Archive for December, 2006

OK, so Thomas P.M. Barnett is purring like a kitten at the discovery that his Blueprint for Action has been translated into Turkish. Barnett’s famed prescription, the so-called SysAdmin Force, seems to be vanishing under the far horizon. Check out this NYT report from western Afghanistan. It seems the Iranians are dramatically out-competing NATO & Co in reconstruction in Afghanistan.

What’s more interesting is the how. As well as building roads, they laid a new fibre-optic link across the border into Herat, whose far end will interconnect with the Europe-Asia 1 and 2 cables and the FLAG and SMW3 landings in the UAE. They are also planning to extend the railway from Mashad into Afghanistan – hell, even the British Empire didn’t manage to build a railway in Afghanistan, and that’s saying something. Note, by the way, that quite soon there will be through standard-gauge track from anywhere in Europe, and onward towards China not long after that.

Iranian officials said they had focused on roads and power as a quick way to strengthen Afghanistan’s economy. A major project has involved upgrading roads linking Afghanistan with the Iranian port of Chabahar, on the Gulf of Oman.

In many ways, Muhammad Reza Dabbaghi embodies Iran’s new approach in Afghanistan. Mr. Dabbaghi, a 46-year-old engineer, is the top executive here for the Iranian company that built the new 70-mile highway linking western Afghanistan to Iran two years ago, is paving much of the northwestern city of Herat and hopes to build the new railway, all with Iranian government financing.

Can anyone provide an economic and technical rationale for the Western reconstruction effort that succinct and credible? Meanwhile, in Kabul, some ugly signs:

Last year, the Iranian Embassy opened the Iranian Corner, a room in Kabul University’s main library filled with computers, books and magazines from Iran, promoting Iran’s ancient culture and modern achievements. Librarians say it is more popular than the adjoining American Corner, sponsored by the United States Embassy, primarily because it has a better Internet connection. Unlike in Iran, where the government blocks thousands of Web sites, the Iranian Corner offers open Internet access.

Consider that for a moment. We’re being beaten for openness and connectivity by the Iranians. Wi-Fi: it’s the Marlboros of today, if that isn’t too Friedmanesque. And we are still offering outreach projects, speeches on the radio (to quote Carlo Levi), and the occasional AC-130 strike-in-error. When was the last time you heard of an Iranian F14 accidentally bombing an Afghan wedding?

When the Taliban were ousted in 2001, Iran promised to help stabilize Afghanistan. In Germany that December, it was Iranian diplomats who stepped in to save foundering talks to form a new Afghan government, persuading the Northern Alliance to accept the agreement. Soon after, Iran pledged $560 million in aid and loans to Afghanistan over five years, a “startling” amount for a nonindustrialized nation, according to James Dobbins, the senior American envoy to Afghanistan at the time.

A week later, President Bush situated Iran on the “axis of evil.” But even as they assailed that characterization, Mr. Dobbins said, Iranian officials privately offered to train Afghan soldiers. The Bush administration rejected the offer.

Elsewhere in the story, it seems the Iranians have got rid of $230 million of that budget already. When the British Army headed for Helmand this year, there was talk of a £50 million aid budget in its baggage train, or $97 million, almost twice as much as the apparent Iranian annual total. At the last count, I’m not aware that any significant capital amount had been spent. Certainly DFID hasn’t bought 40 per cent of the Iranian effort.

All right, I said I’d held Sir Ian’s comments on the Today programme on Christmas Eve for treatment. What he did this time was to complain at length about the extra paperwork a cop has to complete after making an arrest. He reckons it’s increased by a factor of three since his wild youth. But I’m not arguing about that.

He claims it’s all down to stricter requirements on the prosecution to disclose unused evidentiary material to the defence. But what concerns me is that he proceeded to blame this on the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. RIPA is the legislation, much criticised itself, that sets the conditions under which the police can spy on you – phone taps, surveillance, that sort of thing.

The duty on the prosecution to hand over all the evidence the police collect is, in my humble opinion, entirely right (why, if they find information that suggests you didn’t do it, should they be allowed to keep it a secret?). But it ain’t RIPA that determines it. It’s the Criminal Investigation and Procedure Act, 1996. Not just that, but it’s also a pre-existing principle of Common Law (see the Crown Prosecution Service legal guidance, here).

What I would like to know is whether he simply got it wrong, or whether this was a wilful misrepresentation. I have absolutely no doubt he’d love to get rid of the provisions of RIPA that require him to get authorisation from the Surveillance Commissioner to do various forms of spying (not that this gentleman has ever refused) – it would fit near-perfectly with the pattern of behaviour he has shown over the past few years, and a pattern of behaviour is admissible evidence these days. If Sir Ian had checked the CPS guide, he would have noticed that, in fact, RIPA actually limits the scope of advance disclosure:

There is no duty to disclose either at Common Law or under CPIA:-

* material for which a claim of public interest immunity is upheld by the court
* material which falls under statutory exceptions: section 2 Interception of Communication Act 1985, section 17 Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.
* material which attracts Legal Professional Privilege;
* material which is detrimental to the credibility of someone who might be called as a defence witness..

Christmas ceasefire

The traditional TYR truce will be observed until the 27th of December. Sir Ian Blair should note that his performance on the Today programme this morning has been noted for future action.

Chatter builds that the US govt is considering moving another carrier to the Gulf to put pressure on Iran. Meh. Fleet availablity is still low. Eisenhower is on station, Enterprise back from deployment and due to go in dockyard hands. Nimitz is doing her COMPTUEX off Southern California. Reagan is still in the CARQUALs phase of the training cycle, Theodore Roosevelt is also a long way back in the deployment cycle.

