Jan 31, 2007

Pretext, Anyone?

This story -- which gives off the unmistakable scent of bullshit -- has been circulating in Washington since late last week.

I had been wondering when it would appear in the mainstream media. Today, the New York Times picks up on the pretextual meme.

Investigators say they believe that attackers who used American-style uniforms and weapons to infiltrate a secure compound and kill five American soldiers in Karbala on Jan. 20 may have been trained and financed by Iranian agents, according to American and Iraqi officials knowledgeable about the inquiry.

The officials said the sophistication of the attack astonished investigators, who doubt that Iraqis could have carried it out on their own — one reason a connection to Iran is being closely examined. Officials cautioned that no firm conclusions had been drawn and did not reveal any direct evidence of a connection.

A senior Iraqi official said the attackers had carried forged American identity cards and American-style M-4 rifles and had thrown stun grenades of a kind used only by American forces here.

Tying Iran to the deadly attack could be helpful to the Bush administration, which has been engaged in an escalating war of words with Iran.

Jan 30, 2007

Obsessive Compulsive Disorders

Ostensibly, President Bush has embarked on a new political and military strategy for the war-torn Iraq. Bush’s new course can be summarized under three headings: more American troops, more Iraqi responsibility, and more US training for more Iraqi troops.

If you apply this new plan to Iraq alone, two things immediately catch the eye: almost all the proposals of the Baker-Hamilton report have been ignored, and the plan itself – in the face of the chaos in Iraq – is quite simplistic. In light of the failure of all previous “new strategies” for stabilizing Iraq, there is little to suggest that the newest “new strategy” will succeed any better, despite the additional 21,000 US soldiers.

What is interesting and really new in the US administration’s recently announced policy is the way it reaches beyond Iraq, to deal with Iran, Syria, and the Gulf states. Here, unexpected and genuinely new decisions have been announced: an additional US aircraft carrier group will be moved to the Persian Gulf; Patriot anti-aircraft missiles will be stationed in the Gulf states; and the additional 21,000 soldiers far exceed what the American generals had asked for to deal with Iraq. So one wonders about the purpose of this military build-up? One might almost think that Saddam was still alive and in power, so his overthrow had to be prepared all over again.

The surprise of Bush’s new policy is its shift of political focus from Iraq to its two immediate neighbors. Bush accuses Syria and Iran of interfering in Iraq, threatening its territorial integrity and endangering American troops, and, more generally, of seeking to undermine America’s allies in the region. If you add to this the seizure, on President Bush’s orders, of Iranian “diplomats” by US forces in the northern Iraqi town of Erbil, a completely new picture of the President’s plan comes to the fore: the “new strategy” does not follow the advice of the Baker-Hamilton report, but harks back to the disastrous strategy of the neo-cons. Iran is now in the superpower’s sights, and the US approach brings to mind the preparatory phase of the Iraq war – down to the last detail.

Where does all this lead? Basically, there are two possibilities, one positive and one negative. Unfortunately, the positive outcome appears to be the less likely one.

If the threat of force – a force that the US is quite obviously building – aims at preparing the ground for serious negotiations with Iran, there can and should be no objection. If, on the other hand, it represents an attempt to prepare the American public for a war against Iran, and a genuine intention to unleash such a war when the opportunity arises, the outcome would be an unmitigated disaster.

Unfortunately, this danger is all too real. Since the Bush administration views Iran’s nuclear program and hegemonic aspirations as the major threat to the region, its new strategy is based on a newly formed undeclared anti-Iranian alliance with moderate Sunni Arab states and Israel. The nuclear program is the dynamic factor here, because it will set a timeline for action.

But air strikes on Iran, which America may see as a military solution, would not make Iraq safer; they would achieve exactly the opposite. Nor would the region as a whole be stabilized; on the contrary, it would be plunged into an abyss. And the dream of “regime change” in Tehran would not come true, either; rather, Iran’s democratic opposition would pay a high price, and the theocratic regime would only become stronger.

The political options for stabilizing Iraq, and the whole region, as well as for securing a long-term freeze of Iran’s nuclear program, have not yet been exhausted. The current state of Iran’s nuclear program does not call for immediate military action. Instead, the focus should be on diplomatic efforts to detach Syria from Iran and isolate the Tehran regime. But this presupposes American willingness to return to diplomacy and talking to all the parties involved. Tehran is afraid of regional and international isolation. Moreover, the recent municipal elections in Iran have shown that betting on diplomacy and a transformation of Iran from within is a realistic option. So why the current threats against Iran?

The debacle in Iraq was foreseeable from the beginning, and America’s numerous partners and friends predicted it quite clearly in their warnings to the Bush administration. The mistake that the US may be about to make is equally predictable: a war that is wrong will not be made right by extending it – that is the lesson of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

The ideologically driven strategy of regime change by means of military force led the US into the Iraq war disaster. Getting into Iraq and defeating Saddam was easy. But today, America is stuck there and knows neither how to win nor how to get out. A mistake is not corrected by repeating it over and over again. Perseverance in error does not correct the error; it merely exacerbates it. Following the launch of the new American policy, the old question of whether politics can learn from history will be answered again in the Middle East. Whatever the answer, the consequences – whether good or bad – will be far-reaching.

Excerpt of an article by Joschka Fischer, Germany's Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor from 1998 to 2005. He is now a visiting professor at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School.

Views From Both Sides On U.S./Iran Conflict

More tough talk about Iran from President Bush.

The president repeated his warnings to Iran, telling NPR that if "Iran escalates its military action in Iraq to the detriment of our troops and/or innocent Iraqi people, we will respond firmly." He did not specify what he was talking about, though The Washington Post recently reported that he has authorized U.S. forces to capture or kill Iranian agents in Iraq.

The president said he remains hopeful that he can solve the dispute over Iran's nuclear activities through diplomacy and said he has no intention of "going into" Iran. "I don't know how anybody can then say, well, protecting the troops means that we're going to invade Iran," Bush said. "We will protect our interests in Iraq. That's what the American people expect us to do. That's definitely what our troops want to do, and that's what the families of our troops want us to do. And if we find the Iranians are moving weapons that will end up harming American troops, we'll deal with it."

Asked about the quality of U.S. intelligence on Iran's nuclear programs, Bush acknowledged a "certain skepticism" given the inability to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that he and U.S. intelligence agencies said were there. He added, however, that the skepticism needs to be "tempered" by other statements and intelligence.

"What I am trying to say," Bush said, is "that I take the Iranian nuclear threat very seriously even though the intel on Iraq was not what it was thought to be."

Lest President Bush think that an Iran campaign would be another "cakewalk", Iran says they won't take any attack by the U.S. sitting down.

Iranian officials -- emboldened but uneasy over nuclear-armed neighbors in Israel and Pakistan and a U.S. military presence in the Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan -- have warned that they would respond to an American attack on Iran's facilities.

"Iran's supporters are widespread -- they're in Iraq, they're in Afghanistan, they're everywhere. And you know, the American soldiers in the Middle East are hostages of Iran, in the situation where a war is imposed on it. They're literally in the hands of the Iranians," said Najaf Ali Mirzai, a former Iranian diplomat in Beirut who heads the Civilization Center for Iranian-Arab Studies. "The Iranians can target them wherever, and Patriot missiles aren't going to defend them and neither is anything else."

"Iran would suffer," he added, "but America would suffer more."

As that struggle deepens, many in the Arab world find themselves on the sidelines. They are increasingly anxious over worsening tension between Sunni and Shiite Muslims across the Middle East, even as some accuse the United States of stoking that tension as a way to counter predominantly Shiite Iran. Fear of Iranian dominance is coupled, sometimes in the same conversation, with suspicion of U.S. intentions in confronting Iran. ...

"If Iran is bombed, Iran's reaction is a sure thing. They cannot sit idle, and what kind of reaction they will take is a big question," said Abbas Bolurfrushan, the president of the Iranian Business Council in Dubai, a booming city-state on the Gulf that is part of the United Arab Emirates, where an estimated 400,000 Iranians live and work.

Mirzai, the former Iranian diplomat, offered a similar scenario in more threatening terms. Wearing a white turban and the robes of a cleric, he sketched out potential Iranian responses: cutting the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, through which 20 percent of the world's oil passes; retaliation in Iraq, Afghanistan or Lebanon; attacks on U.S. targets in the Gulf.

"There is a policy the Iranians have and they've repeated it often -- the Gulf is either safe for everyone or no one," he said.

