Sunday, March 27, 2022

Madeleine inquiry in the UK - questions still needing answers


The “Last Photo”- was it really taken on 3d May?

Madeleine McCann has been making headline news internationally yet again as the London Metropolitan Police investigation into her disappearance is reportedly going to be shelved this autumn.

I wonder if the Met’s Operation Grange has been deeply flawed from the very start and could that have something to do with the British ‘establishment’, a network that is said to include top politicians, billionaire newspaper owners and some leading police officers? But now we’re getting into the realm of speculation. Let’s not go there. Let’s stick with some of the facts as we know them.

The UK charity Missing People says that 140,000 people go missing in Britain every year. That’s 383 a day. Two thirds of the cases examined by the charity are under 18 years-of-age. So why did the British Government, diplomats and certain other influential individuals immediately give unprecedented support to the parents of this particular missing child? That’s the first of many fundamental questions that need answering.

The review and investigation conducted by Operation Grange, a special unit set up within London’s police force more than a decade ago, was always destined to fail, according to a well-known, distinguished London detective who said he would not get involved in the case because the official remit of Operation Grange was to investigate the “abduction” in the Algarve as if it had taken place in the UK. Why such a limited remit when suspicions hovered over Madeleine’s parents and while there was very little credible evidence that Madeleine had been abducted?

Why was Operation Grange told to turn a blind eye to the possible criminal involvement of Madeleine’s parents or their holidaying friends, which is the normal starting point in missing children cases? If neither the parents nor friends were involved, which may indeed be so, a standard investigation including them would have cleared their names, which the Portuguese police probe has never done. 

Why did such a limited investigation, which followed the review launched in May 2011, carry on and on with British Home Office approval at a cost to British taxpayers that has reached 13 million pounds? That’s more than 15 million euros or more than 16 million dollars.

Why have the British news media – especially the ‘red-tops’, but also some of the ‘quality broadsheets’ – become so biased and sycophantic in their reporting by always referring to Madeleine’s “abduction” without  adding a word such as “alleged” or “suspected”, and without questioning other possibilities? Why has The Sun, owned by the American-based billionaire Rupert Murdoch, been so privy to the little information dribbling out about the Operation Grange investigation?  And why has the British press long been castigating the Portuguese police and implying that the peaceful resort of Praia da Luz was a den of iniquity, an insult that the local residents emphatically deny?

Has Operation Grange ever properly considered that Madeleine may have disappeared several days before her parents raised the alarm on 3rd May, or did that exceed their remit? A private research project carefully examined local weather conditions during the week of the McCann’s holiday. The analysis concluded that the date and time of the so-called “Last Photo” on a camera used by Kate McCann must have been doctored. There had been plenty of time to make fake changes because the camera and photo were not presented to the Portuguese police for examination until 24th May, a couple of days after Gerry McCann returned from a short visit to the UK. Operation Grange was fully informed about all this, but to no avail. Why?  

Convicted paedophile Christian Bruckner and his lawyer have totally denied any involvement, yet German prosecutors claim they are 100 per cent certain that Madeleine is dead and that Bruckner killed her. But if they had such certainty, why have they not charged him? The German authorities did not share whatever evidence they had with Operation Grange who insist they do not know whether Madeleine is alive or dead.  “It seems extraordinary our officers are so much in the dark,” said a former senior Met officer. “It begs the question why we are still bothering to run an inquiry if the Germans are so dominant.”  

Among the other things Operation Grange has showed no interest in is the remarkable offer by Dr Mark Perlin, chief scientist and executive of an American company, Cybergenetics, which is reputed to have the world’s most advanced equipment and methods to examine and identify DNA samples. Asked by an Australian news outlet if he could help in the Madeleine case, Dr Perlin said he would gladly analyse forensic samples found by specialist dogs in the McCann’s holiday apartment and in a car they had hired 25 days after the repored disappearance. He said he could decipher 18 previously unsolvable DNA samples dating back to 2007.

A now defunct laboratory in the UK had been unable to come to any proper conclusions about them. Despite the lapse of time, Dr Perlin was optimistic that if the samples were sent to him, he and his team could accurately identify the DNA in less than a fortnight. He offered his services to Operation Grange free of charge, but he got no response. Dr Perlin extended the offer to Gerry McCann, but he did not respond either.  Again, one wonders, why?

Neither the British Home Office nor anyone else connected with Operation Grange have been open and transparent about the limited investigation, but questions about it will not go away because the operation is widely perceived -  rightly or wrongly -  as having been a sham, some sort of cover-up.

Surely the public, who have long been fascinated if not obsessed with the most discussed and reported missing person case in history, should be allowed straightforward answers to reasonable questions. The Portuguese people offended by British news reports and Operation Grange visits to Praia da Luz, and the British taxpayers who have funded the investigation without any say in the matter, deserve honest explanations. Most of all, Madeleine deserves justice.



Saturday, March 19, 2022

Putin’s personality problems


The bizarre behaviour of President Vladimir Putin continues to astound analysts across the Western world. It could be just the way this enigmatic narcissist wants it to be.

 Most ‘normal’ people in Portugal and elsewhere are sceptical of the political elite. They distrust them. Putin is currently top of the heap.

The centre-right president and centre-left prime minister of Portugal, which is internationally rated as one the five most peaceful countries in the world, may not be totally admired by all Portuguese  voters, but at least they are considered to be sound of mind. Putin on the other hand is widely perceived to be anything but.

While not openly commenting on Putin’s psychological condition, Portugal’s Prime Minister Antonio Costa has vehemently condemned Russia’s actions in Ukraine. 

Meanwhile, many psychologists and investigative journalists using open source materials have concluded that Putin is probably a psychopath. The presence of a psychopath in any community  is worrying at the best of times, but one with so much power and global influence as Putin is of course exceptionally dangerous.

Many of the personality characteristics of a psychopath are observable and they include a grandiose sense of self-esteem, an uncontrollable tendency to commit violent activities, a compulsive need to tell lies and antipathy to love and a lack of remorse or shame.  Psychopaths are often highly intelligent, but usually have poor judgement and a failure to learn from experience. 

In Putin’s case as in many others, it probably all started with a very traumatic childhood. He was born in Leningrad (now St Petersburg) in 1952. An estimated 800,000 people in the city had been killed during the 900-day Nazi siege in World War ll. Putin’s father was severely wounded while serving in the Russian army. His mother almost died of starvation. The couple lost two children before Vladimir’s birth. 

According to reliable sources such as The Atlantic news magazine, his family lived in a single room in a rundown apartment with two other families. As his mother and father worked hard just to survive, it’s thought their small son went without proper parental care, sufficient food, emotional warmth, respect and kindness. He had few friends and was bullied by neighbouring thugs whom he learned to viciously defend himself against.

He grew up to be an intelligent lad, did well at high school and went on to get a university law degree. But the damage to his mind had probably already been done and was irreversible.

A great many people in Portugal, Ukraine, Russia and perhaps every other country in the world have mental health problems that are not nearly as severe as psychopathy and are treatable medically and with compassion. Unfortunately, in extreme psychopathic cases this is difficult because egocentricity, rigid pathological defence mechanisms and other harsh factors will not allow it. That does not mean psychopaths do not deserve support. But nor does it mean that acts of violence by them should be justified.  

While serving with the KGB, Putin’s career had produced “a macho, distrustful, unpredictable, cultivator of half-truths and disinformation who remains culturally and psychologically tied to a Soviet Union that no longer exists,” according to a source quoted in the American  journal Foreign Policy.

 Madeleine Albright, the U.S. secretary of state from 1997 to 2001, met Putin as the newly appointed acting president of Russia in 2000. In an article in the New York Times last month she recalled: “Putin spoke unemotionally and without notes about his determination to resurrect Russia’s economy and quash Chechen rebels. Flying home, I recorded my recollections. ‘Putin is small and pale,’ I wrote, ‘so cold as to be almost reptilian’.”

The former president of Latvia, Vaira-Freiberga, a teacher-scholar in Canada with a PhD degree in psychology, says that Putin has become “unhinged”, adding that invading Ukraine “was not the actions of a sane man interested in the welfare of his country.” In an interview with Global News, part of the Canadian Global TV network, she variously described Putin as “a narcissist and a psychopath, with no conscience whatsoever. And he is a megalomaniac. He is definitely megalomaniac with very strong paranoid tendencies.”

 Putin’s decision to launch his brutal invasion of Ukraine has made many other Western observers question the mental state of the man in charge of the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons. Foreign Policy has noted that those who have followed the Russian leader’s behaviour closely over the years have been struck by the bizarre and dark nature of his recent speeches in which he described Ukrainian leaders as a “gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis.”

Andrea Kendall-Taylor, a ​​senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security who previously worked as a senior Russia analyst at the CIA, has said that given the implications for the world, the U.S. intelligence community has teams of people, including doctors and psychologists working at the CIA’s secretive Medical and Psychological Analysis Center, devoted to analyzing the physical and mental health of authoritarian leaders, including Putin. “They use a variety of methods, including scrutinizing speeches and body language, to detect subtle shifts,” she told FP.

Charles Morgan, a forensic psychiatrist who previously worked for the CIA, told the magazine“Although the science of indirect assessments is young at this stage, it seems to be true [that] a person’s past behavior is a more reliable indicator of how they will behave in the future than what they say they will do in the future.”

An article in the The Spectator in the UK said that “sitting at the end of an absurdly long table or marooned behind a vast table in a palatial hall, Vladimir Putin’s idea of social distancing has gone beyond the paranoid and into the realm of the deranged. His distance from reason and reality seems to have gone the same way. In little more than 48 hours, Putin’s sensible, peace-talking statesman had flipped into something dark and irrational that has worried even his supporters.”

John Sipher, a former senior member of the CIA’s Clandestine Service who served in Russia, has said that getting information from a leader’s inner circle in countries like Russia and China, which are regarded as “hard targets” by intelligence agencies, can be especially tricky.“Sources don’t grow on trees, and it’s especially difficult in a place like that. The rest of us are left to pour over Putin’s speeches and acts as the world wants to see what his next move may be.”



Saturday, March 12, 2022

Ukraine and the information war


As the saying goes, 
“There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth.” No one has to be lying. They may just have different viewpoints, but that’s not what’s going on in Ukraine.

Stories told in the past by Donald Trump and Boris Johnson were obvious examples of inexcusable lying. The main focus now of course is on the truthfulness or otherwise of Vladimir Putin.

When someone tells an incorrect story they genuinely believe to be true, they are unwittingly spreading misinformation. When someone tells a story they know to be false, they are spreading disinformation. The latter is Putin’s speciality.

Putin said repeatedly before 24 February that he was not going to order an invasion of Ukraine. Amassing troops and heavy armaments along Ukraine’s border was “a military exercise,” he insisted. He described the West’s concern about a possible attack as “hysteria.”

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed two weeks into the invasion that his country “did not attack” Ukraine. 

Who are they kidding with this doublespeak? In typical Orwellian fashion, the Kremlin has forbidden the people of Russia even to mention the words “invasion” or “war” in connection with Ukraine. To publicly protest against it is an offence punishable by imprisonment.

The Kremlin has shut down as far as possible any news infiltrating from the West. Meanwhile, the West is doing what it can to continue making reliable news available to the citizens in Russia. As well as the war on the ground, the news on war involves much disinformation, propaganda, cyber attacks and internet blackouts.

In contrast to what’s going on inside Russia, freedom of the press, freedom of expression and freedom of information are constitutionally guaranteed in Portugal. Internet access is not restricted.  Against this background an opinion poll carried out by Politico in eight European countries last month showed the Portuguese as the most supportive of an EU coordinated defence of Ukraine, with 78% of respondents in favour of this.

Portugal is probably China’s closest contact in the EU, but China’s attitude to the war in Ukraine is obscure, all the more so because it is a distraction from Beijing’s Paralympic Winter Games.  While China is regarded as a key strategic partner of Russia and a powerful opponent of the United States, it also has strong ties with Ukraine. It remains to be seen how China will react physically or informatively to the extreme violence in Ukraine in the days and weeks ahead.

Meanwhile, newsrooms and individual journalists across the Western world are making use of technical ‘Open Source intelligence’ methods to fact check information. The aim is to verify or debunk questionable statements or images before broadcasting or publishing controversial stories. It is thought Russian manipulation is being used to blame others for carrying out atrocities such as the destruction of hospitals and direct targeting of civilians, including children, which Putin denies. ‘Open source’ investigations will be crucial in indentifying those to be held to account in future international court cases about war crimes against humanity.

One person above all others who has never minced his words untruthfully since this war began is Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He has pleaded with the West to create a “no fly zone” to stop Russian air strikes against his people, but NATO has repeatedly refused on the grounds that it would further provoke Putin and perhaps escalate the war into a nuclear disaster. There is nothing fake about the attitudes of either President Zelenskyy or NATO. No one is lying here. The just have different points of view.

In referring to the crass dishonesty emerging from the Ukraine crisis, Britain’s Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage, has written: “False news is news with pity edited out.” This seems most appropriate in the context of Putin’s claim that he had ordered Russia’s military to put its nuclear deterrence forces on “high alert,” implying he was prepared to use weapons of mass destruction if necessary to bring Ukraine to its knees. More recently, both the United States and Russia have accused each other of making threats about the use of biological or chemical weapons, but no one seems to be sure if this is a serious possibility or more doublespeak to create further doubt and fear within the enemy.

Western media outlets are not always completely neutral or on the same political wavelengths. In the United States Fox News is to the right of CNN. In the UK, The Guardian is to the left of the Daily Telegraph. Among the other reputable outlets reporting on the war directly from Ukraine and available to people living in Portugal are the BBC and Sky News.

Several journalists, including Sky News’ chief correspondent Stuart Ramsay, have been targeted in the Ukraine. Seriously wounded when more than 1,000 bullets shattered the car in which he and his TV crew were travelling, Ramsay was brought back to the UK with the following video that gives a special insight into the sort of risks dedicated journalists are prepared to take in order to report the truth.