Tuesday, May 31, 2011

There’s a Secret Patriot Act, Senator Says

You think you understand how the Patriot Act allows the government to spy on its citizens. Sen. Ron Wyden says it’s worse than you know.

Congress is set to reauthorize three controversial provisions of the surveillance law as early as Thursday. Wyden (D-Oregon) says that powers they grant the government on their face, the government applies a far broader legal interpretation — an interpretation that the government has conveniently classified, so it cannot be publicly assessed or challenged. But one prominent Patriot-watcher asserts that the secret interpretation empowers the government to deploy ”dragnets” for massive amounts of information on private citizens; the government portrays its data-collection efforts much differently.

“We’re getting to a gap between what the public thinks the law says and what the American government secretly thinks the law says,” Wyden told Danger Room in an interview in his Senate office. “When you’ve got that kind of a gap, you’re going to have a problem on your hands.”

What exactly does Wyden mean by that? As a member of the intelligence committee, he laments that he can’t precisely explain without disclosing classified information. But one component of the Patriot Act in particular gives him immense pause: the so-called “business-records provision,” which empowers the FBI to get businesses, medical offices, banks and other organizations to turn over any “tangible things” it deems relevant to a security investigation.

“It is fair to say that the business-records provision is a part of the Patriot Act that I am extremely interested in reforming,” Wyden says. “I know a fair amount about how it’s interpreted, and I am going to keep pushing, as I have, to get more information about how the Patriot Act is being interpreted declassified. I think the public has a right to public debate about it.”

That’s why Wyden and his colleague Sen. Mark Udall offered an amendment on Tuesday to the Patriot Act reauthorization.

The amendment, first reported by Marcy Wheeler, blasts the administration for “secretly reinterpret[ing] public laws and statutes.” It would compel the Attorney General to “publicly disclose the United States Government’s official interpretation of the USA Patriot Act.” And, intriguingly, it refers to “intelligence-collection authorities” embedded in the Patriot Act that the administration briefed the Senate about in February.

Wyden says he “can’t answer” any specific questions about how the government thinks it can use the Patriot Act. That would risk revealing classified information — something Wyden considers an abuse of government secrecy. He believes the techniques themselves should stay secret, but the rationale for using their legal use under Patriot ought to be disclosed.

“I draw a sharp line between the secret interpretation of the law, which I believe is a growing problem, and protecting operations and methods in the intelligence area, which have to be protected,” he says.

Surveillance under the business-records provisions has recently spiked. The Justice Department’s official disclosure on its use of the Patriot Act, delivered to Congress in April, reported that the government asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for approval to collect business records 96 times in 2010 — up from just 21 requests the year before. The court didn’t reject a single request. But it “modified” those requests 43 times, indicating to some Patriot-watchers that a broadening of the provision is underway.

“The FISA Court is a pretty permissive body, so that suggests something novel or particularly aggressive, not just in volume, but in the nature of the request,” says Michelle Richardson, the ACLU’s resident Patriot Act lobbyist. “No one has tipped their hand on this in the slightest. But we’ve come to the conclusion that this is some kind of bulk collection. It wouldn’t be surprising to me if it’s some kind of internet or communication-records dragnet.” (Full disclosure: My fiancée works for the ACLU.)

The FBI deferred comment on any secret interpretation of the Patriot Act to the Justice Department. The Justice Department said it wouldn’t have any comment beyond a bit of March congressional testimony from its top national security official, Todd Hinnen, who presented the type of material collected as far more individualized and specific: “driver’s license records, hotel records, car-rental records, apartment-leasing records, credit card records, and the like.”

But that’s not what Udall sees. He warned in a Tuesday statement about the government’s “unfettered” access to bulk citizen data, like “a cellphone company’s phone records.” In a Senate floor speech on Tuesday, Udall urged Congress to restrict the Patriot Act’s business-records seizures to “terrorism investigations” — something the ostensible counterterrorism measure has never required in its nearly 10-year existence.

Indeed, Hinnen allowed himself an out in his March testimony, saying that the business-record provision “also” enabled “important and highly sensitive intelligence-collection operations” to take place. Wheeler speculates those operations include “using geolocation data from cellphones to collect information on the whereabouts of Americans” — something our sister blog Threat Level has reported on extensively.

It’s worth noting that Wyden is pushing a bill providing greater privacy protections for geolocation info.

For now, Wyden’s considering his options ahead of the Patriot Act vote on Thursday. He wants to compel as much disclosure as he can on the secret interpretation, arguing that a shadow broadening of the Patriot Act sets a dangerous precedent.

“I’m talking about instances where the government is relying on secret interpretations of what the law says without telling the public what those interpretations are,” Wyden says, “and the reliance on secret interpretations of the law is growing.”


Can you imagine all those people and business that have online backup for their computers. That means that the government now has a direct line into your entire life, business, politics, and anything else you might have on a computer or network that has online backup...The Stazi could only dream of having this.

As Goal Shifts in Libya, Time Constrains NATO

WASHINGTON — President Obama has subtly shifted Washington’s public explanation of its goals in Libya, declaring now that he wants to assure the Libyan people are “finally free of 40 years of tyranny” at the hands of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, after first stating he wanted to protect civilians from massacres.

But if toppling Colonel Qaddafi is now the more explicit goal, Mr. Obama’s European trip this week has highlighted significant tensions over how much time the NATO allies have to finish a job that is now in its third month.

Mr. Obama has urged strategic patience, expressing confidence that over time the combination of bombing, sanctions and import cutoffs will force Colonel Qaddafi from power. “Time is working against Qaddafi,” Mr. Obama said on Wednesday at a news conference in London with Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain.

But in Europe and in Libya, patience is calculated differently. Many countries are struggling with the rapid pace of operations. Some, like Norway, have already said they will sharply reduce their forces beginning next month. According to NATO officials, Colonel Qaddafi has a calculation of his own: facing a possible indictment by the International Criminal Court, he may soon have few places to go and little to lose by waiting out NATO and betting that European public opinion will tire of the bombing campaign and its costs.

In interviews in Washington, at NATO headquarters in Brussels and in the alliance’s southern command center in Naples, Italy, officials have described a new strategy to intensify the pressure — and drive out Colonel Qaddafi, a goal that officials now privately acknowledge extends beyond the boundaries of the United Nations mandate to protect civilians.

This week they are intensifying attacks on government targets in Tripoli, the Libyan capital. They plan to step up the effort even more this week, with the arrival of a dozen French and four British attack helicopters that can hit targets more precisely in and around Tripoli, but are also more vulnerable to ground fire.

“The real challenge is public opinion in Europe and the nations’ patience,” said one senior NATO officer in Naples who was not authorized to speak publicly. “They’d like the war to be over, and to have it done properly with no allied casualties or collateral damage to civilians.”

Mr. Obama, however, has taken a gradualist approach that is based on America’s bitter lessons in Iraq. From the start, he has declined to commit ground troops, and quickly handed off the lead in combat operations to other NATO allies, a move widely seen in the United States and Europe as an effort to avoid “owning” a war in a nation the United States does not consider strategically vital. White House officials have also said that Mr. Obama was acutely sensitive to not leading a conflict in a third Muslim nation, while Americans are still withdrawing from Iraq and deeply engaged in Afghanistan.

But Mr. Obama’s description of the objectives has shifted. In a speech to the nation in late March, he described the effort as simply one of protecting civilians, and the White House denied that ousting Colonel Qaddafi was critical to that effort. “Broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake,” he said. While sporadic attacks on civilians continue, the United States and its allies have largely achieved that objective, NATO and American officials contend. The rebel-held ground in eastern Libya is secure, and rebel forces aided by allied air power have pushed back loyalist Qaddafi forces from the contested port city of Misurata.

But Mr. Obama suggested on Wednesday that the objective had broadened. “The goal is to make sure that the Libyan people can make a determination about how they want to proceed, and that they’ll be finally free of 40 years of tyranny and they can start creating the institutions required for self-determination.” That is parallel to the objective the United States set in Afghanistan in 2001 and in Iraq in 2003.

In Europe, however, the tension is over how long that process will take, and how long the NATO nations now leading the attacks are willing to sustain the effort.

The helicopter deployments reflect the concerns of Britain and France, in particular, that an extended, grind-it-out campaign could lose NATO partners and public opinion, so the campaign needs to be escalated, even if that means putting the helicopters within range of Libyan shoulder-fired missiles.

NATO officials express greater confidence than ever that Colonel Qaddafi is unable to direct his forces, relying on couriers in some cases to relay strategic and operational guidance. The intensifying air campaign is driving him further underground; he has made only one radio address and one soundless television appearance in the past week or so.

Allied officials say that even though the combat effectiveness of Colonel Qaddafi’s troops is eroding steadily, his forces are still trying to carry out sporadic attacks on civilians and allied forces in an effort to tie down NATO warplanes and buy time, even using guerrilla tactics, like the explosives-laden inflatable boats that allied forces thwarted near Misurata harbor last week.

As a result, allied officials concede that they have no idea how long Colonel Qaddafi can hang on. NATO political leaders have rejected broadening the campaign’s bombing targets to include the country’s infrastructure, and idea voiced by some military commanders, including Britain’s top military commander, Gen. Sir David Richards.

In the 1999 Kosovo air war, NATO planes eventually hit high-profile institutional targets in Belgrade, the Serbian capital, instead of forces in the field. Although they were legitimate military targets, destroying them also undermined popular support for the Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic.

