Could we look dumber? Mmm… No.

November 24, 2010

This has to be a leading candidate for the Intelligence Screw-Up Hall of Fame: NATO, US, and Afghan officials thought they were negotiating with one of the Taliban’s top leaders and were making progress toward a settlement… Until it turned how he was a fake:

Coalition and Afghan officials have believed for months that they have been in direct talks with Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Mansour, one of Mullah Omar’s top two deputies, but have discovered that the person they have been in talks with faked his identity, The New York Times reported.

Mansour and Mullah Abdul Qayum Zakir, a former detainee who became the Taliban’s top military commander in the south after his release in December 2007, were appointed by Mullah Omar to lead the Quetta Shura, the Taliban’s executive council, in March of this year. Mansour took over the administrative role, and Zakir became the Taliban’s top military leader.

Zakir and Mansour replaced Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was taken into custody by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate earlier this year after he supposedly tried to conduct negotiations with the Afghan government. The terms of Baradar’s detention are unclear; some officials say he was not arrested but merely placed into protective custody.

Mansour was the Minister of Civil Aviation and Transportation during the Taliban’s rule of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. He also served as the shadow governor of Kandahar province after the Taliban were ejected from power during the US invasion in 2001.

The fake Mansour approached NATO and Afghan officials months ago, and “was initially given a sizable sum of money to take part in the talks — and to help persuade him to return,” The New York Times reported. Officials became suspicious about the identity of the man only after the third meeting. The man’s identity could not be confirmed; he was unable to return to the meeting with other Taliban leaders, and his demands were radically different from the Taliban’s stated negotiating position.

No one seems to know who this faker was, but, man, get him a spot on cable selling blenders! He could be the new Billy Mays! “But wait! For only $19.95 million, not only will you get peace in Afghanistan, but we’ll all become Mennonites, too! Call now!”

Face, meet egg. In fact, meet a full dozen of them.

My friend Jimmy Bise has a great rant on this, but I have to quibble with his blanket assertion that this shows our intelligence in Afghanistan is lousy overall. We do have excellent “human intelligence” penetration of the Taliban and the Waziristan region of Pakistan; that’s how we’ve been able to get information on the movement of Taliban leaders for our increased campaign of Predator strikes – it’s not all coming from communications intercepts.

But, clearly, we didn’t know enough about Mullah Mansour to even know what he looked like before the meeting, indicating a serious gap in our knowledge of the Taliban leadership. Worse, in my opinion, this incident smells like something that happened because of pressure from political leaders back home (including our own) to pursue “all avenues for peace” and an exit from Afghanistan. By leaning on the generals and intelligence officers in the region, pressure was created to find someone to negotiate with, so, when this con artist waltzed in, he was accepted by someone who said his bona fides were “good enough” and decided to take a risk.

And thus was a humiliating fiasco born.

This is just a guess on my part, of course, but it seems a reasonable one.

There’s no doubt this hurts our reputation, especially in the Af-Pak region, where the regional culture is based strongly on concepts of shame and honor. We just shamed ourselves with this act of buffoonery, and thus fewer legitimate sources will be willing to work with us, because we look incompetent.

And, in this case, we were.

ADDENDUM: this isn’t the only time we’ve been played for suckers in an intelligence operation, of course. One incident I recall reading about years ago involved sending a lot of gold to what we thought were anti-Communist subversives in Poland right after World War II… Only it turned out the whole thing was con by Polish intelligence and we’d been giving gold to the Polish government. In other words, we’ve been fooled before and will be again, someday; the job now is to find out why in this case and make sure it never happens again.

UPDATE: Luckily, Iowahawk has found another mullah for us to negotiate with.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)

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They really do think we’re that stupid

April 26, 2010

Late last week, I started seeing commercials from General Government Motors announcing to the world that GM had paid off its government loan – early and with interest. I thought that was good news, a sign that the company was recovering, jobs would be saved, and the government could unwind the majority ownership stake it had taken in the company.

