Archive for December, 2005

Getting closer!

Berlusconi under investigation for bribing a lawyer, as Laura Rozen put it. As I put it: Berlusconi under investigation for bribing a British cabinet minister’s husband. The lawyer, your keen & agile minds will no doubt have guessed, is none other than David Mills, husband of fascinating Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell.

Prosecutors have accused Berlusconi of ordering the payment of at least $600,000 to British lawyer David Mills in 1997 to convince him to give false testimony in two of Berlusconi’s trials on bribery, false bookkeeping and other charges, the newspaper Corriere della Sera reported, citing court documents.

Mills, who is married to British Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, also is under investigation, the newspaper said.

Mills’ lawyer, Federico Cecconi, confirmed the report’s accuracy but denied the allegations in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. He said prosecutors were investigating Berlusconi and Mills on charges of corruption and providing false testimony.

Has anyone else noticed a worrying decline in the quality of commenting in the general blogosphere? It’s not so much the long-established blogs with enough traffic to draw a serious comments thread, as these usually have enough of a community to be partly self-policing, but those blogs that have recently switched on comments who are worst affected. Juan Cole, for example, recently flipped the switch to let the public comment on Informed Comment, and the results are depressing. Bill Arkin’s Early Warning, a rare example of a start-up high traffic blog, has much of the same trouble. A mixture of weird, paranoid lefty trolls demanding a more venomous assault on the global conspiracy in the characteristic US heartland-populist/Know-Nothing style and crazed wingnuts yelling in their own particular fashion, bizarrely obsessed with rape/sexual harassment language.

What’s wrong with these fucking people? It’s almost worth getting up a campaign to have sane bloggers make a point of posting to the threads worst affected in order to dilute the poison.

Mirrorball!

APPARENTLY, the Foreign Office don’t want ex-ambassador and ex-parliamentary candidate Craig Murray to publish the following letters regarding good friend of the UK, Uzbekistan, and their forward-leaning views on dated human rights ideas. After all, the Prime Minister thinks individual rights not to be tortured need to be balanced against the right of the State to defeat its enemies – an idea that our constitution has considered inadmissible since 1215. Be you ever so high, the law is above you. The raison d’etat does not exist here. Pah, that’s pre-9/11 thinking and Becky won’t like it. So no-one will care very much about the Uzbeks boiling and raping dissidents..or will they?

Letter #1

Confidential

FM Tashkent (Ambassador Craig Murray)

TO FCO, Cabinet Office, DFID, MODUK, OSCE Posts, Security Council Posts

16 September 02

SUBJECT: US/Uzbekistan: Promoting Terrorism

SUMMARY

US plays down human rights situation in Uzbekistan. A dangerous policy: increasing repression combined with poverty will promote Islamic terrorism. Support to Karimov regime a bankrupt and cynical policy.

DETAIL

The Economist of 7 September states: “Uzbekistan, in particular, has jailed many thousands of moderate Islamists, an excellent way of converting their families and friends to extremism.” The Economist also spoke of “the growing despotism of Mr Karimov” and judged that “the past year has seen a further deterioration of an already grim human rights record”. I agree.

Between 7,000 and 10,000 political and religious prisoners are currently detained, many after trials before kangaroo courts with no representation. Terrible torture is commonplace: the EU is currently considering a demarche over the terrible case of two Muslims tortured to death in jail apparently with boiling water. Two leading dissidents, Elena Urlaeva and Larissa Vdovna, were two weeks ago committed to a lunatic asylum, where they are being drugged, for demonstrating on human rights. Opposition political parties remain banned. There is no doubt that September 11 gave the pretext to crack down still harder on dissent under the guise of counter-terrorism.Yet on 8 September the US State Department certified that Uzbekistan was
improving in both human rights and democracy, thus fulfilling a constitutional requirement and allowing the continuing disbursement of $140 million of US aid to Uzbekistan this year. Human Rights Watch immediately published a commendably sober and balanced rebuttal of the State Department claim.

Again we are back in the area of the US accepting sham reform [a reference to my previous telegram on the economy]. In August media censorship was abolished, and theoretically there are independent media outlets, but in practice there is absolutely no criticism of President Karimov or the central government in any Uzbek media. State Department call this self-censorship: I am not sure that is a fair way to describe an unwillingness to experience the brutal methods of the security services.

