Wednesday, February 29, 2012

WikiLeaks: Russia gave Israel Iranian system's codes

Document by intelligence company suggests Israel, Russia contracted deal several years ago under which Israel provided Russia with codes for UAVs it sold to Georgia in exchange for Iranian aerial defense system codes

WikiLeaks has released an email exchange between employees of Stratfor, the US-based global intelligence company, which reveals Israel and Russia made a deal to swap access codes for defense and surveillance equipment.

According to the leaked document, Israel gave Russia the "data link codes" for unmanned aerial vehicles that the Jewish state sold to Georgia, and in return, Russia gave Israel the codes for Tor-M1 missile defense systems that Russia sold Iran.

In a document by a Stratfor employee dated February 2009 she says that she had met with a "Mexican source/friend" who told her that Israel and Russia had contracted a deal several years ago as part of which Israel provided Russia with codes of UAVs it had sold to Georgia. In exchange Moscow provided the Israelis with the codes for Iran's Tor-M1 aerial defense systems.

The document suggests that the deal was signed before the Russia-Georgia war of August 2008 during which Russian forces invaded Georgia. At the time it was reported that Georgia was using Israel-made weapons.

It can also be understood from the document that the Georgians had at one point realized that their UAVs were compromised and were looking for a replacement for the Israeli made drones.

The Mexican source also addressed the S-300 aerial defense systems which Israel and the West have spent years trying to dissuade Russia from handing over to Tehran. The source said that Israel and Turkey were collaborating very closely in regards to the system and that since Russia sold them to Greece – Turkey's longtime rival – Ankara has been busy tryinh to crack their codes.

He added that Ankara shared intelligence with Israel to make sure it has an edge over Iran should it get the systems from Russia.


Bernanke warns lawmakers nation headed for 'massive fiscal cliff'

Congress risks taking the economy over a “massive fiscal cliff,” Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke warned lawmakers on Wednesday.

In remarks that hit Wall Street stock prices, the central bank boss suggested the economy could hit a serious roadblock if Congress allows the Bush tax rates and a payroll tax cut to expire and $1.2 trillion in spending cuts to be implemented simultaneously in January.

“Under current law, on Jan. 1, 2013, there’s going to be a massive fiscal cliff of large spending cuts and tax increases,” Bernanke told the House Financial Services Committee. “I hope that Congress will look at that and figure out ways to achieve the same long-run fiscal improvement without having it all happen at one date.

“All those things are hitting on the same day, basically. It’s quite a big event.”

The tax hikes and spending cuts could knock GDP growth in 2013 down from 2.6 percent to 1 percent, according to Andrew Fieldhouse, a federal budget policy analyst with the liberal Economic Policy Institute .

“There is obviously a huge fiscal drag pending if Congress adheres to existing law,” he said.

Bernanke’s comments underline the stakes for this year’s post-election lame-duck session of Congress, when the fate of the tax rates and spending cuts are likely to be determined. Congress is also not expected to raise the debt ceiling until after Election Day, but is unlikely to be able to punt that decision beyond the lame-duck session.

The nation’s triple-A credit rating hangs in the balance, with agencies likely to decide on whether to downgrade the United States depending on what happens to the debt ceiling, tax rates and spending cuts. The fiscal triple whammy was set up by the failure of a supercommittee of lawmakers to agree on a deficit-cutting plan last year.

Bernanke, who has long advised policymakers to rein in the deficit, called again Wednesday for a “credible plan” to reassure markets that the nation is repairing its finances.

Failure to do so could trigger another financial crisis and sharply higher interest rate, as is happening in Europe, he said.

Bernanke warned that draining funds from the economy by allowing tax cuts to expire and trimming spending could slow growth.

“You ... have to protect the recovery in the near term,” he warned.

Some Republicans, such as Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), have already vowed to find alternatives to the spending cuts, which would hit the Pentagon. And the fight over the Bush tax rates will be a central theme of the presidential election.

President Obama wants to extend the individual tax rates for families with annual income below $250,000 and individuals below $200,000, while allowing tax rates on higher incomes to rise. Republicans want to extend all the Bush-era rates.

Congressional Democrats are increasingly embracing $1 million in income as the right threshold above which higher income taxes should kick in.

“Obviously, the Speaker is opposed to the massive tax hike that Washington Democrats have engineered for the end of the year,” Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said Wednesday.

While economic conditions have improved and the unemployment rate has fallen, Bernanke warned that the labor market is still “far from normal.”

“The unemployment rate remains elevated, long-term unemployment is still near record levels and the number of persons working part-time for economic reasons is very high,” he said.

Underlying data suggest the economic expansion is “uneven and modest by historical standards,” and that Europe’s debt crisis remains a persistent threat to the U.S. recovery, he said.

The Fed has lowered interest rates effectively to zero and vowed to keep them there through the end of 2014 in response to those challenges, but Bernanke suggested there is little more the central bank can do.

“Monetary policy is not a panacea,” he said. “The long-term health of the economy depends mostly on decisions taken by Congress and the administration.”

Bernanke acknowledged the difficult politics of taxes and spending cuts.

“These criticisms are easy for me to make,” he said. “I don’t have to deal with the politics.”

He steered clear of recommending a specific deficit-reduction path for Congress, but said it is “very important” to address rising healthcare costs and that the economy would benefit from a clear plan from Congress to reform the housing market.

The Hill

Russia upgrades radar station in Syria to aid Iran

JERUSALEM — Russia has upgraded a surveillance station it maintains in Syrian territory in order to provide Iran early warning of an Israeli attack, according to the Israeli security-related blog Debkafile.

The surveillance station, located south of Damascus, had been able to monitor air traffic in Israel as far south as Tel Aviv, as well as northern Jordan and western Iraq.

Since the upgrade, its range reportedly extends to all parts of Israel and Jordan and as far south as the northern part of Saudi Arabia.

According to the report, Russia has introduced cutting-edge technology to the station and expanded its manpower.

Russia has taken a firm stand against any military attack on Iran or any attempt to force Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said this week that Russia is concerned about the threat of an attack against Iran.

“If it happens, the fallout would be truly catastrophic,” he said, also warning that any outside attempt to displace Mr. Assad would open Syria to “a Libyan scenario.”

Debkafile said the upgrade of the electronic surveillance station at Jabal Al Harrah was in response to concern expressed by Iran that the station’s resources were being stretched to the limit by providing so much intelligence to the Assad regime in Syria that Tehran no longer could rely on its real-time warnings of an Israeli attack.

The monitoring station had been providing Mr. Assad with information on the Syrian resistance movements.

Russia also has expanded the capabilities of a Russian-equipped Syrian radar station on Lebanon’s Mount Sannine in order to extend its range to include Cyprus and Greece, and observe U.S. and Israeli naval and aerial movements in the eastern Mediterranean.

This expansion also would permit Russia to provide Tehran with a warning if American planes head east from the Mediterranean in the direction of Iran.

While the upgrade of Jabal Al Harrah was under way from January through mid-February, the Russian aircraft carrier Kuznetsov was in the Syrian port of Tartus, where its electronic systems maintained an alert for possible Israeli air formations heading east.

Mr. Putin has said he supports Iran’s right to develop atomic energy for peaceful purposes. He has urged that Western sanctions against Iran be dropped if Tehran agrees to place its nuclear program under complete supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Washington Times

Energy Secretary Chu Admits Administration OK with High Gas Prices

COMMENTARY | President Barack Obama's Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu uttered the kind of Washington gaffe that consists of telling the truth when inconvenient. According to Politico, Chu admitted to a House committee that the administration is not interested in lowering gas prices.

Chu, along with the Obama administration, regards the spike in gas prices as a feature rather than a bug. High gas prices provide an incentive for alternate energy technology, a priority for the White House, and a decrease in reliance on oil for energy.

The Heritage Foundation points out that hammering the American consumer with high gas prices to make electric and hybrid cars more appealing is consistent with Obama administration policy and Chu's philosophy. That explains the refusal to allow the building of the Keystone XL pipeline and to allow drilling in wide areas of the U.S. and offshore areas.

The consequences of the policy are not likely to be of benefit to the Obama administration. The Republican National Committee has already issued a video highlighting the spike in gas prices and the failure of the administration to address the issue.

Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has issued a half-hour video touting an energy plan he claims would result in $2.50 a gallon gasoline. The plan is based on unfettered drilling for oil and gas instead of a reliance on green energy. Gingrich has also savaged Obama's touting of algae based biofuel as "weird."

Chu has likely highlighted an issue Republicans are going to pick up and run with. Americans are not going to be appreciative of schemes to hit them in the wallet so the American economy can shift to green energy. Besides American traditional adherence to the free market, the idea of being fleeced by a deliberate government policy is likely to be greeted with anger.

Add into the mix green energy fiascos like Solyndra, and Chu might well have kindled a full blown scandal.

How the Obama administration reacts to the expected firestorm is open to question. Green energy is as part of its fundamental religion as is universal health care, another unpopular Obama policy. If it tries to bull ahead, the electorate will likely punish Obama and the Democrats. If it tries to backtrack, Obama looks weak and facilitating, and likely will still not appease gas strapped Americans experiencing price shock at the gas pump.


