(FFF) – The Power to Assassinate a Compliant and Submissive People
President Obama’s nomination of John Brennan is being held up over Brennan’s refusal to state whether the president’s power to assassinate Americans (and others) extends to American soil. The controversy is summed up in a great article by Glenn Greenwald.
The fact that Brennan could not bring himself to immediately say that the president doesn’t have the power to assassinate Americans (and others) right here within the United States is revealing. He undoubtedly knows that the president does claim to wield such power and that the president just doesn’t want to alarm Americans by informing them that he now wields the power to assassinate anyone he wants, including Americans here in the United States.
I can’t see how there’s any room for doubt here. Ever since President Bush claimed extraordinary powers after the 9/11 attacks, we here at The Future of Freedom Foundation have been pointing out that the powers were not limited to foreigners or to foreign lands. When U.S. forces, both military and CIA, were kidnapping people, torturing them, and incarcerating them without trial, we kept emphasizing that such powers were not limited to foreigners. By following the logic employed by Bush and his associates, it was clear that those extraordinary powers extended to Americans as well, both abroad and here at home.
But all too many Americans comforted themselves by thinking that those extraordinary powers applied only to foreigners and that the powers were necessary to keep them “safe.” Therefore, they endorsed what was going on with much enthusiasm, simply blocking out of their minds that they were also endorsing the most revolutionary change in the relationship between the federal government and the American citizenry in U.S. history.
Then came the case of Jose Padilla. He was an American who was accused of conspiracy to commit terrorism. Rather than have him indicted and then prosecute him in federal court, the feds whisked him away to a military dungeon, where the Pentagon tortured him and threatened to keep him incarcerated for the rest of his life as an “enemy combatant” in the “war on terrorism.” We took a leading role in opposing that extraordinary exercise of military supremacy over the American citizenry. We continually pointed out that what they did to Padilla, if upheld, they could then do to all other Americans. But because Padilla was not the most sympathetic character in the world, all too many Americans were happy over what the feds were doing to him, blocking out of their minds that the feds could now do the same thing to all other Americans.
And sure enough, the federal courts, in the fear-ridden environment of post-9/11, upheld what the president and the Pentagon did to Padilla, which means that they can now do the same to every American — and some 12 years after the 9/11 attacks! And now we have the president’s assassination program, in which the president, along with his military and CIA, now wield the power to assassinate anyone they want, no questions asked. They’ve already killed countless foreigners as well as at least three Americans, including a 16-year-old boy. They do it all in secret and are not required to answer any questions as to who they have assassinated or why. Their power to kill people is omnipotent.
Do they claim the power to assassinate Americans right here at home? How can there be any doubt about it? From the very beginning, they simply converted a standard federal crime — terrorism — into an act of war. They called it “the war on terrorism,” and said that this war was just like World Wars I and II. They said that in war, they have the right to take captives, torture them, and execute illegal enemy combatants, and also to assassinate the enemy. They also said that this war would go on forever or for at least the lifetimes of everyone living today, given that there were so many terrorists in the world. As part of that war, the president, the military, and the CIA would have to assume extraordinary powers, they said, ones that were inherent to the most extreme dictatorships in history.
Significantly, they repeatedly emphasized that in this war, the battlefield wasn’t limited to the Middle East or surrounding regions. Instead, in this war the entire world constituted the battlefield. That, of course, included the United States. Thus, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to draw the logical conclusion — whatever extraordinary powers were being exercised against foreign “enemy combatants” in the “war on terrorism” could be applied against people right here on American soil, including Americans. Of course, as we have also been pointing out since 9/11, the entire matter is just one great big sham and fraud.
They took a federal criminal offense — terrorism — and used it a ruse to claim that America was now “at war” and then claimed extreme dictatorial powers in the process. It would be no different if the president used another federal war — the “war on drugs” — as a ruse to assume extraordinary dictatorial powers, such as the power to kidnap, torture, execute, and assassinate suspected drug users and dealers. Our American ancestors tried their best to prevent this dictatorial nonsense. That’s why they used the Constitution to bring into existence a government of limited, enumerated powers. Notice that the dictatorial powers claimed by Bush and Obama are not among those enumerated powers.
To make sure that federal officials got the point, our ancestors demanded the enactment of four separate amendments to the Constitution — the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th Amendments. Those amendments stated that with respect to federal crimes, people would be guaranteed the protections of criminal indictments, due process of law, trial by jury, freedom from cruel and unusual punishments, and other protections. And there is another important thing to note about those four amendments. Notice that the protections and guarantees apply to people in general, not just to Americans. That’s because our ancestors understood that justice requires that the rules apply to everyone equally, not one set of rules for foreigners and another set of rules for Americans.
Thus, under our system of justice, President Obama has no right to be assassinating anyone or torturing anyone or incarcerating anyone without due process of law and trial by jury. And it must be emphasized: terrorism is, in fact, a federal crime. That’s why they ultimately made Padilla a criminal defendant. That’s why terrorism is listed in the U.S. Code as a criminal offense. That’s why they have terrorism cases in federal court all the time.
The truth is that there is no real war and there has never been one, any more than there has been a real war in the “war on drugs.” After all, how is the enemy supposed to surrender in this “war”? Where are the transport ships bringing invading troops to America? Where are the supply lines? And let’s not forget something else of equal importance — the only reason that people are killing U.S. troops over there is because they’re over there interfering with the affairs of other countries.
That’s what the killing is all about on both sides —not because people are trying to conquer America and enslave Americans but simply because they want the U.S. government, especially the U.S. military and CIA, out of their countries. And the more the Pentagon and the CIA continue to kill people in the process, the more they generate an endless supply of terrorists, which they then use to perpetuate their dictatorial powers. As I have long pointed out, the U.S. government is the greatest terrorist-producing machine in history.
It’s all been a sham, a fraud, and a ruse to enable the U.S. national-security state to adopt the same powers of dictatorship that it has long supported and trained, such as Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile, the military dictatorships in Guatemala, the Shah’s dictatorship in Iran, Mubarak’s dictatorship in Egypt, and many more.
