Friday, March 27, 2009

Pakistan and Afghan Taliban Close Ranks - NYTimes.com

Pakistan and Afghan Taliban Close Ranks - NYTimes.com: "ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — After agreeing to bury their differences and unite forces, Taliban leaders based in Pakistan have closed ranks with their Afghan comrades to ready a new offensive in Afghanistan as the United States prepares to send 17,000 more troops there this year."...

[bth: worth reading in the context of Obama's announcements and plans to coordinate Afghan and Pakistani governments and perhaps bring Iran into the equation.]

Oil falls as U.S. inventories rise to 16-year high - MarketWatch

Oil falls as U.S. inventories rise to 16-year high - MarketWatch: "NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- Crude-oil futures fell Wednesday, dropping from their highest level in nearly four months as data showed U.S. crude inventories rose more than expected to the highest level in 16 years as petroleum demand fell.

Total petroleum products supplied over the past four weeks averaged 19.1 million barrels a day, down 3.2% from a year ago, the Energy Information Administration reported."...

[bth: it is critical that we make it through the summer without a spike in gasoline prices because the American consumers cannot afford it.]

Kyl, McConnel skip Obama's briefing on Afghanistan

Think Progress » Kyl, McConnell skip Obama’s briefing on Afghanistan.
President Obama has long refrained from detailing the particulars of his plans for Afghanistan and Pakistan, saying he will only do so after conducting a strategic review of the situation. This week, the administration announced that it will will soon release the details of the review. But Senate GOP leaders skipped Obama’s briefing on the strategic review today, opting for a “multi-member meeting”:

Four Democratic senators joined a half dozen House leaders from both parties at the session with Mr. Obama, but Senators Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, and Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Republican whip, were absent. … “He had a long-scheduled, multi-member meeting here at the same time,” [McConnell spokesperson Don] Stewart said. “And as the invitation came in late yesterday, it was tough to move things around.”

“This was nothing more than a snub — pure and simple,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide.


Mystery over Sudan 'air strike'

BBC NEWS | Africa | Mystery over Sudan 'air strike'
A Sudanese government minister has confirmed reports of an air raid in eastern Sudan earlier this year.

The minister, Mabrook Mubarak Saleem, told an Arabic news channel that many people had been killed in the strike, said to have taken place last month.

Earlier reports suggested that those attacked were on their way to deliver weapons to Hamas fighters in Gaza.

Israeli officials have not commented publicly on reports that their planes may have been involved.

The CBS television network said it had been told by American officials that a strike by Israeli planes in January had succeeded in preventing weapons from Sudan reaching Gaza.

Mr Mabrook Mubarak Saleem said the air raid happened in February and that those killed or injured had been civilians from a number of African countries.


Russia plans to create Arctic military force

Russia plans to create Arctic military force: "MOSCOW (AP) - Russia is planning to create a dedicated military force to help protect its interests in the disputed Arctic region.

The presidential Security Council has released a document outlining goverment policy for the Arctic that includes creating a special group of military forces. The report was released this week and reported by Russian media on Friday.

Russia, the United States, Canada and other northern countries are trying to assert jurisdiction over the Arctic.

The dispute has intensified amid growing evidence that the shrinking polar ice is opening up new shipping lanes and allowing natural resources to be tapped."

[bth: they are going for the oil]

Are We at (Robot) War in Pakistan? (Updated) | Danger Room from Wired.com

Are We at (Robot) War in Pakistan? (Updated) | Danger Room from Wired.com: "Washington and Islamabad are 'drawing up a fresh list of terrorist targets for Predator drone strikes' in Pakistan, according to the Wall Street Journal. Militants crossing the border into Afghanistan would still be in the drones' bullseyes, just like before. But Pakistani officials are also 'seeking to broaden the scope of the program to target extremists who have carried out attacks against Pakistanis.'"...

[bth: an interesting article worth reading in full]

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Op-Ed Columnist - Secrets of a Pollster - NYTimes.com

Op-Ed Columnist - Secrets of a Pollster - NYTimes.com: ..."The über-lesson for presidents? You can’t be too honest in describing big problems, too bold in offering big solutions, too humble in dealing with big missteps, too forward in re-telling your story or too gutsy in speaking the previously unspeakable."