Jan 29, 2007

New Iranian Initiatives in Iraq

The U.S. will doubtless see this as "unhelpful."

Iran's ambassador to Baghdad outlined an ambitious plan on Sunday to greatly expand its economic and military ties with Iraq — including an Iranian national bank branch in the heart of the capital — just as the Bush administration has been warning the Iranians to stop meddling in Iraqi affairs.

Iran's plan, as outlined by the ambassador, carries the potential to bring Iran into further conflict here with the United States, which has detained a number of Iranian operatives in recent weeks and says it has proof of Iranian complicity in attacks on American and Iraqi forces.

The ambassador, Hassan Kazemi Qumi, said Iran was prepared to offer Iraq government forces training, equipment and advisers for what he called "the security fight." In the economic area, Mr. Qumi said, Iran was ready to assume major responsibility for Iraq reconstruction, an area of failure on the part of the United States since American-led forces overthrew Saddam Hussein nearly four years ago.

"We have experience of reconstruction after war," Mr. Qumi said, referring to the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. "We are ready to transfer this experience in terms of reconstruction to the Iraqis."

They have experience of reconstruction after war -- but apparently insufficient grasp of the perceptions of U.S. policymakers towards Iranian initiatives in Iraq.

He ridiculed the evidence that the American military has said it collected, including maps of Baghdad delineating Sunni, Shiite and mixed neighborhoods — the kind of maps, American officials have said, that would be useful for militias engaged in ethnic slaughter. Mr. Qumi said the maps were so common and easily obtainable that they proved nothing. ...

In a surprise announcement, Mr. Qumi said Iran would soon open a national bank in Iraq, in effect creating a new Iranian financial institution right under the Americans' noses. A senior Iraqi banking official, Hussein al-Uzri, confirmed that Iran had received a license to open the bank, which he said would apparently be the first "wholly owned subsidiary bank" of a foreign country in Iraq. ...

He would not provide specifics on Iran’s offer of military assistance to Iraq, but said it included increased border patrols and a proposed new "joint security committee."

Any Iranian military assistance to Iraq would be fraught with potential difficulties. Aside from provoking American objections, such assistance could further alienate Sunni Arabs, many of whom already suspect that Iran, overwhelmingly Shiite, is encouraging Iraq’s Shiite-led government in persecuting them.

A number of American and Iraqi officials said Sunday that it was difficult to respond to Mr. Qumi's statements until they had been communicated through official routes. A spokesman for the American Embassy in Baghdad, Lou Fintor, declined to address the statements.

Jan 28, 2007

"What do you mean, suit? This happens to be a British Army uniform, sir."

From a review of a new book on fourth generation warfare by British Gen. Rupert Smith:

As often as not, failing to grasp the new rules of warfare, political leaders and military planners rely on force in situations when it has no utility, commit troops without defining strategic and political objectives and — operating on the old industrial-war model — plan for the decisive engagement that never comes. In war amongst the people, he writes, "no act of force will ever be decisive: winning the trial of strength will not deliver the will of the people, and at base that is the only true aim of any use of force in our modern conflicts."

In the new paradigm, General Smith argues, war does not lead to victory and peace. Rather, confrontation leads to conflict, which subsides into confrontation. The weapons, instead of cruise missiles, are machetes, AK-47 assault rifles and suicide bombers. Only carefully defined and tightly intertwined political, diplomatic and military missions can hope to be effective, if only temporarily. That's another feature of the new paradigm: No war, but no peace either, only conflict without end.

Jan 27, 2007

Good Cop, Bad Cop?

Just a word to the wise from the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques:

Saudi Arabia told an Iranian envoy this month that Shi'ite power Iran was putting the Gulf region in danger, in a reference to Iran's conflict with Washington over Iraq and nuclear policy, a newspaper said.

In the interview in Kuwait's al-Seyassah on Saturday, King Abdullah also issued a veiled warning to Iran to quit what he said were efforts to spread Shi'ism in the Sunni-dominated Arab world. ...

"Saudi leaders and the Saudi state have always known their limits in dealing with nations, east and west. I explained this to Ali Larijani and advised him to pass it on to his government and its followers, with regard to foreign dealings," he said.

"The dangers it (Iranian government) could fall into will fall upon all of us.

King Abdullah also said efforts to spread Shi'ism in the Arab world would fail. Leading Sunni clerics have said in recent months that Iran is promoting Shi'ite belief in Arab countries.

"We are following this issue and we are aware of the extent of Shi'ite proselytism and how far it has got," the king said.

"But we don't think it will achieve its goal because the huge majority of Muslims who are Sunnis would not change their faith and sect ... We know our role as the state where the message (of Islam) began," he said.

Jan 26, 2007

This Is Supposed To Help?

It is difficult to see how this approach is supposed to help the U.S. position vis-à-vis Iran or even Iraq -- for that matter.

The Bush administration has authorized the U.S. military to kill or capture Iranian operatives inside Iraq as part of an aggressive new strategy to weaken Tehran's influence across the Middle East and compel it to give up its nuclear program, according to government and counterterrorism officials with direct knowledge of the effort. ...

The new "kill or capture" program was authorized by President Bush in a meeting of his most senior advisers last fall, along with other measures meant to curtail Iranian influence from Kabul to Beirut and, ultimately, to shake Iran's commitment to its nuclear efforts. ...

The administration's plans contain five "theaters of interest," as one senior official put it, with military, intelligence, political and diplomatic strategies designed to target Iranian interests across the Middle East.

The White House has authorized a widening of what is known inside the intelligence community as the "Blue Game Matrix" -- a list of approved operations that can be carried out against the Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon. And U.S. officials are preparing international sanctions against Tehran for holding several dozen al-Qaeda fighters who fled across the Afghan border in late 2001. They plan more aggressive moves to disrupt Tehran's funding of the radical Palestinian group Hamas and to undermine Iranian interests among Shiites in western Afghanistan. ...

The wide-ranging plan has several influential skeptics in the intelligence community, at the State Department and at the Defense Department who said that they worry it could push the growing conflict between Tehran and Washington into the center of a chaotic Iraq war. ...

Officials said Hayden counseled the president and his advisers to consider a list of potential consequences, including the possibility that the Iranians might seek to retaliate by kidnapping or killing U.S. personnel in Iraq. ...

With aspects of the plan also targeting Iran's influence in Lebanon, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories, the policy goes beyond the threats Bush issued earlier this month to "interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria" into Iraq. It also marks a departure from years past when diplomacy appeared to be the sole method of pressuring Iran to reverse course on its nuclear program. ...

A senior intelligence officer was more wary of the ambitions of the strategy.

"This has little to do with Iraq. It's all about pushing Iran's buttons. It is purely political," the official said. The official expressed similar views about other new efforts aimed at Iran, suggesting that the United States is escalating toward an unnecessary conflict to shift attention away from Iraq and to blame Iran for the United States' increasing inability to stanch the violence there. ...

In interviews, two senior administration officials separately compared the Tehran government to the Nazis and the Guard to the "SS." They also referred to Guard members as "terrorists." Such a formal designation could turn Iran's military into a target of what Bush calls a "war on terror," with its members potentially held as enemy combatants or in secret CIA detention.

Jan 25, 2007

Mahdi Army Meeting With Coalition Officials

This is an extremely sensitive subject -- ongoing U.S. negotiations with the enemy in Iraq -- which we last addressed here in December (see Details of High-Level US Talks With Iraqi Insurgent Groups)

There is a new report today that Moqtada al-Sadr's Jaish al Mahdi has used political contacts to deliver a set of conditions that must be met if the U.S.-led coalition expects to avoid serious problems with President Bush's "surge" plan.

An Iraqi official authorized to speak on behalf of field commanders for the country’s most powerful militia has approached Western military officials and laid out a plan to avoid armed confrontation, senior Iraqi and American officials said this week.

The official is Rahim al-Daraji, the elected mayor of the Sadr City district, the vast grid in the northeast corner of the capital that is the stronghold of the militia, the Mahdi Army. Mr. Daraji has met twice in the past two weeks with Lt. Gen. Graeme Lamb, a British officer who is the deputy commanding general in Iraq, said a senior Iraqi official in the office of the prime minister.

During the meetings, which took place on Jan. 17 and, most recently, on Monday, Mr. Daraji laid out a proposal from what he said were all the major political and militia groups in Sadr City, the senior Iraqi official said. The groups were eager to head off a major American military offensive in the district, home to two million Shiites, as the Americans begin a sweeping new effort to retake the streets of Baghdad.

