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Monday, December 27, 2004

Kerry Files Motion to Protect Ohio Vote Evidence

This afternoon, an attorney representing the Kerry/Edwards presidential campaign filed two important motions to preserve and augment evidence of alleged election fraud in the November election. The motions were filed in the matter titled Yost et al. v. Delaware County Board of Elections and J. Kenneth Blackwell (Civil Action No. C2-04-1139) with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. The document is titled "Motion Of Intervenor-Defendant Kerry-Edwards 2004, Inc. For A Preservation Order And For A Leave To Take Limited Expedited Discovery."

The purpose of the motions is twofold: A) To preserve all ballots and voting machines pertaining to the Yost matter for investigation and analysis; and B) To make available for sworn deposition testimony a technician for Triad Systems, the company that produced and maintained many of the voting machines used in the Ohio election. The technician has been accused of tampering with the recount process in Hocking County, Ohio, though other counties are believed to have also been involved. Any officers of Triad Systems who have information pertaining to said tampering are likewise subject to subpoena for sworn deposition testimony.

If the judge in this case allows these motions, and these individuals are served with subpoenas for deposition, the information disclosed under oath could have a major effect on the case. Likewise, judicial approval of these motions will open the door to forensic analysis of both the ballots cast and the machines they were counted on. If tampering took place, such an analysis could reveal it.

The document filed in Ohio reads as follows:

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26, Intervenor-Defendant Kerry-Edwards 2004, Inc. hereby moves this Court for an order preserving materials from the 2004 presidential election and for leave to take a limited number of depositions on an expedited schedule. The depositions and preservation order sought by Intervenor- Defendant Kerry-Edwards 2004, Inc. are the same as those sought in the motion filed on December 23, 2004 by Defendants NVRI, Cobb and Badnarik. Intervenor-Defendant Kerry-Edwads 2004, Inc. hereby adopts the memorandum and proposed order filed by the Defendants in support of its own motion.

As has been previously reported on truthout, this filing for the preservation and augmentation of evidence is centered on Hocking County, Ohio. According to a sworn affidavit by Sherole Eaton, Hocking County deputy director of elections, a technician for Triad Systems entered the county elections office on December 10 and dismantled one of the vote tabulation computers.

Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb, a central figure in the Yost matter, described the incident as related to him by Eaton during a hearing on the matter chaired by Rep. John Conyers. "A representative from Triad Systems came into a county board of elections office un-announced," said Cobb. "He said he was just stopping by to see if they had any questions about the upcoming recount. He then headed into the back room where the Triad supplied Tabulator (a card reader and older PC with custom software) is kept. He told them there was a problem and the system had a bad battery and had 'lost all of its data.' He then took the computer apart and started swapping parts in and out of it and another 'spare' tower type PC also in the room.

"He may have had spare parts in his coat," continued Cobb, "as one of the BOE people moved it and remarked as to how very heavy it was. He finally re-assembled everything and said it was working but to not turn it off. He then asked which precinct would be counted for the 3% recount test, and the one which had been selected as it had the right number of votes, was relayed to him. He then went back and did something else to the tabulator computer. The Triad Systems representative suggested that since the hand count had to match the machine count exactly, and since it would be hard to memorize the several numbers which would be needed to get the count to come out exactly right, that they should post this series of numbers on the wall where they would not be noticed by observers."

Responding to Eaton's allegations, Rep. Conyers dispatched a letter of complaint to Brett Rapp, President of Triad. In it, Conyers wrote, "I am concerned that your company has operated - either intentionally or negligently - in a manner which will thwart the recount law in Ohio by preventing validly cast ballots in the presidential election from being counted. You have done this by preparing 'cheat sheets' providing county election officials with information such that they would more easily be able to ignore valid ballots that were thrown out by the machines during the initial count. The purpose of the Ohio recount law is to randomly check vote counts to see if they match machine counts. By attempting to ascertain the precinct to be recounted in advance, and then informing the election officials of the number of votes they need to count by hand to make sure it matches the machine count, is an invitation to completely ignore the purpose of the recount law."

The filing by the Kerry/Edwards campaign is significant. The Yost matter deals with a recount of the votes cast in Ohio during the election. In order for a judge to consider such a motion, the plaintiff must be able to prove irreparable harm in the matter at hand, and must also be able to prove a significant chance that the case will succeed on the merits. The stumbling point for the Green Party and Libertarian Party in this matter has been the ability to prove that potential for success, because no recount would deliver an Ohio victory to them. A recount could very well deliver Ohio to Kerry, thus fulfilling the success on the merits requirement.

In the end, this filing amounts to a "Me, too" from the Kerry/Edwards campaign. This case would not exist in any form without the dedicated efforts of Green Party candidate David Cobb and Libertarian Party candidate Michael Badnarik. Though the inclusion of Kerry into this matter strengthens the case significantly, Cobb and Badnarik deserve the lion's share of credit for carrying the matter to this point.

Attorney John Bonifaz serves as general counsel for the National Voting Rights Institute, and is co-counsel for Cobb and Badnarik in this matter. Reached for comment on this Kerry filing, Bonifaz said, "We are pleased that the Kerry Edwards campaign has joined our motion to preserve all of the ballots and election machinery in the presidential election in Ohio and to investigate the potential tampering of voting machines by Triad Governmental Systems, Inc, prior to the start of the recount. We welcome the Bush Cheney campaign joining our motion as well. The integrity of this recount is at stake. All candidates ought to join together in ensuring the proper counting of every citizen's vote."

