It’s Raining. It’s Pouring . . . and Snowing . . . Formaldehyde

By Andrea Silverthorne

Part 1

golden frog

Costa Rican Golden Frogs dying from Formaldehyde poisoning. Photo: Conservation International

In 1997, a news journalist organization, the Committee of Concern Journalists (CCJ), commences a study to establish written principles for their profession. Before deciding on the principles, the industry reviews its own history, conducts public meetings, and surveys their own members in order to crystallize the importance of their professional ethics and role in a free and democratic society. In 2001, the CCJ publishes the “Nine Principles of Journalism. The study and its outcome are later incorporated into the book The Elements of Journalism. It is the purpose of this effort on “Environmental Ethics,” to:

  • Analyze the industry’s own journalistic principles as they apply to the state of the industry’s present day environmental reporting. The subject chosen for evaluation is the “extinction risk” of the world’s vertebrates. Two stories by well known and respected media are selected for review, evaluation, and comparison as follows:
  • An October 27, 2010 story by CNN on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s, (IUCN), ‘Red List’ of endangered species. A statement on the ‘Red List was released to the public at the IUCN’s “Biodiversity Summit” in Nagoya, Japan, on the occasion of their 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
  • A May 25, 2009 story for the New Yorker magazine, written by award winning journalist, Elizabeth Kolbert entitled, “The Sixth Extinction?” detailing the escalating death of bats and frogs in recent decades.

Other stories written and reported on, not by the media’s reporters, but by atmospheric scientists, will be analyzed for the purpose of determining possible (“the truth not told”) relevance to the environmental reporting of the first two stories. These stories detail discovered revelations of rising levels of formaldehyde gas in our atmosphere and the behavior of those rising levels of atmospheric formaldehyde − in on-going gas exchanges between the atmosphere and snow. Similar studies witnessing the same exchange in water, rain and fog are included.

Story Content

The CNN extinction story appears on air — and on their Internet site; it paraphrases the contents of a press release of the IUCN, a United Nations related organization that roots back to 1948, and is headquartered in Geneva Switzerland. The head of its governing body has a former association with the United Nations.

CNN’s story is seven hundred and fifty words long. It announces the beginning of the IUCN’s two week conference on biodiversity in Nagoya, Japan. The press release the wire staff uses is much longer. There are no inaccuracies in the CNN account of the release; it does not deviate from the press release content, but it is a truncated version of a revealing study.

Extinction, the small CNN story says, can be attributed to “invasion” and the effects of “agriculture.” Invasion is better defined by the IUCN as invasion of alien species into a natural habitat, but like the CNN story, it also goes into no detail on just how precisely agriculture and alien invasion is rendering specific species extinct, or what they are dying from. To the side of the CNN story highlighted in blue are the main points of the story itself: the number of species threatened is rising; conservation efforts help reduce the rate of extinction; and amphibians are the most threatened species. In the body of the story the cable network does state the remarkable fact that forty-one percent of amphibians are threatened, and that data from over twenty-five thousand species was used for the study.

The CNN Internet reportage on the news of the conference also provides a link to a more comprehensive, earlier story of October 18, under CNN’s Matthew Knight’s by line. In addition to the facts featured in the October 27 story, Knight’s efforts fills us in on the ten years of failure of the countries agreeing to the previous 2002, ten year plan. They all fail to meet their promised efforts to sustain biodiversity within their borders.

Matthew Knight explains the Convention on Biological Diversity is binding on one hundred and ninety three nations. Matthew Knight fails to mention the United States is not bound to the Treaty; it was signed but has never been ratified. The U.S. is the only country who signs the original Treaty and does not go on to ratify it. Canada, Great Britain and many other western nations do ratify the Treaty.

Knight uses strong visual words such as “alarming and “tipping point,” and he tells us the goals of the conference are a new agreement for the next ten years focusing on: conservation; sustainable use of the world’s biodiversity; the finalization of a protocol for sharing the world’s resources between the haves and the have nots; and the rights of indigenous people. There is to be a monitoring body established. Success depends — according to Knight’s discussion with interested groups — on political will and the monetary contributions of privileged countries. CNN does not mention climate change as a responsible cause of extinction; the IUNC site does, although it is not in the ‘Red List” press release used by CNN.

