Friday, December 30, 2005

Getting closer!

Berlusconi under investigation for bribing a lawyer, as Laura Rozen put it. As I put it: Berlusconi under investigation for bribing a British cabinet minister's husband. The lawyer, your keen & agile minds will no doubt have guessed, is none other than David Mills, husband of fascinating Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell.
Prosecutors have accused Berlusconi of ordering the payment of at least $600,000 to British lawyer David Mills in 1997 to convince him to give false testimony in two of Berlusconi's trials on bribery, false bookkeeping and other charges, the newspaper Corriere della Sera reported, citing court documents.

Mills, who is married to British Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, also is under investigation, the newspaper said.

Mills' lawyer, Federico Cecconi, confirmed the report's accuracy but denied the allegations in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. He said prosecutors were investigating Berlusconi and Mills on charges of corruption and providing false testimony.

The Collapse of Comments

Has anyone else noticed a worrying decline in the quality of commenting in the general blogosphere? It's not so much the long-established blogs with enough traffic to draw a serious comments thread, as these usually have enough of a community to be partly self-policing, but those blogs that have recently switched on comments who are worst affected. Juan Cole, for example, recently flipped the switch to let the public comment on Informed Comment, and the results are depressing. Bill Arkin's Early Warning, a rare example of a start-up high traffic blog, has much of the same trouble. A mixture of weird, paranoid lefty trolls demanding a more venomous assault on the global conspiracy in the characteristic US heartland-populist/Know-Nothing style and crazed wingnuts yelling in their own particular fashion, bizarrely obsessed with rape/sexual harassment language.

What's wrong with these fucking people? It's almost worth getting up a campaign to have sane bloggers make a point of posting to the threads worst affected in order to dilute the poison.


APPARENTLY, the Foreign Office don't want ex-ambassador and ex-parliamentary candidate Craig Murray to publish the following letters regarding good friend of the UK, Uzbekistan, and their forward-leaning views on dated human rights ideas. After all, the Prime Minister thinks individual rights not to be tortured need to be balanced against the right of the State to defeat its enemies - an idea that our constitution has considered inadmissible since 1215. Be you ever so high, the law is above you. The raison d'etat does not exist here. Pah, that's pre-9/11 thinking and Becky won't like it. So no-one will care very much about the Uzbeks boiling and raping dissidents..or will they?
Letter #1


FM Tashkent (Ambassador Craig Murray)

TO FCO, Cabinet Office, DFID, MODUK, OSCE Posts, Security Council Posts

16 September 02

SUBJECT: US/Uzbekistan: Promoting Terrorism


US plays down human rights situation in Uzbekistan. A dangerous policy: increasing repression combined with poverty will promote Islamic terrorism. Support to Karimov regime a bankrupt and cynical policy.


The Economist of 7 September states: "Uzbekistan, in particular, has jailed many thousands of moderate Islamists, an excellent way of converting their families and friends to extremism." The Economist also spoke of "the growing despotism of Mr Karimov" and judged that "the past year has seen a further deterioration of an already grim human rights record". I agree.

Between 7,000 and 10,000 political and religious prisoners are currently detained, many after trials before kangaroo courts with no representation. Terrible torture is commonplace: the EU is currently considering a demarche over the terrible case of two Muslims tortured to death in jail apparently with boiling water. Two leading dissidents, Elena Urlaeva and Larissa Vdovna, were two weeks ago committed to a lunatic asylum, where they are being drugged, for demonstrating on human rights. Opposition political parties remain banned. There is no doubt that September 11 gave the pretext to crack down still harder on dissent under the guise of counter-terrorism.Yet on 8 September the US State Department certified that Uzbekistan was
improving in both human rights and democracy, thus fulfilling a constitutional requirement and allowing the continuing disbursement of $140 million of US aid to Uzbekistan this year. Human Rights Watch immediately published a commendably sober and balanced rebuttal of the State Department claim.

Again we are back in the area of the US accepting sham reform [a reference to my previous telegram on the economy]. In August media censorship was abolished, and theoretically there are independent media outlets, but in practice there is absolutely no criticism of President Karimov or the central government in any Uzbek media. State Department call this self-censorship: I am not sure that is a fair way to describe an unwillingness to experience the brutal methods of the security services.

Similarly, following US pressure when Karimov visited Washington, a human rights NGO has been permitted to register. This is an advance, but they have little impact given that no media are prepared to cover any of their activities or carry any of their statements.

The final improvement State quote is that in one case of murder of a prisoner the police involved have been prosecuted. That is an improvement, but again related to the Karimov visit and does not appear to presage a general change of policy. On the latest cases of torture deaths the Uzbeks have given the OSCE an incredible explanation, given the nature of the injuries, that the victims died in a fight between prisoners.

But allowing a single NGO, a token prosecution of police officers and a fake press freedom cannot possibly outweigh the huge scale of detentions, the torture and the secret executions. President Karimov has admitted to 100 executions a year but human rights groups believe there are more. Added to this, all opposition parties remain banned (the President got a 98% vote) and the Internet is strictly controlled. All Internet providers must go through a single government server and access is barred to many sites including all dissident and opposition sites and much international media (including, ironically, This is in essence still a totalitarian state: there is far less freedom than still prevails, for example, in Mugabe's Zimbabwe. A Movement for Democratic Change or any judicial independence would be impossible here.

Karimov is a dictator who is committed to neither political nor economic reform. The purpose of his regime is not the development of his country but the diversion of economic rent to his oligarchic supporters through government controls. As a senior Uzbek academic told me privately, there is more repression here now than in Brezhnev's time. The US are trying to prop up Karimov economically and to justify this support they need to claim that a process of economic and political reform is underway. That they do so claim is either cynicism or self-delusion.

This policy is doomed to failure. Karimov is driving this resource-rich country towards economic ruin like an Abacha. And the policy of increasing repression aimed indiscriminately at pious Muslims, combined with a deepening poverty, is the most certain way to ensure continuing support for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. They have certainly been decimated and disorganised in Afghanistan, and Karimov's repression may keep the lid on for years – but pressure is building and could ultimately explode.

I quite understand the interest of the US in strategic airbases and why they back Karimov, but I believe US policy is misconceived. In the short term it may help fight terrorism but in the medium term it will promote it, as the Economist points out. And it can never be right to lower our standards on human rights. There is a complex situation in Central Asia and it is wrong to look at it only through a prism picked up on September 12. Worst of all is what appears to be the philosophy underlying the current US view of Uzbekistan: that September 11 divided the World into two camps in the "War against Terrorism" and that Karimov is on "our" side.

If Karimov is on "our" side, then this war cannot be simply between the forces of good and evil. It must be about more complex things, like securing the long-term US military presence in Uzbekistan. I silently wept at the 11 September commemoration here. The right words on New York have all been said. But last week was also another anniversary – the US-led overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile. The subsequent dictatorship killed, dare I say it, rather more people than died on September 11. Should we not remember then also, and learn from that too? I fear that we are heading down the same path of US-sponsored dictatorship here. It is ironic that the beneficiary is perhaps the most unreformed of the World's old communist leaders.

We need to think much more deeply about Central Asia. It is easy to place Uzbekistan in the "too difficult" tray and let the US run with it, but I think they are running in the wrong direction. We should tell them of the dangers we see. Our policy is theoretically one of engagement, but in practice this has not meant much. Engagement makes sense, but it must mean grappling with the problems, not mute collaboration. We need to start actively to state a distinctive position on democracy and human rights, and press for a realistic view to be taken in the IMF. We should continue to
resist pressures to start a bilateral DFID programme, unless channelled non-governmentally, and not restore ECGD cover despite the constant lobbying. We should not invite Karimov to the UK. We should step up our public diplomacy effort, stressing democratic values, including more resources from the British Council. We should increase support to human rights activists, and strive for contact with non-official Islamic groups.

Above all we need to care about the 22 million Uzbek people, suffering from poverty and lack of freedom. They are not just pawns in the new Great Game.



Letter #2


Fm Tashkent (Ambassador Craig Murray)


18 March 2003



1. As seen from Tashkent, US policy is not much focussed on democracy or freedom. It is about oil, gas and hegemony. In Uzbekistan the US pursues those ends through supporting a ruthless dictatorship. We must not close our eyes to uncomfortable truth.


2. Last year the US gave half a billion dollars in aid to Uzbekistan, about a quarter of it military aid. Bush and Powell repeatedly hail Karimov as a friend and ally. Yet this regime has at least seven thousand prisoners of conscience; it is a one party state without freedom of speech, without freedom of media, without freedom of movement, without freedom of assembly, without freedom of religion. It practices, systematically, the most hideous tortures on thousands. Most of the population live in conditions precisely analogous with medieval serfdom.

3. Uzbekistan's geo-strategic position is crucial. It has half the population of the whole of Central Asia. It alone borders all the other states in a region which is important to future Western oil and gas supplies. It is the regional military power. That is why the US is here, and here to stay. Contractors at the US military bases are extending the design life of the buildings from ten to twenty five years.

