Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Have you seen this man? If so, please contact Interpol, which has issued a "Red Notice" (see below) to request the assistance of its 188 member countries in locating Assange with a view to his arrest and extradition to Sweden. Prosecutors there would like to speak with him regarding certain allegations of sex crimes.

ASSANGE, Julian Paul
Legal Status

Present family name: ASSANGE
Date of birth: 3 July 1971 (39 years old)
Place of birth: TOWNSVILLE, Australia
Language spoken: English
Nationality: Australia


Categories of Offences: SEX CRIMES




©Interpol, 1 December 2010.

Wiki-Windfall for Diplo Historians

Here's a different perspective on CableGate. The Director of the (non-governmental, George Washington University-based) National Security Archive was interviewed on a public radio station today and he discussed how diplomatic historians will use this unauthorized data dump of a quarter million cozened cables.

Listen to the interview here.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Internet Changes Nothing

An historian of media and communications makes the point that the internet changes nothing:

We knew the revolution wouldn’t be televised, but many of us really hoped it might be on the Internet. Now we know these hopes were false. There was no Internet Revolution and there will be no Internet Revolution. We will stumble on in more or less exactly the way we did before massive computer networks infiltrated our daily lives.

-- snip --

But what exactly is new here? Not very much. Email is still mail. Online newspapers are still newspapers. YouTube videos are still videos. Virtual stores are still stores. MMORPGs are still variations on D&D. A user-built encyclopedia is still a reference book. Stealing mp3s is still theft. Cyber-porn is still porn. Internet poker is still gambling. In terms of content, the Internet gives us almost nothing that the much maligned “traditional media” did not.

- snip --

The media experts, however, tell us that there really is something new and transformative about the Internet. It goes under various names, but it amounts to “collaboration.” The Internet makes it much easier for people to do things together ... Collaboration abounds online. That’s a fair point. But “easier” is not new or transformative. There is nothing new about any of the activities that take place on the aforementioned sites. We did them all in the Old World of Old Media.

-- snip --

Just why we would think that a new medium like the Internet would “change everything” is a bit of a mystery, but it probably has to do with the lingering influence of Marshall McLuhan. The sage of Toronto famously taught that “the medium is the message,” which is to say that media technologies themselves are powerful agents of social change. It’s a nice slogan, but it’s not really true.

-- snip --

In the end, the message is the message, and the message transmitted over virtually all modern media, the Internet included, is this: buy something.

Trusted With Secrets, But Not With A Chevy Aveo

There is mixed news on the information security front.

First, OMB's memo on security assessment teams. Just because the horse has left is no reason not to close the barn door, I suppose.

And it's good that DOD has banned thumb drives again (they were banned before, but DOD relented in February 2010), even if the reason was to prevent worms from being introduced into computer systems rather than to prevent files being removed from them.

But the big problem, it seems to me, remains the promiscuous way in which DOD and other agencies have been granting personnel security clearances. Bradley Manning was only 19 years old when he enlisted in the U.S. Army but within months he had TS/SCI clearances, and in Iraq he was allowed essentially unmonitored access to classified networks serving both DOD and the State Department despite being disciplined twice.

When he was arrested earlier this year, Manning, at age 22, was still three years too young to rent a car from AVIS.

Is there something wrong with that picture?

Provoking the Powerful, Imperiling the Powerless

The U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, has replied to the Wikileaks imbroglio with an opinion piece in a Pakistani newspaper. Two choice quotes:

Diplomats must engage in frank discussions with their colleagues, and they must be assured that these discussions will remain private. Honest dialogue - within governments and between them - is part of the basic bargain of international relations; we couldn’t maintain peace, security, and international stability without it. I’m sure that Pakistan’s ambassadors to the United States would say the same thing.


US diplomats [also] meet with local human rights workers, journalists, religious leaders, and others outside the government who offer their own candid insights. These conversations depend on trust and confidence as well. If an anti-corruption activist shares information about official misconduct, or a social worker passes along documentation of sexual violence, revealing that person’s identity could have serious repercussions: imprisonment, torture, even death ... An act intended to provoke the powerful may instead imperil the powerless.

Read the whole thing here.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Those Stolen Cables ...

... were delivered to selected news media last Friday, and are now being published. Browse them [links redacted due to most likely exaggerated official concern].

How bad is it? Der Spiegel calls it a "meltdown" for U.S. foreign policy:

251,000 State Department documents, many of them secret embassy reports from around the world, show how the US seeks to safeguard its influence around the world. It is nothing short of a political meltdown for US foreign policy.

The New York Times is a bit less excitable and merely refers to "brutally candid views" and "frank assessments" that have now been exposed:

A cache of a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables, most of them from the past three years, provides an unprecedented look at backroom bargaining by embassies around the world, brutally candid views of foreign leaders and frank assessments of nuclear and terrorist threats.

Wikileaks is tweeting tidbits about the leak and reactions to it, using the hashmark #cablegate.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

America's Thanksgiving Eve Tradition

Americans Enjoying Thanksgiving Tradition Of Sitting Around At Airport

Courtesy of The Onion News Network.

