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tv   60 Minutes  NBC  January 31, 2016 7:00pm-8:00pm EST

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we go further, so you can. >> kroft: the man in the gray coat with the german accent is an undercover investigator posing as the representative of a fictitious african minister who wants to bring millions in questionable funds into the u.s. >> if it's not in his name... >> yes. >> then he needs what is known as a straw man. >> kroft: it's part of a hidden camera sting operation to see how willing american lawyers might be to offer advice. >> so we have to scrub it at the beginning, if we can, or scrub it at the intermediary location that i mentioned. >> there is a clear pitch consistently presented in every one of these tapes of what amounts to an incredible number of red flags that scream corruption. >> kroft: dirty money? >> dirty money. >> alfonsi: petermann glacier in greenland is one of the largest glaciers in the arctic
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experienced dramatic melting. although it is a harsh and dangerous environment, it has drawn some of the world's leading climate scientists to study its it's sheath and look at its effects on the ocean. we watched as they attempted a first-ever look at what's happening 300 feet below the ice. >> i'm steve kroft. >> i'm lesley stahl. >> i'm bill whitaker. >> i'm sharyn alfonsi. >> i'm scott pelley.
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>> kroft: if you like crime dramas and movies with international intrigue, then you probably have a basic understanding of money laundering. it's how dictators, drug dealers, corrupt politicians, and other crooks avoid getting caught by transforming their ill-gotten gains into assets that appear to be legitimate. they do it by moving the dirty money through a maze of dummy corporations and offshore bank accounts that conceal their identity and the source of the funds. and most of it would never happen without the help-- witting or unwitting-- of lawyers, accountants and incorporators, the people who actually create these anonymous shell companies and help move the money. in fact, the u.s. has become one of the most popular places in the world to do it. tonight, with the help of hidden camera footage, we're going to show you how easy it seems to have become to conceal
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enforcement and the public. you need look no further for evidence than the changing skyline of new york city, where much of the priciest residential real estate is being snapped up not by individuals but by anonymous shell companies with secret owners. there's nothing illegal about it as long as the money's legitimate, but there's no way to tell if you don't know who the real buyers are. it is one of the reasons global witness, a london-based non- profit organization that exposes international corruption, came to new york city 19 months ago. it wanted to see howelpful u.s. lawyers would be in concealing questionable funds. this hidden camera footage was shot in law firms across manhattan without the lawyers' knowledge by the man in the gray coat with the german accent. >> lawrence gabe: so it's ralph? >> ralph kayser: ralph kayser. >> kroft: "ralph kayser" is not his real name. he's an investigator for global witness posing here as the representative of a government
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african country who wants to move millions of dollars in suspicious funds into the united states, and he needs the lawyers' help. >> ross: are you gonna tell me what country and what minister this is? >> kayser: i can't tell you. it's one of those mineral rich countries in west africa. there are not so many. >> kroft: attorney gerald ross and the other lawyers were told secrecy was essential, because the african minister had amassed his fortune collecting special payments from foreign companies that he'd helped obtain valuable mineral rights. >> kayser: so companies are eager to get hold of rare earth or other minerals. and so they pay some special money for it. i wouldn't name it bribe. i would say "facilitation money." >> kroft: kayser said it was all legal. he told attorney james silkenat and the other lawyers that the minister was shopping for a townhouse, a jet and a yacht, but his name must not be connected to the purchases. >> kayser: if his name now
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buying some real estate here and other items, it would look, at least, very, very embarrassing. >> james silkenat: right. because his... presumably his salary in, wherever it is, would not cover the kinds of acquisitions we're talking about. >> kayser: oh, for sure. it's the salary of a teacher here. and so how can we make sure that he is being able to-to buy property here and to live a nice life, but his name being out? >> silkenat: right. any guesses as to how much money we're talking about for the brownstone and the other items? >> kayser: i mean, the brownstone, talk about $10 million. for second-hand gulfstream, i could imagine $10, $20 million. a yacht would be at least $200, $300 million. >> kroft: the fictitious story of the african minister was cooked up in global witness' london office, based on an actual money laundering case.