4. Democracy and human rights are, despite their protestations to the contrary, in practice a long way down the US agenda here. Aid this year will be slightly less, but there is no intention to introduce any meaningful conditionality. Nobody can believe this level of aid – more than US aid to all of West Africa – is related to comparative developmental need as opposed to political support for Karimov. While the US makes token and low-level references to human rights to appease domestic opinion, they view Karimov's vicious regime as a bastion against fundamentalism. He – and they – are in fact creating fundamentalism. When the US gives this much support to a regime that tortures people to death for having a beard or praying five times a day, is it any surprise that Muslims come to hate the West?

5. I was stunned to hear that the US had pressured the EU to withdraw a motion on Human Rights in Uzbekistan which the EU was tabling at the UN Commission for Human Rights in Geneva. I was most unhappy to find that we are helping the US in what I can only call this cover-up. I am saddened when the US constantly quote fake improvements in human rights in Uzbekistan, such as the abolition of censorship and Internet freedom, which quite simply have not happened (I see these are quoted in the draft EBRD strategy for Uzbekistan, again I understand at American urging).

6. From Tashkent it is difficult to agree that we and the US are activated by shared values. Here we have a brutal US sponsored dictatorship reminiscent of Central and South American policy under previous US Republican administrations. I watched George Bush talk today of Iraq and "dismantling the apparatus of terror… removing the torture chambers and the rape rooms". Yet when it comes to the Karimov regime, systematic torture and rape appear to be treated as peccadilloes, not to affect the relationship and to be downplayed in international fora. Double standards? Yes.

7. I hope that once the present crisis is over we will make plain to the US, at senior level, our serious concern over their policy in Uzbekistan.



[Transcript of facsimile sent 25 March 2003 from the Foreign Office]

From: Michael Wood, Legal Advisor

Date: 13 March 2003

CC: PS/PUS; Matthew Kidd, WLD

Linda Duffield


1. Your record of our meeting with HMA Tashkent recorded that Craig had said that his understanding was that it was also an offence under the UN Convention on Torture to receive or possess information under torture. I said that I did not believe that this was the case, but undertook to re-read the Convention.

2. I have done so. There is nothing in the Convention to this effect. The
nearest thing is article 15 which provides:

"Each State Party shall ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made."

3. This does not create any offence. I would expect that under UK law any statement established to have been made as a result of torture would not be admissible as evidence.


M C Wood
Legal Adviser


Letter #3


FM TASHKENT (Ambassador Craig Murray)


OF 220939 JULY 04




1. We receive intelligence obtained under torture from the Uzbek intelligence services, via the US. We should stop. It is bad information anyway. Tortured dupes are forced to sign up to confessions showing what the Uzbek government wants the US and UK to believe, that they and we are fighting the same war against terror.

2. I gather a recent London interdepartmental meeting considered the question and decided to continue to receive the material. This is morally, legally and practically wrong. It exposes as hypocritical our post Abu Ghraib pronouncements and fatally undermines our moral standing. It obviates my efforts to get the Uzbek government to stop torture they are fully aware our intelligence community laps up the results.

3. We should cease all co-operation with the Uzbek Security Services they are beyond the pale. We indeed need to establish an SIS presence here, but not as in a friendly state.


4. In the period December 2002 to March 2003 I raised several times the issue of intelligence material from the Uzbek security services which was obtained under torture and passed to us via the CIA. I queried the legality, efficacy and morality of the practice.

5. I was summoned to the UK for a meeting on 8 March 2003. Michael Wood gave his legal opinion that it was not illegal to obtain and to use intelligence acquired by torture. He said the only legal limitation on its use was that it could not be used in legal proceedings, under Article 15 of the UN Convention on Torture.

6. On behalf of the intelligence services, Matthew Kydd said that they found some of the material very useful indeed with a direct bearing on the war on terror. Linda Duffield said that she had been asked to assure me that my qualms of conscience were respected and understood.

7. Sir Michael Jay's circular of 26 May stated that there was a reporting obligation on us to report torture by allies (and I have been instructed to refer to Uzbekistan as such in the context of the war on terror). You, Sir, have made a number of striking, and I believe heartfelt, condemnations of torture in the last few weeks. I had in the light of this decided to return to this question and to highlight an apparent contradiction in our policy. I had intimated as much to the Head of Eastern Department.

8. I was therefore somewhat surprised to hear that without informing me of the meeting, or since informing me of the result of the meeting, a meeting was convened in the FCO at the level of Heads of Department and above, precisely to consider the question of the receipt of Uzbek intelligence material obtained under torture. As the office knew, I was in London at the time and perfectly able to attend the meeting. I still have only gleaned that it happened.

9. I understand that the meeting decided to continue to obtain the Uzbek torture material. I understand that the principal argument deployed was that the intelligence material disguises the precise source, ie it does not ordinarily reveal the name of the individual who is tortured. Indeed this is true – the material is marked with a euphemism such as "From detainee debriefing." The argument runs that if the individual is not named, we cannot prove that he was tortured.

10. I will not attempt to hide my utter contempt for such casuistry, nor my shame that I work in and organisation where colleagues would resort to it to justify torture. I have dealt with hundreds of individual cases of political or religious prisoners in Uzbekistan, and I have met with very few where torture, as defined in the UN convention, was not employed. When my then DHM raised the question with the CIA head of station 15 months ago, he readily acknowledged torture was deployed in obtaining intelligence. I do not think there is any doubt as to the fact

11. The torture record of the Uzbek security services could hardly be more widely known. Plainly there are, at the very least, reasonable grounds for believing the material is obtained under torture. There is helpful guidance at Article 3 of the UN Convention;

"The competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the state concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights."

While this article forbids extradition or deportation to Uzbekistan, it is the right test for the present question also.

12. On the usefulness of the material obtained, this is irrelevant. Article 2 of the Convention, to which we are a party, could not be plainer:

"No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."

13. Nonetheless, I repeat that this material is useless – we are selling our souls for dross. It is in fact positively harmful. It is designed to give the message the Uzbeks want the West to hear. It exaggerates the role, size, organisation and activity of the IMU and its links with Al Qaida. The aim is to convince the West that the Uzbeks are a vital cog against a common foe, that they should keep the assistance, especially military assistance, coming, and that they should mute the international criticism on human rights and economic reform.

14. I was taken aback when Matthew Kydd said this stuff was valuable. Sixteen months ago it was difficult to argue with SIS in the area of intelligence assessment. But post Butler we know, not only that they can get it wrong on even the most vital and high profile issues, but that they have a particular yen for highly coloured material which exaggerates the threat.

That is precisely what the Uzbeks give them. Furthermore MI6 have no operative within a thousand miles of me and certainly no expertise that can come close to my own in making this assessment.

15. At the Khuderbegainov trial I met an old man from Andizhan. Two of his children had been tortured in front of him until he signed a confession on the family's links with Bin Laden. Tears were streaming down his face. I have no doubt they had as much connection with Bin Laden as I do. This is the standard of the Uzbek intelligence services.

16. I have been considering Michael Wood's legal view, which he kindly gave in writing. I cannot understand why Michael concentrated only on Article 15 of the Convention. This certainly bans the use of material obtained under torture as evidence in proceedings, but it does not state that this is the sole exclusion of the use of such material.

17. The relevant article seems to me Article 4, which talks of complicity in torture. Knowingly to receive its results appears to be at least arguable as complicity. It does not appear that being in a different country to the actual torture would preclude complicity. I talked this over in a hypothetical sense with my old friend Prof Francois Hampson, I believe an acknowledged World authority on the Convention, who said that the complicity argument and the spirit of the Convention would be likely to be winning points. I should be grateful to hear Michael's views on this.

18. It seems to me that there are degrees of complicity and guilt, but being at one or two removes does not make us blameless. There are other factors. Plainly it was a breach of Article 3 of the Convention for the coalition to deport detainees back here from Baghram, but it has been done. That seems plainly complicit.

19. This is a difficult and dangerous part of the World. Dire and increasing poverty and harsh repression are undoubtedly turning young people here towards radical Islam. The Uzbek government are thus creating this threat, and perceived US support for Karimov strengthens anti-Western feeling. SIS ought to establish a presence here, but not as partners of the Uzbek Security Services, whose sheer brutality puts them beyond the pale.


Music on at the moment: The Clash, Death or Glory. No longer an option, friends - these days it's death or decency. I've just been clearing out my old bedroom in Yorkshire. Why so many books on the second world war? It seems connected.

Thursday, December 29, 2005


The Germans have a nice word for people like this character:
What is even more remarkable however, after an investigation by The Times, is that just ten years ago Christian Bailey, whose US company is under investigation for planting fake news stories in Iraqi newspapers, was a nerdy, socially awkward English school-leaver called Jozefowicz.

The transformation of the geeky but ambitious Christian Jozefowicz, who just a few years ago was growing up in a modest terraced house in Godalming, Surrey, to the charming, baby-faced multimillionaire Christian Bailey now rubbing shoulders with some of the most powerful figures in Washington — and who next year will probably face questions on Capitol Hill about his company — is one of the more extraordinary stories to have emerged from the Iraq war.

This month it was revealed that Mr Bailey’s US company, the Lincoln Group, was the recipient of a Pentagon contract to help to fight the information war in Iraq. It then emerged that the company was paying Iraqi journalists to plant optimistic news “stories” in Iraqi papers that had been written by the US military.
Glücksritter, or something with an ambiguity between "luck-rider" and "luck-knight", sums that up perfectly. He ran off to join the .com boom in the bubblegum colours, boutique sexuality and baroque finance of late-nineties San Francisco, found it ran out on him, and reprocessed himself as an establishmentarian Brit to the taste of the toast of Republican Washington, hopping on and off his luck all the way.

