Norway gunman fired for 1.5 hours on island

Norway gunman fired for 1.5 hours on island

BY IAN MACDOUGALL AND LOUISE NORDSTROM

ASSOCIATED PRESS

OSLO, Norway — A gunman who opened fire on an island teeming with young people kept shooting for 1.5 hours before surrendering to a SWAT team, which arrived 40 minutes after they were called, police said Saturday.

Survivors of the shooting spree have described hiding and fleeing into the water to escape the gunman, but a police briefing Saturday detailed for the first time how long the terror lasted – and how long victims waited for help.

When the SWAT team did arrive, the gunman, who had two firearms, surrendered, said Police Chief Sveinung Sponheim.

“There were problems with transport to Utoya,” where the youth-wing of Norway’s left-leaning Labor Party was holding a retreat, Sponheim said. “It was difficult to get a hold of boats, but that problem was solved when the SWAT team arrived.”

At least 85 people were killed on the island, but police said four or five people were still missing. Divers have been searching the surrounding waters. Police earlier said there was still an unexploded device on the island, but it later turned out to be fake.

The attack followed a car bomb outside a government building in Oslo, where another seven people were killed. Police are still digging through rubble there, and Sponheim said there are still body parts in the building.

Police have not identified the suspect, but Norwegian national broadcaster NRK say he is 32-year-old Anders Behring Breivik.

Authorities have not given a motive for the attacks, but both were in areas connected to the Labor Party, which leads a coalition government.

Officials have said the suspect visited Christian fundamentalist websites and had links to a rightist party. Mazyar Keshvari, a spokesman for Norway’s Progress Party – which is conservative but within the political mainstream – said that the suspect was a paying member of the party’s youth wing from 1999 to 2004.

Police said he is talking to them and has admitted to firing weapons on the island. It was not clear if he had confessed to anything else he is accused of. Police said he retained a lawyer, but the attorney did not want to be named.

“He has had a dialogue with the police the whole time, but he’s a very demanding suspect,” Sponheim said.

Earlier in the day, a farm supply store said they had alerted police that he bought six tons of fertilizer, which is highly explosive and can be used in homemade bombs.

In all, 92 people have been killed in what Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said was peacetime Norway’s deadliest day. The Oslo University hospital said it has so far received 11 wounded from the bombing and 19 people from the camp shooting.

“This is beyond comprehension. It’s a nightmare. It’s a nightmare for those who have been killed, for their mothers and fathers, family and friends,” Stoltenberg told reporters Saturday.

Gun violence is rare in Norway, where the average policeman patrolling in the streets doesn’t carry a firearm. Reports that the assailant was motivated by political ideology were shocking to many Norwegians, who pride themselves on the openness of their society. Indeed, Norway is almost synonymous with the kind of free expression being exercised by the youth at the political retreat.

Stoltenberg vowed that the attack would not change those fundamental values.

“It’s a society where young people can … have controversial opinions without being afraid,” he told reporters.

Norway’s royal family and prime minister led the nation in mourning, visiting grieving relatives of the scores of youth gunned down. Buildings around the capital lowered their flags to half-staff. People streamed to Oslo Cathedral to light candles and lay flowers; outside, mourners began building a makeshift altar from dug-up cobblestones. The Army patrolled the streets of the capital, a highly unusual sight for this normally placid country.

The city center was a sea of roadblocks Saturday, with groups of people peering over the barricades wherever they sprang up, as the shell-shocked Nordic nation was gripped by reports that the gunman may not have acted alone. Police have not confirmed a second assailant but said they are investigating witness reports.

The queen and the prime minister hugged when they arrived at the hotel where families are waiting to identify the bodies. Both king and queen shook hands with mourners, while the prime minister, his voice trembling, told reporters of the harrowing stories survivors had recounted to him.

On the island of Utoya, panicked teens attending a Labour Party youth wing summer camp plunged into the water or played dead to avoid the assailant in the assault. A picture sent out on Twitter showed a blurry figure in dark clothing pointing a gun into the water, with bodies all around him.

The carnage began Friday afternoon in Oslo, when a bomb rocked the heart of Norway. About two hours later, the shootings began at the youth retreat, according to a police official. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because that information had not been officially released by Norway’s police.

The blast in Oslo, Norway’s capital and the city where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded, left a square covered in twisted metal, shattered glass and documents expelled from surrounding buildings.

The dust-clogged scene after the blast reminded one visitor from New York of Sept. 11. People were “just covered in rubble,” walking through “a fog of debris,” said Ian Dutton, who was in a nearby hotel.

Asked whether all victims at Utoya died from gunshot wounds or if some had drowned, Stoere, the foreign minister, said “you will likely see a combination.”

A 15-year-old camper named Elise who was on Utoya said she heard gunshots, but then saw a police officer and thought she was safe. Then he started shooting people right before her eyes.

“I saw many dead people,” said Elise, whose father, Vidar Myhre, didn’t want her to disclose her last name. “He first shot people on the island. Afterward he started shooting people in the water.”

Elise said she hid behind the same rock that the killer was standing on. “I could hear his breathing from the top of the rock,” she said.

She said it was impossible to say how many minutes passed while she was waiting for him to stop.

At a hotel in the village of Sundvollen, where survivors of the shooting were taken, 21-year-old Dana Berzingi wore pants stained with blood. He said the fake police officer ordered people to come closer, then pulled weapons and ammunition from a bag and started shooting.

Several victims “had pretended they were dead to survive,” Berzingi said. But after shooting the victims with one gun, the gunman shot them again in the head with a shotgun, he said.

“I lost several friends,” said Berzingi, who used the cell phone of one of those friends to call police.

An official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the attack “is probably more Norway’s Oklahoma City than it is Norway’s World Trade Center.” Domestic terrorists carried out the 1995 attack on a federal building in Oklahoma City, while foreign terrorists were responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Aerial images broadcast by Norway’s TV2 showed members of a SWAT team dressed in black arriving at the island in boats and running up the dock. People who had stripped down to their underwear moved in the opposite direction, swimming away from the island toward the mainland, some using flotation devices.

The United States, European Union, NATO and the U.K., all quickly condemned the bombing, which Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague called “horrific” and NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen deemed a “heinous act.”

“It’s a reminder that the entire international community has a stake in preventing this kind of terror from occurring,” President Barack Obama said.

Obama extended his condolences to Norway’s people and offered U.S. assistance with the investigation. He said he remembered how warmly Norwegians treated him in Oslo when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II wrote to Norway’s King Harald to offer her condolences and express her shock and sadness at the shooting attacks in his country.

A U.S. counterterrorism official said the United States knew of no links to terrorist groups and early indications were the attack was domestic. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was being handled by Norway.

Nordstrom reported from Stockholm. Associated Press reporters Bjoern H. Amland in Spundvollen, Norway, Nils Myklebost Oslo, Karl Ritter in Stockholm, Rita Foley in Washington, Paisley Dodds in London, and Paul Schemm in Tripoli, Libya, contributed to this report.
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Russia and Uzbekistan: oil and gas cooperation

Russia and Uzbekistan: oil and gas cooperation

Russia and Uzbekistan: oil and gas cooperation

Russia and Uzbekistan: oil and gas cooperation

© AFP/ Osman Karimov

This story by Vladimir Paramonov, Oleg Stolpovsky, Alexey Strokov, political scientists (Uzbekistan), Strategic Culture Foundation experts, was published in International Affairs magazine.

Since Uzbekistan had always been known for having plenty of natural gas deposits and well-developed pipeline infrastructure, already in Soviet times the country actively cooperated with Russia as part of a single oil and gas complex providing gas supplies to industrial centers in the Urals and to the European part of the USSR. Apart from this, Uzbekistan was a transit country for the Turkmen gas. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia and Uzbekistan experienced dramatic changes in oil and gas cooperation, living through both decline and rise.

In 1990s, that was a period of decline, when Uzbekistan did not supply much of its natural gas to Russia. On the other hand, as Uzbekistan boosted its own crude production capacity and reduced exports of the Russian oil and oil products. Such decline was mainly linked to a general crisis-in Russia and in its relations with Uzbekistan, as well as to a lack of new legal basis for oil and gas cooperation.

After Vladimir Putin had come to power in Russia in 2000, and an agreement on oil and gas cooperation between Gazprom and Uzbekneftegaz was signed in 2002, the two countries saw a revival of their energy partnership. The year 2004 marked the beginning of active investment activity for the Russian oil and gas giants, Gazprom and Lukoil, in Uzbekistan. Noteworthily, in comparison to other countries, Russia managed to take the leading positions in the Uzbek energy market.

Since the republic is rich in natural gas deposits and thus has good export opportunities, exploring its gas fields is a matter of economic priority for Russia. The country already shows dynamic growth and strategic perspectives in the republic`s oil and gas sector. However, this cooperation is first of all aimed at boosting oil output, preprocessing and exports of hydrocarbons to   external markets but not focuses on deep processing of hydrocarbon raw materials. It appears that the current format of cooperation fails to ensure stable and full-fledged economic cooperation between Moscow and Tashkent.