The TSA Is Coming To a Highway Near You

One of the great honors of my service to Tennessee is having the opportunity to represent Ft. Campbell which is home to the storied 101st Airborne, the 5th Special Forces Group and the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment which piloted Navy SEAL Team Six during the raid on Osama Bin Laden.

Each soldier who calls Ft. Campbell home has gone through some of the most intensive training on the planet which pushed their minds and bodies to their physical limits. In the end, those who make the cut have earned the right to be part of our United States military, are honored to wear its uniform, and are serving on the frontlines in the fight against global terrorism.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for our nation’s Transportation Security Officers (TSO’s) who Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano contends are our nation’s last line of defense in fighting domestic terrorism. Unlike “hell week” which faces potential Navy SEALs, becoming a TSO requires a basic level of classroom and on the job training. In many cases this rigorous training is less severe than the requirements of becoming a security guard in most states.

Believe it or not, only 7 years ago, TSO’s went by a more deserving title, “airport security screeners.” At the time, their title and on the job appearance consisted of a white shirt and black pants. This was fitting because airport security screening is exactly what’s required of the position. However, this is no longer the case.

In the dead of night, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) administratively reclassified airport security screeners as Transportation Security Officers. The TSA then moved to administratively upgrade TSO’s uniforms to resemble those of a federal law enforcement officer. They further completed the makeover with metal law enforcement badges. Not surprisingly, government bureaucrats at the TSA left out one crucial component during the artificial makeover – actual federal law enforcement training as is required of Federal Air Marshalls.

While TSO’s may have the appearance of a federal law enforcement officer they have neither the authority nor the power. If a passenger brings a loaded gun or an explosive device into an airport screening area there is nothing a TSO can do until the local police step in to save the day.

If TSO’s are truly our nation’s last line of defense in stopping an act of terrorism, then the TSA should immediately end the practice of placing hiring notices for available TSO positions on pizza boxes and at discount gas stations as theyhave done in our nation’s capital. Surely, this is not where our federal government is going to find our brightest and sharpest Americans committed to keeping our traveling public safe. I would contend that we can surely strive for a higher standard and may want to look first to our veterans returning home from the battlefield.

Interestingly enough, as TSA officials like to routinely point out, their agency’s acronym stands for Transportation Security Administration, not the Airport SecurityAdministration. This fact has extended the TSA’s reach has far beyond the confines of our nation’s airports. Many of my constituents discovered this first hand this past fall as those familiar blue uniforms and badges appeared on Tennessee highways. In October Tennessee became the first state to conduct a statewide Department of Homeland Security Visible Intermodal Prevention andResponse (VIPR) team operation which randomly inspected Tennessee truck drivers and cars.

VIPR teams which count TSO’s among their ranks, conduct searches and screenings at train stations, subways, ferry terminals and every other mass transit location around the country. In fact, as the Los Angeles Times has detailed, VIPR teams conducted 9,300 unannounced checkpoints and other search operations in the last year alone. The very thought of federal employees with zero law enforcement training roaming across our nation’s transportation infrastructure with the hope of randomly thwarting a domestic terrorist attack makes about as much sense as EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s Environmental Justice tour.

In order to help rein in the TSA I introduced H.R. 3608, the Stop TSA’s Reach in Policy Act aka the STRIP Act. This bill will simply overturn the TSA’s administrative decision by prohibiting any TSA employee who has not received federal law enforcement training from using the title “officer,” wearing a police like uniform or a metal police badge. At its most basic level the STRIP Act is about truth in advertising.

As TSO’s continue to expand their presence beyond our nation’s airports and onto our highways, every American citizen has the right to know that they are not dealing with actual federal law enforcement officers. Had one Virginia woman known this days before Thanksgiving she may have been able to escape being forcibly raped by a TSO who approached her in a parking lot in full uniform while flashing his badge.

Will the STRIP Act solve every problem facing the TSA? Absolutely not. The STRIP Act seeks to expand upon the work of my colleagues by chipping away at an unnoticed yet powerful overreach of our federal government. If Congress cannot swiftly overturn something as simple as this administrative decision there will be little hope that we can take steps to truly rein in the TSA on larger issues of concern.

Furthermore, if Congress fails to act do not be surprised if the TSA gives TSO’s another administrative makeover in the future. Only this time it won’t be a new uniform. It will be the power to make arrests as some TSO’s are already publicly calling for.


Are "All Options on the Table" Really? Or Really!

"Want to buy a ticket to the Obama administration's semi-satirical Iran Nuclear Kabuki Theater show entitled "All Options are on the Table!"?
If ALL options are on the table (aka as a last resort the U.S. would use military force to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon) then why is the Pentagon's senior brass trotting out in public to undercut the White House... thus undermining the threat's credibility even if the U.S. just won't use force to deny Iran the pleasure of a nuclear device.

It seems that every few days another senior U.S. military official seeks out a handy dandy journalist or just blurts out that attacking Iran is not in the cards, not justified, too dangerous, etc. etc. and, for good measure, darkly warning Israel it had better get with the U.S. program. Let me assert categorically that the uniformed naysayers have many a valid reason not to want to be drawn into a preemptive war with Iran. But the spectacle of all this public hand-wringing is certainly not sending shivers down the Ayatollahs' spines."

Even the HuffPost don't believe O would do it.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Homeland Security Dept. Pays General Dynamics to Scour Internet for Criticism of its Policies

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been paying a defense contractor $11.4 million to monitor social media websites and other Internet communications to find criticisms of the department’s policies and actions.

A government watchdog organization, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), obtained hundreds of documents from DHS through the Freedom of Information Act and found details of the arrangement with General Dynamics. The company was contracted to monitor the Web for “reports that reflect adversely on DHS,” including sub-agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Citizenship and Immigration Services, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In testimony submitted to the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, Ginger McCall, director of EPIC’s Open Government Project, stated that “the agency is monitoring constantly, under very broad search terms, and is not limiting that monitoring to events or activities related to natural disasters, acts of terrorism, or manmade disasters….The DHS has no legal authority to engage in this monitoring.”

McCall added: “This has a profound effect on free speech online if you feel like a government law enforcement agency—particularly the Department of Homeland Security, which is supposed to look for terrorists—is monitoring your criticism, your dissent, of the government.”

No soup for you!

Durable Goods Orders in U.S. Drop 4%, Marking Worst Decline in Three Years

Orders for U.S. durable goods fell in January by the most in three years, led by a slowdown in demand for commercial aircraft and business equipment.

Bookings (DGNOCHNG) for goods meant to last at least three years slumped 4 percent, more than forecast, after a revised 3.2 percent gain the prior month, data from the Commerce Department showed today in Washington. Economists projected a 1 percent decline, according to the median forecast in a Bloomberg News survey.

The expiration at the end of 2011 of a tax incentive allowing full depreciation on equipment purchases may have prompted a slowdown in investment at the start of this year. At the same time, a strengthening auto industry may help keep factories at the forefront of the expansion that began in June 2009.

“The expected weakness may not last, as the weak start to the quarter has tended to give way to a stronger end over the last 2 1/2 years since the recession ended,” Jonathan Basile, a senior economist at Credit Suisse in New York, said in an e-mail.

Last month’s decrease in capital goods orders extends a pattern of declines early in a quarter that are typically reversed later. Demand for non-military capital goods like computers, engines and communications gear have dropped in the first month of a quarter in all but three instances since the end of 2005.

Stock-Index Futures
Stock-index futures erased gains after the figures, with the contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index expiring next month falling less than 0.1 percent to 1,367.2 at 9 a.m. in New York.

Estimates of 80 economists surveyed by Bloomberg ranged from a drop of 4.3 percent to an increase of 1.5 percent.

Orders for durables excluding transportation equipment decreased 3.2 percent, the most since October 2010, after a 2.1 percent rise.

Demand for transportation equipment fell 6.1 percent, restrained by a 19 percent plunge in civilian aircraft orders. Boeing Co., the largest U.S. aircraft maker, said it received 150 orders last month, down from 287 in December.

Bookings for automobiles and parts increased 0.9 percent in January after 1.1 percent rise the previous month.

Cars and light trucks sold at a 14.1 million annual rate last month, according to industry data. Excluding a surge in August 2009 tied to the government’s “cash-for-clunkers” program, it was the strongest month since May 2008.

Capital Goods
Today’s report showed bookings for non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft, a proxy for business investment in items such as computers, engines and communications gear, decreased 4.5 percent, the most in a year.

Orders slumped 10.4 percent for machinery, the most in three years, and primary metals demand dropped 6.7 percent.

“Core capital goods -- a good proxy for business capital spending -- which surged toward year-end to take advantage of the expiring full depreciation allowance, are expected to push higher still as an improving economic environment prompts businesses to invest,” said Benjamin Reitzes, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto.

Shipments of non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft, used in calculating gross domestic product, decreased 3.1 percent, the most since April 2009, after rising 2.8 percent.

End of 2011
Orders for business equipment jumped 3.4 percent in December as some companies rushed to qualify for a government tax credit that expired at the end of 2011 and allowed for 100 percent depreciation on equipment purchases. The allowance this year is 50 percent.

“Durables have had pretty much had a V-shaped recovery in the United States,” James McGill, chief human resource officer at Eaton Corp. (ETN), said in a Feb. 24 conference call with analysts. “The good news here is that this has been sustained primarily by growth in capital goods. We think that gives us some traction, some confidence in expecting that the recovery will continue into 2012.”

