Thursday, March 06, 2008

The N-DEx: World's authoritarian regimes are green with envy!

The WaPo reports:

"Several thousand law enforcement agencies are creating the foundation of a domestic intelligence system through computer networks that analyze vast amounts of police information to fight crime and root out terror plots."

The system is called the National Data Exchange, or N-DEx, and the WaPo reports: "Federal authorities hope N-DEx will become what one called a 'one-stop shop' enabling federal law enforcement, counterterrorism and intelligence analysts to automatically examine the enormous caches of local and state records for the first time."

Great, just what we need! From the people who brought you FEMA and the formaldehyde trailers now comes a massive datebase that will sweep up "names of suspects, associates, victims, persons of interest, witnesses and any other person named in an incident, arrest, booking, parole or probation report," all into one big package that any cop, FBI agent, some boed guy at Raytheon -- you name it -- can just pull up and do God knows what with.

Not that I'm against the police or the FBI or whatever being on top of things, but I don't have a great deal of confidence that every cop out there is on the up and up and as I'm listening to David Simon, writer of the WIRE, right now on Fresh Air, I'm becoming even more uncomfortable with the thought of putting that kind of power into the hands of tens of thousands of cops all over the country.

The FBI site on the N-Dex says:

"Although law enforcement will be the primary focus of N-DEx, future iterations will incorporate the full criminal justice community. The ultimate goal is to transform all criminal justice data (sensitive but unclassified) into knowledge for the entire justice community."

The article mentions that the technology is moving a lot faster than the legislation to protect people's privacy, which begs the question: How much are they going to get away with before congress gets around to putting the breaks on.

The WaPo also reports today that FBI director Robert Mueller:

"Told senators yesterday that agents improperly used a type of administrative subpoena to obtain personal data about Americans until internal reforms were enacted last year. Mueller said a forthcoming report from the Justice Department's inspector general will find that abuses recurred in the agency's use of national security letters in 2006, echoing similar problems to those identified in earlier audits.

A year ago, lawmakers of both parties called for limits on the FBI's use of the security letters, which demand consumer information from banks, credit card companies and other institutions without a warrant as part of investigations into suspected terrorism and espionage. Congress has not followed through with legislation, however, and Mueller sought to assure lawmakers that internal changes will solve the problems. He said new FBI procedures will 'minimize the chance of future lapses,' including the creation of a compliance office tasked with monitoring the use of security letters."

Gosh, I feel better already! It's the "trust me" government.

The ACLU says:

"The National Security Letter provision of the Patriot Act radically expanded the FBI's authority to demand personal records like Web site visits and e-mail addresses without prior court approval. The provision also allows the FBI to forbid or 'gag' anyone who receives an NSL from telling anyone about the record demand."

Maybe, if congress actually read the legislation it votes for in the first place, it wouldn't have to spend so much time undoing what it had already done. Meanwhile, expect more "lapses" like the 1000 or so the FBI is willing to admit to over the past few years.

The Saudis threaten another 7/7 and W. can't touch the spigot.

I thought the idea was when W. got elected that he -- being an oilman and all -- would be able to deal with the Arabs and keep our gas cheap. The NYT reports this morning that W. told his good Saudi buddies to pump some more oil to lower the price, and they refused!

As the NYT points out, back in 2000 W. assured everyone he'd be able to "work with our friends in OPEC to convince them to open up the spigot, to increase the supply. Use the capital that my administration will earn, with the Kuwaitis or the Saudis, and convince them to open up the spigot."

He's always on about all that "capital" he's got. Last time I checked, debt isn't capital.

In any event, OPEC told him to go take a hike.

The Times reports:

"Chakib Khelil, Algeria’s oil minister and OPEC’s president this year, said on Wednesday that the high price of oil was not because of a lack of supply, but instead resulted from the 'mismanagement of the U.S. economy' that has helped send the dollar tumbling. 'If the prices are high, definitely they are not due to a lack of crude,' Mr. Khelil said in Vienna. 'They are due to what’s happening in the U.S.'"

Mismanagment of the US economy! Where does this guy get off? W. is doing a great job with the economy, just like he did with all his other businesses.

