Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Drunken brawls, prostitutes, hazing and humiliation, taking vodka shots out of buttcracks no, the perpetrators of these Animal House-like antics aren't some depraved frat brothers. They are the private security contractors guarding the US embassy compound in Kabul.
These allegations, and many more, are contained in a letter sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday by the Project on Government Oversight, which has been investigating the embassy security contract held by ArmorGroup North America (a subsidiary of Wackenhut, which is in turn owned by the security behemoth G4S). The contractor was the subject of a congressional probe earlier this summer that found serious lapses in the company's handling of the embassy security contract, which internal State Department documents said left the embassy compound "in jeopardy." Nevertheless, the government opted to extend the company's 5-year, $189 million contract for another year.
Underscoring the scope of the problems within ArmorGroup's Afghanistan operation, POGO says that nearly a tenth of the company's 450-man embassy security force contacted the watchdog group to "express concerns about and provide evidence of a pattern of blatant, longstanding violations of the security contract, and of a pervasive breakdown in the chain of command and guard force discipline and morale."
In the letter to Clinton, POGO executive director Danielle Brian writes:
This environment has resulted in chronic turnover by U.S./ex-pat guards. According to the State Department, "nearly 90% of the incumbent US/Expats left within the first six months of contract performance." According to POGO sources, the U.S./ex-pat guard turnover may be as high as 100 percent annually. This untenable turnover prevents the guard force from developing team cohesion, and requires constant training for new replacement recruits. The guards have come to POGO because they say they believe strongly in the mission, but are concerned that many good guards are quitting out of frustration or being fired for refusing to participate in the misconduct, and that those responsible for the misconduct are not being held accountable.
Brian's letter suggests that Wackenhut Vice President Sam Brinkley, who testified before a Senate panel in June about ArmorGroup's performance of the embassy contract, may have misled Congress.
Despite Wackenhut Vice President Sam Brinkley's sworn Senate testimony that " the Kabul contract has been fully-staffed since January 2009 " the truth is that chronic understaffing of the guard force continues to be a major problem. And evidence suggests Mr. Brinkley knew that. Around March, according to numerous participants, he was confronted by some 50 guards at Camp Sullivan who complained to him directly about a severe, ongoing guard shortage. Then, in an April 2009 memo to a State Department official, U.S. Embassy Kabul guard force Commander Werner Ilic reported that guard shortages had caused chronic sleep deprivation among his men. He described a situation in which guards habitually face 14-hour-day work cycles extending for as many as eight weeks in a row, frequently alternating between day and night shifts. He concluded that "this ultimately diminishes the LGF's [Local Guard Force's] ability to provide security." The contract with the State Department specifies that guards may not be on duty for longer than 12 consecutive hours. Interviewees and documents reveal that short-staffing frequently results in the denial of contractually guaranteed leave and vacation, and that those who do not comply are threatened with termination or actually fired.
But criticisms of failing to meet manpower obligations are nothing compared to the bacchanalian activities ArmorGroup's personnel were allegedly engaged in.
Guards have come to POGO with allegations and photographic evidence that some supervisors and guards are engaging in near-weekly deviant hazing and humiliation of subordinates. Witnesses report that the highest levels of AGNA management in Kabul are aware of and have personally observedor even engaged inthese activities, but have done nothing to stop them. Indeed, management has condoned this misconduct, declining to take disciplinary action against those responsible and allowing two of the worst offending supervisors to resign and allegedly move on to work on other U.S. contracts. The lewd and deviant behavior of approximately 30 supervisors and guards has resulted in complete distrust of leadership and a breakdown of the chain of command, compromising security.
Numerous emails, photographs, and videos portray a Lord of the Flies environment. One email from a current guard describes scenes in which guards and supervisors are "peeing on people, eating potato chips out of [buttock] cracks, vodka shots out of [buttock] cracks (there is video of that one), broken doors after drnken [sic] brawls, threats and intimidation from those leaders participating in this activity ." Photograph after photograph shows guardsincluding supervisorsat parties in various stages of nudity, sometimes fondling each other. These parties take place just a few yards from the housing of other supervisors.
According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, the definition of anti-Semitism is, "hostility towards or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic or racial group." This should strike everyone as odd, since Jews are hardly the only Semitic people roaming this earth. Most oddly enough, we Arabs are also a Semitic people who speak a Semitic language, unlike many Jews who do not.
