Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for December 7th, 2007

Hah! You think you know how to take notes?

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I laugh. Because I have seen this.

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2007 at 5:36 pm

Posted in Daily life

Good news: Krongard’s gone

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From the WaPo:

The State Department’s embattled inspector general, Howard J. Krongard, announced today that he is resigning effective Jan. 15, ending a tumultuous tenure in which he was accused of impeding investigations of the Blackwater security firm and construction problems at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

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Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2007 at 3:48 pm

The afternoon project

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I decided to get all the CDs that were not put away and put them away. Since I alphabetize the CDs, this means sorting those that were out. I already found two “missing” CDs from a Mosaic set of Roy Eldridge.

It’s going faster than I expected: first the rough sort (a-g, h-m, n-r, s-z), then take the a-g group and sort again—a-c, d-g—and each of those stacks I can alphabetize by hand and then slot in the cabinets as needed.

One suggestion: do NOT get a giant “jukebox” CD player, at least not if you’re me. I had a 65-CD jukebox, which is how I ended up with so many CDs stacked up “to be reshelved eventually.” I now have a 3-CD player, and for the big playlists, I rip the CDs to the hard drive on the computer (mostly using FLAC these days), and build the playlists there and play back through the stereo using the RCA Lyra Wireless. Much easier and simpler, and I can save and reuse the various playlists.

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2007 at 2:24 pm

Posted in Music

Keyboard shortcuts

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Via Download Squad, a site that provides keyboard shortcut guides for a wide variety of programs and operating systems: ShortcutGuide.com.

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2007 at 1:03 pm

Un-oops button

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This has certainly happened to me: I close Word and then realize that I automatically clicked “don’t save” but in fact I wanted to save the changes—now gone forever. Oops. But Download Squad points to a potential savior:

We can’t count the number of times we’ve accidentally closed a web browser, word processor, or other application without saving our data first. Unfortunately, Windows doesn’t have an undo key. But thanks to GoneIn60s, you can add a slowdo button. (Yes, we’re going to trademark slowdo, you can’t have it).

What GoneIn60s does is delay the shutdown of your applications. When you hit the close button, the application is hidden, but it won’t actually close for another 60 seconds. You can adjust that time, but then the name of the program looks all silly.

So say you close your web browser when you had meant to close Outlook. You now have 60 seconds to look for the lightning arrow icon in your taskbar, right-click it, and select your closed browser session. It will pop right back up.

If there are some programs that you’d prefer to shut down immediately, you can create a whitelist of apps to close every time. GoneIn60s is tiny at just 205KB, and it’s free to boot.

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2007 at 11:49 am

Posted in Daily life, Software

Easy designer corrections!

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Very funny, though you can tell there’s a certain gritted-teeth bitterness hovering around:

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2007 at 11:27 am

Posted in Business, Video

Canadians: take note

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Boing Boing:

More grim news about Canada’s DMCA, the coming copyright law that manages to be even worse than the disastrous, ten-year-old American Digital Millennium Copyright Act: Industry Minister Jim Prentice has announced that the public-interest questions raised by the bill will be hived off into a committee that meets after the law is enacted.

This kind of committee typically takes years to get anything done — two years to meet, two years to consider recommendations, two years to consult on proposals, two years to introduce legislation. Canada only introduces new copyright law every ten years or so.

This means that Canadians will likely suffer for a decade under Prentice’s badly thought-out legislation before anything is done to see to it that the law is balanced to take in the interests of Canada’s schools, disabled people, children, archivists, artists, scholars and other users of copyrighted works. Given that Canada’s arts community has come out against this kind of legislation, you have to wonder: just who is this for? The US-led multinational labels in the “Canadian” Recording Industry Association? (Remember, in the first ten years of the US DMCA, 20,000 American music fans were sued and not one penny was paid to artists as a result, nor did file sharing decrease).

Prentice has refused to appear on the CBC’s Search Engine programme to discuss his bill. He’s gone into hiding, spinning out unconvincing little sops like this one to try to save his bacon — after all, the last two MPs who tried to introduce a Canadian DMCA lost their jobs.

