Saturday, December 31, 2005

Venezuela takes control of oil fields - TT International Business

Venezuela takes control of oil fields

Business Briefcase

ARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - Venezuela's state oil company said yesterday it has successfully signed agreements to bring all 32 privately operated oil fields under government control after reaching a deal with Spanish-Argentine oil company Repsol YPF.

The Venezuelan government had set a Dec. 31 deadline for all private companies holding contracts to independently pump oil to agree to new joint ventures that will be majority-owned by the state oil company.

The 15,000 barrel-a-day Quiamare-La Ceiba oil field, however, was the only one not to have submitted to the contract changes due to objections by Exxon Mobil Corp., which jointly operates the field with Repsol.

Repsol has acquired Exxon's 25 per cent stake in the field and agreed to convert its operating agreement into a joint venture, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A., or PDVSA, said in a statement. The company did not provide a cash value for the deal.

The government had threatened to reclaim oil fields from companies that refused to sign the so-called transitional joint-venture agreements, which will later be converted into permanent agreements with PDVSA.

Of 22 companies that held operating agreements, Chevron Corp., BP PLC, Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Brazil's state oil company Petrobras S.A. were among those that signed earlier.

The state could take as much as a 90 per cent stake in the new ventures. The amount the private companies have invested in the fields will determine the amount of control they have, Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez has said. The contract changes are part of a wider strategy by President Hugo Chavez's administration to exert more control over the oil industry. In less than four years, his government has sharply raised taxes and royalties charged to foreign oil companies and demanded $3 billion US in unpaid taxes.

Pizza magnate donates $20M

TORONTO (CP) - The founder of the Pizza Pizza restaurant chain has quietly given $20 million to charity, delivering the news in a year-end filing that showed the donation knocked his private company into a net loss.

Michael Overs set up the Tesari Charitable Foundation in September but there was no announcement because the 66-year-old Toronto resident is "a very private person," Curt Feltner, chief financial officer of Pizza Pizza Ltd., said yesterday in explaining the unusual earnings statement.

"He just does not like to make major announcements about his personal givings."

Feltner added that Pizza Pizza Ltd. didn't have staff to deal with a crush of calls from worthy causes clamouring for a slice of the foundation's funds. "The foundation is in the gift-giving phase now, but selectively," Feltner said, adding that it will concentrate on the health and vocational training fields.

Boost for our Troops -Canucks other NATO Soldiers ready to take over fight in Afghanistan
Boost for our troops
Canucks other NATO Soldiers ready to take over fight in Afghanistan

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- A U.S. commander is "very confident" Canadian and other NATO-led troops will aggressively keep up the fight against insurgents when they take over control of southern Afghanistan from his troops in the spring.
NATO foreign ministers approved plans earlier this month to send up to 6,000 mostly European and Canadian soldiers into volatile southern Afghanistan, while about 10,000 NATO troops continue to watch over the north and west.
The plans give the NATO troops a stronger self-defence mandate, guarantee support from U.S. troops if they face a serious attack and set rules for handling detainees.
Canadian Col. S.J. Bowes said his force, which will assume responsibility for Kandahar, is prepared to extend the offensive nature of the operation.
"It's clear that this is not a peacekeeping mission," he said.
Maj.-Gen. Jason Kamiya and Bowes, the U.S.-led coalition's operational commander, says NATO troops will be aggressive in the fight against insurgents.
"I feel very, very confident ... that each nation understands what the conditions are here," Kamiya said yesterday during a visit by Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff, who is making a six-country tour to rally his troops during the holidays.
This year has been the deadliest in Afghanistan since a U.S.-led offensive ousted the Taliban regime in late 2001 for harbouring Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida training camps. More than 1,500 people have been killed as militants loyal to the Taliban, al-Qaida and other groups have stepped up attacks.
Two suspected Taliban suicide bombers died Thursday when explosives they were strapping to their bodies exploded prematurely.
The blast followed a string of suicide attacks and came days after a top rebel commander said more than 200 insurgents are willing to kill themselves in assaults on U.S. troops and their allies.
Kamiya dismissed the claim by Mullah Dadullah as propaganda but acknowledged such attacks are on the rise.
"Suicide bombers were almost non-existent when we came here in March. What we did notice though is that the rise in suicide bombings began in June," he said.
"The enemy began to realize that every time he came at us directly he would always lose great numbers of fighters and insurgents. So, this caused him to adapt his tactics."
There have been about a dozen such attacks the last few months.
A suicide bomber also set off explosives near a U.S. and Afghan military convoy in Kandahar Dec. 11, killing himself and wounding three civilians. A week earlier, a suicide bomber killed a civilian and wounded a Canadian soldier.

Top Ten Dumbest Things Said in 2005

The Dumbest Things President Bush Said in 2005
10) "It's totally wiped out. ... It's devastating, it's got to be doubly devastating on the ground." --turning to his aides while surveying Hurricane Katrina flood damage from Air Force One, Aug. 31, 2005

9) "I'm occasionally reading, I want you to know, in the second term." --Washington, D.C., March 16, 2005

8) "This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous. And having said that, all options are on the table." --Brussels, Belgium, Feb. 22, 2005

7) "I'm going to spend a lot of time on Social Security. I enjoy it. I enjoy taking on the issue. I guess, it's the mother in me." --Washington D.C., April 14, 2005

6) "Because the — all which is on the table begins to address the big cost drivers. For example, how benefits are calculate, for example, is on the table; whether or not benefits rise based upon wage increases or price increases. There's a series of parts of the formula that are being considered. And when you couple that, those different cost drivers, affecting those — changing those with personal accounts, the idea is to get what has been promised more likely to be — or closer delivered to what has been promised. Does that make any sense to you? It's kind of muddled." --explaining his plan to save Social Security, Tampa, Fla., Feb. 4, 2005

5) "I think I may need a bathroom break. Is this possible?" --in a note to to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during a U.N. Security Council meeting, September 14, 2005

4) "We've got a lot of rebuilding to do. First, we're going to save lives and stabilize the situation. And then we're going to help these communities rebuild. The good news is -- and it's hard for some to see it now -- that out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast, like it was before. Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house -- he's lost his entire house -- there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch." --touring hurricane damage, Mobile, Ala., Sept. 2, 2005

3) "See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda." --Greece, N.Y., May 24, 2005

2) "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." --to FEMA director Michael Brown, who resigned 10 days later amid criticism over his handling of the Hurricane Katrina debacle, Mobile, Ala., Sept. 2, 2005

1) "You work three jobs? … Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that." --to a divorced mother of three, Omaha, Nebraska, Feb. 4, 2005

Journalists Should Expose Secrets, Not Keep Them

Journalists Should Expose Secrets, Not Keep Them
By Norman Solomon
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Thursday 28 December 2005

Journalists should be in the business of providing timely information to the public. But some - notably at the top rungs of the profession - have become players in the power games of the nation's capital. And more than a few seem glad to imitate the officeholders who want to decide what the public shouldn't know.

When the New York Times front page broke the story of the National Security Agency's domestic spying, the newspaper's editors had good reason to feel proud. Or so it seemed. But there was a troubling back-story: the Times had kept the scoop under wraps for a long time.

The White House did what it could - including, as a last-ditch move, an early-December presidential meeting that brought Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and executive editor Bill Keller to the Oval Office - in its efforts to persuade the Times not to report the story. The good news is that those efforts ultimately failed. The bad news is that they were successful for more than a year.

"The decision to hold the story last year was mine," Keller said, according to a Washington Post article that appeared 10 days after the Times's blockbuster December 16 story. He added: "The decision to run the story last week was mine. I'm comfortable with both decisions. Beyond that, there's just no way to have a full discussion of the internal procedural twists that media writers find so fascinating without talking about what we knew, when, and how - and that I can't do."

By all indications, the Times had the basic story in hand before the election in November 2004, when Bush defeated challenger John Kerry. In other words, if those running the New York Times had behaved like journalists instead of political players - if they had exposed this momentous secret instead of keeping it - there are good reasons to believe the outcome of the presidential election might have been different.

