Daily Archives: October 17, 2007

Blackwater head won’t allow arrests

Washington Times | Oct 16, 2007

By Sharon Behn

A defiant Blackwater president Erik Prince told The Washington Times today that he would not allow Iraqi authorities to arrest his contractors currently under investigation for shooting and killing civilians and try them in Iraq’s flawed justice system.

Mr. Prince also accused the State Department of not coming to the company’s defense despite Blackwater’s fullfilling every part of its contract and never having lost a State Department client in years of protecting them.

“For the last week and a half we have heard nothing from the State Department,” said Mr. Prince. “From their senior levels, their PR folks, we’ve heard nothing — radio silence.”

“It is disapointing for us. We have performed to the line, letter and verse of their 1000-page contract,” he said. “Our guys take significant risk for them. They’ve taken a pounding these last three years.”

A number of Blackwater contractors, most of whom come from military and law enforcement backgrounds, have been killed in action and greviously wounded in Iraq while running more than 60,000 operations there in the past three years.

Blackwater drew weapons on US troops

An arrogant attitude only adds fuel to the criticism

Blackwater guards disarmed the U.S. Army soldiers and made them lie on the ground at gunpoint

Newsweek | Oct 15, 2007

By Rod Nordland and Mark Hosenball

The colonel was furious. “Can you believe it? They actually drew their weapons on U.S. soldiers.” He was describing a 2006 car accident, in which an SUV full of Blackwater operatives had crashed into a U.S. Army Humvee on a street in Baghdad’s Green Zone. The colonel, who was involved in a follow-up investigation and spoke on the condition he not be named, said the Blackwater guards disarmed the U.S. Army soldiers and made them lie on the ground at gunpoint until they could disentangle the SUV. His account was confirmed by the head of another private security company. Asked to address this and other allegations in this story, Blackwater spokesperson Anne Tyrrell said, “This type of gossip has led to many soap operas in the press.”

Whatever else Blackwater is or isn’t guilty of—a topic of intense interest in Washington—it has a well-earned reputation in Iraq for arrogance and high-handedness. Iraqis naturally have the most serious complaints; dozens have been killed by Blackwater operatives since the beginning of the war. But many American civilian and military officials in Iraq also have little sympathy for the private security company and its highly paid employees. With an uproar growing in Congress over Blackwater’s alleged excesses, the North Carolina-based company is finding few supporters.

Responsible for guarding top U.S. officials in Iraq, Blackwater operatives are often accused of playing by their own rules. Unlike nearly everyone else who enters the Green Zone, said an American soldier who guards a gate, Blackwater gunmen refuse to stop and clear their weapons of live ammunition once inside. One military contractor, who spoke anonymously for fear of retribution in his industry, recounted the story of a Blackwater operative who answered a Marine officer’s order to put his pistol on safety when entering a base post office by saying, “This is my safety,” and wiggling his trigger finger in the air. “Their attitude was, ‘We’re f—ing security; we don’t have to answer to anybody’.”

Congress disagrees. Until now, private security contractors working for the State Department, as Blackwater does, have effectively not been covered by either U.S. or Iraqi law, or military regulations. A bill that overwhelmingly passed the House last week would close that loophole. But the law would also require the FBI to establish a large-scale presence in Iraq in order to investigate accusations against private contractors. Law-enforcement officials worry that this would draw valuable resources away from FBI efforts to combat terrorism in the United States. Also, whenever FBI agents venture into Iraq now they are guarded by … Blackwater operatives. The bureau has sent a team to Baghdad to investigate the Sept. 16 shooting in Nasoor Square, in which Blackwater guards are accused of killing as many as 17 Iraqi civilians. In order to avoid “even the appearance of any conflict [of interest],” according to an FBI spokesman, the agents will be defended by U.S. government personnel.

It is not an idle concern. Blackwater’s staunchest defenders tend to be found among those whom they guard. U.S. officials prefer Blackwater and other private security bodyguards because they regard them as more highly trained than military guards, who are often reservists from MP units. A U.S. Embassy staffer, who did not have permission to speak on the record, said, “It’s a few bad eggs that seem to be spoiling the bunch.” Late last week the State Department announced that it would increase oversight of Blackwater in particular, installing cameras in its vehicles and having a Diplomatic Security Service officer ride along on every convoy. But another State Department official, also speaking anonymously, says that DSS agents in Baghdad have not been eager to rein in the contractors in the past: “These guys tend to close ranks. It’s like the blue wall.”