But Brennan shouldn’t been concerned about alarming Americans about Obama’s power to assassinate them on American soil. As we have learned since 9/11, the American people are among the most compliant, cooperative, and submissive people on the planet.
All the feds have to do is say that they are doing it to keep them safe, and except for libertarians and (a few liberals and conservatives), unfortunately all too many Americans continue to fall for anything and agree to anything the government wants to do to them.
- Drones, Assassinations, and the Drug War (fff.org)
- Obama Officials Refuse to Say if Assassination Power Extends to US Soil (thelibertybeacon.com)
- Brennan Refuses to Rule Out Drone Assassinations Within the US (globalresearch.ca)
- US silenced ex-White House official on terror drone program (fromthetrenchesworldreport.com)
Published: 12 May, 2012, 17:28
A leaked US Air Force document stipulates a drone that happens to capture surveillance images of Americans may store them for a period of 90 days. The paper appears to justify spying on citizens, as long as it is “incidental.”
The document accepts that the Air Force may not record information non-consensually; however it does state “collected imagery may incidentally include US persons or private property without consent.”
The report, dated April 23 was discovered by Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists and has been put online.
Data that is accidentally recorded may be stored for a period of 90 days by the Pentagon while it is analyzed to see if the subjects are legitimate targets for state surveillance. The Pentagon may also disseminate this data among other government organizations if it sees fit.
“Even though information may not be collectible, it may be retained for the length of time necessary to transfer it to another DoD entity or government agency to whose function it pertains,” states the document.
In addition, it justifies the gathering of data on domestic targets in certain circumstances. According to the paper, these include surveillance of natural disasters, environmental studies, system testing and training, and counterintelligence and security-related vulnerability assessments.
The document seems to spell bad news for civil liberties, considering the US government passed a bill in February allocating $63 billion to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
If the bill is signed into law it will effectively allow the FAA to fill US skies with drones, a massive 30,000 predicted to be operational in US airspace by 2020.
Over 30 prominent civil rights groups in the US have rounded on the FAA and demanded that it reconsider the legislation and hold a rule-making session to address privacy and safety threats.
“Unfortunately, nothing in the bill would address the very serious privacy issues raised by drone aircraft. This bill would push the nation willy-nilly toward an era of aerial surveillance without any steps to protect the traditional privacy that Americans have always enjoyed and expected,” said the American Civil Liberties Union in response to the legislation.
The bill has sparked fears among Americans that their civil liberties may be under threat, considering that the use of drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been extended to carry out attacks on militants.
- Air Force Document: Drones Can Be Used To Spy On Americans (wrc559.com)
- | Wake Up: US Air Force drones can now spy on YOU! (truthaholics.wordpress.com)
By Nick Turse Wednesday, Sep 21, 2011
The “arc of instability” includes 97 countries. A startling number of these nations are in turmoil, and in every single one of them, Washington is militarily involved.
It’s a story that should take your breath away: the destabilization of what, in the Bush years, used to be called “the arc of instability.” It involves at least 97 countries, across the bulk of the global south, much of it coinciding with the oil heartlands of the planet. A startling number of these nations are now in turmoil, and in every single one of them — from Afghanistan and Algeria to Yemen and Zambia — Washington is militarily involved, overtly or covertly, in outright war or what passes for peace.
Garrisoning the planet is just part of it. The Pentagon and U.S. intelligence services are also running covert special forces and spy operations, launching drone attacks, building bases and secret prisons, training, arming, and funding local security forces, and engaging in a host of other militarized activities right up to full-scale war. But while you consider this, keep one fact in mind: the odds are that there is no longer a single nation in the arc of instability in which the United States is in no way militarily involved.
Covenant of the Arc
“Freedom is on the march in the broader Middle East,” the president said in his speech. “The hope of liberty now reaches from Kabul to Baghdad to Beirut and beyond. Slowly but surely, we’re helping to transform the broader Middle East from an arc of instability into an arc of freedom.”
An arc of freedom. You could be forgiven if you thought that this was an excerpt from President Barack Obama’s Arab Spring speech, where he said “[I]t will be the policy of the United States to… support transitions to democracy.” Those were, however, the words of his predecessor George W. Bush. The giveaway is that phrase “arc of instability,” a core rhetorical concept of the former president’s global vision and that of his neoconservative supporters.
The dream of the Bush years was to militarily dominate that arc, which largely coincided with the area from North Africa to the Chinese border, also known as the Greater Middle East, but sometimes was said to stretch from Latin America to Southeast Asia. While the phrase has been dropped in the Obama years, when it comes to projecting military power President Obama is in the process of trumping his predecessor.
In addition to waging more wars in “arc” nations, Obama has overseen the deployment of greater numbers of special operations forces to the region, has transferred or brokered the sale of substantial quantities of weapons there, while continuing to build and expand military bases at a torrid rate, as well as training and supplying large numbers of indigenous forces. Pentagon documents and open source information indicate that there is not a single country in that arc in which U.S. military and intelligence agencies are not now active. This raises questions about just how crucial the American role has been in the region’s increasing volatility and destabilization.
Flooding the Arc
Given the centrality of the arc of instability to Bush administration thinking, it was hardly surprising that it launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and carried out limited strikes in three other arc states — Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia. Nor should anyone have been shocked that it also deployed elite military forces and special operators from the Central Intelligence Agency elsewhere within the arc.
In his book The One Percent Doctrine, journalist Ron Suskind reported on CIA plans, unveiled in September 2001 and known as the “Worldwide Attack Matrix,” for “detailed operations against terrorists in 80 countries.” At about the same time, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld proclaimed that the nation had embarked on “a large multi-headed effort that probably spans 60 countries.” By the end of the Bush years, the Pentagon would indeed have special operations forces deployed in 60 countries around the world.
It has been the Obama administration, however, that has embraced the concept far more fully and engaged the region even more broadly. Last year, the Washington Post reported that U.S. had deployed special operations forces in 75 countries, from South America to Central Asia. Recently, however, U.S. Special Operations Command spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told me that on any given day, America’s elite troops are working in about 70 countries, and that its country total by year’s end would be around 120. These forces are engaged in a host of missions, from Army Rangers involved in conventional combat in Afghanistan to the team of Navy SEALs who assassinated Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, to trainers from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines within U.S. Special Operations Command working globally from the Dominican Republic to Yemen.
The United States is now involved in wars in six arc-of-instability nations: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. It has military personnel deployed in other arc states, including Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates. Of these countries, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Djibouti, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates all host U.S. military bases, while the CIA is reportedly building a secret base somewhere in the region for use in its expanded drone wars in Yemen and Somalia. It is also using already existing facilities in Djibouti, Ethiopia, and the United Arab Emirates for the same purposes, and operating a clandestine base in Somalia where it runs indigenous agents and carries out counterterrorism training for local partners.
In addition to its own military efforts, the Obama administration has also arranged for the sale of weaponry to regimes in arc states across the Middle East, including Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. It has been indoctrinating and schooling indigenous military partners through the State Department’s and Pentagon’s International Military Education and Training program.* (Emphasis added) Last year, it provided training to more than 7,000 students from 130 countries. “The emphasis is on the Middle East and Africa because we know that terrorism will grow, and we know that vulnerable countries are the most targeted,” Kay Judkins, the program’s policy manager, recently told the American Forces Press Service.
According to Pentagon documents released earlier this year, the U.S. has personnel — some in token numbers, some in more sizeable contingents — deployed in 76 other nations sometimes counted in the arc of instability: Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Syria, Antigua, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, Venezuela, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
While arrests of 30 members of an alleged CIA spy ring in Iran earlier this year may be, like earlier incarcerations of supposed American “spies”, pure theater for internal consumption or international bargaining, there is little doubt that the U.S. is conducting covert operations there, too. Last year, reports surfaced that U.S. black ops teams had been authorized to run missions inside that country, and spies and local proxies are almost certainly at work there as well. Just recently, the Wall Street Journal revealed a series of “secret operations on the Iran-Iraq border” by the U.S. military and a coming CIA campaign of covert operations aimed at halting the smuggling of Iranian arms into Iraq.
All of this suggests that there may, in fact, not be a single nation within the arc of instability, however defined, in which the United States is without a base or military or intelligence personnel, or where it is not running agents, sending weapons, conducting covert operations — or at war.
The Arc of History
Just after President Obama came into office in 2009, then-Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair briefed the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Drawing special attention to the arc of instability, he summed up the global situation this way: “The large region from the Middle East to South Asia is the locus for many of the challenges facing the United States in the twenty-first century.” Since then, as with the Bush-identified phrase “global war on terror,” the Obama administration and the U.S. military have largely avoided using “arc of instability,” preferring to refer to it using far vaguer formulations.
During a speech at the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict Symposium earlier this year, for example, Navy Admiral Eric Olson, then the chief of U.S. Special Operations Command, pointed toward a composite satellite image of the world at night. Before September 11, 2001, said Olson, the lit portion of the planet — the industrialized nations of the global north — were considered the key areas. Since then, he told the audience, 51 countries, almost all of them in the arc of instability, have taken precedence. “Our strategic focus,” he said, “has shifted largely to the south… certainly within the special operations community, as we deal with the emerging threats from the places where the lights aren’t.”
More recently, in remarks at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., John O. Brennan, the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, outlined the president’s new National Strategy for Counterterrorism, which highlighted carrying out missions in the “Pakistan-Afghanistan region” and “a focus on specific regions, including what we might call the periphery — places like Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and the Maghreb [northern Africa].”
“This does not,” Brennan insisted, “require a ‘global’ war” — and indeed, despite the Bush-era terminology, it never has. While, for instance, planning for the 9/11 attacks took place in Germany and would-be shoe-bomber Richard Reid hailed from the United Kingdom, advanced, majority-white Western nations have never been American targets. The “arc” has never arced out of the global south, whose countries are assumed to be fundamentally unstable by nature and their problems fixable through military intervention.
A decade’s evidence has made it clear that U.S. operations in the arc of instability are destabilizing. For years, to take one example, Washington has wielded military aid, military actions, and diplomatic pressure in such a way as to undermine the government of Pakistan, promote factionalism within its military and intelligence services, and stoke anti-American sentiment to remarkable levels among the country’s population. (According to a recent survey, just 12% of Pakistanis have a positive view of the United States.)
A semi-secret drone war in that nation’s tribal borderlands, involving hundreds of missile strikes and significant, if unknown levels, of civilian casualties, has been only the most polarizing of Washington’s many ham-handed efforts. When it comes to that CIA-run effort, a recent Pew survey of Pakistanis found that 97% of respondents viewed it negatively, a figure almost impossible to achieve in any sort of polling.
In Yemen, long-time support — in the form of aid, military training, and weapons, as well as periodic air or drone strikes — for dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh led to a special relationship between the U.S. and elite Yemeni forces led by Saleh’s relatives. This year, those units have been instrumental in cracking down on the freedom struggle there, killing protesters and arresting dissenting officers who refused orders to open fire on civilians. It’s hardly surprising that, even before Yemen slid into a leaderless void (after Saleh was wounded in an assassination attempt), a survey of Yemenis found — again a jaw-dropping polling figure — 99% of respondents viewed the U.S. government’s relations with the Islamic world unfavorably, while just 4% “somewhat” or “strongly approved” of Saleh’s cooperation with Washington.
Instead of pulling back from operations in Yemen, however, the U.S. has doubled down. The CIA, with support from Saudi Arabia’s intelligence service, has been running local agents as well as a lethal drone campaign aimed at Islamic militants. The U.S. military has been carrying out its own air strikes, as well as sending in more trainers to work with indigenous forces, while American black ops teams launch lethal missions, often alongside Yemeni allies.
