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Tuesday, 30 March 2004


Iraq Contracts Give Halliburton Headaches
28 minutes ago
By MATT KELLEY, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - Halliburton Co. has reaped as much as $6 billion in contracts from the U.S. invasion of Iraq (news - web sites), but improprieties in those military contracts have also given Vice President Dick Cheney (news - web sites)'s former company high-profile headaches.
Pentagon (news - web sites) auditors have criticized Halliburton's estimating, spending and subcontracting, and they plan to begin withholding up to $300 million in payments next month. The Justice Department (news - web sites) is investigating allegations of overcharges, bribes and kickbacks. Democrats have accused the company of war profiteering.
Even some Wall Street analysts are asking whether Halliburton would be better off jettisoning its Iraq contracts.
"From the shareholders' point of view, don't you have to consider whether it's worth it?" Jim Wicklund of Banc of America Securities asked Halliburton executives during a March 11 conference call with investment analysts.
Halliburton is fighting back, strongly denying wrongdoing and claiming to be the victim of a political smear campaign. The company set aside nearly $200 million to repay the Pentagon for any overcharges. Executives reassured analysts that Halliburton has enough cash on hand -- about $2 billion -- to weather any more repayments or penalties.
Having a clean contracting system in Iraq is essential because it's the first experience Iraqis will have with the American model of business-government partnerships, said Peter Singer, a former Defense Department official who wrote a book on military contracting.
"The success in the war in Iraq and the follow-up to it depends on not just how good a job our soldiers do but also on how good a job our contractors do," said Singer, a fellow at the Brookings Institution. "If we award contracts to firms that aren't performing to the utmost, it's not only a waste of taxpayer money but it also harms national security."
Halliburton also is spending millions on a nationwide television advertising campaign featuring images of Halliburton workers helping American troops.
The company's defenders say Halliburton had to perform a lot of costly and dangerous work very quickly, with minimal government oversight at the beginning.
"The root cause of a lot of these problems is that it's a huge, rapidly evolving enterprise," said Steven Schooner, a contracting expert and assistant law professor at George Washington University. "When the money was spent the government was not applying the same type of resources in terms of planning, thought and caution that we normally expect and demand in public contracting."
Halliburton's detractors are undeterred.
"The entire Halliburton affair represents the worst in government contracts with private companies: influence peddling, kickbacks, overcharging and no-bid deals," Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., said this week.
Bush administration officials say Vice President Cheney -- a former defense secretary -- has nothing to do with awarding contracts to the company he led from 1995 to 2000.
Through subsidiary KBR, Halliburton's experience with military contracts dates back to World War II. The company did similar logistics work for troops in Vietnam, the first Gulf War (news - web sites), Bosnia and Kosovo.
Halliburton says 15 percent of its revenue last year came from work in Iraq. That money came mainly from two contracts with KBR, formerly known as Kellogg, Brown & Root.
The biggest contract is with the Army to provide logistical support for troops -- meal service, laundry, communications and housing. The second is a contract with the Army Corps of Engineers to fight oil well fires and rebuild Iraq's devastated oil industry.
Under criticism for awarding the oil contract outside of the usual competitive bidding process, the Army split the oil reconstruction work into two parts and held a bidding competition late last year. Halliburton got one of those contracts to reconstruct oil facilities in southern Iraq. The contract was worth more than $1 billion.
Problems already identified with Halliburton's business include:
_ Allegations it overcharged by $61 million for gasoline it delivered from Kuwait to civilians in Iraq. Pentagon auditors say Halliburton did not fully justify spending more than $1 extra per gallon for gasoline delivered from Kuwait than gas it bought from Turkish companies. Halliburton says the higher price reflected charges by the Kuwaiti subcontractor that was the lowest bidder. Halliburton also says it came up with the idea of tapping the Turkish market and saved the government more than $100 million.
_ A Pentagon audit that concluded Halliburton charged millions for meals never served to troops. Halliburton has repaid $36 million and set aside an additional $141 million to reimburse the military for possible overcharges. On April 1, the Defense Department plans to begin withholding 15 percent of payments to Halliburton -- up to $300 million -- because of the alleged overcharging. Halliburton officials say problems might have occurred because the number of troops in and near Iraq often changed quickly and drastically.
_ A Defense Department probe into allegations a Kuwaiti subcontractor paid kickbacks to two former Halliburton employees. The company says it repaid $6 million to the government after it discovered the scheme.
_ Widespread problems with estimating costs, justifying spending and following federal regulations. The Defense Contract Audit Agency found so many faults with KBR's practices that it warned the Defense Contract Management Agency the company's estimates were unreliable. Halliburton says any glitches were the result of working quickly to establish services in a war zone.
_Pentagon and Justice Department investigations into possible overcharging on KBR contracts to support troops in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Federal authorities also are investigating whether Halliburton violated U.S. laws prohibiting deals with Iran, and U.S. and French authorities are probing whether KBR was involved in paying $180 million in bribes to Nigerian officials to get favorable treatment for a natural gas project.
Halliburton reported making $3.6 billion in revenue from Iraq contracts last year. Executives say the company is taking in about $1 billion a month from its work in Iraq, bringing its total revenue to about $6 billion.

CIA finds new data but no weapons in Iraq
U.S. trained Iraqi border police officers drive at the Muntheria Border Crossing in the Iraqi - Iranian border, northeastern Iraq, Monday, March 29, 2004. Top U.S. civil administrator in Iraq L. Paul Bremer visited the border Monday and met with civil and military officials at the border operation center. Muntheria is one of the three border entry points that remains open along the Iraqi-Iranian border. The other border entry points have been closed to control illegal entries. (AP Photo/Murad Sezer)
WASHINGTON -- U.S. weapons hunters in Iraq have found more evidence Saddam Hussein's regime had civilian factories able to quickly produce biological and chemical weapons, the CIA's top weapons inspector told senators Tuesday. But they still have not found any weapons.
The CIA's special adviser on the weapons hunt, Charles Duelfer, said he did not know how much longer the weapons hunt might take.
"The picture is much more complicated than I anticipated going in," Duelfer said at a Capitol Hill press conference, nine weeks after he took over the weapons search.
In a closed session with the Senate Armed Services Committee, Duelfer said the Iraq Survey Group has found new evidence that Iraqi scientists flight tested long-range ballistic missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles that "easily exceeded" U.N. limits of 93 miles.
And the survey group has new information indicating the regime engaged in ongoing research to produce chemical or biological weapons on short notice, using civilian - or "dual use" - facilities.
However, in declassified testimony shared with the media, Duelfer didn't break significant ground on the weapons hunt, saying he lacked sufficient information to draw conclusions about what Saddam had.
"Imagine yourself being asked to determine the secret, behind the scenes intentions of our own government with respect to its most secret weapons programs after talking to a few hundred folks who may or may not have been intimately involved, with only a small fraction of documents available, and with a leadership that is not broken and willing to discuss its inner secrets," Duelfer said in the declassified remarks.
"How much would you really understand?"
Duelfer took over the job of top civilian weapons inspector after his predecessor, David Kay, resigned in January and told Congress "we were almost all wrong" about Saddam's weapons programs. In a flurry of public statements questioning whether weapons would ever be found, Kay renewed the debate about the very weapons of mass destruction programs that the Bush administration used to justify last year's Iraq invasion.
On Tuesday, Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner, R-Va., and Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, both called for patience as the search continues. "It ain't over til it's over," Roberts said.
However, with the November elections looming, Democrats are questioning - some loudly - whether the administration overstated the threat Saddam posed and the evidence about his weapons of mass destruction.
Duelfer said he has tried to determine the Saddam regime's intentions for the activities investigators have uncovered: Were weapons hidden that were not readily available? Was there a plan for a stepped-up production capacity? Were WMD technologies being developed for the missile and UAV programs? When did the leadership want to see results?
Duelfer said the survey group continues to look for weapons of mass destruction and regularly receives reports - "some quite intriguing and credible" - about possible concealed stashes buried or hidden across Iraq.
He said the survey group also questions former regime officials. However, many are still reluctant to talk because they fear prosecution, as well as retribution from former regime supporters. For these and other reasons, he said, the survey group is struggling to get clear, truthful information.
"We do not know whether Saddam was concealing WMD in the final years or planning to resume production once sanctions were lifted," Duelfer said. "We do not know what he ordered his senior ministers to undertake. We do not know how the disparate activities we have identified link together."

Associated Press writer Pauline Jelinek contributed to this report.

