Nov 30, 2006

A More Realistic View of the Iraq Quagmire

The civil war in Iraq is likely to deteriorate significantly over the next few months regardless of which combination of options the Bush administration chooses to exercise, according to a report released by a leading Washington think-tank on Wednesday.

The report, Options for Iraq, dismisses as "dishonest" the Bush administration's claims to have readied more than 100 Iraqi military units for combat, pointing out that the true number is probably less than a third of the Pentagon's estimate.

It also takes strong issue with the notion that Washington can simply put pressure on Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, to push harder for conciliation between Iraq's clashing sectarian groups. It disputes the growing consensus in Washington that the US should press the Maliki government to close down the sectarian militias and forge a reconciliation with the Sunni Arab groups by threatening to withdraw US forces.

"It is not meaningful to blame Iraq for the problems that exist. These are mistakes that we made in nation-building," said Tony Cordesman, author of the report and one of the most influential analysts of the Iraq civil war, at the Centre for Strategic International Studies. "When you send a bull in to liberate a china shop, to blame the china shop for the broken china seems disingenuous, if not misleading."

The report says that the only way the US can hope to stabilise Iraq is by coming clean with the American public about the long-term costs, risks and patience that would be entailed in achieving that goal. It urges the Bush administration to listen to the Iraqi government and America's allies in the Middle East and Europe, rather than continue to treat "26m Iraqis as white rats" in an experiment of transplanting democracy.

But Mr Cordesman was also skeptical about alternative plans in circulation. These included options for a time-linked "phased" withdrawal of US troops; putting up to 30,000 more troops into Iraq to re-attempt a stabilisation of Baghdad despite earlier failures; and a more controversial one to partition Iraq into Kurdish, Sunni and Shia entities.

He said there were no "silver bullets" to unravel the increasingly dangerous situation in Iraq but the US could at least try to prevent the Iraq war from spiralling into a broader regional war.

"Threats to withdraw, the failure to provide economic incentives [to the Iraq government], the failure to work with or listen to our allies and flooding Iraq with yet more unqualified advisers will not achieve our strategic objectives," he said.

Mr Cordesman also criticised the quality of economic aid to Iraq, describing it as "one of the most expensive exercises of waste in modern American history".

Nov 29, 2006

Vote Of Confidence

A classified memorandum by President Bush's national security adviser expressed serious doubts about whether Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki had the capacity to control the sectarian violence in Iraq and recommended that the United States take new steps to strengthen the Iraqi leader's position. ...

"His intentions seem good when he talks with Americans, and sensitive reporting suggests he is trying to stand up to the Shia hierarchy and force positive change," the memo said of the Iraqi leader. "But the reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action." ...

Two senior administration officials, who insisted on anonymity in exchange for talking about a classified memo, said it was unclear whether Mr. Maliki has seen the memo, but suggested its contents would be no surprise to the Iraqi prime minister, who has been in regular consultation with Mr. Bush.

One official said a "key aspect" of the upcoming meetings in Jordan would be for the two leaders to determine "where we can accelerate and expand Prime Minister Maliki's capacity" to deal with the issues outlined in the memo. "That will be a dominant subject," the official said.

Even so, the memo will undoubtedly color the meeting between the two leaders when they see one another in Jordan Wednesday night. Despite the memo's suggestion that the prime minister may be ignorant of what is going on, or misrepresenting his intentions, the officials insisted the president has concluded Mr. Maliki's intentions are good. "The judgment is that it's a capability issue," one official said.

Nov 28, 2006

Odd That The Media Had It Backward

Your compliant media was on the job, as usual:

Saudi Arabia is so concerned about the damage that the conflict in Iraq is doing across the region that it basically summoned Vice President Cheney for talks over the weekend, according to U.S. officials and foreign diplomats. The visit was originally portrayed as U.S. outreach to its oil-rich Arab ally.

Nov 27, 2006

SWIFT Violated Data Transfer Laws, EU Panel Says

A report by an EU panel released Thursday said the bank data transfer agency SWIFT broke European privacy laws by handing over personal data to U.S. authorities for use in anti-terror investigations.

The Belgian-based company, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, "committed violations of data protection laws" by secretly transferring data to the United States, without properly informing Belgian authorities, the EU's data protection panel said.

The panel's report calls on SWIFT, financial institutions and EU authorities to "take the necessary measures" to end the transfer, which it said contradicts Belgian and EU data protection rules. SWIFT is still transferring data under U.S. subpoenas.

EU spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen said the report was adopted unanimously by the 25-member panel which also chided the role of the European Central Bank in the affair. It demanded clarification from the ECB over its role in the affair. ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet has acknowledged his bank knew of the transfers but could not prevent them.

"SWIFT is expected as well as financial institutions to take the necessary steps immediately to remedy the present illegal infringement," Ahrenkilde Hansen said, adding the group will monitor the implementation of the recommendation by SWIFT and the ECB and other national banks which sit on SWIFT's oversight board. ...

SWIFT officials have argued that it had no choice but to abide by U.S. subpoenas for bank data, saying that if it refused to hand over the information, it would have faced fines and possible criminal penalties like jail time.

"It is disturbing that none of the involved parties is willing to take responsibility for the failure to protect the rights of EU citizens," said Kathalijne Buitenweg, a Dutch Green member of the European Parliament. She called for a clarification of ECB and national bank rules in ensuring they report all violations of EU privacy laws.

