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Saturday, March 17, 2012

THE PASSING OF COPTIC CHRISTIAN POPE SHENOUDA III


The following excerpt is from a U.S. State Department e-mail: 
On the Passing of Pope Shenouda III
Press Statement Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State Washington, DC
March 17, 2012
Today, Americans stand alongside Egyptians in offering our deepest condolences on the passing of Coptic Christian Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria, leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church for more than 40 years. Pope Shenouda III was a beloved leader of Egypt’s Coptic Christians and an advocate for national unity and religious cooperation. As we reflect on his life and legacy, we reaffirm our support to the future peace and prosperity of Egypt. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Egyptian people and all those who mourn Pope Shenouda III.


PENTAGON SAYS FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN ARE COMMITTED TO SUCCESS


The following excerpt is from a U.S. Department of Defense American Forces Press Service e-mail: 



Afghan Mission Maintains Momentum, Spokesman Says

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 16, 2012 - Despite tragic incidents over the past several months in Afghanistan, the security strategy in that nation is working and coalition and Afghan forces are committed to its successful end, a Pentagon spokesman said here today.

Navy Capt. John Kirby noted a rise in recent months of Afghan forces firing on coalition members, known as "green-on-blue" deaths, the inadvertent Feb. 21 burning of Qurans at the Parwan detention facility, and the March 11 shooting rampage in which a U.S. soldier is accused of murdering Afghan civilians.
"As tragic as incidents like these are -- and there have been a string of tragic incidents in recent weeks -- it would be just as tragic, if not more, if we let it affect the overall mission," Kirby said.

"I think it's just as wrong to extrapolate from those incidents some sort of overarching belief or notion that [the strategy] is failing and that our soldiers or [Afghan] soldiers are not committed to it," he added, "because that's just not the case."

Kirby, who has been on temporary assignment to Kabul since Feb. 21, said the war in Afghanistan "has been a long, grueling struggle, there's no question about that. We've taken casualties, our Afghan partners have taken casualties, [and] coalition partners have taken casualties."

But during his stay in Afghanistan, Kirby said he talked to soldiers and Marines deployed there.
"I made two battlefield circulations with [International Security Assistance Force commander Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen] before I came back to the States," he said, "one to the East and one down South."
Kirby added, "Uniformly, the soldiers and Marines we talked to there are very committed to what they're doing. They believe in what they're doing and they're seeing the difference every day."

While in Helmand province, Kirby dropped in on his nephew, Marine Corps Cpl. Michael Kirby, who has been in Afghanistan since December and serves on an outpost not far from Marjah.

"He was very optimistic about what they're doing and the success they're having," Kirby said. "He said his Afghan counterparts were really good fighters and very reliable, very dependable and that they had a good working relationship."

The Pentagon spokesman said he found his nephew's attitude "instructive about the kind of good work that's going on across the country."

Afghan security forces are in the lead in many places in Afghanistan. About half the Afghan population now lives in areas that are led by Afghan security forces, officials have said.
"It's always been the goal here that the Afghans are [assuming] the lead for the security of their own country, for the protection of their own people, for safeguarding their own sovereignty," Kirby said. He added that "we all share" the strategy agreed upon at NATO's Lisbon summit in November 2010 that there will be a full transition of security responsibility to the Afghans by the end of 2014.
"And we certainly have made it clear that we expect to be taking more of a support role in terms of combat operations through 2013," Kirby said, "and at some time in 2013 we expect that, for combat operations, the Afghans will be in the lead."

He added, "We're all in agreement that the process of transition is the linchpin here in terms of the success of the strategy."
 

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON SENDS BEST WISHES TO THE PEOPLE OF IRELAND


The following excerpt is from a U.S. State Department e-mail: 
On the Occasion of St. Patrick's Day
Press Statement Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of StateWashington, DC
March 16, 2012
On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I am delighted to send best wishes to the people of Ireland as you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this March 17. Today, we honor the rich history and cultural heritage of the Irish people and reflect on the bonds of friendship and family between our two nations.
Irish contributions to America have shaped American culture from the founding of our nation. Eight of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence were Irish-Americans and half of our American Presidents have been of Irish descent. Countless Irish-Americans fought bravely during the Civil War, giving their lives for a better America. Throughout our society, Irish Americans have contributed in ways large and small to the bedrock of American life.

The depth and scope of Irish influence throughout the world is immeasurable and exemplifies your rich history and culture. As you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in cities from Dublin to Detroit, know that the United States stands with you. Congratulations and best wishes for a year of peace and prosperity.


NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION SITE SAYS BUTTERFLY POPULATION LOWER BECAUSE OF WEATHER


The photo to the right and following excerpt are from the National Science Foundation website:
March 15, 2012                                                       Credit: National Park Service  
Early snowmelt caused by climate change in the Colorado Rocky Mountains snowballs into two chains of events: a decrease in the number of flowers, which, in turn, decreases available nectar. The result is decline in a population of the Mormon Fritillary butterfly, Speyeria mormonia. 
                                                                 

Using long-term data on date of snowmelt, butterfly population sizes and flower numbers at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, Carol Boggs, a biologist at Stanford University, and colleagues uncovered multiple effects of early snowmelt on the growth rate of an insect population.

"Predicting effects of climate change on organisms' population sizes will be difficult in some cases due to lack of knowledge of the species' biology," said Boggs, lead author of a paper reporting the results online in this week's journal Ecology Letters.
Taking into account the butterfly's life cycle and the factors determining egg production was important to the research.

Butterflies lay eggs (then die) in their first summer; the caterpillars from those eggs over-winter without eating and develop into adults in the second summer.
In laboratory experiments, the amount of nectar a female butterfly ate determined the number of eggs she laid. This suggested that flower availability might be important to changes in population size.

Early snowmelt in the first year leads to lower availability of the butterfly's preferred flower species, a result of newly developing plants being exposed to early-season frosts that kill flower buds.

The ecologists showed that reduced flower--and therefore nectar--availability per butterfly adversely affected butterfly population growth rate.
Early snowmelt in the second year of the butterfly life cycle worsened the effect, probably through direct killing of caterpillars during early-season frosts.
The combined effects of snowmelt in the two consecutive years explained more than four-fifths of the variation in population growth rate.

"Because species in natural communities are interconnected, the effects of climate change on any single species can easily be underestimated," said Saran Twombly, program director in the National Science Foundation's Division of Environmental Biology, which funded the research.

"This study combines long-term, data models, and an understanding of species interactions to underscore the complex effects climate change has on natural populations."
"It's very unusual for research to uncover a simple mechanism that can explain almost all the variation in growth rate of an insect population," said David Inouye, a biologist at the University of Maryland and co-author of the paper.

Indeed, "one climate parameter can have multiple effects on an organism's population growth," Boggs said. "This was previously not recognized for species such as butterflies that live for only one year.

"We can already predict that this coming summer will be a difficult one for the butterflies," she said, "because the very low snowpack in the mountains this winter makes it likely that there will be significant frost damage."

"Long-term studies such as ours are important to understanding the 'ecology of place,' and the effects of weather and possible climate change on population numbers," said Inouye.
"This research is critical to assessing the broader effects of weather on an ever-changing Earth," he said. "By facilitating long-term studies, field stations such as the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory are an invaluable asset."
Stanford University's Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education also funded the work.

U.S. PURSUING DIPLOMACY TO GET AID TO SYRIAN PEOPLE


The following excerpt is from a State Department e-mail: 
Humanitarian Relief for Syrians
Fact SheetOffice of the SpokespersonWashington, DC
March 15, 2012
The United States is pursuing every avenue to get humanitarian relief into Syria and is engaged in focused diplomatic efforts to secure safe access for humanitarian organizations to reach those in need. To that end, the United States is providing over $12 million in humanitarian assistance through the UN and other humanitarian organizations to support the people of Syria. This assistance is supporting international and non-governmental humanitarian partners, including:
$5.5 million to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR);
$3 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC);
$3 million to the World Food Program (WFP); and
$1 million to non-governmental organizations (NGO).

U.S. efforts also include bolstering existing regional stockpiles of humanitarian supplies and equipment to be delivered to vulnerable and besieged Syrian communities. These stockpiles of food and other emergency relief supplies are part of a growing international effort to rush humanitarian aid into Syria to alleviate suffering as access and conditions allow.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are delivering critical medical services and supplies, food, water, blankets, hygiene kits, and heaters to the Syrian people. This funding will also provide support for host families who are sheltering displaced Syrians due to the ongoing violence and to those who have fled to neighboring countries.
On March 14, 2012, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) issued a special alert voicing serious concern over the state of food security, especially for vulnerable groups. The World Food Program (WFP) estimates that 1.4 million people have become food insecure as a result of the violence.

WFP plans to provide food aid to 100,000 people affected by the civil conflict in 11 governorates in Syria. The WFP operation provides rations to displaced Syrians and host families, households that have lost breadwinners or livelihoods, female-headed households, and unaccompanied minors. Since February 20, the World Food Program has delivered 16,850 family food rations—sufficient to feed approximately 84,000 people for one month—to Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) warehouses in 11 governorates in Syria. SARC has distributed 7,415 WFP food rations to beneficiaries this month, although several of the worst-affected areas within the governorates remain inaccessible due to insecurity.

GASTROENTERITIS DEATHS HAVE DOUBLED


The following excerpt is from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control website:
Deaths from gastroenteritis double
C. difficile and norovirus are the leading causes
The number of people who died from gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestines that causes vomiting and diarrhea) more than doubled from 1999 to 2007, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The findings will be presented today at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases in Atlanta.

CDC scientists used data from the National Center for Health Statistics to identify gastroenteritis-associated deaths from 1999 to 2007 among all age groups in the United States.

“Gastroenteritis is a major cause of death worldwide,” said lead author Aron Hall, D.V.M., M.S.P.H., of the CDC’s Division of Viral Diseases. “By knowing the causes of gastroenteritis-associated deaths and who’s at risk, we can develop better treatments and help health care providers prevent people from getting sick.”

Over the eight-year study period, gastroenteritis-associated deaths from all causes increased from nearly 7,000 to more than 17,000 per year. Adults over 65 years old accounted for 83 percent of deaths. Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) and norovirus were the most common infectious causes of gastroenteritis-associated deaths.

There was a fivefold increase, from approximately 2,700 to 14,500 deaths per year, for C. difficile, a type of bacteria often associated with health care settings. C difficile, which causes diarrhea, accounted for two-thirds of the deaths. Much of the recent increase in the incidence and mortality of C. difficile is attributed to the emergence and spread of a hypervirulent, resistant strain of C. difficile.

Norovirus was associated with about 800 deaths annually, though there were 50 percent more deaths in years when epidemics were caused by new strains of the virus. Norovirus is highly contagious. It spreads through person-to-person contact and contaminated food, water, and surfaces. People can get norovirus illness throughout the year, but cases peaked between December-February. Norovirus causes more than 20 million illnesses annually, and it is the leading cause of gastroenteritis outbreaks in the United States.
 “While C. difficile continues to be the leading contributor to gastroenteritis-associated deaths, this study shows for the first time that norovirus is likely the second leading infectious cause,” said Hall. “Our findings highlight the need for effective measures to prevent, diagnose, and manage gastroenteritis, especially for C. difficile and norovirus among the elderly.”
###

SUSPECT IN BASTION AIRFIELD ATTACK HAS DIED


The following excerpt is from the Department of Defense American Forces Press Service: 

Suspect in Afghanistan Airfield Incident Dies


By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
KABUL, Afghanistan, March 15, 2012 - The suspect in yesterday's car theft and possible attack at Bastion Airfield in Afghanistan's Helmand province died this morning while under medical care, the commander of International Security Assistance Force Joint Command said here today.
The incident took place around the time Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta's plane landed at the airfield for his first stop on his two-day visit to Afghanistan.

In a meeting with reporters traveling with the secretary, Army Lt. Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti said the suspect was an Afghan interpreter working under contract for coalition forces. While the general did not give a specific cause of death, he said the man had suffered extensive burns.

Defense Department spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby said yesterday in Washington that the man was injured yesterday after allegedly stealing a small pickup truck from its driver and driving it onto an aircraft parking area. NATO officials confirmed that the driver from whom the vehicle was stolen, a British soldier, was injured during the theft, but did not report his condition.

The suspect apparently attempted to hit a group of Marines lined up on the ramp, Scaparrotti said, but overshot the group by about 100 yards and drove the vehicle into a ditch. A U.S. military official confirmed the Marines were at the airfield to greet Panetta as he arrived.

The general said as witnesses described the scene to him later, they then saw a puff of smoke, and the suspect came out of the vehicle engulfed in flames. The suspect may have accidentally set fire to himself while trying to burn the truck, the general said, noting that investigators found containers in the vehicle that may have held fuel.
Scaparrotti said that while he doesn't know the suspect's intent or motivation, "I personally don't believe it had any connection with the secretary's arrival. I think he had an intent to harm. I think he tried to hit people on the ramp."

A senior Defense Department official said a military working dog may have been involved in apprehending the suspect by pulling him from the vehicle, though that is not confirmed. The dog suffered slight burns, the official added.

NAVAL ADMIRAL SAYS REPEAL OF DON'T ASK DOES HAS NO AFFECT

The following excerpt is from a U.S. Department of Defense American Forces Press Service e-mail:

Navy Leader Calls 'Don't Ask' Repeal 'Non-story'

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 16, 2012 - The Navy has not seen much difference following last fall's repeal of the Defense Department's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, the chief of naval operations told reporters here today.
Navy Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert said at a Defense Writers' Group meeting that the U.S. Navy checks the status of the fleet constantly, but there has been no uptick in conduct incidents since the repeal went into effect Sept. 20. He does not expect an increase.
The policy, which Congress approved in 1993, let gay and lesbian personnel serve, so long as they kept their sexual orientation secret.

Before repeal, some said letting gay and lesbian service members be open about their sexual preferences would destroy the cohesion of the force and ruin recruiting. That has not been the case, Greenert said.
It has been a "non-story," the admiral told reporters. "Still, we need to remain vigilant," he said.
The Navy wants to ensure there isn't a "slowly developing enclave of folks" who show preference due to sexual orientation, he said. But to date, this hasn't been the case.
There has been no impact of repeal on recruiting, Greenert said. The Navy continues to make 100 percent of its recruiting goal and the quality of recruits remains high.
 

ATTORNEY GENERAL SAYS RECORD NUMBER CHARGED WITH HUMAN TRAFFICKING


The following speech by Attorney General Eric Holder is from the Department of Justice website:
“For the Department of Justice, our commitment to preventing human trafficking, bringing traffickers to justice, and assisting victims has never been stronger – and our approach has never been more effective. Our work has sent a clear and critical message: that, in this country – and under this Administration – human trafficking crimes will not be tolerated. I’m proud to report that, this past year, we charged nearly 120 defendants – a record number – in human trafficking cases. And, over the last three years, we’ve achieved significant increases in human trafficking prosecutions – including a rise of more than 30 percent in the number of forced labor and adult sex trafficking prosecutions.

This work has saved lives, ensured freedom, and restored dignity to women, men, and children in virtually every corner of the country. We’ve liberated scores of victims; secured long prison sentences against individual traffickers; and dismantled large, transnational organized criminal enterprises.

The Department of Justice’s comprehensive approach to prevent human trafficking involves the work of many offices. That’s why the Attorney General formed the Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team – or “ACTeam” – Initiative, an interagency collaboration among the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Labor aimed at streamlining federal criminal investigations and prosecutions of human trafficking offenses.

The scourge of human trafficking goes beyond our borders. The Department of Justice continues to work closely with our international counterparts. For instance, we’ve advanced the U.S.-Mexico Human Trafficking Bilateral Enforcement Initiative, in collaboration with DHS and Mexican law enforcement counterparts, to develop high-impact bilateral investigations and prosecutions to dismantle international human trafficking networks, resulting in landmark convictions in coordinated prosecutions under both U.S. and Mexican law.

Department officials have also shared their expertise and helped to train hundreds of prosecutors, investigators and law enforcement officials in partner countries abroad through our International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP). ICITAP supported the international anti-human trafficking effort through program activities in seven countries on three continents.
In addition to ensuring those who perpetuate these crimes are found and brought to justice, the department’s anti-trafficking grant programs, training and technical assistance initiatives continue to support communities in building capacity to combat human trafficking and assist victims.

These programs take a multidisciplinary approach to human trafficking prevention and encourage close partnerships among federal prosecutors, state and local law enforcement, victim service providers, and other federal partners, including the FBI, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and State.

Supplementing training and grant programs are resources like the Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force Strategy and Operations eGuide, a comprehensive online resource to assist anti-trafficking task forces in establishing, strengthening, and operating multidisciplinary response teams to identify and assist trafficking victims across the country.

To better understand trafficking, the National Institute of Justice continues to expand its research portfolio to understand how and why trafficking occurs, how to best help victims and examine the reasons why these crimes go under-reported in the United States.”

U.K. CITIZEN AND 2 AMERICANS CHARGED WITH CONSPIRACY TO DEFRAUD THE U.S. GOVERNMENT


The following excerpt is from the U.S. Department of Justice website:
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
WASHINGTON – United Kingdom citizen Ahmed Sarchil Kazzaz and his company, Leadstay Company, were charged in an indictment unsealed today in the Northern District of Alabama for their roles in a conspiracy to defraud the United States and pay kickbacks in exchange for receiving subcontracts for a Department of Defense program in Iraq, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance of the Northern District of Alabama.

Kazzaz, 45, and Leadstay were charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud and commit offenses against the United States; six counts of unlawful kickbacks; one count of wire fraud; and three counts of mail fraud.   Kazzaz was arrested on Feb. 14, 2012, in Los Angeles.   In addition, two informations filed in the Northern District of Alabama were unsealed today, charging Gaines R. Newell Jr., 52, and Billy Joe Hunt, 57, with conspiracy to commit the federal offenses of kickbacks, wire fraud and mail fraud, and with filing false tax returns.

According to the indictment, Kazzaz paid more than $947,500 in unlawful kickbacks to two employees of a prime contractor to the United States government in order to obtain lucrative subcontracts for himself and Leadstay, in connection with the Coalition Munitions Clearance Program (CMCP).   CMCP is operated in Iraq by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Huntsville Engineering and Support Center (HESC).   HESC, located in the Northern District of Alabama, operated the CMCP to clear out, store and dispose of weapons that were seized or abandoned in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.   HESC awarded a contract to perform this work to an international engineering and construction firm headquartered in Pasadena, Calif.

The indictment alleges that beginning in about March 2006, Kazzaz entered into a kickback agreement with the California prime contractor’s program manager and deputy program manager, who arranged for the award of subcontracts to Kazzaz and Leadstay to provide materials, heavy equipment and operators for equipment for the CMCP.   Kazzaz also allegedly obtained multiple funding increases to those subcontracts.   From April 2006 through August 2008, Kazzaz and Leadstay received more than $23 million in U.S. funds for services under the CMCP.

According to the two informations unsealed today, Newell was the program manager in Iraq for the California-based prime contractor to HESC, and Hunt was the deputy program manager.  Both are charged with conspiring to solicit and accept kickbacks to award subcontracts under the CMCP program and to commit mail and wire fraud by knowingly and intentionally devising a scheme to defraud the United States.   In addition, both are charged with failing to report the kickback income on their federal tax returns.

“Mr. Kazzaz allegedly paid kickbacks to two employees of a California-based contractor in order to secure subcontracts for Department of Defense programs in Iraq,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer.   “Federal contracts must be won or lost based on the merits of the bid, and we will continue to take aggressive steps to hold accountable anyone who tries to play by their own set of rules instead.”

“Government contracts fraud is an insult to all law-abiding taxpayers,” said U.S. Attorney Vance.  “These defendants’ conduct was even worse in that they tried to illegally profit from defense contracts in Iraq, where American men and women were willing to put their lives on the line for freedom.”

“These charges clearly demonstrate that we will take firm action against those who make illegal payments while engaged in wartime contracting,” said Stuart W. Bowen, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).   “SIGIR and its investigative partners will continue our vigorous pursuit of those whose illegal acts undermined the U.S. government’s management of the stabilization and reconstruction effort in Iraq.”

“Individuals and businesses that illegally enrich themselves at the expense of the U.S. taxpayer, especially as wartime profiteers, or those who diminish the combat readiness or effectiveness of the U.S. military, will be aggressively investigated by DCIS and our investigative partners,” said Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) Special Agent in Charge Chris D. Hendrickson.  “The combined investigative effort, the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s work demonstrate the combined federal commitment to combating fraud, waste and abuse.”

“IRS Criminal Investigation provides financial expertise with our law enforcement partners,” said Special Agent in Charge Leslie P. DeMarco of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations (IRS-CI) Los Angeles Field Office.  “Today’s unsealing of these charges demonstrates our collective efforts in tracing illicit funds internationally to enforce the laws and ensure public trust.”

Kazzaz, Newell and Hunt are also facing criminal forfeiture proceedings.

The cases were investigated by the DCIS, IRS-CI, SIGIR, the FBI, and the U.S. Army Criminal Investigations Division.   The cases are being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Catherine Votaw, on detail from SIGIR to the Fraud Section of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, and Assistant U.S. Attorney David Estes of the Northern District of Alabama.

An indictment and information contain charges, and defendants are innocent until proven guilty.

Friday, March 16, 2012

CONGOLESE MILITANT FOUND GUILTY OF USING CHILDREN AS SOLDIERS


The following excerpt is from a U.S. State Department e-mail:
ICC Conviction of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo
Press Statement Victoria Nuland
Department Spokesperson, Office of the Spokesperson Washington, DC
March 16, 2012
On March 14 2012, the International Criminal Court (ICC) convicted Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, former commander of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of the Congo militia and president of the Union of Congolese Patriots, for his responsibility for the war crimes of enlisting and conscripting children and using them to participate actively in hostilities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2002 and 2003. Congolese authorities referred the situation in the DRC to the ICC in 2004.

As the Court’s first conviction, this ruling is an historic and important step in providing justice and accountability for the Congolese people. The conviction is also significant for highlighting as an issue of paramount international concern the brutal practice of conscripting and using children to take a direct part in hostilities. These children are often sent to the front lines of combat or used as porters, guards, or sex slaves, and their conscription reverberates throughout entire communities. This conviction puts perpetrators and would-be perpetrators of unlawful child soldier recruitment and other atrocities on notice that they cannot expect their crimes to go unpunished.

Congolese institutions have a critical role to play in ending impunity in the DRC. The Congolese government has taken recent positive steps, such as the prosecution and conviction in national courts of several Congolese army officers for the mass rapes that took place in the town of Fizi on January 1, 2011. The United States continues to encourage the Congolese government to arrest other alleged human rights violators and abusers still at large.

BAGRAMI DISTRIC HELICOPTER CRASH


The following excerpt is from a Department of Defense e-mail:



Allen Expresses Condolences Over Helicopter Crash

From an International Security Assistance Force Joint Command News Release
WASHINGTON, March 16, 2012 - The commander of the International Security Assistance Force, Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, expressed his condolences over the crash of an ISAF helicopter in the Bagrami district of Afghanistan's Kabul province today, military officials reported.

Twelve ISAF service members, all of whom were from Turkey, died as a result of the crash, officials said. Four Afghan civilians also died in the crash.

"My deepest sympathies go out to the families of these ISAF service members and the Afghan civilians who died as a result of this unfortunate incident," Allen said. "Turkey has been a steadfast ally and stalwart member of the NATO ISAF coalition from the beginning."

The deceased service members "put their lives on the line each day they donned the Turkish uniform in order to help build a better life for another proud and noble nation and I pay tribute to their service," Allen said. "I am honored to have led them in a mission for which their families can be incredibly proud."

Initial ISAF operational reporting showed no insurgent activity in the area at the time of the crash.
 

CDC SAYS IMPORTED FOODS INCREASING ILLNESSES IN U.S.


THE FOLLOWING EXCERPT IS FROM THE CDC WEBSITE:

CDC research shows outbreaks linked to imported foods increasing

Fish and spices the most common sources
Foodborne disease outbreaks caused by imported food appeared to rise in 2009 and 2010, and nearly half of the outbreaks implicated foods imported from areas which previously had not been associated with outbreaks, according to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, presented today at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases in Atlanta.
“It's too early to say if the recent numbers represent a trend, but CDC officials are analyzing information from 2011 and will continue to monitor for these outbreaks in the future,” said Hannah Gould, Ph.D., an epidemiologist in CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases and the lead author.
CDC experts reviewed outbreaks reported to CDC’s Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System from 2005-2010 for implicated foods that were imported into the United States. During that five-year period, 39 outbreaks and 2,348 illnesses were linked to imported food from 15 countries. Of those outbreaks, nearly half (17) occurred in 2009 and 2010. Overall, fish (17 outbreaks) were the most common source of implicated imported foodborne disease outbreaks, followed by spices (six outbreaks including five from fresh or dried peppers). Nearly 45 percent of the imported foods causing outbreaks came from Asia.
“As our food supply becomes more global, people are eating foods from all over the world, potentially exposing them to germs from all corners of the world, too,” Gould said. “We saw an increased number of outbreaks due to imported foods during recent years, and more types of foods from more countries causing outbreaks.”
According to a report by the Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service (ERS), U.S. food imports grew from $41 billion in 1998 to $78 billion in 2007.  Much of that growth has occurred in fruit and vegetables, seafood and processed food products.  The report estimated that as much as 85 percent of the seafood eaten in the United States is imported, and depending on the time of the year, up to 60 percent of fresh produce is imported. ERS also estimated that about 16 percent of all food eaten in the United States is imported. The types of food causing the outbreaks in this analysis aligned closely with the types of food that were most commonly imported.
Gould warned that the findings likely underestimate the true number of outbreaks due to imported foods as the origin of many foods causing outbreaks is either not known or not reported.
“We need better - and more - information about what foods are causing outbreaks and where those foods are coming from,” Gould said. "Knowing more about what is making people sick, will help focus prevention efforts on those foods that pose a higher risk of causing illness.”
Recently, the Food and Drug Administration has have stepped up its efforts to conduct environmental assessments to determine the root cause of outbreaks. With lessons learned from outbreaks, measures will be taken to prevent such outbreaks in the future.  The newly enacted FDA Food Safety Modernization Act is also a major step in establishing a prevention based food safety system that would address domestic as well as imported foods. CDC, FDA and USDA will continue to work together to prevent foodborne illness and stop harmful products from entering commerce.

THE ATTACK AT BASTION AIRFIELD IN AFGHANISTAN

The following excerpt is from a Department of Defense American Forces Press e-mail:

Officials Offer More Detail on Failed Attack at Bastion

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, March 16, 2012 - The senior NATO International Security Assistance Force commander in southern Afghanistan's Helmand Province was among the welcoming party at Bastion Airfield threatened by the driver of a stolen vehicle, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told reporters today.
Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Charles "Mark" Gurganus led the March 14 welcoming party for Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, who visited Bastion and the adjacent Camp Leatherneck on the first stop of a two-day Afghanistan visit that concluded yesterday.

The group at Bastion airfield scattered when a local Afghan, who worked as an interpreter on the base, raced toward the party in a stolen vehicle, apparently attempting to run them down, a senior defense official traveling with the secretary told reporters. The official spoke on background because the event is still under ISAF investigation.

No one in the welcoming party was injured, the official said, but the attacker, who set himself ablaze while apparently attempting to ignite a fire in the stolen vehicle, died of severe burn injuries at around 1:30 local time yesterday morning.

ISAF investigators questioned three other Afghan employees at the base, the official said. Two of the three questioned are the father and brother of the man who died, and are also interpreters at the camp, the official added. The official noted there are no indications any of the three questioned had previous knowledge of the attack or of the secretary's planned visit.

Other details revealed during the investigation, according to a second official also speaking on background, include information on the vehicle theft. A white Hi-lux sport utility vehicle belonging to British forces at the camp was stolen from a British soldier at Camp Leatherneck about 30 minutes before the airfield incident, the second official said.

Investigators reported a British soldier was run over by the interpreter in the stolen vehicle, but it is unclear whether it was the same soldier from whom the vehicle was stolen. The latest update gave the injured soldier's condition as stable, the first official said.

The vehicle approached the welcoming party at the airfield while Panetta's plane was taxiing in, the first official added.
"It remains ISAF's view that it is unlikely that the individual [in the stolen vehicle] knew the secretary was on the plane," the first official said.
"We believe that he intended to cause harm to individuals ... [but] we don't know ... if he knew specifically who he was heading toward," the first official added.

DEXTRE THE SPACE ROBOT AND ROBONAUT 2


The following excerpt is from the NASA website:
WASHINGTON -- NASA's Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) experiment aboard
the International Space Station has demonstrated remotely controlled
robots and specialized tools can perform precise satellite-servicing
tasks in space. The project marks a milestone in the use of the space
station as a technology test bed.

"We and our partners are making important technological
breakthroughs," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "As we move
ahead toward reaching our exploration goals, we will realize even
more benefits from humans and robots working together in space."

The Canadian Space Agency's (CSA) robotic handyman, Dextre,
successfully completed the tasks March 7-9 on the space station's
external RRM module, designed to demonstrate the tools, technologies
and techniques needed to robotically refuel and repair satellites.

"The Hubble servicing missions taught us the importance and value of
getting innovative, cutting-edge technologies to orbit quickly to
deliver great results," said Frank Cepollina, a veteran leader of
five Hubble Space Telescope servicing missions and associate director
of the Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office (SSCO) at NASA's
Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "The impact of the
space station as a useful technology test bed cannot be overstated.
Fresh satellite-servicing technologies will be demonstrated in a real
space environment within months instead of years. This is huge. It
represents real progress in space technology advancement."

Before a satellite leaves the ground, technicians fill its fuel tank
through a valve that is sealed, covered and designed never to be
accessed again. The RRM experiment demonstrates a remote-controlled
robot can remove these barriers and refuel such satellites in space.

Dextre successfully retrieved and inspected RRM tools, released safety
launch locks on tool adapters, and used an RRM tool to cut extremely
thin satellite lock wire. These operations represent the first use of
RRM tools in orbit and Dextre's first participation in a research and
development project.

RRM was developed by SSCO and is a joint effort between NASA and CSA.
During the next two years, RRM and Dextre will conduct several
servicing tasks using RRM tools on satellite parts and interfaces
inside and covering the cube-shaped RRM module.

NASA expects the RRM results to reduce the risks associated with
satellite servicing. It will encourage future robotic servicing
missions by laying the foundation for them. Such future missions
could include the repair, refueling and repositioning of orbiting
satellites.

"We are especially grateful to CSA for their collaboration on this
venture," Cepollina said. "CSA has played a pivotal role in the
development of space robotics, from the early days of the space
shuttle to the work they are doing with Dextre on space station."

During the three-day RRM Gas Fittings Removal task, the 12-foot
(3.7-meter) Dextre performed the most intricate task ever attempted
by a space robot: cutting two separate "lock wires" 20 thousandths of
an inch (0.5 millimeters) in diameter using the RRM Wire Cutter Tool
(WCT). Deftly maneuvered by ground-based mission operators and
Dextre, the WCT smoothly slid its hook under the individual wires and
severed them with only a few millimeters of clearance. This
wire-cutting activity is a prerequisite to removing and servicing
various satellite parts during any future in-orbit missions.

RRM operations are scheduled to resume in May 2012 with the completion
of the gas fittings removal task. The RRM Refueling task is scheduled
for later this summer. NASA and CSA will present RRM results at the
Second International Workshop on on-Orbit Servicing, hosted by
Goddard May 30-31, 2012.

Dextre and RRM are an example of how robots are changing operations in
space. Another is Robonaut 2, or R2, a project of NASA and General
Motors. R2, the first human-like robot, was launched into space in
2011 and is a permanent resident of the International Space Station.




U.S. OFFICIALS'S REMARKS ON PUTIN'S ELECTION WIN AND IT'S IMPLICATIONS


The following excerpt is from a U.S. State Department e-mail:
Putin's Return: The Political and Commercial Implications for America
Remarks Philip H. Gordon
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Remarks at Bipartisan Policy Center
Washington, DC
March 15, 2012
Moderator: [in progress] lively debate over whether some new form of human rights sanction needs to immediately be put into effect were Congress to lift Jackson-Vanik. So first of all, can you give us a sense of where the administration is at in terms of the big picture positioning? Is there still a reset possible with President Putin returning to official power in the Kremlin? And in that context, where does this debate in Washington fit in?

Assistant Secretary Gordon: Thanks, Susan. I would be happy to do that. Indeed, I appreciate the invitation to put it in that broader context. This is an important thing we’re trying to do with Russia, but there are a lot of important things we’re trying to do with Russia and they are related.

Let me start, though, by saying how much I admire the report by the task force. As we head into this debate in Congress there is no doubt going to be a lot of polemics and politics and what is called for is a serious, thoughtful assessment with even some facts in it. I think that’s what you all have produced and it’s going to be very valuable and I would encourage members of Congress, the media and others to rely on it. I really think it’s an important contribution on this important issue.

I said I wanted to put this in context, Susan, and what I would say about that is, you all are very well familiar with the way we and the Obama administration have tried to approach the issue of Russia in general. The relationship was strained when the President took office, which he regretted, and thought was not in the U.S. interest because we have so many potential areas of common interest with Russia, whether that’s in the economic area or nonproliferation or counterterrorism. So what he set out to do was to find those areas of common interest, try to reach practical, real substantive agreements while also being very clear that there would be things we would disagree on and we wouldn’t sweep them under the carpet as we pursued these things.

We’re actually very proud of what, in three years, we have accomplished in that regard, whether it’s the New START Treaty or cooperation on Afghanistan which has been very significant to our efforts there; or the 123 Nuclear Agreement on civil nuclear cooperation; Russian support on North Korea; and, particularly Iran, to a degree that I don’t think was imaginable a few years before; the Bipartisan Presidential Commission which has strengthened our relations in areas from environment to sports and culture and business; and, then the WTO agreement which as you and the Secretary and others have said, has been on the agenda for a very long time. We worked very hard, in our own interest, to reach an agreement that we think would benefit -- much as Russia, and we think it would -- but ourselves and other members to the international community by providing greater opportunity for trade and bringing Russia into a binding organization governed by rule of law and open trade. So that, after 20 years of trying, both in the United States and in Russia, we think is a major accomplishment and very consistent with what I described as our overall effort with Russia.

So where does that leave us now? I can talk, and I’m sure you’ll have questions about the broader fate of the reset and how we’re doing in other issues, and I’m happy to engage on that, but since we’re really here to talk about Jackson-Vanik and the WTO, let me just give you the bottom line on that.

Having reached this agreement to bring Russia into the WTO it is in our interest to graduate Russia from Jackson-Vanik so that our firms will benefit, and I would say period. The President, especially in this tough economic climate is determined to do everything he can for American firms and American exports, and were we to fail to graduate Russia from Jackson-Vanik right now, we would be disadvantaging American companies, without costing Russia anything. It’s not in that sense at all a gift to Russia, it is in the fundamentally economic and security interest of the United States and I am quite confident that that’s what Senator Baucus will hear from the businesses today, which include the leadership of some major American companies that want to see this get done.
I think you cited some of the opposition figures in Russia who have said the same thing. The statement they put out last week said that leaving Jackson-Vanik on the books as it is and keeping it applying to Russia would “not be helpful in any way”, and we think that’s right: it would not be helpful in any way.
So, very straightforward and clear, it’s in our interest to graduate Russia from Jackson-Vanik.

I do want to say, though, because this issue is now debated in the context of what we’re doing on democracy and human rights in Russia. I want to be clear on that, too. Even as we’ve pursued this better relationship with Russia and concrete agreements with Russia we’ve been very clear about the importance of democracy, human rights, and civil society in our foreign policy. We’ve done quite a lot in that regard. Since 2009 we’ve spent more than $200 million seeking to promote democracy, human rights and civil society on the recent elections.

From the start we’ve said, the President said that even as we pursue these concrete agreements we will be clear when Russia is doing things that we don’t believe are in our interest or that we disagree with. We’ve done so on a range of issues, on the question of Georgia, and on the question of democracy. So in December when there were parliamentary elections that we did not think were entirely free and fair, we said so. The Russian government didn’t appreciate it, but I think we’ve been consistent to our principles on that issue.

We have proposed, as you know, using some of the resources that were generated from the U.S.-Russia investment fund and asked Congress to consider taking those resources which would be some $50 million and using it as a further effort to promote democracy, civil society and human rights in Russia.

On some of the specific measures in the Magnitsky Bill that has been referred to, which is sometimes linked to the question of lifting Jackson-Vanik, we have also been very clear that it is the policy of the United States to deny visas to people guilty of serious human rights violations. In the Presidential Proclamation last August in the Immigration and Nationality Act, we have the provisions to do that and we have done so and will do so.
So I want to be very clear, even as I say that Jackson-Vanik should be lifted simply unrelated to anything else because it’s in our interest, at the same time, of course, we strongly support the goals of the Cardin legislation. We have been very active on democracy on human rights, we will continue to be active on democracy and human rights, but the bottom line on the question of Jackson-Vanik: it is in our interest to graduate Russia as soon as possible.

LCD MAKER AND FORMER TOP EXECUTIVES FOUND GUILTY IN $500 MILLION PRICE FIXING SCHEME


The following excerpt is from the Department of Justice website:
TAIWAN-BASED AU OPTRONICS CORPORATION, ITS HOUSTON-BASED
SUBSIDIARY AND FORMER TOP EXECUTIVES CONVICTED FOR ROLE IN
LCD PRICE-FIXING CONSPIRACY
Jury Holds Companies Responsible for at Least $500 Million in Illicit Gains
WASHINGTON — Following an eight-week trial, a federal jury in San Francisco today convicted the largest Taiwan liquid crystal display (LCD) producer, its Houston-based subsidiary and their two former top executives for their participation in a five-year conspiracy to fix the prices of thin-film transistor-liquid crystal display (TFT-LCD) panels sold worldwide, the Department of Justice announced. The jury also found that the ill-gotten gain to the conspirators as a result of the fixed sales in the United States was at least $500 million.

AU Optronics Corporation and its American subsidiary, AU Optronics Corporation America, were found guilty today in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco. The trial began on Jan. 9, 2012. AU Optronics Corporation is based in Hsinchu, Taiwan. AU Optronics Corporation America is headquartered in Houston. The companies and individuals were indicted on June 9, 2010. The indictment charged that AU Optronics Corporation participated in the worldwide price-fixing conspiracy from Sept. 14, 2001, to Dec. 1, 2006, and that its subsidiary participated at various times during the conspiracy.

Former AU Optronics Corporation president Hsuan Bin Chen and former AU Optronics Corporation executive vice president Hui Hsiung were also found guilty. The department said that both executives participated in the conspiracy from Oct. 19, 2001, to Dec.1, 2006.

In addition to today’s convictions, seven companies have pleaded guilty to date to charges arising out of the department’s ongoing investigation and have been sentenced to pay criminal fines totaling more than $890 million. In addition to the individuals convicted today, 17 executives have been charged. Ten of the executives have pleaded guilty and have been sentenced to serve a combined total of 2,681 days in prison.

“The jury finding $500 million in ill-gotten gains by members of the cartel demonstrates the harmful effect of this price-fixing conspiracy on American businesses and consumers,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Sharis A. Pozen in charge of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. “The jury’s decision to hold not only the companies but also their top executives accountable for their anticompetitive actions should send a strong deterrent message to board rooms around the world.”

TFT-LCD panels are used in computer monitors and notebooks, televisions, mobile phones and other electronic devices. By the end of the conspiracy period, the worldwide market for TFT-LCD panels was valued at $70 billion annually. Companies directly affected by the LCD price-fixing conspiracy include some of the largest computer manufacturers in the world, including Apple, Dell and Hewlett Packard.

At trial, the department said that the convicted companies and former executives fixed the prices of LCD panels sold into the United States. The prices were fixed during monthly meetings with their competitors secretly held in hotel conference rooms, karaoke bars and tea rooms around Taiwan. The indictment alleged that the conspiracy lasted for more than five years before it was detected.

Also today, the jury found two AU Optronics Corporation employees not guilty--Lai-Juh Chen, former director of the Desktop Display Business Group, and Tsannrong Lee, former senior manager of the Notebooks Business Group. A mistrial was declared against Hsiu Lung Leung, former AU Optronics Corporation senior manager of Desktop Display Business Group.

The maximum penalty for a Sherman Act violation for an individual is 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine. Since the jury found that the gain derived from the conspiracy was at least $500 million, the maximum fine for the corporations is $1 billion.

Today’s charges are the result of a joint investigation by the Department of Justice Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Field Office and the FBI in San Francisco.

LEBANON'S CEDAR REVOLUTION ANNIVERSARY


The following excerpt is from  Department of State e-mail:
Press Statement Victoria Nuland
Department Spokesperson, Office of the Spokesperson Washington, DC
March 14, 2012

Today marks the seventh anniversary of Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution, when the Lebanese people took to the streets en masse in a peaceful demonstration to demand a sovereign and democratic country, free from foreign interference, and to call for the truth behind the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. In 2005, long before the inspiring and dramatic events of the past year, the people of Lebanon shattered the myth that the only way to produce change in the region is through violence and conflict. The United States salutes the brave and proud Lebanese who peacefully took to the streets in 2005 to demand a better future for themselves and their homeland.

Without a doubt, challenges remain for the people of Lebanon. Foreign-backed groups seek to turn back the clock. The brutal violence unleashed by the Assad regime against its own people risks destabilizing the region, including Lebanon. We support Lebanon’s political leaders’ efforts to maintain security and to prepare for the day when a democratic government in Damascus will usher in a new era in Lebanese-Syrian relations. We will continue to stand with and support the people of Lebanon and all those across the region as they work for democratic governments that will fulfill their aspirations and respect their rights.

FLORIDA RESIDENT PLEADS GUILTY IN ROLE TO DEFRAUD MEDICARE OF $200 MILLION


The following excerpt is from the Department of Justice website:
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Miami-Area Resident Pleads Guilty to Participating in $200 Million Medicare Fraud Scheme
WASHINGTON – A Miami-area resident pleaded guilty today for his role in a fraud scheme that resulted in the submission of more than $200 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare, announced the Department of Justice, the FBI and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Mathis Moore, 56, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry L. Garber in Miami to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and to pay and receive illegal health care kickbacks.  Moore was charged in an indictment unsealed on Feb. 15, 2011, in the Southern District of Florida.

Moore admitted to participating in a fraud scheme that was orchestrated by the owners and operators of American Therapeutic Corporation (ATC); its management company, Medlink Professional Management Group Inc.; and the American Sleep Institute (ASI).  ATC, Medlink and ASI were Florida corporations headquartered in Miami.  ATC operated purported partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), a form of intensive treatment for severe mental illness, in seven different locations throughout South Florida and Orlando.  ASI purported to provide diagnostic sleep disorder testing.
 
According to court filings, ATC’s owners and operators paid kickbacks to owners and operators of assisted living facilities and halfway houses and to patient brokers in exchange for delivering ineligible patients to ATC and ASI.  In some cases, the patients received a portion of those kickbacks.  Throughout the course of the ATC and ASI conspiracy, millions of dollars in kickbacks were paid in exchange for Medicare beneficiaries who did not qualify for PHP services to attend treatment programs that were not legitimate PHPs so that ATC and ASI could bill Medicare for the medically unnecessary services.  According to court filings, to obtain the cash required to support the kickbacks, the co-conspirators laundered millions of dollars of payments from Medicare.

Moore admitted to serving as a patient broker who provided patients for ATC and ASI in exchange for kickbacks in the form of checks and cash.  The amount of the kickback was based on the number of days each patient spent at ATC.  

According to his plea agreement, Moore’s participation in the ATC fraud resulted in $17 million in fraudulent billings to the Medicare program.
Sentencing for Moore is scheduled for May 29, 2012, at 9:30 a.m.  He faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

ATC, Medlink, and various owners, managers, doctors, therapists, patient brokers and marketers of ATC, Medlink and ASI, were charged with various health care fraud, kickback, money laundering and other offenses in two indictments unsealed on Feb. 15, 2011.  ATC, Medlink and 10 of the individual defendants have pleaded guilty or have been convicted at trial. Other defendants are scheduled for trial April 9, 2012, before U.S. District Judge Patricia A. Seitz.  A defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Today’s guilty plea was announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer of the Southern District of Florida; John V. Gillies, Special Agent-in-Charge of the FBI’s Miami field office; and Special Agent-in-Charge Christopher B. Dennis of the HHS Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), Office of Investigations Miami office.

The criminal case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Jennifer L. Saulino, Steven Kim and Robert Zink of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.  A related civil action is being handled by Vanessa I. Reed and Carolyn B. Tapie of the Civil Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Ted L. Radway of the Southern District of Florida.  The case was investigated by the FBI and HHS-OIG, and was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, supervised by the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.

Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations in nine locations have charged more than 1,190 defendants that collectively have billed the Medicare program for more than $3.6 billion.  In addition, HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

FBI AND JUSTICE DEPARTMENT CELEBRATE SUNSHINE WEEK


The following excerpt is from the Department of Justice website:
Putting the FBI at Your Fingertips
March 13th, 2012
Posted by Tracy Russo
The following post appears courtesy of the FBI
This week the FBI and the Department of Justice are celebrating Sunshine Week—a national effort promoting open government and freedom of information. The FBI has introduced new tools and initiatives to help make FBI information and records more accessible to the public and easier than ever to use.
In October 2010, in response to citizen feedback, the FBI launched a major overhaul of its website FBI.gov.  The new FBI.gov features a user-friendly design and simple navigation. New pages and features have also been added.

Many pages can now be converted into RSS news feeds so you can easily keep track of content that interests you. A new search function in the popular Wanted by the FBIsection makes it easier than ever to help find fugitives and missing persons. Another new tool, an online version of the National Stolen Art File can help determine if the artwork you’re interested in buying might be stolen.
 Other new and ongoing initiatives include:

 The Vault – A revamped electronic reading room, the Vault makes records past and present searchable by keyword and topic. Records are also easier to read through a convenient web document viewer.
Crime Statistics – Run searches of Uniform Crime Reports more easily, including through a new online tool that builds usable sets of crime data going back to 1960.

Child ID App – Download the FBI’s first mobile application to keep photos and other vital information about your child right at hand in the unlikely event he or she goes missing.
Social Media—Visit the FBI on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter to join the conversation and get its breaking news and other content.

Podcasts – Listen to and download the Bureau’s four regular shows on iTunes, along with new video versions of “Wanted by the FBI.”
FBI in español – The first web portal for Spanish-speakers which provides translations of key webpages and stories targeted to Hispanic audiences.

Widgets – Incorporate FBI content into your website or blog.
E-Mail and Text Alerts – Join the 200,000 subscribers who have FBI news and information across 250+ categories sent straight to their inboxes or wireless devices. Text message alerts are also available.
The public has responded to these initiatives by coming to the FBI website in record numbers in recent years, with more than 50 million visits in 2011 alone. Stay tuned for more new tools and features in the months to come.

SYSTEM KOI-961 IS PACKED WITH EXO-PLANETS


The photo and excerpt are from the NASA website:
This artist's concept depicts a planetary system so compact that it's more like Jupiter and its moons than a star and its planets. Astronomers using data from NASA's Kepler mission and ground-based telescopes recently confirmed that the system, called KOI-961, hosts the three smallest exoplanets currently known to orbit a star other than our sun. An exoplanet is a planet that resides outside of our solar system. The star, which is located about 130 light-years away in the Cygnus constellation, is a red dwarf that is one-sixth the size of the sun, or just 70 percent bigger than Jupiter. The star is also cooler than our sun, and gives off more red light than yellow. The smallest of the three planets, called KOI-961.03, is actually located the farthest from the star, and is pictured in the foreground. This planet is about the size of Mars, with a radius of 0.57 times that of Earth. The next planet to the upper right is KOI-961.01, which is 0.78 times the radius of Earth. The planet closest to the star is KOI-961.02, with a radius 0.73 times the Earth's. All three planets whip around the star in less than two days, with the closest planet taking less than half a day. Their close proximity to the star also means they are scorching hot, with temperatures ranging from 350 to 836 degrees Fahrenheit (176 to 447 degrees Celsius). The star's habitable zone, or the region where liquid water could exist, is located far beyond the planets. The ground-based observations contributing to these discoveries were made with the Palomar Observatory, near San Diego, Calif., and the W.M. Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


FORMER HAITIAN OFFICIAL CONVICTED IN MIAMI FOR BRIBE LAUNDERING SCHEME


The following excerpt is from a Department of Justice website:
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
WASHINGTON – Jean Rene Duperval, a former director of international relations for Telecommunications D’Haiti S.A.M. (Haiti Teleco), a Haitian state-owned telecommunications company, has been convicted by a federal jury on all counts for his role in a scheme to launder bribes paid to him by two Miami-based telecommunications companies.  The jury reached its verdict late yesterday after less than three hours of deliberations, following a week-long trial.

The conviction was announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer for the Southern District of Florida; and Special Agent in Charge Jose A. Gonzalez of Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), Miami Field Office.

“Mr. Duperval was convicted by a Miami jury of laundering $500,000 paid to him as part of an elaborate bribery scheme,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer.  “As the director of international relations for Haiti’s state-owned telecommunications company, Duperval doled out business in exchange for bribes and then used South Florida shell companies to conceal his crimes.  This Justice Department is committed to stamping out corruption wherever we find it.”

“To conceal the payment and receipt of bribes, Duperval participated in a money laundering scheme to funnel about half a million dollars to two shell companies under his control,” said U.S. Attorney Ferrer.  “This verdict confirms that American taxpayers will not tolerate bribery, either at home or abroad,  to obtain unfair business advantages.”

“Today’s announcement sends a strong message to those hiding monies in bogus business entities: no matter how elaborate or complex the scheme, you will get caught,” said IRS Special Agent in Charge Gonzalez.  “IRS criminal investigators will continue to aggressively investigate bribery schemes to ensure that honest businesses have the benefit of a competitive market.”

Duperval, 45, of Miramar, Fla., was convicted of two counts of conspiracy to commit money laundering and 19 counts of money laundering.  According to the charges, the funds that were laundered were the proceeds of violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), Haitian bribery law and the wire fraud statute.

Duperval was the director of international relations for Haiti Teleco, the sole provider of land line telephone service in Haiti.  According to the evidence presented at trial, two Miami-based telecommunications companies had a series of contracts with Haiti Teleco that allowed the companies’ customers to place telephone calls to Haiti.

Duperval was convicted for participating in a scheme to commit money laundering from 2003 to 2006, during which time the telecommunications companies collectively paid $500,000 to two shell companies to funnel the bribes to Duperval.  
 
The purpose of these bribes, according to the evidence presented at trial, was to obtain various business advantages from Duperval, including the issuance of preferred telecommunications rates, a continued telecommunications connection with Haiti and the continuation of a particularly favorable contract with Haiti Teleco.  To conceal the bribe payments, Duperval instructed the companies to forward the payments to the shell companies.  To support these payments, the companies and their executives created false documents claiming that the payments were for “consulting services” or for “international minutes from USA to Haiti.”  No actual services were performed.  The funds were then disbursed from the shell companies for the benefit of Duperval and his family.  To conceal the nature of these funds, Duperval falsely characterized these payments as “commissions” and “payroll.”

Duperval was remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals.  Sentencing is scheduled for May 21, 2012.  The conspiracy to commit money laundering count carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of the greater of $500,000 or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction.  The money laundering counts each carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of the greater of $500,000 or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction.  The indictment also seeks forfeiture, which will be determined by the court at a later date.

Duperval was the eighth defendant involved in the corruption scheme to be convicted, which includes the following individuals:

On April 27, 2009, Antonio Perez, a former controller at one of the Miami-based telecommunications companies, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and money laundering.  On Jan. 12, 2010, he was sentenced to 24 months in prison, which he is currently serving.

On May 15, 2009, Juan Diaz, the president of J.D. Locator Services, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and money laundering.   He admitted to receiving more than $1 million in bribe money from telecommunications companies.  On July 30, 2010, he was sentenced to 57 months in prison, which he is currently serving.

On Feb. 19, 2010, Jean Fourcand, the president and director of Fourcand Enterprises Inc., pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering for receiving and transmitting bribe monies in the scheme.  On May 5, 2010, he was sentenced to six months in prison.

On March 12, 2010, Robert Antoine, a former director of international affairs for Haiti Teleco, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.  He admitted to receiving more than $1 million in bribes from Miami-based telecommunications companies.  On June 2, 2010, he was sentenced to 48 months in prison, which he is currently serving.

On Aug. 4, 2011, Joel Esquenazi and Carlos Rodriguez, who were the former president and vice-president, respectively, of one of the telecommunications companies, were convicted by a federal jury of one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and wire fraud, seven counts of FCPA violations, one count of money laundering conspiracy and 12 counts of money laundering.  On Oct. 25, 2011, Esquenazi was sentenced to 15 years in prison, the longest sentence ever imposed in a case involving the FCPA.  On the same day, Rodriguez was sentenced to 84 months in prison for his role in the bribery scheme.  Both are currently serving their sentences.

In a second superseding indictment, Washington Vasconez Cruz, Amadeus Richers and Cecilia Zurita were charged in a related scheme to commit foreign bribery and money laundering from December 2001 through January 2006.  The defendants are fugitives.  An indictment is merely an accusation, and defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Department of Justice is grateful to the government of Haiti for continuing to provide substantial assistance in gathering evidence during this investigation.   In particular, Haiti’s financial intelligence unit, the Unité Centrale de Renseignements Financiers (UCREF), the Bureau des Affaires Financières et Economiques (BAFE), which is a specialized component of the Haitian National Police, and the Ministry of Justice and Public Security provided significant cooperation and coordination in this ongoing investigation.

NEW YORK DISASTER AID FOR TROPICAL STORM LEE AND HURRICANE IRENE TOPS $1.3 BILLION


The following excerpt is from the U.S. FEMA website:
ALBANY, N.Y. -- Federal disaster assistance to New York communities recovering from floods caused by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee is projected to top $1.3 billion, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and New York State officials.
“These were huge storms which caused unprecedented damage to communities across the state,” said FEMA’s Federal Coordinating Officer Philip E. Parr. “FEMA continues to work aggressively to help these communities rebuild.”
Soon after Hurricane Irene hit, Public Assistance (PA) was federally approved for 31 counties from Long Island to the Canadian border. Tropical Storm Lee prompted a declaration that funded PA for 14 counties, eight of which had also been declared for Irene. To date, FEMA has reimbursed $32.2 million in PA funding for repairing roads, bridges, utilities, schools and other public facilities across the state. There are approximately 13,000 such repair projects from 1,974 eligible applicants in the 37 affected counties, and FEMA anticipates that its share of the cost of these projects will eventually exceed $1.3 billion.
During the height of the response effort last year, FEMA had 895 employees on the two disasters. At present, 485 FEMA employees are at work as recovery efforts continue. More than a fifth of the FEMA employees working on the two disasters today are local residents hired to help support the agency’s mission.
Helping the hardest-hit areas of the state recover continues to be a priority for FEMA. With the support of four other federal agencies, FEMA has three Long-Term Community Recovery teams engaged in 12 communities in Broome, Delaware, Greene, Schenectady, Schoharie and Tioga counties. The teams are focused on identifying any unmet needs in the wake of the storms and are assisting with developing long-term community recovery plans, strategies or technical assistance issues.
FEMA has also provided temporary housing units to 111 families and individuals who had no other housing alternatives while awaiting the repair or replacement of their storm-damaged residences.
Soon after Irene struck last year, FEMA and its state partners established a Joint Field Office in Albany. Temporary FEMA/state facilities were opened in Kirkwood, Lake Placid and Hewlett, N.Y.
Disaster assistance by the numbers
  • To date, FEMA has approved a total of 33,073 registrations for Individual Assistance under the Individuals and Households Program, providing more than $155 million for housing grants, rental assistance, home repair costs and other disaster-related needs. Under Hurricane Irene, 28 counties were declared eligible for Individual Assistance; for Lee, 13 counties were receiving that assistance.
  • Following Irene and Lee there were 743 claims for Disaster Unemployment Assistance, totaling $1,829,846.
  • The Small Business Administration approved 2,501 applications for low-interest disaster loans totaling $136,537,300.
  • Seventy-four temporary Disaster Recovery Centers were established at locations around the state to serve the needs of survivors.
  • FEMA has approved more than $7.1 million in grants to provide crisis counseling to New York residents traumatized by the disasters.
  • To facilitate its New York operations on both disasters, FEMA has signed 126 contracts worth approximately $12 million with nearly 100 suppliers and vendors, the great majority of which are local businesses.
  • FEMA has provided $9 million so far in grant money to New York State to fund the Disaster Case Management mission to help survivors of Irene and Lee address their disaster-caused unmet needs.
  • To date, 14,089 claims worth $417,002,602 have been paid under the National Flood Insurance Program for both disasters.
FEMA's mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.

SEC FILES CIVIL ACTION AGAINST SENIOR MANAGEMENT AT THORNBURG MORTGAGE, INC.

The following excerpt is from the SEC website: 
March 13, 2012
SEC Files Civil Injunctive Action Against Senior Management of Thornburg Mortgage, Inc. for Alleged Fraudulent Overstatement of Thornburg’s Income
On March 13, 2012, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed securities fraud charges in the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico against Larry Goldstone, the former chief executive officer and president, Clarence Simmons, the former chief financial officer and senior executive vice-president, and Jane Starrett, the former chief accounting officer of Thornburg Mortgage, Inc. (“Thornburg”), currently TMST, Inc., for allegedly materially misrepresenting the financial condition and liquidity of Thornburg, formerly the country’s second largest independent mortgage company. Goldstone, Simmons, and Starrett reside in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The Complaint alleges that Thornburg, through Goldstone, Simmons, and Starrett, fraudulently overstated its quarterly income by more than $420 million in its 2007 annual report filed with the Commission. As a result, the Complaint alleges that Thornburg fraudulently reported a profit rather than a loss for the quarter. According to the Complaint, in the two weeks leading to the filing of its annual report, Thornburg received more than $300 million in margin calls from its lenders that severely drained its liquidity. The Complaint further alleges that, unable to meet its margin calls on a timely basis, Thornburg violated three of its lending agreements, and received a reservation of rights letter from one lender in which the lender reserved its right to declare Thornburg in default at any time. Accordingly, the Complaint alleges that in the days before Thornburg filed its annual report, the collateral it used for its lending agreements, adjustable rate mortgage (“ARM”) securities, was subject to being seized and sold by its lenders. According to the Complaint, given the circumstances of Thornburg’s liquidity crisis, circumstances that were misrepresented to, and concealed from, the company’s auditor, Goldstone, Simmons, and Starrett each knew, or was reckless in not knowing, that Thornburg did not have the intent or ability to hold its ARM securities until maturity or until their value recovered in the market. The Complaint concludes that the individual defendants also knew, or were reckless in not knowing, that this meant Thornburg was required to recognize on its income statement approximately $428 million of losses associated with the company’s ARM securities, and that the proper accounting treatment for these securities would have resulted in Thornburg reporting a loss rather than a profit for the quarter.

The Complaint claims that, based on this conduct, the defendants violated or aided and abetted the violation of, or in the case of Goldstone and Simmons are liable as control persons under Section 20(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”) for Thornburg’s violation of, Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933, and Sections 10(b), 13(a), 13(b)(2)(A), 13(b)(2)(B), and 13(b)(5) of the Exchange Act and Rules 10b-5, 12b-20, 13a-1, 13b2-1, and 13b2-2 thereunder. The Complaint also claims that Goldstone and Simmons violated Rule 13a-14 of the Exchange Act. As part of this action, the Commission seeks against each of the defendants an injunction against future violations of the provisions set forth above, officer and director bars, and third tier civil money penalties.





U.S. SOUTHERN COMMAND FOCUSES ON TRANSNATIONAL ORGANIZED CRIME


The following excerpt is from the Department of Defense American Forces Press Service:



Southern Command Targets Transnational Organized Crime

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 13, 2012 - U.S. Southern Command is focused on stopping transnational organized crime and building partners' capabilities, Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser said here today.
Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Southern Command commander detailed the challenges facing Southcom, which has responsibility for U.S. military relationships in Central and South America and the Caribbean.

Working with other U.S. federal agencies, the command has focused on a concern that permeates the region: transnational organized crime, which the general said "is seriously impacting citizen safety in Central America, especially Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras."

Transnational crime rings "threaten to overwhelm law enforcement capacities, and in an effort to reduce violence and halt the spread of these criminal groups, these countries have deployed their militaries in support of law enforcement organizations," he said.

Disrupting these narcosyndicates is part of the overall strategy in the region, Fraser said. In the past year, the command developed and implemented Operation Martillo, a plan to disrupt illicit maritime traffic in the departure zones of South America and the arrival zones in Central America, the general said.
Southern Command personnel have helped train partner nations' military members to support local police, and provides "network analysis of transnational criminal organizations and their operations," Fraser said.
The command works in the Caribbean under the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, which is developing the regional maritime interdiction plan to enhance the capabilities of Caribbean partners, Fraser said.
"In South America, we will sustain our support to Colombia and to Peru as they fight narcoterrorist groups in these countries," he said.

The command is working to build enduring international and interagency partnerships by promoting cooperation and information-sharing, Fraser said.

Personnel also are working through traditional military channels to strengthen disaster relief capabilities," he said. "We remain ready to respond should our assistance be requested," he said.
The command has been busy. In 2011, it conducted hundreds of training and educational events, 12 major multinational exercises with partner nations in the hemisphere and 56 medical readiness training exercises in 13 countries.

"This sustained engagement is yielding important benefits," Fraser said. "Last year, for the first time, Colombia assumed the land component commander role during Panamax, our annual multinational exercise focused on supporting the defense of the Panama Canal."

This year, Brazil will command the maritime component of the exercise, he said.
Threats are not limited to the homegrown varieties. Iran is very engaged in Latin America, the general said. "They have doubled their number of embassies in the last seven years," he said. "They now have 11 embassies. They have 40 cultural centers in 17 different countries throughout the region."

Southern Command officials see the Iranian activity as trying to build cultural awareness and awareness for Iran to circumvent international sanctions against Iran. "They are seeing an opportunity with some of the anti-U.S.-focused countries within the region as a method on being able to do that," he said.

The concern lies with Iran's connections with Hezbollah and Hamas terrorist groups, both of which have organizations in Latin America, Fraser said. "Those organizations are primarily focused on financial support to organizations back in the Middle East, but they are involved in illicit activity," he said.