Monday, May 30, 2011

Remembering The Diplomats, Too

Ten days ago, two State Department employees barely avoided being killed in a roadside bomb ambush in Peshawar, Pakistan. Seven days ago the U.S. ambassador to Yemen had to be rescued from a mob that was besieging the Emirati embassy in Sanaa. And today, U.S. diplomats in Afghanistan are surviving an attack on the NATO Provincial Reconstruction Team headquarters in Herat.

I hereby follow the fine example set by Life After Jerusalem and Consul-at-Arms by posting the Dallas News commentary by Clayton McCleskey, This Memorial Day, remember the diplomats, too:

WASHINGTON — They are the proud, the few and the unarmed. They dodge bullets in the mountains of Afghanistan and brave the deserts of Iraq. They serve as America’s face to the world, from violence-ridden Mexico to the financial hubs of Asia to the capitals of Europe. They promote American business and protect American citizens abroad. They are the men and women of the U.S. Foreign Service.

On Memorial Day, we rightly pause to remember those who serve our nation in military uniform. But we should also recognize the more than 12,000 members of the American diplomatic corps who serve in Washington and in 271 missions across the globe.

“They are the ones out there on the front lines trying to advocate and explain [American] policies, regardless of which administration they are serving,” said Karen Hughes, former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy under President George W. Bush.

She praised the Foreign Service as “a very dedicated group of public servants” who “work and make sacrifices around the world in some very difficult assignments.”

You may think of diplomats as tuxedo-wearing statesmen sipping cocktails at summits in Switzerland, but American diplomats are deployed in places like war-torn Africa and Afghanistan, where they often face the same dangers as members of the military. One diplomat I spoke to said he has been shot at five times in the line of duty.

Yet, even as America’s engagement with the world is growing more crucial, budget hawks are circling over the State Department. Speaking to the National Conference of Editorial Writers this month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned, “There’s a huge gap between perception and reality … and people think that we can balance our budget on the back of our foreign operations.”

The continuing resolution passed to fund the government cut $8 billion for the State Department and USAID — while increasing the Defense Department’s budget by $5 billion. The demands on the State Department are growing, but the budget isn’t. “It is so out of whack with what we have to be doing,” Clinton lamented.

Part of the problem is that many Americans misunderstand diplomats’ role. Diplomacy isn’t about throwing money at the world. Yes, foreign aid — which accounts for only about 1 percent of the total federal budget — is a useful diplomatic tool. But too often diplomacy is dismissed as wasteful global charity or useless hemmin’ and hawin’ at the United Nations. Whether working to secure access to natural resources (like oil), leading reconstruction in Afghanistan or screening hundreds of thousands of visa applicants, diplomats are producing concrete results. They are the facilitators of globalization.

In an interconnected world, diplomacy is becoming ever more relevant to the daily lives of Americans, especially when it comes to the economy. Diplomats pave the way for American businesses to make profits at home by expanding overseas.

“If companies want to grow, if we want to grow our GDP, if we want to be competitive on a global basis in the 21st century, people really have to step up to export and export more, because that’s where the growth opportunities are,” said Lorraine Hariton, U.S. Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs.

Texas definitely enjoys the dividends of diplomacy. According to the latest figures from the International Trade Administration and Bureau of the Census, in 2009 the Dallas-Fort Worth area exported $19.9 billion worth of merchandise. And because of the Open Skies agreements liberalizing international air travel, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport will see “billions of dollars in new business,” Clinton said this month.

Members of the Foreign Service play a crucial role in making that kind of lucrative international agreement possible, part of a government-wide campaign to help American businesses increase exports.

“We need to set up partnerships and relationships all around the world so we can understand the market needs in Kenya as well as the market needs in Fort Worth,” Hariton said. Indeed, to maintain America’s global competitiveness and to capitalize on the opportunities globalization creates, we need a well-funded diplomatic corps.

“Diplomacy used to be thought of as the quiet, behind-the-scenes, government-to-government communications,” Hughes told me.

It’s now so much more than that. “In order for America to enact the kinds of policies we want to enact around the world,” Hughes explained, “we have got to build a public case for those policies, for our values and for our interests.”

Our diplomats are out in the trenches doing just that, often at great personal danger — remember the Iranian hostage crisis? Foreign Service officers have also been the targets of drug violence, insurgent attacks and kidnappings. Yet they man their posts, safeguarding American interests and protecting U.S. citizens overseas.

This weekend, as we salute our military, we also owe a tribute to America’s diplomats, many of whom are in conflict zones riding in the same Humvees as the troops. The only difference is that they can’t shoot back.

Memorial Day: Google Versus Bing

I think the problem with Google must be that they have too many Chinese and Indian geeks in management jobs. Google creates those elaborate and imaginative logos on holidays and special occasions (see them here) but seems to be indifferent, or at best tone-deaf, when it comes to U.S. historic or patriotic days.

Here's an example of what I mean, and here's an even bigger one.

Google put no effort at all into Memorial Day, just a little yellow ribbon of an afterthought.