The report showed unfilled orders for durable goods increased 0.5 percent. Unfilled orders for non-defense capital goods minus aircraft also climbed 0.5 percent after a 1 percent increase that shows demand may be sustained in coming months.

The Federal Reserve gauge of factory output expanded 0.7 percent in January after surging 1.5 percent a month earlier, the best two-month performance since July and August 2009, when the world’s largest economy was emerging from recession.


More good news

Hybrid tech heads to the battlefield

Think $4 a gallon is expensive for fuel? How about $400, or more?

That’s the all-in cost the U.S. Army sometimes pays to transport go-juice to combat troops operating in hostile territory halfway around the world. Factor in the incredibly poor fuel economy of armored vehicles that weigh in excess of 20 tons (think less than 1 mpg) and the price is quickly becoming a bunker buster for military budgets.

To meet the challenge, BAE Systems has been developing a hybrid-powered fighting vehicle for several years and is now moving from prototype to proving grounds.

More like a locomotive than a Toyota Prius, the vehicle uses a diesel engine to generate power for electric motors that drive the tracks. The main advantage to this is a 10-20 percent increase in fuel economy, but the instant and consistent torque provided by the electric motors is an added bonus, and the compact size of the mechanicals means there’s more room for personnel and equipment on board. Its electrical systems can also be used as a mobile power station for operations.

Intended to satisfy the requirements of the Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) program, which aims to replace a range of vehicles from the Stryker to the Bradley Fighting Vehicle with more efficient designs, BAE’s proposal is a 29-foot-long, 140,000 pound behemoth that can carry 12 troops, has a 25 mm canon in an unmanned turret and a range of 186 miles between those pricey fill-ups.

New from the ground-up, BAE says its high-tech GCV platform can remain an effective fighting machine for the next 30 to 40 years and. Of course, as is the case with hybrid vehicles for the road, the price reflects its advanced underpinnings. Estimates put the cost anywhere between $11-$17 million per unit for the $10.5 billion program, two to four times as much as some of the vehicles it will be taking the place of in the Army of the future.


Why my pickup don't work like this is one of those mysteries of the universe that only the sages can answer

Monday, February 27, 2012

Stratfor Email Leak Reveals Insider Views On Obama, Emanuel & Romney

"Earlier today, Wikileaks made its latest startling release on Twitter, telling the media world to standby for a 'major announcement'. Alas, in keeping with the recent tradition from Wikileaks, the "release" was a dud and is merely the collected dump of all the emails previously hacked from Stratfor by Anonymous, as was noted here previously. Alas a quick perusal through the emails so far reveals absolutely nothing exciting, except for the communiques of a paid intelligence provider, which may at times have had a few delusions of grandure and a mistaken and rather overblown sense of self-importance (hardly unique). Yet one exchange that is rather interesting is the following email thread from 2009 which goes from discussing how the billionaires behind ACORN have lost all respect for Obama and Biden ("The billionaire (who also funds ACORN) is greatly disappointed over Obama's "weakness and wimpyness" towards China... She believes Biden is weasel and Obama is a pussy... The liberal factions in DC think Obama is being a pussy."), views on Rahm Emanuel ("I don't disagree that Biden is a weasel. I think Emanuel is emasculating Obama by selling him on clever Clintonesque tactics"), views on how Obama may get back into the thick of things: ("Obama needs to get in a fight and do something really mean and unfair to the right."), on Obama and the banks: ("he could also tell the banks to go screw themselves.") and from there going to analyzing the GOP field: ("The GOP folks I talk to are pushing Jeb Bush. I think that is a mistake. Who else is out there?") and culminating with the GOP frontrunning Mitt Romney - "Romney can't make it. Mormons are viewed as Voo Doo." Much more in the full email thread inside."

US snubs out legal cigar transaction

Authorities in the US have refused to return 137,000 kroner that was confiscated from a Danish policeman who attempted to legally purchase Cuban cigars from Germany.

Torben Nødskouv intended to resell the cigars through his small business Cigarhuset and made the transaction in dollars with a Hamburg-based distributor. But the transaction, which was automatically routed through the US, was picked up by American authorities who froze the money, arguing that the transaction violated the American trade embargo with Cuba.

Nødskouv appealed after the $20,000 transaction was frozen last autumn, but the money may be permanently lost after he was recently informed that it would not be returned to him.

The intervention of the American authorities in a legal transaction between two European countries has provoked criticism from a range of politicians and experts who argue that the US has overstepped its place in their policing of financial transactions under the guise of fighting terrorism.

Speaking to Berlingske newspaper, the foreign minister, Villy Søvndal, said he was concerned by the Americans' decision, adding that as it was a European issue, it would be brought up by the EU in their running dialogue with the US.

“It is worrying that the US is extraterritorially applying American legislation to regulate business activities outside of the US,” Søvndal said. “I do not think it is fair that the US intervenes with European businesses, especially with a legal transfer of money between two European countries.”

Hans Jørgen Bonnichsen, the former head of the domestic intelligence agency PET, called on Denmark to use its position as EU president to pressure the US into releasing the money.

“The case is an obvious opportunity for the Danish presidency to step up to the plate,” Bonnichsen told Berlingske. “It’s a clear example of the US abusing rules which were implemented to fight terrorism. That the American authorities can stop a completely legal financial transaction between two European countries is an abuse of EU citizens’ rights.”

Nødskouv’s case is not the first time the American authorities have confiscated Danish money. In 2008, dress seller Christa Møllgaard-Hansen from Maribo had 205 dollars frozen after attempting to buy six dresses from Pakistan.


Blurred Line Between Espionage and Truth

Last Wednesday in the White House briefing room, the administration’s press secretary, Jay Carney, opened on a somber note, citing the deaths of Marie Colvin and Anthony Shadid, two reporters who had died “in order to bring truth” while reporting in Syria.

Jake Tapper, the White House correspondent for ABC News, pointed out that the administration had lauded brave reporting in distant lands more than once and then asked, “How does that square with the fact that this administration has been so aggressively trying to stop aggressive journalism in the United States by using the Espionage Act to take whistle-blowers to court?”

He then suggested that the administration seemed to believe that “the truth should come out abroad; it shouldn’t come out here.”

Fair point. The Obama administration, which promised during its transition to power that it would enhance “whistle-blower laws to protect federal workers,” has been more prone than any administration in history in trying to silence and prosecute federal workers.

The Espionage Act, enacted back in 1917 to punish those who gave aid to our enemies, was used three times in all the prior administrations to bring cases against government officials accused of providing classified information to the media. It has been used six times since the current president took office.

Setting aside the case of Pfc. Bradley Manning, an Army intelligence analyst who is accused of stealing thousands of secret documents, the majority of the recent prosecutions seem to have everything to do with administrative secrecy and very little to do with national security.

In case after case, the Espionage Act has been deployed as a kind of ad hoc Official Secrets Act, which is not a law that has ever found traction in America, a place where the people’s right to know is viewed as superseding the government’s right to hide its business.

In the most recent case, John Kiriakou, a former C.I.A. officer who became a Democratic staff member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was charged under the Espionage Act with leaking information to journalists about other C.I.A. officers, some of whom were involved in the agency’s interrogation program, which included waterboarding.

For those of you keeping score, none of the individuals who engaged in or authorized the waterboarding of terror suspects have been prosecuted, but Mr. Kiriakou is in federal cross hairs, accused of talking to journalists and news organizations, including The New York Times.

Mr. Tapper said that he had not planned on raising the issue, but hearing Mr. Carney echo the praise for reporters who dug deep to bring out the truth elsewhere got his attention.

“I have been following all of these case, and it’s not like they are instances of government employees leaking the location of secret nuclear sites,” Mr. Tapper said. “These are classic whistle-blower cases that dealt with questionable behavior by government officials or its agents acting in the name of protecting America.”

Mr. Carney said in the briefing that he felt it was appropriate “to honor and praise the bravery” of Ms. Colvin and Mr. Shadid, but he did not really engage Mr. Tapper’s broader question, saying he could not go into information about specific cases. He did not respond to an e-mail message seeking comment.

In one of the more remarkable examples of the administration’s aggressive approach, Thomas A. Drake, a former employee of the National Security Agency, was prosecuted under the Espionage Act last year and faced a possible 35 years in prison.

His crime? When his agency was about to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a software program bought from the private sector intended to monitor digital data, he spoke with a reporter at The Baltimore Sun. He suggested an internally developed program that cost significantly less would be more effective and not violate privacy in the way the product from the vendor would. (He turned out to be right, by the way.)

He was charged with 10 felony counts that accused him of lying to investigators and obstructing justice. Last summer, the case against him collapsed, and he pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor, of misuse of a government computer.

Jesselyn Radack, the director for national security and human rights at the Government Accountability Project, was one of the lawyers who represented him.

“The Obama administration has been quite hypocritical about its promises of openness, transparency and accountability,” she said. “All presidents hate leaks, but pursuing whistle-blowers as spies is heavy-handed and beyond the scope of the law.”

Mark Corallo, who served under Attorney General John D. Ashcroft during the Bush administration, told Adam Liptak of The New York Times this month that he was “sort of shocked” by the number of leak prosecutions under President Obama. “We would have gotten hammered for it,” he said.

