#. 13. Dec. 22, 2001
By Bill Weinberg
THE AFGHANISTAN FRONT
1. Interim Regime Inaugurated; US Bombs Dignitaries?
2. RAWA Veteran Gets Cabinet Post
3. US Bombing Casualties Top WTC Victims
4. Al-Qaeda Slips Through Net
5. Back from the Brink of Famine
6. Grisly US Propaganda Leaflets
7. US-UK Divisions Over "Peacekeeping Force"
8. US Blocks War Crimes Court
THE NEW GREAT GAME
1. Indo-Pak Saber-Rattling Gets Scary
2. Who's Side is China On?
3. Who's Side is Iran On?
4. Who's Side is Saudi Arabia On?
1. Rumsfeld: "Prepare Now For the Next War"
2. Yemen Front Opens
3. Pentagon Trains Philippine Anti-Terror Unit
NEW YORK CITY
1. Ground Zero Toxic Threat Update
2. Did Giuliani Cause 7 WTC Collapse?
3. Indian Point Nuke Plant Draws Protest
WATCHING THE SHADOWS
1. Book: Oil Interests Blocked Terror Probes
2. Petro-Oligarchs Wage Shadow War
3. Kazakhstan Pitches Powell on Pipeline
4. Exxon Praises Kazakhstan Dictatorship as "Democracy"
5. Uzbek Dissident Imprisoned in Prague
6. Turkmenistan: Aspiring Petro-Tyranny
THE AFGHANISTAN FRONT
1. INTERIM REGIME INAUGURATED; US BOMBS DIGNITARIES?
New leader Hamid Karzai formally took power Dec. 22, promising to end the generation of warfare which has reduced Afghanistan to ruins. "I would like to promise you that I will fulfill my mission to bring peace to Afghanistan," Karzai told some 2,000 tribal leaders, foreign diplomats and a US general attending the inauguration. But overshadowing the ceremonies, villagers told Reuters that day that US warplanes bombed a convoy carrying tribal elders to Karzai's inauguration, acting on lies from a corrupt informer that the vehicles were carrying al-Qaeda troops. The airstrikes killed up to 60. "The people who got hit were going to congratulate Karzai," said a resident of the eastern Afghan village of Asmani Kilai. A dozen homes and a mosque were also destroyed. "There are no members of al-Qaeda or supporters of bin Laden here," one villager said. "There were no terrorists. They destroyed a whole village and we've lost everything," said another. US Gen. Tommy Franks, attending the ceremony in Kabul, said the bombing would be investigated, but added: "At this point we believe it was a good target."
2. RAWA VETERAN GETS CABINET POST
Sima Samar, a veteran of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) and a doctor who worked for years in the Pakistan refugee camps, has been appointed one of four deputy prime ministers in the new interim government. She ran a hospital and a school for refugee girls in Quetta, Pakistan, and helped coordinate non-fundamentalist education efforts within Afghanistan. She is serving in the same government with Northern Alliance leaders she had harshly criticized for years. (AP, Dec. 22)
Western feminists are likely to be less enthused by the only other woman in the 30-member cabinet, Health Minister Suhaila Siddiqi, former chief surgeon at Kabul's main hospital and a veteran military general in the communist Najibullah regime (1986-92). Despite her communist background, she seems to have accommodated to fundamentalist aesthetics. Shortly after her appointment, she told Newsweek: "Afghan women would like freedom within the framework of Islam. I don't like the freedom of women in the West." When asked about policy on reversing the harsh Taliban dress code, she said Afghanistan's women have "grown accustomed to it, and it will take a while for them to feel secure." She is also, for understandable reasons, a fan of US firepower. "The US strikes put an end to terrorism in this country and the tragedy that had befallen the Afghan people. Because of this, I won't criticize the airstrikes." (MSNBC.com, Dec. 21)
3. US BOMBING CASUALTIES TOP WTC VICTIMS
The latest estimate of WTC victims from New York City's Office of Emergency Management is down to 2,992--less than half of the city's highest count, which hit 6,453 in late Sept. (Newsday, Dec. 20). It is also 708 less than the 3,700 Afghan bombing victims counted by Prof. Marc Herold of the University of New Hampshire (see WW# REPORT #12).
4. AL-QAEDA SLIPS THROUGH NET
Backed by US air power, Eastern Shura tribal armies claimed victory in the battle for the Tora Bora cave complex where the last al-Qaeda troops were said to be bunkered--ironically built with US funds during the 1980s Mujahedeen war against the Soviet occupation. But only some 25 al-Qaeda troops were captured--not the 2,500 anticipated. 200 were also claimed killed (Newsday, Dec. 17). Despite optimistic headlines that week ("ALLIED FORCES SAY THEY'VE CORNERED OSAMA BIN LADEN," New York Times, Dec. 14), there was no sign of the accused terrorist mastermind. Initial US boasts to have intercepted bin Laden radio communications near Tora Bora came to naught, with Pentagon officials admitting they lost the trail high in snow-peaked mountains near the Pakistani border (New York Times, Dec. 18). The US admits hundreds of al-Qaeda survivors "disappeared," presumably slipping into the lawless tribal area of Pakistan. The few al-Qaeda POWs were brought to the new US Marine base at Kandahar airport to be interrogated by the FBI (New York Times, Dec. 19). Far more al-Qaeda survivors--over 150--have been arrested in Pakistan in recent weeks, apparently having fled across the border while the US was bombing Tora Bora. Scores of al-Qaeda captives revolted on a bus while being transported by Pakistani troops. The battle left 14 dead, but many escaped into the mountains (New York Times, Dec. 20).
