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Monthly Archives: January 2008

Hey, Presto! Where did it go?

Last Friday NRO ran my article, “Questions for the Pentagon: Who Is Hesham Islam?” The article raised questions about some of the stories recounted in a glowing profile, dated Oct. 15, on the Defense Department web site, featuring a top Pentagon aide, Hesham Islam.

Instead of answering the questions, the Pentagon appears to have disappeared the profile.Today, the entire web page, complete with photo of Islam in his office and lavish praise from his boss, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, appears to have simply vanished from the DoD site. What was previously a link to the article (click on the second link listed here) is now a link to current news articles (no Hesham Islam), and the profile seems to have disappeared even from the October 15 archives.

As of this writing a cached version can still be found on Google. Lest it disappear from the face of the earth, here’s a copy of the original in pdf format, and here it is saved as a web page. This is an Armed Forces Press Service article which the Pentagon until recently appeared only too happy to publicize as DoD gospel.

What’s going on? I phoned the Pentagon to ask, following more than a week of trying to get answers prior to publishing the story last Friday about the mysteries surrounding this top aide, whom Gordon England, number two man at the Pentagon, described last year (that link has not yet disappeared) as his “personal close confidante.” No answers yet. Once again: Who’s running this show?

Note: The Administration seems to be having a busy month at the Memory Hole. Over at State, they’ve disappeared Jay Lefkowitz’s sterling speech on North Korea. Now, awkward questions still unanswered, flash! goes the neuralizer at the Pentagon (hat tip to Men in Black). Let’s try that one more time. Seriously, who’s running this show?

Controversy has been growing over the Pentagon’s decision not to renew the contract of Stephen Coughlin, who made it his mission to take an unblinkered look at the roots of jihad, and the ways and means — both violent and nonviolent — of the spread of Islamic extremism. While most of the mainstream press has not yet picked up on the Coughlin story, it has touched off a firestorm in the blogosphere. One name that keeps turning up in this tale is that of a top aide to the number two man at Defense, Deputy Secretary Gordon England. That aide is Hesham Islam, a retired U.S. Navy commander with 20 years service under his belt, born in Cairo, schooled in Iraq and an influential special assistant to Gordon England. The Pentagon denies he had anything to do with the cashiering of Coughlin. Bill Gertz, national security correspondent for the Washington Times, says otherwise.

Either way, for whatever it tells us about the Pentagon’s take on strategy and advice regarding Islamic extremism, Stephen Coughlin is on his way out, and Hesham Islam has the ear of Gordon England — who has described him as “my personal close confidante,” and says: “I take his advice, and I listen to him all the time.”

Last October, the Armed Forces Press Service featured a glowing profile of Hesham Islam, describing among other things his experiences as a youth, huddling in terror of Israeli bombs, surviving the sinking of a cargo ship torpedoed by the Iranians… But did it happen this way? I am still looking for straightforward corroborating details, which the Pentagon for whatever reason — after more than a week of promising to “look into it,” just can’t seem to come up with. Who’s running this show? Here’s a link to my article today on NRO: “Questions for the Pentagon: Who Is Hesham Islam?”

Just over a year since the UN Development Program’s Cash-for-Kim scandal broke in the headlines, the UN auditors promised by Ban Ki-Moon have yet to visit North Korea — but under the leadership of Senators Norm Coleman and Carl Levin, the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, or PSI, has now come out with a staff report on “The United Nations Development Program: A Case Study of North Korea.” (Think of it as Oil-for-Food, the Sequel; and Next-UN-Scandal, the Prequel).

The PSI has not yet put up a live link to the report, so for now here’s a link to a copy posted on the UNDP web site (I’ll link to it on the PSI site at the earliest opportunity). The UNDP has also posted its response (they spin, you decide). And you can find good news and opinion summaries here, here, and here’s an Inner-City Press account of a few more things that could stand looking into.

The related hearing is Thursday morning at 10. More to come. But for the moment, in view of that disappearing Jay Lefkowitz speech on North Korea, described in the post below, and the findings of this PSI report on how North Korea battened onto the UNDP-related bank account as a handy means of obtaining a “more secure channel” for funneling money around the world without getting caught, can anyone explain how Condi Rice’s trusted envoy to the Six-Party Talks, Chris Hill, could read a report like this and still believe he can cut a viable deal with North Korea about nuclear bombs?

For that matter — since the U.S. provides the lion’s share of the money for the UN, and then has to spend all this time and effort to track down even a portion of the laundered, skimmed and scammed funds — can anyone explain why the UN, the UNDP, or the UN ETC, is necessary to the U.S. in the first place? Wouldn’t it be simpler to not pay the money, therefore not have to do the policing, and instead spend the time, effort and billions looking for ways, and appropriate allies, to genuinely deal with what matters to America?

