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