Thousands demonstrate against U.S. drone strikes

These thousands of protestors do not hate us “because we are free; they hate us because we are killing their kids, wives, brothers, cousins, and friends; they hate us because we are putting absolutely no pressure on the Pakistani government to deal with the fundamental core problems that country is facing.

These include massive corruption, a failing infrastructure, lack of education, and lack of meaningful work. To those with nothing left to lose, insurgency can appear attractive.

Read the story HERE…

‘Prince of Mercenaries’ who wreaked havoc in Iraq turns up in Somalia

via Poor Richard’s Blog

By Guy Adams at independent.co.uk

Blackwater founder sets up new force to tackle piracy.

Erik Prince, the American founder of the private security firm Blackwater Worldwide, has cropped up at the centre of a controversial scheme to establish a new mercenary force to crack down on piracy and terrorism in the war-torn East African country of Somalia.

The project, which emerged yesterday when an intelligence report was leaked to media in the United States, requires Mr Prince to help train a private army of 2,000 Somali troops that will be loyal to the country’s United Nations-backed government. Several neighbouring states, including the United Arab Emirates, will pay the bills.

Mr Prince is working in Somalia alongside Saracen International, a murky South African firm which is run by a former officer from the Civil Co-operation Bureau, an apartheid-era force notorious for killing opponents of the white minority government.
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News of his latest project has alarmed, though hardly surprised, critics of Blackwater. The firm made hundreds of millions of dollars from the “war on terror”, but was severely tarnished by a string of incidents in post-invasion Iraq, in which its employees were accused of committing dozens of unlawful killings.

Mr Prince, a 41-year-old former US Navy Seal with links to the Bush administration, subsequently rebranded the company “Xe Services” and sold his stake in it. But he remains entangled in a string of lawsuits pertaining to the alleged recklessness of the firm.

For most of the past year, he has been living in Abu Dhabi, where he has close relations with the government and feels better positioned to dodge lawsuits. In an interview with a men’s magazine, he recently declared that the UAE’s opaque legal system will make it “harder for the jackals to get my money”.

The exact nature of his sudden presence in Somalia remains unclear. The Associated Press said yesterday that the army Mr Prince is training will focus on fighting pirates and Islamic rebels.

The leaked intelligence report which prompted the news agency’s story was compiled by the African Union, an organisation of African nations. It claimed that Mr Prince’s money had enabled Saracen International to gain the contract to train and run the private militia. But that element of the report was flatly contradicted by a spokesman for the Blackwater founder, who claimed that Mr Prince had “no financial role of any kind in this matter”.

In a written statement, the spokesman, Mark Corallo, added: “it is well known that he has long been interested in helping Somalia overcome the scourge of piracy. To that end, he has at times provided advice to many different anti-piracy efforts.” He declined to answer any further questions.

Whatever the exact details of Mr Prince’s role, his presence in Somalia will inevitably lead to renewed soul-searching about the growing privatisation of warfare. Critics of mercenary organisations, which are often prepared to operate where traditional armies fear to tread, claim they are often trigger-happy and lack proper accountability. In Iraq, Blackwater employees shot dead dozens of civilians; 17 people were killed in one incident alone in Nisour Square, Baghdad.

Criminal charges were eventually brought in the US against five Blackwater employees. However, they were dropped in 2009 after a federal judge ruled that the defendants’ rights had been violated during the gathering of evidence. Iraq’s Interior Ministry subsequently expelled all contractors who had worked with the firm at the time of the Nisour Square shooting.

Somalia, where the country’s UN-backed regime is fighting a civil war against al-Shabaab, a group of Islamic insurgents with links to al-Qa’ida, is, if anything, a more volatile country than post-invasion Iraq.

The government controls only a small portion of the capital, Mogadishu, where it has the support of 8,000 UN troops from Uganda and Burundi. It is training an army to extend its reach, but observers fear that its ranks will be weakened by the arrival of Mr Prince – who will pay his troops a far better wage.

Saracen’s shady corporate structure has not inspired confidence in its accountability. In 2002, the UN accused its Ugandan subsidiary of training rebel paramilitaries in the Congo. Recently, the firm has claimed to be registered to addresses in Lebanon, Liberia, Uganda and the UAE, some of which seemed not to exist when reporters tried visiting.

Read more articles at independent.co.uk

Former Spy With Agenda Operates a Private C.I.A.

via Activist Post

Mark Mazzetti
New York Times

WASHINGTON — Duane R. Clarridge parted company with the Central Intelligence Agency more than two decades ago, but from poolside at his home near San Diego, he still runs a network of spies.

Over the past two years, he has fielded operatives in the mountains of Pakistan and the desert badlands of Afghanistan. Since the United States military cut off his funding in May, he has relied on like-minded private donors to pay his agents to continue gathering information about militant fighters, Taliban leaders and the secrets of Kabul’s ruling class.