A note about that terrific speech on North Korea, delivered last Thursday at the American Enterprise Institute by the U.S. special envoy for human rights in North Korea, Jay Lefkowitz. In his speech, Lefkowitz broke ranks with the State Department’s charade of progress in disarming Pyongyang. Explaining that four years of Six-Party Talks on North Korea have been a failure, he urged a change of course. Coming from someone at State, it was an extraordinary exercise in facing facts; more in my post last Friday on “Man Bites Dog — State Department Envoy Speaks the Truth About North Korea.”

On Friday, as can still be found in the cached version on google, Lefkowitz’s speech was posted on the State Department web site, as an entry under “Remarks” for 2008.

But today — hey, presto! — the speech has vanished! As I write this, there are no Lefkowitz “Remarks” for 2008. They’re down the Memory Hole.

Contrast that with State’s record of the 2008 “Remarks” of the special envoy to the Six-Party Talks, Chris Hill, who never stops talking. Shades of Pyongyang, it gets ever more difficult to tell whether the party line at the Condi Rice State Department represents the interests of America, or of Kim Jong Il.

(Fortunately, State cannot make the Lefkowitz speech entirely un-happen. If the link to the google cached version stops working, you can still find the Jan 17th speech on the AEI web site).

… then why is he shilling for the United Nations?

As Hollywood buffs and UN money-raisers already know, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has just named actor George Clooney as the UN’s newest Messenger of Peace, with a “special focus on UN peacekeeping.” Clooney, currently visiting Sudan, is expected to “receive his designation” Jan. 31st at UN headquarters in New York.

This would all be great if UN peacekeeping actually produced peace. But the illusion that the UN is a grand force for good in this world deserves to be catalogued somewhere between World’s Most Amazing Scams and Believe It-Or-Not Best-in-Special-Effects. The reality of today’s UN is more like a cross between “Animal House” (the movie, with John Belushi) and “Animal Farm” (the book, by George Orwell). Libya and Vietnam have just joined the Security Council, where China and Russia hold permanent seats. The Organization of the Islamic Conference has turned the General Assembly into its Manhattan clubhouse — which Iran’s mushroom-cloud-in-chief Mahmoud Ahmadinejad now uses every September as a base to parade around New York and lecture his audiences that Iran is a country of peaceful intentions and no homosexuals.

The Human Rights Council, with the eager help of Libya and Pakistan, is busy planning a “Durban II” reprise of its 2001 Durban I hate-fest against Israel and America. There is still no official UN definition of terrorism (which means that by UN lights, the Sept. 11 attacks were not committed by terrorists). And with assorted federal investigations going on in the U.S. into bribery, visa fraud and money laundering emanating from the UN (so, really, why did the UN Development Program in North Korea have $3,500 in counterfeit $100 bills in its office safe?), Ban Ki-moon — erstwhile chief administrator of the place — has been busy running around in a ski parka, and importuning on Bali, in his top priority campaign for massive transfers of wealth from democratic countries to dictatorships such as Cuba, China and Sudan, in the name of waging war on the weather.

In UN peacekeeping, which will be Clooney’s special focus, peacekeeper sex scandals continue to bubble up, with their own special focus on under-age locals the peacekeepers are supposed to be protecting (almost three years after the UN declared a zero-tolerance policy for such outrages). Peacekeeping has been one of the major areas of UN corruption, with even the UN itself finally acknowledging hundreds of millions worth of tainted contracts.

In Sudan, where Clooney has taken a special interest, the UN has been dithering and talking and negotiating and re-negotiating for years, and the vaunted peace is still no where in sight. Meanwhile, the government of Sudan enjoys a seat on the 72-member executive committee of the UN Refugee Agency, or UNHCR; while complicit in genocide the Sudanese government had a seat on the former UN Human Rights Commission; and of course Sudan from its General Assembly seat finds itself entitled to vote along with such countries as Saudi Arabia and Iran to use millions in U.S. taxpayer dollars to bankroll such ventures as Durban II. (For more on one of the latest UN Sudan money-related peacekeeping flaps, here’s Matthew Russell Lee of Inner-City Press wondering about a $250 million no-bid no-transparency UN contract… )

Anyway… enter George Clooney, UN Messenger of Peace.

Is anyone surprised that one of the first activities his UN handlers have scheduled for him in NY on Jan 31 is attendance at a “meeting of the countries that contribute to United Nations peacekeeping efforts” –? Translation: Step one in the UN cookbook is, if it’s not working, bang the drum for more money, more per diems, more conferences, more procurement contracts…

The UN “Messengers of Peace” program was set up by Kofi Annan, whose talents deserve to be remembered in the context of Oil-for-Food, genocide in Rwanda, massacre at Srebenica, and endless ways of finagling more money for the murky UN system … not peace for the planet. The UN web page for “Messengers of Peace” tells us (highlighting is mine) the messengers “volunteer their time, talent and passion to raise awareness of United Nations’ efforts to improve the lives of billions of people everywhere.” Is that really what the UN does? Improve the lives of billions? … Or does it use billions to improve the lives of select UN special interests, of the kind sketched out above.

