Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Trial Lawyer Still Hiding from Media

The trial lawyer who took advantage of grieving Blackwater families and tried to profit from the terrorists who murdered four contractors is still hiding from the media.

More than a week after a federal court effectively threw out his case against Blackwater, California trial lawyer Daniel Callahan has avoided making any press appearances.

Callahan devised a high-profile psychological campaign to discredit Blackwater, exploit the families of four Blackwater contractors murdered in Fallujah in 2004, and make millions from his made-for-media lawsuit. He's the source of phony allegations that Rep. Henry Waxman made against the company - allegations repeated without substantiation in the media. But since the federal court told the plaintiffs to abide by the terms of Blackwater's own contract, Callahan has been strangely silent.

Profile in courage.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

US Navy Encourages Private Security Companies to Protect Ships from Piracy

The United States Navy has praised the rise of private security companies to protect private shipping from pirates as a "great trend."

Media commentators have been generally skeptical of Blackwater's dispatch of its 183-foot ship, the McArthur, to the Gulf of Aden to provide security for private ships that the United Nations and the world's navies are leaving vulnerable to Islamist criminal gangs.

However, a US Navy spokesman has praised the move and encourages more private security companies to follow Blackwater's example. British security companies are already active in protecting ships, but Blackwater plans to provide McArthur, which can carry two special operations helicopters complete with doorgunners, to escort civilian ships that the UN and government navies can't or won't protect.

"This is a great trend," a spokesman for the US Navy's 5th Fleet tells the Associated Press. "We would encourage shipping companies to take proactive measures to help ensure their own safety."

Insurance companies also like the idea. "Pirate attacks have driven up insurance premiums tenfold for ships plying the Gulf of Aden, increasing the cost of cargos that include a fifth of the world's oil. But some insurers will slash charges by up to 40 percent if boats hire their own security," according to AP.

A senior official of Somalia, off whose coast much of the piracy is taking place, says private security companies are welcome in Somali waters. Somalia's 1,800-mile coastline is difficult to avoid for ships traversing the Suez Canal.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Loser In Fallujah Suit Is Hiding from Press

California trial lawyer Daniel Callahan was never shy about talking to the press during his effort to profit financially from the deaths of four American military veterans in Iraq.

But now that a federal appeals court has effectively thrown out his suit against Blackwater, Callahan suddenly isn't talking.

The Virginian-Pilot, which serves the area near Blackwater Worldwide's headquarters and has been one of the main newspapers to break stories about the company, tried to get comments from both sides of the case for its October 21 story about the court decision.

Only Blackwater spokesman Anne Tyrrell would talk to the newspaper. According to Virginian-Pilot reporter Louis Hansen, the trial lawyers "did not respond to requests for comment."

Three Federal Judges Throw Out Fallujah Lawsuit

A panel of three federal judges has effectively thrown out the highly publicized lawsuit against Blackwater in relation to the ambush of four of its security contractors in 2004. The federal appeals court judges have ruled that Blackwater's contract that each of the men signed - requiring any disputes to be resolved in confidential arbitration and not in court - is valid and must be observed.

The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, which serves the area near Blackwater Worldwide's headquarters, has the story. The 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond dismissed the petition filed by trial lawyer Daniel Callahan on behalf of shell companies that another trial lawyer set up in the names of the estates of the deceased.

Callahan planned to make millions of dollars profiting from the insurgents who murdered the four American military veterans, mutilated their bodies, and hung two of the bodies from a bridge in Fallujah, Iraq, in March, 2004.

Blackwater spokesman Anne Tyrrell says that the federal appeals court has vindicated the company, and upheld the firm's contracts. "The federal courts have now honored those written agreements," Tyrrell says in the article.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Report: War Profiteer Defeated in Federal Court

We're hearing out of the US Federal Court of the Fourth Circuit in Richmond that a federal judge has rejected the trial lawyers' suit against Blackwater for the terrorist ambush in Fallujah, and has told the parties to settle their differences out of court.