Similarly, following US pressure when Karimov visited Washington, a human rights NGO has been permitted to register. This is an advance, but they have little impact given that no media are prepared to cover any of their activities or carry any of their statements.

The final improvement State quote is that in one case of murder of a prisoner the police involved have been prosecuted. That is an improvement, but again related to the Karimov visit and does not appear to presage a general change of policy. On the latest cases of torture deaths the Uzbeks have given the OSCE an incredible explanation, given the nature of the injuries, that the victims died in a fight between prisoners.

But allowing a single NGO, a token prosecution of police officers and a fake press freedom cannot possibly outweigh the huge scale of detentions, the torture and the secret executions. President Karimov has admitted to 100 executions a year but human rights groups believe there are more. Added to this, all opposition parties remain banned (the President got a 98% vote) and the Internet is strictly controlled. All Internet providers must go through a single government server and access is barred to many sites including all dissident and opposition sites and much international media (including, ironically, waronterrorism.com). This is in essence still a totalitarian state: there is far less freedom than still prevails, for example, in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. A Movement for Democratic Change or any judicial independence would be impossible here.

Karimov is a dictator who is committed to neither political nor economic reform. The purpose of his regime is not the development of his country but the diversion of economic rent to his oligarchic supporters through government controls. As a senior Uzbek academic told me privately, there is more repression here now than in Brezhnev’s time. The US are trying to prop up Karimov economically and to justify this support they need to claim that a process of economic and political reform is underway. That they do so claim is either cynicism or self-delusion.

This policy is doomed to failure. Karimov is driving this resource-rich country towards economic ruin like an Abacha. And the policy of increasing repression aimed indiscriminately at pious Muslims, combined with a deepening poverty, is the most certain way to ensure continuing support for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. They have certainly been decimated and disorganised in Afghanistan, and Karimov’s repression may keep the lid on for years – but pressure is building and could ultimately explode.

I quite understand the interest of the US in strategic airbases and why they back Karimov, but I believe US policy is misconceived. In the short term it may help fight terrorism but in the medium term it will promote it, as the Economist points out. And it can never be right to lower our standards on human rights. There is a complex situation in Central Asia and it is wrong to look at it only through a prism picked up on September 12. Worst of all is what appears to be the philosophy underlying the current US view of Uzbekistan: that September 11 divided the World into two camps in the “War against Terrorism” and that Karimov is on “our” side.

If Karimov is on “our” side, then this war cannot be simply between the forces of good and evil. It must be about more complex things, like securing the long-term US military presence in Uzbekistan. I silently wept at the 11 September commemoration here. The right words on New York have all been said. But last week was also another anniversary – the US-led overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile. The subsequent dictatorship killed, dare I say it, rather more people than died on September 11. Should we not remember then also, and learn from that too? I fear that we are heading down the same path of US-sponsored dictatorship here. It is ironic that the beneficiary is perhaps the most unreformed of the World’s old communist leaders.

We need to think much more deeply about Central Asia. It is easy to place Uzbekistan in the “too difficult” tray and let the US run with it, but I think they are running in the wrong direction. We should tell them of the dangers we see. Our policy is theoretically one of engagement, but in practice this has not meant much. Engagement makes sense, but it must mean grappling with the problems, not mute collaboration. We need to start actively to state a distinctive position on democracy and human rights, and press for a realistic view to be taken in the IMF. We should continue to
resist pressures to start a bilateral DFID programme, unless channelled non-governmentally, and not restore ECGD cover despite the constant lobbying. We should not invite Karimov to the UK. We should step up our public diplomacy effort, stressing democratic values, including more resources from the British Council. We should increase support to human rights activists, and strive for contact with non-official Islamic groups.

Above all we need to care about the 22 million Uzbek people, suffering from poverty and lack of freedom. They are not just pawns in the new Great Game.

MURRAY

—————————————

Letter #2

Confidential

Fm Tashkent (Ambassador Craig Murray)

To FCO

18 March 2003

SUBJECT: US FOREIGN POLICY

SUMMARY

1. As seen from Tashkent, US policy is not much focussed on democracy or freedom. It is about oil, gas and hegemony. In Uzbekistan the US pursues those ends through supporting a ruthless dictatorship. We must not close our eyes to uncomfortable truth.

