Saturday, January 28, 2006

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Iraq’s oil industry far from recovery

Daily Times - Site Edition: "BAGHDAD: Sabotage and storms have demolished Iraqi hopes of lifting oil exports from their lowest level since the US led invasion and highlighted the scale of the challenge facing a new government and oil minister.

Insurgents blew up pipelines from Iraq's northern fields on Wednesday, halting the flow of oil to Turkey. On Thursday high winds and swells stopped loadings in the south.

That means another month of exports grinding along near one million barrels per day, robbing Iraq, which sits on the world's third biggest oil reserves, of badly needed revenue to rebuild.

"We were hoping to improve the rate (of exports) to 1.3 million bpd this month, but that is out of the question now," a senior Iraqi oil official told Reuters.

Poor security has left oil workers and facilities vulnerable to attack. There is little or no strategic planning, investment is scarce and much of Iraq's infrastructure is old and damaged.

These are the challenges facing the minister who will take on the job for a full four-year term following last month's parliamentary election.

Confusion over constitution: Confusing the picture is a new constitution that hands power over oil to emergent regions with a sectarian or ethnic bias that may be at odds with the government in Baghdad.

Many parties have their eyes on the oil portfolio in talks on a grand coalition. Whoever succeeds knows it will not be an easy mission. "The new minister will have a lot to do; the sector needs somebody to get it out of a bad situation," Shamkhi Faraj, director general of economics and oil marketing for state oil marketing agency SOMO told Reuters.

Northern exports have been all but idle for months due to repeated attacks. Delays in restoring the much-sabotaged network has forced Iraq to inject oil back into the ground. The south has been more secure but production there also faces problems. “The oil infrastructure in Iraq in general is old and fragile after years of neglect,” a senior oil industry official said.

“This will not change overnight, it will need a lot of money and hard work.” Repeated sabotage combined with poor project management and political instability has hampered Iraq in its aim of raising output to three million bpd, a level last seen in 1990. “Everything depends on the political and security stability in the country, a new set of laws to protect investment, and also managing exports by, for example, renewing the pipeline to Saudi Arabia and building one to Kuwait,” said analyst Mustafa al-Ani at the Gulf Research Center.

Forecasts for higher output have been regularly missed since the 2003 US led war due to a delay in projects to repair oil facilities following decades of economic sanctions and wars.The next four years will be challenging for the minister.

“Iraq needs to modernise refineries, add new units, a lot of refineries need upgrading, it is the best solution for the next four years,” said former head of SOMO Diaa al-Bakaa.

Foreign oil firms biding time: Oil multinationals are waiting until a new investment code is in place before pumping cash into Iraq. International oil firms are eyeing its giant and largely underdeveloped oilfields. The new parliament is expected to pass new investment laws.

But defusing the insurgency among Sunni Arabs and dampening down violence across the country is vital. “No minister could perform perfectly when there is no security; it is very important to have security stability as well,” Bakaa said. reuters

[bth: a further indication tht simple disruption of oil supplies and shipments will destablize the domestic situation in Iraq and bankrupt the Iraqi government.]

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Side Body Armor Plates Weren't Shipped to Iraq or Afghanistan

I'm hearing from second hand sources that the House Armed Services Committee discovered this week in a closed session that the side plates that have been produced weren't in fact shipped to Iraq or Afghanistan where they could be used to save lives. Instead they have been sitting in a warehouse in the U.S.

If you do the math, the body armor gaps according to the New York Times study killed 300 soldiers and marines. The Taliban has killed 260-odd Americans in Afghanistan from all branches since 2001 in total.

The House Armed Services Committee has called a public hearing next Thursday, Feb. 1 to discuss body and vehicular armor. No doubt the public hearing will tell how well things are going, etc.

Unfortunately it seems to me that our procurement system is killing more Americans than the Taliban.]
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Defense Contractor Sentenced to Probation

Guardian Unlimited World Latest Defense Contractor Sentenced to Probation: "TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - A defense contractor who helped evaluate equipment for Green Berets and Navy SEALs was sentenced to probation in a bribery scheme and agreed to aid the case against a former Army colonel.

William E. Burke had faced up to 15 years in federal prison at sentencing Wednesday after pleading guilty to bribery in October.

According to court papers, Burke favored clients of former Col. Thomas F. Spellissy when deciding what military equipment to test and use for Special Operations Command forces.

Spellissy - who formed his Strategic Defense International consulting company eight months before retiring in January 2005 from Socom - paid Burke $4,500 in late 2004 and early 2005, the documents say.

Burke was fined $4,500 and sentenced to three years probation.

Spellissy was indicted in November on federal charges of bribery, conspiracy and wire fraud. He has pleaded not guilty. His trial is set for April.
^---
On the Net:
http://www.socom.mil "

[bth: so with the exception of local papers in Florida I haven't found more reporting on this story in the US among main stream journalists. This report is from the UK.

Looks like Burke and Spellissy were supposedly rigging the list of approved suppliers for special operations equipment which would in turn morph into a procurement list for special operations and then regular forces - if you weren't on the list you didn't get contracts and to get on the list ....

In a war were soldiers die because of a broken and corrupt procurement system, it is a shame that we can't torture these individuals.

Now if I understand the situation, Col Spellissy is saying that he won't go down without a fight in April. Supposedly he was going to cut a plea earlier this month then the side body armor plating issue broke and the deal seemed to fall apart. Also I'understand that he is writing a book and that he is asserting some connection with special ops higher command - that he's the fall guy - and there's a $20 million slush fund hidden from Congress which was uncovered in Oct. by HASC. Strange doings indeed... More to follow.]
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Hillsborough: Judge: Scam at SOCom 'scary'

Hillsborough: Judge: Scam at SOCom 'scary': "A retired Army lieutenant colonel gets three years of supervised probation and six months of home detention. And the case is far from over.

By PAUL DE LA GARZA, Times Staff Writer
Published January 26, 2006


TAMPA - Before sentencing William Burke on federal bribery charges Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Susan Bucklew called his offense scary.

As a former private contractor at Special Operations Command, Burke was no ordinary worker, she noted. He was part of a military unit in charge of national security."

During the 30-minute hearing, Bucklew also hailed Burke, a retired Army lieutenant colonel. "This is a bad thing," she acknowledged, "but he certainly has a past he can be proud of."

That past, and his cooperation with investigators looking into a bribery scam at SOCom, helped Burke get a lighter sentence.

Although he faced a maximum of 15 years in prison, Bucklew sentenced him to three years of supervised probation and six months of home detention. She also ordered him to pay a $4,500 fine and $100 in court fees.

During home detention, Burke, 50, of Odessa can leave his house only for work or with permission from his probation officer.

The case is far from over. A co-defendant, retired Army Col. Tom Spellissy, is scheduled to be tried in April.

Prosecutors say Burke will be a star witness against Spellissy, 49, of Clearwater.

Spellissy, who maintains his innocence, has vowed not to go down without a fight. He has started work on a book, tentatively titled Behind Friendly Lines, detailing his experiences at SOCom.

On Wednesday, Spellissy attorney Pat Doherty, who briefly attended the Burke hearing, said he is considering calling the SOCom commander, Gen. Bryan "Doug" Brown, as a witness.
The defense also is thinking of calling other senior SOCom officials, including Dale Uhler, the command's top weapons buyer, as witnesses.