There are also discrepancies in the IUNC’s press release quote of a figure of twenty percent, to denote the number of world species under threat, and the information on its own site. The information on the site explains that of the over fifty-five thousand species looked at over twenty three thousand are under threat to different degrees, including over eight hundred and fifty specifies that have gone extinct during the period. The site tells you that of the species looked at, they excluded well over eight thousand of them, because there is not enough available data to ascertain any threat or non treat to them; therefore, of the new sum of the species the group studied and found enough data for evaluation on, almost forty-two percent of them were found to be under some threat of extinction, not twenty percent. The iucnrelist.org site has other revealing and alarming facts not featured in either the CNN, October 27th story or their October 18th story:

  • Species that live on land decline by forty percent just between the years 1970 to 2000.
  • When it comes to species that live in fresh water, the numbers were higher; fifty percent of species in this habitat decline.
  • Fish in the northern part of the Atlantic Ocean have declined sixty-six percent in the past fifty years.
  • Twenty-two percent of mammals now range from the vulnerable to the already extinct
  • The Caribbean, which had extensive hard cover coral on fifty percent of its sea bottom, is down to ten percent in just the past three decades alone.
  • The ‘Red List’ documents seventy percent of the world’s coral reefs are endanger of obliteration.
  • And in the past ten years alone sixty million hectares of forest and thirty-five of mangroves have disappeared off the face of the earth.

Elizabeth Kolbert, a staff reporter for the New Yorker magazine began reporting on the environment ten years ago. She has also written a book expanded from a series done for her magazine called Field Notes From a Catastrophe. In a review of the book by journalist Marguerite Holloway in Scientific American magazine, Holloway describes Kolbert’s writing on the environment as “pithy and powerful. The possibility that she may impact public opinion on environmental threats to the extent that Rachel Carson did in the 1960’s has been raised.

In May of 2009, New Yorker magazine publishes “The Sixth Extinction?,” Kolbert’s account of the mysterious deaths of frogs and bats. Her chronicle begins with the advent of the last decade of the twentieth century in the rain forests of Costa Rica’s Talamanca Mountains.

Graduate student Karen Lips spends two years studying the area’s Golden Frog; she leaves to write her dissertation; she returns but four months later. Repeat: She returns but four months later. The frogs have all but disappeared. Kolbert says Lips sent the dead frogs she could find to a U.S. pathologist, who could not find a cause of death. The Kolbert tale does not include a tale of fungus at this point; neither the pathologist nor the graduate student, speak of finding or noticing any fungal growth on the frogs’ bodies.

Kolbert’s yarn now turns to one of carnage. Karen Lips returns just several years later at the end of the twentieth century, to continue her study of frogs. This time she selects a site in western Panama with a thriving, healthy frog population. Soon, Kolbert relates, before Lips’s eyes, the story of dead and dying frogs begins anew. They are everywhere. Again, Kolbert says Lips sends frogs to a pathologist in the United States, a different one than her first selection, but the second pathologist is also stumped; he can not find a cause of death, and no mention of fungus yet appears in Kolbert’s account of what is recognizable as a horror story.

Pausing after her succinct introduction to frog extinction, Kolbert digresses to the subject of past extinctions. She covers the notable theorists and naturalists from Thomas Jefferson, who thought that the concept of extinction was not valid— to Georges Cuvier, who first wrote of the theory of mass and sudden extinctions — through Charles Darwin, who disagreed with Cuvier and proposed that extinctions were a slow process — and then she covers modern day theorists who have proven Darwin wrong: There have been twenty mass extinctions, she learns from her research, including five cataleptic events, swiftly wiping out more than seventy-five percent of species.