DETAIL

2. Last year the US gave half a billion dollars in aid to Uzbekistan, about a quarter of it military aid. Bush and Powell repeatedly hail Karimov as a friend and ally. Yet this regime has at least seven thousand prisoners of conscience; it is a one party state without freedom of speech, without freedom of media, without freedom of movement, without freedom of assembly, without freedom of religion. It practices, systematically, the most hideous tortures on thousands. Most of the population live in conditions precisely analogous with medieval serfdom.

3. Uzbekistan’s geo-strategic position is crucial. It has half the population of the whole of Central Asia. It alone borders all the other states in a region which is important to future Western oil and gas supplies. It is the regional military power. That is why the US is here, and here to stay. Contractors at the US military bases are extending the design life of the buildings from ten to twenty five years.

4. Democracy and human rights are, despite their protestations to the contrary, in practice a long way down the US agenda here. Aid this year will be slightly less, but there is no intention to introduce any meaningful conditionality. Nobody can believe this level of aid – more than US aid to all of West Africa – is related to comparative developmental need as opposed to political support for Karimov. While the US makes token and low-level references to human rights to appease domestic opinion, they view Karimov’s vicious regime as a bastion against fundamentalism. He – and they – are in fact creating fundamentalism. When the US gives this much support to a regime that tortures people to death for having a beard or praying five times a day, is it any surprise that Muslims come to hate the West?

5. I was stunned to hear that the US had pressured the EU to withdraw a motion on Human Rights in Uzbekistan which the EU was tabling at the UN Commission for Human Rights in Geneva. I was most unhappy to find that we are helping the US in what I can only call this cover-up. I am saddened when the US constantly quote fake improvements in human rights in Uzbekistan, such as the abolition of censorship and Internet freedom, which quite simply have not happened (I see these are quoted in the draft EBRD strategy for Uzbekistan, again I understand at American urging).

6. From Tashkent it is difficult to agree that we and the US are activated by shared values. Here we have a brutal US sponsored dictatorship reminiscent of Central and South American policy under previous US Republican administrations. I watched George Bush talk today of Iraq and “dismantling the apparatus of terror… removing the torture chambers and the rape rooms”. Yet when it comes to the Karimov regime, systematic torture and rape appear to be treated as peccadilloes, not to affect the relationship and to be downplayed in international fora. Double standards? Yes.

7. I hope that once the present crisis is over we will make plain to the US, at senior level, our serious concern over their policy in Uzbekistan.

MURRAY

—————————————-

[Transcript of facsimile sent 25 March 2003 from the Foreign Office]

From: Michael Wood, Legal Advisor

Date: 13 March 2003

CC: PS/PUS; Matthew Kidd, WLD

Linda Duffield

UZBEKISTAN: INTELLIGENCE POSSIBLY OBTAINED UNDER TORTURE

1. Your record of our meeting with HMA Tashkent recorded that Craig had said that his understanding was that it was also an offence under the UN Convention on Torture to receive or possess information under torture. I said that I did not believe that this was the case, but undertook to re-read the Convention.

2. I have done so. There is nothing in the Convention to this effect. The
nearest thing is article 15 which provides:

“Each State Party shall ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made.”

3. This does not create any offence. I would expect that under UK law any statement established to have been made as a result of torture would not be admissible as evidence.

[signed]

M C Wood
Legal Adviser

———————————————————————————

Letter #3

CONFIDENTIAL

FM TASHKENT (Ambassador Craig Murray)

TO IMMEDIATE FCO

TELNO 63
OF 220939 JULY 04

INFO IMMEDIATE DFID, ISLAMIC POSTS, MOD, OSCE POSTS UKDEL EBRD LONDON, UKMIS GENEVA, UKMIS MEW YORK

SUBJECT: RECEIPT OF INTELLIGENCE OBTAINED UNDER TORTURE

SUMMARY

1. We receive intelligence obtained under torture from the Uzbek intelligence services, via the US. We should stop. It is bad information anyway. Tortured dupes are forced to sign up to confessions showing what the Uzbek government wants the US and UK to believe, that they and we are fighting the same war against terror.

2. I gather a recent London interdepartmental meeting considered the question and decided to continue to receive the material. This is morally, legally and practically wrong. It exposes as hypocritical our post Abu Ghraib pronouncements and fatally undermines our moral standing. It obviates my efforts to get the Uzbek government to stop torture they are fully aware our intelligence community laps up the results.

3. We should cease all co-operation with the Uzbek Security Services they are beyond the pale. We indeed need to establish an SIS presence here, but not as in a friendly state.

