Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Scottish Referendum debate should not have been about political pugilism

In my view, the main problem with last night's "debate" between the SNP First Minister Alex Salmond and leader of the Better Together Campaign, Alistair Darling, was the abysmal failure to moderate by the extremely weak Glen Campbell, a BBC journalist, who should have intervened as soon as the  debaters stated to speak over each other, rendering what each said incomprehensible. This was a major let down from our national public broadcaster, which should  have facilitated reasoned hearable argument,  as voters are voting for a possible change  in our constitutional arrangements over the next several centuries, not for the best political pugilist, both of whom will be political history in the next decade, whatever the outcome of the referendum.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Nuclear redundancy

I was intrigued by the launch by the Cabinet Office  of its new Government Property Finder tool, to allow citizens to locate and nominate surplus publicly owned assets that could be sold off  to top-up the national treasury. ("Government urges public to find sites it should sell," Guardian, 20 August).

I used the finder (https://www.epims.ogc.gov.uk/government-property-finder/SearchForSale.aspx) to search for the Faslane nuclear submarine base in Scotland and the nearby Coulport storage site for the Trident nuclear weapons. Neither could be tracked down  via the finder. The Aldermaston and Burghfield nuclear warhead production factories in Berkshire similarly could not  be located on the site. All should be.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Iraq, 19 years ago: the key meeting the media persist in ignoring

Gen. Hussein Kamal, the former director of Iraq's Military Industrialization Corporation, in charge of Iraq's weapons programme, defected to Jordan on the night of 7 August 1995, together with his brother Col. Saddam Kamal.


Both were sons in law of the then Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Hussein Kamal took crates of documents revealing past weapons programmes, and provided these to UNSCOM, the United Nations’ inspection team looking for WMDs in Iraq.


Iraq responded by revealing a major store of documents that showed that Iraq had begun an unsuccessful crash programme to develop a nuclear bomb (on 20 August 1995). Hussein and Saddam Kamal surprisingly agreed to return to Iraq, where they were assassinated by the thug  and Saddam henchman  known as ‘Chemical Ali’ on 23 February 1996).


Before their fateful return to Iraq, they were interviewed in Amman on 22 August 1995, 15 days after Kamel left Iraq. His interviewers were: Rolf Ekeus, the former executive chairman of Unscom (from 1991 to 1997); Professor Maurizio Zifferero, deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and head of the inspections team in Iraq; plus Nikita Smidovich, a Russian diplomat who led UNSCOM's ballistic missile team and former Deputy Director for Operations of UNSCOM.


During the interview, Major Izz al-Din al-Majid (transliterated as Major Ezzeddin) joined the discussion. Izz al-Din was Saddam Hussein's cousin, and defected together with the Kamel brothers. The full transcript of the interview may be read at: http://www.casi.org.uk/info/unscom950822.pdf.

The key output was the documented revelation that : "all weapons - biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed"


Tony Blair in a misleading statement to the House of Commons on 25 February 2003 said: "It was only four years later after the defection of Saddam's son-in-law to Jordan, that the offensive biological weapons and the full extent of the nuclear programme were discovered." (www.number-10.gov.uk/output/Page3088.asp)


Anti-war Labour MP Llew Smith, now retired, for whom I then worked, asked the Prime Minister about  the information provided by Hussein Kamal on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and if Mr Blair  if he would  place in the House of Commons  Library the text of the Kamal interview.

Mr Blair answered “Following his defection, Hussein Kamal was interviewed by UNSCOM and by a number of other agencies. Details concerning the interviews were made available to us on a confidential basis. The UK was not provided with transcripts of the interviews.” (Hansard, 26 March 2003: Column 235W)


But it  was known to Blair and his security advisors that eight years earlier Saddam’s son-in-law Hussain Kamal had fessed-up in an interview with the UN’s international weapons inspectors and intelligence agents to the destruction of Iraq’s chemical and biological WMDs, and the nascent nuclear weapons programme too.


Saturday, 16 August 2014

Lauren Bacall and opposition to nuclear weapons

Although most obituaries of actress Lauren Bacall understandably concentrated on her professional career on screen and stage, she did  have an important political hinterland.

She challenged the attempts to silence leftist voices in Hollywood in the early 1950s, when she bravely gave testimony to the Congressional House Un-American Activities Committee under the red-baiting Congressman McCarthy, despite being barely 20 and a Hollywood ingénue.