These efforts have set the stage for further ill-will, political instability, and possible blowback. Just last year, a U.S. drone strike accidentally killed Jabr al-Shabwani, the son of strongman Sheikh Ali al-Shabwani. In an act of revenge, Ali repeatedly attacked one of Yemen’s largest oil pipelines, resulting in billions of dollars in lost revenue for the Yemeni government, and demanded Saleh stop cooperating with the U.S. strikes.
Earlier this year, in Egypt and Tunisia, long-time U.S. efforts to promote what it liked to call “regional stability” — through military alliances, aid, training, and weaponry — collapsed in the face of popular movements against the U.S.-supported dictators ruling those nations. Similarly, in Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, popular protests erupted against authoritarian regimes partnered with and armed courtesy of the U.S. military. It’s hardly surprising that, when asked in a recent survey whether President Obama had met the expectations created by his 2009 speech in Cairo, where he called for “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world,” only 4% of Egyptians answered yes. (The same poll found only 6% of Jordanians thought so and just 1% of Lebanese.)
A recent Zogby poll of respondents in six Arab countries — Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates — found that, taking over from a president who had propelled anti-Americanism in the Muslim world to an all-time high, Obama managed to drive such attitudes even higher. Substantial majorities of Arabs in every country now view the U.S. as not contributing “to peace and stability in the Arab World.”
Increasing Instability Across the Globe
U.S. interference in the arc of instability is certainly nothing new. Leaving aside current wars, over the last century, the United States has engaged in military interventions in the global south in Cambodia, Congo, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Egypt, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Iraq, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Libya, Panama, the Philippines, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Somalia, Thailand, and Vietnam, among other places. The CIA has waged covert campaigns in many of the same countries, as well as Afghanistan, Algeria, Chile, Ecuador, Indonesia, Iran, and Syria, to name just a few.
Like George W. Bush before him, Barack Obama evidently looks out on the “unlit world” and sees a source of global volatility and danger for the United States. His answer has been to deploy U.S. military might to blunt instability, shore up allies, and protect American lives.
Despite the salient lesson of 9/11– interventions abroad beget blowback at home — he has waged wars in response to blowback that have, in turn, generated more of the same. A recent Rasmussen poll indicates that most Americans differ with the president when it comes to his idea of how the U.S. should be involved abroad. Seventy-five percent of voters, for example, agreed with this proposition in a recent poll: “The United States should not commit its forces to military action overseas unless the cause is vital to our national interest.” In addition, clear majorities of Americans are against defending Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and a host of other arc of instability countries, even if they are attacked by outside powers.
After decades of overt and covert U.S. interventions in arc states, including the last 10 years of constant warfare, most are still poor, underdeveloped, and seemingly even more unstable. This year, in their annual failed state index — a ranking of the most volatile nations on the planet — Foreign Policy and the Fund for Peace placed the two arc nations that have seen the largest military interventions by the U.S. — Iraq and Afghanistan — in their top ten. Pakistan and Yemen ranked 12th and 13th, respectively, while Somalia — the site of U.S. interventions under President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, during the Bush presidency in the 2000s, and again under Obama — had the dubious honor of being number one.
For all the discussions here about (armed) “nation-building efforts” in the region, what we’ve clearly witnessed is a decade of nation unbuilding that ended only when the peoples of various Arab lands took their futures into their own hands and their bodies out into the streets. As recent polling in arc nations indicates, people of the global south see the United States as promoting or sustaining, not preventing, instability, and objective measures bear out their claims. The fact that numerous popular uprisings opposing authoritarian rulers allied with the U.S. have proliferated this year provides the strongest evidence yet of that.
With Americans balking at defending arc-of-instability nations, with clear indications that military interventions don’t promote stability, and with a budget crisis of epic proportions at home, it remains to be seen what pretexts the Obama administration will rely on to continue a failed policy — one that seems certain to make the world more volatile and put American citizens at greater risk.
- World Domination in 120 Countries: Uncovering the Military’s Secret Operations In the Obama Era (newstrill.wordpress.com)
- Destabilizing the World (cross posted at Into The Morning) (loopyloo305.wordpress.com)
- Tracking Barak Obama’s arc of instability (cbsnews.com)
- How Obama’s destabilizing the world (salon.com)
- Pepe Escobar :That rocky road to Damascus (irannewpearlharbour.wordpress.com)
- War Against Iran and World Crisis (rt.com)
A team of bankers starts to tap the country’s vast mineral riches, with help from the Pentagon.By James Bandler, editor-at-large May 11, 2011: 5:00 AM ET
FORTUNE — Qara Zaghan, Afghanistan: The four Black Hawk helicopters sweep down on this remote river valley, flying fast and single file. Snow covers the mountains’ peaks, but the lower slopes look like rust — dry, rocky, and bare. As we bank around the river bend, we see our first flash of green in the fields below and then the rectangular mud huts of the village, where hundreds of Afghans mass to greet us.
“That’s the mine over there,” one of my companions says, pointing to the cliffs rising above the village.
That’s it? That’s the gold mine? It doesn’t look all that different from the forbidding country we’ve been traversing: just another pile of rocks and scree. The jet-lagged man in the seat across from me knows better. His sleepy eyes are suddenly alert. If anyone can wrest a fortune from Afghanistan’s rubble, it is this man, Ian Hannam.
Arriving in a developing nation with his iPad and his enigmatic smile, Hannam personifies the soft side of Western power. He doesn’t bend people to his will with weapons or threats. But there is no mistaking the dealmaker’s impact: In his wake, mountains are razed, villages electrified, schools built, and fortunes made.
To Hannam, chairman of J.P. Morgan Capital Markets, Afghanistan represents a gigantic, untapped opportunity — one of the last great natural-resource frontiers. Landlocked and pinioned by imperial invaders, Afghanistan has been cursed by its geography for thousands of years. Now, for the first time, Hannam believes, that geography could be an asset. The two most resource-starved nations on the planet, China and India, sit next door to Afghanistan, where, according to Pentagon estimates, minerals worth nearly $1 trillion lie buried. True, there is a war under way. And it’s unclear how the death of Osama bin Laden will impact the country’s political and economic environment. But Hannam is not your usual investment banker: A former soldier, he has done business in plenty of strife-torn countries. So have all the members of his team, two of them former special forces soldiers who have fought here.
As he flies to the mine for the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Hannam thinks back over the past 12 months. This little mine, where operations have yet to commence, is puny by J.P. Morgan’s (JPM) standards, but he knows it might be the project for which he is remembered. A lot of powerful people, including the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, are counting on him to demonstrate that the country is safe for foreign investors. Hannam has chafed at times under the pressure from the Pentagon, and the cold-eyed realist in him wonders whether unrealistic expectations are being placed on this business venture.
Hannam ducks his head and climbs out of the chopper, necktie flapping in the prop wash. As he trudges up the hill, even the jaded, 55-year-old banker seems swept away by the pageantry of the moment: the village elder in a ceremonial robe, the silhouettes of women watching from the ridges, the saluting Afghan soldier. Hannam is enveloped in a crush of local tribesmen chattering excitedly in Dari. One of them puts a garland around his neck. Another hands him a Ziploc bag containing a chunk of Afghan gold. A mullah utters prayers. Afghanistan’s minister of mining gives a long speech.
Hannam and his local partner, Sadat Naderi, walk up the hill to pose for photographs. Naderi points to a narrow band of quartz that runs in an east-west line across the cliff side. It shimmers in the sun. That is the treasure, he says.
“Unless,” Hannam mutters, “it’s fool’s gold.”
Absurd risks vs. amazing rewards
Investing in conflict zones is often thrilling, but the great commodities rush that J.P. Morgan and the Pentagon are trying to spark in Afghanistan creates a risk/reward equation of a different magnitude. It’s extreme at both ends.
When J.P. Morgan launched its Afghan initiative in 2010, violence was at its worst since the American-led occupation began in 2001. The Taliban have made a point of killing Westerners and have specifically said they would attack any companies involved in mining. Before our trip to the mine was done, our group would get a taste of the insurgents’ ability to strike violently and unpredictably.
Then there’s the Afghan infrastructure — or rather, there isn’t. Big mines need power, lots of it. Outside of cities, only 15% of Afghanistan is electrified. The mountain roads — ungraded and often without guardrails — are perilous, I learned the hard way, particularly in winter. Seat belts? No one bothers. You crash, you die.
If the brutal war and roads don’t give a businessperson pause, the country’s governance and corruption problems should. Massive fraud marred recent elections. Transparency International rates Afghanistan as the second most corrupt country on earth after Somalia. The last minister of mining was identified in a Washington Post report as the recipient of a massive bribe, an allegation he denied to Fortune. The current minister, who had been widely described as an honest reformer, has recently had his integrity questioned in State Department cables released by WikiLeaks. He, too, told Fortune he has done nothing improper.
But if the risks are absurd, the potential rewards are off the charts. Hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of iron, copper, rare earth metals, and, yes, gold are buried beneath Afghanistan’s deserts and mountains. This wealth has lain there mainly undisturbed for thousands of years as armies of Persians, Greeks, Mongols, Britons, Russians, and now Americans tramped above. Invaders have dreamed of exploiting it since the time of Alexander the Great, but no one has yet succeeded on a large scale.
In an 1841 article in a journal of Asiatic studies, Capt. Henry Drummond, a member of the British 3rd Bengal Light Cavalry, described his rambles through the wildest parts of Afghanistan to conduct the first Western mineral survey of the country. He found “abundant green stains” of copper, some of which rivaled the deposits of Chile, and veins of iron ore that “might no doubt be obtained equal to the Swedish.” While many of his countrymen viewed Afghanistan as an untamable place, where a man could not stray many yards from his home or tent without risk of being murdered, Drummond was smitten. Mining, he felt — not the gun — offered the best hope to pacify the territory and win over Afghans.
“Give them, however, but constant employment, with good wages and regular payment; encourage a spirit of industry, both by precept and example; let strict justice be dealt out to them without respect of persons; and we shall shortly see their swords changed into plowshares, industry take place of licentiousness, and these people be converted into peaceable and useful subjects,” Drummond wrote. But the Afghans weren’t keen on the idea of handing over their minerals to occupiers, or on the British occupation itself, for that matter. A year later they massacred the entire British army, save one English survivor, at Gandamak.
During the Cold War, both Soviet and U.S. geologists conducted surveys. The Russians bored thousands of test holes and identified big deposits of copper, zinc, mercury, tin, fluorite, potash, talc, asbestos, and magnesium. But instability in the countryside put an end to serious mining exploration.
After the toppling of the Taliban by the U.S.-led coalition, the Afghan government, with financial assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development, commissioned new, high-tech aerial surveys of Afghanistan. The results were stunning: The U.S. Geological Survey identified huge veins of copper, iron, lithium, gold, and silver. The Afghan government solicited bids for one of the biggest of the copper deposits, a site south of Kabul that had been identified by both Drummond and the Soviets. China, offering a rich price, won the bid in 2007, beating out four other mining companies. But the Chinese mining company has yet to extract any copper from the site because of delays clearing land mines from the area, and the discovery of archeological relics.
Then, in 2009, mining in Afghanistan got the push it needed — from the U.S. military. Petraeus had been appointed commander of U.S. Central Command, which had ultimate authority over Afghanistan. He realized that a U.S. exit from Afghanistan depended on getting the country’s economy running. Up to 60% of Afghanistan’s $15 billion GDP comes from foreign aid, according to Pentagon estimates, and another 20% comes from the illicit drug trade — poppies. What Afghanistan needed was the real hope that it might achieve economic sovereignty. “I’m an old economist,” the general says in an interview at his headquarters in Kabul. “And at the end of the day this is about progress for the [Afghan] people and giving them the prospect for a much brighter future for them and their families. That’s what persuades the citizenry to support the government rather than support the Taliban.”
