Chinks in the Armor
Paul Wolfowitz is sticking to his story.
Trading Terrorist Futures
The Pentagon wanted to let traders bet on the likelihood of terrorist attacks. Somehow, no one else thought that was a good idea.
Cold War Comeback?
In Guatemala, a former CIA-supported dictator wants to run for president.
Chinks In The Armor
As the Weapons of Mass Destruction soap opera continues, Tuesday’s back and forth between President Bush and the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia set the stage for a thrilling drama. Last week a joint House committee released its lengthy September 11th intelligence report , but minus 28 key pages of evidence that may have detailed Saudi involvement with Al Qaeda. The press prods Bush to declassify the pages. Then, straight from the desert, Prince Saud al-Faisal rushes to the scene to defend his country’s honor and demands Bush release the mystery pages. Bush heroically retorts that such a move would endanger Americans and impede our war on terror.
The President’s repeated refusal to release these 28 pages comes at a period where the administration’s evidence for going to war with Iraq is rapidly crumbling. Despite the mounting barrage of criticism, Bush and company are sticking to their story. On Sunday, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was featured on NBC’s Meet the Press. Wolfowitz stubbornly stuck by the direct connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq. Host Tim Russert grilled Wolfowitz about his three reasons for attacking Iraq — WMDs, links to terrorism, and helping Iraqis — and pushed Wolfowitz about how the first two (at least) are increasingly falling through. The Secretary continued to tout the idea of Osama being a synonym for Saddam.
“Well, if you wait until the terrorism picture is clear, you are going to wait until after something terrible has happened. And we went to war, and I believe we are still fighting terrorists and terrorist supporters in Iraq in a battle that will make this country safer in the future from terrorism. It is — as I said, I think winning the peace in Iraq is now the crucial battle in the war on terrorism.”
His appearance on Meet the Press wasn’t the first time that Wolfowitz has defended the administration’s use of what critics see as half-baked evidence. The Deputy Defense Secretary also spoke to Fox News Sunday program where he emphasized that, for security reasons, the US needs to act on ” murky intelligence.”
While officials make “murky” statements on TV, the printed press is getting increasingly fed up with the White House’s tight-lipped stance. On Monday The Washington Post‘s editors called on Bush to hold a news conference before he heads to his month-long ranch vacation. The Post points out that Bush has been a little shy about having the press over for a chat. The editorial notes that the President has not had a general news conference since March 6 — before the war in Iraq, the tax cut and the crumbling WMD evidence. Overall, Clinton had held 33 solo press conferences by this point in his presidency. Bush Sr. had had 61. Apparently, the current Bush feels that press conferences are optional and that trifling developments like war don’t warrant press access to the Commander-in-Chief.
In his Tuesday piece in the Los Angeles Times columnist Robert Scheer goes beyond asking for a press conference and lambastes the administration for censoring the 9/11 report. Ultimately, Scheer claims Bush chose the wrong target in the War on Terror:
“Yet even in its sanitized version, the bipartisan report, long delayed by an embarrassed White House, makes clear that the U.S. should have focused on Saudi Arabia, and not Iraq, in the aftermath of Sept. 11.
As we know, but our government tends to ignore, 15 of the 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia; none came from Iraq. Leaks from the censored portions of the report indicate that at least some of those Saudi terrorists were in close contact with — and financed by — members of the Saudi elite, extending into the ranks of the royal family.
The report finds no such connections between Iraq and Al Qaeda terrorists. It is now quite clear that the president — unwilling to deal with the ties between Saudi Arabia and Osama bin Laden — pursued Hussein as a politically convenient scapegoat. By drawing attention away from the Muslim fanatic networks centered in Saudi Arabia, Bush diverted the war against terror. That seems to be the implication of the 28 pages, which the White House demanded be kept from the American people when the full report was released.
Bush has used Sept. 11 as an excuse to turn this country upside down, making a hash of civil liberties and bankrupting our federal government with unprecedented deficit spending on war and its materiel. Before we do any more irrevocable damage in the name of an open-ended ‘war against evil,’ we have a right and a responsibility to confront the uncensored truth of what happened that black day — no matter what powerful people are brought to account.”
