Monday, December 17, 2007

Two Stories in Today's FT

The Financial Times, a centerist British papaer, ran two interesting stories today. The first concerns the situation in Baghdad and the apparent success of the surge. The article beings:

Baghdad’s Shurja market is open for business. The capital’s central commercial district, which earlier this year was virtually shut down by repeated car bombings and sniper fire, is now thronging with residents doing last-minute shopping before this week’s Eid holiday.

Six months after the “surge” of US troops finished deploying into Baghdad, Iraq’s capital is breathing again.

Shia militias still hold sway over large areas of the city, and around a half a dozen people are still reported killed every day in shootings, bombings and mortar barrages. But even if the return to normal life is only a temporary respite, Baghdadis say they are enjoying the moment.

Residents who once hunkered down in their homes and adopted false identities to shield themselves from sectarian death squads now venture out to work, shop, or simply visit restaurants and parks.

The US military says violence has fallen by 60 per cent nationwide over the past six months, an impression that is borne out by anecdotal evidence from Iraqis. The Iraqi Red Crescent also reports that the country’s number of internally displaced fell for the first time in October, when 110,000 people returned to their homes.

The second story concerns the wasteful spending at the UN, and American efforts to stop it:

Officials of United Nations member states met throughout the weekend to try to avert a budget crisis over what the Bush administration has branded the largest proposed increase in spending in the organisation's 62-year history.

The UN's budget committee had set a deadline of this Wednesday to approve a request from Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general, for $4.2bn (£2bn, €2.9bn) to cover the UN's regular expenditure over the next two years.

But with the US digging in its heels over likely additional expenditure that it says could boost this total by a further $1bn, the UN faced the prospect of entering 2008 without a budget.

When Mr Ban presented his first budget as secretary-general on October 25, he said the amount was "not much, considering the demands upon us". Requesting $23m - or half a percentage point - increase for 2008-2009, he said: "Never has the world so needed a strong United Nations, yet never have our resources been stretched so thin." The same day, however,
UN officials acknowledged that cost adjustments had already boosted the bottom line to $4.4bn, while additional items not accounted for would carry the total to more than $4.6bn.

In a closed-door meeting of member states last week, Mark Wallace, US deputy ambassador to the UN, said spending could be as high as $5.2bn - a 25 per cent rise - in view of further demands for funding expected in the coming year. "With the largest budget increase in history," he said, "the credibility of the UN is at stake."

Part of the US complaint is that
three out of every four dollars of the regular budget go on the salaries of 10,000 staff and other related costs. "The . . . increase does not go directly to humanitarian or development aid but rather to increasing the size of the UN secretariat bureaucracy," Mr Wallace said.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Getting the Arabic Right

In reading over Mitt Romney's website in August, I was appalled by his very first issue position: 'Defeating the Jihadists.' The former Massachusetts governor went on to explain that,
the defeat of this radical and violent faction of Islam must be achieved through a combination of American resolve, international effort, and the rejection of violence by moderate, modern, mainstream Muslims.

In spite of this, he had embraced – unknowingly, we shall hope – the radical Wahabist understanding of the term 'jihad,' which simply has the literal meaning of 'struggle.' To many, probably most Muslims, this struggle is an interior one, a personal one, a spiritual one: suicide bombers are not holy warriors – 'mujahideen' – striving to know or serve the Almighty, they are evildoers properly termed 'mufsidun,' who are engaging in a psychopathic war against society, 'hirabah.'

I notified the Romney campaign of their mistake and the website has since changed. While there has been no adoption of the terms 'mufsidun' or 'hirabah,' terms such as 'jihad', and 'Islam' are always preceded by 'violent' or 'extreme' to clarify that this is not the mainstream variety in question. The headline now reads "Confronting Radical Jihad".

Mitt Romney was not the only presidential candidate to make this linguistic mistake. Ron Paul's website refers to "our direct enemies, the jihadists."

By accepting the Wahabist misappropriation of the term 'jihad,' these candidates and countless other Americans give our enemies further ammunition in the war of ideas, implicitly accepting that the moderate Muslims are wrong in their understanding of Islam, that jihad does demand the killing of innocent American families.

Conversely, use of the terms 'mufsidun' and 'hirabah' – and efforts to educate the American people about them – would not only demonstrate a presidential candidate's command of the complexities involved in the War on Terror but would also strike a blow in the ideological conflict that is at the heart of this struggle. These terms convey exactly what Romney and others are trying to say, and they say it in a way that a majority of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims understand.

The issues pages for John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and Dennis Kucinich are happily free of this misappropriation of Arabic terms. Whether this happened because the candidates know the proper use of the words or are simply listening to thoughtful advisors, I tip my hat to them all. (This is not to say that all have excellent plans for the Middle East or the War on Terror; some make profound mistakes, but they are not this one. Perhaps more blog posts are in order.)

Mike Huckabee's website has gone so far as to explain that,
Fighting smart means learning the neighborhood, achieving a level of political, religious, and cultural sophistication about the Arab and Islamic worlds that will pay huge dividends for us.... I will support moderates, not extremists, with no favoring of Sunnis or Shiites. The long-term solution to terror is to empower moderates in the region.

While 'moderate' is probably not the best term - Christians, would you like to be designated as 'moderate Christians'? Kind of makes you sound wishy-washy, doesn't it? - that's a good start.

(Special thanks go out to J. Michael Waller of the Institute of World Politics, for his excellent text on the matter, Fighting the War of Ideas Like a Real War.)

Monday, December 3, 2007

Afghans 'still hopeful on future'

"Most Afghans are relatively hopeful about their future," the BBC reports, reflecting information collected in a recent poll.
They also support the current Afghan government and the presence of overseas troops, and oppose the Taleban.

But the poll suggests that Afghans are slightly less optimistic than a year ago, and are frustrated at the slow pace of reconstruction efforts.

Charney Research spoke to 1,377 people in October and November in all 34 provinces for the BBC, ABC and ARD.

This is the third such survey, and is published to coincide with the sixth anniversary of the fall of the Taleban.

Overall, the figures indicate that the peaceful north of Afghanistan is significantly more satisfied than the troubled south. Most dissatisfaction is found in the south-west, where the Taleban are most active.

The poll suggests that despite another year of conflict, confidence and hope have been dented only a little in the past 12 months.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Boycotting the Beijing Games

I'm boycotting the Beijing Olympics. No, I have not been invited to participate, nor was I ever really planning on attending.

Normally I'm kind of opposed to boycotts. In the modern economy, revenue streams can be very complicated and corporations are often wholly- or partially-owned subsidiaries of some other company. The goals of many boycotts are ambiguous and the message intended to be sent and the means by which it will be sent are often unclear. Furthermore, the time span for most boycotts is vague: if the boycott's goals are not achieved in a timely manner, will it drag on indefinitely?

To address such questions, I figured I'd post a small manifesto for my Beijing Olympic boycott:

What is to be boycotted?

Coverage of the Games, in print or on television, including the opening and closing ceremonies. Any merchandise is also out.

How long will the boycott last?

The length of the Games, 8-24 August 2008.

What is the goal of the boycott?

I am under no illusion that the infinitesimal amount of money the Chinese regime will lose due to my boycott will go noticed. Nor am I under the illusion that millions will flock to my side, creating a mass movement that will in some way harm the regime. (Though I must confess that, if this happened, I would not be opposed.)