As Mr. Liptak pointed out, it has become easier to ferret out leakers in a digital age, but just because it can be done doesn’t mean it should be.

These kinds of prosecutions can have ripples well beyond the immediate proceedings. Two reporters in Washington who work on national security issues said that the rulings had created a chilly environment between journalists and people who work at the various government agencies.

During a point in history when our government has been accused of sending prisoners to secret locations where they were said to have been tortured and the C.I.A. is conducting remote-controlled wars in far-flung places, it’s not a good time to treat the people who aid in the publication of critical information as spies.

And it’s worth pointing out that the administration’s emphasis on secrecy comes and goes depending on the news. Reporters were immediately and endlessly briefed on the “secret” operation that successfully found and killed Osama bin Laden. And the drone program in Pakistan and Afghanistan comes to light in a very organized and systematic way every time there is a successful mission.

There is plenty of authorized leaking going on, but this particular boat leaks from the top. Leaks from the decks below, especially ones that might embarrass the administration, have been dealt with very differently.


Trashing Tricare

The Obama administration’s proposed defense budget calls for military families and retirees to pay sharply more for their healthcare, while leaving unionized civilian defense workers’ benefits untouched. The proposal is causing a major rift within the Pentagon, according to U.S. officials. Several congressional aides suggested the move is designed to increase the enrollment in Obamacare’s state-run insurance exchanges.

The disparity in treatment between civilian and uniformed personnel is causing a backlash within the military that could undermine recruitment and retention.

The proposed increases in health care payments by service members, which must be approved by Congress, are part of the Pentagon’s $487 billion cut in spending. It seeks to save $1.8 billion from the Tricare medical system in the fiscal 2013 budget, and $12.9 billion by 2017.

Many in Congress are opposing the proposed changes, which would require the passage of new legislation before being put in place.

“We shouldn’t ask our military to pay our bills when we aren’t willing to impose a similar hardship on the rest of the population,” Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and a Republican from California, said in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon. “We can’t keep asking those who have given so much to give that much more.”

Administration officials told Congress that one goal of the increased fees is to force military retirees to reduce their involvement in Tricare and eventually opt out of the program in favor of alternatives established by the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

“When they talked to us, they did mention the option of healthcare exchanges under Obamacare. So it’s in their mind,” said a congressional aide involved in the issue.

Military personnel from several of the armed services voiced their opposition to a means-tested tier system for Tricare, prompting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey to issue a statement Feb. 21.

Dempsey said the military is making tough choices in cutting defense spending. In addition to the $487 billion over 10 years, the Pentagon is facing automatic cuts that could push the total reductions to $1 trillion.

“I want those of you who serve and who have served to know that we’ve heard your concerns, in particular your concern about the tiered enrollment fee structure for Tricare in retirement,” Dempsey said. “You have our commitment that we will continue to review our health care system to make it as responsive, as affordable, and as equitable as possible.”

Under the new plan, the Pentagon would get the bulk of its savings by targeting under-65 and Medicare-eligible military retirees through a tiered increase in annual Tricare premiums that will be based on yearly retirement pay.

Significantly, the plan calls for increases between 30 percent to 78 percent in Tricare annual premiums for the first year. After that, the plan will impose five-year increases ranging from 94 percent to 345 percent—more than 3 times current levels.

According to congressional assessments, a retired Army colonel with a family currently paying $460 a year for health care will pay $2,048.

The new plan hits active duty personnel by increasing co-payments for pharmaceuticals and eliminating incentives for using generic drugs.

The changes are worrying some in the Pentagon who fear it will severely impact efforts to recruit and maintain a high-quality all-volunteer military force. Such benefits have been a key tool for recruiting qualified people and keeping them in uniform.

“Would you stay with a car insurance company that raised your premiums by 345 percent in five years? Probably not,” said the congressional aide. “Would anybody accept their taxes being raised 345 percent in five years? Probably not.”

A second congressional aide said the administration’s approach to the cuts shows a double standard that hurts the military.

“We all recognize that we are in a time of austerity,” this aide said. “But defense has made up to this point 50 percent of deficit reduction cuts that we agreed to, but is only 20 percent of the budget.”

The administration is asking troops to get by without the equipment and force levels needed for global missions. “And now they are going to them again and asking them to pay more for their health care when you’ve held the civilian workforce at DoD and across the federal government virtually harmless in all of these cuts. And it just doesn’t seem fair,” the second aide said.

Spokesmen for the Defense Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff did not respond to requests for comment on the Tricare increases.

The massive increases beginning next year appear timed to avoid upsetting military voters in a presidential election year, critics of the plan say.

Additionally, the critics said leaving civilian workers’ benefits unchanged while hitting the military reflect the administration’s effort to court labor unions, as government unions are the only segment of organized labor that has increased in recent years.

As part of the increased healthcare costs, the Pentagon also will impose an annual fee for a program called Tricare for Life, a new program that all military retirees automatically must join at age 65. Currently, to enroll in Tricare for Life, retirees pay the equivalent of a monthly Medicare premium.

Under the proposed Pentagon plan, retirees will be hit with an additional annual enrollment fee on top of the monthly premium.

Congressional aides said that despite unanimous support among the military chiefs for the current healthcare changes, some senior officials in the Pentagon are opposing the reforms, in particular the tiered system of healthcare.

“It doesn’t matter what the benefit is, whether it’s commissary, PX, or healthcare, or whatever … under the rationale that if you raise your hand and sign up to serve, you earn a base set of benefits, and it should have nothing to do with your rank when you served, and how much you’re making when you retire,” the first aide said.

Military service organizations are opposing the healthcare changes and say the Pentagon is “means-testing” benefits for service personnel as if they were a social program, and not something earned with 20 or more years of military service.

Retired Navy Capt. Kathryn M. Beasley, of the Military Officers Association of America, said the Military Coalition, 32 military service and veterans groups with an estimated 5 million members, is fighting the proposed healthcare increases, specifically the use of mean-testing for cost increases.

“We think it’s absolutely wrong,” Beasley told the Free Beacon. “This is a breach of faith” for both the active duty and retiree communities.

Congressional hearings are set for next month.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars on Feb. 23 called on all military personnel and the veterans’ community to block the healthcare increases.

“There is no military personnel issue more sacrosanct than pay and benefits,” said Richard L. DeNoyer, head of the 2 million-member VFW. “Any proposal that negatively impacts any quality of life program must be defeated, and that’s why the VFW is asking everyone to join the fight and send a united voice to Congress.”

Senior Air Force leaders are expected to be asked about the health care cost increases during a House Armed Services Committee hearing scheduled for Tuesday.

Congress must pass all the proposed changes into law, as last year’s defense authorization bill preemptively limited how much the Pentagon could increase some Tricare fees, while other fees already were limited in law.

Tricare for Life, Tricare Prime, and Tricare Standard increases must be approved, as well as some of the pharmacy fee increases, congressional aides said.

Current law limits Tricare fee increases to cost of living increases in retirement pay.

Free Beacon

Israel, Kurdish fighters destroyed Iran nuclear facility, email released by WikiLeaks claims

The mega-leaks website, WikiLeaks, has partnered with the hackers cooperative Anonymous, to publish internal emails of the American strategic intelligence company Stratfor. In one of the hacked emails, Stratfor officials discuss information obtained from one of their sources who reports that Israeli commandos, in cooperation with Kurdish fighters, have destroyed Iranian nuclear installations.

WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, will hold a press conference today in London where he plans to reveal new details from the Stratfor emails, including details on the company's dealings with the American government and major corporations, and its network of paid sources.

In a WikiLeaks press release last night, the group said that it had obtained over five million emails generated by the Stratfor headquarters in Texas, from 2004 until the end of 2011. Though the organization does not specify the source of the emails, it has already been published that Stratfor was a target of the Anonymous hackers.

According to the emails, among Stratfor's clients are American government agencies including the Department of Homeland Security, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Marine Corps, the Dow Chemical company, for whom Stratfor is alleged to have kept tabs on activists fighting the company for compensation over the Indian Bhopal chemical plant disaster in 1984, and defense giants Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon.

In addition, the WikiLeaks staetment said Stratfor also "monitored" activists supporting the blight of the 1984 Bhopal chemical disaster on behalf of the US chemical giant Dow Chemical.

In one of the emails from November 2011, Startfor officials discuss the explosion at an Iranian missile base near Tehran and quote a source who "was asked what he thought of reports that the Israelis were preparing a military offensive against Iran. Response: I think this is a diversion. The Israelis already destroyed all the Iranian nuclear infrastructure on the ground weeks ago."

One company analyst responded dismissively to the possibility of an Israeli attack having already taken place, asking: "How and when did the Israelis destroy the infra on the ground?"

"Would anyone actually accept that this could let the Europeans forget about the Euro crisis, something they have been experiencing every day for over a year?!" the analyst added, asking: "Do we attribute any credibility to this item at all? I don't even see what possible disinfo purposes this could serve."

Some of the Stratfor analysts expressed the opinion that Israel had sent commandos into Iran, perhaps with the assistance of Kurdish fighters or Iranian Jews who had immigrated to Israel, to carry out these operations.

