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Archive for September, 2011

Posted by The Agonist on September 30th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Kabul | Sept 29

CNN – Eight NATO troops have died in Afghanistan over the past two days, seven of them from war-related causes, the International Security Assistance Force said.

One ISAF service member died Wednesday following an attack in eastern Afghanistan’s Wardak province.

Three ISAF service members died Wednesday following an IED attack in southern Afghanistan and three others died after an IED attack in eastern Afghanistan, ISAF said.

In a separate incident, an ISAF member died Thursday in southern Afghanistan as a result of a non-battle-related injury, ISAF said.

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Posted by Peace Action West on September 29th, 2011

From our partners at Peace Action West

The 10th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan is next week, on October 7. Have you been thinking of which story you’d like to share in our online slideshow, “Your life in the decade of war”?

Everyone has a story, and I want to help you tell yours. Here are some ideas to get you thinking about how your life has changed in the last ten years:

•    Have you moved to a new city or state? A new home? Has your neighborhood changed in the last decade?
•    How has your family changed? Have you watched your grandchildren grow? Were you a child yourself when the war in Afghanistan started?
•    How have your tastes changed? Were you listening to ‘N Sync in 2001, and now you listen to Lady Gaga? Did you hate vegetables, and now you eat a salad every day?
•    Have you started a new job? Graduated from school?
•    We have spent billions of dollars on war in the last ten years. How has the economy impacted your life in the last ten years?

You can click here to see examples of these kinds of stories in our gallery and submit your own.

If you don’t have photos of yourself you’d like to use, you can tell a story with photos of places or objects. There are several good websites where you can find free, public domain photos that you can use however you’d like.

If you don’t have a picture to tell your story, please share your story in the Facebook comments on our gallery page. Also, keep an eye out for a special action on the 10th anniversary, Friday October 7th. All that matters is that you share your story. Click here.

The media and the public are not thinking about the war as often or as deeply as they should. Please join us in this special effort to send the message that ten years of war is ten years too long.

I look forward to reading your stories.

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Posted by alexthurston on September 29th, 2011

By Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.

In the world of weaponry, they are the sexiest things around. Others countries are desperate to have them. Almost anyone who writes about them becomes a groupie. Reporters exploring their onrushing future swoon at their potentially wondrous techno-talents. They are, of course, the pilotless drones, our grimly named Predators and Reapers.

As CIA Director, Leon Panetta called them “the only game in town.” As Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates pushed hard to up their numbers and increase their funding drastically. The U.S. Air Force is already training more personnel to become drone “pilots” than to pilot actual planes. You don’t need it in skywriting to know that, as icons of American-style war, they are clearly in our future — and they’re even heading for the homeland as police departments clamor for them.

They are relatively cheap. When they “hunt,” no one dies (at least on our side). They are capable of roaming the world. Someday, they will land on the decks of aircraft carriers or, tiny as hummingbirds, drop onto a windowsill, maybe even yours, or in their hundreds, the size of bees, swarm to targets and, if all goes well, coordinate their actions using the artificial intelligence version of “hive minds.”

“The drone,” writes Jim Lobe of Inter Press Service, “has increasingly become the [Obama] administration’s ‘weapon of choice’ in its efforts to subdue al-Qaeda and its affiliates.” In hundreds of attacks over the last years in the Pakistani tribal borderlands, they have killed thousands, including al-Qaeda figures, Taliban militants, and civilians. They have played a significant and growing role in the skies over Afghanistan. They are now loosing their missiles ever more often over Yemen, sometimes over Libya, and less often over Somalia. Their bases are spreading. No one in Congress will be able to resist them. They are defining the new world of war for the twenty-first century — and many of the humans who theoretically command and control them can hardly keep up.

Reach for Your Dictionaries

On September 15th, the New York Times front-paged a piece by the estimable Charlie Savage, based on leaks from inside the administration. It was headlined “At White House, Weighing Limits of Terror Fight,” and started this way:

“The Obama administration’s legal team is split over how much latitude the United States has to kill Islamist militants in Yemen and Somalia, a question that could define the limits of the war against al-Qaeda and its allies, according to administration and Congressional officials.”

