Sunday, September 30, 2012

Univision To USA: "Turn Around And Watch The Massacres"

In a program that aired tonight, Univision News reported that it has compared the serial numbers of weapons the ATF allowed to 'walk' into Mexico with those of weapons seized at crime scenes in Mexico and has found at least 100 matches. That is 57 more matches than have been disclosed by official U.S. government reports.

According to an English-language report on ABC Univision News:

Univision identified a total of 57 more previously unreported firearms that were bought by straw purchasers monitored by ATF during Operation Fast and Furious, and then recovered in Mexico in sites related to murders, kidnappings, and at least one other massacre.

-- snip --

In Mexico, the timing of the operation coincided with an upsurge of violence in the war among the country's strongest cartels. In 2009, the northern Mexican states served as a battlefield for the Sinaloa and Juarez drug trafficking organizations, and as expansion territory for the increasingly powerful Zetas. According to documents obtained by Univision News, from October of that year to the end of 2010, nearly 175 weapons from Operation Fast and Furious inadvertently armed the various warring factions across northern Mexico.

"Many weapons cross the border and enter Mexico, but that [Fast and Furious] number, quantity and type of weapons had quite an impact in the war in this area" Jose Wall, an ATF agent stationed in Tijuana from 2009 to 2011, told Univision News.

-- snip --

"Americans are not often moved by the pain of those outside [their country] …" Javier Sicilia, a Mexican poet whose son was killed in the midst of the violence, told Univision News. "But they are moved by the pain of their own. Well, turn around and watch the massacres."

Monday, September 24, 2012

Did I Miss Much While I Was Gone?

In retrospect, I could have picked a better month than September to tour the Middle East. Then again, when your business is to dig wider moats around our Fortress Embassies, you need to go where the work is.

The question of what really happened in Benghazi (and there is a good summary of the knowns and unknowns here, by Domani Spero) will get unpacked in due time by the Accountability Review Board, I'm sure. But what happened everywhere else is already perfectly clear.

The mob attacks in Tunis, Khartoum, Sanaa, Cairo, Chennai, Jakarta, Islamabad, Lahore, and of course Karachi - my favorite! - followed the same old pattern. Where the host government fulfilled its obligation to protect the integrity of diplomatic premises, the mobs were kept back. Where the host government did not do so, our missions had to rely on physical barriers - their walls, doors and windows - to keep the mobs outside.

Physical barriers themselves are not absolute protection, of course, but are there just to delay the attackers until the host government acts, if it ever does.You cannot keep people out of embassy compounds for long if the local authorities don't show up. However, you can keep people out of your embassy office building for a good long time, maybe even long enough for them to give up and leave, if the building was built for that purpose.

By a stroke of good luck, the most serious attacks occurred at embassies that had been constructed in the last ten years and therefore met current security standards (see the list of completed projects here, on the Office of Overseas Buildings Operations website), or at ones that were built during the old 'Inman' program in the 1980s. In either case, those buildings were designed and built at great cost to resist exactly the kind of attacks that occurred.

Good ol' Fortress Embassies! What they lack in aesthetics they make up for in their ability to wear down the typical rioter. 

How many more times do I have to hit this damn window?

I'll be very interested in seeing how the Accountability Review Board plays out, and, in particular, whether it recommends continuing the stream of capitol construction money that Congress has provided to OBO every year since it was recommended by the last big ARB in 1999, the one on the embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam (read its report here).

That investment in new, secure, embassy buildings paid off very big for those USG employees who were inside the safe havens in Tunis, Khartoum, and Sanaa last week.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Thrill Is (Not Yet) Gone

While packing my suitcase this morning, I tried to estimate how many times I've flown out of Dulles Airport over the years decades, but gave up almost immediately. Numbers don't go that high, at least not ones I can calculate in my head.

Air travel has never sucked more than it does today. The thrill has definitely gone away from that part of TDY-ing it. But, I have to admit I still get a small thrill of anticipation when I start another foray outside the cubicle to visit some of the world's most vibrate and exciting locales. Or Pakistan. I'm not quite tired of Pakistan yet. But, I'm heading to other places on this trip.

I'm going light on the electronic baggage this time, so I'll monitor blogospheric events through the little screen on an iPod touch.

Wheels up in a few hours, and there should be a hint of Fall in the air when I get back home.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Peshawar - U.S. Consulate Employees Attacked By Suicide Bomber

Consumer Notice: This post is certified 100% free of Matters of Official Concern that are not referenced from publicly available sources of information.

Once again, U.S. government employees overseas have survived a terrorist attack thanks to the heavily-armored vehicle in which they were riding. Dollar for dollar, the State Department's armored car program may have prevented more deaths and injuries than any other physical countermeasure out there.

Note the vehicle frame is largely intact, although burned-out

Also note the distance between bomb crater and vehicle

The most complete news story on today's attack that I've seen so far is from the New York Times (here):

There were conflicting reports about the number and nationality of the casualties. Pakistani officials said that at least two people were killed and at least 13 were injured, including two police officers. The United States Embassy in Islamabad confirmed the attack and said in a statement that two Americans and two Pakistani employees of the consulate were injured. It denied early reports that an American had been killed.

A senior Pakistani government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that an American backup vehicle immediately retrieved the four who were wounded inside the S.U.V. and took them to the consulate. The official said two Pakistanis were killed outside the vehicle.

-- snip --

The American vehicle had left the heavily guarded and fortified consulate building and was passing a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees guest house on Abdara Road when it was rammed by a vehicle containing at least 200 pounds of explosives, according to police officials. A thick plume of smoke rose over the site after the explosion that could be seen a mile away. The blast left a five-foot-wide crater in the road.

The last time a U.S. consulate vehicle in Peshawar was bombed was May of 2011 (here), and all employees survived that one, too. In that incident, the bomb was planted along the side of the road and detonated remotely when the consulate vehicle passed by.

Today's attack used a suicide bomber to drive an improvised explosive device directly at our vehicle and detonate against it while both vehicles were moving. That escalation in tactics indicates that the Taliban - who are the most likely culprits, although no one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack - are capable of learning lessons and adapting to what they perceive of U.S. government countermeasures.

Various Pakistani reports have added interesting nuggets of information beyond what was in the NYT's story:

-- The attack took place at about 9 AM this morning
-- The consulate vehicle was being escorted by three police vehicles
-- The vehicle was en route from the consulate to the nearby American club, according to one of the escorting police drivers
-- An official of the police bomb disposal squad was quoted saying the vehicle bomb was assembled out of military munitions (mortar shells); if so, then it had much higher explosive force than a typical improvised device
-- The bomb was reported to be 100 kilos (220 pounds) in size; such estimates are highly speculative, however, I can believe it was that big by the distance that the U.S. vehicle appears to have been blown off the road
-- The Pakistani driver of the consulate vehicle told local news media that he was knocked unconscious by the blast, but recovered in a few minutes

The tactic of using a suicide bomber against a vehicle in motion is not new. It was used in Karachi in 2006 to attack a U.S. consulate vehicle, killing a U.S. citizen employee, David Foy, who was transiting from his home to the office, as well as a locally engaged employee who was driving, and a Pakistani Army Ranger who was manning a checkpoint outside the consulate. That was the last fatal attack on a U.S. government employee in Pakistan.

The same tactic was used in 2002, again in Karachi, to kill eleven French naval engineers who were in transit from their hotel to their workplace.

More details about today's attack will eventually be released, I'm sure. But for now this looks like a favorable outcome, and one that we can credit to the RSO's security programs, as well as to the Department's huge investment in armored vehicles.

Note: If you are looking for local news coverage of today's incident, this Pakistani Geo TV clip has the most comprehensive video coverage of the immediate aftermath of the bombing: