Mercenaries & Private Military Contractors Feed

Obama and the privatized military industry

I have been wondering what Barack Obama is going to do with or about the privatized military industry that grew and flourished under George W. Bush. Presumably, Obama has a more sensible and less opportunistic approach than his soon-to-be-predecessor.

David Isenberg writes:

Obama's campaign said he will focus on bringing accountability to these forces while increasing funding for the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the agency that employs Blackwater and other private security contractors.
Accountability is nice. And phasing back in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security as the provider of security for diplomats and their entourages etc. in places like Iraq is a really good idea. Also, as Isenberg discusses, ending the "outsourcing" of things this like interrogation of enemy prisoners of war is also essential.

But there are other problems than the lack of accountability and inappropriate with the emergence of the PMC industry. As with most other industries, US governmental entities are not its only clients. And inasmuch as the government reduces its spending on security contractors, companies will look for other clients.

One possible scenario is that as the US pulls its military forces out of Iraq, security contractors of various nationalities replace them. This will probably happen to some extent. There is wide variation among those who sell security services, and inasmuch as the US is not paying the tab, the US loses the possibility of demanding accountability. It is not in the national interests of the US to have a large PMC industry that the US has little or no control over out there in the world selling security services to whomever will buy them.

Blackwater CEO and Chairman Erik Prince is well known for his large political contributions to Republican and right-wing causes. Unsurprisingly, he gave $20,000 in July of 2007 to the Republican National Committee. But while he gave the maximum to George W. Bush in addition to a $25,000 contributions to the RNC in 2003 and 2005, Prince appears not to have contributed directly to the campaign of John McCain.

It's hard to know where the US government relationship with PMCs is going, but I am hopeful.

How to Investigate Blackwater USA

The minute the Congress called my name
I'd say, "Now who do
Who do you think you're fooling?"

Paul Simon, "Loves Me Like a Rock" (1973)

"We're a private company, and there's a key word there -- private,"

—Erik Prince, Owner and CEO of Blackwater USA, testifying before The US House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, 10/2/07 when asked to share Blackwater's financials with Congress

That rumor you heard about me trying to kill at least one savage everytime I left the wire? TRUE.


Ben Thomas, aka Mookie Spicoli, formerly employed by Blackwater USA in Iraq, as he posted April 8, 2006 to the discussion board Get Off the X.

So at long last, Congress has started to investigate Blackwater USA in earnest. That's great, but way too late.

Hauling Erik Prince in to testify before Congress was a necessary first step but won't get anyone very far. Prince has made a fetish of his privacy, and with the State Department's collusion, there isn't much that our elected representatives can get Prince to say on a public forum. But Prince did say one big important thing: What Blackwater does when its contractors run amok is fire them.

So here's how Congress should go about investigating Blackwater: They should subpoena all personnel records that resulted in the firing of their security contractors, and all documents related to the firings, and they should subpoena the entire group of ex-Blackwater security contractors who were let go for cause.

That is, as it were, where the bodies are buried. I also suggest they start their list of ex-Blackwater subpoenas with Ben Thomas.

The continuing Blackwater saga: You don't need a weather man to know which way the wind blows

The National Review -- yes that National Review as in NRO online -- has just run an article by Mario Loyola which essentially explains why Blackwater and the other PMC should leave Iraq, and even uses the word "mercenaries" right there in its title: Mercenaries vs. Counterinsurgency: Blackwater could be a worse problem than you think.

The best way to protect your forces in a war is to the win and get them out. If, in the meantime, that requires that soldiers throw themselves at certain death on the beaches of Normandy — or on Haifa Street in Baghdad — then that is what they are expected to do.

And today in Iraq, that is exactly what they are doing. In countless situations, they fight against their survival instincts and lower their guard so the population feels safer. They refuse to return fire when fired upon if they cannot positively “ID” the shooter. They offer their lives so the insurgents don’t find a way to take advantage of their firepower. Their willingness to give their lives for the mission is what the military is all about — and it is what the counterinsurgency strategy presumes most vitally.

The problem with security contractors is pretty clear: Central Command isn’t even sure how many there are — according to one source in the Post article, there could be as many as 50,000. They are heavily armed, and use their best judgment of what is necessary for their own protection — not for winning the war. The COIN [counterinsurgency] strategy doesn’t apply to them. But because neither the insurgents nor the Iraqi people distinguish between contractors and soldiers, what you have in Iraq today is a situation in which perhaps 25-percent of the perceived coalition "force" is operating outside the chain of command, and in violation of the stated strategy.

That means that in the neighborhoods of Baghdad, our soldiers are exercising deadly restraint to win over the population, day after day, for months and weeks on end — and all of their work can unravel, all of their sacrifices thrown to the wind because of just one shooting incident carried out by private mercenaries. This is unacceptable — not least because the resulting effect is an increase in risks for our soldiers.


UDPATE 9/28/07: From The New York Times:

Participants in a contentious Baghdad security operation this month have told American investigators that during the operation at least one guard continued firing on civilians while colleagues urgently called for a cease-fire. At least one guard apparently also drew a weapon on a fellow guard who did not stop shooting, an American official said.

Iraq bans Blackwater? US State Dept turtle to operate without its shell?

Wow. Iraq has banned Blackwater, icon of the boom in military privatization, from operating anywhere in Iraq following a shootout involving some of its contractors in which civilians were killed.

I would have liked to think this was inevitable, but I am astonished. I'm told, however, that Blackwater doesn't need a license to operate in Iraq there since they work exclusively for the US State dept there. Wonder how this will play out.

One of the truisms of the private military industry is that everyone involved talks about the other guys being "cowboys" but describes themselves as professionals. The incident  that lead the Iraqi Interior Ministry to pull their license to operate in Iraq, as described by the AP, sounds like an Old West shootout.

The convoy carrying officials from the US state department came under attack at about 1230 local time on Sunday as it passed through Nisoor Square in the predominantly Sunni neighbourhood of Mansour.

The Blackwater security guards accompanying the convoy returned fire, killing eight people and wounding 13 others, Iraqi officials said.

Most of the dead and wounded were bystanders, the officials added. One of those killed was a policeman.

A spokesman for the US embassy in Baghdad later confirmed its security vehicles had been involved in the gunfight.

"They received small arms fire. One of the vehicles was disabled in the shooting and had to be towed from the scene," he said.

"The incident is being investigated by department of state diplomatic security service law enforcement officials in co-operation with the government of Iraq and multinational forces."

Blackwater has not yet commented on the incident.

Imagining how the US State Department would operate in Iraq without Blackwater is like imagining how a turtle would live without its shell.

Blackwater's website is only intermittently reachable this morning.

(Thanks, Rich. Also, thanks, RYP, for licensing info.)

See also Wired's write-up.

UPDATE: Apparently the work "inevitable" also came to P. W. Singer's mind. See Noah Shachtman's interesting piece Blackwater Ban "Inevitable." Looks to me like this is shaping up to be one of them there Historical Lessons.

How to survive your own beheading

SurvivebeheadingI can't tell you how, but if you give these guys in Las Vegas a bunch of money & three days of your life, they'll teach you how.

Perhaps there are prerequisites for the course. Such as thinking with some other part of your anatomy. I wonder if the course is guarenteed and whether they've actually tested the technique. Did they get a celebrity endorsement from Ted Williams or Ichabod Crane?

Can you learn to survive your own beheading? I guess you never know until you try!

The Domestic Uses of Mercenaries: They Can Come in Handy When Dealing with Your Ex?

Well, what an uplifting Christmas tale! Mom hires mercenaries to re-kinap her kids! Mom lives in Canada, dad in Australia.

From Electric News in Singapore: Were Mercenaries Hired to Nab Kids?

WHEN her estranged husband took her two little daughters to Lebanon and informed her that she would never see them again, Ms Melissa Hawach reportedly hired a group of mercenaries to re-unite her with her daughters, Hannah, 5, and Cedar, 3.

She got her daughters back but is now on the run from the Lebanese authorities.

Two of the mercenaries allegedly hired by Ms Hawach were arrested by Lebanese authorities at the Beirut International airport yesterday.

They were just minutes away from their flight taking off.

The two mercenaries Brian Corrigan, 38, a former Australian soldier and New Zealander David Pemberton were charged with the kidnapping of the two girls.

They face up to 15 years in jail if they are proven guilty, on the charge of kidnapping minors.

Merry 21st centery Christmas! (Good God!)

Iraq's Former Electricity Minister Sprung from the Green Zone by Security Contractors?

From Defensetech, Behind the Green Zone Jail Break:

In a war filled with too-strange-for-fiction stories, this may be the strangest yet.  Was Iraq's former electricity minister, jailed on corruption charges, really "sprung from a Green Zone prison this weekend by U.S. security contractors?"  If so, how did they pull it off?  And what does it say about the rapidly-expanding, ridiculously-lucrative, morally-ambiguous field of private militaries?

Robert Young Pelton, author of the recently-published  Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror, tells Defense Tech that his "guess (if the story is true) is that they simply presented their DoD and other credentials and said [the contractors] were there to accompany him to some mythical destination. Once out of prison it is very easy to leave the Green Zone and then take a taxi to Jordan, Syria, Kuwait or Kurdistan."

He also figures that "there was no gunplay or violence involved... [A]nother likely scenario would be to simply bribe the jailer (by paying a family member) and then the jailer making up some cock and bull story."

See also Mountain Runner: The inevitable happened: "Security Contractors" break a man out of a US military facility... and a GAO report is released.

I've Made "Silence of the City"


Back in March, I came close to appearing in The New Yorker's Talk of the Town. Now the article, concerning my adventures blogging Top Cat Marine Security and their $55 million contract with the transitional government of Somalia, has appeared on Silence of the City, a new website that publishes items rejected from the Talk of the Town. I'm told the piece went through 3 or 4 rounds of editing before it was ultimately rejected.

Well, I suppose it is in the end just a tale of the adventures of a suburban woman in her dining room. I'll have you know I can get in really a lot of trouble in this dining room! (Somewhere in the background someone is muttering, Well, OK. So she did Silence of the City. But can she do Silence of the Lambs?)

Robert Young Pelton's Licensed to Kill: A Review

Ryp At long last, Robert Young Pelton's book, Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror, is out. (Back in December of 2005 when I pre-ordered it, I think it's scheduled pub date was something like April.) Despite its subject matter, the world of mercenaries and private military contractors, the book reads like a fascinating letter from a friend. It is thoughtful, funny, and humane in its exploration of a politically loaded topic.

Licensedtokill_1 In general, I expect that opinions on this book are going to gravitate around this issue of whether or not it's "biased," and in which direction. I'm not going to venture an opinion on that, since surely I am at least as "biased" as Pelton. What I will say is that Pelton treats his subjectmatter as ethically complex, which indeed it is. And he neither succumbs to over-identifying with the dudes he's hanging with, nor to simple repulsion at the whole enterprise.

The book opens with a Prologue detailing his meeting with Eric Prince, owner and founder of Blackwater, who articulates Blackwater’s ambitions, a corporately oriented optimism about the future of privatized military services. In the prologue, Pelton distinguishes between what in generally understood to be the distinction between mercenaries and security contractors:

Mercenaries fight, while security contractors protect,  . . . at least, that’s the dividing line that’s supposed to exist. (5)

Destabilizing this apparent distinction is a theme that continues throughout the book.

The book’s Introduction is just the sort of action scene editor’s like to have at the beginning of books: a round trip down the legendarily dangerous “Route Irish” to the Baghdad Airport with Blackwater’s Mamba Team:

. . . it’s 2:43 and we’ve just completed the most perilous eight-minute drive in the world. (13)

The main text of the book is in three sections:

1. Hired Guns, which discusses

  • the longest running CIA contractor, Billy Waugh,
  • contractors inside Pakistan involved in operations that aren't supposed to exist,
  • and the problematic use of American security contractors to guard foreign heads of state;

2. The New Breed, which focuses mostly on Blackwater; and

3. Of Rogues and Tycoons, which covers such characters as Jonathan Keith "Jack" Idema, Tim Spicer, executives of Blackwater, Richard Bethell (Lord Westbury), Simon Mann, and Niek Du Toit.

A fair amount of what is in this book has been touched on at one point or another in my blog.

Billywaugh_1 The Prologue and Introduction introduce companies, characters and topics, while also promising more thrilling action. But it is with Chapter 1, Kill them All, that we really get going. It is the chapter about Billy Waugh and what, through a certain lens, might be seen as the Good Old Days when the CIA and it’s contractors could just go out and kill people; how the backlash against the Vietnam War reined in the CIA; how this played itself out later; how Waugh could have killed Osama bin Laden and didn’t because he wasn’t allowed to; and how this legacy played itself out in post-9/11 Afghanistan with both the CIA and the emergence of companies like Blackwater. Fascinating stuff. In principle, I knew a fair amount of what was in the chapter from reading a pile of CIA memoirs a while back, but Pelton’s chapter has a deeply unsettling historical momentum about it that the memoirs lack.

Chapter 2, Edge of Empire, is a wry discussion of the geopolitical realities (or unrealities?) of the area surrounding the Afghanistan/Pakistan border where bin Laden is sometimes said to be hiding. He finds an American base inside Pakistan that is not supposed to exist, that the actual border seems to be almost unmarked, and much else involving security contractors and surreal layers of deniability cleaving the official story from reality. Last year, when I was helping with disaster relief mapping following the Pakistan earthquake, I heard many peculiar things about the Pakistani government’s attitude towards maps—for example, that the exact location of some of the towns affected by the earthquake was initially considered by the government to be classified information—and this chapter puts some of that insanity into context for me.

Karzaisecurity Chapter 3, The Praetorian Guard, is an interesting exploration of the role of American security contractors as protectors for foreign heads of state. The examples in this chapter are Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan and Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti, but Pelton revisits this topic toward the end of the book in his discussion of the Equatorial Guinea coup plot, and what would have been Severo Moto’s situation had the coup succeeded: not good at all.

In Chapter 4, Confirmed Kills, we get a sense of the new security contractor utopia. The chapter opens at the Dallas Convention Center during the American Society for Industrial Security convention.

Before 9/11, the industry had only a limited market for the services of the men who now flock to these conferences looking for IC opportunities. The war in Afghanistan opened the door to more widespread employment of independent security contractors, and then Iraq kicked that door off it's hinges, stomped on it,  burned it, and scattered the ashes. Iraq has been to the private security industry what the development of the first user-friendly Web browser was to the dot-com boom. (97)

Bremer The chapter concludes with an important discussion of the role of Paul Bremer in the creation of this utopia, a section entitled "On Rules and Resentment."

Bush had opened up the War on Terror by issuing a license to kill with his post-9/11 presidential finding authorizing targeted assassination, but it would be Bremer's Order 17 that would really unleash the security contractors in Iraq. (114)

And this is what the Billy Waugh chapter has set us up for—to understand the nature of this utopia: these guys who might only find marginal employment in the US, can make $600 a day to go to Iraq and do what Waugh, for many years, was not allowed to do. The leash is off and the dogs are out.

Chapter 5, Blackwater Bridge, discusses the Fallujah incident, in which four Blackwater contractors died in gruesome ways and their remains paraded through the streets and hung from a bridge, as a turning point for the public perception of "security contractors" in Iraq, and its complex aftermath.

Chapters 6, Under Siege, is perhaps my favorite in the book. It explores the complexities of two notable combat situations, An Najaf and Al Kut. In the former situation, it seems that security contractors (whom the US military observed but did not assist) were expected to abandon their position on the roof of the Najaf CPA compound. Instead they stayed to fight and videotaped themselves doing it. The videos subsequently circulated on the Internet.

While the rules of engagement allowed contractors to fire in defense of their lives, the formulations of those rules had not anticipated contractors being dropped into a situation where they would engage in hours of combat without outside support. The other outcome that became very clear was that ex-soldiers given a license to kill may choose not to cut and run as they are trained and paid to do, but eagerly and repeatedly fire into the crowds that surround them. (153-154)

Najaf_1 This section gives a much clearer picture of why the security contractors circulated videos of themselves shooting at Iraqis: they were allowed to shoot when the US military and coalition forces were held back. In the "turkey shoot" video, the shooter, whom Pelton identifies as "Mookie Spicoli" clearly enjoys what he is doing.

The Al Kut incident shows the flip-side of this. A group of security contractors alert Bremer to impending problems, who asks them not to exaggerate. The men are unsupported and under attack for days. Some are killed. When they finally come up with a plan to escape with their lives, an official of the CPA tries to prevent their escape. The CPA seemed determined to use them up and throw them away like so much Kleenex: truly appalling. Apparently, although the dogs are out, they are sometimes treated like dogs.

Chapter 7, The Dog Track and the Swamp, chronicles Pelton's visits to Blackwater training facilities, one of which is a dog track. This chapter contains one of the most entertaining sections of the book in which Pelton himself gets to teach in a training program called Mirror Image which simulates, "terrorist recruiting, training techniques, and operational tactics." His students are "Special Forces, Secret Service, marines, FBI agents, independent contractors, and other hand-picked attendees." (183)  Pelton, who has been to Chechnya, has his team play "Chechens." The section is hilarious. I wish they had video of this.

The targets will be expecting the attackers to approach via one of the roads that lead into the village, so the Chechens sneak in from behind the berm of a live firing range and attack from behind, something that freaks out the lead instructor, but gives the team the perfect element of surprise. (192)

Clearly, Pelton was having a good time.

In Chapter 8, we revisit the Blackwater's Team Mamba in Baghdad, first introduced in the book's Introduction. Pelton gives a detailed sense of their day-to-day existence and of the circumstances of their employment. The chapter contains another of the book's funniest sections: when outgoing Blackwater security contractors and the plane crew go through security at Baghdad International Air Port on their way out of Iraq to Jordan:

At the gate, an older American with a bad comb-over pats us all down in a needlessly touchy body search—particularly needless when a flight member admits to Mr. Comb-Over that he is wearing a loaded 9-mm Glock. He gets searched anyway, and then hilariously they put his gun through the X-ray machine before returning it. . . .

Once we're on the plane, the Blackwater crew breaks open a large aluminum box and hands out a loaded M4 weapon to each passenger. (223)

Part 3, Of Rogues and Tycoons, begins with another of the book's funniest sections: Pelton's chapter on Jack Idema, a man emblematic of just how far a wannabee can go in a failed state, in this case Afghanistan in the post-9/11 culture of fear and confusion. The voice of Billy Waugh returns:

We only had 80 guys involved in our [Afghanistan] operations and Idema wasn't one of them. (239)

The best part of the chapter concerns Idema's rewriting of Robin Moore's The Hunt for bin Laden prior to its publication. Pelton writes:

I am actually featured in The Hunt for bin Laden and can speak from my own experience . . . Though they never met or talked to Idema, and despite the fact that almost ten members had carefully detailed their actions to Moore at K2, the first chapter puts forth an account of the team's infill into Afghanistan that the men tell me has been entirely fabricated. (243)

The chapter concludes with a paragraph that begins:

That such a transparent criminal could so easily label himself a contractor to act out his own covert paramilitary fantasy is a warning about the growing ubiquity of independent contractors. (250)

Bookcover Chapter 10, The Very Model of a Modern Major Mercenary, concerns the rise of Tim Spicer, former President of Sandline, widely regarded as an example of upward-mobile failure (though Pelton does not say this), and Spicer's new company Aegis. The description of Pelton's interview with Spicer is a comedy of manners. What Pelton does not mention is that he was previously sued and settled out of court for his depiction of Spicer in a previous book. Our narrator, however, is the author of The World's Most Dangerous Places and so does not fear to tread into the office of someone who sued him.  (I myself once had my own run-in with Spicer's attorney, Richard Slowe.) What I found most interesting in the chapter was former Sandline accountant Michael Grunberg's account of what the take was for those running Executive Outcomes:

Even though they had difficulty extracting payments from the second operation, the men had generated extraordinary persona income. After the successes in Angola and Sierra Leone, EO had come to a natural end. According to Grunberg, "Eben [Barlow] took ten million and walked away. They all did very well. Simon [Mann] pocketed $60 million and Tony [Buckingham] banked $90 million." (263)

Simon Mann, one of the Executive Outcomes founders, is to have a starring role in Chapter 12, in which the Equatorial Guinea coup attempt is discussed. Apparently, he wanted more from life.

