Friday, February 29, 2008

Hillary Would Ban "Mercenary Firms" in Iraq

Senator Hillary Clinton's office announced today that "she has cosponsored legislation to ban the use of Blackwater and other private mercenary firms in Iraq ... The legislation requires that all personnel at any U.S. diplomatic or consular mission in Iraq be provided security services only by Federal Government Personnel."

Now, I take it for granted that this bill is mostly about election season politics. Still, I wonder where State would find enough Feds to protect those diplomatic and consular missions since there are almost as many Blackwater, Triple Canopy, and DynCorp protection personnel working for the State Department in Iraq as there are special agents in the Diplomatic Security Service (1395 vs. 1450). Not to mention that Blackwater also provides State with specialized aviation assets that could scarcely be matched even by the U.S. military, and I suppose those BW aircraft and pilots would be banned along with the shooters.

Obviously, all DSS agents can't be assigned to Iraq. And if they were, it would be a misapplication of human resources to use DSS agents, all of whom have four-year degrees and law enforcement-related backgrounds, to do bodyguard duty full time. That kind of protection work is a basic security function that younger agents do for a few years to pay their dues before moving on to higher responsibilities.

State should change some of its practices with high-threat protective detail contractors in Iraq and elsewhere, in my opinion. In particular, the legal environment must be clarified so that contractors can be properly managed and held accountable. But private protection contractors fill an important niche, and I don't see them going away anytime soon.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

FSO Charged in U.S. District Court

There's bad news about a visas-for-sex scandal involving a U.S. Foreign Service Officer in Brazil. A variety of charges were unsealed against one Gons G. Nachman at the U.S. District Court in Alexandria today, and he is being held pending a hearing on Tuesday.

A quick Goggle search indicates that Gons Gutierrez Nachman is a samba dancing enthusiast ("I'm going to work in Brazil in May ... And, I think it's a wonderful way to introduce myself to the country") who also dabbled in amateur photography while stationed in the Congo from 2003 to 2005, where he took pictures of "displaced people," "traditional and modern Congolese dancers," and "children." He is probably the same Gons Gutierrez Nachman who was active in the University of Pennsylvania Naturist Student Association during the 90s.

There are more internet hits on his name, but the subject is just too depressing to continue.

The linked news story says "Court records reflect that a defense lawyer has not yet been appointed," which sounds strange, given that Nachman was relieved of duty as far back as September. Surely he would have lawyered-up as soon as DS agents interviewed him? But Nachman evidently is, or was, a lawyer himself, since his name was included in a 2002 inactive membership roster of the Florida Bar Journal. Could he be foolish enough to represent himself?

"My H-E-D-G-E Fund Went Bankrupt Today"

Looking over today's business news I found this story about the failure of a Citigroup hedge fund, which was due in large part to the collapsing value of mortgage-backed securities such as collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). It's a big complicated economic story, and the best thing about it is the excuse it gives me to link to this song by my favorite country music singer, Merle Hazard. CDOs are just what Merle was singing about: check out "What We Learned From H-E-D-G-E."

Merle has more good music and central banking commentary at BTW, if you took Economics 101 you might remember the term "moral hazard," which could explain what Merle's mother had in mind when she named him.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

On the Road Again

There's so much in the news to comment on, like poor Amy Winehouse being treated so unkindly at the consular section in London [although in all fairness, Amy herself warned us that she's no good] but I don't have the time, since I'm off to Dulles in a few minutes to start a long-ish TDY. Three continents and three weeks from now, I'll be back.

Friday, February 1, 2008

This Isn't Good

A Fairfax County, Virginia, police officer was caught (via a FISA wiretap) using police resources to trace vehicle licence plate numbers for a friend who was under Federal surveillance. Here's the Washington Post story, and here's the FBI's press release.

The police officer is a native of Afghanistan and a naturalized U.S. citizen.