TBR News December 30, 2015

Dec 29 2015

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. December 29, 2015: “I will be away for several days over the New Year holiday. WS

The ARCTIC FOX operation

by Harry von Johnson, PhD

December 27, 2015


The main source of global energy reserves and geopolitical tensions could shift in the not-too-distant future from the Middle East to the Arctic. Here’s why.

In releasing its first-ever Arctic strategy recently, the Pentagon has shined a spotlight on the resource-rich Arctic region’s increasing importance — and its growing security challenges. It may sound improbable, but the main source of global energy reserves and geopolitical tensions could shift in the not-too-distant future from the deserts and densely populated urban areas of the Middle East to the icy waters and desolate tundra of the Arctic.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates that the Arctic may hold 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 90 billion barrels of oil. “The Arctic accounts for about 13 percent of the undiscovered oil, 30 percent of the undiscovered natural gas, and 20 percent of the undiscovered natural gas liquids in the world,” according to USGS.

About a third of the oil is in Alaskan territory, and the cost of extraction is increasingly justifiable due to market realities. Growing demand, along with decreasing and undependable supplies in the Middle East, are conspiring to push energy prices upwards, which is encouraging exploration in the Arctic and elsewhere.

Another important factor in the Arctic energy rush relates to shipping. The fabled Northwest Passage, once frozen most of the year, is thawing. “Opening up the Northwest Passage cuts 4,000 nautical miles off the trip from Europe to Asia,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen observes. “You can bet a lot of companies have done that math.” Indeed, according to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, “Traffic in the Northern Sea Route is reportedly expected to increase tenfold this year.”

Russia’s Reach

Russia is eyeing the resources of the Arctic and signaling its seriousness about claiming them for itself:

•    In May, Russia announced plans to construct four new warships expressly for the Arctic by 2020, along with a constellation of 11 border outposts to protect its Arctic frontier.

•    In 2012, the Kremlin announced that key air units would redeploy to Arctic airfields in Novaya Zemlya (a finger-shaped island off the Russian mainland). That same year, Moscow unveiled plans to stand up “infrastructure hubs” in the Arctic to be used as way stations for Russian warships.

•    A 2009 Kremlin strategy paper placed a priority on securing energy resources in “the Barents Sea shelf and other Arctic regions.”

•    In 2008, a Russian general revealed plans to train “troops that could be engaged in Arctic combat missions,” ominously adding, “Wars these days are won and lost well before they are launched.”

•    During a 2007 expedition, after a Russian flag was placed under the Arctic ice, the lead explorer declared, “The Arctic is ours.”

NATO Commander Admiral James Stavridis has warned that the Arctic could become a ‘zone of competition, or worse, a zone of conflict.’

I have previously noted that, “Russia’s outsized Arctic claims rest on a dubious interpretation of an underwater ridge linking to the Russian landmass. Russia argues that this ridge is an extension of its own continental shelf.” Not surprisingly, Russia’s Arctic neighbors don’t share this view. In 2010, as the United States and Canada began a joint expedition to collect data on the extended continental shelf, the U.S. government emphasized that “the United States has an inherent national interest in knowing, and declaring to others with specificity, the extent of our sovereign rights with
regard to the U.S. extended continental shelf. Certainty and international recognition are important in establishing the necessary stability for development, conservation, and protection of these areas, likely rich in resources.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin declared in 2011, “We are open to dialogue, but naturally, the defense of our geopolitical interests will be hard and consistent.” As if to underscore this, Russia is deploying two army brigades — 10,000 troops — to defend its Arctic claims.

U.S. Defense in the Arctic

Russia’s words and deeds help explain why former NATO Commander Admiral James Stavridis has warned that the Arctic could become a “zone of competition, or worse, a zone of conflict.”

The Pentagon’s Arctic strategy concedes that the Arctic could be “an avenue of approach to North America for those with hostile intent toward the U.S. homeland,” citing a range of national security interests related to Arctic security and stability, including missile defense, missile early warning, strategic sealift, strategic deterrence, maritime security, and maritime freedom of maneuver.

With some 27,000 troops in Alaska and a key air base above the Arctic Circle (Thule Air Base in Greenland), the United States “is an Arctic nation with broad and fundamental interests in the Arctic,” as the president’s 2013 Arctic policy states.

However, the United States has only two operational polar icebreakers — one of which is a medium-duty vessel tasked largely to scientific missions and the other of which has exceeded its 30-year lifespan. Russia, by contrast, deploys some 25 polar icebreakers.

Just as NORAD provides airspace and maritime surveillance for North America, an allied arrangement under the NORAD rubric could provide the building blocks for Arctic security.

Admiral Robert Papp, commandent of the U.S. Coast Guard, notes that the United States deployed eight heavy icebreakers at the height of the Cold War and warns that this icebreaker gap could haunt the United States. “While our Navy can go under the ice with submarines — and, when the Arctic weather permits, which is not all that often, we can fly over the ice — our nation has very limited Arctic surface capabilities. But surface capabilities are what we need to conduct missions like search and rescue, environmental response, and to provide a consistent and visible sovereign presence,” he explains.

A new heavy-duty icebreaker would cost $852 million. That’s a huge expenditure amid what Hagel calls “steep, deep, and abrupt defense budget reductions” — and yet another reason to reverse sequestration’s guillotine approach to budget-cutting.

Arctic Allies

If the United States and its Arctic allies can agree on a common approach to Arctic security, combine their capabilities, and play niche security roles in the Arctic, they can deal with Moscow from a posture of strength and clarity — thus limiting the sorts of misunderstandings that can lead to what Churchill called “temptations to a trial of strength” and ultimately to confrontation.

The good news is that some of America’s closest allies are Arctic neighbors: Canada, Iceland, Denmark, and Norway are all members of NATO. Although Sweden is officially non-aligned, it’s a de facto member of NATO, cooperating extensively with the alliance in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Libya — and working closely with Norway and Denmark on security in and around the Arctic. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to allied activity in the Arctic:

•    Norway has moved its military headquarters inside the Arctic Circle, transferred “a substantial part of its operational forces to the north,” moved its coastguard headquarters north of the Arctic Circle, and recently based its largest active army unit above the Arctic Circle, according to a report produced by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Norway also has led Arctic maneuvers involving 13 nations. One scenario was based on an attack against oil rigs by the fictional country “Northland,” a thinly disguised euphemism for Russia.

•    Denmark is setting up an Arctic military command, beefing up its military presence in Greenland, and deploying an Arctic Response Force, as SIPRI recently reported.

•    Canada is building new bases, including an Arctic Training Center halfway between the Arctic Circle and the North Pole; conducting annual maneuvers to defend its Arctic territories; preparing to deploy up to eight armed Arctic patrol ships; and procuring a squadron of drones — some of them armed — to be Ottawa’s “eyes in the sky in the Arctic,” according to Canada’s top air force general.

•    The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard have joined Denmark and Canada for Arctic maneuvers. In late 2012, the United States and Canada agreed to deepen their military cooperation in the Arctic, with a focus on cold-weather operations, training, capabilities, domain awareness, and communications.

Russia appears to be employing a strategy by which claims will justify possession, and possession will justify claims. To prevent Russia from unilaterally claiming chunks of the Arctic, the United States, Canada, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden may be best served by pooling their resources to protect their shared interests, as they do in other parts of the world.

