TBR News March 1, 2011

Mar 01 2011


The Voice of the White House

Вот – новые диски WikiLeaks!

              Washington, D.C. February 27, 2011: “A Chinese philosopher once said he wished to be spared from living in interesting times. He would have been very unhappy to be alive these days. There is nothing but growing economic, political and global disasters erupting on a daily basis. Some ponderous pundits have intoned that the current upheavals in the Middle East were caused by the WikiLeaks cables. This is an error. The conditions for the spreading revolt against U.S. supported dictatorial oil kings already existed when, in November of 2010, WikiLeaks released over a quarter of a million U. S, diplomatic cables. Many of these were released by the media and then the troubles started. Initially, Assange was pointedly ignored by the U.S. government but as the messages were repeated across the globe, the administration retaliated by getting a bank to freeze Assange’s defense fund and cut off Mastercard-facilitated donations. This backfired when Assange’s supporters struck at various commercian entities, broke into government front agencies computers and generally raised havoc. The U.S> has made frantic efforts to keep Assange in jail until they could get him extradited to America where he would vanish like poor Bradley Manning and probably tortured by giggling CIA operatives in a secret jail cell.  Future releases, we have been reliably informed, contain wonderful private emails of Rupert Murdoch, the pre-Alzheimers press baron and right-wing lunatic, the thoroughly crooked Bank of America and the malicious Koch brothers. Even if Julian was hit on the head by a dead cow dropped on him from a passing Air America cargo plane, all of this juicy material has been sent out to a number of people and would entertain everyone. Interesting times, indeed. The world economy is collapsing everywhere, there is growing political upheaval in the Middle East, Precious Mother Israel is finding itself alone in a forest of Muslim wolves and Obama is running around in circles, giving speeches and doing nothing.”

Army of Fake Social Media Friends to Promote Propaganda

Does a code of ethics still exist in Intelligence firms? Does it disappear behind closed doors, dirty deeds done in the dark and used against the American people who are supposed to be free to express themselves?


February 23, 2011

by Darlene Storm


            It’s recently been revealed that the U.S. government contracted HBGary Federal for the development of software which could create multiple fake social media profiles to manipulate and sway public opinion on controversial issues by promoting propaganda. It could also be used as surveillance to find public opinions with points of view the powers-that-be didn’t like. It could then potentially have their “fake” people run smear campaigns against those “real” people. As disturbing as this is, it’s not really new for U.S. intelligence or private intelligence firms to do the dirty work behind closed doors.

            EFF previously warned that Big Brother wants to be your friend for social media surveillance. While the FBI Intelligence Information Report Handbook (PDF) mentioned using “covert accounts” to access protected information, other government agencies endorsed using security exploits to access protected information.

            It’s not a big surprise that the U.S. military also wants to use social media to its benefit. Last year, Public Intelligence published the U.S. Air Force social media guide which gave 10 tips for social media such as, “The enemy is engaged in this battlespace and you must engage there as well.” Number three was “DON’T LIE. Credibility is critical, without it, no one cares what you have to say…it’s also punishable by the UCMJ to give a false statement.” The Air Force used the chart below to show how social media influences public opinion.

            The 6th Contracting Squadron at MacDill Air Force Base sought the development of Persona Management Software which could be used for creating and managing fake profiles on social media sites to distort the truth and make it appear as if there was a generally accepted agreement on controversial issues. “Personas must be able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world and can interact through conventional online services and social media platforms.” What happened to don’t lie and the Uniform Code of Military Justice?

             Everything revealed after Anonymous leaked emails from private security firm HBGary Federal is disturbing on many levels. However, the Daily Kos said with the Persona Management Software it would take very few people to create “an army of sockpuppets” which could distort the truth while appearing to be “an entire Brooks Brothers riot online.”

            So again I ask, what happened to number three . . . the rule about not lying that was also “punishable by the UCMJ to give a false statement”?

             President and CEO of Plessas Experts Network, Inc, Kirby Plessas pointed out some of the unethical and potentially illegal activities that Aaron Barr’s leaked emails suggested like “Chumming and baiting” which sounded like “entrapment of some sort.” There would be no warrant for the data collected on individuals which could then be stored for how long? “THIS is the entire reason Intelligence Oversight was created — to avoid this sort of thing from ever happening again.”

             According to Redacted News, the leaked emails showed how names can be cross-referenced across social media sites to collect information on people and then used to gain access to those social ciricles. The emails also talked of how Facebook could be used to spread government messages:

Even the most restrictive and security conscious of persons can be exploited. Through the targeting and information reconnaissance phase, a person’s hometown and high school will be revealed. An adversary can create a classmates.com account at the same high school and year and find out people you went to high school with that do not have Facebook accounts, then create the account and send a friend request.

Under the mutual friend decision, which is where most people can be exploited, an adversary can look at a targets friend list if it is exposed and find a targets most socially promiscuous friends, the ones that have over 300-500 friends, friend them to develop mutual friends before sending a friend request to the target. To that end friend’s accounts can be compromised and used to post malicious material to a targets wall. When choosing to participate in social media an individual is only as protected as his/her weakest friend.

            Lots of people have multiple online aliases, Facebook or Twitter accounts for both business and private life. What most bothers me is the lying and seemingly unethical means to an end. Although the government says it doesn’t approve of censorship, etc, when its secrets come to light, it seems to be Okay with recommending underhanded tactics.

             Secretary Clinton delivered a speech called, “Internet Rights and Wrongs: Choices and Challenges In A Networked World.” To help promote and support Internet freedom, the State Department intends to award $25 million in grants. While that is great news, the EFF reported, “For every strong statement about preserving liberty, freedom of expression, and privacy on the global Internet, there exists a countervailing example of the United States attempting to undermine those same values.”

             Secretary Clinton later told “This Week” anchor Christiane Amanpou that most Americans “are in favor of human rights, freedom, democracy. We know that ultimately the most progress that can be made on behalf of human beings anywhere is when those individuals are empowered, when they have governments that are responsive.” Clinton added, “At the same time, we recognize that this process can be hijacked. It can be hijacked by both outside and inside elements within any country.”

            So while the U.S. government can talk a good talk, what it does and what it says often doesn’t seem to jive. Gasp, I know, it’s not a big shocker but sometimes I find that utterly frustrating. The President wanted an Internet Kill Switch, the FBI keeps pushing for backdoors on all-things-Net. What happened to a code of ethics? Does it disappear behind closed doors, dirty deeds done in the dark and used against the American people who are supposed to be free to express themselves?


Gaddifi apparently no longer in control: Berlusconi

Gaddafi forces abandon Tripoli neighborhoods


February 26, 2011


TRIPOLI -Poor neighborhoods of the Libyan capital Tripoli openly defied Muammar Gaddafi on Saturday as his grip on power after 41 years of rule looked increasingly tenuous in the face of nationwide revolt.

            Security forces had abandoned the working-class Tajoura district after five days of anti-government demonstrations, residents told foreign correspondents who visited the area.

            The residents said troops opened fire on demonstrators who tried to march from Tajoura to central Green Square overnight, killing at least five people. The number could not be independently confirmed.

            A funeral on Saturday morning for one of the victims turned into another show of defiance against Gaddafi.

             “Everyone in Tajoura came out against the government. We saw them killing our people here and everywhere in Libya,” a man who identified himself as Ali, aged 25, told Reuters.

            “We will demonstrate again and again, today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow until they change.”

            The scene in Tajoura contradicted statements by Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who told reporters on Friday night that peace was returning to Libya.

            Much of the east of the oil-producing country, including the second city Benghazi, is in opposition forces’ hands.

             Gaddafi’s strongest European ally, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said at a political rally in Rome on Saturday that Gaddafi appears to be no longer in control of the situation in his country,

            “It seems that effectively Gaddafi no longer controls the situation in Libya… If we can all come to an agreement, we can end this bloodbath and support the Libyan people,” Berlusconi said.

             Referring to North Africa as a whole after revolts in Egypt and Tunisia, he added: “Those peoples could come closer to democracy but we could be faced with dangerous centers of Islamic fundamentalism.”

             Berlusconi came under heavy criticism in Italy earlier this week for his tardiness in condemning Kadhafi’s bloody crackdown against protests.

            Italy is Libya’s former colonial ruler and has become its top trade partner after Rome and Tripoli signed a friendship treaty in 2008.

             Opposition politicians have said Italy should suspend the treaty, which has eased massive investments and imposed a harsh clampdown on illegal immigration.

Punitive actions

            Foreign powers met to discuss punitive actions against Gaddafi and expressed outrage at the tactics used to try to crush the revolt, the bloodiest of a wave of pro-democracy uprisings in the Arab world which has already swept away the longtime rulers of Tunisia and Egypt.

            In Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama signed an order prohibiting transactions related to Libya.

            “By any measure, Muammar Gaddafi’s government has violated international norms and common decency and must be held accountable,” Obama said in a statement on Friday.

             Diplomats at the United Nations said a vote on a draft resolution calling for an arms embargo on Libya as well as travel bans and asset freezes on its leaders might come on Saturday after U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said it could not wait.

 In Tajoura, protesters had erected barricades of rocks and palm trees across rubbish-strewn streets, and graffiti covered many walls.

            Pro-Gaddafi security forces were nowhere to be seen on Saturday morning but bullet holes in the walls of the tightly packed houses bore testimony to the violence of recent days.

            Several thousand people attended the funeral of one of the dead from Friday night’s shooting, which quickly turned into another demonstration.

             “Gaddafi is the enemy of God,” the crowd chanted.

            One man named Ismail, who said he was unemployed, told Reuters: “Gaddafi forces came here, they shot everywhere during a demonstration that was peaceful.”

            Another man said he had seen 20 dead bodies in past two days.

             Gaddafi’s camp took an optimistic view of the situation confronting the man who took over Libya as a young colonel in a 1969 military coup.

            “Peace is coming back to our country,” Saif al-Islam Gaddafi told reporters flown into Libya under close government supervision.

            “If you hear fireworks don’t mistake it for shooting,” said the 38-year-old London-educated younger Gaddafi, smiling.

            He acknowledged pro-Gaddafi forces had “a problem” with Misrata, Libya’s third city, and Zawiyah, also in the west, where protesters had beaten back counter-attacks by the military, but he said the army was prepared to negotiate.

             “Hopefully there will be no more bloodshed. By tomorrow we will solve this,” he said.

            A government-escorted trip to Zawiyah for the foreign media planned for Saturday morning was called off.

            Gaddafi himself vowed to “crush any enemy” on Friday before a crowd of supporters in Green Square and threatened to open military arsenals to his supporters and tribesmen.

            State television said the government was raising wages and food subsidies and ordering special allowances for all families, a late bid to enroll the support of Libya’s 6 million citizens.

            In recent days, the flamboyant Gaddafi has made several appearances railing against his enemies as rats and cockroaches and blaming the unrest on a range of foes from the United States and Israel to al Qaeda militants and youths high on drugs.

            The revolt came as a surprise to the West, which once reviled Gaddafi as pariah due to his support for revolutionary movements and incidents such as the 1988 Lockerbie airliner bombing but later sought a rapprochement driven by oil deals and other commercial opportunities.

             Diplomats say some 2,000 or more people have been killed across the country.

             Protesters in Zawiyah, an oil refining town on the main coastal highway 50 km (30 miles) west of Tripoli, fought off government forces on several nights, according to witnesses who fled across the Tunisian border at Ras Jdir.

            “There are corpses everywhere. It’s a war in the true sense of the word,” said Akila Jmaa, who crossed into Tunisia on Friday after travelling from the town.

            In the east, ad hoc committees of lawyers, doctors, tribal elders and soldiers appeared to be filling the vacuum left by Gaddafi’s government with some success.

            At Tripoli’s international airport, thousands of desperate foreign workers besieged the main gate trying to leave the country as police used batons and whips to keep them out.

             Washington, having evacuated Americans from Libya after days of difficulties, said it was closing down its embassy.

