The #Occupy threat; US Homeland Security wants to know why capitalism so loathed

Yet another insight from this week’s Wikileaks information dump (via Rolling Stone):

As Occupy Wall Street spread across the nation last fall, sparking protests in more than 70 cities, the Department of Homeland Security began keeping tabs on the movement. An internal DHS report entitled “SPECIAL COVERAGE: Occupy Wall Street,” dated October of last year, opens with the observation that “mass gatherings associated with public protest movements can have disruptive effects on transportation, commercial, and government services, especially when staged in major metropolitan areas.” While acknowledging the overwhelmingly peaceful nature of OWS, the report notes darkly that “large scale demonstrations also carry the potential for violence, presenting a significant challenge for law enforcement.” 

The five-page report –  contained in 5 million newly leaked documents examined by Rolling Stone in an investigative partnership with WikiLeaks – goes on to sum up the history of Occupy Wall Street and assess its “impact” on everything from financial services to government facilities. Many of the observations are benign, and appear to have been culled from publicly available sources. The report notes, for instance, that in Chicago “five women were arrested after dumping garbage taken from a foreclosed home owned by Bank of America in the lobby one of the bank’s branches,” and that “OWS in New York staged a ‘Millionaires March,’ from Zucotti Park to demonstrate outside the homes of some of the city’s richest residents.”

But the DHS also appears to have scoured OWS-related Twitter feeds for much of their information. The report includes a special feature on what it calls Occupy’s “social media and IT usage,” and provides an interactive map of protests and gatherings nationwide – borrowed, improbably enough, from the lefty blog Daily Kos. “Social media and the organic emergence of online communities,” the report notes, “have driven the rapid expansion of the OWS movement.” 

The most ominous aspect of the report, however, comes in its final paragraph:

“The growing support for the OWS movement has expanded the protests’ impact and increased the potential for violence. While the peaceful nature of the protests has served so far to mitigate their impact, larger numbers and support from groups such as Anonymous substantially increase the risk for potential incidents and enhance the potential security risk to critical infrastructure (CI). The continued expansion of these protests also places an increasingly heavy burden on law enforcement and movement organizers to control protesters. As the primary target of the demonstrations, financial services stands the sector most impacted by the OWS protests. Due to the location of the protests in major metropolitan areas, heightened and continuous situational awareness for security personnel across all CI sectors is encouraged.”

It’s never a good thing to see a government agency talk in secret about the need to “control protestors” – especially when that agency is charged with protecting the homeland against terrorists, not nonviolent demonstrators exercising their First Amendment rights to peaceable dissent. From the notorious Cointelpro operations of the 1960s to the NYPD’s recent surveillance of Muslim Americans, the government has a long and disturbing history of justifying the curtailing of civil liberties under the cover of perceived, and often manufactured, threats (“the potential security risk to critical infrastructure). What’s more, there have been reports that Homeland Security played an active role in coordinating the nationwide crackdown on the Occupy movement last November – putting the federal government in the position of targeting its own citizens in the name of national security. There is not much of a bureaucratic leap, if history is any guide, between a seemingly benign call for “continuous situational awareness” and the onset of a covert and illegal campaign of domestic surveillance.

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Shock! Horror! Iranians are human beings

What a sad story. At a time when armed conflict between Iran and Israel is increasingly likely, the reality remains that neither people know much about the other. This article is a window into that (via Associated Press):

Israeli newspapers warn daily of the Iranian nuclear threat, but for the past week and a half, Israelis filmgoers have packed movie theaters to watch a drama set in Tehran.

“A Separation,” a domestic drama directed by Iranian Asghar Farhadi, bested an Israeli rival and three others on Sunday to win the award for best foreign film.

Israelis were rooting hard for their own Oscar contender, Joseph Cedar’s “Footnote,” a Talmudic scholar saga. But their interest in “A Separation” was piqued by the rare glimpse it offered into the living rooms of a country they regard as a threat to their very survival.

“It’s very well acted, exceptionally well written and very moving,” said Yair Raveh, film critic for Israel’s leading entertainment magazine, Pnai Plus. “Ultimately you don’t think about nuclear bombs or dictators threatening world peace. You see them driving cars and going to movies and they look exactly like us.”

