedge fund. Cash reserves are held in banks in New York with not a penny in Ireland.
• Main accounting records for at least one of these companies are held in Austin, Texas. Meanwhile, notes of board meetings are taken by Apple’s California-based general counsel Gene Levoff and sent to a law firm in Ireland to be typed up as formal minutes.
• Auditors to Apple companies are Ernst & Young, the accountancy firm that also audits Google, Facebook and Amazon – each of which have also elected to set up substantial operations in Ireland. E&Y did $6bn of tax advisory work last year.
Apple declined to co-operate with the Guardian’s investigations and staff leaving work last week were told not to speak to the paper.
However, one worker did break ranks, although chose to speak anonymously. “I grew up in Denmark, so I come from a system where you pay 50% tax. So, yeah, I believe you should pay taxes – I would prefer to pay 50% and have a system that works,” he said.
“I don’t know how the Irish do it. I don’t think it’s fair, no. I think they [Apple] pay 2% tax here in Ireland, which is ridiculous – but that’s the way the system works.”
Conor Healy, chief executive of the Cork chamber of commerce, said Ireland’s unapologetic drive to recruit multinationals was good for the local economy, insisting the country’s low corporation tax rate of 12.5% was just one reason multinationals chose to relocate. “That’s something we very much promote. But that, on its own, is not sufficient for large companies like Apple to be successful.
“Cork is the EMEA [European, Middle East and Africa] headquarters for Apple … It’s delivering real services to Apple customers outside of the US and to the Apple corporation globally.
“And it is employing 4,000 real people, in real jobs here in Cork. That’s a very, very different environment to the tax haven as portrayed in some of the commentary from the US.”
Some 40 multinationals – including Amazon, Google and software security group McAfee – have set up operations in and around Cork, bringing 100,000 jobs to the area, according to Healy. And for every one of these new posts, he claims, three additional, indirect jobs are created.
In the last week, Irish ministers have been busy attempting to rebut damaging tax-haven accusations from the Senators. They have denied that Apple received a sweetheart deal from the Irish government, despite sworn testimony from Cook that Ireland, in 1980, was “very much recruiting tech companies … [and] did give us a tax incentive agreement to enter there”.
Ireland’s deputy prime minister, Eamon Gilmore, said: “[These] are not issues that arise from the Irish taxation system. They are issues that arise from the taxation systems in other jurisdictions, and that is an issue that has to be addressed first of all in those jurisdictions.”
But Sheila Killian, a lecturer in accounting and finance at Limerick University and a former E&Y tax adviser, suggested it might not be so straightforward for Ireland to wash its hands of responsibility for tax controversies such as Apple and Google. Whatever the modest benefits to Knocknaheeny, Cork and Ireland, business-friendly tax policies, she argued, can having a corrosive impact on international efforts to stand firm against aggressive tax avoidance.
“I think the 12.5% rate in itself, when companies aren’t engaged in [tax structuring], is not so problematic … But when profit is shifted into Ireland – and particularly when funds are channelled through Ireland, as appears to be the case for Apple and Google – then you have companies that essentially don’t pay much tax anywhere. They’re really bleeding tax from other jurisdictions, particularly [poorer nations in] the global south.
“Less money goes in aid to the south than flies from the south in capital. If you allow your tax system to be used by multinational firms to facilitate that kind of flight, that’s very problematic.”
Next month, David Cameron hosts a G8 summit in Northern Ireland and has promised to put tackling big business tax avoidance at the top of the agenda. In January, the prime minister used a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos to signal his intent.
“Some companies navigate their way around legitimate tax systems, and even low tax rates, with an army of clever accountants,” he said. “Some forms of avoidance have become so aggressive that I think it is right to say these are ethical issues, and it is time to call for more responsibility,” the prime minister said, urging multinationals to “wake up and smell the coffee”.
Meanwhile, Apple too – like Google earlier this month – has been calling for a reform of the international tax rules. Not everyone shares a view about what reform should look like, but political and public pressure for change, from around the globe, has never been stronger.
Frequent and intense weather events in the US cited in climate studies as series of natural disasters plague region
America has some of the wildest weather on the planet, and it turns out those extremes – which run from heat waves and tornadoes to floods, hurricanes and droughts – carry a heavy price tag.