5. BACK FROM THE BRINK OF FAMINE
Oxfam America spokesperson Adrienne Smith says aid is finally reaching drought-stricken rural Afghanistan after several precious weeks before the immobilizing winter snows were lost to the war. She told WW3 REPORT: "Massive famine has been averted in Afghanistan, but the situation remains urgent. October was lost, but the last two weeks made up for it some. There are still pockets of intense suffering. Aid got into Faizabad before it was cut off by the snow. Other aid will have to be airlifted in. It won't be easy." She says Oxfam is buying snowploughs to meet the challenge, but many communities are reachable only by mule or camel pack-train.
The most recent Oxfam Brief says "the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan remains precarious." Aziz Hakimi, Oxfam's Deputy Program Manager in Herat, reports: "we are seeing hundreds of people migrating into Herat every day, who have given up hope of getting food at home. These people have been walking for a week or more. In the villages people are struggling to cope and they are weakened by hunger. We know of children dying of a common cold." Some food has been delivered to the Central Highlands through Bamiyan, but "access...has already become difficult due to the weather; the area is just on the cusp of a winter cut-off. Also, landmines haunt the area. This is exacerbated by the presence of new hazards, such as cluster bombs and depleted uranium." In the North, "harsh snows have come earlier than expected, a worrying precedent for a long winter ahead... WFP [World Food Program] has airlifted 431 tonnes into Faizabad since 23 November. Often, however, the weather conditions will not allow planes to land, and this lifeline has not been able to deliver as much as planned." ( Oxfam Brief, Dec. 21)
6. GRISLY US PROPAGANDA LEAFLETS
The Pentagon's psychological warfare campaign in Afghanistan has taken a bizarre turn, with airdrops of 2 million gruesome leaflets depicting Taliban leaders and Osama bin Laden with images of hanged men in the background, and a djinn--a mythological evil spirit. On the other side, the same four men are depicted--except they are decaying, lips and noses falling off their rotted faces, along with the legend "The Taliban's reign of fear is about to end." In the background, a bomb explodes. Another leaflet says, "We are watching"--and backs that statement up with a photograph of Taliban leader Mullah Omar and the license plate of the car he drives. Another advertises the $25 million price on Osama's head. The leaflets are translated into Afghanistan's various local languages . (ABCNews.go.com, Dec, 18)
7. US-UK DIVISIONS OVER "PEACEKEEPING FORCE"
As US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield was landing at Bagram Airport near Kabul, a contingent of senior European military officers was in the air for the same destination. Rumsfeld immediately went into talks with Afghan Defense Minister designate Mohammad Fahim and interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai, later joined by a small British military team which had just arrived. Lead by Major-Gen. John McColl, the team also included officers from France, Canada and Italy--its mission to clarify the size, composition and missions for the incoming Europe-led "peacekeeping force." Fahim has said no more than 1,000 troops should be necessary to provide security for the new administration, while Western military sources are calling for 8,000 men with a complete field headquarters, logistics and communications bases plus vehicles and field weapons. (David Ben-Aryeah for Global Vision News Network, Dec. 16 < www.gvnewsnet.com>)
Divisions are also emerging between the UK and US over military strategy. In a recent speech in London, Adm. Sir Michael Boyce, British chief of staff, warned that al-Qaeda remained "a fielded, resourced, dedicated and essentially autonomous terrorist force, quite capable of atrocity on a comparable scale" to the 9-11 attacks. But he warned that the temptation to use greater force could simply "radicalize" opinion in the Islamic world. In an unsubtle barb at the Texan US prez, he said this is not a "hi-tech 21st century posse in the new Wild West." (UK Guardian, Dec, 12)
8. US BLOCKS WAR CRIMES COURT
THE NEW GREAT GAME
In another signal of US-European divisions, on Dec. 7, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to block US participation in the new International Criminal Court, charged with prosecuting individuals accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity (AP, Dec, 7). Instead, the Senate passed the American Servicemembers Protection Act (ASPA), which would empower the US president to use "all means necessary and appropriate" to free any American detained by the International Criminal Court. It also prohibits cooperation of any kind with the court. Calling the legislation a "new low for human rights," Human Rights Watch urged European governments to express their opposition to the measure (Human Rights Watch press release, Dec. 10).