             Prosecutor-general Abdul-Rahman al-Abbar became the latest senior Libyan official to resign, telling al Arabiya television he was joining the opposition. Libya’s delegations to the Arab League and the United Nations in Geneva also switched sides.

            Libya supplies 2 percent of the world’s oil, the bulk of it from wells and supply terminals in the east. The opposition says it controls nearly all oilfields east of Ras Lanuf.

            Industry sources told Reuters that crude oil shipments from Libya, the world’s 12th-largest exporter, had all but stopped because of reduced production, a lack of staff at ports and security concerns.

Gadhafi’s long rule may be a mystery, but ending isn’t

February 25, 2011

by Ameera Butt and Jonathan S. Landay
McClatchy Newspapers

              WASHINGTON — It came as no surprise that dictator Moammar Gadhafi, holding an umbrella, vowed to die “a martyr” in his own country during a rambling, semi-coherent speech to the Libyan people earlier this week.

             Eccentricity has always been second nature for the “King of Kings.”

            To the world, he’s known for a Gilbert and Sullivan array of costumes: dazzling, embroidered kufis — traditional African hats — bomber jackets or shirts with the map of Africa on them.

            Then there’s his flamboyant and iconoclastic disregard for protocol and rules, like wanting to pitch a Bedouin tent in Central Park during the 2009 United Nations General Assembly opening. The media routinely have reported on the entourage of female bodyguards who follow him everywhere.

            Now the one-time army captain who seized power in a 1969 coup is watching his grip over Libya slip away as a 10-day insurrection, fueled by wholesale slaughters of protesters, leaves him and his hardest core loyalists all but cornered in their stronghold of Tripoli.

            When and how his end will come appears to be just a matter of time.

             Gadhafi, at his best odd and troubling to understand, has always fostered a sense of self-importance as he presided over one of the Middle East’s most despotic regimes.

            But lurking within that arrogance and bizarre self-aggrandizement is a desert fox, said Clement Henry, a retired professor of government and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

            “He has had occasional mental episodes, but he’s also a very shrewd guy,” Henry said, adding: “I think Gadhafi today seems completely removed from reality.”

             President Ronald Reagan called him the “mad dog of the Middle East” in the 1980s.

“People say he’s a madman,” Henry said. “But actually I don’t think it’s madness in any conventional sense. The guy is really quite astute.

            “At this point, he is removed from reality just as Hosni Mubarak was. The guy is ready to really do a scorched-earth policy. Remember, Ben Ali and Mubarak also sent their goons in,” Henry said, referring to the toppled leaders of Egypt and Tunisia.

             U.S. diplomats found Gadhafi to be both wily and eccentric, according to State Department cables revealed by WikiLeaks. The Libyan relies heavily on a Ukrainian nurse named Galyna, “who has been described as a ‘voluptuous blonde’,” according to one cable from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.

            They also describe him as a hypochondriac, who insists on having all his medical procedures videotaped and then discussing them with his doctors, and as someone who has a fear of both flying over water and the upper floors of buildings.

            “While it is tempting to dismiss his many eccentricities as signs of instability, Gadhafi is a complicated individual who has managed to stay in power for 40 years through a skillful balancing of interests and realpolitik methods,” one cable concluded.

            Gadhafi has ruthlessly tried to crush the current uprising, strafing rebels with fighter jets and deploying African mercenaries. The final death toll may be in the thousands. Many Libyans fear that he’s preparing a last-ditch stand in Tripoli rather than surrender if the insurrection prevails.

             As a leader, he is hard to describe, said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center based in Doha, Qatar.

            “He’s certainly one of the oddest world leaders in recent memory. It’s hard to find someone who is remotely similar to him in style and demeanor,” Hamid said, adding that Gadhafi is capable of massacring his own people.

            “In that sense he is a unique leader on the world stage,” Hamid said. “He is odd because he is ideologically hard to pin down. He’s someone who has dabbled in nationalism, socialism — everything except democracy.”

            Gadhafi is a member of the Gadhadhfa, an Arabized Berber tribe, born near Sirte, once a hard-scrabble town in north-central Libya that he has lavished with money and development funded by oil income.

            At age 27, he led other young army officers of rural backgrounds in the bloodless overthrow of King Idris, inspired by the heady brew of pan-Arab nationalism and socialism espoused by then-Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

            Gadhafi seemed to emulate Nasser, an officer who also had seized power in a coup. Like Nasser, Gadhafi dubbed his takeover a revolution, had himself given Nasser’s rank of colonel, and advocated the creation of an Arab federation of Egypt, Syria and Libya.

            “He was young, nationalistic and imperialistic, charismatic even perhaps. So he seemed that he would adopt that approach and style, but that didn’t last very long,” Hamid said.

            Gadhafi pursued nationalistic policies designed to protect “national independence.” He pushed the U.S. out of its largest airbase in the region, expelled Italian expatriates and confiscated their properties and nationalized some Western oil operations.

            In the early 1970s, Gadhafi improved relations with the Soviet Union and began sponsoring separatist, Marxist, anti-imperialist and anti-Israel terrorist groups, earning the enmity of the U.S. and other powers.

            In 1977, he presided over an overhaul of Libya’s political system, creating what he claimed was decentralized popular rule through grassroots committees and changing the country’s name to the Great Socialist Popular Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.

            In actual fact, experts said, the overhaul further concentrated power in the hands of Gadhafi, who presided over a police state in which the creation of independent political parties was punishable by death and where detention without charge, torture and executions were common.

            In 1986, after Libya was suspected of involvement in the bombing of a German disco where U.S. soldiers were killed, Reagan dispatched U.S. jets to attack Gadhafi’s residence in Tripoli. Gadhafi’s adopted daughter — he has seven sons — was killed.

            There’s always been a pan-Arab nationalist side of Gadhafi, which turned into dabbling with pan-Africanism.

            “He never had a strong ideological commitment to anything except his own desire to rule,” Hamid said.

            In the 1970s, Gadhafi published his philosophical manifesto — akin to other famous revolutionaries’ books — called “The Green Book.”

            The most notorious incident of the 68-year-old leader’s rule was the 1988 bombing by Libya that killed 270 people aboard a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland. In response, the United Nations slapped Libya with sanctions that remained in place until 2003, when Gadhafi owned up to his country’s involvement in the attack and compensated the victims’ families.

             Just this week after defecting to the opposition, former Justice Minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil alleged that Gadhafi was directly involved in the bombing.

            Gadhafi also agreed in 2003 to relinquish his covert weapons of mass destruction programs, including a nuclear weapons development program, breaking the international isolation in which he had confined his country.

            “He was initially taken seriously and eventually seen as a clown and a buffoon,” Hamid said. “Someone who saw much greater fortunes decades ago and became irrelevant and just besides the point. Nobody takes him seriously, except, of course, now.”

             Gadhafi’s fate may come down to two scenarios: death or exile, possibly to Venezuela, whose ruler, President Hugo Chavez, is one of the Libyan leader’s few sympathizers.

             “One possibility is to convince him to live the rest of the days in Venezuela,” Hamid said. “But he’s made it clear he wants to fight to the last drop of blood. I think we can picture Gadhafi doing just that.”

            (Butt reports for the Merced Sun-Star. Landay reported from Washington.)


Tuesday, 29 September 2009, 17:21
EO 12958 DECL: 9/29/2019
CLASSIFIED BY: XXXXXXXXXXXX, Ambassador, U.S. Embassy Tripoli, Department of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)

1. (S/NF) Summary: Recent first-hand experiences with Libyan Leader Muammar al-Qadhafi XXXXXXXXXXXX primarily in preparation for his UNGA trip, provided rare insights into Qadhafi’s inner circle and personal proclivities. Qadhafi appears to rely heavily on XXXXXXXXXXXX and reportedly cannot travel with his senior Ukrainian nurse, Galyna XXXXXXXXXXXX. He also appears to have an intense dislike or fear of staying on upper floors, reportedly prefers not to fly over water, and seems to enjoy horse racing and flamenco dancing. His recent travel may also suggest a diminished dependence on his legendary female guard force, as only one woman bodyguard accompanied him to New York. End Summary.


2. (S/NF) Muammar al-Qadhafi has been described as both mercurial and eccentric, and our recent first-hand experiences with him and his office, primarily in preparation for his UNGA trip, demonstrated the truth of both characterizations. From the moment Qadhafi’s staff began to prepare for his travel to the United States, XXXXXXXXXXXX various proclivities and phobias began to reveal themselves in every logistical detail. When applying for Qadhafi’s visa, protocol staff asked whether it was necessary for the Leader to submit a portrait of himself that fit consular application regulations, noting that his photo was displayed throughout the city and that anyone of hundreds of billboards could be photographed and shrunken to fit the application’s criteria. When the rule was enforced, protocol staff reluctantly conceded to take a portrait of the Leader specifically for the visa application.

3. (S/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX informed us that the Leader must stay on the first floor of any facility that was rented for him. (XXXXXXXXXXXX told XXXXXXXXXXXX that Qadhafi could not climb more than 35 steps.) XXXXXXXXXXXX cited this requirement as the primary reason that the Libyan residence in New Jersey was selected as the preferred accommodation site rather than the Libyan PermRep’s residence in New York City.XXXXXXXXXXXX also sought to find accommodations with room to pitch Qadhafi’s Bedouin tent, Qadhafi’s traditional site for receiving visitors and conducting meetings, as it offers him a non-verbal way of communicating that he is a man close to his cultural roots.

4. (S/NF) Qadhafi’s dislike of long flights and apparent fear of flying over water also caused logistical headaches XXXXXXXXXXXX explained that the Libyan delegation would arrive from Portugal, as Qadhafi “cannot fly more than eight hours” and would need to overnight in Europe prior to continuing his journey to New York. XXXXXXXXXXXX also revealed in the same conversation that Qadhafi does not like to fly over water. Presumably for similar reasons, Qadhafi’s staff also requested a stop in Newfoundland to break his travel from Venezuela to Libya on September 29. [Note: The Government of Canada recently confirmed that the Libyan delegation canceled plans to stop in Newfoundland. End Note.]


5. (S/NF) Qadhafi appears to be almost obsessively dependent on a small core of trusted personnel. XXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXX appears to play an equally important role in Qadhafi’s personal retinueXXXXXXXXXXXX We constantly hear that XXXXXXXXXXXX also plays a key role XXXXXXXXXXXX also seems to have been tasked with insuring that the Leader’s image is well-preserved through the full array of carefully-planned media events.

6. (S/NF) Finally, Qadhafi relies heavily on his long-time Ukrainian nurse, Galyna XXXXXXXXXXXX, who has been described as a “voluptuous blonde.” Of the rumored staff of four Ukrainian nurses that cater to the Leader’s health and well-being, XXXXXXXXXXXX emphasized to multiple Emboffs that Qadhafi cannot travel without XXXXXXXXXXXX, as she alone “knows his routine.” When XXXXXXXXXXXX’s late visa application resulted in her Security Advisory Opinion being received on the day Qadhafi’s party planned to travel to the U.S., the Libyan Government sent a private jet to ferry her from Libya to Portugal to meet up with the Leader during his rest-stop. Some embassy contacts have claimed that Qadhafi and the 38 year-old XXXXXXXXXXXX have a romantic relationship. While he did not comment on such rumors, a XXXXXXXXXXXX recently confirmed that the Ukrainian nurses “travel everywhere with the Leader.”


7. (S/NF) In addition to the personality quirks revealed through Qadhafi’s travel to New York, the Qadhafi’s preferences for dancing and cultural performances were displayed over the last month. The three-day spectacle of his 40th anniversary in power included performances by dance troupes from Ukraine, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco, as well as musical performances by bands from Mexico, Russia, New Zealand, and a number of other nations. Qadhafi appeared particularly enthralled by Tuareg horse racing during two of the events, clapping and smiling throughout the races. The flamenco dancers that participated in his celebratory events appeared to spark a similar interest, as Qadhafi decided to stop in Seville (for a “personal trip” according to the Spanish Ambassador here) on his way back to Libya from Venezuela specifically to attend a flamenco dance performance. [Note: That stop has reportedly been scrapped for unknown reasons. End note.]


