Saturday, March 09, 2013

Homeless mother who sent six-year-old son to better school in the wrong town jailed for five years

By Graham Smith
UPDATED: 10:21 EST, 1 March 2012

A mother who pleaded guilty to fraudulently enrolling her six-year-old son in the wrong school district has been sentenced to five years in prison.

Tonya McDowell sent her son to an elementary school in Norwalk, Connecticut, instead of her home city of Bridgeport.

The 34-year-old, who was homeless when she was charged with felony larceny last year, said she wanted the best education possible for the boy.

McDowell last week entered her plea at Norwalk Superior Court under the Alford Doctrine, which means she does not admit guilt but concedes the state has enough evidence to convict her.

Authorities told the hearing that she used a babysitter's address to enroll her son in kindergarten in Norwalk when he should have attended schools in Bridgeport, her last permanent address.

Her case drew national attention and support from civil rights leaders and other advocates who wanted the charge dismissed.
Good intentions: The 34-year-old, who was homeless when she was charged last year, said she wanted the best education possible for her son

Good intentions: The 34-year-old, who was homeless when she was charged last year, said she wanted the best education possible for her son

McDowell told police she was living in a van and occasionally slept at a Norwalk shelter or a friend's Bridgeport apartment when she enrolled her son Norwalk's Brookside Elementary School.

Police said McDowell stole $15,686 worth of 'free' educational services from Norwalk.

She also pleaded guilty to four counts of sale of narcotics, which will be included in her prison sentence.

In a separate case, she pleaded guilty on February 7 to selling drugs.

McDowell's lawyer, Darnell Crosland, said she agreed to accept a plea bargain rather than continue fighting the charges even though she insists she is not guilty.

Mr Crosland said: 'You shouldn't be arrested for stealing a free education. It's just wrong.'

McDowell was sentenced to 12 years in jail, suspended after she serves five years, and five years probation.

FBI 'secretly spying' on Google users, company reveals

Published March 06, 2013

The FBI used National Security Letters -- a form of surveillance that privacy watchdogs call “frightening and invasive” -- to surreptitiously seek information on Google users, the web giant has just revealed.
Google’s disclosure is “an unprecedented win for transparency,” privacy experts said Wednesday. But it’s just one small step forward.
“Serious concerns and questions remain about the use of NSLs,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Dan Auerbach and Eva Galperin wrote. For one thing, the agency issued 16,511 National Security Letters in 2011, the last year for which data was available. But Google was gagged from saying just how many letters it received -- leaving key questions unanswered.
“The terrorists apparently would win if Google told you the exact number of times the Federal Bureau of Investigation invoked a secret process to extract data about the media giant’s customers,” Wired’s David Kravets wrote. He described the FBI's use of NSLs as a way of "secretly spying" on Google's customers.
National Security Letters are a means for the FBI to obtain information on people from telecommunications companies, authorized by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) and expanded under the Patriot Act. It lets the agency seek information on a subscriber to a wire or electronic communications service, although not things like the content of their emails or search queries, Google said.
And thanks to secrecy constraints built into NSLs, companies that receive them usually aren’t even allowed to acknowledge the request for information. Citing such extreme secrecy, privacy experts have decried the use of these letters in the past.
“Of all the dangerous government surveillance powers that were expanded by the USA PATRIOT Act, the National Security Letter (NSL) power … is one of the most frightening and invasive,” the EFF wrote. “These letters … allow the FBI to secretly demand data about ordinary American citizens' private communications and Internet activity without any meaningful oversight or prior judicial review.”
Thanks to negotiations with the government, Google finally opened the smallest chink in the armor, allowing the search giant to reveal the fact that it had received these requests for data, as well as some general information about them.
“Visit our page on user data requests in the U.S. and you’ll see, in broad strokes, how many NSLs for user data Google receives, as well as the number of accounts in question,” Richard Salgado, Google’s legal director of law enforcement and information security, wrote in a Tuesday blog post.
A new table posted to Google’s Transparency Report site outlines the details; it tabulates how many requests for information the company has received over each of the past four years: some undisclosed number between 0 and 999. With those NSLs, the FBI sought information on somewhere between 1,000 and 1,999 users/accounts.
“People don’t always use our services for good, and it’s important that law enforcement be able to investigate illegal activity,” Salgado wrote.
No other technology company presently disclose such basic information about government requests, experts noted.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Administration debates stretching 9/11 law to go after new al-Qaeda offshoots

