The Hydropower–vs–Agriculture Conundrum In Central Asia

The Hydropower Solution In Central Asia

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OilPrice.com

Surfing the wave of the hype for renewable energy such as hydropower and the invitation by the United States to many regional countries to get involved in the efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, Tajikistan is bringing back to the table the Rogun hydropower dam project.  Rogun, conceived in Soviet days, was planned to generate 3,600 megawatts but the collapse of the Soviet Union halted the completion of this project.  Now an independent country, Tajikistan, one of the poorest in the world, sees Rogun as a central element for its energy independence and a source of severely needed foreign currencies that could be earned through the export of electricity.

That effort comes at a time when clean energy is seen as the panacea to reduce the world’s dependency on polluting fossil energy, just like using olive oil was once seen as a solution to reduce cardio-vascular diseases.  The push for clean energy is laudable but an expensive undertaking. Its implementation remains sketchy in poor countries where the lack of long-term political, economical and social visibility is a deterrent for foreign governments, companies, multilateral institutions and venture capitalists from making long-term costly investments. The “let’s all hold hands and save the environment” speech quickly dies when the practicality of such projects are plugged into the picture.

This is unfortunate as the repeated calls for clean energy from industrialized countries create high expectation from poor countries that hope what they have to offer will be seriously considered.  For Tajikistan the situation has been quite desperate.  The country is plagued with regular energy shortages, unrealistic expectations and unmet promises.  The hydropower potential of Tajikistan, about 300 billion kilowatt-hours, remains mostly untapped with only 5% of its potential being used.  Once completed the dam would be one of the tallest in the world at 335 meters and would be 1,500 meters wide.  The reservoir would have a total storage volume of 13.5 million cubic meters over 10.3 km3. It is estimated that it would take seven to twelve years for the Vakhesh River to fill the reservoir. The project would force the resettlement of over 30,000 people.

Energy Shortages

Unlike Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, Tajikistan has no known significant oil & gas reserves and as a result energy shortages cripple Tajikistan and regularly bring its manufacturing industry to a halt, not to mention the regular electricity shortages endured by the population, even in the capital city of Dushanbe. The situation is further exacerbated by tensions with neighboring Uzbekistan that cuts the energy supply to retaliate against any efforts by upstream countries to control water flows that might impact Uzbek downstream agricultural activities. The withdrawal in 2009 of Uzbekistan from the Central Asian electricity grid is a further blow as it will also prevent Tajikistan from exporting electricity generated by its hydropower plants.  The country is also crippled by legacies of the past, notably the Talco Aluminum Plant (formerly “TadAZ”), which by itself consumes 40% of Tajikistan’s electricity production and is said to pay its electricity at heavily discounted prices.

Tired of waiting on foreigners to act and on foreign governments and multilateral institutions that advocate smaller scale hydropower projects, President Emomali Rahmon launched a voluntary-compulsory share purchase program where he asked “every son of the nation, every patriot and our countrymen abroad to support Tajikistan through financial and moral help by acquiring share in the Rogun Hydropower Project. Five million shares and certificates have been issued for a total sum of six billion somonis (about $1.3 billion), which is the Tajik estimated cost to finish the project. Each family was asked (many will argue forced) to buy at least 3,000 somonis (about $690).  This is very tolling for a population where the majority lives with less than $2/day, though the poorest families were exempted.

The idea of popular participation is interesting but questionable when not participating in this national effort is considered unpatriotic and the zeal of some led to some doubtful collecting practices. By the end of January about 701 million somonis ($162 million) had been collected, and by March 10 that number painstakingly reached 770 million somonis ($176 million).

Unrealistic Expectations & Unmet Promised

The project cost could range from $1.3 billion to up to $6 billion.  Cost overruns can be factored in because of the harsh winters in this 93% mountainous country that could bring construction to a standstill for several months. Furthermore, delivery of construction materials and equipment will be a major challenge because of the poor state of the local infrastructure and of the unpredictable state of future relationships with neighboring countries through which everything will have to transit.  Being a landlocked country renders Tajikistan heavily dependent on the good mood of its neighbors, notably Uzbekistan, which is a logical transit route.

Tajikistan has also been relentless at pushing this expensive project through when multilateral development banks like the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Asian Development Bank have regularly suggested less grandiose plans in order to build much smaller hydropower plants for 100 times less money.  Many potential locations to place these plants had already been identified in Soviet days.  Such plants could be financed more easily, be built and come online much faster, and could allow for multi-stages in the construction process with the installation of one or two turbines at the initial stage with the possibility to install more in facilities conceived to host several turbines.

This said, the World Bank did agree to finance a techno-economic assessment and an environmental impact and social assessment that will help assess the potential impact of the dam across the region.  At a time where water is scarce and as a result becoming more valuable than gold (see related article on Oilprice.com: Central Asia’s Most Precious Resource – Water, Not Oil), any project than impacts water flows can create an explosive situation thus the importance to conduct such assessments to address concerns and lower tensions.

Tajikistan’s decision can be seen as a desperate move but it can be understood.  In 2004 the aluminum giant RusAl, owned by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, signed a deal to spend about $2 billion to finish the dam, modernize TadAZ (now Talco) and to even build another aluminum smelter.  Time passed and nothing happened.  The world financial crisis that severely impacted Russia and the collapse of commodity prices did not help as cash itself became a rare commodity.

Eventually the Tajik government cancelled the deal in 2009 for what President Emomali Rahmon qualified as “the Russian company’s failure to honor its commitments.”  Further disappointment came when President Dmitry Medvedev declared in January 2009 when visiting Uzbekistan’s President Karimov in Tashkent that he would support the project if all the countries in the region agreed to it, which was a polite way to say no thank you. Uzbekistan had again grown closer to Russia after the U.S. called for an international investigation following the killing of protesters in Andijan, Uzbekistan.  In retaliation, the United States was forced to close the Karshi-Khanabad air base in 2005 that was then playing an important role with Afghanistan operations.

