Current events
Post-9-11 events and analyses

Ken Novak's Weblog


daily link  Sunday, May 30, 2004


Counterfeit trail led to Chalabi: "The coalition's decision to introduce a new Iraqi currency could scarcely have been avoided. No one wanted banknotes bearing the face of Saddam Hussein. Yet the operation to exchange and destroy countless old Iraqi dinars was an invitation to fraud.  The way judge Zuhair Maleki related the story last week, a routine investigation into a giant currency fiddle eventually led to a heavily guarded Baghdad compound belonging to Ahmad Chalabi..  Maleki was in charge of a curious case involving one of Chalabi's minions. Sabah Nouri, described by Maleki as a "former driver and smuggler with no qualifications", had been appointed to head an audit committee at the Iraqi finance ministry, which fell under Chalabi's council wing.  When evidence emerged that old dinars sent for burning were being switched with counterfeit bills – and that the genuine dinars were being represented in exchange for more dollars – Nouri apparently set off in hot pursuit of culprits. ..

When Maleki followed up complaints that the bank tellers had been kidnapped, the scam began to unravel. After weeks of further investigation, the judge concluded that Nouri and other Chalabi aides had in fact been running the counterfeit currency switch. When 15 arrest warrants were issued, the most prominent name on the list was Aras Habib, Chalabi's security chief, who is now in hiding. The charges included murder, kidnapping, fraud, forgery, extortion and stealing government property.

On Saturday, two of the judge's bodyguards were wounded in an attempt to shoot him at a petrol station. "Twice a pistol was pointed at me and twice my bodyguards hurled themselves at me to protect me," said the 38-year-old judge, who escaped with nothing worse than a broken tooth. He declined to speculate on the reason for the attack. ..

weapons inspectors had long been doubtful of the INC's intelligence... "The information provided by Chalabi was so specific it appeared to be very credible," said Joseph Cirincione, author of a WMD report for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  "He would tell people, 'You go to this facility, and in the third building, first corridor, second door, there's a refrigerator with anthrax in it.' Well, inspectors went to those facilities, and there wasn't even a third building, or a corridor, or a door."

Cirincione and others believe there were compelling reasons for Bush administration officials not to believe it. The return of UN inspectors to Iraq in late 2002 provided ample evidence that defectors introduced by the INC had consistently lied about or exaggerated what they claimed to have seen. "

  10:11:04 AM  permalink  

Down on Chalabi: "One diplomat from the region grimly cited an old Punjabi saying: "It's very bad when grandma marries a crook, but it is even worse when she divorces the crook.'

Chalabi's wealthy family was swept out of Iraq in a coup in 1958, and he spent much of his life plotting a coup to take back his homeland, a far-fetched scheme that took on life when he hooked up with Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Doug Feith, who had their own dream of staging a coup of American foreign policy to do an extreme Middle East makeover.

The hawks dismissed warnings from their own people like the Bush Middle East envoy Gen. Anthony Zinni that the Iraqi National Congress was full of "silk-suited, Rolex-wearing guys in London.' As Zinni told The New York Times in 2000: "They are pie in the sky. They're going to lead us to a Bay of Goats, or something like that.'"

  9:43:39 AM  permalink  


daily link  Friday, May 28, 2004


Pace of Securing Nuclear Weapons Material Has Slowed Since 9/11: "The amount of potential nuclear weapons material secured in the two years immediately following September 11, 2001, was less than the amount secured in the two years immediately prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to official data described in a new report from Harvard University on steps needed to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists and hostile states.  To accelerate the pace, sustained Presidential leadership, particularly in the United States and Russia, is urgently needed to sweep aside disputes over access to sensitive sites and other bureaucratic obstacles to progress, according to the report.   ..

During fiscal year (FY) 2003, U.S.-funded programs completed comprehensive security and accounting upgrades on enough weapons-usable nuclear material to make more than two thousand nuclear weapons (35 tons of nuclear material), and over 30 tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) was permanently destroyed.  However, the 35 tons of potential bomb material secured last year is just 6% of the estimated 600 tons of potentially vulnerable nuclear material in Russia alone.  By the end of FY2003, comprehensive security and accounting upgrades had been completed for only 22% of this material, and initial “rapid upgrades” – bricking over windows, installing detectors at doors – for only 43%.  If progress continues at last year’s rate of 35 tons per year, it will take 13 years to finish the job in just the former Soviet Union.  With Presidential action to break through the logjams, the work could be completed in four years."  Many recommendations made.   Companion website has more info.

  11:15:11 AM  permalink  

52 U.S. agencies examine personal data on Americans: "Numerous federal government agencies are collecting and sifting through massive amounts of personal information, including credit reports, credit-card purchases and other financial data, posing new privacy concerns, according to the General Accounting Office (GAO).       The GAO surveyed 128 federal departments and agencies and found that 52 are using, or planning to implement, 199 data-mining programs, with 131 already operational.

The Education, Defense, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Interior, Labor, Justice, and Treasury departments are among those that use the contentious new technology to detect criminal or terrorist activity; manage human resources; gauge scientific research; detect fraud, waste and abuse; and  monitor tax compliance.   The audit released yesterday shows 36 data-mining programs collect and analyze personal information that is purchased from the private sector, including credit reports and credit-card transactions. Additionally, 46 federal agencies share personal information that includes student-loan application data, bank-account numbers, credit-card information and taxpayer-identification numbers.

The Defense Department is the largest user of data-mining technology, followed by the Education Department, which uses private information to track the life of student direct loans and to monitor loan repayments. "Mining government and private databases containing personal information creates a range of privacy concerns," the report said. "

  10:39:06 AM  permalink  


daily link  Tuesday, May 25, 2004


PIPA - Americans Continue to Believe Iraq Supported Al Qaeda and Had WMD: The University of Maryland conducted a poll in March 2004.  57% of Americans  "continue to believe that before the war Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda, including 20% who believe that Iraq was directly involved in the September 11 attacks. 45% believe that evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda has been found. 60% believe that just before the war Iraq either had weapons of mass destruction (38%) or a major program for developing them (22%).