Chiseled into the stone facades of some courthouses is the credo "Justice delayed is justice denied." The same might be said of journalism, which derives much of its power from timeliness. When egregiously delayed, journalism is denied - or at least severely diminished.

Yet quite a few prominent journalists have expressed a strange kind of media solidarity with the Times's delay of the NSA story for so long.

Consider how the Washington Post intelligence reporter Dana Priest, for instance, responded to a request for "your opinion on the NY Times holding the domestic spying story for a year," during a December 22 online chat. "Well, first: I don't have a clue why they did so," Priest replied. "But I would give them the benefit of the doubt that it was for a good reason and, as their story said, they do more reporting within that year to satisfy themselves about certain things. Having read the story and the follow-ups, it's unclear why this would damage a valuable capability. Again, if the government doesn't think the bad guys believe their phones are tapped, they underestimate the enemy!"

Also opting to "give them the benefit of the doubt," some usually insightful media critics have gone out of their way to voice support for the Times's news management.

Deferring to the judgment of the executive editor of the New York Times may be akin to deferring to the judgment of the chief executive of the United States government. And as it happens, in this case, the avowed foreign policy goals of each do not appear to be in fundamental conflict - on the meaning of the Iraq war or the wisdom of enshrining a warfare state. Pretenses aside, the operative judgments from the New York Times's executive editor go way beyond the purely journalistic.

"So far, the passion to investigate the integrity of American intelligence-gathering belongs mostly to the doves, whose motives are subject to suspicion and who, in any case, do not set the agenda," Bill Keller wrote in an essay that appeared in the Times on June 14, 2003, shortly before he became executive editor. And Keller concluded: "The truth is that the information-gathering machine designed to guide our leaders in matters of war and peace shows signs of being corrupted. To my mind, this is a worrisome problem, but not because it invalidates the war we won. It is a problem because it weakens us for the wars we still face."

(By the way, Keller's phrase "the war we won" referred to the Iraq war.)

The story of the NSA's illicit domestic spying is not over. More holes are appearing in the Bush administration's damage-control claims. Media critics who affirm how important the story is - but make excuses for the long delay in breaking it - are part of a rationalizing process that has no end.

"The domestic spying controversy is a story of immense importance," Sydney Schanberg writes in the current Village Voice. The long delay before the Times published this "story of immense importance" does not seem to bother him much. "The paper had held the story for a year at the administration's pleading, but decided, after second thoughts and more reporting, that its importance required publication." Such wording should look at least a bit weird to journalistic eyes, but Schanberg doesn't muster any criticism, merely commenting: "From where I stand (I'm a Times alumnus), the paper should get credit for digging it out and publishing it."

Professional loyalties can't explain the extent of such uncritical media criticism from journalists. Many, like Schanberg, want to concentrate on the villainy of the Bush administration - as if it hasn't been aided and abetted by the New York Times's delay. Leading off his December 24 column with a blast at George W. Bush for "asserting the divine right of presidents," the Los Angeles Times media critic Tim Rutten proceeded with an essay that came close to asserting the divine right of executive editors to hold back vital stories for a very long time. Dismissing substantive criticism as the work of "paranoids," Rutten gave only laurels to the sovereign: "The New York Times deserves thanks and admiration for the service it has done the nation."

A cogent rebuttal to such testimonials came on December 26 from Miami Herald columnist Edward Wasserman, who wrote: "One of the more durable fallacies of ethical thought in journalism is the notion that doing right means holding back, that wrong is averted by leaving things out, reporting less or reporting nothing. When in doubt, kill the quote, hold the story - that's the ethical choice. But silence isn't innocent. It has consequences. In this case, it protected those within the government who believe that the law is a nuisance, that they don't have to play by the rules, by any rules, even their own."

While many journalists seem eager to downplay the importance of the Times's refusal to publish what it knew without long delay, Wasserman offers clarity: "Didn't the delay do harm? We know that thousands of people were subject to governmental intrusion that officials thought couldn't be justified even under a highly permissive set of laws. We also know that because knowledge of this illegality was kept confined to a small circle of initiates, the political system's response was postponed more than a year, and its ability to correct a serious abuse of power was thwarted. I don't know what the Times's brass was thinking. Maybe they just lost their nerve. Maybe they didn't want to tangle with a fiercely combative White House right before an election. But I do believe that withholding accurate information of great public importance is the most serious action any news organization can take. The reproach: 'You knew and you didn't tell us?' - reflects a fundamental professional betrayal."

Perhaps in 2007 we will learn that the New York Times had an explosive story about other ongoing government violations of civil liberties or some other crucial issue, but held it until after the November 2006 congressional elections. In that case, quite a few media critics and other journalists could recycle their pieces about giving the Times the benefit of the doubt and appreciating the quality of the crucial story that finally appeared.


Norman Solomon's latest book is War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. For information, go to:

French Engineer Abducted by Fake Iraqi Terrorists

French Engineer Abducted by Fake Iraqi Terrorists

We are expected to believe the Iraqi resistance is not only vicious, but also uninterested in repairing the damage inflicted on its country by the neocon invasion. It runs around abducting Christian peace activists, western journalists, Sudanese and Moroccan embassy employees, and people from countries that opposed Bush’s invasion. On December 5, Bernard Planche, an engineer working for the “little known non-governmental group” AACCESS, was abducted. Planche worked at the Rusafa water treatment plant in eastern Baghdad. It should be noted that AACCESS is involved in “two small rehabilitation projects” financed by the United States Army, according to the New York Times. In short, on the surface, it would appear Planche’s abducting is legitimate, considering Planche worked indirectly for the U.S. Army and the United Nations.

Once again, however, this latest kidnapping was apparently carried out by a “previously unknown armed group,” according to the BBC, sporting yet another absurd name—Surveillance for the Sake of Iraq Brigade. It is curious how the larger, more well-know Iraqi resistance groups such as the Iraqi National Islamic Resistance, the National Front for the Liberation of Iraq, and the Iraqi Resistance Islamic Front do not engage in kidnapping but rather military operations aimed at occupation forces and their Iraqi allies (even the United Nations accepts that people under occupation have a right to resist).

If we are to believe the corporate media, at least some of these kidnappings from ostensibly ad hoc terrorist groups are related to the Iraqi High Tribunal hearing of Saddam Hussein. However, kidnapping and possibly executing foreign workers and peace activists will not sway hand-picked judges in their ultimate decision to lynch Saddam, who after all cooperated with the United States for years, that is until he fell out of favor as client dictators often do.

Obviously, kidnapping and possibly killing innocent journalists, peace activists, and water engineers has a more practical goal—to make the resistance out to be blood-thirsty savages, demented Islamic fanatics determined to kill as many people as possible, both Iraqi and Sudanese, Moroccan, French, British, and assorted others. It makes no sense for the improbably named Surveillance for the Sake of Iraq Brigade to kidnap Bernard Planche, even if he is tenuously linked to the U.S. Army. In Bushzarro world, where Pentagon black ops are conducted in the name of the Iraqi resistance, it makes perfect sense to abduct and threaten to kill an engineer who worked to bring clean water to the Iraqi people.

British, US Spying Draws Us Closer to Orwell's Big Brother

British, US Spying Draws Us Closer to Orwell's Big Brother
by T.J. Rodgers, CEO of Cypress Semiconductor, San Jose.
San Jose Mercury News (California)
December 29, 2005

My waking thought on Christmas Day was that George Orwell's vision of Big Brother was no longer a hypothetical possibility but an actual near-term threat. That realization was synthesized from two news events, one here and one in Britain.

In Britain, the government recently decided to deploy global positioning system (GPS) technology to track every vehicle in the U.K. every minute of the day. Just as GPS sensors are mandated for use in every cell phone in the near future in the United States (for our safety, of course), Britain will mandate the use of a GPS sensor in every car. "Has Reginald White arrived at the grocery store yet?" will become a question answerable by the security division of Britain's DMV.

The British government promises safeguards to prevent spying on ordinary citizens, but who will follow up on those promises?

In the United States, President Bush is acting under apparently self-granted powers to "authorize" the National Security Agency (NSA) to spy on Americans -- of course, only on Americans threatening terrorist acts.

