Monday, June 30, 2008

Geopolitical Worries Send Oil Above 143 Dollars

By Robert Cookson, The Financial Times

Oil surged to a new record above 143 dollars a barrel on Monday as the dollar fell and worries about Iranian supply deepened.

Nymex August West Texas Intermediate rose $3.25 to $143.50 a barrel as the US dollar, in which oil is priced, weakened to a three-week low against the euro. Brent crude rose $3.38 a barrel to $143.69.

The commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards warned at the weekend that Iran would impose controls on shipping in the Gulf oil route if his country was attacked.

“Any confrontation between Iran and non-regional countries would surely be extended to oil which would definitely lead to a huge increase in prices,” Mohammad-Ali Jafari told the state-owned Jam-e Jam newspaper.

The Strait of Hormuz, a narrow waterway between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula, accounts for about 40 per cent of the world’s traded oil flows. Worries about an attack on Iran have intensified this month after reports that Israel had practised such a strike in the eastern Mediterranean.

Oil prices have jumped more than 40 percent this year and is heading for its biggest six-month gain since 1999 as investors seek to protect themselves against rising inflation and falling corporate earnings.

The falling value of the dollar has also boosted oil prices. On Monday the dollar fell to $1.5804 against the euro, the highest level in three weeks. The euro has gained 14 per cent against the US currency in the last year.

Last week Chakib Khelil, president of Opec, warned that oil prices could soon rise to $170 a barrel.

Meanwhile, copper prices rose as miners in Peru, the world’s second-largest copper producer, went on strike. Peru’s largest federation of mining unions said a nationwide strike had started, though it was not immediately clear what effect the action would have on production.

London Metal Exchange copper for delivery in three months rose $44 to $8590, taking its gains since the start of the year to 29 per cent.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Armageddon Britain

Earlier this week the Government's terrorism adviser, Lord Carlile QC, warned there was 'real anxiety' that private jets might be used as 'vehicle bombs' in terrorist attacks on Britain. But what form would such attacks take? Best-selling thriller writer Tom Cain, whose latest book centres on just such a plot, has talked to defence experts, academics, military personnel, atomic scientists and civil servants to create a chilling picture of what might happen . . .

Armageddon Britain: A detailed insight into how a terrorist attack on Britain could happen any day without warning

By Tom Cain. As published in Daily Mail Online.

The order came from the mountains of North Waziristan, the bleak, lawless tribal area of Pakistan which borders Afghanistan, where the leaders of Al Qaeda have spent the past five years hiding, rebuilding and planning their next atrocities.

It was given by the leader, known to his followers as The Sheik - a tall, slender figure with long beard and soft brown eyes - whose ruthless tactics had become known, and feared, the whole world over.

The plan was made possible by the 40kg of enriched, weapons-grade uranium 235 that The Sheik's most trusted associates had bought, at a cost of $150 million, with the profits of the opium trade that was flourishing once more.

As for the origins of 'the cargo', there was dispute even among the best-informed rumour-mongers of Waziristan.

Some said the uranium had come from the Iranian nuclear plant at Natanz. Others believed it was from North Korea, or even dissident elements in the Russian Federation.

Whatever the source, though, the outcome was the same.

The 'real and imminent' threat to which Mohammed al Baradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, had alerted the world in June 2004, had finally come true.

Al Qaeda had acquired the means, and the technical know-how, to build a crude, simple, but brutally effective nuclear bomb.

And now they intended to deliver it.

Before the bomb had even been completed, rumours of its existence had reached MI6, and been considered, analysed and then dismissed.

This was to prove a catastrophically foolhardy decision, but it was not an irrational one.

Rumours of rogue nukes had been doing the rounds for almost 20 years since the breakup of the old Soviet Union. Yet no bomb had ever been uncovered, let alone detonated.

For policy makers, forced to work with limited resources, the key consideration was the balance of probability.

And the most probable scenarios, in terms of attacks on the UK mainland, involved disaffected British citizens, using conventional weapons, delivered by groundbased vehicles.

Lord Carlile, the Government's terrorism adviser, might warn of the threat from the air, but the professionals were not convinced.

A rogue pilot would require military-level skills of high-speed, low-level flying to reach any high-profile target in British airspace.

A truck, on the other hand, was a far more reliable delivery platform. It could be driven direct to its target without anyone being any the wiser. But what if the attacker did not wish to be anonymous?

What if - as on 9/11 - global visibility was the whole point of the exercise? The attack on Britain, when it came, would be very visible indeed.

Anyone with £10million to spare can go online and buy a one or two-year-old Cessna Citation X, the fastest nonmilitary aircraft in the world, nearly capable of reaching the speed of sound.

Older models can be found for sale for as little as £5million - with only a few clicks on a computer mouse.

So it was that a respectable Jordanian businessman bought a five-year-old Citation for a little over £7million.

He immediately sold it on to an equally respectable Egyptian, whose connection to Al Qaeda dated back more than a decade, when - undetected by the authorities - he had been a member of its brother organisation, Egyptian Islamic Jihad.

No security checks were made at any stage of the purchase.

Buying an aeroplane is no different to buying a car in that respect. In the UK, the seller and buyer simply have to inform the Civil Aviation Authority of the transfer of ownership.

There is a 30-day time-limit within which that information must be provided. A man with a plane, and lethal intent, can do an awful lot of damage in those 30 days.

It is technically possible to turn an executive jet into an aircraft capable of dropping a bomb.

A hydraulically operated hatch in the belly of the plane, hinged at the front to minimise drag, would not be difficult to install.

Al Qaeda had no need of bomb hatches, however, for The Sheik had a far simpler, more reliable means of getting his bomb to its target: a man willing to die.

The suicide pilot was a former Iraqi Air Force officer, radicalised by extremist Sunni Muslim preachers and then filled with bitter hatred for Britain by the deaths of his wife and children during a firefight between British Army troops and insurgent militiamen in Basra.

The twin towers of the World Trade Center burning on September 11 - now a chief terror adviser has revealed that the risk of it happening again is now even more real.

The pilot would be accompanied by a co-pilot and passenger, purportedly a wealthy Saudi oil trader.

He was, in fact, a weapons technician, a follower of Al Qaeda who had trained under the rogue Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan, there to nursemaid the bomb he had helped create.

As for the nuke itself, it was the most basic form of 'gun-barrel' design. The 40kg of enriched uranium had been divided into two large slugs, placed at either end of a metal tube.

When triggered, one of the slugs would be fired by conventional explosives down the tube like a bullet, straight at the other slug.

A ring of another metal, beryllium, wrapped around the far end of the barrel, would reflect and concentrate the force of the impact, creating the critical mass required for a nuclear explosion.

This bomb was a puny weapon, by nuclear standards. Its blast was a mere kiloton - equivalent to 1,000 tons of TNT - less than one-tenth of the power unleashed on Hiroshima in August 1945.

Yet it would still destroy almost all buildings, vehicles and their occupants in a 600-yard radius, and cause further damage and casualties for up to two miles in every direction.

The nuclear fall-out spread by the blast could then render wide areas uninhabitable for years, and cause potentially fatal damage to any human who breathed it in.

As with the attacks on New York on September 11, 2001, a target was chosen to cause maximum panic and publicity.

Initially, the Canary Wharf Tower had been selected. But The Sheik had considered it too similar to New York's Twin Towers. Why mimic previous successes?

He wanted something different, something even closer to the heart of the British establishment.

His choice? The Houses of Parliament. That single kiloton would devastate Britain politically, financially and psychologically, bringing an infidel nation to its knees before the power of The Sheik's perverted distortion of Islam.

The bomb was smuggled over the borders of Pakistan, into Tajikistan. At an airport near the Tajik capital of Dushanbe, it was loaded onto the waiting Citation.

On a Wednesday morning at 9.30am, local time, the plane took off, routed to Farnborough airport, south-west of London, with a refuelling stop at Cannes Mandelieu in the South of France.

Both airports specialise in private aviation, and anyone is entitled to request a landing, if a slot is available. The formalities are negligible.

It is obligatory to inform UK Customs of any arrival from abroad.

But as long as both plane and pilot are properly licensed there are no further security checks.

Once a landing slot has been confirmed, the pilot is simply given a designated flight path to follow. It is scarcely any more difficult than driving a car across Europe.