Climate studies have associated more frequent and intense weather events – such as heavy storms and heat waves – with climate change. The wild swings in weather across the midwest over the last few years – including heat waves, floods, and drought – have been cited as an example of what lies ahead with future climate change.
A report from the environmental research organisation World Watch Institute on Wednesday provided further evidence of the costs of those extreme shifts – known as “weather whiplash”.
The report found that the United States alone accounted for more than two-thirds of the $170bn in losses caused by natural disasters around the world last year.
Hurricane Sandy, the drought that spread across the corn belt last summer, and a spate of tornadoes and other extreme storms together accounted for $100bn of those global losses, the report said.
Some $58bn was covered by insurance still making 2012 the most expensive year in terms of natural disasters in the US since hurricane Katrina in 2005.
About a third of those losses, $20bn, was due to a drought which at its height ravaged 60% of the US mainland.
Last year did not set new records in terms of the sheer number of natural disasters or lives lost through such calamities.
In all, there were 905 natural disasters around the world last year. Nearly all were weather or climate-related – with 45% attributed to storms, 35% to flooding and 12% to wildfires, drought, extreme heat or cold snaps, the report said.
The remaining 7% were caused by earthquakes and volcanos.
Deaths due to natural disasters reached 9,600 – only a fraction of the 10-year average of 106,000, the report said.
But in 2012 weather became far more deadly. Almost all of the fatalities last year, 93%, were due to weather-related events.
And the dangerous weather appears to be a trend. Property damage due to weather extremes has risen sharply in North America, including the Caribbean, over the last 30 years, the report said.
Apple chief executive insists company, which has more than $100m in profits stranded abroad, does not use ‘tax gimmicks’
Apple’s chief executive has defended the company’s use of tax loopholes, saying “we don’t use tax gimmicks”.
Speaking about his appearance before US senators last week to answer questions on Apple’s Irish tax arrangements, Tim Cook urged the US government to “gut” its tax code, which he said was held together by “band-aid and paperclips”.
Apple has more than $100m (£66m) in profits stranded abroad because the company is unwilling to pay the 35% corporation tax that the US government would impose were the cash to be brought home.
Cook proposed scrapping all the loopholes, or ‘corporate tax expenditures’, used by multinationals to lower their contributions to the Internal Revenue Service, and suggested the corporate tax rate be reduced to single digits.
“We came in with a proposal,” Cook said of his senate appearance. “We are not in here asking for tax breaks. We think we should do a comprehensive reform. For multinationals the right approach would be simplicity. Just gut the code. It’s 7500 pages long, none of us could read it and make sense of it.”
Interviewed at a conference organised by the All Things Digital technology news site, Cook said Apple’s annual tax return was “crazy” because it amounted to a pile of documents two feet high.
“If you implement what we are suggesting we may wind up paying a little more,” he said, “but what we would get for that is we would have unlimited ability to pull our capital back offshore and that would be great for the US.”
Asked whether the US tax code was convoluted and difficult to understand partly because of lobbying by companies including Apple for exemptions, Cook replied: “no doubt”.
Two years into his role as successor to Steve Jobs, Cook defended Apple against criticism that the company has not been innovative under his leadership, saying “we have several more game changers in us”.
He suggested Apple is still planning to develop a TV: “There is a very grand vision of it. I have nothing to announce but it’s an area of incredible interest to us.”
Cook appeared more keen to talk about the wearable technology trend – Google is already marketing its video recording, phone call making glasses, while Apple is reported to be developing a computer that can be worn on the wrist.
S&P/Case-Shiller index reports prices 10.9% higher in March than a year earlier, spurring rally on US stock markets
US house prices were 10.9% higher in March than a year earlier, the largest increase in close to seven years, according to a closely-watched index tracking home prices in 20 major cities.
The news, and signs of growing consumer confidence, helped spur a rally on US stock markets, which closed at new highs. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained over 106 points to close at 15,409, while Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index closed up 10.46 points at 1,660.
Economics thinktank the Conference Board reported that its consumer confidence index hit a five-year high in May. The index rose to 76.2, the strongest figure since February 2008 and higher than economists had forecast.