Testifying before Congress last week, 38-year-old Blackwater chief Erik Prince vigorously defended his company’s “dedicated security professionals” who “risk their lives to protect Americans in harm’s way overseas.” Prince probably had no reason to be as smug as he seemed to many observers. In deflecting questions about a drunken Blackwater operative who allegedly shot and killed a bodyguard for Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi in the Green Zone on Christmas Eve last year, Prince said that the employee, later identified as Andrew Moonen, had been fined and fired. But on Friday House Oversight Committee chairman Rep. Henry Waxman released a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recounting evidence that Moonen was able to return to Iraq and worked there for another company. Moonen’s attorney, Stewart Riley, told NEWSWEEK his client denies wrongdoing and is not facing criminal charges. Blackwater is no doubt in for further fire fights.

Blackwater: America’s ‘enemy combatants’?

 

Herald Tribune | Oct 17, 2007

More than four years into the war in Iraq, lawyers for the U.S. State, Defense and Justice departments are starting to discuss an increasingly important question: Could armed U.S. contractors be considered “unlawful enemy combatants” under international agreements?

An answer to that should have been determined before the Bush administration put a heavy dependence on contractors in Iraq, who not only handle supply functions but armed security details.

The administration itself has broadly defined unlawful enemy combatants in detaining terrorism suspects from around the world and holding them indefinitely in military custody. The White House contends that those civilian detainees are not entitled to the rights accorded to military prisoners of war by the Geneva Conventions.

The Los Angeles Times reported Monday that the question of whether private security guards could be considered unlawful enemy combatants arose after the Sept. 16 killings of Iraqi civilians in Baghdad by Blackwater USA employees working for the State Department.

The government’s use of armed civilians raised another, more general issue Monday in William M. Arkin’s blog on national security issues in The Washington Post:

“Is the United States eroding the distinction between military and civilian, and if so, what implications does this have for the war against terrorists?” Arkin asked.

Al-Qaida and members of other terrorist groups do not have uniforms, they do not fight under any nation’s flag and their soldiers are not considered lawful combatants under international agreements.

But, in hiring armed guards who work for a private company, is the U.S. government further blurring the line between soldier and civilian? And, if so, how does that affect U.S. policy in Iraq?

Actions by private security guards in Iraq have already had an impact on policy decisions. For example:

After the Sept. 16 shootings, some Iraqi officials demanded that Blackwater be banned from the country and that the guards responsible be tried under Iraqi law. U.S. officials are still trying to negotiate a satisfactory resolution.

In March 2004, four Blackwater employees were attacked and killed in Fallujah. Marines sent in afterward to root out the insurgents suffered heavy casualties.

The status and impact of private guards in Iraq need more thought and debate than they’ve received so far in Congress, whose members, when traveling in Iraq, are routinely protected by Blackwater guards.

Congress and the administration should at least answer another question that Arkin posed: “Who are these guys, anyway?”

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Related 

Blackwater faces terrorism charges

Blackwater drew weapons on US troops 

Barack Obama and Dick Cheney are cousins

 

CFR members Barack Obama and Dick Cheney are family

Telegraph | Oct 17, 2007

The wife of US Vice-President Dick Cheney has revealed that her husband is closely enough related to the Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama to call him “cousin”.

Lynne Cheney said that she had made the unlikely discovery of kinship between President George W Bush’s hawkish deputy and the charismatic black Illinois senator while researching ancestry for her new memoir, Blue Skies, No Fences.

The men are apparently eighth cousins, but Mrs Cheney said she did not include this in her memoir.

“This is such an amazing American story that one ancestor … could be responsible down the family lines for lives that have taken such different and varied paths as Dick’s and Barack Obama,” Mrs Cheney told MSNBC television.

According to Mrs Cheney’s spokesman, Senator Obama is a descendant of Mareen Duvall.

The French Huguenot’s son married the granddaughter of a Richard Cheney, who arrived in Maryland in the late 1650s from England.

The Vice President’s full name is Richard B Cheney.

A spokesman for Senator Obama, who wants to be the first black US president, offered a tongue-in-cheek response.

“Every family has a black sheep,” said Bill Burton.

IBM Uses RFID to Track Conference Attendees

IBM RFID Checkout in Supermarket

IBM commercial markets the elite agenda for a cashless RFID system

by Patrick Thibodeau

IDG News Service | Oct 16, 2007

At its Information on Demand conference in Las Vegas, IBM is deploying RFID technology on name tags worn by attendees that automatically tracks their session and meal attendance.