In an act of high integrity, one of the judges of the secret court that grants Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act search warrants resigned, citing the fact that Bush was now bypassing even that minimal civil rights guarantee by directly authorizing NSA spying on U.S. citizens. One can only imagine that this troublesome judge will be replaced with one more friendly to the administration.

With only the need to combine two real-world technologies for spying and tracking, the vision of 1984 -- once just a dark philosophical concept -- becomes an engineering project.

The president and those to whom he delegates his authority can now authorize government spooks to listen to us in our homes and on our cell phones. When we are not home, they can track us in our automobiles. The system could be airtight and could be used to control our actions.

It's simple enough for most Silicon Valley companies to create a chip to detect a valid GPS signal and disable an automobile's ignition system to prevent citizens from the "unauthorized use" of their own vehicles.

The final move into the totality of 1984 requires only a bit of philosophical drift, as exemplified by J. Edgar Hoover's directive to spy on the Rev. Martin Luther King because he was a subversive. If Bush's latest acts are left unchallenged, the government will become bolder at spying on whomever it wants and secretly jailing those it deems a threat to national security -- all with no troublesome warrants or messy public trials.

In this environment, acts other than terrorism will certainly be put on the subversive activities list, all in the name of protecting our freedom.

Why should law-abiding citizens fear these trends? Because the government cannot be trusted. I don't trust President Bush to honor my rights, nor did I trust President Clinton, who was caught with secret FBI files on his political enemies.

It's not that I'm unpatriotic. The founders of our country did not trust any government -- either that of George III or an uncontrolled democracy. That's why we have the Bill of Rights to protect American citizens from their own government -- by demanding, for example, that "Congress shall make no law abridging the right of free speech."

Our property is also protected from illegal search and seizure, and we are not to be put in jail without knowing the charges against us or having the right to confront our accusers in a public trial. Secret courts are inconsistent with the Bill of Rights, the defining document of American freedom.

What's the worst thing that Al-Qaida can do to America? We have probably already seen it. Of course, the government can talk about bigger things, like the use of weapons of mass destruction, to justify its use of totalitarian tactics.

I would much rather live as a free man under the highly improbable threat of another significant Al-Qaida attack than I would as a serf, spied on by an oppressive government that can jail me secretly, without charges. If the Patriot Act defines the term "patriot," then I am certainly not one.

By far, our own government is a bigger threat to our freedom than any possible menace posed by Al-Qaida.

U.S. Base in Germany Closes After 60 years- ABC News

U.S. Base in Germany Closes After 60 Years
Air Force Hands Over the Keys to Rhein-Main Air Base in Frankfurt; Hosted U.S. Forces for 60 Years
The Associated Press
FRANKFURT, Germany - The U.S. Air Force on Friday handed over the keys to Rhein-Main Air Base to the operator of Frankfurt International Airport in a final act of closure for the base, which for 60 years hosted American forces.
The 120 buildings on the base are to be bulldozed to make way for a third terminal for Frankfurt's sprawling civilian airport continental Europe's busiest. It officially becomes German property on Saturday.
The ceremony, at which Brig. Gen. Mike Snodgrass gave the keys of the base's buildings and main gate to Manfred Schoelch of airport operator Fraport AG, followed Rhein-Main's formal closing in October.
"It's bittersweet after 60 years of partnership, to see it come to an end," said Capt. Jonathan Friedman, a U.S. Air Force spokesman.
The airport plans to use the additional space as it prepares to house a new maintenance and supply facility for the new Airbus super-jumbo A380, the world's largest passenger jet. Construction began earlier this year for a hangar.
Rhein-Main was once a hub of activity for American forces facing Soviet bloc forces and tensions in the Middle East. It saw a steady stream of planes fly supplies to West Berliners in the late 1940s during the Soviet blockade of the city.
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Copyright © 2005 ABC News Internet Ventures

New Bolivian President Vows to Take Action Against US

New Bolivian President Vows to Take Action Against US

by Jim Kouri

Dec 28, 2005

It didn't take long for the newly elected Bolivian President to intensify
his verbal attacks against the United States. But the new Bolivian leader,
an avowed Socialist and friend of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and
Fidel Castro of Cuba, is going even further than rhetoric. He's threatening
to take action against the US.

President Evo Morales, according to a news story in the Washington Times,
leveled allegations at the United States that its advisors secretly removed
Chinese-made anti-aircraft missiles from Bolivia. US military and law
enforcement personnel serve as advisors to the Bolivians in their drug
control activities and counterterrorism training.

Morales, an Indian and former coca farmer, has pledged to end United States
drug eradication programs in the country. The US had been invited to help
Bolivian authorities by the previous administration which was more centrist
than the incoming neo-Marxists. A Morales campaign promise to legalize coca
plant cultivation is expected to increase cocaine production in the region.

Bolivia's new President is leader of the Movement to Socialism (MAS). He was
quoted in press reports this week as saying he would evict US military
advisers from Bolivia and punish those responsible for the removal from the
country this year of 28 HN-SA hand-held surface-to-air missiles (SAM).

The missiles are similar to the U.S. "Stinger" missiles used by Afghan
insurgents with devastating effectiveness against low-flying Russian
aircraft during the Russian invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in the

"I will press for a full investigation to establish responsibilities. We
cannot tolerate international intervention," Mr. Morales was quoted as
saying of the missile incident.

However, a leaked intelligence report that was presented to the Bolivian
legislature actually accuses Bolivia's military of permitting the United
States to secrete the missiles out of the country when it was clear the
Socialists would take control of the government.

The DeLay-Abramoff Money Trail

The DeLay-Abramoff Money Trail
Nonprofit Group Linked to Lawmaker Was Funded Mostly by Clients of Lobbyist

By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 31, 2005; A01

The U.S. Family Network, a public advocacy group that operated in the 1990s with close ties to Rep. Tom DeLay and claimed to be a nationwide grass-roots organization, was funded almost entirely by corporations linked to embattled lobbyist Jack Abramoff, according to tax records and former associates of the group.

During its five-year existence, the U.S. Family Network raised $2.5 million but kept its donor list secret. The list, obtained by The Washington Post, shows that $1 million of its revenue came in a single 1998 check from a now-defunct London law firm whose former partners would not identify the money's origins.

Two former associates of Edwin A. Buckham, the congressman's former chief of staff and the organizer of the U.S. Family Network, said Buckham told them the funds came from Russian oil and gas executives. Abramoff had been working closely with two such Russian energy executives on their Washington agenda, and the lobbyist and Buckham had helped organize a 1997 Moscow visit by DeLay (R-Tex.).

The former president of the U.S. Family Network said Buckham told him that Russians contributed $1 million to the group in 1998 specifically to influence DeLay's vote on legislation the International Monetary Fund needed to finance a bailout of the collapsing Russian economy.

A spokesman for DeLay, who is fighting in a Texas state court unrelated charges of illegal fundraising, denied that the contributions influenced the former House majority leader's political activities. The Russian energy executives who worked with Abramoff denied yesterday knowing anything about the million-dollar London transaction described in tax documents.

Whatever the real motive for the contribution of $1 million -- a sum not prohibited by law but extraordinary for a small, nonprofit group -- the steady stream of corporate payments detailed on the donor list makes it clear that Abramoff's long-standing alliance with DeLay was sealed by a much more extensive web of financial ties than previously known.

Records and interviews also illuminate the mixture of influence and illusion that surrounded the U.S. Family Network. Despite the group's avowed purpose, records show it did little to promote conservative ideas through grass-roots advocacy. The money it raised came from businesses with no demonstrated interest in the conservative "moral fitness" agenda that was the group's professed aim.

In addition to the million-dollar payment involving the London law firm, for example, half a million dollars was donated to the U.S. Family Network by the owners of textile companies in the Mariana Islands in the Pacific, according to the tax records. The textile owners -- with Abramoff's help -- solicited and received DeLay's public commitment to block legislation that would boost their labor costs, according to Abramoff associates, one of the owners and a DeLay speech in 1997.

A quarter of a million dollars was donated over two years by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Abramoff's largest lobbying client, which counted DeLay as an ally in fighting legislation allowing the taxation of its gambling revenue.