Most electronic voting isn't secure, CIA expert says | McClatchy

Most electronic voting isn't secure, CIA expert says | McClatchy: "WASHINGTON — The CIA, which has been monitoring foreign countries' use of electronic voting systems, has reported apparent vote-rigging schemes in Venezuela, Macedonia and Ukraine and a raft of concerns about the machines' vulnerability to tampering.

Appearing last month before a U.S. Election Assistance Commission field hearing in Orlando, Fla., a CIA cybersecurity expert suggested that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his allies fixed a 2004 election recount, an assertion that could further roil U.S. relations with the Latin leader"...

Al Qaeda-trained Britons return from Pakistan - The Long War Journal

Al Qaeda-trained Britons return from Pakistan - The Long War Journal: "More than 20 Britons who have trained in al Qaeda terror camps inside Pakistan have returned to Britain, according to Pakistani intelligence.

The Britons, whose families are from Pakistan, were monitored by Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence agency, Sky News reported. But the ISI failed to notify British intelligence until after the men entered the country, the news agency reported."...

Think Fast: Cost of uninsured adds $1100/year to premiiums of insured families

Think Progress » Cost of uninsured adds $1,100/year to premiums of insured families.
When the uninsured cannot pay for the care they receive, health care providers shift costs to Americans with insurance in the form of higher premiums. A new report from The Wonk Room’s Ben Furnas and Peter Harbage concludes that a failure to continuously cover all Americans accounts “for roughly 8 percent of the average health insurance premium“:

This cost-shift amounts to $1,100 per average family premium in 2009 and $410 per average individual premium. By 2013, assuming the cost shift remains the same percentage of premium costs, the cost shift will be approximately $480 for an individual policy and $1,300 for a family policy.

Read the full report here.


Informed Comment

Monday, March 23, 2009

Rocketboom

Rocketboom

Pain Beam Staying Put; No 'Need' in Iraq

Pain Beam Staying Put; No 'Need' in Iraq | Danger Room from Wired.com
U.S. forces in the field have made formal requests over and over again for the so-called "Active Denial System" -- which stimulates pain receptors with a microwave beam. Officials at the Joint Nonlethal Weapons Directorate, for their part, kept saying that ADS was ready to go, technically. Last August, Directorate chief Col. Kirk Hymes promised that "the system now is there and ready for the warfighters." He estimated the pain ray would see action in "six to 10 months," max. The previous October, he swore that ADS would be in Iraq by the end of calendar year 2008.

Hymes was waiting for another official request from U.S. Central Command. But it never came. And now, "the tactical situation is such that there is not an urgent need/mission," Directorate spokesperson Kelley Hughes tells InsideDefense.com.Armymil20070126093954

Well, duh. American forces have worked hard to amassing good will in Iraq. Which commander is going to take the risk of blowing it with a battle-virgin invisible pain ray? ADS may not be intended to be a torture machine. But how else is it going to be perceived, if Americans start microwaving people alive?

Plus, the technical kinks still are completely hammered out. So, in the meantime, the Directorate has launched a series of studies into making the pain beam tougher, smaller, and more powerful.

[Photo: U.S. Army]

[bth: I tried to hold my hand in front of a table top version at a trade show.  It was like your hand was on a hot plate but it left no marks.  It is a perfect torture machine.  Don't deploy it.]


A Failure of Logic

Armchair Generalist: A Failure of Logic
Just a very quick note about this Danger RoomHel_td_beam post - the Army has a program in place to develop a tactical high energy laser. This was a cooperative US-Israeli demonstration started in 1996 to see if one could develop a laser beam that had tactical value in shooting down artillery rockets and shells. One might see the obvious Israeli interest. This is the part that confused me.
In the meantime, researchers working on a separate Army program, the High Energy Laser Technology Demonstrator, will be crunching all that pointing and tracking and optics machinery into a single heavy truck. By 2012, the Army will hook the Northrop solid state laser up to the truck, for test-firing. The following year, if all goes well, the truck should get a ray gun of its own.

Total cost: $100 million, says Dr. Brian Strickland, an Army program manager.

Technically, he tells Danger Room, none of this should be that hard -- not even reducing the size and weight of all of this intricate machinery. The tough part is going to be mass-producing the mobile laser cannons. "The only real showstopper is we've got the get the costs down," Strickland says. Manufacturing the laser and associated gear right now would cost about $40 million per ray gun truck -- way too much, for a defense against munitions that can be made for next-to-nothing. "We want to have a laser that costs $15 to $20 million....