Hatching schemes that are something of a cross between a Graham Greene novel and Mad Magazine’s “Spy vs. Spy,” Mr. Clarridge has sought to discredit Ahmed Wali Karzai, the Kandahar power broker who has long been on the C.I.A. payroll, and planned to set spies on his half brother, the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, in hopes of collecting beard trimmings or other DNA samples that might prove Mr. Clarridge’s suspicions that the Afghan leader was a heroin addict, associates say.

Read Full Article

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Lockheed Gets Big Bucks to Prep Soldiers for Urban War

By spencer Ackerman at wired.com

 

By the end of the year, the U.S. Army will leave Iraq. But Iraq isn’t going to leave the U.S. Army.
American soldiers spent seven years patrolling the urban neighborhoods of Iraq; its troops battled insurgents there block-by-block and house-by-house. Now that the Army is getting out of Iraq, it wants to make sure its urban combat skills don’t wither away. So it today it gave Lockheed Martin a contract worth up to $287 million to build Urban Operations Training Systems — essentially, giant simulation facilities and modules to help soldiers get ready for life in the big, bad city.

Versions of those training systems can be as simple as shipping containers tricked out to resemble multi-story houses and arranged in village formations, so soldiers can practice how to seize a building without causing needless damage. The Army’s got an entire 1000-acre facility in Indiana it uses to train soldiers in urban combat.

The contract will include structures like those, which are known as Mobile Military Operations on Urban Terrain systems, or Mobile MOUTs. Lockheed says it’ll help soldiers drill on everything “from traditional war fighting tactics, to nation-building, to overseas contingency operations.” Overseas contingency operations is the new bureaucratic and budgetary term for what we used to call “wars.”

A statement from the company heralding the deal said that the new training systems were likely to include measures to simulate homemade bombs, an indicator that the Army doesn’t think the threat from the signature weapon of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is likely to diminish. That in turn has implications for other stuff the Army wants to buy — especially the new Ground Combat Vehicle, the service’s next-generation transporter. The Army and the Marine Corps have faced criticism for buying so many armored Humvees and Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, on the assumption that they’ll rot in the motor pool if troops don’t have to roll through terrain laced with homemade bombs in the future. That may not be a chance the Army wants to take.

Training isn’t destiny, and just because the Army wants to keep urban combat in its toolkit doesn’t mean it’s looking to go stomping through any foreign capitals. One of the Army’s biggest internal criticisms after finding itself mired unexpectedly in Iraq was that its post-Vietnam officers deliberately unlearned how to fight insurgents. Look for the exact opposite to happen here: Army gadflies like Col. Gian Gentile of West Point warn that the Army’s assuming that unpredictable future land wars are going to look too much like today’s counterinsurgencies.

A different aspect to the urban-training scenario offered by Lockheed: “live, virtual and constructive mission domains,” the statement says. Whether that means, in part, videogame-based training remains to be seen. But at the Army’s recent annual conference in D.C., the service was showing off a sophisticated first-person-shooter modeled on eastern Afghanistan’s rugged, mountainous terrain. If Call of Duty can rig up an urban-warfare videogame, presumably one of the world’s largest defense companies can too.

Read More Articles at wired.com

New Book: ‘Military Industrial Complex’ Is Bigger Than Ever

The nation’s largest government contractor gobbles up some $260 from each and every taxpaying household, according to a new book that chronicles the history of Lockheed Martin.

In “Prophets of War,” longtime arms control expert William D. Hartung calls this “the Lockheed Martin tax” — a way of driving home just how much government contracting costs Americans.

And that’s just one company.

“Prophets of War” (Nation Books) comes out at an auspicious time. It’s been 50 years this week since President Dwight Eisenhower, in his farewell speech, warned the American public “of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex.”

Lockheed Martin headquarters in Bethesda, Md.
Leslie E. Kossoff, AP
According to a new book chronicling the history of Lockheed Martin, headquartered in Bethesda, Md., above, the largest government contractor is involved in almost every aspect of the U.S. government.
Hartung’s history of the defense giant traces it humble roots back to the Loughead brothers (who eventually changed their name to Lockheed), to its current incarnation as the nation’s top government contractor. That route was by no means smooth — it was a path marred by bribery scandals, disastrous contracts and near-bankruptcy.

But it emerged — in large part thanks to government largess — to become the nation’s top government contractor, with more than $38 billion in contracts in 2008. Hartung’s book, in many respects, appears to document the very incarnation of Eisenhower’s warning.

But Eisenhower was no peacenik. He supported some of the very military projects that made Lockheed’s early reputation as the go-to company for advanced weapons. Indeed, Hartung gives credit to the company’s successes, including the U-2 spy plane, which was not only a technological marvel but a critical asset in proving that the United States was actually overestimating Soviet military capabilities.

It’s a shame, he points out, that this revelation did little to stem the mounting arms race.

But “Prophets of War” also sheds light on weapons-buying disasters, such as the C-5A transport aircraft, which was supposed to be a model for military procurement. He skillfully shows how both the Pentagon and Lockheed contributed to an acrimonious debate over out-of-control costs.

