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Monday, April 30, 2012

Art Nadel and the Wall Street wise guys...

Art Nadel and the Wall Street Wise Guys
Posted on April 25, 2012 by Daniel Hopsicker

Via Mad Cow
The death in prison of Art Nadel last week left numerous questions about the scandal that may never be answered.

Authorities will now be rolling up the sidewalks on the Art Nadel scandal, continuing the trend of American scandals going unexplained and largely unexplored stretching back to Iran Contra.

Art Nadel was a disbarred NY attorney with a recent work history consisting of playing gigs in second rate piano bars. Yet apparently the FBI's best "thinking" is that Nadel was a lounge act who stole $166 million… all by himself.

Was Art Nadel the mastermind of a huge financial fraud, or just a hapless front man? A Ponzi all star? Or a Ponzi patsy? We may never know.

Two matters cry out for more attention. The first involves the names of the firms which made Nadel’s fraud possible: Wachovia Bank, whose assistance enabled Nadel’s scheme, and Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street firm which cleared his trades.

Fishing in muddy Wall Street waters

Goldman Sachs and Wachovia Bank are names with a lot of mud on them. Both firms have recently paid huge fines for criminal behavior for which individuals spend decades in prison.

Art Nadel's use of Goldman and Wachovia in tandem seems too prescient for a man of his meager talents. So, how did this arrangement came about?

“Nadel engaged in at least a dozen regular financial transactions that were serious criminal violations,” a recent lawsuit by the Federal receiver in the case alleges. About them all, Wachovia remained "inexplicably unconcerned."

The suit states baldly, “For Wachovia's failure, there is no legitimate explanation."

And the attorney for the Federal receiver who filed the lawsuit, Terry Smiljanich, told me flatly, “Wachovia has a history of assisting and profiting from the commission of fraud by the bank’s account holders.”

Was Art Nadel really a Lone Nut Ponzi All Star?

The second thing about the Nadel scandal which seems more than odd concerns the omission in news stories of his death in prison of the fact that—while his Ponzi scheme was in full flight—Nadel bought the notorious Huffman Aviation at the Venice Airport, the place where both terrorists who flew planes into the World Trade Center learned to fly.

Apparently the mainstream media did not find it significant that Nadel used a goodly portion of his ill-gotten gains to buy a flight school whose name will forever live in ignominy.

In fact, a Google search for “Art Nadel” and Huffman Aviation” turns up 600 results, all of which link to stories published first on this website.

While defrauding $166 million from investors, Nadel was establishing a sizeable aviation presence, buying and FBO’s at airports in Georgia, North Carolina and in Venice. To what end? For what purpose?

We’ll likely never know. No one is even asking. Why? Perhaps because Art Nadel wasn't even the first recent owner of Huffman Aviation to be involved in a Ponzi scheme.

That honor belonged to previous owner Wallace J. Hilliard, who owned Huffman Aviation while Mohamed Atta took flying lessons there. Hilliard was involved in two separate Ponzi schemes…

Both of them were bigger than Nadel's. This stretches the boundaries of coincidence way beyond any reasonable definition of the word.

Hilliard was a grateful beneficiary of a massive $300 million financial fraud involving Richard Boehlke, Hilliard’s partner in a soon-to-be-bankrupt airline called Florida Air.

According to the Portland Oregonian, the scheme scammed $300 million dollars from the pension funds of mostly-Mob run unions.

Boehlke shoveled trunk-loads of cash—more than $12 million—into the back of his Hummer. His Ponzi money paid for the half-dozen jets used by the airline.

Hilliard was an “health insurance” executive from Green Bay, Wisconsin who “retired” to Florida. Most retirees in Florida buy a set of golf clubs and matching sans-a-belt slacks and sweater combos in canary yellow or lime green.

Hilliard, on the other hand, bought two dozen luxury jets as well as flight schools in Venice and Naples, FL. that enrolled unknown but statistically-significant numbers of Arab men, many of whom are now suspected of being terrorists.

What prompted Hilliard to establish such a serious aviation presence in Florida? Good question. Someone should ask him. Under oath.

A continuing criminal conspiracy

Hilliard was also doing business with notorious Arab arms merchant Adnan Khashoggi (who was just then also involved in a $200 million fraud, called Stockwalk, which led to the biggest collapse of a brokerage since the Depression.)

A Lear jet owned by Hilliard flew regularly for Khashoggi to an off-the-beaten-path island in the Bahamas called Rum Cay.

The island once served as a refuge for pirates looting ships from the Spanish Main. It became a center of gun-running during the American Civil War, then was a port used for boot-legging alcohol into the US during Prohibition

The island’s current attraction is a new 5000 foot runway. It can now be used by mid-sided business jets, offering a strategic refueling location between Colombia and Florida. DEA officials sometimes—when its convenient—say as much as two-thirds of all cocaine entering the US transits the Bahamas.

And, of course, just three weeks after Mohamed Atta arrived to attend Huffman Aviation, Hilliard’s Lear jet was busted carrying 43 lbs of heroin. The Orlando Sentinel called it “the largest heroin bust in Central Florida history.”

The DEA confiscated his Lear jet and was instrumental in a Federal Court ruling denying Hilliard his plane back, shredding his pretense to being an “innocent owner.”

"Guido, meet Mohamed. Mohamed, Guido."

To call the recent past of Huffman Aviation “troubled” is like saying the ruined American economy has been undergoing a “correction.”

It's true, as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go very far. And it certainly doesn't convey the magnitude of the criminal turpitude which somehow found a home at the tiny Venice Airport.

Two recent owners of the aviation business at the Venice Airport that taught Mohamed Atta to fly were involved in crimes traditionally associated with organized crime.

Ponzi schemes are—and have always been—the hallmark of the Mafia. What were Art Nadel’s Mob ties? That he had them is already known. He was a lawyer in New York disbarred for stealing client monies to pay back a loan shark.

So if terrorist ringleader Mohamed Atta met guys with names like “Fat Pete” or “Joey Cakes” while learning to fly at Huffman Aviation, it would come as no great surprise.

A mountain of evidence points to the conclusion that the men who owned the flight school—both then and now—have more than a passing acquaintance with organized crime.

Owning Huffman Aviation—even if you change the name—seems to be like being the head of the Teamsters: “Going away for a while” seems to be just part of the job.

Once Nadel bought Huffman Aviation, he ordered the company’s familiar blue-awning façade obliterated, rebranding terror flight Huffman Aviation as the Venice Jet Center.

The move closely replicates the obliteration of a prominent landmark in the Kennedy Assassination: the tearing down of the building in New Orleans at 544 Camp that housed Guy Banister, David Ferrie, and Lee Harvey Oswald, from which many believe the conspiracy to assassinate John Kennedy was orchestrated.

Today it is a Federal office building. A calculated effort to make the truth disappear? Or just a coincidence?

The Clean-up crew cleans up

The last time Art Nadel appeared in public—without handcuffs—the dress code specified "circus glamorous.”

The aging social set in Sarasota Florida turned out under the Big Top on January 9, 2009, to see and be seen at a circus-style gala & fund-raiser wistfully entitled “An Evening of Ageless Delight.”

Nadel and his wife, the evening’s event chair, were known for their charity. Peg Nadel, nee Quisenberry, had been a social fixture in Sarasota for over a decade.

Aerialists, contortionists and circus clowns, met arriving grandees as they stepped out of their cars, wafting them through a tunnel-like portal opening into what the Sarasota Herald Tribune called a “magical and grand” ringside-cum-dining-room.

The “laughter and good vibes were unlimited,” the paper reported.

It wouldn't last.

Four days later Nadel went on the lam, leaving behind a green Subaru parked at Sarasota International Airport, and a curious suicide note which stated that if people wanted him dead, he’d be happy to oblige.

Rumors spread that Nadel was already dead. He wasn't…

Instead he was flying above the clouds on a sleek luxury 1996 Learjet 31-A worth $2.3 million, which cruises comfortably at 500 miles an hour at an altitude of 51,000 feet.

Nadel flew from Sarasota to San Antonio to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and ended up in Slidell La. just outside New Orleans, legendary home of Carlos Marcello's hunting lodge, a part of JFK assassination lore.

Questions which were never answered include: Why did he end his journey there? Who did he meet with? And just who did Nadel suspect wanted him dead? Jilted investors?

Perhaps some may have harbored homicidal impulses towards him. But not, certainly, until after they'd discovered what he’d done with their money.

What do Ponzi schemers, drug traffickers, terrorist hijackers & private equity capital firms investing money from Arab sovereign wealth funds have in common? As the buzz about Facebook’s upcoming IPO intensifies, it may be important to note that criminals have social networks too.

The basis for organized crime— interlocking social networks, or what used to be called “relationships”—is always the same, across time, space, and culture.

“He’s connected,” accompanied with a shrug, seems to be a universal statement of the way things are.

Would they were different.

Former Libya oil chief found floating dead in Austria river...

RP NOTE: ANOTHER 'SUICIDED' VICTIM.

Libya's Gaddafi-era oil chief found floating dead in Danube
VIENNA | Sun Apr 29, 2012 5:59pm EDT

(Reuters) - Libya's former top oil industry official, Shokri Ghanem, has been found floating dead in the River Danube in Austria, police said on Sunday.

Ghanem, 69, had been chairman of Libya's state-owned National Oil Corporation (NOC) before defecting last year several months after opponents of Muammar Gaddafi had risen up against the Libyan leader and begun a rebellion.

As NOC chairman since 2006, Ghanem helped steer Libya's oil policy and held the high-profile job of representing Libya at OPEC meetings, often visiting Vienna for meetings in that role.

"He was found dead in the Danube river at 8:40 a.m. (0640 GMT). There is no suspicion at all of foul play at this stage. The corpse exhibited no signs of violence," a Vienna police spokesman said.

He said an autopsy would be performed to determine the cause of death.