By and , Wednesday, March 6, 7:49 PM 2013

The Washington Post  

A new generation of al-Qaeda offshoots is forcing the Obama administration to examine whether the legal basis for its targeted killing program can be extended to militant groups with little or no connection to the organization responsible for the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. officials said.
The Authorization for Use of Military Force, a joint resolution passed by Congress three days after the strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, has served as the legal foundation for U.S. counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda over the past decade, including ongoing drone campaigns in Pakistan and Yemen that have killed thousands of people.
But U.S. officials said administration lawyers are increasingly concerned that the law is being stretched to its legal breaking point, just as new threats are emerging in countries including Syria, Libya and Mali.
“The farther we get away from 9/11 and what this legislation was initially focused upon,” a senior Obama administration official said, “we can see from both a theoretical but also a practical standpoint that groups that have arisen or morphed become more difficult to fit in.”
The waning relevance of the 2001 law, the official said, is “requiring a whole policy and legal look.” The official, like most others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal administration deliberations.
The authorization law has already been expanded by federal courts beyond its original scope to apply to “associated forces” of al-Qaeda. But officials said legal advisers at the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon and intelligence agencies are now weighing whether the law can be stretched to cover what one former official called “associates of associates.”
The debate has been driven by the emergence of groups in North Africa and the Middle East that may embrace aspects of al-Qaeda’s agenda but have no meaningful ties to its crumbling leadership base in Pakistan. Among them are the al-Nusra Front in Syria and Ansar al-Sharia, which was linked to the September attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya. They could be exposed to drone strikes and kill-or-capture missions involving U.S. troops.
Officials said they have not ruled out seeking an updated authorization from Congress or relying on the president’s constitutional powers to protect the country. But they said those are unappealing alternatives.
AUMF and the war on terror
The debate comes as the administration seeks to turn counterterrorism policies adopted as emergency measures after the 2001 attacks into more permanent procedures that can sustain the campaign against al-Qaeda and its affiliates, as well as other current and future threats.
The AUMF, as the 2001 measure is known, has been so central to U.S. efforts that counterterrorism officials said deliberations over whom to put on the list for drone strikes routinely start with the question of whether a proposed target is “AUMF-able.”
The outcome of the debate could determine when and how the war on terrorism — at least as defined by Congress after the Sept. 11 attacks — comes to a close.
“You can’t end the war if you keep adding people to the enemy who are not actually part of the original enemy,” said a person who participated in the administration’s deliberations on the issue.
Administration officials acknowledged that they could be forced to seek new legal cover if the president decides that strikes are necessary against nascent groups that don’t have direct al-Qaeda links. Some outside legal experts said that step is all but inevitable because the authorization has already been stretched to the limit of its intended scope.
“The AUMF is becoming increasingly obsolete because the groups that are threatening us are harder and harder to tie to the original A.Q. organization,” said Jack Goldsmith, an expert on national security law at Harvard University and a former senior Justice Department official.
He said extending the AUMF to groups more loosely tied to al-Qaeda would be “a major interpretive leap” that could eliminate the need for a link between the targeted organization and core al-Qaeda.
The United States has not launched strikes against any of the new groups, and U.S. officials have not indicated that there is any immediate plan to do so. In Libya, for example, the United States has sought to work with the new government to apprehend suspects in the Benghazi attack.
Still, the administration has taken recent steps — including building a drone base in the African country of Niger — that have moved the United States closer to being able to launch lethal strikes if regional allies are unable to contain emerging threats.
The administration official cited Ansar al-Sharia as an example of the “conundrum” that counterterrorism officials face.
The group has little if any established connection to al-Qaeda’s leadership core in Pakistan. But intercepted communications during and after the attack in Benghazi indicated that some members have ties to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the terrorist network’s main associate in North Africa.
“Certainly there are individuals who have an affiliation from a policy, if not legal, perspective,” the official said. “But does that mean the whole group?”
Other groups of concern include the al-Nusra Front, which is backed by al-Qaeda in Iraq and has used suicide bombings to emerge as a potent force in the Syrian civil war, and a splinter group in North Africa that carried out a deadly assault in January on a natural-gas complex in Algeria.
A focus on Sept. 11
The debate centers on a piece of legislation that spans a single page and was drafted in a few days to give President George W. Bush authority to “use all necessary and appropriate force” against al-Qaeda.
The law placed no geographic limits on that power but did not envision a drawn-out conflict that would eventually encompass groups with no ties to the Sept. 11 strikes. Instead, it authorized the president to take action “against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks.”
The authorization makes no mention of “associated forces,” a term that emerged only in subsequent interpretations of the text. But even that elastic phrase has become increasingly difficult to employ.
In a speech last year at Yale University, Jeh Johnson, who served as general counsel at the Defense Department during Obama’s first term, outlined the limits of the AUMF.
“An ‘associated force’ is not any terrorist group in the world that merely embraces the al-Qaeda ideology,” Johnson said. Instead, it has to be both “an organized, armed group that has entered the fight alongside al-Qaeda” and a “co-belligerent with al-Qaeda in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.”
U.S. officials said evaluating whether a proposed target is eligible under the AUMF is only one step. Names aren’t added to kill or capture lists, officials said, unless they also meet more elaborate policy criteria set by Obama.
If a proposed a target doesn’t clear the legal hurdle, the senior administration official said, one option is to collect additional intelligence to try to meet the threshhold.
Officials stressed that the stakes of the debate go beyond the drone program. The same authorities are required for capture operations, which have been far less frequent. The AUMF is also the legal basis for the CIA’s drone campaign in Pakistan, although the agency compiles its own kill list in that operation with little involvement from other agencies.
The uncertainty surrounding the AUMF has already shaped the U.S. response to problems in North Africa and the Middle East. Counterterrorism officials concluded last year that Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a militant leader in Algeria and Mali, could not be targeted under the AUMF, in part because he had had a falling out with al-Qaeda’s leadership and was no longer regarded as part of an associated group.
Belmokhtar was later identified as the orchestrator of the gas-plant attack in Algeria in which dozens of workers, including three Americans, were killed.
Obama’s decision to provide limited assistance to French air attacks against Islamist militants in Mali this year was delayed for weeks, officials said, amid questions over whether doing so would require compliance with the AUMF rules.
Some options beyond the 2001 authorization are problematic for Obama. For instance, he has been reluctant to rely on his constitutional authority to use military force to protect the country, which bypasses Congress and might expose him to criticism for abuse of executive power.
Working with Congress to update the AUMF is another option. The Senate Intelligence Committee has already begun considering ways to accomplish that. But Obama, who has claimed credit for winding down two wars, is seen as reluctant to have the legislative expansion of another be added to his legacy.
“This is an ongoing discussion, which we’ll probably continue to engage on the Hill,” the senior administration official said. “But I don’t know that there’s a giant desire to have ‘Son of AUMF’ now.”