8. (S/NF) While Qadhafi’s reported female guard force has become legendary, it played no role in his travels to New York. Only one female guard was included among the approximately 350-person strong Libyan delegation to New York. This is the same female bodyguard who sticks close to Qadhafi in his domestic and international public appearances and may, in fact, play some sort of formal security role. Observers in Tripoli speculate that the female guard force is beginning to play a diminished role among the Leader’s personal security staff.

9. (S/NF) Comment: Qadhafi’s state visits and appearances at various conferences and summits, both at home and abroad, have revealed greater details about his personality and character. While it is tempting to dismiss his many eccentricities as signs of instability, Qadhafi is a complicated individual who has managed to stay in power for forty years through a skillful balancing of interests and realpolitik methods. Continued engagement with Qadhafi and his inner circle is important not only to learn the motives and interests that drive the world’s longest serving dictator, but also to help overcome the misperceptions that inevitably accumulated during Qadhafi’s decades of isolation. As XXXXXXXXXXXX told us, pointing to a larger-than-life portrait of Qadhafi, “When you have been isolated for so long, it is important to communicate.” End comment.




Rising Oil Prices Pose New Threat to U.S. Economy

February 24, 2011 

by Motoko Rich, Catherine Rampell and David Streitfeld
New York Times

The American economy just can’t catch a break.

Last year, as things started looking up, the European debt crisis flustered the fragile recovery. Now, under similar economic circumstances, comes the turmoil in the Middle East.

Energy prices have surged in recent days, as a result of the political violence in Libya that has disrupted oil production there. Prices are also climbing because of fears the unrest may continue to spread to other oil-producing countries.

If the recent rise in oil prices sticks, it will most likely slow a growth rate that is already too sluggish to produce many jobs in this country. Some economists are predicting that oil prices, just above $97 a barrel on Thursday, could be sustained well above $100 a barrel, a benchmark.

Even if energy costs don’t rise higher, lingering uncertainty over the stability of the Middle East could drag down growth, not just in the United States but around the world.

“We’ve gone beyond responding to the sort of brutal Technicolor of the crisis in Libya,” said Daniel H. Yergin, the oil historian and chairman of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates. “There’s also a strong element of fear of what’s next, and what’s next after next.”

Before the outbreak of violence in Libya, the Federal Reserve had raised its forecast for United States growth in 2011, and a stronger stock market had helped consumers be more confident about the future and more willing to spend.

But other sources of economic uncertainty besides oil prices have come into sharper focus in recent days. After a few false starts, housing prices have slid further. New-home sales dropped sharply in January, as did sales of big-ticket items like appliances, the government reported Thursday.

Though the initial panic from last year has faded, Europe’s deep debt problems remain, creating another wild card for the global economy. Protests turned violent in Greece this week in response to new austerity measures.

Budget and debt problems at all levels of American government also threaten to crimp the domestic recovery. Struggling state and local governments may dismiss more workers this year as many face their deepest shortfalls since the economic downturn began, and a Congressional stalemate over the country’s budget could even lead to a federal government shutdown.

“The irony is that we just barely got ourselves up and off the ground from the devastating financial crisis,” said Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at the Economic Outlook Group, who had been optimistic about the country’s prospects. “The recovery itself is less than two years in, and we haven’t yet seen jobs make a decent comeback. Now we’re being hit with this new, very ominous event, so the timing couldn’t be worse.”

Most economists are not yet talking about the United States dipping back into recession, and it is too soon to tell how far the pro-democracy protests that have roiled Egypt, Bahrain and Libya will spread. For now, most analysts are not predicting that Iran and Saudi Arabia, repressive governments that also happen to be two of the world’s biggest oil producers, will catch the revolutionary fever.

“But revolutions are notoriously difficult to forecast,” said Chris Lafakas, an economist at Moody’s Analytics who focuses on energy. Disruptions of oil supplies in Saudi Arabia and Iran in particular, he said, “would be catastrophic for prices. Saudi Arabia alone could cause maybe a 20 to 25 percent increase in oil prices overnight.”

In the last week, oil prices have risen more than 10 percent and even breached $100 a barrel. A sustained $10 increase in oil prices would shave about two-tenths of a percentage point off economic growth, according to Dean Maki, chief United States economist at Barclays Capital. The Federal Reserve had forecast last week that the United States economy would grow by 3.4 to 3.9 percent in 2011, up from 2.9 percent last year.

Higher oil prices restrain growth because they translate to higher fuel prices for consumers and businesses. Mr. Lafakas estimates that oil prices are on track to average $90 a barrel in 2011, from $80 in 2010, an increase that would offset nearly a quarter of the $120 billion payroll tax cut that Congress had intended to stimulate the economy this year.

Rising gasoline prices have already led Jayme Webb, an office manager at a recycling center in Sioux City, Iowa, and her husband, Ken, who works at Wal-Mart, to cut back on spending.

In the last month, they have canceled their satellite television subscription and their Internet service. They have also stopped driving from their home in rural Moville to Sioux City on weekends to see Ms. Webb’s parents.

Along with making their commutes to work more expensive, rising oil prices have driven up the cost of food for animals and people. So the couple have stopped buying feed for their dozen sheep and goats and six chickens and instead asked neighboring farmers to let them use scraps from their corn fields.

“It’s a struggle,” said Ms. Webb, 49. “We have to watch every little penny.”

A cutback in consumer spending reverberates through the economy by crimping businesses, making it less likely that employers will commit to the additional hiring needed to lower the 9 percent unemployment rate.

“Revenue is down, costs are up, and you can’t make any money,” said R. Jerol Kivett, the owner of Kivett’s Inc., a company that manufactures pews and other church furniture in Clinton, N.C. “You’re just trying to meet payroll and keep people working, hoping the economy will turn. But it just seems like setback after setback after setback.”

And the money that consumers and businesses spend on oil often does not stay within the American economy. Nor do the expanded coffers in oil-producing countries raise demand for American exports, because they often bank it as reserves.

            “The countries that are getting this bonus basically get an enormous benefit,” said Raghuram G. Rajan, an economics professor at the University of Chicago. “But if they can’t spend it quickly, it doesn’t add to aggregate demand.”

The rise in oil prices could also create a vicious cycle, as higher energy costs propel already rising food prices, which in turn can lead to more political unrest and more global uncertainty.

Even without the Middle East, the domestic economy has a number of weaknesses that have proved hard to overcome. The recession was provoked by housing and worsened by housing, and housing is likely to remain frail in parts of the country until the end of the decade.

After a couple of brief growth spurts, home prices have started declining again in earnest.

This week, the Yale economist Robert Shiller speculated about another drop as large as 25 percent. Anything close to that would push millions more households to the point where they owe more on their houses than the houses are worth, generating a lot of sour moods — which can depress consumer spending — more foreclosures and potential job losses.

Even absent such a decline, lenders remain cautious, punishing those who never indulged during the boom.

Maria Schneider and Roger Westerman have plenty of equity in their Brooklyn home, and a 17-year record of paying on time. Last fall, the couple tried to capitalize on historically low mortgage rates and refinance.

They estimated they would save $360 a month. But their lender said they were a bad credit risk. The couple, both 48, are self-employed.

“We could be sending all three of our kids to camp this summer instead of just one,” Mrs. Schneider said.

There are some signs that the economy could weather this latest round of buffeting. Revenue at many companies is back to prerecession levels, said Scott Bohannon, a general manager at the Corporate Executive Board, a research and advisory firm. That suggests companies may start adding equipment, factories and, eventually, workers.

“Of course, if a war breaks out in a significant way or something like that happens,” he said, “then I would give you a different answer. Then you’re talking about huge shocks to the system.”

How will America handle the fall of its Middle East empire?

February 24, 2011

by Peter Oborne

The Daily Telegraph/UK

            Empires can collapse in the course of a generation. At the end of the 16th century, the Spanish looked dominant. Twenty-five years later, they were on their knees, over-extended, bankrupt, and incapable of coping with the emergent maritime powers of Britain and Holland. The British empire reached its fullest extent in 1930. Twenty years later, it was all over.

Today, it is reasonable to ask whether the United States, seemingly invincible a decade ago, will follow the same trajectory. America has suffered two convulsive blows in the last three years. The first was the financial crisis of 2008, whose consequences are yet to be properly felt. Although the immediate cause was the debacle in the mortgage market, the underlying problem was chronic imbalance in the economy.

For a number of years, America has been incapable of funding its domestic programmes and overseas commitments without resorting to massive help from China, its global rival. China has a pressing motive to assist: it needs to sustain US demand in order to provide a market for its exports and thus avert an economic crisis of its own. This situation is the contemporary equivalent of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), the doctrine which prevented nuclear war breaking out between America and Russia.

Unlike MAD, this pact is unsustainable. But Barack Obama has not sought to address the problem. Instead, he responded to the crisis with the same failed policies that caused the trouble in the first place: easy credit and yet more debt. It is certain that America will, in due course, be forced into a massive adjustment both to its living standards at home and its commitments abroad.

This matters because, following the second convulsive blow, America’s global interests are under threat on a scale never before seen. Since 1956, when Secretary of State John Foster Dulles pulled the plug on Britain and France over Suez, the Arab world has been a US domain. At first, there were promises that it would tolerate independence and self-determination. But this did not last long; America chose to govern through brutal and corrupt dictators, supplied with arms, military training and advice from Washington.

The momentous importance of the last few weeks is that this profitable, though morally bankrupt, arrangement appears to be coming to an end. One of the choicest ironies of the bloody and macabre death throes of the regime in Libya is that Colonel Gaddafi would have been wiser to have stayed out of the US sphere of influence. When he joined forces with George Bush and Tony Blair five years ago, the ageing dictator was leaping on to a bandwagon that was about to grind to a halt.

In Washington, President Obama has not been stressing this aspect of affairs. Instead, after hesitation, he has presented the recent uprisings as democratic and even pro-American, indeed a triumph for the latest methods of Western communication such as Twitter and Facebook. Many sympathetic commentators have therefore claimed that the Arab revolutions bear comparison with the 1989 uprising of the peoples of Eastern Europe against Soviet tyranny.

I would guess that the analogy is apt. Just as 1989 saw the collapse of the Russian empire in Eastern Europe, so it now looks as if 2011 will mark the removal of many of America’s client regimes in the Arab world. It is highly unlikely, however, that events will thereafter take the tidy path the White House would prefer. Far from being inspired by Twitter, a great many of Arab people who have driven the sensational events of recent weeks are illiterate. They have been impelled into action by mass poverty and unemployment, allied to a sense of disgust at vast divergences of wealth and grotesque corruption. It is too early to chart the future course of events with confidence, but it seems unlikely that these liberated peoples will look to Washington and New York as their political or economic model.

The great question is whether America will take its diminished status gracefully, or whether it will lash out, as empires in trouble are historically prone to do. Here the White House response gives cause for concern. American insensitivity is well demonstrated in the case of Raymond Davis, the CIA man who shot dead two Pakistanis in Lahore. Hillary Clinton is trying to bully Pakistan into awarding Davis diplomatic immunity. This is incredible behaviour, which shows that the US continues to regard itself as above the law. Were President Zardari, already seen by his fellow countrymen as a pro-American stooge, to comply, his government would almost certainly fall.

Or take President Obama’s decision last week to veto the UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements. Even America itself accepts that these settlements are illegal. At a time when the Middle East is already mutinous, this course of action looks mad.

The biggest problem is that America wants democracy, but only on its own terms. A very good example of this concerns the election of a Hamas government in Gaza in 2006. This should have been a hopeful moment for the Middle East peace process: the election of a government with the legitimacy and power to end violence. But America refused to engage with Hamas, just as it has refused to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, or to acknowledge the well-founded regional aspirations of Iran.

The history of the Arab world since the collapse of the Ottoman caliphate in 1922 can be divided schematically into two periods: open colonial rule under the British and French, followed by America’s invisible empire after the Second World War. Now we are entering a third epoch, when Arab nations, and in due course others, will assert their independence. It is highly unlikely that all of them will choose a path that the Americans want. From the evidence available, President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are muddled and incapable of grasping the nature of current events.