Despite statements by Richard Clarke, David Kay, Hans Blix and others, few Americans perceive most experts as saying the contrary. Only 15% said they are hearing “experts mostly agree Iraq was not providing substantial support to al Qaeda,” while 82% either said that “experts mostly agree Iraq was providing substantial support” (47%) or “experts are evenly divided on the question” (35%). Only 34% said they thought most experts believe Iraq did not have WMD, while 65% said most experts say Iraq did have them (30%) or that experts are divided on the question (35%).

Not surprisingly, perceptions of what experts are saying are highly correlated with beliefs about prewar Iraq, which in turn are highly correlated with support for the decision to go to war.

Perhaps most relevant politically, perceptions of what the experts are saying are also highly correlated with intentions to vote for the President in the upcoming election. Among those who perceived experts as saying that Iraq had WMD, 72% said they would vote for Bush and 23% said they would vote for Kerry, while among those who perceived experts as saying that Iraq did not have WMD, 23% said they would vote for Bush and 74% for Kerry.

Among those who perceived experts as saying that Iraq had supported al Qaeda, 62% said they would vote for Bush and 36% said they would vote for Kerry. Among those who perceived experts as saying that Iraq was not supporting al Qaeda, just 13% said they would vote for Bush and 85% for Kerry. ..

Despite polling showing that the majority of world public opinion is opposed to the US war with Iraq, only 41% were aware that this is the case. A 59% majority was unaware of this, with 21% saying that a majority of world public opinion favored the US having gone to war, and 38% saying “views are evenly balanced.”

Among those who knew that world public opinion opposed the US going to war with Iraq, only 25% thought that going to war was the right decision. Among the group that thought world public opinion was about evenly balanced, 70% said going to war was the right decision, and among those who perceived world public opinion as favoring the war, 88% said going to war the right decision. ..

Perceptions of world public opinion are also related to voting intentions. Among those who are aware that world public opinion is critical of the war, only 22% said they intended to vote for President Bush’s reelection (Kerry: 75%). Among those who thought world public opinion was about evenly balanced, Bush received support from a modest majority--53%, with 40% preferring Kerry. In the group that perceived world public opinion as favoring the war, 71% said they intended to vote for the president and only 25% said they would vote for Kerry."

  12:17:23 PM  permalink  


daily link  Monday, May 24, 2004


Gen. Zinni: 'They've Screwed Up':  "Zinni, who now teaches international relations at the College of William and Mary, says he feels a responsibility to speak out, just as former Marine Corps Commandant David Shoup voiced early concerns about the Vietnam war nearly 40 years ago.

“It is part of your duty. Look, there is one statement that bothers me more than anything else. And that's the idea that when the troops are in combat, everybody has to shut up. Imagine if we put troops in combat with a faulty rifle, and that rifle was malfunctioning, and troops were dying as a result,” says Zinni.   “I can't think anyone would allow that to happen, that would not speak up. Well, what's the difference between a faulty plan and strategy that's getting just as many troops killed? It’s leading down a path where we're not succeeding and accomplishing the missions we've set out to do.”  10:08:44 AM  permalink  


daily link  Sunday, May 23, 2004


Talking Points Memo: Josh Marshall is a great read, this time on the right-wing blame game:  "How'd we get into this? After 50 years of pretty consistently prudential foreign policy, managed mostly on a consensus of bipartisan agreement (yes, there are exceptions, but by and large, true), they decided to bet the national ranch on an idea. Actually it was a series of ideas, wrapped together in an odd tangle that could look like an odd jumble when viewed from outside. The key, however, was betting the national ranch on steep odds. Only, they weren't confident the country would get behind such a riverboat gamble. So they lied about what they were doing. They didn't trust the people -- which might be an epitaph we should return to.

Now, what do we expect of people who make reckless gambles with other people's money? Of people who can't discipline themselves enough to distinguish between their hopes and reality? What do you expect of that ne'er-do-well relative who's always hitting you up for a loan because he's come up with a sure thing? Do you expect those sorts of folks to take responsibility when things go bad? Or do you expect them to blame others?

Character, alas, really does count. "

  1:38:21 AM  permalink  

"Broken Engagement " by Gen. Wesley Clark: "The strategy that won the Cold War could help bring democracy to the Middle East-- if only the Bush hawks understood it."  1:27:57 AM  permalink  

"Confidence Men" by Joshua Micah Marshall:  More from Nov 2002 on the Bush administration governing style.  "Faced with seemingly insurmountable odds, the administration insisted they were going to do it anyway, believing that if you project confidence and invincibility, others will come around. And to a remarkable extent that's just what happened. In the Bushies' lexicon this is called "leadership." And to some extent it is. Getting people to follow you by force of personality, persuasion, and will is the essence of leadership. ... But mostly, what the Bushies call "leadership" is just a confidence game. And over time, that kind of leadership will get its butt kicked by reality every time. There's no better example than the Bush administration's bungling in the Middle East. "  1:07:56 AM  permalink  

"Vice Grip" by Joshua Micah Marshall: Great summary of Cheney's incompetence -- from Jan 2003, no less -- with a diagnosis.  "They see themselves as men of action. But their style of action is shaped by the government bureaucracies and cartel-like industries in which they have operated. In these institutions, a handful of top officials make the plans, and then the plans are carried out. Ba-da-bing. Ba-da-boom.

In such a framework all information is controlled tightly by the principals, who have "maximum flexibility" to carry out the plan. Because success is measured by securing the deal rather than by, say, pleasing millions of customers, there's no need to open up the decision-making process. To do so, in fact, is seen as governing by committee. If there are other groups (shareholders, voters, congressional committees) who agree with you, fine, you use them. But anyone who doesn't agree gets ignored or, if need be, crushed. Muscle it through and when the results are in, people will realize we were right is the underlying attitude.

The danger of this mindset is obvious. No single group of people has a monopoly on the truth. Whether it be plumbers, homemakers, or lobbyist bureaucrats, any group will inevitably see the world through its own narrow, mostly self-interested, prism. But few groups are so accustomed to self-dealing and self-aggrandizement as the cartel-capitalist class. And few are more used to equating their own self-interest with the interests of the country as a whole.

