Conning the government

Thanks to tODD for pointing me to this story:

A onetime biomedical technician with a penchant for gambling, Mr.[Dennis] Montgomery is at the center of a tale that features terrorism scares, secret White House briefings, backing from prominent Republicans, backdoor deal-making and fantastic-sounding computer technology.

Interviews with more than two dozen current and former officials and business associates and a review of documents show that Mr. Montgomery and his associates received more than $20 million in government contracts by claiming that software he had developed could help stop Al Qaeda’s next attack on the United States. But the technology appears to have been a hoax, and a series of government agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency and the Air Force, repeatedly missed the warning signs, the records and interviews show. . . .

Justice Department officials declined to discuss the government’s dealings with Mr. Montgomery, 57, who is in bankruptcy and living outside Palm Springs, Calif. Mr. Montgomery is about to go on trial in Las Vegas on unrelated charges of trying to pass $1.8 million in bad checks at casinos, but he has not been charged with wrongdoing in the federal contracts, nor has the government tried to get back any of the money it paid. He and his current lawyer declined to comment.

The software he patented — which he claimed, among other things, could find terrorist plots hidden in broadcasts of the Arab network Al Jazeera; identify terrorists from Predator drone videos; and detect noise from hostile submarines — prompted an international false alarm that led President George W. Bush to order airliners to turn around over the Atlantic Ocean in 2003.

The software led to dead ends in connection with a 2006 terrorism plot in Britain. And they were used by counterterrorism officials to respond to a bogus Somali terrorism plot on the day of President Obama’s inauguration, according to previously undisclosed documents. . . .

C.I.A. officials, though, came to believe that Mr. Montgomery’s technology was fake in 2003, but their conclusions apparently were not relayed to the military’s Special Operations Command, which had contracted with his firm. In 2006, F.B.I. investigators were told by co-workers of Mr. Montgomery that he had repeatedly doctored test results at presentations for government officials. But Mr. Montgomery still landed more business.

In 2009, the Air Force approved a $3 million deal for his technology, even though a contracting officer acknowledged that other agencies were skeptical about the software, according to e-mails obtained by The New York Times.

Hints of fraud by Mr. Montgomery, previously raised by Bloomberg Markets and Playboy, provide a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of government contracting. A Pentagon study in January found that it had paid $285 billion in three years to more than 120 contractors accused of fraud or wrongdoing.

via Government Tries to Keep Secret What Many Consider a Fraud – NYTimes.com.

This fiasco raises a number of issues:  (1)  The blind faith in technology on the part of people who don’t know that much about it. (2) How the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing in our government, including in its anti-terrorism activities that were supposed to get all co-ordinated after 9/11 (3) Why the government thinks it’s competent to run health care or the financial system when it’s so cumbersome as to fall for scams like these.

Arab revolutions

Just like what happened in the Communist states, popular uprisings have overthrown the autocratic government in Tunisia. Now the similarly autocratic government in Egypt is facing mass demonstrations. It’s also happening in Yemen. The government in Lebanon has also fallen.

We’re glad about that, right? We believe in freedom and democracy and oppose oppressive regimes.

And yet the United States has supported some of the Arab authoritarian regimes because they keep the radical jihadists under their thumb. Some are worried that democracy in the Arab world would mean putting the jihadists in power.

The Tunisian revolutionaries seem to be on the secular, even Westernized side. In Lebanon, though, Hezbollah, the radical Shi’ite terrorists, are taking power. Egypt’s Mubarak has been our guy, despite his dictatorial ways, and radical Islam is waiting in the wings should he be overthrown.

What are we to think about these developments? We went into Iraq to overthrow a ruthless dictator and bring freedom and democracy to an oppressed people. Right? So are we OK when that happens in countries that we didn’t invade and have no control over, and when free might champion terrorism? Help me out here.

HT: tODD

They thought she was Jewish

Earlier I had blogged about how my former colleague Kristine Luken, a Christian missionary in Israel, was murdered.  Her killers have been arrested:

Four Palestinian men have been indicted in the stabbing death of American woman Kristine Luken who the suspects say was killed because they thought she was Jewish.

Luken, 44, was a Christian missionary working in Israel.

Four more Palestinians, all from the West Bank, have been arrested for providing logistical support to the alleged killers, but have yet to be indicted.

Luken was stabbed to death while hiking in a forest outside Jerusalem with a friend, Kaye Susan Wilson, Dec. 17, 2010.

Israeli police tell ABC News they arrested two men who confessed to the murder within 48 hours of the attack, but kept the arrests secret because they realized that more suspects were involved, and that the group was responsible for a wave of violent crimes.

“The cell’s activity had an initial criminal orientation,” Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld said. But after the killing of Hamas leader El Mabhouh in Dubai, for which Hamas holds Israel responsible, “the cell decides to kill in revenge for [that],” Rosenfeld said.

El Mabhouh was a senior Hamas military commander. He was assassinated Jan. 10, 2010, shortly after checking into a five-star hotel in Dubai under a fake name. No one has been arrested in the killing.