Kolbert begins her story in the town of El Valle, Panama with a tale of the local folklore of their Golden Frog, and midway through her story on frogs she returns there, in person, to interview Edgardo Griffith, a herpetologist, who has established a frog conservation center to protect the frogs from their natural, remote and pristine habitat. The wave of horror hits the twenty-first century like a tsunami, moving to the east, Kolbert explains, while accompanying Griffith on a frog collecting mission in the environs of El Valle, and she learns that part of the alarm among scientists over the swift extinction of frogs lies in the fact: Frogs have been around for four hundred million years, and for two hundred and fifty million years they have pretty much looked the way they do today. Frogs pre-existed the now extinct dinosaurs; they are survivors. The problem is no longer confined to Central America; it is happening in the United States and all around the world. The problems range from drastic declines to complete extinction, in a matter of a few years. And what really has scientists scratching their heads, Kolbert says, is the fact that while remote pristine habitats are being decimated, there are habitats disturbed by man where the frogs are not under any stress at all. These facts raise peer arguments and the extinction debate rages on, and then − frogs in a zoo in Washington D.C. Die.

This juncture in the story provokes another digression on the part of Elizabeth Kolbert to extinction theory. She puts forth the argument, without attribution for the source of the information: the ‘sixth extinction’ that we are now facing, and the current oddities of frog deaths, may have started fifty thousand years ago in Australia; large animals species, not the small ones, had a problem that “roughly” originated about the same time the land mass hosted the arrival of human beings, eleven thousand years ago. North America’s mammals also go extinct coincident with man’s arrival, and there are other extinctions worldwide that occur approximately coincident with man’s appearance too. Kolbert does not correlate that what is happening now is the reverse: Frogs in remote places not inhabited by man are dying. She does introduce the scientist’s decision on the cause of death for the frogs; it is a fungus, the Chytrid fungus which was isolated by pathologists examining the dead frogs from the D.C. zoo. Generally, the fungus feeds off of dead matter, but the fungus was introduced to frogs in the same zoo where the others had died, and the new frogs were dead in three weeks; however, she says, frogs in other environments, tested similarly, were unaffected by it.

Kolbert tells us an Australian scientist got applause when he found the virus has existed as far back as the nineteen thirties; he discovered it was spread by doctors importing them for pregnancy tests: frogs were widely affected and suffered no ill effects. The mystery deepens.

Yet again, Kolbert digresses to extinction theory this time to the hot debate over the end-Permian extinction: Was is or was it not a meteor? When Kolbert ends her discussions on this argument she returns to her story, but this time she is in the Northeast United States, and it is the rack and ruin of bats she is reporting on. It began in 2007 with small reports of bats behaving strangely in winter; when they should be hibernating; they were flying out of caves and dying, she says, and the next year, 2008, in some colonies, the debacle of death reached ninety-seven percent.

Kolbert quotes the recollections of Al Hicks, a biologist, remembering a phone call he received from colleagues visiting a bat cave: “They said, Holy shit, there dead bats everywhere!”

The dead and dying bats have white fuzz on their noses and sometimes on their wing and ear tips. The scientists, Kolbert says, decide: It is a fungus never identified before that is killing the bats, however, she also reveals that the scientist do not know how the fungus is killing the bats, and with scientists at a loss for an explanation, Kolbert returns for one last time to the extinction theory of scientists. This time she interviews Andrew Knoll a paleontologist from Harvard. She gets more extinction theory and a bottom line out of this respected scientist:” . . . its time to worry when the rate of change is fast.”

Kolbert ends her story with a trip to Vermont’s Aeolus Cave with more scientists: “The scene, in the dimness, was horrific,” Kolbert says about this cave that has been hibernation haunt of bats for twelve thousand years, ever since the last ice age. Dead bats and malingering bats, at deaths door, are everywhere and Kolbert concludes: “It struck me, as I stood there holding a bag filled with several dozen stiff, almost weightless bats, that I was watching mass extinction in action.”

News Ethic Analysis

The concept of a community and its moral character is integral to ethical concepts and norms. The press of a free nation not only serves its communities, it has developed into its own professional community. Notably the press community, unlike other collective, commercial, or corporate endeavors, has developed its own view of its role, relationship, and duties to the outside community it serves − its country’s citizens. And the press, through its CCJ membership, has constructed its ethics in normative, written terms. The press holds itself in high regard and the public, despite frequent griping and venting of concerns over the press’s efforts or non efforts, as the case may be, holds the principle of free speech — and the communal concept of a free press that the media embodies as its vehicle — next to holy.