Mr. Daraji said in an interview that field commanders would forbid their foot soldiers to carry guns in public if the American military and the Iraqi government met several basic demands, mostly involving ways to ensure better security for Sadr City. He is communicating with the commanders through a Shiite politician who is close to them. ...

The talks appeared to have been the first between an intermediary for the Mahdi militia and a senior commander from the American effort. The military fought the militia twice in 2004, and the militia's leader, Moktada al-Sadr, a renegade cleric who is virulently anti-American, has resolutely refused to meet with American officials of any kind. ...

The meetings were very preliminary, officials stressed, and came as the American military was stepping up pressure on Mr. Sadr's militia. It was not clear how American officials received the efforts. They are already making some headway against Shiite militias without help from Mr. Daraji and his supporters.

A spokesman for General Lamb declined to comment. "The general meets with a number of people in the course of his duty," he said. "We respect the confidence of those meetings."

The American ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, confirmed that meetings had taken place and said that Mr. Daraji had told representatives from the American Embassy and from the military that local residents would not challenge weapons searches by American soldiers. ...

Mr. Daraji said he represented 14 political and military groups in Sadr City. He said local residents, including Mahdi Army commanders, wanted to find ways to work with the Americans to avoid any large-scale confrontation. Commanders would tell militiamen to keep their weapons off the streets, he said, if Americans agreed to certain demands.

Some of the actions Mr. Daraji said he had requested in exchange for the promises from the militias seemed likely to draw stony stares from American military officials, namely to stop conducting raids in Sadr City and to release a number of those who had been arrested.

But other demands — to provide jobs for Sadr City residents, to bring in new construction projects and to triple the number of police stations there — seemed more realistic.

Jan 24, 2007

Lack of "Fidelity" in Iran Intelligence

It can really suck when you absolutely, positively need convincing pretextual evidence...and nobody will believe you even if you come up with it.

If there is anywhere Iran could easily stir up trouble in Iraq, it would be in Diyala, a rugged province along the border between the two nations.

The combination of Sunni Arab militants believed to be affiliated with Al Qaeda and Shiite Muslim militiamen with ties to Iran has fueled waves of sectarian and political violence here. The province is bisected by long-traveled routes leading from Iran to Baghdad and Shiite holy cities farther south in Iraq.

But even here, evidence of Iranian involvement in Iraq's troubles is limited. U.S. troops have found mortars and antitank mines with Iranian markings dated 2006, said U.S. Army Col. David W. Sutherland, who oversees the province. But there has been little sign of more advanced weaponry crossing the border, and no Iranian agents have been found. ...

The accusations of Iranian meddling "illustrate what may be one of our greatest problems," said Anthony Cordesman, a former Defense Department official and military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

"We are still making arguments from authority without detail and explanation. We're making them in an America and in a world where we really don't have anything like the credibility we've had in the past." ...

Top U.S. intelligence officials have been making increasingly confident assertions about Iran.

"I've come to a much darker interpretation of Iranian actions in the past 12 to 18 months," CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said in recent congressional testimony. Previously, Tehran's priority was to maneuver for a stable Iraq dominated by its Shiite majority, but that attitude has changed, he said.

"There is a clear line of evidence that points out the Iranians want to punish the United States, hurt the United States in Iraq, tie down the United States in Iraq," he said.

One high-ranking intelligence official in Washington acknowledged a lack of "fidelity" in the intelligence on Iran's activities, saying reports are sometimes unclear because it is difficult to track weapons and personnel that might be flowing across the long and porous border. ...

U.S. intelligence officials emphasized that Iran intentionally stops short of steps that would be seen as direct provocation and provide justification for a military response. For example, Iran has refrained from supplying Shiite militias with surface-to-air missiles and other weaponry that was part of Hezbollah's arsenal in its fight with Israel last summer, they said.

Jan 23, 2007

Petraeus On Errors Made By U.S. In Iraq

Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, who is poised to become the top commander in Iraq, believes that the U.S. government has made a host of serious mistakes there, according to written testimony he submitted yesterday to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Among the errors he cites are inadequate planning for the occupation, failing to recognize the emergence of the insurgency, not having enough troops in certain areas and holding elections in such a way that they deepened Iraq's sectarian divisions.

Some excerpts:

  • "[T]here were a number of assumptions and assessments that did not bear out. Prominent among them was the assumption that Iraqis would remain in their barracks and ministry facilities and resume their functions as soon as interim governmental structures were in place."

  • "There was the feeling that elections would enhance the Iraqi sense of nationalism. Instead, the elections hardened sectarian positions as Iraqis voted largely based on ethnic and sectarian group identity."

  • "There was an underestimation of the security challenges in Iraq. . . . It repeatedly took us time to recognize changes in the security environment and to react to them. "

  • "Disbanding the Iraqi army . . . without simultaneously announcing a stipend and pension program for those in the Army. . . ."

  • "We took too long to recognize the growing insurgency and to take steps to counter it, though we did eventually come to grips with it."

Jan 22, 2007

Depends On Your Definition Of "Rogue Nation"

U.S. asks, who are you gonna believe? Me or your own eyes?

Placing a U.S. anti-missile system on Polish and Czech soil would strengthen Europe's defense against a rogue nuclear attack but would not threaten Russia, a senior U.S. official was quoted on Monday as saying.

A top Russian general criticised Washington's plan but U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried told the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita that Moscow had nothing to fear.

"We believe that building infrastructure of the anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech (Republic) will significantly boost the defences of a united Europe," Fried said. "I want to stress that the anti-missile system is not aimed at Russia." ...

The site would be the biggest element of the MDI shield outside the United States. U.S officials say the system will protect it and its allies from missiles that could be fired from North Korea, Iran or other "rogue regimes." ...

Russia, Poland's former Warsaw Pact overlord, sees the shield as weakening its own security and has warned Warsaw it could take unspecified measures if it is built in Poland.

"Our analysis shows that the placing of a radio locating station in the Czech Republic and anti-missile equipment in Poland is a real threat to us," Russian news agencies quoted space forces commander Lt.-Gen. Vladimir Popovkin as saying.

Polish and U.S. diplomats say Russia's main concern is that the shield might weaken its nuclear deterrent and disturb the military balance in Europe.

Jan 20, 2007

Jay Rockefeller Criticizes March Toward War With Iran

In the 1970's, Dick Cheney worked behind the scenes to undermine Nelson Rockefeller -- whom he hated.

These days, the vice-president and his subordinates (including the president) cannot be too happy about Nelson's nephew, Jay.

The new chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Friday sharply criticized the Bush administration's increasingly combative stance toward Iran, saying that White House efforts to portray it as a growing threat are uncomfortably reminiscent of rhetoric about Iraq before the American invasion of 2003.

Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, the West Virginia Democrat who took control of the committee this month, said that the administration was building a case against Tehran even as American intelligence agencies still know little about either Iran's internal dynamics or its intentions in the Middle East.

"To be quite honest, I'm a little concerned that it's Iraq again," Senator Rockefeller said during an interview in his office. "This whole concept of moving against Iran is bizarre." ...

Mr. Rockefeller said he believed President Bush was getting poor advice from advisers who argue that an uncompromising stance toward the government in Tehran will serve American interests.

"I don't think that policy makers in this administration particularly understand Iran," he said. ...

Because Mr. Rockefeller is one of a handful of lawmakers with access to the most classified intelligence about the threat from Iran, his views carry particular weight. ...

Mr. Rockefeller was biting in his criticism of how President Bush has dealt with the threat of Islamic radicalism since the Sept. 11 attacks, saying he believed that the campaign against international terrorism was "still a mystery" to the president.

"I don't think he understands the world," Mr. Rockefeller said. "I don't think he's particularly curious about the world. I don't think he reads like he says he does."

He added, "Every time he's read something he tells you about it, I think."

Jan 19, 2007

CATCH ALL Program: "Nothing Has Changed", Says President

The CATCH ALL sleight-of-hand continues:

A day after announcing that it had scrubbed a controversial warrantless surveillance program, the Bush administration refused to provide details to Congress of how a new court-review process for terror-related wiretaps would work, triggering a fresh round of complaints and suspicions from Democrats about what the administration was doing.