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york law firms with experience in private asset protection and managed to get face-to-face meetings with 16 different lawyers in 13 firms. >> kayser: i'm very frank. it's, i would say, "gray money." i think somebody told me you name it "black money." >> kroft: global witness says the pitch was intentionally designed to raise red flags and to give the lawyers good reason to suspect that the minister's millions came from official corruption, and they all did. >> kayser: it's only that the money is a bit, let's say... >> gabe: tainted. >> kayser: tainted, thank you very much. >> gabe: okay, that's a nice word. okay. >> kayser: or, you gave another expression? koplik: honest graft. kayser: honest graft! okay, fine. so i have to be frank. it's honest graft. how would you name it? >> ross: some people call it bribes. >> kayser: nah, i wouldn't name it bribe... >> ross: never. right, no, course not. >> kayser: because it's a business deal. so, okay, bribe... is actually bribe. >> charmian gooch: you know, the story of the fictitious african minister would probably have raised eyebrows for the average person on the street.
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co-founder of global witness, a public advocacy group that exposes corruption in the developing world. previous undercover investigations exposed the global trade in african blood diamonds. this investigation, gooch says, exposes serious flaws in the u.s. legal system that have made it a hub for international money laundering. >> gooch: what the lawyers laid out for us in some detail was all the different possibilities and ways in which it could be done. >> kroft: what you're saying is into the united states, it's not that hard to do. >> gooch: what i'm saying is there is an open door and it's pretty shocking and pretty concerning, because that money could be coming from anywhere. >> kroft: of the 16 lawyers that global witness recorded in these preliminary meetings, only attorney jeffrey herrmann flatly declined to participate and showed ralph kayser the door. >> herrmann: i have some real questions about that. >> kayser: yes? >> herrmann: under the foreign corrupt practices act. >> kayser: right. >> herrmann: and under the
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bribing foreign officials is illegal. >> kayser: by americans. >> herrmann: by americans. >> kayser: but americans are not involved. so it's money from other nation- - nationals, not american entities, not american nationals... >> herrmann: it's not for me. >> kayser: pardon me? >> herrmann: it's not for me. >> kroft: aside from that one exception, 12 out of the 13 law firms, including 15 out of the 16 lawyers, not only heard ralph kayser out, they suggested ways that the suspicious funds could be moved into the u.s. without compromising the minister's identity. attorney james silkenat was selected by global witness because at the time, he was president of the american bar association. yet he and his colleague, hugh finnegan, provided what former prosecutors told us was a roadmap of how to conceal the source of the funds using layers
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shell companies in multiple jurisdictions. >> finnegan: presumably, we would set up a little bit of a series of owners to try and, again, protect privacy as much as anything else. >> kayser: yeah. >> silkenat: so company a is owned by company b, which is owned jointly by company c and d, and your party owns all of or the majority of the shares of c and d. >> kayser: so we, we create several companies? >> kayser: all in new york or different states? >> finnegan: well, like i said, at some point, probably pretty quickly, you'd go offshore. >> kroft: attorney john jankoff and his partner, lawrence gabe, recommended variations of the same strategy. >> jankoff: a lot of people in africa use the isle of man. some of them use liechtenstein... >> gabe: so he would just take his millions of dollars, put it in isle of man... >> jankoff: he can put it into a swiss bank account. the swiss will have it. and... and then... >> gabe: and then he comes to us. >> jankoff: and then he comes to us and says, "i want to buy a
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>> kroft: attorney marc koplik also suggested that the minister could move his money out of west africa to europe, where it could be "scrubbed" in an anonymous corporate entity that his firm would be happy to set up. >> koplik: the money as it sits now, is it in his name? >> kayser: it's in different names. >> koplik: okay. so it will come as those different names? >> kayser: including his name, yes? >> koplik: so we have to scrub it at the beginning, if we can, or scrub it at the intermediary location that i mentioned. >> kayser: so how to do this, intermediary? that means a bank in? >> koplik: we'll say luxembourg. >> kayser: luxembourg. >> koplik: we will set up an appropriate entity call it or whatever, and then that will send money into the united states. >> kroft: if that was a banker talking instead of a lawyer, he could be in serious trouble. that's because under u.s. law, bankers are required to report suspicious financial activity to