If the introduction of a Canadian DMCA were not bad enough, sources now indicate that Industry Minister Jim Prentice plans to delay addressing the copyright concerns of individual Canadians for years. Rather than including consumer concerns such as flexible fair dealing, time shifting, format shifting, parody, and the future of the private copying levy within the forthcoming bill, Prentice will instead strike a Copyright Review Panel to consider future copyright reforms. Modeled after the Telecom Policy Review Panel, the CRP will presumably take a year or two to consult Canadians on various copyright issues. In all likelihood, the government will then take another year or two to consider the recommendations, another year to propose potential reforms, another year or two to consult on those proposals, and another year or two to finally introduce legislation. Given that Canada has historically only passed major copyright reform once every ten years, Prentice will be in his early 60s and likely collecting his Member of Parliament pension by the time Canadians see copyright reform that addresses fair use.

Link

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2007 at 11:26 am

Posted in Business, Government

Tagged with ,

Something to do during long meetings

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Via Boing Boing, take a look at an interesting meeting activity.

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2007 at 11:18 am

Posted in Daily life

Should the media stop naming fame-seeking lunatics?

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Here’s the case for not giving name-recognition to lunatics.

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2007 at 10:56 am

Posted in Media

Lori Drew speaks out?

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Of course, one never knows, but this site claims to be written by Lori Drew and presents Lori Drew’s side of the story regarding the Megan affair.

UPDATE: The consensus seems to be that the site is not by Lori Drew: wrong IP address, unwise action that her lawyer would have stifled, and so on. Just another Internet weirdness.

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2007 at 10:53 am

Posted in Daily life

Tagged with

Our new embassy in Iraq

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Paul Krugman:

Back when Hillary Clinton described Dick Cheney as Darth Vader, a number of people pointed out that this was an unfair comparison. For example, Darth Vader once served in the military.

Here’s another reason the comparison is invalid: the contractors Darth Vader hired to build the Death Star actually got the job done.

A State Department project manager banished from Iraq by the U.S. ambassador and under scrutiny by the Justice Department continues to oversee the construction of the much-delayed new American embassy in Baghdad from nearby Kuwait, State Department officials disclosed Thursday.

James L. Golden, a contract employee, is still managing the $740 million project, said Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy, the department’s top management official.

“Mr. Golden is still . . . our project manager, and still is working with the contractor, at their base in Kuwait,” Kennedy said.

One State Department official with detailed knowledge of the unopened embassy expressed outrage that his superiors haven’t replaced Golden.

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2007 at 10:48 am

“How technology almost lost the war”

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Extremely interesting article in Wired, which begins:

The future of war began with an act of faith. In 1991, Navy captain Arthur Cebrowski met John Garstka, a captain in the Air Force, at a McLean, Virginia, Bible-study class. The two quickly discovered they shared more than just their conservative Catholic beliefs. They both had an interest in military strategy. And they were both geeks: Cebrowski — who’d been a math major in college, a fighter pilot in Vietnam, and an aircraft carrier commander during Desert Storm — was fascinated with how information technologies could make fighter jocks more lethal. Garstka — a Stanford-trained engineer — worked on improving algorithms used to track missiles.

Over the next several years, the two men traded ideas and compared experiences. They visited businesses embracing the information revolution, ultimately becoming convinced that the changes sweeping the corporate world had applications for the military as well. The Defense Department wasn’t blind to the power of networks, of course — the Internet began as a military project, after all, and each branch of the armed services had ongoing “digitization” programs. But no one had ever crystallized what the information age might offer the Pentagon quite like Cebrowski and Garstka did. In an article for the January 1998 issue of the naval journal Proceedings, “Network-Centric Warfare: Its Origin and Future,” they not only named the philosophy but laid out a new direction for how the US would think about war.