Instead, this boycott is aimed at educating fellow Americans about the evils of the Chinese regime. Inevitably there will be get-togethers to watch the opening ceremony; I plan on being in the next room telling folks why I'm not watching the TV. The list of reasons is so extensive I struggle to find the right place to start:

* The Chinese regime has supported the military junta in Burma for years; had the Chinese wanted to stop the suppression of monastically-lead pro-democracy demonstrations this year, it could have. It didn't.

*The Chinese regime conducting ethnic cleansing in Xinjiang, intentionally conducting nuclear tests upwind of population centers of Turkic Uyghur populations, releasing violent criminals into Xinjiang to help kill of the Uyghurs, and settling large numbers of heavily-armed ethnic Han Chinese to drive them out.

*The Chinese regime is destroying Tibetan culture, to such an extent that the Dahli Lama has threatened not to reincarnate himself in Chinese-controlled Tibet, so oppressive is the environment.

*The Chinese regime and its various state-owned industries stealing American commercial secrets left and right. This is not free trade, this is industrial espionage, intellectual piracy. Under the guise of winning jobs for their own people, the Chinese regime demands that most products sold in China be made in China; this allows them to copy any and every design for products made there. (And have no doubts, they are copying with a vengeance.)

*The Chinese regime routinely hacks American networks, trying to steal military and political secrets from the government and contractors.

*The Chinese regime is busy subverting South Pacific island nations, as it tries to out-maneuver Taiwan for diplomatic influence in the region. This subversion has included - but is not limited to - support for the coup in Fiji.

*The Chinese regime has armed the Taliban, thereby threatening the lives of Afghans, Americans and their other allies, and delaying democracy and development in that nation.

*The Chinese regime suppresses democracy at home, heavily censors the internet, makes use of slave labor, oppressing the Catholic Church, poisons its own rivers and engages in more abuses than I have time to type.

*Oh, yes. And the Chinese regime has displaced 1.5 million of its own people to build the Olympic Park in Beijing. And you thought use of eminent domain was out of control here...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Return of the Airship?

A 170-foot non-rigid airship, the Polar 400, made its maiden flight the day after Thanksgiving; its revolutionary design may result in a low-cost alternative to heavier-than-air unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

The Virginian-Pilot carried the story, complete with exclusive photos.

"It's very responsive. It's the most maneuverable blimp I've ever flown," said test pilot Doug McFadden. "To my knowledge, no one has mounted an engine on a non-rigid surface, and no one has used hydraulic propulsion to do it," explained Alan Ram, head a propulsion for the project.

Blackwater Airships, a unit of Blackwater Worldwide, designed the airship to carry intelligence-gathering cameras, sensors and communications gear for counterterrorism, counternarcotics and border security operations. The vehicle is unmanned and piloted by remote control from the ground.

"With a few engineering innovations, Blackwater hopes to turn a time-tested platform - the Navy used blimps to watch for enemy submarines in World War II - into a modern tool for combating terrorism and for other 21st-century needs," the Virginian-Pilot explained.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Kremlin Detains Garry Kasparov

As if there were not already enough reasons to distrust Pooty-Poot's Russia, here is one more. The BBC reports that Garry Kasparov, opposition leader and former world chess champion, has been detained by the Kremlin.

When Kasparov's Other Russia Party, recently banned from December's parliamentary elections, attempted to march to the Electoral Commission, the police moved in. The election has been a contentious issue for Other Russia, a coalition which brings together leftists, nationalists and mainstream politicians; their appeal to the country's Supreme Court, disputing the election ban, was dismissed.

However, the BBC's Richard Galpin in Moscow report that "attending the rally for the first time was the leader of one of the mainstream liberal parties - a sign that the movement is growing." Let us hope that, with Western support, the opposition can mobilize in a powerful way. Sadly, I will not holding my breath.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

NYPD Goes International

Serviam magazine reports that the New York Police Department, faced with the threat of terrorism, with only limited help from the CIA and FBI, has begun "running operations as far away as Virginia and Mississippi, and has raised eyebrows with the expansion of a virtual foreign intelligence arm present in more than a dozen countries." In addition, NYPD "has tapped the private sector for help, and created an analytical unit that rivals the finest teams at the FBI and CIA." Among their products is a recent report titled Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat. The report has received critical acclaim not only for its insight and actionability, but also the absense of political correctness that hamstrings so many other efforts. While some people might be worried about this new activity on the part of the NYPD, I would contend this is simply one of the strenghts of the federal system: if one part of the government fails to do its duty, others are able and willing to step into the gap.

Internal State Department Memo Praises Contractors

A few days ago The Spy Who Billed Me published an internal State Department memo which enumerated five cases of "superior/heroic contractor performance" in the war on terror. Dr. R. J. Hillhouse explains, "The first four instances involve contractors from Blackwater and the last one is most likely Triple Canopy." She removed the last names, but has otherwise included all original text. I reproduce it below in its entirety, for your consideration:

Five Examples of Superior/Heroic Contractor Performance

Protectee Evacuation: On 23 Jan 07, Raven 7 was on venue at the Municipalities and Public Works Annex (MMPW) building. At approximately 1113 hours they reported receipt of heavy small arms fire. DOS [Department of State] Air Assets were contacted by RSO TOC [Tactical Operations Center] and requested to provide aerial support. At 1118, the RSO Air Assets arrived in the vicinity of MMPW, and one round of SAF [small arms fire] struck an RSO Air Asset door gunner in the cheek. At 1120, RSO Air Assets took their door gunner to the 28th CSH [combat support hospital]. This COM PSD [personal security detachment] member was pronounced KIA [killed in action]. During this engagement, the COM Tactical Support Teams (TST) 22, 23, 24 and 26 responded to the MMPW building to support the engaged COM PSD teams, and received heavy SAF while in route and on location. Army attack aviation and Stryker units also responded to the MMPW building during this period. The Designated Marksman from Raven 7 on the roof of the MMPW venue remained engaged with a heavy volume of SAF.

At 1150, the RSO Air Assets returned to the scene and again received SAF. This caused one RSO Air Asset to land at Ministry of Health. The other RSO Air Asset (Hughes 530) crashed at MB 4318 8958, approximately 700 meters southeast of the Municipalities and Public Works Annex due to heavy SAF. This location was not confirmed until 1315. The search for the downed RSO Air Asset began immediately. During this search, U.S. Army, COM PSD, and RSO Air Assets were continuously engaged with heavy SAF. Additional RSO Air Assets were requested and responded to the vicinity of the last known location of the downed RSO Air Asset.

At 1315, the Army Stryker unit secured the crash site, and was engaged with a heavy volume of SAF. COM TST [tactical support team] linked up with the Stryker unit at 1323. All four COM PSD in the RSO Air Asset were declared KIA. U.S. Army, COM PSD, and COM TST remained continuously engaged by an undetermined number of insurgents during the evacuation of the 4 KIA remains. At 1541, all COM PSD elements were secure in the International Zone.

There were 5 RSO Air Asset members KIA during this engagement. There were no COM direct hires injured during this engagement. There were no other casualties, or injuries to COM personnel. There are numerous impacts of SAF on COM vehicles, as well as an undetermined amount of damage to equipment.

Explosive Discovery/Mission Aborted: November 2, 2006 - Team 13, advancing for Team 11, arrived at the venue. DDM [designated defensive marksman] was in a position on the roof of the venue and observed a local national placing an object on the ground adjacent to the entrance of the venue. The object had protruding wires. Team 13 with embedded RSO agent (K.) advised Team 11 to abort the mission and return to base. DDM's on the roof observed a second man they surmised was the trigger man for the command detonation of this IED. Blackwater air was contacted and extracted the DDM’S from the roof of the venue (B22) leaving aerial gunners in their place. Air took Team 13 shooters to LZ [landing zone] Washington (B5) and dropped them, returning to pick up their aerial gunners and provide convoy coverage for Team 13 as they returned to B6. Team 13 returned safely to base at 1118 with no further incidents. No shots were fired by our team, and no COM personnel were harmed.