Chapter 11, The Lord and the Prince, is an examination of how the legacy of Executive Outcomes ans Sandline informs and shapes the ambitions of the principals of Blackwater and of HART Security. Of particular interest to me was the account of HART's contract with the government of Somalia in light of my adventure late last year writing about Top Cat Marine Security's signing of a contract with the Transitional Government of Somalia. Pelton remarks of the HART contract:

Other similar ventures by former soldiers have always fallen apart due to inherent corruption in local governments. (290)

coup5.jpgChapter 12, The Bight of Benin Company, is the chapter I ordered the book for in the first place, back in December. It concerns the Equatorial Guinea coup plot, which is what first interested me in the subject of military privatization. If not for my reading about and researching what was up with N4610, a former US military plane which ended up in Zimbabwe with a load of mercenaries in it, back in March of 2004, I would not be writing this now, nor would I have read this book.

In addition to providing a smooth, gripping narrative of events I learned about by obsessively reading news stories coming out of Africa two years ago, he covers some documents I had previous access to, most notably a document entitled "Assisted Regime Change." All by themselves, these documents, with their paranoia and layers of duplicity even among plotters, give us a blueprint for a future dystopia if "regime change" is privatized on a large scale. Here's a sample:

The "Bight of Benin Company" (BBC), written in the archaic British schoolboy style typical of Simon Mann, is a Machiavellian plan laced with paranoia and greed. The document lays out a plan to turn EG into something resembling the British East India Company. It details the coup backers' intent to claim the sole right to make agreements ad contracts wit the newly installed government . . . The BBC makes it abundantly clear that Moto is disposable and that his main backer, Eli Khalil, was not to be trusted. (318)

N4610 One document he doesn't talk much about, but I have been told the contents of, is the contract for the purchase of N4610 from Dodson. One idiocy of the coup plot was that N4610 was a tail number registered to the US Air National Guard. So to me one big question was always why didn't the plotters take the trouble to paint on a different tail number. The answer is, I think, in the contract. The contract specified a buy-back price for the plane; viewed that way, it was essentially a rental agreement with a damage deposit. In my opinion, they didn't paint over the tail number because the plotters had to give the plane back; Sandline declared itself defunct about a month after the plane was impounded.

coup3.jpgWhile previous chapters showed how security contractors could be treated like dogs by those who employed them, one of the features of the Equatorial Guinea coup plot narrative is "the divide between the backers and those in prison." Though I have little sympathy for Simon Mann, for whom a $60 million take from Executive Outcomes was not enough, the coup backers did far too little to help him  -- and those arrested with him -- once he got busted. Simon Man is currently fighting extradition from his jail cell in Zimbabwe to Equatorial Guinea, where he could expect a much longer jail sentence.

Pelton as it happens had once retained Nick du Toit, leader of the EQ-based portion of the plot, for security in a 2002 trip to Africa. He returns to Africa and interviews du Toit in jail.

What I learned from Niek is that in the debate between contractor and mercenary, it will always come down to the individual. When Niek du Toit was my security man, I knew him as an upstanding, loyal, dependable provider of security in what was at the time the world's most dangerous place. Now, four years later, he is a criminal behind bars for what appears to be the rest of his life. (333)

The book concludes with an Epilogue in which Pelton visits one of the Blackwater contractors he spent time with in Baghdad after the man's return the the US. The man was badly injured after Pelton's departure. The epilogue is a mediation on both the lack of accounting on the actual number of security contractor deaths, and on the contractors' own lack of accountability:

As of spring 2006, there has not been one single contractor charged for any crime that occurred in Iraq, though hundreds of soldiers have been court-martialed for offenses ranging from minor violations of military code to murder. (341)

He remarks also:

Working in violent areas and being given a license to kill can be frightening to some and an addictive adrenaline rush to others. It is impossible to predict how successfully the thousands of security contractors now working in Iraq will integrate back into normal civilian life after their wellspring of employment dries up.  (342)

Rypinshadowcompany Elsewhere, interviewed in  Nick Bicanic and Jason Bourque's documentary Shadow Company, Pelton is a bit more blunt. He says: "Some of these guys couldn't work in Walmart."

Corporatizing war is presented by the purveyors of private military services as a way of streamlining, of cutting out the red tape, of increasing efficiency, under controlled circumstances. But throughout the book, Pelton has shown just how fluid the line is between security contractor and mercenary, between defending a fixed asset and just plain combat, between security guard and criminal.

Combine this with the current nostalgia for the olden days when political assassination was an essential part of the toolbox of American foreign policy, and a move to reinstate that practice happening simultaneously with a massive swing toward privatization, and we find that our world is a strange place indeed.

An important theme of the book is the contrast between American and British attitudes toward privatized security:

It becomes clear to me during the meeting that there remains a very high wall between the HART's very English view of security, and of Blackwater's view of a brave new neocon world.  . . . While [Blackwater's Erik] Prince paints a flashy, high-tech, road-warrior-style military company that could solve any client's problem by an application of sheer brute force and advanced weaponry, [HART's] Richard [Bethell] and George [Simm] calmly promote the idea of low-key and culturally integrated solutions. (301)

This contrast corresponds roughly to the contrast between American and British imperialism, but an imperialism at least partly uncoupled from the traditional imperialist powers, namely governments; an imperialism increasingly removed from oversight by the British and American publics.

What we have here, in the end, is an important book on where the 21st century is taking us, exploring the dystopian potiential of military privatization, even for the very people engaged in it. If there is any possibility to avert the dystopia, it lies in transparency. And so this book is very much a step in the right direction.

A Week's Worth of Blogging in One Post

A few entertaining items:

  1. Alex Harrowell on a large quantity of disappeared guns:

    99 Tonnes of Guns

    Were purchased from leftover Bosnian war stocks for the Iraqi security forces by U.S. agents in BiH, and flown out of the country by Aerocom in four runs with the Ilyushin 76 ER-IBV, serial no. 3423699. But where they were delivered remains a mystery, and it is feared that the weapons actually went to the insurgents.
  2. An American named Michael Chemidlin, was arrested in Sierra Leone for photographing the place where Charles Taylor's war crimes trial is scheduled to be. Hard to tell what's going on from the news coverage, but the implication is that he is suspected of some plot to free Taylor. See Sierra Leone: Suspected Special Court Spy, Three Others Charged and US man held for war crimes pics.
  3. Further to the subject of fascist sexuality, Alex Harrowell emailed me a couple of hilarious links: BNP's council leader made film labelled as 'Marxist gay cinema'

    A BNP leader has produced and directed a "gay pornographic film", despite his party's criticism of indecency and hatred of gays.

    . . . and Video harms chances of BNP candidate

    Forty eight hours ago, few people had heard of the film HMS Discovery, a production in the "gay Marxist genre" for which Mr Barnbrook was producer, director and co-writer.

    But news spread quickly after activists from the anti-fascist organisation Searchlight leaked details to the area's two local newspapers, both of which put the story on the front page.

    Ah, the sexualizing gaze of the fetistish! Ban what you yourself find exciting!
  4. Nick Bicanic sends in a link to a show available on Google Video about Shadow Company, his forthcoming documentary on private military companies and security contractors.
  5. A really nice AP story (with an unreasonably menacing headline), which discusses how the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency helped with disaster relief following last fall's hurricanes: Spy Agency Watching Americans From Space:

    In an era when other intelligence agencies try to hide those operations, the director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James Clapper, is proud of that domestic mission.

    He said the work the agency did after hurricanes Rita and Katrina was the best he'd seen an intelligence agency do in his 42 years in the spy business.

    "This was kind of a direct payback to the taxpayers for the investment made in this agency over the years, even though in its original design it was intended for foreign intelligence purposes," Clapper said in a Thursday interview with The Associated Press.

  6. And finally, Robert F. Kane's trial for illegal possession of rocket launchers, in connection with Security Aviation's mysterious private military build-up, starts the 15th. I will be blogging it. As preparation for this entertainment, I suggest you read up on The Story So Far. For your convenience, I have posted a complete list of links to related news stories in my left-hand side-bar. For your convenience and for ease of reading, I'll also toss them in below the cut. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! (Especially the stories from, The Anchorage Daily News, which are quite excellent.)

Continue reading "A Week's Worth of Blogging in One Post" »

Map of a Universal Dynamic of 21st-Century Greed

I've been working on a research project using Eastgate System's "personal content management tool" Tinderbox to organize my notes. While working with it, I discovered this bit of serendipity that emerged from the "Map View" of the software. I looked at this image and realized that it was a sort of map to the dynamics of private sector 21st century greed. If you click on the image you'll be able to read the labels better.


Rent-a-Fed: Consultants Advisory Group is back and they're offering the best US government services money can buy!

Regular readers will remember my adventures earlier this year involving a strange secretive company called the Consultants Advisory Group (CAG). (See also the Noriegaville News: Shadowy Panama Company Illegally Runs Black-Ops in Haiti.) The are re-marketing themselves in their new improved website, offering the best US government services money can buy.

Got to love this ad copy:

Established in 1997, CAG INTERNACIONAL S.A. is a privately owned international business corporation closely held by American expatriates and staffed by the finest independent contractors from the CIA, FBI, US and Foreign Military Services, Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, and the Departments of Justice and Commerce.

Wow. Is this going to be a franchise like MacDonald's? Government in a Happy Meal box? One stop shopping for your governmental authority needs? This is a pretty ambitious product line. One wonders if they are also planning to add national parks and a space program!

(I mean really, are they begging to be perceived as a CIA proprietary, or what? And if they were one, would they be on their knees trying to convince you? This is practically a Rent-a-Fed operation according to their copy. I doubt they can deliver that in actuality.)

Countries where they claim to be active include Panama, Kenya, and Somalia. How active is a matter for speculation, but it doesn't look like they are very active yet. And how come they didn't mention Haiti?

Despite CAG's persistent claims, I have a hard time believing that the proprietors of CAG are US ex-pats. CAG tries too hard to push the Americanness of their enterprise without a sense of how Americans do business. Note that their site lacks most of the usual contact info and does not even give an indication of the country in which they are incorporated.

(Thanks GW!)

More4's Two Segments on Aegis and the Infamous Security Contractor Videos

More4 News in the UK has two TV segments concerning the infamous Aegis security contractor videos. One came out a week ago and one came out today.

The first segment, Under the Aegis, came out on the 31st:  More 4 News has exclusively interviewed a team member of Aegis that allegedly shot at Iraqi civilians.


The second segment, Road Wars, came out today:


More4 News has learnt that the security company Aegis is trying to close down the website which claims to show videos of Aegis employees firing at civilians in Iraq.

With a multi-million pound contract from the U.S government, the security firm Aegis is a company that makes big profits from the chaos in Iraq.

Last week More4 news uncovered evidence linking the firm directly to videos that surfaced last year of contractors shooting at civilian cars to keep them away.

The former Aegis worker who published the videos on his website spoke to us last week on condition of anonymity.

Now he's agreed to talk openly to Nima Elbagir about the videos, his website - and the High Court action Aegis is taking tomorrow to close it down. Here's her exclusive report.

The most interesting aspect, to me, about these is that More4 claims to have legal documents from the law firm S. J. Berwin (which also represented Sandline) claiming that the security contractor who filmed and distributed the video is in violation of Aegis's copyright, presumably because since he filmed it at work, such videos would be considered work for hire. That strikes me as an . . . um . . .  innovative use of copyright law.

Forthcoming screenings of Shadow Company

From Nick Bacanic of Purpose Films:

Two sets of screenings to announce and some quick news.

1. HOTdocs Toronto - North America's premier
documentary film festival - "Shadow Company" screens twice

Screening #1: May 1st 8:30pm - Bloor Cinema
Screening #2: May 5th 11:30pm - Bloor Cinema

The director of the film (that is, me) will also  be speaking on a filmmaking panel earlier that  day about the making of "Shadow Company" (time to be determined) If you are a morning person you can also catch  Alan Bell and me on Canada AM (CTV) at 7:45am -  as well as a guest appearance on "The Hour" a one-hour CBC chat show that should make for some interesting discussion.

2. Boston Independent Film Festival - for those of you in New England the screening times are

Screening #1: April 21st 2006, 10:00pm, Somerville 2
Screening #2: April 22nd 2006, 12:45pm, Somerville 3

3. Washington DC screenings - locations/dates are  not confirmed yet but a number of non-governmental organisations (as well as members of the US government) have approached us about screening the film - so we will definitely be going ahead with a screening and a detailed Q&A in DC as soon as it's practical to organise the event and the invite list.

A review from the Toronto Star is below the cut.

Continue reading "Forthcoming screenings of Shadow Company" »

Update on the Wild & Crazy Armenian Brothers in Kenya: Send in the Crocodiles!

From the Kenya Times, this entertaining passage:

After a long silence, Artur Margaryan, now says he has brought to his residence more dogs and crocodiles to beef up his security. This is in addition to the ten dogs he had imported earlier. Westlands legislator Fred Gumo and his Makadara counterpart Reuben Ndolo should probably be warned not to take their threats to storm his residence, lest they be devoured by the crocodiles.

There's something reminiscent of The Old Lady Who Swallowed the Fly here. I've been wondering where this story is going. Perhaps it will end with the the Arturs being eaten by their, er, security forces.

(Who is cleaning up after all the animals, anyway? They have how many killer dogs? Wonder how it smells in there.)

I remain really interested in finding out who these guys are and where they came from.

On a more somber note, while these clowns hole up with large but untraceable amounts of cash, famine spreads across East Africa. And meanwhile Kenya is also having an outbreak of measles because of lack of vaccinations.

See also my previous posts:

Below the cut is an abundance of related links along with what I thought was the best line from each.

Continue reading "Update on the Wild & Crazy Armenian Brothers in Kenya: Send in the Crocodiles!" »

Kenya: More on the Mysterious Armenian Brothers

   Artur Margaryan 
  Photo by by mwasb (Boniface Mwangi).

The Kenyan investigative journalists have been doing an amazing job of investigating the mysterious Armenian brothers who have become embroiled in the growing corruption scandal in Nairobi in the aftermath of the Kenyan media raids of a few weeks ago. (Among other things, the brother are alledged to be the white guys on cell phones in the TV station security cam footage of the raid.)

Kenya's journalists are writing articles faster than I can blog them, so I've added a Typelist on the subject to my left-hand sidebar, giving links to articles of interest so I can just toss in new ones as I go along. I have my theories of what is going on here, but the pool of available information is growing so fast that I'll hold off on theorizing.

Here are a few favorite items from the links in the sidebar. First of all, they have IDed Artur Margaryan's intriguing bodyguard:

Ms Shefana Igbal, is a daughter of a renown Mombasa businessman said to be close to businessmen in the underworld and particularly drug barons, our sources confided to us. The armed woman is known for her daring driving skills and apart from chauffeuring Artur Margaryan around the city, she also doubles as a bodyguard.

This next item is of Jamesian narrative complexity. Parse the point of view on this one: Kenya: Michuki Questioned As 'Armenian' Plot Thickens
Michuki further claimed that the Group intended to publish a series of stories linking key government officials to the Al-Qaeda terrorist group, sources close to the Committee said. "It was a government action. The Standard Group has a propaganda unit which wanted to run stories that key government officials have Al-Qaeda links," a source close to the committee said of Michuki.

So, the Standard -- raided by police apparently under orders from Michuki -- reports that someone said that Michuki claimed that the Standard was going to run stories linking various government officials to Al Qaeda. Kenyan politics has a very subtle aesthetic. I feel like this is what I went to grad school in literature for! As Alex Harrowell remarks, ". . . yes, the government tactically leaked the information that the opposition were accusing them of terrorism in order to bash them for playing the terrorism card . . . or something."

Artur Margaryan, on the other hand, is not a subtle fellow. Gotta love this quote:

Margargran, interjected: "Your country's budget is not enough for the country. It is not enough to hire us."

. . . and this one:

Foreigner Artur Margaryan yesterday told Internal Security Minister John Michuki to stop commenting on their issue until investigations are complete. . . . He also cautioned Michuki against commenting on issues "he knows nothing about".

Margaryan can't possibly mean that bit about AQ, can he? He keeps going on about being a Christian.

Meanwhile the Standard manages to be at least a little forgiving and takes Michuki's side against Margaryan:

What sticks in the craw is that Michuki is just the latest in Artur Margaryan's line of fire. Wearing his arrogance and disdain proudly and loudly this man seems bent on belittling every prominent Kenyan he comes across.

A number of editorialists called for the Armenian brothers to be expelled from Kenya, but interestingly Health Minister Charity Ngilu made a somewhat tortured argument as to why they should not be deported:

HEALTH Minister Charity Ngilu yesterday asked the government not to deport the two Armenians at the centre of the mercenaries row before Kenyans knew their true identity and motive. Ngilu who is the Kitui Central MP said the duo should remain in the country so that Kenyans can get to the bottom of the truth.

Why would a health minister come to the aid of guys who seem a bit too cozy with the world of drug trafficking?

And then there's this business article which makes a sad but remarkable claim:

Two brothers from the Trans-Caucasian republic of Armenia are believed to be the only significant foreign investors Narc has so far managed to attract.

One of the most interesting things about these investors is that they have no need of bank accounts:

THE saga surrounding two Armenians, variously referred to as mercenaries and investors on the other hand took a new twist yesterday, when it become apparent that the duo have no known accounts in any Kenyan bank. Sources close to the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) have confirmed that Mr Artur Margaryan and his brother Arur Sargayan, neither operate a bank account indivindually, nor in any of the companies associated with them. Neither the Brotherhood International Company, nor any other company associated with them has a bank account in any of the 42 banks registered in Kenya, or in any of the existing forex bureaux in Kenya. . . . This means that the Sh 150,000 the duo are claiming to be spending daily cannot be accounted for, alluding to a possibility of massive money laundering in the country.

And don't miss this batch of photos by the talented young Kenyan photographer, Boniface Mwangi.

And there's this piece, suggesting that the members of the current administration have been unlucky and have been having problems with their life expectancy. Subtext is all. And that subtext does beg the question of the identity of that "snake" of John Michuki's now infamous remark, "When you rattle a snake, you should be prepared to be bitten by it."

This does all have a kind of startup/venture capital feeling about it. Perhaps the MacGuffin in this strange tale is the eighty million dolars worth of cocaine -- "1.1 metric ton shipment, confiscated in December 2004" -- that's been sitting around in a warehouse for a while, that the Kenyan government has just agreed to destroy. If you were a criminal, woudn't you want it? That may be the simplest explaination for what's driving this circus.

Wonder how much of it is left.

(See also The Yorkshire Ranter. and the tHiNkEr’S rOoM.)

Kenya: "He was accompanied by a woman who on Monday he claimed was his bodyguard."

In the aftermath of the Kenya media raids, there have been conflicting reports of the involvement of "Russian mercenaries" in one aspect or another of the situation. Now we are getting a few more specifics, and boy are they strange. First of all, there's this story from the Nation: NARC Politician is Linked to Armenians

The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) yesterday linked a Narc politician to a press conference by two former Soviet bloc foreigners Langata MP Raila Odinga describes as mercenaries.