William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and international bestseller of two books - 'War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know' and 'The Greatest Sedition is Silence.'

The US falls for the Soviet trap in Iraq

December 27, marked the 25th anniversary of the Soviet Union's fateful invasion of Afghanistan. As carnage in Iraq continues unabated, the record of the United States-led occupation looks increasingly comparable to that of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. In some ways, the scale of the damage inflicted upon Iraqis and the costs to the occupiers have already surpassed what was the case in Afghanistan.

During a nearly decade-long Soviet occupation, Afghan losses included an estimated 1 million killed, an undisclosed number injured and some 7 million dislocated as internal and external refugees. The Soviets officially put their losses at more than 14,000 troops dead and nearly 50,000 injured, with the total financial cost at about $US60 billion.

The Soviets largely kept Kabul and most major cities beyond the reach of the US-backed Islamic resistance (the mujahideen).

However, Kabul was turned into a main battleground after the Soviets withdrew and their surrogate regime collapsed in April 1992 when the mujahideen took power, resulting in an internecine conflict.

In comparison, the record of the US-led occupation of Iraq appears to be somewhat worse. An assessment over the past 20 months clearly reveals that proportionally the US has caused more damage to Iraq and its people and has incurred more human and material costs than the Soviets did in Afghanistan.

Although no official statistics are available for Iraqi losses, a recent Johns Hopkins University analysis put forward an estimate of 98,000 Iraqis killed between the invasion and October this year. Erring on the side of caution, the authors excluded the town of Falluja, the scene of major US operations in April and November. If one adds the number of Iraqi lives lost in these operations, the total of Iraqi dead would increase further. Then there are the thousands of injured Iraqis.

The official figures put the number of US soldiers killed at more than 1300 and the total cost at $US145 billion ($188 billion). But these figures include neither Americans who died later as a result of battlefield injuries or friendly fire or accident or suicide, nor those expenses embedded in the normal annual American defence budget. Further, the US has not released any figures for the injured, which unofficially are said to run close to 10,000.

Yet the occupying forces have not been able to immunise Baghdad or other major cities and towns from opposition attacks. When the US performance in Iraq is compared with the Soviet Union's in Afghanistan within a 20-month time-frame, the US-led occupation is seen as more damaging and costly. While the costs of the occupation of Afghanistan substantially contributed to the demise of the Soviet Union, this of course will not happen to the US.

However, if the present trends in Iraq endure for as long as the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan lasted, the US stands to sustain critical political and economic damage, with an expanding vulnerability to wider opposition within the Arab and Muslim worlds and to serious setbacks in the war on terrorism.

Yet the final outcome for the US may prove to be the same as it was for the Soviet Union: a humiliating defeat and withdrawal.

This is a possibility that seems to get closer to reality by the day, although the Bush Administration's ideological blinkers have prevented it from seeing it. However, it will have to come to terms with this reality and work out an exit strategy accordingly. Otherwise, George Bush and his leading allies, Britain's Tony Blair and Australia's John Howard, will be seen to have locked their countries in a quagmire which may prove to be very costly for them and the world in the long run.

Amin Saikal is professor of political science and director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies (the Middle East and Central Asian Studies) at the Australian National University.

Copyright © 2004. The Sydney Morning Herald

The Right's Assault on Kofi Annan

Last June UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said of the media coverage of the so-called Oil for Food Scandal, "It's a bit like lynching, actually." By December the vigilantes were lining up, swinging their ropes. The neoconservative and paleoconservative assault on him and the UN has been like a slightly slower version of the Swift Boat veterans' campaign against Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry--right down to the halfhearted and belated disavowals by George W. Bush.

Listening to the cable pundits, you would never suspect that there is no proof at this point that Annan, or indeed anyone else at the UN, did anything wrong. Charges of corruption against UN official Benon Sevan are suspect at best, given that they come via Ahmad Chalabi, who was also the source of the discredited information about Iraq's illusory weapons, as well as the assurances that Iraqis would greet US and British forces as liberators. Nor is there any evidence that Annan used his influence to give Cotecna, a company that employed his son, the job of monitoring contracts under the oil-for-food program, and no proof that Cotecna did anything illegal or corrupt. Although Annan's son certainly let his father down by not telling him of Cotecna's continuing "non-compete" payments to him, paternal resignations in response to the sins of prodigal sons have not been a great American tradition--certainly not under the Bush dynasty.

There are real questions about Saddam Hussein's oil sales, both inside and outside the oil-for-food program, but all the serious investigations, such as that by the US Government Accountability Office, make it clear that most of the revenue he raised had nothing to do with the UN, and that the UN did nothing without the explicit or implicit support of the United States acting through the Security Council.

The reality is that the current calls for Annan's head are provoked by his opposition to America's pre-emptive war in Iraq. On December 4 the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the hometown newspaper of Senator Norm Coleman, who has called for Annan's resignation, provided perhaps the most succinct explanation of what lies behind the attacks. Describing Coleman's call as a "sordid move," the editorial explained: "For months before the election, the right-wing constellation of blogs and talk radio was alive with incendiary rhetoric about Annan and the oil-for-food scandal.... This is really all about Annan's refusal to toe the Bush line on Iraq and the administration's generally unilateral approach to foreign affairs. The right-wingers hate Annan and saw in the food-for-oil program a possible chink in his armor. They went after it with a venomous fury."