After making a final break with the Gaddafi administration last year, Ghanem first appeared in Rome, saying he had defected because of the "unbearable violence" being used by government forces to try to put down the rebellion.

He was believed to have been living in Europe in exile since then but was still closely associated with Gaddafi's rule by Libya's new leaders and had ruled out returning home.


(Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Louise Ireland)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

"The government of the late Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi agreed to fund French President Nicolas Sarkozy's 2007 election campaign with an estimated $66m, a French news website has reported"...

Sarkozy denies Gaddafi 'funded' 2007 campaign
Days before France's presidential vote, French website publishes documents it says suggests campaign funding violations
Last Modified: 28 Apr 2012 22:08

Via
The government of the late Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi agreed to fund French President Nicolas Sarkozy's 2007 election campaign with an estimated $66m, a French news website has reported.

The Paris-based investigative website Mediapart on Saturday published what it said was documentary evidence of the illegal campaign funding.

Sarkozy strongly denied the allegations when first questioned by French journalists in March. Sarkozy's campaign spokesperson Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet dismissed the latest report as "ridiculous" and a "clumsy diversion" orchestrated by supporters of Francois Hollande, his Socialist opponent in the upcoming presidential election.

France has strict campaign financing laws, banning politicians from taking funding from foreign states.

The 2006 document, written in Arabic, was signed by Gaddafi's intelligence chief Moussa Koussa, who reportedly now lives in Doha, Qatar.

It referred to an "agreement in principle to support the campaign for the candidate for the presidential elections, Nicolas Sarkozy, for a sum equivalent to 50 million euros [$66m]".

The document refers to a meeting that allegedly took place on June 6, 2006, between Brice Hortefeux, Sarkozy’s close ally, and Ziad Takieddine, a Franco-Lebanese businessman who has been at the centre of a number of political scandals linked to Sarkozy and his inner circle.

'Dark' episode

During Sarkozy’s five years as president, Hortefeux has served as France’s immigration minister as well as national identity minister and interior minister. He has told Mediapart he had never met Moussa Kussa or Bashir Saleh.

Takieddine, who acted as an envoy for Sarkozy from as early as 2005, told Mediapart that he was not present at the meeting but that the document otherwise appears to be genuine.

"This document proves that what we have here is an 'affaire d'Etat', whether these [$66m] were transferred or not," he said.

"The investigation will be difficult because many of those present were killed during the war in Libya, but it's still important that this document should be made public," Takieddine, who has himself come under frequent investigation by the news website, is quoted as saying in the report.

Takieddine is already under investigation for his alleged role in the funding of Edouard Balladur's failed 1995 presidential campaign for which Sarkozy was spokesperson.

Investigators suspect Balladur's camp collected kickbacks on a deal to sell submarines to Pakistan and that a Karachi bombing that killed 11 French engineers was carried out by Pakistani agents in revenge after promised bribes went unpaid.

The allegations that Gaddafi had financed the conservative politician's first presidential campaign first came from Gaddafi himself in March 2011, shortly before France went on to play a lead role in NATO's military intervention in the north African country.

The investigative website has been following the story for more than a year, but claims the document published on Saturday offers the most concrete proof yet of the illegal campaign financing allegations.

The document, Mediapart reports, was given to it by former high officials from Libya "a few days ago".

"The discovery of the note written by Mr Koussa requires an official investigation, whether that be judicial, police or parliamentary, on this episode, dark and concealed, in Franco-Libyan relations," Mediapart writes.

Gaddafi paid a controversial visit to Paris in December 2007, shortly after Sarkozy won the presidency. The Libyan leader was allowed to pitch his Bedouin tent on the Elysee, leaving many commentators outraged.

Election issue

Sarkozy will be seeking re-election on May 6, going up against the Socialist candidate Francois Hollande.

Bernard Cazeneuve, a spokesperson for Hollande, said in a statement on Saturday evening that Sarkozy "must explain himself before the French people" in response to the campaign funding allegations.

"Faced with such serious allegations, backed up by documents sourced from the Libyan dictator's own entourage, Nicolas Sarkozy must explain himself before the French people," Cazeneuve said.

"Several times in recent weeks, specific information has been published by the press, relating to France's relationship with the Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime these last few years."

Hollande's campaign also drew attention to the current president's projects to sell French nuclear technology to Gaddafi, until September 2010.

"The Holland campaign is calling on the police to open an investigation into these allegations," Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland reported from the town of the southwestern town of Brive, where she was following the Socialist campaign.

Whether the latest allegations are true or false, Rowland reported, they will remind voters of the many ongoing scandals related to campaign financing.

Former allegations

Allegations that Liliane Bettencourt, the L'Oreal heiress and the richest woman in Europe, made illegal contributions to Sarkozy's campaign in return for tax breaks have, in particular, undermined his credibility with voters.

Sarkozy has always denied any wrongdoing in the 1995 campaign finance arrangements for Balladur's campaign.

Patrice Le Beer, former editor of Le Monde newspaper, told Al Jazeera that, even if an investigation is opened, it would not happen until well after the upcoming election.

"There is no political risk for the moment, justice is too slow."

"He will deny [the Gaddafi allegations] as he has denied former allegations on the financing of his 2007 campaign, and on the financing of the 1995 campaign," he said.

"'With more and more vehicle owners simply deciding refuse to pay red light camera and speed camera tickets, private, for-profit companies and municipalities are growing increasingly desperate. America's second-largest city shut down its photo ticketing program last year largely because residents who could not afford the $500 citations did not pay them. On Monday, Las Cruces, New Mexico announced it would shut off the utilities of city residents who refused to pay Redflex Traffic Systems, the Australian company that owns and operates the cameras"...

New Mexico: City Shuts Off Water, Sewer for Photo Ticket Nonpayment
Las Cruces, New Mexico is threatening to cut off water, gas and sewer service over unpaid red light and speed camera tickets

Via
With more and more vehicle owners simply deciding refuse to pay red light camera and speed camera tickets, private, for-profit companies and municipalities are growing increasingly desperate. America's second-largest city shut down its photo ticketing program last year largely because residents who could not afford the $500 citations did not pay them. On Monday, Las Cruces, New Mexico announced it would shut off the utilities of city residents who refused to pay Redflex Traffic Systems, the Australian company that owns and operates the cameras.

"The city is notifying offenders by mail that they have until the due date stated in the letter to pay the fines or make satisfactory payment arrangements," a Las Cruces press release warned. "Failure to comply will result in termination of utilities services."

Las Cruces claims vehicle owners owe $2 million. To encourage payment of the $100 photo fines, the city says it will employ an ordinance the council adopted in 1988 giving itself the right to shut off utility service to residents declared delinquent for any reason.

"The city may decline, fail or cease to furnish utility service to any person who may be in debt to the city for any reason, except ad valorem taxes and special assessments," city code Section 28-10 states.

The city provides gas, water, sewer and trash services. Ordinarily, the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission prevents shutting off the utilities of low-income residents from November 15 to March 15. This is primarily a safety issue as lack of heating during a cold snap -- Las Cruces recorded a -10 degree temperature in 1962 -- could endanger the elderly. The commission also protects the seriously ill and customers on Medicaid or on assistance from a charitable organization. A spokesman for the commission, however, told TheNewspaper that no such protections apply to utilities run by a municipality. To have service restored, Las Cruces and its private vendor will charge a $48 re-connection fee on top of $125 per ticket.

Las Cruces gave Redflex approval to issue speeding and red light tickets three years ago. In January, a local university was unable to prove the program delivered a substantial safety benefit. Last year, a majority of voters in Albuquerque voted for the removal of red light cameras.

In search of rest (Video)

Via

UFO's over Russia: Mysterious sights spotted in St. Petersburg sky

UFOs Over Russia: Mysterious Sights Spotted In St. Petersburg Sky
Posted: 04/27/2012 7:14 pm

Via
It must have seemed like an aerial invasion to the many eyewitnesses who gazed skyward in St. Petersburg, Russia, on the nights of April 9 through 11.

Reports of the UFO activity didn't initially receive wide coverage outside of St. Petersburg, but have since trickled out.

Most of the strange light formations were seen and videotaped by many people in and around Russia's second-largest city, including one ball-shaped object seen hovering above St. Petersburg's Pulkovo Airport.

According to the Russian news site LifeNews, airport employees were concerned the UFO might cause a disruption during takeoff and landing of aircraft.

A short time later, before any action could be taken, the UFO vanished.



As strange lights danced around in the sky above the city, citizens aimed their cameras, the Moscow Times reported.

One video shows four bright lights hovering in the evening sky near a tall building before eventually disappearing behind the structure.

The Baltinfo news agency -- which covers the news in the Baltic Sea region -- reported receiving phone calls from concerned St. Petersburg residents.

"My daughter who lives over on Grazhdanke told me about a UFO," said one caller. "I live on Komendantsky Prospekt. I looked out the window and also clearly saw an orange spot. Then one spot separated and plummeted downward. The spot flickered, disappeared and reappeared. It is visible in various neighborhoods."

Authorities have yet to make any pronouncements on the various UFO sightings, despite unconfirmed reports that local army officials hinted the aerial activity was some sort of training exercise.



And, according to the Moscow Times, at least one local scientist has gone out on a limb with his personal UFO views.

"Aliens look at us as if we are idiots, undeveloped people," said Sergei Smirnov of the Pulkovo Observatory outside of St. Petersburg.

"Perhaps they have fenced us in with their own sort of screen for the whole galaxy and are sending warnings to hundreds of billions of stars that the civilization near the Dwarf star -- which we call the sun -- is dangerous."

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Kenyans allege British involvement in rendition and torture in Uganda...

Kenyans allege British involvement in rendition and torture in Uganda
Claims by two Muslims accused of role in bomb attack during 2010 World Cup date from after coalition came to power
Ian Cobain
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 24 April 2012 17.34 EDT

Two men facing terrorism charges in east Africa are accusing the British government and its intelligence agencies of being involved in their abduction, unlawful rendition and torture.