DETAIL

4. In the period December 2002 to March 2003 I raised several times the issue of intelligence material from the Uzbek security services which was obtained under torture and passed to us via the CIA. I queried the legality, efficacy and morality of the practice.

5. I was summoned to the UK for a meeting on 8 March 2003. Michael Wood gave his legal opinion that it was not illegal to obtain and to use intelligence acquired by torture. He said the only legal limitation on its use was that it could not be used in legal proceedings, under Article 15 of the UN Convention on Torture.

6. On behalf of the intelligence services, Matthew Kydd said that they found some of the material very useful indeed with a direct bearing on the war on terror. Linda Duffield said that she had been asked to assure me that my qualms of conscience were respected and understood.

7. Sir Michael Jay’s circular of 26 May stated that there was a reporting obligation on us to report torture by allies (and I have been instructed to refer to Uzbekistan as such in the context of the war on terror). You, Sir, have made a number of striking, and I believe heartfelt, condemnations of torture in the last few weeks. I had in the light of this decided to return to this question and to highlight an apparent contradiction in our policy. I had intimated as much to the Head of Eastern Department.

8. I was therefore somewhat surprised to hear that without informing me of the meeting, or since informing me of the result of the meeting, a meeting was convened in the FCO at the level of Heads of Department and above, precisely to consider the question of the receipt of Uzbek intelligence material obtained under torture. As the office knew, I was in London at the time and perfectly able to attend the meeting. I still have only gleaned that it happened.

9. I understand that the meeting decided to continue to obtain the Uzbek torture material. I understand that the principal argument deployed was that the intelligence material disguises the precise source, ie it does not ordinarily reveal the name of the individual who is tortured. Indeed this is true – the material is marked with a euphemism such as “From detainee debriefing.” The argument runs that if the individual is not named, we cannot prove that he was tortured.

10. I will not attempt to hide my utter contempt for such casuistry, nor my shame that I work in and organisation where colleagues would resort to it to justify torture. I have dealt with hundreds of individual cases of political or religious prisoners in Uzbekistan, and I have met with very few where torture, as defined in the UN convention, was not employed. When my then DHM raised the question with the CIA head of station 15 months ago, he readily acknowledged torture was deployed in obtaining intelligence. I do not think there is any doubt as to the fact

11. The torture record of the Uzbek security services could hardly be more widely known. Plainly there are, at the very least, reasonable grounds for believing the material is obtained under torture. There is helpful guidance at Article 3 of the UN Convention;

“The competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the state concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.”

While this article forbids extradition or deportation to Uzbekistan, it is the right test for the present question also.

12. On the usefulness of the material obtained, this is irrelevant. Article 2 of the Convention, to which we are a party, could not be plainer:

“No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

13. Nonetheless, I repeat that this material is useless – we are selling our souls for dross. It is in fact positively harmful. It is designed to give the message the Uzbeks want the West to hear. It exaggerates the role, size, organisation and activity of the IMU and its links with Al Qaida. The aim is to convince the West that the Uzbeks are a vital cog against a common foe, that they should keep the assistance, especially military assistance, coming, and that they should mute the international criticism on human rights and economic reform.

14. I was taken aback when Matthew Kydd said this stuff was valuable. Sixteen months ago it was difficult to argue with SIS in the area of intelligence assessment. But post Butler we know, not only that they can get it wrong on even the most vital and high profile issues, but that they have a particular yen for highly coloured material which exaggerates the threat.

That is precisely what the Uzbeks give them. Furthermore MI6 have no operative within a thousand miles of me and certainly no expertise that can come close to my own in making this assessment.

15. At the Khuderbegainov trial I met an old man from Andizhan. Two of his children had been tortured in front of him until he signed a confession on the family’s links with Bin Laden. Tears were streaming down his face. I have no doubt they had as much connection with Bin Laden as I do. This is the standard of the Uzbek intelligence services.

16. I have been considering Michael Wood’s legal view, which he kindly gave in writing. I cannot understand why Michael concentrated only on Article 15 of the Convention. This certainly bans the use of material obtained under torture as evidence in proceedings, but it does not state that this is the sole exclusion of the use of such material.

