Aletho News


ACLU Calls for New Investigations into Todashev Death

Abdulbaki Todashev, Ibraghim's father, holds up photos of his dead son at a press conference at the RIA Novosti headquarters in Moscow on May 30.
RIA NovostiJuly 23, 2013

WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wants two US states, Florida and Massachusetts, to open their own investigations into the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) shooting death of a Chechen immigrant acquainted with one of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects.

“A person was shot and killed at the hands of law enforcement in Florida. That alone should require Florida officials to investigate, and explain to the public what happened,” said Howard Simon, Florida Executive Director for the nonprofit civil liberties organization, in an ACLU press release.

The FBI and the Department of Justice are conducting an internal inquiry into the death of 27-year-old Ibragim Todashev, who was shot and killed by a Boston-based FBI agent during an interrogation with several different law enforcement agencies at his Orlando, Florida apartment on May 22.

Todashev was being questioned about a triple murder in the Boston area and his link to suspected marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was killed during a shootout with police in the Boston suburb of Watertown four days after the bombings.

There have been varying reports about exactly what happened when Todashev was killed.

“Florida officials are simply deferring to the FBI, allowing the FBI to investigate itself, but it is difficult to accept the FBI’s honesty in this matter,” the ACLU wrote in a letter to Commissioner Gerald Bailey of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, adding, “Now, more than eight weeks later, the public has very little information about this incident… Officials in both states should conduct their own investigations.”

In a similar letter to Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, the ACLU of Massachusetts (ACLUM) pointed to a New York Times analysis that found “FBI shooting reviews… virtually always clear the agency of wrongdoing.”

Last week the FBI blocked the release of Todashev’s autopsy by the Florida medical examiner’s office.

Carol Rose, ACLUM executive director, wrote, “It seems unlikely that the FBI investigation will meaningfully inform Massachusetts residents about what happened.”

Coakley’s office does not plan to open a new investigation.

“While the use of deadly force by law enforcement should be appropriately investigated, this particular incident happened in another state, which is outside our jurisdiction,” Coakley spokesman Brad Puffer told RIA Novosti.

Officials in Florida did not immediately respond to a request for comment from RIA Novosti.

July 24, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, False Flag Terrorism | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Palestinian photographer who was shot in the cheek could be imprisoned yet again

By Shamus Slaunwhite | IMEMC & Agencies | July 24, 2013

In the middle of the night on June 30, Israeli forces invaded the Aida-area home of Palestinian photographer Mohamed Al-Azza, assaulted him and his family, and then arbitrarily detained him until July 11 when he was freed on a bail of 1,500 shekels. On July 25, an Israeli military court will rule on his case.

Palestinian photographer Mohammed Al-Azza recovering in hospital after being shot in the cheek (Photo by: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/
Palestinian photographer Mohammed Al-Azza recovering in hospital after being shot in the cheek (Photo by: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/

After sustaining severe injuries during his arrest June 30, Al-Azza was transferred to a hospital for three days, and then sent back to prison. In an Israeli military court, the Israeli security forces charged that Al-Azza participated in “violent and illegal” activities. Reporters Without Borders reported that, “as a journalist, [Al-Azza] has covered demonstrations in support of detainees on hunger strike and protests against the November 2012 offensive in Gaza.”

On April 8, in the Aida refugee camp near Bethlehem, an Israeli soldier shot Al-Azza in the right cheekbone with a rubber-coated steel bullet. Al-Azza, who was working for Palestine News Network, sustained a broken right cheekbone, and underwent two surgeries to remove the bullet. Reporters Without Borders has urged the Israeli security forces to investigate this deliberate shooting of a journalist, to punish the soldier responsible, and to end “the complete impunity enjoyed by IDF soldiers responsible for violence against journalists.”

July 24, 2013 Posted by | Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , | Comments Off on Palestinian photographer who was shot in the cheek could be imprisoned yet again

Syrian Regime Change A-La-Carte

By JASON HIRTHLER | July 24, 2013

After committing a half dozen acts of war across the Middle East in recent years, we’re now treated to the absurd spectacle of an American general warning us of the dangers of committing an act of war. On Monday, U.S. General Martin Dempsey starkly outlined options for military action in Syria in a letter to the Senate, ruefully adding a few caveats about costs and collateral damage that triggered some chest-thumping histrionics in the Senate. Dempsey’s menu of warmongering druthers included training and advising the opposition (the term ‘nonlethal’ is always excitedly appended to advisory activities); conducting limited missile strikes; establishing a no-fly zone; creating buffer zones; and controlling chemical weapons. These additional options come even as Congress approves arms shipments to Syrian ‘rebels’.

Importantly, though, Dempsey did emphasize that the use of force in any form would be “no less than an act of war”. This may appear to be a given, but it is not within the Washington bubble, hence the need to overstate the obvious. Outraged by this show of good sense, senior Senator John McCain threatened to block General Dempsey’s re-election as America’s top military appointment. McCain has been clamoring for a ‘no-fly zone’ for months, and finds the General insufficiently hostile to Syrian sovereignty. This is itself absurd, since Dempsey had just laid out five ‘acts of war’ for the White House to consider. While the various approaches appear quite different prima facie, they share a common objective—the end of the Bashar al-Assad government. As employed in Libya, a nominal no-fly zone bears little distinction from Dempsey’s “stand-off strikes,” the former providing rhetorical cover for a brutal aerial assault on a country’s military infrastructure, usefully evading Congressional interference and erecting a posture of last-resort humanitarian action.

