Category Archives: Merchants of Death

How the Pentagon has been breaking the law for 24 years

Matt Purple writes for Rare:

‘In 1990, Congress passed the Chief Financial Officers Act. Its text noted the obvious: that “billions of dollars are lost each year through fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement,” and that “more effective general and financial management practices” were needed within the federal government. The law required a slew of government agencies to undergo a yearly audit. One of those agencies was the Pentagon.

Since then, the Pentagon hasn’t been audited a single time. Thanks to dodges by the Defense Department and a lack of enforcement by Congress, the 1990 requirement has been completely disregarded for 24 years. Now a group of fiscally conservative Republicans and anti-war Democrats are demanding compliance. Last week Congressman Michael Burgess (R-Texas) and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) introduced the Audit the Pentagon Act of 2014. The legislation is backed by a curious left-right coalition rarely seen in Washington.’


Greatest Protest Sign Of All Time

US Weaponizes Nearly Every Major World Conflict

Abby Martin reports on the militant group ISIS seizing 52 US-made heavy artillery cannons, going over several other examples of US weapons playing a role in almost every major global conflict.’ (Breaking the Set)

School Shootings and US Militarism

Chris Ernesto writes for CounterPunch:

‘In the 18 months [now 19 months] since twenty first-graders were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary, there have been 74 shootings at U.S. schools.  That averages out to nearly one school shooting per week since the Newtown massacre. In response the 74th incident, which occurred at a high school in Oregon, president Obama said, “We’re the only developed country on Earth where this happens,” and that lawmakers should be “ashamed” of not passing stricter gun control laws. Good for Obama for acknowledging something bad about the country he leads — maybe this will make him rethink his “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being” statement last month. But bad for Obama for turning this into a gun control issue.

It’s hard to take seriously a person who decries violence as a means of conflict resolution when that same person orders the assassination of his own citizens and drops bombs on innocent people in other countries.  A few hours after he lamented gun violence in the US he ordered drone strikes in Pakistan, which killed 13 human beings. So, it’s okay for the US to kill people in another country, but it’s not okay for Americans to kill people in their own country? Obviously, Obama is trying to capitalize on the school shootings as a way to gain political favor for his Democratic party, and to prevent people from talking about the real causes of violence in America. But Obama and Democrats aren’t the only ones trying to distract people from addressing the root causes of schoolyard massacres.  Republican lawmakers attempt to explain away the violence by saying the perpetrators are mentally ill and that more security is needed to stop these atrocities from happening.’


Robotic ‘cows’ and drone vehicles are patrolling jungles with Marines

Dan Lamothe reports for The Washington Post:

‘More than a 1,000 U.S. Marines are participating in the Rim of the Pacific military exercises in and around Hawaii this month as 49 ships and six submarines from 23 countries test a variety of equipment and work to integrate it. It’s the robot on shore, however, that is getting an inordinate amount of buzz because of its funny looks and potential utility to U.S. troops pulling foot patrols.

Meet the Legged Squad Support System, or LS3. Developed by Boston Dynamics — which was bought out by Google late last year — it can carry as much as 400 pounds of equipment and enough fuel to walk 20 miles over 24 hours, the company says. It began a two-year testing phase in 2012 and is getting some serious work at RIMPAC under the supervision of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory.’


Lapses at high-security CDC labs reveal culture of negligence

Noelle Swan writes for Christian Science Monitor:

‘Revelations of safety breaches at federal biosecurity laboratories reveal gaping holes in safety protocols, a lack of independent oversight, and an apparent culture of hubris among researchers who work with dangerous biological agents, biosecurity experts say.

In the past week, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced three separate incidents:

  • In June, scientists at the CDC’s Bioterrorism Rapid Response and Advanced Technology lab exposed 80 unprotected workers to pathogenic anthrax.
  • Weeks earlier, the CDC’s influenza lab shipped samples of a benign avian flu virus that had been cross-contaminated with more pernicious strain to a US Department of Agriculture facility.
  • Researchers at a Federal Drug Administration lab operated by National Institutes and Health uncovered long forgotten vials containing the smallpox virus circa 1954 that were supposed to be consigned to international repositories.

The incidents have shone a light on a broader issue of lapses in safety and security at bio labs operated and funded by the federal government.’


New super-black material so dark it’s like staring ‘into a black hole’

Sebastian Anthony reports for Extreme Tech:

‘At a nondescript industrial park in south England, scientists have created a new super-black material — fashioned out of carbon nanotubes — that is so dark it’s like “looking at a black hole.” The material, called Vantablack, absorbs all but 0.035% of the incident light that bounces off it, meaning your eyes essentially can’t see it — you can only see the space around it, and then infer that there must be something occupying that eerie abyss. Vantablack’s first customers are in the defense and space sectors, where the material can be used to make a whole variety of stealth craft and weaponry, and more sensitive telescopes that can detect the faintest of faraway stars.’


VA rejects link between Gulf War service and cancers

Kelly S. Kennedy reports for USA Today:

Soldiers with the U.S. Army's 7th Corps huddle in a bunker in eastern Saudi Arabia with gas masks and chemical suits just after U.S. planes started bombing Iraq on Jan. 18, 1991.‘The Department of Veterans Affairs has rejected a request from members of Congress and veterans advocates to make brain cancer, lung cancer and migraines presumptive conditions for Gulf War veterans. Officials said they cannot prove the high rate of these illnesses among Gulf War vets are related to military service.

VA officials said the number of brain cancer deaths for soldiers exposed to sarin gas was too low to be conclusive, though it was double the rate of soldiers not exposed. And the rate of lung cancer deaths, though 15 percent higher than those who did not serve in the 1991 Gulf War, is “inconclusive” because researchers did not know how many of the service members smoke.’


America’s Biggest Arms Sale Of 2014 Is To A Country With Fewer Than 300,000 Citizens

Armin Rosen reports for Business Insider:

21430bf6caebadc8b9816559b13f60e2‘Qatar is purchasing $11 billion in Patriot missile batteries and Apache attack helicopters from the United States, according to AFP. It’s the largest single sale of U.S. weaponry in 2014, and it’s to a country with only 278,000 citizens (and about 1.5 million expatriates).

With this purchase, Qatar might be swapping soft power for military might. The gas-rich emirate gambled on the region-wide success of the Muslim Brotherhood in the years after the “Arab Spring” protests. But its strategy toppled with the military coup that removed Mohammed Morsi in Egypt. Qatar’s neighbors also became increasingly suspicious of its support for Islamist movements throughout the Middle East, leading to one of the biggest diplomatic crises in the history of the Gulf monarchies.’


Americans Have Spent Enough Money On A Broken Plane To Buy Every Homeless Person A Mansion

Hayes Brown reports for Think Progress:

An F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in its natural habitat: on the ground‘Just days before its international debut at an airshow in the United Kingdom, the entire fleet of the Pentagon’s next generation fighter plane — known as the F-35 II Lightning, or the Joint Strike Fighter — has been grounded, highlighting just what a boondoggle the project has been. With the vast amounts spent so far on the aircraft, the United States could have worked wonders, including providing every homeless person in the U.S. a $600,000 home.

It’s hard to argue against the need to modernize aircraft used to defend the country and counter enemies overseas, especially if you’re a politician. But the Joint Strike Fighter program has been a mess almost since its inception, with massive cost overruns leading to its current acquisition price-tag of $398.6 billion — an increase of $7.4 billion since last year. That breaks down to costing about $49 billion per year since work began in 2006 and the project is seven years behind schedule. Over its life-cycle, estimated at about 55 years, operating and maintaining the F-35 fleet will cost the U.S. a little over $1 trillion. By contrast, the entirety of the Manhattan Project — which created the nuclear bomb from scratch — cost about $55 billion in today’s dollars.’


