UN “Unprepared” For OFF Program

A UN official is saying that they weren’t prepared to handle the tasks required under the Oil-for-Food program.

:::::::: U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette said the United Nations was unprepared for the mammoth task of providing humanitarian relief for 24 million Iraqis and hoped it would never be given a job like the oil-for-food program again. ::::::::

Well, there’s 2 things we agree on.

:::::::: “We certainly have taken pride in the fact that the program has served to feed and provide basic necessities to people and that their own personal faith improved over the life of the program,” Frechette said on Tuesday. “But we have also seen that the program has revealed some basic weaknesses in our own internal systems.” ::::::::

Considering the situation the Iraqis were in while under the auspices of OFF, I’m not sure that pride is warranted. Actually, scratch that. I’m real sure it’s not warranted. And I suppose if you consider rampant corruption in the guise of graft, blatant conflict of interest, and willful dereliction of responsibility as “basic weaknesses” in the UN’s internal systems, then I guess we can agree that OFF showed those off pretty well. I might term them something other than “basic weaknesses”, but I’m willing to let that slide for the moment.

:::::::: In order to ensure that action is taken on recommendations of internal and external audit and oversight bodies, the United Nations is setting up an internal oversight committee that would constantly monitor management responses and implementation, she said.

“We expect to have this committee in place shortly,” she said, adding that it would have at least one non-U.N. member “to ensure that we have the benefit of an outsider’s view on how well our management teams are doing.”

Volcker’s report also found “convincing and uncontested evidence” that selection of three U.N. contractors for the oil-for-food program — Banque Nationale de Paris, Saybolt Eastern Hemisphere BV, and Lloyd’s Register Inspection Limited — did not meet established financial and competitive bidding rules.

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I found myself chuckling a bit at the announcement that the UN, faced with a corruption scandal larger than any other ever seen in modern times, springs into action by (drumroll, please) forming a committee. Amusing, perhaps, but it’s actually one part of the proper response, so I’m glad to see that they’re doing this. I would be happier if they also made absolutely certain that no officials from any country who was involved in skimming the money is on that committee. This remains to be seen whether they’ll do that, of course, but it’s my sincere recommendation. That last little bit of the quote is very telling for those people who have been claiming that this investigation was all just a VRWC &trade plot to smear the UN.

I have to wonder, in the light of this report and the UN’s admissions that the corruption was absolutely there, whether there’s a more basic issue at work here. Bear in mind that the OFF program was born of the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam’s Iraq. What we basically had there was an attempt to win a war without winning. To defeat a foe and yet leave him in place. Knowing that we couldn’t trust him to not build up his forces for another try, we slapped sanctions on him. (Sanctions that were undercut by some of the most powerful members of the UN who, incidentally, were supposed to be some of our closest allies.) Somehow, the onus for what would happen to his people as a result of his decision to invade Kuwait became our problem, not his. It became a duty of those of us who had ejected his forces from Kuwait to see to it that his people were fed, had medicines, and were able to get what they needed to survive and thrive. Recall that we couldn’t trust him to do this on his own. How, then, did we find him trustworthy to do it so long as we were the ones handing him the money?

History now shows us that we couldn’t trust him and he did not use the money to handle his people’s needs. So the more basic question that needs to be answered before we ever consider starting up such a program again is this: if a leader provokes other nations into taking military action against him so as to halt him from making or continuing an unprovoked invasion, do we leave him in that leadership position? Should we ever again simply try to push him back over his own fence and not take the battle to him in earnest? These are serious questions on serious matters. They deserve serious thought and serious discussion.

German Forced Prostitution Urban Legend?

I had written earlier about a story that appeared in the UK Telegraph regarding a woman whose unemployment benefits were going to be taken away unless she accepted a job in Germany’s sex industry. I have noted that there’s a report now that it’s an urban legend:

    A news story about a 25-year-old German woman who faced cuts to her unemployment benefits for turning down a job providing “sexual services” at a brothel was carried by a variety of English-language news sources in January 2005. It has struck a chord in many readers as an example of liberal morality and bureaucracy run amok: if prostitution is legalized (as it was in Germany back in 2002), this story suggests, then society has conferred its approval upon that trade, and prostitution can therefore be proffered to (and even foisted upon) women as a valid choice of employment.

    We were initially skeptical about the literal truth of the version reported in the English press, however, because the issue seemed to have received scant attention in the German press. In fact, the origin of this story was evidently a 18 December 2004 article published in the Berlin newspaper Tageszeitung (also known as TAZ) which did not report that women in Germany must accept employment in brothels or face cuts in their unemployment benefits. (Although it claimed there had been “isolated cases” of such, it did not provide any source or documentation to back up that statement.)

