Daily Archives: September 15, 2009

Blackwater involved in Bhutto and Hariri hits: former Pakistani army chief

Tehran Times | Sep 14, 2009

General Mirza Aslam BegTEHRAN – Pakistan’s former chief of army staff, General Mirza Aslam Beg (ret.), has said the U.S. private security company Blackwater was directly involved in the assassinations of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto and former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.

Blackwater later changed its name and is now known as Xe.

General Beg recently told the Saudi Arabian daily Al Watan that former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf had given Blackwater the green light to carry out terrorist operations in the cities of Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, and Quetta.

General Beg, who was chief of army staff during Benazir Bhutto’s first administration, said U.S. officials always kept the presence of Blackwater in Pakistan secret because they were afraid of possible attacks on the U.S. Embassy and its consulates in Pakistan.

During an interview with a Pakistani TV network last Sunday, Beg claimed that the United States killed Benazir Bhutto.

Beg stated that the former Pakistani prime minister was killed in an international conspiracy because she had decided to back out of the deal through which she had returned to the country after nine years in exile.

Beg also said he believes that the former director general of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence was not an accomplice in the conspiracy against Benazir Bhutto, although she did not trust him.

The retired Pakistani general also stated that Benazir Bhutto was a sharp politician but was not as prudent as her father.

On September 2, the U.S. ambassador to Islamabad, Anne W. Patterson, intervened with one of the largest newspaper groups in Pakistan, The News International, to force it to block a decade-old weekly column by Dr. Shireen Mazari scheduled for publication on September 3 in which Mazari, the former director of the Islamabad Institute of Strategic Studies, broke the story of Blackwater/Xe’s presence in Pakistan.

The management of The News International dismissed one of the country’s most prominent academics and journalists due to U.S. pressure. She joined the more independent daily The Nation last week as an editor.

On September 9, in her first column in The Nation, Dr. Mazari wrote:

“Now, even if one were to ignore the massive purchases of land by the U.S., the questionable manner in which the expansion of the U.S. Embassy is taking place and the threatening covert activities of the U.S. and its ‘partner in crime’ Blackwater; the unregistered comings and goings of U.S. personnel on chartered flights; we would still find it difficult to see the whole aid disbursement issue as anything other than a sign of U.S. gradual occupation. It is no wonder we have the term Af-Pak: Afghanistan they control through direct occupation loosely premised on a UN resolution; Pakistan they are occupying as a result of willingly ceded sovereignty by the past and present leadership.”

According to Al Watan, Washington even used Blackwater forces to protect its consulate in the city of Peshawar.

In addition, U.S. journalist Seymour Hersh has accused former U.S vice president Dick Cheney of being involved in the Hariri assassination.

He said Cheney was in charge of a secret team that was tasked with assassinating prominent political figures.

After the assassination of Rafik Hariri in 2005, the U.S. and a number of other countries pointed the finger at Syria, although conclusive evidence has never been presented proving Syrian involvement in the murder.

Obama says war a ‘necessity’

NZ Herald |  Sep 13, 2009

At a sombre ceremony, against a backdrop of pouring rain, Barack Obama tried to use the anniversary of 9/11 to rally Americans behind the war in Afghanistan, as he laid a wreath at a memorial to those killed during the attack on the Pentagon.

Eight years after the hijackings, which killed nearly 3000 people, the President said the nation must “renew our resolve against those who perpetrated this barbaric act and plot against us still.

“No turning of the seasons can diminish the pain and the loss of that day,” he said. “No passage of time, no dark skies can ever dull the meaning of this moment. In the defence of our nation we will never waver.”

The service, the first 9/11 commemoration since President Obama took office, took place a stone’s throw from the site where 125 people died when American Airlines flight 77 crashed into the US military headquarters.

Despite falling support for the war, with a record 44 US casualties in July, President Obama recently sent 21,000 more troops to the country, calling it a “war of necessity” and saying the perpetrators of 9/11 planned to kill more Americans.