In today’s world of escalating and complex technology, the major ethical issue and the questions the press must address become: Are they up to the challenge of evaluating technical information and press releases under their own “Nine Principles of Journalism,” and more importantly are they even trying to do so? If they do not, or can not, are they and their self perceived role still relevant to the community they serve? Is the public in jeopardy because of the press’s inability or refusal to do more than read press releases of a technical nature?

The dedication of environmental reporter Elizabeth Kolbert to the United States community that reads her highly respected magazine, coast to coast, is not in question. She raises peoples’ awareness of their environmental jeopardy; she is doing a great job; her voice resonates with concern; however, the following recent, November 19 comment Kolbert made in an interview with Jen Jung of the gothamist.com blog site is perturbing:

You have people out there who have millions and millions of reams of what they call facts and they spin this kind of web of half-truths and misinterpreted truths and lies, and it’s very difficult for a lay person to go through them. So I try to leave that kind of thing to the scientific community, who are really steeped in scientific literature. But just having one of these kinds of arguments, unfortunately, people like me and you and those of us who feel like this is really a big problem that we are criminally negligent in not addressing, have kind of lost that public debate right now. And that’s really scary I think, to be honest.” That’s the word I would use, not just depressing but downright scary. There happens to be one side, on the scientific front, that’s just unassailable.

Continue to part 2 For a list of Sources click here

D.E.A., the Intelligence Agency

Cables Portray Expanded Reach of Drug Agency

NYT

The Drug Enforcement Administration has been transformed into a global intelligence organization with a reach that extends far beyond narcotics, and an eavesdropping operation so expansive it has to fend off foreign politicians who want to use it against their political enemies, according to secret diplomatic cables.

In far greater detail than previously seen, the cables, from the cache obtained by WikiLeaks and made available to some news organizations, offer glimpses of drug agents balancing diplomacy and law enforcement in places where it can be hard to tell the politicians from the traffickers, and where drug rings are themselves mini-states whose wealth and violence permit them to run roughshod over struggling governments.

Diplomats recorded unforgettable vignettes from the largely unseen war on drugs:

In Panama, an urgent BlackBerry message from the president to the American ambassador demanded that the D.E.A. go after his political enemies: “I need help with tapping phones.”

In Sierra Leone, a major cocaine-trafficking prosecution was almost upended by the attorney general’s attempt to solicit $2.5 million in bribes.

In Guinea, the country’s biggest narcotics kingpin turned out to be the president’s son, and diplomats discovered that before the police destroyed a huge narcotics seizure, the drugs had been replaced by flour.

Leaders of Mexico’s beleaguered military issued private pleas for closer collaboration with the drug agency, confessing that they had little faith in their own country’s police forces.

Cables from Myanmar, the target of strict United States sanctions, describe the drug agency informants’ reporting both on how the military junta enriches itself with drug money and on the political activities of the junta’s opponents.

Officials of the D.E.A. and the State Department declined to discuss what they said was information that should never have been made public.

Like many of the cables made public in recent weeks, those describing the drug war do not offer large disclosures. Rather, it is the details that add up to a clearer picture of the corrupting influence of big traffickers, the tricky game of figuring out which foreign officials are actually controlled by drug lords, and the story of how an entrepreneurial agency operating in the shadows of the F.B.I. has become something more than a drug agency. The D.E.A. now has 87 offices in 63 countries and close partnerships with governments that keep the Central Intelligence Agency at arm’s length.

Because of the ubiquity of the drug scourge, today’s D.E.A. has access to foreign governments, including those, like Nicaragua’s and Venezuela’s, that have strained diplomatic relations with the United States. Many are eager to take advantage of the agency’s drug detection and wiretapping technologies.

In some countries, the collaboration appears to work well, with the drug agency providing intelligence that has helped bring down traffickers, and even entire cartels. But the victories can come at a high price, according to the cables, which describe scores of D.E.A. informants and a handful of agents who have been killed in Mexico and Afghanistan.

