Archive for October, 2005

As far back as January this year, we were discussing a company called Natalco Airlines, registered in Sao Tome & Principe but really located almost anywhere else. Back then, it was possible for a source to put the Sao Tome CAA on the right track regarding an aeroplane, An-12 S9-BAN, serial no. 402111, that had somehow vanished. In fact it had been reregistered TN-AGQ and then broken up for spare parts in Pointe Noire, Congo.

Now, casually looking up something else today, I came upon one of Douglas Farah’s old reports, predating the Ranter and hence unread by me, about the al-Qa’ida diamonds connection with Charles Taylor’s regime in Liberia. (You can read it here.) Interestingly, at the same time as the Al-Qa’ida diamond buyers led by Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani were at Taylor’s court (also the same period that Richard Chichakli’s San Air General Trading was receiving large sums of money from the Liberian shipping registry), an order was placed for arms by one Simon Yelnik, described as an Israeli citizen resident in Panama, to a “Russian arms dealer in Guatemala”. This order (for “our friends in Africa”) resulted in the procurement of an end-user certificate purporting to come from the Ivory Coast government, made out to “Natalco Holdings PLC” of Bulgaria.

Naturally, PLC is not a type of company that exists in Bulgarian company law. Very probably the weapons (which included RPGs, artillery rockets and portable SAMs) came from there, though, via the well-documented route through the KINTEX state arsenal and KAS Engineering, the Gibraltar-based front company used by the Viktor Bout system to get end-user certificates issued. It’s certainly an interesting coincidence, if nothing more, that exactly the same name should turn up in this context twice at the same point in time.

Natalco the airline had/has three Antonov 12s. One of them, strange to tell, is now at Astral Aviation of Nairobi, the firm that turned up in this post and is connected with Phoenix Aviation, GST Aero, Aerocom, Ali Kleilat and Asterias Commercial, not to mention some strangelet entity called “Aerospace Consortium” in Fujairah, UAE. To turn back, briefly, to Bulgaria, though, what about this 1999 HRW report for the UNHCR? (Link.) I’m beginning to think that I ought to read more documentation from before about 2000, when the name “Viktor Bout” became better known, as some of it may include stuff that no-one realised was significant at the time.

In this case, note well the descriptions of deliveries of arms to both sides in Angola and to the Hutu in Rwanda in 1994-1996, coming in cargo aircraft registered in “Ghana, Russia, the Ukraine and other Warsaw Pact countries”. I strongly suspect Ghana here means either Johnsons Air, First International Air, or both. If the first, this is a very interesting link indeed. References to deliveries to Yemen in 1994 appear to originate from the Carlton TV report which included an interview with an anonymous pilot who may have been Chris Barrett-Jolley, describing the flights organised by the “old” Phoenix Aviation. If the Bout system was involved in arming the Hutu and the Angolan government as well as UNITA, it would argue strongly for a connection with the French arms dealer Pierre Falcone, a fugitive last heard of in Phoenix, Arizona offering large sums of money to the Republican Party, and the complex of scandal around Elf-Aquitaine, Mitterrand’s Africa Cell, and hard-right former French interior minister Charles Pasqua.

Which would be a laugh, no? Unfortunately, although the footnotes include sightings of “Soviet-era cargo planes” and even DC3s, no-one involved seems to have thought to record the registration letters, titles if any, etc. As I said, they didn’t realise it was significant.

Update: Doug Farah informs me that another Natalco deal involved importing helicopters from Bulgaria and Russia to Guinea ostensibly for “repairs” but really, of course, for sale to Charles Taylor.

As far back as January this year, we were discussing a company called Natalco Airlines, registered in Sao Tome & Principe but really located almost anywhere else. Back then, it was possible for a source to put the Sao Tome CAA on the right track regarding an aeroplane, An-12 S9-BAN, serial no. 402111, that had somehow vanished. In fact it had been reregistered TN-AGQ and then broken up for spare parts in Pointe Noire, Congo.

Now, casually looking up something else today, I came upon one of Douglas Farah’s old reports, predating the Ranter and hence unread by me, about the al-Qa’ida diamonds connection with Charles Taylor’s regime in Liberia. (You can read it here.) Interestingly, at the same time as the Al-Qa’ida diamond buyers led by Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani were at Taylor’s court (also the same period that Richard Chichakli’s San Air General Trading was receiving large sums of money from the Liberian shipping registry), an order was placed for arms by one Simon Yelnik, described as an Israeli citizen resident in Panama, to a “Russian arms dealer in Guatemala”. This order (for “our friends in Africa”) resulted in the procurement of an end-user certificate purporting to come from the Ivory Coast government, made out to “Natalco Holdings PLC” of Bulgaria.