17. The relevant article seems to me Article 4, which talks of complicity in torture. Knowingly to receive its results appears to be at least arguable as complicity. It does not appear that being in a different country to the actual torture would preclude complicity. I talked this over in a hypothetical sense with my old friend Prof Francois Hampson, I believe an acknowledged World authority on the Convention, who said that the complicity argument and the spirit of the Convention would be likely to be winning points. I should be grateful to hear Michael’s views on this.

18. It seems to me that there are degrees of complicity and guilt, but being at one or two removes does not make us blameless. There are other factors. Plainly it was a breach of Article 3 of the Convention for the coalition to deport detainees back here from Baghram, but it has been done. That seems plainly complicit.

19. This is a difficult and dangerous part of the World. Dire and increasing poverty and harsh repression are undoubtedly turning young people here towards radical Islam. The Uzbek government are thus creating this threat, and perceived US support for Karimov strengthens anti-Western feeling. SIS ought to establish a presence here, but not as partners of the Uzbek Security Services, whose sheer brutality puts them beyond the pale.

MURRAY

Music on at the moment: The Clash, Death or Glory. No longer an option, friends – these days it’s death or decency. I’ve just been clearing out my old bedroom in Yorkshire. Why so many books on the second world war? It seems connected.

Glücksritter

The Germans have a nice word for people like this character:

What is even more remarkable however, after an investigation by The Times, is that just ten years ago Christian Bailey, whose US company is under investigation for planting fake news stories in Iraqi newspapers, was a nerdy, socially awkward English school-leaver called Jozefowicz.

The transformation of the geeky but ambitious Christian Jozefowicz, who just a few years ago was growing up in a modest terraced house in Godalming, Surrey, to the charming, baby-faced multimillionaire Christian Bailey now rubbing shoulders with some of the most powerful figures in Washington — and who next year will probably face questions on Capitol Hill about his company — is one of the more extraordinary stories to have emerged from the Iraq war.

This month it was revealed that Mr Bailey’s US company, the Lincoln Group, was the recipient of a Pentagon contract to help to fight the information war in Iraq. It then emerged that the company was paying Iraqi journalists to plant optimistic news “stories” in Iraqi papers that had been written by the US military.

Glücksritter, or something with an ambiguity between “luck-rider” and “luck-knight”, sums that up perfectly. He ran off to join the .com boom in the bubblegum colours, boutique sexuality and baroque finance of late-nineties San Francisco, found it ran out on him, and reprocessed himself as an establishmentarian Brit to the taste of the toast of Republican Washington, hopping on and off his luck all the way.

Iraq has been an absolute feast for them, the profiteering kind (like yer man, the mercenaries and – well, you know), the political kind, and the crazy idealist kind, like that guy who got shot in Basra, the German artist who put a bizarre statue of democracy in place of Saddam’s before things got too hot for him, and the people who started a newspaper. But the thing about riding your luck, in both senses, is that it can never be relied on for too long.

Certainly, their Maximum Leader and Exhibit A for the political type is Ahmed Chalabi, and it looks like he’s running out of road again, having gained less than 1 per cent of the vote and no seats. He has taken the wise precaution of making himself oil minister for a month (again), but you can’t see how he can remain a political force after this. After all, isn’t this meant to be a democracy? Allawi is a similar type, if less pornographically extreme, and he’s just been dealt a hand like a foot too. All that can save either of these characters would be the Americans bullying the SCIRI into accepting a “government of national unity”, or in other words, one with the people who lost the election in. And would anyone be so brave as to bet against such a cabinet containing Allawi and Chalabi?

We are now the party of the chancers, which someone like Tim Worstall or Jamie Kenny would probably say was a good thing. There is a respected theory among historians of the British Empire that a great historic turning-point was the shift from “pirates to prefects”. Something similar? I’m not so sure. I was reduced to infantile giggles by the mention in Patrick Cockburn’s interview with the New Left Review that the 26-year-old scion of a good Republican family who was appointed to reestablish the Baghdad stock exchange failed when he forgot to renew the lease on the building, with the result that the stockbrokers ended up in the street. A chancer, certainly. But the pirates-to-prefects theory assumes that we started off sending the able second sons, chafing at the restrictions of authority, to grab the world, but then began to replace them with bible-bashing bureaucrats from the new public schools. The opposite process seems to be in operation.

