Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Few of My Favorite Things

The Sound of Music is on TV tonight and I made an effort to watch it, as I promised myself I would, but I just couldn't hang in there for the whole thing. My wife is still watching it and singing along, but I'm now in another room and watching the Joe Pesci / Robert De Niro gangster movie Casino.

Casino is quite the palate-cleansing contrast to the sticky sweet Sound of Music. And yet, I can't get those Julie Andrews songs out of my head, so here's a lyrical tribute to both movies:

Gansters and goombas, card cheats and hammers,
Mafia sit-downs and deadly encounters,
Degenerate gamblers with gold pinkie rings,
These are a few of my favorite things

Dealers and hookers, and crooked pit bosses,
Cash being skimmed off and unexplained losses,
Life savings that fly out the window on wings,
These are a few of my favorite things

Holes in the desert, and bodies that fill them,
Eavesdropping coppers whose wiretaps thrill them,
Joe Dogs with his head in a vice 'till he sings,
These are a few of my favorite things

When the bat swings,
When the car blows,
When the Bosses get mad,
I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don't feel so bad

I think I'll title this composition "It's Always Better With No Witnesses," after the line by Joe Pesci's character, Nicky Santoro, who was closely based on the real-life Anthony "Tony the Ant" Spilotro.

It's Quiet ... Too Quiet

As I start the first day of the Labor Day weekend, the stillness that set in to Official Washington last week seems to have spread. My neighborhood is strangely silent this morning. [OK, it's a cul-de-sac in Fairfax, so it's normally quiet, but there's usually some sign of life on a Saturday morning.] Not a single lawnmower or weed-wacker is buzzing; there is no scent of burning charcoal in the air; I haven't seen any neighbors walking dogs, or even the guy next door working on his house expansion project. My Blackberry is still becalmed in the communications doldrum that we entered around noon on Friday. As I did yesterday in the office, I've sent an e-mail to myself just for an assurance that the BB is working.

The eerie sense of depopulation is getting on my nerves. Virginia's bird hunting season opens on Monday, and I've decided to go out and shoot at some doves just to hear noise again. [My apologies to anti-hunters, but doves are both challenging to shoot and edible. Think of them as fast and nimble free-range QuarterPounders on the wing].

Friday, August 29, 2008

Deep in the DC Doldrums

From the Washington Post today: Meanwhile, Back in the Capital . . . While Pols Convene or Vacate, Washington Plugs Along.

Normally you can't swing an intern in Washington without hitting a politician, a lobbyist, a journalist, a muckety-muck or, at the very least, a deputy assistant undermuckety-muck. But everyone's gone from Official Washington. It's apocalyptically empty. The place appears to have been selectively depopulated of the swaggering suits and the overachievers, as if BlackBerrys have turned evil and vaporized their owners.

It's so true. Washington is always sparsely populated in August anyway, but this time the entire politician/reporter/lobbyist element seems to have been drawn away to the overlapping D and R political conventions. On top of that, today is a 'Federal Friday' - the day before a three-day weekend - when everyone who can takes leave.

I got stuck with covering the office today, and things are so quiet it's disturbing. I find myself checking my computers and Blackberry every now and then just to make sure the network server hasn't gone down. At times like this it would be easier to just go home than to keep up the pretense of doing non-existent official business.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

"I Love This Dirty Town"

That's what the character J.J. Hunsecker said about New York City in that great movie Sweet Smell of Success. Presidential election seasons always make me feel that way about the Holy City of Washington. [Note: I call it "the Holy City" because I don't see why the Shia should have all the fun. They have at least six Holy cities - Najaf, Karbala, Qom, Mashhad, Shiraz and Samarra - not to mention Mecca and Medina, and I think it's only fair I should have at least one.]

The election is still a long way off, but I'm already giddy with excitement watching the attack ads, the VEEP-stakes, the consultants and pollsters earning their big quadrennial fees, the spinning and posturing, the netroots campaigns, and so on and on. Even down at my low level on the government food chain we feel the excitement, as the members of the 'permanent government' maneuver for jobs in the next administration.