In Egypt, sliding toward ruin

By , Wednesday, March 6, 6:29 PM 2013

The Washington Post  

As Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government slides toward the financial cliff, what’s the right policy for the United States? That’s becoming an urgent question, as Egypt’s financial reserves decline and the country nears a new breaking point.
The economic facts are stark: Egypt’s official foreign-currency reserves in February were $13.5 billion, which would cover a little less than three months of imports. But U.S. officials say that accessible, liquid reserves total only $6 billion to $7 billion. Already, imports are harder to find, including the raw materials needed by Egyptian manufacturers. The Egyptian stock market tumbled 5 percent early this week, sensing danger ahead.
And what is the government of President Mohamed Morsi doing to halt the economic decline? Not a lot. Morsi has been dithering for a year in negotiating a roughly $5 billion rescue package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that Egypt desperately needs. He is delaying because he is wary of public anger at the reforms the IMF demands, including reductions in subsidies, which take 25 percent of Egypt’s budget. (Debt service and public-sector employment account for another 50 percent.)
The wolf is two or three months from Egypt’s door, top U.S. officials believe. Meanwhile, the country is facing increasing political turmoil, with riots Tuesday in Port Said that left 50 wounded. Morsi’s government sent a new proposal to the IMF last week, but it may fall short of the IMF’s reform targets, further delaying action.
Welcome to Phase 2 of the Arab Spring, which we might call the “reality check.” The United States and its allies made a bet two years ago that if the Muslim Brotherhood took power in Egypt, it would be forced to deal with the responsibilities of governing, such as negotiating loans with the IMF and adopting economic reforms to woo investors. These economic realities are now enveloping Morsi. But he hasn’t shown the leadership the United States had hoped.
So what are U.S. policy options as Egypt nears the brink? Some of Morsi’s critics argue that the United States should let him fail. That’s certainly the view of Egypt’s secular opposition, along with conservative Persian Gulf regimes. They hope Egyptians will reject Morsi and his party in parliamentary elections that begin in late April but might be delayed because of legal challenges.
U.S. policy is more supportive than “sink or swim.” The White House has encouraged Morsi and the IMF to come to a deal before it’s too late and the economic damage gets worse. One good move is a U.S. “Enterprise Fund” for Egyptian small- and medium-size businesses that will start to distribute its first $60 million this month.
When Secretary of State John Kerry met Morsi privately in Cairo last weekend, he is said to have warned that Egypt must make choices soon and that it shouldn’t expect any last-minute rescue from Washington. But it’s clear Washington wants Morsi to succeed, fearing that the alternative would be chaos or a military coup.
The Egyptian military is indeed waiting in the wings, and some generals are all too eager to intervene. The United States wisely opposes any such military takeover. In backing Morsi, the United States is improbably standing against both conservative Saudis and liberal activists in Egypt.
Morsi has been able to avoid tough decisions partly because of emergency assistance from Qatar, which has pumped about $7 billion into Egypt’s foreign-currency reserves. The U.S. message to Qatar should be: Stop enabling Morsi’s flight from economic reality.
The Obama administration’s continuing bet on Muslim democracy is evident in Turkey as well as in Egypt. Kerry visited Ankara, too, as part of his first diplomatic foray abroad, and he bluntly criticized Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his “objectionable” attack on Zionism. It was noteworthy that the mercurial Erdogan didn’t fire back at Kerry; indeed, their discussions in Ankara are said to have included the possible path to a reconciliation between Turkey and Israel. U.S. officials hope that as Turkey contemplates the growing instability on its borders — Iran, Iraq and Syria — a revival of ties with Israel may look more attractive.
The Arab revolution rolls on, and President Obama continues his cautious embrace. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that a Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt has a better relationship with Israel today than does Turkey, a traditional ally of Jerusalem. This may be Morsi’s best card with Washington — that whatever his failings as a leader of Egypt, he isn’t making trouble for Israel.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

The Cost of War Includes at Least 253,330 Brain Injuries and 1,700 Amputations


Here are indications of the lingering costs of 11 years of warfare. Nearly 130,000 U.S. troops have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and vastly more have experienced brain injuries. Over 1,700 have undergone life-changing limb amputations. Over 50,000 have been wounded in action. As of Wednesday, 6,656 U.S. troops and Defense Department civilians have died.
That updated data (.pdf) comes from a new Congressional Research Service report into military casualty statistics that can sometimes be difficult to find — and even more difficult for American society to fully appreciate. It almost certainly understates the extent of the costs of war.
Start with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Counting since 2001 across the U.S. military services, 129,731 U.S. troops have been diagnosed with the disorder since 2001. The vast majority of those, nearly 104,000, have come from deployed personnel.
But that’s the tip of the PTSD iceberg, since not all — and perhaps not even most — PTSD cases are diagnosed. The former vice chief of staff of the Army, retired Gen. Peter Chiarelli, has proposed dropping the “D” from PTSD so as not to stigmatize those who suffer from it — and, perhaps, encourage more veterans to seek diagnosis and treatment for it. (Not all veterans advocates agree with Chiarelli.)