Rina Brick, 70, said she was surprised by the humaneness of the Iranian bureaucrats portrayed in the film.

“Our image of how Iran works is less democratic than we see here,” she said. “The judge, the police, everyone behaves as if they are in a Western country.”

Rivka Cohen left Iran at age 15. Now 78, Cohen said she was struck by Tehran’s modernity, which jarred with the image of black-clad women and religious conservatism that has become iconic of Iran.

“I was surprised by the way people lived in their houses,” Cohen said. “Everyone had a fridge and a washing machine.”

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Brutal regimes will always find PR friends

If there is money to be made for defending rogue states (take Burma, Israel or Saudi Arabia), some Western hacks will line up for the job.

Pro Publica explains just one:

Earlier this month, a group of three young Bahrainis arrived in Washington to talk about reform in the small Persian Gulf nation, which has been rocked by Arab Spring protests for the last year. The delegation, including an NGO worker and a tech entrepreneur, both Western-educated, represented “the leading voice for change and reform” in Bahrain, as an email message from one of the group’s representatives put it.

But these weren’t leaders of the protest movement that has challenged the country’s ruling Sunni monarchy. They were members of a “youth delegation” put together by a top American public relations firm, Qorvis, which has been working with Bahrain to shore up the country’s image in the United States.

The youth delegation’s modestly pro-reform message was mixed with sharp criticism of the opposition in Bahrain and complaints about negative media coverage in the U.S.

Last year, in the early weeks of Bahrain’s violent crackdown on the largely Shia opposition protests, the minister of foreign affairs inked a contract with Qorvis to provide public-relations services for $40,000 per month, plus expenses. One of the largest PR and lobbying firms in Washington, Qorvis employs a number of former top Capitol Hill staffers and also works for Bahrain’s close ally, Saudi Arabia. The firm’s work for Bahrain came under scrutiny last year when it defended the government’sraid last year on a Doctors Without Borders office in Bahrain. Also in 2011, a Qorvis official wrote pro-regime columns in The Huffington Post without revealing his affiliation with Qorvis.

Bahrain is an important American ally in the gulf, and its capital Manama is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. An independent commission found late last year that the government had systematically tortured detainees and used excessive force to put down the protests. While the unrest has fallen from the headlines, Bahrain continues tosuppress protests, sometimes violently. And while Bahrain has promised reforms, Human Rights Watch today released a report finding “egregious violations of fair trial rights” in cases brought against opposition activists.

The Obama administration has largely stood by Bahrain, offering muted criticism whilecontinuing to sell arms to the government, though one weapons package remains on hold.

To counter negative press, Bahrain has made a major public-relations push in the U.S., employing Qorvis and several other firms. The youth delegation dispatched to Washington, on the anniversary of the start of the protests, is the latest part of that effort.

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What Wikileaks tells us about corporate and government power (you can’t trust them)

So finally we learn, via the Sydney Morning Herald, that the Obama administration wants to crush Julian Assange and Wikileaks for the “crime” of revealing a litany of wrongs committed by Washington. And here’s the irony; after demanding answers from governments in America, Britain, Australia and elsewhere about the legal status of Assange, it takes a Wikileaks release to discover the truth:

United States prosecutors have drawn up secret charges against the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, according to a confidential email obtained from the private US intelligence company Stratfor.

In an internal email to Stratfor analysts on January 26 last year, the vice-president of intelligence, Fred Burton, responded to a media report concerning US investigations targeting WikiLeaks with the comment: ”We have a sealed indictment on Assange.”

He underlined the sensitivity of the information – apparently obtained from a US government source – with warnings to ”Pls [please] protect” and ”Not for pub[lication]”.

Mr Burton is well known as an expert on security and counterterrorism with close ties to the US intelligence and law enforcement agencies. He is the former deputy chief of the counter-terrorism division of the US State Department’s diplomatic security service.

Stratfor, whose headquarters are in Austin, Texas, provides intelligence and analysis to corporate and government subscribers.

On Monday, WikiLeaks began releasing more than 5 million Stratfor emails which it said showed ”how a private intelligence agency works, and how they target individuals for their corporate and government clients”.

