Saturday, January 22, 2011

Iraq militia chief was behind pilgrim blasts - Middle East, World - The Independent

Iraq militia chief was behind pilgrim blasts - Middle East, World - The Independent: "Iraqi police arrested the local leader of a government-backed Sunni Muslim militia for planning the deadly bombings on Shiite pilgrims this week, Iraqi officials said today.

If the Awakening Council leader is found guilty of the charges, it would affirm widespread government doubts about integrating the Sunni fighters into the nation's security forces — despite their alliance with the US against al-Qa'ida. It could also signal that the militia's frustration about being sidelined by Iraq's Shiite-dominated government may have finally reached a boiling point.

The arrest was announced as anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr headed back to Iran, according to two senior aides, after a brief two-week visit breaking nearly four years of self-exile.

The populist firebrand Shiite cleric, who leads a powerful political movement, left Iraq this morning, according to the two aides. One of the officials said al-Sadr was expected back soon. ....

- bth: Sadr has a way of bringing out the worst in everyone around him. So now the civil war in Iraq?

'Prince of Mercenaries' who wreaked havoc in Iraq turns up in Somalia - Africa, World - The Independent

'Prince of Mercenaries' who wreaked havoc in Iraq turns up in Somalia - Africa, World - The Independent: "Erik Prince, the American founder of the private security firm Blackwater Worldwide, has cropped up at the centre of a controversial scheme to establish a new mercenary force to crack down on piracy and terrorism in the war-torn East African country of Somalia.

The project, which emerged yesterday when an intelligence report was leaked to media in the United States, requires Mr Prince to help train a private army of 2,000 Somali troops that will be loyal to the country's United Nations-backed government. Several neighbouring states, including the United Arab Emirates, will pay the bills.

Mr Prince is working in Somalia alongside Saracen International, a murky South African firm which is run by a former officer from the Civil Co-operation Bureau, an apartheid-era force notorious for killing opponents of the white minority government. ...

- bth: pirates vs. mercenaries in a lawless country. What's not to love. Who has the movie rights?

Fears of Islamist revival as Tunisian PM falters - Africa, World - The Independent

Fears of Islamist revival as Tunisian PM falters - Africa, World - The Independent: "Even as Tunisians celebrate the fall of totalitarianism after 23 years, for many there is a shadow looming over their new-found freedom – the apprehension of rising religious fundamentalism and its effect on human rights.

Yesterday saw the first Friday prayers in Tunis since the fall of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali last week.

As worshippers left their prayers, outside some of the mosques were groups of men espousing conservative Islam, distributing leaflets warning against unbelievers. ...

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'Your lies killed my son...' Blair fails to pacify critics in torrid inquiry session - UK Politics, UK - The Independent

'Your lies killed my son...' Blair fails to pacify critics in torrid inquiry session - UK Politics, UK - The Independent: ..."*By tradition, British Prime Ministers have tended to slope off quietly into obscurity on completing their term in office. Tony Blair has taken a more profitable path, building up a portfolio of advisory roles and properties that are thought have earned him at least £20m since leaving Downing Street.

*Mr Blair reportedly received a £600,000 signing-up fee when he added his name to the list of luminaries employed by the Washington Speakers' Bureau. He is also paid around £100,000 for each of his 90-minute speaking engagements. He has given motivational speeches to Lansdowne Partners, a hedge fund that made millions on the collapse of bank shares during the financial crisis.

*His role advising the chief executive and senior management team at JP Morgan, the US investment bank, is said to be earning him another £2m a year. He is also paid £500,000 a year for an advisory role with Zurich Financial Services.

*An undisclosed fee was paid to Mr Blair to advise the Korean oil firm UI Energy. The company has extensive interests in Iraq. His own firm, Tony Blair Associates, was paid £1m to advise the Kuwaiti royal family. But the £4.6m advance he received for his memoirs, A Journey, was donated to the Royal British Legion.

*Estimates have put the value of the property owned by Mr Blair and his wife Cherie at as much as £14m. This includes the couple's £3.5m home in west London's Connaught Square. A £1.3m Grade II listed townhouse in Marylebone was bought for their eldest son Euan in April 2010 – a relative bargain at £200,000 under the asking price. The Blairs also have a £4m mansion, the 17th-century South Pavilion, in Buckinghamshire, which was once owned by Sir John Gielgud.

- bth: war crime pays

Islam in Pakistan: Islamic hard-liners' influence rising in Pakistan -

Islam in Pakistan: Islamic hard-liners' influence rising in Pakistan -

... Led by clerics at the helm of the country's religious political parties and its hard-line mosques and madrasas, the extremists demonstrated their reach after Taseer was assassinated in an upscale neighborhood of Islamabad. Days later, fundamentalist clerics rallied more than 40,000 people on the streets of Karachi in support of Qadri. A day earlier in Qadri's Rawalpindi neighborhood, at least 4,000 people had gathered in front of the accused assassin's house, chanting, "Salute to your bravery, Mumtaz!"

At Qadri's court appearances, lawyers have showered him with flower petals and kissed his cheeks, a worrisome sign that his support stretches far beyond Pakistan's underclass and into the upper echelons of society.

Hard-line clerics are now turning their anger toward another leading member of the ruling Pakistan People's Party, lawmaker Sherry Rehman, who, like Taseer, called for changes aimed at reforming the blasphemy law after a Pakistani Christian woman accused of insulting the prophet Muhammad was given the death penalty.