Rescue Operation: October 22, 2006 - Today at about 1630 hours, Blackwater Aviation “Little Birds” BW 33(Chalk #1) and BW 34(Chalk #2) were returning from a mission when BW 34 observed a US Army motorcade that was attacked by an insurgent placed explosive formed charge (EFP) in the vicinity of G3.
The aircrews observed that the vehicles struck by the EFP contained numerous US casualties. BW 33 with Door Gunners Mark Y. (Medic) and John S. made the decision to land at the attack site, assess the wounded and provide MEDEVAC capabilities. Mark exited the aircraft upon landing at the site with John providing security. Mark quickly went to work assessing the wounded and beginning triage. He made a rapid decision to immediately transport two of the more seriously wounded via BW 33 to the Combat Surgical Hospital (CSH) in the International Zone. As the wounded were loaded, Mark would remain behind to continue treating the remaining casualties, while John accompanied the wounded and continued in-flight care.

During this time, BW 34 with Door Gunners Emmett R. and Steve C., provided overhead protective cover for BW 33 expecting a secondary attack during the rescue efforts. BW 34 also requested the medium lift helicopters (412) BW 126 and BW 608 respond to the scene and assist with the MEDEVAC due to the potential number of causalities involved. BW 34 would remain on scene and secure the site and protect the soldiers on the ground while BW 33 flew to the CSH with the first load of wounded soldiers.
BW 126 carrying Door Gunners Saleem A. and Andrew P., and BW 608 with Door Gunners Luigge R. and Gregg K. arrived on scene. The gunners set up a security perimeter and began loading wounded soldiers for transport. Luigge (Medic) immediately assisted Mark Y. with medical duties and evacuated the remaining wounded to the CSH.

Throughout this incident each individual performed his duties flawlessly, with the utmost concern for the wounded and the safety of all those involved. Their calm demeanor and actions prevented unnecessary causalities during the rescue efforts and saved the lives of five US soldiers.

Rescue Operation: On 8 September, 2006 at approximately 1345 hrs, Air Force Major Nori L. drove out of the International Zone (IZ) inadvertently past Check Point 12 (CP12) into the Red Zone. MAJ L. then became lost. She realized her error and tried to backtrack into the IZ. During this maneuver she was fired upon by unknown persons with small arms fire (SAF). The SAF then broke out the driver’s side window of her soft-skinned Ford Explorer. She escaped the attack and drove to an Iraqi Checkpoint where the Iraqi Police surrounded her and protected her. She called a friend in the IZ who then called the RSO TOC and gave us her number. The RSO TOC then called MAJ L. and tried to determine her location. The Watch Officer sent Blackwater Air and the TST team to search for her while she was on the phone with the RSO TOC. After an intensive search MAJ L’s Explorer was located southwest of the IZ on Route Jackson. Blackwater air evacuated her to the Combat Army Support Hospital (CASH). Her injuries appeared to be minor at that time. The Army sent out a unit to recover her Explorer.

Explosive Found: On 23 April 2006, at 1100hrs, my explosive detection K-9, Peggy, and I were assisting Hammer 4 on a mission in support of the US Embassy to Panjshier Valley PRT [provisional reconstruction team]. During this mission we were providing security for Under Secretary of State Fore. During this mission K-9 Peggy was used to search the parking lot adjacent to the PRT and the storage facility prior to the Under Secretary’s arrival. Canine Peggy showed a noticeable difference in behavior and pulled upwind towards a row of old Russian V-twin motors. Peggy started to scan the area and moved towards the center of the motors and placed her nose on a green in color object which she sourced and recognized as explosive odor. K-9 Peggy began to alert as I recognized the object to be a live RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] round. I verbally praised the canine and moved away from the area. I immediately notified our OPS, Rob C. and the TC for Hammer 4, Robert H. They both confirmed the object to be a RPG 5 with the pin removed and already fired (rendering it live ordnance). The shift leader was notified and the area was determined to be unsafe. The mission continued but the Under Secretary was kept at a safe distance from the UXO [unexploded ordinance].

Saturday, November 17, 2007

FBI Mum on Blackwater

This blog, because of its interest in the question of private security contractors, has run a number of posts relating to Blackwater and the 16 September shooting at Nisoor Square, Baghdad. Heretofore we have written relatively little on the FBI's investigation, precisely because the mainstream media seemed to have the story sufficiently well-covered. But, at the request of an anonymous commenter, I decided to take a deeper look. And what I found was surprising.

Because so many news stories get recycled and spun so many times, I decided to go to the horse's mouth: the archive of FBI press releases. There have been, in total, three releases relating to Blackwater. None of them deal with the FBI's findings, since the investigation is not yet complete. The brevity of these press releases allows me to reproduce all of them here.

For Immediate Release
October 2, 2007

Washington D.C.
FBI National Press Office
(202) 324-3691

FBI Investigating Alleged Blackwater Shooting in Iraq

At the request of the Department of State, the FBI is sending a team to Iraq to assist in the ongoing investigation into the September 16, 2007, shooting incident allegedly involving Blackwater employees. The team will provide investigative assistance to the State Department investigators leading the investigation. For any additional information, we refer you to the State Department.

For Immediate Release
October 3, 2007

Washington D.C.
FBI National Press Office
(202) 324-3691

Security for FBI Personnel Investigating Blackwater

FBI personnel deployed to Iraq have been provided security by Blackwater USA during travels outside the Green Zone under the existing State Department contract. However, to avoid even the appearance of any conflict, the FBI team deployed from Washington to assist the State Department in the investigation of the events of September 16th will have any additional security needs provided by U.S. Government personnel.

John Miller
Assistant Director, Office of Public Affairs
Federal Bureau of Investigation

For Immediate Release
October 10, 2007

Washington D.C.
FBI National Press Office
(202) 324-3691

FBI Conducting Independent Investigation Into Alleged Blackwater Shooting in Iraq

At the request of the Department of State, the FBI has sent a team to Iraq to conduct an independent investigation into the September 16, 2007, shooting incident allegedly involving Blackwater employees. For any additional information, we refer you to the Department of Justice.

Now why would the FBI be so quiet about its investigation of Blackwater? A few days ago, CNN brought us the answer: the FBI's not done. CNN's website explains:

"To the best of our knowledge, the key people in this incident have yet to even speak with investigators," said Blackwater Worldwide spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell. She said it was her understanding that none of the five "key" Blackwater employees involved in the incident have been interviewed by the FBI.

In addition, a senior U.S. official who asked not to be identified told CNN that "most, if not all, of the shooters" in the September 16 killings "have not been interviewed."

An FBI representative refused to comment on Tyrrell's statement.

So when I see a headline like the one the New York Times ran a few days ago ("FBI Says Guards Killed 14 Iraqis Without Cause"), I am a little confused. The FBI has not said anything. Well, the New York Times article can only cite "civilian and military officials briefed on the case," and "government officials," whomever they may be. But if you did not read carefully, you would get the impression this is a closed case. In fact, the only admission the NYT gives that the FBI is still at work is to cite Ms. Tyrrell, the Blackwater spokeswoman, as saying "she would have no comment until the FBI released its findings."