Much to McCain’s continuing chagrin, Dempsey also usefully detailed some of the exorbitant costs of any of these actions, including the eye-popping $500 million upfront costs for a no-fly zone, followed by a mere billion dollars a month for maintenance. Controlling chemical weapons would run a billion a month, too. (Training unhinged Islamic jihadists came in comparatively cheaper, at just $500 million a year.) After laying out these costs, Dempsey couldn’t resist noting with dutiful trepidation that these expenditures arise even as we “lose readiness due to budget cuts and fiscal uncertainty”. This must have caused some discomfiture even among the most stalwart deficit hawks.

Dempsey also performed the tiresome hand-wringing pantomime, noting grave concerns that weapons or intelligence could fall into the hands of Al-Qaeda affiliates (such as those we are backing), as well as reminding us how heavily these decisions weigh upon our noble civilian leaders. (Perhaps we are meant to conjure Obama’s discerning visage, a gentle Caesarean wreath of laurels cresting his pate.) Any of the items on the a-la-carte menu, Dempsey noted, might produce “retaliatory attacks” and “collateral damage”, might inadvertently create “operational zones for extremists” or “unleash the very chemical weapons we seek to control,” among a number of other regrettable forms of chaos. One has to wonder whether Dempsey is late arriving to the Syrian conflict, considering it is common knowledge that arming extremist is the cornerstone of our Syrian strategy, or that it is quite possible that the extremists in our employ have already deployed chemical weapons in service to their discredited rebellion. Perhaps Dempsey ought to look back to Libya again for a better sense of what “unintended consequences” really entail—namely, destabilizing delicately balanced communities inside neighboring nations (see Mali) and the indiscriminate diffusion of both weaponry and stateless jihad across the region. It might also behoove McCain to ponder the internal effect of the Libyan no-fly zone, which precipitated not only the aforementioned regional phenomenon, but also left Libya itself reduced to a confection of simmering sectarian strongholds with a cowering and nominally federated government in Tripoli. The only question that remains is whether these consequences are “unintended” or not.

It’s hardly absurd to suggest the possibility that the Pentagon sometimes likes to “trigger” failed states. Once achieved, several fortuitous opportunities emerge: large lending regimes move in, conditioning aid on the chaining of renascent economies to structural reforms designed to refashion the country as an unfettered market for Western multinationals; and also the use of the country as a staging hub for military actions across the region; and other surreptitious designs.

But nothing feels more disingenuous than Dempsey’s pronounced concern over committing an “act of war”. Is funneling cash, weapons, and intelligence to mercenary forces in an effort to unseat a sovereign government not itself an act of war? Are not the pernicious and unsanctioned drone bombings of civilians in Pakistan, Yemen, and Afghanistan not acts of war? Is conducting clandestine cyber warfare within Iran an act of war? What about funneling millions to opposition candidates in last year’s Venezuelan election—surely a serious provocation at least?

You’d be hard-pressed to imagine any of the above acts being taken against the United States that didn’t induce an instantaneous and vicious military reply—and a deluge of indignant rhetoric from the White House. Imagine an Iranian computer virus taking down half our Internet servers. Or a Pakistani drone liquidating a ‘threat’ in Iowa. Or Syria funneling arms to Islamist cells in Delaware.

Dempsey should at least be cognizant of the fact that we’ve been launching acts of war on a regular and unrepentant basis. And perhaps that’s why his modestly alarmist message—albeit couched in a freshet of regime-change mechanisms—will likely fall on deaf ears in our effete and enervated Senate.

Jason Hirthler can be reached at

July 24, 2013 Posted by | Militarism, War Crimes | , , , , , | Comments Off on Syrian Regime Change A-La-Carte

UN delegates arrive in Syria to probe chemical weapon claims

Press TV – July 24, 2013

A United Nation delegation tasked with examining allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria’s ongoing unrest has arrived in Damascus.

UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane and Swedish scientist, Ake Sellstrom, arrived in the Syrian capital on Wednesday from neighboring Lebanon.

The UN inspectors will meet with Syrian officials to secure a deal for starting investigation into allegations of chemical weapons use in the Arab country. The team is in Damascus at the invitation of the Syrian government.

The Syrian government and foreign-backed militants fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad accuse each other of using chemical weapons.

A Russian-led inquiry has already revealed that militants carried out a chemical attack in the village of Khan al-Assal on the edge of the northern city of Aleppo in March, which killed 26 people.

On May 6, UN investigator, Carla Del Ponte, said testimony from victims of the conflict in Syria suggests militants have used the nerve agent, sarin.

Sarin is a colorless and highly toxic nerve agent that can cause convulsions, paralysis and death within minutes if it is absorbed through inhalation, ingestion, or contact with skin or eyes.

Sarin is classed as a weapon of mass destruction and is banned under international law.

