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Todd Miller, Surveillance Surge on the Border

9:00 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

National Guard at the Border

The US border with Mexico is becoming increasingly militarized.

I mean, come on.  You knew it had to happen, didn’t you?  In a 2010 Department of Homeland Security report, wrested from the bowels of the secrecy/surveillance state (thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Electronic Frontier Foundation), the Customs and Border Protection agency suggests arming their small fleet of surveillance drones.  The purpose: to “immobilize TOIs,” or targets of interest, along the U.S.-Mexican border.  Those arms would, of course, be “non-lethal” in nature.  It’s all so civilized.  Kinda like the Star Trek folks putting their phasers on “stun,” not kill.  And count on it, sooner or later it will happen.  And then, of course, the lethal weapons will follow.  Otherwise, how in the world could we track and eliminate terrorists in “the homeland” efficiently?

All of this comes under the heading of self-fulfilling prophecy.  You create and take to your battle zones a wonder weapon that, according to the promotional materials, will make the targeting of human beings so surgically precise it might even end the war on terror as we know it.  (Forget the fact that, in the field, drones turn out, according to the latest military study of Afghanistan, to be far less precise than manned aircraft if you’re measuring by how many civilians are knocked off, how much “collateral damage” is done.)  Anyway, you use that weapon ever more profligately on distant battlefields in distant wars.  You come to rely on it, even if it doesn’t exactly work as advertised.  And then, like the soldiers you sent into the same war zones (who didn’t exactly work as advertised either), the weaponry begins to come home.

Drones?  You can rant about them, write about them, organize against them, try to stop them from flying over your hometown. And still, like the implacable Terminators of film fame, they will arrive in “the homeland.” Will? Have. As FBI Director Robert Mueller testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee recently, the Bureau is already using them.  In a coda meant to relieve us all of drone anxiety, however, he pointed out that it’s employing them “in a very, very minimal way and very seldom… we have very few.” And, oh yes, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives are testing drones for similar use. Also undoubtedly very minimally and very few, so don’t fret (for now).  As for police departments wielding armed drones, count on that, too, sooner or later.

In the meantime, those Border Patrol types, according to the New York Times, have been oh-so-happy to lend their military-grade Predator B drones to, among others, the North Dakota Army National Guard, the Texas Department of Public Safety, and the Forest Service.  In 2012, they loaned their robotic planes out 250 times.

And these days, drones are the least of it.  Lots of stuff is “coming home.”  As Todd Miller, who covers the U.S. borderlands for TomDispatch, makes clear, sometimes you just have to change the label on the package to suddenly find reality staring you in the face.  Call it “immigration reform” and it looks like you’re dealing with enormous numbers of human beings in this country illegally.  Think of it as “surveillance reform” and you’ll see that, as Miller points out, we’re using our borderlands and those undocumented migrants as an excuse to build, experiment with, and test out a new kind of surveillance state, drones included.  And count on it, too: one of these days, maybe tomorrow, some version of that surveillance state will make it to your hometown, no matter how far you are from any border. Tom

Creating a Military-Industrial-Immigration Complex 
How to Turn the U.S.-Mexican Border into a War Zone 
By Todd Miller

The first thing I did at the Border Security Expo in Phoenix this March was climb the brown “explosion-resistant” tower, 30 feet high and 10 feet wide, directly in the center of the spacious room that holds this annual trade show. From a platform where, assumedly, a border guard would stand, you could take in the constellation of small booths offering the surveillance industry’s finest products, including a staggering multitude of ways to monitor, chase, capture, or even kill people, thanks to modernistic arrays of cameras and sensors, up-armored jeeps, the latest in guns, and even surveillance balloons.

Although at the time, headlines in the Southwest emphasized potential cuts to future border-security budgets thanks to Congress’s “sequester,” the vast Phoenix Convention Center hall — where the defense and security industries strut their stuff for law enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) — told quite a different story.  Clearly, the expanding global industry of border security wasn’t about to go anywhere.  It was as if the milling crowds of business people, government officials, and Border Patrol agents sensed that they were about to be truly in the money thanks to “immigration reform,” no matter what version of it did or didn’t pass Congress. And it looks like they were absolutely right.

All around me in that tower were poster-sized fiery photos demonstrating ways it could help thwart massive attacks and fireball-style explosions. A border like the one just over 100 miles away between the United States and Mexico, it seemed to say, was not so much a place that divided people in situations of unprecedented global inequality, but a site of constant war-like danger.