Bing, as usual, knows what day it is.

Google logos have been good for learning about the birthdays of obscure people I don't care about, however, I use Bing as a search engine most of the time now just out of annoyance at the other guy.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memorial Day

The commemoration of Memorial Day began yesterday, with the 'flags in' tradition at Arlington National Cemetery. Tomorrow morning, I'll attend a flag placement at a small church cemetery in my neighborhood where Civil War, Spanish-American War, and Great War veterans are interred.

After that, let the backyard grilling begin. But, like Consul-at-Arms, I will be observing, not celebrating, the occasion.

Blow out, you bugles, over the rich Dead!
There’s none of these so lonely and poor of old,
But, dying, has made us rarer gifts than gold.
These laid the world away; poured out the red
Sweet wine of youth; gave up the years to be
Of work and joy, and that unhoped serene,
That men call age; and those who would have been,
Their sons, they gave, their immortality.

- First stanza of Rupert Brooke's 1914 poem The Dead

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Al Kamen Alert!

The Pakistani press has a story today about the gigantic embassy construction project that the Office of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) is carrying out in Islamabad, and they managed to get a little bit of accurate news in there amidst the usual half-truths, paranoia, and canards.

US staff shrinks, embassy expands:

ISLAMABAD, May 27: Amid frayed relations over the May 2 raid in Abbottabad killing Osama bin Laden, the United States has started work on expanding its embassy in the capital.

The construction work has been started on the embassy’s existing plot and additional land it acquired last year in the Diplomatic Enclave but without paying its cost – Rs1.7billion – to the local authorities. [TSB note: that's half-truth #1]

Additionally, the embassy has thus far not submitted site plan of its proposed complex for approval by the Capital Development Authority (CDA). [TSB: that's half-truth #2]

“We have started a construction project to rehabilitate our ageing compound facilities,” US embassy spokesman Alberto Rodriguez told Dawn. “We are coordinating closely with CDA, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other pertinent ministries on all elements related to the construction.”

The US authorities have also asked the government for a waiver on stamp duty and transfer fee of additional eight acres (almost 40,000 sq yards) of additional land.

However, the spokesman maintained: “The embassy of Pakistan in the United States is exempt from taxes on its property in Washington D.C, as are all other diplomatic bilateral missions in line with the provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. Reciprocally, the embassy of the United States in Pakistan is exempt from taxes on our property holdings here.”

-- snip --

The embassy acquired additional eight acres besides its existing building for Rs1.7 billion but so far no money has been paid to the authority. [Half-truth, see above]

A senior CDA official, who did not want to be named, said apart from not releasing the payment, the embassy also did not submit site plans for its proposed complex on the additional land. [Ibid]

Earlier, the embassy acquired additional 18 acres at the rate of Rs15,000 per sq yard in the Diplomatic Enclave. There were reports that the US was increasing the number of staff in the Islamabad embassy, including 350 Marines and even Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs). [That last sentence is a two-for-one deal, a paranoid fantasy about Marine Security Guards on top of a canard about armored vehicles]

Later, the CDA through the Foreign Office increased the cost of land from Rs15,000 per sq yard to 80,000 per sq yard (almost equivalent to $1,000). But the embassy opposed the increase and refused to pay according to the revised rate. Other embassies and foreign missions wanting to have land in the enclave had also rejected the proposed increase. [That's true - wow!]

Due to the strong reaction of the diplomatic community, the government had reduced the price to $500 per sq yard.

The US Embassy had also cut down its demand for additional land from 18 to eight acres so that it could pay the revised cost within the amount allocated by Washington for the purpose.

That price per acre of land is the real interesting bit of news here. The Pakistani Capital Development Authority cut their first asking price in half, from $1,000 a square yard to $500, and we are reportedly buying eight acres at that price. There are 4,800 square yards in an acre, so we will pay $2,400,000 per acre, or $19,200,000 for the whole parcel.

How expensive is that? For comparison, a typical quarter-acre residential lot in Fairfax County, Virginia, is valued at about $100,000, or roughly 4 percent as much as the land we are about to acquire in Islamabad.

Of course, another 19 mil isn't much when you consider the scale of the embassy construction project. It's really, really, big:

The project will consist of the design and construction of a New Embassy Office (NOB), new office annex building (NOX), Marine Security Guard Quarters (MSGQ), general services offices and warehouse, central utility plan, site utilities and infrastructure, compound access facilities, and demolition of existing buildings on the US Embassy Compound in Islamabad, Pakistan. Approximate Site: 168,000 square meters. New buildings area: 79,000 square meters; Estimated design-build cost: $530 - $630 million

-- snip --

The project will consist of the design and construction of a permanent staff housing buildings, recreation and support structures, central utility plan, site utilities and infrastructure, and compound access facilities on newly acquired property for the US Embassy Compound in Islamabad, Pakistan. Approximate Site: 48,600 square meters; New buildings area: 75,000 gross square meters; Estimated design-build cost: $140 - $200 million

What with this being a three-day weekend in Washington, the WaPo might be asleep at the switch and we won't see this tidbit In The Loop.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Dominique Strauss-Kahn "A Gentleman" Says Female Acquaintance

When you are a man accused of rape, it helps to have women friends who are willing to publicly defend you. So, Dominique Strauss-Kahn (that's him in the photo, displaying his trademark charm toward the First Lady of the United States) must have been grateful to learn that a woman has vouched for his good character. The woman is an Italian porn star, but hey, DSK is in no position to be picky.

Miss Kiss, whose real name is Michelle Conti, claims to have met the former head of the International Monetary Fund on several occasions in a private club in Paris four or five years ago.

She said she decided to speak out in his defence because he was being treated "worse than an assassin" over allegations that he tried to rape a chamber maid in a New York City hotel.

Miss Kiss, the star of numerous pornographic films, said she nicknamed the French economist "Genghis Khan", without explaining why.

[TSB note: Perhaps she named him that because DSK, like Genghis Khan, raided and plundered the peoples he invaded?]

She claimed that he had sexual relations with her and a second woman and that he came to the unnamed nightclub three or four times.

She watched him approach several other women at the club but said he was rebuffed.

The fact that he took the refusals with good humour and politeness convinced her that he was "a gentleman", she told Corriere della Sera.

"He was very nice. He wasn't a randy old man or hungry for women as he has been depicted.

"He was very kind, educated, he didn't behave like a drooling dog as can often happen (with other men). He treated us with kindness, he cuddled me. I know men, and he was not the violent type."

Miss Kiss said she thought the former IMF chief had no need to rape a woman because he could afford to pay for escorts like her. "He's just a playboy, that's all".

Asked if he would like to comment on the actress's allegation, William Taylor, Mr Strauss-Kahn's attorney, said: "No thanks".

Oh, come on, Mr. Attorney, don't turn up your nose at this character witness. Your client needs all the help he can get at this point.

Monday, May 23, 2011

DNA Results In, Dominique Strauss-Kahn Is French Toast

The matter of The People of New York Against Dominique Strauss-Kahn has now passed through the "Je n'ai pas eu des relations sexuelles avec cette femme de chambre" stage and jumped ahead to the Blue Dress Moment.

The UK Telegraph reports that DNA testing has confirmed traces of sperm on the hotel maid's clothing:

The New York Police sent the test results to French authorities on Sunday where they allegedly confirmed the trace. The results are expected to be made public shortly.

Mr Strauss-Kahn, 62, who is accused of trying to rape a maid last week in his suite at the Sofitel hotel in New York, was released from Rikers Island jail on Friday.

His lawyer has already indicated he plans to argue that there was consent.

The latest revelations [were] published on the French website

His lawyer plans to argue consent? Really? His options are rapidly narrowing.

On a happier note, the story also had this:

Meanwhile, a New York assemblyman has said he wants the state to require hotels to provide their housekeepers with an emergency "panic button" that would help protect them from sexual assaults on the job.

Rory Lancman, a Democrat from Queens, said he intended to introduce the bill on Monday.

Now that is a really good idea. Practical and effective, and more achievable than having housekeeping staff work in groups. I'd go further and equip hotel maids with stun guns (perfect name for them: "The High-Voltage French Connection"), but I suppose that would never fly in New York City.

Here's a bit more about the proposed bill:

A state lawmaker has introduced a bill that would require hotel maids to be equipped with personal security devices in the wake of the recent arrest of ex-International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn on allegations of sexual assault by a worker at the upscale midtown hotel Sofitel.

State Assemblyman Rory Lancman, who chairs the assembly's subcommittee on workplace safety, said hotel maids are often alone when they are cleaning rooms, leaving them vulnerable and "at the mercy of the guest."

"Although we often think about workplace safety in terms of construction workers falling off a building, or mine workers getting a mine collapsing on them, every workplace has its own workplace safety challenges," Lancman said.

Lancman said the personal security devices — much like the emergency buttons used by elderly people who live alone — are readily available, and can cost as little as $20 a month. If approved, his legislation would become part of New York State Labor Law.

The New York Hotel Workers' Union said it supports the bill. A spokesman added that violent incidents like the alleged attack are not frequent occurrences in city hotels. He also said the city has strong security regulations in place. The Hotel Association of New York City is currently reviewing the bill. A spokeswoman said the group shares the goal of keeping hotel workers safe.

I don't know why the Hotel Association isn't already on board with that bill. It would protect their employees and reduce their liability.

POTUS Bottoms Out (Or, "May The Road Rise To Meet You")

That sickening sound of metal-on-metal. When Obama's limo suddenly ground to a halt halfway out the gate of the U.S. Embassy in Dublin this morning, my first thought was that it was The Mother Of All Delta Barrier Mishaps.

The crash is 15 seconds into this video:

What happened was more mundane than a Delta barrier going rogue, but every bit as embarrassing. The Presidential limo is so long it couldn't clear the slope of a ramp that connects the embassy to the public street. That incredibly super-secure, multimillion dollar, product of Yankee ingenuity high-centered on a little ramp and was stuck there until it could be lifted off.