The indictment states that two suspects, Kifah Ghneimat and Iyad Fatafa, “decided to enter Israel illegally in order to kill Jews.”

In a forest inside Israel but adjacent to the West Bank they encountered Luken and Wilson. Wilson “tried to convince them they were not Jewish, in order to convince them not to hurt them,” according to the indictment, but one of the suspects grasped at a Star of David necklace around her neck, saying, “What’s this?”

The suspects then stabbed both women repeatedly, killing Luken, according to the indictment. Wilson, badly wounded, played dead, eventually reaching another group of hikers before she collapsed and was taken to a hospital with multiple stab wounds in her chest.

via Palestinians Charged With Murder of American Kristine Luken – ABC News.

Actually, Kristine at least WAS Jewish.   She was a Jewish convert to Christianity.

Attaining total security everywhere

A suicide bomber set himself off at the Moscow airport in an area where people wait for arriving passengers, killing 35 and wounding 180.  So now security experts are trying to figure out how to implement security measures at ticket counters, baggage claim areas, and the rest of the terminal that has public access.

Again we see the pattern:  Airport security  responds to a threat by imposing a security measure designed to make the attack physically impossible.  Terrorists stop using that tactic but a adopt a new one.  Airport security addresses that.  Then terrorists try something else.

It would be nice if our security people would anticipate a threat, for once, instead of always reacting to the last one.

And even if we require going through metal detectors to get into the airports, a bomber could always blow up the people waiting in line.  And if that were made impossible, he could kill even more people at a shopping mall or somewhere else.  So to achieve total security we would have to put metal detectors and full-body scanners everywhere.

Terrorists look to unprotected parts of airports – USATODAY.com.

Tucson shootings & political rhetoric

Conservative polemics are being blamed for the shooting in Tucson that critically wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killed nine others, including a judge and a little girl. The killer shows clear symptoms of insanity, though, and was evidently motivated by schizophrenia rather than politics. And the liberals are ignoring their own history of demonizing their opponents and violent rhetoric. (There was a book, a play, and a movie fantasizing the assassination of George W. Bush.)

But still. . . .Do you think our polarized politics and the inflammatory rhetoric from both sides might have created a climate that could push a lunatic over the edge so that he actually does what many people have been advocating metaphorically? Or even if that is unlikely to happen, does our rhetoric create a negative ethos that is harmful to the country? Or is the problem greatly exaggerated? (We see great animosity in our entertainment media, but don’t we get along pretty well with our neighbors and family members despite political differences?)

Some lawmakers are proposing special laws against threats or symbols of threats (e.g., the tea-party cross-hairs targeting enemy politicians) against office holders or political figures.

Is there an ethical issue in the use of flamethrowing rhetoric? Does it violate the commandment against bearing false witness, as the Small Catechism defines it? (“We should fear and love God, so that we do not lie about, betray or slander our neighbor, but excuse him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.”)

What do you think?

Big trouble in Iraq & Pakistan

Moqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Shi’ite insurgents in Iraq who killed who knows how many American troops, has come back–from Iran–and his party is part of the new coalition government:

Anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose militia contributed to the bloodiest days of the Iraq war, made a surprise return to Iraq on Wednesday, ending nearly four years of self-imposed exile in Iran and raising new questions about U.S. influence here.

Sadr’s remarkable trajectory brought him home just as his political faction attains significant power, allied in Iraq’s new national unity government with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who just a few years ago moved to crush Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

It was Sadr’s recent decision to support Maliki for a second term, in a deal brokered by Iran, that ended eight months of political deadlock and allowed Maliki, also a Shiite, to cobble together his new government two weeks ago.

In another sign of Iran’s significant influence in Iraq, just as U.S. troops prepare to leave the country by the end of the year, Iran’s new foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, met in Baghdad on Wednesday with Maliki and more than a dozen other government officials.

The Sadrist faction controls at least eight of about three dozen ministries in Maliki’s new cabinet and has vowed to become a full participant in the political process. But the return of Sadr leaves open the question of whether he will seek to reassert his influence solely through political means, or will instead revert to violence.

via Anti-U.S. cleric back in Iraq after long exile.

Whether he uses violence or politics, we see the specter of a pro-Iranian strongman back in power.  Can anyone doubt that al-Sadr will eventually become the nation’s leader?

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, as you may have heard already, the governor of the province of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was assassinated by his body-guard.  Why?  He came out against Pakistan’s law requiring the death penalty for “blasphemy”; that is, speaking ill of Mohammed or Islam.  A Christian woman is facing execution for allegedly criticizing the prophet, and Taseer wanted her spared.  The case has become a catalyst for conservative Muslims in opposing the more secular establishment and its increasingly shaky government.  If the jihadists take power, not only will the Christian die, the Taliban in Afghanistan will have a powerful ally.  With nuclear weapons.

via Salman Taseer’s Assassination Points to Pakistani Extremists’ mounting power


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