Their model was Wal-Mart. Here was a sprawling, bureaucratic monster of an organization — sound familiar? — that still managed to automatically order a new lightbulb every time it sold one. Warehouses were networked, but so were individual cash registers. So were the guys who sold Wal-Mart the bulbs. If that company could wire everyone together and become more efficient, then US forces could, too. “Nations make war the same way they make wealth,” Cebrowski and Garstka wrote. Computer networks and the efficient flow of information would turn America’s chain saw of a war machine into a scalpel.

The US military could use battlefield sensors to swiftly identify targets and bomb them. Tens of thousands of warfighters would act as a single, self-aware, coordinated organism. Better communications would let troops act swiftly and with accurate intelligence, skirting creaky hierarchies. It’d be “a revolution in military affairs unlike any seen since the Napoleonic Age,” they wrote. And it wouldn’t take hundreds of thousands of troops to get a job done — that kind of “massing of forces” would be replaced by information management. “For nearly 200 years, the tools and tactics of how we fight have evolved,” the pair wrote. “Now, fundamental changes are affecting the very character of war.”

Network-centric wars would be more moral, too. Cebrowski later argued that network-enabled armies kill more of the right people quicker. With fewer civilian casualties, warfare would be more ethical. And as a result, the US could use military might to create free societies without being accused of imperialist arrogance.

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Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2007 at 10:46 am

Friday cat-blogging: Miss Molly on the bookcase

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Molly bookcase

Miss Molly, picking what to read next.

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2007 at 9:47 am

Posted in Cats, Molly

A calmer view of the SAFE Act

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From Ars Technica News:

ISPs could face tougher penalties for failing to report child pornography under a bill passed yesterday by the House, but don’t start searching the skies for the black helicopters yet: the bill doesn’t require any active surveillance of user behavior, and it won’t affect your local coffee shop’s WiFi, despite what you may have read.

The Securing Adolescents from Exploitation-Online Act of 2007 (SAFE Act; where the “O” went is anyone’s guess) cleared the House yesterday on a lopsided vote of 409-2. Congressmen Ron Paul (R-TX) and Paul Broun (R-GA) were the only voices of opposition.

ISPs already have a duty to notify authorities if they stumble across anything that appears to be child pornography or molestation evidence. The new bill ups the penalties for not reporting this information; ISPs now face up to $150,000 for a first violation and up to $300,000 for subsequent violations. The bill also requires ISPs to retain copies of all information filed in these reports, and to do so for 180 days in case they are needed for use as evidence in court.

Now, what does the bill not do? It explicitly tells ISPs that they do not need to “monitor any user, subscriber, or customer,” they do not need to “monitor the content of any indication,” or even “affirmatively seek facts or circumstances.” In other words, if you see it, you are legally obligated to report it, but ISPs do not need to become child porn detectives.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children praised the bill, calling it a step toward “better reporting, investigation, and prosecution of those who use the Internet to distribute images of illegal child pornography.”

The bill was relatively noncontroversial, as evidenced by its huge bipartisan support. That’s not evidence it’s a good law, but it suggests at least that the legislation is not a harbinger of the coming Apocalypse. Yet some news reports already question the motives of the House leaders who held the vote and claim that the bill would “slap new restrictions on hundreds of thousands of Americans and small businesses who offer public wireless connections.” The bill will allegedly cover “individuals, coffee shops, libraries, hotels, and even some government agencies that provide Wi-Fi.”

Wow, that’s bad. But is that really what’s happening here?

WiFi isn’t mentioned in the bill. Neither are coffee shops, libraries, or individuals running access points in their basements. The bill’s provisions apply to anyone “engaged in providing an electronic communication service or a remote computing service to the public through a facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce.” Parse that as you will.

I contacted the office of Rep. Nick Lampson (D-TX), who introduced the bill, to see whether he understood it to cover hundreds of thousands of Americans and small businesses who offer WiFi. A spokesperson told me that, in his view, that broad interpretation was incorrect, but he had to check in with policy staffers before confirming it. We did not hear back by press time.