"Who Are You?" Part Deux

When we last saw Nigel Farage, Member of the UK Independence Party and Co-Chair of the Europe of Freedom and Democracy Group in the European Parliament, he was verbally abusing the President of the European Union, Mr. Herman van Rompuy of Belgium ("Who are you?"), over Rompuy's arrogant supranationalism.

I am delighted to see that Farage has not dialed back his rhetoric in the nine months since then. In his concluding remarks on the European Council meeting on economic governance, he chastised the Eurocrats some more.

I think Mr. Rompuy is looking even more hangdog then before, if that is possible.

Monday, November 22, 2010

New Congress, New START - Lame Duck Congress, No START

Philip J. Crowley, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, has a reputation for sending out entertaining tweets. But if I were a Senate staffer, I would not be entertained by his latest one:

It is time to ratify New #START. We have negotiated a strong treaty. We have held hearings & answered all the questions. No reason to wait.

No reason at all, unless you think a lame duck Congress should not commit the USA to anything of significance that the next Congress - the one that just got elected and therefore better represents the U.S. public - will be stuck with. That's a political-constitutional matter, and I'm surprised Mr. Crowley thinks it's within his portfolio.

Or unless you think there is something wrong, separation-of-powers-wise, with a State Department official publicly lobbying Senator Kyl over legislative business. Isn't that what the White House political staff is for?

Even if you think the New START treaty is the greatest thing since wireless internet, it would be an offense against representative self-government to ratify it with a Senate that has one foot out the door. It was signed back in April, so it's waited this long already. It can wait until January.

All the administration lobbying for lame duck ratification starts to look like fear that ratification might not pass in the next Senate. And if there is even a small chance that is so, then a lame duck session would be constitutionally outrageous.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

On Vacation, 80/20

I'm making my customary holiday season trek down I-95 by minivan this week to visit family. For the last two days, I've been carefully picking my way through the Bric-a-Brac Forest in my mother-in-law's house in South Carolina. Now, it's on to Florida and my side of the family. A little boating, a little strolling on the beach, a side trip to Orlando for the grand daughter, then right after Thanksgiving it's back up I-95 to home.

What with BlackBerry and OpenNetEverywhere, I will only be about 80% on vacation this week. Some object to that much connectivity, but I find it a good trade-off for knowing that I will arrive at work next Monday without any office emergencies boiling over. And it's a handy excuse any time I want to spend a couple hours at a Starbucks alone with my laptop.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Gitmo "Test Case" Gets a Failing Grade

A civilian jury in New York has convicted former Guantanamo Bay detainee Ahmed Ghailani on a single charge in connection with the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He was found guilty only of conspiracy to destroy government buildings.

The jury did not see fit to punish him for the 224 people who were destroyed along with the buildings.

Ghailani was originally charged with 286 counts when the USG brought him to New York City for a civilian trial, in what was described as a test case of the Obama administration's intention to try terrorists outside of the military tribunal system.

Ghailani (see his detainee biography) helped an Al Qaeda cell buy a truck and components for explosives used in the bombings, after which he fled to Pakistan, where he was captured ten years later.

Here's a summary of the evidence that the military justice system developed against Ghailani, and the transcript of his military tribunal hearing.

I'd say that test case was a spectacular failure.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"It's All About Everybody Recognizing Their Role"

The WaPo reports the unsurprising news that scanners and pat-downs upset airline passengers:

Nearly a week before the Thanksgiving travel crush, federal air security officials were struggling to reassure rising numbers of fliers and airline workers outraged by new anti-terrorism screening procedures they consider invasive and harmful.

Across the country, passengers simmered over being forced to choose scans by full-body image detectors or probing pat-downs. Top federal security officials said Monday that the procedures were safe and necessary sacrifices to ward off terror attacks.

"It's all about security," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said. "It's all about everybody recognizing their role."

I recognize my role as a passenger, but something about that photo of Secretary Napolitano does not leave me reassured.

Feeling Up TSA, Tomorrow

This just in. The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation announced it will hold a full committee hearing tomorrow, November 17, on Transportation Security Administration oversight.

The only witness listed is The Honorable John S. Pistole, Administrator, Transportation Security Administration. The topic was not announced, but, if it's the obvious one, then it will grab our attention with both hands and poke and probe until no part of our body of knowledge is left untouched.

Don't opt out. Go to the subcommittee website at 10AM tomorrow, when the naked truth will be fully exposed to public view.

Monday, November 15, 2010

NYT: Your Chance to Fix the Budget

The New York Times lets You Fix the Budget:

Today, you’re in charge of the nation’s finances. Some of your options have more short-term savings and some have more long-term savings. When you have closed the budget gaps for both 2015 and 2030, you are done. Make your own plan, then share it online.

I eliminated the deficit in two minutes by cutting subsidies, reducing the federal workforce, reducing military spending to pre-Iraq levels and cutting back on new weapons systems, plus raising Medicare eligibility and capping its growth. I didn't even have to reduce foreign aid.

What makes Congress think this is so hard?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Who Was That Masked Man?

As you can see, the Covert Comic is already on to TSA's new, palms inward, pat-down procedure.

He also has bad news from Langley:

They had to cancel Take Your Child to Work Day at CIA Headquarters – only 20% of the kids could pass the polygraph

Oh well, no one said that national security would be easy. Or that you couldn't have fun doing it, either.