Chart: Congressional Research Service
The congressional study also brings to light the extent of one of the signature injuries of the post-9/11 wars, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), often suffered by survivors of explosions from homemade insurgent bombs. From 2000 (a pre-9/11 year probably chosen for inclusion for control purposes) to the end of 2012, some 253,330 troops have experienced TBI in some form. About 77 percent of those cases are classified by the Defense Department as “mild,” meaning a “confused or disoriented state lasting less than 24 hours; loss of consciousness for up to thirty minutes; memory loss lasting less than 24 hours; and structural brain imaging that yields normal results.”
More-severe TBI is measured along those metrics, lasting longer than a day. Nearly 6,500 of of those cases are “severe or penetrating TBI,” which include the effects of open head injuries, skull fractures, or projectiles lodged in the brain.
Like with PTSD, the TBI diagnoses scratch the surface. The military’s screening for TBI is notoriously bad: One former Army chief of staff described it as “basically a coin flip.” Worse, poor military medical technology, particularly in bandwidth-deprived areas like Iraq and Afghanistan, have made it uncertain that battlefield diagnoses of TBI actually transmit back to troops’ permanent medical files.
Amputations are a feature of any prolonged war. Almost 800 Iraq veterans have undergone “major limb” amputations, such as a leg, and another 194 have experienced partial foot, finger or other so-called “minor limb” losses. For Afghanistan veterans, those numbers are 696 and 28, respectively.
The Iraq war is over for all but a handful of U.S. troops and thousands of contractors. The Afghanistan war is in the process of a troop drawdown through 2014 of unknown speed and will feature a residual troop presence of unknown size. Even if the U.S. deaths and injuries in those wars may almost be over, the aftereffects of the wars on a huge number of veterans will not end.

U.S. cannot account for $1.7 billion spent in Iraq

Inspector general report: U.S. cannot account for $1.7 billion spent in Iraq

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, March 6, 2013 15:07 EST
After invading Iraq ten years ago, the United States spent $60 billion on a vast reconstruction effort that left behind few successes and a litany of failures, an auditor’s report said Wednesday.
The ambitious plan to transform the country after the fall of Saddam Hussein has been marked by half-finished projects and crushed expectations, according to the final report of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Stuart Bowen.
The aid effort was plagued by in-fighting among US agencies and an improvised “adhocracy” approach, with no one clearly in charge of a massive investment that was supposed to put Iraq on a stable footing, said the report to Congress.
“Management and funding gaps caused hundreds of projects to fall short of promised results, leaving a legacy of bitter dissatisfaction among many Iraqis,” it said.
Some of the reconstruction money was stolen, with a number of US military officers and contractors now imprisoned for fraud, while other funds remain unaccounted for to this day, it said.
Of $2.8 billion in Iraqi oil revenues handled by the US Defense Department, officials could not produce documents accounting for the use of about $1.7 billion, including $1.3 billion in fuel purchases, it said.
The lengthy report highlighted some of the worst examples of mismanagement and graft and included interviews with senior Iraqi and US officials who mostly regretted the outcome of the reconstruction program.
“The level of fraud, waste, and abuse in Iraq was appalling,” Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, was quoted as saying.
She was “especially angry when she learned that some reconstruction money found its way into the hands of insurgent groups,” the report said.
Both Iraqi and US officials agreed that the Americans ignored the advice of Iraqis or never bothered to consult them before launching costly projects, with sometimes disastrous results.
The litany of failures included a new police academy with raw sewage leaking through ceilings, a subcontractor charging $900 for a control switch valued at seven dollars and a project to build large prison in Diyala province that was eventually abandoned, despite an investment of $40 million.

Post-war Iraq 'still corrupt and unstable'

Report to Congress highlights trail of wasted money and projects since Iraq war in 2003

Posted: Mar 6, 2013 11:41 AM ET

Last Updated: Mar 6, 2013 11:27 AM ET

Hussein (R), Ali (L) and Samira, Iraqi children were injured during the Iraq war and have undergone multiple reconstructive surgeries. Hussein (R), Ali (L) and Samira, Iraqi children were injured during the Iraq war and have undergone multiple reconstructive surgeries. (Ali Jarekji /Reuters)
Ten years and $60 billion in American taxpayer funds later, Iraq is still so unstable and broken that even its leaders question whether U.S. efforts to rebuild the war-torn nation were worth the cost.
In his final report to Congress, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen's conclusion was all too clear: Since the invasion a decade ago this month, the U.S. has spent too much money in Iraq for too few results.
The reconstruction effort "grew to a size much larger than was ever anticipated," Bowen said in a preview of his last audit of U.S. funds spent in Iraq, released Wednesday. "Not enough was accomplished for the size of the funds expended."
In interviews with Bowen, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the U.S. funding "could have brought great change in Iraq" but fell short too often. "There was misspending of money," said al-Maliki, a Shia Muslim whose sect makes up about 60 per cent of Iraq's population.
Iraqi Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, the country's top Sunni Muslim official, told auditors that the rebuilding efforts "had unfavourable outcomes in general."
"You think if you throw money at a problem, you can fix it," Kurdish government official Qubad Talabani, son of Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, told auditors. "It was just not strategic thinking."