The Arctic Council is not well suited for such a role given that it is forbidden from dealing with military-security issues. In 2009, NATO officials declared the Arctic a region “of strategic interest to the alliance.” Yet Fogh Rasmussen announced this year that “NATO has no intention of raising its presence and activities in the High North.”  

The United States, Canada, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden may be best served by pooling their resources to protect their shared interests, as they do in other parts of the world.

With or without NATO’s unifying role, it is only prudent for the United States and its allies to develop some sort of collaborative security component to the Arctic puzzle. “In order to ensure a peaceful opening of the Arctic,” as Admiral James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, puts it, “DOD must anticipate today the Arctic operations that will be expected of it tomorrow.”

There is a framework already in place to help the allies address Arctic security: Jointly operated by the United States and Canada, NORAD could serve as the model for an Arctic security partnership. Just as NORAD provides airspace and maritime surveillance for North America, an allied arrangement under the NORAD rubric could provide the building blocks for Arctic security.

The challenge is to remain open to cooperation with Moscow while bracing for worst-case scenarios. After all, Russia is not the Soviet Union. Even as Putin makes mischief, Moscow is open to making deals. Russia and Norway, for instance, resolved a long-running boundary dispute in 2010, paving the way for development in 67,000 square miles of the Arctic.

Still, dealing with Russia is about power. As Churchill once said of his Russian counterparts, “There is nothing they admire so much as strength, and there is nothing for which they have less respect than for weakness.” When the message is clear and backed by muscle — “hard and consistent,” to use Putin’s language — Russia will take a cooperative posture. When the message is muddled, Russia will take what it can get.

The 25th Infantry Division (nicknamed “Tropic Lightning”, “Electric Strawberry”, and the C’ Chi National Guard during the Vietnam War) is a U.S. Army division based in Hawaii. The division, which was activated on 1 October 1941 in Hawaii, conducts military operations in the Asia-Pacific region. Its present deployment is composed of Stryker, light infantry, airborne, and aviation units. The division is being moved to Alaaska as part of a program to gain control of Arctic natural resources and territory.


Organization of the 25th Infantry Division

Current structure

Cmdr: MG Kurt Fuller 2012–present

OrBat of the 25th Infantry Division  

25th Infantry Division

1st Brigade Combat Team (Stryker) “Arctic Wolves” (under United States Army Alaska)

Headquarters & Headquarters Company

1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment

3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment

1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment

5th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment (RSTA)

2nd Battalion, 8th Field Artillery Regiment

25th Support Battalion

Delta Company, 52nd Infantry Regiment (Anti-tank)

73rd Engineer Company

176th Signal Company

184th Military Intelligence Company

Task Force Couch (Deactivated in 2007)

2nd Brigade Combat Team (Stryker) “Warriors”

Headquarters & Headquarters Company

1st Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment

1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment

1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment

2nd Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment (RSTA)

2nd Battalion 11th Field Artillery Regiment

225th Brigade Support Battalion

Bravo Company, 52nd Infantry Regiment (Anti-tank)

66th Engineer Company

556th Signal Company

185th Military Intelligence Company

3rd Brigade Combat Team (Infantry) “Broncos”

2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment “Wolfhounds”

2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment “Cacti”

3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment “Raider”

3rd Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment “Steel”

325th Brigade Support Battalion “Mustangs”

Special Troops Battalion “Bayonet”

4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) “Spartan” (under United States Army   Alaska)

1st Battalion (Airborne), 501st Infantry Regiment “1 Geronimo”

3rd Battalion (Airborne), 509th Infantry Regiment “3 Geronimo”

1st Squadron, 40th Cavalry Regiment “Denali”

2nd Battalion (Airborne), 377th Field Artillery Regiment “Spartan Steel”

725th Brigade Support Battalion “Centurion”

Special Troops Battalion “Warrior”

Combat Aviation Brigade

Headquarters & Headquarters Company

1st Battalion (Attack Reconnaissance), 25th Aviation Regiment (AH-64 )”Gunfighters”

2nd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment (UH-60) “Diamond Head”

3rd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment (CH-47) “Hammerhead”

2nd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment (OH-58D) “Lightning Horse”

209th Aviation Support Battalion “Lobos”


The Arctic: Where the U.S. and Russia Could Square Off Next

A closer look at Moscow’s claims in the northern seas

Mar 28 2014,

by Uri Friedman

The Atlantic

In mid-March, around the same time that Russia annexed Crimea, Russian officials announced another territorial coup: 52,000 square kilometers in the Sea of Okhotsk, a splotch of Pacific Ocean known as the “Peanut Hole” and believed to be rich in oil and gas. A UN commission had recognized the maritime territory as part of Russia’s continental shelf, Russia’s minister of natural resources and environment proudly announced, and the decision would only advance the territorial claims in the Arctic that Russia had pending before the same committee.

After a decade and a half of painstaking petitioning, the Peanut Hole was Russia’s.

Russian officials were getting a bit ahead of themselves. Technically, the UN commission had approved Russia’s recommendations on the outer limits of its continental shelf—and only when Russia acts on these suggestions is its control of the Sea of Okhotsk “final and binding.”

Still, these technicalities shouldn’t obscure the larger point: Russia isn’t only pursuing its territorial ambitions in Ukraine and other former Soviet states. It’s particularly active in the Arctic Circle, and, until recently, these efforts engendered international cooperation, not conflict.

But the Crimean crisis has complicated matters. Take Hillary Clinton’s call last week for Canada and the United States to form a “united front” in response to Russia “aggressively reopening military bases” in the Arctic. Or the difficulties U.S. officials are having in designing sanctions against Russia that won’t harm Western oil companies like Exxon Mobil, which are engaged in oil-and-gas exploration with their Russian counterparts in parts of the Russian Arctic.

In a dispatch from “beneath the Arctic ocean” this week, The Wall Street Journal reported on a U.S. navy exercise, scheduled before the crisis in Ukraine, that included a simulated attack on a Russian submarine. The U.S. has now canceled a joint naval exercise with Russia in the region and put various other partnerships there on hold.

This week, the Council on Foreign Relations published a very helpful guide on the jostling among countries to capitalize on the shipping routes and energy resources that could be unlocked as the Arctic melts. The main players are the countries with Arctic Ocean coastlines: Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Norway, Russia, the United States (Alaska)—and, to a lesser extent, Finland, Iceland, and Sweden. These nations have generally agreed to work together to resolve territorial and environmental issues. But some sovereignty disputes persist, including American opposition to Russia’s claims to parts of the Northern Sea Route above Siberia.

“Few countries have been as keen to invest in the Arctic as Russia, whose economy and federal budget rely heavily on hydrocarbons,” CFR writes. “Of the nearly sixty large oil and natural-gas fields discovered in the Arctic, there are forty-three in Russia, eleven in Canada, six in Alaska, and one in Norway, according to a 2009 U.S. Department of Energy report.”

“Russia, the only non-NATO littoral Arctic state, has made a military buildup in the Arctic a strategic priority, restoring Soviet-era airfields and ports and marshaling naval assets,” the guide adds. “In late 2013, President Vladimir Putin instructed his military leadership to pay particular attention to the Arctic, saying Russia needed ‘every lever for the protection of its security and national interests there.’ He also ordered the creation of a new strategic military command in the Russian Arctic by the end of 2014.”