Expanding the range of targets would face stiff political opposition in this war, allied political officials said. “We’re doing about all we can under the current mandate,” one senior NATO ambassador said Thursday, on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record. “But we can’t predict when the strategic impact will come.”

That uncertainty has preyed on many countries, like Norway, whose air forces are already finding it hard to sustain the rapid tempo. Other countries say they are coping for now.

Col. L. S. Kjoeller, who commands four Danish F-16s flying eight daily strike missions from the Sigonella air base in Sicily, said Denmark could maintain that pace — the most demanding combat tour ever undertaken by the country’s small air force — for about a year, but that more than that would be difficult.

With Libyan troops largely hunkered down, finding new targets has become harder, and Danish F-16s are dropping fewer bombs than they did several weeks ago, Colonel Kjoeller said. To prevent complacency and overconfidence, he said, Danish pilots will rotate every six weeks “to keep their edge.”


Jose Guerena SWAT Raid Video From Helmet Cam

Alarm Clocks Blow up at Ikea Stores in Belgium, France and The Netherlands

BRUSSELS - Small explosives concealed in alarm clocks detonated at Ikea furniture stores in Belgium, France and The Netherlands, Belgian authorities said Tuesday.

The explosions in stores in the Belgian city of Ghent, Lille in northern France and Eindhoven in The Netherlands caused no damage or injuries.

"The information we have is that the explosions happened the same way in all locations, with booby-trapped alarm clocks that had been hidden exploding," according to An Schoonjans, spokeswoman for Ghent prosecutors.

In Ghent, an employee and a security agent complained of earaches after two small explosions, which detonated almost simultaneously before the store closed Monday evening.

Two booby-trapped alarm clocks were detonated by remote control, Schoonjans said.

The spokeswoman said the circumstances were similar in Eindhoven and Lille but that she was unable to provide details.

"We are in contact with judicial authorities in Eindhoven and Lille to see if there is a link between the three affairs," she said.

Belgian police were set to inspect the country's six Ikea stores.

Fox News

Monday, May 30, 2011

Pakistan detains ex-navy personnel after raid

ISLAMABAD (AP) - Pakistani intelligence agents have begun rounding up dismissed navy personnel over suspicions that militants who carried out a daring attack on a naval base last week had inside knowledge, security officials said Monday.

One ex-commando, Kamran Malik, and his brother were detained Friday in the city of Lahore. Malik was dismissed from the force after fighting with a senior officer around 10 years ago, said the official and the man's father. It was unclear whether the men had any link to the raid in the southern port city of Karachi.

The brazen assault a week ago on the naval base was just one of a number of militant attacks in Pakistan after the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden on May 2. It was especially embarrassing to the Pakistani military, already reeling under criticism surrounding the U.S. incursion to kill bin Laden.

The 17-hour invasion of the naval base in Karachi killed 10 people and destroyed two maritime surveillance aircraft worth over $70 million. The al-Qaida allied Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility.

The official said the arrests were aimed at finding out whether the militants had "inside help."

He did not elaborate. It appeared authorities believe that those who were fired from the force might be more willing to help terrorists, motivated by grudges. The official did not give his name because of sensitivity over disclosing details of intelligence operations.

Malik's father Saddar Din said 10 armed men took his two sons from their office on Friday. He said to his knowledge, Malik had no militant contacts. Pakistani intelligence agencies are not required by law to have firm suspicions or evidence to detain people.

The location of Bin Laden's compound, in an army town not far from the capital, Islamabad, has brought increased international pressure on Pakistan's army to launch operations against Islamic militants in the northwest as well as suspicions, denied by Pakistan, that the military knew where bin Laden was hiding.

On Monday, a bomb exploded in a hotel in North Waziristan, a militant-controlled region where the United States would like to see the army launch an offensive. The blast wounded 12 people, according to intelligence officials and a witness.


Armed residents put up resistance to Syrian army

BEIRUT (AP) - Residents used automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades to repel advancing government troops in central Syria on Monday, putting up a fierce fight for the first time in their two-month-old revolt against President Bashar Assad's autocratic regime.

The escalation raised fears the popular uprising may be moving toward a Libya-style armed conflict.

Until now, the opposition against Assad has taken the form of peaceful protests by unarmed demonstrators, though authorities have claimed, without offering solid proof, that it was being led by armed gangs and propelled by foreign conspiracies.

Activists said residents of the towns of Talbiseh and Rastan, which have been under attack since Sunday in central Homs province, decided to fight back with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, and at least four civilians were killed.

"They felt that they cannot sit back any more and pray for God to help them," said one Homs resident who has wide connections in the province. He, like all residents contacted by The Associated Press, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Another two bodies were found early Monday in the area of Bab Amro cemetery, raising the death toll from the two-day crackdown in the country's turbulent heartland to 15, said the Local Coordination Committees in Syria, which helps organize and document the protests. State media said four soldiers were killed.

"The army is facing armed resistance and is not able to enter the two towns," the Homs resident said. "The army is still outside the towns and I was told that army vehicles, including armored personnel carriers, were set on fire."

A second activist confirmed residents had fought back, but said it involved individual residents protecting themselves, as opposed to an organized armed resistance with an overall command structure.

"The protests began peacefully but the practices of security forces that humiliated the people eventually led to the use of arms," he said. He said it was common for Syrians to have light weapons such as rifles in their homes, adding that in recent years weapons have been smuggled in from neighboring countries such as Lebanon and Iraq.

Homs has seen some of the biggest demonstrations against Assad since protests broke out in southern Syria in March and spread across the country - posing the most serious challenge to the Assad regime's 40-year rule.

What began as a disparate movement demanding reforms has erupted into a resilient uprising seeking Assad's ouster. Human rights groups say more than 1,000 people have been killed in the crackdown, which has drawn condemnation and sanctions from the United States and European Union.

Monday's accounts were the first credible reports of serious resistance by residents taking up arms. It is not clear how widespread such resistance might be elsewhere, though there have been some reports of civilians fighting back in the town of Talkalakh near the border with Lebanon and the government and several rights group say more than 150 soldiers and policemen have been killed since the unrest began.

Details coming out of Syria are sketchy because the government has placed severe restrictions on the media and expelled foreign reporters, making it nearly impossible to independently verify accounts coming out of the country.

The Local Coordination Committees in Syria said Assad's fighters hit Tabliseh with artillery early Monday and that snipers were deployed on the roofs of mosques. Syrian troops, backed by tanks, have been conducting operations in Tabliseh, Rastan and the nearby town of Teir Maaleh since Sunday.

"The situation is completely hopeless," said a resident of Rastan reached by telephone who said he was barricaded in his home.

"There are dead bodies in the streets and nobody can get to them ... The town is completely surrounded by tanks," he shouted before the line was cut.

Rights activist Mustafa Osso said troops have detained hundreds of people since Sunday in Homs province.

Syria's state-run news agency said four soldiers were killed and 14 wounded in Tabliseh.

Assad's use of the military signals he is determined to crush the revolt, despite U.S. and European sanctions, including an EU assets freeze and a visa ban on Assad and nine members of his regime.

In Geneva, the U.N.'s top human rights official said Monday the brutality and magnitude of repression in Syria and Libya against anti-government protests is "shocking."

Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the crackdown in the two countries was marked by an "outright disregard for basic human rights."

He urged the Syrian government Monday to allow a U.N. fact-finding mission to visit the country. The team has been awaiting Syria's reply since requesting a visit on May 6.

Rights activist Mustafa Osso said troops have detained hundreds of people since Sunday in Homs province.


Report: Over 400 al-Qaida terrorists now in Sinai

Egyptian security officials were pursuing the terrorists, who are composed of Palestinians, Beduins and foreign Arab citizens, according to the report. The group was reportedly planning to carry out terror attacks in Egypt, the official said.

Additionally, the terrorists carried out "a number of attacks against [Egyptian] security forces in the Sinai city of El Arish," the official told Al-Hayyat.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday also addressed Egypt's security problems in Sinai. "Egypt has had difficulties exercising its sovereignty over Sinai," he said at a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

"We saw this in the two gas pipe explosions that occurred there," Netanyahu said. "What's happening in Sinai is that global terrorist organizations are meddling there and their presence is increasing because of the connection between Sinai and Gaza."


US medics brave fire to save lives in Afghan war

FORWARD OPERATING BASE EDINBURGH, Afghanistan – U.S. Army medic Sgt. Jaime Adame hauled open the door and lunged from the helicopter into a cloud of dirt and confusion.

He could hear bursts of incoming fire above the thumping rotor blades. Somewhere in the billowing red smoke that marked the landing zone and the choking dust whipped up by the medevac chopper was a cluster of Marines pinned down by heavy fire, and one of them was bleeding badly.

The problem for Adame was that he did not know where.

Adame had dropped into "hot L-Zs" before but this one was especially thick with commotion. Every second of indecision mattered, so he just ran, knowing any direction was dangerous. Only then did the cloud clear enough to bring into view the blurred outline of several Marines' boots peeking out of the vehicle they were taking cover under.

"The fear I have never lost," said Adame, who's from Los Angeles. "It's absolutely risky ... and it will definitely get a lot more dangerous."

With the spring fighting season under way in Helmand province in Afghanistan's volatile south, the medics, crew chiefs and pilots with the U.S. Army's "Dustoff" medevac unit expect a rising number of casualties. Coalition troops are seeing stepped-up attacks, the use of complex weapons systems like multiple-grenade launchers and the continuing plague of improvised explosive devices on the battlefield.