U.N. Envoy Sent to Shape Plan for Iraq
Key Players Still at Odds Over Transition Process
By Robin Wright and Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, March 30, 2004; Page A13
A U.N. special envoy heads to Baghdad this week to chart a course for forming a new Iraqi government in just six to eight weeks, amid growing signs that the pivotal players in Iraq's political drama are deeply divided over how to proceed.
With a new sense of urgency, the United Nations is dispatching envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to begin deliberations, while the Bush administration yesterday dispatched the National Security Council's Iraq troubleshooter, Robert Blackwill, to help set the stage for Brahimi's mission and pressure the Iraqi Governing Council to cooperate, U.S. officials said.
The key problem is that Iraqis are deeply split, with many on the council jockeying to hold on to power despite recent polls showing that its 25 members have limited popular backing, according to Iraqi and U.S. officials. But the United Nations and the U.S.-led coalition also differ on what can realistically be achieved by the end of May, the deadline to get an interim government in place so the occupation can end on June 30, according to U.S. and U.N. officials.
With two plans abandoned over the past eight months because of public opposition, the Bush administration publicly insists it is open to new ideas and has turned over the deliberations to Brahimi, State Department and White House officials said. But coalition officials are increasingly -- and reluctantly -- convinced that there is no viable alternative except to turn political authority over to an expanded version of the U.S.-appointed governing council, according to officials of coalition countries.
"We have no particular option, and time is running short. An expanded governing council is looking more likely than not, but it's not settled. The most important thing is for Iraqis to be comfortable with it," said a White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
"It boils down to believing there is no other alternative left. We're not philosophically against any other ideas and we're willing to let Brahimi take a shot . . . and we'll support him in any way we can. But we've tried everything -- and what else is there?" added a State Department official.
Brahimi, set to arrive in Iraq at week's end, believes that "everything is open to discussion," said a U.N. official involved in the trip, "as long as we can reach a political consensus and the new provisional administration is acceptable as much as possible to all Iraqis."
Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister, particularly wants to explore two ideas -- holding either a "roundtable" of Iraqi leaders or a wider national convention -- both of which are similar to the loya jirga assembly that selected Afghanistan's postwar government after the U.S. invasion ousted the Taliban, officials from coalition countries said.
Coalition officials are concerned that time has already run out for both ideas. The central problem for any option that requires appointing a new group of Iraqis to help create a government is in figuring out who should choose that group and how many members it should have, coalition and U.N. officials said. Squabbling among Iraqis has been a complicating problem since the occupation began last year.
Coalition and U.N. officials said that, at this late date, they want to limit the number of Iraqis involved in picking a government -- or in the interim government itself -- to keep the process from becoming unwieldy. Given public posturing, they fear any attempt to name an additional 25 or 50 people to some newly formed group will lead to calls for 50 or 100 appointments.
Looming in the background of all discussions, however, is Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq's popular cleric whose opposition torpedoed two earlier U.S. plans. Officials from both the U.S.-led coalition and the United Nations say they recognize that Sistani's objections to any new proposal would almost certainly doom it, too -- and further complicate the handover of sovereignty from U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer.
The majority of governing council members are pressing for either transforming the council, as is, into an interim government, or enlarging it modestly, said Iraqi officials. "We can't start July 1 with a brand-new government," said Adel Abdel-Mehdi, a leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. "It will be more practical and much easier to expand the governing council, and they will assure this question of continuity."
But some council members recognize the danger of rejection if a new government is not viewed as properly representative. "We have to give other people the chance to participate, to have a say, to be part of the process so that they will support it," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of the council.
U.N. officials are also signaling alarm over the limited time to organize elections by year's end. In Baghdad yesterday, chief U.N. elections director Carina Perelli said election plans must be made by the end of May if that timetable is to work.
"We need to make sure that between now and the 31st of January there is a modicum of security that will make the Iraqi people feel that they can go to the polls, that they can run as candidates without extreme fear and that they don't pull out of the process," she said.
Shadid reported from Baghdad. Staff writers Sewell Chan in Baghdad and Colum Lynch at the United Nations contributed to this report.


National security
The blame game
Mar 25th 2004 | WASHINGTON, DC
From The Economist print edition
Was Iraq a distraction from the war against America's real enemies? And could those enemies have been countered earlier?
GEORGE BUSH is running as a war president, a man willing to take the hard decisions needed to defend America from existential threat. As evidence, he claims he took the danger of global terrorism very seriously even before the attacks of September 11th 2001, and that since then he has prosecuted the war on terror with the utmost possible vigour, including the decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
Given the significance of his war leadership, a credible challenge to either of his claims would be a matter of the utmost consequence. This week, both came under fire from a variety of reputable sources in Washington. Their criticism could resonate far beyond the Beltway because Americans have consistently said that, on terrorism, they trust Mr Bush more than they do John Kerry, his Democratic rival.
On Tuesday March 23rd, the commission set up by Congress to investigate the al-Qaeda attacks released preliminary reports criticising both the Bush and Clinton administrations for their responses to repeated assaults by al-Qaeda on American targets in the 1990s. It argues that both governments focused too much on diplomatic efforts (for example, to try to get Afghanistan to expel Osama bin Laden) rather than military options. It claims intelligence reports to Mr Bush had given warning of a potentially catastrophic terrorist attack against American targets (warnings that were later acknowledged in testimony by Colin Powell, the secretary of state, and Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defence). And it added new details of four opportunities to capture Mr bin Laden himself between December 1998 and July 1999, which it claimed the Clinton administration failed to grasp for fear of killing innocent bystanders.
This was bad enough but, the day before, a new book by Richard Clarke ("Against All Enemies", Free Press) levelled accusations that could prove even more damaging. Mr Clarke, the counter-terrorism co-ordinator in both the Bush and Clinton administrations, argues that Mr Clinton took the threat of al-Qaeda somewhat more seriously than the Bush administration (and even had successes against it, such as foiling a plot to bomb Los Angeles airport and a hotel in Jordan during the millennium celebrations and disrupting its attempt to take over Bosnia during the Yugoslav wars). The Bush administration was weaker, Mr Clarke claims, because members of the president's inner circle were distracted by their obsession with Saddam Hussein. Before 9/11, they thought the danger from al-Qaeda important; they did not think it urgent.
Mr Clarke says he asked the new administration within a week of its inauguration to discuss the threat from al-Qaeda at the highest (cabinet) level. But such a meeting did not take place until nine months later--only a week before the attacks, and too late to make a difference. Instead, the issue was discussed at a lower level, that of the deputy secretaries. At the first meeting, in Mr Clarke's telling, Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defence secretary, said "I just don't understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man bin Laden. There are others that do [pose an immediate and serious threat] as well, at least as much. Iraqi terrorism, for example."
The charge that the administration was slow to appreciate the full extent of al-Qaeda's threat may well be politically harmful. In testimony before the commission on March 24th, Mr Clarke dramatically apologised to the relatives of 9/11 victims sitting in the room: "Your government failed you...I failed you." And the charge that the Bush team was wrongly focused on Iraq instead corroborates the growing view that the president and his team are stubborn over matters of national security (a view that stems partly from the administration's insistence that weapons of mass destruction would be found in Iraq). John Kerry has been repeating the charge of stubbornness at every chance he gets.
The administration has responded to Mr Clarke's charges with a torrent of personal censure, impugning his motives by accusing him of everything from frustrated ambition to political disloyalty and to being "out of the loop" (Dick Cheney's term). Given Mr Clarke's background--he arguably knows as much about al-Qaeda as anyone in America--this attack may not work.
But Mr Clarke's central charge is probably unproven. Given what was known or believed about Saddam in early 2001, the administration had every cause to worry about Iraq when it came into office. The real question is whether it could have done more than it did against al-Qaeda, regardless of the reason.
Mr Clarke says it could. He argues that the administration could have strengthened the Northern Alliance, the armed opposition group fighting the Taliban for control of Afghanistan. It could also have pushed harder to deploy Predator drone aircraft over Afghanistan to kill Mr bin Laden before 9/11. It could have spent more money reducing its vulnerabilities at home (in fact, the Justice Department did not list fighting terrorism as one of its main goals before 9/11). It could have done more to encourage, say, educational alternatives to radical Islamism in Muslim countries threatened by al-Qaeda.
The report by the 9/11 commission provided some corroboration for these claims of negligence to act. So, this week, did internal administration documents which showed that, after 9/11, the Office of Management and Budget cut by two-thirds a request for $1.5 billion of additional counter-terrorism funding from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
In reply, Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, argued (in an article published in the Washington Post, not coincidentally, on the day Mr Clarke's book appeared) that the administration did in fact increase funding for counter-terrorism before 9/11. It did consider deploying armed Predators, but military experts said the craft were not ready. It rejected sending help to the Northern Alliance on the ground that the group was then too weak to make significant advances anyway. As several of the officials giving testimony to the commission argued, it would have been politically impossible to have sent substantial commando forces into Afghanistan before 9/11: neither surrounding countries nor the American Congress would have countenanced such a move.
Most important, Miss Rice argued, even if the administration had done everything Mr Clarke wanted, that would probably not have been enough to deal with al-Qaeda or stop the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre. Mr Bush, she said, was tired of "swatting flies". Something more was needed, which the administration was working on throughout 2001. But it was too late.
And there, for the moment, the debate rests. The Bush administration was urged to do more before 9/11, and chose not to, for reasons that seemed right and reasonable at the time. It was working on a strategy to deal with al-Qaeda, but too slowly to do any good. Some of its members were more concerned about Saddam Hussein than Osama bin Laden. Nothing here can be called indefensible. Whether this is the record of someone who treated al-Qaeda with the utmost seriousness is another matter.
Copyright ? 2004 The Economist Newspaper and The Economist Group. All rights reserved.