There really is nothing quite like a Presidential election to bring out the best and the worst of this little hothouse world inside the Beltway.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Big Brother is Blogging You

Just as I'm re-reading 1984, what should I come across but the Orwell Diaries, a project that is publishing George Orwell's diaries online in the form of a blog.

The Orwell Prize, Britain’s pre-eminent prize for political writing, is publishing George Orwell’s diaries as a blog. From 9th August 2008, Orwell’s domestic and political diaries (from 9th August 1938 until October 1942) will be posted in real-time, exactly 70 years after the entries were written.

I'm trying to imagine how Orwell would react if he could know about the internet. Surely he would have loved the idea of egalitarian mass communications free of any totalitarian central control (provided you aren't in China, anyway).

Evidently he imagined something like it when he was writing 1984, since an early draft had a character mention to Winston how he "talk[ed] over the telescreen" daily with people in other countries; possibly he thought the idea too far-fetched, since in his final version the telescreen is a one-way device, like a television.

FYI, that character was Syme, Winston's doomed colleague at the Ministry of Truth. Below is a photo from the original manuscript showing the pertinent passage and Orwell's handwritten edits:

"...The great wastage is in verbs and adjectives. My job is the adjectives. Of course you realize that I'm only one of thousands - tens of thousands. Every day I talk over the telescreen with people in Melbourne and Durban and Washington. The whole thing is a miracle of co-ordination. They say that not a single word goes into the Dictionary until Big Brother has passed it personally..."

Friday, August 22, 2008

Nachman: "I've had this self-centered streak"

The Associated Press story, as carried in the Washington Post this afternoon, has part of the sentencing statement by U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee, and a bit of pleading by Gons Nachman (read it here).

The key quotes are:

Gons G. Nachman, 42, had sought leniency, claiming among other things that cultural differences in those countries made sex with teenage girls more acceptable. But U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee took the unusual step of imposing consecutive 10-year terms for the two counts on which Nachman was convicted.

"I reject out of hand completely the idea that I should take into account cultural differences," Lee said. He said even if such differences exist, Nachman was answerable to U.S. standards and U.S. law while working as a diplomat on embassy grounds.

His defense lawyers argued that Nachman documented all aspects of his life, and that the sex tapes should be viewed from that perspective. "This gentleman is not a predatory, manipulative, child sex abuser," said defense attorney Lorilee Gates.

A second defense attorney, John Tran, said cultural norms in Brazil and Congo should be taken into account. He noted embassy officials were indifferent when Nachman brought a 17-year-old girl to the embassy as his date. "As repugnant as it may be to us, in some parts of the world no one turns an eye when someone is walking around with someone who looks like his daughter as a date," Tran said.

His attorneys had suggested the six months he has already spent in prison would be sufficient.

[TSB Note: Personally, I'd be willing to reduce Nachman's sentence by a few years if only we could give his lawyers some prison time.]

In court, Nachman apologized to his victims and the U.S. Foreign Service. "I've had this self-centered streak that has caused me to be where I am," he said.

We should not overlook that fact that it wasn't Gons's self-centered streak that put him where he used to be: in positions of trust from which he could easily prey on the vulnerable. Two separate agencies of the U.S. government, the Immigration and Naturalization Service [now the United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services] and the State Department, commissioned him as an Asylum Officer and a Vice Consul, respectively. One can only hope that the appropriate U.S. government officials will re-visit our background investigation and security clearance procedures with the Nachman case in mind, and in that way some good might come of this sad episode.

Going, Going, Gons?

I'm on pins and needles today as I watch the press releases from the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, waiting to learn whether Gons Nachman has finally been sentenced.

The prosecution has asked for a sentence of 20 years, but according to Federal guidelines he should receive 9 to 11. He deserves to receive the full 20 years just for having the gall to present that 'when-in-Rome' argument for sentencing mitigation.

----- Update -----

The judge gave Gons the full 20 years imprisonment, plus 10 years of supervision after his release.