The Soviet period
In Soviet times, oil and gas cooperation between the two countries mainly focused on gas deliveries from Uzbekistan, coordination of measures to ensure functioning of a unified gas transportation system and supplies of oil and oil products to the republic. When in ealry 1960s Uzbekistan opened Gazly gas deposit, the Soviet Union started receiving natural gas for its industries in the Urals and in the European part of the country. The Bukhara-Urals pipeline was built to deliver gas. And when new gas fields were discovered in south-western Uzbekistan, they offered additional resources for the Central Asia-Center gas pipe. In 1990, Russia received about 10.8 billion cubic meters of gas out of 46 billion produced in the republic at the time. Besides, Uzbekistan as well as Kazakhstan allowed the transit of natural gas produced in Turkmenistan. In 1990 over 54 billion cubic metersof Turkmen gas were delivered through the Central Asia-Center gas pipeline.

Amid such productive gas cooperation, oil partnerships were not that active. Though in Soviet times Uzbekistan was one of the oil producing republics, its oil production capacity (some 4 million tons in 1990) did not fulfil its needs, that is the fuel was also imported. In Soviet times, Uzbekistan received the Russian oil mainly from western Siberia. When delivered, the oil was sent for processing at the Ferghana and Altyarykskiy plants via the Omsk-Pavlodar-Shymkent oil pipeline, and by railways through Kazakhstan. As of 1990, Uzbekistan received from Russia about 6.5 million tons of oil.

The post-Soviet period
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, oil and gas cooperation between Russia and Uzbekistan weakened. There were both decline and rise in their cooperation.
Gas deliveries
When the Russian-Uzbek oil and gas cooperation was in decline in 1990s-in the beginning of the 21st century, natural gas supplies from Uzbekistan to Russia reduced significantly. And before 2003 Russia had not received more than 1 billion cubicmeters of the Uzbek gas per year. The international group of companies ITERA working jointly with Gazprom was the main gas supplier at the time. In 1996-2003 ITERA exported only 8.9 billion cubic meters of gas from Uzbekistan.
Such decline was mainly linked to a general crisis in Russia-Uzbekistan economic partnership, as well as to a lack of new legal basis for oil and gas cooperation. Above all this, the collapse of the Soviet Union led to closure of most industrial facilities in the Urals (and they were key consumers of the Uzbek gas). At the same time, Uzbekistan boosted domestic gas consumption as part of a national program to bring gas to rural areas.

The situation started to change after in December 2002 Gazprom and Uzbekneftegaz had signed an agreement on strategic gas cooperation. Apart from other issues, the deal stipulatedlong-term purchasing of the Uzbek gas in 2003-2012. The year 2004 marked a real breakthrough in energy cooperation when Gazprom took control of all issues related with purchasing and transportation of the Uzbek gas. And if in 2003, when ITERA was buying gas from Uzbekistan, the amount was only 1.3 billion cubic meters, in 2004 Gazprom exported from Uzbekistan 7 billion. In consecutive years (2005-2009) these figures changed from 8 billion to 15.4 billion cubic meters. Russia had used to buy gas from Uzbekistan at special prices, in accordance with annual contracts, but starting from January 1, 2009, the sides agreed on a new form of pricing which relied on the European average gas prices, and this could not but improve the bilateral cooperation.
Transit of gas
After the Soviet Union ceased to exist in 1990 and through 2003 the transit of Turkmen gas to Russia via Uzbekistan was sharply reduced (in 2003, Russia received only 5.2 billion cubic meters, many times less than in 1990). And the deliveries were more of sporadic character due to difficulties in cooperation between Moscow and Ashgabat. In 1997-1999 Russia did not receive gas from Turkmenistan at all.

After relations between Russia and Turkmenistan improved, gas delivery and transit rates increased. What was also important is that gas supplies from Turkmenistan were resumed on regular basis. In February 2005, Gazprom and Uztransgaz (sub holding for Uzbekneftegaz) signed a long-term agreement on the natural gas transportation in 2006-2010 via Uzbekistan. In 2008 about 47 billion cubic meters of gas were pumped through the Uzbek territory, but in 2009 transit rates reduced because of differences between Moscow and Ashgabat over pricing amid a sharp decline in gas demand in Europe.

Oil& oil products deliveries
In the post-Soviet period Russia supplied little oil to Uzbekistan. Mainly it was because Tashkent sought energy independence. Enjoying growing oil production, the republic no longer had to import crude from abroad, first of all from Russia. Since 1997, when Uzbekistan was producing 8 million tons of oil per year, it stopped importing crude.

But for some reasons, including those of technological character, in the beginning of the 21st century, oil production rates slowed down, while demand remained as high as before. In 2005 this tendency reached the peak after oil production rates in Uzbekistan dropped. As a result, starting from 2006, Uzbekistan had to resume imports of oil and oil products from Russia and Kazakhstan. Currently, oil is being delivered to the republic by the Russian Lukoil company from the Kumkol deposit in the Kyzylordinsk region of Kazakhstan.

New fields of cooperation
After Gazprom and Uzbekneftegaz signed an agreement on oil and gas cooperation in 2002, the two countries saw a revival of their energy partnership. Equally with agreements on long-term gas purchase deals, Russia was invited to join exploration of new deposits and develop the republican infrastructure.