[bth: ridiculous]


AIU Holdings: AIG Creates New Name To Avoid PR Disaster

AIU Holdings: AIG Creates New Name To Avoid PR Disaster: "Following up Ryan Grim's report from Congress last week that AIG chief Edward Liddy was looking to change the company's 'thoroughly wounded and disgraced' name, it appears as though words are being put into action.

The massive insurance operation will henceforth be known as AIU Holdings, Ltd., a process that began this past weekend with the removal of the large, front-end AIG sign from the its Manhattan office."...

[bth: changed to AIOU according to one of the comments on the original post]
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Death squad leader ‘was top CIA agent’

Death Squad Leader Was Top Cia Agent (from Sunday Herald)
THE LATE President Milosevic's secret police chief and organiser of Serb death squads during the genocidal ethnic cleansing of disintegrating Yugoslavia was the United States' top CIA agent in Belgrade, according to the independent Belgrade Radio B92.

The claim that from 1992 until the end of the decade, Jovica Stanisic, head of Serbia's murderous DB Secret Police, was regularly informing his CIA handlers of the thinking in Milosevic's inner circle has shocked the region.

Stanisic is said to have loyally served his two masters for eight years. He is facing war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court at The Hague.
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In the terrifying years of Yugoslavia's internecine wars, he acted as the willing "muscle" behind Milosevic's genocidal campaigns in Croatia, Kosovo and Bosnia, including Sebrenica.

According to the charges he faces, Stanisic was "part of a joint criminal enterprise that included former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic and other Serbian politicians".

Dermot Groome, The Hague's chief prosecutor, has specifically accused him of sending in the Serb Scorpion and Red Beret death squads into the states seeking independence from Belgrade. Stanisic has pleaded not guilty.

Like in a Cold War spy thriller, Serbia's secret police chief met his CIA handlers in safe houses, parks and boats on the river Sava to betray his master's action plans. He provided, it is claimed, information on the whereabouts of Nato hostages, aided CIA operatives in their search for Muslim mass graves and helped the US set up secret bases in Bosnia to monitor the implementation of the 1995 Dayton peace accord....

[bth: not good]


US will appoint Afghan 'prime minister' to bypass Hamid Karzai

US will appoint Afghan 'prime minister' to bypass Hamid Karzai | World news | guardian.co.uk
The US and its European allies are ­preparing to plant a high-profile figure in the heart of the Kabul government in a direct challenge to the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, the Guardian has learned.

The creation of a new chief executive or prime ministerial role is aimed at bypassing Karzai. In a further dilution of his power, it is proposed that money be diverted from the Kabul government to the provinces. Many US and European officials have become disillusioned with the extent of the corruption and incompetence in the Karzai government, but most now believe there are no credible alternatives, and predict the Afghan president will win re-election in August.

A revised role for Karzai has emerged from the White House review of Afghanistan and Pakistan ordered by Barack Obama when he became president. It isto be unveiled at a special conference on Afghanistan at The Hague on March 31.

As well as watering down Karzai's personal authority by installing a senior official at the president's side capable of playing a more efficient executive role, the US and Europeans are seeking to channel resources to the provinces rather than to central government in Kabul.

A diplomat with knowledge of the review said: "Karzai is not delivering. If we are going to support his government, it has to be run properly to ensure the levels of corruption decrease, not increase. The levels of corruption are frightening."....




Obama plans new agriculture reforms to aid Afghan farmers

The Raw Story | US envoy: Afghanistan drug war a failure
US and coalition efforts to eliminate the massive opium poppy trade in Afghanistan have failed under tremendous waste, according to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.

"The United States alone is spending over 800 million dollars a year on counter-narcotics. We have gotten nothing out of it, nothing," Ambassador Richard Holbrooke said, at the Brussels Forum conference.

"It is the most wasteful and ineffective programme I have seen in 40 years in and out of the government," the new US representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan told an audience of senior world politicians and experts....

[bth: just amazing how crappy we are at handling stuff like this]


Chávez Orders Federal Takeover of Venezuelan Ports

Chávez Orders Federal Takeover of Venezuelan Ports - WSJ.com
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez deployed troops on Saturday to seize several key air and maritime ports, while introducing economic measures meant to close a revenue shortfall caused by plunging oil prices.