Nov 26, 2006

A Telling Encounter in Baghdad

From Boris Johnson in the London Daily Telegraph

It was the moment I should have twigged. It was the moment I should have realised that I had voted for the biggest British military fiasco since the Second World War. I was wandering around Baghdad, about 10 days after Iraq had been "liberated", and it seemed to me that the place was not entirely without hope.

OK, so the gunfire popped round every corner like popcorn on a stove, and civil society had broken down so badly that the looters were taking the very copper from the electricity cables in the streets. But I was able to stroll without a flak jacket and eat shoarma and chips in the restaurants.

With no protection except for Isaac, my interpreter, I went to the Iraqi foreign ministry, and found the place deserted. The windows were broken, and every piece of computer equipment had been looted. As I was staring at the fire-blackened walls a Humvee came through the gates. A pair of large GIs got out and asked me my business. I explained that I was representing the people of South Oxfordshire and Her Majesty's Daily Telegraph.

That didn't cut much ice. Then I noticed a figure begin to unpack his giraffe-like limbs from the shady interior of the Humvee. He was one of those quiet Americans that you sometimes meet in odd places.

He was grizzled and in his mid-50s and with a lantern jaw, and unlike every other US soldier I'd met he had neither his name nor his blood group stitched on his person. I grasped at once that this quiet American was no soldier. He had that Brahmin air, a bit Ivy League, a touch of JK Galbraith. Yes, folks, he was some kind of spook.

I remember how he walked slowly towards the shattered foreign ministry building, stroking his chin. Then he walked back towards us, and posed a remarkable question. "Have you, uh, seen anyone here?" he asked.

Nope, we said. All quiet here, we said. Quiet as the grave.

"Uhuh," he said, and started to get back in the Humvee. And then I blurted my own question: "But who are you?" I asked. "Oh, let's just say I work for the US government," he sighed. "I was just wondering if anyone was going to show up for work," he said. "That's all."

And that, of course, was the beginning of the disaster. Nobody came to work that day, or the next, or the one after that, because we failed to understand what our intervention would do to Iraqi society. We failed to anticipate that in taking out Saddam, we would also remove government and order and authority from Iraq.

We destroyed the Baathist state, without realising that nothing would supplant it. The result was that salaries went unpaid, electricity was not generated, sanitation was not provided, and all the disorder was gradually and expertly fomented until it was quite beyond our control.

Boris Johnson is MP for Henley

Nov 25, 2006

Info Op Part Of Bahrain Effort Against Shiites

Friction between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in this strategic Persian Gulf kingdom, which is holding its second parliamentary elections in three decades, has clouded the voting set here for Saturday.

The campaign for the National Assembly's 40-member lower house has been marred by an alleged plot by a senior government official to rig the elections in favor of the ruling Sunni minority.

A 214-page report disclosed in September accused a senior official of secretly plotting to sideline the country's majority Shiites. The report, released by a former government adviser, is the latest in a series of events that have exacerbated Sunni-Shiite discord in this nation of 700,000, home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. ...

The report included copies of checks, bank statements showing large sums transferred to anti-Shiite figures and a memo calling for Shiites to be "cleansed" from Bahrain.

According to the report, more than $2.5 million was spent on the scheme, which also included plans to manipulate electronic voting to rig the upcoming elections in favor of Sunnis.

The report named people it said were hired to cause friction between the two sects by writing inflammatory articles, posting offensive comments on popular online forums, denigrating Shiite beliefs and casting suspicion on Shiites' patriotism.

Over the past couple of years, Bahraini Shiites have been accused by Sunnis and some in the government of allegiance to Shiite Iran, with which they have historic religious ties, and of ambitions to dominate the country, emboldened by the empowerment of Iraq's majority Shiites.

Nov 24, 2006

File Shows UK & US Backed Russia's Baltic Occupation

In a move likely to inflame tensions ahead of next week's Nato summit in Latvia, Russia's foreign intelligence service, the SVR, yesterday declassified documents claiming that Britain and the US had approved of the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states a year before Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union.

Received wisdom has it that the British prime minister, Winston Churchill, was deeply ambivalent about Moscow taking control of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 1940. But the editor of the 400-page dossier, Major General Lev Sotskov, told the Guardian it demonstrated that the UK and US "perfectly understood" that the region was needed as a buffer zone for the inevitable moment when Nazi Germany would break its non-aggression pact with Moscow and attack the Soviet Union.

Gen Sotskov said the documents proved that American and British leaders were often divided over their position on Soviet troop movements and their "public declarations clashed with internal assessments". But Soviet intelligence showed that Churchill decided it was a pragmatic move not to confront Moscow's occupation of neighbouring territory, which ended with the Nazi invasion of the Baltics in 1941. "Churchill realised this was the only way," he said. "He saw it as a not very pleasant but necessary step to prevent Germany from further intrigues and advance."

The fact that Germany's strike at the Soviet Union ran out of steam later in the war was partly because it had to cross the Baltics, thus justifying Churchill's reasoning, Gen Sotskov said.

(T)he NKVD documents - (were) almost certainly compiled with material uncovered by spies such as Donald MacLean and Kim Philby.

Nov 22, 2006

Gemayel Assassination -- A False Flag Op?

On November 2, we ran a piece entitled White House Lebanon Coup Plot Bullshittery.

The gist of the story was that the White House was saying that Syria, Hezbollah, and Iran, or some combination thereof, were plotting a coup against Lebanon's democratically elected government.