And the movement accused the Government of providing state security to Mr Artur Sargsyan and Mr Artur Margaryan, who they claimed were "international criminals." . . .

In a move that added more mystery to the saga behind the two Armenians, the former Roads minister claimed Mr Sargsyan, who had been said to have flown into the country a few minutes before the Press conference, was in fact in the country. . . .

The two said they had been introduced to both Mr Odinga and Mr Kalonzo Musyoka by another businessman, and had been asked by Mr Odinga and Mr Musyoka to fund the ODM's no-vote campaign in the last year's November 21 referendum on the proposed Constitution.

They said they refused to do this, saying they never helped to fund political work, but said that instead they agreed to a request by Mr Odinga to lend him $1.5 million (about Sh108 million).

Mr Odinga and Mr Musyoka have denied the claims and accused the Government of being behind the allegations "to tarnish the integrity of ODM leaders". . . .

"It is clear to us that the presence in Kenya of the two persons of questionable character and integrity is with the express knowledge of the Government at a very high level," he said at Parliament Buildings in Nairobi.

The leaders also queried the source of huge sums of money for the Armenians' investment and the bank through which the transactions were carried out.

And then there's this one, also from Kenya, which identifies the company involved as Brotherlink International: Confusion As Police Confront Armenian

The eight had gone to House 977 on Glory Road, off Runda Grove, as an advance team to provide security for detectives investigating the activities of Mr Margaryan and his brother, Mr Artur Sargsyan.

Mr Margaryan was to have been interviewed by Nairobi deputy provincial CID chief Isaiah Osugo, who was appointed last week by police commissioner Mohamed Hussein Ali to investigate claims by Lang'ata MP Raila Odinga that the brothers were mercenaries.  . . .

Mr Margaryan repeated his claims that he had in the past met Mr Odinga. He said it was between December 13 and 15, last year in Dubai, when he allegedly gave him the equivalent of Sh100,000 in UAE currency (dirham), to spend as he wished.

He said his brother would be returning to Kenya next week.

He went on: "I will go to court as well as demand protection from the Government because it was my right to ask for protection."

Mr Margaryan acknowledged that his company Brotherlink International Ltd had entered into a contract in January this year to rent the house. His company was involved in various businesses including car imports, electronics and real estate. . . .

Asked to explain why his brother's particulars were missing from the passenger manifest on the flight he claimed he had taken from Dubai to Kenya, he said all passengers from Arab countries used their mothers' names and not their own or their fathers'. . . .

After his brief chat with the journalists, Mr Margaryan returned to his compound and later drove off in a dark blue Subaru whose number plates were hidden behind strips of cardboard. He was accompanied by a woman who on Monday he claimed was his bodyguard.

This sure is getting interesting. I wonder where it will go.

MEANWHILE IN UGANDA, Peter Wadron (see my previous post) is facing charges. The Arms Dealer of the Lord turns out to also be a Bounty Hunter of the Lord as well: Jailed American Wanted to Grab Kony

Dr Peter Waldron, an American facing charges of illegal possession of arms, planned to use a Congolese rebel militia to capture Joseph Kony, the elusive leader of the Lord's Resistance Army.

A highly placed source said Waldron planned to claim the $1.7 million bounty on Kony's head. Ugandan and US officials, however, remained tightlipped about the case, which is set to raise more eyebrows about Waldron and his involvement in Uganda.

The Inspector General of Police, Gen. Kale Kayihura, told Daily Monitor that a charge of terrorism could be added after initial police investigations linked Waldron to anti-government propaganda. Among Waldron's various businesses and professional interests is a publication Africa Dispatch which has been critical of the arrest of Dr Kizza Besigye and the deployment of armed men at the High Court in Kampala during his trial in January.

"Obviously the Criminal Investigations Department have established a link between Waldron and several Congolese that were arrested in connection with illegally possessing guns," Kayihura said yesterday.

Until now the arrest of Waldron, an IT consultant with the Ministry of Health, who doubled as a born-again businessman with a variety of interests, has perplexed most observers.

Daily Monitor can now reveal that Dido Manyiroha, Waldron's co-accused, is one of the topmost leaders of Movement Révoluntionaire du Congo (MRC), a rebel outfit operating in Eastern Congo.

"He [Waldron] made a deal with MRC to do an operation in Garamba Park where Kony and his group are said to be hiding." a security source who declined to be named said.

"He promised to claim the reward on Kony's capture and share it with the group afterwards. He also advanced them $20,000 to organise the operation."

The International Criminal Court in The Hague has issued an arrest warrant for Kony, his field commander Vincent Otti and others, and has promised a reward of $1.7 million (over Shs3 billion) for his capture.

"MRC promised Waldron they have the men and the capacity to grab Kony because they are Congolese and they know the forests,"
the source added.

Praise the Lord, pass the amunition. Or something. (Thanks GW!) WALDRON UPDATE, 3/28/06: Waldron has been released and deported from Uganda. See Soj.

KENYA UPDATE: The Nation (whose registration process I finally managed to get to work) has some more lovely details on the Amrenian brothers:

Mr Musyoka emerged from a one-and-a-half hour session with the CID officer tasked to investigate the mercenaries allegations, Mr Isaiah Osugo, to state that he has never requested for funding from the two Armenians.

He said Mr Sanghani introduced the two foreigners, whom he described as "flamboyantly endowed in gold chains, rings, bracelets and watches" at the Grand Regency's Summit Club in late November last year.

"Whilst at the club, businessman Raju Sanghani walked over to where I was seated accompanied by two persons who were casually dressed and introduced them as businessmen from Dubai," Mr Musyoka said.

Mr Sanghani is the former owner of Guilders International Bank, chairman of Real Motors Group and an estate management firm.

During the 10-minute encounter, Mr Musyoka said one of the two foreigners introduced himself as a relative of the Armenian President and that he had set his eyes on a top political seat in his country.

In apparent reference to Mr Sargsyan, he said the Armenian told him of his business interests in DR Congo and inquired if Mr Musyoka could use his influence as a former Foreign minister to introduce him to President Kabila.

"I informed them that I knew President Kabila but was not well-acquainted with him. That was the end of our discussion," narrated the Mwingi North MP.

Contacted last evening, Mr Sanghani confirmed he had introduced Mr Musyoka to the two men in an "accidental" meeting.

He said the two were associates of a Dubai businessman, Mr Zakher Omar, a friend he had met in Mumbai, India, last year. Mr Omar deals in general commodities, steel rolling and real estate development in Dubai and India.

"He and l met accidentally at the hotel l was staying in and we got talking. I tried to interest him in investing in Kenya especially in real estate..."

"Sometime in November he came with two people he introduced as Arthur and James. He claimed they were members of the "royal" family in Armenia," Mr Sanghani said in a telephone interview.

He said that one evening during the three or four days which Mr Omar and his associates spent in the country, he took them to the Summit Club in the Grand Regency where they met Mr Musyoka.

"It was a casual, accidental meeting. I introduced them and told Mr Musyoka that they were members of the Armenian "royal" family. Indeed, l told him that one of the men was a presidential aspirant. I also told him that the men were interested in investing in gold and diamonds in the Democratic Republic of Congo," Mr Sanghani said.

On the face of it, these guys sound to me more like criminals and con-artits than mercenaries as such.

(See also The Yorkshire Ranter.)

Firedump: 3C-QRF the Second

Post mirrored from Soj at Flogging the Simian via also Alex Harrowell at The Yorkshire Ranter, as part of Operation Firedump, for the purpose of taking Viktor "Merchant of Death" Bout's planes out of circulation:

Right, another go to get 3C-QRF seized...

Soj is going for the Romanian Ministry of Transport. Post mirrored..

This is the text in Romanian language. If you want to participate, copy this:

    Domnul Ministru Gheorghe Dobru,

    Va scriem pentru a va informa cu respect despre existenta aeronavei model BAC-111, cu numarul de inregistrare 3C-QRF, cu numarul de fabricatie 61, care in prezent este localizata pe aeroportul Baneasa in Bucuresti, Romania.

    Aceasta aeronava este utilizata de compania "Jetex Flight Support", care este inregistrata in Guineea Ecuatoriala, dar in principal isi realizeaza afacerile in Sharjah in Emiratele Arabe Unite.

    Aceasta aeronava cu numarul de inregistrare 3C-QRF apartine companiei "San Air General Trading". In data de 16 martie 2004, Comitetul Consiliului Securitatii Natiunilor Unite a pus in discutie o lista care contine nume a indivizilor si companiilor carora le este interzisa calatoria si desfasurarea afacerilor datorita implicarii lor in razboiul civil din Liberia.

    Compania "San Air General Trading" se afla pe aceasta lista. Aeronava QC-3RF a fost de asemenea utilizata pentru a transporta arme catre Republica Democrata Congo in 2004, ceea ce reprezinta o violare a Hotararii Comitetului Consiliului Securitatii Natiunilor Unite.

    Desfasurand afaceri cu aceasta companie si aproband planurile sale privind operarea in Romania reprezinta o violare a Rezolutiei 1521 a Comitetului Consiliului Securitatii Natiunilor Unite.

    Cu respect va cerem luarea masurilor, de urgenta, necesare pentru interzicerea derularii afacerilor sau uzului personal pe aceasta aeronava. Aven informatii privind montarea unui alt motor pe aeronava, de asemenea, am dori confiscarea acestei aeronave de catre autoritati.

    Va multumim pentru timpul acordat si pentru luarea in considerare a cererii noastre.

    (your name and contact info)

It should be sent to this email: (Romanian Ministry of Transportation)
CC emails to Romanian press:,,,,,,

This is the English translation of the above letter. This is simply for non-Romanian speakers.

    Dear [Transportation] Minister Gheorghe Dobru,

    We write to respectfully inform you that there is a model BAC-111 aircraft, registration number 3C-QRF, serial number 61, which is currently located at the Baneasa Airport in Bucuresti, Romania.

    This airplane is being leased by the company "Jetex Flight Support", which is registered in Equatorial Guinea, but does business primarily in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates.

    This airplane with registration number 3C-QRF belongs to San Air General Trading, Inc. On March 16, 2004, the United Nations Security Council Committee issued a list of individuals and companies prohibited from traveling and doing business because of their involvement in the civil war in Liberia.

    The company San Air Trading, Inc. is on this list. This airplane QC-3RF was also used to fly in weapons to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2004, also in violation of a United Nations Security Council Resolution.

    Doing business with this company and allowing their planes to operate in Romania is violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1521.

    We ask that you immediately issue a prohibition for any business or individual to use this airplane. We have information that a replacement motor is soon to be installed on this plane, therefore we ask that this airplane be immediately confiscated by the authorities.

    We thank you for your consideration in this matter,

    (your name, contact info)

Time to move, lads. We may not have much.

Shadow Company Advance Screenings to be Held in Austin
March 12th, 14th, & 18th

Purpose Films has a rather good documentary on the private military industry, Shadow Company, coming out soon. There will be screenings at the South by SouthWest Festival in Austin. I highly recommend it. (I saw a draft version.) You can see a trailer via their website.  Also, do read Matt Armstrong's favorable review HERE.

2:00 PM, Sunday March 12th - Austin Convention Center
11:15 AM, Tuesday March 14th - Austin Convention Center
7:15 PM, Saturday March 18th - Alamo S. Lamar 1



Guns & Christianity in Uganda

WaldronAlex of Yorkshire Ranter has just emailed me a link to my kind of blog post from  Bartholomew's notes on religion: US Christian Right Activist in Ugandan Jail over Illegal Guns. Anyone have any idea what's up with this? This seems like a narratively interesting situation if there ever was one. I know that certain segments of the American evangelical far right have a sweet tooth for the idea of mercenaries in Africa. I wonder if this situation has anything to do with the evangelical mercenary fetish.

Could face terror charges

Strange news from Uganda. The Kampala Monitor reported two days ago that

police in Kampala are holding an American national who was allegedly found with four illegal guns and 184 rounds of live ammunition. Police Spokesman Assuman Mugenyi told journalists at a press conference at Kibuli Police headquarters yesterday that Dr Peter E Waldron was arrested at about 8pm on Monday.

Waldron, 59, works as an Information Technology consultant for the Ministry of Health and has been living in Uganda since 2002. He was arrested at his home in Kisugu near International Hospital after a tip off.

Documents found on him indicate that Waldron is also an advisor to the President of Rocky Mountain Technology Group, Contact America Group Inc and Founder of City of Faith Ministries in Kampala.

(Actually, according Waldron’s website that should be “Cities of Faith Ministries”)

Apparently three men were seen near Waldron’s home dropping a bag; when a passer-by asked them what they were up to, he had a gun waved at him for his trouble. This rather unfortunate move led to an alarm being raised, and a hostile crowd forming:

They pleaded with the mob not to lynch them saying they would show them where more guns were hidden. "The suspects led the police to Waldron's house in Kisugu and on conducting a search, two more SMG rifles were recovered with 94 rounds of ammunition in a wardrobe in his bedroom and copies of The Africa Dispatch newsletter," he said. One of the men who were arrested was a Congolese national.

The Monitor also reports that

…Some of the pictures in the magazine show Waldron with diplomats in the High Court during the trial of [Dr Kizza] Besigye.

This raised the spectre of terrorism at the high court; however, a Reuters report says that this was incorrect:

Police mistakenly identified Waldron on Tuesday as being in a picture taken at the trial of opposition candidate Kizza Besigye and this, they said, was proof of a terrorist threat.


But on Wednesday they said they had been mistaken and the man in the picture was a senior diplomat, not the suspect.

This is a bit curious, given that Waldron’s appearance is somewhat distinctive (he has a large moustache). Reuters also provides some extra information:

An American evangelical and IT consultant, arrested in Uganda with assault rifles this week, planned to set up a political party, police said on Wednesday.

… Major-General Kale Kayihura, Inspector General of Police, told a news conference Waldron was suspected of links to a group in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and "planned to set up a political party here based on Christian principles."…

See also Jesus' General: Faith-based covert ops? 

Dr Peter E Waldron of Cities of Faith Ministries is the latest victim of Christian persecution in Africa. The former GOP operative, ex-President of The Save The Family Foundation, and member of the secretive Council for National Policy was arrested recently in Uganda for selling illegal "SMG rifles" (sub-machine guns).

Although such persecution is not unusual in Africa, this is the first case involving an arms dealer of the Lord. It is unclear whether Dr. Waldron was operating under a faith-based covert operations grant. There is no record on the Central Intelligence Agency website of anyone receiving such funding.

Just what is it about elections in places with fragile democracies that seems to draw the secretive American nutcases, anyway?

On his web site, Waldron explains his plan for Uganda: he plans to change the place through the miracle of branding (as in products, presumably, not irons). Exactly why he needed weapons to accomplish this is a bit mysterious.

CAG's got a blog!

I just discovered this morning that the strange, secretive private intelligence company Consultants Advisory Group (CAG) has a blog. I'm trying to figure out how to stuff it and mount it properly to be hung on my wall.

I have a letter in to UN Legal inquiring about the relationship between MINUSTAH and CAG. The CAG site (including blog) is sitting on a Yahoo server in Sunnyvale, CA, near as I can tell.

Somalian TFG Cabinet minister Hassan Abshir insists Top Cat Marine Security, with which his government signed a two-year $55 million deal, is not only real, but also that TC is ready for combat

This is part of an ongoing series on the private military company Top Cat Marine Security, which is intertwined with a series on Consultants Advisory Group; both companies lack a valid street address and & refuse to disclose the identities of their management or owners.

From The Daily Nation in Kenya: Doubts over US firm in deal with Somalia

Story by KEVIN J. KELLEY in New York and STEPHEN MBURU in Nairobi
Publication Date: 2/5/2006
Mystery surrounds the operations of a US-based company, two months after it struck a controversial multi-million dollar contract with the Somali Transitional Federal Government to end piracy off the Horn of Africa's coastline.

But a TFG Cabinet minister Hassan Abshir insists Top Cat Marine Security, with which his government signed a two-year $55 million deal, is not only real, but also ready to combat persistent insecurity along the country's 2,000-kilometre-long coastline.

Mr Abshir, the Fisheries minister, sealed the deal in Naiorbi, with Top Cat's head of research and development Peter Casini.

Among those who witnessed the pact was Somalia's Prime Minister Mohamed Ali Gedi.

Telephone disconnected

But investigations by the Sunday Nation found that Top Cat's office in Manhattan is actually nothing more than a call-answering operation. There's no indication of Top Cat officials working there. The company's telephone number at its former headquarters in South Carolina has been disconnected.

A State Department official suggested that the TFG's contract with Top Cat for anti-piracy operations may well result in violation of the United Nations' arms embargo against Somalia.

While declining to comment specifically on the case of Top Cat, another State Department official said the US does not license exports of military items to countries that are under a US arms embargo. The ships that Top Cat says it will use in pirate interdiction actions would probably qualify as military items. The ships would also presumably be equipped with guns and other weapons.

A US-based company such as Top Cat would be subject to export licensing requirements regardless of where its military hardware would be imported from, the official added.

If a US company is found to be in violation of the licensing rules, it would be subjected to penalties under the US Arms Control Export Act. The official said the penalties would be financial and "of other sorts".

The Sunday Nation left four messages with Top Cat's answering centre in New York for Maryann Johnson, the company's vice president for public relations, but despite assurances that she, or another Top Cat official, would get back to us regarding the status of the Somalia contract, we never received a response.

And in Nairobi, Mr Abshir declined to discuss the deal with the Sunday Nation.

We wanted him to shed light on a number of issues including the existence of Top Cat, its capacity to carry out the contracted operations, when the work would begin, the procedure Somali government used to select the company, whether some consultants had been engaged, who would fund the deal and if it would be possible to implement the project as Somalia is under the UN and US arms embargo.

He only said: "They (Top Cat) are ready to come. When they come, I will call and give you all the details."

A Response to MINUSTAH's David Wimhurst

This is part of an ongoing series on Consultants Advisory Group.

After having been provided with the email address of David Wimhurst of MINUSTAH in Haiti yesterday morning, I sent Wimhurst a polite note asking him if I might submit to his office questions concerning Consultants Advisory Group. The response I received from him -- not befitting an employee of a "Communications and Public Information Office" -- was intended to intimidate me. I was duly intimidated. But now I've had a good night's sleep and I'm over it.

The main purpose of this post is to discuss the two slides Wimhurst submitted to me as the "originals" by way of claiming the PowerPoint presentation in my possession has been doctored. I will address that presently. [Note that Wimhust submitted only two slides, not an entire presentation that might be compared to the one in my possession.]

Part 1: Addressing WImhurst’s Questions

First, however, I will attempt to address the questions Wimhurst claims I must answer. In the course of his unprofessionally rude and threatening letter, which I will show him the mercy of not publishing for the moment, what he seems to demand is any evidence in my possession that the PowerPoint presentation downloadable from my web site was altered by anyone for the purpose of undermining the UN operations in Haiti. Let me say unequivocally, for the record, that there is no evidence whatsoever in my possession that anyone doctored the PowerPoint presentation for the purpose of undermining the UN operations in Haiti. None. Zip. Zero. Sorry to disappoint.

HOWEVER, there is an abundance of evidence in my possession, much of it unpublished, that the Consultants Advisory Group is an amateurish operation which changes its story whenever convenient; an outfit that makes the Keystone Cops look like pros.

As nearly as I can tell, CAG's Valerie Sendecki initiated communications with me last month for the purpose of finding out how I learned of CAG and their connection to Top Cat Marine Security. Despite Sendecki's claims to have had lunch with Jordan Sage and later to have had her arrested and deported, my current thinking is that access to Sage's email account was gained by keystroke logging on UN-owned computers and that Sendecki and co. never knew her identity. What they had access to was her correspondence and her address book. My suspicion is that someone found Mariely Puello's name and phone number in Jordan Sage's email account and used the name to create a gmail account under her name.