This is the first time that IBM has used RFID technology at this conference and the company is not making a secret of it. There are signs at the registration desk offering attendees the option of getting a name tag without the chip.

Of the 6,500 people here, approximately 2 percent didn’t want a name tag with an RFID chip in it, said Mary Ann Alberry, IBM’s conference manager.

From a simple unique identifier on the chip, begins what could be a long tail of data analysis.

The chip’s 24-character identifier includes the name, title and company of the person wearing it. There is no other personal information on the chip. As a person walks through the door leading into a conference session, an RFID receiver logs the chip’s data. The system, by AllianceTech in Austin, Texas, is networked and the data is received in real-time by its on-site systems at the conference. The data is organized in a DB2 database.

The RFID system, coupled with what the conference knows about the person wearing the name badge, is providing lots of raw data, and Alberry said the company hasn’t figured out all the ways it may use it. She said the the data will be used to help organizers with future conference planning, such as optimizing sessions around interests and demands of conference attendees. It will also let organizers know the number of people who have received meals so organizer can plan meals in such a way that food is available at the right time. Because the RFID keeps count of people getting meals at the conference, it creates a means to audit and help control conference costs, she said.

From an individual’s RFID data, it would be possible to extrapolate the user’s product and training interest based on the sessions he or she attends. Alberry said she can envision one-to-one marketing potential in the future, but said that’s a step that would first require consent of the attendee, possibly at the time of registration. “You have to make sure that they opt-in to being contacted,” she said.

The real-time aspects of the system help with day-to-day conference management. If a room gets filled to capacity, a decision can be made to repeat the session. If a person needs to be reached in an emergency, he or she can also be tracked down, Alberry said.

Many conferences already track who enters sessions by scanning bar codes on name badges, but Art Borrego, the CEO of AllianceTech, said RFID use allows people to enter a room without delay. He said conference goers have accepted it in much the same way many use RFID to avoid having to stop on a highway to pay a toll. “It’s commonplace now,” he said.

But Bill Miller, an attendee and independent DB2 consultant working in Frankfurt, Germany, said he has “a somewhat negative opinion” of the RFID tags and worried about the potential that it could be abused. He didn’t reject the RFID tag at registration, but said he had thought of removing it but hasn’t.

If IBM officials aren’t certain how far they’ll take RFID at conferences, the company nonetheless sees huge business potential in them. Michael Borman, vice president of worldwide sales of the IBM software group, told attendees at a session Monday that there are more than 2 billion RFID tags in use worldwide. “The information that gets created from RFID is actionable,” he said, meaning it can be used to help deliver customer services.

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Related

IBM and the Holocaust is the stunning story of IBM’s strategic alliance with Nazi Germany — beginning in 1933 in the first weeks that Hitler came to power and continuing well into World War II. As the Third Reich embarked upon its plan of conquest and genocide, IBM and its subsidiaries helped create enabling technologies, step-by-step, from the identification and cataloging programs of the 1930s to the selections of the 1940s.

Only after Jews were identified — a massive and complex task that Hitler wanted done immediately — could they be targeted for efficient asset confiscation, ghettoization, deportation, enslaved labor, and, ultimately, annihilation. It was a cross-tabulation and organizational challenge so monumental, it called for a computer. Of course, in the 1930s no computer existed.

California Bans Forced RFID Tagging of Humans

Govtech | Oct 17, 2007

State Senator Joe Simitian announced yesterday that Governor Schwarzenegger signed his Senate Bill 362, which would prohibit employers and others from forcing anyone to have a radio frequency identification (RFID) device implanted under their skin. The bill will go into effect on January 1, 2008.

RFID “tags” are tiny chips with miniature antennae that can be embedded in almost anything. Using radio waves, RFID can help identify and track objects, animals, or people. Devices known as “readers” access the information on the tags.

“RFID technology is not in and of itself the issue. RFID is a minor miracle, with all sorts of good uses,” said Simitian. “But we cannot and should not condone forced ‘tagging’ of humans. It’s the ultimate invasion of privacy.”

Despite wide-ranging support, the RFID industry declined to support SB 362. Simitian described the RFID industry’s silence on the issue as “unfortunate and regrettable.” He noted that, “While we’re having a robust debate about the privacy concerns associated with the use of RFID in government identity documents, at the very least, we should be able to agree that the forced implanting of under-the-skin technology into human beings is just plain wrong. I’m deeply concerned that the folks who make and market RFID technology were ‘AWOL’ on this issue.”