July 24, 2013 Posted by | War Crimes | , , | Comments Off on UN delegates arrive in Syria to probe chemical weapon claims

Latin America’s Tragic Engagement with Microcredit

By Milford Bateman | CEPR Americas Blog | July 23, 2013

Thirty years ago, the international development community was abuzz with excitement. This was because it appeared that the perfect solution to poverty, exclusion and under-development had finally been found in the form of microcredit. As originally conceived, microcredit is the provision of micro-loans to the poor to allow them to establish a range of income-generating activities, supposedly facilitating an escape from poverty through individual entrepreneurship and self-help. Perhaps nowhere more than in Latin America was the excitement so intense. Stoked by the uplifting claims of Peruvian economist, Hernando de Soto [1], that a vastly expanded informal economy would prove to be the economic salvation of the continent, the U.S. government through the World Bank and its own aid arm, USAID, along with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), led the charge to establish the microcredit movement as the dominant local intervention to address poverty.

However, the sour reality that Latin America faces today is that all the excitement over microcredit was fundamentally misplaced. As I argue in a recent article [PDF] published in the Mexican journal Ola Financiera, the microcredit movement has likely proved to be one of the most destructive interventions brought to Latin America over the last 30 years. A growing number of Latin American governments and international development agencies are now finally reconsidering their once unconditional support for the microcredit model. So what went wrong? Let me point to a few of the most important problems.

First, the overarching outcome of the microcredit model in Latin America has been an increase in the supply of “poverty-push” informal microenterprises and self-employment ventures. Yet rather than creating a De Soto-esque foundation for rapid growth and poverty reduction, the very worst possible foundation for promoting long-term poverty reduction and sustainable development was created. As economists such as Alice Amsden, Robert Wade and Ha-Joon Chang have convincingly shown, the now wealthy developed countries and the East Asian “miracle” economies found that what is really needed to escape poverty is for the state to engineer an entirely different constellation of the “right” enterprises: that is, enterprises that are formalized, large enough to reap important economies of scale, can innovate, can use new technology, are willing to train their workers, can supply larger enterprises with quality inputs, can facilitate new organizational routines and capabilities, and can eventually export. Economic history shows, too, that financing the expansion of the “wrong” sort of informal microenterprises and self-employment ventures will simply not lead to sustainable development. As Ha-Joon Chang brilliantly points out, Africa has more individual entrepreneurs than perhaps any other location on the planet, and many more are being created all the time thanks to rafts of microcredit programs backed by the developed countries, yet Africa remains in poverty precisely because of this fact. Likewise in Latin America: by programmatically channelling its scarce financial resources (savings and remittances) into informal microenterprises and self-employment ventures, and so away from virtually all other higher-value uses, the continent has actually been progressively destroying its economic base.

Mexico exemplifies the microcredit trap created in Latin America. Its financial institutions have all proved to be adept at channelling their funds into hugely unproductive and all too often temporary informal microenterprises and self-employment ventures – so-called “changarros” – leaving the bulk of potentially growth-oriented, but low profit and high risk, small and medium industrial enterprise projects increasingly without financial support. Over the last two decades this “crowding out” trend has undoubtedly undermined Mexico’s once powerful industrial and technological base.

A very similar story emerged in Bolivia since the 1980s, where the U.S. government-supported push for microcredit has played a not-unimportant role in gradually destroying an economy that was once slowly industrializing under Import Substitution Industrialization (ISI) policies. Essentially, Bolivia’s carefully built-up raft of efficient industrial small and medium-sized enterprises was starved of funding and left to collapse. Resources were instead shifted into promoting the hugely unproductive and no-growth informal microenterprise and self-employment sector, which has, not surprisingly, dramatically expanded in recent years. Today, with nearly 40 percent of Bolivia’s financial resources now independently intermediated into these “wrong” sort of (micro)enterprises, the Bolivian government has its work cut out to try to stop the damaging de-industrialization trajectory underway in the country.

The second key problem with the microcredit model in Latin America arises from the fact that in the neoliberal 1990s it was aggressively commercialized and extensively deregulated. The primary motive for this move was to eradicate all government and international development community subsidies from the world of microcredit. The use of subsidies (typically to maintain low interest rates) was felt to be ideologically suspect by the main U.S.-based international development agencies, and it was also thought to unjustifiably add to the tax burden on business elites. With extensive advice and financial support provided by USAID, Bolivia was turned into the “best practice” example of commercialised microcredit, thanks mainly to BancoSol, the world’s first dedicated commercially-driven microcredit bank. Yet turning microcredit into a for-profit business under minimal regulation has proved to be a singular disaster: spectacularly damaging levels of Wall Street-style greed, profiteering and financial market chaos soon ensued. Microcredit effectively became the developing world’s very own version of the USA ’s sub-prime lending crisis.

In Bolivia, the commercialization of microcredit has been a major development disaster for the poor. First, Bolivia’s scarce financial resources were disastrously shifted into the “wrong” enterprises, as I just pointed out. Commercialization also directly precipitated the “microcredit meltdown” that Bolivia experienced across 1999-2000, an event that inflicted very serious long-term damage on the Bolivian economy. Crucially, however, commercialization has been a massive success for those managing and investing in Bolivia’s microcredit institutions. The elite group of individuals involved in running Bolivia’s main microcredit institutions, famously including BancoSol and its predecessor, PRODEM, have all become very rich indeed. High salaries, bonuses and dividends have been important to those most closely associated with the management and ownership of BancoSol. The first employees in PRODEM, an institution that has its origins as an NGO funded by the international community to “help the local community,” eventually made millions of dollars after they gradually took control of PRODEM and then brazenly sold it off to a Venezuelan bank. We should, of course, not be surprised to find that little trust, respect or solidarity exists between Bolivia’s poor and the microcredit sector supposedly established at great expense to help them.

