Thursday, September 13, 2012







The search for those behind the provocative, anti-Muslim film implicated in violent protests in Egypt and Libya led Wednesday to a California Coptic Christian convicted of financial crimes who acknowledged his role in managing and providing logistics for the production.




  1. Show (someone) to be involved in a crime: "police implicated him in more killings".
  2. Bear some of the responsibility for (an action or process, esp. a criminal or harmful one): "he is heavily implicated in the bombing".



It has not been a smooth time for members of the diplomatic corps.  All Iraq News notes Taha shukr Mahmoud Ismail has died of a heart attack.   That's all the article notes except to say he was born in 1940.  I'm told he was born in 1947 (and that he died Saturday).  What follows is the other information I was told.   He had been Iraq's Ambassador to Chile.  He was born in Mosul in 1947, spoke three languages (Arabic, English and German) earned his degree at the University of Baghdad, first joined the diplomatic corps in 1975 and previously served as Ambassadors to Nigeria and Venezuela.  Taha shuker Mahmoud Alabass is survived by his wife and their five children.  
Four Americans were killed in Libya yesterday when the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi was attacked.  US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted (link is text and video) in a speech today,   Excerpt:
Heavily armed militants assaulted the compound and set fire to our buildings. American and Libyan security personnel battled the attackers together. Four Americans were killed. They included Sean Smith, a Foreign Service information management officer, and our Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens. We are still making next of kin notifications for the other two individuals.
This is an attack that should shock the conscience of people of all faiths around the world. We condemn in the strongest terms this senseless act of violence, and we send our prayers to the families, friends, and colleagues of those we've lost.
All over the world, every day, America's diplomats and development experts risk their lives in the service of our country and our values, because they believe that the United States must be a force for peace and progress in the world, that these aspirations are worth striving and sacrificing for. Alongside our men and women in uniform, they represent the best traditions of a bold and generous nation.
In the lobby of this building, the State Department, the names of those who have fallen in the line of duty are inscribed in marble. Our hearts break over each one. And now, because of this tragedy, we have new heroes to honor and more friends to mourn.
Chris Stevens fell in love with the Middle East as a young Peace Corps volunteer teaching English in Morocco. He joined the Foreign Service, learned languages, won friends for America in distant places, and made other people's hopes his own.
In the early days of the Libyan revolution, I asked Chris to be our envoy to the rebel opposition. He arrived on a cargo ship in the port of Benghazi and began building our relationships with Libya's revolutionaries. He risked his life to stop a tyrant, then gave his life trying to help build a better Libya. The world needs more Chris Stevenses. I spoke with his sister, Ann, this morning, and told her that he will be remembered as a hero by many nations.
Sean Smith was an Air Force veteran. He spent 10 years as an information management officer in the State Department, he was posted at The Hague, and was in Libya on a brief temporary assignment. He was a husband to his wife Heather, with whom I spoke this morning. He was a father to two young children, Samantha and Nathan. They will grow up being proud of the service their father gave to our country, service that took him from Pretoria to Baghdad, and finally to Benghazi.
The mission that drew Chris and Sean and their colleagues to Libya is both noble and necessary, and we and the people of Libya honor their memory by carrying it forward. This is not easy. Today, many Americans are asking – indeed, I asked myself – how could this happen? How could this happen in a country we helped liberate, in a city we helped save from destruction? This question reflects just how complicated and, at times, how confounding the world can be.
But we must be clear-eyed, even in our grief. This was an attack by a small and savage group – not the people or Government of Libya. Everywhere Chris and his team went in Libya, in a country scarred by war and tyranny, they were hailed as friends and partners. And when the attack came yesterday, Libyans stood and fought to defend our post. Some were wounded. Libyans carried Chris' body to the hospital, and they helped rescue and lead other Americans to safety. And last night, when I spoke with the President of Libya, he strongly condemned the violence and pledged every effort to protect our people and pursue those responsible.
The speech is worth reading or viewing in full.  We don't have room because we also have to cover a Congressional hearing today.  One part of it we do need to emphasize:
Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior, along with the protest that took place at our Embassy in Cairo yesterday, as a response to inflammatory material posted on the internet. America's commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear – there is no justification for this, none. Violence like this is no way to honor religion or faith. And as long as there are those who would take innocent life in the name of God, the world will never know a true and lasting peace.
As Mike noted last night, Hillary made a strong statement yesterday.  Today was not, for her, grab the mop and try to clean up her mess.  That's not true of everyone.  Some felt that elements of the US government were apologizing.  Cedric and Wally noted this morning that some elements appeared to be taking US Vice President Joe Biden's speech at the DNC last Thursday and changing, "If you attack innocent Americans we will follow you to the end of the earth" and changing it to, "If you attack innocent Americans we will follow you to the end of the earth to grovel, apologize and beg you to forgive us."  This impression is in part due to a statement that was issued but shouldn't have been and the failure of the White House to address the attacks yesterday -- verbally address them to the nation.  The failure to do so allowed Barack Obama's Republican challenger in the presidential race, Mitt Romney, to dominate the news cycle last night when he issued the following statement:
I'm outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi.  