The Mariely Puello, whose phone number appears in the email I received, is not the author of the letter I was sent. How do I know this? She doesn't have the English skills. When I called her number and got her on the phone, we were unable to have a conversation. She and I have no common language. A third party has contacted me on her behalf and explained her situation, but it is frustrating because I am unable to converse or correspond with her. From what I understand, while she was visited by some police, she has nothing to do with the sending of the PowerPoint presentation. I'm told that she is a very good girl and that she is terrified. Further, Sendecki could not have had her detained in Haiti as Sendecki claimed, because Puello was not in Haiti at the time. There is no reason to expect that Puello even knows the identity of "Jordan Sage," even if she has corresponded with that person. Other than Valerie Sendecki's claim to have lunched with Sage, no one has yet come forward to say they know her. The name was not contained in the email address under which "Sage" wrote and is, I suspect, an alias.

CAG may well, as they claimed, have had a few people in Haiti arrested. But if their intel was based on keystroke logging, CAG has no way of knowing if they arrested the right ones.

So. Why do I think access to Jordan Sage's account was obtained by keystroke logging? Because otherwise CAG's whole clown circus of incompetent psyops operatives would not be after information that should already be in their possession. It is my belief that CAG's operatives have not been candid with their employer about the full extent of their attempts to do damage control on my discovery of their existence. Inasmuch as I have any evidence that a document might have been altered, this evidence suggests that it was an inside job conducted in the interests of CAG.

Interestingly absent from Wimhurst’s letter is any hint that he is aware that I provided the “Puello” letter plus the PowerPoint presentation to two other people immediately upon receipt. It is my strong impression that CAG has communicated to Wimhurst neither the identities of these two people nor the contents of CAG’s communications with them. Wimhurst would be much more uncomfortable involving the UN legal office in this affair if he had received full disclosure from CAG.

MEANWHILE, I hear through the grapevine that CAG's Jay Fullerton claims Sendecki has resigned. If Wimhurst were receiving full disclosure, Fullerton would also need to resign.

Part 2: Thinking with Bullets

TufteA few years ago, Edward Tufte published a book entitled The Cognitive Style of Power Point which I have been meaning to read some time. While I am a heavy user of both Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel, until I got an enormous hard drive I used to routinely throw PowerPoint off my hard drive because I think it is a mostly useless and actively pernicious program.

Here’s a little snip of how summarizes Tufte’s objections to PowerPoint and the reactions to them:

Another reason for PowerPoint's sudden spike in notoriety is that the program finally caught the attention of Edward R. Tufte, a professor of information design at Yale University. Often referred to as the world's leading guru of information design, Tufte's books – The Visual Display of Information, Envisioning Information, and Visual Explanations – redefined the art of presenting information in visual form (charts, tables, graphs, etc.). No one knows more about effective data design, and no one in the field is more respected.

So when, in March 2003, Tufte published a 23-page denunciation of PowerPoint entitled "The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint," many people who had never before taken PowerPoint seriously began paying attention. It was Tufte who brought NASA's now infamous PowerPoint slide to the public's attention. It was Tufte's work that emboldened The New York Times to suggest that information manipulation via electronic slides may have helped Secretary of State Colin Powell make his case to the United Nations for declaring war on Iraq. And it is Tufte, in his 23-page screed, who uses such words as stupid, smarmy, incoherent, witless, medieval and dementia to describe the trivializing effect of PowerPoint slides on pure, defenseless data. Tufte doesn't stop short of calling PowerPoint evil – he does call it evil, most visibly in an excerpt published in Wired last year succinctly titled "PowerPoint is evil." Indeed, the photo on the pamphlet's cover is of a 1956 Russian military parade in which a statue of Stalin is depicted saying, "Next slide, please."

If there is something right with PowerPoint, it is the program's ability to combine either images and text, or a sequence of bulleted items, in order to make an argument.

The UN-restricted PowerPoint presentation I was provided with initially seems to make several layers of argument, a couple of which I am unhappy with. Though the authoring info on the document listed the author as “pkf” and the company as “UN,” the implicit narrative voice is that of CAG; one of the document’s arguments is how useful CAG is making itself. Though perhaps composed on UN computers, my sense is that the docment's author works for CAG.

Now, let us turn to the two slides provided by Wimhurst which he claims are the “originals.”

Slide 1: What might the point of this slide be?  


It seems to be lacking a point, but I’ll have a go at it: For those of you Peace Keepers fresh off the plane, Waaf Jeremie and Cite Soleil are on the coast, not in the mountains, and the coastline between them is completely surrounded by WATER!

Click. Next slide, please!

Slide 2: This page is a little sparse, too. Um, and why bullet something that’s all alone on the page?


I’ll have a go at the voiceover: And men, remember, when creating PowerPoint presentations for military use, it’s very important to leave plenty of room to allow space for others to add their thoughts, so be sure to push the text as high up as you can. Also, the resulting expanse of blue will subliminally remind your audience that the Haitian coastline is completely surrounded by WATER!


Look. Um. Wimhust. This is embarrassing. Are these really the originals from an actual PowerPoint presentation? The best face I can put on this is that these are the materials from which a final presentation might have been made, not the final presentation itself. It is also possible that these really are slides from a real presentation. But if that is the case, the presentation’s author is incompetent to use the program and perhaps should explore some other mode of communication.

This does not prove that the presentation I was emailed was in fact presented or that its contents mean what they appear to. But the incompleteness of Wimhurst's "originals" does call into question the plausibility of the only actual information I have received from MINUSTAH.

In Wimhurst's one communication to me his prose style suggests his background is in yelling at people in uniform, not in answering questions. Who hired this Wimhurst guy, anyway?  What I find most peculiar about Wimhurst's letter to me is that he seems to take the attitude that CAGs Clown Crew had already said what he had to say to me by proxy and that he had nothing further to add. Were Sendecki-Fullerton-Reuther really speaking for Wimhurst?

(Thanks for the support, Alex!)

UPDATE 2/2/06: Rereading our exchange, I note that in my email to Wimhurst I specifically expressed concern that CAG " may be under contract to the Brazilian Peacekeeping Forces and may have been using their office computers." It occurred to me this morning that Wimhurst's reply that he had "no intention of answering any of [my] questions" was in fact Wimhurst declining comment on

  1. Whether CAG is under contract to Brazilian Peacekeeping Forces, and
  2. Whether CAG is using the office computers of the Brazilian Peackeepers.

All right then. He has no comment. I'll probably revisit that subject in a subsequent post.

Noriegaville News: "Shadowy Panama Company Illegally Runs Black-Ops in Haiti"

This is part of an ongoing series on Consultants Advisory Group.

Well. Dutch reporter Okke Ornstein, who lives in Panama and reports on business news there for the news site, Noriegaville News,  took an interest in my writings about the Consultants Advisory Group. He contacted me and asked me questions, so I answered them. He contacted CAG, and I gather from his article that they were less forthcoming than I was. The result of this research is his article, Shadowy Panama Company Illegally Runs Black-Ops in Haiti, posted to the Noriegaville News site last night.

So. One thing I learn from Ornstein's article is that CAG had a good reason for pulling its supposed Panama City address off its web site and having the site go "UNDER CONSTRUCTION." The address they listed was on the seventh floor of a three-storey building. (Guess they needed to go back and construct four more floors. That should take them a while.)

Another thing I learn from Ornstein's article is that were CAG to be an authentic Panama corporation -- which they may or may not be -- whether they are doing what I think they are or what they claim they are, it looks to be illegal under Panamanian law. (I am in touch with Rogelio Cruz Rios to sort out whether CAG, S.A. has anything to do with the Sendecki-Fullerton-Reuther ops going on in Haiti.) And also, Ornstein remarks that were any Top Cat Marine Security boats to be built in Panama, or copy-cats of TCMS boats, it would be illegal under Panama law to export such patrol boats to Haiti.

Interesting stuff.

ALSO, following the revelation that the IP address was shared by "David Reuther" trolling in my comment section,  "CAG Haiti" denouncing me in comment sections across the blogosphere, and some bored and homesick Brazilian Peace Keepers in Port au Prince, I made some direct inquiries as to whether could be an IP used by the UN Brazilian Peace Keeping Forces, and whether Valerie Sendecki, Jay Fullerton, and David Reuther of CAG were using the office computers of Brazilian Peace Keepers to post their blog comments. I do not yet have a definitive answer to that question. But stopped its relentless visits to my site yesterday afternoon.

Who exactly are Sendecki, Fullerton, and Reuther? I don't really have enough info about Sendecki, though I suspect that "Sendecki" is not her last name on her passport. Inquiries concerning her supposed military record are not back yet. Googling "Jay Fullerton" along with intelligence yields the bio of a guy with  a military intelligence Special Forces background who, if you dig deeper, seems to have lived in Fayetteville, NC, around the same time as Jonathan Keith "Jack" Idema (this last bit is probably pure coincidence). There is a "David Reuther" who has given speeches claiming to be a retired FSO; when I inquired of the David Reuther who was posting comments in my comment section whether he was the same guy, he replied:

Two of the things I learned in 32 years of government service:
"Do not look a gift horse in the mouth."
"Always have a plausible denial handy."

This oracular pronouncement sounds more like the answer of a retired CIA agent than a retired FSO. Who can tell? David Reuther, the retired government servant, has also complained in print that retired FSOs just don't make enough money. Back when I was the wife of a US Foreign Service Officer, we were not exactly rolling in dough, so I'm sure his complaint about his remuneration in retirement is legitimate. Nonetheless, it appears to me that our man Reuther was hurting for money not long ago.

I would be interested to receive pictures of any of these people.

Finally, I guess I should add that I have no opinions on the relative merits of Haitian presidential candidates, and that in general, in the grand scheme of things, I have a vaguely positive opinion of the United Nations and its efforts in the larger world as a whole. My focus is and has been on the role of private military and security companies. I believe that PMCs can have a legitimate role in international peacekeeping. But only legitimate companies can have a legitmate role, and legitimate companies have valid addresses and identifiable management teams and verifiable corporate registrations. A company which lacks all three has no place in Haiti right before the elections.

(Thanks Dan, Jonathan, Matt, and Cory!)

UPDATE: I was furnished the email address of David Wimhurst of MINUSTAH by a journalist and I wrote to him and asked to submit a list of questions. I specifically mentioned my concern that CAG was using Brazilian Forces office computers. He sent back a letter intended to intimidate me, specifically declining to answer my questions. He sent along two slide from a PowerPoint document that he claims are the "unaltered" versions of the screen shots posted on my site. I have asked whether "David Reuther" was acting on Wimhurst's behalf in any capacity when Reuther wrote to me.

Gee, I feel so naïve. I thought the purpose of press offices was to answer questions. Guess not in Haiti.

UPDATE: See A Response to MINUSTAH's David Wimhurst.

The Consultants Advisory Group™ (CAG) Web Site in History

This is part of an ongoing series on Consultants Advisory Group.

December 6, 2005: The domain name is registered.

Consutants Advisory Group page, December 13th, 2005, 9:33 PMDecember 13, 2005: The CAG web site touts the corporate security clearances and credit rating, but gives no address or phone number. I ridicule them for their lack of transparency.

CAG web page, January 20th, 2006, 10:10AMJanuary 20, 2006: The CAG web site has dropped claims of security clearances and credit ratings and has added an address in Tampa and an address in Panama plus a "message center" phone number. Under scrutiny, both street addresses seem to be some form of message center. On January 18th, I had published a post which began, "I seem to have uncovered a strange little black ops organization that's spying in Haiti and elsewhere. "

January 26, 2006: Following inquiries as to the corporation's relationship to former Panama Attorney General Rogelio Cruz Rios, the CAG web site goes "Under Construction." (For those with press credentials who would like to hear their side of things, their now-missing message center phone number, which is I think is a number in Tampa, is (813)315-6493.)

CAG web page 1/26/06, 4:09 PM

UPDATE, 1/27/06: Here is a screen shot from the Panama Public Registry of the listing for CAG, S.A.:

CAG,S.A. Panama registration, screen 1

Even if Rogelio Cruz Rios were the registrar of their corporation, it may mean nothing. I find it really curious that CAG would rather pull info off their web site than answer questions about their association with him. If CAG has a different registered corporate name in Panama than CAG, S.A. then presumably they could say so. And even if this is he right name, the nature of the relationship could mean little. So why go "UNDER CONSTRUCTION"?

[2/2/06: Note that the trademark sign disappears with this version of the page and does not reappear; I checked the US Patent and Trademark database and found no trademark listing for "Consultants Advisory Group," though it seems possible that they hold a trademark on the name in some other country.]

January 29, 2006: Here we go again. The only problem is, that corporate name does not seem to be present in the Panama Public Registry. Hmmm. (Why can't they back down? If the name isn't in th regsitry, it isn't in the registry.)

CAG's new page, January 29, 2006, 5:35 PM

February 1, 2006: Back to PÁGINA BAJO CONSTRUCCIÓN. This time without details.


Why are these guys so wedded to the corporate name? Have they been using it as a tax shelter on their US tax returns or something? I can't think of any other explanation.

Consultants Advisory Group™ (CAG): Was the Company Registered in Panama by Rogelio Cruz Rios?

Further to my post Consultants Advisory Group™ (CAG) Spying in Haiti; Whistleblowers Detained for Reporting Human Rights Violations, according to the Public Registry of Panama corporations—accessed for me by a correspondent—there is no CAG Internacional, S. A. (the corporate name given by the corporate spokesperson, Valerie Sendecki) but there is a CAG, S.A. That corporation was registered using Rogelio Cruz Rios as the registration agent. What I gather is that Rogelio Cruz Rios was Panama's Attorney General following the US invasion, but was forced to step down. A 1992 Houston Chronicle article has what seem to be some of the details:

PANAMA CITY -- Panama's top law enforcement officer, Attorney General Rogelio Cruz Rios, may have assisted a Colombian cocaine cartel by releasing more than $1 million frozen in the cartel's bank accounts here, according to U.S. and Panamanian officials.

The officials said Cruz unfroze bank accounts that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration believes were used in a money-laundering operation by the Cali cartel, Colombia's second-largest cocaine-trafficking syndicate.

According to a subsequent ruling by the Panamanian Supreme Court, Cruz did not have the authority to take such action.

U.S. officials acknowledged that Cruz's action has, at the very least, set back efforts to curtail Colombian drug operations here.

The United States invaded Panama and installed a pro-American government in 1989 with the express purpose of eradicating this country's high-level cooperation with Colombian drug traffickers.

Since this differs from the full corporate name given by Sendecki, it is possible that this is not the same company providing apparent espioage services in Haiti. But if it's not the same company, then it appears that I was not given the straight story about Consultants Advisory Group being a corporation registered in Panama.

If I've got the wrong CAG, I suggest that the company's representatives come forward with better information.

Consultants Advisory Group™ (CAG) aka "Groupe de Consultation et Conseillers" Spying in Haiti; Whistleblowers Detained for Reporting Human Rights Violations

Tcpatrol_1I seem to have uncovered a strange little black ops organization that's spying in Haiti and elsewhere. Not long ago, they were also looking to drum up some business in the US in the Homeland Security market. I got a few tips from whistleblowers. But all of the most substantial information has come from one of their own employees who wrote me a number of long letters.

This post covers a lot of ground, ranging from a mysterious company owned by US ex-pats placing spies disguised as journalists in the audience of Haitian presidential debates, to CAG arranging for the detention of people who wrote to me to ask for information about CAG and complain about CAG's involvement in human rights violations in Haiti. So bear with me. This is my second post about CAG, and part of an ongoing series on Top Cat Marine Security. [UPDATE 1/27: The company operates in Haiti under the name "Groupe de Consultation et Conseillers." (Thanx, Reuther!)]

A while back, when I was writing about the would-be pirate hunters, Top Cat Marine Security, I got a query from someone in Haiti asking what I knew about a company called Consultants Advisory Group and if I had any idea of why they were following Top Cat Marine Security's sales leads.  I looked into the matter of CAG, resulting in the post Consultants Advisory Group™ (CAG): A Security Company Born Every Minute?  CAG had a domain name registered a week earlier (just about the time the US State Department issued Top Cat a cease and desist order) and CAG was using Melbourne IT's domain privacy service beloved of spammers and scammers. So I toasted them a bit to see what they had to say for themselves.

A CAG representative, Valerie Sendecki, obediently appeared to try to discuss matters, requesting that we settle this as "ladies." The resulting exchange was pretty strange, but the general upshot was that CAG, ostensibly staffed with ex-military and ex-"agency" personnel, wished to remain unknown and inasmuch as it was known, it wished to be known as a "management consulting" company. It was founded by US ex-patriates and is registered in Panama. And, very specifically, CAG did not wish to be seen as either a private military company or as a security company. They claimed to be management consultants.

Well. All right then. Management consulting.

So time goes by. I hear nothing further from my initial correspondent, Jordan Sage Thomas, who initially queried me about CAG. In her second and last note to me, she said that she had dropped CAG for her list of potential vendors, whatever that meant. And so I thought that was that.

Then, on January 10th, I got a note which read:

Sra Cramer,
    Dr Sage requested I send to you this MINUSTAH document concerning the use of Mercenaries by the UN in Haiti.  The TopCat Blancs are killing poor Haitians fleeing by sea from UN oppression in Cite-Soliel. The US spies called CAG are undermining the election process to prevent the popular election of Rene Preval and the return of President Aristide.
    Dr Sage is afraid that Comandante <Comander??> Sendecki of the US Navy is going to harm her for exposing this dispised behavior.  She has been reassigned to Jeremie and has no acess to internet.  This is her response to the abuse.  She advices you to be very careful as they having eyes many and wishes you the best of luck.

Mariely Puello

It came with an attachment in PowerPoint, which I will get to presently. But first, I want to be very clear that neither Valerie Sendecki nor CAG are in the employ of any aspect of the US government inasmuch as I have been able to check. I talked to some people who talked to some people and no one, I mean NO ONE, knows who the heck these people are. But to be very specific, Sendecki is not in the US Navy.

(I wonder how people got that impression. Has CAG represented themselves as having current ties to the US military?)

But, OK, is the UN using mercenaries to kill civilians in Haiti? I don't know. But there were recent news reports of civilians killed in Haiti by the UN. (Here is what Amnesty International has to say about that.) And what did Puello specifically say CAG was up to? "The US spies called CAG are undermining the election process to prevent the popular election of Rene Preval . . ." So the key claims are, then, that (a) CAG is spying (and that the company is what might be called a private intelligence company), and (b) that CAG is attempting to undermine the upcoming election.

(Both Valerie Sendecki and Mariely Puello agree that CAG is run by US citizens.)

Also, Puello claimed that "Dr. Sage" was concerned for her own personal safety. So I called the number at the bottom of Puello's letter and got a cheerful woman in the Dominican Republic who spoke only Spanish. I tried Jordan Sage's email address, writing only to ask whether Sage was able to receive email at that address.

Instead of a reply from Jordan Sage, I got a sinister message from Sendecki explaining that the phone line I'd called had been tapped (and giving the reverse look-up for my number to prove the point); that the two email addresses I had -- Jordan Sage's and Mariely Puello's -- were now under CAG's control. This sounded ominous, and so I asked Sendecki about the fate of my correspondents. She replied:

Sage and Puello were taken into custody by lawful authorities in Haiti and the DR.  Sage had diplomatic immunity so she has already been released and expelled from Haiti.  She's against democracy but of course she headed straight to the Miami from here.  Puello was detained for questioning by Dominican authorities and her status is unclear.  Both "ladies" agreed to give full access to their accounts and phones in order to fully confirm the extent of their treachery rather than be subject to further legal consequences.