At the same time, President Bush and other administration officials indicated that little had changed in the electronic eavesdropping program, originally launched after the Sept. 11 attacks, other than the fact that a court had finally blessed it. ...

Bush said the approval vindicated his position that he was justified in launching the surveillance. "Nothing has changed in the program except the court has said we've analyzed it and it's a legitimate way to protect the country," Bush said in an interview with Tribune Broadcasting.

Pressed during a hearing Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gonzales said the administration had changed the legal justification for the surveillance program but not the essential elements of the operation.

Disputing the suggestion that the warrantless program, run by the National Security Agency, had been "terminated," Gonzales said, "It took us a period of time to develop what we thought would be an acceptable legal argument that would be acceptable to the FISA court."

When asked to explain the legal argument, Gonzales refused. "I don't want to get into a public discussion about the deliberations and work of the court," he said. ...

Government officials familiar with the matter said the Bush administration's negotiations with the FISA court accelerated after Democrats won control of Congress in November.

The officials also said the negotiations centered on securing an agreement that would allow the administration to seek warrants on groups of people in certain circumstances, rather than being required to obtain separate court orders for every individual under suspicion.

One official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said this was the "innovative" new interpretation that Justice officials had described when briefing reporters on the new guidelines.

Our Well-Briefed Secretary of State

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's recent visit to the Mideast featured three main items on the agenda, none of which turned out to be warmly received in the region.

(Rice) pitched President Bush's new plan for Iraq, tried to revive peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians and sought to organize an Arab coalition against "violent extremists" such as Iran. ...

The Arab media was highly skeptical of Rice's efforts. The Arab News, a Saudi newspaper, asked the day after she left Riyadh, "To what extent is Rice just another siren, mesmerizing the Middle East with pleasing songs while dragging it onto the rocks of fresh conflict because of her own country's incompetence?"

At one point, Rice said that the difficult circumstances in the Middle East could represent opportunity. "I don't read Chinese but I am told that the Chinese character for crisis is wei-ji, which means both danger and opportunity," she said in Riyadh. "And I think that states it very well. We'll try to maximize the opportunity."

But Victor H. Mair, a professor of Chinese at the University of Pennsylvania, has written on the Web site http://pinyin.info, a guide to the Chinese language, that "a whole industry of pundits and therapists has grown up around this one grossly inaccurate formulation." He said the character "ji" actually means "incipient moment" or a "crucial point." Thus, he said, a wei-ji "is indeed a genuine crisis, a dangerous moment, a time when things start to go awry."

The Washington Post suggests this morning that Ms. Rice's source for her mangled Chinese usage may have been the following:

Rice did not say where she learned this aphorism, but oddly enough it was once featured on "The Simpsons," as this excerpt from an episode shows:

Lisa: "Look on the bright side, Dad. Did you know that the Chinese use the same word for 'crisis' as they do for 'opportunity'?"

Homer: "Yes! Cris-atunity."

Jan 18, 2007

Orchestrated CYA Over CATCH ALL

Despite the hoopla about the administration allegedly backing down from their extra-legal warrantless eavesdropping program, it is clear that Gonzales's action is an attempt at sophistry to evade the consequences of having acted illegally for five years.

It isn't going to work.

It all boils down to the Fourth Amendment's requirement that "no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

There isn't any way that the CATCH ALL program can be configured to meet that standard.


The Bush administration said yesterday that it has agreed to disband a controversial warrantless surveillance program run by the National Security Agency, replacing it with a new effort that will be overseen by the secret court that governs clandestine spying in the United States. ...

One official familiar with the discussions characterized the change as "programmatic," rather than based on warrants targeting specific cases. This official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the judge who issued the Jan. 10 order was not U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the FISA panel's chief judge, but rather one of that court's rotating members who was assigned to hear cases that week.

It is hard to figure out what the "change" they have worked out with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court can be. Sounds like they are talking about using blanket warrants. Blanket warrants are not constitutional, the person has to be described by name -- or at least has had to be under American jurisprudence to this point.

In case anyone imagines that the NSA program has been re-engineered to provide for individual identification of suspects -- thus making appropriate warrants feasible -- forget it. That is impossible given the massive scale of the collection under CATCH ALL (especially the first sift).

Another official, not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said both the director of national intelligence and the head of the NSA "have assured the president that the program and that the capabilities to protect this country remain intact under this new order."

There you have it.

Jan 17, 2007

French Diplomatic Mission To Iran Scuttled

Interesting that the Saudis (who are rumored to be involved in a broader covert action against Hezbollah in Lebanon) are portrayed here as having a vote in this matter.

At a time when most world powers have forged a united front against Iran because of its nuclear program, President Jacques Chirac arranged to send his foreign minister to Tehran to talk about a side issue, then abruptly canceled the visit earlier this month in embarrassing failure.

Mr. Chirac's troubles stemmed from his deep desire to help resolve the crisis in Lebanon before his term runs out in May. To that end, he decided to seek the support of Iran, which, along with Syria, backs the radical Shiite organization Hezbollah, three senior French officials said in describing the effort.

So he planned to send Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy to Tehran, only to call off the trip two days before it was to have taken place, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly on diplomatic issues.

Both Mr. Douste-Blazy and senior Foreign Ministry officials concluded that such a trip was doomed to fail and that it would send the wrong signal just weeks after the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved sanctions intended to curb Iran’s nuclear program, they added.

That put Mr. Douste-Blazy in the uncomfortable position of having to tell Mr. Chirac that he did not want to go, one senior official said. ...

When Mr. Douste-Blazy visited Saudi Arabia and Egypt this month, the foreign ministers of both countries also informed him that they strongly opposed any such initiative.

Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, was so determined to stop the visit that he spoke to Mr. Douste-Blazy in uncharacteristically blunt terms -- "I am going to tell you, do not go" -- according to a senior official familiar with the conversation. ...

Iran, meanwhile, has officially expressed its displeasure that the trip was canceled.

For the moment, Jean-Claude Cousseran, a former head of France's foreign intelligence service and former ambassador to Egypt, is planning to make the trip to Tehran, leaving open the face-saving possibility that the foreign minister could follow at a later, unspecified, date, a senior French official said.

But the initiative is so ad hoc and divisive that one senior official said even Mr. Cousseran’s trip might not take place.

Mr. Chirac's initiative is surprising because he has consistently taken a hard line against Iran and its nuclear program, privately expressing the view that the Islamic republic cannot be trusted. While other global players, including Russia and China, regularly send senior officials to Tehran, France had joined with Britain, Germany and the United States in pressuring Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment activities or face sanctions in the Security Council. In fact, France largely drafted the initial resolution in tough language that was watered down in the end.

Jan 16, 2007

Out Of Africa

The U.S. public is subject to an ongoing institutionalization of “truth” and “reality” that is premised on total information warfare.

This is nowhere so starkly evident as with the stereotypes, mythologies and deceptions doled out to the U.S. public on the subject of Africa (the Arab world, and all things Islamic, run a close second). This includes mainstream reportage, policy debates, scholarly journals, tabloids, radio shows, and print magazines—from WIRED to National Geographic. This is also evident in supposed “alternative” media sources like The Nation and films like Hotel Rwanda.

Alternative? To what? Virtually all available media fall on a spectrum that serves up topics and frameworks that are tolerated and allowed, where “healthy debate,” “exposés” and (perceived) “hostility”, are even encouraged. Hence we have Seymour Hersh offering us revealing exposés on torture in Abu Ghraib, but saying nothing about the profits being made over the dead bodies due to U.S. sponsored covert operations and destabilization in Congo during and since the Clinton regime.

Nation editor Katrina Van de Heuvel will steer sharply away from any challenge to the “humanitarian” actions of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a strong proponent of military intervention—allied with the other two big humanitarian agencies CARE and Refugees International—in the recent massive lobbying effort to “stop genocide” in Darfur, Sudan. Is there genocide in Darfur? If so, or even not so, why has it received overwhelming press attention while the Anuak genocide has received none? What about nearby Congo? And Rwanda?

Van de Heuvel has ties with Henry Kissinger, a member of an IRC board, and one of the few U.S. officials to be publicly labeled as a war criminal. The IRC is a powerful faction in Congo, Rwanda and Sudan, and the Congolese accused them of espionage. CARE’s “partners” include aerospace and defense corporation Lockheed-Martin, who is also a major underwriter of Seymour Hersh’s regular print venue, the war advocacy journal Atlantic Monthly.