The genesis of the oil-for-food program was Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, which prompted the UN to impose sanctions to prevent Iraq from selling its oil. After the war the sanctions were retained, officially until Iraq complied with the cease-fire terms, particularly on disarmament, although US officials made no secret of the fact that they would veto the lifting of sanctions as long as Saddam remained in power.

In 1996, with sanctions causing dire hardship for ordinary Iraqis, the Security Council authorized the oil-for-food program, under which Iraq could sell its oil on the world markets and use some of the proceeds to buy food and other supplies as long as the cash was deposited in UN-controlled escrow accounts (no less than 30 percent went to pay reparations). Each contract had to be approved by the Security Council's 661 Committee.

Although UN staff told the committee that Saddam was skimming money from some of the contracts by selling the oil at a reduced price and then getting kickbacks, none of the members, including the United States and Britain, put a hold on any of them.

Needless to say, there are not many US officials prepared to come forward and admit this. Nor are many in the present Administration highlighting the implicit conclusion of the Iraq Survey Group (the team charged by Bush with examining Saddam's arsenal): that the sanctions modified by the oil-for-food program actually succeeded in their aims of insuring that the Iraqi people were fed, while oil revenues did not rebuild Iraq's armory of prohibited weapons--which is why the invaders were not able to find them.

The story of how the neocon echo chamber made oil for food into a UN scandal begins with Claudia Rosett, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who is now "journalist in residence" at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD). In a 2002 Journal op-ed, just after Bush broke with his own hard-liners by going to the UN to ask for backing for an Iraq invasion, she called the program "an unholy union between Saddam and the U.N.," in which "Saddam has been getting around the sanctions via surcharge-kickback deals and smuggling." In an April 2003 New York Times piece she said "lifting the sanctions would take away the United Nations' remaining leverage in Iraq. If the oil-for-food operation is extended, however, it will have a tremendous influence on shaping the new Iraq. Before that is allowed to happen, let's see the books." Denying that the foundation, or for that matter Chalabi, set her on her quest, Rosett says she began looking at the program as part of a broader look at the Iraq economy, and that as soon as its structure was explained to her, "it was obvious that there was enormous opportunity there for graft."

The idea that the UN has "failed" by not backing the US invasion of Iraq and that everything Saddam did could be laid at its door was very much part of the house philosophy of FDD, whose masthead is a comprehensive list of those who pushed for the invasion of Iraq. The organization itself, as one observer commented, is the Project for the New American Century--the major cheerleader for the Iraq war--in another form. Its board includes Steve Forbes, Jack Kemp, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Frank Lautenberg, Newt Gingrich and James Woolsey, not to mention Richard Perle and Charles Krauthammer. Tom Barry, policy director of the International Relations Center and historian of the neocon network, says FDD "has suddenly become a major player on the right and among neocon policy institutes, one reason being that it is so richly endowed." As its own website boasts, it is closely connected with the Iraqis around the Iraqi National Congress and Chalabi.

Clifford May, FDD president and former RNC spokesman, is eager to admit that "oil for food is something we have been working hard on" but denies "that either Claudia or I have called for [Annan's] resignation." That's not because May admires the UN; he calls it "an institution badly in need of reform, whether it's for the sex scandals in the Congo or for the pretense some people in it have to become a super government for the world, or a world Supreme Court." Asked her opinion about the use others have made of her work, Rosett says, "I have focused on reporting the story, and where I have so far called for changes at the UN, have urged much greater transparency and accountability."

There is indeed a lack of transparency at the UN, but all those contracts were examined by the sanctions committee and the US State Department. Rosett denies "going after" the UN and says that "whatever was done wrong should be brought to light." But she is adamant that the UN is most at fault and she has neglected to give similar attention to US diplomats and other actors.

In subsequent articles Rosett maintained the pressure, but the issue really only exploded into the wider media world in 2004, after her revelations last March in National Review that Annan's son had been employed by Cotecna (followed several months later with the news that he had continued to get "noncompete" payments after he left). From January onward, the claims by Washington's then-favorite Iraqi, Chalabi, that retiring oil-for-food chief Sevan was on a list of 267 people for whom Saddam had authorized commissions on oil trades led to a rash of stories by Rosett and others focusing, as Chalabi had, on the one alleged UN connection.

When asked about Sevan in the Senate, Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group, admitted that his only evidence against Sevan was "what was indicated in Iraqi documents"--i.e., Chalabi's list--which has still not been authenticated. Indeed, another person named on the list was George Galloway, a British MP who has just won a $290,000 libel claim against the Daily Telegraph for its unwarranted inferences from that fact.

Rosett and her colleagues ran hot with the story, not least on MSNBC and Fox, which retained her as a paid "oil-for-food" contributor. Soon the scandal was "the biggest in the history of the Universe," according to her FDD colleague and Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer. William Safire picked up on Rosett's work and fulminated in the New York Times, drawing in House International Relations Committee chair Henry Hyde, who's since been on the case with all the assiduity one would expect of someone who'd said the United States should leave the UN.