And then the price of a barrel of oil went up to $104 . . .

And how's that new arms deal with the Saudis going? W. is going to give them $123 million worth of weapons, specifically 900 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAMs. This deal is supossed to the show the Saudis we're serious about protecting them against the Iranains, but it's obviously all a scam.

I wonder what kind of kickback Crown Prince Sultan is getting this time around. Secret documents involving the 1985 Al Yamamah BAE/Saudi arms deal reveal, Sultan "has a corrupt interest in all contracts," this according to a senior British official.

The Guardian reported in October of 'o6 (before the investigation was squashed by Tony B-liar) that the then head of the Ministry of Defence's sales unit, Sir Colin Chandler, wrote in a classified telegram that Sultan was "Not highly intelligent" and "He has prejudices, is inflexible and imperious, and drives a hard bargain."

All the Saudis apparently drive a hard bargain. I wonder what W. is going to have to do to get the price of a barrel of oil down? Where's his good friend Prince Bandar-Bush when he needs him? I guess he's busy counting his secret bank accounts stuffed with about $1 billion worth of his ill-gotten gains from the very same Al Yamamah deal , according to the BBC.

That is, of course, when he's not threatening the UK government. The Guardian reports that:

"Saudi Arabia's rulers threatened to make it easier for terrorists to attack London unless corruption investigations into their arms deals were halted, according to court documents revealed yesterday. reviously secret files describe how investigators were told they faced 'another 7/7' and the loss of 'British lives on British streets' if they pressed on with their inquiries and the Saudis carried out their threat to cut off intelligence. Prince Bandar, the head of the Saudi national security council, and son of the crown prince, was alleged in court to be the man behind the threats to hold back information about suicide bombers and terrorists."

How about that, our good friend, W.'s best bud, the guy he enjoyed a big stoggy with on the Truman balcony on 9/11. Apparently, this threat is what led Phony B-liar to end the Serious Fraud Office's investigation into the BEA deal and especially Bandar's role in it.

The Guardian:

"Lord Justice Moses, hearing the civil case with Mr Justice Sullivan, said the government appeared to have 'rolled over' after the threats. He said one possible view was that it was 'just as if a gun had been held to the head' of the government."

Just like W. rolled over on the price of oil. Don't get the Saudis mad, they'll send over some more of their American trained one-way pilots.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The GWOT: All roads lead through Kosovo? Clinton, al-Qaeda and drugs. Pt. 2

The Economist wrote last week on the World's Newst State, Kosovo (or Kosova):

"The biggest challenge [facing Kosovo] is the economy. The statistics brim with horrible figures, all unreliable and misleading. If 40% or 50% of Kosovars were really unemployed (as official figures say) and had no other source of income, then everyone would be starving. They are not."

I wonder what all these unemployed kids could be up to then? They can't all be in Germany as Gastarbeiter or headed to New Jersey to work in their uncle's pizza shop, so what's really going on?

The Economist offers that: "Like the rest of the Balkans, Kosovo has a reputation . . . of being plagued by organised crime—a symptom of a weak state," but that's "now somewhat outdated."

Really? That's an interesting conclusion to come to. So, what is the answer to the seemingly inexplicable lack of poverty?

There are factories opening up and there are minerals! All those 35,000 young Kosovar males of military age coming on to the job market every year can go to work making Chuck Taylors or they can become miners! "Kosovo is rich in all sorts of minerals which have been mined for centuries," whoopee!

Or, they can get a job with one of the "15 Families" and make some real money.

In 2000, Mother Jones reported:

"For hundreds of years, Kosovar Albanian smugglers have been among the world's most accomplished dealers in contraband, aided by a propitious geography of isolated ports and mountainous villages. Virtually every stage of the Balkan heroin business, from refining to end-point distribution, is directed by a loosely knit hierarchy known as 'The 15 Families,' who answer to the regional clans that run every aspect of Albanian life. The Kosovar Albanian traffickers are so successful, says a senior U.S. State Department official, 'because Albanians are organized in very close-knit groups, linked by their ethnicity and extended family connections.'"

Something tells me this might have something to do with that "grey economy" going on in Kosovo and why no one is starving.