At the time, Hezbollah was considering launching street protests to pressure the Lebanese parliament to grant veto power over government decisions to the Shiite coalition.

It seemed that the White House didn't know the difference between a coup d'etat and organized political demonstrations aimed at bringing down a government or forcing a change in policy.

Typical administration incompetence, one would have thought.

Syria and Hezbollah are being blamed for yesterday's assassination of Pierre Gemayel, of course. This fits perfectly into the anti-Syria and anti-Iran information operations we have seen over the last year.

Syria, prior to Gemayel's assassination, was in a rather strong position in the region -- being the newfound diplomatic interlocutor of choice in Iraq.

This development must have really galled Israel.

Yesterday's assassination is a really sinister development in light of the White House "coup" statement early this month.

Given that neither Syria nor Hezbollah nor Iran would have shared with the U.S. any plot they may have entertained to kill Gemayel as part of a coup (if that's what it is), a cynical international type might wonder who gave the White House the heads up.

Or if there is a false-flag operation being conducted.

Nov 21, 2006

It Depends On The Definition Of "Steal"

An Israeli advocacy group, using maps and figures leaked from inside the government, says that 39 percent of the land held by Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank is privately owned by Palestinians.

Israel has long asserted that it fully respects Palestinian private property in the West Bank and only takes land there legally or, for security reasons, temporarily.

If big sections of those settlements are indeed privately held Palestinian land, that is bound to create embarrassment for Israel and further complicate the already distant prospect of a negotiated peace. The data indicate that 40 percent of the land that Israel plans to keep in any future deal with the Palestinians is private.

The new claims regarding Palestinian property are said to come from the 2004 database of the Civil Administration, which controls the civilian aspects of Israel’s presence in the West Bank. Peace Now, an Israeli group that advocates Palestinian self-determination in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, plans to publish the information on Tuesday. An advance copy was made available to The New York Times. ...

The report does not include Jerusalem, which Israel has annexed and does not consider part of the West Bank, although much of the world regards East Jerusalem as occupied. Much of the world also considers Israeli settlements on occupied land to be illegal under international law. International law requires an occupying power to protect private property, and Israel has always asserted that it does not take land without legal justification.

Nov 20, 2006

Bush: "I Would Understand If Israel Chose To Attack Iran"

From Haaretz:

The United States lacks sufficient intelligence on Iran's nuclear facilities at this time, which prevents it from initiating a military strike against them, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has told European politicians and diplomats with whom she has recently met.

Rice mentioned three reasons why the United States is currently unable to carry out a military operation against Iran: the wish to solve the crisis through peaceful means; concern that a military strike will be ineffective - that it would fail to completely destroy Iran's nuclear capabilities; and the lack of precise intelligence on the targets' locations.

U.S. President George W. Bush and President Jacques Chirac of France met several weeks ago. Bush told his French counterpart that the possibility that Israel would carry out a strike against Iran's nuclear installations should not be ruled out.

Bush also said that if such an attack were to take place, he would understand it. According to European diplomats who later met with Rice, the secretary of state did not express the same willingness to show understanding for a possible Israeli strike against Iran.

Nonetheless, Rice did not discount the possibility that such an operation may take place.

In recent talks with their Israeli counterparts, French government officials estimated that Iran would reach the "point of no return" in its nuclear program by spring 2007, in approximately five months.

Nov 19, 2006

CIA Finds No Evidence Of Iranian Nuclear Weapons Program

A classified draft CIA assessment has found no firm evidence of a secret drive by Iran to develop nuclear weapons, as alleged by the White House, a top US investigative reporter is reporting.

Seymour Hersh, in an article in the New Yorker to be posted tomorrow on the magazine's website, examines the White House desire -- regardless of Iranian capabilities -- to attack Iran before George W. Bush leaves office.

The Administration's planning for a military attack on Iran was made far more complicated earlier this fall by a highly classified draft assessment by the C.I.A. challenging the White House's assumptions about how close Iran might be to building a nuclear bomb. The C.I.A. found no conclusive evidence, as yet, of a secret Iranian nuclear-weapons program running parallel to the civilian operations that Iran has declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency. (The C.I.A. declined to comment on this story.)

The C.I.A.'s analysis, which has been circulated to other agencies for comment, was based on technical intelligence collected by overhead satellites, and on other empirical evidence, such as measurements of the radioactivity of water samples and smoke plumes from factories and power plants. Additional data have been gathered, intelligence sources told me, by high-tech (and highly classified) radioactivity-detection devices that clandestine American and Israeli agents placed near suspected nuclear-weapons facilities inside Iran in the past year or so. No significant amounts of radioactivity were found.

A current senior intelligence official confirmed the existence of the C.I.A. analysis, and told me that the White House had been hostile to it. The White House's dismissal of the C.I.A. findings on Iran is widely known in the intelligence community. Cheney and his aides discounted the assessment, the former senior intelligence official said. "They're not looking for a smoking gun," the official added, referring to specific intelligence about Iranian nuclear planning. "They're looking for the degree of comfort level they think they need to accomplish the mission." The Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency also challenged the C.I.A.'s analysis. "The D.I.A. is fighting the agency's conclusions, and disputing its approach," the former senior intelligence official said. Bush and Cheney, he added, can try to prevent the C.I.A. assessment from being incorporated into a forthcoming National Intelligence Estimate on Iranian nuclear capabilities, "but they can't stop the agency from putting it out for comment inside the intelligence community." The C.I.A. assessment warned the White House that it would be a mistake to conclude that the failure to find a secret nuclear-weapons program in Iran merely meant that the Iranians had done a good job of hiding it. The former senior intelligence official noted that at the height of the Cold War the Soviets were equally skilled at deception and misdirection, yet the American intelligence community was readily able to unravel the details of their long-range-missile and nuclear-weapons programs. But some in the White House, including in Cheney's office, had made just such an assumption -- that "the lack of evidence means they must have it," the former official said.

