Daily Archives: September 4, 2008

‘Environmental volunteers’ will be encouraged to spy on their neighbours

Councils are recruiting residents to report anyone who drops litter, fails to recycle their rubbish properly, or who allows their dog to foul the streets.

“Straight out of the East German Stasi’s copybook.”

Telegraph | Sep 2, 2008

By Lucy Cockcroft

Advertisements looking for people to sign up for the unpaid “environmental volunteer” jobs have been posted across the country in recent months.

Critics said the scheme is encouraging a Big Brother society where friends and neighbours will be encouraged to “snoop” on one another.

The recruitment drive follows news that the Home Office is granting police powers to council staff and private security guards, allowing then to hand out fines for low-scale offences and ask for personal details.

Matthew Elliott, of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “Snooping on your neighbours to report recycling infringements sounds like something straight out of the East German Stasi’s copybook.

“With council tax so high, the last thing people want to pay for is an army of busybodies peering through their net curtains at their neighbours as they put out their rubbish.”

Eastleigh council, in Hampshire, has said it wants residents to “monitor local environmental quality” to combat issues involving recycling and waste.

The local authority has already employed about a dozen people who answered an advert in a council newsletter which said: “Volunteers will be involved in reporting issues in their area such as recycling, waste, fly-tipping, graffiti, dog fouling and abandoned vehicles”.

And the borough of Tower Hamlets, in east London, is advertising for similar roles within its environmental department, while other councils are expected to follow suit.

The volunteers are not asked directly to spy on neighbours, but they are encouraged not to ignore tip-offs.

A spokesman for Tower Hamlets said: “These are all people who care about the environment and they will be ambassadors for their area.

“They will be there to report graffiti, abandoned vehicles and local vandalism, but not to report on other individuals.”

“And they might go to an over-60s club and talk about recycling.”

The Local Government Association said: “Environment volunteers care passionately about their area and want to protect it.

“They are not snoopers. They will help councils cut crime and make places cleaner, greener and safer.”

Perpetual War is Blackwater’s Disneyland

“No matter who wins the election, it doesn’t matter. It’s not going to stop.”

Military.com | Aug 26, 2008

Blackwater 2.0: ‘Operator Disneyland’

by Christian Lowe

MOYOCK, N.C. — It’s a name that’s become synonymous with the murky world of counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan – where the subtle tones of the enemy’s colors blend in with innocents.

In a war like this, no one is secure and the military has its hands full, so the American government has turned increasingly to civilian contractors who pick up the slack where military and federal security personnel left off.

One of the most recognizable players in the private security industry is Blackwater Worldwide, the company founded by former SEAL Erik Prince in the mid-1990s. Though the company is best known for its burley, highly-trained security guards who are often pictured flanking State Department officials and ambassadors in Iraq or Afghanistan, there’s more to this sprawling, 7,000 acre compound here in the swampy coastal plains of North Carolina’s northeast than meets the eye.

“It’s a Disneyland for operators,” said Blackwater founding member and current president Gary Jackson during an August 22 tour of the company’s grounds. “They come here and they just can’t believe it.”

With an array of firing ranges, shoot houses, an aviation support fleet and a roster of trainers capable of delivering instruction on any kind of martial skill known to man, Blackwater has become a juggernaut in the world of private military companies.

Originally founded as a training and target manufacturing company, Blackwater has launched a media offensive to shake off its reputation among critics as a “shoot-first-ask-questions-later” band of bearded mercenaries. Two high-profile incidents in Iraq propelled the normally secretive company onto America’s front pages, and the news wasn’t good.

In March 2004, four Blackwater contractors were ambushed and mutilated in Fallujah, Iraq, sparking a brutal invasion of the city that was soon halted after the fragile Baghdad government balked at the public outcry. The incident sparked a furious debate over how prepared security contractors were to deal with the insurgency and added fuel to simmering resentment from traditional military forces angry that they had to come to Blackwater’s rescue only to be pulled back before the job was done.

