In early September 2016, Donald Trump announced his plan for a vast expansion of the U.S. military, including 90,000 new soldiers for the Army, nearly 75 new ships for the Navy, and dozens of new fighter aircraft for the Air Force. Although the cost of this increase would be substantial–about $90 billion per year–it would be covered, the GOP presidential candidate said, by cutting wasteful government spending.
But where, exactly, is the waste? In fiscal 2015, the federal government engaged in $1.1 trillion of discretionary spending, but relatively small amounts went for things like education (6 percent), veterans’ benefits (6 percent), energy and the environment (4 percent), and transportation (2 percent). The biggest item, by far, in the U.S. budget was military spending: roughly $600 billion (54 percent). If military spending were increased to $690 billion and other areas were cut to fund this increase, the military would receive roughly 63 percent of the U.S. government’s discretionary spending.
Well, you might say, maybe it’s worth it. After all, the armed forces defend the United States from enemy attack. But, in fact, the U.S. government already has far more powerful military forces than any other country. China, the world’s #2 military power, spends only about a third of what the United States does on the military. Russia spends about a ninth. There are, of course, occasional terrorist attacks within American borders. But the vast and expensive U.S. military machine–in the form of missiles, fighter planes, battleships, and bombers–is simply not effective against this kind of danger.
Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Defense certainly leads the way in wasteful behavior. As William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project of the Center for International Policy, points out, “the military waste machine is running full speed ahead.” There are the helicopter gears worth $500 each purchased by the Army at $8,000 each, the $2.7 billion spent “on an air surveillance balloon that doesn’t work,” and “the accumulation of billions of dollars’ worth of weapons components that will never be used.” Private companies like Halliburton profited handsomely from Pentagon contracts for their projects in Afghanistan, such as “a multimillion-dollar `highway to nowhere,’” a $43 million gas station in nowhere, a $25 million `state of the art’ headquarters for the U.S. military in Helmand Province . . . that no one ever used, and the payment of actual salaries to countless thousands of no ones aptly labeled `ghost soldiers.’” Last year, Pro Publica created an interactive graphic revealing $17 billion in wasteful U.S. spending uncovered by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction.
Not surprisingly, as Hartung reports, the Pentagon functions without an auditing system. Although, a quarter century ago, Congress mandated that the Pentagon audit itself, it has never managed to do so. Thus, the Defense Department doesn’t know how much equipment it has purchased, how much it has been overcharged, or how many contractors it employs. The Project on Government Oversight maintains that the Pentagon has spent about $6 billion thus far on “fixing” its audit problem. But it has done so, Hartung notes, “with no solution in sight.”
The story of the F-35 jet fighter shows how easily U.S. military spending gets out of hand. Back in 2001, when the cost of this aircraft-building program was considered astronomical, the initial estimate was $233 billion. Today, the price tag has more than quadrupled, with estimates ranging from $1.1 trillion to $1.4 trillion, making it the most expensive weapon in human history. The planes reportedly cost $135 million each, and even the pilots’ helmets run $400,000 apiece. Moreover, the planes remain unusable. Although the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Air Force recently declared their versions of the F-35 combat ready, the Pentagon’s top testing official blasted that assertion in a 16-page memo, deriding them as thoroughly unsuitable for combat. The planes, he reported, had “outstanding performance deficiencies.” His assessment was reinforced in mid-September 2016, when the Air Force grounded 10 of its first F-35 fighters due to problems with their cooling lines.
U.S. wars, of course, are particularly expensive, as they require the deployment of large military forces and hardware to far-flung places, chew up very costly military equipment, and necessitate veterans’ benefits for the survivors. Taking these and other factors into account, a recent study at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs put the cost to U.S. taxpayers of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at nearly $5 trillion thus far. According to the report’s author, Neta Crawford, this figure is “so large as to be almost incomprehensible.”
Even without war, another military expense is likely to create a U.S. budgetary crisis over the course of the next 30 years: $1 trillion for the rebuilding of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, plus the construction of new nuclear missiles, nuclear submarines, and nuclear-armed aircraft. Aside from the vast cost, an obvious problem with this expenditure is that these weapons will either never be used or, if they are used, will destroy the world.
Wasted money, wasted lives, or maybe both. That’s the promise of increased military spending.
India is reported as being “one of the largest donors of civilian aid to Afghanistan” and has recently undertaken to give the Kabul government another billion dollars, which is extremely generous of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, because, as CNN points out, there is in India “a stark picture of widespread rural poverty and deprivation.” According to the site Poverties “70 per cent of Indians don’t have access to decent toilets (which inspires a multitude of bacteria to host their own disease party); 35% of households don’t have a nearby water source and 85% of villages don’t have a secondary school.”
India’s space program costs 750 million dollars a year, and it spent 4 billion dollars hosting the Commonwealth Games. But although 300 million of its 1.2 billion citizens live in conditions that are wretched to the point of barely credible squalor it can still send a billion dollars to Afghanistan which is ranked as the third most corrupt country in the world.
That billion, indeed, might replace the billion stolen from the Kabul Bank, which, according to the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) last week, “operated as a massive pyramid scheme; hundreds of millions of dollars had been fraudulently lent to ﬁctitious companies, with no loan ever paid off . . . while ordinary Afghan citizens’ deposits were used to fund the fraudulent loans. Two of the principal beneﬁciaries of the fraudulent loans were Mahmoud Karzai and Haseen Faheem.” Mahmoud Karzai is brother to the then President, Hamid Karzai, and now lives in luxury outside Afghanistan. Haseen Faheem is a brother of former Vice-President Mohammad Faheem (who was a corrupt savage) and also lives in luxury outside Afghanistan.
India’s billion dollars were promised during a visit to Delhi by Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani who has been in power for two years and was reported by Reuters in October 2014 as “saying that he would re-open the inquiry into the theft of almost $1 billion from the bank, fulfilling a campaign promise to make fighting corruption a priority.”
As is clear from the SIGAR’s report, Ghani has done no such thing, and after fifteen years of US-NATO military operations and expenditure of colossal amounts of money Afghanistan is a catastrophe in which “the United States contributed to the growth of corruption by injecting tens of billions of dollars into the Afghan economy, using ﬂawed oversight and contracting practices, and partnering with malign powerbrokers.”
As the UK’s Guardian newspaper highlighted : “In one damning episode in 2010, Hamid Karzai, the president at the time, ordered the release of an aide who had been caught on wiretap demanding a bribe to thwart an investigation into a money transfer firm accused of stealing $2.78 billion. Meanwhile, the same aide was also receiving payments from the CIA, even as he was targeted by US law enforcement agencies.”
Oh, what a tangled web is weaved, when the CIA is self-deceived.
Four days after the SIGAR’s indictment of US conduct in Afghanistan, the New York Times carried an Editorial titled The Afghan War Quagmire, which is an accurate description of the situation in the country. But in all its 628 words of observation and comment the NYT didn’t once mention the SIGAR’s report. Certainly it regrets that “America’s longest war deteriorates into a slow, messy slog” — but it’s been a messy and catastrophic slog for years, and the NYT uses the word ‘corrupt’ once and ‘corruption’ not at all.