Iraq has been an absolute feast for them, the profiteering kind (like yer man, the mercenaries and - well, you know), the political kind, and the crazy idealist kind, like that guy who got shot in Basra, the German artist who put a bizarre statue of democracy in place of Saddam's before things got too hot for him, and the people who started a newspaper. But the thing about riding your luck, in both senses, is that it can never be relied on for too long.

Certainly, their Maximum Leader and Exhibit A for the political type is Ahmed Chalabi, and it looks like he's running out of road again, having gained less than 1 per cent of the vote and no seats. He has taken the wise precaution of making himself oil minister for a month (again), but you can't see how he can remain a political force after this. After all, isn't this meant to be a democracy? Allawi is a similar type, if less pornographically extreme, and he's just been dealt a hand like a foot too. All that can save either of these characters would be the Americans bullying the SCIRI into accepting a "government of national unity", or in other words, one with the people who lost the election in. And would anyone be so brave as to bet against such a cabinet containing Allawi and Chalabi?

We are now the party of the chancers, which someone like Tim Worstall or Jamie Kenny would probably say was a good thing. There is a respected theory among historians of the British Empire that a great historic turning-point was the shift from "pirates to prefects". Something similar? I'm not so sure. I was reduced to infantile giggles by the mention in Patrick Cockburn's interview with the New Left Review that the 26-year-old scion of a good Republican family who was appointed to reestablish the Baghdad stock exchange failed when he forgot to renew the lease on the building, with the result that the stockbrokers ended up in the street. A chancer, certainly. But the pirates-to-prefects theory assumes that we started off sending the able second sons, chafing at the restrictions of authority, to grab the world, but then began to replace them with bible-bashing bureaucrats from the new public schools. The opposite process seems to be in operation.

In a related digression, has anyone else noticed that the people who do really well in business studies at school almost invariably launch some sort of bizarre venture, hit the big time somewhere odd, then crash and burn into spectacular bankruptcy/go to jail/get caught disseminating propaganda in Iraq? The Financial Times supposedly gave up giving a Young Businessman of the Year award because so many recipients were ruined or exposed as frauds with embarrassing swiftness.

Replying to some questions

Since the beginning of Op. Firedump, some readers have asked for me to comment on an article by one Wayne Madsen alleging that Bout, Chichakli and Co. have close contacts with various Texas Republicans. Well, if so it would be rather what I was expecting, but I have to say I've read the article and it's not what it's cracked up to be. Madsen correctly identifies the close similarity between Viktor Bout's activities in Africa in the mid-90s and those of Pierre Falcone and his friends in the Angolagate scandal, and draws the obvious inference from Falcone's association with Republican high society after he fled French justice back in 2000.

To recap, Falcone arranged for a French state arms-export company, SOFREMI, part of Charles Pasqua's Interior Ministry, to sell armaments bought in Slovakia and Bulgaria to the Angolan government. In exchange, the Angolan state oil company Sonangol gave the French oil firm Elf-Aquitaine (as was) several gigantic contracts to develop Angolan oilfields after the war. Elf kicked back the cash needed up front to buy the guns, thus permitting Francois Mitterand's government to evade public scrutiny in the deal, and huge sums from both sides stuck to Falcone's fingers. In 2000, as the investigation led by juge d'instruction Eva Joly closed in, Falcone got his friends in Angola to give him a diplomatic passport. Clutching same, he levanted from Paris and headed for the US via London.

Now, given that he was buying guns from the same arsenals and delivering them to the same country (the other side, mind) as Viktor was, you have to wonder how they got there. But that is as far as the available evidence goes; it's purely circumstantial, to say the least. Madsen doesn't actually produce any new facts at this point - he just deploys the well-worn Internet debating trick of flipping rapidly from assertion 1 to assertion 2 in the hope that the reader won't notice the join. I strongly suspect there was a connection, but I don't have any data to support it, which is why I haven't asserted it until now.

The core of the suggestion that the Texas Republican party, or part of it, has been corrupted by the Bout system is based on Falcone's fairly well-known activities after he reached the U.S. Specifically, he and his Brazilian beauty queen wife Sonia moved to a posh suburb of Phoenix, Arizona, where they attempted to ingratiate themselves with society. Sonia Falcone plunked down a $100,000 donation to the party and offered to host a big fund-raising shindig, and it has been reported that the pair even blagged themselves an invite to the Bush ranch. Unfortunately, Falcone's political sense seems to have deserted him - had he settled in Texas and offered his cash to someone of the stripe of Tom DeLay or Phil "Enron" Gramm, or moved to California and fronted up a few grand to Randall Cunningham, or enter your favourite political scumbag here, presumably he could have had the keys of the kingdom. Instead, he attempted to suborn John McCain, he of campaign finance reform and torture-ban fame. The money was eventually returned with a big FUCK OFF note and Sonia's kind invitation allowed to gather dust.

Further, Madsen draws on extremist cleric Pat Robertson's equally well-known African business interests - Liberian diamonds, for shame! - and points out that Robbo was putting his money into Liberia at the same time as San Air General Trading was taking it out of the Liberian shipping register. All this is interesting, it is probably significant, it is cracking gossip, but it is also quite well-known, especially to readers of TYR. Certainly, there is much that needs explaining - how did SOFREMI's guns get from ZTS-Osos of Slovakia to Angola? what exactly passed between M. Falcone and the future President? how could the pious Reverend invest in Liberian diamonds and gold without dealing with Charles Taylor, as he maintains? - but this doesn't take us very far towards explaining it, as opposed to restating it.

By now, no doubt, you will be expecting the odd link or two. I'm not going to link to Madsen's article, for reasons I'm about to make clear, and the Falcone paragraph needs to be enriched with material I have on another computer, so you'll have to wait.

Unfortunately, Madsen's surname appears to be worryingly apposite, something you don't have to worry about if yours is Harrowell. He refers constantly to "Hasidic diamond dealers" (surely it's the diamond dealing that is the important bit?) and insists on repeatedly pointing out the Jewishness of every Jew he mentions, and tends to make spectacular allegations in passing as if they were commonplace - for example, he alleges without any further detail that missionary aircraft hired by Rev. Robertson were used to smuggle arms to the DRC and Rwanda. Now, I wouldn't put that past him, but I would like to see some supporting detail. Names? Places? Dates? Registrations? There are none, and I rather suspect he mixed up Liberia and the Congo, as I've never heard of any Robertsonian business interests there. This is why I'm not going to link to him.

I love the stats

Not only is TYR the no.10 result on Yahoo! for "the sun page 7 fella", but someone at U.S. Joint Forces Command googled for iraq oil pipeline schematic and got us as the 7th highest result. If you were a US Army staff officer dealing with Iraq, wouldn't you keep one on your desk? If not actually burned into your cerebral cortex like the letters on Zaphod Beeblebrox's brain?

Friday, December 23, 2005

Finally, a good investment in Iraq

Remember that deal the Kurds made with a Norwegian oil firm?

Not a bad deal at all; that must have taken a good month's drilling, and they've struck 100 million barrels of oil. I wonder how Heritage Oil of Tim Spicer fame is getting on with their Kurdish drilling project? But they ain't much for corporate disclosure, them Heritage boys...

Slight Update

Well, that wasn't very impressive, was it? So far, I've yet to get an answer from the Romanians regarding 3C-QRF, if you don't count MS Outlook Out of Office flags. But, somebody has noticed - I keep noticing people from the Romanian Civil Aviation Authority searching the web for 3C-QRF, which I suppose suggests action of a sort. TYR will observe its traditional Christmas ceasefire as of tomorrow evening for 36 hours, but when we open up again there will be another plane on the list, with photos and an explanation.

In other news, Tony Blair has been playing the stupid card to protect himself over the CIA prison flights affair. Apparently he knows nothing, couldn't find out anything, and so forth. (As if we didn't know that already.) Various ministries have piously declared that - we're sorry - we don't keep records "unless people leave the airfield" or some such. But there are certainly records of which aircraft have visited the UK.

Every flight under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR), which essentially means all commercial flights and practically all international flights (and certainly all transatlantic flights), must file a flight plan with the air traffic control authorities on its route. This document details the route to be followed, the aircraft type and registration, the navigation aids involved, the timings and the person filing the plan. It can be amended in flight, but one has to exist, and if the route passes through the British CAA's area of responsibility - concretely, NATO's Air Policing Area 9, which is rather more than the UK Flight Information Region. (I may be wrong with regard to whether flights that traverse APA9 but not the UK FIR need to file with the UK National Air Traffic Services - anyway, this is an extremely unlikely case)

So, the records exist and NATS has them. I'm not sure how long they are archived for, but certainly they exist, and they cover all the flights in this case.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Strategic Drift

It is reported that the Government is beginning to have second thoughts regarding Operation HERRICK, the deployment of British forces to Afghanistan next spring under which the UK-led NATO Allied Rapid Reaction Corps HQ will take over both an expanded ISAF, the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, and a British-led strike force in Helmand Province. The plan was, as well as the ARRCHQ and supports and about a battalion-equivalent of infantry going to Kabul, and the British PRT in Mazar e-Sharif, that the 16th Air Assault Brigade would take on the task of deploying to Helmand, where they might be tasked with pursuing the Taliban and/or destroying opium plantations, as well as attempting to coerce warlords and uphold the Afghan government's authority.

