30 April 2012

Victor Bout: Merchant of Death

'Merchant of Death' Viktor Bout sentenced to 25 years
05 Apr 2012
Arms dealer Viktor Bout, dubbed the "merchant of death", has been sentenced to 25 years in jail by a US judge.

Extradition of 'arms dealer' Viktor Bout goes ahead
16 Nov 2010
Alleged arms dealer Viktor Bout is on his way to the United States from Thailand after being extradited to face charges of conspiring to sell weapons.

Bout extradition: Russia criticizes US pressure
16 Nov 2010
Russia has described as a "blatant injustice" Thailand's decision to extradite alleged Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout to the US to face charges of conspiring to sell weapons. The former Russian air force officer, 43, has been accused of trying to sell arms to Colombian rebels, and supplying weapons that fuelled conflicts in Africa and the Middle East.

Thailand to extradite Viktor Bout to US
20 Aug 2010
A Russian man suspected of selling arms to insurgent groups around the world is to be extradited to the United States, a court in Thailand has ruled. Mr Bout - dubbed the Merchant of Death - was detained in a joint Thai-US sting operation in March 2008. Mr Bout, a former Soviet air force officer, faces US charges of conspiring to kill Americans, conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and conspiring to acquire and use an anti-aircraft missile. American authorities lodged two further charges of money-laundering and electronic fraud. Officials say he supplied arms to warlords, al-Qaeda and the Taliban. United Nations agencies and several Western governments have reported that Mr Bout has delivered arms to warlords in Africa and Afghanistan. Russia has condemned the decision and said it would work to secure his return. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described the ruling as "unlawful" and said his government believed it was made "under very strong external pressure".

Osama bin Laden and Opium

Seeds of Terror by Gretchen Peters, 2009, Excerpts

In the spring of 1996, Osama bin Laden’s return to Afghanistan heralded a new chapter in the Taliban chronicle, one that would have a dramatic impact on modern history. Unlike other terrorist leaders, bin Laden was not a military hero, nor a religious authority, nor an obvious representative of the downtrodden and disillusioned. He was a rich financier distinguished by his ability to organize an effective network. The financial network of bin Laden, as well as his network of investments, is similar to the network put in place in the 1980s by BCCI for its fraudulent operations, often with the same people [former directors and cadres of the bank and its affiliates, arms merchants, oil merchants, Saudi investors].

The structure of bin Laden’s network, which always blended business and terrorism, was similar to large, successful criminal organizations: flexible, diversified, decentralized, and compartmentalized. While in Sudan, bin Laden ran construction businesses, imported sugar and soap, and exported sesame seeds, palm oil, and sunflower seeds. He purchased farms, some of them enormous, which grew corn and peanuts and also served as training camps.

The Saudi exile wasted no time in ingratiating himself with Afghanistan’s new masters, helping to bankroll their takeover of Kabul. Bin Laden reportedly put up $3 million from his personal funds to pay off the remaining warlords who stood between the Taliban and the Afghan capital. The cash injection came at a crucial time, and Mullah Omar would never forget it.

Bin Laden served as a middleman between the Taliban and Arab drug smugglers for the UAE, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, using commissions to fund his training camps. The sheiks flew in on private jets and military transport planes, touching down at the Kandahar airfield and other smaller airstrips, supposedly to hunt rare falcons. Those flights transported weapons and material to the Taliban and al Qaeda and flew heroin out. It was widely known these hunting teams brought lavish amounts of equipment including vehicles, rifles, and tents, which they left with the Taliban.

Bin Laden hijacked the state-run Ariana Airlines, turning it into a narco-terror charter service ferrying Islamic militants, weapons, cash, and heroin to the Emirates and Pakistan. Mounting concern led to the UN sanctioning the Taliban in late 2000, barring Ariana from flying internationally. The Taliban turned to Viktor Bout, the notorious Russian spy-turned-smuggler whose Sharjah-based air cargo empire served as a sort of FedEx to criminals, rebel groups, and banana republics. Between 1998 and 2001, Bout sold Taliban twelve air freighters and continued to fly weapons, spare aircraft parts, and other supplies into Afghanistan. Flights with narcotics went direct from Helmand to the UAE.

29 April 2012

Pakistan and the Taliban

Seeds of Terror by Gretchen Peters, 2009, Excerpts

Pakistan is often described as the godfather of the Taliban. The truth is more complex. Although Islamabad tried to establish influence over the movement soon after its inception, the Taliban’s original benefactors were smugglers. As it was, Islamabad never established much sway over the Taliban, who Pakistani officers complained were willful and stubborn. Pakistan senior generals privately expressed worry to American officials that Islamabad’s covert support for the Taliban had gathered a dangerous momentum no one could stop.

By the early 1990s, Pakistan had more than 1.2 million heroin addicts. They had a major social problem on their hands. During the 1990s, western aid poured money into anti-narcotics efforts in Pakistan, mainly crop substitution efforts, which succeeded in reducing poppy output from a high of eight hundred tons per year to about two. Pakistan was no longer a heroin producer. Instead it became a major transport route for opiates produced in Taliban-held regions, which utilized the same network built up a decade earlier. Although the poppy fields and the processing labs had shifted into Afghanistan, the command and control of the drug trade remained in Pakistan.

Joan of Arc - Deliverer of France

Mark Twain considered Joan of Arc, his last finished novel, to be his best and most important work. Twain had a personal fascination with Joan and considered her second only to Jesus Christ. He initially penned this work under a pseudonym originally published as a serialization in Harper's Magazine beginning in 1895. There is a distinct lack of humor, and he didn’t want his readers to have expectations of a humorous work so prevalent in his previous works.

As soon as I read the first chapter [excerpted below], I was hooked, we should all be in awe of Joan of Arc. Coincidentally, I was visiting friends in New Haven, CT, and the Knights of Columbus Museum was having a Joan of Arc exhibit. Along with detailing her life story, the exhibit followed the legend of Joan through the centuries and to her eventual canonization in 1920. Her image has been used to sell war bonds and was prominent in the women’s suffrage movement. Her image is currently being used by the ultra-nationalist in France. Caution should be used by those using Joan to push an agenda. There are incidents of tragedy and irony that have befallen those who have done so in the past.   Emily Davison, Inez Mulholland

Mark Twain: “I like Joan of Arc best of all my books; and it is the best; I know it perfectly well. And besides, it furnished me seven times the pleasure afforded me by any of the others; twelve years of preparation, and two years of writing. The others needed no preparation and got none.” 

Joan of Arc by Mark Twain, 1896 [Excerpt 1st Chapter]
To arrive at a just estimate of a renowned man’s character one must judge it by the standards of his time, not ours. Judged by the standards of one century, the noblest characters of an earlier one lose much of their luster; judged by the standards of today, there is probably no illustrious man of four or five centuries ago whose character could meet the test at all points. But the character of Joan of Arc is unique. It can be measured by the standards of all times without misgiving or apprehension as to the result. Judged by any of them, judged by all of them, it is still flawless, it is still ideally perfect; it still occupies the loftiest place possible to human attainment, a loftier one than has been reached by any other mere mortal.

When we reflect that her century was the brutalest, the wickedest, the rottenest in history since the darkest of ages, we are lost in wonder at the miracle of such a product from such a soil. The contrast between her and her century is the contrast between day and night. She was truthful when lying was the common speech of men; she was honest when honesty had become a lost virtue; she was a keeper of promises when the keeping of a promise was expected of no one; she gave her great mind to great thoughts and great purposes when other great minds wasted themselves upon pretty fancies or upon poor ambitions; she was modest, and fine, and delicate when to be loud and coarse might be said to be universal; she was full of pity when a merciless cruelty was the rule; she was steadfast when stability was unknown, and honorable in an age which had forgotten what honor was; she was rock of convictions in a time when men believed in nothing and scoffed at all things; she was unfailingly true in an age that was false to the core; she maintained her persona dignity unimpaired in an age of fawnings and servilities; she was of a dauntless courage when hope and courage had perished in the hearts of her nation; she was spotlessly pure in mind and body when society in the highest places was foul of both – she was al these things in an age when crime was the common business of lords and princes, and when the highest personages in Christendom were able to astonish even that infamous era and make it stand aghast at the spectacle of their atrocious lives black with unimaginable treacheries, butcheries, and beastialities.

She was perhaps the only entirely unselfish person whose name has a place in profane history. No vestige or suggestion of self-seeking can be found in any word or deed of hers. When she had rescued her King from his vagabondage, and set his crown upon his head, she was offered rewards and honors, but she refused them all, and would take nothing. All she would take for herself – if the King would grant it – was leave to back to her village home, and tend her sheep again, and feel her mother’s arms about her, and be her household maid and helper. The selfishness of this unspoiled general of victorious armies, companion of princes, and idol of an applauding and grateful nation, reached but that far and no farther.

The work wrought by Joan of Arc may fairly be regarded as ranking any recorded in history, when one considers the conditions under which it was undertaken, the obstacles in the way, and means of her disposal. Caesar carried conquest far, but he did it with the trained and confident veterans of Rome, and was a trained soldier himself; and Napoleon swept away the disciplined armies of Europe, but he also was a trained soldier, and he began his work with patriot battalions inflamed and inspired by the miracle-working new breath of Liberty breathed upon them by the Revolution – eager young apprentices to the splendid trade of war, not old and broken men-at-arms, despairing survivors of an age long accumulation of monotonous defeats; but Joan of Arc, a mere child in years, ignorant, unlettered, a poor village girl unknown and without influence, found a great nation lying in chains, helpless and hopeless under an alien domination, its treasury bankrupt, its soldiers disheartened and dispersed, all sprit torpid, all courage dead in the hearts of the people through long years of foreign and domestic outrage and oppressions, their King cowed, resigned to its fate, and preparing to fly the country; and she laid her hand upon this nation, this corpse, and it rose and followed her. She led it from victory to victory, she turned back the tide of the Hundred Years’ War, she fatally crippled the English power, and died with the earned title of DELIVERER OF FRANCE, which she bears to this day.
And for all reward, the French King, whom she had crowned, stood supine and indifferent, while French priests took the noble child, the most innocent, the most lovely, the most adorable the ages have produced, and burned her alive at the stake.

Joan of Arc Startles Mark Twain

Famous Joan of Arc Quotes:

“I am not afraid. I was born to do this.”

“Of the love or hatred God has for the English, I know nothing, but I do know that they will all be thrown out of France, except those who die there.”

Question during trial: "Do you know if you are in the grace of God?" Answer: "If I am not, may God place me there; if I am, may God so keep me.

The Expected One by Kathleen McGowan, 2006, Excerpt
Christians have long believed that Joan’s motto was a reference to Christ and his mother because her banner said “Jhesus-Maria.” But it wasn’t. It was a reference to Christ and Mary Magdalene, which is why she hyphenated the name, to show them together. Jesus and his wife were Joan’s ancestors. ‘O Arc’ indicates she had some association with this region, Arques, yet she was born in Domremy. Joan of Arques – it’s a reference to her bloodline. Joan had visions, divine visions.

The English arrested Joan, but it was the French clergy who persecuted her and insisted on her death. Joan’s tormentor was a cleric called Cauchon. That’s a big joke, as ‘cochon’ means ‘pig’ in French. Well, it was that swine who extracted Joan’s confession and then twisted the evidence to force her martyrdom. Cauchon had to kill Joan before she was able to fulfill her role.

Just Kids by Patti Smith, 2010, Excerpt
On Memorial Day I took a bus to Philadelphia to visit the Joan of Arc statue near the Museum of Art. It had not been there when I first went with my family as a younger girl. How beautiful she looked astride her horse, raising her banner toward the sun, a teenage-girl who delivered her imperiled prince to his throne in Reims and struggled to free her country, only to be betrayed and burned at the stake on this day. Young Joan whom I had known through books and the child whom I would never know, I vowed to both of them that I would make something of myself, then headed back home, stopping in Camden at the Goodwill store to buy a long gray raincoat. 

