Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Maltese Cauldron (NSFW)

Yeah, that is one boiling vat of rage getting out of the silver Honda, overflowing with anger and emitting a steaming, although limited and unimaginative, trail of obscenities.

The U.S. Embassy in Valletta has confirmed that the American who was screaming at the Maltese gentleman in that YouTube video - currently at 118,000 hits - is an embassy employee who has now departed.

While others deplore his behavior and the embarrassment it has caused the U.S. government, I'll admit that when I saw the news report about this incident my first thought was: I hope the guy isn't a Marine or a hotheaded DS agent. (Oh? I'm the only one who thought that? Sure I am.)  

Not that it really matters, I suppose, but after seeing the video I think I can eliminate Marines and DS agents. The minivan, the bald spot, the pointless slap at the rear view mirror as he gives up and backs off, even the shorts and sandals - I would never challenge anyone to fight while wearing sandals - all say Soccer Dad in a snit.

He doesn't even look that dangerous. Despite all the screaming and gesturing, he never so much as kicks the other guy's door or tries to break a window. Come on, we Americans invented road rage! Is that all he's got?   

My money is on the guy being a stressed-out consular officer.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

WTB: Yellowcake Uranium Ore For Iran

The New York Times has posted a criminal complaint that was filed yesterday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida against Patrick Campbell, a citizen of Sierra Leone who is accused of engaging with a buyer in the United States to send 1,000 tons of yellowcake uranium to Iran. Campbell was arrested on arrival at JFK airport, en route to meet his buyer in Miami.

Read it here: Criminal Complaint Against Patrick Campbell.

I'm astonished that this story has gotten no interest so far from the Washington DC media. At least, as of mid-afternoon on August 23, it hasn't been reported in the WaPo or any other newspaper that I checked. Are they too preoccupied with Syria and Egypt to notice an arrest involving nuclear weapon precursor material and Iran?

Or maybe they don't think this Patrick Campbell fellow is all that impressive as an International Man of Mystery. Consider these gems from the criminal complaint:

  • Campbell was dealing with an undercover U.S. law enforcement agent - of course - when he offered to sell uranium ore to Iran. 

  • Campbell apparently hasn't followed the news about Edward Snowden, NSA, and all that, because he responded to a solicitation on the internet seeking a seller of yellowcake uranium ore, and he used telephones and Skype to negotiate with the buyer. 

  • Campbell agreed to come to the United States to pitch the deal to the buyer, and even to bring samples of Uranium 308 with him. My favorite part of the compliant is in paragraph 28, where the undercover agent insisted "it was up to Campbell to prove that this was not a scam" by flying over to the U.S. with his criminal wares. I mean, really, who falls for that? 

Campbell even brought his sales pitch with him. On PowerPoint slides, naturally, loaded on a thumb drive. That, and the Skype conversations, will make wonderful exhibits for the prosecution. The Skype convos must have been priceless.

"Yeah, I know this is illegal ... no problem, I'll disguise the yellowcake as chomite ... believe me, I can get anything out of the port of Sierra Leone using my mineral export company ... hey, I've done this kind of deal before with China and Ecuador ... of course I'm for real - I'll come over there right now and prove it to you!" 

He faces up to 20 years in prison, which might be long enough to get over the embarrassment of such amateurishness.

Most EyeBrow-Raising Headline of the Week

 "One million cockroaches flee China farm" (France 24)

Wait ... Muslim Brotherhood, Myra Breckinridge? ... I'm Confused

 It's been a crazy week, I grant you, but my crazy-o-meter just pegged when I saw the Muslim Brotherhood re-tweeting the late Gore Vidal  (he died last year) on the glories of revolution in Egypt.

@GoreVidal is, of course, a tribute account, but Ikhwanweb is the verified official English-language twitter account of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Either the Muslim Brothers are much more broad-minded than I'd assumed, or else whoever entered that tweet didn't know much about the politics or the sexuality of the late Mr. Vidal.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

I Strongly Second This Motion

In the wake of today's news about the reinstatement of four mid-level officials who were placed on administrative leave after the Benghazi ARB report cited them for blame, Domani Spero cut to the chase: Dear Senior State Department Official – It’s Time to Go.

I think we all know who that senior official is. So, do we have a quorum? All in favor? All opposed? Overwhelmingly carried with no votes cast against the resolution.

I gladly bang the gavel.

Seller of Scam Bomb Detector Sentenced in UK

A UK court has sentenced the chief salesman of the most notorious scam bomb detector in history to seven years imprisonment. Gary Bolton joins his partner in crime, James McCormick, who was sentenced in May to ten years, and their chief customer collaborator in Iraq, Major-General Jehad al-Jabiri, head of the Ministry of the Interior’s General Directorate for Combating Explosives, who reportedly was arrested on corruption charges in February 2011.

Click on the embedded video above for an excellent background story on the scarcely believable fraud that was the GT200 bomb detector.

Here's the story from today's UK Guardian, Kent businessman jailed for seven years over fake bomb detectors:

A Kent businessman who made up to £3m a year from the sale of fake bomb detectors around the world has been jailed for seven years by a judge at the Old Bailey.