Lawyers for the Pentagon and the State Department, Savage reported, were debating whether, outside of hot-war zones, the Obama administration could call in the drones (as well as special operations forces) not just to go after top al-Qaeda figures planning attacks on the United States, but al-Qaeda’s foot soldiers (and vaguely allied groups like the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and al-Shabab in Somalia).

That those lawyers are arguing fiercely over such a matter is certainly a curiosity. As presented, the issue behind their disagreement is how to square modern realities with outmoded rules of war written for another age (which also, by the way, had its terrorists). And yet such debates, front-paged or not, fierce or not, will one day undoubtedly be seen as analogous to supposed ancient clerical arguments over just how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. In fact, their import lies mainly in the fascinating pattern they reveal about the way forces that could care less about questions of legality are driving developments in American-style war.

After all, this fierce “argument” about what constraints should be applied to modern robotic war was first played out in the air over Pakistan’s tribal borderlands. There, the CIA’s drone air campaign began with small numbers of missions targeting a few highly placed al-Qaeda leaders (not terribly successfully). Rather than declare its latest wonder weapons a failure, however, the CIA, already deeply invested in drone operations, simply pushed ever harder to expand the targeting to play to the technological strengths of the planes.

In 2007, CIA director Michael Hayden began lobbying the White House for “permission to carry out strikes against houses or cars merely on the basis of behavior that matched a ‘pattern of life’ associated with al-Qaeda or other groups.” And next thing you knew, they were moving from a few attempted targeted assassinations toward a larger air war of annihilation against types and “behaviors.”

Here’s another curiosity. The day after Charlie Savage’s piece appeared in the Times, the president’s top advisor on counterterror operations, John O. Brennan, gave a speech at a conference at Harvard Law School on “Strengthening our Security by Adhering to our Values and Laws,” and seemed to settle the “debate,” part of which he defined this way:

“Others in the international community — including some of our closest allies and partners — take a different view of the geographic scope of the conflict, limiting it only to the ‘hot’ battlefields. As such, they argue that, outside of these two active theatres, the United States can only act in self-defense against al-Qaeda when they are planning, engaging in, or threatening an armed attack against U.S. interests if it amounts to an ‘imminent’ threat.”

He then added this little twist: “Practically speaking, then, the question turns principally on how you define ‘imminence.’”

If there’s one thing we should have learned from the Bush years, it was this: when government officials reach for their dictionaries, duck!

Then, the crucial word at stake was “torture,” and faced with it — and what top administration officials actually wanted done in the world — Justice Department lawyers quite literally reached for their dictionaries. In their infamous torture memos, they so pretzled, abused, and redefined the word “torture” that, by the time they were through, whether acts of torture even occurred was left to the torturer, to what had he had in mind when he was “interrogating” someone. (“[I]f a defendant [interrogator] has a good faith belief that his actions will not result in prolonged mental harm, he lacks the mental state necessary for his actions to constitute torture.”)

As a result, “torture” was essentially drummed out of the dictionary (except when committed by heinous evil doers in places like Iran) and “enhanced interrogation techniques” welcomed into our world. The Bush administration and the CIA then proceeded to fill the “black sites” they set up from Poland to Thailand and the torture chambers of chummy regimes like Mubarak’s Egypt and Gaddafi’s Libya with “terror suspects,” and then tortured away with impunity.

Now, it seems, the Obama crowd is reaching for its dictionaries, which means that it’s undoubtedly time to duck again. As befits a more intellectual crowd, we’re no longer talking about relatively simple words like “torture” whose meaning everyone knows (or at least once knew). If “imminence” is now the standard for when robotic war is really war, don’t you yearn for the good old days when the White House focused on “what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is,” and all that was at stake was presidential sex, not presidential killing?

When legalisms take center stage in a situation like this, think of magicians. Their skill is to focus your attention on the space where nothing that matters is happening — the wrong hand, the wrong face, the wrong part of the stage — while they perform their “magic” elsewhere. Similarly, pay attention to the law right now and you’re likely to miss the plot line of our world.