Doesn't the Secret Service check out the routes the President's motorcade will take? Of course it does. I found a UK news article about Secret Service advance planning for a previous Presidential visit to London which refers to a 500-item checklist:

As the manual states, ‘Advancing is an art’. In eight years, a US president makes about 3,000 public appearances, 800 of which will be abroad. Each foreign appearance requires a site survey by more than 100 Advance Team members, more if it’s a RON (Remain Overnight Visit).

The checklist for the UK Advance Team contains almost 500 items and stipulations covering 25 pages.

These include the effectiveness of the motorcade in rush-hour traffic, how to address the Queen, approval of presidential hand-shakers, no animals, no children (if possible), certainly no parachutists or balloons; then there are sketches, photos, 3D graphics of Heathrow, the Ambassador’s residence and grounds in Regent’s Park, departure points, corridors and walkways.

"Advancing is an art." Maybe that's the problem. It should be a science, too. Motorcade operations are so important to the Secret Service that I take it for granted they must be the masters of route reconnaissance, and expert judges of all kinds of vehicle dynamics like speed, acceleration, braking distance, turning radius, side slope stability, and so on.

But, evidently, the motorcade checklist does not include anything about angles of approach and departure. Some advance agent's career probably bottomed out along with the limo.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Continental Suavity of Dominique Strauss-Kahn

The appalling Dominique Strauss-Kahn seems to be caught in a media death-spiral as More Strauss-Kahn Rumors Emerge:

Former International Monetary Fund (IMF) head Dominique Strauss-Kahn attempted to lure two attractive hotel employees to his $3,000-a-night New York hotel suite -- and later put the moves on an Air France flight attendant following his alleged sexual assault on a maid, the New York Post reported Sunday.

"What a nice ass!" he barked to the attendant, using the lewd French expression "Quel beau cul!" as she prepared the business-class cabin for takeoff last Saturday. [TSB note: that expression might come in handy if DSK does a prison term in New York. I'm just saying.]

His catcall came just moments before Port Authority detectives hauled him off the plane, French magazine Le Point reported.

The final act of lust capped a whirlwind weekend of attempted womanizing for the former front-runner of the 2012 French presidential election.

The frisky Frenchman first tried his seduction skills on a VIP receptionist who escorted him to his suite at the Sofitel hotel Friday evening, law enforcement sources said.

When he got to his room, the 62 year old asked the "attractive" worker to join him for a glass of Champagne after her shift -- an invitation she described to authorities as "inappropriate" and that she rejected on the spot, the sources said.

Strauss-Kahn, a married father of four, then tried his game the following day on the desk receptionist who first checked him in, described by a source as an "attractive woman who caught his eye."

He asked her to join him in his suite, where he had a complimentary bottle of Dom Perignon Champagne. The woman said that, at first, he was "borderline flirting," and she declined the sordid invite, according to sources.

His attempted seductions came to light after investigators interviewed every Sofitel employee and pored over more than 48 hours of video footage, including recordings of Strauss-Kahn bolting from the hotel Saturday afternoon without checking out.

That offer of a glass of fine champagne (which you must pronounce "shah-pah-nyuh") when DSK tried to close the deal with two hotel employees reminded me of where I'd seen him before.

Check out this hidden security camera video from the Sofitel Hotel's VIP suite:

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Internet Was Invented At State Annex 14

Strange but true. Arlington County placed a historical marker outside SA-14 yesterday, commemorating the fact that DOD's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) was located in that building from 1970 to 1975, the period during which ARPANET was created and the first e-mails were sent.

The concepts and technologies behind the internet - file transfer protocols, packet switching, Interface Message Processors, etc. - were worked out at many different places from MIT to UCLA. But it was the ARPA guys at humble 1400 Wilson Boulevard who had the seed money for that work, and the Cold War national defense mission of exploiting new technologies for military command and control networks that could survive a nuclear war. See this history of how and why ARPANET was built.

Beneath the main marker is this bit of authentic technological frontier gibberish:

Which is "ARPANET" spelled out in binary code.

Peshawar: Bomb Attack On Consulate Car With No Serious Injuries

State Department employees in Pakistan have another reason to thank the U.S. taxpayer for the enormous investment he has made in heavily armored vehicles for our missions abroad.

This morning, the Taliban ambushed a two-car convoy of consulate employees traveling between home and office, remotely detonating a roadside bomb when the convoy passed nearby. According to local new media, the bomb was about 50 kilos (100 pounds), which is more than large enough to destroy an unhardened vehicle. Happily, our well-protected vehicle sustained only minor damage, and the two employees riding in it were only slightly injured.

The New York Times has this report:

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A car bomb aimed at a two-car convoy carrying American consular officials to work exploded Friday morning, but no Americans were killed or seriously injured, a United States Embassy spokesman said.

The attack was the first against Americans since the Navy Seal raid on May 2 that killed Osama bin Laden in the city of Abbottabad.