This is where the British, who have deep historical connections with the region, and whose own loss of empire is still within living memory, ought to be able to offer wise and practical advice. So far the Prime Minister, a neophyte in foreign affairs, has not done so. His regional tour of Middle Eastern capitals with a caravan of arms dealers made sense only in terms of the broken settlement of the last 50 years. His speeches might have been scripted by Tony Blair a decade ago, with the identical evasions and hypocrisies. There was no acknowledgment of the great paradigm shift in global politics.

The links between the US and British defence, security and foreign policy establishments are so close that perhaps it is no longer possible for any British government to act independently. When challenged, our ministers always say that we use our influence “behind the scenes” with American allies, rather than challenge them in the open. But this, too, is a failed tactic. I am told, for example, that William Hague tried hard to persuade Hillary Clinton not to veto last week’s Security Council resolution, but was ignored. It is time we became a much more candid friend, because the world is changing faster than we know.

All-American Decline in a New World

Wars, Vampires, Burned Children, and Indelicate Imbalances 

February 25, 2011

by Tom Engelhardt,

This is a global moment unlike any in memory, perhaps in history.  Yes, comparisons can be made to the wave of people power that swept Eastern Europe as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989-91.  For those with longer memories, perhaps 1968 might come to mind, that abortive moment when, in the United States, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, and elsewhere, including Eastern Europe, masses of people mysteriously inspired by each other took to the streets of global cities to proclaim that change was on the way.

For those searching the history books, perhaps you’ve focused on the year 1848 when, in a time that also mixed economic gloom with novel means of disseminating the news, the winds of freedom seemed briefly to sweep across Europe.  And, of course, if enough regimes fall and the turmoil goes deep enough, there’s always 1776, the American Revolution, or 1789, the French one, to consider.  Both shook up the world for decades after.

But here’s the truth of it: you have to strain to fit this Middle Eastern moment into any previous paradigm, even as — from Wisconsin to China – it already threatens to break out of the Arab world and spread like a fever across the planet.  Never in memory have so many unjust or simply despicable rulers felt quite so nervous — or possibly quite so helpless (despite being armed to the teeth) — in the presence of unarmed humanity.  And there has to be joy and hope in that alone.

Even now, without understanding what it is we face, watching staggering numbers of people, many young and dissatisfied, take to the streets in Morocco, Mauritania, Djibouti, Oman, Algeria, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Yemen, and Libya, not to mention Bahrain, Tunisia, and Egypt, would be inspirational.  Watching them face security forces using batons, tear gas, rubber bullets, and in all too many cases, real bullets (in Libya, even helicopters and planes) and somehow grow stronger is little short of unbelievable.  Seeing Arabs demanding something we were convinced was the birthright and property of the West, of the United States in particular, has to send a shiver down anyone’s spine.

The nature of this potentially world-shaking phenomenon remains unknown and probably, at this point, unknowable.  Are freedom and democracy about to break out all over?  And if so, what will that turn out to mean?  If not, what exactly are we seeing?  What light bulb was it that so unexpectedly turned on in millions of Twittered and Facebooked brains — and why now?  I doubt those who are protesting, and in some cases dying, know themselves.  And that’s good news.  That the future remains — always — the land of the unknown should offer us hope, not least because that’s the bane of ruling elites who want to, but never can, take possession of it.

Nonetheless, you would expect that a ruling elite, observing such earth-shaking developments, might rethink its situation, as should the rest of us.  After all, if humanity can suddenly rouse itself this way in the face of the armed power of state after state, then what’s really possible on this planet of ours?

Seeing such scenes repeatedly, who wouldn’t rethink the basics?  Who wouldn’t feel the urge to reimagine our world?

Let me offer as my nominee of choice not various desperate or dying Middle Eastern regimes, but Washington.

Life in the Echo Chamber

So much of what Washington did imagine in these last years proved laughable, even before this moment swept it away.  Just take any old phrase from the Bush years.  How about “You’re either with us or against us”?  What’s striking is how little it means today.  Looking back on Washington’s desperately mistaken assumptions about how our globe works, this might seem like the perfect moment to show some humility in the face of what nobody could have predicted.

It would seem like a good moment for Washington — which, since September 12, 2001, has been remarkably clueless about real developments on this planet and repeatedly miscalculated the nature of global power — to step back and recalibrate.

As it happens, there’s no evidence it’s doing so.  In fact, that may be beyond Washington’s present capabilities, no matter how many billions of dollars it pours into “intelligence.”  And by “Washington,” I mean not just the Obama administration, or the Pentagon, or our military commanders, or the vast intelligence bureaucracy, but all those pundits and think-tankers who swarm the capital, and the media that reports on them all.  It’s as if the cast of characters that makes up “Washington” now lives in some kind of echo chamber in which it can only hear itself talking.

As a result, Washington still seems remarkably determined to play out the string on an era that is all too swiftly passing into the history books.  While many have noticed the Obama administration’s hapless struggle to catch up to events in the Middle East, even as it clings to a familiar coterie of grim autocrats and oil sheiks, let me illustrate this point in another area entirely — the largely forgotten war in Afghanistan.  After all, hardly noticed, buried beneath 24/7 news from Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, and elsewhere in the Middle East, that war continues on its destructive, costly course with nary a blink.

Five Ways to Be Tone Deaf in Washington

You might think that, as vast swathes of the Greater Middle East are set ablaze, someone in Washington would take a new look at our Af/Pak War and wonder whether it isn’t simply beside the point.  No such luck, as the following five tiny but telling examples that caught my attention indicate.  Consider them proof of the well-being of the American echo chamber and evidence of the way Washington is proving incapable of rethinking its longest, most futile, and most bizarre war.

1. Let’s start with a recent New York Times op-ed, “The ‘Long War’ May Be Getting Shorter.”  Published last Tuesday as Libya was passing through “the gates of hell,” it was an upbeat account of Afghan War commander General David Petraeus’s counterinsurgency operations in southern Afghanistan.  Its authors, Nathaniel Fick and John Nagl, members of an increasingly militarized Washington intelligentsia, jointly head the Center for a New American Security in Washington.  Nagl was part of the team that wrote the 2006 revised Army counterinsurgency manual for which Petraeus is given credit and was an advisor to the general in Iraq.  Fick, a former Marine officer who led troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and then was a civilian instructor at the Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Academy in Kabul, recently paid a first-hand visit to the country (under whose auspices we do not know).

The two of them are typical of many of Washington’s war experts who tend to develop incestuous relationships with the military, moonlighting as enablers or cheerleaders for our war commanders, and still remain go-to sources for the media.

In another society, their op-ed would simply have been considered propaganda.  Here’s its money paragraph:

“It is hard to tell when momentum shifts in a counterinsurgency campaign, but there is increasing evidence that Afghanistan is moving in a more positive direction than many analysts think. It now seems more likely than not that the country can achieve the modest level of stability and self-reliance necessary to allow the United States to responsibly draw down its forces from 100,000 to 25,000 troops over the next four years.”

This is a classic Washington example of moving the goalposts.  What our two experts are really announcing is that, even if all goes well in our Afghan War, 2014 will not be its end date.  Not by a long shot.

Of course, this is a position that Petraeus has supported.  Four years from now our “withdrawal” plans, according to Nagl and Fick, will leave 25,000 troops in place.  If truth-telling or accuracy were the point of their exercise, their piece would have been titled, “The ‘Long War’ Grows Longer.”

Even as the Middle East explodes and the U.S. plunges into a budget “debate” significantly powered by our stunningly expensive wars that won’t end, these two experts implicitly propose that General Petraeus and his successors fight on in Afghanistan at more than $100 billion a year into the distant reaches of time, as if nothing in the world were changing.  This already seems like the definition of obliviousness and one day will undoubtedly look delusional, but it’s the business-as-usual mentality with which Washington faces a new world.

2.  Or consider two striking comments General Petraeus himself made that bracket our new historical moment.  At a morning briefing on January 19th, according to New York Times reporter Rod Nordland, the general was in an exultant, even triumphalist, mood about his war.  It was just days before the first Egyptian demonstrators would take to the streets, and only days after Tunisian autocrat Zine Ben Ali had met the massed power of nonviolent demonstrators and fled his country.  And here’s what Petraeus so exuberantly told his staff: “We’ve got our teeth in the enemy’s jugular now, and we’re not going to let go.”

It’s true that the general had, for months, not only been sending new American troops south, but ratcheting up the use of air power, increasing Special Operations night raids, and generally intensifying the war in the Taliban’s home territory.  Still, under the best of circumstances, his was an exultantly odd image.  It obviously called up the idea of a predator sinking its teeth into the throat of its prey, but surely somewhere in the military unconscious lurked a more classic American pop-cultural image — the werewolf or vampire.  Evidently, the general’s idea of an American future involves an extended blood feast in the Afghan version of Transylvania, for like Nagl and Fick he clearly plans to have those teeth in that jugular for a long, long time to come.

A month later, on February 19th, just as all hell was breaking loose in Bahrain and Libya, the general visited the Afghan presidential palace in Kabul and, in dismissing Afghan claims that recent American air raids in the country’s northeast had killed scores of civilians, including children, he made a comment that shocked President Hamid Karzai’s aides.  We don’t have it verbatim, but the Washington Post reports that, according to “participants,” Petraeus suggested “Afghans caught up in a coalition attack in northeastern Afghanistan might have burned their own children to exaggerate claims of civilian casualties.”

One Afghan at the meeting responded: “I was dizzy. My head was spinning. This was shocking. Would any father do this to his children? This is really absurd.”

In the American echo-chamber, the general’s comments may sound, if not reasonable, then understandably exuberant and emphatic: We’ve got the enemy by the throat!  We didn’t create Afghan casualties; they did it to themselves!  Elsewhere, they surely sound obtusely tone deaf or simply vampiric, evidence that those inside the echo chamber have no sense of how they look in a shape-shifting world.

3.  Now, let’s step across an ill-defined Afghan-Pakistan border into another world of American obtuseness.  On February 15th, only four days after Hosni Mubarak stepped down as president of Egypt, Barack Obama decided to address a growing problem in Pakistan.  Raymond Davis, a former U.S. Special Forces soldier armed with a Glock semi-automatic pistol and alone in a vehicle cruising a poor neighborhood of Pakistan’s second largest city, Lahore, shot and killed two Pakistanis he claimed had menaced him at gunpoint.  (One was evidently shot in the back.)

Davis reportedly got out of the vehicle firing his pistol, then photographed the dead bodies and called for backup.  The responding vehicle, racing to the scene the wrong way in traffic, ran over a motorcyclist, killing him before fleeing.  (Subsequently, the wife of one of the Pakistanis Davis killed committed suicide by ingesting rat poison.)

The Pakistani police took Davis into custody with a carful of strange equipment.  No one should be surprised that this was not a set of circumstances likely to endear an already alienated population to its supposed American allies. In fact, it created a popular furor as Pakistanis reacted to what seemed like the definition of imperial impunity, especially when the U.S. government, claiming Davis was an “administrative and technical official” attached to its Lahore consulate, demanded his release on grounds of diplomatic immunity and promptly began pressuring an already weak, unpopular government with loss of aid and support.

Senator John Kerry paid a hasty visit, calls were made, and threats to cut off U.S. funds were raised in the halls of Congress.  Despite what was happening elsewhere and in tumultuous Pakistan, American officials found it hard to imagine that beholden Pakistanis wouldn’t buckle.

On February 15th, with the Middle East in flames, President Obama weighed in, undoubtedly making matters worse: “With respect to Mr. Davis, our diplomat in Pakistan,” he said, “we’ve got a very simple principle here that every country in the world that is party to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations has upheld in the past and should uphold in the future, and that is if our diplomats are in another country, then they are not subject to that country’s local prosecution.”

The Pakistanis refused to give way to that “very simple principle” and not long after, “our diplomat in Pakistan” was identified by the British Guardian as a former Blackwater employee and present employee of the CIA.  He was, the publication reported, involved in the Agency’s secret war in Pakistan.  That war, especially much-ballyhooed and expensive “covert” drone attacks in the Pakistani tribal borderlands whose returns have been overhyped in Washington, continues to generate blowback in ways that Americans prefer not to grasp.

Of course, the president knew that Davis was a CIA agent, even when he called him “our diplomat.”  As it turned out, so did the New York Times and other U.S. publications, which refrained from writing about his real position at the request of the Obama administration, even as they continued to report (evasively, if not simply untruthfully) on the case.

Given what’s happening in the region, this represents neither reasonable policy-making nor reasonable journalism.  If the late Chalmers Johnson, who made the word “blowback” part of our everyday language, happens to be looking down on American policy from some niche in heaven, he must be grimly amused by the brain-dead way our top officials blithely continue to try to bulldoze the Pakistanis.

4.  Meanwhile, on February 18th back in Afghanistan, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on one of that country’s “largest money exchange houses,” charging “that it used billions of dollars transferred in and out of the country to help hide proceeds from illegal drug sales.”

Here’s how Ginger Thompson and Alissa J. Rubin of the New York Times contextualized that act: “The move is part of a delicate balancing act by the Obama administration, which aims to crack down on the corruption that reaches the highest levels of the Afghan government without derailing the counterinsurgency efforts that are dependent on Mr. Karzai’s cooperation.”

In a world in which Washington’s word seems to travel ever less far with ever less authority, the response to this echo-chamber-style description, and especially its central image — “a delicate balancing act” — would be: no, not by a long shot.

In relation to a country that’s the prime narco-state on the planet, what could really be “delicate”?  If you wanted to describe the Obama administration’s bizarre, pretzled relationship with President Karzai and his people, words like “contorted,” “confused,” and “hypocritical” would have to be trotted out.  If realism prevailed, the phrase “indelicate imbalance” might be a more appropriate one to use.

5.  Finally, journalist Dexter Filkins recently wrote a striking piece, “The Afghan Bank Heist,” in the New Yorker magazine on the shenanigans that brought Kabul Bank, one of Afghanistan’s top financial institutions, to the edge of collapse.  While bankrolling Hamid Karzai and his cronies by slipping them staggering sums of cash, the bank’s officials essentially ran off with the deposits of its customers.  (Think of Kabul Bank as the institutional Bernie Madoff of Afghanistan.)  In his piece, Filkins quotes an anonymous American official this way on the crooked goings-on he observed: “If this were America, fifty people would have been arrested by now.”

Consider that line the echo-chamber version of stand-up comedy as well as a reminder that only mad dogs and Americans stay out in the Afghan sun.  Like a lot of Americans now in Afghanistan, that poor diplomat needs to be brought home — and soon. He’s lost touch with the changing nature of his own country.  While we claim it as our duty to bring “nation-building” and “good governance” to the benighted Afghans, at home the U.S. is being unbuilt, democracy is essentially gone with the wind, the oligarchs are having a field day, the Supreme Court has insured that massive influxes of money will rule any future elections, and the biggest crooks of all get to play their get-out-of-jail-free cards whenever they want.  In fact, the Kabul Bank racket — a big deal in an utterly impoverished society — is a minor sideshow compared to what American banks, brokerages, mortgage and insurance companies, and other financial institutions did via their “ponzi schemes of securitization” when, in 2008, they drove the U.S. and global economies into meltdown mode.

And none of the individuals responsible went to prison, just old-fashioned Ponzi schemers like Madoff.  Not one of them was even put on trial. 

Just the other day, federal prosecutors dropped one of the last possible cases from the 2008 meltdown.  Angelo R. Mozilo, the former chairman of Countrywide Financial Corp., once the nation’s top mortgage company, did have to settle a civil suit focused on his “ill-gotten gains” in the subprime mortgage debacle for $67.5 million, but as with his peers, no criminal charges will be filed.


We’re Not the Good Guys

Imagine this: for the first time in history, a movement of Arabs is inspiring Americans in Wisconsin and possibly elsewhere.  Right now, in other words, there is something new under the sun and we didn’t invent it.  It’s not ours.  We’re not — catch your breath here — even the good guys.   They were the ones calling for freedom and democracy in the streets of Middle Eastern cities, while the U.S. performed another of those indelicate imbalances in favor of the thugs we’ve long supported in the Middle East.

History is now being reshaped in such a way that the previously major events of the latter years of the foreshortened American century — the Vietnam War, the end of the Cold War, even 9/11 — may all be dwarfed by this new moment.  And yet, inside the Washington echo chamber, new thoughts about such developments dawn slowly.  Meanwhile, our beleaguered, confused, disturbed country, with its agingdisintegrating infrastructure, is ever less the model for anyone anywhere (though again you wouldn’t know that here).

Oblivious to events, Washington clearly intends to fight its perpetual wars and garrison its perpetual bases, creating yet more blowback and destabilizing yet more places, until it eats itself alive.  This is the definition of all-American decline in an unexpectedly new world.  Yes, teeth may be in jugulars, but whose teeth in whose jugulars remains open to speculation, whatever General Petraeus thinks.

As the sun peeks over the horizon of the Arab world, dusk is descending on America.  In the penumbra, Washington plays out the cards it once dealt itself, some from the bottom of the deck, even as other players are leaving the table.  Meanwhile, somewhere out there in the land, you can just hear the faint howls.  It’s feeding time and the scent of blood is in the air.  Beware!

REPORT: You Have More Money In Your Wallet Than Bank Of America Pays In Federal Taxes

February 26, 2011

by Zaid Jilani


            Today, hundreds of thousands of people comprising a Main Street Movement — a coalition of students, the retired, union workers, public employees, and other middle class Americans — are in the streets, demonstrating against brutal cuts to public services and crackdowns on organized labor being pushed by conservative politicians. These lawmakers that are attacking collective bargaining and cutting necessary services like college tuition aid and health benefits for public workers claim that they have no choice but than to take these actions because both state and federal governments are in debt.

            But it wasn’t teachers, fire fighters, policemen, and college students that caused the economic recession that has devastated government budgets — it was Wall Street. And as middle class workers are being asked to sacrifice, the rich continue to rig the system, dodging taxes and avoiding paying their fair share.

            In an interview with In These Times, Carl Gibson, the founder of US Uncut, which is organizing some of today’s UK-inspired massive demonstrations against tax dodgers, explains that while ordinary Americans are being asked to sacrifice, major corporations continue to use the rigged tax code to avoid paying any federal taxes at all. As he says, if you have “one dollar” in your wallet, you’re paying more than the “combined income tax liability of GE, ExxonMobil, Citibank, and the Bank of America“:

[Gibson] explains, “I have one dollar in my wallet. That’s more than the combined income tax liability of GE, ExxonMobil, Citibank, and the Bank of

America. That means somebody is gaming the system.”

Indeed, as politicians are asking ordinary Americans to sacrifice their education, their health, their labor rights, and their wellbeing to tackle budget deficits, some of the world’s richest multinational corporations are getting away with shirking their responsibility and paying nothing. ThinkProgress has assembled a short but far from comprehensive list of these tax dodgers — corporations which have rigged the tax system to their advantage so they can reap huge profits and avoid paying taxes:

BANK OF AMERICA: In 2009, Bank of America didn’t pay a single penny in federal income taxes, exploiting the tax code so as to avoid paying its fair share. “Oh, yeah, this happens all the time,” said Robert Willens, a tax accounting expert interviewed by McClatchy. “If you go out and try to make money and you don’t do it, why should the government pay you for your losses?” asked Bob McIntyre of Citizens for Tax Justice. The same year, the mega-bank’s top executives received pay “ranging from $6 million to nearly $30 million.”

BOEING: Despite receiving billions of dollars from the federal government every single year in taxpayer subsidies from the U.S. government, Boeing didn’t “pay a dime of U.S. federal corporate income taxes” between 2008 and 2010.

CITIGROUP: Citigroup’s deferred income taxes for the third quarter of 2010 amounted to a grand total of $0.00. At the same time, Citigroup has continued to pay its staff lavishly. “John Havens, the head of Citigroup’s investment bank, is expected to be the bank’s highest paid executive for the second year in a row, with a compensation package worth $9.5 million.”

EXXON-MOBIL: The oil giant uses offshore subsidiaries in the Caribbean to avoid paying taxes in the United States. Although Exxon-Mobil paid $15 billion in taxes in 2009, not a penny of those taxes went to the American Treasury. This was the same year that the company overtook Wal-Mart in the Fortune 500. Meanwhile the total compensation of Exxon-Mobil’s CEO the same year was over $29,000,000.

GENERAL ELECTRIC: In 2009, General Electric — the world’s largest corporation — filed more than 7,000 tax returns and still paid nothing to U.S. government. They managed to do this by a tax code that essentially subsidizes companies for losing profits and allows them to set up tax havens overseas. That same year GE CEO Jeffery Immelt — who recently scored a spot on a White House economic advisory board — “earned total compensation of $9.89 million.” In 2002, Immelt displayed his lack of economic patriotism, saying, “When I am talking to GE managers, I talk China, China, China, China, China….I am a nut on China. Outsourcing from China is going to grow to 5 billion.”

WELLS FARGO: Despite being the fourth largest bank in the country, Wells Fargo was able to escape paying federal taxes by writing all of its losses off after its acquisition of Wachovia. Yet in 2009 the chief executive of Wells Fargo also saw his compensation “more than double” as he earned “a salary of $5.6 million paid in cash and stock and stock awards of more than $13 million.”

            In the coming months, politicians across the country are going to tell Americans that the only way to stave off huge deficit and balance the budgets is by gutting programs for the poor, eviscerating support for the middle class, eliminating labor rights, and decimating the government’s ability to serve the public interest. This is a lie. The United States is the richest country in the history of the world, and income inequality is higher now than it has been at any time since the 1920′s, with the top “top 1 percentile of households [taking] home 23.5 percent of income in 2007.”

            It is simply unfair for Main Street Americans who’ve already been battered by one of the worst economic crises in our history to have to continue to sacrifice while the rich and well-connected continue to rip off taxpayers and avoid paying their fair share. That’s why a Main Street Movement consisting of Americans who are fed up with the status quo is rocking the nation, and one of its first targets should be tax dodgers like Bank of America and Boeing.

Economic recovery in action: Newly-failed American banks

  • Valley Community Bank St. Charles IL 34187 First State Bank February 25, 2011 February 25, 2011
  • San Luis Trust Bank, FSB  San Luis Obispo CA 34783 First California Bank February 18, 2011 February 23, 2011
  • Charter Oak Bank Napa CA 57855 Bank of Marin February 18, 2011 February 23, 2011
  • Citizens Bank of Effingham Springfield GA 34601 Heritage Bank of the South February 18, 2011 February 23, 2011
  • Habersham Bank Clarkesville GA 151 SCBT National Association February 18, 2011 February 23, 2011
  • Canyon National Bank Palm Springs CA 34692 Pacific Premier Bank February 11, 2011 February 18, 2011
  • Badger State Bank Cassville WI 13272 Royal Bank  February 11, 2011 February 18, 2011
  • Peoples State Bank Hamtramck MI 14939 First Michigan Bank February 11, 2011 February 18, 2011
  • Sunshine State Community Bank Port Orange FL 35478 Premier American Bank, N.A. February 11, 2011 February 18, 2011
  • Community First Bank Chicago Chicago IL 57948 Northbrook Bank & Trust February 4, 2011 February 10, 2011
  • North Georgia Bank Watkinsville GA 35242 BankSouth February 4, 2011 February 11, 2011
  • American Trust Bank Roswell GA 57432 Renasant Bank February 4, 2011 February 11, 2011
  • First Community Bank Taos NM 12261 U.S. Bank, National Association January 28, 2011 February 10, 2011
  • FirsTier Bank Louisville CO 57646 No Acquirer January 28, 2011 February 2, 2011
  • Evergreen State Bank Stoughton WI 5328 McFarland State Bank January 28, 2011 February 10, 2011
  • The First State Bank Camargo OK 2303 Bank 7 January 28, 2011 February 10, 2011
  • United Western Bank Denver CO 31293 First-Citizens Bank & Trust Co. January 21, 2011 February 10, 2011
  • The Bank of Asheville Asheville NC 34516 First Bank January 21, 2011 February 10, 2011
  • CommunitySouth Bank & Trust Easley SC 57868 CertusBank, National Association January

Koch Brothers “Prank” No Laughing Matter

February 24, 2011

by Mary Bottari

PR Watch

Embattled Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker came under fire today after news broke about statements he made in a 20-minute phone call from a Buffalo, NY-area alternative news reporter posing as David Koch, a billionaire whose PAC directly supported Walker and who has given millions to groups that have run ads to aid Walker’s rise to the state’s highest office.