Journalist Ali Kamran Chishti attended a Jan. 7 gathering in Karachi at which Munir Ahmed Shakir, imam of the Sultan mosque, labeled Rehman an infidel for proposing changes to the law to remove the death penalty as an option for punishment and require prosecutors to prove that the alleged blasphemy was intentional and not inadvertent. Pakistan's blasphemy law makes it a crime to defame the prophet Muhammad or Islam, but is often used as a tool to repress minorities.

"This kind of rhetoric radicalizes people," Chishti said. Imams such as Shakir, he added, "are slowly poisoning minds and making people intolerant. Praising people like Qadri is indirectly saying to society that anyone who takes this line [against the blasphemy law] should be shot dead. This is wrong."

The outpouring of praise for Qadri also sends disturbing signals to Washington. At a time when the Obama administration is hoping for a more reliable ally in the U.S.-declared war on terrorism, the Taseer assassination and its aftermath suggest extremism in Pakistan may be going mainstream.

"A mind-set has been created that has to be undone," said Ijaz Khan, who heads the international relations department at the University of Peshawar. "It poses a serious existential challenge to the so-called liberal community of this country.

"We still do not know how many more Qadris are out there," Khan added, "and what will happen next."

Pakistan's religious extremists thrive on street power rather than on ballot-box appeal. In elections in 2008, religious parties collectively garnered less than 5% of the vote. Founded as a moderate Islamic state, Pakistan is governed by the largely secular Pakistan People's Party.

But in the thousands of mosques and madrasas across the nation, fundamentalists enjoy a captive audience. Hard-line clerics delivering fiery Friday sermons are seen as more credible than the country's government leaders.

"If there was economic development and more job opportunities on the horizon, they wouldn't be as apt to listen to these clerics," said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Lahore-based security analyst. "At least not all the time."

The rise of the Islamists has its origins in the military rule of Gen. Zia ul-Haq, who in the 1980s forced a more conservative brand of Islam on the country. That resulted in the start-up of legions of madrasas, many of which became incubators for extremism.

Even state education under Zia "socialized young minds into religious orthodoxy," Rizvi said. "Now these people who studied in high schools and state universities from 1985 onward are the ones who support this kind of far-right religious orientation."

The large show of support for Qadri has both stunned and intimidated Pakistani secularists. Though several commentators on television and in newspapers have denounced the praise Qadri has received, top leaders within President Asif Ali Zardari's administration have been conspicuously quiet amid the furor.

The government has even tried to sound conciliatory: This week Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani stressed that authorities have no plans to tamper with the country's blasphemy law — a clear attempt to appease hard-line religious leaders angered by talk of amendments to the law.

Whether such gestures calm the toxic debate over Taseer's assassination remains to be seen. The Sunni Ittehad Council, an influential assembly of Pakistani Muslim clerics, has vowed to hold rallies in major cities in defense of the blasphemy law this month.

"If we want peace in our country," said Hanif Tayyab, the council's general secretary, "we should try to understand that freedom of expression has some limits."

--- bth: if this continues unchecked, Pakistan will look as radicalized as Iran in the late 1970s.

Friday, January 21, 2011

American Grocers - Criminals that made millions shipping soldiers expired food

American Grocers - Page 1 - News - Houston - Houston Press: "On September 27, 2006, federal agents surrounded the offices and warehouse of Houston's American Grocers, Inc., an exporting business that shipped food to the Middle East and worked, in part, off lucrative military contracts. Located in a business park along the Beltway on the city's northwest side, next to companies that built transmissions for diesel trucks and distributed linoleum flooring, American Grocers existed the same as the rest. Unnoticed and quiet, except for the delivery trucks growling to and from its loading bays.
American Grocers used acetone, spray paint...

The agents approaching the building that morning weren't the typical raiders. They weren't FBI, not bullish G Men or battle-tested SWAT officers by any means. Many of the men, from the Department of Defense's Criminal Investigative Service and the Food and Drug Administration, didn't carry weapons, and those who did certainly hadn't fired shots in the field. In terms of raids, this one was low key.

But when agents rushed through the doors, they found an operation that was nothing short of evil: workers, surrounded by vats of chemicals, hunched over pallets of expired food and using acetone and Dremel tools to erase expiration dates from packaging. The expired food was destined for American military troops serving in the Middle East, according to court documents.

News of Samir Itani's arrest went national, grabbing headlines because a 'Muslim businessman in Texas...' was ripping off the government and putting American soldiers in danger in the process. Itani initially pled not guilty to the criminal charges filed against him.

'Samir Itani did not engage in any intentional wrongdoing and looks forward to his day in court,' Itani's lawyer, Paul Nugent, told The Wall Street Journal in 2007.

Court documents, alleging that Itani sent, among others, expired peanut butter, turkeys and chocolates to the troops, summed it up differently: 'This is an appalling case of corruption that directly harms American military men and women serving overseas...Expired food, like [ammunition] shells filled with saw dust [sic] or useless small arms, endangers our military operations.'

As the investigation continued, agents discovered that the case stretched far past Itani, unraveling to include food wholesalers in rural Texas, a Saudi sheik living in California, the largest commercial 'merchant family' in Kuwait and some of the most prominent food companies in the United States. In fact, the U.S. government is involved in ongoing litigation with other military food contractors, and the cases are calling into question the entire process of how food contracts are procured, paid out and delivered to troops in the Middle East.

The civil settlement and criminal sentence of Itani were made public in November and December of this year, marking the end to one of the biggest white-collar crime cases to come out of Houston in recent years.