Gary Bolton, 47, hawked the bogus kit to military and police clients in countries including Mexico, Thailand, Pakistan, China, India, the Philippines, Singapore, Egypt and Tunisia despite it being based on a novelty golf ball finder.

The devices cost as little as £1.82 to make and were sold for as much as £15,000 [about $24,000]. They remain in use in Thailand, where human rights campaigners claim they have cost lives, and were only abandoned by Mexican agencies in 2011.

An embarrassing aspect of this sad business is that some UK government trade promotion entities - unwitting to the fraudulent nature of the devices - helped Bolton peddle his products abroad.
The court heard that branches of the UK government had offered some support to Bolton's enterprise, called Global Technical. They include UKTI, Whitehall's export sales arm, and the British embassy in Mexico, which from 2005 to 2009 offered support though introductions to potential clients and allowed Bolton's firm to use its premises for demonstrations.

Why would anyone buy a bomb detector that consisted of an empty plastic box and a telescoping antenna? Corruption is one answer, obviously. In a 2011 Report to Congress (here), the Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction estimated that 75 percent of the value of McCormick and Bolton's considerable sales in Iraq had gone to bribes.

As for those reasonably honest police and military officials around the world who were genuinely taken in by the GT-200? Well, google "the ideomotor effect" for starters. But also reflect on the fact of life that fifty percent of everybody in any population group is below average. It might not have taken as much snake oil as you would expect to sell a guy an empty plastic box for $24,000. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

State Department Signs On to Security Industry Standards

The 'no rules' ethos ended badly for both Blackwater and State

You really should have some rules when you employ security guards and Blackwater-type protection contractors overseas. As the theme song for COPS has been asking for 25 years now:

Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do?
Whatcha gonna do when they work for you?

Well, one thing you might do when you hire bodyguards and such from private security companies is to require those companies to meet industry standards and model management practices.

The State Department's Office of the "Spokesperson" (to use her annoying gender-neutral title, which is not an improvement on "Spokeswoman" if you ask me) announced yesterday that State, and more specifically the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, will sign on to an international set of standards to govern its use of private security contractors.

On September 19th and 20th of this year, the Government of Switzerland will host the launch of the association to serve as a governance and oversight mechanism of the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers (ICoC). The United States has expressed its intention to join the Association as a founding member and will participate in the launch conference.

The Department of State recognizes and appreciates the progress made on the development of the ICoC and the pending establishment of an ICoC Association. As long as the ICoC process moves forward as expected and the association attracts significant industry participation, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) anticipates incorporating membership in the ICoC Association as a requirement in the bidding process for the successor contract to the Worldwide Protective Services (WPS) program. DS also anticipates that the successor contract to WPS will require demonstrated conformance with the ANSI PSC.1-2012 standard.

The International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers is here, and the American National Standards Institute equivalent requirements for private security company operations is here.

My opinion is that requiring Bad Boyz Inc to sign on to these standards will do no harm. It's inevitable anyway, since all large security providers will surely sign on whether DS requires them to or not. Industrial codes of conduct and ANSI standards are primarily a device for businesses to lower their liability, and fear of liability absolutely rules private industry. (Not the public sector, though, at least not yet; but that will change the day a jury awards a U.S. government employee damages based on the USG's negligent failure to provide a safe working environment.)

Will it do any actual good? Maybe not, but that might not matter a lot. The big problems State had with Blackwater, et al, in the past seem to have been solved when it moved most of the contract protection specialists in-house by making them personal service contractors, and thereby easier to manage and discipline. Would that it had done that sooner.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week


"Group guinea pig sex 'too loud' say neighbors" (here)

Friday, August 9, 2013

Closed Diplomatic Posts To Reopen Sunday

The State Department Spokesperson - and that awkward gender-neutral word "spokesperson" is indeed her official job title, although I'll be damned if I can see why it's any better than "spokeswoman" - Jen Psaki issued an update on the status of Embassies and Consulates this afternoon:
On Sunday, August 11, the Department of State will re-open 18 of the 19 embassies and consulates that were closed recently. Our embassy in Sanaa, Yemen will remain closed because of ongoing concerns about a threat stream indicating the potential for terrorist attacks emanating from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Our consulate in Lahore, Pakistan, which closed yesterday due to a separate credible threat to that facility, will also remain closed.

We will continue to evaluate the threats to Sanaa and Lahore and make subsequent decisions about the re-opening of those facilities based on that information. We will also continue to evaluate information about these and all of our posts and to take appropriate steps to best protect the safety of our personnel, American citizens traveling overseas, and visitors to our facilities.

And so, with no more explanation of the threats - or the threat streams to use another bit of annoying jargon - than when they were closed a week ago, 18 of the 19 affected NEA and AF posts will reopen.

As for Sanaa and Lahore, well, sometimes a cooling off period or a safety shutdown is a good idea. In fact, we probably should close those posts for no reason at all from time to time, just to be unpredictable and make our people a moving target.