Quarter of population poor

The abysmal Iraq results forecast what could happen in Afghanistan, where U.S. taxpayers have so far spent $90 billion in reconstruction projects during a 12-year military campaign that, for the most part, ends in 2014.
Shortly after the March 2003 invasion, Congress set up a $2.4 billion fund to help ease the sting of war for Iraqis. It aimed to rebuild Iraq's water and electricity systems; provide food, health care and governance for its people; and take care of those who were forced from their homes in the fighting. Fewer than six months later, President George W. Bush asked for $20 billion more to further stabilize Iraq and help turn it into an ally that could gain economic independence and reap global investments.
To date, the U.S. has spent more than $60 billion in reconstruction grants to help Iraq get back on its feet after the country has been broken by more than two decades of war, sanctions and dictatorship. That works out to about $15 million a day.
Few Iraqis have reliable electricity and clean water. Few Iraqis have reliable electricity and clean water. (Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters)And yet Iraq's government is rife with corruption and infighting. Baghdad's streets are still cowed by near-daily deadly bombings. A quarter of the country's 31 million population lives in poverty, and few have reliable electricity and clean water.
Overall, including all military and diplomatic costs and other aid, the U.S. has spent at least $767 billion since the American-led invasion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. National Priorities Project, a U.S. research group that analyzes federal data, estimated the cost at $811 billion, noting that some funds are still being spent on ongoing projects.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins, a member of the Senate committee that oversees U.S. funding, said the Bush administration should have agreed to give the reconstruction money to Iraq as a loan in 2003 instead as an outright gift.
"It's been an extraordinarily disappointing effort and, largely, a failed program," Collins said in an interview on Tuesday. "I believe, had the money been structured as a loan in the first place, that we would have seen a far more responsible approach to how the money was used, and lower levels of corruption in far fewer ways."

Wasted money

In numerous interviews with Iraqi and U.S. officials, and though multiple examples of thwarted or defrauded projects, Bowen's report laid bare a trail of waste, including:
  • In Iraq's eastern Diyala province, a crossroads for Shia militias, Sunni insurgents and Kurdish squatters, the U.S. began building a 3,600-bed prison in 2004 but abandoned the project after three years to flee a surge in violence. The half-completed Khan Bani Sa'ad Correctional Facility cost American taxpayers $40 million but sits in rubble, and Iraqi Justice Ministry officials say they have no plans to ever finish or use it.
  • Subcontractors for Anham LLC, based in Virginia, overcharged the U.S. government thousands of dollars for supplies, including $900 for a control switch valued at $7.05 and $80 for a piece of pipe that costs $1.41. Anham was hired to maintain and operate warehouses and supply centres near Baghdad's international airport and the Persian Gulf port at Umm Qasr.
  • A $108 million wastewater treatment centre in the city of Fallujah, a former al-Qaeda stronghold in western Iraq, will have taken eight years longer to build than planned when it is completed in 2014 and will only service 9,000 homes. Iraqi officials must provide an additional $87 million to hook up most of the rest of the city, or 25,000 additional homes.
  • After blowing up the al-Fatah bridge in north-central Iraq during the invasion and severing a crucial oil and gas pipeline, U.S. officials decided to try to rebuild the pipeline under the Tigris River at a cost of $75 million. A geological study predicted the project might fail, and it did: Eventually, the bridge and pipelines were repaired at an additional cost of $29 million.
  • A widespread ring of fraud led by a former U.S. Army officer resulted in tens of millions of dollars in kickbacks and the criminal convictions of 22 people connected to government contracts for bottled water and other supplies at the Iraqi reconstruction program's headquarters at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.
In too many cases, Bowen concluded, U.S. officials did not consult with Iraqis closely or deeply enough to determine what reconstruction projects were really needed or, in some cases, wanted. As a result, Iraqis took limited interest in the work, often walking away from half-finished programs, refusing to pay their share, or failing to maintain completed projects once they were handed over.
Deputy Prime Minister Hussain al-Shahristani, a Shia, described the projects as well intentioned, but poorly prepared and inadequately supervised.

Lessons learned

The missed opportunities were not lost on at least 15 senior State and Defence department officials interviewed in the report, including ambassadors and generals, who were directly involved in rebuilding Iraq.
One key lesson learned in Iraq, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns told auditors, is that the U.S. cannot expect to "do it all and do it our way. We must share the burden better multilaterally and engage the host country constantly on what is truly needed."
Not enough was accomplished for the size of the funds expended, Bowen said on Wednesday.Not enough was accomplished for the size of the funds expended, Bowen said on Wednesday. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)About a third of the $60 billion was spent to train and equip Iraqi security forces, which had to be rebuilt after the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority disbanded Saddam's army in 2003. Today, Iraqi forces have varying successes in safekeeping the public and only limited ability to secure their land, air and sea borders.
The report also cites Defence Secretary Leon Panetta as saying that the 2011 withdrawal of American troops from Iraq weakened U.S. influence in Baghdad. Panetta has since left office when former Sen. Chuck Hagel took over the defence job last week. Washington is eyeing a similar military drawdown next year in Afghanistan, where U.S. taxpayers have spent $90 billion so far on rebuilding projects.
The Afghanistan effort risks falling into the same problems that mired Iraq if oversight is not co-ordinated better. In Iraq, officials were too eager to build in the middle of a civil war, and too often raced ahead without solid plans or back-up plans, the report concluded.
Most of the work was done in piecemeal fashion, as no single government agency had responsibility for all of the money spent. The State Department, for example, was supposed to oversee reconstruction strategy starting in 2004, but controlled only about 10 per cent of the money at stake. The vast majority of the projects — 75 per cent — were paid for by the Defence Department.