In Venezuela, the local intelligence service turned the tables on the D.E.A., infiltrating its operations, sabotaging equipment and hiring a computer hacker to intercept American Embassy e-mails, the cables report.

And as the drug agency has expanded its eavesdropping operations to keep up with cartels, it has faced repeated pressure to redirect its counternarcotics surveillance to local concerns, provoking tensions with some of Washington’s closest allies.

Sticky Situations

Cables written in February by American diplomats in Paraguay, for example, described the D.E.A.’s pushing back against requests from that country’s government to help spy on an insurgent group, known as the Paraguayan People’s Army, or the EPP, the initials of its name in Spanish. The leftist group, suspected of having ties to the Colombian rebel group FARC, had conducted several high-profile kidnappings and was making a small fortune in ransoms.

When American diplomats refused to give Paraguay access to the drug agency’s wiretapping system, Interior Minister Rafael Filizzola threatened to shut it down, saying: “Counternarcotics are important, but won’t topple our government. The EPP could.”

The D.E.A. faced even more intense pressure last year from Panama, whose right-leaning president, Ricardo Martinelli, demanded that the agency allow him to use its wiretapping program — known as Matador — to spy on leftist political enemies he believed were plotting to kill him.

The United States, according to the cables, worried that Mr. Martinelli, a supermarket magnate, “made no distinction between legitimate security targets and political enemies,” refused, igniting tensions that went on for months.

Mr. Martinelli, who the cables said possessed a “penchant for bullying and blackmail,” retaliated by proposing a law that would have ended the D.E.A.’s work with specially vetted police units. Then he tried to subvert the drug agency’s control over the program by assigning nonvetted officers to the counternarcotics unit.

And when the United States pushed back against those attempts — moving the Matador system into the offices of the politically independent attorney general — Mr. Martinelli threatened to expel the drug agency from the country altogether, saying other countries, like Israel, would be happy to comply with his intelligence requests.

Eventually, according to the cables, American diplomats began wondering about Mr. Martinelli’s motivations. Did he really want the D.E.A. to disrupt plots by his adversaries, or was he trying to keep the agency from learning about corruption among his relatives and friends?

One cable asserted that Mr. Martinelli’s cousin helped smuggle tens of millions of dollars in drug proceeds through Panama’s main airport every month. Another noted, “There is no reason to believe there will be fewer acts of corruption in this government than in any past government.”

As the standoff continued, the cables indicate that the United States proposed suspending the Matador program, rather than submitting to Mr. Martinelli’s demands. (American officials say the program was suspended, but the British took over the wiretapping program and have shared the intelligence with the United States.)

In a statement on Saturday, the government of Panama said that it regretted “the bad interpretation by United States authorities of a request for help made to directly confront crime and drug trafficking.” It said that Panama would continue its efforts to stop organized crime and emphasized that Panama continued to have “excellent relations with the United States.”

Meanwhile in Paraguay, according to the cables, the United States acquiesced, agreeing to allow the authorities there to use D.E.A. wiretaps for antikidnapping investigations, as long as they were approved by Paraguay’s Supreme Court.

“We have carefully navigated this very sensitive and politically sticky situation,” one cable said. “It appears that we have no other viable choice.”

A Larger Mandate

Created in 1973, the D.E.A. has steadily built its international turf, an expansion primarily driven by the multinational nature of the drug trade, but also by forces within the agency seeking a larger mandate. Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, the agency’s leaders have cited what they describe as an expanding nexus between drugs and terrorism in further building its overseas presence.

In Afghanistan, for example, “DEA officials have become convinced that ‘no daylight’ exists between drug traffickers at the highest level and Taliban insurgents,” Karen Tandy, then the agency’s administrator, told European Union officials in a 2007 briefing, according to a cable from Brussels.

Ms. Tandy described an agency informant’s recording of a meeting in Nangarhar Province between 9 Taliban members and 11 drug traffickers to coordinate their financial support for the insurgency, and she said the agency was trying to put a “security belt” around Afghanistan to block the import of chemicals for heroin processing. The agency was embedding its officers in military units around Afghanistan, she said. In 2007 alone, the D.E.A. opened new bureaus in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, as well as in three Mexican cities.