Ultimately, the remarkable international cooperation we’ve seen in the North Pole may continue even amid the standoff in Ukraine. This week, for instance, government officials from the eight members of the Arctic Council, including Russia and the United States, went ahead with a summit in Canada. “The Russians have been quite cooperative in the Arctic during the past decade,” international-law professor Michael Byers told The Canadian Press, “probably because they realize how expensive it would be to take another approach, especially one involving militarization.”


Arctic military rivalry could herald a 21st-century cold war

Report warns that states such as Norway and Russia have military plans geared towards conflict rather than peacekeeping

June 5, 2012

by Terry Macalister


A buildup of military forces around the Arctic amid growing excitement about its oil wealth has the ability to undermine stability in the region, a research paper has warned.

According to the report – called Climate Change and International Security: the Arctic as a Bellwether – the military buildup is neither advisable nor a sensible peacekeeping measure, as it is increasingly designed for combat rather than policing.

The paper, published by the US not-for-profit organisation, the Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), warns: “Although the pursuit of co-operation is the stated priority, most of the Arctic states have begun to rebuild and modernise their military capabilities in the region. The new military programs have been geared towards combat capabilities that exceed mere constabulary capacity.”

It adds: “States such as Norway and Russia are building new naval units designed to engage in high-intensity conflicts. While this capability may be understood as prudent, the ability of rivals to intimidate or subdue with sophisticated weapons systems could, if collegiality falters, undermine diplomacy and stability in the region.”

The paper, authored by Rob Huebert from the University of Calgary and Heather Exner-Pirot of the University of Saskatchewan among others, said one of the biggest worries about the far north area was the enormous uncertainty of everything from the speed of sea ice melting to the price of commodities that could determine the pace of extraction.

A recent IMF report on peak oil warned that the price of oil was likely to double from today’s price of $110 a barrel by the end of the decade.

The US Geological Survey has estimated that about a quarter of the world’s oil and gas reserves could lie under the ice cap – encouraging a race for resources. Shell has applied for drilling rights in the Arctic off Alaska this summer and is also planning to make boreholes on behalf of other oil companies off Greenland.

Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev told the Seattle Times in 2008 that “our first and main task is to turn the Arctic into Russia’s resource base of the 21st century.”

His successor, Vladimir Putin, has just unveiled plans to give tax breaks to encourage companies to exploit new oil and gas fields, such as the Shtockman field in the Barents Sea.

Russia and Norway have recently signed a boundary agreement in the Barents Sea and undertaken joint military exercises, but the C2ES research paper says Norway “continues to take seriously its preparations for the defence of the High North, as it calls it, hosting five Operation Cold Response exercises since 2006.”

The US has begun to increase the visibility of its submarines in the Arctic, while Canada has unveiled plans for an Arctic training centre in Resolute Bay for its army.

The authors of the Bellwether report argue that a first step towards easing the military pressure would be for states to talk about it. It suggests the Arctic Council, which currently has a prohibition on the discussion of security issues, is the place to start.


Putin: Russia’s Arctic Command to Become Operational in December


Russia is planning to form a combine-arms contingent and build a unified network of military facilities on its Arctic territories to host troops, advanced warships and aircraft as part of a plan to boost protection of the country’s interests and borders in the region.

SOCHI, November 24 (Sputnik) — Russia’s Arctic Command will be headquartered at a Northern Fleet’s naval base and will become operational on December 1, President Vladimir Putin said Monday.

“A new strategic command in the Arctic, based at the Northern Fleet, will become operational on December 1 this year,” Putin said at a meeting with top military commanders.

Russia is planning to form a combine-arms contingent and build a unified network of military facilities on its Arctic territories to host troops, advanced warships and aircraft as part of a plan to boost protection of the country’s interests and borders in the region.

According to the Defense Ministry, the new command, dubbed North, will include the Northern Fleet, two arctic-warfare brigades, as well as air force and air defense units by 2017.


Retro Cold War Guff from the NY Times

December 27, 2015

by Eric Margolis


A striking example of how dangerously Americans are misinformed and misled by the war party was featured in a major article in 24 December, New York Times.

In “Russia Rearms for a New Era,” the authors assert Russian military spending is growing and has risen $11 billion from 2014 to 2015. Lurid maps and diagrams of weapons make it seem that Stalin’s 210-division Red Army is again on the march – and headed into Europe.

A professor at Columbia’s Harriman Institute was actually quoted claiming that President Vladimir Putin is trying to “provoke the US and NATO into military action” to bolster his popularity.

What unbelievable rubbish. This dimwitted lady believes that Putin, whose popularity ratings rise over 82% in Russia, needs to court nuclear war to gain a few more points? Shame on the NY Times.

Let’s look at the true figures. The US so-called “defense budget”(it should be called “offense budget”) is in the range of $600 billion, 37% of total world military spending by a nation that only 5% of world population.

Some studies put the true figure at $700 billion.

Not included in this figure are “black” projects, a lot of handouts to foreign military forces, and secret slush funds for waging small wars in Afghanistan, the Mideast, Africa and Asia. The US has over 700 military bases around the globe, with new ones opening all the time.

The US spends more on its armed forces than the next nine military powers – combined. America’s wealthy allies in Europe and Japan add important power to America’s global military domination.

Russia defense spending is roughly $70 billion, and this in spite of plunging oil prices and US-led sanctions. France and Britain each spend almost as much; Saudi Arabia spends more. A French admiral ruefully told me the US Navy’s budget alone exceeded that of France’s total armed forces.

Russia is a vast nation with very difficult geography that limits its different military regions from supporting one another – a problem from which Russia has suffered since its 1904 war with Japan. Moscow needs large, often redundant armed forces to cover its immensity. This includes the warming Arctic, where Russia, like other coastal nations, is asserting its sovereignty. And Russia must also keep a watchful eye on neighboring China.

The Kremlin’s view is that America is trying to tear down what’s left of the post-Soviet Russian Federation by subversion (see regime changes in Georgia, Ukraine) and by stirring up Muslim independence movements in the Caucasus and Central Asia. That’s why Russian military forces are fighting in Syria.

After the total collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia’s economy and its once potent military fell to ruin. For two decades, Russia military was starved of men and money, and allowed to rust. Putin has been playing catch-up for the past decade to rebuild his nation’s great power status and defend against what Russians see a constant western plots.

Memories are still raw of how Russia’s most secret military technologies were sold to the US during the ultra-corrupt Yeltsin era.

Russia’s relatively modest military budget is hardly a threat to the mighty United States. In fact, the only real Russia threat we face is the danger of blundering into a potential nuclear confrontation with Russia in Ukraine, the Black Sea, Syria or Iraq. Great, nuclear-armed powers should never…repeat, never…engage in direct confrontations.

It appalls and mystifies me that otherwise smart, world-wise people at the NY Times and the anti-Russian Council on Foreign Relations would even contemplate military conflict with Russia – for what? Mariupol Ukraine or Idlib, Syria, places no one has ever heard of.

We have been closer to blundering into nuclear war with Russia than any time since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Or worse, 1983, when a NATO military exercise codenamed Able Archer was misinterpreted by the Soviet military as an incoming attack by NATO.