Here's the rub, though, the good folks of the KLA, or UCK, the Kosovar "freedom fighters" we assisted in expelling the Serbs in 1999 are up to their necks in the biz, too.

Mother Jones:

"The clans, in addition to their drug operations, maintained an armed brigade that gradually evolved into the KLA. In the early 1990s, as the Kosovar uprising in Yugoslavia grew, ethnic Albanian rebels there faced increased financial needs. The 15 Families responded by boosting drug trafficking and channeling money and weapons to the rebels in their clans."

And as if that weren't bad enough, the KLA's fight against the Serbs not only required money but military expertise, some of which came from not so savory characters, like OBL.

In March of 1999, the Senate's "Repubican Policy Committee," led by Sen. Larry Craig (0f all people!) issued a policy paper on the KLA, it's drug problems, it's terrorist tactics and associations with al-Qaeda:

"The KLA's main staging area is in the vicinity of the town of Tropoje in northern Albania Tropoje, the hometown and current base of former Albanian president Sali Berisha, a major KLA patron, is also a known center for Islamic terrorists connected with Saudi renegade Osama bin-Ladin . . . The following reports note the presence of foreign mujahedin (i.e., Islamic holy warriors) in the Kosovo war, some of them jihad veterans from Bosnia, Chechnya, and Afghanistan. Some of the reports specifically cite assets of Iran or bin-Ladin, or both, in support of the KLA."

Note: Sali Barisha, the president of Albania, got a big bear hug from W. just last year. He's now our good friend, too. Just like Hashim "The Snake" Thaci, the new president of Kosovo, who also has some interesting connections (but more on that later).

The Wall Street Journal Europe reported in 2001:

"For the past 10 years, the most senior leaders of al Qaeda have visited the Balkans, including bin Laden himself on three occasions between 1994 and 1996. The Egyptian surgeon turned terrorist leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri has operated terrorist training camps, weapons of mass destruction factories and money-laundering and drug-trading networks throughout Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey and Bosnia. This has gone on for a decade. Many recruits to the Balkan wars came originally from Chechnya, a jihad in which Al Qaeda has also played a part. . .

The overnight rise of heroin trafficking through Kosovo -- now the most important Balkan route between Southeast Asia and Europe after Turkey -- helped also to fund terrorist activity directly associated with al Qaeda and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Opium poppies, which barely existed in the Balkans before 1995, have become the No. 1 drug cultivated in the Balkans after marijuana. Operatives of two al Qaeda-sponsored Islamist cells who were arrested in Bosnia on Oct. 23 were linked to the heroin trade, underscoring the narco-jihad culture of today's post-war Balkans."

[A slight aside about Bush's trip to Albania, where he was hailed as the second coming (I think this item is a telling commentary about our current ad hoc Kosovo policy):

The WaPo:

"'At some point in time, sooner rather than later, you've got to say: Enough's enough -- Kosovo is independent,' Bush said. Responding to a reporter's question in Rome on Saturday, Bush had said a deadline should be set for a U.N. resolution on Kosovo's independence. 'In terms of the deadline, there needs to be one,' he said. 'This needs to come -- this needs to happen.' Asked Sunday about when he would like that deadline set, Bush seemed flummoxed. 'I don't think I called for a deadline,' he said. Told that he had, Bush responded: 'I did? What exactly did I say? I said, 'Deadline'? Okay, yes, then I meant what I said.'"]

It's good to know W. & Co. weren't satisfied with leaving us with just two major foreign policy disasters, there's still time for more!

Not to blame everything on the Bush administration, though, Kosovo is Clinton's baby.

In 1998 US special envoy to Kosovo Robert Gelbard said "'We condemn very strongly terrorist actions in Kosovo. The UCK is, without any questions, a terrorist group," but a short year later when testifying in front of Congress he said that while our new buddies of the UCK had committed 'terrorist acts,' it has 'not been classified legally by the U.S. Government as a terrorist organization.'"

See, by then, Clinton had decided to look the other way when it came to the drug dealing and al-Qaeda connections and use the UCK to be our hired ground troops while we fought the Serbs safely from 14,000 ft.