The allegations by Habib Suleiman Njoroge and his brother Yahya Suleiman Mbuthia closely echo those reported in the Guardian last year by a third terrorism suspect, Omar Awadh Omar.

The high court in London has given all three men permission to seek disclosure of British government documents that would support their claim that the UK was involved in their alleged mistreatment. Njoroge and Omar have also been given permission to seek documents relating to their rendition at a hearing at the high court in London this week.

During proceedings in the Ugandan courts, the men alleged British and American intelligence officers beat and punched them, hooded them, threatened them with firearms and told them they were to be flown to Guantánamo Bay. In response, the Ugandan government denied the men were mistreated, but said "the nature of the terrorist attacks necessitated joint investigations, by Ugandan police with foreign security officers, which included joint interrogations".

The trio's allegations date from August and September 2010, several months after the coalition government was formed. They come despite attempts by ministers to distance themselves from the torture and rendition scandals that dogged the previous Labour government, while also expressing clear support for the country's intelligence agencies.

Njoroge and Mbuthia were among a number of Kenyan Muslims detained in 2010 and taken to Uganda for questioning about two suicide bomb attacks on crowds of people watching World Cup football matches in July of that year. The Somali militant group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attacks that killed 79 people and injured 70.

According to a report submitted to the United Nations security council last year, Omar, Njoroge and Mbuthia were linked by telephone records to a mobile phone that was attached to a third suicide bomb vest, which failed to explode. Kenyan media reports have claimed Omar was a leading figure in the bomb plot. All three men deny any involvement.

Omar was kidnapped in broad daylight in a Nairobi shopping centre and driven across the border to Uganda, where he says British and American interrogators were waiting for him. Omar says one of his interrogators, an Englishman who called himself Frank, became particularly angry and began stamping on his bare feet while asking him about two British Muslims who had been arrested in Nairobi.

Njoroge, a radio presenter from Mombasa, was arrested in September 2010, interrogated by Kenyan police and then allegedly driven while hooded and shackled to the Ugandan border to be handed over to that country's Rapid Response Unit (RRU), a police body whose use of torture has been documented by human rights groups.

While in RRU custody, Njoroge says he was kept naked, beaten, sexually assaulted and forced to sign a statement in which he confessed to being involved in the bombings. Among the officials interrogating him, he says, were men with American and British accents.

Mbuthia's complaint that he had been rendered from Kenya to Uganda a few days before his brother is not contested by the Ugandan authorities. He was dragged from a bus in Nairobi, hooded and handcuffed and driven to the border, where he says he was beaten and threatened with execution by RRU officers.

He says that, after being deprived of food and liquid for three days, he was interrogated by FBI officers who beat him, pointed firearms at him and threatened to shoot him if he refused to testify against Omar. During subsequent interrogation sessions, he says, the Americans were joined by a man with a Scottish accent.

The high court has concluded that there is a case to be made that the British government "would have been aware that there was evidence over many years that the RRU used illegal methods and severely mistreated those in its custody" during interrogation.

Asked about the claims, a Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "The UK government's policy is clear: we do not participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment for any purpose. We have consistently made clear our absolute opposition to such behaviour and our determination to combat it wherever and whenever it occurs. We cannot comment on ongoing legal cases."

Omar, Njoroge and Mbuthia's UK lawyers are pursuing similar arguments to those deployed on behalf of Binyam Mohamed three years ago, during litigation that exposed MI5's complicity in his torture in Pakistan and Morocco, and which resulted in one of the country's most senior judges condemning the agency's officials for their "dubious record" over those abuses.

The allegations are resulting in the sort of court cases that would be heard behind closed doors under controversial new secrecy proposals drawn up by Ken Clarke's Ministry of Justice, in consultation with MI5 and MI6.

Under those plans, ministers would be able to decide that evidence they considered too sensitive to be aired in public during civil trials – including trials in which they themselves are defendants – could be concealed from the public, the media and even the claimants.

The same green paper contains proposals to prevent claimants from making use of the legal doctrine that has been employed by lawyers representing the three men during efforts to force the government to disclose any documentary evidence that shows it was involved in their rendition and mistreatment.

After parliament's human rights committee published a damning report about the proposals, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg warned cabinet colleagues that they were unacceptable in their current form.

In a major speech last November on the work of the agencies, William Hague, the foreign secretary, said the coalition was "drawing a line under the past". Hague stressed, however, that he was obliged to grapple with "the most difficult ethical and legal questions".

East Africa has been of growing concern to US and UK intelligence agencies, who say that about 200 foreigners have travelled to Somalia to train and fight with al-Shabaab. Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, describes the US military base at Camp Lemonnier in neighbouring Djibouti as "the central location for continuing the effort against terrorism". Despite an increase in military aid to neighbouring countries, Jonathan Evans, the director general of MI5, has said he is "concerned that it is only a matter of time before we see terrorism on our streets inspired by those who are today fighting alongside al-Shabaab".

British concerns were heightened by initial reports that a young British Muslim from London had a hand in the suicide bomb attacks, although it is thought that MI5 and MI6 no longer believe this to be the case. This individual has since been reported to have been killed in Somalia. A significant number of other British Muslims are reported to have travelled to the region to join up with al-Shabaab, and many are thought to have travelled through Kenya.

(UK) Senior officer's damning emails reveal plummeting morale at heart of Afghan campaign that has cost 409 British lives...

Army major's despair at our 'pointless war': Senior officer's damning emails reveal plummeting morale at heart of Afghan campaign that has cost 409 British lives
By Glen Owen

Via
They are stark words that reveal the despair of our forces fighting in Afghanistan.

Emails sent to a former military chaplain paint a damning picture of sinking morale among Servicemen who feel the human cost of the conflict can no longer be justified.

Dr Peter Lee, a university lecturer who spent seven years as an RAF padre, has released the emails to highlight the extent of disillusionment within the ranks.

The correspondence includes two emails sent by a major on the brink of a fresh deployment to the region. He likens the prospect to ‘being put on for the last two minutes of a lost game’ of rugby.

In an accompanying article for The Mail on Sunday – published below – Dr Lee describes this as ‘enough time to get hurt, badly, and perhaps enough time to make the defeat fractionally less embarrassing. But there is no chance that defeat can be turned into victory’.

The emails follow the news that Sapper Connor Ray from 33 Engineer Regiment became the 409th British military fatality since the conflict began in 2001 when he died on Wednesday from injuries sustained in an explosion in Helmand.Polls have shown that a majority of British people are confused about the purpose of our mission and want the troops to be pulled out immediately. Barely one in ten think the conflict is winnable.

David Cameron has pledged that Afghan forces will take over lead security responsibility in all parts of the country by the end of next year.

British forces will then offer a ‘supporting combat role’ in 2014, before withdrawing from all combat operations by December of that year – ensuring the Government will not go into the next General Election against the backdrop of continuing bad news from the front line.

The anonymous major, who Dr Lee calls ‘Jim’, says in one email that his fellow Servicemen predict that ‘the whole house of cards will fall down’ when the international forces depart.

He puts Dr Lee in touch with ‘John’, a British ex-Special Forces soldier who provides security for the logistics convoys that transport supplies by road. John claims that they are sustaining heavy casualties that are not being reported.

‘John’ writes: ‘Because we are civvie private security and get paid well we are seen as mercenaries. So unlike when a soldier gets IEDd, when we get killed or injured nobody gives a s***.’

He adds that the bulk of the casualties are locals working for the British, adding: ‘If anything happens to us we might get lucky and be shipped back home in a box or on a stretcher but the media don’t want to hear about it so nobody else hears about it.

'The locals are left to get on with it. They might not be Brits but the reality is that these are lives lost in the British effort.’

A further email from ‘Jim’ sums up his feelings about his deployment. It reads: ‘I’m being sent out to stabilise a country I have no faith, interest or empathy in, to prop up a government the UN says is corrupt.

‘If I’m unlucky and don’t return my wife won’t have a husband and my three primary school kids won’t have a daddy and I cannot for the life of me justify that cost to them.

‘Not for Afghanistan. Not for a war of choice already lost halfway across the world.’

Although members of the Government are reluctant to question the chances of success of the military operation in public, out of a fear of undermining morale or adding to the distress of Servicemen’s families, privately they are more candid.

One Tory MP, a former member of the Commons Defence Select Committee – and until recently a supporter of the action – said: ‘I’m afraid I find myself increasingly in agreement with the sentiments in the emails.’

Last night, responding to the publication of their contents, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond told The Mail on Sunday: ‘We are now in the final phases of that mission and the Prime Minister has said that UK combat operations will cease by the end of 2014 with that role already reducing.

‘But if we are to make certain that Afghanistan never again becomes a haven for international terrorists, we must see the job through.

‘Despite the many sacrifices and hardships, those UK Service personnel I have met during my own visits to Afghanistan have told me they are clear about the mission in hand and the tangible progress they are making every day.

‘All of them deserve our unwavering support and respect.’

Former Army officer Patrick Mercer, the Tory MP for Newark, said: ‘The British Forces must take comfort in the state of readiness of the Afghan armed forces, the development of the Afghan government and the fact that Afghanistan and Pakistan have not spiralled down into chaos as they inevitably would have done if it had not been for the bravery of our regiments.’


'LIKE COMING ON FOR LAST MINUTES OF A RUGBY GAME WE'VE ALREADY LOST'

How many votes is a human life worth? It is the question that has been haunting me since I received the three emails printed on these pages, writes Dr Peter Lee, a former military chaplain and lecturer in defence studies.

The first two were from a major – I will call him Jim – who had heard me criticising our Government’s ability to delude themselves and others that the war in Afghanistan is still winnable.