Not since the Whiz Kids of the Kennedy-Johnson years has Washington been led by men of such insular self-assurance. Their hierarchical, old economy style of management couldn't be more different from the loose, non-hierarchical style of, say, high-tech corpor-ations or the Clinton White House, with all their open debate, concern with the interests of "stake-holders," manic focus on pleasing customers (or voters), and constant reassessment of plans and principles. The latter style, while often sloppy and seemingly juvenile, tends to produce pretty smart policy. The former style, while appearing so adult and competent, often produces stupid policy. "

  12:59:01 AM  permalink  

MeaningofLife.tv: Robert Wright's interesting website: "Welcome to meaningoflife.tv, which addresses big, cosmic questions (Is the universe imbued with purpose? Does life have meaning even if the universe isn't imbued with purpose?) as well as some littler, but still significant questions (How do you keep from going crazy in the modern world?). I've gone around asking scientists, social scientists, philosophers, and theologians such questions, and the results are here for you to see."  12:30:17 AM  permalink  

Democratizing Iraq, piece by piece. By Robert Wright: Interesting speculations on the value of early, incremental elections.  And the implications of anything resembling democracy for US goals: "One big obstacle to implementing this plan is the mindset of the Bush White House. Administration officials would have to accept a reality they never quite acknowledged before the war: that a democratic and truly sovereign Iraq may do things the United States doesn't like. In particular, they would have to let go of a primary, if rarely articulated, motivation for the war: to use Iraq as a platform from which to project American military power.

From the beginning, this goal was essentially incompatible with the professed goal of democratizing Iraq. A democratic and sovereign Iraq was never likely to let American troops use its soil to intimidate its various neighbors. How President Bush and his advisers mentally reconciled the idealistic and realpolitik rationales for this war is a question for future psycho-historians to answer. In any event, the contradiction is now manifest, and we don't even have the luxury of choosing between the two scenarios—between a democratic but unwieldy Iraq and a non-democratic but strategically valuable Iraq. Only a stable Iraq would be useful as a strategic platform, and an Iraq being used as a strategic platform is unlikely ever to be stable."

  12:26:24 AM  permalink  


daily link  Saturday, May 22, 2004


The coming October surprise: "Secretary Powell told George Stephanopoulos that theoretically the new Iraqi government can demand that foreign troops leave and America would respect such a request from a sovereign state. Our reaction: that's their exit strategy! "  Yup, I too thought that Powell's comment hadn't been reported on enough, but I hadn't thought of the political implications.   Like, the new Iraqi government starts in August, then by mid-Sept (say, just after the GOP convention), it requests a US withdrawal, and the first phase starts in time for some of our boys to visibly come home in the last half of October.  Of course, that doesn't have to be the end of it; there could be "problems" after the election that keep the rest of the troops there for a few more years, but the Bush campaign would harvest the political value of their "exit strategy".  10:31:49 PM  permalink  


daily link  Friday, May 21, 2004


Film deal for 'Baghdad blogger': "The Baghdad Blog, a book based on an online diary written by an Iraqi man about life during the conflict there, is to be made into a film.
Media group Intermedia is searching for a scriptwriter to adapt the book by the man, who calls himself Salam Pax.  "He's like a Nick Hornby in the middle of a war," Scott Kroopf, chairman of the company's film division, told film industry website ScreenDaily.com"

  9:53:07 PM  permalink  

Ace Sherpa guide becomes fastest Mt. Everest climber: "Ace Sherpa guide Pemba Dorjee scaled Mount Everest in a record 8 hours and 10 minutes Friday.. The climb from the 17,380-foot base camp to the 29,035-foot summit usually takes about four days.   Dorjee, 26, held the speed record of 12 hours and 45 minutes for three days last year until another Sherpa guide, Lakpa Gyelu, made the journey in 10 hours and 56 minutes. "

  12:27:14 PM  permalink  


daily link  Monday, May 17, 2004


Arms trafficker protected: report: "BRITAIN had bowed to US pressure to keep the name of a notorious arms trafficker off a list of those subject to planned United Nations sanctions, the Financial Times reported today.  "London had originally supported moves to freeze Mr (Victor) Bout's assets, but appeared to have reversed its view under pressure from Washington," the newspaper said, citing evidence from several western diplomats.

In 2000, Peter Hain, then British foreign office minister responsible for Africa, described Victor Bout as "the chief sanctions-buster and ... a merchant of death who owns air companies that ferry in arms" to rebel and government forces in several African conflicts, including Liberia, Angola and Sierra Leone. ..

The paper quoted a senior western diplomat close to the UN negotiations as saying, "We are disgusted that Bout won't be on the list, even though he is the principal arms dealer in the region. If we want peace in that region (of West Africa), it seems evident that he should be on that list."

According to the anonymous diplomats cited in the Financial Times report, the US may be using an air freight company linked to Bout to help supply their forces in Iraq. "The American defence forces are using Victor's planes for their logistics," a former senior UN official told the paper."

  2:08:09 AM  permalink  


daily link  Sunday, May 16, 2004


Science.gov: "Science.gov is a gateway to authoritative selected science information provided by U.S. Government agencies, including research and development results"  11:00:15 AM  permalink  


daily link  Friday, May 14, 2004


The Needle in the Database: Former FBI intelligence agent prescribes changes.  "blame usually falls on the F.B.I. and C.I.A. — agencies the public thinks it understands. "Why can't they work together?" people ask, ignorant of the fire walls that separate the agencies in order to protect the personal privacy and civil rights of all Americans.

Why don't they get along? Because they shouldn't. Law enforcement and the intelligence community are pegs designed not to fit in the same hole. One works on rule of law to gather legally admissible evidence; the other digs up intelligence that may be used even when it doesn't meet a standard of reasonable doubt.

The solution?

First, the government should integrate all intelligence programs in a single agency. Make the Central Intelligence Agency just what it is supposed to be: central. The director of central intelligence serves, at least in principle, as the president's chief intelligence officer. Give him the resources and authority to go with the title.

Second, we should divide the C.I.A. into counterterrorism, war-fighting and diplomatic directorates to better manage all national security objectives. Make the C.I.A. a service provider for other government agencies; create a common strategic goal.