Nov 17, 2006

"Hearts and Minds" Not An Objective Here

A man who worked in Iraq for a Herndon (Virginia)-based security company is accused in a lawsuit of firing twice into Iraqi civilian vehicles last summer without provocation, possibly killing at least one person.

Two co-workers who witnessed the shootings say in the suit that there has been no investigation, even though they reported the incidents.

All three men worked for Triple Canopy, a corporation formed in 2003 by former military men to provide security in the Middle East for the United States government and private companies. Triple Canopy was the ninth-largest contractor for the U.S. State Department in fiscal 2005, with payments totaling more than $90 million, government records show.

That sum does not include what Triple Canopy is paid by private firms such as KBR, formerly Kellogg, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton Co. that is involved in rebuilding in Iraq. Former Army Ranger Shane Schmidt, former Marine Charles L. Sheppard III and their shift leader were all working on an assignment for KBR when the shootings occurred near Baghdad on July 8, alleges the suit, filed in Fairfax County Circuit Court.

Schmidt and Sheppard say they reported the shootings to Triple Canopy. Instead of investigating, the men allege, Triple Canopy fired them and prevented their being hired by other companies in the Middle East. The lawsuit alleges wrongful termination and wrongful interference with their professional future. ...

Schmidt and Sheppard allege that Triple Canopy did not report the shootings to KBR or the government. They say that no one has ever contacted them about the shootings.

In court papers, Triple Canopy has not denied that the incidents occurred. The company has tried to have the case dismissed on the grounds that no violation of Virginia law occurred and that Schmidt and Sheppard were "at-will" employees and could be fired for any reason.

At a hearing last month, Fairfax Circuit Court Judge M. Langhorne Keith said the state's "at-will" legal doctrine has exceptions, including "when people allege that they reported a murder, two murders or maybe more than two murders, conducted by a fellow employee, and were fired for making that report." ...

On July 8, according to their lawsuit, Schmidt and Sheppard were riding with their shift leader in a convoy to pick up a KBR employee at the Baghdad airport.

As their vehicle approached the airport, their shift leader declared that he was "going to kill someone today," the lawsuit states. The man then stepped out of the vehicle and fired several shots from his M4 rifle into the windshield of a stopped truck.

Schmidt and Sheppard were horrified, Smith said. According to the lawsuit, the shift leader told them, "That didn't happen, understand?"

After their convoy picked up the KBR employee, the crew headed to its next destination. At this point, Schmidt and Sheppard allege, their shift leader declared, "I've never shot anyone with my pistol before." The man then opened his door and fired seven or eight rounds into the windshield of a nearby taxi. Schmidt and Sheppard later heard that a cabdriver was found shot to death in the area, according to the suit.

Nov 16, 2006

Fox News Wants To Show Iraqi Insurgents "Thrilled" With Democratic-Led Congress

From The Progress Report:

The Huffington Post yesterday published a post-election internal memo written by Fox News Vice President John Moody directing employees to "be on the lookout for any statements from the Iraqi insurgents, who must be thrilled at the prospect of a Dem-controlled Congress." The memo was distributed on November 9, two days after the midterm elections, outlining Fox's response to the Democrats' victories in the House and Senate. Prior to the elections, Vice President Dick Cheney repeatedly claimed that Iraqi insurgents were increasing their violence to try to influence the midterm elections. At an October campaign event, Cheney claimed "the terrorists are actually involved and want to involve themselves in our electoral process, which must mean they want a change." During a radio interview, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld agreed that Iraqi insurgents were saying, "We've got an election in two weeks in America, gang, and we want to change horses over there." However, President Bush has admitted that there isn't "any intelligence" that suggests terrorists were trying to influence U.S. elections. Also, military spokesman Maj. Douglas Powell told reporters there was no intelligence to back the claim. Indeed, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Ron Suskind's recent book, CIA analysts determined that a propaganda tape released by Osama bin Laden in the days before the 2004 presidential election "was clearly designed to assist the President's reelection."

Nov 15, 2006

DNI Slow To Provide India Nuke Study

Congressional leaders requested a secret intelligence assessment of India's nuclear program and its government's ties to Iran in January amid concerns about a White House effort to provide nuclear technology to New Delhi. Ten months later, as the Senate prepares to vote on nuclear trade with India, the intelligence assessment has yet to be seen on Capitol Hill, congressional and intelligence sources say.

The pending nuclear deal with India would reverse years of U.S. policies aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. U.S. law forbids selling civilian nuclear technology to countries such as India that have refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Arms-control experts, concerned that the deal would have major ramifications for U.S. efforts to stop nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea, said yesterday that the White House plan would allow India to rapidly increase its nuclear arsenal. ...