1. INDO-PAK SABRE RATTLING GETS SCARY
Tensions are escalating between India and Pakistan-both supposedly in the US-led anti-terrorist coalition-following the Dec. 13 suicide attack on the New Delhi parliament building which left 12 dead. Five gunmen armed with AK-47s and explosives stormed the building, killing six security personnel and a gardener in a 35-minute gun battle. The five attackers, who drove into the complex in a car with government markings, also died (AP Dec. 14). Following "intensive interrogation," Indian authorities said four arrested suspects had confessed and named two Pakistan-based organizations, Lashkar-i-Taiba and Jalish-i-Muhammad--both insurgent groups active in the disputed Indian province of Jammu and Kashmir (New York Times, Dec. 17). Lashkar-i-Taiba immediately denied responsibility, with spokesman Yahya Mujahid telling reporters in Islamabad: "It's a pack of lies. The attack was sponsored by India itself. The whole drama was staged to malign Kashmir's Islamic groups and to involve Pakistan." (AP, Dec. 14)
Another Lashkar-i-Taiba spokesmen denied any involvement "in military operations outside occupied Kashmir." But hardliners in India's ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party are calling for armed retaliation, and (taking a cue from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon) likening such a response to the US campaign in Afghanistan. But Pakistan is the USA's closest ally in the region. US Secretary of State Colin Powell acknowledged India's "legitimate right of self-defense" but urged restraint. This was also the message on Oct. 1, when a suicide attack in Srinagar, capital of Jammu and Kashmir, killed 38. "This time, India will not be mollified so easily," noted a reporter (Wall Street Journal, Dec. 17).
Indian Foreign Minister LK Advani accused Pakistan's spy agency, ISI, of having "the temerity to try to wipe out the entire political leadership of India." Pakistan Information Minister Sayed Anwar Mahmood countered: "It is regrettable that India continues to hurl baseless accusations against Pakistan and ISI rather than engaging seriously in a joint probe offered by Pakistan..." (New York Times, Dec. 19)
Neither Lashkar-i-Taiba or Jalish-i-Muhammad are on the US State Department's primary "foreign terrorist organizations" list which mandates freezing of assets--although both are on the secondary "other terrorist organizations" list ( www.state.gov). However, in response to the attack, the Bush administration froze the assets of Lashkar-i-Taiba anyway (New York Times, Dec. 21).
Jalish-i-Muhammad initially claimed responsibility for the Oct. 1 attack, "but later recanted." Jalish-i-Muhammad founder Massod Azhar was freed from an Indian prison two years ago as a demand of hijackers who took an Indian arilner to Kandahar, Afghanistan. India accused Pakistan of complicity in the hijacking. (New York Times, Dec. 19)
Even before the new attack, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah had called for India to attack terrorist bases in Pakistan because "unless that is done, peace is not going to come." New Delhi's refusal to wipe out the camps had "emboldened" Pakistan-backed terrorist groups to continue striking in India, he said. Asked by a reporter about the implications of the two nuclear-capable nations going to war, Abdullah responded: "We are left with no other option. It will be a different war. The next war will be decisive." On the possibility that the conflict could lead to a nuclear winter, Abdullah turned philosophical: "It doesn't matter. All of us have to die one day. It is better to die one day and settle the matter once [and] for all... Enough is enough." (Hindustan Times, Nov. 4)
India and Pakistan moved closer to a state of war Dec. 21, as Delhi recalled its envoy from Islamabad and sealed border crossings and both sides deployed thousands of reinforcements along their frontier. Only twice before, in 1965 and again in 1971, has Delhi recalled its envoy. On each occasion the two countries were at war shortly afterwards. (The London Times, Dec. 22)
2. WHO'S SIDE IS CHINA ON?
Conventional wisdom holds that China has closed ranks with the US-led anti-terrorist coalition because of the threat of Islamic insurgency in the northwest province of Xinjiang, which borders Afghanistan. A Dec. 16 New York Times account of the situation in the restive province began with the image of accused Uighur separatist Metrozi Mettohti, sentenced to death in a sports stadium in the city of Hokan, shouting "Long live Eastern Turkestan!" before he was gagged. At least 25 Uighurs have been executed this year, with scores more on death row. The number could be higher, as Chinese authorities have stopped publicizing executions.
The Uighurs, a Turkic and Muslim people, have legitimate grievances against Beijing. The province is now officially the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, but administrative posts are held by Chinese Communist Party officials. Uighurs accounted for 90% of region's population in 1949, but now constitute under half--due to Chinese efforts to colonize the region with ethnic Han. Uighurs cite official efforts to discourage fasting this Ramadan, such as giving food stalls tax breaks to stay open, and making school kids go to the cafeteria instead of allowing them to go home at lunchtime. Muslim leaders are required to attend government seminars on official policy and history of the region as written by the Communist Party.
A short-lived Eastern Turkestan Islamic Republic was declared in Kashgar in 1933. A decade later, a second such republic was proclaimed near Yili, and survived as an autonomous zone loyal to Chiang Kai-Shek's Kuomintang until the Communists took over in 1949. The separatist movement was revived when the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 raised hopes for an independent Uighurstan. Wahhabism and other Islamic revivalist sects entered from the newly-independent former Soviet states of Central Asia. Since then, separatist unrest and Chinese repression have fueled each other in a vicious cycle. A series of bombings and clashes with police culminated in riots in Yili in Feb. 1997. Scores were arrested after the riots, and several sentenced to death. One man who had translated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into Uighur was sentenced to 20 years. China acknowledges 2,000 political prisoners (sentenced for "endangering state security"). The Sweden-based Eastern Turkestan Information Center says this does not include the increasing number sent to labor camps rather than prisons. (New York Times, Dec.16)
But those bent on posing China as "America's new major enemy" won't quit. In his new book Seeds of Fire, author Gordon Thomas claims that Beijing had an actual role in the 9-11 attacks. Thomas writes that on Sept. 11, a transport plane from Beijing landed in Kabul, carrying a Chinese delegation to sign a deal with the Taliban--reportedly brokered by Osama bin Laden--to provide missile-tracking technology, state-of-the-art communications and air-defense systems. In return, the Taliban would order the Uighur separatists to stop their activities. The book draws from a Sept. 13 Washington Post story which said Beijing had just signed a deal with the Taliban to provide "much needed infrastructure and economic development assistance." Thomas claims the delegation included senior People's Liberation Army and Bureau of State Security officers, and managers from two top Chinese military contractors. He contends that hours after the plane landed in Kabul, CIA chief George Tenet received a coded "red alert" from Israeli Mossad agents presenting a "worst case scenario" that China would use a surrogate--bin Laden--to attack the United States. Thomas also claims that the then-head of Pakistan's intelligence agency, Lt. Gen. Mahmoud Ahmad, was in Washington to meet with Tenet on Sept. 11, and that he briefed Tenet that day on the links between bin Laden and China. Ahmad allegedly "told [Tenet] that China had made a decisive decision." (One wonders if Gen. Ahmad always speaks in redundancies.) The author also cites what he calls "happy parties in the streets of Beijing" following the attacks. "They're selling videos there with commentary saying, 'America had it coming,'" said Thomas. "It's in China's interest to see the US destabilized." (Frontier Post, Peshawar, Dec. 16)
In a similar vein were October reports on the relentlessly alarmist Israel-based DEBKA website ( debka.com) that China had secretly sent a contingent of military troops to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban against the US.
3. WHO'S SIDE IS IRAN ON?
Iran is portrayed as at least a de facto member of the US-led coalition. But on Nov. 20, the New York Times reported that the US Navy intercepted and boarded an Iranian oil tanker in the Persian Gulf, drawing a "strong protest" from Tehran. Iran claimed US forces fired on the vessel, injuring two crewmen. The US denied shots had been fired, but said one Iranian crewmember suffered a minor leg injury as the ship was boarded. The tanker was suspected of smuggling oil from Iraq.
The Times said the incident came "as the two countries flirt with closer cooperation as the United States pursues its war in neighboring Afghanistan." But Iran (in a tilt to Russia) was backing Tajik factions in the Northern Alliance when Pakistan (and the CIA) were backing the Taliban. Now that the US has consolidated a Pashtun-led government in Afghanistan, the previous US-Iran juxtaposition may be restored.
4. WHO'S SIDE IS SAUDI ARABIA ON?
When the videotape of Osama bin Laden talking about the 9-11 attacks was released by the US Dec. 13, administration officials made much of their effort to achieve a full and accurate transcript. But the translation commissioned by ABC News reveals statements that could be embarrassing to the government of Saudi Arabia, an important US ally. Bin Laden's visitor, Saudi dissident Khalid al Harbi, claims that he was smuggled into Afghanistan by a member of Saudi Arabia's religious police. He also tells bin Laden that in Saudi Arabia, several prominent clerics--some with connections to the Saudi government--made speeches supporting the 9-11 attacks. "Right at the time of the strike on America, he gave a very moving speech, Sheikh Abdullah al Baraak," bin Laden said on the tape. "And he deserves thanks for that." Sheikh al Baraak is a professor at a government university and a member of an influential council on religious law. The report said: "A member of the team that translated the tape for the US government said the ABCNEWS translation is consistent with portions of the government's transcript that have not been released to the public." ( ABC World News Tonight, Dec, 21)
This apparent equivocation may be due to divisions within Saudi regime, and a need to placate domestic dissidents and head off unrest. Writes Mark N. Katz in the Dec. 19 Eurasia Insight : "The Saudi monarchy has tried to convince the public in the Kingdom, and the larger Muslim world, that Riyadh can simultaneously be a US ally and the preeminent defender of Islam. Both before September 11 and especially after it, Osama bin Laden has forcefully argued that any Muslim government allied to the United States is, by definition, an enemy of Islam. Bin Laden's message is resonating broadly in Saudi Arabia, a country struggling to reverse steady economic decline. The threat of domestic instability poses a significant danger to the ultimate success of the US-led anti-terrorism campaign."