This is a huge blow for ambulance chasing trial lawyer Dan Callahan (pictured), who had shell companies set up in North Carolina in the names of four deceased Blackwater contractors whom Islamist insurgents ambushed, murdered and mutilated in 2004. Via the shell companies, which he represented as "estates," Callahan was hoping to pocket many millions of dollars by taking advantage of the terrorists' attack on the Blackwater men. He persuaded several grieving members of the deceased men's families to go along, blaming Blackwater instead of the terrorists for the deaths, and holding out the prospect of lots of money from a court decision.
The trial lawyer is going to have to settle for a lot less now - if anything at all - after spending millions of dollars in venture capital in hopes of profiting from the atrocities.

It's also a big blow to Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Cal.), who opened up his "investigation" of Blackwater at Callahan's request, had Callahan's anti-Blackwater clients testify before Congress as expert witnesses, and followed the trial lawyer's script in holding the hearings and leaking confidential documents to the media.

Of course, this blogger's opinion that Dan Callahan is a sleaze is, indeed, an opinion, and is therefore protected speech. I'll be sure to post links to legal documents and news reports as soon as they're online.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Megastar Toby Keith, in Blackwater Shirt, Entertains the Troops in Iraq

Megastar country singer Toby Keith, famous for his "American Soldier" song (among other huge hits), toured Iraq a while ago with the United Services Organization (USO) to entertain the troops. In a Memorial Day, 2006 performance in Fallujah with the Marines, the country superstar wore a Blackwater shirt.

I just discovered these videos on YouTube. Toby Keith does troop tours every Memorial Day. In the clip above, he is in Fallujah singing the "Taliban Song." Below are three more clips. The first is the "Camp Fallujah 2-Minute Report," produced by the Marines for the deployed military. Keith is shown with General Michael Hagee, Commandant of the Marine Corps, and with ordinary Marines during his performance.

"The Camp Fallujah 2-Minute Report," March 29, 2006.

In the next video, Keith appears in the same Fallujah performance singing "American Soldier" (this is a really great video, with all the troops singing along). The bottom clip is from a sing-along with the troops in Baghdad.

Don't be disappointed by the homemade quality of most of the videos. Keith and his crew visited the troops with the barest amount of gear, and the videos were made by American soldiers with their own cameras and laptops. Nevertheless, the performances are inspiring.

Above: Singing "American Soldier" in Fallujah. Great performance!

Sing-along in Baghdad.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Finally: A Solution to the Somali Pirate Problem

Governments around the world dither once again about what to do about unconventional threats, and once again, a private company offers a solution.

More than 70 ships have been attacked off the Somalian coast so far in 2008, with 11 ships and 200 crew still being held for ransom as of yesterday.

"The dramatic increase of pirate attacks on merchant vessels in the Gulf of Aden has led to parallel cost increases for the shipping industry," Blackwater says in an October 16 statement.

"Shipping insurance rates have risen tenfold this year alone. With the added danger pay offered to crews willing to make the journey, pirate ransom demands that reach into the millions, and lengthy negotiations for hijacked ships, if left unaddressed the cost of the piracy boom to the shipping industry - and consumers buying their goods - will only increase."

"We have been contacted by ship owners who say they need our help in making sure those goods get to their destination safely," Blackwater Executive Vice President Bill Matthews says.

Blackwater says it's making its 183-foot ship, the McArthur (pictured), available to assist the shipping industry fight piracy. While some shippers arm their crews or hire private security to ride aboard their vessels, they can hire the McArthur "to accompany a ship and deploy helicopters to patrol the area" as "a safer option for the shipping industry."

The McArthur has a helicopter landing deck and a large helo fuel capacity; Blackwater's aviation affiliate can supply the helicopters, pilots and maintenance required to support escort missions.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blackwater Aids Local Sheriff in Manhunt

In search of a suspect who shot a man, a North Carolina county sheriff called Blackwater for help.