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lawyers are under no such legal obligation. >> gooch: banks in america are required to know their customer or required to be very cognizant of risk and to report on it if there... if there is an issue there around money laundering. and yet, absolutely bizarrely, american lawyers aren't. this is clearly an issue. and i think our investigation has shown the potential for what could happen because of that lack of regulation. >> kroft: global witness says that anomaly is just one of the flaws in the u.s. legal system that helps facilitate money laundering. >> and we're going to call it here, "anonymous, inc." >> kroft: another is the ease in which anonymous shell companies can be set up here to conceal ownership of money and assets. last year two million new corporations were set up in the united states, many with no offices, products or employees... just an address and perhaps a bank account. >> gooch: in many states across america, you need less identification to set up and open up an anonymous company than you do to get a library
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>> kroft: gooch says anonymous shell companies are like getaway cars for crooks, designed to put them as far way as possible from the scene of their crime. according to a world bank study, the u.s. was the favorite place for corrupt officials to set up anonymous shell companies. >> gooch: there was a very good academic study and america came up as the easiest place to set up an anonymous company, after kenya, out of 180 countries. >> kroft: after kenya? >> gooch: after kenya. >> kroft: so did that study have anything to do with your decision to go ahead and do these undercover investigations? >> gooch: it inspired us. i mean, we almost thought, "it can't be this bad, can it?" and, unfortunately, what we found is it is. >> kroft: all of the attorneys expressed some concerns, like this one from gerald ross. >> ross: i've got to be very careful myself. i don't want to do something if it looks like i'm laundering money. and that would cost me my license and-and i... just don't do that. >> kroft: but later, he suggested that the questionable money could be wired directly into his client escrow account,
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banks. >> ross: when i get money from my other clients, it always comes here with some strange name on it. i don't even ask. >> kayser: and nobody ask? >> ross: it doesn't come from minister joe jones. it comes from the xyz account. >> kroft: john jankoff said they would need to get a legal opinion that the money was clean, then suggested that the minister use front men to open up overseas bank accounts. >> jankoff: if it's not in his name, then he needs what is known as a "straw man." practically speaking if the money leaves the country his name should not be attached to the wire. it should be other people's names. >> poncy: and we know this happens. we know this happens. this is how money laundering occurs all over the world. but that does not mitigate the power of seeing it up close. >> kroft: we showed the tapes to chip poncy, a former top official at the treasury
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financial crime, terrorist financing and money laundering. he says there's nothing wrong with lawyers setting up anonymous shell companies to protect a client's privacy, but if it's done to conceal criminal activity, that's when it becomes a problem. >> poncy: there's a clear pitch consistently presented in every one of these tapes of what amounts to an incredible number of red flags that scream corruption. >> kroft: dirty money? >> poncy: dirty money. >> kroft: bad actors? >> poncy: bad actors. they don't want to be found and they have a need. they've got to move their money from a point where they've received corrupt proceeds in this case to a point where they can enjoy those proceeds. and to get 'em from... to get this money from point a to point b, they need help in laundering it, effectively. >> kroft: poncy says he was dismayed with the ease and the comfort with which attorneys seemed to be willing to turn a blind eye and discuss a matter that was likely to be illegal. >> poncy: what's essential to recognize is that this is after it's been revealed that the
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an african minister with hundreds of millions of dollars of funds received through, effectively, bribes. >> kroft: this is more than legal advice? >> poncy: this is legal advice on how to evade controls, or at a minimum, very clear global standards on financial transparency to allow our countries to go after proceeds of crime. >> kroft: attorney marc koplik told the global witness investigator that he preferred using money managers and investment firms to move funds. he thought it was less risky than using banks. >> koplik: and i would suggest three or four to you. some are bigger. some are smaller. the smaller ones are often more flexible and understanding and less concerned about their reputation. because they fly, to a greater extent, below the radar screen. >> kroft: sometimes the advice took the form of suggesting banks and countries that might be less vigilant about money