By the war's blunt calculation, the worsening hostilities on the ground mean more medevac flights to ferry the wounded. For an emboldened insurgency, that equals opportunity. Increasingly they are targeting the medevac choppers as they swoop in for a rescue.

"It is kinda the wild, wild West," said pilot Lt. Terry Hill of Kellyville, Oklahoma, the senior officer at Forward Operating Base Edi. "In the back of your mind as a pilot you know that you will most likely be shot at or hit."

The Black Hawk helicopters Hill and other medevac pilots fly are unarmed, though they are always accompanied by at least one other aircraft that is. The "Dustoff" helicopters are distinguished with the emblem of the Red Cross and under international law are supposed to be off-limits to enemy fire.

Afghanistan's insurgents make no distinction.

On one recent medevac run, as the helicopter navigated a firefight to set down in a small courtyard, a rocket-propelled grenade fired from a compound exploded in the air just behind the helicopter. The pilot quickly aborted the approach. Ground units called in air support, and attack helicopters riddled insurgent positions with heavy caliber machine gun fire.

Within minutes, the medevac chopper made a second attempt at landing to rescue a critically wounded Marine who had sustained a gunshot wound near his spine.

On another mission, insurgents fired several rounds from an assault rifle into the belly of the helicopter and its rotor blades.

"They seem to want us to get killed, which is surprising because we rescue everybody, including them.," said Chief Warrant Officer Michael Otto of Irvine, California.

The medevac doesn't discriminate between the war's wounded. Beyond coalition and Afghan soldiers, helicopters and medics also pick up injured Afghans, especially children. They often act as an ambulance service ferrying ill and injured Afghans from remote villages to coalition medical facilities. Enemy fighters are evacuated from the battlefield and treated as well.

With the sound of explosions shaking the air, Adame raced to find the wounded Marine. His comrades carried him on a stretcher from the dusty chaos to the chopper and Adame and his crew chief swiftly set to work.

Cpl. Andrew Smith was suffering a life-threatening arterial bleed from a shrapnel wound. His boots were sliced from his feet with a seat belt cutter. He was losing blood at an alarming rate. The medics focused only on stabilizing the young corporal; there was no time to think about the danger they had just faced.

"If one of those grenades hit us as we're taking off or coming in to land that's close to 17,000 pounds of steel, and hydraulic fluid, and flammables," Adame said. "Falling out of the sky in one of those things isn't going to be pretty no matter how you look at it."

Smith remarkably survived and is recovering at a military hospital in Maryland.

It's those successes that give the "Dustoff" crews motivation to plunge back onto the battlefield.

"It's all about saving a human life," said Chief Warrant Officer Joe Rogers of Russellville, Kentucky, the pilot of the helicopter that was hit by assault rifle fire. "And it's definitely worth the risk."


When the President bombed his own tribe

I am, of course, talking about President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and his tribe, the "Hashid" tribe, which is the largest tribe in Yemen. Saleh turned against his own tribe, harming and bombarding it. Indeed, the Yemeni President has turned against all [Yemeni] tribes, not just the Hashid tribe. Those observing the situation in Yemen must be aware that one of the main pillars of governance in Yemen is tribal alliances; however Saleh has hammered the final nail in the coffin of such alliances, which also represents the final nail in the coffin of his own rule.

Saleh's objective was not to open a battlefront with the Hashid tribe, but with the unexpected government escalation in this confrontation, Saleh is attempting to divert the public's attention away from the "revolution of the youth", as he is still bewildered as to the best way of dealing with this. Moreover, dragging the tribes into a conflict with the regime, particularly after some tribal gunmen occupied government facilities and ministries, gives the outside world the image that there is a confrontation taking place between the state and a group of outlaws. This is the pretext that will enable Saleh to divert attention away from the Yemeni revolution, as well as frighten the region and the entire world with regards to a possible civil war, one whose spark has already been lit.

Saleh is well-aware of the fact that he is facing his final scene in the film of his 33-year reign. He knows that his time in power is effectively at an end, and so the only option left for him is to confront his people in this manner, in the hope of winning one final round which will allow him to hang onto power for a few more days. Saleh now finds himself in a desperate situation, with his back against the wall, and is therefore unconcerned about the consequences of this mad scheme. Who said that Arab president's are concerned for the welfare of their people? For here we see Saleh igniting a civil war just to preserve his seat of power, whilst [Syrian president] Bashar al-Assad continues to suppress his people, even if this means the deaths of more than a thousand of his own people. As for the master of brutalizing one's own people, this is Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi, who continues to destroy his country and its unity. Indeed Libya is already effectively divided, whilst thousands of Libyans have been killed.

The Yemeni regime has entered the final most dangerous juncture by initiating direct conflict with the tribes. The tribal forces have been supportive of the revolution of the youth, but they never been directly targeted the government, which is what is happening now. Since the outbreak of this peaceful revolution, the people of Yemen should be given credit for not taking up arms against the regime, and this is despite all of the regime's provocations and deliberate attempts to incite the protestors to violence. As for the latest escalation, Saleh has succeeded in provoking the al-Ahmar family, and its supports within the Hashid tribe, to take up arms against the regime. Saleh then wasted no time in attacking the residence of Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar, utilizing missiles and fighter jets. Can you imagine that? A head of state ordering an attack on the residence of a tribal chief? This is indeed what happens in Arab Republics, and particularly in Yemen.

The Yemeni president's removal from power has been written by Saleh's own insistence on remaining in power, slamming shut the only remaining window through which he could have saved his country, namely the Gulf initiative. Thanks to Saleh, this initiative was suspended and withdrawn. The Gulf mediators were besieged [by pro-Saleh gunmen] in the UAE embassy, before being rescued by helicopter, although Saleh later issued an apology to the UAE president for this. Leaders of the Joint Meetings Party and members of the mediation commission were also subject to attack whilst convening at the al-Ahmar residence. Yemenis have described such behaviour as being a "black shame"; is Saleh aware of the punishment for committing a "black shame" in Yemen? He must be, for he is a member of the Hashid tribe, and is fully aware of the punishment for attacking tribal chiefs whilst they are acting as mediators.


Remains of ‘first Navy Seals’ lie in Tripoli

TRIPOLI – In an unmarked grave in a corner of Tripoli’s Green Square, where supporters of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi stage daily rallies to denounce NATO and the West, lie the remains of eight American sailors who died here more than 200 years ago.

Five others in their crew are buried under an olive tree in a small, white-walled Protestant cemetery overlooking the harbor about a mile away. The men were killed in what’s known as the First Barbary War, a war that effectively led to the creation of the U.S. Navy.

Dispatched to the region by Thomas Jefferson to end piracy against American merchant vessels in the Mediterranean, the sailors set out to destroy Tripoli’s naval fleet in a daring covert mission. The mission failed, but some say it qualified them as the earliest precursors of today’s Navy Seals.

For generations, the sailors’ families have been fighting to have their remains repatriated. And now, as the U.S. and its allies pummel Gaddafi’s compound, their efforts are gaining force. On Thursday in Washington, the House approved a defense bill that would require the Pentagon to return them to the United States and give them a military funeral.

“There is a military ethos that we never leave anyone behind,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. “Irrespective of whether it was one day, 10 years or 100 years ago, we should bring our sailors home.”

Two centuries ago, Tripoli’s ruler, Pasha Yusuf Karamanli, made his living by piracy, exacting tributes from countries like Britain and France in return for not attacking their ships. The United States toyed with appeasement and diplomacy at first, but then Karamanli’s demands grew too great for a new nation desperately short of cash and war broke out.

A half-hearted and largely ineffective naval blockade of Tripoli followed, before naval commanders tried to turn up the heat. In September 1804, 13 sailors from the USS Intrepid set out on a ketch packed with explosives. Their mission: sail up to Tripoli’s harbor fortress and blow it up.

But their boat was spotted before it reached its destination. It was attacked from the shore and exploded and the sailors, led by Capt. Richard Somers, all perished. Their bodies were washed up on the shore and fed by Tripoli’s ruler to a pack of wild dogs, before being dumped unceremoniously in mass graves.

The war was immortalized in the Marines’ Hymn, which promises to fight the nation’s battles “from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.” And, for decades, Somers' descendants and others have been pushing to have the remains of the 13 sailors returned to the United States. The family of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow has also joined the cause. Longfellow’s uncle, Lt. Henry Wadsworth, after whom he was named, also fell in the battle.

Rogers chanced on the story on a visit to Tripoli in 2004 and has championed their cause, demanding their remains be reburied in the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery.

With Libya’s permission and the help of the U.S. Embassy, the run-down cemetery where five of the men lie was restored in recent years. The grave in Green Square was also located, and buttons thought to be from Somers' officer’s coat were found.

Ironically, the only key to the cemetery is believed to have been kept at the embassy, which was evacuated in February, and then burned and ransacked by a pro-Gaddafi mob.

In a twist with eerie parallels to today, the First Barbary War finally began to swing the United States’ way after Gen. William Eaton sponsored rebels who invaded from the east and overran the city of Derna.

But Jefferson had dispatched the naval force without a clear mandate to defeat Karamanli and, just as victory seemed possible, his commanders chose to negotiate with the pirate master instead. A peace deal was signed and the U.S. secretly paid the pasha $60,000 as ransom for the release of more than 300 U.S. sailors who had been captured earlier.

Tripoli’s ruler emerged stronger than ever, while the people of Derna who had supported the rebellion were abandoned.

Piracy committed by the Barbary States of Tripoli, Tunis and Algiers continued to flourish for another decade, until the Second Barbary War, when the United States — and then Britain and the Netherlands — returned to finish the job more decisively and end Mediterranean piracy for good.

