The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a global alert after six cases of a virus resembling the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) were discovered in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Two of the six cases confirmed by laboratories have been fatal, leading to fears of an outbreak similar to the original SARS virus in 2002-03, which killed around 10 percent of the 8,000 humans infected.
“From our understanding of the virus so far, and given the enhanced surveillance that is in place, we expect to see more cases reported and confirmed,” WHO spokesman, Glen Thomas, told IRIN. “We also expect to see more cases from countries other than the two that have confirmed cases so far.” WHO scientists are trying to find out the cause of the infections, and ascertain whether the virus is moving from human to human.
A study published by scientists from the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam last week found similarities between the new SARS-like virus and a virus found in bats in Saudi Arabia.
Associated Press at ABC News November 28, 2012
An Iraq war contractor that lost an $85 million verdict to a group of sickened Oregon soldiers has filed a lawsuit seeking to force the federal government to pay the soldiers’ damages.
In early November, 12 Oregon National Guard soldiers won the verdict against Kellogg Brown and Root, an engineering and construction firm that helped lead the reconstruction work in post-war Iraq. The soldiers were exposed to a toxin while guarding an Iraqi water plant.
In the new lawsuit, KBR also demands that the government pay more than $15 million in its attorneys’ fees.
At the heart of the suit is a so-called indemnification clause that KBR alleges it agreed to with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in March 2003. The clause was designed to protect KBR against “unusually hazardous risks” in its work in Iraq.
In a Nov. 16 filing in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, KBR argues the clause makes the government responsible for the results of its actions in Iraq, including the Oregon verdict.
“Based upon an erroneous legal and factual analysis of the terms of the indemnification agreement, (the Army Corps) has refused to indemnify (KBR) for the costs of defending against the various third-party lawsuits,” KBR attorneys wrote, “and has refused to participate or assume direct responsibility in defending (KBR) in the underlying tort litigations.”
KBR said in the suit that it had no insurance to cover its wartime work, and the government’s refusal to involve itself in lawsuits constitutes a breach of the indemnification agreement.
Wired’s Danger Room November 21, 2012
Inside a compound in Kabul called Camp Integrity, the Pentagon stations a small group of officers to oversee the U.S. military’s various operations to curb the spread of Afghanistan’s cash crops of heroin and marijuana, which help line the Taliban’s pockets. Only Camp Integrity isn’t a U.S. military base at all. It’s the 10-acre Afghanistan headquarters of the private security company formerly known as Blackwater.
Those officers work for an obscure Pentagon agency called the Counter Narco-Terrorism Program Office, or CNTPO. Quietly, it’s grown into one of the biggest dispensers of cash for private security contractors in the entire U.S. government: One pile of contracts last year from CNTPO was worth more than $3 billion. And it sees a future for itself in Afghanistan over the long haul.
Earlier this month, a U.S. government solicitation sought to hire a security firm to help CNTPO “maintain a basic, operational support cell” in Kabul. Army Lt. Col. James Gregory, a Pentagon spokesman, explains that “cell” doesn’t kick in the doors of any Afghan narco-kingpins. It handles the more mundane tasks of overseeing the contracts of the Pentagon’s counter-narcotics programs, from “training and linguists, and [providing] supplies, such as vehicles and equipment.” The solicitation, however, indicates those services aren’t going anywhere: When all the options are exercised, the contract extends through September 29, 2015, over a year past the date when Afghan soldiers and cops are supposed to take over the war. And the “government preferred location” to base CNTPO? Camp Integrity.
The envisioned Pentagon counter-narco-terrorism staff is pretty small: only two to four personnel. But protecting them at Camp Integrity is serious business. The November 6 solicitation calls for a security firm that can “provide a secure armory and weapons maintenance service, including the ability to check-in and check-out weapons and ammunition,” particularly 9 mm pistols and M4 rifles; and to provide “secure armored” transportation to the CNTPO team — primarily “in and around Kabul, but could include some remote locations.”
