Daily Archives: 14/03/2011

( Early this morning, Internet group Anonymous, an online forum that has of late sought to position itself as a political force of hackers and whistleblowers, released a series of emails leaked by a former Bank of America employee. In a statement to Anonymous, the former loan processor alleged that there is a conspiracy within the banking institution of coordinating efforts to artificially inflate premiums on certain types of insurance. He said that he had emails to prove it; this morning’s leak was the first of those emails.

The alleged conspiracy involves “forced-place insurance,” by which banks offering home loans force uninsured homeowners to adopt home insurance policies as part of qualifying for a loan. The former employee behind the leak says that because banks both hold the loans and own the forced-place insurance companies, they’re free to charge astronomical premiums.

The emails, however, don’t seem to be quite the smoking gun they were advertised to be. They depict an approved request from an employee at Balboa Insurance, a subsidiary of Bank of America, to remove identification numbers from a series of insurance policy documents that were evidently sent to policyholders in error. The last email from anyone at Balboa questions the practice, as Jason Vaughn, a middle manager in one of Balboa’s Arizona’s offices, says that mismatched documents could be a “red flag” for auditors.

So, essentially the emails demonstrate a request to conceal an error from insurance policyholders. This certainly may be unethical, and may even be criminal fraud — though to what end the Balboa employees sought to do so is unclear, as is whether the practice was actually executed in light of the concerns brought up by Vaughn. But it also appears on the surface to have little connection with the larger claims made by the anonymous leaker, whose grievances range from vague (“They took everything from me.”) to oddly specific (for example, he claims that his employers spilled soil on his American flag when they were packing up his belongings after he was fired).

The person behind the leaks does say that there are more to come, so time will tell if there is substantive evidence for the allegations of fraud and conspiracy.

The Huffington Post has a succinct explanation of forced-place insurance, while the New York Times’ Dealbook has a clear detailing of all the allegations. Business Insider is critical of the hype over the emails and says that Bank of America’s explanation is likely the correct one. The blog Public Intelligence has the full text of the internal emails. A site started by Anonymous,, originally posted the emails as well as a statement from the leaker and correspondence between him and Anonymous moderators, but the site has been down most of today due to heavy traffic.

By Kyle Daly


( A member of the activist collective Anonymous is claiming to be have emails and documents which prove “fraud” was committed by Bank of America employees, and the group says it’ll release them on Monday. The member, who goes by the Twitter handle OperationLeakS, has already posted an internal email from the formerly Bank of America-owned Balboa Insurance Company.

Anonymous to Leak Bank of America Documents MondayThe email is between Balboa Insurance vice president Peggy Johnson and other Balboa employees. (Click right to enlarge.) As far as we can tell, it doesn’t show anything suspicious, but was posted by OperationLeaks as a teaser. He also posted emails he claims are from the disgruntled employee who sent him the material. In one, the employee says he can “send you a copy of the certified letter sent to me by an AVP of BofA’s [HR department] telling me I am banned from stepping foot on BofA property or contacting their employee ever again.”

OperationLeaks, which runs the anti-Bank of America site, says the employee contacted the group to blow the whistle on Bank of America’s shady business practices. “I seen some of the emails… I can tell you Grade A Fraud in its purest form…” read one tweet. “He Just told me he have GMAC emails showing BoA order to mix loan numbers to not match it’s Documents.. to foreclose on Americans.. Shame.”

An Anonymous insider told us he believes the leak is real. “From what I know and have been told, it’s legit,” he said. “Should be a round of emails, then some files, possible some more emails to follow that.” The documents should be released Monday on, the same site where Anonymous posted thousands of internal emails from hacked security company HBGary last month. That leak exposed a legally-questionable plot to attack Wikileaks and ultimately led to the resignation of HBGary CEO Aaron Barr.

There are lots of reasons to be skeptical about this latest supposed leak. For now, it’s a guy who hates Bank of America and posted a single internal Balboa email and some seriously outrageous claims to Twitter. (When emailed for comment he posted our email to Twitter with “Fuck you, Gawker.”) It’s unclear what he’s actually got. And the whole incident echoes the time Wikileaks claimed to have its own Bank of America bombshell leak, which turned out to be a dud.