The sailors’ families will next press their case in the Senate. Dean Somers — a descendent of Richard Somers and a resident of Somers Point, N.J., named for the Intrepid’s commander — said in a statement that he’s encouraged. “We’ve still got a long way to go, but we’re more and more hopeful every day.”


Sunday, May 29, 2011

UK to use bunker buster bombs in Libya

Britain is preparing to use heavy bunker-buster bombs on Libya to further pressure Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi to quit power.

Britain's Ministry of Defense announced on Sunday that the bomb called Enhanced Paveway III, which weighs nearly one ton, can penetrate the roof or wall of reinforced buildings, Reuters reported.

The bunker buster bombs have been sent to Gioia del Colle in southern Italy, where British jets operating in Libya are based, to be loaded on RAF Tornado warplanes, the ministry said.

The ministry pointed out that the bombs are to be used against Gaddafi's bunkers under his place of residence in Bab Al-Aziziya district in central Tripoli. NATO jets have stepped up attacks on Gaddafi's compound in the past days.

Britain's Defense Secretary Liam Fox said the introduction of Paveway III bombs is aimed at protecting the lives of civilians as well as implementing the UN Resolutions 1970 and 1973.

Resolution 1970, adopted in February, imposed a series of sanctions on Libya, while Resolution 1973, passed in March, authorized the enforcement of a no-fly zone to protect civilians against aerial attacks by Gaddafi forces.

Fox added that the bombs will send a warning message to “Gaddafi's inner circle.”

"Gaddafi may not be capable of listening but those around him would be wise to do so," the defense minister said.

Britain has deployed Apache helicopters to military operations in Libya which, together with French Tiger attack helicopters, are expected to launch strikes in the coming days.


Grounded! Stealth Fighter Fleet KO’d by Oxygen Woes

The U.S. Air Force’s fleet of radar-evading F-22 Raptor fighters has been grounded until “further notice.” It’s the latest blow to the reputation of the world’s most expensive, and allegedly most fearsome, dogfighter.

“The stand-down is a prudent measure following recent reports of oxygen system malfunction,” Gen. Will Fraser said. Without oxygen, Raptor pilots can’t fly at the high altitudes where the sleek, supersonic Lockheed jet performs best.

The Air Force began to put the boot on the Raptors after pilots reported “hypoxia and decompression sickness” — a good sign they weren’t getting enough air from their planes’ systems. Before the full stand-down, the flying branch tried limiting the F-22 to flying below 25,000 feet, but the problems apparently continued.

Sidelining Raptors at their bases in Virginia, New Mexico, Alaska and Hawaii — plus rotational locations in Japan and Guam — effectively cuts in half the Air Force’s dogfighting fleet, which also includes around 250 older, Boeing-made F-15Cs. Raptors can still fly on urgent “national security directed missions,” but routine patrols and training are forbidden.

The grounding is the latest in a long series of embarrassments for a jet the Air Force insists “cannot be matched by any known or projected fighter aircraft” — a claim increasingly challenged by Russian and Chinese stealth prototypes. Of course, it’s easy to defeat a plane that can’t fly.

When U.S. forces went to war over Libya, the F-22 sat idly by. Explanations varied for this no-show. Some observers speculated the Raptor was useless over Libya because it hasn’t received necessary upgrades for swapping data with other, non-stealth jets. The Air Force claimed the Raptors, which are concentrated in the Pacific, were simply too far from North Africa when fighting broke out.

There have been previous mechanical and software problems, too — the sort of things which, to be fair, are not unique to the F-22. Last year, rust problems briefly grounded most of the F-22 force. A whole squadron of Raptors had to turn back from a planned flight from Virginia to Japan in 2007 when their navigational systems went haywire as the planes crossed the International Date Line. In 2006, an F-22 pilot was stuck in his plane on the ground for five hours because the canopy wouldn’t open.

Two Raptors have crashed since the jet entered service in 2005.

The smaller F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, also made by Lockheed, is meant to complement the F-22 starting around 2016. The F-35 was meant from the outset to be more reliable than previous airplanes. But early experience on the JSF indicates it could be as finicky as its bigger cousin, the F-22. The future Air Force could have its hands full just keeping its high-tech planes in the air.


Venezuela Asked Colombian Rebels to Kill Opposition Figures, Analysis Shows

CARACAS, Venezuela — Colombia’s main rebel group has an intricate history of collaboration with Venezuelan officials, who have asked it to provide urban guerrilla training to pro-government cells here and to assassinate political opponents of Venezuela’s president, according to a new analysis of the group’s internal communications.

The analysis contends that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, was asked to serve as a shadow militia for Venezuela’s intelligence apparatus, although there is no evidence that President Hugo Chávez was aware of the assassination requests or that they were ever carried out.

The documents, found in the computer files of a senior FARC commander who was killed in a 2008 raid, also show that the relationship between the leftist rebels and Venezuela’s leftist government, while often cooperative, has been rocky and at times duplicitous.

The documents are part of a 240-page book on the rebel group, “The FARC Files: Venezuela, Ecuador and the Secret Archive of Raúl Reyes,” to be published Tuesday by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. While some of the documents have been quoted and cited previously, the release of a CD accompanying the book will be the first time such a large number of the documents have been made public since they were first seized.

The book comes at a delicate stage in the FARC’s ties with Venezuela’s government. Mr. Chávez acknowledged last month for the first time that some of his political allies had collaborated with Colombian rebels, but insisted they “went behind all our backs.”

The book contradicts this assertion, pointing to a long history of collaboration by Mr. Chávez and his top confidants. Venezuela’s government viewed the FARC as “an ally that would keep U.S. and Colombian military strength in the region tied down in counterinsurgency, helping to reduce perceived threats against Venezuela,” the book said.

The archive describes a covert meeting in Venezuela in September 2000 between Mr. Chávez and Mr. Reyes, the FARC commander whose computers, hard drives and memory sticks were the source of the files. At the meeting, Mr. Chávez agreed to lend the FARC hard currency for weapons purchases.

A spokesman for Mr. Chávez did not respond to requests for comment.

Venezuela’s government has contended that the Reyes files were fabrications. In 2008, Interpol dismissed the possibility that the archive, which includes documents going back to the early 1980s, had been doctored.

Moreover, data from the archive has led to the recovery of caches of uranium in Colombia and American dollars in Costa Rica, and has been the basis of actions by governments including Canada, Spain and the United States. Such uses constitute “de facto recognition” that the archive is authentic, the institute said.

“We haven’t begun the dossier with the words ‘J’accuse,’ ” said Nigel Inkster, one of the book’s editors. “Instead we tried to produce a sober analysis of the FARC since the late 1990s, when Venezuela became a central element of their survival strategy.”

Recently, Venezuela seems to have cooled toward the FARC, conforming to a pattern described in the book of ups and downs between Mr. Chávez and the rebels. In April, his government took the unusual step of detaining Joaquín Pérez, a suspected senior operative for the FARC who had been living in Sweden, and deporting him to Colombia.

This move came amid a rapprochement between Mr. Chávez and Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, as a response by Mr. Chávez to Colombia’s claims that the FARC was operating from Venezuelan soil.

The archive, which opens a window into bouts of tension and even loathing between the FARC and Mr. Chávez’s emissaries, shows that Mr. Chávez has sided with the Colombian government on other occasions, especially when he stood to gain politically.

In November 2002, the book reports, before a meeting between Álvaro Uribe, then Colombia’s president, and Mr. Chávez, the FARC asked the Venezuelan Army for permission to transport uniforms on a mule train through Venezuelan territory. The Venezuelan Army granted permission, then ambushed the convoy, seized eight FARC operatives and delivered them to Colombia, allowing Mr. Chávez to inform Mr. Uribe of the operation in person.

Such betrayals, as well as unfulfilled promises of large sums of money, generated considerable tension among the rebels over their relationship with Mr. Chávez.

A member of the FARC’s secretariat, Víctor Suárez Rojas, who used the nom de guerre Mono Jojoy, once called Mr. Chávez a “deceitful and divisive president who lacked the resolve to organize himself politically and militarily.”

Still, periods of tension tended to be the exception in a relationship that has given the rebel group a broad degree of cross-border sanctuary.

In some of the most revealing descriptions of FARC activity in Venezuela, the book explains how Venezuela’s main intelligence agency, formerly known by the acronym Disip and now called the Bolivarian Intelligence Service, sought to enlist the FARC in training state security forces and conducting terrorist attacks, including bombings, in Caracas in 2002 and 2003.

A meeting described in the book shows that Mr. Chávez was almost certainly unaware of the Disip’s decision to involve the FARC in state terrorism, but that Venezuelan intelligence officials still carried out such contacts with a large amount of autonomy.

Drawing from the FARC’s archive, the book also describes how the group trained various pro-Chávez organizations in Venezuela, including the Bolivarian Liberation Forces, a shadowy paramilitary group operating along the border with Colombia.

FARC communications also discussed providing training in urban terrorism methods for representatives of the Venezuelan Communist Party and several radical cells from 23 de Enero, a Caracas slum that has long been a hive of pro-Chávez activity.

The book also cites requests by Mr. Chávez’s government for the guerrillas to assassinate at least two of his opponents.

The FARC discussed one such request in 2006 from a security adviser for Alí Rodríguez Araque, a top official here. According to the archive, the adviser, Julio Chirino, asked the FARC to kill Henry López Sisco, who led the Disip at the time of a 1986 massacre of unarmed members of a subversive group.