CNTPO has a longstanding relationship with Blackwater, the infamous security firm that is now known as Academi. In 2009, it gave Blackwater a contract to train Afghan police, and company employees used that contract to requisition guns from the U.S. military for their private use. Although that contract was ultimately taken out of CNTPO’s hands, the office’s relationship with Academi/Blackwater endures. Last year, Academi told Danger Room it has a contract with CNTPO, worth an undisclosed amount, to provide “all-source intelligence analyst support and material procurement” for Afghanistan. An Academi spokeswoman, Kelley Gannon, declined to comment on Academi’s relationship with CNTPO, or whether it’ll bid on the new contract
The New York Times November 25, 2012
KABUL, Afghanistan — For the replacement Afghan security guards, their new posting — an established traffic checkpoint in a heavily guarded Western enclave in Kabul — would seem to be a decent one, other than the fact that three of their predecessors had just been killed by a Taliban suicide bomber.
The site itself told the story: the blast crater from the attack, on Wednesday, had been covered by two rows of green sandbags stacked 10 feet high, and ball bearings from the bomber’s vest pockmarked the neighboring walls. An excavator shoved dirt loosened from the blast into tidy mounds along the edges of the street, which sits a few blocks from the American Embassy in the city’s Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood.
The new arrivals, private guards who work for a foreign security contractor, forlornly bear the assignment. Among the dead were friends and co-workers, including a 36-year-old guard named Shamsuddin, a father of two, and Mohammed Homayoun, 28.
The replacements are jittery, clutching their assault rifles as a supervisor stands nearby, scanning the street.
“They’re deeply hurt because they lost their colleagues,” said the supervisor, who would not give his name. “They were like members of the same family.”
The guards may well have the most thankless job in Afghanistan, serving as the first line of defense against bombings and bullets meant for Westerners and high-profile Afghan government officials. In countless cases, such private security guards are the ones killed by thwarted attacks. On Wednesday, the bomber detonated his vest after the guards demanded his identification, police officials said.
Private security companies have had a troubled and controversial history in Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai has called for them to be banned, concerned that the armed companies, about 50 in all employing about 40,000 guards across the country, were becoming de facto militias. The president eventually made exceptions for embassies and international organizations, but required the firms to be licensed. Mr. Karzai remains committed to handing over security to Afghan government forces.
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) November 26, 2012
Petty Officer 1st Class Kevin R. Ebbert, 32, of Arcata, Calif., died while supporting stability operations in southern Afghanistan, according to a Department of Defense news release.
Ebbert was a Special Warfare Operator assigned to a SEAL team out of Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek – Fort Story.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of our teammate who has made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Capt. Robert Smith, Commander, Naval Special Warfare Group Two. “We have lost a courageous patriot who selflessly answered our nation’s call to defend freedom and protect us from terrorism.”
Associated Press at The Blaze November 20, 2012
The U.S. government has filed a civil lawsuit accusing a Houston-based global construction company and its Kuwaiti subcontractor of submitting nearly $50 million in inflated claims to install live-in trailers for troops during the Iraq War.
The lawsuit names KBR Inc. and First Kuwaiti Trading Co., alleging they overcharged for truck, driver and crane costs, and misrepresented delays in providing around 2,250 trailers meant to replace tents used by soldiers earlier in the invasion.
In one instance, the contractors allegedly claimed they paid $23,000 to lease one crane per month when the actual price was about $8,000, according to the lawsuit, which was filed this week in U.S. District Court in Rock Island, Ill., and first appeared in federal court records Tuesday.
KBR, once the engineering and construction arm of Halliburton, has faced lawsuits before related to its work in Iraq. One of the most prominent involved a soldier electrocuted in his barracks shower at an Army base. That case was eventually dismissed.
In the case involving the trailers, Jim Lewis, the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of Illinois, said “KBR and First Kuwaiti did not provide an honest accounting.”
Stuart Delery, a U.S. deputy assistant attorney general, said in a Department of Justice statement regarding the lawsuit that contractors “are not permitted to profit at the expense of the taxpayers at home who are supporting our men and women in uniform.”
by David Rohde at Rueters November 16, 2012
Amid the politicking, there’s an overlooked cause of the Benghazi tragedy
For conservatives, the Benghazi scandal is a Watergate-like presidential cover-up. For liberals, it a fabricated Republican witch-hunt. For me, Benghazi is a call to act on an enduring problem that both parties ignore.
One major overlooked cause of the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans is we have underfunded the State Department and other civilian agencies that play a vital role in our national security.
Instead of building up cadres of skilled diplomatic security guards, we have bought them from the lowest bidder, trying to acquire capacity and expertise on the cheap. Benghazi showed how vulnerable that makes us.