There is no criticism by the NYT of Washington’s crass incompetence over fifteen years of futile and poorly-directed military operations, or mention of the fact that 2,384 members of the US forces and 1,136 “Coalition” troops died in Afghanistan. In its single use of the word ‘corrupt’ it observes that “The Afghan government remains weak, corrupt and roiled by internal rivalries. The casualty rate for Afghan troops is unsustainable. The economy is in shambles. Resurgent Taliban forces are gaining ground in rural areas and are carrying out barbaric attacks in the heart of Kabul, the capital.” But that’s nothing new. We’ve known for many years that the US-NATO war in Afghanistan was a lost cause. (The NYT doesn’t mention NATO, either, which is extraordinary.)
The Editorial admits in its last sentence that “American taxpayers and Afghans, who have endured decades of war, need a plan better than the current policy, which offers good intentions, wishful thinking and ever-worsening results.” Certainly there should be a plan to get Afghanistan out of its quagmire, but the NYT does not point out that American taxpayers were duped into supporting the fatuous US-NATO war by rabid propaganda, led by such as the NYT, which, we should remember, was an enthusiastic supporter of the war on Iraq.
It ignored the SIGAR’s report which records that over the years, among other things: US money flowed to the insurgency via corruption; the Afghan government was so deeply enmeshed in corrupt and criminal networks that dismantling them would mean dismantling major pillars of support for the government itself; the United States collaborated with abusive and corrupt warlords, militias, and other powerbrokers who “gained positions of authority in the Afghan government, which further enabled them to dip their hands into the streams of cash pouring into a small and fragile economy;” and, damningly, “People turned to the Taliban as a way of expressing opposition to the government.”
What the New York Times calls the “Afghan War Quagmire” has been caused by the US government and its NATO allies. The US Pentagon has been criminal in its incompetence. The dead soldiers of US-NATO forces gave their lives for nothing. Yet, in addition to Washington pouring its taxpayers’ money down the Afghan drain, the US-NATO military alliance has pledged “to help fund Afghan security forces to the tune of around $1 billion annually over the next three years.” It is doubtful if many European citizens are aware of this generous commitment.
As the old saying has it : a billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money. The 300 million Indians who live in bleak and dismal poverty have no idea that their government is throwing away a billion dollars, but India’s Prime Minister Modi and Afghanistan’s President Ghani declared that the money “would be used for building capacity in education, health, agriculture, energy, and infrastructure in Afghanistan.”
What is certain is that the countless Afghans who also live in bleak and dismal poverty will not reap the benefit of a single cent of that billion dollars.
As the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction put it so well : “Corruption is a corrosive acid — partly of our making — that eats away the base of every pillar of Afghan reconstruction, including security and political stability.” The country is in dire straits, and the only hope is to persuade the Taliban and other nationalist militants to come to the negotiating table. The only difference that billions of dollars will make is to the bank accounts of corrupt Afghans living in luxury.
Bibi wants more and Congress might deliver
As an American it is difficult to imagine a more unseemly bit of political theater playing out than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appearance before his cabinet to claim that he had gotten every last dollar of military assistance out of the Obama Administration. Netanyahu argued that he had obtained all that was on the table, adding that his bad blood with President Barack Obama had not proven to be detrimental in the bilateral negotiations that had been ongoing for more than a year. The Prime Minister was on the defensive because some of his critics claimed that he might have gotten $100 million more per annum, admittedly chump change on top of the $38 billion over ten years that the Memorandum of Understand will provide Netanyahu from the U.S. Treasury.
The critics also argued that the “real money” obtained from Washington was less than it seemed because of inflation, but the gift of $38 billion to Israel was nevertheless a considerable increase over the roughly $3.3 billion per year that Israel is currently receiving. The protracted negotiations over the exact sum to be handed over were reportedly due to Netanyahu’s demanding much more money, possibly as much as $5 billion per year. The deal did come with a minor problem for the Israeli defense industries, which had become accustomed to skimming 26% off the top of the annual U.S. grant to build and market their own weapons. Someone in Washington finally figured out that the U.S. taxpayer was directly funding foreign competition for its own defense industries, costing thousands of American jobs. But not to worry, the Israeli companies are now setting up U.S. subsidiaries, so the gravy train will almost certainly continue to deliver.
Israel’s argument for more money, such as it was, was based on claims that Obama had weakened its security by coming to an agreement with Iran over that nation’s nuclear program. Israel objected that sharply limiting Tehran’s ability to develop a weapon was not in its own interest, an odd assertion but explicable in terms of Netanyahu’s real objective in dealing with the Mullah’s, which was to have the U.S. take the lead in bombing them into the stone age.
Missing in the discussions was any benefit obtained for the United States by giving Israel all that moolah. America’s largely invisible National Security Adviser Susan Rice spoke of an “unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security” and commented that the agreement was good for the United States because “our security is linked” though she characteristically did not explain exactly why that was so. She called the deal a “win-win,” creating jobs in America and making our “ally and partner” Israel more secure.
In reality, as Rice knows perfectly well, Israel is a strategic liability. Apart from the annual Danegeld paid to it, it also requires the expenditure of considerable American political capital to protect it in the U.N. It also cannot be used as a forward base for the U.S. military. During Desert Storm in 1991, it had to be bribed by Washington to stay out of the conflict against Saddam Hussein to keep America’s Arab allies on board. As Colin Powell’s former aide Colonel Larry Wilkerson has observed there is indeed an unsinkable aircraft carrier in the Middle East that the U.S. relies on to extend the reach of its armed forces. It is called Kuwait, not Israel, while Bahrain hosts the American Sixth Fleet and the U.S. Air Force operates out of Qatar. They are all Arab countries.
Rice also did not mention another important issue. As money is fungible subsidizing Israel’s military frees up cash in the budget to build new settlements on the West Bank, which U.S. policy nominally opposes. Some critics have also noted that medical care and higher education in Israel are free, a benefit that Americans do not enjoy and which derives in part from the U.S. largesse.
And Israel’s reckless foreign policy has to be considered. There is a tendency for Israeli policy makers to actually use new weapons if only to try them out on live targets. The reality is that providing Israel with a ton of money to buy upgraded weapons will also give Netanyahu a lot of shiny new toys to use on his neighbors while also fueling an arms race in the region as other countries try to keep up to enable their own militaries to deter Israel. Iran has, for example, responded to the often repeated Israeli threats by improving its own air defenses with sophisticated Russian made integrated systems that can easily shoot down U.S. warplanes, while other missiles in its arsenal can defeat the defenses of American aircraft carrier groups.
Focusing on Israel’s $38 billion haul has also obscured how the country benefits in other ways. It has long been a development partner with the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security to produce defense technologies that are important to Israel but relatively useless for Washington. This has most recently included Washington’s direct funding of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, which Tel Aviv is actively marketing, and anti-tunneling technologies.
Israel also receives billions of dollars every year in the form of charitable contributions from American Jews and Christian Zionists. The money often goes to support foundations that in turn fund settlements on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, developments that are illegal both under international and U.S. law. And then there are direct fund-raisers for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). A 2014 star studded Hollywood gala event raised $33 million tax exempt dollars for an organization known as the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF). FIDF’s slogan is “Their job is to look after Israel. Ours is to look after them.” Similar fundraisers are held all over the United States and there is an annual parade in Manhattan.
As most observers of the odd United States relationship with the Middle East will no doubt agree, when it comes to Israel and the U.S. Treasury “too much” is not part of the vocabulary. Obama’s agreement with Israel stipulated that in return for the guaranteed money every year Israel would not go to Congress seeking more unless there is a war. As “war” was not defined and Israel is both frequently in conflict with its neighbors and also quite capable of cranking up an incident on demand, Netanyahu may have been smiling as he agreed to that stipulation. And knowing that Obama is a lame duck means that the door to the cash vault is closed but will be reopening in January. Given all of that, Netanyahu was apparently willing to back off even though he wanted more money, possibly expecting that the deal will be subject to renegotiation when Hillary invites him to the White House.