In 2004 Gazprom and Lukoil launched their investment activity in Uzbekistan. Gazprom focused on  the development of old and exploration of new deposits in the Ustyurtsk plateau, while Lukoil was dealing with new fields in the Bukhara-Khivin region and in the Uzbek part of the Aral Sea. Apart  from the aforementioned companies, some other Russian companies have been actively operating in Uzbekistan as part of various less significant projects.

Since Uzbekistan is rich in natural gas and thus has good export opportunities, exploring its gas fields is a matter of economic priority for Russia. The country already shows dynamic growth and strategic perspectives in the republic`s oil and gas sector. If in 1990s Russia`s investments in the Uzbek oil and gas sector were harldy noticeable, as of early 2010 they exceeded $1.25 billion. This year Lukoil expects to invest in the local deposits more than $470 million, while the total amount of money Russia plans to spend on exploration and modernization of the Uzbek energy sector by 2012 is approximately estimated between $4.7 and $ 6.2 billion.

***
In comparison to other foreign companies operating in Uzbekistan, Russia manages to regain the leading position in the Uzbek energy market,which however in no way guarnatees that things will unfold this way further.

On the one hand, the Russian companies yet have not joined Uzbekistan in its projects aimed at deep processing of hydrocarbon raw material, relying mainly on geological exploration, production and transportation of gas. Such approach, however, does not meet Uzbekistan`s economic goals since the republic has been focusing on innovative approach and ways to get substantial added value through modernization of the national gas transit system.

On the other hand, taking into consideration some technical and financial restrictions in terms of the Russian energy business, Uzbekistan has been seeking cooperation with China, Malaysia, Korea, Singapore and Japan for these countries can boast modern technology as well as vast financial resources. It is also important to mention here that Russia has lost its monopoly on gas exports from the region. Although Uzbekistan yet has not officially announced its plans for diversification of gas export routes, some experts believe that the republic could start exporting small amounts of gas to China.

In other words, Moscow and Tashkent will hardly advance to a brand new level of economic and political cooperation unless they revise their energy partnership based only on raw materials.

 

(Views expressed in this article reflect the author’s opinion and do not necessarily reflect those of RIA Novosti news agency. RIA Novosti does not  vouch for facts and quotes mentioned in the story)

US Public Diplomacy Deploying Homosexual Activism As Destabilization of Religious Societies

[The American embassy in el Salvador, just like the American embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan is forcing the issue of “gay rights” to the forefront of  the national conversation, in order to stimulate right-wing reactions.  In Pakistan, they had a gay rights parade down the middle of Islamabad’s streets, knowing that it would spark widespread conservative reactions, hoping that those reactions would be violent.  In both cases, religious societies are confronted with the Imperial demand that they create special rights for individuals who are violating fundamental religious laws shared by the indigenous culture.   The result is predictable; it is intentional, and it harmful to real attempts to foster democratic rights within those countries.  Criminal American foreign policy, such as this, which is intended to destabilize entire nations will one day be on the list of war crimes that we will be called to account for one day, to a power  greater than the US military.]

By Will Ferguson

An editorial by the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, promoting gay rights, has set off a debate between “pro-family” activists and gay rights groups in El Salvador.

U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, Mari Carmen Aponte published a letter in the La Prensa Grafica newspaper on June 28, strongly supporting the rights of lesbians, bisexuals, gays and transgenders in El Salvador. The article received strong backlash from conservative Salvadorans.

“We have seen some arguments back and forth between different groups in the country after the article’s publication, however our position remains the same,” said Robert McInturff, a representative from the U.S. embassy in El Salvador. “The editorial speaks for itself.”

Almost two dozen self-described “pro-family” organizations in El Salvador responded with their own editorial, accusing Aponte of trying to force an agenda that doesn’t mix with the country’s Christian beliefs. The groups also sent a letter of protest to the U.S. senate, asking for Aponte to be removed from her position.

Aponte was appointed to her current position by U.S. President Barack Obama in 2010 during a congressional recess. She drew heavily from Obama’s agenda in her editorial and quoted U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying, “Gay rights are human rights” in the editorial. In addition, she called for an end to discrimination against members of the gay community in the workplace.

Her letter references a United Nations declaration from March 2010 to eliminate violence directed against the LGBT community. During a meeting of the UN Council of Human Rights, 83 countries including the United States and El Salvador signed a declaration to eliminate violence directed against the LGBT community. In May of 2010, El Salvadorian president Mauricio Funes signed decree 56, which prohibits the Salvadorian government from discriminating against people based on their sexual preference.

Despite the political agreements to stem negative sentiments against the LGBT community, a coalition of some 22 human rights groups and pro-family organizations in El Salvador have accused Aponte of seeking to impose a homosexual political agenda on a heavily Christian country.