The Herald has secured access to the emails through an investigative partnership with WikiLeaks.

The Stratfor emails show that the WikiLeaks publication of hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables triggered intense discussion within the ”global intelligence” company.

In the emails, an Australian Stratfor ”senior watch officer”, Chris Farnham, advocated revoking Mr Assange’s Australian citizenship, adding: ”I don’t care about the other leaks but the ones he has made that potentially damage Australian interests upset me. If I thought I could switch this dickhead off without getting done I don’t think I’d have too much of a problem.”

But Mr Farnham also referred to a conversation with a close family friend who he said knew one of the Swedish women who had made allegations of sexual assault against Mr Assange, and added: ”There is absolutely nothing behind it other than prosecutors that are looking to make a name for themselves.”

While some Stratfor analysts decried what they saw as Mr Assange’s ”clear anti-Americanism”, others welcomed the leaks and debated WikiLeaks’s longer-term impact on secret diplomacy and intelligence.

Stratfor’s director of analysis, Reva Bhalla, observed: ”WikiLeaks itself may struggle to survive but the idea that’s put out there, that anyone with the bandwidth and servers to support such a system can act as a prime outlet of leaks. [People] are obsessed with this kind of stuff. The idea behind it won’t die.”

Stratfor says it will not comment on the emails obtained by WikiLeaks. The US embassy has also declined to comment.

This week Wikileaks launched a massive new treasure trove and Mother Jones assesses what it says about corporate power in the modern age:

Coca-Cola asked about stability problems in China in advance of the Beijing Olympics. Northrup Grumman asked—twice—about the possibility of Japan getting nuclear weapons. Intel asked about Hezbollah’s presence in Latin America “and their general ability to blow things up.” And the owner of the Radisson Hotel chain inquired: “[D]o you have an expected completion date for the Militant Islamist Perception Report we ordered?”

The 200-plus emails that have been released from WikiLeaks’ cache of “Global Intelligence Files“—more than 5 million messages lifted from Stratfor, a private “global intelligence” firm—are a comical mix of breathless geopolitical intrigue and workplace chitchat, equal parts Tom Clancy and Office Space. But the trove also offers insights into the business of corporate intelligence, showing how multinational companies paid Stratfor tens of thousands of dollars to watch global hotspots, cover their competitors, and even monitor pesky activists.

It was all part of Stratfor’s “Global Vantage” plan, a subscription-based program for companies to obtain personalized intelligence briefings. Launched in 2006, the service became an overnight success: Organizations as diverse as Coke, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, the Marine Corps, Duke Energy, and Georgetown University plunked down $20,000 or more a year to get their hands on tailored sensitive information. As Stratfor’s leaked master client list shows, major military contractors were well represented, as were Big Oil and agribusiness.

Internal documents show how Global Vantage helped build the reputation—and the 300,000-strong client list—of Stratfor, a Texas-based private intelligence company. In an email last year, CEO and founder George Friedman told his employees that the CIA saw them as direct competitors: “Everyone in Langley knows that we do things they have never been able to do with a small fraction of their resources. They have always asked how we did it. We can now show them and maybe they can learn.” After Osama bin Laden was killed, Stratfor’s vice president for intelligence (a former State Department security agentclaimed in an internal email, “I can get access to the materials seized from the OBL safe house.”

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Jeremy Scahill rightly challenges calls for (yet another) Western intervention in Syria

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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Equality for all between Israelis and Palestinians threatens Zionist identity

This weekend’s One State Solution conference at Harvard University has already caused consternation in the usual Zionist circles.

One of the organisers, Ahmed Moor, co-editor with me on a forthcoming book After Zionism, issued the following statement to Inside Higher Ed for critics who won’t understand why advocates can’t find love for Israel in their hearts:

In an era when presidential candidates feel it is appropriate to deny the existence of the Palestinian people, I understand why some may feel threatened by a call for equal rights in Israel/Palestine. In America too, people once feared the consequences of an end to segregation. More recently, Afrikaners worried that enfranchising South African blacks may be a bad decision. But they learned that granting everyone equal rights is nothing to be afraid of. Indeed, their country is better since the fall of apartheid.