And it now appears that many Congressmen also agree that Israel’s leader and America’s best friend did not get what he deserves. Senator Lindsey Graham opined while the negotiations were still in progress that any agreement with Israel would be a base-line, meaning that congress could and should vote additional special appropriations. Currently a bill co-sponsored by Graham and Senators Kelly Ayotte, John McCain, Ted Cruz, Mark Kirk, Marco Rubio and Roy Blunt is moving through the Senate that will do just that. It will allow Congress to give Israel more cash and will lift the restrictions on how it is spent, permitting Netanyahu to continue to directly subsidize his own defense industry with U.S. taxpayer money. If Democratic Israel-firsters like Senators Chuck Schumer and Bob Menendez rally behind the bill it is quite likely to be passed.
The reality is that U.S. military assistance to Israel is actually all about the effectiveness of an extremely powerful domestic lobby. The tie that binds the two countries has nothing whatsoever to do with either nation’s security or interests but it has a great deal to do with tying Washington to Israel no matter what Israel does. Israel is a wealthy country with a per capita gross domestic product of $35,000 that is greater than that of Japan, South Korea or Italy. It could easily survive without that extra cash from Uncle Sam. It is the greatest military power in its region by every possible metric and it is also the only country possessing nuclear weapons to include both ballistic missiles and submarines to deliver the weapons on target. It is in no way threatened.
Massive amounts of aid to Israel constitute a particularly important element of the push to maintain a “special relationship” that seeks to make Israel appear to be an essential American ally, even though it is anything but. American politicians who call Israel the U.S.’s greatest friend and ally know they are lying as Israel is neither. Instead, Israel and its own parochial interests have been key elements in involving Washington in the spiral of violence that has gripped the Middle East since 2001, including the ill-fated invasion of Iraq.
Is it just business as usual in Washington, though admittedly with an extraordinarily large price tag? Perhaps. But an opinion poll reveals that 81% of Americans oppose giving Israel more money. Unfortunately our bifurcated democratic system means that no one will be able to effectively vote on the issue in November as both major parties are lined up squarely behind Israel even if many Democrats are beginning to wobble.
Groveling to Israel is in the American political DNA. Even progressive groups that claim to be supportive of Palestinian rights and opposed to growing fascism in Israel exhibit the usual ambivalence when it comes to issues that might actually have an impact. They go silent and become curiously absent from the debate. Go to the website of Jewish Voice for Peace and you will find no mention of the $38 billion. Code Pink and End the Occupation claim to oppose weapons sales to Israel but seem to have lost sight of the latest outrage. Strange that. Or perhaps not so strange. J Street, which claims to be pro-Israel and pro-peace, “warmly welcomes the conclusion of a Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and Israel that will ensure Israel’s security and its qualitative military advantage over any potential enemy for the next 10 years.”
The point is that giving Israel $38 billion over ten years is robbery pure and simple having nothing whatsoever to do with anyone’s security. It is stealing from the American taxpayer because certain politicians aided and abetted by the media and acting in deference to a powerful lobby would have it so. Israel is no ally, has never been an ally, and is being rewarded for doing nothing. The only Americans who benefit from the deal are defense contractors. If it were Goldman Sachs or General Motors doing the stealing there would at least be some outcry. But as it is, because it is Israel, the media and chattering class are silent.
President Barack Obama used a pseudonym when communicating with then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by email, while her IT company referred to her email deleting as a “cover-up”, new FBI documents reveal.
The heavily-redacted documents, almost 200 pages, include summaries of interviews with senior Clinton aides concerning the private email server, and brings to light details previously unknown.
During the interview with Huma Abedin, who served as deputy chief of staff under Clinton, the FBI reportedly presented her with an email exchange between Clinton and a person she did not recognize. The FBI then revealed the unknown person’s name was believed to be a pseudonym used by Obama. Abedin reacted by saying, “How is this not classified?”
This exchange could expose Obama as having mislead the public on the issue, given his 2015 statement that he found out about Clinton’s use of a private email server “the same time everybody else learned it, through news reports.”
The State Department will not make public the emails Clinton exchanged with Obama, citing “presidential communications privilege,” as reason to withhold the emails under the Freedom of Information Act, Politico reports.
The documents also include interview notes with other senior Clinton aides; Cheryl Mills, Jake Sullivan and former Bill Clinton advisor Justin Cooper, who registered the clintonemail.com domain. Romanian hacker Guccifer and a number of state department officials were also interviewed.
The latest FBI document cache also refers to the engineer who used BleachBit to permanently delete emails from Clinton’s server soon after the House Benghazi Committee issued a subpoena for documents relating to the 2012 attack on the US embassy in Libya. According to the engineer, he did this “of his own accord based on his normal practices as an engineer.”
Documents show employees from Platte River Networks, the IT company who managed Clinton’s emails, referring to a request to wipe emails in 2014 as the “Hilary [sic] cover-up operation”. An employee told the FBI this was a joke.
Clinton aide, Bryan Pagliano, said concerns were raised about whether Clinton’s server created a “federal records retention issue” by state department officials in 2009 or 2010. When he communicated these concerns to Mills, however, she said that Clinton’s predecessor, Colin Powell, had also used private email.
The reports further reveal Clinton’s alleged ineptitude with technology, with aides claiming she “could not use a computer,” and didn’t know her email password.
Abedin said she had two computers in her State Department office, one for unclassified communications and another for classified communications. She did most of her work on the unclassified computer and would go “days or weeks without logging into the classified system.”
One redacted interviewee described himself as a “Clintonista” and said he has a relationship with the Clintons dating back years. He said he would meet with Clinton four or five times a day and initially traveled with her until she was comfortable with the position of secretary of state.
The unnamed interviewee said he only became aware of the server after receiving an email from the address, which he thought was spam. He described Clinton as a “paper person” who preferred using paper over electronic communications.
Clinton’s spokesperson, Brian Fallon, responded to the new revelations by saying the interviews “further demonstrate why the Justice Department believed there was no basis to move forward with this case.”
He also criticized the timing of the release, three days before the first debate, in a tweet. Others also questioned the timing , but for a different reason.
The Trump camp said through advisor Jason Miller, the reference to a cover-up “suggests there was a concerted effort to systematically destroy potentially incriminating information.”
Caracas – Two top witnesses in a US drug case against the nephews of Venezuelan First Lady Cilia Flores confessed Friday to repeatedly lying to federal authorities in the course of the investigation.
During their testimony during a preliminary hearing in a Manhattan district court, the father-son team of undercover informants for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) admitted to lying to their handlers concerning illegal activities conducted during the probe, including allegations related to trafficking drugs into the US as well as hiring prostitutes.
Posing as members of the Mexican Sinoloa cartel, the informants were instrumental in the November 12 arrest of Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas, 30, and Efrain Antonio Campo Flores, 29, in Haiti, allegedly in possession of over 800 kilograms of cocaine.
Lawyers for the two nephews of Venezuela’s first lady and former parliamentary president punctured holes in the DEA case on Friday, raising serious doubts concerning the credibility of the witnesses.