Joan of Arc Music

Now the flames they followed Joan of Arc
as she came riding through the dark;
no moon to keep her armor bright,
no man to get her through this very smoky night.
She said, "I'm tired of the war,

Joan of Arc Movies [Netflix summaries followed with mammon reviews]

Joan of Arc (1948)
Ingrid Bergman was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award for her powerful rendition of the courageous French girl who led soldiers against the British in the 15th century. Instead of being lauded by the newly crowned king (Jose Ferrer, whose screen debut was nominated for Best Supporting Actor), Joan becomes the object of his suspicions, leading to her death.

Good contrast between the idealism of Joan the Maiden and that of a pampered dauphin king and his aristocratic class. Good portrayal of the trial, leaving a general feeling of disgust for the Church. Her suit of armor is a bit too much for the modest maiden, but it is a movie, plus a young Ingrid Bergman plays Joan. Interesting for the mature audience, boring for the younger audience.

The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999) 
Director Luc Besson's visceral historical drama captures the life, moral convictions and death of the young French girl who came to be known as Joan of Arc (Milla Jovovich). Battling the enemies of France while propelled by heavenly visions, the teen who would become a saint is betrayed by King Charles of France (John Malkovich), who, after taking advantage of her military prowess, consigns her to be burned at the stake as a heretic.

Now here’s the Joan in battle with all the blood and gore, portraying her change from maiden to warrior. Malkovich plays the pampered King Charles well, with an honorable mention for his mother [Faye Dunaway] who knows the mind of the “common” people. Joan is portrayed as a maniacal young woman with a driven passion who knows how to scream at men to get their attention. Dustin Hoffman plays a role as her vision companion in her jail cell. Interesting dialogue questioning Joan whether her visions were real or not and questioning her morals and motives.

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
Widely considered director Carl Theodor Dreyer's finest achievement and one of the greatest movies of all time, this stunning emotional drama recounts the events surrounding Joan of Arc's 1431 heresy trial, burning at the stake and subsequent martyrdom. Maria Falconetti turns in a haunting performance as the young French saint. The film's original version, thought to have been lost to fire, was miraculously found in perfect condition in 1981.

Unless you’re a film student, this silent film may not be your cup of tea. The film is set during her trial, using intense facial shots of Jane, the Bishop, and other old creepy clergy guys to tell the story. As entertaining as it is to watch these flustered ole boys interrogating Jane with their twisted legalese doubletalk, after a while, the overly dramatic facial shots are a bit too much.

Joan of Arc (1999)
Leelee Sobieski (Deep Impact) shines as the legendary warrior, who, at 17, led one of the world's greatest campaigns for freedom. Supported by an all-star cast including Jacqueline Bisset, Neil Patrick Harris, Robert Loggia, Peter Strauss, Peter O'Toole, Maximilian Schell and Olympia Dukakis, this miniseries blends inspiration, triumph and tears for a compelling look at a martyred heroine.

This mini series was a real disappointment, though the cast of stars would say otherwise. A missed opportunity to produce a truly stunning portrayal of Joan.

Saint Joan by Bernard Shaw, 1924
Themes are political, religious, and feminist. This work deviated from the traditional ways Joan of Arc had been depicted. It was this play that led to his Nobel Prize for literature in 1925. If this play ever comes to the stage again, it would definitely be a must see. 

Restaurant Jeanne D’Arc takes you back to 15th century France, the time of Joan of Arc, replete with tapestries, statues, artifacts, and stained glass windows.

28 April 2012

Mujahideen Consolidate Power

Seeds of Terror by Gretchen Peters, 2009, Excerpts

As soon as the Soviet pullout had begun, agriculture and trade began to recover in the Afghan countryside. Much of the renewed production took the form of opium growing, heroin refining, and smuggling; these enterprises were organized by combines of mujahideen parties, Pakistani military officers, and Pakistani drug syndicates. Hekmatyar built up his forces into a conventional army and increased his involvement in the poppy trade. Hekmatyar launched a systematic campaign to wipe out his rivals in the resistance, butchering dozens of liberals, academics, and royalist politicians.