1. RUMSFELD: "PREPARE NOW FOR THE NEXT WAR"
Fresh from his visit to Afghanistan, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels: "The only way to deal with a terrorist network that is global is to go after it where it is." He urged the alliance to "prepare now for the next war." (New York Times, Dec. 19)
2. YEMEN FRONT OPENS
Government troops are battling tribal forces in remote hills of central Yemen. "Sporadic gunfire" is reported in Shabwa and Marib provinces after Abida tribal leaders refused to hand over suspects linked to Osama bin Laden's network. "Special forces trained with American help moved on several hillside villages in the Halsun region of Marib today [Dec. 19], with tanks, helicopters and artillery after the Abida tribe refused to hand over the five suspects. Four tribesmen and eight soldiers were killed. Seven other people died of their wounds today, security officials said; no details on their identities were provided." (New York Times, Dec. 20)
3. PENTAGON TRAINS PHILIPPINE ANTI-TERROR UNITS
NEW YORK CITY
A special Philippine "rescue group" trained by US military advisors is preparing a raid on the Moro faction known as Abu Sayyaf, which is believed linked to Osama bin Laden and is holding two American missionaries hostage. Gen. Roy Cimatu said "This is the endgame," pledging a quick end to the Islamic separatist insurgency in Mindanao. According to the report: "Small units of American advisers have visited here since July to assess the needs of the Philippine forces and to offer training... The advisers helped form a quick-reaction group that has already had success in an encounter, killing 11 rebels, the general said."(New York Times, Dec. 16)
1. GROUND ZERO TOXIC THEAT UPDATE
More than 100 downtown Manhattan residents gathered on the steps of City Hall on the night of Dec. 18 to protest what they call unsafe local air quality due to dust and smoke still rising from the WTC site, known as "Ground Zero," and docks where smoldering debris is transferred to barges. Saying the air is making residents, students and workers sick, the protesters demanded city officials relocate the removal of debris away from large housing complexes. Residents complain of nosebleeds, headaches and other ailments. "We are very scared about our health, both short term and long term," said Peggy Sarlin of the World Trade Center Environmental Emergency Group. "We are angry and we intend to do something about it." Residents say they're afraid officials are not telling the truth about whether dangerous levels of toxins are in the air. Said City Councilmember Katharyn Freed: "Many of the health and safety protocols are being ignored and they impact on all of us." (NY1, Dec. 20)
Gov. George Pataki visited Ground Zero Dec. 19 to announce that the fire--the longest-burning of any commercial building in US history--was finally out. But city Fire Department officials said the fire was not officially declared "under control." Said Battalion Chief Brian Dixon: "As we search for victims and remove material, we are still finding pockets of flame and we extinguish them." (Newsday, Dec. 20)
A quarter of the 6,500 firefighters who have worked at Ground Zero suffer from respiratory ailments, and up to 200 are showing serious symptoms that may allow them to retire on disability pension, the Department reports. Representatives of the Uniformed Firefighters Association gave an even higher estimate, claiming some 4,000 firefighters are suffering from a persistent cough, up to 400 are on medical leave (some coughing up a "chalky substance") and that up to 500 may be forced to retire. None are currently hospitalized, but two were in September, according to the UFA sgt.-at-arms Thomas Manley. The Department says 15 who worked at Ground Zero have been designated as physically unable to fight fires. Some 1,100 firefighters are preparing to sue the City over inadequate protection from hazardous materials at the site, said Firefighter Palmer Doyle, one of 500 who has already filed papers putting the City on notice. Massive retirements--coupled with 3% of the force being killed on Sept. 11--could leave the Fire Department under-staffed for up to two years. (New York Times, Dec, 21)
2. DID GIULIANI CAUSE 7 WTC COLLAPSE?
In 1998 and '99, New York Fire Department officials warned the City and the NY/NJ Port Authority, which ran the WTC complex, that a giant diesel fuel tank for Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's controversial $13 million command bunker in 7 World Trade Center, a 47-story building that burned and collapsed on Sept. 11, posed a hazard and violated city fire codes. The 6,000-gallon tank, positioned 15 feet above the ground floor and near several elevator shafts, was to fuel generators for the 23rd-floor bunker in the event of a blackout. Although the city made some design changes to address the concerns--moving a fuel pipe that would have run up an elevator shaft, for example--it left the tank in place. But the Fire Department repeatedly warned that the tank could spread fumes throughout the building--or, if it caught fire, produce what one Fire Department memo called "disaster."
Engineering experts spent three months trying to determine why 7 WTC collapsed about 7 hours after being set on fire by debris from the adjacent skyscrapers. Some experts now believe the diesel tanks exploded, triggering the collapse. Port Authority insisted the tanks complied with the city fire code, but the Fire Department official who wrote several of the warning memos, Battalion Chief William P. Blaich, said the PA's interpretation of the code was "a stretch." Port Authority has long held that it does not legally have to abide by city fire codes. But after the 1993 WTC bombing, the Authority signed a memorandum of understanding with the City pledging to meet the fire code and take additional precautions. Francis E. McCarton of the City Office of Emergency Management said any suggestion that the tank was a factor in the collapse was "pure speculation." No one is believed to have died in 7 WTC, but its collapse complicated rescue and recovery efforts. At least two firefighters, Deputy Chief James Jackson and Battalion Chief Blaich, said that the southwest corner of the building near the tank was severely damaged, and that the tank might have been breached. Jackson said that about an hour before the building's collapse, heavy black smoke, consistent with a fuel fire, came from that part of the building. (New York Times, Dec. 20)
3. INDIAN POINT NUKE PLANT DRAWS PROTEST