It’s true that, at the moment, articles are pouring out focused on how to define the limits of future drone warfare. My advice: skip the law, skip the definitions, skip the arguments, and focus your attention on the drones and the people developing them instead.

Put another way, in the last decade, there was only one definition that truly mattered. From it everything else followed: the almost instantaneous post-9/11 insistence that we were “at war,” and not even in a specific war or set of wars, but in an all-encompassing one that, within two weeks of the collapse of the World Trade Center, President Bush was already calling “the war on terror.” That single demonic definition of our state of existence rose to mind so quickly that no lawyers were needed and no one had to reach for a dictionary.

Addressing a joint session of Congress, the president typically said: “Our war on terror begins with Al Qaeda, but it does not end there.” And that open-endedness was soon codified in an official name that told all: “the Global War on Terror,” or GWOT. (For all we know, the phrase itself was the invention of a speechwriter mainlining into the zeitgeist.) Suddenly, “sovereignty” had next to no meaning (if you weren’t a superpower); the U.S. was ready to take out after terrorists in up to 80 countries; and the planet, by definition, had become a global free-fire zone.

By the end of September 2001, as the invasion of Afghanistan was being prepared, it was already a carte-blanche world and, as it happened, pilotless surveillance drones were there, lurking in the shadows, waiting for a moment like this, yearning (you might say) to be weaponized.

If GWOT preceded much thought of drones, it paved the way for their crash weaponization, development, and deployment. It was no mistake that, a bare two weeks after 9/11, a prescient Noah Shachtman (who would go on to found the Danger Room website at Wired) led off a piece for that magazine this way: “Unmanned, almost disposable spy planes are being groomed for a major role in the coming conflict against terrorism, defense analysts say.”

Talk about “imminence” or “constraints” all you want, but as long as we are “at war,” not just in Afghanistan or Iraq, but on a world scale with something known as “terror,” there will never be any limits, other than self-imposed ones.

And it remains so today, even though the Obama administration has long avoided the term “Global War on Terror.” As Brennan made utterly clear in his speech, President Obama considers us “at war” anywhere that al-Qaeda, its minions, wannabes, or simply groups of irregulars we don’t much care for may be located. Given this mentality, there is little reason to believe that, on September 11, 2021, we won’t still be “at war.”

So pay no attention to the legalisms. Put away those dictionaries. Ignore the “debates” between the White House and Congress, or State and Defense. Otherwise you’ll miss the predatory magic.

Beyond Words

Within days after the news about the “debate” over the limits on global war was leaked to the Times, unnamed government officials were leaking away to the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal on an allied subject of interest. Both papers broke the news that, as Craig Whitlock and Greg Miller of the Post put it, the U.S. military and the CIA were creating “a constellation of secret drone bases for counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as part of a newly aggressive campaign to attack al-Qaeda affiliates in Somalia and Yemen.”

A new base, it seems, is being constructed in Ethiopia, another somewhere in the vicinity of Yemen (possibly in Saudi Arabia), and a third reopened on the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean — all clearly intended for the escalating drone wars in Yemen and Somalia, and perhaps drone wars to come elsewhere in eastern or northern Africa.

These preparations are meant to deal not just with Washington’s present preoccupations, but with its future fears and phantasms. In this way, they fit well with the now decade-old war on terror’s campaign against will-o-the-wisps. Julian Barnes of the Wall Street Journal, for example, quotes an unnamed “senior U.S. official” as saying: “We do not know enough about the leaders of the al-Qaeda affiliates in Africa. Is there a guy out there saying, ‘I am the future of al-Qaeda’? Who is the next Osama bin Laden?” We don’t yet know, but wherever he is, our drones will be ready for him.

All of this, in turn, fits well with the Pentagon’s “legal” position, mentioned by the Times’ Savage, of “trying to maintain maximum theoretical flexibility.” It’s a kind of Field-of-Dreams argument: if you build them, they will come.