On January 13th, I asked Sendecki for documentation to support her version of what had happened to these people:

Dear Val:

I would appreciate some documentation that these individuals were (a) lawfully detained, and (b) that Dr. Sage was in fact released, (c) the exact location and circumstances of Mariely Puello's detention with contact info and (d) that both of these individuals are in fact alive and in good condition.

I'm sure you will understand the reason for this.


As of today, January 18th, I still have not heard back from Sendecki, presumably because she is unwilling to provide the documentation I requested.

I spent a little while looking up the precise definitions of verbs like "arrest," "detain," "abduct," and "kidnap." The most value-neutral of these words is detain, in that the term does not address the lawfulness of the act. However the distinction between an arrest, on the one hand, and a kidnapping or abduction, on the other has to do with whether the detention takes place under lawful authority. So what I'm trying to establish is that CAG are not simply affiliated with kidnappers.

Given the evidence Ms. Sendecki has furnished me with, it's pretty clear that CAG has the skill set to do spying. The question is whether that is their core competency, or just a sideline. So let's have a look inside that PowerPoint document I mentioned earlier. It is seven screens long. It seems to document the following items of interest:

  1. There are "Topcat" patrol boats off Cite Soleil, and
  2. CAG provided "covert surveillance" in the form of operatives disguised as reporters who had color-coded press passes for "a public debate between representatives of presidential candidates  . . .  in Fort Liberte."

CAG has claimed in the past that they do not sell Top Cat boats, but only recommend their purchase. Are these "Topcat patrols" boats supplied by Top Cat Marine Security? Is so, who was the purchaser? And who was the seller? Did Top Cat Marine Security export these boats to Haiti? As discussed in a previous post on Top Cat, Top Cat Marine Security is not registered with the US Department of State to export items on the munitions list, as these boats are. And what is being done with these boats? Mariely Puello claims, "The TopCat Blancs are killing poor Haitians fleeing by sea." To the best of my ability to check, I established that CAG is not under contract to the UN. Just who is manning those boats?

And then we return to the subject of CAG, which looks more and more like a low-end private intelligence company. What are we to make of the idea of a private intelligence company stocking the crowd at a presidential debate with secret agents disguised as reporters? This would seem to support Puello's claim that their purpose is to undermine the election.

What is CAG, really, and who are they working for? I'd like to know.


Note that the PowerPoint document makes it appear that the United Nations seems to support the concept of CAG posing as press to spy on innocent people. I wonder what the UN really thinks. I doubt they are in the habit of deploying private spooks disguised as reporters.

The document user info on the original of the PowerPoint document displays Author as "pkf" (perhaps short for "Peace Keeping Forces"?) and Company as "UN."

On December 15th, Valerie Sendecki wrote to me:

I wish we could talk about this over a fine cup of Haitian coffee so
that you could enjoy the beautiful from the Hotel Montana.  It's

To the best of my knowledge, she's still registered there.

On January 7th, The Globe and Mail reported: UN commander kills himself in Haiti

The Brazilian commander of UN peacekeepers in Haiti was found dead on the balcony of his hotel room Saturday after shooting himself in the head, authorities said, in a blow to the 9,000-strong force and efforts to restore democracy in Haiti.

UN officials and Haitian police swarmed the upscale Hotel Montana where Lt.-Gen. Urano Teixeira da Matta Bacellar was slumped on a tile floor against the balcony, blood staining his white T-shirt.



Anyone know if this room -- the Presidential Suite -- was his room? [1/20 Update: I'm told by someone who stayed in the hotel during this general time period that the Presidential Suite was occupied by someone else, and so presumably Gen. Bacellar stayed in a different suite; apparently the hotel has a number of fine suites.]

UPDATE, January 19th: I have published an edition of the collected letters of Valerie Sendecki in pdf. Click HERE to download.

UPDATE: CAG's website's got a new look and an address in Panama: Sun Tower, 7th Floor, Panama City, Republic of Panama.

Now, they don't give a suite number for the Tampa location, but Suite 101 at that address has an awful lot of other businesses using it, suggesting that there may be a message center at that address. The Sun Tower in Panama City just happens to be the location of Panama Offshore Services, Inc., "Best source for Panama Corporation, Foundations & Offshore Accounts"! But it is actually possible that CAG has real offices at these locations. Can one of my Panama City readers take a stroll over to the Sun Tower and have a look?

So. Is this Panama office a place? Or just a state of mind?

For a Google Earth view of the image of the harbor at the top, click here HERE for the KMZ file.

UPDATE 1/25/06: I have an unconfirmed report that one of the two people Sendecki claimed had been "arrested" is OK. More later.

UPDATE 1/28/06: I received an email from a email address last night reiterating their refusal to answer any of my question or answer question from anyone associated with me (and if you're reading this, that probably means you, too), and requesting that I never contact them again. The signature on the email reads:

J Fullerton
Program Manager
Groupe de Consultation et Conseillers

I gather that its author's full name is Jay Fullerton. There exists a Jay Fullerton who published an article entitled "TTP for the Special Forces Battalion S2 at JRTC and NTC - tips for Joint Readiness Training Center and National Training Center" in 2001 in the Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin whose bio reads:

Major Jay Fullerton is the S2 and Senior Special Operations Forces (SOF) Intelligence Observer/Controller at the Special Operations Training Detachment, Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, Louisiana. His previous assignments include Platoon Leader and Company XO, 102d Military Intelligence Battalion, 2d Infantry Division; Assistant S2, 3-327th Infantry and S1, 311th MI Battalion, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault); and S2 and MI Detachment Commander, 3d Battalion, 3d Special Forces Group (Airborne), Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

(See also my two more recent posts: Consultants Advisory Group™ (CAG): Was the Company Registered in Panama by Rogelio Cruz Rios? and The Consultants Advisory Group™ (CAG) Web Site in History.)

UPDATE 1/28/06: I'm told by two different people that UN officials in Haiti claim that the PowerPoint document I received was "doctored." I had to change the file name to upload it to the Internet, since Typepad would not upload a document with spaces in the file name. The original file name was U2 -29  DEC 05 PM.ppt. (Copies available for inspection via email.) Other than changing the file name, I did nothing to it.

So. What, specifically, is doctored about it? (That part hasn't made it through the grape vine yet.) Can I please see an official statement in writing about the document? Anyone? MINUSTAH never answered my email. [UPDATE: see A Response to MINUSTAH's David Wimhurst.]

UPDATE 1/30/06: It appears a representative from CAG was all over the blogosphere this morning disavowing the contents of the Collected Letters of Valerie Sendecki. I stand by their authenticity.

Top Cat Marine Security in a "Mobilisation Phase" After All?

Panamacity_1There is an interesting new wrinkle in the Top Cat Marine Security situation. On January 5th, the BBC reported that the fifty million dollar contract signed with the Transitional Government of Somalia was in a "mobilisation phase." I checked with domestic sources and was told that, no, Top Cat's  cease and desist order was still in places, and no, they weren't in a "mobilisation phase" on the Somalia contract. So I blogged this as a mistake on the part of the BBC.

Well. We get to Friday the 13th, and what I hear from a military intelligence source is that a company that builds boats identical to Top Cat's seems to have set up shop in Panama -- home of the impenetrable corporate veil! Could this be Top Cat Marine Security under a new name, circumventing a cease and desist order from the US Department of State?!? It looks like the BBC may not have been so far off base.

Stay tuned as the situation develops!

Photo: Google Earth's view of Panama City.

Top Cat Marine Security in a "mobilisation phase"? Nope. The BBC is confused.

A couple of people have asked me about the following passage from the BBC story, Somali piracy is worst in world:

The fractious authorities in Somalia, keen to be seen to be doing something about piracy, signed a $50m contract late last year with a private company based in the United States which said it would begin coastal patrols.

When the contract was announced, some Somalis wondered how it would be paid for, since the authorities are severely short of resources. Somali government officials said "foreign friends" would finance the deal.

The Somali minister for Planning and International Cooperation, Abdi Rizak, told the BBC News website the contract was "in the mobilisation phase".

The minister said it would take time to move resources and equipment to Somalia.

I checked it out. The BBC is incorrect. The anti-piracy effort mobilizing is a NATO effort which is unconnected with the deal the BBC reported on previously. To the best of my knowledge, Top Cat Marine Security, the company that signed the deal previously reported by the BBC, remains under a cease and desist order from the US State Department.

Top Cat Marine Security Has an Executive Level

I just received a really interesting piece of email (posted as a comment in my comment section) from Jerry Parnin, who was briefly associated with Top Cat Marine Security. He identifies Top Cat's super-secretive executive level as follows.

Dear Kathryn,
My name is Jerry Parnin. I'm refered to as Bachelor #3 in one of last months blogs about Top Cat Marine Security. I would like to inform you and the world that I was only associated with TCMS for a short time over a year ago. We had our differences and I'm no longer associated with Peter Casini, TCMS, Cobra Boats, Topcat Design or any other Casini enterprise. As for the names of the people in the photo you are correct about Maryann Johnson being the brunette. Her son is the boy, his name and the name of her husband escape me but the blond is Susan Procopio, wife of Rocco Procopio (Bachelor #1). Maryann was introduced to me as Casini's sister. Colonel Bernie McCabe, Maryann, Rocco and Susan Procopio are all officers of one sort or another in TCMS.

Through an intermediary, McCabe has previously denied involvement with management or operations of Top Cat Marine Security.

Here is the photo to which Parnin refers, originating from the Top Cat web site:


A Great Press Photo

CowboyBush.jpgThis is my favorite press photo of Bush in quite a while. It sums up a whole lot about what is wrong with this administration, the whole not-too-bright fantasy of cowboy dominion: that every white guy with a gun and an American accent paid by an American company riding off to do whatever is A OK; that the oil industry should have free reign in America's wide-open spaces, and everywhere else, for that matter; that if wire tapping's OK in a Hollywood movie, it's OK for the NSA; that our war in Iraq is faith-based and that what the administration needs to win the war is for us all to just believe.

With apologies to J. M. Barrie:

"Do you believe?" he cried.

The troops and civilian contractors sat up in bed almost briskly to listen to their fate.

They fancied they heard answers in the affirmative, and then again they weren't sure.

"What do you think?" they asked Bush.

"If you believe," he shouted to the American people, "clap your hands; don't let the troops die."

Many clapped.

Some didn't.

The actual news story the images illustrates is: Secret bugging vital to war on terror, Bush says. The real photo-caption reads:

Secretive service: President Bush admits the clandestine wire taps during his radio address. Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta

(In fairness to the President, I should say that I think the cowboy art has been in the Whitehouse for a while.)

Winning Hearts & Minds for Dummies

First, watch the video: Security contractors, or maybe US troops, in Iraq have a problem. Kids are throwing rocks at their cars. We do not know what company the security contractors work for, or whether they are actually the troops rather than the private sector.

Now, as I mom, I'm on the front lines of a lot bad behavior on the part of kids. Whipping out a machine gun is not one of my options; in this case, the security contractors have been told not to shoot children, and this restriction seems to really bug them. If I were to talk like these guys do on this video, I would be in very deep trouble. We parents are required to have a wide variety of solutions to draw upon.

An observation: The competing Primate Threat Displays really were not very productive. The boys are learning to act badly from the soldiers.

Can we help these beleaguered contractors/troops learn a better way to interact with errant children? A couple of suggestions, right off the bat. I gather the old-fashioned tactic of throwing candy is out now, so here are some other suggestions:

  1. take their pictures
  2. ask them nicely not to throw rocks, explaining that it damages your car
  3. smile & wave
  4. ignore them

Other suggestions? Many parents out there reading this have children who have behaved at least as badly as the kids in this video. What could these guys have done differently?

Sone say that these guys are just complaining, but the crux of the issue seems to me not whether they're complaining or not, or whether they're contractors or regualr troops, but whether they are serious or joking. My personal reading of the video is that they would be happy to shoot the kids given authorzation.

Those are my tax dollars at work, thank you very much. I don't care who these guys work for. Bring 'em home. They don't belong there.

N4610 Lineup

Here is a batch of photos from the Zimbabwe group arrested on their way to allegedly perform a coup in Equatorial Guinea back in March of last year. What I want to know from anyone who can help is attaching names to faces. In particular, I want to know which one is Raymond Stanley Archer. Click on the thumbnails for bigger pictures and use the Flickr comments system for giving me IDs. Thanks.

Thatcher's Would-be Coup to be a TV Drama

Ar00I would really enjoy receiving a videotape of the BBC's Mark Thatcher 'coup' drama when it comes out:

Sir Mark Thatcher's role in last year's attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea will be explored in a BBC Two drama. Written by satirist John Fortune, Coup! stars Cold Feet actor Robert Bathurst as Sir Mark and forms part of BBC Two's winter and spring schedule for 2006.

Meanwhile, the Independent reports that the real Thatcher family drama is not going so well:

Carol Thatcher yesterday revealed that her mother, Baroness Thatcher, the former prime minister, is suffering from a deteriorating memory that has wiped out the present, while sharpening her recall of wartime events.

In an frank insight into the Thatcher family, Carol - who recently chewed kangaroo testicles on the way to being crowned Queen of the Jungle in the game show I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! - also launched a bitter attack on her disgraced businessman brother, Mark, blaming his escapades for aggravating their mother's decline.

(This quote gives me a bit of dejavu. What's with the testicle eating theme, anyway?)

And further, Mark Thatcher and his wife Diane are getting a divorce.

SIR Mark Thatcher and his wife Diane announced yesterday they are to divorce on the grounds of an "irretrievable breakdown".

The couple cited a "difficult year" in which Sir Mark was convicted of violating South Africa's anti-mercenary laws by unwittingly helping to bankroll a coup plot in Equatorial Guinea.

Just Sitting there in a Hanger outside Bucharest

BucharestbaneasaIt seems that one of the planes on Operation Firedumps's list of planes that need to be seized under authority of the UN Security Council's sanctions committee is sitting in a hangar in Romania at Bucharest/Banacea air field (44.417, 26.1).

The Yorkshire Ranter explains:

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

Action to be taken: Contact the Romanian government and ask that the plane be seized. Alex's got the details.

Consultants Advisory Group™ (CAG): A Security Company Born Every Minute?

Following the New Orleans disaster, a lot of us were wondering where all that money for "homeland security" went, since not much securing of the homeland seems to have taken place. I think I'm beginning to understand.

Consutants Advisory Group pageHave a look at this:

Consultants Advisory Group (CAG) specializes in:

  • Anti-Terrorism & Terrorism Incident Response;
  • Special Agency Services and Representation;
  • Strategic Intelligence Management;
  • High Risk Operations Management;
  • Risk & Crisis Management;
  • Business Continuity Management (BCM);
  • Emergency & Disaster Management;
  • NFPA 1600 2004 Compliance Audits.

CAG provides services under North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) classifications:

541611    General Management Consulting Services
541618    Other Management Consulting Services
561210    Facilities Support Services

CAG consistently delivers creative and enduring total business solutions.  CAG enjoys the highest possible credit rating and is capable of servicing classified contracts.

So how long has this venerable company, boasting of the highest possible credit rating and the capability of servicing classified contracts been around?  I'll have you know, its been around an entire week!

Though they don't give their address on their web site, a whois lookup provides some interesting information: Whois lookup

So are these guys with the great credit rating and the security clearances really sharing a P O Box with any number of phishing schemes and other dubious businesses in EmeryVille, California? Or do they just have really bad taste in domain registration privacy services? (For you Panix customers, the registering ISP is Melbourne IT, the company that approved the Panix domain hijacking. As a Panix customer who lost a couple of days of email over that, I have to wonder why Melbourne IT is still in business.)

EmeryvilleSo, is CAG really located in glamorous EmeryVille? Or not? (I suppose it would be wretched excess to mention that the site graphics are clip art.)

How many more of these dubious security companies are there, anyway?

UPDATE: I have had a correspondence with a representative from CAG who has the affect of someone with a background in sales. CAG Internacional, S.A. is a Panama City, Republic of Panama registered corporation and is staffed exclusively with former military and "agency" personnel. It has no public address ostensibly because it is "a virtual company, a model developed by the Harvard Business School." CAG wishes to be perceived as a "management consulting" company, not a security or private military company. They claim to be receiving no moneys from US government sources:

CAG is not a recipient of any US public funds so we are entitled to privacy as anyone else is.  How could our work be against the best interest of the United States?

Though I had made no mention of Top Cat in our exchange, my CAG correspondent volunteered that CAG is not selling Top Cat Marine Security's predator style Cobra boats to Haiti, but only recommending their purchase.

As far as I know, neither Top Cat nor CAG are registered with or licensed by the Department of State to export items covered the US Munitions list, as the boats in question are. I was not informed who the intended export broker was to be.

The subject of Top Cat having been raised, I asked two of my unanswered questions to which I thought my correspondent might know the answer: Who are the executives of Top Cat? Who owns it? My CAG correspondent replied:

That is not public information.

I find it extremely interesting that there seems to be a whole emergent little industry of companies like Top Cat and CAG for whom the very concept of transparency is an abomination.

A relevant quote from another topic:

At the least, a dummy company ought to create the appearance of activity, with an office and a valid mailing address, he said. "A cover that falls apart on first inspection isn't very good. What you want is a cover that actually holds up . . . and this one certainly doesn't."

Who Is that Somber Man in the Clown Suit?

There's a delightful story from the AP this morning, Spies under the big top?, concerning a lawsuit by PETA against the owners of the Ringling Brothers for using ex-CIA agent to spy on them. I thought this was a pretty weird news story all around. I mean, why wouldn't Ringling Bros. use whatever security firm they use worldwide to deal with a few scary cat ladies? (I'm presuming that aging 007s aren't their usual crew, but then I don't get to go the circus much.)

I googled around about it. Wow. Is the truth ever stranger than fiction. Salon ran a two-part series in 2001 by Jeff Stein. Part 1, The Greatest Vendetta on Earth:

Why would the head of Ringling Bros.-Barnum & Bailey hire a former top CIA honcho to torment a hapless freelance writer for eight years?

And Part 2, Send in the clowns. And if that weren't over-the-top enough, a year later there was an interesting article in the Columbia Journalism Review: Investigations: The scary circus:

Strange things started happening to Jeff Stein's phone late last summer. Right after he'd finish with a call the phone would ring again, but there'd be nobody there. There were odd clicks on the other end of the line, as if someone were listening in and then hanging up. He'd call for his voice mail and get redirected to another number. He'd come home to find a number on his caller ID that would turn out to be disconnected. Stein called a friend at the phone company and described the situation. "Sounds to me like you're tapped," confided his friend.

At the time, Stein, a longtime investigative reporter in Washington who has covered the intelligence community for such publications as GQ and Talk, had just completed a two-part, 9,000-word story involving former spies, break-ins, subterfuge, wiretaps - and that fine pillar of family entertainment, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. His subsequent phone troubles, he thinks, are not unrelated.

Two weeks ago, there was a story by Washington Post reporter Richard Leiby, giving a further update on the lawsuit by the writer, Jan Pottker, upon whom the spooks-for hire were initially sicced: Send In The Clowns:

It was like something out of “The Truman Show,” says Pottker, a petite, soft-featured woman of 57. “I’ll never get the years back that they were in my life.” Then, her voice rises in anger: “They had no right to interfere with my life.”
. . .
Claiming invasion of privacy, fraud and infliction of mental distress, Pottker and Fishel seek more than $60 million in actual and punitive damages.

