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Quick jump to below stories:
The hard truth about oil
US plans massive data sweep
Mexican oil output could drop sharply - report
G8: Economic growth at risk from unstable energy supplies
Chavez: UK must return Falklands

[We have indeed come a long way to see a story like this in FORTUNE. Things can only be hidden for so long. The next big question is, “How long now will it be before outlets like CNN openly admit the hydrogen, cellulosic ethanol, biodiesel and all of these other fantasies will provide no 1:1 replacement of hydrocarbon energy, either individually or in combination? That will be the day that Peak Oil becomes fully articulated in the public consciousness. That will be the day when the issues we at FTW (and so many others) have been talking about for four years are finally placed on the table. That will be the day when the hardest choices present themselves as stark and glaring imperatives that might well have offered different outcomes if only they had been addressed sooner. -- MCR]

The hard truth about oil

No matter what the president says, conservation is America's only route to energy independence.

By Nelson D. Schwartz, FORTUNE Europe editor
February 9, 2006: 11:31 AM EST

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

NEW YORK (FORTUNE) - Presidents going back to Richard Nixon have been talking about energy independence. It's one of those vote-getting platforms that no one could possibly be against -- like world peace, mom and apple pie. It gives us the illusion of control over our energy destiny, which we don't have, at least in a fossil-fuel based economy.

But it's a lost cause.

The only way we're ever going to be able to boost oil supplies here at home is through conservation, and that's something the government is going to have push aggressively, at least until technological advances like cellulosic ethanol, hydrogen and other alternative energy forms become available.

Don't take my word for it. Just listen to what Big Oil has to say.

It's not every day that an industry best known for keeping its head down takes issue with the President of the United States on the subject of ending our dependence on foreign oil. But that's exactly what happened on Tuesday when an Exxon Mobil (Research) exec had the courage to say aloud what every oil insider in the world knows -- America isn't going to be 'energy independent' anytime soon, if ever.

"Realistically, it is simply not feasible in any period relevant to our discussion today," Exxon Senior V.P. Stuart McGill told the crowd at a Houston energy conference, according to Reuters.

Referring to the gap between imports and domestic production -- which is about 10 million barrels, or half our daily consumption, McGill said, "Americans depend upon imports to fill the gap. No combination of conservation measures, alternative energy sources and technological advances could realistically and economically provide a way to completely replace those imports in the short or medium term."

McGill's remarks got top billing on the popular Drudge Report Web site on Wednesday, which suggests they're shocking, or at least surprising. They shouldn't be.

A declining oil province
Nearly five years ago, then-CEO Lee Raymond of Exxon told FORTUNE that finding all the oil we need here at home "was a failed notion under Richard Nixon, and it's certainly a failed notion today." Raymond, who retired at the end of last year, was the most successful oilman of his generation, as Exxon's record $36 billion in profits last year shows. But he had no illusions about the United States as an oil producer. "We're a declining oil province and have been for 25 years," he said.

To be fair, President Bush did take some very valuable-and significant steps forward in his State of the Union address. Like noting the high cost of depending on the Middle East and other volatile regions for our crude, and being bold enough to actually use the word addiction, which many politicians have studiously avoided. And talking up the potential of cellulosic ethanol, which FORTUNE recently wrote about (click here to read that story), but needs much greater investment and support.

Getting OPEC's attention
Ironically, conservation is the one way we can have some say over our energy security. While OPEC leaders may know better than to take our talk of energy independence seriously, a serious push for conservation would get the attention of the energy markets and drive prices lower.

If you don't believe me, just look at how oil prices have dipped from near $68 a barrel a few weeks ago to $63 now. Natural gas prices have come down even more. This is because warm weather in the U.S. has meant that we've consumed less energy than anticipated, leading to a surge in supplies.

But this episode was a matter of good luck, with perhaps a little help from global warming. Imagine if through conservation, we could achieve the same kind of reduction in energy consumption. Or if the government began pushing Detroit and foreign automakers to increase fuel efficiency. We'd get a lot more oil that way than by drilling in Alaska. And while conservation won't end the need for imports, it could ultimately get us a lot closer to energy independence than any of the President's other suggestions.

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[TIA by any other name is still TIA. And PROMIS is still PROMIS. These systems are scary, yes. Orwellian, yes. But they will never live up to the mad dreams and the faith their creators have in them. -- MCR]

US plans massive data sweep

Little-known data-collection system could troll news, blogs, even e-mails. Will it go too far?

By Mark Clayton | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

The US government is developing a massive computer system that can collect huge amounts of data and, by linking far-flung information from blogs and e-mail to government records and intelligence reports, search for patterns of terrorist activity.

The system - parts of which are operational, parts of which are still under development - is already credited with helping to foil some plots. It is the federal government's latest attempt to use broad data-collection and powerful analysis in the fight against terrorism. But by delving deeply into the digital minutiae of American life, the program is also raising concerns that the government is intruding too deeply into citizens' privacy.

"We don't realize that, as we live our lives and make little choices, like buying groceries, buying on Amazon, Googling, we're leaving traces everywhere," says Lee Tien, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "We have an attitude that no one will connect all those dots. But these programs are about connecting those dots - analyzing and aggregating them - in a way that we haven't thought about. It's one of the underlying fundamental issues we have yet to come to grips with."

The core of this effort is a little-known system called Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight, and Semantic Enhancement (ADVISE). Only a few public documents mention it. ADVISE is a research and development program within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), part of its three-year-old "Threat and Vulnerability, Testing and Assessment" portfolio. The TVTA received nearly $50 million in federal funding this year.

DHS officials are circumspect when talking about ADVISE. "I've heard of it," says Peter Sand, director of privacy technology. "I don't know the actual status right now. But if it's a system that's been discussed, then it's something we're involved in at some level."

Data-mining is a key technology

A major part of ADVISE involves data-mining - or "dataveillance," as some call it. It means sifting through data to look for patterns. If a supermarket finds that customers who buy cider also tend to buy fresh-baked bread, it might group the two together. To prevent fraud, credit-card issuers use data-mining to look for patterns of suspicious activity.

What sets ADVISE apart is its scope. It would collect a vast array of corporate and public online information - from financial records to CNN news stories - and cross-reference it against US intelligence and law-enforcement records. The system would then store it as "entities" - linked data about people, places, things, organizations, and events, according to a report summarizing a 2004 DHS conference in Alexandria, Va. The storage requirements alone are huge - enough to retain information about 1 quadrillion entities, the report estimated. If each entity were a penny, they would collectively form a cube a half-mile high - roughly double the height of the Empire State Building.

But ADVISE and related DHS technologies aim to do much more, according to Joseph Kielman, manager of the TVTA portfolio. The key is not merely to identify terrorists, or sift for key words, but to identify critical patterns in data that illumine their motives and intentions, he wrote in a presentation at a November conference in Richland, Wash.

For example: Is a burst of Internet traffic between a few people the plotting of terrorists, or just bloggers arguing? ADVISE algorithms would try to determine that before flagging the data pattern for a human analyst's review.

At least a few pieces of ADVISE are already operational. Consider Starlight, which along with other "visualization" software tools can give human analysts a graphical view of data. Viewing data in this way could reveal patterns not obvious in text or number form. Understanding the relationships among people, organizations, places, and things - using social-behavior analysis and other techniques - is essential to going beyond mere data-mining to comprehensive "knowledge discovery in databases," Dr. Kielman wrote in his November report. He declined to be interviewed for this article.

One data program has foiled terrorists

Starlight has already helped foil some terror plots, says Jim Thomas, one of its developers and director of the government's new National Visualization Analytics Center in Richland, Wash. He can't elaborate because the cases are classified, he adds. But "there's no question that the technology we've invented here at the lab has been used to protect our freedoms - and that's pretty cool."

As envisioned, ADVISE and its analytical tools would be used by other agencies to look for terrorists. "All federal, state, local and private-sector security entities will be able to share and collaborate in real time with distributed data warehouses that will provide full support for analysis and action" for the ADVISE system, says the 2004 workshop report.

A program in the shadows

Yet the scope of ADVISE - its stage of development, cost, and most other details - is so obscure that critics say it poses a major privacy challenge.

"We just don't know enough about this technology, how it works, or what it is used for," says Marcia Hofmann of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington. "It matters to a lot of people that these programs and software exist. We don't really know to what extent the government is mining personal data."

Even congressmen with direct oversight of DHS, who favor data mining, say they don't know enough about the program.

"I am not fully briefed on ADVISE," wrote Rep. Curt Weldon (R) of Pennsylvania, vice chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, in an e-mail. "I'll get briefed this week."

Privacy concerns have torpedoed federal data-mining efforts in the past. In 2002, news reports revealed that the Defense Department was working on Total Information Awareness, a project aimed at collecting and sifting vast amounts of personal and government data for clues to terrorism. An uproar caused Congress to cancel the TIA program a year later.

Echoes of a past controversial plan

ADVISE "looks very much like TIA," Mr. Tien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation writes in an e-mail. "There's the same emphasis on broad collection and pattern analysis."

But Mr. Sand, the DHS official, emphasizes that privacy protection would be built-in. "Before a system leaves the department there's been a privacy review.... That's our focus."

Some computer scientists support the concepts behind ADVISE.

"This sort of technology does protect against a real threat," says Jeffrey Ullman, professor emeritus of computer science at Stanford University. "If a computer suspects me of being a terrorist, but just says maybe an analyst should look at it ... well, that's no big deal. This is the type of thing we need to be willing to do, to give up a certain amount of privacy."

Others are less sure.

"It isn't a bad idea, but you have to do it in a way that demonstrates its utility - and with provable privacy protection," says Latanya Sweeney, founder of the Data Privacy Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University. But since speaking on privacy at the 2004 DHS workshop, she now doubts the department is building privacy into ADVISE. "At this point, ADVISE has no funding for privacy technology."

She cites a recent request for proposal by the Office of Naval Research on behalf of DHS. Although it doesn't mention ADVISE by name, the proposal outlines data-technology research that meshes closely with technology cited in ADVISE documents.

Neither the proposal - nor any other she has seen - provides any funding for provable privacy technology, she adds.

Some in Congress push for more oversight of federal data-mining

Amid the furor over electronic eavesdropping by the National Security Agency, Congress may be poised to expand its scrutiny of government efforts to "mine" public data for hints of terrorist activity.

"One element of the NSA's domestic spying program that has gotten too little attention is the government's reportedly widespread use of data-mining technology to analyze the communications of ordinary Americans," said Sen. Russell Feingold (D) of Wisconsin in a Jan. 23 statement.

Senator Feingold is among a handful of congressmen who have in the past sponsored legislation - unsuccessfully - to require federal agencies to report on data-mining programs and how they maintain privacy.

Without oversight and accountability, critics say, even well-intentioned counterterrorism programs could experience mission creep, having their purview expanded to include non- terrorists - or even political opponents or groups. "The development of this type of data-mining technology has serious implications for the future of personal privacy," says Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists.

Even congressional supporters of the effort want more information about data-mining efforts.

"There has to be more and better congressional oversight," says Rep. Curt Weldon (R) of Pennsylvania and vice chairman of the House committee overseeing the Department of Homeland Security. "But there can't be oversight till Congress understands what data-mining is. There needs to be a broad look at this because they [intelligence agencies] are obviously seeing the value of this."

Data-mining - the systematic, often automated gleaning of insights from databases - is seen "increasingly as a useful tool" to help detect terrorist threats, the General Accountability Office reported in 2004. Of the nearly 200 federal data-mining efforts the GAO counted, at least 14 were acknowledged to focus on counterterrorism.

While privacy laws do place some restriction on government use of private data - such as medical records - they don't prevent intelligence agencies from buying information from commercial data collectors. Congress has done little so far to regulate the practice or even require basic notification from agencies, privacy experts say.

Indeed, even data that look anonymous aren't necessarily so. For example: With name and Social Security number stripped from their files, 87 percent of Americans can be identified simply by knowing their date of birth, gender, and five-digit Zip code, according to research by Latanya Sweeney, a data-privacy researcher at Carnegie Mellon University.

In a separate 2004 report to Congress, the GAO cited eight issues that need to be addressed to provide adequate privacy barriers amid federal data-mining. Top among them was establishing oversight boards for such programs.

Some antiterror efforts die - others just change names

Defense Department

November 2002 - The New York Times identifies a counterterrorism program called Total Information Awareness.

September 2003 - After terminating TIA on privacy grounds, Congress shuts down its successor, Terrorism Information Awareness, for the same reasons.

Department of Homeland Security

February 2003 - The department's Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announces it's replacing its 1990s-era Computer-Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS I).

July 2004 - TSA cancels CAPPS II because of privacy concerns.

August 2004 - TSA says it will begin testing a similar system - Secure Flight - with built-in privacy features.

July 2005 - Government auditors charge that Secure Flight is violating privacy laws by holding information on 43,000 people not suspected of terrorism.

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Mexican oil output could drop sharply - report

AFX News Limited

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

LONDON (AFX) - Mexico's huge state-owned oil company, Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, may be facing a steep decline in output that would further tighten global oil supply and add to global woes over high oil prices, the online edition of the Wall Street Journal reported.

The potential decline faced by Pemex, also could undermine US efforts to reduce dependence on Middle East oil, and complicate Mexican politics and financial stability.

An internal study reviewed by The Wall Street Journal shows water and gas are encroaching more quickly than expected in Cantarell, Mexico's biggest oil field, and might cause output to drop precipitously over the next few years.

Currently, Cantarell produces 2 mln barrels of oil a day, or six of every 10 barrels produced by Mexico, and is the world's second-biggest-producing field after Saudi Arabia's Ghawar.

Pemex says it is confident it can make up for any decline at Cantarell by squeezing more output from other fields, but some analysts outside the company are far less sanguine. The study was carried out last year by Pemex experts.

'I am confident in Pemex's portfolio of assets. Other fields will be able to substitute (Cantarell's output) and increase production,' Juan Jose Suarez Coppel, the company's chief financial officer, said in an interview.

Pemex predicts Mexico's output will actually grow this year to 3.42 mln barrels a day from 3.33 mln barrels last year.

But the study already prompted the company in December to predict a slightly sharper decline at Cantarell than its previous forecasts -- with output down 6 pct this year to an average rate of 1.9 mln barrels a day and off to 1.43 mln barrels as an average for 2008. That prediction now roughly matches the study's most optimistic scenario.

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G8: Economic growth at risk from unstable energy supplies

Ministers from the world's richest countries meet in Moscow seek cooperation amidst heightened fear that energy prices could harm strong global economic growth.

February 11, 2006: 5:41 PM EST

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Finance ministers of world's wealthiest nations sounded the alarm over the cost of energy on Saturday and urged greater international cooperation to ensure stable supplies.

Ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized countries said in a communique that global economic expansion was strong but at risk because of high and volatile energy prices.

"We need to develop a civilized strategy which will reliably secure the world with energy at reasonable prices and with minimal damage to the environment," Russian President Vladimir Putin told the ministers.

A communique from the ministers said more work was needed to coordinate energy policy and promote price stability through a properly functioning market. The meeting in icy Moscow marked Russia's first presidency of the G8 club -- which also includes the United States, Japan, Canada, Germany, France, Britain and Italy -- and Putin has made energy security a central theme for 2006.

For some of Putin's G8 partners, Russia is part of the problem as well as the solution.

Relying on Russia
Russia is one of the world's biggest oil and gas suppliers but a recent row with Ukraine, in which it closed the gas taps, has made other G8 countries uneasy because the spat disrupted supplies in countries such as Hungary, Austria and Italy too.

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Rodrigo Rato, present at the talks, said supply problems increasingly seemed to be part of the problem, and not just surging demand from countries such as China.

Oil, at more than $60 a barrel, is roughly twice as expensive as it was two years ago, though still lower than the records it hit after the Arab oil embargo, Iranian revolution and Iran-Iraq war in the mid-1970s and early 1980s.

The diplomatically worded G8 communique made no reference to the Russian gas supply spat but officials said they were keen to see the Kremlin allow more foreign investment in its energy sector and loosen the grip of the monopoly supplier Gazprom.

The standoff with oil-rich Iran over uranium enrichment has also served a reminder of how vulnerable supplies can be.

Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin appeared to cede some ground when he told a post-G8 news conference Russia might eventually end state-controlled Gazprom's gas export monopoly.

"In the future, access to the export pipeline will become equal. I am not ready to say when that will happen," he said.

The finance ministers kicked off their talks over breakfast with their opposite numbers from some of the rising stars of the world economy, China, India, Brazil and South Africa.

Russia, awash with oil cash, also told the ministers that it was going to pay back $11.9 billion in Soviet-era debts it owes to the Paris Club of sovereign lenders.

For Putin, the presidency of the G8 is a celebration of his country's transformation after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but the other finance ministers still do not consider Russia an equal, mindful that it went to the brink of financial ruin and debt default in 1998 even if it is rich in oil and gas.

The Moscow meeting also allowed time for some discussion of Russian entry into the World Trade Organization.

U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow said differences on the issue were being narrowed. Openness of financial markets is one of the sticking points.

Kudrin said the meeting generally had been tricky at times.

"Of course such talks between ministers are quite tense -- it's a struggle to convince each other your opinion is right ... Every finance minister, defending the interests of his country, will stand by his opinion," he said.

Currency relations are often discussed at such meetings but there was no formal discussion this time because the other G8 countries did not want to do so in the absence of central bank governors.

But Canada's new finance minister, Jim Flaherty, said there was some debate over Asian currencies.