Jim has become increasingly disillusioned with the war. He is sceptical of the reasons that he, the Armed Forces and the British public are given for our continued involvement.

He is far from alone. Jim likens this latest deployment to being sent on to a rugby field for the last two minutes of a match that was lost in the first half. In such a situation there is enough time to get hurt, badly, and perhaps enough time to make the defeat fractionally less embarrassing. But there is no chance that defeat can be turned into victory.

There is no chance that Jim, like the rest of his uniformed colleagues, will refuse to serve: he is a man whose sense of duty and honour outweighs his capacity for self- preservation. Therefore, he and his family have to prepare for the eventuality that he might not come home.

Especially since the job he is being sent to do will leave him particularly vulnerable to Taliban attacks.

To reinforce his point, he introduced me to another friend of his – ‘John’, a British ex-Special Forces soldier, whose email is also printed here. John provides private security for the logistics convoys that transport essential supplies by road into Afghanistan.

These convoys are being ambushed on a regular basis because they are big, slow-moving targets, the security personnel are not allowed heavy weapons, and there is no air cover to protect them.

John reported that he recently sustained multiple casualties in one trip alone – which went completely unreported.

Even more troubling, another Army major of my acquaintance describes Afghanistan as the next political scandal waiting to happen.

He called it the ‘lives-for-votes’ scandal when he asked me how many votes I thought his life was worth.

As a former military chaplain, I care deeply about what happens to our servicemen and women. I have had to look into the eyes of wives, parents and children as they were told their loved one would not be returning home. I have watched soldiers coming out of induced comas to discover a limb, or two, missing.

Grown men have sat in my office and wept, attempting to make sense of what they have experienced and trying to understand why they have to go back again.

I therefore decided to make further enquiries about what was happening in one unseen, unreported corner of our Afghan adventure.

I submitted a Freedom of Information request. I asked the Ministry of Defence for a range of information relating to our supply convoys in Afghanistan. Questions included: How many times have convoys come under attack between 2006 and 2011? How many fatalities and woundings have resulted from those attacks?

After 20 days I was informed that the MoD wanted to use its right to take a further 20 days to consider my request. When the eventual reply came, I was encouraged to learn that the MoD ‘holds information relevant to these questions’.

The response continued: ‘There is a public interest in understanding the robustness of Nato overland logistic supply routes, the impact of insurgent attacks on Nato supply lines and the threats faced by UK and other personnel protecting logistic convoys in Afghanistan.’ It seemed that John’s untold story could now be told after all.

Then came the ‘but’. My request was turned down because releasing the information into the public domain ‘would potentially provide hostile elements with a much greater understanding of the impact, at the operational level, of insurgent action on Nato convoys’.

If there is one group of people who know exactly what impact they are having on Nato operations it is the anti-government fighters who risk their lives to lay roadside bombs and ambush convoys.

There are so few roads in and out of Afghanistan that the task of gathering information on truck convoys is the Afghan equivalent of trainspotting at your local railway station.

Look at the events of the past week. Insurgent fighters managed to launch co-ordinated attacks in Kabul – including in the highly protected diplomatic quarter. Did that look like the work of people who have anything less than a crystal-clear awareness of their impact on Nato operations and upon the hearts and minds of the British people?

In the days following the attacks, British and Afghan spokesmen have been trumpeting the fact that all of the insurgents were killed. Even if what they are saying is true, it misses the point. It was a suicide mission: unpredictable and impossible to prevent.

I cannot avoid the conclusion that the reason my request for information about the convoys was withheld was to do with keeping the British people in the dark about how badly things are going in areas of Afghanistan where the media has no eyes and ears.

A ComRes poll in March showed that only one in ten Britons think the war in Afghanistan is winnable. In addition, a majority have no clear idea what the purpose of the mission is and want our troops brought home now.

These statistics are so bad that releasing information about convoy attacks will not make an appreciable difference to public opinion, which has long been lost.

In the United States, serving Afghanistan veteran Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Davis has caused political uproar by publishing a report entitled Truth, Lies And Afghanistan.

He believes that the American people should be provided with the full, unvarnished facts about what is happening on the ground in Afghanistan so that informed decisions about whether to continue the operation can be made.

The same principle should apply here in the UK. Our military personnel continue to fight with honour, bravery and devotion to duty at the command of our Government. If they are to be asked to keep risking their lives, then it should be for a clear, defined and achievable goal.

It should not be because politicians and electoral strategists are trading the benefits of early withdrawal against the impact at the ballot box in the next General Election.

The least that we should expect as a country is that when our fellow citizens in uniform are deployed on military operations they, and we, should clearly know why they are fighting and what they are up against. They should not take to the field wondering if their government is willing to trade their lives for votes
.

Bo Xilai officials 'wiretapped call to (Chinese) President Hu Jintao'...

Bo Xilai officials 'wiretapped call to President Hu Jintao'
New claims may shed light on why Bo – previously accused of unspecified disciplinary violations – was ejected from post
Tania Branigan in Beijing
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 26 April 2012 05.58 EDT

The spotlight on the Bo Xilai affair has turned back on to political tensions in China following reports that officials in Chongqing wiretapped a call to the country's president, Hu Jintao – helping to trigger the scandal that unseated Bo.

Official accounts of the case have portrayed it as being unrelated to the political struggle for power in the country. Bo is instead accused of unspecified disciplinary violations while his wife, Gu Kailai, is accused of murdering the British businessman Neil Heywood.

But the New York Times, which cited almost a dozen sources with ties to the Communist party, said the wiretapping was seen as evidence of Bo's overreaching ambition and compounded leaders' mistrust of him.

It said anti-surveillance devices detected that the call to Hu, made by a senior anti-corruption official in Chongqing last August, was being monitored. Bo was party secretary of the south-western city at the time.

The incident encouraged disciplinary and security officials to investigate Bo's police chief and ally, Wang Lijun. That is thought to be one of the factors that ultimately led to Wang's flight this year to a US consulate, where he alleged that Gu had murdered Heywood.

Jean-Pierre Cabestan, professor of political science at Hong Kong Baptist University, described the wiretapping as "a kind of betrayal".

He added: "This is more than the killing of one man. That was the last straw, but I think before that, and even without that, [Bo] was already being investigated and would have been forced into retirement or something more serious.

"It underscored how much mistrust you have among leaders and particularly between Bo and some of the people in the centre."

According to the New York Times, a preliminary indictment in March accused Bo of damaging party unity by collecting evidence on other leaders.

But Bo Zhiyue, an expert on elite politics at the University of Singapore and no relation of Bo Xilai, thought it unlikely that authorities would disclose such matters publicly.

"It may [prove to] be a fact that Bo Xilai did all these things for his own advancement but it is too damaging to make public," he said.

"Who knows who else might be involved? It would be a lot more complicated," he said.

The New York Times said the eavesdropping operations in Chongqing began as part of a surveillance project overseen by Wang, which was officially intended to tackle crime and maintain stability in the area but went much further.

One political analyst, citing information obtained from a colonel, alleged Bo sought to tap the phones of virtually all high-ranking leaders who visited the city – including Zhou Yongkang, the security boss thought to be Bo's main defender among senior leaders.

"Bo wanted to be extremely clear about what leaders' attitudes toward him were," the analyst told the newspaper.

The newspaper said that in the case last August, Ma Wen, minister of supervision, was calling Hu on a high-security land link from the state guesthouse in Chongqing, which was monitored on Bo's orders. After learning of the tapping, Beijing turned central security and disciplinary investigators on to Wang, whom Bo blamed for the incident.

The political analyst told the New York Times that the party's central commission for discipline inspection had stationed up to four teams in Chongqing – two of them undercover – by the beginning of 2012. One focus was a corruption case in a city where Wang was once police chief.

A party academic with ties to Bo said Wang had twice filed complaints to the inspection commission before his flight to the US consulate, claiming Bo had "opposed party central" authorities, including ordering the wiretapping of central leaders. The requests were rejected.

But Bo was furious to learn that Wang had also monitored calls by him and Gu, sources said. Following Wang's flight he detained his wiretapping specialist, a district police chief named Wang Pengfei.

With attention to the Bo family's finances growing, his brother resigned from a Hong Kong-listed company, China Everbright International, late on Wednesday. The company said the decision was taken "to minimise any possible adverse impact on the company of certain reports recently published by the media on his family background".

Bo Xiyong, who had been vice-chair at the company since 2003 under the name Li Xueming, held around 10m of its shares, worth around $4.2m.

A commentary in the state-run tabloid Global Times accused the west of using the case to score cheap points.

"Bo is being investigated in accordance with the law. This news is really explosive, but will not shake China's political foundation," it said.

"Most western people are unfamiliar with Bo's name and Chongqing. It is illogical that the mainstream western media places so much attention on Bo's case," it complained.

It claimed the Chinese public's interest in the case was dwindling. Chinese media have not been able to report on it beyond reprinting the official Xinhua announcements.

"Almost 5% of Africa's agricultural land has been bought or leased by investors since 2000...The database, launched on Thursday, lifts the lid on a decade of secretive deals struck by governments, investors and speculators seeking large tracts of fertile land in developing countries around the world"

New international land deals database reveals rush to buy up Africa
World's largest public database lifts lid on the extent and secretive nature of the global demand for land
Claire Provost
guardian.co.uk, Friday 27 April 2012

Almost 5% of Africa's agricultural land has been bought or leased by investors since 2000, according to an international coalition of researchers and NGOs that has released the world's largest public database of international land deals.

The database, launched on Thursday, lifts the lid on a decade of secretive deals struck by governments, investors and speculators seeking large tracts of fertile land in developing countries around the world.

The past five years have seen a flood of reports of investors snapping up land at rock-bottom prices in some of the world's poorest countries. But, despite growing concern about the local impacts of so-called "land grabs", the lack of reliable data has made it difficult to pin down the real extent and nature of the global rush for land.