Rogun Step 2

Many questions remain in the air: how much more money will be raised through voluntary/forced contribution? How much money can the government allocate out of its own budget for Rogun?  Where will the additional money come from if the money collected from the people and the government is not sufficient?  What guarantees are place to prevent the money already collected from being misappropriated?  What will happen if feasibility studies turn out to say that the project is not environmentally sound?  What can Tajikistan do if its neighbors oppose the project? What future does Tajikistan have if it remains energy dependent on countries that turn off the switch for political reasons?

In an interview granted to AsiaPlus and published on February 12, 2010, to the question what is the Washington’s position on Rogun?” Robert O. Blake, Jr., Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs at the State Department, summarized the view shared by many by saying “we understand the importance of energy security for Tajikistan and support the government’s efforts to make sure its citizens, enterprises, and institutions have access to adequate and reliable power.  We encourage Tajikistan to take into consideration the views of their neighbors when pursuing hydropower development plans – like Rogun.  In addition to Rogun, we encourage Tajikistan to consider developing small hydropower stations.”

What road for Tajikistan?

In 2009, the International Crisis Group published a report entitled “Tajikistan: on the Road to Failure” that stated “chronic food insecurity, disintegrating energy infrastructure, and endemic corruption are driving the country deeper into crisis.”  The dramatization of the situation is maybe excessive as the Tajiks are very resilient and President Rahmon remains popular for having brought an end to a debilitating civil war in the 90s and for the lack of credible political opponent.  The fact remains that Tajikistan is a country with very little margin to play with.

Tajikistan is eager to play an active role in stabilizing Afghanistan with which it shares over 1,300 km of borders, but assisting NATO and the U.S. is risky as it makes it vulnerable to extremists.  It is also risky for a country with over a million of its citizens living abroad as migrant workers, mostly in Russia, and sending back remittances representing 47% of GDP, which is one of the highest percentage in the world so alienating Russia is not an option.

In addition to international challenges, Tajikistan faces domestic challenges: the parliamentary elections that took place at the end of February 2010 were deemed by the OSCE as having “failed on many basic democratic standards.” This means that discontent cannot be expressed through democratic means, which in turn could lead to an increased radicalization of those that have nothing, and thus nothing to lose.

Some may argue that Tajikistan is espousing ideas popular in the West to get its support, like Iran saying it would enrich its uranium in France and Russia or like North Korea saying it would not reactivate its nuclear plant against food aid but the major difference is that Tajikistan is a genuine ally.  Of course, jumping on the Afghanistan bandwagon with the West serves Tajikistan’s interest too but greater interaction with its neighbor would be greatly beneficial for the region and beyond.

At least, Tajikistan has not become the backyard operations field of Al-Qaeda like Pakistan, which still got nonmilitary aid in the amount of $7.5 billion from the U.S. Congress in the fall of 2009.  Press reports state that prior U.S. assistance to Pakistan has been misspent in the past.  Interestingly, the amount diverted would have been enough to complete the Rogun dam.

If Tajikistan is not assisted today in some ways despite all its flaws, we cannot expect it to stand strong tomorrow should Afghanistan collapse and fall into chaos or if the situation in the region becomes more volatile.

Source: www.oilprice.com/article-the-hydropower-solution-in-central-asia-yes-but.html

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Aafia Siddiqui: Victimized by American Depravity

Aafia Siddiqui: Victimized by American Depravity

Stephen Lendman

aafia-ap4005.jpg
March 31, 2010

On February 3, 2010, after a sham trial, the Department of Justice announced Siddiqui’s conviction for “attempting to murder US nationals in Afghanistanand six additional charges.” When sentenced on May 6, she faces up to 20 years for each attempted murder charge, possible life in prison on the firearms charge, and eight years on each assault charge.

In March 2003, after visiting her family in Karachi, Pakistan, government Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agents, in collaboration with Washington, abducted Siddiqui and her three children en route to the airport for a flight to Rawalpindi, handed them over to US authorities who took them secretly to Bagram prison, Afghanistan for more than five years of brutal torture and unspeakable abuse, including vicious beatings and repeated raping.

Bogusly charged and convicted, Siddiqui was guilty only of being Muslim in America at the wrong time. A Pakistani national, she was deeply religious, very small, thoughtful, studious, quiet, polite, shy, soft-spoken, barely noticeable in a gathering, not extremist or fundamentalist, and, of course, no terrorist.

She attended MIT and Brandeis University where she earned a doctorate in neurocognitive science. She did volunteer charity work, taught Muslim children on Sundays, distributed Korans to area prison inmates, dedicated herself to helping oppressed Muslims worldwide, yet lived a quiet, unassuming nonviolent life.

Nonetheless, she was accused of being a “high security risk” for alleged Al-Qaeda connections linked to planned terrorist attacks against New York landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge and Empire State Building, accusations so preposterous they never appeared in her indictment.

The DOJ’s more likely interest was her supposed connection, through marriage, to a nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), the bogusly charged 9/11 mastermind who confessed after years of horrific torture. US authorities tried to use them both – to coerce KSM to link Siddiqui to Al-Qaeda, and she to admit his responsibility for 9/11 – something she knew nothing about or anything about her alleged relative.

Her trial was a travesty of justice based on the preposterous charge that in the presence of two FBI agents, two Army interpreters, and three US Army officers, she (110 pounds and frail) assaulted three of them, seized one of their rifles, opened fire at close range, hit no one, yet she was severely wounded.