Over 300 crowded a Westchester County hearing on emergency procedures at the Indian Point nuclear power plant Dec. 13, delaying the proceedings by stamping their feet for several minutes and chanting "Shut it down!" They cheered legislator Vincent Tamagna of neighboring Putnam County when he took the mike to say "it's too dangerous, it doesn't belong here, and it wouldn't be built today. Shut it down." Westchester County legislator Bill Ryan said his fellow legislators were likely to vote up a resolution declaring "no confidence" in the evacuation plans, putting pressure on state and federal authorities to close the plant. Earlier that day, chief of New York State's new Office of Public Security, former FBI terrorism expert James Kallstrom, appeared at the plant flanked by FBI agents to tell reporters Indian Point is "an extremely safe place." A joint state-federal review came up with a list of new security recommendations, he said, many of which are already in place. Entergy, which recently bought the two reactors, says it has spent $3 million in new security measures. Since 9-11, the National Guard and Coast Guard have both been mobilized to the plant, which sits on the Hudson River 30 miles north of New York City. (New York Times, Dec. 14)
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has also instated round-the-clock observations at the Indian Point 2 reactor after 4 (of 7) control room crews failed to pass their annual re-qualification tests, signaling "substantial" safety concerns. The crews botched emergency drills in a simulated accident staged by Entergy. (New York Times, Dec. 8, 15)
Weeks earlier, parents crowded local PTA meetings to discuss problems with the evacuation plans. "Reception centers" in east Putnam, where evacuees are to congregate, lies in path of the radiation under prevailing wind patterns. Even Alfred Del Bello, who helped draw up the plans in the early '80s after the Three Mile Island accident, said, "It doesn't work." The broader evacuation area, in the event of a major disaster at the plant, "includes New York City, the reservoirs that supply its drinking water and parts of three other states." (New York Times, Nov. 24)
The entire Northeast has seen a resurgence of anti-nuclear activism since 9-11. Dec. 3 hearings on the Vermont Yankee plant brought out 600 in Brattleboro, VT, to hear federal, state and local officials field questions for four hours. There have been similar scenes at hearings on the Pilgrim plant in Plymouth, MA; Seabrook in New Hampshire; and Three Mile Island in Harrisburg, PA. "Sept. 11 has been the biggest challenge to nuclear power since Chernobyl," said David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists. (New York Times, Dec. 5)
WATCHING THE SHADOWS
1. BOOK: OIL INTERESTS BLOCKED TERROR PROBES
A book newly published in France claims the Bush administration blocked FBI terrorism investigations at the behest of US oil interests while negotiating a secret deal to aid Afghanistan's Taliban regime in scheme for access to the oil and gas reserves of Central Asia. In their book, Bin Laden: La Verite Interdite (Bin Laden: the Forbidden Truth), Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie, say the FBI's deputy director for counter-terrorism, John O'Neill, resigned in July to protest White House obstruction of the Bureau's investigation just as it was closing in on bin Laden. "The main obstacles to investigat[ing] Islamic terrorism were US oil corporate interests and the role played by Saudi Arabia." O'Neill reportedly told the authors. Ironically, O'Neill then took a job as security director of the World Trade Center and was killed in the 9- 11 attack.
Brisard--also author of a report on bin Laden's finances for the French intelligence agency DST--says O'Neill complained bitterly in interviews last summer that the State Department and the oil lobby stymied attempts to tie bin Laden to various global terror attacks. The final blow for O'Neill came when the US ambassador forced him and his agents out of Yemen when they were close to linking bin Laden to the attack on the USS Cole.
On November 19, The Irish Times wrote, "O'Neill investigated the bombings of the World Trade Center in 1993, a US base in Saudi Arabia in 1996, the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar-Es-Salaam in 1998, and the USS Cole last year... The US ambassador to Yemen, Barbara Bodine, forbade O'Neill and his team of so-called Rambos (as the Yemeni authorities called them) from entering Yemen. In August 2001, O'Neill resigned in frustration..."
The authors say that Laila Helms, a part-Afghan niece of former CIA Director Richard Helms, played a key role in brokering a deal between the Houston-based Unocal company and the Taliban for a pipeline route across Afghanistan. Helms allegedly brought a top Taliban adviser to Washington this past March, where he met with top officials at the CIA and the State Department.
Former Pakistani foreign minister Naif Naik recently said on French television that at a secret Berlin meeting in July, the US propositioned Taliban reps on the formation of a "national unity" government in Afghanistan. If the Taliban had accepted, they would have immediately received economic aid and a pipeline concession. When the Taliban balked, Naik claimed, Tom Simons, a former US ambassador to Pakistan, threatened both the Taliban and Pakistan. Simons said: "Either the Taliban behave as they ought to, or Pakistan convinces them to do so, or we will use another option." The words Simons used were "a military operation," Naik said. At that point, the book claims, the Taliban walked out of the talks. If the Taliban had advance knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks, they no longer had any reason to stop them or to warn the United States. "At one moment during the negotiations, US representatives told the Taliban, 'either you accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs'," Brisard said in an interview in Paris. (Irish Times, Nov. 19; Tehelka.com, Nov. 21)
2. PETRO-OLIGARCHS WAGE SHADOW WAR
Writing in the on-line Slate magazine on "Russia, Oil, and Conspiracy Theories," upcoming Kremlinologist Anne Applebaum speculates on hidden agendas behind the Russia-OPEC price war which has rocked world markets: "Down, down, down slide the oil prices. Last year they soared above $30 a barrel. This year...they've dropped as low as $11. At the moment, they're hovering around $17-$18 a barrel. OPEC is trying to raise prices by cutting production and is browbeating non-OPEC members around the world to go along. Norway has agreed. So has Mexico. So has Oman. Russia has not agreed, however... To date, Russia has offered a cut of 50,000 barrels, well below the half-million barrel-cut that OPEC wants. Without Russia's cooperation, OPEC won't go ahead with its own. Without Russia's cooperation, oil prices will stay low. Without Russia's cooperation, in fact, even Russia suffers: Crude-oil exports account for a quarter of Russian government revenues, and every $1 decrease in the price of an oil barrel cuts almost $1 billion in Russian earnings. Why, then, won't Russia cooperate? Those who prefer the deepest, darkest, most dramatic answers to this question already suspect the existence of a plot: a Russian conspiracy to destroy OPEC in general and to destabilize Saudi Arabia in particular, the better to increase Russian market share....