The Lies that Lead to War (and the Complicity of the Media): Interview with Charles Lewis

‘As the exploding crisis in Iraq spotlights once again the tragic record of American policy in the Middle East, Bill speaks with investigative journalist Charles Lewis, whose new book, “935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America’s Moral Integrity details the many government falsehoods that have led us into the current nightmare. Lewis details the deceptions and illusions that have caused “most Americans and their elected representatives to completely ignore facts, logic and reason in the rush to war.” A complicit partner, he says, is a media intent on preserving the status quo and never offending the ruling elite.

Lewis tells Bill, “An outrageous thing happened. We lost $2 trillion. More than 100,000 people died. Folks are going to be maimed for life in the tens of thousands… And no one has ever acknowledged that this was a war on a lark. It was a complete war of choice, because a certain little faction wanted to do it and they orchestrated it… Did they make statements that weren’t true? The answer is yes.” This week’s show begins with an essay by Bill on the foresight of the legendary Lawrence of Arabia, who, after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, predicted the trap in which the West would fall attempting to interfere in the Middle East.’ (Bill Moyers)

Corporations Making a Killing As Billions Are Poured Into Border Enforcement: Interview with Todd Miller

Blackwater: A case study of contractor scandals

‘Over the past decade, the private military contractor formerly known as Blackwater has provided security and backup for U.S. diplomats in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, each year of contracting has brought with it scandals, civilian deaths and operations violations. RT Correspondent Meghan Lopez walks us through a few of the most notorious scandals the firm was involved in and what came out of them.’ (RT America)

Blackwater Threatened To Kill State Deptartment Investigator

James Risen writes for The New York Times:

‘Just weeks before Blackwater guards fatally shot 17 civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, the State Department began investigating the security contractor’s operations in Iraq. But the inquiry was abandoned after Blackwater’s top manager there issued a threat: “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” according to department reports. American Embassy officials in Baghdad sided with Blackwater rather than the State Department investigators as a dispute over the probe escalated in August 2007, the previously undisclosed documents show. The officials told the investigators that they had disrupted the embassy’s relationship with the security contractor and ordered them to leave the country, according to the reports.

After returning to Washington, the chief investigator wrote a scathing report to State Department officials documenting misconduct by Blackwater employees and warning that lax oversight of the company, which had a contract worth more than $1 billion to protect American diplomats, had created “an environment full of liability and negligence.” “The management structures in place to manage and monitor our contracts in Iraq have become subservient to the contractors themselves,” the investigator, Jean C. Richter, wrote in an Aug. 31, 2007, memo to State Department officials. “Blackwater contractors saw themselves as above the law,” he said, adding that the “hands off” management resulted in a situation in which “the contractors, instead of Department officials, are in command and in control.”’


U.S. Lays Groundwork to Reduce Land Mines and Join Global Treaty

Rick Gladstone reports for The New York Times:

‘After five years of study, the Obama administration put the United States on a course Friday to eventually sign the global treaty that bans antipersonnel land mines, announcing steps that will gradually reduce the American stockpile and find ways to adjust for any military disadvantage in purging the weapons.

The announcement, made on the final day of a conference in Maputo, Mozambique, assessing the progress of the 15-year-old treaty, was a modest surprise to disarmament advocates. They had grown frustrated with what they viewed as the administration’s ambivalence on the treaty, known as the Ottawa Convention, which 161 nations have signed.

Many disarmament advocates had hoped that President Obama would move quickly to sign the treaty in his first term. The agreement had been negotiated with American encouragement during President Bill Clinton’s tenure in the 1990s, then renounced during the eight years that President George W. Bush was in office. But the Obama administration repeatedly declined to commit to signing the treaty, saying it was under review.’


How Military Exercises Are Killing Millions of Sea Creatures Every Year

Abby Martin goes over the effect war games have on the environment, citing the US and China engaging in the world’s largest naval exercise, as well as how the use of sonar testing harming millions of marine mammals.’ (Breaking the Set)

EU wants stronger military industry

Nikolaj Nielsen reports for EU Observer:

‘The European Commission on Tuesday (24 June) laid out plans on how to boost the EU’s military and defence industries. It wants to create a single market on defence, make it more profitable, and intensify and merge research with the civil sector.