During a lengthy cross-examination, defense attorneys John Zach and David Roday obtained confessions that the two informants had abused narcotics and hired prostitutes while working on DEA missions, in addition to concealing vital information from federal authorities.
“I did lie to them,” said the 55-year-old father, identified in the case as CS-1.
The informant confessed that he had paid for two prostitutes during a DEA mission in Venezuela, in addition to bringing an unauthorized individual into the operation. He further admitted that he failed to inform prosecutors of these incidents until a lunch break following his son’s testimony that very day.
The two were arrested early this year and have pleaded guilty to drug charges as well as lying to authorities in exchange for a cooperation agreement.
However, that agreement might now be in jeopardy in light of the latest revelations.
“They [the prosecutors] are extremely unhappy and are going to review everything,” CS-1 stated.
The pair have reportedly received over USD $1.2 million from the US government for their work.
While the case has yet to go to trial, the defense hopes to get the charges thrown out and the nephews’ confessions suppressed, which they claim were obtained under coercion, without duly informing the defendants of their Fifth Amendment rights.
A recent article in The New York Times entitled, “The Secret History of Colombia’s Paramilitaries & The U.S. War on Drugs,” contains useful clues as to the U.S.’s true views towards the Colombian death squads and their massive war crimes and human rights abuses.  In short, it reveals a high-level of tolerance of, and condonation by, U.S. policy-makers for the suffering of the Colombian people at the hands of our long-time friends and allies, the right-wing paramilitaries.
The gist of the NYT story is that, beginning in 2008, the U.S. has extradited “several dozen” top paramilitary leaders, thereby helping them to evade a transitional justice process which would have held them accountable for their war crimes and crimes against humanity. They have been brought to the U.S. where they have been tried for drug-related offenses only and given cushy sentences of 10 years in prison on average. And, even more incredibly, “for some, there is a special dividend at the end of their incarceration. Though wanted by Colombian authorities, two have won permission to stay in the United States, and their families have joined them. There are more seeking the same haven, and still others are expected to follow suit.”
That these paramilitaries – 40 in all that the NYT investigated — are being given such preferential treatment is shocking given the magnitude of their crimes. For example, paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso, “who the government said ‘may well be one of the most prolific cocaine traffickers ever prosecuted in a United States District Court,’” has been found by Colombian courts to be “responsible for the death or disappearance of more than 1,000 people.” Yet, as a result of his cooperation with U.S. authorities Mr. Mancuso “will spend little more than 12 years behind bars in the U.S.”
Another paramilitary, the one the article focuses on most, is Hernan Giraldo Serna, and he committed “1800 serious human rights violations with over 4,000 victims . . . .” Mr. Giraldo was known as “The Drill” because of his penchant for raping young girls, some as young as 9 years old. Indeed, he has been “labeled . . . ‘the biggest sexual predator of paramilitarism.” While being prosecuted in the U.S. for drug-related crimes only, Mr. Giraldo too is being shielded by the U.S. from prosecution back in Colombia for his most atrocious crimes.
And so, what is going on here? The NYT gives a couple reasons for why the U.S. would protect such “designated terrorists responsible for massacres, forced disappearances and the displacement of entire villages,” and give them “relatively lenient treatment.”
First, it correctly explains that former President Alvaro Uribe, the most prominent and outspoken opponent of the peace deal between the Colombian government and the FARC guerillas, asked the U.S. to extradite these paramilitary leaders because, back home in Colombia, they had begun “confessing not only their war crimes but also their ties to his allies and relatives.” The NYT also writes off the U.S. treatment of these paramilitaries as the U.S. giving priority to its war on drugs “over Colombia’s efforts to confront crimes against humanity that had scarred a generation.”
Unfortunately, these explanations let the U.S. off the hook too easily, for they do not tell the whole story behind the U.S.’s relationship with Colombia and its death squads.
First of all, let’s start with former President Alvaro Uribe who the NYT states has a “’shared ideology’” with these paramilitaries and their leaders. This is of course true. But what does this say about the United States which gave billions of dollars of military assistance to Colombia when Uribe was President, all the while knowing that he had a long history of paramilitary ties and drug trafficking and that his military was working alongside the paramilitaries in carrying out abuses on a massive scale? And, how about the fact that Uribe was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush who considered Uribe his best friend in the region?
The answer is that the U.S. also shares an ideology with both Uribe and his paramilitary friends, and that it has wanted to prevent the paramilitaries from not only confessing to their links with Uribe, but also from confessing their links to the U.S. military, intelligence and corporations.
The NYT, while ultimately pulling its punches here, at least touches upon this issue when it states that “the paramilitaries, while opponents in the war on drugs, were technically on the same side as the Colombian and American governments in the civil war.” But “technically” is not le mot juste; rather, it is an imprecise and mushy term used to understate the true relationship of the paramilitaries with the U.S. The paramilitaries have not just been “technically” on the side of the U.S. and Colombian governments; rather, they have been objectively and subjectively on their side, and indeed an integral part of the U.S./Colombia counter-insurgency program in Colombia for decades.
Indeed, the paramilitaries were the invention of the United States back in 1962, even before the FARC itself was formed (in 1964) and before the civil war there began in earnest. Thus, as Noam Chomsky explains:
The president of the Colombian Permanent Committee for Human Rights, former Minister of Foreign Affairs Alfredo Vasquez Carrizosa, writes that it is “poverty and insufficient land reform” that “have made Colombia one of the most tragic countries of Latin America,” though as elsewhere, “violence has been exacerbated by external factors,” primarily the initiatives of the Kennedy Administration, which “took great pains to transform our regular armies into counterinsurgency brigades,” ushering in “what is known in Latin America as the National Security Doctrine,” which is not concerned with “defense against an external enemy” but rather “the internal enemy.” The new “strategy of the death squads” accords the military “the right to fight and to exterminate social workers, trade unionists, men and women who are not supportive of the establishment, and who are assumed to be communist extremists.”
As part of its strategy of converting the Latin American military from “hemispheric defense” to “internal security” — meaning war against the domestic population — Kennedy dispatched a military mission to Colombia in 1962 headed by Special Forces General William Yarborough. He proposed “reforms” to enable the security forces to “as necessary execute paramilitary, sabotage and/or terrorist activities against known communist proponents” — the “communist extremists” to whom Vasquez Carrizosa alludes. 
While the paramilitaries have been ever-evolving, taking different forms over the years and receiving legal imprimatur at some times and not at others, they have remained until this day, carrying out the same essential functions enumerated by Chomsky above while giving plausible deniability to both the U.S. and Colombian governments.
The potential confession of paramilitary leaders to their links with the U.S. and Colombia, as well as to U.S. multinationals, was as much of a threat to the U.S. as their confessions were to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. And that is why the U.S. extradited the top paramilitary leaders and treated them with kid gloves.
As just one example, paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso told investigators nearly 10 years ago that it was not only Chiquita that provided financial support to the paramilitaries (this is already known because Chiquita pled guilty to such conduct and received a small, $25 million fine for doing so), but also companies like Del Monte and Dole.  However, given that Mancuso was never put on trial (the NYT notes that none of the paramilitary leaders have) but instead was given a light sentence based upon a plea deal, such statements have never gone on the court record, were never pursued by authorities and have largely been forgotten.
That there is more to the story than the NYT is telling us is revealed by the inherent contradictions of its story. Thus, the NYT at one point states that “[t]his is a crime story tangled up in geopolitics. Colombia is the United States’ closest ally and largest aid recipient in the region, and the partnership has focused on combating narcotics, guerillas and terrorism.”