Realizing that conventional foreign-aid organizations weren’t getting the job done, Petraeus moved a crack economic stabilization team from Iraq into Afghanistan. That team quickly realized that mining would be key.
Enter Ian Hannam.
“This is the time in Afghanistan for the adventure venture capitalists — for those who can do business in tough places in the world,” Petraeus says.
From special forces to making billionaires
Ian Charles Hannam seemed bound for a swashbuckling career at an early age. Raised in a working-class neighborhood in South London, the son of a council worker who oversaw a housing and street-repair crew, Hannam grew up knowing that nothing would ever be handed to him. He joined the Territorial Special Air Service at age 17, one of the younger men to pass the service’s grueling selection process.
Hannam’s unit, the Artists Rifles, was a part-time regiment akin to a U.S. National Guard special forces unit. The Artists Rifles had a storied past and a reputation for attracting adventure seekers from all social classes. Since then, Hannam has counted his old SAS cronies as his closest friends, often calling on them to help him in the world’s tougher places.
While serving in the Artists Rifles, Hannam pursued a degree in civil engineering from England’s top school in that field, Imperial College. Upon graduation in 1977, he took a job with Taylor Woodrow, a large British construction firm. His first assignment was to build roads, radar stations, and airstrips in Oman for the SAS, which was in the final stages of crushing a Marxist-led insurgency that had been boiling in the Dhofar region for more than a decade. The experience convinced Hannam that revolts could be beaten with a counterinsurgency program that emphasized developing a country’s infrastructure and natural resources.
Still working for Taylor Woodrow, Hannam went to Nigeria and then back to Oman. Living in a tent, he could not help noticing how well oil-company executives lived. That’s when he decided to go to business school and become rich.
After graduating from the London Business School, Hannam got a job in 1984 in the training program at Salomon Brothers in New York. At the airport on his way home to London for Christmas that year, he was detained by immigration officials because he had no U.S. entry stamp on his passport. The reason: He had parachuted into the U.S. with an SAS unit that was training with American special forces, and then traveled to New York to start the training program.
With a work ethic that former colleagues describe as ferocious and an engineer’s taste for understanding complex financial mechanisms, Hannam was fast-tracked to the bank’s vaunted debt syndicate desk. “His embrace of complexity and change, his indifference to organizational hierarchy and abundant self-confidence born of experience set him apart,” recalls Terry Fitzgerald, founder of Longbow Capital Partners, who was at Salomon with Hannam.
When Salomon was hired to advise media baron Robert Maxwell’s Mirror Group during its public offering, Hannam was one of Salomon’s lead bankers charged with marketing the IPO. Salomon lost money on the deal. Months later Maxwell died and Mirror Group collapsed amid investigations into accounting fraud and raids on its pension fund.
Hannam left Salomon soon after the fiasco and was hired by merchant bank Robert Fleming, a Scottish firm founded by the grandfather of James Bond creator Ian Fleming. By 2000, Hannam was the highest-paid employee at Fleming, making more than the CEO. After the bank was acquired by J.P. Morgan, much of Fleming’s staff was laid off. Not Hannam. He helped engineer a joint venture with, and eventual takeover of, venerated British banking house Cazenove.
Among the old guard at Cazenove — which was subsumed by J.P. Morgan, though the British franchise still bears its name — Hannam was regarded as a bit of a barbarian. He bragged about his wealth. He had appalling table manners. “I’ve got more degrees than I can count, but I still talk like I’m illiterate, and my colleagues hate me for it,” he’d say.
From Congo to Colombia, from Iraq to Sierra Leone, Hannam and his small team of soldiers-turned-bankers and advisers did business with oligarchs, gem dealers, and former mercenaries. He could be bracingly direct. When he landed in Baghdad for a meeting with Iraq’s oil minister, the minister asked, “What are you here for?”
“I’m here to make five new Iraqi billionaires every year for the next 10 years,” Hannam said with a twinkle in his eyes. It was an effective icebreaker, recalled his friend Richard Williams, a former SAS commander who is now CEO of the Afghan gold mine. “They’re all thinking, ‘How can I be one of those?’ Which is not a question that a minister should be thinking.” However crude, Hannam’s point — it would be Iraqis, not Westerners, who were getting rich — worked.
Over the years Hannam had starring roles in a string of huge deals, including the combination of BHP and Billiton (BHP) and its listing on the London exchange, the creation of mining group Xstrata, and the formation of Kazakh commodities giant Kazakhmys. In 2007, Hannam’s appetite for risk and intrigue nearly sank him. A group of Omani investors had hired him to explore the possibility of a leveraged buyout and breakup of Dow Chemical. Hannam and another top J.P. Morgan executive held clandestine meetings with two Dow Chemical executives at the Compleat Angler, a luxury hotel on the bank of the Thames.
The only problem: Dow’s CEO had no idea that the meeting was taking place. The scandal attracted front-page notice around the world.
In 2008, Hannam was passed over for the top job at Cazenove in favor of an outsider. Hannam flew to New Zealand for two weeks, turned off the phone, and brooded. But he decided to stay at the bank, and soon he was doing multibillion-dollar deals again, including lead work on the recapitalization of HSBC. With a job that paid bonuses as high as 10 million pounds, Hannam had come a long way from his boyhood in Bermondsey. He had a wife and three children, a townhouse in Notting Hill, a wild game preserve in the Stormberg mountains of South Africa, and a 230-acre estate in Vermont. But the council worker’s son was hungry for something bigger.
In 2009, at a dinner in Baghdad, he met the man who would give him his chance. The name of their meeting place was fitting for a rendezvous that would help touch off a 21st-century version of the Great Game: the Baghdad Hunting Club.