It's disgraceful that the Obama Administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.
The attacks were also noted this morning by US House Rep Buck McKeon who is also the Chair of the House Armed Services Committee.  At the start of this morning's hearing, Chair McKeon observed, "This morning, we're reminded once more of what a dangerous world we live in and the risk many Americans take to serve our country abroad.  My thoughts and prayers together with those of the members of the Committee are with the families of the loved ones of those that we've lost in Libya."
With that noted, McKeon then moved on to the point of the hearing: Is anyone learning?
The short answer is: No, no one is.
The hearing was about the financial costs of war and the oversight needed to ensure that
the money is spent appropriately and as intended.  The Defense Dept has largely washed its hand of Iraq and the State Dept now is the department spending billions of US tax dollars on Iraq.  This has thrown Congress which appears unsure of exactly how to examine the work done in Iraq -- instead of a turf war, it's more of a hot potato with no one wanting to touch it.  But the Defense Dept continues to spend huge sums in Afghanistan and it is thought and hoped that somehow the Iraq War and the ten years already in Afghanistan at least provided some lessons in how to improve the financial aspects of warfare.  We're talking contracting, as DoD's Assistant Secretary on Logistics and Material Readiness Alan F. Estevez made clear in his remarks. 
It's good that there was some clarity somewhere in his remarks.  Pacific Command and the Japanese tsunami?  No one is really interested when you're supposed to be talking about money spent on warfare.  In fact, not only are they not interested but the Committee appeared to collectively eye roll as they pondered whether or not the tsunami was brought up because that's the only thing DoD can point to with pride when it comes to spending?
Estevez and Brig Gen Craig Crenshaw turned in a joint-written statement.  They delivered individual statements orally to the Committee.  Crenshaw stated that they had addressed past mistakes in their joint-statement.  It would be good if they had done that.  The Congressional Research Service's Moshe Schwartz would testify that experts were stating, "DoD must change the way it thinks about contracting."  But there was nothing that indicated it had or that it was trying to.
And at the root of that is the refusal to learn from past mistakes.  You can't learn from them if you can't admit them.  The refusal to acknowledge the past mistakes may be sadder than Estevez desperation for a 'win' that led to his highlighting Pacific Command's response to Japan's tsunami.  A statement that on its first page of text (the actual first page was a cover sheet) quickly states, "Without dwelling on the past . . ."?  That's a joint-statement that's not going to be admitting to much of anything. 
So no, in the joint-written statement, Estevez and Crenshaw do not "acknowledge our past weakneesses."  And this failure to do so -- this repeated failure -- may go a long way towards explaining why money continues to be wasted -- why large sums of money continue to be wasted.
Large sums of money?
Schwartz's testimony also included,  "According to DoD data, from Fiscal Year 2008 to Fiscal Year 2011, contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan represented 52% of the total force -- averaging 190,000 contractors to 175,000 uniformed personnel.  Over the last five fiscal years, DoD obligations for contracts performed just in the Iraq and Afghanistan areas of operation ($132 billion) exceeded total contract obligations of any other US federal agency.
The Congressional Research Service had three recommendations:
1) Senior leadership must focus on articulating the importance of contract support in a sustained and consistent manner.
2) The Professional Military Education curriculum must incorporate courses on operational contract support throughout its various efforts.
3) Training exercises must incorporate contractors playing the role that they would play on the battlefield.
Those are good suggestions but let's explain why they're needed before we evaluate them.  They're needed because oversight of contractors is not valued (that's the culture) and what happens is, once in the war zone, someone gets appointed to do oversight.  This person hasn't been trained in oversight of contractors.  These observations were made in this morning's hearing.
These observations have been made in repeated Congressional hearings, before the Commission on Wartime Contracting and elsewhere.  They are not new.  If you've attended even one hearing on contracting in war zones, you've heard the three suggestions in some form already.
This stuck in the same worn groove aspect was slightly touched on in the hearing when the Government Accountability Office's Tim DiNapoli noted that it was June 2010 when the GAO "called for a cultural change -- one that emphasized an awareness of contractor support throughout the department.  Consistent with this message, in January 2011, the Secretary of Defense identified the need to institutionalize changes to bring about such a change." 
But nothing changes.  And getting answers is like pulling teeth.  For example, grasp that US House Rep Susan Davis is asking basic questions and watch the witness run from these basic issues.