A truly “investigative” journalist might hack through the propaganda of Hotel Rwanda to get to United Artists parent company Metro Goldwyn Meyer, whose directors, not surprisingly, given what the film does not tell you about the U.S.-sponsored invasion of Rwanda (1990–1994), include current United Technologies director and U.S. General (Ret.) Alexander Haig. Recall that “I’m in charge here” Al Haig served under a Hollywood actor named Ronald Reagan. Hotel Rwanda took off from the now celebrated but wholly mythologized book We Regret To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed by Philip Gourevitch, the New Yorker’s premier Africanist, and whose brother-in-law, Jamie Rubin, was Madeleine Albright’s leading man. The Nation runs the standard nonsense on Rwanda, usually by Victoria Britain. Another pro-military interventionist on Darfur, Samantha Power could surely satisfy The Nation, given her selective and patriotic journalism on Rwanda and the Balkans, for which she won a Pulitzer.

Behind the mass hysteria whipped up in the post-September 11th America are the dirty little and not-so-little but secret wars whipped up in “uncivilized” and “savage” places like Djibouti, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Congo and (Gambella) Ethiopia.

It takes more than one party to wage a war. From Chad, Uganda and Ethiopia come weapons and logistical support for the enemies of the Islamic regime in Khartoum. At the same time, the Bush gang has reportedly “allied” with the Sudan government in its “war on terror”—if we believe the Ken Silverstein “exposé” in the L.A. Times (which is merely being expedient in its truth-telling). Off the agenda are any discussions of the U.S. regimes of terror in Uganda or Cameroon, for example, or U.S. support for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and other warring militias and factions in Darfur, Chad, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Congo.

Like nearby Chad, Ethiopia has become a favored territory from which transnational corporate interests can be served by launching clandestine terror operations against Islamic governments, Al Queda phantoms, and other hostile enemies. The latter category, of course, includes Arabs on horseback, machete-wielding Hutus, Mai-Mai “wearing bathroom fixtures” on their heads, innocent men, women and children all over Africa, and, of course, the Anuaks of Ethiopia who, like the Ogonis in Nigeria and the Fur of Darfur, have the audacity to be living over someone else’s oil.

By February 21, 2002, the U.S. DOD had already purchased 79 RQ-1 Predators from General Atomics, for a per unit price of about $7 million, or some $553 million dollars. * “State Terror in Ethiopia” was the first report, and WW4 Report the first venue, to illuminate the U.S. military alliance with the Ethiopian regime and the regional base of U.S. covert operations in Hurso, Ethiopia as well as the presence of RQ-1 Predator Drones being operated over the entire Horn region by the Central Intelligence Agency. Smith College students recently working to “stop genocide” in Darfur held a letter-writing campaign demanding that George Bush authorize that unmanned Predator drones—impersonal, indiscriminate killing robots—be launched against Arabs on horses, and other “undefined” targets, in Darfur.

The U.S.-supported regime of Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia is experiencing widespread domestic dissent and protest, which remain underreported. June 2005 saw massive government repression, troops firing on crowds, and torture spreading across Ethiopia after the people protested obvious election-rigging.

Ethiopia’s secret U.S.-sponsored war (2000) against Eritrea has destabilized the border region, causing untold death and despair. Murder, extra-judicial execution, rape, disappearances, arrest and imprisonment of Anuaks, Oromos, Nuers and other indigenous Ethiopian people continue. What makes “State Terror in Ethiopia” so poignant is its sharp juxtaposition to the stories of genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur, which received widespread attention, and to Congo, which is mostly off the media agenda.

With Darfur, what is really at issue is not genocide, and it is not about “humanitarian” anything, or there wouldn’t be so many people dead already—and still dying. It is about regime change, and some people will do anything to get us to support that.

In Congo, the death toll has struck seven million since the U.S. invasion began, and the war rages on while both Clinton and Bush factions profit from diamond and gold and other hundreds-of-multimillion-dollars-a-month material thefts. Next to the holy wars of Congo and Darfur, the Anuaks are a mere thorn in the side of Empire. Such is the political economy of genocide.

* Shortly after “State Terror in Ethiopia” appeared in WW4 Report and Z Magazine, Marc Lacey, Nairobi Bureau Chief for the New York Times, ran some damage control, and reported from Gambella with a nasty little blame-the-victims story that deflected attention from the undesirable details: “Amid Ethiopia’s Strife, a Bathing Spot and Peace” (New York Times, 6/11/04). There was hardly a word about oil or U.S. interests, and Lacey framed the story to suggest that peace had returned to Gambella, an area rife with ancient tribal animosity, he declared, where the Anuaks “once went naked and ate rats.” (Curiously, not one New York Times link to this story is active today, perhaps because it has been widely noted for its racism, and so it is being electronically erased.)

Doug McGill of the McGill Report has done consistent work to report on the Anuak story. World War 4 Report also published a second follow-up story titled “Ethnic Cleansing in Ethiopia.” Soon after this appeared, Human Rights Watch finally published a major report on the Anuak genocide based on Kieth Harmon Snow's field investigations “Today is the Day of Killing Anuaks” and “Operation Sunny Mountain?”(pdf)

No Need For Mediation

Along the same lines, the alcoholic or drug abuser usually sees no need for intervention either.

A Saudi official said on Monday Iran had asked Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally, to help ease tensions between the Islamic Republic and the United States, as Washington held out the possibility of "engagement" with Tehran if it changed tack in Iraq.

An Iranian newspaper on Tuesday quoted a foreign ministry official denying a request for mediation.

Both Rice and Prince Saudi played down talk of mediation.

"There is no need for mediation between the United States and Iran," Rice said, referring to a standoff over Iran's nuclear program, which she said was between Iran and the United Nations not Washington.

"There is no need for mediation," Saud al-Faisal said, but added: "Our relations with the United States are longstanding ... Iran is a neighbor of Saudi Arabia, so obviously we hope to avoid any conflict."

Jan 15, 2007

Somalia's Broadcasters Shuttered

Don't worry folks. We have not gone to "all Somalia, all of the time" coverage.

Inevitably, events will soon return us to our regular programming.

Anyway, this piece fits into the information operation track that is part of our bailiwick.

Somalia's main broadcasters have been ordered to close, shortly after the interim president set up a new team to end the "chaos" in the capital.

Three top Somali radio stations and al-Jazeera TV are affected. They have been ordered to appear before the national security agency. ...

Three local radio stations received a letter, signed by Mogadishu security chief Colonel Ahmed Hassan Ali, ordering them to close immediately:

  • Shabelle Radio
  • Radio HornAfrik
  • Voice of the Koran radio.

Correspondents say the radio stations have stopped broadcasting.

Shabelle Media deputy chairman Mohamed Amin told the AFP news agency he was "disappointed" by the measure.

Government spokesman Abduraman Dinari told another local radio station that those affected were "instigating violence", AFP reports.

"We are not undermining the freedom of expression, we are ensuring the security of the Somali people," he said.

Jan 14, 2007

Petraeus On Why We Get Into Quagmires

Among Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus's qualifications for the post of senior U.S. military commander in Iraq is his work training Iraqi security forces, as well as his oversight of the Army and Marine Corps' updated counterinsurgency field manual. But another document may prove useful to Petraeus in Iraq. In 1987, he earned a PhD from Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School with a 328-page thesis titled "The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam: A Study of Military Influence and the Use of Force in the Post-Vietnam Era."

The military also took from Vietnam (and the concomitant activities in the Pentagon) a heightened awareness that civilian officials are responsive to influences other than the objective conditions on the battlefield. A consequence has been an increase in the traditional military distrust of civilian political leaders. ... While the military still accept emphatically the constitutional provision for civilian control of the armed forces, there remain from the Vietnam era nagging doubts about the abilities and motivations of politicians and those they appoint to key positions. Vietnam was a painful reminder for the military that they, not the transient occupants of high office, generally bear the heaviest burden during armed conflict.

Jan 13, 2007

They All Look The Same To Me, Jethro

It looks like the AC-130 strike on the "Al Qaeda terrorists" in Somalia wasn't as successful as first advertised.

Oxfam yesterday confirmed at least 70 nomads in the Afmadow district near the border with Kenya had been killed. The nomads were bombed at night and during the day while searching for water sources. Meanwhile, the US ambassador to Kenya has acknowledged that the onslaught on Islamist fighters failed to kill any of the three prime targets wanted for their alleged role in the 1998 US embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.