Now, I’m not arguing that this use of contractors was the sole cause of the Benghazi tragedy, but I believe it was a primary one. Let me explain.
The slapdash security that killed Stevens, technician Sean Smith and CIA guards Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty started with a seemingly inconsequential decision by Libya’s new government. After the fall of Muammar Qaddafi, Libya’s interim government barred armed private security firms – foreign and domestic – from operating anywhere in the country.
Memories of the abuses by foreign mercenaries, acting for the brutal Qaddafi regime, prompted the decision, according to State Department officials.
Once the Libyans took away the private security guard option, it put enormous strain on a little-known State Department arm, the Diplomatic Security Service. This obscure agency has been responsible for protecting American diplomatic posts around the world since 1916.
Though embassies have contingents of Marines, consulates and other offices do not. And the missions of Marines, in fact, are to destroy documents and protect American government secrets. It is the Diplomatic Security agents who are charged with safeguarding the lives of American diplomats.
Today, roughly 900 Diplomatic Security agents guard 275 American embassies and consulates around the globe. That works out to a whopping four agents per facility.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, the State Department relied on hundreds of security contractors to guard American diplomats. At times, they even hired private security guards to protect foreign leaders.
After Afghan President Hamid Karzai narrowly survived a 2002 assassination attempt, the State Department hired security guards from DynCorp, a military contractor, to guard him. Their aggressiveness in and around the presidential palace, however, angered Afghan, American and European officials. As soon as Afghan guards were trained to protect Karzai, DynCorp was let go.
But the State Department’s dependence on contractors for security remained. And Benghazi epitomized this Achilles’ heel.
The private contractor guard force is owned by a foreign company with a long record of botched security operations from Afghanistan to London to Oak Ridge, Tennessee
The company is now wholly-owned by foreign security firm G4S, the same company that won notoriety on 9/11 when its Argenbright Security division ran passenger checkpoints at Dulles and Newark airports where hijackers boarded planes. Its performance on 9/11 was the major political impetus Congress used to federalize all airline security and create the Transportation Security Administration.
G4S was involved in a major scandal when its employees took part in bizarre hazing rituals when supposedly guarding State Department employees in Afghanistan. More recently, the company so botched security preparations for the London Olympics, the British government was forced to call in the army at the last minute.
by Joseph Trento at The DC Bureau November 14, 2012
Aiken, S.C. – Tons of weapons grade plutonium and other nuclear materials, a target for terrorists, are not being properly protected by the National Nuclear Security Administration at the Department of Energy’s sprawling Savannah River Site, according to security consultants and U.S. counterintelligence officials.
A secret security review underway at DOE and other government agencies after an elderly nun last summer breached a NNSA bomb-grade-uranium facility at the Oak Ridge Tennessee Y12 area reveals “harrowing problems in site management and control at other DOE sites,” said a Homeland Security official who requested anonymity. The official said that the Savannah River Site was of concern because “SRS does not have the staffing or the facilities to protect the huge amounts of plutonium that have been brought to SRS in recent years.”
SRS has one of the greatest concentrations in the world of radioactive material. In one old reactor building – the K Area Material Storage (KAMS) facility – protected by the same contractors that botched security at Oakridge, there is enough weapons grade plutonium to destroy the world multiple times. Here plutonium in its purest form can be found by the ton.
by David Isenberg at Huffington Post November 13, 2012
David Isenberg is the author of the book Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq and blogs at The PMSC Observer. He is a senior analyst at Wikistrat and a Navy veteran.
While it’s only one among many factors bedeviling Afghanistan, its substantial private-security contracting industry warrants attention. It’s made up of tens of thousands of Afghan employees, mostly armed guards.
Bear in mind that 2014 is the deadline for Afghanistan assuming responsibility for its own security. This is a date the whole world has an interest in because either Afghanistan will be a more or less stable country — or it will lapse back into the chaotic and destabilized state it was after the Soviets left in 1989.
We all recall how that turned out.
The Afghan government and the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) are transferring private security company (PSC) operations to the Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF), a new Afghan government force.
But substantial uncertainty, to put it politely, and skepticism — to put it more bluntly – persists over APPF’s ability to handle the job. Even more importantly, how it plans to absorb the commanders and former fighters who currently provide the bulk of PSC workforces.