Antonio Tajani, the EU industry commissioner, said greater defence collaboration is needed between member states to enable the EU to “adequately face its security challenges”. Tajani described the plan in terms of helping the EU pull itself out of the economic crisis… The 14-page plan wants to expand on ‘dual-use technology’, in which equipment can be used for both civilian and military objectives.’


A Nuclear War Would … Boost Property Values?

Neal Colgrass reports for Newser:

‘Sure, nuclear attacks on the US could level populated areas—but two papers conclude that Americans would see an economic upside, Medium reports. The first, a 1969 report by the Institute for Defense Analyses, looks at a possible nuclear strike on Houston, Texas. It says that Americans would be “relatively” wealthier after a nuclear strike. How so? Buildings would be vaporized at a lower rate than people, so survivors would have their choice of domicile. “In a macabre sense, the surviving population would be individually ‘wealthier’ than before the attack,” says the report. And the bigger the bomb, the bigger the boom: A 10-megaton blast would nearly double property values, while a nuclear strike ten times that size would multiply values by four.’


Israeli court upholds nuclear whistleblower’s travel ban

Richard Norton-Taylor reports for The Guardian:

‘Mordechai Vanunu, incarcerated for more than a decade in solitary confinement after exposing Israel‘s nuclear weapons programme, has been prevented from attending meetings in Britain to promote the protection of whistleblowers, including Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning.

A decision by the Israeli supreme court to uphold a travel ban on Vanunu, 28 years after he first revealed Israel’s nuclear secrets, was sharply criticised on Tuesday by Amnesty International. He had been asked to address a meeting on whistleblowers on Tuesday sponsored by Amnesty and was invited by more than 50 senior peers and MPs to a meeting in Westminster on Wednesday.

The supreme court judges accepted the Israeli interior ministry’s claim that, if allowed to leave the country, Vanunu could damage Israel and its citizens with the information he could reveal about the country’s nuclear capacity.’


$40-billion missile defense system proves unreliable

David Willman writes for the L.A. Times:

‘[...] The Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, or GMD, was supposed to protect Americans against a chilling new threat from “rogue states” such as North Korea and Iran. But a decade after it was declared operational, and after $40 billion in spending, the missile shield cannot be relied on, even in carefully scripted tests that are much less challenging than an actual attack would be, a Los Angeles Times investigation has found. The Missile Defense Agency has conducted 16 tests of the system’s ability to intercept a mock enemy warhead. It has failed in eight of them, government records show.

Despite years of tinkering and vows to fix technical shortcomings, the system’s performance has gotten worse, not better, since testing began in 1999. Of the eight tests held since GMD became operational in 2004, five have been failures. The last successful intercept was on Dec. 5, 2008. Another test is planned at Vandenberg, on the Santa Barbara County coast, later this month. The GMD system was rushed into the field after President George W. Bush, in 2002, ordered a crash effort to deploy “an initial set of missile defense capabilities.” The hurried deployment has compromised its effectiveness in myriad ways.’


Rivals in ‘knife fight’ for Pentagon cash

Megan R. Wilson reports for The Hill:

‘The United Launch Alliance is caught in a “Beltway knife fight” with SpaceX for some of the most lucrative contracts at the Pentagon. The alliance, which is made up of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, now has sole dominion over contracts with the Defense Department to launch military and spy satellites into space, as they are the only companies certified to provide the services. But that could soon change. SpaceX, a relatively new aerospace company founded by billionaire Elon Musk, argues that Boeing and Lockheed have engineered the system in their favor, and is demanding certification.’


Designer of the F-15 bluntly explains that the F-35 is a big pile of shit

SIPRI: Nuclear forces reduced but modernisations continue, global estimate at 16,300 warheads

Fredrik Dahl and Lennart Simonsson report for Haaretz:

‘Nuclear-armed states are modernizing their arsenals and appear determined to keep sizable numbers of such weapons of mass destruction for the foreseeable future, the SIPRI think-tank said in its annual report on Monday. Five years after U.S. President Barack Obama set out a vision of a world without nuclear weapons, the findings by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute made clear just how distant that goal remains. While there has been a steady decline in the number of nuclear warheads in the world over the past five years, nine countries still had a total of 16,300 such weapons in early 2014 – down by 970, or 5.6 percent from the previous year – of which some 4,000 were operational. And the pace of reductions seems to be slowing compared with a decade ago, the Swedish think-tank said. “Once again this year, the nuclear weapon-possessing states took little action to indicate a genuine willingness to work toward complete dismantlement of their nuclear arsenals,” wrote SIPRI researchers Shannon Kile and Phillip Patton Schell.’


NY Times: “Lack of Major Wars May Be Hurting Economic Growth”

Tyler Cowen writes for The New York Times:

Ian Morris War! What Is It Good For?

‘[...] The world just hasn’t had that much warfare lately, at least not by historical standards. Some of the recent headlines about Iraq or South Sudan make our world sound like a very bloody place, but today’s casualties pale in light of the tens of millions of people killed in the two world wars in the first half of the 20th century. Even the Vietnam War had many more deaths than any recent war involving an affluent country.

Counterintuitive though it may sound, the greater peacefulness of the world may make the attainment of higher rates of economic growth less urgent and thus less likely. This view does not claim that fighting wars improves economies, as of course the actual conflict brings death and destruction. The claim is also distinct from the Keynesian argument that preparing for war lifts government spending and puts people to work. Rather, the very possibility of war focuses the attention of governments on getting some basic decisions right — whether investing in science or simply liberalizing the economy. Such focus ends up improving a nation’s longer-run prospects.

It may seem repugnant to find a positive side to war in this regard, but a look at American history suggests we cannot dismiss the idea so easily. Fundamental innovations such as nuclear power, the computer and the modern aircraft were all pushed along by an American government eager to defeat the Axis powers or, later, to win the Cold War. The Internet was initially designed to help this country withstand a nuclear exchange, and Silicon Valley had its origins with military contracting, not today’s entrepreneurial social media start-ups. The Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite spurred American interest in science and technology, to the benefit of later economic growth.’


Dutch auditor calls for more transparency on NATO spending

Anthony Deutsch reports for Reuters:

‘Top Dutch auditors, backed by the government, have called on NATO to be more transparent about its finances, asserting that hundreds of millions of euros in annual spending at the military alliance cannot be properly accounted for. The Netherlands Court of Audit, an independent organization which reviews government spending, said on a website launched Tuesday that NATO’s financial management “is not in order” and it wanted a wider debate about its spending.

…”NATO gives hardly any account to the public of its non-military expenses,” the Court of Audit said in a statement. “There is therefore no clear answer to the question: is NATO delivering value for the taxpayers’ money?” The NATO budget for military, civilian and investment projects was 2.4 billion euros ($3.27 billion) in 2013, according to accounts posted on the NATO website, the audit board said. But it was “not possible, however, to retrieve further detailed information from publicly available sources about the amount member countries spent on various NATO entities and missions and for what purpose,” it said. The NATO spokeswoman said the organization’s budget is continuously audited by the independent International Board of Auditors for NATO.’


The First Strike Game: Are You Ready for Nuclear War?

Paul Craig Roberts writes for CounterPunch:

‘Pay close attention to Steven Starr’s guest column, “The Lethality of Nuclear Weapons.”    Washington thinks nuclear war can be won and is planning for a first strike on Russia, and perhaps China, in order to prevent any challenge to Washington’s world hegemony.

The plan is far advanced, and the implementation of the plan is underway. As I have reported previously, US strategic doctrine was changed and the role of nuclear missiles was elevated from a retaliatory role to an offensive first strike role.  US anti-ballistic missile (ABM) bases have been established in Poland on Russia’s frontier, and other bases are planned.  When completed Russia will be ringed with US missile bases.

Anti-ballistic missiles, known as “star wars,” are weapons designed to intercept and destroy ICBMs.  In Washington’s war doctrine, the US hits Russia with a first strike, and whatever retaliatory force Russia might have remaining is prevented from reaching the US by the shield of ABMs.’


Billions wasted on unused equipment during war in Afghanistan

From CBS News:

‘The price of war in Afghanistan has been staggering for American taxpayers, and as U.S. troops continue to withdraw, there is new information about wasted spending by the military. Eight inflatable boats were bought by the Pentagon in 2010 for $3 million, reports CBS News’ Chip Reid. They were to be used by the Afghan National Police to patrol a key river separating Afghanistan from Uzbekistan.

Today, however, they sit unused in a navy warehouse in Virginia. “It’s like you gave your credit card to your teenage daughter or son and then you just never looked at the bills,” said John F. Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction. The future of those boats is unclear.  “They’re probably going to be sold for scrap or sold for pennies on the dollar,” Sopko said. More than $100 billion has been allocated for relief and reconstruction. Tracking that money has been next to impossible.’


The night America very nearly nuked itself

David Usborne reports for The Independent:

‘Only dumb luck saved America from a nightmare scenario in January 1961 when an Air Force B-52 carrying two nuclear bombs broke apart in flight dropping the weapons on farmland near the city of Goldsboro in North Carolina. Both bombs had been knocked by the accident into “armed” mode ready to detonate as they fell from the sky.

Documents declassified by the National Security Archive this week leave little doubt as to how close America came to catastrophe. “Multi-Megaton Bomb Was Virtually ‘Armed’ When It Crashed to Earth” the headline on the report reads. Just as chilling was an observation from the then US Secretary of Defence, Robert McNamara. “By the slightest margin of chance, literally the failure of two wires to cross, a nuclear explosion was averted,” he said. “The impact of the aircraft break-up initiated the fusing sequence for both bombs,” the summary of the documents said.’


UK to step up collaboration with US over nuclear warheads

Richard Norton-Taylor reports for The Guardian:

Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE), site of a visit by a senior American nuclear officia‘Britain is stepping up its cooperation with the US over the design of nuclear warheads, raising new questions about the independence of the UK deterrent, according to documents disclosed after a freedom of information request. Increased cooperation on warhead design and the exchange of material crucial in the manufacture and stockpiling of nuclear weapons will be sealed in a pact being drawn up by senior officials from the two countries.

The pact, renewing the 1958 mutual defence agreement (MDA) between the UK and US, is expected to be signed in a discreet ceremony in Washington in the next few weeks. It does not have to be debated or voted on in parliament. Though the agreement is incorporated in US law, it has no legal status in Britain. A document prepared for a visit by a senior American nuclear official to the Aldermaston atomic weapons establishment (AWE) refers to “enhanced collaboration” on “nuclear explosive package design and certification”, on “maintenance of existing stockpiles”, and the “possible development of safer, more secure, warheads”.’


7 years later, Blackwater guards go on trial

Pete Yost reports for The Associated Press:

‘After years of delays, four former guards from the security firm Blackwater Worldwide are facing trial in the killings of 14 Iraqi civilians and the wounding of 18 others in bloodshed that inflamed anti-American sentiment around the globe. Whether the shootings were self-defense or an unprovoked attack, the carnage of Sept. 16, 2007 was seen by critics of the George W. Bush administration as an illustration of a war gone horribly wrong.

A trial in the nearly 7-year-old case is scheduled to begin with jury selection on Wednesday [June 9th], barring last-minute legal developments. Prosecutors plan to call dozens of Iraqis to testify in what the Justice Department says is likely to be the largest group of foreign witnesses ever to travel to the U.S. to participate in a criminal trial. The violence at the Nisoor Square traffic circle in downtown Baghdad was the darkest episode of contractor violence during the war in Iraq, becoming one more diplomatic disaster in a war that had many. Iraqi officials, who wanted the guards tried in a local court, were outraged. In the trial, defense lawyers will focus on the guards’ state of mind in a city that was a battleground.’