Mexico’s experience also exemplifies the tremendous damage wrought by the commercialization of microcredit in Latin America. Even more so than in Bolivia , it is not the poor that have been benefitting from the increased supply of microcredit, but a small financial elite that has been quietly profiteering to a simply stupendous extent. Probably the best/worst example here is that of Banco Compartamos, an organization founded in 1990 as an NGO and making extensive use of international donor grant funding. Even with laudable goals written into its founding articles, very early on it became clear that the main intended beneficiaries of Compartamos’s operations were going to be its senior staff. After 2000, for example, the senior staff began to reward themselves with Wall Street-style salaries, bonus packages and cheap internal loans which allowed them to buy shares in Compartamos. Then in 2007, when Compartamos underwent the inevitable IPO, key senior staff really hit the big-time, with a number of them pocketing several tens of millions of dollars when they off-loaded their shares into the market. A number of external investors also made vast fortunes from their shareholdings in Compartamos, notably the Boston-based microcredit advocacy and investor body ACCIÓN, which saw an initial $1 million stake in Compartamos (of which $800,000 was actually a grant to ACCIÓN) rise in value to nearly $270 million. Note also that Compartamos generates the revenues to support such high financial rewards to senior staff by charging as much as 195 percent real interest rates on its microloans to mainly poor Mexican women.

Inevitably, the supply of microcredit has begun to reach its saturation point in Mexico. Compartamos’s growth has been nothing short of dramatic, while many other domestic microcredit institutions have also grown very rapidly. Compartamos has been the world’s most profitable microcredit institution for five of the past six years, and its nearly $100 million dividend payout to investors is now larger than the balance sheets of most other microcredit institutions. With such huge financial rewards made possible by lending to Mexico’s poor, the big profit-hungry international banks, such as Citigroup, have entered the market, clearly adding to the lending frenzy underway. However, real fears exist that Mexico cannot now avoid a destructive sub-prime-like “microcredit meltdown” episode not unlike the one that hit the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh in 2010. Indeed, it is well known that multiple lending to households has begun to reach epidemic proportions in many parts of Mexico, especially in the massively over-supplied state of Chiapas.

Nevertheless, the question remains: has microcredit in Latin America in general, and Compartamos specifically, been helping the poor to escape their poverty? If the answer is broadly positive, then the spectacular financial rewards accruing to the providers of microcredit might be justified to an extent if meaningful benefits are accruing to the recipients – the poor. However, the unpalatable answer to this question is a resoundingly negative one: there is not a shred of real evidence to support the claim that Compartamos’s microcredit activities have played a role in resolving poverty. First consider that a U.K. government-funded study of virtually all previous impact evaluations of microcredit dramatically showed there is no empirical evidence anywhere [PDF] to show that microcredit has had a positive impact on poverty. Even long-standing supporters of microcredit now accept this extremely unpalatable fact.

More specifically, consider the findings of a just-released impact evaluation of Compartamos [PDF], financed by Compartamos itself and centrally involving one of the most high-profile microcredit supporters, professor Dean Karlan, who is based at Yale University in the U.S. In spite of Comapartamos’s huge presence in poor communities across Mexico, and its previous claims to be greatly helping Mexico’s poor, the impact evaluation team could only come up with a tiny amount of evidence of any positive impact arising from its activities. This was bad enough. But this tepid conclusion actually hides a much more disturbing fact, which is that the research team could only manage to arrive at this sliver of good news by effectively refusing to adopt/adapt an evaluation methodology that would capture the most important downsides to the microcredit model. One can only presume that this was felt necessary in order to ensure that they could come up with the required (very limited) positive impact result they later disingenuously claimed to have found, and which allowed Compartamos and other institutions involved to inevitably spin into the specious claim that Compartamos “generally benefits (its) borrowers”.”

Notably, the research team entirely overlooked so-called “displacement” effects – that is, the negative impact on incumbent microenterprises in the same community that lost business and income thanks to waves of new Compartamos-supported microenterprises. With most Mexican communities for a long time adequately served by simple informal microenterprises providing retail and other services to the poor, the arrival of rafts of new microenterprises operating in exactly the same sub-sector will inevitably have precipitated very large displacement effects. But these downside impacts were ignored. The team also failed to factor in the impact of exits, which is when a microenterprise fails – which the vast majority actually do, and usually very quickly – and the hapless individuals involved then have to either divert other funds (pensions, remittances, savings, etc.) to continue to repay their microloan, or else they lose assets lodged as collateral when they are forced into outright default.

But perhaps the most egregious downside impact ignored by the research team relates to the fact that they also chose to examine a very short and unrepresentative time period – introducing microcredit into a community where before there was none. This then allowed them to simply aggregate the short-term results in such virgin territory into a generally upbeat assessment of the longer-term impact. This is utter nonsense. By doing this, the research team chose to ignore, first, the fact that Compartamos has contributed to further inflating Mexico’s already over-blown and massively unproductive “changarros” sector, which a growing number of analysts now accept is creating an existential threat to the Mexican economy. Second, there was also no comment on the huge opportunity cost involved when scarce funds are gradually diverted away from the “right” enterprises. This silence prevailed in spite of the fact that even the neoliberal-oriented IDB had the guts to publicly admit in 2010 that this “crowding out” issue actually lies at the heart of Latin America’s recent history of poverty and exclusion. Third, you will find nothing in this impact evaluation that discusses the over-indebtedness problems that are clearly looming on the horizon for Mexico’s poor communities, and particularly for many of Compartamos’s long-standing clients. 