No credible evidence was presented. Some was kept secret. The proceedings were carefully orchestrated. Witnesses were either enlisted, pressured, coerced, and/or bought off to cooperate, then jurors were intimidated to convict, her attorney, Elaine Whitfield Sharp, saying their verdict was “based on fear, not fact.”

Awaiting her May 6 sentencing, Siddiqui is incarcerated in harsh maximum security solitary confinement at New York’s Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC), denied all contact with friends and family, no mail or reading materials, or access to her previously allowed once a month 15 minute phone call to relatives.

Justice for Aafia Coalition (JFAC)

In February 2010, Muslim women in America, Britain, Canada, and Australia united in outrage over Siddiqui’s treatment and bogus conviction, demanding her release and exoneration.

March 28 was the seventh anniversary of her abduction, commemorated by a global day of protest, JFAC saying it was “to have events, demonstrations, letter-writing campaigns, khutbahs (sermons or public preaching), etc. in towns and cities all over the world in solidarity with Aafia” – for justice, against sadism and barbarity against an innocent woman, guilty of being a target of opportunity, not crimes she didn’t commit.

JFAC published a transcript of the March 26 Kamram Shahid-conducted Pakistan Front Line TV interview with Siddiqui family members, including her mother, Ismat, sister, Fowzia, and young son, Ahmed, who asked “why have they imprisoned her and why did they imprison me?” In response to whether he’d like to give his mother a message, he said:

“I love you and I am waiting for you (to) come back soon, if Allah permits.”

Ismat confirmed some of Aafia’s torture in shocking detail, saying:

She endured a lot, some of the worst of it including “six men….strip(ping) her naked. All her clothes would be removed. She told this to the Pakistani senators too, that they would strip her naked, then tie her hands behind her back, and then they would take her, dragging her by the hair. You cannot imagine the cruelty they have done to her. They would take her like this to the corridor and film her there.”

“After that, they observed that she would read the Qu’ran, from memory and from the book. They again would send six, seven men, who would strip her naked and misbehave etc. They took the Qu’ran and threw it at her feet and told her that only if you walk on the Qu’ran will we return (it) to you. She would cry and shout that she would not do it. Then they would beat her with their rifle butts so much that she would be bloodied. All her face and body would be injured. Then they used to pull out her hair one by one, just like this….They threatened (to) take her to the court like this, naked.”

After “beat(ing) her so much that she bled….they made her lie on a bed. Then they tied her hands and feet – hands and feet both tied so that she (could) not even… scratch her wounds. Then they applied torture to the soles of her feet and head. They put her in some machines to make her lose her mental stability. They gave her such injections on the pretext of medical treatment.” When she pleaded not to do it, “they would make her unconscious and then give them to her. Such is (their) cruelty.”

“This epic cruelty – and look at (the) Islamic world….They are all silent and making their palaces in Hell….She was not even a criminal in their law. And she has done no crime. They did not accuse her of terrorism. She is not a terrorist.”

Her sister Fowzia said “It is all on tape. I am not making this up. They are sadists or whatever. All the strip searching was video-taped. (She called Aafia) a poster child for this torture and rendition,” one of many others brutalized in American prisons. Court testimony revealed that her children were also tortured, Ahmed later released on condition he say nothing, two still missing and presumed murdered. “I think even Genghis Khan did not do this,” said Fowzia.

In an August 2008 address to Pakistan’s Senate, Fowzia explained that “Aafia (can’t) get justice in the US….They are sure to make her out to be a major terror figure to mask the five years of torture, rape and child molestation as reported by human rights groups.”

Her case is much more important than “my sister or one woman. Her torture is a crime beyond anything she was ever accused of (which was basically nothing) and this is a slap on the honor of our nation and the whole of humanity. The perpetrators of those crimes are the ones who need to be brought to account. That is the real crime of terror here.”

Fowzia appealed for Aafia’s extradition to Pakistan, despite little hope of expecting a government complicit in crime to cooperate beyond rhetoric. At first, it denied knowledge, then, after meeting with family, interior minister Faisal Saleh Hayat and other officials promised to work for her release, still denying complicity for what happened.

Because her ordeal sparked nationwide protests, Pakistan’s government is in damage control, apparently wants to shift blame to Washington, investigating officer Shahid Qureshi, in a report to the judicial magistrate, saying “FBI intelligence agents without any warrants or notice” committed the abduction – knowing full well about ISI’s complicity.

During conflnement, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said Siddiqui had a kidney and her teeth removed. Her nose was broken and not properly set. Her gun shot wound was improperly treated. Reuters reported that she lost part of her intestines and still bleeds internally from poor treatment. Those around her notice she’s deathly pale because of extreme trauma and pain.

After years of horrific torture and abuse, a federal Bureau of Prisons psychological evaluation diagnosed her condition to be “depressive type psychosis” besides the destructive physical toll on her body.

World Outrage and Support

The Muslim Justice Initiative (MJI) said Siddiqui’s “recent guilty verdict….shocked and outraged masses across the globe” in announcing an April 2 online webinar discussion on her behalf, featuring her brother Mohammed, sister Fawzia, noted UK journalist and Siddiqui advocate Yvonne Ridley, and Tina Foster, Executive Director of the International Justice Network (IJN). Information on the event can be found at muslimsforjustice.org.

On February 3, Siddiqui’s conviction date, IJN said the following:

It “represents the family of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui in the United States,” its attorneys “monitoring her trial, which began on January 19 and ended with a guilty verdict today in US Federal Court in the Southern District of New York.”

