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Thursday, 3 September 2009

US Embassy probes 'deviant' guards' conduct

After receiving a letter from the Project on Government Oversight detailing the Animal House-antics that have overrun the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has ordered an investigation into the matter.
According to the report, private contractors in Kabul are regularly engaging in "deviant hazing," which includes "peeing on people, eating potato chips out of [buttock] cracks, vodka shots out of [buttock] cracks (there is video of that one), broken doors after drnken [sic] brawls. …"
Several guards, concerned for their safety, blew the whistle, saying that the chain of command has broken down entirely.
In response to these allegations, the embassy released a statement, emphasizing its commitment to the security and "cultural and religious values of all Afghans."
The double-speak problem: The State Department had been told of questionable behavior by employees of this private contractor, Wackenhut, as far back as 2007. Apparently, not only did they do nothing about it, they extended the five-year, $189 million contract with Wackenhut for another year.
As one reader noted earlier, "If these people were in college this would simply be called 'Spring Break.' But as representatives of our country they should be fired immediately." Another wrote:
There is no "off duty" when American soldiers are on line. Every stupid and humiliating action that is posted on the web for all the world to see will be used against our people, by all enemies foreign and domestic. Fire them if you have any self-respect left.
This incident is the last straw on a long list of failures. I want the U-S Military to organize and lay the law down for these Security firms. I demand it!
This "incident" is no good for anyone involved. Remember who we are and that we are guest in a Muslim country.
This is totally unacceptable behavior and unbecoming of this particular security firm.
They would all be on the first train out of Dodge if I ran the show.
The author of that missive then cites an article in the UCMJ --the armed forces Uniform Code of Military Justice --all well and good, but the code applies only to enlisted service men and women, not contract "trigger pullers," and as the author points out, they ought to be disciplined, if only that were possible.
The State Department needs to terminate the contract and stop using taxpayer dollars to hire private mercenaries at far high salaries than we pay our military personnel. If these "soldiers" really want to be in Afghanistan, let them re-enlist, perhaps under a temporary provision rather than a full hitch, so that they're beholden to proper UCMJ standards.

Wackenhut's Florida headquarters
Who is Wackenhut?
This is not the first time Wackenhut has been in hot water.
They've been nailed for employing guards who slept on the job at a nuclear plant in Florida, they've been the subject of congressional hearings to "review flaws in federal contracting that allow contractors with poor performance records to either renew existing contracts or receive subsequent contracts with the same or different federal agencies."
A watchdog operation called EyeOnWackenhut is dedicated to one purpose. (Can you guess what it is?)

Wackenhut is a global security company that has guarded U-S embassies, nuclear power plants and the trans-Alaska oil pipeline as well as neighborhood malls and countless private homes. The now defunct Spy Magazine traced the firm's early days:

The firm was started in 1954 by former FBI agent George Wackenhut, who had close ties with all sorts of politicians which helped him secure multi-million-dollar contracts from the government, contracts which continue to this day.
The second thing that helped make George Wackenhut successful was that he was, and is, a hard-line right-winger. He was able to profit from his beliefs by building up dossiers on Americans suspected of being Communists or merely left-leaning—"subversives and sympathizers," as he put it—and selling the information to interested parties. According to Frank Donner, the author of Age of Surveillance, the Wackenhut Corporation maintained and updated its files even after the McCarthyite hysteria had ebbed, adding the names of antiwar protesters and civil-rights demonstrators to its list of "derogatory types." By 1965, Wackenhut was boasting to potential investors that the company maintained files on 2.5 million suspected dissidents—one in 46 American adults then living. In 1966, after acquiring the private files of Karl Barslaag, a former staff member of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, Wackenhut could confidently maintain that with more than 4 million names, it had the largest privately held file on suspected dissidents in America. In 1975, after Congress investigated companies that had private files, Wackenhut gave its files to the now-defunct anti-Communist Church League of America of Wheaton, Illinois. That organization had worked closely with the red squads of big-city police departments, particularly in New York and L.A., spying on suspected sympathizers; George Wackenhut was personal friends with the League's leaders, and was a major contributor to the group. To be sure, after giving the League its files, Wackenhut reserved the right to use them for its clients and friends.
Wackenhut had gone public in 1965; George Wackenhut retained 54 percent of the company. Between his salary and dividends, his annual compensation approaches $2 million a year, sufficient for him to live in a $$20 million castle in Coral Gables, Florida, complete with a moat and 18 full-time servants. Today the company is the third-largest investigative security firm in the country, with offices throughout the United States and in 39 foreign countries. [Wackenhut died in 2005 --ed.]
Wackenhut is known for providing muscle and force against organized labor and protesters. They provided strike breakers at the Pittston mine in Kentucky. Their armed guards have beaten protesters at nuclear sites for the Department of Energy.
Among nuclear weapons lab employees, Wackenhut was better known for "wacking" radiation whistleblowers like Karen Silkwood and attempting to run Dr. Rosalie Bertell off the road.
Two things are disheartening about all this:
In January of 2008, Wackenhut CEO Gary Sanders stepped down (or was fired) after the firm lost its contract protecting 10 nuclear power plants after guards at one plant were caught sleeping on the job. If you're in the private sector, you can make those decisions. Municipal governments can make and have made those decisions.
I have a hard time believing the federal government will cut this firm loose. The long history, thedeep government ties, the huge political contributions --you can see where this is going. No one in Washington is seriously going to cut ties with a big money gravy train like this. We'll get a dog and pony show for our troubles, a few people will be reprimanded, case closed.
We spend billions of taxpayer dollars to hire people from firms like this --far more than we would if military personnel were dispatched to do the job. Do we not pay the military enough? Did we ever? Maybe we ought to pay them a little more with the savings we'd have from not overpaying contracting firms like Wackenhut, Blackwater, KBR, Halliburton and the rest. How many are getting political favors while billing billions in cost overruns at the expense of the taxpayer?
That's an investigation I'd like to see take place.
The other disturbing thing is this:
By hiring these firms, be they for security, for soldiering, for construction --are we saying we don't have enough military personnel to do the job? Are we saying the United States is ill-equipped to do the kind of nation-building we like to boast that we do in places like Iraq and Afghanistan? Well, if we don't have the military manpower to do the job without the help of privateers who besmirch the reputation of the United States in a way that is far beyond measurable, then what the hell are we doing in Afghanistan? Whatever our mission is there, incidents like this do not make it easier to accomplish, and if the State Department and whoever else conducting an investigation doesn't crack the whip with equal public fervor (because propaganda is a two-way street), then any good will we're trying to achieve in this business of nation building is going to be lost upon the nations that are supposed to benefit by it.
Have we not already learned this lesson at least once before in the very recent past?

Some facts about Afghanistan's opium crop

Opium remains a major source of income for farmers in Afghanistan.Goran Tomasevic, ReutersOpium remains a major source of income for farmers in Afghanistan.

The lure of easy drug money is trumping political ideology as "narco-cartels" emerge in Afghanistan's heroin trade, says a UN report.

The report warns the country's lucrative opium economy, viewed mainly as the financial fuel for the ideologically driven anti-government insurgency, was giving rise to "narco-cartels" in an evolution similar to what Colombia experienced with leftist guerrilla groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and cocaine.

"The world over, drug money eventually trumps ideology and becomes as addictive as the dope itself," Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the UN's office on drugs and crime, says in the report.

"After years of collusion with criminal gangs and corrupt officials, some insurgents are now opportunistically moving up the value chain: not just taxing supply, but getting involved in producing, processing, stocking and exporting drugs."

The narco-cartels would add another troubling dimension to an already unstable country, he wrote, adding, "Opium remains a major source of income in one of the world's poorest and most unstable countries. Farmers may grow it to stave off poverty. Criminals, insurgents and corrupt officials surely engage in its trade in the common pursuit of greed and power."

The Afghanistan Opium Survey 2009, written by the United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime, reveals poppy cultivation increased in the Canadian military's theatre of action in Afghanistan, while the rest of the country saw a decline in poppy crops.

Opium cultivation in Kandahar, the province where the Canadian military is based, rose by 35% to 19,811 hectares between 2008 and 2009 as 5,188 more hectares were used to grow poppies. The increased poppy cultivation also fuelled a 52% rise in opium production, which reached 1,159 metric tonnes in the province.

Nationwide, the report found opium "cultivation, production, workforce, prices, revenues, exports" declined for the second year in a row.

"The bottom is starting to fall out of the Afghan opium market," said the report's executive summary, written by Mr. Costa.