Bernie Madoff's Going-Out-Of-Life Sale

A friend calls estate sales "going out of life sales," and that's basically what the U.S. Marshals Service is holding today on behalf of Bernard L. Madoff, the former investment scammer and current U.S. prisoner.

You can browse 41 pages of his belongings here, or - better yet - go to Lowering the Bar where they have already found the most ridiculous of Madoff's stuff and made fun of it for us.

I sometimes look at estate sale inventories to spot vintage fountain pens (I'm always on the lookout for 1940-ish Parker Duofolds, Vacumatics, and "51"s), but it looks like the only pens Madoff used were ballpoints. No sale.

Most of the lots contain high-end watches and Mrs. Madoff's jewelry, Victorian furniture, a great many bronze bulls (in Madoff's case, that's definitely a Wall Street double entendre), fancy furnishings, luggage, shoes, and enough clothes to fit out a mid-size African village for life. His books are unimpressive; mostly airport fiction, and a single dictionary.

I bet the four remaining "Bernard L. Madoff, Investment Securities" logo tote bags are sure to go fast, so get your bids in early.

New Iranian Embassy Design Concept

The Iranian government is proposing to build a showplace new embassy in London. The project isn't a hit with the neighborhood, and it might not get local approval, but I think the design has at least one notable element: the public diplomacy center is in a structure that is separate from but encompassed by the embassy office building. (It's the small free-standing cube beneath the overhanging roof in the artist's rendering above.)

There are more depictions at the designboom website:

plans for a new iranian embassy have been unveiled in london and has sparked controversy amongst locals of south kensington. designed by vienna based iranian architect armin hohsen of daneshgar architects the new embassy will be a six-storey marble and stone structure sporting irregular windows and sharp, clean lines. situated on the corner of manson place and queensgate mews the jutting corner of the building will overhang a smaller sub-structure - a contemporary art gallery and cultural centre.

(Forgive the e.e. cummings-esque lack of capitalization. Such avant-garde touches indicate that the designboom people are creative types - even though they are cribbing from a poet who did most of his work in the 1920s and 1930s - and the rest of us must bear with their idiosyncrasies.)

Having public diplomacy facilities separate from, but on the same compound with, the rest of the embassy is what the U.S. State Department used to do with PD centers back before it went with a standard embassy design approach. A number of older - 1980s and 1990s - new U.S. embassies had an American Center located on the periphery of the compound, with a separate entrance for the public. That allowed the public to access the center with a bit less hassle than chancery visitors went through, and gave the PD section a bit of autonomy. It wasn't fully satisfactory from either a security or a PD program standpoint, but I thought it was a pretty good compromise.

Personally, I'd like to see that come back in fashion.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Madeleine Albright's Bling-Bling Thing

“The brooch is antique, French, and composed of rose-cut diamonds and a gold eagle with widespread wings. It was love at first sight, but I balked at the cost. Saying no to Jim [one of the proprietors of the Tiny Jewel Box], I inwardly promised to reverse that decision should I be named secretary of state...When that possibility became reality, I bought the eagle and chose to wear it for the first time at the swearing in.”

Madeleine Albright's 2009 book about her personal diplomacy-by-broach, Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box, is the basis for a museum exhibition of her jewelery that was held at the Smithsonian Castle, and it was briefly reviewed this week in the H-Diplo diplomatic history discussion network:

In public appearances as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and then as secretary of state, Madeleine Albright was almost never without some sort of pin or brooch affixed to her left shoulder, and she encouraged foreign officials, journalists, and other observers to view her pins as consciously chosen diplomatic statements. Many took up her suggestion and closely monitored her jewelry; a “pin watch” Web site focused on interpreting her daily jewelry choice and its diplomatic implications even sprang up. Albright recently agreed to loan some of her collection to the New York Museum of Arts and Design for an exhibition, which was subsequently on display at the Clinton Presidential Library and the Smithsonian. Read My Pins is the exhibition catalog. The book is of particular value to scholars of diplomacy and material culture, showing how one practitioner employed jewelry to further her diplomatic agenda. It not only tells us that fashion and symbols can be important diplomatic tools, but it also helps us learn how to interpret those elements.

Albright begins her story of the use of her pins as diplomatic tools in 1994, after Saddam Hussein refused to allow UN inspectors into Iraq. Albright criticized him for it, and an Iraqi poet wrote a scathing poem about her, calling her, among other things, an “unparalleled serpent.” When she next met with Iraqi leaders, she chose to wear a serpent pin. While it is not clear whether the Iraqi leaders noticed it at the time, a journalist did and asked her about it; she replied that it was her “way of sending a message.” After that, she actively encouraged people to observe her pins and use them a tool for gauging her mood and political stance.

The foreign officials she encountered while ambassador and secretary were certainly a key audience for the pins’ messages. She could use the pins to say two things at once, suggesting the limits of her politeness. For example, shortly after a Russian spy had been arrested in Washington for bugging the State Department, she met with the Russian foreign minister in Europe. Her choice of pin: a bug. She notes in Read My Pins that she and the minister “greeted each other as the friends we were,” but adds that he “could not fail to notice” the “enormous bug” on her shoulder; the reprimand was there, but she did not have to put it into words. While we cannot be sure if all foreign officials paid attention to the pins, Albright does tell us that Russian President Vladimir Putin reported to President Bill Clinton that he and his staff did so, and the fact that so many foreign officials gave her pins as gifts when she visited their countries indicates that they were aware of Albright’s practices.

You can view a selection of her signifying accessories here.

I suppose it's a trivial topic to spend 176 pages writing about, and jewelry isn't my sort of thing anyway. But hey, symbolism has always played a part in statecraft, so why not an exhibition of Albright's pins?

ASEAN: A Somewhat Expedient Ambassadorial Nomination

Ex·pe·di·ent \ik-ˈspē-dē-ənt\ adjective 1: suitable for achieving a particular end in a given circumstance; 2: characterized by concern with what is opportune; especially: governed by self-interest

Foreign Policy magazine's blog The Cable isn't happy about a new ambassadorial nomination:

On the same day he visited his boyhood home of Indonesia, President Obama nominated David Carden, a securities lawyer and top fundraiser from his presidential campaign, to be the United States' first ever resident ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). But to Washington's Asia policy community, Carden is a complete unknown.

Carden, who chairs the securities litigation and SEC enforcement practice at the law firm Jones Day, partnered with his wife Rebecca Riley to raise at least $500,000 for Obama's campaign. The campaign didn't disclose exact fundraising figures for their biggest bundlers, but Carden and Riley were among Obama's top 35 fundraisers.

-- snip --

The choice of Carden, who has limited diplomatic or regional expertise, came as a surprise to many in the Asia community that he will now be working with on a daily basis.

"We don't know him," said Ernie Bower, director of the Southeast Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "He doesn't have a lot of experience in Southeast Asia as far as I can tell. I still don't know the rationale for matching him up with this job."

-- snip --

"Given that it's a new position, the very fact that there are no rules for what the U.S. resident ambassador does, I would prefer to have someone with extensive diplomatic experience," said Michael Auslin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "Someone with a diplomatic background is more preferable because you're not just dealing with one country you can bone up on, you're dealing with 10 countries" ...... "We already have ambassadors to all of these nations, now we are going to have someone on top of that structure. We just don't know how much of this has been thought out," Auslin said.

AFSA can now fill that vacant ASEAN slot on its Ambassador List.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Petty Tyrants, at Most

H/T to John Brown's Public Diplomacy and Blog Review for this remarkable quote:

"Security has become an all-devouring American God stiffened by righteousness, stripped of judgment, armed with technology. This deity knows no bounds, brooks no dissent."

Wow! Who are those righteous, reckless, well-armed omnipotent deities? And how can I become one?

Imagine my disappointment to find out that the writer is just ranting about airport screeners. It's TSA Inspectors who know no bounds and brook no dissent, etc., etc.

The usual airport scene: much-traveled pros huffing at the dilatory amateurs, harried people removing shoes and belts and laptops, sparring over trays like irritable kids, getting all the stuff lined up with production-line precision — only to find themselves thrust into one of the new full-body scanners that delivers an image of passengers in a state of near nakedness to some security official who, at whim, may order a repeat of the arms-raised, all-revealing little humiliation.

Philip Roth’s “indigenous American berserk” has gone into overdrive. It’s the new normal.

Is this right and forever? Security has become an all-devouring American God stiffened by righteousness, stripped of judgment, armed with technology. This deity knows no bounds, brooks no dissent. The threats are real — witness the cargo-plane bomb plot — but the right balance between security and freedom has been lost. I’m with Martin Broughton, the British Airways chairman who said recently that some security checks were “completely redundant.”

There's nothing new here. Everybody hates TSA. See this and this, to take only two examples in the news today.

Hating TSA is the national pastime. Even TSA employees hate TSA, which is how it came to be ranked #220 out of 224 federal agencies in employee satisfaction.

Those guys with the latex gloves aren't omnipotent, they're just extremely irritable.

Monday, November 8, 2010

An Aesthetic Anti-Terrorism Measure? Who Knew?

Two views of the 'sunken wall' that surrounds the Washington monument
; from the front, and from where the nestled circles intersect with pathways

Today's column by WaPo culture critic Phillip Kennicott (here) must be the only instance of anyone, ever, anywhere, using the phrase "aesthetically pleasing anti-terrorism design."

The occasion was today's public meeting seeking comments on the National Park Service's intention to perform further security upgrades to the Washington Monument.

Here's the text that caught my eye:

The Washington Monument is unlike any other in the capital, so austere and abstract that creating security arrangements for it has dogged the National Park Service for a decade.

Fortunately, plans to build a large, underground visitors center, floated in 1993 and renewed in the security panic after Sept. 11, 2001, never came to fruition. So far, the only permanent security installed at the site - a vehicle barrier made from an artful arrangement of low granite walls, careful landscaping and attractive benches designed by landscape architect Laurie Olin - is one of the extraordinarily rare examples of aesthetically pleasing anti-terrorism designs in the United States.

That aesthetic security feature was described by the WaPo back in 2005, when it was approved for construction:

The primary feature of the project is a series of interlocking rings of ash rose granite wall, standing just 30 inches above the ground. They reach deep enough into the ground and overlap at just the right points to stop an explosive-laden Humvee.