In a Jan. 23 letter to John D. Negroponte, director of national intelligence, the ranking chairmen of the House and Senate foreign relations panels asked for "an interagency assessment" of India's nuclear program, its record of proliferation and its ties to Iran. The letter was signed by Reps. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) and Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) and Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) -- all of whom have been generally supportive of the India deal but have raised concerns about the proliferation implications and about India's relations with Iran.

The four asked Negroponte to assess how India is implementing its nonproliferation commitments, the adequacy of its export controls and the movement into and out of India of materials to make weapons of mass destruction. ...

The letter asked the intelligence community to gauge the extent to which the deal "may enhance India's ability to produce fissile material for weapons." The senators also asked for a full assessment of India's positions on Iran. ...

Several congressional sources said that the National Intelligence Council provided two oral briefings, in March and April, that focused on the history of U.S.-India relations as well as the beginnings of India's nuclear program, but that the briefings did not address the specific information requested in the letter. "We expect a written intelligence product," one Republican said. Four other staff members -- two Democrats and two Republicans -- also said that they expected a complete intelligence assessment that responds point by point to the issues raised in the letter. All spoke on the condition of anonymity, fearing that public comment would put their congressional jobs at risk.

The terms of a U.S.-India accord, worked out in secret in 2005, took Congress by surprise. Congress must approve any final deal before it can be implemented. While both parties support a strategic alliance with India, some have voiced concerns about its strong ties to Iran.

Tehran and New Delhi signed an extensive agreement in 2003 and their military, scientific, political and economic ties are growing.

Nov 14, 2006

An OPEC For Gas?

Nato advisers have warned the military alliance that it needs to guard against any attempt by Russia to set up an "Opec for gas" that would strengthen Moscow's leverage over Europe.

A confidential study by Nato economics experts, sent to the ambassadors of its 26 member states last week, warned that Russia may be seeking to build a gas cartel including Algeria, Qatar, Libya, the countries of Central Asia and perhaps Iran.

The study, by Nato's economics committee, said Russia was seeking to use energy policy to pursue political ends, particularly in dealings with neighbours such as Georgia and Ukraine. ...

Although there is disagreement over whether Russia could create any such cartel, the report highlights the deepening tensions between Western Europe and Moscow over energy security.

Energy company executives say the biggest threat to gas prices comes from Russia's own investment shortfalls and possible moves by Moscow to convince other producers, such as Algeria, to limit investment.

Russia supplies 24 per cent of Europe's natural gas, with Norway selling 13 per cent and Algeria, a major exporter to Spain and Italy, supplying 10 per cent.

Last week, the International Energy Agency warned of "the possibility of major gas-exporting countries co-ordinating their investment and production plans in order to avoid surplus capacity and to keep gas prices up."

But yesterday, EU foreign ministers failed to agree a line on Russian energy, with Poland continuing to seek a tougher stance in future talks with Moscow.

Last month, before an EU summit with Russia, Javier Solana, EU foreign policy chief, highlighted a Russian deal with Algeria, which he said stopped Algeria selling majority stakes in gas projects to foreign investors.

"We are witnessing some form of mutual agreement as Russia and Algeria restrain investment," said one industry analyst.

"Moscow has tightened the grip using Gazprom and Algiers has just changed its hydrocarbons law giving [Algeria's] Sonatrach 51 per cent of every project instead of 30 per cent."

Big gas exporters such as Norway, Qatar and Nigeria appear reluctant to join any cartel. Gas is also traded very differently to oil, with long-term contracts -- often linked to oil prices -- still the norm. Analysts say Gazprom relies heavily on Europe, since domestic Russian prices are capped and there is no other market to enter at present.

Nov 13, 2006

No Lame Duck Approval Of "CATCH-ALL" Forthcoming

Bush still hopes to get ex post facto approval of his extra-legal NSA warrantless surveillance program.

His desire to retroactively legalize his actions in implementing the "CATCH-ALL" program will likely result in disappointment.

Legislation aimed at President Bush's once-secret program for wiretapping U.S.-foreign phone calls and computer traffic of suspected terrorists without warrants shows all the signs of not moving ahead, notwithstanding President Bush's request this week that a lame-duck Congress give it to him.

Senate Democrats, emboldened by Election Day wins that put them in control of Congress as of January, say they would rather wait until next year to look at the issue. "I can't say that we won't do it, but there's no guarantee that we're going spend a lot of time on controversial measures," Democratic Whip Richard Durbin of Illinois said Thursday.

In Senate parlance, that means no.

"We have been asked to make sweeping and fundamental changes in law for reasons that we do not know and in order to legalize secret, unlawful actions that the administration has refused to fully divulge," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (news, bio, voting record) of Vermont, the next Judiciary Committee chairman. ...

The Bush administration has a backup plan. In speeches over the next few weeks, the Justice Department will launch a new campaign for the legislation by casting the choice as one between supporting the program or dropping it altogether -- and appearing soft on al-Qaida.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will make the eavesdropping program the focus of a Nov. 18 speech at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Kenneth L. Wainstein, assistant attorney general for the national security, will make a similar pitch Wednesday to the American Bar Association.

Leahy said that monitoring communications of suspected terrorists is essential but that "it needs to be done lawfully and with adequate checks and balances to prevent abuses of Americans' rights and Americans' privacy."