To try to reduce poppy production, Canada is contributing $55-million to UNODC in 2007 -11. Much of that money is being spent to help to build the capacity of Afghanistan's special anti-narcotics police and to interdict precursor chemicals of Afghanistan's


Market forces are playing a role in declining poppy cultivation and opium production. Oversupply of the crop and lower market penetration in Europe depressed poppy prices significantly in 2009.


Reduction in the number of people involved in poppy growing in Afghanistan.


Farmers' gross earnings per hectare. Down from $4,662.


Wholesale price for fresh opium, per kilogram. Down from $70 a kilo.


Price of dried opium per kilo. Down from $95.


Total farm value of opium. Down from $730-million.


Afghanistan's gross domestic product.

Pakistan: Militants suffer heavy casualties as fighting rages

Government forces destroyed four insurgent bases and killed 40 fighters Tuesday in a new offensive near Pakistan's famed Khyber Pass, the main route for supplies to U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, authorities said.

The offensive follows a suicide blast in the region last week that killed 19 police officers at a key border crossing.

Tariq Hayat, the top administrator in Khyber, said that in addition to those killed, 43 fighters were arrested. The four destroyed bases belonged to the militant group Lashkar-e-Islam, he said.

Hayat did not indicate whether a sustained operation was planned in the area, where supply convoys are often targeted.

Pakistan is under intense U.S. pressure to crack down on insurgents close to the Afghan border, a lawless region where al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is suspected to be hiding. The Taliban there also helps mount attacks against Western troops across the frontier.

Elsewhere in the northwest Tuesday, the army said 105 Pakistani Taliban fighters had surrendered in the Swat Valley.

Pakistan's new winged weapon

Pakistan concerned over reports of new India nuke test

Pakistan is concerned on reports that India is again preparing for a new nuclear test, our sources reported Thursday.

In his weekly news briefing, Foreign Office Spokesman Abdul Basit said the recent US statements on nuclear scientist Dr Abdul Qadeer and nuclear proliferation are quite baseless, adding Pakistan like any other responsible country is full-fledged alive to its responsibility.

The spokesman said there are reports that India has a new nuclear test in the works, adding these reports are rather embarrassing to Pakistan; Pakistan is however steadfast on its policy of maintaining minimum defence deterrence and does not want arms race in the region.

Responding a query regarding Mumbai investigations, the spokesman said Pakistan is serious to take those responsible to the book; while, the dossier recently delivered to Pakistan by India is same as the previous one.

Spokesman said Pakistan is opposed to the thorough physical search of Dr Afia before presenting her to the court, adding if such search is conducted, Pakistan will not condone it.


Pakistan 'developing' advanced nuclear technology

According to a study in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Pakistan is pushing ahead with a plutonium-based nuclear programme, superior to its previous reliance on uranium technology. Plutonium is easier to weaponise, as smaller quantities of the material are required. Two new plutonium production reactors are under construction, it said.

The report concluded that Pakistan has an arsenal of 70 to 90 nuclear weapons "and is busily enhancing its capabilities across the board". That would represent much quicker progress than expected. A 1999 estimate by the US Defence Intelligence Agency had estimated that Pakistan had been 25 and 35 warheads and would have between 60 and 80 by 2020.

The report also said that a new nuclear-capable ballistic missile is being readied for deployment and two nuclear-capable cruise missiles are under development.

"The types of facilities under construction suggest that Pakistan has decided to supplement and perhaps replace its heavy uranium-based weapons with smaller, lighter plutonium-based designs that could be delivered further by ballistic missiles than its current warheads and that could be used in cruise missiles," said the study, by scientists Robert S. Norris and Hans Kristensen.

Earlier this month, a senior Indian scientist, K. Santanam, had revealed that the country's 1998 test – copied shortly afterwards by Pakistan – had not been as successful as previously claimed. According to leading Pakistani physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy, the admission was not an act of coming clear but an attempt by India's nuclear establishment to press the case for new tests.

Rather than a minimal deterrence "both countries are rushing to make as many (weapons) as they can", said Professor Hoodbhoy.

India's 1998 test was of a hydrogen bomb, which is many times more powerful than a weapon that Pakistan could produce with its technology.

Obama White House Has Secret Plan To Harvest Personal Data From Social Networking Websites

White House photoNLPC has uncovered a plan by the White House New Media operation to hire a technology vendor to conduct a massive, secret effort to harvest personal information on millions of Americans from social networking websites.