This made a certain degree of sense; compared to the disaster in Iraq, at least, there's an argument that success is still within reach in Afghanistan. Never reinforce failure, as they say. And the (much delayed) expansion of ISAF out of Kabul has done so much better that one might well wonder why it didn't happen back in 2002. But the deployment has been mired in wrangling and confusion of roles. On our side, there seems to have been a difficulty between Britain and the US about the 16AAB's role. The Americans, bless their hearts, have been fighting a war of massive cordon-and-search sweeps through the mountains pursuing, I suppose, Osama bin Laden. The British Army would probably prefer a strategy of getting control of the population centres. A cynic might suggest that 16AAB are going because their dramatic formation title (Air Assault! Hooooyaah, Colonel Kilgore!) and fleet of helicopters, which ought to satisfy the US on this score.

More serious has been the inter-NATO falling out about the role and chain-of-command of ISAF as opposed to the southern task force. Given the idea that 16AAB will have a more aggressive role than the rest of ISAF (which as we have seen is a necessary illusion for US consumption), some other NATO partners are unhappy at the idea of serving under the same flag. ISAF Kabul has been quite a quiet posting during the last couple of years, which is a testament to its success. France, Germany and some others now fear that their units in Kabul could be targeted if the British down south annoy anyone powerful. Because of this, they have been arguing for a distinction between ISAF and the "antiterrorist" or "counter-insurgency" role in the south, and have demanded a dual chain of command under ARRCHQ. Further, no troops for the south have been forthcoming except for the Dutch, with the result that the "southern force" is likely to be a sort of Son of Commonwealth Strategic Reserve made up of British, Canadian and Australian forces.

There is of course one cracking great fallacy here, caused primarily by the need to present HERRICK to the Americans as a he-man chopper blitzkrieg. There is no sensible distinction between the ISAF peacekeeping role in Kabul and Mazar e-Sharif and the "fight against terrorism and drugs". Maintaining the condition, as Rupert Smith puts it, of peace and a modicum of normality is the only effective way to hope for a strategic success in Afghanistan. Indeed, it is worth asking what the Operation ENDURING FREEDOM sweeps through southern Afghanistan have actually achieved, compared with the ISAF and PRT operations in the north and west. They have certainly rearranged a lot of rocks and killed a number of people, some of whom turned out to be guests at wedding parties. No doubt some of them were the enemy. I think there's a case that OEF post-Anaconda and Shah-i-Kot has been far less productive of security than the ISAF.

All this uncertainty about aims has shaken up unpleasant memories with the Dutch, who are now remembering Srebrenica and rowing back on their commitment to send 1,000 men to Uruzgan province, next door to 16AAB. This in turn seems to have unsettled John Reid to the point that a really awful decision might get made. It has been suggested that Reid is considering trimming Op. HERRICK and sending just two of 16AAB's infantry battalions to Helmand rather than the full monty. This is dangerous nonsense. Just reducing the stakes does not necessarily reduce the risk. It's possible - like the Provincial Reconstruction Teams - to be safe through keeping a low profile. It's possible to be safe through being overwhelmingly strong. Two battalions of light infantry - in fact, airborne infantry, the lightest of the light - spread across a large tract of wild mountains are enough to present a wide range of attractive targets, but not enough unless concentrated to be secure.

The full 16AAB includes a field artillery regiment with 105mm guns and the capability to deploy by parachute or helicopter, and an Army Air Corps regiment that has just completed re-equipping with the WAH64-D Apache attack helicopter, and an engineer squadron. With this backup, and the RAF Harriers currently stationed at Kandahar, even small groups of Paras can essentially go anywhere in Afghanistan. But the new option is to leave essentially all the Brigade's support firepower at home, as well as one-third of the infantry. Bizarrely, the government appears to be thinking along the lines that having fewer allies means we need less power of our own.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Firedump: 3C-QRF

In past posts on TYR, we've often mentioned a BAC-111 aircraft registered 3C-QRF, serial number 61. This plane belongs to the curious Jetline International of Sharjah, who we've discussed quite a bit. lists 3C-QRF as operated by Jetline for San Air General Trading, Richard Chichakli's firm, which is now on the UN sanctions blacklist regarding Liberia. Now, unusually, we also know where 3C-QRF is: it's in storage at Baneasa airfield on the edge of Bucharest.

This would seem to make it a priority target. If we can't ground an aircraft that's in Europe and not flying much, we might as well give up. The question is supporting the link with San Air and illegal activities. The operator of says that there was a single report placing it with San Air; I'm trying to clarify the nature of the report. But it's well worth remembering that 3C-QRF has indeed been used to smuggle arms: check out the July, 2004 UN Security Council report on arms sanctions in the DR Congo, here (pdf). Not just that, it was the venue for a mysterious council-of-war between the Congolese vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba, who is related by marriage to Sanjivan Ruprah, and supposedly Libyan emissaries (press reporting here, Romanian press cached here)

So much for the bullshit. Now for the brief. Here is the list of contacts for the Romanian embassy in the UK. The Political Section sounds like the right one, or perhaps Home Affairs? Don't copy-paste posts, and do not commit spam, but do make the case for 3C-QRF's investigation. US readers could try here and use the "reach us" tab - the website is terribly designed. French readers will be pleased to know that the defence attache's phone number is The Romanian government website is, strangely enough.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

David Cameron: Not just more right-wing than you think...

...more right-wing than you can imagine. Think about it - here we have a character who having paffled through the election campaign saying that Tory foreign policy has to be about more than Zimbabwe and Gibraltar, but has just made William Hague his shadow foreign secretary. Hague's brief is apparently to "target Jacques Chirac".

How insane is this? Target him with what precisely? To what end? Wouldn't it be better to target the Labour Party? Seriously, he seems to think that he is campaigning in a French election. Now, I remember Hague babbling about Britain being "a foreign land", but I didn't realise Hague's response to this would be to inner-emigrate to France. Does he think Jacques Chirac knows who he is? Given the state of the EU budget talks, a fit of anti-French ranting backed (no doubt) by the tabloids would do more to strengthen Tony Blair's bargaining position than anything else, a curious aim for an opposition.

Billy Hague's judgment has never been great, something conventional wisdom tends to overlook in favour of assuming it was all to do with his looks. He never got over the impression that his party thought a Labour government was a bizarre workplace accident and didn't take it seriously, except for a sub-set of madmen who were convinced the sky was about to fall in. His initial centre-ground strategy failed due to a serious lack of commitment and policy ideas; except for donning a baseball cap, who remembers any policies of his that went in that direction? He then swung over to the hard right, chiefly I think because it was easy, forgetting that Blair was quite happy to see the Conservative Party celebrating its tribal hard-rightness. He lined up with some very odd people, drank too much dotcom koolaid (he was still going on about funding universities from radio spectrum licensing after the 3G auctions were over and it was abundantly clear no-one would ever pay those sums again), and went ape by falling in love with fascist killer Tony Martin.

Now he is convinced that, far from being in opposition, he is actually the real foreign secretary. Chirac, if asked, would probably think you were talking about the nuclear reprocessing plant at La Hague in Normandy. Which is quite accurate: Cameron's cabinet looks like an industrial facility for the reprocessing of spent political fuel rods. Here we have Francis Maude, a man whose record of continuous failure since 1997 does not seem to be any bar to his continuous promotion. Here David Davis, slowly twisting in the wind. Here Dr Death, Liam Fox, whose continued failure since 1997 awards him the defence portfolio and the title of Maximum Leader of the Tory Right. Cazart! Is that Oliver Letwin? Even Iain Duncan Smith has the chairmanship of a committee. For a Young! Modernising! influence, they all seem terribly familiar figures.

But the real problem is the man himself. He quit politics in 1994 to become Director of Corporate Affairs at Carlton Communications, a TV channel remembered in the joke that "we are entering the age of narrowcasting, of hundreds of specialised channels instead of a few general ones like BBC1 that everyone watches. For example, there's Sky Sports for sport, the History Channel for documentaries about Nazis, and then there's Carlton for utter shit.." The joke points out a deeper truth. Remember "narrowcasting"? Remember hundreds of TV channels? Remember when that was the future? Yup, that's right - 1994. Next year the Web happened as a mass phenomenon and the tellycrats have been feebly trying to keep up in terms of ideas ever since. Well, David Cameron did something similar. He spent the years 1994-2001 as a glorified PR man for a fourth-rate TV channel, then returned to politics...and he hasn't changed a bit.

He is quite evidently convinced that PR, earnest and slightly posh public speaking, looks out of Lisa Simpson's favourite magazine Non-Threatening Boys, and utter intellectual blankness is still the New New Thing. Tony Blair is still the Modern Age for Cameron, not a tired pre-internet model one step from the scrapheap and two steps from the ultimate cultural death, nostalgia. It took time, but it became clear with Blair that, when the veneer of telly wore through, there was something ugly, writhing and dripping from its leathery fangs. It won't take five minutes with Cameron; the antibodies have been produced.