The coalition responded to Aponte’s letter with its own publication in El Diaro de Hoy. The letter states the ambassador is ignoring one of the first rules of diplomacy, respecting the culture and customs of the country you are in.

“Mrs. Aponte, in clear violation of the rules of diplomacy and international law, you seek to impose on Salvadorans, belittling our fundamentally Christian values, rooted in the natural law, a new vision of foreign values, totally alien to our way of thinking, disguising them as supposed human rights,” the coalition wrote on July 7, 2011.

Aponte’s post as ambassador to El Salvador has never been approved by the U.S. Senate due to ongoing allegations about her suspected association with suspected Cuban intelligence agents during the 1980s and 1990s.

Aponte’s appointment was given the green light after an investigation by the FBI yielded no suspicious activity. However, her position has yet to be officially confirmed.

Aponte’s letter:

http://www.laprensagrafica.com/opinion/editorial/201657-por-la-eliminacion-de-prejuicios-dondequiera-que-existan.html

Response by coalition:

http://www.elsalvador.com/mwedh/epaper/20110706/EDH20110706NAC025P.PDF

Has State Dept. Identified the Weakest Link, or the Toughest Nut To Crack In the Stans?

US Entrenchment in Uzbekistan

Aleksandr SHUSTOV

The hypothesis that the US is planning a partial relocation of its military infrastructures from Afghanistan to Central Asia appears increasingly realistic, the countries of key interest to Washington being Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Tashkent’s current preferences are illustrated with utmost clarity by the contrast between the heightened intensity of its diplomatic transactions with the US and the sluggish pace of its dealings with Moscow.

US diplomats seem to be touring Uzbekistan in a continuous mode. NATO Secretary General’s special representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia James Appathurai showed up in the country on May 11 to meet with the republic’s parliamentarians, diplomats, and defense ministry officers. On May 12, a US Department of State team led by coordinator of the Nuclear Smuggling Outreach Initiative (NSOI) program Michael Stafford visited the Uzbek foreign ministry to discuss joint non-proliferation efforts. On May 20, Uzbek diplomats held talks with a US delegation headed by US Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman. On May 30, the Uzbek foreign ministry hosted a meeting with US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Central Asia Susan Elliott. On May 31, Uzbek president I. Karimov received US Deputy National Security Advisor Denis R. McDonough. The US Chargé d’Affaires ad interim Duane Butcher came to Uzbekistan on June 3. On July 1, Laurie Bristow, Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia at the UK’s Foreign Office, visited the Uzbek foreign ministry, where, the same day, new US ambassador to Uzbekistan George Krol handed over his credentials. George Krol paid another visit to the Uzbek foreign ministry on July 4, and on July 5 Uzbekistan welcomed a US  delegation headed by US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Kurt Amend. On July 7, a US diplomatic contingent with senior Republican aide on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee for foreign operations Paul Grove at the helm landed Tashkent.

In the meantime, Russian president D. Medvedev’s June visit to Uzbekistan drew surprisingly scarce coverage. On June 10, the site of the Uzbek foreign ministry featured a line saying that president Medvedev would be in Uzbekistan on June 13-14 on president Karimov’s invitation. The two presidents met briefly at the Tashkent airport and president Medvedev headed back for Moscow, with no information about the talks released.

Uzbekistan traditionally plays the key role in implementing a series of US infrastructural projects related to Afghanistan. A recent example was the opening of the Uzbek-built Khairaton – Mazar-i-Sharif railroad. Backed by a $165m loan from the Asian Development Bank, the route is going to be used to supply the Western coalition in Afghanistan. The current chill between the US and Pakistan and the tide of Talib activity can’t but tell on the functioning of NATO’s southern supply route, forcing the alliance to increasingly switch to the alternative northern one which traverses Russia and Central Asia.

US Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake expressed a view at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy early in 2011 that the US should take control over Central Asia, a strategic region bordering Afghanistan, China, Russia, and Iran. Uzbekistan’s centrality to the region was, in fact, stressed in Z. Brzezinski’s The Grand Chessboard, which makes it clear why the Central Asian republic is as of today at the focus of the US foreign policy.

The deepening US-Uzbek diplomatic engagement is paralleled by an evident decline in the relations between Tashkent and Moscow. Russia’s Regnum media outlet quoted an unnamed foreign ministry source as saying that the Uzbek president asked twice during phone talks with D. Medvedev to be received in Moscow, but no reaction followed. Several major Russian companies – for example, Wimm Bill Dann, one of Europe’s largest dairy products suppliers, and the Knizhny Mir bookstore chain – withdrew from Uzbekistan recently. Last June, Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation announced axing its cooperation with the V.P. Chkalov Tashkent aircraft company which used to be the manufacturer of IL-76 military airlifters back in the Soviet era. At the moment, some success in the Russian-Uzbek cooperation can be credited only to the oil and gas sector which, along with cotton export, is the main cash earner for the Uzbek economy.

