Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Mystery of the eBay Sale of Level IV Armor

"While"IBA Task Force investigating the Army's body armor procurement program.

What began as a rather routine inquiry into the commonplace sale of military equipment on the inter-net soon turned into anything but routine.

The timeline starts late on the afternoon (EST) of February 5, when Pinnacle Armor notified DefenseWatch of an eBay advertisement for a Level IV Dragon Skin body armor vest with an asking price of $3500.00. The eBay posting included five pictures.

Murray Neal, President and CEO of Pinnacle Armor, confirmed that this particular vest had been one of 30 purchased by the Army's PEO-Soldier for the May 2006 First Article Test (FAT) conducted by H.P. White Laboratory under contract from the Army.

He later provided a copy of the itemized listing of all 30 Dragon Skin vests sold to PEO-Soldier for the May 2006 test. Ten "Medium," ten "Large" and ten "X Large" vests were listed The serial number of the last vest of the ten "X Large" vests was 57180, the same as the serial number of the Dragon Skin Level IV listed for sale on eBay....

[bth: worth reading in full. Level IV will stop armor piercing rounds and cannot be sold to the public. Someone has taken government vests used in testing and has stolen them. Very big problem.]

The Scratching Post: World of Good, Reach Out and Care Style

The Scratching Post: World of Good, Reach Out and Care Style

A fitting death for terrorist Imad Mughniyeh - Telegraph

A fitting death for terrorist Imad Mughniyeh - Telegraph: ...But they were both amateurs when compared with the murderous effectiveness of the terror campaign Mughniyeh, the Hizbollah security chief killed in Damascus this week, orchestrated in Beirut from the early 1980s.

Mughniyeh might not have been either as famous or as glamorous as the other terrorist masterminds of his generation, but in terms of achieving his ultimate objective of spreading terror throughout the civilian population, he was without peer.

One of the more chilling aspects of Mughniyeh's legacy of violence was the introduction of the suicide bomber as an effective terrorist tool.

With suicide bombings these days almost a daily occurrence throughout the Middle East, whether in Baghdad or Israel, it is easy to forget that the suicide bomber is a relatively recent addition to the region's battle-scarred landscape.

The first time the concept of the suicide bomber really impinged on the West's consciousness was on April 18, 1983, when Mughniyeh arranged for a Hizbollah volunteer to drive a truck laden with explosives into the American embassy in Beirut.

Among the 60 people killed when the building was reduced to rubble were an estimated 20 CIA officers at a special regional conference. Not only had Mughniyeh demonstrated his ability to conduct major terror operations, but the timing of the attack meant that the CIA suffered the single most devastating loss of personnel in its history.

Mughniyeh went on to develop kidnapping as an effective terrorist tactic. The abduction of scores of Westerners - including the British hostages Terry Waite and John McCarthy - together with the incessant suicide car bombings, which culminated in the destruction of the American and French military bases in Beirut with the loss of more than 300 lives in October 1983, resulted in the Americans undertaking a humiliating withdrawal of their forces from Beirut.

As head of security for Hizbollah, Mughniyeh's terrorist expertise was in great demand, and his trademark suicide truck bomb was employed to devastating effect in the bombings in Buenos Aires of the Israeli embassy and a Jewish community centre (1994), the attack on the US military compound in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia (1996) and the suicide bomb attacks on the US embassies in Nairobi and Tanzania (1998).

Not surprisingly Mughniyeh featured as prominently on the FBI's most wanted list as Osama bin Laden, and a $25 million reward was placed on his head - dead or alive....

'Jury-rigged' missile to destroy falling spysat

'Jury-rigged' missile to destroy falling spysat - space - 14 February 2008 - New Scientist Space:... "Instead"the Pentagon is modifying three "Standard Missile 3" interceptors used for the sea-based Aegis element of the missile defense system. Those are now carried on ships stationed in the Sea of Japan for possible interception of short- to intermediate-range North Korean missiles.

The modifications involve changing the software to target a satellite rather than a missile, says David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists. "This interceptor is really intended for missiles travelling at 3 to 4 kilometres per second; the satellite they're going to be shooting at has a speed of 7 to 8 kilometres per second." Three ships will be involved in the mission, which will occur during a "window of opportunity" from late February to early March.

But the modifications don't sound like major ones to Wright, who told New Scientist the Pentagon "has never wanted to explicitly say the [missile defense] system has an anti-satellite capability, so they're dancing to say that we had to modify the system" to target a satellite. He wonders how China and Russia will respond, especially after their recent proposal for a ban on weapons in space.

Wright also worries about space debris. The target satellite is orbiting at an altitude of about 240 kilometres, so most of the debris should drop out of orbit in hours or days. But the satellite is 2.5 times more massive than the Chinese satellite that scattered a tremendous amount of debris into higher orbits when it was hit in 2007 by an anti-satellite missile. "Do they understand this well enough to quantify the risk to the space station" orbiting at 340 kilometres, he asks

Democracy on the Line Next Week in Pakistan

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Democracy on the Line Next Week in Pakistan: "The"second-most important election of the year for Americans is scheduled to occur next Monday in Pakistan, determining whether that nuclear-armed and terrorist-infested nation moves toward democracy or chaos.

Two recent polls indicate that support for President Pervez Musharraf has fallen so low that if his party is declared the winner in the parliamentary elections, it could only be the result of fraud - potentially triggering massive demonstrations and a new national crisis. President Bush told me in an interview late last month, "I have no evidence that (Musharraf) is going to rig elections. Quite the contrary, he has told me that he wants free elections."

However, news reports and complaints from opposition parties indicate extensive government action to skew the vote toward Musharraf's PML-Q party - to the point where a top State Department official admitted to a Senate subcommittee that he expected the vote to be "not free and fair, but good." ...

As a result, according to a poll by the independent group Terror Free Tomorrow, 58 percent of Pakistanis believe that Musharraf's government was responsible for her assassination. In an even larger poll by the International Republican Institute, 62 percent thought that, and only 13 percent blamed al-Qaida.

In the TFT poll, with a sample of 1,157, 70 percent of the respondents said they wanted Musharraf to resign immediately. The IRI poll, with 3,485 respondents, showed that 75 percent want Musharraf out and that his job approval has plunged to 15 percent.

Most significantly, TFT found that 62 percent of voters said they would support Bhutto's liberal PPP or the other main democratic opposition party, the PML-N headed by conservative former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and only 12 percent Musharraf's PML-Q.

In the IRI poll, PPP garnered support of 50 percent of voters and the PML-N 22 percent. PML-Q got only 14 percent. IRI's president, Lorne Craner, told me that the results were so lopsided that "the amount of theft required to steal this election would have to be dramatic ... and obvious." However, just in case, Musharraf has expelled IRI's resident staff from Pakistan and has banned exit polling on election day. He is permitting only limited international election monitoring at the polls.

Moreover, one survey showed that the PML-Q has received 85 percent of news coverage on state-owned television. The national election commission overseeing vote-counting is government-controlled. Voter lists allegedly have been manipulated. And opposition activists have been intermittently jailed or attacked.

Terrorist bombings have killed attendees at PML-N and PPP rallies, but not once at PML-Q events. Violence at the polls Monday can't be ruled out.

Perhaps the most significant poll findings are that the democratic opposition parties are on the cusp of winning two-thirds of the vote. If they controlled two-thirds of the seats in parliament, they could oust Musharraf and change the constitution to deprive any president of the power to depose an elected government.

If PML-Q is declared the winner, or if the opposition falls significantly short of a majority in parliament, there are likely to be huge street demonstrations. They'd likely start out peaceful, but could turn violent.

The stakes in this election could not be higher. As Bhutto writes in her posthumously published new book, "Reconciliation," Pakistan is "ground-zero" in the battle within Islam between reformers and jihadists and between those who want to provoke a "clash of civilizations" with the West and those who want to prevent it.

Bush has delivered great speeches about fostering democracy in the Islamic world. Now, he has to deliver.

Study: Lack of MRAPs cost Marine lives

Study: Lack of MRAPs cost Marine lives - Yahoo! News: "WASHINGTON Hundreds of U.S. Marines have been killed or injured by roadside bombs in Iraq because Marine Corps bureaucrats refused an urgent request in 2005 from battlefield commanders for blast-resistant vehicles, an internal military study concludes.

The study, written by a civilian Marine Corps official and obtained by The Associated Press, accuses the service of "gross mismanagement" that delayed deliveries of the mine-resistant, ambush-protected trucks for more than two years.

Cost was a driving factor in the decision to turn down the request for the so-called MRAPs, according to the study. Stateside authorities saw the hulking vehicles, which can cost as much as a $1 million each, as a financial threat to programs aimed at developing lighter vehicles that were years from being fielded.

After Defense Secretary Robert Gates declared the MRAP (pronounced M-rap) the Pentagon's No. 1 acquisition priority in May 2007, the trucks began to be shipped to Iraq in large quantities.

The vehicles weigh as much as 40 tons and have been effective at protecting American forces from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the weapon of choice for Iraqi insurgents. Only four U.S. troops have been killed by such bombs while riding in MRAPs; three of those deaths occurred in older versions of the vehicles.

The study's author, Franz J. Gayl, catalogs what he says were flawed decisions and missteps by midlevel managers in Marine Corps offices that occurred well before Gates replaced Donald Rumsfeld in December 2006.

Among the findings in the Jan. 22 study:

• Budget and procurement managers failed to recognize the damage being done by IEDs in late 2004 and early 2005 and were convinced the best solution was adding more armor to the less-sturdy Humvees the Marines were using. Humvees, even those with extra layers of steel, proved incapable of blunting the increasingly powerful explosives planted by insurgents.

• An urgent February 2005 request for MRAPs got lost in bureaucracy. It was signed by then-Brig. Gen. Dennis Hejlik, who asked for 1,169 of the vehicles. The Marines could not continue to take "serious and grave casualties" caused by IEDs when a solution was commercially available, wrote Hejlik, who was a commander in western Iraq from June 2004 to February 2005.

Gayl cites documents showing Hejlik's request was shuttled to a civilian logistics official at the Marine Corps Combat Development Command in suburban Washington who had little experience with military vehicles. As a result, there was more concern over how the MRAP would upset the Marine Corps' supply and maintenance chains than there was in getting the troops a truck that would keep them alive, the study contends.

• The Marine Corps' acquisition staff didn't give top leaders correct information. Gen. James Conway, the Marine Corps commandant, was not told of the gravity of Hejlik's MRAP request and the real reasons it was shelved, Gayl writes. That resulted in Conway giving "inaccurate and incomplete" information to Congress about why buying MRAPs was not hotly pursued.

• The Combat Development Command, which decides what gear to buy, treated the MRAP as an expensive obstacle to long-range plans for equipment that was more mobile and fit into the Marines Corps' vision as a rapid reaction force. Those projects included a Humvee replacement called the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and a new vehicle for reconnaissance and surveillance missions.

The MRAPs didn't meet this fast-moving standard and so the Combat Development Command didn't want to buy them, according to Gayl. The study calls this approach a "Cold War orientation" that suffocates the ability to react to emergency situations.

The Combat Development Command has managers — some of whom are retired Marines — who lack adequate technical credentials. They have outdated views of what works on the battlefield and how the defense industry operates, Gayl says. Yet they are in position to ignore or overrule calls from deployed commanders.

An inquiry should be conducted by the Marine Corps inspector general to determine if any military or government employees are culpable for failing to rush critical gear to the troops, recommends Gayl, who prepared the study for the Marine Corps' plans, policies and operations department.

The study was obtained by the AP from a nongovernment source.

"If the mass procurement and fielding of MRAPs had begun in 2005 in response to the known and acknowledged threats at that time, as the (Marine Corps) is doing today, hundreds of deaths and injuries could have been prevented," writes Gayl, the science and technology adviser to Lt. Gen. Richard Natonski, who heads the department. "While the possibility of individual corruption remains undetermined, the existence of corrupted MRAP processes is likely, and worthy of (inspector general) investigation."

Gayl, who has clashed with his superiors in the past and filed for whistle-blower protection last year, uses official Marine Corps documents, e-mails, briefing charts, memos, congressional testimony, and news articles to make his case.

He was not allowed to interview or correspond with any employees connected to the Combat Development Command. The study's cover page says the views in the study are his own.

Maj. Manuel Delarosa, a Marine Corps spokesman, called Gayl's study "predecisional staff work" and said it would be inappropriate to comment on it. Delarosa said, "It would be inaccurate to state that Lt. Gen. Natonski has seen or is even aware of" the study.

Last year, the service defended the decision to not buy MRAPs after receiving the 2005 request. There were too few companies able to make the vehicles, and armored Humvees were adequate, officials said then.

Hejlik, who is now a major general and heads Marine Corps Special Operations Command, has cast his 2005 statement as more of a recommendation than a demand for a specific system.

The term mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle "was very generic" and intended to guide a broader discussion of what type of truck would be needed to defend against the changing threats troops in the field faced, Hejlik told reporters in May 2007. "I don't think there was any intent by anybody to do anything but the right thing."

The study does not say precisely how many Marine casualties Gayl thinks occurred due to the lack of MRAPs, which have V-shaped hulls that deflect blasts out and away from the vehicles.

Gayl cites a March 1, 2007, memo from Conway to Gen. Peter Pace, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in which Conway said 150 service members were killed and an additional 1,500 were seriously injured in the prior nine months by IEDs while traveling in vehicles.

The MRAP, Conway told Pace, could reduce IED casualties in vehicles by 80 percent. He told Pace an urgent request for the vehicles was submitted by a Marine commander in May 2006. No mention is made of Hejlik's call more than a year before.

Delivering MRAPs to Marines in Iraq, Conway wrote, was his "number one unfilled warfighting requirement at this time." Overall, he added, the Marine Corps needed 3,700 of the trucks — more than three times the number requested by Hejlik in 2005.

More than 3,200 U.S. troops, including 824 Marines, have been killed in action in Iraq since the war began in March 2003. An additional 29,000 have been wounded, nearly 8,400 of them Marines. The majority of the deaths and injuries have been caused by explosive devices, according to the Defense Department.

Congress has provided more than $22 billion for 15,000 MRAPs the Defense Department plans to acquire, mostly for the Army. Depending on the size of the vehicle and how it is equipped, the trucks can cost between $450,000 and $1 million.

As of May 2007, roughly 120 MRAPs were being used by troops from all the military services, Pentagon records show. Now, more than 2,150 are in the hands of personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Marines have 900 of those.

One section of Gayl's study analyzes a letter Conway sent in late July 2007 to Sens. Joseph Biden, D-Del., and Kit Bond, R-Mo., two critics of delays in sending equipment to Iraq.

More heavily armored Humvees were determined to be the best response to the 2005 MRAP request, the commandant told the senators. He also said the industrial capacity to build MRAPs in large numbers "did not exist" when the request was submitted. Additionally, although the trucks had been fielded in small numbers, they were not adequately tested and exhibited reliability problems, the letter said.

The letter to the senators is evidence of the "bad advice" senior Marine Corps leaders receive, Gayl contends. The letter, he says, portions of which were probably drafted by the Combat Development Command, omitted that the urgent 2005 request from the Iraq battlefield specifically asked for MRAPs — and not more heavily armored Humvees. It also ignored the Marines' own findings that armored Humvees wouldn't stop IEDs.

Conway's assertion there was a lack of manufacturing capacity to build MRAPs is "inexplicable," Gayl says. Manufacturers would have hurried production if they knew the Marines wanted them and any reliability issues would have been resolved, he says.

In late November, the Marine Corps announced it would buy 2,300 MRAPs — 1,400 fewer than planned. Improved security in Iraq, changes in tactics, and decreasing troop levels allowed for the cut. But Marine officials also listed several downsides to the MRAP: The vehicles are too tall and heavy to pursue the enemy down narrow streets, on rough terrain or across many bridges.