This ultimately terrifying crisis was played against the background of intense anti-Soviet propaganda by the West, crowned by Ronald Reagan’s fulminations against the “Evil Empire,” which convinced the Kremlin a western attack was coming. Nuclear war was just averted thanks to a few courageous officers in the Soviet Air Defense Command.


Conversations with the Crow

On October 8th, 2000, Robert Trumbull Crowley, once a leader of the CIA’s Clandestine Operations Division, died in a Washington hospital of heart failure and the end effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. Before the late Assistant Director Crowley was cold, Joseph Trento, a writer of light-weight books on the CIA, descended on Crowley’s widow at her town house on Cathedral Hill Drive in Washington and hauled away over fifty boxes of Crowley’s CIA files.

Once Trento had his new find secure in his house in Front Royal , Virginia, he called a well-known Washington fix lawyer with the news of his success in securing what the CIA had always considered to be a potential major embarrassment. Three months before, July 20th of that year, retired Marine Corps colonel William R. Corson, and an associate of Crowley, died of emphysema and lung cancer at a hospital in Bethesda, Md. After Corson’s death, Trento and his Washington lawyer went to Corson’s bank, got into his safe deposit box and removed a manuscript entitled ‘Zipper.’ This manuscript, which dealt with Crowley’s involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, vanished into a CIA burn-bag and the matter was considered to be closed forever

After Crowley’s death and Trento’s raid on the Crowley files, huge gaps were subsequently discovered by horrified CIA officials and when Crowley’s friends mentioned Gregory Douglas, it was discovered that Crowley’s son had shipped two large boxes to Douglas. No one knew their contents but because Douglas was viewed as an uncontrollable loose cannon who had done considerable damage to the CIA’s reputation by his on-going publication of the history of Gestapo-Mueller, they bent every effort both to identify the missing files and make some effort to retrieve them before Douglas made any use of them.

Douglas had been in close contact with Crowley and had long phone conversatins with him. He found this so interesting and informative that he taped  and later transcribed them.

These conversations have been published in a book: ‘Conversations with the Crow” and this is an excerpt.



Conversation No. 32

Date: Monday, August 19, 1996

Commenced: 9:37 AM CST

Concluded: 10:15 AM CST

GD: I hear conversations there, Robert. Am I calling at a wrong time for you?

RTC: No, nothing at all. They’ll leave in a minute or so.

GD: Thank you for the material on ZIPPER, Robert. Very, very interesting but not unexpected.

RTC: But we do not speak of specifics, do we?

GD: No, not necessary. Is there an original of the Driscoll 1report? RTC: Somewhere, no doubt, but I never had one.

GD: Did you know him?

RTC: Met professionally. I understand he died some time ago.

GD: I could check with a Russian friend about the original of their report unless you objected.

RTC: Why not just wait? Unless your connection might retire.

GD: I’ll think about it.

RTC: You mentioned one James Atwood a while ago as I recall.

GD: I know I did.

RTC: Mr. Atwood is very unhappy with you, Gregory. He accuses you of stealing money meant for us and in removing two loyal subjects of the Queen.

GD: The money was never intended for your people, in spite of what Atwood says and as far as the SAS types are concerned, I was as shocked as anyone when they vanished.

RTC: Vanished off of your boat in the middle of the Caribbean one dark night, as I was told.

GD: That’s as may be, Robert. Perhaps they decided to swim in the warm water. Who knows? You can’t believe anything Atwood says. Did you know that he worked for your people, the STASI and the KGB all at the same time while he was in Berlin?

RTC: Atwood is not an honest person, Gregory. But as to his accusations, they are private comments. I wouldn’t worry about them getting out.

GD: If it weren’t for Mueller’s tips, I would never have found the money and Atwood would still be contemplating another facelift. And I wouldn’t believe that your people would see a penny of it. When my Russian friend tipped me that Jimmy was going to detour to New Orleans and off-load our cargo, I was very upset as you can imagine. On the other hand, the next day, he was very upset when his two friends turned up missing. I never believed they were broke British tourists, stranded in Italy and willing to work their way back. Military types with shined shoes and sidewall haircuts. Atwood was about as subtle as a fart in a space suit.

RTC: (Laughter)

GD: Well, it’s true. He made such a fuss in the morning when he found we were still headed for the Panama Canal that I had to convince him he would be much more relaxed spending his time locked in his cabin. There was some expressed unhappiness there but he saw my point. It happened to be pointing at him at the time. We let him out of his cabin off Mexico because there was nothing he could do at that point. Besides, I had tossed his piece over the side along with a few other things I found in his cabin. He was very fortunate he didn’t join the gun.

RTC: But the gold? There was trouble about that as you might have guessed.

GD: Well, probably when we docked in California and he called his chums to get his trunk full of gold, he lied to them. Imagine their chagrin when they looked inside and found what they thought were bars of gold but were really paving stones from the hotel’s parking lot. A spray can full of gold paint covers many sins, including paving bricks, Robert. Did it ever occur to the men with the pointed heads that Jimmy might have been ripping them off? I always get blamed for the dirty work of others. They weren’t too mad because he’s still alive and up to his old tricks in Savannah, at least the last I heard.

RTC: ‘In the midst of life…’ Gregory.

GD: In the midst of life, we’re in peanut butter, Robert, or something else that looks like it. Memories, Robert, memories. I would assume you have a few of your own, don’t you?

RTC: And your gold?

GD: I know nothing about Nazi gold, Robert. A dream, nothing more. If I had any, it wouldn’t be in the Bank of America. They would have run, panting with news of it, to the government years ago, eager for that thrilling pat on the head. I had quite a problem with them once, when I lived in Santa Monica. They put my paycheck into someone else’s account and it took two weeks to get the dim bulbs to put it back. And to add injury to insult, they bounced my rent check, and others, and had the testicles to charge me for each and every check.

RTC: Banks do things like that.

GD: Not to me, they don’t. I simply went down and drew out all my money, including the overdraft charges, by going to a teller I knew that was a heavy pot smoker and confused sometimes. And then I did something very entertaining. I went to the fish market and bought two very large, cooked Dungeness crabs, froze them in my freezer and put them into my briefcase along with some really gross animal pornography. I had a safe deposit box at the local branch and I opened the box, took out various objects of value and replaced them with the crabs. Oh, and of course the lovely, instructional pictures. Robert, have you ever smelt shellfish when it goes off?

RTC: I can’t say as I have.

GD: It smells worse than someone pissing on a hot stove. Believe me, that’s a smell that really stands out. And in time, the crabs thawed and began the process of filling the bank with lovely odors. Of course no one could go into the vault without vomiting so they had to find out which box had the treasures. Most local box holders were on vacation, it being July and very hot down there, so they had to drill open about ten boxes to find the prize in mine. I was moving anyway and I heard later from my old landlord that the bank was greatly upset and wanted to charge me thousands of dollars for expenses. Not that they ever got any of it.

RTC: If you could only channel your creative energy, Gregory, you could be a formidable operator.

