Below is some of my work for the Associated Press. Initially I had a bunch of links up to places where they appeared on the Intertubes [including The Washington Post, msnbc.com, Business Week, Forbes and more] but alas, they expired! And here I thought links on the Internet lasted forever [silly me].
Instead, here is a list of longer [read: credited] work on the AP website. The articles are also below [apologies for the rough format].
Chinese investor defends plan for Iceland resort
By ALDA SIGMUNDSDOTTIR, Associated Press – Sep 2, 2011
BEIJING (AP) — Iceland is having a China crisis.
Devastated by a banking collapse, the North Atlantic nation welcomed a Chinese real estate tycoon’s plan to buy a remote, treeless tract of wilderness for a resort. Then critics raised questions and Iceland had second thoughts.
Was this cover for Beijing to gain a strategic foothold? A way to gain access to a deepwater harbor — even though it lies some 50 kilometers (35 miles) away — or water from a glacier-fed river? And should a foreigner be allowed to buy the equivalent of 0.3 percent of Iceland’s territory?
Developer Huang Nubo defended his project Friday, saying it would simply be a high-end resort and that it would preserve the local environment and Icelandic culture.
Huang, an avid mountain climber, rejected suggestions by critics that the project might be a covert attempt by Beijing to establish a presence. He said the site in Iceland’s northeast is slated to be one of a string of exclusive nature retreats in China, the United States and Scandinavia.
“This is all private investment,” said Huang, a 55-year-old former government official, at a news conference at his company’s Beijing headquarters tower.
Iceland’s prime minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir, said this week the country welcomes the investment. The interior minister, Ogmundur Jonasson, said the government, which limits land ownership by foreigners, was reviewing environmental and other aspects of the proposal before it decides whether to give approval.
Huang has agreed to pay private owners 1 billion Icelandic kronur ($8.8 million) for 300 square kilometers (120 square miles) in the country’s northeast. The government also owns a portion of the land, known as Grimsstadir.
The proposal is in line with Iceland’s hopes to promote both foreign investment and tourism, said the country’s ambassador to Beijing, Kristin Arnadottir, who appeared with Huang.
“Perhaps we are going to experience something much more positive as Iceland becomes a tourist destination,” she said.
The Icelandic public initially favored the plan.
But opposition arose as critics questioned whether it really was a tourism project and, even if it is, whether such a huge land sale is right for a country with just 320,000 people.
Among the naysayers is Jon Thorisson, an architect who has campaigned against foreign ownership of Icelandic resources. He said that in tiny Iceland the deal is the equivalent of the United States selling the state of Missouri.
“Will large-scale ownership allow them to exert political influence?” he said. “Is it possible that we Icelanders will end up like tenant farmers on our own land?”
The anxiety in Iceland echoes sentiments heard in the United States and other economies as China steps up investment abroad, prompting challenges by critics and questions about the communist government’s role in business activity.
In the highest-profile deal, state-owned Chinese oil company CNOOC Ltd. withdrew a bid in 2005 to buy U.S. oil and gas producer Unocal Corp. after some American lawmakers complained it might jeopardize national security.
But most of China’s other investments in the United States and elsewhere cause little controversy and many governments actively court Chinese money.
Huang founded his company, Zhongkun Group, in 1995 after working in the government’s propaganda department and Ministry of Construction. It has built residential and commercial projects throughout China. Huang ranked 161st last year on Forbes magazine’s list of the richest Chinese entrepreneurs with a fortune estimated at $890 million.
Icelandic critics also question his project’s feasibility.
Huang’s plan calls for 10,000 guests a year. Access would be a 2 1-2-hour flight from the capital, Reykjavik, to the town of Akureyri in the island’s north and then either another flight or a drive over rural roads.
Andri Snaer Magnason, a popular writer and eco-activist, said the plan reminds him of jetsetting Icelandic bankers who overpaid for assets and wrecked their industry.
“It lacks all sense and logic,” he said.