Buggies and Big Brother fears? Lancaster, Pa., blankets its streets with security cameras

Snooping City

Associated PressIn this photo taken Tuesday, Aug., 18, 2009, in Lancaster, Pa., a security camera is mounted to a utility pole overlooking Penn Square.

Associated Press | Sep 14, 2009

by Patrick Walters

LANCASTER, Pennsylvania — Horses drawing buggies regularly clop down the roads approaching Lancaster, a peaceful city in the heart of Amish country that had only three murders last year and relatively low crime.

But if the community sounds reminiscent of the past, it also has some distinctly modern technology: 165 surveillance cameras that will keep watch over thousands of residents around the clock.

When it is complete, the surveillance system will be bigger than those in large cities such as Philadelphia, San Francisco and Boston. And the fact that it will be monitored by ordinary citizens has raised privacy concerns.

“They are using fear to sell the cameras as much as possible,” said Charlie Crystle, a member of a fledgling citizens group that opposes the cameras and is trying to raise public awareness about them. “There’s just a huge potential for personal and political abuse.”

Officials in the city of 54,000 say the cameras have deterred crimes and helped solve them.

The white, domed cameras sit atop utility poles in public spaces, business districts and some residential areas. They are monitored 18 to 24 hours a day by employees of the Lancaster Community Safety Coalition, a nonprofit board with workers who report suspected crimes to police.

Lancaster is the seat of Lancaster County, a popular and peaceful tourist destination known for having one of the nation’s largest Amish populations. Horses and buggies are common on surrounding roads.

The safety coalition, directed by City Councilman Joseph Morales, screens prospective monitors and provides training about racial profiling and how to spot trouble. The group has seven monitors, all paid. The coalition does not release their names.

Monitors sit in a room with two 42-inch (106-centimeter) plasma screens and six smaller ones, each divided into views of different cameras. A joystick allows them to zoom in or move the cameras if they see something unusual. If they do, they call police.

“What they are typically seeing is people in their everyday life going through their business,” Morales said. “They’re looking for anything out of the ordinary.”

A special commission recommended the $2.7 million camera system in 2001 in response to a spike in some crimes. Police Chief Keith Sadler strongly supports having citizens monitor the cameras because he does not have the manpower to do it with a force of 159 officers, about 20 fewer than two years ago.

“In this economy, nobody has the luxury to take cops off the street,” Sadler said. “You are probably watched more by non-police agencies than you are by us.”

Lancaster has seen some declines in property crimes since the cameras went up, but those numbers have fluctuated — along with the totals for violent crimes.

Despite inconclusive statistical evidence, police and the commission say the cameras are providing officers with a new tool. Last year, commission workers called police 492 times and provided video to police 305 times. That work led to 82 arrests and 86 citations, as well as 18 charges pending.

Police also credit the cameras with helping to solve a murder in which a man was shot outside a restaurant and the shooting was caught on tape.

Other small cities have also invested in surveillance cameras, though not as heavily as Lancaster.

In Wilmington, Delaware, the city of about 73,000 developed a network of 21 publicly owned cameras and networked them with more than 200 private cameras owned by businesses.

That city also has 37 neighborhood cameras, and the combined system is monitored by a nonprofit group, which refers calls to the police.

Wilkes-Barre, a northeastern Pennsylvania city even smaller than Lancaster, is planning to install 150 cameras this year, also monitored by a nonprofit.

London, one of the most closely watched cities on earth, is reportedly home to more than 1 million security cameras — many of them operated by the British capital’s local, police and transit authorities.

Some research has cast doubt on just how much surveillance systems reduce crime.

A January study by the University of California, Berkeley, found that cameras did not reduce homicide in San Francisco, but did help reduce the number of burglaries and some thefts. A New York University study found that cameras did not do much to deter crime in some public housing projects.

