Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Loosing Control of "Security"

Loosing Control of "Security"

Israel, like many other states, has undertaken the massive privatization and outsourcing of so-called security functions or, more precisely, of the state authorization to train for, equip for and exercise organized violence, both inside the country and beyond it. In demonstrable correlation with this ongoing process, the state of Israel has enacted a systematic loosening of checks and controls over one of the most powerful, sensitive and dangerous parts of executive government. Israel's government is arguably in the process of handing over its control of the militarized use of force to private entrepreneurs, effectively inviting corruption in this literally destructive "industry" while bypassing and seriously undercutting (alleged) democracy in Israel. Though it is far from being the only state "loosing control" in this vein (see for example reports on the recent US court ruling on the wanton killing of 17 Iraqi citizens by Blackwater security guards; for instance:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/02/us/02blackwater.html), Israel is distinctive in the relative bulk and predominance of its security industry and exports, supported by the highly visible combat experience and supposed expertise of the ex-military (Israel Defense Force) personnel who own and staff many of the firms now selling this "know-how".

The three items below report on recent instances of corruption or serious investigations into corruption in Israeli "security" exports and industry.

Taken together, these three pieces offer a seriously troubling and even frightening look at the implications of combined militarization and privatization in Israel. There are many more instances exemplifying the anti-democratic underside of this continuing process. Like most other issues obscured and obfuscated under the "security" label, these too are largely, and dangerously, ignored by civic society and most of the public in Israel.

The first item was researched and compiled by activists of the Who Profits? group (of which I'm a supporting member) based in Israel and working to expose the "money trail" of Israel's crimes of occupation (see: www.whoprofits.org). The item, published Sunday, December 27 2009, reports on the shady dealings and problematic history of the Israeli security firm "responsible for … [the recent] failure to prevent a bombing attempt on a Delta Airlines transatlantic flight leaving from Schiphol airport in Amsterdam".

The second and third items are recently published parts of the ongoing work of journalist Yossi Melman of Haaretz.

The second item focuses on an investigation into "'aspects of the employment of IDF retirees in the [domestic] security industry'". Ordered by the State Comptroller and dragged out indefinitely by the military, this effectively blocked probe arouses "doleful thoughts about the army's procedures for investigation, inquiry, and learning lessons". It also, I might add, raises the question just who is behind, and indeed who profits from, this procrastination on the part of the army. And, accordingly, who is actually in charge? Is it the state or the army, the elected body/ies or the high-ranking officers, of which, an alleged offender told Melman, "there are thousands" involved in similar cases.

The third item highlights a different channel through which the supposedly democratic civic sphere – both inside and beyond Israel – integrates militarized practices, shading into violent coercion for profit and power, and into possible illegality. The item reports on a partnership of security consultants suspected of illegally peddling arms, military training and security systems to the new ex-military ruler of the African state of Guinea. The partnership, including former Israeli officials such as former foreign minister Shlomo Ben Ami and former Tel Aviv police commander David Tzur, was contracted in part to "teach Guinean decision-makers in a 'strategic' workshop, for the stated purpose of increasing awareness of democratic values. Responsibility for the workshops was to have been placed in the hands of former foreign minister Ben-Ami and former deputy defense minister Ephraim Sneh. Later on, Ben Ami and Ziv sent former MK and former ambassador to France Nissim Zvili to
Guinea." (See Amnesty International's most recent press release on the current actions of Guinean decision-makers at: http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/guinea.) Following a September 2009 slaughter of demonstrators by the new president's freshly trained soldiers, "The French government and the United Nations approached Israel with a request to examine the involvement of Israeli military advisors in Guinea". The article reports on some of the surprising details of the still ongoing investigation.

Rela Mazali


WhoProfits on Israeli Airline Security
Sun at 10:11pm

An Israeli security firm is responsible for this Saturday's failure to prevent a bombing attempt on a Delta Airlines transatlantic flight leaving from Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. The bomber got on the flight with the necessary bomb ingredients despite being on some warning lists and after being screened by airport security. It was his fellow passengers that managed to stop him from putting together the bomb.