Researchers estimate that more than 200m hectares (495m acres) of land – roughly eight times the size of the UK – were sold or leased between 2000 and 2010. Details of 1,006 deals covering 70.2m hectares mostly in Africa, Asia and Latin America were published by the Land Matrix project, an international partnership involving five major European research centres and 40 civil society and research groups from around the world.

It is the first time a comprehensive list of international land deals has been collected and made public. The database relies on a wide variety of sources – including media reports, academic research and field-based investigations – to add detail to a global phenomenon notoriously shrouded in secrecy.

In a report published alongside the database, which analysed 1,217 agricultural deals covering 83.2m hectares of land, the researchers said the data confirms suspicions that wealthy food-importing countries have been targeting farmland in poorer countries with high rates of hunger and weak land governance. However, the report also reveals the growing role of emerging economies.

The report describes the rise of a "new intra-regionalism" characterised by growing south-south investment. Overall, researchers found more than 30% of documented agricultural deals involve investors coming from the same region as their "target" country. Expanding agribusiness companies from Brazil and Argentina seem to prefer to invest in other Latin American countries, they said, while South African investors appear particularly involved in projects in nearby east, central and southern African countries.

The majority of documented deals are in Africa. Researchers say 754 deals have been identified on the continent, covering 56.2m hectares – or roughly the size of Kenya.

Little evidence of job creation or other benefits to local communities could be found among the hundreds of largely export-oriented projects, said the report. In some cases, it adds, investors have secured hundreds of thousands of hectares of prime farmland at little to no cost. One deal in South Sudan, for example, has reportedly granted a Norwegian investor a 99-year lease for 179,000 hectares at an annual cost of just $0.07 a hectare.

Governments eager for foreign investment have often gone to great lengths to advertise vast tracts of available "vacant" land in their countries. But the report says almost half of the agricultural deals studied showed the areas concerned were already being farmed before investors moved in. Competition between powerful foreign investors and local farming communities seems "inevitable", it said.

But, so far, few large-scale projects have been established on the millions of hectares bought or leased for agricultural activities, according to the report, which says less than 30% of documented deals are thought to be in production. It suggests that some investors may have underestimated the challenges associated with their projects, while other deals are likely to be purely strategic and speculative investments.

A separate report published on Wednesday by the International Land Coalition, the NGO Global Witness, and the US-based Oakland Institute, denounced the "secretive culture" around large-scale land deals, and demanded governments and businesses disclose contracts and detailed information about potential risks and impacts of land-based investments.

"Far too many people are being kept in the dark about massive land deals that could destroy their homes and livelihoods," says Megan MacInnes, senior land campaigner at Global Witness. "Companies should have to prove they are doing no harm, rather than communities with little information or power having to prove that a land deal is negatively affecting them."

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Pentagon creates new spy agency...

Pentagon sets up new spy agency to eavesdrop on a changing world
Julian Borger, diplomatic editor
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 24 April 2012 08.25 EDT

The Pentagon is to create a new spy service to focus on global strategic threats and the challenges posed by countries including Iran, North Korea and China. The move will bring to 17 the total number of intelligence organisations in the US.

The Defense Clandestine Service is supposed to work closely with its counterpart in the CIA, the National Clandestine Service, recruiting spies from the ranks of the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and deploying them globally to boost the flow of intelligence on perceived long-term threats to US national interests.

US military news website Insidedefense said the defence department had asked Congress for authority for spies to work undercover posing as businessmen when conducting covert operations abroad.

The move by the defence secretary, Leon Panetta, emerged in briefings to US journalists.

"You have to do global coverage," a senior defence official said, according to the Los Angeles Times. The new service would seek to "make sure officers are in the right locations to pursue those requirements", the Washington Post quoted the official as saying.

The Pentagon argues that the new service is necessary because the DIA spends most of its time and manpower reporting tactical intelligence about battlefields such as Afghanistan, and not enough time looking at strategic issues.

Obama administration officials have said they want to switch US national security focus away from the Middle East to address long-term issues such as China's rise and nuclear threats in North Korea and Iran. Pentagon sources suggested the new service would also focus on Africa, where al-Qaida affiliates are on the rise.

The new service will be relatively small, increasing in numbers "from several hundred to several more hundred" over the next few years, according to defence department officials.

The US already has 16 different intelligence organisations scattered around the defence, state, justice, homeland security and energy departments, as well as the armed services.

After the attacks of 11 September 2001 revealed a lack of co-operation and intelligence-sharing among them, the Bush administration restructured the "intelligence community", putting it all under a director of national intelligence.

Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary for most of the Bush era, attempted to increase the Pentagon's espionage capability dramatically but the attempt was rebuffed by the CIA, which was at loggerheads with Rumsfeld's defence department over Iraq.

The Pentagon insisted that this time its new clandestine service would be set up in close collaboration with the CIA, which is led by the former military commander General David Petraeus. The fact that Panetta is a former CIA director is also said to have helped smooth co-operation.

Not all intelligence experts are convinced that the creation of a new organisation will help America's espionage capacity, however. Some argue that the move reflects turf battles and empire-building.

"I'm not sure what they are supposed to achieve that the CIA doesn't," Joshua Foust, a former DIA Middle East analyst told the LA Times. "This seems like a territorial thing: 'Hey, the CIA has this – why don't we have it, too?' … I'm pretty sceptical that it's necessary or good."

"According to Abu Ali and another fellow fighter, (Abdel Ghani) Jawhar arrived in Qsair two weeks ago with a group of 30 Lebanese fighters. While many were members of Fatah al-Islam, they were not traveling under the terror group’s banner. Instead they called themselves mujahideen, holy warriors seeking to help fellow Muslims under attack by the Syrian regime. Jawhar, an explosives expert and a charismatic commander, sought to train fellow fighters how (to) make bombs. In the short time he had been in Qsair, says Abu Ali, he was able to set up dozens of improvised explosive devices destined for members of the Syrian security forces. “His aim was to make a tour in all the districts of Syria to teach the fighters on how to fight a guerrilla war"...

In Syria, Lebanon’s Most Wanted Sunni Terrorist Blows Himself Up
Lebanese terror leader Abdel Ghani Jawhar detonated himself accidentally in Syria, raising questions about the kind of company the rebels are keeping
By Aryn Baker and Rami Aysha/Beirut

Via
When one of Lebanon’s most wanted terrorists kills himself while planting a bomb it is cause for at least some sort of grim celebration. But when the chief bomb-maker of the country’s most notorious terror group self detonates while helping rebels fight in Syria, it is cause for concern.

TIME has learned that Abdel Ghani Jawhar, one of the leaders of the Sunni fundamentalist terror group Fatah al-Islam, died in the Syrian city of Qsair on Friday night. The founding cleric of Fatah al Islam, Sheikh Osama al Shihabi, confirmed Jawhar’s death to TIME with a quote from the Koran: “‘We are for God and to him we return.’ We as Mujahideen are used to being killed and if God wants to give those killed dignity he gives them martyrdom. This is the path of righteousness.”

This is not the first time that Jawhar is thought to have been killed; several previous death announcements have been retracted over the years. News of his death has been relayed by multiple—and unrelated—sources in both Syria and Lebanon. According to a fellow fighter, who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Ali, Jawhar had been preparing an explosive device to be used against the Syrian army, which had been attempting to enter the rebel-dominated town not far from Homs. As Abu Ali narrated the tale over Skype, the sound of bombs and explosions could be heard in the background. Jawhar’s bomb went off prematurely, says Abu Ali. “He was killed directly. We wanted to send his body back to Lebanon but we couldn’t because it was torn into pieces.” Instead Jawhar’s fellow fighters were forced to bury what was left of him in a neighboring garden because it was impossible to reach the graveyard during heavy fighting.

According to Abu Ali and another fellow fighter, Jawhar arrived in Qsair two weeks ago with a group of 30 Lebanese fighters. While many were members of Fatah al-Islam, they were not traveling under the terror group’s banner. Instead they called themselves mujahideen, holy warriors seeking to help fellow Muslims under attack by the Syrian regime. Jawhar, an explosives expert and a charismatic commander, sought to train fellow fighters how make bombs. In the short time he had been in Qsair, says Abu Ali, he was able to set up dozens of improvised explosive devices destined for members of the Syrian security forces. “His aim was to make a tour in all the districts of Syria to teach the fighters on how to fight a guerrilla war.”

For his efforts, Abu Ali calls Jawhar a hero and a martyr. For Syrian rebels seeking international assistance in their battle to force Syrian President Bashar Assad out of office, it’s a public relations headache. The Free Syrian Army, as well as other Syrian resistance groups, has long sought to downplay regime accusations that the rebels are aligned with Islamic fundamentalists and pro-al-Qaeda groups. While Fatah al-Islam has denied any association with al-Qaeda, there are links between the group and individual members. The implication that an al-Qaeda affiliated group is helping Syrian rebels build bombs and foment a guerrilla war could radically alter perceptions in the West, bringing to a halt discussions of arming the rebels and establishing a no-fly zone. “The death of Jawhar on Syrian soil emphasizes the fears of the international community that if they gave weapons to the Syrian rebels they will end up in the hands of radical groups,” says Lebanese University professor and Fatah al-Islam expert Talal Atrissi. “The Syrian opposition will be embarrassed from the fact that such a man is fighting alongside the rebels.”

The account of Jawhar’s border crossing has been confirmed by Lebanese intelligence authorities who say that they had been alerted to his movements but were unable to stop him. “He escaped as always,” sighs a senior intelligence official who says that Jawhar had been nicknamed “mercury” for his uncanny ability to evade arrest—at least 34 times, by the official’s estimate. Lebanese security sources say they too have received information about Jawhar’s death, though they were unable to establish any details. “If his death is confirmed then we lost a big catch, he was a real treasure trove of information,” says the official.