The records, other documents and interviews call into question the very purpose of the U.S. Family Network, which functioned mostly by collecting funds from domestic and foreign businesses whose interests coincided with DeLay's activities while he was serving as House majority whip from 1995 to 2002, and as majority leader from 2002 until the end of September.

After the group was formed in 1996, its director told the Internal Revenue Service that its goal was to advocate policies favorable for "economic growth and prosperity, social improvement, moral fitness, and the general well-being of the United States." DeLay, in a 1999 fundraising letter, called the group "a powerful nationwide organization dedicated to restoring our government to citizen control" by mobilizing grass-roots citizen support.

But the records show that the tiny U.S. Family Network, which never had more than one full-time staff member, spent comparatively little money on public advocacy or education projects. Although established as a nonprofit organization, it paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees to Buckham and his lobbying firm, Alexander Strategy Group.

There is no evidence DeLay received a direct financial benefit, but Buckham's firm employed DeLay's wife, Christine, and paid her a salary of at least $3,200 each month for three of the years the group existed. Richard Cullen, DeLay's attorney, has said that the pay was compensation for lists Christine DeLay supplied to Buckham of lawmakers' favorite charities, and that it was appropriate under House rules and election law.

Some of the U.S. Family Network's revenue was used to pay for radio ads attacking vulnerable Democratic lawmakers in 1999; other funds were used to finance the cash purchase of a townhouse three blocks from DeLay's congressional office. DeLay's associates at the time called it "the Safe House."

DeLay made his own fundraising telephone pitches from the townhouse's second-floor master suite every few weeks, according to two former associates. Other rooms in the townhouse were used by Alexander Strategy Group, Buckham's newly formed lobbying firm, and Americans for a Republican Majority (ARMPAC), DeLay's leadership committee.

They paid modest rent to the U.S. Family Network, which occupied a single small room in the back.
'Red Flags' on Tax Returns

Nine months before the June 25, 1998, payment of $1 million by the London law firm James & Sarch Co., as recorded in the tax forms, Buckham and DeLay were the dinner guests in Moscow of Marina Nevskaya and Alexander Koulakovsky of the oil firm Naftasib, which in promotional literature counted as its principal clients the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior.

Buckham, a graduate of the University of Tennessee, had worked for DeLay since 1995, after serving in other congressional offices and then as executive director of the Republican Study Committee, a group of fiscally conservative House members.

Their other dining companions were Abramoff and Washington lawyer Julius "Jay" Kaplan, whose lobbying firms collected $440,000 in 1997 and 1998 from an obscure Bahamian firm that helped organize and indirectly pay for the DeLay trip, in conjunction with the Russians. In disclosure forms, the stated purpose of the lobbying was to promote the policies of the Russian government.

Kaplan and British lawyer David Sarch had worked together previously. (Sarch died a month before the $1 million was paid.) Buckham's trip with DeLay was his second to Moscow that year for meetings with Nevskaya and Koulakovsky; on the earlier one, the DeLay aide attracted media attention by returning through Paris aboard the Concorde, a $5,500 flight.

Former Abramoff associates and documents in the hands of federal prosecutors state that Nevskaya and Koulakovsky sought Abramoff's help at the time in securing various favors from the U.S. government, including congressional earmarks or federal grants for their modular-home construction firm near Moscow and the construction of a fossil-fuel plant in Israel. None appears to have been obtained by their firm.

Former DeLay employees say Koulakovsky and Nevskaya met with him on multiple occasions. The Russians also frequently used Abramoff's skyboxes at local sports stadiums -- as did Kaplan, according to sources and a 2001 e-mail Abramoff wrote to another client.

Three sources familiar with Abramoff's activities on their behalf say that the two Russians -- who knew the head of the Russian energy giant Gazprom and had invested heavily in that firm -- partly wanted just to be seen with a prominent American politician as a way of bolstering their credibility with the Russian government and their safety on Moscow's streets. The Russian oil and gas business at the time had a Wild West character, and its executives worried about extortion and kidnapping threats. The anxieties of Nevskaya and Koulakovsky were not hidden; like many other business people, they traveled in Moscow with guards armed with machine guns.

During the DeLays' visit on Aug. 5 to 11, 1997, the congressman met with Nevskaya and was escorted around Moscow by Koulakovsky, Naftasib's general manager. DeLay told the House clerk that the trip's sponsor was the National Center for Public Policy Research, but multiple sources told The Post that his expenses were indirectly reimbursed by the Russian-connected Bahamian company.

DeLay spokesman Kevin Madden said the principal reason for his Moscow trip was "to meet with religious leaders there." Nevskaya, in a letter this spring, said Naftasib's involvement in such trips was meant "to foster better understanding between our country and the United States" and denied that the firm was seeking protection through its U.S. contacts.

Nevskaya added in an e-mail yesterday that Naftasib and its officials were not representing the ministries of defense and interior or any other government agencies "in connection with meetings or other lobbying activities in Washington D.C. or Moscow."

A former Abramoff associate said the two executives "wanted to contribute to DeLay" and clearly had the resources to do it. At one point, Koulakovsky asked during a dinner in Moscow "what would happen if the DeLays woke up one morning" and found a luxury car in their front driveway, the former associate said. They were told the DeLays "would go to jail and you would go to jail."

The tax form states that the $1 million came by check on June 25, 1998, from "Nations Corp, James & Sarch co." The Washington Post checked with the listed executives of Texas and Florida firms that have names similar to Nations Corp, and they said they had no connection to any such payment.

James & Sarch Co. was dissolved in May 2000, but two former partners said they recalled hearing the names of the Russians at their office. Asked if the firm represented them, former partner Philip McGuirk at first said "it may ring a bell," but later he faxed a statement that he could say no more because confidentiality practices prevent him "from disclosing any information regarding the affairs of a client (or former client)."

Nevskaya said in the e-mail yesterday, however, that "neither Naftasib nor the principals you mentioned have ever been represented by a London law firm that you name as James & Sarch Co." She also said that Naftasib and its principals did not pay $1 million to the firm, and denied knowing about the transaction.

Two former Buckham associates said that he told them years ago not only that the $1 million donation was solicited from Russian oil and gas executives, but also that the initial plan was for the donation to be made via a delivery of cash to be picked up at a Washington area airport.

One of the former associates, a Frederick, Md., pastor named Christopher Geeslin who served as the U.S. Family Network's director or president from 1998 to 2001, said Buckham further told him in 1999 that the payment was meant to influence DeLay's vote in 1998 on legislation that helped make it possible for the IMF to bail out the faltering Russian economy and the wealthy investors there.

"Ed told me, 'This is the way things work in Washington,' " Geeslin said. "He said the Russians wanted to give the money first in cash." Buckham, he said, orchestrated all the group's fundraising and spending and rarely informed the board about the details. Buckham and his attorney, Laura Miller, did not reply to repeated requests for comment on this article.

The IMF funding legislation was a contentious issue in 1998. The Russian stock market fell steeply in April and May, and the government in Moscow announced on June 18 -- just a week before the $1 million check was sent by the London law firm -- that it needed $10 billion to $15 billion in new international loans.

House Republican leaders had expressed opposition through that spring to giving the IMF the money it could use for new bailouts, decrying what they described as previous destabilizing loans to other countries. The IMF and its Western funders, meanwhile, were pressing Moscow, as a condition of any loan, to increase taxes on major domestic oil companies such as Gazprom, which had earlier defaulted on billions of dollars in tax payments.

On Aug. 18, 1998, the Russian government devalued the ruble and defaulted on its treasury bills. But DeLay, appearing on "Fox News Sunday" on Aug. 30 of that year, criticized the IMF financing bill, calling the replenishment of its funds "unfortunate" because the IMF was wrongly insisting on a Russian tax increase. "They are trying to force Russia to raise taxes at a time when they ought to be cutting taxes in order to get a loan from the IMF. That's just outrageous," DeLay said.

In the end, the Russian legislature refused to raise taxes, the IMF agreed to lend the money anyway, and DeLay voted on Sept. 17, 1998, for a foreign aid bill containing new funds to replenish the IMF account. DeLay's spokesman said the lawmaker "makes decisions and sets legislative priorities based on good policy and what is best for his constituents and the country." He added: "Mr. DeLay has very firm beliefs, and he fights very hard for them."