Starting in Feb 2008, the company awarded the passenger screening contract (for 5 years) in Schiphol airport is ICTS (International Consultants on Targeted Security), a security services company registered in the Netherlands but traded in New York, founded and owned by Israelis offering Israeli security knowhow and technologies:

ICTS was founded in 1982 by Ezra Harel with five other veteran Israeli security experts. Ezra Harel has a rich history of bankrupted public companies (http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/1,7340,L-2359434,00.html) along with fraud allegations, and even alleged bribes to the former (expedited) judge Dan Cohen.

The company established itself in the 90s as a big aviation security services provider mainly in US airports. After one of the airport checkpoints managed by ICTS in Logan airport allowed the 9-11 airplane hijackers through, conspiracy theorists have hinted at connections between Israeli security and the 9-11 attacks, and a new
federal law (2001) was made against all foreign firms giving security services in US airports. Thus, the company lost most of its US business.

The company, facing bankruptcy, tried to re-establish itself through its Netherlands subsidiary by providing services in Europe. The founder and CEO Ezra Harel was investigated by the Israeli SEC in 2003 for cheating investors, and while sailing in his Yacht in the Canary Islands, he tried a change a sail, had a heart attack and died at sea.

Following the death, the company stocks jumped and it was bought by his old partner Menachem (Menta) Atzmon, formerly the co-treasurer of the Likud party, who was convicted in court in the fictitious invoices scandal (1988). His partner then as co-treasurer of the Likud party was Ehud Olmert (he was charged but not convicted).

For two years after this purchase, ICTS showed remarkable recovery, gaining more and more contracts around the world with airports and airlines security.

At the same time, the company neglected to issue proper reports to the stock exchange, resulting in its being delisted from Nasdaq in 2006. It was still traded as an OTC paper, and about 11% of it owned by Everest Fund of Nani Maoz. Lately, Everest Fund have complained to the US SEC about misconduct of ICTS(http://www.maozeverest.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=36&Itemid=29) in concealing information from the investors and misrepresenting the
true worth of the company.

In response to questions raised today against ICTS security after the company's failure to prevent the bombing attempt, officials suggested that the blame lies with European regulations against "Israeli Style" ethnic profiling and privacy concerns preventing the use of SafeView-style "nude" full body scanners that would have detected the non-metal bomb ingredients (such as the scanners used in the Erez checkpoint).



Thu., December 24, 2009

Inside Intel / An officer and an investigation

By Yossi Melman

The State Comptroller has been waiting more than a year for the examination that the IDF was supposed to have carried out on ethics and conflicts of interest with regard to senior officers. But the examination has been delayed, arousing doleful thoughts about the army's procedures for investigation, inquiry, and learning lessons.

In September 2008, the Israel Defense Forces security division of the State Comptroller's office under Maj. Gen. (ret.) Yaakov Orr gave the army the findings of a report on "aspects of the employment of IDF retirees in the security industry."

One section of the report was devoted to Brig. Gen. (ret.) Hagi Lotan, an intelligence officer in the northern command. Lotan, who is considered by the comptroller's office to be a serious person, and a professional and highly valued officer, devotes many days to the army - almost 100 a year on average for reserve duty. It was in this context that Lotan took part in discussions shaping the army's intelligence approach and deployment plans for the north, as well as issues dealing with intelligence material needs.

Since 1995, Lotan, in his civilian capacity, has also advised the Defense Ministry, the army, and the aerospace industry in the development of computerized intelligence systems for data processing and the production of aids.

He has also established partnerships in this field.

The Comptroller's office concluded in this case that it suspected a significant conflict of interest. Even before the army responded to the report, and before its publication, Lotan was summoned to several hearings by members of the Comptroller's office.

He tried to convince them that their findings were mistaken. He managed to moderate their criticism, which was reformulated, but did not succeed in convincing them completely that he was right. While a section of the report focused on Lotan, the problem raised by the comptroller is broader and deals with basic principles.

"The IDF and the defense ministry," the report reads, "have not examined the question of possible conflicts of interest ... The business of senior [reserve] officers as suppliers or advisors to the IDF arouses a fundamental issue which is deserving of investigation by the army and the Defense Ministry."

The IDF agreed that a committee would be formed to examine the issues and also the specific case of Lotan.

The IDF made a commitment to finish its inquiry by the end of the first quarter of 2009. Maj. Gen. Yishai Bar, president of the army court of appeals, was appointed committee chairman, but he retired from the army before the investigation was completed.