More to come on this issue at a future point.

Author's note: I realize that the information on the KLA's dirty dealings is mainly coming from the anti-Clinton types, because back then they were just piling on, but I also realize that a lot of the people supporting Clinton's Kosovo adventure were the very same folks who were also the loudest yelling for regime change in Baghdad at the same time. When they got their shot at power they FUBAR'd it up royally, too. And all the while the main beneficiaries of all this death and destruction were: Haliburton/KBR; the oil companies (the price of a barrel of oil in 2003 was $23); the drug dealers and OBL & Co. Coincidence? I think not. All of this leads me to believe which ever party gets into the White House come November will continue the status quo, because it's just so profitable! Too many people could lose too much if there was real "Change."

[Author's note: See much, mush more about this here.]

Monday, March 03, 2008

The GWOT: All roads lead through Kosovo? Oil, gas, and Camp Bondsteel. Pt. 1

The AP reports:

"The surging price of oil reached another milestone Monday, jumping to an inflation adjusted record high of $103.95. The weaker dollar that has propelled oil and other commodities prices higher sent light, sweet crude for April delivery past $103.76 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. That's the level many analysts consider to be the true record high for oil, after its $38 barrel price from 1980 is translated into 2008 dollars."

Apparently, this surge in oil prices has more to do with speculators trying to make money, now that the stock market has gone south, than it does with any lack of oil. However, there are always potential actual threats to the lifeblood of our economy to justify panicking. Like, Hugo Chavez sending troops to the border with Columbia or another gas dispute between Russia/Gazprom and Ukraine, for example. Or Nigeria falling apart or Iran acting up again or about a million other things.

My money is on gas issue; not necessarily in the short term but down the road . . . It's never good to be reliant on someone like Vlad the Impaler Putin for your electricity or heat.

The Australian reports:

"RUSSIA overnight sharply reduced gas supplies to neighbouring Ukraine in a debt dispute, prompting Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko to warn of a possible new 'gas war' with Moscow. . . Russian state-run gas monopoly Gazprom said it was forced to cut gas supplies by 25 per cent after Ukraine failed to pay a $US600 million ($645 million) debt, and that EU supplies would not be affected."

European supplies won't be affected yet, anyway.

If I were the government of France or the UK, for instance, I wouldn't be so confident of Dimitri Medvedev's reassurances about a steady flow of gas in the future. Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is the oil of the future, the major energy source Europe will be relying on for the next several decades and guess who controls all the pipelines from the source of the gas to the energy hungry markets of Europe? That's right: Russia/Gazprom.

This why Kosovo declaring independence comes at such a fortuitous moment. It just so happens most of the routes for new pipelines to supply the West with natural gas, including the US, coming on-line in the near future all seem to run near or right through the Balkans.

Allow me to explain . . .

Two events last week I found of interest coming on the heels of Kosova independence and the upcoming "election" of Putin's handpicked CEO of Russia/Gazprom this Sunday:

Feb 23:

"The United States Friday threw its full diplomatic weight behind the European Union's Nabucco pipeline project to bring gas from the Caspian Basin to central Europe. A senior U.S. official said Nabucco was as important to the United States, to help European allies diversify sources of supply and reduce dependency on Russia, as the Baku-Tblissi-Ceyhan (TBC) oil pipeline had been in the 1990s. 'The Nabucco pipeline will be built, I am convinced, because it makes commercial sense,' Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza told reporters after talks with EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs. 'We are trying to build on the success of the last decade and expand the infrastructure put in place with the same commitment, the same intensity,' he said."

Intensity is right!

Feb 25:

"Russia and Serbia signed Monday an agreement on implementation of a project to construct a pipeline for the transit of the Russian natural gas through Serbia to the Balkans and on to other European countries. The agreement was signed in Belgrade in the presence of the Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica . . . The South Stream project envisions transportation of 10 billion cu m of Russian gas annually across the Black Sea. Russia's Gazprom Neft signed a deal on the purchase of a 51% stake in the Serbia state-owned oil monopoly Naftna Industrija Srbije (NIS) during talks between the two countries' leaders in Moscow on January 25. Gazprom had reportedly offered $580 million for a 51% stake in NIS amid fears in Europe over perceived growing energy dependence on Russia."