Radical antigovernment movement continues explosive growth

The Year in Hate and Extremism

Capping four years of explosive growth sparked by the election of America’s first black president and anger over the economy, the number of conspiracy-minded antigovernment “Patriot” groups reached an all-time high of 1,360 in 2012, while the number of hard-core hate groups remained above 1,000. As President Obama enters his second term with an agenda of gun control and immigration reform, the rage on the right is likely to intensify.
The furious reaction to the Obama administration’s gun control proposals is reminiscent of the anger that greeted the passage of the 1993 Brady Bill and the 1994 ban on assault weapons supported by another relatively liberal Democrat — Bill Clinton. The passage of those bills, along with what was seen by the right as the federal government’s violent suppression of political dissidents at Waco, Texas, and Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in the early 1990s, led to the first wave of the Patriot movement that burst into public consciousness with the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The number of Patriot groups in that era peaked in 1996 at 858, more than 500 groups fewer than the number active in 2012.
For many, the election of America’s first black president symbolizes the country’s changing demographics, with the loss of its white majority predicted by 2043. (In 2011, for the first time, non-white births outnumbered the births of white children.) But the backlash to that trend predates Obama’s presidency by many years. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of hate groups rose from 602 to more than 1,000, where the count remains today. Now that comprehensive immigration reform is poised to legitimize and potentially accelerate the country’s demographic change, the backlash to that change may accelerate as well.
While the number of hate groups remained essentially unchanged last year — going from 1,018 in 2011 to 1,007 in 2012 — the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) count of 1,360 Patriot groups in 2012 was up about 7% from the 1,274 active in 2011. And that was only the latest growth spurt in the Patriot movement, which generally believes that the federal government is conspiring to take Americans’ guns and destroy their liberties as it paves the way for a global “one-world government.” From a mere 149 organizations in 2008, the number of Patriot groups shot up to 512 in 2009, jumped again to 824 in 2010, and then skyrocketed to 1,274 in 2011 before hitting their all-time high last year.
Now, in the wake of the mass murder of 26 children and adults at a Connecticut school and the Obama-led gun control efforts that followed, it seems likely that that growth will pick up speed once again.
The Hysteria Mounts
Even before the Dec. 14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, gun and ammunition sales shot up in the wake of the re-election of the country’s first black president, the result of shrill conspiracy theories about Obama’s secret plans to confiscate Americans’ guns. When the killings actually did spark gun control efforts that clearly had not been in the Obama administration’s plans, the reaction on the political right was so harsh that it seemed to border on hysteria.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) proposed a law that would nullify any executive gun control actions by Obama, accusing the president of having a “king complex.” U.S. Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.) said the president could be impeached for those actions. State lawmakers in Arizona, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee proposed laws that sought to prevent federal gun control from applying to their states.
Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff who sued the Clinton administration over the Brady Bill’s imposition of background checks on gun buyers, claimed that of 200 sheriffs he’d met with, most “have said they would lay down their lives first rather than allow any more federal control.” Matt Barber of the anti-gay Liberty Counsel said he feared that the nation, which he described as already on the brink of civil unrest, was headed for “a second civil war.” “Freedom ends. Tyranny begins,” tweeted Fox News Radio host Todd Starnes. “Get ready,” said. “Right now government gun grabbing plans are being covertly organized.”
“MARTIAL LAW IN THE UNITED STATES IS NOW A VERY REAL POSSIBILITY!” added the’s Tony Adkins, responding to Obama’s use of executive orders to further gun control with a doomsday prediction that could have come straight from the Patriot movement. “SUSPENSION OF THE U.S. CONSTITUTION IS A VERY REAL POSSIBILITY!” The Conservative Monster, a similar website, concluded that the president was conspiring with a variety of foreign enemies “to force Socialism on the American people.”
Even further to the right, the reaction was more intense yet (see also related story, p. 36). Chuck Baldwin, a Montana-based Patriot leader long associated with the Constitution Party, made the unusual claim that Christ had ordered his disciples to carry “their own personal arms” and vowed to refuse to register or surrender his firearms. The Oath Keepers, a conspiracy-oriented Patriot group of current and former military and law enforcement officials, issued a threat — “MESSAGE TO THE OATH BREAKERS AND TRAITORS: We will never disarm” — and added that gun control plans were “unconstitutional filth.” Judicial Watch founder Larry Klayman called the proposals “a declaration of war against the American people” and demanded “liberation” from the “evil clutches” of proponents.
The one sector of the radical right that shrank dramatically last year was the “nativist extremist” groups that go beyond advocating for immigration reduction and confront or physically harass suspected unauthorized immigrants. From a 2010 high of 319 groups, they fell over the following two years by about 90%, to 38 groups. The collapse was due to criminal scandals, internecine sniping within the movement, and the co-opting of their issue by state legislatures.
Progress and Backlashes
Even before serious talk of gun control began in Washington, the far right was already in something of a meltdown in the immediate aftermath of Obama’s re-election, which came to many who got their campaign news from right-wing sources as a jarring shock. Hundreds of thousands of Americans signed petitions seeking the secession of each of the 50 states. Right-wing outfits like said a “Communist coup” was under way. The anti-gay Family Research Council charged Obama with “dismantling” the country.
