This is an Open Thread: No Rumpelstiltskin’s Here
Iran Encounter Grimly Echoes ’02 War Game
WASHINGTON – There is a reason American military officers express grim concern over the tactics used by Iranian sailors last weekend: a classified, $250 million war game in which small, agile speedboats swarmed a naval convoy to inflict devastating damage on more powerful warships.
In the days since the encounter with five Iranian patrol boats in the Strait of Hormuz, American officers have acknowledged that they have been studying anew the lessons from a startling simulation conducted in August 2002. In that war game, the Blue Team navy, representing the United States, lost 16 major warships – an aircraft carrier, cruisers and amphibious vessels – when they were sunk to the bottom of the Persian Gulf in an attack that included swarming tactics by enemy speedboats.
Baghdad Embassy Is Called A Fire Risk
‘Serious’ Problems Were Ignored, Says State Dept. Official
Saturday, January 12, 2008; Page A01
The firefighting system in the massive $736 million embassy complex in Baghdad has potential safety problems that top U.S. officials dismissed in their rush to declare construction largely completed by the end of last year, according to internal State Department documents, e-mails and interviews.
Some officials assert that in the push to complete the long-delayed project, potentially life-threatening problems have been left untouched. “This is serious enough to get someone killed,” said a State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation. “The fire systems are the tip of the iceberg. That is the most visible. But no one has ever inspected the electrical system, the power plant” and other parts of the embassy complex, which will house more than 1,000 people and is vulnerable to mortar attacks.
U.S. attorney’s office accused of anthrax case leaks
An Army doctor, a ‘person of interest’ never charged in the deadly 2001 mailings, names three federal officials.
WASHINGTON — Attorneys for the former Army physician who was branded a “person of interest” in the deadly 2001 anthrax mailings named three federal officials Friday who they said leaked investigative details that harmed their client.
The physician, Steven J. Hatfill, has not been charged with a crime and maintains his innocence. Hatfill is suing the FBI, the Justice Department and a handful of present and former law enforcement officials. He alleges that the leaks were illegal, damaged his reputation and violated his right to privacy.
“We have identified three of the leakers who were previously anonymous,” one of Hatfill’s attorneys, Mark A. Grannis, said near the outset of a sparsely attended hearing in federal court. “Some of the most damaging information leaked in this case [came] straight out of the U.S. attorney’s office.”
The anthrax mailings killed five people and sickened about 20 others from Florida to Connecticut. Coming on the heels of the suicide attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and on the Pentagon, the mailings led to the shutdown of a Senate office building and heightened the nation’s fear of prolonged terrorism.
Suitcase of Cash Entangles U.S. and 2 Latin Nations
CARACAS, Venezuela – One day last August, an airport policewoman in Buenos Aires noticed something peculiar as she was monitoring a baggage scanner: the appearance of six perfect, dense rectangles inside a suitcase.
She asked the passenger, Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson, one of eight people aboard a private plane chartered by Argentina’s national oil company that flew from Caracas, to open the case. “He became frozen and did not say a word,” the policewoman later said in a radio interview.
When he did open it, nearly $800,000 in cash spilled out.
Chavez makes Colombia rebel call
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has called on the US and European governments to stop treating Colombian left-wing rebel groups as terrorists.
Mr Chavez said the Farc and ELN guerrilla movements were armies with a political project and should be recognised as such.
He was speaking a day after helping manage the Farc’s release of two hostages held for more than five years.
The Colombian president swiftly rejected Mr Chavez’s idea.
Syria Rebuilds on Site Destroyed by Israeli Bombs
The puzzling site in Syria that Israeli jets bombed in September grew more curious on Friday with the release of a satellite photograph showing new construction there that resembles the site’s former main building.
Israel’s air attack was directed against what Israeli and American intelligence analysts had judged to be a partly constructed nuclear reactor. The Syrians vigorously denied the atomic claim.
Before the attack, satellite imagery showed a tall, square building there measuring about 150 feet long per side.
After the attack, the Syrians wiped the area clean, with some analysis calling the speed of the cleanup a tacit admission of guilt. The barren site is on the eastern bank of the Euphrates, 90 miles north of the Iraqi border.
Hope returning to Iraq, says Bush
US President George W Bush has said hope is returning to Iraq following the US troop surge last year.