All three S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices reported double-digit annual increases in home prices in March. The 10-city index rose 10.3%, the 20-city index rose 10.9%, and the national composite index rose 10.2%.
The housing market has long been seen as a stumbling block for economic recovery in the US, and problems remain. Gains, however, are widespread, according to the latest report. Phoenix had the largest annual increase at 22.5%, followed by San Francisco with 22.2% and Las Vegas with 20.6%. Miami and Tampa recorded annual gains of 10.7% and 11.8% respectively.
The weakest annual price gains were seen in New York (2.6%), Cleveland (4.8%) and Boston (6.7%). “Even these numbers are quite substantial,” said David Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices.
Prices for the 10- and 20-city indices rose 1.4% from February to March and by 0.3% in January to February, a period in which sales are typically muted because of winter weather. In the first quarter of 2013, the national composite rose by 1.2%. Charlotte, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle and Tampa recorded their largest month-over-month gains in more than seven years.
“Home prices in all 20 cities posted annual gains for the third month in a row. Twelve of the 20 saw prices rise at double-digit annual growth. The national index and the 10-and 20-city composites posted their highest annual returns since 2006,” said Blitzer.
“Other housing market data reported in recent weeks confirm these strong trends: housing starts and permits, sales of new home and existing homes continue to trend higher. At the same time, the larger than usual share of multi-family housing, a large number of homes still in some stage of foreclosure and buying-to-rent by investors suggest that the housing recovery is not complete.”
Home prices have now returned to levels last seen in 2003, but remain 28% below their 2006 peak. According to a recent report from housing analyst Zillow, 25.4% of US homeowners were in negative equity – owing more than their homes are worth – in the first quarter of 2013, down from 27.5% in the fourth quarter of 2012.
Ed Stansfield, chief property economist at Capital Economics, said problems remained in the US market. There was an “unhealthy” reliance on institutional buyers snapping up cheap properties and it remained a difficult market for first-time buyers looking for a loan.
“The recovery needs to be seen in context of how far things fell,” he said. “But the strength in the market is boosting confidence and pulling people out of negative equity. It would be foolish to say the recovery can’t stall but the fundamentals are definitely in place.”
Walmart to pay $81m as part of the plea after admitting dumping pollutants from stores into drains in 16 California counties
Walmart, which has endured a year of bad publicity around its US labour relations and working conditions in its overseas supply chain, on Tuesday pleaded guilty to dumping hazardous waste in numerous sites in California.
The retail giant will now pay a fine of $81m to settle misdemeanour charges around the issue, which also covers allegations of misdoings in Missouri. It brings an end to an investigation that has lasted nearly a decade.
Walmart admitted that it had negligently dumped pollutants into sanitation drains across California, and also tossed waste into local trash bins. Some material was also improperly taken to product return centers throughout the US without proper safety documentation.
Officials at Walmart pointed out that the case covered incidents that had happened between 2003 and 2005, and insisted it had now changed its procedures. “We have fixed the problem. We are obviously happy that this is the final resolution,” company spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan told the Associated Press.
The illegal dumping covered by this plea took place in 16 Californian counties and was brought to light after a health department official in San Diego noticed a Walmart worker pouring bleach down a drain. Walmart, which in 2010 agreed to pay $27.6m in a similar case, says that its entire national system for dealing with hazardous waste has been comprehensively overhauled.
The guilty plea is the latest piece of bad news to put Walmart into the headlines. Earlier on Tuesday, the union supported Walmart worker organisation Our Walmart began the latest in a series of strikes aimed at highlighting what it says are low wages and abusive working conditions. Walmart workers walked out in Florida, Massachusetts and California with some aiming to stay off work until the firm holds its annual general meeting at its Arkansas headquarters on June 7.
The protests follow a series of strikes last year, including ones aimed at disrupting Black Friday – one of the the busiest shopping days in the US.
It also comes after Walmart’s role in sourcing goods from poorer countries has come under intense scrutiny. After a series of lethal disasters in the Bangladeshi garment industry, Walmart and fellow US retailer Gap have been the subject of condemnation after they resisted joining other large firms in forming a group aimed at tightening and enforcing safety regulations.
Instead, Walmart has said it will carry out its own investigations of the factories and suppliers that it uses in the country.