It’s simple enough. The machines (and their creators and supporters in the military-industrial complex) are decades ahead of the government officials who theoretically direct and oversee them. “A Future for Drones: Automated Killing,” an enthusiastic article that appeared in the Post the very same week as that paper’s base-expansion piece, caught the spirit of the moment. In it, Peter Finn reported on the way three pilotless drones over Fort Benning, Georgia, worked together to identify a target without human guidance. It may, he wrote, “presage the future of the American way of war: a day when drones hunt, identify, and kill the enemy based on calculations made by software, not decisions made by humans. Imagine aerial ‘Terminators,’ minus beefcake and time travel.”

In a New York Review of Books piece with a similarly admiring edge (and who wouldn’t admire such staggering technological advances), Christian Caryl writes:

“Researchers are now testing UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] that mimic hummingbirds or seagulls; one model under development can fit on a pencil eraser. There is much speculation about linking small drones or robots together into ‘swarms’ — clouds or crowds of machines that would share their intelligence, like a hive mind, and have the capability to converge instantly on identified targets. This might seem like science fiction, but it is probably not that far away.”

Admittedly, drones still can’t have sex. Not yet anyway. And they can’t choose which humans they are sent to kill. Not so far. But sex and the single drone aside, all of this and more may, in the coming decades, become — if you don’t mind my using the word — imminent. It may be the reality in the skies over all our heads.

It’s true that the machines of war the Obama administration is now rushing headlong to deploy cannot yet operate themselves, but they are already — in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words — “in the saddle, and ride mankind.” Their “desire” to be deployed and used is driving policy in Washington — and increasingly elsewhere as well. Think of this as the Drone Imperative.

If you want to fight over definitions, there’s only one worth fighting over: not the phrase “the Global War on Terror,” which the Obama administration tossed aside to no effect whatsoever, but the concept behind it. Once the idea took hold that the United States was, and had no choice but to be, in a state of permanent global war, the game was afoot. From then on, the planet was — conceptually speaking — a free-fire zone, and even before robotic weaponry developed to its present level, it was already a drone-eat-drone world to the horizon.

As long as global war remains the essence of “foreign policy,” the drones — and the military-industrial companies and lobbying groups behind them, as well as the military and CIA careers being built on them — will prove expansive. They will go where, and as far as, the technology takes them.

In reality, it’s not the drones, but our leaders who are remarkably constrained. Out of permanent war and terrorism, they have built a house with no doors and no exits. It’s easy enough to imagine them as beleaguered masters of the universe atop the globe’s military superpower, but in terms of what they can actually do, it would be more practical to think of them as so many drones, piloted by others. In truth, our present leaders, or rather managers, are small people operating on autopilot in a big-machine world.

As they definitionally twitch and turn, we can just begin to glimpse — like an old-fashioned photo developing in a tray of chemicals — the outlines of a new form of American imperial war emerging before our eyes. It involves guarding the empire on the cheap, as well as on the sly, via the CIA, which has, in recent years, developed into a full-scale, drone-heavy paramilitary outfit, via a growing secret army of special operations forces that has been incubating inside the military these last years, and of course via those missile- and bomb-armed robotic assassins of the sky.

The appeal is obvious: the cost (in U.S. lives) is low; in the case of the drones, nonexistent. There is no need for large counterinsurgency armies of occupation of the sort that have bogged down on the mainland of the Greater Middle East these last years.

In an increasingly cash-strapped and anxious Washington, it must look like a literal godsend. How could it go wrong?

Of course, that’s a thought you can only hang onto as long as you’re looking down on a planet filled with potential targets scurrying below you. The minute you look up, the minute you leave your joystick and screen behind and begin to imagine yourself on the ground, it’s obvious how things could go so very, very wrong — how, in fact, in Pakistan, to take but one example, they are going so very, very wrong.

Just think about the last time you went to a Terminator film: Who did you identify with? John and Sarah Connor, or the implacable Terminators chasing them? And you don’t need artificial intelligence to grasp why in a nanosecond.

In a country now struggling simply to guarantee help to its own citizens struck by natural disasters, Washington is preparing distinctly unnatural disasters in the imperium. In this way, both at home and abroad, the American dream is turning into the American scream.