In a phone call to The Associated Press, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, Ahsanullah Ahsan, claimed responsibility for the attack.

“We say to the Americans and NATO that we will carry out more deadly attacks, and we can do it,” Mr. Ahsan said in the report.

-- snip --

An American who lives three blocks from the attack said the explosion was “a big blast that shook the earth.” The attack was timed for about 8:30 in the morning, when employees of the consulate regularly drive to work from their homes in the upscale neighborhood of University Town, the American said.

-- snip --

A Pakistani government official said two Americans were slightly injured and that they were riding in a vehicle that belonged to the Regional Security Office, the group responsible for security arrangements for American employees at the consulate.

Peshawar, the provincial capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, is considered a relatively high-risk area because it borders the tribal areas where the Pakistani Army has been fighting militants for more than two years.

The last attack against an American in Peshawar was in 2008 when gunmen fired at the vehicle of the American consul-general, Lynne Tracy, as she was traveling to work. She escaped unharmed.

Employees of the consulate were placed under immediate “lockdown” after the attack Friday morning, an American official said.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"In The End ... We Went With Dead"

"Getting whacked / in an attack / in rural Pakistan"

The lyrics to this touching tribute are really quite good.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Osama Bin Tokin'

H/T to The Snake's Mommy for pointing out this take on the mystery of Osama bin Laden's six lost years in that ratty man cave in Abbottabad:

Let's see if you can solve this puzzle. We've learned that Osama Bin Laden's compound had marijuana, pornography, and some sort of herbal Viagra. He had no air conditioning to keep him cool in the blistering heat of summer, and no heat to protect him from the cold of winter. He had no phone and no Internet connection. He had a home office and three wives living with him. Using only these clues, help the CIA solve the following puzzle: Why didn't Bin Laden come up with any good plans lately?

-- snip --

The marijuana at the compound explains a lot too. When we see pictures of other terrorist leaders, they always look angry. Every time we see a picture of Osama, he's just chillin' with his homeys. Here he is asking for some curly fries.

I wonder how stoned you need to be before you come up with a plan to conquer the planet using nothing but bearded men as weapons. I have a feeling that plan B involved showing up at the Grammy's inside a giant egg. It's obvious that he wasn't a beer drinker because his most ambitious plot didn't involve sneaking up on camels and tipping them over.

-- snip --

Now imagine that you have no phone and no email and you want to communicate a complicated plot to your henchmen around the world. You have to rely on your courier to remember the message and deliver it in a persuasive manner to your operations guy. If you have ever met a human being, you know we're not good at transmitting simple messages from one person to another. Now imagine that the courier was probably the guy tending the marijuana garden and you see what I'm getting at here. I'll bet a lot of those conversations went like this.

Courier: Osama wants you to bomb the embassy on 4/20.

Terrorist: Which embassy?

Courier: That's an awesome question. I'll have to get back to you.

Terrorist: Maybe the American Embassy somewhere?

Courier: All I remember is that the target is shaped like...this.

Terrorist: Get out of my tent.

OBL really did look like a chronic stoner. He was always so very much more mellow than the stereotypical, tightly-wound angry guy, terrorist leader. Sort of 'Dude, where's my car bomb?' I wouldn't be a bit surprised if we find out he had a pile of Cheech and Chong videos next to his porn collection.

Political Violence Against Americans, 2010

It was another year of bombs, mobs, drive-by shootings, and all manner of terrorism and politically motivated violence directed against U.S. citizens abroad.

Read the official report here.

After browsing through all that mayhem, I am more grateful than ever for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Americans).

Buy The Unabomber's Stuff

It's too late to buy the Unabomber's cabin, but now his belongings are going on the block at a government auction.

I would love to acquire his manual typewriter; I used to have one just like it back in, oh, 1980 or so. And I wonder if his extensive library of serious books will be sold? Some of those would look great in my bookcase.

The on-line auction goes live on May 18. Watch this site.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

U. S. Embassy Employee Briefly Arrested Outside Islamabad, Pakistan

It's not another Raymond Davis case. No one died, and this time our guy's immunity papers seem to have been in order.

The Express Tribune has this report today of a US diplomat arrested outside Rawalpindi:

A US diplomat, arrested by security agencies on the outskirts of Rawalpindi on Saturday for suspicious behavior, was later released by the officials on the request of the interior ministry.

The American diplomat, purportedly called Matthew Bennett, was found near Fateh Jang by ISI and MI personnel who had been watching him for a while.

He was found taking photographs in an area which, according to officials and locals, served as a secret passage for the transportation of sensitive materials to the Khan Research Laboratories at Kahuta [i.e., Pakistan's nuclear weapons research facility].

The area also serves as the transit route and the entry and gathering point for Nato supplies to Afghanistan.

The diplomat was taken to an unidentified location for further investigations by the security personnel.