The wanted men are Fazul Abdullah Moham-med, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan and Abu Taha al-Sudani, who were all supposedly sheltered by the Union of Islamic Courts during its short reign in Mogadishu.

The operation, which opened a new front in Washington's anti-terror campaign, seems to have backfired spectacularly in the five days since it was launched. In addition to the scores of Somali civilians killed, the simmering civil war in the failed state has been rekindled.

Yesterday concern was mounting at the high number of civilian casualties, despite a claim by the US ambassador, Michael Ranneberger, that no civilians had been killed or injured and that only one attack had taken place. The UN's refugee agency, UNHCR, reported that an estimated 100 people were wounded in Monday's air strikes on the small fishing village of Ras Kamboni launched from the US military base in Djibouti after a mobile phone intercept.

The operation was only confirmed by the Pentagon a day after it was launched and it continued despite international protests and warnings that it risked being counterproductive.

Who's Doing Who - Somalia

The US invasion of Somalia was a well-planned US military operation, not an Ethiopian invasion given the green light by the US but a US invasion backed by Ethiopian troops.

Covert ops and private military companies set the stage for months and—given the past five or six years of US covert forces training Ethiopian troops in Ethiopia in “counter-terrorism” (and we all know what that means) —for years.

Sudan has been under attack by different means: "humanitarian" war. US covert ops and private military companies are certainly involved in Sudan too. It's hard to believe that there is absolutely no US military presence in Sudan—and Darfur—as the media says.

Check out this private military company
. The mission of this bunch of private equity terrorists called ATS Worldwide is to go in and destabilize a region (country) in advance of—or to support follow-on missions in support of—the U.S. military and governmental agencies…

"We've executed our operation in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Sudan, Central and South America. We work primarily for the U.S. government in conjunction with the private sector or companies."
Consisting of ex-military personnel, special ops, the purpose of ATS is to "make it easier on the military to contract out and train these forces in order to deploy them in hot spots throughout the world" including, perhaps, "denied areas" like Somalia, or even Darfur, where it is not politically acceptable for U.S. regular forces to operate, until that is, a crisis of suitable proportions can be engineered to allow some form of military intervention

Jan 12, 2007

Pentagon Increases Intelligence Activities Against Iran

President Bush -- in his address to the nation on Wednesday -- gave a major hint that Iran is in the crosshairs. The administration has been blaming the Shiite Islamic Republic for interfering with the U.S. security operations in Iraq for some time now. Some are wondering if payback time may be near.

Even as President Bush seeks larger numbers of troops to stabilize Iraq, the Pentagon is intensifying operations there on another front: challenging Iran over its alleged role in destabilizing its Arab neighbor. ...

(T)he Pentagon has significantly increased its intelligence activities targeting suspected Iranian agents and Shiite Muslim militants, U.S. intelligence officials said. Besides working with Iraqi security forces, the U.S. has intensified information-sharing with dissident Iranian groups such as Mujahedin-e Khalq, according to officials associated with the group.

U.S. officials say the intensifying actions targeting Iran are central to the new White House push to underpin the shaky government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. They come against a backdrop of growing, broader tensions between Washington and Tehran, over Iran's suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons, U.S. efforts to curb Iran's financial transactions and Tehran's moves to increase its influence throughout the Middle East.

Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, said the administration is seeking to counter Iranian provocations across the region as part of a broader strategy. "Iran needs to learn to respect us," he said. "And Iran certainly needs to respect American power in the Middle East." ...

Of particular concern to Pentagon planners is the alleged role of Qods Force, the international arm of Tehran's Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, in trafficking IEDs into Iraq, intelligence officials said. The guard corps is believed to have developed close ties to both the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia headed by the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and the Badr Brigade, the militant arm of Iraq's largest Shiite political party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

The Pentagon moves in Iraq to arrest Iranian diplomats in both Irbil and Baghdad over the past month were directly aimed at trying to stanch the flow of IEDs and other armaments into Iraq, U.S. officials involved in the program said. The U.S. has alleged that the Revolutionary Guard corps has used front companies and religious foundations to move some of these armaments over the Iran-Iraq border. And U.S. officials said they have extensive intelligence showing many of the diplomats detained were senior members of the corps. ...

Of more concern to U.S. lawmakers is the potential that these U.S. actions against Iran could escalate. Under one possible scenario, U.S. forces could cross into Iran or Syria in pursuit of suspected insurgents or their allies, or use alleged Iranian activities inside Iraq as a pretext for a wider assault on Iran. The fear is that any such military activities could ignite a wider conflict.

"The potential for sparking a wider conflict is great," said Trita Parsi, an Iran analyst and president of the National Iranian American Council in Washington. "I think that if we're going for a confrontation with Iran, the pretext will be Iraq."

Jan 11, 2007

International Incident At Irbil

Normally, something like this would be frowned upon in diplomatic circles.

US forces have stormed an Iranian consulate in the northern Iraqi town of Irbil and seized six members of staff.

The troops raided the building at about 0300 (0001GMT), taking away computers and papers, according to Kurdish media and senior local officials. ...

The raid comes amid high Iran-US tension. The US accuses Iran of helping to fuel violence in Iraq and seeking nuclear arms. Iran denies both charges.

Tehran counters that US military involvement in the Middle East endangers the whole region.

A local TV station said Kurdish security forces had taken over the building after the Americans had left.

Irbil lies in Iraq's Kurdish-controlled north, about 350km (220 miles) from the capital Baghdad.

Reports say the Iranian consulate there was set up last year under an agreement with the Kurdish regional government to facilitate cross-border visits. ...

Iranian media said the country's embassy in Baghdad had sent a letter of protest about the raid to the Iraqi foreign ministry.

One Iranian news agency with a correspondent in Irbil says five US helicopters were used to land troops on the roof of the Iranian consulate.

Jan 10, 2007

U.S. Moves Against Iranian Bank

This case has it all: Iran, missiles, WMD research, and North Korea.

They left out Osama.

The Bush administration, tightening the financial vise on Tehran, moved Tuesday to block the assets of a major Iranian bank suspected of helping spread weapons of mass destruction.

The action against Bank Sepah, Iran's fifth-largest state-owned financial institution, means any banks accounts or other financial assets belonging to the bank found in the United States must be frozen. Americans also are prohibited from doing business with the financial institution.

"Bank Sepah is the financial linchpin of Iran's missile procurement network and has actively assisted Iran's pursuit of missiles capable of carrying weapons of mass destruction," said Stuart Levey, Treasury's under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. ...

The department alleges that Bank Sepah provides financial support and services to Iran's Aerospace Industries Organization as well as to two Iranian missile firms - Shahid Hemmat Industries Group and the Shahid Bakeri Industries Group. The United States has previously accused all three of helping to spread weapons of mass destruction.

The government said that Bank Sepah is the "bank of choice" - at least since 2000 - for Iran's Aerospace Industries Organization, a subsidiary of the Iranian Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics, that oversees all of Iran's missile industries and is the overall coordinator of Iran's missile program. ...

The government also alleged that the bank has facilitated business between the Aerospace Industries Organization and North Korea's chief ballistic missile-related exporter, KOMID, which the government says has provided Iran with missile technology.

"The financial relationship between Iran and North Korea, as represented by the business handled by Bank Sepah, is of great concern to the United States," Levey said.

Levey said Tuesday's action applies to all branches of Bank Sepah, including those in Paris, Rome and Frankfurt, its wholly-owned subsidiary in London, as well as more than 290 branches based in Iran. The bank's Rome branch, he said, conducted a "great deal" of the transactions the United States is concerned about.

Jan 9, 2007

Microsoft Gets NSA Assist

There have been indications for years that the NSA has had influence over some aspects of the Windows operating system -- the NSA_key episode comes to mind.

Now Microsoft has confirmed that they received some help on their new Vista OS from the main U.S. SIGINT/COMINT agency.

When Microsoft introduces its long-awaited Windows Vista operating system this month, it will have an unlikely partner to thank for making its flagship product safe and secure for millions of computer users across the world: the National Security Agency.

For the first time, the giant software maker is acknowledging the help of the secretive agency, better known for eavesdropping on foreign officials and, more recently, U.S. citizens as part of the Bush administration's effort to combat terrorism. The agency said it has helped in the development of the security of Microsoft's new operating system -- the brains of a computer -- to protect it from worms, Trojan horses and other insidious computer attackers.