Huang said the resort would offer golf, mountain biking and sightseeing by plane.
“Nature there is very beautiful,” Huang said.
He showed reporters photos of the grassy site with snow-blanketed hills in the distance and of himself, grinning broadly, meeting Iceland’s president and visiting farmhouses during a visit there.
“That was the best Iceland promotion that I’ve seen for a long time,” said Arnadottir, the Icelandic ambassador.
Huang said he hopes to win approval from the Chinese and Icelandic governments by February and to have completed the first phase of development by 2015.
Huang rejected suggestions his project was part of a possible Chinese government effort to gain access to a harbor on Iceland’s northeast coast. He said he might buy a ship to bring in European tourists but otherwise his plans had no connection to the harbor.
“If it involved politics or any other background (than tourism), I wouldn’t go there,” he said.
Huang said he was unaware of the controversy in Iceland until he returned to Beijing after a trip to Tibet this week.
“I found the whole world was looking for me,” he said.
Sigmundsdottir reported from Reykjavik.
Iceland set to begin talks on joining EU
¶ By ALDA SIGMUNDSDOTTIR
¶ Associated Press
REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) _ Iceland began formal accession talks with the European Union on Monday, following several months of preparation by both sides.
Iceland applied for membership following the collapse of its bloated banking industry in 2008, but joining the EU is unpopular with large sections of the public. Some harbor mistrust of the Union because they believe it forced an unfair deal on the island nation to make it repay its debts, while many fear losing the republic’s sovereignty to outsiders.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Ossur Skarphedinsson, who leads the Icelandic delegation, has said membership in the EU could lead to abolishing the country’s capital controls and adopting a new, secure currency.
“The benefits I see for Iceland of joining the Union are quite clear: We seek the right to sit at the family table where decisions are made that affect our future,” Skarphedinsson said at the first session in Brussels.
“We seek the security of a strong, international currency. We seek foreign investments. We seek an environment of stable, lasting growth that is inducive to the development of high-tech industries that already contribute 25 percent of our export earnings.
“Not least, we seek the long-term security a small nation, that neither has nor intends to have a military, would find by belonging to a strong European family.”
There is no deadline for concluding the negotiations.
Iceland is a member of the European Economic Area and has adopted substantial amounts of EU legislation. A screening process which began in November looked in detail at the areas where Iceland already conforms, and where it would have to make changes.
Fisheries, agriculture, regional policy _ particularly the opening up of the Arctic _ and monetary policy are expected to be key issues in the negotiations.
A powerful fishing faction in Iceland has relentlessly campaigned against the EU for fear of losing exclusive access to fishing grounds, and Icelandic farmers are worried that their industry will collapse if they have to compete with industrial farms in the EU.
The two parties that make up Iceland’s coalition government, the Social Democratic Alliance (SDA) and the Left-Green Movement, are sharply divided on the issue, with the SDA in favor and the Left-Greens opposed.
However, the Icelandic legislature, the Althingi, voted narrowly in favor of going ahead with membership talks.
Tech-savvy Iceland online for new constitution
¶ By ALDA SIGMUNDSDOTTIR
¶ Associated Press
¶ 06-08-2011 15:16
REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) _ How do you write a new constitution in the 21st century? You go where the people are _ online.
¶ That was the decision of tiny but tech-savvy Iceland, which is overhauling its constitution in the wake of an economic catastrophe, and has turned to the Internet to get input from citizens.
¶ The 25-member council drafting the new constitution is reaching out to Icelanders online, especially through social media sites Facebook and Twitter, video-sharing site YouTube and photo site Flickr.
¶ Iceland’s population of 320,000 is among the world’s most computer-literate. Two-thirds of Icelanders are on Facebook, so the constitutional council’s weekly meetings are broadcast live on the social networking site as well as on the council’s website.
¶ “It is possible to register through other means, but most of the discussion takes place via Facebook,” said Berghildur Bernhardsdottir, spokeswoman for the constitutional review project.