The government's case, however, started and was made by an unlikely whistleblower: 42-year-old Delma Pallares, a single mom and former employee of American Grocers who, according to her attorneys, simply 'wanted to do the right thing.' And in the middle of the investigation, when the feds wanted to put Pallares and her family in the Witness Protection Program, she wanted to get as far away from the case as possible.

Tracing back the life of Samir Itani is next to impossible. He didn't have a criminal record before this case. He didn't donate to political campaigns. (His wife gave $1,100 to California Congressman Darrell Issa in 2007, in the middle of the government's investigation.) He stayed off social circuits. And his company — perhaps because of the criminal operations — kept an extremely low profile.

Itani and members of his family refused to speak to the Houston Press for this story, and so did federal agents and prosecutors. Pallares's lawyers at Houston's Berg & Androphy firm didn't talk much about details outside the court filings, and Pallares herself had little to say about her former boss.

Nugent, however, says this of his client: 'Samir Itani is a dedicated small businessman. He runs the kind of business that's good for America. He took American-made products and shipped them to foreign countries. With most companies, it's the other way around.'

Doing so made Itani money. Lots of it. While '$20 million in sales' on a court document is simply a number on paper, tangible proof of Itani's financial worth sits on the outskirts of Houston's Tanglewood neighborhood that's famous for residents George and Barbara Bush. Itani's estate is valued at $2.85 million on Harris County tax rolls, and with almost 10,000 square feet, the place has five bedrooms, six baths, two rec rooms, five fireplaces and two elevators.

If nothing else, the house is a symbol of the wealth Itani built with his company, and based on information the Press has gathered, here's how he did it....

- bth: an article worth reading in full and then vomiting.

From Nazi Criminal to Postwar Spy: German Intelligence Hired Klaus Barbie as Agent - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International

From Nazi Criminal to Postwar Spy: German Intelligence Hired Klaus Barbie as Agent - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International: "Klaus Barbie was a notorious Nazi war criminal known as the 'Butcher of Lyon' because of his horrific deeds in occupied France. Now new research has revealed that he also worked as a spy for Germany's BND intelligence agency while in hiding in Bolivia after the war. The agency almost certainly knew about his dark past.

The man who Germany's foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), listed in its files as Wilhelm Holm belonged to a unique species in the shadowy world of intelligence. The overweight German businessman with the carefully combed dark hair was a so-called 'tipper.'

Whenever Holm noticed someone during his travels around the world who seemed to have the makings of an agent, he would send a message to BND headquarters in Pullach near Munich. In 1965, for example, after he had spent four weeks in the Bolivian capital La Paz, he raved about a fellow German who had two important virtues: He was apparently a staunch German patriot and a 'committed anticommunist' -- something that was practically a badge of honor during the Cold War era.

A few weeks later, the BND hired the new man as an agent. He was given the code name 'Adler' (eagle) and the registration number V-43118. 'Adler' lived in La Paz under the name Klaus Altmann.

But Altmann wasn't his real name. In reality, he was one of the vilest criminals of the Nazi dictatorship: Klaus Barbie, the notorious 'Butcher of Lyon.' After the war, French courts sentenced Barbie, the former head of the Gestapo in Lyon, to death in absentia. There are many indications that the BND was aware of all of this when it decided to hire him.

Delight in Torture

Barbie, who was born in 1913, personally tortured men, women and even children on the second floor of the Hotel Terminus in Lyon. The surviving victims remember, most of all, the way Barbie would laugh quietly while he tortured them. The son of a teacher from the town of Bad Godesberg, which is now part of Bonn, Barbie also had his henchman break the arms, legs and several ribs of Jean Moulin, a figurehead of the French RĂ©sistance and a confidant of the later French president, Charles de Gaulle. Moulin died soon afterwards. Barbie also ordered the deportation of Jewish children from an orphanage in Izieu near Lyon. The children were shipped to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where they were murdered.

For the last two decades, there have been suspicions that Altmann, alias Barbie, was a spy for Germany's foreign intelligence agency. But those suspicions have only now been confirmed by BND files that SPIEGEL has analyzed in Germany's federal archives in the city of Koblenz. According to the files, Barbie received his first monthly payment, in the amount of 500 deutsche marks, from Pullach in May 1966. He later collected performance bonuses. In most cases, the BND made the payments by wire transfer into an account with the Chartered Bank of London in San Francisco. According to the BND files, Barbie delivered at least 35 reports to the agency....

- bth: amazing that you have to go to European news sources to get information like this. It just isn't covered by American journalists.

Bin Laden: France Must Withdraw From Afghanistan

Bin Laden: France Must Withdraw From Afghanistan: "CAIRO — Osama bin Laden demanded that France withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in exchange for the release of French hostages being held by al-Qaida affiliates, according to an audio message broadcast on an Arabic news channel Friday.

'The exit of your hostages out of the hands of our brothers depends on the exit of your troops from Afghanistan,' bin Laden said in the message broadcast by Al-Jazeera.

Extremist groups associated with al-Qaida are holding at least seven French hostages, including five in the Sahara Desert and two in Afghanistan.

France has about 3,850 troops in Afghanistan as part of the NATO mission fighting the Taliban. French forces are deployed mainly in the Kapisa and Surobi districts north and east of Kabul, the Afghan capital.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said his nation remains undaunted in its role to help stabilize Afghanistan.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said Bin Laden's message was still being authenticated. 'We are determined to continue our efforts on behalf of the Afghan people, with our allies,' Valero said.

Bin Laden reminded the French people of Sarkozy's refusal in November to withdraw French troops from Afghanistan and to negotiate with al-Qaida over the hostages.