“Today marks the close of another sad chapter in the life of our sister, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui. Today she was unjustly found guilty. Though she was not charged with any terrorism-related offense, Judge Berman permitted the prosecution’s witnesses to characterize our sister as a terrorist – which, based on copious (exculpatory) evidence, she clearly is not. Today’s verdict is one of the many legal errors that allowed the prosecution to build a case against our sister based on hate, rather than fact. We believe that as a result, she was denied a fair trial, and today’s verdict must be overturned on appeal.”

Himself victimized by US torture, including at Bagram, author of “Enemy Combatant: A British Muslim’s Journey to Guantanamo and Back,” Moassam Begg (like others), called Aafia “the Grey Lady of Bagram because she (was) almost a ghost, a spectre whose cries and screams continue to haunt those who heard her.” So much so that for six days in 2005, male prisoners staged a hunger strike in protest.

After sentencing, her next journey may be to isolated life confinement in federal Supermax hell – according to the US Department of Justice National Institute of Corrections, intended for the most dangerous criminals, guilty of “repetitive assaultive or violent institutional behavior,” the worst of the worst who threaten society or national security.

Hardly the place for a woman called shy, soft-spoken, deeply religious, polite, studious, thoughtful, and considerate of others, especially persecuted Muslims being brutalized in America’s global gulag, courtesy of an administration that pays lip service to ending torture but practices it as sadistically as George Bush and the worst of history’s tyrants.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached
at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

In Md., drilling meets resistance

In Md., drilling meets resistance

Lawmakers, activists oppose Obama plan to seek oil off coast, warning of harm to bay, beaches

By Timothy B. Wheeler and Paul West
Maryland’s senators and environmental activists are vowing to oppose President Barack Obama’s move to expand oil and gas exploration off the state’s Atlantic coast, warning that it could hurt tourism in Ocean City, threaten fish and wildlife along relatively unspoiled Assateague Island and foul the Chesapeake Bay.

Drilling off the Mid-Atlantic coast would not begin for years, if ever, and was part of a broader energy strategy the president outlined Wednesday at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington. But it raised the hackles of some members of Maryland’s congressional delegation and local environmental groups, who have generally supported the Obama administration’s push for developing renewable energy.

Democratic Sens. Benjamin L. Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski issued a joint statement voicing their opposition to expanded drilling off the East Coast. In an interview, Cardin said oil spills could have a devastating impact on the state’s fisheries, tourism in Ocean City and the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

Environment Maryland’s Tommy Landers said he was “outraged” by the proposal.

“There is no need to threaten our beaches, wildlife and tourism with oil spills and pollution when we have much better solutions,” Landers said, such as fuel-efficient cars, plug-in vehicle technology and public transportation.

Cardin, a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, declined to speculate on Obama’s reasons for proposing offshore energy development off the East Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico. But it appeared calculated to woo Republican support for the administration’s climate-change and clean-energy initiative, which has languished in the Senate after winning approval in the House.

“It makes it more complicated for those of us who are trying to get energy legislation passed,” said Cardin. “I don’t find him putting offshore out there the way he did to be helpful.”

And Cardin warned that the president might lose his support for the bill. “If it were to open up drilling beyond what I see as appropriate, yes, it could be a deal-breaker,” he said.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, who was present at Obama’s announcement, has opposed oil and gas exploration off Maryland’s coast, though he’s joined with other Mid-Atlantic governors in pushing for offshore wind turbines. Spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said O’Malley remains opposed to offshore drilling but has faith that the Obama administration will be “guided by the science” in deciding whether to go forward.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the Obama administration is moving ahead with previously announced plans to lease Atlantic waters off Virginia for oil and gas exploration. Last year, the federal Minerals Management Service invited expressions of interest from energy companies for a 2.9 million-acre area 50 miles off the coast. Salazar said further evaluation is needed of potential environmental impact and of possible interference with shipping or military activities, but the administration hopes to make a final determination by early 2012.

Drilling off Maryland or anywhere else along the East Coast will take longer to decide, Salazar said, and depend on public input and environmental-impact studies that have not begun. But the U.S. government is looking to commission seismic studies along the outer continental shelf off the East Coast, to provide better clues about the potential for finding oil or gas.

Federal geologists estimate that the eastern Gulf, Atlantic coast and portions of Alaska under consideration for leasing could contain 39 billion to 63 billion barrels of economically recoverable oil – enough to last nine years at current consumption rates – and 168 trillion to 294 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

But environmental groups say the extra fuel isn’t worth the risks, and that even if drilling is limited to waters off Virginia, Maryland could be hurt by spills.

The area under consideration for leasing begins just south of the Maryland line and extends nearly to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, and most of the state’s congressional delegation, have endorsed drilling, saying they’re eager to have Virginia be the first state on the East Coast to produce oil or gas from off its coast.

But others say there’s too great a risk of environmental harm, despite improvements in drilling technology. Striped bass, American shad and other fish migrate along the Atlantic coast before returning to bay rivers to spawn in the spring, and the ocean waters off the mouth of the bay are a vital nursery for blue crabs. Spills could devastate the crab population and the bay’s fishing industry, said Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker.

He called it “a terrible irony” that Obama would back something that could pollute the bay, after his having issued an executive order last year pledging his administration’s help in restoring the Chesapeake.

And Kathy Phillips, head of the Assateague Coastal Trust, said she feared Maryland’s beaches at Ocean City and along Assateague Island could be soiled with oil and tar, as beaches have been in California, where offshore drilling has long taken place. She said that any finds of oil or gas would require pipelines to bring the fuel ashore, increasing risks to wildlife.

“In the future, are we going to be having pipelines coming across Assateague island?” she asked. ” We will surely fight that.”

