Archive for the ‘Current Affairs’ Category


This article, published in France’s Le Monde, analyzes the use of the police’s investigations and information, by successive French Presidents….

De tout temps, la police a été l’instrument du pouvoir. Avant d’accéder à la présidence de la République, François MitterrandJacques Chirac et Nicolas Sarkozy sont tous passés par la Place Beauvau    
[Throughout history, the police has been the instrument of those in power. Before becoming president of the Republic, François Mitterrand, Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy have all passed through Place Beauvau]

It’s in French, so use the Google translator tool to help you read it in the language of your choice.
Sexe, politique et police des mœurs – LeMonde.fr
Avertie en continu, la Préfecture de police de Paris centralise les informations sensibles.
Avertie en continu, la Préfecture de police de Paris centralise les informations sensibles.AFP/ERIC FEFERBERG
L’Elysée, bien plus que les médias, n’ignorait rien de la vie privée de Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Le pouvoir, alimenté par ses relais dans la police, sait tout des secrets les plus intimes des hommes politiques, jusqu’à user des informations graveleuses dont il dispose.
Ainsi, des proches de Nicolas Sarkozy avaient pris soin de laisser “fuiter” auprès du Monde, ces derniers mois, l’existence d’une note, rédigée peu avant la présidentielle de 2007, par un policier de la base. Quelques lignes signalant la présence de M. Strauss-Kahn, surpris en fâcheuse posture dans une voiture, à l’ouest de Paris, dans un haut lieu des rencontres tarifées, à l’occasion d’un banal contrôle.
Sollicités, ni la Préfecture de police de Paris ni le ministère de l’intérieur n’ont souhaité confirmer – ou démentir – l’existence de cette note. Trois sources différentes ont pourtant assuré au Monde que ce rapport avait existé, et qu’il avait été porté à la connaissance de l’entourage de M.Sarkozy.
Selon l’une de ces sources, l’original de cette note a été passé au broyeur. A l’époque des faits, il fut décidé, en haut lieu, de ne pas donner de suites à cette affaire sur le plan pénal – ou médiatique. Candidat malheureux à la primaire du PS fin 2006, DSK ne présentait pas alors le même enjeu pour le pouvoir. Et c’est en parfaite connaissance de cause que M. Sarkozy, une fois élu, le propulsa à la tête du Fonds monétaire international (FMI).
Mais ces derniers mois, au fur et à mesure de la progression de DSK dans les sondages, des hommes de confiance de M.Sarkozy se sont vantés devant des journalistes de “tenir” le patron du FMI, dont ils menaçaient de révéler les frasques. C’est ainsi que cette note a refait providentiellement surface. Au même moment, le chef de l’Etat se posait en “moine trappiste”, par opposition à la réputation de coureur de jupons de DSK.
ÉQUIPE LA MIEUX RENSEIGNÉE DE FRANCE
C’est un fait : M.Sarkozy, depuis 2002, connaît certains aspects de la vie privée des personnalités susceptibles de présenter un jour un danger électoral. A son arrivée au ministère de l’intérieur, il a constitué une équipe de fidèles qui lui doivent tout. De Bernard Squarcini, patron de la Direction centrale du renseignement intérieur (DCRI), à Claude Guéant, ministre de l’intérieur, en passant parAlain Gardère, directeur adjoint du cabinet de ce dernier, ou Michel Gaudin, préfet de police de Paris, cette équipe est la mieux renseignée de France.
Fin avril, DSK avait d’ailleurs identifié le danger, comme l’a rapporté Libération : son appétence pour les femmes, certes, mais surtout les méthodes supposées de M. Guéant, à l’origine selon lui de la propagation des rumeurs sur sa vie intime.
De tout temps, la police a été l’instrument du pouvoir. Avant d’accéder à la présidence de la République, François MitterrandJacques Chirac et Nicolas Sarkozy sont tous passés par la Place Beauvau. Lors de son retour à l’intérieur, en juin 2005, M.Sarkozy avait confié :“Je serai mieux protégé.”
De fait, il en profita pour retourner l’affaire Clearstream en sa faveur, et surtout placer ses hommes aux postes clés. L’une de ses premières mesures fut de renvoyer Gérard Dubois, un conseiller du préfet de police – chiraquien – Philippe Massoni, accusé de s’être répandu sur la liaison de son épouse de l’époque, Cécilia, avec Richard Attias.
Il est vrai que les policiers, qu’ils appartiennent aux renseignements généraux (RG, désormais fondus dans la DCRI), à la sécurité publique, voire à la brigade de répression du proxénétisme, reçoivent des renseignements ultrasensibles. Ainsi, les patrons de boîtes échangistes ont pour coutume de signaler à la police – avec qui ils soignent leurs relations – la présence de personnalités politiques dans leurs soirées.
Etablissement connu du centre de Paris où le libertinage se célèbre au quotidien, Les Chandelles ont ainsi inspiré plus d’un “blanc”(note sans en-tête ni signature) aux RG. Les services sont aussi capables d’aller creuser des détails incongrus : durant la campagne présidentielle de 2007, les RG planchèrent ainsi sur le coût de la garde-robe de Ségolène Royal
MÉCANIQUE EXTRÊMEMENT EFFICACE
Les renseignements les plus “utiles” remontent naturellement à l’Elysée. C’était déjà le cas sous d’autres présidences. Dans les années 1990, les RG enquêtèrent ainsi sur la vie privée deBertrand Delanoë ou de Jack Lang. Des notes blanches furent même établies. Rien n’était étayé, mais plus d’un journaliste fut bénéficiaire de drôles de “tuyaux”
Etiqueté chiraquien, Yves Bertrand, patron des RG de 1992 à 2004, joua un rôle central dans ce dispositif. Mis en cause pour s’être intéressé à la vie intime des politiques, il assume ses enquêtes très “privées”, se voyant même“réhabilité” par l’affaire DSK, qu’il qualifie de“victoire posthume” ! “Je ne sais rien de l’affaire du Sofitel, mais de manière générale, cela prouve qu’il est légitime de s’intéresser à la vie privée des hommes politiques. D’ailleurs, on me commandait parfois des enquêtes pour savoir si une personne pressentie au gouvernement avait des fragilités”, dit-il.
L’un de ses principaux interlocuteurs était Claude Guéant. “Lorsqu’il était directeur de la police (1994-1998) puis du cabinet du ministre(2002-2004), je lui rendais compte de tout. Il notait ce que je lui rapportais, y compris les éléments privés, dans des petits cahiers”, affirme-t-il.
M. Guéant avait pourtant assuré en 2008 à Mediapart : “Concernant des éléments de vie privée relatifs à des personnalités, il n’en a jamais été question dans nos discussions.”Arme de déstabilisation – ou de dissuasion – contre un adversaire menaçant, la “police des mœurs” sert, parfois, à défendre le président.
La DCRI a ainsi mobilisé ses forces en 2010 pour savoir d’où provenaient les ragots sur le couple présidentiel. Suspectée, Rachida Dati fut mise sous surveillance. Même les plus fidèles des sarkozystes ne sont pas à l’abri de cette mécanique extrêmement efficace.

Gérard Davet et Fabrice LhommeArticle paru dans l’édition du 25.05.11

Advertisements

>

Cohabitation et tolérance
La singularité et l’exception marocaines exaltées à Londres
flecheRouge Publié le : 11.11.2010 | 17h26
Le modèle marocain singulier s’impose dans un monde en proie aux turbulences et aux divisions, dixit le président du Musée juif de Londres.

La vocation du Maroc en tant que havre de paix et terre de rencontres a été saluée à Londres à l’occasion de l’exposition «Morocco», organisée dans la capitale britannique par le musée juif de Londres en partenariat avec la Moroccan-British Society (MBS), que préside l’ambassadeur du Maroc en Grande-Bretagne, Chrifa Lalla Joumala Alaoui.
La cérémonie d’inauguration de cette grandiose manifestation a été l’occasion pour de nombreuses personnalités d’exprimer leur reconnaissance au Royaume, pays qui a su depuis plusieurs siècles donner l’exemple en matière de pluralisme et de cohabitation entre les différentes cultures et religions. «Le Maroc a été, depuis des centaines d’années, un modèle de coexistence entre les adeptes des différentes religions dans un cadre marqué par le respect des valeurs de chaque communauté», a déclaré à la MAP, Lord Young, président du musée juif de Londres et Conseiller du Premier ministre britannique, David Cameron. «Ce modèle marocain singulier s’impose dans un monde en proie aux turbulences et aux divisions», a dit Lord Young, émettant le souhait de voir les autres pays suivre l’exemple de l’exception marocaine.

