The latest WikiLeaks revelation

New release includes the CIA memo: “What If Foreigners See the United States as an ‘Exporter of Terr

Even while mired in personal controversy over rape allegations in Sweden and whispers about Pentagon smears, the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, is still managing to make his mark on world affairs.

The latest release from WikiLeaks is a CIA Red Cell memo from 5 February this year entitled "What If Foreigners See the United States as an 'Exporter of Terrorism' ". It assesses the impact on foreign relations of incidents of "home-grown terrorism", citing in particular the five American Muslims who travelled to Pakistan last year allegedly to join the Taliban, long-term financial support from Americans for the IRA, and the involvement of the Pakistani-American David Headley in the Mumbai bombings.

The memo argues that the consequences of such events can be far-reaching for the US in terms of maintaining good relations with other states, and regarding extradition treaties in particular. It also raises the complex question of the US relationship with the International Criminal Court, which it has so far failed to join (mainly as a result of the Bush administration's policy) on the grounds that allowing US citizens to be tried for crimes committed on US soil but outside of the US judicial system would be unconstitutional.

The leaked document goes on to say that refusal to co-operate fully with other countries could lead to instances of these states withholding intelligence, and cites the case of Abdelghani Mzoudi, freed by a German court in 2005. According to the memo, he was acquitted because "the US refused to allow Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a suspected ringleader of the 9/11 plot who was in US custody, to testify". The memo concludes:

More such instances could impede actions to lock up terrorists, whether in the US or abroad, or result in the release of suspects.

A "Red Cell" memo means it was issued by the special group within the CIA set up after the 11 September 2001 attacks by George Tenet, the director who subsequently resigned over the WMD claims in Iraq. The group was created to "think unconventionally", take an "out-of-the-box approach" and produce ideas intended to "provoke" rather than provide "authoritative assessment".

There seems very little "out-of-the-box" thinking involved in the production of this memo, as its main conclusions are that terrorism can affect the perception of a country on the international stage, and that being uncooperative with other states can lead to similar treatment being meted out in return. We need look no further than the furore that resulted from David Cameron's recent remarks about Pakistan to see yet another example of such action. But, as ever, WikiLeaks has facilitated a fascinating insight into the hidden processes of a state.

As Assange deals with his problems in Sweden, a potential problem for his organisation has been voiced in the US. Sonia Sotomayor, the newest judge on the US Supreme Court, said in response to a student's question at an event at Denver University this week that the question of balancing freedom of speech with national security is "very likely" to come before the court in the near future.

She went on to discuss the publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, at which time the Supreme Court declined to block the release:

That was not the beginning of that question, but an issue that keeps arising from generation to generation, of how far we will permit government restriction on freedom of speech in favour of protection of the country. There's no black-and-white line.

There will no doubt be many arguments in the future over whether it is the role of the Supreme Court to determine whether there is such a line at all and, if so, where it lies. But for the moment, I think we can safely say Julian Assange and his followers would argue that there's no line at all.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.