Then in September of last year, Blackwater guards securing a State Department motorcade were accused of killing as many as 20 Iraqis when they claimed their convoy came under fire in Nisoor Square in busy downtown Baghdad.

Though Blackwater claims a perfect record in securing its clients, some say it comes at the cost of highly aggressive tactics and civilian bullying.

In the wake of those scandals and the nagging pursuit of anti-Blackwater lawmakers, the company is working to burnish its image by going back to its roots: training and logistics services — call it “Blackwater 2.0.”

“Our biggest growth units are international training and aviation,” Jackson said, explaining that his company now has only two personal security detail contracts. “I literally can’t put enough airplanes out there.”

With dozens of ranges that cater to everything from long distance shooters, to demolitions technicians to super-secret “tier one” special operations forces, Blackwater is hard to beat when it comes to the sheer breadth of military tactics training a force could do here – particularly at a time when communities increasingly shun the environmental impact of military operations in their backyards.

In fact, the Virginian Beach police department has a 40 year lease with Blackwater — 30 miles from the coastal city — to train its officers, since range space is so limited where they work, Jackson said.

And the company’s entrepreneurialism doesn’t stop there. In a corrugated steel airplane hanger, a row of three Blackwater-designed mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles sit in various stages of assembly. The company missed the initial order for standard MRAPs after the services reduced their buy, but the company’s new MRAP II — dubbed the “Grizzly” — boasts greater protection against armor-penetrating explosively formed penetrator bombs and could be a player for future orders that meet that growing threat, Blackwater officials say.

They’re even working on cooking-grease-fueled vehicles, power-generating windmills and airship surveillance drones.

But, ironically, it’s Blackwater’s re-emphasis on training that’s caught the ire of lawmakers in Washington who question why the Pentagon hires out instruction critics say should be taught in the services’ own school houses.

Blackwater got its first contract from the Navy after the bombing of the Cole exposed a shortfall in tactical training capacity for its sailors. After 9/11, that need increased as Sailors were called upon to board suspicious ships, defend their fleet from attackers and man defensive positions in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere.

Today, Blackwater continues that training at its facility here, bussing in Sailors from Norfolk every day to practice takedowns on the company’s “ship in a box” — stacked, floating containers assembled to mimic a ship’s bridge. So far the company has trained about 130,000 sailors and says that in any one day over 5,000 students could be firing, jumping, fighting and blowing things up on a Blackwater range.

Virginia Democratic Senator James Webb, a vocal critic of Blackwater and other private military companies, has asked Pentagon chief Robert Gates to study how much training civilian companies provide the DoD and to analyze whether it would be more efficient for the services to do it on their own. Gates passed the question on to Joint Chiefs chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, who’s looking into the matter.

To Jackson, all this talk gets his blood boiling. In his view, Blackwater responds to the needs of its customers when all else has failed, and he sees no problem with filling in on training that the services can’t do themselves without significant investment.

“The Navy can’t build that [training] infrastructure in 20 years. The only way they’re ever going to get there is to start the draft,” an exasperated Jackson said. “The thing that really upsets me the most is that [training] is run by contractors.”

“No matter who wins the election, it doesn’t matter. It’s not going to stop.”

Real-life Stasi film shows East German oppression

Wolfgang Loetzsch, once feted as the most talented cyclist of his generation, was booted off the national team, ostracized, persecuted and even imprisoned for refusing to join the Communist party.

Reuters | Sep 2, 2008

By Erik Kirschbaum

BERLIN (Reuters) – Two years after the release of Oscar-winning movie “The Lives of Others”, communist East Germany and its Stasi secret police are back in the spotlight in a new film that examines the persecution of a top cyclist.

While the 2006 international hit was a fictional tale of a Stasi officer who develops feelings of compassion for his victims, documentary “Sportsfreund Loetzsch” recounts a true story.