When a Camden County, NC, deputy found a 45 year-old man bleeding from a gunshot wound, he called authorities in two other jurisdictions for assistance. Then the sheriff's office called Blackwater, whose training headquarters is nearby, and asked for the company to fly in a helicopter.

Blackwater immediately sent up a copter to aid in the manhunt. The area is largely rural farm, wood and swampland. A local TV station carries the report. The story is unfolding as I write this post.

Notably a regional newspaper that serves Blackwater's readership area - and has been noted for its sharp editorial opposition to the company - did not mention the company's involvement in the online edition of its news reporting.

If things went according to how I understand the company, Blackwater probably flew the mission as a public service, at its own expense, and under the guidance of the local authorities.
(The photo is of a Bell 412 helicopter that is similar to the one likely used by Blackwater to help the local police.)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Blackwater Announces Advanced Export Compliance Initiative

Given the highly complicated and often contradictory federal laws and regulations concerning the export of military and security-related goods and know-how, Blackwater announces what it calls "a comprehensive initiative to enhance export compliance throughout its global operations."

According to a release distributed by the Earth Times, Blackwater says, "The initiative, under development for several months, includes the creation of an independent committee of experienced outside experts to oversee export compliance and the addition of a Vice President of Export Compliance.

"These efforts are supported by a global training initiative, proposed enhanced business controls and an increased compliance staff.

"'US export controls are a key part of our country's national securityand foreign policy. Blackwater, a partner with the US Government in many important programs, has an obligation to also be a partner in compliance,' said Erik Prince, Blackwater Founder and CEO. 'Our company has experienced remarkable growth in the last few years. This growth, our work for the US Government around the world, and the nature of the services we offer have created compliance challenges. The comprehensive initiative announced today is our direct response to those challenges and our recognition of the importance of these controls.'"

The independent panel, called the Export Compliance Committee, represents a cross section of talent and expertise. Committee members, who have full and independent authority of Blackwater's export control matters, are:
  • Robert C. Bonner. Former US Attorney, US District Court Judge, Commissioner of US Customs, the first Commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection, and Administrator of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA);

  • Asa Hutchinson (pictured). Former US Attorney, Administrator of the DEA, US Congressman from Arkansas; and the first Under Secretary of Homeland Security;

  • Carol R. Marshall. Former Vice President of Ethics and Business Conduct at Lockheed Martin, Senior Vice President for Ethics and Business Conduct at MCI, Chair of the Ethics Resource Center Fellows Program, and Chair and Working Group Liaison to the Defense Industry Initiative on Business Ethics.

Blackwater's new Vice President of Export Compliance is Karen Jones, most recently the Director of Import-Export Operations for Raytheon Missile Systems Division. "Ms. Jones is an accomplished trade compliance professional with a deep resume. She is an expert in integrating export licensing, compliance and a culture oftransparency into complex global operations. We look forward to hercontribution in making Blackwater's compliance system the standard of the industry," said Prince.

The company has also strengthened and expanded its existing compliance programs and developed an online compliance training program for employees and independent contractors.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Commentators Heap Abuse on Brian Ross and His Silly ABC News Report

Online commentators are heaping ABC News with abuse for Brian Ross's breathless report that the Army discovered a carbine in the hands or Iraqi insurgents and returned it to Blackwater.

Supporters of Blackwater and of winning the Iraq war should always take advantage of the public comment sections on Big Media websites. Some of the Ross commentators appear to be private contractor vets who have served in Iraq.

Though editors and reporters will seldom admit it, public comments - responsibly written, with solid facts and thoughtful analysis - often provide accountability and provoke biased or careless journalists to think twice.

So keep up the good work! Here's the direct link to the Ross report and the comments, so you can add more thoughts:

No wonder Ross likes to pose so often for pictures with his arms crossed defensively over his chest. His body language shows that, deep inside, he knows he's not the great journalist he pretends to be. See post below.

