Archive for the ‘Sierra Leone’ Category

Der Spiegel has an interesting story regarding the Colombian drug smugglers’ homemade submarines. These have so far been considered a curiosity, but apparently they are becoming more and more common, and the technology is developing fast. The biggest vessel captured so far displaced 46 tonnes, presumably surfaced, with a payload of 10 tonnes. Apparently the current ones, described as the third generation, have a radius of action of 2,500 kilometres; an American admiral is quoted as expecting them to eventually start crossing the Atlantic from northeastern Brazil to West Africa, linking up with the emerging drugs route from there to Europe.

Much more is filtering out about the Bangkok Bout Bust; it seems fairly certain that his arrest was the result of a sting operation in which the DEA posed as buyers from the FARC. Bout booked a meeting room in the Bangkok Sofitel; he, and several others, were waiting for their guests to arrive when the Thai police arrived instead. Initial reports said that he had only arrived in Thailand four hours earlier, on an Aeroflot flight (presumably from Russia); this has now given place to the suggestion that he had been staying in the hotel since January. It’s most likely that both are in fact true, and that Bout has been in Thailand for some time but had recently travelled to Russia.

The fake buyers ordered surface-to-air missiles and anti-armour weapons, precisely what you’d expect a modern guerrilla army to import. A figure of 100 missiles was given. According to the complaint against him, he went as far as offering them helicopters for sale, and suggested that the missiles could be delivered by airdrop into Colombia. Given the length of the route from the ex-USSR or Middle East pickup point to the destination, this argues that an Ilyushin 76 would have been the means of delivery.

According to the FT, the DEA narcs had been on the case for some time, and there had been past meetings in the Netherlands Antilles and Denmark. Further, the FT claims they got access to e-mail from Viktor’s Gmail account.

Viktor Bout has a Gmail account?!!!

In a further report, the FT mentions some of the people who were arrested with Bout. Chief among them is one “Andrew” Smulian, who has apparently already been ghosted from Thailand to the US. This name is interesting; someone of that surname has been associated with Bout since at least 1998, and he appears in the accounts of Air Pass for that year as a major recipient of cash from the company. This would appear to be corroboration of those documents.

It was inevitable that something weird would happen, though:

Mr Surapol said Mr Bout was arrested with five other people – four Russians and one British citizen – all of whom had been released due to lack of evidence of against them, and lack of local arrest warrants for them.

OK, so Bout is in Thai custody awaiting an extradition hearing. Bout and Smulian are the men named in the DEA’s writ. Smulian’s already been handed over – what’s that about? – but some five others have been released including one Briton.

I’m aware of at least two British associates, but one of them is in jail and the other hasn’t been reported as being involved in anything evil for years, and was anyway a marginal figure. The FT reckons the released men were the sting merchants.

Further, Doug Farah reports that the Russians have been making noises about issuing an extradition request; I remember overhearing a group of teenagers on a bus in Feltham, passing an ANPR mobile camera installation on the A30. One of them mentioned that it was a police camera that read number plates; the rest exclaimed “Sneaky Russians!” Indeed.

Meanwhile, the affair set the TYR infrastructure sweating, roaring and creaking like an old Antonov 12; just listen to those Kuznetsov turboprops. It was the biggest day in the history of the old blog with 1,576 uniques, plus a hundred or so more on the new blog; anything with a plane photo has been in heavy demand. My favourite google search ever: is max boot related to viktor bout? (the top result is this.)

But more interestingly, look at this: someone queried Russian Google for “Tenir Bout”, from theUAE. We also had someone in Moscow googling british gulf, as in British Gulf International Airlines/British Gulf International Company.

Here’s what our highly sophisticated surveillance network reported:
[u'06-Mar 23:45', u'Al-Fujairah', 'Sharjah', u'Tenir Airlines', u'TEB 4361', u'Estimated : 23:45 ']
[u'07-Mar 00:02', u'Al-Fujairah', 'Sharjah', u'Tenir Airlines', u'TEB 4361', u'Arrived at 00:02 ']
[u'07-Mar 03:00', None, 'Sharjah', u'Tenir Airlines', u'TEB 4361', u' ']
We’ve also seen them in the past doing routes like Sharjah-Baghdad-Kabul; a true war-on-terror trifecta, and in the last few weeks running into northern Somalia. Just look where the planes came from.

Wired Danger Room, meanwhile, theorises that the Bout network has been involved with the emerging Andes-West Africa-Europe cocaine route, and was trading weapons for drugs with the FARC. It’s plausible; even as early as the British intervention in Sierra Leone in 2000, some of the militias were noted to have transatlantic trading connections.

