Insider notes from United Press International for Feb. 16
Many commentators have remarked on the increase in the activities of Russia's FSB, the successor to the KGB, under former KGB operative President Vladimir Putin. According to FSB deputy director Vyacheslav Ushakov, they've had plenty to do. At a meeting with Duma deputies, Ushakov said in 2003 the FSB uncovered more than 60 intelligence officers from foreign countries in Russia, and the activity of 37 of them was "terminated." Ushakov also noted that in 2003, counter-intelligence officers detected 45 freelance agents of foreign special services, seven of whom were Russian. Sounding eerily like his Western counterparts, Ushakov told the Duma members the authorities should increase the powers of the FSB in order to fight terrorism.
Halliburton has become a synonym for mismanagement in Iraq. Latest to jump on the anti-Halliburton bandwagon are more than 20 Kuwaiti lawmakers who have made a formal request that Parliament form a committee to investigate a Kuwait Petroleum Corp. contract to supply U.S.-based Halliburton with gasoline for the U.S. Army in Iraq. The lawmakers want to determine whether public funds have been squandered and whether any officials at state-owned KPC profited illegally from the deal to supply Halliburton through a Kuwaiti subcontractor. Member of Parliament Naser al-Sane said, "This committee will be able to question anyone from a government minister to a guard." The request asks that a five-member committee be set up to "investigate the issue of fuel sales to Halliburton and its subsidiary ..., and the Kuwaiti intermediary Altanmia." The request came after Energy Minister Shaikh Ahmad al-Fahd al-Sabah had referred the KPC contract to supply Halliburton to the public prosecutor to investigate any wrongdoing. Al Sabah added the allegations of wrongdoing were based on "unfounded rumors." MP Musallam Al Barrak said, "We do not trust that senior KPC officials will send all the necessary documents pertaining to the scandal to the judicial inquiry," adding any official found guilty of wrongdoing must be fired.
Swamped by ever-growing numbers of pilgrims, Saudi Arabia's Prince Sultan, second deputy premier and minister of defense and aviation, is urging domestic regulations enacted five years ago prohibiting Saudi believers from undertaking the hajj more than once every five years must be extended to foreign Muslims as well. Sultan said, "Some of them have performed Hajj five to 10 times. Regulations must be enforced in future so that people have to wait five years before repeating Hajj." The masses of people have repeatedly led to crises, most recent when 251 pilgrims were crushed to death during a stampede at Jamrat during the recently concluded Hajj. Sultan added optimistically, "We hope things will be better next year and in the coming years."
The web of countries involved in covert nuclear technology smuggling continues to increase. Spanish Judge Baltazar Garzon has sent a team to London to examine the possible involvement of Spanish companies in a secret network that supplied nuclear equipment to Libya. Garzon opened his investigation last summer in cooperation with Spain's Centro Nacional de Inteligencia and British security forces following allegations that Spanish companies exported high-precision equipment that might have wound up in Libya. Spain's Trade Ministry said that Spanish intelligence officers uncovered exports of machinery and equipment supposedly destined for Dubai in the United Arab Emirates that "without being nuclear technology, could have been of use in proliferation programs." CNI warned the Economy Ministry in 2001 that Spanish companies could be implicated in the underground traffic of nuclear components. No such exports have been reported for the past two years.
While Pakistan and India have launched their historic peace talks, the Indian military is taking a leaf from Ronald Regan's philosophy of "trust but verify," and preparing to take delivery of Israel's Phalcon AWACs system. On a visit to India, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said, "Finally we have succeeded in implementing the deal and we expect to make deliveries shortly." The deal is worth nearly $1.9 billion, with the Israeli systems mounted on Indian Air Force IL-76 aircraft. In 2003 Russia and Israel sold India weaponry valued at more than $2.7 billion.