Those findings and others are part of why Crystle and other critics do not think the effort is worth the risk in a small town like Lancaster.

He also points to examples such as Cambridge, Massachusetts, where officials decided in February against adding surveillance cameras because of privacy concerns.

Crystle and others in Lancaster say they have done nothing to warrant being watched. Nick Boots, who owns a barber shop near a camera, said he thinks the city is using fear to gain support for the cameras.

“Through the fear of the perceived threat, people are willing to give up certain rights,” Boots said. “You got to think of Lancaster now being like an open-air prison. Who’s the warden?”

Prosecutors: Blackwater Mercenaries Opened Fire to ‘Instigate Gun Battles’

blackwater thugs iraq

NY Times | Sep 14, 2009

WASHINGTON — Private security guards who worked for Blackwater repeatedly shot wildly into the streets of Baghdad without regard for civilians long before they were involved in a 2007 shooting episode that left at least 14 Iraqis dead, federal prosecutors charge in a new court document.

While traveling through Baghdad in heavily armored vehicles, at least one of the guards, under contract with the State Department to provide security for United States Embassy personnel, fired an automatic weapon “without aiming” while another deliberately fired into the streets to “instigate gun battles in a manner that was inconsistent with the use of force and escalation of force policies that governed all Blackwater personnel in Iraq,” the federal prosecutors stated.

The new accusations were included in a document filed by prosecutors last week in the criminal case against five former Blackwater guards who have been charged with manslaughter in federal court in Washington in connection with the shootings in Nisour Square, in Baghdad, on Sept. 16, 2007.

The guards have pleaded not guilty and have argued that they did not fire their weapons with criminal intent in the Nisour Square case.

The prosecutors are trying to prove that the shootings were part of a larger pattern of reckless behavior.

“These prior bad acts are relevant to establish that the defendants specifically intended to kill or seriously injure the Iraqi civilians that they fired upon at Nisour Square,” the court document says.

Part of the evidence relates to the states of mind of the Blackwater guards, and whether statements they allegedly made about killing Iraqis were factors in the shootings. The document says, for example, that one of the guards, Nicholas Slatten, told people that “he wanted to kill as many Iraqis as he could as payback for 9/11 and he repeatedly boasted about the number of Iraqis he had shot.”

The new allegations also seem to raise questions about whether there was adequate oversight of the security details by either Blackwater or the State Department.

Defense lawyers have not formally responded to the government’s latest document, and a defense lawyer for one of the guards reached on Sunday declined to comment. Previously, the defense stated that the government’s evidence was weak and that its case was without merit. The trial is set to begin in February.

The guards were indicted by a federal grand jury last December after a criminal investigation by the F.B.I. in Iraq and were arraigned in federal court in Washington in January. The case involves by far the bloodiest episode in Iraq linked to private security guards protecting American diplomats, and it has transformed the debate in both Washington and Baghdad over the proper role of private contractors in a war zone.

The Blackwater guards, assigned to a four-vehicle convoy known as Raven 23, drove into a traffic circle at Nisour Square in downtown Baghdad around noon that day and opened fire with a sniper rifle, machine guns and grenade launchers.

After the episode, Blackwater officials said that the guards had been responding to fire from insurgents, but prosecutors charge that they fired on unarmed civilians, including many who were shot in their cars while they were trying to flee.

The government points to specific prior incidents to make the case that the Nisour Square shootings were not isolated. In May 2007, one guard, Evan Liberty, fired his automatic weapon without aiming from the turret of a Blackwater vehicle near Amanat City Hall in Baghdad, according to the document.

That September, it states, Mr. Liberty was driving a vehicle near the same city hall and fired an automatic weapon without aiming and while still trying to drive. That second incident occurred just one week before the Nisour Square shootings.

Mr. Liberty and two other guards, Paul Slough and Mr. Slatten, were also said to have routinely thrown frozen water bottles, frozen oranges and other items at unarmed civilians and vehicles as they drove through Baghdad, “in an attempt to break automobile windows, injure and harass people, and for sport,” the court document states.