Emergency Plans Found Lacking
GAO: Essential Services at Risk
By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 30, 2004; Page A17
Federal agencies have not developed adequate plans to ensure the continuation of essential government services during emergencies such as terrorist attacks, bad weather or unexpected building closures, a new study has found.
The report released yesterday by the General Accounting Office found that none of 23 major departments and agencies studied had fully complied with a six-year-old presidential directive to develop emergency plans in accordance with guidelines from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Agencies often omitted vital programs in compiling their lists of essential functions for their "continuity of operations" plans (COOP), according to the 26-page report. For instance, agencies did not list 20 of the 38 federal programs that were identified as "high impact" during efforts to shore up computer systems before the year 2000, the report's authors found.
While the authors of the GAO report did not name the omitted programs, the high-impact list includes such efforts as food stamps, unemployment insurance, Social Security benefits and the National Weather Service.
Moreover, no agency fully met all FEMA guidelines for the emergency plans, such as requirements for tests and training exercises, preservation of vital records, provisions for alternate facilities, and coordination with partner agencies in providing some services, the report found.
It apparantly was not all the agencies' fault. The study found that FEMA, which is now a part of the Department of Homeland Security, fell short on oversight of the plans and that its guidance for agencies lacked detail.
"If FEMA does not address these shortcomings, agency . . . plans may not be effective in ensuring that the most vital government services can be maintained in an emergency," the report said.
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, said in a statement yesterday that he was concerned by the report and would hold a hearing after the April congressional recess.
"In the last few years in Washington, we have seen enough events, both big and small, interrupt government operations to know the importance of continuity-of-operations plans," said Davis, who requested the GAO study.
In written comments to the GAO, Michael D. Brown, the undersecretary for emergency preparedness and response at Homeland Security, argued that the government was poised to deliver services in an emergency. Nevertheless, he agreed that FEMA needed to do more.
He wrote that the agency has already taken a number of steps, including plans for a government-wide exercise to test emergency plans in May, more outreach to smaller agencies and a fiscal 2005 budget proposal that would increase by $27 million funding for continuity-of-government programs.
"All of these FEMA efforts and activities are specifically designed to improve planning and to further ensure the delivery of essential government services during an emergency," Brown wrote in a two-page memo dated Feb. 18.


Probe Finds $10 Million In Payments To Lobbyist
Indian Tribes Unaware of Fees
By Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 30, 2004; Page A01
Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff received $10 million in previously undisclosed payments from a public relations executive whom he recommended for work with wealthy Indian tribes that operate casinos, congressional investigators have determined.
Abramoff, one of Washington's best-connected Republican lobbyists, this month was forced out of his firm, Greenberg Traurig, after revelations that he and the executive -- Michael S. Scanlon, a former spokesman for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) -- had persuaded four newly wealthy tribes to pay them fees of more than $45 million over the past three years. That amount rivals spending on public policy by some of the nation's biggest corporate interests.
In a letter sent to Abramoff late yesterday, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said investigators on his staff "have recently learned that Michael Scanlon or organizations with which he was in some way associated . . . recently paid you approximately $10 million."
The financial arrangements between the two men were not previously known to the tribes or to Abramoff's firm, according to tribe members and a source close to the investigation. In an interview last month, Abramoff denied having any financial stake in Scanlon's businesses.
But days later, Abramoff was questioned by members of Greenberg Traurig's executive committee. On March 3, a member of that committee, Richard A. Rosenbaum, announced that Abramoff had resigned after he "disclosed to the firm for the first time personal transactions and related conduct which are unacceptable to the firm." Rosenbaum did not elaborate.
Abbe Lowell, an attorney for Abramoff, declined yesterday to comment on whether Scanlon paid Abramoff. "It's inappropriate for me or anyone else to discuss financial affairs," he said, adding that Abramoff resigned from Greenberg Traurig because of the "swirling controversy that was impacting his ability to serve his clients." Abramoff has since joined Cassidy & Associates, another lobbying firm, as a consultant.
McCain, a senior member of the Indian Affairs Committee who has called the lobbying and public relations fees "disgraceful," launched an investigation earlier this month after a story about the fees was published in The Washington Post.
He also is looking into millions of dollars in campaign contributions that Abramoff advised the tribes to make, as well as payments from the tribes to other organizations with no clear connection to Indian concerns, among them a Scanlon think tank in Rehoboth Beach, Del., run by a former lifeguard and a yoga instructor. That organization, American International Center, also paid Greenberg Traurig $1.5 million.
In his letter, obtained by The Post, McCain asked Abramoff for "a list of all Scanlon Companies from which you received anything of value from 1998 through the present." A letter seeking the same information was sent to Scanlon.
The Saginaw Chippewa tribe in Michigan, which paid Abramoff and Scanlon $13.9 million over two years for public affairs work and lobbying, questioned them separately on Dec. 22 about their financial arrangements, tribal officials said yesterday.
A tribal staff member who attended the session and insisted on anonymity said yesterday that "they answered they were not in business together." A new majority of the tribal council elected late last year has canceled contracts with both Scanlon and Abramoff.
While lobbying fees must be disclosed publicly in reports filed with Congress, there is no such disclosure requirement on fees charged by public relations firms. Scanlon, 33, a former communications aide to DeLay, was paid at least $30 million in the past three years by the Saginaw Chippewas, the Louisiana Coushattas and the Agua Caliente tribe of Palm Springs, Calif., according to interviews and documents provided to The Post by tribal members.
In their request to Abramoff yesterday, Senate investigators also asked for a list "organized by tribe, of all persons or organizations that Greenberg Traurig or you asked any tribal client (or any of its members) of the firm to make a payment of money to, from 1998 through the present."
Senate investigators learned of the payments from Scanlon to Abramoff in recent days, sources familiar with the investigation said. Greenberg Traurig has agreed to cooperate in the Senate investigation. It has hired the Williams & Connolly law firm to represent its interests and respond to Senate investigators.
Lawyers at both firms yesterday declined to comment. Scanlon did not respond to requests for comment made by telephone and e-mail.
In an interview last month with The Post, Abramoff distanced himself from knowledge about "outside vendors" hired by the tribes. Abramoff asserted that "we are not active with the third-party vendors of the tribes." He acknowledged that "we have recommended that different tribes hire different vendors for different needs that they might have," but he added that client confidentiality required him to "defer in terms of any discussion of Scanlon or his companies or any specific third-party vendor."
An undisclosed financial relationship between Abramoff and Scanlon could create further problems for Greenberg Traurig. On March 5, the firm wrote to the Saginaw Chippewa tribe offering to refund moneys if an internal financial review the firm is conducting finds that the tribe was shortchanged.
"Should we determine that the services provided or charges made on your account were inappropriate, you should know that we are prepared to make adjustments in those charges and take all appropriate action," the letter said.
McCain yesterday requested the internal investigation report from Greenberg Traurig. He asked three tribes for documents relating to their contracts with Abramoff and Scanlon, as well as the results of any internal investigations they have undertaken.
Newly elected members of the Saginaw Chippewa tribal council, including the tribal chairman, Audrey Falcon, have welcomed McCain's investigation. They have agreed to provide documents and to waive their attorney-client privilege, as has the Coushatta tribe of Louisiana.
But some tribe members who hired Scanlon and Abramoff are now trying to block the document release. Former Saginaw Chippewa tribal chief Maynard Kahgegab Jr. and two other tribal council members sent a letter to Greenberg Traurig on March 25 warning that the full council has not voted to waive the attorney-client privilege and stating they would view document production to the Senate as a serious ethical breach.
Some of those tribal members are seeking to recall the new council majority over the cancellation of the Scanlon and Abramoff contracts.


John Kerry's 'Alter Ego'
By Laura Blumenfeld
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 30, 2004; Page A17
When a Massachusetts official attacked Sen. John F. Kerry in the media, Kerry's chief of staff called to rein him in. The conversation grew heated, and the official growled, "So I criticized your guy. What are you gonna do, spank me?"
Perhaps. As chief of staff for the Massachusetts senator and presumed Democratic presidential nominee, David McKean handles all stripes of assignments. Observers describe McKean as Kerry's "alter ego," and his "confidence man." McKean is so in tune with Kerry's instincts, aides say, he will play a "significant role" in choosing a vice presidential running mate. His own name has been floated as a potential White House chief of staff.
What's more, he's Kerry's distant cousin.
"He's the most intensely loyal person John Kerry has working with him who can deal with the nitty-gritty ugly realities of fierce partisan politics," said historian Douglas Brinkley, author of the Kerry biography "Tour of Duty." "If there's a problem that needs to be solved, John turns to David."
While Kerry runs for president, McKean is running his Senate office. He supervises 27 staffers in Washington, and 14 in Massachusetts. He is a behind-the-scenes guy, built slim as if to fit in the shadows.
Lately, though, he is stepping out, meeting with visitors who, in quieter times, would have seen the senator.
"I'm a substitute," McKean said, taking a seat in Kerry's cavernous office. He recently met here with Halliburton's vice president, who complained that Kerry had failed to portray the good work Halliburton was doing in Iraq, McKean said. Kerry has criticized the administration for awarding no-bid contracts to Halliburton in Iraq.
But basically, McKean said, his job is "being a traffic cop. You're at a big, busy intersection. So many things are coming at you at the same time."
Some of those things coming at him now involve the presidential campaign. For instance, dealing with Republican charges that Kerry is weak on national security. McKean said his office is compiling a "real record" of Kerry's Senate votes on defense. The 18-year record will prove that "John has a mainstream, thoughtful approach to defense," McKean said.
And when Kerry's campaign was in disarray last summer, he called McKean at midnight for advice .
Colleagues say McKean is a modern-day version of the influential advisers he has written books about. McKean recently published "Tommy the Cork: Washington's Ultimate Insider From Roosevelt to Reagan." (As advised by the Senate Ethics Committee, McKean did not include his boss's name on the book jacket, to avoid any appearance of using his government position for commercial purposes.) He also co-authored "Friends in High Places: The Rise and Fall of Clark Clifford."
"David is as good and as loyal as they come," said Kerry, who added jokingly: "As a friend, I'm thrilled for David that his books have done so well. As his employer, I keep worrying about where he finds all this time to write."
From 10 p.m. until midnight, McKean would retreat to his home office dubbed "the bunker," after putting his three children to bed.
"I think about how much time we've shared with 'Tommy the Cork,' " said McKean's wife, Kathleen Kaye. "He's been travel companion and dinner guest -- they do occupy your space."
These days the Kerry campaign occupies their space. "The kids have darkened every window of the house with 'John Kerry for President' posters," Kaye said.
Although they are fifth cousins -- their mothers are Winthrops -- McKean and Kerry did not meet until 1976. McKean's brother, who was running for commissioner in Essex County, Mass., held a fundraiser. Four people showed up. One was Kerry.
McKean has held a number of positions with Kerry, including legislative assistant on foreign policy and banking. He assisted Kerry with the investigation of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI). McKean recalled Kerry's questioning of Clifford during the BCCI hearings:
"During a break I told John, 'Press him harder.' John said, 'I'm not going to humiliate him. He's an old man.' "
In 1999, while Kerry's staff was widely regarded as foundering, McKean took over as chief of staff . One of the first things McKean did was cut his own salary by about $30,000. He gathered the dispirited staff in the conference room.
"He said, 'This is not the David McKean ego show. I'm here to make sure things run smoothly,' " recalled former staffer David Kass.
McKean ended a long-running feud with the staff of senior Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D). He made sure the right people were in the room when Kerry had a difficult decision to make. He scheduled an hour a day for Kerry's exercise, so his boss wouldn't get cranky.
Most important, he leveled with Kerry. "Every politician needs someone who can say, 'That's a bad idea,' " said Jack Blum, a former Senate Foreign Relations Committee counsel. "David can do that without upsetting Kerry."
He also gave Kerry perhaps the most valuable advice of his political career. After watching Kerry turn in a dour performance on "Meet the Press," McKean took him aside and said: "Smile."


Man Blows Himself Up in Bolivia Congress
3 minutes ago
By ALVARO ZUAZO, Associated Press Writer
LA PAZ, Bolivia - A suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest in a hallway of the Bolivian congress Tuesday, killing himself and wounding two police, authorities said. State-run television said the two officers had died.
The disgruntled miner demanding early retirement benefits made his way to a first-floor section of the building, away from the congressional chambers, Police Chief Guido Arandia said.
The man set off the explosives after security agents cleared the area as police were negotiating with him, Arandia said. State-run television reported the two officers were fatally wounded by the blast.
Much earlier Tuesday, police evacuated Congress amid reports miners planned to force their way into the building. Only a handful of congressional employees, and security agents, were reported by police to be inside at the time of the blast.
Television footage from state-run Canal 7 showed shattered glass carpeting a side street leading to the ornate colonial legislative palace. Heavily armed police quickly cordoned off the complex in downtown La Paz and were seen dragging one body into a taxi that sped off.
Arandia said the two officers had tried to talk to the man before he set off the device. Local television reported the man's vest was laden with dynamite but authorities had no immediate confirmation on the type of device used.
Authorities had no report on whether the man was acting alone or with others.
In February, the government reported it had discovered an alleged plot by opponents to seize the Congress. That report came after deadly street protests in October 2003 forced the ouster of a former president, Gonzalo Sanchez de Losada.
Miners and indigenous leaders led those protests, which killed at least 58 people and underscored the fragile stability in South America's poorest country.


Venezuela Workers who backed recall fired
CARACAS, Venezuela -- Computer engineer Ingrid Sanchez, 32, signed a December petition demanding a recall vote for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. In February, she was fired from the government water company.
Anayr Yepez, 44, and six other workers were recently fired from their jobs with the government-run Caracas subway system. They, too, had signed the petition. A worker for the state oil company withdrew her signature from the petition after co-workers publicly posted lists of signers.
All told, hundreds of civil servants have been fired over the past six weeks for signing the recall petition, violating their constitutional rights to vote, unionists charge. The number could be in the thousands if doctors at public hospitals and teachers are counted, they say.
Two of Venezuela's largest labor groups are preparing formal protests for the Organization of American States and the Geneva-based International Labor Organization.
Chavez, who presides over the world's fifth-biggest oil exporter, denies his leftist government is harassing civil servants. He says the complaints are another scare tactic by opponents who failed to collect the required 2.4 million signatures needed to call a referendum.
Critics charge they gathered that amount and more - but that the Chavez-controlled elections council indiscriminately disqualified hundreds of thousands of signatures.
Chavez was elected to a six-year term in 2000. Venezuela's opposition says the recession-mired, politically divided country cannot wait until 2006 presidential elections. The referendum petition, meanwhile, is tied up in the courts.
Sanchez worked eight years at the Hidrocapital water company until her boss called her in on Feb. 27 and told her she was fired for "reasons from the presidency that are confidential," she says.
"Since when is not belonging to your political party a reason for firing me?" she responded angrily.
Yepez had worked 14 years for the Caracas Metro before her March 16 firing.
"How strange that everyone (at Caracas Metro) who was fired had signed," she said. Her mother, she added, had begged her not to sign.
"I wasn't afraid, because it's my constitutional right. I know that the price I paid was losing my job, but if we don't do this, what awaits us? A military dictatorship," Yepez said.
The Venezuelan Workers Confederation, the country's largest labor group, and the National Public Workers Federation say the dismissals violate international labor rights.
Federation president Antonio Suarez said firings increased after a pro-Chavez lawmaker, Luis Tascon, placed a list of petition signers on his Web site in February (
A link to Tascon's site appears on the Web site of the government's news agency, Venpres. It asks citizens who didn't sign to visit the site to withdraw their names and I.D. numbers from the petition.
Antonio Suarez said his union federation is compiling layoff lists from the state oil company, the ministries of education, interior, finance and agriculture, the Caracas Metro, the National Housing and Sports institutes and Hidrocapital.
Unionists also are verifying reported firings by public hospitals and municipal governments controlled by Chavez's Fifth Republic Movement party, he said.
Citing the layoffs, the Caracas newspaper Tal Cual editorialized that "if you are not in favor of the government, you will lose your most basic rights as a citizen. You begin living a sort of in-country exile."
Labor Minister Maria Cristina Iglesias has denied the charges - but notes her ministry is investigating complaints that private companies forced workers to sign the petition against their will.
Communications Minister Jesse Chacon says any proven case of a petition-related job action will be punished.

