21 February 2013

Seattle Times on the Vatican.

If evidence was ever needed that the next pope must urgently overhaul the powerful Vatican bureaucracy called the Curia, the scandal over Pope Benedict XVI’s private papers is Exhibit A.

By NICOLE WINFIELD

Associated Press February 21 2013

If evidence was ever needed that the next pope must urgently overhaul the powerful Vatican bureaucracy called the Curia, the scandal over Pope Benedict XVI’s private papers is Exhibit A.

The pope’s own butler stole sensitive internal letters to the pontiff and passed them off to a journalist, who then published them in a blockbuster book. The butler did it, he admitted himself, to expose the “evil and corruption” in the Vatican’s frescoed halls that he believed was hidden from Benedict by those who were supposed to serve him.

And if that original sin weren’t enough, the content of the leaks confirmed that the next pope has a very messy house to clean up. The letters and memos exposed petty wrangling, corruption and cronyism at the highest levels of the Catholic Church. The dirt ranged from the awarding of Vatican contracts to a plot, purportedly orchestrated by senior Vatican officials, to out a prominent Catholic newspaper editor as gay.

Ordinary Catholics might not think that dysfunction in the Apostolic Palace has any effect on their lives, but it does: The Curia makes decisions on everything from church closings to marriage annulments to the disciplining of pedophile priests. Papal politics plays into the prayers the faithful say at Mass since missal translations are decided by committee in Rome. Donations the faithful make each year for the pope are held by a Vatican bank whose lack of financial transparency fueled bitter internal debate.

And so after 35 years under two “scholar” popes who paid scant attention to the internal governance of the Catholic Church, a chorus is growing that the next pontiff must have a solid track record managing a complicated bureaucracy. Cardinals who will vote in next month’s conclave are openly talking about the need for reform, particularly given the dysfunction exposed by the scandal.

“It has to be attended to,” said Chicago Cardinal Francis George. With typical understatement, he called the leaks scandal “a novel event for us.”

Cardinal Walter Kasper, a German who retired in 2010 as the head of the Vatican’s ecumenical office, said the Curia must adapt itself to the 21st century.

“There needs to be more coordination between the offices, more collegiality and communication,” he told Corriere della Sera. “Often the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.”

Sandro Magister, the Vatican analyst who most closely follows the comings, goings and internecine feuds of Vatican officials, said the “disaster” of governance began unfolding in the 1980s, in the early years of Pope John Paul II’s pontificate.

“John Paul II was completely disinterested in the Curia; his vision was completely directed to the outside,” Magister said in an interview. “He allowed a proliferation of feuds, small centers of power that fought among themselves with much ambition, careerism and betrayals.”

“This accumulated and ruined it for the next pope,” he said.

Benedict was well aware of the problems, having spent nearly a quarter-century in the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. But he never entered into the Vatican’s political fray as a cardinal – and as pope left it to his No. 2, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, to do the job.

“Some of his choices were shown to be counterproductive,” Magister said. “Cardinal Bertone didn’t produce the results that Benedict XVI had hoped for.”

Bertone himself became a lightning rod for division within the Curia. A canonist, he had no diplomatic experience coming into the job, and the main battle lines drawn in the Curia today come down to his loyalists and those still loyal to his predecessor Cardinal Angelo Sodano. Taken as a whole, the leaked documents seemed aimed at undermining Bertone.

To be fair, the Vatican under Benedict made great strides on some internal governance fronts: the pope insisted on greater financial transparency, and the Vatican passed a key European anti-money laundering test last summer. He insisted on a Vatican trial, open to journalists, for the butler who betrayed him. And as cardinal, after priestly sex abuse cases bounced for years among Vatican offices, the former Joseph Ratzinger took them over himself in 2001.

But some analysts speculate that the revelations from the leaks at the very least accelerated Benedict’s decision to resign. In early 2012, he appointed three trusted cardinals to investigate beyond the criminal case involving his butler. They interviewed widely inside the Curia and out and delivered their final report in December. Its contents are sealed, though speculation is rife that the cardinals minced no words in revealing the true nature of the Curia.

Benedict’s biographer, Peter Seewald, asked Benedict in August how badly the scandal had affected him. He replied that he was not falling into “desperation or world-weariness,” yet admitted the leaks scandal “is simply incomprehensible to me,” according to a recent article Seewald penned for the German magazine Focus.

The Holy See’s bureaucracy is organized as any government, though it most closely resembles a medieval court – given that the pope is an absolute monarch, with full executive, legal and judicial powers.

There’s a legal office, an economic affairs office and an office dedicated to the world’s 400,000 priests. Three tribunals tend to ecclesiastical cases and a host of departments take up spiritual matters: making saints, keeping watch on doctrine and the newest office created by Benedict, spreading the faith.