Then the other shoe dropped and I realized we were being played for suckers:

Uncle Sam gave GM $49.5 billion last summer in aid to finance its bankruptcy. (If it hadn’t, the company, which couldn’t raise this kind of money from private lenders, would have been forced into liquidation, its assets sold for scrap.) So when Mr. Whitacre publishes a column with the headline, “The GM Bailout: Paid Back in Full,” most ordinary mortals unfamiliar with bailout minutia would assume that he is alluding to the entire $49.5 billion. That, however, is far from the case.

Because a loan of such a huge amount would have been politically controversial, the Obama administration handed GM only $6.7 billion as a pure loan. (It asked for only a 7% interest rate–a very sweet deal considering that GM bonds at that time were trading below junk level.) The vast bulk of the bailout money was transferred to GM through the purchase of 60.8% equity stake in the company–arguably an even worse deal for taxpayers than the loan, given that the equity position requires them to bear the risk of the investment without any guaranteed return. (The Canadian government likewise gave GM $1.4 billion as a pure loan, and another $8.1 billion for an 11.7% equity stake. The U.S. and Canadian government together own 72.5% of the company.)

But when Mr. Whitacre says GM has paid back the bailout money in full, he means not the entire $49.5 billion–the loan and the equity. In fact, he avoids all mention of that figure in his column. He means only the $6.7 billion loan amount.

But wait! Even that’s not the full story given that GM, which has not yet broken even, much less turned a profit, can’t pay even this puny amount from its own earnings.

So how is it paying it?

As it turns out, the Obama administration put $13.4 billion of the aid money as “working capital” in an escrow account when the company was in bankruptcy. The company is using this escrow money–government money–to pay back the government loan.

In other words, they used their Visa to pay off their American (Taxpayer) Express. Pardon my language, but this is bullshit.

The American people are still bailing out a company that should have been allowed to go bankrupt, the US and Canada still own nearly three-fourths of the company, and not a dime has been repaid. All they did was move money from one pocket to the other.

And the worst part is that Treasury and their lackeys at GM think we’re such gullible children that we wouldn’t see this for the insulting con game it is.

Congratulations, guys, you’ve given us something else to remember in November.

LINKS: Sister Toldjah, Dan Mitchell, Hot Air, Fausta, Power Line (and here).

RELATED: Senator Grassley is not amused.


California con job

July 24, 2009

Earlier this week, my beloved state of Madness California reached a budget deal that ostensibly closed for this year the 26 billion dollar deficit — you know, the one that the last budget deal was supposed to close. (But I digress). Amid much wailing and gnashing of teeth about cutting programs that we were foolish to fund to such an extent in the first place, our Governor emphasized that this deal was reached without raising taxes. If there’s one thing Arnie likes, it’s being popular, and the crushing defeat of four tax-raising ballot measures in the last special election by 2-1 margins drive home to him just what the popular (and populist) position would be. So, read his flexing biceps: No. New. Taxes.

Bull. Angry

Rather than raise taxes, the state will simply take more in withholding:

The plan also raises $4 billion in part by accelerating personal and corporate income tax withholdings and increasing income tax withholding schedules by 10 percent.

Get that? Rather than raise the tax rate, they’re simply going to take your money at the current rates, only faster. No problem, right? Hypnotized

In case you’re still boggled by the “We’re going to take more of your money without raising taxes” magic trick, let me list some of the problems:

  • In the end, we’re still left with less on payday. That’s bad at any time, but to do so when so many state and local workers are facing pay cuts is adding insult to injury. It’s already tough to get by; this will make it worse for many, many people.
  • Corporations will be left with less money to pay workers and hire new employees. With a state unemployment rate hitting 11%, that’s just insanity. You can expect the exodus of businesses from California to accelerate, not slow.
  • Because the state is taking this money via accelerated withholding, they will quite likely owe more in refunds next year. This is, in the end, an interest-free loan on our part.  Trouble is, the money they’re taking now is being used now to cover shortfalls. Where will the money come from for those even-greater refunds? Anyone whose memory stretches back to just last winter will remember that the state was having trouble meeting refund requirements even then. Typical of Sacramento, the state apparently prays expects the recession to end soon, bringing with it a flood of new revenues to cover their continued profligacy.

And Minerva will descend from our state seal to do a pole-dance in the capitol rotunda, too.

Remember this next election day.