At a cruising speed of 625mph, the flight to Cannes took a mere five hours, arriving shortly before 11.30am, Central European Time.

The plane spent just half an hour on the ground, refuelling.

The passengers did not disembark, so there was no need for a Customs inspection.

The bomb lay undisturbed at the rear of the passenger compartment, sitting in a wooden crate about 4ft long.

By noon, local time, 11am in the UK, the plane was en route for Farnborough, 600 miles away.

Forty minutes into the flight, the weapons technician checked the bomb one final time. It appeared to be in perfect working order.

He prayed he would have the courage to depress the trigger when the time came, thereby causing his own annihilation, and that of the entire political class of the United Kingdom.

Security chiefs believe that the Houses of Parliament would be one of the main targets for terrorist bombers.

The Queen was in residence at Buckingham Palace. Less than a mile away from Westminster, she and her servants would probably perish along with everyone else, including the 400 or so MPs who were making their way into the Commons chamber for Prime Minister's Questions.

The London Area Control Centre at Swanwick, Hants, handles almost two million flights a year over southern England.

Air traffic controllers were beginning the routine process of bringing the Citation in to land at Farnborough, along its assigned flight path.

As it crossed the South Coast of England, the plane descended and slowed as expected.

But then, 20 miles out of Farnborough, it veered north-east, heading directly towards London.

The Citation dipped down to 5,000ft. Then it began picking up speed.

The airspace over London and its airports forms a restricted zone that covers much of South-East England.

No airplane may enter it unless authorised to do so by air traffic control. Any unauthorised entry, or deviation from a designated flight path, leads to immediate action.

So it was that one of the controllers at Swanwick, tracking the Citation through the identification code which every aircraft transmits, radioed the pilot and ordered him to return to his prescribed flightpath.

There was no response. The controller tried again. Still no reply. So he followed the protocol laid down for intrusions into the restricted zone.

Just as the leader of the Opposition rose in the House to ask his first question, a call was made from Swanwick to RAF Coningsby, in Lincolnshire: 'We've got a QRA situation.'

The letters stand for Quick Reaction Alert. The RAF officer did not wait for any further explanation. By the time the Prime Minister had begun his reply, the officer had given the order to scramble.

The account of how Britain could react to a terrorist bomb says that the Queen could well be in residence at Buckingham Palace if it happened.

Three minutes later, a pair of 'Eurofighter' Typhoon jets from 3 (Fighter) Squadron were blasting into the air, climbing at more than 1,000ft a second before setting their course to cover the 134 miles south to London.

And now the race began. Flying at a top speed of 1,400 mph, the fighters had to intercept the intruder. Had the pilot made a mistake? Was there a technical problem on the plane? Or was something more sinister afoot? No one knew the answer to that.

British bureaucracy often moves at a pace that makes snails look like racing cheetahs. But not now.

Messages were sped to the Ministry of Defence, Home and Foreign Offices, intelligence services and the Prime Minister's office in a well-rehearsed drill.

Barely a minute had passed before the PM's chief of staff came bursting into the Commons, ignoring the garbled Glaswegian admonishments from the Speaker's chair, and rushed to his master.

The Prime Minister frowned in concentration as he took in what his aide was telling him, muttered a few words of reply and then, with a brief apology, hurried towards the exit.

As he went, he grabbed a mobile phone. He was about to make the biggest decision of his political life. And he had less than five minutes in which to make it.

In the Citation, the atmosphere had changed from one of expectancy and confidence to gut-wrenching tension.

The pilot was following the A3 dual carriageway that runs north into London. His course thus bisected the airspace between Heathrow and Gatwick.

As he crossed the M25, travelling at 500mph, he pressed the intercom and spoke to the men in the passenger compartment.

'Three minutes to target. Good luck, my brothers, and may the mercy and blessing of God be with you.'

In the RAF Typhoons, the atmosphere was just as tense. They were still 60 miles north of central London.

By now, the fighters' datafusion systems, by far the most advanced of any aircraft anywhere, had acquired the target and were providing the pilots with a detailed, three-dimensional picture of the crowded skies around them.

Their role was officially defined as follows: 'To detect, deter or destroy any aircraft intending to attack any target within the UK.'

All they needed was an order. And that had to come from the top.

The Prime Minister was not a man to make hasty decisions. He liked to consider an issue from every angle, to brood over its political implications.

Now though, as he sat in his armoured Jaguar XJ V8 being whisked away to a bomb shelter deep below Whitehall - an urgent matter of business, his officials were assuring the media, but nothing to get worked up about - he had to make up his mind in an instant.

The advice from the intelligence services was ambiguous. Yes, they had been passed information that Al Qaeda was planning a nuclear attack on the West, and this might be it.

But they were dealing with unconfirmed rumour. They had no proof either way.

The diplomats of the Foreign Office, steeped in decades of languid appeasement, naturally counselled caution.

Any hostile moves against an Egyptian-owned jet would be seen as an act of war in the Arab world, inflaming Muslim opinion still further against the UK.

Now the voice of the squadron leader commanding the Typhoons crackled over the line. 'Target in range. Awaiting orders.'

The Typhoons carried AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles, capable of locking onto and destroying a target more than 40 miles away.

That distance was closing by the second. Soon, they would switch to the short-range AIM-132 ASRAAM, designed for close-quarters combat.

The Citation's pilot had practised his approach countless times on computer simulators.

He raced over the suburbs of south-west London, dropping all the time, until he hit the River Thames and banked hard to the right, bringing the plane round to follow the line of the river all the way to his target.

Top-class military pilots, aided by an array of computer systems, are able to fly at virtual ground level at speeds in excess of 400mph.

An executive jet, however, is not designed for low-level flying, and the pilot had nothing to help him find his target but his eyes. Even at 200mph, he was stretching his abilities to the limit.

'What should I do?' The Prime Minister's question was aimed at Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, who, as Chief of the Defence Staff, was the professional head of the British Armed Forces.

Before he could answer, another message came through from the Typhoons.

'We have visual contact. My God, he's coming right at you! Request permission to fire.'

They were so close, racing over the bridges that spanned the Thames. A plaintive call came from the terrified man with the nuclear trigger in his hand, a single word: 'When?'

'Wait,' snapped the pilot. 'Just a few seconds more.'

The Air Chief Marshal thought for less than five seconds. Not so many years ago, the very thought of destroying a civilian aircraft over a major city would have been inconceivable.

But 9/11 had changed everything. Both military men and civilians now understood what such a plane could do.

It was thus a balance between the lives of a handful of likely terrorists, and a mass of innocent civilians. And that was no choice at all.

'Give the order, Sir,' he said. 'Do it,' said the Prime Minister.

'Now!' screamed the terrorist pilot, as he flung his plane into its final death dive.

The sudden movement took the weapons technician by surprise. For a moment, his sweat-soaked palms lost their grip of the bomb control.

It slipped on to his lap. He reached down to retrieve it, and at that precise moment the 10kg warheads of two AIM-132 missiles slammed into the Citation, blowing it apart in mid-air and destroying the bomb before it could be detonated.

The bulk of the plane's shattered fuselage and wings plunged into the river between Lambeth and Westminster bridges, just yards from Parliament.

Yet many razor-sharp fragments, some several feet across, crashed into the bridges and the buildings on both sides of the river, including St Thomas's Hospital.

A dozen people were killed and more than 100 injured, but a far greater catastrophe had been averted.

The bomb was destroyed before it could detonate, and the slugs of uranium 235, which emits only relatively low levels of radiation in its normal state, disappeared beneath the water, leaving no trace behind them.

Footage of the high-speed chase between the RAF Typhoons and the renegade executive jet had been captured on countless videocams and mobile phones. The first clips were on YouTube within minutes.

The major TV channels switched to round-the-clock news coverage, playing and replaying the footage again and again, interviewing anyone with an opinion to give or an axe to grind.

At first, the public accepted the official account, that a terrorist attack had been foiled. Slowly, however, the mood turned.

Al Qaeda immediately denied any involvement and The Sheik insisted, on a grainy, low-quality video, that the plane was part of a secret plot by the enemies of Islam to justify the West's increasingly desperate military actions in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Absurd as it was, the conspiracy theory nonetheless gained widespread credence. As riots began across the Middle East and the first cars began to burn on the streets of Bradford, many insisted that we British, not our imagined enemies, were truly to blame.

