Wednesday, 28 January 2009

U.S. Consulate Mistakenly Auctions Secret Files in Jerusalem

U.S. Consulate Mistakenly Sells Secret Files in Jerusalem

Hundreds of files — with social security numbers, bank account numbers and other sensitive U.S. government information — were found in a filing cabinet purchased from the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem through a local auction.

The consulate was unaware of the missing files until FOX News contacted U.S. officials. Initially they said that no filing cabinets were sold in the auction, but later they acknowledged the sale. The State Department has now launched an investigation.

The files contained social security numbers of U.S. Marines and State Department employees stationed in Israel, and documentation of how U.S. government money is allocated to fund sensitive programs in the region. Among the papers was also a report labeled "secret" that documented an encounter a U.S. Marine had with an Israeli woman at a bar in Jerusalem.

Robert Baer, a former CIA agent who spent years working in the Middle East, calls the incident a serious security failure.

"It's a major breach because the government, at all cost, wants to keep these records out of foreign hands, whether Israeli or any other country," Baer says. "We spy on Israel; they spy on us. The Marines are vulnerable because they are young, and they are inevitably single. You're looking at what is called a honey trap. You run a girl into an employee. You actually get him to fall in love and then you get them to break the security clearance and go and steal documents or whatever."

The head of security at the U.S. consulate approached Paula (the buyer) asking for the documents to be returned. When she refused to turn them in the consulate asked Israeli police to intervene. After she was threatened with criminal charges, she returned the files, but not before FOX News had a thorough look at them.

The American consulate in Jerusalem routinely holds furniture auctions to dispose of unwanted items. The woman purchased the cabinets in December of 2005 but decided to come forward with the files after hearing about a Sept. 22, 2008 incident in which a Palestinian teenager crashed a BMW into a group of Israeli soldiers.

Paula, whose son's unit was the one that was struck by the car, says she was angered when she heard that the car was purchased from an auction held by the consulate.
U.S. officials insist the car was never linked to them. A FOX News investigation also found there was no connection.

Paula, an Israeli who also holds U.S. citizenship, says she wanted to expose the incident because her loyalty is to the state of Israel.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Naked Madonna photo for auction.

The 30-year old nude photo of Madonna that earned her a meagre $25 modelling fee is expected to sell for over $10,000 when it goes to auction next month.

The picture of the 50-year-old hitmaker, is one of six shots taken by photographer Lee Friedlander that were sold to Playboy magazine, whose editors published the snap in 1985.

Madonna posed for the full frontal at the age of 20 after responding to Friedlander's newspaper ad seeking a nude model in 1979 during her time as a struggling dancer in New York.

Christie's auction house will put the set, including one semi-clothed photo captured by Helmut Newton, on the auction block on February 12.

Monday, 12 January 2009

To thwart the sale of Utah wilderness to big oil, a student bid for it at auction - and won

Tim DeChristopher makes an unlikely landowner: the gangly economics student, dressed in combat trousers and a hoodie, doesn’t look as though he has ever owned anything more valuable than an iPod. As of last Friday, though, DeChristopher became the proud owner of 22,500 acres of Red Rock Desert – a magnificent symbol of the American Wild West. He hopes the $45,000 (£30,000) cheque he has just written will serve as a deposit on his chunk of Utah desert and will keep him out of prison – for now.

It’s not unusual to hear of bidders at an auction getting carried away and going over the budget they set themselves, but few can have done so in as spectacular a way as DeChristopher, an environmental enthusiast who intended to raise a gentle protest at the sale of parcels of desert land for exploration by oil and gas companies and ended up spending $1.8m (£1.2m). “I won my first bid for a parcel of land – about 220 acres – for $495. After the first rush of adrenaline, I started to relax; I knew there was no going back,” he says.

Selling the land at the auction, three weeks ago, was to be one of the last decisive acts of the George Bush administration. A row had been rumbling over the sale for some time: the American government intended to sell off 360,000 acres – on 10-year leases – for exploration but had been forced to reduce that to 150,000 acres after a vocal campaign spearheaded by the actor Robert Redford, who lives in Utah. “These lands are not Bush and Cheney’s; these are our lands,” Redford said. “How would you feel if you had an heirloom in your family that was centuries old and someone came in when you were not looking and took it away from you?”

On the day of the auction, DeChristopher was sitting his economics finals at the University of Utah. He had intended to wander down to the auction later in the day to see what was going on but was struck by one of the questions in his exam paper: “In the auction that’s happening today, if there are only oil and gas men in the room bidding on these parcels, is the final cost going to reflect the true value of developing oil?”

“The answer they were looking for was: no, it’s not,” says DeChristopher, “because there are a lot of extra costs that the rest of us pay for the development of oil – things like healthcare costs that come from pollution and the cost of mitigating climate change.”

The question was still in his mind as he arrived at the Bureau of Land Management building in Salt Lake City. About 100 protesters were marching back and forth, but there was a feeling of resignation. “All these people were holding their signs but knew it wasn’t making any difference,” says DeChristopher.

“I’d been to environmental protests before. I’ve waved signs and marched, written letters, signed petitions and spoken to my congressmen. None of it ever made any difference. I knew I had to make more of a nuisance of myself than that.”