Whatever the bill applies to, though, the law is quite clear that those who offer Internet access don’t have to do any additional monitoring. There are no “restrictions” on their services. The bill updates an already-existing notifcation requirement and stiffens the penalties, but only for those presented with clear evidence of child porn who make a “knowing and willful failure” to report it.

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2007 at 9:35 am

Swarm theory

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Intriguing:

What would happen if a company had no recognisable leader – or management structure for that matter? Yikes – chaos most probably.

Imaging a company as big as…say… Vodacom where everyone was paid exactly the same and had no leadership structures, everybody just followed everyone else and as a group decisions where made for the good of the crowd.
Thats what ants, birds and bees do and they run remarkably fine tuned organisational machines. So why is it so far fetched to imagine that happening in a commercial human organisation?

An interesting, growing trend in the world of business is what’s known as crowd-sourcing or crowd clout and the theory is that ‘the collective wisdom of a crowd is infinitely more powerful than the efforts of one’.

But how far are prepared to put this theory to the test. So far every experiment has been web-based, things like Myfootballclub and Digg string immediately to mind, but what would happen if a large, real world corporate had to try this out?

Our hunch is that bees, ants and birds don’t have giant egos to feed – so they’re naturally more inclined to let go and make it work. Maybe working together in a team goes against our natural human instinct of individual survival and is fundamentally flawed.

Check this amazing clip of the coordination of a swarm of birds in-flight.

…and for more, read Swarm Theory on the National Geographic site [see below for beginning – LG] and how the theory is being used by FedEx and other transport companies.

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Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2007 at 9:17 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

How do our minds work?

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Interesting study:

How do great artists create? How do brilliant scientists solve the hardest problems in their field? Listen to them try to explain and you’ll probably be disappointed. Artists say mysterious things like: “The picture just formed in my mind.” Writers tell us that: “They don’t know where the words come from.” Scientists say they: “Just had a hunch.”

Of course, not all scientists, artists and writers give such mysterious answers. Some talk about the processes they went through or what inspired their conceptual jump. But their explanations are almost invariable unsatisfying. They usually can’t really explain how they made that vital leap of the imagination. This is strange. Why is it that otherwise brilliant and articulate people seem unable to adequately explain their thought processes? Don’t they know how they did it?

What is true of great scientific and artistic leaps of imagination is also true in everyday life. When people are asked why they chose one career over another, one partner over another or one flavour of ice-cream over another, the same problems emerge. Often, people’s answers are unconvincing or they just don’t know.

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Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2007 at 9:07 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Tagged with

YouTube as a source of misinformation

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Pat passes along this interesting piece on the importance of presentation:

The Internet has both accelerated the dissemination of information and acted to equalize it: it’s just as easy to find inaccurate information on the Web as it is to find the good stuff. The key question then becomes which information the average person views: do they find the good stuff, or are they soaking in all opinions equally? A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at this from the perspective of immunization information and finds that the cranks may be winning; videos with a negative depiction of immunizations had higher ratings and more views. The study should serve as a warning to public health authorities, as their material was largely ignored by YouTube viewers.

The authors evaluated 153 videos based on their presentation of immunization as positive, ambiguous, or negative. It’s important to note that a video could contain negative information and still be accurate, such as one that emphasizes the discomfort of shots or the possibility of side effects. Overall, nearly half the videos gave a positive presentation, while about 30 percent were negative, with ambiguous or neutral presentations accounting for 20 percent of the total.

The videos were then rated for scientific accuracy based on the 2006 Canadian Immunization Guide (the authors are based in Toronto), which is said to be similar to the guidelines of the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Here, a clear split emerged: none of the positive videos presented information that contradicted the Guide, while nearly half of the negative videos did. These included the common but unsubstantiated claims of a link between vaccination and autism and/or the dangers of thimerosal.

“The video ratings and view counts suggest,” the authors write, “the presence of a community of YouTube users critical of immunization.” This is hardly limited to vaccinations; a quick search for content based on “Duesberg” pulled up a number of highly rated and viewed videos that promote his dangerous contention that HIV is a harmless virus. Find a more prominent area of scientific controversy—say, evolution or climatology—and it’s easy to find a deluge of inaccurate information.

The big message in the data, however, appears to be that viewers don’t find the information being put out by public health authorities compelling at all. Even among the positive videos (which were poorly viewed and rated), public service announcements grabbed the smallest audience and the worst ratings; even among videos with a small audience, they stood out as being ignored.

Even without this data, it was obvious that the effort involved in producing a video is not a significant barrier to entry. Anyone with strange ideas and the urge to have them heard can easily reach the public via YouTube. What is clear from the data is that those with a vested interest in making sure accurate information is available, such as the public health community, need to make sure that their message is packaged in a compelling manner, so that it drowns the bad information out. Simply dumping the movies we ignored during high school health class on the Internet isn’t going to cut it in the YouTube era.

Journal of the American Medical Association, 2007.

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2007 at 9:03 am

Posted in Daily life

The arrow of time FAQ

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The “arrow of time” is shorthand for time’s seeming to have an irreversible direction: from past into future: you can break the egg and make the omelet, but it seems impossible to start from an omelet and move backward in time to hold in your hand an unbroken egg. Here’s a useful FAQ on the arrow of time.

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2007 at 8:59 am

Posted in Science

Electronic voting

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So far, it’s not working—mainly because the manufacturers really seem to want to build their systems with little security and no tracking. I wonder whether other states are taking the approach used by California.

Earlier this year, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen established strict new standards for electronic voting machines, requiring independent code audits, Red Team security testing, and support for paper records. The Red Team testing process primarily involves subjecting the machines to review by security experts who attempt to hack the software and bypass the physical security mechanisms. Recent Red Team tests of ES&S voting machines have uncovered serious security flaws.

Previous Red Team tests commissioned by the state of California revealed significant vulnerabilities in devices sold by Diebold and Sequoia. At the time, ES&S declined to participate in the testing, citing lack of preparedness. The tests on the ES&S machines were finally conducted in October, and the results, which were recently published (PDF), show that products from ES&S are as insecure as the rest.

The first round of tests focused on the physical security of the Polling Ballot Counter (PBC), which the Red Team researchers were able to circumvent with little effort. “In the physical security testing, the wire- and tamper-proof paper seals were easily removed without damage to the seals using simple household chemicals and tools and could be replaced without detection,” the report says. “Once the seals are bypassed, simple tools or easy modifications to simple tools could be used to access the computer and its components. The key lock for the Transfer Device was unlocked using a common office item without the special ‘key’ and the seal removed.”

After bypassing the physical security of the voting machines, the Red Team researchers were able to gain direct access to all of the files on the systems, including password files. “Making a change to the BIOS to reconfigure the boot sequence allows the system to be booted up using external memory devices containing a bootable Linux copy,” according to the researchers. “Once done, all the files can be accessed and potentially modified, including sensitive files such as the password file which can be cracked by openly available cracker programs. New users may be added with known passwords and used by the same attacker or other attackers later.”

The Election Management System workstations were also found to be vulnerable, with critical security codes stored in files as plain text. The Red Team also discovered that the Election Loader System used unencrypted protocols to transmit election initialization data to the PBC units, which implies vulnerability to a man-in-the-middle attack. The Election Loader System is populated with data from an Election Distribution CD, which is generated by a special Election Converter Application. The researchers were able to break the encryption used on the generated CD to “breakdown the CD, revise the election definition, and replace the CD with a new encrypted CD with an alternate election definition.” The researchers note that this tactic could be used to alter vote tallies.

ES&S is already in serious trouble in California for selling uncertified voting machines to several counties in violation of state law. The results of the Red Team test, which demonstrate beyond doubt that the security of ES&S voting machines is utterly inadequate for use in elections, make it seem unlikely that ES&S will be able to continue peddling their defective products in the state.