In a statement, SOCom declined to comment on Spellissy's potential list of witnesses, but it defended the way it has handled allegations of wrongdoing.

"USSOCOM has a continuing responsibility to exercise good stewardship of the public's trust," the statement said. "Today's sentencing affirms that individuals who violate the law are held accountable."

The bribery scandal at SOCom, which oversees the nation's elite commandos, became public in October, after Burke struck a deal with prosecutors and agreed to cooperate with investigators. He also pleaded guilty to bribery....
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Using Our Fear

Using Our Fear: "Once upon a time we had a great wartime president who told Americans they had nothing to fear but fear itself. Now we have George W. Bush, who uses fear as a tool of executive power and as a political weapon against his opponents.

Franklin D. Roosevelt tried his best to allay his nation's fears in the midst of an epic struggle against fascism. Bush, as he leads the country in a war whose nature he is constantly redefining, keeps fear alive because it has been so useful. His political grand vizier, Karl Rove, was perfectly transparent the other day when he emerged from wherever he's been hiding the past few months -- consulting omens, reading entrails -- and gave the Republican National Committee its positioning statement for the fall elections: Vote for us or die."

Democrats "have a pre-9/11 worldview" of national security that is "deeply and profoundly and consistently wrong," Rove said. The clear subtext was that Americans would court mortal danger by electing Democrats. Go forth and scare the bejesus out of them, Rove was telling his party, because the more frightened they are, the better our chances.

To cultivate fear for partisan gain is never a political tactic to be proud of, but Rove's prescription of naked fearmongering is just plain reprehensible when the nation faces a shifting array of genuine, serious threats. This is a moment for ethical politicians -- and, yes, these days that seems like an oxymoron -- to speak honestly about what dangers have receded, what new dangers have emerged, and how the imperatives of liberty and security can be balanced.

From the likes of Rove, I guess, we shouldn't expect anything more noble than win-at-all-costs. But we do have the right to expect more from the president of the United States, and while Bush gives off none of Rove's Sith-lord menace, he has made the cultivation of fear a hallmark of his governance.

At his news conference yesterday, Bush was asked again about the domestic surveillance he has ordered the National Security Agency to conduct without seeking warrants -- a program that seems to violate the law. In his meandering answer, the president kept throwing in the phrase "to protect the American people." I suspect that's a line that tests well in focus groups, but it doesn't really say anything. The fact that we expect any president to protect us does not obviate the fact that we expect any president to obey the law.

Bush mentioned the new tape from Osama bin Laden that surfaced the other day, calling it a reminder that we face "an enemy that wants to hit us again." That's certainly true, but the warning would carry more gravitas if Bush and his administration didn't brag so much about how thoroughly al Qaeda has been routed and decimated. Is anybody keeping track of how many "No. 3" or "No. 4" al Qaeda lieutenants U.S. forces claim to have eliminated?

And Americans would be better able to measure the threat from bin Laden if Bush and the rest of his administration didn't argue -- when it gives them an edge -- that Iraq is the "central front in the war on terrorism." If Iraq is the main event, then bin Laden, huddled in some cave in northern Pakistan, must be just a sideshow, right? But of course he's not a sideshow, he's the author of the Sept. 11 attacks, so what does that make Iraq? The answer seems to depend on whether, at any given time, Bush believes that cultivating fear of bin Laden or stoking fear of a terrorist spawning ground in Iraq would better help his administration achieve its ends.

The thing is, fear works. The administration successfully invoked the fear of "mushroom clouds" to win support, or at least acquiescence, for the invasion of Iraq. By the time it was clear there were no weapons of mass destruction, the fear of losing to terrorists on the "central front" had been given primacy. We stopped hearing the name bin Laden so often -- no need to bring attention to the fact that he remained at large -- until reports emerged of secret CIA prisons, torture and domestic spying.

Bin Laden does remain a threat. He would hit the United States again if he could. We do expect the president to protect us. But a great wartime leader rallies his citizens by informing them and inspiring them. He certainly doesn't use threats to our national security for political gain. He doesn't just point at a map and say "Boo."

eugenerobinson@washpost.com

Thursday, January 26, 2006

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Pentagon Planning Document Leaves Iraq Out of Equation - Los Angeles Times

Pentagon Planning Document Leaves Iraq Out of Equation - Los Angeles Times: "WASHINGTON - The U.S. military has long been accused of always planning to fight its last war. But as the Pentagon assesses threats to national security over the next four years, a major blueprint being completed in the shadow of the Iraq war will do largely the opposite.

The military went into Iraq with a vision that a small, agile, and lightly armored force could win a quick preemptive war. Although the U.S. easily crushed Saddam Hussein's army, the subsequent occupation has proven far costlier in lives, money and international standing than most expected. "

As a result, the U.S. military has no appetite for another lengthy war of "regime change." And while some new lessons will be incorporated into the Pentagon review, the spending blueprint for the next four years will largely stick to the script Pentagon officials wrote before the Iraq war, according to those familiar with the nearly final document that will be presented to Congress in early February.

Iraq "is clearly a one-off," said a Pentagon official who is working on the top-to-bottom study, known as the Quadrennial Defense Review.

"There is certainly no intention to do it again."For more than two years, Army officials have been fending off questions about whether they have enough troops to complete their mission in Iraq and racing to get armor plates bolted onto Humvees and supply trucks to defend against homemade bombs.But in the Pentagon blueprint, officials are once again talking about a futuristic force of robots, networked computers and drone aircraft. And they are planning no significant shift in resources to bulk up ground forces strained by the lengthy occupation of Iraq.

Regarding the Iraq war as an anomaly is in some ways convenient for Pentagon civilians and uniformed officers. An armored assault across miles of desert is hardly the vision that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's civilian team laid out when it took over the Pentagon five years ago.

At the same time, the human and financial costs of the war have made many senior generals eager to turn the page on Iraq.

Yet some experts say that failure to draw broader lessons from Iraq is dangerous, especially if the U.S. military suddenly faces a new war in a hot spot such as North Korea or Iran that it has no choice but to fight.

"There is a logical disconnect between the lessons learned from Iraq and the conclusions that we can live with a smaller ground force," said Michele Flournoy, a defense policy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former top Pentagon official. Members of both parties in Congress have supported a significant expansion of the Army's ranks, and on Friday a bipartisan group headed by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said it intended to fight the Pentagon's plan to reorganize its combat brigades. Rumsfeld has long opposed an increase in the size of the military, in part because of cost.

The Pentagon estimates that permanently enlarging the Army by 30,000 troops would cost approximately $3 billion annually. Instead, the Army made plans to increase the number of combat brigades from 48 to 77 without changing the overall number of soldiers. Dividing forces into smaller units would give military planners increased flexibility. However, in recent months they have decided to scale back to 70 brigades.

The Army also expects to gradually thin its active duty ranks over the next five years from more than 500,000 to a baseline of 482,000 while working to increase the number of combat forces available for overseas deployments by converting noncombat jobs into frontline slots. The Pentagon's last major review in 2001 concluded that the military would be large enough to simultaneously fight two major wars, and be able to carry out "regime change" and occupation in one of the two.

In light of the Iraq experience, some in the Pentagon argued last year that this requirement was unrealistic, and advocated a change for the upcoming document.

But officials say that the requirements for the U.S. military will not be scaled back or changed drastically when the strategic review is unveiled next month. The new blueprint does include some changes.

