Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Better Late Than Never

Design sketch of a new U.S. Embassy Beirut

While the saga of the on-and-off new consulate construction project in Jeddah plays out, I should point out that the U.S. government recently issued a solicitation for the design and construction of a new U.S. Embassy in Beirut. That's always a good thing.

What's not such a good thing is that the solicitation was dated March 28, 2013, which is just three weeks short of thirty years since the Beirut embassy bombing. That incident led to the Inman Commission and to the business of building Fortress Embassies which has gone on ever since. Now, thirty long years later, we might be close to finally building a Fortress in Beirut.

From the solicitation:
This will be a design-bid-build project. The resultant contract shall be fixed price. The estimated construction cost is $526.231 million.

The new Embassy compound will be constructed on U.S. Government-owned property located in Aoukar, approximately 11 km north of Beirut city neat the site of the existing U.S. Embassy compound. The complex of buildings will be in the range of 78,636 gross square meters in area and will include a new Chancery, General Services Office/support buildings, parking structure, TDY lodging facility, Marine Security Guard Quarters (MSGQ), Chief of Missions Residence (CMR), Deputy Chief of Missions Residence (DCMR), Staff Housing, Compound Access Control (CAC) facilities, RSO Annex, Utility Building, Community Center, and vehicular/pedestrian screening facilities. The project site is approximately 17.8 hectare (43 acres) located on a steep hillside in a neighborhood of residential and light commercial uses. The land slopes east to west with a topographic change of approximately 100 meters. This project will be designed and constructed to achieve, as a goal, a LEED Silver rating.

By the way, the sketch I inserted above is not connected to the present solicitation. It is from the very first attempt to build a new U.S. Embassy in Beirut, back in 1957. That project was suspended during the Lebanese Civil War of 1958. History keeps repeating, huh?

Seller of Scam Bomb Detectors Convicted, At Long Last

Police Officer in Islamabad, Pakistan, detecting ... nothing

There is good news from the UK today, where a jury has convicted the biggest con man in the security industry on three counts of fraud. Jim McCormick, salesman extraordinaire of scam bomb detectors, will be sentenced in May. Then, police say, they will go after his multiple millions of ill-gotten gains.

I've blogged about this outrageous scam before, here, here, here, and here. The ADE 651 'bomb detector' consists of an empty plastic box, a swiveling antenna, 'coded' cards, and a massive load of snake oil. A little official corruption helps to close the deal, too.

The ADE 651, sold to Iraq for $65,000 @

The things have been sold under various names in Iraq, Pakistan, Jordon, Mexico, and many other places where the bombs are as real as McCormick's detectors are phony.

Would you buy a magic wand from this man?

The UK Guardian has a good piece on the 'magic' bomb detector that endangered lives all over the world:

Jim McCormick's claims about his range of detection devices were extraordinary. He said the Advanced Detecting Equipment (ADE) he developed at his Somerset farm could pick up the most minuscule traces of explosives, drugs, ivory and even money. They were so good they could spot target substances from as far away as 1,000 metres, deep underground and even through lead-lined rooms. If their plastic grips and waggling antennae bore a passing resemblance to a £15 novelty golf ball finder, that was no coincidence. The 57-year-old businessman had used the jokey product sourced from the US as a starting point for an enterprise that made him a multimillion-pound fortune but placed lives at risk around the world.

-- snip --

It was all nonsense, albeit potentially lethal for the people of Iraq, where 6,000 of the fraudulent gadgets formed a first line of defence against car bombs and suicide bombers at checkpoints. When the devices were opened, it emerged that cable sockets were unconnected and supposed data cards were linked to nothing. One scientist told the jury who on Tuesday convicted McCormick of three counts of fraud that the antenna intended to point to suspect substances was "no more a radio antenna than a nine-inch nail".

It is thought hundreds of lives could have been lost as a result of the failure of the devices, whose detection powers were no better than a random check. One truckload of rockets reportedly went through 23 checkpoints in Baghdad equipped with one of McCormick's devices without being spotted once.

-- snip --

It took the [British] government over a year to cotton on to the problems. In November 2008, a whistleblower wrote to Ian Pearson, a minister in the business department, urging him to shut down the trade in fake explosive detectors, but nothing was done. In January 2009, the whistleblower, who does not want to be named, sent a dossier detailing the scam that began with a hard-hitting title – "Dowsing rods endanger lives" – to James Arbuthnot, the chairman of the Commons defence select committee.

Arbuthnot promised to raise the matter with the minister for defence equipment and support but it was not until 12 months later that their export was banned on the basis that they were a danger to British and allied troops. By then, McCormick had made a fortune on the back of contracts with Iraqis, who paid $85m (£55m) for the bogus devices.

-- snip --

Police have identified £7m of McCormick's assets, which they intend to try to seize, but believe the fraudster has stashed at least that amount away from the eyes of the taxman and other authorities in Cyprus, Belize and Beirut ... McCormick had separate trading arrangements with other countries. In Lebanon, a UN agency and a luxury hotel were among purchasers. Devices were sold to Muammar Gaddafi's Libyan regime, Iran, China, Syria, Jordan, Georgia and Mexico.