The report goes on to say that TAZ had presented the scenario as a “what-if” situation; a possibility, nothing more. The Urban Legends site makes the same error it claims the Telegraph has, however, in not providing the details of who they spoke with in determining this was a hoax. I certainly hope it’s a hoax, but I also realize that the law, as written, allows this kind of thing to occur.

In any case, since I wrote about the Telegraph article, I felt it was important that I also highlight this one and let you readers make your own decisions about which report you weigh more heavily.

Mythbusting: 9/11

There’s a certain fascination with conspiracy theories in America. Partly fueled by a desire to puzzle out the truth, which is a good thing, it can nevertheless descend quickly into paranoid delusion. The myths surrounding 9/11, from the concept that it was actually missiles or bombs that hit those buildings that day to the questions about whether and when fighters were ever ordered to intercept the planes, have all been discussed wildly on the Net and in the press. Overseas especially, the theories have been lent a credence some of us find incomprehensible. Some of us just don’t know. Popular Mechanics, it seems, didn’t know and thought they should find out.

:::::::: Healthy skepticism, it seems, has curdled into paranoia. Wild conspiracy tales are peddled daily on the Internet, talk radio and in other media. Blurry photos, quotes taken out of context and sketchy eyewitness accounts have inspired a slew of elaborate theories: The Pentagon was struck by a missile; the World Trade Center was razed by demolition-style bombs; Flight 93 was shot down by a mysterious white jet. As outlandish as these claims may sound, they are increasingly accepted abroad and among extremists here in the United States.

To investigate 16 of the most prevalent claims made by conspiracy theorists, POPULAR MECHANICS assembled a team of nine researchers and reporters who, together with PM editors, consulted more than 70 professionals in fields that form the core content of this magazine, including aviation, engineering and the military.

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Popular Mechanics certainly knows its stuff in these fields. They’ve been explaining it to the rest of us for decades, literally. The story is a very good read and I recommend it highly.

Hat Tip: Smash

So How Would A Conservative Fare?

By now I’m sure that most of the blogosphere is aware of Ward Churchill and his bile about the victims of 9/11 being just like “little Eichmanns.” (Again with the Nazi references, notice. I notice that the less substance the argument has, the more the author tends to rely on emotively-charged language and ad hominem attacks.) For a guy who’s part of a group that gets so censored, suppressed and oppressed, he certainly has no issue being heard. I and others in the right half of the political spectrum have wondered to each other how a conservative academic would fare in such a circumstance, assuming such an animal could be found.

Well, thanks to John Moser at No Left Turns, we need wonder no more.

:::::::: Back in 1997 Luis Chavez, a history professor at Pikes Peak Community College, satirized th[e] proliferation of ethnic studies programs by submitting a mock proposal for a “Gringo American Studies” program. He was suspended.

But wait, there’s more! Chavez appealed the decision, and it was overturned, but when his department chair, Katherine Sturdevant, testified on his behalf at the appeals hearing, “the administration stripped her of her chairmanship of the history department, took away her office on the college’s new campus, reassigned her to the older campus, removed her from various college committees, denied her merit raises, and gave her a negative evaluation after twelve years of positive performance reviews.”

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After 4 years pursuing a lawsuit over her treatment in this case, Sturdevant won reinstatement to her job, $75,000 in damages, and a raise. She remains at Pikes Peak today. I compare the treatment here with outrage the left is exhibiting over the fact that people object to Churchill’s characterization of the 9/11 victims and I see a double-standard they wouldn’t tolerate in reverse.

“Carnivore” Put Down

The internet surveillance software known as “Carnivore” has been shut down. The move by the FBI to turn off the controversial software has an interesting motivation: according to the story, they can get just as good from stuff you can buy over the counter.

:::::::: The FBI has effectively abandoned its custom-built Internet surveillance technology, once known as Carnivore (search), designed to read e-mails and other online communications among suspected criminals, terrorists and spies, according to bureau oversight reports submitted to Congress.

Instead, the FBI (search) said it has switched to unspecified commercial software to eavesdrop on computer traffic during such investigations and has increasingly asked Internet providers to conduct wiretaps on targeted customers on the government’s behalf, reimbursing companies for their costs.

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Civil rights activists have been up in arms about Carnivore since its existence had been confirmed and it has been the punch line for many a geek joke out there. But what does it say that there are commercial firms producing software with capabilities of a type and strength that the Bureau would consider dropping Carnivore and using “brand x” instead? Markets for products don’t generally form for a single customer and there sure aren’t multiple commercial vendors that produce different tools doing the same job for that single customer when only one is going to get bought. So who else is buying that software and where would they possibly use it?