There’s nothing wrong with ER’s former Dr. Ross calling attention to genocide in Darfur. It’s better for the world than if Clooney were instead spending the time filming, say, “Son of Syriana.” But “Messenger of Peace” seems an odd title for a movie star enlisted (along with Spiderman) to help polish up the image of UN. Maybe Ban should appoint some Messengers of Transparency and Accountability. That might be less attractive to a Hollywood hot property like Clooney. But if the idea is truly to help Darfur, it’s not a UN-tinsel-town partnership that’s needed; it’s an honest, or at the very least, competent, institution (that rules out the UN on both counts) — able to come to the rescue.

No, I could not possibly be talking about U.S. special envoy Chris Hill, who has spent the past year purveying the bizarre calculus that as long as the U.S. keeps its side of the bargain in the Six-Party talks on North Korea, we’re half way to success — never mind if North Korea takes everything and stiffs us on its half of the deal. (Note: putting scotch tape across the door to the Yongbyon reactor, for the second time since 1994, does not count as nuclear disarmament).

The envoy who finally stood up and said the right thing is Jay Lefkowitz, special envoy for human rights in North Korea. In a speech delivered Thursday at the American Enterprise Institute, Lefkowitz spelled out that after four years of Six-Party talks, we’ve got pretty much nothing. Meanwhile, North Korea has conducted an intercontinental ballistic missile test, a nuclear test, and continued brutalizing its own people in ways “deeply offensive to us,” which “should also offend free people around the world.”

Staking out a position not attempted in the Condi Rice State Department since John Bolton left in 2006, Lefkowitz suggested that “Policy should rest on assumptions that correlate with recent facts and events.” He went on to spell out (without mentioning Chris Hill) the ways in which Chris-Hill diplomacy and the Six-Party talks have been a horrifying flop.

Correctly, Lefkowitz warned that “It is increasingly likely that North Korea will have the same nuclear status one year from now that it has today.”

He pointed out that China and South Korea have not provided the help that Washington hoped for in pressuring North Korea, and in a heroic effort to steer American policy back toward first principles, he urged that in any further negotiations, the barbaric nature of the regime be one of the main subjects on the table: “All negotiations with North Korea should firmly link human rights, economic support, and security issues.”

My own view is that we should not be negotiating with North Korea at all; Kim Jong Il has spent years honing his skill at bamboozling, manipulating and extorting concessions from the U.S. and our allies. Give him a seat at any bargaining table, and he will do more of the same. But if Washington is hellbent on negotiating, then Lefkowitz has spelled out the way to give it at least a fighting chance.

So, what was the reaction at State? Did our diplomatic corps rise up at Foggy Bottom and raise their skim-milk lattes to salute this envoy who had the courage to do the right thing? You already know the answer. At the Friday morning State Department press briefing, asked if Lefkowitz was speaking for the Administration, spokesman Sean McCormack replied: “He was not.” McCormack explained that there are “lanes” for North Korean policy at State. Lefkowitz’s lane is human rights; and on all those matters in Chris Hill’s “lane,” such as Six-Party talks and ballistic missile tests and nuclear bombs, Lefkowitz was only expressing “his own opinions.”

To run with that traffic metaphor — Chris Hill may be in his lane, but he’s so busy pretending it takes us where we want to go that he’s driving with his eyes closed. Jay Lefkowitz, whose personal opinions evidently come from keeping his eyes open, has just had the integrity to warn us that without a big change of course, the Condi Rice convoy for North Korea is headed for a quite a roadwreck.

Excellent piece by Brooke Goldstein in the American Spectator, on “Mark Steyn Is Not Alone,”, and here’s a link to the Association of American Publishers rallying behind a salvo for free speech, announced Sunday on the steps of the New York Public Library.

Groundhog Day at the United Nations

January 12th, 2008 - 1:03 am

You remember that movie, in which no matter what Bill Murray does, he is forever stuck in Punxsutawney, PA, re-living Groundhog Day.

Well, here we go again at the UN, where on Thursday the head of the internal audit office, Inga-Britt Ahlenius, said her office is currently investigating some 250 cases of of alleged fraud, corruption and sexual exploitation. Ahlenius expressed surprise at the scale of the rot, telling reporters at a press briefing, “We can say that we found mismanagement and fraud and corruption to an extent we didn’t really expect.”

