Saturday, April 01, 2006

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The Endgame in Iraq - New York Times

The Endgame in Iraq - New York Times: "Iraq is becoming a country that America should be ashamed to support, let alone occupy. The nation as a whole is sliding closer to open civil war. In its capital, thugs kidnap and torture innocent civilians with impunity, then murder them for their religious beliefs.

The rights of women are evaporating. The head of the government is the ally of a radical anti-American cleric who leads a powerful private militia that is behind much of the sectarian terror.

The Bush administration will not acknowledge the desperate situation. But it is, at least, pushing in the right direction, trying to mobilize all possible leverage in a frantic effort to persuade the leading Shiite parties to embrace more inclusive policies and support a broad-based national government.

One vital goal is to persuade the Shiites to abort their disastrous nomination of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

Mr. Jaafari is unable to form a broadly inclusive government and has made no serious effort to rein in police death squads. Even some Shiite leaders are now calling on him to step aside.

If his nomination stands and is confirmed by Parliament, civil war will become much harder to head off. And from the American perspective, the Iraqi government will have become something that no parent should be asked to risk a soldier son or daughter to protect."....

[bth: worth a full read.]

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Bush twins to join Air Force tech unit in Iraq | The Register

Bush twins to join Air Force tech unit in Iraq The Register: "1 April exclusive First daughters Jenna and Barbara Bush will be assigned to a high-tech unit in Iraq, the Air Force Human Resources Command has confirmed. Having finished basic training at the Officer Training School (OTS) at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, they are scheduled to receive advanced training in telecommunications at the School of Information Technology before deployment overseas with the USAF Information Operations Squadron. For security reasons, the exact dates have been withheld."

The girls' surprise enlistment was kept secret until they successfully completed their basic training. During an invitation-only press conference while on leave between OTS and their school assignment - conducted, symbolically, at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware where America's war dead are brought - the twins described their motives and rationale....

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Jill Carroll's Statement

: "The following is a statement released Saturday by The Christian Science Monitor from freed hostage Jill Carroll:

I'm so happy to be free and am looking forward to spending a lot of time with my family. I want to express my deep appreciation to all the people who worked so long and hard for my release. I am humbled by the sympathy and support expressed by so many people during my kidnapping.

In the past few days, the U.S. military and officials have been extremely generous, and I am grateful for their help. Throughout this ordeal, many U.S. agencies have committed themselves to bringing me safely home.

My colleagues at The Christian Science Monitor have worked ceaselessly to secure my release, and worked with security consultants to do so. Many other news organizations, both inside and outside of Iraq, as well as many officials from Iraq and other countries, worked hard to bring about my freedom.

So many people around the world spoke out on my behalf.

Thank you, all of you.

During my last night of captivity, my captors forced me to participate in a propaganda video. They told me I would be released if I cooperated. I was living in a threatening environment, under their control, and I wanted to go home alive. So I agreed.

Things that I was forced to say while captive are now being taken by some as an accurate reflection of my personal views. They are not. The people who kidnapped me and murdered Alan Enwiya are criminals, at best. They robbed Alan of his life and devastated his family. They put me, my family and my friends - all those around the world - who have prayed so fervently for my release - through a horrific experience. I was, and remain, deeply angry with the people who did this."

I also gave a TV interview to the Iraqi Islamic Party shortly after my release. The party had promised me the interview would never be broadcast or aired on television, and they broke their word. At any rate, fearing retribution from my captors, I did not speak freely. Out of fear I said I wasn't threatened. In fact, I was threatened many times.
Also, at least two false statements about me have been widely aired: One, that I refused to travel and cooperate with the U.S. military and two, that I refused to discuss my captivity with U.S. officials. Again, neither statement is true.
I want to be judged as a journalist, not as a hostage. I remain as committed as ever to fairness and accuracy - to discovering the truth - and so I will not engage in polemics. But let me be clear: I abhor all who kidnap and murder civilians, and my captors are clearly guilty of both crimes.
Now, I ask for the time to heal. This has been a taxing 12 weeks for me and for my family. Please allow us some quiet time alone, together.

- Jill Carroll

In Remote Pakistan Province, a Civil War Festers

In Remote Pakistan Province, a Civil War Festers - New York Times: "This is the other front of Pakistan's widening civil unrest, not the tribal areas along the Afghan border where the United States would like the government to press a campaign against Islamic militants, but the restive province of Baluchistan, home to an intensifying insurgency.

It is here, say local leaders and opposition politicians, that Pakistan, an important ally in the United States' campaign against terrorism, has diverted troops from the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban to settle old scores as it seeks to develop the region's valuable oil and gas reserves.

One visit makes it clear that, despite official denials, the government is waging a full-scale military campaign here. Rebel leaders say they have several thousand men under arms, fighting what they estimate are 23,000 Pakistani troops.

During a 24-hour trek on camel, horse and foot across the rugged, stony terrain in early March, the fighting was plain to see. Military jets and surveillance planes flew over the area, and long-range artillery lighted up the distant night sky.

This fight is altogether separate from the Taliban insurgency on Afghanistan's border or the Shiite-Sunni violence that sporadically flares in and around the provincial capital, Quetta, and it threatens to dwarf the nation's other conflicts."...

[bth: you've got to think that this is going to stretch the Pakistani government very thin.]

Accountability Office Finds Itself Accused - New York Times

Accountability Office Finds Itself Accused - New York Times: "A senior Congressional investigator has accused his agency of covering up a scientific fraud among builders of a $26 billion system meant to shield the nation from nuclear attack. The disputed weapon is the centerpiece of the Bush administration's antimissile plan, which is expected to cost more than $250 billion over the next two decades.

The investigator, Subrata Ghoshroy of the Government Accountability Office, led technical analyses of a prototype warhead for the antimissile weapon in an 18-month study, winning awards for his 'great care' and 'tremendous skill and patience.'

Mr. Ghoshroy now says his agency ignored evidence that the two main contractors had doctored data, skewed test results and made false statements in a 2002 report that credited the contractors with revealing the warhead's failings to the government."...

Armor banned by Army banned by Air Force -

Armor banned by Army banned by Air Force - "WASHINGTON --A brand of body armor banned by the Army also failed Air Force tests and some of the vests were recalled, Army officials said Friday in defending their decision to require that soldiers wear only protective gear issued by the military."

Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, who manages the buying of body armor, dismissed claims by California-based Pinnacle Armor and other companies their gear can match Army-issue armor.

"They have not been tested," Sorenson told reporters. "They have not passed the rigor that we put into standards determining whether something is safe, effective and suitable."

Under a new Army directive, soldiers can no longer wear any commercially bought body armor. The Army said it cannot guarantee the quality of the commercial armor, and any soldier wearing it will have to turn it in.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Friday there are no plans to enforce such a policy across all the military services.

Sorenson also referred briefly to the recall of Pinnacle vests by "another service," but didn't name the Air Force. He added that any soldiers who defy the order and wear commercial armor could be disciplined.

"If soldiers are doing this, they're doing it at their own risk," said Sorenson. "And quite frankly, it's probably not advisable because we have not found that protection provided by these other particular systems is anywhere near what the soldiers have today."

Josh Holly, a spokesman for the House Armed Services Committee, said its members grew concerned about Pinnacle gear since learning the company's latest version of Dragon Skin armor failed Air Force ballistic tests in February.

Holly said committee staff recently met with Pinnacle officials to encourage the company to pursue more Army testing, even volunteering to serve as independent witnesses to the tests.
He said the committee requested the meeting to ensure soldiers get the best equipment.

The Army told The Associated Press on Thursday the order banning commercial armor was prompted by concerns that soldiers or their families were buying inadequate or untested gear from private companies -- including Pinnacle's popular Dragon Skin.

Murray Neal, chief executive officer of Pinnacle, said he wants to review the order.

"We know of no reason the Army may have to justify this action," Neal said. "On the surface this looks to be another of many attempts by the Army to cover up the billions of dollars spent on ineffective body armor systems which they continue to try quick fixes on, to no avail."

Early in the Iraq war, soldiers and their families were spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on protective gear that they said the military was not providing. Last October, after months of pressure from families and members of Congress, the military began a reimbursement program for soldiers who purchased their own protective equipment.

On the Net:
Defense Department:
Pinnacle Armor:

[bth: according to a friend of mine that met with the HASC staffers last week, the Air Force test being referred to was for armor that was specified as Level III which means that it is designed to stop AK-47 rounds, but it turns out that the Air Force officer that did the test mistakenly used Level IV - armor piercing incendiary rounds in the evaluation which penetrated the vest in half the cases. So there are Level 4 vests which could have been made availble but since Level III were specified that is what they got for the test - in other words the results are invalid through a testing error. The Army has then taken this as their excuse to ban private armor of all kinds and even require troops to turn it in without reimbursement. The military was required to reimburse soldiers for body armor that they had to buy themselves when the Army didn't provide it and Rumsfeld refused to pay up the money that was mandated by legislation. This became a big issues until it was released last October, so this action of banning and then forcing that equipment to be turned into the Army without reimbursement smacks of Rumsfelds revenge on Sen. Dodd that put him on the spot in hearings last year. Rumor has it that there are around 3000 vests in circulation in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is just one more level of injustice that does nothing to benefit the troops in the field or get them the best gear possible. I would also note that there is a test being scheduled for May, but its interesting, the tests can't be independently verified and there is strong historical reason to suspect that prior test results were tainted to support the existing Army program. Further, note in the article that the HASC staffers volunteered to witness the tests. This is improtant because there is a strong belief that prior tests were rigged, that body armor was sent by the army to competitors for reverse engineering and that without HASC witnesses new tests might not occur at all.]
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Iranian militiamen were brought in by Britain

Iranian militiamen were brought in by Britain - World - Times Online: "MILITIAMEN from an Iranian-backed force were deliberately recruited by Britain to join the new Iraqi security services after Saddam Hussein was overthrown, the Government has admitted.

The sectarian Badr organisation, trained in exile by Iran's Revolutionary Guards, is suspected of violently pursuing its own agenda after being allowed to enlist in national units. John Reid, the Defence Secretary, disclosed in a Commons written answer to the Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price that it had been official policy to welcome the Shia gunmen. "Following the end of the conflict in Iraq, the Coalition Provision Authority sought to reintegrate militia members into civil society," Mr Reid said. "This process included members of the Badr organisation, formerly known as the Badr Corps, among others."

Sunnis have accused the Badr organisation of torturing prisoners, a claim rejected by the Shia-dominated Government. Bayar Jabor, the Interior Minister, was a member of the militia. The organisation's stronghold is southern Iraq, where British troops have been based since the war"

Kingdom Denies Nuke Report

Kingdom Denies Nuke Report: "JEDDAH, 1 April 2006 -Saudi Arabia yesterday denied a German magazine report that it was working on a secret nuclear program with the help of Pakistani experts. The report "is totally unfounded," a Defense Ministry spokesman told the Saudi Press Agency, adding that Riyadh "advocates imposing nuclear non-proliferation in the (Middle East) region."

Pakistan also rejected the report.

"It is a fabricated story and motivated by vicious intentions," Foreign Office spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said."

Citing Western security sources, German magazine Cicero said in its latest edition that during the Haj seasons in 2003 through 2005, Pakistani scientists posing as pilgrims came to Saudi Arabia in aircraft sponsored by the Kingdom.

Between October 2004 and January 2005, some of them took the opportunity to “disappear” from their hotel rooms, sometimes for up to three weeks, German security expert Udo Ulfkotte told the magazine.

According to Western security services cited by the magazine report, Saudi scientists have been working since the mid-1990s in Pakistan, a nuclear power since 1998, thanks to the work of Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.

Cicero, which will appear on newsstands tomorrow, also quoted a US military analyst, John Pike, as saying that Saudi bar codes can be found on half of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

The magazine also said satellite images prove that Saudi Arabia has set up in Al-Sulaiyyel, south of Riyadh, a secret underground city and dozens of underground silos for missiles.
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Kurdish authority reports illegal oil smuggling th...3/30/2006

Kuna siteStory pageKurdish authority reports illegal oil smuggling th...3/30/2006: "IRBIL, North Iraq, March 30 (KUNA) -- A Kurdish official on Thursday disclosed 'substantial smuggling operations' of the Iraqi crude oil via a border gateway in northern Iraq and warned terrorists were involved in illegal oil sales.

Daoud Al-Baghestani, in charge of the so-called 'integrity authority,' said at a news conference that returns from illegal sales of the crude 'have become a major resource of income for the terrorists.' The northern Rabiaa border passageway has been witnessing many smuggling and illegal transactions of crude sales, Al-Baghestani said, adding that his authority, several days ago, found that drivers of 1,200 trucks passing through the border exits carried false papers.

'Clandestine gangs in some states ... have been using the earnings made from the illegal sales of the Iraqi crude for supporting terrorism and the funds that belong to the Iraqi people have been embezzled by the terrorists,' the Kurdish official added, without specifying the states where the oil mafias have been secretly operating in the illegal transactions.

These trafficking operations have been proceeding since three years ago at a rate of 1,000 trucks per day. 'The border gate opens for these traffickers in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars paid by the smugglers to the border officers,' he said.

The "integrity authority" has called for forming a special parliamentary panel to investigate these smuggling operations, he said, indicating that "some influential figures" have been involved in these illegal activities. (end) sbr.

[bth: ""some influential figures " have been involved in these illegal activities." Do you think? Chalabi is now in charge of the energy ministry. You can count on him to go where the cash is. It should be noted that 1000 trucks a day for three years is a lot of activity. It appears to me that the only thing that is actually working in Iraq is the blackmarket. When you can take oil with a market value of only a few dollars per barrel in Iraq and move it to world markets via the mafia gangs or corrupt border guards and sell it for up to $60 a barrel less gratuities and handling fees-- there is going to be a functioning blackmarket. Indeed since the government in Iraq is not working at all, it appears to me that this is the only functioning system. .... Actually the best scenario would be to have an Iraqi brigade composed of 1/2 ghost soldiers but paid by US taxpayers on the Iraq government's behalf as if it were fully staffed (the way things are done now) and then have that brigade guard a mafia run oil smuggling ring with tribal affiliations (the way things are done now) that can smuggle oil past unpaid/underpaid border guards for a fee (the way things are done now). Perhaps we should let the Iraq government go to the clerics -- the dogs in other words -- cut our deals with the blackmarketers and corrupt militias. At least that strategy works. ... no wait the most cost effective approach would then be to give all new oil and gas well activity to the regional governments controlled by the local tribes and have US taxpayers pay Halliburton to fix the oil facilities ... wait, that IS the way it's being done now. How silly of me.]
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Bush Vetos First Bill in Five Years

April Fools!
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Saudi has thwarted 90% of terror attacks

Gulfnews: Saudi has thwarted 90% of terror attacks: "Interior Minister Prince Nayef announced on Saturday that Saudi Arabia had prevented about 90 per cent of planned terror attacks planned against the kingdom.

'This is thanks to God and to detailed security effort and continuous tracking of terrorist cells,' Interior Minister Prince Nayef told Al Hayat, a Saudi-owned Pan-Arab daily.

Saudi forces this week announced the arrest of 40 suspected militants and the seizure of a huge arms cache.

Eight people connected to a foiled attack on the world's largest oil processing facility, were among the 40 arrested. On February 24 suicide bombers in two explosive laden cars attempted to enter the Abqaiq complex.

Nayef added that Saudi Arabia was working closely with the Iraqi government over the issue of Saudis who have joined the anti-American insurgency.

Those Saudis who do join the insurgency are typically used as 'explosives or suicide bombers,' Nayef told Al Hayat.