Jawhar is accused of masterminding multiple bomb attacks against U.N. security forces in Lebanon as well as Lebanese security installations that have killed scores and injured hundreds. According to the official, he is a person of interest in some 200 unsolved cases of murder, assassinations, attempted assassinations and explosive attacks. He is also thought to have killed a Christian shopkeeper in the northern city of Tripoli because he sold alcohol. “This is a major loss for Lebanese security, for the information he is believed to have about the terror groups operating in the region,” says Atrissi. And while Jawhar’s death would be a major blow for the group, which had already been decimated by a slew of high profile arrests and the deaths of several leaders in succession, “it doesn’t mean that the region will become a safer place,” says Atrissi. “Each member of such groups is a potential Abdel Ghani Jawhar.”

A 30-year-old biochemist from northern Lebanon, Jawhar came of age during the country’s brutal civil war. First he joined the Muslim Brotherhood, but left over doctrinal disputes—he felt that the group was not strict enough in its interpretation of Sharia, or Islamic law. He then joined, and left, the extremely conservative Salafis for the same reasons, and finally became a member of Fatah al-Islam in 2008. He was promoted to leader after his predecessor was killed in a 2010 shootout with Lebanese security forces. According to the Lebanese intelligence official, he was a master recruiter, and even managed to induct Lebanese soldiers to his cause. His terror efforts spanned Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, where he is thought to be responsible for several of the devastating explosions that killed international troops. “He was a network by himself,” says the official. “He had relations all over the region; he was a ruthless killer.”

Jawhar is also implicated in the murders of a Lebanese general, a major in Intelligence and a Member of Parliament. He nearly succeeded in killing the head of the Lebanese army as well as the head of Internal Security. His death in Syria, says the official, may be seen as a welcome comeuppance in some quarters, “but for us, it’s devastating. It’s an issue of personal revenge between Jawhar and the Intelligence service.” It also raises concerns over the insurgency struggling across the border in Syria.

Monday, April 23, 2012

More secrets on the growing state surveillance: Interview with NSA whistleblower and a targeted hacker (Video)

Via DN

Houston's METRO "counter-terror" initiative draws criticism (Video)

Via

Ron Paul slams internet control bill CISPA...

Ron Paul Slams Internet Control Bill CISPA
“Big Brother writ” will allow feds to use corporate resources for “spying on the American people”
Steve Watson
Infowars.com
April 23, 2012

In the week that lawmakers will vote on the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CIPSA), Presidential candidate Ron Paul has slammed the legislation in an effort to raise public awareness of the dangers the bill poses to the free and open internet.

“CISPA is essentially an Internet monitoring bill that permits both the federal government and private companies to view your private online communications with no judicial oversight, provided, of course, that they do so in the name of cyber security,” Paul notes in his weekly Texas Straight Talk address.

“The bill is very broadly written and allows the Department of Homeland Security to obtain large swabs of personal information contained in your email or other online communications,” Paul urges.

“It also allows email and other private information found online to be used for purposes far beyond any reasonable definition of fighting cyber terrorism.”

Both the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) and the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) have noted that CISPA effectively legislates for monitoring and collecting online communications without the knowledge of the parties concerned and funneling them directly to the National Security Agency or the DOD’s Cybercommand.

In the past few days, the bill has attracted several new sponsors, bringing the number of CISPA co-sponsors to 112 members of Congress, up from 106 at the end of last month.

While the legislation has undergone some revision in the past few weeks, the core of the bill remains the same, prompting even the White House to issue a warning on the privacy implications for Americans.

“We should never underestimate the federal government’s insatiable desire to control the Internet,” Ron Paul notes.

“CISPA represents an alarming form of corporatism as it further intertwines governments with companies like Google and Facebook,” continues the congressman. “It permits them to hand over your private communications to government officials without a warrant, circumventing the well-known established federal laws like the Wiretap Act and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.”

“It also grants them broad immunity from lawsuits for doing so, leaving you for without recourse for invasion of privacy,” he adds.

Paul calls a “Big Brother writ” that cuts into “the resources of the private industry to work for the nefarious purpose of spying on the American people.”

“We can only hope the American people will respond to CISPA as they did with SOPA back in January,” concludes the congressman.

Listen to Ron Paul’s important update below:



This week will see up to four pieces of cybersecurity legislation reviewed in Congress, leading sections of the media to dub it “Cyber week”.

Aside from CISPA, the other bills up for review include the DATA Act sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa, the Cybersecurity Enhancement Act sponsored by Rep. Michael McCaul’s (R-Texas), and a computer technology research and development bill from Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas).

UN human rights inquiry to investigate the living conditions of Native Americans...

UN to investigate plight of US Native Americans for first time
The UN human rights inquiry will focus on the living conditions of the 2.7 million Native Americans living in the US
Ewen MacAskill in Washington
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 22 April 2012 12.20 EDT

The UN is to conduct an investigation into the plight of US Native Americans, the first such mission in its history.

The human rights inquiry led by James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on indigenous peoples, is scheduled to begin on Monday.

Many of the country's estimated 2.7 million Native Americans live in federally recognised tribal areas which are plagued with unemployment, alcoholism, high suicide rates, incest and other social problems.

The UN mission is potentially contentious, with some US conservatives likely to object to international interference in domestic matters. Since being appointed as rapporteur in 2008, Anaya has focused on natives of Central and South America.

A UN statement said: "This will be the first mission to the US by an independent expert designated by the UN human rights council to report on the rights of the indigenous peoples."

Anaya, a University of Arizona professor of human rights, said: "I will examine the situation of the American Indian/Native American, Alaska Native and Hawaiian peoples against the background of the United States' endorsement of the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples."

The US signed up in 2010 to the declaration, which establishes minimum basic rights for indigenous people globally.

Anaya said: "My visit aims at assessing how the standards of the declaration are reflected in US law and policy, and identifying needed reforms and good practices."

Apart from social issues, US Native Americans are involved in near continuous disputes over sovereignty and land rights. Although they were given power over large areas, most of it in the west, their rights are repeatedly challenged by state governments.

Most Americans have little contact with those living in the 500-plus tribal areas, except as tourists on trips to casinos allowed on land outside federal jurisdiction or to view spectacular landscapes.

Anaya is originally from New Mexico and is well versed in Native American issues.

He will visit Washington DC, Arizona, Alaska, Oregon, Oklahoma and South Dakota, and will conclude his trip with a press conference on 4 May. He will present his findings to the next session of the UN human rights council.

Anaya's past record shows a deep sympathy with Native Americans' plight. In one development dispute, he told the council that the desecration of sacred sites was an urgent human rights issue.

The Tucson Sentinel reported in 2011 that he had testified to Congress on the need for the US to pass legislation that abides by the declaration.

Also in 2011, he wrote to the Canadian government requesting information about the poor living conditions of aboriginal groups in the country.

UT researchers design chip allowing mobile devices to see through walls...

University of Texas Researchers Design Chip Allowing Mobile Devices to See Through Walls
By Madison Ruppert
theintelhub.com
April 20, 2012

As unbelievable as it sounds, researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas have created an imager chip for mobile devices which would turn an ordinary cell phone into something which can see through walls, wood, plastics, paper, skin and other objects.

Using the terahertz (THz) band of the electromagnetic spectrum, the wavelengths of which fall between the microwave and infrared bands, the chip could signify a revolution in the surveillance capabilities of mobile phones along with new chips like Broadcom’s BCM4752 which is capable of providing ultra-precise location data.

Combine this with citizen spying applications and the techniques which gently push people to conduct surveillance without them knowing what they’re actually doing, patents from Google which would allow them to collect the data from such chips and the National Security Agency’s (NSA’s) new data center and you have the penultimate surveillance state.

The research team connected two separate advances in science: the mostly untapped terahertz frequency range of the electromagnetic spectrum and cutting edge microchip technology.

For those who are unfamiliar or need a refresher, the electromagnetic spectrum makes up all wavelengths of electromagnetic energy from visible light to radio waves to microwaves to infrared to ultraviolet and everything in between.

Most consumer devices have yet to leverage the terahertz band, which means that this could be truly revolutionary technology, although some like myself might think that this revolution is not necessarily all that wonderful.

“We’ve created approaches that open a previously untapped portion of the electromagnetic spectrum for consumer use and life-saving medical applications,” said Dr. Kenneth O, an electrical engineering professor at the University of Texas at Dallas as well as the director of the Texas Analog Center of Excellence.

“The terahertz range is full of unlimited potential that could benefit us all,” he added, although I’m not quite sure how allowing cell phones to see through walls and thus erase what tiny shred of privacy we have left would benefit us all.

This technology would likely not even be as expensive as one might expect. This is because the new approach would allow images to be created with THz-range signals without the need for several lenses or other expensive equipment within the device.

This would not only reduce cost, but also size, making the technology something which we could realistically see in mobile phones in the future.

The University of Texas at Dallas press release notes that the techniques involved in the manufacturing of the microchip involved would also allow it to be applied to consumer devices.

Chips utilizing the Complimentary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) technology, which forms the basis of a great deal of consumer electronics like personal computers, mobile devices, high definition televisions, game consoles, etc. would make this technology even more affordable.

“CMOS is affordable and can be used to make lots of chips,” Dr. O said. “The combination of CMOS and terahertz means you could put this chip and receiver on the back of a cell phone, turning it into a device carried in your pocket that can see through objects.”

Thankfully, Dr. O seems to be, at least to a certain extent, concerned with privacy. This is evidenced by his team focusing on uses in distances of four inches or less, although this does not mean, by any means, that this technology could not be used at a greater distance when it is undoubtedly used by the government and military.

Some of the more innocuous potential applications could range from turning an ordinary phone into a stud finder or document authentication platform or even a counterfeit currency detector.

