Archive for July, 2004
The NY Times reports on a weird trend in the city – mock police alerts.
“It goes something like this: On a typical block in, say, Midtown Manhattan, as many as 80 police cars quickly stream in out of nowhere, in neat rows, their lights and sirens going. The drills seem to take place on blocks with restricted parking, and each car executes a fast back-in parking job against the curb.
Sometimes, depending on the block, they park perpendicular to the curb; sometimes at a slant. The officers – scores of them – get out of the cars. They do not rush into a building. They do not draw their guns. They pretty much just stand around for half an hour or so. Then, officers pile back into their cars and, again in formation, the cars pull away from the curb and drive off.
I’m rather surprised that they don’t stock up on bottled water and canned all day breakfasts whilst they’re at it. Mind you, this says something about the strategic thought-process behind it:
“”He said they all gather at one point and then swarm an area,” Mrs. Wright said the officer told her. “See if there’s any terrorist activity going on.””
Well, that’s bound to do it. More seriously, this bears out a point of mine about security/civil defence that appeared on this blog last year. The distinction between security theatre and real preparation is public involvement. It’s a British tradition to mock emergency planning relentlessly (cf Zoe Williams in the Guardian the other day – according to her it is “an accepted truth” that nothing in the cold war public information leaflets would have helped. Really, Zoe? ), and what I know of the “Preparing for Emergencies” leaflet sounds like common sense, but I don’t think the government has taken it terribly seriously. Crucially, it hasn’t inspired the local authorities to do much, and they are the key. The problem with cold-war civil defence planning was that everyone imagined attack as being one big flash and out. Of course, if you are in the target area of a nuclear explosion nothing short of a deep bunker will help. But the point was the millions of people living on the edges of the targets. Even the practices in the much maligned Protest and Survive would have done them some good. Because no British government put a very high priority at the centre on civil defence, though, the local governments didn’t either and shared in the blanket slagging.
I suspect that Preparing for Emergencies could do better, but I have to say that it will probably do you more good than a cynical blog post in the event of attack.
Excellent post from Russia on the Fallujah disaster.
“Joint patrols”! That was it! Bush went on TV to tell the suckers that, “the situation in Fallujah is returning to normal.” Well, if “normal” is leaving the enemy in possession of the city, letting them ambush any Marine patrol they want, then Hell yeah, Fallujah was as normal as it gets. He also said the joint patrols would make the city “secure.” But to be fair, he did admit there were, and I quote, “pockets of resistance” still operating in Fallujah. Yeah. Like there are pockets of gambling in Vegas.
I wanted to spit on the TV screen.
So the battle of Fallujah was over, and we lost. The Marines were ordered to withdraw from the city. From now on they went in only as part of these ridiculous “joint patrols.” Since then we’ve only attacked the city from the air, because that way we don’t risk any casualties. Of course we also don’t have a chance of dislodging the enemy, and we leave them in possession of the field, and we make our brave soldiers look ridiculous — but I guess none of that is as important as PR for the election campaign.”
Indeed, which was rather what I said here..
Medecins sans Frontieres has decided to withdraw from Afghanistan due to the degree of danger its staff are working in, as well as alleged manipulation of aid for military ends.
Things are of course getting better, just as they are in Iraq. And why doesn’t Blair add “Heroin – now better and cheaper than ever before!” to his list of achievements? After all, which would you choose between a government approved summer camp where all the kiddies have their own number – and cheap smack?
Further developments on the Viktor Bout scandal are filtering through the blogosphere. Laura Rozen reports that a firm called something like “Jetline” associated with the colourful African aviation identity/evil quartermaster to world terrorism has been delivering goods to US armed forces PX stores in Iraq. This story then firmed up via Rozen and Douglas Farah, the first journalist to interview Bout, who quotes sources as saying that Bout had held a lucrative contract to deliver “munitions” to Iraq for the US Department of Defense.
What is a Jetline when it’s at home? Publicly available data lists two airlines of this name – one was a Spanish start-up that failed without flying in 1998, and the other is “Jetline International”, registered in Equatorial Guinea but based in Tripoli and Ras al-Khaimah, UAE. Does the combination start to sound a little ominous? It is officially described as existing to provide “VIP flights” to the “Sahel-Sahara Community governments”. However, the fleet seems rather large for this purpose and oddly made up, containing a majority of Il-62 aircraft (“VC-10skis”), DC-8s and an Il76 heavy freighter, besides sundry BAC111s and Boeing 727s. Interestingly, some of the aircraft have followed an odd path. Il-62 serial no. 4648414 seems to have been sold or otherwise transferred from the Russian presidential fleet to Jetline and from there to Viktor Bout’s Air Bas, before returning to Jetline. In the process it went through 3 registrations in 3 countries. (EL-ALM, 5A-DKT or 3C-QQR) All very interesting…
Update, 1517 25/07/04
More interesting points on Jetline Intl. Strangely, although there are numerous photos of business jets belonging to them on the net, none of the Il62s seem to appear in any publicly available photo. Business jets, of course, fit Jetline’s declared purpose far better. Although the Il76 has been repeatedly photographed by spotters, several different registrations are attributed to it. They only differ by one letter, though. Question – are there several Il76s operating under one or two registrations, or one aircraft and several registrations? Or are they hallucinating? Photos also exist of an An26, although I’ve not found any details of such an aircraft at Jetline.