In a related digression, has anyone else noticed that the people who do really well in business studies at school almost invariably launch some sort of bizarre venture, hit the big time somewhere odd, then crash and burn into spectacular bankruptcy/go to jail/get caught disseminating propaganda in Iraq? The Financial Times supposedly gave up giving a Young Businessman of the Year award because so many recipients were ruined or exposed as frauds with embarrassing swiftness.

Since the beginning of Op. Firedump, some readers have asked for me to comment on an article by one Wayne Madsen alleging that Bout, Chichakli and Co. have close contacts with various Texas Republicans. Well, if so it would be rather what I was expecting, but I have to say I’ve read the article and it’s not what it’s cracked up to be. Madsen correctly identifies the close similarity between Viktor Bout’s activities in Africa in the mid-90s and those of Pierre Falcone and his friends in the Angolagate scandal, and draws the obvious inference from Falcone’s association with Republican high society after he fled French justice back in 2000.

To recap, Falcone arranged for a French state arms-export company, SOFREMI, part of Charles Pasqua’s Interior Ministry, to sell armaments bought in Slovakia and Bulgaria to the Angolan government. In exchange, the Angolan state oil company Sonangol gave the French oil firm Elf-Aquitaine (as was) several gigantic contracts to develop Angolan oilfields after the war. Elf kicked back the cash needed up front to buy the guns, thus permitting Francois Mitterand’s government to evade public scrutiny in the deal, and huge sums from both sides stuck to Falcone’s fingers. In 2000, as the investigation led by juge d’instruction Eva Joly closed in, Falcone got his friends in Angola to give him a diplomatic passport. Clutching same, he levanted from Paris and headed for the US via London.

Now, given that he was buying guns from the same arsenals and delivering them to the same country (the other side, mind) as Viktor was, you have to wonder how they got there. But that is as far as the available evidence goes; it’s purely circumstantial, to say the least. Madsen doesn’t actually produce any new facts at this point – he just deploys the well-worn Internet debating trick of flipping rapidly from assertion 1 to assertion 2 in the hope that the reader won’t notice the join. I strongly suspect there was a connection, but I don’t have any data to support it, which is why I haven’t asserted it until now.

The core of the suggestion that the Texas Republican party, or part of it, has been corrupted by the Bout system is based on Falcone’s fairly well-known activities after he reached the U.S. Specifically, he and his Brazilian beauty queen wife Sonia moved to a posh suburb of Phoenix, Arizona, where they attempted to ingratiate themselves with society. Sonia Falcone plunked down a $100,000 donation to the party and offered to host a big fund-raising shindig, and it has been reported that the pair even blagged themselves an invite to the Bush ranch. Unfortunately, Falcone’s political sense seems to have deserted him – had he settled in Texas and offered his cash to someone of the stripe of Tom DeLay or Phil “Enron” Gramm, or moved to California and fronted up a few grand to Randall Cunningham, or enter your favourite political scumbag here, presumably he could have had the keys of the kingdom. Instead, he attempted to suborn John McCain, he of campaign finance reform and torture-ban fame. The money was eventually returned with a big FUCK OFF note and Sonia’s kind invitation allowed to gather dust.

Further, Madsen draws on extremist cleric Pat Robertson’s equally well-known African business interests – Liberian diamonds, for shame! – and points out that Robbo was putting his money into Liberia at the same time as San Air General Trading was taking it out of the Liberian shipping register. All this is interesting, it is probably significant, it is cracking gossip, but it is also quite well-known, especially to readers of TYR. Certainly, there is much that needs explaining – how did SOFREMI’s guns get from ZTS-Osos of Slovakia to Angola? what exactly passed between M. Falcone and the future President? how could the pious Reverend invest in Liberian diamonds and gold without dealing with Charles Taylor, as he maintains? – but this doesn’t take us very far towards explaining it, as opposed to restating it.

By now, no doubt, you will be expecting the odd link or two. I’m not going to link to Madsen’s article, for reasons I’m about to make clear, and the Falcone paragraph needs to be enriched with material I have on another computer, so you’ll have to wait.

Unfortunately, Madsen’s surname appears to be worryingly apposite, something you don’t have to worry about if yours is Harrowell. He refers constantly to “Hasidic diamond dealers” (surely it’s the diamond dealing that is the important bit?) and insists on repeatedly pointing out the Jewishness of every Jew he mentions, and tends to make spectacular allegations in passing as if they were commonplace – for example, he alleges without any further detail that missionary aircraft hired by Rev. Robertson were used to smuggle arms to the DRC and Rwanda. Now, I wouldn’t put that past him, but I would like to see some supporting detail. Names? Places? Dates? Registrations? There are none, and I rather suspect he mixed up Liberia and the Congo, as I’ve never heard of any Robertsonian business interests there. This is why I’m not going to link to him.