His failure, by the way, began at his first PMQs when he turned on Hilary Armstrong. Apparently those present thought it was a good performance. I disagree. He came across as even more arrogant than Tony Blair, some feat, and more of a bully. "Has she finished? HEV YOU FINISHED?" Christ, it's a stretch to imagine Boris Johnson gaining votes anywhere but Henley, but this was forty times worse. He sounded and looked like the most obnoxious and boorish pub poshster you've ever met. Most people have had this experience at least once, and it's not a good association to trigger.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Astonishingly brilliant

Physicists at the University of Cape Town have invented a way of printing out photovoltaic cells (solar panels, but the phrase doesn't fit here) on paper. The point is to produce solar gear that is cheap above all"; Professor David Britton, its inventor, argues that people who can't afford to buy the conventional panels, which are far from cheap even by western standards, could pay for a couple of them every year. The process involves layering the contacts and semiconductors onto paper using an inkjet printer, and an A2-sized poster should produce 100 watts of electricity.

This is absurdly cool, especially in-context. Around Cape Town, in the townships, one sign of progress in the ANC's original aims is the mass of new electricity cables being run out to hook up the people to the grid. It seems a pity, starting from scratch, not to put in renewable power. This might do it, and it also reminds of a very important question: if anything serious is to be achieved in replacing environmentally stupid technology with better technology, we need to break the notion of "green" as a lifestyle option for annoying rich people. It has to be open to the working class.

Operation Firedump

Earlier this week, the US Department of the Treasury's order to freeze the assets of a variety of Viktor Bout companies was extended to the entire world by the UN Security Council's sanctions committee. All assets belonging to the persons and organisations named in this list are now subject to confiscation anywhere in the world.

The list is, certainly, a little out of date. Several of the operating companies listed have ceased activity, and there is no mention of Phoenix Aviation, Jet Line International, or Aerocom among others. (The delay between the US Treasury's action and this action is apparently due to the time it took the Office of Foreign Assets Control to pass on documents to the UN, that and Russian objections to the inclusion of Viktor's brother, Sergei, founder of Air Bas and CET Aviation.) However, a non-trivial number of aircraft continue to fly in the name of firms named by the UN.

This leaves two lines of action: one, to identify the newer firms, and two, to make the UN blacklist a reality. It's time to find these aircraft and demand their seizure. All bloggers are invited to mirror this and help land them on the fire dump, which is where most of these planes will end up given their age and general condition.

The list is currently as follows, correct as of today:

UN-76497, Ilyushin 76-D. Serial number 43402039. This is probably the aircraft referred to in the UN list with MoldTransavia, and is now with GST Aero, repeatedly referred to in UNSC Expert Panel reports. It was also involved in the events detailed here. The most recent photo is here.


EL-AHO, Ilyushin 18D. Serial number 183006205.

EL-ASC, Antonov 12BP. Serial number 3340909.
EL-ASJ, Antonov 12BP. Serial number 402112 (doubtful)
EL-AHT, Antonov 26A. Serial number 6004 (doubtful)
EL-ALC, Antonov 26A. Serial number 87307104.
EL-ALT, Antonov 26A. Serial number 17311805.

No recent photos available.


UN-42428, Yakovlev 42D. Serial number 45204223046. Recent photo here.
(Leased to Sudan Airways, believed operating to Iraq)
UN-75002, Ilyushin 18D. Serial number 185008603. Recent photo here.
UN-75003, Ilyushin 18D. Serial number 184006903. Recent photo here.
UN-75004, Ilyushin 18D. Serial number 186009202. Not very recent photo here.
UN-75005, Ilyushin 18D. Serial number 187010204. Recent photo here.
UN-26582, Antonov 26B. Serial number 47313504. No photo since 2002.
(Leased to Ariana Afghan Airlines)


3C-KKO, Antonov 12BP. Serial number 1901706 (No photos available)


C5-GNM, Ilyushin 62M. Serial number 3036142. Recent photo here.


3C-QRF, BAC-111. Serial number 61. Not very recent photo here. (Operated for SAGT, owned Jetline International)


UN-B7201, Boeing 727. Serial number 22045. Recent photo here.
UN-B2707, Boeing 727F. Serial number 21861. No photos yet.
UN-B****, Boeing 727. Serial number 22046. Recent photo here.

Notes: Most of the Santa Cruz aircraft are probably beyond finding, but even negative information is worth having. Air Bas has largely been closed down at least as aircraf t registration is concerned - 3C-KKO is the last known active aircraft in their name. 727 no. 22046 was last seen undergoing considerable engineering work and may not look much like its photo.

What you can do: 1). Mirror this post. 2) If and when a plane is located, tell the world. 3) Demand its confiscation - try the civil aviation authority of the country in question. Post what you said, and the contact for the person you said it to. 4) Encourage others to do so.

Friday, December 02, 2005


Al-Qa'ida as a branch of the hotel industry, from Jamie Kenny.

Which made me laugh. I've just got back from a GSM conference in Cape Town, and no doubt I'll get around to posting something worthy about leapfrog development and the like in the next days, but at the moment I feel like cheap laughs at the expense of others.

I shared a hotel with the world's supply of German travel agents, who had been invited there by some local authority in a transparent effort at bribing them into sending more Germans to the Cape, on the pretext of some sort of conference (notice a pattern?). As is not uncommon, the real point was the extra-curricular activity. Part of the show was a bus tour of the city, including an opportunity to gawp at the poor in the township sprawl of the Cape Flats. Somewhere in Khayelitsha, the two buses stopped so that the travel agents could take photos of some "traditional dancers".

And then, of course, they were invited to stand and deliver at the pistol's point. Having been relieved of money, jewellery and (of course) mobile phones in an orderly fashion, the tourists and the bus driver, who was also robbed, were released with contemptuous indulgence, in their vehicles. I don't know about you, but I find the whole story suspiciously neat, especially as the tour guide (who unlike the bus driver wasn't mentioned as having lost anything) only seems to have had one name ("Sonja"). After all, how did they know they were coming? Hell, the probability of stumbling on robbers at random even there can't be that high.

You could market it - the authentic Khayelitsha shakedown. The pictures will astonish your friends and the apres-robbery party back at the hotel is legendary.

In more serious news from the crime beat, Ilyushin IL-76TD ER-IBE, serial number 43454615, formerly of Aerocom, Asterias Commercial, and now with Jet Line International, has been down at CPT all week in a rather smart red-white livery that would gladden Jack White's heart, or at least his record-company stylist's.

The joy of search

I am the No.1 result on Google for "botulism anorak", immediately ahead of this amusing site. I'm also a hit for dubai dominatrix, if a long way down the Yahoo! rankings.

More interestingly, someone on the Government Secure Intranet googled tom kelly guardian iraq visit private. I'm result number three. Interestingly, again, one "Tony Evans" at News International, specifically Times Supplements, searched for "mohammed atta" and "martin amis" from IP address and landed here. Martin, your lawyer is on the line...

No surprises here, plenty elsewhere

The LA Times, a frequent reader of this blog, reports that the Kurds are cutting their own deals to explore for oil, and the Iraqi central government are Not Happy. After all, they have every reason not to be, given the burning issue of how the oil revenue from the existing oilfields is distributed - the Kurds developing a source of revenue outside that would be a serious destabilising force within the Shia-Kurdish alliance. (Remember that the two key bastions of the coalition in Iraq are the British troops in southern Iraq covering the logistical point-of-entry, and the alliance between the Kurds and SCIRI, which restricts the possibility of a coup attempt and rules out Turkish intervention up north.)

Strangely, the LAT article makes no mention at all of Heritage Oil's exploration & production interests in Kurdistan, as reported here three months ago, not even in the light of the Aegis Defence video scandal.

Weird, though. I go away for a few days and Iraq-related sleaze is pouring out everywhere. Death squads. Torture. Journalists paid to print propaganda, by Republican Party hacks. It's like the crap-dam just burst. What it implies, I suspect, is that the second-tier officials who know where the bodies are buried just felt it dawn on them what an epic, criminal blunder they are implicated in. Now, they are all sitting around watching each other, hoping to be the first to rat and getting ready to leap for the hatch or start stabbing once anyone else makes a move.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Black Site: Update 2

Many other bloggers have descended on the CIA secret jail story and are probably doing it better than I am. If you want a round-up I endorse and recommend Soj. But there are some things I feel ought to be flagged. As anyone who reads this regularly ought to know, I suspect that Taszar airbase in Hungary, the location of "Camp Freedom", where Ahmed Chalabi's followers were trained for the invasion of Iraq is one of the sites. Last week, I revealed that an aircraft formerly used by the Bush-Cheney campaign had visited Taszar in April, 2003. I'm trying to find out who was using Boeing 727, N804MA at the time. Mr Hackert, director of sales for its owners Miami Air International, declined to answer an inquiry by email. Readers?

One may remember that an Iraqi general was about to be tried in Denmark on war crimes charges shortly before the war. He vanished, an event that attracted some attention at the time. This site, whose credibility I rather doubt, claims that General Nizar al-Khazraji was taken to Taszar on board a Gulfstream aircraft operated by the CIA. (Two Gulfstreams have been identified as taking part in prisoner transfers.) They also, fascinatingly, claim that the operation at Taszar was run by none other than disgraced New York cop Bernard Kerik!