Nov 11, 2006

Rumsfeld Target Of German Criminal Prosecution

Just days after his resignation, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is about to face more repercussions for his involvement in the troubled wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. New legal documents, to be filed next week with Germany's top prosecutor, will seek a criminal investigation and prosecution of Rumsfeld, along with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former CIA director George Tenet and other senior U.S. civilian and military officers, for their alleged roles in abuses committed at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The plaintiffs in the case include 11 Iraqis who were prisoners at Abu Ghraib, as well as Mohammad al-Qahtani, a Saudi held at Guantanamo, whom the U.S. has identified as the so-called "20th hijacker" and a would-be participant in the 9/11 hijackings. As TIME first reported in June 2005, Qahtani underwent a "special interrogation plan," personally approved by Rumsfeld, which the U.S. says produced valuable intelligence. But to obtain it, according to the log of his interrogation and government reports, Qahtani was subjected to forced nudity, sexual humiliation, religious humiliation, prolonged stress positions, sleep deprivation and other controversial interrogation techniques. ...

Along with Rumsfeld, Gonzales and Tenet, the other defendants in the case are Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone; former assistant attorney general Jay Bybee; former deputy assisant attorney general John Yoo; General Counsel for the Department of Defense William James Haynes II; and David S. Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff. Senior military officers named in the filing are General Ricardo Sanchez, the former top Army official in Iraq; Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the former commander of Guantanamo; senior Iraq commander, Major General Walter Wojdakowski; and Col. Thomas Pappas, the one-time head of military intelligence at Abu Ghraib.

Germany was chosen for the court filing because German law provides "universal jurisdiction" allowing for the prosecution of war crimes and related offenses that take place anywhere in the world. Indeed, a similar, but narrower, legal action was brought in Germany in 2004, which also sought the prosecution of Rumsfeld. The case provoked an angry response from Pentagon, and Rumsfeld himself was reportedly upset. Rumsfeld's spokesman at the time, Lawrence DiRita, called the case a "a big, big problem." U.S. officials made clear the case could adversely impact U.S.-Germany relations, and Rumsfeld indicated he would not attend a major security conference in Munich, where he was scheduled to be the keynote speaker, unless Germany disposed of the case. The day before the conference, a German prosecutor announced he would not pursue the matter, saying there was no indication that U.S. authorities and courts would not deal with allegations in the complaint.

In bringing the new case, however, the plaintiffs argue that circumstances have changed in two important ways. Rumsfeld's resignation, they say, means that the former Defense Secretary will lose the legal immunity usually accorded high government officials. Moreover, the plaintiffs argue that the German prosecutor's reasoning for rejecting the previous case -- that U.S. authorities were dealing with the issue -- has been proven wrong.

"The utter and complete failure of U.S. authorities to take any action to investigate high-level involvement in the torture program could not be clearer," says Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a U.S.-based non-profit helping to bring the legal action in Germany. He also notes that the Military Commissions Act, a law passed by Congress earlier this year, effectively blocks prosecution in the U.S. of those involved in detention and interrogation abuses of foreigners held abroad in American custody going to back to Sept. 11, 2001. As a result, Ratner contends, the legal arguments underlying the German prosecutor's previous inaction no longer hold up.

Nov 10, 2006

McCain -- No Favorite of Defense Industry

The Wall Street Journal says that the defense industry is not unhappy about the Democratic Party takeover of Congress.

For one specific reason:

Democratic control of Congress has sparked uncertainty among defense contractors after six years of tremendous growth, but many industry executives are relieved that Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, a strident critic of Pentagon weapons-buying practices, won't become chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

The anticipated Democratic chairman, Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, brings his own longstanding skepticism of the industry and some of its prized weapons programs, particularly missile defense. Yet the soft-spoken Mr. Levin is likely to change the tone and focus of the committee's oversight efforts.

Unlike Mr. McCain, whose investigations into Boeing Co.'s ethical lapses laid the path for the panel to examine weapons-contract details and contractor profit margins, Mr. Levin has signaled that his priority will be the war in Iraq.

He fired a salvo in a post-election conference call with reporters Wednesday by criticizing the Bush administration for failing to include war costs in the regular Pentagon budget, which must be approved by the Armed Services Committee. Instead, the White House has resorted to increasingly large emergency-spending requests, which don't have the same accountability. Mr. Levin said the U.S. needs "honest" and "rational budgeting."

Michele Flournoy, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic & International Studies think tank in Washington and a former Clinton administration Pentagon official, predicts Mr. Levin will concentrate on bringing oversight to the conduct of the Iraq war and ensuring funding to equip overstretched U.S. forces.

"Unlike some other senators, Sen. Levin isn't known to harbor any deep grudges against defense companies," she said. "He'll be a friend to the military and a friend to industry."

Even though the defense industry has benefited greatly from recent Republican control, some defense executives grew so peeved at Mr. McCain that they privately rooted for a Democratic takeover of the Senate. Had Republicans retained control of the chamber, he was likely to succeed Virginia Sen. John Warner, whose tenure would have been terminated by party-imposed term limits.

Nov 9, 2006

Also, No One Will Have To Listen To His Demented Quaintisms Anymore

Richard Norton-Taylor:

President Bush has known for a very long time that many of his serving generals were finding it increasingly difficult to stomach his defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld's continuing presence at the head of the Pentagon was sapping morale among the American top brass. Their message came loud and clear last week through the hostile anti-Rumsfeld editorials of the US military media group which includes The Army Times.

Rumsfeld is a very obstinate man. He came to office determined to slim down the size of the army whatever they were up against. Including Iraq. "Stuff happens", he said in his now notorious phrase referring to post-invasion looting in the country. He was the first to champion Guantanamo Bay, proudly displaying pictures of detainees in their orange clothing.

