Letter From the Front
In his weekly online newsletter, The Voice of the Grunt, Colonel David Hackworth has been running letters from American troops in Afghanistan, among them this anonymous missive from the country’s northwest panhandle, between Tajikistan and Pakistan.
“November 11, 2001: It’s f-ng freezing here. I’m sitting on hard, cold dirt between rocks and shrubs at the base of the Hindu Kush mountains along the Dar ‘yoi Pomir River watching a hole that leads to a tunnel that leads to a cave. Stakeout, my friend, and no pizza delivery for thousands of miles. I also glance at the area around my ass every ten to fifteen seconds to avoid another scorpion sting. Hurts like a bastard.
“The one truth the Taliban cannot escape is that, believe it or not, they are human beings, which means they have to eat food and drink water. That requires couriers, and that’s where an old bounty hunter like me comes in handy. I track the couriers, locate the tunnel entrances and storage facilities, type the info into the handheld, shoot the coordinates up to the satellite link that tells the air commanders where to drop the hardware. We bash some heads for a while, then I track and record the new movement.
“It’s all about intelligence. We haven’t even brought in the snipers yet. These scurrying rats have no idea what they’re in for. . . . This country blows, man. It’s not even a country. There are no roads, there’s no infrastructure, there’s no government. This is an inhospitable, rockpit sh-ole ruled by eleventh-century warring tribes. . . . I’ve been living with these Tajiks and Uzbeks and Turkmen and even a couple of Pushtins [sic] for over a month and a half now, and this much I can say for sure: These guys, all of ’em, are Huns. . . . They LIVE to fight. It’s what they do. It’s ALL they do. They have no respect for anything, not for their families or for each other or for themselves.
“Do me a favor. Write a letter to CNN and tell Judy and Bernie and that awful, sneering, pompous Aaron Brown to stop calling the Taliban ‘smart.’ They are not smart. I suggest CNN invest in a dictionary because the word they are looking for is ‘cunning.’ The Taliban are cunning, like jackals and hyenas and wolverines. They are sneaky and ruthless and, when confronted, cowardly.
“OK, enough. Sun’ll be up soon so I have to get back to my hole. Covering my tracks in the snow takes a lot of practice, but I’m getting good at it. Please tell my fellow Americans to turn off their TV sets and move on with their lives. We’ve got this one under control. The worst thing you guys can do right now is sit around analyzing what we’re doing over here because you have no idea what we’re doing and, really, you don’t want to know. We are your military and we are doing what you sent us here to do. You wanna help? Buy some f-ing stocks, America.”
With Osama bin Laden still on the loose and his Al Qaeda fighters retreating into protective Pakistan, security officials were preparing heightened alerts in the financial district of London and in Germany. They’re worried about major transportation facilities—airports, seaports, railways, and freeway hubs. The London Observer said its reporters had discovered a detailed drawing for installing a bomb in a large van, which according to some scribbling on the document would be driven into the center of the city.
A potentially more ominous sign comes from Azzam.com, a jihad Web site reportedly watched by American intelligence. Last week in a report from Tora Bora, Azzam noted, “Highly informed Islam News sources from Tora Bora have claimed that American warplanes have continued bombing Tora Bora and the Melwa mountains, and the destruction which is occurring indicates that the Americans are using restricted amounts of Chemical and Nuclear weapons.”
If Al Qaeda leaders believe their jihad warriors were struck by weapons of mass destruction, then what would stop them from retaliating in kind? Reports like this are one reason officials may be so nervous about low-tech dirty nuclear bombs and chemical munitions.
Washington war hawks salivating at the thought of attacking Iraq were dealt a punch Monday with a news report from the Czech Republic that an Iraqi intelligence agent had never met with a top Al Qaeda man, as reported earlier. The Czech daily Mlada Fronta Dnes last Friday said “the only evidence of a link between the [September 11] terrorists and Iraq has fallen.”
According to the newspaper, a government inquiry into Mohammed Atta’s supposed visits to the Czech Republic in 2000 reportedly discovered that there was indeed a Mohammed Atta who’d gone there. However, he was not the terrorist in question but a Pakistani business man. There is no connection between the Iraqi agent and the terrorist.
That’s a setback but hardly a deathblow for the battle-hungry, who are intent on taking out Saddam Hussein. Recently the U.S. aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk was dispatched from its command post in the Arabian Sea to Kuwait, where 70,000 troops were being transferred. Meanwhile, elements of the 82nd and 101st airborne divisions were reported moving to a big U.S. base in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.
Enron’s End Run
The fiasco of Enron, that model for new-world energy corps now mired in lawsuits and bankruptcy filings, is the natural outcome of having no federal regulation of the energy business.
The Houston company’s top executives were celebrated as go-ahead businessmen because they didn’t believe in owning old-fashioned assets. Instead, litigants charge they began running a kind of magical trading game, overstating profits and inflating the price of shares in the debt-ridden company, thereby making the firm attractive to the outside world and to investors in particular, even as the kingdom was about to implode. What’s more, the people who were supposed to be monitoring the company may not have been doing their jobs. Outside auditors charged with overseeing the accuracy and honesty of its books were allegedly drawn into conflicts of interest by the prospect of making more money selling Enron other consulting services.
Wall Street traders continued pushing the firm’s sinking stock because they were making money and didn’t want to upset the apple cart. Days before filing for bankruptcy, Enron reportedly skimmed $55 million off what little was left in order to give its 500 top employees incentives. Next, the company fired 4000 workers outright and put another 3000 on leave. Its employees have lost between 70 and 90 percent of the value of their 401(k) retirement plans because, of course, these are totally unprotected and unregulated. The entire affair is to be completed with one of those useless, go-nowhere “investigations” by Congress.
But the public hasn’t heard the last of Enron. Its largest and most lucrative single asset—the Northern Natural Gas Company pipeline system, which carries gas from the Texas Permian Basin—may go to the smaller firm Dynegy, which with this move would suddenly become the nation’s largest vertically integrated energy company. Dynegy wanted to take over Enron, and while that move was called off, its acquisition of the $2.5 billion pipelines, representing two-thirds of Enron’s 25,000 miles, would expose millions of consumers to the vicissitudes of monopoly pricing, a/k/a the free market. The power behind the scenes in all this is Dynegy’s part owner ChevronTexaco, itself the product of a merger between two of the world’s largest oil and gas corporations.
A takeover like this would continue the recent trend toward private monopoly in energy. During the 1930s, when lawmakers sought to regulate the industry, they tried to separate the companies that produce oil and gas from those owning pipelines so there would be at least a modicum of independence and the appearance of competition. With regulation out the window, the reverse trend has set in. Dynegy’s acquisition of the pipelines would connect ChevronTexaco’s huge production capability to customers. ChevronTexaco already controls 15 percent of the nation’s natural gas.
And that’s not all. Through Dynegy’s ownership of electric power production in such states as California, ChevronTexaco will get a jump on the big new electric production markets, which increasingly depend on gas. In the end, the bankruptcy of Enron amounts to one more step backward, toward monopoly.
Additional reporting: Meritxell Mir and Sarah Park