Mr. Chávez's takeover of the air and sea ports, including one in Carabobo state that handles much of the nation's non-oil trade, gives the federal government direct control over lucrative transportation hubs that were previously managed at the state level. The move also deals a blow to Mr. Chávez's political opposition, as several of the key installations are in states controlled by opposition governors.

Mr. Chávez, a 54-year-old former army officer, is scrambling to recalibrate his decade-old presidency as oil-price declines threaten a key source of his power: giant subsidies for everything from food and health care to gasoline....

[bth: amazing that the Venezuela puts up with this clown. The alternatives must really suck]


Arms deal link to death of model

Arms deal link to death of model - Times Online
A FRENCH arms company is at the centre of a deepening scandal involving the sale of three submarines, the murder of a beautiful Mongolian interpreter and the man most likely to become prime minister of Malaysia next month.

All three have been linked in a sensational sequence of revelations that has convinced many Malaysians that the woman was killed to silence her demands of a share in the rewards of the transaction.

The scandal exploded last week after the French newspaper Libération alleged that the submarines deal and the murder of Altantuya Shariibuu, 28, were connected.

A glamorous, cosmopolitan woman, Altantuya grew up in St Petersburg, spoke Russian, Chinese, Korean and English, moved in elite circles and has been dubbed “a Far Eastern Mata Hari”.

She became the mistress of a Malaysian political fixer and was allegedly trying to extort money from him at the time of her violent demise.

Two members of an elite Malaysian police unit that protects top politicians are on trial in Kuala Lumpur, accused of shooting her in the jungle and then blowing up her body with military explosives....


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Naval Open Source INTelligence

Naval Open Source INTelligence

In Iraq, Chaos Feared as U.S. Closes Prison - washingtonpost.com

In Iraq, Chaos Feared as U.S. Closes Prison - washingtonpost.com: "GARMA, Iraq -- The release of hundreds of prisoners from Camp Bucca, a U.S.-run prison in southern Iraq, has facilitated the revival of Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents in Basra, Baghdad and the borderless expanse here along the Euphrates, according to police chiefs, intelligence officials in the Interior Ministry and residents."

Although none of them predicted a return to the anarchy and sectarian carnage of 2006-2007, when scores of bodies might show up in the street on any day, officials suggested that the groups were preparing for the onset of a U.S. military withdrawal.

Their warnings make for an irony at the beginning of the end of the American presence here. As the United States dismantles Bucca, viewed by many as an appalling miscarriage of justice where prisoners were not charged or permitted to see evidence against them, freed detainees may end up swelling the ranks of a subdued insurgency.

In hardscrabble Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad, some former inmates of Bucca speak of revenge. Others talk of their own conversion there: as prisoners, giving their support to militiamen loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, an anti-American cleric whose forces were routed in Baghdad and Basra last year. A sense of uncertainty reigns in the forlorn stretches around Garma, a wind-swept town as parched as it is lawless, as Sunni residents brace for the return of dozens of fighters and such men as Col. Saad Abbas Mahmoud, the police chief here, openly admit to being overwhelmed by their influx.

"These men weren't planting flowers in a garden. They weren't strolling down the street," said Mahmoud, known as Abu Quteiba to his lieutenants, who snap their heels as they enter. "This problem is both big and dangerous. And regrettably, the Iraqi government and the authorities don't know how big the problem has become."
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Since leading the invasion of Iraq and overthrowing Saddam Hussein in April 2003, the United States has detained about 100,000 people in the country. At the height of the U.S. troop buildup, or "surge," 26,000 of those prisoners were incarcerated in Bucca, a sprawling camp near the Kuwaiti border in southern Iraq. That number has fallen to 9,600. In all, since Jan. 1, the military has released nearly 2,000 prisoners, and it plans to close the facility by summer...

[bth: this article is worth a full and disturbing read. One can't help but wonder if there is a better process. Why aren't these men being turned over to the Iraqi government?]

Comprehensive analysis of possible Israeli pre-emptive attack on Iranian nuclear faciliites

Here is a fascinating read assessing the military options and fallout of an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear capabilities. It is a long document but worth the scan at least. I note that it does not mention the use of Israeli submarine launched cruise missile but focuses on air force and missile options. Also its a little light on the consequences of such an attack. Still an amazing document.