The two other guards named in the case are Dustin L. Heard and Donald W. Ball.

The document does not specify the source or sources of information for the new accusations. But in prosecuting the men, federal lawyers appear to be relying heavily on testimony from a sixth guard, Jeremy P. Ridgeway, who has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with the government.

Blackwater, which has changed its name to Xe Services, has not been charged in the case, but the shooting aftermath has hurt the company’s business deeply. This year, Xe (pronounced “zee”) lost its contract to provide diplomatic security for United States Embassy officials in Baghdad, and its longstanding, but more secret, ties to the Central Intelligence Agency have come under new scrutiny as well.

The shootings have caused a deep-seated political reaction in Iraq against private security contractors, leading the Iraqi government to demand successfully that the United States agree to make the contractors subject to Iraqi law.

Previously, the contractors had been granted immunity from Iraqi law, even while it was unclear which American laws governed their behavior.

The company also faces a civil lawsuit filed in the United States on behalf of the Iraqi victims that day.

This summer, Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A. director, told Congress that he had found that during the Bush administration, the agency had once considered using Blackwater in a covert assassination program.

Officials have said that the plan was never implemented. But the company still has other contracts with the C.I.A., including one that calls for Xe’s personnel to handle and load bombs and rockets on Predator drones at secret bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Apollo moon rocks lost in space? No, lost on Earth

Worlds Missing Moon Rocks

In this 1969 file photo, astronauts Edwin E. Aldrin and Neil Armstrong rehearse tasks they will perform on the moon after landing in July 1969 during the Apollo 11 mission. The detection of a fake moon rock in the Netherlands’ national museum should serve as a wake-up call for more than 130 countries who received gifts of lunar rubble from both the Apollo 11 flight in 1969 and Apollo 17 three years later. Experts say the whereabouts are unknown of hundreds of tiny rocks scooped up by U.S. astronauts and given by the Nixon administration to friendly nations. (AP Photo/NASA, File)

AP | Sep 14, 2009


AMSTERDAM — Attention, countries of the world: Do you know where your moon rocks are?

The discovery of a fake moon rock in the Netherlands’ national museum should be a wake-up call for more than 130 countries that received gifts of lunar rubble from both the Apollo 11 flight in 1969 and Apollo 17 three years later.

Nearly 270 rocks scooped up by U.S. astronauts were given to foreign countries by the Nixon administration. But according to experts and research by The Associated Press, the whereabouts of some of the small rocks are unknown.

“There is no doubt in my mind that many moon rocks are lost or stolen and now sitting in private collections,” said Joseph Gutheinz, a University of Arizona instructor and former U.S. government investigator who has made a project of tracking down the lunar treasures.

The Rijksmuseum, more noted as a repository for 17th century Dutch paintings, announced last month it had had its plum-sized “moon” rock tested, only to discover it was a piece of petrified wood, possibly from Arizona. The museum said it inherited the rock from the estate of a former prime minister.

The real Dutch moon rocks are in a natural history museum. But the misidentification raised questions about how well countries have safeguarded their presents from Washington.

Genuine moon rocks, while worthless in mineral terms, can fetch six-figure sums from black-market collectors.

Of 135 rocks from the Apollo 17 mission given away to nations or their leaders, only about 25 have been located by CollectSpace.com, a Web site for space history buffs that has long attempted to compile a list.

That should not be taken to mean the others are lost — just that the records kept at the time are far from complete.

The AP reviewed declassified correspondence between the State Department and U.S. embassies in 1973 and was able to locate ten additional Apollo 17 rocks — in Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, Barbados, France, Poland, Norway, Costa Rica, Egypt and Nepal.

But the correspondence yielded a meager 30 leads, such as the name of the person who received them or the museum where they were to be initially displayed. Ecuador and Cyprus are among several that said they had never heard of the rocks. Five were handed to African dictators long since dead or deposed.

