Senate OKs $680 Billion-Dollar Spending Bill

Senate OKs defense bill, 68-29

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T H E  H I L L

By Roxana Tiron  10/22/09 04:20 PM ET


The Senate on Thursday sent the massive 2010 Pentagon policy bill to the president’s desk for signing. The Senate approved the bill authorizing $680 billion in defense spending by a vote of 68-29.

For the first time in a decade-long effort, the bill will include a provision that expands the federal hate-crimes law to cover offenses based on sexual orientation. The provision received a boost from the Democratic majority in Congress and has President Barack Obama’s backing. Democrats view the successful passage of hate-crimes legislation as a tribute to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), the champion of expanding the law.

The 2010 defense authorization bill also continues to fund an alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The Obama administration initially threatened to veto the bill if authorized funds for a second engine would seriously disrupt the overall F-35 program.

But Obama is not expected to veto the defense authorization bill. He won a big victory on it: The Senate voted to stop production of the F-22 fighter jet at 187 planes. The Senate vote had ripple effects through conference with the House authorizers and prompted defense appropriators to also scrap any plans for funding additional planes.

While Obama is not likely to veto the policy bill, he has yet to take a definitive stance over the 2010 defense appropriations bill. Senate and House appropriators are still negotiating the conference report and several lawmakers, including Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee chairman, have indicated that funding for an alternate engine is likely to be in the bill.

The $680 billion defense policy bill also authorizes $130 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for fiscal year 2010, which started Oct. 1. This story was updated at 5:20 p.m.

We are the most powerful nation in the world. There is no excuse, only corruption.

We are the most powerful nation in the world. There is no excuse, only corruption.

US Looks to Hackers to Protect Cyber Networks

(AP) WASHINGTON D.C.

By LOLITA C. BALDOR

Apr 18

Wanted: Computer Hackers

delayedBuffeted by millions of digital scans and attacks each day, federal authorities are looking for hackers – not to prosecute them, but to pay them to secure the nation’s networks.

General Dynamics Information Technology put out an ad last month on behalf of the Homeland Security Department seeking someone who could “think like the bad guy.” Applicants, it said, must understand hackers’ tools and tactics and be able to analyze Internet traffic and identify vulnerabilities in the federal systems.

And in the Pentagon’s budget request submitted last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates hung out his own help-wanted sign, saying the Pentagon will increase the number of cyber experts it can train each year from 80 to 250 by 2011.

Amid dire warnings that the U.S. is ill-prepared for a cyber attack, the White House conducted a 60-day study of how the government can better manage and use technology to protect everything from the nation’s electrical grid and stock markets to tax data, airline flight systems, and nuclear launch codes.

President Barack Obama appointed former Bush administration aide Melissa Hathaway to head the effort, and her report was delivered Friday, the White House said.

While the country had detailed plans for floods, fires or errant planes drifting into protected airspace, there is no similar response etched out for a major computer attack.

David Powner, director of technology issues for the Government Accountability Office, told Congress last month that the U.S. has no recovery plan for a digital disaster.

“We’re clearly not as prepared as we should be,” he said.

The U.S., administration officials say, has not kept pace with technological innovations needed to protect its computer networks against emerging threats from hackers, criminals or other nations looking for national security secrets.

U.S. computer networks, including those at the Pentagon and other federal agencies, are under persistent attack, ranging from nuisance hacking to more nefarious assaults, possibly from other nations, such as China. Industry leaders told Congress during a recent hearing that law enforcement and other protections are too outdated to fend off threats from criminals, terrorists and unfriendly foreign nations.

Just last week, a former government official revealed that spies had hacked into the U.S. electric grid and left behind computer programs that would let them disrupt service. The intrusions were discovered after electric companies gave the government permission to audit their systems, said the ex-official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Cyber threats are also included as a key potential national security risk outlined in a classified report put together by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And Pentagon officials say they spent more than $100 million in the last six months responding to and repairing damage from cyber attacks and other computer network problems.

Nadia Short, vice president at General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems, said the job posting for ethical hackers fills a critical need for the federal government.

The analysts keep constant watch on the government networks as part of a surveillance programs called Einstein that was initiated by the Bush administration under the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team. US-CERT is a partnership of the Homeland Security Department, other public agencies and private companies. The Einstein program is an automated process for collecting and sharing security information.

Short said the $60 million, four-year contract with US-CERT uses the so-called ethical hackers to analyze threats to the government’s computer systems and develop ways to reduce vulnerabilities.

Faced with such cyber challenges, Obama ordered the 60-day review to examine how federal agencies manage and protect their massive amounts of data and what the government’s role should be in guarding the vast networks that control the country’s vital utilities and infrastructure.