But those we’ve spoken to in Anonymous are convinced there’s something to this. Anonymous has a proven track record with leaks, and Bank of America has been in their crosshairs since they cut off payments to Wikileaks in December. If it’s real, it could be big. Keep your eye on It should hit Monday.

Update: The leak will drop at 12:00am on Monday morning. According to Reuters, a Bank of America spokesman has confirmed the existence of a leak, saying it consists of “non-foreclosure related clerical and administrative documents stolen by a former Balboa Insurance employee.” The spokesman told Reuters, “We are confident that his extravagant assertions are untrue.”

by Adrian Chen


In this acclaimed documentary from the co-editor of Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media, 40 corporate insiders and critics — including Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, No Logo author Naomi Klein and Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman — explore the nature and spectacular rise of the most pervasive institution of our time. Combining analysis with footage and advertising, television news and industrial films, The Corporation is an entertaining and provocative look at the inner workings, curious history, controversial impacts and possible futures of the modern global conglomerate.

via brokendave/youtube

( Amnesty International has today condemned the violent dispersal of a peaceful opposition rally in the capital Baku that saw more than 100 reportedly detained and protesters punched and kicked by police.

About 300 people had gathered in Baku’s Fountain Square for a rally held by the Musavat opposition party. Several people were also detained on their way to the event by the police.

“There is no justification for the heavy-handed tactics to be used against obviously peaceful protestors,” said Natalia Nozadze, Amnesty International’s Azerbaijan expert who was present at the protest.

“All those detained merely for exercising their right to peaceful protest must be immediately released.”

“The Azerbaijani authorities have an international obligation to allow peaceful protests. They must not continue to deny their citizens the right to freedom of expression and assembly.”

Demonstrators chanted “Liberty” and called for the resignation of the President and also called for the release of imprisoned activists.

Some of those present observing the protest said that they supported it, but were too afraid to join in.

The square was surrounded by over one hundred policemen. They targeted individuals chanting slogans, covered their mouths, and dragged them to police vans from the crowd.

Police punched several protestors in the head after they had taken them into custody. They also kicked protesters, journalists and another Amnesty International staff member as they cleared the square.

Police also repeatedly charged people at the square in order to disperse them and the rally later turned into a running protest as officers chased youths around the streets of Baku.

The Musavat party had asked for permission to hold the rally, but the authorities refused.

The Musavat Party told Amnesty International that more than 100 people had been detained including leading party activists and at least one journalist. Local activists expect most will be released, but that some could face administrative detention.

“We are calling for radical change. We want genuine democracy. We want dissolution of the parliament and new, democratic elections” Musavat Party leader Isa Ghambar told Amnesty International.

The arrests are the latest in a series of those targeting activists.

On 11 March Baku police rounded up 43 people on their way to protests calling for freedom and an end to government corruption and oppression.

23 people were released after an official warning not to participate in the protest. The rest appeared in court on the evening of 11 March charged with misdemeanours. At least 9 were convicted of disobeying police and sentenced from five days to eight days.

12 March 2011


( Japan’s nuclear crisis is spawning concerns about ‘another Chernobyl,’ but a number of American and European scientists are cautiously taking the edge off the worst fears.

Uncertainty and fear have been feeding each other over the struggle to cool nuclear reactors in Japanese atomic power plants after a tsunami caused by Friday’s 8.9-magnitude earthquake swept away primary and backup cooling systems.

The words “meltdown” and “Chernobyl” have conjured images of radioactive vapors rising from the coastal Fukushima nuclear facilities and sweeping the Pacific Rim, raining down on crops and people. After all, the containment zone has expanded several times, and a blast at one reactor Saturday indicated a partial core meltdown.

Yet a number of American and European scientists, as well as diplomats familiar with the thinking inside the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), are cautiously taking the edge off the worst fears.