According to Pentagon officials, it will place a new emphasis on "irregular warfare," typified by the counterinsurgency battles U.S. soldiers and Marines have fought in Iraq since the summer of 2003. The Pentagon review will also endorse a large increase in the number of special operations troops, and more foreign language education and cultural-awareness training for all U.S. troops. The Pentagon also plans a new emphasis on peacekeeping operations, which had been marginalized at the start of the Bush administration. A recently approved Pentagon directive elevates "stability" operations to a primary mission for the military, a recognition that the military was ill-prepared for the messy occupation after the fall of Baghdad.

The number of soldiers needed to fight ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, meet other foreign commitments and ensure that there is a large enough reserve force to respond to a future crisis has been the subject of intense debate inside the Pentagon. Many Pentagon officials say privately that the military's ability to take on another "major combat operation" besides Iraq in the near future is limited. While a large force could be assembled for a military operation of short duration, they say, another open-ended occupation without significant support from allies would likely break the all-volunteer military. In addition to keeping an eye on threats throughout the Islamic world, the Pentagon is also spending billions to hedge against the rising military threat posed by China.

The Pentagon is unable to significantly expand the Army's ranks in part because it is funding futuristic Air Force and Navy weapons such as the F/A-22 fighter and the Navy's DDX destroyer, which are primarily geared to taking on a large force like the Chinese military. Even with more than 100,000 troops still stationed in Iraq, Army officials insist publicly that the Iraq war has not limited the Army's ability to respond to any future crisis. "We have the capability … to surge to any crisis that the president may ask us to do," Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey told reporters last week.

"This force structure, we think, is appropriate to the threat."Last March, then-Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard B. Myers gave a classified assessment to Congress warning that the strains imposed by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan made it more difficult for the military to counter a future act of aggression, launch a preemptive strike or intervene to prevent conflict in another part of the world. While Myers' report stated that the military would be able to win any war the president asked the Pentagon to fight, it said that military was at "significant risk" of being unable to prevail against enemies abroad in the way that Pentagon war plans mandate.As Pentagon officials put it at the time, there would be more civilian casualties and collateral damage.

The military would have to "win uglier," they said.

Some critics argue the Iraq experience has turned into the antithesis of Rumsfeld's vision: Instead of moving toward a smaller, lighter force, the military has for the past two years become bigger and heavier.

"The Iraq war has been a nonstop embarrassment for the people who believe in military transformation," said Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute, a Virginia-based defense think tank. "Some of the senior policy makers don't want to believe what they're watching on their television sets."

[bth: So let me get this straight:
- Adding 30,000 soldiers would cost $3 billion annually so we won't do it according to this plan, we'll just cycle the existing soldiers faster and faster until they give out along with their vehicles which are wearing out sevens times normal rates, yet we spend $4-7 billion monthly in Iraq alone now.
- We went to war with the army we had, but instead of adapting, we are going back to the pre-war plan and building large weapons systems to fight the Chinese or the Soviets while totally neglecting the lessons learned in Iraq. Strike that, I guess we are adding translators - what language? probably Chinese.
- To call Iraq a 'one-off' while we are threatening Iran, Syria and North Korea blows my mind.
- The powerful defense lobbyists that promote future combat expenditures, a new wave of naval ship construction and planes designed to fight the cold war at the expense of troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan in combat today just blows my mind. To think soldiers die in Iraq and Afghanistan because of lack of real world planning or equipment while this nonsense goes on without even a reprimand from the White House or even Congress!
- Rumsfeld has been one of the worst leaders of modern time - totally detached from the reality of our times ... but he gives a good animated press conference therefore he must be doing a good job right?

Total FUBAR]
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Blasts halt Iraqi oil exports to Turkey-official

Reuters AlertNet - Blasts halt Iraqi oil exports to Turkey-official: "BAGHDAD, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Insurgents blew up at least two Iraqi oil pipelines on Wednesday, halting exports to Turkey just one week after they resumed, an Iraqi oil official said.

'The pipelines are still on fire. All exports to Turkey have stopped,' he told Reuters.

The official said that the pipelines feeding the main pumping station in Kirkuk came under attack on Wednesday night.
Keeping the oil flowing to Ceyhan terminal in Turkey is always a challenge for the oil ministry, which is trying to increase exports to revive Iraq's battered economy.

Exports hit their lowest in December at 1.1 million barrels per day because of attacks and bad weather.

Exports from the north resumed last Wednesday at 200,000 bpd. Crude delivery from the northern fields in Kirkuk to Ceyhan export pipeline has increased to 500,000 barrels per day on Tuesday.

The oil exports to Ceyhan were halted at the end of December after a sabotage attack cut pipeline flows, just a week after pumping had resumed. Flows had been at a standstill for the previous two months following sabotage blasts in October.

The frequent attacks have disrupted Iraqi state oil marketer SOMO's ability to issue tenders to sell the crude oil. Its last such tender was in August last year. "

City demands warrant in FBI investigation

TownOnline.com - Newton TAB: City demands warrant in FBI investigation: "Law enforcement and Newton Free Library officials were embroiled in a tense standoff for nearly 10 hours last week when the city refused to let police and the FBI examine library computers without a warrant.

Police rushed to the main library last Wednesday after it was determined that a terrorist threat to Brandeis University had been sent from a computer at the library.

But requests to examine any of its computers were rebuffed by library Director Kathy Glick-Weil and Mayor David Cohen on the grounds that they did not have a warrant.

While one law enforcement official said he was 'totally disgusted' with the city�s attempt to hold up a time-sensitive investigation of potential terrorist threat, Cohen is defending the library�s actions, calling it one of Newton's 'finest hours.'

'We showed you can enforce the law ... without jeopardizing the privacy of innocent citizens,' Cohen said.

Brandeis received the alleged e-mail threat at about 11 a.m. on Jan. 18, according to Waltham Lt. Brian Navin. While police reportedly didn�t find anything threatening after evacuating 12 buildings at Brandeis and a nearby elementary school, by about 2 p.m., the e-mail was traced to a computer at the Newton Free Library on Homer Street.

Newton Police, followed shortly by FBI and State Police officers, rushed to the library to lock the building down, Glick-Weil said.

'There was a lot of excitement going on,' she said.

Police traced the origin of the e-mail to one of the 21 computers in the second-floor lab, Glick-Weil said. She agreed to have her information technology worker examine the computers, but said the FBI requested for information about the computers without a warrant, even though they were familiar with library privacy laws.

"You’ll have to ask them why they did that," she said.
An FBI spokesman, as well as Lt. Bruce Apotheker of the Newton Police, both said their offices would not comment on the investigation.

Cohen was asked by FBI officials to turn over information on all the computers, but said he could not without a warrant. It took U.S. attorneys several hours to finally get a warrant, Glick-Weil said, and they took the computer from the library at about 11:30 that night, after the library had closed.

But a law enforcement official who was close to the investigation but said he was not authorized to speak on the record, described the incident in an e-mail as a "nightmare."

He said Glick-Weil was told "we were dealing with a potential terrorism plot" but became "close to uncontrollable, saying that we had no right to be there."

Nancy Murray, director of education for the Boston branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, said she was surprised the FBI asked for information without a warrant.

"They couldn’t possibly expect to get [the computer] without a warrant," she said. "Good for the library for knowing more about warrants than the police."

"The law requires us to protect the privacy of library users," Glick-Weil said.