John Paul’s 1988 apostolic constitution “Pastor Bonus” sets out the competencies of the various congregations and councils, and they function more or less as independent fiefdoms, albeit in consultation with one another when the subject matter requires. In the end, though, the real power lies with two departments: the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the secretariat of state, which can block virtually any initiative of another office.

“Who is influential isn’t so much dependent on what your office is or your title but whether you have access to the king, or in this case the pope,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, author of “Inside the Vatican,” a bible of sorts for understanding the Vatican Curia.

The same could be said for any executive branch. But in the case of the Vatican, there’s a difference.

“Obama can fire anybody he wants from his cabinet,” Reese said. “When you make someone a bishop, you make him a bishop for life. When you make him a cardinal you make him a prince of the church. What do you do with a cardinal (who doesn’t work out)? He can’t go to K Street and get a job as a lobbyist.”

Though increasingly international, the Curia is also a very Italian creature, which affects its priorities, weaknesses and style of governance. “Genealogy is important, who begat whom,” noted one recently departed Vatican official, who spoke on condition of anonymity so as to not antagonize former colleagues.

The typical Italian way of getting things done via personal stamps of approval, or “raccomandanzione,” guides introductions. The Italian way of persuasion, less overt power play than Machiavellian machinations, governs consensus-building and decision-making.

Italian commentator Massimo Franco recently concluded on the pages of Corriere della Sera that the Vatican bureaucracy today is simply “ungovernable.”

more after the jump:

http://seattletimes.com/html/nationworld/2020399129_apeuvaticanthebureaucracy.html

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Der Spiegel

Abyss of Uncertainty: Germany’s Homemade Nuclear Waste Disaster

By Michael Fröhlingsdorf, Udo Ludwig and Alfred Weinzier

It’s hot and sticky 750 meters (2,500 feet) underground, and the air smells salty. Five men are standing in front of an oversized drill. They have donned orange overalls and are wearing bulky special shoes, yellow hard hats and safety glasses. They turn on the machine, and the rod assembly slowly eats its way into a gray wall.

For over seven months now, the team has been trying to drill a hole with a diameter of eight centimeters (three inches). They are attempting to reach one of the former excavation chambers of Asse II, an old salt and potash mine near the northern German town of Remlingen, in the northwestern German state of Lower Saxony. Behind a barrier 20 meters thick, thousands of drums filled with nuclear waste have been rotting away for over three decades.

It’s dangerous work. Over the years, experts warn, explosive gases may have collected in underground cavities — and one spark could trigger a disaster. Consequently, the drill head is only allowed to turn extremely slowly. After the machine has barely advanced another 10 centimeters, the men pull the drill pipe out of the hole and insert a probe. They thus manage to inch their way forward about 20 centimeters per shift.

The drilling ultimately aims to provide a glimpse of the first of 13 chambers filled with barrels of waste, and to provide information on the condition of these containers — and on what measures need to be taken to remove them from the 100-year-old maze of tunnels.

It took two years to prepare this journey into the contaminated salt. Engineers had to redevelop measuring devices, design new machines and write computer programs. The men on the drilling team have volunteered for the job. They are working in a hermetically sealed space. To prevent any radioactive dust particles from reaching the rest of the mine, a constant vacuum is maintained here. There is special vinyl flooring that can be decontaminated, and the walls are lined with custom-made tiles.

German Environment Minister Peter Altmaier was on hand for the launch of the exploratory drilling on June 1, 2012. Since none of the available garb would fit him, two seamstresses had quickly sewn a white miner’s outfit for the stout politician from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Then Altmaier pressed a red button in a neighboring tunnel to symbolically start the drill.

At that moment, Germany cast itself into one of the most technically ambitious, and thus most costly, ventures of its industrial history — a bold, perhaps foolhardy, project that will consume at least €4 billion ($5.3 billion), but more likely somewhere between €5 billion and €10 billion. It’s a decontamination project that will take 30 years, or longer. And no one can say with certainty whether it will ever be completed.

The initial stage has already revealed that the intended retrieval of the drums is an expedition into the unknown. The team has driven the drill pipe 35 meters into the salt, yet after a good seven months of work, they still haven’t found the chamber with the stored radioactive waste. Geologists now believe that it has been missed by roughly 2.5 meters because the mountain has a life of its own and changes shape as the salt shifts from south to north.

‘Never Been Done Before’

That’s the basic situation at Asse: On the one hand, there are the engineers who want to plan everything, who have to plan everything, who are not allowed to endanger anyone, who have to adhere to the rules of the Atomic Energy Act, who have to implement the government’s plans and who should take into consideration the concerns of local residents. And, on the other hand, there are the forces of nature at work in a mine that does whatever it wants.