"Our intention is to help everyone with security," Tony W. Sager, the NSA's chief of vulnerability analysis and operations group, said yesterday. ...

Microsoft has not promoted the NSA's contributions, mentioning on its Web site the agency's role only at the end of its "Windows Vista Security Guide," which states that the "guide is not intended for home users" but for information and security specialists. ...

Microsoft also has sought the security expertise of other U.S. government and international entities, including NATO. "I cannot mention any of the other international agencies," said Donald R. Armstrong, senior program manager of Microsoft's government security program, citing the wishes of those agencies to remain anonymous.

Jan 8, 2007


You can tell who is considered to be the important audience for the output of the info-op shop at the U.S. embassy in Iraq..

From Newsweek:

A draft report recently produced by the Baghdad embassy's director of strategic communications Ginger Cruz and obtained by NEWSWEEK makes the stakes clear: "Without popular support from US population, there is the risk that troops will be pulled back ... Thus there is a vital need to save popular support via message." Under the heading DOMESTIC MESSAGES, Cruz goes on to recommend 16 themes to reinforce with the American public, several of which Bush is likely to hit: "vitally important we succeed"; "actively working on new approaches"; "there are no quick or easy answers."

What's even more telling is that the IRAQI MESSAGES—the very next section—are still "TBD," to be determined.

Jan 7, 2007

U.S. Puts The Heat On Maliki Government For Saddam's Indecorous End

The unseemly circumstances of the execution of Saddam Hussein has left the United States looking bad in the eyes of the international community.

Today the administration is trying to put the onus of blame squarely upon the Maliki government, via a long piece in the New York Times.

The U.S. military clearly puts their institutional viewpoint forward in the Times article.

Some excerpts:

The hanging spread wide dismay among the Americans. Aides said American commanders were deeply upset by the way they were forced to hand Mr. Hussein over, a sequence commanders saw as motivated less by a concern for justice than for revenge. In the days following the hanging, recriminations flowed between the military command and the United States Embassy, accused by some officers of abandoning American interests at midnight Friday in favor of placating Mr. Maliki and hard-line Shiites. ...

On the Thursday before the hanging, American military officials were summoned. Both Mr. Khalilzad and General Casey were on vacation, so the American team handling negotiations with Mr. Maliki and his officials was headed by Maj. Gen. Jack Gardner, head of Task Force 134, the detainee unit, and Margaret Scobey, head of the embassy's political section.

Iraqi officials said neither carried much weight with Mr. Maliki, who had learned through bruising confrontations to be wary of alienating Mr. Khalilzad and General Casey, both of whom have direct access to President Bush. At the Thursday afternoon meeting, tempers frayed. According to an Iraqi legal expert at the meeting, Iraqi officials demanded that the Americans hand over Mr. Hussein that night, for an execution before dawn on Friday.

General Gardner responded with demands of his own, for letters affirming the legality of the execution from Mr. Maliki, President Jalal Talabani and the chief judge of the high tribunal that convicted Mr. Hussein, the Iraqi legal expert said. The focus was on two issues: a constitutional requirement that Iraq's three-man presidency council approve all executions, and a Hussein-era law forbidding executions during religious holidays. ...

An Iraqi participant who opposed the hanging said that Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Mr. Maliki's national security adviser, said angrily, "This is an Iraqi issue," and added, "Who is going to execute him anyway, you or us?" When the Americans insisted they would not hand over Mr. Hussein without the letters, another Iraqi official exploded: "Just give him to us!" ...

Negotiations resumed Friday morning. In Phoenix, 10 time zones away, General Casey was monitoring the exchanges in signals traffic from Baghdad. American military officials remained opposed to an immediate hanging, telling Mr. Maliki that beyond the legal issues, there was a question of his government's need to gain international support by carrying out the hanging in a way that could withstand any criticism. ...

The arguments continued deep into the Iraqi night. General Gardner and Ms. Scobey returned at one point to the former Republican Palace, the American headquarters in the Green Zone, seeking Washington’s advice. Workarounds for the legal problems were discussed.

At 10:30 p.m., Ambassador Khalilzad made a last-ditch call to Mr. Maliki asking him not to proceed with the hanging. When the Iraqi leader remained adamant, an American official said, the ambassador made a second call to Washington conveying "the determination of the Iraqi prime minister to go forward," and his conclusion that there was nothing more, consistent with respect for Iraqi sovereignty, that the United States could do.

Senior Bush administration officials in Washington said that Mr. Khalilzad's principal contact in Washington was Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and that she gave the green light for Mr. Hussein to be turned over, despite the reservations of the military commanders in Baghdad. One official said that Ms. Rice was supported in that view by Stephen J. Hadley, Mr. Bush's national security adviser.

Jan 6, 2007

DNI Nominee Led TIA Data Mining Contractor

Adm. John M. (Mike) McConnell (Ret.), selected to replace John Negroponte as DNI, is being criticized for his role in a (supposedly cancelled) data mining operation.

(S)ome of McConnell's longtime associations may cause him headaches during Senate confirmation hearings, especially with the Democrats taking over Congress. One such tie is with another former Navy admiral, John Poindexter, the Iran-contra figure who started the controversial "Total Information Awareness" program at the Pentagon in 2002. The international consultancy that McConnell has worked at for a decade as a senior vice president, Booz Allen Hamilton, won contracts worth $63 million on the TIA "data-mining" program, which was later cancelled after congressional Democrats raised questions about invasion of privacy. McConnell will be named by week's end to replace John Negroponte, who will move on to become Condoleezza Rice's deputy secretary of State, according to a White House official who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. While his role in the TIA program is unlikely to derail McConnell's nomination, spokespeople for some leading Democratic senators such as Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Ron Wyden of Oregon say it will be examined carefully.

McConnell was a key figure in making Booz Allen, along with Science Applications International Corp., the prime contractor on the project, according to officials in the intelligence community and at Booz Allen who would discuss contracts for data mining only on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. "I think Poindexter probably respected Mike and probably entrusted the TIA program to him as a result," said a longtime associate of McConnell's who worked at NSA with him. Poindexter, who lives in Rockville, Md., did not answer phone calls. Booz Allen spokesman George Farrar said McConnell was not speaking to the media prior to his nomination. Farrar also had no comment on the TIA program. ...

McConnell may need all the friends he can get to fend off criticism of his role in helping the government to mine data on U.S. citizens—the subject of Senate Judiciary Committee hearings set to begin next week. TIA was an effort to gather intel on potential terrorist attacks by vacuuming up huge amounts of data from electronic transactions, including banking, plane reservations and other public and private sources. It was stopped after some in Congress about raised questions about invasions of privacy. The American Civil Liberties Union later called it an "Orwellian program."

But the concept of doing broad-based surveillance lives on, as does Booz Allen's contracting role. Last September, the ACLU sharply criticized Booz Allen and the U.S. government for the revolving-door ties that had many former intelligence officials going to work for the contractor. After it was reported in June that the U.S. government was studying records of financial transactions carried out by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or SWIFT, the Bush administration responded that the fairness of the process was being audited by Booz Allen. But both European regulators and the ACLU said Booz Allen was not independent enough to fulfill such duties. "Its relationship with the U.S. government calls its objectivity seriously in to question," an ACLU report said. ...

Booz Allen's government contracts have expanded dramatically during McConnell's time there, amounting to $1.59 billion last year in information technology. According to his official Booz Allen biography, "As Senior Vice President, Mike McConnell leads the firm's assignments in Military Intelligence and Information Operations for the Department of Defense, the Unified Combatant Commanders, Military Services, and Defense Agencies." Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Project, says: "Plainly, given the NSA's role in massive spying on Americans, we'll want the Senate to look very carefully at his history."

Jan 5, 2007

Pentagon To Create Africa Command

The Pentagon will soon be fielding a new military command covering a continent that is usually last on the list of priorities of international types in the U.S. government -- Africa.

The creation of the new command will be more than an exercise in shuffling bureaucratic boxes, experts say. The US government's motives include countering Al Qaeda's known presence in Africa, safeguarding future oil supplies, and competing with China, which has been courting African governments in its own quest for petroleum, they suggest. ...

The US gets about 10 percent of its oil from Africa ... Some experts say it may need to rely on the continent for as much as 25 percent by 2010. "With all the instability in the Middle East, there's some thought that we had better build partnerships in Africa," he says.