But Health Minister Roger Capella recently justified layoffs of government doctors, arguing that petitioners were engaged in "terrorism" against the state.

Mexican President Submits Plan to Overhaul Justice System
By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, March 30, 2004; Page A20
MEXICO CITY, March 29 -- President Vicente Fox sent Congress legislation on Monday calling for a comprehensive overhaul of Mexico's criminal justice system, which has been widely criticized as corrupt and inefficient.
The plan would eliminate fundamental obstacles to justice in Mexico, where roughly 80 percent of all crime goes unreported largely because people have so little faith in the system. It would give police new authority to investigate crime, rein in the excessive power of federal prosecutors and reduce the system's notorious reliance on confessions obtained by torture or coercion.
"It is the moment to prove that together we can do away with corruption, with impunity, with inequality and with injustice," Fox said, announcing the proposal at a ceremony at which he was flanked by the president of the Supreme Court, the attorney general and other top officials.
Congressional approval of the plan would mark perhaps the most important reform of government by Fox, who took office in 2000 promising to eliminate the official corruption and inefficiency that thrived during the previous 71 years of one-party rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.
The PRI-dominated Congress has repeatedly rejected Fox's proposed reforms in such key areas as energy and labor law. But officials in Fox's government said they were optimistic about passage of judicial reform because they believe there is consensus in Congress and the public that it is necessary.
"I think everybody knows that we need to modernize the judicial system," said Agustin Gutierrez Canet, a spokesman for Fox. "There might be some disagreements on the technicalities, but there is a consensus on the objectives."
Despite many reform efforts over the years, most Mexican police officers receive little training and investigate only the simplest crimes. Prosecutors investigate crime as well as prosecute, giving them what critics call excessive power; more than 90 percent of criminal cases end in convictions.
The Fox plan calls for creation of a single national police force, which would investigate crime and pass cases to a new federal prosecutor's office that would be strictly a prosecutorial agency. The plan would also establish trials in which a judge hears oral arguments in a public courtroom. In the current system, judges accept written arguments in their offices and issue written judgments; in nearly 90 percent of cases, the judge never meets the defendant, Fox officials said.
The new plan would also create the presumption of innocence, which technically exists in Mexico but is routinely ignored by judges who almost always accept the prosecutor's version of the facts, according to lawyers groups and human rights officials who have studied the system.
Under the plan, only confessions made before a judge would be admissible, which officials in Fox's government said would remove the incentive for police to extract confessions by torture. The proposal would also create a new system of juvenile justice and give judges more flexibility to order restitution or community service for minor offenders, who currently make up the vast majority of Mexico's prison population.
Terrorism's eastward expansion: Uzbekistan
By Sergei Blagov
MOSCOW - Terrorist attacks in Uzbekistan contradict claims that the American-led offensive in Afghanistan has effectively destroyed the hotbed of Muslim radicalism in Central Asia.
Uzbek officials say that a series of attacks over the past few days - including suicide bombings and shootings - killed 19 people and injured at least 26 others. On Tuesday, a car bomb exploded at a police checkpoint on the outskirts of the capital Tashkent, injuring a number of people.
President Islam Karimov addressed the nation and said that the bombings had been plotted by "outside forces and foreign extremists". Uzbek prosecutor-general Rashid Kadyrov argued that
With internal repression [in Uzbekistan] still at its peak, sooner or later the peaceful jihadis [of the Hizb ut-Tahrir] may exchange the pamphlet for the bomb.
Peaceful jihad
(Nov 25, '04)
Asia Times Online
the attacks were carried out by Islamic extremists, notably the Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami (Party of Islamic Liberation). He said that suicide bombings were previously unknown to Uzbekistan, and indicated foreign involvement in the attacks.
Two suicide bombings in Tashkent and an explosion in the ancient town of Bukhara have rocked the nation. One of the Tashkent market blasts was reportedly set off by a female suicide bomber and targeted a group of policemen. So far, there have been no reports of high-profile suicide bombings in Uzbekistan - or elsewhere in Central Asia for that matter.
Authorities claim that the materials used in the explosives were similar to those used in a series of simultaneous bombings in Tashkent in February 1999, an alleged assassination attempt against Karimov, which was blamed on the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).
The IMU was once led by Juma (aka Jumaboi) Namangani, a former Soviet paratrooper and Afghan war veteran. IMU fighters crossed into Kyrgyzstan in 1999 and 2000, seeking to enter Uzbekistan from the north through that country. Subsequently, Namangani was reported to have been killed in the course of the Taliban demise in 2001, yet these reports are yet to be confirmed. Moreover, Tajikistan officials have claimed that Namangani is alive, regrouping and hoping to launch a strike into the Ferghana Valley.
IMU activity re-surfaced recently away from Central Asia, in Pakistan. The Pakistani military's offensive in the tribal areas in South Waziristan, near the Afghan border, indicated that government troops might have wounded Tahir Yuldashev, the IMU's leading commander.
Uzbekistan has taken notice of the developments in Pakistan. On March 23, Karimov called on Islamabad to hand over any Uzbek citizens taken prisoner in South Waziristan. The Uzbek leader also claimed that the IMU and Yuldashev were "almost dead, if not physically, then morally". It took just a week for Karimov's rhetoric to prove over-optimistic.
However, on March 29, Foreign Minister Sadyk Safayev reportedly declined to indicate whether the attacks could have been linked to Pakistan's crackdown.
In the past, many IMU militants, mostly Uzbeks, joined the Taliban and fought for years alongside Uighurs and Chechens against the Northern Alliance, which consists mostly of ethnic Tajiks. For them, Tashkent has become an obvious target because Uzbekistan has been a strong supporter of the United States-led campaign in Afghanistan, and American troops are using a former Soviet air base at the southern city of Khanabad to support operations against the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.
There have been media allegations of the IMU's complicity outside Central Asia. On March 1, a report in the Russian daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta alleged that IMU operatives were active in Kabul, as well as in Turkey, Iran and Pakistan. The daily quoted IMU defectors as alleging that in its recent inroads into Afghanistan and Kashmir, the IMU had been backed by anti-Western elements in Pakistan's security services.
Moreover, it has been claimed that an effort is under way to unify radical Islamic groups in Central Asia, including those among the Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami, Uighur separatists, the IMU, and possibly Chechen separatists.
On the other hand, if Uzbek allegations of the Hizb ut-Tahrir's involvement in the bombings are confirmed, it would mark the first time that the group has been implicated directly in a terrorist attack. The group claims to be nonviolent, but its ultimate goal is still jihad against kafr (non-believers), the overthrow of existing political regimes and their replacement with a caliphate (khilafah in Arabic), a theocratic dictatorship based on the Sharia (religious Islamic law).
Hizb ut-Tahrir now has an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 members, and many supporters in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. At least 500 are already behind bars in Uzbekistan alone. Most of its members are believed to be ethnic Uzbeks. Moreover, Hizb ut-Tahrir has reportedly extended its influence into China's traditionally Muslim Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.
The Hizb used to reject terrorism, believing the murder of innocent bystanders to be a violation of Islamic law. However, the use of "heavy-handed repression" by Central Asian governments, notably by Uzbek authorities, seems to have encouraged the Hizb ut-Tahrir to adopt more confrontational tactics.
However, according to a RFE/RL report, Imran Waheed, a spokesperson for the Hizb ut-Tahrir in London, denied his group's involvement. He said that Hizb ut-Tahrir was nonviolent and condemned the killing of innocent civilians: "Our understanding of the whole issue is that attacking innocent civilians is condemned by Islam. So it is unacceptable this attack in Tashkent and we know historically that in the past the government has orchestrated several such attacks itself in order to crack down on peaceful and nonviolent Islamic movements, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, as we saw previously with the bombings in Tashkent a few years ago."
Uzbekistan is a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which groups together Russia, China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The group has drafted "the Shanghai anti-terror convention" and decided that the organization would have a regional anti-terrorist force in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek. The force is to tackle jointly such threats as terrorism, separatism and extremism.
There have been no reports that Uzbekistan sought assistance from the anti-terrorist force. However, in the wake of bombings in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan has increased border security and Kyrgyz border guards followed suit along the Uzbek frontier.
Two years ago, Kyrgyz security officials claimed that Muslim militants belonging to various groups had banded together to form the Islamic Movement of Central Asia (IMCA) to plot terrorist attacks and move towards the ultimate goal of creating an Islamic caliphate in the Ferghana Valley, a hub of Islamic radicalism. According to Kyrgyz officials, the IMCA has been headed by Yuldashev - the man believed to be active in Pakistan - and includes Kyrgyz, Tajik, Uzbek, Chechen and Xinjiang separatists with bases in Afghanistan's Badakhshan province.
Since late 2002, there have been warnings that al-Qaeda would support terrorist attacks in Central Asia. However, strikes were expected in Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan, both of which lack the capabilities that Uzbek authorities possess to crack down on anti-government activity.
Now, as the US and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are still preoccupied with democracy-building in Afghanistan, governments in Central Asia and beyond have reason to worry about potential threats from militants that fought alongside Afghanistan's Taliban militia.
For instance, Russia has been struggling to suppress Chechen rebels and other Muslim extremists. Moscow has banned the Hizb ut-Tahrir and extradited some suspects to their home countries in Central Asia. No big wonder that on Monday the Russian Foreign Ministry promptly denounced the Uzbek bombings. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also urged to destroy "the nest of terrorism" in Afghanistan. Russian officials have previously complained that the international operation in Afghanistan merely dispersed - and failed to destroy - the Taliban and other Muslim radicals.
Beijing could have reasons for concern as well. There have been reports of cooperation between militant groups like IMU and IMCA and Uighur separatists, who, like Hizb ut-Tahrir, have never formally advocated violence.
(Copyright 2004 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact for information on our sales and syndication policies.)