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Israeli Apartheid Week Sydney 2012

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Murdoch loves education, wants to make money from it and hopes British government will help

Stunning report in the Guardian that details the ongoing relationship between Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation; a mutual belief in reducing public funding for education and reducing opportunities for the most disadvantaged:

On a freezing November day in 2010, the education secretary, Michael Gove, turned out in east London to inspect a desolate stretch of dockside ground near City airport, where Rupert Murdoch had offered to build an academy school.

The cabinet minister was accompanied by Rebekah Brooks, then News International chief executive, and an entourage of other top Murdoch staff, including James Harding and Will Lewis.

Despite the unprepossessing venue there was no mistaking the company’s enthusiasm for the project. Murdoch described himself in a speech as the saviour of British education, thanks to his company’s “adoption of new academies here in London”.

It was a high-water mark of the love-in between Gove, Murdoch and the Conservative government. Gove, a former Times journalist, had previously gone out of his way to flatter his own proprietor, writing that Murdoch “encourages … free-thinking”.

Shortly after the Docklands visit, the phone-hacking scandal disrupted these close relations. News International’s proposed academy was quietly abandoned. Newham council says nothing was subsequently done to fulfil Murdoch’s promises.

But Gove returned to his pro-Murdoch theme last week, publicly attacking the Leveson inquiry, set up in the wake of News International’s misdeeds, as a threat to press freedom. “Whenever anyone sets up a new newspaper – as Rupert Murdoch has with the Sun on Sunday – they should be applauded and not criticised,” he said.

It was a reminder of the extraordinarily close links that still exist between publishing tycoon and Tory politician. One of Murdoch’s long-term projects is what he calls a “revolutionary and profitable” move by his media companies into online education. Gove would be a key figure in any attempt to penetrate the British schools market.

The education secretary meets Murdoch frequently and is an enthusiastic backer of the ideas of Joel Klein, the head of Murdoch’s new education division. Within a week of his promotion in 2010, the minister was at dinner with Murdoch, according to officially released details of meetings.

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Wikileaks unloads with the Global Intelligence Files

The role of private companies in spying, monitoring and controlling public (and private) policy and debate sorely needs investigation. It’s not just about Western firms assisting repressive states censor the internet.

Today Wikileaks launches the Global Intelligence Files:

Today, Monday 27 February, WikiLeaks began publishing The Global Intelligence Files – more than five million emails from the Texas-headquartered “global intelligence” company Stratfor. The emails date from between July 2004 and late December 2011. They reveal the inner workings of a company that fronts as an intelligence publisher, but provides confidential intelligence services to large corporations, such as Bhopal’s Dow Chemical Co., Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and government agencies, including the US Department of Homeland Security, the US Marines and the US Defense Intelligence Agency. The emails show Stratfor’s web of informers, pay-off structure, payment-laundering techniques and psychological methods, for example :

“[Y]ou have to take control of him. Control means financial, sexual or psychological control… This is intended to start our conversation on your next phase” – CEO George Friedman to Stratfor analyst Reva Bhalla on 6 December 2011, on how to exploit an Israeli intelligence informant providing information on the medical condition of the President of Venezuala, Hugo Chavez. 

The material contains privileged information about the US government’s attacks against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks and Stratfor’s own attempts to subvert WikiLeaks. There are more than 4,000 emails mentioning WikiLeaks or Julian Assange. The emails also expose the revolving door that operates in private intelligence companies in the United States. Government and diplomatic sources from around the world give Stratfor advance knowledge of global politics and events in exchange for money. The Global Intelligence Files exposes how Stratfor has recruited a global network of informants who are paid via Swiss banks accounts and pre-paid credit cards. Stratfor has a mix of covert and overt informants, which includes government employees, embassy staff and journalists around the world.

The material shows how a private intelligence agency works, and how they target individuals for their corporate and government clients. For example, Stratfor monitored and analysed the online activities of Bhopal activists, including the “Yes Men”, for the US chemical giant Dow Chemical. The activists seek redress for the 1984 Dow Chemical/Union Carbide gas disaster in Bhopal, India. The disaster led to thousands of deaths, injuries in more than half a million people, and lasting environmental damage.