Kaplan did not respond to repeated messages, and through a spokesman for lawyer Abbe Lowell, Abramoff declined to comment.

No legal bar exists to a $1 million donation by a foreign entity to a group such as the U.S. Family Network, according to Marcus Owens, a Washington lawyer who directed the IRS's office of tax-exempt organizations from 1990 to 2000 and who reviewed, at The Post's request, the tax returns filed by the U.S. Family Network.

But "a million dollars is a staggering amount of money to come from a foreign source" because such a donor would not be entitled to claim the tax deduction allowed for U.S. citizens, Owens said. "Giving large donations to an organization whose purposes are as ambiguous as these . . . is extraordinary. I haven't seen that before. It suggests something else is going on.

"There are any number of red flags on these returns."
Hailing Indian Tribe's Hiring of Lobbyists

Buckham and Tony Rudy were the first DeLay staff members to visit the Choctaw Reservation near Meridian, Miss., where the tribe built a 500-room hotel and a 90,000-square-foot gambling casino. Their trip from March 25 to 27, 1997, cost the Choctaws $3,000, according to statements filed with the House clerk.

DeLay, his wife and Susan Hirschman -- Buckham's successor in 1998 as chief of staff -- were the next to go. Their trip from July 31 to Aug. 2, 1998, was described on House disclosure forms as a "site review and reservation tour for charitable event," and the forms said it cost the Choctaws $6,935.

Buckham, who was then a lobbyist, arranged DeLay's trip, which included a visit to the tribe's golf course to assess it as a possible location for the lawmaker's annual charity tournament, according to a tribal source. Abramoff told the tribe he could not accompany DeLay because of a prior commitment, the source said.

One day after the DeLays departed for Washington, the U.S. Family Network registered an initial $150,000 payment made by the Choctaws, according to its tax return. The tribe made additional payments to the group totaling $100,000 on "various" dates the following year, the returns state. The Choctaws separately paid Abramoff $4.5 million for his lobbying work on their behalf in 1998 and 1999. Abramoff and his wife contributed $22,000 to DeLay's political campaigns from 1997 to 2000, according to public records.

A former Abramoff associate who is aware of the payments, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect his clients, said the tribe made contributions to entities associated with DeLay because DeLay was crucial to the tribe's continuing fight against legislation to allow the taxation of Indians' gambling revenue.

An attorney for the tribe, Bryant Rogers, said the funds were meant not only to "get the message out" about the adverse tax law proposals but also to finance a campaign by Buckham's group within "the conservative base" against legislation to strip tribes of their control over Indian adoptions. "This was a group connected to the right-wing Christian movement," Rogers said. "This is Ed Buckham's connection."

In March 1999, after the tribe had paid a substantial sum directly to the U.S. Family Network, Buckham expressed his general gratitude to Abramoff in an e-mail. "I really appreciate you going to bat for us. Remember it is the first bit of money that is always the hardest, but means the most," Buckham said, according to a copy. He added: "Pray for God's wisdom. I really believe this is supposed to be what we are doing to save our team."

During this period, a fundraising letter on the U.S. Family Network stationery was sent to residents of Alabama, announcing a petition drive to promote a cause of interest to Abramoff's Indian gambling clients in Mississippi and Louisiana, including the Choctaw casino that drew many customers from Alabama: the blocking of a rival casino proposed by the Poarch Creek Indians on their land in Alabama.

"The American family is under attack from all sides: crime, drugs, pornography, and one of the least talked about but equally as destructive -- gambling," said the group's letter, which was signed by then-Rep. Bob Riley (R), now the Alabama governor. "We need your help today . . . to prevent the Poarch Creek Indians from building casinos in Alabama."

Asked about the letter, Rogers said "none of us have seen" it and "the tribe's contributions have nothing to do with it." A spokesman for Riley said that he could not recall the circumstances behind the letter, but that he has long opposed any expansion of gambling in Alabama.

DeLay, meanwhile, saluted Choctaw chief Philip Martin in the Congressional Record on Jan. 3, 2001, citing "all he has done to further the cause of freedom." DeLay also attached to his remarks an editorial that hailed the tribe's gambling income and its "hiring [of] quality lobbyists."

Throughout this period, the U.S. Family Network was paying a monthly fee of at least $10,000 to Buckham and Alexander Strategy Group for general "consulting," according to a former Buckham associate and a copy of the contract. While DeLay's wife drew a monthly salary from the lobbying firm, she did not work at its offices in the townhouse on Capitol Hill, according to former Buckham associates.

Neither the House nor the Federal Election Commission bars the payment of corporate funds to spouses through consulting firms or political action committees, but the spouses must perform real work for reasonable wages.

"Anytime you [as a congressman] hire your child or spouse, it raises questions as to whether this is a throwback to the time when people used campaigns and government jobs to enrich their families," said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog group, and a former general counsel of the FEC.

Research editor Lucy Shackelford; researchers Alice Crites, Madonna Lebling, Karl Evanzz and Meg Smith; and research database editor Derek Willis contributed to this report.

Padilla's Lawyers Oppose Transfer

Padilla's Lawyers Oppose Transfer: "Padilla's Lawyers Oppose Transfer

Saturday, December 31, 2005; A04

Attorneys for 'enemy combatant' Jose Padilla yesterday opposed his immediate transfer out of military custody and asked the Supreme Court to consider the matter next month.

The Justice Department had urged the court to let prosecutors take custody of Padilla and bring him before a federal judge in Miami, where he is facing terrorism charges. Padilla, a U.S. citizen arrested in Chicago in 2002, was initially accused of plotting to detonate a radiological 'dirty bomb' and was held for more than three years by the military before being indicted last month in Miami.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit refused last week to allow prosecutors to take custody of Padilla from the military and rebuked the Bush administration for its handling of the high-profile case. Prosecutors on Wednesday appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court, which is already considering whether to take up the merits of Padilla's detention by the military.

-- Jerry Markon"

Conspiring Against the Voters - New York Times

Conspiring Against the Voters - New York Times: "Conspiring Against the Voters

President Bush has announced four nominees for the Federal Election Commission, moving to keep the policing of campaign abuses firmly in the hands of party wheel horses. The timing of the announcement - the president waited until the Senate had gone home - is likely to allow the nominees to avoid the full hearing and confirmation process needed to evaluate them properly.

The most objectionable nominee is Hans von Spakovsky, a former Republican county chairman in Georgia and a political appointee at the Justice Department. He is reported to have been involved in the maneuvering to overrule the career specialists who warned that the Texas gerrymandering orchestrated by Representative Tom DeLay violated minority voting rights. Senators need the opportunity to delve into that, as well as reports of Mr. von Spakovsky's involvement in such voting rights abuses as the purging of voter rolls in Florida in the 2000 elections.

The need for a clean broom at the six-member election panel becomes clearer with each new round of decisions favoring big-money politics over the voters. But the newly nominated majority promises no improvement. In fact, the slate would mean an end to the service of Scott Thomas, the one incumbent praised for his independence by Senator John McCain, who has campaigned for a clean, hack-free Federal Election Commission.

Both parties suggested candidates; the Democrats include a union lawyer and a trusted political associate of the Senate minority leader, Harry Reid. By endorsing them, the president has finally shown his commitment to bipartisanship in the worst of ways: by installing another undistinguished group of factotums to referee the democratic process.

Is Washington Planning a Military Strike?

SPIEGEL ONLINE - December 30, 2005, 03:38 PM

The US and Iran

Is Washington Planning a Military Strike?

Recent reports in the German media suggest that the United States may be preparing its allies for an imminent military strike against facilities that are part of Iran's suspected clandestine nuclear weapons program.

Following Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent anti-Israel statements, reports are increasing that Washington may be preparing its allies for a military strike against Iran.
Following Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent anti-Israel statements, reports are increasing that Washington may be preparing its allies for a military strike against Iran.
It's hardly news that US President George Bush refuses to rule out possible military action against Iran if Tehran continues to pursue its controversial nuclear ambitions. But in Germany, speculation is mounting that Washington is preparing to carry out air strikes against suspected Iranian nuclear sites perhaps even as soon as early 2006.

