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GAO: No problem smuggling secret weapons out of US
By Daniel Tencer | Raw Story
You’ve got to hand it to the U.S. Government Accountability Office — they’ve got initiative.
When the government agency — which has for years been holding successive administrations’ feet to the fire over deficit spending and other management issues — was tasked with investigating how secure America’s sensitive technologies are, it set up a dummy corporation to buy American weapons and see if it could ship them to countries known as transit points for smuggling weapons.
What they managed to smuggle out of the United States was astounding: Triggers for nuclear bombs; microchips for smart missiles; components for improvised explosives; even current-issue U.S. Army body armor.
And the method they used to do it was brilliant in its simplicity: To avoid export restrictions, they set up their dummy corporation inside the United States. Then, once in possession of the equipment, they shipped it overseas....
I’ve been reading through the hot-off-the-presses, exciting 100+ page report from the Commission on Wartime Contracting: “At What Cost? Contingency Contracting In Iraq and Afghanistan.” There have been several good pieces that covered the Congressional hearings related to this report, so I thought I would just post some of the more important excerpts from the report. One general note: The Commission, which was created due to the diligent efforts of Senators Jim Webb and Claire McCaskill, has been doing some incredibly important work digging deep into the corruption, waste, abuse, fraud, etc of the US war contracting system. The statute that created the commission “requires the Commission to assess a number of factors related to wartime contracting, including the extent of waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement of wartime contracts. The Commission has the authority to hold hearings and to refer to the Attorney General any violation or potential violation of law it identifies in carrying out its duties.”...
US-PAKISTAN: CIA Secrecy on Drone Attacks Data Hides Abuses
By Gareth Porter | IPSNews
The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s refusal to share with other agencies even the most basic data on the bombing attacks by remote-controlled unmanned predator drones in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal region, combined with recent revelations that CIA operatives have been paying Pakistanis to identify the targets, suggests that managers of the drone attacks programmes have been using the total secrecy surrounding the programme to hide abuses and high civilian casualties.
Intelligence analysts have been unable to obtain either the list of military targets of the drone strikes or the actual results in terms of al Qaeda or civilians killed, according to a Washington source familiar with internal discussion of the drone strike programme. The source insisted on not being identified because of the extreme sensitivity of the issue.
"They can’t find out anything about the programme," the source told IPS. That has made it impossible for other government agencies to judge its real consequences, according to the source. Read more.
Congressional negotiators have agreed to drop amendments to a supplemental approrpiations bill that would have banned the release of photos depicting alleged detainee abuse and would have restricted bringing Guantanamo detainees to the United States.
The agreement on those issues should speed passage of the bill, which provides $79.9 billion for the Pentagon to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another $10.4 billion would go to the State Department and other “international affairs and stabilization” efforts in Pakistan.
The agreement came after President Barack Obama wrote a five-paragraph letter promising to fight to prevent disclosure of the photos. The letter noted that an appeals court on Thursday agreed to stay a lower court ruling ordering the photos release so that the Obama administration could appeal to the Supreme Court. Read more.
N.M. Conference of Churches urges torture investigation
Trip to the White House is part of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture
By Gwyneth Doland | New Mexico Independent
A Santa Fe woman is among 33 religious leaders meeting in Washington this week to urge President Obama to establish an independent, non-partisan commission to investigate U.S.-sponsored torture of detainees since 9/11.
The Rev. Holly Beaumont, the Santa Fe-based legislative advocate for the New Mexico Conference of Churches, traveled to the capital on Wednesday as part of a delegation from the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. Rev. Beaumont spoke with NMI from Washington, D.C. Here is an excerpt from the conversation: Read more.
The U.S. Department of Justice is asking a federal appeals court to reconsider its decision to allow a Boeing Co. subsidiary to be sued for allegedly flying terrorism suspects to secret prisons overseas to be tortured.
In April, a panel of judges from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that the lawsuit dealing with the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program could proceed. Read more.