ABC's Ross: His Body Language Tells the Story

Brian Ross is a big man in the big media, but does he really believe he's as hot as he wants people to think? Allan and Barbara Pease, in The Definitive Book of Body Language (Bantam, 2004), offer some insights about why the machine gun man from ABC always crosses his arms over his chest:

"Hiding behind a barrier is a normal response we learn at an early age to protect ourselves. As children, we hid behind solid objects such as tables, chairs, furniture, and mother's skirt . . . . As we grew older, this hiding behavior became more sophisticated and by the age of six, when it was unacceptable behavior to hide behind solid objects, we learned to fold our arms tightly across our chests whenever a threatening situation arose . . . .

"By folding one or both arms across the chest, a barrier is formed that is an unconscious attempt to block out what we perceive as a threat or undesirable circumstances. . . . when a person has a nervous, negative, or defensive attitude, it's very likely he will fold his arms firmly on his chest, showing that he feels threatened. . . .

"When you fold your arms your credibility dramatically reduces."

"Crossed-Arms-on-Chest is universal and is decoded with the same defensive or negative meaning almost everywhere. It is comonly seen . . . anywhere that people feel uncertain or insecure." (pp. 90-93)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Army Returned Blackwater's Missing M-4; ABC's Brian Ross Sensationalizes It

The US Army returned a missing M-4 Bushmaster military carbine to Blackwater after discovering the weapon during a raid on Iraqi insurgents, ABC News reports. The Army apparently doesn't consider the issue a big deal. Soldiers said the weapon was found in "surprisingly good condition," which indicates that the insurgents didn't use it much if at all.

ABC's Brian Ross (pictured in his typically defensive, arms-across-the-chest pose) reports, "Criminal investigators for the US Army turned the weapon over to Blackwater. A spokesman for the Army CID [Criminal Investigative Division] said no further investigation was conducted as to whether the weapon had been stolen or sold on the black market by someone with access to the Blackwater facility."

Ross withholds that piece of news until the 14th paragraph of the 15-paragraph story, stuffing parts of the middle with re-hashed allegations that reflect negatively on the company.

The incident reportedly occurred in 2006.
As is the case in almost any war, the enemy in Iraq often uses captured or stolen American weaponry. The insurgents have stolen, pilfered or captured US arms and weapons the US provided to the Iraqi military and law enforcement. Blackwater turned over two employees to federal authorities after suspecting them of stealing and illegally shipping weapons in the company's custody to factions in Iraq.

The company says that it has reported every known case of weapons theft to the authorities, but did not know about this particular incident. ABC cites documents that reinforce Blackwater's claim that it didn't know the weapon was missing from its inventory.

The ABC report reeks of sensationalism. Ross breathlessly says the incident was "kept secret" until now, and ominously that it "raises more questions" about the company's operations in Iraq, which by all accounts have had a 100 percent success rate in protecting American diplomats, aid workers, officials, visiting congressmen, and even journalists.

Ross repeatedly refers to the M-4 as a "machine gun." While definitions and interpretations differ, with some (mainly civilians) referring to any firearm capable of fully automatic fire as a "machine gun," most military definitions consider machine guns as full-auto firearms that require external support, like a swivel or bipod, and thus the M-4 is not in that category. Generally the media refers to selective-fire military-style carbines like the M-4 as "assault rifles." ABC apparently chose the term "machine gun" to sensationalize the story and "raise further questions" about the company.

After recycling old and negative reports about the company, Ross finally tells readers in the second-to-last paragraph that news the Army doesn't really think that the missing weapon was a very big deal, because criminal investigators returned the M-4 to Blackwater.
In the last paragraph, Ross properly describes the weapon, showing that all the reporter and editors had to do was Google "Bushmaster" to get an official description: "The Bushmaster, according to the company's website, is one of the 'world's most popular military and law enforcement carbine models.' It is outfitted with a flash suppressor and, in military models, can fire three round bursts or fully automatic." The term "machine gun" appears nowhere on the Bushmaster M-4 page or in any official manufacturer description of the firearm. But it sure sounds more exciting.