----- 2nd Update ------

Three comments were received (here) after the sentencing:

August 22, 2008 10:57 AM
Anonymous said...
It's ridiculous to imprison this Man as other Men have had a lot of Sex with these same 14 year olds


August 22, 2008 12:31 PM
Anonymous said...
Ex-US diplomat gets 20 years for child porn

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — An ex-U.S. diplomat who admitted having sex with teenage girls and taping the encounters while stationed in Brazil and the Congo has been sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Gons Nachman had sought leniency, claiming cultural differences in those countries made sex with teenage girls more acceptable.

But a judge gave the 42-year-old the maximum sentence and took the unusual step of ordering consecutive 10-year terms for the two counts on which he was convicted.

Nachman pleaded guilty earlier this year to possessing child pornography after admitting he videotaped his sexual encounters while working as a consular officer. The case also included allegations that he pressured Brazilian visa applicants for sex, though he was not charged with that.


August 22, 2008 12:31 PM
Anonymous said...
I was at the sentencing hearing this morning as I had a matter after it. This was the first I have heard of this case but it was compelling nonetheless and it is no surprise that it has been tracked fervently.

Basically, the Judge did not buy any of those arguments as when you boil it down, Mr. Nachman had sex with a 14 year old. End of story

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

FBI = Fed's Believability Imploding (on Anthrax Case)

The FBI's briefing for reporters and editors of scholarly journals (FBI Elaborates on Anthrax Case) was presumably intended to bolster the government's posthumous case against Army scientist Bruce Ivins, but after reading the Washington Post report today, I'm starting to think the case includes some conspicuous Factoids, Blarney, and Innuendo.

The WAPO reported, but didn't question or explain, some large inconsistencies in the government's briefing:

The bacteria used in the attacks contained precisely the same mix of normal and mutated cells [as those that were in Ivin's custody], the officials said. Of more than 1,000 samples of anthrax bacteria collected by the FBI in the years after the attacks, only eight contained the same four genetic mutants. All eight could be directly traced to the flask in Ivins's lab, the officials said.

That sounds highly incriminating. But a few paragraphs later we learn that there was a second source of the very same anthrax bacteria:

Ivins possessed a flask of anthrax bacteria unlike any other -- a blend of spores from dozens of batches made in Army labs at Fort Detrick and at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. Ivins's concoction -- labeled RMR-1029 -- was a mix of normal anthrax cells and four mutated varieties, or genetic oddballs. The FBI said it gathered 1,070 samples of anthrax bacteria from labs all over the world and only eight tested positive for the genetic markers. Those samples came from two institutions: USAMRIID and another they declined to identify.

The first sentence of the above paragraph is undermined by the last sentence, isn't it? If the flask Ivins possessed was "unlike any other" then how is it that anthrax samples from this mysterious second institution had the identical mix of normal and mutated varieties?

And exactly how exclusive was Ivins's possession of the USAMRIID flask, if more than 100 people could easily access it or samples from it?

While the FBI has acknowledged that more than 100 people could have had either access to Ivins's flask or samples of material from it, investigators say they eliminated all others as suspects.

Finally, did the FBI reproduce the anthrax used in the attacks with materials and equipment Ivins had in his lab - thereby showing that he could have created the stuff in the one-week window between the 9/11 attacks and the first anthrax mailing - or didn't it?

FBI scientists easily reproduced it with gear that Ivins regularly used ... [Then, four paragraphs later we learn] Government scientists also acknowledged yesterday that they could not figure out how to reproduce silicon that appeared inside the dry spores, making an exact match elusive.

If this is the best the FBI can do, then a final closure of the anthrax mailings case might be as elusive as that silicon inside the spores.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Just Keeping Old Papers For His Memoirs?

The United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania announced last Friday that Samuel Peter Karmilowicz, a retired State Department official, has been charged with possessing ten classified State Department cables without authorization (Former State Department Employee Charged with Security Breach).