Of course, it is quite true that the U.S. and Colombia have partnered together to fight both the guerillas as well as peaceful activists for social change. As just one example, Colombian President Santos just admitted and apologized for the Colombian government’s role in aiding and abetting the paramilitaries in murdering thousands of candidates and activists of the left-wing Patriotic Union party (UP) back in the 1980’s  – repression which scuttled the peace agreement with the FARC reached back then.
However, the other two listed goals of the partnership appear to be mere pretexts.
Let’s start with the claim, unchallenged in this story, that the U.S./Colombia partnership has been focused on combating terrorism. How could this possibly be given that the U.S. has in fact extradited the worst “designated terrorists” from Colombia – indeed, the NYT at one point acknowledges in the story that the paramilitaries have been the worst human rights violators in Colombia — and ensured that they will never answer for their acts of terrorism?
And, as for combating drugs, the NYT also points out elsewhere in the same story what many of us have been pointing out for years – that in spite of the U.S. dumping around $10 billion in military aid into Colombia since 2000, “[c]oca cultivation has been soaring in Colombia, with a significant increase over the last couple of years in acreage dedicated to drug crops.”
This leads us back to the more plausible claim that the U.S./Colombia partnership has in fact been all about instigating and supporting terror – that is, terror against the Colombian population in order to destroy any movement (whether armed or non-violent) for social change. That is why both the Colombian and U.S. governments are content to hold the paramilitaries harmless for their war crimes, for, after all, it was their job to commit such crimes and it was a job well-done. Indeed, the NYT quotes U.S. lawyers, a retired U.S. prosecutor and the U.S. Judge who gave a light sentence to vicious paramilitary leader Rodrigo Tovar-Pupo (alias, “Jorge 40”) for the proposition that these paramilitaries are viewed as “freedom fighters” whose role in the Colombian civil war is actually a “mitigating rather than aggravating factor in their cases.”
The paramilitaries in Colombia, and the role of the U.S. and Colombian governments in supporting them, should not be viewed as merely an academic matter for the history books. The paramilitaries are still very much alive in Colombia, and are still carrying out massive abuses such as the targeted killings of social leaders; mass displacements of peasants, Afro-Colombians and indigenous; disappearances; and torture.  And, the U.S. and Colombian governments, in order to continue to be able to shield themselves from any blame for the conduct of these paramilitaries, now simply deny that they exist at all. It is therefore more critical than ever that the truth about these paramilitaries, and their high-level backers in both the U.S. and Colombia, is exposed and their misdeeds denounced and punished.
One explanation why U.S. policies serve no national interests
On September 9th the Washington Post featured a front page article describing how the Defense Department had used warplanes to attack targets and kill suspected militants in six countries over the Labor Day weekend. The article was celebratory, citing Pentagon officials who boasted of the ability to engage “multiple targets” anywhere in the world in what has become a “permanent war.” The article did not mention that the United States is not currently at war with any of the six target countries and made no attempt to make a case that the men and women who were killed actually threatened the U.S. or American citizens.
Actual American interests in fighting a war without limits and without an end were not described. They never are. Indeed, in the U.S. and elsewhere many citizens often wonder how certain government policies like Washington’s war on terror can persist in spite of widespread popular opposition or clear perceptions that they are either ineffective or even harmful. This persistence of policies regarding which there is no debate is sometimes attributed to a “deep state.”
The phrase “deep state” originated in and was often applied to Turkey, in Turkish “Derin Devlet,” where the nation’s security services and governing elite traditionally pursued the same chauvinistic and inward-looking agenda both domestically and in foreign affairs no matter who was prime minister.
In countries where a deep state dominates, real democracy and rule of law are inevitably the first victims. A deep state like Turkey’s is traditionally organized around a center of official and publicly accepted power, which means it often includes senior government officials, the police and intelligence services as well as the military. For the police and intelligence agencies the propensity to operate in secret is a sine qua non for the deep state as it provides cover for the maintenance of relationships that under other circumstances would be considered suspect or even illegal.
It has been claimed that deep state activities in Turkey are frequently conducted through connivance with politicians who are able to provide cover for the activity, with corporate interests and sometimes even with criminal groups, which can operate across borders and help in the mundane tasks of political corruption to include money laundering. This connection of political power with the ability to operate under the radar and generate considerable cash flows are characteristic of deep state.
As all governments for sometimes good reasons engage in concealment of their more questionable activities or even resort to out and out deception, one must ask how the deep state differs. While an elected government might sometimes engage in activity that is legally or morally questionable there are normally some checks and balances in place to limit resort to such activity as well as periodic elections to repudiate what is done. For players in the deep state, there are no accountability and no legal limits and everything is based on self-interest justified through assertion of patriotism and the national interest if they are ever challenged.
Every country has a deep state of some kind even if it goes by another name. “The Establishment” or “old boys’ network” was widely recognized in twentieth century Britain. “Establishment” has often also been used in the United States, describing a community of shared values and interests that has evolved post-Second World War from the Washington-New York axis of senior government officials and financial services executives. They together constitute a group that claims to know what is “best” for the country and act accordingly, no matter who sits in the White House. They generally operate in the shadows but occasionally surface and become public, as when 50 foreign so-called policy experts or former senior officials write letters staking out political positions, as has been occurring recently. The “experts” are currently weighing in to both support and fund the campaign of Hillary Clinton, who, they believe, shares their views and priorities.
The deep state principle should sound familiar to Americans who have been following political developments over the past twenty years. For the deep state to be effective it must be intimately associated with the development or pre-existence of a national security state. There must also be a perception that the nation is in peril, justifying extraordinary measures undertaken by self-described patriots to preserve life and property of the citizenry. Those measures are generically conservative in nature, intended to protect the status quo with the implication that change is dangerous.
Those requirements certainly prevail in post 9/11 America and also feed the other essential component of the deep state, that the control should work secretly or at least under the radar. Consider for a moment how Washington operates. There is gridlock in Congress and the legislature opposes nearly everything that the White House supports. Nevertheless, certain things happen seemingly without any discussion, including the bipartisan, unconstitutional and extremely dangerous assumption of increased executive authority by the White House.
As the Post article demonstrates, there is also widespread acceptance by our country’s elites of the fiction that America is threatened and that Washington has a right to intervene preemptively anywhere in the world at any time. Unpopular and unconstitutional wars continue in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq while the American president routinely claims the meaningless title “leader of the free world” even as he threatens countries that do not adhere to norms dictated by Washington. In the case of Russia, some American leaders actually believe a potentially nuclear war can be won and should be considered while at least one general has taken steps to bring about such a conflict.
Meanwhile both targeted citizens and often innocent foreigners who fit profiles are assassinated by drones without any legal process or framework. Lying to start a war as well as the war crimes committed by U.S. troops and contractors on far flung battlefields including torture and rendition are rarely investigated and punishment of any kind is so rare as to be remarkable when it does occur.
Here at home banks are bailed out and corporate interests are protected by law. Huge multi-year defense contracts are approved for ships and planes that are both vulnerable and money pits. The public is routinely surveilled, citizens are imprisoned without being charged or are tried by military tribunals, the government increasingly cites state secrets privilege to conceal its actions and whistleblowers are punished with prison. America the warlike predatory capitalist operating with little interference or input from the citizenry might be considered a virtual definition of deep state.