Over the past two months, Hathaway met with hundreds of industry leaders, Capitol Hill staff and other experts, seeking guidance on what the federal government’s role should be in protecting information networks against an attack. And she sought recommendations on how officials should define and report cyber incidents and attacks; how the government should structure its cyber oversight and how the nation can increase security without stifling innovation.

A task force of technology giants, including representatives from General Dynamics, IBM, Lockheed Martin and Hewlett-Packard Co. urged the administration to establish a White House-level official to lead cyber efforts and to develop ways to share information on problems more quickly with the private sector.

The administration has struggled with the basics, such as who should control the nation’s cyberspace programs. There appears to be some agreement now that the White House should coordinate the overall effort, rejecting suggestions that the National Security Agency take it on – a plan that triggered protests on Capitol Hill and from civil liberties groups worried about giving such control to U.S. spy agencies.

On the Net:

White House: http://www.whitehouse.gov

The Official Failures of Rebuilding Iraq

Official history details failures of rebuilding Iraq
Sunday, December 14, 2008
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BAGHDAD: An unpublished, 513-page federal history of the U.S.-led reconstruction of Iraq depicts an effort crippled before the invasion by Pentagon planners who were hostile to the idea of rebuilding a foreign country, and then molded into a $100 billion failure by bureaucratic turf wars, spiraling violence and ignorance of the basic elements of Iraqi society and infrastructure.

“Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience,” the first official account of its kind, is circulating in draft form here and in Washington among a tight circle of technical reviewers, policy experts and senior officials. It also concludes that when the reconstruction began to lag – particularly in the critical area of rebuilding the Iraqi police and army – the Pentagon simply put out inflated measures of progress to cover up the failures.

In one passage, for example, former Secretary of State Colin Powell is quoted as saying that in the months after the 2003 invasion, the Defense Department “kept inventing numbers of Iraqi security forces – the number would jump 20,000 a week! ‘We now have 80,000, we now have 100,000, we now have 120,000.”‘

Powell’s assertion that the Pentagon inflated the number of competent Iraqi security forces is backed up by Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the former commander of ground troops in Iraq, and L. Paul Bremer 3rd, the top civilian administrator until an Iraqi government took over in June 2004.

Among the overarching conclusions of the history is that five years after embarking on its largest foreign reconstruction project since the Marshall Plan in Europe after World War II, the U.S. government has in place neither the policies and technical capacity nor the organizational structure that would be needed to undertake such a program on anything approaching this scale.

The bitterest message of all for the reconstruction program may be the way the history ends. The hard figures on basic services and industrial production compiled for the report reveal that for all the money spent and promises made, the rebuilding effort never did much more than restore what was destroyed during the invasion and the convulsive looting that followed.

By mid-2008, the history says, $117 billion had been spent on the reconstruction of Iraq, including some $50 billion in U.S. taxpayer money.

The history contains a catalog of new revelations that show the chaotic and often poisonous atmosphere prevailing in the reconstruction effort.

When the Office of Management and Budget balked at the U.S. occupation authority’s abrupt request for about $20 billion in new reconstruction money in August 2003, a veteran Republican lobbyist working for the authority made a bluntly partisan appeal to Joshua Bolten, then the Office of Management and Budget director and now the White House chief of staff. “To delay getting our funds would be a political disaster for the President,” wrote the lobbyist, Tom Korologos. “His election will hang for a large part on show of progress in Iraq and without the funding this year, progress will grind to a halt.” With administration backing, Congress allocated the money later that year.

In an illustration of the hasty and haphazard planning, a civilian official at the U.S. Agency for International Development was at one point given four hours to determine how many miles of Iraqi roads would need to be reopened and repaired. The official searched through the agency’s reference library, and his estimate went directly into a master plan. Whatever the quality of the agency’s plan, it eventually began running what amounted to a parallel reconstruction effort in the provinces that had little relation with the rest of the U.S. effort.

Money for many of the local construction projects still under way is divided up by a spoils system controlled by neighborhood politicians and tribal chiefs. “Our district council chairman has become the Tony Soprano of Rasheed, in terms of controlling resources,” said a U.S. Embassy official working in a dangerous Baghdad neighborhood, referring to the popular TV mob boss. “‘You will use my contractor or the work will not get done.”‘

The United States could soon have reason to consult this cautionary tale of deception, waste and poor planning, as both troop levels and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan are likely to be stepped up under the new administration.

The incoming Obama administration’s rebuilding experts are expected to focus on smaller-scale projects and emphasize political and economic reform. Still, such programs do not address one of the history’s main contentions: that the reconstruction effort has failed because no single agency in the U.S. government has responsibility for the job.

Five years after the invasion of Iraq, the history concludes, “the government as a whole has never developed a legislatively sanctioned doctrine or framework for planning, preparing and executing contingency operations in which diplomacy, development and military action all figure.”