'Your president's rejection is a result of being a hireling to America and is a green light to kill the hostages. ... His stand will cost you a high price on different aspects inside or outside France,' he said.

The al-Qaida leader questioned why the French would consider the resistance against Nazi German troops occupying their nation in World War II to be heroic while the fight against French and other foreign troops in Afghanistan is labeled terrorism.
Story continues below

'Why do you judge in a double standard?' he said.

Bin Laden also challenged whether the state of France's economy would allow it to wage a successful fight against al-Qaida.

'The size of your debts and the weakness of your budget will not allow you to open a new front,' he said.

Al-Qaida has often sent audio messages to Al-Jazeera for broadcast.

- bth: yet OBLs family seems to travel with impunity and be immune from counter attack. OBL and his ISI collaborators must enjoy creating these evil scenarios.

'50,000 NATO containers stolen in Pakistan'

'50,000 NATO containers stolen in Pakistan': "Pakistani investigators have claimed that over 50,000 containers meant for US and NATO forces in Afghanistan have been pilfered within Pakistan with the alleged collusion of authorities.

The Supreme Court is currently hearing a case about the pilfering of container trucks and investigators probing the scam have claimed that over 50,000 containers were stolen with the collusion of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and National Logistics Cell (NLC), 'The News' daily said quoting unnamed sources.

The FBR and NLC are required to keep accurate entry and exit records but they had not done so, the report said.

The sources claimed tax evasion on the goods in the pilfered containers would amount to 'trillion of rupees.'

The report also alleged that a 'trans-national racket involving different governments' was involved in the scam. ...

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U.S. Nears Deal for Russian Copters -

U.S. Nears Deal for Russian Copters - "WASHINGTON—The U.S. military plans to award an exclusive contract to Russia's state arms exporter Rosoboronexport to supply helicopters for Afghanistan's military, speeding a deal that was outlined as part of a 'reset' of U.S.-Russia relations.

In a Jan. 13 notice, the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command Contracting Center said it would award a 'sole-source' contract to Rosoboronexport for the purchase of Mi-17 helicopters, rugged Soviet-era aircraft that are a workhorse of Afghan military forces. 'This item is restricted to Rosoboronexport,' the notice said.

The Army didn't provide specifics on the cost or the size of the contract, but individuals familiar with the details confirmed it was for 21 new Mi-17 helicopters, along with tool kits, spare parts and testing.

The proposed purchase represents the latest attempt to equip the militaries of Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan with reliable, affordable aircraft from the factories of its former Cold War rival.

Russian-made helicopters like the Mi-17 are known for their versatility and ease of maintenance, but efforts to buy the aircraft were once complicated by U.S. sanctions against Rosoboronexport over its dealings with Iran. ....

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

NightWatch 20110120 - KGS - Hezbollah preparing in Lebanon?

NightWatch 20110120 - KGS: ..."Lebanon: Hezbollah and its allies organized an exercise early 18 January at 12 'strategic' points in Beirut. Hezbollah and Amal members participated for two hours, and were reportedly unarmed and wearing black shirts. The drill was designed to test Hezbollah's ability to take Beirut's entries, port, waters and the airport, according to unnamed sources close to Hezbollah. The exercise was originally supposed to last for four hours, but finished early and was declared successful, according to the sources.

Comment: In earlier political crises, this activity occurred, but was not reported in the public media. This report looks like a deliberate leak to warn Beirut residents of the scope of Hezbollah capabilities and what to expect should Hezbollah chose to use them....

- bth: preparing for a civil war?

Federal Eye - Report: 'Don't ask, don't tell' cost military $193.3M over five years

Federal Eye - Report: 'Don't ask, don't tell' cost military $193.3M over five years: "The military spent about $193.3 million between 2004 and 2009 to replace approximately 3,660 troops discharged under the policy known as 'don't ask, don't tell,' according to a new audit released days before the Pentagon is expected to detail how it plans to end its ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in uniform.

Over five years, it cost about $185 million to recruit and train replacement troops and $7.7 million in administrative costs. Each individual separation cost $52,800 on average, according to estimates by the Government Accountability Office published Thursday.

The findings, requested by Congressional Democrats at the height of the debate over ending the ban, come almost a month after President Obama signed legislation beginning the repeal process. The Defense Department is expected within the next week to announce plans to train senior commanders, chaplains and the rank and file about changes to its personnel policy before officially ending the policy, senior Pentagon officials said Thursday....

- bth: nuts

Mexico's Ex-President Vicente Fox: Legalize Drugs - TIME

Mexico's Ex-President Vicente Fox: Legalize Drugs - TIME: "As Mexico drowns in drug related bloodshed — suffering almost 12,000 murders in 2010 — it is perhaps unsurprising that government critics turn up their screaming that the war on drugs isn't working. But it was a bit of a bombshell when former president Vicente Fox added his voice to the chorus. The cowboy-boot wearing leader, who ruled Mexico from 2000 to 2006, had once declared the 'mother of all battles' against crime and rounded up drug kingpins. But before he left office, he had witnessed the first big spike in violence as the narcos retaliated. In August of 2010, evidence surfaced that his vision had changed when he wrote on his blog that prohibition wasn't working. Now, in a recent interview with TIME in his hometown in Central Mexico, he explains that his views have moved on to the other end of the spectrum: favoring full-on legalization of production, transit and selling of prohibited drugs. Fox is most explicit about marijuana, but argues that the principle applied to all illegal drugs.