Since his retirement in 2005, Mr. Karmilowicz has been something of a whistle-blower figure in some 9/11 conspiracy narratives (this one, for instance). Before his retirement, he was notable for having shot to death an Ecuadorian motorist in what could fairly be called a road rage incident while assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Quito, Ecuador, in 2002. The local authorities wished to charge him with murder, but the U.S. refused to waive Mr. Karmilowicz's diplomatic immunity (here's a press account of that incident, in Spanish).

Just wait until the guys at Dead Men Working find out that Karmilowicz was a DS Special Agent!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Nissor Square Shooters Might be Charged in U.S. Court

The Washington Post had a story today (Justice Dept. Moves Toward Charges Against Contractors in Iraq Shooting) that suggests the Department of Justice (DOJ) might actually try to overcome the great legal difficulties of putting on trial some of the Blackwater crew that fired up Nissor Square in Baghdad last September, killing 16 Iraqi citizens.

That's going to be quite a challenge. Just finding a U.S. law to charge anyone under will be difficult enough. The story quotes an optimist suggesting the DOJ might try pretending that Blackwater was sort of, kinda, almost in a way, a Defense Department rather than State Department contractor, since then there would be a clear basis for charges. Maybe it will, and maybe DOJ will find a judge and jury willing to pretend along with it. But I wouldn't bet on that.

Do They Stay or Do They Go?

The Washington Times had a story today on the frustrating case of three Rwandan rebels, held in U.S. custody since 2003 pending trial for the politically-motivated murder of two American tourists in Rwanda, who now can neither be put on trial in the U.S. nor returned to their own country. Here's the story: Suspects in massacre seek U.S. asylum.

Here are the key quotes:

Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff announced the March 2003 arrests with much fanfare: Three Rwandan rebels had confessed to brutally killing two American tourists on a safari vacation in a Ugandan national park four years earlier and would finally be brought to the United States to stand trial in the savage deaths.

Francois Karake, Gregoire Nyaminani and Leonidas Bimenyimana, all members of the Liberation Army of Rwanda, had been indicted a week earlier by a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., on charges of murder and conspiracy in the killings of Robert Haubner, 48, and his wife, Susan Miller, 42, in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park on March 1, 1999.

"This indictment should serve as a warning," said Mr. Chertoff, who at the time headed the Justice Department's criminal division. "Those who commit acts of terror against Americans will be hunted, captured and brought to justice."

That ominous warning was never followed up. After a judge ruled the confessions inadmissible in 2006, the case fell apart.

Now, the three Rwandans are seeking political asylum in the United States and, ironically, Mr. Chertoff has moved from Justice to Homeland Security, where as secretary he now oversees the agency that must decide whether to grant those requests.

Since a Federal judge has already ruled that Rwandan authorities interrogated the three killers more coercively than U.S. law allows, it seems all but certain they will be able to demonstrate a reasonable fear of persecution if they are returned to the scene of their crimes.

Can't we just send them to Gitmo?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Disneyland Not "the Happiest Place on Earth" for Everybody

Breaking news from the Associated Press: Snow White & Cinderella Arrested At Disney Labor Dispute. Read all about it here and here.

(AP) Cinderella, Snow White, Tinkerbell and other fictional fixtures of modern-day childhood were handcuffed, frisked and loaded into police vans Thursday at the culmination of a labor protest that brought a touch of reality to the Happiest Place on Earth.

The arrest of the 32 protesters, many of whom wore costumes representing famous Disney characters, came at the end of an hour-long march to Disneyland's gates from one of three Disney-owned hotels at the center of a labor dispute.

The Disney employees were carrying out a job action for their union, Local 681. Frankly, I'm surprised about Snow White being a labor agitator. In the Disney version of the Snow White story, the Seven Dwarfs broke their little backs working all day long in a diamond mine, but she never once encouraged them to unionize, did she? No, she just sponged off them while making herself at home in their woodland cottage. I'm saving my sympathy for Tinkerbell.

Angry Reporters Bump Security From VIP Flight

Nicholas Kralev, diplomatic correspondent for the Washington Times,
had an interesting item yesterday (read it here) that tells us something about the relative importance of personal security versus news media coverage when U.S. Secretaries of State travel.