Hannam was at the banquet hall for a reception thrown by the Trade Bank of Iraq to honor J.P. Morgan. Also at the reception was Paul Brinkley, a deputy under secretary of defense charged with jump-starting Iraq’s stalled economy. A former tech company executive, Brinkley served as a matchmaker of sorts between Iraqi entrepreneurs and foreign businessmen. With the blessing of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, he operated outside normal bureaucratic channels, eschewing the bulletproof vests and helmets his civilian colleagues wore in combat zones. In three years he had secured some $8 billion in private investment contracts for Iraq, helping start textile mills, cement factories, and electronics companies. Hannam and Brinkley had heard about each other’s work. J.P. Morgan had been one of the first Western companies to plant the flag in Iraq, overseeing the country’s currency and setting up a big oil project in Iraqi Kurdistan. Hannam and Brinkley fell into conversation about Afghanistan, which was to be Brinkley’s next posting.
“I’ve got a problem in Afghanistan,” Hannam remembers Brinkley saying. Brinkley was talking to the right man.
Soon they were having more meetings, in New York and Washington. Brinkley wanted to know what it would take to get the big international mining companies into Afghanistan. Hannam said it was too early. The giants weren’t likely to leap into Afghanistan until smaller, wildcat operators went first. Copper and iron-ore mines were complicated and required huge infrastructure investments: railroads, roads, power plants, and smelters. Hannam said the first project should be less ambitious. A gold or lithium mine would be perfect. These materials could be transported by helicopter or trucked out by road. Hannam and Brinkley agreed that any such project should be led by an Afghan, lest it be seen as part of a resource grab by foreigners. Hannam pledged to bring entrepreneurial support, technical expertise, and capital. “And I’ll make some Afghans very rich, by the way,” he added.
In February 2010, Hannam flew to Kabul to see the situation on the ground. Brinkley took him to a reception at the American ambassador’s home. There, Hannam met an Afghan businessman named Sadat Naderi. British educated, smooth, and brimming with energy and ambition, Naderi ran a diversified company that included insurance, logistics, and supermarkets. There was one other thing, he said: “I’m one of the first Afghans that has actually won a gold license.”
Hannam’s eyes lit up. Naderi, it turned out, already had a little gold mine in Baghlan province. His family had run a tiny artisanal operation there, even minting some coins, for years. He had won the legal rights to it in formal bidding in 2008. To develop it, he needed technical advice, equipment, and capital.
Naderi was an Ismaili, a member of a Shiite sect. That was a good thing in Hannam’s eyes. Progressive in their views toward women and education, Ismailis are renowned businessmen. The Ismailis’ religious leader, the Aga Khan, presides over a vast charitable and business network that includes the Serena Hotel chain. The sect has a long-standing relationship with the British, dating back to the 1840s, when Ismailis provided British armies in Afghanistan with cavalry and intelligence.
Naderi’s father was the religious leader of all the Ismailis in Afghanistan. The family has several mansions and a palace in their home village, Kayan, which has athletic facilities and a train, and once had a zoo. Naderi’s brother Jafar had been a militia commander during the last days of Soviet occupation, with a 12,000-member private army. A documentary film titled The Warlord of Kayan had shown Jafar fishing with a grenade, riding his motorcycle, and blasting AC/DC. During the Taliban era, the Naderis had fled for their lives, and Osama bin Laden briefly occupied their palace in Kayan.
Sadat Naderi, not surprisingly, was happy to contemplate an investment of working capital raised by J.P. Morgan and backed up by the Pentagon. “The sooner we stand on our own feet, the better it is for us Afghans,” Naderi says. “You cannot be a beggar nation forever.”
“Don’t fall behind.”
Naderi’s gold mine, in Baghlan province, is only 50 miles from Kabul as the crow flies. During winter months it might as well be on the moon. To get there by road you must traverse the dangerous Salang Pass, which cuts through the towering Hindu Kush range. In 2010, in the same month that the J.P. Morgan team first arrived in Afghanistan, 180 travelers were killed on the pass in an avalanche.
I had my own taste of winter travel over the 11,000-foot-high pass when I set out with a convoy led by Richard Williams, the mining company’s CEO. Garrulous, self-deprecating, and brimming with insights about the Muslim world, Williams could be mistaken for an Oxford don. But he remains the hard-charging individual depicted in Mark Urban’s book Task Force Black, which describes Williams’ exploits in Iraq as the leader of an SAS team charged with capturing and killing Hussein loyalists and al Qaeda members. “Richard is a buccaneer, a pirate,” Urban quoted one of Williams’ former associates as saying. “He goes for the opportunities and adrenalin every time.”
It was snowing when we left Kabul early one morning, and by the time we reached the start of the climb, the weather had turned so nasty that police had halted traffic up the road. Nonetheless, our party of VIPs received permission to proceed with a police escort.
Williams and his group were in armored, four-wheel-drive vehicles. There was no room in the caravan for me, a translator, and a photographer, so we hired a driver and a Toyota Corolla. The front-wheel-drive car was soon laboring in the heavy snow. Our chains kept slipping off the tires. The radiator overheated, belching coolant into the snow. When it became apparent that we might not keep up, Williams’ group put a policeman in our car, and then proceeded on ahead without us. Visibility was terrible; the only way our driver could navigate was to crane his neck out a side window. After we passed the summit, the driver lost control of the car, which skidded and spun 180 degrees into a snowbank. Hands trembling, I lit my first cigarette in decades, wheezing on the first puff.
The next day, after spending the night in a hut, we set off on the return trip to Kabul. I begged Williams and his group not to abandon us. But when one of our party was stricken by a stomach ailment and we pulled over to let him relieve himself, the convoy swept on without us. We spun out again, narrowly missing a head-on collision with a truck.
When we caught up with Williams’ convoy near Kabul, we were too furious to wave. “I thought the SAS motto was similar to that of the U.S. Army [Rangers]: ‘Leave no man behind,’ ” I complained to one of Hannam’s soldiers-turned-bankers afterward.
“Leave no man behind?” He laughed. “Where did you get that idea? It’s ‘Don’t fall behind.’ And ‘Don’t forget your Imodium!’ ”
A deal too important to die
Of all the obtacles that could have wrecked the mining project — the murderous roads, the Taliban, the corrupt government — the one that nearly killed it was the most predictable: the profit margin.