A senior Pentagon official, who requested anonymity because announcing the decision is the president's prerogative, said current events have less to do with the move than does Africa's instability. "Africa's a place with a lot of crises," this official says. Bush is "on record saying he doesn't want another genocide on his watch. This is a way of ensuring that there's a military command, a four-star, paying attention."

Currently, responsibility for Africa is divided among three of the Pentagon's five regional "unified commands," each headed by a four-star general or admiral who reports to the president.

The European Command, responsible for Europe and Russia, oversees US defense activities for most of continental Africa. The Central Command covers largely Arab northeast Africa as part of its oversight of the Middle East and sections of Central and Southwest Asia. The Pacific Command is responsible for Madagascar and the waters off southeast Africa. ...

The Pentagon official who requested anonymity says the new command will exclude Egypt, a major player in Middle East politics. And Central Command will retain responsibility for the Horn of Africa for about 18 months while the Africa Command gets set up, the official says.

After the 9/11 attacks, the Pentagon created a Horn of Africa joint task force under Central Command that is headquartered in Djibouti, but the senior official said the Africa Command's headquarters will be in Stuttgart, Germany, where the European Command is based, for the time being.

Jan 4, 2007

FBI Files On Rehnquist Released Under FOIA

The late Chief Justice William Rehnquist's Senate confirmation battles in 1971 and 1986 were more intense and political than previously known, according to a newly released FBI file that also offers dramatic new details about Rehnquist's 1981 hospitalization and dependence on a painkiller.

The FBI file on Rehnquist, released last week under the Freedom of Information Act, reveals that in 1971, as Rehnquist's confirmation hearings for associate justice approached, the Nixon Justice Department asked the FBI to run a criminal background check on at least two potential witnesses who were expected to testify against Rehnquist. Then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover approved the request.

In July 1986, when President Ronald Reagan nominated Rehnquist to be chief justice, the Justice Department asked the FBI to interview witnesses who were preparing to testify that Rehnquist had intimidated minority voters as a Republican Party official in Arizona in the early 1960s. According to a memo in the Rehnquist file, an unnamed FBI official cautioned that the department "should be sensitive to the possibility that Democrats could charge the Republicans of misusing the FBI and intimidating the Democrats' witnesses." But then-Assistant Attorney General John Bolton — who more recently served as ambassador to the United Nations — signed off on the request and said he would "accept responsibility should concerns be raised about the role of the FBI." It is unclear whether the FBI ever interviewed the witnesses.

Also in 1986, the FBI conducted an intensive investigation into Rehnquist's dependence on Placidyl, a strong painkiller that he had taken since the early 1970s for insomnia and back pain. Rehnquist's bout with drug dependence had been made public in 1981, when he was hospitalized for his back pain and suffered withdrawal symptoms when he stopped taking the drug.

The FBI's 1986 report on Rehnquist’s drug dependence was not released at the time of his confirmation, though some Democratic senators wanted it made public. But it is in Rehnquist's now-public file, and it contains new details about his behavior during his weeklong hospital stay in December 1981. One physician whose name is blocked out told the FBI that Rehnquist expressed "bizarre ideas and outrageous thoughts. He imagined, for example, that there was a CIA plot against him."

The doctor said Rehnquist "had also gone to the lobby in his pajamas in order to try to escape." The doctor said Rehnquist's delirium was consistent with him suddenly stopping his apparent daily dose of 1400 milligrams of the drug — nearly three times higher than the 500-milligram maximum recommended by physicians. The doctor said, "Any physician who prescribed it was practicing very bad medicine, bordering on malpractice."

Jan 3, 2007

Maliki Wants Out

Maliki won't find much argument from U.S. officials if he decides to pack it in.

Nuri al-Maliki has said he wants to step down as prime minister of Iraq, as one of his advisers revealed that a man accused of recording Saddam Hussein's execution on his mobile phone has been arrested. ...

If offered a second term, he would not take it, and wishes to end his first term prematurely: "I wish I could be done with it even before the end of this term," he said, adding: "I would like to serve my people from outside the circle of senior officials, maybe through the parliament, or through working directly with the people." ...

An unnamed adviser to Mr Maliki said today that the person being held over the Saddam execution video was an official who supervised the hanging.

The execution of Saddam, which was filmed on mobile phones and showed the deposed leader being taunted by prison officials, has inflamed sectarian tensions. The manner of the hanging has come in for heavy criticism from both Iraqis and the international community.

An Iraqi prosecutor present at the execution told the Associated Press that he saw two government officials taking video of the execution.

"They used mobile phone cameras. I do not know their names, but I would remember their faces," Munqith al-Faroon said. ...

There are reports that Barzan al-Tikriti, Saddam's half-brother and former intelligence chief, and Awad al-Bander, a former chief judge, could be hanged as early as Thursday morning. The pair were due to be executed alongside Saddam, but it was postponed due to the religious holiday.

Maybe it was postponed so that the batteries on Iraqi "officials' " camera phones could be recharged.

Jan 2, 2007

The Search For A Policy In Iraq

Today's New York Times features a long article on the administration's search for a policy in Iraq.

General Casey is shown to be a strong advocate for the "we'll stand down, as the Iraqis stand up" gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops, while the White House remained eager to "win" -- whatever that means anymore.

There are a few noteworthy items in the piece:

The Defense Intelligence Agency had briefed the White House in early 2006 that the insurgency was winning in Iraq, according to a former military officer. The briefing, which chronicled the steady rise in the number of attacks, prompted a counter-briefing from General Casey’s intelligence chief, who prepared an analysis tracing the positive trends in Iraq.

Data gathered by General Casey's own command, which showed a steady increase in weekly attacks and civilian casualties, lent support to the Defense Intelligence Agency assessment. ...

Later in June, General Casey flew to Washington to give briefings on the latest version of his troop reduction plan at the Pentagon and White House. The number of American combat brigades, which then totaled 14, would be reduced by two in September and might shrink to 10 by December, if conditions allowed. If the Iraqis continued to assume more responsibility for their security, there would be only five or six combat brigades in Iraq by December 2007.

Yet already President Bush was signaling to top aides that he wanted to re-evaluate how to keep stability before proceeding with troop withdrawals. His caution matched a growing unease among American field commanders in Iraq, and officers on the streets of Baghdad, who said they were surprised by General Casey's continued advocacy of withdrawals and consolidating bases. They said that American forces should be focusing on a greater counterinsurgency effort, which would require that a substantial number of troops be dispersed to protect that population against insurgent and militia attacks.

There is serious debate in Washington and at CENTCOM about how to conduct the counterinsurgency. A pertinent question involves how we can expect to prevail against a sectarian insurgency when we can present no compelling political action program to rally the civilian population behind. The Shiite-led "unity" government doesn't count. The Maliki government only makes matters worse.

Since there is really nothing the "coalition" can offer the Iraqis to motivate them into representing our interests in their beleaguered country, there is no possibility of the U.S. achieving anything any reasonable person would consider success.

A year ago, simply leaving Iraqis to live in peace would have been a victory.

Now we will have to set the bar even lower.

Jan 1, 2007

Anecdotal Evidence of Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations"

The safety-obsessed (while alcohol-besotted) American people might look down on such festivities.

But chances are more people than this are injured in the USA while trying to collect temptingly fresh roadkill.

One man lost his toes. Others cut their hands and legs.

Hundreds of Turks spent the first day of the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha holiday in emergency wards on Sunday, after stabbing themselves or suffering other injuries while sacrificing startled and agitated sheep and other animals.

Muslims sacrifice cows, sheep, goats and bulls during the four-day religious holiday, a ritual commemorating the biblical account of God's provision of a ram for Abraham to sacrifice as he was about to slay his son. They share the meat with friends, family and neighbours and give part of it to the poor.

In Turkey, at least 1,413 people, called "amateur butchers" by the Turkish media, were treated at hospitals across the country, most suffering cuts to their hands and legs, the Anatolia news agency reported.

Four people were severely injured when they were crushed under the weight of large animals that fell on top of them, the agency reported. Another person was hurt when a crane, used to lift an animal, tumbled onto him, the agency said.

Three people suffered heart attacks and died while trying to restrain animals, private CNN-Turk television reported.

Two bulls escaped and caused havoc in the streets of the central Turkish city of Kayseri and in the southeastern province of Sanliurfa, until they were caught with the help of veterinarians who fired tranquilizer darts.

Turkish authorities have introduced fines for those who slaughter animals outside facilities set up by municipalities. But many Turks again ignored the rules and sacrificed animals in their backyards or on roadsides.