Them’s fighting words from Scheer. He’s part of a growing chorus of critics harping on the how the story behind Bush’s war on Iraq continues not to add up. Reporters at the Agence France Presse are writing about how flimsy Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice’s evidence has proven when held up to the light. John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton from PR Watch have published a book on the Bushies’ use of propaganda. And of course, the ever-reliable Paul Krugman at the NYT is still wondering when Bush will suffer catastrophic loss of public trust that Blair has suffered in England, or whether in modern America, style trumps substance:
“Here’s what Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, said in a speech last week: ‘To gauge just how out of touch the Democrat leadership is on the war on terror, just close your eyes and try to imagine Ted Kennedy landing that Navy jet on the deck of that aircraft carrier.’ To say the obvious, that remark reveals a powerful contempt for the public: Mr. DeLay apparently believes that the nation will trust a man, independent of the facts, because he looks good dressed up as a pilot. But it’s possible that he’s right.
What must worry the Bush administration, however, is a third possibility: that the American people gave Mr. Bush their trust because in the aftermath of Sept. 11, they desperately wanted to believe the best about their president. If that’s all it was, Mr. Bush will eventually face a terrible reckoning.”
Trading Terrorist Futures
The Pentagon has admitted yesterday that it is scrapping a much-criticized plan that would establish a futures market allowing online traders to bet on the likelihood of events like terrorist attacks, military coups, and assassinations. The plan, which the Pentagon has hailed as the“broadest possible set of new ways to prevent terrorist attacks”, immediately came under fire from critics worried that it might actually encourage terrorist attacks and assassinations. The Pentagon, which said that such futures trading programs had proven effective in predicting things like oil prices, had hoped to gain information on the likelihood of terrorist attacks by watching the trading patterns.
The details of the plan were released on Monday. The trade registration, which was slated to open this Friday, would have had 1000 traders placing their bets as early as October — with perhaps 10,000 more by January 2004.
The scheme, which struck many as somewhat crackpot, was dubbed the Policy Analysis Market, or PAM, and was funded and developed by a unit of the Pentagon called the Defense Advance Research Policy Agency, or DARPA. The initiative, writes the Associated Press, would have allowed traders to invest money in an online market and then bet on their hunches, on the likelihood of, say a coup in Jordan (Note: the PAM website has been taken down, but a cached version of the overall concept, via google, was still working as of this writing):
“Traders who believe an event will occur would buy a time-sensitive futures contract from traders who believe the event is unlikely. If the event occurs within the specified time period, the buyer would collect; if not, the seller would pocket the contract price. Analysts would be motivated by the ‘prospect of profit and at pain of loss’ to make accurate predictions. Contracts would be available based on economic health, civil stability, military disposition and U.S. economic and military involvement in Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey. Contracts also would be available on ‘global economic and conflict indicators’ and specific events.”
Andrew Orlowski writing for The Register (U.K.) points out that DARPA is famous for everything from invisible body suits to Admiral John M. Poindexter’s (a key figure in the Iran Contra scandal) infamous Total Information Awareness program. Orlowski argues that DARPA’s plan may not be as effective as DARPA claims it to be:
“However the $3 million PAM Project deserves to be vilified not for its choice of subject, but for the very unscientific mysticism that underpins the exercise. DARPA sees the market as a blinding oracle of truth:
‘Since markets provide incentives for good judgment and self-selection, the market will effectively aggregate information among knowledgeable participants,’ according to agency.
From experience, the rest of us are more likely to conclude that markets are very likely to be rigged or gamed, and prone to collapse.”
Evidenly, DARPA had forgotten about Enron, the California energy crisis, and other examples where markets proved more prone to “creative accounting” than aggregations of truth.
Orlowski further points out that behind the “terror game” is a reasearch unit of the Economist magazine and Net Exchange, a product of the dot.com boom created in conjunction with Cal Tech staff, which boasts “Deal Optimization Solutions” that “apply planning optimization techniques to deal-making.”
Critics from all sides of the political spectrum had no qualms about opening fire on the Pentagon’s new betting program, reports the AP:
“Republicans said they knew nothing about the program and would never have approved it. They called the head of the Pentagon agency overseeing the project to Capitol Hill to answer questions.
Democrats demanded details of any related Pentagon programs, an apology from the Bush administration and the firing of those responsible for the market.”
The New York Times’ Carl Hulse quotes US Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota who argue that the online market could have induced more terrorism:
“‘This appears to encourage terrorists to participate, either to profit from their terrorist activities or to bet against them in order to mislead U.S. intelligence authorities.'”