This morning, the Pentagon announced the death of a Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier who was killed while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
Staff Sgt. Kenneth W. Bennett, 26, of Glendora, Calif., died Nov. 10, 2012, in Sperwan Gar, Afghanistan, from injuries sustained when he encountered an improvised explosive device during combat operations.
Unit records indicate Staff Sgt. Bennett entered in the Army in November 2004, and attended Initial Army Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.; Advanced Individual Training (AIT) was at both Redstone Arsenal, Al. and Eglin Air Force Base, Fl.
His AIT training was for that of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Specialist.
Staff Sgt. Bennett arrived at JBLM in February 2009, was assigned to the 53rd Ordnance Company (EOD), 3rd Ordnance Battalion (EOD).
The New York Times November 9, 2012
The sudden development came just days after President Obama won re-election to a second term. Mr. Petraeus, a highly decorated general who had led the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, had been expected to remain in the president’s administration.
Instead, Mr. Petraeus said in the statement that the president accepted his resignation on Friday after he had informed him of his indiscretion a day earlier.
“After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair,” Mr. Petraeus wrote. “Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours. This afternoon, the president graciously accepted my resignation.”
US ship dumping of toxic waste provokes outrage in Manila
The SBMA spot report showed that the tanker was carrying some 189,500 liters of domestic waste and about 760 liters of bilge water (a combination of water, oil and grease), all of which were hauled from Emory Land, a US Navy ship.
Santiago seeks Senate probe of US Navy contractor
Phillipine Daily Inquirer Saturday November 10, 2012
The United States Navy contractor accused of dumping hazardous waste into Subic Bay last month is not covered by the Visiting Forces Agreement between the US and the Philippines, the Department of Foreign Affairs said on Friday.
“The VFA only covers US military personnel and US civilian personnel who are individuals employed by the US Armed Forces or those that accompany them such as employees of the American Red Cross and United Services Organization,” said Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez, the DFA spokesperson.
“Since Glenn Defense Marine Asia Philippines Inc. cannot be considered US personnel, clearly its acts as third-party contractors are not covered by the VFA,” Hernandez said.
The VFA, the 1999 agreement that provides the framework for regulating the presence of US military forces and equipment in the Philippines, allows the US government to retain jurisdiction over US military personnel accused of committing crimes in the Philippines, unless the crimes are of “particular” importance to the Philippines.
The debate over this controversial aspect of the VFA—which many Filipinos see as one-sided and an affront to the sovereignty of the Philippines—has come into play once again after the Malaysia-based US Navy contractor accused by the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) of dumping toxic waste in its waters invoked the protection of the VFA.
Glenn Defense Marine Asia Phil., through its politically influential law firm, Villaraza, Cruz, Marcelo and Angangco, when confronted with a “show-cause” letter by the SBMA to explain its illegal acts cheekily replied that the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFACOM), not the government agency that administers the free port, had jurisdiction over it.
The Inquirer reported on Friday that the SBMA was investigating the US Navy contractor for allegedly dumping untreated toxic and hazardous waste on Subic Bay last month. The waste was reportedly dumped by the tanker Glenn Guardian, a vessel owned by Glenn Defense, which reportedly collected the waste from US ships that participated in recently concluded joint military exercises in the country.
Hernandez pointed to Article I of the VFA, which defines the term “military personnel” and “civilian personnel” covered by the agreement, as referring only to individuals employed by the US military and those accompanying them.
Kantor died as a result of a gunshot wound suffered in combat in southern Afghanistan, according to a press release from Naval Special Warfare Group Two.
Kantor was assigned to Naval Special Warfare Group Two which is based in Virginia Beach.
WAVY TV November 3, 2012
ZABUL, AFGHANISTAN – A locally based Navy SEAL supporting Operation Enduring Freedom was killed in Afghanistan Saturday.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew G. Kantor, 22, of Gillette, N.J., died supporting stability operations in Zabul, Afghanistan, according to news release from the Department of Defense.
Kantor was assigned to the Naval Special Warfare unit based in Virginia Beach.