(See also CBS News in 2003.)

Killerklowns05Now that I've thought my quota of impossible things, I think I'll have breakfast. Somebody like Neil Gaiman should do a comic book of this whole misadventure.

Operation Firedump

Operation Firedump, launched today, is a blog-based effort to monitor enforcement of UN sanctions against Viktor Bout's various aviation companies. Its initial manifesto, as penned by the Yorkshire Ranter, is as follows:

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

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

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

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

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


  1. EL-AHO, Ilyushin 18D. Serial number 183006205.
  2. EL-ASC, Antonov 12BP. Serial number 3340909.
  3. EL-ASJ, Antonov 12BP. Serial number 402112 (doubtful)
  4. EL-AHT, Antonov 26A.  Serial number 6004 (doubtful)
  5. EL-ALC, Antonov 26A.  Serial number 87307104.
  6. EL-ALT, Antonov 26A.  Serial number 17311805.

No recent photos available.


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


  1. 3C-KKO, Antonov 12BP. Serial number 1901706 (No photos available)


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


  1. 3C-QRF, BAC-111. Serial number 61. Not very recent photo here. (Operated for SAGT, owned Jetline International)


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

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

What you can do:

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

Spread the love.

Is the Underwriting Industry Lobbying for a New War on Pirates?

I received via email from Carlos Ortiz an interesting December 8th article on marine security, "Counting the costs of seaborne security" by  Alex Pinto, director of CTC Marine and Risk Consultancy, Singapore. The article was distributed via Lloyds List. It has one really fascinating bit:

As one final observation, it is worth pointing out that the move by underwriters to make piracy a war rather than marine peril may have some unintended consequences. When a vessel is missing, there will probably be uncertainty as to which policy and which underwriter is liable. If this causes any delay, it will make recovery that much more difficult. It might also complicate matters when a vessel goes missing in relatively calm waters.

Do tell. Is the underwriting industry pushing for a War on Pirates? Really? What is the proposed Theater for this war? Somalia, maybe?

And if there is a War on Pirates, who is going to show up to fight it? Who are the guys in the White Hats supposed to be? Surely not the US Marine Corps? That would be stupid and seems highly unlikely because it is the habit of the US military to hunt the insurgents back to their bases and that would involve the US military going into Somalia. And in the background of the Top Cat investigation, the possiblity of a planned Black Hawk Down reenactment has been pretty thoroughly debunked. So it's not the Marines.

Then who? It wouldn't be . . . no, it couldn't be . . .  not Top Cat?

If that weren't so dangerous an improbability, it would be really funny.

But then again, Maryann Johnson, Top Cat VP, claims that Peter Casini is not the President of his company and no longer owns the company and that the company is owned by "investors" and that there are "over 50" of them.  But the underwriting industry and the shipping industry wouldn't be credulous enough to have bought Top Cat, would they? Underwriters are supposed to be able to do math and assess risks.

Perhaps someone has been told Top Cat's really a CIA front company? It ain't so.

So, tell us. Are we going to have a real war? Or a faux one?

(Um, did some underwriters association answer their Nigerian spam?)

UPDATE 12/13: Where did the idea for conceiving of the current pirate situation as a war come from? It seems to originate with a report written by Aegis Defense Services:

On August 1, 2005, the foreign ministers of the three littoral states of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore met to discuss maritime safety and security in the Malacca Straits. They concluded their talks with a stronger commitment to addressing comprehensively the issue of maritime security, including the threats of piracy, armed robbery and terrorism. The meeting marked the recognition by the littoral states that much remains to be done in terms of improving the safety and security of the Malacca Straits.

The situation became all the more urgent following the recent decision by Lloyd's Market Association's Joint War Committee to declare the Malacca Straits an area that is in jeopardy of "war, strikes, terrorism and related perils." The decision to add the Straits of Malacca to the Committee's list of high-risk areas was taken following recommendations by the private defense consultants, Aegis Defence Services, who are said to have carried out risk assessments on the area. Others on the list are countries such as Iraq, Somalia and Lebanon. Although the Committee has a purely advisory role, the result of this declaration could be dramatically higher insurance costs for the many thousands of ships that transit the Straits on an annual basis.

The Aegis report stated that due to the fact that there had been an intensification of the weaponry and techniques used by the pirates in the Straits, they are now largely indistinguishable from terrorists. In addition, it stated that the Straits are a target for terrorism. The report cited a statement by al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in which he spoke about hitting enemy countries through their economies. It also highlighted Jemaah Islamiyah's (J.I.) past interest in the traffic passing through the Straits.

Ship owners seem to have had some objections to the higher premiums they had to pay resulting from the labelling of some areas as "war risk areas." In any case, the world seems smaller every day.  (See also the statement by the The Joint War Committee (JWC), representing the London marine insurance community; and Eaglespeak's commentary last August.)

A few screen shots from that ellusive Aegis employee blog

For those following the scandal surrounding the trophy video and the Aegis employee blog, most of which got taken down, here are a few bloggy screen shots. Click on the thumbnails for viewing. Enjoy!

Aegis's Mr. Spicer has had a few problems with quality control in the past. This passage is from an article by UK journalist Michael Bilton, published a number of years ago in the Sunday Times Magazine concerning Spicer and the Sandline Affair:

The Brigadier was beginning to have serious doubts about the Sandline's military plans. Moreover Singirok's Special Forces Unit were sending him disturbing information from the training camp run by the South Africans. The local troops were treated like raw recruits, being taught the basics likehow to apply camouflage.  The foreigners were firing the heavy weapons, keeping them to themselves,  and it quickly became obvious they would be lead the strike force operation against the rebels.

For two days they refused to undergo training in the camp at Wewak when Bougainville islanders, loyal to the Papuan government, were hired by the South Africans as guides. Singirok's men regarded this as a clear breach of security. But their sense of outrage was fuelled, according to one who gave evidence to the Commission of enquiry, when a senior South African mercenary informed him:  "Don't worry, when we have finished we will eliminate them". The idea that the civilian guides were going to be killed after they had served their purpose appalled him. Singirok was told of their concerns. 

(I don't think the article appears in full text on the web, except possibly in the Time's archives, which you may have to pay to access. It was kicking around on my hard drive from the days of the N4610 scandal that brought down Mark Thatcher.)

And then there's Spicer's Peter McBride problem.

Top Cat Marine Security Ordered to Cease & Desist

I am told on good authority that the US Department of States Bureau of Arms Control has issued a Cease and Desist order to Top Cat Marine Security on their pirate-fighting contract with Somalia. I have called the Somalia Desk Officer (i. e. Officer for the East African Desk) at the Department of State to ask for confirmation.

I'll let you know when I hear back with confirmation. UPDATE: I'm told I might have to wait a bit for that. FURTHER UPDATE: The Uncooperative Blogger reports he has confirmed the Cease and Desist order.

(See previous posts: Top Cat Has Security Personnel After All . . . or Do They? and Topcat Marine Security: A Very Crowded Office Space, a Shell Corporation, or Just a Scam?)


(So is the New York Post now going to run the headline Pirate Busters Busted?)

EPILOGUE: I suppose it's time I got 'round to sharing Maryann Johnson's letter to me, responding to my intial post. At the time I received it, I was not aware that she is alleged to work for Fox News. Now I read it in a different light. I quote it in its entirely:

Dear Kathryn,

My goodness, what a nasty, angry piece you did on us.  I can only wonder your motivation.  This is a very positive move for the international community and your desire to defame and smear topcat must be motivated by some desire for your own personal gain... I just can't imagine what.

This contract benefits the international community at large.  It is worldwide and will help a country like Somalia regain control of its people and assets.

The articles you quote were written by a reporter who's sole source of information is a convicted felon and disgruntled employee.  Those other businesses you mention, well quite frankly, I don't know who they are or what you were driving at. I understand the media, and I guess you just need a story and if you can't get the facts, well, just make it up.

Maryann Johnson

The places I worked, we did things a little differently. [UPDATE 12/7: I have written to Fox News's attorney to ask for confirmation of her employment there.]

12/13: Anyone know what to make of this? Is it an attempt to use Google AdSense for damage control? Or is it an automated blog aggregator surviving on Google AdSense revenue? I don't know what it is. But it is interesting that the lead lumps together both of Casini's Top Cat companies, implying that some human agency went int the creation of this page.

MEANWHILE: Quiet diplomacy.

Top Cat Has Security Personnel After All . . . or Do They?

Peter Casini of Top Cat Marine Security which signed a deal last week with the transitional government of Somalia to help them out with their pirate problem, has continually claimed he has competent security people to back him up, but had thus far refrained from naming them publicly. Mr. Casini's a little inarticulate, so I'll help him out.  All the quoted text is from a Top Cat brochure from last August. So who are these mystery men with the great reputations that got him the Somalia contract?

Here they are (html; pdf):

  • Bachelor Number 1:

    Rocco Procopio is a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Army's Special Forces and has more than 16 years concentrated counterterrorism experience with the Army's Special Forces Operational Detachment Delta. He assisted with writing government standards for conducting Criticality, Threat and Security Vulnerability Assessments with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. He is recognized as an expert in the field of Critical Infrastructure Protection and has personally conducted more than 100 SVAs on and off shore during his tenure with the government. Procopio directs the international security efforts for a major U.S. oil company and is a member of the Overseas Security Advisory Council. He holds a master's degree in international relations.

  • Bachelor Number 2:

    Col. Bernard J. McCabe (Ret.) has 30 years experience in the U.S. Army. He served in the 82nd Airborne Division as an artilleryman, commanded the Howitzer Battery in the 2nd Squadron, 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment. He served 19 years in the Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta assuming command in June 1994. He relinquished command of 1st SFOD-D in June 1996 and ended his career at the Army Special Warfare Center in 1996. Since his retirement, McCabe has been a security consultant to three major U.S. petroleum corporations and has been retained as a security consultant by several aviation and maritime companies in the United States. He is currently manager of Global Security for the Marathon Oil Corporation. McCabe holds a master's degree from Harvard University at the Naval War College and has taught military history at Francis Marion University in Florence, S.C.

  • Bachelor Number 3: [See 12/31/05 post.]

    Master Chief Thomas J. Parnin has more than 20 years experience with the U.S. Navy. He completed Hull Maintenance Technician "A" school and then reported to Basic Underwater Demolition/Seal Class 114 graduating in 1981. He completed three six-month deployments to the Western Pacific with Underwater Demolition Team 11 and Seal Team Five. Parnin returned to the tactical mobility team where his primary duties included the operation and navigation of high performance open ocean assault boats, combat rubber raiding craft, riverine assault boats, tactical ground mobility vehicles and the conduct of the full spectrum of unconventional warfare operations. Since 2000, he has been serving as Tactical Mobility Advanced Training Department Head specializing in the selection and implementation of the latest technological developments in maritime and land based navigation systems including radar, GPS, electronic chart plotting and visual augmentation systems.

Bernie McCabe, Bachelor Number 2, is the head of Global Security for Marathon Oil and was formerly the US representative for Sandline. I've written a fair amount about Sandline over time, but I've also had correspondence with their attorney Richard Slowe who takes exception to my use of verbs, and I don't have time to take the trouble to watch my language, so here is it's Wikipedia entry:

Sandline International was a private security ('military') company based in London, established in the early 1990s. It was involved in conflicts in Papua New Guinea in 1997 (having a contract with the government under Julius Chan), in 1998 in Sierra Leone (having a contract with illegally ousted President Kabbah) causing the Sandline affair and in Liberia in 2003 (in a rebel attempt to evict the then-president Charles Taylor near the end of the civil war).

Sandline was managed by former British Army Lt Col Tim Spicer. Sandline billed itself as a "Private Military Company" (PMC) and offered military training, "operational support" (equipment and arms procurement and limited direct military activity), intelligence gathering, and public relations services to governments and corporations. While the mass media often referred to Sandline as a mercenary company, the company's founders disputed that characterization.

Tim Spicer recounted his experiences with Sandline in the book An Unorthodox Soldier.

As of April 16, 2004 Sandline International has officially ceased operations.

McCabe has also worked or works for Lifeguard, another security company that is heir to the Executive Outcomes reputation. I don't know whether to phrase that relationship in the past or the present tense. I'm really curious about when McCabe took the job as head of Global Security for Marathon Oil. Why didn't I notice him when looking into the N4610 farce? I certainly would have written about him then if I had.

And regarding Marathon Oil, there is this bit from last night's post on Mountain Runner, Marathon, PETRONAS, and PexCo Oil and Somalia:

Reporting from Oil and Gas Investor indicates Marathon Oil, of Texas, and possibly other firms have taken over the Conoco claims, or at least is moving in on them, and bumping yet another company to boot.

Oh, by the way, can anyone fill in the photo captions for these pictures of what I gather is the celebrator dinner following the signing of the contract for Top Cat's Somalia deal?


Who is the guy on the far right in the tie who looks like Robert Redford? Who are the women standing? Anyone know? HERE is a better view of the group shot. [UPDATE: I'm told that the Redford-look-alike is Maryann Johnson's husband who works for Fox News; I'm told that the brunette is Top Cat VP Maryann Johnson who also works for Fox. I'd really like a name for the husband, since Fox is so high on Top Cat and outraged about Somali piracy, and cut-and-run Democrats, for that matter.]

Now, I don't want to demonize Sandline. It is a particular kind of company in a particular kind of industry and its people behave in specific ways. And so I think I should tell you a little more about my Sandline adventure.

Michael Grunberg of Sandline tried to get me to change something I'd written about the company, and I didn't cooperate, and so he had Sandline's attorney's get in touch with me. And they threatened to sue and so I negotiated. We arrived at a mutually acceptable wording, and everyone went away happy.

I thought Grunberg was an extremely vain pedant until I found out later why he cared what some woman in Pleasantville said about him on her blog. A guy named Pasquale John DiPofi, who had been trying to claim money owed Executive Outcomes, was trying to blackmail Grunberg into backing down on Sandline collecting on millions of dollars. DiPofi was at the time a Vice President at the private military firm Northbridge. Judging from the newspaper accounts, DiPofi's tactics were straight out of The Godfather.

I thought, how interesting, the mafia is trying to muscle out f*ing Sandline! Amazing. So what did Grunberg do about DiPofi? Did he have him bumped off? Kneecapped? No. Grunberg called the cops and had DiPofi arrested. Just what I would have done.

Returning to the subject of Top Cat, in the comment section of my previous Top Cat Post, someone calling himself "Subject Matter Expert" wrote the following:

I have a feeling your report could stir up quite a commotion in the private military sector; therefore, unless you've worked for such private firms and as to not endanger yourself (or your family), do not make such accusations or reports on such a private sector company.

Now, this guy wrote in from his desk at work from a small company in the Homeland Security Industry. He might as well have left me a business card. I'm not sure what his area of expertise is, but it certainly isn't Internet Security. Several very heavy dudes from real private military firms wrote in to reassure me that people in their industry don't behave like that. And in fact I know that. And so I infer that someone from DiPofi's industry has penetrated the Homeland Security market.

Then there's that person who wrote to me under the alias "patricia kennedy" whose letter I quoted in my previous Top Cat post. I didn't quote the whole thing. "She" expressed concern for my family and also suggested that I might wish to consider moving out of Pleasantville. Also number of people formerly associated with Casini have written to me to support my efforts, and there is a continuing theme to these letters: that they can't come forward  to tell their stories in public because they are concerned for their personal safety and the wellbeing of their families.

So why is it that when I write about Blackwater going into New Orleans, I get some outraged and insulting letters as well as intelligent correspondence from people in Blackwater's employ. And when I write about a washed up boat company masquerading as a private military firm, I get this? Just what does Mr. Casini bring to the table that the highly qualified gentlemen listed above don't have for themselves?

Perhaps Top Cat is having a little trouble adjusting to the corporate culture of its new industry.
Or perhaps it doesn't have an industry.

The brochure is real enough. But it is awfully hard to understand why a man like McCabe would have anything to do with a man like Casini.

UPDATE: I'm becoming increasingly convinced that Top Cat is a fraud from top to bottom. I have emailed a copy of the seminar brochure to Richard Slowe. I have also emailed media relations at Marathon Oil.

UPDATE, December 6th: I heard back from Richard Slowe this morning. It appears that the "Bernie McCabe" associated with Casini and Top Cat may not be who he claims. I'm also told that this "McCabe" is very insistent that he not be photographed.

Previously, I had suggested that Jim Kouri, who called Top Cat "one of the world's foremost private security agencies offering clients law enforcement, counterterrorism and marine combat specialists" was either a shill or an idiot. Now I understand that there is a third possibility: that Koui paid good money for Top Cat's security seminars; that he is a satisfied customer, i. e. a mark. Jim, boy, you've been had.

(Nor does he have guys from the original Black Hawk Down ready to go into Somalia and restore order to its seas. I checked.)

A QUESTION FOR CARNIVAL: Does you cruise lines have any contracts with Top Cat Marine Security?

UPDATE 12/6: See my new post Top Cat Marine Security Ordered to Cease & Desist.

UPDATE 12/9: I have made further inquiries into the matter of McCabe's connection with Top Cat. Despite rumours which seemed to emanate from Top Cat's camp that McCabe was in some way centrally involved with some portions of Top Cat's operations, it seems that McCabe has had no involvement with the management or actual operation of Top Cat Marine Security.

I'm told that information about Top Cat's actual management team would be available via the Freedom of Information Act by obtaining the paperwork they would be required to file with the US Government before signing an agreement with the transitional governemnt of Somalia. But I am also under the impression, perhaps mistaken, that no paperwork was filed. Filing for copies of non-existant paperwork would not be especially illuminating.

Someone who isn't me and has some actual financial stake in all this might want to blow $129 on this report from "Manta - Your Business Intelligence Authority."

UPDATE 12/21/05: Jarry Parnin explains he was only briefly involved with Top Cat, but identifies their management team, including naming McCabe.

Somalia & Our Two Party System: "Cut Run" vs. "Finish What We Started"? Or, Bush's Third War

Over the past couple of weeks, the meme of the "Cut & Run" Democrats vs. the "Finish What We Started" Republicans has been a big Republican talking point.

And here's a nice graph from Blogpulse showing how blogs ingested the message:


One of the key examples used in this rhetoric is the US pullout of Somalia in 1993. And there's some very weird stuff going on involving Somalia just now.

Here's Rush Linbaugh a couple of days ago:

Remember the history of bin Laden. Bin Laden only went to places that were stateless. He went to Somalia, a bunch of warlords, he could control them. Somalia. Afghanistan. All stateless. Taliban took over in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda was running Somalia. Still may be.

Is the "Finish What We Started" wing of the Republican party considering going back into Somalia to take on Al Qaeda and the pirates? Mogadishu is the locus of the psychogeography of their rhetoric, after all. What a venue it would be for demonstrating that our president is Man Enough to finish what the Democrats couldn't.

SO, are we headed for Bush's third war?

Topcat Marine Security: A Very Crowded Office Space, a Shell Corporation, or Just a Scam?

545_8th_2Who could resist the tale, not long ago, of a cruise ship fending off Somalian pirates with its handy sonic blaster? Well, someone somewhere just had to do something about those blasted pirates!

Today the BBC announced that the American firm Topcat Marine Security, of 545 8th Ave. Suite 401, New York, NY 10018, had gotten the job! Now you might think that chasing pirates would be too scary, but these guys at Topcat (or Top Cat, depending on which bit of their web site you look at) have strong motivation: a VERY crowded Manhattan office! Wouldn't you rather go chase pirates if you had to share an office with The Center for Risk Communication, a magazine called "Animal Fair", and a bank, Liechetensteinische-Amerikanische Union Bank Corp. (which apparently conducted unauthorized banking activities in the state of NY in 1999), a "home income" business called Maychic, a web site called NY Club,, an online video store (not PTA safe, so I won't post a link), The Law Office of Gary Ruff “Defending Consumers Against Electronic Piracy Claims”TM, and much more! What a racket they must make! If I shared that office, I'd go to sea to fight pirates, too!

Topcat seems to share a web designer, and probably a few boats, with Cobra Boats. Compare the following screen shots from each site's "Reviews" page:
Cobra_reviews Topcat_reviews

I wonder who's providing the guys with the guns.

In all seriousness, it seems obvious that [if this isn't just a scam] a boat company has found a private military partner who wishes to remain anonymous, and that the boat company has perhaps just made half of fifty million dollars for providing a front. I don't think the Topcat execs have ever set foot in that office any more than I believe that the babe on the site would answer if I went there and knocked. Also, it appears that Peter Casini, the executive quoted in the BBC story, has been involved with a number of corporate bankruptcies.

Who is going to provide these security services in Somali waters? Employees of these other dotcoms? Very experienced boaters? Who can tell? Why are they hiding behind a fake address? Manhattan rents are expensive, but you can rent a lot of office space for that kind of money.

Would you give fifty million to someone who can't be bothered to rent a real office and misrepresents their street address? If there's no office, how can anyone be sure actual security services will be provided?

UPDATE, 11/26: It gets better, or worse, depending on your perspective. In April, 2004, Topcat moved to Berekely County, SC. Six months later, they left:

The apparent failure of Top Cat is "very disappointing. We're in an economically depressed area when you look at the job losses balanced with what's created. It's like having the rug pulled out from under you," Mayor Hoffman said.

Rozier and Berkeley County Economic Development Director John Scarborough said it appears the finances didn't work out for Top Cat. Hoffman said he didn't know what happened to the company after its promising debut.

"I went to investigate myself a couple of times, just to drop in and see what was going on, and I haven't been able to find anybody there," Hoffman said.

He's not the only person who's been interested in Top Cat.

"A lot of law enforcement people are looking for them, and I don't think it's about buying a boat," Crosby said.

Vendors and others who find the Top Cat door padlocked often stop at the Onyx office to ask if the boat company still is in business or when its employees will be there, she said.

Nobody from Top Cat showed up Monday in small claims court in Moncks Corner to contest a complaint Onyx filed against the company for nonpayment of services, including providing electricity. Judge David Brown entered a default judgment of $5,960.45 against Top Cat.

Top Cat's vice president of sales and contracts, Marianne Gillard, 36, is due in magistrate's court in St. Stephen today following her arrest last week. Gillard is accused of writing a $650 bad check drawn on a New Jersey bank. Gillard said the day after her arrest that she didn't want to comment and referred questions to company attorneys, who couldn't be reached for comment.

It does occur to me to wonder if any actual setting up of bases or training or pirate fighting will take place even if Somalia pays out all this money. I hope Somalia hasn't cut any actual checks yet.

MEANWHILE, the EU has pledged to help foot the bill.

Queries on Somali dealFURTHER 11/26 UPDATE. The Nation in Kenya has picked up on Top Cat's financial problems, and their reporters called both Casini and his publicist:

On whether the company had failed to meet its payroll, he said: "No. You may be talking about the wrong company. Our company is Top Cat Design.''

However, contacted via e-mail for comment, Maryann Johnson, Top Cat's vice president for public relations, said the story "was written years ago, by a small town reporter whose sole source of information was a convicted felon. Topcat was never contacted directly for comment on this article".

Ms Johnson said: "Topcat remains financially secure and stable, with contracts around the world with some of the largest defence contractors."

(The Nation has a tortuously difficult registration procedure. Here is a screen shot of the article.)

2TopCatsAccording to court papers I linked to earlier today, Casini actually has two corporations called Top Cat: Top Cat Design, incorporated in 2000, and Top Cat Marine Security, incorporated in 2002. (UPDATE 12/2/05: Karl E. Meyer, of Egg Harbor, the attorney that represented Casini in that case and through who Casini registered the copyrights of a number of his boats, was on on the New Jersey State list of attorneys ineligible to practice law until two weeks ago.)

CharlestonThe unfavorable news stories in South Carolina date from 13 months ago. These folks really have a way with words, don't they?

UPDATE, 11/28: It does occur to me to wonder how they plan to work around both a US and a UN arms embargo when providing these services. Even if all they brought to the table was really fast boats designed for security use, this looks to me like it runs afoul State Department regulations, since there is a subsection covering boats on the United States Munitions List.

FROM THE MAIL BAG: A number of people have written to me with questions that they would like to see answered.

One of the biggies is, who is paying for this? Several people have raised this point, as does Reuters. I had speculated earlier that the EU funds mentioned in the news earlier this week might go towards paying Top Cat, but I am told that is not the case. So if not the EU, then who?

Given the scope of the project Top Cat is taking on, is fifty million too much? Or is it too little? (This also gets into the question of exactly what the contract specifies that they will do, an issue about which there appears to be some confusion. Are they going to fight pirates or not? Most of the headlines about the deal take the form "American company to fight pirates off Somalia," but the guy in the comments who claims to be in the know claims there will be no guns and that Casini will provide no training.)

What ports does Top Cat plan on operating out of? (Note that this is a country in which the transition government declines to locate in Mogadishu because of security concerns.) So what will they use for ports? (Who is going to keep Top Cat's fine boats from being stolen, for that matter? I'd think an ultra-fast boat would be really useful to the pirates!)

Also, I'm told that usually when a contract of this nature is awarded, there is recruiting of ex-special forces from various countries, and that no recruiting is going on. (This is not something I'd know about one way or another.) Anyone flowing in from Defensetech know about this?

And finally, has Top Cat registered with the Dept. of State's Office of Defense Trade Control, as required? (Dotmil & PMF folks: Is there a public registry that one could check?)


While no one is saying it, the United States is basically taking over coastal security duties for Somalia. The Transitional Government there has no money for this sort of thing, so it appears that the U.S. is picking up the tab. This could get interesting, for the Somali warlords who operate along the coast are not going to take kindly to some foreigners trying to interfere. The first priority of the new coast guard is to put the pirate gangs, and especially the two larger "mother ships", that are supporting attacks far out at sea, out of action.

See also The Bow Ramp and its discussion of using privateers to fight pirates; and also Eaglespeak, which remarks of the Top Cat-Somalia contract, Must be an interesting contract to read. I'll just bet.

AND FURTHER: Untravel also has a good post:

There are several reasons I think this little story is important:

First, a private military company (PMC) is engaging in independent military action. In the controversy over PMCs a few years ago, the claim was that they served a support role and did not wage war on their own. In this instance, this is clearly not the case. Topcat Marine Security is not helping the Somali coast guard. They were hired to be the Somali coast guard.

Second, American mercenaries (Topcat) have been hired to wage war at the behest of a foreign government (Somalia), independent of the foreign policy of the US government. As the practice of hiring PMCs for independent action becomes more commonplace, at what point has the nation-state lost it's monopoly on the legitimate use of force? What happens when an independent PMC and their government have conflicting objectives? If the interests of the PMC are taken ahead of that of the government, who is in charge?

Third, the Somali Transitional National Government is hardly a government in the strictest sense. They are set up in Kenya and are still debating over when and how to return to Mogadishu. Where did they get 50 million dollars? Or any money at all, really? I don't know enough about world politics to know how these sort of 'governments in exile' operate, but that 50 million has to come from somewhere. I'd like a journalist to ask who. A concerned alliance of rival warlords? One of Somali's neighboring countries, simply trying to protect itself? A country or countries concerned with keeping the link between the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean free and safe for shipping? Or a government interested in fighting terrorism without necessarily going through all the legal steps necessary to engage in military action?

This last question is not meant as a conspiracy theory, but something, from a journalistic point of view, that might be worth investigating as a possibility.

UPDATE 11/30/05: I came across a brand new blog started yesterday, consisting only of an interview with Somalia's Prime Minister. It discusses the piracy issue but does not seem to address this deal specifically.

Mountain Runner is also interested in Top Cat's profile:

Top Cat Marine Security is registered under Laura Casini, Esq. at what seems like a residential location. I mention the location because there are some interesting circumstances surrounding this company. It had moved its operations to St Stephen, South Carolina, to the great expectations of the locals. But, then in Oct 2004, things changed . . .

(According to court documents linked to earlier, Laura Casini is Peter Casini's cousin. She is registered with the New York Bar at a different [probably residential] address in Queens.)

FURTHER UPDATE, 11/30: Mountain Runner has a long, thoughtful follow-up post that I won't attempt to summarize, and suggest instead you go read.

After considering many less elaborate alternatives, he ends on a speculative note:

Or, has TopCat become a necessary cover for regional operations of the US armed forces or intelligence services? This would mean the anti-piracy line is either a cover or a secondary mission. The public diplomatic efforts of the US are meaningless in the region without virtually zero contact or interest with outside media. With media coverage nearly nil, even the humanitarian orgs are mostly gone, sightings of "US military-style" personnel would be adequately covered by this story.

If this were to be true, it would mark the end of the Bremer-style use of PMFs, out-sourcing -- perhaps excessive outsourcing, as I have argued previously -- things that are essentially government functions to private enterprise, with the (perhaps unexpected) benefit of increased secrecy and deniability. This would be a recognition that, no, using PMFs didn't really save that much money, no, re-hired contract Special Forces people were not somehow better qualified for the job that Special Forces folks already on the government payroll, that private enterprise didn't really have the bucks to have an infrastructure ready for whenever Big Government felt it needed something. But boy oh boy, was the secrecy and deniablity nice! Can you just imagine the genius, who in a different life would have been a studio executive in Hollywood, saying something like "Can't we just have a PMF that's staffed with our own guys and uses our own equipment?" Much as I dislike Bremmer's grand vision, this would mark its end.

UPDATE, 12/1: There's an interesting news story this morning that I'm sure ties into this whole subject. Another agreement signed by the Transitional Government: Ethiopia, Somalia pledge to fight terrorism in Horn of Africa

Addis Ababa - Ethiopia signed a comprehensive agreement with the transitional government of Somalia, covering security cooperation, trade and investment, transport and port services, the official Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) reported Thursday.

It was the first agreement to be signed with a neighbouring country for the transitional government of Somalia, which operates from Johar, some 90 kilometres north of the capital Mogadishu as it was unable to operate from the capital for security reasons.

The agreement was signed Wednesday between Ethiopian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Tekeda Alemu and Somalia's Foreign Minister Abdulahi Ismael on the sidelines of a council of ministers meeting of member states of the Inter-Governmental Authority for Cooperation and Development (IGAD) in the Horn of Africa.

And then there's this bit of damage control from Top Cat's backers, posted at the Conservative Voice, austensibly authored by Jim Kouri but with material mostly from Top Cat's press releases. (Or is it merely a late entry to the field? It also appears at Voices Magazine, and in three other venues.) The prose that is new is interesting:

In response to this latest attack, the Somali government -- a government practically in exile because of warlords, Al-Qaeda and Wahhabi terrorists -- has signed a contract with an United States-based security company that specializes in marine special operations. The hope is that the security firm will put an end to the proliferating piracy in that African region.

New York-based Topcat Marine Security signed a deal worth more than $50 million with the Somali Transitional Federal Government, which is temporarily based in Nairobi, to escort ships traveling through Somali waters.

Topcat is one of the world's foremost private security agencies offering clients law enforcement, counterterrorism and marine combat specialists. Topcat's client list includes the US Department of Homeland Security. They use state-of-the-art weaponry and equipment in order to mount offensive operations against pirates or terrorists who use the high seas for their acts of terrorism and piracy.

I've highlighted the interesting bits in bold. Kouri's remarks, which probably originate with Casini or his backers, support the notion I've heard floated that our story starts with the pirate attack on the cruise ship. Also, Kouri provides a new and different account of what exactly Top Cat is going to do for this fifty million. Escort? So now they're and escort service? But if they escort, they are actually going to fight pirates, right? With, like, weapons? Right? That's what the viewing audience really wants. So, back to the subject of arms embargos, are they importing these weapons?

I believe that the third paragraph I quoted originates with Top Cat's online brochure which I can't seem to get at this morning. Interesting is how the rationale for the contract is slipping from fighting pirates to fighting terrorism. While these activities may be intertwined, the first big PR bang on this story focued exclusively on piracy.

Also, it is interesting how Kouri describes the way the pirate attack on the cruise she was repelled. The ocean liner was able to escape the attack using security countermeasures. Why doesn't he say it was an LRAD that was used? Does he have a security clearance that prevents him? And if the LRAD belonged to the cruise lines, why would its use be classified? Elsewhere, he throws a few more words at the subject, but is similarly evasive:

They assailants were repelled by the ships crew who implemented their security measures which included setting off electronic simulators which created the illusion the ship was firing back at the terrorists.

Spit it out man: Can you say sonic blaster?

And then there's this bit of entertaing reading, Somalia: National government or kids in a candy store? which begins:

Somalis all over the world celebrated wholeheartedly when the new Somali interim government was established in nearby Nairobi, Kenya last year. Likewise, it was another historic moment when it finally relocated to Somali soil. Now, the honeymoon is over and Somalia’s elected president and prime minister are at the helm without any opposition of any kind. There’s no authority above the duo to oversee and scrutinize their actions. The international community gave them a blank check with no strings attached.

Spending other people’s money is very sweet. Confined in Jowhar town limits with its members unable to visit next door towns and villages like Balcad, the interim government is signing multimillion contacts silently. No advertised tenders, biddings, and of course no independent watchdogs. There's no National Supreme Court or any other independent court for that matter.

And Mountain Runner has a meaty new post which gets into such issues as Somalia's oil resources, competition in the region with China, and much more.

Of course TopCat will be providing more than boats in this contract. Where they will base, if its in country, and remain littoral? Then won't TC be just like the pirates USED to be before they acquired their "mother ship"? Will TC acquire an expensive but highly suitable ship (probably not that expensive) for blue water operations?

If security was really a big deal, the Yemeni arms market might gain greater attention. Still, some problems continue to linger over this deal:

  1. Transparency. There is none. This provider has a checkered history. Purpose and design of this contract ($50m+ barrier for example) makes this opaque if anything.
  2. Fair play. Was TC really the best candidate for the job? Did the "local" "government" really come to the finding that this provider was superior or were there other contributing factors?
  3. Money and Morals. $50m+ is a lot of spending money for some boats. There is something else here.

One last comment. If active duty will be deployed, then again, it should and could have been done more discretely. If however, this is a completely private operation, then further "foreign policy by proxy" is not going to help when the our chief for Public Diplomacy is amazed that countries are larger than her state. The world is looking and so is our own military. Trust in the Executive branch is waning from abuse. Intelligence and military services are direct reports to the Executive branch. In effect, they serve at the whim, the intelligence services especially, of the President. The buck stops there, except in this Administration.

He also has a good Pirate Primer.

UPDATE 12/2: From The Strategy Page:

December 2, 2005: Somali pirates are raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars in ransoms for hijacked ships. This is big money for poverty stricken Somalia, and the warlords are not going to readily give it up because of some foreign mercenaries. There is likely to be some sharp fighting before the Topcat organized coast guard gains control of the coast with its naval and air patrols. Six ships are still being held for ransom.

And Matt Armstrong ar Mountain Runner has a good, long meditatio, Accountability of Non-State Force, which begins:

The issue of private military companies, private security companies, or private military firms brings up the question of accountability. This question can be asked in different dimensions: moral, legal, ethical, and command and control. This is a brief draft on the legal accountability of private military forces, divorced from any profit motives. It is my belief that private military forces fall into the same "loophole" (really a misnomer, it is an intentional gap) in regulation in which non-governmental forces "approved" by the international community, namely Blue Helmets, are also found.

And, in the context of the more speculative aspects of this story, I found this post from Josh Marshall interesting:

In recent days we've being seeing a lot of stories about various top-secret or 'black' programs being run out of the Pentagon. The reports about fake stories being planted in the Iraqi press are just a single example. I'm told that this matter of top secret Pentagon spending -- stuff free of almost all oversight -- may connect up with the Duke [Cunningham] investigation and may reach up higher than we might imagine in the Pentagon.

Also, Casini was on FOX News on the 27th talking about the contract. There's a little info in the TV interview, but not much. Casini is not very articulate.


FROM THE MAILBAG, someone writes in from Herndon, Virginia, IP #

If any checking of facts should come to be - it should be checking on kathryn cramer 's totally weird interest in destroying a boat company. So many questions about you kathryn- but a simple one is this- pictures of your family?  Thou dost protest too much!   Who and what are you really? A coast guard? If one sells a police car to a town's police force does the seller become the police?

Oh, no. My cover is blown. Since my picture shows a thin white blonde with kids, I must be none of the above. ;-)  (Also, blogging about this has brought about an increase in the Nigerian Spam making its way to my inbox.)

Also, I should say that there seem to be a fair number of people to whom Casini and his operation owe a lot of money and they are very interested in having his current address. Somewhere in Virginia is my best guess at present.

AND from the Voice of America:

Energy experts say by the year 2020, about one-fourth of the oil the United States consumes could come from Africa.  With this anticipation, African and U.S leaders are joining forces to help Africa reach its potential as a world energy leader.

Africa currently supplies the United States with 12 percent of all the oil it needs, but energy experts say that could jump by 25 percent over the next two decades.  The Corporate Council on Africa, headed by Steven Hayes, organized an international oil and gas conference this week on exploring Africa.

Mr. Hayes says one of the goals of the forum was to give U.S. companies an opportunity to better understand a very rapidly-changing environment in Africa.

"We don't quite realize -- the broad population -- how strategically important Africa is to us, not simply on energy, but clearly more and more of our needs are going to come from Africa," said Mr. Hayes.

Mr. Hayes says he is urging the United States to recognize the importance of the U.S.-African energy partnership, especially as competition from China grows.

Regarding Somalis oil reserves, a geologist from Marathon Oil in and interview in 1993, fills us in:

Presenting their results during a three-day conference in London in September, 1991, two of those geologists, an American and an Egyptian, reported that an analysis of nine exploratory wells drilled in Somalia indicated that the region is "situated within the oil window, and thus (is) highly prospective for gas and oil." A report by a third geologist, Z. R. Beydoun, said offshore sites possess "the geological parameters conducive to the generation, expulsion and trapping of significant amounts of oil and gas."

Beydoun, who now works for Marathon Oil in London, cautioned in a recent interview that on the basis of his findings alone, "you cannot say there definitely is oil," but he added: "The different ingredients for generation of oil are there. The question is whether the oil generated there has been trapped or whether it dispersed or evaporated."

Interestingly, Somalia is emerging at the moment as an organizing issue for Republicans, trying to distinguish themelves from those "cut and run" Democrats. Whatever could the authors of Republican talking points have in mind? To send in the Marines to show that Bush is Man enough? Surely they can't think that Bush has the public support to start a third war? On the other hand, those generous folks at Marathon did give over fifty-eight thousand dollars to the Republicans in the last contribution year, and campaign contributions do make this administration frisky! 

And, um, isn't the Manager of Global Security for Marathon Oil, the very same Bernie McCabe who was Bernie McCabe, U.S. Representative, Sandline International a while back? Maybe the folks in the comment section suggesting a connection with the remnants of Sandline aren't as far off the mark as I thought. It can't be. Can it? Somalia isn't supposed to be the New Iraq?

UPDATE 12/3: Matt at Mountain Runner has an interesting new post, which begins:

More information on the Somalia, Oil, and possibly TopCat continue. Reporting from Oil and Gas Investor indicates Marathon Oil, of Texas, and possibly other firms have taken over the Conoco claims, or at least is moving in on them, and bumping yet another company to boot.