If MRAPs arrived to Iraq late, or proved too bulky for certain missions, the Marine Corps should have come up with different and better solutions several years ago when the IED crisis was growing, Gayl contends.

A former Marine officer, Gayl spent nearly six months in Iraq in 2006 and 2007 as an adviser to leaders of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.

His stinging indictment of the Marine Corps' system for fielding gear is not a first. He has been an outspoken advocate for non-lethal weapons, such as a beam gun that stings but doesn't kill and "dazzlers" that use a powerful light beam to steer unwelcome vehicles and people from checkpoints and convoys.

The failure to send these alternative weapons to Iraq has led to U.S. casualties and the deaths of Iraqi civilians, Gayl has said.

Gayl filed for whistle-blower protection in May with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. He said he was threatened with disciplinary action after meeting with congressional staff on Capitol Hill.

Biden and Bond rebuked the Marine Corps in September for "apparent retaliation" against Gayl.


Associated Press researcher Monika Mathur contributed to this report from New York

[bth: you read this and wonder who is more dangerous to our troops in combat, the insurgents or the bureaucrats and senior military leadership that are supposed to be doing their jobs. MRAPs saves lives. It was delayed for years by fools called leaders. In the intervening years hundreds of marines died needlessly. I love the statements from the marine corp upper leadership that they didn't know or weren't aware, or couldn't confirm what they'd read. What utter bullshit. Gutless leadership. They are on record even in 2005 saying that they didn't need more armored humvees (April 2005) - not to mention MRAPs. No wonder junior officers are leaving in droves. They know. They understand what happened. The marine corp mentality of being ONLY a light expeditionary force has no relevance in reality. Its like saying I'm only going to play football when the weather is nice. I rank that with the thought of never fighting another insurgency or being a occupation force. What a fantasy world. Where would marines use MRAPs when they leave Iraq? Try Afghanistan, anywhere in Africa or in fact in any war we've fought in the last 40 years. Why does the command structure think that insurgents will forget that an IED for $150 bucks can take out an armored humvee or normal truck that cost 2000 times that amount? They don't. Insurgents are smart. They adapt unlike our so called military leadership. Nuts.]

Even Spies Embrace China's Free Market -

Even Spies Embrace China's Free Market - "MOUNTAIN"VIEW, Calif. -- Engineers Lan Lee and Yuefei Ge had drafted a business plan that they promised would roil the U.S. microchip industry. Using blueprints they allegedly stole from their Silicon Valley employer, the men proposed to reproduce a super-fast chip in China at a much lower cost.

The documents, recovered by FBI agents, included a contract with a venture-capital firm in Beijing that would bankroll part of the estimated $3.6 million the would-be entrepreneurs needed and seek additional funding from the Chinese government. ...

Stolen from laptop computers and luggage of engineers working for U.S. companies en route to China are designs for some of the country's most sophisticated technology -- flight-simulation programs, microwave devices, electronic propulsion systems for submarines and night-vision equipment.

On Monday, U.S. officials announced arrests in Alexandria and California in connection with alleged plots to steal high-tech military secrets for the Chinese government. In Alexandria, Assistant Attorney General Kenneth L. Wainstein said "there are a number of countries that have proven themselves particularly determined and methodical in their espionage efforts." China, he said, is one of those. ...

In the United States, some Chinese Americans have expressed worry about racial hysteria, that Chinese Americans and Chinese nationals are being targeted in the way Russian emigres were accused of spying for the Soviet Union in the 1950s. They say U.S. law enforcement officials have unfairly turned what would otherwise be run-of-the-mill charges of stealing trade secrets into international espionage cases simply because defendants are ethnic Chinese.

"There is a mentality that pervades all of Washington, which is that China is our big adversary and enemy -- if not today, then tomorrow -- so we need to deal with them on that basis. So there are a lot of heavy biases," said George Koo, a business consultant in Silicon Valley who is a member of the Committee of 100, a group of influential Chinese Americans that was founded by the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the architect I.M. Pei. ...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Flying Saucer Drone in Military Showdown | Danger Room from

Flying Saucer Drone in Military Showdown | Danger Room from

Global Guerrillas: JOURNAL: A reboot for Iraq's insurgency?

Global Guerrillas: JOURNAL: A reboot for Iraq's insurgency?: "A"new campaign of systems disruption has begun in Iraq (with a particular focus on electricity systems). Its goal is to reboot the insurgency. Attacks over the last 24 hours include:

Sunday: A massive car bomb attack on a power station in Mosul caused widespread power outages.

Monday: A successful attack on a natural gas line in northern Iraq will cause widespread power outages for at least a week.

Monday: A huge bomb was found and defused at the entrance of the Electricity ministry in Baghdad.

Without a means to provide Iraq's fragile communities with resilience against attacks on national infrastructure, any and all gains recently made in security will be for naught. See State Failure 101 for more.

Random Link: More GG tech. Here's a report on how amateur/tinkerer submersible technology is being used to smuggle cocaine out of Colombia -- 13 submersibles were captured in 2007 alone.

Bolivia declares U.S. diplomat undesirable person_English_Xinhua

Bolivia declares U.S. diplomat undesirable person_English_Xinhua: "LIMA"Feb. 11 (Xinhua) -- Bolivian President Evo Morales declared U.S. embassy official Vincent Cooper an "undesirable person" Monday, citing charges that Cooper was trying to organize a spy ring, according to news reaching here.

"This man has not only violated the rights of his own citizens, but is also violating, offending and attacking a nation like Bolivia," Morales said during a speech to start the academic year at a school for sergeants in the Bolivian province of Cochabamba.

Morales said Cooper had asked scholarship holders and Peace Corps volunteers to spy on Cubans and Venezuelans living in Bolivia.

"From the moment that this mistake was discovered, he became an undesirable person for Bolivia and for the Bolivian government," he said.

Fulbright Foundation scholar Alexander Van Schaick told Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca and a U.S. broadcaster that during a November meeting at the U.S. embassy, he had been asked to become a spy.

"They told me to give them the names, addresses and activities of any doctor or worker from Venezuela or Cuba that crosses my path during my stay here," Van Shaick said.

The U.S. embassy in the Bolivian capital La Paz said that a member of its security staff had met U.S. volunteers and made what it described as "an inappropriate suggestion." It added that more senior staff had immediately corrected the official.

Bolivia's armed forces have the obligation to safeguard the nation's integrity and image and also the nation's dignity, Morales said, adding that Bolivia would continue its foreign relations but was strongly opposed to those nations that use students and volunteers as spies.

[bth: so note it takes the Bolivian government to clean up our State Dept which was recruiting Peace Corp volunteers as spies. Also note this article is from the Chinese news agency and not carried by the US corporate media. What's to like about this craziness? Our State Dept is run by idiots. This is entirely unnecessary.]

Three held over 'plot to kill cartoonist' - Europe, News -

Three held over 'plot to kill cartoonist' - Europe, News - "Danish"authorities today arrested two Tunisians and a Dane of Moroccan origin in an alleged plot to murder a cartoonist who drew a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad, the police intelligence chief said.

The three suspects were arrested in a pre-dawn operation in Aarhus, western Denmark, said Jakob Scharf, the head of the PET intelligence service. ...

Minister warns pipeline bombing in northern Iraq means mass power outages in northern Iraq

Minister warns pipeline bombing in northern Iraq means mass power outages in northern Iraq - International Herald Tribune: "A bomb struck a gas pipeline in northern Iraq on Monday, causing widespread power outages that the electricity minister warned could last up to a week.

The explosion devastated the section of pipeline in the Sebat district about 30 kilometers (20 miles) northeast of Tikrit, one of a series of recent attacks in an apparent show of power by suspected Sunni insurgents who have been driven north by U.S.-led crackdowns in Baghdad and surrounding areas.

Police officers and a gas company engineer, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information, said firefighters had the blaze under control, but the pipeline had been shut down and would need several days of maintenance.

Electricity Minister Karim Waheed said the pipeline had provided fuel to power stations in the northern cities of Kirkuk and Beiji and the blast would mean a weeklong cut in electricity for the area.