Dead al-Qaida man not intelligence chief

A Pakistani soldier mans a position along a road near Wana in South Warziristan Monday March 29, 2004 after days of fighting between the Pakistani army and suspected al Qaida and Taliban fighters in the area. An al-Qaida intelligence chief was killed in Pakistani's massive sweep through western tribal areas to root out members of Osama bin Laden's terror network and the Taliban, a military official said Monday. (AP Photo/M. Sajjad)
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistani officials on Tuesday again backed off claims that they killed or captured a major al-Qaida fugitive, saying a man they believed had been an intelligence chief for Osama bin Laden's organization was in fact a much less senior local figure.
On Monday, army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan told a news conference that intelligence sources indicated that the al-Qaida intelligence chief, whom he named only as Abdullah, had been killed.
Another member of the Pakistani intelligence community said the military was showing photos of Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah - who is on the FBI's Most Wanted List - to captured militants, but none had identified the photo.
On Tuesday, Sultan said the man apparently killed in South Waziristan was far less senior.
"Now I can confirm that he was only the head of al-Qaida's intelligence in Wana," the main town in South Waziristan, said Sultan. He blamed the mistake on faulty initial intelligence.
Shortly after the siege began March 16, President Gen. Perez Musharraf claimed in a television interview that his men had cornered a "high-value" al-Qaida target, and several senior Pakistani officials said they believed it to be bin Laden's No. 2 man, Ayman al-Zawahri.
Authorities later backed off those claims, saying instead that they had wounded an Uzbek militant with al-Qaida links named Tahir Yuldash. They say they believe Yuldash escaped, possibly through a mile-long tunnel leading out of the battle zone.
There were conflicting accounts among Pakistani intelligence and government officials about whether Abdullah's body had been recovered. Sultan would give no details.
Meanwhile, authorities found the bodies of two Pakistani government officials dumped in a well after they were abducted two weeks ago at the start of the operation - the largest ever Pakistani sweep for al-Qaida fugitives - that wound up Sunday.
Tribesmen in the Kaloosha area of South Waziristan found the bodies of Mati Ullah and Ameer Nawaz late Monday, bringing the government and military death toll in the operation to at least 48.
The officials were captured by militants in a botched initial assault on March 16 when paramilitary forces raided homes in Kaloosha and met with stiff resistance.
A government official in Wana, the main town in South Waziristan, said the officials' bodies were found in a well. He spoke on condition of anonymity.
"Probably they were murdered several days ago," said Brig. Mahmood Shah, chief of security for Pakistan's tribal regions bordering Afghanistan.
The top government official in South Waziristan, Mohammed Azam Khan, warned Zalikhel tribesmen to surrender those involved in killing the two security officials.
He said the tribesmen have 10 days to hand in the suspects or face demolition of their homes or confiscation of their property. In an interview with Pakistan's Geo television, Khan said Zalikhel tribesmen had allegedly acknowledged kidnapping the officials.
Twelve abducted paramilitary soldiers were freed Sunday when the military pulled out thousands of forces after negotiations conducted by tribal elders.
The military declared the operation a success, claiming it had killed 63 foreign and local militants. Hundreds of militants remain at large.
Sultan and Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayyat briefed parliamentarians on the operation Tuesday, reiterating a government offer to grant amnesty to any terrorists who surrender. None have taken up the offer.
Pakistani forces arrested 167 people in the operation, including 73 foreigners. Security officials have said Uzbeks, Chechens and Arabs were among them.
The two-week operation was the largest since Musharraf, a key U.S. ally, sent 70,000 troops to the border with Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks to prevent cross-border assaults.

Musharraf left counting the cost
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - The 12-day Pakistani army operation in the South Waziristan tribal area near the Afghan frontier is winding down following the release on Sunday of 12 government officials and soldiers seized by alleged al-Qaeda fighters and tribal allies. Similarly, a number of tribal suspects held by the army have been set free or will be released soon.
Those released by the tribals were among 14 people captured at the start of a clash in which more than 100 people have been killed. After cordoning off the area around Wana in South Waziristan with over 5,000 troops and losing about 50 soldiers in the offensive, the military says that "we have almost achieved our set targets" in driving al-Qaeda fugitives and Afghan resistance fighters from the region.
Tension has been high after the execution of eight Pakistan soldiers, who had been taken hostage by the fighters during an ambush on an army convoy last Tuesday.
The end of open hostilities, however, is only the beginning, and far from achieving its targets, the army, and Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf, are left with far bigger problems than when they first embarked on the mission into the tribal region nearly two weeks ago.
Call for help
Although the Pakistan army has put a brave face on its South Waziristan escapade, claiming that its job has been done, in reality it had to rely on outside help to extricate itself with a semblance of its "face" intact.
After all efforts to pacify the hostile tribals failed - the semi-autonomous regions are notoriously anti-central authority - the government persuaded leading clerics to bring pressure to bear on the tribals to negotiate a truce. The clerics, who belong to the six-party Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) religious political party that is well represented in the National Assembly as well as the provincial governments of North West Frontier Province and Balochistan, are usually perceived as anti-US, but in fact, when the chips are down, they dance to Musharraf's tune.
The army sought help from the clerics on two fronts:
To use their influence among the tribes to get them to compromise;
To prevent the spread of a campaign started by some extreme religious leaders in Islamabad in which soldiers serving in the tribal regions were to be denied funeral rites.
Winners and losers
Despite heavy United States pressure for a sustained campaign in Pakistan to once and for all drive all insurgents (both foreign fighters and Afghan resistance) from their sanctuaries in the tribal areas, the operation has now ended.
In terms of the broader picture, the plan was for the Pakistan army on the one side and US troops across the border in Afghanistan to sandwich all resistance between a "hammer and an anvil" and drive them from the Shawal area - an inhospitable no man's land that straddles the border. This is nowhere near to being achieved.
And there has been a strong backlash against the Pakistan establishment, both in the tribal areas and in the country in general, the extent of which has severely rattled the country's leaders. Indeed, according to insiders who spoke to Asia Times Online, there is a perception that, given the failings of the South Waziristan operation, there is an "an intelligence within an intelligence" and "an army within an army" in Pakistan and that factions in these organizations backed the tribals "in the name of Islam". According to sources, more than 150 soldiers of the army and para-military forces refused to take part in the action, including at least one colonel and a major.
The release of a tape last week purported to have been made by Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's No 2 in al-Qaeda, also shook the establishment. Al-Zawahiri was reported to be the "high profile target" of the South Wazaristan operation. In the tape, al-Zawahiri called Musharraf a "traitor" and urged people to overthrow his government. "Musharraf seeks to stab the Islamic resistance in Afghanistan in the back. Every Muslim in Pakistan should work hard to get rid of this client government, which will continue to submit to America until it destroys Pakistan," the speaker on the tape said.
As a result, for the first time ever, the Inter-Services Intelligence, Military Intelligence and the Intelligence Bureau on Friday conducted a survey in which they canvassed the opinions of professionals, including writers and lawyers, on the possible repercussions of the taped speech.
The political backlash of the South Waziristan operation has been so powerful that Musharraf has inducted former dictator General Zia ul-Haq's son, Ejazul Haq, into the federal cabinet as minister for religious affairs in order to use his good offices - as the son of the staunchly pro-Islam leader - with the religious segments of society.
Tribals take stock
Soon after the truce was announced on Sunday and the Pakistan army began returning to its camp, pamphlets in the Pashto language were widely distributed in Bannu, North Waziristan and South Waziristan. They claimed: "Do not ever make the mistake of chasing the mujahideen of the Taliban and al-Qaeda." The pamphlets clearly warned those tribals who had cooperated with Pakistan and spied on the fugitives.
In a public gathering on Monday in Wana in South Wazaristan, religious and tribal leaders gathered to take stock. "It was just like Jasn-e-Fatah [D-Day-like celebrations]," a contact who was present told Asia Times Online. "Wazir tribals presented turbans to more than 100 jirga [council] people as a gesture of thanks and confidence."
Members of the National Assembly in Islamabad and others gave speeches, the gist of which can be summarized as follows:
Congratulations to all the tribes for fighting as a united nation.
The tribes had once again proved their "glorious traditions" of fighting evil.
The Federally-Administered Tribal Areas will remain independent.
The Central administration is always hostile to the tribal people and has established new traditions of "cruelty and barbarism".
Musharraf was misguided about the alleged presence of bin Laden and al-Zawahiri and other al-Qaeda people.
The meeting concluded that the army had destroyed 84 houses in its search for fugitives, and that claims that the fugitives had used long tunnels to escape were nonsense. In fact, these are trenches that have been used for many years to carry water. Now the army has destroyed them - and with it the region's water system.
The meeting concluded by saying that those who died in the trouble were shaheed (martyrs), and apologized for the army personal who died, saying it was the fault of the "high ups".
(Copyright 2004 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact for information on our sales and syndication policies.)