Glick-Weil said there was a "little bit of tension" during the investigation, but overall thought it went smoothly.

"I found the process encouraging," she said. "If law enforcement thinks it has probable cause, it can get a warrant in a timely fashion."

Dan Atkinson can be contacted at datkinso@cnc.com.
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Iraq needs $60 billion to revive domestic industry

Azzaman in English: "To modernize the country's industry, investments in the range of $60 billion are needed, said Minister of Industry and Minerals Usama Abdulaziz.

The huge sum, he said, was not difficult to raise.

"Foreign investment and flow of foreign capital will make the money available," he added.

Otherwise, Iraqi industry will not be able to cope with the rest of the world, he said.

He said currently his ministry was receiving only 10% of the actual allocations it needs to modernize the industry.

Currently, the industry makes a modest contribution to GDP but exports are negligible.

But Abdulaziz said with the necessary investments domestic industry's contribution should not less than 25%.

This will be a boost to the oil sector, currently the country's sole foreign cash earner.

The minister said his companies have signed several contracts with other ministries.

He said state fertilizer plants now meet domestic needs.

"We have signed a $50 million contract for the construction of four refineries," he said.

The ministry's pharmaceutical companies meet 50% of the country needs, he said."

[bth: Expect them to ask for US government guaranteees of financing from the World Bank run by Wolfowitz.]
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Al-Qaeda convicts released in Spain due to slow judiciary

Al-Qaeda convicts released in Spain due to slow judiciary: "Madrid - Al-Qaeda Islamists sentenced in Spain are being rapidly released because the Supreme Court does not resolve their appeals in time, the daily El Pais reported Wednesday.

Eighteen Islamists were sentenced in September to prison terms ranging from six to 27 years, mostly on charges of belonging to or collaborating with a terrorist organization.
Some of them were linked to the preparation of the 2004 Madrid train bombings or of the attacks of September 11, 2001 in the United States.

Most of those sentenced appealed to the Supreme Court, which has been so slow in handling their cases that two of them have already been released, according to El Pais.

Said Chedadi and Hajib Chaib Mohammed were freed after serving half of their eight-year-sentences. Jail time spent before the verdict was counted as part of the sentence.

Two others are expected to be released shortly, including the owner of a house used by the Madrid terrorists, and three more by October.

The longest sentence - 27 years - was handed to Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas alias Abu Dahdah, a Spanish al-Qaeda leader convicted for helping to prepare the September 11 attacks. He will have served half of his sentence by September 2008.

In similar circumstances, Spain earlier released Allekema Lamari, who then participated in the Madrid train bombings and blew himself up with six others when besieged by police several weeks later, El Pais said in an editorial. "

[bth: this is outrageous.]

Army signs emergency contract for body armor with California firm

KESQ NewsChannel 3 Palm Springs, CA: Army signs emergency contract for body armor with California firm: "WASHINGTON The U-S Army has contracted a southern California company to rush a 70-(m)million dollar emergency order of ceramic body armor to the front lines in Iraq.
The sole source-contract with Costa Mesa-based Ceradyne was approved last week.

It comes on the heels of a Pentagon study that found side armor could have saved dozens of U-S lives in Iraq.
The company is expected to begin shipping the armor plates in January and to complete the order by May or June.
The Army is planning to buy a total of 230-thousand sets of the ceramic side plates.

An Army spokesman say one company won't be able to deliver that order in the time required, so additional vendors are being sought through an open-bid process."

[bth: I don't see any reason to sole source this contract. The body armor deficit was resolved in 2004 by going to six vendors.]

U.S. Military Announces Release of 420 Iraqi Detainees

U.S. Military Announces Release of 420 Iraqi Detainees: "BAGHDAD, Jan. 26 -- The U.S. military announced Thursday that 420 detainees, including five women, would be released Thursday and Friday.

A group that claimed responsibility for abducting American journalist Jill Carroll in Baghdad Jan. 7 had threatened to kill her unless all female detainees in American custody were set free.

The military, which has maintained it will not negotiate with hostage-takers, is believed to be holding at least eight female detainees. It said the detainees were to be released this week after a standard review of their cases....

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


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Audit Describes Misuse of Funds in Iraq Projects

Audit Describes Misuse of Funds in Iraq Projects - New York Times: "A new audit of American financial practices in Iraq has uncovered irregularities including millions of reconstruction dollars stuffed casually into footlockers and filing cabinets, an American soldier in the Philippines who gambled away cash belonging to Iraq, and three Iraqis who plunged to their deaths in a rebuilt hospital elevator that had been improperly certified as safe. "

The audit, released yesterday by the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, expands on its previous findings of fraud, incompetence and confusion as the American occupation poured money into training and rebuilding programs in 2003 and 2004. The audit uncovers problems in an area that includes half the land mass in Iraq, with new findings in the southern and central provinces of Anbar, Karbala, Najaf, Wasit, Babil, and Qadisiya. The special inspector reports to the secretary of defense and the secretary of state.

Agents from the inspector general's office found that the living and working quarters of American occupation officials were awash in shrink-wrapped stacks of $100 bills, colloquially known as bricks.

One official kept $2 million in a bathroom safe, another more than half a million dollars in an unlocked footlocker. One contractor received more than $100,000 to completely refurbish an Olympic pool but only polished the pumps; even so, local American officials certified the work as completed.

More than 2,000 contracts ranging in value from a few thousand dollars to more than half a million, some $88 million in all, were examined by agents from the inspector general's office. The report says that in some cases the agents found clear indications of potential fraud and that investigations into those cases are continuing.

Some of those cases are expected to intersect with the investigations of four Americans who have been arrested on bribery, theft, weapons and conspiracy charges for what federal prosecutors say was a scheme to steer reconstruction projects to an American contractor working out of the southern city of Hilla, which served as a kind of provincial capital for a vast swath of Iraq under the Coalition Provisional Authority.

But much of the material in the latest audit is new, and the portrait it paints of abandoned rebuilding projects, nonexistent paperwork and cash routinely taken from the main vault in Hilla without even a log to keep track of the transactions is likely to raise major new questions about how the provisional authority did its business and accounted for huge expenditures of Iraqi and American money.

"What's sad about it is that, considering the destruction in the country, with looting and so on, we needed every dollar for reconstruction," said Wayne White, a former State Department official whose responsibilities included Iraq from 2003 to 2005, and who is now at the Middle East Institute, a research organization.

Instead, Mr. White said, large amounts of that money may have been wasted or stolen, with strong indications that the chaos in Hilla might have been repeated at other provisional authority outposts.

Others had a similar reaction. "It does not surprise me at all," said a Defense Department official who worked in Hilla and other parts of the country, who spoke anonymously because he said he feared retribution from the Bush administration.

He predicted that similar problems would turn up in the major southern city of Basra and elsewhere in the dangerous desert wasteland of Anbar province. "It's a disaster," the official said of problems with contracting in Anbar.

No records were kept as money came and went from the main vault at the Hilla compound, and inside it was often stashed haphazardly in a filing cabinet.

That casual arrangement led to a dispute when one official for the provisional authority, while clearing his accounts on his way out of Iraq, grabbed $100,000 from another official's stack of cash, according to the report. Whether unintentional or not, the move might never have been discovered except that the second official "had to make a disbursement that day and realized that he was short cash," the report says.

Outside the vault, money seemed to be stuffed into every nook and cranny in the compound. "One contracting officer kept approximately $2 million in cash in a safe in his office bathroom, while a paying agent kept approximately $678,000 in cash in an unlocked footlocker in his office," the report says.

The money, most from Iraqi oil proceeds and cash seized from Saddam Hussein's government, also easily found its way out of the compound and the country. In one case, an American soldier assigned as an assistant to the Iraqi Olympic boxing team was given huge amounts of cash for a trip to the Philippines, where the soldier gambled away somewhere between $20,000 and $60,000 of the money. Exactly how much has not been determined, the report says, because no one kept track of how much money he received in the first place.

In another connection to Iraq's Olympic effort, a $108,140 contract to completely refurbish the Hilla Olympic swimming pool, including the replacement of pumps and pipes, came to nothing when the contractor simply polished some of the hardware to make it appear as if new equipment had been installed. Local officials for the provisional authority signed paperwork stating that all the work had been completed properly and paid the contractor in full, the report says.

The pool never reopened, and when agents from the inspector general's office arrived to try out the equipment, "the water came out a murky brown due to the accumulated dirt and grime in the old pumps," the report says.

Sometimes the consequences of such loose controls were deadly. A contract for $662,800 in civil, electrical, and mechanical work to rehabilitate the Hilla General Hospital was paid in full by an American official in June 2004 even though the work was not finished, the report says. But instead of replacing a central elevator bank, as called for in the scope of work, the contractor tinkered with an unsuccessful rehabilitation.

The report continues, narrating the observation of the inspector general's agents who visited the hospital on Sept. 18, 2004: "The hospital administrator immediately escorted us to the site of the elevators. The administrator said that just a couple days prior to our arrival the elevator crashed and killed three people."

[bth: incompetence and corruption in the reconstruction of Iraq - gross mismanagement of the conflict by Rumsfeld after May 03 and no accountability whatsoever. Not a single person has been fired over this mess. I guarantee you the Iraqi government has and will be seekig additional funds from the US government for 06 and beyond. They will seek World Bank funding and US backed guarantees on top of everything else. 2006 is going to be about the money, the corruption and the bankruptcy of the Iraqi government. Indeed I will go so far as to speculate that come March-April we will find that the entire treasury of the newly formed Iraq government was looted before their arrival -this happened when the CPA handed over authority too with 2/3rds of the Iraq Army's entire defense budget being stolen on our watch.]
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Decline in Oil Output Dims Iraq's Recovery - Los Angeles Times

Decline in Oil Output Dims Iraq's Recovery - Los Angeles Times: "BAGHDAD - Iraqi oil production fell by 8% last year, calling into question the nation's ability to support itself and fund reconstruction efforts as U.S. assistance is scaled back.

A sharp decline near year's end left average daily production at half the 3 million barrels envisaged by U.S. officials at the outset of the war in 2003. Prospects for improvement this year are slim, many experts say"

Reasons for the shortfall include the poor state of the nation's oil fields, a creaky infrastructure, poor management and ongoing insurgent attacks, particularly on pipelines in the north-central region that are meant to export oil through Turkey.

"There is no instant turnaround," said Paul Horsnell, energy analyst with Barclays Capital in London. "It could take five years, six years or seven years." As of last month, Iraq was pumping a million barrels a day less than in early 2003, shortly before the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein from power. In advocating the war, Bush administration officials had predicted that a strong Iraqi oil industry could help pay for the nation's postwar recovery. To prime the effort, Congress approved a three-year, $20.9-billion reconstruction package, of which about $2 billion was dedicated to restoring Iraq's oil production.Instead of production steadily increasing, average output fell last year to 1.83 million barrels a day, including a sharp decline during the final quarter resulting in a December dip to 1.57 million barrels daily.

The latest production figures from the International Energy Agency compare with the 2.5 million barrels a day Iraq was pumping just before the war, a level it nearly equaled in March and April 2004. Officials said last month's output was affected by bad weather and a scarcity of tugboats at Persian Gulf marine terminals, in addition to the violence and poor facilities and management.

Oil revenue contributes 94% of the fledgling Iraqi government's budget, and a drop in global oil prices from their current high levels could wreak havoc if the nation's output remains depressed.

Financial stress was evident last week when Turkey suspended shipments of gasoline and other fuels to Iraq, saying its refiners were owed $1 billion. Although Iraqi officials said the nonpayment was the result of a short-term budget shortfall, the incident served as an example of how stretched this country's finances are.

The most serious and pressing problem is the lack of adequate security, said Gal Luft, executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security in Washington.

Insurgent attacks on pipelines — more than 300 since the March 2003 invasion — have not only cost the country billions of dollars in export sales but have diverted U.S. funds and manpower that otherwise would have gone toward oil field recovery and expansion. Because of the pipeline attacks, exports to the Turkish port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean Sea via Iraq's northern pipeline averaged only 40,000 barrels a day in 2005, compared with an 800,000-barrel-a-day average reached during some months before the war. In July, Iraqi officials said attacks had cost the nation $11 billion in revenue. Kidnappings and killings of oil officials — the oil minister barely escaped an assassination attempt in October — and of oil field workers has cooled the pace of repairs. Two German engineers were reported kidnapped Tuesday from the Bayji refining complex 125 miles north of Baghdad.

"We don't see any foreseeable improvement in security this year," said Neil Partrick, senior analyst at Economist Intelligence Unit in London.

At the same time, authorities acknowledge, the security situation has been calm around Iraq's southern oil fields near Basra, which generally accounts for more than two-thirds of the nation's oil output.

"Even though the southern oil fields are benign, the overall security affects the perception of the government and institutions," a U.S. official said. "If the capital is under siege, as this one appears to be, then it's difficult because you have to come here and talk to people to make those investments." Compounding the problems, experts say, are years of neglect and damage to Iraq's oil infrastructure.

"It's taken a lot longer than we thought [because] the problems were greater than what we thought coming in," the U.S. official said.

"I didn't realize the underlying infrastructure was as weak as it is." The weaknesses include a lack of crude oil storage facilities, many of which were destroyed in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s and never rebuilt, and refineries that decayed during a decade-long period of economic sanctions against Iraq. The former problem forces Iraq to pump oil back into the ground when pipelines are blown up or tankers are delayed, damaging the long-term viability of the reservoir. The latter means that the nation must import nearly half its gasoline and kerosene from Turkey, Iran and Kuwait.

Mismanagement of oil fields by Iraqi and U.S. officials since the war began may have made a bad situation worse. To maximize oil revenue, analysts say, U.S. and Iraqi operators "stressed" the reservoirs by continuing poor practices from the Hussein era such as injecting unused crude and refinery wastes back into the fields.

"I don't think the Americans deliberately mismanaged it, but they were in a difficult position of wanting to get the oil economy going after the war, to get all the revenues coming in that they could," said former IEA economist Antoine Halff, now of New York-based Eurasia Group. "So in practice, they continued to operate under conditions not that different than Saddam did under sanctions."

Efforts have lagged to repair the Qarmat Ali water pumping complex, needed to inject water into Iraq's southern fields, after more than $225 million in U.S. funds has been spent. Injecting water into wells to fill the void created by the extraction of gas and oil is crucial to maintaining an oil reservoir's life. Although the plant near Basra is 75% operational, the pipeline grid that takes water to the wellheads is leaky and unreliable. As a result, some of the nation's largest fields are in the grip of a deteriorating trend that U.S. officials say is probably irreversible in the near term.

"Just about everything that could have gone wrong has," said Jamal Qureshi, an oil analyst with PFC Energy in Washington.Improvements in performance of Iraq's three major oil refineries have been outstripped by continued attacks on pipelines that feed them, as well as on the pipelines and truck convoys that deliver the refined fuels to the consumer, said a U.S. official who asked not to be identified.

By the end of this year, the United States will have spent $2 billion in its three-year effort to get the Iraqi oil industry back on its feet. Navy Capt. Michael Sherbak, who is attached to the Iraq Project and Contracting Office, the agency leading the oil sector reconstruction effort, said the 3-million-barrel-a-day goal was to leave Iraq at "a self-sustaining level that is adequate to help them invest in equipment and help them make their oil production more efficient." But reaching that level will require much more money and several more years, experts agree. The World Bank estimated it would take $8 billion in funding, public or private, to restore Iraq to 3 million barrels a day, which it last exceeded in 1979, and as much as $35 billion to reach 5 million barrels of daily output.

Those goals appear out of reach now not just because of security issues but because of an unsettled political and legal landscape that is also worrisome to private investors. Companies are put off by the vague and at times confusing laws governing oil investments emerging from Iraq's new democratic government. The nation's new constitution, ratified in October, seems to favor provincial governments over the national oil company, giving the governments in largely Kurdish and Shiite Muslim regions more power. That leaves the few companies that are interested in investing in Iraq wondering whether they should deal with the national government or the regional entities, said Michelle Billig, political risk director at PIRA Energy Group in New York.

The Kurdish region's signing of drilling deals with two Turkish and one Norwegian firm last year — without the participation of the central government — added to the confusion.

"Who has the authority to sign a deal? Even if you get the security situation under control and the companies start feeling comfortable, which they don't right now, you have to clarify this legal ambiguity," Billig said.

She said regionalizing jurisdiction over Iraq's oil assets could add "bureaucratic obstacles" to oil development and to ethnic tensions that the emerging government must address if the insurgent violence is to recede. The Shiite and Kurdish factions want regional jurisdiction, because the biggest fields are in areas they dominate, whereas the Sunni Muslim Arabs want more federal authority, Billig noted.

Issam Chalabi, an oil minister under Hussein who is now a consultant in Amman, Jordan, said the constitution must be amended to strengthen the state oil company's hand or the situation will exacerbate divisions between the have and have-not regions.

"Iraqi oil law as it stands is a recipe for national disintegration," Chalabi said.

[bth: count on Chalabi to run the oil ministry and Wolfowitz to run the World Bank - both are simply following the money. The insurgency need only pound the oil production capabilities of the country to bankrupt the Iraqi government. The insurgency need only maintain a level of political uncertainty and insecurity to keep foreign investment away. Watch to see the OPIC and World Bank asked to provide US backed guarantees on private investments to prime the pump and when watch Halliburton et al be first in line at the trough. Finally one notes that with this political uncertainty, it is impossible to really understand who to bribe - save Chalabi. ]
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Al Qaeda's Big Boast - New York Times

...It is too early to say how this tape will affect Muslim opinion, but there is no doubt that Mr. bin Laden's strategy has been paying off. According to a poll released last month by Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland and Zogby International, when Muslims in several countries were asked what aspect of Al Qaeda they 'sympathize' with most, 39 percent said it was because the group confronted the United States. Nearly 20 percent more sympathized because it 'stands up for Muslim causes,' which is really just a polite way of saying the same thing.

Two other phenomena also show the movement to be strengthening. The first is the emerging breed of self-starter terrorists with few or no ties to Osama bin Laden, like the Madrid and London bombers, and others who have been arrested before they were able to carry out attacks in Pakistan, Australia and elsewhere. The second is the emergence of an indigenous jihad in Iraq. Much is said about the foreign fighters in Iraq, but the truly dramatic development is the radicalization of Iraqis who will continue the insurgency or travel abroad to kill, like those who bombed three Western hotels in Jordan in November.

Despite so much evidence that the jihadists are winning sympathy, America has provided no counter-story to their narrative. Rather, the president has repeatedly objected to the notion that the Iraq war is having a radicalizing effect by arguing that America was attacked before we ever stepped foot in Iraq.

This, of course, is a non sequitur - douse a guttering fire in gasoline and you will get a bigger fire. A movement that was staggering after the Taliban was toppled has come back with a vengeance. Realistically, we cannot deploy a counter-narrative - one that emphasizes that we are a benign superpower - so long as our troops are in Iraq. That will make it difficult to separate moderates from extremists, as an ideological struggle requires. We must focus more on developing that story and getting out of Iraq with the least damage to our interests and less on the phony truce offers of a guileful enemy.
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US anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan hails Venezuela's Chavez - Yahoo! News

"CARACAS (AFP) - Anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan, mother of a US soldier killed in Iraq, joined more than 10,000 anti-globalization activists in Caracas, where she hailed Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez"

"I admire him for his resolve against my government and its meddling," said Sheehan, who gained notoriety when she camped outside US President George W. Bush' ranch last year to protest the Iraq war. She said she hoped to meet Chavez later in the week.

Sheehan was among more than 10,000 people from across the Americas who took to the streets of the Venezuelan capital Tuesday in an anti-war protest that launched the six-day Caracas World Social Forum (WSF).

My government should not meddle anywhere, the "peace mom" told AFP during the march, which was marked by anti-Bush slogans.

We must stop the Iraq war, we must not let it happen again, said Sheehan, who has been arrested at least twice while demonstrating outside the White House.

Tuesday's march ended outside the armed forces headquarters, on an avenue usually reserved for military parades. "It's a peace route now," Sheehan said.

Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in Iraq on April 4, 2004, said she would remain in Caracas until the WSF concludes on Sunday, and would address participants on several occasions.

She said Venezuela's foreign ministry sponsored her visit.

[bth: this is a stupid decision on her part which undermines her cause. Chavez is a bully and an enemy of the U.S. To associate with him or even praise him at this point is to undermine the basic logic of her position. This is a classic case of self promotion and the self destruction. Just plain stupid.]
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'Taliban accounts' frozen -DAWN - Top Stories; January 25, 2006

"PESHAWAR, Jan 24: The government on Tuesday froze bank accounts of an Afghan trading group allegedly involved in funnelling funds to the Taliban.

The Federal Investigation Agency's Special Investigation Group (SIG) froze 15 bank accounts of Shirkat Special and Amria Food in Peshawar and Islamabad on the request of Interpol, sources told Dawn.

The sources claimed that Taliban leader Mulla Omar had a share in both the companies.

They said the trading companies were apparently dealing in edible oil, sugar and other foodstuff and had a sizable amount in Pakistani bank accounts.

The SIG on Tuesday raided the offices of Shirkat Special at Mohmand Plaza on Naz Cinema Road in Peshawar and seized documents indicating the firm's involvement in transferring money to the Taliban.

"The company's owner Rais Abdul Bari and his family members, including Abdul Hadi, Abdul Baqi, Noor Mohammad, Mohammad Nabi and Abdul Nasih, of Kandahar, escaped before the raid," the sources said.

However, the SIG arrested Kamran Sikandari, a customs clearing agent of the company, they said.

Interpol, Kabul, had informed the FIA about the companies run by the family.

According to Interpol, the companies were established during Taliban rule and they had reportedly done transactions of $2.8 million, 1.7 million euros and 1.5 million German mark during that period as well as President Hamid Karzai�s government in Afghanistan, the sources maintained.

The Afghan group had established offices in Dubai, Malaysia and Indonesia with different names.

The documents indicated that the group had also offices in Afghanistan with different names, including Hayat Limited and Kandahar Limited, the sources said."

The Counterterrorism Blog: U.S. & Pakistan Must Face Facts About Al Qaeda's Reported Resurgence

The Counterterrorism Blog: U.S. & Pakistan Must Face Facts About Al Qaeda's Reported Resurgence: "Pakistan's Prime Minister is in Washington, trying to persuade American policymakers that his government has successfully stripped Al Qaeda of its leadership and assets. As he makes the diplomatic rounds here, President Musharraf is on a public relations campaign claiming, 'We've taken over their sanctuaries. Where they were in the hundreds, now they are only in the dozens around in the mountains and we are chasing them. Which country in the world has arrested 700 Al Qaeda people, all the important ones? Only Pakistan.'

But press reports from the ground in the northwestern Pakistan province of Waziristan tell a completely different story. ABC News' Brian Ross reports tonight that Al Qaeda and the Taliban are 'in the midst of a powerful resurgence, according to accounts by local officials' and new Al Qaeda tapes. Four Taliban who escaped from the American prison near Kabul last year appear on tape, describing how they attacked an Afghan government building. The ABC News report mirrors the analysis by Syed Saleem Shahzad on January 20 that Al Qaeda 'has secured a series of safe havens in Khost-North Waziristan, South Waziristan, Kunar-Chitral, Kunar-Bajur,' and the Pakistan government has lost all control of Waziristan.

Pakistan cannot try to hide the truth; only one version of the actual facts exist. Either President Musharraf or the press reports are right. The U.S. and Pakistan must determine through reliable human intelligence whether Pakistan, with substantial American help, is eliminating Al Qaeda, or whether a terrorist resurgence will threaten Afghanistan's budding democracy and will serve as a renewed training ground for Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. We can't afford another intel mistake hidden behind rose-colored glasses and only disclosed in the rubble of a deadly attack.

[bth: So this is going to be about the money - money we pay to Pakistan. We should pay for results - OBL and Omar to be specific.]

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

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Study Finds Army Forces Stretched Thin

"WASHINGTON - Stretched by frequent troop rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army has become a 'thin green line' that could snap unless relief comes soon, according to a study for the Pentagon.

Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army officer who wrote the report under a Pentagon contract, concluded that the Army cannot sustain the pace of troop deployments to Iraq long enough to break the back of the insurgency. He also suggested that the Pentagon's decision, announced in December, to begin reducing the force in Iraq this year was driven in part by a realization that the Army was overextended.

As evidence, Krepinevich points to the Army's 2005 recruiting slump - missing its recruiting goal for the first time since 1999 - and its decision to offer much bigger enlistment bonuses and other incentives.

'You really begin to wonder just how much stress and strain there is on the Army, how much longer it can continue,' he said in an interview. He added that the Army is still a highly effective fighting force and is implementing a plan that will expand the number of combat brigades available for rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan."...
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White House Got Early Warning on Katrina

White House Got Early Warning on Katrina: "In the 48 hours before Hurricane Katrina hit, the White House received detailed warnings about the storm's likely impact, including eerily prescient predictions of breached levees, massive flooding, and major losses of life and property, documents show.

A 41-page assessment by the Department of Homeland Security's National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center (NISAC), was delivered by e-mail to the White House's 'situation room,' the nerve center where crises are handled, at 1:47 a.m. on Aug. 29, the day the storm hit, according to an e-mail cover sheet accompanying the document."

The NISAC paper warned that a storm of Katrina's size would "likely lead to severe flooding and/or levee breaching" and specifically noted the potential for levee failures along Lake Pontchartrain. It predicted economic losses in the tens of billions of dollars, including damage to public utilities and industry that would take years to fully repair. Initial response and rescue operations would be hampered by disruption of telecommunications networks and the loss of power to fire, police and emergency workers, it said....

[bth: I'm sick of incompetent government and the lies that sustain it.]
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Workers Allege Halliburton Knew Their Water Was Foul

Workers Allege Halliburton Knew Their Water Was Foul: "Troops and civilians at a U.S. military base in Iraq were exposed to contaminated water last year, and employees for the responsible contractor, Halliburton Co., could not get their company to inform camp residents, according to interviews and internal company documents.

Halliburton, the company formerly headed by Vice President Cheney, disputes the allegations about water problems at Camp Junction City, in Ramadi, even though they were made by its own employees and documented in company e-mails."

"We exposed a base camp population (military and civilian) to a water source that was not treated," said a July 15, 2005, memo written by William Granger, the official for Halliburton's KBR subsidiary who was in charge of water quality in Iraq and Kuwait.

"The level of contamination was roughly 2x the normal contamination of untreated water from the Euphrates River," Granger wrote in one of several documents. The Associated Press obtained the documents from Senate Democrats who are holding a public inquiry into the allegations today.

Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.), who is scheduled to chair the session, held a number of similar inquiries last year on contracting abuses in Iraq. He said Democrats were acting on their own because they had not been able to persuade Republican committee chairmen to investigate.

Ben Carter, Halliburton's former water-treatment expert at Camp Junction City, said he discovered the problem last March, a statement confirmed by his e-mail the day after he tested the water. Though bottled water was available for drinking, the contaminated water was used for virtually everything else, including handwashing, laundry, bathing and making coffee, Carter said.

Another former Halliburton employee who worked at the base, Ken May of Louisville, said there were numerous instances of diarrhea and stomach cramps.

A spokeswoman for Halliburton said its own inspection found neither contaminated water nor medical evidence to substantiate reports of illnesses at the base.

The company now operates its own water-treatment plant there, spokeswoman Melissa Norcross said.

A military medical unit that visited Camp Ramadi in mid-April found nothing out of the ordinary in terms of water quality, said Marine Corps Maj. Tim Keefe, a military spokesman. Water-quality testing records from May 23 show the water within normal parameters, he said. "The allegations appear not to have merit," Keefe said.

Granger's July 15 memo said the exposure had gone on for "possibly a year" and added, "I am not sure if any attempt to notify the exposed population was ever made."

The first memo on the problem -- written by Carter to Halliburton officials on March 24, 2005 -- was an "incident report" from tests Carter performed the previous day.

"It is my opinion that the water source is without question contaminated with numerous micro-organisms, including Coliform bacteria," Carter wrote. "There is little doubt that raw sewage is routinely dumped upstream of intake much less than the required 2 mile distance.

"Therefore, it is my conclusion that chlorination of our water tanks while certainly beneficial is not sufficient protection from parasitic exposure."

Carter said he resigned in early April after Halliburton officials did not take any action to inform the camp population.

The water expert said he told company officials at the base that they would have to notify the military. "They told me it was none of my concern and to keep my mouth shut," he said.

On at least one occasion, Carter said, he spoke to the chief military surgeon at the base, asking him whether he was aware of stomach problems afflicting people. He said the surgeon told him he would look into it.

"They brushed it under the carpet," Carter said. "I told everyone, 'Don't take showers; use bottled water.' "

A July 14, 2005, memo showed that Halliburton's public relations department knew of the problem.

"I don't want to turn it into a big issue right now," staff member Jennifer Dellinger wrote in the memo, "but if we end up getting some media calls I want to make sure we have all the facts so we are ready to respond.
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The Other Big Brother - Newsweek National News - MSNBC.com

The Other Big Brother - Newsweek National News - MSNBC.com: "Jan. 30, 2006 issue - The demonstration seemed harmless enough. Late on a June afternoon in 2004, a motley group of about 10 peace activists showed up outside the Houston headquarters of Halliburton, the giant military contractor once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney. They were there to protest the corporation's supposed 'war profiteering.' The demonstrators wore papier-mache masks and handed out free peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches to Halliburton employees as they left work. The idea, according to organizer Scott Parkin, was to call attention to allegations that the company was overcharging on a food contract for troops in Iraq. 'It was tongue-in-street political theater,' Parkin says."

But that's not how the Pentagon saw it. To U.S. Army analysts at the top-secret Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), the peanut-butter protest was regarded as a potential threat to national security. Created three years ago by the Defense Department, CIFA's role is "force protection"—tracking threats and terrorist plots against military installations and personnel inside the United States.

In May 2003, Paul Wolfowitz, then deputy Defense secretary, authorized a fact-gathering operation code-named TALON—short for Threat and Local Observation Notice—that would collect "raw information" about "suspicious incidents."

The data would be fed to CIFA to help the Pentagon's "terrorism threat warning process," according to an internal Pentagon memo.

A Defense document shows that Army analysts wrote a report on the Halliburton protest and stored it in CIFA's database. It's not clear why the Pentagon considered the protest worthy of attention—although organizer Parkin had previously been arrested while demonstrating at ExxonMobil headquarters (the charges were dropped). But there are now questions about whether CIFA exceeded its authority and conducted unauthorized spying on innocent people and organizations.

A Pentagon memo obtained by NEWSWEEK shows that the deputy Defense secretary now acknowledges that some TALON reports may have contained information on U.S. citizens and groups that never should have been retained. The number of reports with names of U.S. persons could be in the thousands, says a senior Pentagon official who asked not be named because of the sensitivity of the subject.

CIFA's activities are the latest in a series of disclosures about secret government programs that spy on Americans in the name of national security. In December, the ACLU obtained documents showing the FBI had investigated several activist groups, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Greenpeace, supposedly in an effort to discover possible ecoterror connections. At the same time, the White House has spent weeks in damage-control mode, defending the controversial program that allowed the National Security Agency to monitor the telephone conversations of U.S. persons suspected of terror links, without obtaining warrants....

It isn't clear how many groups and individuals were snagged by CIFA's dragnet. Details about the program, including its size and budget, are classified. In December, NBC News obtained a 400-page compilation of reports that detailed a portion of TALON's surveillance efforts. It showed the unit had collected information on nearly four dozen antiwar meetings or protests, including one at a Quaker meetinghouse in Lake Worth, Fla., and a Students Against War demonstration at a military recruiting fair at the University of California, Santa Cruz. A Pentagon spokesman declined to say why a private company like Halliburton would be deserving of CIFA's protection. But in the past, Defense Department officials have said that the "force protection" mission includes military contractors since soldiers and Defense employees work closely with them and therefore could be in danger.

Four months later, on Oct. 25, the TALON team reported another possible threat to national security. The source: a Miami antiwar Web page. "Website advertises protest planned at local military recruitment facility," the internal report warns. The database entry refers to plans by a south Florida group called the Broward Anti-War Coalition to protest outside a strip-mall recruiting office in Lauderhill, Fla.

The TALON entry lists the upcoming protest as a "credible" threat. As it turned out, the entire event consisted of 15 to 20 activists waving a giant BUSH LIED sign. No one was arrested. "It's very interesting that the U.S. military sees a domestic peace group as a threat," says Paul Lefrak, a librarian who organized the protest.

Arkin says a close reading of internal CIFA documents suggests the agency may be expanding its Internet monitoring, and wants to be as surreptitious as possible. CIFA has contracted to buy "identity masking" software that would allow the agency to create phony Web identities and let them appear to be located in foreign countries, according to a copy of the contract with Computer Sciences Corp. (The firm declined to comment.)

Pentagon officials have broadly defended CIFA as a legitimate response to the domestic terror threat. But at the same time, they acknowledge that an internal Pentagon review has found that CIFA's database contained some information that may have violated regulations. The department is not allowed to retain information about U.S. citizens for more than 90 days—unless they are "reasonably believed" to have some link to terrorism, criminal wrongdoing or foreign intelligence. There was information that was "improperly stored," says a Pentagon spokesman who was authorized to talk about the program (but not to give his name). "It was an oversight." In a memo last week, obtained by NEWSWEEK, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England ordered CIFA to purge such information from its files—and directed that all Defense Department intelligence personnel receive "refresher training" on department policies.

That's not likely to stop the questions. Last week Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee pushed for an inquiry into CIFA's activities and who it's watching. "This is a significant Pandora's box [Pentagon officials] don't want opened," says Arkin. "What we're looking at is hints of what they're doing." As far as the Pentagon is concerned, that means we've already seen too much.
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Administration Starts Weeklong Blitz in Defense of Eavesdropping Program - New York Times

"MANHATTAN, Kan., Jan. 23 - The White House opened a weeklong media blitz Monday in defense of the National Security Agency's eavesdropping program, with President Bush saying he found it 'amazing' to be accused of breaking the law by ordering a secret program to intercept international calls and e-mail messages. "....
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Bolton: Bush won't tolerate nuclear Iran

Jerusalem Post Breaking News from Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World: "US President George W. Bush will not accept a nuclear Iran, John Bolton, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said Monday.

Bolton, speaking from New York via video hook-up to the Interdisciplinary Center's Herzliya Conference, said that Bush was determined to pursue the issue through peaceful and diplomatic means, 'but has made clear that a nuclear Iran is not acceptable.'

According to Bolton, Bush worries that a nuclear-equipped Iran under its current leadership could well engage in a nuclear holocaust, 'and that is just not something he is going to accept.'

Bolton said that if the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) referred the Iranian nuclear issue to the UN Security Council in early February, it would still be unlikely for the UN to immediately slap sanctions on Teheran.

'In the first instance I suspect that if it comes to the Security Council in a few weeks we would look for a statement that essentially calls on Iran to comply with the existing IAEA resolutions,' Bolton said. 'I think that would be a gut check for the Iranians, and if they don't heed that warning we would have to consider what to do next.'

Bolton said that referring the issue to the Security Council was a form of pressure on Iran to convince them to make the same strategic decision Libya made in 2004 - that their national interests would be better served, and they would be safer in giving up the purist of nuclear weapons, than in continuing that pursuit.

Bolton, who was very critical during his comments of the UN's treatment of Israel, said - in an answer to a question - that the time had come to re-evaluate UNRWA, the UN body devoted to Palestinian refuges"...
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Chaos as Saddam trial chief judge replaced again

Independent Online Edition > Middle East: "The trial of Saddam Hussein descended further into chaos as the chief judge in the case was replaced for the second time in a week. "...

Iraq Rebuilding Badly Hobbled, U.S. Report Finds - New York Times

Iraq Rebuilding Badly Hobbled, U.S. Report Finds - New York Times: "The first official history of the $25 billion American reconstruction effort in Iraq depicts a program hobbled from the outset by gross understaffing, a lack of technical expertise, bureaucratic infighting, secrecy and constantly increasing security costs, according to a preliminary draft."...