“They ask that if possible we give it to this guy in the head,” said Mr. Reyes, the former FARC commander.

The book says there was no evidence that the FARC acted on the request before Mr. López Sisco left Venezuela in November 2006.

Less is known about another assassination request cited in the book, including whom the target was or whether it took place.

But the book makes it clear that the Colombian rebels sometimes found their Venezuelan hosts unscrupulous and deceitful.

In one example, Mono Jojoy, who was killed in a bombing raid last year, had harsh words for Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, a former Venezuelan naval officer who has served as a top liaison between Mr. Chávez and the FARC, calling him “the worst kind of bandit.”


When the Syrians burnt Nasrallah's picture

The Syrian people quickly responded to the calls made a few days ago by Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah for the demonstrators to stand with the Syrian regime "of resistance", and the popular Syrian response to this was to burn pictures of Nasrallah on what was dubbed the "Friday of the Guardians of the Homeland."

This is not the first response of its kind from the Syrian protestors, indeed a slogan that was previously being chanted by the Syrian demonstrators was "No to Iran, No to Hezbollah…we want somebody who is God-fearing!" This means that Hezbollah, and its leadership's reading of the Syrian uprising has been wrong, as has been their reading of all other events in the region. It is clear that Nasrallah's reading of the situation in Syria was wrong, for just a few days after he came out to call on the Syrian people to "preserve their country" and maintain al-Assad's "regime of resistance", the Syrian people came out to burn his picture!

Therefore, we are facing several possibilities. Perhaps Nasrallah believes the official Syrian story, however this is inconceivable. Even if truly did believe the official story, this is no excuse, especially after he saw his picture being burnt by the Syrian protestors. Rather, Nasrallah should be advising the Syrian regime to change its official media discourse. The other possibility is that Nasrallah only watches the [Hezbollah affiliated] Al-Manar TV, in which case the Hezbollah leadership must use the remote control to change the channel, in the same manner that the Arab viewers have changed the channel since Hezbollah's occupation of Beirut. The Hezbollah leadership should not be watching the Iranian [Arabic language] Al-Alam TV channel, for this means that nothing has changed, rather they should be watching respectable television channels, as well as reading newspapers, which would allow them to see the bigger picture, and help them to think.

This is not cynicism, but logic, and if the Hezbollah chief paid attention to the mistakes that he made with regards to his interference in Syrian affairs he himself would agree with this! In his last speech, Nasrallah wanted to say that Hezbollah does not interfere in Syria, but the speech itself represented a gross interference in Syrian affairs, as well as an explicit defense of the Syrian regime against the oppressed Syrian people. It is enough to recall that only Hezbollah in our region condemned the imposition of sanctions on the Syrian regime and its symbols, despite everything that is happening to the Syrian people!

The other issue that Nasrallah has not paid attention to is that there is no longer any value to his speeches, for they do nothing but act as a source of condemnation for Hezbollah, harming the organization more than they help, which is something that is being proven time after time. The Hezbollah leadership has failed to notice that the group has become isolated in the region today, along with Iran which is drowning under the weight of its own internal divisions. Evidence of Hezbollah's isolation abounds, from the group's inability to form a government in Lebanon today, or 4 months ago, whilst it continues to be haunted by the Hariri tribunal. We now see the Syrian people rising up against the Syrian regime – an ally to both Hezbollah and Iran – burning images of Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah. We are also witnessing Hamas entering a new phase of "positive moderation" which is moving them away from Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria!

Therefore, it is clear today that either Hezbollah is not able to see all of this, or it does not believe the depth of the crisis. However following the burning of pictures of Nasrallah in Syria, Hezbollah has no excuse, and the Syrian people have called time out with regards to their interference [in Syrian affairs], not to mention the interference of other parties.


Egyptian Military Court Prosecutes Only Christians in Muslim Church Attacks

(AINA) -- A Military court in Egypt has sentenced three Christian Copts to 5-years imprisonment on charges of possession of firearms and pocket knives. The Court released all other Muslims and Copts arrested following clashes on May 19 over the re-opening of St. Mary and St. Abraham churches in Ain Shams West (AINA 5-24-2011). Copts Emad Ayyad and Ayman Youssef Halim were convicted of carrying firearms. Emad Ayyam's son, Ayad Emad Ayad, was convicted of carrying a pocket knife.

Eight Copts, mostly students, were arrested in Ain Shams West and charged with rioting, violence and causing injury to citizens. Three of the Copts were also charged with possession of firearms and knives. Police arrested three under-age Muslims on charges of throwing stones at the army.

Defense lawyer Abraham Edward said "This is a very unjust, severe and cruel verdict." He said that as lawyers they are unable to fathom what is going on. "Today's case is very strange, a case where there is not one shred of evidence to indict them. If this case went in front of the International Court of Justice they would all be set free." He criticized the five-year prison sentence handed down to Ayad Emad Ayad for carrying a pocket knife. According to the law this is punishable by a six months suspended sentence.

Emad Ayyad said he was looking down the street from his balcony and saw his son Ayad Emad Ayad arguing with an officer, so he went down to see his son. The officer took him together with his son and shoved them in the police armored car along with a black handbag which belonged to the officer, as evidence to use against them. The police did not say how the weapons were confiscated from them. According to forensics no shots were fired from the weapons.

Edward said the defense team was advised they could petition the military governor for a retrial, which they have already done.

The three Muslims who were released all minors were represented by the Coptic defense team which asked for their release, especially a 14-year-old boy who was released on the same day.

Mr. Hitham Refaat Shaker, one of the defense attorneys, said in an interview on May 23 that he is sure the charges were fabricated against the Copts. "It is impossible to imagine the incident as described by the officer who wrote the report, that the Christians threw stones at other Christians in order to accuse Muslims of doing it" (video).

The Military Council pressured the Copts to call off their 13-day sit-in in Maspero, Cairo "in exchange for the release of five of the eight Copts arrested, while the release of the other three would be negotiated once the sit-in ended," said Father Mattias Nasr, head organizer of the Maspero sit-in.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Don't count on a peace deal with Taliban

Washington (CNN) -- Recently, both The Washington Post and the German magazine Der Spiegel have reported on meetings between U.S. officials and representatives of the Taliban that have taken place in Germany to discuss some form of peace negotiations.

Talking to the Taliban makes sense, but there are major impediments standing in the way of a deal.

First, who exactly is there to negotiate with in the Taliban? It's been a decade since their fall from power, and the "moderate" Taliban who wanted to reconcile with the Afghan government have already done so. They are the same group of Taliban who are constantly trotted out in any discussion of a putative Taliban deal: Mullah Zaeef, their former ambassador to Pakistan; Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, their foreign minister; and Abdul Hakim Mujahid, who was the Taliban representative in the United States before 9/11. This group was generally opposed to Osama bin Laden well before he attacked the United States.

Bin Laden told intimates that his biggest enemies in the world were the United States and the Taliban Foreign Ministry, which was trying to put the kibosh on his anti-Western antics in Afghanistan. And today the "moderate" already-reconciled Taliban don't represent the Taliban on the battlefield, because they haven't been part of the movement for the past decade.

The key Taliban figure is still their leader, Mullah Omar, aka "The Commander of the Faithful." The title indicates that Mullah Omar is not just the leader of the Taliban, but also of all Muslims. This suggests that Mullah Omar is not only a religious fanatic, but also a fanatic with significant delusions of grandeur. Negotiations with religious fanatics who have delusions of grandeur generally do not go well.

Almost every country in the world -- including the Taliban leader's quasi-patron, Pakistan -- pleaded with Mullah Omar in the spring of 2001 not to blow up the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan, Afghanistan's greatest cultural patrimony. But he did so anyway. After 9/11, Mullah Omar was prepared to lose his entire regime on the point of principle that he would not give up bin Laden to the United States following the attacks on Manhattan and the Pentagon. And he did.

(Senior U.S. military officials tell me that it is their view that Mullah Omar is living at least some of the time in the southern Pakistani megacity of Karachi. President Obama has indicated he would be willing to launch another operation, along the lines of the one that killed bin Laden, if another major target such as Mullah Omar were located.)

Since his regime fell, Mullah Omar has also shown no appetite for negotiation or compromise. He is joined in this attitude by some senior members of his movement, such as Maulavi Abdul Kabir, a Taliban leader in eastern Afghanistan, who said in January, "Neither has there been any peace talk nor has any of the Islamic Emirate (the Taliban) shown any inclination towards it."

Second, the Taliban have had ten years to reject bin Laden and all his works, and they haven't done so. For this reason, Saudi Arabia, which has hosted "talks about talks" in Mecca between Afghan government officials and some Taliban representatives, has soured on the process.

Third, "the Taliban" are really many Talibans, and so a deal with one insurgent group doesn't mean the end of the insurgency writ large. It's not clear that even Mullah Omar can deliver all of the Taliban that he nominally controls in southern Afghanistan, because they are often fissured into purely local groups, many of whom are a long way from Taliban HQ across the border in Quetta, Pakistan. As Amb. Richard Holbrooke commented three months before he died, "There's no Ho Chi Minh. There's no Slobodan Milosevic. There's no Palestinian Authority." Instead, there are several leaders of the various wings of the insurgency, from the Quetta Shura in southern Afghanistan, to the Haqqani Network in the east, as well as smaller insurgent groups, such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-e-Islami in the northeast.

Fourth, the history of "peace" deals with the Taliban in Pakistan shows that the groups can't be trusted. Deals between the Pakistani government and the Taliban in Waziristan in 2005 and 2006 and in Swat in 2009 were merely preludes to the Taliban establishing their brutal "emirates," regrouping and then moving into adjoining areas to seize more territory.