Cables describe lengthy negotiations over the extradition to the United States of the two notorious arms dealers wanted by the D.E.A. as it reached beyond pure counternarcotics cases: Monzer al-Kassar, a Syrian arrested in Spain, and Viktor Bout, a Russian arrested in Thailand. Both men were charged with agreeing to illegal arms sales to informants posing as weapons buyers for Colombian rebels. Notably, neither man was charged with violating narcotics laws.

Late last year in a D.E.A. case, three men from Mali accused of plotting to transport tons of cocaine across northwest Africa were charged under a narco-terrorism statute added to the law in 2006, and they were linked to both Al Qaeda and its North African affiliate, called Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

The men themselves had claimed the terrorism link, according to the D.E.A., though officials told The New York Times that they had no independent corroboration of the Qaeda connections. Experts on the desert regions of North Africa, long a route for smuggling between Africa and Europe, are divided about whether Al Qaeda operatives play a significant role in the drug trade, and some skeptics note that adding “terrorism” to any case can draw additional investigative resources and impress a jury.

New Routes for Graft

Most times, however, the agency’s expansion seems driven more by external forces than internal ones, with traffickers opening new routes to accommodate new markets. As Mexican cartels take control of drug shipments from South America to the United States, Colombian cartels have begun moving cocaine through West Africa to Europe.

The cables offer a portrait of the staggering effect on Mali, whose deserts have been littered with abandoned airplanes — including at least one Boeing 727 — and Ghana, where traffickers easily smuggle drugs through an airport’s “VVIP (Very Very Important Person) lounge.”

Top-to-bottom corruption in many West African countries made it hard for diplomats to know whom to trust. In one 2008 case in Sierra Leone, President Ernest Bai Koroma moved to prosecute and extradite three South American traffickers seized with about 1,500 pounds of cocaine, while his attorney general was accused of offering to release them for $2.5 million in bribes.

In Nigeria, the D.E.A. reported a couple of years earlier that diplomats at the Liberian Embassy were using official vehicles to transport drugs across the border because they were not getting paid by their war-torn government and “had to fend for themselves.”

A May 2008 cable from Guinea described a kind of heart-to-heart conversation about the drug trade between the American ambassador, Phillip Carter III, and Guinea’s prime minister, Lansana Kouyaté. At one point, the cable said, Mr. Kouyaté “visibly slumped in his chair” and acknowledged that Guinea’s most powerful drug trafficker was Ousmane Conté, the son of Lansana Conté, then the president. (After the death of his father, Mr. Conté went to prison.)

A few days later, diplomats reported evidence that the corruption ran much deeper inside the Guinean government than the president’s son. In a colorfully written cable — with chapters titled “Excuses, Excuses, Excuses” and “Theatrical Production” — diplomats described attending what was billed as a drug bonfire that had been staged by the Guinean government to demonstrate its commitment to combating the drug trade.

Senior Guinean officials, including the country’s drug czar, the chief of police and the justice minister, watched as officers set fire to what the government claimed was about 350 pounds of marijuana and 860 pounds of cocaine, valued at $6.5 million.

In reality, American diplomats wrote, the whole incineration was a sham. Informants had previously told the embassy that Guinean authorities replaced the cocaine with manioc flour, proving, the diplomats wrote, “that narco-corruption has contaminated” the government of Guinea “at the highest levels.”

And it did not take the D.E.A.’s sophisticated intelligence techniques to figure out the truth. The cable reported that even the ambassador’s driver sniffed out a hoax.

“I know the smell of burning marijuana,” the driver said. “And I didn’t smell anything.”