GD: I’m aware of that but I do enjoy having fun and listening to all the methane leaking out of the bloated idiots that the people in this country think are actually protecting them. Who will protect us from the agencies? God? I have my fun and sometimes I make my point. And gathering intelligence material, and I have had my own experiences with this, is sometimes such a waste of time, Robert. No matter how true or valuable it is, it always has to be passed up the ladder where it ends up in the hands of those who rule us. And if your information, accurate or not, doesn’t please them or reflect their idiot views, then into the trash basket with it. Are you with me, Robert? Does this ring a bell with you?

RTC: Oh yes, many bells. I recall, for example, a report by Joe Hovey, our station chief in Saigon, very accurately pinpointing the coming VC Tet offensive as early as November in 1967. This was about two months before the actual attack. I mean, Gregory, Joe was spot on. And, you would say, if we knew, why did we let it happen? Why because the leadership both at the Company and in the White House and the Pentagon didn’t want to believe it. Oh, Joe’s accurate report wasn’t the only one, believe me, but it was all ignored. Johnson may have been a great politician but he was worthless as a military leader and Westmoreland was only a sycophant who always did what his bosses wanted.

GD: I’ve noticed that weak leaders want weaker men around them because subconsciously they are aware that they are poor specimens of humanity and they want no one around who might show them up. A strong leader, on the other hand, will have strong and competent men around him. This is an entirely predictable happening. And Vietnam was a mess. From both a political and a military point of view, we walked right into a bog, got stuck and lost whatever it was we started out to do. And no one ever thinks about the dead their stupidity caused. A dead soldier is a piece off the board and a wounded one can’t fight so they forget them.

RTC: Well, I have quit a bit of background on Vietnam, Gregory and in one sense, you’re right but this is hindsight and hindsight is always right. We got into Vietnam a little bit at a time and for reasons that seemed to be correct at the time. The French ran their Indo-China for years and had a lucrative trade, especially in rubber. The war came, France was beaten by the Germans and the Vichy French government was controlled by the Germans. When the Japanese, who were allied with Germany, wanted to get into Indo-China, they asked the Germans who told the French to let them in. It was the rubber they were all after. It couldn’t do Germany any good so they forced Vichy to help the Japs for political reasons. During the war over there, a local resistance group started up, anti-Japanese of course. The problem was that it was run by local Communists but as FDR loved to cooperate with Communists, it was partially supplied by us. War was over, Japan defeated and the country reoccupied by the French. Political dissent and the French began to lose effective control over the rubber. We wanted DeGaulle to join NATO and his price was for us to assist France in their colony. Little by little, we did. And there was another element. JFK was Catholic and South Vietnam was filled with Catholics who wanted to be protected from the Communists and Buddhists. Cushing 2put on the heat and Kennedy then began to send some support units over there. The French had suffered a major propaganda defeat at Dien Bien Phu and French popular opinion demanded a withdrawal. The French got us to substitute our people for theirs with an agreement to share the rubber revenues with us. And it went on from there. Ho had little to work with but he conducted guerrilla warfare that was very effective. To counter it, we had to pour huge numbers of troops and equipment into the country. We did terrible damage to their infrastructure but they kept coming back. We set Colby up with ‘Phoenix’ to neutralize VC supporters in the south and of course they launched a program of terror, as the press called it, against practically all the civilian population outside of Saigon.

GD: That sort of thing never works, Robert. The Communists are real experts at that game. The more innocent civilians that are tortured or killed, the more recruits the movement gets. They win always, you know, in the end, they win.

RTC: The Tet offensive was a huge political victory for the VC but from a military sense, they lost. Their real victory was to focus domestic anger and force a demarche. McNamara was booted out, Johnson just gave up and eventually, we got out. I mean, Gregory, it was not a military defeat but a political one.

GD: When the French pulled out, they were not defeated in the field, except for one very public battle, but as you said, it was a political victory. Once the public gets its wind up, the politicians are forced to heed the noise or they will be torn to pieces.

RTC: You do understand that we were not defeated in Vietnam, don’t you? It was the intrusive and self-serving press coupled with the perception of a useless and very destructive war from the civilians that forced us our. Not a military defeat.

GD: Call it what you wish, it was a defeat. You can parse it until the cows come home, Robert, but it was a defeat. I read that there are large untapped oil fields offshore there. Give it a few years and we will be back, cultivating the former enemy, hat in hand and money in bags for their leaders. Oh yes, and contracts for the development of the oil. Unless, of course, the Chinese beat us to it. Marx was right when he said the basis of wars was economic and Clausewitz said that war was just an extension of politics. Of course, that doesn’t do much for destroyed cities and huge civilian casualties, does it? I don’t suppose something like that matters in the long run. The victor always writes the history and it takes hundreds of years and the death of everyone connected with it before the objective truth ever comes out. And concerning the policy of torture, it is totally unnecessary and to me, the hallmark of a stupid sadistic type. Mueller, who was one of the best, used to discuss techniques with me. I’ve done my own work in this area at times and never, ever had to torture anyone. Besides, if you torture someone, they will tell you anything you want to hear just to make you stop. I recall hearing about a certain Dr. Black and Decker. Am I ringing any bells there?

RTC: Go on.

GD: One of your people, sent down from the cultural office in our embassy in Tokyo. Used to interrogate suspected VC by running an electric drill into one eye. If they wouldn’t talk then, in went the drill, right into the brain. Of course, then the victims couldn’t tell them anything because they were dead. I was told by my source, who got violently sick once viewing the messes he created, that the good man kept putting in slips for new shoes. He kept ruining them with a slurry of blood and brains. I understand after we pulled out, he left your employ and is now working at a very respectable establishment university on the East Coast, teaching comparative religion to the daughters of the wealthy.

RTC: These things happen in war, Gregory.

GD: He’s fortunate I wasn’t running his operation. I would have hanged him from the nearest tree, Robert. When he prates about the perfect love of Jesus, does he think about his ruined shoes?

RTC: I knew the man you’re talking about and I can assure you, he feels great remorse for some of his actions…

GD: He should feel the rope around his neck, Robert. Things like that always come out. Talleyrand said to Napoleon once, over the shooting of the Duc d’Enghein, ‘Sire, it is worse than a crime: it is a mistake.’ And not necessary. And all of us pay for such things. I know Colby authorized and encouraged this filthiness and, Robert, I’m glad your people put him into the river.

RTC: These things must be taken in context, Gregory. I spoke about hindsight, didn’t I?

GD: If these things never happened, we wouldn’t need hindsight at all. I recall reading a comment Bismarck once said to a German politician bent on some mischief. He said, in essence, are you prepared to carry your ideas through with cannon? If not, forget them. You know, Bismarck was the greatest and most pragmatic political leader of his time and a very great man. Can you imagine Johnson even thinking that way? Or Reagan? What did the grunts say in Vietnam? Kill them all and let God sort it out? Isn’t that a wonderful monument on the road to perfection? Oh well, read Malthus and pray.

RTC: You’re far too liberal in your views, Gregory. If you want to be successful, you have to be more realistic.

GD: I am realistic in practice but not in theory.

(Concluded 10:15 AM CST)

Bad Government Decisions That Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

December 29, 2015

by Ivan Eland,


In the U.S. Constitution, the nation’s founders originally conceived of a very limited federal government that protected, rather than usurped, the liberty of its people (not just its citizens), and also defended those same people, their territory, and way of life from foreign threats. The massive federal government today regularly infringes on people’s rights in everything from privacy to the taking of private property through confiscation and excessive taxation. Also, the US government is concerned with maintaining its informal overseas empire, which is counterproductive to the safety of its people at home and around the world. In short, the federal government’s growth is out of control and on autopilot, which should concern liberals, conservatives, moderates, greens, and libertarians alike.

The real problem with government is its incentive structure. That is, when spending other people’s money, the spenders – government officials, most of them unelected – have little incentive to be judicious and may spend the money according to the interests of their own bureaucracies instead of the taxpayer. Thus, many government decisions, although passing the Madison Avenue test for convincing the public, turn out to be bad ideas. That is not to say that corporations, billionaires, and private persons of lesser means do not make bad decisions, but they have at least some incentive to make better ones because the money they waste will be their own.

Government politicians and bureaucrats seem to be especially unconstrained to make good decisions in foreign and defense policy, because the public has a greater familiarity with things that affect them on a day-to-day basis – such as schools, roads, and the environment – than they do with faraway lands and exotic military hardware. Thus, the American people have repeatedly accepted military disasters abroad in the foreign empire, only complaining when the number of American body bags becomes great in a seeming endless quagmire – for example, in the US occupation of Iraq after George W. Bush’s foolish and needless invasion of that country. Even then, opposition to such imperial adventures is now muted because American wars are always “over there” in some faraway country and because no Vietnam-era draft exists to shanghai middle class kids – who want to be doctors, lawyers, dentists, etc. – into fighting in some distant hellhole. The imperial military is volunteer and that means when the troops get shot up overseas, we can just honor them at sporting events and feel better about ourselves – when we at least should have asked the government some hard questions about really bad policies putting them in harm’s way in the first place.

But let’s not just pick on George W. Bush. There is plenty of blame to go around. In 1979-1980, Jimmy Carter thought it would be a great idea to ensnare the Soviets a Vietnam-style bog by supporting the radical Islamist Afghan Mujahideen guerrilla fighters, and then Ronald Reagan accelerated this effort into trying to force a Soviet withdrawal from the country. Inadvertently, they created what ultimately turned out to be the first threat to the traditionally secure continental United States since the War of 1812 – Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda. In addition, Reagan, by sending U.S. troops to Lebanon in the early 1980s and then ignominiously withdrawing them under fire, convinced bin Laden that by attacking the United States, he could draw the superpower into a quagmire in the Middle East, defeat it, and force it out of Muslim lands for good.

Bush’s father’s crushing short-term victory in Desert Storm turned out to be a Pyrrhic triumph by beginning the entire train of events that enticed his son back into the Iraqi mire. Also, the permanent presence, after the war, of the US military in the Islamic holy land of Saudi Arabia, contrary to Bush’s initial promises to the Saudi king, was the spark that caused bin Laden to begin his war against the United States. When Bush the Younger invaded Iraq to continue his fight against the much weakened Saddam Hussein, an even more brutal regional affiliate of an already ruthless al Qaeda arose to fight the American invasion of yet another Muslim land. Al Qaeda in Iraq has now morphed into the even more vicious ISIS.

President Obama not only continued Bush’s illegal drone wars in several countries but accelerated them. In a drone strike in the small, insignificant country of Yemen in 2011, Obama killed an al Qaeda propagandist – a US citizen named Anwar al-Awlaki – which only enshrined the man as an Islamist martyr all over the world on the Internet. This episode illustrates what many experts on counterinsurgency and counterterrorism regularly say – it is difficult to kill your way out of an insurgency. The root cause of the violence must be addressed. In fact, American occupations or attacks on at least seven Muslim countries since 9/11 has gone beyond bin Laden’s wildest dreams in dragging the United States into the morass. Obama also used military power to overthrow Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi for no reason, thus creating more chaos and a base for ISIS and other terrorists in that country.

And bad governmental decisions are not confined to the Middle East. Violating the implicit (and maybe explicit) promise made to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to get him to approve the reuniting of Germany as the Cold War ended, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama have expanding the hostile NATO alliance right to Russia’s borders. Recently Obama took in the small country Montenegro as a deliberate slap in Russia’s face. Yet, expanding the NATO alliance effectively followed the Versailles model after World War I – keeping your defeated adversary outside the community of European nations – which led to the rise of Adolf Hitler and World War II and went counter to the much more effective Congress of Vienna model, which brought post-Napoleonic France back into Europe, thus ensuring a century of relative peace in Europe. Because the United States and NATO walked all over a defeated Russia after the Cold War, they are now faced with a nationalist Russian leader in Vladimir Putin who is destabilizing Ukraine to keep it out of NATO, which George W. Bush promised would become an alliance member. Not taking any responsibility for this unfortunate chain of events, the United States is using Russia’s behavior to put more NATO forces in Eastern and Southern Europe. Where will the escalation cycle end?

Finally, despite all of the politically hot public rhetoric between the two political parties in the United States, they regularly collude behind the scenes to hand out goodies. And the goodies have recently been large. Democratic President Obama and the Republican Congress just passed a bipartisan $1.8 trillion federal budget, which ends the era of austerity and busts spending limits to provide an added $66 billion in largesse, which will be divided evenly between buying more weapons and spending more domestically. The former will be used for more overseas adventures, likely leading to more blowback terrorist attacks on US targets, and the latter will likely be just wasted. The spending package is projected to add at least $2 trillion over the next 20 years to an already staggering national debt of almost $19 trillion.

Thus, we can no longer afford repeated government decisions that spend trillions of taxpayer dollars on projects that originally may seem like a good idea but turn out very badly and even make things worse. Any private company with such a poor record would have long been penalized by the market into bankruptcy; but the government just gets to “keep on keepin’ on” with no public outrage over its failures.


191 million US voter registration records leaked online – report

December 29, 2015


A security researcher has uncovered a publicly-available database containing the personal information of 191 million voters on the internet, but it isn’t clear who owns it.

Chris Vickery, who shared his findings on DataBreaches.net, disclosed the trove of voter data, which includes names, home addresses, voter IDs, phone numbers, and birth dates, as well as political affiliations and voting histories since 2000. The database does not contain financial information or Social Security numbers.

The Texas tech support specialist said that he found the database while looking for information exposed on the internet in an attempt to raise awareness of security breaches.

Vickery has since reached out to law enforcement, as well as the California attorney general’s office. The database was still online as of Monday.

When one of their attorneys asked, ‘Well how much data are we talking about?’ and I read her the list of data fields and told her that we had access to voter records of over 17 million California voters, her response was ‘Wow,’ and she promptly forwarded the matter to the head of their e-crime division,” DataBreaches.net’s administrator wrote online.

Vickery looked up his own information in the database table covering Texas and confirmed it was all accurate, and researchers from DataBreaches.net and security website CSO did as well. Vickery also looked up several police officers in his city and confirmed that the information matched.

Steve Ragan, a security blogger at CSO, assisted in investigating the breach. He pointed out that none of the political database firms he identified that are connected with the database have claimed ownership of the IP address where the information is published.

He said that the leak is worse than a recent breach of voter data from Hillary Clinton’s campaign by a member of Bernie Sanders’ campaign, “because the data he discovered isn’t a client score – it’s a complete voter record for 191 million registered voters.”