Third, the government should define the differences between foreign and domestic spying but provide for both. It is naïve to think we don't need some sort of internal surveillance capacity.

Finally, we need to standardize the classification process and make secrets accessible to the people who need them. Classification should be a means of channeling information, not hoarding it. Knowledge of a Qaeda plot is useless if we can't pass it on to local and state authorities."

  7:54:51 PM  permalink  

Rise of an 'Iraq generation' in Europe?: "In the short term, European public disgust at the pictures probably rules out any chance that America's NATO allies will offer military help securing the transition to Iraqi rule in Baghdad. In the long run, some observers worry, the photographs could perpetuate a graver transatlantic rift.  "They might help create an 'Iraq generation' in Europe like the 'Vietnam generation,'" suggests Bernhard May, an expert on European relations with the US at the influential German Foreign Policy Society in Berlin. "If a whole generation comes to think of America in terms of the Iraq war, then we are in trouble for years to come." ..

US officials had hoped to persuade NATO to take a formal role in Iraq after the transition to Iraqi rule, but no such decision is expected now at the alliance summit next month in Istanbul.  With European mistrust of the US administration running so high, "the last thing the Europeans want to do is come to the June summit and allow George W. Bush to preside over the alliance as a great leader," said Philip Gordon, a Brookings Institute scholar and coauthor of a new book on the transatlantic rift over Iraq, in a recent speech to the Transatlantic Center, a Brussels think tank."

  3:50:15 AM  permalink  


daily link  Thursday, May 13, 2004


The Israeli Toture Template: How hot could it get? What if Israelis are part of the US intelligence team in Iraq?  "it is noteworthy that one, John Israel, who was identified in the report as being employed by both CACI International of Arlington, Virginia, and Titan, Inc., of San Diego, may not have even been a U.S. citizen. The Taguba report states that Israel did not have a security clearance, a requirement for employment as an interrogator for CACI. According to CACI's web site, "a Top Secret Clearance (TS) that is current and US citizenship" are required for CACI interrogators working in Iraq. In addition, CACI requires that its interrogators "have at least two years experience as a military policeman or similar type of law enforcement/intelligence agency whereby the individual utilized interviewing techniques."

Speculation that "John Israel" may be an intelligence cover name has fueled speculation whether this individual could have been one of a number of Israeli interrogators hired under a classified contract.

Although the Taguba report refers twice to Israel as an employee of Titan, the company claims he is one of their sub-contractors. CACI stated that one of the men listed in the report "is not and never has been a CACI employee" without providing more detail. A U.S. intelligence source revealed that in the world of intelligence "carve out" subcontracts such confusion is often the case with "plausible deniability" being a foremost concern.

In fact, the Taguba report does reference the presence of non-U.S. and non-Iraqi interrogators at Abu Ghraib. The report states, "In general, US civilian contract personnel (Titan Corporation, CACI, etc), third country nationals, and local contractors do not appear to be properly supervised within the detention facility at Abu Ghraib." "

  1:00:27 PM  permalink  

Bush admin passed on attacking Zarqawi: Smoking gun: pursing Iraq while allowing Al Queda to grow.  From the folks who criticized Clinton for "only" using cruise missles in Afghanistan.  Note this was in northern Iraq where we had easy access and local Kurdish forces.  "NBC News has learned that long before the war the Bush administration had several chances to wipe out his terrorist operation and perhaps kill Zarqawi himself — but never pulled the trigger.  In June 2002, U.S. officials say intelligence had revealed that Zarqawi and members of al-Qaida had set up a weapons lab at Kirma, in northern Iraq, producing deadly ricin and cyanide.  The Pentagon quickly drafted plans to attack the camp with cruise missiles and airstrikes and sent it to the White House, where, according to U.S. government sources, the plan was debated to death in the National Security Council.

“Here we had targets, we had opportunities, we had a country willing to support casualties, or risk casualties after 9/11 and we still didn’t do it,” said Michael O’Hanlon, military analyst with the Brookings Institution.  “People were more obsessed with developing the coalition to overthrow Saddam than to execute the president’s policy of preemption against terrorists,” according to terrorism expert and former National Security Council member Roger Cressey.

Four months later, intelligence showed Zarqawi was planning to use ricin in terrorist attacks in Europe.  The Pentagon drew up a second strike plan, and the White House again killed it.  By then the administration had set its course for war with Iraq.  In January 2003, the threat turned real. Police in London arrested six terror suspects and discovered a ricin lab connected to the camp in Iraq. The Pentagon drew up still another attack plan, and for the third time, the National Security Council killed it.

Military officials insist their case for attacking Zarqawi’s operation was airtight, but the administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam. The United States did attack the camp at Kirma at the beginning of the war, but it was too late — Zarqawi and many of his followers were gone.  “Here’s a case where they waited, they waited too long and now we’re suffering as a result inside Iraq,” Cressey added.  And despite the Bush administration’s tough talk about hitting the terrorists before they strike, Zarqawi’s killing streak continues today."

  11:04:56 AM  permalink  


daily link  Wednesday, May 12, 2004


A Time for Truth - by Pat Buchanan: Surprising to find so much agreement with Buchanan.  "Bush's "world democratic revolution" is history."  11:48:28 AM  permalink  

'Holy war' general linked to Iraq prison scandal: "The US Army general under investigation for anti-Islamic remarks has been linked by US officials to the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal, which experts warned could touch off new outrage overseas.   A Senate hearing into the abuse of Iraqi prisoners was told on Tuesday that Lieutenant General William Boykin, an evangelical Christian under review for saying his God was superior to that of the Muslims, briefed a top Pentagon civilian official last summer on ways military interrogators could gain more intelligence from Iraqi prisoners.  Critics have suggested those recommendations amounted to a senior-level go-ahead for the sexual and physical abuse of prisoners, possibly to "soften up" detainees before interrogation, a charge the Pentagon denies. Lt Gen Boykin touched off a firestorm last October after giving speeches while in uniform in which he referred to the war on terrorism as a battle with "Satan" and said America had been targeted "because we're a Christian nation". "  Boykin is still "on review" for those statements, 8 months later; Bush and Rumsfeld refused to reassign him pending the outcome of the review.  10:14:03 AM  permalink  

Overdosing on Islam: "Qom is the religious center of Iran, but even here, there is anger and disquiet. One of the central questions for the Middle East is whether Iran's hard-line Islamic regime will survive. I'm betting it won't.