IN PICTURES: Japan’s 8.9 earthquake

Robert Engel, former IAEA inspector and Swiss nuclear engineer told Reuters Sunday that a partial meltdown of a reactor “is not a disaster” and that he doubted a complete meltdown is possible. And the details of the current Japanese reactor crisis bear little similarity to the Soviet-era meltdown at Chernobyl, which came about through design flaws and human error before it spread a radioactive cloud across much of Europe and Asia 25 years ago.

Experts at the IAEA “aren’t planning for the next Chernobyl” says a mid-level Western diplomat familiar with how the organization works. “But nor do [they] think we are out of the woods yet. The reactors are still hot. But this situation has no relation to Chernobyl, even though I realize that in the popular lore, if you say ‘Chernobyl,’ it means ‘catastrophic meltdown.’ ”

Key differences

The Chernobyl Soviet RBMK-1000 reactor exploded on April 26, 1986 after inexperienced handlers took the power down and then tried to power it up too quickly in an effort to discover whether a 40-second power gap in the cooling system could be bridged.

The Chernobyl reactor was new, it was undergoing tests, and it had very little structural containment measures to ward off a meltdown.

The Japanese reactors are a completely different design known as Boiling Water Reactors, which are old and tested, and have three quite elaborate systems of containment designed to constrain radioactive leakage, points out Josef Oehmen, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Mass. “The third containment is designed, built, and tested for one single purpose: To contain, indefinitely, a complete core meltdown,” he writes.

Robin Grimes, director of the Centre for Nuclear Engineering at Imperial College London, told Reuters that the core of the Japanese reactors may be still intact.

“After it’s all cooled down, it may well still be possible to simply remove the fuel and dispose of it in a relatively normal procedure,” said Mr. Grimes. “What’s clear, because of the incidental radiation being released at the moment, which is significant but not overwhelming, is that the structure of the core is probably still intact. So it’s not as bad as Three Mile Island.”

Fast-evolving drama

Diplomats and scientists say the fast-evolving drama is not clear and is filled with partial or incomplete information – adding to the uncertainty.

Nuclear plant engineers have in recent days cooled reactors using seawater and by “venting” the enormously hot cores into the atmosphere.

Japanese officials say the radioactivity emitted from the venting process is not significant enough to cause harm to humans, a point with which Mr. Oehmen appears to agree.


( Thousands of antigovernment protesters in Bahrain blocked access to the financial district in Manama, the capital, on Sunday, preventing many workers from getting to their offices and pushing back the police who tried to disperse them. It was the most serious challenge to the royal family that rules Bahrain since protests began last month.

“This was a very, very big day,” Mohammad al-Maskati, president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, said by telephone from Pearl Square, the epicenter for protests in central Manama. “Now the protesters control these streets. There are walls of rubble keeping out the police and armed groups. People say they will not sleep tonight.”

The latest protests occurred a day after Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates stopped in Bahrain and warned the Khalifa family, which has ruled Bahrain for two centuries, that it must go beyond the “baby steps” of reform to meet the economic and political demands sweeping much of the Arab world.

The demonstrations on Sunday occurred on King Faisal Highway at the entrance to Manama’s financial district. In a statement, the government said the violence began when “a group of protesters attacked unarmed police officers, resulting in one police officer being stabbed and another sustaining a serious head injury.”

“Police then sought to disperse approximately 350 protesters by using tear gas in order to clear the road,” the government said. “The Ministry of Interior is currently undergoing operations to reopen the King Faisal Highway.”

By Sunday evening, witnesses said, the highway remained essentially closed to traffic and was in the hands of demonstrators.

“It is like a ghost town with the highway closed and the financial district closed,” Hussein Muhammad, a bookstore owner and activist, said by telephone. “Thousands of people came all morning, and hundreds were injured.” Two demonstrators suffered serious head injuries, witnesses said.

“We want a new constitution, fair and free elections and a government elected directly by the people,” Mohammad Mattar, an engineer and member of the Waad pro-reform movement, said by telephone. “These are not sectarian demands, but political ones. We want a constitutional monarchy, a clear relationship between the ruling family and society. But the security forces are trying to create a sectarian divide.”