Russia’s irreversible split with Uzbekistan – likely to be followed by those with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – would leave the republics entirely under US protectorate and would cut a new divisive line across Eurasia along the southern frontier of Kazakhstan, opening a gap between the post-Soviet Central Asian republics and the Customs Union comprising Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus.

Exclusive: U.S. Blocks Oversight of Its Mercenary Army in Iraq

Exclusive: U.S. Blocks Oversight of Its Mercenary Army in Iraq


By January 2012, the State Department will do something it’s never done before: command a mercenary army the size of a heavy combat brigade. That’s the plan to provide security for its diplomats in Iraq once the U.S. military withdraws. And no one outside State knows anything more, as the department has gone to war with its independent government watchdog to keep its plan a secret.

Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), is essentially in the dark about one of the most complex and dangerous endeavors the State Department has ever undertaken, one with huge implications for the future of the United States in Iraq. “Our audit of the program is making no progress,” Bowen tells Danger Room.

For months, Bowen’s team has tried to get basic information out of the State Department about how it will command its assembled army of about 5,500 private security contractors. How many State contracting officials will oversee how many hired guns? What are the rules of engagement for the guards? What’s the system for reporting a security danger, and for directing the guards’ response?

And for months, the State Department’s management chief, former Ambassador Patrick Kennedy, has given Bowen a clear response: That’s not your jurisdiction. You just deal with reconstruction, not security. Never mind that Bowen has audited over $1.2 billion worth of security contracts over seven years.

“Apparently, Ambassador Kennedy doesn’t want us doing the oversight that we believe is necessary and properly within our jurisdiction,” Bowen says. “That hard truth is holding up work on important programs and contracts at a critical moment in the Iraq transition.”

This isn’t an idle concern or a typical bureaucratic tussle. The State Department has hired private security for its diplomats in war zones for the better part of a decade. Poor control of them caused one of the biggest debacles of the Iraq war: the September 2007 shooting incident in Nisour Square, where Blackwater guards killed 17 Iraqi civilians. Now roughly double those guards from the forces on duty now, and you’ll understand the scope of what State is planning once the U.S. military withdraws from Iraq at the end of this year.

 

“They have no experience running a private army,” says Ramzy Mardini, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War who just returned from a weeks-long trip to Iraq. “I don’t think the State Department even has a good sense of what it’s taking on. The U.S. military is concerned about it as well.”

So far, the Department has awarded three security contracts for Iraq worth nearly $2.9 billion over five years. Bowen can’t even say for sure how much the department actually intends to spend on mercs in total. State won’t let it see those totals.

About as much information as the department has disclosed about its incipient private army comes from a little-noticed Senate hearing in February. There, the top U.S. military and civilian officials in Iraq said that they’d station the hired guard force at Basra, Irbil, Mosul and Kirkuk, with the majority — over 3,000 — protecting the mega-embassy in Baghdad. They’ll ferry diplomats around in armored convoys and a State-run helicopter fleet, the first in the department’s history.

But there are signs of even deeper confusion as State prepares to take the lead in Iraq. An internal State Department audit from June faulted top officials for “a lack of senior level participation” (.pdf) in an “unprecedented” transition to civilian control. The result is that “several key decisions remain unresolved, some plans cannot be finalized, and progress in a number of areas is slipping,” the audit concluded. It raises the prospect that the U.S. military will leave Iraq the same way it entered it — without any planning worthy of the name.

Bowen has minimal visibility into State’s planning process. His teams of auditors are in Iraq, reviewing reconstruction contracts for waste, fraud and abuse, as they have since the early days of the war. They just can’t see anything about the guard force. As far as Bowen is concerned, even though there’s been a nearly 90 percent drop in violence since the surge, State’s hired army still acts like Iraq is a killing field, with death squads and insurgents around every corner.

“Have the standards for convoy travel changed at all from the worst moments of Iraq civil war? The answer’s no,” Bowen says. Diplomats are allowed an hour for meetings outside secured U.S. fortresses. Then it’s time to hit the road, in armored cars full of men armed to the teeth and wearing black sunglasses.

The State Department says it’s learned its lessons from Nisour Square and now places stricter rules on contractors, like putting cameras in contractor vehicles and revising “mission firearms policies,” as Kennedy told a congressional panel last month. (.pdf) It’s an issue Kennedy’s well-versed in handling: He ran the department’s internal investigation into Nisour Square in 2007. Now, according to Bowen, he’s shielding State’s plans from scrutiny.

State wouldn’t comment for this story, saying it would be “inappropriate” to discuss an internal matter concerning Bowen. A department official who wouldn’t speak on the record merely said that it provides him with “extensive materials in response to their audit requests for documents and information falling within its statutory responsibilities.”