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>> silkenat: we would have to look into how far specific banks looked into, you know, the, you know, the know your customer laws and how far they would dig. >> finnegan: in many ways, you'd probably be better off with a smaller bank because... >> kayser: that would be a possibility. >> finnegan: because the bigger banks are much more serious about looking into that stuff. >> kayser: their reputation. >> finnegan: right. yes. >> silkenat: and there may be other banking systems that are less rigorous on this than the u.s. would be. >> kayser: what would it be? >> silkenat: the usual banking havens, i think, would be ones you would want to consider. we could provide you with a list of countries where the banking systems require less detail on ownership or source of funds. >> kroft: while james silkenat, the former president of the
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his partner, hugh finnegan, listened to the pitch and suggested ways in which they might be able to help, they were also the most suspicious of ralph kayser and his african minister, beginning just five minutes into the meeting. >> silkenat: we need to talk about the risks or just concerns about where he got the money and how to explain that. >> kayser: that's it. >> silkenat: there is... there are issues there. the transactions is which he would be involved here wouldn't be part of facilitating payments, but if that's really where the money came from and if there were, you know, "crimes" committed someplace else, that- that starts to be an issue. >> kroft: they were also the most cautious about moving forward. towards the end of the meeting, hugh finnegan, who is off camera here, said the firm would feel obligated to report anything it
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>> finnegan: bearing in mind of what you said, no american law was violated, no local law was violated, but, you know, if we're aware that a crime is being committed, we have an obligation to report that. >> kroft: mr. silkenat says, "we need to talk about the risks or just concerns about where he got the money and how to explain that." >> poncy: that, that, and that's, that's a welcome... >> kroft: he's already been told how, where the money came from and how he got the money. >> poncy: correct. so it-it's a healthy recognition that there's an issue here. >> kroft: if you could ask him anything about this meeting, what would it be? >> poncy: what's going through your head? why are you continuing this conversation? why not just say no? is the business that important? >> kroft: neither silkenat nor finnegan would agree to an on- camera interview. but they sent us a statement saying they only discussed generic information that could be found on the internet and that their conduct was "entirely appropriate." "had the camera followed us after the meeting," they wrote,
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that kayser was disreputable and that we would not deal with him again." none of the other lawyers agreed to give us an on camera interview either. when we come back, we'll take a look at the legal and ethical implications of what you've just seen. >> cbs money watch update brought to you by one of the world's leading pharmaceutical companies. >> glor: good evening. the united nations wants $860 million for aq hanarn crisis. on tuesday b.p. is expected to announce a 70% drop in profits. and former drug company c.e.o. martin shkreli could face contempt charges if he's a no-show at thursday's congressional hearing on
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>> kroft: when a non-profit organization called global witness came to new york 19 months ago, it secretly recorded hidden camera interviews with 16 manhattan lawyers. its investigator was posing as the representative of an african official trying to move millions of dollars of suspicious funds. global witness, which specializes in exposing international corruption, wanted to see how much help the lawyers would provide in setting up anonymous shell companies and offshore bank accounts to move the suspicious funds into the u.s., and at the same time, protect the identity of the fictitious african official. >> silkenat: good to see you. >> kayser: good to see you. >> kroft: the undercover investigator, who called himself ralph kayser, told the lawyers that the minister had used his official position to collect tens of millions of dollars in special payments from foreign
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valuable mineral rights. he wanted to move the money to the united states to buy a house, a jet, and a yacht. >> kayser: so therefore, he wants to bring in the money into the u.s. so, starting with the brownstone and then, probably, buying a gulfstream jet... he wants to commission the building of a yacht, and buy, probably, more property. >> kroft: the story was intentionally devised to raise red flags and lead the lawyers to believe that the minister's money was dirty. during the meetings, only one of the 16 lawyers, jeffrey herrmann, told him no. >> herrmann: this ain't for me. my standards are higher. >> kroft: the rest expressed varying degrees of interest, with most of them offering advice on how it could be done. >> koplik: we do everything, soup to nuts. so, there's no limitation. we don't say, "oh, we don't do windows, or we don't deal with the financial money managers," or whatever. no. we orchestrate and organize the entire thing.