German weekly Die Zeit described the scene around the base in January 2003: massive security, with an outer ring of Hungarian troops but an inner sanctum guarded by Americans. Apparently the Hungarians were informed of all the people who passed through for border control purposes, but I don't know if any physical control was carried out - in any case no-one was permitted to leave the perimeter.

It was rumoured yesterday that Le Monde was going to run a headline regarding a "little Guantanamo" at Camp Bondsteel, the US Army headquarters in Kosovo, however they didn't (or at least their website didn't). It's here. I suspect I know why: about a year ago, I was told by a former Naval staff officer and specialist in international law who had visited the place that the infamous Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo looked very similar to the POW cage in Bondsteel, which he had visited in connection with war-crimes suspects from the Balkan war who were held there before transfer to the Hague Tribunal. He held that X-Ray looked like it did because the Americans military engineers built the same kind of structure anywhere if they were told to erect a camp for prisoners, whether POWs or Rumsfeld's "illegal combatants".

What differed, presumably, was the treatment they received once they were there..

Edit: this is essentially the Le Monde story, just the person who saw the prison's likeness was Alvardo Gil Robles of the Council of Europe. He was apparently "shocked" by the resemblance but makes no mention of torture or maltreatment.


Three terrorist cells exposed in Baghdad. Two were led by the same renegade Interior Ministry official and the other by the director of a private investment company. Does anyone else wonder if he was playing the markets (petrol? cement? security/protection racket?) in relation to his spare-time activities? This really is getting like Vietnam with worse music.

Iraq: it's nearly over but not quite yet

Cole quotes Arabic press reports that representatives of the "guerrilla movement" in Iraq met with the Iraqi political parties, other Arab states, and US intelligence at a conference in Cairo, where they stated their terms. The terms are as follows:
1) working to end the foreign occupation;
2) compensation to the Iraqis for the damages arising from the American invasion;
3) the release of prisoners;
4) building political and military institutions that are not subservient to American and regional influence.
Or to put it another way, this is the beginning of the end. It's nowhere near the beginning of the end of the war, but it is the beginning of the end of our war in Iraq. 1) is clear - get out. 3) is obvious (but not trivial). 2) can be read as blackmail: pay up and we might - might - grant you a relatively orderly departure, rather than insisting on live-broadcast humiliation, burning Chinooks and screaming mobs. 4) is interesting. "Political and military institutions that are not subservient to American influence", I think, means the re-establishment of the old Iraqi army and the order of the boot for Jaafari's government. "Regional influence", I suppose, means essentially the two I's, Israel and Iran - these particular guerrillas are part of what I call NOIA, the New Old Iraqi Army, and they are not keen on Iran at all. And you can forget diplomatic relations with Israel any time before the crack of doom.

This is why I'm anti-timetables. If we say that come what may, in six months' time the last coalition soldier will step over the Kuwaiti border, we have to accept all of these. For example, the terms suggest that we have to depose the SCIRI-UIA from government as they are arguably subservient to both American and "regional" influence. That brings problems - not only were they sort-of elected, they have their own armies and allies, and they are in the majority. Sacking Jalal Talabani from the presidency would also presumably trigger Kurdish secession and all that would follow from it. From a selfish point of view, it would also be militarily foolish.

When we leave Iraq we will go the same way we came, along the motorway (State Highway 8) south from Baghdad past the Shia towns, over the Euphrates, south-west of Basra and eventually to the docks in Kuwait City. This road (it leads on past Baghdad and eventually takes you to Mosul) is the main supply route for the whole coalition force, with a subsidiary air route to Baghdad Airport and the Corps Support Command logistics base at Balad South East airfield northeast of Baghdad. Appeasing the Sunni insurgents would be penny wise, pound foolish if it incenses the Shia, because our line of retreat is through their territory. The 2004 Shia rising effectively bollocksed up the logistics system to the point where the Green Zone was on half rations precisely because that road is where it is.

So that's a term we can't agree to. If we are tied to a specific date, though, we have no choice in the matter. That is the danger of a timetable. If we don't accept, then we still go in six months but we have to retreat under constant attack. And they will get what they want anyway.

Another point on this: as Comments Dan pointed out, British forces are currently covering the southern end of that route and the border with Kuwait. We can't leave until everyone else has, short of leaving the US to negotiate a deal with Iran to get out and accept that the NOIA will do exactly as it pleases, which would be a military disaster, lead to the immediate elimination of the Iraqi government and probable further intervention by the neighbours, and also be equivalent to terminating the Atlantic alliance.

You may be interested to know, according to the Washington Post, that the security situation is now so bad that you cannot move around the Green Zone freely. Perhaps the fear that one day the Zone will fall in some sort of bloody, epic crisis is illusory, an example of how you expect big and dramatic things to be big and dramatic. Maybe it's just going to shrink - presumably we leave when the security perimeter equals the size of John Negroponte's office? More drawdown talk here, although I class this with most of the "withdrawals in six months" stuff. We won't get out until we go, so to speak.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Boris Johnson

..has a use. Who knew?

"The Attorney General's ban is ridiculous, untenable, and redolent of guilt. I do not like people to break the Official Secrets Act ... we now have allegations of such severity, against the US President and his motives, that we need to clear them up.

If someone passes me the document within the next few days I will be very happy to publish it in The Spectator, and risk a jail sentence".

This calls for Operation Mirrorball. Last time, it turned out the Standard just couldn't get their website organised. This time it may be for real.


So there's this comment that appears in one of my old threads and it says "Nick Griffin is a paedophile", giving what is clearly a string of random letters as a name. Then it appears again. Identical. So I goes and I asks da comment, whatta you know about Nick? Comment doesn't answer, stares in his beer.

Obviously I go do a WHOIS. You got weird comments and you know the IP address, you do a WHOIS. Meh, it goes through to an ISP in Sheffield called, to a customer netblock. So off I goes and I does a reverse DNS lookup on And, what? I find it calls itself Not that you'll find no website with that name. Naturally, the name belongs the hostmaster.

So I google. And what do I find? A world of websites where some clown has been posting identical troll posts all pointing links right at, a domain that don't no more exist than she was a rabbit. But there's some site left in the Google cache, not much of a one though.

So - some knobber's been trying to fill the Internet with links to their crappy little site by having a script copy nonsense into blog comments threads and can't be bothered to maintain it. Netwebresearch, kindly piss off.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Can someone give these people a clue?

At the World Summit on the Information Society in fun-loving Tunisia, it seems the goons tried to make Richard Stallman wear an RFID tag. Yes, that Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation and hammer of digital injustices of every kind. Apparently he wrapped it in tinfoil (see! it works! the MIT study is a stinking lie!) to stop it working...

..which clearly worked, seeing as the Tunisian security knobbers proceeded to give him a hard time. It's a pity I didn't think of resorting to this simple procedure at the time of my own RFID madness experience. By the way, do any of you have a reader for the things or know where I could obtain one? I've still got the thing and I'd like to know what it says about me..

Sunday, November 20, 2005

UKIP: Wave of the Future

I, I, THOMAS NISBET AITCHISON, Returning Officer at the election of a Councillor for the No. 15 Murrayfield Ward of the City of Edinburgh local government area on Thursday, 10 November 2005, do hereby, in accordance with Rule 43(1)(c) of the local elections rules set out in Schedule 2 to the Scottish Local Government Elections Rules 2002, declare that the result of the election was as follows:-

BALFOUR, Jeremy R.
Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party Candidate: 1327

Scottish Green Party: 58

BROWN, Melville
UKIP Scotland: 4
As I think is customary on these occasions: BWHAAAHAAHAAHAAAHAAA! Remember this post from January? "It is just possible that he and UKIP will transform the politics of Britain and Europe".

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Things I've allowed to slide

The Orwells, specifically. I'd like to resume Orwelling, and in a big way, by citing an organisation rather than an individual. This week's Orwell nomination goes to the Association of Chief Police Officers, or ACPO for short. The reason? Not just for Brazilian-blasting or acting as uniformed whips for the Labour Party, nor for suggesting that an ANPR number plate recognition camera could be placed every 400 yards on the motorway network, but for something more intangible that touches on all of these.

It's for getting involved not just in politics (no-one is ever really uninvolved in politics), but in legislation. ACPO kicked off by pushing the government's policy to MPs, officially entirely off its own bat. In fact, the Home Office's spokesman later said that Charles Clarke had spoken to the ACPO chairman but that this was "proper". Curiously, though, it doesn't worry me as much that the cops might be used by the government for party purposes than it does that ACPO is quite capable of doing so off its own bat.

After all, one of its members, Sir Ian "Killer of the Yard" Blair announced in what amounted to an address to the nation that he wanted a debate with us on what kind of policing we needed. Now, I always thought that this was a matter to be settled through parliament and the central government in one direction, and through local government and the elected police authorities in the other. But let that pass. I'd be delighted to debate policing with Killer, but Silvermans haven't delivered my bulletproof vest yet, and anyway, the first item in the kind of police force I want is "one that doesn't contain Sir Ian Blair".

In the same week, his ACPO chums came out with their demarche to the Sunday Times in which they threatened not just to put recognition cameras every 400 yards on motorways, but to store all the recognition data in a (guess what?) monster national database for two years, whether or not anyone in the photos had done anything wrong. This would be a pharaonic project in itself, and a radical change in society, but apparently ACPO - which is a private association of coppers, not a statutory body - feels it can take it on all on its own. Parliament? Debate? Vote? We don't need no stinkin' vote!

So. An Orwell nomination to ACPO. Christmas is coming, and we shall soon be voting on the inaugural TYR Orwell Award for Authoritarianism. Can we have some recommendations for next week, please?

Super-Cheap Computing - Coordination Needed

Everyone has been fascinated by the MIT $100 laptop project, what with the radical prospect of disseminating computers throughout the developing world's classrooms (sweet version), small businesses (brutally pragmatic version), or terrorist cells (brutally cynical version). Some thought it was genius, others a distraction...and some of us realised with a degree of depression that its specifications were rather more impressive than those of our office computers. There is one problem, though, I don't think anyone's really dealt with.

That is to say, a cut-down PC is of very limited use in the role that is suggested. Apart from offering an introduction to programming and maths (the biggest application its designers were thinking of), most other really interesting uses for it depend on Internet access. Otherwise, whatever content that isn't user-generated (the Wikipedia Foundation's free curriculum project springs to mind, as do dictionaries, maps, and such) and all software will have to be distributed on physical storage media to all those computers...and as the whole point is to effectively set them free to swim through society, it's doubtful whether they will have a supply link to whoever will provide this stuff for long.

The lapster does include a Wi-Fi (IEEE802.11b/g) radio, but this is not really a solution. Wi-Fi is a nice technology for places where there is a good fixed-line or microwave infrastructure. It is not a telecommunications replacement. Essentially, Internet access via Wi-Fi is always restricted to a radius corresponding to the access point's range around its location at the end of a fibre or DSL line. This is as good as useless in this context.

MIT hopes Wi-Fi's other mode, peer-to-peer rather than access point networking, will provide the answer. This is OK as far as linking the computers in a class together goes, but no farther. Using it for wide-area networking relies on what is known as mesh networking, in which one user passes on traffic from another to the next user until either the destination or the backbone network is reached. Essentially, the users act both as end-points and as routers. This is nice, and geeks (especially academic and lefty geeks) love it because they see it as a way of escape from the grip of big telcos and even ISPs into the pure, fresh skies of free connectivity.

The trouble arrives, though, if everyone, absolutely everyone, isn't meshed in. Theoretically, if all the users are part of the meshnet, any user is routable from any other without leaving it. But, of course, everybody isn't. For a mesh network to work, there must be a line of users, all online and within range of each other, from you to every other user. If there's a gap, the users on the other side of the gap are their own private internetwork and you can't reach them.

That would be no trouble if people were evenly distributed across the Earth's surface, but we aren't. There are deserts, oceans, and mountain ranges around, most of which are considerably larger than the theoretical maximum range of a Wi-Fi connection. Not just that, there are large areas of the world where the density of population is sufficiently low to put our laptops out of touch with each other and the wider world. The other problem with mesh networking is the so-called n+1 problem, which arises when we pragmatically accept the last problem and hook our mesh network up to the Internet. The computer nearest the backbone, the first (or last, depending on how you look at it) hop, must carry the total bandwidth required by all the others, all the time. The closer you get to that point, the heavier the load, and the more critical the link's reliability. If that one fails, you have no Internet access. You may talk, however, among yourselves.

If the mesh is of any size, that last link must be at the very least a T-1/E-1, too. Try obtaining one of them in, say, the provincial Ivory best it will be seriously expensive, and at worst impossible. Mesh networking is a cool idea if you're on the MIT campus with plenty of other users and bandwidth to burn. It's also not such a bad idea if you have a longer-range radio link (we'll come back to this).

My point, then. Whilst all this was going on, the GSM Association, the mobile network operators' club, announced that Motorola had got its latest Emerging Market Handset Initiative contract, this time for a mobile phone at a price below $30. Now, mobile telephone networks have been spreading in Africa and Asia with a speed that regularly surprises the people who build them. It's one of the industry's conscience salves of choice. While European and North American operators have struggled to come up with a working mobile payments system, African ones invented a function to transfer airtime credit by SMS, which meant that a new and highly accessible, secure, and instant payments system suddenly appeared (and, arguably, a new currency).

A couple of months ago, GrameenPhone, an arm of the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh (you know, the darling of the World Bank) switched on the EDGE (EGPRS) upgrade to its network, pushing up data transfer to a peak rate of 200Kb/s. Within a week, 100,000 subscribers had upgraded to the new system. It's not 3G (although it's not far off the speeds achieved by the first 3G networks in practice), and certainly not post-3G speed, but it is Internet access at a speed comparable to most US fixed Internet connections, in the jungles of Bangladesh. This is a well tried, carrier-grade, mass production technology that is already there, or on its way, in many of the places these lapsters are going.

So where is the $10 datacard for the $100 laptop? Why doesn't the thing already have an embedded GPRS radio? Dah. Less optimistically, though, one thing neither the GSMA, CDMA Development Group, nor MIT have tackled is the other end of the link, the $1000 base station and the $3000 switch. There is no Emerging Market Base Station Initiative - yet. What might perhaps do that would be success with the mobile version of WiMax, which will at some future date be IEEE 802.16e when the WiMax Forum decides how it works. Motorola's "pre-standard" (read: non-standard) WiMax base station drinks only 10 watts of electricity and is about the width of The Guardian long and my notebook wide. Samsung (who invented most of it as a proprietary tech called WiBro) claim to have tested theirs at speeds of 1-3Mbps from moving vehicles.

Most of the claims (70Mbps over 30 miles!) you may have heard for WiMax are crap, except perhaps for highly managed point-to-point links, but if it can do that on 10w, we can easily drive the base station with a Rutland 913 wind turbine and some batteries, which means no fixed infrastructure at all. One of its first applications in the "fixed wireless", 802.16d, version (which is already standardised) may be to provide backhaul for the cellular systems.

But, before WiMax gets its act together, the cellular systems are already unwiring the places the $100 laptop was intended for, and there's no suitable radio on the thing. Or is the plan to encourage them to hack a mobile phone together with the computer?

Friday, November 18, 2005


7th July victim Rachel from North London is getting some stick.

Just to remind you...a traitor is in our midst.

Is David Davies a dangerous man?

I don't mean in a cheesewire-wielding SAS fashion. It's time to talk about the consti-bloody-tution. DD has recently done some very odd things con-wise, and they worry me. Apparently, he wants to have two (count'em!) referendums as a matter of policy. This is a little strange to begin with - after all, isn't a referendum a means of deciding policy, not the policy itself? - but it gets weirder when you hear what he wants to referend about.

Davies wants to hold a national referendum on "whether or not to reclaim powers from Brussels". This is odd: a referendum to determine the government's foreign policy? Referendums are normally held to ratify a change in the constitution ex post facto, as with the devolution polls of 1979 and 1998 and the Eureferendum of 1975. But this would be one on an executive action (diplomacy) in the future. Strange. Odder yet, it's superfluous. There already is a means of getting unimpeachable legitimacy for a future course of action: it's called a general election. Presumably he thinks we should reclaim powers from Brussels, so why not stick it in his hypothetical manifesto? He would be no more irrevocably committed to it, in fact less, than if he held a referendum and won.

Now, taking the hypothetical a few steps further - imagine DD wins an election, stages the referendum, wins that, goes to Brussels and unaccountably succeeds in getting one or more policy areas converted from qualified-majority voting to unanimous approval.

I agree this is a fairly wild scenario, but bear with me.

DD now wants to hold a further referendum, but not (as you'd think) in order to confirm the alteration of the treaties after, I suppose, he gets the amendments ratified in Parliament. No, he says he wants a further referendum on whether or not he has been successful. This is frankly bizarre. I mean, why not just commission an opinion poll if he wants to measure public opinion? No doubt Anthony Wells would be delighted to do it for a consideration.

Certainly it would be fascinating to see the results, as they would throw light on exactly how much the public understands about any of this stuff. Would the Europhobes be capable of voting "yes", as presumably they ought to...or would some unconscious force drive their dear little fingers to the NO box? If DD wants further legitimation, of course, he could just call an election. But what need? The changes to the treaty would be ratified by a parliament elected on a manifesto promising them - what more do you need?

I can see perhaps two explanations. One is that DD is simply indulging in blatant self-interest, promising to gratify the hard Right by staging a Europhobic jingofest - no, two! - at the public charge and by using the words "Europe" and "referendum" in close connection a lot. This is pathetic, and reeks of desperation. The other is that, in fact, he doesn't care for elections or parliament or the constitution and would rather have a system of executive decisions ratified by plebiscite...or something similar to Mussolini's view of the state, in other words.

He's going to lose, so it's only of theoretical value, but the possibility exists that the winner might offer him a Shadow Cabinet slot.

Leaving, and not-leaving

The Government has recently been saying that British troops might leave Iraq some time next year. As previously blogged, they have been saying this since the British troops entered Iraq, there or thereabouts, with the only difference that the number of troops has climbed steadily, from a low of one brigade group and 1 Division HQ immediately post-invasion to the current position, with 7 Armoured Brigade, an adhoc Div HQ, various support elements, and three (I think) battalions-equivalent as reinforcements to 7 - in other words, almost another brigade. (Details.) And, as previously blogged, there were rumours that General Dutton had wanted even more troops at the last rotation but didn't get them.

This time, one might have thought that there was more point to the story. After all, Prez Jalal Talabani was in town, and he says so. And the Guardian ran a large story on how "the emphasis was shifting" towards withdrawal that was heavily larded with markers of government briefing - "sources", "officials", "so-and-so will say..", all that stuff.

Only one question. This week, the first Army units were officially warned-off for Operation TELIC 9, the next tour of Iraq after the 7th's, with mobilisations planned for the late summer of 2006 and a planned return home in May, 2007. Ten years to the day after Tony Blair's election. Now, warning-off isn't a binding process, it simply announces that unit X is likely to mobilise in the future and ought to prepare. But it certainly sheds light on the confident commentary given by, among others, Sir Michael Jackson this week.

A possible explanation was that one of the official sources who will brief that.. said that 3,000 troops might be withdrawn "without affecting operational capability". Well, I doubt that very much, as operational capability is exactly why the generals asked for them. I suspect they meant without affecting the operational situation. To put it another way, they are hoping to get back to the original number of troops before the before, and then hope one day to get out of Iraq.

By the way, can the Ones Who Will Brief kindly stop it with re-announcing next spring's deployment to Afghanistan, Op. HERRICK? The press react, infantile, every time it is spun as if it was all brand new although it was first announced two years ago. Re-announcing five-a-day programmes for sink estates is one thing, re-announcing military operations is too much, surely?

Jesus, this is the end. I've started whingeing about "spin". Old age must be near.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

RSS on Mobile Gadgets

Does anyone know if freeware RSS reader works with Windows Mobile 5.0?


As well as Remembrance Sunday (what a day to write about torture), today is Webday...because 15 years ago today, Tim Berners-Lee put the first web page on line.

And immediately got comments from four people demanding to know why he hated freedom, three wanting to know why he'd failed to put scarequotes around President Bush (do you mean he was legitimately elected? Well, I thnik your a FASHCIST!), someone offering to elnarge his pen1s, and another from his mum saying how proud she was.

Black Site: Brief Update

According to news reports in Vienna's Der Standard and the Italian paper Il Manifesto, a UN investigator in Afghanistan, Cheriff Bassiouni (who is an academic from Egypt) has stated that a secret CIA prison existed in Hungary. It's not clear what information his statement is based on, but it certainly fits with my suspicions. (So that's obviously ground to speculate, no? God, the quality on this blogging lark..)

I hadn't heard of Bassiouni, but it seems he's a professor of international law who chaired the drafting committee for the statute of the International Criminal Court. His current job is as the UN's Independent Expert on Human Rights in Afghanistan, a thankless task if ever there was one. A copy of the Italian article appears to be here. Although I don't read Italian to any extent, he seems to say that Poland, Romania and Hungary have breached the European Convention on Human Rights, and to have prepared a report on secret CIA detentions. I have the impression that he thinks his appointment will not be renewed because of this report.

He also has this to say:
In Afghanistan, nella base aerea di Bagram e a Kandahar, arrivavano i detenuti prelevati con aerei Cia da ogni parte del mondo e da lì gli afghani venivano smistati verso gli altri 14 centri militari segreti americani per essere torturati. Gli altri, dall'Afghanistan venivano spediti nelle carceri segrete sotto controllo americano: in paesi dell'est europeo come Polonia, Romania, Ungheria oppure, gli asiatici, nella base militare di Diego Garcia.
Well, I don't read Italian but I think that's sufficiently fucking clear. What I would very much like to see would be a copy of this report, and before that to have someone who reads better Italian take a peek at the text.

I strongly suspect the Hungarian site is Taszar (as previously blogged), the air base where Ahmed Chalabi's followers were meant to be trained for the invasion of Iraq as "Free Iraqi Forces". The training programme was widely reported to have been a failure (you get the feeling the Chalabi Boys weren't keen on route marches across the Puszta with heavy packs and muddy boots compared to hobnobbing with the mighty..and Christopher Hitchens), but what else might have happened there? And what was a Boeing 727 belonging to Miami Air International, Inc, doing going there on the 9th April, aircraft that was also used by the Bush-Cheney presidential campaign? (Link may not work - site is subscription with limited visitor access) That last may be coincidential, of course.

Mind you, if you're Romania's intelligence chief, there's an easy way to deal with this stuff: blame George Soros for spreading the story in order to divert terrorists' attention away from the US and UK - after all he is "close to the US Democrats". Mmm, crack...nice.

Update: N804MA was, I now know, used by the 2000 Bush campaign. Who took it to Taszar, then?

Friday, November 11, 2005

Best DSR Ever

I am the 10th result on for "chubby men porn bear". It's the pride, dammit.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Hitchens: drunk or on crack too?

A blogger was present when Ahmed "The Greatest" Chalabi addressed frothing neo-con groupthink-tank the American Enterprise Institute this week, despite being under FBI investigation and accused of leaking US cryptographic data to Iran. (Note: Chalabi recently paid a call on the Iranian President. What's going on there?)

You can read full details of the visit here. Another guest was the drink-soaked former Trotskyite popinjay himself. Christopher Hitchens said some astonishingly weird things, it seems. Apparently, he thinks Chalabi cracked the US ciphers himself, all on his ownio, being a "mathematical genius" (actually, although he is a mathematician he's not a cryptographer, and his studies were years ago before pretty much any of the key techniques of modern crypto were invented, before public key encryption, PGP, SHA1.).

Would simple alcohol make you say these things, or would you need some more exotic drug? Is he insane?


Apparently the American bomb disposal men in Baghdad sometimes can't go out because their comrades in the Air Force are jamming the GSM phone network and therefore, there's a risk that any command detonated IEDs might go off unintentionally, and also their radio detectors won't work.

Is it me, or is this just incredibly, amazingly stupid?

Recap: very soon after the occupation of Baghdad, we issued three regional licences for mobile phone service in Iraq, both for our own convenience and also as a contribution to restoring the Iraqi economy. After all, economic recovery means less unemployment, which means fewer army-trained young men with no money and plenty of time on their hands, which means less Unfortunately, it turned out that the insurgents, being tech-aware Robbites, loved mobile phones. They use them for all kinds of things, including command-detonating IEDs and tactical communications with a modicum of security. So, we are flying a Compass Call electronic warfare C-130 around over Baghdad jamming the 900MHz band.

Now, that stops the phones working. Which, presumably, means any business dependent on phone service stops working. Can you see where we're going with this? Worse still, being an aircraft, it can't stay up there all the time, so the jamming is only ever temporary. Which is probably worse than permanent because the enemy can still use the phones as long as they look up in the sky first, but no-one can rely on the service. And if the phones don't work...we can't listen in on them either.

It's also stupid to listen into GSM calls from a multizillion dollar EW aircraft that can only be overhead some of the time when we control the SS7 switch (or at least I fucking hope we do...). There's actually a chapter in the GSM standard that deals with "Lawful Interception" - all we need do is drive down to Orascom's switch and ask them nicely if we can use it. Or, failing that, kick down the doors, scream "Gettthefuckinghellyourhandzondawallshajimotherfuckers!" and put a gun to their heads. But I'm trying to be sensible.

That way, we could listen to them all the time without letting them know we're doing it. And we could get the location data from the HLR, too. We could even put in an E-1 line straight into intelligence HQ and spy on them from the comfort of our desks. Diddlididididi("nokia tune") Hey Ahmed, it's Fahd here...the fuel convoy just went past on Highway 8..should be at your location in 5 minutes. Allahu akbar, out. Let's see...that's coordinates X,y..tap'em into the Predator drone..look, there he is with the phone glued to his ear.

This ought to be obvious. What renders it especially stupid is that it's a case where the two halves of Thomas Barnett's military - the Leviathan and the Sysadmin - are both in the field, but they're at each other's throats like two Hull fans in a phonebox with knives.

The Post-Blair Era

That's it, then. Blair is officially dead as a political force. All the whipping, all the attempts to get support from the far right of the Tories, even trying to draw the Paisleyites (the last reserve of the desperate in British politics) didn't work. The 90-day detention provisions are dead by 31 votes, and who can say what will happen to the rest of the bill?

More importantly, who would now put money on ID cards passing the Lords? The Tories, I see, are now worried that Rupert Murdoch will be angry with them. I'm sceptical - even though Rebekah "Drunken Antisocial Thug" Wade saw fit to describe the noes as "traitors" in today's Scum, if there's one constant in Murdochism it's power-worship. Once they start winning, he'll come around. In Hunter S. Thompson's words, "the shark ethic prevails - eat the wounded". He was talking about Las Vegas, but it explains Murdoch just as well.

See those fins circling, Tony? See them?

By the way, am I the only one tempted to ring up major London hotels and ask if there is a guest by the name of Ross Kemp, by any chance? And did I mention, incidentally, that Rebekah Wade is a drunken antisocial thug? EDIT:Return to base immediately. There is a traitor in our midst. This traitor is your new target. More information is available from headquarters here and here.

kostenloser Counter