So when we build those bases on that global field of screams, when we send our armadas of drones out to kill, don’t be surprised if the rest of the world doesn’t see us as the good guys or the heroes, but as terminators. It’s not the best way to make friends and influence people, but once your mindset is permanent war, that’s no longer a priority. It’s a scream, and there’s nothing funny about it.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s His latest book, The United States of Fear (Haymarket Books), will be published in November.

[Note on further reading: A small bow to four websites I particularly rely on when gathering information for pieces like this one: the invaluable, the War in Context website with its sharp-eyed editor Paul Woodward, Juan Cole’s Informed Comment blog (a daily must-read), and Noah Shachtman’s Danger Room website, which no one interested in military affairs should miss.]

Copyright 2011 Tom Engelhardt

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Posted by The Agonist on September 27th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Gareth Porter | Washington | Sept 22

IPS – The U.S. threat last week that “all options” are on the table
if the Pakistani military doesn’t cut its ties with the Haqqani
network of anti-U.S. insurgents created the appearance of a
crisis involving potential U.S. military escalation in Pakistan.

But there is much less substance to the administration’s threatening
rhetoric than was apparent. In fact, it was primarily an exercise in
domestic political damage control, although compounded by an emotional
response to recent major attacks by the Haqqani group on U.S.-NATO
targets, according to two sources familiar with the policymaking
process on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

One source close to that process doubted that there was any planning
for military action against Pakistan in the immediate future. “I’m
sure we’re going to be talking to the Pakistanis a lot about this,”
the source told IPS.

Despite the tough talk about not tolerating any more high-profile
attacks on U.S. troops, the sources suggested, there is no expectation
that anything the United States can do would change Pakistani policy
toward the Haqqani group.

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Posted by The Agonist on September 25th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Kunal Dutta | September 25

Independent UK – Disturbing footage of Apache attack helicopters killing people in Afghanistan is being shown to frontline British soldiers in “Kill TV nights” designed to boost morale, a television documentary will reveal.

…it shows an Apache helicopter commander (Warrant Officer Class 2 Andy Farmer) admitting possible errors of judgement and warning colleagues not to disclose what they have seen. “This is not for discussion with anybody else; keep it quiet about what you see up here,” he says in the film. “It’s not because we’ve done anything wrong. But we might have done.”

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Posted by The Agonist on September 25th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Kunal Dutta | Camp Bastion, Helmand province, Afghanistan | September 25

The Independent – Disturbing footage of Apache attack helicopters killing people in Afghanistan is being shown to frontline British soldiers in “Kill TV nights” designed to boost morale, a television documentary will reveal.

The discovery of the practice comes in the wake of the damning verdict of the Baha Mousa inquiry into the conduct of some in the military. It casts fresh questions over the conduct of soldiers deployed abroad and has provoked a furious response from peace campaigners.

Andrew Burgin from Stop the War last night described it as the “ultimate degradation of British troops”, comparing it to the desensitisation to death of US soldiers in the final stages of the Vietnam War.

The footage, seen by The Independent on Sunday, shows ground troops at the British headquarters in Helmand province, Camp Bastion, gathered for a get-together said to be called “Kill TV night”.

Described as an effort to boost morale among soldiers, it shows an Apache helicopter commander admitting possible errors of judgement and warning colleagues not to disclose what they have seen. “This is not for discussion with anybody else; keep it quiet about what you see up here,” he says in the film. “It’s not because we’ve done anything wrong. But we might have done.”

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Posted by The Agonist on September 22nd, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Karen DeYoung | Washington | September 22

WaPo – The Obama administration for the first time Thursday openly asserted that Pakistan was indirectly responsible for specific attacks against U.S. troops and installations in Afghanistan, calling a leading Afghan insurgent group “a veritable arm” of the Pakistani intelligence service.

Last week’s attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and a Sept. 10 truck bombing that killed five Afghans and wounded 77 NATO troops were “planned and conducted” by the Pakistan-based Haqqani network “with ISI support,” said Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The ISI is the Pakistani military’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency.

“The government of Pakistan and most especially the Pakistani army and ISI” have chosen “to use violent extremism as an instrument of policy” to maintain leverage over Afghanistan’s future, Mullen testified during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta also testified.

Mullen’s statement represented a sharp break with a long-standing administration policy of publicly playing down Pakistan’s official support for Taliban insurgents who operate from havens within its borders. U.S. officials have typically described Pakistan as a troublesome but valuable partner in the struggle against terrorism.

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Posted by Peace Action West on September 20th, 2011

From our partners at Peace Action West

We’ll hit 10 years of war in Afghanistan on October 7th.

Think about it. What does it really mean to spend an entire decade at war?

A generation of American kids is too young to remember a time when we were not at war. Some Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have watched their kids leave to fight on the same battlefields where they once fought. So much has changed — from how we get on an airplane, to how Muslims in our communities are treated. But the war continues with no end in sight.

As we approach this anniversary, we want your help in telling politicians and the media that this war has gone on ten years too long. Click here to learn more, so you can share the story of your decade at war by October 4.

My life changed a lot in ten years. When the war started in 2001, I was in college in New England. I had just completed the internship that helped me realize that I wanted to dedicate myself to making the world a better place. Today, I am eight years into the rewarding and challenging work of organizing to end wars that have torn our country and others apart.

How has your life changed in ten years? Whether yours is a story about war, or just about life, here’s your chance to share it.

Everyone has a story, and we’re making it easy to share. Just pick two images — one that represents your life as it was at the start of the war, and one that shows your life today. It could be two photos of you, a couple pencil sketches, or photos of objects from around your house, etc. Then, write a short caption.

Your story can be funny, sentimental, or completely serious. Be as creative as you like, or just keep it simple. We’ll make sure the public, the press and Congress see it, and get the message.

Click here to get ideas and inspiration. We’ll send you reminders to get your story in by October 4th.

Thank you for helping us make it clear that a decade of war is far too long.

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Posted by The Agonist on September 20th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Kabul | Sept 20

CNN – An Afghan political figure considered vital to peace efforts in the country was assassinated Tuesday, officials said.

Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former Afghan president who had been leading the Afghan peace council, was killed in an attack at his home.

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said two suicide bombers, “feigning a desire to conduct reconciliation talks, detonated themselves.”

Afghan officials earlier said there was one bomber.

The attacker hid the explosive device inside his turban, said Hasmat Stanikzai, spokesman for Kabul police.

An Afghan intelligence source told CNN that the bomber arrived at the house at the same time a meeting was due to take place between Rabbani and a delegation representing the Taliban insurgency.

Stanikzai said the bomber claimed to be a Taliban member who had come for the talks about peace and reconciliation, and detonated the explosives as he entered the home.

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Posted by alexthurston on September 20th, 2011

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.

Scamming Washington
Exclusive Letters from the ScamiLeaks Archives
By Tom Engelhardt

[Note to Readers: Who hasn’t received one -- or 100 -- of those “Nigerian” letters offering you, in florid prose, millions of potential dollars and with nary a catch in sight? But who knew that the highest officials in Washington have been receiving them as well -- and from our war zones rather than Africa. Today, is proud to release examples of such letters from a treasure trove of documents shown to us by the new website ScamiLeaks. (For unknown reasons, the British Guardian, the New York Times, and Der Spiegel all refused to take part in this process, and so it’s been left to TomDispatch to release a selection of them to the world.)

Though we lack the staff of those papers, we have nonetheless done due diligence. We investigated each of the letters that follow and now believe that Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, was never trapped in a Kabul airport bathroom, that “Iraqi parliamentarian” Sami Malouf does not exist, and that the letter writer who calls herself Serena Massoud could not be the lost granddaughter of the Afghan leader Ahmad Shah Massoud whom al-Qaeda operatives assassinated two days before the 9/11 attacks. Curiously enough, however, all the Washington or Pentagon scandals the letter writers mention involving lost, squandered, or stolen money turn out to be perfectly real. In fact, they represent one of the true scams of our time.