Polling after the election showed how broad antipathy toward President Obama remained in a deeply polarized America. A Public Policy Poll survey found that 49% of all Republicans believed that ACORN — a community organizing group that went belly up in 2010 after attacks from the far right — had stolen the election from Mitt Romney. A quarter of GOP members in the same poll favored secession. A January 2013 poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind project found that 36% of all Americans still don’t believe Obama is a citizen, despite the 2011 release of the president’s “long-form” birth certificate.
As they did in 2008 and 2009, groups on the radical right clearly benefited from that antipathy. “Since Obama’s first term, our numbers have doubled and now we’re headed to a second term, it’s going to triple,” one Virginia Klansman told WTVR-TV in Richmond. Daniel Miller, president of the secessionist Texas National Movement, said that his membership shot up 400% after Obama’s re-election. White News Now, a website run by white supremacist Jamie Kelso, said that it had had “an incredible year” in the run-up to the vote, reaching more people than ever.
To the surprise of many prognosticators, anti-black racism in America — not just that limited to the far right — actually rose over the four years of Obama’s first term, according to a 2012 Associated Press poll. The poll found 51% of Americans expressed explicitly anti-black attitudes, compared to 48% in 2008, while 56% showed implicitly anti-black attitudes, up from 49% four years earlier. Another AP poll, in 2011, found that 52% of non-Latino whites expressed explicitly anti-Latino attitudes, a figure that rose to 59% when measured by an implicit attitudes test.
“We have this false idea that there is uniformity in progress and that things change in one big step. That is not the way history has worked,” Jelani Cobb, a history professor and director of the Institute for African-American Studies at the University of Connecticut, told the Huffington Post with regard to the AP poll findings. “When we’ve seen progress, we’ve also seen backlash.”
Some broad social progress that did occur last year — the rapidly increasing acceptance of LGBT people and same-sex marriage — fueled just such a backlash among anti-gay religious groups that saw themselves beginning to lose the issue. (A December USA Today poll found that 53% of Americans now support same-sex marriage, up dramatically from 1996, when 27% supported such unions.)
The American Family Association issued predictions for the future that included the claims that conservative Christians will be treated like African Americans before the civil rights movement, that the state will take charge of children at birth, and that cities with names like St. Petersburg will be forced to change their names. Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality said the 2012 election of openly gay Tammy Baldwin to a Senate seat representing Wisconsin signaled that America is “falling apart.” The volume of these kinds of comments seemed higher than ever before.
Conspiracies and Terror
Another factor driving the expansion of the radical right over the last decade or so has been the mainstreaming of formerly marginal conspiracy theories. The latest and most dramatic example of that may be the completely baseless claim that Agenda 21 — a United Nations sustainability plan that was signed by President George H.W. Bush but has no mandatory provisions whatsoever — is part of a plan to impose socialism on America and strip away private property rights.
That claim has been pushed heavily by, among others, the John Birch Society, a conspiracist Patriot organization that was exiled from the conservative movement a half century ago after claiming President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a Communist agent (see story, p. 24)."Last year, the Republican National Committee passed a plank opposing Agenda 21 and describing it as a “destructive and insidious scheme” to impose “socialist/communist redistribution of wealth.” The state of Alabama passed a law barring any policies traceable to Agenda 21 without “due process.”
The radical right last year produced more than its fair share of political violence. Most dramatically, a neo-Nazi gunman stormed into a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, murdering six people before killing himself. In Georgia, meanwhile, officials arrested 10 people, most of them active-duty military, who were allegedly part of a plot to take over the Army’s Fort Stewart, among many other things. The group is accused of murdering two former members suspected of talking.
Then, this January, an Alabama high school student was arrested for allegedly plotting to attack his black and gay classmates and bomb his school. Former friends of the student said he and a group of up to 11 other students regularly shouted “white power” and gave stiff-arm Nazi salutes in the halls of their Seale, Ala., school but were ignored by school officials and security officers.
These were only the latest incidents of just over 100 domestic radical-right plots, conspiracies and racist rampages that the SPLC has counted since the Oklahoma City bombing left 168 men, women and children dead in 1995.
Now, it seems likely that the radical right’s growth will continue. In 2012, before Obama’s re-election and the Newtown, Conn., massacre, the rate of Patriot growth had slackened somewhat, although it remained significant. Anger over the idea of four more years under a black, Democratic president — and, even more explosively, the same kinds of gun control efforts that fueled the militia movement of the 1990s — seems already to be fomenting another Patriot spurt.
Even before the election last year, self-described Patriots sounded ready for action. “Our Federal Government is just a tool of International Socialism now, operating under UN Agendas not our American agenda,” the United States Patriots Union wrote last year in a letter “sent to ALL conservative state legislators, all states.” “This means that freedom and liberty must be defended by the states under their Constitutional Balance of Power, or we are headed to Civil War wherein the people will have no choice but to take matters into their own hands.”