Naturally, PLC is not a type of company that exists in Bulgarian company law. Very probably the weapons (which included RPGs, artillery rockets and portable SAMs) came from there, though, via the well-documented route through the KINTEX state arsenal and KAS Engineering, the Gibraltar-based front company used by the Viktor Bout system to get end-user certificates issued. It’s certainly an interesting coincidence, if nothing more, that exactly the same name should turn up in this context twice at the same point in time.

Natalco the airline had/has three Antonov 12s. One of them, strange to tell, is now at Astral Aviation of Nairobi, the firm that turned up in this post and is connected with Phoenix Aviation, GST Aero, Aerocom, Ali Kleilat and Asterias Commercial, not to mention some strangelet entity called “Aerospace Consortium” in Fujairah, UAE. To turn back, briefly, to Bulgaria, though, what about this 1999 HRW report for the UNHCR? (Link.) I’m beginning to think that I ought to read more documentation from before about 2000, when the name “Viktor Bout” became better known, as some of it may include stuff that no-one realised was significant at the time.

In this case, note well the descriptions of deliveries of arms to both sides in Angola and to the Hutu in Rwanda in 1994-1996, coming in cargo aircraft registered in “Ghana, Russia, the Ukraine and other Warsaw Pact countries”. I strongly suspect Ghana here means either Johnsons Air, First International Air, or both. If the first, this is a very interesting link indeed. References to deliveries to Yemen in 1994 appear to originate from the Carlton TV report which included an interview with an anonymous pilot who may have been Chris Barrett-Jolley, describing the flights organised by the “old” Phoenix Aviation. If the Bout system was involved in arming the Hutu and the Angolan government as well as UNITA, it would argue strongly for a connection with the French arms dealer Pierre Falcone, a fugitive last heard of in Phoenix, Arizona offering large sums of money to the Republican Party, and the complex of scandal around Elf-Aquitaine, Mitterrand’s Africa Cell, and hard-right former French interior minister Charles Pasqua.

Which would be a laugh, no? Unfortunately, although the footnotes include sightings of “Soviet-era cargo planes” and even DC3s, no-one involved seems to have thought to record the registration letters, titles if any, etc. As I said, they didn’t realise it was significant.

Update: Doug Farah informs me that another Natalco deal involved importing helicopters from Bulgaria and Russia to Guinea ostensibly for “repairs” but really, of course, for sale to Charles Taylor.

Royal Airlines

Since the first reports of a Viktor Bout-related airline in Iraq, in the spring of 2004, there have been mentions of something called “Royal Air Cargo”, “Royal Airlines”, or some other combinations of those names. I knew from early on that Royal Air Cargo existed in Pakistan, where it resold the services of British Gulf International Airlines, the not-British, not-Gulf firm whose An-12s were first registered in Equatorial Guinea, then Sao Tome, and then in Kyrgyzstan, all without apparently leaving Sharjah.

Well, it’s around again. The Sharjah departure boards show that Royal Airlines Ltd, which is given as a private flight, are operating between Sharjah and nowhere else than Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, a centre of western military activities there and also the alleged locale of many cases of torture. What is Royal? An interesting question.

Originally, a company of that name using the ICAO code RPK operated from Karachi in Pakistan, but every aircraft they used was leased from one or other Viktor Bout firm. Now, the firm is reported to be in Saudi Arabia. No new ICAO code exists, so we have to assume that they are one and the same – especially as both fleet lists include planes from Air Cess (an Antonov An-24RV, 3C-KKH/27307701), Irbis (Antonov An-26B, UN-26582/47313504), and BGIA (an Antonov An-12BP, EX-160/401901). Interestingly, the list also includes UN-26581, 47313503, an Antonov An-26B that was traded through Opa Locka, Florida, home of dodgy dealer Maury Joseph and passing point of the famous missing 727, and an An-26A, serial number 97308205, that went from being a Royal Airlines bird with the registration UR-BWY to nowhere else than Jet Line International, the Moldovan frontco that shared offices with cocaine smugglers Aerocom, as ER-AZR.

Under the ICAO code RPK-, they fly to Bagram and sometimes to Iraq. Very interestingly, many aircrft have appeared in Australia with Aerocom division Airbridge Group at Eagle Farm near Brisbane.