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responsibility. >> kroft: what's important to point out-- and it cannot be overstated-- is that none of the lawyers we've shown you broke any laws, in part because the african minister didn't really exist. there were no hundreds of millions of dollars, and global witness' charmian gooch said no money ever changed hands. so this is sort of a morality test? >> gooch: it wasn't. it was a... it was a test on the system. >> kroft: you know, people could make the argument, "look, all these guys did, really, was just listen to this person that came into their office. they didn't make a deal, they didn't sign up. they said, 'we need to do some more research.'" >> gooch: and you know what? they'd be absolutely right to say that, but they'd need to say something else, too, which is that those lawyers laid out, in often considerable detail, a myriad of different ways to bring money into america. >> kroft: none of the lawyers agreed to take on the african minister as a client, nor were they asked to. it was a preliminary meeting that ended with most of the
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continuing the dialogue, and some enthusiastic about landing the business. >> silkenat: i'm happy to chat whenever it's possible to move the ball forward on this. >> kayser: fantastic, great. >> silkenat: good. >> kayser: thank you so much. >> silkenat: thanks for coming in. >> kroft: marc koplik and albert grant foresaw no problem as long as the money was clean, and gave no indication that they planned to do any checking themselves. they went so far as to discuss legal fees. >> koplik: legal fees will be substantial, albert. correct me i'm wrong-- $50,000 to $100,000. >> kroft: koplik also suggested conducting a test in which a portion of the suspicious funds would be sent into the united states. >> koplik: a million dollars. >> kayser: a million dollars, so, as a test? >> albert grant: yeah. >> kayser: because i said, probably you would start with around, $50 million, probably, i could imagine? >> koplik: i would say a million dollars. >> kayser: a million dollars. >> koplik: if anything goes wrong, it'll be painful, but it won't be life threatening. >> kayser: right. exactly. >> kroft: john jankoff and his partner, lawrence gabe, who is off camera here, also seemed willing to go forward. >> jankoff: we would orchestrate it.
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everything. >> kroft: however, gabe did express some concerns about the transactions. >> kayser: who can set up this structure? could you do it? >> jankoff: yeah, your brother- in-law does it all the time. >> gabe: well, okay. but i-i-i don't think he does it with money that may be questionable. and that we have to find out about. >> kroft: at the end of that meeting, they looked forward to the next conversation on the telephone, not on email. >> gabe: okay, give me a phone number where we can reach you? >> kayser: ah... >> gabe: i'm certainly not putting this in emails. >> kayser: sending an email with just an outline would be fine, as well, so it's... >> jankoff: i don't like emails. >> kayser: you don't like emails? >> gabe: that's how you catch people. >> kroft: the hidden camera tapes raise all sorts of ethical questions not just about the behavior of the lawyers, but about the methods used by global witness in making them. we showed the footage to bill simon, a law professor at columbia university, who is one of the country's top legal ethicists. >> bill simon: i think it draws attention to the fact that lawyers may be playing an important role in money laundering that requires more scrutiny.
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anything like this before? >> simon: no. >> kroft: never? >> simon: never. >> kroft: what's your overall impression of it? >> simon: any lawyer's going to be uncomfortable about the fact that this was a sting in which someone lied his way into a lawyer's office and secretly recorded statements a lawyer was... thought he was making to a client. that's kind of unprecedented and it's kind of inconsistent with the bar's norms about confidentiality. so i'm a little uneasy about that. on the other hand, i think that the tapes expose conduct of great public consequence. >> kroft: you think it's valuable that the public sees it? >> simon: yeah. i think it's very valuable. confidentiality is for the benefit of the client, not the lawyer. but the lawyers benefit from it, because conduct that goes on under the protection of confidentiality is never scrutinized by the public. and lawyers are never accountable for it. so the sting actually brings some accountability to conduct that ought to be accountable.
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global witness includes an opinion from two legal ethicists, including bill simon of columbia. it says that if attorneys marc koplik, john jankoff, and gerald ross had been responding to a real request, their conduct would "not comply with the professional responsibilities of lawyers." it said the attorneys displayed "a cynical and evasive attitude toward law." the ethicists also noted that the rules are vague, and "we do not expect that all lawyers will agree with us." simon put then-a.b.a. president james silkenat and his partner, hugh finnegan, in a different category, even though they provided advice on how to move questionable funds into the u.s. what makes silkenat different from the other lawyers? >> simon: silkenat was quite clear that he would not assist illegal conduct. and he even indicated at one point that he would report the client if he found the client engaged in illegal conduct. and then, also, silkenat was fairly clear that he would need
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agreed to represent the client. >> kroft: on the other hand, he clearly seems interested in this. >> simon: he clearly seems interested and even a little enthusiastic about it. >> kroft: anything wrong with that? >> simon: well, i find it regrettable, but i... i'm not sure as a professional responsibility authority, i could say it was inconsistent with his duties under the rules. >> kroft: simon says the only lawyer who truly fulfilled the ideals of the legal profession was jeffrey herrmann, who listened to the pitch, decided it probably involved illegal activity, and ended the meeting. >> herrmann: this ain't for me. my standards are higher. i'm not interested. >> kayser: do you... do you know anybody who would be able to do so? >> herrmann: i don't think so, and i wouldn't recommend them either anyway. >> kayser: yeah, yeah. >> herrmann: because those persons would be insulted. >> kroft: charmian gooch says the point of global witness' hidden camera investigation was not to target or entrap lawyers for bad behavior.