The walls are augmented by retractable posts that can be lowered for maintenance vehicles at four entrances. Atop the mound of earth that is the pedestal for the monument, solid benches of Georgia white marble surround the plaza. To lend some aesthetic beauty, lighting has been installed to better highlight the geometry and stones of the monument, Spulecki said.

The subtlety of the design is its triumph, said Thomas Luebke, secretary of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, one of the groups that had to approve the design.

-- snip --

In the eighteenth century, farmers in Europe used low, squat stone barriers called haha walls to pen livestock, Spulecki said. The rock walls meandered up and down the glens of England and the knolls of France in thick lines, sturdy and unobtrusive. Those walls are wide and high enough to keep farm animals in, but they are not noticeable at eye level, he said.

Olin's firm submitted a simple design of concentric rings echoing the haha walls in December 2001, competing with projects that included more bollards and even a moat.

You can see photos at the 'parks, squares, and garden' projects spot on the Olin website (here).

Olin re-used the concept of nested concentric circles of sunken walls, or 'haha walls,' in their landscaping contribution to the design selected for the new U.S. Embassy in London. These drawings show the resemblance.

A very elegant (and very old) countermeasure to the nasty (and modern) threat of car bombs. You can walk up, or bike up, to the monument and never know there is a vehicle barrier there. You just can't drive up to the monument.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Persona Non Grata

U.S. diplomats have been thrown out of better places before, but Reuters is reporting today that a member of the U.S. Mission to Libya has been ordered to depart immediately.

Libya has ordered a diplomat at the United States embassy in Tripoli to leave the country within 24 hours for breaching diplomatic rules, two Libyan newspapers reported on Sunday.

The Libyan authorities gave no confirmation of the reports while a spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, contacted by Reuters, said he had no comment. In Washington, the State Department said it had no immediate comment.

"The Libyan authorities asked the Political Affairs Secretary at the U.S. embassy in Tripoli to leave Libya within 24 hours," the Internet edition of the Oea newspaper reported.

Citing what it called informed sources, the newspaper said the expulsion followed the diplomat's visit to the city of Ifrane, 130 km (80 miles) south-west of the capital.

The was "considered by the Libyan authorities to be contrary to the rules and norms of diplomacy," the newspaper said, without giving any more details.

A second Libyan newspaper, Quryna, also reported that a U.S. diplomat had been ordered to leave the country.

Since these things are run on the basis of reciprocity, no doubt some as-yet-unnamed Libyan member of their U.S. Mission will be packing his bags tomorrow.

One-Two Punch On Immigration in the 112th Congress?

H/T to Federale for a preview of how the return of Representative Lamar Smith to the Chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee is likely to affect enforcement of the expedited removal provisions of immigration law, provisions that Smith authored the last time he had the Chairmanship. In short, the administration will be called to account for why they aren't enforcing them. This should make for lively hearings.

And the administration is likely to get even more grief from the next Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law, Steven King. He has a long list of immigration positions that will not please the administration, including elimination of the diversity visa lottery and ending the practice of granting automatic American citizenship to the children of illegal aliens who are born on American soil.

As a great American politician once said: "elections have consequences."

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Narcos Do a Poster Show

Narcomantas (drug banners) that appeared in parks and plazas across Mexico today

H/T to Blog del Narco for today's post on the narcomantas, or message banners placed by narco cartels, that appeared in cities across Mexico the day after the death of Gulf cartel leader 'Tony Tormenta' in Matamoros (here).

Narcomantas are a primary means by which the cartels make announcements to the public, and they are quickly removed by the police and military.

According to Blog del Narco, these mantas appeared in several different cities and states (including San Luis Potosi, Puebla, Monterrey, Juarez, Veracruz, Tampico and Reynosa, among others) simultaneously, and bore identical messages from the Zeta cartel denouncing its rival, the Gulf cartel. The text amounts to the Zetas celebrating the death of Tormenta, which 'shows once more the fate of traitors.'

Narco Cartel Media Strategy - Publish and Perish

The silence of Matamoros's local newspaper about yesterday's day-long battle between narco and government forces (here) is by no means unique to Matamoros.

H/T to Mountainrunner for pointing out an interesting analysis of the information campaign being run by Mexico's narco cartels all along the border:

Instead of reporting on crooked public officials or the growth of organized crime, newspaper editor Martha Lopez runs press releases from the Zeta cartel.

It's the latest move by the cartel in Mexico's escalating drug war, and one that she says she has no way to fight.

She said the gang has established its own public relations arm that issues stories the local papers are under orders to run, or else journalists will get hurt.

-- snip --

Cartel control is growing across Mexico, and the press is often one of the cartels' first targets. Their objective is to keep the public ignorant of their actions.

In Tamaulipas, for instance, cartels have penetrated the police and city governments to the point that the cartels almost have free reign, according to reporters in the state's five largest cities. But nothing of that is reported in the press, the reporters say. The most important story — that the citizens have lost control of their cities to criminals — is the one that cannot be covered.

It never ceases to amaze me that, at the same time the United States is waist deep in state-building and internal defense in various places around the world, we seem to regard Mexico as a far-away land of little importance to us. In a rational world, wouldn't we care more about an insurrection going on a stone's throw from cities on our southern border than about one on the other side of the earth?