Still, over the years, for whatever reason, the term "anti-Semitic" has been reserved exclusively for attacks on Jews, the range of which has become dangerously broad. While this is an age-old issue, so to speak, the recent Swedish-Israeli crisis has brought it back to the fore like never before.
It all started with a seemingly innocuous yet human interest story in a large Swedish newspaper. The author, Donald Bostrum, entitled his back-page article "They plunder the organs of our sons" in reference to Palestinian claims that as far back as 1992, the Israeli army has been harvesting the organs of young Palestinians it killed. Bostrum gives testimonies from Palestinians and some first hand accounts from when he was in Palestine of young men killed by the Israeli army, their bodies returned to the families days later cut open and stitched back from stomach to neck.
The details of the article are unimportant at this point. The gist of the piece is that there are those out there who believe their sons' organs were taken for harvesting without their consent.
Whether the claims are true, accurate or biased is secondary to this argument. This was an article in a newspaper, written by a journalist who took full responsibility for what he said and what he wrote. Israelis, who were clearly outraged, could have easily done what most of us do when we are unhappy with something in the media we write to the editor or the author airing our complaints. We may even get our comments published and read, thus making our grievances clear to all those interested.
But, in traditional Israeli custom, instead of approaching this issue with professionalism and appropriate criticism, protests and screams of anti-Semitism and blood libel were heard around the world. Israel, which unsurprisingly, did not react to Bostrum's first mention of the issue in his 2001 book, "Inshallah: The conflict between Israel and Palestine", went into a tirade of accusations against the article, the newspaper, the writer and, yes, the Swedish government for not immediately condemning the article. Swedish government sources maintained that freedom of expression was an inalienable right in Sweden, which could not be compromised.
That was certainly not the answer Israel wanted to hear. Its Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman accused Sweden of not intervening in "the blood libel against Jews." In true Israeli form, the past was dredged up as a means of putting others on the defensive. "The affair is reminiscent of the state's [Sweden] stand during World War II, when it also did not intervene," Lieberman charged
The crisis only heightened with Sweden's continued refusal to condemn the article publicly and what Israel viewed as its failure to denounce the article's clearly anti-Semitic messages. Sweden, on the other hand, said it was a fierce defender of its constitutional rights and would not trample on the freedom of expression and freedom of speech regardless of government officials' personal opinions.
What is so amazing really, is the fact that Israel gets away with this stuff time and again. The hackneyed Israeli litany of anti-Semitism seems to hook the world no matter how ridiculous the claim. The article in mention may or may not have been accurate, but how many thousands of articles out there each day do we read and then question their credibility? Countless. Besides, Bostrum's article was not attacking Jews. He was questioning foul play by a "democratic" country's army, which so happens to be Israel. It was not a criticism of Jews, their past, their history or their religion. If it were, if Bostrum had made glaring racist comments against the "Jews" in the Israeli army, perhaps the accusation of anti-Semitism or blood libel or whatever else Lieberman could think of, would be a bit closer to the truth.
The truth however, is that Israel has created a backup defense for those times when its arguments are not based on solid ground, or simply when all other arguments fail. In this case, instead of the Israeli government demanding there be a thorough investigation into these grave allegations, it has turned its wrath on Sweden. Even IKEA has been dealt a blow, with a petition reportedly circulating in Israel to boycott the Swedish furniture giant.
By Susan Ferriss
An old commune where the Grateful Dead and other bands used to romp is being excavated and items catalogued by state park archaeologists at Olompali State Historic Park.
Among the artifacts: the classic hippie beads, a marijuana "roach clip," fragments of tie-dyed clothes, and a reel-to-reel tape a Marin County studio technician has promised to try to restore.
They are the stuff of memories for Noelle Olompali-Barton, who was 16 when she and her showbiz mom plunged into California's new counterculture, retreating to this once-private ranch north of San Francisco to establish one of the first hippie communes.
The teenager baked bread to give away in Golden Gate Park. She sat with the Grateful Dead under an oak tree for a famous 1969 album photo.
For two intense, often drug-laced years, the commune nourished utopian dreams and some bad trips, too, she said.
But never in her wildest hallucinations did the teen imagine that more than 40 years later, she would assist an archaeologist in identifying macramé headbands, old records and other commune artifacts retrieved from the abandoned ruins of her former home.