Fifth, the arrest in Pakistan last year of Mullah Baradar, the Taliban No. 2 who had been negotiating directly with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, shows that the Pakistani military and government want to retain a veto over any significant negotiations going forward. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, as certainly Pakistan's legitimate interests in the post-American Afghanistan must be recognized, but it also demonstrates that negotiations with the Taliban will not be as straightforward as just having the Afghan government and the insurgents at the negotiating table.

Sixth, other key players in any negotiations with the Taliban are the former leaders of the largely Tajik and Uzbek Northern Alliance, who fought a bitter several-years war with the Taliban and who now occupy prominent positions in Afghanistan -- for instance, the minister of the interior, Bismullah Khan, and Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai's main rival for the presidency in 2009, who is -- at least for now -- the most likely candidate to succeed Karzai in the 2014 presidential elections. These leaders are not going to allow all they fought for to be reversed by a deal with the Taliban that gives them significant concessions on territory or principle.

Seventh, the several meetings over the past three years between Afghan officials and Taliban representatives in Mecca and in the Maldives to discuss "reconciliation" have so far produced a big zero. A senior U.S. military officer dismissed these talks as "reconciliation tourism," while an Afghan official joked with me that in landlocked Afghanistan, "Everybody wanted to go to the Maldives for a meeting."

Eighth, the debacle involving Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour last year shows how much of a fog surrounds the whole reconciliation process. Mullah Mansour was portrayed as one of the most senior of the Taliban leaders, who was in direct negotiations with the Karzai government in the fall of 2010. Except it then turned out he wasn't Mullah Mansour at all, but a Quetta shopkeeper who had spun a good yarn about his Taliban credentials so he could pick up what a British government report characterizes as "significant sums."

Finally, and most importantly: What do the Taliban really want? It's relatively easy to discern what they don't want: international forces in Afghanistan. But other than their blanket demand for the rule of Sharia law, the Taliban have not articulated their vision for the future of Afghanistan. Do they envision a democratic state with elections? Do they see a role for women outside the home? What about education for girls? What about ethnic minorities?

While these obstacles show that reaching an accommodation with the Taliban is going to be quite difficult, that doesn't mean that it isn't worth trying. Even if peace talks are not successful they can have other helpful effects, such as splitting the facade of Taliban unity.

Even simple discussions about the future shape of negotiations can help sow dissension in the Taliban ranks, while if such discussions do move forward in even incremental steps, more intelligence can be garnered about what exactly is going on inside the shadowy Taliban movement. Also, getting the Taliban to enter into any negotiations means that they will no longer get to occupy the moral high ground of fighting a supposed holy war, but will instead be getting their hands dirty in more conventional political back-room deals.

Audrey Cronin of the National Defense University has systematically examined how and why terrorist/insurgent groups come to some kind of peace deal and has laid out some general principles about what that usually takes, which are worth considering in the context of Afghanistan.

First, there must be recognition on both sides that a military stalemate has been reached. (In the early 1980s the American academic William Zartman coined the term a "mutually hurting stalemate" to describe the moment when combatants will start considering a peace settlement.)

That precondition may now exist to some degree, given that over the past six months or so the Taliban have taken heavy losses in their heartlands of Kandahar, while the U.S. public has increasingly turned against what is already America's longest war. In December, 60% of Americans said the war was "not worth fighting," according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll -- up from 41% in 2007.

An important shift in the Obama administration's stance on Taliban negotiations was recently signaled by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. While giving the Richard Holbrooke memorial lecture at the Asia Society in New York on February 18, Clinton said that previous American conditions for talks with the Taliban -- that they lay down their arms, reject al Qaeda, and embrace the Afghan Constitution -- were no longer conditions that the Taliban had to meet before negotiations could begin, but were "necessary outcomes" of the final peace process.

Judging by the lack of media attention in the United States to this shift, this subtle but important distinction was probably also not well grasped by the Taliban, but it does represent a somewhat more flexible American position.

Similarly the Afghan government has now adopted "reconciliation" as its official policy, setting up a "High Peace Council" in the fall to help facilitate those negotiations, a body that is made up, in part, of a number of leaders from the former Northern Alliance, who are less likely to act as spoilers of a peace process if they feel they are a part of it.

Successful negotiations often require a capable and trusted third party sponsor. This condition seems also to be lacking right now: The Saudis are, at best, lukewarm about facilitating talks with the Taliban; the Pakistanis are not really trusted by any of the parties in the conflict, even by much of the Taliban; and while the United Nations may have some role to play in negotiations, Taliban attacks on U.N. personnel in Afghanistan last year don't suggest this avenue has much immediate promise. (Murmurings about a role for Turkey in facilitating a deal may have some potential, given that Turkey has an Islamist government and is also a key member of NATO.)

A peace deal also generally requires strong leadership on both the government and insurgent sides to force a settlement. Neither Hamid Karzai nor Mullah Omar fits this particular bill. Finally, Cronin explains that the overall political context must be favorable to negotiations for a deal to succeed. Here there is some real hope: While fewer then one in ten Afghans have a favorable view of the Taliban, a large majority is in favor of negotiating with them. Nationally, around three-quarters of Afghans favor talks, while in Kandahar the number goes up to a stratospheric 94%.

All that said, the bottom line on the Taliban reconciliation process is that nothing of any real note is currently happening. According to a Western official familiar with the record of discussions with the Taliban, the chances of a deal with the Taliban similar to the Dayton Accords that ended the Balkans war in the mid-1990s, or the Good Friday Agreement that ended the IRA campaign against the British government, are "negligible" for the foreseeable future. The official says that Mullah Omar needs his council of ulema (religious scholars) to sign off on a peace deal and there is "no sign of this right now."


Tyrannous Regulation

Cass Sunstein is head of something called the “Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.” I’ve seen enough conspiracy thrillers to know that when someone has so obvious a blandly amorphous federal-job description as that, it means he’s running some deeply sinister wet-work operation of illegal targeted assassinations in unfriendly nations that the government spooks want to keep off the books and far from prying eyes.

Oh, no, wait. Actually, Covert Operative Sunstein passes his day doing more or less what the sign on the door says: He collects information about regulatory affairs. More specifically, he is charged by the president with “an unprecedented government-wide review of regulations” in order to “improve or remove those that are out-of-date, unnecessary, excessively burdensome or in conflict with other rules.”

How many has he got “removed” so far? Well, last week he took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to crow that dairy farmers will henceforth be exempted from the burdens of a 1970s EPA-era directive classifying milk as an “oil” and subjecting it, as Professor Sunstein typed with a straight face, “to costly rules designed to prevent oil spills”. But Ol’ MacDonald and his crack team of Red Adair–trained milkmaids can henceforth relax because now, writes Professor Sunstein, Washington is “giving new meaning to the phrase, ‘Don’t cry over spilled milk.’”

That’s a federally licensed joke from Sunstein’s colleagues at the Agency of Guffaw and Titter Regulation, so feel free to laugh.

Did you know milk was an oil? It is to the federal government, and, if a Holstein blows in the Gulf of Mexico and beaches from Florida to Louisiana are suddenly threatened by a tide of full-fat crude, they want to know you’ve got the federally mandated equipment to deal with it. With hindsight, the president’s remark in the early days of the BP oil spill that he was meeting with experts “so I know whose ass to kick” was not just a bit of vulgar braggadocio but the fault of early Department of Energy findings that the spillage was caused by asses’ milk from BP (Burros & Poitous Ltd., a member of the Big Ass cartel). “Your ass is on the line!” as the president told BP’s Tony Hayward after his donkey was found wandering down the first 38 billion-dollar stretch of the federally funded high-speed-rail track.

Whoops, sorry, I made the mistake of hiring Cass Sunstein’s federally accredited “spilled milk” gag writer. Where was I?

Oh, yeah, federal regulation. So this EPA directive requiring milk to be treated the same as petroleum for the purposes of storage and transportation has been around since the ’70s and it’s only taken the best part of four decades to get it partially suspended even though it’s udderly insane? Hallelujah!

At that rate of regulatory reform, we’ll be . . . well, let Sunstein explain it. Aside from his crowing over spilled milk, he cites other triumphs: The Departments of Commerce and State are “pursuing reforms”; the Department of Health and Human Services “will be reconsidering burdensome regulatory requirements”; and the Department of the Interior will be “reviewing cumbersome, outdated regulations.”

Wow! “Pursuing,” “reconsidering,” and “reviewing”? Meanwhile, back at the Department of Bureaus and Agencies, they’re pursuing a review of their reconsideration of reforms. That’s great news, isn’t it? I’ll take a wild guess and bet that the upshot of this frenzied “pursuit” will be a ton of new regulations about streamlining regulatory oversight and improving regulatory harmonization: The big growth area in America’s post-modern Republic of Paperwork is regulations about regulating regulations. For example, in New York City, applying for the “right” to open a restaurant requires dealing with the conflicting demands of at least eleven municipal agencies, plus submitting to 23 city inspections and applying for 30 different permits and certificates. Not including the state liquor license. Recognizing that this could all get very complicated, the city set up a new bureaucratic body to help you negotiate your way through all the other bureaucratic bodies.

And, for every little victory, there are a zillion crankings of the government vise elsewhere. Plucked at random from the Obamacare bill:

“The Secretary shall develop oral healthcare components that shall include tooth-level surveillance.”