Apart from George Bush, who must take ultimate responsibility, Rumsfeld more than other single individual, is responsible for US failures in Iraq. In July 2003, two months after the invasion, he instructed Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, to sack the entire Iraqi army and set about the de-Baathification programme. The Bush administration now agree with the generals that that was a huge mistake, as was Rumsfeld's view about the number of troops needed in Iraq.

In Britain, Rumsfeld was vilified by military commanders and senior officials. His decision to abandon the Iraq army directly contradicted a directive from Admiral, now Lord, Boyce, then chief of the defence staff who had instructed his commanders in the field to deal with Iraqi officers to help maintain law and order.

It is difficult to exaggerate the scorn directed at Rumsfeld this side of the Atlantic, among the military and security and intelligence agencies concerned - pragmatically - about the effect of Guantanamo Bay. He should be indicted, they say. But they say so privately because they are servants of the Blair government. And not one British minister dared to criticise Rumsfeld. That is one appalling feature of Rumsfeld's destructive tenure of office.

Nov 8, 2006

DOD Won't Like This Idea

Covert Action Policy May Need Updating, Says CRS.

U.S. intelligence policy on covert action, including presidential authorization and congressional notification requirements, is "less than clear," according to a new report (pdf) from the Congressional Research Service, and may need to be updated to encompass activities performed by the Department of Defense.

Covert action generally refers to CIA operations undertaken abroad against foreign targets in which U.S. sponsorship is concealed. But increasingly, some DoD special operations seem to fit the criteria for covert action.

"Senior U.S. intelligence community officials have conceded that the line separating CIA and DOD intelligence activities has blurred, making it more difficult to distinguish between the traditional secret intelligence missions carried out by each," according to the new CRS report.

The Department of Defense contends that there is a difference between its "clandestine operations," which do not entail any unique oversight requirements, and CIA "covert actions," which cannot be conducted without a written presidential finding and congressional notice, mandated by a 1991 statute.

As explained by CRS, "a clandestine operation is an operation sponsored or conducted by governmental departments or agencies in such a way as to assure secrecy or concealment. Such an operation differs from a covert action in that emphasis is placed on concealment of the operation rather than on the concealment of the identity of the sponsor."

In certain DoD special operations, however, "an activity may be both covert and clandestine."

The CRS report presents a menu of policy questions for lawmakers to consider in evaluating whether to modify U.S. policy on covert action.

A copy of the report was obtained by Secrecy News.

Nov 7, 2006

Bush Makes The Terrorism Issue Understandable To The Average American

Maybe this is all the better that Bush can grasp the issue himself (chronic alcohol abuse, etc).

Bush's stump speech the past few weeks has underscored a with-us-or-against-us worldview. Democrats and some Republicans opposed warrantless surveillance of telephone calls of people with suspected ties to terrorism, objecting to unchecked executive power and arguing that officials should still get warrants from a secret intelligence court. Likewise, Democrats and initially some Republicans opposed redefining Geneva Conventions protections for prisoners and permitting harsh interrogation, preferring more traditional practices.

In the version Bush offers campaign audiences, that boils down to the Democrats not wanting to fight terrorists at all. Democrats, he said in Missouri, "oppose listening in on terrorist conversations" and "oppose letting the CIA detain and question the terrorists who might know what those [next] plots are." As for Iraq, he said in Texas, if Democrats get their way, "the terrorists win and America loses."

Nov 6, 2006

"Astonishing Misunderstanding"?

Federal prosecutors rejected 87% of the international terrorism cases brought by the FBI during the first nine months of fiscal year 2006, a Syracuse University analysis concluded.

The review, conducted by the university's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), found that the number of rejections has been generally increasing since 2001. Prosecutions fell from 118 defendants in fiscal year 2002, to 19 defendants from Oct. 1, 2005, to June 30, the latest data available.

The Justice Department challenged the findings and said the analysis represented an "astonishing misunderstanding" of the inner workings of the federal criminal justice system.

"This report contains inaccurate figures, relies on a faulty assumption that every referral from an investigative agency should result in a criminal prosecution and ignores the reality of how the war on terrorism is being conducted," said Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse.

In the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Justice Department announced a dramatic transformation of its mission, from a prosecution-driven institution to an agency that emphasizes prevention and the development of a domestic intelligence system.

Because of the new mission, Roehrkasse said, cases rejected for prosecution don't necessarily close investigations.

"Often, matters are referred to prosecutors to assist in further investigation through the use of criminal investigative tools that require legal process such as a subpoena or surveillance order," he said. Hoax cases that were dismissed may have been included in the government data, too, he said.

The TRAC report appears to reflect Justice's new mission, but Roehrkasse said the department's rejection rate stands at 67%, not 87%. He added the department has prosecuted 36 international terrorism defendants, nearly double the number reported in the analysis.

Susan Long, one of the report's authors, defended TRAC's analysis of the numbers. The data used in the review were obtained from the Justice Department's Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys.

"The information comes from their files," Long said.

Nov 5, 2006

Irony Is Not Dead

The United States wants to head the large U.N. peacekeeping operation, now led by France, when South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon becomes U.N. secretary-general next year, a senior U.S. official said.

"We're trying," the American official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. The U.S. interest in the U.N. undersecretary-general job in peacekeeping has confirmed by two Security Council ambassadors.