Monica Crowley, hosting Scarborough Country on MSNBC in November, inadvertently substantiated the Star Tribune's claim of a "right-wing constellation." She complained that the "elite" press was ignoring the oil-for-food story, "with the exception of an intrepid reporter like our friend Claudia Rosett.... Bill Safire over at the New York Times, sort of the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal and the New York Sun, they have been covering it. But why haven't we seen more extensive coverage? This is the world's biggest swindle?" She modestly omitted MSNBC, Fox and the conservative radio circuit from the list.

Like the Swift Boat story, even though the fuss was essentially confined to these outlets, the conservatives made so much of the affair that the rest of the media seem to have concluded that there must be a flicker under all the smoke. Certainly the serious papers seem not to have thought they had a dog in this fight or that it was their job to exonerate the UN. And the UN's own response was, as usual, tepid.

Understandably, Annan had assumed that his appointment in April of former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker to head an inquiry, backed by the Security Council, would see a return to sanity. However, the same people who'd demanded the inquiry then began to accuse Annan of underfunding it. When he found $30 million for it from residual oil-for-food funds set aside for administration purposes, Rosett, Safire and the rest accused him of taking bread from Iraqi children's mouths. The New York Post denounced the investigation as a cover-up, while Safire referred insultingly to Annan's "manipulative abuse of Paul Volcker," whose reputation for integrity, he said, "is being shredded by a web of sticky-fingered officials and see-no-evil bureaucrats desperate to protect the man on top who hired him to substitute for--and thereby to abort--prompt and truly independent investigation."

The witch hunters kept the caldron bubbling along until, at the end of October, Annan wrote a private letter to Iraqi Interim President Iyad Allawi, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush, suggesting that a frontal assault on Falluja was not the way to win Iraqi hearts and minds. After all, at the request of Washington, the UN is supposed to be overseeing elections there. Then the pot bubbled over. Within days, Fox's Bill O'Reilly was pontificating that "it's becoming increasingly clear that UN chief Kofi Annan is hurting the USA." On November 18 former New York Mayor Edward Koch followed with a column in the New York Sun claiming that Annan's "ability to lead the UN is seriously impaired. He no longer has the confidence of America because of his failure to create a consensus on Iraq among the permanent members." On November 24 National Review declared that "Annan should either resign, if he is honorable, or be removed, if he is not." This was echoed on November 29 by Safire, who ended a New York Times column with the comment that the "scandal" would not end "until Kofi Annan, even if personally innocent, resigns--having, through initial ineptitude and final obstructionism, brought dishonor on the Secretariat of the United Nations." Finally, on December 1 in the Wall Street Journal, Norm Coleman, the chair of the Senate investigations committee, called for Annan's resignation. Inspired by his example, Representative Scott Garrett raved a few days later, "To me the question should not be whether Kofi Annan should be in charge. To me, the larger question is whether he should be in jail."

When asked, President Bush pointedly did not repudiate Coleman's call with any expression of confidence in Annan but simply called for the investigation to take its course. A week later, after Blair had joined the rest of the world in expressing warm support for Annan and delegates in the General Assembly had given him a standing ovation, even the White House realized the damage Coleman & Co. had done to American diplomacy.

The best that Bush could manage was to have his lame-duck UN ambassador, John Danforth, give a halfhearted expression of support on his behalf. An unabashed Coleman read between the lines and held his ground: "I simply do not share the Administration's position on this matter," he said. "It is my personal and steadfast belief that Mr. Annan should step down in order to protect the long-term integrity and credibility of the United Nations."

The attacks on Annan and the UN are not likely to abate soon. Bashing the UN is an issue that allows the unilateral interventionists to ring the till, gathering support from paleocon isolationists across the country. As one GOP staffer embarrassed by Coleman's Joe McCarthy imitations gloomily predicted, the right wing is not going to drop the subject, because "they raise too much money out of bashing the UN, from the big foundations and from those small-town Rush Limbaughs."

Former Gore 2000 campaign head Donna Brazile, who says she is reconsidering her affiliation with the FDD, denounced the calls for Annan's resignation before the investigation is finished. "I worked on Capitol Hill before Kofi Annan, and the UN has always been a dirty word there," Brazile noted. "It just goes back to the neocons and their entire approach to multilateral institutions and their role in the world. They've got the airwaves to themselves. I just hope the Democrats stand up against them on this issue."

If the Democrats want to do that, they should begin by distancing themselves from the Democratic Leadership Council's shameful call for Annan's resignation and join those who signed Representative Dennis Kucinich's letter deploring the attacks. And they should join Representative Henry Waxman in demanding that the Governmental Reform Committee investigate the real oil-for-food scandal: what happened to the more than $8 billion unspent from the oil-for-food program that the United States insisted be handed over to the "Iraq Development Fund," overseen by US occupation authority head Paul Bremer. The rest of the Security Council reluctantly agreed to this payment, but only on condition that the fund be monitored by international auditors. The auditors were never allowed to do their work, and it is now suspected that most of that money went to Halliburton on no-bid contracts. Now there are grounds for some resignations. But you know who won't be calling for them.

Ian Williams
The Nation

China Expands. Europe Rises. And the United States . . .

IT'S a risky business to predict the decline of the American empire. Ask Paul Kennedy, the Yale historian, who issued such a forecast in his 1987 book, "The Rise and Fall of Great Powers," only to witness an almost immediate American resurgence.