Even Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, though he did stand up for DARPA, has some reservations about the online trading program, notes CNN:
“Wolfowitz, answering a question about the program from Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, defended the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which created the program and set up a Web site describing it.
‘The agency that does it is brilliantly imaginative in places where we want them to be imaginative,’ he said. ‘It sounds like maybe they got too imaginative in this area.'”
The BBC quotes Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle who called the proposal “a plan to trade in death“:
“‘This programme could provide an incentive actually to commit acts of terrorism,’ he declared.
‘It is perhaps the most irresponsible, outrageous and poorly thought out of anything I have heard from the administration.'”
CNN further reports that Wolfowitz, who said that he only learned about the program yesterday, officially dropped it that same day. Wolfowitz didn’t give a clear reason for why the program was dropped. But he did say that he “shared [lawmakers’] shock at this kind of program.” California Senator Barbara Boxer had a more heated response, writes the AP:
“‘There is something very sick about it [the online betting program],’ she said. ‘And if it’s going to end, I think you ought to end the careers of whoever it was thought that up. Because terrorists knowing they were planning an attack could have bet on the attack and collected a lot of money. It’s a sick idea.'”
Cold War Comeback
Protestors in Guatemala shut down the nation’s capital last week, rioting to support the candidacy of former general Efraim Rios Montt. About 5,000 rioters took to the streets, protesting a Supreme Court ban on 1982 coup leader Montt’s candidacy. The court upheld a Guatemalan law forbidding former coup leaders from running for president. Montt is seen by some of Guatemala’s frustrated electorate as the law and order candidate. But during Montt’s 18-month stint as Guatemala’s leader, the dictator — who came into power with significant U.S. support — was responsible for some of the most heinous human rights violations committed during the country’s 40-year civil war.
Though the Associated Press reports that rioters shut down the US embassy and the US State Department has said it “would be difficult for Washington to sustain a normal relationship with Guatemala if Rios Montt is elected president because of his checkered human rights record,” officials have neglected to acknowledge the U.S.’s history of ties to Montt (or that Montt may still count some of Bush’s inner circle, like Otto Reich and John Poindexter, as old friends).
Montt was a graduate of the US military’s notorious School of the Americas. The school trained him in military counterinsurgency, assasination, and terror tactics (the school’s current website refers to its trainings as “professional education and training … to support the democratic principles of the Western Hemisphere”). His 1982 dictatorship was seen by the US government as a means of combatting communism, and his administration’s massacre of its own people was, at that time, conveniently ignored. Jeffrey St. Clair of Counterpunch reports:
“In March 1982, R’os Montt seized power in a bloody coup d’etat that was quietly backed by the CIA and the Reagan White House. He and his fellow generals, Maldonando Schadd and Luis Gordillo, deposed Gen. Romeo Lucas Garcia and set up a military tribunal with Montt at its head. The junta immediately suspended the constitution, set up secret tribunals and began a brutal crackdown on political dissidents that featured kidnapping, torture, and extra-judicial assassinations.
The generals also unleashed a scorched earth attack on the nation’s Mayan population that, according to a UN commission, resulted in the annihilation of at nearly 600 villages. Within 18 months, more than 19,000 people had perished at the hands of R’os Montt ‘s death squads. The killings continued even after R’os Montt was eased from office in 1983. By 1990, more than 200,000 people had died in Guatemalan’s bloody civil war, with more than 90 percent of the dead killed by government forces. Of those, more than 83 percent were indigenous Mayans.”
As a born-again Christian and member of the Gospel Outreach church, Montt also garnered financial and political support for his genocidal ways from right-wing Christian Broadcaster and former US presidential candidate Pat Robertson, who, among other things, hosted telethon fundraisers for Montt’s Guatemalan military (as well as the Nicaraguan contras).
Montt representatives denied accusations that protestors were paid and supported by his party, the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG). The country’s current President, Alfonso Portillo, who is a member of FRG and referred to as Montt’s protégé, allegedly ordered military intervention in the riots. But, the Associated Press reports, the Defense Ministry never deployed troops. The United Nations reports that police did not try to restrainthe rioters because they feared that police involvement would only prompt an escalation of the violence.
This is Montt’s third attempt at a presidential run despite the law against his candidacy. His party is billed as the defender of the poor in contrast to the Party for National Advancement, seen as the party for the rich. According to Foreign Policy in Focus, the FRG uses mostly terror and propaganda to gain support, but does have a significant base.