But Congress is showing signs of restiveness over State’s stonewalling. A bill that the House Foreign Affairs Committee crafted this week includes a provision specifically instructing State to let Bowen’s office to do its job: “SIGIR should audit military, security, and economic assistance to Iraq during the term of SIGIR’s existence,” the language reads, inserted at the behest of the panel’s chairwoman, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

But it’ll take months for that bill to pass. Until then, Bowen is shut out of State’s ad hoc foray into generalship. “From my conversations with State Department people,” Mardini says, “they really don’t have a sense of how difficult this is going to be.” And it doesn’t look like they want to know.

Photo: DoD

London’s Long History with the Militants/Terrorists of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group

Exiled Islamists Fuel Libyan Revolution

OnIslam & Newspapers

Some of exiled commanders shuttle between London and Benghazi to strategize and share donations collected from the Libyan expatriates.

CAIRO – Hiding for years from tyrant Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, members of Islamic groups are coming to light from their forced exile as real patriots to map out freedom fighters’ strategy against the current authoritarian rule.

“We are part of the Libyan people and we just want to help our country,” Abu Sohaib, not his real name, a senior commander of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, told the New York Times on Tuesday, July 19.

The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group was formed in 1995 with the goal of ousting Colonel Qaddafi.

Daring to protest against Gaddafi in the 1990s, members of the Islamic group were captured and died in Abu Salim prison in Tripoli.

Ever since, they hid from Qaddafi security forces in the caves in Darnah until the Libyan revolution, giving them opportunity to come out to be celebrated as patriots.

Exiled for years in London away from his homeland, Abu Sohaib and a dozen or so former commanders make up a rear-guard headquarters for revolution fighters.

Some of those commanders even shuttle between London and Benghazi to strategize and share donations collected from the Libyan expatriate community in Britain.

Yet, Abu Sohaib, banned from Libya and its neighbors, could not join those shuttle missions to his home country.

He spends most of his time online to keep in contact with friends on the ground there and follow Libya news.

“I would like to be there myself; I tried to go,” he said, pausing to look at the car keys in front of him.

“But Tunisia and Egypt wouldn’t let me in even after their revolution.”

Scrambled to save his 42-year regime, Gaddafi has launched a deadly crackdown on protestors who demand an end to his rule of the oil-rich Arab country.

Estimates say that at least 10,000 people have been killed in the bloody crackdown.

Five months into the revolt against his rule, Gaddafi is still holding doggedly onto power despite weeks of NATO strikes on his military and command structures.

The conflict has now reached a stalemate, with Gaddafi in control of most of the west of the country, while the opposition is hemmed in to their stronghold in the east and a few pockets in the west.

Distrust

Driven into the mountains or exile by Libyan security forces, the group’s members were among the first to join the fight against Qaddafi security forces.

“We wanted to live in a country in which we can live and promote Islam the way it should be,” said Abu Sohaib.

“We are sure Islam is good for everyone.”

A soft-spoken man in his mid-40s, Abu Sohaib recalls times when Britain wanted to hand him over to Gaddafi.

“There was a time when the British wanted to hand us over to Muammar el-Qaddafi, though they knew we would be tortured,” he said, staring at his hands.

Though cooperating with them, American intelligence officials are still worried about members of the group, who received training in Pakistan tribal region.

Abu Sohaib insists that he and his brethren have severed ties with Al Qaeda and have warned the terrorist group it is not welcome in Libya.

“It has been made very clear to them, that it is better for them to stay out of the country,” he said.

That distrust was shared by Libyan fighters, who still question the motive behind the NATO operation into Libya.

“We start to question the true intentions of the West in Libya,” a 36-year-old Libyan associated with the fighting group who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Salah and who travels between Europe and Libya said.

“If they would have wanted to kill Muammar el-Qaddafi, they could have done it several times,” Abu Salah added.

“I guess this is about making as much money with oil and weapons deals as possible.”

Abu Sohaib recalls the cooperation between the US and Libyan authorities to combat terrorism after Libya disbanded its unconventional weapons program in 2003.

“Isn’t it interesting how they were hunting us for years and were working with Muammar el-Qaddafi?” said

“Now we are cooperating with NATO and the West, those who used to put us in jail.”

MacDill Reservist’s Indiscretions Rattle Psywar Commanders

[SEE:  Looking for Trouble In the Data Mine–Suspicious Spending]

Reservist’s top-secret clearance worrisome

By HOWARD ALTMAN | The Tampa Tribune

In Courtroom 14 B Thursday, U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Hernandez Covington asked a question about the man who had just been convicted of lying to obtain housing at MacDill Air Force Base.