Germany’s Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) has been responsible for Asse since 2009. This is an agency that was originally founded to monitor things such as the safety of workers in nuclear research facilities. In early 2010, the federal government ordered the BfS to assess whether the radioactive waste in the Asse mine can be retrieved. The agency estimated that it would take three years to prepare the project. Most recently, the BfS said it would need 10 years for the fact-finding phase alone.

The BfS still has no detailed concept for the retrieval, no timetable, no script that maps out the technical procedures. It’s essentially a flight by the seat of the pants, and problems are encountered for which no solutions have been found anywhere in the world.

This is reminiscent of other large German infrastructure projects, in which everything during the construction phase turns out to be more difficult, time-consuming and expensive than anticipated. But the difference is that there are already plenty of underground railway stations, major international airports and concert halls around the globe. Removing nuclear waste from a flooding, collapsing salt mine, though, represents a unique challenge. “What we intend to do here has never been done before,” says Jens Köhler, the technical director at Asse.

Massive Environmental Scandal

The decision to retrieve the drums was primarily motivated by politics. It was taken because politicians have a bad conscience about how they have treated their constituents. The public was originally informed that Asse was merely being used to “research” how radioactive waste reacts in a final repository. But then nuclear power plants, nuclear research facilities, the German military, medical institutions and industry used the old mine as a dump for all manner of contaminated waste. The federal government collected disposal fees, and for decades ministers in Bonn, Berlin and the nearby city of Hanover, the state capital, blithely disregarded the problem.

The public finally rebelled against this ignorance in 2007, when the former operator of the storage site, the Munich-based German Research Center for Environmental Health (HMGU), decided to flood the tunnels with a magnesium chloride solution. Local residents were afraid that filling the cavities could allow radioactive substances to seep into the drinking water supply. The concern was that contaminated water could reach the Elbe River and spread as far as Hamburg. Citizens’ initiatives were formed, internal papers were leaked, an investigative committee pored through thousands of binders — and it all resulted in the biggest environmental scandal in postwar German history. Now, all political parties firmly believe that the only acceptable message to local residents is the promise to retrieve the drums of radioactive waste.

more after the jump:

http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/germany-weighs-options-for-handling-nuclear-waste-in-asse-mine-a-884523.html

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The Hill on Congress and cyber attacks.

Congress vulnerable to cyber attacks

By Jennifer Martinez –   02/21/13 05:00 AM ET
Security experts warn Congress is vulnerable to cyber attacks from digital  intruders like hacker group Anonymous and China, which was named in a report  this week as having successfully breached the security of some U.S.  firms.The digital networks that run the backbone of the information  systems and networks of congressional staff and lawmakers are treasure troves of  sensitive data for foreign intelligence services and independent hacker groups  alike. Experts warn that Congress isn’t using the types of technology and  security methods that could prevent sophisticated hacker attacks.

more after the jump:

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Wired on drone warfare.

Senator Lists the Death Toll From U.S. Drones at 4,700 People

The government says you can’t know how many people U.S. drone strikes have killed, because that’s a state secret. But one of the most hawkish members of the U.S. Senate just said the strikes have killed 4,700 people. And his math raises questions.

That’s what Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) approvingly told an Easley, South Carolina, Rotary Club on Tuesday afternoon. It’s the first public death toll provided by a U.S. government official for the signature method of killing in the U.S.’ sprawling, global counterterrorism campaign.

We’ve killed 4,700,” Graham said, according to an Easley website. “Sometimes you hit innocent people, and I hate that, but we’re at war, and we’ve taken out some very senior members of al-Qaida.” Graham did not evidently offer an estimate of how many innocent people the drones have killed.

Graham staffers did not return voicemails and e-mails seeking elaboration. (We’ll update if they do.) But that’s a very high figure — at least as it pertains to the CIA’s drone strikes, outside the declared battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, which is what the context of Graham’s remarks make it seem like he’s referring to. As Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations blogs, that’s on the highest end of the drone-death estimate compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism from publicly available news reports. Zenko’s compilation of the averages of non-governmental organizations’ guesstimates for drone casualties is about 1,700 people lower.

The CIA declined to comment about whether Graham revealed classified information. Counting the death toll from drones is a notoriously imprecise, murky business.

Graham’s death count would raise questions about the much-vaunted precision of the strikes. Using the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s count, the U.S. has launched between 416 and 439 drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia since the U.S. first successfully weaponized an MQ-1 Predator a decade ago. If Graham’s right, each strike would have to kill more than 10 people. It’s certainly possible — the 100-pound Hellfire missile carried by the drones is capable of it — but U.S. counterterrorism officials typically describe the drones as a tool geared for the targeting of a specific terrorist at a time, with minimal civilian casualties. (That isn’t necessarily the case: Sometimes the CIA kills people with drones without knowing who exactly they are.)

more after the jump:

http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2013/02/graham-drones/

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