The Latin American economies have all been ill-served by the microcredit model, which has provided, and continues to provide, a serious headwind to those governments in Latin America hoping to escape once and for all from poverty, exclusion and primitivizing development trajectories. That microcredit continues to attract such support today thus needs some explanation. I would argue it is down to two factors. First, the politics and ideology; principally the need by the U.S.-led international development community to ensure that individual entrepreneurship and self-help remain the only potential paths out of poverty for the poor in Latin America, and not the exercise of any form of “collective capabilities” through social movements, trade unions, pro-poor governments, or any other similarly “subversive” intervention that the poor might wish to collectively deploy to escape their poverty, and might even have voted for as part of the “pink tide” of leftist governments. Second, there is the issue of the massive wealth that a tiny financial elite has been able to generate for itself thanks to (over)lending to the poor, and which it is now, quite predictably, unwilling to forego. This wealth has allowed, among other things, for the microcredit industry to aggressively lobby governments, mount massive PR campaigns and effortlessly finance deliberately dodgy impact evaluations, all in order to persuade the key actors in Latin America to continue to support the microcredit model.

All told, Latin American governments urgently need to disentangle themselves from the egregious myths and neoliberal-inspired fantasies surrounding microcredit, and begin to completely re-think their (often imposed) allegiance to what has proved to be an ultimately destructive poverty reduction and local development model.

[1] Hernando de Soto (1986): El otro sendero: la revolución informal. Lima: ILD

Milford Bateman is a freelance consultant on local economic development and also, since 2005, a Visiting Professor of Economics at Juraj Dobrila at Pula University in Croatia.

July 24, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Economics, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Latin America’s Tragic Engagement with Microcredit

Bowman Expedition 2.0 Targets Indigenous Communities in Central America

By Joe Bryan | Public Political Ecology Lab | July 23, 2013

The Lawrence World-Journal recently reported the Defense Department’s decision to fund the latest Bowman Expedition led by the American Geographical Society and the University of Kansas Geography Department. Like the first – and controversial – Bowman expedition to Mexico, this latest venture will be led by KU Geographers Jerome Dobson and Peter Herlihy and will target indigenous communities.

Like previous Bowman Expeditions, the expedition’s goal is to compile basic, “open-source,” information about countries that can be used to inform U.S. policy makers and the military. This time, however, they won’t be focused on a single country. Instead they’ll be working throughout Central America, a region that Herlihy and Dobson have elsewhere called “The U.S. Borderlands.” What is this Expedition about? And why is the Defense Department funding academic research on indigenous peoples?

As with the expedition to Mexico, Herlihy and Dobson are focused on land ownership. Echoing a growing list of military strategists, Herlihy and Dobson contend that areas where property rights are not clearly established and enforced by states provide ideal conditions for criminal activity and violence that threaten regional security.

Herlihy and Dobson propose to use maps made with indigenous communities of their lands to clarify this problem, ostensibly with an eye towards securing legal recognition of their property rights. In their expedition to Mexico, Herlihy and Dobson turned over their findings to Radiance Technologies, an Alabama-based military contractor specializing in “creative solutions for the modern warfighter.”  It’s not clear whether this new expedition will do the same, though the program funding it, the Minerva Research Initiative, evaluates proposals according to their ability to address national security concerns.

The rationale for these Expeditions has been parsed in film, print, and by academics (myself included), revealing them to be little more than intelligence gathering efforts carried out by civilian professors and their graduate students. Zapotec communities visited by the previous expedition to Mexico have further denounced Herlihy’s and Dobson’s efforts as “geopiracy,” (and again here) that replay some of colonialism’s oldest tactics of extracting information from communities for people (the U.S. Army) who live elsewhere. Zapotec communities in Oaxaca have also accused Herlihy of failing to inform them of the U.S. Army’s role in funding the Expedition and process data collected by it.

Military funding for the latest Bowman Expedition raises the question of what the U.S. military wants to know about Central America. Moreover, why is it funding research on indigenous peoples? It’s hard to imagine that the U.S. military has much interest in the nuances that distinguish, say, Tawahka communities from Emberá ones. Nor does the military appear concerned with the chronic insecurity of land rights, which continues to be one of the primary threats faced by indigenous communities. A far more likely answer lies with the military’s growing interest in collecting information about the “cultural” or “human” terrain that they can use as needed for a variety of purposes, from managing risks posed by natural disasters to planning military interventions.

Maps of the sort produced by the Bowman Expeditions are certainly useful for this task compiling information about who lives where and place names, to give two examples. But maps can only describe the territory. What they cannot describe are the intricacies of the “terrain” such as the social networks through which access to land and resources are negotiated or the history of struggles over land.

The U.S. military is more familiar with this terrain than one might think. Beginning with the “Banana Wars” of the early 20th Century, the U.S. military has intervened more times in Central America that just about any other region in the world. Indeed the Marines’ first resource on counter-insurgency, the “Small Wars Manual,” drew extensively from their experiences navigating the indigenous Mayanagna and Miskito communities in pursuit of Augusto Sandino’s anti-imperialist forces in Nicaragua.