“With the signing of SB 362, California has taken an important first step in crafting legislation to properly balance the potential benefits of RFID technology while safeguarding privacy and security,” said Nicole Ozer, Technology and Civil Liberties Policy Director at the ACLU of Northern California. “We are pleased that the Governor has stood up for the privacy and security rights of Californians and not allowed these rights to be ‘chipped’ away by inappropriate uses of RFID technology.”

California now joins Wisconsin and North Dakota, which have already banned forced RFID implantation in humans.

In 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved an RFID tag for humans called VeriChip, which would allow healthcare professionals to access a person’s medical history in the event the person couldn’t communicate. The chip’s parent company, VeriChip Corporation, reports that 2,000 people have already had tags implanted.

VeriChip also has clients around the world that want to use human implantation as a form of identification. For example, the attorney general of Mexico and 18 of his staff members were implanted with chips to allow them to get into high-security areas.

In 2006, a Cincinnati video surveillance company called Citywatcher.com raised eyebrows when it required employees who work in its secure data center to be implanted with a chip.

“This may sound Orwellian,” said Simitian, “but it’s real, and it just makes sense to address it now. We can’t have employers requiring their workforce to get ‘tagged’. There are other ways to secure a company’s physical and intellectual property — it certainly shouldn’t be at the expense of a person’s right to privacy.”

The Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs (CEJA), which develops ethics policies for the American Medical Association, recently issued a report raising concerns about the use of under-the-skin RFID tags in humans. They found that RFID devices can compromise a person’s privacy and security because there is no assurance that the information contained in the tags can be properly protected. CEJA further found that RFID tagging may present physical risks because the tags may travel under the skin, making them hard to remove at a later time.

SB 362 would not affect voluntary implantation of RFID or any other device.

Flashgun aimed at Diana’s car blinded driver Henri Paul

‘Major white flash’ aimed at Princess Diana’s car

Mr Al Fayed says secret service agents blinded the driver of the Mercedes, Henri Paul, with a flashgun as part of the conspiracy to make the crash look like an accident.

news.com.au | Oct 17, 2007

Witness saw “major white flash” in tunnel

A BRIGHT light was flashed at Princess Diana’s car moments before it crashed into a concrete pillar, a witness claimed yesterday.

A motorbike overtook the Mercedes inside the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris before a “major white flash” was directed at the car, Francois Levistre told the London inquest into the princess’s death.

The Mercedes veered across the carriageway several times before ploughing into the pillar, said Mr Levistre, who was driving in front of the princess’s car through the underpass.

Other witnesses claimed to have seen a large dark car bump the Mercedes as it entered the tunnel at a “crazy” speed moments before the crash, the High Court inquest heard.

Mohamed Al Fayed claims Diana and his son Dodi were murdered 10 years ago in an Establishment plot ordered by Prince Philip.

‘Flashgun blinded Henri Paul’

Mr Al Fayed says secret service agents blinded the driver of the Mercedes, Henri Paul, with a flashgun as part of the conspiracy to make the crash look like an accident.

French authorities and London’s former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Stevens – who investigated the crash on behalf of the coroner – have dismissed this theory.

They doubt whether Mr Levistre, the only eyewitness who speaks of a “big white flash” in the tunnel, could have seen the detail he claimed while driving at speeds of up to 100km/h.

Mr Levistre had given several different accounts of the incident, the court was told.

He had also served time in prison for possessing an illegal weapon and had been held in connection with an alleged plot to sell a child.

Speaking via a video link from Paris, Mr Levistre said that on August 31, 1997, he was returning home from a shopping trip with wife Roselyn and their 10-year-old son.

He was driving at about 100km/h when he saw in his rear-view mirror the headlights of a large car overtaken by a motorbike.

“I realised there was this major white flash of the motorbike in front of the Mercedes, in front of the car,” he said.

Asked by Ian Burnett QC, counsel for the coroner, whether the light was bright, he said: “Very. The light even came into my car (even though) it was not directed towards me.

Motorcyclist ‘stopped, looked, sped away’

He stopped near the tunnel exit and claimed he saw the motorcycle passenger get off, approach the car, look inside and make a hand gesture to the bike’s driver before they sped away.

He also claimed to have seen a small white car in the tunnel but said there was no contact between this and the Mercedes.

However, David le Ny, who was with his girlfriend and her parents Jean Claude and Annick Catheline at the time, described the Mercedes being bumped by another large dark car as it sped into the tunnel.

The inquest continues.

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Related

Car ‘may have bumped Diana vehicle’