Renditions exposed

The Council of Europe today came out with a bashing report on the US “ghost flights” in Europe, identifying a “spider’s web” of landing points around the world airports, used by the CIA for its “extraordinary rendition” program, whereby Islamist suspects are moved around the world to secret detention and interrogation centers. The report also exposed 14 European countries, which are either “involved in or complicit” in the suspects’ illegal transfer and detention.

Washington and several European capitals, stand accused, have rejected the report, saying it’s solely based on “allegations.” Continue reading Renditions exposed

GAO report on military aid to Egypt

The slow crusade in the US Congress to cut down on military aid to Egypt went a step further yesterday with the publication of a report, requested by leading anti-Egypt congressman Tom Lantos, on the effectiveness of the aid program. Haaretz reports:

The study was requested by Rep. Tom Lantos, senior member of the opposition Democrats on the House of Representatives International Relations Committee.

Lantos said in statement the study proves his long-held belief that the “Egypt program is meant more as a political entitlement program, with no real performance standards.”

“For all of the $34 billion that U.S. taxpayers have spent on this program over two decades, it is clearly not a serious effort to enhance the military capabilities of an ally to better participate with U.S. forces in joint actions,” he said.

“This is a massive military entitlement program on autopilot.”

The study, which can be downloaded in PDF here, concludes:

For the past 27 years, the United States has provided Egypt with more than $34 billion in FMF assistance to support U.S. strategic goals in the Middle East. Most of the FMF assistance has been in the form of cash grants that Egypt has used to purchase U.S. military goods and services. Like Israel, and unlike all other recipients of U.S. FMF assistance, Egypt can use the prospects of future congressional appropriations to contract for defense goods and services that it wants to procure in a given year through the FMF program. Until 1998, DSCA limited the number of new commitments to less than the annual appropriation thereby allowing more than $2 billion in undisbursed funds to accumulate. If the plan to eliminate the undisbursed funds for the Egypt FMF program is realized, these funds will be depleted by the end of fiscal year 2007. As Congress debates the appropriate mix between military and economic assistance to Egypt, the inherent risks of such flexible financing warrant careful attention and assessment by State and DOD.

Similarly, both State and DOD could do a better job assessing and documenting the achievement of goals as a result of the $34 billion in past U.S. FMF assistance and the $1.3 billion in annual appropriations planned to be requested. Periodic program assessments that are documented and based on established benchmarks and targets for goals would help Congress and key decision makers make informed decisions. We agree that expedited transit in the Suez Canal; support for humanitarian efforts in Darfur, Sudan, and elsewhere; and continuing offers to train Iraqi security forces are important benefits that the United States derives from its strategic relationship with Egypt. However, without a common definition of interoperability for systems, units, or forces, it is difficult to measure the extent of current and desired levels of interoperability, nor is it clear how the Egyptian military has been or could be transformed into the modern, interoperable force articulated in the U.S. goals for the Egypt FMF program.

The report also cites some forms of Egyptian payback for the aid:

Egyptian and U.S. officials cited several examples of Egypt’s support for U.S. goals. For example, Egypt:

• deployed about 800 military personnel to the Darfur region of the Sudan in 2004;
• trained 250 Iraqi police and 25 Iraqi diplomats in 2004;
• deployed a military hospital and medical staff to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005, where nearly 100,000 patients received treatment;
• provided over-flight permission to 36,553 U.S. military aircraft through Egyptian airspace from 2001 to 2005; and
• granted expedited transit of 861 U.S. naval ships through the Suez Canal during the same period and provided all security support for those ship transits.

36,553 flight sorties between 2001 and 2005? That sure seems like a lot for a country that officially is not providing logistical aid to US forces in Iraq.

The arms trade and Iraq

When a few years ago, before I became a journalist, I worked as a researcher for NATO, I was very interested in the arms trade. At the time, new NATO members in Eastern Europe had to upgrade their military capabilities from Soviet-era equipment to the type of equipment that would work in joint actions with other NATO members. That meant that a lot of old weapons, particularly small arms (i.e. guns), ended up on the black market, presumably with military officers from these countries getting a nice commission. This was the time when you could buy a Kalashnikov in the Great Lakes region of Africa for a few dollars, which contributed enormously to the civil conflicts in that area.