In late September, J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon, Brinkley, and Mining Minister Wahidullah Shahrani met at J.P. Morgan’s headquarters in Manhattan. Dimon pledged J.P. Morgan’s support. On the way down in the elevator, Dimon told Shahrani, “You’re in good hands with Ian. He’s eccentric, but he gets things done.”
But soon Brinkley’s team was wondering. On the day the deal signing was to take place, Hannam’s team stopped acting like former warriors and began behaving like, well, nervous investment bankers. Hannam, after talking about how rich he was going to make his clients, suddenly began to complain that there was no way to make a profit. The 26% royalty rate for the mine, his team claimed, was way too high. Mining Minister Shahrani was bewildered — the rate had been agreed upon years before, when the Naderi family had first bid for the mine. Nothing had changed.
Brinkley’s Pentagon team was deeply frustrated. They felt the bankers had pulled a fast one. Had Hannam’s group not done its homework? Or were they just being bankers, trying to squeeze more money out of the deal with some 11th-hour brinkmanship?
Brinkley lit into the J.P. Morgan group: “When are you going to get this done? You’ve told people you’re going to do it!” The bankers, in turn, felt they were being unfairly pressured by the government, which seemed desperate to get the deal done even if it was uneconomical.
Everyone recognized, though, that the deal was too important to die. Naderi and Hannam’s team worked out an arrangement with the Ministry of Mines in which the royalty would be deducted from the corporate tax, as it is in many other countries. Soon, helped by rising gold prices, the deal was back on track. J.P. Morgan says it is not charging its usual advisory fees. While Hannam has described his work on the mine as a charitable endeavor, he says he expects a big payoff down the road for clients who invest in it.
J.P. Morgan says it isn’t putting any of its own money into the project. Hannam secured $40 million from investors in the U.S., Asia, and Europe. They included Enso Capital founder Joshua Fink, son of BlackRock’s Larry Fink; British mining titan Peter Hambro; and Thai businessman Pairoj Piempongsant. Hannam created an investment vehicle, Central Asian Resources, to enter into a joint venture with Naderi’s new mining company, Afghan Gold. Sadat Naderi was made chairman of Afghan Gold, and Richard Williams CEO. Their goal is to pull 5.4 metric tons of gold from the mine during the first phase of operation. After that the plan is to go after five other gold sites, and then bid for the rights to other minerals, including copper and rare earths.
This past December, an ecstatic minister of mines announced the deal. Petraeus congratulated President Karzai on the news. “Wonderful,” Petraeus remembers Karzai saying.
“It’s big,” Petraeus told me of the gold mine deal. “It’s very big. I mean, everyone knows who J.P. Morgan is, and what that represents. That’s substantial. It gives real encouragement to our Afghan partners.”
A deceptive peace
After the ceremony to inaugurate the mine in Qara Zaghan, the barren valley rang with a merry hubbub. Hannam’s close friend, Murad Megalli, responsible for J.P. Morgan’s investment banking practice in Central Asia and the Middle East, made portraits of the villagers with a Leica film camera. The minister of mines was exultant. Naderi spoke optimistically of “partnership” with his new investors. Everything seemed to be going right.
Then it wasn’t. At a military base on our way back to Kabul, our BlackBerrys started buzzing with news of a Taliban attack in the capital. Militants had struck one of Naderi’s supermarkets, called Finest, with guns and a bomb, killing eight people. Naderi at first didn’t understand what I was saying when I told him the news of the attacks. “The Finest got hit,” I said. “Hit?” Naderi said. “Finest hit?” He turned ashen.
Megalli and Hannam sat on a bench trying to digest what had happened. Hannam was at first convinced the attack was linked to J.P. Morgan’s presence in the country. It wasn’t. (The Taliban later claimed they were trying to kill an American mercenary who they erroneously claimed was at the store.) Then, Hannam immediately put his banker hat back on. At least the deal was done, he said, and the money was in.
Megalli was struck by how fast things could spiral out of control. “The peace here is so deceptive,” Megalli said. “It is so fragile.”
A week later I returned to my Kabul hotel room to receive this e-mail from Hannam about his colleague and friend: “Murad died in plane in Kurdistan yesterday. Any good photos I can give family?”
Murad Megalli and Hannam had flown out of Afghanistan on a private plane, and then gone their separate ways. Megalli had taken the plane to Kurdistan. The plane crashed in a snowstorm, and Megalli and another J.P. Morgan banker were killed. Hannam was devastated. From the meeting with Brinkley at the Baghdad Hunting Club, Megalli had been a champion of the Afghan venture. He had believed mining could make a difference for the country. His death, and the attack on Naderi’s supermarket, were sobering reminders of the personal risks of frontier capitalism.
Other storm clouds hover over the enterprise. Corruption allegations swirl around several key backers of the mining project in the Karzai government. Paul Brinkley’s Pentagon team, which energized the Afghan mining sector and also put hundreds of Afghans to work in manufacturing technology and agriculture, is being disbanded, a casualty of interagency warfare. In April, after the burning of a Koran in Gainesville, Fla., mobs rioted in Afghanistan. The UN compound in Mazar-i-Sharif – a city that is to play a key role in the shipment of gold from the Baghlan mine — was attacked, and 12 people were killed.
The spark that Brinkley and Hannam struck, however, continues to burn. Six major minerals sites are due to be auctioned by the Afghan government over the next year. SRK, a major mining-consulting firm, will advise the Afghan government. Bankers from Morgan Stanley (MS) and executives from Chevron (CVX) have been scouting Afghan natural-resource prospects.
And next January the bulldozers and crushing machines are set to start working in the remote valley where Hannam’s investors have staked their claim. It remains to be seen whether the J.P. Morgan adventure will leave any more indelible a mark on Afghanistan than did Capt. Drummond of the Bengal Light Cavalry 170 years ago. But at least someone will have begun releasing the wealth trapped in Afghanistan’s stones.
–Doris Burke and Ali Safi contributed to this article.
- A Top London Banker at JPMorgan Chase Resigns (dealbook.nytimes.com)