Although Saudi Arabia guards its border with Syria carefully the number of insurgents to have entered Iraq through Syria could be as high as 2,500."
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Iraqis are right to attack troops, clerics say

The Seattle Times: Nation & World: Iraqis are right to attack troops, clerics say: "LONDON -Two years after U.S. authorities ceremoniously declared Iraq to be sovereign again, top religious leaders say Iraqis remain under military occupation, have a right to fight foreign troops and still don't govern themselves.

Their statements, made at the conclusion of a peace conference in London on Tuesday, provided a stamp of approval from Iraq's most influential Sunni and Shiite Muslim clerics for their countrymen to step up attacks aimed at hastening the withdrawal of U.S., British and other troops.

Two Christian archbishops and ethnic Kurdish leaders, whose community has previously supported the foreign military presence, joined Jordan's Prince Hassan bin Talal in endorsing a communiqu-underscoring the 'legitimate right' of Iraqis to resist what they called the occupation."

The U.S. and British governments say their forces are in Iraq at the request of the government to assist in security operations. An expert in the law of armed conflict concurred, saying that because foreign forces are in Iraq with approval of the U.N. Security Council, they are not legally occupation forces regardless of how Iraqi religious leaders might define them.

The clerics were adamant in their interpretation of Iraqis' rights to resist. Their call comes at a time when Shiite militants, like their Sunni counterparts, have engaged in armed confrontations with troops of the U.S.-led coalition, including a raid on a Shiite mosque Sunday in which at least 17 Iraqis were killed.

"We are here to say that any military action against an occupying force is a legitimate act authorized under international law," said Sheik Majid al-Hafeed, a representative of the Ulmma Kurdish Union of Iraq.

"The occupation is something that everybody is calling for an end to," added Sayyid Salih al-Haydary, outgoing minister of Shiite religious affairs.

The remarks of the 16 religious leaders, both in individual statements and in the joint communiqué, suggested a growing feeling among Iraqis that the presence of foreign forces is adding to the country's instability.

Results of a poll in Iraq, conducted in January but released last week, showed an overwhelming majority of Arab Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds believe the U.S. plans to keep troops in Iraq permanently....

Al-Hafeed and others took issue with Western characterizations of attacks on coalition troops as terrorism, citing the U.S. war of independence from Britain as one example of citizens taking up arms to eject foreign occupiers. Rather than condemn such a struggle, the sheik quipped, "Americans celebrate it as the Fourth of July, Independence Day."...

If a sudden withdrawal occurred, there would be a catastrophe," al-Samarai said. But he added, "We don't want U.S. troops to leave according to their schedule but according to ours."...

[bth: Do we have any friends in Iraq?]

Boy's pancake breakfast delayed the end of WWII - Yahoo! News

Boy's pancake breakfast delayed the end of WWII - Yahoo! News: "Whenever someone mentioned pancakes, without fail Thomas E. Jones would immediately think of Harry Truman"

It's an odd word association for sure, but it's understandable given Jones' unusual place in our nation's history.

On Aug. 14, 1945, Jones, a 16-year-old messenger in Washington, D.C., was entrusted to deliver to the White House the cable announcing Japan's surrender to the United States to end World War II.

Unaware of his cargo's import, the boy, in cavalier teenage fashion, put work on hold to eat pancakes at a diner, hang out with his friends and flirt with waitresses.

Later, he left his pancakes to complete the job only to be pulled over en route to the White House by a police officer, who berated the boy for making an illegal U-turn.

Meanwhile, President Truman and his inner circle waited for the note that would change history...
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Intelligence lessons of 7/7

BBC NEWS Politics Intelligence lessons of 7/7: "A cross-party committee of MPs investigating the intelligence failure to stop the London bombings of July 2005 has blamed it on a lack of resources, rather than on any error of judgement. "...

Whitehall officials have told the BBC they are now facing an unprecedented number of terrorist plots in Britain.

They say the threat of home-grown terrorism has increased substantially since the Iraq invasion of 2003, and that 50% of recent disrupted plots are home-grown, involving British nationals living in Britain.

Whitehall officials have also said that in practice, counter-terrorism in this age means stopping most but not necessarily all attacks.

The intelligence services are currently undergoing a major expansion with the aim of doubling in size to around 3,000 members each, but it will take years before new recruits are vetted and trained - time which would-be terrorists are expected to exploit.

[bth: the invasion of Iraq was a tremendous stimulant for terrorism.]

Cargo containers inspected at 'staggeringly low' rate

Cargo containers inspected at 'staggeringly low' rate: "WASHINGTON -- The number of high-risk cargo containers inspected before entering the United States is 'staggeringly low' and government efforts to keep terrorists from exploiting the system are riddled with blind spots, congressional investigators say in a report that will be released today.

The study by a Senate Homeland Security subcommittee is the latest to raise questions about whether the Bush administration and Congress have done enough to improve security at seaports, border crossings and other transportation hubs since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks."

Experts say the system is vulnerable to the smuggling of a nuclear, chemical or biological weapon, or a direct attack by terrorists intent on crippling the U.S. economy. An attack that shut down the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex would take $150 million a day out of the economy, the Congressional Budget Office concluded in a separate report.

Most of the concern is focused on the millions of boxcar-size cargo containers that flow into U.S. seaports and across land borders each year.

Despite efforts to inspect more of the containers before they reach the United States, only a miniscule number are examined abroad, the system used to identify potentially troublesome cargo is unreliable and a program that allows shippers to avoid some inspections is not closely monitored, concluded the three-year subcommittee investigation.

"If we think that the terrorists are going to ignore our vulnerabilities and not find the kinks in our supply chain, we are mistaken," said Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., the panel's chairman....
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RNW: Terrorism - Dutch intelligence service reports

RNW: Terrorism - Dutch intelligence service reports: "Despite the arrests - and, in some cases, the convictions - of members of the well-known group codenamed 'Hofstad', there's little ground for optimism about the terrorist threat in the Netherlands. That's according to a new report from the Dutch AIVD intelligence service report entitled 'Violent Jihad in the Netherlands.'

The radicalisation of young Muslims, most of them from a Moroccan background, continues unabated; terrorist networks are growing more diffuse and hence more difficult to keep tabs on. The AIVD also warns that, in the worst-case scenario, Dutch society could risk falling apart along ethnic and religious lines."...
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92% of Pakistanis oppose violent cartoon protests’

Daily Times - Site Edition: "LAHORE: At least 92 percent of Pakistanis support peaceful demonstrations to protest the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and oppose violent demonstrations.

A poll was recently conducted by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) in Islamabad, Lahore and Peshawar to gauge public opinion about the publication of the cartoons and the subsequent rioting that killed around 10 people. The cartoons were first published in Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and later in publications across Europe.

Around 97 percent of those interviewed felt that the publication of the cartoons was a violation of freedom of expression. Ninety-five percent of those surveyed opposed attacking embassies of European countries in reaction to the publication of cartoons in newspapers there. Almost everyone also opposed the publication of the holy personages of other religions in retribution to the Prophet�s (PBUH) cartoons. However, 62.26 percent favoured the economic boycott of countries where the cartoons had been published, while round 52 percent called for suspending all diplomatic ties with such countries. staff report"

Eight killed in Afghanistan, Taliban capture 3 villages

Daily Times - Site Edition: "KANDAHAR: Taliban insurgents raided several police posts in Afghanistan on Friday and seven of the attackers were killed as the Taliban captured three villages.

Earlier on Friday, a suicide car-bomber was killed when he blew himself up as he tried to ram his vehicle into an Afghan Army convoy, an Afghan commander said.

Two Romanian and two French soldiers were meanwhile lightly wounded in mine blasts in two incidents elsewhere in the country, military officials said.

The insurgents attacked the police posts in the southern province of Helmand, where US and Canadian forces were involved in a big battle this week, said the province�s deputy governor, Amir Akhundzada. The battle lasted several hours and killed six Taliban.

There were no casualties among government forces which retreated and were preparing a counterattack, he said. "Taliban have control of three villages in the district now.
The government forces have not started any operation in these three villages so far," he said. The suicide bombing was the second attempted car-bombing against security forces in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar in 24 hours.

Seven passers-by and a Canadian soldier were wounded on Thursday when a car-bomber attacked a Canadian patrol in Kandahar city.

Troops from a US-led force and the Afghan army clashed with insurgents in the central province of Uruzgan, killing one and seizing a cache of weapons, ammunition and bomb-making material, the US military said.

In a separate incident, a man was killed in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif when a bomb he was transporting in a cart exploded. Agencies"

U.S. officials: Iraqi insurgents educating Afghan, Pakistani militants

U.S. officials: Iraqi insurgents educating Afghan, Pakistani militants: "WASHINGTON - Islamic militants in Iraq are providing military training and other assistance to Taliban and al Qaida fighters from eastern and southern Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal areas, U.S. intelligence officials told Knight Ridder.

A small number of Pakistani and Afghan militants are receiving military training in Iraq; Iraqi fighters have met with Afghan and Pakistani extremists in Pakistan; and militants in Afghanistan increasingly are using homemade bombs, suicide attacks and other tactics honed in Iraq, said U.S. intelligence officials and others who track the issue.

Several Afghan and Pakistani 'exchange students' volunteered to join the fight against American and Iraqi forces in Iraq, but were told to return to Afghanistan and Pakistan to train other militants there, two U.S. intelligence officials said. They and other officials spoke only on condition of anonymity because the intelligence is highly classified.

The intelligence suggests that if the trend continues, American forces, already contending with escalating violence in Iraq, could face the same thing in Afghanistan in the coming months, further complicating the Bush administration's plans to withdraw some troops.

'The worst case would be if the terrorists in both places are becoming more connected, and that they either want to take some of the heat off the jihadists in Iraq or that they figure we're stretched too thin in both places, so they're going to try to turn up the heat in both,' one U.S. intelligence official said.

Al-Qaida's role in the contacts among militants from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan isn't entirely clear, said Seth Jones, a specialist on Afghanistan at the RAND Corp., a consulting firm that advises U.S. government agencies.

But he added that "there is substantial speculation that it is al-Qaida or affiliated groups" that are arranging the exchanges.

"I think there is absolutely no question that the partial evidence strongly suggests that there have been increasing contacts between Afghan insurgents and Iraqi insurgents either in Iraq itself or in Pakistan, the trails going in both directions," Jones said.

Militants traveling to or from Iraq mostly are making their way on routes used by drug traffickers and smugglers through Pakistan's province of Baluchistan, where government forces are facing a tribal insurgency, and southern Iran, the two American intelligence officials said.

They said there was no solid evidence that Iran's Islamic regime was arranging, financing or aiding what one of the U.S. intelligence officials called "terrorist Route 66."

But it's possible that members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, other paramilitary groups or some local officials may be turning a blind eye to the traffic, perhaps in exchange for bribes, the officials said.

While religious and ethnic violence is swelling in Iraq, Afghanistan has witnessed a surge in attacks by the Taliban, many of them apparently aimed at testing NATO troops from Britain, Canada and the Netherlands as they begin taking over security duties in the south from American forces.

The U.S. intelligence officials said the relatively small number of Afghan and Pakistani militants going to Iraq were receiving a professional military education from foreign terrorists and Iraqis tied to al-Qaida, then returning home to train other fighters.

Tactics that have proved effective in Iraq, especially homemade bombs, suicide and car bombs, and secondary ambushes - in which troops, police and emergency workers are hit as they respond to an initial attack - increasingly are being used in Afghanistan, they said.

"Everybody accepts that there has been a qualitative shift in the sophistication of these attacks," said Marvin Weinbaum, a former State Department intelligence expert who's now at the Middle East Institute, a nonpartisan research center.

American officials suspect that the training and transfer of tactics have been discussed among Iraqi insurgents and Afghan and Pakistani militants in at least two recent meetings in Pakistan, said an expert who asked not to be further identified.

The Bush administration has been pressing Pakistan's leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, to develop a comprehensive plan to halt the infiltration of Taliban and al-Qaida fighters from Pakistan into Afghanistan, several experts said.

In response, they said, Pakistan quietly has sought American assistance to seal parts of the 1,500-mile border of massive mountains and plunging valleys with a fence and minefields, an idea that one U.S. official called "absolutely idiotic."

Buckley Says Bush Will Be Judged on Iraq War, Now a `Failure' U.S.: "March 31 (Bloomberg) -- William F. Buckley Jr., the longtime conservative writer and leader, said George W. Bush's presidency will be judged entirely by the outcome of a war in Iraq that is now a failure.

``Mr. Bush is in the hands of a fortune that will be unremitting on the point of Iraq,'' Buckley said in an interview that will air on Bloomberg Television this weekend. ``If he'd invented the Bill of Rights it wouldn't get him out of his jam.''
Buckley said he doesn't have a formula for getting out of Iraq, though he said ``it's important that we acknowledge in the inner councils of state that it (the war) has failed, so that we should look for opportunities to cope with that failure.'' "...
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Friday, March 31, 2006

Tiny spy plane packs a sting

Tiny spy plane packs a sting: "(San Diego Union-Tribune, The (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Mar. 30--After spending years developing a robotic spy plane that operates at 65,000 feet and costs $123 million apiece, Northrop Grumman has developed a new perspective on aerial surveillance.

In a more down-to-earth approach, the company has been developing small robotic "flying wings" in San Diego that are designed to operate in flocks of four or more aircraft. Such aircraft would be made at a fraction of the cost of the Global Hawk, Northrop's high-altitude spy plane, and would fly less than 1,500 feet above the ground.

The concept behind the new unmanned aircraft, dubbed "Killer Bees," is based on an idea that can be found in almost any casino. Mounted in the ceiling above each gaming table is a small, relatively inexpensive camera linked to a sophisticated surveillance network....

[bth: very interesting.]

Fixing damage done by Rumsfeld will take long time 03/31/2006 Fixing damage done by Rumsfeld will take long time: "WASHINGTON - Anyone else might be embarrassed when not one but two detailed studies of the way he's doing business conclude that his plans and assumptions are totally wrong, but not Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld.

A recent Rand Corp. study commissioned by the Pentagon of the U.S. Army in this time of war concluded that without an increase in manpower the Army ``simply cannot sustain the force levels needed to break the back of the insurgent movement'' in Iraq.

Yet another study, conducted by the Defense Department's own Institute for Defense Analyses, concluded that the Army's transformation program, intended to add combat brigades without boosting manpower, cuts the number of maneuver battalions in those brigades while adding more headquarters troops.

``The essence of land power is resident in the maneuver battalions that occupy terrain, control populations and fight battles, not in headquarters and enablers,'' the IDA study said. ``Yet the Army plan reduces the number of maneuver battalions by 20 percent below the number available in 2003, while increasing headquarters by 11.5 percent.''"

The IDA study noted that under the Army plan, now well under way, the number of infantry battalions in infantry brigades and the number of armor battalions in armor brigades had been cut from three to two.

Army spokesmen counter that each reorganized brigade also has been given a combat-capable reconnaissance squadron.
They also argue that improved information technology and the use of ``joint capabilities,'' i.e. Air Force bombing, will make up for any reduction in manpower. This is a siren song that's heard nearly as often as ``off we go into the wild blue yonder'' but seldom proved satisfactory to those mired in the mud and blood on a battlefield.

In defense of the added manpower in brigade headquarters, the additions are actually quite useful ones: Each transformed brigade now owns its own artillery, military police, engineers and logistics troops.

However, the need to increase Army manpower -- evident in the fact that many soldiers are serving their third yearlong deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan while junior officers are bailing out or finding themselves in divorce court -- is something that Rumsfeld has steadfastly rejected for cost reasons. Army leaders also reject it because they want to spend the money on a costly Future Combat System for which the technology has yet to be developed.

In a Pentagon where Rumsfeld thought he could storm Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein with fewer than 50,000 troops -- with no thought of what would happen after Baghdad fell -- perhaps all of this makes sense of a sort. Yes. Nonsense.

Rumsfeld's response: ``I just can't imagine someone looking at the United States armed forces today and suggesting that they're close to breaking. The people writing these things don't have any more insight than the other people around here do.''

If that's so, then why did he hire them to study the situations?

``It's a useful thing to invite people to make comments and critiques and to opine on this and opine on that,'' he told questioners at one news briefing.

From the beginning of his current tour as defense secretary, Rumsfeld has shown an amazing ability to hear only advice that agrees with him. Contrary advice, especially from a uniformed expert in the subject of combat power, is met with swift retribution. Telling the truth in Rumsfeld's Pentagon will get you in trouble quicker than a tour of duty in Iraq's Triangle of Death.

It's of interest that when budget time came around this year Rumsfeld told the service chiefs that they could have manpower increases or money for weapons systems. One or the other, but not both. The service chiefs, to a man, opted for money to throw at defense contractors for weapons systems that were designed 20 or 30 years ago for the Cold War, or that haven't been designed at all.

Then the chiefs were informed that they'd also have to swallow decreases in manpower over the next five years.

Rumsfeld's arrogance and incompetence have done unprecedented damage to the military in a time of peril that won't end when he leaves town. Those who've lived long enough may recall that it took a long, difficult decade and more to repair the damage that was done to our military during another unpopular war in Vietnam.

Fixing everything that Donald Rumsfeld has broken may take even longer.

JOSEPH L. GALLOWAY is the senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder and co-author of the national best-seller ``We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young.''

[bth: as usual Galloway is balls-on.]
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Elaborate U.S. bases raise long-term questions

By Charles J. Hanley

Associated Press

BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq -The concrete goes on forever, vanishing into the noonday glare, 2 million cubic feet of it, a mile-long slab that's now the home of up to 120 U.S. helicopters, a 'heli-park' as good as any back in the States.

At another giant base, al-Asad in Iraq's western desert, the 17,000 troops and workers come and go in a kind of bustling American town, with a Burger King, Pizza Hut and a car dealership, stop signs, traffic regulations and young bikers clogging the roads.

At a third hub down south, Tallil, they're planning a new mess hall, one that will seat 6,000 hungry airmen and soldiers for chow.

Are the Americans here to stay? Air Force mechanic Josh Remy is sure of it as he looks around Balad.

'I think we'll be here forever,' the 19-year-old airman from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., told a visitor to his base.

The Iraqi people suspect the same. Strong majorities tell pollsters they'd like to see a timetable for U.S. troops to leave, but believe Washington plans to keep military bases in their country.

The question of America's future in Iraq looms larger as the U.S. military enters the fourth year of its war here, waged first to oust President Saddam Hussein, and now to crush an Iraqi insurgency.

Ibrahim al-Jaafari, interim prime minister, has said he opposes permanent foreign bases. A wide range of American opinion is against them as well. Such bases would be a "stupid" provocation, says Gen. Anthony Zinni, former U.S. Mideast commander and a critic of the original U.S. invasion.

But events, in explosive situations like Iraq's, can turn "no" into "maybe" and even "yes."

The Shiite Muslims, ascendant in Baghdad, might decide they need long-term U.S. protection against insurgent Sunni Muslims. Washington might take the political risks to gain a strategic edge — in its confrontation with next-door Iran, for example.

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, and other U.S. officials disavow any desire for permanent bases. But long-term access, as at other U.S. bases abroad, is different from "permanent," and the official U.S. position is carefully worded.

Lt. Cmdr. Joe Carpenter, a Pentagon spokesman on international security, told The Associated Press it would be "inappropriate" to discuss future basing until a new Iraqi government is in place, expected in the coming weeks.

Less formally, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, asked about "permanent duty stations" by a Marine during an Iraq visit in December, allowed that it was "an interesting question." He said it would have to be raised by the incoming Baghdad government, if "they have an interest in our assisting them for some period over time.

"In Washington, Iraq scholar Phebe Marr finds the language intriguing. "If they aren't planning for bases, they ought to say so," she said. "I would expect to hear 'No bases."'Right now what is heard is the pouring of concrete.

In 2005-06, Washington has authorized or proposed almost $1 billion for U.S. military construction in Iraq, as American forces consolidate at Balad, known as Anaconda, and a handful of other installations, big bases under the old regime.

They have already pulled out of 34 of the 110 bases they were holding last March, said Maj. Lee English of the U.S. command's Base Working Group, planning the consolidation.

"The coalition forces are moving outside the cities while continuing to provide security support to the Iraqi security forces," English said.

The move away from cities, perhaps eventually accompanied by U.S. force reductions, will lower the profile of U.S. troops, frequent targets of roadside bombs on city streets. Officers at Al-Asad Air Base, 10 desert miles from the nearest town, say it hasn't been hit by insurgent mortar or rocket fire since October.Al-Asad will become even more isolated. The proposed 2006 supplemental budget for Iraq operations would provide $7.4 million to extend the no-man's-land and build new security fencing around the base, which at 19 square miles is so large that many assigned there take the Yellow or Blue bus routes to get around the base, or buy bicycles at a PX jammed with customers.

The latest budget also allots $39 million for new airfield lighting, air traffic control systems and upgrades allowing al-Asad to plug into the Iraqi electricity grid — a typical sign of a long-term base.

At Tallil, besides the new $14 million dining facility, Ali Air Base is to get, for $22 million, a double perimeter security fence with high-tech gate controls, guard towers and a moat — in military parlance, a "vehicle entrapment ditch with berm."

Here at Balad, the former Iraqi air force academy 40 miles north of Baghdad, the two 12,000-foot runways have become the logistics hub for all U.S. military operations in Iraq, and major upgrades began last year.

Army engineers say 31,000 truckloads of sand and gravel fed nine concrete-mixing plants on Balad, as contractors laid a $16 million ramp to park the Air Force's huge C-5 cargo planes; an $18 million ramp for workhorse C-130 transports; and the vast, $28 million main helicopter ramp, the length of 13 football fields, filled with attack, transport and reconnaissance helicopters.

Turkish builders are pouring tons more concrete for a fourth ramp beside the runways, for medical-evacuation and other aircraft on alert. And $25 million was approved for other "pavement projects," from a special road for munitions trucks to a compound for special forces.

The chief Air Force engineer here, Lt. Col. Scott Hoover, is also overseeing two crucial projects to add to Balad's longevity: equipping the two runways with new permanent lighting, and replacing a weak 3,500-foot section of one runway.

Once that's fixed, "we're good for as long as we need to run it," Hoover said. Ten years? he was asked. "I'd say so."Away from the flight lines, among traffic jams and freshly planted palms, life improves on 14-square-mile Balad for its estimated 25,000 personnel, including several thousand American and other civilians.

They've inherited an Olympic-sized pool and a chandeliered cinema from the Iraqis. They can order their favorite Baskin-Robbins flavor at ice cream counters in five dining halls, and cut-rate Fords, Chevys or Harley-Davidsons, for delivery at home, at a PX-run "dealership." On one recent evening, not far from a big 24-hour gym, airmen hustled up and down two full-length, lighted outdoor basketball courts as F-16 fighters thundered home overhead.

"Balad's a fantastic base," Brig. Gen. Frank Gorenc, the Air Force's tactical commander in Iraq, said in an interview at his headquarters here.

Could it host a long-term U.S. presence?"Eventually it could," said Gorenc, commander of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing. "But there's no commitment to any of the bases we operate, until somebody tells me that."

In the counterinsurgency fight, Balad's central location enables strike aircraft to reach targets in minutes.

And in the broader context of reinforcing the U.S. presence in the oil-rich Mideast, Iraq bases are preferable to aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, said a longtime defense analyst."Carriers don't have the punch," said Gordon Adams of Washington's George Washington University.

"There's a huge advantage to land-based infrastructure. At the level of strategy it makes total sense to have Iraq bases."

A U.S. congressional study cited another, less discussed use for possible Iraq bases: to install anti-ballistic defenses in case Iran fires missiles.

American bases next door could either deter or provoke Iran, noted Paul D. Hughes, a key planner in the early U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Overall, however, this retired Army colonel says American troops are unwanted in the Middle East. With long-term bases in Iraq, "We'd be inviting trouble," Hughes said."It's a stupid idea and clearly politically unacceptable," Zinni, a former Central Command chief, said in a Washington interview.

"It would damage our image in the region, where people would decide that this" — seizing bases — "was our original intent."

Among Iraqis, the subject is almost too sensitive to discuss."People don't like bases," veteran politician Adnan Pachachi, a member of the new Parliament, told the AP.

"If bases are absolutely necessary, if there's a perceived threat ... but I don't think even Iran will be a threat.

"If long-term basing is, indeed, on the horizon, "the politics back here and the politics in the region say, 'Don't announce it,"' Adams said in Washington.

That's what's done elsewhere, as with the quiet U.S. basing of spy planes and other aircraft in the United Arab Emirates.

Army and Air Force engineers, with little notice, have worked to give U.S. commanders solid installations in Iraq, and to give policymakers options. From the start, in 2003, the first Army engineers rolling into Balad took the long view, laying out a 10-year plan envisioning a move from tents to today's living quarters in air-conditioned trailers, to concrete-and-brick barracks by 2008.In early 2006, no one's confirming such next steps, but a Balad "master plan," details undisclosed, is nearing completion, a possible model for al-Asad, Tallil and a fourth major base, al-Qayyarah in Iraq's north.

AP Investigative Researcher Randy Herschaft contributed to this report
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Thesis on A. Q. Kahn nuclear proliferation network.

Here is a link to a thesis on the A. Q. Kahn nuclear proliferation network. It was published by the Naval Postgraduate School.
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Inside Dope On Rummy | The Agonist

Inside Dope On Rummy The Agonist: "Chris Nelson fresh from the beach informs us no big changes (in the cabinet) until Bolten is fully ensconced as Chief of Staff. But get this:
The "Big One" is Rummy...has President Bush finally gotten to the point where he sees Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld as a liability, not an asset? You can see evidence for this, if you want.

Specifically, note who has been run out for TV recently defending and explaining Iraq...Bush, not Rumsfeld. The President has been forced to put himself irrevocably on the line, both in public, and with the press, because Rumsfeld has lost all credibility...that's what our Republican friends say is the "inside word".

Sources also confirm that the President has absorbed the fact that the professional military has completely given up on Rumsfeld...admittedly a process which began for some �uniforms� even before 9/11, but which has continued to affect...or infect...virtually the whole military establishment today. (Rumsfeld�s contemptuous treatment of the senior brass...including the Joint Chiefs...has become legend, if somewhat under-reported, since these folks are loyal to the institution, if not the man, despite the provocations.)
Some insiders had been hoping that Rumsfeld would take the opportunity of the third-anniversary of the war to step down. But he either didn't hear the hints, or didn't care. So it apparently will be up to Bolten to pull the plug, on the President's behalf.

Won't Vice President Cheney step in to save his ideological and political comrade? Sources don't think the Veep is in any position to challenge the facts on the ground...he can see that Rumsfeld has lost the confidence of both the troops, and the media.

So the question may boil down to Bolten’s authority, and capacity. Observers say that the Bolten of today is just as smart as he ever was, with an additional layer of toughness. “Now he has learned that sometimes you must fire people, even your friends, if you want to succeed”.

So does he have the authority to fire Rumsfeld? Inside betting is “yes” stay tuned.

Who replaces Rummy?
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Shiite Ayatollah Ignores Letter From Bush

Guardian Unlimited World Latest Shiite Ayatollah Ignores Letter From Bush: "BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - A letter from President Bush to Iraq's supreme Shiite spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, was hand-delivered earlier this week but sits unread and untranslated in the top religious figure's office, a key al-Sistani aide told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The aide - who has never allowed use of his name in news reports, citing al-Sistani's refusal to make any public statements himself - said the ayatollah had laid the letter aside and did not ask for a translation because of increasing ``unhappiness'' over what senior Shiite leaders see as American meddling in Iraqi attempts to form their first, permanent post-invasion government"...
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NATIONAL JOURNAL: Insulating Bush (03/30/2006)

NATIONAL JOURNAL: Insulating Bush (03/30/2006): "Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political adviser, cautioned other White House aides in the summer of 2003 that Bush's 2004 re-election prospects would be severely damaged if it was publicly disclosed that he had been personally warned that a key rationale for going to war had been challenged within the administration. Rove expressed his concerns shortly after an informal review of classified government records by then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley determined that Bush had been specifically advised that claims he later made in his 2003 State of the Union address -- that Iraq was procuring high-strength aluminum tubes to build a nuclear weapon -- might not be true, according to government records and interviews. "

As the 2004 election loomed, the White House was determined to keep the wraps on a potentially damaging memo about Iraq.

Hadley was particularly concerned that the public might learn of a classified one-page summary of a National Intelligence Estimate, specifically written for Bush in October 2002. The summary said that although "most agencies judge" that the aluminum tubes were "related to a uranium enrichment effort," the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the Energy Department's intelligence branch "believe that the tubes more likely are intended for conventional weapons."

Three months after receiving that assessment, the president stated without qualification in his January 28, 2003, State of the Union address: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production."

The previously undisclosed review by Hadley was part of a damage-control effort launched after former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV alleged that Bush's claims regarding the uranium were not true. The CIA had sent Wilson to the African nation of Niger in 2002 to investigate the purported procurement efforts by Iraq; he reported that they were most likely a hoax.

The White House was largely successful in defusing the Niger controversy because there was no evidence that Bush was aware that his claims about the uranium were based on faulty intelligence. Then-CIA Director George Tenet swiftly and publicly took the blame for the entire episode, saying that he and the CIA were at fault for not warning Bush and his aides that the information might be untrue.

But Hadley and other administration officials realized that it would be much more difficult to shield Bush from criticism for his statements regarding the aluminum tubes, for several reasons.

For one, Hadley's review concluded that Bush had been directly and repeatedly apprised of the deep rift within the intelligence community over whether Iraq wanted the high-strength aluminum tubes for a nuclear weapons program or for conventional weapons.

For another, the president and others in the administration had cited the aluminum tubes as the most compelling evidence that Saddam was determined to build a nuclear weapon -- even more than the allegations that he was attempting to purchase uranium.

And finally, full disclosure of the internal dissent over the importance of the tubes would have almost certainly raised broader questions about the administration's conduct in the months leading up to war.

"Presidential knowledge was the ball game," says a former senior government official outside the White House who was personally familiar with the damage-control effort. "The mission was to insulate the president. It was about making it appear that he wasn't in the know. You could do that on Niger. You couldn't do that with the tubes." A Republican political appointee involved in the process, who thought the Bush administration had a constitutional obligation to be more open with Congress, said: "This was about getting past the election."

The President's Summary Most troublesome to those leading the damage-control effort was documentary evidence -- albeit in highly classified government records that they might be able to keep secret -- that the president had been advised that many in the intelligence community believed that the tubes were meant for conventional weapons.

The one-page documents known as the "President's Summary" are distilled from the much lengthier National Intelligence Estimates, which combine the analysis of as many as six intelligence agencies regarding major national security issues. Bush's knowledge of the State and Energy departments' dissent over the tubes was disclosed in a March 4, 2006, National Journal story -- more than three years after the intelligence assessment was provided to the president, and some 16 months after the 2004 presidential election.

The President's Summary was only one of several high-level warnings given to Bush and other senior administration officials that serious doubts existed about the intended use of the tubes, according to government records and interviews with former and current officials.

In mid-September 2002, two weeks before Bush received the October 2002 President's Summary, Tenet informed him that both State and Energy had doubts about the aluminum tubes and that even some within the CIA weren't certain that the tubes were meant for nuclear weapons, according to government records and interviews with two former senior officials.

Official records and interviews with current and former officials also reveal that the president was told that even then-Secretary of State Colin Powell had doubts that the tubes might be used for nuclear weapons.

When U.S. inspectors entered Iraq after the fall of Saddam's regime, they determined that Iraq's nuclear program had been dormant for more than a decade and that the aluminum tubes had been used only for conventional weapons.

In the end, the White House's damage control was largely successful, because the public did not learn until after the 2004 elections the full extent of the president's knowledge that the assessment linking the aluminum tubes to a nuclear weapons program might not be true. The most crucial information was kept under wraps until long after Bush's re-election. ...

[bth: this most damning article goes on to explain the entire 'choreography' of how Rove, Libby, Hadley and Rice among others went to great lengths to suggest that Bush wasn't aware that the evidence of nuclear activity in Iraq was wrong. This article is worth reading in full. Its making me re-think the issue of impeachment - that the President deliberately lied to the nation about the cause of war with Iraq and he did it with the help of others in the Administration. I'm just sick. If this article is true, he really did fake it and then covered it up to get through the 2004 election.]
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U.S. Army Bans Use of Privately Purchased Body Armor by Troops - Politics News - U.S. Army Bans Use of Privately Purchased Body Armor by Troops: "WASHINGTON -Soldiers will no longer be allowed to wear body armor other than the protective gear issued by the military, Army officials said Thursday, the latest twist in a running battle over the equipment the Pentagon gives its troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Army officials told The Associated Press that the order was prompted by concerns that soldiers or their families were buying inadequate or untested commercial armor from private companies -including the popular Dragon Skin gear made by California-based Pinnacle Armor.

'We're very concerned that people are spending their hard-earned money on something that doesn't provide the level of protection that the Army requires people to wear. So they're, frankly, wasting their money on substandard stuff,' said Col. Thomas Spoehr, director of materiel for the Army."

Murray Neal, chief executive officer of Pinnacle, said he hadn't seen the directive and wants to review it.

"We know of no reason the Army may have to justify this action," Neal said. "On the surface this looks to be another of many attempts by the Army to cover up the billions of dollars spent on ineffective body armor systems which they continue to try quick fixes on to no avail."

The move was a rare one by the Army. Spoehr said he doesn't recall any similar bans on personal armor or devices. The directives are most often issued when there are problems with aircraft or other large equipment.

Veterans groups immediately denounced the decision.
Nathaniel R. Helms, editor of the Soldiers for the Truth online magazine Defense Watch, said he has already received a number of e-mails from soldiers complaining about the policy.

"Outrageously we've seen that (soldiers) haven't been getting what they need in terms of equipment and body armor," said Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., who wrote legislation to have troops reimbursed for equipment purchases. "That's totally unacceptable, and why this directive by the Pentagon needs to be scrutinized in much greater detail."
But another veterans group backed the move.

"I don't think the Army is wrong by doing this, because the Army has to ensure some level of quality," said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "They don't want soldiers relying on equipment that is weak or substandard."

But, Rieckhoff said, the military is partially to blame for the problem because it took too long to get soldiers the armor they needed. "This is the monster they made," he said.

Early in the Iraq war, soldiers and their families were spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on protective gear that they said the military was not providing.

Then, last October, after months of pressure from families and members of Congress, the military began a reimbursement program for soldiers who purchased their own protective equipment.

In January, an unreleased Pentagon study found that side armor could have saved dozens of U.S. lives in Iraq, prompting the Army and Marine Corps to order thousands of ceramic body armor plates to be shipped to troops there this year.

The Army ban covers all commercial armor. It refers specifically to Pinnacle's armor, saying that while the company advertising implies that Dragon Skin "is superior in performance" to the Interceptor Body Armor the military issues to soldiers, "the Army has been unable to determine the veracity of these claims."

"In its current state of development, Dragon Skin's capabilities do not meet Army requirements," the Army order says, and it "has not been certified to protect against several small arms threats that the military is encountering in Iraq and Afghanistan."

The Marine Corps has not issued a similar directive, but Marines are "encouraged to wear Marine Corps-issued body armor since this armor has been tested to meet fleet standards," spokesman Bruce Scott said.

Military officials have acknowledged that some troops — often National Guard or Reservists — went to war with lesser-quality protective gear than other soldiers were issued.

"We'll be upfront and recognize that at the start of the conflict there were some soldiers that didn't have the levels of protection that we wanted," Spoehr said. Now, he added, "we can categorically say that whatever you're going to buy isn't as good as what you're going to get" from the military.

In interviews Thursday, Army officials said aggressive marketing by body armor manufacturers was fueling public concerns that troops are not getting the protection they need.

Army Lt. Col. Scott Campbell said the Army has asked Pinnacle to provide 30 sets of the full Dragon Skin armor so it can be independently tested. He said Pinnacle has indicated it won't be able to provide that armor until May, and the company said that is still the plan.

Campbell said initial military tests on small sections of the Dragon Skin armor had disappointing results. He said Pinnacle has received $840,000 in research funding to develop improved armor.

Spoehr said he believes the directive will have little impact on soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan because it's likely that nearly all are wearing the military-issued body armor.

There have been repeated reports of soldiers or families of soldiers buying commercial equipment or trying to raise thousands of dollars to buy it for troops who are preparing to deploy overseas.

[bth: I think there are around 3000 sets of Dragon Skin in Iraq. There is a persistent rumor that the Army deliberately skewed the test results a few years ago. I've seen a video from Dragon Skin of a test conducted by the Fresno swat team where they put around 100 rounds from an AK-47 on the vest at very close range and the vest didn't allow any penetrations. The army's SAPI plates crack and shatter under multiple hits. But the Army says its illegal to own their armor so any independent tests are impossible. The Army played testing games with vehicular armor a couple of years ago - not testing equipment and then also prohibiting national guard units in particular from using equipment that wasn't tested- the Catch-22 of equipment testing. We are seeing the same thing here though I'm glad to see that the Army has finally gotten around to obtaining (in May) some armor for testing - afterall we've only been at war for 5 years!]
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DRUDGE REPORT FLASH 2005�: "In the First Television Interview of an Al-Qaeda Member Close to Osama Since 9/11, Abu Jandal Offers First-Hand Details About the Most-Wanted Man in the World.

A former personal bodyguard of Osama Bin Laden says he is certain the al-Qaeda leader is planning an attack on the U.S. In the first television interview with an al-Qaeda member close to bin Laden since 9/11, Abu Jandal tells Bob Simon first-hand details about the world's most wanted man for a 60 MINUTES report to be broadcast Sunday, April 2 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.

Abu Jandal, who was with bin Laden in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2000, says bin Laden's last tape on which he threatened consequences to the U.S. is not a threat, but a promise. 'When Sheik Osama promises something, he does it�.So I believe Osama bin Laden is planning a new attack inside the United States, this is certain,' he tells Simon in the interview conducted in Yemen earlier this month.

It's been long speculated that bin Laden is hiding in the tribal areas of Pakistan, but Abu Jandal says Afghanistan is the place. 'Not Pakistan. I know the Pakistani tribe along the border very well. Yes, they can be very trustworthy and faithful to their religion and ideology, but they are also capable of selling information for nothing,' he says.

Even if found, bin Laden will not be captured, says Abu Jandal, whho says the al-Qaeda leader gave him the authority to kill him if he was surrounded. 'If he was going to be captured, Sheik Osama prefers to be killed than captured,' he tells Simon. 'There was a special gun to be used if Sheik Osama bin Laden was attacked and we were unable to save him, in which case I would have to kill him,' says Abu Jandal.

The closest the Americans came to getting bin Laden before 9/11, recounts Abu Jandal, was the U.S. missile attack on al-Qaeda training camps near Khost, Afghanistan -- a retaliatory strike for the al-Qaeda bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998. It was luck that saved him the night before the strike. "There was a fork in the road," remembers Abu Jandal, "one road leading to Khost and the training camps and another one leading to Kabul. I was with Sheik Osama in the same vehicle with three guards... he turned to us and said, 'Khost or Kabul?' We told him, 'Let's just visit Kabul.' Sheik Osama said, "Okay, Kabul.'" So the missile strike the next day failed to get bin Laden, but the man they think provided information that led to it was discovered. "It was the Afghan cook," said Abu Jandal. He says he would have killed the man who betrayed bin Laden himself, but bin Laden forgave him and sent him home. "Sheik Osama even gave him money and told him, 'Go provide for your children.'"

Thursday, March 30, 2006

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Iran Defiantly Rejects New U.N. Demands

: "BERLIN (AP) -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Iran on Thursday the 'international community is united' in the dispute over its nuclear program, but a Tehran envoy defiantly rejected a U.N. call to reimpose a freeze on uranium enrichment."....

[bth: this will be interesting. The Israeli elections are over so most of the saber rattling will die down for awhile. That leaves the US and Britain as the only ones really serious about going after Iran as China and Russia have only advocated 'peaceful' measures - which essentially means nothing. ... My guess is that the outcome lies in public opinion polling in the US about this issue -- if it will keep Republicans in office then its likely to happen, if not then that's that.]
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US at tipping point on energy: poll

US at tipping point on energy: poll Business Breaking News Breaking News 24/7 - (30-03-2006): "AMERICANS are nearly as worried about their country's dependence on foreign energy sources as they are about the war in Iraq, a poll released by the magazine Foreign Affairs shows today.

Almost half of the 1000 Americans surveyed for the Public Agenda Confidence in US Foreign Policy Index gave politicians a failing grade in weaning the country from foreign oil.

Nearly 90 per cent say the lack of energy independence jeopardises national security.

Public Agenda, a non-partisan group, conducted the poll in early January with funding from the Ford Foundation. It said that Americans were at a 'tipping point' on energy, akin to their state of mind about the war.

Daniel Yankelovich, chairman of Public Agenda, said the public reached a 'tipping point' when it was gravely worried about an issue and believed the government had the ability to change matters. When the index was first published in August 2005, only the Iraq war triggered a similar response, he said.

'This time we find that a second issue has reached a tipping point, which is energy independence, and you have a very strong increase in the number of Americans who are intensely worried about the problem,' Mr Yankelovich said in a conference call."...
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Saudia Arabia working on secret nuclear program with Pakistan help - report -

Saudia Arabia working on secret nuclear program with Pakistan help - report - "BERLIN (AFX) - Saudi Arabia is working secretly on a nuclear program, with help from Pakistani experts, the German magazine Cicero reported in its latest edition, citing Western security sources.

It says that during the Haj pilgrimages to Mecca in 2003 through 2005, Pakistani scientists posed as pilgrims to come to Saudi Arabia.

Between October 2004 and January 2005, some of them slipped off from pilgrimages, sometimes for up to three weeks, the report quoted German security expert Udo Ulfkotte as saying. "

According to Western security services, the magazine added, Saudi scientists have been working since the mid-1990s in Pakistan, a nuclear power since 1998.

Cicero, which will appear on newstands tomorrow, also quoted a US military analyst, John Pike, as saying that Saudi bar codes can be found on half of Pakistan's nuclear weapons 'because it is Saudi Arabia which ultimately co-financed the Pakistani atomic nuclear program.'

The magazine also said satellite images indicate that Saudi Arabia has set up a program in Al-Sulaiyil, south of Riyadh, a secret underground city and dozens of underground silos for missiles.

According to some Western security services, long-range Ghauri-type missiles of Pakistani-origin are housed inside the silos.

Bush spends heavily to get message out

Insight: "The Bush administration, amid record budget deficits, has been spending huge amounts on advertising and public relations contracts to counter a hostile media environment.

The administration spent $1.62 billion on advertising and public relations contracts over two and a half years. Most of the money was spent by the Defense Department amid its efforts to recruit soldiers for the war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

'The extent of the Bush administration's propaganda effort is unprecedented and disturbing,' said Rep. George Miller, California Democrat.

Mr. Miller and other Democrats ordered a study of the administration's PR budget. In January, the Government Accountability Office issued a report that examined the media budgets of seven federal departments.

In all, the seven departments reported a total of 343 media contracts from 2003 to mid-2005. Forty percent of the contracts were with advertising agencies and 38 percent were with media organizations.

Another two percent of the contracts were with 'individual members of the media.' They were not identified in the report."....
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The US propaganda machine: Oh, what a lovely war

Independent Online Edition > Americas: "The Lincoln Group was tasked with presenting the US version of events in Iraq to counter adverse media coverage. Here we present examples of its work, and the reality behind its headlines. By Andrew Buncombe "...

John Pike, the director of, a Washington-based defence think-tank, who reviewed some of the Lincoln Group stories, said he found them unconvincing. "Anybody who knows about propaganda knows the first rule of propaganda is that it should not look like propaganda," he said. "It's embarrassing enough that [the US military] got caught ... but then for their product to be so cheesy ... It's just embarrassing." ...

[bth: the article is worth a read. Sad really. With all the world class liars we have in Washington and at the Pentagon its really sad that we can't do better for $80K per week we pay Iraqi papers to place these stories.]

Iraq needs several months to resume exports from north

Gulfnews: Iraq needs several months to resume exports from north: "Baghdad: Iraq needs a further eight to 12 months before it can resume oil exports from its sabotage-stricken northern oilfields via Turkey, Oil Minister Hashem Al Hashemi said yesterday.

'The manifold pipeline was totally destroyed and it is not working at all. So there is no way to export oil from the north,' he told Reuters in his first interview to international media."

"It will take months before we fix it ... the exports will stay on hold from the north for months. Some say eight months others say 12, it depends how fast the work goes and also on the security situation," he added.

The manifold gathers oil from feeder pipelines to pump it into the export line.

Exports via a pipeline to the Ceyhan terminal on Turkey's Mediterranean coast resumed only for a few days in January. Exports had already been halted for weeks by a major attack in October.

"There is no way to export oil from there not before we fix the centre. It will take time," Hashemi said.

Hashemi said that exports for March via the Gulf were expected to hit 1.5 million barrels per day. He said production was stable in a range between 1.9 million and 2.1 million bpd.

Iraq's oil sector, crippled by decades of war, sanctions and underinvestment, has lurched from one crisis to another since the US invasion in 2003.

Exports dropped to their lowest level since 2003 at 1.1 million bpd in December and January due to sabotage in the north and bad weather in the south combined with logistics problems.

Widespread violence and sabotage have left Iraq critically short of fuel, forcing it to import nearly half of its gasoline.

Iraqi officials had said Iraq is losing out on millions of dollars to smugglers who are shipping oil and fuel to Iran and other Gulf states as some government officials turn a blind eye.

A US diplomat said yesterday that Iraqi authorities are conducting an extensive investigation into suspected corruption at the Baiji oil refinery, the country's largest.

Hashemi, who denied any smuggling from the south, said there may have been smuggling from the north where security and government control is weak.

[bth: this effectively means that the Iraqi government is bankrupt since it depends on oil revenue for 90% of its income. The only ones that can make money are those with enough security and organization to ship oil by truck to blackmarket intermediaries in Iran or the Gulf. Soon we will start to hear about missed payrolls.]

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

US man in Bush murder plot sentenced to 30 years

US News Article "ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (Reuters) - A federal judge sentenced a U.S. citizen convicted of plotting to assassinate President George W. Bush and conspiring with al Qaeda to 30 years in prison on Wednesday.

In November, Abu Ali, now 25, was found guilty of all charges in a nine-count indictment, including conspiracy to assassinate Bush, conspiring to support al Qaeda and conspiracy to hijack aircraft.

'The court is sentencing you to 360 months, which is 30 years in prison,' said U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee.
The sentence will be followed by 30 years of supervised release, Lee said."...

Abu Ali, who lived in the Washington suburb of Falls Church, Virginia, was arrested in June 2003 while studying at a Saudi university and was held in Saudi custody for 20 months before returning to the United States after being indicted....
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