Yet the signposts, at the end of this year, are ominous. As an economic power, the United States no longer sets the rules, much less rule the game. As a military power, it vastly outguns the rest of the world, but has a harder time translating armed might into influence.

On March 1, the European Union announced that it was raising import tariffs on a long list of American products, and would go on raising them each month until Congress repealed a subsidy for American exporters that had been ruled illegal by the World Trade Organization. Congressmen railed against this intrusion but finally gave in. Americans realized that, in the global economy they largely created and for 60 years dominated, they could no longer do whatever they wanted.

Last month, China's president, Hu Jintao, embarked on a 12-day tour of Latin America, and wound up making commitments to invest $30 billion in the region. China is now Brazil's second largest trading partner and Chile's largest export market. In trade, technology, investment, education and culture, China has been displacing the United States all across Asia, and is now starting to do the same in America's backyard.

There is nothing necessarily alarming about an expansive China or an emergent Europe, except perhaps that they coincide with a growing American dependence on both.

The United States government spent $650 billion more this year than it raised in revenue, and financed the deficit largely by borrowing from foreign central banks, mainly those of Japan and China. They have been willing creditors because American consumers send much of the money right back by purchasing foreign-made products. It's a neat balancing act, to a point. But the American accumulated debt to foreign investors has now swelled to $3.3 trillion - 28 percent of gross domestic product, nearly double the share of four years ago.

In the 1990's, the United States admonished Mexico and Argentina to get their economic houses in order. This month, the Chinese premier gave Washington a strikingly similar lecture.

These imbalances are not inherently disastrous. The Chinese get something out of the deal, a ready consumer market for their overheated production lines. If they stop lending to the United States, it would cause a deep recession here, but then Americans could not buy as many of their goods, and the recession would ricochet right back to Asia.

It's a variation on the old joke: If you owe the bank $1 billion, the bank owns you; if you owe the bank $1 trillion, you own the bank.

But what if another trillion-dollar customer walked into the bank? The bankers might be more willing to foreclose on the debtor, knowing that they could pick up business from the new tycoon.

The European Union, in many respects, is looking more and more like this new tycoon. Its currency, the euro, has risen in value by 35 percent against the dollar in the last three years.

Again, that is not necessarily bad. In theory, a falling dollar makes American exports cheaper, attracting demand that then boosts the dollar; a rising euro crimps European exports, which then lowers the euro; equilibrium is restored. In reality, this process unfolds slowly and shakily: in October, for instance, American exports rose, but American imports soared, too.

A more serious consequence of the dollar's fall is that the euro has become more rewarding for foreign investors, and they are reacting accordingly. In 2001, Middle Eastern oil-producing countries kept 75 percent of their currency reserves in dollars; now the figure is 61 percent, with much of the rest in euros. Chinese and Russian central bankers are also shifting reserves. This trend, at some point, could set off a spiral: the dollar declines, causing further sell-offs, leading to a further decline, and so on.

When the dollar has fallen in the past, the United States was a net creditor and there was no serious rival currency. Neither condition holds true now. As The Economist recently put it, "Never before has the guardian of the world's main reserve currency been its biggest net debtor."

Financiers and diplomats are beginning to ask: How much longer will the dollar remain the world's principal reserve currency? One could also ask, how much longer can the United States remain, as Madeleine Albright put it, "the indispensable country" of world politics?

This year, the United States spent nearly as much on its military as all other countries combined. No other nation possesses, or aspires to, anything like the reach of American armed forces.

Yet, if someday the United States finds that it can no longer count on foreigners to bankroll its deficits, it may also find that it can no longer afford a globe-spanning military. The war in Iraq has already stretched America's forces to the limit. In the 1970's and 1980's, when Pentagon strategists spoke of a two-front war, they envisioned having to fight simultaneously in, say, Germany and Korea. Today, they mean Mosul and Falluja.

About 40 percent of the American troops in Iraq are from the National Guard and Reserves, "weekend warriors" who never figured on serving long combat tours. As a result, Guard recruitment has fallen by 30 percent. If there is no large Guard and Reserve, there is no large Army. In short, not only has the Iraq war been harder than many imagined, it has also made going to war elsewhere a less practical option - and a less credible threat.

The economic trends are worrisome because they stem not just from market forces but also from politics. As T. R. Reid notes in his new book "The United States of Europe," the euro "was specifically designed to challenge the global hegemony of the dollar." Similarly, China's rivalry with the United States in Asia and Latin America isn't a side effect of economics; it's an explicit ambition.

These challenges will take decades to unfold, and may not succeed. China may recoil from its manufacturing boom and its excesses; Europeans could revert to age-old continental tensions. The United States may revive itself through changes in policy.

Meanwhile, power is not transferring so much as dispersing. It may turn out, if trends continue, that no country or bloc of countries possesses the combination of economic and military power needed to reward the good, deter or punish the bad and impose international rules, order and security.

A multipolar world can be a chaotic place. The danger is not so much that the United States may lose power, but that the globe's new rivals may fail to strike and manage a balance of power. End-of-the-year Cassandras traditionally predict doom, gloom and anarchy. This year they're looking less preposterous.

Fred Kaplan is the national security columnist for Slate.