Wolfgang Loetzsch, once feted as the most talented cyclist of his generation, was booted off the national team, ostracized, persecuted and even imprisoned for refusing to join the Communist party.

“Loetzsch’s story is a snapshot of the Cold War,” said director Sascha Hilpert, who hopes to secure foreign rights deals when the movie is screened later this month at the Split film festival in Croatia.

“He was a hero for the little people in East Germany. What was the film ‘The Lives of Others’ all about? I think real-life stories are sometimes more incredible than the fictional ones,” he told Reuters in an interview.

Hilpert said the tragic story of Loetzsch should enlighten those with nostalgic pangs for East Germany.

Born in 1952, he won 500 cycling races in the late 1960s and early 1970s, achieving such dominance that he was spoken of as a future world and Olympic champion.

But he refused to join the Communist Party that ruled East Germany and was therefore barred from going to the 1972 Olympics in Munich. He said he was not interested in politics and refused to join the party on principle.

“I just didn’t want to join the party,” said Loetzsch, who admits in the film he is naturally stubborn and difficult. “I was naive to think they would not dream of preventing me going to the Olympics only because I was the best cyclist.”

Fifty Stasi officials were put on his case but he continued training on his own and still beat the best cyclists in East German races where he was allowed to compete.

After a West German newspaper published an article on Loetzsch, he was sent to jail for 10 months in 1977 as an “enemy of the state”. After being released he still outclassed other riders in races and became a cult figure for East Germans.

The film, a remarkably balanced production that includes interview excerpts from the Stasi major who ran his case, has had a strong run in German cinemas since its release last month.

“It wasn’t easy to get him to agree to take part,” said Hilpert, who co-directed the film with Sandra Prechtel. “But at the end of the day he did and I think he deserves a lot of respect for that.”

Irish mob informant FBI’s most wanted after Bin Ladin

One of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives, James “Whitey” Bulger, is seen in this photograph released by the Bulger Fugitive Task Force in Boston, Massachusetts on December 21, 2004. REUTERS/FBI/Handout/Files

The balding Boston Irishman, with ties to corrupt federal agents and a brother who led the Massachusetts Senate for nearly 20 years, was the inspiration for the character Frank Costello played by Jack Nicholson in the film “The Departed”.

Reuters | Sep 3, 2008

FBI doubles bounty for Boston Irish mobster

by Jason Szep

BOSTON (Reuters) – The FBI doubled the bounty on Wednesday for information leading to the arrest of fugitive Boston Irish mobster James “Whitey” Bulger, an inspiration for the Oscar-winning film “The Departed.”

The FBI is now offering $2 million in its 13-year hunt for the 78-year-old convicted bank robber and government informant who was indicted for 19 murders and is known as America’s most-wanted fugitive after Osama bin Laden.

“I am confident that he will be captured,” Warren Bamford, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office, told a news conference.

Bulger has eluded authorities since January 1995, when he vanished with his girlfriend and sparked a manhunt with unconfirmed sightings spanning nearly every continent — from Canada to Europe, South America and the beaches of Thailand.

The balding Boston Irishman, with ties to corrupt federal agents and a brother who led the Massachusetts Senate for nearly 20 years, was the inspiration for the character Frank Costello played by Jack Nicholson in the film “The Departed”.

The FBI says he likely fled the United States before 2001, surviving on millions of dollars stashed away in bank safety deposit boxes with a false passport and an alias.

His last confirmed sighting was in London’s Piccadilly Circus in September 2002. The FBI sent agents to Italy last year after a man and woman resembling Bulger and his girlfriend were caught on videotape. They turned out to be Germans.

Bamford said the FBI would also issue a new “Top Ten” wanted poster with new Bulger head shots to its 56 field offices in the United States and 60 offices around the world.

“The Departed,” with a plot based on the Hong Kong gangster film “Infernal Affairs,” was set in the insular Irish-American South Boston enclave where Bulger lived.