China's currency regime is widely judged to hold the yuan's value too low at the expense of other trading nations but it has said it will only reform in its own time.

The final text of the communique is available on

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Russia confirms missile defence contract with Iran

Thursday, February 09, 2006

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

MOSCOW: Amid the escalating crisis around Iran's nuclear programme, Russia said on Thursday that it will still arm Tehran with missiles that can secure nuclear facilities from attacks.

"We concluded a contract for the supply of air-defence systems to Iran and there is no reason not to fulfil it," Mikhail Dmitriyev, the head of Russia's military-technical cooperation agency, said.

Worth an estimated $700 million, the deal for up to 30 Tor M-1 surface-to-air missiles is the largest since Russia in 2000 withdrew from an agreement with the US restricting the supply of military hardware to Iran.

Dmitriyev rejected media reports that talks were underway for the additional supply of heavier S-300 air-defence missiles.

Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov has stressed that the Tor is a defensive system and that the sale does not violate Russia's international obligations.

The weapon is effective against aircraft, cruise missiles and guided bombs. There was no indication when the systems would be shipped to Iran.

The missiles are expected to be deployed at the nuclear research centre at Isfahan and the reactor that Russia is completing for Iran at the southern port of Bushehr.

According to Dmitriyev, Russia's overall exports of arms in 2005 were worth a record $6.1 billion. The sales target for 2006 is $7 billion, he added.

The main customers for Russian military hardware are China and India.

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Chavez: UK must return Falklands

Friday, February 10, 2006

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez took another swipe at British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Thursday, saying Britain should give back the Falkland Islands to Argentina.

Venezuela also formally complained about comments by Blair saying the South American country should respect the rules of the international community, writing in a letter to the British ambassador in Caracas that the remarks violated the "fundamental principles of international law."

There was no immediate reaction from the British Embassy.

Chavez, a blunt-speaking leftist known for his anti-American rhetoric, had already told Blair to "go to hell" for his remarks, made during a parliamentary session in London on Wednesday.

His attack on the British premier shifted his aim following a new flare-up with Washington, sparked when Chavez last week expelled a U.S. Navy attache for alleged espionage and compared Bush to Adolf Hitler.

Chavez used Thursday's speech to prod U.S. President George W. Bush again, calling him a "nut case."

The fiery Venezuelan leader said U.S. ally Britain had violated the sovereignty of various nations. He cited the case of the tiny Falkland Islands off the coast of Argentina, which Britain and Argentina went to war over in 1982.

"We have to remember the Falklands, how they were taken away from the Argentines," Chavez said in the western Venezuelan city of Maracaibo. "Those islands are Argentina's. Return them, Mr. Blair, those islands are Argentina's."

Britain still controls the Falklands, which Argentine troops invaded in 1982, setting off a three-month war against colonial ruler Britain in which hundreds were killed on both sides and more than 1,000 wounded.

Oil sales intact
Blair said on Wednesday that countries like Venezuela and Cuba should realize they had much to gain from the principles of democracy.

Chavez responded by telling Blair to stay in his place and calling him the main ally of "Hitler Danger Bush Hitler" -- referring to his favorite nickname for Bush, Mr. Danger.

In a letter to British Ambassador Donald Lamond, Vice Foreign Minister Pavel Rondon said Venezuela categorically rejected Blair's comments and noted that international law meant respect for the legality of other countries.

"The serious distortion in his words in confusing 'the rules of the international community' with the norms and principles of International Law has not gone unnoticed by our government," the letter said.

"This type of confusion has facilitated, permitted and induced the worst atrocities against the world's peoples."

Chavez, a former army officer who took office seven years ago after failing to win power in a 1992 coup, lashed out at Bush anew on Thursday.

"Now there's a nut case up there in the presidency of the United States," Chavez said. "He's dangerous to the world because he's capable of dropping nuclear bombs.

"Now they're making plans to invade Iran and Venezuela as well. He's crazy, the North Americans themselves are going to have to tie him up because he is capable of destroying half the world and destroying his own country."

Rocky since Chavez came to power, relations between oil-rich Venezuela and the chief buyer of its crude soured anew when Chavez expelled a U.S. naval attache last week. The State Department responded by expelling a Venezuelan diplomat.

Despite the spat, Venezuela's ambassador in Washington Bernardo Alvarez said on Thursday Venezuela would continue to supply oil to the United States. Venezuela, the world's No. 5 exporter of oil, provides roughly 15 percent U.S. oil imports.

Copyright 2006 Reuters. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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