Bush Wants to Break Promise of Social Security

WASHINGTON -- President Bush is proposing to erode the Social Security system by privatizing part of it, making Wall Street the big winner of a huge financial windfall.

Bush wants workers to earmark 2 percent of their Social Security payroll taxes for individual private investment accounts -- a move that would undermine funding for the 69-year-old program that was designed to provide retirees with a secure income.

The emphasis in Social Security should be on "security." Bush's plan to rely on the stock market undermines that value.

Bush has been fixated on Social Security since he first took office and has been determined to chip away at the government role. His re-election and the Republican majority in Congress have galvanized him into action.

Republicans have tried to scare young people by telling them that their Social Security checks won't be there when they become eligible to collect benefits.

Now Bush is falsely proclaiming that there is a financial "crisis" in Social Security. If he repeats that often enough, he may convince people that the program is on the rocks -- just as he successfully led the nation into war under the fallacy that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and ties to the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Social Security will be solvent until 2042, though analysts say that more will be paid out in benefits than collected in payroll taxes, starting in 2018.

In 1983, when the program had a short-term financial problem, former President Reagan tapped Alan Greenspan, now chairman of the Federal Reserve System, to head a commission to propose a fix.

The Greenspan panel made recommendations to bolster the program, including a gradual increase on the payroll tax on employees and employers that went up to 7.65 percent in 1990.

It seems Bush is obsessed with wiping out the last vestige of the New Deal era -- a safety net that provides a guaranteed monthly government check for the elderly, the disabled, widows and orphans and other dependent children.

He has offered no new blueprint to transform Social Security except to lay down the law that there will be no payroll tax increases and there will be no change in benefits for those now receiving them. Those preconditions appear designed to improve the marketing of his proposed overhaul of the retirement system.

Analysts estimate it will take $2 trillion in transition costs to privatize the system over 10 years. The administration reportedly is sounding out Wall Street on the impact of borrowing some $2 trillion from the movers and shakers in the bond markets. And what will that do to the ballooning budget deficit?

The Great Depression and the 1929 stock market crash prompted Franklin D. Roosevelt to lay the groundwork for the Social Security program to alleviate the poverty of senior citizens at the time. The law was proposed in 1935 and enacted in 1936.

The system works. More than 99 percent of the Social Security revenues from tax collections go to pay benefits. Less than 1 percent is devoted to overhead expenses.

Anyone who remembers the 1929 Wall Street debacle knows that it would be risky business to divert our Social Security payroll taxes to play the market. There have many other market collapses since. The dot-com implosion changed the retirement plans of millions of Americans. More recently, it would be well to "think Enron."

Bush promoted privatization at his so-called two-day White House Economic Conference last week -- a misnomer if there ever was one since nearly all the attendees were cheerleading CEOs. Labor representatives were conspicuously among the uninvited.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan explained that Bush wanted to hear from the people who were "pro-growth."

Social Security is often referred to as the "third rail" in politics because it is reputed to be dangerous for lawmakers to touch it. Bush may be able to talk his party into supporting privatization, but there will be huge resistance in Congress.

Some concerned organizations are banding together to fight any change. Among them are AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons,) the AFL-CIO, the National Organization of Women and others.

Previous presidents -- more in touch with workers -- upheld the Social Security system when it was threatened and made changes that always kept it intact.

Roosevelt said it was "a law that takes care of human needs."

When enacted, the law was evidence that the United States will keep the promises to the elderly and disadvantaged it made in troubled times. Bush should be stopped from breaking those promises.

Helen Thomas is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers. E-mail: helent@hearstdc.com. Copyright 2004 Hearst Newspapers.

History Will Show U.S. Lusted After Oil

Decades from now, historians will likely calmly discuss the war currently raging in Iraq, and identify oil as one of the key factors that led to it.

They will point to the growing U.S. dependence on foreign oil, the importance of oil in the rising competition between the U.S. and China, and the huge untapped store of oil lying unprotected under the Iraqi sand. It will all probably seem fairly obvious.

Just don't expect to hear this sort of discussion now, however, when it might actually make a difference.

In fact, a year-and-a-half into the U.S. occupation of Iraq, with the carnage over there spiralling ever more out of control, don't expect media discussions of Iraq to stray much beyond the issue of "fighting terrorism."

Indeed, while ordinary people around the world apparently suspect Washington was motivated by oil, not terrorism, there continues to be a strange unwillingness in the mainstream media to probe such a possibility.

Perhaps it simply sounds too crass.

It implies that those at the very top of the U.S. government willingly sacrificed countless lives to further a cause that has nothing to do with liberty or democracy.

This sort of allegation certainly doesn't fit with the respectful, even deferential approach generally taken in the U.S. media towards George W. Bush, just chosen Time magazine's Man of the Year.

Raising the oil factor also perhaps sounds unsophisticated. Some commentators, like syndicated columnist Gwynne Dyer, scoff at the notion of an oil motive, suggesting it's not necessary to invade countries to get their oil: "You just write them a cheque."

But buying oil isn't the goal; getting control of it is.

Dyer's cheque-book solution wouldn't have solved much back in 1973, when the Arab oil embargo temporarily left the U.S. unable to satisfy its voracious appetite for oil.

That created a deep sense of vulnerability — a rare experience for the world's most powerful country. Preventing the U.S. from ever being vulnerable like that again has been a key objective of American strategic planners ever since.