The arms trade gets little attention from the press these days, despite the fact that it is estimated to be one of the top three biggest businesses internationally (alongside sex and drugs). Much of it is illegal, and as Americans in particular now know, even the legal part is morally dubious when your system of governance relies on a revolving door system with the military industrial complex of the kind Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney used. The arms trade is not only part of providing deadly systems (as the military calls weapons) to a lot of people who should not have them, but it has also been a largely corrupting influence. Take US military aid to Egypt: it is the lubricant that greases a vast system of payoffs and commissions that keep this military regime in place, while also keeping US arms manufacturers in business. There is a vast and little-reported human rights dimension to the arms trade that this Amnesty International report exposes in all of its complexity:

The report shows how, partly as a consequence of the “export rush” that followed the end of the Cold War, arms trade routes are becoming more complex, requiring even more differentiated logistical, transport, brokerage, and financial arrangements. The use of private transport contractors and brokers for arms transfers is not adequately covered by national legal and regulatory frameworks, and the responsibility of states for the shipment of hundreds of thousands of tons of weapons and other military and security equipment, ammunition and spare parts to armed forces and law enforcement agencies around the world can be easily obscured by complex supply chains. The resulting lack of transparency, monitoring and effective control of such arms supply chains are contributing to the diversion and easy availability of arms by those perpetrating serious violations of human rights during armed conflicts and law enforcement operations. Examples in the report also show how arms are destined or diverted to arms-embargoed countries, criminal organizations and armed groups, including those believed to engage in terrorism, and are paid for with cash or bartered for narcotics, precious stones, metals, oil, timber and other natural resources.

International relations is not about institutions like the UN, as they’ll teach you in universities. It’s about international business and the process of distribution of money, goods and resources. One of the reasons these things can keep on going is the reluctance by even powerful democratic countries to do anything about the corrupting effect of international financial black holes like the Bahamas and the logistics of the arms trade in general. Only every now and then, as in the Clearstream affair in France, do these issues come up in the public eye.

For our region, the report has some interesting tidbits about the arms trade around Iraq:

International and local observers in Belgrade say that arms stockpiles of newly manufactured weapons and ammunition from Serbia and Montenegro are being transferred to Iraq and Afghanistan. The Taos executives mentioned the involvement of a previously unknown Israeli-registered company, “Talon,” which they said was an arms-brokering company “based in Tel Aviv, Israel”, playing a major role to facilitate the transfer of weapons from Serbia to the Middle East. A Montenegrin arms company executive also stated that Talon acted as an “agent” on behalf of Taos in Serbia & Montenegro, but that a confidentiality clause in their contract forbade them for discussing the company’s identity. Moreover, the Serbia & Montenegro Ministry of International Economic Relations (MIER) stated that the company involved in procuring weapons for Iraq in Serbia & Montenegro is Talon Security Consulting and Trade Ltd, registered at an address in the “Diamond Tower” Twin Towers complex in Jabotinsky street, Ramat-Gan, Tel Aviv.

Talon’s owner is Major Shmuel Avivi, according to the Federation of Israeli Chambers of commerce website. An Israeli source described Shmuel Avivi as “former Israeli military attaché in Switzerland.” Mr. Avivi declined to say whether he was currently a serving member of the Israeli defence forces. Mr. Avivi appears to have served as Israel’s military attaché in Denmark and Sweden. The Israeli source stated that “He [Mr. Avivi] operated out of Switzerland with a Swiss business partner whose first name is Henri.” Henri goes by the name of Heinrich in Switzerland where he is known as Mr. Heinrich Thomet, associated with at least two companies involved in arms dealing, Brugger & Thomet AG and BT International Ltd. Mr Heinrich Thomet stated that he worked together with Mr. Shmuel Avivi “occasionally” and that his company “are supplying Taos Industries on the US SOCOM business” but that his company was not “actually providing any services for Iraq or Afghanistan, we are mainly working on the US government contract which is a SOCOM transaction.”

Another company involved in arms transfers to Iraq is a UK-based company called Global Trading Group Ltd. Global have purchased large quantities of small arms and light weapons for Iraq, including an order for 1000 sniper rifles. In documentation supplied to the Ministry of International Economic Relations, Global Trading Group Ltd give as their address premises currently used by a high street store selling hi-fi equipment. This is a different address from the one supplied in their official UK company registration papers. Global Trading Group Ltd is a new company, incorporated on April 5, 2005, the only publicly available document is the appointments report which describes the company as a “private limited company”; no information is supplied under section entitled “Nature of business” and no accounts have been filed to date. According to UK company house data, Global’s business address is a private one, which appears to be the home of one of the directors of the company.

One of the directors of Global Trading Group Ltd is listed in the Company house documentation as “Fawzi Francis Toma”, who is described as a British citizen born in 1958. Mr Fawzi Toma is known in Iraq as Mr. Fawzi Hariri, a one-time aide to Kurdish faction militia and political leader Massoud Barzani and now a senior figure within Barzani’s political party the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP). Mr. Hariri liaises with foreign governments on behalf of the KDP and currently serves as chief of staff of the Iraqi foreign ministry, currently headed by Mr. Hoshyar Zebar, also of the KDP. According to Companies’ House documentation, Global Trading Group Ltd’s registered business address is at the home of another company director, Praidon Darmoo, who lobbied the UK government to support the war in Iraq in 2003. A Global Trading director stated that the weapons supplied by Global Trading Group Ltd were on behalf of another company in Jordan who held the contract with the Iraqi Ministry of Defence but that he had seen the e
nd user certificate which he said was issued on behalf of the Iraqi ministry of defence and was sent to Belgrade.