What’s surprising here is the idea that anyone at the UN could honestly be surprised. From Oil-for-Food to Sex-for-Peacekeepers to Cash-for-Kim, from procurement kickbacks to visa rackets to whistleblower firings, from Kofi Annan’s 10-year tenure to Ban Ki-moon’s first year at the helm, the UN scams just keep coming. From UN top officials we keep hearing that every scandal is a fresh surprise. And, somehow, all those endless UN reforms get sucked right into the endless replay — today, promising a solution; tomorrow, part of the problem.

In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray finally gets his act together and makes it to the morning after. No such resolution is in sight at the UN, where it would be heartening to hear there are now 250 investigations, except these UN inquiries too often serve more to paper over the wrong-doing than to mend it. Where are the concrete results?

The problem here lies in the UN system itself — a vast and murky committee, flush with other people’s money, diplomatically immune to law, reporting to itself, ever expanding, and rolling in vested interests. Until someone finds a way to fix that, stay tuned for endless UN replays of shock and surprise over all that so very unexpected waste, fraud, exploitation and corruption.

Hey, Who Needs “Capitalism” Anyway?

January 10th, 2008 - 8:02 pm

Not Voice of America, not anymore, at least not in the core vocabulary VOA uses in its “Special English” broadcasts meant to teach our lingo abroad and – in the war of ideas — represent the American way of life.

As Senator Tom Coburn observes, under the heading “Your Tax Dollars at Work,” on his web site as ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, VOA has now removed the word “capitalism” from its 1,500 word lexicon of Special English.

Shouldn’t we leave it to America’s enemies to delete a word like that from our broadcasts?

Note: The last time I posted a comment critical of VOA, I received a letter of protest from the Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, James Glassman — formerly a commentator who over the years has written eloquently in defense of capitalism. I can only hope that in this case he would agree — while “capitalism” is a long word, it is probably far more vital to the basic American message abroad than any number of words which have just survived the VOA special English vetting process, such as “ecology,” “evaporate,” “parachute,” or “guerrilla.”

Treasury Fires a Warning Shot at Iran?

January 9th, 2008 - 10:31 pm

Spawning and spreading terror, ordering up assassinations in other sovereign states; taking British hostages; swanning around with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez in America’s backyard; cultivating business buddies in China, Russia and North Korea’s all-military all-the-time nuclear regime; threatening Israel; extolling mushroom clouds; taunting America from the UN stage in New York; and playing gunboat chicken last weekend with U.S. Navy ships. Anyone care to start an office pool on when Tehran actually tests that nuclear bomb?

Those U.S. Navy ships, even when threatened that those Iranian gunboats were about to “explode” them, did not open fire — not even a warning shot.

But let’s take what we can get. Hallelujah, at least Treasury today had the gumption to blacklist one Syrian “entity” and four individuals, one based in Syria and three based in Iran, for “fueling violence and destruction in Iraq.” These blacklisted individuals are not exactly free-lance mavericks. One of them, Ahmad Foruzandeh, is an Iranian brigadier general and commanding officer of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (widely believed to run those gunboats that threatened three U.S. Navy ships last weekend in the Strait of Hormuz, and last March took hostage 15 British sailors). The “entity” is no mere drop box; it’s a TV station based in Syria.

It’s not clear whether the run-in with Iranian gunboats threatening to “explode” the U.S. ships was what triggered this latest Treasury move. The timing, coming so soon after the incident, does have at least the beneficial effect of looking like some sort of U.S. response less grotesquely feeble than diplomatic flutterings.

But will Iran’s theocratic terrorist thugs be impressed? That’s also very unclear. Sanctions on oil rich terror-based states, or individuals therein, are tough to enforce. Iran’s business buddies, including Russia, China, and assorted high-ranking wheeler-dealers in the Middle East, have a rich history of ignoring such measures (remember the UN sanctions and the Oil-for-Food graft bonanza in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq).

The cold comfort may be that Treasury has at least done Americans the favor of spelling out the threat these designated individuals (and the TV station) pose, and highlighting the milieu in which they operate, and where the trails lead. Here’s U.S. Under-Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Stuart Levey, quoted in today’s Treasury press release about these new blacklistings:

“Iran trains, funds and provides weapons to violent Shia extremist groups, while Syria provides safe haven to Sunni insurgents and financiers.” Foruzandeh, of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, for example, “leads terrorist operations against Coalition Forces and Iraqi Security Forces, and directs assassination of Iraqi figures.”

Lest anyone think the Iranian campaign of carnage, assassinations and other terrorist endeavors is limited to Iraq, Treasury spelled out that the Revolutionary Guard Corps, or Quds Force, “is the regime’s primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting terrorists and Islamic militants to advance Iranian national interests. The Quds Force provides training, weapons, and financial support to surrogate groups and terrorist organizations including: Lebanese Hezbollah; Palestinian terrorists; Iraq Shia militant groups; the Taliban and Islamic militants in Afghanistan, the Balkans and elsewhere.”
Here’s a link to the Treasury press release.