Visiting a US base in Kuwait, Mr Bush said the withdrawal of 20,000 troops by July was on track, but no decision had been taken to bring home more.
Mr Bush was briefed by the commander of US forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and later met some of the 15,000 troops stationed at the base.
He is touring the Gulf after meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
Correspondents say he is trying to persuade some of his key Arab allies to support his Middle East peace initiative.
Mr Bush also urged Iran and Syria to do more to reduce violence.
Kenyans face renewed threat of violence as opposition resumes protest movement
· African Union mediation effort ends in failure
· President angers rivals by filling cabinet posts
Xan Rice in Nairobi
Saturday January 12, 2008
Kenyans braced themselves for further unrest yesterday after Raila Odinga, the opposition leader, called for mass action to resume around the country in defiance of a police ban on public rallies.
The call came after the failure of a mediation effort by John Kufuor, the head of the African Union and president of Ghana, who met Odinga and President Mwai Kibaki, but not together.
Kibaki, accused by the opposition of stealing the election, maintains that no external help is needed to solve the political crisis and social turmoil that erupted after the December 27 poll.
Police chief Selebi to be charged with corruption
Chris McGreal in Johannesburg
Saturday January 12, 2008
Prosecutors are to charge South Africa’s police chief and head of Interpol, Jackie Selebi, with accepting bribes from a convicted drug trafficker in return for protecting narcotics shipments, passing on confidential intelligence reports from Britain and interfering with a murder investigation.
Selebi is expected to be forced to resign as police commissioner after he failed in a high court bid in Pretoria yesterday to block the charges on the grounds it would tarnish his reputation.
Serbia bans US and British election monitors
By Vesna Peric Zimonjic in Belgrade
Published: 12 January 2008
Serbia’s electoral commission has barred US and British observers from monitoring its presidential elections in protest over the countries’ support for Kosovan independence.
A member of the commission from the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS), Slavoljub Milenkovic, said yesterday that the US and Britain would be prevented from sending monitors for the 20 January elections “because their countries want to destroy us and grab Kosovo away from Serbia”.
The US and most EU nations back independence for Kosovo, which is populated by some two million ethnic Albanians. It has been run by the UN since 1999, when a Nato bombing campaign forced Belgrade to end its crackdown on an armed insurgency of Kosovan Albanians.
Less craic and more crackdown as Ireland takes a sober look at drinking
“One drink is too many for me and a thousand not enough,” the Irish writer Brendan Behan once quipped, encapsulating in a phrase his countrymen’s love affair with alcohol.
The pub is intrinsic to Ireland’s self-image: it is a source of pride that the harp that adorns its passport is displayed equally prominently on a pint of its most famous brand, Guinness.
Yet while alcohol and the Irish may seem to have been good for one another the Government has just suggested that it thinks otherwise, beginning an urgent investigation into a growing binge-drinking culture. Alcohol consumption has risen 17 per cent in the past decade.
‘Real’ Bhutto heir denounces family business
When Fatima Bhutto heard that her estranged aunt had been assassinated she put aside decades of family feuding to mourn with her relatives at the ancestral home in Pakistan.
Three days later, when Benazir Bhutto’s 19-year-old son, Bilawal, was anointed head of the Pakistan People’s Party, Fatima maintained a respectful silence, despite whispers that she was the real Bhutto heir.
But now, two weeks on, she has broken that silence to launch a blistering attack on her cousin’s appointment, accusing those around him of perpetuating dynastic politics and trying to cash in on his mother’s blood.
Reports: Opposition leads in Taiwan poll
TAIPEI, Taiwan – Taiwan’s main opposition Nationalist Party surged to a big lead in early vote counting in the island’s legislative elections Saturday, TV reports said.
Stations reported that with 57 of the 113 seats counted, the Nationalists had won 49 and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party had triumphed in 8.
The Nationalists and their allies enjoy a slight majority in the current 219-seat Legislature.
A continuation of the trend would constitute a big blow to President Chen Shui-bian, who has been criticized for aggravating relations with China by promoting policies to formalize Taiwan’s de facto independence from its giant neighbor to the west. Critics say that has allowed Taiwan’s once vibrant economy to lose competitiveness and ratcheted up tension in the perennially edgy Taiwan Strait.