Not all environmentalists criticized Obama’s strategy. Some groups hailed his decision to bar drilling in Alaska’s sensitive Bristol Bay. The Environmental Defense Fund said it recognized that more offshore drilling might be needed to get Republican support for the climate and energy bill. It also highlighted the administration’s plan to tighten fuel-economy standards on new cars and trucks, a move that White Houseenergy adviser Carol Browner projected could save 1.8 billion barrels of oil that otherwise would be consumed.

The president’s plan drew only lukewarm expressions of support from business and conservative groups. They noted that he has pulled back what they considered some of the most promising offshore areas, while the new areas would take years to develop.

Reflecting the delicate politics of the issue, some Maryland Democrats chose their words carefully – and one had nothing to say. Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil, whose district takes in the entire Eastern Shore, declined to comment.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the House majority leader, stressed that the president is only proposing “scientific analysis” for now of the offshore energy potential and risks along the Atlantic coast.

Rep. John Sarbanes of Baltimore, a member of the House Energy and Natural Resources committees, said he remains concerned about the impact of the proposal on the bay.

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Baltimore County said he will study the proposal carefully to ensure that drilling would not harm the bay or the state’s fisheries. But he said he supports doing “everything we can” to gain energy independence as soon as possible.

The state’s lone Republican in Congress, Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett of Western Maryland, issued a qualified endorsement of Obama’s plan to drill off the coast.

Aiding the environment

•The government will add 5,000 hybrid vehicles to its fleet

•New fuel economy requirements for automakers will be released today

Copyright © 2010, The Baltimore Sun

Russia’s Terror Goes Viral

Russia’s Terror Goes Viral

The metro bombings in Moscow make clear that terrorism is far from exorcized from Russia. So where has it been hiding these last few, quiet years? The Web.

BY PAUL QUINN-JUDGE | MARCH 29, 2010

On March 2, when his hideout in the Ingush village of Ekazhevo was surrounded by Russian special forces backed with armor, Said Buryatsky took out his mobile phone and recorded a final video for his young followers across Russia, the North Caucasus, and Central Asia. The standoff that followed lasted several hours, ending with Buryatsky and five others dead and 11 captured. After the raid, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) retrieved his phone (with the video on it) along with weapons and a substantial quantity of explosives. Then, after a few days of hesitation, the insurgents finally admitted their man was dead. Immediately, the tributes began to flow in by the hundreds on jihadi websites –farewells from Azerbaijan and Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, Germany and Turkey. Some were defiant, some from rueful, self-described “Internet mujahideen.”

The story of Said Buryatsky, aka Said the Buryat, born Alexander Tikhomirov in 1982 in the western Siberian city of Ulan-Ude, thousands of miles from where he died, illustrates the dramatic speed with which the Islamist insurgency in the North Caucasus is changing. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin still dreams of killing the last guerrilla, the last commander. But as the bombings in Moscow this morning show, that goal might still be far off. Buryatsky’s story is a graphic demonstration that jihad in the North Caucasus has gone viral. In the coming days, the FSB will be looking online, perhaps as much as anywhere else, to figure out what happened on the Moscow subway.

The computer has long played a role in the North Caucasus guerrilla warfare. Ten years ago, Ibn al-Khattab, the Saudi volunteer and former comrade in arms of Osama bin Laden, would deploy his satellite phones and computers when he set up camp for the night in the highland forests of Vedeno, in southern Chechnya. One of his lieutenants used to fret that the Russians would intercept Khattab’s signal sooner or later, as they did when they killed independent Chechnya’s first leader, a former Soviet air force general named Djokhar Dudayev. He was wrong; Khattab was killed by a double agent who infiltrated one of his bases with poison.

Still, until Buryatsky, the computer’s and the Internet’s roles were somewhat conventional. Grim, drawn-faced guerrilla leaders, unaccustomed to public speaking, recorded wooden statements of menace to the regime, usually in Chechen. Jumpy videos, the film always either under- or overexposed, depicted the militants’ successful ambushes on country roads. Buryatsky was different. He was an assured speaker — relaxed, a city boy. He was fluent in Russian, having been educated in Moscow and the Middle East, later performing the hajj in 2007 in Saudi Arabia, where he also recorded lectures.

Buryatsky’s target was an audience yet untapped by the Chechen rebels’ media: The young, well-educated urban youth in the Muslim areas of the former Soviet Union. And he reached them. His teachings are all over the Web; so are his ring tones. His DVDs can be found for sale outside mosques in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. So successful were his recruiting messages that, according to some reports, young Kazakhs have been driven to come to the region to fight, dying in armed clashes with Russian authorities in the North Caucasus. A young gunman shot dead in Dagestan a few weeks ago, for example, was identified as a Kyrgyz. At a trial in Kazakhstan this year, the angry parents of three young men who had just been sentenced for trying to slip into the North Caucasus to join the jihad shouted as their detained children were exiting the courtroom, “Why did the authorities allow Said Buryatsky to come freely to Kazakhstan? Why were his teachings allowed to be distributed here?”

Maybe part of the proselytizer’s success came from how he got into the business in the first place. Buryatsky spent less than two years in the forests. He was already a major Internet personality for young Muslims when, the story goes, an Arab commander in the North Caucasus challenged him to give up his easy life and join them. He did so in the first part of 2008.

After that, he turned his brief career as a guerrilla into a seamless Internet narrative. He admitted his initial apprehension toward joining the guerrillas. Would he be up to it? Was it a trap? In the end, he apparently didn’t hesitate long and quickly emerged as a key face in the movement — “the main ideologue,” as Russian officials called him. Buryatsky continued his Internet preaching and groomed suicide bombers. Last June, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, president of Ingushetia, a federal republic in southwestern Russia, was badly injured by a suicide bomber said to have been trained by Buryatsky. In a talk a few months later, Buryatsky disdainfully referred to what he called Yevkurov’s low IQ and “provincialness.” In August, more than 20 policemen died when another Buryatsky disciple drove a minibus filled with explosives into a police compound in the Ingush city of Nazran. Buryatsky, wearing a black T-shirt and blue jeans with a large handgun tucked into them, contributed an introduction to the film of the attack. His later videos had a more frenetic edge: As he talked of jihad, Buryatsky simultaneously loaded weapons for some unexplained combat.

