The mysterious lure of the French Foreign Legion keeps drawing Americans

The mysterious lure of the French Foreign Legion keeps drawing Americans

Video from November 2014 shows Legionnaires training on the island of Mayotte, a French territory off the coast of eastern Africa. (Foreign Legion via YouTube)

The story is bizarre enough to serve as the plot of an action movie: 2nd Lt. Lawrence J. Franks Jr. quit his job in the U.S. Army, fled the country and secretly enlisted in the elite French Foreign Legion under an assumed name, authorities said. He deployed numerous times, including during a conflict in Mali, and then turned himself in to U.S. officials this year, seemingly at peace with what he had done. Continue reading

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Who is Alan Gross, the American just freed from Cuban prison?

Who is Alan Gross, the American just freed from Cuban prison?

Updated by on December 17, 2014, 11:40 a.m. ET

Supporters hold signs to call on bringing home of U.S. citizen Alan Gross during a rally at the Lafayette Park outside the White House December 3, 2013 in Washington, DC Alex Wong/Getty Images

Alan Gross is an American aid worker who was imprisoned in Cuba for undermining the Cuban government — and now he’s come home. According to a just-announced deal between the Obama administration and the Cuban government, Gross was released as part of a much larger plan to begin to normalize relations between the two countries after more than 50 years of tensions.

Gross’ time in prison was miserable. He had lost about 100 pounds and, CNN reports, was also losing his teeth. His release is a humanitarian victory, but it’s also an incredibly significant diplomatic move.

Here’s what you need to know about Gross — and why his release is so important to the broader Cuba deal. Continue reading

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Conflict Inc.: Selling the Arts of War

Conflict Inc.: Selling the Arts of War

 Originally broadcast December 7, 1997. This was an episode in the America’s Defense Monitor series, produced by the Center for Defense Information, in Washington, DC, where I worked as an analyst. I wrote the script.

It focused on the then relatively unknown companies of Executive Outcomes, MPRI, and Sandline.

if you ever wondered what the state of the private military and security industry was, back before it got known and popular, this is, with all due modesty, the television segment to watch.

The production transcript follows, below the jump.  Click on the above title or here to watch Continue reading

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U.S. to start talks with Cuba to normalize ties

U.S. to start talks with Cuba to normalize ties

President Obama moved Wednesday to normalize relations with Cuba, tearing down the last remaining pillar of the Cold War after more than 60 years.Under measures announced by the administration, the United States plans to re-open its embassy in Havana and significantly ease restrictions on travel and commerce within the next several weeks and months.

The result of more than a year and a half of secret negotiations with the Cuban government of President Raul Castro. The moves follow Cuba’s agreement to release Alan Gross, a U.S. Agency for International Development contractor imprisoned for five years, and to exchange an unnamed U.S. intelligence asset, held for two decades, for three Cuban nationals convicted of spying in this country in 2001.

Gross, a Maryland resident, left Cuba aboard a U.S. military aircraft Wednesday morning, accompanied by his wife and several members of Congress, and arrived at Joint Base Andrews. The Cubans have landed in Havana. Continue reading

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Holiday appeal. Please, pretty please, support the PMSC Observer

Yep, it’s that time again. If you have read this blog the past few years you understand I really do hate to write you asking for help.  But this blog is a bargain, especially since  you read it for nothing all year long; no subscription charge, zip, zilch, nada, nothing.

I’ll be giving you stats on reader usage in a future post but suffice it to say that lots of you have been reading, but none of you have been supporting.

Hey, I understand, the economy is tough, and I’m looking for a job myself. Truly, nobody likes to ask for money, or be asked, which is why I don’t ask this the rest of the year.

But doing this blog takes time, and as the saying goes, time is money.

So as the year ends, if you find yourself with a few extra bucks and an urge to lend a hand, please use the Paypal link and think about what you might give.  I gave Wikipedia three dollars; surely you could do the same for this blog.

Many thanks in advance for any support you can offer.  Your donations will indeed help keep this going into 2015.

Speaking of support, if you can’t even afford a few bucks, at least make a comment now and then, or send an email. I truly would like to hear from you.

Regards,

David

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How We Outsourced CIA Torture And Why It Matters

How We Outsourced CIA Torture And Why It Matters

Posted: Updated:
CIA BLACK SITE

One big revelation in the explosive summary of the Senate report on CIA torture is just how much the U.S. government is outsourcing its dirty work.

The 500-page report on CIA interrogation tactics, released last week, details shocking instances of waterboarding, forced rectal feedings and various other torture methods, in one case leading up to a detainee’s death. It also includes a somewhat-overlooked statistic: Eighty-five percent of the interrogations completed as part of the CIA’s covert program in the wake of 9/11 were conducted by private contractors, who were paid tens of millions of dollars for actions.

The use of contractors for interrogations continues a recent, troubling trend of the U.S. government giving some of its hardest jobs to companies motivated by profit. It raises moral and logistical questions about the use of such contractors, several experts told The Huffington Post, and could make it more difficult to hold people accountable for any crimes committed in the course of the CIA interrogation program. Continue reading

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The Development and Regulation of Private Maritime Security

The Development and Regulation of Private Maritime Security

BY 2014-11-24 13:28:00

By Simon O. Williams, LLM

Before countries possessed the capacity to create and maintain ocean-going navies, privateers dominated the business of protecting maritime commerce from the risks of piracy, sabotage, and other threats. As key maritime countries developed their navies, they phased out privateering in order to ensure a monopoly over armed conflict and, therefore, state power. Continue reading

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Maritime Security: State Jurisdiction Over PCASP

Maritime Security: State Jurisdiction Over PCASP

BY 2014-12-09 09:13:00

By Simon O. Williams, LLM

Various types of state jurisdiction can be enforced under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and international law broadly.

UNCLOS itself is often regarded as a framework convention: It sets up institutions and balances the rights and interests of states with the interests of the international community. UNCLOS provides specific regimes, which are fundamental to maritime security, namely the regime of consecutive maritime zones and the jurisdictional trinity of flag, coastal and port state control. In fact, UNCLOS is the only international convention which stipulates a framework for state jurisdiction in maritime spaces. Continue reading

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Maritime guns for hire adapt to changes in sea piracy

Maritime guns for hire adapt to changes in sea piracy

Written by Reuters, Thursday, 04 December 2014

Cash-strapped maritime security firms are being forced to use fewer costly elite guards and to diversify into other businesses such as cyber security, as a steep decline in Somali pirate attacks and hotter competition erode fast-thinning margins.

Hundreds of security firms sprang up over the past seven years to offer protection to shipping companies, with scores of merchant vessels being boarded and sailors taken hostage in pirate raids off the coast of conflict-torn Somalia. Continue reading

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DynCorp Hammers Ecuadorians’ Surviving Chem-Spray Claims

DynCorp Hammers Ecuadorians’ Surviving Chem-Spray Claims

By Khadijah M. Britton

Law360, New York (December 16, 2014, 7:06 PM ET) — Dyncorp International Inc. on Monday targeted the remaining claims of 2,000 Ecuadorian workers allegedly harmed by the contractor’s spraying of herbicides along the Colombia-Ecuador border to eradicate suspected drug farms, arguing nuisance wasn’t a valid claim and the company lacked individual intent to batter or distress each worker.

In its summary judgment motion, DynCorp told the D.C. federal court that the workers couldn’t prove the government contractor “intentionally sprayed each individual plaintiff with herbicide with the objective of causing each of those plaintiffs severe emotional distress…

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