With the United States instrumental in Ban's election, the Bush administration believes it has a chance to head the peacekeeping department of more than 90,000 troops, police and civilians, now headed by Frenchman Jean-Marie Guehenno.

Ban is now in France as he tours the five council members.

All undersecretaries-general are asked to resign when a new U.N. chief takes over. Richard Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, however, played down the U.S. quest for a seat.

"There is no opening, If there were an opening , we would consider nominating someone," Grenell said.

Some key ambassadors said privately they were dismayed by the U.S. move, fearing it would discourage some states from volunteering peacekeepers because of objections to the Bush administration's intervention in Iraq.

Nov 3, 2006

U.S. Pulls "Operation Iraqi Freedom Document Portal"

I can remember the delight of the wingnut bloggers when this stuff was dumped onto the net. They were claiming that the captured documents would provide evidence of the imminent danger that Saddam Hussein had posed to the world.

The administration was only too willing to put this material forward to bolster its dubious (and by-then discredited) claims of Saddam's WMD programs.

It appears now that -- in their effort to accomodate the right-wing kooks -- the U.S. government may have put actual sensitive nuclear information out there for the taking.

Last March, the federal government set up a Web site to make public a vast archive of Iraqi documents captured during the war. The Bush administration did so under pressure from Congressional Republicans who had said they hoped to "leverage the Internet" to find new evidence of the prewar dangers posed by Saddam Hussein.

But in recent weeks, the site has posted some documents that weapons experts say are a danger themselves: detailed accounts of Iraq's secret nuclear research before the 1991 Persian Gulf war. The documents, the experts say, constitute a basic guide to building an atom bomb.

Last night, the government shut down the Web site after The New York Times asked about complaints from weapons experts and arms-control officials. A spokesman for John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, said access to the site had been suspended "pending a review to ensure its content is appropriate for public viewing."

Officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency, fearing that the information could help states like Iran develop nuclear arms, had privately protested last week to the American ambassador to the agency, according to European diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity. One diplomat said the agency's technical experts "were shocked" at the public disclosures. ...

The documents, roughly a dozen in number, contain charts, diagrams, equations and lengthy narratives about bomb building that nuclear experts who have viewed them say go beyond what is available elsewhere on the Internet and in other public forums. For instance, the papers give detailed information on how to build nuclear firing circuits and triggering explosives, as well as the radioactive cores of atom bombs.

"For the U.S. to toss a match into this flammable area is very irresponsible," said A. Bryan Siebert, a former director of classification at the federal Department of Energy, which runs the nation's nuclear arms program. "There's a lot of things about nuclear weapons that are secret and should remain so."

The government had received earlier warnings about the contents of the Web site. Last spring, after the site began posting old Iraqi documents about chemical weapons, United Nations arms-control officials in New York won the withdrawal of a report that gave information on how to make tabun and sarin, nerve agents that kill by causing respiratory failure.

The campaign for the online archive was mounted by conservative publications and politicians, who said that the nation's spy agencies had failed adequately to analyze the 48,000 boxes of documents seized since the March 2003 invasion. With the public increasingly skeptical about the rationale and conduct of the war, the chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence committees argued that wide analysis and translation of the documents -- most of them in Arabic -- would reinvigorate the search for clues that Mr. Hussein had resumed his unconventional arms programs in the years before the invasion. American search teams never found such evidence.

Mr. Negroponte had resisted setting up the Web site, which some intelligence officials felt implicitly raised questions about the competence and judgment of government analysts. But President Bush approved the site's creation after Congressional Republicans proposed legislation to force the documents' release.

Nov 2, 2006

Lebanon Coup Plot Bullshittery

The White House is trying a last minute gambit to direct the attention of American voters to the hostile Middle East, and by extension to legitimize the U.S. presence in Iraq.

The White House said Wednesday that there was "mounting evidence" that Iran and Syria were involved in a plot to bring down the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora of Lebanon, but senior officials refused to describe in any detail the intelligence they said they had collected.

In an unusual statement, the White House said it was "increasingly concerned by mounting evidence that the Syrian and Iranian governments, Hezbollah and their Lebanese allies are preparing plans to topple Lebanon's democratically elected government."

American officials said they had evidence that Syria and Iran were trying to engineer the creation of a new "unity" government that they could control, partly through Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite organization considered a terrorist group by the United States.

One senior American official, who declined to be identified by name because he was discussing an intelligence issue, said there were also indications of "planning for a more violent" attack on the government, but he gave no details.

The "Lebanon coup" information operation has its skeptics, including the intelligence community.

Intelligence officials said they think the White House statement was referring to Nasrallah's threat of widespread protests if Lebanese leaders fail to create a unity government. One official said that although U.S. intelligence officials think Nasrallah would like more power and Syria would like a friendlier Lebanese government, there are no signs of an impending coup.

Nov 1, 2006

Advertisers Blacklist Air America Radio

An internal ABC Radio Networks memo obtained by Media Matters for America, originally from a listener to The Peter B. Collins Show, indicates that nearly 100 ABC advertisers insist that their commercials be blacked out on Air America Radio affiliates. According to the memo, the adverstisers insist that "NONE of their commercials air during AIR AMERICA programming." Among the advertisers listed are Bank of America, Exxon Mobil, Federal Express, General Electric, McDonald's, Microsoft, Wal-Mart, and the U.S. Navy.

The memo appears (above), and an enlarged version can be viewed here.