The information to be captured includes comments, tag lines, emails, audio, and video. The targeted sites include Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr and others – any space where the White House “maintains a presence.”

In the course of investigating procurement by the White House New Media office, NLPC discovered a 51-page solicitation of bids that was filed on Friday, August 21, 2009. Filed as Solicitation # WHO-S-09-0003, it isposted at FedBizzOps.com. Click here to download a 51-page pdf of the solicitation.

While the solicitation specifies a 12-month contract, it allows for seven one-year extensions. It specifies no dollar cap. Other troubling issues include:

extremely broad secrecy terms preventing the vendor from disclosing to the public or the media what information is being captured and archived (page 7, “Restriction Against Disclosure”)

wholesale capturing of comments by non-White House staff on publicly accessible sites

capturing of content of any type (text, graphics, audio, or video)

capturing of comments by both Obama critics and supporters, with no restriction as to how the White House would use the information.

This is the third controversy involving the White House internet operations in less than a month. First, Obama’s New Media operation asked supporters to send information about critics of the White House health care effort to a White House email. This provoked a storm of criticism and the White House retreated. Then large number of people complained of getting email spam from the White House supporting the President’s health care position. Again the White House was forced to back down.

Now the same people at the White House are at it again with an ambitious plan to harvest huge amounts of information from the web and specifically social networking sites.

Given the White House’s recent abuse of its New Media operations, this huge, new secretive program is yet another sign that this Administration is at best indifferent to privacy rights and at worst prepared to violate civil liberties for political purposes.

Perhaps anticipating negative reaction to the invasiveness of the plan, a justification is provided in a Q&A. section of the solicitation. Question #9 reads:

The Presidential Records Act does not require the storage or archiving of non-EOP content, as such is there a specific reason as to why the content provided on EOP related websites in the form of comments is included in these archiving procedures?

Answer: The PRA includes in its definition of presidential records content ―received by PRA components and personnel. Out of an abundance of caution, we are treating comments made by non-PRA personnel on sites on which a PRA component has a presence as presidential records, requiring them to be captured or sampled.

Of course, this interpretation of the Presidential Records Act is so expansive that virtually any communication mentioning the president or the Administration could become subject to collection and archiving under the Act. This is not out of an “abundance of caution,” but out of an over-abundance of power. President Obama should make sure that this plan goes no further.

PKKH has learnt from informed sources within the Pakistan Navy that certain high-ranking individuals within the Naval forces are involved in secret co

The Central Intelligence Agency has refused to turn over documents they were ordered to produce to a civil rights group under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

A federal judge ordered the agency to produce the documents — relating to the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program and secret prisons — by Monday, or provide a justification for withholding them. The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Obama’s Justice Department has refused to provide more documents. The Department had been instructed to release a presidential directive authorizing CIA “black sites” as well as CIA inspector general (IG) records and documents from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel regarding the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

In a filing Monday, the CIA said they wouldn’t turn over the documents, claiming their publication would threaten national security.

“The CIA’s justification for withholding the documents is entirely incompatible with the Obama administration’s stated commitment to ending torture and restoring governmental transparency,’ said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project, in a release. “On the one hand, President Obama has publicly recognized that torture undermines the rule of law and America’s standing in the world, but on the other, the CIA continues to argue in court that it cannot disclose information about its torture techniques because it would jeopardize the CIA’s interrogation program.”

“The CIA’s arguments are utterly disconnected from the Obama administration’s stated positions,” Jaffer added. “The agency seems to be disregarding altogether the important policy changes that President Obama announced immediately after he took office.”

The CIA also posited that the public should only be told about the “historical context” and “legal underpinnings” of the alleged torture program, even though the government has already released documents that provide detailed insight into the interrogations.

Among those documents already released include a CIA IG report on the CIA’s interrogation tactics, a December 2004 CIA background paper giving a detailed official description of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program and a 2007 OLC memo describing “enhanced interrogation techniques” to be used against prisoners then in CIA custody.

Alex Abdo, a legal fellow with the ACLU’s National Security Project, said, “The Obama administration must fulfill its commitment to transparency and release all crucial documents that would shed further light on the origins and scope of the Bush administration’s torture program. The American public has a right to know the full truth about the torture that was committed in its name.”