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laws and toothless regulations that make it ridiculously easy for criminals to launder $300 billion a year in the united states. >> gooch: this is real public interest information. how are you going to get that out to them if you can't show them what's happening behind closed doors? >> kroft: you couldn't have done this any other way? >> gooch: i think unless the public and policy makers can really see for themselves what gets said across the desk, across the table in a meeting like this, it's kind of hard to really believe and take on board. >> kroft: gooch says there's a simple solution, but it's been politically impossible to achieve in the united states. just ask carl levin, the longtime chairman of the senate's permanent subcommittee on investigation. until he retired last year, he spent years trying to pass a law that would require the states to collect one additional piece of information from people forming corporations. >> carl levin: one line-- who's the real owner. not who's the agent forming it. not who's the lawyer representing the owner.
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real owner? and it's-it's not at all complicated. >> kroft: but the bill has never made it out of committee, in part because of strong opposition from the american bar association. >> kroft: what's the american bar association's objection to this? >> levin: the lawyers are helping form corporations, and they're afraid, i guess, that if you put a damper on the formation of corporations, that you're putting some damper on legal business. >> kroft: the irony is that the white house, the justice department and the u.s. treasury have been among the world's strongest proponents for cracking down on money laundering. yet the u.s. is one of the easiest places in the world to set up the anonymous companies that facilitate it. >> gooch: it's a heck of a paradox, isn't it? and, you know, i think that the american bar association needs to get behind the need for regulation, in the way that european lawyers have had to do exactly the same. and i think that you know, it... it's... i think the american government needs to answer that question.
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have inadvertently gotten a sassy answer to that question from attorney marc koplik in its hidden camera video. koplik explained to the representative of the phony african minister why he never worried about government subpoenas. >> koplik: they don't send the lawyers to jail, because we run the country. >> kayser: do you run the country? >> koplik: still do. >> kayser: i love it. >> koplik: still do. >> grant: i should say some lawyers run the country. >> kayser: so, you are... you are some of them? two of them? >> koplik: we're still members of a privileged, privilege class in this country. >> kayser: so, how, what does it mean you run the country? it means you? >> koplik: we make the laws, and when we do so, we make them in a way that is advantageous to the lawyers. >> this is a cbs sports update brought to you by the lincoln motor company. three top-ten teams were in action today in college basketball. number three iowa took care of
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number six villanova got a road win against st. johns. and number eight maryland held off ohio state. in the nba, the los angeles clippers beat the chicago bulls 120-93 behind 26 points and 26 minutes off the bench from jamal crawford. for more sports news and information go, to you just gotta find that balance. where taking care of yourself takes care of more than just yourself. lease a 2016 lincoln mkz for $289 a month
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>> alfonsi: one of the most significant efforts to study changes in the climate has been taking place near the top of the world. it's a place called petermann glacier in greenland, one of the largest glaciers in the arctic circle, and a glacier that has experienced dramatic melting. it is a harsh and dangerous environment, and it has drawn some of the world's leading climate scientists, who are only able to work there a little over a month a year. we wanted to see how that work is proceeding, how they are able to move equipment and people in such a hostile place, and what they've discovered so far, so we went to the top of the world to find out. our journey took us 700 miles
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u.s.' thule air force base in northern greenland, built at the start of the cold war to watch for soviet missiles. it is an alien landscape, home to curious arctic hares and packs of pre-historic looking muskoxs. from there, we flew even further. the destination-- petermann glacier. it's on the northwest coast of greenland, just a few hundreds miles south of the north pole. to get there in a helicopter took us four hours over a rarely seen landscape that is both severe and serene. the last town we'd see wasanaah 70dentd mokieshapeop locked in by ice nine months of the year, villagers have always
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