The outlook for tracking the estimated 134 Apollo 11 rocks is even bleaker. The locations of fewer than a dozen are known.

“NASA turned over the samples to the State Department to distribute,” said Jennifer Ross-Nazzal, a NASA historian, in an e-mailed response to questions. “We don’t have any records about when and to whom the rocks were given.”

“The Office of the Historian does not keep records of what became of the moon rocks, and to my knowledge, there is no one entity that does so,” e-mailed Tiffany Hamelin, the State Department historian.

That may seem surprising now, but in the early 1970s, few expected Apollo 17 would be the last mission to the moon. With the passage of time, the rocks’ value has skyrocketed.

NASA keeps most of the 382 kilograms (842 lbs) gathered by the Apollo missions locked away, giving small samples to researchers and lending a set of larger rocks for exhibitions.

Apollo 11 gift rocks typically weigh just 0.05 grams, scarcely more than a grain of rice. The Apollo 17 gift rocks weigh about 1.1 grams. Both are encased in plastic globes to protect them and ease viewing.

Each U.S. state got both sets of rocks, and Gutheinz said he and his students have accounted for nearly all the Apollo 17 rocks, though some are in storage and inaccessible. They have only just begun researching Apollo 11 rocks in the states.

In one known legal sale of moon samples, in 1993, moon soil weighing 0.2 grams from an unmanned Russian probe was auctioned at Sotheby’s for $442,500.

Gutheinz, the former U.S. investigator, says ignorance about the rocks is an invitation to thieves, and he should know.

In 1998, he was working for the NASA Office of the Inspector General in a sting operation to uncover fake rocks when he was offered the real Apollo 17 rock — the one given to Honduras — for $5 million.

The rock was recovered and eventually returned to Honduras, but not before a fight in Florida District Court that went down in legal annals as “United States vs. One Lucite Ball Containing Lunar Material (One Moon Rock) and One Ten Inch By Fourteen Inch Wooden Plaque.”

The case is not unique.

Malta’s Apollo 17 rock was stolen in 2004. In Spain, the newspaper El Mundo this summer reported that the Apollo 17 rock given to the country’s former dictator, Francisco Franco, is missing.

Franco died in 1975. The paper quoted his grandson as denying the rock had been sold. He said his mother had lost it, but claimed it was the family’s personal possession, to sell if it wished.

Gutheinz says Romania’s Apollo 17 rock disappeared after the fall and execution of Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989.

According to Gutheinz and other reports, Pakistan’s Apollo 17 rock is missing; so is Nicaragua’s, since the Sandinistas came to power in 1979. Afghanistan’s Apollo 17 rock sat in Kabul’s national museum until it was ransacked in 1996.

In fact, the Netherlands is one of the few countries where the location of both the Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 gift rocks is known. Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand are others — though none has rocks from both missions on permanent public display and some have been kept in storage for decades.

The Amsterdam case appears to be not fraud but the result of poor vetting by the Rijksmuseum.

Spokeswoman Xandra van Gelder said the museum checked with NASA after receiving the rock in 1992 from the estate of the late Prime Minister Willem Drees. NASA told the museum, without seeing it, that it was “possible” it was a moon rock.

But it weighed a whopping 89 grams (3.1 ounces). In addition, its gold-colored cardboard plaque does not describe it as a moon rock.

The U.S. ambassador gave Drees the rock during an Oct. 9, 1969 visit by the Apollo 11 astronauts to the Netherlands. Drees’s grandson, also named Willem, told the AP his grandfather had been out of office for more than a decade and was nearly deaf and blind in 1969, though his mind was still sharp.

“My guess is that he did not hear well what was said,” said the grandson. “He may have formed his own idea about what it was.”

The family never thought to question the story before donating the rock, to which it had not attached great importance or monetary value.