Here are the key quotes:

It took a crisis between Russia and Georgia to attract greater media interest in Miss Rice’s travels, and when President Bush announced Wednesday that she would leave for France and Georgia that night, the secretary’s regular traveling press corps expected to be on the plane.

The State Department, however, stunned everyone by saying that only one seat was available for press. Miss Rice would take an aircraft smaller than the usual Air Force version of a Boeing 757 she uses, which allows for about 13 of us to go along, as I wrote in an earlier post here.

Miss Rice has taken the smaller plane before, but there has always been space at least for the three main wire services: Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

This time, however, we were told that additional seats were needed for more Diplomatic Security agents from the secretary’s protective detail, who would normally go to the countries she is about to visit several days earlier as part of an advance team. Because there was little time for any advance arrangements, this was the only solution, department officials said.

When reporters’ anger was finally brought to Miss Rice’s attention by her press aides, she agreed that only one reporter on the plane was not reasonable and instructed her chief of staff, Brian Gunderson, to find seats for all three wires.

As a result, the security agents stayed home.

Friday, August 15, 2008

FBI = Fall-Guy Bruce Ivins?

The New York Times has been much more leery of the FBI's case against Dr. Bruce Ivins than has the rest of the mainstream news media. Here are some quotes from a NYT article yesterday (F.B.I. Will Present Scientific Evidence in Anthrax Case to Counter Doubts) that reported the less-than-convinced reactions of Congressional officials and a GAO technologist who were briefed by the FBI on its forensic evidence:

Growing doubts from scientists about the strength of the government’s case against the late Bruce E. Ivins, the military researcher named as the anthrax killer, are forcing the Justice Department to begin disclosing more fully the scientific evidence it used to implicate him.

In the face of the questions, Federal Bureau of Investigation officials have decided to make their first detailed public presentation next week on the forensic science used to trace the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks to a flask kept in a refrigerator in Dr. Ivins’s laboratory at Fort Detrick, Md. Many scientists are awaiting those details because so far, they say, the F.B.I. has failed to make a conclusive case.

The bureau presented forensics information to Congressional and government officials this week in a closed-door briefing, but a number of listeners said the briefing left them less convinced that the F.B.I. had the right man, and they said some of the government’s public statements appeared incomplete or misleading.

For instance, the Justice Department said earlier this month in unsealing court records against Dr. Ivins that he had tried to mislead investigators in 2002 by giving them an anthrax sample that did not appear to have come from his laboratory.

But F.B.I. officials acknowledged at the closed-door briefing, according to people who were there, that the sample Dr. Ivins gave them in 2002 did in fact come from the same strain used in the attacks, but, because of limitations in the bureau’s testing methods and Dr. Ivins’s failure to provide the sample in the format requested, the F.B.I. did not realize that it was a correct match until three years later.

In addition, people who were briefed by the F.B.I. said a batch of misprinted envelopes used in the anthrax attacks — another piece of evidence used to link Dr. Ivins to the attacks — could have been much more widely available than bureau officials had initially led them to believe.

Naba Barkakati, an engineer who is the chief technologist for the Government Accountability Office and who also attended this week’s briefing, said of the F.B.I.’s forensics case against Dr. Ivins: “It’s very hard to get the sense of whether this was scientifically good or bad. We didn’t really get the question settled, other than taking their word for it.”

But had Dr. Ivins lived and faced trial for the anthrax killings, Thomas M. DeGonia II, one of his lawyers, said his legal team would have quickly tried to have the genetic testing of the anthrax strains thrown out of court as unreliable. The type of testing the F.B.I. developed, he said “has never been proven or tested by the courts.”

Maybe the Mad Scientist really did it. That's plausible. But the evidence presented to the public so far strikes me as the sort of thing that sounds much more convincing in a press release than it would from a witness subject to cross-examination.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Beach Volleyball as Olympic Event?? Riiiight

It must be the most-heavily broadcast event at the Beijing Olympics. But, I mean, beach volleyball? The blond Valkyries of Germany taking on the Amazons of Brazil, and so forth? Of course I understand the attraction, but who do they think they're kidding with all the serious sports coverage and commentary? Do people even play beach volleyball in places like Germany and Russia?