The 1973 embargo sparked a new hawkishness in Washington. An article in the March, 1975, issue of Harper's, titled "Seizing Arab Oil," unabashedly outlined plans for a U.S. invasion to seize key Middle East oilfields and prevent Arab countries from having such control over the modern world's most vital commodity.

The author, writing under a pseudonym, wasn't just any old right-wing blowhard; it turned out to be Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

But seizing Arab oilfields was too risky as long as the Soviet Union existed. The Soviet collapse in 1991 opened up new possibilities.

Kissinger's old idea was taken up with new interest by a small group of right-wing Republicans who, in the late 1990s, formed the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). In a 1998 letter, the PNAC urged President Bill Clinton to overthrow Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, whose potential control over "a significant portion of the world's oil" was considered a "hazard."

One could dismiss the PNAC as just another group of right-wing blowhards — except that the group included Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, who became key figures in the Bush administration and principal architects of the Iraq war.

Is it really such a stretch to imagine that, only a few years after forming the PNAC, oil was still on their minds?

"The plan to take over Iraq is a revival of an old plan that first appeared in 1975. It was the Kissinger plan," James Akins, who served as U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia under Kissinger, told me in an interview in Washington in 2003.

Dyer insists that the Iraq invasion wasn't about oil, but about extending U.S. power. But these goals go hand in glove.

Gaining control over oil is crucial to extending U.S. power, and will be even more so in the coming years as the world's easily-accessible oil reserves are depleted, creating ever fiercer competition for what remains.

All this will make controlling the Middle East that much more crucial. Or, as Cheney put it in a speech to the London Institute of Petroleum in 1999, when he was CEO of oil giant Halliburton: "The Middle East, with two-thirds of the world's oil and lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies."

Now that he's vice-president, Cheney no longer talks about the Middle East as "the prize." He talks about it as the place terrorism must be confronted.

Call me unsophisticated, but it seems to me that politicians often try to disguise what they're really up to, and we have to wait decades for historians to point out the obvious.

Linda McQuaig is a Toronto-based author and commentator. lmcquaig@sympatico.ca.

Copyright Toronto Star Newspapers Limited

Jet Is an Open Secret in Terror War

The airplane is a Gulfstream V turbojet, the sort favored by CEOs and celebrities. But since 2001 it has been seen at military airports from Pakistan to Indonesia to Jordan, sometimes being boarded by hooded and handcuffed passengers.

The plane's owner of record, Premier Executive Transport Services Inc., lists directors and officers who appear to exist only on paper. And each one of those directors and officers has a recently issued Social Security number and an address consisting only of a post office box, according to an extensive search of state, federal and commercial records.

Bryan P. Dyess, Steven E. Kent, Timothy R. Sperling and Audrey M. Tailor are names without residential, work, telephone or corporate histories -- just the kind of "sterile identities," said current and former intelligence officials, that the CIA uses to conceal involvement in clandestine operations. In this case, the agency is flying captured terrorist suspects from one country to another for detention and interrogation.

The CIA calls this activity "rendition." Premier Executive's Gulfstream helps make it possible. According to civilian aircraft landing permits, the jet has permission to use U.S. military airfields worldwide.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, secret renditions have become a principal weapon in the CIA's arsenal against suspected al Qaeda terrorists, according to congressional testimony by CIA officials. But as the practice has grown, the agency has had significantly more difficulty keeping it secret.

According to airport officials, public documents and hobbyist plane spotters, the Gulfstream V, with tail number N379P, has been used to whisk detainees into or out of Jakarta, Indonesia; Pakistan; Egypt; and Sweden, usually at night, and has landed at well-known U.S. government refueling stops.

As the outlines of the rendition system have been revealed, criticism of the practice has grown. Human rights groups are working on legal challenges to renditions, said Morton Sklar, executive director of the World Organization for Human Rights USA, because one of their purposes is to transfer captives to countries that use harsh interrogation methods outlawed in the United States. That, he said, is prohibited by the U.N. Convention on Torture.

The CIA has the authority to carry out renditions under a presidential directive dating to the Clinton administration, which the Bush administration has reviewed and renewed. The CIA declined to comment for this article.

"Our policymakers would never confront the issue," said Michael Scheuer, a former CIA counterterrorism officer who has been involved with renditions and supports the practice. "We would say, 'Where do you want us to take these people?' The mind-set of the bureaucracy was, 'Let someone else do the dirty work.' "

The story of the Gulfstream V offers a rare glimpse into the CIA's secret operations, a world that current and former CIA officers said should not have been so easy to document.

Not only have the plane's movements been tracked around the world, but the on-paper officers of Premier Executive Transport Services are also connected to a larger roster of false identities.

Each of the officers of Premier Executive is linked in public records to one of five post office box numbers in Arlington, Oakton, Chevy Chase and the District. A total of 325 names are registered to the five post office boxes.

An extensive database search of a sample of 44 of those names turned up none of the information that usually emerges in such a search: no previous addresses, no past or current telephone numbers, no business or corporate records. In addition, although most names were attached to dates of birth in the 1940s, '50s or '60s, all were given Social Security numbers between 1998 and 2003.

The Washington Post showed its research to the CIA, including a chart connecting Premier Executive's officers, the post office boxes, the 325 names, the recent Social Security numbers and an entity called Executive Support OFC. A CIA spokesman declined to comment.