The army didn't lift a finger to take care of the matter for a while.

Only recently has a new committee been appointed under the leadership of Maj. Gen. (ret.) Udi Shani. But it appears that Shani may tackle only the underlying principles.

He is prevented from looking into the Lotan case for the simple reason that Shani served directly over Lotan as head of the northern command. About a month ago, the IDF agreed to appoint a new officer who would finish the investigation within a few months.

But even if the army keeps its promise this time, a year and a half will have passed since the Comptroller's findings were published and conclusions are possibly drawn from it.

There are those who see the way the army has conducted itself in this case as a message that it is not attentive to the issue of conflict of interest and the need to strictly avoid it, and not just for the sake of appearances. It's hoped that the army is approaching operational investigations more seriously.

'Won't offer up my head'

Meanwhile, Lotan continues to serve as an officer for the intelligence corps and has no intention of resigning. He continues to believe he is innocent.

"I reject the comptroller's complaints about me; I felt that the investigators were basically hostile towards me, that they were overly enthusiastic about catching a retired brigadier general and presenting him as a criminal," he said. "I imagine that someone there doesn't like me and complained about me. The investigators were especially rude to me. They threw accusations at me that I had taken double payments from the army and from one of the security firms, a claim that they themselves discovered to be false. There are thousands of cases like mine in a small country like Israel of officers serving in the reserves whose civilian professions supposedly conflict with the army. I have no intention of falling victim to the system. I won't offer up my head for the general good. And so I haven't considered for a second to resign from my [reserve] job. If I had ever so much as blinked to myself, I would admit that I wasn't okay, but I have never thought that, not even for a second."

The IDF Spokesman, in a detailed response to Haaretz, presented the chain of events as described above, emphasizing that Shani "is to complete his task in the near future and present his conclusions to the deputy chief of staff. In addition they will be offered to the security sub-committee of the Knesset."

With regard to the delay in the matter of Hagi Lotan, the spokesman said, "It has been decided to appoint an investigatory committee headed by a senior officer to examine this specific case. The deputy chief of staff is expected to appoint the officer who will head it in a few days."

The spokesman emphasized that the IDF attributes great importance to the State Comptroller and sees in the office "an important and effective tool to improve the way the army conducts itself. The IDF is undertaking thorough procedures to create a plan to deal with the State Comptroller's November 2008 report, including its approval by the deputy chief of staff's committee, as is required."



Thu., December 31, 2009

Inside Intel / Bloody business in Africa

By Yossi Melman

The Defense Ministry is investigating suspicions that Maj. Gen. (ret.) Israel Ziv, his company CTS Global and his business partners have broken the law regarding military exports.

The investigations unit of the security division of the ministry, the export supervisory wing, and the ministry's legal advisor are involved in the probe, which has one main focus: the suspicion that Ziv signed a $10 million contract to train and supply Guinea's army without first obtaining the proper permits.

The story of Ziv's involvement and that of his partners and other Israelis (including former Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami and former Tel Aviv police commander David Tzur) in Guinea appeared in Haaretz in Hebrew last Friday.

Ziv and Tzur became involved in Guinea following a military coup d'etat by Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara, who took power in December 2008 after the death of previous ruler Lansana Conte. Camara, who suspended the constitution, clamped down on freedoms in the country and would later be a victim of a failed assassination attempt by one of his generals.

Wary of both his gendarmerie and the old presidential guard, Camara began looking for a security expert who would train his own guard of loyalists.

Mining contracts

Guinea, located on the west coast of Africa, is rich in diamonds, iron ore, bauxite, uranium and salt mines. Since achieving independence in 1959, it has been controlled by corrupt dictators.

Although there are no official diplomatic ties with the country, some Israelis frequent Guinea for business, including international diamond dealer Benny Steinmetz, whose company, BSGR, received a concession to mine iron ore in the country. Steinmetz has received further concessions from Camara.

To consolidate his influence in Guinea, Steinmetz took former prime minister Ehud Olmert with him during one of his visits to the capital Conakry, where they met with Camara. Against that background, stories were reported in the international press that Steinmetz was involved in bringing Israeli military experts, led by Ziv, into Guinea. Steinmetz denied the stories and threatened to sue any media outlets which printed them.