Lord Young a tenu à souligner le rôle important que le Maroc a depuis toujours joué pour la promotion des valeurs de tolérance et pour trouver un règlement juste et durable au conflit du Moyen-Orient.
Par ailleurs, Lord Young a exprimé sa gratitude à la MBS pour son partenariat et son soutien pour l’organisation de l’exposition. Rappelant que la MBS œuvre pour le renforcement des relations d’amitié et de coopération privilégiées entre le Maroc et la Grande-Bretagne, il s’est dit convaincu que la grande contribution apportée par la MBS pour la tenue de l’exposition ne manquera pas de renforcer davantage ces relations.

La présence des juifs au Maroc date depuis plus de 2.000 ans, a-t-il dit, soulignant que l’exposition «Morocco» offre l’occasion propice pour rendre un hommage appuyé au Maroc, un pays où la cohabitation entre musul

Lord Young a également tenu à rendre un vibrant hommage à feu S.M. Mohammed V pour la sollicitude que le défunt Souverain accordait à ses sujets de confession juive.
L’exposition de Londres vise à la fois à promouvoir la diversité de la communauté juive et renforcer les relations de dialogue et de coexistence entre les différentes cultures et religions, a-t-il encore dit.

Même son de cloche chez Claire Spencer, qui dirige le département Moyen-Orient/Afrique du Nord à l’Institut Royal des Affaires Internationales (Chatham House, basé à Londres), qui a relevé que l’exposition offre l’occasion de mettre en relief la place du Maroc en tant que «référence clef» en matière de relations entre différentes communautés. «Nous sommes ici pour célébrer les aspects et les dimensions culturels du Maroc au Royaume-Uni, loin de toute considération d’ordre idéologique», a-t-elle dit. De son côté, Sydney Assor, membre éminent de la communauté juive marocaine en Grande-Bretagne, a rendu hommage à l’ambassadeur du Maroc en Grande-Bretagne pour les efforts inlassables qu’elle ne cesse de déployer pour la promotion de l’image authentique du Maroc en tant que terre de paix et de rencontres.

«C’est grâce à vos efforts que le public britannique aura l’occasion de découvrir la culture juive du Maroc, vieille de plusieurs siècles», a-t-il dit, réitérant l’attachement indéfectible de la communauté juive marocaine à la mère patrie et au glorieux Trône alaouite. L’exposition «Morocco», qui durera jusqu’au 6 mars 2011, représente un véritable voyage dans le temps, mettant en relief la richesse de la civilisation du Maroc et la splendeur de ses valeurs intrinsèques de tolérance et de respect de l’autre. A travers une collection de 74 photographies inédites, prises durant les années 40 et 50 par Elias Harrus, Marocain de confession juive, le visiteur découvre la vie quotidienne des juifs de l’Atlas et du sud du Maroc et leur interaction avec leurs concitoyens musulmans dans un environnement empreint de quiétude et d’enrichissement mutuel.

Ces photos sont d’une importance particulière du fait que cette communauté juive a, depuis, virtuellement disparu des montagnes de l’Atlas et du sud du Maroc pour s’installer dans les grandes villes du Royaume ou immigrer à l’étranger, estime la directrice du musée juif, Rickie Burman. L’exposition comprend également des photos captées par Pauline Prior qui a revisité, à la demande du musée juif d’Amsterdam, les mêmes lieux que Harus pour transposer ce qui reste du patrimoine juif au Maroc. Le musée juif expose également des costumes traditionnels portés ou confectionnés par des juifs marocains ainsi qu’une collection de bijoux.

A signaler que cet événement phare vient rappeler l’exposition exceptionnelle des textes et des livres saints des trois religions monothéistes, qui s’est tenue du 27 avril au 23 septembre 2007 au siège de la prestigieuse British Library (BL) à Londres. Tenue sous le Haut Patronage de S.M. le Roi Mohammed VI et de S.A.R. le Prince Philip, Duc d’Edimbourg, l’exposition avait réalisé un succès éclatant témoignant ainsi du rôle de premier plan que le Maroc joue dans le rapprochement entre les religions, les civilisations et les cultures.

Un tel constat de succès a été souligné dans un rapport élaboré par la BL, qui a noté que l’exposition, a été l’événement le plus réussi jamais organisé par l’institution, attirant plus de 200.000 visiteurs durant cinq mois. Un sondage réalisé par l’Institut Mori a montré qu’une grande majorité des visiteurs de tout âge ont indiqué que cette exposition de portée universelle leur a permis de découvrir les multitudes de valeurs partagées par les trois religions monothéistes: l’Islam, le Christianisme et le Judaïsme.

Convergence des civilisations

«C’est un Maroc fort de sa diversité culturelle et riche de toutes ses histoires additionnées que l’Angleterre
est invitée à découvrir», a déclaré à la MAP André Azoulay, conseiller de S.M. le Roi.
«Espace privilégié de convergence des civilisations berbère, arabo-musulmane et juive, le Maroc a su résister aux mirages d’une histoire réécrite en fonction des aléas de l’instant», a dit M. Azoulay après avoir donné lecture du message adressé par S.M. le Roi Mohammed VI, que Dieu l’assiste, aux organisateurs de l’exposition sur le judaïsme marocain, inaugurée mercredi soir au siège du Musée juif de Londres.
«Le message de S.M. le Roi donne sa juste mesure à la singularité, à la modernité et à la profondeur des choix faits par le Maroc pour résister aux tentations du repli», a ajouté le conseiller de S.M. le Roi, en mettant en relief la détermination des communautés juives marocaines, où qu’elles se trouvent, pour «afficher, promouvoir et protéger leurs racines marocaines et leur mobilisation effective aux côtés du Maroc».

Par MAP

Cohabitation et tolérance : La singularité et l’exception marocaines exaltées à Londres