German diplomats began speaking of the prospect two years ago -- long before the Bush administration decided to give the European Union more time to convince Iran to abandon its ambitions, or at the very least put its civilian nuclear program under international controls. But the growing likelihood of the military option is back in the headlines in Germany thanks to a slew of stories that have run in the national media here over the holidays.

The most talked about story is a Dec. 23 piece by the German news agency DDP from journalist and intelligence expert Udo Ulfkotte. The story has generated controversy not only because of its material, but also because of the reporter's past. Critics allege that Ulfkotte in his previous reporting got too close to sources at Germany's foreign intelligence agency, the BND. But Ulfkotte has himself noted that he has been under investigation by the government in the past (indeed, his home and offices have been searched multiple times) for allegations that he published state secrets -- a charge that he claims would underscore rather than undermine the veracity of his work.

According to Ulfkotte's report, "western security sources" claim that during CIA Director Porter Goss' Dec. 12 visit to Ankara, he asked Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to provide support for a possibile 2006 air strike against Iranian nuclear and military facilities. More specifically, Goss is said to have asked Turkey to provide unfettered exchange of intelligence that could help with a mission.
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DDP also reported that the governments of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman and Pakistan have been informed in recent weeks of Washington's military plans. The countries, apparently, were told that air strikes were a "possible option," but they were given no specific timeframe for the operations.

In a report published on Wednesday, the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel also cited NATO intelligence sources claiming that Washington's western allies had been informed that the United States is currently investigating all possibilities of bringing the mullah-led regime into line, including military options. Of course, Bush has publicly stated for months that he would not take the possibility of a military strike off the table. What's new here, however, is that Washington appears to be dispatching high-level officials to prepare its allies for a possible attack rather than merely implying the possibility as it has repeatedly done during the past year.

Links to al-Qaida?

Members of the People's Liberation Army of Kurdistan (ARGK) who are the military wing of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in mountain hideout in northern Iraq near the Turkish border.
Members of the People's Liberation Army of Kurdistan (ARGK) who are the military wing of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in mountain hideout in northern Iraq near the Turkish border.
According to DDP, during his trip to Turkey, CIA chief Goss reportedly handed over three dossiers to Turkish security officials that purportedly contained evidence that Tehran is cooperating with Islamic terror network al-Qaida. A further dossier is said to contain information about the current status of Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program. Sources in German security circles told the DDP reporter that Goss had ensured Ankara that the Turkish government would be informed of any possible air strikes against Iran a few hours before they happened. The Turkish government has also been given the "green light" to strike camps of the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Iran on the day in question.

The DDP report attributes the possible escalation to the recent anti-Semitic rants by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose belligerent verbal attacks on Israel (he described the Holocaust as a "myth" and called for Israel to be "wiped off the map") have strengthened the view of the American government that, in the case of the nuclear dispute, there's little likelihood Tehran will back down and that the mullahs are just attempting to buy time by continuing talks with the Europeans.

The German wire service also quotes a high-ranking German military official saying: "I would be very surprised if the Americans, in the mid-term, didn't take advantage of the opportunity delivered by Tehran. The Americans have to attack Iran before the country can develop nuclear weapons. After that would be too late."

Despite the wave of recent reports, it's naturally difficult to assess whether the United States has any concrete plans to attack Iranian nuclear facilities. In a January 2005 report in the New Yorker, US investigative journalist Seymour Hersh claimed that clandestine American commando groups had already infiltrated Iran in order to mark potential military targets.

At the time, the Bush administration did not dispute Hersh's reporting -- it merely sought to minimize its impact. In Washington, word circulated that the article was filled with "inaccurate statements." But no one rejected the core reporting behind the article. Bush himself explicitly stated he would not rule out the "option of war."

How great is the threat?

So is the region now on the verge of a military strike or even a war? In Berlin, the issue is largely being played down. During his inaugural visit with US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in Washington last week, the possibility of a US air strike against Iran "hadn't been an issue," for new German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung, a Defense Ministry spokesman told SPIEGEL ONLINE.
CIA Director Porter Goss.
CIA Director Porter Goss.

But the string of visits by high-profile US politicians to Turkey and surrounding reports are drawing new attention to the issue. In recent weeks, the number of American and NATO security officials heading to Ankara has increased dramatically. Within a matter of only days, the FBI chief, then the CIA chief and, most recently, NATO General Secretary Jaap De Hoop Scheffer visited the Turkish capital. During her visit to Europe earlier this month, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also traveled to Turkey after a stopover in Berlin.

Leading the chorus of speculation are Turkish newspapers, which have also sought to connect these visits to plans for an attack on Iran. But so far none of the speculation has been based on hard facts. Writing about the meeting between Porter Goss and Tayyip Erdogan, the left-nationalist newspaper Cumhuriyet wrote: "Now It's Iran's Turn." But the paper didn't offer any evidence to corroborate the claims.

Instead, the paper noted that the meeting between the CIA chief and Erdogan lasted longer than an hour -- an unusual amount of time, especially considering Goss had previously met with the head of Turkey's intelligence service, the MIT. The Turkish media concluded that the meetings must have dealt with a very serious matter -- but they failed to uncover exactly what it was. Most media speculated that Erdogan and Goss might have discussed a common initiative against the PKK in northern Iraq. It's possible that Goss demanded secret Turkish intelligence on Iran in exchange. Regardless what the prospects are for a strike, there's little chance a US air strike against Iran would be launched from its military base in the Turkish city of Incirlik, but it is conceivable that the United States would inform Turkey prior to any strike.

Skepticism in Ankara
US Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld talks to the media during his visit to the Incirlik Air Base, southern Turkey, on Monday, 04 June 2001.
US Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld talks to the media during his visit to the Incirlik Air Base, southern Turkey, on Monday, 04 June 2001.

Until now the government in Ankara has viewed US military activities in the region at best with skepticism and at worst with open condemnation. At the beginning of 2003, Ankara even attempted to prevent an American ground offensive in northern Iraq against the Saddam regime. A still-irritated Donald Rumsfeld has repeatedly blamed military problems in Iraq on the fact that this second front was missing.

Two weeks ago, Yasar Buyukanit, the commander of the Turkish army and probable future chief of staff of the country's armed forces, flew to Washington. After the visit he made a statement that relations between the Turkish army and the American army were once again on an excellent footing. Buyukanit's warm and fuzzy words, contrasted greatly with his past statements that if the United States and the Kurds in northern Iraq proved incapable of containing the PKK in the Kurd-dominated northern part of the country and preventing it from attacking Turkey, Buyukanit would march into northern Iraq himself.

At the same time, Ankara has little incentive to show a friendly face to Tehran -- Turkish-Iranian relations have long been icy. For years now, Tehran has criticized Turkey for maintaining good relations with Israel and even cooperating with the Israeli army. Yet despite those ties to Israel, Ahmadinejad's recent anti-Israeli outbursts were reported far less extensively in Turkey than in Europe.

Still, Erdogan has been demonstrably friendly towards Israel recently -- as evidenced by Erdogan's recent phone call to Ariel Sharon, congratulating the prime minister on his recent recovery from heart surgery. In the past, relations between Erdogan and Sharon have been reserved, but recently the two have grown closer. Nevertheless, Turkey's government has distanced itself from Sharon's threats to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon on his own if nobody else steps up to the task.

The Turkish government has also repeatedly stated that it opposes military action against both Iran and Syria. The key political motivation here is that -- at least when it comes to the Kurdish question -- Turkey, Syria and Iran all agree on one thing: they are opposed to the creation of an independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq. But if the United States moves forward with an attack against Iran, Turkey will have no choice but to jump on board -- either as an active or passive partner.

It's a scenario that has Erdogan and his military in a state of deep unease. After all, even experts in the West are skeptical of whether a military intervention against nuclear installations in Iran could succeed. The more likely scenario is that an attack aiming to stop Iran's nuclear program could instead simply bolster support for Ahmadinejad in the region.

A Chorus of Hoover Critics,0,2759770.story?track=tottext
From the Los Angeles Times


A Chorus of Hoover Critics

More conservatives join the call to take his name off the FBI Building.

