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re: rural america
1 apr 1999
i wrote:

>the rural equivalent of our international behavior might be to go shoot
>the head of the household and replace him/her with someone else if we
>don't like the neighboring family's behavior.

this is still going on: 

  last december, after saddam hussein threatened to end seven years of
  united nations arms-control inspections, president clinton ordered
  american attacks on iraq. once again, the world watched, on television,
  as missiles fell on carefully picked targets. the purpose of the attacks,
  clinton told reporters, was to "degrade" iraq's capacity for waging war,
  and he added, "i gave the order because i believe we cannot allow saddam
  hussein to dismantle unscom and resume the production of weapons of mass
  destruction with impunity."

  [my old nra friends say he should have joined, so they would protect his
  right to play with weapons of mass destruction in his own basement :-)]

  the president was mistaken. the united nations special commission for iraq,
  known as unscom, had already been effectively dismantled by the shortsighted
  policies of his own administration. then, a few hours after clinton spoke,
  william cohen, the secretary of defense, appeared on television. "one thing
  should be absolutely clear," he told reporters. "we are concentrating on
  military targets." that, too, was a misstatement, for two of the targets
  were sites where saddam was known to entertain mistresses, and they were
  specifically struck in the hope of assassinating him.

  saddam responded to the bombing--and the bungled assassination attempt--
  by formally ousting unscom and turning anew to russia, historically his
  most important trading partner. today, eight years after the gulf war,
  american policy has collapsed in iraq, and a cold war mentality has
  returned. saddam is unchecked by u.n. inspectors as he pursues his goal
  of becoming a nuclear power, with the aid of russian strategic materials.
  saddam's ally in these efforts is yevgeny primakov, the russian prime
  minister, a longtime friend who, according to highly classified
  communications intelligence, received at least one large payment from 
  iraq--by wire transfer--in november of 1997. the distrust of primakov
  throughout the american intelligence community is acute. one former
  c.i.a. operative told me "i don't know how many times we had to say this
  to strobe"--strobe talbott, the deputy secretary of state--but primakov
  is just not a good guy."

  the targeting of saddam had grown, in part, out of an extraordinary
  intelligence coup by a team of unscom arms inspectors. the team--headed
  by scott ritter, a former u.s. marine corps intelligence officer--had
  been trying for two years to unscramble the encrypted communications
  system that saddam has used since the end of the gulf war to hide the
  full extent of his strategic stockpile. ritter and his unscom colleagues
  knew that there were missiles and warheads to be found. they also knew
  that saddam, who travelled frequently in and around baghdad, lived in
  constant fear of attacks on his life--from both inside and outside iraq--
  and had surrounded himself with a large apparatus of bodyguards, known
  as the special security organization. saddam frequently communicated,
  through aides, with his entourage from secure telephones scattered around
  baghdad and from a radio telephone in his car. unscom also knew (from a
  high-level iraqi defector) that these forces had orders to do more than
  protect saddam: they were also responsible for safeguarding iraq's
  hidden weapons. 

  the encryption system on saddam's telephones, made in sweden, was as
  sophisticated as any on the international market. the phones had a
  series of channels, and on each channel were algorithms that chopped
  the signals into hundreds of bits as the channels were switched. to
  get at the signals, ritter's people took the extreme risk of operating,
  under the cover of the u.n. flag, an interception station in unscom's
  offices in baghdad and in a mobile unit. 

  early in the spring of 1998, the gamble paid off. the algorithms were
  unscrambled, and saddam's most closely protected communications were
  suddenly pouring into unscom. "it was one of the most valuable
  operations since the cold war," one informed u.n. adviser told me.
  but unscom's mission was to uncover iraq's complex system of concealing
  its weapons program; the mechanics of saddam's personal security were
  a benefit only if they could lead to hidden arms caches. 

  the central intelligence agency, which had been helping unscom interpret 
  its intelligence findings since 1991, had a different agenda. its goal, 
  authorized by president clinton, was to work with iraqui dissidents in
  saddam's special security organization and elsewhere, to overthrow the
  regime, by any means possible. in the c.i.a.'s view, ritter's intelligence
  unit was always in the way--and, in any case, could not be trusted with
  sensitive information; the c.i.a. felt that any important intelligence
  it might supply to unscom would inevitably find its way back to the iraqi
  regime. there were killer fights about getting involved with the u.n.,"
  one former c.i.a. official told me. "we don't get involved with
  international organizations." 