Stratfor has realised that its routine use of secret cash bribes to get information from insiders is risky. In August 2011, Stratfor CEO George Friedman confidentially told his employees : “We are retaining a law firm to create a policy for Stratfor on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. I don’t plan to do the perp walk and I don’t want anyone here doing it either.”

Stratfor’s use of insiders for intelligence soon turned into a money-making scheme of questionable legality. The emails show that in 2009 then-Goldman Sachs Managing Director Shea Morenz and Stratfor CEO George Friedman hatched an idea to “utilise the intelligence” it was pulling in from its insider network to start up a captive strategic investment fund. CEO George Friedman explained in a confidential August 2011 document, marked DO NOT SHARE OR DISCUSS : “What StratCap will do is use our Stratfor’s intelligence and analysis to trade in a range of geopolitical instruments, particularly government bonds, currencies and the like”. The emails show that in 2011 Goldman Sach’s Morenz invested “substantially” more than $4million and joined Stratfor’s board of directors. Throughout 2011, a complex offshore share structure extending as far as South Africa was erected, designed to make StratCap appear to be legally independent. But, confidentially, Friedman told StratFor staff : “Do not think of StratCap as an outside organisation. It will be integral… It will be useful to you if, for the sake of convenience, you think of it as another aspect of Stratfor and Shea as another executive in Stratfor… we are already working on mock portfolios and trades”. StratCap is due to launch in 2012. 

The Stratfor emails reveal a company that cultivates close ties with US government agencies and employs former US government staff. It is preparing the 3-year Forecast for the Commandant of the US Marine Corps, and it trains US marines and “other government intelligence agencies” in “becoming government Stratfors”. Stratfor’s Vice-President for Intelligence, Fred Burton, was formerly a special agent with the US State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service and was their Deputy Chief of the counterterrorism division. Despite the governmental ties, Stratfor and similar companies operate in complete secrecy with no political oversight or accountability. Stratfor claims that it operates “without ideology, agenda or national bias”, yet the emails reveal private intelligence staff who align themselves closely with US government policies and channel tips to the Mossad – including through an information mule in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Yossi Melman, who conspired with Guardian journalist David Leigh to secretly, and in violation of WikiLeaks’ contract with the Guardian, move WikiLeaks US diplomatic cables to Israel. 

Ironically, considering the present circumstances, Stratfor was trying to get into what it called the leak-focused “gravy train” that sprung up after WikiLeaks’ Afghanistan disclosures : 

“[Is it] possible for us to get some of that ’leak-focused’ gravy train ? This is an obvious fear sale, so that’s a good thing. And we have something to offer that the IT security companies don’t, mainly our focus on counter-intelligence and surveillance that Fred and Stick know better than anyone on the planet… Could we develop some ideas and procedures on the idea of ´leak-focused’ network security that focuses on preventing one’s own employees from leaking sensitive information… In fact, I’m not so sure this is an IT problem that requires an IT solution.”

Like WikiLeaks’ diplomatic cables, much of the significance of the emails will be revealed over the coming weeks, as our coalition and the public search through them and discover connections. Readers will find that whereas large numbers of Stratfor’s subscribers and clients work in the US military and intelligence agencies, Stratfor gave a complimentary membership to the controversial Pakistan general Hamid Gul, former head of Pakistan’s ISI intelligence service, who, according to US diplomatic cables, planned an IED attack on international forces in Afghanistan in 2006. Readers will discover Stratfor’s internal email classification system that codes correspondence according to categories such as ’alpha’, ’tactical’ and ’secure’. The correspondence also contains code names for people of particular interest such as ’Hizzies’ (members of Hezbollah), or ’Adogg’ (Mahmoud Ahmedinejad).

Stratfor did secret deals with dozens of media organisations and journalists – from Reuters to the Kiev Post. The list of Stratfor’s “Confederation Partners”, whom Stratfor internally referred to as its “Confed Fuck House” are included in the release. While it is acceptable for journalists to swap information or be paid by other media organisations, because Stratfor is a private intelligence organisation that services governments and private clients these relationships are corrupt or corrupting.