Matamoros - Policing Up the Brass, Waiting For the Next Move

The running battle between narco forces and Mexican military troops that erupted yesterday in Matamoros has tapered off today. But it isn't quite completely over yet, since we should expect retaliation from the narcos for the death of Gulf Cartel leader 'Tony Tormenta.'

The WaPo has a story about it, but the local Matamoros newspaper has ... nothing. They pointedly ignore the whole event, other than for a brief notice of the murder of one of their reporters who was caught in the crossfire. That creepy silence tells you how thoroughly the narcos have intimidated local authorities all along the border.

Given that, it is not so strange that the only on-scene reporting of yesterday's street fighting came from a local citizen with a hand-held camera and a YouTube channel. This guy just walked around the streets of Matamoros, following the sounds of gunfire, trying to get a view of what was happening. At the end of the clip, he gets close enough to see a convoy of SUVs moving around, at which point he prudently ducks behind a parked car and takes cover. The video style is terrible, but what really impresses me is the almost constant firefight that was going on during the six-minute video. Six minutes out of an entire day of off-and-on fighting between pretty evenly matched sides.

It cannot be said too often that the situation on the Mexican-U.S. border has escalated way past crime and become warfare.

Pay No Attention to That Little Screen Behind the Curtain

The Hindustani Times has reported that President Obama will use his customary teleprompters when he delivers a speech at India's Parliament House on Monday.

They sound surprised, since Indian politicians normally speak extemporaneously, and only their television newsreaders use prompters. Either that, or the Hindustani Times writer is a master of subtle irony.

According to parliament sources, a technical team from the US has helped the Lok Sabha secretariat install textbook-sized panes of glass around the podium that will give cues to Obama on his prepared remarks to 780 Indian MPs on the evening of Nov 8.

It will be a 20-minute speech at Parliament House's Central Hall that has been witness to some historic events, including first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru's "tryst with destiny" speech when India became independent.

Obama will make history for more than one reason during the Nov 6-9 visit. This will be the first time a teleprompter will be used in the nearly 100-feet high dome-shaped hall that has portraits of eminent national leaders adorning its walls.

Indian politicians are known for making impromptu long speeches and perhaps that is why some parliament officials, who did not wish to be named, sounded rather surprised with the idea of a teleprompter for Obama.

"We thought Obama is a trained orator and skilled in the art of mass address with his continuous eye contact," an official, who did not wish to be identified because of security restrictions, said.

Obama is known to captivate audiences with his one-liners that sound like extempore and his deep gaze. But few in India know that the US president always carries the teleprompter with him wherever he speaks.

Teleprompters, also called autocue or telescript, are mostly used by TV anchors to read out texts scrolling on a screen and attached to a camera in front of them.

Well, prepare to be surprised India, because our President never, but never, addresses any kind of audience extemporaneously. Not even a 6th grade classroom.

Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Obama Speaks to a Sixth-Grade Classroom

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Afghanization of Mexico Continues, Today in Matamoros

News media in Brownsville, Texas, are reporting on a day-long running gun battle in Matamoros, Mexico, between two rival drug cartels and the Mexican Federal police and military. The fighting began in the morning, and by noon at least 30 people had been killed. The total rose to 47 dead by afternoon. That isn't crime, that's warfare.

From the Brownsville Herald:

Gunfire broke out in Matamoros Friday, leaving at least 47 people dead and causing the closure of all three bridges between Brownsville and Mexico.

The fighting reportedly involved members of the Gulf Cartel, the Zetas and Mexican federal police and military

University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College closed the Fort Brown campus and moved the soccer games scheduled for Friday night to the Brownsville Sports Park.

Gunfire was reported in Matamoros in a number of incidents beginning Friday morning, with at least 30 people dead by around noon, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on condition that his name not be used.

In the afternoon, a major confrontation near city hall killed at least 17 more people, the source said.

One of those killed around midday was identified as Carlos Alberto Guajardo, 37, a reporter for the newspaper El Expreso. Sources with knowledge of the incident said Guajardo apparently was killed by soldiers who were chasing narcotics traffickers.

The three international bridges connecting Brownsville and Matamoros were reopened at 7PM.

It is also being reported that today's fighting began when Mexican authorities attempted to capture Antonio Ezequiel Cárdenas Guillen, one of the two leaders of the Gulf Cartel, and that Cárdenas was killed.

The U.S. State Department had offered a reward up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of Cárdenas, AKA "Tony Tormenta." So maybe some lucky Mexican is richer tonight.

All big Mexican narcos have a narcocorrido, or ballad. This was the corrido of Tony Tormenta.


Update: Although I've seen nothing reported by U.S. Consulate Matamoros yet, informally, I understand that all personnel are accounted for.

A New FRUS Volume Is Released

This one is on the topic of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT). Here's the press release:

The Department of State released today Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976, Volume XXXII, SALT I, 1969–1972. This volume documents United States policy toward the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks from January 1969 until October 1972.

The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks produced a series of comprehensive arms control agreements between the United States and the Soviet Union that for the first time limited the deployment of ballistic missiles and anti-ballistic missile systems. Commonly referred to as “SALT I,” the agreements were signed by President Richard Nixon and the General Secretary of the Soviet Union Leonid Brezhnev at the Moscow Summit in May 1972. This volume documents the negotiations leading up to the agreement, the internal deliberations among U.S. policy makers, and reveals the play of political and national security considerations that factored into U.S. policy decisions.