I, for one, look forward to reading them.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Blackwater guard gives account of shootout in Iraq

This just in from the Agence France-Presse:

A guard from the US security firm Blackwater says his motorcade came under fire and that he feared for his life in a deadly shootout in Iraq.

Contradicting reports that the Blackwater motorcade in Baghdad did not come under attack in the September 16 incident which left 17 Iraqi civilians dead, the guard alleged he opened fire on a car that drove towards his team and failed to heed warnings to stop.

He said that then, after coming under fire, he shot at a shack behind the approaching car, at a man with an AK-47 rifle pointed at the motorcade, at a bus which was the source of gunfire, and at two other cars deemed as threats.

"As our motorcade pulled into the intersection, I noticed a white four-door sedan driving directly at our motorcade from the west bound lane," he said in his statement.

"I and others were yelling and using hand signals for the car to stop and the driver looked directly at me and kept moving toward our motorcade. Fearing for my life and the lives of my teammates, I engaged the driver and stopped the threat," he said....

Identified only by the first name "Paul," the Blackwater guard recounted the shooting in a sworn statement to State Department investigators three days after the incident, which ABC posted on its website. His account differs dramatically from that of the FBI, which the New York Times reported found in its investigation that 14 of the 17 deaths were unjustified, the New York Times said....

"Paul" insisted the group was shot at after he first fired at the oncoming car. "At the same moment, I started receiving small arms fire from the shack approximately fifty meters behind the car. I then engaged the individuals where the muzzle flashes came from."

When a person in uniform started pushing the car toward the motorcade, the guard said he shouted and shot at the vehicle until it stopped. He then heard on his radio that the motorcade's command vehicle was down, "and that we were still taking fire," he said.

As the command vehicle was towed, he said he saw a man with his AK-47 "oriented" at the rear gunner in a nearby vehicle in the motorcade. "Fearing for the gunner's life, I engaged the individual and stopped the threat."

With gunfire allegedly coming from a red bus stopped at the intersection, he said he opened fire on the shooters. Then when he was told on his radio that gunfire was coming from another car, he fired at the "suspect vehicle" as he again was "fearing for my life."

Later, a red car was backing up towards the motorcade, and the guard -- fearing it was a possible car bombing attack -- again opened fire, he said. "As we were going over the curb, I noticed several civilians and I was motioning, and screaming that they get down and find cover," he said....

The guard said during his time in Iraq he had made "numerous split-second shoot-don't shoot decisions." He said he had passed qualification courses required by the State Department to carry automatic weapons. According to the statement, the man served in the US army in Bosnia between 1992 and 2002 and was deployed to Iraq in 2004. He later left the military and began working for Blackwater in 2006.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Contractors Help Army "Anthropologize"

Late last year the US Army launched its Human Terrain System to help it understand the cultural aspects of the areas where it is conducting counterinsurgency operations. The New York Times has carried the story, and last year the US Army Professional Writing Collection had a feature as well. Thanks to new Human Terrain Teams, US combat forces now know more than ever about the people they work with, and that is in turn paying big dividends.

Col. Martin Schweitzer, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division unit working with the anthropologists [in the Shabak Valley of Afghanistan], said that the unit’s combat operations had been reduced by 60 percent since the scientists arrived in February, and that the soldiers were now able to focus more on improving security, health care and education for the population.

Montgomery McFate, the program’s senior social science adviser and an author of the new counterinsurgency manual, dismissed criticism of scholars working with the military. “I’m frequently accused of militarizing anthropology,” she said. “But we’re really anthropologizing the military.”

Russia Accused of Military Build-Up in Georgia

The FT reports that David Bakradze, Georgian minister for conflict resolution, announced on Monday that Russia had deployed five T-72 main battle tanks (pictured above, on parade in Moscow), plus rocket launchers, armoured personnel carriers and an additional 200 soldiers, into Abkhazia, a separatist region Russia has been supporting with "peacekeepers" since the early 1990s.

Nino Burjanadze, speaker of the Georgian parliament, confirmed a “major movement of Russian military equipment in Abkhazia [while] manpower is moving from Russia too.”

For what it is worth, Russia immediately denied moving men or equipment, dismissing the allegations as “plain lies.”

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Blackwater Sniper Footage

With all the talk of Blackwater snipers these days, I figured I'd post some footage. No, this is not the latest stuff, but it gives a good feel for who these men are and how they act. This clip comes from 2005, with commentary below.

(Wait for the helicopter intro to pass; the sniper section is right behind it.)

The 5-man Blackwater crew that was assinged to CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority] Najaf were coming under heavy small arms and mortar fire, the city was being taken over by insurgents. The police stations and hospitals were taken over as well, after a day of fighting off hundreds of insurgents the city had been completely overrun, with the CPA in the heart of the city and no way out.

The Team called up to Baghdad and reported the situation, they said they needed immediate extract which Gen Sanchez also denied due to the fact the city had been overrun and there were no US troops there, only contractors.

Well, Ambassador Bremer was pissed at Sanchez and I remember being on office watch during the massive arguments! Ambassador Bremer and our Baghdad Team Leader got together and Bremer said ''I don't want another Bridge hanging! Get those boys out of there by any means nessassary!'' so 12 of us -- 6 pilots and 6 gunners loaded as much as we could in 3 MD530 little birds and headed 70 miles south. we flew in the first day and blind (no comms, and no intel on the heat) to try a resupply, land find out was was going on and then head back, rearm and get ready to go again. Well that night all hell broke lose and we flew back in. Over 1000 insurgents (reported by the F18 pilots) had taken the city and now wanted the CPA after a day of intense fighting by 11 BW
[Blackwater] guys, airstrikes, a handfull of Marines and 1 sniper we were able to hold them off. After it died down and gunships and SF [Special Forces] guys finally started to roll in the battle was soon over and the CPA was saved.

That's pretty much it in a nut shell...

Blackwater Aids California - At No Cost

I believe Standish was the first to carry the story of Blackwater's emergency housing effort in southern California. But now the AP has got in on the act and posted a video here.

The basic story is simple: when the State of California would not hire Blackwater to fight the fires, the contractor decided to provide aid free of charge. As the AP explains, the new emergency food and housing comes at no cost, but will be inspected by state and local officials, to ensure safety. (So much for Blackwater being "unaccountable.") Just further proof that Blackwater really does believe in their humanitarian mission.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Christian Science Monitor Breaks Blackwater Contract Story

Unbeknownst to this blog, the Christian Science Monitor carried the story of Blackwater's State Department contract the same day Statecraft & Security raised the same issue. This is good news for those interested in the truth about how private security contractors behave in Iraq, and why.

The CSM spells out the issue very clearly:

The issue isn't an overly aggressive contractor. It's the State Department's zero tolerance for casualties of its employees in Iraq. Such an approach makes tragedies such as the September episode more common – and it marginalizes the lives of innocent Iraqis who just might be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Placing so many diplomats and civil servants on nation-building assignments in the middle of a civil war has a high price – perhaps too high.... The US government appears to tolerate a certain number of casualties from the all-volunteer military. But civilian employees are a different story.

It's nice to finally see a large, mainstream media outlet placing blame where it's due: with the State Department, it's lawyers and its flawed contract.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Putin Generation

Karol Józef Wojtyła was elected pope five years before I was born, and took the name John Paul II. I was twenty-one years old when he died. His papacy was the first I ever knew and had a formative impact on my life. Thousands of Catholics who grew up under the Polish pontiff fondly call themselves the John Paul II Generation.