In the words of ACLU attorney Ben Wizner, a lead counsel on behalf of the five detainees suing Jeppesen Dataplan, President Obama now "owns the state secrets privilege."
Wizner is correct. Remember precisely what it is that the government wants the 9th circuit to decide: that the U.S. government can dismiss any federal or civil case before it reaches the phase of discovery simply because the government asserts that the national security interests of the United States would be compromised if the case proceeds.
That's the same expansive state secrets privilege that presidents for 50 years have enjoyed -- but it's precisely the privilege that Obama, not two months ago, expressed an anxiety about: "I actually think that the state secret doctrine should be modified. I think right now it's over-broad." Obama did not elaborate. During the presidential campaign, he criticized the use of the privilege as a justiciability doctrine to dismiss entire cases, rather than as an evidentiary doctrine, used to prevent the disclosure of highly-sensitive pieces of evidence.
Why is Obama hardening up his position? If the privilege in weakened, it exposes the government to perpetual liability resulting from the mistakes of the past eight years. Read more.
Russia Rejects the Notion of a Joint Missile System in Europe
By Ellen Barry | NYTimes
Responding to remarks by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, a top Russian diplomat said Thursday that Russia would not collaborate with the United States on missile defense unless Washington scrapped plans to deploy elements of the shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.
“We cannot partner in the creation of objects whose goal is to oppose the strategic deterrent forces of the Russian Federation,” said the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Andrei A. Nesterenko. “No one will do something that harms himself.”
“Only the United States’ rejection of plans to base in Europe the so-called third position area of the missile-defense shield could mark the beginning of a full-fledged dialogue on the question of cooperation and reaction to likely missile risk,” Mr. Nesterenko said. He added that Russia expected “it will be possible to find a common denominator.” Read more.
Sop'ore is a small, remote village in Khammouane province. It's a group of wooden stilt-houses in traditional Lao style.
I met Mr Ta on his veranda there, as chickens, dogs and pigs scratched and snuffled below. We sat looking out at the mountains, which were covered with lush tropical rainforest and low morning mist.
The serenity of the scene stood in contrast to Mr Ta's horrific injuries.
Eight years ago, he told me, he was foraging in the forest with his children, looking for food. But they came across a small bomb. When it exploded, he lost both his arms and one of his eyes.
Since then, he explained, life has been very hard.
"I can't look after myself," he said. "I can only eat like a dog. My wife has to feed me and care for me, as well as looking after our children." Read more.
The decision by Johnson Toribiong, president of the obscure Pacific nation of Palau, to take in up to 13 Uighurs -- Muslim Chinese -- currently being held at Guantanamo is meeting some resistance from the general population.
As ABC News' polling director Gary Langer points out, proportional to population, sending 13 Uighurs to Palau is like sending 188,993 Uighurs to the United States. Read more.
Army: Suicide rate among soldiers continues on record pace
By Mike Mount | CNN
The suicide rate among U.S. Army soldiers jumped in May -- continuing a four-month upward trend and on a record pace for a second straight year, according to Army statistics released Thursday.
Last month the deaths of 17 soldiers were either confirmed or suspected to be suicides, up from 13 in April and 13 in March, the new numbers revealed.
The Army said the total number of potential or confirmed suicides since January stands at 82. Last year the Army recorded 133 suicides, the most ever.
Earlier this year, Army officials saw the suicide numbers moving up, and by February said the service was on track for a record year for suicides.
Only one of the 17 in May has been confirmed as a suicide, while the others remain under investigation and are listed as "potential suicides," according to the latest statistics.
For April, the Army reported eight potential and five confirmed suicides. Read more.
