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.
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.
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.
United States Sues Virginia-based Contractor Triple Canopy for False Claims Under Contract for Security in Iraq
Allegedly Billed US for Security Guards Who Did Not Meet Contract Requirements
Contractor Faked Guard Weapon Tests In Iraq, US Says
Department of Justice October 31, 2012
The United States has filed a complaint against a Virginia-based contractor alleging that the company submitted false claims for unqualified security guards under a contract to provide security in Iraq, the Justice Department announced today. The company, Triple Canopy Inc. is headquartered in Reston, Va.
In June 2009, the Joint Contracting Command in Iraq/Afghanistan (JCC-I/A) awarded Triple Canopy a one-year, $10 million contract to perform a variety of security services at Al Asad Airbase – the second largest air base in Iraq. The multi-national JCC-I/A was established by U.S. Central Command in November 2004, to provide contracting support related to the government’s relief and reconstruction efforts in Iraq.
The government’s complaint alleges that Triple Canopy knowingly billed the United States for hundreds of foreign nationals it hired as security guards who could not meet firearms proficiency tests established by the Army and required under the contract. The tests ensure that security guards hired to protect U.S. and allied personnel are capable of firing their AK-47 assault rifles and other weapons safely and accurately. The government also alleges that Triple Canopy’s managers in Iraq falsified test scorecards as a cover up to induce the government to pay for the unqualified guards, and that Triple Canopy continued to bill the government even after high-level officials at the company’s headquarters had been alerted to the misconduct. The complaint further alleges that Triple Canopy used the false qualification records in an attempt to persuade the JCC-I/A to award the company a second year of security work at the Al Asad Airbase.
“For a government contractor to knowingly provide deficient security services, as is alleged in this case, is unthinkable, especially in war time,” said Stuart F. Delery, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division of the Department of Justice. “The department will do everything it can to ensure that contractors comply with critical contract requirements and that contractors who don’t comply aren’t permitted to profit at the expense of our men and women in uniform and the taxpayers at home who support them.”
“We will not tolerate government contractors anywhere in the world who seek to defraud the United States through deliberate or reckless conduct that violates contractual requirements and risks the security of government personnel,” said Neil H. MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
The government’s claims are based on a whistleblower suit initially filed by a former employee of Triple Canopy in 2011. The suit was filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provision of the False Claims Act, which allows private persons to file suit on behalf of the United States. Under the act, the government has a period of time to investigate the allegations and decide whether to intervene in the action or to decline intervention and allow the whistleblower to go forward alone.
This matter was investigated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia; the Commercial Litigation Branch of the Justice Department’s Civil Division; and the Army Criminal Investigative Command (CID) and Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) of the Department of Defense.
The claims asserted against Triple Canopy are allegations only; there has been no determination of liability. The government is not aware of any injuries that occurred as a result of the alleged misconduct.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria, and is captioned United States ex rel. Badr v. Triple Canopy, Inc.
The New York Times October 31, 2012
WASHINGTON — The security guards at a nuclear weapons plant who failed to stop an 82-year-old nun from reaching a bomb fuel storage building earlier this year were also cheating on a recertification exam, according to an internal investigation by the Department of Energy, which owns the weapons plant.
The exam, with answers, was circulated to guards at the Y-12 National Security Complex, near Oak Ridge, Tenn., before they sat down to take it, according to the report, by the department’s inspector general. The report, released on Wednesday, said that the cheating was enabled by the department itself. It was routine practice for the department to involve contractor personnel in preparation of such exams, because the federal government did not know enough about the security arrangements to write the exam without the help of the contractor
A federal security official sent the exam by encrypted e-mail to “trusted agents” at the management contractor, B&W, but did not instruct those executives to keep it secret from the people who would have to take it, according to the report. The government found out about the cheating only because an inspector visiting the plant noticed a copy of an exam on the seat of a patrol vehicle the day before guards were to take it.
The security contractor was Wackenhut, but its contract was terminated after a security breach on July 28, when the nun, Sister Megan Gillespie Rice, and two accomplices cut through three layers of fence, splashed blood on a building housing bomb-grade uranium, performed a Christian ritual and then waited to be apprehended. A subsequent investigation found that many security cameras had been disabled long before the break-in.