In the 1980s, U.S. military advisors once again traversed the indigenous areas of Central America for tactical gain. In eastern Nicaragua and Honduras, they helped train and organize Miskito-led armed groups as part of the proxy battle strategy of the Contra War. In Guatamala they targeted Maya communities as bastions of guerilla support with genocidal consequence. Dense forests and other isolated areas throughout the region further provided cover for airstrips also used for illicit shipments of cocaine and weapons orchestrated by the Reagan Administration in support of the Contras.

Herlihy knows this history well.  He’s been mapping the forested areas in eastern Honduras used by the Contras and Miskito armed groups since the late 1980s.  Herlihy’s (and Dobson’s) main military contact, Geoffrey Demarest, knows this history too. A graduate of the School of the Americas, he served as a military attaché to Guatemala.  He’s since become an expert on counter-insurgency, publishing extensively from his experience in Colombia and its relevance for current wars. More recently, he enrolled in the Geography Ph.D. program at KU under Dobson’s supervision.

Still, what is the national security interest in Central America that a Bowman Expedition there can help address? Indigenous land ownership has already been extensively mapped in much of the region as part of property reforms supported by the likes of the World Bank. Several countries in the region now also have promising laws on the books recognizing indigenous and black land rights.

Yet neither maps nor legal reforms have been enough to stop the region from becoming a major transshipment route for cocaine en route to the United States. The State Department estimates that more than 80 percent of cocaine bound for the U.S. passes through Honduras. Some of this trafficking makes use of infrastructure created by counter-insurgency campaigns in the 1980s.

In 2011, Herlihy once again mapped the Honduran Mosquitia as part of another U.S. Army-funded Bowman Expedition.  Shortly thereafter, in 2012, the region was targeted by the DEA who made use of counter-insurgency tactics developed in Iraq to fight traffickers. Among those lessons of Iraq applied in the Mosquitia was the use of forward operating bases immersed in the region’s physical and cultural terrain of the Mosquitia. Two of those bases, El Aguacate and Mocorón, were repurposed bases constructed during the Contra War. The campaign fits a broader pattern of escalating militarization of Central America further illustrated by this map compiled by the interfaith Fellowship of Reconciliation.

The application of counter-insurgency tactics gives mapping indigenous areas a more sinister edge. Historically the U.S. military has relied on the designation of “Indian Country” and “tribal areas” to designate areas at the edge of state control, often turning them into free-fire zones where the conventions of war, legal and otherwise, do not apply. Better knowledge of these areas has scarcely reduced incidents of violent conflict as Dobson suggests.  Instead, that knowledge has served as a “force multiplier” – to use General Petraeus’s term – that allows the U.S. military to intervene with greater efficiency. Herlihy and Dobson claim to champion the rights of indigenous peoples, but the money and data trail suggests that is only a secondary concern to U.S. military interests.

So why is the U.S. military funding academic geographers to do research in indigenous areas in Central America instead of relying on its own people to do the work? In Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army has relied on social scientists embedded with combat units as part of the Human Terrain System program to gather similar information. Funding academic researchers to do similar work poses a number of advantages.  For starters, it sidesteps the ethical controversy raised by the Human Terrain System. It also brings the added benefit of relying on “civilian” researchers to access communities who might otherwise be wary of soldiers in military uniform. At the same time, it gives the military precisely the kind of detailed, georeferenced information – the spatial “metadata” – sought by the Human Terrain System for areas that lie far from current combat zones. It’s an approach consistent with what geographer Derek Gregory describes as the “everywhere war” currently waged across society on the whole by covert military teams, surveillance, and drones.  By taking the measure of indigenous communities according to security interests, the Bowman Expeditions stand to perpetuate a role that is far too common in Geography’s history. The Bowman Expeditions have generated some productive debate (see also here, here, and here) in this regard, though in a context of shrinking budgets for university research and education the allure of military money remains powerful enough to trump ethical concerns.

Meanwhile as geographers debate the merits of military funding, indigenous peoples continue facing a long list of violent threats from drug trafficking, illegal logging, loss of lands, and institutional racism. The military-funded Bowman Expeditions merely add to that list. Still, as the Zapotec communities in Oaxaca forcefully remind us, it’s their information and the decision to participate in projects like the Bowman Expeditions – or any other research — ultimately resides with them. Herlihy’s and Dobson’s failure to address those concerns will only diminish their access to this field, undermining the kinds of rights and free exchange of knowledge they profess to support.


See Also: U.S. Military Funded Mapping Project in Oaxaca: University Geographers Used to Gather Intelligence?

Military-backed Mapping Project in Oaxaca Under Fire

Joe Bryan is an Assistant Professor of Geography at the University of Colorado at Boulder. For additional resources on the Bowman Expedition, see Zoltán Grossman’s fantastic website.

July 24, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Bowman Expedition 2.0 Targets Indigenous Communities in Central America

NSA Surveillance Through the Prism of Political Repression

By CARLOS BORRERO  July 23, 2013

July 28th marks the 35th anniversary of the political assassination of two Puerto Rican independence activists, Carlos Soto Arriví and Arnaldo Darío Rosado, in the infamous Cerro Maravillai case. This case, which was widely followed among Puerto Ricans, involved an agent provocateur that led the activists to an ambush that resulted in their brutal murder by paramilitary agents within the colonial police force. The event led to two investigations, the second of which revealed a conspiracy to cover up both the assassination plot as well as the destruction and manipulation of evidence carried out by the colonial police and justice department, as well as the federal justice department and FBI. Cerro Maravilla symbolizes for many the most outstanding recent example of repressive measures, from surveillance to political assassination, unleashed by US imperialism against the anticolonial movement in Puerto Rico.