Does Lockheed Martin embody the behemoth that Eisenhower feared? Hartung is writing a history of one company, and not necessarily of the military industrial complex, which also includes the Pentagon, Congress and numerous other companies, so he never quite answers that question. But maybe that’s also the point.

There is no single villain in this larger history. Congress pushes defense projects — often ones the Pentagon doesn’t even want — in order to sustain jobs in their districts. The Pentagon becomes fixated on fancy technology, driving up costs and complexity beyond what the contractors envisioned. Then there’s the defense companies themselves, which employ expensive lobbyists and retired generals to keep the dollars flowing.

But Lockheed, in truth, is not just a “prophet of war”; it also is heavily involved in almost every aspect of government. In fact, Hartung’s book is at its best — and most fascinating — when it documents the reach of Lockheed Martin into almost every facet of American life. Its technology and services help the post office sort your mail, it helps the IRS send out tax notices, and it even played a role in the 2010 census.

It’s unclear whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, but it is, perhaps, what Eisenhower was thinking when he talked about the “total influence” of the military industrial complex.

“We recognize the imperative need for this development,” he said. “Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications.”

Source: http://www.aolnews.com/2011/01/19/new-book-prophets-of-war-examines-history-of-lockheed-martin/

U.S. Contractor Accused Of Fraud Still Winning Big Projects In Afghanistan

WASHINGTON | On July 31, 2006, an employee of The Louis Berger Group, a contractor handling some of the most important U.S. rebuilding projects in Afghanistan, handed federal investigators explosive evidence that the company was intentionally and systematically overbilling American taxpayers.

Neither the whistle-blower’s computer disk full of incriminating documents nor a trail of allegations of waste, fraud and shoddy construction, however, prevented Louis Berger from continuing to reap hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts.

In fact, two months after the government learned of the employee’s allegations, the U.S. Agency for International Development tapped Louis Berger — which has an office in Kansas City — to oversee $1.4 billion in reconstruction contracts in Afghanistan.

The decision to brush aside the allegations and the evidence and keep doing business with Louis Berger, underscores a persistent dilemma for the Obama administration in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Cutting ties with suspect war-zone contractors in Afghanistan would threaten the administration’s effort to rebuild the country and begin withdrawing some of the nearly 100,000 U.S. troops there next July. However, as the recession, unemployment and budget deficits prompt belt-tightening at home, the billions the administration is spending to try to rebuild Afghanistan and Iraq are receiving increasing scrutiny from Congress and the public.

Louis Berger’s alleged overbilling, a practice that dates at to least the mid-1990s, swelled to tens of millions in lost tax dollars, according to a person familiar with the inquiry who spoke to McClatchy Newspapers on the condition of anonymity because the allegations are the subject of a sealed court case.

Court documents, however, reveal that the Justice Department is negotiating a deal that would “aid in preserving the company’s continuing eligibility to participate” in federal contracting in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Founded in 1953, The Louis Berger Group does engineering and construction-related work domestically and in about 80 countries worldwide, according to the company’s website. It has more than 5,000 employees and is based in Morristown, N.J.

Holly Fisher, a Louis Berger spokeswoman, said the investigation into the company’s pricing shouldn’t taint its work for the government.

“While its work in Afghanistan was covered by that methodology, it is the methodology that is in question, not the work in Afghanistan,” she said.

Fisher declined to answer additional questions about the investigation or to make any corporate officers available for interviews.

USAID officials acknowledged last year in an internal report that they’d lost confidence in Louis Berger to oversee projects under the latest, $1.4 billion Afghanistan contract, which is jointly held with Black & Veatch of Overland Park.

USAID, however, didn’t respond for three weeks to repeated requests for interviews about why it continued to award contracts to Louis Berger or about the ongoing criminal investigation or on contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Instead, the agency issued a statement pointing to its internal report about the joint venture.

“The assessment found vulnerabilities, and we immediately worked to address the identified issues,” USAID said.

The agency said it began to hold weekly meetings with company officials, assigned monitors to every site and changed personnel involved in the contract.

“USAID continues to take necessary actions to protect U.S. taxpayer funds in this matter,” the statement said. “We are engaged in ongoing dialogue with the Louis Berger Group, Inc. to ensure that the corporation is in full compliance with our contracts.”

However, Ashley Jackson, the head of policy in Afghanistan for the international aid organization Oxfam, said little has changed despite the Obama administration’s pledge to revamp the agency.

USAID hasn’t been an aggressive watchdog in Afghanistan, partly because it’s under political pressure to pump billions into the country without regard to the quality of the work, Jackson said.

“A system has emerged where USAID is basically like a pass-through for these contractors,” she said.

Source: Kansas City Star

Defense Contractor Money Fueling Push to Militarize the US-Mexico Border

After months of prodding from anti-immigration politicians, the entire US-Mexico border is now being watched by the Predator B unmanned surveillance aircraft commonly known as Predator drones. The news may comfort residents of border states where the details of Mexico’s brutal drug war continue to make headlines, but here’s some more comforting news: violent crime in US border states has decreased during the past decade, and some big border cities are the safest in the nation.

Read the story HERE