The problem is, no one seems to care that this database is out there and no one wants to claim ownership,” he said.

Companies often charge large amounts of money to sell voter data, and many states place restrictions on the use of voter information for commercial purposes. However, political campaigns are largely exempt from many of the communications laws applying to businesses, and are under no obligation to safeguard their data.

“Our society has never had to confront the idea of all these records, all in one place, being available to anyone in the entire world for any purpose instantly,” Vickery said, according to Forbes. “That’s a hard pill to swallow. It crosses the line.”


Ireland saw prehistoric migration from Middle East

Genome analysis of four ancient humans has shown there was mass migration into Ireland from the Middle East. The findings could explain the origins of Irish culture and language.

December 29, 2015


A team of geneticists and archaeologists have found that Ireland experienced a massive prehistoric wave of migration from the Middle East and Eastern Europe, after sequencing genomes from ancient Irish humans. The findings were published in a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS).

The team sequenced genomes from an early woman farmer, who lived near what is now Belfast about 5,200 years ago, and three Bronze Age men from about 4,000 years ago.

Dan Bradley, lead researcher and a genetics professor from Trinity College Dublin, said the results suggested that the woman farmer “has about 60 percent Middle Eastern origins.” Modern farming is thought to have begun in the Middle East over 10,000 years ago.

“This is a rough estimate but we are certainly comfortable stating that she has majority Middle Eastern ancestry,” said Bradley.

The three Bronze Age men, who were found on Rathlin Island off Northern Ireland, have nearly a 30 percent genetic makeup “from the peoples originating above the Black Sea,” Bradley said.

Cultural significance

According to the researchers, the woman farmer had black hair, brown eyes and resembled southern Europeans.

The three men were found to have excessive iron retention, which is often found in people of Irish descent and commonly referred to as a Celtic disease.

“Genetic affinity is strongest between Bronze Age genomes and modern Irish, Scottish and Welsh, suggesting establishment of central attributes of the insular Celtic genome 4,000 years ago,” said Lara Cassidy, professor at Trinity College and another author of the report.

According to Bradley, the findings point to a strong possibility that the ancestral Celtic languages of Ireland, Scotland and Wales were introduced by the massive prehistoric migration wave.

“Our discovery of a major migration to Ireland in the Bronze Age does at least identify this horizon as a candidate,” he said.

smm/bk (AFP, PNAS


Obama Program That Hurt Homeowners and Helped Big Banks Is Ending

December 28, 2015

by David Dayen

The Intercept

When President Obama announced the Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, on February 18, 2009, in Mesa, Arizona, he promised it would assist 3 to 4 million homeowners to modify their loans to avoid foreclosure. Almost seven years later, less than 1 million have received ongoing assistance; nearly 1 in 3 re-defaulted after receiving inadequate modifications; and 6 million families lost their homes over the same time period.

Now the program is ending.

Tucked away on page 1,983 of the omnibus spending package, signed into law earlier this month, is the following language: “The Making Home Affordable initiative of the Secretary of the Treasury, as authorized under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 … shall terminate on December 31, 2016.”

This language closes out a series of measures initiated after the financial crisis to aid homeowners facing foreclosure, but mostly, it ends HAMP. Few noted its passage, but progressives should be happy to see it go. Perhaps no program of the Obama era did more significant — and possibly irreparable — damage to the promise of an activist government that can help solve the country’s problems.

HAMP’s failure stemmed from its design. Rather than a cash-transfer program that hands vouchers to distressed borrowers so they can lower their mortgage payments, the government gives the money to mortgage servicing companies, to encourage them to modify the loans. But while the government sets benchmarks to follow, the mortgage companies ultimately decide whether or not to offer aid.

To appreciate why this could never succeed, you must understand that mortgage servicers typically have no direct interest in the loan. They are glorified accounts-receivable departments hired by mortgage holders to process monthly payments, handle day-to-day contact with homeowners, and distribute the proceeds. And with small staffs of entry-level workers, they could only turn a profit if they never need to perform any customer service. Handling millions of individual requests for relief simply overwhelmed them.

Furthermore, servicers make their money from a percentage of unpaid principal balance on a loan. Forgiving principal — the most successful type of loan modification — eats into servicer profits, so they shy away from that, opting for less effective interest rate cuts. Plus, servicers collect structured fees — such as late fees — which make it profitable to keep a borrower delinquent. Even foreclosures don’t hurt a servicer, because they make back their portion of fees in a foreclosure sale before the investors for whom they service the loan. The modest incentive payments in HAMP were no match for the contrary financial incentives toward foreclosure, rather than modifying loans.

With servicers in control of modifications, they could manipulate the program to pile more bad debt on borrowers and squeeze a few extra payments out before foreclosing. Servicers chronically lost borrowers’ income documents to extend the default period.  They prolonged trial modifications well past three months, so they could rack up late fees. They granted modifications that folded servicer fees into the principal of the loan, increasing the unpaid principal balance — and thus their profit — while pushing the borrower further underwater.  And they trapped borrowers after denying a modification, demanding back payments, missed interest, and late fees, with the threat of foreclosure as a hammer.  This often forced borrowers into “private” modifications with worse terms than the status quo. HAMP became a predatory lending scheme rather than an aid program, and even “successful” permanent modifications went sour too often, with high re-default rates.

According to the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP), 70 percent of homeowners who applied for the program were turned down for a permanent modification. Despite initially promising a $75 billion commitment to HAMP, through September of this year, the government has spent only $10.2 billion, with an additional $2 billion on related programs. Most of the spending came after the initial years when the foreclosure crisis was at its most acute.

In the most damning revelations of servicer misconduct, employees at Bank of America’s mortgage servicing unit testified in a class-action lawsuit that they were told to lie to homeowners, deliberately misplace their documents, and deny loan modifications without explaining why. For their efforts, managers rewarded them with bonuses — in the form of Target gift cards — for pushing borrowers into foreclosure.

Despite this, the Treasury Department never permanently sanctioned a single mortgage servicer for HAMP violations by clawing back incentive payments. They never used their leverage to force better outcomes. Instead, former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told government officials, HAMP’s purpose was to “foam the runway” for the banks. In other words, it allowed banks to spread out eventual foreclosures and absorb them more slowly, protecting bank balance sheets. Homeowners are the foam being steamrolled by a jumbo jet in that analogy.

In recent years, the government tweaked HAMP, opening it up to more borrowers and giving higher incentive payments for principal reduction. But after years of horror stories, homeowners reasonably wanted nothing to do with the program, the way squirrels learn not to eat the poisonous berries. In the most recent SIGTARP statistics, 13,231 homeowners started permanent HAMP modifications in the 3rd quarter of the year, while 13,226 others re-defaulted, leaving a net increase in active modifications of just five. Permanent modifications have decreased in 16 of the last 17 quarters.

Treasury Department spokesman Mark McArdle has defended HAMP by touting the fewer modification denials in recent years, which coincides with fewer homeowners bothering to apply. Treasury also alleges in recent reports that 58 percent of borrowers denied a HAMP modification received some alternative modification from their servicer or resolved their delinquency, without noting whether that alternative made the homeowners’ financial situation better or worse.

Treasury’s claim comes from surveys of the servicers themselves, who have incentives to say that they help their customers. But we know that approximately 6 million families have lost their homes since the financial crisis began in September 2008, and unless few of them ever tried to get a HAMP modification, it’s hard to square the numbers.