“Hard Lessons” was compiled by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, led by Stuart Bowen Jr., a Republican lawyer who regularly travels to Iraq and has a staff of engineers and auditors based here. Copies of several drafts of the history were provided to reporters at The New York Times and ProPublica by two people outside the inspector general’s office who have read the draft but are not authorized to comment publicly.

Bowen’s deputy, Ginger Cruz, declined to comment for publication on the substance of the history. But she said it would be presented Feb. 2 at the first hearing of the Commission on Wartime Contracting, which was created this year as a result of legislation sponsored by Senators Jim Webb of Virginia and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, both Democrats.

The manuscript is based on about 500 new interviews, as well as more than 600 audits, inspections and investigations on which Bowen’s office has reported individually over the years. Laid out for the first time in a connected history, the material forms the basis for broad judgments on the entire rebuilding program.

In the preface, Bowen gives a searing critique of what he calls the “blinkered and disjointed prewar planning for Iraq’s reconstruction” and the botched expansion of the program from a modest initiative to improve Iraqi services to a multibillion-dollar enterprise.

Bowen also swipes at the endless revisions and reversals of the program, which at various times gyrated from a focus on giant construction projects led by large Western contractors to modest community-based initiatives carried out by local Iraqis. While Bowen concedes that deteriorating security had a hand in spoiling the program’s hopes, he suggests, as he has in the past, that the program did not need much outside help to do itself in.

Despite years of studying the program, Bowen writes that he still has not found a good answer to the question of why the program was even pursued as soaring violence made it untenable. “Others will have to provide that answer,” Bowen writes.

“But beyond the security issue stands another compelling and unavoidable answer: The U.S. government was not adequately prepared to carry out the reconstruction mission it took on in mid-2003,” he concludes.

The history cites some projects as successes. The review praises community outreach efforts by the Agency for International Development, the Treasury Department’s plan to stabilize the Iraqi dinar after the invasion and a joint effort by the Departments of State and Defense to create local rebuilding teams.

But the portrait that emerges overall is one of a program’s officials operating by the seat of their pants in the middle of a critical enterprise abroad, where the reconstruction was supposed to convince the Iraqi citizenry of U.S. good will and support the new democracy with lights that turned on and taps that flowed with clean water. Mostly, it is a portrait of a program that seemed to grow exponentially as even those involved from the inception of the effort watched in surprise.

On the eve of the invasion, as it began to dawn on a few U.S. officials that the price for rebuilding Iraq would be vastly greater than they had been told, the degree of miscalculation was illustrated in an encounter between Donald Rumsfeld, then the defense secretary, and Jay Garner, the retired lieutenant general who had hastily been named the chief of what would be a short-lived civilian authority called the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance.

The history records how Garner presented Rumsfeld with several alternative rebuilding plans, including one that would include projects across Iraq.

“What do you think that’ll cost?” Rumsfeld asked of the more expansive plan.

“I think it’s going to cost billions of dollars,” Garner said.

“My friend,” Rumsfeld replied, “if you think we’re going to spend a billion dollars of our money over there, you are sadly mistaken.”

In a way he never anticipated, Rumsfeld turned out to be correct: Before that year was out, the United States had appropriated more than $20 billion for the reconstruction, which would indeed involve projects across the entire country.

Rumsfeld declined comment on the report, but a spokesman, Keith Urbahn, said quotes attributed to him in the document “appear to be accurate.” Powell also declined to comment.

The secondary effects of the invasion and its aftermath were among the most important factors that radically changed the outlook. Tables in the history show that measures of things like the production of electricity and oil; public access to potable water, mobile and landline telephone service; and the presence of Iraqi security forces all plummeted at least 70 percent, and in some cases all the way to zero, in the weeks after the invasion. Subsequent tables in the history give a fast-forward view of what happened as the avalanche of money tumbled into Iraq over the next five years. By the time a sovereign Iraqi government took over from the Americans in June 2004, none of those services – with a single exception, mobile phones – had returned to prewar levels. And by the time of the security improvements in 2007 and 2008, electricity output had, at best, a precarious 10 percent lead on its levels under Saddam Hussein; oil production was still below prewar levels; and access to potable water had increased about 30 percent, although with the nation’s ruined piping system it was unclear how much actually reached people’s homes uncontaminated.

Whether the rebuilding effort could have succeeded in a less violent setting will never be known. In April 2004, thousands of the Iraqi security forces that had been oversold by the Pentagon were overrun, abruptly mutinied or simply abandoned their posts as the insurgency broke out, sending Iraq down a violent path from which it has never completely recovered.

At the end of his narrative, Bowen chooses a line from “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens as the epitaph of the U.S.-led attempt to rebuild Iraq: “We spent as much money as we could, and got as little for it as people could make up their minds to give us.”

James Glanz reported from Baghdad, and T. Christian Miller, of the nonprofit investigative Web site ProPublica, reported from Washington.