The volume is organized chronologically covering the period of analytical preparation before SALT began, the various rounds of negotiations with the Soviet Union alternating among the cities of Helsinki, Geneva and Vienna, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger's secret trip to Moscow in April 1972, discussions between President Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev at the Moscow Summit in May 1972, and the Nixon administration's efforts to secure congressional approval of the SALT agreement and ratification of the ABM treaty.

Sources for this volume include documents generated in the White House, the National Security Council, the Department of State, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. The editor included extracts from memorandums of conversation between Henry Kissinger, and Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, telephone transcripts and meeting memoranda prepared by chief SALT negotiator, Gerard Smith, and a significant number of backchannel messages among Smith, Kissinger and Alexander Haig, Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs. Additionally, the editor transcribed specifically for this volume more than twenty excerpts from conversations recorded among the President and his advisors on the secret White House taping system.

Download it here.

Etiquette for Bodyguards

Richard Holbrooke, our Af/Pak Special Envoy Extraordinare, has been dealing with Afghanistan's President Karzai on the subject of Karzai's intention to ban foreign security contractors from Afghanistan's private sector. Yesterday, Holbrooke expressed his empathy for Karzai by telling the press about his own personal backseat experience with a foreign - i.e., American - security contractor directing his motorcade in Kabul.

Holbrooke related an episode that occurred during a trip to Afghanistan. "I was driving through the street in a vehicle. I was a little bit late to a meeting. There was traffic. The vehicle, which was armored, of course, was careening around in a way I felt very uncomfortable about," Holbrooke said. "And I said to the guy sitting next to the driver, who was cradling a big weapon -- I said, ‘You don't have to drive that way. Slow down.'... And he said to me, 'I don't work for you, sir.' And I said, 'Who do you work for?' And he just was silent again. And I was outraged. I was embarrassed. So I know where President Karzai's coming from on this."

Well, well, well. A big-name USG Envoy was dissed by a rude man in cargo pants. An uncomfortable experience, I'm sure. And I'm sure the contractor heard all about it later from his USG supervisors.

Not knowing anything about the circumstances, I am willing to trust the contractor's tactical judgment as to how fast the principal's vehicle should have been moving. But, really, we must do a better job of teaching tact-ical judgment. This is the State Department, after all, and we should always be diplomatic even when putting a VIP in his place.

Here's an example of how you do it, as told to me by a participant in one of Special Envoy Dennis Ross's visits to Beirut back in the 1990s. As Ross was about to depart Beirut, the DS agent in charge of his protective detail briefed him on the departure procedures, which involved U.S. Army helos on the embassy's tennis court, decoy flights, and a zig-zag course out of the city. Ross interrupted to question, basically, why they would zig when he thought they should zag. The sort of thing that is the protection guy's business, of course, and not Ross's.

The highly experienced DS agent in charge told Ross:

Ambassador Ross, you have a very important job. You're supposed to bring peace to the entire Middle East. I have a very humble job. I just have to get people like you in and out of places like Beirut alive. But I want you to know that I have always been successful at my job."

Point taken. Ross sat back and did what he was told.

Can't somebody teach that sort of tactful manner to our protection contractors?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

My Myers-Briggs Type is CBUD

I'm at NFATC for a short course this week, and was discussing FSI's use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test with a friend at lunch today.

I've taken the MBTI a few times at FSI (although not for the course I'm in right now), and always had the same reaction: is this for real?

It's a twenty-minute session of 'forced choice' questions that assigns you to one of four paired personality traits - Extroversion-Introversion, Sensing-Intuition, and so on - with the final result being that you are classified as belonging to one of 16 personality types. That right there scores very high on my Suspicion-Incredulity scale. There are only 16 personality types to go around among the Earth's five billion people? That's a little better than Astrology's twelve personality types, but not much. If I tell someone I'm an INTJ on the Myers-Briggs scale, is that any more meaningful than saying I'm a Gemini?

I get it that the MBTI is basically Carl Jung For Dummies. But, Jung wrote that healthy people are capable of integrating the opposite tendencies in their innate personality traits, so I'm pretty sure he would disapprove of his personality typology being used to group people into boxes of traits which, according to MBTI adherents, do not change over time.

My own observations of people agree with the unexpurgated Carl Jung. We are capable of going out of our comfort zones and learning to do new things that do not come easily at first. Most people would even call it desirable to do so. Something about being well-rounded, developed, an adult.

So why do we have to do the ritual MBTI dance before so many FSI courses? It would be a better use of your twenty minutes to read Jung's chapter on personality and then make up your own unique personality typology. Here's mine:

curious (C) - skeptical (S)
bemused (B) - indifferent (I)
quizzical (Q) - unconvinced (U)
leery (L) - dismissive (D)

With this simple framework I can scientifically categorize my reaction to any input. In regard to the MBTI, for example, I am CBUD.

What Can You Buy For $511 Million?

The U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan said today that the State Department has signed a contract for $511 million worth of new construction at the embassy in Kabul:

The U.S. government will spend $511 million to expand its embassy in Kabul, the U.S. ambassador said Wednesday, describing the work as a demonstration of America's long-term commitment to Afghanistan.