You can excuse many of Obama’s accomplishments that failed to reach their goals by arguing that they sprung from a broken Congress, with supermajority hurdles ensuring Republican input. But HAMP, after being authorized by the legislation that gave us the bank bailout, was designed and implemented entirely by the White House. Congress authorized the executive branch to “prevent avoidable foreclosures,” and left the details to them. That HAMP became the result is the purest indication of how the Administration prioritized the health of financial institutions over homeowners.

It also unnecessarily reinforced the old Ronald Reagan dictum that the most dangerous words in the English language are “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Families who sought out a government program to assist them in a time of need saw only a mortgage servicer who lost their paperwork, strung along their requests and injured their financial security. The millions who experienced this abuse will find it difficult to ever believe in government again.


Exclusive: Iraqi army needs Kurds’ help to retake Mosul – Zebari

December 29, 2015

by Maher Chmaytelli and Ahmed Rasheed


BAGHDAD-The Iraqi army will need the Kurds’ help to retake Mosul, the largest city under the control of Islamic State with the planned offensive expected to be very challenging in a region home to rival religious and ethnic groups, an Iraqi minister said. Mosul, 400 km (250 miles) north of Baghdad, has been designated by the government as the next target for Iraq’s armed forces after they retook the western city of Ramadi, the first major success of the U.S.-trained force that initially fled in the face of Islamic State’s advance 18 months ago.

Retaking the mostly Sunni city of Mosul would be hard as the local and regional players in northern Iraq have diverging agendas. The region is a mosaic of different ethnic and religious groups lying between Turkey, Syria and Iraqi Kurdistan.

It would effectively mark the end of the caliphate proclaimed by Islamic State in adjacent Sunni areas of Iraq and Syria, Iraq’s Finance Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told Reuters in an interview.

“Mosul needs good planning, preparations, commitment from all the key players,” Zebari, a Kurd, said on Monday in Baghdad. “Peshmerga is a major force; you cannot do Mosul without Peshmerga,” he said, referring to the armed forces of Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous northern region close to Mosul.

Kurdish forces have positions east, north and west of Mosul while Iraqi security forces backed by Shi’ite militias have positions in Baiji, south of Mosul.

The city had a population of two million before it fell to the militants in June 2014, in the first stage of their sweeping advance through northern and western Iraq.The battle of Mosul would be “very, very challenging”, Zebari said. “It will not be an easy operation, for some time they have been strengthening themselves, but it’s doable.”Given the extent of the area that needs to be secured around Mosul during the attack, the army may also need to draw on local Sunni forces and possibly the Shi’ite Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) in support roles, he said. The PMF, known in Arabic as Hashid Shaabi, is a loosely knit coalition of mostly Iran-backed Shi’ite militias set up to fight Islamic State. The government sidelined the PMF in the Ramadi battle to ensure air support from the U.S. which is reluctant to be seen fighting on the same side as the Iranian-backed militias.

“Mosul is different from Ramadi,” U.S. Army Colonel Steve Warren, spokesman for the Baghdad-based anti-IS coalition told reporters on a video conference on Tuesday.

“It’s a big, big, big city and it’s going to take a lot of effort. It’s going to take more training. It’s going to take more equipment, and it’s going to take patience.”


Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Monday that Islamic State would be defeated in 2016 with the army planning to move on Mosul. “We are coming to liberate Mosul and it will be the fatal and final blow to Daesh,” he said in speech praising the army’s “victory” in Ramadi. “It’s there (Mosul) where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his caliphate,” Zebari said, referring to the group’s leader. “It is literally their capital.”

The Iraqi Kurdish president, Massoud Barzani, discussed plans for the liberation of Mosul with Lieutenant General Tom Beckett, Britain’s senior defense adviser, in September, according to Kurdish TV Rudaw.

Peshmerga forces, backed by US air strikes, in November dislodged Islamic State from Sinjar, a town west of Mosul that is home to Iraq’s Yazidi minority who suffered at the hands of Islamic State when it overran the area in August 2014.

Barzani said at the time the capture of Sinjar “would have a big impact on liberating Mosul,” as the Yazidi town lies on the road to Raqqa, Islamic State’s stronghold on Syrian territory.

Arab Sunnis and Shi’ites are concerned that the Kurds could use the battle as a mean to expand the territory under their control, said Wathiq al-Hashimi, chairman of the Iraqi Group for Strategic Studies, a think-tank in Baghdad.

The Kurds are concerned that the Shi’ites would use their presence to bolster the influence of the central government in Baghdad, he said.

“The Peshmerga’s involvement will be inevitable but could further complicate the battle in Mosul if not enough guarantees have been taken from the regional leadership that they will not use it to expand their territories,” said Hashimi.

(Additional reporting by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Louise Ireland and Anna Willard)


Facebook lawsuit against fugitive’s lawyers is thrown out

December 29, 2015

by Jonathan Stempel


A New York state appeals court on Tuesday threw out Facebook Inc’s unusual malicious prosecution lawsuit against DLA Piper and other law firms that have represented a fugitive who claimed a 50 percent stake in the social media company.

Reversing a lower court ruling that favored Facebook and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, the Appellate Division in Manhattan found a lack of evidence that the law firms knew, or should have known, that their client Paul Ceglia’s case was fraudulent and based on fabricated evidence.

Ceglia, 42, a wood pellet salesman from Wellsville, New York, had sued Facebook and Zuckerberg in June 2010, alleging that a 2003 contract for Zuckerberg to do programing for his company Street Fax entitled him to half of Facebook.

Federal prosecutors later deemed the contract a forgery and brought criminal charges against Ceglia. He had faced a May 4 trial, but in early March removed his electronic ankle bracelet and disappeared, along with his wife, two children and a dog.

Facebook’s market value is now roughly $300 billion.

In May, state Supreme Court Justice Eileen Rakower said Facebook and Zuckerberg could pursue claims that DLA Piper, Milberg LLP and Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman knew there was no basis for Ceglia’s civil lawsuit.

But the appeals court noted that the law firms had found experts to counter Facebook’s claim that the 2003 contract was forged, and that Ceglia had passed a lie detector test.

The court called Facebook’s allegations that the law firms lacked probable cause to pursue Ceglia’s civil case “entirely conclusory,” and that they knew of Ceglia’s fraud “conclusory and not supported by the record.”

Facebook said it is evaluating whether to appeal.

“We are disappointed,” a spokeswoman said. “DLA Piper and the other named law firms possessed evidence proving the case was based on forged documents and that Paul Ceglia’s claim was a fraud, but chose to pursue it anyway. We believe they should be held accountable.”

DLA Piper, one of the world’s largest law firms, and its outside counsel did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Sigmund Wissner-Gross, a lawyer representing Lippes Mathias, said he was pleased with the decision. Gregory Joseph, a lawyer representing Milberg, declined to comment.

The Facebook spokeswoman said the Menlo Park, California-based company will continue litigation against Paul Argentieri, another of Ceglia’s lawyers. He could not be immediately reached for comment.

The case is Facebook Inc et al v. DLA Piper LLP et al, New York State Appellate Division, 1st Department, No. 16162.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)



No responses yet

Leave a Reply