Royal Airlines

Since the first reports of a Viktor Bout-related airline in Iraq, in the spring of 2004, there have been mentions of something called “Royal Air Cargo”, “Royal Airlines”, or some other combinations of those names. I knew from early on that Royal Air Cargo existed in Pakistan, where it resold the services of British Gulf International Airlines, the not-British, not-Gulf firm whose An-12s were first registered in Equatorial Guinea, then Sao Tome, and then in Kyrgyzstan, all without apparently leaving Sharjah.

Well, it’s around again. The Sharjah departure boards show that Royal Airlines Ltd, which is given as a private flight, are operating between Sharjah and nowhere else than Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, a centre of western military activities there and also the alleged locale of many cases of torture. What is Royal? An interesting question.

Originally, a company of that name using the ICAO code RPK operated from Karachi in Pakistan, but every aircraft they used was leased from one or other Viktor Bout firm. Now, the firm is reported to be in Saudi Arabia. No new ICAO code exists, so we have to assume that they are one and the same – especially as both fleet lists include planes from Air Cess (an Antonov An-24RV, 3C-KKH/27307701), Irbis (Antonov An-26B, UN-26582/47313504), and BGIA (an Antonov An-12BP, EX-160/401901). Interestingly, the list also includes UN-26581, 47313503, an Antonov An-26B that was traded through Opa Locka, Florida, home of dodgy dealer Maury Joseph and passing point of the famous missing 727, and an An-26A, serial number 97308205, that went from being a Royal Airlines bird with the registration UR-BWY to nowhere else than Jet Line International, the Moldovan frontco that shared offices with cocaine smugglers Aerocom, as ER-AZR.

Under the ICAO code RPK-, they fly to Bagram and sometimes to Iraq. Very interestingly, many aircrft have appeared in Australia with Aerocom division Airbridge Group at Eagle Farm near Brisbane.

The Caucasian Front

I’m not sure anyone else didn’t spot this; but the name the rebels who invaded Nalchik used is significant. They called themselves the Caucasian Front. The original Caucasian Front was the Soviet army of Marshal Timoshenko, driven back from Rostov-on-Don to the mountains in the spring of 1942, who fought it out there to keep von Kleist’s 1st Panzer Army from the oilfields of the Caucasus and the roads south to the Middle East.

When you think that there is really nothing else that no-one can disagree with about Russian history in the modern era, and how much and how rightly the Great Patriotic War makes up a chunk of Russianness…that ought to be ideologically frightening. That way, nothing on Putin’s (and our) side is Russian. And the Russians are now the Nazis. Robert Fisk describes in his new memoir, The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East, how he travelled from Kabul to Kandahar in 1981 in a civilian bus and saw Soviet soldiers from Tajikistan who had torn off the red stars of their uniforms. The full significance took longer to sink in.

The Caucasian Front

I’m not sure anyone else didn’t spot this; but the name the rebels who invaded Nalchik used is significant. They called themselves the Caucasian Front. The original Caucasian Front was the Soviet army of Marshal Timoshenko, driven back from Rostov-on-Don to the mountains in the spring of 1942, who fought it out there to keep von Kleist’s 1st Panzer Army from the oilfields of the Caucasus and the roads south to the Middle East.

When you think that there is really nothing else that no-one can disagree with about Russian history in the modern era, and how much and how rightly the Great Patriotic War makes up a chunk of Russianness…that ought to be ideologically frightening. That way, nothing on Putin’s (and our) side is Russian. And the Russians are now the Nazis. Robert Fisk describes in his new memoir, The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East, how he travelled from Kabul to Kandahar in 1981 in a civilian bus and saw Soviet soldiers from Tajikistan who had torn off the red stars of their uniforms. The full significance took longer to sink in.

ICANN If You Can

Everyone’s getting het up about the prospect of the current residual US responsibilities for the Internet infrastructure and the possibility that the forthcoming World Summit for the Information Society might give them to the UN, or more specifically the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the UN tech body that makes sure North Korean and Japanese phone lines interwork. A lot of American bloggers have been, predictably, furious. It’s worth giving some thought to the substance of the criticism.

The key thing is that, apparently, “if the UN get – shudder – control of the Internet the Chinese could censor everything!” Or, for Chinese, insert any foreign government. The first, and uncomfortable, point is that it seems a lot less obvious to me that the US government is so trustworthy than it does to some. What power is it that a new Internet forum would have? Well, they would own the contracts under which the 13 root servers are operated. The US Department of Commerce do now. Do they censor them? No, and anyway the national root domains could if necessary interwork without them. The same would go if a Texas Republican nightmare UN took them over. Alternative rootservers already exist, in fact, and the German bloke who runs one of them won’t stop telling the networking mail lists about it, damn him. Under an UN solution, at least all nations with a TLD would be represented. And, as is normal at most international executive organisations, the principle of unanimity would rule. Don’t like the Chinese proposal? Vote against it.