"We make this commitment by commemorating the recent award of a $511 million contract to expand the U.S. Embassy here in Kabul," Ambassador Karl Eikenberry said during a ceremony at the construction site that marked the formal announcement of the contract.

I can hear the chorus of outrage already. That much? In this time of record-high national debt and unemployment! How did that ever get through Congress?

In other news today, Indian sources are reporting that President Obama's upcoming two-day visit to Mumbai will cost $200 million on security and hotel costs, which include booking the entire 570-room Taj Hotel:

The US would be spending a whopping $200 million (Rs. 900 crore approx) per day on President Barack Obama's visit to the city.

"The huge amount of around $200 million would be spent on security, stay and other aspects of the Presidential visit," a top official of the Maharashtra Government privy to the arrangements for the high-profile visit said.

About 3,000 people including Secret Service agents, US government officials and journalists would accompany the President. Several officials from the White House and US security agencies are already here for the past one week with helicopters, a ship and high-end security instruments.

I can easily believe that figure. If we added transportation and personnel costs, the total bill would no doubt be much higher. But let's just look at the $200 million figure, which is for two days out of a ten-day trip.

It breaks down to $8.333 million per hour. So, every 61.3 hours, or roughly every two and one-half days, the trip will cost as much as the Kabul embassy expansion.

That's what you can buy for $511 million. Whether you should or not, is something I will leave to others.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Even the Strongest Snake Oil Wears Off Eventually

You don't often get good news out of Iraq, but the WaPo has some today. A big victory for reason over superstition, sincerity over hokum, and sense over snake oil. One of our Iraqi partners has finally determined that the high-tech 'bomb detector' upon which their police and military have relied for years is, in fact, a total fraud.

I've posted about this $60,000 scam bomb detector before, here and here.

From the WaPo:

The Iraqi Interior Ministry inspector general recently determined that wands used by police as the frontline defense in the country's fight against bombs are worthless.

His finding was unsurprising. But in today's Iraq, it had the potential to be politically explosive. What the ministry did in response to the inspector general's conclusion speaks volumes about how the Iraqi government works these days - and why so often it doesn't.

U.S. military officials have been calling the devices a scam for years. The British government this year jailed the manufacturer of the ADE-651 gadgets on fraud charges, and banned the company from exporting more [here].

But as damning evidence against the wands mounted, senior Iraqi security officials, including Interior Minister Jawad Bolani, said the critics were uninformed and swore that the devices - which are supposed to detect explosives inside vehicles and prompt police to search them manually - had saved countless lives.

When faced with the inspector general's findings, Interior Ministry officials didn't pull the devices from hundreds of checkpoints that snarl traffic around Baghdad and other Iraqi cities. Instead, they shelved the report and quietly granted immunity to the official who signed the no-bid contracts worth at least $85 million.

The only public mention of the finding was a small blurb in the report to Congress submitted by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction last week [here]. The Iraqi ministry's inspector general, Aqeel Al Turaihi, "reports that many lives have been lost due to the wands' utter ineffectiveness," the report said.

The devices remain ubiquitous across Iraq.

-- snip --

American military explosives experts found [belief in the ADE-651's effectiveness] laughable. Worried about the effect that relying on the device could have on their effort to interdict the slew of bombs that were killing Iraqis and American soldiers daily, many U.S. officers tried to persuade their Iraqi counterparts to ditch them.

In one of many attempts, a team of American officers in 2008 asked Iraqi soldiers trained to use the ADE-651 to demonstrate whether the devices could determine which vehicle parked inside a U.S. base contained dynamite.

The operator's wand tilted toward a couple of vehicles. Neither, it turned out, contained explosives, according to a U.S. military official who participated in the exercise and spoke about it on the condition of anonymity.

"The entire time his American assistant had a stick of C4 under his uniform," the officer said. "It was like a Monty Python sketch gone horribly wrong."

-- snip --

The interior minister stood his ground, telling state-run Iraqiya television station in January that the wands had prevented more than 16,000 bombs. The Iraqi government has not disclosed who authorized the orders.

Ministry officials at the time surveyed policemen at checkpoints about whether the devices were showing results.

"We told them they were working fine," an Iraqi police lieutenant said Wednesday, standing next to a checkpoint where his men were using the wands near the neighborhood where a Catholic church was attacked Sunday by a band of suicide bombers. "That's what they wanted to hear," he added. "They want to try to give citizens an image of security that is false."

That attitude infuriates many American officers who have fought in Iraq.
"I'm finding it harder and harder to see any humor in this," Lt. Col. Dennis Yates, who was among the device's critics when he last served in Baghdad in 2008. "This piece of junk did, in fact, significantly contribute to an unknown - and pathetically large - loss of innocent lives. The guy who bought it should rot in one of the stinking jails that dot Baghdad."

That guy should not be the only one rotting in jail, because Iraq is far from the only victim of the ADE-651 scam. Security forces in Thailand and Mexico, among other countries, are still loyal customers. So is Pakistan, where I saw the devices in use by airport police in Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi last month. I'm hoping they didn't use U.S. funds to buy them, but I'm afraid to find out.