¶ When the North Atlantic island nation gained independence from Denmark in 1944, it simply took the Danish constitution and made a few minor adjustments, such as substituting the word “president” for “king.”
¶ A thorough review of the constitution has been on the agenda ever since, but action came only after the crisis in 2008, when Iceland’s main commercial banks collapsed within a week, the krona currency plummeted and protests toppled the government.
¶ “To me, it has long been clear that a comprehensive review of the constitution would only be carried out with the direct participation of the Icelandic people,” said Iceland’s Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir, one of the champions of the constitutional review since taking office in 2009.
¶ She says it a “distinct possibility” that the draft constitution will be put to the people in a referendum before Iceland’s parliament debates final approval.
¶ The 25 members of the constitutional council were elected by popular vote from a field of 522 candidates aged 18 and over. The council is basing its work on a 700-page report prepared by a committee that took into account the findings of 950 randomly selected Icelanders _ the National Forum _ who met for a day to discuss the division of powers, conservation and protection, foreign relations and more.
¶ But, the Internet component is still the most direct route for most Icelanders to weigh in. Members of the public must provide their names and addresses, and can then submit online recommendations for the new constitution, which are approved by local staff to avoid Internet heckling. The ideas are then passed on to the council, and are open for discussion online.
¶ The sort of argumentative and negative discussion that has been common on Icelandic blogs and news sites, especially since the economic collapse, has been almost entirely absent,” Bernhardsdottir said.
¶ Recommendations have spanned a wide range of topics, from improving the treatment of livestock to making it easier for authorities to seize stolen property, said Thorvaldur Gylfason, a professor of economics at the University of Iceland and a member of the council.
¶ Suggestions approved by the council _ including livestock protection _ are added to the draft constitution, which is accessible online and open for comment.
¶ It remains to be seen whether Icelanders can unite behind the most emotionally charged sections of the proposed constitution, such as nature conservation and ownership of Iceland’s natural resources. Major power projects, the threat of a global water shortage and fierce controversy over the rights to natural resources such as fishing grounds and geothermal energy have made Icelanders keenly aware of the value of their environment.
¶ “The proposed constitution defines access to clean and unspoiled nature as a human rights issue,” said Gylfason. “This strengthens the position of those who wish to seek justice as a result of environmental damage.”
¶ Another new clause tackles the contentious issue of who owns natural resources. When Iceland’s fisheries management system was introduced in the 1980s, certain companies were awarded fishing quotas for a nominal fee, giving them exclusive and lucrative rights to fishing grounds.
¶ “This clause has been eagerly awaited by the nation and stipulates that Iceland’s resources, including its fishing grounds, are the property of the nation,” which therefore has the right to the resources, Gylfason said.
¶ The draft constitution is due to be completed by the end of June, though the council may ask for an extension of one month. After that, it will be sent to Iceland’s parliament for debate and approval.
¶ The process, https://stjornlagarad.is/english/
Iceland votes on debt repay deal with UK, Dutch
¶ REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) _ To repay or not to repay, that is the question.
¶ Icelanders vote Saturday in a referendum to determine whether the nation will repay Britain and the Netherlands in full for compensating their citizens who had deposits in the failed online bank Icesave.
¶ The debate has sharply divided public opinion, with the two sides fighting it out on television, in print and through social media. Some Icelanders have threatened to leave their island nation if the vote doesn’t go their way.
¶ An agreement for repayment was reached in December after long negotiations and was approved by Iceland’s parliament in January. But President Olafur Ragnar Grisson, reacting to strong public opposition, vetoed the deal, igniting a furious reaction from the British and Dutch governments.
¶ The latest deal comes after months of new negotiations and debate over what really do the people of Iceland owe Dutch and British investors who poured money into an Icelandic bank that failed.
¶ The Icelandic National Broadcasting Service presented a lengthy debate Thursday night, while Facebook and Twitter have been buzzing with opinions on the subject.