The U.S. military in northern Iraq did not immediate respond to a request for comment on the attack.

Waheed also said authorities had found a huge bomb Monday at the entrance to the electricity ministry in Baghdad. The explosives were safely defused, but the discovery underscored the continued threat to government infrastructure despite stepped up security measures.

"Today the bomb reached the ministry's entrance," Waheed told The Associated Press. "If there is no security or political stability I cannot promise people any progress in the electricity sector."

He pointed to a car bomb Sunday at a power station in Mosul as another example. Police and residents said the blast killed four civilians and had caused power outages throughout the western part of the city, 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad.

The U.S. and Iraqi militaries are preparing for an offensive in Mosul, which they say is the last major urban stronghold for al-Qaida in Iraq.

Oil pipelines and other infrastructure in Iraq have been frequent targets of violence and sabotage.

Officials have predicted that the country will not see major improvements in electricity production before 2011, citing poor security and a lack of funds and fuel.

Electricity Ministry spokesman Aziz Sultan noted last month that most of the oil pipelines that deliver fuel to power stations run through "hot areas" where they are frequently subjected to insurgent attacks.

"The power shortages nationwide will continue for the coming three years due to the ongoing sabotage and the unwillingness of foreign companies to work in a dangerous environment," he said.

Many Iraqis rely on private generators for their power although rising fuel and maintenance costs have put a strain on many families.

[bth: the ability to disrupt electricity remains a key vulnerability to modern society. Weighed against almost no risk to the attacker, the impact is devastating to a modern society.]
Informed Comment

Saudi Arabia bans all things red ahead of Valentine's Day

Saudi Arabia bans all things red ahead of Valentine's Day - "Saudi Arabia has asked florists and gift shops to remove all red items until after Valentine's Day, calling the celebration of such a holiday a sin, local media reported Monday.

"As Muslims we shouldn't celebrate a non-Muslim celebration, especially this one that encourages immoral relations between unmarried men and women, " Sheikh Khaled Al-Dossari, a scholar in Islamic studies, told the Saudi Gazette, an English-language newspaper.

Every year, officials with the conservative Muslim kingdom's Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice clamp down on shops a few days before February 14, instructing them to remove red roses, red wrapping paper, gift boxes and teddy bears. On the eve of the holiday, they raid stores and seize symbols of love.

The virtue and vice squad is a police force of several thousand charged with, among other things, enforcing dress codes and segregating the sexes. Saudi Arabia, which follows a strict interpretation of Islam called Wahhabism, punishes unrelated women and men who mingle in public.

Ahmed Al-Omran, a university student in Riyadh, told CNN that the government decision will give the international media another reason to make fun of the Saudis "but I think that we got used to that by now."

"I think what they are doing is ridiculous," said Al-Omran, who maintains the blog 'Saudi Jeans.' "What the conservatives in this country need to learn is something called 'tolerance.' If they don't see the permissibility of celebrating such an occasion, then fine -- they should not celebrate it. But they have to know they have no right to impose their point of view on others."

Because of the ban on red roses, a black market has flowered ahead of Valentine's Day. Roses that normally go for five Saudi riyal ($1.30) fetch up to 30 riyal ($8) on February 14, the Saudi Gazette said.

"Sometimes we deliver the bouquets in the middle of the night or early morning, to avoid suspicion," one florist told the paper....

[bth: amazing - vice and virtue valentine's day canings.]

Pakistan says a Taliban chief caught

Pakistan says a Taliban chief caught - The Boston Globe: "Pakistani"authorities said yesterday they had captured a senior Taliban commander, critically wounding him in a shootout after he crossed into this nation from southern Afghanistan.

Mansoor Dadullah, whose more prominent brother Mullah Dadullah was killed by US forces last year in Afghanistan, was captured after he and a small band of fighters encountered a contingent of Pakistani troops in the southwest province of Baluchistan, the Pakistani army said.

Major General Athar Abbas, an Army spokesman, said Dadullah was captured alive but badly wounded in a firefight between the two sides.

Several soldiers were hurt as well, he said.

Dadullah's capture comes amid heavy pressure on Pakistan by senior US officials to go after senior figures in the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

On Saturday, the visiting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Admiral Michael G. Mullen, said the threat posed by militants sheltering in Pakistan's tribal belt was growing....

[bth: watch for a hostage/prisoner exchange. Could it be Dadullah for the kidnapped Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan?]

In Pakistan, Doubts Over the Fight in Tribal Areas

In Pakistan, Doubts Over the Fight in Tribal Areas - New York Times: "The announcement of a cease-fire just a few weeks into a determined military operation against one of Pakistan’s most wanted men, the militant leader Baitullah Mehsud, has once again raised questions about the Pakistani government’s commitment to combating militancy in the country’s tribal areas.

Pakistani analysts said they feared that the cease-fire was reminiscent of past deals that allowed the militants to regroup and fortify their stronghold, turning the tribal areas into a veritable ministate for the Taliban and Al Qaeda. United States officials have long voiced reservations that any further deals with the militants would be counterproductive.

Spokesmen for Mr. Mehsud, who Pakistani and American officials say is linked to Al Qaeda and the attack that killed the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, announced the cease-fire last week. The government has not confirmed it, and a military spokesman said military operations against Mr. Mehsud and his followers, estimated in the thousands, were continuing.

But two senior security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to journalists, said a cease-fire was in place.

The cease-fire announcement followed three weeks of intensive fighting that began in a mountainous part of South Waziristan on Jan. 16, when security forces mounted a large-scale offensive against Mr. Mehsud and his forces. Reports of the clashes said scores of soldiers and militants were killed.

The army imposed a debilitating economic blockade, coupled with a three-pronged operation to box in Mr. Mehsud and his militants, using the full force of the army’s arsenal, including fighter jets and artillery. The blockade was so effective that for weeks little information about the campaign emerged from the area.

The campaign has been part of the most serious push against militants in several years, led by the new army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who Western diplomats had hoped would refocus the military’s effort in the tribal areas.

The acting interior minister, Hamid Nawaz Khan, suggested that military operations were bearing fruit and that the militants were on the run. “They start asking for negotiations themselves after they find themselves weak due to the military operation,” he said.

The reasons for what appears to be a reversal by the government remain unclear. But given the bitter experience of past deals, and the army’s apparent readiness to pursue military operations against Mr. Mehsud this time, the news of the cease-fire has been greeted with dismay by some Pakistani analysts. ...

[bth: so there is also a report that Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan was kidnapped yesterday on a road trip from Pakistan to Kabul.]

Webb Suggests Legal Action Against Bush On Iraq

Webb Suggests Legal Action Against Bush On Iraq - Politics on The Huffington Post: "Sen Jim Webb thinks legal action against the Bush administration may be needed if the president pursues a long-term military presence in Iraq without Congress' approval.

"I'm not convinced we don't need to have a lawsuit ready," Webb told the Huffington Post. "This is a classic separation of powers issue. I started to talk to people about this today."

In recent days the administration has seemingly backed away from attempting to secure extended military-to-military relationship with the Iraqi government to replace a current U.N. Mandate. Webb and others -- most notably Rep. Rosa DeLauro and Sen. Hillary Clinton -- have pushed legislation that would restrict federal money for any such agreement unless it came in the form of a congressional treaty. And while a victory on that front seems within grasp, the possibility still exists, Webb warned, for the administration to ultimately circumvent congressional input.

"They are characterizing this as within the authority of the Executive Branch. They will wait to August when everyone is at the conventions, and leave it on our doorstep," said the Virginia Democrat. "If the Senate hasn't acted by then, they are going to announce an agreement between the Executive Branch and Iraq."

The issue of a long-term military presence in Iraq reemerged on the political landscape today after Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he may suspend the reduction of U.S. troops from the country depending on security considerations.

"A brief period of consolidation and evaluation probably does make sense," Gates told reporters during a short stop at this U.S. base in southern Baghdad.

Earlier proclamations from Gates suggested that the U.S. would not pursue a policy of extended military presence and that conditions in Iraq would improve enough during the second half of 2008 to permit troop withdrawals.