The emails also mention a plan to coerce an Israeli source into updating the firm on the medical condition of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

"[Y]ou have to take control of him. Control means financial, sexual or psychological control... This is intended to start our conversation on your next phase," Stratfor CEO George Friedman is quoted of instructing one of the firm's analysts.

According to the emails, many Stratfor operatives are former employees of the U.S. government and they routinely pay sources for information in cash.

The WikiLeaks press statement also mentions "private intelligence staff who align themselves closely with U.S. government policies and channel tips to the Mossad – including through an information mule in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Yossi Melman, who conspired with Guardian journalist David Leigh to secretly, and in violation of WikiLeaks' contract with the Guardian, move WikiLeaks U.S. diplomatic cables to Israel."

Mr Melman who until recently covered intelligence affairs for Haaretz said in response that at the time "I worked for Haaretz and with the approval of my editors I obtained the WikiLeaks documents."

"Harretz published some of them. I am proud of my journalistic achievements which was praised by my editors and the readers. Julian Assang of Wikileaks tried to prevent the publication arguing that the documents belonged to him," he added, saying, "I and my editors rejected his claim and went head with the publication."

"Now [Assange] tries to take revenge on me by hinting that I was a channel to the Israeli intelligence community. This is a complete lie. He also by way of innuendo tries to create the impression that I was a source for Stratfor. This is another lie. I do not have any control whatsoever about what Stratfor personnel wrote about me in their private in house correspondence," Melman added.

In Novmber 2010, WikiLeaks published, along with a number of major media organizations, including the Guardian, Der Spiegel and the New York Times, a cache of U.S. State Department diplomatic cables. American intelligence analyst, Bradley Manning, is being court-martialed for allegedly leaking the cables to WikiLeaks.


3 doomsaying experts who foresee economic devasation ahead

NEW YORK – Behind the mainstream Wall Street happy talk about more stable financial markets and an improving economy are grim warnings of tough times ahead from a small cadre of doomsayers who warn that the worst of the financial crisis is still to come.

Harry Dent, author of the new book The Great Crash Ahead, says another stock market crash is coming due to a bad ending to the global debt bubble. He has pulled back on his earlier prediction of a crash in 2012, as central banks around the world have been flooding markets with money, giving stocks an artificial short-term boost. But a crash is coming in 2013 or 2014, he warns. "This will be a repeat of 2008-09, only bigger, when it finally hits," Dent told USA TODAY.

Gerald Celente, a trend forecaster at The Trends Research Institute, says Americans should brace themselves for an "economic 9/11" due to policymakers' inability to solve the world's financial and economic woes. The coming meltdown, he predicts, will lead to growing social unrest and anti-government sentiment, a U.S. dollar with far less purchasing power and more people out of work.

COLUMN: Avoiding big stock losses requires investor discipline
COLUMN: Why are people still distrustful of stocks?
Celente won't rule out another financial panic that could spark enough fear to cause a run on the nation's banks by depositors. That risk could cause the government to invoke "economic martial law" and call a "bank holiday" and close banks as they did during the Great Depression.

"We see some kind of threat of that magnitude," Celente, publisher of The Trends Journal newsletter, warned in an interview.

Robert Prechter, author of Conquer the Crash, first published in 2002 and updated in 2009, is still bearish. He says today's economy has similarities to the Great Depression and warns that 1930s-style deflation is still poised to cause financial havoc. Prechter predicts that the major U.S. stock indexes, such as the Dow Jones industrials and Standard & Poor's 500, will plunge below their bear market lows hit in March 2009 during the last financial crisis. The brief recovery will fail as it did in the 1930s, he says.

2 very different viewpoints

If he's right, stocks would lose more than half of their value. "The economic recovery has been weak, so the next downturn should generate bad news in a big way," Prechter said in an e-mail interview. "For the third time in a dozen years, the stock market is in a very bearish position."

These dire forecasts differ sharply with the brighter outlooks being espoused by the bulls, or optimists, on Wall Street. Recent stock performance and fresh readings on the economy also suggest a future that is less gloomy than the doomsayers predict.

The Dow, for instance, is in rebound mode and has climbed back to levels not seen since the early days of the financial crisis in May 2008. Tech stocks in the Nasdaq composite are trading at levels last seen in 2000. Data on auto sales, manufacturing and consumer confidence have been firming. Job creation is also on the rise. The unemployment rate dipped to 8.3% in January, its lowest level in three years.

As a result, stock market strategists such as Rod Smyth of RiverFront Investment have been raising their outlooks for 2012. Smyth raised his target range for the S&P 500 to 1250-1500. If the market hits the top of the range, stocks would have risen 10%. Similarly, Brian Belski, strategist at Oppenheimer, recently said he remains comfortable with his year-end 2012 target of 1400. That's up 2.5% from here. Bespoke Investment Group published research that shows the market, which is closing in on a new bull market high, has done well in the past once it breaks through old highs.

Bulls are betting that Europe's banking system will be stabilized, minimizing the risk of a severe credit crisis. Bulls are also encouraged by recent data from around the world that show modest growth and a pickup in economic momentum.

The causes of economic calamity

So what has the super-bears so worried?

Dent says the combination of aging Baby Boomers exiting their big spending years and a shift toward debt reduction and austerity around the world will cause the economy to suffer another severe leg down, making it more difficult for the government and Federal Reserve to avert a new meltdown. He has not always been bearish. In 1993 he wrote The Great Boom Ahead.

Celente, who as far back as 2008 has been warning of economic calamity, argues that the ballooning debt and the growing divide between the haves and have-nots has put the U.S. in a weakened state.

As a result, he says, the nation is more vulnerable to potential shocks. He worries about potential chaos caused by people all trying to yank their money out of financial markets at the same time. He also sees risk in the event there is a loss of confidence in elected leaders.

Societal unrest in the form of street protests and increased crime are possible, too, he adds. Markets could also be spooked by an oil price shock due to a military conflict between Israel and Iran, or a bad outcome to Europe's debt crisis.

"2012 is when many of the long-simmering socioeconomic and political trends that we have been forecasting and tracking will climax," Celente noted in his Top 12 Trends 2012 newsletter. In an interview he added: "When money stops flowing to the man on the street, blood starts flowing in the street."

While bulls are urging investors to get back into stocks, the doomsayers are advising a far different strategy. Dent's investment advice is simple: "Get out of the way." He recommends buying short-term U.S. Treasury bills and the U.S. dollar, which will benefit from safe-haven cash flows. He says stocks will fall sharply in value.

Celente's advice centers on survival. He says buy gold so you don't lose purchasing power when the value of the dollar plummets. He says buy a gun to protect your family against desperate people in search of food and money. He says plan a getaway to places with more stable finances and governments.

Prechter says to keep your powder dry and buy when things get really bad: "When things get really scary, as in early 2009, I get bullish."


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Osborne: UK has run out of money

In a stark warning ahead of next month’s Budget, the Chancellor said there was little the Coalition could do to stimulate the economy.

Mr Osborne made it clear that due to the parlous state of the public finances the best hope for economic growth was to encourage businesses to flourish and hire more workers.

“The British Government has run out of money because all the money was spent in the good years,” the Chancellor said. “The money and the investment and the jobs need to come from the private sector.”

Mr Osborne’s bleak assessment echoes that of Liam Byrne, the former chief secretary to the Treasury, who bluntly joked that Labour had left Britain broke when he exited the Government in 2010.

He left David Laws, his successor, a one-line note saying: “Dear Chief Secretary, I’m afraid to tell you there’s no money left”.

Mr Osborne is under severe pressure to boost growth, amid signs the economy is slipping back into a recession.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies has urged him to consider emergency tax cuts in the Budget to reduce the risk of a prolonged economic slump.

But the Chancellor yesterday said he would stand firm on his effort to balance the books by refusing to borrow money. “Any tax cut would have to be paid for,” Mr Osborne told Sky News. “In other words there would have to be a tax rise somewhere else or a spending reduction.

“In other words what we are not going to do in this Budget is borrow more money to either increase spending or cut taxes.”

The strongest suggestion of help for squeezed family budgets came from the Chancellor’s claim that he was “very seriously and carefully” considering plans to help lower earners by raising the personal allowance for income tax, a proposal that has been championed by Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister.

But he implied there would be no more help for motorists struggling with record petrol prices this spring. “I have taken action already this year to avoid increases in fuel duty which were planned by the last Labour government,” he said.

The Chancellor’s tough words were echoed by Liberal Democrat Jeremy Browne, the foreign minister, who warned that Britain faced “accelerated decline” without measures to tackle its debt and increase competitiveness.

In an article published today in The Daily Telegraph, he writes that Britain’s market share in the world used to be “dominant” but was now “in freefall” compared with the soaring economies of Asia and South America. “This situation has been becoming more acute for years,” he adds. “It is now staring us in the face. So we need to take action.”

Mr Browne writes that reform of pensions, welfare and defence is essential to stop the departments “collapsing under the weight of their own debt”. “Just because the spending was sometimes on worthy causes does not in itself mean it was affordable,” he says.

“Doing nothing when your prospects are at risk of declining is not the safe option. More of the same may be superficially more popular in the short-term but that does not make it right.”

Amid warnings that Britain urgently needed to adopt a more pro-business outlook, senior Conservatives have urged the Government to get rid of the 50 pence top rate of tax.