"You know you're old when you're pictured in Archaeology magazine," chuckled Olompali-Barton, now 58, who was profiled in that journal in July along with California state parks archaeologist E. Breck Parkman.
Sitting under oaks outside the park's visitor center, Parkman laughed along with Olompali-Barton, who has been using the ranch's name as her own since she lived here.
The state of California bought Olompali in 1977, and opened a park on its 700 acres of oak-studded rolling hills.
Parkman knows some might scoff at his project to catalog and display the artifacts of an era many alive remember well or not so well if they were especially indulgent.
But the commune, he said, is as much a part of Olompali as the rest of its history, stretching back thousands of years.
"I see the commune as part of the Cold War," he said. "If we hadn't had the Cold War, we wouldn't have had Vietnam, and if we hadn't had Vietnam, we wouldn't have had the commune. It was one of the reactions to the war."
The years the commune existed, late 1967 to 1969, were some of the most tumultuous and divisive in modern American history, Parkman said.
yes-man (noun, plural -men): someone who agrees with everything the boss says, even if it's demented, cruel, absurd, or just stupid.
The Yes Men: A group of people who target bosses they don't work for, then agree so hard with their targets that their audiences should sit up and take notice
We call ourselves the Yes Men, and our goal is to fix the world. We even have a new film, coming out in theaters on October 22, that we've called The Yes Men Fix the World.
We'll give away the ending: we don't actually make everything better. And worse, we're now spending so much time on the distribution of this damn film that we don't even have time to do our own silly antics anymore. So: please do it for us. Steal our secrets.
What we doand what you can do toois impersonate captains of industry, infiltrate corporate events, give absurd and revealing presentations, and then escape to tell the story in the press, hopefully to the great embarrassment of the target.
You don't have to be a James Bond for this. You can be a bad actor, clumsy, absent minded, and even have stage fright. But what you might need a fake email address and a business card. For example, if you're representing Exxon as Luella Arschenfleck, buy a domain like exxon-corporate.com and use an address like email@example.com. (Note: a company like Go Daddy might cancel your domain name just because it contains a well-known corporate name, so you might want to use an off-beat, less stockholder-oriented domain name company.)
Then go to a conference web site, find the page called "speaking opportunities," and sign up. If they ask for money, stall and tell them you need to pay at the door. Come up with an excuse once you're there. In Calgary, Alberta, we decided we wanted to speak as Exxon at a big oil conference, so "Gus" (firstname.lastname@example.org domain we happened to own for a while, until PR powerhouse Hill & Knowlton used strong-arm tactics to get it back) wrote to the conference and told them he would get them Lee Raymond, the former chair of Exxon Mobil, who happened to be going hunting near Calgary and was interested in speaking at the conference.
Not noticing there are no forests near Calgary, the conference jumped at the chance. On the day of the event, Raymond was taken with flu, and some "assistants" showed up in his place.
The problem with promising to deliver someone famous is obvious: everyone knows who they are. So we explained that for security reasons, the conference was not allowed to say anything about him on their promotional material: we "embargoed" the informationand that's a word you can use too.
So suppose you've done it: you've secured a spot as the star speaker at a big important conference. You're all set. All you have to do is craft a talk that will shock the pants off your audience and enlighten them at the same timeor (if they just sit there and applaud, the way they always have with us) at least show the rest of the world that something is terribly wrong with the picture.
Posted by Richard Ross
Self-preservation is something that most humans take quite seriously, and that a few take to extremes. Faced with the real or imagined threat of attacks levied by nuclear, biological, and chemical weaponry, some people opt to head 25 feet underground, surrounded by concrete and complex air-filtration systems, surviving off rations and waiting, so to speak, for the end of the world.
That's the subject of Richard Ross's Waiting for the End of the World, originally published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2004, for which Ross spent five years traveling over three continents, photographing the interiors of bomb shelters. "I'm a child of the late 1950s," he says. "I grew up in an era of duck-and-cover drills, where we always had to be acquainted with the idea of The Bomb." The exploration took Ross into a series of survivalist spaces, offering a visual index of the lengths to which people will go when they feel abused or threatened. "I ended up photographing an underground bomb shelter in Livermore, California, looking straight up [toward the entry from the surface], and the light was very divine and was essentially apocalyptic," he says. "Some of these people thought they were going to be the new inhabitants of the Garden of Eden. I can't believe that. But when you think back to the illogic of the Bush/Cheney administration, and the world around you is so devolved, the idea of going underground doesn't seem so crazy."