The report is also available as a 149-page PDF. And remember that just two days ago it was revealed that:

SOME 200,000 guns the US sent to Iraqi security forces may have been smuggled to terrorists, it was feared yesterday.

The 99-tonne cache of AK47s was to have been secretly flown out from a US base in Bosnia. But the four planeloads of arms have vanished.

Orders for the deal to go ahead were given by the US Department of Defense. But the work was contracted out via a complex web of private arms traders.

And the Moldovan airline used to transport the shipment was blasted by the UN in 2003 for smuggling arms to Liberia, human rights group Amnesty has discovered.

It follows a separate probe claiming that thousands of guns meant for Iraq’s police and army instead went to al-Qaeda

Amnesty chief spokesman Mike Blakemore said: “It’s unbelievable that no one can account for 200,000 assault rifles. If these weapons have gone missing it’s a terrifying prospect.” American defence chiefs hired a US firm to take the guns, from the 90s Bosnian war, to Iraq.

But air traffic controllers in Baghdad have no record of the flights, which supposedly took off between July 2004 and July 2005. A coalition forces spokesman confirmed they had not received “any weapons from Bosnia” and added they were “not aware of any purchases for Iraq from Bosnia”. Nato and US officials have already voiced fears that Bosnian arms – sold by US, British and Swiss firms – are being passed to insurgents. A Nato spokesman said: “There’s no tracking mechanism to ensure they don’t fall into the wrong hands. There are concerns that some may have been siphoned off.” This year a newspaper claimed two UK firms were involved in a deal in which thousands of guns for Iraqi forces were re-routed to al-Qaeda.

An internet for empire

The New York Times explains the Pentagon’s plans to build a “Global Information Grid” that will put instant coverage of the entire world in the hands of military commanders:

Many new multibillion-dollar weapons and satellites are “critically dependent on the future network,” the agency reported. “Despite enormous challenges and risks – many of which have not been successfully overcome in smaller-scale efforts” like missile defense, “the Pentagon is depending on the GIG to enable a fundamental transformation in the way military operations are conducted.”

According to Art Cebrowski, director of the Pentagon’s Office of Force Transformation, “What we are really talking about is a new theory of war.”

Libération: el-Baradeï accused of helping cover up Egyptian nuclear program

The respected left-wing French daily Libération published a story implying that Mohammed el-Baradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is protecting his native country Egypt from investigation of a secret nuclear program. The article makes clear that this is speculation that is currently discreetly making the rounds at the IAEA and that is being pushed mostly by US diplomats, not that it has any tangible proof of this. It notes in particular that the US has been dissatisfied with the “moderate” approach to confronting Iran that el-Baradei favors (as do France and the UK).

Reste à savoir si la polémique, qui demeure très feutrée et ne s’est pas encore exprimée sur la place publique, est fondée. Elle prend sa source dans le programme nucléaire libyen que le très versatile colonel Kadhafi a brutalement abandonné le 19 décembre 2003, permettant à l’AIEA de plonger son nez dans ses dossiers secrets. C’est ainsi, indiquent des sources diplomatiques occidentales travaillant sur ce sujet, qu’il a pu être établi que le programme clandestin avait des implications égyptiennes. Le programme lybien a consisté notamment à importer ­ pour quelque 500 millions de dollars ­ de l’uranium et des équipements de centrifugation, dont 10 000 centrifugeuses P (Pakistan) 2. Un programme important sur lequel, semble-t-il, Tripoli ne faisait pas que travailler pour son propre compte mais aussi, secrètement, pour les Egyptiens. Depuis, une certaine tension existe entre des pays membres de l’AIEA et l’Egypte, les premiers reprochant au Caire de n’avoir pas joué franc jeu. L’affaire est à ce point sensible, à cause des répercussions qu’elle pourrait avoir dans toute la région, qu’elle est traitée avec une grande discrétion, selon les mêmes sources diplomatiques.

Translation: It remains to be seen whether this polemic, which remains low-key and has yet to be expressed in a public forum, is founded. It originates from the Libyan nuclear program that the very versatile Colonel Kadhafi suddenly abandoned on 19 December 2003, allowing the IAEA to stick its nose in its secret files. That is how, point out Western diplomatic sources working on the case, that it has been established that the clandestine program had Egyptian involvement. The Libyan program notably involved importing some $500 million of uranium and centrifuge equipment, including 10,000 P (Pakistan) 2 centrifuges. An important program on which, it seems, Tripoli was not only working for itself but also, secretly, for the Egyptians. Since then, a certain tension exists between member states of the IAEA and Egypt, with the former accusing Egypt of being dishonest. The affair is so sensitive that, because of the repercussions it could have across the region, it is treated with the utmost secrecy, according the same diplomatic sources.

The Egyptian ambassador to the IAEA has already denied the allegations, but the spokesman for the IAEA itself has refused to comment, according to this AFP story.

I’ll have a second post later on this, after the elections, which provides background and digs up previous references to an Egyptian-Libyan nuclear program.