I love the stats

Not only is TYR the no.10 result on Yahoo! for “the sun page 7 fella”, but someone at U.S. Joint Forces Command googled for iraq oil pipeline schematic and got us as the 7th highest result. If you were a US Army staff officer dealing with Iraq, wouldn’t you keep one on your desk? If not actually burned into your cerebral cortex like the letters on Zaphod Beeblebrox’s brain?

Remember that deal the Kurds made with a Norwegian oil firm?

Not a bad deal at all; that must have taken a good month’s drilling, and they’ve struck 100 million barrels of oil. I wonder how Heritage Oil of Tim Spicer fame is getting on with their Kurdish drilling project? But they ain’t much for corporate disclosure, them Heritage boys…

Slight Update

Well, that wasn’t very impressive, was it? So far, I’ve yet to get an answer from the Romanians regarding 3C-QRF, if you don’t count MS Outlook Out of Office flags. But, somebody has noticed – I keep noticing people from the Romanian Civil Aviation Authority searching the web for 3C-QRF, which I suppose suggests action of a sort. TYR will observe its traditional Christmas ceasefire as of tomorrow evening for 36 hours, but when we open up again there will be another plane on the list, with photos and an explanation.

In other news, Tony Blair has been playing the stupid card to protect himself over the CIA prison flights affair. Apparently he knows nothing, couldn’t find out anything, and so forth. (As if we didn’t know that already.) Various ministries have piously declared that – we’re sorry – we don’t keep records “unless people leave the airfield” or some such. But there are certainly records of which aircraft have visited the UK.

Every flight under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR), which essentially means all commercial flights and practically all international flights (and certainly all transatlantic flights), must file a flight plan with the air traffic control authorities on its route. This document details the route to be followed, the aircraft type and registration, the navigation aids involved, the timings and the person filing the plan. It can be amended in flight, but one has to exist, and if the route passes through the British CAA’s area of responsibility – concretely, NATO’s Air Policing Area 9, which is rather more than the UK Flight Information Region. (I may be wrong with regard to whether flights that traverse APA9 but not the UK FIR need to file with the UK National Air Traffic Services – anyway, this is an extremely unlikely case)

So, the records exist and NATS has them. I’m not sure how long they are archived for, but certainly they exist, and they cover all the flights in this case.

Strategic Drift

It is reported that the Government is beginning to have second thoughts regarding Operation HERRICK, the deployment of British forces to Afghanistan next spring under which the UK-led NATO Allied Rapid Reaction Corps HQ will take over both an expanded ISAF, the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, and a British-led strike force in Helmand Province. The plan was, as well as the ARRCHQ and supports and about a battalion-equivalent of infantry going to Kabul, and the British PRT in Mazar e-Sharif, that the 16th Air Assault Brigade would take on the task of deploying to Helmand, where they might be tasked with pursuing the Taliban and/or destroying opium plantations, as well as attempting to coerce warlords and uphold the Afghan government’s authority.

This made a certain degree of sense; compared to the disaster in Iraq, at least, there’s an argument that success is still within reach in Afghanistan. Never reinforce failure, as they say. And the (much delayed) expansion of ISAF out of Kabul has done so much better that one might well wonder why it didn’t happen back in 2002. But the deployment has been mired in wrangling and confusion of roles. On our side, there seems to have been a difficulty between Britain and the US about the 16AAB’s role. The Americans, bless their hearts, have been fighting a war of massive cordon-and-search sweeps through the mountains pursuing, I suppose, Osama bin Laden. The British Army would probably prefer a strategy of getting control of the population centres. A cynic might suggest that 16AAB are going because their dramatic formation title (Air Assault! Hooooyaah, Colonel Kilgore!) and fleet of helicopters, which ought to satisfy the US on this score.