By Johanna Neuman
Times Staff Writer

December 31, 2005

WASHINGTON — Every year for the last three years, Rep. Dan Burton, a Republican from Indiana, has introduced a bill to strip J. Edgar Hoover's name from the FBI's headquarters — an initiative that has been largely ignored.

Now, however, amid headlines about possibly illegal government surveillance of Americans inside the United States, the effort to rename the Hoover building is starting to attract more supporters, most recently U.S. Circuit Judge Laurence H. Silberman, a Republican who was a leader of the presidentially appointed commission on pre-Iraq-war intelligence.

"This country — and the bureau — would be well served if his name were removed from the bureau's building," Silberman, a Reagan appointee, told the 1st Circuit Judicial Conference in June. "It is as if the Defense Department were named for Aaron Burr."

Across Washington, the names of major figures adorn scores of government buildings and federal headquarters, but few have experienced the reputation erosion that has befallen Hoover since his death in 1972.

Once widely admired for founding the modern-day FBI on principles of strict probity, Hoover later became identified with invasive eavesdropping and bureau efforts to discredit the likes of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at the height of the civil rights movement. Hoover also has been accused of having used explosive gossip collected by his agents to intimidate political leaders, including presidents.

So as the names of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush join the federal landscape, some are wondering why Hoover's is still there.

"Symbolism matters in the United States, and it is wrong to honor a man who frequently manipulated the law to achieve his personal goals," Burton said after his Government Reform Committee held hearings in 2002 on FBI abuses.

Burton was outraged by the case of Joseph Salvati, who served 30 years in prison for a 1968 contract murder in Boston that later evidence suggested was committed by an FBI informant. "There is no reason we should honor a man who threw everything out the window, including the lives of innocent men, in order to get what he wanted," Burton said.

The renewal of conservative outrage about Hoover — columnist Robert Novak recently urged that Hoover's name be dropped from the building, calling the FBI's first director "a rogue and a lawbreaker" — is finding an unusual partnership with liberals who blame Hoover for wiretapping King and quashing the FBI investigation of the 1963 Birmingham, Ala., church bombing that killed four black girls.

Rep. Cynthia A. McKinney (D-Ga.), who is working to get intelligence files on King released, has introduced legislation to name the FBI Building for Frank Church, the late Democratic senator from Idaho whose select committee held scorching hearings on U.S. intelligence gathering and FBI abuses under Hoover.

"It's a reflection of her concern that the building should not be named after the person who was responsible for the excesses," McKinney aide John Judge said Friday. "It should be for the person who stood up to them."

Before Burton's efforts, the last time the issue came to Congress was in 1998, when senators were debating a bill that would name Washington National Airport for President Reagan. Democratic Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada — now minority leader — offered an amendment to strip Hoover's name from the FBI Building.

"J. Edgar Hoover stands for what is bad about this country," Reid said. "This small man violated the rights of hundreds, if not thousands, of people — famous and not so famous."

The Senate voted 62 to 36 against removing Hoover's name.

Silberman said Friday that two senators were considering offering the proposal again.

"People are shocked that the FBI was so heavily engaged in espionage," he said. "Liberals and conservatives should unite on this."

It is not clear whether they will.

For one thing, the Society for Former Special Agents of the FBI has been vigilant in arguing to keep the name of the man who reigned over the FBI from 1924 until his death. For another, many still credit Hoover with turning a backwater unit into a professional investigative agency with up-to-date technology and crime-fighting skills.

"We feel that the legacy and image of Hoover is indirectly but successfully blocking the bill," said Stephen Schatz, Burton's press secretary.

Hoover came to power as a reformer and tirelessly promoted the bureau's image in print, movies and radio dramas. But over time, he became a law unto himself. He ruled the FBI with an iron hand, sometimes exiling agents to remote field offices and blighting their careers for minor infractions of rules that included how agents had to dress and act.

For many years, critics said, he refused to acknowledge the seriousness of the threat posed by organized crime, concentrating instead on crimes such as bank robbery and interstate car theft because doing so burnished the bureau's success rates. Another serious complaint was that Hoover collected scurrilous information on public figures that he used to protect and enhance his own power.

"As far as the building goes, I have mixed feelings," said Curt Gentry, author of "J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets." "Maybe we should leave it up to remind us of that monster."

Gentry said that directors who succeeded Hoover, such as former federal judge William Webster, "did quite a bit to change the old bureau from its ways."

Some changes enacted after the Church committee hearings were lifted after Sept. 11, 2001, when law enforcement and other officials complained that a failure to communicate — and to spy — had thwarted counterintelligence. Now, some think a new backlash against what some see as invasions of privacy and domestic spying by executive order might put the renaming of the FBI Building back on the table.

Friday, December 30, 2005

The ultimate quagmire

The ultimate quagmire
By Pepe Escobar

Iraq is a giant, messy albatross hanging from President George W Bush's neck. The faith-based American president believes "we are winning the war in Iraq". The reality-based global public opinion - not to mention 59% of Americans, and counting - know this is not true.

Bush felt that "God put me here" so he could conduct a "war on terror". Somebody up there must have a tremendous sense of humor - once again manifested in the way He allotted winners and losers in Iraq's December 15 parliamentary elections.

United we stand
The Shi'ite religious parties in the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) were the big winners - from 70% to 95% of the vote in the impoverished southern provinces; 59% in Baghdad; and nationally, well over 40% of the total (they've won in nine of Iraq's 18 provinces plus the capital). It's a relatively unexpected success considering the dreadful record of Ibrahim Jaafari's Shi'ite-dominated government.

All those intimately allied with the US invasion and occupation were big losers. The Iraqi National List of US intelligence asset and former prime minister Iyad Allawi, also known as "Saddam without a moustache", the man who endorsed the Pentagon bombing of the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf and Sunni Arab Fallujah - got a pitiful 14%.

Convicted fraudster and former Pentagon ally Ahmad Chalabi received less than 1% in Baghdad. The neo-conservatives of the American Enterprise Institute were predicting 5% for Chalabi (their overwhelming favorite) and 20% for Allawi; that's proof enough they have no clue about what's going on in Iraq.

Bush's new Iraq is pro-Iran. It will not recognize Israel. And it wants the Americans out; one of the first measures of an emerging, powerful parliamentary alliance between roughly 38 Sadrists of Shi'ite nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and roughly 50 Sunni Arabs will be to call for an immediate end of the occupation.

The details to be ironed out hinge on whether the UIA majority aligns itself with the Sunni Arabs, the Kurds, or with both in a government of "national unity" - as it is being called by the current vice president Abdel Mahdi (a free marketer) as well as current president Jalal Talabani, a Kurd.

"National unity" is improbable; the Shi'ites simply won't forgo their majority. The Kurds for their part know it will be a foolish move to try to break their strategic alliance with the UIA. Sunni Arab votes were split between the neo-Ba'athist National Dialogue Council of Salih Mutlak and the Islamist, Sunni National Accord Front of Adnan Dulaimi. But what matters is that they are both part of the Sunni Arab resistance. Their common line is that their presence in parliament develops a new political front - what we have called the Sinn Fein component of the Sunni Arab resistance.

It never happened
The big problem is that once again in Iraq Shi'ites voted for Shi'ites, Sunnis for Sunnis (they won in four provinces, Anbar, Salahuddin, Nineveh and Diyala, but got only 20% in Baghdad) and Kurds for Kurds (they also won in four provinces, including Kirkuk). Liberal democrats who were dreaming of a democratic, federal, anti-sectarian Iraq have been totally sidelined. Arguably no politician in Iraq is thinking about the future of the country as a whole. No national projects are being discussed.

The constitutional vote in October had already institutionalized the sectarian division - 80% of the Sunni Arabs in the four main Sunni provinces voted against what they saw as an American-designed charter. Washington believed the vote would undermine the resistance. The exact opposite happened. The December elections now paint a vivid picture of a country fractured on sectarian lines. But this is what the Americans wanted in the first place.

Elections or no elections, Iraq enters 2006 mired in the same, usual, gruesome rituals. The Pentagon believes it can subdue the Sunni Arab resistance by bombing them to death while the resistance keeps bombing, suicide bombing and assassinating en masse.

So the endless, gory stream will continue, not even making headlines - explosions at police stations, assassinations of "Baghdad officials", executions of collaborators, mortars over the Green Zone, scores of innocent civilian victims of car bombings, Marines killed in the Sunni triangle, Shi'ite death squads, Turkmen fighting Kurd for Kirkuk ...

Playwright Harold Pinter pulled a Beckett at his Nobel lecture. He offered to be Bush's speechwriter. Then Pinter impersonated classic Bush: "My God is good. [Osama] bin Laden's God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam Hussein's God was bad except he didn't have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians." And this was even before Bush mixed up Saddam with bin Laden in a "we're winning in Iraq" speech.

Pinter observed, "The United States supported and in many cases engendered every rightwing military dictatorship in the world after the end of World War II." He gave a lot of examples. But then, with devastating irony (a concept seemingly absent from the White House/Pentagon axis), he said: "It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening, it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest."

Just like the suffering of Iraqis never happened. Robert Fisk, in his masterful The Great War for Civilization (Fourth Estate, London) remarks, "The sanctions that smothered Iraq for almost 13 years have largely dropped from the story of our Middle East adventures ... When the Anglo-American occupiers settled into their palaces in Baghdad, they would blame the collapse of electrical power, water-pumping stations, factories and commercial life on Saddam Hussein, as if he alone had engineered the impoverishment of Iraq. Sanctions were never mentioned. They were 'ghosted' out of the story. First there had been Saddam, and then there was freedom'."

But Iraqis as a whole have not forgotten the sanctions - imposed by the US, carried out by the "international community" and responsible for the death of thousands of children. As much as the Shi'ites have not forgotten their betrayal by George Bush senior, who called for a Shi'ite uprising in early 1991 and then left thousands of men, women and children to be massacred by Saddam's gunships. There's no way these impoverished masses can trust anything related to American promises of "freedom".

How Bush is winning
There's some evidence that the murderous chaos unleashed by Shi'ite death squads may not be "an accident" but part of a carefully crafted American strategy, as the Bush administration has constantly added fire to the ethnic furnace as the best diversion to not address Iraq's tremendous social tensions.

An atomized and terrorized society is much easier to manipulate, while at the same time the non-stop bloodshed is the perfect justification for "staying the course". The incessant chatter in the US about a partial "withdrawal" is just chatter.

Already in June 2003, proconsul L Paul Bremer's coalition hands were hiring Saddam's Mukhabarat pals for "special ops" against the Sunni Arab resistance, while "torture central", Abu Ghraib, was again operating in full force under American management.

In the Shi'ite south, the Badr Organization - the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq's (SCIRI's) militia - as well as Muqtadar's Mahdi Army were gaining ground. The Badr was finally formally incorporated into the Interior Ministry, where Sunni units had also been carving up their own turf (under the protection of Allawi).

The former Ba'athist Sunnis - and later the Shi'ites - benefited from the invaluable knowledge of American "counter-insurgency" experts who organized death squads in Colombia and El Salvador, as well as retired American Special Forces soldiers. Commandos operating in the "Salvador option" manner have been very much in the cards from the beginning, responding to a sophisticated, state-of-the-art command, control and communications center even while the majority of the Iraqi population had no electricity, no fuel and no medicine.

The pattern was and remains the same; people "disappearing" after they are accosted by groups of men armed to the teeth, in police commando uniforms, with high-tech radios and driving Toyota Land Cruisers with police license plates. Needless to say, the resulting murders are almost never investigated.

The objectives, from the point of view of the Bush administration, also remain the same; keep the Pentagon and its military bases inside an Iraq mired in sectarian bloodshed and with a weak central government.

The "follow the money" trail leads to an array of profitable privatizations, and the upcoming sale of Iraq's fabulous oil reserves to a few, select foreign investors. Abdel Mahdi of SCIRI, one year ago in Washington, had already laid down the script. He is a key player to watch.

No wonder that the real composition of the next Iraqi government will not be determined by the polls - at least not exclusively. The real kingmaker is the US ambassador, the White House pet, Afghan Zalmay Khalilzad.

The Bush administration will pull no punches to safeguard its "follow the money" interests, as well as its precious military bases. Vice President Dick Cheney arrived in Baghdad on December 18, only three days after the election. He didn't even bother to tell Jaafari that he was in the country. First Cheney talked to Khalilzad and assorted American generals, and only then were Jaafari and President Talabani summoned to his presence.

How Bush lost it
The uprising of Muqtadar's Mahdi Army in 2004 was the definitive nail in the coffin of the Bush administration's dream of ruling Iraq. At the time the Pentagon repeatedly said it wanted to "kill or capture him". It did neither.

Muqtada became the man to watch much earlier than his newfound - by American corporate media - prominent role in post-election Iraq. After the bombing of Najaf, the Bush administration completely lost the plot. Then, after the January 2005 elections, the new Jaafari government quickly embraced Iran, received a pledge of $1 billion in aid, the use of Iranian port facilities, and help with refining Iraqi oil.

Sunni Arab regimes like Jordan and Saudi Arabia started to be haunted by the specter of a "Shi'ite crescent". A neo-conservative Iraq as a base to launch an attack on Iran disappeared as a mirage in the desert. As the US has to fight a relentless Sunni Arab guerrilla war, it cannot possibly risk alienating the Iraqi Shi'ite masses (more than they already are) with an attack on Iran.

No wonder military historian Martin van Creveld, a professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the only non-American author on the Pentagon's list of required reading for officers, called for Bush to be impeached and put on trial "for misleading the American people, and launching the most foolish war since Emperor Augustus in 9 BC sent his legions into Germany and lost them".

Bush and his faithful ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, have been playing the same scratched CD track: "We're better off now without Saddam." That is not true. The fall of Saddam led to the rise of al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers; and even Allawi admitted that human rights in Iraq now are no better than under Saddam. Not to mention that there is no reconstruction, unemployment is at 70%, and a country which in the late 1980s had one of the highest standards of living in the Arab world has been razed to a sub-Saharan level.

Whatever the Americans do - with "Iraqification" doomed to failure, as much as "Vietnamization" - the war in Iraq now is a rampaging beast that threatens to spill all over the Middle East.

"Bring 'em on," said Bush, and they did; the result is a new, deadly generation of global jihadis. Sunni-Shi'ite antagonism will spill over to oil-rich Sunni Gulf states (including Saudi Arabia) with huge but heavily marginalized Shi'ite populations. Kurdish separatist dreams have tremendous implications for Turkey, Syria and Iran, especially if Iraq, through civil war, finally disintegrates.

So the most probable scenario for 2006 and beyond is a fragile central government in Baghdad bombarded by an intractable guerrilla movement - a chaotic and sectarian hornets' nest breeding one, 10, 100 mini (or maxi) al-Qaeda leaders able to convulse the Middle East. Maybe this is what the neo-cons meant by "creative destruction".

Al-Qaeda has a masterplan for the Middle East, and the next stages - apart from the Gulf emirates - are to be played in vulnerable Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and even Israel. As for the air war against the Sunni Arab resistance, it may buy a few votes at home but will do absolutely nothing to improve America's dreadful image in the Middle East - especially because civilian "collateral damage" will be enormous.

That bearded, vociferous guy
Saddam's trial - the outcome of which is already determined - will proceed as a purely sectarian propaganda coup. If this were a real trial, Saddam would be in The Hague in front of an international panel of respected judges, experts in human rights law.

Or the United Nations would have been commissioned to organize a special tribunal in a neutral country like Switzerland. Saddam's secrets, though, are so vast - and so extremely embarrassing for the US - that he cannot possibly leave the Green Zone, where he will certainly be executed. Saddam's trial will become the sorry mirror image of the sectarian politics let loose in Iraq at large.

Bush has opened a Pandora's box with his shock and awe tactics. The ultimate quagmire will keep mutating and unleashing its deadly new powers for years on end. And there is nothing anyone - not even the "indispensable nation" - can do about it. We have all been, and will remain, shocked and awed.

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