WikiLeaks has also obtained Stratfor’s list of informants and, in many cases, records of its payoffs, including $1,200 a month paid to the informant “Geronimo” , handled by Stratfor’s Former State Department agent Fred Burton. 

WikiLeaks has built an investigative partnership with more than 25 media organisations and activists to inform the public about this huge body of documents. The organisations were provided access to a sophisticated investigative database developed by WikiLeaks and together with WikiLeaks are conducting journalistic evaluations of these emails. Important revelations discovered using this system will appear in the media in the coming weeks, together with the gradual release of the source documents.

Some highlights follow.

One from 2011:

Pakistan bashing continues. How convenient it is to ignore the huge size of India cocuss and the campaign funding they receive from India through Indian Americans acting as conduits. No one talks about the covert and overt influence israel enjoys through funding American congressmen and the control Israel has on American policies through coercion and fear of Jewish lobby. Since FBI is involved the blessing of US administration is obvious. Unfortunately this PAK bashing is earning hatred for US in a normally pro US country specially it’s Armed Forces. This campaign to browbeat or pressurize Pakistan will have an opposite effect in a society where respect is valued and enmities leave memories for generations.

Another from 2011:

Source is an old friend from college who is now a major in IDF intelligence. Had not seen one another in years. Very secretive of what they do; seemed pretty suspicious about what exactly I was doing in Israel. Nothing too groundbreaking, just some interesting observations.

- When I used the term “Arab Spring” early on in our conversation, I was reprimanded. “Don’t call it the Arab Spring. We call it ‘The Upheaval’ where I work.” When I tried to explain that we typically scoff at calling it the Arab Spring as well, I was cut off, so that I could hear another lecture about how horrible Arabs were. Israelis aren’t the nicest people most of the time.

- Opsec at IDI (Israel Defense Intelligence) seems pretty extreme. If you try to email this person, you don’t hear back for a month, minimum – usually even longer. Reason is because no websites that have passwords are allowed at work. Emails for internal comms only.

- Source is in D.C. frequently for meetings with DIA. When I asked if they are often trained by the Americans, the response was a smirk and, “We like to think we don’t need the Americans to train us.” IDI, source said, is “more creative” than American counterparts. The way they work sounded similar in philosophy to STRATFOR, actually. For example, there is a specific officer who is referred to as the “Devil’s advocate” at the IDI offices. This person is allowed to challenge any random paper on any topic, produced by someone of any rank. If a paper is written that says, hypothetically, that Bashar will fall in three weeks, the Devil’s advocate can then say, “Okay, I’m challenging this assertion. Now, I want you to write the exact opposite argument and play out the logic.” Source did not deny that they, too, can fall prey to groupthink like any other intelligence body, but was a firm believe that this was a good way to avoid it.

- “Where are the moderates in the Muslim world?” That was the theme of the conversation on source’s end. If you listen to this person, you come away with the notion that the Israelis seem extremely unnerved about the future of the region, with the primary focus being on the Iranian threat. (Again, this is not groundbreaking insight.)

- Source openly said that none of this shit would be happening right now had Obama not abandoned Mubarak like he did. When I later criticized Bush for shattering the balance of power in the PG, source shot back, “Well what about Obama?” I said that Obama had maintained the same FP as Bush, a claim with which the source agreed. And yet the source loves Bush’s policies and hates Obama’s. Israelis are not a fan of Barack.

- Because Obama abandoned Mubarak, source lamented the fact that Egypt was no longer the leader of the Arab world. This does not mean source believes the MB is on the verge of completely taking power in Egypt – (I specifically asked if that was the belief the IDI holds) – but it does mean that there is a steep drop in faith that the SCAF has ability to maintain the status quo. Overall I found the message on Egypt a bit confusing.

- Part of the reason that the message was confused message imo is because the source openly admits that in the IDI, people have a singular focus on the outside world. Like STRATFOR, they are largely disconnected with domestic politics. So the Syria people identify with Syria, the Hezbollah people will jokingly say stuff like, “I am in Hezbollah” when you ask them their AOR, etc.