Figures from the Treasury last week suggested the policy was not raising the expected amount of revenue and was threatening to drive leading business people and entrepreneurs away from Britain. Dr Liam Fox, the former Conservative Defence Secretary, yesterday argued for the top tax rate to be scrapped, but added that cutting taxes on employment was even more important.

“I would have thought the priority was getting the costs of employers down and therefore I would rather have seen any reductions in taxation on employers’ taxation rather than personal taxation,” he told the BBC’s Sunday Politics show.

Any efforts to scrap the rate this parliament would face severe opposition from within the Coalition.

Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat deputy leader, said yesterday that keeping the current 50p rate was “the right thing to do”. He told the BBC: “I represent people in a pretty solid working-class community. What they’re concerned about is what happens to ordinary people out of work and where they get jobs.”

Last night, Labour argued Mr Osborne needed to take a more proactive stance on boosting growth by increasing public spending.

Chris Leslie MP, the shadow Treasury minister, said it was wrong of the Chancellor to argue that Britain was broke and to rely on business alone to create economic growth.

“George Osborne can’t complacently wash his hands and claim the lack of jobs and growth in the economy is nothing to do with him,” he said.

“He needs to realise that government has a vital role to play in creating an environment where the private sector can grow and create jobs.”

Harriet Harman, Labour’s deputy leader, urged Mr Osborne to cut VAT.

Meanwhile, the Chancellor made it clear he was resisting pressure to hand over up to another £17.5billion in taxpayers’ money to help bail out struggling European Union countries.

He said Europe had not “shown the colour of its money” by taking measures to help itself tackle its debt problems.

Until that happens, Britain will not give any extra funds to the International Monetary Fund.

The Chancellor was speaking as finance ministers from the world’s 20 most powerful economies met in Mexico.

Mr Osborne said: “While at this G20 conference there are a lot of things to discuss; I don’t think you’re going to see any extra resources committed (to the IMF) here because eurozone countries have not committed additional resources themselves, and I think that quid pro quo will be clearly established here in Mexico City.”


As Pentagon Sends Reinforcements To Straits Of Hormuz, Iraq Redux Looms

"A few days ago, before the latest breakout in crude sent Brent to all time highs in GBP and EUR (and Asian Tapis in USD just shy of all time highs), we said that "we hope our readers stocked up on gasoline. Because things are about to get uglier. And by that we mean more expensive. But courtesy of hedonic adjustments, more expensive means cheaper, at least to the US government." This was due to recent news out of Iran "where on one hand we learn that IAEA just pronounced Iran nuclear talks a failure (this is bad), and on the other Press TV reports that the Iran army just started a 4 day air defense exercise in a 190,000 square kilometer area in southern Iran (this is just as bad). The escalation "ball" is now in the Western court." We were not surprised to learn that the "Western court" has responded in precisely the way we had expected. The WSJ reports: "The Pentagon is beefing up U.S. sea- and land-based defenses in the Persian Gulf to counter any attempt by Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz. "
Zero Hedge

'US to announce aerial blockade on Syria'

The Pentagon is readying for the possibility of intervention in Syria, aiming to halt Syrian President Bashsar Assad's violent crackdown on protesters, the newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reported Saturday, citing a US military offical.

According to the official, the intervention scenario calls for the establishment of a buffer zone on the Turkish border, in order to receive Syrian refugees. The Red Cross would then provide the civilians humanitarian aid, before NATO crews would arrive from Turkey and join the efforts.

The measure would pave the way for the US to declare an aerial blockade on Syria.

The intercession is to be modeled after NATO's efforts in Kosovo, which brought an end to the Serbian control of the region. NATO's plan of action included prolonged aerial shelling.

The US' diplomatic efforts have yet to yield an effective international resolution that would stop the bloodshed. More than 100 protesters have died over the weekend alone, human rights activists said.

Russia, China to join aid efforts?

According to Asharq Al-Awsat, the Pentagon does not anticipate a change of heart on the part of China or Russia, who have opposed foreign intervention or sanctions against Syria. But the US expects the two nations to join the humanitarian aid efforts, support a ceasefire between the Syrian regime and rebels and send special UN envoys to investigate the developments in the country.

The next step in the reported US Department of Defense plan would be to appoint a team of UN observers to monitor the humanitarian aid, and enter Syria. They would need aerial protection, which would eventually lead to an aerial blockade.

The military official said in the interview that the plan is a cautious one, and takes into account the Syrian air force's advanced capabilities.

In his most forceful words to date on the Syrian crisis, US President Barack Obama said Friday the US and its allies would use "every tool available" to end the bloodshed by Assad's government.

"It is time to stop the killing of Syrian citizens by their own government," Obama said in Washington, adding that it "absolutely imperative for the international community to rally and send a clear message to President Assad that it is time for a transition. It is time for that regime to move on."

As government troops relentlessly shelled rebel-held neighborhoods in the besieged city of Homs, thousands of people in dozens of towns staged anti-regime protests under the slogan: "We will revolt for your sake, Baba Amr," referring to the Homs neighborhood that has become the center of the Syrian revolt.

Opposition groups reported that 103 people were killed on Friday by the regime's forces.


Greek farmers offload crops at cost price

KATERINI, Greece (AP) - Hammered by the financial crisis that has led to ever diminishing income, a group of residents in northern Greece have joined forces with potato farmers to slash consumer prices and ensure producers can get their crop to markets by cutting out the middle man.

Hundreds of families turned up Saturday in this northern Greek town to buy potatoes at massively reduced prices, sold directly by producers at cost price. They lined up in cars and with bicycles, on foot and with scooters to collect their bags of spuds from a truck that flung its doors wide open and was doing a roaring trade in the parking lot of a local courthouse.

Farmers say it costs about 20 cents ($0.27) to produce a kilogram (2 pounds) of potatoes, but that wholesalers will only buy them for 10-12 cents to get the crop to supermarkets, where they sell for about 60-70 cents a kilogram. Faced with making a loss, many producers say they have been unable to even get their products to the market.

Greece's severe financial crisis, now entering its third year, has seen pensions and salaries slashed and led to skyrocketing unemployment of over 20 percent. More and more people have been turning up at soup kitchens run by the church or local aid groups, and homelessness has been increasing.

Faced with an ever deepening recession, some local groups have begun coming up with novel ways to beat the financial crunch.

Ilias Tsolakidis, 54, part of a volunteer group in northern Greece, said he contacted a potato farmer in northern Greece last week and posted an advertisement on the internet offering consumers the chance to order directly from the producer at cost price. He was overwhelmed by the response: by Wednesday, all 24 tons of potatoes on offer had been sold, with 534 families putting in orders.

His motive, Tsolakidis said, was "to cover a financial gap in the family budget. You know, the situation in the financial crisis has become very difficult. We help producers (from the local area) on the one hand, and also the families of consumers."

Kiki Pantelopoulou couldn't agree more.

"I didn't only do this because it's in my interest," said the 42-year-old as she loaded a sack of potatoes onto her bicycle. "My main concern is how to stop this situation. This way, we favor Greek products and therefore producers can at least make the cost price."

Tsolakidis said that with demand so high, his group of volunteers would set up another sale next weekend, buying another 24 tons of potatoes from a different farmer this time.

Konstantinos Karanikos, 67, said his son helped him order sacks of potatoes from Saturday's sale over the internet, but could only secure half the amount he wanted because the demand was so high. "We will order again next weekend," he said. "The important thing is for the producer to be satisfied and the consumer to have cheap potatoes."

With the crop being sold at cost price of 20 cents a kilogram, Lefteris Kostopoulos, the farmer who put his spuds up for sale Saturday, didn't make any profit on the transaction. But, he said, at least he managed to break even and sell more than half of the produce he had stored up in a warehouse.

"This group's move was very good. It helped us shift the amounts we had in the warehouses, and we didn't give them to the wholesalers who are asking for 10-12 cents per kilo," he said. "We might not make money here, because we're essentially breaking even, but at least we aren't making a loss."

Kalypso Skouba, 44, said she hoped the new movement spread to other products soon, so she could buy more vegetables or fruit directly from producers.

"I bought potatoes today just to show that it can't only be the middlemen who make money," she said.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Audacity of HOPE: Artist behind iconic Obama poster faces six months in jail after lying about where original image came from

The creator of the Barack Obama 'HOPE' poster has pleaded guilty to criminal contempt for lying about the photo he used to create the image.

Shepard Fairey said he made a 'terrible decision' in 2009 to destroy some documents and fabricate others in a lawsuit about an Associated Press photograph he relied upon to make the poster.

Fairey entered the plea in federal court to the misdemeanor charge, which carries a maximum potential penalty of up to six months in prison.

'Violating the court's trust was the worst thing I have ever done in my life,' said Fairey, 42, of Los Angeles. 'I was ashamed as I did all these things, and I remain ashamed.'

The criminal case originated after the artist acknowledged he had fabricated information in a lawsuit he brought against the AP in February 2009.

The lawsuit sought a court declaration that he did not violate AP's copyrights when he made the Obama image. The AP countersued, saying the uncredited, uncompensated use of its picture both violated copyright laws and was a threat to journalism. That case was settled last year.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement on Friday that Fairey 'went to extreme lengths to obtain an unfair and illegal advantage in his civil litigation, creating fake documents and destroying others in an effort to subvert the civil discovery process'.

'The justice system - civil and criminal - depends on the integrity of lawyers and non-lawyers alike to follow the rules,' Bharara said. 'Those who break the rules risk sanctions, including, in certain cases, criminal prosecution.'

Fairey told Magistrate Judge Frank Maas that when he created the Obama poster in January 2008, he believed he was basing it on a cropped version of a photograph he had seen of the then-Illinois senator with actor George Clooney in front of an American flag at a public event.

He said it was only a few days after his lawsuit was filed, when he saw a blog comparing the Clooney picture with another AP photograph, that he realized the image he had used was a different AP picture of Obama taken at the same event.

He said that before meeting with his lawyers six weeks later, he deleted the files showing he had used the Obama photo that did not include Clooney and printed documents to make it appear that he had used the picture with Clooney in it.

'I showed my lawyers the fake documents as I described my artistic process and told them that I had used the Clooney photo as a reference for the Obama 'HOPE' poster,' Fairey said.

'I was and am ashamed that I had done these things, and I knew I should have corrected my actions, but as time passed I found it more and more difficult to admit my actions,' he said.

He said he continued to hide the truth for months, even arranging for a witness to support his false claim in a deposition with lawyers, before one of his employees searching for documents for his attorneys came across the files he thought he had deleted.

'I immediately confessed what I had done to my lawyers, and then to my wife, employees and friends,' he said. 'Days later, I authorized my lawyers to write a letter to the court and the AP explaining what I had done.'

Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel W. Levy told the judge that the government plans to ask for 'some term of imprisonment' at sentencing.

Maas rejected the government's request that bail be set at $100,000 for Fairey, saying he could be released on his own recognizance because the risk that he would flee was 'extraordinarily low'.

The AP and Fairey announced last year that they had settled their copyright infringement claims against each other and would work together in projects using the news agency's pictures.

Fairey agreed not to use another AP photograph in his work without obtaining a license, and the two sides agreed to share the profits of posters and merchandise bearing the 'HOPE' image.

A financial settlement also was reached, the terms of which were not disclosed, though Fairey said Friday during his plea that he 'paid the AP an amount that I believe made it whole for the harm associated with my spoliation and fabrication of evidence.'

AP President and CEO Tom Curley said in a statement: 'Mr. Fairey started this case by suing the AP over copyright fair use issues. The AP never expected the case to take the turn that it did. The AP hopes that some good may come of this, by alerting judges and parties to the possibility that fake evidence may exist.'

Sentencing was set for July 16.


German military pulls out of Afghan camp

The German military pulled out early from a camp in Afghanistan, the army said Friday, following a demonstration over the burning of Korans by US troops, dpa reported.

The Talokan camp was being guarded by Afghan troops Friday after the Germans unexpectedly cleared out, officials from both countries confirmed. They had been scheduled to leave by the end of March.

The 50 German personnel withdrew Wednesday, taking their weapons, ammunition and vehicles, after a demonstration outside the camp by 300 people who were protesting the burning of Korans, the army said.

They pulled back to a main German camp in Kunduz, 70 kilometres away, the command in Potsdam, Germany, said.

The governor of Talokan province, Abdul Jabar Takwa, criticized the departure, telling dpa it came without warning.

"We have not entered the camp," he said. Afghan forces had been posted outside it to protect it.

Germany's Military Association, an independent group, praised the move. Chairman Ulrich Kirsch told Hesse state radio that it was wiser for the army to leave than remain exposed to such a situation.

Talokan, which has 200,000 inhabitants, is one of Afghanistan's 10 main cities. The provincial advisory team (PAT) camp is located in the middle of the city, unlike other German camps that are outside built-up areas.

Several people were killed in May during a demonstration outside the camp where petrol bombs and hand grenades were thrown at it. Two German soldiers and four Afghan guards were wounded.


U.S. Pulls Out Advisers After Two Killed in Kabul

KABUL—The U.S. commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan pulled scores of advisers from Afghan ministries after two high-ranking American military officers were gunned down Saturday at the nation's Interior Ministry headquarters.

U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen ordered the unprecedented move after an American colonel and major were both found shot in the head at the busy Interior Ministry compound that is the nerve center for the Afghan law enforcement, according to one Western official in Kabul.

"We are investigating the crime and we will pursue all leads to find the person responsible for this attack," Gen. Allen said in a statement. "The perpetrator of this attack is a coward whose actions will not go unanswered."

Afghan and American officials shut down the ministry compound in central Kabul as they launched an investigation into the killings in one of the most heavily guarded parts of the capital.

Top U.S. military officials said they were still trying to determine the identity of the attacker. But one Western official in Kabul said that the two Americans were shot by an Afghan police official who was upset about the burning of Qurans earlier this week at a U.S. military base.

Hours after the shooting, the Taliban issued a statement claiming that the attacker was an insurgent infiltrator who killed the Americans in retaliation for the Quran burning. In the statement, the Taliban said the assailant called to inform the insurgent group that he had carried out the attack and was unharmed.

Details of the incident remained sketchy.

Coalition officials in Kabul dismissed claims by some Afghan officials that the two Americans were killed by a Western colleague.

Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said the two American military officers were found dead in a secure office on the compound by one of their colleagues. It remained unclear who killed the pair, or how the attacker got inside the well-protected part of the ministry, he said.

But other Afghan, Western diplomatic and military officials said that initial reports indicated that the gunman was a member of the Afghan security forces.

In a separate incident Thursday, an Afghan soldier shot and killed two U.S. soldiers at a small military base in eastern Afghanistan. The attacker escaped through a crowd of anti-Quran burning demonstrators outside the base.

Saturday's killings have rung new alarms about the damaging impact of the Quran burning on the military mission in Afghanistan. They also raised new questions about the dangers faced by U.S. and coalition forces from their Afghan military partners.

More than 77 coalition troops have been killed by Afghan colleagues in the last five years. Three-quarters of those have taken place in the last two years.

Saturday's confrontation in Kabul came as thousands of demonstrators unsuccessfully tried to storm the United Nations compound in the northeastern city of Kunduz. At least five people were killed as protesters, some armed with guns, converged on the U.N offices, according to the provincial governor's office.

Though no demonstrations were reported Saturday in Kabul, elsewhere in the country fury over the attempt by coalition soldiers to incinerate a truckload of Islamic books, including copies of the Quran, at Bagram Airfield showed no signs of diminishing.

In a wave of unrest now in its fifth day, protesters are targeting Afghan government buildings and Western offices.

At least 30 people have been killed since Tuesday. Southern Afghanistan—the heartland of the Taliban insurgency—has been the only part of the country to avoid deadly confrontations so far.

American officials have tried to contain Afghan outrage by issuing repeated apologies and launching a swift investigation into the incident.

U.S. President Barack Obama apologized to Afghan President Hamid Karzai in a personal letter.

U.S. officials have called the Quran burning a serious mistake. Gen. Allen also called for all forces to undergo quick training on the proper way to handle Islamic religious books.

U.S. military officials have said the books were set aside for destruction because Afghan detainees at the Parwan military detention center at Bagram were using them to trade messages and share extremist writing.

But it remains unclear why the soldiers decided to burn copies of the Quran—a particularly incendiary affront to Muslims who view the book as the sacred word of God as relayed to the Prophet Muhammad.


Wyoming House advances doomsday bill

CHEYENNE — State representatives on Friday advanced legislation to launch a study into what Wyoming should do in the event of a complete economic or political collapse in the United States.

House Bill 85 passed on first reading by a voice vote. It would create a state-run government continuity task force, which would study and prepare Wyoming for potential catastrophes, from disruptions in food and energy supplies to a complete meltdown of the federal government.

The task force would look at the feasibility of

Wyoming issuing its own alternative currency, if needed. And House members approved an amendment Friday by state Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, to have the task force also examine conditions under which Wyoming would need to implement its own military draft, raise a standing army, and acquire strike aircraft and an aircraft carrier.

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. David Miller, R-Riverton, has said he doesn’t anticipate any major crises hitting America anytime soon. But with the national debt exceeding $15 trillion and protest movements growing around the country, Miller said Wyoming — which has a comparatively good economy and sound state finances — needs to make sure it’s protected should any unexpected emergency hit the U.S.

Several House members spoke in favor of the legislation, saying there was no harm in preparing for the worst.

“I don’t think there’s anyone in this room today what would come up here and say that this country is in good shape, that the world is stable and in good shape — because that is clearly not the case,” state Rep. Lorraine Quarberg, R-Thermopolis, said. “To put your head in the sand and think that nothing bad’s going to happen, and that we have no obligation to the citizens of the state of Wyoming to at least have the discussion, is not healthy.”

Wyoming’s Department of Homeland Security already has a statewide crisis management plan, but it doesn’t cover what the state should do in the event of an extreme nationwide political or economic collapse. In recent years, lawmakers in at least six states have introduced legislation to create a state currency, all unsuccessfully.

The task force would include state lawmakers, the director of the Wyoming Department of Homeland Security, the Wyoming attorney general and the Wyoming National Guard’s adjutant general, among others.

The bill must pass two more House votes before it would head to the Senate for consideration. The original bill appropriated $32,000 for the task force, though the Joint Appropriations Committee slashed that number in half earlier this week.