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Dilip Hiro, How the Pentagon Corrupted Afghanistan

6:24 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Tilt-shifted pentagon

Why did nation-building fail in Afghanistan? The answer lies close to home.

America’s post-9/11 conflicts have been wars of corruption, a point surprisingly seldom made in the mainstream media. Keep in mind that George W. Bush’s administration was a monster of privatization. It had its own set of crony corporations, including HalliburtonKBRBechtel, and various oil companies, as well as a set of mercenary rent-a-gun outfits like Blackwater, DynCorp, and Triple Canopy that came into their own in this period.  It took the plunge into Iraq in March 2003, sweeping those corporations and an increasingly privatized military in with it.  In the process, Iraq would become an example not of the free market system, but of a particularly venal form of crony capitalism (or, as Naomi Klein has labeled it, “disaster capitalism”).

Add in another factor: in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration began pouring money into the Pentagon, into, that is, an organization whose budget has never been able to pass an audit.  There was so staggeringly much money to throw around then — and hubris to spare as well.  Among the first acts of L. Paul Bremer III, the new American proconsul in Baghdad, was the disbanding of Saddam Hussein’s army (creating an unemployed potential insurgent class) and the closing down of a whole range of state enterprises along with the privatization of the economy (creating their unemployed foot soldiers).  All of this, in turn, paved the way for a bonanza of “reconstruction” contracts granted, of course, to the administration’s favorite corporations to rebuild the country.  There were slush funds aplenty; money went missing without anyone blinking; and American occupation officials reportedly “systematically looted” Iraqi funds.

In April 2003, when American troops entered Baghdad, it was already aflame and being looted by its own citizens.  As it turned out, the petty looters soon enough went home — and then the real looting of the country began.  The occupiers, thanks to the U.N., fully controlled Iraq’s finances and no one at the U.N. or elsewhere had the slightest ability to exercise any real supervision over what the occupation regime did or how it spent Iraq’s money.  Via a document labeled “Order 17,” Bremer granted every foreigner connected to the occupation enterprise the full freedom of the land, not to be interfered with in any way by Iraqis or any Iraqi political or legal institution.  He gave them all, that is, an official get-out-of-jail-free card.

Who could be surprised, then, that the massive corporate attempt to rebuild Iraq would result in a plague of overbilling, remarkable amounts of shoddy or useless work, and a blown $60 billion “reconstruction” effort that would leave the country with massive unemployment and without reliable electricity, water, or sewage systems?  Could there be a sadder story of how war making and corruption were being wedded on a gigantic scale in an already fading new century?  As it turned out, the answer to that question was: yes.

Iraqi corruption was no anomaly of war, as TomDispatch regular Dilip Hiro makes clear today.  Just consider the way Washington turned the “liberation” of Afghanistan into another field day for corruption. Tom

The Great Afghan Corruption Scam 
How Operation Enduring Freedom Mutated into Operation Enduring Corruption 
By Dilip Hiro

Washington has vociferously denounced Afghan corruption as a major obstacle to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. This has been widely reported. Only one crucial element is missing from this routine censure: a credible explanation of why American nation-building failed there. No wonder. To do so, the U.S. would have to denounce itself.

Corruption in Afghanistan today is acute and permeates all sectors of society. In recent years, anecdotal evidence on the subject has been superseded by the studies of researchers, surveys by NGOs, and periodic reports by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). There is also the Corruption Perceptions Index of the Berlin-based Transparency International (TI). Last year, it bracketed Afghanistan with two other countries as the most corrupt on Earth.

None of these documents, however, refers to the single most important fact when it comes to corruption: that it’s Washington-based.  It is, in fact, rooted in the massive build-up of U.S. forces there from 2005 onward, the accompanying expansion of American forward operating bases, camps, and combat outposts from 29 in 2005 to nearly 400 five years later, and above all, the tsunami of cash that went with all of this.

Last month, when an Afghan court sentenced Sher Khan Farnood and Khalil Ullah Ferozi, the chairman and chief executive of the Kabul Bank, for looting its deposits in a gigantic Ponzi scheme, the event received some media attention. Typically, however, the critical role of the Americans in the bank’s murky past was missing in action.