How could Army Reserve 2nd Lt. Scott Allan Bennett, 40, obtain a top-secret clearance despite a previous misdemeanor conviction in 2008 for lying to government officials?

Prosecutors had the same questions and were unable to get answers, but former intelligence officers and those who currently deal with security clearance issues contacted by The Tampa Tribune say that Bennett should probably have never gotten clearance and that somebody somewhere “dropped the ball.”

In December 2006, Bennett told U.S. government officials that he was working with the office of President George W. Bush and the State Department. In that role, he was helping a woman from South Africa obtain a visa to visit the country. He said she would be working for the president.

It turned out that the woman was someone he had met over the Internet and that he created a job “out of whole cloth” to get her into the country, according to federal documents.

Two years later, Bennett was convicted of the misdemeanor crime of lying to government officials. Bennett obtained TS/SCI clearance, top-secret/sensitive compartmentalized information, the highest level of security clearance available, in October 2008, according to Army Lt. Col. Gerald Ostlund.

There are at least three “adjudicative guidelines” used by the government to determine whether someone should be given security clearance that should have raised red flags about Bennett, according to Evan Lesser, founder and managing director of Clearancejobs.com, an employment website for people with security clearance.

“Guideline B, which deals with foreign influence, says if you have contact or connections with a foreigner, you are at a heightened risk of exploitation,” Lesser said.

“There are two other guidelines that more than a few things here would have called out this individual as being a problem.” Lesser said. “Guideline E, personal conduct, looks at any conduct involving questionable judgment or dishonesty and Guideline J, criminal activity, says that any criminal activity brings into doubt that person’s judgment or trustworthiness.”

 

* * * * *To obtain a TS/SCI clearance, an individual has to submit to a background check that delves into the previous 10 years of personal history, according to the Defense Security Service. The information is then presented to an adjudicator, who looks at the guidelines and determines whether there are any circumstances that would allow, for instance, someone with a conviction to still obtain clearance.Depending on how much information was known about Bennett, adjudicators “would have most likely denied this person clearance,” Lesser said.

The timeline, he said, is critical.

Bennett was convicted in August 2008. He was hired sometime that year by Booz Allen Hamilton as a contractor, although the company won’t say when.

Booz Allen Hamilton spokesman James Fisher would not comment on whether Bennett obtained clearance to work for the company, although it was required for the job he was hired to perform at MacDill in 2010, working as a counter-threat finance analyst at U.S. Central Command’s Joint Intelligence Operation Center.

Ostlund said Bennett’s clearance was requested by the defense contractor. Bennett did not enter the Army Reserve, where he served as a personnel officer with the 11th Psychological Operations Battalion, until four months after he obtained his clearance, Ostlund said.

Larry Johnson, a former CIA employee who also worked at the State Department’s Counterterrorism Office, offered a blunt assessment of how Bennett obtained clearance.

“One of two things happened,” said Johnson, currently a military contractor with TS/SCI clearance who frequently visits MacDill. “Either the folks who conducted the background investigation failed, or the adjudicator was negligent. There is no in between. There are no mitigating factors” that would allow Bennett clearance.

Pat Lang, a retired senior U.S. military intelligence officer who later served in the Pentagon in the Defense Senior Executive Service and at the Defense Intelligence Agency as defense intelligence officer for the Middle East, has a similar view.

Giving Bennett security clearance, he said, was “a bad call. It is a judgment call, but I have a very hard time imagining someone being convicted for lying about immigration status being cleared. I wouldn’t have cleared them, if it were up to me.”

In January 2010, Bennett moved onto MacDill housing by claiming he was an aide to Special Operations Command chief Adm. Eric Olson and lying about his status as an active duty officer. Investigators later found Bennett had 10 guns and more than 9,000 rounds of ammunition without authorization.

On Thursday, Bennett was convicted of one count of making a false statement, one count of wearing his uniform without authorization and two counts of violating a security agreement by bringing concealed weapons on base and storing weapons and ammunition in his apartment without permission.

Bennett, who faces up to seven years and six months in prison, will be sentenced Oct. 25.

* * * * *Even before Thursday’s convictions, Bennett’s job in the Joint Intelligence Operation Center made him a threat to security, according to Lesser, Lang and Johnson.”If you already have a track record of lying to the government, what guarantee is there that you will not commit that behavior again?” Johnson asked.

“This is the type of person who could be coerced easily,” Lesser said. “The criminal activity he has done puts him at risk of being exploited or manipulated. That is something the government is always worried about.”

Lesser said that government agencies need to investigate how Bennett got his clearance, what information he had access to and what, if anything, he did with that information.

“It seems really difficult to believe that he did not have red flags from past behavior,” Lesser said. “Should somebody be concerned about this person? I would say most definitely. He had high level clearance and access to a fair amount of classified information at a very high level. It seems like somebody dropped the ball on this particular person.”

haltman@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7629