Asked to respond to Gates' remarks, Webb cautioned that, before working off of one person's assessment, the Senate would best be served to get the input of generals on the ground. He also agreed that the statement fit into the greater context of the Bush administration and its congressional allies pushing to make America's presence in the region permanent.

"I think they are doing everything they can," said Webb. "And I don't think there is any secret to the fact that Sen. Mitch McConnell and John McCain and most of the people in the Republic Party are comfortable with the fact that we will be in Iraq for the next 50 years."

The issue of permanency has been a focal point of the Democratic presidential campaign. On the campaign trail, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, asked her challenger, Sen. Barack Obama, D-IL, to co-sponsor her bill that would prevent the president from entering into such a pact without approval from Congress. On Monday, the two candidates weighed in on the topic with each offering critical statements of Gates' proclamation.

"I strongly disagree with the Administration's plans to 'pause' the long overdue removal of our combat brigades from Iraq," said Obama. "We cannot wage war without end in Iraq while ignoring mounting costs to our troops and their families, our security and our economy... Instead of false promises and a faulty strategy, the American people need a rapid and responsible removal of our combat brigades that relieves the burden on our military."

Added Clinton: "This means that we will have as many troops in Iraq in the summer of 2008 as we had at the beginning of 2007. I continue to call on the President to end the war he started, to take responsibly for bringing our young men and women home... The whole idea behind this so-called surge was to give the Iraqi government the space and time to make the tough decisions that only they can make for themselves and the future of their country."

[BTH: Bush is going to pass this hot potato to the next president. Throughout his life, he never seemed able to clean up after himself.]

McCain-Obama Parody: Like Hope, But Different - Politics on The Huffington Post

McCain-Obama Parody: Like Hope, But Different - Politics on The Huffington Post

Monday, February 11, 2008

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Shadowy tactics of US troops in Iraq - News

Shadowy tactics of US troops in Iraq - News: "A"MILITARY prosecutor called it "a simple case" of murder. But the conviction of a US army sniper in Baghdad for the killing of an unarmed man has provided a glimpse of the shadowy tactics employed by American forces in Iraq and the sleep-deprived conditions under which they are forced to operate.

Jurors at the court-martial of Sergeant Evan Vela yesterday took three hours to find him guilty of murder without premeditation and making false statements for his role in the execution of the Iraqi civilian in May last year.Vela, who had faced life in jail, was sentenced to ten years, after which he will receive a dishonourable discharge. His case is automatically referred to a military appeal court.

The court heard the Iraqi man, Genei Nesir Khudair al-Janabi, stumbled across a hideout occupied by Vela and his sniper team 30 miles south of Baghdad: he was shot once in the head to prevent him alerting a gang of suspected Iraqi insurgents nearby.

Defence lawyers claimed Vela, a married father of two, had slept for less than five of the previous 72 hours and that his judgment was impaired by exhaustion when he followed the orders of a superior to pull the trigger."This was an accident waiting to happen," his lawyer, James Culp, said.

"These men were extremely sleep-deprived and nobody was thinking clearly."Vela wept on the witness stand as he recalled the events of the night of 11 May, 2007, but said his memory of events was hazy."I heard the word 'shoot'. My next memory is the man was dead. It took me a minute for me to realise the shot came from the pistol in my hand. I don't remember pulling the trigger," he said.

However, according to prosecutors, the group was thinking clearly enough to try to cover up the murder by planting an AK-47 rifle on the dead man's body.Details of the secret policy of taking weapons on operations to plant on victims emerged during evidence given by the group's leader, Sgt Mark Hensley, who admitted ordering Vela to fire the fatal shot, but who was acquitted of murder last year.

The court also heard it was an accepted policy for US snipers' units to carry fake explosives and other weapons as bait, leave them out in the open, then to shoot any suspected insurgents who tried to take them.

Iraq's human rights minister, Wijdan Mikhail Salim, has denounced the tactic and said she did not believe Mr Janabi's killing was justified or an accident....

[bth: one wonders how the gunshot that killed the Iraqi didn't give their position away and why on earth the superior who ordered the shooting then covered it up was acquitted.]
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Army Buried Study Faulting Iraq Planning - New York Times

Army Buried Study Faulting Iraq Planning - New York Times: "The"Army is accustomed to protecting classified information. But when it comes to the planning for the Iraq war, even an unclassified assessment can acquire the status of a state secret.

That is what happened to a detailed study of the planning for postwar Iraq prepared for the Army by the RAND Corporation, a federally financed center that conducts research for the military.

After 18 months of research, RAND submitted a report in the summer of 2005 called “Rebuilding Iraq.”
RAND researchers provided an unclassified version of the report along with a secret one, hoping that its publication would contribute to the public debate on how to prepare for future conflicts.

But the study’s wide-ranging critique of the White House, the Defense Department and other government agencies was a concern for Army generals, and the Army has sought to keep the report under lock and key.

A review of the lengthy report — a draft of which was obtained by The New York Times — shows that it identified problems with nearly every organization that had a role in planning the war. That assessment parallels the verdicts of numerous former officials and independent analysts.

The study chided President Bush — and by implication Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who served as national security adviser when the war was planned — as having failed to resolve differences among rival agencies. “Throughout the planning process, tensions between the Defense Department and the State Department were never mediated by the president or his staff,” it said.

The Defense Department led by Donald H. Rumsfeld was given the lead in overseeing the postwar period in Iraq despite its “lack of capacity for civilian reconstruction planning and execution.”

The State Department led by Colin L. Powell produced a voluminous study on the future of Iraq that identified important issues but was of “uneven quality” and “did not constitute an actionable plan.”

Gen. Tommy R. Franks, whose Central Command oversaw the military operation in Iraq, had a “fundamental misunderstanding” of what the military needed to do to secure postwar Iraq, the study said.

The regulations that govern the Army’s relations with the Arroyo Center, the division of RAND that does research for the Army, stipulate that Army officials are to review reports in a timely fashion to ensure that classified information is not released. But the rules also note that the officials are not to “censor” analysis or prevent the dissemination of material critical of the Army.

The report on rebuilding Iraq was part of a seven-volume series by RAND on the lessons learned from the war. Asked why the report has not been published, Timothy Muchmore, a civilian Army official, said it had ventured too far from issues that directly involve the Army.

“After carefully reviewing the findings and recommendations of the thorough RAND assessment, the Army determined that the analysts had in some cases taken a broader perspective on the early planning and operational phases of Operation Iraqi Freedom than desired or chartered by the Army,” Mr. Muchmore said in a statement. “Some of the RAND findings and recommendations were determined to be outside the purview of the Army and therefore of limited value in informing Army policies, programs and priorities.”

Warren Robak, a RAND spokesman, declined to talk about the contents of the study but said the organization favored publication as a matter of general policy.

“RAND always endeavors to publish as much of our research as possible, in either unclassified form or in classified form for those with the proper security clearances,” Mr. Robak said in a statement. "The multivolume series on lessons learned from Operation Iraqi Freedom is no exception. We also, however, have a longstanding practice of not discussing work that has not yet been published."

When RAND researchers began their work, nobody expected it to become a bone of contention with the Army. The idea was to review the lessons learned from the war, as RAND had done with previous conflicts. ...

As the RAND study went through drafts, a chapter was written to emphasize the implications for the Army. An unclassified version was produced with numerous references to newspaper articles and books, an approach that was intended to facilitate publication.

Senior Army officials were not happy with the results, and questioned whether all of the information in the study was truly unclassified and its use of newspaper reports. RAND researchers sent a rebuttal.
That failed to persuade the Army to allow publication of the unclassified report, and the classified version was not widely disseminated throughout the Pentagon.

Neither General Lovelace nor General Melcher agreed to be interviewed for this article, but General Lovelace provided a statement through a spokesman at his headquarters in Kuwait.

“The RAND study simply did not deliver a product that could have assisted the Army in paving a clear way ahead; it lacked the perspective needed for future planning by the U.S. Army,” he said.