- The IDI is very much focused on the Shiite crest ranging from Iran to Lebanon. Iran is the primary threat in the world today. Source was heavily concerned with how Yemen plays into this as well; much moreso than what we talk about. “AQAP is in control of south fucking Yemen, for God’s sake.” Source says they jokingly refer to AQAP as “AQHP” after the HP printer bombs that got seized on those DHL flights a few years back.

- The IDI is operating on the assumption that Yemen will be completely out of water in eight years. I asked if this was their own assessment and source said, “No, it’s public information. You can find it on Wikipedia.” I think it took about one second for the source to realize retarded that sounded, citing Wikipedia when you’re a major at the IDI, and so immediately it was amended with, “there have been studies published.” Fear about Yemen running out of water is mass migrations into KSA, which Iran could exploit.

- When I said that there were people in the Israeli government/military/intel community who reads STRATFOR, source said, “I can check on that for you.” Thanks.

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ABC Radio National on beards, cider and extreme retro

Sometimes it’s time to talk about issues apart from politics (even for me).

I was the guest on yesterday’s ABC Radio National’s Common Knowledge:

What’s behind the kooky ad campaign featuring two delivery girls on a tandem bicycle and with golden plaits and the faces of bearded men? Who is it targeting and what is the surreal imagery signalling?

Alcohol marketing has come a long way since glory days of John Meillon’s velvet tones and the ‘matter-of-fact-I’ve-got-it-now’ Victoria Bitter ads.

And why are beards so prevalent on younger, fashion-conscious men? Is this extreme retro trend harking back to Ned Kelly chic? Or just bone-idle laziness?

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Disaster strikes in Haiti and vultures swoon

While politics in Haiti remains volatile, the reality for millions of its citizens is dire. After the 2010 earthquake, countless foreign companies swooped in the hope of making money from misery. This is the clear definition of disaster capitalism.

Two recently reports highlighted the immorality of this situation.

Truthout:

As Americans were gearing up for last week’s Super Bowl championship, Haiti’s president Michel Martelly was on a plane to the World Economic Forum to recruit players interested in what one businessman dubbed “the Super Bowl of Disasters” – Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake. The Irish-owned cell phone company Digicel footed his trip there, and hosted a regional business tour complete with a gala ball before his return to a country still reeling from crisis conditions in housing, jobs, and basic rights.

Haiti’s status as prime-time jostling space for prospective investors is not new. Many a corporation, lobbyist, and consultant has seen Haiti’s losses as their gain, leveraging humanitarianism for profit. Plenty of the $1.1 billion in disaster aid has gone not to desperate Haitians but to inside-the-Beltway contractors. Often the very same corporations have wrested financial and political gain from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the countries hit by the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans after the ensuing flood of 2005, and lots of other places.

The same deals have been cut over Haiti in the past, too, particularly during periods of political instability.

The earthquake has provided a fresh wave of opportunity. In the first year after the earthquake, the US government awarded more than 1,500 contracts worth $267 million. All went to US firms except 20, worth $4.3 million, which went to Haitian businesses.[3] Among the American corporations that received contracts, we’ve seen everything: many millions going to companies that had had previous contracts cancelled for bad practices, that had paid out as much as eight-figure settlements for violence happening under their watch, that had been investigated by Congress for gaming the system, or that had been the subject of federal reports accusing wastage of funds.[4] We’ve seen corporate executives and members of Congress going through a revolving door and leveraging both sides for contracts. We’ve seen public funds given without any competition or transparency, quite a few to friends of the Clintons and other well-placed insiders.

Local labor and production, which are critical elements in economic recovery, have been trumped for American business profits. According to federal procurement data, among contracts which provide products (as opposed to services), 77% were for products manufactured in the US. They don’t list which, if any, of the remaining 23% involve any Haitian materials or labor.[5]

Two months after the earthquake, companies gathered in a luxury hotel in Miami for a “Haiti Summit” to discuss post-earthquake contracting possibilities. The meeting was sponsored by the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), but these were no peaceniks. Their members are predominantly private mercenary companies that enforce ‘security’ in war and disaster zones for the US government because, unlike elected entities, they can completely avoid public scrutiny and accountability. They included such companies as Triple Canopy, which took over Blackwater’s contract in Iraq.[6] One of the corporate representatives at the Summit described the outlook: “Their infrastructure is pretty much destroyed, communications are destroyed, there’s a lot of opportunities there for companies, particularly US countries [sic] because of the close proximity.”[7] The Summit was apparently worthwhile, as US government paid out more than $10 million to the industry for “guard services,” and almost $20,000 for riot shields and suits.[8]