According to former CIA operatives experienced in using "proprietary," or front, companies, the CIA likely used, or intended to use, some of the 325 names to hide other activities, the nature of which could not be learned. The former operatives also noted that the agency devotes more effort to producing cover identities for its operatives in the field, which are supposed to stand up under scrutiny, than to hiding its ownership of a plane.

The CIA's plane secret began to unravel less than six weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

This Gulfstream V turbojet is believed to be used to transport suspected terrorists to other countries for interrogation -- a practice called rendition. (Special To The Washington Post)

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On Oct. 26, 2001, Masood Anwar, a Pakistani journalist with the News in Islamabad, broke a story asserting that Pakistani intelligence officers had handed over to U.S. authorities a Yemeni microbiologist, Jamil Qasim Saeed Mohammed, who was wanted in connection with the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole.

The report noted that an aircraft bearing tail number N379P, and parked in a remote area of a little-used terminal at the Karachi airport, had whisked Mohammed away about 2:40 a.m. Oct. 23. The tail number was also obtained by The Post's correspondent in Pakistan but not published.

The News article ricocheted among spy-hunters and Web bloggers as a curiosity for those interested in divining the mechanics of the new U.S.-declared war on terrorism.

At 7:54:04 p.m. Oct. 26, the News article was posted on FreeRepublic.com, which bills itself as "a conservative news forum."

Thirteen minutes later, a chat-room participant posted the plane's registered owners: Premier Executive Transport Services Inc., of 339 Washington St., Dedham, Mass.

"Sounds like a nice generic name," one blogger wrote in response. "Kind of like Air America" -- a reference to the CIA's secret civilian airlines that flew supplies, food and personnel into Southeast Asia, including Laos, during the Vietnam War.

Eight weeks later, on Dec. 18, 2001, American-accented men wearing hoods and working with special Swedish security police brought two Egyptian nationals onto a Gulfstream V that was parked at night at Stockholm's Bromma Airport, according to Swedish officials and airport personnel interviewed by Swedish television's "Cold Facts" program. The account was confirmed independently by The Post. The plane's tail number: N379P.

Wearing red overalls and bound with handcuffs and leg irons, the men, who had applied for political asylum in Sweden, were flown to Cairo, according to Swedish officials and documents. Ahmed Agiza was convicted by Egypt's Supreme Military Court of terrorism-related charges; Muhammad Zery was set free. Both say they were tortured while in Egyptian custody. Sweden has opened an investigation into the decision to allow them to be rendered.

A month later, in January 2002, a U.S.-registered Gulfstream V landed at Jakarta's military airport. According to Indonesian officials, the plane carried away Muhammad Saad Iqbal Madni, an Egyptian traveling on a Pakistani passport and suspected of being an al Qaeda operative who had worked with shoe bomber suspect Richard C. Reid. Without a hearing, he was flown to Egypt. His status and whereabouts are unknown. The plane's tail number was not noted, but the CIA is believed to have only one of the expensive jets.

Over the past year, the Gulfstream V's flights have been tracked by plane spotters standing at the end of runways with high-powered binoculars and cameras to record the flights of military and private aircraft.

These hobbyists list their findings on specialized Web pages. According to them, since October 2001 the plane has landed in Islamabad; Karachi; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Dubai; Tashkent, Uzbekistan; Baghdad; Kuwait City; Baku, Azerbaijan; and Rabat, Morocco. It has stopped frequently at Dulles International Airport, at Jordan's military airport in Amman and at airports in Frankfurt, Germany; Glasglow, Scotland, and Larnaca, Cyprus.

Premier Executive Transport Services was incorporated in Delaware by the Prentice-Hall Corporation System Inc. on Jan. 10, 1994. On Jan. 23, 1996, Dean Plakias, a lawyer with Hill & Plakias in Dedham, filed incorporation papers with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts listing the company's president as Bryan P. Dyess.

According to public documents, Premier Executive ordered a new Gulfstream V in 1998. It was delivered in November 1999 with tail number N581GA, and reregistered for unknown reasons on March 2000 with a new tail number, N379P. It began flights in June 2000, and changed the tail number again in December 2003.

Plakias did not return several telephone messages seeking comment. He told the Boston Globe recently that he simply filed the required paperwork. "I'm not at liberty to discuss the affairs of the client business, mainly for reasons I don't know," he told the Globe. Asked whether the company exists, Plakias responded: "Millions of companies are set up in Massachusetts that are just paper companies."

A lawyer in Washington, whose name is listed on a 1996 IRS form on record at the Secretary of the Commonwealth's office in Massachusetts -- and whose name is whited out on some copies of the forms -- hung up the phone last week when asked about the company.

Three weeks ago, on Dec. 1, the plane, complete with a new tail number, was transferred to a new owner, Bayard Foreign Marketing of Portland, Ore., according to FAA records. Its registered agent in Portland, Scott Caplan, did not return phone calls.

Like the officers at Premier Executive, Bayard's sole listed corporate officer, Leonard T. Bayard, has no residential or telephone history. Unlike Premier's officers, Bayard's name does not appear in any other public records.

Researchers Margot Williams and Julie Tate contributed to this report. Williams has since left The Washington Post.

Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 27, 2004; Page A01