¶ An opinion poll by Gallup Iceland, published Thursday, suggested the result was too close to call. Some 52 percent of those who had made up their minds said they would vote “no” and 48 percent said “yes,” while 15 percent of the total sample were undecided.
¶ The poll, based on interviews with 1,900 people from 31 March-7 April had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
¶ In one indication of how high tensions are, the tabloid newspaper DV received an anonymous letter containing death threats against former cabinet ministers who support the new agreement. Police are investigating.
¶ Some 233,000 Icelanders are eligible to vote in Saturday’s referendum. Final figures are expected early Sunday.
¶ The dispute is a legacy of the collapse of Iceland’s banks in 2008.
¶ Icesave, in which 340,000 British and Dutch had invested savings to reap high interest rates, was a foreign-based branch of Landsbanki. After Icesave collapsed in October 2008, British and Dutch authorities borrowed money to compensate their citizens, then turned to Iceland for repayment.
¶ The resulting disagreement became a morass of legal and financial uncertainties and diplomatic wrangling, with the U.K. and the Netherlands among other things threatening to block Iceland’s bid to join the European Union unless the dispute was resolved.
¶ A key question is ultimate cost of the debt, as the final sum has depended on the recovery of assets from the remnants of Icesave’s mother bank, Landsbanki. The debt was initially set at $5.3 billion, a crippling blow to Iceland’s 320,000 inhabitants.
¶ More recent estimates put the cost of the deal at less than 50 billion Icelandic kronur ($435 million). Those costs are for interest only _ 3 percent for The Netherlands and 3.3 percent for the U.K. Fallback measures also allow for the repayment period to be extended until 2046. The recovered assets of Landsbanki are now expected to cover the principal of the Icesave debt.
¶ Those who still reject the deal claim want to see the case settled in a European court.
¶ “Taxpayers should not be responsible for paying the debts of a private institution. I think that sends the wrong message onto the market, and sets a wrong precedent,” says Sigriur Andersen, a spokeswoman for the Advice group that opposes the agreement.
¶ Andersen also rejects the deal because the repayment is in foreign currencies.
¶ “That means that Iceland bears all risk in terms of the exchange rate,” she said.
¶ Those in favor want an end to the economic uncertainty.
¶ “The dispute has been ongoing for three years and it has substantially slowed economic recovery,” says Gylfi Magnússon, a former minister of economic affairs and a professor of economics at the University of Iceland. “It has been viewed by foreign investors as a serious risk factor. It has also resulted in a substantially higher cost of borrowing for Iceland.”
¶ Proponents of the “yes” vote also say it’s risky to go to court. If Iceland loses, it might have to repay the debt immediately and at substantially higher rates. They also argue that Iceland is legally obliged to repay since the deposits of all Icelanders were guaranteed in full when Icesave’s mother bank collapsed.
¶ For some, it all boils down to fairness.
¶ “I’m voting yes because it’s the more honest and sensible choice,” says Vilborg Davisdottir, an Icelandic writer. “People’s nationality should not be a determining factor regarding whether they are compensated for their deposits.”
Bjork protests energy deal with karaoke marathon
By ALDA SIGMUNDSDOTTIR
¶ REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) _ Karaoke is not normally used as a vehicle of protest.
¶ But Iceland’s most famous export, the flamboyant singer Bjork, thinks that should change. She is hosting a karaoke marathon in her hometown, Reykjavik, in hopes of pressuring the government to stop what she says is the sell-off of Iceland’s natural resources.
¶ “We want to give the nation a voice, a chance to reclaim its energy resources by singing them back,” she said of the event, which has been dubbed The Voice of the People.
¶ The singfest, which runs through Saturday, is designed to urge Icelanders to sign a petition intended to force a referendum on whether to overturn the sale of Icelandic geothermal company HS Orka to Canadian concern Magma Energy.