As the Center for Media and Democracy has reported, the Koch PAC not only spent $43,000 directly on Walkers race, but Koch personally donated $1 million to the Republican Governor’s Association which spent $5 million in the state. Besides the Governor, Koch Brother’s has other “vested interests” in the state.

They include Koch Pipeline Company, which operates a pipeline system that crosses Wisconsin. It also owns Flint Hill Resources, which distributes refined fuel through pipelines and terminals in Junction City, Waupun, Madison and Milwaukee. Koch Industries also owns the C. Reiss Coal Company, a power plant company located in Green Bay, Manitowoc, Ashland and Sheboygan.

The Koch brothers opened a lobby shop in Wisconsin two days after Walker was elected, and many protesters have suspected that the “budget repair bill” provisions allowing the no-bid sell-off of any state-owned heating, cooling, or power plant, plus new rules on pipeline transport may be of interest to Koch. The company has denied any interest in these assets. Transcript Raises Legal and Ethical Concerns.


Pink Slips as Poker Chips Raises Legal Concerns

At the start of the conversation Walker eagerly reports on all he is doing: 

 First, he tells the fake Koch brother about a plan to change Senate rules on pay to reel-in the out-of state Democratic senators who are holding out to protect collective bargaining. The new rule would force the Senators to pick up their paychecks in-person. This rule was passed in a partisan vote in the Senate yesterday–a move that went unnoticed by the mainstream press. 

The fake Koch asks Walker how they might get others in Senate to vote to stop collective bargaining. Walker responds that he’s involved the Justice Department in investigating whether the union is paying the absent Democratic senators to remain out of state, or providing them with food, shelter, etc., saying it would be an ethics violation or potentially a felony. Wisconsin legislators are well aware of these rules and have already stated they are using their own money while they are out of state.

But the Governor also explains how he is going to layoff thousands of Wisconsin workers as a tactic to get the Democrats to cooperate:  “So, we’re trying about four or five different angles. Each day we crank up a little bit more pressure. The other thing is I’ve got layoff notices ready, we put out the at-risk notices, we’ll announce Thursday, they’ll go out early next week and we’ll probably get five to six thousand state workers will get at-risk notices for layoffs. We might
ratchet that up a little bit too.”

The move has been called “despicable” and “ruthless “ and “sickening.” But most importantly, if he is choosing to lay off workers as a political tactic when he wasn’t otherwise planning to do so then it is not just morally repugnant but legally questionable. State and federal contract and labor law has protections against this type of abusive behavior and inappropriate quid pro quo.

            This morning the Capital Times quotes the state’s former Attorney General: “There clearly are potential ethics violations, and there are potential election-law violations and there are a lot of what look to me like labor-law violations,” said Peg Lautenschlager, a Democrat who served as Wisconsin’s Attorney General after serving for many years as a U.S. Attorney. The head of the state teacher’s association, Mary Bell, reminds us: “he literally planned to use five to six thousand hardworking Wisconsin taxpayers as political pawns in his political game. He actually thought through a strategy to lay people off – deny them the ability to feed their families – and use it as leverage for his political goals.”


Kids and Hired Thugs

Walker also says he considers then rejected the idea of hiring trouble makers to disrupt the rallies which have been packed with elementary school children and highs schoolers. When fake Koch says “We’ll back you any way we can. But what we were thinking about the crowd was, uh, was planting some troublemakers.” Walker says: “we thought about that,” but he rejected the idea in case it back-fired. He didn’t want to  “scare the public into thinking maybe the governor as to settle to avoid all these problems.” 

             Wisconsin Ethics Rules

Wisconsin has the toughest ethics law in the nation. Public officials are prohibited from soliciting or receiving anything of value if it could reasonably be expected to influence or reward official actions. The rules against “pay to play politics” say a public official is prohibited from taking official action in exchange for political contributions or anything else of value for the benefit of a candidate, political party, or any person making certain candidate-related communications. You can’t even take a cup of coffee from a lobbyist.

            Earlier in the call, Walker had asked the fake Koch for help “spreading the word,” especially in the “swing districts,” in defense of his determination to break the unions and help get calls in to shore up his Republican allies in the legislature. Walker benefited from a high-dollar “issue ad” campaigns by groups funded by Koch group before the election. Americans for Prosperity, which Koch chairs, promoted and funded a couple thousand counter-protestors last Saturday.

            On the same day that the scandal broke here in Wisconsin, Americans for Prosperity went up with a $342,000 TV ad campaign in support of Walker – an enormous sum in a state like Wisconsin.  If such ads are effectively coordinated with the Governor’s office they may be subject to rules requiring greater disclosure of expenditures and contributors.

            Toward the end of the call, the fake Koch offers to fly Walker out to California, after they “crush the bastards,” and show him “a good time,” to which Walker responds with enthusiasm in his voice “All right, that would be outstanding.” But, Wisconsin rules bar state officials from taking action for something of value.  After Walker agrees to the junket, the fake Koch adds, “And, you know, we have a little bit of a vested interest as well” to which Walker responds, “Well that’s just it.”



So, while Walker did not apparently not recognize Koch’s voice, he certainly recognized his name, eagerly recounting his efforts to crush collective bargaining in Wisconsin to an out-of-state billioniare backer and thanking him for all Koch had done for him. The entire conversation raises ethical concerns that warrant much closer examination, especially with Wisconsin’s tough pay to play rules. A week ago the Center for Media and Democracy filed an open records request for the Governor’s phone records, email records, and other communications. Perhaps these records will help us understand all the influences behind the Governor’s recent radical actions.

             Wisconsin is not Illinois, it has a reputation for being a squeaky clean state and lesser scandals have brought down political officials. Governor Walker likes to complain of “outside agitators.” Hard to imagine an agitator with more influence and money than the Koch-family.

Another Runaway General: Army Deploys Psy-Ops on U.S. Senators

Rolling Stone

            The U.S. Army illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in “psychological operations” to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war, Rolling Stone has learned – and when an officer tried to stop the operation, he was railroaded by military investigators.

The Runaway General: The Rolling Stone Profile of Stanley McChrystal That Changed History

The orders came from the command of Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, a three-star general in charge of training Afghan troops – the linchpin of U.S. strategy in the war. Over a four-month period last year, a military cell devoted to what is known as “information operations” at Camp Eggers in Kabul was repeatedly pressured to target visiting senators and other VIPs who met with Caldwell. When the unit resisted the order, arguing that it violated U.S. laws prohibiting the use of propaganda against American citizens, it was subjected to a campaign of retaliation.

“My job in psy-ops is to play with people’s heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave,” says Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, the leader of the IO unit, who received an official reprimand after bucking orders. “I’m prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressman, you’re crossing a line.”

The list of targeted visitors was long, according to interviews with members of the IO team and internal documents obtained by Rolling Stone. Those singled out in the campaign included senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Jack Reed, Al Franken and Carl Levin; Rep. Steve Israel of the House Appropriations Committee; Adm. Mike Mullen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Czech ambassador to Afghanistan; the German interior minister, and a host of influential think-tank analysts.

The incident offers an indication of just how desperate the U.S. command in Afghanistan is to spin American civilian leaders into supporting an increasingly unpopular war. According to the Defense Department’s own definition, psy-ops – the use of propaganda and psychological tactics to influence emotions and behaviors – are supposed to be used exclusively on “hostile foreign groups.” Federal law forbids the military from practicing psy-ops on Americans, and each defense authorization bill comes with a “propaganda rider” that also prohibits such manipulation. “Everyone in the psy-ops, intel, and IO community knows you’re not supposed to target Americans,” says a veteran member of another psy-ops team who has run operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. “It’s what you learn on day one.”

King David’s War: How Gen. Petraeus Is Doubling Down on a Failed Strategy

When Holmes and his four-man team arrived in Afghanistan in November 2009, their mission was to assess the effects of U.S. propaganda on the Taliban and the local Afghan population. But the following month, Holmes began receiving orders from Caldwell’s staff to direct his expertise on a new target: visiting Americans. At first, the orders were administered verbally. According to Holmes, who attended at least a dozen meetings with Caldwell to discuss the operation, the general wanted the IO unit to do the kind of seemingly innocuous work usually delegated to the two dozen members of his public affairs staff: compiling detailed profiles of the VIPs, including their voting records, their likes and dislikes, and their “hot-button issues.” In one email to Holmes, Caldwell’s staff also wanted to know how to shape the general’s presentations to the visiting dignitaries, and how best to “refine our messaging.”

             Congressional delegations – known in military jargon as CODELs – are no strangers to spin. U.S. lawmakers routinely take trips to the frontlines in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they receive carefully orchestrated briefings and visit local markets before posing for souvenir photos in helmets and flak jackets. Informally, the trips are a way for generals to lobby congressmen and provide first-hand updates on the war. But what Caldwell was looking for was more than the usual background briefings on senators. According to Holmes, the general wanted the IO team to provide a “deeper analysis of pressure points we could use to leverage the delegation for more funds.” The general’s chief of staff also asked Holmes how Caldwell could secretly manipulate the U.S. lawmakers without their knowledge. “How do we get these guys to give us more people?” he demanded. “What do I have to plant inside their heads?”

According to experts on intelligence policy, asking a psy-ops team to direct its expertise against visiting dignitaries would be like the president asking the CIA to put together background dossiers on congressional opponents. Holmes was even expected to sit in on Caldwell’s meetings with the senators and take notes, without divulging his background. “Putting your propaganda people in a room with senators doesn’t look good,” says John Pike, a leading military analyst. “It doesn’t pass the smell test. Any decent propaganda operator would tell you that.”

At a minimum, the use of the IO team against U.S. senators was a misue of vital resources designed to combat the enemy; it cost American taxpayers roughly $6 million to deploy Holmes and his team in Afghanistan for a year. But Caldwell seemed more eager to advance his own career than to defeat the Taliban. “We called it Operation Fourth Star,” says Holmes. “Caldwell seemed far more focused on the Americans and the funding stream than he was on the Afghans. We were there to teach and train the Afghans. But for the first four months it was all about the U.S. Later he even started talking about targeting the NATO populations.” At one point, according to Holmes, Caldwell wanted to break up the IO team and give each general on his staff their own personal spokesperson with psy-ops training.

The Insurgent’s Tale: A Soldier Reconsiders Jihad

It wasn’t the first time that Caldwell had tried to tear down the wall that has historically separated public affairs and psy-ops – the distinction the military is supposed to maintain between “informing” and “influencing.” After a stint as the top U.S. spokesperson in Iraq, the general pushed aggressively to expand the military’s use of information operations. During his time as a commander at Ft. Leavenworth, Caldwell argued for exploiting new technologies like blogging and Wikipedia – a move that would widen the military’s ability to influence the public, both foreign and domestic. According to sources close to the general, he also tried to rewrite the official doctrine on information operations, though that effort ultimately failed. (In recent months, the Pentagon has quietly dropped the nefarious-sounding moniker “psy-ops” in favor of the more neutral “MISO” – short for Military Information Support Operations.)

Under duress, Holmes and his team provided Caldwell with background assessments on the visiting senators, and helped prep the general for his high-profile encounters. But according to members of his unit, Holmes did his best to resist the orders. Holmes believed that using his team to target American civilians violated the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which was passed by Congress to prevent the State Department from using Soviet-style propaganda techniques on U.S. citizens. But when Holmes brought his concerns to Col. Gregory Breazile, the spokesperson for the Afghan training mission run by Caldwell, the discussion ended in a screaming match. “It’s not illegal if I say it isn’t!” Holmes recalls Breazile shouting.

In March 2010, Breazile issued a written order that “directly tasked” Holmes to conduct an IO campaign against “all DV visits” – short for “distinguished visitor.” The team was also instructed to “prepare the context and develop the prep package for each visit.” In case the order wasn’t clear enough, Breazile added that the new instructions were to “take priority over all other duties.” Instead of fighting the Taliban, Holmes and his team were now responsible for using their training to win the hearts and minds of John McCain and Al Franken.

On March 23rd, Holmes emailed the JAG lawyer who handled information operations, saying that the order made him “nervous.” The lawyer, Capt. John Scott, agreed with Holmes. “The short answer is that IO doesn’t do that,” Scott replied in an email. “[Public affairs] works on the hearts and minds of our own citizens and IO works on the hearts and minds of the citizens of other nations. While the twain do occasionally intersect, such intersections, like violent contact during a soccer game, should be unintentional.”

In another email, Scott advised Holmes to seek his own defense counsel. “Using IO to influence our own folks is a bad idea,” the lawyer wrote, “and contrary to IO policy.”

            In a statement to Rolling Stone, a spokesman for Caldwell “categorically denies the assertion that the command used an Information Operations Cell to influence Distinguished Visitors.” But after Scott offered his legal opinion, the order was rewritten to stipulate that the IO unit should only use publicly available records to create profiles of U.S. visitors. Based on the narrower definition of the order, Holmes and his team believed the incident was behind them.

            Three weeks after the exchange, however, Holmes learned that he was the subject of an investigation, called an AR 15-6. The investigation had been ordered by Col. Joe Buche, Caldwell’s chief of staff. The 22-page report, obtained by Rolling Stone, reads like something put together by Kenneth Starr. The investigator accuses Holmes of going off base in civilian clothes without permission, improperly using his position to start a private business, consuming alcohol, using Facebook too much, and having an “inappropriate” relationship with one of his subordinates, Maj. Laural Levine. The investigator also noted a joking comment that Holmes made on his Facebook wall, in response to a jibe about Afghan men wanting to hold his hand. “Hey! I’ve been here almost five months now!” Holmes wrote. “Gimmee a break a man has needs you know.”

            “LTC Holmes’ comments about his sexual needs,” the report concluded, “are even more distasteful in light of his status as a married man.”

Both Holmes and Levine maintain that there was nothing inappropriate about their relationship, and said they were waiting until after they left Afghanistan to start their own business. They and other members of the team also say that they had been given permission to go off post in civilian clothes. As for Facebook, Caldwell’s command had aggressively encouraged its officers to the use the site as part of a social-networking initiative – and Holmes ranked only 15th among the biggest users.

            Nor was Holmes the only one who wrote silly things online. Col. Breazile’s Facebook page, for example, is spotted with similar kinds of nonsense, including multiple references to drinking alcohol, and a photo of a warning inside a Port-o-John mocking Afghans – “In case any of you forgot that you are supposed to sit on the toilet and not stand on it and squat. It’s a safety issue. We don’t want you to fall in or miss your target.” Breazile now serves at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he works in the office dedicated to waging a global information war for the Pentagon.

             Following the investigation, both Holmes and Levine were formally reprimanded. Holmes, believing that he was being targeted for questioning the legality of waging an IO campaign against U.S. visitors, complained to the Defense Department’s inspector general. Three months later, he was informed that he was not entitled to protection as a whistleblower, because the JAG lawyer he consulted was not “designated to receive such communications.”

            Levine, who has a spotless record and 19 service awards after 16 years in the military, including a tour of duty in Kuwait and Iraq, fears that she has become “the collateral damage” in the military’s effort to retaliate against Holmes. “It will probably end my career,” she says. “My father was an officer, and I believed officers would never act like this. I was devastated. I’ve lost my faith in the military, and I couldn’t in good conscience recommend anyone joining right now.”

After being reprimanded, Holmes and his team were essentially ignored for the rest of their tours in Afghanistan. But on June 15th, the entire Afghan training mission received a surprising memo from Col. Buche, Caldwell’s chief of staff. “Effective immediately,” the memo read, “the engagement in information operations by personnel assigned to the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan and Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan is strictly prohibited.”

            From now on, the memo added, the “information operation cell” would be referred to as the “Information Engagement cell.” The IE’s mission? “This cell will engage in activities for the sole purpose of informing and educating U.S., Afghan and international audiences….” The memo declared, in short, that those who had trained in psy-ops and other forms of propaganda would now officially be working as public relations experts – targeting a worldwide audience.

            As for the operation targeting U.S. senators, there is no way to tell what, if any, influence it had on American policy. What is clear is that in January 2011, Caldwell’s command asked the Obama administration for another $2 billion to train an additional 70,000 Afghan troops – an initiative that will already cost U.S. taxpayers more than $11 billion this year. Among the biggest boosters in Washington to give Caldwell the additional money? Sen. Carl Levin, one of the senators whom Holmes had been ordered to target.


CIA mulls targeting Pak diplomats abroad: report


February 23, 2011

Pak Tribune

WASHINGTON: Suffering irreparable loss after blowing up of Raymond Davis’ cover in Lahore, the American premier intelligence apparatus is contemplating a tit-for-tat trapping or targeting Pakistani counterparts serving as diplomats abroad.

Well-placed diplomatic sources told Online on condition of anonymity here on Thursday that they had noticed vibes clearly indicating level of frustration and annoyance, especially at the Central Investigation Agency (CIA) upon Islamabad’s constant denial to release Davis on blanket immunity.

According to the sources, putting Davis on trial in Pakistan on charges of double murder in Lahore is proving to be the loss of not just the cover of an agent but also that of a “key asset” in the intelligence jargon for CIA.

“Therefore, it is unlikely that they (American intelligence apparatus) would let it go without returning it to the Pakistani counterparts one way or the other,” the sources added. “Easy prey of this revenge design of the Americans could be Pakistani intelligence staff serving abroad, chiefly in US, Europe, and Afghanistan,” the sources observed. This is already clear for sure that the so-called intelligence sharing in the war on terror has hit a moratorium due to Raymond Davis case.

The sources also informed Online that White House as well as State Department had already cancelled all official invitations to Pakistan’s Ambassador Hussain Haqqani here. “All the US administration outfits in the capital are also under instructions to seek clearance from the White House before interacting with Haqqani, even for official urgencies,” the sources added.

The sources also recalled that Ambassador Haqqani was summoned twice to White House for making demarche even before Senator John Kerry was dispatched to Pakistan for pleading Davis’ diplomatic immunity. The sources pointed out that envoys are generally summoned at the State Department for making demarche as per the diplomatic norms and practices in vogue. “The White House summoning Haqqani twice had clearly indicated that it was CIA’s pressure on the back,” the sources added.

The row over the diplomatic immunity of Davis is still on between the two countries, bringing the bilateral relations to a historic low. The US is claiming diplomatic immunity to Davis while Pakistan is insisting that its courts would decide his status as well privilege, which has strained the relations. Analysts in US believe that ripples of Davis issue could lead to early elections in Pakistan. The incumbent term of the ruling PPP ends in February 2013.

Russia to spend $650B rearming


February 25, 2011

by Dmitry Zaks,

Agence France-Presse

Russia launched a $650 billion rearmament plan Thursday to counter the West’s military dominance by adding eight nuclear submarines and hundreds of warplanes to its creaking armed forces.

Details of the long-flagged Kremlin procurement plan through 2020 see Russia acquiring a total of 20 submarines and more than 600 warplanes in place of a outdated fleet of jets and vessels that have been losing international clients.

Analysts said the ambitious plan would in effect create a brand new Russian armed forces that finally cut links with its Soviet past.

“Russia is so unprepared for conventional warfare that its nuclear threshold is quite low -and the chances of it using nuclear weapons quite high,” said military affairs columnist Pavel Felgenhauer. “This lowers the threat of nuclear war breaking out.”

The program revealed by Deputy Defence Minister Vladimir Popovkin sees Russia building 100 new ships and acquiring 1,000 helicopters -figures that would dramatically swell the number of modern and battle-ready craft.

“The main task is the modernization of our armed forces. Nineteen trillion rubles ($653 billion) will be allocated for this,” news agencies quoted Popovkin as saying.

The Kremlin has vowed repeatedly to boost spending on a dilapidated military whose 2009 exercises were scoffed at by the United States’ mission to NATO in cables published by the WikiLeaks website.

A U.S. official said the war games showed that Russia was only capable of engaging in a small to mid-sized local conflict that did not require the engagement of more than one branch of the armed forces.

The assessment added that Russia “continues to rely on aging and obsolete equipment” and further suffers from a “manpower shortage.”

A Moscow newspaper reported in September that another in a series of poor army drafts brought the armed forces’ total number to about 800,000 troops -well short of the million-man army foreseen in planning.

The Kremlin has spent recent years trying to devise a military strategy that targets spending on high-profile weapons that enable Russia to compete with the West both on the battlefield and the open arms market.

The strategy announced Thursday sees Russia funnelling much of its resources on nuclear submarines and next-generation anti-missiles defences to replace the already popular S-300 system that has been sought by nations such as Iran. It envisions the nuclear submarines equipped with a new generation of ballistic missiles and supported by highly manoeuvrable frigates and other small destroyers.

Yet Russia’s strategy of regaining naval parity with the United States was hurt by confirmation that the military did not earmark any spending on new aircraft carriers.

That will leave Russia with just one carrier for the coming decade compared to the 11 in operations and six kept in reserve by the United States. The air force also appears to be delaying plans to launch its next generation of strategic bombers -a project that has been advertised through the media for much of the past decade.

Analysts said the plan was many years overdue.

“Only about 10 per cent of Russia’s armed forces may be really be described as modern,” said independent military analyst Alexander Golts.

But he added that the plan threatened to get bogged in Russia’s layered military industrial complex -a Communist-era system that involves dozens of opaque state enterprises with murky spending practices.

“Without a radical reorganization of our defence industry, this money will just go to waste,” said Golts.


Comment: The lunatics of our far-right will no doubt seize on this story to scream about Evil Russia again but the attitude in Russia, as expressed in personal comment and in their media, is that global upheavals mandate self-protection and that Russia has no interest whatsoever in attacking the United States, China or the Channel Islands. And our armaments industry has the failing Afghanistani war on its hands.

Conversations with the Crow

            When the CIA discovered that their former Deputy Director of Clandestine Affairs, Robert  T. Crowley, had been talking with author Gregory Douglas, they became fearful (because of what Crowley knew) and outraged (because they knew Douglas would publish eventually) and made many efforts to silence Crowley, mostly by having dozens of FBI agents call or visit him at his Washington home and try to convince him to stop talking to Douglas, whom they considered to be an evil, loose cannon.

           Crowley did not listen to them (no one else ever does, either) and Douglas made through shorthand notes of each and every one of their many conversation. TBR News published most of these (some of the really vile ones were left out of the book but will be included on this site as a later addendum ) and the entire collection was later produced as an Ebook.

            Now, we reliably learn, various Washington alphabet agencies are trying to find a way to block the circulation of this highly negative, entertaining and dangerous work, so to show our solidarity with our beloved leaders and protectors, and our sincere appreciation for their corrupt and coercive actions, we are going to reprint the entire work, chapter by chapter. (The complete book can be obtained by going to:


 Here is the sixty-fourth  chapter

Conversation No. 64

Date: Monday, February 10, 1997

Commenced: 11:02 AM CST

Concluded: 11:35 AM CST

GD: Good morning, Robert. What’s going on back there on a nice cold Monday?

RTC: Not very much, Gregory, and after a lifetime of excitement, I rather like it that way.

GD: Are you still in touch over there?

RTC: Sometimes, Gregory, sometimes. A casual conversation here, a visit there. You know how it is. Gone and soon forgotten.

GD: And no memoirs, either.

RTC: No, the code of omerta is with all of us retirees.

GD: But never having worked for your people, I have no such caveat, do I?

RTC: No, you do not.

GD: But Corson never worked for you, did he?

RTC: No, not actually. He wanted to, but he never did. He has been involved in various things but only on the periphery.

GD: People love to dream and eventually, they begin to fantasize and after those take hold, begin to lie in public and later, in print.

RTC: Cruel, Gregory, but close to the truth.

GD: Do you know what really disturbs me, Robert? I mean the CIA people who do not like me writing that the head of the Gestapo worked for them. What I find bad is their utter stupidity. I can appreciate intelligence, even if it is directed towards or against me, but when your people drag up dismal failures like Wolfe who calls himself Doctor when he isn’t, and Landreth who calls himself a television producer when he isn’t. And all the pathetic and utterly predictable kindergarten games they play, trying to lure me into some kind of a trap or to find out what documents I have from a man they claim did not exist….pathetic, Robert, really pathetic. Wolfe is a second-level librarian with delusions of literary grandeur and Landreth claims to run a television company and actually runs a wino soup kitchen in Los Angeles. Can’t Langley find someone with an IQ higher than their belt size?

RTC: Now, Gregory, you are getting loquacious again. I don’t think it’s because these people are stupid, but that you are too intelligent for your own good. Certainly for theirs. You annoy Kimmel, whose middle-class morality is offended by your callous treatment of his station in life, and Bill is terrified of you. I don’t mean he thinks you are going to lure him outside on garbage can night and split his skull with an axe, but Bill is like so many other creative liars; he’s afraid someone like you will come on the scene and expose him.

GD: I don’t do this on purpose, you know.

RTC: Oh, I think there is some malice in what you do, Gregory. I don’t find you either stupid or unkind, but you have a very active streak of destruction in your nature. Why, Gregory, bother to shoot butterflies with a rifle?

GD: Point, but then I don’t put up with these morons gladly. Now, an intelligent and creative approach might get some positive reaction from me, but all of this transparent bleating just annoys me. And after I have dispatched one with withering words or, better, making a fool out of them, why here comes another one down the path, wearing the top half of a clown suit and waving a fan. Jesus wept. You know, their reaction time is marvelous, Robert. I did the first Mueller book in ’95 and just now they are starting to leak negative stories about me. Do they sleep in refrigerators at night? Slow on the draw, Robert. In the Old West of blessed fiction, they would be full of holes. I wonder what sort of attack they will try next? There never was a Heinrich Mueller? I am really a practicing vampire? I misspelled a name once so I can’t be right about anything? Do you think some broken-down academic who teaches animal husbandry at an Arkansas community college will come forward and produce a book showing that Mueller was eaten by Stalin? They did a story like that once about Mueller living in Panama but it turned out to be a huge joke. Then some senile Czech intelligence person’s son claimed his father said Mueller was shot in Moscow. Of course, when the press tried to talk to the father, he was too far gone to do anything but wet himself.

RTC: I don’t think a book, Gregory. And after what you did to that Hungarian Jewess in London, I doubt if any reporter will dare to attack you again.

GD: Fear is a wonderful deterrent, Robert. Pick the loudest of the pack, stick a knife in them and gut them in front of everybody and the rest of the piebald apes run back to the security of the deep forest.

RTC: Well, you don’t fit the mold, Gregory. You were supposed to turn all of Mueller’s highly incriminating material over to that jerk from Time magazine and then they would be done with you. I don’t think the boobery understands that hiring General Mueller, bringing him over here and putting him to work was a very, very sensitive business. After all, FDR’s propaganda machine depicted Mueller’s Gestapo as pure evil…

GD: Which they were not…

RTC: No, just professionals. But necessary targets. And in light of the propaganda, how could we dare to hire the man who personally shoved millions of Jews into the enormous gas chambers that could have been seen from the moon? No, a very private matter indeed. That’s why Jim Critchfield is terrified of you and wants to kill you. If it ever got into the Jewish and far left community…

GD: The same thing…

RTC: Yes, and if it did, Jim would be toast. Therefore, you lie like a rug and no one should ever listen to you. Of course, given your volatile and creative personality, such jabber only gets you angrier and that results in more very ugly mischief. Not to be impudent, Gregory, but how much money have you skinned these people out of?

GD: About a hundred and ten thousand, give or take a few cents. Book advance fees, television rights, outright bribes and so on.

RTC: And what did they ever get for all the taxpayer’s money?

GD: A number ten shoe in their scrotum, Robert.

RTC: It seems that way. Well, I don’t know what their next move will be, but I have seen this all before. The usual method of dealing with people like you, aside from the convenient heart attack or car accident, is to hire worthless but hungry scribblers to submit articles to obedient newspapers, marginalizing you, misspelling your name and, in general, treating you like someone on ticket of leave from a nut house. And then on to other, more important, matters. You know, we have an entire department that invents news stories to feed to our toadies in the press in order to disguise something very bad we just pulled off. We kill the head of the UN and then start a story going about the Yeti being seen in downtown Detroit.

GD: That’s a familiar pattern. How controlled is it?

RTC: Gregory, the US government owns the press, the newspapers, the magazines and the television. They print what we tell them to and they ignore that which we wish them to ignore. We wanted to get rid of Nixon, who was becoming a loose cannon, so the press obliged by daily attacks. We kill Kennedy and suddenly, legions of conspiracy nuts emerge from under their damp rocks with tens of thousands of books filled with more shit than a Christmas turkey.

GD: Are they on the payrolls?

RTC: God no, Gregory. Most of these slime merchants are on their own and we would never dare to pay them…at least not directly. But what we do accomplish is to get their cloaking nuttiness published and distributed through our friends in the media. You know, a big New York publishing house does a book that says Kennedy was only shot by Oswald, number one on The New York Times book list, even though they only sold three copies, talk show babbling on friendly TV networks and on and on. And the more the literary nut fringe sees and hears others braying like donkeys in public and, very important here, getting attention, they go at it again by proving some Secret Service agent was hiding in the trunk of Kennedy’s car and shot him through the trunk lid.

GD” (Laughter)

RTC: No, don’t laugh. They’re armies of the ignorant out there who believe such crap. You know that.

GD: Yes, I do. And since we’re on the topic, how much of all this insanity is planned?

RTC: Oh, we start it, that’s for certain, but there are many who carry on the good work quite for free. Actually for free. Most of them are pathetic losers and they lust after attention…for recognition…for something other than their bleak and unrewarding existence. They become keepers of great secrets, Gregory, and smug in their inner knowledge.

GD: They delude themselves.

RTC: Yes, but they also delude the public which is often very important.

GD: Why must the CIA, or the Pentagon, or the White House, use such garbage to advance their evil ends?

RTC: I never said we didn’t need rubber gloves and Lysol, dealing with our sources, Gregory. But these twits have produced so much silly garbage about the Kennedy business that our worries are over.

GD: I recall a cartoon in Playboy. A bunch of ancient Hebrews were standing around at the base of a mountain and down the path came a man with a long beard and a little bottle in his hand. One of those below had his head turned to his neighbor and the caption said, as I recall it, ‘Our headaches are over. Here comes Moses with the tablets!’ It said Aspirin on the little bottle.

RTC: (Laughter) Naughty boy, Gregory.

GD: Here, I never did see the cartoon. I’m just commenting on it. All of this reminds me of a scenario. A small child sees a stallion mounting a mare in a pasture and points to it. ‘Mommy, what’s the big horsy doing to the little one?’ ‘Oh,’ said the shocked mother, ‘just look over there, Jimmy! See the nice donkey?’ ‘Why,’ said the entranced child, ‘what’s the donkey doing to cousin Muriel?’ Ah well, Robert, in seeking to avoid Scylla, we fall upon Charybdis.

RTC: Pardon?

GD: A classical Greek nautical problem, Robert.

Concluded at 11:35 AM CST



Dramatis personae:


James Jesus Angleton: Once head of the CIA’s Counterintelligence division, later fired because of his obsessive and illegal behavior, tapping the phones of many important government officials in search of elusive Soviet spies. A good friend of Robert Crowley and a co-conspirator with him in the assassination of President Kennedy


James P. Atwood: (April 16, 1930-April 20, 1997) A CIA employee, located in Berlin, Atwood had a most interesting career. He worked for any other intelligence agency, domestic or foreign, that would pay him, was involved in selling surplus Russian atomic artillery shells to the Pakistan government and was also most successful in the manufacturing of counterfeit German dress daggers. Too talkative, Atwood eventually had a sudden, and fatal, “seizure” while lunching with CIA associates.


William Corson: A Marine Corps Colonel and President Carter’s representative to the CIA. A friend of Crowley and Kimmel, Corson was an intelligent man whose main failing was a frantic desire to be seen as an important person. This led to his making fictional or highly exaggerated claims.


John Costello: A British historian who was popular with revisionist circles. Died of AIDS on a trans-Atlantic flight to the United States.


James Critchfield: Former U.S. Army Colonel who worked for the CIA and organizaed the Cehlen Org. at Pullach, Germany. This organization was filled to the Plimsoll line with former Gestapo and SD personnel, many of whom were wanted for various purported crimes. He hired Heinrich Müller in 1948 and went on to represent the CIA in the Persian Gulf.


Robert T. Crowley: Once the deputy director of Clandestine Operations and head of the group that interacted with corporate America. A former West Point football player who was one of the founders of the original CIA. Crowley was involved at a very high level with many of the machinations of the CIA.


Gregory Douglas: A retired newspaperman, onetime friend of Heinrich Müller and latterly, of Robert Crowley. Inherited stacks of files from the former (along with many interesting works of art acquired during the war and even more papers from Robert Crowley.) Lives comfortably in a nice house overlooking the Mediterranean.


Reinhard Gehlen: A retired German general who had once been in charge of the intelligence for the German high command on Russian military activities. Fired by Hitler for incompetence, he was therefore naturally hired by first, the U.S. Army and then, as his level of incompetence rose, with the CIA. His Nazi-stuffed organizaion eventually became the current German Bundes Nachrichten Dienst.


Thomas K. Kimmel, Jr: A grandson of Admiral Husband Kimmel, Naval commander at Pearl Harbor who was scapegoated after the Japanese attack. Kimmel was a senior FBI official who knew both Gregory Douglas and Robert Crowley and made a number of attempts to discourage Crowley from talking with Douglas. He was singularly unsuccessful. Kimmel subsequently retired, lives in Florida, and works for the CIA as an “advisor.”


Willi Krichbaum: A Senior Colonel (Oberführer) in the SS, head of the wartime Secret Field Police of the German Army and Heinrich Müller’s standing deputy in the Gestapo. After the war, Krichbaum went to work for the Critchfield organization and was their chief recruiter and hired many of his former SS friends. Krichbaum put Critchfield in touch with Müller in 1948.


Heinrich Müller: A former military pilot in the Bavarian Army in WWI, Müller  became a political police officer in Munich and was later made the head of the Secret State Police or Gestapo. After the war, Müller escaped to Switzerland where he worked for Swiss intelligence as a specialist on Communist espionage and was hired by James Critchfield, head of the Gehlen Organization, in 1948. Müller subsequently was moved to Washington where he worked for the CIA until he retired.


Joseph Trento: A writer on intelligence subjects, Trento and his wife “assisted” both Crowley and Corson in writing a book on the Russian KGB. Trento believed that he would inherit all of Crowley’s extensive files but after Crowley’s death, he discovered that the files had been gutted and the most important, and sensitive, ones given to Gregory Douglas. Trento was not happy about this. Neither were his employers.

Frank Wisner: A Founding Father of the CIA who promised much to the Hungarian and then failed them. First, a raging lunatic who was removed from Langley, screaming, in a strait jacket and later, blowing off the top of his head with a shotgun.

Robert Wolfe: A retired librarian from the National Archives who worked closely with the CIA on covering up embarrassing historical material in the files of the Archives. A strong supporter of holocaust writers

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