Below, then, are three of the letters we have chosen as representative from the enormous archive that ScamiLeaks will soon release to the world. We have touched none of them, not even to correct various obvious grammatical errors and misspellings. We have only added a small number of links not in the originals, so that readers can explore the corruption scandals the letter writers refer to. We do not know whether any of the Washington officials addressed responded to these letters or were taken in by them (as they evidently were by scam after scam in our war zones these last ten years).

Whatever you make of the three letters below, consider them collectively a little parable about the fallout from our now decade-old set of wars in the Greater Middle East. Tom]


To My Closest of Friends President and Professor Barack Obama,

I send this missive to you with deepest urgency. My embarrassment at importuning you in any way in your busy life is beyond expression. Please excuse my rushedness, but I, your friend and associate, Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan, have lost my wallet, passport, and Kabul Bank deposit book in the men’s room of Kabul International Airport.

It is to my dismay to discover, in addition, that the $31 billion in small bills I had secured within the sleeves of my chapan, thanks to your most generous heart and the reconstruction abilities of the American contractor, is now gone as well. Without it, I cannot return to the presidential palace.

Please let me ask whether you can at moment soonest respond at this email address and let me know that you are willing to deposit a new $33 billion in the Kabul Bank for me. I will then, of course, provide you with the necessary account numbers and transmission information. (Lest you would think me in any way dishonest, my dear friend, I hasten to point out that Kabul Bank is the shining light of Afghan Banking and the extra $2 billion above and beyond the lost $31 billion, are deeply necessary if I am to present alms on my way from the airport to the Palace.)

As we are the closest of companions, I reassure you immediately and in no uncertain terms that this money of yours, a mere pittance compared to what is surely available to the President of the United States, is Absolutely Safe in the Kabul Bank (whose small troubles will soon be straightened out) and will in no way be lost to you. If you remit the said sum to me with all due speed, I will return it to you with $2 billion in interest within the month. You have my sincerest promise of that.

Act with great haste, my erstwhile companion!

Your Friend and Associate in Need,

Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan


Attention: Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Gythner, Washington CD

From: Barrister Hammad al-Saad, First Assistant and Secretary to Parliamentarian Sami Malouf, Baghdad, Iraq

With due respect, Good News!

Thanks to a dead business associate who lacks all heirs, an accountant for my lawerly firm, Al-Azawi & Sons, has discovered an abandoned sum of $6.6 billion (SIX BILLION SIX HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS) in U.S. bills in a deserted warehouse on the outskirts of Baghdad owned by said dead associate. They are all shrink-wrapped $100 (ONE HUNDRED DOLLAR) bills with your Benjamin on the front cover. No one has claimed this money.

It has come to our attention that one of your Predecessors also lost $6.6 billion (SIX BILLION SIX HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS) in shrink-wrapped $100 (ONE HUNDRD DOLLAR) bills with same Benjamin on cover, which were shipped to my country by C-130 cargo plane in 2003. In the discrepitude of Iraq at that moment, such a misplacement is not strange.

However, your loss of such moneys must weigh deeply on you. We wish to alleviate that weight and return to you the rightful sums. This can happen almost immediately. In order to ship Benjamin to you, we must, of course, avoid Iraqi customs, which is sorrowfully corrupt.

To do this we need a few small fees from you, esteemed Gythner, to grease other palms with friendship and hire such a plane as to return your sums. I, Barrister Hammad Al-Saad, will personally fly this money to you. This is 100% (ONE HUNDRED PERCENT) risk free!

Do not worry. You are in our thoughts momentarily. Please contact us to firm up details and to exchange pleasantries on necessary fees!

Yours Most Fully Sincerely and Honorably,

Hammad Al-Saad


To: David Petreaus, Director-General of the Central Intelligence Agency

From: Serena Massoud, Granddaughter of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Lion of the Panjshi

My dearest,

I beg your indulgence, Kind General, I am the Lost Granddaughter of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the erstwhile, sadly al-Qaeda assassinated Lion of Panjshir. Mine is a dismal tale to tell and it is yours to be patient, I hope with utter nonindifference, while I explain.

Let me preface this dawn of the weighted heart by assuring you that it will be worth all your whiles. I, Serena Massoud, out of my full heart and deep love for America and the CIA, and You — I, a poor Afghan woman awash in her times, wish to return to you $125 million. This, you will agree, is part of the $360 million that, according to one of your most esteemed news sources, “has ended up in the hands of people the American-led coalition has spent nearly a decade battling: the Taliban, criminals, and power brokers with ties to both.”

I must beg your forgiveness. To explain how such fundings came almost into my own hands and how — with barely no effort on your part — you will get them back, I have a tangled tale to tell of a dark and stormy decade in my country whose breezes and gales buffeted me. But if I told it all to you, dear General, you would stumble into Incredulity.

Let me just state that, after many and various adventures of the terrible kind, I found myself, against my uttermost will, in the grips of marriage to Omar Fahim Dadulah, whom you would know as a War Lord. He was a man of Evil Incarnate and his treatment of yours truly was not to be described. He was, moreover, In League With the Taliban, and among those whom Navy Times so rightly describes as absorbing your moneys with obscure nefariousness of purpose.

Without straining your patience, My Darling Director-General, in the end he was expectably poisoned by the self-same proclaimed Taliban and, as death came upon him, called me to his bedside. He then informed me in tones too solemn to mistake of that fund of $125 million, the very dollars which you have slipped upon the Taliban in trucking fees and safety passes and the like, which he had hidden in a spot unmentionable and which he meant for me.

I beg of you, my dearest General, lend me a helping hand to assist me in claiming this money. Be my guardian, let me be your orphan ward, and receive the money in your account. Also promise to invest a small part of it for me in a lucrative business since I am still a young woman and make arrangements for me to come over to your country to further my education and secure a beloved citizenship permit.

I have seen the photos of you. Your chest of medals is the light of my day. It is with the most profound and sincerity that I make this gesture to you from deep within my loving soul. Your open heart has touched me. I eagerly await your tiptoed words.

Humbly Yrs and Only Yrs,

Serena Masoud

[A Further Note: The “Nigerian” letter scam is, in its own way, remarkable. Smart grifters from another land generally pose as highly (or strategically) placed individuals, but also ignorant yokels and innocents with a minimalist grasp of over-the-top nineteenth-century English. It’s a highly skilled compositional con and it works, evidently to the tune of tens of millions of dollars yearly. If you want to explore how it operates, fleecing significant numbers of people, the website is most useful. (Click here.) For a wonderful older essay on the charms of those scam letters, check out Douglas Cruickshank’s “I crave your distinguished indulgence (and all your cash)” at

If, on the other hand, you prefer to explore the scams Washington has been involved in these last endless years of war, you could start with Adam Weinstein’s recent Mother Jones piece “The All-Time Ten Worst Military Contracting Boondoggles.” The individual scams from this period are a dime a dozen (or rather, unfortunately, billions of dollars a dozen, making the “Nigerians” look like the rubes they aren’t). These would include, to mention just a few examples, that missing $31 to $60 billion in contractor waste and fraud in the Afghan and Iraq war zones; the $6.6 billion (evidently largely Iraqi oil money held in U.S. banks) that the Bush administration sent in pallets of shrink-wrapped bills to Iraq, and which then went missing-in-action; the $360 million in U.S. taxpayer dollars that, according to a special military task force, headed directly for the Taliban and other Afghan lovelies; the $65 billion that went into the development of the F-22, the most expensive fighter jet ever built not to be used -- since May, all of the F-22s in the U.S. fleet have been grounded indefinitely; and the more than $140 billion in contracts the Pentagon awarded to companies in 2010 without a hint of competitive bidding, up from $50 billion in 2001.

Believe me, the “Nigerians” have a great deal to learn from the Pentagon and from U.S. operations in the Greater Middle East, as do the real rubes in the larger scam of things, gullible American taxpayers!]

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s His latest book, The United States of Fear (Haymarket Books), will be published in November.

Copyright 2011 Tom Engelhardt

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