"Either officials change their methods and give freedom to the people, and stop interfering in elections, or the people will rise up with another revolution," Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri told me. 

"There is no freedom," added Ayatollah Montazeri, who is among the senior figures in the Shiite world but is excluded from power in Iran because of his reformist ideas. "Repression is carried out in the name of Islam, and that turns people off. . . . All these court summonses, newspaper closings and prosecutions of dissidents are wrong. These are the same things that were done under the shah and are now being repeated. And now they are done in the name of Islam and therefore alienate people."

Whoa! Ayatollah Montazeri was a leader of the Islamic Revolution, and was initially designated by his close friend Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to be his successor as supreme leader of Iran. Everything he says carries immense credibility, for he is a more senior religious figure than any of Iran's present leaders."

  9:14:49 AM  permalink  

Ongoing riots, massacres in Nigeria: "Muslim and Christian militants are fighting bloody street battles in Nigeria's northern city of Kano for a second day, killing at least 15 people, witnesses say.  The rioting, which killed at least another 11 on Tuesday, was sparked by popular anger over what the Islamic community sees as the government's failure to prevent last week's massacre [in] Yelwa. .. Survivors of last week's attack on Yelwa town said they buried 630 corpses after a two-day assault by heavily armed Christian militia. It was not possible to verify the figure independently and police have said "hundreds" were killed.

The Yelwa massacre was the latest outbreak of a conflict dating to 2001 when more than 1,000 were killed in fighting in the state capital Jos. At least 1,000 have been killed in the past three months. The Yelwa massacre came three months after Islamic militia killed almost 100 Christians there. ..

People of the Tarok and other predominantly Christian tribes in Plateau accuse the Hausa-Fulani of invading their ancestral land and want to drive them out of the state. Semi-nomadic Hausa-Fulani say their families have grazed cattle there for generations."  As in  Linden's book, another case where population growth and ecological decline generate violent conflict.

  9:05:11 AM  permalink  

Reuters - Mexico Air Force video creates UFO stir: "The Mexican Air Force has released footage of what a UFO expert said were 11 invisible unidentified flying objects picked up by an infrared camera as they whizzed around a surveillance plane. .. The ministry confirmed to Reuters it had provided the video, filmed by the Air Force on March 5 over the eastern coastal state of Campeche. "We are not alone! This is so weird," one of the pilots can be heard yelling, after the plane's crew switched on an infrared camera to track the objects, first picked up by radar.

The film, recorded by a plane looking for drugs trafficking near the Gulf of Mexico, shows 11 objects as blobs of light that hover in formation or dart about, sometimes disappearing into cloud.  .. Interviewed by Mausson on another section of the video, the pilots said they grew nervous when the objects, still invisible, turned back during a chase and surrounded the plane.  "There was a moment when ... the screens showed they were behind us, to the left and in front of us. It was at that point that I felt a bit tense," said Maj. Magdaleno Castanon.

Mexico has a long history of fanciful UFO sightings, most of which are dismissed by scientists as space debris, missiles, weather balloons, natural weather phenomena or hoaxes"  8:57:46 AM  permalink  


daily link  Tuesday, May 11, 2004


Four on the Floor: John McCain says "he has no idea why George Tenet still runs the CIA. "I think he must have some negatives somewhere," McCain says, meaning photo negatives."  Guess I'm not the only one who thinks so...  10:23:23 PM  permalink  

Army Times Editorial: "Around the halls of the Pentagon, a term of caustic derision has emerged for the enlisted soldiers at the heart of the furor over the Abu Ghraib prison scandal: the six morons who lost the war. .. But the folks in the Pentagon are talking about the wrong morons. ..

The entire affair is a failure of leadership from start to finish. From the moment they are captured, prisoners are hooded, shackled and isolated. The message to the troops: Anything goes. .. Army commanders in Iraq bear responsibility for running a prison where there was no legal adviser to the commander, and no ultimate responsibility taken for the care and treatment of the prisoners. ..

On the battlefield, Myers’ and Rumsfeld’s errors would be called a lack of situational awareness — a failure that amounts to professional negligence. .. This was not just a failure of leadership at the local command level. This was a failure that ran straight to the top. Accountability here is essential — even if that means relieving top leaders from duty in a time of war."

  9:17:10 AM  permalink  


daily link  Monday, May 10, 2004


Time for Bush to See The Realities of Iraq: Even George Will is disgusted:  "Pat Moynihan [once[ said: "The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself." Here we reach the real issue about Iraq.. -- our ability to wield political power to produce the requisite cultural change in a place such as Iraq. Time was, this question would have separated conservatives from liberals. Nowadays it separates conservatives from neoconservatives.

Condoleezza Rice, a political scientist, believes there is scholarly evidence that democratic institutions do not merely spring from a hospitable culture, but that they also can help create such a culture. She is correct; they can. They did so in the young American republic. But it would be reassuring to see more evidence that the administration is being empirical, believing that this can happen in some places, as opposed to ideological, believing that it must happen everywhere it is tried. 

Being steadfast in defense of carefully considered convictions is a virtue. Being blankly incapable of distinguishing cherished hopes from disappointing facts, or of reassessing comforting doctrines in face of contrary evidence, is a crippling political vice. "

  9:48:48 PM  permalink  

How to Get Out of Iraq: Detailed exploration of options for powersharing in Iraq, from a diplomat who worked in the Balkans.  Advocates loose federation of 3 states as only alternative, along with its implications for US policy.  4:02:21 PM  permalink  

Sy Hersh on the chain of command:  More direct evidence of torture, and details on who did or should have done what in the prison scandal, naming a major general, a provost marshal and a contractor, with hints of CIA involvement.  Insights into the Rumsfeld regime in the process:  "The Pentagon official told me that many senior generals believe that, along with the civilians in Rumsfeld’s office, Sanchez and Abizaid .. had done their best to keep the issue quiet in the first months of the year. ..  [A] Pentagon official said. “What is the motive for not being forthcoming? They foresaw major diplomatic problems.”