The Russians/Gazprom are hell bent on keeping Europe hooked. They don't want any competition in the gas junky biz getting in their way.

Camp Bondsteel: America's bulwark in the Balkans.

All these countries sure are putting a lot of money and effort to build these pipelines, so there must be some plan to protect them, right? This is where Kosovo comes in. Back in '99 the US began building a military base in southern Kosovo to "keep the peace" in the Balkans after the Serbs withdrew. The question I always had was why was Camp Bondsteel so damn big to begin with?

From the World Socialist web site:

"Camp Bondsteel, the biggest 'from scratch' foreign US military base since the Vietnam War is near completion in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo. It is located close to vital oil pipelines and energy corridors presently under construction, such as the US sponsored Trans-Balkan oil pipeline. As a result defence contractors—in particular Halliburton Oil subsidiary Brown & Root Services—are making a fortune. " [Iraq prequel?]

"Camp Bondsteel [CBS] is quite large: 955 acres or 360,000 square meters. If you were to run the outer perimeter, it is about 7 miles. Bondsteel is located on rolling hills and farmland near the city of Ferizaj/Urosevac. There are two dining facilities at Camp Bondsteel: one in North town and one in South town. The food is very well prepared and there are always a variety of main and side dishes to choose from. There are also salad bars, potato bars and multiple dessert offerings. Due to General Order #1, only alcohol-free beer is served, but it is better than nothing! There are set hours for meals, but each dining facility also has a 24-hour section for sandwiches, coffee, fruit, and continental breakfast items."

According to Stars and Stripes:

"KFOR has split what are now 16,000 troops into five brigade-sized task forces, each of which includes a different contingent of KFOR’s 35 NATO and non-NATO members. The U.S. is the lead nation for Multinational Task Force (East), which is headquartered at Camp Bondsteel. MNTF (E) also includes units from Armenia, Greece, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Ukraine."

That's a lot of troops for a country (if you want to call it that) with a population of about 2 million. What's the ratio for our troops in Iraq to the population? Ah, but there's more going on than meets the eye . . .

Pepe Escobar writes for Asia Times Online:

"Bondsteel . . . is a sort of smaller - and friendlier - five-star Guantanamo, with perks like Thai massage and loads of junk food. According to Chalmers Johnson in The Sorrows of Empire, 'army wags say facetiously that there are only two man-made objects that can be seen from outer space - the Great Wall of China and Camp Bondsteel'. Bondsteel will also double as Kosovo's Abu Ghraib - the largest prison in the independent entity, where prisoners can be held indefinitely without charges pressed and without defense attorneys."

If you'll recall, Khaled el-Masri, the German citizen who was kidnapped by the CIA in May of 2004 was picked up in Macedonia, a stone's throw from Bondsteel. Swiss senator Dick Marty issued a preliminary report for the Council of Europe's investigation into CIA rendition and "black" detention centers in Europe in Feb. of 2006 which:

"Highlight[ed] the case of the US-run KFOR detention centre (Camp Bondsteel) in Kosovo. It acknowledges that the camp is not 'secret,' but there have been longstanding concerns about what takes place there: 'At the hearing with our committee on 13 December 2005 the commissioner for Human Rights repeated that the KFOR detention centre had ‘many parallels with Guantánamo: prisoners arrested without recourse to any kind of judicial procedure or legal representation.’ Camp Bondsteel is not open for inspection by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT). This is despite the CPT legally having the right to inspect 'all places of detention in States Parties to the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture (including Serbia and Montenegro), and which has not hitherto obtained authorisation to visit.'” [WSW]

[Note: The fates are conspriring against me today, so the parts about our support for Kosovar president Hashim Thaci (aka "The Snake") and his involvement with the KLA (UCK), which Clinton special envoy to Kosovo Robert Gelbard said in 1998 was "without a doubt a terrorist group," and the drug/human smuggling connection and Bubbah's ignoring al-Qaeda's help for the KLA, will have to wait until tomorrow or later on tonight, possibly.]

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