5% Digest (January 2015)

It is reported by Guardian that the Pentagon’s internal watchdog has questioned the air force’s increased spending on drones, suggesting its $8.8 billions spending on 46 armed Reaper drones is a waste of money.

As purchases of General Atomics’s MQ-9 Reaper ballooned from 60 aircraft in 2007 to the current 401, air force officials did not justify the need for an expanding drone fleet, the Pentagon said.

During that time, costs for purchasing one of the signature counter-terrorism weapons of Barack Obama’s presidency increased by 934%, from $1.1bn to more than $11.4bn, according to a declassified September report by the Pentagon inspector general. Purchasing costs are a fraction of what the drones cost to operate and maintain over their time in service: in 2012, the Pentagon estimated the total costs for them at $76.8bn.

The Pentagon is seeking an increase of $20.4 billion, or 13 percent, for weapons and research as President Barack Obama begins a push to remove defense budget caps that would force cuts in spending instead. It will propose a base defense budget of $534 billion for fiscal 2016, about $34 billion more than sequestration would allow. There is an additional $51 billion being proposed for war spending – “tens of billions of dollars more than the amount needed to wind down the war in Afghanistan and sustain current operations against ISIL (also known as Islamic State),” said William Hartung. Mr Hartung argued that “the Pentagon should be required to reduce the massive waste and inefficiency,” for example,

The biggest savings should come from scaling back the Pentagon’s oversized bureaucracy. According to an analysis by Gordon Adams, the former head of national security budgeting in the White House during the Clinton administration, this “back office” includes at least 800,000 civilian employees, 700,000 contractor employees, and 340,000 military personnel engaged in civilian or commercial activities. That makes the Pentagon bureaucracy the equivalent of the fifth largest city in the United States. Right-sizing this bureaucratic behemoth could save tens of billions of dollars per year that could be used for other purposes.

Micah Zenko and Amelia Mae Wolf argued that the myty of the terrorist safe haven is misguided and has led to a series of disastrous foreign military campaigns.

The need to destroy safe havens — defined by the U.S. State Department as an “area of relative security exploited by terrorists to indoctrinate, recruit, coalesce, train, and regroup, as well as prepare and support their operations” — was the premise for the war in Afghanistan and for the expansion of drone operations into Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Most recently, it has underlined the rationale for initiating an open-ended war to degrade and destroy the Islamic State. …

Core al Qaeda — the ultimate perpetrators of 9/11 — has not conducted another attack against the homeland. More broadly, it is overlooked that other terrorist groups based in safe havens have accounted for only 1 percent of terrorist attacks against the U.S. homeland. Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for just two out of more than 200 attacks, neither of which resulted in any deaths. And only six of 60 publicly documented, uncovered plots by international terrorist organizations against the United States since 9/11 were directly linked to al Qaeda — either operatives communicated with or the plot was orchestrated by senior leadership.

33 Latin American and Caribbean states endorse Austrian Pledge and call for negotiations on a nuclear disarmament treaty.

The Austrian Pledge, delivered by the deputy foreign minister of Austria at the end of the Vienna Conference, recognised the existence of a “legal gap” in the international framework regulating nuclear weapons and called on all states to join in efforts to fill this legal gap by pursuing measures which would stigmatise, prohibit and lead to the elimination of nuclear weapons.

“Fears that UK troops could be killed or taken hostage in the run-up to the UK general election in May were behind the rejection of the plans” to deploy hundreds of troops to help retrain the Iraqi army in January 2015.

The political calculation is all too obvious. For a government facing a tight election and a public expressing strong opposition to further British involvement in wars in the Middle East, the prospect of video of captured soldiers in orange jump-suits prior to execution by beheading was too difficult to contemplate.

Former British minister for defence equipment, support and technology, Sir Peter Luff, is to become a patron of NDI, the trade body representing companies involved in the defence industry, after retiring as an MP.

Jounalist Jimmy Johnson coined the term “Palestine-Mexico border” to describe the increasing collaboration between the Arizona state and the Israeli defense industry to militarise and ‘commercialise’ the US-Mexico border.

If, however, the United States follows the “common sense” of the border-surge bill, the result could add more than $40 billion worth of agents, advanced technologies, walls and other barriers to an already unparalleled border enforcement apparatus. And a crucial signal would be sent to the private sector that, as the trade magazine Homeland Security Today puts it, another “treasure trove” of profit is on the way for a border control market already, according to the latest forecasts, in an “unprecedented boom period.” …

Like the Gaza Strip for the Israelis, the US borderlands, dubbed a “constitution-free zone” by the ACLU, are becoming a vast open-air laboratory for tech companies. There, almost any form of surveillance and “security” can be developed, tested and showcased, as if in a militarized shopping mall, for other nations across the planet to consider. In this fashion, border security is becoming a global industry and few corporate complexes can be more pleased by this than the one that has developed in Elkabetz’s Israel. …

As such border cooperation intensified, journalist Jimmy Johnson coined the apt phrase “Palestine-Mexico border” to catch what was happening. In 2012, Arizona state legislators,sensing the potential economic benefit of this growing collaboration, declared their desert state and Israel to be natural “trade partners,” adding that it was “a relationship we seek to enhance.”

In this way, the doors were opened to a new world order in which the United States and Israel are to become partners in the “laboratory” that is the US-Mexican borderlands. Its testing grounds are to be in Arizona. There, largely through a program known as Global Advantage, American academic and corporate knowhow and Mexican low-wage manufacturing are to fuse with Israel’s border and homeland security companies.

No one may frame the budding romance between Israel’s high-tech companies and Arizona better than Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild. “If you go to Israel and you come to Southern Arizona and close your eyes and spin yourself a few times,” he says, “you might not be able to tell the difference.” …

Though cautious about officially claiming success for Global Advantage’s Israel Business Initiative, Wright brims with optimism about his organization’s cross-national planning. As he talks in a conference room located on the 1,345-acre park on the southern outskirts of Tucson, it’s apparent that he’s buoyed by predictions that the Homeland Security market will grow from a $51 billion annual business in 2012 to $81 billion in the United States alone by 2020, and $544 billion worldwide by 2018. … 

Israeli companies have sold surveillance drones to Latin American countries like Mexico, Chile and Colombia, and massive security systems to India and Brazil, where an electro-optic surveillance system will be deployed along the country’s borders with Paraguay and Bolivia. They have also been involved in preparations for policing the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. The products of Elbit Systems and its subsidiaries are now in use from the Americas and Europe to Australia. Meanwhile, that mammoth security firm is ever more involved in finding “civilian applications” for its war technologies. It is also ever more dedicated to bringing the battlefield to the world’s borderlands, including southern Arizona. …

Such violations matter little, of course, when there is money to be made, as Brigadier General Elkabetz indicated at that 2012 border technology conference. Given the direction that both the United States and Israel are taking when it comes to their borderlands, the deals being brokered at the University of Arizona look increasingly like matches made in heaven (or perhaps hell). As a result, there is truth packed into journalist Dan Cohen’s comment that “Arizona is the Israel of the United States.”