'Prohibition didn't work in the Garden of Eden. Adam ate the apple,' says Fox, 68, looking relaxed in a polo shirt — in contrast to his stressful last days in office. 'We have to take all the production chain out of the hands of criminals and into the hands of producers — so there are farmers that produce marijuana and manufacturers that process it and distributors that distribute it, and shops that sell it... I don't want to say that legalizing means that drugs are good. They are not good but bad for your health and you shouldn't take them. But ultimately, this responsibility is with citizens.' ...

- bth: I don't know that I agree, but it is worth reading in full.

American security guards for Zardari's security - The Times of India

American security guards for Zardari's security - The Times of India: "ISLAMABAD: In the wake of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer's assassination by his police guard, the Pakistan government is considering a proposal to bring in special security guards from the US for President Asif Ali Zardari, according to a media report today.

While Zardari's security has always been cause of 'serious concern' for authorities, the government is also mulling a proposal to hire foreign security guards for several VVIPs, including the Prime Minister, provincial Governors and Chief Ministers and a few federal ministers, The Express Tribune newspaper quoted highly-placed sources as saying.

The proposal for the president's security envisages deploying US guards in Zardari's 'inner-most security cordon', the report said.

The proposals are part of the government's decision to review security arrangements of key personalities following the January 4 assassination of Taseer, which validated 'fears that religious extremism had penetrated the ranks of security forces in Pakistan', the report said. ...

- bth: what does this tell you then about the penetration of extremists within the Pakistani government and the level of security? Who protects you from your protectors?

Report: FBI spy powers too broad (1/19/11) --

Report: FBI spy powers too broad (1/19/11) -- "New restrictions should be placed on the FBI's power to investigate people and organizations inside the United States suspected of having links to terrorist activity, including requiring agents to get prior written approval before conducting surveillance operations, according to a new report from a nonpartisan public-interest law center.

The report, released late Tuesday by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, calls for both Congress and the Obama administration to rein in investigatory powers granted to the FBI in 2008 by then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

The Obama White House has retained the powers, known as the Attorney General's Guidelines for Domestic FBI Operations, even though they were written during George W. Bush's administration.

The guidelines allow FBI agents, for example, to initiate surveillance on a person or group inside the United States without first opening a formal investigation and getting approval from a manager and without having probable cause.

'Both Congress and the Justice Department should act to ensure vigorous oversight of the guidelines' use,' the report states. 'There must be meaningful internal and external checks on the vast powers the FBI have been granted.'

The report does not call for abolishing the guidelines but rather for more oversight to prevent abuses.

'The time to act is now--before the guidelines result in widespread and unwarranted intrusions into Americans' privacy, harmful religious and ethnic profiling, and the divergence of scarce resources to ineffective and indiscriminate collection of information,' the report concluded.

The FBI could not be immediately reached for comment.

The law center hosted a panel discussion on Capitol Hill to release the report, at which participants stressed that the FBI should not operate with a blanket suspicion of any groups, especially the Muslim community in the United States.

'It seems to me that we've gotten into a set of laws, and now procedures, that are based on poorly examined practices,' said Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J.

At least for now, there does not appear to be an appetite in Congress to try to force the administration to make any changes to the guidelines. Holt noted, however, that lawmakers must consider reauthorizing three expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act by February 28.

Emily Berman, author of the report and counsel in the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, said she does not doubt that FBI agents are trying to act in good faith.

But she said broad investigative powers granted under the guidelines combined with pressure to prevent terrorist attacks could lead to 'overbroad intelligence collection.' Berman said that FBI agents should not be allowed to use surveillance techniques without first suspecting wrongdoing.

She added that agents should not be permitted to use race, religion, or ethnicity as the sole basis for suspicion.

The report received the most opposition from panelist Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, director of the Center for Terrorism Research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He argued that FBI cases should be considered in context and that profiling based on race, religion, or ethnicity is sometimes necessary to help advance legitimate investigations.

He also said that the report was not prepared with input from law-enforcement agencies.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

More Guard, Reserve Soldiers Are Committing Suicide | Danger Room |

More Guard, Reserve Soldiers Are Committing Suicide | Danger Room | "Citizen soldiers are killing themselves at record rates, the Army announced on Wednesday. Last year, 145 Army Reservists and National Guardsmen committed suicide, compared with 65 suicide deaths across the entire Guard and Reserves in 2009. Worse, Army leaders aren’t entirely sure what’s caused the increase.

Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army’s deputy chief of staff and its point person on suicide prevention, told reporters at the Pentagon that there were 343 suicides amongst active and reserve soldiers, Army civilians and family members last year. The number of active-duty suicides in 2010, 156, declined by 6 from 2009, indicating what Chiarelli called the “modest success” of Army suicide-prevention efforts. But 101 Guardsmen took their lives last year, an increase of 53 from 2009, as did 44 reservists, an increase of 12....

- bth: worth reading in full. I wonder if national average suicide rates have also surged and not been reported yet.

YouTube - Tori Amos - Winter (From "Live At Montreux 91/92")

YouTube - Tori Amos - Winter (From "Live At Montreux 91/92"): "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

Iran says it will end Afghan fuel blockade

Iran says it will end Afghan fuel blockade: "Iran told the Afghan government on Tuesday that it will stop blocking thousands of tanker trucks trying to move fuel into Afghanistan, authorities announced.

An Afghan government statement said the Iranian ambassador to Afghanistan, Fada Hussain Maliki, told President Hamid Karzai that the fuel tankers still stuck at the border would be allowed to enter Afghanistan during the next four days.

The Iranians began barring fuel trucks from crossing the Iran-Afghanistan border in late December, leaving about 2,500 trucks stuck at three crossings. The move, which Afghan officials have criticized as being tantamount to an embargo, has led fuel prices to rise as much as 70 percent.

Tehran has said the ban was linked to its recent decision to slash domestic fuel subsidies in a bid to cut costs and boost an economy squeezed by international sanctions. Afghan officials said Iran also had expressed concern that fuel shipments were supplying NATO forces in Afghanistan.

'This fuel doesn't belong to NATO, it belongs to the poor Afghan people,' said Farid Shirzai, head of the Afghan Commerce Ministry's fuel department.

Iran supplies about 30 percent of the country's refined fuel, Afghan officials say. The remainder of the blocked shipments come from Iraq and Turkmenistan, but must transit through Iran.

Between 1,400 and 1,500 of the original 2,500 stranded tankers are still waiting to cross into Afghanistan. Shirzai said Iran allowed about 40 tanker trucks to cross the border at three crossings on Monday....

"The Afghan government is quiet and has shown no reaction" to the blockade, he said. "The National Participation Party has taken this step to show a strong reaction and is requesting the support of the international community."

Commerce Minister Anwarul Haq Ahady, who traveled to Moscow this week, is working to increase fuel imports from other countries such as Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Some Afghan businesses already have struck deals with Russian companies and the Afghan government hopes that more are coming.

Their efforts appear to be having some effect as fuel prices, which rose from about $900 a ton to about $1,500 after the blockade began, have now dropped to about $1,350 a ton.

Read more:

bth: it is telling to note that the fuel tankers loaded themselves up with fuel and were embargoed on the Iranian side of the border with appreciating fuel inventory in the tanks. The Afghans aren't worried that they will lose their trucks, only that they cannot delivery the appreciated gasoline to their markets. I think this is more about an Iranian price adjustment than anything else and not a permanent condition, otherwise those trucks would have dumped their load and gone to Pakistan.

Marines of Operation Godfather see stark improvement in deadly Helmand province

Marines of Operation Godfather see stark improvement in deadly Helmand province:... "Having transit points along the central Helmand River valley enabled the Taliban to move drugs, men, weapons and money between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

With that territory steadily taken away by U.S. troops over the course of a larger 18-month offensive, the Taliban could emerge weakened when the fighting season ramps up again in the spring.

But daily reminders of the Taliban presence remain buried in the ground for the Marine battalion stationed toward the southern end of Garmsir.

The battalion has unearthed about 300 roadside bombs since November, according to its commander, Lt. Col. Matthew Reid.

Although more than 90 percent of the bombs were removed before a tire or boot triggered a detonation, one Marine was killed and three were wounded in blasts.

- bth: worth reading in full. If in fact 90% of IEDs are removed before detonation, that is a phenomenal number. More like 50% is the norm. I wonder what accounts for the difference?

Marine tanks prepare for their first missions in Afghanistan

Marine tanks prepare for their first missions in Afghanistan: "CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan — Early versions of the tank shaped the battlefields of World War I, and more sophisticated versions helped quickly end the Gulf War for the U.S. Now tanks have landed in Afghanistan to help bring security to Helmand province.

Marines with Delta Company, 1st Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division (Forward), began preparing for upcoming missions by sighting-in the main cannon and machine guns on their M1A1 Abrams tanks during a firing range exercise at Camp Leatherneck, Jan. 13.

The tanks, which were flown here from Kuwait, are not the vehicles the Marines have trained with and some preparation must be done before they are ready for combat, said Capt. Daniel Hughes, commanding officer of Delta Co., 1st Tanks.

“The first order of business is to bore sight and screen your tank,” Hughes added. “Screening ensures that when you fire the main cannon on your tank, you hit the exact target you want to hit.”

Even though these Marines have only been in Afghanistan about a week, everything seems to be going well. While the Marines bore sight several times a year, the combat environment makes every adjustment of the main gun just that much more important.

“They require a tremendous amount of maintenance,” Hughes said. “If you go on a four or five-hour patrol to support the men on the ground, you will have four or five hours of maintenance when you get back just to keep the tanks in the fight.”

Once the preparation is complete and maintenance done, the tankers say they will be ready for their upcoming missions.

“We hope to support the infantryman on the ground and help them complete their mission,” said Hughes, a 38-year-old native of Olympia, Wash. “We also hope to intimidate the enemy and provide superior and accurate firepower to kill the enemy, and only the enemy.”

The tanks have another advantage in this fight besides intimidation and firepower. Hughes said the tracks and armor allow an M1A1 Abrams tank to withstand an improvised explosive device better than any other vehicle in Afghanistan....

- bth: vehicle recovery will be interesting

Taliban leader Mullah Omar 'has had a heart attack' - Telegraph

Taliban leader Mullah Omar 'has had a heart attack' - Telegraph: "Omar and his associates are said to base themselves in Quetta across the Pakistan border from Afghanistan, where they allegedly have the protection of the Pakistani military.

The report suggests that the Pakistanis are keen to keep him alive to preserve their influence over the Taliban, despite official denials.

Omar had a heart attack on January 7 and was treated for several days in a hospital in Karachi, according to the report by a company run by former CIA and military officers and carried online by the Washington Post.

A doctor at the hospital, which was not identified, said he saw Omar struggling to recover from an operation to put a stent – an artificial tube – in his heart.

He is now said to be at a safe-house run by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, in Karachi. ...

- bth: So ISI is tending to his hospitalization and safe house needs while Americans die.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

FBI: Bomb placed at MLK Day parade was ‘domestic terrorism’ | Raw Story

FBI: Bomb placed at MLK Day parade was ‘domestic terrorism’ | Raw Story: "A bomb left in a backpack on the route of a Martin Luther King Day parade in Spokane, Washington, has been described as being in the 'realm of domestic terrorism' by the FBI.

The bomb was found on bench Monday morning at the northeast corner of North Washington Street and West Main Avenue in the city's downtown core. Spokane police were alerted to its presence before the parade -- which was attended by some 1,000 people -- got underway.

The parade was rerouted away from the site. A robot and a hazmat unit were used to defuse the device. ....

- Sent using Google Toolbar"

After Tunisia, ‘electrified’ Arab world sets sights on brewing revolt in Egypt | Raw Story

After Tunisia, ‘electrified’ Arab world sets sights on brewing revolt in Egypt | Raw Story: "In a sign that an 'electrified' Arab world has been inspired by the events in Tunisia to rise up against their governments, opposition leaders in Egypt have called for an open revolt in the country on January 25.

The US branch of the National Association for Change, an umbrella group of activists led by former IAEA chief Mohamed El-Baradei, issued a statement on Tuesday 'urging all Egyptians to take to the streets on January 25th to protest the deteriorating conditions caused by the dictatorial Mubarak regime.'

The message places El-Baradei -- a prominent figure in the international community since his role in Iraqi weapons inspections in 2002 and 2003 -- in virtually direct conflict with President Hosni Mubarak, who is generally considered an ally of Washington and whose government receives billions in US aid yearly.

The call for a revolt comes as several Egyptians set themselves on fire in protest this week, apparently inspired by the Tunisian uprising last week that started the same way.

A man set himself ablaze on Tuesday in Cairo and another in Alexandria, Egyptian officials said. The incidents follow a similar one in Cairo on Monday in which a man poured fuel on himself and set himself on fire on a busy street in front of the People's Assembly (see video below).

In its statement, the Association for Change said it hopes 'to capitalize on the overwhelming sense of hope and optimism filling the Egyptian street. The plan is to continue the protests until the regime takes material steps towards democratization which is Egypt’s only way out of the dire situation it is currently facing.'

That 'sense of hope and optimism' was also detected by New York Times correspondent Anthony Shadid, who told Democracy Now! that the revolt in Tunisia 'has electrified people across the Arab world ... mainly for that prospect of change, that change can actually occur in a lot of countries that seem almost ossified at this point.'

Speaking from Lebanon, Shadid warned that the revolts could turn ugly.

'Everyone is pretty much bracing for a few grim weeks, even months, ahead,' Shadid said. 'What makes it so combustible is that it cuts across questions of sect, of ideology, of the conflict with Israel.'

In Jordan earlier this week, Twitterers showed a surprising amount of nerve when they openly criticized Queen Rania over her Tweet that she was 'watching developments in Tunisia and praying for stability and calm for its people.'

Responses included 'lol Jordan is next!' and 'start palace hunting in Jedda [Saudi Arabia, where Tunisia's ruler Zine Abidine Ben Ali fled].' The LA Times described the Tweets as 'ominous.'

The protests have also spread to Algeria, where a father-of-six became the fifth Algerian to turn himself into a human fireball this week, in a replica of the immolation protest that triggered the events in Tunisia, according to local reports....

- bth: so the Arab social revolution begins?

Key evidence in Stryker war crimes case remains secret | McClatchy

Key evidence in Stryker war crimes case remains secret | McClatchy: "TACOMA, Wash. — From video-taped confessions to written sworn statements to voluminous investigative reports, little information has remained concealed as the Army held hearings at Joint Base Lewis-McChord for 12 Stryker soldiers accused of war crimes and misconduct in Afghanistan.

Yet a few documents and images are under wraps as legal proceedings unfold for the soldiers in the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. Five of the men are accused of murdering three civilians last year, crimes that drew international headlines about an Army “kill team” slaughtering Afghans for fun.

The restricted documents and images include:

• About 60 images of Afghan casualties that were seized from some of the defendants. Some images reportedly show soldiers posing with dead Afghans as if the dead were hunting trophies, according to testimony in court.

• Official service photos of Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs and Staff Sgt. Robert Stevens. Gibbs is charged with all three murders and is awaiting a court-martial. Stevens pleaded guilty last month to shooting at unarmed Afghans and lying about the incident.

• An investigation into Gibbs’ conduct on his two previous deployments to Iraq. The Army Criminal Investigation Command launched the review amid complaints that Gibbs was involved in suspicious killings prior to his deployment in Afghanistan. Criminal Investigation Command spokesman Christopher Grey said the review is not complete, and will not be released out of concern that it could impact the case.

• Pretrial agreements signed by Stevens and Spc. Emmitt Quintal that limit their time in prison and require them to testify to certain facts at upcoming hearings. The News Tribune submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for Stevens’ agreement. It was rejected on the grounds that the Army is still investigating the suspected war crimes....

- bth: the problem for the Army is that this unit was unsupervised and allowed to go trophy hunting and then took photos.

Justice Dept: Whistleblowers Worse Than Spies -- News from

Justice Dept: Whistleblowers Worse Than Spies -- News from "In a filing related to the detention of whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling, the Justice Department argued that being a whistleblower and leaking information to the media was a “greater threat to society” than when a spy sells that information to a single foreign country.

The exact details of what Sterling was being charged with leaking were never made public, but there is speculation that it was related to James Risen’s book State of War. The Justice Department filing however insisted that the stance was a general one, and not case-specific.

This might explain why recent officials have shown so little interest in going after actual spies yet are forever riled up by the notion that the American public might have access to similar embarrassing information.

Jeffrey Sterling is the fifth person in US history charged under the Espionage Act related to classified information. His trial is seen by many as a “test case” for a possible move against WikiLeaks. Another interesting aspect is that Sterling’s attorney still has not been granted clearance to discuss the case with his own client.

- bth: fascinating that the DOJ even under Obama thinks whistleblowing is worse than espionage from a foreign government.

Empty detonator containers found on plane in Miami | Reuters

Empty detonator containers found on plane in Miami | Reuters: "(Reuters) - Police found empty containers for explosives detonators on Monday in the belly of an American Airlines passenger plane at Miami's international airport, triggering a security alert.

Fire crews and police surrounded the plane, which arrived from Brazil, Edna Hernandez, a spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade Police Department, told Reuters.

'The containers are empty. There were no explosives, no detonators, nothing inside them,' Hernandez said.

It was not immediately clear if the containers were found in cargo aboard the plane or in a passenger's suitcase.

The incident was the second in recent weeks at Miami's airport.

Late last month, authorities arrested a man traveling with ammunition parts in a suitcase. The man's luggage contained hundreds of bullet primers -- a key component of bullet cartridges.

- bth: what's going on with security down in Miami? Its like people are bringing in bomb components one part at a time over the last few months.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Anwar al Awlaki: Jihadists should steal from disbelievers - The Long War Journal

Anwar al Awlaki: Jihadists should steal from disbelievers - The Long War Journal: "Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has released the fourth volume of its Inspire magazine online and it features a potentially revealing commentary by al Qaeda cleric Anwar al Awlaki. In an article entitled 'The Ruling on Dispossessing the Disbelievers [sic] wealth in Dar al-Harb,' Awlaki argues that jihadists should not rely exclusively on donations and that instead they have the right to loot 'disbelievers' in order to finance their activities.

'Our jihad cannot depend wholly on donations made by Muslims,' Awlaki writes. Pointing to the past, Awlaki argues that Muslim forces have typically relied upon raids against disbelievers, as well as taxes paid by non-Muslim peoples to finance jihad.

'It is about time that we take serious steps towards securing a strong financial backing for our work rather than depending on donations,' Awlaki argues.

Awlaki's article suggests that American-led efforts to disrupt AQAP's fundraising efforts in the Gulf are working. Indeed, Awlaki openly laments such efforts:

Dear brothers: Jihad heavily relies on money. In Qur'an, the physical jihad is associated with jihad with one's wealth in eight verses. In every verse but one, jihad with wealth preceded the physical jihad. That is because without wealth there can be no jihad.

Awlaki continues:

Our enemies have realized that. Therefore they are 'following the money trail' and are trying to dry up all the sources of funding 'terrorism'.

This may be a thinly-veiled compliment to the US Treasury Department, which has spearheaded international efforts to disrupt al Qaeda's financing. In October 2009, David Cohen, the Treasury Department's assistant secretary for terrorist financing, explained that al Qaeda was 'in its weakest financial condition in several years, and that, as a result, its influence is waning,'

Cohen went on to caution that al Qaeda still had wealthy donors 'who are ready, willing and able to contribute to al Qaeda,' according to CBS News....

- bth: this is an article well worth reading in full.

ANFO IED Helmand

Styker hit by IED

"Baby Doc" Duvalier returns to Haiti - AlertNet

"Baby Doc" Duvalier returns to Haiti - AlertNet: "PORT-AU-PRINCE, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Exiled former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier returned unexpectedly to his Caribbean homeland on Sunday for the first time since he was forced out by a popular uprising and U.S. pressure in 1986.

Wearing a blue suit and tie, Duvalier, now 59, arrived at Port-au-Prince airport on an Air France flight from Paris, witnesses said.

Dozens of enthusiastic supporters greeted him, although the motive for his surprise return to the country was not immediately known.

Duvalier took the reins of power in Haiti in 1971, becoming president on the death of his father, the autocratic Francois 'Papa Doc' Duvalier, who had ruled with a reign of terror. Jean-Claude, 'Baby Doc,' was then the world's youngest head of state at age 19.

Although he tried to improve Haiti's image during his rule, he faced accusations of corruption, political repression and human rights abuses when he fled the country in 1986 during massive street protests and diplomatic pressure from Washington....

- bth: this is not good

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Afghanistan's push to tax U.S. contractors could renew tensions

Afghanistan's push to tax U.S. contractors could renew tensions: "The Afghan government is ramping up efforts to tax U.S. contractors operating there - an effort that could raise millions for the cash-strapped government but could also provoke fresh confrontation with the United States, according to U.S. and Afghan officials.

Taxation of U.S. government assistance is barred by U.S. law, as well as by a number of bilateral accords between Afghanistan and the United States. But the wording in the documents is vague, and the two governments disagree on what 'tax-exempt' means.

Non-Afghan contractors who have recently received tax bills for work done under U.S. government programs say they have appealed to the Defense and State departments to clarify the matter with the Afghans. But they have been told simply to ignore the bills and 'stand up for our rights,' said one official of an American company that has multiple U.S defense contracts in Afghanistan.

The Afghan government says no clarification is needed. It has started to send out what it says are overdue tax bills and has threatened some U.S. companies with arrests, loss of licenses and confiscation of aid goods....

- bth; for the Afghan government, it is about how much money they can get from the stupid foreign invaders.