ACLU Files Lawsuit Seeking Disclosure Of Still-Secret Torture Documents | Press Release
Case Marks Launch Of Group's "Accountability For Torture" Initiative
The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a lawsuit seeking the disclosure of still-secret records relating to the torture of prisoners held by the U.S. overseas. The requested documents include legal memos authored by John Yoo and Steven Bradbury, who were lawyers in the Bush administration Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), as well as documents sent by the Bush White House to the CIA. The government has failed to turn over the documents in response to a December 2008 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
"The information already in the public domain makes clear that the torture policies were devised and developed at the highest levels of the Bush administration, but there are still unanswered questions about precisely what the policies permitted, how they were implemented and who specifically signed off on them," said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. "This lawsuit is an effort to fill some of the gaps in the narrative."
Today's lawsuit marks the launch of the ACLU's new "Accountability for Torture" initiative, which has four goals: comprehensive disclosure of information relating to the Bush administration's torture policies; the creation of an accurate and comprehensive historical record; the appointment of an independent prosecutor to investigate issues of criminal responsibility; and recognition and compensation for torture victims.
We are finally beginning to learn the full scope of the Bush administration's torture program. Government documents show that hundreds of prisoners were tortured in the custody of the CIA and Department of Defense, some of them killed in the course of interrogations. Justice Department memos show that the torture policies were devised and developed at the highest levels of the Bush administration.
The ACLU is committed to restoring the rule of law. We will fight for the disclosure of the torture files that are still secret. We will advocate for the victims of the Bush administration's unlawful policies. We will press Congress to appoint a select committee that can investigate the roots of the torture program and recommend legislative changes to ensure that the abuses of the last eight years are not repeated. And we will advocate for the appointment of an independent prosecutor to examine issues of criminal responsibility.
We can't sweep the abuses of the last eight years under the rug. Accountability for torture is a legal, political, and moral imperative. Much more to read.
KBR Inc. wasted billions of dollars through inefficiencies, lax oversight and poor management of its contract to support U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to an independent, bipartisan panel.
The contract -- to provide housing, food, laundry, mail delivery and fuel for U.S. troops -- was ultimately worth $31.7 billion, with most of the work being done in Iraq and Kuwait.
“The services could have been delivered for billions of dollars less,” the commission stated in a report released today at a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform’s national security panel. “Substantial evidence supports the view” that KBR’s services “cost too much.”
The Wartime Contracting Commission, in its first report since Congress established it last year, gives the most critical assessment to date of the contract that Houston-based KBR, then a unit of Halliburton Co., won in December 2001, shortly after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan. Read more.
The Obama administration is moving to appeal a ruling that some detainees at a military air base in Afghanistan can use U.S. civilian courts to challenge their detention. Read more.
I'm at the Center for a New American Security's day-long conference today to learn a few things about Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. I won't be live-blogging the whole thing, but one interesting note came just after General David Petraeus's keynote speech. Yesterday, Fox News passed along a report from Republican Congressman Mike Rogers that detainees in Afghanistan and particularly at Bagram Airforce base are, on the orders of the Obama administration, being read their Miranda Rights -- the "right to remain silent," etc., afforded to domestic criminal suspects -- which could somehow compromise their intelligence value. (This is, presumably, because 'mirandizing' suspects would make them legally ineligble for "enhanced interrogation," which is already prohibited by executive order.)
A Fox News correspondent at the CNAS conference lucked out after Petreaus' speech and managed to be called on for one of three allowed questions; he asked the general, who supervises Afghanistan as the head of U.S. Central Command, about the Miranda reports. "This is the FBI doing what the FBI does," Petraeus replied. "These are cases where they are looking at potential criminal charges. We're comfortable with this." He denied that his soldiers and other relevant American agents are reading Miranda rights to detainees, some of whom are detained as enemy combatants, while others are high-value anti-terrorism targets. (A U.S. federal court recently ruled that some Bagram detainees have the same habeas rights as prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.) Read more.
UPDATE: Three of Five US Contractors Arrested in Iraq Are Ordered Freed
By Jeremy Scahill | Rebel Reports
According to Iraqi officials, three of the five US contractors arrested last weekend in connection with the stabbing death of another US contractor have been ordered released. A government spokesperson, Ali al-Dabbagh said, “They are five. Three have been released due to a lack of evidence, two are still being detained on drug issues.”...