The recent revelations of NSA spying by Edward Snowden have provoked mass outrage across the globe. Much of the consternation comes from what is commonly understood as a violation of privacy. In the official media, Snowden’s actions have been framed as a debate between ‘national security’ and ‘privacy’. However, framing the question in these terms is pure subterfuge. The Puerto Rican experience shows that the true objectives of surveillance programs by intelligence agencies like the NSA, CIA, and FBI having nothing to do with ‘security’ or ‘protection’ but rather political repression. Systematic surveillance can only be understood as an essential part of state repression, the purpose of which is to intimidate those that question the status quo by promoting a culture of fear. One can never be separated from the other.

The systematic surveillance and repression of Puerto Rico’s anticolonial movement is obviously just one example of many. A brief historical sketch of US imperialism’s repressive efforts against anticolonial forces in Puerto Rico must begin with the political intrigues that preceded the 1898 military invasion as well as the martial law that characterized both military and civilian colonial governments in its immediate aftermath. This history goes on to include the surveillance and repressive attacks against the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party and its followers from the 30s through the 50s, which included massacres of unarmed civilians, political assassinations and imprisonments, the harassment and attacks against labor unions and newly emergent socialist organizations of the same period, as well as COINTELPRO operations against resurgent nationalist and socialist political formations during the 60s and 70s.ii Indeed, in 1987 it was revealed that over 130,000 files on individuals and organizations had been accumulated through systematic surveillance on the island. This history is an integral part of the parallel campaigns of systematic state repression unleashed within the United States against groups such as the Black Liberation Movement, the American Indian Movement, the Chicano Liberation Movement, radical labor organizations, progressive students and antiwar activists, as well as communists.iii As such, what constitutes a scandal for the broader public is in fact part of the daily reality for those that fight for freedom and an end to oppression.

Snowden’s revelation that the United States Security Group Command’s Sabana Seca installation, located in the northern coastal municipality of Toa Baja, is part of an international surveillance network, which includes the Fornstat program, comes to no surprise to Puerto Rican anticolonial activists. From Sabana Seca, US naval intelligence monitors and gathers Internet, phone, and other forms of communication. In 1999, Duncan Campbell and Mark Honigsbaum of The Guardian already highlighted the naval intelligence’s “Echelon” operations from Sabana Seca and other locations both in the US and internationally as part of joint US British surveillance programs.iv

What is critical to highlight about US imperialism in Puerto Rico is the continued military character of colonialism on the island. For the benefit of those that may be unaware or who take the position that US militarism characterized only the past history of colonialism in Puerto Rico, a few contemporary examples serve to illustrate the point. Over the past decade and a half, Puerto Ricans have mobilized en masse to oppose a proposed military radar system intended for the Lajas valley in the southwestern part of the island, to end the practice of using the eastern island of Vieques as a bombing range by the US military and its allies (It should be noted that there was also a successful campaign to end the militarization of Culebra island also off the eastern coast of the main island in the 70s), and in more recent times against a system of potentially toxic and environmentally destructive antennas used both by the military and cellular companies that have proliferated across the island. In an article in the current issue of Claridad, the spokesperson for the grassroots Coalition of Communities Against the Proliferation of Antennas, Wilson Torres, sheds light on the US military’s Full Spectrum Dominance program currently being implemented in Puerto Rico. v

Understood in the context of pervasive unemployment, which serves to ensure an ever present pool of recruits used as cannon fodder in US military campaigns throughout the world as well as the structural dependence of large parts of the colonial economy on the Pentagon, this picture constitutes the modified form of US militarism in Puerto Rico in the present context. One may add the militarization of the colonial police force in the ongoing attacks against residents of public housing and other marginalized communities to this reality.

It would not be difficult to draw parallels between much of what is described immediately above and the realities faced by many North Americans. Heavy-handed policing and economically depressed communities dependent upon military or prison industries are a familiar reality for many. Yet the notion that the United States of America is characterized by a repressive state is much more difficult for the average person to accept. The narrative of 9/11 provides the pretext that results in the conflation of national security and state repression in the minds of many.

Notwithstanding, the revelations about the NSA spying program have provoked the condemnation of all except the most recalcitrant sycophants of US imperialism. Yet, it is absolutely necessary to place these programs in the context of the long history of state repression and militarism. Those on the left must push to extend the public discourse beyond questions of personal privacy to a discussion of systematic political repression within increasingly militarized “liberal” democracies. The experiences of anticolonial activists and militant, class-conscious revolutionaries from Puerto Rico lend valuable insights that add to the discussion around the significance of what Snowden’s leaks reveal: systematic surveillance and state repression are two sides of the same coin.

An insightful comment by Marx, writing in the New York Daily Tribune about British imperialism in India during the mid 1800s and often repeated among Puerto Rican comrades, is a useful starting point for the US left:

“The profound hypocrisy and inherent barbarism of bourgeois civilization lies unveiled before our eyes, moving from its home, where it assumes respectable form, to the colonies, where it goes naked.”


July 24, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular | , , , | Comments Off on NSA Surveillance Through the Prism of Political Repression

How the Israel Lobby Trained a Diplomat

By Paul R. Pillar | Consortium News | July 22, 2013

David Rieff’s commentary on Samantha Power’s confirmation hearing is a trenchant account of some of the worst in what we see in the process of confirming nominees for senior positions. Even by the standards of such hearings, Power’s performance was notably obsequious.

This was an abuse of the process by the nominee, in the sense that in a proceeding ostensibly intended to learn more about the nominee we did not learn much at all except that she really, really wants the job of ambassador to the United Nations and is willing to shape her testimony in whatever way it takes to get the job.

Rieff cites the experience of Robert Bork as the master lesson for all subsequent nominees on the need to trim their views if they expect to get confirmed. That history is no doubt a factor, but to understand the pathologies of the confirmation process we should take note of the variety of ways in which that process gets abused. Many of those ways are not the work of nominees, but in at least one respect, as Power’s case illustrates, they induce from nominees’ behavior that only adds to the dysfunction.

A conspicuous and recent abuse was the attempt to cripple the work of the National Labor Relations Board and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by refusing to bring any nominees for those bodies to a vote in the Senate. Threats from the Senate majority leader about exercising a so-called nuclear option won a temporary reprieve from that tactic, although there is no assurance we won’t see it revived, and the chances are it will be.

One of the participants in that tactic, Senator Lindsey Graham, later acknowledged that the nominee to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau “was being filibustered because we don’t like the law. That’s not a reason to deny someone their appointment. We were wrong.”

Even when the objective is not to cripple an agency or effectively vacate the law that created it, it has become commonplace for the confirmation process to be the vehicle for pursuing policy agendas that have nothing to do with the nominee. This is at best an irrelevance and a drag on the process. It becomes abuse when confirmation votes may be determined by it.

The same Sen. Graham started crossing this line last week when he used questioning of Admiral James Winnefeld, nominated for another term as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to push the idea that the Iranian regime is still an awful and extreme beast despite the election to the Iranian presidency of Hassan Rouhani.

At one point Graham said “this will determine how I vote for you” before asking whether Winnefeld thought Rouhani is a “moderate.” Even setting aside the issue of the substantive validity of what Graham was harping on, why should a military officer’s view on this question determine his fitness to serve as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs?

Nominees, especially those already serving in the Executive Branch, have somehow to make their responsiveness to questions not run afoul of policies that have already been set by the president, and not to make it seem that they are getting ahead of the president, forcing his hand, or openly criticizing him. And yet senators repeatedly and knowingly put nominees in that difficult position.

At the same hearing last week of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain did so with General Martin Dempsey, nominated for another term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs. McCain tenaciously tried to get Dempsey to say that the administration’s policy on Syria was one of “inaction.”

We should hope that the nation’s senior military officer is giving his best advice in private to the president on military aspects of an important problem such as Syria, and we should expect that officer not to offer discordant characterizations of the president’s policy in public. We should also hope that senior members of the Senate Armed Services Committee see the job of chairman of the Joint Chiefs in similar terms, regardless of their views about Syria or any other substantive issue.

The inherent vulnerability of nominees makes the confirmation process a vehicle for showing who’s boss. This is a form of abuse that goes beyond senators who do the voting, and it gets back to how Power conducted herself. Specifically, it gets to her comments about Israel, which as Rieff puts it were “so stridently one-sided as to be almost wholly indistinguishable from the talking points of Israeli diplomats.”

The now well-known background to this is an interview more than a decade ago, in which Power suggested that to quell Israeli-Palestinian violence at that time the United States should consider deploying a large protective force even though this might mean “alienating a domestic constituency of tremendous political and financial import.” The constituency in question, as is its custom, denounced Power as anti-Israeli.

Power’s later means of retaining her confirmability in the face of such accusations was to disavow, totally and tearfully, her own observations. A key event was a meeting with American Jewish leaders at which, according to the meeting’s organizer, she “became deeply emotional and struggled to complete her presentation as she expressed how deeply such accusations had affected her.”

This sequence has made Samantha Power a more valuable commodity to the Israel lobby than if she had never made any comments to offend the lobby in the first place. Sustaining the lobby’s power depends on repeated demonstrations of submission to that power. The lobby could not have gotten a better demonstration of submission than to have the nominated chief U.S. diplomat at the United Nations abandon all evidence of any independent thought on the issues concerned and to make herself indistinguishable from Israeli diplomats.

Besides making for more dysfunction in the confirmation process, this kind of response from a nominee, as when Power said at her hearing that the United States has “no greater friend in the world” than Israel, badly distorts the larger public discourse on important issues. To appreciate how much it is distorted, we have to listen to distinguished and experienced people who are not up for a confirmation vote, do not expect to be in the future, and thus can voice their observations in an honest and untrimmed manner.

One such person is retired Marine Corps General and former Central Command head James Mattis, who last weekend explained some of the cost to the United States of the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “I paid a military security price every day as a commander of CENTCOM because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel,” said Mattis.

Moderate Arabs “who want to be with us,” he said, restrict their support for the United States because they “can’t come out publicly in support of people who don’t want to show respect for the Arab Palestinians.”

July 24, 2013 Posted by | Wars for Israel | , , , | 1 Comment