Related stories

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2007 at 8:54 am

Posted in Business, Election

Destroying the evidence

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It seems obvious that the CIA destroyed the tapes of those interrogations because they fear ed criminal prosecution for what they had done. The reason offered by the CIA (that they destroyed the tapes because they might be leaked) doesn’t hold water: the CIA has all sorts of secret material that might be leaked—yet somehow they don’t destroy all that. Here’s the story from Center for American Progress:

In 2002, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) videotaped its officials administering harsh interrogation tactics on two al Qaeda operatives, but three years later, destroyed at least two videotapes documenting the incidents. The New York Times reports that one of the interrogations captured on tape was that of Abu Zubaydah, a high-level al Qaeda militant who was subjected to waterboarding. The Times adds that the videos “were destroyed in part because officers were concerned that tapes documenting controversial interrogation methods could expose agency officials to greater risk of legal jeopardy.” The destruction of the tapes occurred in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal and “CIA officers became concerned about a possible leak of the videos and photos.” At the time, the CIA was led by Porter Goss. Current Director Michael Hayden defended the agency’s actions, arguing that keeping them “posed a security risk.” The revelation marks another legal and moral low for an administration that has rendered terrorism suspects to other countries to be tortured, argued for indefinite detention, signed off on secret torture memos, and committed potentially “grave breaches” of the Geneva Conventions.

DESTRUCTION OF EVIDENCE: “What matters here is that it was done in line with the law,” Hayden said of the agency’s tampering with evidence. Legal experts aren’t buying that argument. Jennifer Daskal, senior counsel with Human Rights Watch, said destroying the tapes was illegal. “Basically this is destruction of evidence,” she said. Daniel Marcus, a law professor at American University who served as general counsel for the 9/11 Commission, said if tapes were destroyed, “it’s a big deal, it’s a very big deal” because it could amount to obstruction of justice to withhold evidence being sought in criminal or fact-finding investigations. “The recordings were not provided to a federal court hearing the case of the terror suspect Zacarias Moussaoui,” which had made formal requests to the CIA for such documentary evidence. The U.S. District Judge in the case, Leonie Brinkema, said she can no longer trust the CIA and other government agencies on how they represent classified evidence in terror cases. The tapes also were not provided to the 9/11 Commission, whose members “demanded a wide array of material and relied heavily on classified interrogation transcripts in piecing together its narrative of events.” The ACLU “said the tapes were destroyed at a time when a federal court had ordered the CIA to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request.”

CONGRESS’ ROLE: In his agency’s defense, Hayden said, “The leaders of our oversight committees in Congress were informed of the videos years ago and of the Agency’s intention to dispose of the material. Our oversight committees also have been told that the videos were, in fact, destroyed.” Hayden’s statement didn’t suggest that the congressional leaders approved of the destruction, however. Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), who was ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee at the time, said, “I told the CIA that destroying videotapes of interrogations was a bad idea and urged them in writing not to do it.” Then-ranking member of Senate Intelligence Committee John Rockefeller (D-WV) said, “While we were provided with very limited information about the existence of the tapes, we were not consulted on their usage nor the decision to destroy the tapes.” Rockefeller does not deny, however, that he was informed of the agency’s intent to dispose of the tapes, and he acknowledged that he learned of the destruction one year ago, in Nov. 2006. An official with the House Intelligence Committee told the Times, “This is a matter that should have been briefed to the full Intelligence Committee at the time. This does not appear to have been done.”

CONGRESS TAKES KEY STEP TO END TORTURE: The startling disclosures of the CIA’s destruction of videotapes “came on the same day that House and Senate negotiators reached an agreement on legislation that would prohibit the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics by the CIA and bring intelligence agencies in line with rules followed by the U.S. military.” The measure, which needs approval from the full House and Senate, would require all American interrogators to abide by Army Field Manual. In doing so, the new law would “effectively set a government-wide standard for legal interrogations by explicitly outlawing the use of simulated drowning, forced nudity, hooding, military dogs and other harsh tactics against prisoners by any U.S. intelligence agency.” White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said such a provision “is something the president has opposed in the past and that we would have a veto threat on.”

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2007 at 8:48 am

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