Sharevar addthis_config = { ui_cobrand: “The MasterFeeds”}

The MasterFeeds


In a Computer Worm, a Possible Biblical Clue

September 29, 2010
Deep inside the computer worm that some specialists suspect is aimed at slowing Iran’s race for a nuclear weapon lies what could be a fleeting reference to the Book of Esther, the Old Testament tale in which the Jews pre-empt a Persian plot to destroy them.
That use of the word “Myrtus” — which can be read as an allusion to Esther — to name a file inside the code is one of several murky clues that have emerged as computer experts try to trace the origin and purpose of the rogue Stuxnet program, which seeks out a specific kind of command module for industrial equipment.
Not surprisingly, the Israelis are not saying whether Stuxnet has any connection to the secretive cyberwar unit it has built inside Israel’s intelligence service. Nor is the Obama administration, which while talking about cyberdefenses has also rapidly ramped up a broad covert program, inherited from the Bush administration, to undermine Iran’s nuclear program. In interviews in several countries, experts in both cyberwar and nuclear enrichment technology say the Stuxnet mystery may never be solved.
There are many competing explanations for myrtus, which could simply signify myrtle, a plant important to many cultures in the region. But some security experts see the reference as a signature allusion to Esther, a clear warning in a mounting technological and psychological battle as Israel and its allies try to breach Tehran’s most heavily guarded project. Others doubt the Israelis were involved and say the word could have been inserted as deliberate misinformation, to implicate Israel.
“The Iranians are already paranoid about the fact that some of their scientists have defected and several of their secret nuclear sites have been revealed,” one former intelligence official who still works on Iran issues said recently. “Whatever the origin and purpose of Stuxnet, it ramps up the psychological pressure.”
So a calling card in the code could be part of a mind game, or sloppiness or whimsy from the coders.
The malicious code has appeared in many countries, notably China, India, Indonesia and Iran. But there are tantalizing hints that Iran’s nuclear program was the primary target. Officials in both the United States and Israel have made no secret of the fact that undermining the computer systems that control Iran’s huge enrichment plant at Natanz is a high priority. (The Iranians know it, too: They have never let international inspectors into the control room of the plant, the inspectors report, presumably to keep secret what kind of equipment they are using.)
The fact that Stuxnet appears designed to attack a certain type of Siemens industrial control computer, used widely to manage oil pipelines, electrical power grids and many kinds of nuclear plants, may be telling. Just last year officials in Dubai seized a large shipment of those controllers — known as the Simatic S-7 — after Western intelligence agencies warned that the shipment was bound for Iran and would likely be used in its nuclear program.
“What we were told by many sources,” said Olli Heinonen, who retired last month as the head of inspections at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, “was that the Iranian nuclear program was acquiring this kind of equipment.”
Also, starting in the summer of 2009, the Iranians began having tremendous difficulty running their centrifuges, the tall, silvery machines that spin at supersonic speed to enrich uranium — and which can explode spectacularly if they become unstable. In New York last week, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, shrugged off suggestions that the country was having trouble keeping its enrichment plants going.
Yet something — perhaps the worm or some other form of sabotage, bad parts or a dearth of skilled technicians — is indeed slowing Iran’s advance.
The reports on Iran show a fairly steady drop in the number of centrifuges used to enrich uranium at the main Natanz plant. After reaching a peak of 4,920 machines in May 2009, the numbers declined to 3,772 centrifuges this past August, the most recent reporting period. That is a decline of 23 percent. (At the same time, production of low-enriched uranium has remained fairly constant, indicating the Iranians have learned how to make better use of fewer working machines.)
Computer experts say the first versions of the worm appeared as early as 2009 and that the sophisticated version contained an internal time stamp from January of this year.
These events add up to a mass of suspicions, not proof. Moreover, the difficulty experts have had in figuring out the origin of Stuxnet points to both the appeal and the danger of computer attacks in a new age of cyberwar.
For intelligence agencies they are an almost irresistible weapon, free of fingerprints. Israel has poured huge resources into Unit 8200, its secretive cyberwar operation, and the United States has built its capacity inside the National Security Agency and inside the military, which just opened a Cyber Command.
But the near impossibility of figuring out where they came from makes deterrence a huge problem — and explains why many have warned against the use of cyberweapons. No country, President Obama was warned even before he took office, is more vulnerable to cyberattack than the United States.
For now, it is hard to determine if the worm has infected centrifuge controllers at Natanz. While the S-7 industrial controller is used widely in Iran, and many other countries, even Siemens says it does not know where it is being used. Alexander Machowetz, a spokesman in Germany for Siemens, said the company did no business with Iran’s nuclear program. “It could be that there is equipment,” he said in a telephone interview. “But we never delivered it to Natanz.”
But Siemens industrial controllers are unregulated commodities that are sold and resold all over the world — the controllers intercepted in Dubai traveled through China, according to officials familiar with the seizure.
Ralph Langner, a German computer security consultant who was the first independent expert to assert that the malware had been “weaponized” and designed to attack the Iranian centrifuge array, argues that the Stuxnet worm could have been brought into the Iranian nuclear complex by Russian contractors.
“It would be an absolute no-brainer to leave an infected USB stick near one of these guys,” he said, “and there would be more than a 50 percent chance of having him pick it up and infect his computer.”
There are many reasons to suspect Israel’s involvement in Stuxnet. Intelligence is the single largest section of its military and the unit devoted to signal, electronic and computer network intelligence, known as Unit 8200, is the largest group within intelligence.
Yossi Melman, who covers intelligence for the newspaper Haaretz and is at work on a book about Israeli intelligence over the past decade, said in a telephone interview that he suspected that Israel was involved.
He noted that Meir Dagan, head of Mossad, had his term extended last year partly because he was said to be involved in important projects. He added that in the past year Israeli estimates of when Iran will have a nuclear weapon had been extended to 2014.
“They seem to know something, that they have more time than originally thought,” he said.
Then there is the allusion to myrtus — which may be telling, or may be a red herring.
Several of the teams of computer security researchers who have been dissecting the software found a text string that suggests that the attackers named their project Myrtus. The guava fruit is part of the Myrtus family, and one of the code modules is identified as Guava.
It was Mr. Langner who first noted that Myrtus is an allusion to the Hebrew word for Esther. The Book of Esther tells the story of a Persian plot against the Jews, who attacked their enemies pre-emptively.
“If you read the Bible you can make a guess,” said Mr. Langner, in a telephone interview from Germany on Wednesday.
Carol Newsom, an Old Testament scholar at Emory University, confirmed the linguistic connection between the plant family and the Old Testament figure, noting that Queen Esther’s original name in Hebrew was Hadassah, which is similar to the Hebrew word for myrtle. Perhaps, she said, “someone was making a learned cross-linguistic wordplay.”
But other Israeli experts said they doubted Israel’s involvement. Shai Blitzblau, the technical director and head of the computer warfare laboratory at Maglan, an Israeli company specializing in information security, said he was “convinced that Israel had nothing to do with Stuxnet.”
“We did a complete simulation of it and we sliced the code to its deepest level,” he said. “We have studied its protocols and functionality. Our two main suspects for this are high-level industrial espionage against Siemens and a kind of academic experiment.”
Mr. Blitzblau noted that the worm hit India, Indonesia and Russia before it hit Iran, though the worm has been found disproportionately in Iranian computers. He also noted that the Stuxnet worm has no code that reports back the results of the infection it creates. Presumably, a good intelligence agency would like to trace its work.

Ethan Bronner contributed reporting from Israel, and William J. Broad from New York.

 In a Computer Worm, a Possible Biblical Clue – NYTimes.com

Share this | var addthis_config = { ui_cobrand: “The MasterBlog”}

________________________
The MasterBlog


>

Air & Space Magazine

The 727 that Vanished

A case pursued by the FBI, the CIA, the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security, CENTCOM, and the sister of Ben Padilla.