Officials told The Express Tribune that they recovered advanced gadgets from him, including night-vision goggles, laptop, transmitter and a digital camera. He was later released after officials from interior ministry brought the required documents with them.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

At Least They're In The Top Two

"One of the best?" Well, that was one of the signs held up by demonstrators in Islamabad today. Rather faint praise, I think.

I get it that this is an expression of wounded national pride, what with the obvious Pakistani embarrassment over the ease with which U.S. forces entered their country's airspace undetected, kinetically acted upon Osama bin Laden, and then got back out of Pakistan as slickly as they got in. We ought to have a little sympathy for the Pakistanis and resist any juvenile urges to make cheap-shot jokes at their expense.

Then again, why not?

It looks to me like the Pakistani Army was the second best armed force in Islamabad on the night of May 2.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

¡Viva la Revelatión!

CNN reports that the White House is relenting a bit on its decision not to show the photos of bin Laden's dead body.

Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee, as well as those in the equivalent House committees, will be allowed to view the photographs taken of Osama bin Laden after he was killed, a U.S. official told CNN Tuesday.

The viewings will take place at CIA headquarters in northern Virginia at a time to be decided, the official said.

-- snip --

President Barack Obama decided on Wednesday that he would not release photos of the body.

"It is not in our national security interest ... to allow these images to become icons to rally opinion against the United States," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters at the time. "We have no need to publish those photographs to establish that Osama bin Laden was killed."

Once the White House starts showing those photos around town, you just know they will eventually leak out. And when they do, we can expect a wave of jihad kitsch that will eclipse Che Guevara for the martyred icon merchandising record of all time.

Which, come to think of it, ought to be a lesson learned. After the Bolivian army captured and killed Che with the help of the CIA (see the declassified documents here) they proudly displayed his corpse. Maybe they didn't care about the propaganda backlash, but those photos became the most reproduced images in the history of photography and led directly to the extremely successful political marketing of the dead Che as a mythic revolutionary figure.

I hope the White House changes its mind again, and sits on those photos. There is nothing to be gained by revealing them. Why run the risk?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

CRS: Congressional Skepticism About Pakistan Has Deepened

The Congressional Research Service has a new report out on Osama bin Laden’s Death: Implications and Considerations. The biggest consideration might be whether or not Congress want to go on funding billions in direct aid to Pakistan.

In the wake of revelations that the world’s most-wanted terrorist had apparently been living for years in a comfortable home in a relatively affluent city and only one kilometer away from Pakistan’s premier military academy, congressional skepticism about the continuation of large aid disbursements to Pakistan has deepened even further. On May 3, 2011, H.R. 1699, the Pakistan Foreign Aid Accountability Act, was introduced in the House. The Act would prohibit future foreign assistance to Pakistan unless the Secretary of State certifies that the Pakistani government was not complicit in hiding OBL. Depending on the course of Pakistan’s future policy statements and levels of cooperation with the United States, Congress may choose to adjust current assistance funding levels. Such funding flows are already hindered by U.S. concerns about corruption and lack of transparency in Pakistan’s implementing partners.

Add complicity in hiding OBL on top of the customary corruption and "lack of transparency," and it sounds like Pakistan has had its three strikes.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Hardest Working Man On "K" Street

How would you like to be Pakistan's lobbyist in Washington? That's got to be the hardest job on K Street right now.

He is Mark Siegel, and I see from his professional bio that he has been Pakistan's lobbyist in Washington since 2008, and that he held the same job twice before, from 1988 to 1990, and from 1993 to 1996. Those dates correspond exactly to the terms in office of the current President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, and the two terms that his late wife Benizir Bhutto served as Prime Minister. So, Siegel is basically a crony of the Zardari/Bhutto political dynasty.

Ever since we clipped Osama Bin Laden, Siegel has been spinning for all he's worth (or up to $75,000 a month) to fend off new Congressional interest in cutting the $3 billion in annual aid we give to Pakistan. You may decide for yourself whether Pakistan is getting its money's worth:

WASHINGTON: Pakistan's Washington lobbyists have launched an intense campaign on Capitol Hill to counter accusations that Islamabad was complicit in giving refuge to Osama bin Laden.

Alarmed by lawmakers' demands to cut off billions of dollars of US aid after bin Laden was found living in a Pakistani safe house for six years, President Asif Ali Zardari has ordered a full-court press to quell mounting accusations that it helped the al Qaeda leader avoid capture.

Mark Siegel, a partner in the Washington lobbying firm of Locke Lord Strategies -- which is paid $75,000 a month by the Pakistani government -- said on Thursday he had spoken twice to Zardari since US special forces killed bin Laden on Sunday, and "countless" times to the Pakistani ambassador in Washington.

"They are certainly concerned," Siegel said, adding that suggestions the Pakistani government knew about bin Laden's whereabouts was nothing more than speculation.

Referring to a statement by President Barack Obama's counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, that there must have been a support system for bin Laden inside Pakistan, Siegel said: "There is no proof that a support system was government-based."

There is much at stake for Pakistan as many lawmakers question how bin Laden could have lived in a large fortified compound close to a Pakistani military base for so long.

Some members of Congress are now demanding that nearly $3 billion in annual aid for Pakistan, included in Obama's 2012 budget, be blocked until the Zardari administration explains how bin Laden lived untouched just 30 miles outside Islamabad, the Pakistani capital. Pakistan has received over $20 billion in US aid since the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the Senate subcommittee that allocates foreign aid, said on Thursday he wants a complete review of US aid to Pakistan.

Leahy said he was certain that some Pakistani military and intelligence officials knew that bin Laden was hiding so close to Islamabad.

"It's impossible for them not to have some idea he was there," Leahy told Vermont Public Radio.

But Siegel, referring to claims by the Afghan government that Pakistan must have known bin Laden's whereabouts, said: "Must have known doesn't mean knew."

Siegel's firm was retained by the Zardari government in 2008 and has earned nearly $2 million in fees since then, according to Justice Department records. Siegel said his firm is paid $900,000 a year by Pakistan.

Since bin Laden's death, Siegel says he has been on Capitol Hill every day to promote Pakistan's position on the bin Laden killing, talking to congressmen, senators and their aides. (Reuters)

"Must have known doesn't mean knew." That's all he's got? Quibbling over words? If I were Zadari, I'd be looking for some new talent.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Dalai Lama Is Down With Bustin' A Cap In Bin Laden

Someone, somewhere, probably has an ethical objection to the kinetic military action that occurred in Bin Laden's bedroom last Sunday. But not His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama was speaking to students at USC on Tuesday when he was asked how he balanced the demands of compassion and justice with respect to Bin Laden. Here's the detailed answer that was posted on the DL's website:

His Holiness then answered questions, some of which were submitted through the Internet. The first question was on His Holiness’ emphasis on compassion as a basis of ethics. It asked whether in some situation ensuring justice is more important than being compassionate to the perpetrator of a crime. It referred to the news of the death of Osama Bin Laden and the celebrations of it by some, and asked where compassion fit in with this and ethics. In his response, His Holiness emphasized the need to find a distinction between the action and the actor. He said in the case of Bin Laden, his action was of course destructive and the September 11 events killed thousands of people. So his action must be brought to justice, His Holiness said. But with the actor we must have compassion and a sense of concern, he added. His Holiness said therefore the counter measure, no matter what form it takes, has to be compassionate action. His Holiness referred to the basis of the practice of forgiveness saying that it, however, did not mean that one should forget what has been done.

The very next question to the DL prompted this reply, which I take as an allegorical statement about terrorism or other forms of aggressive violence:

To a question on whether His Holiness could think of any unethical acts that he had committed, His Holiness responded in the positive referring to “my relation with mosquitoes,” much to the amusement of the audience. His Holiness expanded saying if there was no risk of malaria then he would tolerate a mosquito or two sucking blood from his arm but when they come one after another, he would lose his patience.

Buddhists, incidentally, are not pacifists on either a national – Tibetan – or personal level. Consider this DL quote:

“If someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun.” (Seattle Times, May 15, 2001).

So there you have it. Not only Buddists but also the many non-Buddist admirers of the Dalai Lama can rest assured. His Holiness himself has the greatest compassion for the SEAL who focused a countermeasure of justice precisely on Bin Laden's forehead.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

OBL Mystery Will Soon Be Solved

I'm so relieved to learn that Pakistani officials will conduct a thorough investigation to determine whether any part of their government was complicit in Osama bin Laden's long refuge in Pakistan. See this interview for more.

In an exclusive interview with The Cable, Pakistani Ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani said that his government will conduct a series of internal investigations to find out how bin Laden could have been living deep less than 100 miles from the capital, Islamabad, and to determine if any Pakistani government personnel were helping him

In other news, Colonel Sanders has promised to find out who has been killing all those chickens his restaurants have been serving.

Monday, May 2, 2011

What We Can Conclude After OBL's Demise

Steve Coll's Notes on the Death of Osama bin Laden is the best commentary I've seen today on what we can reasonably conclude from yesterday's kinetic military action.

First, the Pakistani state - some of it - was sheltering bin Laden at worst, or keeping him under house arrest at best. And the same probably applies for Mullah Omar, leader of the Taliban, and Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda's second in command.

Second, Pakistan believes it can get away with that and still retain U.S. support and assistance, and they are probably right.

Third, Al Qaeda now faces a succession crisis. Since al-Zawahiri seems temperamentally unsuited for the top leadership type, unless a capable #3 emerges who can take bin Laden's place, the organization will likely splinter into regional fragments.

Abbottabad is essentially a military-cantonment city in Pakistan, in the hills to the north of the capital of Islamabad, in an area where much of the land is controlled or owned by the Pakistani Army and retired Army officers ... The maps I looked at had sections of land nearby marked off as “restricted areas,” indicating that they were under military control. It stretches credulity to think that a mansion of that scale could have been built and occupied by bin Laden for six years without its coming to the attention of anyone in the Pakistani Army.

The initial circumstantial evidence suggests that the opposite is more likely—that bin Laden was effectively being housed under Pakistani state control.

- snip --

Pakistan’s military and intelligence service takes risks that others would not dare take because Pakistan’s generals believe that their nuclear deterrent keeps them safe from regime change of the sort under way in Libya, and because they have discovered over the years that the rest of the world sees them as too big to fail. Unfortunately, they probably are correct in their analysis; some countries, like some investment banks, do pose systemic risks so great that they are too big to fail, and Pakistan is currently the A.I.G. of nation-states. But that should not stop American prosecutors from following the law here as they would whenever any mass killer’s hideout is discovered.

Of course, Mullah Omar and Al Qaeda’s No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, probably also enjoy refuge in Pakistan. The location of Mullah Omar, in particular, is believed by American officials to be well known to some Pakistani military and intelligence officers; Omar, too, they believe, is effectively under Pakistani state control.

-- snip --

On the constructive side: The loss of a symbolic, semi-charismatic leader whose own survival burnished his legend is significant. Also, Al Qaeda has never had a leadership succession test. Now it faces one. The organization was founded more than twenty years ago, in the summer of 1988, and at the initial sessions bin Laden was appointed amir and Ayman al-Zawahiri deputy amir. It is remarkable that, for all the No. 3s who have been killed, and for all the ways in which it has been degraded since September 11th, Al Qaeda had retained the same two leaders, continuously, for so long. Zawahiri is famously disputatious and tone-deaf. His relatively recent online “chat” taking questions about Al Qaeda’s violence did not go well. Bin Laden was a gentle and strong communicator, if somewhat incoherent in his thinking. Zawahiri is dogmatic and argumentative, and has a history of alienating colleagues.

More to come.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Can't Wait To Get The Details

The White House said OBL was killed in an operation at Abbottabad, Pakistan. Could that explain this local news report from earlier today?

ABBOTTABAD: Three loud blasts were heard near the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) Kakul Road late Sunday night and a military helicopter also crashed. Sources told Geo News that heavy firing was heard in the area before the chopper crashed.

Windowpanes of the nearby buildings and houses were smashed due to the intensity of the blasts, the sources said. Eyewitnesses said first sound of heavy firing was heard and then there was a huge blast. Fire erupted at the scene of the occurrence and according to latest reports police and fire brigade teams were rushing towards the blast scene. Security forces cordoned off the entire area and military helicopters were also hovering over the area.

I'm looking forward to going to the office in the morning and seeing the cable traffic.

NATO And Coalition Embassies In Tripoli Destroyed By Mobs

Our embassy offices in Tripoli admittedly weren't much, but now, in the aftermath of yesterday's NATO strike on a house in a Qaddafi family compound, they have been sacked and burned along with those of the UK, France, Italy and Qatar.

CNN reports from Benghazi:

Government forces pounded rebel-held cities and crowds ransacked empty embassies in Tripoli on Sunday after Libyan authorities reported a NATO airstrike killed one of longtime strongman Moammar Gadhafi's sons and three of his grandchildren.

The U.S. Embassy was attacked by what one U.S. official called an "organized mob," along with the British, French, Italian and Qatari embassies, British and Italian officials told CNN. Meanwhile, pro-Gadhafi forces stepped up their shelling of rebel positions in Benghazi and Misrata after Libya's government reported the deaths.

The "organized mob" - what an oxymoronic term - was, of course, sponsored and directed by the Libyan state. All the embassies attacked had been vacated except for some local employees and guards, and there are no reports that any of them were harmed.

NATO has not said what country the attack aircraft belonged to, or what type of aircraft were being used. But Libyan officials attacked the U.S. Embassy compound in Tripoli, as well as the British, French and Italian missions, according to a senior U.S. official in Washington.

All four NATO nations are taking part in the airstrikes. Italian officials told CNN that the embassy of Qatar, a Gulf Arab state that supports the campaign and is supplying arms to the rebels, was also targeted.

The U.S. official said Turkey, the protecting power for U.S. interests in Libya, is trying to keep an eye on the American compound -- but "there isn't much they can do when you have an organized mob, as this appeared to be."

In London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague expelled Libya's ambassador to the United Kingdom after the attacks. Hague said the Tripoli government has breaching its international obligation to protect diplomatic missions by allowing the vandalism.

"The attacks against diplomatic missions will not weaken our resolve to protect the civilian population in Libya," Hague said.

I haven't seen any good first-hand reports yet, except for a tweet from the Sky News reporter in Tripoli, Mark Stone:

Just returned from brief trip to the Brit Embassy in Tripoli. Totally burnt out. WW2 memorial smashed on the ground. Burnt out cars. Looted.

He says there will be pictures up on Sky News shortly.


Briefly noted: NATO spokesmen have said that four munitions were dropped on the house / command bunker, and from the below photo it looks like one of them failed to detonate.

I think that unexploded ordinance is a BLU-109 "bunker buster" hard-target warhead, which has a delayed-action fuse and 550 pounds of high explosive.

NATO obviously believed that it was striking a hardened, high-value, target.