University of Wyoming political science professor Jim King said the potential for a complete unraveling of the U.S. government and economy is “astronomically remote” in the foreseeable future.

But King noted that the federal government set up a Continuity of Government Commission in 2002, of which former U.S. Sen. Al Simpson, R-Wyo., was co-chairman. However, King said he didn’t know of any states that had established a similar board.

Where are they going to park it?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Iran’s grand ayatollahs: Earth belongs to Muslims, end is near

Iran’s economy is struggling because of crippling new restrictions on the country’s financial system, but no amount of sanctions will keep the mullahs from their headlong pursuit of nuclear weapons, which they hope will help usher in Islamic dominance of the world. The religious leaders believe it is their responsibility, as foreshadowed by the Quran, to bring about nuclear war to facilitate the coming of the last Islamic Messiah.

Two Iranian grand ayatollahs are now saying that the Earth will soon be under the feet of Muslims, as promised by the Quran.

The clerical establishment in Iran has long believed that the Islamic Revolution of 1979 was a sign by Allah that the end of times is near and that the duty and responsibility of the believers is to become ready for such an event.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, indicated to his close associates that he saw a mandate for the final glorification of Allah to overthrow the Shah, establish an Islamic state and then pass the flag of Islam to the last Islamic Messiah. When asked if he would be the one to pass the flag, he responded that “the one after me will be the one” who will create the circumstances for the reappearance of Imam Mahdi, the Shiites’ 12th Imam.

Many in the Islamic regime believe that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who became the Iranian supreme leader after Khomeini’s death, is the chosen one to pass the flag of Islam to Imam Mahdi. In fact, statements made by close associates of Khamenei indicate that the supreme leader himself is convinced that he is the one who will trigger the coming.

Mahdi, in Shiite belief, will reappear at the time of Armageddon.

In a recent statement, Grand Ayatollah Jafar Sobhani, a top Iranian Twelver Shia and a “Marja” (source to follow), addressed the future of the world as per the Quran.

“The Quran is very clear that the inheritors of the Earth will be those of the righteous who represent the force of the truth against the force of the false,” Sobhani says. “The Quran is the proof that the world will be controlled and managed by the forces of truth and that there will be one government ruling everyone throughout the world.”

The Quran twice promises worldwide rule of Islam and its victory over all other religions, Sobhani says. According to hadiths, which have the tacit approval of the Prophet Muhammad, that will only happen when the last descendant of Muhammad, Imam Mahdi, returns and takes the rule of Islam from the East to the West.

The grand ayatollah then quotes the Quran (Altobeh, 33): “It is He Who hath sent His prophet with guidance and the Religion of Truth, to proclaim it over all religions, even though the infidels may detest it.”

Sobhani calls the Internet another sign of the end of times and the coming of Imam Mahdi as hadiths indicate that at the age of the coming, people in the East will be able to see people in the West while in a stationary position.

The ayatollah reiterates the promised victory by the Muslims in referring to the Quran (Al Anbiya, 18): “We hurl the truth against falsehood, and destroy it, and behold falsehood doth perish.”

Grand Ayatollah Nouri Hamedani, also a Twelver and a “Marja” with followers around the world, says the recent progress of Iran’s nuclear program is hailed as “significant and one that has shocked the infidels.”

Hamedani states that it is said that in the end of times, the city of Qom will be the center of science and an elevated center for learnings of Allah. He says the current Arab Spring in the region is due to the Islamic regime in Iran and that this awakening must expand to the world stage for the coming of the last Islamic Messiah.

The clerics in Iran have set up a center in the city of Qom specifically to track signs for the coming as they rely on centuries of hadiths from Muhammad and his descendants that have predicted signs in which the end of times will come and the last Islamic Messiah will reappear, killing all infidels and those who won’t convert to Islam and raising the flag of Islam across the globe.

The coming of Mahdi only awaits these last signs, as all of the signs that the hadiths herald have already taken place: Chaos, famine and havoc will engulf the Earth; major wars with dark clouds (atomic wars) will burn the Earth; one-third of the Earth’s population will be killed, and the rest will suffer hunger and lawlessness.

As revealed last year, an Iranian secret documentary, “The Coming Is Upon Us,” clearly indicates that the radicals ruling Iran believe that worldwide war and the destruction of Israel will trigger the coming of the last Islamic Messiah.

See the video:


Yeah, just sit there. Maybe they wont notice you

The WH Loves Aggressive Journalism — Abroad — Today’s Q’s for O’s WH — 2/22/2012

(Note: White House press secretary Jay Carney began today’s briefing by praising journalists who have died covering the unrest in Syria: Marie Colvin and Rémi Ochlik as well as Anthony Shadid.)

TAPPER: The White House keeps praising these journalists who are — who’ve been killed –

CARNEY: I don’t know about “keep” — I think -

TAPPER: You’ve done it, Vice President Biden did it in a statement. How does that square with the fact that this administration has been so aggressively trying to stop aggressive journalism in the United States by using the Espionage Act to take whistleblowers to court?

You’re — currently I think that you’ve invoked it the sixth time, and before the Obama administration, it had only been used three times in history. You’re — this is the sixth time you’re suing a CIA officer for allegedly providing information in 2009 about CIA torture. Certainly that’s something that’s in the public interest of the United States. The administration is taking this person to court. There just seems to be disconnect here. You want aggressive journalism abroad; you just don’t want it in the United States.

CARNEY: Well, I would hesitate to speak to any particular case, for obvious reasons, and I would refer you to the Department of Justice for more on that.

I think we absolutely honor and praise the bravery of reporters who are placing themselves in extremely dangerous situations in order to bring a story of oppression and brutality to the world. I think that is commendable, and it’s certainly worth noting by us. And as somebody who knew both Anthony and Marie, I particularly appreciate what they did to bring that story to the American people.

I — as for other cases, again, without addressing any specific case, I think that there are issues here that involve highly sensitive classified information, and I think that, you know, those are — divulging or to — divulging that kind of information is a serious issue, and it always has been.

TAPPER: So the truth should come out abroad; it shouldn’t come out here?

CARNEY: Well, that’s not at all what I’m saying, Jake, and you know it’s not. Again, I can’t — specific –

TAPPER: That’s what the Justice Department’s doing.

CARNEY: Well, you’re making a judgment about a broad array of cases, and I can’t address those specifically.

TAPPER: It’s also the judgment that a lot of whistleblowers’ organizations and good government groups are making as well.

CARNEY: Not one that I’m going to make.


They are going to take this guy off the Christmas card list

Twelve killed in protests across Afghanistan

(Reuters) - Twelve people were killed on Friday in the bloodiest day yet in protests that have raged across Afghanistan over the desecration of copies of the Muslim holy book at a NATO military base with riot police and soldiers on high alert braced for more violence.
The burning of the Korans at the Bagram compound earlier this week has deepened public mistrust of NATO forces struggling to stabilize Afghanistan before foreign combat troops withdraw in 2014.

Hundreds of Afghans marched toward the palace of Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul, while on the other side of the capital protesters hoisted the white flag of the Taliban.

Chanting "Death to America!" and "Long live Islam!," protesters also threw rocks at police in Kabul, while Afghan army helicopters circled above.

Friday is a holy day and the official weekly holiday in Afghanistan and mosques in the capital drew large crowds, with police in pick-up trucks posted on nearby streets.

Armed protesters took refuge in shops in the eastern part of the city, where they killed one demonstrator, said police at the scene. In another Kabul rally, police said they were unsure who fired the shots that killed a second protester.

Seven more protesters were killed in the western province of Herat, two more in eastern Khost province and one in the relatively peaceful northern Baghlan province, health and local officials said. In Herat, around 500 men charged at the U.S. consulate.

U.S. President Barack Obama had sent a letter to Karzai apologizing for the unintentional burning of the Korans at NATO's main Bagram air base, north of Kabul, after Afghan laborers found charred copies while collecting rubbish.

Muslims consider the Koran to be the literal word of God and treat each copy with deep reverence. Desecration is considered one of the worst forms of blasphemy.

Afghanistan wants NATO to put those responsible on public trial.

In neighboring U.S. ally Pakistan, about 400 members of a hardline Islamist group staged protests. "If you burn the Koran, we will burn you," they shouted.

To Afghanistan's west, Iranian cleric Ahmad Khatami said the U.S. had purposely burned the Korans. "These apologies are fake. The world should know that America is against Islam," he said in a speech broadcast live on state radio.

"It (the Koran burning) was not a mistake. It was an intentional move, done on purpose."

Most Westerners have been confined to their heavily fortified compounds, including at the sprawling U.S. embassy complex and other diplomatic missions, as protests that have killed a total of 23 people, including two U.S. soldiers, rolled into their fourth day. The embassy, in a message on the microblogging site Twitter, urged U.S. citizens to "please be safe out there" and expanded movement restrictions to relatively peaceful northern provinces, where large demonstrations also occurred Thursday, including the attempted storming of a Norwegian military base.

The Taliban urged Afghan security forces Thursday to "turn their guns on the foreign infidel invaders" and repeatedly urged Afghans to kill, beat and capture NATO soldiers.

Germany, which has the third-largest foreign presence in the NATO-led war, pulled out several weeks early of a small base in the northern Takhar province Friday over security concerns, a defense ministry spokesman said.


O needs to go surrender in person