As I said: interesting.

SAIC Break-in Serious Security Issue

SAIC is a huge government contractor out here and is involved in some of the more sensitive areas of classified information. They recently reported that a break-in had occured in one of their San Diego offices where thieves made off with computer equipment housing the personal data of some or all of the 45,000 member workforce even obliquely managed by that office. That list contains a huge number of people with government clearances at all levels of classification and those people have been advised that they need to “take precautions” as a result of the theft.

:::::::: Some of the nation’s most influential former military and intelligence officials have been informed in recent days that they are at risk of identity theft after a break-in at a major government contractor netted computers containing the Social Security numbers and other personal information about tens of thousands of past and present company employees.

The contractor, employee-owned Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego, handles sensitive government contracts, including many in information security. It has a reputation for hiring Washington’s most powerful figures when they leave the government, and its payroll has been studded with former secretaries of defense, CIA directors and White House counterterrorism advisers.

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Well, that’s just great. A firm that claims such expertise in security should never have allowed this data to be housed anywhere near an “administration” building that didn’t have full classified-level security measures in place. SAIC’s spokeman, Ben Haddad, said:

:::::::: “We’re taking this extremely seriously,” Haddad said. “It’s certainly not something that would reflect well on any company, let alone a company that’s involved in information security. But what can I say? We’re doing everything we can to get to the bottom of it.” ::::::::

He also said they weren’t sure if the thieves specifically targeted those computers – which would indicate the data was the real goal – or if they just snagged something to sell for quick cash. Immaterial. Even if it’s the latter, just who do you think they’re going to sell the gear to? Some all-night pawn shop? Whoever buys that equipment is going to damn sure be able to see what’s on it. San Diego PD flatly says there are no leads in the case.

Oh, and did I mention that the database all this stuff is in is a collection of information about past and present stock shareholders? SAIC is employee-owned, so every employee’s data is in there. Of course, there’s plenty of data in there from non-employees who just so happened to have had stock in the company. Nice return on the investment, eh? In case you’re thinking the name SAIC is familiar, you’ve seen it in the news lately. Their San Antonio division is under investigation for allegedly padding cost estimates on an Air Force contract. More recently, they’re the company that has been responsible for creating the FBI’s Virtual Case File that has been rather widely denounced as a $170 million failure.

SAIC’s head doesn’t appear to be in “the game” of security lately, and that’s a serious matter for concern.

Iraqi Election Results Updated

The counting is done and we’ve got the results:

:::::::: The list of candidates representing Iraq’s majority Shiite Muslims (search) won the most votes in the nation’s Jan. 30 election, followed by the Kurds and then Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s (search) list, Iraqi election officials said Sunday.

The Shiite-dominated ticket received 4.075 million votes. A Kurdish alliance was second with 2.175 million votes and Allawi’s list was third with about 1.168 million.

Of Iraq’s 14 million eligible voters, 8,456,266 cast ballots, the commission said. That represents a turnout of about 60 percent.

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Assuming that the number of eligible voters is exactly 14 million (unlikely, but that’s what I’ve got to work with) then the turnout was 60.4%. Our was reported at 60.7% and we generally didn’t have the interesting diversion of death threats issued to us all if we went to the polls. As has been stated often, this was a wonderous day for the Iraqis and I’m extremely happy to have been witness to it. As to the Iraqi results, well that’s pretty interesting, too. Rendered into percentages, the 3 top parties came in like this: The Shiite ticket, for whom I cannot seem to locate a name, took 48.2%, the Kurdish Alliance took 25.7%, and Allawi’s ticket got 13.8%. First, take note that the party containing interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi came in third. A distant third. In spite of all the prognostications over the past 8 months about how it was obvious that Allawi’s party would take the lead since he was backed by the US, the Iraqis had their own ideas and were pretty loud about speaking their minds. Good for them.

Second, and most importantly, note that even the top winner in this election didn’t get the 60% of the National Assembly seats necessary for them to dictate terms. They need 12% more of the vote and that means they need to form, (drumroll, please), a coalition within the Assembly. Coalitions mean compromise, and that’s going to mean nobody’s going to just get everything they want. It does mean, however, that most of Iraq should get what they need. That they’ve had a hand in the formation of their government has been a great first step.

Update: The guys over at Iraq the Model have their take on the results and, finally, a name for the “Shiite Ticket” referred to in all the news reports. They call themselves the “United Coalition.”