US House Rep Susan Davis: As you've gone through a number of these areas, I think some of it falls into a category that we might call common sense.  I mean, obviously you need to plan, you need to have data, you need to have oversight.  And yet I guess to someone just listening in on that, they'd say, "Well yeah."  I mean what gets in the way of those good practices?  And I wonder if you could talk more about the different kinds of contracting then and where that becomes a greater problem because if it's related to the war fighter and contingency operations, I would think in many cases that's a difficulty, as I think you've expressed, of planning.  You don't necessarily know what your situation is going to be until you're in the middle of it.  And on the other hand, if you're talking about operational, it would seem to me that that's -- there's enough standardization in that -- that you shouldn't have to go back to the drawing board every time. So can you help?  What gets in the way of those different areas that we're not able to, I guess, accomplish what we really want to do?
Moshe Schwartz There are a number of issues that you raised and I think it's an excellent question.  One of the challenges that has occured in Afghanistan is that there's a frequent rotation among personnel -- uniform personnel as well as contractors, as well as civilian personnel -- and so often someone who gets to theater who has never engaged in a counter-insurgency operation --  which Afghanistan has the policy now being pursued there -- it takes them a learning curve and they say, "Oh, I get it.  I see what's going on.  And now I'm three months from going home."  And then someone else comes in who may not have had that learning curve.  That definitely has an impact  of the ability for continuity in some of these common sense issues.  For example, contracting in war time is fundamentally different than contracting in peace time so someone who has done contracting for years and years here to build a road is thinking: Cost, schedule, performance.  When they get to Afghanistan, perhaps cost, schedule and performance and perhaps, "Wait, stealing the goods. We can't take them to court.  What effect is this having on the local village?"  And when they start getting up to speed, as I mentioned, they start rotating back.  That's one problem.  A second problem is sometimes you hae personnel who, because of the rotation policy, don't have the experience in that area.  When I was in Afghanistan last summer, a former helo pilot was working on contracting strategy.  He had never done that before.  Incredibly talented individual but it took him also some time to get up to speed.  So I think that is one factor that  makes a difference.  I think the other factor sometimes is simply exposure to the magnitude of what one might be dealing with.  For example --
US House Rep Susan Davis:  I guess, so where -- Are there, because you talk about gaps in data and in that collection process, how do you mitigate these issues which are, again, they're obvious.  There's a certain level of uncertainty that you can't necessarily plan for.  How do -- What's the best way of getting around that, if that's the issue.  The other thing, and I just wanted to see if you had some thoughts on or a sesne of what is the cost of unpreparedness and the lack of planning?  Has anybody tried to quantify that? And particularly to the extent that we obviously need to do better planning and there is a cost to that as well.  So where is that balance and what do we think that is?  I mean is that 10% of the budget?  Is that 3% of the budget?  So the first one, how do you get around those issues that you mentioned that are obviously difficult to plan for?
Moshe Schwartz:  Let me address just the data.  Would you like me to respond to that one?
US House Rep Susan Davis:  Yeah.
Moshe Schwartz:  So there a couple of strategies that have been suggested that could assist.  One is that what's happened often in Afghanistan is that you have somebody collecting data but they don't know how to get it into the system because, for example, the Sidney System, the system that is being used in Afghanistan, they're not familiar with it.  The user interface hasn't been done in a way so that someone who isn't experienced in programming is necessarly capable of using effectively.  In that area, training and education can make a substantial difference as well as [. . .]
And on and on he yammered.  Want numbers?  Don't ask the witnesses because despite the fact that they should have an answer to these questions, should arrive for the hearing with answers to these questions, they never provide them.  Davis went over her time in the excerpt above.  When Schwartz was finally done yammering, she would quickly ask if -- by hand in the air -- could anyone indicate that they had a rough idea of the cost that was being talked about?  No one could.
Another point to note, we said DoD does less.  DoD is not gone from Iraq.  And this was briefly noted in the hearing.
US House Rep Mike Coffman:  I think my first question would be how many contractors -- or is anybody aware of how many contractors we have in Iraq today
Alan Estevez:  Iraq today, end of third-quarter number is about 7,300.  DoD contractors.
US House Rep Mike Coffman:  7,300.  And what kind of missions are they performing at this time?
Alan Estevez:  They're still doing some base support, delivery of food and fuel, some private security, some security missions.
Those are not State Dept contractors, those are DoD contractors.
Let's not Estevez's title again: Assistant Secretary of Defense Logistics and Material Readiness.  He is qualified to answer that question.  He did answer that question. 
Quickly, if US House Rep Dennis Kucinich wanted to contribute anything before he leaves Congress (he lost his primary and has no election to run in), he could chair or co-chair a hearing on what we learn from the Iraq War that deals with realities and not just dollars and cents.  US House Rep Lynne Woolsey, who decided not to seek re-election, would make a good chair for such a hearing.

Recommended: "Iraq snapshot"
"6 dead, 13 wounded so far today"
"Iraq's persecuted LGBT community"
"The teachers strike"
"NBC disrespects 9-11 twice today"
"The issues"
"full service: hollywood and prostitution"
"West Nile"
"Paul Simon's Graceland"
"Hepburn, Tracy, Burr, prostitutes and more"
"What does it mean?"
"Another death at Guantanamo"
"Who's the grown up in the room?"
"Groveling 101"