And what about this? BAC111 3C-QRF, manufacturer’s serial no. 61, is said to be owned by Jetline but operating for San Air General Trading. Yes, that’s the San Air that received huge payments from the Liberian shipping registry on behalf of Richard Chichakli. Amusingly, one of its former owners was none other than Hustler magazine.
The UKIP (or Swivel-Eyed Loons, as blogging SOPs oblige me to call them)’s Godfrey Bloom, MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber has made a fool of himself by trying to get on to the European Parliament’s women’s rights committee despite his obvious handicap. To the obvious handicap he lost no time in adding several more that might not have been obvious at first sight: that he’s an arrogant, misogynistic and childish little get. Mr Bloom declared that he wanted “to deal with women’s issues because I just don’t think they clean behind the fridge enough”, and further explained that he was “going to promote men’s rights”.
Exactly what these might be was clarified when he went on to state that he “was here to represent Yorkshire women, who always have dinner on the table when you get home”. (Note: the comma is the Guardian’s. I’m not sure if the last 11 words were originally a relative clause, in which case all Yorkshire women by definition have dinner on the table etc etc, or if they are a run-on sentence, in which case he only represents those Yorkshire women who etc etc and no others. I suspect in the latter case such women would probably agree that he didn’t represent them.) In a further effort to get out his philosophy, he stated that “the more women’s rights you have, it’s actually a bar to their employment…(ed: never mind the grammar)…no self-respecting small businessman with a brain in the right place would ever employ a lady of child-bearing age”.
Strange. If that’s a matter of “men’s rights”, I suppose Bloom believes that anyone who has a small business is a man. How odd. Mind you, one criticism that can never be aimed at Bloom, unlike his party leader, is a vague grasp of policy.
“Mr Bloom explained that he would like to overturn EU maternity legislation if his position allowed. He said maternity laws that gave women six months of paid leave and the option of another six months unpaid leave, had resulted in women losing jobs and employment. Many businesses only employed women over 40, he said.”
How did he get that way? The answer is in the widely published photo of him, which sadly is unavailable on the web. Fat-faced, he stands in a boxy black suit and a glaring yellow tie with a huge knot, armed with an old-fashioned and clearly expensive briefcase and, dear God, a bowler hat. To those familiar with Yorkshire, the signs are all there.
There is a particular kind of Yorkshireman who expresses all the stereotyped characteristics to excess – plain speaking is taken to the level of pointless verbal brutality, pride to arrogance, hard work to an obsession with money, respect for tradition to philistine provincialism. The type is usually found somewhere in the triangle York-Harrogate-Leeds, often talking extremely loudly in a pub, bar or other place of entertainment aimed up-market. He (it always seems to be he) has his own peculiar variant of the dialect, the vowels squeezed into a compromise between Yorkshire and the south, and his own distinctive style. This combines ultraconservatism with lavish expense and a gadget fetish. He may dress like a City lawyer in 1953, and spend a fortune to look like that, but he will use a mobile phone more powerful than his own brain and insist on telling you all about it. 15 years ago he would have driven a Rolls Royce. Now it will either be an extravagant sports car in lurid tones or a gigantic Range Rover in British Racing Green. He reads the Yorkshire Post and considers the national press effeminate, with the occasional exception of the mighty FT when he visits London. He is either in business or else, the law, and can be found sweating menacingly down his braces as he lumps in an office chair.
Politically, it goes without saying, he is tribally conservative. Although his natural habitat is urban or suburban (see above), he likes to seem countrified. He is driven into a rage by the abolition of foxhunting but has very likely never hunted. His anti-Europeanism is intense. He enjoys aggressive, boozy socialising and machismo, and this marks his political views. Everything is the fault of someone else, preferably a foreigner. In groups they can poison the atmosphere of an entire pub in seconds, swilling ale, braying, tormenting the barmaid, spilling ale and lumbering against bystanders. It is similar to the southern, rugby union and rowing, hooray but with the distinction that these don’t grow out of it – they behave like this from 16 to death or incapacity. Just the budget and hence the locale alters. Politically they are much like that, as Bloom has neatly shown, blundering aggressively about blurting unacceptable nonsense and telling jokes in catastrophically bad taste, before bleating if they encounter superior force.
The key to understanding him is that he and his brothers are the only social group who try to be nouveau riche, even when they are not. Taken individually, they can usually control themselves up to a point. They are unlikely, despite telling nigger jokes at the drop of a hat, to disgrace themselves if put to the test. But in the security of the herd, they become a menace.
It is reported that the three US civilians accused of operating a private jail in Kabul (see below) have claimed before an Afghan court that they acted with the knowledge and encouragement of the US Army in Afghanistan. Their leader, Jonathan Keith Idema, claimed to have handed over “international terrorists” on two occasions to the authorities and said he could substantiate his claims with documents.
Well, perhaps the longest and most tiresome defence policy spin war in memory is over and the full details are out. In some ways it wasn’t as bad as the tireless briefers kept suggesting to susceptible papers like the Telegraph – the maximum horror versions included, for example, the scrapping of both the RAF’s Jaguar and Harrier aircraft, the scrapping of many of the RAF support helicopters and the Army’s Gazelles, plus swingeing cuttage for the Navy and the disbandment of the entire Royal Irish Regiment and more.
Well, either the Torygraph was as credulous as usual on such matters or the spinners were successful. The Irish stay, and the Scottish Division is to lose one battalion instead of the positive massacre some suggested. Where the pressure goes is the RAF – the Jaguar fleet is to be retired early, and its base at Coltishall will close. I suppose there is a degree of sense to that, as many people have pointed out the oddness of having three bomber types (Jag, Harrier and Tornado GR4). The Jaguars in a sense fell between two stools – neither having the “first night of the war” status of the Tornados (or the shared maintenance) nor the VTOL capability of the Harriers. Unexpectedly, though, a Tornado F3 air defence squadron is to be disbanded. The Navy’s planned new carriers are upheld, though it’s anybody’s guess if they will appear or when. However, the Navy will have to see six ships go – the three oldest Type 42 destroyers and three Type 23 frigates. (Note – this is on top of a reduction in the order for the Type 45 ships, and the retirement of the Sea Harrier. Not that the 42’s were much use, but the navy’s air defence looks less assured still.)
The big change was in the army. Aside from the cut of 4 battalions – one in Scotland and 3 from England – the arms plotting system, established in 1882, is to go. This means that infantry units will no longer be rotated through different roles and bases but will have a fixed base and a speciality. Soldiers will be posted between the battalions, which implies some sort of merger between regiments. What looks likely will be the formation of regionally based regiments with several battalions each (possibly allowing symbols to be preserved). The point is to avoid the problem that units stop being available every so often when they retrain for a new role under arms plotting – this is meant to more than make up for the cut. (“a. Operational Availability. An order of battle comprising 36 battalions which are always available will be more capable than one of 40 drawn down by a significant number of battalions moving, re-roling and re-training”) I think they’ll be lucky.
So, it seems, does General Jackson if this quote from his message to the army today, a copy of which I obtained, is anything to go by:
“But I am conscious that some of the changes may appear counter-intuitive to an Army which is under sustained operational pressure, and which may – at least in part – see these changes as a threat as much as an opportunity.”
You’re not kidding, Jacko. But I can’t imagine anyone believing this snippet:
“It would be quite wrong to think that the re-balancing in FAS is driven by money”
The message is here for those who like that sort of thing.
Boo! to the Voice of America thanks to one of their employees, who searched the web for “phone lines porno sao tome” and somehow hit the Ranter (we are the 30th Yahoo result for that). What the broadcaster desperate for West African dirty talk (or possibly information on dialler scams) got would have been the first Viktor Bout article, here.
Disappointing, I think.
Yet another crisis week for the government has gone by without apparently doing any damage. The Butler report punched in but again failed to either nail down the prime minister or to convincingly clear him. Where Lord Hutton’s report denied that anything was wrong, Butler’s made it abundantly clear that plenty was wrong, but crucially avoided assigning blame to any individual or indeed organisation. The government was left to moan that there have now been four inquiries “producing over a million words” of examination. Can’t we please move on? It ought to be superfluous to point out the flaws in all four inquiries – the Foreign Affairs Committee’s Labour majority and lack of access to papers, the Intelligence and Security Committee’s position as the creature of the prime minister, Lord Hutton’s restricted remit and Butler’s specific instruction to comment on “processes and systems” as opposed, presumably, to individuals. After all, to misquote Mark Twain, you can’t hang a clue for murder. The same, I suppose, goes for a system.
It is worth recapping a little. The huge release of papers to Hutton made various things clear. We now know that the dossier was repeatedly re-drafted and that in this redrafting process the language was altered and various qualifiers were removed. We also know that members of the prime minister’s political staff commented on the drafts to the intelligence officials, most famously in No. 10 chief of staff Jonathan Powell’s email to JIC Chairman John Scarlett asking for more compelling intelligence. Even Lord Hutton was willing to concede that efforts to produce the most persuasive paper possible might have “subconsciously influenced” the drafters. Now, Butler has produced the drafts themselves. It is clear that somebody was trying to boost – to sex up – the dossier, and Butler as good as says so. Lest we forget, yer man Godric Smith told the Hutton inquiry that “on the presentational side” Alastair Campbell did indeed take part in producing the dossier. It’s a slow burn, but as far as I can see the infamous Gilligan story is being corroborated.
Which means no-one should be surprised to see a swing against Labour of 26%+ when it turns up. Despite frenzied and extremely bad-tempered campaigning, Labour saw a rock solid seat like Leicester South evaporate and effectively relied on a small split vote to the Galloway fan club in Birmingham. Everyone politically is now saying – well, it’s a byelection, the Lib Dems can’t repeat at the general election.
No-one has yet to say why.