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National Security

Millions to march against FARC and kidnappings

Millions of folks are on the move around the world to protest against Colombia’s FARC rebels and their policy of hostage taking and drug dealing. Ingrid Betancourt, the French-Colombian hostage freed in a daring military rescue earlier this month, will lead protests in Paris. Protests are planned in over 40 cities.

Of course it may fall on deaf ears. So many groups and organizations hear only what they want to hear, and continue to receive support from those of an ideological bent or with a financial interest (drug dealers). These enablers are the ones that need to be ferreted out if FARC is to ever be disbanded and peace return.

When the nuke hits Washington, this guy is in charge, maybe, kind of, well we’ll see.

In an interview that I have to describe as ‘less than reassuring’, DC’s Director of Homeland Security puts his political spin and utilize years of government ’speak’ to assure residents of DC that there will be chaos when a dirty nuke goes off in DC. Following a semi-disaster day last month when a power substation failure shut off traffic lights, a fire broke out in a Metro station and massive gridlock stymied D.C. police and emergency crews, Darrell Darnell talks about the agency’s pathetic lack of services response.

He even offers a website where you can sign up to receive electronic communications after the nuclear bomb goes up (yea, cause my Blackberry is hardened against EMP–how about yours?). DC residents have already been given their evacuation routes in a piece of paper strategically placed in the plastic package full of ads for Best Buy, carwash services, coupon clippings and all the other junk that 99% of DC residents throw out instantly into the trash when it arrives in the Sunday paper.

Anyway, read the article. The guy’s resume looks good doing a lot of homeland security consulting but this interview just made me think ‘Joe Forehead politician’ in charge. I’d much rather have some cussing and swearing former fire chief who knows all the cops, fireman, power repair guys by first name because he hangs out with them in a bar during off hours than a guy who looks good on paper.

All I can say is a) thank god I’m no longer living in DC, b) that I have a gun, and c) that I have an abundant food and water source not requiring government assistance (eventhough I hate fishing).

Caviar Smuggling a growing trade

High speed boats flying through the sea being chased by even faster patrol boats. Cargo and contraband thrown overboard just in time before heavily armed paramilitary troops jump on board the seized vessel. Sounds like another day in the Caribbean, but it’s not.

Caviar smuggling on the Caspian Sea is now a big business. With the price of caviar in the 1000s of Euros, poor fisherman from Dagastan are pilfering the sturgeon out of the Caspian and smuggling the prized eggs back to the fashionable shops of Paris.

GAO says MRAP costs growing out of control

The MRAP was an interesting, almost World War II-era emergency procurement program. Utilizing standard compoents and somewhat standard parts, multiple manufacturers rushed to deliver these mine-resistant vehicles to the conflict area without necessarily crossing all the t’s and dotting the i’s in the paperwork.

But now that car bombs and IEDs are down as much as 80% in Iraq, the paperwork is starting to catch up. The GAO is raising concerns about maintenance costs and budget overruns in this ‘emergency’ funding program. This comes as Congress is considering a version 2 of the MRAP, perhaps this time through the normal budgetary channels.

German press goes after John-Pierre Gontard for being a FARC sympathizer

John-Pierre Gontard, rumored to be the ‘leaker’ in the FARC / Betancourt ransom story, finds himself the subject of a story in the German press that does not paint him, or Switzerland, in a good light. The article is based on some of the emails captured from FARC lapotps and points out how Switzerland was less than a neutral mediator in the dispute.

Switzerland has played a central role in the Colombian hostage crisis as a supposedly “neutral” mediator. But the e-mail correspondence of the FARC, extracts from which are available to Die Weltwoche, shows that a solution of the hostage crisis was never in fact a priority for the FARC. The “negotiations” as such, which provided an international stage for the militarily beleaguered guerilla, were from the start an end in themselves for the FARC. The Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs (EDA), under the direction of Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, took on the role of helpful courier in the cynical game of poker being played by the guerilla and often neglected to take even the slightest distance from the FARC extortionists.

The article later notes that Gontard was offering political advice to the FARC and how to deal with the US captives:

According to the report, the professor also offered his services to Reyes as strategy advisor in the poker game surrounding the hostages. The three Americans that the FARC have likewise taken captive are, according to Gontard, “definitely members of the CIA, the governments represented by him have no interest in them.” On Reyes’s account, Gontard advises him, nonetheless, not to kill the three Americans and to “preserve them in very good condition, since they could still be very useful sometime in the future.” The Swiss professor reportedly tells Reyes that a FARC demand for one hundred million dollars in exchange for a six month ceasefire is realistic. And verbatim: “He says that Ingrid is a jewel [una joya] in the hands of the FARC, because she is very important for the French government.”

Finally, the German press slams Gontard and the ransom story:

The false report concerning a supposed ransom payment originated from his milieu. With it, Swiss diplomacy has lost its last trace of credibility.

It is also worth noting that no additional information regarding a ‘ransom’ has been discovered by any media since the initial claims. Reading through the stories that have been published, they are most a rehash of the original rumor, or slight (and unprovable) theories surrounding the story.

Normally when you have a ’scandal’ story it gets people to digging, but all that has been dug up since the initial press release is, well, nothing. Slightly odd. One would hope even the ‘truther’ types would come up with some explanation that was at least interesting. We’re still waiting for the facts.

Counterterrorism blog has more on this and the Switzerland diplomatic ‘dance with the devil’ policies around the world.

Washington Post snorts up some Kool-Aid

The Washington Post shocked the political world today by issuing an editorial that actually called into question something said by Barrack Obama. Yesterday in a major foreign policy speech Barrack Obama issued / clarified / refined / changed / altered / enhanced (you pick) his current view on the withdraw of US forces. The Post (and it’s even hard to type this) called his view ‘irrational’.

Obama departs on a fact-finding trip next week where he’ll meet with commanders on the ground, despite the conclusions he has already reached in his speech.

Despite melting ice caps Coast Guard needs more funds for icebreakers.

I thought the North Pole was melting…

The Coast Guard was up on Capitol Hill begging for more money to enhance and replace parts of the aging Arctic ice breaker fleet. Two of the vessels are nearly 30 years old and costing more and more to keep afloat, and the typical Washington bureaucratic shuffle now means the Coast Guards’ icebreaking funds are no longer directly controlled by the Coast Guard (long boring story).

In contrast, the Russians have a decided advantage in ice breaking skills with 8 nuclear powered cutters operating in their waters, plowing the way for their oil companies to rush into the Arctic ahead of our oil companies.

9 US soldiers died defending a base last week which we abandoned today

Shades of some LZ’s in Vietnam

U.S. forces abandoned the outpost in northeastern Afghanistan where nine American soldiers were killed in a heavy attack by insurgents three days ago, NATO officials said Wednesday.

The withdrawal handed a propaganda victory to the Taliban, and insurgents were quick to move into the village of Wanat beside the abandoned outpost, Afghan officials said. Insurgent fighters nearly overran the barely-built outpost in a dawn raid on Sunday, inflicting the biggest single loss of life for United States forces in Afghanistan since 2005….

A small force of only 45 American soldiers and 25 Afghans had occupied the Wanat outpost for just a few days before the attack Sunday. Outnumbered by militants they were nearly overrun and fought a four-hour pitched battle before the Taliban were repelled. Nine American soldiers were killed and 15 wounded. Four Afghans soldiers were also wounded

To be fair, it wasn’t a major base and US troops didn’t have the numbers they needed. The fact that they were able to hold off a numerically superior force is a testament to their abilities and the power of joint warfighting (i.e. aircraft and helicopters balancing out the equation).

Sudan promises to do what it is accused of doing if people persist in saying they have done it already.

Sudan reacted with anger today to the International Criminal Court’s indictment for war crimes in the Dafur region. Sudan promised to turn Darfur “into a graveyard” after President al-Bashir was accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. In addition, the UN also withdrew nonessential staff, and international peacekeepers were put on high alert, in anticipation of reprisals from government-run militias.

“Man developed in Africa. He has not continued to do so there.”–PJ O’Rourke.

Georgian-Russian War, version 2008

The President of George has called “Russia a Menace to Peace” in the recent war of words between the two countries. Last week Russia admitted that four aircraft flew over South Ossetia, the breakaway region that is the source of much controversy between the two governments. This comes during on top of the Russian ‘change of heart’ on Zimbabwe sanctions that saw them exercise their security council veto power.

This is one of those troublesome conflicts that could easily become a hot war in a matter of moments. The Russian military, still a hollow shell of their strength during the Cold War, is more than capable of inflicting great damage on Georgia’s military. Though small, Georgia has been making substantial purchases of armor in recent years.

From the FAS:

The weaponry purchased reportedly includes armored personnel carriers, self-propelled artillery, helicopters, and T-72 tanks. The latter three items called into question earlier statements that Georgia has no aggressive intentions and plans to strengthen its armed forces exclusively for defensive purposes, to repel any external invasion. These weapons are well suited for an offensive against the Ossetians. From mid-June to mid-July 2005, some 800 Georgian troops conducted large-scale tank exercises using some 170 battle tanks. One year earlier, Georgia had only 76 T-55 and T-72 tanks.

Are iPhone launches the new Woodstocks, Burning Man?

One of the odder things that’s been occurring with iPhone launches (and to a lesser extent, new versions of OSX) is the almost ’social’ aspects of the event where techies and even some non-techies show up and make a day (and a night) of the wait. If you read stories on blogs and in the newspapers you’ll find dozens of examples of people showing up who don’t even want to buy one, but just want to be part of the experience.

Reminds me of the time I bought the original OSX operating system from the Apple store in Soho, New York. The line stretch around the block in two directions, and for hours we had fashion models and ‘beautiful people’ heading to clubs and parties that would come up to us and ask questions. “What club are you in line for? What restaurant has this wait?” They were quite fearful that they were missing out on the new new thing. Their fears were alleviated when we had to reply ‘we’re waiting in line for new computer software.’ They all sort of smirked and went on their way.

One guy said ‘you should wait in line for Microsoft because I have stock in them.’ At the time, APPL was trading for about $20. Split adjusted it is now well over $400. Guess he should have noticed and listened to the mob.

Betancourt’s Guardian Angel

Now that the hubbub of the rescue has ended, the media is rightly turning their attention not the rescuers, but the man who saved Ingrid Betancourt while she was a prisoner. William Perez, a young corporal in the Colombian army and fellow hostage, helped Ingrid eat, cared for her when sick, and gave her the strength to fight on even after she had decided to stop eating and just give up.

When Betancourt gave up the will to live and refused to eat saying she wanted to die, it was Perez who urged her to remain strong, who spoon fed her, who constantly reminded her she had to stay alive with “a spoonful for her daughter Mélanie, one for her son Lorenzo and one for her mother Yolanda.”

France24 will have an interview with him at 2:10 Paris time (GMT+2) on July 10.

Sadly, William Perez’s grandmother died of a heart attack upon hearing that he had been freed.

There is also news that Betancourt and her husband may be on the rocks. Of course it’s a bit early after years in the jungle to be back to normal, but something is up.