Now that he is gone, Buryatsky is quickly becoming an online legend, reinforced by his letters, now being selectively released by guerrilla websites. They depict his hatred for “dying Russia” and the “pigs” who serve it, and his own growing obsession — a “wild hunger” as he called it in one letter — to become a shahid, or martyr. It would not be surprising if his last message — the one filmed on his phone and later confiscated by the FSB — surfaces on some guerrilla website, leaked by sympathizers inside the local police.

Even with the absence of what he said in his final moments, however, Buryatsky’s story catches the profound changes that have taken place in the North Caucasus in the past decade. The first Chechen war, from 1994 to 1996, was largely a secular struggle waged by people who wanted to live independently from Russia. The current conflict is being fought for an Islamist state across the North Caucasus, and ultimately beyond. The soldiers this time are fighters who, like Buryatsky, dream of dying a martyr’s death. Perhaps for this reason, no one on the Russian side — not even those with a personal score to settle — showed much relief at Buryatsky’s death. His old nemesis Yevkurov remarked that another ideologue is bound to emerge to take his place. Maybe next time, he said, it will be “some Said the Chinese.” Unfortunately, for the Ingush president, Buryatsky’s message of jihad may well have traveled that far.

Federal Judge Finds N.S.A. Wiretaps Were Illegal

Federal Judge Finds N.S.A. Wiretaps Were Illegal

By CHARLIE SAVAGE and JAMES RISEN

WASHINGTON — A federal judge ruled Wednesday that theNational Security Agency’s program of surveillance without warrants was illegal, rejecting the Obama administration’s effort to keep shrouded in secrecy one of the most disputed counterterrorism policies of former President George W. Bush.

In a 45-page opinion, Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled that the government had violated a 1978 federal statute requiring court approval for domestic surveillance when it intercepted phone calls of Al Haramain, a now-defunct Islamic charity in Oregon, and of two lawyers representing it in 2004. Declaring that the plaintiffs had been “subjected to unlawful surveillance,” the judge said the government was liable to pay them damages.

The ruling delivered a blow to the Bush administration’s claims that its surveillance program, which Mr. Bush secretly authorized shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was lawful. Under the program, the National Security Agency monitored Americans’ international e-mail messages and phone calls without court approval, even though the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, required warrants.

The Justice Department said it was reviewing the decision and had made no decision about whether to appeal.

The ruling by Judge Walker, the chief judge of the Federal District Court in San Francisco, rejected the Justice Department’s claim — first asserted by the Bush administration and continued under President Obama — that the charity’s lawsuit should be dismissed without a ruling on the merits because allowing it to go forward could reveal state secrets.

The judge characterized that expansive use of the so-called state-secrets privilege as amounting to “unfettered executive-branch discretion” that had “obvious potential for governmental abuse and overreaching.”

That position, he said, would enable government officials to flout the warrant law, even though Congress had enacted it “specifically to rein in and create a judicial check for executive-branch abuses of surveillance authority.”

Because the government merely sought to block the suit under the state-secrets privilege, it never mounted a direct legal defense of the N.S.A. program in the Haramain case.

Judge Walker did not directly address the legal arguments made by the Bush administration in defense of the N.S.A. program after The New York Times disclosed its existence in December 2005: that the president’s wartime powers enabled him to override the FISA statute. But lawyers for Al Haramain were quick to argue that the ruling undermined the legal underpinnings of the war against terrorism.

One of them, Jon Eisenberg, said Judge Walker’s ruling was an “implicit repudiation of the Bush-Cheney theory of executive power.”

“Judge Walker is saying that FISA and federal statutes like it are not optional,” Mr. Eisenberg said. “The president, just like any other citizen of the United States, is bound by the law. Obeying Congressional legislation shouldn’t be optional with the president of the U.S.”

A Justice Department spokeswoman, Tracy Schmaler, noted that the Obama administration had overhauled the department’s procedures for invoking the state-secrets privilege, requiring senior officials to personally approve any assertion before lawyers could make it in court. She said that approach would ensure that the privilege was invoked only when “absolutely necessary to protect national security.”

The ruling is the second time a federal judge has declared the program of wiretapping without warrants to be illegal. But a 2006 decision by a federal judge in Detroit, Anna Diggs Taylor, was reversed on the grounds that those plaintiffs could not prove that they had been wiretapped and so lacked legal standing to sue.

Several other lawsuits filed over the program have faltered because of similar concerns over standing or because of immunity granted by Congress to telecommunications companies that participated in the N.S.A. program.

By contrast, the Haramain case was closely watched because the government inadvertently disclosed a classified document that made clear that the charity had been subjected to surveillance without warrants.

Although the plaintiffs in the Haramain case were not allowed to use the document to prove that they had standing, Mr. Eisenberg and six other lawyers working on the case were able to use public information — including a 2007 speech by an F.B.I. official who acknowledged that Al Haramain had been placed under surveillance — to prove it had been wiretapped.

Judge Walker’s opinion cataloged other such evidence and declared that the plaintiffs had shown they were wiretapped in a manner that required a warrant. He said the government had failed to produce a warrant, so he granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs.

But Judge Walker limited liability in the case to the government as an institution, rejecting the lawsuit’s effort to hold Robert S. Mueller III, the F.B.I. director, personally liable.