Blackwater Guards Charged With Manslaughter

Dispatch from Baghdad

THE LOS ANGELES TIMES

(God Bless You Guys)

Iraqis applaud charges against Blackwater guards

The shooting that killed at least 17 in a Baghdad traffic circle last year resonates strongly among Iraqis, who believe it was unjustified and are eager for justice.

By Tina Susman and Usama Redha

December 10, 2008

Reporting from Baghdad — The traffic circle hums on a cool and sunny afternoon, as motorists round the center median with its fake orange palm tree that sparkles at night, blooming flower beds and chunky sculpture.

On such a calm day in Baghdad, it is hard to imagine the carnage that erupted here in Nisoor Square in September 2007, when Blackwater Worldwide security guards killed at least 17 Iraqis in a hail of machine-gun bullets and grenades, but the evidence remains.
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Bullet holes pock the small shelter where traffic cops dived for cover. Splotches scar the wall of a school off the square that prosecutors say was hit by American gunfire. Memories rankle people familiar with the story, which still resonates powerfully in Iraq even as the legal repercussions have shifted to courthouses thousands of miles away in the U.S.

Five Blackwater employees, all of them U.S. military veterans, were charged Monday with manslaughter and attempted manslaughter in the case, which strained U.S.-Iraqi relations and galvanized Iraqi opposition to the Western security companies that had operated with impunity here.

Starting Jan. 1, private security details such as Blackwater will be subject to Iraqi jurisdiction if accused of crimes committed while off American bases, a change demanded by Iraq’s government after the Blackwater incident and others involving different companies that resulted in civilian deaths on a smaller scale.

The current Blackwater defendants won’t face trial in Iraq, but they could face decades in prison in the United States if convicted, something that pleases Iraqis such as Ali Abdul Ali.

“This is good,” said Ali, an unemployed military veteran. “It means no one is above the law, even if he’s an element of foreign forces. It also means the victims will get justice.”

Ali, who comes often to an abandoned bus stop near Nisoor Square to sit in the sunshine and think about life, has a friend whose mother was among 20 Iraqis shot and wounded in the incident. Like other Iraqis in the circle that day, the friend said the shooting was unjustified, he said.

“These people were armed and they were shooting innocent people,” Ali said.

That’s not how the Blackwater guards tell it. They say their convoy came under attack as they escorted U.S. State Department officials and that they fired in self-defense.

In the square Tuesday, the sound of gunfire was constant and clear over the cacophony of car engines, tooting horns and sirens from the intimidating convoys that still tear through the circle, but it was from an Iraqi police firing range nearby.

Police officers stationed in the circle were happy to discuss the Blackwater case and to show off the bullet holes from that day. One of them quickly interrupted his lunch of beans, rice and bread to weigh in.

“I heard about [the charges against the Blackwater employees] yesterday on the news,” said the officer, who like his colleagues was not authorized to speak to reporters and would not give a name. “Because they killed 17 innocent people, of course they should be arrested.”

The policeman, who has worked this spot for five years, was not in the square the day of the shooting but came to work the next day to see wrecked cars, blood-stained streets, bullet casings. He pointed to a section of gnarled concrete in the busy street a few feet away.

“That’s where the doctor and her son died,” he said, referring to Mahasin Mohssen Khadum Khazali and her son, Ahmed Haitham Ahmed Rubaie, who were in a white sedan that the Blackwater guards said they suspected of being rigged to explode.

“Justice should be served. These victims — their rights should be taken into consideration,” said another policeman, edging in front of the first cop and quickly taking over the conversation. This officer said that if the Blackwater guards are convicted, they should die.

“This is the law of God. In the Arab world, anyone who kills someone, he should be killed,” he said.

They scoffed at the idea that the guards might have felt genuinely threatened because of the situation in Baghdad at the time. Violence was far worse then, when attacks on U.S. forces were daily events. That month, 70 foreign troops, including 66 Americans, were killed across Iraq, according to the independent website icasualties.org. Last month, the total was 17.

“This place is surrounded. It is secure,” the second officer said, noting the national guard base on one side of the square and another government building on the other. “It’s impossible” that anyone could have felt threatened, he said.

Minutes later, a U.S. military convoy entered the circle. Civilian traffic ground to a halt to let the vehicles pass, but they stopped midway through. A group of U.S. soldiers walked toward the Iraqi police.

“Let’s have it,” one of them sternly said to a U.S. journalist who had been filming the square, referring to the memory chip of his video camera.

The soldier uttered an obscenity about filming the convoy but backed off without taking the memory chip after another American intervened, satisfied that the journalists were more interested in the scene at the square, not the convoy that had rolled into view.

Afterward, one policeman joked that it was good the journalists were of the “same tribe” as the soldiers. If they’d been Iraqis, he said, they would have been locked up.

Susman and Redha are Times staff writers.

tina.susman@latimes.com

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