¶ The deal completed last year came at a sensitive time for this country of 320,000 people. Still reeling from the implosion of their economy in 2008, many Icelanders now are vehemently opposed to geothermal energy, fish, fresh water and other resources being privatized.
¶ Icelanders depend heavily on geothermal energy, which supplies heating to nearly 90 percent of Icelandic households, and a law already prohibits the privatization of natural resources in the public domain.
¶ So Magma’s decision to set up a holding company in Sweden to make it possible to comply with Icelandic laws barring non-European Economic Area countries from purchasing assets in the natural resource sector infuriated people already angry about the economic collapse.
¶ With the acquisition of HS Orka, Magma Energy not only acquires the country’s third-largest power company but also gains the right to use local geothermal energy fields for 65 years, with the option of potentially extending for up to 130 years. This has angered many Icelanders, who say the long lease is tantamount to a sale.
¶ A committee that investigated the issue last summer found that the deal was legal, but the controversy lived on.
¶ Adding to the anger was the fact that the deal was organized by the same political party that created conditions for the economic collapse, and which was driven from power by riots in early 2009.
¶ Magma Energy declined a request for comment by The Associated Press, but has in the past defended the deal by saying it was legal and that it intended to cooperate with the government.
¶ Bjork feels the time for challenge has arrived.
¶ “We want to call a national referendum to make Icelanders feel that the decisions made on their energy resources are the decisions made by the nation, not by a few businessmen behind closed doors,” she said. “So far the nation has not had a chance to take a stand on whether or not it wants its energy resources privatized.”
¶ So far, some 28,000 Icelanders have signed the petition. With this weekend’s event, Bjork and the other organizers hope to bring that number to 35,000 _ a figure they say will be difficult for Icelandic authorities to ignore.
¶ Thursday’s kickoff event included Bjork singing a duet with Omar Ragnarsson, one of Iceland’s most colorful entertainers and nature activists, and Reykjavik comedian and Mayor Jon Gnarr crooning a popular Icelandic ditty.
Negotiators agree deal on failed Iceland bank
By ALDA SIGMUNDSDOTTIR
¶ REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) _ Iceland, Britain and The Netherlands have reached a deal that will see Iceland repay $5 billion in debt stemming from the 2008 collapse of the Internet bank Icesave, negotiators announced Thursday.
¶ Thousands of British and Dutch nationals had savings in the bank, which offered high interest rates as Iceland boomed, and collapsed when the island nation’s financial sector imploded two years ago.
¶ The Netherlands and Britain reimbursed their citizens’ deposits in Icesave upfront after the bank collapsed. Both countries have been seeking reimbursement, but Icelanders rejected an earlier deal to repay the money and the affair has chilled relations among the countries.
¶ The new agreement will see Iceland start repayments in 2016 and finish by 2046, at an interest rate of 3 percent to the Dutch and 3.3 percent to Britain.
¶ An earlier Icesave agreement with a 5.5 percent interest rate was approved by Iceland’s parliament, but vetoed by the president and subsequently rejected in a national referendum.
¶ Britain has been seeking 2.3 billion pounds ($3.6 billion) in compensation and The Netherlands euro1.3 billion ($1.7 billion)
¶ Under the terms of the new agreement, the cost to the Icelandic treasury is estimated not to exceed 50 billion Icelandic kronur ($435 million). The recovered assets of Landsbanki are expected to cover the majority of the debt.
¶ Lee C. Buchheit, a member of the Icelandic negotiating committee, said the new deal was a fair one, particularly in view of current interest rates in Europe.
¶ Asked whether Iceland could have negotiated a more favorable deal, Buchheit replied, “I doubt it.”
¶ The agreement has to be approved and ratified by Iceland’s parliament, the Althingi, and signed by the Dutch and British governments.
¶ Within Iceland there was massive controversy over the deal, with a large share of the Icelandic population vehemently opposed to a sovereign guarantee on the debts of a private bank.
¶ Britain’s Treasury welcomed the deal, saying in a statement that “mutually satisfactory closure of this issue will mark a new chapter in U.K.-Iceland relations.”