  in march of 1998, a high-tech team from the national security agency,
  which is responsible for american communications intelligence, flew
  to bahrain to review the telephone intercepts. one official recalled
  that when the intercepts had been decrypted and translated, the americans
  told themselves, "here's the best intelligence that we've ever had!"
  the official went on, "saddam is suddenly exposed for the first time.
  he's the godfather! he gets drunk, starts raving like a madman, and
  his secretary will get on and say he's lost his mind--ordering murders.
  we never had him on this level before." like mafia leaders, saddam rarely,
  if ever, uses the telephone himself, but relies on aides to relay his
  commands. the overheard "secretary" was presidential secretary abid
  hamid mahmoud, saddam's closest aide, who was much feared by iraqis.
  at the same time, the official said, senior n.s.a. managers were
  "panicked," because the information from the telephone intercepts was
  "controlled by the united nations."

  the americans felt that ritter's intelligence was too important to be
  left to arms controllers. for the first time, with the aid of intercepts,
  saddam's hour-to-hour whereabouts could conceivably be tracked--and even
  anticipated. within a few months, the clinton administration persuaded
  richard butler, an australian who in the summer of 1997 had been appointed
  the executive chairman of unscom, to tell ritter and his men in baghdad
  that they would have to get out of the signals-intelligence business;
  washington, and not unscom, would now decide whom and what to listen to.
  (butler disputes this account.) 

  thus, in april of 1998, operational control of the saddam intercepts
  shifted to one of america's least publicized intelligence units, the
  special collection service. the s.c.s., which is jointly operated by the
  c.i.a. and the n.s.a., is responsible for, among other things, deploying
  highly trained teams of electronics specialists in sensitive areas around
  the world to monitor diplomatic and other kinds of communications. its
  operations are often run from secure sites inside american embassies. 

  the unscom team in baghdad felt betrayed, and believed that it would now
  be vulnerable to capture and prosecution by iraq on espionage charges.
  the team's equipment was still intercepting crucial telephone calls, but
  the united states was controlling the "take." ritter, desperate to keep
  the operation under u.n. control, asked the israelis to process the
  intercepts. (israeli intelligence had been the first group to tell unscom
  about the importance of saddam's special security organization.) the
  israelis refused (under pressure from washington), and the unscom
  operation was shut down until july, when the americans unilaterally
  installed their own collection devices in the unscom offices in baghdad. 

  ritter was reluctant to discuss the specifics of the unscom intelligence
  program with me, but in a series of interviews recently he stressed that
  there was an enormous difference between accumulating information on behalf
  of the united nations and accumulating it on behalf of the united states.
  "stuff was being collected"--by the americans--"without our knowledge and
  without butler's knowledge," ritter said. "that's espionage. my team was
  worried. i told butler about it"--the american operation--"and said we
  have to shut it down. it didn't happen."

  once the american technicians were in control, they focussed on saddam--
  and not on his missiles and warheads. they eventually found a pattern
  in saddam's movements, as tracked by intercepts, which they believed
  might lead to a successful attempt to eliminate him. saddam regularly saw
  his mistresses in two sites--one a retreat at auja, near his ancestral
  home, tikrit, and the other at his daughter's villa in babil, in suburban
  baghdad. when the american forces attacked iraq in december, cruise
  missiles destroyed both targets.

  saddam, of course, survived. one senior clinton administration
  intelligence official acknowledged the failure, but he added,
  "in our business, you never have one-hundred-per-cent assurance.
  let's assume you know he's there. you've got a time delay. how do
  you know a guy doesn't finish the business with his mistress and
  go on his way, or to the bathroom. it may be a double"--someone
  posing as saddam--"or he may have changed locations. there's so much
  potential for a slip between cup and lip."

  a republican who served at a high level in the reagan and bush
  administrations told me that he had learned before the december raid
  that the administration had a "a fix" on saddam's whereabouts.
  administration officials, he said, "were touting" the fact that they
  had good intelligence. "people treat saddam as an idiot," he said,
  referring to clinton and his senior aides. he added that the failure of
  the bombing was evidence that saddam had been aware of the penetration
  of his telephones. in his opinion, the man said, "he was doubling or
  tripling on the coms"--intelligence jargon meaning that saddam was
  deliberately generating misleading or incorrect statements. 

  other high-level intelligence officials i spoke with had reservations
  about the administration's eagerness to eliminate saddam in the absence
  of any long-term strategic plan for dealing with the region. "i'm not
  against nailing the guy," one fully informed military officer said to me,
  "but then what do you do?" assassination, he added, "is not a policy.
  it's a tool of policy." (officially, of course, "assassination," which is
  barred by executive order, was not the purpose of the raids.) a former 
  intelligence official who still consults at a high level in the clinton
  administration told me, "eventually, they'll succeed. and then what
  do we get?"

  the result of the american hijacking of the u.n.'s intelligence
  activities was that saddam survived but unscom did not. "the american
  government walked on its dick--and with golf shoes," a dispirited u.n.
  official told me...

from annals of espionage/saddam's best friend/how the c.i.a. made it
a lot easier for the iraqi leader to rearm, by seymour m. hersh, 
in the new yorker, april 5, 1999.


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