Manufacturing companies could potentially use it in process control and with more communication channels available in the THz range compared to the range currently used for wireless communications, data could be more rapidly transferred than the currently utilized frequency ranges allow.

There are even potential applications in healthcare fields, according to researchers.

It is possible that this type of imaging technology could be used to detect cancerous tumors, breath analysis for disease diagnosis and even air toxicity monitoring applications.

“There are all kinds of things you could be able to do that we just haven’t yet thought about,” said Dr. O, who also currently holds the Texas Instruments Distinguished Chair.

The research team’s next move will be to create an entire functioning imaging system which is based on the THz frequency range leveraging CMOS chip technology.

This research is being supported by the Center for Circuit and Systems Solutions (C2S2 Center) and carried out at the Texas Analog Center of Excellence (TxACE).

TxACE is funded by the Semiconducter Research Corporation (SRC), Texas Instruments Inc., and the state of Texas through the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, the University of Texas system and the University of Texas at Dallas.

This research was presented at the most recent meeting of the International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC), according to Homeland Security News Wire.

While there are indeed some very promising, positive applications for this type of technology, there are also some grave concerns in terms of privacy, which is a commodity we are quickly losing in today’s Big Brother society.

"U.S. retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc squelched its own internal investigation of allegations made by a former executive of its subsidiary in Mexico that the Mexican division had orchestrated a campaign of bribery to grab market dominance"...

Wal-Mart silenced Mexico bribe inquiry - NY Times
Sun Apr 22, 2012 12:12am BST

(Reuters) - U.S. retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc squelched its own internal investigation of allegations made by a former executive of its subsidiary in Mexico that the Mexican division had orchestrated a campaign of bribery to grab market dominance, the New York Times reported on Saturday.

The paper said in September 2005 a senior Wal-Mart lawyer received an e-mail from Sergio Cicero Zapata, a former executive at the company's largest foreign unit, Wal-Mart de Mexico, describing how the subsidiary had paid bribes to obtain permits to build stores in the country.

Wal-Mart sent investigators to Mexico City and found evidence of widespread bribery, but Wal-Mart's leaders then shut down the investigation and notified neither American nor Mexican law enforcement officials, the Times reported. The Times said the company had found a paper trail of hundreds of suspect payments totalling more than $24 million (14.9 million pounds).

The Times reported that the former Wal-Mart executive gave names, dates and bribe amounts, adding that he knew so much because for years he had been the lawyer in charge of obtaining construction permits for Wal-Mart de Mexico, or Walmex as the company is known locally.

"We take compliance with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) very seriously and are committed to having a strong and effective global anti-corruption program in every country in which we operate," Wal-Mart said in a statement.

The Justice Department and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in the past few years have aggressively stepped up enforcement of the FCPA, a 1970s law that bars bribes to officials of foreign governments.

But the government units that enforce the law are staffed with only a few dozen prosecutors and agents. Those units traditionally rely on the companies to hire outside lawyers to conduct the bulk of the investigation themselves since such probes usually involves collecting millions of documents and interviewing hundreds of witnesses outside the United States.

The companies then generally turn over to the agencies the results of the investigation, which can cost tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars in legal fees and take several years to complete.

STEPS TO CONCEAL PAYMENTS

Wal-Mart found documents showing that Wal-Mart de Mexico's top executives not only knew about the payments, but had taken steps to conceal them from Wal-Mart's headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, the newspaper reported.

The Times said that the company's lead investigator said there was reasonable suspicion to believe Mexican and U.S. laws had been violated and had recommended an expanded investigation, but that instead Wal-Mart's leaders shut it down.

None of Wal-Mart de Mexico's leaders were disciplined, the report said.

Eduardo Castro-Wright, whom the former executive identified as the driving force behind years of bribery, was promoted to vice chairman of Wal-Mart in 2008, the paper said.

Wal-Mart declined to make him available for an interview.

In a meeting at which the bribery was discussed, then-Chief Executive H. Lee Scott rebuked internal investigators for being overly aggressive, the report said.

Days later, the paper said its records showed Wal-Mart's top lawyer arranged to ship the internal investigators' files on the case to Mexico City.

Primary responsibility for the investigation was then given to the general counsel of Wal-Mart de Mexico, who was alleged to have authorized bribes, the Times said.

"Many of the alleged activities in The New York Times article are more than six years old," the company said in a statement.

"We are deeply concerned by these allegations and are working aggressively to determine what happened."

A spokesman at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said the agency did not have any comment on the Times report. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Pentagon's clandestine killers get new chief...

Pentagon’s Clandestine Killers Get New Chief
By Spencer Ackerman
Wired, February 16, 2011

Via
That’s Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Votel on the left.

Do not expect to see his face again any time soon. An elite — and controversial — team of worldwide terrorist hunters just wouldn’t be the same if its leader were in the spotlight.

The Pentagon announced Wednesday afternoon that Votel will be the next commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, taking over from Adm. William McRaven and earning his third star. It’s a job that Votel has a lot of familiarity with: he used to be the command’s deputy leader before taking his current job as chief of staff for the U.S. Special Operations Command.

President George W. Bush famously called JSOC, as it’s known, “awesome.” No surprises why: Its secretive operations include capturing and killing high-value terrorists and insurgents.

Under its most famous leader, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, it got its highest-profile kill in June 2006, when it iced Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader
of al-Qaeda in Iraq. It also ran the notorious detention center near the Baghdad airport, Camp Nama, where there were repeated allegations of torture.

The sign on the entrance? “NO BLOOD, NO FOUL,” according to The New York Times.

JSOC has increasingly been the tip of the military’s spear. In Afghanistan, its commandos are the ones who kick in doors for the “night raids” on Afghan homes, especially in the South and East, that have angered Hamid Karzai but form a critical part of Gen. David Petraeus’ war plan.

Sometimes its operations go awry, as when an October 2010 rescue mission to free British aid worker Linda Norgrove from Taliban captivity ended up killing the hostage. The man U.S. Central Command tapped to investigate what went wrong? Joseph Votel.

Votel also has a lot of familiarity with the Afghanistan-Pakistan border regions that consume a lot of JSOC’s time. Back in 2007, he was the deputy commander of Combined Joint Task Force 82, which operated along the border. That means unlike many commanders of the high-powered raiding unit, Votel has experience being a “landowner” — that is, a soldier who has to deal with an angered population after the raid team has packed up and moved out.

He’ll have to deal as well with a very tired Special Operations community — a problem Votel’s current boss, Adm. Eric Olson, identified last week in a speech. But JSOC doesn’t get breathers: It’s likely to expand operations in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia and other parts of the world where
the military wants terrorists dead without any fingerprints.

And don’t expect Votel to give any press conferences about his work.

Senator Frank Church in 1975: “NSA’s capability could be turned around on the American people”...

Influential Senator Warned in ’75: “NSA’s Capability Could Be Turned Around On The American People”
No American Would Have Any Privacy Left …There Would Be No Place To Hide. [If A Dictator Ever Took Over, The N.S.A.] Could Enable It To Impose Total Tyranny, And There Would Be No Way To Fight Back
Washington’s Blog
April 22, 2012

Via
Senator Church’s Prophetic Warning

Senator Frank Church – who chaired the famous “Church Committee” into the unlawful FBI Cointel program, and who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – said in 1975:

Th[e National Security Agency's] capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. [If a dictator ever took over, the N.S.A.] could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back.“

Now, the NSA is building a $2 billion dollar facility in Utah which will use the world’s most powerful supercomputer to monitor virtually all phone calls, emails, internet usage, purchases and rentals, break all encryption, and then store everyone’s data permanently.

The former head of the program for the NSA recently held his thumb and forefinger close together, and said:

We are, like, that far from a turnkey totalitarian state

So Senator Church’s warning was prophetic.

Spying Began Before 9/11

While you might assume that the NSA’s spying on Americans is a response to 9/11, the government’s illegal spying on Americans actually began before 9/11.

Bloomberg reported in 2006:

The U.S. National Security Agency asked AT&T Inc. to help it set up a domestic call monitoring site seven months before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, lawyers claimed June 23 in court papers filed in New York federal court.

“The Bush Administration asserted this became necessary after 9/11,” plaintiff’s lawyer Carl Mayer said in a telephone interview. “This undermines that assertion.”

“The U.S. Department of Justice has stated that AT&T may neither confirm nor deny AT&T’s participation in the alleged NSA program because doing so would cause `exceptionally grave harm to national security’ and would violate both civil and criminal statutes,” AT&T spokesman Dave Pacholczyk said in an e-mail.

U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Charles Miller and NSA spokesman Don Weber declined to comment
.

And see this and this.

In other words, the NSA’s trashing of the constitutional rights of American citizens had nothing to do with 9/11.

NSA Heard the 9/11 Hijackers’ Plans from Their Own Mouths … But Didn’t Stop Them

Indeed, the NSA was listening in on the 9/11 hijackers’ phone calls before 9/11, but didn’t do a whole lot to stop them:

The National Security Agency and the FBI were each independently listening in on the phone calls between the supposed mastermind of the attacks and the lead hijacker. Indeed, the FBI built its own antenna in Madagascar specifically to listen in on the mastermind’s phone calls
According to various sources, on the day before 9/11, the mastermind told the lead hijacker “tomorrow is zero hour” and gave final approval for the attacks. The NSA intercepted the message that day and the FBI was likely also monitoring the mastermind’s phone calls
Shortly before 9/11, the NSA also intercepted multiple phone calls to the United States from Bin Laden’s chief of operations.
According to the Sunday Herald, two days before 9/11, Bin Laden called his stepmother and told her “In two days, you’re going to hear big news and you’re not going to hear from me for a while.” U.S. officials later told CNN that “in recent years they’ve been able to monitor some of Bin Laden’s telephone communications with his [step]mother. Bin Laden at the time was using a satellite telephone, and the signals were intercepted and sometimes recorded.” Indeed, before 9/11, to impress important visitors, NSA analysts would occasionally play audio tapes of bin Laden talking to his stepmother. And according to CBS News, at 9:53 a.m on 9/11, just 15 minutes after the hijacked plane had hit the Pentagon, “the National Security Agency, which monitors communications worldwide, intercepted a phone call from one of Osama bin Laden’s operatives in Afghanistan to a phone number in the former
Soviet Republic of Georgia”, and secretary of Defense Rumsfeld learned about the intercepted phone call in real-time (if the NSA monitored and transcribed phone calls in real-time on 9/11, that implies that it probably did so in the months leading up to 9/11 as well)

As we reported in 2008, the NSA even monitored the hijackers within the United States:

We’ve previously pointed out that the U.S. government heard the 9/11 plans from the hijackers’ own mouth. Most of what we wrote about involved the NSA and other intelligence services tapping top Al Qaeda operatives’ phone calls outside the U.S.