Mossad in South America

By WAYNE MADSEN | WMR | JUNE 2, 2010

“N”, a correspondent from an Iranian media agency, whom I met in the association of foreign journalists in Caracas, told me that he Israeli Mossadused to work in Buenos Aires for some time. Things were going well, N’s employer was satisfied with the job he did, and he planned to spend a few more years in Argentine, but eventually had to change his plans. After a while “N” noticed that he was under surveillance and that his mail regularly got stolen. Uninvited guests started to frequent his office. He talked to the local police and counterintelligence service, but both replied they had nothing to do with the problem. They did mention to “N” cautiously that he was in the sphere of interests of «the Zionists». He told me: «The people in my agency in Tehran knew that Iranian citizens often encounter such problems and concluded that the Mossad was planning a provocation against me. This is why I relocated to Venezuela. It is a country friendly to Iran, one enjoys a certain level of security guarantees here and can expect to be protected in case of need».

I had a similar conversation with “F”, a journalist from Syria. He told me frankly that he preferred to stay on the alert even in Venezuela because the Israeli intelligence service watches over all Syrians working in Latin America and often attempts to compromise them. Like most of his countrymen, “F” believes that hostile acts by the Mossad — drugs put in his pocket, allegations of links to Arab terrorists, the emergence of «documentary evidence» of connections to Colombian guerrillas — are likely. “F” said: «I am ready to face whatever happens. I’m not paranoid, I just look at things realistically. I even obtained a gun permit» and showed me a gun he wore under his jacket.

The Mossads’s objectives are listed on its official web site. They include secret collection of operative, political, and strategic information abroad, termination of terrorist activity targeting Israeli and other Jewish installations, prevention of development or acquisition of nuclear weapons by countries hostile to Israel, and covert operations abroad. The January, 2010 killing by the Mossad of the leader of the the paramilitary wing of Hamas Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel gives an idea of what the term «covert operations abroad» refers to.

A Mossad hit squad of 11 agents disguised as tourists blocked the corridor leading to the hotel room where al-Mabhouh stayed. Then the Israeli hitmen got inside, electroshocked and strangulated the man. In several hours the Mossad agents left the Emirates with fake British, Canadian, Irish, and Australian passports.

The demonstrative character of the act was supposed to highlight the Mossad’s capability to score with the enemies of Israel in any part of the world. The operation drew extensive coverage in Latin American media, most of which published the photos of the Mossad agents and, of course, that of their chief – the 64 year old Meir Dagan who has long deserved the nickname of «a man with a knife between his teeth». Among other operations, hundreds of killings of Iranian and Iraqi scientists who were involved in military-related research and were regarded as potentially dangerous to Israel are tracked to Dagan.

According to ALAI (Latin America Information Agency), the Mossad is using at least 40 Israeli companies (as well as embassies and other official institutions of the state of Israel) as fronts for its activity. The total number of the Mossad operatives in Latin America is not greater than 100-110, but an extensive network of agents and the cooperation with Jewish organizations and communities ensure the Mossad’s presence across Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Mossad’s interests gravitate to the regions south of the Rio Grande which are densely populated by Arab immigrants. The Mossad analysts believe that the epicenter of the potential «Muslim terrorism» in Latin America is located in the Zone of Three Borders between Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil. Venezuela’s Isla Margarita, a place where Lebanese and Syrian immigrants hunting for pearls started to settle down in the early XX century, is viewed similarly. When a free trade zone was opened on Margarita Island, the Arab populations switched to selling shoes, textile, and bijouterie. The Venezuelan government was a number of times forced to disprove allegations that Chavez hosts Muslim terrorists. In reality, Margarita is a small island where more or less everybody knows everybody else and no secret activity — least the operation of Hezbollah training camps — is possible.

Over the years of spying on the above «terrorist centers» Mossad never discovered the networks that could present a threat to Israel. Nevertheless, the Mossad’s efforts were not wasted, at least since the Israeli «reliable» data were invariably used by Washington in planning its struggle against terrorism in Latin America. This is the mechanism of ideological support for the establishment of increasing numbers of US military bases on the continent in the proximity of the Latin American countries with «populist» regimes.

In many cases, Israeli intelligence operatives are involved in legal arms trade business which they use to gain connections in local military circles and security services.