A Pentagon official who is familiar with the episode offered a different interpretation: Army officials were concerned that the report would strain relations with a powerful defense secretary and become caught up in the political debate over the war. “The Army leaders who were involved did not want to take the chance of increasing the friction with Secretary Rumsfeld,” said the official, who asked not to be identified because he did not want to alienate senior military officials.

The Army has asked that the entire RAND series be resubmitted and has said it will decide on its status thereafter.

[bth: Lovelace and Melcher are chickenshits. Chickenshits. So much for lessons learned. So much for truth or democracy. I'm sure they will go far in their see no evil, hear no evil world. In the meantime NCOs and junior officers die from repeated mistakes in planning and organization.]
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Contractor deaths up 17 percent in Iraq in 2007

Contractor deaths up 17 percent in Iraq in 2007 - Houston Chronicle: "WASHINGTON"— The number of civilian contractors reported killed in Iraq jumped 17 percent in 2007 and accounted for more than one in four deaths associated with the U.S. occupation last year.

In a year when President Bush sent 30,000 additional troops into Iraq in what's been called the "surge," at least 353 civilian contractors working for the U.S. government were killed, up from 301 in 2006, Labor Department records show.

"Incredible," replied Steven Schooner, a law professor and associate dean at the George Washington University Law School, when told of the contractor death toll.

U.S. military personnel suffered their deadliest year of the war in 2007, but both contractor and troop deaths began declining dramatically in the second half of the year, according to various tallies examined by the Houston Chronicle.

And Houston-based KBR, the Pentagon's largest contractor in Iraq, escaped the worst of last year's carnage.

Military planners didn't anticipate contractors would represent such a high percentage of fatalities when they were privatizing functions once performed by uniformed personnel, said Schooner, an expert in federal procurement law and military contracting issues.

Yet these contractor casualties go largely unmentioned by the Pentagon and unnoticed by the American public.

From the start of the war in March 2003 through Dec. 31 — the latest figures available — 1,123 civilian contractors are known to have died in Iraq, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

Pentagon records show that 3,954 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Last year, 901 U.S. military personnel were killed in Iraq, the most for any year of the war and up about 10 percent from 822 in 2006, according to the authoritative Web site, which tallies the statistics.

It is not clear whether 2007 likewise represented the deadliest year for civilian contractors. The Labor Department did not provide a breakdown of the data for all the years of the war.

Death toll draws criticismThe mounting death toll among civilian contractors — while a fraction of the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians caught in the violence — is sparking new criticism of the war.

"Civilians are being put on the front line and in the middle of battle," said T. Scott Allen, a Houston attorney representing former KBR workers injured in Iraq and survivors of workers killed.
He called the spike in contractor fatalities "offensive."

KBR has more than 54,000 workers in Iraq serving up food, washing clothes, delivering mail and providing a host of other logistical support services for the Pentagon.

The Bush administration recently has expanded the number of contractors working in Iraq, while at the same time preparing to reduce the number of troops there.

Neither the Pentagon nor the Labor Department would comment on why civilian contractor deaths rose so much in 2007 — indeed, at a faster rate than military fatalities.

The death count was higher early in 2007, with fatalities in the first half of the year double the number in the second half.

Troops deaths also decreased later in the year.

As more U.S. troops flooded into Iraq as part of the surge, military deaths hit a high of 126 in May — the worst month since late 2004, figures show.

But by December, they had dropped to 23.

And in the last two months, violence against contractors has ebbed considerably, said Doug Brooks, president of the International Peace Operations Association, a trade group for military contracting firms.

Attacks on convoys declineLess than 3 percent of convoys rolling through Iraq are coming under attack, Brooks said, down from about 20 percent a year ago.

Available statistics don't show how many of the civilian contractors killed last year were Americans. The Labor Department does not provide a breakdown by nationality.

But industry experts believe most of the victims are Iraqis and other foreign nationals, since they make up most of the contract work force.

About 155,000 contractors were working in Iraq for the Defense Department in the fourth quarter, Brooks said. That's on par with the number of U.S. troops — 158,000, according to the Pentagon.

The number of contractors working in Iraq has been on the rise, up 13 percent from the third quarter of 2007.

Only about 27,000 of the 155,000 contractors working in Iraq are Americans, Brooks said. Most of the U.S. citizens work for KBR.

Ninety-seven KBR workers have been killed in Iraq, including 14 last year, company officials said.
That was down from a high of 38 in 2004, the year six KBR truck drivers were killed and another 14 injured when their convoy was abushed in a scene that has come to be known as the Good Friday Massacre.

"The safety and training programs that KBR has had in place since starting work in Iraq remain unchanged," KBR spokeswoman Heather Browne said. "Further, the company's commitment to the safety and security of all employees is unwavering."

One civilian's storyAmong KBR's casualties last year was logistics coordinator Carolyn Edwards, 38, of Montezuma, Ga. Edwards was walking in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad last March when she was struck by rocket debris, company officials said.

"She told me she was in the safe area," said Queen Minter, Edwards' aunt. Edwards had admitted she was afraid to go to Iraq but had taken the job anyway.

"We didn't want her to go," Minter said.

The Labor Department's figures only provide a rough estimate of the number of civilian contractors killed in Iraq.

They actually record the number of insurance claims filed with the Labor Department's Division of Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation. Workers whose families or employers do not seek compensation are not counted.

"How can it be that the only official count of dead and wounded contractors in Iraq comes from the Labor Department rather than the Defense Department?" law professor Schooner wonders.

But after nearly five years of war, some clarity may be coming.

Blackwater, the largest private security firm in Iraq, has been under scrutiny as a federal grand jury in Washington investigates the company's involvement in the shooting deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians Sept. 16.
Prompted largely by the outcry over that incident, lawmakers inserted language into a Defense Department authorization bill that will require the administration to keep track of how many contractors are killed or wounded in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Law signed last monthThat legislation, which Bush signed into law late last month, requires the Pentagon, the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development to maintain a database recording how many contractors are working in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the number killed and wounded in those two conflicts.

Lawmakers would then have access to that database.

"This new law will finally provide us with answers to basic questions about the role, size and scope of private security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., who spearheaded the effort to include the language.

"It will also provide much-needed oversight and transparency to an industry that has gone virtually unchecked for years."

[bth: This failure to count civilian casualties wasn't an accidental oversight. In fact, until a few months ago the plan was to offset the decline in military personnel beginning in March 08 with a surge in private contractors - they were cheaper, usually not American and expendible. This plan got disrupted in part with the Blackwater shooting and the Iraqi government's revolt over contractor immunity. So now military guard posts are being stripped and replaced with contractors. Watch for convoy security to be handed over to contractors next, provided the legal issues can be sorted out.]
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How a safer Iraq put Force Protection in danger

How a safer Iraq put Force Protection in danger: "When bloodshed in Iraq spiked early last year, the Pentagon launched its largest wartime buying spree since World War II.

Defense companies raced to secure a piece of the $28.2 billion appropriated by Congress to buy thousands of heavily armored trucks to protect U.S. troops from roadside bombs. Among the winners: Ladson-based Force Protection Inc., a struggling contractor that landed $1.85 billion in deals to build 3,000 of the so-called mine-resistant, ambush-protected trucks, or MRAPs. But with the violence in Iraq subsiding, the spending boom appears to be ending as abruptly as it began, whipsawing Force Protection in the process.

The Marine Corps initially wanted to buy 3,700 of the vehicles, but it recently slashed its orders by 1,300. The Army is weighing a similar reduction, which could set off a shakeout in the nascent MRAP industry. As a result, Force Protection’s stock price, which soared when the orders rolled in, has fallen hard. Next year, analysts expect the company’s earnings to fall by a third.

“It’s going to be difficult, because we are going to halt production at some point,” says Brig. Gen. Michael Brogan, the Marine commander who helps run the MRAP program. “We won’t ramp down very much — it will probably be pretty close to an abrupt end.”