However, as leading NSA expert James Bamford - the Washington Investigative Producer for ABC’s World News Tonight with Peter Jennings for almost a decade, winner of a number of journalism awards for coverage national security issues, whose articles have appeared in dozens of publications, including cover stories for the New York Times Magazine, Washington Post Magazine, and the Los Angeles Times Magazine, and the only author to write any books (he wrote 3) on the NSA – reports, the NSA was also tapping the hijackers’ phone calls inside the U.S.

Specifically, hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi lived in San Diego, California, for 2 years before 9/11. Numerous phone calls between al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi in San Diego and a high-level Al Qaeda operations base in Yemen were made in those 2 years.

The NSA had been tapping and eavesdropping on all calls made from that Yemen phone for years. So NSA recorded all of these phone calls.

Indeed, the CIA knew as far back as 1999 that al-Mihdhar was coming to the U.S. Specifically, in 1999, CIA operatives tailing al-Mihdha in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, obtained a copy of his passport. It contained visas for both Malaysia and the U.S., so they knew it was likely he would go from Kuala Lumpur to America
.

ABC News reported in 2002:

Shortly before Sept. 11, NSA intercepts detected multiple phone calls from Abu Zubaida, bin Laden’s chief of operations, to the United States. The intercepts were never passed on.

And Raw Story wrote in 2008:

Author James Bamford looked into the performance of the NSA … and found that it had been closely monitoring the 9/11 hijackers as they moved freely around the United States and communicated with Osama bin Laden’s operations centerin Yemen. The NSA had even tapped bin Laden’s satellite phone, starting in 1996.

“The NSA never alerted any other agency that the terrorists were in the United States and moving across the country towards Washington,” Bamford told PBS.

PBS also found that “the 9/11 Commission never looked closely into NSA’s role in the broad intelligence breakdown behind the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. If they had, they would have understood the full extent to which the agency had major pieces of the puzzle but never put them together or disclosed their entire body of knowledge to the CIA and the FBI.”

In a review of Bamford’s book, former senator and 9/11 Commission member Bob Kerrey wrote, “As the 9/11 Commission later established, U.S. intelligence officials knew that al-Qaeda had held a planning meeting in Malaysia, found out the names of two recruits who had been present — Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi — and suspected that one and maybe both of them had flown to Los Angeles. Bamford reveals that the NSA had been eavesdropping for months on their calls to Yemen, yet the agency ‘never made the effort’ to trace where the calls originated. ‘At any time, had the FBI been notified, they could have found Hazmi in a matter of seconds.’”

Former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer told PBS, “None of this information that we’re speaking about this evening’s in the 9/11 Commission report. They simply ignored all of it
.”

Spying Unrelated to Keeping Us Safe

As we’ve previously documented, the spying isn’t being done to keep us safe … but to crush dissent …

and to help the too big to fail businesses compete against smaller businesses (and here).

Indeed, the NSA monitoring efforts will not focus on spying on potential terrorists – or even criminal activity – but in recording every phone call, email, internet search or other communication in the country.

Not Just the NSA: Other Agencies and Shady Foreign Groups Spying on Americans As Well

It’s not just the NSA.

As Nat Hentoff writes:

Thirty years after Church’s principled stand, the Washington Post reported that the NSA had already been enlisting other intelligence
agencies to assist its surveillance of “people inside the country suspected of having terrorist connections” (“Bush Authorized Domestic Spying,” Dan Eggen, Dec. 16, 2005).

On what basis? That’s classified.

And Bamford reports that shady companies with ties to Israel are wiretapping Americans for the NSA:

One of the [National Security] agency’s biggest secrets is just how careless it is with that ocean of very private and very personal communications, much of it to and from Americans. Increasingly, obscure and questionable contractors — not government employees — install the taps, run the agency’s eavesdropping infrastructure, and do the listening and analysis.

And with some of the key companies building the U.S.’s surveillance infrastructure for the digital age employing unstable employees, crooked executives, and having troubling ties to foreign intelligence services, it’s not clear that Americans should trust the secretive agency ….

***

Secretive contractors with questionable histories and little oversight were also used to do the actual bugging of the entire U.S. telecommunications network.

According to a former Verizon employee briefed on the program, Verint, owned by Comverse Technology, taps the communication lines at Verizon, which I first reported in my book The Shadow Factory in 2008. Verint did not return a call seeking comment, while Verizon said it does not comment on such matters.

At AT&T the wiretapping rooms are powered by software and hardware from Narus, now owned by Boeing, a discovery made by AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein in 2004. Narus did not return a call seeking comment.

What is especially troubling is that both companies have had extensive ties to Israel, as well as links to that country’s intelligence service, a country with a long and aggressive history of spying on the U.S.

In fact, according to Binney, the advanced analytical and data mining software the NSA had developed for both its worldwide and international eavesdropping operations was secretly passed to Israel by a mid-level employee, apparently with close connections to the country. The employee, a technical director in the Operations Directorate, “who was a very strong supporter of Israel,” said Binney, “gave, unbeknownst to us, he gave the software that we had, doing these fast rates, to the Israelis.”

Because of his position, it was something Binney should have been alerted to, but wasn’t.

“In addition to being the technical director,” he said, “I was the chair of the TAP, it’s the Technical Advisory Panel, the foreign relations council. We’re supposed to know what all these foreign countries, technically what they’re doing…. They didn’t do this that way, it was under the table.” After discovering the secret transfer of the technology, Binney argued that the agency simply pass it to them officially, and in that way get something in return, such as access to communications terminals. “So we gave it to them for switches,” he said.

“For access.”

But Binney now suspects that Israeli intelligence in turn passed the technology on to Israeli companies who operate in countries around the world, including the U.S. In return, the companies could act as extensions of Israeli intelligence and pass critical military, economic and diplomatic information back to them. “And then five years later, four or five years later, you see a Narus device,” he said. “I think there’s a connection there, we don’t know for sure.”

Narus was formed in Israel in November 1997 by six Israelis with much of its money coming from Walden Israel, an Israeli venture capital company. Its founder and former chairman, Ori Cohen, once told Israel’s Fortune Magazine that his partners have done technology work for Israeli intelligence. And among the five founders was Stanislav Khirman, a husky, bearded Russian who had previously worked for Elta Systems, Inc. A division of Israel Aerospace Industries, Ltd., Elta specializes in developing advanced eavesdropping systems for Israeli defense and intelligence organizations. At Narus, Khirman became the chief technology officer.

A few years ago, Narus boasted that it is “known for its ability to capture and collect data from the largest networks around the world.”

The company says its equipment is capable of “providing unparalleled monitoring and intercept capabilities to service providers and government organizations around the world” and that “Anything that comes through [an Internet protocol network], we can record. We can reconstruct all of their e-mails, along with attachments, see what Web pages they clicked on, we can reconstruct their [Voice over Internet Protocol] calls.”

Like Narus, Verint was founded by in Israel by Israelis, including Jacob “Kobi” Alexander, a former Israeli intelligence officer. Some 800 employees work for Verint, including 350 who are based in Israel, primarily working in research and development and operations,according to the Jerusalem Post. Among its products is STAR-GATE, which according to the company’s sales literature, lets “service providers … access communications on virtually any type of network, retain communication data for as long as required, and query and deliver content and data …” and was “[d]esigned to manage vast numbers of targets, concurrent sessions, call data records, and communications.”

In a rare and candid admission to Forbes, Retired Brig. Gen. Hanan Gefen, a former commander of the highly secret Unit 8200, Israel’s NSA, noted his former organization’s influence on Comverse, which owns Verint, as well as other Israeli companies that dominate the U.S. eavesdropping and surveillance market. “Take NICE, Comverse and Check Point for example, three of the largest high-tech companies, which were all directly influenced by 8200 technology,” said Gefen. “Check Point was founded by Unit alumni. Comverse’s main product, the Logger, is based on the Unit’s technology.”

According to a former chief of Unit 8200, both the veterans of the group and much of the high-tech intelligence equipment they developed are now employed in high-tech firms around the world. “Cautious estimates indicate that in the past few years,” he told a reporter for the Israeli newspaper Ha’artez in 2000, “Unit 8200 veterans have set up some 30 to 40 high-tech companies, including 5 to 10 that were floated on Wall Street.” Referred to only as “Brigadier General B,” he added, “This correlation between serving in the intelligence Unit 8200 and starting successful high-tech companies is not coincidental: Many of the technologies in use around the world and developed in Israel were originally military technologies and were developed and improved by Unit veterans.”

Equally troubling is the issue of corruption. Kobi Alexander, the founder and former chairman of Verint, is now a fugitive, wanted by the FBI on nearly three dozen charges of fraud, theft, lying, bribery, money laundering and other crimes. And two of his top associates at Comverse, Chief Financial Officer David Kreinberg and former General Counsel William F. Sorin, were also indicted in the scheme and later pleaded guilty, with both serving time in prison and paying millions of dollars in fines and penalties.

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