Business Recorder October 4, 2012
The bomb exploded in the Mansur area of west Baghdad about 9:00 am (0600 GMT), killing four people and wounding nine, an interior ministry official said.
A medical source from Al-Yarmuk hospital confirmed the facility had received four bodies, but put the number of wounded at 14.
It was not immediately clear whether the casualties were bystanders, people travelling the convoy, or both. Neither official gave details on the name of the security company.
Rueters October 21, 2012
* Iraq, Afghan withdrawal may mean leaner times for contractors
* Shift to guarding private sector’s oil fields and mines
* Some see big shakeout in private security industry
* U.N. member states wary of private security forces
By Peter Apps, Political Risk Correspondent
WASHINGTON, Oct 21 (Reuters) – On a rooftop terrace blocks from the White House, a collection of former soldiers and intelligence officers, executives and contractors drink to the international private security industry.
The past decade – particularly the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – provided rich pickings for firms providing private armed guards, drivers and other services that would once have been performed by uniformed soldiers.
But as the conflicts that helped create the modern industry wind down, firms are having to adapt to survive. They must also, industry insiders say, work to banish the controversial image of mercenary “dogs of war” that bedevil many firms, particularly in Iraq.
“This industry has always gone up and down,” Doug Brooks, president of the International Stability Operations Association (ISOA), told Reuters on the sidelines of its annual conference in Washington. “What we’re seeing now is that it is becoming much more mature – and much more responsible.”
The free-for-all atmosphere that pervaded the industry, particularly in the early years of the war in Iraq, insiders say, appears gone for good. A string of high profile incidents – often involving armed private guards firing on sometimes unarmed Iraqis – trashed the reputation of firms such as Blackwater, a Virginia-based firm since renamed several times, as well as the wider industry.
Members of the ISOA – which include some but not all of the major contracting firms as well as smaller players – subscribe to a code of conduct that they say helps identify responsible firms.
Despite these efforts, industry insiders and other observers say quality remains mixed. Some firms providing armed guards for merchant ships passing through the Somali pirate-infested Indian Ocean, for example, only hire elite personnel who have served in the Marines or special forces. Others, however, have a reputation for being less discriminating and for unreliable staff and weapons.
Unarmored trucks carrying needed supplies were ambushed, leaving six drivers dead. Records illuminate the fateful decision.
“Can anyone explain to me why we put civilians in the middle of known ambush sites?”
“Maybe we should put body bags on the packing list for our drivers.”
T Christian Miller The LA Times September 3, 2007
Senior managers for defense contractor KBR overruled calls to halt supply operations in Iraq in the spring of 2004, ordering unarmored trucks into an active combat zone where six civilian drivers died in an ambush, according to newly available documents.
Company e-mails and other internal communications reveal that before KBR dispatched the convoy, a chorus of security advisors predicted an increase in roadside bombings and attacks on Iraq’s highways. They recommended suspension of convoys.
“[I] think we will get people injured or killed tomorrow,” warned KBR regional security chief George Seagle, citing “tons of intel.” But in an e-mail sent a day before the convoy was dispatched, he also acknowledged: “Big politics and contract issues involved.”
KBR was under intense pressure from the military to deliver on its multibillion-dollar contract to transport food, fuel and other vital supplies to U.S. soldiers. At Baghdad’s airport, a shortage of jet fuel threatened to ground some units.
After consulting with military commanders, KBR’s top managers decided to keep the convoys rolling. “If the [Army] pushes, then we push, too,” wrote an aide to Craig Peterson, KBR’s top official in Iraq.
The decision prompted a raging internal debate that is detailed in private KBR documents, some under court seal, that were reviewed by The Times.
One KBR management official threatened to resign when superiors ordered truckers to continue driving. “I cannot consciously sit back and allow unarmed civilians to get picked apart,” wrote Keith Richard, chief of the trucking operation.
Six American truck drivers and two U.S. soldiers were killed when the convoy rumbled into a five-mile gauntlet of weapons fire on April 9, 2004, making an emergency delivery of jet fuel to the airport. One soldier and a seventh trucker remain missing.