Just for laughs, meanwhile, someone on an Armenian IP is googling for Viktor Bout and Pierre Falcone.

Update: More detail from the horse’s mouth. Looks like the DEA agents got Smulian to call Bout on a mobile phone they handed him so they knew which line to listen on. Huge security fart on Smulian’s part.

In my head-on-the-block post regarding the unlikelihood of an attack on Iran, I mentioned that most of the Royal Navy is engaging in a large exercise off Sierra Leone, with the involvement of the Fleet Lead Commando Group, HMSs Ocean and Bulwark, and a large supporting cast. Now, many miles away indeed, the Royal Marines of 3 Commando Brigade are taking over from the 16th Air Assault Brigade in Afghanistan. In the good news, they are bringing two of their three Commandos – i.e battalions – the other one being with the fleet, which means precisely twice as many actual infantry.

Now, the Commando Brigade is the only one in British service that has its own organic support helicopter capability. All the others, 16AAB included, have a call on the RAF’s Merlins and Chinooks and the Army Air Corps’ Lynxes, but not their own dedicated lift. 3X, though, has two Navy support helicopter squadrons (845 and 846) permanently assigned, with a further Navy squadron (847) with reconnaissance and attack helicopters. So why is the military hiring mercenaries to provide additional lift ships?

The answer is that 845 and 846NAS are both off for a spot of biffing in sunny SL – and why? It appears that the 3,300 headcount limit imposed by military genius John Reid is still in force, so if the Marines want (sensibly enough) to bring more troops, they must leave their organic airlift behind. It would be nice if the government took the wars it insists on getting involved in at all seriously.

Meanwhile, the mercenaries will bring a gaggle of very big Russian helicopters to the table, including the monster Mi26 (HALO), the size of a C130. But who are they? They have a website, sss3.co.uk. It is discreet to say the least, but gives an address on the Albert Embankment in London – i.e. next door to MI6, the Metropolitan Police and the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority. WHOIS returns that something called NSC Holdings Ltd of 3 Limpsfield Road, South Croydon registered the web address. NSC Holdings elsewhere has the same address as SSS3, but – oddly enough – describes itself as supplying burglar alarms. But most interestingly, it was wound up by a court on the 20th of September.

This worries me rather less than it might, as I conclude the firm was probably set up specifically for the job by the spooks.

Remember the flight and arrest of Charles “Fiddy Cent Thousand Dead Child Soldiers” Taylor back in March? Sure ya do. You may also recall the bizarre involvement of Kilari Anand Paul, an Indian Protestant evangelist and – to be brutally frank – charlatan with a Boeing 747. Paul, who claimed to be Taylor’s “spiritual adviser”, has made a career of appearing in war zones to offer various tyrants religious counsel and a trip in the jet, the whole thing funded by charitable donations from the faithful but imprudent. Other clients he claimed at the time included Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, and various Haitian rebels.

Last week, to my considerable amazement, he intervened in the Foley scandal, suddenly turning up to wish himself on dead-man-walking Dennis Hastert. Fascinatingly, when Talkingpointsmemo.com’s reporter Justin Rood caught up with him, he claimed to know Condoleeza Rice, Tom DeLay and George W. Bush, to say nothing of Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole and sundry other hard-right theocrats. But that isn’t all. The Houston Press has a rather fantastic feature on the guy, detailing a wealth of bizarreries and frauds including a fake leper colony, the abduction of an 11-year old girl from India to the United States and her subsequent abandonment, and a fraud in which he accepted a large sum of money to fly a group of Jews to visit Auschwitz, welshed, and then used the cash to put his jet through a long-overdue C check.

Ah, the jet. It’s a 1982-vintage Boeing 747SP, like a 747 Classic but with reduced capacity to make room for extra long range tanks. He claims it’s the only private 747 except for Air Force 1 (not true – there are a couple belonging to oil sheikhs, and AF1 isn’t a private jet, the clue being in the call sign), and nothing will part him from it. Not the exorbitant cost of maintaining a 24 year old jumbo, nor the giant fuel bill, nor FAA safety regulations. Among other things, he also spent quite some time flying around the world whilst not paying the crew. The C-check that the “Friends of the Israeli Defence Force” unwittingly paid for was carried out in Canada, presumably to evade pursuit.

None of this would be immensely surprising in the airfreight business, which is proverbially beset by shysters. Normally, though, it would go as far as lawsuits in odd places around the world and aggrieved creditors posting to PPRuNe.

But what is especially interesting about this seller of indulgences is that he appears to have decided to be a World Leader, sweeping into zones of international crisis in his long-range jet, dispensing pomposity by the gallon, and being photographed at the shoulder of the great and terrible – and simply gone out there and done it, without the impediments of getting elected or paying any of his own bills. When he called on the president of Ethiopia, he demanded the full honours of protocol, including a red carpet at the foot of the airstair – just in case, a carpet is part of his plane’s equipment. One wonders whether the carpet is included on the MEL, the minimum list of equipment that must be present and functioning before the aircraft can take off.

He is a self-made statesman, or more accurately a one-man state – a true product of our times. More seriously, he is yet another example of the weird lack of quality control the leaders of Teh War on Terror so often display in their personnel judgements. Having wangled an invite to the Southern Baptist convention, where he shocked the assembled bible-wallahs by soliciting donations to his personal funds from the stage, he seems to have glommed directly on to the Republican Party’s religious wing and its weird and sinister fascination for West Africa. Beyond that, he seems to have some features that would clearly endear him to Bush..

“Bluntly put, when Dr. Paul receives an answer he does not like, he seeks out someone who will tell him what he wants to hear. This is not the way to operate an aircraft; this is a very dangerous game to play, especially since Dr. Paul has little aviation experience. I have advised Dr. Paul and GPI in writing before — many lives will be put at risk if someone doesn’t start to understand what it is going to take in terms of time and money to operate this aircraft.”

I can’t help thinking this blog could do with an airborne command post. As part of our Global Struggle against Vapid Egregiosity.

In my head-on-the-block post regarding the unlikelihood of an attack on Iran, I mentioned that most of the Royal Navy is engaging in a large exercise off Sierra Leone, with the involvement of the Fleet Lead Commando Group, HMSs Ocean and Bulwark, and a large supporting cast. Now, many miles away indeed, the Royal Marines of 3 Commando Brigade are taking over from the 16th Air Assault Brigade in Afghanistan. In the good news, they are bringing two of their three Commandos – i.e battalions – the other one being with the fleet, which means precisely twice as many actual infantry.

Now, the Commando Brigade is the only one in British service that has its own organic support helicopter capability. All the others, 16AAB included, have a call on the RAF’s Merlins and Chinooks and the Army Air Corps’ Lynxes, but not their own dedicated lift. 3X, though, has two Navy support helicopter squadrons (845 and 846) permanently assigned, with a further Navy squadron (847) with reconnaissance and attack helicopters. So why is the military hiring mercenaries to provide additional lift ships?

The answer is that 845 and 846NAS are both off for a spot of biffing in sunny SL – and why? It appears that the 3,300 headcount limit imposed by military genius John Reid is still in force, so if the Marines want (sensibly enough) to bring more troops, they must leave their organic airlift behind. It would be nice if the government took the wars it insists on getting involved in at all seriously.

Meanwhile, the mercenaries will bring a gaggle of very big Russian helicopters to the table, including the monster Mi26 (HALO), the size of a C130. But who are they? They have a website, sss3.co.uk. It is discreet to say the least, but gives an address on the Albert Embankment in London – i.e. next door to MI6, the Metropolitan Police and the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority. WHOIS returns that something called NSC Holdings Ltd of 3 Limpsfield Road, South Croydon registered the web address. NSC Holdings elsewhere has the same address as SSS3, but – oddly enough – describes itself as supplying burglar alarms. But most interestingly, it was wound up by a court on the 20th of September.

This worries me rather less than it might, as I conclude the firm was probably set up specifically for the job by the spooks.

Remember the flight and arrest of Charles “Fiddy Cent Thousand Dead Child Soldiers” Taylor back in March? Sure ya do. You may also recall the bizarre involvement of Kilari Anand Paul, an Indian Protestant evangelist and – to be brutally frank – charlatan with a Boeing 747. Paul, who claimed to be Taylor’s “spiritual adviser”, has made a career of appearing in war zones to offer various tyrants religious counsel and a trip in the jet, the whole thing funded by charitable donations from the faithful but imprudent. Other clients he claimed at the time included Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, and various Haitian rebels.