SEE ALSO MY POST: Top Cat Has Security Personnel After All . . . or Do They?

UPDATE 12/6: New govt's move to tackle piracy hits a snag  from In gneral, the article covers some of the same information covers here about Top Cat's financial problems. But here is Maryann Johnson's fallback position when cornered on Casini's bankruptcies:

ut the company's vice president for public relations, Maryann Johnson, said the article was written years ago, by a small town reporter whose sole source of information was a convicted felon. "Top Cat was never contacted directly for comment on this article, but rather the reporter chose to undertake a smear campaign to camouflage small-town corruption."

She said Top Cat remains financially secure and stable with contracts around the world with some of the largest defence contractors and that an employee's personal information has no bearing on the stability and structure of the company. "Mr Casini is head of research and development and has been awarded the notable honour of being named one of the top three boat designers in the world. He is an employee of and not the owner of the company. There are over 50 major stockholders," she said.

In signing the deal with Somalia, Mr Casini said his company would target a mother ship off the Somali coast that is launching smaller craft to attack commercial vessels.

Several questions come to mind:

  1. If Casini is not the President or CEO of the company, who is?
  2. If he is neither president or CEO, what authorization does he have to enter into such a contract on Top Cat's behalf?
  3. If Casini doesn't own Top Cat, who does? Who are its "investors"?
  4. How are Top Cat's investors distinct from its creditors?

UPDATE 12/6: See my new post Top Cat Marine Security Ordered to Cease & Desist. Busted.

If This Were Only Cleared Away: The Nation Takes on Fantasies of Future New Orleans, Plus a Few Other Thoughts Of My Own

Parenti_200x152From The Nation: New Orleans: Raze or Rebuild? by Christian Parenti:

Though the area is routinely designated a ghetto, the homes of the Ninth Ward are mostly beautiful, century-old capes and bungalows, some with ornate wooden detailing reminiscent of old homes in the San Francisco Bay Area. "They'll have to bulldoze it all," says a visiting New York City cop, surveying the damage from inside an NYPD van.

Is that option--the right's much-touted tabula rasa--inevitable? "They don't have to tear all these down," says Joe Peters, a Ninth Ward tier repairman. "Under that siding, that's all cypress frames and barge board." Peters seems to think that the more solid homes of the Ninth Ward can be saved. Increasingly the holdouts here see the mandatory evacuation order as part of a huge land grab.

I track down Mike Howell, a Nation reader I'd met several days before. "Yeah, this could be their dream come true," he says. "Get rid of all the poor African-Americans and turn the place into Disneyland." After camping on Howell's roof, my colleague and I leave him and his wife our extra water and gas and push on.  . . .

9thwardwp"The evacuation order is just trying to get out the criminal element," says the cop in the classic flat, nasal Yat accent common to the Irish- and Italian-Americans who make up much of the city's white population. He explains how the military is mapping the city for holdouts using helicopters with infrared, and how troops on the ground mark the suspect building with a system of Xs and checks, a code that indicates to the police how many people are inside. The cop finishes his drink, shakes a few hands and rolls off.

Facilitating the tabula rasa agenda is an increasingly militaristic attitude that borders on boyish fantasy and seems to pervade the numerous federal SWAT teams, out-of-town cops, private security forces, civilian volunteers and even journalists. There are exceptions: The young soldiers of the 82nd Airborne and First Cavalry seem much less caught up in it and are quite generous with their ice and MREs.

. . . two vehicle convoys from Blackwater USA--one of the biggest mercenary firms operating in Iraq--cruise the deserted city, their guns trained on rooftops ready for snipers, who have recently shot at a cell-tower repair crew. . . .

Meanwhile, in Baton Rouge, Bush-connected firms like the Shaw Group, Bechtel and Halliburton are lining up to get big portions of the $62 billion in federal money that will soon flood the storm region. The fact that some of these companies had been convicted of defrauding the federal government in the past, are under investigation again for corruption in Iraq and were once banned from federal contracting due to unethical practices has not stopped the process.

(Photo of Paretti from the Mother Jones web site. 9 Ward photo from the Washington Post.)

MEANWHILE, from the New York Times:

More than 1,000 displaced residents from St. Bernard Parish crowded the State Capitol to learn about the state of their devastated houses. No one has been permitted to re-enter the area to retrieve belongings or examine their houses. News of the meeting traveled by word of mouth and Web sites, and people lined up for blocks outside the Art Deco Capitol, where Gov. Huey P. Long was assassinated in 1935. Some drove from Houston.

Local officials did not try to hide the bad news.

"You will not recognize St. Bernard Parish," the parish president, Henry J. Rodriguez Jr., told hundreds of residents in the marble foyer of the Capitol. "All you will have left of St. Bernard Parish is your memories."

Now, I've looked at photos of St. Bernard (see for example this one; compare to this image for reference), and I'm not sure exactly what he means. His statement implies that the building are gone. But they're not. Most of them are still standing. Shouldn't it be up to the owners and residents whether to give up on properties in St. Bernard?

I should add that I have looked up lots and lots of specific NOLA area addresses on the Digital Globe (and occasionally NOAA) images, and I have not yet had  to write the "you house is smashed to bits" letter, though I did ask one person if he had a really big side yard (see image below), since the pre-Katrina satellite image was too blurry for comparison. Except in obvious cases, in which a house has been replaced by a debris field, it should be up to homeowners, in consultation with structural engineers and other such professionals, whether NOLA homes that are still standing need to be demolished, not handwaving politicans making sweeping generalizations. The vast majority of New Orleans are still standing and should not be razed without their owner's consent.


For further contemplation of Future New Orleans, see Joel Garreau writing in the Washington Post, whose piece entitled A Sad Truth: Cities Aren't Forever, is an odd combination of hard-headed realism, and politically-naive passing along of the current spin. His last paragraph reads:

I hope I'm wrong about the future of the city. But if the determination and resources to rebuild New Orleans to greater glory does not come from within, from where else will it come?

Let the people go back to their houses to make their own decisions, house by house. They want to do it, but grand plans are afoot that seem likely to preclude that process. In the end, Hurricane FEMA could do more damage to the city than Katrina if let to run its course.

UPDATE: I just this one below. The building that was inquired about looks at best very badly damaged. It is down the street from the Michoud NASA facility, also shown (aerial photos from


Jeremy Scahill: "one of the Blackwater mercenaries told us that he had been deputized by the governor of Louisiana"

[Note: A guy from Blackwater, writing in the comment section of my other Blackwater post, rightly points out that US citizens operating on US soil are, by definition, not mercenaries. In this, he is technically correct. What we call them, espcially those whose previous Blackwater deployment was outside the US, I leave up to you. -KC]

Transcript from a Democracy Now segment: Overkill: Feared Blackwater Mercenaries Deploy in New Orleans [mp3]:

. . . one of them was wearing a golden badge, that identified itself as being Louisiana law enforcement, and in fact, one of the Blackwater mercenaries told us that he had been deputized by the governor of Louisiana, and what's interesting is that the federal government and the Department of Homeland Security have denied that they have hired any private security firms, saying that they have enough with government forces. Well, these Blackwater men that we spoke to said that they are actually on contract with the Department of Homeland Security and indeed with the governor of Louisiana. And they said that they're sleeping in camps organized by the Department of Homeland Security.

One of the Blackwater guys said that when he heard New Orleans, he asked, “What country is that in?” And he was bragging to me about how he drives around Iraq in what he called a State Department issued level five explosion-proof BMW. This, as U.S. soldiers don't even have proper armor on their Humvees and other vehicles. And so, we also overheard one of the Blackwater guys talking to, we presume, a colleague, complaining that he was only being paid $350 a day plus his per diem, and that other firms were paying much more. And we're seeing many of these Blackwater mercenaries and other private security agents roaming the streets of New Orleans.

Now this opens interesting semantic possibilities. Because once these guys are deputized, the Governor's office can claim that they aren't "mercenaries," but rather "deputies."

(Thanks to Terry K!)

Black Water

[UPDATE: See new post, Jeremy Scahill: "one of the Blackwater mercenaries told us that he had been deputized by the governor of Louisiana."]

I've spent days scrutinizing satellite photos of New Orleans, helping people check out their houses. Inevitably, if they or their neighbors had a swimming pool, the turquoise blue of the pool visible on the pre-Katrina image is black on Digital Globe's shots from August 31st 10 AM. Also, as I said in a previous post, I was pretty certain that certain corporate names, familiar from the mercenary industry in Iraq, were going to turn up in New Orleans. So this evening I got an email from Patrick Nielsen Hayden informing me that Blackwater's in New Orleans.  Bodyguards to the coalition, they have a certain cowboy reputation among the private "security" firms. The style of their website tends to be a little over-the-top macho in comparison to other private military firms, whose websites tend to mimic accounting firms, as though it was sercurities (in the plural) they were selling, rather than "security."

And, yes, those were Blackwater guys who died in Falluja, touching off the public revelation that at Paul Bremer's instigation, Iraq was awash in mercenaries who were pulling down salaries ten times what the American troops stationed there were making. Blackwater. From a novelistic standpoint, it is inevitable that they would turn up in the city in which there is so much water and on the satellite photos it looks like a black stain. And really, when you hire mercenaries, a certain amount of murkiness about accountability is part of what you are paying for. I lost track: were any of the private contractors implicated in the torture documented in the Taguba report ever actually charged with anything? What ever happened to John Israel and Steve Stephanowitz?

Sending Blackwater into New Orleans is the twenty-first century's sad answer to that quaint twentieth-century phrase "send in the marines." It is the public confession that too much of our infrastructure has been "privatized," by which we mean that services formerly provided by government employees accountable to the American people can now be purchased, often at much higher prices, from the private sector, opening up much larger opportunities for war (and now disaster) profiteering. This is not to say that there aren't talented, strong, idealistic young men working for companies like Blackwater. But rather the privatization of these areas of endeavor, in light of the Iraq experience, is part cynical exercise in looting of the public treasuries, and part liberating the government from the burdensome accountability that keeps public employees from behaving like action heroes do in the movies.

Put yourself in the shoes of those frightened, traumatized people holed up in their houses, determined to hang on because what's left of their houses is all they have left in the world. What would you do if one of these big burly Blackwater guys, with sunglasses and a sub-machine gun, showed up on your doorstep and instructed you to evacuate? As nearly as I can tell, New Orleans is awash in rumor. Suppose you had heard that they weren't really rescuing black people, but rather were rounding them up and putting them in concentration camps, something I wish were further from the truth [link via Xeni at boingboing]. What happens if the man from Blackwater reacts badly to your response?

And how much is Blackwater being paid to prance around with guns while firefighters who came for free are used as props for political photo ops?

(Via Attytood, thanks to Patrick Nielsen Hayden.)

A FURTHER THOUGHT: In August of 1955, Hurricane Connie passed through the Delaware Valley, followed shortly by the remnants of Hurricane Diane. This resulted in the Great Flood of 1955. As the late science fiction literary agent Virginia Kidd (at the time of the flood, Mrs. James Blish) told the story, the flood waters rose up to the window sills of the main floor of the house (to a depth of about 4 ft on one side of the house, and much deeper on the other side, as Arrowhead has a daylight basement). The waters stayed for two weeks. Meanwhile, Virginia and her family stayed at Judy Merrill's house, on much higher ground, 3 doors down from the Milford stoplight (for those who've been there). As I recall, Virginia said they spent the whole time playing cards, waiting for the waters to recede. Much of the contents of the house had to be discarded because the flooded houses all had septic systems and the septic systems had been destroyed. But the Blish family still had their house.

But not for long. The US government took most of the houses in the flood zone by eminent domain and tore many of them down. There was a plan for a vast flood management program involving making the whole area a lake. The plan was never enacted. When I worked for Virginia in the late 1980s, we were still sweeping the Delaware River mud out of the floor boards.

Virginia was allowed to rent the family house back from the government for the rest of her life, though if the Feds had ever decided to act on their plan, she would have been evicted. And the house it is where she founded and ran the Virginia Kidd Literary Agency. And when she died a few years ago, the agency was allowed to continue operating in the house, and there they are still.

Why is Blackwater in New Orleans to do work that many others have volunteered to do for free? Two words: Eminent Domain. Think about it.

What is Eminent Domain?
Eminent Domain is how the government takes your property for a public purpose, whether you chose to sell it to them or not, at a price they specify. In Kelo vs. New London, the supreme court vastly expanded the powers of government to take property in situations where it was arguably for a private, not a public, purpose. The American Bar Association outlines it thusly:

The exercise of eminent domain has a central role in urban redevelopment, smart growth, water quality improvements, wild land preservation and restoration, and a host of environmental and energy infrastructure projects.
The Fifth Amendment enjoins: "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." This Quick Teleconference will examine the Supreme Court's recently decided 5th Amendment cases Kelo v. New London, No. 04-108 (June 23, 2005) and Lingle v. Chevron, 125 S. Ct. 2074 (May 23, 2005). In Kelo, the Court by a 5-4 majority upheld the City of New London, Connecticut's condemnation of 15 homes in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood for the sole purpose of furthering economic redevelopment around a planned pharmaceutical research facility. The QT will discuss the extent to which the decision allows governmental officials to condemn private property for the purpose of increasing tax revenues and promoting development.

In Lingle, the Court held in another 5-4 opinion that the 5th Amendment does not engender inquiry into whether the regulation "substantially advances" legitimate state interests, as it would with an issue under the Due Process Clause. Instead, how the amendment applies is a function of the extent and duration of the governmental action.

Translation: in situations like Katrina, Kelo vastly expands the opportunities for corporate looting.

ONE FINAL QUESTION: Under exactly whose authority is Blackwater exerting police powers?

See, for example, this passage from a NOLA account on BoingBoing:

We got yelled at some by police and official-types who wanted us out of areas where they were operating. Herding media isn't really their job, but they weren't rude about it (just brusque). The Blackwater employees, on the other hand, were phenomenally unpleasant. Jake has a lot more to add soon, I'm sure, but there's a serious question as to the authority of these mercenaries.

I imagine that FEMA might enjoy an arrangement with them rather like Paul Bremmer had Bagdad. Except that's impossible because of the extremely peculiar legal circumstances under which the Provisional Authority functioned. New Orleans is under Federal, State, and Local law.  There is a state of emergency, yes, but a subcontracted State of Martial Law is difficult to exaplin.

UPDATE 12/11: I just went looking to see why this post on Blackwater from three months ago  was getting so much traffic. It seems there has been an uptick on news coverage of Blackwater lately. One item that caught my eye was a November 29th piece from the Village Voice, Relief at the Point of a Gun:

Among other things, Blackwater's men with big guns can be found guarding the Jewish Community Center on lovely St. Charles Avenue in Uptown New Orleans, a FEMA recovery center in one of the most recovered neighborhoods in the city, where the gym is open for business and the Salvation Army is giving out hot meals. It is not an area where anyone normally shoots to kill.

"You're not taking a picture of me, are you?" asks a middle-aged man with a military tattoo, a Blackwater hat, and two pistols, who is immediately joined by an even beefier and younger colleague. When asked who they're working for, the older man says, "The federal government. We're providing security."

So, now that it's common knowledge that Blackwater has contracts with FEMA, what I want to know is why wouldn't people who took exception to what I'd written back in September admit the existence of the contract.  Come on, guys. That wasn't fair, now was it?

If you're going to show up to tell the liberal chick in Pleasantville that she Just Doesn't Know, you've got to be straight with me. Those are the rules of engagement here.

Private Contractors & New Orleans

I know a fair amount about mercenaries and private military contractors (see my somewhat incomplete  Mercenaries & PMFs archive), and have been anticipating with a certain sick feeling of de ja vu that I was going to have to blog how all the usual suspects from Iraq and Africa turn up in New Orleans, the world's newest Third World country, so the sentence New Orleans may well have more mercenaries and National Guards operating in it than there are citizens left at the moment gives me a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I have been focusing  primarily on the cartography of Katrina and would appreciate reader recommendations for articles on the involvement of Private Military Contractors. No one knows where all of the bodies are buried in that field, but I at least know where some of them are.

Atk_1And yes, I know about Halliburton. I want the rest of the names, especially those guys carrying guns. UPDATE: Ah. Here are some names:

  • "British security firm AKE Group has three employees on the ground in New Orleans with CNN, a unit of Time Warner Inc. <TWX.N>, and is preparing to send three more." This makes sense to me: CNN should have security people. And it seems to me that security guys accompanying reporters are highly unlikely to turn Rambo. Nonetheless, the Terminator/Robocop graphic to the left comes from their site.  AKE is apparently run by a former CIA guy.
  • "Security firms Kroll Inc. and Beau Dietl & Associates also said on Friday they have seen a surge in requests for security services and advice in the New Orleans area this week.
    Kroll, a unit of Marsh & McLennan Cos. <MMC.N>, has been working to help clients in industries like hotels and casinos to evacuate facilities and implement emergency contingency plans, according to spokeswoman Jodie Rosenblum." This sounds sensible on the face of it, except that it could easily get out of hand. Exactly who is going to prosecute one of their guys if he shoots someone just because the piss him off?

[ADVISORY: Those who came here for the maps and aren't interested in my personal political opinions, stop reading here.]

Continue reading "Private Contractors & New Orleans" »

if a journalist writes an article about genocide in Sudan and mentions neither the word "oil" nor the word "China," he's either naive or being deliberately obtuse.

This morning, Nicholas Kristoff chastises the media for writing so little about genocide and Sudan. He's right to do that, of course. But he also fails my Sudan Test: if a journalist writes an article about genocide in Sudan and mentions neither the word "oil" nor the word "China," he's either naive or being deliberately obtuse.

Sudan has oil. Lots of oil. How does Kristoff describe Rice's trip to Sudan:

Condi Rice finally showed up in Darfur a few days ago, and she went out of her way to talk to rape victims and spotlight the sexual violence used to terrorize civilians. Most American television networks and cable programs haven't done that much.

While I'm all for the world knowing more about the abundant use of sexual violence for political ends in Africa, does Kristoff believe that she was sent there to talk about rape?

Here's the problem: Sudan has all this oil. "We" (i. e. the Cheney energy commission) want it. But the local authorities have some very bad habits, one of which is genocide. When you do read about genocide in Sudan in the US media, it is usually framed in terms of Arab terror.  The reality is a lot more complex. I gather that the problem for a company doing business in Sudan is that the local authorities will slaughter people and raze villages for the convenience of oil companies. And there is no good way for squeamish companies to keep them from doing this. (See Madelaine Drohan's chapter "Talisman in Sudan" in her book Making a Killing: How and Why Corporations Use Armed Force to Do Business.) So companies from countries that make decisions based on human rights have been forced away from the trough.

Luckily for the Sudanese oiligarchy, the Chinese government doesn't care much about the human rights of Africans, and the Chinese oil companies are happy to take up the slack.  My impression of Cheney's secret energy plan is that it allows the US to have an ever-rising need for petroleum and that our two Humvees in every driveway will partially fueled by African oil. And so there is a conflict between our goals and there goals. (China has a really large population: what must China's energy goals look like?)

This does not stop some enterprising individual Western entrepreneurs such as Mark Thatcher from horning in on the action. More recently, British businessman, Friedhelm Eronat bought oil rights in Sudan. What is Eronat's real nationality?

The Guardian reports:

Documents seen by the Guardian suggest that Mr Eronat, who lives in a £20m house in Chelsea, swapped his US passport for a British one shortly before the deal was signed with the Sudan regime in October 2003.

US citizens are barred from dealing with Sudan under sanctions dating from 1997.

(Do read the whole article, plus the Sudan Watch discussion of Eronat.)