Oregon Live November 2, 1012
A Portland jury found defense contractor KBR Inc. was negligent, but did not commit fraud against a dozen Oregon Army National Guard soldiers who sued the company for its conduct in Iraq nine years ago. Magistrate Judge Paul Papak announced the decision about 3:35 p.m. the U.S. Courthouse in Portland. Each soldier was awarded $850,000 in non-economic damages and $6.25 million in punitive damages.
“It’s a little bit of justice,” said Guard veteran Jason Arnold, moments after the verdict was announced Friday afternoon. Arnold was one of four of the soldier-plaintiffs in the courtroom was the verdict was read.
The verdict should send an important message to those who rely on military troops, he said.
“We’re not disposable,” said another soldier, Aaron St. Clair. “People are not going to make money from our blood.”
KBR’s lead attorney, Geoffrey Harrison, said the company will appeal.
“We will appeal the jury’s incorrect verdict,” he said. “We believe the trial court should have dismissed the case before the trial.”
Harrison said the soldiers’ lawyers produced a medical expert, Dr. Arch Carson, who offered “unsupported, untested medical opinions” that each soldier had suffered invisible, cellular-level injuries as a result of their exposure to hexavalent chromium.
The verdict means the jury did not hear clear and convincing evidence that KBR intended to deceive the soldiers in the way it operated at the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant, near Basra, Iraq. But they did find that the company failed to meet its obligations in managing the work at the plant.
Friday’s verdict closes the first phase of a web of litigation between National Guard and British troops against KBR Inc., the defense contractor they accuse of knowingly exposing them in 2003 to a carcinogen at Qarmat Ali. KBR has denied the accusations.
In Oregon another set of Oregon soldiers are waiting in the wings for their day in court. Magistrate Judge Paul Papak and the attorneys agreed earlier to hold an initial trial with the first 12 soldiers, in order to keep the proceedings from becoming too unwieldy. A second trial, featuring all or some of the remaining 21 plaintiffs, could begin in federal court in Portland this winter.
Another lawsuit brought by Indiana soldiers against KBR is on hold in federal court in Texas, while an appeals court considers a jurisdictional issue.
The cases stem from the chaotic aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. The Army Corps of Engineers hired KBR Inc. to run a massive program called Restore Iraqi Oil. The program involved dozens of sites throughout Iraq — sites that neither the Army nor KBR had visited before the invasion. The project was intended to quickly restore the flow of Iraq’s oil, partly to fund the war. The Pentagon remembered the way Saddam Hussein had lit the fields on fire during the first Gulf War, and feared a repeat in 2003.
Qarmat Ali was a compound where water was pumped underground to drive oil to the surface elsewhere. For decades, Iraqis had treated the water with sodium dichromate, an anticorrosion agent that contains hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen. (Sodium dichromate is banned in the United States.)
Iraq’s Southern Oil Co. took delivery of sodium dichromate, an orange-yellow crystalline powder, in bags that were stored on site. Soldiers and others testified that the material was loose and drifting around the site, and had contaminated areas even outside the chemical injection building where it was added to the water.
How contaminated was it? Accounts differ. Even one of the plaintiffs in this case said he didn’t notice any soil discoloration. One of the British soldiers whose testimony was prerecorded said it was everywhere. Another Oregon soldier said it settled heavily on the clothing of the soldiers, who unwittingly carried it back to their camps over the border in Kuwait.
Much of KBR’s defense in the first Oregon trial focused on just how unlikely it was that any soldier — who visited the plant at durations from one day to 21 days — could have been exposed to dangerously high levels of sodium dichromate. But one of the most gripping portions of the testimony was when Oregon veteran Larry Roberta described eating a chicken patty that had been coated with the orange crystals, which he said immediately burned in his esophagus, causing him to vomit.
Roberta now is confined to a wheelchair and takes oxygen from a tank in his backpack. He had a history of gastrointestinal issues, but attributes much of his poor health to his time at Qarmat Ali.
Harrison, KBR’s lawyer, said the company “believes in the judicial process and respects the efforts and time of the jurors,” but believes the process that brought the case to conclusion Friday shouldn’t have been allowed to come so far.
“KBR did safe and exceptional work in Iraq under difficult circumstances,” he said in a brief, prepared statement. “We believe the facts and law ultimately will provide vindication.”
Soldier-plaintiff Arnold said the message of the verdict is unmistakable. He said service members are being exploited “to this day.”
Now, he said, “the voice will be out. There will be a lot more scrutiny.”