MRAPs were developed in South Africa in the 1970s and have been used by armed forces around the world for decades. The enormous trucks sit high off the ground, have V-shaped hulls and are designed to come apart in an explosion, dissipating the force of the blast. They are also designed so that they can usually be put back together and reused. Last month, the U.S. military recorded its first MRAP fatality when a soldier who was partially exposed while riding in one was killed. Force Protection says it didn’t make that MRAP.

Even the smaller MRAP models, which can weigh more than 15 tons and stand eight feet tall, dwarf the military’s Humvee. Force Protection’s Buffalo model, which is 13 feet tall, had a cameo in this summer’s “Transformers” movie as an evil robot named Bonecrusher.

The MRAP project moved faster than any other acquisitions in recent Defense Department history, a response to the death toll exacted by roadside bombs, which reach a high of 90 in May 2007 from four in July 2003 and now account for about 60 percent of all U.S. combat deaths in Iraq. In the 1980s, the military took more than five years to design and test its troop transport, the Humvee, before deploying it to the field, according to Lt. Gen. Stephen Speakes, a top Army acquisitions officer. By contrast, he says, it has taken the military less than a year to ship 1,700 MRAPs to Iraq.

The government did have to scramble. The trucks are so heavy that they require a specialized tire made only by France’s Michelin Corp., which made just 1,000 a month, a fraction of the 10,000 needed. The Pentagon spent $4 million to buy new equipment for Michelin, which is now producing more than 15,000 tires a month. Concerned about possible shortages of heavy-duty truck axles and ballistic glass, the Pentagon also invoked a rarely used, Cold War-era industrial power that forced companies to build parts for the MRAPs before turning to other orders.

Contractors, sensing the military’s eagerness to spend whatever was necessary, rushed into the market.

Existing MRAP builders, such as Force Protection, had to expand quickly to survive against bigger and richer competitors. It was a particularly steep challenge for Force Protection, which had been selling just a few dozen MRAPs a year to the military, mainly for use by explosives disposal units.

“For all intents and purposes, we were an empty building four years ago, and we were a small band of people three years ago,” says Gordon McGilton, 62 years old, who was the company’s chief executive until he retired at the end of last month. When Mr. McGilton joined Force Protection in 2005, the company had gone through a stretch of management turmoil and was at risk of losing its existing military contracts because of production delays. A 2007 Defense Department Inspector General report said Force Protection “did not perform as a responsible contractor and repeatedly failed to meet contractual delivery schedules for getting vehicles to the theater.”

Mr. McGilton knew the Pentagon’s MRAP push would give the company a new lease on life, and he decided to double-down on government business. The company hired 1,800 permanent and temporary workers and formed a partnership with General Dynamics Land Systems, a division of General Dynamics Corp.

Chastened by the Defense Department’s criticism, the company produced more MRAPs in one month in late 2007 than it had made in all of 2006. Its revenue jumped from $10 million in 2004 to $206 million in the 2007 third quarter alone.

On a recent trip to Iraq, Gen. Brogan saw a Force Protection MRAP that had been blown apart by roadside bombs and put back together five times, with its crew surviving each blast. “You could still see the shrapnel holes in the sheet metal,” he says, admiringly.

At Force Protection’s main factory between North Charleston and Summerville evidence of the company’s rapid-fire growth abounds. Caterpillar diesel engines sit on enormous shelves in one of the company’s bustling assembly buildings, which was empty a year ago. Welders, putting together the company’s mainstay Cougar model, huddle over rows of partially assembled vehicles, sending sparks flying.

In October, the government’s Defense Contract Audit Agency told the company its bookkeeping didn’t meet standards. In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing dated Nov. 13, the company noted that it has “extensive work remaining in order to meet these standards” and has restated results for 2005, 2006 and part of 2007. Failure to fix the problems could mean losing out on more government work.

Of all the defense companies building MRAPs for the military, Force Protection is the only one solely focused on armored trucks. That leaves it particularly vulnerable to any large-scale military cutback.

The risks facing the company became apparent on Nov. 30, the same day that North Carolina’s two Republican senators, Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr, joined Mr. McGilton and other Force Protection executives at a ribbon-cutting for a new plant in Roxboro, N.C., where the company will manufacture a different type of armored off-road vehicle known as the Cheetah.

Just hours earlier, the Marines had announced their cutback. Mingling with local dignitaries, Mr. McGilton was unaware of the development. He later got the bad news from a reporter at the event.

McGilton says Force Protection can weather future cutbacks by retrenching, selling trucks to foreign militaries and producing MRAP spare parts. He also believes the U.S. military will order more of the company’s armored vehicles, including the new Cheetah, because the success of MRAPs in Iraq has raised expectations that U.S. forces will be protected from roadside bombs no matter where they’re deployed.

Investors remain skeptical. The military has yet to commit to buying any of the company’s Cheetahs, and many analysts expect the Army to cut back its MRAP order soon. Force Protection’s stock was trading at $4.10 a share Friday, off its May high of $31.16 a share.

For 2008, Wall Street analysts expect the company to report a profit of $1.01 a share, according to Thomson First Call. For 2009, they see that falling to 64 cents a share. The company doesn’t provide earnings guidance.

In December, the Pentagon said it would spend $2.66 billion on an additional 3,126 vehicles from Force Protection, BAE Systems and International Military & Government, bringing the government’s total MRAP order to more than 15,000. U.S. commanders say they will ship 500 of the vehicles to Afghanistan in coming months because of the deteriorating security situation there. But John Young, the senior Pentagon acquisitions official overseeing the program, says the military will place a final order in March and then shift its focus to buying spare parts and tires for the existing fleet of trucks.

Talking about the MRAP market, Nick Chabraja, CEO of General Dynamics, told analysts last month that after this year “our view is that it goes away.” General Dynamics, Force Protection’s much larger partner, expects that other domestic and international defense sales will help it make up for the drop-off.

[bth: it is a terribly stupid and shortsighted move to close this production line down. To think that we are not going to face IED threats in the future, to think that we are not going to need these vehicles or this capacity, to think that marines will only do expeditionary work in the future is to pretend in the tooth fairy. Unbelievable stupidity and short sighted.]
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Sunday, February 10, 2008

BRIEFS - BRIEFS: "ANTI"ARMOR ATTACKS INCREASE, ARMY SAYS: The U.S. Army has reported its forces in Iraq have been, on average, hit with an anti-armor attack once every three days for more than a month now.

According to a statement by the Multi National Force, such attacks increased during the past 35 days but caused no serious losses or damage.

The latest attack was on February 3 in Azamiyah, targeting a U.S. Army patrol.

The increased attacks injured some MNF soldiers, but they also killed many civilians, it said. The U.S. Army recently shifted from humvees to more secure armored vehicles to reduce losses in anti-armor attacks. One death was reported in an attack on one of the new vehicles and the army said there would have been more victims with the old vehicles.

MORE IRAQIS HEAD TO SYRIA THAN RETURN HOME: Iraqis are once again leaving Iraq for Syria in greater numbers than are returning, despite the lower level of bloodshed in their homeland, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

A report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, citing Syrian immigration officials, said that in late January, an average of 1,200 Iraqis entered Syria every day compared with about 700 who returned to Iraq. Most of those Iraqis who return say they are doing so because their Syrian visas have expired or because they have run out of money, rather than because conditions in their homeland have improved, according to the report...
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600 suicide bombers waiting to strike in Karachi: Report

00 suicide bombers waiting to strike in Karachi: Report -Pakistan-World-The Times of India: "As"many as 600 suicide bombers are present in the Pakistani port city of Karachi where they are planning to carry out a major attack, arrested militants of an al-Qaeda linked banned outfit have told the police. "Around 600 Jundullah militants are present in Karachi. They are mentally prepared and trained to commit suicide attacks," Qasim Toori and Danish alias Talha, arrested on January 29, were quoted as saying by a source privy to the interrogation. Most of the suicide bombers were former students of Islamabad's Lal Masjid which was stormed by the military last July to flush out extremists, the source told the Daily Times. The militants confessed that they had robbed foreign banks and dispatched the money to their headquarters in Wana, from where their needs for weapons, explosives and other necessities were being met. ....
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Manuel Miranda letter to Ambassador Crocker

Here is a link to a scorching letter from Manuel Miranda to Ambassador Crocker on the State Department's staff and efforts in Iraq. It is worth a read if to understand how disfunctional the bureaucracy really is. If we are looking for the State Dept. to match the military's surge effort in Iraq, rest assured that it isn't going to happen. They are simply too incompetent to accomplish the task.