¶ Treasury chief, George Osborne, said he was looking forward to “a much more constructive relationship between the Icelandic government and the British government, which was pretty glacial, frankly.
Iceland elects ordinary folk to draft constitution
By ALDA SIGMUNDSDOTTIR
¶ REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) _ Iceland’s getting a new constitution _ and it’s really going to be the voice of the people.
¶ The sparsely-populated volcanic island is holding an unusual election Saturday to select ordinary citizens to cobble together a new charter, an exercise in direct democracy born out of the outrage and soul-searching that followed the nation’s economic meltdown.
¶ Hundreds of people are vying for the chance to be among up to 31 people who will form the Constitutional Assembly slated to convene early next year _ a source of huge pride for Icelanders who have seen their egos take a beating in recent years.
¶ “This is the first time in the history of the world that a nation’s constitution is reviewed in such a way, by direct democratic process,” says Berghildur Erla Bergthorsdottir, spokeswoman for the committee entrusted with organizing the Constitutional Assembly.
¶ Iceland has never written its own constitution. After gaining independence from Denmark in 1944, it took the Danish constitution, amended a few clauses to state that it was now an independent republic, and substituted the word ‘president’ for ‘king.’ A comprehensive review of the constitution has been on the agenda ever since.
¶ Pressure mounted for action after the nation’s economic collapse in 2008, an event punctuated by ordinary citizens gathering outside the Althingi, the parliament, banging pots, pans and barrels _ a loud, clanging expression of fury. The meltdown was seen not only as a failure of the economy but of the system of government and regulatory agencies. Many came to believe a tighter constitutional framework _ including a clearer division of powers _ might have been able to minimize that damage, or even prevent it.
¶ “It is very important for ordinary citizens, who have no direct interest in maintaining the status quo, to take part in a constitutional review,” said Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir. “We are hoping this new constitution will be a new social covenant leading to reconstruction and reconciliation, and for that to happen, the entire nation needs to be involved.”
¶ The election marks yet another twist in the fortunes of this Nordic nation of just 320,000 that went from economic marvel to fiscal basket-case almost overnight. The rugged island settled by Vikings was transformed from a country of fisherman to hub of international finance with dizzying speed. Icelandic investors _ dubbed ‘Viking raiders’ _ snapped up assets around the world for a decade, mostly on borrowed funds.
¶ The global financial crisis wreaked political and economic havoc in Iceland. Banks collapsed in October 2008, and with them the Icelandic currency, the krona. Unemployment soared, as did the cost of living. Loans issued in foreign currencies during the boom suddenly doubled, tripled or even quadrupled, all due to the collapse of the krona.
¶ Icelanders debated their values and turned to questioning the foundations of their society, including those that had facilitated the boom. Anger grew as more instances of misdeeds and incompetence in the private and public sector were exposed. Icelanders woke up to the harsh fact that their country, which had consistently been at or near the top of the Transparency International anti-corruption index, was, in fact, steeped in corruption.
¶ That was ultimately confirmed in a 2,000-page report following a special parliamentary investigation. That report showed that the foundations of Icelandic society were decayed and that a sweeping revision of the social framework was needed.
¶ Sigurdardottir says a new social covenant can at least assist in “restoring the public’s faith in the government.”
¶ The constitutional assembly will be made up of 25 to 31 delegates, the final number to be determined by a gender and equality ratio. It will be made up of regular citizens elected by direct personal voting. Anyone is eligible to stand for election, with the exceptions of the president, lawmakers and the committee appointed to organize the assembly.
¶ The assembly will draft a proposed new constitution next year. They will use material from another extraordinary project earlier this year in which 1,000 randomly chosen Icelanders _ aged 18-89 _ offered their views on what should be in the constitution.
¶ Now the race is on to be among the charter’s authors, with 523 people in the running. Truck drivers, university professors, lawyers, journalists and computer geeks are all among the candidates. All have been given equal air time on Icelandic radio to make their platforms known.