Olmert ignored the foreign ministry's advice not to travel to Guinea, which is under sanctions imposed by the European Union and African nations.

The truth is that it was not Steinmetz that paved the way for Ziv, but Israeli Victor Kenan, who has lived in Guinea for several years.

In March 2009 Ziv and some of his people went to Guinea, met the president and convinced him to grant them a contract to establish and train his new presidential guard and arm it with more sophisticated equipment. Before he went to Guinea, Ziv approached the Defense Ministry and requested permission to contract with Guinea to train forced there.

Ziv and Tzur told Haaretz that they had all necessary papers from the Defense Ministry in hand, and as soon as the ministry ordered them to cease their involvement, they did so immediately. But sources in the defense and foreign ministries are offering a different version of events. Ziv approached the Defense Ministry, as required by law, and requested permission to conduct negotiations with Guinea to train military forces there. But the ministry refused to grant permission, only allowing for Ziv to carry out a preliminary survey in which the exporter could hear out the customer's needs, though he could not discuss a deal or suggest prices.

According to the information that reached the foreign and defense ministries, Ziv did not make do with a survey, but conducted negotiations and signed a contract according to which Global would supply two services to Guinea.

'Strategic' workshops

The first was the establishment and equipping of the presidential guard unit, and a larger force composed of members of the president's tribal loyalists.

The other element of the contract was that Global would teach Guinean decision-makers in a 'strategic' workshop, for the stated purpose of increasing awareness of democratic values. Responsibility for the workshops was to have been placed in the hands of former foreign minister Ben-Ami and former deputy defense minister Ephraim Sneh.

Later on, Ben Ami and Ziv sent former MK and former ambassador to France Nissim Zvili to Guinea to survey the country for the possibility of introducing democracy.

When asked by Haaretz why a security consultant like Ziv would send him for such a mission he replied, "I was told that Ziv is a political adviser to the Guinean president."

The contract between Global and Guinea bears the date May 4.

Global representatives claimed to the foreign and defense ministries that they were not forbidden to negotiate and sign a contract at that time.

Both state offices think otherwise, and say that Ziv and his people were forbidden to do so.

UN investigation

In September, the president's soldiers slaughtered demonstrators who had gathered in the soccer stadium in Conakry. According to human rights organizations, 157 people were killed in the massacre, dozens of women were raped by soldiers and hundreds of demonstrators were beaten. The French government and the United Nations approached Israel with a request to examine the involvement of Israeli military advisors in Guinea.

Three days after the slaughter, Ziv, Ben-Ami and Sneh held a discussion with deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and other senior officials in the ministry.

Veteran officials at the ministry were especially surprised by Ben-Ami's participation in the session.

"We couldn't believe that a social democrat sensitive to the matter of human rights would be involved in this type of situation, and even more so, in a country like Guinea," one of them said.

The three tried to overturn the decision not to allow any security-related exports to Guinea.

"If we had been there, we could have prevented the massacre," they claimed.

The discussion became heated when Ayalon rejected their assertion that they were working for Israel's interests, and supported the professional ranks of the ministry. Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon confirmed to Haaretz that "It was a difficult meeting, but I don't comment on matters of private business in foreign countries."

A month ago the Foreign Ministry lodged a complaint against Global with the Defense Ministry's enforcement committee, whose role is to decide how to deal with someone who breaks the law and bypasses export permissions. At their disposal are reprimands, the imposition of fines or transfer of the matter to a police investigation, if a criminal offense is suspected.

At the Defense Ministry, a decision has not yet been made, and they are continuing to investigate the matter.

The Defense Ministry spokesman responded to an inquiry by Haaretz that "the ministry is prohibited from releasing details about enforcement activities it takes in the case of one exporter or another."

Global said in response that as far as it knows, there is no investigation. Rather, they say, it is a technical process of clarification regarding business norms and they add they are cooperating with the process.

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Z. Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News archive and blog: http://jewishpeacenews.blogspot.com
Jewish Peace News sends its news clippings only to subscribers. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription, go to http://www.jewishpeacenews.net


Victoria said...

It's sad isn't it. Everybody seems to ask for peace, but if it is something so universally desired why don't we achieve it?

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