This case has attracted significant attention because if the contractors are ultimately charged and prosecuted in Iraq, it would be the first time Baghdad would be permitted by Washington to try US personnel in Iraqi courts. Read more.
It takes at least tacit faith in massive violence to believe that after three decades of horrendous violence in Afghanistan, upping the violence there will improve the situation.
Despite the pronouncements from high Washington places that the problems of Afghanistan can’t be solved by military means, 90 percent of the spending for Afghanistan in the Obama administration’s current supplemental bill is military.
Often it seems that lofty words about war hopes are boilerplate efforts to make us feel better about an endless warfare state. Oratory and punditry laud the Pentagon’s fallen as noble victims of war, while enveloping its other victims in a haze of ambiguity or virtual nonexistence.
When last Sunday’s edition of the Washington Post printed the routine headline “Iraq War Deaths,” the newspaper meant American deaths -- to Washington’s ultra-savvy, the deaths that really count. The only numbers and names under the headline were American.
Ask for whom the bell tolls. That’s the implicit message -- from top journalists and politicians alike. Read more.
By David Swanson
On Tuesday President Obama proposed that any increases in federal spending on anything useful, such as healthcare or retirement security, must be balanced by cuts and savings to something else useful, such as healthcare or retirement security.
"The pay-as-you-go rule is very simple," Obama said. "Congress can only spend a dollar if it saves a dollar elsewhere." Except that it's not so simple. Obama would make an exception to allow Bush's tax cuts for millionaires to be extended past their 2010 expiration date, as well as to prevent the alternative-minimum tax from impacting the overclass. Still, the White House insists that everything is very simple:
"PAYGO would hold us to a simple but important principle: we should pay for new tax or entitlement legislation. Creating a new non-emergency tax cut or entitlement expansion would require offsetting revenue increases or spending reductions."
The tiny Pacific island nation of Palau has agreed to a US request to temporarily resettle 17 Chinese Muslim ethnic Uighurs held at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre for more than seven years.
In a statement on Wednesday Johnson Toribiong, the country's president, said he had agreed to resettle the Uighur detainees "subject to periodic review".
The 17 were cleared for release from Guantanamo four years ago after US officials ruled there was no evidence to hold them as "enemy combatants".
Last year a US federal judge ordered the men released into the US, but an appeals court halted the order, and they have been in legal limbo ever since.
The US state department has said the Uighurs cannot be returned to China, despite requests from Beijing that they be handed over, because of fears they will face persecution and possible execution.
Instead US officials have been trying to find a third country willing to take them in, but in the meantime they have been kept in Guantanamo, spending up to 22 hours a day locked in their cells. Read more.
On Monday, June 8, 2009, exactly 42 years after the USS Liberty (GTR-5) was attacked, in international waters off the coast of Sinai by Israel, members of the USS Liberty Veterans Association were at the U.S. Navy Memorial, in downtown Washington, D.C. Their purpose was to present a model of the vessel to the institution for it to be maintained on permanent display. Accepting the USS Liberty model on behalf of the U.S. Navy Memorial was its CEO, Rear Admiral Edward K.
A deadly Israeli attack on a US ship -- an incident largely kept in the dark by Washington -- receives new attention with survivors reliving the painful memory.
USS Liberty survivors gathered in Washington on Monday to commemorate the 42nd anniversary of the incident and expound on how they were sprayed with bullets by America's "closest ally and beneficiary".
On June 8, 1967, the unarmed spy ship USS Liberty was on duty in international waters off the Sinai Peninsula when it was bombarded by Israeli fighter jets and torpedo boats.
The two-hour-long attacks killed at least 34 sailors, wounded 173 others and nearly sunk the ship.
The attack on the Liberty came at a time when Israel had engaged in a brief but intense war with Egypt and its Arab allies, which coincided with the US war on Vietnam.