Haiti Grassroots Watch:

Two years after the earthquake, and despite the proposals written, the consortiums organized, and the foreign delegations entertained, the University of the State of Haiti (Université d’Etat d’Haïti or UEH) still has not seen any “reconstruction,” and the proposal for a university campus that would unite all 11 faculties remains a 25-year-old “dream.”

Today, the majority of the 13,000 students at the UEH’s faculties in the capital are jammed into sweltering sheds, struggling to hear the professor who is shouting, hoping to drown out the other professors shouting in the surrounding sheds.

The fact that the Haitian government and its “friends” have not financed the reconstruction – and a sufficient operating budget – of the oldest and most important institution of higher learning in the country represents more than a “peril” to Haiti’s future. These choices – or at least, these omissions – offer perfect examples of the global orientation of the “reconstruction,” which is centered on the needs of the national and international private sector, and which favors “quick-fixes” to Haiti’s urgent problems, rather than lasting solutions over which Haitians can have some say. Finally, these omissions represent contempt for the public interests of the entire nation.

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Please, Washington, keep those conflicts bubbling along for our bottom line

The “war on terror” has been a lovely earner for many Western corporations. For them, wars winding down in Iraq and Afghanistan could be bad for business.

Here’s Walter Pincus in the Washington Post:

The U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command on Feb. 1 approved a $330 million five-month extension on a five-year contract.

That contract now totals $2.3 billion and provides more than 8,000 interpreters working for U.S. forces at 200 sites in Afghanistan.

The Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) contract extension is another reminder of the varied expenses of this war and how some people are profiting.

In Columbus, Ohio, in 2004, a police officer and two Special Forces reservists who spoke Arabic started Mission Essential Personnel (MEP). The goal was to provide language and security training to the U.S. government and corporations focused on the Middle East.

MEP really began to grow in 2005 with a 30-month State Department contract for interpreters and security services at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. But the big breakthrough came in 2007, when MEP, as a “small business,” won the contract that INSCOM extended last week.

The original ceiling was to be $703 million, but as more troops kept coming, the ceiling rose by $78.5 million in March 2010 and by $679 million in May 2010. By last March there was an additional $525 million.

The Army wanted to put out a new contract for competition in late 2010, but a series of appeals and threatened court actions by prospective bidders delayed the final offering. The result was the latest extension for MEP.

Meanwhile, as the Army said in its justification document, “the need for linguists in theater evolves on a daily basis while remaining critical to current and future operations.”

Afghanistan’s population is spread out, with a high illiteracy rate and “dozens of languages and dialects.” The number of linguists needed by U.S. troops far “exceeded the number of locals that could take jobs,” according to the Army.

In addition, there are three types of interpreters needed — locals and others who have no security clearances; U.S. citizens who have secret clearances; and U.S. citizens with top-secret clearances and “capable of supporting continuous operations on a 24/7 basis in austere/hostile locations throughout Afghanistan,” according to the Army.

Salaries can range from as low as $900 a month for an Afghan to $200,000 or more a year for an American working at forward operating positions. It is a dangerous business, and even more so for Afghans, who become special targets for the Taliban.

MEP in September said that over the years 73 of its employees had been killed, with 312 injured and 10 missing.

Meanwhile, MEP is rising on Washington Technology’s list of the 100 biggest defense contractors. It was No. 42 last year, up from No. 62 in 2010. The company was even mentioned at a July 26, 2010, hearing of the Commission on Wartime Contracting.

Former representative Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), co-chairman of the panel, noted that MEP got its interpreter contract increased without competition. Although Shays said that MEP had received at that point more than a billion dollars and “was a great American success story,” he added that it hadn’t had any audits. “Whatever your costs are, you get something plus,” he said, meaning that the company gets a fee and whatever its operating costs are.

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