Mujahideen leaders competing for a stake in the new Kabul government turned their guns on each other as Russian forces began their pullout. The vicious civil war that erupted would continue into the 1990s, dividing the country and the capital itself into warring fiefdoms. Afghan commanders would come to depend ever more heavily on opium profits. Drug smuggling by the mujahideen had set up the preconditions for the complete integration of narcotics – and reliance on drug money – into the politics of the region.

The mujahideen forces reduced Kabul to a pitiable state of rubble and ravaged the countryside as they fought for dominance. Smuggling routes, before mainly limited to Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan, now snaked up into Central Asia, where the Soviet Union’s collapse left a law enforcement vacuum and a population desperate for hard currency.

Post Soviet-Afghan War: U.S. Aid Cut Off

Seeds of Terror by Gretchen Peters, 2009, Excerpts

Robert Oakley, the U.S. ambassador posted to Islamabad, warned in a 1988 cable: “Widespread Pakistani belief that Afghan war has caused major upswing in narcotics traffic is well founded. Not only has war resulted in a flow of large amounts of weaponry to Pakistan, it has also led to increase in heroin traffic into and through Pakistan, through the hands of Afghan refugees as well as Pakistanis. We and the Pakistan government believe the situation will become worse in terms of both heroin and arms smuggling entering Pakistan from Afghanistan as the war winds down unless urgent, effective measures are taken right away. The fight against “heroin-Kalashnikov culture” is almost as critical to the future of Pakistan’s security as the fight against Soviet domination of Afghanistan has been.”

In September 1988 when it became clear that the Soviets were withdrawing Afghanistan, Washington began taking a tough line with Islamabad over drugs. The following year, the Bhutto administration launched an aerial spraying campaign in the tribal belt, created an elite counter-narcotics police force, and raided a notorious Afghan refugee camp, capturing one hundred kilos of opium and a large cache of gold and weapons.

American agents monitoring Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions discovered Islamabad had recently approached Tehran about technological cooperation. Relations between Islamabad and Washington plunged. CIA agents in Islamabad suddenly found themselves in the position of trying to get weapons back from the ISI and mujahideen. The stingers were now being put to use guarding two-hundred-vehicle convoys ferrying heroin west across the Iranian border. In just two years, the region went from being a central focus of U.S. foreign policy to falling off the radar screen almost entirely.

With the cutoff of U.S. aid to Islamabad, heroin became the lifeblood of the country’s economic and social systems. Known drug lords held seats in the national and provincial assemblies, and had access to the Prime Minister’s inner circle.

27 April 2012

Opium and Pakistan during the Soviet-Afghan War: 1979-1989

Seeds of Terror by Gretchen Peters, 2009, Excerpts

The United States and Saudi Arabia were the central donors to the Afghan resistance, providing matching annual funds worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Britain, China, and various Europeans nations also contributed. All the money was funneled through the ISI, giving the Pakistan spy agency tremendous control over which commanders and parties would benefit.

If the emerging mujahideen links to the drug trade were troubling, more worrisome still were reports Pakistan’s military government was deeply involved, too. By 1984, 70 percent of the world’s supply of high-grade heroin was produced in or smuggled through Pakistan. There were widespread reports the covert pipeline run by ISI, which brought weapons and material to Afghan guerillas, was carrying vast amounts of heroin in the return direction.

The ISI controlled all traffic and inspected all cargo passing in and out of Afghanistan. Pakistan’s spy agency also closely monitored vehicles plying roads into Iran. A number of incidents suggested the existence of a major heroin syndicate within the Pakistan military. Officials at the U.S. embassy in Pakistan admitted they were aware of the rumors, but rarely followed them up, lest narcotics distract from the central focus.

ISI Coat of Arms

26 April 2012

Opium and the Soviet-Afghan War: 1979-1989

Seeds of Terror by Gretchen Peters, 2009, Excerpts

For nine years Muslim guerrillas, secretly funded by the CIA, had waged jihad against their Soviet invaders. The conflict had united thousands of Islamic radicals [among them a young Osama bin Laden] who flocked to Afghanistan from around the globe to join what they considered a holy cause. Poppy fields and heroin labs had sprung up across the territory controlled by the rebels, who were known as mujahideen, Arabic for “smugglers.” A system developed where farmers would hire rebel soldiers to protect their drug shipments, and the guerrillas would use the money to support the resistance. When the Afghan resistance began, Pashtun tribes in Pakistan’s tribal areas grew more poppy than all of Afghanistan put together.