But this is absurd. The Chinese are censoring the Internet right now: and the tool they use is not the UN, but a far more effective one. Very simply, state-owned or state-near companies own all the routers of China. Everything that passes through them may be filtered. The real censorship threat lies not at the UN, but at your friendly local ISP – because they have the best place in the network topology to censor you. Root servers actually aren’t a good option for censorship: how long does it take to set up a new domain name?

Back in the day, back before ICANN was invented, there was a brief period of democracy on the Internet, when the central authorities were elected. What we need is an elected ICANN (and IANA), all of whose documents are published as RFCs, Requests for Comments, like those that define the standards that make it all happen. The real discovery of the Net was not the exact protocols, but a social agreement to exchange information in a certain fashion and a particular collaborative way of working. The pioneers did not just invent a networking protocol, they did everything differently – note the humility in the title. Request for Comments. And they are still open for comments, from the 7th April 1969 to this exact moent. Here is a challenge: how should a democratic Internet governance look like? Call this post P (for People’s)-RFC1.

Well, the good people of the House of Commons have done their thing. The closet fascists and crude worshippers of power did what they had to do. 25 Labour MPs did what they had to do, but of course never enough. 43 MPs failed to turn up. As seems to be normal today, the unelected are now called to redress the balance of the elected. It’s off to the Lords with the Big Database that Can’t Possibly Work.

The last push, eh? We’re in the final now, and we’re playing on our home ground. We always lose all the battles, except the last one. That’s the British patriotic cliches done. Now, let’s have a think about the supposed concessions Charles Clarke bought his way through the Commons with.

Clarke, first up, claimed the cards might cost as little as £30, against an estimate of £93. Clearly the main saving here was just cutting out the cost of a passport, included in the figure of £93. Why anyone would want a voluntary ID card but not a passport is a question we ought to skip. Overall, though, where would the extra cash come from? There was an answer to this. Efficiency savings in other departments like the NHS would save the Safety Elephant’s bacon.

Efficiency savings is a phrase that should strike terror into every citizen’s heart. It is the post-Thatcher civil service’s favourite thing, a sort of administrative white powder that permits a far greater degree of servility to arbitrary authority than otherwise possible. Your budget is less than enough, but the Line To Take says nothing may be cut (as it always does if neither refugees nor soldiers are involved) . What to do? A good snort of the fairy dust. Mmmm! And suddenly, strange to tell, exactly enough money is saved to pass the budget. The best, though, is yet to come. Nothing real must happen until the budgeting round, when there are two equally good options. These are: Select a target group and cut’em, or alternatively collapse on the steps of the Treasury. One way, you make the nut by not serving some bunch of people without a lobby. The other way, you just fail and turn the Prime Minister against the Chancellor. They both work.

The second Clarkean concession was his statement that no more information than what is held on passports at the moment would be “on the card”, and that the citizens would be able to check the data on a secure website protected by a PIN. With this move, Clarke neatly destroyed the political and financial basis of his own mutant, pus-trailing turdbeast of a scheme. Think about it: without all the information they want and he just ruled out, what would be the value of the cards to the NHS? Either they would have to choose the Home Office Big Database as the best possible option, which is only conceivable if all UK and European procurement rules were torn up, or they would have to use it for free, and then transfer the still-mythical efficiency savings to the Home Office.

Of course, the NHS would be far more likely to spend any real savings on something useful like bandages than give it back to the Treasury. What chance would the Home Office have of extracting the cash from Gordon Brown? Those efficiency savings opught to be put in with the eternal Tory myth of the big lump of money marked WASTE it’s so easy to get rid of if you vote for Me.

But the really worrying new points about ID control are nothing to do with the NHS. For a start, that “secure website” protected by a PIN. PINs only work in banking because, to use them, you have to have a bank card and produce the number in person. You can’t realistically stand at a cashpoint and hammer in every combination from 0000-9999 until you break into an account. On the Internet, though, you can have a simple script do that, and even distribute the requests over time and over a botnet to evade lockouts. And, by sheer maths, you will in the end succeed. The best security response from the government would probably be to block large chunks of address space, thus denying half Britain Internet access – so, even failure would be nearly as good as success.

The second we’ve already touched on. There will be no further data “on the card”. This would make the cards pointless. But will the card numbers be added to other, existing databases in which the same information lies? Remember: it’s not the card, it’s the database. I think he’s lying.

Well, the grey men have spoken and Angela Merkel has, to my considerable surprise, ended up as Germany’s chancellor. It seems that the easy-life temptations of a grand coalition overcame the SPD’s desire to hang on to the chancellor’s office, and motivated them to give Schröder the push. This leaves Germany with a truly bizarre government – the Chancellery goes to Merkel, but all the key ministries with the exception of Economy and Defence go to the SPD. The Vice-Chancellorship – traditionally a fairly empty title for the junior coalition partner’s leader – is to go to none other than SPD General Secretary Franz Müntefering, who is apparently going to combine it with the ministries of Labour and Social Affairs.

This, for one, suggests that this government is not going to be a good one. Although the Right gets the Ministry of the Economy for Bavarian elected king Edmund Stoiber, its great rival the Finance Ministry stays with the SPD…and the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs goes to Müntefering, he of the so-called Kapitalismusdebatte, placing him straight in the path of the conservatives’ agenda on the labour market. Müntefering will have the status of a vice-chancellor, as well as a make-or-break party leader, to back him in his role as Minister for No.

Stoiber’s party, meanwhile, added to this promise of internecine viciousness by publicly doubting Merkel’s Richtlinienkompetenz. This term means the right of the chancellor to issue “directives” or “guidelines” to ministers, something considered in Germany to be an important characteristic of the German constitution. Unsurprisingly, the SPD has also been very publicly warning her against any “lonely decisions”. This opens up the prospect of triangular, SPD/CDU/CSU, negotiation inside the government. It also raises a constitutional point – the SPD claims that her Richtlinienkompetenz is limited specifically by the agreement between the parties. Can such an agreement effectively change the constitution?

Meanwhile, outside the government, the Greens, Left and FDP are left to sweat as a sort of oppositional traffic light coalition. And, no doubt, both Stoiber and Müntefering sharpen their knives for their own bids for the Chancellorship in six months’ time. That is, of course, so long as no outbreak of democracy nixes them. The SPD MPs must agree to vote Merkel in. And the SPD activists must reelect their leaders at the imminent party conference. Seeing as the leaders’ policy means that Germany, a country with a structural leftwing majority in parliament, gets a conservative chancellor – will they?

One thing that strikes everyone, I think, who visits Singapore is the apparent racial harmony. Here is (to British eyes) an example of a multicultural society functioning perfectly, people expressing their religious and national peculiarities within the scope of a shared identity in a sense indistinguishable from that expression itself. Or, to more integration-minded visitors, perhaps an example of multiple and potentially hostile communities being successfully moulded into a united republic. Not laicité, perhaps, but certainly integration.

The problem comes, though, if you zoom in a little more. Perhaps the distinctive feature of the urban landscape isn’t integration, it’s separateness, different communities measuring out their different districts. That is, after all, how the tourist knows they are in one of the most diverse cities in the world. This is a challenge for the multiculturalist, because this version of it is very different to Britain’s.

In the UK, the (begins to sound like a junior minister) Challenge of Diversity was handled essentially by laissez faire methods. The key virtue was tolerance, and the key sin racism. The principle was essentially that if other people were different, then this was none of your business so long as they kept their nose out of yours. This is not a bad minimum, after all – George Orwell wrote that one of the guarantees for democracy in Britain was that Nosey Parker was one of the worst insults you can throw at someone. But the downside is that, as Soizick says, tolerance is not far from indifference.

By the way, there is nothing wrong with using the word tolerance here – yes, you tolerate something bad, but tolerance is also defined as the permissible deviation from a norm. Toleration has often been used in a positive sense historically.

Getting back to the point, if it slips to just being indifferent to other people, you end up with a dangerously alienated society. This was pretty much what the Cantle report said was to blame for the 2001 Bradford riot, by the way. The French call this communautairisme, which might be better translated as communalism. Closed communities live out parallel lives without touching in a degraded public space.

Singapore’s take on multiculturalism is much more dirigiste and integrationist, making constant efforts to build an (artificial) national identity around the cultures, charging bloggers with sedition for saying rude things about Malays. But the result is the same; communities of identity appear. Society functions, though, even if the Chinese, Malays and Indians would prefer to socialise in-group and the expats hang out in their own depressing flocks downtown. (A semiotics lesson: outside a bar full of only white people, an advert for that bar. On the advert, a cartoon couple. The woman is dark-haired and evidently Chinese. The man looks much the same except he has a line of red hair. What message is being conveyed? And, for bonus points, where are we drinking?)

The lesson, then: multiculturalism is possible but communatarianism is inevitable.