  • By Tim Wright
  • Air & Space Magazine, September 01, 2010

Seven years after her brother disappeared from Quatro de Fevereiro International Airport in Angola, Benita Padilla-Kirkland is trying to persuade the FBI to re-open his case. She believes she has the “new information” agents told her they require. But she suspects that the agency already has more information than agents will admit to.
Kirkland’s brother, Ben Charles Padilla, a certified flight engineer, aircraft mechanic, and private pilot, disappeared while working in the Angolan capital, Luanda, for Florida-based Aerospace Sales and Leasing. On May 25, 2003, shortly before sunset, Padilla boarded the company’s Boeing 727-223, tail number N844AA. With him was a helper he had recently hired, John Mikel Mutantu, from the Republic of the Congo. The two had been working with Angolan mechanics to return the 727 to flight-ready status so they could reclaim it from a business deal gone bad, but neither could fly it. Mutantu was not a pilot, and Padilla had only a private pilot’s license. A 727 ordinarily requires three trained aircrew.
According to press reports, the aircraft began taxiing with no communication between the crew and the tower; maneuvering erratically, it entered a runway without clearance. With its lights off and its transponder not transmitting, 844AA took off to the southwest, and headed out over the Atlantic Ocean. The 727 and the two men have not been seen since.
Who was flying 844AA? Had something happened to make Padilla take that desperate chance? Or was someone waiting inside the airplane? Leased to deliver diesel fuel to diamond mines, the 727 carried 10 500-gallon fuel tanks and a few passenger seats in its cabin. Less than two years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the 727’s freakish departure triggered a frantic search by U.S. security organizations for what intelligence sources said could have been a flying bomb.
Retired U.S. Marine General Mastin Robeson, commander of U.S. forces in the Horn of Africa when 844AA went missing, says word of the 727 “came up through the intelligence network.” According to Robeson, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) considered moving U.S. fighter aircraft to Djibouti on the Red Sea coast, where the Combined Joint Task Force shares a base with the French military. Robeson continues: “It was never [clear] whether it was stolen for insurance purposes&hellipby the owners, or whether it was stolen with the intent to make it available to unsavory characters, or whether it was a deliberate concerted terrorist attempt. There was speculation of all three.”
Speculation that the theft of 844AA posed a terrorist threat ended, though it’s unclear why. Perhaps National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency technicians saw signs of a crash in satellite imagery—debris or an oil slick in the Atlantic, for example—or evidence that a large aircraft had landed on one of a half-dozen unpaved, 8,000-foot runways in the Congo, north of Angola. Agency spokesperson Susan Meisner would not comment, saying that the NGIA was not the lead agency in the case. (A CIA spokesperson also declined comment, as did a spokesperson from the Department of Homeland Security. FBI agents also refused comment, citing national security concerns.) Perhaps the speculation ended more gradually, after weeks without clues or sightings stretched into months. The disturbed hornet’s nest of a global security alert—the searches, bulletins, and interrogations—quieted, and in 2005, the FBI closed its case. I have filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the CIA and FBI and have followed in at least some of the FBI’s footsteps, interviewing the people who flew 844AA to Angola and worked with it there, hoping to understand how a 727 could just disappear.
IT REALLY WAS in beautiful condition,” Keith Irwin says of the airliner he acquired in Miami in February 2002. Irwin, 57, a South African entrepreneur who ran a series of information technology companies and, until 2000, a small tourist airline with flights from South Africa to Mozambique, had come to Miami to pick up a different aircraft altogether. Representing a joint venture with a South African company called Cargo Air Transport Systems, Irwin had arranged to lease a 727 and two flight crews—pilot, first officer, and flight engineer—for a year. The air transport company had signed a contract to supply fuel to diamond mines in Angola, where a long civil war had made transporting goods by road almost impossible. The 727, therefore, was to have been delivered with fuel tanks installed in the cabin. The joint venture was backed by a single investor, who had deposited $450,000 in a U.S. bank. Irwin’s job was to manage the flight operations, but the deal for the airplane fell through. Irwin ended up with fuel tanks and no airplane.
That failure stranded six crewmen who had assembled in Miami. “The guys then were desperate for work,” says Irwin. “Most of those guys had not flown in a long time because of the 9/11 story. I said, ‘Look, I can take you on if we can find another aircraft.’ ” And Irwin met Maury Joseph, president of Aerospace Sales and Leasing, Inc. Joseph owned three 727s that had recently been retired by American Airlines. “All three aircraft were almost in mint condition,” says Irwin. “American Airlines had a very good maintenance program.”
New deal: Joseph sold 844AA to Irwin for $1 million and change. According to his records, he received a down payment of $125,000, and says he stipulated that the balance be paid within 30 days. He agreed to remove the passenger seats from the cabin and to allow Irwin to take the airliner to Africa. Irwin says he cannot remember the details of the agreement, but recalled it to be a lease arrangement. In any case, the joint venture made only two payments and defaulted.
Though the two men now differ over the terms of the contract, they agree on one detail: As a condition of the agreement, Irwin was required to take along one of Joseph’s employees, Mike Gabriel, whose job was to make sure that the deal was concluded. “I gave Mike $10,000 and told him to fly with them,” says Joseph. “Stay with the plane till you get the money, and then come on home, and if not, bring the plane home.”
On February 28, 2002, with most of the passenger seats removed and the 10 fuel tanks loaded, 844AA, still in the livery of American Airlines, with a blue stripe down the side and an AA logo fading on its tail, took off for Africa.
Because Irwin’s partners had not arranged a landing permit, it took two weeks for the crew to make their way to Quatro de Fevereiro International Airport, where they arrived on March 14. Irwin, who had not worked in Angola before, realized immediately that the deal was in trouble. The company hiring his partners for deliveries, Kuwachi Dundo, was supposed to pay $220,000 when the airplane and crew landed, but instead the company’s representative made excuses. (Irwin lost almost $140,000 in the first deal and had burned through the rest of the $450,000 by March.)
The crew endured accommodations in a dismal apartment without electricity or drinkable water, near an open sewer. (Gabriel and Irwin didn’t stay with the crew; they had rented an apartment in the back of a house owned by an Angolan air force general.) The only one of the men not troubled by the circumstances they found in Angola was Mike Gabriel. Gabriel, a dealer in aircraft parts and engines, had spent a considerable amount of time in West Africa, and was accustomed to the AK-47s the men saw everywhere, including stacked up behind the bar of a club they frequented. Most worrisome to the crew was that they were required to surrender their passports on arrival. Irwin explains that Kuwachi needed the passports to obtain Angolan licenses for the pilots and flight engineers.
“I was scared to death. I really thought I was going to die,” says Art Powell, one of the flight engineers with the project. Powell had been to Angola before and had spent a year working in Nairobi, Kenya, but this experience was different. He felt intimidated by the people who had hired the crew for the fuel-delivery job. His anxiety was intensified by the presence of a local “helper” who toted an AK-47. The helper was a guard whom Mike Gabriel says he hired because the crew repeatedly voiced concerns about safety.
When Kuwachi got wind of the crews’ unrest (several crew members have admitted that they were planning to steal the aircraft to escape to South Africa or return to the States), the company refused to return the passports. Irwin and members of the crew went to the U.S. Embassy; only then were the passports returned.
By Angolan regulations, Irwin says, 844AA was controlled by the clients who hired it. Prohibited from flying the aircraft out of the country, Irwin booked airline seats and flew the crew members to South Africa. From there, two of the men immediately flew home to the United States. One says he is still owed $17,000. The other four crewmen, still hoping for the money they’d been promised, stayed on.
By April, Irwin was extricating himself from the deal made by Cargo Air Transport Systems and had found a new backer, an Angolan who arranged deliveries for a different client. Irwin and the remaining crew returned to Luanda and began flying the shipments for the new company. Mike Gabriel placed the total number of flights made at 17.
“It’s the most dangerous flying in the world,” says a crewman who asked that his name be withheld because he fears for his career. A U.S. Air Force veteran, he likened the deliveries to flying into a combat zone. When they approached the airfields, the crew tried to stay at an altitude above small-arms fire for as long as possible, then spiraled down to land.
“I’ve been a [flight deck crew member] for 30 years,” he says. “For me, it was an opportunity to make a couple of bucks… and when everything started falling apart, I probably hung on twice as long as common sense dictated. But I had too much invested at that point to bail out.”
Many of the runways, says Mike Gabriel, aren’t paved and aren’t like the ones U.S. crews are accustomed to. “On some, you land uphill, then go downhill, then uphill again,” he says.
At one airstrip, the anonymous crewman says, just before 844AA arrived, a 727 flying for a competing company crashed on landing and skidded off the runway. Although the crew survived, he says, some local residents were killed. “We gave [the other flight crew] a lift out of there but not before going over to their airplane and stealing some parts that we needed. That’s when I decided it was time to go home.”
Before he left, he says, a “big African showed up with a briefcase full of hundred-dollar bills. It was payday.” Besides paying the crew, the money was supposed to pay off accumulated airport fees and fuel costs.
“After that,” the crewman says, “I created a family emergency&hellip. I said, ‘My mother is sick.’ ” He promised he’d return in two weeks and left. “I had no intentions of going back, of course. I didn’t get anywhere near full pay, but I got enough that I could pay my bills and make it not completely worthless.”
By the end of April, all of the Americans except Mike Gabriel had left.
Irwin hired a local crew and continued to deliver fuel to the mines, but he was ready to leave too. The civil war in Angola had ended. Competition among fuel haulers, Irwin says, had intensified, and he was growing more uncomfortable with the delivery deals. His partners were claiming part ownership of the aircraft, but Maury Joseph had not been paid. Joseph, meanwhile, sent a crew to swap an engine from the 727. Finally, Irwin says, he was being followed—by a local man named Antonio, who, Irwin believes, was working for one of his partners. “I would turn around,” Irwin says, “and spot Antonio watching me from a car.”
Irwin began wedging a chair under the door handle of his hotel room “just like you see in the movies.” One night, he heard a key card slide into the slot on the door. The lock released. “I started yelling and whoever it was ran,” he says. The hotel security guards questioned the night clerk and learned that he had accepted a bribe to provide the key card. Irwin left the country the next day and didn’t go back.
Maury Joseph fired Mike Gabriel some time that spring. “He kept convincing me that next week, next month…,” Joseph says, referring to the outstanding balance owed on the airplane.
In May 2002, the only part of the original 844AA project left at the Luanda airport was 844AA.
THE SON OF A FLORIDA MILLWRIGHT, Ben Charles Padilla Jr. was always mechanically gifted, says sister Benita Padilla-Kirkland, and from the time he was a boy, he loved airplanes. In his mid-20s he learned to fly and became certified as an airframe-and-powerplant mechanic. He lived in south Florida with two children, one his own, and a fiancée of 15 years. (Efforts to contact her were unsuccessful.) Though the two weren’t married, Padilla gave her power of attorney in his absence and made her the executor of his estate, according to Padilla-Kirkland, and left her almost everything in his will.
“He certainly knew the airplane,” says Maury Joseph. Padilla was a freelancer, who had worked for Joseph on two jobs before traveling to Angola to repossess 844AA. Padilla had worked extensively in Africa. He helped Joseph ferry a 727 to Nigeria for a sale and during the negotiations stayed to explain the aircraft systems. “If you said, ‘Go to Cambodia and do this’ or ‘Go to Indonesia and do this’ or ‘Go to South America and do this’ he would do it. [When in Nigeria] I was with Ben daily for a month or more,” says Joseph. “You become fairly close to somebody when you’re with them day and night.” Joseph trusted him.
But another employer formed a different opinion. Jeff Swain, who works near Miami in international aircraft sales and leasing, had hired Padilla in the late 1990s for an airline he was operating in Indonesia—and fired him. “We had certain standards of conduct we expected from flight engineers,” Swain says, adding, when pressed, “He was too involved in chasing the local girls. It was an unstructured environment, and he just went bad.” Swain says that after Padilla was fired, he stayed on in Indonesia for two months and racked up a $10,000 bill that he told the hotel the airline would pay. “We finally had him deported,” says Swain.
Padilla once showed Swain a photograph of a woman with small children and told him it was his wife in Mozambique, but Swain says, “I never believed it was real. Ben was always marveling everyone with his bullshit stories.” One of Padilla’s friends also saw a photograph of a wife, but insists that she lived in Tanzania. Another acquaintance was told that Padilla had a wife in Indonesia.
Benita Padilla-Kirkland says she’s heard the stories, but believes her brother would have told her if he’d had another family. She doesn’t doubt the relationships, but is convinced that Padilla was helping to support people he’d befriended. “There might have been more than one of those situations,” she says.
WHAT IN FEBRUARY 2002 had been a retired airliner in excellent condition had by fall become a junker worth only the price of its engines. And Maury Joseph found a buyer for them: Jeff Swain. Swain says that Irwin and the crews had ruined the airplane. “It would never be of any value again,” he says. “You can’t put water tanks full of fuel in an airplane and expect it to be good. Totally stupid. But it had really good engines on it—maybe 1,000 cycles since new.”
In November 2002, Joseph and Ben Padilla flew to Nigeria to deliver a 727, and Joseph hired Padilla to fly to Angola the following April to pay the outstanding fines and hire mechanics to return the 727 to service. “If [the company that contracted for fuel deliveries] wasn’t paying Mr. Irwin, you can assume he wasn’t paying anybody,” says Joseph. “He probably hadn’t paid the fuel bill. He didn’t pay the navigation fees, the landing fees, and certainly wasn’t paying the parking fees at the airport. So all of those became things that we had to resolve and I had to pay all those.”
Padilla worked with Air Gemini, a Luanda-based airline that operated a repair station. The return-to-service process was progressing steadily, according to Joseph, and in May 2003, acting as Joseph’s agent, Padilla hired a pilot and copilot from Air Gemini to help him deliver the aircraft to Johannesburg, South Africa, where Joseph was waiting with his new customer. A day or two before the aircraft was to leave Luanda, Padilla made plans with Air Gemini to take the aircraft from the company hangar out to the main runway, where he intended to run the three engines up to full power for a systems check.
Late in the morning on May 26, when Joseph and Swain were expecting 844AA to land, Joseph took a call from an Air Gemini employee, who demanded to know why another crew had flown the airplane out of Luanda. “He was kind of hard on me,” Joseph says. After the shock wore off, he telephoned the U.S. Embassy in South Africa to report the disappearance, then called his wife back in Florida to tell her to call the FBI. From Washington, D.C., the Department of State, notified by the U.S. Embassy in Angola, sent a message to every American embassy in Africa: Alert aviation officials that an airliner has been stolen, and call every airport with a runway long enough to handle a 727.
For the U.S. government, fraud was one theory that could explain the aircraft’s disappearance. “Part of the intelligence was that the airplane was in a bad state of repair,” says General Robeson. “That was one of the speculations, that it was an insurance fraud situation. You know, ‘Oops, my plane was hijacked/stolen by terrorists and now I can do an insurance claim on it.’ So, that was probably as valid of an explanation when all was said and done as anything. But we just left it as an unknown.”
Among intelligence officials, the suspicions of fraud may have been aroused by knowledge of an incident in Maury Joseph’s past. During the 1990s, Joseph was CEO of a cargo airline named Florida West (which later went bankrupt). The Securities and Exchange Commission charged him in a civil case with falsifying financial statements and defrauding investors. The court imposed a fine and barred Joseph from acting as an officer in a publicly held company.
But Joseph, when contacted by the FBI, volunteered to take a lie-detector test, and Swain, who was there when Joseph took the call from Air Gemini, is certain that Joseph had nothing to do with the airplane’s disappearance. “Look, nobody was more amazed by this situation than Maury,” Swain says. He describes Joseph as utterly confused by the information that the airplane was gone.
The suspicion that Ben Padilla could have played any part in an insurance fraud angers his younger brother. “If anybody would say to me that my brother was involved with this,” says Joe Padilla, his voice tightening, “they’re full of it. ’Cuz I know my brother. He’s not gonna do nothing crooked. I know that for a fact.” He is convinced that more than one person was already on board, waiting, and that they forcibly took the aircraft, and killed Ben and John Mutantu.
“I keep hoping against hope that maybe he’s tucked away somewhere,” says Benita Padilla-Kirkland. The new information she passed along to the FBI was a possible sighting of the aircraft, one of many reported over the years.
Mike Gabriel believes the airplane crashed in the Atlantic Ocean soon after takeoff. One crew member from the fuel delivery operation thinks the Angolan air force shot it down with a missile. A Luandan pilot says the word there is that the aircraft went north and vanished near Kinshasa, Congo. One of Ben Padilla’s friends says the airplane was disassembled for parts in Bujumbura, Burundi, on Tanzania’s western border.
Picking through the fragments of 844AA’s history, I found a story of broken deals, disappointments, and betrayals, but no real clues to the aircraft’s destination that day in 2003. We may never know for sure where it went. It is the largest aircraft ever to have disappeared without a trace.
Tim Wright is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia.

© Smithsonian Institution

The 727 that Vanished | History of Flight | Air & Space Magazine

Share this|var addthis_config = { ui_cobrand: “The MasterBlog”}

________________________
The MasterBlog


Lunch with the FT: Tony Blair

By Philip Stephens

Published: September 10 2010 18:54 | Last updated: September 10 2010 18:54

An illustration of Tony BlairI had hoped I might meet Tony Blair at one of London’s more bustling venues – mainly, I confess, because I wanted to measure the reaction of the throng. But the rules of Lunch with the FT leave the choice with the guest. So, after a certain amount of cloak and daggery, insisted upon by the police protection officers who still accompany him everywhere, I arrive at Blair’s local Italian, Locanda Locatelli.

It is one of those restaurants comfortable with celebrity. On a weekday lunchtime most tables seem to be occupied by business types but Madonna is said to be among the evening regulars. Our corner booth offers a panoramic view of polished wood, fabric wall coverings and soft leather banquettes. A head or two turns discreetly as Blair enters. No one is impolite enough to stare.

Britain’s former prime minister presents a conundrum. His memoir has invited torrents of invective from enemies (critics is much too soft a word) among metropolitan elites. Yet copies of A Journey are flying off the shelves as “real people” open their wallets to read Blair’s version of events. He did, after all, win three elections and put Britain back on the international stage. Then again, he also stood shoulder to shoulder with George W Bush in Iraq.

I am getting ahead of myself. The Michelin-starred Locanda Locatelli is around the corner from Blair’s central London home. Its proprietor-chef Giorgio Locatelli, I will discover, is an exquisite cook. But first I concentrate on my guest. Blue suit, white shirt and no tie (I had worn one for the occasion), he is visibly at ease. The slings and arrows of media outrage don’t seem to have left any scars. He has just cancelled a signing at a bookstore in London because of promised disruption by protesters. But he’s still getting all those clicks on Amazon.

It cannot feel very nice, though, to have people call you a war criminal? Blair doesn’t blink. “I’ve always had a, I mean truthfully, a better relationship with the country than with the media because the media divides into a left and right of a pretty traditional sort. And the left always regard me as not sufficiently left and the right hate me because I win. Or I won.”

The style of, and reaction to, the book mirrors the division of opinion between liberal intelligentsia and voters. It’s racy. In places, it badly mangles the English language; the colloquialisms sometimes slip into cringe-making confessionals. We really don’t need to know about that night of unbridled passion with his wife Cherie. The book is everything, in other words, that the chatterati don’t like about Blair.

Yet it carries the reader along. There is plenty about politics and policy – more than in many political memoirs. He is way ahead on some things – particularly on what progressive politicians have to do to adapt to change; and, to my mind, profoundly mistaken on others, as in his reading of the struggle against violent Islamism. But A Journey reads as a story, not a chore.

“I wanted to write it in a different way and I wanted to write it in a way that is more open.” It was time for someone to explain that politicians are also human beings. “One of the worst things happening in politics today is this assault on politicians when they get … they do something that’s wrong or people think it wrong, or whatever, and yet no one actually sees it from the other side.”

He warms to the theme. “If you’re not careful what happens is your political leaders have to be all sort of buttoned up; meanwhile they’re subject to a degree of intrusion that in times gone by was completely unknown. I think it’s therefore quite helpful … to understand that they are human beings and to understand things from their point of view.” That’s why he has now owned up to the inner fears that had often lain behind the apparently supreme confidence.

There is more to this than artifice dressed up as candour, or indeed the desire to speak directly to people over the head of a hostile media. He thinks he has something important to say about the tumultuous pace of change in the world, the west’s response to the rise of Asia, the future of centre-left politics.

“I want people to read me unmediated rather than mediated because I think if they read it they will at least understand what I’m trying to say and it’s very much a book that’s prospective in a sense, because a lot of what I’m saying … is about where are we now and where we need to be.”

As we talk I am nibbling on Parmesan-infused grissini and picking small pieces from a basket of freshly baked bread. Blair resists the temptation. He likes to keep in shape. I have long abandoned such fantasies. Meanly, I take private satisfaction that the price he pays for keeping his weight down is to look his age.

The antipasti arrive. Blair has the salad of broad beans, rocket and ewe cheese. I hesitate before opting for the green bean salad with potato and truffle. The truffle always tips it. Mine is scrumptious. His salad likewise, says Blair. The plates go back scraped clean to Locatelli’s kitchen. “Local Italian” no longer seems an apt description of the cuisine on offer here.

We are sticking to sparkling water – a cue to tease my guest. He has admitted that as prime minister he fretted that an habitual whisky or gin followed by a couple of glasses of wine (sometimes even half a bottle!) over dinner left him close to the edge of alcohol dependency.

Guffaws all round. “All my friends have been saying it was quite the most pathetic and sad admission they’d ever come across. John Reid’s [a former cabinet colleague] comment was the best. Did you hear that? He said, ‘Where I come from in Glasgow they give more than that to the budgie.’”

There are moments in the book when Blair sounds almost melancholic. Politics, he explains, is lived backwards. Leaders are at their most powerful when they are least practised. Time brings experience but it also drains political capital.

He would have stayed on as prime minister had Gordon Brown, his chancellor and bitter rival, not forced the timing of his departure. Yet he bridles at the idea that he is now a lost soul. “That’s true … I do say [I would have stayed] because I have the confidence to say it – without actually spending my life desperately troubled I’m not still there.” So he has gotten over not being prime minister? Yes. “I really don’t miss it. The only time I missed it was during the global financial crisis.” Ah yes, that would have been a moment for him to stride the world stage again. As it was, Brown got quite a lot of credit.

But, he says, “I’m happy to go out there doing the things I’m doing … I’m fascinated by the Middle East peace process and I want to work on it. And my faith foundation is now operating in 15 different countries, I’ve got the Africa governance initiative, that’s operating in three African countries.” Then, of course, there are the speeches, the advisory work for a bank and the consultancy contracts for Tony Blair Associates.

Once during the lunch I think I off-balance him. I remind him that Peter Mandelson, a co-conspirator in the modernisation of his party, had once observed that New Labour was “intensely relaxed” about people becoming “filthy rich”. So how does Blair feel about living in private jets? Hasn’t he been seduced by the bling?

This evokes a pained frown. Most of his time, he protests, is spent on unpaid work – the role of Middle East envoy that a few days earlier had taken him to Barack Obama’s White House, his faith foundation, the work on governance in Africa and the rest. The speeches and the consultancy pay the bills for the pro bono.

“I would have been happy to carry on with being prime minister; I’ve been in public service for 25 years. I would have been happy taking the European job and going on a European salary … I’d be happy to go back to a public service job one day but if I don’t I’ve got the ability to make money, and I make it, and I provide for my family and I can do the things that I believe in doing.” The proceeds of the book – something upwards of £4m – have been pledged to a military charity helping the casualties of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Stuffy people like me are troubled by the idea of former prime ministers trading off their political careers. But Blair has a point. The flip-side of political leaders getting younger is that they retire in their prime. Can we really insist that fit fifty-somethings disappear into retirement or accept a cap on their earnings?

In any event, I don’t think the money is the motivation. What Blair really wants is to remain at the centre of things; to be a player. Wealth is an adjunct.

By now, we are finishing our main courses. I have opted for the day’s special – a sublime ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta. Blair nods approvingly at his char-grilled squid with chilli and garlic. Trying to trip him up reminds me why he was so good. When he was prime minister I used to see quite a lot of him. Before each encounter I would tell myself that this time I would not be bamboozled. Maddeningly, 20 minutes into the conversation, I would be thinking “Well, maybe he’s right after all.”

Blair told visitors to Downing Street what they wanted to hear – sometimes, as he admits in the book – bending the truth to that aim. I remember a colleague remarking that he “always believed what he said at the moment he said it”. So, you could add, did the visitors.

His gift, though, is about more than charm and the emotional intuition of a natural communicator. The big thing about Blair is that he knows how to frame an argument. Most politicians get lost in the foothills of tactics. He has a strategic brain – a view of the world – and the self-belief to follow it through.

The self-belief bit, of course, turned out to be his weakness as well as his strength. I would like to say that when the conversation turned to Iraq, I succeeded in pushing Blair up against a wall until he repented. I didn’t. Partly because I was ambivalent about the war at the time – I always thought getting rid of Saddam Hussein was rather a good thing. And partly because I deprecate the implicit assumption of many of the anti-war crowd that the world would be such a great place if Iraq and Iran were still fighting themselves to a standstill.

In any event he has heard the charges too many times to change his answers now: “We acted on the information that we had at the time; we also acted with a certain sense of urgency after September 11. I think people forget that.”

Yes, of course, he regrets the loss and damaged lives of the war but he is not going to say he regrets the decision to go to war. “We used to have a policy of supporting Saddam, to be a brake on Iran, and look what happened: it didn’t work, in the same way we actually armed some of the Mujahaddin in order to take on the Russians – it didn’t work, let’s learn the lesson.”

You could say Iraq tested to destruction his doctrine of liberal interventionism. On the other hand, are we to conclude that everything will be hunky-dory if only we leave the tyrants alone?

We opt for coffee rather than dessert, but it comes with a small selection of home-made sorbets and petit fours. This time I consider my waistline and stick, like Blair, with the sorbet.

Time is passing. Blair’s account of his titanic struggle with Gordon Brown grabbed even more headlines than Iraq. Some consider his description of his former colleague to be overly harsh; others wonder why he admits that, as prime minister, he did not feel strong enough to sack him.

The only point he makes now is that the struggle was more about the direction of the New Labour government than about who should be prime minister. “I think you need to make it clear there was a policy disagreement. People used to write this whole relationship up as if it was just a personal spat about a job – it wasn’t for me at all,” he says.

Our chef stands by the front desk as we leave. It’s my first lunch with a politician for a long time where the food has left a real impression. Usually it gets in the way.

Back in the office I pick up The New York Times to read the columnist Maureen Dowd’s take on the memoir. It seems I had been lunching with a delusional maniac. The thought occurs that perhaps I should have carted him off to Guantánamo. That’s the thing, though, about Blair. He awakens in many liberals the unhinged rage that Barack Obama draws from America’s Tea Party crowd. What to do, though, about all those people who are buying – even enjoying – his book?

Philip Stephens is the FT’s chief political commentator

…………………………………………..

Locanda Locatelli

8 Seymour Street, London W1

Contribution to charity £1

Bottle sparkling water £3.50

Broad beans, rocket and ewe cheese salad £9.50

Green bean salad, potato and black truffle £16.50

Char-grilled squid, chilli and garlic £28

Ravioli with ricotta and spinach £12.50

Espresso x 2 £5

An assortment of sorbets and petit fours (on the house)

Total (including optional service) £90

…………………………………………..

How successful has Blair been as Middle East envoy?

Of the many jobs and functions that Tony Blair has taken on since leaving 10 Downing Street, only one has provided the former British leader with any kind of international clout: his role as Middle East envoy, writes Tobias Buck.

Qadoura Mousa, Tony Blair and Silvan Shalom
Blair with Jenin governor Qadoura Mousa, left, and Israeli vice prime minister Silvan Shalom, 2009

Blair was appointed representative of the Middle East Quartet – the US, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia – almost immediately on leaving office in 2007. The post meant returning to a region where he is remembered, above all, for his role in the deeply unpopular invasion of Iraq in 2003. At the time, a number of analysts and diplomats cautioned that this association made him an improbable figure to advance peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours. That concern was gradually dispelled once Blair set up his office in Jerusalem’s famous American Colony Hotel. He made an early impression on his Israeli and Palestinian interlocutors, who noted both his dedication and easy-going charm (a rare commodity in Middle Eastern political circles).

More importantly, it soon became clear that Blair had not arrived with the intention of remaking the Middle East. He was, in fact, never supposed to play the role of peacemaker: his Quartet mandate spells out clearly that his primary task is to help improve the governance of the Palestinian territories and boost the Palestinian economy. According to his advisers, this was the mandate Blair himself wanted, believing that economic growth and good governance were a crucial – and previously overlooked – part of the strategy to end decades of bloody conflict.

What it means in practice is that Blair has been engaged above all in unglamorous aspects of Middle East politics: persuading Israel to lift a checkpoint in the West Bank; getting the Israeli army to approve the shipment of sewage pipes to the Gaza Strip; or calling on Gulf sheikhs to increase their funding for the Palestinian Authority.

There is no doubt that both the Palestinian economy and the quality of Palestinian governance have improved drastically since Blair entered the arena. However, many observers say most of the credit for the recent upswing goes to Salam Fayyad, the US-educated economist who serves as Palestinian prime minister. Blair has certainly contributed, in his role as a facilitator and mediator between the two sides, to the economic and political improvements in the West Bank but it is not easy to quantify how influential his actions have been.

“It is hard to say,” replied one senior adviser to the Palestinian Authority when asked about Blair’s contribution. “Many people work on many issues, but every word helps. Blair has tried his best to be successful but it is not always easy.”

Tobias Buck is the FT’s Jerusalem bureau chief

“FT” and “Financial Times” are trademarks of the Financial Times. Privacy policy | Terms

FT.com / Columnists / Lunch with the FT – Lunch with the FT: Tony Blair

Share this|var addthis_config = { ui_cobrand: “The MasterBlog”}

________________________ The MasterBlog





Underground Dreams: Beer, Hugs and Weddings

By MATTHEW MOFFETT


SAN JOSÉ MINE, Chile—Claudio Yáñez wants beer and a hot dog. Esteban Rojas wants to finally have a real church wedding with his wife of 25 years. Raúl Bustos wants to hug his five-year-old daughter.



For Chileans, these men and their colleagues are known simply as “Los 33″—the 33 miners who have been trapped half a mile below ground since the Aug. 5 collapse of the San José mine. The men have captured the attention of the world by surviving longer underground than all but a handful of mine accident victims.

The Miracle of the San Jose Mine

Zuma Press


Ranging in age from 19 to 63, they include a former professional soccer player, a Bolivian immigrant in his first week at the mine, a salty former seaman who had premonitions about an accident and a man in his 50s who is still waiting to see the grandson born just before the cave-in occurred.

What Chileans are calling the “Miracle of the San José Mine” is the tale of how unthinkable adversity turned this motley collection of miners into a doggedly disciplined unit, how a recently elected billionaire president risked his reputation in spearheading their rescue and how family members never lost hope.

The story isn’t by any means over. It will take three to four months for a 30-ton drill to gouge a 2,200-foot tunnel down to the chamber where the men are holed up. The plan is to hoist the men out one-by-one, a journey that could take about 40 minutes for each miner.

Footage released showing trapped Chilean miners in good spirits, as they come to terms with their months long wait to be freed.
In the meantime, rescuers send food, water and letters to the miners in tubes that whoosh down the four-inch shaft that serves as the miners’ umbilical cord. Doctors are gradually ratcheting up the caloric intake of the men who each lost an average 20 pounds on rations, according to health workers. On Thursday the miners got their closest thing to a full meal in weeks: stewed apples and bread with quince jelly.

In a video released Thursday, the men—shirtless, scrawny, with scraggly beards, but big smiles—showed the world their temporary home. “This is the famous shelter,” said one of the men. They pointed to a makeshift “casino,” where they played dominoes, and demonstrated how they had divided tasks needed to keep the refuge running. One miner was keeping a journal on all that had happened. “Get us out of here soon,” said another, in the spectral lantern-light of the mine.

The men can walk a distance through some unblocked tunnels, but spend most of their time in a couple of shelters that are relatively well ventilated and protected from cave-ins.

Physiologically and psychologically, the miners have entered seldom-explored territory, says Jeff Dyche, a James Madison University psychologist, who studied submariners when he served in the U.S. Navy.

Without sunlight serving as a regulator, the human body clock runs about 24 and a half hours, Mr. Dyche says, which means the miners are “going to be completely disengaged from what time it is in the outside world.” To make sure the miners are alert on the day of the rescue, he says, doctors will have to try and re-sync the men’s body rhythms by putting them on the same sleeping and waking schedule as people above ground.

Rescue planners at the state copper company, Corporacion Nacional del Cobre, have been discussing whether it would be necessary to blindfold the miners during the extraction or or conduct the operation at night, so they aren’t overwhelmed by the light when they come out.

More immediately, government rescuers are grappling with the question of how much control to place on the miners’ communication with loved ones. Earlier this week, family members said government psychologists had asked to review the letters they send down to the miners to make sure they avoided potentially upsetting issues, such as the fact the men may not be getting out of the ground until Christmas. Luciano Reygada, whose father is in the mine, said a psychologist told him, “Don’t say that we hope you come out soon. Just say that we’ll be waiting for you when you come out.” Rescuers have since said they gently told the 33 of their estimated time of departure, and the miners seemed to take it in stride.


Sergio Donoso, the uncle of Raúl Bustos, feels responsible for his nephew’s predicament. Six months ago, after one of the biggest earthquakes in a century along with a roiling tsunami smashed the southern shipyard where Mr. Bustos worked, Mr. Donoso suggested he travel north, to the mines. “He was worried about future catastrophes, so I told him there were stable jobs in mining,” said Mr. Donoso, who has been keeping vigil above the mine.

Miners trapped underground for three weeks in Chile are offered unusual help from the space agency NASA as they prepare to endure further weeks below ground. Video Courtesy of Reuters.

Mr. Bustos’ mother, Rosa Ibañez, came to the mine right away from her home in far-off southern Chile. It was the first time she’d flown on a plane. In Mr. Bustos’ first letter to his family this week, he said that he’d come up with a nickname for the diamond-tipped drill that rescuers had used to locate the men’s underground shelter: He called it “María Paz,” in honor of his five-year-old daughter, who relatives say is a handful.

Gregory Belenky, director of the Sleep and Performance Research Center at Washington State University, says the Israeli military found during the 1973 Yom Kippur war that the wrong kind of communication with family could add to stress. But Mr. Belenky, who served 29 years in the U.S. Army working on combat stress and other issues, thinks he would level with the miners about the rescue strategy “so they can plan, adjust expectations and so everyone is on the same page.”



The plight of the 33 men has been an eye opener for many Chileans. One of Latin America’s most advanced economies, Chile has been a darling on Wall Street for its free-market ethos. Its capital, Santiago, is clean and modern, with a scaled-down version of the Chrysler Building. But despite the emergence of other industries, including finance and construction, mining remains the bedrock of the economy, accounting for the biggest share of exports and output. The accident and rescue have allowed Chileans to get acquainted with people who are responsible for much of the country’s prosperity, but remain largely hidden from view due to the very nature of their work.


When the miners broke out into a ragged chorus of the national anthem after the first telephone contact was made with them on Monday, it was as “as though we couldn’t believe that some countrymen are still that way, of that caliber and that timber,” wrote Daniel Mansuy, a professor of political philosophy, in the Santiago newspaper La Tercera. Family members holding vigil above the mine said it more simply on a message emblazoned in marker on a Chilean flag: “Chile without miners isn’t Chile.”


The miners had no way of knowing what was in store for them when they showed up for their shift that fateful Thursday, Aug. 5. Like many of the miners, Mr. Yañez, who had worked eight months in the mine after leaving a low-paying construction job, “was just desperate for a paycheck” says his half-brother Pablo Lagos.


Twenty-four-year-old Bolivian Carlos Mamani, who emigrated to Chile to find work, was only in his first week at the mine, his brother Cesar Mamani told Chilean television.
While Chile on the whole has a good mining safety record, smaller to mid-sized mines like San José often escaped scrutiny by the understaffed mine regulator, according to unions and workplace-safety experts. After the accident, Chile President Sebastián Piñera cleaned house at the regulatory agency and announced the government would take a tougher line in the future.

The 121-year-old mine, operated by Chile’s Compañia Minera San Esteban Primera, had been shut down for about a year by regulators in 2007 after an explosion killed a miner. Mario Gomez, a former sailor who at 63 is the oldest of the trapped San José miners, had a nephew who lost a leg in an accident at the mine several years before that. Mr. Gomez’s wife, Lilian Ramirez, said her husband told her he was afraid of going to work not long before the collapse.


The collapse occurred at around at around 2 p.m., sending up a massive dust cloud. “We felt like the mountain was coming down on top of us and without knowing what was happening,” Luis Urzua, one of the leaders of the trapped men, would later say in a phone hookup with Mr. Piñera. “Then came the dust cloud, like four or five hours in which we couldn’t see anything.” The men lost a chance to escape through a ventilation duct in the first days of the crisis because mine managers hadn’t installed an emergency ladder, as required by law, Chile’s mining minister, Laurence Golborne said.
Firemen weren’t alerted of the accident by the mine managers until about six hours after it had occurred. The delay in reporting the collapse is part of a wide-ranging investigation into the mine by regulators and Chile’s Congress. Minera San Esteban Primera’s owners have said they tried to run a safe operation. They didn’t respond to requests for comment for this story.
The day after the cave-in, civil defense officials had mustered a 40-man rescue crew to go in after the missing miners. But the mission nearly wrought another tragedy, as the rescuers confronted a cascade of falling rock and buckling walls. “Rocks, dust, darkness, heat,” said fire captain Rafael Gonzalez Perez. “It was impossible.”
The mine collapse presented a challenge for President Piñera, a billionaire airline and television mogul, who took office in March. Chile’s first conservative president in two decades, Mr. Piñera has promised to run Chile as efficiently as he had his businesses. In a gamble that might have backfired if the rescue had failed, he cut short a trip to Colombia to go to the mine and has made three follow-up trips since. “It was a big bet but also a very important one at the core of his political message” of competence, said political scientist Patricio Navia.
Unable to send in rescuers to fetch the miners, the government shifted to Plan B: Drilling down from the surface after the trapped men.
But after a couple of days, the effort was looking like a geological shot in the dark. Engineers were finding the maps of mine weren’t accurate. “The situation is very complex,” President Piñera said at the time. “The mine continues collapsing. It has a geologic fault. The mine is alive and that enormously obstructs rescue work.”

Families at the site started hunkering down for a long haul, putting up tents or crude lean-tos made of garbage bags stretched above poles. Dubbed Campamento Esperanza, Camp Hope, the place took on a somewhat surreal air. The government started trucking in water and food, as well as sending counselors, cooks and kindergarten teachers. Shrines with votive candles and statues of baby-faced Saint Lorenzo, the patron saint of miners who is often decked out in a hard hat, sprang up alongside television satellite trucks and portalets. Other iconic figures were called on for luck. Relatives of 34-year old Edison Pena put the miner’s picture on a placard along with Elvis Presley, assuring him that “you will be bigger than Elvis” after emerging from the mine.
Below ground the 33 miners were also getting organized. Mr. Urzúa, a soccer coach in his spare time, was one of the leaders. He oversaw the rationing of their food stores, so that miners could have a couple of mouthfuls of tuna, along with a canned peach and some milk every 48 hours. But after two weeks the miners had almost exhausted their provisions, Mr. Urzúa said.


Worry also spread through the camp full of families. Ana Funes, a social worker from a nearby town, organized art classes for children as a diversion. But some kids’ anxieties consumed them, says Ms. Funes. On a bulletin board, along with crayon drawings of Spiderman and a fairy princess, was a self-portrait of a pig-tailed girl with tears streaming down her cheeks. “I love you, cousin,” was the caption.

By the end of last week, a number of the families were losing faith in the government drilling strategy. They pressed Mr. Piñera’s rescue team to let 10 volunteers into the bowels of the mine to bring out their loved ones. Government officials said that was foolhardy.

“We have done and will continue doing what’s humanly possible,” President Piñera said. “But not everything is in the hands of our engineers and technicians. It’s also in the hands of God.”

A little after 6 a.m. last Sunday the probe broke through an underground chamber, a short distance from the miners’ main shelter. The 28-year-old drill operator, Eduardo Guerra, thought he felt some vibrations coming from below. Some engineers came over with stethoscopes and said they heard something, too. When Mr. Guerra pulled the probe out of the ground, a plastic bag had been attached to the drill tip with cable and rubber bands.

Inside the bag was a note painted in red: “We are well in the shelter the 33.”

Write to Matthew Moffett at matthew.moffett@wsj.comCopyright 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. Distribution and use of this material are governed by our Subscriber Agreement and by copyright law. For non-personal use or to order multiple copies, please contact Dow Jones Reprints at 1-800-843-0008 or visit
http://www.djreprints.com
In Chile, Trapped Miners Dig in for the Long Haul – WSJ.com


Socialism and communism: the same thing

The Property Rights Alliance’s latest International Property Rights Index ranks Venezuela 123rd out of 125 nations, below Zimbabwe and Cuba and above only Ivory Coast and Bangladesh.
This index reflects what is obvious for the vast majority of Venezuelans: that over the past eleven long years, their property rights have been ignored.
This sad story started with the “rescue” of agricultural land on the pretext of fighting against the latifundios or large estates. But that did not prevent the government from snatching properties of all types and sizes, many of them modest and clearly productive. And now, the latest amendment to the Lands Act introduces so many justifications for expropriating a plot of land that, in practice, it eradicates private ownership of agricultural land.

Then came the expropriation of a large number of companies with the excuse that they were supposedly “strategic.” Using this rationale, the entire oil and electricity sectors, a large part of the telecommunications sector, and companies in basic sectors and companies engaged in food distribution and a whole series of associated activities were nationalized.
Meanwhile, in the cities, the authorities were encouraging squatters to invade and take over plots of land and buildings that were in strategic locations or were allegedly abandoned or being remodeled.
At that time, experts warned that the attack on property was not only aimed at large landowners or corporations and that, sooner rather than later, the regime would go after small landowners and owners of small businesses, as this was an attack on the foundations of the Venezuelan economy and against people’s freedom to engage in the economic activity of their choice, progress, and have the means to meet their needs without depending directly on the government and its handouts.
This has become more than clear in recent months. At the end of 2009, President Chávez ordered the expropriation of buildings in downtown Caracas housing dozens of small businesses, with the result that hundreds of ordinary workers were left without a job. Another group whose rights have been restricted is that of the concessionaires in municipal markets that have come under the aegis of a mayor sympathetic to the government. Today, these small merchants cannot dispose of the businesses they have built up, they are forbidden to transfer and even bequeath their concessions, and they now have to comply with conditions that make their continuing in business unviable, and meanwhile they are being harassed and threatened.
Just this week, a small shoe store was suddenly evicted in downtown Caracas. The excuse was the expropriation of Edificio Gradillas, a building that belongs to the Episcopate. The shoe store’s elderly owners, who had been in business for more than 40 years, were left out on the street along with their three employees and 14,000 pairs of shoes.
 
Then there is the case of Friosa, the largest food distribution company in Bolívar state that was intervened in May this year for 90 days. During that time, sales fell by 70% and working conditions were adversely affected. The workers have publicly shown how the company’s facilities and vehicles have been allowed to deteriorate and even how food that was going bad was being used to provide meals at the basic companies, but all their protests have been to no avail. The intervention has been extended for another 90 days and now anyone who protests runs the risk of losing his job.
 
As Fidel said: socialism and communism are the same thing.
Share this|var addthis_config = { ui_cobrand: “The MasterBlog”}
________________________





%d bloggers like this: