Tag Archives: Technology

Home / Technology
21 Posts

Iran’s nuclear ambitions have already started a war with west – a covert one

Iran’s nuclear ambitions have already started a war with west – a covert one

A secret campaign of surveillance, sabotage, cyberattacks and assassinations has slowed but not stopped Tehran’s programme

President George W Bush in 2007

Iran’s nuclear ambitions led then US president George W Bush to launch a covert war in 2007 to thwart the programme. Photograph: Jim Young/REUTERS

The covert war on Iran‘s nuclear programme was launched in earnest by George Bush in 2007. It is a fair assumption that the western powers had been trying their best to spy on the Islamic Republic since the 1979 Iranian revolution, but the 2007 “presidential finding” put those efforts on a new footing.

Bush asked Congress to approve $400m for a programme of support for rebel ethnic groups, as well as intelligence gathering and sabotage of the nuclear programme. Part of that effort involved slipping defective parts such as centrifuge components into the black market supply to Iran, designed to blow apart while in operation and in so doing bring down all the centrifuges in the vicinity. The UK, Germany, France and Israel are said to have been involved in similar efforts. Meanwhile, western intelligence agencies stepped up their attempt to infiltrate the programme, seeking to recruit Iranian scientists when they travelled abroad.

That espionage effort appears to have paid dividends. In 2009, the US, British and French intelligence agencies were able to confirm that extensive excavations at Fordow, a Revolutionary Guard base near the Shia theological centre of Qom, were a secret uranium enrichment plant under construction. The digging had been seen by satellites, but only human sources could identify its purpose. Barack Obama, Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy were able to reveal Fordow’s existence at the UN general assembly in September 2009, a diplomatic setback to Iran. Russia, which had been Iran’s principal protector on the world stage, was furious with Tehran at having been taken by surprise.

It is harder to gauge the impact of sabotage. Olli Heinonen, the former chief inspector of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said: “I never saw any direct evidence of sabotage. We could see that they had breakages but it was hard to say if those were the result of their own technical problems or sabotage. I suspect a little of both.”

Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, the head of Iran’s atomic energy organisation, complained to the press in 2006 about sabotage but vowed that Iran would overcome the challenge by making more of the centrifuges and other components itself.

But it was impossible to make everything at home. The computer systems which run the centrifuge operations in Natanz, supplied by the German engineering firm Siemens, were targeted last year by a computer worm called Stuxnet, reportedly created as a joint venture by US and Israeli intelligence. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad conceded that Stuxnet had caused damage, and last November, Iranian scientists were forced to suspend enrichment to rectify the problem. A few days later, however, the centrifuges were working once more.

The black operations have not been confined to hardware and computer systems. They have also targeted Iran’s scientists. In July 2009, an Iranian nuclear expert called Shahram Amiri vanished while on a pilgrimage to Mecca. A year later, he surfaced in the US claiming he had been abducted by American agents, and in July 2010 he returned to a hero’s welcome in Tehran.

US officials said he had been a willing defector who had been paid $5m for his help, but who had since had a mysterious change of heart. There have since been claims Amiri had been an Iranian double agent all along. The truth is unclear.

Other attempts to remove Iran’s scientists have been blunter and bloodier.

Starting in January 2010, there were a series of attacks in Tehran on Iranian physicists with links to the nuclear programme. The first target was Masoud Ali Mohammadi, a physicist and lecturer at the Imam Hussein university, run by the Revolutionary Guards. He was on his way to work when a bomb fixed to a motorbike parked outside his house exploded and killed him instantly.

In November that year, assassins on motorbikes targeted two Iranian scientists simultaneously as they were stuck in morning traffic. In both cases, the killers drove up alongside their targets’ cars and stuck bombs to the side. Majid Shahriari, a scientist at the atomic energy organisation, who had co-authored a paper on neutron diffusion in a nuclear reactor, was killed.

The other target, Fereidoun Abbasi-Davani, suspected by western officials of being a central figure in experiments on building a nuclear warhead, was only injured. Three months later he was promoted to the leadership of the nuclear programme.

A third scientist, Darioush Rezaeinejad, was killed in an attack in July this year, when gunmen on motorbikes shot him in a street in east Tehran. He was initially described in the Iranian media as a “nuclear scientist”, but the government later denied he had any involvement in the programme.

Iran has blamed the attacks on the Israeli secret service, Mossad, and in August sentenced an Iranian, Majid Jamali-Fashi, to death for his alleged involvement in the Ali Mohammadi killing. He had confessed to being part of a hit-team trained in Israel, but it appeared likely he had made the confession under torture.

Despite the millions spent, stalled machines and deaths of leading scientists, Iran has steadily built up its stockpile of enriched uranium to 4.5 tonnes – enough for four nuclear bombs if it was further refined to weapons-grade purity. At most, the covert war has slowed the rate of progress, but it has not stopped it.


Graphene shows unusual thermoelectric response to light – MIT News Office.

 

Graphene shows unusual thermoelectric response to light

Finding could lead to new photodetectors or energy-harvesting devices.

Given the enormous scale of worldwide energy use, there are limited options for achieving significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

October 20, 2011

Photo: Len Rubenstein

Graphene, an exotic form of carbon consisting of sheets a single atom thick, exhibits a novel reaction to light, MIT researchers have found: Sparked by light’s energy, the material can produce electric current in unusual ways. The finding could lead to improvements in photodetectors and night-vision systems, and possibly to a new approach to generating electricity from sunlight.

This current-generating effect had been observed before, but researchers had incorrectly assumed it was due to a photovoltaic effect, says Pablo Jarillo-Herrero, an assistant professor of physics at MIT and senior author of a new paper published in the journal Science. The paper’s lead author is postdoc Nathaniel Gabor; co-authors include four MIT students, MIT physics professor Leonid Levitov and two researchers at the National Institute for Materials Science in Tsukuba, Japan.

Instead, the MIT researchers found that shining light on a sheet of graphene, treated so that it had two regions with different electrical properties, creates a temperature difference that, in turn, generates a current. Graphene heats inconsistently when illuminated by a laser, Jarillo-Herrero and his colleagues found: The material’s electrons, which carry current, are heated by the light, but the lattice of carbon nuclei that forms graphene’s backbone remains cool. It’s this difference in temperature within the material that produces the flow of electricity. This mechanism, dubbed a “hot-carrier” response, “is very unusual,” Jarillo-Herrero says.

Such differential heating has been observed before, but only under very special circumstances: either at ultralow temperatures (measured in thousandths of a degree above absolute zero), or when materials are blasted with intense energy from a high-power laser. This response in graphene, by contrast, occurs across a broad range of temperatures all the way up to room temperature, and with light no more intense than ordinary sunlight.

The reason for this unusual thermal response, Jarillo-Herrero says, is that graphene is, pound for pound, the strongest material known. In most materials, superheated electrons would transfer energy to the lattice around them. In the case of graphene, however, that’s exceedingly hard to do, since the material’s strength means it takes very high energy to vibrate its lattice of carbon nuclei — so very little of the electrons’ heat is transferred to that lattice.

Because this phenomenon is so new, Jarillo-Herrero says it is hard to know what its ultimate applications might be. “Our work is mostly fundamental physics,” he says, but adds that “many people believe that graphene could be used for a whole variety of applications.”

But there are already some suggestions, he says: Graphene “could be a good photodetector” because it produces current in a different way than other materials used to detect light. It also “can detect over a very wide energy range,” Jarillo-Herrero says. For example, it works very well in infrared light, which can be difficult for other detectors to handle. That could make it an important component of devices from night-vision systems to advanced detectors for new astronomical telescopes.

The new work suggests graphene could also find uses in detection of biologically important molecules, such as toxins, disease vectors or food contaminants, many of which give off infrared light when illuminated. And graphene, made of pure and abundant carbon, could be a much cheaper detector material than presently used semiconductors that often include rare, expensive elements.

The research also suggests graphene could be a very effective material for collecting solar energy, Jarillo-Herrero says, because it responds to a broad range of wavelengths; typical photovoltaic materials are limited to specific frequencies, or colors, of light. But more research will be needed, he says, adding, “It is still unclear if it could be used for efficient energy generation. It’s too early to tell.”

“This is the absolute infancy of graphene photodetectors,” Jarillo-Herrero says. “There are many factors that could make it better or faster,” which will now be the subject of further research.

Philip Kim, an associate professor of physics at Columbia University who was not involved in this research, says the work represents “extremely important progress toward optoelectric and energy-harvesting applications” based on graphene. He adds that because of this team’s work, “we now have better understanding of photo-generated hot electrons in graphene, excited by light.”

The research was supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, along with grants from the National Science Foundation and the Packard Foundation.

I do not share the optimism of the designer for being able to make this house for $300, in reality it will cost more than $500 or even closer to $900 but still it is a very good value for a house of this quality.

There are a few issues that the designer of this house did not think of, the first is that CEB is not water proof, if the house is not elevated, then the first 50cm of the walls needs to be sealed very well, either by using an alternative type of block or by using cement blocks.

But overal, this is an excellent idea, good starter to promote the awareness of possibilities using CEB in low cost housing in developing countries.

The CEB used in this design can be made using our open source CEB press machine:

https://www.engineeringforchange.org/discussion/view/91/1

 

via Geopolymer CEB House – $300 Challenge – Rebuild Haiti Better.

Final CEB House with Split Bamboo Screening – credits: Owen Geiger

 All Rights Reserved

















French giant Veolia cut down to size for abusing Palestinian rights

French giant Veolia cut down to size for abusing Palestinian rights

26 August 2011

France is refusing to address corporate complicity in the occupation of Palestine.

The French corporation Veolia once appeared unassailable; today it is ailing. It is faced not only with the global economic crisis but also the growing impact of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against its involvement with Israeli apartheid infrastructure and transport projects. A recent merger between Veolia’s transport division and a subsidiary of the main French state investment fund indicates French industry and government have united to find a simple solution to Veolia’s problems: let the taxpayers finance Veolia’s income losses — and its complicity with Israeli war crimes and human rights abuses against the Palestinian people.

On 4 August, Veolia management held a conference call with major financial analysts to defend the company’s latest figures. It wasn’t an easy task. Veolia’s management was forced to gloss over the terrible financial situation of the group that has forced it to draw up sharp cost reduction plans, initiate a complete restructuring of management, plan the pullout from more than forty countries and search for more investors to cover a high debt.

Veolia has lost more than 50 percent of its share value since March 2011, according to tear sheet data from The Financial Times (“Marketdata: Veolia Environnement Ve SA,” accessed 25 August 2011).

However, among the underlying financial data discussed — €67 million ($96 million) in net loss during the first half of this year; €15 billion ($21.6 billion) net debts; €250 million ($360 million) yearly cost reduction — one number did not come up: the massive financial damage the company has faced at the hands of the BDS movement. Since the beginning of the Palestinian-led campaign in 2005, Veolia has lost contracts worth more than €10 billion ($14 billion) following high profile campaigns.

Veolia’s chief financial officer Pierre-Antoine Riolacci had to admit that its municipal services are suffering a downturn in some countries “in particular with pressure on the downside, namely in the UK where things are rather difficult.”

Ignoring London loss

Surely the CFO had heard the news from across the English Channel the day before the conference call, where Veolia had failed to be selected for a £300 million ($493 million) contract by Ealing Council in London following a determined campaign by the local branch of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

The worldwide campaign against Veolia was initiated in response to the company’s five percent stake in the consortium that is constructing the light rail project that links West Jerusalem with illegal Israeli settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and the surrounding West Bank, thereby cementing Israeli colonization and creating the necessary infrastructure for its further expansion. Moreover, Veolia holds a thirty-year contract for the operation of its first line, due to open later this month. Veolia and its subsidiaries also operate bus services, waste management and a landfill all deep within the occupied West Bank, and all for the use of Israeli settlers. All of these projects contribute to war crimes, as defined by the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Refusal to withdraw from Israel

Despite its apparent desperation to reduce costs, Veolia has yet to implement the most effective cost reduction strategy it could: including Israel in the list of countries it plans to withdraw from. Rather than divesting from Israeli colonization of Palestinian land, Veolia is turning to the French state for financial assistance, involving public money in operations abetting Israeli war crimes.

This spring Veolia Transport merged with Transdev into a newly created company Veolia Transdev (“Veolia Transdev: Creation of the world’s leading private-sector company in sustainable mobility,” press statement, 3 March 2011).

Transdev was a subsidiary of the French Caisse des Dépôts (CDC), a public investment authority that manages public funds and is overseen by the French parliament. The CDC is now a 50 percent partner in the newly created Veolia Transdev transport company. According to Veolia’s Pierre-Antoine Riolacci, the entrance of Transdev intp the group has allowed Veolia to “cut back our debt by €159 million [$229 million].” The degree to which Veolia Transdev has come under the protection of the French state is evident in the fact that during the conference call, Veolia Transdev issues were directly dealt with by the CDC’s chief executive Jerome Gallot.

On its website, CDC boasts that it exists to “serve the general interest and the economic development” of France. But pumping French tax money into Veolia to make up for its financial troubles, thus allowing it to push forward projects that serve illegal Israeli population transfers into occupied Palestinian territory, is unlikely to help attain either goal. Moreover, the Jerusalem light rail project contradicts French government policy that East Jerusalem should be the capital of a future Palestinian state. Promoting the project in 2005, then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon stated, “This [light rail] should be done … to strengthen Jerusalem, construct it, expand it and sustain it for eternity as the capital of the Jewish people and the united capital of the state of Israel.”

Even before its partial ownership of Veolia Transdev, CDC was involved in the light rail project through its subsidiary Egis Rail, which won a contract in 2008 to assist with managing the project. The current role of Egis Rail is unclear.

Private companies have long been heavily involved in Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights, such as building and maintaining the illegal settlement infrastructure, and the wall built on Israeli-occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank. But by investing in Veolia, the French government is bucking a recent European trend of governments to start ensuring public enterprises and institutions are not complicit with Israeli violations of international law.

The German government recently responded to public pressure by taking steps to end the state-owned company Deutsche Bahn’s involvement in the construction of a train line from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv passing through the occupied West Bank. Explaining its intervention, the German transport ministry pointed to the “potentially illegal” nature of the project and the fact that it is inconsistent with government policy toward Israel and the Palestinians (“Letter from German government to Die Linke parliamentarian concerning A1 train project,” 10 May 2011). The German foreign ministry has admirably published an alert on its website warning German companies about the potential legal consequences of Israeli projects in the occupied West Bank (“West Bank, Economy”).

Precedents set by other European capitals

The Norwegian government took a precedent-setting step when it excluded Elbit Systems from its investment portfolio. Elbit is an Israeli arms company involved in the construction of Israel’s illegal wall in the West Bank. It subsequently also excluded Africa Israel and Danya Cebus, two companies which build illegal Israeli-only settlements in the West Bank (“Norwegian government pension fund excludes more Israeli companies,” 23 August 2010).

The British government also took a stand on the issue when, in 2009, the foreign ministry pulled out of a deal to rent office space for its embassy in a building owned by Lev Leviev, the Israeli diamond tycoon who owns Africa Israel and finances development of illegal settlements in the West Bank. The British government also withdrew export licenses to Israel from UK arms companies that provided the Israeli military with weapons or components that have been used during the winter 2008-09 attacks on the Gaza Strip (“Israel arms licenses revoked by Britain,” The Huffington Post, 13 July 2009).

In September 2009, the Spanish government excluded Ariel university from a state-sponsored architecture competition after having become aware that it was located in an illegal settlement.

The French government, however, has so far failed to take action to end such complicity. By doing so, France is not only undermining important precedents set by its allies. It also violates its obligations under international law and the voluntary commitments it has made regarding good governance and corporate social responsibility.

France must honor obligations

When the International Court of Justice ruled on the illegality of Israel’s apartheid wall and related infrastructure in the occupied West Bank, it also ruled that third party states are obliged not to aid or assist the maintenance of the unlawful situation created by Israel or infringements of the right to Palestinian self-determination. Two companies owned by the French state fund CDC — Veolia and Egis Rail — are involved with and profit from such unlawful acts. This calls France’s commitment to international law into question.

In June, the United Nations Human Rights Council approved its new Guiding Principles for the implementation of the Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework, designed to help states and businesses understand their duty to prevent corporate abuse of human rights and their obligations under international law (“Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ Framework,” 21 March 2011).

According to these principles, “states should take additional steps to protect against human rights abuses by business enterprises that are owned or controlled by the state … [including by] denying access to public support and services for a business enterprise that is involved with gross human rights abuses and refuses to cooperate in addressing the situation.”

Involvement in the light rail project also violates the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s guidelines on multinational companies. Considering that Paris is the seat of the OECD, this is particularly ironic (“OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises,” 2008 [PDF]).

The OECD guidelines call for companies to “respect the human rights of those affected by their activities consistent with the host government’s international obligations and commitments.” Israel’s settlements and associated infrastructure violate several key international law treaties, including the Fourth Geneva Convention, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, all of which have been ratified by Israel and France.

The French government has become a shareholder in Veolia in full knowledge of that company’s role in supporting Israeli occupation and colonization of Palestinian land. The principal victims of this French policy are the Palestinian people. However, this development should also be of concern to all those who believe in the importance of a functioning system of international law and the implementation of human rights standards. The French people, whose taxes have financed the Veolia Transdev merger, should be especially concerned.

It will be up to campaigners in France and all around the globe to stop governmental buy-ins to illegal operations of private or state enterprises. It will be their task to ensure that the Transdev deal will not be enough to shield Veolia from the impact of the BDS movement’s demand for accountability. The group is in financial trouble and its CFO has admitted that Veoila is losing municipal service contracts in cities and regions that have seen meticulous grassroots campaigning. In December, Veolia will present the full list of countries which it is leaving (“Veolia to leave 37 countries as loss spurs quicker revamp,” Bloomberg, 4 August 2011).

This might be another chance for the company to show that it has learned that failure to respect human rights and the Palestinians’ right to self-determination comes with a price.

Maren Mantovani is coordinator for international relations with Stop the Wall, the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign.

Michael Deas is Europe coordinator for the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC).