Saturday, June 30, 2007

NATO, Afghan officials probe report of civilian deaths

NATO, Afghan officials probe report of civilian deaths - "KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- The U.S.-led coalition and the Afghan government are investigating reports that as many as 130 people, including women and children, were killed Friday in an attack by coalition forces in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province."

The allegation came from Dur Ali Shah, the mayor of Gereshk, who said he was appointed by the province to investigate the attack near the village of Hyderabad.

"The people coming from the area are saying that 120 to 130 people have been killed, including women and children," Shah said. "We don't know how many of those are armed people and how many are civilians."

A U.S.military spokesman assigned to NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said he was aware that a large number of insurgents had been killed but they are investigating to determine if there were any civilian casualties.

A spokesman with the Afghan Interior Ministry also said his government had sent investigators.

This report comes one week after Afghan President Hamid Karzai accused NATO of "the disproportionate use of force" following an incident in which he said dozens of Afghan civilians were killed in the town of Gereshk, which is near Hyderabad.

Shah said the attack came after two coalition vehicles were hit with a mine and an ambush Friday afternoon

[bth: I hope there is some plan behind this disproportionate use of force.]

A Reversal of Fortune for Bush’s Political Capital - New York Times

A Reversal of Fortune for Bush’s Political Capital - New York Times: ..."But as lawmakers look ahead to their own re-election campaigns, political analysts predict more rough times ahead for Mr. Bush. After years of demanding that Republicans work in service of his agenda, the president has “very little good will stored up,” said Calvin C. Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Texas, Mr. Bush’s home state.

With 2008 looking like a tough year for Republicans, Mr. Jillson said lawmakers would look back to their districts, rather than to Washington and the White House, for guidance on how to vote. That was abundantly clear on immigration, when even Mr. Bush’s closest Republican allies — including two Texans, Senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison — openly opposed him.

“When John Cornyn defects from the president,” Mr. Jillson said, “you know the president’s mojo is completely gone

Jeff Zeleny contributed reporting.

[bth: Cornyn was Bush's towel boy for a very long time. Kay Bailey Hutchison I have much more respect for. When the towel boy throws in the towel, so to speak, its time to pack it in.]

Thompson gets mixed reviews in New Hampshire premiere

McClatchy Washington Bureau | 06/29/2007 | Thompson gets mixed reviews in New Hampshire premiere: "BEDFORD, N.H. — When Fred Thompson made his debut on the presidential stage here this week, he left some Republicans thinking he needs more work before his nascent campaign matches the media hype it's gotten in advance."

The former Tennessee senator with the baritone drawl showed up Thursday in New Hampshire, the site of the first primary voting, and gave a speech that lasted only nine minutes, skipping over hot-button issues such as Iraq and immigration to invoke platitudes about freedom and strength.

He left more than a few Republicans disappointed.

The star of the TV series "Law and Order" had won cheers the day before in South Carolina, another early-primary state, in his first trip there since he'd signaled that he'll soon jump into the race for the Republican presidential nomination. But South Carolina and Tennessee are neighbors, while New Hampshire tests whether Thompson's got more than regional appeal. So far, the answer's quite unclear.

``I plan on seeing a whole lot more of you,'' Thompson told about 200 New Hampshire Republicans who paid $50 each to hear him — and to benefit state Republican legislators.

He'd better, because many present came away decidedly under-whelmed.

``It was short,'' said Richard Heitmiller of Nashua. ``He's got a nice voice. But there was nothing there. He's for apple pie and motherhood. He's going to have to say what he's for.''

Heitmiller said he hadn't made up his mind about whom to support — way too early — and had come to learn more about this man he'd heard about but never seen.

``People want to get to know him. He hasn't been here, and he gives a nine-minute speech,'' he said dismissively. As Thompson exited, people started making their way to the doors midway through a reception.

``I told my wife we'd get home by 8. We'll get home a lot earlier than that,'' Heitmiller said.

``He looks good onstage, but I don't know if he has the gravitas,'' said Kathleen Williamson, a conservative Roman Catholic from North Weare. ``It seems like he's trying to win over conservatives, but I'm still not sure he has the credentials. I'm worried he's trying to get by on his celebrity.''

Thompson's slow tease about running has drawn admiring glances from voters who perhaps are ready for a new face.

He's fed speculation that he's filling a conservative void created because each of the other top-tier Republican candidates — Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Mitt Romney — fails at least one litmus test on issues ranging from abortion to immigration to tax cuts.

Thompson shot up in several recent polls of early-voting states, placing second in two Iowa surveys and leading the pack in South Carolina. But he faces a tougher challenge in New Hampshire, where he hasn't managed better than a tie for third, and often fourth, in recent polls.

One reason might be that his appeal is regional and doesn't extend to New England. Another could be that he hasn't yet spelled out why he should be the nominee, and hasn't done the face-to-face courting that voters here demand.

``We'll see what happens if he starts campaigning here. It's easy to like a candidate in the abstract,'' said Fergus Cullen, the New Hampshire state Republican chairman.

Cullen dismissed the widespread notion that Thompson is gaining because conservatives can't unite behind any other candidate. ``We have a number of strong candidates. There is no ideological hole in the party that needs to be filled.''

Rather, he said, Thompson is benefiting at least temporarily from his celebrity status. Also, he's getting into the contest just as voters are wondering whether there are more choices out there.

But, he added, Thompson still has to make the sale — and he needs a sales team of campaign aides to help him navigate the state.

``It's not too late to get in,'' Cullen said. ``But most of the key activists here are already committed to other candidates. Any staff person worth having is already employed. It is too late to get that.''

17 Dead Not Al-Qaeda, Just Civilians

The Newshoggers: 17 Dead Not Al-Qaeda, Just Civilians: "When is a dead Al Qaeda In Iraq gunman not a real Al Qaeda In Iraq gunman?

When there are independent witnesses.

The U.S. military is investigating the killings of 17 people in a U.S. helicopter attack north of Baghdad a week ago, after residents of the area complained that the victims were not fighters from the group al-Qaeda in Iraq, as the military originally claimed, but members of a village guard force and ordinary citizens."

A U.S. military spokesman, Lt. Col. Christopher C. Garver, said the June 22 incident in Khalis, about 30 miles north of Baghdad, was under investigation "because of discussions with locals who say it didn't happen as we reported it." The attack occurred in the opening days of Operation Arrowhead Ripper, an offensive against al-Qaeda in Iraq that is centered on Baqubah, about 10 miles southeast of Khalis.A U.S. military statement on the day of the incident called the dead men "al-Qaeda gunmen" and said they were killed after trying to sneak into Khalis."Iraqi police were conducting security operations in and around the village when Coalition attack helicopters from the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade and ground forces from 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, observed more than 15 armed men attempting to circumvent the IPs [Iraqi police] and infiltrate the village," the statement said."The attack helicopters, armed with missiles, engaged and killed 17 al-Qaeda gunmen and destroyed the vehicle they were using," it said.Garver said townspeople claim "the individuals were not al-Qaeda, but members of the community." He said additional details were not available, pending completion of the investigation.The investigation came to light after the BBC reported on its Web site that residents of Khalis were "incensed" that the dead men were accused of being members of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Villagers "say that those who died had nothing to do with al-Qaeda. They say they were local village guards trying to protect the township from exactly the kind of attack by insurgents the U.S. military says it foiled," the BBC reported.

Recently, Glenn Greenwald and many others have noticed that suddenly, everyone's Al Qaeda when the U.S. military in Iraq trot out their press releases. The equation used to be that still alive = suspected insurgent while dead = definitely insurgent, because dead people can rarely protest their innocence. Now "insurgent" has been replaced with "Al Qaeda member" - for no other reason than Bush wants it that way because he's underpressure for wasting time fighting a U.S.-created and homegrown insurgency in Iraq instead of attacking the real enemy, Al Qaeda, in it's strongholds like Pakistan. This report shows the truth of Glenn's assertion that the truth is being spun all out of shape to try to bolster flagging public opinion and poll numbers at home.

The Newshoggers: 52% Wouldn't Vote for Hillary

The Newshoggers: 52% Wouldn't Vote for Hillary: "Look, I know it's early, but come on: when polling shows an actual majority is against you, how much headway do you really think you're going to make in the general election?"

Include that with her campaign's announcement that Obama is likely to out-fundraise Team Hillary this quarter, and I'm a bit perplexed by the dynamics of this race.

Obama gets knocked around by the political press for being electrifying but reserved, for captivating but not closing the deal, and on and on, and his polling hasn't taken off the way you'd expect given his obviously large base of small donors. So what gives? Who are we looking at for front runner status?

Why the Iraq war won't engulf the Mideast

Why the Iraq war won't engulf the Mideast - International Herald Tribune: "Long before the Bush administration began selling 'the surge' in Iraq as a way to avert a general war in the Middle East, observers both inside and outside the government were growing concerned about the potential for armed conflict among the regional powers."

Underlying this anxiety was a scenario in which Iraq's sectarian and ethnic violence spills over into neighboring countries, producing conflicts between the major Arab states and Iran as well as Turkey and the Kurdistan Regional Government. These wars then destabilize the entire region well beyond the current conflict zone, involving heavyweights like Egypt.

This is scary stuff indeed, but with the exception of the conflict between Turkey and the Kurds, the scenario is far from an accurate reflection of the way Middle Eastern leaders view the situation in Iraq and calculate their interests there.

It is abundantly clear that major outside powers like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey are heavily involved in Iraq. These countries have so much at stake in the future of Iraq that it is natural they would seek to influence political developments in the country.

Yet, the Saudis, Iranians, Jordanians, Syrians, and others are very unlikely to go to war either to protect their own sect or ethnic group or to prevent one country from gaining the upper hand in Iraq.

The reasons are fairly straightforward. First, Middle Eastern leaders, like politicians everywhere, are primarily interested in one thing: self-preservation. Committing forces to Iraq is an inherently risky proposition, which, if the conflict went badly, could threaten domestic political stability. Moreover, most Arab armies are geared toward regime protection rather than projecting power and thus have little capability for sending troops to Iraq.

Second, there is cause for concern about the so-called blowback scenario in which jihadis returning from Iraq destabilize their home countries, plunging the region into conflict.

Middle Eastern leaders are preparing for this possibility. Unlike in the 1990s, when Arab fighters in the Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union returned to Algeria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia and became a source of instability, Arab security services are being vigilant about who is coming in and going from their countries.

In the last month, the Saudi government has arrested approximately 200 people suspected of ties with militants. Riyadh is also building a 700 kilometer wall along part of its frontier with Iraq in order to keep militants out of the kingdom.

Finally, there is no precedent for Arab leaders to commit forces to conflicts in which they are not directly involved
. The Iraqis and the Saudis did send small contingents to fight the Israelis in 1948 and 1967, but they were either ineffective or never made it. In the 1970s and 1980s, Arab countries other than Syria, which had a compelling interest in establishing its hegemony over Lebanon, never committed forces either to protect the Lebanese from the Israelis or from other Lebanese. The civil war in Lebanon was regarded as someone else's fight.

Indeed, this is the way many leaders view the current situation in Iraq. To Cairo, Amman and Riyadh, the situation in Iraq is worrisome, but in the end it is an Iraqi and American fight.

As far as Iranian mullahs are concerned, they have long preferred to press their interests through proxies as opposed to direct engagement. At a time when Tehran has access and influence over powerful Shiite militias, a massive cross-border incursion is both unlikely and unnecessary.

So Iraqis will remain locked in a sectarian and ethnic struggle that outside powers may abet, but will remain within the borders of Iraq

The Middle East is a region both prone and accustomed to civil wars. But given its experience with ambiguous conflicts, the region has also developed an intuitive ability to contain its civil strife and prevent local conflicts from enveloping the entire Middle East.

Iraq's civil war is the latest tragedy of this hapless region, but still a tragedy whose consequences are likely to be less severe than both supporters and opponents of Bush's war profess.

Steven A. Cook and Ray Takeyh are fellows at the Council on Foreign Relations. Suzanne Maloney is a senior fellow at Saban Center, Brookings Institution.

Official: Half of Baghdad under control

Official: Half of Baghdad under control - Conflict in Iraq - "WASHINGTON - In the face of stiffening insurgent resistance, U.S. and Iraqi security forces now control about half of Baghdad, the American commander overseeing operations said Friday."....

Forces 'disrupting' insurgents
Fil said American and Iraqi security forces now control 48 percent to 49 percent of the 474 neighborhoods in Baghdad. That is up from 19 percent in April, he said. Two weeks ago his boss, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, said about 40 percent of the city was under control.

Fil defined “control” as “where we have our security forces there and we’re denying that space to enemy forces.”

U.S. and Iraqi forces are conducting clearing operations in 36 percent of the capital’s neighborhoods — about the same percentage as in April, he said. In neighborhoods that are neither under control nor in the process of being cleared, coalition forces are “disrupting” insurgent forces, Fil said....

“We’re dealing with ... a smart, agile enemy who adjusts his tactics,” Gates said, with Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at his side. He was referring in particular to the insurgents’ ability to kill U.S. troops with enormous homemade bombs often buried in roadways or hidden nearby.

In the latest such attack, five of Fil’s soldiers were killed and several wounded in an unusually complex attack Thursday in the East Rasheed area of southern Baghdad. It began with the detonation of a deeply buried roadside bomb and was followed by small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire.

[bth: these 'deeply buried roadside bombs' are often describing such simple things as packing sewer pipes and culverts full of explosives taken from unguarded supply depots which we left unprotected for years. No tank can survive several hundred pounds of bombs and artillery shells pushed under a road and into sewer pipes....

What I find bizarre about the Washington strategy debate is that some say if we give a deadline, the insurgents will simply wait for us to leave before attacking. First, what's wrong with that? If it buys the Iraqi government time, then that's what we want isn't it? Second, if we don't control the city of Baghdad - around half at the top of our 'surge' - then won't our enemies et al simply wait for us in the neighborhoods we don't control? In short, the can't force insurgents to fight us and since they enjoy local support in most places they are able to melt away whenever they choose. They are able to wait us out and avoid us when they want, whether we declare a withdrawal date or not.]

Friday, June 29, 2007

Taliban militancy could engulf Pakistan, Musharraf is warned

Taliban militancy could engulf Pakistan, Musharraf is warned - International Herald Tribune: "ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani president, General Pervez Musharraf, was warned this month that Islamic militants and Taliban fighters were rapidly spreading beyond the country's lawless tribal areas and that without 'swift and decisive action' the growing militancy could engulf the rest of Pakistan."

The warning came in a document by the Interior Ministry, which said that Pakistan's security forces in North West Frontier Province abutting the tribal areas were outgunned and outmanned and had forfeited authority to the Pakistani Taliban and their allies.

"The ongoing spell of active Taliban resistance has brought about serious repercussions for Pakistan," said the 15-page document, which was seen by The New York Times. "There is a general policy of appeasement toward the Taliban which has further emboldened them."

The document was discussed by the National Security Council on June 4 while Musharraf was present, the document notes. It appeared to be the first time that such a document had emerged from within the Pakistani government formally recognizing the seriousness of the spreading threat from Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters, according to a Western diplomat.

The official, who was not authorized to speak for attribution, called the document "an accurate description of the dagger pointed at the county's heart."

It's tragic it's taken so long to recognize it," the official added.

Indeed, the recognition of the scope of the extremists' authority comes after heavy pressure on Pakistan from the United States to contain the lawlessness in the tribal areas.

The United States has poured about $1 billion a year into Pakistan over the last five years for what are known as reimbursements for Pakistan's counter-terrorism efforts along the border with Afghanistan.

The prime purpose of the sizable financial support has been to stop the area from becoming a haven for the Taliban and Al Qaeda to wage the insurgency in Afghanistan.

But now the Interior Ministry is telling Musharraf that the influence of the extremists is swiftly bleeding east and deeper into his own country, threatening areas like Peshawar, Nowshera and Kohat, which were considered safeguarded by Pakistani government forces.

Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao, the prime mover behind the document, narrowly escaped a suicide bomb attack in April, when he was targeted by extremists in his home area of Charsadda, about 30 kilometers, or 18 miles, northeast of Peshawar, capital of North West Frontier Province.

The attack on Sherpao shook his confidence in the policy Musharraf has pursued toward the militants, which has included a series of peace deals.

Since the peace accords have been signed, the militants have filled a vacuum left by the tribal leaders, who have taken a back seat, and by the military, which has retreated to its barracks, Musharraf's critics say. The policy has been questioned by the United States and by some of Musharraf's own officers.

"It's a policy of appeasement. It hasn't worked," said Brigadier Mahmood Shah, who was the senior Pakistani government official in charge of security in the tribal areas until last year. "The Talibanization has increased in the past year."

The American Embassy in Pakistan is currently without an ambassador, and the embassy, when asked about the document, had no official comment. The former ambassador, Ryan Crocker, left in March, and the new ambassador, Anne Patterson, appeared before the Senate for confirmation hearings last week.

During a visit to Islamabad nearly two weeks ago, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte sidestepped a direct question about the growing lawlessness as a result of the peace deals in the tribal areas.

In response, Washington was considering bolstering the Frontier Corps, an elite force deployed in the border regions, Negroponte said. He also cited a new $750 million development aid package to be spent over the next several years in the tribal areas as a measure of Washington's concern, Negroponte said.

Interior Secretary Kamal Shah said Thursday that in the aftermath of the Interior Ministry's analysis, several concrete steps had been taken to beef up forces in the region.

In particular, he said 31 platoons of the Frontier Constabulary, consisting of 40 officers each, had been redeployed from elsewhere in Pakistan to the areas between the tribal lands and North West Frontier Province.

In addition, he said, the Frontier police, which operates inside the province, and the Frontier Corps, which patrols along the border with Afghanistan, were also being strengthened.

"We're getting more mobility, more equipment and more transport" to these forces, he said.

As well, he said, peace committees consisting of local tribes people were being mobilized because "we want to bring the people along."

"It's important we have the people on board," Shah said.

Brimming with details, the Interior Ministry document gives the names of well-known Pakistani Taliban commanders, including Maulavi Nazir, who has close links to the Afghan Taliban, but also lesser-known militants who lead Taliban patrols responsible for assassinations and suicide bombings in smaller jurisdictions in North West Frontier Province.

The naming of lesser-known but potent Taliban figures showed that the Pakistan government was aware of the far-reaching tentacles of the Pakistani Taliban and other extremists, but could not, or chose not to, do anything about them, the Western diplomat said.

Among the particulars, the document says that the Pakistani Taliban have recently begun bombing oil tankers as they pass through the Khyber area near the border on their way to Afghanistan for United States and NATO forces.

It describes Peshawar, headquarters to Pakistani military and police, as suffering the "highest number of terrorist incidents, including attacks on local police," in the province. Many of the city's schools were closed because of threats from extremists. Government offices, diplomats and nongovernmental organizations "routinely" received threatening letters.

In Swat, a scenic area that the government recommends for tourists, an extremist imam had begun to issue edicts against vaccination, female education and female health workers.

In two areas, Bannu and Tank, the police were "patronizing the local Taliban and have abdicated the role of law and order," the document said. In an example of the impotence of local government forces, the document said that "every military or sting operation" drew retaliation and revenge in the form of suicide bombings or terrorist attacks.

Soviet-era weapons arming the Taliban

Asia Times Online :: South Asia news, business and economy from India and Pakistan: "MAZAR-E-SHARIF - While United States officials accuse Iran of arming a resurgent Taliban, officials in this northern Afghan city say the weapons are actually part of vast caches left behind by the Soviet military that fought a nine-year war in Afghanistan before withdrawing in 1988. "

Ustad Basir Arifi, secretary for the Disarmament of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG) program in northern Afghanistan, told Inter Press

Service (IPS) that weapons abandoned by the Soviet Union there are now being moved by professional smugglers to the southern provinces where the Taliban have their stronghold.

"Huge caches of weapons remained with the people from the Soviet Union period. These are now being smuggled to the south of Afghanistan. These weapons are bought in the north of Afghanistan and smuggled to the south to be used against government and foreign forces," Arifi said.
According to Arifi, security officials have on several occasions intercepted weapons being smuggled to the south. He said the DIAG has urged the government to take firm measures to avoid this. Abdul Aziz Ahmad Zai, the chief of DIAG, said his group was "very concerned over the issue. It shows that the Taliban are being fortified."

Zai did not rule out the possibility of weapons originating from outside Afghanistan. "Smugglers could be bringing weapons from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to the north. A good transit point could be Badakhshan province," he said without mentioning Iran.

Zai said powerful syndicates were carrying out the smuggling. "However, our security officials and the Interior Ministry are working very actively in this regard," he added.

According to Zai, the recent riots in northern Jowzjan province were an indicator of the fact that weapons were freely available to people. He also said that there still were armed groups in the north of Afghanistan. "It is a very great concern for us that there are lots of illegal armed groups in the north," he said.

General Abdul Manan, representative of the Defense Ministry in the DIAG program, said the government had been able to collect 70,000 heavy and light weapons from the whole country under the DIAG program. But he believed that at least a million more pieces were in the hands of armed groups in the north.

A gun smuggler operating from Balkh province district told IPS that he had been in the business for the past two years. The Pashto-speaking, bearded man who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he regularly came to the north to buy different kinds of weapons. "I have employed people to collect weapons from people who have them and these are ferried to the south."

"I have my customers in Kandahar. When the weapons reach there, they come and receive it. I make good profit. I can buy an AK47 for US$200 in the north and sell it for $400 in the south," he added. Occasionally he smuggles explosives as well.

Ahmad Shah, 45, a resident of Chemtal in Balkh freely admitted to supplying the smugglers with guns. "I earn my living through running this business," he told IPS.

Atta Mohammad Nur, the governor of Balkh province, neither accepts nor rejects the fact that weapons are being smuggled to the south. "It could be right. Insurgents are doing their utmost to disrupt life in the country. They could be smuggling weapons from north to the south," he said.

Rohullah Samun, spokesman for the Jowzjan governor, accepts that a vast amount of weapons still exists in the province. "People do have weapons. There are lots of illegal armed militias in Jowzjan and its neighboring provinces. Some of the warlords are regrouping," he said.

The reference was to Rashid Dostum, one of Afghanistan's most formidable warlords. Dostum, who once supported the Soviets, has had a hand in the many regime changes that the war-torn country has seen over the past three decades and retains enormous influence in Jowzjan.

Dostum was among leaders who helped US-led forces to overthrow the Taliban government in 2001. Until recently, he was regarded as the strongman of the north but his role has been reduced to that of being a military adviser to Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai.

On June 13, Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns told CNN television in Paris that there was "irrefutable evidence" that Iran was supplying weapons to the Taliban.

Ironically, the Taliban owe their origins largely to mujahideen (freedom) fighters that were once armed and backed by the US against communist rule in Afghanistan and the Soviet occupation

Armchair Generalist: Military Industrial Complex is Fat and Happy

Armchair Generalist: Military Industrial Complex is Fat and Happy: "Retired General James Jones (USMC) is cashing in early on his 40-year military career. Boeing, not satisfied with being number two in the defense industry, wants that firepower and has brought him onto its board of directors."

Boeing, which last year settled two Department of Justice probes into its procurement practices, and is now facing questions over aircraft emissions, said Jones would be helpful on both military and environmental issues.

Jones "has an in-depth understanding of military and global affairs," Boeing CEO Jim McNerney said in a statement. "As a result of the work he is doing for the institute, he also is knowledgeable about the energy and climate-change issues that are so important to the future of all of us."

Jones is the only former military leader on Boeing's board, which now has 11 members.

Lockheed-Martin, at number one, has former USD(AT&L) Ed "Pete" Aldridge on its board. Northrop Grumman has former JCS chairman retired General Richard Myers and retired Admiral Charles Larson. And this is why... you may rant about Haliburton and its no-bid contracts, but it's ranking at number 6 with $6 billion in military contracts. That's nice, but it's not ranking against the top five (General Dynamics and Raytheon rank fourth and fifth, respectively). This article will open your eyes as to how the big dogs swing.

Roughly half of the money spent on all federal contracts in 2006 was awarded with little or no competition, according to a congressional report released yesterday.

The report, prepared by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform for its chairman, Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), found that the federal government spent $412.1 billion on procurement last year. Of that, $206.9 billion, or 50.2 percent, was awarded through contracts that required either no bidding process, had limited competition or otherwise fell short of "full and open competition."

No-bid contracts alone amounted to $103 billion in 2006, a 43 percent jump from the previous year, the report said.

The report also said that audits and investigations had found that 187 contracts, valued at $1.1 trillion, "have been plagued by waste, fraud, abuse, or mismanagement."

I just cannot imagine why Ken Krieg decided to leave the USD(AT&L) position this year...

A Call for Competition

A Call for Competition - "Roughly half of the money spent on all federal contracts in 2006 was awarded with little or no competition, according to a congressional report released yesterday."

The report, prepared by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform for its chairman, Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), found that the federal government spent $412.1 billion on procurement last year. Of that, $206.9 billion, or 50.2 percent, was awarded through contracts that required either no bidding process, had limited competition or otherwise fell short of "full and open competition."

No-bid contracts alone amounted to $103 billion in 2006, a 43 percent jump from the previous year, the report said.

The report also said that audits and investigations had found that 187 contracts, valued at $1.1 trillion, "have been plagued by waste, fraud, abuse, or mismanagement."

Titled "More Dollars, Less Sense: Worsening Contracting Trends Under the Bush Administration," the report is the second since last year that Waxman has released examining government spending. He and other lawmakers have been highly critical of the contracting process and have proposed legislation they say will bring more government oversight to spending.

Waxman's report is based on information from Eagle Eye, a database of government contracts, audits and investigations by the Government Accountability Office and other inspectors general.

Industry representatives were critical of the report. Alan Chvotkin, senior vice president and counsel for the Professional Services Council, an industry trade group, said some emergency responses such as those after Hurricane Katrina make no-bid contracts necessary.

"You need to get food and supplies in there," he said. "Those are no-bid. They don't put out a solicitation and then ask for bids in seven days. No one would stand for that. There are some legitimate reasons for no-bids."

Chvotkin and other critics said Waxman's report may have mischaracterized some transactions as no-bid contracts. For example, after some contracts are awarded through competition, individual task orders connected with those contracts do not have to be put out for bid. But critics say Waxman may have counted those as no-bid, which would have inflated his numbers. "Everything is lumped together," Chvotkin said....

A Most Lethal Anti-Personnel Bomb Defused: Anatomy of a Bomb in London

The Blotter: "London bomb technicians' first move early Friday in Piccadilly Circus in the heart of London's nightclub and theatre district was to send in a robot to inspect the bomb-rigged car. "

But sources tell ABC News fumes inside the car were so thick that the robot's camera could not pierce them and send back a worthwhile image for the technicians to view.

With robotic technology ruled out, law enforcement officials say, a bomb technician fell back on the oldest and riskiest technique in the manual -- hand entry.

Donning an approximately 90-pound Kevlar suit , one technician took "the long walk" from his armored response van to the Mercedes E 300 sedan and found a carefully constructed, large vehicle bomb with a complicated fuse. The bomb technician defused the device by hand, officials in London said.

ABC News has learned the bomb was composed of tanks of propane, butane and 125 liters of gasoline (33 U.S. gallons), roofing nails and a fuse that initial reports indicated was constructed of simple light bulb or flashbulb filaments and designed to be triggered by a mobile telephone.
Click here for the previous posting on the London plot.

London authorities investigating the case and U.S. authorities monitoring it say the Mercedes car bomb, if correctly made, could have sent a shrapnel-filled fireball into the air, maiming and killing people in a several hundred yard radius that included a popular nightclub.

Based on an initial forensic investigation, authorities say they believe the cell phone triggers failed. ...

The Blotter - Al Qaeda video on making propane tank bombs

The Blotter

Iraq Ambush Caps Bloodiest Months for US

Iraq Ambush Caps Bloodiest Months for US - The Huffington Post: "BAGHDAD — A huge bomb explosion followed by a hail of gunfire and grenades killed five U.S. soldiers, the military said Friday. The attack came as the Pentagon tallied up the deadliest three-month period for Americans since the war began.

Seven soldiers were wounded in the attack Thursday in the Rasheed district, a mixed Sunni-Shiite area of southern Baghdad where U.S.-led forces recently stepped up pressure on extremists. The commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad suggested the ambush could be part of an escalating backlash by Sunni insurgents.

Those deaths brought to 99 the number of U.S. troops killed this month, according to an Associated Press count. The toll for the past three months _ 329 _ made it the deadliest quarter for U.S. troops in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion. That surpasses the 316 soldiers killed during November 2004 to January 2005.

Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr., who heads U.S. forces in the Iraqi capital, said U.S. casualties had mounted because Sunni extremists are "starting to fight very hard" as U.S. forces press into areas of the capital where militants once had free rein....

He said a blast from a "very large" bomb buried deep in the ground triggered the attack, which was followed by volleys of small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. Four soldiers were killed in the attack and a fifth died Thursday night of his wounds, Fil said.

"As far as the assessment, we believe that we are into an area" of south Baghdad "where we're seeing a very strong al-Qaida cell," Fil said. "Those areas are now denied to them ... They are starting to fight very hard and that's what we saw yesterday."

Sunni insurgents have used similar "swarming" tactics for years, mostly in rural areas to the north and west of the capital. Militants have also been burying explosives deep in the ground, making them difficult to detect and triggering them as vehicles pass by.

Such "deep buried bombs" have been especially effective against U.S. vehicles, including Humvees, Bradley fighting vehicles and Strykers, prompting commanders in some areas to shift to foot patrols to avoid losing so many soldiers in a single blast....

War and Piece: on congressional supeonas

War and Piece:: "In the refused subpoena fracas, here's an option I wasn't aware that Congress may have. From a DC attorney: "The interesting question, at least to me, is how Congress goes about responding to this assertion of privilege. Frankly, it seems to me that the offer of non-public testimony from White House officials is pretty reasonable, although I see no reason why there shouldn’t be a transcript. Assuming, however, that it is impossible to work out an accommodation, Congress has basically two legal options: (1) passing a contempt resolution under 2 USC 194, which is the standard method of enforcing congressional subpoenas, but is ineffective against the executive branch because it requires the cooperation of the US attorney or (2) filing a civil action against Sara Taylor and Harriet Miers, who, as former employees, may not enjoy the same protections as current executive branch personnel, or against the executive branch. If the Congress decides to pursue a civil remedy, it could be a pretty interesting case." Presumably Andrew Card is in the same situation as other officials who have already left the administration?

Russian tried fake $100 bill Russian tried fake $100 bill: "PORTSMOUTH — A Russian man attempted to pass off a phony $100 bill at the New Hampshire State Liquor store shortly before 8 p.m. Thursday, according to the store manager, who said a cashier discovered the bill was bogus."

No arrest was made, according to police, but the incident was the talk of the store because Russians are known to be staying in the city ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin's scheduled visit with President Bush in Kennebunkport, Maine, on Sunday.

Liquor store manager Mike Smith said the man, accompanied by four other Russian men, attempted to purchase two bottles of Scotch whiskey with the bum $100. The cashier used a special pen to mark the bill to test its authenticity.

"It turned a color that it's not supposed to, and when he saw that, he grabbed the bill back and left," said Smith.

Portsmouth police received a call from the liquor store that the man and his friends were on foot, headed to the nearby Holiday Inn. Police responded to the scene. A dispatch message on the police scanner said diplomatic immunity might be involved.

But Police Lt. Dante Puopolo said that diplomatic immunity was not invoked because police did not make any arrests. "We have no evidence of any kind," he said. "We don't have the $100 bill."

However, he said there are currently Russians staying in town who are entitled to diplomatic immunity, he said. "Their version of the secret service are staying here in Portsmouth," he said. Putin will arrive at the Pease Air National Guard Base on Sunday en route to his summit with Bush.

Approximately a dozen Russian men were congregated in front of the Holiday Inn shortly after the incident Thursday night. One said he spoke no English but indicated he was there in connection with the Putin visit. The men went into the Holiday Inn shortly afterward.

Marines drop case against anti-war Iraq veteran -

Marines drop case against anti-war Iraq veteran - "KANSAS CITY, MO. --The Marines won't kick out an Iraq war veteran who made anti-war statements in a speech and wore part of his uniform at a protest, the service said Friday, despite a recommendation to discharge him early."

An investigating officer had recommended in May that Liam Madden, 22, of Boston, receive an other-than-honorable discharge, the worst discharge possible under non-court martial conditions and one that could have meant a reduction in some of his health benefits.

Madden is part of the Individual Ready Reserve, which consists mainly of those who have left active duty but still have time remaining on their eight-year military obligations. He is scheduled to be discharged in 2010.

Madden was accused of making "disloyal statements" during a speech in February in New York in which he accused President Bush of betraying service members and called the fighting in Iraq a "war crime." The speech was posted on the Internet.

Madden also was accused of a uniform violation for wearing a camouflage, button-down shirt and jeans at a demonstration in Washington in January.

The Marines said in a news release that they were dropping the case because they had "received sufficient indication" from Madden that he would no longer wear his uniform when engaged in political activities. They also determined that his statements did not warrant further action.

[bth: I'm glad to see that someone in the Marines had the good sense to drop this case.]

Explosives-Packed Car Defused in London

My Way News - Explosives-Packed Car Defused in London: "LONDON (AP) - Police thwarted an apparent terror attack Friday near the famed Piccadilly Circus in the heart of London, defusing a bomb made of a lethal mix of gasoline, propane gas, and nails after an ambulance crew spotted smoke coming from a silver Mercedes outside a nightclub."...

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Iranians training fighters in Iraq

swissinfo - Iranians training fighters in Iraq: "BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iranian operatives are training fighters in Iraq and helping to plan attacks there despite diplomatic pressure on Tehran to halt such interference, U.S. officials said on Wednesday."

The latest accusation levelled against Iran by the U.S. military followed rare diplomatic talks in Baghdad last month between the two old adversaries to discuss Washington's concerns in Iraq.

"There absolutely is evidence of Iranian operatives holding weapons, training fighters, providing resources, helping plan operations, resourcing secret cells that is destabilising Iraq," said military spokesman Brigadier-General Kevin Bergner.

"We would like very much to see some action on their part to reduce the level of effort and to help contribute to Iraq's security. We have not seen it yet," he told a news conference, he said, referring to the Iranian government...

[bth: without specific tangible evidence, this comes across as another propaganda ploy. The problem with the DOD now is that its lost the trust of the American public. Independently verifiable evidence is required, otherwise, such statements are generally ignored by the public. Sad state of affairs, but true.]

Cheney's chief of staff rebukes Kerry on VP's secrecy oversight

The Raw Story | Cheney's chief of staff rebukes Kerry on VP's secrecy oversight: "Dick Cheney's chief of staff, David Addington, issued a letter to Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) today defending the Vice President's interpretation of his office being outside the executive branch - only this time, he said it was because Cheney's office isn't an 'agency.'"...

Kerry re-iterated his request that Cheney's office define its place in government. If Cheney intends to ignore two centuries of constitutional precedent in declaring himself outside the executive branch, Kerry asks that he at least provide a justification for that decision.

Former Interior Department Official Will Go to Jail for Obstructing Abramoff Investigation

The Blotter: "J. Steven Griles, the former deputy secretary at the Interior Department, has been sentenced to 10 months in prison and must pay a $30,000 fine after pleading guilty to obstructing a congressional inquiry into disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. "

"In pleading guilty, Griles admitted that he knowingly and willfully lied and concealed material information from senators and Senate investigators about the unique relationship that he had with Abramoff immediately prior to and during his tenure as DOI Deputy Secretary," according to a Department of Justice statement.

Abramoff and lobbyist Michael Scanlon have pleaded guilty to bilking two Indian tribes out of millions of dollars for their lobbying work. ...

Iran fuel rations spark violence

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Iran fuel rations spark violence: "Several petrol stations have been torched in the Iranian capital Tehran, after the government announced fuel rationing for private vehicles. "

Windows were smashed and stones thrown at the stations, and there was traffic chaos as motorists queued to buy fuel.

Iranians were given only two hours' notice of the move that limits private drivers to 100 litres of fuel a month.

Despite its huge energy reserves, Iran lacks refining capacity and it imports about 40% of its petrol

Iran has a large budget deficit largely caused by fuel subsidies and the inflation rate is estimated at 20-30%.

The BBC Tehran correspondent Frances Harrison says Iran is trying to rein in fuel consumption over fears of possible UN sanctions over its nuclear programme.

Iran fears the West could impose sanctions on its petrol imports and cripple its economy.

'Dangerous move'

There was violence in nine areas of Tehran as angry youths attacked petrol stations, Raja News, a website linked to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, reported.

Reports of attacks on petrol stations elsewhere in the country could not be confirmed.

Some people came on foot with jerry cans and plastic bottles and the police were out in force to stem unrest, amid reports of scuffles at petrol stations.

The restrictions began at midnight local time on Wednesday (2030 GMT Tuesday) and would continue for four months - with a possible extension to six months - the government said.

There is anger and frustration the government did not give people more notice. Some MPs have called for an end to the rationing and parliament may postpone its summer recess to deal with the crisis.

"Guns, fireworks, tanks, [President] Ahmadinejad should be killed," chanted angry youths, throwing stones at police.

The protests are the first large-scale outpouring of anger against the Iranian government since Mr Ahmadinejad took office in 2005.

"I think rationing is not bad by itself but it must be organised," one man told the Associated Press news agency.

"One cannot announce at 9pm that the rationing would start at midnight, they should have announced the exact date at least two days earlier."

Iran's petrol is heavily subsidised, sold at about a fifth of its real cost.

The price of 1,000 rials ($0.11) per litre makes Iran one of the cheapest countries in the world for motorists.

So far there has been no announcement about whether Iranians can buy more petrol at the real market cost.

Licensed taxi drivers will be able to buy 800 litres a month at the subsidised price.

US pressure

Our correspondent says rationing fuel is only likely to add to high inflation.

It is a dangerous move for any elected government, especially in an oil-rich country like Iran, where people think cheap fuel is their birthright and public transport is very limited, she says.

The US, which is leading efforts to pressure Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment activities, has said Iran's fuel imports are a point of "leverage".

Washington and other Western nations accuse the Islamic Republic of seeking to build nuclear weapons.

Iran says its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful and is solely aimed at producing civilian nuclear power.

BBC Middle East analyst Roger Hardy says there is no sign of Iran backing down politically on the nuclear issue.

But in economic terms, the international pressure is having some effect.

Foreign companies are less willing to invest in Iran, and foreign banks are withholding credit.

For the Iranian authorities, images of angry motorists attacking petrol stations create an unwelcome impression of economic vulnerability, our correspondent adds.

[bth: absolutely amazing that Iran hasn't invested in refining capabilities. Given their subsidies it explains why not from a business standpoint, but from a political one, its obvious that the fiscal deficit and lack of domestic capacity are unsustainable. I had read that the religious leaders that take their cut of oil export revenues from Iran had been keeping at least $20 billion in cash outside the country as a hedge against political risk internally.]

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

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Boy: Taliban Recruited Me to Bomb Troops

Boy: Taliban Recruited Me to Bomb Troops: "FORWARD OPERATING BASE THUNDER, Afghanistan The story of a 6-year-old Afghan boy who says he thwarted an effort by Taliban militants to trick him into being a suicide bomber provoked tears and anger at a meeting of tribal leaders. "...

U.N.: Afghan Opium Production Up

U.N.: Afghan Opium Production Up - The Huffington Post: "VIENNA, Austria — Afghanistan produced dramatically more opium in 2006, increasing its yield by nearly 50 percent from a year earlier and pushing global opium production to a new record high, a U.N. report said Tuesday."

The annual report also found that the estimated level of global drug use has remained more or less unchanged for the third year, although cannabis use continues to decline in North America.

Afghanistan's opium production increased from about 4,500 tons in 2005 to 6,700 tons in 2006, according to the 2007 World Drug Report released by the Vienna-based U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. Opium is the main ingredient for heroin.

In 2006, Afghanistan accounted for 92 percent of global illicit opium production, up from 70 percent in 2000 and 52 percent a decade earlier. The higher yields in Afghanistan brought global opium production to a record high of nearly 7,300 tons last year, a 43 percent increase over 2005.

The area under opium poppy cultivation in the country has also expanded, from nearly 257,000 acres in 2005 to more than 407,000 acres in 2006 _ an increase of about 59 percent.
"This is the largest area under opium poppy cultivation ever recorded in Afghanistan," the report said, noting that two-thirds of cultivation was concentrated in the country's south.

UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa warned that Afghanistan's insurgency-plagued Helmand province was becoming the world's biggest drug supplier, with opium cultivation there larger than in the rest of the country put together.

"Effective surgery on Helmand's drug and insurgency cancer will rid the world of the most dangerous source of its most dangerous narcotic and go a long way to bringing security to the region," Costa said in a statement.

Early indications suggest Afghanistan could see a further increase in opium production in 2007, the report said.

For the sixth straight year, the amount of land under opium cultivation has fallen in Southeast Asia. From 1998-2006, that region's share of world opium poppy cultivation has decreased from 67 percent to just 12 percent, largely due to declines in cultivation in Myanmar, the report said.

Southeast Asia's total opium production in 2006 was just 370 tons, it said.

The report also found that the production, trafficking and consumption of other illicit drugs have largely stabilized globally and that the estimated level of global drug use stayed about the same for the third year in a row.

About 200 million people _ or 5 percent of the world's population aged between 15 and 64 _ used drugs at least once in the previous 12 months, it said. Of those, an estimated 25 million were so-called problem drug users, or individuals who are heavily drug dependent. That estimate also remained unchanged from the year before.

[bth: one of our most cost effective moves would be to buy the production from friendly farmers and destroy it. Estimated cost if paid directly to farmers is $700 million. To our enemies, we defoliate their crops. With say x years we subsidize production of alternative crops and then destroy all opium production.]

GOP Senator Says Iraq Plan Not Working - The Huffington Post

GOP Senator Says Iraq Plan Not Working - The Huffington Post: ..."In January, Lugar voted against a resolution opposing the troop buildup, contending that the nonbinding measure would have no practical effect. In spring, he voted against a Democratic bill that would have triggered troop withdrawals by Oct. 1 with the goal of completing the pull out in six months."

Next month, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., plans to force votes on several anti-war proposals as amendments to a 2008 defense policy bill. Members will decide whether to cut off money for combat, demand troop withdrawals start in four months, restrict the length of combat tours and rescind Congress' 2002 authorization of Iraqi invasion.

Expected to fall short of the 60 votes needed in the Senate to pass controversial legislation, the proposals are intended to increase pressure on Bush and play up to voters frustrated with the war.

[bth: there are insufficient votes. its that simple. The number isn't 60 but 67, the number required to override a veto.]

Troops Take Embattled Baqubah Bit by Bit, U.S. Commander Says -

Troops Take Embattled Baqubah Bit by Bit, U.S. Commander Says - "BAQUBAH, Iraq, June 25 -- U.S. and Iraqi troops have 'seized control' of the western side of the embattled city of Baqubah, but 100 or more insurgents remain in the city and at least that many likely escaped, the American brigade commander here said Monday. 'We're on our way to securing the population of Baqubah, which is what we came here to do,' said U.S. Army Col. Steve Townsend, the commander of the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division."

At the same time, Townsend warned of coming attacks as the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq assesses the vulnerabilities of Operation Arrowhead Ripper, one of several operations U.S. commanders have launched in areas ringing Baghdad....

"Usually in about two weeks they start coming back," said Sutherland, who now directs his forces elsewhere in Diyala province, of which Baqubah is the capital.

Townsend agreed that the insurgents have "largely tried to melt away after putting up initial resistance. So yes, I expect the enemy will come back. The enemy's not gone forever."

But for now, commanders and soldiers on the ground say they have taken back a large portion of a violent city with a methodical operation that entails block-by-block foot patrols as they search for fighters and explosives in three western neighborhoods: Khatoon, Mufrek and Mujema.

In these neighborhoods, the city feels like a long-abandoned metropolis on a planet too close to the sun....

"The airplanes have been shooting all the houses and people are getting scared, so they ran away," said Amer Hussein Jasm, 28.

"My neighbor, he is innocent, and they shot his house anyway," another man said.

First Lt. Andy Moffit, 28, appealed to the men.

"Our planes can blow up this whole city. They have that capability," he said. "If we didn't care about you guys, we wouldn't place ourselves in danger walking around trying to separate the bad guys from the good guys. When you guys tell us where the bad guys are, you keep innocent people from being hurt.

"They don't care about you guys," he went on, referring to the insurgents. "They like to take your children and put bombs around them and have them blow up Americans. They do horrible things to the women. You don't have to like us. That's not important to me. The important thing is that you care about your city and you come together. If you do that, then the job is done and we can go home."

The men stared for a while, then had questions.

"When are you guys going to finish clearing and let us go back home?" said Abdullah Alwan, 55. "We are tired. Someone could shoot me right now."

"I'm tired with you," Moffit said.

"We don't have any water," Alwan said. "We don't have any food."

While the U.S. and Iraqi soldiers continue to search houses, they have also distributed water and food such as rice and flour to the sealed-off neighborhoods....

Both men said they wished senior commanders had sent additional forces to Baqubah sooner.

"I would have preferred to have been here earlier," Townsend said. "But we're here now."

American and Iraqi forces during the operation have killed at least 49 people and perhaps as many as 100, officials said. The forces have captured at least 65 people, found more than 48 improvised explosive devices, plus a bomb factory on Monday that had 127 pipe-bomb canisters.
The troops found at least 45 water heaters stocked with homemade explosives and 21 houses rigged to explode. U.S. military officials also say they have uncovered al-Qaeda in Iraq torture chambers, a courthouse where they believe insurgents passed down their version of Islamic justice and a grave containing five corpses.

Several soldiers expressed frustration that senior commanders spoke publicly about their intention to move troops to Diyala and that there was not greater secrecy about the mission.

They suspect many insurgents left in advance of the troops. Intelligence reports indicate that the insurgents have scattered to towns such as Samarra, Khalis and Khan Bani Saad, Townsend said.

"Many people advocated that this was potentially going to be a place where they might stand and fight. We didn't really see that materialize," said Lt. Col. Avanulas Smiley, commander of the 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment of Townsend's Stryker brigade. "But the actual definition of 'clear' means that the enemy's no longer capable of conducting operations.

"So whether you kill him or capture him or he departs, you've accomplished something."

[bth: so we did find some explosives which never seem to be in short supply unless its the Iraqi army or police. We telegraphed our move as a PR campaign in the states and as a result the bulk of the enemy displaced and let us clear the town which included 21 boobytrapped houses. .... The dialogue with between the Lt. and the sunni arab resident is instructive as the Lt. definitely has a point to make - we could have leveled the place but we didn't - and the sunni has a point which is essentially 'we want food, we want water, we don't want people to kill us and otherwise we want to be left alone.']

General: Iraqi Forces Far From Self-Sufficiency

General: Iraqi Forces Far From Self-Sufficiency - "Iraqi forces will not be ready to assume full responsibility for their nation's security for years, and the U.S. military should be cautious in planning to reduce its 157,000-strong force in Iraq given past setbacks, the American general in charge of the teams that advise Iraqi forces warned yesterday."

Brig. Gen. Dana J.H. Pittard, commander of the Iraq Assistance Group, said "it'll take years" for Iraqi security forces to become self-reliant in protecting the country from internal and foreign threats. He suggested that it will be at least two years before the forces, which number 348,000, can "fully take control" of the situation in Iraq.

Last week, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the U.S. commander for day-to-day operations in Iraq, said that by the spring of 2008 or earlier it may be possible for Iraqi troops to increase their share of security duties to the extent that "potentially we could have a decision to reduce our forces."

Pittard said that timeline is realistic for many parts of Iraq but not for others. He pointed to the troubled eastern province of Diyala -- where thousands of American troops are battling to wrest back territory from insurgents -- to illustrate the risks of drawing down U.S. forces too quickly.

The U.S. military decision to cut its forces in Diyala by two-thirds from 2005 to 2006 and allow Iraqi troops to take over came "way too soon," Pittard said in a videoconference with Pentagon reporters. The lesson, he said, is: "Do not draw down too quickly when we think there's a glimmer of success. It will take time."

Pittard, who early yesterday went on patrol with the Iraqi army in Diyala's violent capital, Baqubah, spoke emotionally about the deterioration of the city, where he spent a year as a brigade commander in 2004.

"I nearly shed a tear when I saw Baqubah today, that the markets aren't up, the projects that we'd spent so much time on together with the Iraqi government are now in many places in shambles," he said. "We cannot be in a hurry to withdraw our coalition forces from Diyala province."

Overall, Iraqi security forces are making tentative progress, Pittard said, as some units, particularly in the army, prove highly capable, while others, especially in the police, are swayed by sectarian agendas.

For example, he said that since October 2006 most of the top leaders of Iraq's overwhelmingly Shiite national police have been fired, including seven of the nine brigade commanders, five of whom were "removed because they had sectarian biases."

Currently, four of the brigade commanders are Sunni, Pittard said, but he acknowledged that "there's still work to be done

Local police officers, recruited from the towns and cities where they live, are "the most vulnerable" to sectarianism, he said, but he added that in the long run they are "the best option" to provide grass-roots security because they know the neighborhoods.

"Our ultimate goal is not for the Iraqi army to be in the streets of the cities of Iraq" but "for the Iraqi police to do that, and that will take some time," Pittard said. About 200 U.S. teams are advising Iraqi police, but he said that is still too few.

Regionally, improvement in Iraq's security forces is also uneven, Pittard said. Iraqi army and police units have taken the lead in some predominantly Shiite provinces in the south, such as Maysan and Muthanna, as well as in Kurdish areas of northern Iraq. They are also cooperating in Mosul, an ethnically mixed northern city of 2 million people that is now patrolled by a single U.S. combat battalion of several hundred troops.

Yet in provinces such as Baghdad and Diyala, violence remains too high to shift more U.S. troops away from combat and into advisory roles, Pittard said.

Asked why the Iraqi army was unable to prevent Diyala's descent into sectarian conflict and other violence in 2006, Pittard said the Iraqi division assigned there lacked its full strength and logistical support. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters, other Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias from Baghdad became "so ingrained and implanted into the province" that "it was just too much for the Iraqi security forces at that time to be able to handle on their own," he said.

[bth: what he fails to mention is that we deliberately avoided giving these Iraqi units independent logistical support so that they would be dependent on us. So when we pulled 2/3rds of our troops out, it is no surprise that the logistics required to sustain the Iraqi forces left behind disappeared and soon the mission in that province failed. ... This is a further indication that the Iraqi army is unable to project a sectarian agenda into territories where it does not have intense public support. So if the Sunnis in the west refuse to cooperate with any Shiite led national government, I don't see any way that the current Iraqi army can force them to. In other words, the Kurds have their space, the Shia in the south have theirs and the Sunnis in the west have the outlying area. What reason do we have to think Iraq will remain a unified nation post our departure?]

Insurgents Muster Their Forces Online

Insurgents Muster Their Forces Online - "The Web sites through which the insurgency in Iraq communicates with the world sound shadowy and illicit when they are mentioned in American media. On the nightly news, a blurry bit of violence in a dun-colored country is introduced with a vague reference to a new video posted on a jihadist Web site. These glancing and reductionist descriptions do little to capture the breadth and sophistication of the not-so-underground world of Iraqi insurgent media, according to a report released yesterday by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

The makers of Web-based propaganda may not be easy to track down, but their work isn't hard to find. As the report, titled "The War of Images and Ideas," makes clear, there is an astonishing array of media product feeding the worldwide appetite for news from the other side of the war in Iraq.

The report, which the authors believe is the first of its kind available to the public, focuses on Sunni insurgent groups, in part, says one its authors, Daniel Kimmage, because the Shiite viewpoint has access to Iraq's established media outlets.

What he found was a surprisingly rich mix of news and religion and entertainment.

For example, "Top 20," produced by Ansar al-Sunnah, is a compilation video of attacks on U.S. forces, presented as a greatest-hits competition among "insurgent brigades" for footage of the most spectacular attack. It is made with the express intention to encourage "healthy" rivalry among cells of fighters.

"It is very fast-paced and clearly aimed at the video game generation," says Kimmage, who is an Arabist and a regional analyst for the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which broadcasts into Iraq....

More immediately worrisome for Americans, perhaps, is the hiding in plain site of everything in this report. Kimmage and Ridolfo weren't using material that is difficult to find. Everything in their report is based on what a savvy observer with Web smarts and a knowledge of Arabic could find with a few clicks of the mouse.

They have been very busy, though, giving briefings to people who you might assume know everything in the report already. That includes committees on Capitol Hill, officers at the National Defense University, and some government officials so high up they won't name them.

[bth: of course its in plain sight. It wouldn't' be widely viewed in the Arab world if it were hidden would it? This report widely distributed in Washington now is somehow about money. Funding some stupid $x00 million program of counter propaganda funded by tax dollars and given to some overpaid contracting organization like the Lincoln Group, Rendon Group or SAIC run by politcal cronies. And you can be sure that those groups probably don't have Arab linguists on staff. The reason the US message seems to have lost its carry in the world is because it now drips with hypocrisy and has lost its core truth and principles. We got off message that we are a force for good and that life liberty and the pursuit of happiness is an American dream that should be a world dream. Occupying armies, contrasted with liberating armies that leave, are poor projectors of good intentions.]

Monday, June 25, 2007

Shhh . . . There Is Corruption in Iraq

Shhh . . . There Is Corruption in Iraq - "Senior Iraqi cabinet members over a six-month period blocked investigations and prosecutions of corruption within their ministries valued at $35 million, using a Saddam Hussein-era law meant to shield officials from political abuses of the justice system, according to a recent memo by an official at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad."

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki reinstated the law, under which no governmental corruption case can be instituted against an Iraqi minister or former minister without the minister's permission. The ministers can, in turn, selectively immunize their subordinates, thus protecting them from being prosecuted for corruption.

As a result, more than 48 investigations or prosecutions initiated between September 2006 and February 2007 by Iraq's Commission on Public Integrity (CPI) were stopped, according to the March 11, 2007, memo prepared for the embassy's Anti-corruption Working Group.

It warns that the number 48 may be an understatement, since ministers asked to see if the immunity law may apply "simply hold on to the cases indefinitely thereby de facto blocking the trial."

The already blocked cases involved possible corruption at 11 ministries and the government's Central Bank. These included probes of contracts aiding rehabilitation of the devastated Iraqi economy, for power plant repairs, bridges and oil production equipment; the theft of dozens of oil trucks carrying a half-million dollars' worth of oil; and "violations" of a contract for armor vests, the memo stated.

At a House Judiciary Committee hearing last week, Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, said Maliki's reestablishment of the law -- known as Article 136(b) of the Criminal Procedures Code -- "effectively creates an undemocratic bulwark against the enforcement efforts to fight corruption in Iraq." During his recent visit to Baghdad, Bowen said use of the law came up in discussions in which CPI personnel told him "about political interference with the work of these Iraqi anti-corruption entities."

The first U.S. administrator in occupied Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, suspended Article 136(b) in January 2004 when he established the integrity commission as an independent agency to carry out corruption investigations. But two succeeding Iraqi prime ministers, Ayad Allawi and Ibrahim al-Jafari, brought back immunity for ministers because "they felt anti-corruption prosecutions were targeting on the basis of politics," states the memo, originally written by Vincent Foulk, a U.S. official who is a consultant to the commission.

The memo attributes the Maliki government's repeated use of the immunity law partly to politics. An aide to Bowen said last week that in some cases administrative errors had indeed been transformed into criminal investigations because of political motives.

The memo supports such a possibility, noting that U.S. advisers to the CPI estimated that 20 of the 48 cases could be considered administrative rather than criminal.

The quashed CPI probes included investigations of Central Bank employees who released $14.7 million despite an Agriculture Ministry letter opposing that action; Oil Ministry personnel who manipulated bids for $2.5 million in contracts for pumps and fuel equipment; and others at the Oil Ministry who stole 33 trucks loaded with petroleum. The Electricity Ministry also had bidding irregularities in a $3 million contract, the Youth and Sport Ministry had $3.5 million in contract irregularities, and the Supreme Electoral Commission was being investigated for a $5 million illegal advertising contract.

The memo listed the political affiliations of those caught up in the investigations. Many Central Bank and Agriculture Ministry cases involve followers of Moqtada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric, while oil cases involve the main Shiite political group.

"Although the law contemplated application after the Investigative Judge finished his investigation, it has been used under the current regime to stop investigations prior to the decision of the Investigative Judge," the memo says.

Bowen and others have made clear that these cases represent only part of the problem. At a May 22 House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing with Bowen, Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) referred to Maliki's order, saying, "The Iraqi government is clearly misguided in some of its priorities." Bowen replied: "Corruption, fraud within the Iraqi system is rampant, and the power of the fraud-fighting entities to push it back is weak."

At last week's hearing, Bowen said that the CPI commissioner "currently has over 2,000 cases involving $5 billion in alleged corruption." He added, "The president of the Board of Supreme Audit has hundreds of audits ongoing, and in virtually every case -- as he's reported to us -- he has found a serious lack of accountability within the Iraqi government."

National security and intelligence reporter Walter Pincus pores over the speeches, reports, transcripts and other documents that flood Washington, and every week uncovers the fine print that rarely makes headlines -- but should. If you have any items that fit the bill, please send them to

U.S. Questions Strength of Iraqi Forces

U.S. Questions Strength of Iraqi Forces: "BAQOUBA, Iraq (AP) - The U.S. commander of a new offensive north of Baghdad, reclaiming insurgent territory day by day, said Sunday his Iraqi partners may be too weak to hold onto the gains. "

The Iraqi military does not even have enough ammunition, said Brig. Gen. Mick Bednarek: "They're not quite up to the job yet."

His counterpart south of Baghdad seemed to agree, saying U.S. troops are too few to garrison the districts newly rid of insurgents. "It can't be coalition (U.S.) forces. We have what we have. There's got to be more Iraqi security forces," said Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch.

The two commanders spoke after a deadly day for the U.S. military in Iraq. At least 12 soldiers were killed on Saturday from roadside bombings and other causes, leaving at least 31 dead for the week. ...

Bednarek predicted it would be weeks before Iraqi police and soldiers could keep al-Qaida out of western Baqouba, and months before they were able to do the same on the city's east side and outlying villages.

Lynch, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division and of an operation clearing Baghdad's southern outskirts, was asked at a news conference whether he thought Iraqi troops would be able to secure his gains.

"There's not enough of them, there's not enough of them," Lynch replied. "So I believe the Iraqi government has got to work to create more Iraqi security forces."

He cited statements by Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the outgoing head of the training command here who told a U.S. congressional panel this month that the Iraqi army, now 159,000 troops, should be expanded by at least 20,000 in order to free U.S. troops from some critical missions. ...

[bth: so put the pieces together. Iraqi doesn't have enough police or military to hold the territory we just cleared. They don't have enough ammo (though the insurgents certainly do) and they don't seem to have enough men. Now when we start pulling out, there will be no offensive capabilities left in the coalition force. The territory it can hold will then further decrease unless there is a marked increase in Iraqi forces which doesn't seem in the cards. ... Net result - there is no way Iraq can hold together as a country if we begin to pull out. Think about it. The defacto state of affairs will be a multi-state situation, hence I think our desire to ally with local Sunni tribes - its the only choice left. Does that makes us friends or allies? No, but it gives us someone to negotiate with and someone to fill the void when we inevitably reduce our troop strength. ... Iraq is going to break apart along ethnic lines in 2008.]

Iraq Development Program - US Army rebids Halliburton Iraq contract

Iraq Development Program - US Army rebids Halliburton Iraq contract: "The US Army will rebid the multi billion-dollar contract under which a Halliburton Co. subsidiary has been providing services to troops around the world after years of complaints over how the deal has worked in Iraq.

Critics of the contract said the move was overdue and that hundreds of millions of dollars had probably been wasted."...

U.S. killed more civilians than militants in 2007

CANOE -- CNEWS - Canada: U.S. killed more civilians than militants in 2007: "KABUL (AP) - U.S.-led coalition and NATO forces fighting insurgents in Afghanistan have killed at least 203 civilians so far this year - surpassing the 178 civilians killed in militant attacks, according to an Associated Press tally"

Insurgency attacks and military operations have surged in recent weeks, and in the past 10 days, more than 90 civilians have been killed by air strikes and artillery fire targeting Taliban insurgents, said President Hamid Karzai.

On Sunday, another civilian may have been killed when British troops opened fire in a populated area after their convoy was hit by a roadside bomb, officials and witnesses said.

Separate figures from the UN and an umbrella organization of Afghan and international aid groups show that the numbers of civilians killed by international forces is approximately equal to those killed by insurgents.

After a seething speech by Karzai on Saturday - in which he accused NATO and U.S. forces of viewing Afghan lives as "cheap" - NATO conceded that it had to "do better." Coalition spokesman Maj. Chris Belcher suggested that some civilians reportedly killed by foreign forces may in fact have been killed by insurgents. ....

U.S. troops battle "minefield" of bombs in Iraq

swissinfo - U.S. troops battle "minefield" of bombs in Iraq: "BAQUBA, Iraq (Reuters) - U.S. troops hoping to directly confront al Qaeda militants in a major offensive in the Iraqi city of Baquba instead found themselves 'swimming through a minefield', a senior officer said on Sunday."

The operation in and around Baquba, capital of volatile Diyala province, is in its sixth day and is a major part of one of the biggest offensives by U.S. and Iraqi forces against the Sunni Islamist group in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion.

Some U.S. officers said they believed the initial combat phase of the offensive is nearly complete and any militants left could be confronted in the next 24 hours. Hundreds of militants were thought to be still holed up in Baquba's western districts.

But others believe many al Qaeda fighters left Baquba after getting clear signals from U.S. commanders who have said for some time that the city was high on their list of priorities.

"It's frustrating. You set up something that you know will work ... now we know that most of the al Qaeda enemy got away," said Captain Julian Kemper. "Our purpose was not to push them out somewhere else. It was to end it here."

Lieutenant-General Ray Odierno, the deputy U.S. commander in Iraq, has said there was little doubt al Qaeda knew that a major offensive was coming.

"They watched the news. They understood we had a surge, they understood Baquba was designated as a problem area," he told Pentagon journalists on Friday.

Colonel Steve Townsend, commander of the 3rd Stryker Brigade, said the latest intelligence indicated some fighters were still inside an American cordon, which has been steadily tightened since the operation began.

The campaign in Diyala, north of Baghdad, as well as offensives in other regions around the capital, is expected to last several weeks.

After heavy street fighting on the first day, Operation Arrowhead Ripper in Baquba has shifted to the slow and dangerous job of clearing scores of buried bombs and booby-trapped houses.


A U.S. jet dropped a precision-guided bomb on one booby-trapped house, setting off a massive secondary explosion.

"Even though we're not fighting an enemy soldier, we are swimming through his minefield," Townsend told Reuters.

He expected the combat phase of the operation in Baquba to be over in the next 24 to 48 hours as his men re-checked areas to make sure they had not missed any concealed bombs.

Barriers and checkpoints, manned by Iraqi security forces, were being put up around three of the most troubled districts in west Baquba to prevent al Qaeda slipping back into the city.

Baquba is an al Qaeda stronghold that has also become a sanctuary for militants escaping a security crackdown launched in Baghdad in February.

Tens of thousands of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers are engaged in the simultaneous offensives in and around Baghdad to deny al Qaeda sanctuary in farmlands and towns from where they launch car bombs and other attacks in the capital and elsewhere.

In Operation Marne Torch, an offensive targeting al Qaeda in Baghdad's southern "beltlands", Major-General Rick Lynch said 12 insurgents had been killed and 142 detained.

U.S. and Iraqi forces say they have killed 90 al Qaeda fighters around Baghdad, 55 of them in the Baquba operation.

With more U.S. soldiers engaged in offensives around the country the death toll for U.S. forces has begun to rise in June after hitting a two-and-a-half year monthly high in May of 126, the third highest monthly total since the start of the war.

Eighty U.S. soldiers have been killed so far in June, 28 of them in the past week.

(Additional reporting by Dean Yates, Paul Tait in Baghdad)

[bth: this large surge at a specific geographic target gets so telegraphed to the enemy that they step aside and booby trap our objective. Net result? We take heavy casualties without commensurate result. Smaller special forces led encounters may be more effective and efficient.]

Everyone we fight in Iraq is now "al-Qaida" -

Glenn Greenwald - Salon: "Josh Marshall publishes an e-mail from a reader who identifies what is one of the most astonishing instances of mindless, pro-government 'reporting' yet:"

It's a curious thing that, over the past 10 - 12 days, the news from Iraq refers to the combatants there as "al-Qaida" fighters. When did that happen?

Until a few days ago, the combatants in Iraq were "insurgents" or they were referred to as "Sunni" or "Shia'a" fighters in the Iraq Civil War. Suddenly, without evidence, without proof, without any semblance of fact, the US military command is referring to these combatants as "al-Qaida".

Welcome to the latest in Iraq propaganda.

That the Bush administration, and specifically its military commanders, decided to begin using the term "Al Qaeda" to designate "anyone and everyeone we fight against or kill in Iraq" is obvious. All of a sudden, every time one of the top military commanders describes our latest operations or quantifies how many we killed, the enemy is referred to, almost exclusively now, as "Al Qaeda."

But what is even more notable is that the establishment press has followed right along, just as enthusiastically. I don't think the New York Times has published a story about Iraq in the last two weeks without stating that we are killing "Al Qaeda fighters," capturing "Al Qaeda leaders," and every new operation is against "Al Qaeda."

The Times -- typically in the form of the gullible and always-government-trusting "reporting" of Michael Gordon, though not only -- makes this claim over and over, as prominently as possible, often without the slightest questioning, qualification, or doubt. If your only news about Iraq came from The New York Times, you would think that the war in Iraq is now indistinguishable from the initial stage of the war in Afghanistan -- that we are there fighting against the people who hijacked those planes and flew them into our buildings: "Al Qaeda."

What is so amazing about this new rhetorical development -- not only from our military, but also from our "journalists" -- is that, for years, it was too shameless and false even for the Bush administration to use. Even at the height of their propaganda offensives about the war, the furthest Bush officials were willing to go was to use the generic term "terrorists" for everyone we are fighting in Iraq, as in: "we cannot surrender to the terrorists by withdrawing" and "we must stay on the offensive against terrorists." ...

[bth:the article goes on to list a number of examples.]

Decline for Military in Black Recruits

Decline for Military in Black Recruits - The Huffington Post: "WASHINGTON — The number of blacks joining the military has plunged by more than one-third since the Afghanistan and Iraq wars began. Other job prospects are soaring and relatives of potential recruits increasingly are discouraging them from joining the armed services."....

[[bth: the article goes into detail about the changing opinions of family members]

Sunday, June 24, 2007 Veterans of 173rd mark end of reunion at Rochester memorial - Sun, Jun 24, 2007 Veterans of 173rd mark end of reunion at Rochester memorial - Sun, Jun 24, 2007: "Veterans of the 173rd Airborne Brigade marked the end of their weeklong reunion in Rochester with a special ceremony at the Soldiers Field Memorial on Sunday."

The event included speeches, a field of 1,816 flags (one for every member of the 173rd who has died) and an impressive "drop-in" by skydivers.

Andrew Brown, a 69-year-old Vietnam veteran from Chicago took the podium because he wanted to say thanks, but emotion cut his speech short.

"I had some more words to say, but they're gone," he said. "Thank you, everybody."

Arabic translator fired from the Navy for being gay

Arabic translator fired from the Navy for being gay

Arabic translator fired from the Navy for being gay: "Since ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ became law, over 11,000 servicemembers have been discharged because of their sexuality. "

The number of servicemembers who have left on their own volition, or have decided not to re-enlist because of this law is not documented. The government has spent over $363 million dollars in taxpayer money to implement this unfair legislation. Dozens of other countries, many of whom have fought side-by-side with our soldiers, allow lesbians, gays and bisexuals to serve openly. Those are the facts and they have nothing to do with a servicemembers passion and skill to perform his duty.

At Brave New Foundation we have fought many battles for people’s rights and to shed light on particular subjects, but this battle is different. It is different because it is dealing with sexuality and that is a topic that has long been taboo in this country. It is different because it is dealing with perceptions and prejudices that are ingrained into our very core from years of misinformation about what ‘gay’ means. We feel strongly that it is time to allow lesbians, gays, and bisexuals to not live in fear of losing their hard won and extremely vital jobs because of their sexuality. Please help us by signing the petition to your Congressmember to lift the ban and support the Military Readiness Enhancement Act which will allow gays to volunteer to join the military.

Judge Criticizes Warrantless Wiretaps

My Way News - Judge Criticizes Warrantless Wiretaps: "WASHINGTON (AP) - A federal judge who used to authorize wiretaps in terrorist and espionage cases criticized President Bush's decision to order warrantless surveillance after the Sept. 11 attacks."

Royce Lamberth, a district court judge in Washington, said Saturday it was proper for executive branch agencies to conduct such surveillance. "But what we have found in the history of our country is that you can't trust the executive," he said at the American Library Association's convention.

"We have to understand you can fight the war (on terrorism) and lose everything if you have no civil liberties left when you get through fighting the war," said Lamberth, who was appointed by President Reagan.

The judge disagreed with letting the executive branch alone decide which people to spy on in national security cases.

"The executive has to fight and win the war at all costs. But judges understand the war has to be fought, but it can't be at all costs," Lamberth said. "We still have to preserve our civil liberties. Judges are the kinds of people you want to entrust that kind of judgment to more than the executive."

Lamberth was named chief of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in 1995 by then-Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. Lamberth held that post until 2002.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 established the court after domestic spying scandals in the 1970s.

The court meets in secret to review applications from the FBI, the National Security Agency and other agencies for warrants to wiretap or search the homes of people in the United States in terrorist or espionage cases. Each application is signed by the attorney general. The court has approved more than 99 percent of them.

Shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Bush authorized the NSA to spy on calls between people in the U.S. and suspected terrorists abroad without FISA court warrants. The administration said it needed to act more quickly than the court could and that the president had inherent authority under the Constitution to order warrantless domestic spying.

After the program became public and was challenged in court, Bush put it under FISA court supervision this year. The president still claims the power to order warrantless spying.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Bush believes in the program, which is classified because its purpose is to stop terrorists' planning.

The program "is lawful, limited, safeguarded and - most importantly - effective in protecting American citizens from terrorist attacks," Fratto said. "It's specifically designed to be effective without infringing Americans' civil liberties."

Lamberth took issue with Bush's approach.

"I haven't seen a proposal for a better way than presenting an application to the FISA court and having an independent judge decide if it's really the kind of thing that we ought to be doing, recognizing that how we view civil liberties is different in time of war," he said.

"I have seen a proposal for a worse way and that's what the president did with the NSA program."

Lamberth said the FISA court met the challenge of acting quickly after Sept. 11. Lamberth was stuck in a car pool lane near the Pentagon when a hijacked jet slammed into it that day. With his car enveloped in smoke, he called marshals to help him get into the District of Columbia.

By the time officers reached him, "I had approved five FISA coverages (warrants) on my cell phone," Lamberth said. He also approved other warrants at his home at 3 a.m. and on Saturdays.

"In a time of national emergency like that, changes have to be made in procedures. We changed a number of FISA procedures," Lamberth said.

Normal FISA warrant applications run 40 to 50 pages, but he said he issued orders in the days after Sept. 11 "based on the oral briefing by the director of the FBI to the chief judge of the FISA court."

Lamberth would not say whether he thought Bush's warrantless surveillance was constitutional. "Judges shouldn't give advisory opinions and I was never asked to give an opinion in court," he said.

But he said when the NSA briefed him about the program, he advised them to keep good records so that if any applications came to the FISA court based on information obtained from warrantless surveillance, the court could rule on the legality.

He said he never got such an application before leaving the court in 2002.

Lamberth defended the court against those who say it is rubber stamp and said if the government is working properly, most applications should be approved.

"We're making sure there's not some political shenanigan going on or some improper motive for the surveillance," Lamberth said. "The fact that they have to submit it to us keeps them honest."

Lambert also criticized FBI Director Robert Mueller for allowing the agents in charge of all 56 FBI field offices to approve National Security Letters. These allow agents to demand information from phone companies, Internet service providers and corporations without court warrants in national security cases.

The Justice Department's inspector general recently estimated there were 3,000 violations of law between 2002 and 2005 in the FBI's use of the letters.

"Once they saw how the field offices had screwed this all up, I thought that would be a good time to centralize the approvals" in one Washington office that could enforce the rules uniformly, Lamberth said. "Unfortunately, Mueller and (Attorney General Alberto) Gonzales did not do that."

[bth: People! Heads up. Note that last week (Friday) Handley announced he was going releasing old CIA domestic spying files - to come this week. Note I asked, "why now?" Now we have Judge Lamberth giving a speech to the American Library Association on the use of warrantless wiretaps on Americans. I bet we are on the verge of a story breaking to the effect that the Executive decided to spy on political opponents or critics entirely unrelated to the war on terror. The administration is keeping Gonzales in the AG position - not because they are afraid the justice department has stopped functioning in key areas, but precisely because the Administration doesn't want the Justice Dept. to function in key areas. I think we are on the verge of a major breaking story about domestic political spying]