Inside Afghanistan, the heroin explosion was taking its toll on the Russian troops. There was a staggering low level of morale among the occupying force and used drugs on a fairly regular basis. Soldiers freely admitted having used narcotics – mainly hashish – saying getting high helped them escape the horrifying drudgery of their existence on the Afghan front. Soldiers described going into battle while stoned, trying to maneuver military convoys down Afghanistan’s treacherous highways under the influence, and looting Soviet military stores to trade weapons for heroin.

For God, Country, and Coca-Cola by Mark Pendergrast, 1999, Excerpts
The importation of opium to the U.S. increased dramatically, from almost 146,000 pounds in 1867 to over 500,000 pounds in 1880. Addiction was so common among veterans of the Civil War that it was called the “Army disease.” 

Army probes drug use by soldiers in Afghanistan
21 Apr 2012
The Army has investigated 56 soldiers in Afghanistan on suspicion of using or distributing heroin, morphine or other opiates during 2010 and 2011, newly obtained data shows. Eight soldiers died of drug overdoses during that time. While the cases represent just a slice of possible drug use by U.S. troops in Afghanistan, they provide a somber snapshot of the illicit trade in the war zone, including young Afghans peddling heroin, soldiers dying after mixing cocktails of opiates, troops stealing from medical bags and Afghan soldiers and police dealing drugs to their U.S. comrades. In a country awash with poppy fields that provide up to 90 percent of the world’s opium, the U.S. military struggles to keep an eye on its far-flung troops and monitor for substance abuse.

Soviet-Afghan War Memorial

1960s Acetic Anhydride: Opium to Heroin


The Last Phoenix by Carl Douglass, 1997, Excerpts

Acetic anhydride: the chemical use to convert opium to heroin, shipped in military holds that were as untouchable as the diplomatic pouch. The bags were discretely labeled and handled. The chemical was transported in flour sacks marked with the large lettered logo C.A.R.E., and accompanied by a statement “Gift of the Generous American People.” In the course of their business arrangement, the generous American people shipped in thousands of pounds of the valuable chemical which was then transported by US Army trucks over GVN highways without VC attack and transshipped across the borders of Viet Nam, Laos, and Burma without Pathet Lao, police or customs agent impediment. A considerable amount of money changed hands; large profits were realized; and triumph of international relations of sorts resulted when a common language and purpose [money] was involved.

25 April 2012

1960s Burma Heroin Trade

The Last Phoenix by Carl Douglass, 1997, Excerpts

Until 1962, Burma was the world’s largest exporter of rice, shipping two million tons annually. But after General Win seized power in that year, closed all borders, nationalized all industry, imprisoned all intellectuals and government executives, halted all developmental activities of the World Bank, forced all Indians and Chinese to flee the country, and drove out all foreign business – her economy failed.

The rice export fell to 170,000 tons; and civil warring among the seventy fractious ethnic groups made anything but opium production unprofitable for the majority of the peasantry. More than one-third of the gross national product became accounted for by smuggling, a natural response to the needs of the impoverished populace. To people whose average annual income did not exceed $179, the niceties of how one made a living were relegated to a low place on the list of concerns. The Burmese became rice importers and sophisticated drug refiners, transporters, marketers and exporters.

The SUN, or Shan People, maintained a 20,000 man army and concentrated their activities on the running and protection of refineries that turned out heroin by the ton. Together with the UWS, they owned and controlled more than 75% of all the heroin produced in the area, and they were the largest supplier [70%] of the insatiable American market. They were responsible for 50% of the entire world’s supply. The Shan people jealously guarded that status. Their $4-10 billion yearly trade afforded them ample profit to maintain a more than adequate security establishment and to deter any government that might foolishly try to rein them in. It also allowed them to participate in the hugely profitable and perfectly legitimate business of mining rubies and sapphires, the only other product worthy of mention in Burma.