The Hawks' Last Hurrah?

The Hawks' Last Hurrah?: ..."While"their numbers were strong, the hawks this year appeared less confident about their influence on Washington's foreign policy, and resentful of an American bureaucracy perceived by many attendees as having hijacked Iran policy from the weakening grasp of the White House. "It's close to zero percent chance that the Bush administration will authorize military action against Iran before leaving office," Bolton told the conference. "No one should be under any illusions about the United States' part in the Iranian situation in the coming year."

Podhoretz, for his part, agreed: "Unless Bush realizes or fulfills my fading hope of air strikes, it is undoubtedly up to Israel to prevent" Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Bolton, like Podhoretz, urged Israeli policymakers to prepare to take matters into their own hands, saying "Israel should be willing to see themselves as a possible last resort." Though his call for Israel to prepare to strike Iran on its own–as well as his outspoken exasperation with the administration he until recently served–were met with chuckles from the Herzliya audience, the prospect of Israel ultimately choosing to act unilaterally came up again and again.

Speaking at the conference, Labour Party Knesset member Brig. Gen. Efraim Sneh said, "The military option is not preferable. It has bad ramifications which are surpassed only by those of a nuclear Iran. That is why sanctions are not for [Israel] to implement. The leaders of the free world should do it." But, he warned, "We have to prepare for a situation, which has happened before, that the Jews are on their own. And there are things we can do on our own if there is no other choice."

In the past, Middle East experts say, the Herzliya conference has been used as a high profile platform from which Israeli leaders have heralded major security policy shifts. "This is where [former Israeli prime minister Ariel] Sharon first floated the unilateral disengagement idea [from Gaza]," said Douglas Bloomfield, foreign policy analyst and syndicated columnist for Jewish newspapers. "It is where…[Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert floated his realignment plan [to get out of the West Bank] before he was elected prime minister. He used Herzliya to try out what became his platform under the Kadima party to leave 90 percent of the West Bank."

But this year's conference was–at first glance–absent such major policy announcements. As Israeli prime minister Olmert, defense minister Ehud Barak, and foreign minister Tzipi Livni addressed the Herzliya audience at various points during the conference, hanging over their heads was the imminent release of the final Winograd Commission report determining political accountability for the outcome of the 2006 Israeli war with Hezbollah, a war that was widely considered a failure.

"Everyone was so concerned with the Winograd report," said one American Herzliya attendee who closely follows Israel and who asked not to be named. "Olmert was on the defensive, so was Barak." (The report, released last week, mostly exonerated Olmert, placing the blame largely on the Israeli Defense Forces.) ...

Because They Said So - New York Times

Because They Said So - New York Times: "Even by the dismal standards of what passes for a national debate on intelligence and civil liberties, last week was a really bad week.

The Senate debated a bill that would make needed updates to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — while needlessly expanding the president’s ability to spy on Americans without a warrant and covering up the unlawful spying that President Bush ordered after 9/11.

The Democrat who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, John Rockefeller of West Virginia, led the way in killing amendments that would have strengthened requirements for warrants and raised the possibility of at least some accountability for past wrongdoing. Republicans declaimed about protecting America from terrorists — as if anyone was arguing the opposite — and had little to say about protecting Americans’ rights.

We saw a ray of hope when the head of the Central Intelligence Agency conceded — finally — that waterboarding was probably illegal. But his boss, the director of national intelligence, insisted it was legal when done to real bad guys. And Vice President Dick Cheney — surprise! — made it clear that President

Bush would authorize waterboarding whenever he wanted.

The Catch-22 metaphor is seriously overused, but consider this: Attorney General Michael Mukasey told Congress there would be no criminal investigation into waterboarding. He said the Justice Department decided waterboarding was legal (remember the torture memo?) and told the C.I.A. that.

So, according to Mukaseyan logic, the Justice Department cannot investigate those who may have committed torture, because the Justice Department said it was O.K. and Justice cannot be expected to investigate itself.

As it was with torture, so it was with wiretaps.

After the 2001 terrorist attacks, the president decided to ignore the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, and authorized wiretaps without a warrant on electronic communications between people in the United States and people abroad. Administration lawyers ginned up a legal justification and then asked communications companies for vast amounts of data.

According to Mr. Rockefeller, the companies were “sent letters, all of which stated that the relevant activities had been authorized by the president” and that the attorney general — then John Ashcroft — decided the activity was lawful. The legal justification remains secret, but we suspect it was based on the finely developed theory that the president does not have to obey the law, and not on any legitimate interpretation of federal statutes.

When Mr. Bush started his spying program, FISA allowed warrantless eavesdropping for up to a year if the president certified that it was directed at a foreign power, or the agent of a foreign power, and there was no real chance that communications involving United States citizens or residents would be caught up. As we now know, the surveillance included Americans and there was no “foreign power” involved.

The law then, and now, also requires the attorney general to certify “in writing under oath” that the surveillance is legal under FISA, not some fanciful theory of executive power. He is required to inform Congress 30 days in advance, and then periodically report to the House and Senate intelligence panels.

Congress was certainly not informed, and if Mr. Ashcroft or later Alberto Gonzales certified anything under oath, it’s a mystery to whom and when. The eavesdropping went on for four years and would probably still be going on if The Times had not revealed it.

So what were the telecommunications companies told? Since the administration is not going to investigate this either, civil actions are the only alternative.

The telecoms, which are facing about 40 pending lawsuits, believe they are protected by a separate law that says companies that give communications data to the government cannot be sued for doing so if they were obeying a warrant — or a certification from the attorney general that a warrant was not needed — and all federal statutes were being obeyed.

To defend themselves, the companies must be able to show they cooperated and produce that certification. But the White House does not want the public to see the documents, since it seems clear that the legal requirements were not met. It is invoking the state secrets privilege — saying that as a matter of national security, it will not confirm that any company cooperated with the wiretapping or permit the documents to be disclosed in court.

So Mr. Rockefeller and other senators want to give the companies immunity even if the administration never admits they were involved. This is short-circuiting the legal system. If it is approved, we will then have to hope that the next president will be willing to reveal the truth.

Mr. Rockefeller argues that companies might balk at future warrantless spying programs. Imagine that!

This whole nightmare was started by Mr. Bush’s decision to spy without warrants — not because they are hard to get, but because he decided he was above the law. Discouraging that would be a service to the nation.

This debate is not about whether the United States is going to spy on Al Qaeda, it is about whether it is going to destroy its democratic principles in doing so. Senators who care about that should vote against immunity.

[bth: this debate is about whether the American people are willing to surrender their constitutional rights without a fight - whether Congress is complicit in the abuse of those rights and whether President Bush is above the law.]

No Funding Planned In Bush Budget For Troop-Benefit Program

Free Internet Press - Uncensored News for Real People: "President Bush drew great applause during his State of the Union address last month when he called on Congress to allow U.S. troops to transfer their unused education benefits to family members. "Our military families serve our nation, they inspire our nation, and tonight our nation honors them," he said.

A week later, however, when Bush submitted his $3.1 trillion federal budget to Congress, he included no funding for such an initiative, which government analysts calculate could cost $1 billion to $2 billion annually.

Bush's proposal was added to the speech late in the process, said administration officials, after the president decided that he wanted to announce a program that would favor military families. That left little time to vet the idea, develop formal cost estimates or gauge how many people might take advantage of such a program. Some administration officials said the proposal surprised them, and they voiced concerns about how to fund it.

Some critics in Congress cite the episode as a case study of what they consider the slapdash way Bush has put together the legislative program for his final year in office. Still, the idea is generating bipartisan interest from members of Congress who are eager to assist military families coping with long-term absences of loved ones deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. ...

[bth: betrayed again. ]