More serious has been the inter-NATO falling out about the role and chain-of-command of ISAF as opposed to the southern task force. Given the idea that 16AAB will have a more aggressive role than the rest of ISAF (which as we have seen is a necessary illusion for US consumption), some other NATO partners are unhappy at the idea of serving under the same flag. ISAF Kabul has been quite a quiet posting during the last couple of years, which is a testament to its success. France, Germany and some others now fear that their units in Kabul could be targeted if the British down south annoy anyone powerful. Because of this, they have been arguing for a distinction between ISAF and the “antiterrorist” or “counter-insurgency” role in the south, and have demanded a dual chain of command under ARRCHQ. Further, no troops for the south have been forthcoming except for the Dutch, with the result that the “southern force” is likely to be a sort of Son of Commonwealth Strategic Reserve made up of British, Canadian and Australian forces.

There is of course one cracking great fallacy here, caused primarily by the need to present HERRICK to the Americans as a he-man chopper blitzkrieg. There is no sensible distinction between the ISAF peacekeeping role in Kabul and Mazar e-Sharif and the “fight against terrorism and drugs”. Maintaining the condition, as Rupert Smith puts it, of peace and a modicum of normality is the only effective way to hope for a strategic success in Afghanistan. Indeed, it is worth asking what the Operation ENDURING FREEDOM sweeps through southern Afghanistan have actually achieved, compared with the ISAF and PRT operations in the north and west. They have certainly rearranged a lot of rocks and killed a number of people, some of whom turned out to be guests at wedding parties. No doubt some of them were the enemy. I think there’s a case that OEF post-Anaconda and Shah-i-Kot has been far less productive of security than the ISAF.

All this uncertainty about aims has shaken up unpleasant memories with the Dutch, who are now remembering Srebrenica and rowing back on their commitment to send 1,000 men to Uruzgan province, next door to 16AAB. This in turn seems to have unsettled John Reid to the point that a really awful decision might get made. It has been suggested that Reid is considering trimming Op. HERRICK and sending just two of 16AAB’s infantry battalions to Helmand rather than the full monty. This is dangerous nonsense. Just reducing the stakes does not necessarily reduce the risk. It’s possible – like the Provincial Reconstruction Teams – to be safe through keeping a low profile. It’s possible to be safe through being overwhelmingly strong. Two battalions of light infantry – in fact, airborne infantry, the lightest of the light – spread across a large tract of wild mountains are enough to present a wide range of attractive targets, but not enough unless concentrated to be secure.

The full 16AAB includes a field artillery regiment with 105mm guns and the capability to deploy by parachute or helicopter, and an Army Air Corps regiment that has just completed re-equipping with the WAH64-D Apache attack helicopter, and an engineer squadron. With this backup, and the RAF Harriers currently stationed at Kandahar, even small groups of Paras can essentially go anywhere in Afghanistan. But the new option is to leave essentially all the Brigade’s support firepower at home, as well as one-third of the infantry. Bizarrely, the government appears to be thinking along the lines that having fewer allies means we need less power of our own.

Firedump: 3C-QRF

In past posts on TYR, we’ve often mentioned a BAC-111 aircraft registered 3C-QRF, serial number 61. This plane belongs to the curious Jetline International of Sharjah, who we’ve discussed quite a bit. Aerotransport.org lists 3C-QRF as operated by Jetline for San Air General Trading, Richard Chichakli’s firm, which is now on the UN sanctions blacklist regarding Liberia. Now, unusually, we also know where 3C-QRF is: it’s in storage at Baneasa airfield on the edge of Bucharest.

This would seem to make it a priority target. If we can’t ground an aircraft that’s in Europe and not flying much, we might as well give up. The question is supporting the link with San Air and illegal activities. The operator of aerotransport.org says that there was a single report placing it with San Air; I’m trying to clarify the nature of the report. But it’s well worth remembering that 3C-QRF has indeed been used to smuggle arms: check out the July, 2004 UN Security Council report on arms sanctions in the DR Congo, here (pdf). Not just that, it was the venue for a mysterious council-of-war between the Congolese vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba, who is related by marriage to Sanjivan Ruprah, and supposedly Libyan emissaries (press reporting here, Romanian press cached here)

So much for the bullshit. Now for the brief. Here is the list of contacts for the Romanian embassy in the UK. The Political Section sounds like the right one, or perhaps Home Affairs? Don’t copy-paste posts, and do not commit spam, but do make the case for 3C-QRF’s investigation. US readers could try here and use the “reach us” tab – the website is terribly designed. French readers will be pleased to know that the defence attache’s phone number is 01.47.53.70.23. The Romanian government website is www.guv.ro, strangely enough.





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