"An advanced version of this conspiracy theory has the United States in on the plot to destroy the Saudis. Admittedly, such an intrigue would have a certain historical symmetry to it: There are those who believe that the United States, in league with Saudi Arabia, also tried (successfully) to destroy the Soviet Union in the 1980s by lowering oil prices. And certainly it is true that in the wake of Sept. 11 America's close relationship with the Saudis is under tough scrutiny. OK, they're our allies--but who needs an ally whose citizens fly airplanes into American buildings?...
"Of course, even if the game isn't the out-and-out destruction of Saudi Arabia, the existence of tacit US-Russian cooperation can't be ruled out. If it suits the Russians to produce more oil at the moment, it also suits the recession-stricken United States to buy oil at lower prices..." Applebaum points to "the Caspian Pipeline Consortium, the first successful Russian-Western-Kazakh pipeline venture, which just happens to kick in this month... Visions of a new pipeline from Turkmenistan to the Indian Ocean may well have been behind their decisions to arm, feed, and provide ammunition to the Northern Alliance--and in Russia's recent, unilateral decision to recognize the Northern Alliance as the 'legitimate government' of Afghanistan. If we had not only Russian and Kazakh oil but Turkmen oil as well, would we need OPEC at all?" Applebaum does concede: "There is a third possibility, of course, which is that the Russian government has so little influence over its oil producers that it couldn't cut production even if it wanted to." (slate.msn.com, Nov. 27)
Or are Russia and the US working at cross-purposes in a hidden struggle for control of the Central Asian oil? WW3 REPORT believes a close reading of the facts supports this alternative hypothesis.
Conventional wisdom holds that "the West" wants low prices, and Russia is being compliant. "OIL PRICES TUMBLE TO A 2-YEAR LOW" cried the New York Times front page Nov. 16. "Russia Refuses to Heed OPEC Calls For Cut in Production." This was clearly a sacrifice for Russia. The Times reported Nov. 21: "Today the Kremlin had to pare back its 2002 economic forecast, principally because of lower oil prices. Meanwhile, the state-owned pipeline company, Transneft, trumpeted the opening of a Baltic Sea terminal that will flood an already saturated market with another 240,000 barrels of oil a day." And Russia is now backtracking on modest concessions made to OPEC. The Wall Street Journal reported Dec. 17 that Russia and the cartel are "Edging Back Toward Price War," with OPEC skeptical Moscow will deliver on a pledge to cut exports by 150,000 barrels per day. Echoing the usual interpretation, the Times wrote Nov. 30: "By refusing to go along with production cuts that OPEC favors, Russia can enhance its reputation as responsible and reliable supplier of Europe's energy needs."
The Nov. 17 Economist said the same logic also restrains the Saudis: "Saudi Arabia, the cartel's main player and an American ally, is aware that moving aggressively to raise prices during this crisis--especially without non-OPEC support--would anger the United States"
But, with markets flooded, Bush has ordered the US Strategic Petroleum Reserves, held in vast salt caverns in Louisiana and Texas, filled to the maximum of 700 million barrels. The most it had ever been filled to was 590 million in early '90s. On Nov. 14, the Times saw this as a possible "effort by the White House to help stabilize oil markets by bolstering demand..." (Total world use stands at 76 million barrels a day.) Jan Stuart, research chief on global energy futures at ABN Amro banking group, said: "It goes to underscore the notion that there are common interests between the United States and a country like Saudi Arabia on oil prices... Very low prices would hurt the oil industry in the United States, an important industry here, and it would be damaging to parts of the world we care about like Venezuela, the Middle East and Indonesia."
Read: Low oil prices are bad news for Bush plans to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And rather than seeking to "destabilize" Saudi Arabia, Washington is likely terrified of what extremist regime would follow there.
Low prices also present an obstacle to Chevron, Unocal and other investors in the Caspian Basin region, which has not been brought on line due to political instability, problems with pipeline routes and depressed markets. Russia's price war could be a gambit to slow US corporate colonization of oil-rich post-Soviet lands. And despite the current posture of cooperation, Kremlin hardliners are unhappy with Bush's announced plans to scrap the ABM Treaty as a prelude to placing weapons in space (Newsday, Dec. 12). Star Wars and the war in Afghanistan were the Reagan/Bush administrations' twin successful stratagems for spending the USSR into collapse.