Public shelter near Zurich, Switzerland. Major external air filters in communal shelter.
The discs produced in this factory near Zurich are the tops of air filters.
Doors of the public shelter near Zurich. Building code defines the specifications that are required of the shelters, though color schemes are optional. The entire population can be put underground in two hours. Bridges and tunnels throughout Switzerland are set with explosives to be blown in the face of an advancing enemy.
The proud owner of a new single-family residence in Switzerland shows off his shelter. He is standing in front of his Andair-manufactured air filtration system with the escape hatch on the right.
Charlie Hull Shelter, Emigrant, Montana. Bedroom. This 90-family "co-op shelter" was for members of the Elizabeth Clare Prophet Church, which predicted Doomsday on March 15, 1990. That day, the shelter was full; everyone emerged on March 16th and went home. The shelter has fallen out of favor and is maintained only by Charlie Hull and a few assistants.
Charlie Hull Shelter. The chalkboard is there to make sure no one is accidentally locked in.
by John Cole
Joe Klein on why Glenn Greenwald is not a serious person:
For the past several years, Greenwald has conducted a persistent, malicious campaign to distort who I am and where I stand. He is a mean-spirited, graceless bully. During that time, I have never seen him write a positive sentence about the US military, which has transformed itself dramatically for the better since Rumsfeld's departure (indeed, he ridiculed me when I reported that the situation in Anbar Province was turning around in 2007). I have never seen him acknowledge that the work of the clandestine serviceperformed disgracefully by the CIA during the early Bush yearsis an absolute necessity in a world where terrorists have the capability to attack us at any time, in almost any place. Nor have I seen [him] acknowledge that such a threat exists, nor make a single positive suggestion about how to confront that threat in ways that might conform to his views. Therefore, I have seen no evidence that he cares one whit about the national security of the United States. It is not hyperbole, it is a fact.
You have to love the sheer beauty of that baby, don't you? Read it a second time. Klein is condemning Greenwald for what he HASN'T said. How awesome is that? I mean, if you get to condemn people for things they haven't said, you can just make up any old shit and then smear someone. Why, I bet Greenwald has not recently stated that he loves the Humane Society. In Jokeline's world, that is clear evidence that Glenn cares not a whit about animals. Even better, Greenwald may have even said all the things that Jokeline arbitrarily has decided he needs to say, but if Klein hasn't seen them, well, the accusation still stands.
Additionally, how awesome is it that in order to prove you care about national security, you have to fellate the military, the CIA, and whenever a similar topic arises, gravely announce in a serious voice that you are very, very, serious about national security. Pretty weak, Joe. Pretty weak. This is the kind of crap that certain folks throw at Joe when they call him a self-hating Jew. You'd think Klein would recognize this kind of nonsense for what it is.
And the real reason Klein hates Greenwald is because Greenwald pointed out that he had no idea what he was talking about regarding FISA. \
Developers of new web browsing software that flags questionable claims or outright lies on the web hope it will become a valuable tool to deal with the misinformation that litters the Internet.
But observers say Dispute Finder, an experimental browser extension developed by Intel, and the many websites that already aim to debunk online rumours and falsehoods face an enormous task. It isn't as easy as simply telling someone they're wrong.
Once installed, Dispute Finder highlights in red what it determines are disputed claims on websites, then offers users links to alternative points of view and evidence to back them up.
"It's important to be aware when something you're reading is not the only opinion, when there is another point of view worth paying attention to," says California-based Intel researcher Rob Ennals.
"The real problem is, when you don't realize something is disputed, you don't realize there are other points of view and you might not be aware you've wandered into a dispute."
The current version of the software relies entirely on users to identify disputed claims, provide evidence and point the software to other instances of that claim on the web, so right now there's still not much content being highlighted.
Eventually, Ennals says users who input claims will be able to train the software to seek out examples and continue to flag new content as it's posted. And, as the software becomes more popular, more claims will be catalogued.
He says real people are in a better position to determine whether a claim is in dispute than any computer and he brushes aside suggestions that doing so might just provide another forum for bogus assertions.
"The good thing is that if something is disputed enough that people will care, the chances are that someone is going to care enough to mark it as disputed," says Ennals.