A frightening parallel exists in Russia today. The first generation of post-Soviet youth are coming of age, and they are calling themselves the Putin Generation. The Nashi movement is one of several pro-Kremlin youth groups that foster Putin's cult of personality. The New York Times ran a story this summer about the group, but I think the video images are most stunning, and so I include several for your viewing pleasure, or horror, as the case may be.

The Putin Generation (Part I of II, by the NYT)

The Putin Generation (Part II of II)

Наша армия, a Nashi military recruitment video

(This video is in Russian, but the images and message are clear enough for anyone to see.)

For a scholarly consideration of the origins of Nashi, see Douglas Robert Buchacek's thesis, NASHA Pravda, NASHE Delo: The Mobilization of the Nashi Generation in Contemporary Russia.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Some Monitors Barred from Russian Elections

In a trend remarkably similar to its reduction of NGOs in October of last year, Russia has decided to further reduce the number of foreign monitors for its upcoming parliamentary elections in December. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which monitors elections in many post-Soviet countries, was lately informed by Russian authorities of the change. While OSCE previously was invited to send 400 monitors to elections in 2003, they may now only send 70. This is quite the decrease in a country and a region where elections have been marred by corruption.

Despite electoral predictions that United Russia, Putin’s cult-of-personality-political-party, will win more seats to complement their majority already, the monitoring is essential to show emerging political trends in the country. The attempt of the opposition to gain seats is important to demonstrate that Russia’s citizens still wish to have a voice in their ever-growing-authoritative-quasi-democracy. Russians must be vigilant for future trends the Kremlin will show. This is already evident in reports that Putin might seek to hold some official position after his required departure from the Presidency, similar to Lukashenko of neighboring Belarus, who altered its Constitution to win a third term.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Gen. Chennault and the Flying Tigers: Private Military Contractors

One of the finest chapters of American history did not even occur in the United States and involved a gang of private military contractors: the American Volunteer Group, better known as the Flying Tigers.

In early 1941 the US was not yet officially at war, but a number of Americans - including President Roosevelt - saw the need to aid the Nationalist Chinese against Japanese aggression. And so airplanes were purchased, with 82 pilots and 359 ground crewmembers recruited for the effort from among former US servicemen. The group was lead by Claire Chennault, a retired US Army Air Corps captain who had become a private military advisor to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek.

These Americans were technically "mercinaries" in that they were privately hired by the Chinese government. But they were some of the most professional and skilled men in the world: at the defense of Rangoon the Flying Tigers flew alongside the men of the RAF, and by even the lowest figures, these American contractors outflew and outfought their British allies.

The AVG was officially credited with 297 enemy aircraft destroyed, including 229 in the air. Thirty-three AVG pilots and three ground crew received the Chinese Order of the Cloud Banner, many AVG pilots received the Chinese Air Force Medal and each AVG ace and double ace was awarded the Chinese Five Star or Ten Star Wing Medal. However, success did not come without a price: fourteen pilots were killed in action, captured, or disappeared on combat missions; two died of wounds sustained in bombing raids; and six were killed in accidents.

After World War II, ten ex-Flying Tigers pilots formed a cargo airline named Flying Tiger Line, after the AVG. Flying Tiger Line operated for forty years, and was the largest cargo airline in the world for some time. It was eventually purchased by Federal Express.

Who drives against traffic in a traffic circle?

While trawling the blogosphere I recently came across someone rhetorically asking Who drives against traffic in a traffic circle?, with regards to the recent Blackwater firefight at Nisoor Square, Baghdad.

A fair question. The State Department contract with Blackwater, which is about 1,000 pages long and extensively detailed, stipulate that State Department convoys travel quickly and drive aggressively. Furthermore, no State Department official ever travels with less than three vehicles and they're always the biggest stuff they can find, with those obnoxious "Warning: Stay Back" signs and all of that.

This is in contrast to the CIA, which drives around Baghdad and other parts of Iraq, with contract security, all the time, but doesn't run into trouble. Why? Because they're riding in unmarked beat-up pickups and following traffic patterns. The difference, surprisingly, is not the contractors - both employ them - but the agency that hires them and the terms of the contracts.

It's sad to think that the State Department officially has the lead for public diplomacy. Who most heavily opposed the State Department terms under which Blackwater is employed? The Department of Defense (which also employs contractors, but again, under different terms), folks who actually know a thing or two about public diplomacy, even though it's not their primary duty.

The State Department contract also stipulated that diplomatic security guards must wear wrap-around sunglasses (a cultural faux pas in the Arabic world) and prohibited facial hair (another cultural faux pas). Just what were these State Department boys learning at Georgetown?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Blackwater Brings Relief to California Fire Victims

The media doesn't often mention this, but relief work is a key part of Blackwater's mission, both as a business and as a service-oriented American company. (Yes, they continue to think of themselves as such, in spite of all the mud that's been thrown at them.) Because the company seldom issued press releases until recently, it hasn't told the public of its humanitarian work around the world and here at home.

The company's hometown newspaper, the Virginian-Pilot, reported this weekend that Blackwater has started to help deliver food and supplies to victims of the wild fires in southern California.

So far, according to the report, "Blackwater has made three deliveries of food, water, personal hygiene products and generator fuel to 300 area residents, many of whom have been trapped for days without supplies." No doubt the effort will grow in the coming days.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Boston Tea Party: A Model of Political Warfare (Part III)

(Click here for Part I)

Even a well-planned operation can backfire; the leaders of the Boston Tea Party were careful to avoid these. If someone within the political warfare campaign is diluting or contradicting the desired message, that person needs to be brought into line or otherwise neutralized before they do serious harm. In the case of the Tea Party, those who tried to save some of the tea for themselves were stripped naked, coated in mud and given a severe bruising.

Likewise, any political warfare should be carefully calibrated to send the desired message while avoiding collateral damage, be it metaphorical or – in the case of the Boston Tea Party – literal. Such unintended consequences can provide the opposition with ammunition. By making sure that nothing aside from the tea and tea chests were damaged, the Bostonians limited the possible negative side effects of their actions.

Poor operational security can also plague an otherwise well-planned campaign. Secrets – be they the identities of certain people, future plans or other matters – must be carefully maintained; leaks can make for terribly unpleasant surprises. One of the participants in the Boston Tea Party explained that afterwards they “quietly retired to our several places of residence, without having any conversation with each other, or taking any measures to discover who were our associates.”

Any time an action is nominally undertaken by a third party, the political warrior must be careful to make the denial of his involvement sufficiently plausible. While covering up proof of that involvement – the negative approach – is helpful, actively creating alibis – the positive approach – is likely to be even more successful. Samuel Adams and those involved in addressing the pre-Tea Party meeting made a point of remaining conspicuously behind in the Old South Meeting House. It was not a perfect alibi, but in the case of legal or other such action against them, it could have formed the first line of defense. Which may explain part of the reason that the governor never bothered to bring such charges.

Samuel Adams prepared an account of events the day after the Tea Party and Paul Revere (pictured above) immediately rode south with the news. A great speech or daring maneuver that gets no press coverage is of very limited value to the political warrior. Rather than simply hoping the media will pick up a story, or even encouraging it to do so, the story should be actively cultivated and disseminated. Controlling the message in this way ensures that the proper conclusions will be drawn.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Boston Tea Party: A Model of Political Warfare (Part II)

(Click here for Part I)

A good political warfare campaign is not carried out in isolation, but in the context of a broader effort. An obvious element of such an effort is the utilization of political leverage in the traditional ways: passing resolutions, winning elections, etc. Even if victories in this area are not immediately attainable or are of little obvious effect, used in conjunction with other tools, political leveraging can highlight an issue and put pressure on certain parties. In the case of the Tea Party, the Boston Town Meeting and other political fora were utilized to demand the tea consignees' resignations.

This would be an example of propaganda of the deed. Other forms of propaganda are just as essential: a media blitz before the centerpiece of a campaign can focus attention and positively incline the public to receive the desired message. Sam Adams and his committee of correspondence were masters of cranking out letter, articles and speeches.

Finally, potential problems should be identified and neutralized before a major effort is undertaken. When Governor Hutchison of Massachusetts ordered the colonel of the cadet corps, a certain John Hancock, to prepare for action, Hancock refused. The British still had soldiers at their command, of course, but Hancock's action limited Hutchison's options and reduced the danger to the patriot cause.

Which leads us to one of the great lessons of political warfare: create uncomfortable dilemmas for the enemy. Like a good move in chess, this bit of political warfare leaves the opposition with options all of which play into the political warrior’s hands. The day before the tea was scheduled to be landed in Boston, the Dartmouth’s owner rode through the rain and cold to obtain permission from the governor not to land; Hutchison could either concede or look like a jerk. (In the event, he chose the latter, which did nothing to help his plunging popularity with the people of Boston.) The very Tea Party itself created a similar dilemma: the British could escalate or back down, but either way, they played into the patriots’ hands.

(Click here for Part III)

What Will They Come Up With Next?

If the public discussion of Blackwater, the private security contractor, has not become absurd enough, the Portland Independent Media Center and other news outlets are circulating the story that Blackwater started the brush fires currently raging in California. Meanwhile, Richmond Indy Media contends that Blackwater blew the levees in New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina came through. Apparently its all part of a secret Nazi agenda.

In the face of accusations that irrational, what can you possibly say?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

How Quickly We Forget...

The Washington Times reported today that when Blackwater asked the State Department for on-board cameras for its vehicles in Iraq, State Department lawyers refused.

Blackwater says it asked for the cameras on 17 May, 2005, "in response to a false accusation against one of our teams in Baghdad." A State Department Diplomatic Security agent in Baghdad, David Brackins, agreed to the request, but the next day, State Department official Paul Nassen called Blackwater and told the company to "stand down" because lawyers had "legal issues" and would not allow the company to incorporate the cameras.

Had it been me I might have told the lawyers where to put their "legal issues," but Blackwater, bound by its 1,000-page contract to comply with all State Department specifications, did as it was told. The lessons to be drawn from this debacle are many:

(1) Congress has no will or ability to consider facts more than a month or two old. Especially those that are uncomfortable for certain crusading congressmen.

(2) The State Department does not want to give its own contractors the benefit of a video record for their own defense and failed to anticipate the (fairly obvious) desire of the Congress and the media to have better documentation of what goes on in Iraq.

(3) Following State Department directives, per your contract, is perhaps more dangerous than following the contract. Only a man as honorable as Erik Prince would stick by his word in a situation like that. Somehow, I doubt Congressman Henry Waxman would...

The Boston Tea Party: A Model of Political Warfare (Part I)

Any political warfare campaign – be it an attempt to remove a member of the local school board or an effort to foment rebellion in a foreign country – requires a variety of people, all of which the Boston Tea Party had, in its own way. Leaders from the political classes provide access to and familiarity with the traditional levers of political power; even if these cannot be fully utilized, political leadership may at least be able to neutralize them. In the case of the Tea Party, this leadership came from the North End Caucus, a sort of local political club.

Most acts of political warfare require that someone actually do something, be it knocking on doors and promoting a candidate or throwing tea off a ship; these sorts of things can require large numbers of people, often people with skills or experiences differing from those of the political leadership. Tying together the Boston longshoremen and the North End Caucus were middle class Bostonians who had social and familial ties to the world of the wharf. These men were networkers – people with a variety of connections who are able to speak to different audiences – and every political warfare campaign needs them to hold together various elements.

Whatever strata of society they come from or whatever role they play in the campaign, those with something to lose are obvious participants; they have a real stake in the outcome. For the Boston Tea Party it was the "smuggling fraternity" that had such stake and they proved willing cooperators with Samuel Adams (pictured above) and the other patriot leaders.

Finally, allies outside the immediate area of concern can be very helpful, providing moral or material support in times of difficulty; in addition, gathering allies before the opposition does prevents him from gaining any advantage by widening the conflict. Boston's Committee of Correspondence was instrumental in keeping the merchants of Philadelphia and New York in touch with and supportive of the patriot cause.

(Click here for Part II)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Stephen Colbert: Political Warrior?

The more I watch this man's presidential campaign, the more I'm intrigued. Many people would be tempted to dismiss Stephen Colbert, host of The Colbert Report, as a late-night comedian pulling a publicity stunt. And maybe he is. But is a presidential campaign really that different from a publicity stunt?

He makes innovative use of online and television media; he ridicules his rivals and the system in which he's running, saying the things the rest of us have long been thinking; and he's fun to watch! While the campaign as a whole can probably not be taken seriously, individual lessons in reaching and mobilizing a base abound. Political warriors of the world: take note.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

NYT Hunts for Contractors

Already one of the leading newspapers critical of Blackwater, the New York Times has extended its front to other contractors in Iraq. An incident last Thursday near Kirkuk that implicated security guards for British company Erinys International highlighted this.

The last statement in an interview with one of the three Iraqis injured by Erinys, emphasized (in a lone paragraph) that the guards involved are “savages and criminals and killers.” Paraphrasing the interview, the NYT reported that the “guards then drove away without offering medical help…”

With such biased language against security contractors, one cannot help but notice the empathy card that the NYT is trying to put on the Iraqis involved. This goes against the fact that their car approached “at a high rate of speed” and failed to respond to warnings from contractors, thus prompting engagement.

As a side note, the other half of the (rather large) Friday article continues not on contractors, but on Kurdish responses to Turkey and Iraqi reservations about executing former officials of Saddam’s government. At first glance, the article’s length implies a rather extensive expose on security contractors, but instead detours to other matters.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Those Pesky Little Details...

Andy Smith, a former Blackwater employee now with the State Department, pointed out an interesting little detail that was picked up in the Star-Gazette. One picture of the aftermath of the 16 September shooting in Nisoor Square in Iraq, showed piles of shell casings being swept up. Just further proof that Blackwater guards are trigger happy, right? Actually, no. As Smith explains, those were AK-47 rounds. Blackwater doesn't use AKs.

So what does this picture really tell us? First, the Blackwater convoy came under very heavy fire. Second, someone felt the need to sweep up the evidence. Before the Iraqi government conducted its investigation? Wouldn't surprise me. Explains why several reports found only American ammunition was found laying around the scene when the investigators showed up.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Anti-Blackwater Attorneys Slammed

"A legal group with a four-decade record of aiding and abetting terrorists, spies and cop-killers is suing" Blackwater for the September 16 Nisoor Square tragedy in Baghdad, according to an op-ed in the New York Post. "Joining it is an Egyptian attorney who has been representing what the US Treasury Department calls a fund-raising operation for al Qaeda."

That's some pretty shady stuff...

The column, by Center for Security Policy Vice President Michael Waller, takes a look at the checkered past of the Center for Constitutional Rights and its president, Michael Ratner, to show their decades-long efforts on behalf of terrorists, murderers of FBI agents and police officers, and Communist spies.

The column also links pro-terrorist attorney Ratner to Jeremy Scahill, author of an inflammatory if partially accurate book about Blackwater, showing how the lawyer and writer worked together to try to keep Serbian war criminal Slobodan Milosevic in power. For folks who claim to be interested in human rights, that's an odd line to take...

Monday, October 15, 2007

Prince Discusses Blackwater Personnel

Tonight Erik Prince explained to Charlie Rose some of the process that goes into recruiting and training Blackwater personnel. Contrary to popular mythology, not just any Joe off the street makes the cut. In fact, the Blackwater contract with the State Department, called the Worldwide Personal Protective Services Contract (WPPS), details in nearly a thousand pages of minute detail how Blackwater is to conduct itself, including how it recruits and trains. As Prince explains,
[This document covers in] very exhaustive detail of the kind of person we have to hire, the resume requirements, the military experience or law enforcement, the psychological checks, the criminal background checks, medical/dental screening, additional training, 160 plus hours in driving, firearms, use of force, cultural sensitivity, full range of training. We have to do an exhaustive training program for each of those persons, so we do the recruiting, vetting, equipping, training, deploying, all back to a State Department standard. It's observed by the State Department. They send their people to observe our training, go through the resumes of the instructors, and we deploy that person, and then they come under the operational control of the US government, in this case, of the State Department.

Why don't you ever hear the media talking about the WPPS? Or would researching their material be too much trouble...?

Making the Move to the Private Sector

A common criticism of private military contractors is that their employees - typically former Marines, SEALs, Rangers or other special forces - receive extensive training from the government, only to then move to the private sector where they can make more money. But a recent Washington Post article explains that Blackwater trains not only trains US law enforcement authorities, but also Army and Navy personnel. So it turns out that the folks moving to the private sector received their training... in the private sector. Go figure.

Perhaps more to the point, the critics of private security contractors fail to realize the nature of these men. In the special operations community, men usually stay operational for a small duration after which the command assigns them to staff work. Instead of languishing at a desk, many soldiers and sailors retire from the military not just to make more money, but also to return to the battlefield: the place they've been trained to be, the place were they belong.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Prince Appears on 60 Minutes

Erik Prince, founder and CEO of the Blackwater private security contractor, talked with 60 Minutes' Lara Logan. His reception was hardly a welcome one, with Logan claiming that “a Blackwater convoy opened fire without provocation,” after having just described a “massive car bomb” attack.

In spite of this, Logan had to admit that the Iraqi government's criticism of Blackwater may not be well founded. She asked:

When you hear the Iraqi government complete an investigation in record time, I think–a matter of days – and pronounce you 100% guilty, what’s your reaction to that?
Prince answered:
I take it all with a grain of salt. Three of our fully-armored State Department trucks had bullet pockmarkets in them and one of them was even disabled from the enemy small-arms fire.

Regarding the Department of Justice' investigation of his company, Prince explained:
I’m glad the FBI’s investigating; I’m glad they can be a neutral party and if there’s further investigation or prosecution even needed – if someone really did wrong and meant badly – I’m all supportive because… we want justice done. We want more oversight. We want more accountability.

Prince said one of the things he's most proud of is the way Blackwater has gone beyond its contracts to help others, as in the case of the rescue of the Polish ambassador earlier this month, a feat of considerable technical skill.

The Truth About Order 17

The Washington Post recently claimed that "when [L. Paul] Bremer left his post, he signed an order exempting U.S. contractors such as Blackwater from being prosecuted under Iraqi law." This is a common misconception and it's sad to see a major publication like the Washington Post getting this wrong.

The order in question is Order 17, which stipulates that "Contractors shall be immune from Iraqi legal process with respect to acts performed by them pursuant to the terms and conditions of a Contract or any sub-contract thereto." In other words, contractors getting drunk and causing trouble in their spare time get no immunity. This is quite different from national military forces, which are unequivocally "immune from Iraqi legal process." In this regard, private security contractors are actually more accountable than the US military.

Playing the Numbers Game

Lots of folks like to point out that there are as many contractors in Iraq as their are US soldiers. However, a recent Washington Post article points out that this is misleading. Though "the estimated 160,000 contractors of all stripes working in Iraq equal the number of war fighters," of those, "security contractors number about 48,000," or less than one third of the total number of contractors. This is not a secret army; most of these guys are truck drivers, cooks, translators and other support personnel aiding the US military. But you won't hear critics of the war or the Bush administration clarifying these sorts of details...

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Is Clinton Responsible for Blackwater?

This morning the Washington Post, not normally one of my favorite newspapers, ran an interesting article on Blackwater and its founder, Erik Prince. The article notes that:
Blackwater's extraordinary rise would not have been possible without a swirl of historic forces, including sharp cuts in military and security staffing in the 1990s.... Over the past seven years, federal agencies have used changes in contracting rules launched during the Clinton administration to outsource an unprecedented amount of government business, including life-and-death duties once the domain of the military.
So while Bush the Younger usually gets most of the credit for the privitization of US military operations, in fact the opportunity to do so only came about as a result of the massive military cuts made by two Clinton administrations. Or did it?...

A host of public-private partnerships existed during World War II, from intelligence analysis to weapons development to language training for counterintelligence personnel. But America's use of what today would be termed 'contractors' in fact goes back much farther. Captain Myles Standish, of Pilgrim fame, was a hired security contractor, as were many figures in the early days of American settlement. This is not really surprising, since public-private partnerships were common in the Anglo-American tradition at least as far back as Elizabethan England. Sir Francis Walsingham, Sir Francis Drake, Sir John Hawkins, Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare and the other men the Elizabeth employed probably worried little about the precise nature of their work with the government. They were serving Queen and country, and that was what mattered.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Merchant of Death

While there’s no shortage of books on international terrorism, drug cartels and genocide, the international weapons trade has received less attention. Journalists [Douglas] Farah and [Stephen] Braun center their absorbing exposé of this source of global misery on its most successful practitioner, the Russian dealer Victor Bout (pictured, in the Congo). Throughout the Cold War, they show, the Kremlin supplied arms to oppressive regimes and insurgent groups, keeping close tabs on customers; after the USSR collapsed, the floodgates opened in the 1990s. With weapons factories starved for customers, Soviet-era air transports lying idle and rusting, and dictators, warlords and insurgents throughout the world clamoring for arms, entrepreneurs and organized criminals saw fortunes to be made. The authors paint a depressing picture of an avalanche of war-making material pouring into poor, violence-wracked nations despite well-publicized UN embargoes. America denounces this trade, but turns a blind eye if recipients proclaim they are fighting terrorism, they say. Ruthless people who shun publicity make poor biographical subjects, and Bout is no exception. The authors’ energetic research reveals that rivals dislike him, colleagues admire him, enemies condemn him, and Bout describes himself as a much-maligned but honest businessman. Although an unsatisfactory portrait, the book surrounds it with an engrossing, detailed description of this wildly destructive traffic.

-Publishers Weekley

A fascinating interview with Merchant of Death author Douglas Farah on Al Jazeera's English service. Includes a phone conversation with Richard Chichakli, a close associate of the elusive Mr. Bout.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Washington Post obscures truth on Blackwater

The front page of today's Express, the free daily put out by the Washington Post, carries an AP story which misleads the reader about the Blackwater private security contractor. The tagline proclaims: "Investigation finds security guards fired first in shootings."

Whose investigation? The Iraqi government's. The same Iraqi government that the Washington Post and its ilk was lambasting not so long ago because it failed to meet the US standards for transparency, accountability and other such Western nicities. But apparently we now trust it to conduct investigations about our own citizens. Never mind those allegations that Blackwater refused to pay the bribe the Iraqi Interior Ministry demanded of it, resulting in having its license pulled. Never mind that the Iraqi government has tried to wiggle its way out of a joint US-Iraqi probe, to avoid a full investigation. Never mind that Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Qader Mohammed Jassim admitted to the International Herald Tribune that his investigation was one-sided...

Is the Post really interested in the truth?

Blackwater Stays - With New Rules

The New York Times reports:
The State Department, seeking to retain its relationship with Blackwater USA while trying to bring the company’s armed guards under tighter control, said Friday that it would now send its own personnel as monitors on all Blackwater security convoys in and around Baghdad.

In addition, the department says it will install video cameras in Blackwater vehicles and will save recordings of all radio transmissions between Blackwater convoys and military and civilian agencies.

What does all this mean? The knee-jerk answer is that Blackwater has been reigned in and punished in some way. This is true so far as it goes, but it misses a key underlying point: the State Department wants Blackwater to stay in Iraq. And why? Because without Blackwater protection, US diplomats would have to pull up stakes and come home. The situation is simply too dangerous to operate without protection. The Department of Defense is too busy fighting insurgents and State Department guards are inadequate for the task.

The most alarming part of this story is that the anti-war camp knows just how important Blackwater is ensuring that US diplomats are able to provide a political dimension to US efforts in Iraq. Without the diplomats, the military component alone cannot win the war. And the anti-war camp knows this. That's why they want Blackwater out. The anti-war camp's not interested in the safety of Iraqi civilians or US government personnel; they just want to see us out now. And they're willing to resort to dirty politics and frivolous lawsuits to do it.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

US Captures al-Qaeda Propagandists

For all the failures that my have occurred in Iraq, US officials have realized the importance of the political dimension of the war. USA Today reported that a half dozen al-Qaeda media centers have recently been captured, with twenty propagandists arrested. The insurgents understand the crucial role of the media in this fight and have used it to strong effect. In 2005, Ayman al-Zawahiri (pictured), Osama bin Laden's deputy, said that most "of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media."

USA Today reports that these "new offensives [are] aimed at al-Qaeda sanctuaries and [have] an emphasis on blunting the terrorist group's extensive propaganda operations." Air Force Col. Donald Bacon explains that "one of our goals is to target these propaganda networks, and we've had more success over the past three months." These seizures have sharply reduced the quantity of videos and other items posted to the internet.

New Magazine Takes a New Look

A new magazine titled Serviam (Latin for "I will serve") has just been launched, and it takes an interesting new look at the role of private institutions in international stability. The magazine describes its mission thus:
To provide accurate and actionable information about private sector solutions to promote global stability. We address users and consumers of private goods and services in the humanitarian relief, national development, security and military sectors; government and private providers of such goods and services; and government entities involved in decisions that determine or influence trends in this growing industry.

While Blackwater and the International Red Cross might strike some as strange bedfellows, they actually have a surprising amount in common. Not only are both private institutions engaged in the international scene, but security is a prerequisite for humanitarian aid and reconstruction. Without security, aid is all but impossible; without a humanitarian motive, security is pointless.

So keep an eye out for interesting, innovative and enlightening articles from Serviam and its editor, J. Michael Waller.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Blackwater Rescues Polish Diplomat

This just in from the Associated Press:
A daring ambush of bombs and gunfire left Poland's ambassador [to Iraq] pinned down in a burning vehicle Wednesday before being pulled to safety and airlifted in a rescue mission by the embattled security firm Blackwater USA.

Though Blackwater was not involved in the protection of the Polish convoy, the State Department dispatched the private security contractor for a rescue mission when news of the attack came in.

The AP reports that "American authorities confiscated an AP Television News videotape that contained scenes of the wounded being evacuated. US military spokesman Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl told AP that Iraqi law make it illegal to photograph or videotape the aftermath of bombings or other attacks." However, videos have shown up on YouTube, only to be pulled for various reasons. Statecraft & Security will keep looking until we can find you one.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Art and Culture in the War of Ideas

Supporters of the Iraqi insurgency have begun producing Hollywood-style movie posters, most based on horror or action movies, satirizing the American military. While the precise origin of the posters is unclear, Britain's Sky News, the only media outlet to cover the matter, reported this summer that the images are proliferating on Islamic extremist websites, which attribute them to the insurgents themselves.

One blogger who picked up the story noted that the insurgents "show a native fluency in American popular culture." This indeed raises a variety of questions about culture, popular or otherwise.

Is culture the type of thing that can be used or abused?

Is art merely techne, the ability to craft something well? In that case, might we call this latest propaganda campaign by these mufsidun "good art"? Or does art necessarily have a moral dimension?

Finally, do cultures have an innate value, or are all equal? As a practical matter, should we be studying the enemy, in order to bring this sort of propaganda to his camp, or is there something inherently wrong with this, if his culture is intrinsically disordered? Is his culture so disordered?

Saturday, September 8, 2007

NATO planes intercept Russian bombers

As if we needed more reason to be worried that Pooty-Poot wants to bring back the glory days of the Cold War, the AP reports
Norwegian and British fighters scrambled... to intercept eight Russian bombers that neared the Nordic country's territory in the latest show of air power by the Kremlin.... The Tu-95 strategic bombers rounded Norway's northern tip over the Barents Sea and flew south over the North Atlantic before turning back, Norwegian defense officials said. The Russian planes... stayed inside international air space during the maneuvers.

Lt. Col. John Inge Oeglaend, of the Norwegian Joint Headquarters, explained that two Norwegian F-16s were sent up both times that the Russian aircraft approached Norwegian territory. He said it was the third time since mid-July that Norwegian fighters have scrambled to counter Russian maneuvers. NATO spokesman James Appathurai said Norway and Britain launched quick-reaction interceptor and airborne-warning planes and tankers "as part of routine NATO procedure."

Thursday, July 26, 2007

There's good news... and bad news

The FT recently ran the following headline: "Good news: you are unlikely to be nuked any time soon." This is indeed good news, the sort I like to read over my morning bowl of oatmeal.

As Gideon Rachman points out, nuclear technology, though sixty years old, is still very difficult to master. And the 1999 example of the Kargil War shows that nuclear powers tend to actually be rather restrained with their wares. Good news indeed.

There are, however, several related issues you should be worrying about (not to mention the Chinese threat).

First, Rachman - or at least those he's commenting upon - forget that there are other weapons of mass destruction besides nuclear ones. Chemical and biological weapons are much simpler to build and still terribly dangerous. And Russia has lots of them just sitting around, waiting to be stolen or sold on the black market. Even if the Russian government wants to be a good steward of these weapons and keep them out of the hands of terrorists, the Russian government itself doesn't know where all its weapons are. That's why a new blog on Russian biological and chemical weapons is highlighting the danger of non-state transfers of these things.

Of course there's no reason to assume the Russians have any desire to act responsibly. Just yesterday Vladimir Putin, known to the White House as Pooty-Poot, said Russia must continue to strengthen its military and step up spying on the West. And seeing as how Pooty-Poot tends to get what he wants in Russia, we can look forward to these developments in the coming months and years.

And if you don't yet have sufficient cause for concern, consider that Russia has just launched a submarine expedition to the North Pole on the logic that "The Arctic is ours and we should demonstrate our presence." Nevermind that the area is nowhere close to Russia's internationally recognized territorial waters; they're claiming this now too.