Nor did the beleaguered Prime Minister gain any credit at home for having averted catastrophe.

After all, wasn't it his party whose follies in Iraq had made Britain more vulnerable to such attacks? His government fell before the year was out.

Royal Navy divers recovered the uranium shortly after 1am on the night after the crash. The public were never informed that the plane had, indeed, been carrying a nuclear bomb. Well, it wouldn't do to spread alarm, nor reveal just how close Britain had come to catastrophe. Would it?

~ ~ ~

Tom Cain's new thriller, The Survivor, will be published by Bantam Press on July 28.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

O.K. Iran, Here's the Deal

Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation

Washington, DC

June 16, 2008

Updated P5+1 Package

On 14-15 June 2008, EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, accompanied by the Political Directors of China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom, presented Iran with an updated package of incentives on behalf of the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States). This package was delivered to several Iranian officials, including: Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki; Iran's lead nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili; and, the Speaker of the Majles, Ali Larijani.

Through delivery of the package, the members of the P5+1 renew our commitment to a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue through the dual-track strategy of both offering negotiations once Iran suspends its proliferation sensitive nuclear activities while increasing the pressure on Iran to comply with its international obligations through a range of targeted sanctions measures. We also demonstrate our continued support for the Iranian people and their legitimate aspirations for technological advancement and economic development.

The updated P5+1 package builds on the structure established in the previous offer, which the P5+1 presented to Iran in June 2006. In doing so, the package promises far-reaching benefits to the Iranian nation and people. In sum, these include:

  • Cooperation in support of Iran's peaceful use of nuclear energy through the provision of technological and financial assistance, support for Iran's construction of state-of-the-art light water reactors and guaranteed nuclear fuel supply, and cooperation in spent fuel and radioactive waste management;
  • Economic engagement, especially support for Iran's participation in the World Trade Organization, and increased direct investment in and trade with Iran;
  • Development of Iran's conventional energy infrastructure;
  • Assistance with Iran's agricultural development;
  • Cooperation with Iran in transportation, civil aviation, environmental, emergency response, and educational fields; and
  • Dialogue on political and regional security issues.

Iran's leaders claim to want civilian nuclear power. The members of the P5+1 will make this goal a reality if Iran accepts the cooperation offered. Moreover, that cooperation will open the way to a more productive economy and greater prosperity for all Iranians. The United States reiterates its long-standing willingness to engage Iran in direct negotiations, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has stated, "on any issue, any time, any place," provided Iran suspends its uranium enrichment-related and reprocessing activities.

Such suspension is required for negotiations to take place in an atmosphere of mutual confidence. We urge Iran to take this step without further delay.

~ ~ ~

From My Cold, Dead Hands

''A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.''

The Supreme Court struck down the District of Columbia's 32-year-old ban on handguns today, saying that Americans have a right to own guns for self defense and hunting, the first major decision on the Second Amendment since its ratification in 1791.

Pictured Above: NRA President Charlton Heston holds a gun aloft as he tells the crowd "I'll give up my gun when you take it from my cold, dead hands" at the 129th Annual Meeting and Exhibit in Charlotte, North Carolina, Saturday, May 20, 2000. (MCT)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Cobra Strikes

[This is what happens when a nation makes "peace" with terrorists. From Al Jazeera this morning.]

Abducted Pakistani elders 'killed'

The bodies of 22 tribal elders have been found in Pakistan's northwestern tribal region a day after they were captured by pro-Taliban fighters.

The bodies were found on Wednesday near Jandola, a town adjoining the South Waziristan tribal district where loyalists of Baitullah Mehsud, commander of the Pakistani Taliban, have fought pro-government tribesmen.

"According to our information 22 bodies of peace committee members have been found in Kiriwam village," Barkatullah Marwat, a district administration official, said.

A peace committee is a body of tribal elders and tribesmen working with the government to tackle pro-Taliban sentiment in the regions bordering Afghanistan.

"Some of the dead were shot and some had their throats slit," Marwat said.

During clashes earlier this week in Jandola, Taliban fighters captured about 27 people belonging to the peace committee and local tribal elders, he said.

Security officials said that the men's hands were tied behind their backs and the corpses left in a drain by a roadside.

'Reign of terror'

A spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan controlled by Mehsud, told the AFP news agency that it had carried out the killings and would soon decide the fate of another eight men.

"The men we killed were involved in thefts and robbery and had unleashed a reign of terror on the people. They were being patronised by the government," Maulvi Omar said.

"The government should not intervene in the current situation, otherwise peace talks would be seriously undermined."

Fighting between supporters of a pro-government tribal elder, called Turkistan Bitani, and fighters belonging to Mehsud's tribe broke out on Monday after rockets were fired at the home of a peace committee member.

Pro-Taliban gains

Kamal Hyder, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Islamabad, said the attacks came as pro-Taliban forces continue to tighten their grip in the region, espcially in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP).

"A lot of analysts believe that Peshawar is being surrounded by pro-Taliban factions. That is why the interior minister went there and warned people that the government could launch an operation in the Northwest Frontier Province."

Pakistan's military put the overall death toll from the violence at nine, and said that the Taliban fighters had withdrawn from Jandola.

"There is absolutely nothing now in Jandola. A total of nine people have been killed in fighting between tribes," Major General Athar Abbas, Pakistan's chief military spokesman, said.

But residents told the AFP news agency that the situation in Jandola was still tense and armed fighters were still present. All shops were closed down and roads were deserted, they said.

Pakistan's government began peace talks with Mehsud, who is based in the South Waziristan tribal region, after defeating supporters of Pervez Musharraf, the president, in elections in February.

Pakistan's border regions have been the scene of fighting between troops and pro-Taliban fighters since the fall of the movement in neighbouring Afghanistan in 2001.

There have also been several outbreaks of violence between the area's Pashtun tribes.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Wish You Were Here

View from Ladera’s Villa G, St. Lucia. Named #1 Hotel in the World by Condé Nast Traveler readers. All photos: PRNewsFoto.

The Grand America Hotel receives AAA Five Diamond award for the second consecutive year (photo of the Grand America Lobby Lounge).

Fontainebleau Resort, Miami, Florida.

New York City's Roosevelt Hotel lobby.

The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess.

Cabo Azul Resort & Spa Turns Up The Heat in Los Cabos.

~ ~ ~

Dear Readers, I will be on "vacation" (throwing lead) until I return. No kidding. If you don't hear from me after 20 days, mail that letter I sent you. Yes, kidding. I'll be back in about three weeks, but may drop in from time to time. Thanks for reading. ;) - covertress

CNO Visits Counterpart in Israel

HAIFA NAVAL BASE, Israel (June 21, 2008) Debarking the Eilat-class corvette INS Lahav (SAAR 502), Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), Adm. Gary Roughead salutes members of the Israeli Navy. Roughead is participating in a counterpart visit to continue strengthening and developing global maritime partnerships to increase maritime security. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tiffini M. Jones (Released)

CNO Visits Israel for Counterpart Visit

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW) Rebekah Blowers, Chief of Naval Operations Public Affairs

TEL AVIV, Israel (NNS) -- Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), Adm. Gary Roughead is visiting Israel from June 21-24 at the invitation of Israeli Navy Commander, Vice Adm. Eli Marum, to strengthen and further develop global maritime partnerships and increase maritime security.

CNO toured Haifa and Ashdod Naval Bases where he got underway on INS Lahav, an Eilat-class corvette; went aboard the Israeli Dolphin-class submarine, INS Tukuma; and met with Israeli Navy and Ministry of Defense officials. Roughead said closer ties and cooperation are mutually beneficial to both navies.

"This is my first visit to Israel, and I've found it to be extremely worthwhile, productive and enjoyable both professionally and personally," Roughead said. "This is an important visit because of the close relationship between our nations and our navies."

CNO stressed the significance of Israel as an important partner to maintaining regional maritime security and achieving key objectives of the cooperative maritime strategy.

"It is important for us to discuss the views we have on maintaining security and safety of our world's oceans and the sea lanes of communication that are important to the prosperity of our countries," said Roughead.

Although this is Roughead's first visit to Israel since becoming Chief of Naval Operations in September 2007, this is the third occasion in which he's had substantive meetings with Marum. Roughead said he looks forward to future visits with the Israeli Navy, as well as other maritime partners throughout the world. Roughead believes that many countries in the region, including Israel, share common interests in combating piracy, promoting stability and securing the maritime domain.

For more news from Chief of Naval Operations, visit

Dedicated to Barack...

Models on the catwalk for Versace Spring/Summer 2009 collection during the Milan Fashion Week. (Zuma)

[activate (non-government funded) gay-dar now]

~ ~ ~

Dedicated to Barack...

Calling Barack Obama "the man of the moment," Donatella Versace dedicated her Spring-Summer 2009 collection to presidential hopeful Obama, creating a style she said was designed for "a relaxed man who doesn't need to flex muscles to show he has power."

~ ~ ~

I'm visualizing Barack in that lavender/white sweater... ;P

[ding, ding, ding]

George Carlin

Photo: Mike Fisher, Chicago Tribune.

Comedian George Carlin Passes Away

Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television. Those words, uttered by Carlin during a 1972 show in Milwaukee made him "a footnote in American legal history, which I'm perversely kind of proud of," he told The Associated Press earlier this year. Carlin's use of these seven words resulted in a 1978 Supreme Court case which upheld the government's authority to sanction stations for broadcasting offensive language during hours when children might be listening.

George Carlin passed away on Sunday of heart failure at 71. His honesty and humor will be sorely missed.

George Carlin - Seven Words [NSFW language]

George Carlin - on Death [NSFW language]

George Carlin - on Religion [NSFW language]

Tom Moe

Columbus, Ohio USA June 19, 2008 -- Veteran Tom Moe of Lancaster, Ohio poses beside a cardboard bust of presidential candidate John McCain created from an old photo of McCain during his service as a Naval aviator. The bust was located inside a regional campaign office.

Moe, an F4 pilot during the Vietnam War, was shot down in 1968 and imprisoned in Hanoi where he endured harsh treatment and became acquainted with another prisoner--John McCain.

Moe was asked to explain his support of John McCain's candidacy. He answered by harkening back to his years of captivity. He described looking through a hole in the door of his cell and watching McCain being returned to a cell across from his. He said, "I think of that now, watching him come back from beatings and torture. He knew I'd be looking at him. He'd look over at the door and give a big thumbs up, no matter how beaten he was. The message was, they're not going to get us down. I look back at that, and I know personally of his strength.... Here' a guy with the qualities that can get the job done."

Moe is a chairman of Ohio Veterans for McCain. He posed for this photo during an official opening of a regional office for the John McCain for President Campaign.

~ ~ ~

Pure Torture
By Tom Moe

I was hiding under a log. Doing my best to masquerade as North Vietnam terrain, I'd pulled branches on top of me, smeared mud on my face, and arranged leaves and other foliage to stick out of my clothes. I was 20 miles behind enemy lines, having parachuted out of my F-4C fighter aircraft when a weapon malfunction blew it, along with my wingman, to bits. So far my terrain act was working; a group of North Vietnamese soldiers had passed, unaware of my presence, within six feet of me.

I'd heard on my survival radio that two other pilots had been rescued on the day of our mishap. Now, after three days in the cold and rainy jungle, I knew planes were on their way for me. It looked like a question of who would find me first.

I was eventually betrayed by a small hole in my camouflage through which I poked my radio antenna. Within seconds a zillion rifles were pointed straight at my head. Thus began a month-long, 100-mile journey to the "Hanoi Hilton" to begin my five years as a prisoner of war -- where I would get to know pain on a personal basis.

North Vietnamese policy was that POWs were war criminals, a policy that supposedly justified brutal treatment and total control. That control was reflected by a list of regulations posted in each cell. Rule number one was the catchall: "Criminals will strictly follow all regulations or be severely punished."

The scenario was quite simple. An interrogator would tell you to do something, like give out military information. When, predictably, you would refuse, you were told you had violated the regulations and had to be punished. The word "punish" still evokes in me a slight feeling of nausea since it meant, at the very least, beatings that would last several days and nights. Punishment ultimately meant torture, and to torture was to extract submissiveness. I found you could be tortured for accusing them of using torture.

Torture is methodically applied pain to produce a wearing effect -- to make you submit. Usually the pain would reach a level just short of stopping vital functions, although it could continue even after one lost consciousness.

Its preliminary stages could start with something as simple as being sat on a stool, dressed in long pajamas (in summer) or just shorts (in the winter). The summer jungle air was suffocating; the damp, cold winter air was penetrating. After a while, you became a lump of huddled misery, sitting in the heat or biting cold. During a single session I sat on a stool in the same position 24 hours a day for 10 straight days.

Sometimes the guards would tie you to the stool with your wrists strapped to your ankles, but usually you were left untied and told not to move, only being allowed to get up to visit the putrid waste bucket in the corner. And the guards were always nearby. If you moved a muscle, they'd pummel you with their fists and gun butts until they tired. I don't remember sleeping during these periods -- just pain and the interminable passage of time.

After I spent days being worn down, interrogators would enter the scene, curiously almost a welcome break from "stool time." Tired and numb, many of us prisoners at first would give name, rank, and serial number -- like you see in the movies. But this is fool's play and contrary to our military training, because this open belligerency would earn some pretty tough knocks. To survive you had to get your mind going and overcome the tendency to react with your emotions. You had to fight through the haze of fatigue to recall the specialized training, and it worked. Although the interrogations and torture rarely lightened up, with the resistance techniques we were taught we were able to avoid giving any useful or classified information.

I was fortunate because, as a young lieutenant fresh out of pilot training on my first assignment, I didn't know anything of real worth. The senior officers were really under the gun. If the enemy wanted something and knew you knew it, they would stop at nothing to get it. Thus we were trained to be clever, an actor, under stress.

What I was not prepared for were the effects of solitary confinement. For the first nine months of my captivity, and sporadically later, I didn't see, hear or talk to another American. Although physical pain was inflicted on me deliberately and effectively, I would discover what an incredible burden mental pain would add to my suffering, how a dark fog slowly could creep over my consciousness, trying to rob me of my remaining power of reasoning. I saw that the mind could convince life itself to slip away through the beckoning black hole that pain created. I learned how vital it was to keep the mind as sharp as possible.

This was necessary to get through interrogations and also for survival. If you didn't keep your mind clear, the "V," as we called the North Vietnamese, would crush you through a steady dose of pain that eroded mind and body like a vicious chemical.

The body is first to give up. You cannot keep yourself from passing out, throwing up, screaming. I discovered that the more the body convulsed involuntarily, the more I could observe it as though it belonged to someone else. I found I could intellectualize pain, which allowed me to take a quantum leap in my tolerance of it. Sometimes, though, the problem was staying in touch with reality enough to keep alive. Detaching oneself too much has an insidious narcotic effect that invades one's reason and dulls normal danger signals. This is probably the way nature helps us die without being all tensed up.

I walked a psychic tightrope between too much pain and too much mental retreat from reality. That meant fighting back against the siren lure of pain-free death. Sometimes I knew I needed to feel pain. Pain could keep my senses sharp, my contact with reality stronger. I recalled the saying, "Pain purifies." This may not be entirely sensible, but it was curiously relevant then. Sometimes I would try to observe the pain process and translate the feeling into some sort of metaphysical experience -- something interesting to contemplate, something detached. Sometimes when the pain got to be too much for the physical side of me, nature would take over and I would simply pass out.

I based my mental retreats not on fantasy but on real things. I designed and built homes, about 10 of them -- some dream houses, others more practical. First I made a floor plan, then the exterior, and then I would build them in my mind nail by nail, down to the most minute detail. I'd design it, lay the cement, put up the two-by-fours, drive each nail, and even saw each board -- slowly. If it progressed too fast, I would envision a bad cut on a board and resaw it.

I made lists. I made a list of every country I could think of, then every capital. I even made a list of all the candy bars I could think of. I tried to think of everything I had ever learned; once I reviewed everything I'd learned about trees. Sometimes I'd derive mathematical formulas, spending hours in the process. I could get completely wrapped up in this, completely escaping into my mind. With mental exercise came resolve -- if I could help it, this was not going to be the place where I cashed it in.

Isolation lasted about nine months, until I was moved to another prisoner of war camp in Hanoi. There I got a roommate, Myron Donald from Moravia, New York. For more than a year we lived together in a windowless concrete bunker we called the Gunshed. During that time Myron would save my life.

It was a hot box, the Gunshed, so hot we could hardly breathe. It was so stifling that just to breathe we often lay by a small slit under the door through which our jailers slid food.

The food itself was used against us like everything else. It usually consisted of watery green soup (we called it weeds) and a chunk of tasteless bread. The soup was delivered boiling hot in the summer and stone cold in the winter. When it was hot we couldn't take a mouthful, since eating raises the body metabolism and thus body heat. If the guards didn't return too quickly, we would let the food sit until dark and the room temperature had slacked off to, maybe, 110 degrees.

We perspired so much our skin became waterlogged, looking like pale cheese, a crumbling coat of slimy flesh often festering with rash and fungus. Horribly dehydrated, we got only two little teapots of putrid water a day, and we used some of it to dampen our faces and wash off the crumbling skin. On top of this, mosquitoes were thick, their wings creating a constant chorus, and the room stank of the waste bucket. Rat droppings seasoned the food along with razor blades, glass, stones and pieces of wire. Actually some of this unexpected booty came in handy.

After about a year of captivity when, oddly, I was getting accustomed to the harshness, my journey took me down an even darker path. The situation developed slowly. First I was told I might win an early release if I would cooperate and meet with some visiting delegations -- anti-war groups or radical Hollywood personalities -- and tell them I had been treated well. I refused these special favors and at any rate would not participate in their propaganda. When they kept pressuring me, I went on a hunger strike -- an emaciated prisoner would not make good propaganda I reasoned. This got me off the go-home-early list but angered my jailers if only because I was not submissive. Thus began the really hard stuff.

Things started with long sessions of standing immobile around the clock; next I was put on my knees for three, four, six hours at a time. This went on for days. It was the first phase, sort of a limbering-up session to wear me out and take the edge off my powers of reasoning. Then I was told to write a war-crimes confession, saying I was sorry I'd participated in the war. When I refused, I got to serve as a stress reliever for about 20 guards -- each took his turn beating me to a pulp. They pounded me for six or eight hours. By then I was getting pretty shaky. Then they got serious. I was introduced to a bowl of water, some filthy rags and a steel rod. The guards stuffed a rag in my mouth with the rod, then, after putting another rag over my face, they slowly poured the water on it until all I was breathing was water vapor. I could feel my lungs going tight with fluid and felt like I was drowning. I thrashed in panic as darkness took over. As I passed out, thinking I was dying, I remember thanking God that we had made a stand against this kind of society.

When my senses returned I discovered I had been blindfolded and trussed into the "pretzel" position. Thick leg irons shackled my ankles, my wrists were tied behind me, and a rope bound my elbows just above the joints. The guards tightened the bindings by putting their feet against my arms and pulling the ropes until they couldn't pull any harder. Then they tied my wrists to my ankles and jammed a 10-foot pole between my back and elbows. After a few hours the leg irons began to press heavily on my shins and feet like a vise. The ropes strangled my flesh, causing searing pain and making my arms go numb and slowly turn black.

In the middle of the night, one of the less hostile guards, whom we called Mark, sneaked in and loosened the ropes a little. If he hadn't, I'm sure I would have lost both arms. In this case I would have vanished with the other badly injured POWs who never were repatriated.

After a few hours, the guards came back and jerked up on the pole, lifting me up and down by my elbows then slamming me to the floor on my face or backward on my head. This went on through the early morning hours.

At dawn two Vietnamese officers casually strolled in. I told them they might kill me, but I still wasn't interested in their propaganda. They laughed and calmly said, "It's easy to die but hard to live, and we'll show you just how hard it is to live."

Indeed the pain got to the point where I truly wanted to die. My mind games weren't sufficient to help me manage any more pain. I tried screaming to relieve the stress until the grimy rag was stuffed back into my mouth. I tried doing anything to take my mind away from what was happening, but I couldn't. My prayers became desperate gasps. The only solution was to stop living, but what can you do when you're tied up? You can't will your heart to stop beating.

After about a week I finally told the guards I'd write the confession. I had to get out of the ropes, collect my thoughts, and perhaps muster a bit more strength to still do nothing or at least moderate what would happen. My hosts knew exactly what I was thinking and simply said, "It's too late." They brought in a guard who sported the only leather boots I ever saw in North Vietnam. I don't know what they told him, but he looked like he wanted to kill me. He looked insane, his eyes wide open, and he practically jumped up and down when they turned him loose on me.

From my point of view, what went on next didn't last long. He began by kicking me in the back with all the strength he could exert. After this first savage kick, just one kick, I knew I'd been badly injured, maybe mortally. The pain was grave, more of a deep sickening feeling. My mind floated free of my body as if I were a spectator, not a participant. I was beyond pain.

Sometime the next day the guards untied me, and I sprawled on the bloody floor, red fluid oozed out of every opening in my body. I had no strength to sit or stand; I just sort of unrolled. In spite of my sorry state, I did not want to look undignified, so I tried to get up. I managed to crawl to a corner and sit leaning against the wall, trying desperately to gather my thoughts.

We spent the next three days working on the war-crimes confession, but the guards would wave whatever I wrote in my face and scream that it wasn't satisfactory. Were they seeing through my innuendos and double meanings? I could feel myself starting to panic as I could feel my last remaining defenses slipping.

The demands increased now to a taped confession. Somehow I still found the strength to refuse -- perhaps a little bit too resolutely, because they reverted to the hard stuff again. I was having trouble remembering those precious resistance techniques I had been taught so many light years ago. I started making a tape, pushing my sluggish brain to come up with ideas to show acceptable submissiveness to my wards yet useless for propaganda. My attempts were not convincing, so the torture continued. I told myself just to make it one more day, and then just one more. ... Anyone trained in such affairs knows that constant torture can make captives reach a point where they can't maintain mental equilibrium, and my captors knew it too. They could break me, and I was becoming frantic, fearing my strength would not last.

Then, they stopped -- just like that. Some weeks had gone by, and perhaps they had other business. Maybe they figured I might not make it. Although they had murdered prisoners, I believe most of my colleagues who died were accidentally tortured to death. The North Vietnamese knew they could not win the war militarily, but they might succeed if they garnered world sympathy. It would be difficult for them to look good if too many POWs "died in captivity." But I came pretty close, as did many of my mates.

My immediate challenge was to recover from the kidney and chest injuries from that wild night of "kick the Yankee." My entire body was bloated, my eye sockets two puffy slits. You could stick your finger into me up to your knuckle and pull it out leaving a hole that would slowly fill with fluid. Myron didn't recognize me at first when I was thrown back in our cell. He set my broken ribs with his fingertips and used our shirts to bind my chest. Occasionally the ribs would click out of place, and he would reset them. But it didn't take long after I was on the mend for the torture sessions to resume.

As I grew more and more weary, I had to cope with one of the most corrosive elements of the human spirit -- hate. Hate is a terrible distraction, a horribly destructive human enterprise. Hate invades the consciousness when the mind's reasoning power fades. Hate is a way we assign blame for our plight when our faith weakens and our resolve becomes clouded. Pain intensifies hate, making us want to strike out at something.

I stumbled into this blackness and, with vivid flashes of bitter invectives, cursed everything I had held sacred. I bathed in self-pity and resolved all my sufferings with the most wicked solutions. Although I drew some strength from hate, I finally realized I was drawing it from the devil. I journeyed into the lowest point in my life. And then I was truly exhausted.

I "came to" after a particularly horrific torture session, alone, lying on a stone floor, more naked than clothed, bruised, filthy, gaunt, and panting in little puppy breaths. I felt surprisingly free of pain and acutely aware of every inch of my surroundings. I knew I wasn't very healthy, and I was startled at how my body looked like a bag of leftover chicken bones.

My knees looked huge compared to the rest of my scrawny legs. Lying on my side, I could place a fist between my thighs and touch only air. But I didn't hurt anywhere. I thought maybe I was dead. I thought about many, many things as I lay there almost motionless for days. I prayed and prayed and prayed. ...

Finally the cell door peephole quietly opened and an eyeball squinted into the darkness. Then it was gone. A few minutes later the heavy wooden door opened with a clanging of keys and sliding bolts. An enamel plate skittered across the floor and halted just short of my slowly blinking eyes. On it was a mound of raw salt crystals piled on top of some rice. "The salt is for beriberi," the voice said, and the door banged shut.

I thought for a moment: Does he mean the salt will give me beriberi or prevent it? I chuckled to myself. My feeble attempt at humor was an elixir. Even though I would spend several more years as a guest of Uncle Ho, I knew I was over the hump. Humor, faith and mental focus would allow me to endure. I felt human, mentally whole and refreshed.

Maybe there is something to that old saying about pain purifying, but I would not prescribe the treatment.

~ ~ ~

Captured in North Vietnam in January 1968, Thomas Moe was released in 1973. Two years later he earned a master's degree from Notre Dame, where he eventually served as professor of aerospace studies and commander of the Air Force ROTC program. He retired from the Air Force in fall 1995. (From: Notre Dame Magazine; printed January 1996.)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Our Time Is Up

Our Time Is Up - YouTube link

A therapist discovers he has six weeks to live and gets brutally honest. Oscar Nominated for Best Live Action Short Film for the 78th Academy Awards. Written and directed by Rob Pearlstein.

Muslims Demonstrate in London Today

Muslims Demonstrate in London Today - YouTube link

Abu Izzadeen

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A photograph of Abu Izzadeen, heckling Home Secretary John Reid on 20 September 2006 - (BBC video link).

The leader of today's demonstration in London, Abu Izzadeen (Arabic: ابو عز الدين‎, Abū ‘Izz ad-Dīn), born as Trevor Brooks (18 April 1976), is a spokesman for Al Ghurabaa, a Muslim organization banned under the Terrorism Act 2006 for the glorification of terrorism, that operated in the United Kingdom. Abu Izzadeen was arrested because of these films placed on an internet site. The police also arrested five others during the same raid. He was convicted on charges of terrorist fund-raising and inciting terrorism overseas on 17th April 2008.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


Oil Tanker at Al-Basrah Offshore Oil Terminal in Umm Qasr, Persian Gulf. Photo: U.S. Navy. All images from GAO.

U. S. energy needs rest heavily on ship-based imports. Tankers bring 55 percent of the nation’s crude oil supply, as well as liquefied gases and refined products like jet fuel.

These energy commodities require different handling methods, and as a result, various kinds of tankers have been built to accommodate them.

An LNG carrier is designed for transporting LNG at minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit, when gas liquefies and shrinks drastically in volume. The cargo is transported in special tanks insulated to minimize evaporation. LNG carriers are up to 1,000 feet long and have a draft (depth below the water line) of 40 feet when fully loaded.

The global LNG fleet is expected to double from 200 in 2006 to over 400 by 2010. According to industry reports, the existing fleet has completed more than 33,000 voyages without a substantial spill.

Oil tankers are more numerous and vary greatly in size. Tankers transporting crude oil from the Middle East generally consist of Very Large Crude Carriers, which typically carry more than 2 million barrels of oil per voyage. These ships are over 1,000 feet long, nearly 200 feet wide, and have a draft of over 65 feet (pictured above).

These ships are too big for most U.S. ports and must transfer their loads to smaller tankers (a process called lightering) or unload at an offshore terminal.

At present, the United States has only one such offshore terminal—the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP). LOOP, the only U.S. deepwater oil port that can handle fully loaded Very Large Crude Carriers, is located 18 miles off the Louisiana coast and currently handles about 10 percent of U.S. crude oil imports.

Most tankers transporting cargos from the Caribbean and South America, by contrast, are smaller than Very Large Crude Carriers and can enter U.S. ports directly.


Tanker with Insert of Double Hull. - Click to enlarge image.

The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 requires that all tankers built after 1994 coming to the United States must have double hulls—that is, a two-layered hull to help prevent spills resulting from a collision or grounding.


According to the Energy Information Administration, the United States consumes more than 20 million barrels of petroleum every day. Of that amount, over 65 percent comes from foreign sources.

The top suppliers of crude oil and petroleum products to the United States in 2005 were Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Nigeria—each supplying over 1 million barrels of petroleum per day.

Top Exporters of Petroleum to the United States in 2005 (Millions of barrels per day.)

Iraq, Algeria, Angola, Russia, and the United Kingdom are also major energy suppliers with daily imports to the United States of up to 500,000 barrels per day. These top 10 energy suppliers accounted for approximately 75 percent of all U.S. petroleum imports in 2005.

All petroleum imports to the United States from those countries arrive on tankers, except those from Canada.


Tanker Limburg after Terrorist Attack near Yemen.

Attacks overseas show that tankers face several major types of threats that, if carried out domestically, could have serious consequences. Overseas, terrorists have demonstrated the ability to carry out at least three main types of threats.

First—and overall of greatest concern to officials the GAO spoke with—is a suicide attack, such as the 2002 suicide boat attack on the tanker Limburg off the coast of Yemen. This attack killed 1 person, injured 17, and spilled 90,000 barrels of oil.

A second major type of threat, known as a "standoff attack," uses a rocket or other weapon launched at a sufficient distance to allow the attackers to evade defensive fire.

A third type of threat is an armed assault. For example, well-armed bands have used small boats to attack tankers, loading facilities, and oil workers.

Many other types of potential attacks exist, such as internal crew conspiracies and collisions with other vessels piloted by terrorists.

To date, no such attacks have occurred on tankers in U.S. waters or on loading facilities in U.S. ports, and intelligence officials report there is currently no specific credible threat to tankers or terminals on the domestic front.

Nonetheless, these successful attacks abroad, the expressed desire by terrorists to target U.S. economic interests, and the potential outcome of a terrorist attack on a tanker have led Congress and the Administration to conclude that protective efforts are warranted.

A successful attack on an energy commodity tanker could have substantial public safety, environmental, and economic consequences.

Public safety and environmental consequences of an attack vary by commodity.

For instance, highly combustible commodities like LNG and LPG have the potential to catch fire, or in a more unlikely scenario—if they are trapped in a confined space such as under a dock—explode, posing a threat to public safety.

Crude oil and heavy petroleum products remain in the environment after they are spilled and must be removed, potentially causing significant environmental damage.

Finally, the economic consequences of a major attack could include a temporary price spike reflecting fears of further attacks, and supply disruptions associated with delays of shipments if major transit routes, key facilities, or key ports are closed.

The loss of one cargo of an energy commodity might not have a significant, sustained price impact. However, if an attack results in port closures for multiple days or weeks, price responses and higher costs could mean losses in economic welfare to consumers, businesses, and government amounting to billions of dollars.

Navies of various countries, including the United States, are patrolling threatened waters, such as the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Aden, due to attacks on ships, including tankers, and port facilities.

Much security remains to be implemented.

~ ~ ~

Source: Report to Congressional Requesters, United States Government Accountability Office (GAO). MARITIME SECURITY: Federal Efforts Needed to Address Challenges in Preventing and Responding to Terrorist Attacks on Energy Commodity Tankers. (PDF 4.77 MB)

Surveillance Cameras

from - h/t Schneier on Security

Click to enlarge image.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Charlie Wilson's War

Based on a True Story...

Charlie Wilson: You're no James Bond.
Gust Avrakotos: You're no Thomas Jefferson, either. Let's call it even.

"Good-Time Charlie" Wilson, a flawed and fun-loving Congressman from the piney woods of East Texas, deftly operates the levers of power to funnel money and weapons to the Mujahedin of Afghanistan following the Soviet invasion of their country in late 1979. Charlie finds assistance in the oddest of places -- a renegade CIA agent (Gust Avrakotos) whose outsider status and womanizing ways endears him to Wilson; a Houston socialite (Joanne Herring) who leads Wilson to the cause; the willing Pakistani dictator (General Zia-ul-Haq) fascinated by the socialite; the Israelis who modify and manufacture Soviet weapons to maintain the wink-and-nudge illusion of American neutrality; and the women (the original Charlie's Angels.)
Based on the story that is so true and engaging that artistic liberties are not needed, even if they are taken in the film.

George Crile, author, with Charlie Wilson in Afghanistan.

Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History

"These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world... and then we fucked up the endgame." - Charlie Wilson

Gust Is Pissed - scene [NSFW language]

"My loyalty?! For twenty-four years people have been trying to kill me. People who know how. Now, do you think that's because my Dad was a Greek soda pop maker? Or do you think it's because I'm an American spy?!" - Gust Avrakotos
~ ~ ~
Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays Gust Avrakotos, was nominated for an Oscar - Best Performance for an Actor in a Supporting Role. He certainly deserved it.
Overall, I found Charlie Wilson's War the most captivating film I have seen in a long time; it comes with my highest recommendation. - c

50: The New 20

At 50, Sharon Stone is the new Face of Damiani

Damiani, recipient of an unprecedented eighteen Diamond International Awards -- the "Oscars of the Jewelry World" -- proved that Damiani is truly a girl's best friend at tonight's press event revealing Sharon Stone, an iconic figure of Hollywood glamour as the new face of Damiani.

Damiani campaigns have always featured women with strong personalities and natural beauty. This is a unique campaign, one of great impact as Sharon Stone perfectly interprets the house's style -- her beauty is accented by her wearing jewels from Damiani's most important collections. Renowned photographer Solve Sundsbo who shot the campaign on March 20th in Los Angeles, succeeded masterfully in capturing the essence of Sharon Stone as well as the brilliance and elegance of Damiani's jewels.

Silvia Damiani and Sharon Stone

Photos: PRNewsFoto - Click to enlarge images.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Obama's Private Campaign Contributions

Photo from News Sophisticate blog.

Thx, G.

Just Another Obama Supporter

Sen. Barack Obama Rally with Oprah, HyVee Hall, Saturday, Dec. 8, 2007. Photo by Joe Crimmings.

Frankly, and I know I speak for more than one Republican, I'm getting a little sick and tired of Obama smear stories. For heaven sakes, there are so many! We get it. He's not "our guy." However, when Barack Hussein Obama II receives a glowing endorsement like this one, well, good news is just hard to pass up without sharing. ;) - c

~ ~ ~

Following are excerpts from a public address delivered by Libyan Leader Mu'ammar Al-Qadhafi marking the anniversary of the U.S. air raid on Libya. The address aired on Al-Jazeera TV on June 11, 2008. From

video link

Mu'ammar Al-Qadhafi: It has been proven that there is no democracy in [the U.S.]. Rather, it is a dictatorship no different than the dictatorships of Hitler, Napoleon, Mussolini, Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, and the rest of the tyrants. In the days of crazy Reagan, the American president issued a presidential order to launch a war against Libya, for example, a presidential order to besiege Libya, a presidential order to boycott Libya, and so on. Is this a democracy or a dictatorship?


There are elections in America now. Along came a black citizen of Kenyan African origins, a Muslim, who had studied in an Islamic school in Indonesia. His name is Obama. All the people in the Arab and Islamic world and in Africa applauded this man. They welcomed him and prayed for him and for his success, and they may have even been involved in legitimate contribution campaigns to enable him to win the American presidency. But we were taken by surprise when our African Kenyan brother, who is an American national, made statements that shocked all his supporters in the Arab world, in Africa, and in the Islamic world. We hope that this is merely an elections "clearance sale," as they say in Egypt – in other words, merely an elections lie. As you know, this is the farce of elections – a person lies and lies to people, just so that they will vote for him, and afterwards, when they say to him: "You promised this and that," he says: "No, this was just elections propaganda." This is the farce of democracy for you. He says: "This was propaganda, and you thought I was being serious. I was fooling you to get your votes."

Allah willing, it will turn out that this was merely elections propaganda. Obama said he would turn Jerusalem into the eternal capital of the Israelis. This indicates that our brother Obama is ignorant of international politics, and is not familiar with the Middle East conflict.


We thought he would say: "I have decided that if I win, I will monitor the Dimona nuclear plant, and the other WMDs in Israeli's possession." We expected him to make such a decision. He undoubtedly had this in mind. When he talked about Iran and its nuclear program, he undoubtedly had Dimona in mind. But when he was thinking about Dimona, he undoubtedly had the fate of former president Kennedy on his mind as well. Kennedy decided to monitor the Dimona nuclear plant. He insisted on doing so, in order to determine whether or not it produces nuclear weapons. The Israelis refused, but he insisted. This crisis was resolved with the resignation of Ben-Gurion. He resigned so he would not have to agree to the monitoring of the Dimona plant, and he gave the green light for the killing of Kennedy. Kennedy was killed because he insisted on the monitoring of the Dimona plant. This image was undoubtedly on Obama's mind. He undoubtedly wanted to talk about this, but decided not to.


We expected him to say: "If I win, I will implement the one-state solution – the "Isratine" which appears in Qadhafi's White Book." This idea constitutes the final, deep-rooted, and historic solution. It is impossible to establish two midget-states in this area. What kind of country is only 15 km deep? The so-called Israel is only 15 km deep. What kind of a country is this?

There are five million Palestinians there. We expected Obama to say: "I've decided to return millions of Palestinian refugees to the land of Palestine, from which they were expelled in 1948 and 1967." This is the "change" that the peoples applaud, the change that the American people – and the black people in America – want.

We expected him to say: "I will strive for the independence and unity of the Kurdish nation. This nation must take its place under the sun in the Middle East." The Kurdish nation is torn apart, tormented, and persecuted, and is colonized by everyone. He should have supported it, instead of supporting the collaborators, while sacrificing the future of the Kurdish nation. This is "change."


The thing we fear most is that the black man suffers from an inferiority complex. This is dangerous. If our brother Obama feels that because he is black he doesn't have the right to rule America, this would be a disaster, because such a feeling would make him behave whiter than the white, and go to an extreme in his persecution and degradation of the blacks.


We say to him: Brother, the whites and blacks in America are equal. They are all immigrants. America belongs neither to the whites nor to the blacks. America belongs to its original inhabitants, the Indians. Both the whites and the blacks immigrated to America, and so they are equal, and Obama has the right to hold his head high, and say: "I am a partner in America. This is my land as much as it is yours. If it is not my land, it is not yours either. It is the land of the Indians. You are immigrants, and so are we."


We still hope that this black man will take pride in his African and Islamic identity, and in his faith, and that [he will know] that he has rights in America, and that he will change America from evil to good, and that America will establish relations that will serve it well with other peoples, especially the Arabs.

~ ~ ~

A Toast: To John McCain. May he channel more than a bit of our "crazy Reagan."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Inside the Taliban Prison Break

An Afghan policeman looks through the debris of the entrance of the Kandahar prison in southern Afghanistan after a prison break June 14, 2008. Photo: Reuters/Ismail Sameem.

The Destruction of Sarposa

By Fred Burton and Scott Stewart,

Friday June 13 turned out to be an unlucky day for the guards at Sarposa prison in Kandahar, Afghanistan. At approximately 9:20 p.m. local time, some 30 Taliban insurgents launched a complex and highly coordinated attack on the facility. The operation freed all 1,100 inmates incarcerated there, including a reported 350 to 400 Taliban militants. The attack also resulted in the deaths of several guards — reports on the actual number vary between six and 15.

The assault reportedly began with the detonation of a massive vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) at the prison’s main gate. The suicide device reportedly was concealed inside a tanker truck and, according to a Taliban spokesman, contained 1,800 kilograms of explosive material. The powerful device shattered the prison’s front gate and guardhouse, causing substantial damage to shops and other buildings in the neighborhood.

Either shortly after or at the same time as the attack on the main gate, a second suicide bomber approached the back gate of the compound on foot and detonated his device, breaching the gate and neutralizing the guards. A Taliban assault team armed with machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and small arms then stormed the prison. According to some eyewitness reports, many of the attackers entered the prison on motorcycles — a form of transport frequently used by the Taliban to move personnel. Some fighters reportedly engaged the surviving guards while others broke open the cell doors.

Inside Sarposa. Photo

The prisoners were then rushed through the gate to a caravan of waiting vehicles staged by the Taliban to transport them to safety. In recent days, the Taliban have taken over several villages in the Arghandab district, located just northwest of the city of Kandahar, where they reportedly laid mines, destroyed bridges and prepared fighting positions in the area. At least some of the Taliban fighters participating in these recent activities are possible Sarposa escapees.

Many observers have expressed shock over the storming of Sarposa prison. But the attack — and its success — is not at all surprising when viewed in the context of historical operations undertaken to free jihadist prisoners in Afghanistan and elsewhere and given conditions on the ground in the Kandahar area, the general preparedness of Afghan security elements and the construction and location of this particular prison.

A Focus on Prisoners

Jihadists have long placed a high importance on their imprisoned comrades. This emphasis became publicly evident by the number of statements and threats generated following the arrest of Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman (the “Blind Sheikh”) in New York in 1993. However, even prior to his arrest, Abdul-Rahman and his followers had discussed plans for a different prison break. They considered several possible approaches, one of which was a truck bomb attack combined with an armed assault, to rescue El Sayyid Nosair from Attica State Prison in New York. The group had even conducted detailed surveillance of the facility. Nosair was serving a sentence in Attica after being convicted on weapons charges relating to the assassination of Rabbi Meir Kahane. Although convicted of assault and firearms possession, Nosair was acquitted of the murder charges.

The jihadist emphasis on colleagues in captivity has continued to the present day. In addition to propaganda decrying the captivity of their comrades, jihadists have also conducted a number of operations to free imprisoned colleagues, such as the December 1999 hijacking of Indian Airlines flight 814, which eventually ended up in Kandahar after short stops in Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates. More recently, Taliban forces have kidnapped foreigners and held them in exchange for their imprisoned comrades.

In February 2006, hundreds of Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners rioted at Pol-e-Charkhi prison in Afghanistan. After a night of gunfire there were a dozen dead, more than 50 wounded, and 80 women held hostage and raped. From

In April 2005, al Qaeda in Iraq militants under the command of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi launched a remarkably similar attack against the Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad. Like the Sarposa incident, the attack on Abu Ghraib included a suicide VBIED attack against the prison’s main gate followed by an attempt to storm the prison by an assault team. In the Abu Ghraib case, the initial VBIED attack was unable to reach or breach the prison’s gate, and the assault team was prevented from entering the facility. However, the assault team displayed a great deal of determination and continued the attack on the prison for several hours before finally being repelled. The al Qaeda assault team suffered heavy casualties, but not before wounding 18 U.S. servicemen and 12 prisoners during the protracted battle.

In addition to armed assaults, there have also been many clandestine attempts to free jihadist prisoners from captivity. Several of these attempts have involved tunnels, such as in the February 2006 jailbreak in Sanaa, Yemen, or the October 2003 break from Sarposa prison in Kandahar in which 41 Taliban prisoners, including the brother of the Taliban defense minister, escaped through a tunnel. High-profile jihadists have also managed to escape from prisons in places as diverse as Pakistan and Singapore.

Escapes are not confined to prisons with sand cell floors, poorly trained personnel or revolving doors and complicit prison guards, as it would seem in the case of Yemeni prisons. In addition to the Singapore incident, militants have also escaped from U.S.- and British-run prisons in Iraq. In Afghanistan, four high-profile al Qaeda militants escaped from a U.S. detention facility at the Bagram Air Base outside Kabul. The escapees, dubbed the “Bagram Four,” included Abu Yahya al-Libi, a charismatic and credentialed al Qaeda theologian who has since become one of the organization’s main spokesmen.

The shrine of Baba Wali (commonly known as Baba Saab) in the Arghandab area, on the outskirts of Kandahar City in Afghanistan. Photo: PRTkand. Click to enlarge image.

Location, Location, Location

Like in real estate sales, in insurgency and counterinsurgency operations, location is vital — and Kandahar is quite an interesting location. While Kabul is the capital of Afghanistan, Kandahar has been the spiritual and physical capital of the Taliban. Even when the Taliban controlled most of Afghanistan and assumed control of the government, their real headquarters remained in Kandahar, the place where they first emerged as a force in Afghan politics and where their leader Mullah Omar resided. Osama bin Laden also resided in Kandahar with many of his al Qaeda followers. Although the Taliban and al Qaeda militants were quickly forced to flee the city following the U.S. invasion in October 2001, much of the population in the area has remained ideologically committed to the Taliban, and we have long considered Kandahar city and province to be Taliban strongholds. From the perspective of the Afghan government and coalition forces, Kandahar is very much hostile territory.

This attack against Saraposa prison was well-planned and executed with a great deal of precision. The location of the attack, Kandahar, allowed the Taliban to play on their home field and provided advantages they have lacked when conducting operations in places such as Kabul. Even though not all of the residents in the Kandahar area support the Taliban, most fear them and do not believe that coalition forces can protect them from Taliban retribution. Therefore, even people who are not strong Taliban supporters would be grudgingly willing to assist them rather than risk reprisals.

This base of contacts and ideological supporters in Kandahar made it easy for the Taliban to conduct surveillance on sites such as the Sarposa prison, and is also very helpful in the logistical aspects of planning and executing attacks there. Smuggling the Taliban assault team into the city, along with their weapons and a large VBIED, was undoubtedly accomplished with the aid of these sympathizers, as was the escape of the released prisoners.

In the end, this home-field advantage allowed the Taliban to launch their attack without detection and gain the crucial element of tactical surprise. It also allowed them to get all of their elements into the fight at the right time, something they were unable to accomplish in the April 27 attack in Kabul.

Recent construction in Kandahar City, Afghanistan, includes 20,000 modern-style family homes as well as parks, shopping centers, mosques, schools and community buildings. Most residents living in this gated-community are Afghan returnees from abroad. Photo: PRTkand. Click to enlarge image.

Another factor leading to the success of the Sarposa attack was the nature of the facility itself and the guards in charge of its integrity. The prison was very old and its mud brick and rock-and-mortar construction was not designed to withstand a serious military attack. Even with some of the recent upgrades to its guard towers, the facility was incapable of withstanding the explosion of an 1,800 kilogram VBIED in close proximity to its front gate. In fact, few facilities in the United States could withstand such an attack, but U.S. facilities typically have concentric rings of security that must be breached in order to get to the main gate. The Sarposa prison is located right on the street and did not have much room to provide standoff space or for such concentric rings.

There are reports that the attack on the prison was coordinated with the prisoners on the inside via a cell phone. This is not beyond the realm of possibility, as the smuggling of cell phones into prisons is a problem faced by authorities in many countries, including the United States.

During the Village Medical Outreach, the village elder, Guloojan (left) along with other key leaders met with members of the U.S. forces to discuss the significance of providing medical and humanitarian assistance to the Alizay Kulay village in Afghanistan, July 13, 2007. Photo: U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Steven Parks.

While the guards at Sarposa prison had reportedly received guidance from Canadian corrections officials, they had neither the training nor the weaponry to withstand the type of assault the Taliban launched against them. Prison guards are not trained or equipped to serve as combat troops. We have not seen reliable reports on the number of guards who fled, survived or perhaps called in sick the night of the attack. The commander of the prison reportedly has been placed in custody and is under investigation, though Afghan officials assert that this move is merely standard procedure. In any such case, the possibility of collusion on the part of the guards must be considered.

The vulnerability of the Sarposa facility and the limitations of the guards defending it is further highlighted when compared with a similarly executed but unsuccessful attack. On March 3, the Taliban launched an attack against a compound housing a better-prepared force of NATO and Afghan troops in Khost. In the March incident, the VBIED was engaged before it could get close to the gate. While two NATO soldiers were killed in the assault, the remaining troops were able to repel the attackers before they could overrun the complex.

Although Sarposa is the largest prison in southern Afghanistan, due its relative lack of security, most high-value Taliban prisoners are kept at Afghanistan’s main prison, Pol-e-Charkhi in Kabul, or at the U.S. detention facility at Bagram. However, even those facilities are not in the best condition, as evidenced by the escape of the Bagram four and violent jihadist-fomented riots and escapes at Pol-e-Charkhi.

U.S. Army Col. R. Stephen Williams, the commander of the 207th Infantry Brigade, stands with local leaders in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan May 15, 2007, as they accept the keys to the 64th tractor distributed as part of Task Force Grizzly's farm implement donation project to support farmers in the local area. Photo: U.S. Army Capt. Vanessa R. Bowman. Click to enlarge image.

The United States has long recognized the vulnerability of Afghan prisons, including its own facility at Bagram. It has reportedly paid more than $20 million to add a high-security wing at the Pol-e-Charkhi facility.

Last month, Afghan lawmakers strenuously objected when a Pentagon spokesman announced a plan to replace the deteriorating facility at Bagram, which currently holds some 630 al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners, with a new facility capable of holding 1,100 prisoners. At the time, Afghans called the plan an illegal affront to the country’s sovereignty. It will be interesting to see if the tone of the debate changes after the destruction of Sarposa.