Founded as a private company in 2004, the Kabul Bank was promptly hailed by American officials in Afghanistan as a linchpin in the country’s emerging free market economic order. In 2005, action followed words. The Pentagon, paymaster for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), signed a contract with the bank to disperse the salaries of ANSF soldiers and policemen.

With that, the fledgling financial institution acquired an impressive cash flow. Moreover, such blatant American support generated confidence among better-off Afghans. Soon enough, they were lining up to deposit their money. Starting in 2006, the surging inflow of cash encouraged Farnood and Ferozi to begin skimming off depositors’ funds as unsecured loans to themselves through fake front companies. Thus was born the world’s largest banking scam (when calculated as a percentage of the country’s gross domestic product) with the U.S. Embassy in Kabul acting as its midwife.

How It All Happened

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Michael Klare: Welcome to the New Third World of Energy, the U.S.

6:40 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

(photo: tommy-ironic, flickr)

(photo: tommy-ironic, flickr)

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Here’s a simple rule of thumb when it comes to energy disasters: if it’s the nuclear industry and something begins to go wrong — from Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979 to Fukushima, Japan, after the 2011 tsunami — whatever news is first released, always relatively reassuring, will be a lie, pure and simple. And as the disaster unrolls, it’s not likely to get much better. The nuclear industry is incapable of telling the truth about the harm it does. So when the early stories appear about the next nuclear plant in trouble, whatever you hear or read, just assume that you don’t know the half, not even the quarter, of it.

When it comes to the oil and gas industry and disasters, a similar rule of thumb follows: however bad it first sounds, the odds are it’s going to sound a lot worse before it’s over. (See BP, Deepwater Horizon.) So when you first hear about an oil leak from a Chevron well off the coast of Brazil or from a natural gas well in the North Sea operated by the French oil giant Total and you get those expectable reassurances, they, too, are likely to be nothing but gas.

And here’s the sad thing, you’re going to get all too many chances to test out these simple rules when it comes to bad energy news. After all, as Michael Klare has been writing at this site for years, we’re entering the “tough energy” era. The big energy companies are going to be extracting hydrocarbons in ever more hazardous, difficult-to-reach places like the Arctic and they’re going to be using ever uglier methods to do so.

It’s a guarantee that, however bad the environmental damage we’ve seen so far, it’s only going to get worse as the energy industry despoils various regions to give us our fossil-fuel fix and their mega-profits. As Klare points out, one of those regions is slated to be not in distant Africa, the Persian Gulf, or the Caspian Sea, but right here in the U.S. Klare has been ahead of the energy curve ever since, in the late 1990s, he suggested that we would soon be on a planet embroiled in “resource wars.” His new book, The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources, catches the nightmarish nature of the planet’s last energy boom in a way no one else has. And don’t be surprised if that nightmare lands squarely in your backyard. Tom Read the rest of this entry →

The Art of the Shakedown, from the Nile to the Potomac, by Lawrence Weschler

6:43 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

Sweet, Sweet Cash (Photo: AMagill, flickr)

Sweet, Sweet Cash (Photo: AMagill, flickr)

This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

In the U.S., corruption is seldom “corruption.”  Take as an example our president, who has been utterly clear: he will not take money for his electoral campaign from lobbyists.  Only problem: according to the New York Times, 15 of his top “bundlers,” who give their own money and solicit that of others — none registered as federal lobbyists — are “involved in lobbying for Washington consulting shops or private companies,” and they are raising millions for him.  They also have access to the White House on policy matters.  According to a June report from the Center for Public Integrity, “President Obama granted plum jobs and appointments to almost 200 people who raised large sums for his [2008] presidential campaign, and his top fundraisers have won millions of dollars in federal contracts.”

The president’s spokespeople insist, of course, that he’s kept to his promise, as defined by the labyrinthine lobbying legislation written by a Congress filled with future lobbyists.  And keep in mind that Obama looks like Little Mary Sunshine compared to the field of Republican presidential candidates who seem determined to campaign cheek to jowl with as many lobbyists as they can corral.  More than 100 federal lobbyists have already contributed to Mitt Romney’s campaign, while Rick Perry has evidently risen to candidate status on the shoulders of Mike Toomey, a former gubernatorial chief of staff, friend, and money-raising lobbyist whose clients “have won $2 billion in [Texas] state government contracts since 2008.”  And that’s just the tip of the top of the iceberg. Read the rest of this entry →