¶ Those elected will receive a salary equal to that of Iceland’s lawmakers while the constitutional review takes place, and Icelandic employers are legally obliged to grant leave to any employees elected to the assembly.
¶ One candidate, Thorvaldur Gylfason, a professor of economics at the University of Iceland, drew parallels between Iceland and South Africa, saying that a country that has experienced shock needs a fresh start.
¶ “A country that has suffered a complete economic and moral collapse needs to start with a clean slate,” he said. “We need to ensure that the sort of malpractice and negligence that, among other things, led to the collapse of the Icelandic economy two years ago, cannot happen again.”
¶ Not everyone is convinced that the constitution should be amended, and some view the process as a frivolous populist exercise. They cite the high cost of the assembly and the difficulty of adequately presenting all the candidates.
¶ Thorsteinn Arnalds, an engineer, is running in hopes of keeping the existing constitution intact, arguing that change in a time of crisis is preposterous.
¶ “The constitution had nothing to do with the bank collapse, and it is not standing in the way of rebuilding,” he said. “Right now we need the basic social structures in place, not for them to be torn down.”
¶ Others, like Berglind Steinsdottir, a proofreader and student, are more enthusiastic.
¶ “I am incredibly optimistic and excited about seeing what comes out of this,” Steinsdottir said.
¶ WikiLeaks sets up limited company in Iceland
¶ By ALDA SIGMUNDSDOTTIR
¶ Associated Press
¶ REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) _ Whistle-blowing organization WikiLeaks has set up a private limited company in Iceland for administrative purposes, a spokesman said Saturday, as part of a move to restructure its global operations.
¶ The organization is also establishing legal entities in Sweden and France, spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson said, as bases from which to carry out tasks such as opening bank accounts. He stressed Saturday that the moves do not mean WikiLeaks is trying to make a profit.
¶ “If people think we at WikiLeaks are setting up companies in order to profit from its operations, I would like to assure them that this is not the case,” Hrafnsson said.
¶ The international anti-secrecy group has drawn global headlines _ and outrage in some quarters _ by publishing highly sensitive, classified material on its website. It angered the Pentagon when it posted half a million secret Iraq and Afghanistan war files earlier this year, and the group is also believed to have another 15,000 Afghan war field reports, 260,000 diplomatic cables and U.S. video of casualties in Afghanistan.
¶ WikiLeaks has set up as a private limited company called Sunshine Press Productions in Iceland, Hrafnsson said, because it was a simpler procedure there than establishing a nonprofit organization. The company was registered at the home of one of WikiLeaks’ employees in Iceland.
¶ He said WikiLeaks already operates as a legal entity in Australia, but could not confirm whether it runs there as a company or as a nonprofit organization.
¶ The spokesman was reticent about what the new Icelandic company’s operations will be.
¶ “WikiLeaks is a young and growing organization, there is a great deal happening, and we are restructuring in order to meet that reality,” he said.
¶ The Icelandic government recently passed a resolution in favor of a bill that aims to turn the tiny nation into a journalistic haven by granting high-level protection to investigative journalists and their sources. The initiative was partly driven by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
¶ Hrafnsson said there was no link between its new Icelandic company and the media protection bill.
¶ Assange has said that his organization was facing financial difficulties and alleged that U.S. authorities pressured an online payment service to shut down his account. WikiLeaks has in the past shut its website down due to lack of funds.
Iceland opens probe into US surveillance
By ALDA SIGMUNDSDOTTIR
REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) _ Iceland has joined other Nordic countries in launching an investigation into a controversial U.S. Embassy surveillance program.
¶ Iceland’s Ministry of Justice and Human Rights will try to determine whether the U.S. embassy’s program violates the civil rights of residents living near the embassy, which sits in a residential area in Reykjavík’s old city center.
¶ The inquiry was spurred by media reports in Norway and Sweden that linked U.S. embassies there to possible espionage against citizens of those countries, sparking a wave of anti-American sentiments that has spread throughout the region.
¶ Halla Gunnarsdóttir, assistant to Iceland’s Minister of Justice and Human Rights, said the police commissioner will now “investigate whether the U.S. Embassy in Reykjavik had been involved in comparable activities.”
¶ Reports of alleged abuses are swirling throughout Iceland. A former security guard who would not release his name told Icelandic media website Vísir Thursday that the U.S. Embassy’s surveillance activities went far beyond the embassy neighborhood, contradicting U.S. Ambassador Luis Arreaga’s assertion that it was limited to the immediate area.
¶ Arreaga told the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service that no espionage is involved.
¶ “I want to assure the Icelandic public that we respect Icelandic law,” he said. “We’re very sorry that these press reports have caused unease and concern and have diverted attention from important issues.”
¶ He said the program allows U.S. officials to alert Icelandic authorities to suspicious behavior near the embassy.
¶ “If an employee of ours sees that there is a person who goes back and forth two or four times, that looks pretty suspicious to us,” he said. “If we see that and we think it is significant, we immediately call the local authorities and say, ‘look, we have observed the following, would you please follow up.’ And that’s it. We don’t follow people. We don’t do anything that would not be respectful of Icelandic citizens.”
¶ In Washington, State Department officials said the Nordic countries are apparently objecting about a longstanding program to help embassies and consulates detect “suspicious activities” near U.S. facilities.
¶ “We regret that some of the press about this program has caused unease and concern among some of our friends,” said spokesman Mark Toner. He said the programs started after the lethal 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
¶ Before those attacks, he said, U.S. embassies came under “hostile surveillance” by terrorists that was not picked up by U.S. officials, allowing the mass slaughter of innocent civilians.
¶ He said the embassy counter-surveillance programs are carried out “in full compliance” with local laws in host countries.
¶ U.S. officials seem surprised by the fierce Nordic reaction to the protection program.
¶ Norway and Sweden have launched investigations to determine the extent of the surveillance activities and whether they violated domestic laws. The governments of both countries say they weren’t aware of the program, and have asked U.S. embassy officials for more information.
¶ Denmark asked its intelligence service to check with the U.S. Embassy and make sure that the surveillance activities are within the boundaries of Danish law, but stopped short of a criminal probe.
¶ Prosecutor Joern Maurud in Oslo said the Norwegian investigation is limited to Norwegian nationals who worked for the U.S. Embassy.
¶ “The investigation is not going to be directed toward personnel with diplomatic immunity,” he said.
¶ The outcry started after Norway’s TV2 reported that the U.S. Embassy recruited former Norwegian police and intelligence officials for a surveillance unit operating from an office outside the embassy.
¶ TV2 said the unit took pictures of Norwegian citizens deemed security risks, identified them and passed the information to the embassy. Members of the unit took pictures of street demonstrations in Oslo, including one outside Parliament, the report said.
¶ It sparked a discussion in Norway _ that later spread to the other Nordic countries _ about whether the U.S. surveillance detection program bordered on illegal intelligence gathering.
¶ Maurud said there was no immediate indication that any laws had been violated but that the investigation was started to get to the bottom of the matter.
¶ The U.S. denies that the surveillance amounts to a intelligence program and claims it has informed local authorities about it, but many residents seem angered by the program.
¶ “I think such surveillance is necessary, but Norwegian authorities should know about it,” said Fabian Storm, a 19-year-old law student in Oslo. “I am mostly afraid that the United States will do whatever it wants and violate Norwegian principles and opinions.”
¶ Bia Hammer, a 65-year-old librarian, agreed.
¶ “I think it is scary that we are being monitored,” she said. “It seems like the U.S. is doing whatever it wants, while Norwegian authorities are not aware of it.”
¶ Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Bjoern H. Amland in Oslo and Desmond Butler in Washington contributed to this report.