Secrecy and wishful thinking, the Pentagon official said, are defining characteristics of Rumsfeld’s Pentagon, and shaped its response to the reports from Abu Ghraib. “They always want to delay the release of bad news—in the hope that something good will break,” he said. The habit of procrastination in the face of bad news led to disconnects between Rumsfeld and the Army staff officers who were assigned to planning for troop requirements in Iraq. A year ago, the Pentagon official told me, when it became clear that the Army would have to call up more reserve units to deal with the insurgency, “we had call-up orders that languished for thirty or forty days in the office of the Secretary of Defense.” Rumsfeld’s staff always seemed to be waiting for something to turn up—for the problem to take care of itself, without any additional troops. The official explained, “They were hoping that they wouldn’t have to make a decision.” The delay meant that soldiers in some units about to be deployed had only a few days to prepare wills and deal with other family and financial issues.

The same deliberate indifference to bad news was evident in the past year, the Pentagon official said, when the Army conducted a series of elaborate war games. Planners would present best-case, moderate-case, and worst-case scenarios, in an effort to assess where the Iraq war was headed and to estimate future troop needs. In every case, the number of troops actually required exceeded the worst-case analysis. Nevertheless, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and civilian officials in the Pentagon continued to insist that future planning be based on the most optimistic scenario. .. The official added, “From the beginning, the Army community was saying that the projections and estimates were unrealistic.” ..

No amount of apologetic testimony or political spin last week could mask the fact that, since the attacks of September 11th, President Bush and his top aides have seen themselves as engaged in a war against terrorism in which the old rules did not apply. The Pentagon’s impatience with military protocol extended to questions about the treatment of prisoners caught in the course of its military operations. Soon after 9/11, as the war on terror got under way, Donald Rumsfeld repeatedly made public his disdain for the Geneva conventions. Complaints about America’s treatment of prisoners, Rumsfeld said in early 2002, amounted to “isolated pockets of international hyperventilation.”

  3:18:35 PM  permalink  

Undercutting Mideast Democracy: The Mid East democracy focus of the Bush administration has essentially imploded. Not only the photos from Abu Ghraib, but Israel and Libyan policies.  The "withdrawal of settlements from the Gaza Strip was welcomed by most Arabs, above all the liberals. But Bush's gratuitous concession to Sharon of far-reaching changes in the public U.S. stance on the terms of a final Israeli-Palestinian settlement was greeted with dismay."  And, "Gaddafi represents everything the Bush initiative is meant to be against. He is a massive violator of human rights and a dictator who grooms his children to succeed him. He seeks the same devil's bargain with the United States that Arab autocrats have always cut: Ignore my domestic thuggery, and I'll sell you oil and cooperate with your foreign policy. "

Each decision on its own has merits.  "But that's not the point. What the Libya and Israel decisions show is that, despite its New Year's resolution, the White House isn't ready to change the old calculus of U.S. Middle East policy. Promotion of democracy remains the top priority -- except when it conflicts with something else." 

Once again, there's a lack of coherent strategy in US foreign policy -- nobody home integrating policy across the departments and interest groups.  Depressing, esp combined with US ineptitude on gathering and integrating human intelligence (Abu Gharab, WMD, inability to hit Al Queda before and after 9/11).

  12:50:27 PM  permalink  

Aljazeera.Net - ICRC in US for Guantanamo talks:  Turns out Aljazeera covered the ICRC visit, from story dated 15 Jan 04: "Eight months after openly criticising the US treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay naval base, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross is back in Washington for talks with senior administration officials. Jakob Kellenberger, who arrived in the US capital on Thursday, is scheduled to meet with US Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, said the ICRC in a statement.

It added that the Guantanamo situation would be top of the agenda, as it was last May when Kellenberger met with Powell and Rice. .. In an unusual act after that meeting, Kellenberger publicly called for US authorities to institute due legal process for the more than 650 detainees at Guantanamo and also demanded significant changes in their conditions of detention."

  9:35:53 AM  permalink  

The Observer: Catastrophe: Many important details on the Iraq abuse story.  "For [Red Cross president Jakob] Kellenberger and other senior officials in Geneva, that [late December] summary report confirmed worrying reports that were coming from across the US-administered prison system set up to deal with suspects detained in the war in terror. From Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay to Iraq and to friendly third-party countries with poor human rights records which were willing to open up their facilities to the US, a picture was emerging of routine and arbitrary ill treatment. Of men picked up, sometimes on the smallest pretext, disappearing into a chilling closed world.

Determined to raise the organisation's concerns, Kellenberger had scheduled a trip to Washington to talk to the most senior US officials in the Bush administration. On 13 and 14 January he attended a series of meetings in Washington. In two days he would meet US Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. In each meeting, say Red Cross sources, Kellenberger would deliver the same message: his organisation's belief that coalition soldiers were torturing and mistreating Iraqi detainees.  Within hours that message would be on the desks of Donald Rumsfeld and the most senior officers in the US military. But if Rumsfeld is to be believed, even as a discreet inquiry was launched into the allegations, none of the President's most senior officials thought to tell George Bush. ..

But Kellenberger was not alone in being concerned. According to the timeline leaked by investigators to the US media, army investigators had also been tipped about the abuses and, after months of inaction, were taking the issue seriously.  Joseph Darby, a 24-year-old reservist at Abu Ghraib, had plucked up his courage and slipped an anonymous note underneath the door of one of his superior officers. It described brutal incidents of abuse of Iraqi prisoners and the existence of graphic photographs taken by Darby's own colleagues. .. Darby eventually turned over a computer disk of pictures to a sergeant in his unit on 13 January. A few hours later, army investigators seized other computers and disks from members of the unit. By 14 January - according to this version of events - General John Abizaid was on the phone to Rumsfeld, as Kellenberger was also raising his concern. 