The Mossad also uses affiliated companies to advise its Latin American colleagues on fighting terrorism, «leftist extremism», guerrilla groups and their support networks, as well as to help intelligence services modernize their technical base. A company most often mentioned in the context is Israel’s Global CST, whose CEOs are retired high-ranking Mossad operatives. In July, 2009 the Peruvian government hired the company to help reorganize the country’s intelligence community in order to boost the efficiency of its struggle against «subversive and terrorist organizations» including the re-emerging Sendero Luminoso Maoist group. Global CST is also helping the Peruvian government create a joint system of control over mobile communications, Internet, and other communications media.

Global CST has grown notably more active in Colombia. The Israeli company familiarizes the country’s military intelligence and political police (DAS) officers with new techniques in the spheres of anti-terrorist activity and espionage. Over recent years, Columbia’s intelligence services have been increasingly assertive outside the country, evidently imitating the modus operandi of their CIA and Mossad peers. Columbia maintains intelligence networks in Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, and other Latin American countries. The FARC and ELN envoys are finding themselves under permanent surveillance, routinely kidnapped and sometimes — assassinated.

International Security Agency (ISA) mainly staffed by former Israeli special forces officers and intelligence operatives is also active in Latin America. The agency (in tight cooperation with the CIA and the Mossad) took part in the coup that displaced M. Zelaya, the legitimate President of Honduras. Currently ISA specialists are working in the security service of the current President of Honduras P. Lobo, who was propelled to presidency as the result of an imitation of free elections like those Washington realized in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There is a consensus among experts that the Mossad’s number one adversary and target in Latin America is Hugo Chavez, the political leader condemning Israel’s attempts to resolve conflicts in the Middle East by force. Chavez suspended Venezuela’s diplomatic relations with Israel in August, 2006, following the Israeli aggression against Lebanon. At that time Israeli Ambassador Shlomo Cohen and the embassy staff (mostly Mossad operatives) left Caracas. In several months Chavez took steps to normalize the relations with Israel, largely in response to the requests made by Venezuela’s 12,000 Jewish community.

The diplomatic relations between Venezuela and Israel were severed again in January, 2009 when the former protested the crimes committed by the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip, where the Israeli operation resulted in the killing of over 1,000 Palestinians, a third of them — children. In a televised address, Chavez criticized Israel as a country guilty of genocide and inhumane persecution of Palestinians. Not surprisingly, Israel’s reaction was negative. In November, 2009 Shimon Peres addressed a thinly veiled threat to Chavez by saying that «Chavez will soon disappear». The Venezuelan leader remarked that Perez had to undertake a long journey to Latin America to say the words and wondered publicly what would have happened if similar words were said about Peres in Venezuela.

TV commentator and former Venezuelan Vice President José Vicente Rangel often warns in his TV show that the Mossad is planning to assassinate Chavez. Agents with the corresponding qualifications were sent to Columbia, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Panama, and Curacao Island. In Rangel’s view, the greatest threat emanates from Colombia as DAS — instigated by the CIA — already conspired quite a few times to kill Chavez. Alarming comments were also made by US journalist Eva Hollinger who is a renown expert in operations against Venezuela. Author of CIA in Venezuela Hose Sant Ross calls the Venezuelan authorities to be mindful of the Mossad’s operations in the country.

As a rule, the efforts of Venezuelan security services to identify the Mossad agents echo with carefully orchestrated protests staged by the country’s Jewish community and with «solidarity» campaigns across Latin America. Media synchronously respond by charging Chavez with antisemitism and collusion with Muslim extremism.

Actually, the theme of antisemitism recurs due to a range of causes, for example whenever the Venezuelan government takes measures to scrutinize the country’s financial sphere. For decades, there used to be a number of jewelry stores in La Francia building in downtown Caracas, not far from the Venezuelan Foreign ministry, where gold and jewelry were bought and sold with practically no fiscal control. The administration’s attempts to make the business take legal shape and to subject the accounting documents of the stores to the long-overdue audit were condemned by the opposition media as persecution of Jewish businessmen. Nevertheless, the announcement of the coming audit had an explosive effect: in a matter of hours La Francia building was completely abandoned. The most valuable stuff was evacuated secretly at night.

Venezuelan counterintelligence agents watched the process from a distance, occasionally taking pictures. They did not expect to learn anything new — it was known that the Mossad used La Francia to carry out its financial transactions.