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Inside the Terror Factory

Award-winning journalist Trevor Aaronson digs deep into the FBI’s massive efforts to create fake terrorist plots.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Yale will train US Special Forces in interrogation techniques using immigrants

February 20, 2013

Following a flurry of media attention concerning a possible military training center at the Yale School of Medicine, the University issued a statement Tuesday afternoon maintaining that the potential program would meet appropriate academic standards but also denying that it has yet been formally proposed.
School of Medicine psychiatry professor Charles Morgan told the News in January that he hopes to propose the creation of a center at the Medical School in cooperation with the U.S. Army Special Operations Forces called the U.S. Special Operations Command Center of Excellence for Operational Neuroscience, which would teach soldiers interview techniques. Yale’s statement said the School of Medicine has not formally proposed opening the center, and denied media reports that the training facility will teach interrogation tactics and that the research will take advantage of minority populations in New Haven.
Michael Siegel MED ’90, a donor for the Medical School, criticized the center in an open letter to Medical School Dean Robert Alpern on Monday morning, arguing that the center will violate the mission of the School of Medicine by fulfilling military objectives, and the letter grabbed the attention of the national media.
“In short, the center, if established, would be designed in the best traditions of Yale research and scholarship,” the Office of Public Affairs and Communications said in the release. “Public reports stating otherwise are premature and based on speculation and incomplete information.”
Morgan would direct the proposed center, using a $1.8-million grant from the Department of Defense. The center would ultimately function to teach Army soldiers interviewing techniques Morgan developed, he said in January.
Morgan also told the News in January that the Yale Office of Grant and Contract Administration is working with the Psychiatry Department to finish paperwork securing the grant funding, which was delayed due to both congressional budget issues and the need for more time to work out funding for administrative expenses. Morgan declined to comment for this article.
“No matter what I say, it doesn’t seem to quell rumors,” Morgan added.
Alpern told the News that the public would normally not know about ideas at the phase of development before a formal proposal but exposure from a Jan. 7 New Yorker Magazine article profiling a possible instructor for the center, theatrical pickpocket Apollo Robbins, exposed the plan to national attention.
Siegel said he sent the open letter to Alpern after learning about the proposed center on Monday, and he followed up with a second letter after speaking with Morgan Tuesday morning. He will stop donating to the Medical School, he said, because the proposed center’s goal of furthering military objectives contradicts the Medical School’s mission to improve health and further medical research. In addition, Siegel described the center as unethical because it will allow soldiers to practice interview techniques on New Haven immigrants — information that Siegel said he found in the Yale Herald.
But the statement declares that the interviewing techniques envisioned for the center are both central to the psychiatry discipline and part of medical student and resident education. According to the University, interviewees will be volunteers from diverse ethnic groups and will be protected by oversight from Yale’s Human Research Protection Program.
Alpern said he finds the center to be ethical because it will help the armed forces by building on research from within the Medical
Siegel said his donations to the Medical School “don’t amount to a lot of money.” His intentions, he added, were not to use wealth to make a point, but to show the School of Medicine that alumni may feel alienated by the decision to open the center.
The proposed center has also incited an online petition, titled “Don’t Open a Department of Defense Training Center at Yale,” criticizing the University for housing the center. As of press time, the petition had 396 signatures.
University President Richard Levin declined to comment about the center beyond the statement OPAC released.
The proposed U.S. Special Operations Command Center of Excellence for Operational Neuroscience would break the year into trimesters, teaching up to 20 soldiers per session.

Yale's Proposed Interrogation Center

If a 1.8 million dollar Department of Defense grant goes through, Yale will soon establish (under the U.S. Special Operations Command) the Center of Excellence for Operational Neuroscience to train Green Berets in "interview techniques." What kind of interview techniques? That depends on who you ask. The interviewees? Paid members of New Haven's immigrant community.
Psychiatry professor Charles A. Morgan III, the proposed leader of the project, says that by practicing on immigrants it will teach soldiers a new "cross-cultural" approach to intelligence gathering that would replace more violent interrogation-style techniques. Critics argue that the project will victimize New Haven's large immigrant population and is inconsistent with medical ethics. Natalie Batraville and Alex Lew of the Yale Daily News asked on Friday: "Is there an assumption in Morgan’s desire to use more ‘authentic,’ brown interviewees as test subjects, that brown people lie differently from whites—and even more insidiously, that all brown people must belong to the same “category” of liar?"
The Yale Herald's original report about the center stated that by exposing trainees to "Moroccans, Columbians [sic], Nepalese, Ecuadorians, and others" it would help inform their sensibilities about when people from other countries were lying. This seems to be compounded by a paper co-authored by Morgan in 2010 with two other Yale psychiatry professors. According to the Huffington Post, "That research, funded by a grant from the Department of Defense, used 40 native Arabic speaking men 'self-identified as being conservative Muslims' to determine whether their heart rates changed when they were asked to lie."
While the center does not yet exist, these questions have already sparked a firestorm regarding the purpose of the proposed center and the role of academia in shaping future soldiers. Either way, the proposed use of the immigrant population in this training experiment certainly appears exploitive. After all, this being a university campus, why can't they practice these nonviolent techniques on broke college kids who need to make a buck? Or would that damage the realism of interviewing someone who looks more like a "terrorist"?