Vinson, Lincoln, Truman, and Washington are all in drydocks. That leaves only the John C. Stennis. She has recently signed off her JTFEX, which means she has all the ticks in the right boxes to sail. There is also the Kitty Hawk in Japan, but she is essentially marking the Korea and Taiwan commitments and would have to be replaced by another ship to go to the Indian Ocean.

Two carriers is not going to cut it. Still no attack in prospect.

Dear God, John Redwood says something entirely sane. This frightens me – there is something we agree on. Naturally, I followed a link from Chris Dillow – I don’t read his stuff, you know.

But I think he’s right that a big part of the solution to party spending is that the buggers ought not to spend so much. As energy geeks will tell you, only half the problem is supply. After all, if they couldn’t rely on spin, broadcast ads, and billboards they would rely so much more on their activists, which would imply greater accountability of the politicians to the base. Broadcast, by the way, should here be read to include all forms of one-way, centre to mass communication.

In a sense, large donations and their pal, broadcast campaigning are to British politics what oil revenues are to (enter ‘orrible rentier state here). That is, they provide a way of escaping not only from accountability, but also from the realities of society.

Whatever Sir Ian Blair says, the opposite is probably true. It’s a basic working assumption that has at least one major advantage – that even when it’s wrong, it won’t lead you into anything too terrible. Rather like the Malatesta estimator. To estimate a value people disagree about accurately, take the most and least exaggerated values, total them, and divide by 2, then subtract 30 per cent. This last manoeuvre takes into account the fact that exaggeration has no limit, but underestimation can only go as far as zero.

Sir Ian is currently furious that one of the suspects in the murder of Bradford PC Sharon Beshenivsky apparently fled the country posing as a veiled woman. Why didn’t the Immigration Service stop him, he wants to know? Subtext: if real men like Sir Ian were in charge, they would have been more offensive to brown people.

Unfortunately, the Immigration Service hasn’t operated any embarkation controls for some time. When there is a APB out, police detectives are deployed at ports to look for the suspect. As he is believed to have passed through Heathrow, it’s Sir Ian’s very own Special Branch who missed the unusually hefty lass.

James Glanz of the NYT reports at great length on the electrical siege of Baghdad, with detail, network maps, and more. Great.

Obviously, this being a blog, the primary meaning of this is an excuse to moan about the press. Why didn’t Glanz (or anyone else at the NYT) report on this back in 2004, say? It was a commonplace as early as the summer of 2003 that electricity production was a crucial indicator, that pylons were being destroyed and wire dragged away to sell. John Robb was writing about it then. So was this, ah, blog.

Did I say I loved the FT? Check out this story (subreq) on Gazprom, and especially the Robbtastic pipeline map (direct link (swf).)

Yet more stupid giant floating radar news. Not only can’t it keep the sea if the weather turns bad, not only is there no sea boat, and no security – but its support vessel won’t be able to go alongside it most of the time, according to the US Coast Guard. This really is one of the poster children for Stupid Defence Procurement, no?

Speaking of stupid defence procurement, Richard North has issued a Christmas list of stuff he thinks the armed forces need. Predictably, all but one item on it comes from either BAE or the United States, and it’s all very expensive, electronic and Rumsfeldesque, not to mention tactically defensive. For example, he advocates we buy a “system” (a word that is usually the key indicator of useless expensive kit) whose manufacturers claim it can shoot down mortar rounds in flight.

Well, when it’s working, if the enemy chooses to shoot at the camp that got the scarce gadget, and until they invent a countermeasure (like chaff stuffed in the tail of their 107mm rockets, say). This is a classic example of cheap, highly available 4GW that entrains incredibly expensive technofixes on the part of conventional armies. Far better to take the money Northo wants to give Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Rockwell, Raytheon and Co and pay a large bonus to recruit more linguists and agent handlers for the Intelligence Corps, so there might be a chance of finding out who is firing the mortars. And that way, perhaps we wouldn’t just have discovered that General Richards’ interpreter was an Iranian spy.

(Seriously, the guy is a nightclub owner and salsa instructor as well as a TA I-man. How could he not be a spy of one persuasion or the other?)

In other North-related news,
HRW picks up the “ambulance hoax” bullshit and hoofs it into Row Z.
Bloggers were said to be collapsing with asphyxia awaiting Dick’s apology.

Whatever Sir Ian Blair says, the opposite is probably true. It’s a basic working assumption that has at least one major advantage – that even when it’s wrong, it won’t lead you into anything too terrible. Rather like the Malatesta estimator. To estimate a value people disagree about accurately, take the most and least exaggerated values, total them, and divide by 2, then subtract 30 per cent. This last manoeuvre takes into account the fact that exaggeration has no limit, but underestimation can only go as far as zero.

Sir Ian is currently furious that one of the suspects in the murder of Bradford PC Sharon Beshenivsky apparently fled the country posing as a veiled woman. Why didn’t the Immigration Service stop him, he wants to know? Subtext: if real men like Sir Ian were in charge, they would have been more offensive to brown people.

Unfortunately, the Immigration Service hasn’t operated any embarkation controls for some time. When there is a APB out, police detectives are deployed at ports to look for the suspect. As he is believed to have passed through Heathrow, it’s Sir Ian’s very own Special Branch who missed the unusually hefty lass.

James Glanz of the NYT reports at great length on the electrical siege of Baghdad, with detail, network maps, and more. Great.

Obviously, this being a blog, the primary meaning of this is an excuse to moan about the press. Why didn’t Glanz (or anyone else at the NYT) report on this back in 2004, say? It was a commonplace as early as the summer of 2003 that electricity production was a crucial indicator, that pylons were being destroyed and wire dragged away to sell. John Robb was writing about it then. So was this, ah, blog.

Did I say I loved the FT? Check out this story (subreq) on Gazprom, and especially the Robbtastic pipeline map (direct link (swf).)





Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.