Recriminations began the same day.
“Can anyone explain to me why we put civilians in the middle of known ambush sites?” demanded one security advisor in an e-mail. “Maybe we should put body bags on the packing list for our drivers.”
Halliburton and its former KBR Inc. subsidiary knowingly sent military supply convoys into danger on roads in the Baghdad area.
High court won’t hear case against Halliburton
In its order Tuesday, the court said it will not review a federal appeals court ruling that threw out suits filed by truckers and their families claiming that Halliburton and its former KBR Inc. subsidiary knowingly sent military supply convoys into danger on roads in the Baghdad area.
The attacks killed seven KBR drivers and injured at least 10 others in April 2004.
The appeals court said a federal law prohibits the lawsuits because it provides workers’ compensation to civilian employees injured while under contract with defense agencies.
The Daily Mail October 6, 2012
A man diagnosed with a tropical disease after returning to the UK from Afghanistan has died in hospital, it has emerged today.
The 38-year-old was fighting for his life in a high security isolation ward at the Royal Free Hospital in London after contracting the deadly Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF).
He was transferred by the RAF on a C-130 Hercules aircraft from the Brownlee Unit in Glasgow to the specialist high security unit at the Royal Free London on Thursday.
It is the first laboratory-confirmed case of CCHF in the UK, according to the Health Protection Agency (HPA).
Other passengers who sat close to him on an aircraft are undergoing daily health checks.
‘Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever can be acquired from an infected patient only through direct contact with their blood or body fluids, therefore there is no risk to the general public,’ the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust said.
‘We would like to extend our condolences to his family.’
The man, 38, was diagnosed when he returned to Glasgow on a flight from Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday.
He had flown into Scotland on a connecting flight from Dubai.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – October 1, 2012
The security contractor at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Tennessee was fired Monday after authorities said three protesters cut through fences and vandalized a building in an unprecedented break-in.
Security contractor WSI Oak Ridge said it has started winding down operations and will transfer its protective force functions to B&W Y-12, the managing contractor at the plant, over the next several weeks. The Department of Energy had earlier recommended that WSI’s contract be terminated.
The security contractor was criticized for its poor response when the protesters, including an 82-year-old Roman Catholic nun, cut through fences on July 28 and defaced a building that stores the plant’s weapons grade uranium
According to the Department of Labor’s Defense Base Act Claim Summary Reports there were at least 121 Civilian Contractor Deaths filed on in the third quarter of 2012.
Keep in mind that these numbers are not an accurate accounting of Contractor Casualties as many injuries and deaths are not reported as Defense Base Act Claims. Also, many of these injuries will become deaths due to the Defense Base Act Insurance Companies denial of medical benefits.
Many foreign national and local national contractors and their families are never told that they are covered under the Defense Base Act and so not included in the count.
At least 18 death claims were filed for Iraq
At Least 90 death claims were filed for Afghanistan
At least 3,195 Defense Base Act Claims were filed during this quarter
At least 121 were death claims
At least 1,138 were for injuries requiring longer than 4 days off work
At least 85 were for injuries requiring less than 4 days off work
At least 1,879 were for injuries requiring no time off of work
A total of 90,680 Defense Base Act Claims have been filed since September 1, 2001
What is not known is the impact among those who work in the armed private security sector
“There’s loads of loose cannons running around”
BBC Scotland October 1, 2012
Former SAS soldier Bob Paxman – who served in Iraq as well as other hostile environments – is one of a growing number of former servicemen who say they have suffered with the mental health condition Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
After a number of years in the military, Paxman retrained as a private security contractor, on protection contracts in Africa and Iraq.
He says as a result of being constantly in a dangerous environment and witnessing colleagues being killed and maimed he was diagnosed with PTSD.
The stress disorder is thought to affect up to 20% of military personnel who have served in conflict zones, according to research published by the National Center for PTSD in the US.
What is not known is the impact among those who work in the armed private security sector, many of whom are drawn from the military.
Yet the condition, says Paxman, led to him having flashbacks and becoming violent and paranoid.
“I was a danger to the public, a danger to myself,” Paxman says.
“A danger to whoever was perceived as being the enemy.”