Some observers believe that the deep state is driven by the “Washington Consensus,” a subset of the “American exceptionalism” meme. It is plausible to consider it a 1950s creation, the end product of the “military industrial complex” that Dwight Eisenhower warned about, but some believe its infrastructure was actually put in place through the passage of the Federal Reserve Act prior to the First World War. Several years after signing the bill, Woodrow Wilson reportedly lamented “We have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely controlled and dominated governments in the civilized world, no longer a government by conviction and the vote of the majority, but a government by the opinion and duress of a small group of dominant men.”
As I have noted, America’s deep state is something of a hybrid creature that operates along a New York to Washington axis. Where the Turks sometimes engage in unambiguous criminal activity like drug trafficking to fund themselves the Washington elite instead turns to the banksters, lobbyists and defense contractors, operating much more in the open and, ostensibly, legally. U.S. style deep state includes all the obvious parties, both public and private, who benefit from the status quo to include key players in the police and intelligence agencies, the military, the treasury and justice departments and in the judiciary. It is structured to materially reward those who play along with the charade and the glue to accomplish that comes ultimately from Wall Street. “Financial services” might well be considered the epicenter of the entire process. Even though government is needed to implement desired policies, the banksters comprise the truly essential element, capable of providing genuine rewards for compliance. As corporate interests increasingly own the media, little dissent comes from the Fourth Estate as the process plays out while many of the proliferating Washington think tanks that provide deep state “intellectual” credibility are similarly funded by defense contractors.
The cross fertilization that is essential to make the system work takes place through the famous revolving door whereby senior government officials enter the private sector at a high level. In some cases the door revolves a number of times, with officials leaving government before returning in an even more elevated position. This has been characteristic of the rise of the so-called neoconservatives. Along the way, those select individuals are protected, promoted and groomed for bigger things. The senior government officials, ex-generals, and high level intelligence operatives who participate find themselves with multi-million dollar homes for their retirement years, cushioned by a tidy pile of investments.
The deep state in American is completely corrupt because it exists to sell out the public interest and it includes both major political parties as well as government officials. Politicians like the Clintons who leave the White House “broke” and accumulate more than $100 million in a few years exemplify how it rewards its friends while a bloated Pentagon churns out hundreds of unneeded flag officers who receive munificent pensions and benefits for the rest of their lives. And no one is punished, ever. Disgraced former general and CIA Director David Petraeus is now a partner at the KKR private equity firm even though he knows nothing about financial services. More recently, former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell, who supports Hillary and is publicly advocating assassinating Russians and Iranians, has become a Senior Counselor at Clinton-linked Beacon Global Strategies. Both Petraeus and Morell are being rewarded for their loyalty to the system.
What makes the deep state so successful? It wins no matter who is in power by creating bipartisan supported money pits within the system. Unending wars and simmering though hard to define threats together invite more spending on national security and make for good business. Monetizing the completely unnecessary and hideously expensive global war on terror benefits the senior government officials, beltway industries and financial services that feed off it. Because it is essential to keep the money flowing, the deep state persists in promoting policies that otherwise make no sense, to include the unwinnable wars currently enjoying marquee status in Iraq/Syria and Afghanistan. The deep state knows that a fearmongered public will buy its product and does not even have to make much of an effort to sell it.
The United States of America is not exactly deep state Turkey but to be sure any democracy can be subverted by particular interests hiding behind the mask of patriotism buttressed by phony international threats. Ordinary Americans frequently ask why politicians and government officials appear to be so obtuse, rarely recognizing what is actually occurring in the country. That is partly due to the fact that the political class lives in a bubble of its own creation but it might also be because many of America’s leaders actually accept and benefit from the fact that there is an unelected, un-appointed and unaccountable presence within the system that actually manages what is taking place from behind the scenes. That would be the American deep state.
[This article is a lightly edited version of a paper presented at the Ron Paul Institute’s conference on peace and prosperity held on September 10, 2016 in Dulles, Virginia]
A detailed account of money and property seized by the New York Police Department is essentially impossible, an official says, as a comprehensive effort to report how much money the NYPD takes during arrests would “lead to system crashes.”
The New York City Council is considering a bill that would require the NYPD to offer annual reports of how much money and property it collects as potential evidence through the process of civil forfeiture. The bill aims to make civil forfeiture more transparent, but the NYPD claims it has no idea how much money it seized from New Yorkers and others it arrested last year.
Late last week, in testimony to the city council’s Public Safety Committee, NYPD Assistant Deputy Commissioner Robert Messner said detailing department seizures is technologically unworkable based on limitations of the NYPD’s Property and Evidence Tracking System (PETS).
“Attempts to perform the types of searches envisioned in the bill will lead to system crashes and significant delays during the intake and release process,” said Messner, according to the Village Voice. “The only way the department could possibly comply with the bill would be a manual count of over half a million invoices each year.”
PETS was put in place in 2012, yet NYPD officials told the council last week that the system is too antiquated to meet the demands of the proposed transparency bill. Upon installation of PETS, however, the NYPD touted it as able to offer “the cradle-to-grave life cycle of property and evidence… visible upon demand,” and entered the system into the 2012 Computerworld Honors, which acknowledges “those who use Information Technology to benefit society,”according to Ars Technica.
When asked by the council whether they had come to the hearing with any kind of idea of how much money the NYPD actually seized last year, the officials said they did not.
“I find it strange that the most technologically sophisticated police force in the world cannot track its own property seizures. I just have trouble imagining that that’s the case,” said city councilmember Ritchie Torres during the hearing. “I’m skeptical about the NYPD’s testimony.”
To retrieve money or property, the defendant, whether or not they were charged with the crime they were accused of, must supply their own lawyer given the seizure is done through civil, not criminal, courts. Thus, the civil-forfeiture retrieval process is one most people cannot afford.
The NYPD did say during the hearing that, in 2015, more than $11,650 was legally forfeited, in which the NYPD made the case to a court why it should keep an amount of seized assets. But much more money is kept by the NYPD, given the process it takes to retrieve money or property seized by police as evidence is nearly impossible unless one has the wealth and legal resources to navigate the department’s administrative requirements for retrieval.
“Can a lay person be reasonably expected to defend themselves against the NYPD in their efforts to retrieve their property?” Torres asked Bronx Defenders attorney Adam Shoop during the hearing, according to Village Voice.
Shoop responded: “I don’t think a person can reasonably be expected to go through any of the administrative steps required to go about retrieving their property.”
The Bronx Defenders defense lawyers offer legal representation to low-income New Yorkers.
Though the NYPD says true reports of its seizures is next to impossible, Bronx Defenders admitted documents as part of its testimony detailing NYPD’s own accounting figures of such seizures. Those documents show that the NYPD had nearly $69 million in cash from seizures as of December 2013. That amount had been seized over a number of years, as the documents showed that the department brought in millions in revenue each month.
While NYPD officials maintained that the department’s technology is incapable of meeting the bill’s demands, they said the NYPD is willing “to work with the Council to achieve the goal of the bill,” Village Voice reported.
In January, the Bronx Defenders filed a federal lawsuit — Encarnacion v. City of New York — that challenged the NYPD’s civil-forfeiture process. The lawsuit, which has now reached class-action status, alleged that the NYPD’s failure to return items it seized related to cases that have been terminated is a violation of constitutional rights.
“Once a criminal case is over, the US Constitution does not permit the City to withhold someone’s personal property without justification,” attorney Eric Brenner said in June. “This City’s current policies violate the basic rights of individuals who need the cash and phones that the City is refusing to return.”
Bronx Defenders’ Molly Kovel added: “For people without access to an attorney, the hurdles they face to get their property back are simply too high, and they often give up. We hope this case leads to much-needed reform.”
Farida Islamova, widow of murdered mayor Vladimir Petukhov
However much the likes of the Guardian try to portray Mikhail Borisovich Khodorkovsky as a champion of freedom who suffered under the yoke of government oppression before escaping tyranny for the freedom of the West, the fact remains he was and is more Capone than Solzhenitsyn; a greedy robber-baron and willing tool of US hegemony, who exploited his country’s darkest hour, cheated his workforce and eventually served a well-deserved term in prison for fraud, tax-evasion and money-laundering, before scuttling out of his mother-land to live the life of a celebrated “pro-democracy” exile.
It’s less widely understood that there are even darker things being laid at his door than corruption, theft and opportunistic lying for profit. Murder for example. But yes, in 2015, Russian Interpol put Khodorkovsky on a wanted list in connection with the murder of a Siberian city mayor in 1998.
Vladimir Petukhov was the first mayor of oil-rich Nefteyugansk. Popular locally and considered to be a man of the people, he was shot dead on his way in to work, June 26, 1998. A subsequent criminal investigation described the killing as an assassination, and implicated two members of Khodorkovsky’s Yukos Oil Company in a plot to be rid of the Mayor.
A court eventually sentenced Alexei Pichugin to life in prison for multiple murders and attempted murders. His boss Khodorkovsky was not accused of, or prosecuted for, any involvement, though many have claimed he may have known more than he claimed. According to Pravda :
In May 1998 Petukhov accused Yukos of tax evasion, which resulted in the shortage of funds in the local budget to pay wages to employees of state-run enterprises. The mayor went on a hunger strike demanding chairmen of municipal and district tax offices be dismissed from their positions and a criminal case against Yukos be filed on counts of tax evasion.
Vladimir Petukhov was shot dead on June 26 on his way to work.
Local residents took to the streets soon after the assassination of their mayor. Many attempted to seize the local office of Yukos. The Office of the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation brought assassination charges against an employee of Yukos’s security service, Aleksei Pichugn, only in 2005.
Petukov’s wife, Farida Islamova was and is convinced Mikhail Borisovitch was involved in the plot to murder her husband, and for many years she has been trying to have him brought to justice. She has even written a book – Khodorkovsky, who killed my Husband?, given an English language translation in 2014. In it she says:
Vladimir Petukhov, Mayor of Nefteyugansk, was shot down on his way to work, not far from the municipal administration building. The killer fired several submachine gun bursts from the cover of nearby bushes. Later on, the investigators would find 18 empty cases at the crime scene. In the face of such fire-power, the unarmed security man, Vyacheslav Kokoshkin, was helpless, he himself took several bullets, has never recovered from his wounds… At that time he was only 30 years old, and still today lives with one of these bullets – a sort of a message from Khodorkovsky – in his body…..
Vladimir Petukhov died in the hospital several hours after the attempt. That was a planned contract assassination…
Unsurprisingly, Farida has had little success in getting the English-language media to take interest in her story. No mainstream outfit has covered her book. Her wait for justice drags on as the western media continues to fete Mikhail Borisovich, embezzler of state funds, tax-evader and suspected murderer, as a symbol of the values they hold most dear.
Then again – maybe that’s not as stupid as it first sounds.
European companies are accused of taking advantage of weak fuel standards in African countries to export highly-polluted fuel to West Africa, a new report says.
The report, from the Swiss watchdog group of Public Eye, said major European oil companies and commodity traders take crude oil from African countries, blend it with highly-polluted additives, and then sell it back to them.
“Many West African countries that export high grade crude oil to Europe receive toxic low quality fuel in return,” it wrote.
Toxic products that the companies add to make the so-called “African Quality” fuels are far higher than those allowed in Europe, according to Public Eye.
“Their business model relies on an illegitimate strategy of deliberately lowering the quality of fuels in order to increase their profits,” the report read.
It said companies, among them the Swiss commodity traders Trafigura and Vito, increased their profits at the expense of Africans’ health.
While the European Union (EU) has allowed ten parts per millions (ppm) of sulfur in diesel in the continent, the legal limit on sulfur petrol in some African countries like Nigeria is 3,000 ppm.
After burning, the sulfur is released into the atmosphere as sulfur dioxide and other particulates that provide a major contributor to respiratory symptoms such as bronchitis and asthma.
According to the report, 20 million people in the Nigerian state of Lagos breathe 13 times more particulate matter than people in London, with dirty fuel being the main reason.
This is while Nigeria and some other West African countries produce petroleum with the world’s lowest sulfur levels. They do not have refining capabilities, however, and have to import fuel from Europe.
“Africa could prevent 25,000 premature deaths in 2030 and almost 100,000 premature deaths in 2050” if the export of low-quality fuel is stopped, Public Eye said.
It called on African governments “to protect the health of their urban population, reduce car maintenance costs, and spend their health budgets on other pressing health issues.”
“If left unchanged, their practices will kill more and more people across the continent,” the report warned.
In response to the allegations, the report said, three of the companies denied any wrongdoing, arguing that they meet the regulatory requirements of the market.
Public Eye, however, said that the companies adjusted their blends with no increased costs when Ghana lowered its sulfur content level in 2014.
A new report examining widespread corruption and waste in Afghanistan found that the practice blossomed following the US invasion in 2001. The problem was fed by its slowness to recognize the problem and exacerbated by the injection of tens of billions dollars into the economy with very little oversight.
“Corruption in Conflict: Lessons from the U.S. Experience in Afghanistan” examined how from 2001 to 2014 the US government, through the Department of Defense, State, Treasury and Justice and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) understood the risks of corruption in Afghanistan, how the US evolved its understanding, and the effectiveness of that response.
SIGAR was created by Congress to provide independent and objective oversight of Afghan reconstruction projects and activities.
The report released on Wednesday had five main findings: 1) corruption undermined the US mission in Afghanistan by fueling grievances against the Afghan government and channeling material support to the Taliban; 2) the injection of tens of billions of dollars into the Afghan economy was governed by flawed oversight and contracting practices and “partnering with malign powerbrokers”; 3) the US was slow to recognize the problem; 4) when it did recognize the depth of corruption “security and political goals” trumped anti-corruption efforts; 5) in areas where it was successful it was only “in the absence of sustained Afghan and US political commitment.”
The report defined corruption as “the abuse of entrusted authority for private gain,” and placed in the context of Afghanistan’s kinship-based society where the gains from corruption often benefited not just an individual but a family, clan, tribe or ethnic group.
Corruption is the system of governance
According to SIGAR about $113.1 billion has been appropriated for Afghanistan relief and reconstruction since 2002. The funds were used by the Afghan National Security Forces to promote good governance, conduct development assistance, and engage in counter-narcotics and anti-corruption efforts.
In a 2010 US Embassy Kabul report on a meeting with senior US officials and the Afghan National Security Adviser, Dr. Rangin Dadfar Spanta said “corruption is not just a problem for the system of governance in Afghanistan; it is the system of governance.”
The report referred to a 2015 UK research that showed there was weak separation of the private and public spheres which resulted in widespread private appropriation of public resources, vertical- and identity-based relationships had primacy over horizontal, i.e. citizen-to-citizen relationships, and politics was centered around a centralization of power and patron-client relations replicated throughout society.