Are You Driving Less? You're Not Alone

Here's good news from This Week in Petroleum, that invaluable product of the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration: "Declines in U.S. Petroleum Consumption Expected to Continue."

Here's a quote:

If you feel like you’ve been economizing by driving less and adjusting your thermostat more, you’re not alone. Total U.S. petroleum consumption reported in today’s Weekly Petroleum Status Report (WPSR) is once again lower than the same week last year. Average monthly total petroleum consumption has now declined for 12 consecutive months when compared with the same month the year before.

It's good news because lessened demand will result in continued lower fuel prices.

Genetic Modification "Gone Seriously Wrong" (But Look Who's Talking)

It seems that over in England, Prince Charles has taken a strong stand against genetically modified foods, warning that they will bring on all sorts of environmental horrors. See the UK Telegraph story, which contains, amid a huge load of steaming anti-GM rhetoric, this great quote:

"I think it's heading for real disaster," he said. "If they think this is the way to go....we [will] end up with millions of small farmers all over the world being driven off their land into unsustainable, unmanageable, degraded and dysfunctional conurbations of unmentionable awfulness."

I don't agree with his anti-GM message - I think it's just another aspect of the anti-growth ideology that is a typical enthusiasm of the snootier sort of rich guys - and I have never been able to tolerate Charles himself, the Twit Who Would Be King. His public speaking style comes across to me as a uniquely unpleasant mix of obsequiousness and superciliousness, as if he's both sucking up to his audience and looking down his nose at them at the same time. And what is with that tendency to dress up in costumes? He's always popping up at events wearing sailor suits, Scottish highlander garb, regimental uniforms encrusted with dubious medals, and I don't know what all else.

Still, I have to admit I'm full of admiration for whoever wrote that wonderful phrase "conurbations of unmentionable awfulness." It's so visually compelling, making you see some horrible devastated cityscape in your mind's eye. It has such nice meter, and is so compact, that it's practically Haiku:

conurbations of
unmention'ble awfulness
coming someday soon

The staffer or speech writer who coined that one is wasting his talent. He has a bright future in the advertising business, or political consulting. As for HRH the Prince Charles, well, he's just lucky to have a mother who is willing to financially support him into his old age.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Los Illegales Caught at Dulles Airport (Again)

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced today that they arrested 42 illegal aliens working at Dulles International Airport. From the press release:

WASHINGTON - This morning U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested 42 men illegally present in the country at Dulles International Airport as part of a critical infrastructure protection (CIP) operation. ICE agents, with support of airport security agencies, arrested the illegal aliens just inside the airport grounds at a checkpoint established to verify the identity and immigration status of workers entering a service gate.

It's not the first time. Back in 2006, ICE arrested 55 illegals working at Dulles (see the WAPO story), some of whom were working in high-security areas.

Local TV news is reporting that most of the arrestees were from Bolivia. If so, that tracks perfectly with my experience teaching English as a Second Language classes at night in Fairfax county, Virginia, where about half of my students for the last few years have been Bolivian, and about 90% of the male students are working construction jobs. [Note: I believe all illegal aliens should be deported, however, while they're here, I don't mind helping them learn English, at least not those who are so highly motivated to learn that they'll devote two nights a week to go to ESL class when they could be home chugging down cerveza.]

This latest ICE raid follows the arrest of 18 illegal aliens inside Quantico Marine Corps Base in January of 2007, and the arrest of fifty more illegals working on the construction of a federal courthouse in Richmond in May of this year, which makes me wonder whether construction contractors on federally-funded projects might be prime employers of illegal aliens.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Another Government Shutdown Coming?

Recent stories in both the Washington Post [Is a Government Shutdown Ahead?] and the Washington Times [GOP: Lift drilling ban or risk shutdown] make me think that my fellow civil servants and I should be preparing for another long shutdown of the federal government. With the 2008 election coming to a head at the same time we have tight partisan gridlock in the Congress and a lameduck President, the political stars are coming into alignment for a shutdown that will rival the one of November 1995-January 1996.

In 1995/96, I had to continue coming to work during the government shutdown because I was then a contractor employee, so my salary was already paid. It was a lonely existence, just a handful of us contractors, plus a few essential State Department staffers, roaming around an otherwise empty office building. No phones rang, no taskings came in, and the streets around our Rosslyn office annex were almost as deserted as Manhattan in I Am Legend. But the loneliness had its compensations; we had abundant free time, no crowds in the restaurants for our extra-long lunch hours, and all the parking spots we could possibly want.

This time around, I'm looking forward to a few weeks off. My plan is to do a little substitute teaching to keep reasonably busy, and catch the fall schedule of performances at the Blackfriars Playhouse. Life will be good.

As a government contractor during the 95-96 shutdown, I was actually an employee of a private sector company, and was fully accustomed to having no job security whatsoever. But most of my direct-hire fellow government workers had never experienced a lay-off, and I noticed that the least suggestion they might, just possibly, by some huge stretch of the imagination, not get their next paycheck sent them into a panic.

To my fellow bureaucrats who haven't been through a shutdown before, I say: don't worry, be happy! You've never missed a paycheck before, and you won't now. That's simply not how the USG operates. Besides, does anyone remember what happened on the very first work day after the shutdown was resolved in January 1996? It snowed in Washington, and government offices were closed yet again. Sweet!!

British E-Passports Cloned by Researcher

Those 3,000 stolen blank British passports can't be used for international travel, can they? Supposedly not, since the RFID chip in the e-passport can't be cloned or manipulated.

But now it looks like they can, in fact, be fiddled with well enough to be accepted.

New microchipped passports designed to be foolproof against identity theft can be cloned and manipulated in minutes and accepted as genuine by the computer software recommended for use at international airports.

Read the whole story at the UK Times Online.

Nairobi Embassy Bomber: USG is Violating My Civil Rights

As noted by Diplopundit, among others, today is the tenth anniversary of the terrorist bombings at the U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. One of the persons responsible for delivering the truck bomb to the Nairobi embassy, Mohamed Rashed Daoud Al-Owhali, escaped from the scene but was later arrested by U.S. authorities and is currently serving a life sentence in the super-maximum security Federal Prison in Florence, Colorado.

According to The Smoking Gun, Al-Owhali is not completely comfortable in his super-max cell. He has already filed a complaint with the U.S. District Court in Denver, charging that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons violated his civil rights when they took away his Walkman. Now, he's added a new charge that prison authorities are putting his health at risk by running his food trays through an X-ray machine.

AUGUST 4--An Osama bin Laden disciple serving life in the United States's only "supermax" federal prison believes that jailers are putting his health in jeopardy by X-raying all his food trays and commissary items in search of contraband items. Convicted terrorist Mohamed Al-Owhali alleges that the Bureau of Prisons security measure unreasonably increases his "daily exposure to potentially carcinogenic radiation," which the al-Qaeda operative claims violates Eighth Amendment prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment. The 31-year-old Al-Owhali, who is being held at the "supermax" lockup in Florence, Colorado, was convicted of conspiring to bomb a U.S. embassy in Africa, an attack which resulted in more than 200 deaths.

As TSG reported last year, Al-Owhali is not pleased with the severe restrictions at Florence, where he is housed in the Special Security Unit, home to a virtual Terrorists Row of inmates. He filed a pro se lawsuit alleging a laundry list of rights violations, including the denial of his beloved Walkman and certain English and Arabic publications. Al-Owhali began complaining about the "health consequences" of his irradiated grub earlier this year, and filed the below handwritten administrative appeal with BoP officials.

His request that the X-raying be stopped was rejected by prison brass. So Al-Owhali, now aided by a California lawyer, has recently added the X-ray claim to his original civil rights complaint, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Denver. The court filing claims that Al-Owhali faces a "significant risk" of developing "serious and irreversible health problems" by consuming a diet "based entirely on irradiated foods." Government lawyers last week filed a motion to dismiss Al-Owhali's lawsuit, asserting that the X-rayed food posed no health threat and that the stringent Florence security measures were warranted in light of his terrorist history.