Drug trade booms on China-Myanmar border
By Naw Seng
RUILI, China - To make money by selling potentially lethal heroin is forbidden by their religion, yet desperately poor and persecuted Muslims from Myanmar have often turned to the drug trade. And with increased profits have come increased risks.
Kyaw Hein, a Myanmar national, is a former trafficker who now helps Chinese authorities crack down on the importation of heroin from his country into China via this border town. He says heroin comes from Muse, a Myanmar town opposite Ruili, and then goes on to Kunming, or goes from Ruili to Kunming via Dali. Further still, it can go from Panghsang, located in territory controlled by the United Wa State Army, to Kunming via Simao, also in Yunnan. But the Ruili route lately has shrunk due to a heavy crackdown by Chinese police.
Bushi, now a fruit vendor, is one former trafficker who has broken away from the trade despite its lucrative nature. At one time, Bushi had dozens of aides and spent more than 5,000 yuan (US$600) per day in drug earnings. "I understand heroin kills people," he says. But in those days he had no choice. Now he does. "I don't want that hell."
As China's western border with Myanmar is now the main transit point for heroin, several Myanmar Muslim traders have taken to the trade. Many Myanmar Muslims in Ruili - there are some 1,000 here in this busy border town - are economic migrants because of political and economic discrimination by Myanmar authorities.
That discrimination has roots in history, and at certain points resulted in riots between the Buddhist majority and the Muslim minority, instigated by military authorities (see Myanmar's Muslim sideshow, October 21, 2003). Eighty-nine percent of Myanmar's more than 50 million people are Buddhist, Muslims and Christians comprise 4 percent, and various others make up the rest.
The majority of Myanmar's Muslims live in the western part of Arakan state, on the border with Bangladesh, and come under restrictions in marriage and fertility. Many feel they do not have the same opportunities as other communities.
Bushi started out in Ruili as a small jade trader, then found selling drugs a better way to get rich quick. "I would be left behind if I rode a cart to follow cars," he explains. He reckons that almost half of the Myanmar Muslims in China are in the drug trading business.
Trafficking in heroin and using ill-gotten money of this sort are forbidden under Islam. "This is haram [forbidden] money," Bushi says. "We shouldn't" live on it.
But this has not stopped many jade traders from turning to the poppy in the past decade. Despite the fact that, "only a few people benefit from the drug business," Bushi says. "Many are in jail."
Bushi has never been arrested, but some of his men were jailed last year for heroin possession. The seizure made Bushi a poor man, but in general he had no problem smuggling heroin to Kunming, the capital of China's southwestern province of Yunnan. "I have many ways of getting [heroin] around," he says.
These include putting heroin inside dairy tins, human rectums and female reproductive organs. But Bushi knew his luck would eventually run out. "Even the big chief will get arrested some day," he adds.
A few traffickers can get and stay rich, but many serve long sentences in Chinese prisons or suffer the death penalty. Even so, the temptation is often irresistible. In any case, traders say, Chinese and Myanmar authorities are not above taking bribes to close their eyes.
Ruili residents call heroin traffickers kya kya kala - kya kya is slang for "heroin" in Ruili, and kala is a term Myanmar nationals use to refer to Westerners or Indians.
Some former kya kya kala or those in the heroin business collaborate with Chinese police to crack down on the trade. Kyaw Hein is one. His work is to investigate the Myanmar heroin mafia.
Kyaw Hein stopped trafficking after Chinese police caught his brother-in-law in possession of a large amount of heroin. But his experience as a trafficker immediately landed him a job. He continues to earn drug money, but this time in the form of payments made by his former friends to the police, who give him 20 percent of seized cash in return for his information.
Kyaw Hein gives detailed reports of trafficking activities to Chinese police, who have been trying to clamp down on a social ill that has resulted in worrisome drug-use rates along the border since it opened to the region in the 1980s.
On an average day, Kyaw Hein will hang around town, play cards and chat with friends. Only a few of them know that he is an informer, but everyone who works in Ruili's heroin trade is known to him.
Although he prefers this job over trafficking because it is "safer", he is aware of the threat from the traffickers themselves. "I know the death knell will sound for me one day," he says, "but I'm not afraid."
Interviews here showed that even active kya kya kala are stumped as to where the heroin goes from Kunming, but they believe that it enters the international market via several routes.
Last April, more than half a tonne of heroin en route to Kunming was seized by Chinese authorities outside Ruili.
According to Jane's Intelligence Review, heroin from Myanmar reaches eastern China and Hong Kong, to be eventually exported to Southeast Asia, Australia and North America.
Nearly 200 Myanmar Muslims are in Chinese jails, an estimate given by both Bushi and Kyaw Hein. According to Chinese law, the penalty for drug trafficking is execution. But the penalty is not imposed on Myanmar nationals, who serve a maximum of 15 years. Some traffickers who can afford to bribe police can reduce their jail terms to a few months, or avoid jail altogether, according to talk that goes around here.
Kyaw Hein says a group of Myanmar Muslims are moving to the area close to Panghsang for the coveted white powder. "All 'tigers' here move there [Panghsang]," he says.
Bushi has no interest in becoming a tiger again, preferring to live tranquilly with his family in Ruili. But he does want to spread the word about the damage heroin has done to his community and to the name of Allah. "I dare to die for the truth," Bushi says. "People may exit the trade, but it will continue to affect the world."

(Inter Press Service)
Myanmar Seeks Constitutional Convention
Tue Mar 30, 1:26 PM ET
By AYE AYE WIN, Associated Press Writer
YANGON, Myanmar - Myanmar's military government said Tuesday it will take the first step on a self-proclaimed "road to democracy" by reconvening a constitutional convention that was suspended eight years ago.
Western nations have long shunned the ruling junta for failing to hand over power to a democratically elected government. Following intense international pressure, Prime Minister Khin Nyunt in August revealed Myanmar's seven-step democracy plan but did not provide a timetable for its implementation.
The plan is supposed to lead to a general election and a new government.
The junta first organized a National Convention in 1993, with the goal of drafting a constitution to be adopted by national referendum.
But it was suspended in March 1996 after members of the National League for Democracy party, led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, walked out, saying they were being forced to rubber-stamp decisions made by the junta.
On Tuesday, state radio and television broadcast a statement signed by Lt. Gen. Thein Sein of the National Convention Convening Commission calling the meeting May 17.
The announcement gave no details about how many delegates will be invited or whether Suu Kyi, who has been detained since May, will participate. The convention will be held in the capital Yangon.
Many Western critics consider NLD participation in the convention to be crucial for its success. Party officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Suu Kyi's party won a 1990 general election, but the military -- which took power in 1988 after violently suppressing mass pro-democracy demonstrations -- refused to step down, instead jailing and harassing members of the pro-democracy movement.
Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, remains detained after a May clash between her followers and government supporters, prompting even those Southeast Asian nations sympathetic to the junta to call for speedy democratic reform.
The state-run press said 16 of 17 ethnic rebel groups who have signed cease-fire pacts with the government will participate in the convention.
But the Karen National Union, which currently is negotiating a cease-fire, has said it will not.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, does not currently have a constitution. A 1974 constitution was dropped when the current military rulers took power.