Although the ship was clearly marked as an American vessel, Israelis declared the attack on Liberty as a simple case of "friendly fire" and "mistaken identity". Read more.
Tomgram: Frida Berrigan, Downloading Disaster
It helps to have spent a childhood reading sci-fi. It means nothing bizarre really surprises you. In June 2008, TomDispatch regular William Astore wrote a post about how the Air Force had jumped big time into cyberspace. That service had even bigger dreams for a "$30 billion cyberspace boondoggle" that would theoretically have provided it "with the ability to fry any computer on Earth." Based on the information Astore mustered, this site offered a prediction: "Expect cyberwar in the Pentagon before this is all over."
Make it so! One year later, all three military services (and, it seems, half the other agencies in Washington) are fully uploaded and stalking each other in a funding cyberwar. As a result, the virtual sun is shining for military-industrial corporations, as Frida Berrigan tells us in her latest post: actual money is starting to flow, and a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed new cybermilitary-industrial complex is in formation. Not surprisingly, it has all the trappings of the older version of the same, right down to the corporate names on the logos and the military-industrial fun in the sun that goes with it.
Take the Air Force's "Collaboration in Cyberspace" symposium due to open a week from now in Shreveport, Louisiana. Northrop Grumman has sponsored one of its coffee breaks; SAIC has taken care of the "attendee registration bags"; Lockheed Martin has ponied up for "the invitations that are in each attendee's conference bag inviting them to a special AFCS [Air Force Cyberspace] event"; and you (if you happen to be a reasonably humongous military-industrial style corporation) can still get your tagline and logo plastered on the symposium's "ever popular" Cyber Café (for a measly $5,000 fee!) -- and for nothing extra, your logo will be a screensaver on every computer in that café. You'd better do it while you can. After all, you've already just about missed your chance for a corporate sponsorship slot at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association 4th Cyber Cup Invitational golf tournament that same week. Most of those have already been taken. But don't get teed off: there'll be plenty more! Tom
Cyberscares About Cyberwars Equal Cybermoney
Watching the Cybermilitary-Industrial Complex Form
By Frida Berrigan
As though we don't have enough to be afraid of already, what with armed lunatics mowing down military recruiters and doctors, the H1N1 flu virus, the collapse of bee populations, rising sea levels, failed and flailing states, North Korea being North Korea, al-Qaeda wannabes in New York State with terrorist aspirations, and who knows what else -- now cyberjihadis are evidently poised to steal our online identities, hack into our banks, take over our Flickr and Facebook acccounts, and create havoc on the World Wide Web.
Late last year, in a 96-page report, Securing Cyberspace for the 44th Presidency, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) warned that "America's failure to protect cyberspace is one of the most urgent national security problems facing the new administration." In a similar fashion, Dr. Dorothy Denning, a cybersecurity expert at the Naval Postgraduate School, has just described the Internet as a "powerful tool in the hands of criminals and terrorists." And they're hardly alone.
To this fear chorus, our thoughtful, slow-to-histrionics President added his voice in a May 29th East Room address:
"In today's world, acts of terror could come not only from a few extremists in suicide vests but from a few key strokes on a computer -- a weapon of mass disruption...This cyberthreat is one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation."
Wartime Contracting Report: We Have Big, Costly Problems
By Robert O'Harrow, Jr. | Government, Inc. Blog
As promised, here's the new report by the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the organization formed by Congress to examine where all the money went.
It's a sad reminder about just how bad the contracting system has been in recent years, and all the billions that have been wasted because of poor oversight, poor planning and plain old corruption.
"The environment in Iraq and Afghanistan has been and continues to be susceptible to waste, fraud, and abuse," the report said.
The report, called "At What Cost? Contingency Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan," contains the interim findings of the commission, which will issue a final report next year. It underscores the gloomy finding about the troubled federal procurement system from a host of other analysis in recent years.
It'll be the subject of a hearing today by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's national security and foreign affairs subcommittee. Read more.
Roadside Bombs: An Iraqi Tactic on the Upsurge in Afghanistan
By Jason Motlagh / Ghazni | Yahoo! News
The highway that runs between Kabul and the southeastern city of Kandahar is the most brutal evidence of the Taliban's IED offensive. The road is a showcase U.S.-funded project, meant to connect two of the country's most vital commercial centers. But today it is an automotive graveyard, littered with burned-out carcasses of vehicles and disrupted by crumbled bridges. One infamous stretch is lined with the wreckage of 40 transport trucks, the remains of a 90-minute enemy ambush dubbed the "jingle-truck massacre." (Afghans hang chains and coins from their truck bumpers, which create a jingling sound.) Every few miles, craters of varying size pock the pavement, interspersed with suspicious patches of dirt that compel patrol convoys to make off-road detours or dismount to investigate before proceeding.
Outmatched in frontal combat, the militants have taken a cue from Iraqi counterparts in making IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, their weapon of choice. While their use has declined in Iraq, IEDs are now taking a deadlier toll on coalition forces in Afghanistan. The latest NATO figures show that the use of roadside bombs is up 80% so far this year, making them the primary killer of U.S. and international troops. In 2008, 172 troops died from a record 3,276 IEDs, a 45% jump from the year before, according to the Joint IED Defeat Organization, a Pentagon agency. This trend is expected to worsen in the months ahead, as thousands of incoming U.S. reinforcements push into areas where the Taliban has operated unchallenged. (See pictures of Afghanistan's deadly Korengal valley.) Read more.
The American Civil Liberties Union today called for a full and transparent investigation into the death of a Yemeni national held at Guantánamo Bay. Military officials have described the death as an "apparent suicide."
The following can be attributed to Ben Wizner, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project:
"Tragic deaths like this one have become all too common in a system that locks up detainees indefinitely without charge or trial. There must be an immediate, independent and transparent investigation into the circumstances surrounding this apparent suicide and the conditions of confinement at Guantánamo.
"There is no room for a system of indefinite detention without charge or trial under our Constitution. Detainees against whom there is legitimate evidence should be tried in our federal courts – not in the reconstituted military commissions now being proposed. Those against whom there is no legitimate evidence must not be given a de-facto life sentence by being locked up forever."
In January, the ACLU and other leading human rights groups sent a letter to President Obama asking him to grant them full access to the Guantánamo detention center so that they can review the conditions of confinement and make recommendations for revising U.S. detention policies.
The letter to President Obama is available online.
- US accounts for more than half total increase to $1.4tn
- China now second biggest spender in world league table
Worldwide spending on weapons has reached record levels amounting to well over $1tn last year, a leading research organisation reported today.
Global military expenditure has risen by 45% over the past decade to $1.46tn, according to the latest annual Yearbook on Armaments, Disarmament, and International Security published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri).
Though the US accounts for more than half the total increase, China and Russia nearly tripled their military expenditure over the decade, with China now second only to the US in the military expenditure league table. Read more.
From the FEMA Website:
National Level Exercise 2009 (NLE 09) is scheduled for July 27 through July 31, 2009. NLE 09 will be the first major exercise conducted by the United States government that will focus exclusively on terrorism prevention and protection, as opposed to incident response and recovery.
NLE 09 is designated as a Tier I National Level Exercise. Tier I exercises (formerly known as the Top Officials exercise series or TOPOFF) are conducted annually in accordance with the National Exercise Program (NEP), which serves as the nation's overarching exercise program for planning, organizing, conducting and evaluating national level exercises. The NEP was established to provide the U.S. government, at all levels, exercise opportunities to prepare for catastrophic crises ranging from terrorism to natural disasters.
NLE 09 is a White House directed, Congressionally- mandated exercise that includes the participation of all appropriate federal department and agency senior officials, their deputies, staff and key operational elements. In addition, broad regional participation of state, tribal, local, and private sector is anticipated. This year the United States welcomes the participation of Australia, Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom in NLE 09. Read more.