“Tooth-level surveillance”? Has that phrase ever been used before in the entirety of human history? Say what you like about George III, but the redcoats never attempted surveillance of General Washington’s dentures. Why not just call it “gum control”?

The hyper-regulatory state is unrepublican. It strikes at one of the most basic pillars of free society: equality before the law. When you replace “law” with “regulation,” equality before it is one of the first casualties. In such a world, there is no law, only a hierarchy of privilege more suited to a sultan’s court than a self-governing republic. If you don’t want to be subject to “tooth-level surveillance,” you better know who to call in Washington. Teamsters Local 522 did, and the United Federation of Teachers, and the Chicago Plastering Institute. And, as a result, they’ve all been “granted” Obamacare “waivers.” Rule, Obama! Obama, waive the rules! If only for his cronies. Americans are being transferred remorselessly from the rule of law to rule by an unaccountable bureaucracy of micro-regulatory preferences, subsidies, entitlements, and incentives that determine which of the multiple categories of Unequal-Before-the-Law Second-Class (or Third-Class, or Fourth-Class) Citizenship you happen to fall into.

And yet Americans put up with it. According to the Small Business Administration, the cost to the economy of government regulation is about $1.75 trillion per annum. You and your fellow citizens pay for that — and it’s about twice as much as you pay in income tax. Or, to put it another way, the regulatory state sucks up about a quarter-trillion dollars more than the entire GDP of India. As fast as India’s growing its economy, we’re growing our regulations faster. Oh, well, you shrug, it would be unreasonable to expect the bloated, somnolent hyperpower to match those wiry little fellows back at the call center in Bangalore. Okay. It’s also about a quarter-trillion dollars more than the GDP of Canada. Every year we’re dumping the equivalent of a G7 economy into ever more ludicrous and wasteful regulation.

As my fellow columnists Charles Krauthammer and Victor Davis Hanson like to point out, decline is not inevitable; it is a choice. The voters of New York’s 26th district chose it just the other day, presumably on the basis that it will be relatively pleasant, as it has been in certain parts of Continental Europe. But genteel Franco-Italian decline is not on the menu. As those numbers suggest, the scale of American decay is entirely different: a trillion-and-three-quarter dollars in regulatory costs, a trillion dollars in college debt, four-and-a-half billion dollars spent by Washington every single day that we don’t have, 70 percent of which the United States government “borrows” from itself because nobody else wants to lend it to us — and a governing party whose Senate leader boasts about not passing a budget and whose plan for Medicare is not to have a plan at all and whose crusading regulatory reformer’s greatest triumph is getting Daisy the cow moved out of the same federal classification as the Exxon Valdez.

Stand well back, that Holstein’s about to blow.


Bahraini forces attack villages

Saudi-backed Bahraini forces have attacked anti-government protesters in several villages across the Persian Gulf sheikdom.

Witnesses say regime troops used tear gas and concussion bombs to disperse protesters in Diraz, Bani Jamrah and some other villages on Friday.

The protesters called for an end to the Al Khalifa rule and the immediate release of detained anti-government protesters.

According to witnesses, Bahraini protesters in recent days have their faces covered to avoid recognition by regime forces.

Saudi-backed Bahraini troops have arrested hundreds of anti-government protesters during overnight operations after identifying them based on pictures taken from opposition rallies.

There were no immediate reports of casualties or arrests on Friday.

Since the beginning of anti-regime protests in Bahrain in mid-February, Manama has launched a harsh crackdown on anti-government protesters, rounding up senior opposition figures and activists in dawn raids and arresting doctors, nurses, lawyers and journalists who have voiced support for the protest movement.

While the whereabouts of many detainees are still unknown, Bahraini authorities have begun to try a number of detained activists in what the opposition calls kangaroo courts.

Protesters have been charged with several counts such as attempting to overthrow the monarchy, and they are being tried in a special security court set up under martial law.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have criticized the Bahraini government for its brutal crackdown on civilians.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, which visits detainees in conflict situations, has been trying to see and contact Bahraini detained activists since mid-March. But so far Manama has refused to grant it permission.

Meanwhile, Bahrain's state news agency says that military prosecutors have asked the country's highest court to review death penalties issued against two anti-regime protesters.

Human Rights Watch as also called on the country to stop trying civilians in military courts.


Captured Al Qaeda: Foreign Fighters 'Converging' in Pakistan

A Moroccan al Qaeda operative captured in Afghanistan told coalition forces earlier this month that foreign fighters were "converging" in Pakistan in hopes of carrying out attacks across the border in Afghanistan, the International Security Assistance Force said late Monday.

The unnamed captive, who is described as a "Germany-based Moroccan al Qaeda foreign fighter facilitator," was captured by coalition and Afghan forces on May 8 in southeast Afghanistan.

"After his capture the facilitator provided details about his personal travel from Germany," a statement from the ISAF said. "He also observed foreigners from many countries converging in Pakistan to conduct attacks against coalition forces in Afghanistan."

In the same operation in Afghanistan in which the facilitator was captured, the ISAF said they recovered passports and identification cards from France, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia among 10 killed insurgents.

The U.S. military estimates there are approximately 100 al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan at any moment, most from Arab countries and Pakistan, although European fighters have been spotted in increasing numbers in recent years. Almost all of them enter through the Pakistani tribal areas, according to U.S., Afghan, and Pakistani officials.

"The Afghanistan-Pakistan region seems to be a revolving door for extremists," said an April 2011 report from the Army. "The foreign fighter flow in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region seems to flow strongly both in and out of the region."

Two days after the facilitator's capture, ISAF U.S. Maj. Gen. John Campbell told reporters the ISAF had received reports of an influx of foreign fighters joining al Qaeda's cause in Afghanistan following the Navy SEAL raid that killed the terror group's leader, Osama bin Laden, on May 2. However, he said his men had yet to encounter them.

"I have not seen a large number of foreign fighters come through since bin Laden's death," Campbell said. "I will tell you, over the course of the year -- if I was to put a guesstimate on the percentage -- it's really around 80 percent are from Afghanistan, and it's probably 15 [percent] to 20 percent foreign fighters... I don't think that's gone up or gone down here over the last several months."

The captured Moroccan is also apparently providing intelligence about how foreign fighters move into Afghanistan from around the world and described his own journey to the front lines from Germany. The ISAF said it hoped that information will "support targeting the network of facilitators who bring global terrorism to bear on coalition forces and civilians in Afghanistan."

Though the ISAF declined to provide details on the Moroccan's personal travels, it did say that the facilitator said that when his travel was delayed in Iran, he was approached and asked to become a suicide bomber.

"However, he declined because of his goal to take part in the Global Jihad," the ISAF statement said.

The facilitator is not the first to successfully travel from Germany to the Middle East in hopes of joining the jihad there. In the fall of 2010, U.S. forces captured German national Ahmed Siddiqui who described a "multi-city" terror plot against Europe. Siddiqui said the plan had been personally blessed by bin Laden.


7 US troops among 9 NATO dead in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan — Nine NATO service members were killed Thursday in Afghanistan, including seven U.S. troops among eight who died when a powerful bomb exploded in a field where they were patrolling on foot, officials said.

Two Afghan policemen also died and two others were wounded in the explosion in the mountainous Shorabak district of Kandahar province, 12 miles (19 kilometers) from the Pakistan border, said Gen. Abdul Raziq, chief of the Afghan border police in the province.

"Two months ago, we cleared this area of terrorists, but still they are active there," Raziq said.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast.

"A bomb was planted for them in a field," Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi told The Associated Press in a telephone call.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose the information, confirmed that seven American service members died in the bombing.

The international military coalition reported that one additional NATO service member was killed Thursday when a helicopter crashed in the east.

U.S. officials said seven American soldiers were killed in the bombing. NATO said an eighth soldier was also killed, but his nationality was not immediately released.

It was the deadliest day for coalition forces in Afghanistan since April 27, when a veteran Afghan military pilot opened fire at Kabul airport and killed eight U.S. troops and an American civilian contractor.

Thursday's blast was the worst single attack against NATO forces by one of the Taliban's crude, homemade bombs since October 2009. Seven soldiers from a unit based in Fort Lewis, Washington, died Oct. 27, 2009 when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Arghandab district, also in Kandahar province.

"It was a big, powerful blast," said Gen. Tefeer Khan Ghogyaria, who oversees Afghan border police in three provinces in the south. "A container of explosives was placed in the ground and it exploded when the NATO forces were passing. They were on a foot patrol."

Roadside bombs killed 268 American troops in Afghanistan last year, a 60 percent increase over the previous year, even as the Pentagon employed new measures to counter the Taliban's makeshift weapon of choice. Defense officials attributed the rise in casualties to the surge in U.S. forces in Afghanistan last year.

The number of U.S. troops wounded by what the military terms improvised explosive devices also soared, according to the most recent U.S. defense figures. There were 3,366 U.S. service members injured in IED blasts - up from the 1,211 hurt by the militants' crudely made bombs in 2009, the figures show.

Officials with the Pentagon's Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, based outside Washington, has said that additional explosive sensors, bomb analysts and specially trained dogs have helped battle the roadside bombs.

Last year, the Pentagon provided $495 million to buy 34 tethered surveillance blimps that give troops a bird's eye view of certain areas and sent in more unmanned surveillance aircraft so route-clearance patrols would have the benefit of full-motion video. The Pentagon also delivered more than 5,000 hand-held bomb detectors, improved training and sent additional equipment to Afghanistan to counter the threat.

Southern and eastern Afghanistan are the most volatile areas in Afghanistan.

Tens of thousands of U.S., NATO and Afghan forces have been working for months to rout the Taliban from their strongholds in the south. The Taliban have retaliated with targeted assassinations of Afghan officials and attacks on Afghan and coalition forces. Eastern Afghanistan, along the Pakistan border, also has been the scene of heavy violence.

On May 1, insurgents declared the start of a spring offensive against NATO and the Afghan government. NATO has been expecting the Taliban to stage a series of spectacular and complex attacks, and the group has already carried out a number of them recently.

The effectiveness of the Taliban's long-awaited spring campaign, code-named Badr after one of the Prophet Muhammad's decisive military victories, could affect the size of President Barack Obama's planned drawdown of U.S. troops in July. Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, has said the size of the withdrawal will depend on conditions on the ground.

The alliance has committed itself to handing over control of security in the country to Afghans by 2014.

Thirty-eight international service members have been killed so far this month, including at least 13 Americans. So far this year, 189 coalition troops have died in Afghanistan.


Friday, May 27, 2011

There’s Fire

"Fighting season is now on. This year the villains strategy appears to involve deliberate attacking on aid projects and let me tell you something we (the outside the wire aid community) are getting hammered. In the last week a majority of us have had to deal with murders, intimidation, shootings, IED’s, kidnappings and attacks on vendors in all areas of the country. There are more men and women outside the wire doing good deeds then any you suspect; most are smart enough to keep a low profile and I now wish I were one of them.

It didn't take long for the incident stats in the south to shoot right back up

This will be my last post. I’m afraid the blog has become too popular raising my personal profile too high. We have had to change everything in order to continue working. How we move, how we live, our security methodology; all of it has been fine tuned. Part of that change is allowing the FRI blog to go dark. I have no choice; my colleagues and I signed contracts, gave our word, and have thousands of Afghan families who have bet their futures on our promises. If we are going to remain on the job we have to maintain a low profile and that is hard to do with this blog."

TSA Thug Grabs Crotch of Wounded Vet

Two injured US military veterans traveling to a ceremony to honor the lives of fallen friends who gave their lives to protect the rights enshrined in the Constitution were harassed by TSA thugs, with one of them having his crotch grabbed, according to David Bellow, an Army National Guardsman and a State Republican Executive Committeeman.

“One of the wounded warriors, a friend of mine who personally told me what happened, has bullet fragments in his leg. The other wounded warrior has shrapnel in his face,” wrote Bellow on the Texas GOP Vote website.

The TSA agents responded to the men having set off metal detectors by interrogating them about what they were hiding in their bodies. “What are you hiding in your face?” screamed one.

“My friend told me that one TSA agent came up to him and asked what he was hiding in his leg, but before my friend could answer he said that the TSA agent grabbed him, without notice, right in the crotch area as if trying to find something hidden,” writes Bellow.

When the TSA goon grabbed his crotch and didn’t let go, the veteran felt inclined to lash out violently but was somehow able to control his fury.

This story is just one of hundreds if not thousands of examples that underscores the fact that low-grade TSA morons who have proven themselves prone to predatory, perverted and criminal behavior have no place in a free society.

Airports need to act now by kicking out the TSA and replacing them with private security.

But it’s not just airports that are being manned by this cadre of cretins – sports stadiums, prom nights, highways, bus terminals and train stations are all being patrolled by this literal occupying army that is turning America into a checkpoint-festooned police state.

Efforts in Texas to pass a law that would have made TSA groping a felony, scuttled at the last minute by a threat of financial terrorism on behalf of the feds that would have imposed a no fly zone over the state, are now being replicated nationwide as the growing resistance movement against TSA tyranny accelerates.


The Bush legacy

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Durable goods orders drop 3.6% in April

If the US economy got off to a bad start in 2011 with a 1.8% GDP annualized growth rate, the start of the second quarter looks like it might be worse. The Commerce Department reported this morning that durable goods orders fell 3.6% in April after a 4.4% increase the month before. Orders dropped across the board:

New orders for manufactured durable goods in April decreased $7.1 billion or 3.6 percent to $189.9 billion, the U.S. Census Bureau announced today. This decrease, down two of the last three months, followed a 4.4 percent March increase. Excluding transportation, new orders decreased 1.5 percent. Excluding defense, new orders decreased 3.6 percent. Transportation equipment, also down two of the last three months, had the largest decrease, $4.9 billion or 9.5 percent to $46.7 billion.

Even with this sharp drop in orders, inventories continued to expand, and have now reached record highs:

Inventories of manufactured durable goods in April, up sixteen consecutive months, increased $3.2 billion or 0.9 percent to $350.5 billion. This was at the highest level since the series was first published on a NAICS basis in 1992 and followed a 1.7 percent March increase. Transportation equipment, also up sixteen consecutive months, had the largest increase, $1.0 billion or 1.0 percent to $106.1 billion. This was also at the highest level since the series was first published on a NAICS basis in 1992 and followed a 2.4 percent March increase.

Bulging inventories mean that goods aren’t moving. Until inventories begin to decline, orders will continue to fall as sellers run out of cash to buy more goods. We will soon start to see sharp discounting to get rid of inventories, which means narrower profits and less capital for future growth.

The decrease in capital goods was even more dramatic, at 7.3% in the non-defense market. That points to a significant decrease in business investment, which would indicate that the private sector has turned bearish on the weak recovery from the Great Recession. If so, the tax break given to businesses as part of the deal made between the White House and Congress in December that allowed businesses to take a 100% write-off on FY2011 capital investment appears to have already run its course. That’s bad news for the Obama administration, which had hoped to ride a rising economic wave to a second term in office for Barack Obama.


Financial Terrorism: TSA Holds Texas Flights Hostage

An astounding Department of Justice threat to cancel airline flights to and from Texas, in addition to underhanded lobbying by TSA representatives, has killed efforts in the state to pass HB 1937, a bill that would have made invasive pat downs by TSA agents a felony.

HB 1937, a bill that would have made it “A criminal act for security personnel to touch a person’s private areas without probable cause as a condition of travel or as a condition of entry into a public place,” was headed for an imminent Senate vote in Texas having already passed the House unanimously 138-0, before the federal government stepped in to nix the legislation.

In a letter sent to Texas lawmakers, including to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Speaker Joe Straus, the House Clerk, and the Senate Secretary, U.S. Attorney John E. Murphy threatened to cripple the airline industry in the state if legislators did not back down.

“If HR [sic] 1937 were enacted, the federal government would likely seek an emergency stay of the statute,” Murphy wrote. “Unless or until such a stay were granted, TSA would likely be required to cancel any flight or series of flights for which it could not ensure the safety of passengers and crew.”

“We urge that you consider the ramifications of this bill before casting your vote,” Murphy added.

The fact that Murphy can’t even get the name of the bill correct is almost as disconcerting as the rampant mafia-like attitude of the DOJ in using de facto economic terrorism to shoot down the legislation.

Following a fiery debate in the Texas House last night, Senate sponsor Dan Patrick (R-Houston) pulled the bill, remarking that TSA representatives had been “lobbying” the Texas Senate in an effort to mothball the legislation.

“I will pull HB 1937 down, but I will stand for Liberty in the state of Texas,” Patrick said.

Patrick added that TSA officials had warned him passing the bill “could close down all the airports in Texas,” which he regarded as a ‘heavy handed threat’ by the federal government.

The staff of Rep. David Simpson said the DOJ had “thrown down the gauntlet” in using such stark language to oppose the bill.

“Either Texas backs off and continues to let government employees fondle innocent women, children and men as a condition of travel,” the staff wrote, “or the TSA [Transportation Safety Administration] has the authority to cancel flights or series of flights.”

“… 97 percent of people who go though the nation’s airports do not go through these offensive searches. And yet, a United States Attorney warns that flights to Texas could be shut down because TSA would not be able to ensure the safety of passengers and crew if agents could not touch genitals. Someone must make a stand against the atrocities of our government agents …”

In a point by point refutation of the DOJ letter, Simpson compared the battle against the TSA to the Texas revolutionary war against Mexico, writing, “Gentlemen, we find ourselves at such a watershed moment today. The federal government is attempting to deprive the citizens of Texas of their constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 9, of the Texas Constitution. If we do not stand up for our citizens in the face of this depravation of their personal rights and dignity, who will?”

The fact that the Department of Justice and the TSA have resorted to threats of economic terrorism in addition to underhanded lobbying techniques again illustrates the fact that the federal government is increasingly behaving like a criminal enterprise with total disregard for the Constitution.

The TSA’s initial response to HB 1937 was to claim that it could not become law because it violated the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution (Article. VI. Clause 2), a law that the TSA claimed “prevents states from regulating the federal government.”

In reality, this was a complete fabrication.

“The statement is false. Ignorance from the TSA is unlikely, so I’ll call a spade a spade. They’re lying. The supremacy clause says nothing of the sort,” reported Michael Boldin of the Tenth Amendment Center.

Here’s the full text:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.

“So, in simple terms, what does the supremacy clause mean? Just what it says. The constitution is supreme. And any federal laws made in line with the constitution is supreme. Nothing more, nothing less,” writes Boldin.

As we have documented, TSA grope downs and body scans are now being rolled out on highways, street corners, public buildings, at sports events, and even at local prom nights.

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Despite the fact that the federal government has resorted to thuggish intimidation tactics to kill the anti-grope down bill in Texas, this only marks the latest chapter in an epic states’ rights battle that has centered on the agenda of the TSA to become a literal occupying force in America, manning internal checkpoints that will litter the entire country.