On 16 January, the US army curtly announced it had ordered an investigation into abuses at the prison - a five-sentence press release said that an inquiry into 'reported' incidents of detainee abuse had begun. It did not even name the prison.  ..

According to one officer recently returned from Iraq, sexual humiliation of prisoners in Abu Ghraib was not an invention of 'maverick guards' but part of a system of degradation developed for use by British and US troops called R2I - resistance to interrogation - which uses sexual jibes and stripping prisoners to prolong 'the shock of capture' when detainees are at their most vulnerable.  In an interview with the Guardian yesterday, the officer said: 'It was clear from discussions with US private contractors in Iraq that prison guards were using R2I techniques, but they didn't know what they were doing.'

What has also emerged is the role that US military intelligence officers - and private intelligence contractors - have played in directing the abuse with most of the reservists involved alleging that they thought their duty was to 'soften up' the prisoners for questioning.  Indeed, Taguba's leaked confidential report identifies at least three contractors as being potentially to blame for the problems - contractors who are neither subject to Iraqi law, military discipline or the Geneva Conventions"

  9:32:42 AM  permalink  

Unmarried, Female and Turned Off by Politics: "According to pollsters, when single women are compared with married men, married women and single men, they account for the largest number of Americans who are, in essence, voluntarily disenfranchised. More than 21 million single women — almost half of those eligible — did not cast ballots in the last presidential election. .. Had this group voted in the same proportion as married women in the 2000 election, she discovered, an additional 6 million votes would have been cast around the country .. In the survey, 65% of single women said they viewed the country as "seriously off on the wrong track." (During the same period, 50% of all respondents to The Times Poll agreed with that statement.)"

  9:15:35 AM  permalink  


daily link  Friday, May 07, 2004


Krugman on oil supplies:  "the end [the energy crisis of the 1970's] has been widely misunderstood: prices went down not because the world found new sources of oil, but because it found ways to make do with less. During the 1980's, oil consumption dropped around the world as the delayed effects of the energy crisis led to the use of more fuel-efficient cars, better insulation in homes and so on. Although economic growth led to a gradual recovery, as late as 1993 world oil consumption was only slightly higher than it had been in 1979. In the United States, oil consumption didn't regain its 1979 level until 1997.

Since then, however, world demand has grown rapidly: the daily world consumption of oil is 12 million barrels higher than it was a decade ago, roughly equal to the combined production of Saudi Arabia and Iran. It turns out that America's love affair with gas guzzlers, shortsighted as it is, is not the main culprit: the big increases in demand have come from booming developing countries. China, in particular, still consumes only 8 percent of the world's oil — but it accounted for 37 percent of the growth in world oil consumption over the last four years.

The collision between rapidly growing world demand and a limited world supply is the reason why the oil market is so vulnerable to jitters. .. In a way it's ironic. Lately we've been hearing a lot about competition from Chinese manufacturing and Indian call centers. But a different kind of competition — the scramble for oil and other resources — poses a much bigger threat to our prosperity.

So what should we be doing? Here's a hint: We can neither drill nor conquer our way out of the problem. Whatever we do, oil prices are going up. What we have to do is adapt."

  8:50:35 AM  permalink  


daily link  Wednesday, May 05, 2004


Those Friendly Iranians: "Finally, I've found a pro-American country.  Everywhere I've gone in Iran, with one exception, people have been exceptionally friendly and fulsome in their praise for the United States, and often for President Bush as well. ..

In the 1960's and 1970's, the U.S. spent millions backing a pro-Western modernizing shah — and the result was an outpouring of venom that led to our diplomats' being held hostage. Since then, Iran has been ruled by mullahs who despise everything we stand for — and now people stop me in the bazaar to offer paeans to America as well as George Bush. Partly because being pro-American is a way to take a swipe at the Iranian regime, anything American, from blue jeans to "Baywatch," is revered..

Indeed, many Iranians seem convinced that the U.S. military ventures in Afghanistan and Iraq are going great, and they say this with more conviction than your average White House spokesman. ..

Iran-U.S. relations are now headed for a crisis over Tehran's nuclear program, which appears to be so advanced that Iran could produce its first bomb by the end of next year. The Bush administration is right to address this issue, but it needs to step very carefully to keep from inflaming Iranian nationalism and uniting the population behind the regime. We need to lay out the evidence on satellite television programs that are broadcast into Iran, emphasizing that the regime is squandering money on a nuclear weapons program that will further isolate Iranians and damage their economy...

In a teahouse near the Isfahan bazaar, where I was interviewing religious conservatives, they were warm and friendly, but a group of people two tables away went out of their way to be rude, yelling at me for being an American propagandist. So I finally encountered hostility in Iran — from a table full of young Europeans"

  5:49:56 PM  permalink  

Integrity of electronic voting questioned:  Some progress:  "Legislation requiring voter-verified paper ballots has been introduced in 15 states (Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin) that currently use electronic voting machines, and four states (Arizona, Maine, Minnesota and Vermont) that have yet to upgrade their voting equipment. Sixteen states with electronic voting machines have not discussed paper ballots: Arkansas, Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Wyoming.  Election officials in Illinois, Oregon, Nevada and New Hampshire already have banned paperless, electronic voting systems. Nevada Secretary of State Dean Heller recently made Nevada the only state to mandate that printers be installed on all electronic voting machines by November, despite the fact that Nevada had experienced no problems with the machines used by 70 percent of the stateâ019s voters in 2002. "  10:01:21 AM  permalink  


daily link  Tuesday, May 04, 2004


US diplomats' letter to Bush: 60 former US diplomats (several ambassadors) wrote:  "You have placed US diplomats, civilians and military doing their jobs overseas in an untenable and even dangerous position. Your unqualified support of Sharon's extra-judicial assassinations, Israel's Berlin Wall-like barrier, its harsh military measures in occupied territories, and now your endorsement of Sharon's unilateral plan are costing our country its credibility, prestige and friends"  10:40:24 PM  permalink  

Grow-your-own to replace false teeth: From the too-good-to-be-true department:  "Instead of false teeth, a small ball of cells capable of growing into a new tooth will be implanted where the missing one used to be.  The procedure needs only a local anaesthetic and the new tooth should be fully formed within a few months of the cells being implanted.

Paul Sharpe, a specialist in the field of regenerative dentistry at the Dental Institute of King's College, London, says the new procedure .. is fairly simple. Doctors take stem cells from the patient. These are unique in their ability to form any of the tissues that make up the body. By carefully nurturing the stem cells in a laboratory, scientists can nudge the cells down a path that will make them grow into a tooth. After a couple of weeks, the ball of cells, known as a bud, is ready to be implanted. Tests reveal what type of tooth - for example, a molar or an incisor - the bud will form.

Using a local anaesthetic, the tooth bud is inserted through a small incision into the gum. Within months, the cells will have matured into a fully-formed tooth, fused to the jawbone. As the tooth grows, it releases chemicals that encourage nerves and blood vessels to link up with it.

Tests have shown the technique to work in mice, where new teeth took weeks to grow. "There's no reason why it shouldn't work in humans, the principles are the same," said Prof Sharpe."

  12:11:20 AM  permalink  


daily link  Monday, May 03, 2004


Dowd: Wolfie's Fuzzy Math: "This is, of course, an administration that refuses to quantify or acknowledge the cost of its chuckleheaded empire policies, in bodies, money, credibility in the Arab world, reputation among our allies or the reinvigoration of militant Muslims around the globe. Duped themselves, they duped Americans into thinking it would be easy, paid for with Iraqi oil. But Donald Rumsfeld's vision of showing off a slim, agile military was always at odds with the neocons' vision of infusing enough security into Iraq to turn it into an instant democratic paradise.

Crushed in the collision of these two grandiose dreams are all the smaller dreams of fallen soldiers, to raise kids and watch baseball and grill hot dogs on the Fourth of July. Now things have deteriorated to the point that the administration is pathetically begging for help from the very people it was trying to roll over -- the U.N., Saddam's Baathist generals and the Iranians."

  4:34:55 PM  permalink  

"Inverse Surveillance" -- What We Should Do With All Those Phonecams: Steve Mann's ideas of citizen "sousveillance" predated the cameraphone phenomena by nearly a decade. [He has] reknown as the longtime online cyborg. He started wearing computers and sent his "eyetap" camera images to the Web way back in 1994. His first reference to his activities as a new kind of newsgathering date back to the day in 1995 when he followed a fire truck to a fire and sent the pictures from his head-mounted camera to the Web ..

In 2000, Mann and his students streamed images directly to the Web when violence broke out at a demonstration by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty. If you think about it, this kind of journalism is a breakthrough in at least one dimension: whenever police abused their power in past political demonstrations, they made a point of breaking or confiscating cameras. Whether you are a violent demonstrator or an abusive police officer, it doesn't do a lot of good to disguise your misbehavior by trashing a camera if it has already sent images to the Whole Wide World. ..

 "Surveillance" is French for "watching from above," but Mann's ["sousveillance"] is French for "watching from below." If you think about it, there really is little that citizens can do at this point to prevent others from watching, listening, and tracking us – but we are beginning to get the tools to watch the watchers. Mann notes that surveillance is about authorities watching from on high, but sousveillance is a down-to-earth human's eye view; surveillance cameras are usually automatic devices statically mounted on the ceiling, but sousveillance is human-situated and eye-level; activities are surveilled by authorities but sousveilled by participants; surveillance is secret but sousveillance is public."

Here's a practical application: People For the American Way Election Protection: "Volunteer poll monitors make EP an effective advocate for voters and a powerful deterrent to those who would try to deny voters their rights. Trained by attorneys and armed with cell phones that connect them with a lawyers hotline, EP volunteers distribute the 'Voters Bill of Rights at the polls and identify and solve problems as they happen -- not after Election Day has passed."  They say they will use cameras in cell phones when possible.

  1:12:15 PM  permalink  

Nigerian Mobs Alerted By Texting: From Nov 2002 Howard Rheingold notes "the reported use of texting to summon rioters in Nigeria.
Ironically, the blasphemous story published against the prophet has tended to unite the nation's muslims who have not only been unanimous in their condemnation of the story, but have also been sending solidarity text messages on their GSM phones to alert one another on the blasphemy since last Sunday.

AbdulHameed Daramola, a Lagos Muslim told Weekly Trust that he alone alerted over seventy Muslims across the country about the blasphemy through text messages on his GSM since last Sunday when he became aware of the issue"

  12:49:52 PM  permalink  

Intelligence: A Double Game: "NEWSWEEK has learned that top Bush administration officials have been briefed on intelligence indicating that Chalabi and some of his top aides have supplied Iran with "sensitive" information on the American occupation in Iraq. U.S. officials say that electronic intercepts of discussions between Iranian leaders indicate that Chalabi and his entourage told Iranian contacts about American political plans in Iraq. There are also indications that Chalabi has provided details of U.S. security operations. According to one U.S. government source, some of the information Chalabi turned over to Iran could "get people killed." .. Each month the Pentagon still pays his group a $340,000 stipend, drawn from secret intelligence funds, for "information collection." Still, the State Department and the CIA are using the intelligence about his Iran ties to persuade the president to cut him loose once and for all."  8:28:20 AM  permalink  

100 Mistakes for the President to Choose From: Quite a compilation.  8:20:43 AM  permalink  


daily link  Sunday, May 02, 2004


Patriot Act Suppresses News Of Challenge to Patriot Act: " The American Civil Liberties Union disclosed yesterday that it filed a lawsuit three weeks ago challenging the FBI's methods of obtaining many business records, but the group was barred from revealing even the existence of the case until now. The lawsuit was filed April 6 in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, but the case was kept under seal to avoid violating secrecy rules contained in the USA Patriot Act, the ACLU said. The group was allowed to release a redacted version of the lawsuit after weeks of negotiations with the government. "  The heart of the suit is are the administrative subpeonas that the FBI now uses frequently, for collecting copies of databases without judicial oversight. 

  6:16:50 PM  permalink  

Comparative overview of the blast-affected town of Ryongchon: Pre- and post-explosion satellite pictures.  Awesome.  6:06:59 PM  permalink  

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