Giuliani joins new program to teach students about 9/11

AP | Sep 8, 2009


giuliani_hitlerNEW YORK — Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani joined Sept. 11 family members and college professors on Tuesday at a hotel blocks from the World Trade Center site to unveil a plan to teach middle and high school students about the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The 9/11 curriculum, believed to be the first comprehensive educational plan focusing on the attacks, is expected to be tested this year at schools in New York City, California, New Jersey, Alabama, Indiana, Illinois and Kansas.

It was developed with the help of educators by the Brick, N.J.-based Sept. 11 Education Trust, and was based on primary sources, archival footage and more than 70 interviews with witnesses, family members of victims and politicians, including Giuliani and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a New York senator at the time of the attacks.

The curriculum is taught through videos, lessons and interactive exercises, including one that requires students to use Google Earth software to map global terrorist activity.

One of the main goals is to help students entering middle and high school, who may been too young to have strong memories of the attacks, to develop a tangible connection to what happened.

“In a few years, we will be teaching students who were not even alive at the time of the attacks,” said Anthony Gardner, the executive director of the Sept. 11 Education Trust.

The nonprofit group is run by victims’ families, survivors and rescue workers who worry that educators don’t teach about the attacks because they don’t have the educational tools to do so.

Giuliani said that the curriculum can help students to think critically about the attacks as both a historical event and one that shapes the present, noting the continued threat of terrorism and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“This is one of the critical subjects on which young people should develop some ideas and thoughts. They’re going to have to live with this for quite some time,” he said. “It gives young people a framework in which to think about Sept. 11, all that it meant and all that it means to the present.”

For the professors who helped to develop the plan through the Taft Institute for Government at Queens College, creating that framework to understanding how 9/11 affects today’s policies was critical to the endeavor, and part of the challenge.

“The real trick is to get kids to see that it’s not just a dramatic event like 9/11 that connects them to these issues, it’s connected to their lives in the everyday, said Michael A. Krasner, a political scientist at Queens College. He said a range of viewpoints are reflected in the curriculum, including from Muslim scholars, to enrich the discussion.

The curriculum was designed so that teachers could tailor it to their own classrooms, but it gives an open-eyed view of 9/11, Gardner said.

“We’re not sugarcoating the event,” said Gardner, whose brother died in the World Trade Center. “We’ve included images that are challenging.”

Students and professors are invited to participate on a Web site developed around the curriculum, where they can share their own videos, lesson plans and discuss the questions raised in their classrooms.

The curriculum was tried out in 2008 at the River Dell Regional High School, a roughly 1,000-student high school in Oradell, N.J., about 20 miles north of Manhattan.

It costs $99 per license through Sept. 18, 2009. After that, it will cost $129. The money will go toward the development of more teaching materials on 9/11.

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum has also developed educational materials for high schools, which are intended to augment classroom discussions, not to serve as an in-depth curriculum.
On the Net:

* http://www.sept11educationtrust.org
* http://www.learnabout9-11.org/

NOAA: Summer 2009 was 34th coolest on record, more than 2,000 record lows recorded

Examiner | Sep 12, 2009

by Tony Hake

Highlighting the cooler summer, thousands of record low temperatures were experienced in July 2009.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced this week that the summer of 2009 was the 34th coolest since 1895. Covering the months from June to August for the contiguous United States, the average temperature was 0.4 degrees below the 20th century average.

Emphasizing the lower temperatures experienced in the United States over the summer, a closer look at the statistics provides some telling information.

Over the three month period, stations reporting to the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) showed 2,254 daily record low temperatures and 1,296 low temperature records were tied according to preliminary data. Similarly, 4,051 daily record low maximums were recorded and 1,501 records were tied across the nation during the summer.

July in particular was notably cooler than normal and the single month by itself counted for roughly half of the records set across the three month summer. For the month, 2,212 record low maximum temperatures were recorded and 737 were tied. 1,225 new record low temperatures were recorded and 657 records were tied.