3. KAZAKHSTAN PITCHES POWELL ON PIPELINE
On a visit to Kazakhstan, US Secretary of State Colin Powell was pitched by President Nursultan Nazarbayev on an Iran pipeline rout. "I am open to explore opportunities," Powell said "We have been in discussions with the Iranians at a variety of levels and in some new ways since Sept. 11." He pointed out that James F. Dobbins, US rep to the new Afghan government, worked with Iranians in the Bonn talks. "And I had a handshake and a brief discussion with the Iranian foreign minister at the United Nations, so there are a number of things going on." (New York Times, Dec. 10)
Immediately after the 9-11 attacks, Nazarbayev pledged "Kazakhstan is ready to support measures undertaken by the Unirted States to fight terrorism by all means available. The Republic is ready to participate in the creation of an international coalition to fight terrorism." He subsequently played a key role in convincing Russia that the opening of Kazakh airspace and military facilities to NATO troops would not pose a threat to Moscow. Two weeks after the 9-11 attacks, Kazakh Foreign Minister Erlan Idrisov paid an official visit to Washington and New York, meeting with Colin Powell and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, cementing a "vital strategic relationship" with the White House. (The Middle East, Nov.)
4. EXXON PRAISES KAZAKHSTAN DICTATORSHIP AS "DEMOCRACY"
In the Dec. 20 "op-ad" spot in the bottom-right corner of the New York Times op-ed page, an ExxonMobil "advertorial" had kind words for Kazakhstan and its President Nursultan Nazarbayev: "In just 10 years Kazakhstan has established the institutions of democratic government, including a legislature with multiparty representation..."
In July 2000, Kazakhstan's parliament passed a law granting President Nursultan Nazarbayev lifetime powers and privileges, including access to future presidents, immunity from criminal prosecution, and influence over domestic and foreign policy. Critics say he has become a de facto "president for life." (Central Asia-Caucasus Institute briefing, July 5, 2000, < www.cacianalyst.org>)
Over the course of his ten years in power, Nazarbayev has repeatedly censored the press through arbitrary use of "slander" laws (RFE Newsline, April 12, 1996), blocked access to opposition web sites (Nov. 9, 1999), banned the Wahhabi religious sect (Sept. 5, 1998), drawn criticism from Amnesty International for excessive executions following specious trials (March 21, 1996) and harsh prison conditions (Aug. 13, 1996), and refused demands that the governors of Kazakhstan's 14 oblasts be elected, rather than appointed by the president (April 7, 2000).
The Exxon advertorial also claimed: "And, despite the potential for ethnic strife comparable to that in other countries of the region, no serious ethnic conflict has occurred." In 1999, Kazakhstan security forces waged a special operation against Islamic guerillas based in neighboring Uzbekistan (RFE Newsline, Nov. 7, 1999).
5. UZBEK DISSIDENT IMPRISONED IN PRAGUE
Muhammad Solih, Uzbekistan's greatest poet and leader of the democratic opposition, is now in Pankrac prison in Prague--which was once home to Vaclav Havel,. Solih came to Prague at the invitation of Radio Free Europe to address journalists at its headquarters. Instead, he was detained at the airport on an international warrant circulated by Interpol and issued by Uzbek President Islam Karimov--Washington's new Central Asian ally in the War on Terrorism. Uzbekistan is seeking Solih's extradition to serve a 15-year prison term for alleged involvement in a series of bombings in Tashkent in 1999--six years after he was forced into exile. Human rights advocates say his trial was a farce and he will face torture and probable death if he returns. Solih remains chair of the Erk (Liberty) party in exile. (New York Times, Dec. 9)
6. TURKMENISTAN: ASPIRING PETRO-TYRANNY
The US government, now establishing military bases in the ex-Soviet republics of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan as a staging ground for the war in Afghanistan, announced it will provide neighboring Turkmenistan with $1 million to train police to combat drug gangs (RFE Newsline, Nov. 9). The announcement comes a month after a regional summit in Kyrgyzstan to discuss the role of the drug trade in the Afghanistan war, and its potential for destablizing neighboring states. Senior security officials from five of the six member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Russia and China, but not Uzbekistan) met in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek Oct. 11 and issued a joint statement stressing the need for enhanced cooperation in the fight against international terrorism, drug trafficking, and religious extremism (Oct. 12).
Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov calls himself "Turkmenbashi" (The Leader of the Turkmen) and is encouraging a leader-worship cult that would make Stalin blush. Tourist Danko Taborosi visited his domain and was so disgusted at the ubiquitous Turkmenbashi-glorifying propaganda that he took photos of it and plastered them all over his web page Example: "At the moment of my betrayal of my president, let my breath stop..."
"Turkmenbashi" practices direct press censorship, without resorting to the favored Kazakh "slander" subterfuge (RFE Newsline. April 23, 1999), and has shut down all private Internet access providers (May 29, 2000). Numerous dissidents and opposition figures have been imprisoned for nebulous "anti-state crimes"--at least one of whom, Khoshali Garaev, died in mysterious circumstances behind bars (Sept. 15, 1999).
Unocal is waiting to develop its Turkmenistan oil concessions, while intrigues over the pipeline proliferate. While Unocal favored a route through Afghanistan, Niyazov signed an agreement for a route through Iran in 1997. (see Taliban: War, Religion & the New Order in Afghanistan, Peter Marsden, Zed Books, 1998, p. 140)
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