'Al-Qaeda has got it wrong'
By Ritt Goldstein
A recently released Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) provided document affords some remarkably critical and militant Islamic perspectives on the "war on terror". Highlighting the unique nature of the document's perspective, it addresses an analysis of al-Qaeda's efforts by al-Jama'ah al-Islamiyah, a faction which is designated by the US State Department as a terrorist organization. The fact of the document's release by the CIA speaks volumes about its interest.
Providing an equally surprising parallel, in December the US Defense Department's Strategic Studies Institute released a report describing the objectives of the Bush administration's war efforts as "politically, fiscally and militarily unsustainable". Al-Jama'ah observed essentially the same of al-Qaeda. And according to the CIA translation, al-Jama'ah argues that al-Qaeda "entangled the Muslim nation in a conflict that was beyond its power to wage".
Al-Jama'ah is Egypt's largest Salafist group on the US terror list, allegedly complicit in the 1993 bombing of New York's World Trade Center, as well as numerous acts of violence within Egypt. Their goal has been stated as the removal of secular government and restoration of an Islamist state. The group's spiritual leader, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, was convicted for his alleged Trade Center bombing role by a US court.
The militant Egyptian Salafist groups are reportedly Islam's oldest, tracing their roots to the formation of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, five years after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The encroachment of Western secularism spawned the Brotherhood, but al-Jama'ah's activity dates from the 1970s.
Islamic Jihad, Egypt's other major Salafist group on the terror list, was reportedly responsible for the assassination of the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. Ayman al-Zawahiri, now allegedly Osama bin Laden's second in command, was reportedly one of Islamic Jihad's two leaders. Al-Qaeda itself is sometimes referred to as a militant Salafist group.
The CIA's original document appeared as an Arabic-language review of a book by al-Jama'ah's leadership, their work entitled: "The Strategy and Bombings of al-Qaeda". It was published by the influential and Saudi-owned London daily, al-Sharq al-Awsat.
Footnoting this, al-Sharq al-Awsat is known for publishing material that coincides with Saudi perspectives. And Salafist is a term which many of the Wahhabi denomination of Sunni Islam use to describe themselves, Wahhabism being the strict branch of Islam most often associated with Saudi Arabia.
But in 1997, al-Jama'ah's leadership reportedly began an initiative to end violence. Their present writings intimate that a policy of confrontation fed anti-Islamic currents within the US, shifting America away from a policy of Islamic accommodation when it suited US objectives.
"The official religion of the United States is its interests," note the authors. They also see the US pursuing an opportunity for "hegemony on the world, global sovereignty, and decisive victory over all rivals".
Their text is noteworthy for its illustration of perceptions within the militant segment of the Islamic community. Al-Jama'ah doesn't take exception to al-Qaeda's motivations, but does to their methods and strategy, al Qaeda's giving "preference to the logic of defiance over the principle of calculations".
The authors blame anti-US violence (including the Trade Center bombing) for casting Islam as "the green peril". They portray a shift in US perception as transpiring during the period when America was attempting to define its "new enemy" following the Cold War.
Particularly singled out as evidence of this American development are the works of Francis Fukuyama The End of History and Samuel Huntington (The Clash of Civilizations). However, the authors pointed out that even during this period, the US sought an accommodation with the Taliban, demonstrating "the supremacy of the US self-serving logic on US strategy". But concurrently the authors saw an al-Qaeda policy of confrontation lead to the foregoing of unique opportunities that may never recur.
According to the text, because of US geostrategic (oil and gas) interests, the Taliban were offered "US$3 billion as a free grant and $300 million annually in return for leasing the pipeline transporting natural gas from the Caspian" to Pakistan. This was in reference to the trans-Afghan pipeline the US had long desired.
Al-Jama'ah cites Islamic history to make the point that mutually advantageous accommodation is not sacrilegious.
The authors note that instead of the assets and stability the proposed pipeline revenue held for both Afghanistan and Pakistan, there have instead been substantive setbacks for the global Islamic community. The siege al-Qaeda is under, as well as the increased pressures on those who are fighting traditional struggles of liberation, were seen as but one part of a much broader fallout. Particular note is given to the extreme nature of September 11, and the West's reaction to it.
The texts describe al-Qaeda's perspective as a uniquely Afghan one. Notably, it was the US which had cultivated the philosophy of uncompromising jihad as a tool against the Soviets in Afghanistan during the Cold War. In those days the people who are today's al-Qaeda were then integral parts of America's anti-Soviet engine in Afghanistan.
Through US urging, even mosques throughout global Islam were encouraged to call for volunteers in the anti-Soviet, Afghan jihad. Egypt is reported to have provided facilities for their training. But while these jihadis may have switched enemies, their unbending methodology remained the same.
Al-Jama'ah intimated that while al-Qaeda's late 1990s creation of the Islamic World Front to Combat Christians, Jews and Americans may have been pure in ideology and motive, it represented an unrealistic overreach which succeeded only in "enraging and antagonizing the enemy". The authors see a key result of this in US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice's later promise to "liberate the Muslim world". The perceived threat this represents to the "values and traditions of the Muslim culture" is highlighted as very significant.
Alternately, strong concerns are raised that Islam must avoid the "trap of clash of civilizations", instead pursuing a policy of "interaction". Simultaneously advocated is "maintaining the Muslim identity and defending and struggling against any attack on the principles of Sharia [Islamic law] and the supreme interests of our faith, homelands, and nation".
The interpretation of Rice's remarks provides a reflection on the position voiced by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on September 26, 2001. At the time Berlusconi voiced that he foresaw the West as "bound to occidentalize and conquer new people". While al-Jama'ah argues that a Western religious crusade exists "only in the imagination of those who make such a claim", they condemn al-Qaeda's strategy for inciting "Christian currents that are hostile to Islam".
The authors see al-Qaeda's strategy as influencing concerns of the US fundamentalist Christian right, precipitating an alliance with elements of the Jewish right, culminating in Israel's advantage and what they perceive as a campaign couched as "backing persecuted minorities in the world". The reality they perceive though is a US strategy of intervention "under the pretext of defending democracy and the human rights ... and combating terrorism". They pointedly add that the thrust of this is to "impose US hegemony on the whole world".
As the idea of the Bush administration potentially seeking to enfranchise Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia's minority Shi'ites has been recently floated, it's noteworthy to recall that Saudi Shi'ites are concentrated in the segment of the country where the oil fields are.
Evaluating the benefits al-Qaeda received via its widely spread front of hostilities, al-Jama'ah notes that while the Soviets were militarily and socially exhausted in Afghanistan, the breadth of America's global presence already provided sufficient, less provocative opportunities for this. They also argue that America's overriding interest is oil, and that unlike in Vietnam or Somalia, the US is prepared to accept substantive casualties to assure its "oil hegemony".
Translating out the thrust of the text's criticism, flexibility is much of its essence. Al-Jama'ah accuses al-Qaeda and others within the Islamic militant community of failing to go beyond a path "of force only", adding that "rigid reliance on one single strategy does not bring the flexibility that is needed to attain the aspired goals".
A failure in determining the requisite priorities for successful confrontation is subsequently emphasized. According to al-Jama'ah, "Al-Qaeda built its strategy without a sound arrangement of the priorities and without taking into consideration the limitations of its capabilities."
Providing more than a slight sense of paradox, the US Defense Department's Strategic Studies Institute report observed the same problem with the Bush administration.
Striking a tone similar to al-Jama'ah's criticism of al-Qaeda's World Front, a report entitled "Bounding The Global War On Terrorism" faulted the Bush administration for subordinating "strategic clarity to the moral clarity". In so doing, the administration is said to have placed the United States on a "course of open-ended and gratuitous conflict with states and nonstate entities that pose no serious threat".
Paralleling the faulting of al-Qaeda's goals, the Strategic Studies report found that the majority of the "war on terror's" "declared objectives", objectives repeatedly articulated by the administration as the basis for the war's prosecution, "are unrealistic and condemn the United States to a hopeless quest".
Notably, a 1999 Pentagon report prepared for the highest levels of the US defense community had warned: "The danger ahead lies not only in the adverse international trends that are unfolding, but also in the risk that the US government may not understand them."
Ritt Goldstein is an American investigative political journalist based in Stockholm. His work has appeared in broadsheets such as Australia's Sydney Morning Herald, Spain's El Mundo and Denmark's Politiken, as well as with the Inter Press Service (IPS), a global news agency.
(Copyright 2004 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact for information on our sales and syndication policies.)

Posted by maximpost at 5:18 PM EST

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