-- snip --

[After selling someone else's phony device for a few years in the 1990s, McCormick] decided to try to make his own detector. By now the 9/11 attacks had happened and there were fortunes to be made in security. McCormick found a novelty device called the Golfinder "tuned to elements found in golf balls". The marketing blurb urged: "Don't laugh. It works when used properly," but added: "It's also a great novelty item that you should have fun with."

He bought 300 for just under $20 each and replaced the labels with his own. The ADE 100 was born. McCormick modified his device between 2005 and 2009 and it morphed into the ADE 101 with an asking price of around $7,000. A similar but more solid device was called the ADE 650.

-- snip --

By 2009, British and US soldiers in Basra and Baghdad were expressing "real concern" about the devices after x-raying them and finding no working parts inside. One brigadier told the Old Bailey jury "he had never seen the device detect anything". They compared them to divining rods or ouija boards. Soldiers reported going through checkpoints when they knew they were covered in traces of explosives. At one checkpoint McCormick's detectors might pick something up – but they would then sail through the next one.

McCormick was arrested in the UK in January 2010 and as part of the investigation a full double-blind trial of the devices at Cambridge's Cavendish laboratory found the results were no better than random. The device was right three out of 25 times. One scientist said McCormick's description of radio technology was "an affront".

But still the device continued to be used in Baghdad, Mosul and Basra. "We know it doesn't work and that it has been banned, but we are continuing to use it," an Iraqi army lieutenant told an AFP correspondent in the weeks after McCormick's arrest. "It is bullshit. But still we are lying about it."

-- snip --

"I'm confident people have lost their lives because of this," said Detective Superintendent Nigel Rock, who led the Avon and Somerset police investigation. "There are young Iraqi officials standing on checkpoints hoping this device is going to tell them if there's a bomb in that car or wrapped around that person. I find it incredible and diabolical. He knew what he was doing."

In a just world, McCormick would be sentenced to spend the rest of his life in Iraq searching for bombs with his own ADE 651. But in this world, it looks like we will have to settle for taking away his cash, cars, boats, and homes.

Friday, April 19, 2013

All Chechens, Technically Speaking

So Czechs are aghast at the American public's confusion about the location of Chechnya. The Ambassador of the Czech Republic issued a statement today to plead for our understanding that these are two different countries, and to assure us that "the Czech Republic is an active and reliable partner of the United States in the fight against terrorism."

It pains me to admit it, but the Ambassador might as well give up. In times of public panic, technically, everybody from outside of America is a Chechen.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

One Week After, Details Keep Emerging

AP photo from video, minutes after the attack in
which Anne Smedinghoff and four others were killed

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

 As Domani Spero asked just the other day, can it possibly get any worse than this? I think it could very well get worse, if and when the public gets the results of the on-going FBI investigation into the attack, or those of any investigation the Defense Department may be conducting.

It's quite bad enough already, judging by the details that have come out so far. Let's see ... the book donation visit to the Sheik Baba Metti school by a team from the U.S. Embassy and PRT Zabul was announced to the press one day in advance. But, despite that lack of operational security, the team was allowed to walk to the school from the PRT's base at FOB Smart rather than use protected vehicles. The roughly 100-meter long route to the school evidently wasn't swept before the team's walk, or blocked to traffic during the movement. The team's military escort didn't know which gate to use to enter the school - a school that the PRT itself funded and regularly visited - which required the team to double back to FOB Smart and further expose themselves to attack.

Lastly, the attack reportedly involved a roadside bomb as well as a suicide driver in a bomb-laden vehicle. If that's true, it means that the Taliban were able to plant a command-detonated bomb in the street immediately outside FOB Smart despite the surveillance that street was undoubtedly under by both the U.S. and Afghan military.  

The latest details come from an Associate Press story today which quotes an anonymous State Department official.

A senior State Department [official] familiar with the investigation into the attack told the Associated Press that the group was walking, not driving, from a military base to the nearby school in Zabul Province when the explosion hit.


The official was not authorized to speak to the news media and provided the details on condition of anonymity.


The official said on-foot travel for the group was approved because of the short distance — about 100 yards — between the base and the school compound, and was in keeping with past visits to the site, which also houses an Afghan Ministry of Agriculture office.

Because of the proximity, the group would have had to get out of their vehicles at the military base, the official said.

He said the group took the shortest and most direct route from the base but was told on arrival that the entrance they wanted to use, and had been used previously, no longer provided access to the school.

The group was moving past the military base to another entrance to the compound at the time of the explosion, apparently from a suicide car bomber. That was followed by a second blast, apparently from a roadside bomb.

UK Guardian graphic

Why was the team allowed to walk to the school? Why was that short transit from the FOB to the school so badly planned? Why didn't anyone notice an explosive device planted seemingly right outside the FOB's perimeter wall? Will any official body be convened to ask these questions?

The regulations governing Accountability Review Boards have a limited exception for incidents in Iraq and Afghanistan, so I assume one will not be convened in this case. (I cannot find a citation extending that exception into 2013, but maybe there is one and I'm just not looking in the right place.)

However, the State Department seriously needs an independent review here, not least for reasons of Congressional relations. It would be well advised to convene one, ideally in conjunction with the Defense Department.