Mr. Eisenberg said that he would seek compensatory damages of $20,200 for each of the three plaintiffs in the case — or $100 for each of the 202 days he said they had shown they were subjected to the surveillance. He said he would ask the judge to decide how much to award in punitive damages, a figure that could be up to 10 times as high. And he said he and his colleagues would seek to be reimbursed for their legal fees over the past five years.

The 2005 disclosure of the existence of the program set off a national debate over the limits of executive power and the balance between national security and civil liberties. The arguments continued over the next three years, as Congress sought to forge a new legal framework for domestic surveillance.

In the midst of the presidential campaign in 2008, Congress overhauled the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to bring federal statutes into closer alignment with what the Bush administration had been secretly doing. The legislation essentially legalized certain aspects of the program. As a senator then, Barack Obama voted in favor of the new law, despite objections from many of his supporters. President Obama’s administration now relies heavily on such surveillance in its fight against Al Qaeda.

The overhauled law, however, still requires the government to obtain a warrant if it is focusing on an American citizen or an organization inside the United States. The surveillance of Al Haramain would still be unlawful today if no court had approved it, current and former Justice Department officials said.

But since Mr. Obama took office, the N.S.A. has sometimes violated the limits imposed on spying on Americans by the new FISA law. The administration has acknowledged the lapses but said they had been corrected.

Arab States Threaten to Acquire Nukes If Israel Doesn’t End “Nuclear Ambiguity”

Experts: Warnings of Arabs on acquiring nuclear weapons not to lead to rapprochement of views with Iran

Azerbaijan, Baku, March 31 /Trend News, U.Sadikhova/

The threat of the Arab countries to acquire nuclear weapons if Israel does not provide data on its nuclear program speaks about the desire to develop Arabic atom. However, experts do not believe that this will lead to the rapprochement of the Arab-Iranian positions in opposition to Israel.

“Most Arab states at least those big heads of Arab states wish to have nuclear capability. They have wished to have for long-long time but due to the international and political bargaining they have been postponing this wish. Now Iran is somehow is step forward they see a good reason to bring this up and compare themselves,” Jalil Roshandel, an American expert on weapons of mass destruction, told Trend News.

At the last summit in the Libyan city of Sirte, the Arab leaders reminded the international community to acquire nuclear weapons if Israel does not join the International Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and does not adhere to the safeguards regime introduced by the IAEA, the Aljazeera website reported, citing diplomatic sources.

Heads of Arab States agreed on the need to adopt a unified Arab position on the issue of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and urged the international community to exert pressure on Israel to ratify the NPT at the upcoming conference on the revision of the Treaty, to be held in New York in May.

Arab countries are concerned about Israel‘s possession of 200 nuclear warheads and the absence of IAEA supervision on nuclear reactor in the Israeli town of Dimona, and therefore, demanded the NPT conference participants to introduce the comprehensive IAEA safeguards to the Israeli nuclear facilities.

A similar requirement to the international community – to inspect Israel’s nuclear capabilities – was made by the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who opposes the imposition of UN Security Council sanctions onTehran because of Iran’s nuclear program.

The difference in the concerns of the Arabs over Iran’s nuclear program from the Israeli is that Iran is a party to the NPT, English-language edition The Nation, published in the UAE, wrote.

Analysts believe that the Arab initiative to develop nuclear weapons in the region as a reaction to Israel’s refusal to participate in the NPT can be supported by Iran. An Iranian expert on international relations, Hasan Behishtipur, believes that Iran will agree to participate in the treaty of 18 Arab countries to save the Middle East from the nuclear weapons because it does not want the beginning of a nuclear race in the region.

However, such an agreement can be effective only after the participation of all Middle Eastern countries, including Israel, Behishtipur, executive director of the Iranian TV channel Al-Alem, broadcasting in Arabic, told Trend News.

Pro-American Arab states – Saudi Arabia and Egypt – are concerned about Iran’s refusal to cooperate with the UN Security Council over nuclear capabilities, which, according to the West and Israel, aims to build an atomic bomb. Analysts say that the fears of the Arab countries are associated with the possibility of a new regional war and its consequences for Iran‘sneighbors in the Persian Gulf.

Even if Iran accepts the Arab initiative, for country it will not be urgent, and does not intend to focus on this, according to professor at the University of East Carolina Roshandel.

“For Iran, the statements by the Arab countries to acquire nuclear weapons do not contain any threat. Iran knows that the agreement or disagreement of the Arabs [on nuclear weapons] is a political issue, Roshandel said. Iran, rather, focuses on resolving the dispute [with the United Arab Emirates] around three islands in the Persian Gulf, because actions towards the three islands, even if it is rhetorical it may have bearing on the relations between Iran and its neighbors.”

Roshandel sees the reason of such statements by the Arab leaders in the desire of Arabs to develop nuclear technology, and therefore, it is not excluded that in the Middle East can be created similar nuclear cooperation, as previously proposed by Turkey and Iran.

Nevertheless, despite the coincidence of the positions of Arab states and Iran and Turkey in the issue of cleansing the region from the nuclear weapons, analysts do not see this as the prospects for a nuclear alliance between these countries.

Professor Raymond Tanter, who formerly served in the National Security Council of the U.S. Administration, considers it has no prospects of coming into being, because the unannounced nuclear capability of Israel with its strategic doctrine of ambiguity is not a greater threat to the Arab world than a yet to be developed nuclear weapon of the Iranian regime.

“The unannounced nuclear capability of Israel is not a greater threat to the Arab world than a yet to be developed nuclear weapon of the Iranian regime, Tanter , President of Iran Policy Committee at the University of Michigan toldTrend News. Tehran is the unstated enemy that needs to be kept close to the Arab world for fear that the Iranian regime will do harm to the Arab states”.