He decided to go inside and cause a bit of disruption. Instead, something unexpected happened. An official approached him and said: “Hi, are you here for the auction?” He thought for a second. “Er, yes. I am.”

“Are you a bidder?” she asked, smiling. “Well, er, yes I am.”

DeChristopher found himself handing over his driving licence and a minute later had signed up. He took his bidding paddle, number 70, and sat down.

Remembering the exam question, he knew he could drive up the prices simply by bidding. “I sat there for about half an hour grappling with my conscience,” he says. “I knew that if I were to make a bid, there would be serious consequences. I was cautious at first – I just wanted to push up the cost of the land parcels. I didn’t want to win a bid.”

Inevitably, the scruffy, shaven-headed student began to attract attention. “I definitely stood out,” he says. “Everyone else in the room seemed to know each other, and couldn’t figure out who this kid was who was driving up the prices.”

Then it occurred to him that though his bids were making the land more expensive, they were still falling into the hands of the oil companies and would be plundered and laid to waste. If he bought some land, he could protect it from development. Never mind the fact that he didn’t have a cent to pay for it – he’d think about that later.

The lots got bigger and more expensive. “I ended up winning 12 in a row.” In all, 22,500 acres.

When the auctioneer called a five-minute break, DeChristopher knew the game was up. He was taken into custody and questioned by the bureau’s law enforcement agents and local police. “I told them why I felt I had to take serious action. It sounds like an intimidating situation but I felt they were quite sympathetic,” he says.

Four hours later he was released and gave an impromptu press conference. Since then, the phone hasn’t stopped ringing.

He set up a website and donations began to pour in – mostly just $10 or $20 – enabling him to meet the $45,000 deposit on the land that was required last week. As he bought 10-year leases, he argues he should be given 10 years to pay them off, and he is confident he will be able to.

Despite his high-profile opposition to the sale, DeChristopher has had no contact with Redford. He suspects this is because Redford belongs to one of America’s biggest environmental groups – the kind he has reservations about. “Their basic approach is that environmentalists should sign petitions and send donations. They want to make change one concession at a time, which gives them a seat at the table of power.”

If DeChristopher can’t come up with the balance in the next few months he could be charged with fraud and face up to three years in prison. He has resigned himself to the fact that the US attorney will probably press charges, but he has disrupted the sale for long enough to see Barack Obama take office – and that might make all the difference to what happens next.

“It’s still unclear how the new administration will deal with this,” he says. “I can only hope that President Obama follows through on his promise for a transparent government.”

Until then, he vows to keep developers off the land, even if he has to do it from a prison cell.

To support DeChristopher, visit

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Single tuna sold for over $100,000 in auction.

Two sushi bar owners paid more than $100,000 for a Japanese bluefin tuna at a Tokyo fish auction Monday, about ten times the average price and the highest in nearly a decade, market officials said.

The 282-pound premium tuna caught off the northern coast of Oma fetched 9.63 million yen ($104,700), the highest since 2001, when another Japanese bluefin tuna brought an all-time record of 20 million yen, market official Takashi Yoshida said.

Yoshida said the extravagant purchase - about $370 per pound ($817 per kilogram) - went to a Hong Kong sushi bar owner and his Japanese competitor who reached a peaceful settlement to share the big fish. The Hong Kong buyer also paid the highest price at last year's new year event at Tokyo's Tsukiji market, the world's largest fish seller, which holds near-daily auctions.

Typical tuna prices at Tokyo fish markets are less than $25 per pound ($55 per kilogram). But bluefin tuna is considered by gourmets to be the best, and when sliced up into small pieces and served on rice it goes for very high prices in restaurants.

Premium fish - sometimes sliced up while the customers watch - also have advertising value, underscoring a restaurant's quality, like a rare wine.

Thousands of tuna were auctioned at Monday's festive new year sale, which often brings unusually high prices.

"It was the best tuna of the day, but the price shot up because of the shortage of domestic bluefin," Yoshida said, citing rough weather at the end of December. Buyers vied for only three Oma bluefin tuna Monday, compared to 41 last year.

A similar size imported bluefin caught off the eastern United States sold for 1.42 million yen ($15,400) in Monday's auction.

Due to growing concerns over the impact of commercial fishing on the bluefin variety's survival, members of international tuna conservation organizations, including Japan, have agreed to cut their bluefin catch quota for 2009 by 20 percent to 22,000 tons.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Big Bopper’s casket for auction

In what has to be the weirdest auction on ebay yet, you will be able to buy the casket that the Big Bopper was buried in.

The family of the late 1950s pop star JP “The Big Bopper” Richardson is going to auction his casket on eBay sometime next week some forty eight years after he died in a plane crash with Buddy Holly and Richie Valens.

Sadly, or happily whichever way you look at it, the corpse won’t be sold with the casket.

The Big Bopper’s steel casket was exhumed last year from his original grave at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Beaumont Texas, so it could be moved to a more visible location with a life-size statue and historic marker.

The exhumed casket is apparently in ok condition after being buried for 48 years.

It has minor rust spots and a white lime stain where several inches of water once leaked into the surrounding vault, but according to the family there was no evidence water had ever seeped into the casket itself.

Apparently the son, Jay Richardson is going to use the money to finance a tribute show.