Three decades later, she gave very public, heartfelt and enthusiastic support to the US Nuclear Freeze Movement in the 1980s, speaking at meetings and rallies all over the country, helping to make this a key chapter in the history of the anti-nuclear weapons movement. Even in the 1980s, some  critics on the Right in the United States claimed the Freeze was a Soviet front, aimed at freezing the US atomic arsenal, to allow the Soviet Union to outstrip US  nuclear capability.
She had, however, given strong support to Democratic President Harry S. Truman in the 1950s, notwithstanding the fact he had authorized the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan a decade earlier.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Open Sesame!

I have on my bookshelves a 230-page, lavishly produced volume entitled ‘Israel in the World: changing lives through innovation’, published in 2004.
I covers in detail many aspects of the good Israel does in the world through innovative communications, medical and agricultural research and demonstration projects, and the export of the fruits of this development.
The first, and only, mention of Palestinians in the book is on page 214, when the book talks about advanced medical care techniques to treat Israeli civilians hurt or maimed by Palestinian suicide bombers.
Now, depressingly, ten years on Israel’s main export to the Palestinians in Gaza is shells, bombs, tanks and high-tech supported invading troops.
However, there is a little known scientific collaborative project involving a most unlikely group including: Israel, Iran and The Palestine Authority
Last month Labour MP Paul Flynn was told by science minister Dr Greg Clark in a written parliamentary answer about the project, called SESAME (Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East), which has also received some financial supor from the UK.
Dr Clark stresses the importance of “Spreading awareness of the existence and desirability of SESAME to existing and potential SESAME member countries.” (Hansard,  22 July 2014 : Column 1148W)
When the latest war in Gaza is over, perhaps such projects as SESAME give hope that despite all the deep seated differences, there are small successes on which to build  co-operation between Israel and Palestinians.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Ed Miliband, Tony Blair and silence over Gaza massacres

Labour leader Ed Miliband rightly criticized David Cameron for not speaking out against the slaughter by the Israeli Defence Force of over 1,750 innocent Palestinian civilians - children, women and men- in just three weeks military offensive.

But surely Mr Miliband should not have attended  the lavish 60th  birthday party for his wife Cherie thrown by his former Party leader Tony Blair- now the middle east ‘Peace Envoy’ for Palestine - at their £6 million grade I-listed mansion on 25 July, while Palestinians were being slaughtered in Gaza.

Cherie’s birthday actually does not fall until 23 September, so Mr Blair could easily have postponed such a party  event, and concentrated on the essential  mediating in the deadly mayhem in Gaza from his Jerusalem base of the so-called Quartet Representative whose role includes “promoting economic growth and job creation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and supporting the institution-building agenda of the Palestinian Authority.”

Mr Blair finally returned to Jerusalem on 29 July. He has visited Ramallah in the Palestinian Authority territory on the West Bank and  Cairo since Israel began its devastating attacks on 8 July in  ‘Operation Protective Edge’, but has not once visited Gaza. Why not? And why does Mr Miliband not loudly complain about Mr Blair’s lack of intervention to save Palestinians?

Maybe he did at the lavish party, but I doubt it.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Atomic lunacy

James Hider’s intriguing story “Americans planned nuclear explosion on the Moon” in the
The Times,(July 26, http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/americas/article4158080.ece) is based on what the describes as documents released by the National Security Archive (NSA) showing that the US Air Force dreamed up a “lunar-based earth bombardment system.”
Although the new NSA documents give details of this literal ‘atomic lunacy’, this is not the first time this extraordinary story has emerged. Fourteen years ago I worked with Antony Barnett, then investigations editor at the Observer, now a reporter with Channel Four’s Dispatches programme, on this very story. (“US planned one big nuclear blast for mankind,” Sunday May 14, 2000)
I first came across this barely believable, hitherto top-secret Project A119, when I read a letter by US space scientist, Leonard Reiffel (whom your own article cites) - and who worked with the Armour Research Foundation (which subsequently became the Illinois Institute of Technology Research) - in the prestigious natural science journal Nature in 2000.
Dr Reiffel described how Project A119, was benignly entitled 'A Study of Lunar Research Flights' to cover its real purpose, and explained how “It was clear the main aim of the proposed detonation was a PR exercise and a show of one-upmanship. The Air Force wanted a mushroom cloud so large it would be visible on earth,' he said yesterday,” adding “'The explosion would obviously be best on the dark side of the moon and the theory was that if the bomb exploded on the edge of the moon, the mushroom cloud would be illuminated by the sun.”
He told us that he made it clear at the time there would be a huge cost to science of destroying a pristine lunar environment, but the US Air Force, he insisted were mainly concerned about how the nuclear explosion would play on earth.
Another plan to detonate an atom bomb on the moon was drawn up secretly by the RAND Corporation in 1956, with code name “Red Socks”. (http://utenti.lycos.it/paoloulivi/redsock.html).
We should all be grateful this literal lunacy never took place.