Still the countries of the region have no preconditions for a unified position on the nuclear issue.

“However we can not conclude from this argument that there will be an Arab-Iran-Turkey triangle, coalition because they have some common grounds, but still differ from the nuclear issue,” security expert Roshandel said.

“Iran, Turkey and Arabs enter in some kind rapprochement will not be tolerated by Israel and it will be considered a step towards creating coalition entire Israel. Any kind of rapprochement regard the nuclear issue Arab states, Turkey and Iran is not improbably, second it is a threat to the security of the Middle East and make Palestine-Israeli peace even more impossible, because Israel will feel more threaten and that will also give to further arms competition and arms build up in the Middle East,” Roshandel believes.

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Statements on ‘Georgian trail’ in recent terrorist acts will provoke new tensions with Georgia

Experts: Statements on 'Georgian trail' in recent terrorist acts will provoke new tensions with Georgia

Azerbaijan, Baku, March 31 / Trend NewsE.Tariverdiyeva /

Russia‘s statements on ‘Georgian trail’ in terrorist acts in Moscow March 29 will provoke new tensions in relations withGeorgia, experts say.

“At this stage, Moscow does not afraid to spoil its relations with the Georgian leadership, because they simply can not spoil – they simply do not exist,” Russian National Strategy Institute Director Mikhail Remizov told Trend News. “But more importantly that it should not to spoil relations with the society of Georgia.’

The Russian Federal Security Service (FSS) has found another trail in the terrorist attacks on the Moscow subway March 29. This time it is a ‘Georgian trial’, Security Council Secretary Nikolay Patrushev was quoted as saying by the Ekho Moskvy radio station.

According to him, there is information that the Georgian special services staff are in contact with militants in the North Caucasus. “We need to verify this version and in relation to terrorist acts in Moscow,” he said. “There is Georgia and its unpredictable leader – Mikheil Saakashvili. Once he had started the war. It is possible that he will again.”

March 29 morning, explosions occurred at the metro stations “Lubyanka” and “Park Kultury“. Based on the recent figures, about the blasts killed 38 people and injured – 64.

According to the Georgian experts, the statements of this kind can lead to disastrous consequences and further increase tensions between the two countries.

Georgian politicians called on Russia to stop constantly looking for an enemy in Georgia.

Georgia is ready to cooperate with Russia in the disclosure of the terrorist attacks in Moscow, Georgian State Reintegration Minister Temur Yakobashvili told to Rustavi-2 television channel. He commented on Patrushev’s stament.

“If Russia has any indications of Georgia’s involvement in this terrorist attacks, it can apply to us. There are the formats in which we can cooperate,” he said.

However, he expressed surprise that Russia was late with accusations towards Georgia. “There are two statements, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s statement that the traces lead to Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is designed for the West, and Patrushev’s statement on ‘Georgian trail’, which is intended for domestic consumption, to turn Georgia into the enemy,” the minister said.

Georgian experts believe that Russia can resort to new aggression under the pretext of the country’s alleged participation in a terrorist act.

“Accusations against Georgia after such attacks have become routine and Russia cannot do without a so-called ‘Georgian trail’ in any terrorist act, although later versions of events never verify such accusations,” expert Soso Tsintsadze said.

Georgian deputy Nika Laliashvili, Patrushev’s statement about “the Georgian trail” may be a signal for a new aggression against Georgia.
“Russia is preparing for a new aggression against Georgia and is looking for occasion,” the Christian Democrats opposition faction one of the leaders in the Georgian Parliament Laliashvili told Trend News, commenting on the Russian side’s statements about terrorist attacks in Moscow.
Georgia’s National Democratic Party calls on a formal response to the statement by Russian Secretary of the National Security Patrushev about “Georgia trail” in a series of attacks in Moscow.

“This is the official position of Moscow, which was voiced by senior official of the Kremlin. It requires immediate official and hard answer,” the NDP (National Democratic Party) one of the leaders, MP Guram Chakhvadze toldTrend News. He said that it is disinformation and provocation.

“These statements concern us, as they have some aggressive goals against our state,” he said.

Chahvadze said that the world community should help Georgia in this “difficult period”, fixing its clear stance towards the allegations of Moscow.

“We must also adopt a general statement on behalf of all the political forces on the inadmissibility of such insinuations and accusations, which can lead to serious consequences,” MP said.

Russian political analyst Mikhail Remizov believes statements on ‘Georgian trail’ in terrorist acts in Moscow should have been done with great reservations, but not declaratively, as it has been done.

“What’s bad is that if the statement was made to relive the Russian Federal Security Service (FSS) from the direct responsibility and the special security services,” Russian National Strategy Institute Director Remizov told Trend News. “In terms of perception, if the neighbors have done something, it is better than if the intelligence agencies overlooked for by their own citizens, but from a professional point of view it is equally serious miscalculation.”

According to Remizov, the North Caucasus underground and tangle of contradictions brings up many interests outside of the regional players, including Georgia, which, incidentally, the Georgians do not hide, creating, in particular, the opposition Caucasian channel. Perhaps the Russian security services are convinced that Georgia takes part in the big game in the North Caucasus, he said.

“I think that it is incorrect to realize Patrushev’s statement in the context of the fact that Georgia is an organizer of terrorist attacks and the customer, rather, it is that the Georgian factor exists in the terror network,” the expert added.

This statement can certainly be a kind of political demarche, but most likely for the special security service’s official, it is natural observation of that the regional problems of the North Caucasus does not exist in isolation from Russia’s relations with neighboring states, he said.

Therefore, the statements of this kind, of course, had to be done with great reservations, but not as declarative as it was done, he said.

N. Kirtskhalia (Tbilisi) contributed to the article.

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