I suppose it's too late now to impose the death penalty on this guy. But can't the Bureau of Prisons at least take him on the Coney Island Waterboard Thrill Ride until his attitude improves?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Anthrax Suspect Read Suspicious Books

Maybe I've been too skeptical about the FBI's case against the late Bruce Ivins. From today's DC Examiner we learn that Ivins had highly suspicious tastes in literature.

The documents disclose that authorities searched Ivins' home on Nov. 2, 2007, taking 22 swabs of vacuum filters and radiators and seizing dozens of items. Among them were video cassettes, family photos, information about guns and a copy of "The Plague" by Albert Camus.

I can imagine the scene. An FBI agent looking through Ivin's bookcase spots a book with the word "plague" right in the title. On closer examination, the book turns out to be written by a foreigner. What could be more suspicious than that? "Bag it and tag it."

This Way to the Waterboard Thrill Ride

In case you haven't yet made your summer vacation plans, see today's New York Times: Coney Island Sideshow Has Guantánamo Theme. "It Don't Gitmo Better."

FBI = Fishy Bill-of-Particulars against Ivins

The Justice Department has now publicly released its key documents - search warrants, search warrant returns, and affidavits - in the case against the late Dr. Bruce Ivins, the U.S Army bio-weapons scientist who is being posthumously accused of committing the anthrax mailings in 2001. So far as I can see, the evidence against Ivins doesn't live up to the sensational FBI press leaks that have been going on ever since Ivins killed himself on the eve of being arrested.

The Washington Post stories today (here, and here) have been decidedly uncritical of the FBI's theory of the case. Much better stories were at and the New York Times. My sentiments were expressed by today's Foreign Policy Blog post, Hey, FBI: Put up or shut up.

Skepticism is warranted about any attempt to clear this extremely high-profile case off the FBI's books without solid evidence of guilt, especially in view of the bureau's hounding of another Army bio-weapons scientist, Dr. Steven Hatfill, who for more than five years played the role of Great White Whale to the FBI's Ahab. That monomaniacal pursuit ended only one month ago when Hatfill won a public exoneration and a $5.8 million settlement from the U.S Justice Department in a law suit he filed in 2003. When you read the leaks today about the FBI's suspicions of Ivin's behavior as long ago as 2001, remember that for most of the time they were confidently insisting - off the record, of course - that Hatfill did it.

And, there's the FBI's deplorable track record of making erroneous accusations in other high-profile cases, often based on its behavioral profiling. Richard Jewell is Exhibit A for the damage done by misguided profiling, but just as outrageous is the FBI's "equivocal death analysis" of Clayton Hartwig, the young sailor posthumously accused of causing the 1989 explosion in a gun turret on the USS Iowa. The FBI's famous profilers unequivocally pronounced that Hartwig was both suicidal and homicidal, and he must have caused the explosion in a fit of gay jealousy. Eventually, and only at the insistence of the U.S. Congress, forensic investigations were conducted by Sandia Labs and the Naval Weapons Systems Center that attributed the explosion to overpressure from the propellant used in the gun barrel, and not to sabotage. Hartwig was publicly exonerated by the Navy in 1991.

Finally, there's the fact that the first anthrax letters were mailed on September 18, just seven days after the 9/11 attacks. According to the leaks, Ivins' motive was to cause a public panic about Islamic bio-terrorism in order to create demand for his anthrax vaccine. If we believe that motive, then we have to also believe that either (1) Ivins came up with the whole idea on September 11th and did all the preparation of the anthrax spores in the next six days, then drove to Princeton, New Jersey, to mail them on the following day, or else (2) he had prepared the spores earlier and just had the great good luck to piggyback his anthrax mailings on the biggest act of Islamic terrorism to ever strike the USA. The first option is way too fast, the second is way too big a coincidence. If I were on a jury hearing this case, that alone would raise a reasonable doubt in my mind.