Last week, to my considerable amazement, he intervened in the Foley scandal, suddenly turning up to wish himself on dead-man-walking Dennis Hastert. Fascinatingly, when Talkingpointsmemo.com’s reporter Justin Rood caught up with him, he claimed to know Condoleeza Rice, Tom DeLay and George W. Bush, to say nothing of Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole and sundry other hard-right theocrats. But that isn’t all. The Houston Press has a rather fantastic feature on the guy, detailing a wealth of bizarreries and frauds including a fake leper colony, the abduction of an 11-year old girl from India to the United States and her subsequent abandonment, and a fraud in which he accepted a large sum of money to fly a group of Jews to visit Auschwitz, welshed, and then used the cash to put his jet through a long-overdue C check.

Ah, the jet. It’s a 1982-vintage Boeing 747SP, like a 747 Classic but with reduced capacity to make room for extra long range tanks. He claims it’s the only private 747 except for Air Force 1 (not true – there are a couple belonging to oil sheikhs, and AF1 isn’t a private jet, the clue being in the call sign), and nothing will part him from it. Not the exorbitant cost of maintaining a 24 year old jumbo, nor the giant fuel bill, nor FAA safety regulations. Among other things, he also spent quite some time flying around the world whilst not paying the crew. The C-check that the “Friends of the Israeli Defence Force” unwittingly paid for was carried out in Canada, presumably to evade pursuit.

None of this would be immensely surprising in the airfreight business, which is proverbially beset by shysters. Normally, though, it would go as far as lawsuits in odd places around the world and aggrieved creditors posting to PPRuNe.

But what is especially interesting about this seller of indulgences is that he appears to have decided to be a World Leader, sweeping into zones of international crisis in his long-range jet, dispensing pomposity by the gallon, and being photographed at the shoulder of the great and terrible – and simply gone out there and done it, without the impediments of getting elected or paying any of his own bills. When he called on the president of Ethiopia, he demanded the full honours of protocol, including a red carpet at the foot of the airstair – just in case, a carpet is part of his plane’s equipment. One wonders whether the carpet is included on the MEL, the minimum list of equipment that must be present and functioning before the aircraft can take off.

He is a self-made statesman, or more accurately a one-man state – a true product of our times. More seriously, he is yet another example of the weird lack of quality control the leaders of Teh War on Terror so often display in their personnel judgements. Having wangled an invite to the Southern Baptist convention, where he shocked the assembled bible-wallahs by soliciting donations to his personal funds from the stage, he seems to have glommed directly on to the Republican Party’s religious wing and its weird and sinister fascination for West Africa. Beyond that, he seems to have some features that would clearly endear him to Bush..

“Bluntly put, when Dr. Paul receives an answer he does not like, he seeks out someone who will tell him what he wants to hear. This is not the way to operate an aircraft; this is a very dangerous game to play, especially since Dr. Paul has little aviation experience. I have advised Dr. Paul and GPI in writing before — many lives will be put at risk if someone doesn’t start to understand what it is going to take in terms of time and money to operate this aircraft.”

I can’t help thinking this blog could do with an airborne command post. As part of our Global Struggle against Vapid Egregiosity.

Charles Taylor has been re-nailed, after a day or so of freedom on the lam from the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone. I was amused by this description of his arrest on the Nigerian-Cameroonian border:

The former Liberian leader had arrived at the frontier in a Range Rover jeep with diplomatic corps number plates, a trader working at the Gamboru-Ngala border post told AFP news agency.

“He was wearing a white flowing robe,” said Babagana Alhaji Kata.

“He passed through immigration but when he reached customs they were suspicious and they insisted on searching the jeep, where they found a large amount of US dollars.

“After a further search they discovered he was Charles Taylor.”

Flowing white robes, a Range Rover and a pile of cash, eh? His innate style didn’t desert him. Like 50 Cent, but with more violence. Wasn’t his last album called The Massacre, too?

Taylor’s “spiritual adviser” – now there’s a busy man – had been saying that he was seeking political asylum in Syria, Ethiopia, Venezuela, Equatorial Guinea or Gabon. These states will now be spared the embarrassment of having to answer. The spiritual adviser, by the way, is an American evangelical Protestant of Indian extraction, one Dr. Kilari Anand Paul – the very notion of caring for Charles Taylor’s immortal soul, though, reminds me of the John Donne poem about “who shall give me grace to begin” seeking God’s grace.

“Dr” Paul (the doctorate isn’t real), it seems, specialises in bizarre, rocambolesque interventions in war zones and offering the consolations of religion to murderous bastards. There is an interesting article here including the skinny on his “Dr”, and he has a website here. He also has a Boeing 747, which could have come in handy, and a bad reference from the Southern Baptist Missions Board, who doubt his financial probity..