Opportunities for corruption expanded after 2001 as the amount of money in the economy grew from millions to billions of dollars with the Department of Defense budget at time equivalent to the entire Afghan economy and sometimes quadruple the amount.
“Many of the funds were licit, arriving via civilian and military contracts. At their peak in fiscal year 2012, DOD contract obligations for services in Afghanistan including transportation, construction, base support, translation/interpretation, an private security total approximately $19 billion, just under the Afghanistan’s 2012 gross domestic product of $20,5 billion,” stated the report. “From 2007 to 2014 those contract obligation totaled more than 89 billion.”
Billions worth scandals
During the years of the Obama administration, Afghanistan was rocked by two corruption scandals: The Salehi arrest and the Kabul Bank losing $1 billion.
Salehi was involved in the New Ansari Money Exchange, a money transfer firm that moved money into and out of Afghanistan. The exchange was suspected of moving billions of dollars out of Afghanistan for Afghan government officials, drug traffickers and insurgents. US law enforcement and intelligence investigators estimated that as much as $2.78 billion was taken out of Afghanistan between 2007 and 2010.
“A wiretap recorded an aide to Karzai, Mohammad Zia Salehi, soliciting a bribe in exchange for obstructing the investigation into New Ansari. Reportedly, after US officials played some of the wiretaps for an adviser to Karzai, the adviser approved Salehi’s arrest,” stated the report.
Salehi was arrested in July 2010, but was released within hours on the orders of President Karzai and the case was dropped. The New York Times reported Salehi had once worked for notorious warlord Rashid Dostum and was also “being paid by the CIA.”
“If true, this would suggest a US intelligence agency was paying an individual as an intelligence asset even as US law enforcement agencies were building a major corruption case against him,” stated the report.
The other corruption scandal involved the Kabul Bank, which was used among other things to pay the salaries of the Afghan military and police, was found in 2010 to have lost nearly $1 billion of US taxpayer’s funded foreign assistance to Afghanistan. The bank’s deposits had seemingly vanished into Dubai and off-shore locations and unknown offshore bank accounts and tax havens, through Ponzi schemes, fraudulent loans, mass looting and insider loans to fake and bogus companies by less than 12 people who were apparently linked to President Karzai.
Lack of oversight and slow response
Against this the DOD and USAID vetted contractors and implemented contracting guidance to reduce opportunities for corruption and while they were somewhat successful, “they were not unified by an overarching strategy or backed by sustained, high-level US political commitment,” stated the report.
During this time, from mid-2011 to March 2012, the US also sought to explore political reconciliation with the Taliban and to do so the US had to preserve a working relationship with President Karzai to ensure an Afghan government buy-in.
“The US government showed a lack of political commitment. When it became clear the Afghan government was not willing to undertake true reform – because it involved taking action against people connected to the highest levels of political power – the US government failed to use all of its available tools to incentivize steps towards resolution,” stated the report.
Another weakness in tackling corruption was the high turnover of US civilian and military staff “meant US institutional memory was weak and efforts were not always informed by previous experience.”
“One Afghan anticorruption expert noted that US agencies often hosted workshops and training that lasted only a few days, with limited follow-up. He suggested that a more fruitful approach might have been to establish a standing institute to train auditors, attorneys, investigative police and others for year, rather than days,” stated the report.
SIGAR’s report quoted Ryan Crocker, who re-opened the US Embassy in Kabul soon after the September 11, 2001 attacks and served again as ambassador in 2011-2012 as saying that “the ultimate point of failure for our efforts wasn’t an insurgency. It was the weight of endemic corruption.”
The report comes with recommendations for addressing corruption risks to US strategic objectives for future missions. It recommended that Congress pass legislation to make clear “that anticorruption is a national security priority in a contingency operation” and required strategies, benchmarks and “annual reporting on implementation.” It also recommended that Congress consider sanctions and the DOD, State and USAID should establish a joint vetting unit to better vet contractors and subcontractors in the field.
The recommendations for the executive branch level are that interagency task force should formulate policy and lead strategy on anticorruption during an operation and the intelligence community should analyze links between host government officials, corruption, criminality, trafficking and terrorism and provide regular updates.
“In Afghanistan today, corruption remains an enormous challenge to security, political stability, and development,” SIGAR said.
The sugar industry paid Harvard researchers in the 1960s to bury research linking sugar intake to heart disease and to instead make fat the culprit, according to a study of archival documents.
“These internal documents show that the Sugar Research Foundation initiated coronary heart disease research in 1965 to protect market share and that its first project, a literature review, was published in the New England Journal of Medicine without disclosure of the sugar industry’s funding or role,” stated the study.
The internal sugar industry documents were found in public archives by a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco.
UCSF researchers analyzed more than 340 documents indicating the relationship between the sugar industry and Roger Adams, then a professor of organic chemistry who served on the scientific advisory boards for the sugar industry, and Mark Hegsted, one of the Harvard researchers who produced the literature review.
The documents showed the sugar industry was aware of evidence in the 1960s that linked sugar consumption to high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels thought to be risk factors for coronary heart disease.
The sugar industry commissioned Project 226, a literature review written by researchers at the Harvard University School of Public Nutrition Department, which concluded there was “no doubt” that the only dietary intervention required to prevent coronary heart disease was to reduce dietary cholesterol and substitute polyunsaturated fat for saturated fat in the American diet.
The sugar industry paid the Harvard scientist the equivalent of $50,000 in 2016 dollars.
The study found the NEJM review served the sugar industry’s interests by arguing that studies “associating sucrose with coronary heart disease were limited” and that sugar should not be included in assessments of risk of heart disease.
Researchers found the sugar industry would spend $600,000 (the equivalent of $5.3 million in 2016 dollars) to teach “people who had never had a course in biochemistry… that sugar is what keeps every human being alive and with energy to face our daily problems,” according to a UCSF press release.
Among the documents was a speech from 1954 by Sugar Research Foundation (SRF) president Henry Hass, which showed that they recognized that if Americans adopted low-fat diets, then per-capita consumption of sugar would increase by more than one-third. The trade organization represented 30 international members.
“The literature review helped shape not only public opinion on what causes heart problems but also the scientific community’s view of how to evaluate dietary risk factors to heart disease,” said lead author Cristin Kearns, who discovered the industry documents.
Other documents showed the sugar industry became concerned in 1962 with evidence showing that a low-fat diet high in sugar could elevate serum cholesterol level. In 1964, the SRF vice president and director of research, John Hickson, said new research on coronary heart disease found that “sugar is a less desirable dietary source of calories than other carbohydrates,” and referred to the work since 1957 of British physiologist John Yudkin, who challenged population studies singling out saturated fat as the primary dietary cause of coronary heart disease “and suggested other factors, including sucrose, were at least equally important.”
“Hickson proposed that SRF ‘could embark on a major program’ to counter Yudkin and other ‘negative attitudes toward sugar,’” stated the study.
It found that Hickson recommended an opinion poll “to learn what public concepts we should reinforce and what ones we need to combat through our research and information and legislation programs,” a symposium to “bring detractors before a board of their peers where their fallacies could be unveiled,” and recommended the sugar industry fund coronary heart disease research to “see what the weak points there are in the experimentation, and replicate the studies with appropriate corrections. Then publish the data and refute our detractors.”
The analysis ‘Sugar Industry and Coronary Heart Disease Research: A Historical Analysis of Internal Industry Documents’ was published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.