Notes on the abduction and ransom of Sylvia Aisha Romano

While a ransom was paid to Al-Shabaab, the militant group may not have been aid worker Sylvia Aisha Romano original captors in Malindi two years ago. Reports have suggested that Kenya Wildlife Service personnel were arrested in their connection with the abduction and that they hid the aid worker in the vast and dense Boni forest near the Somali border. From there she may have been sold on to Al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab has had a presence in the forest in northern Kenya since at least 2014. Other reports quoted police as saying the aid worker was involved in illegal ivory trafficking. KWS has been accused of carrying out extrajudicial killings in Tana River area, not far from Malindi, where Ms. Romano was kidnapped.

Best and worst of 2019 – 1

January 2019 did not kick off to a good start for me. I couldn’t walk, for one thing. The previous November I fell hard on my knee, not realising I’d torn my meniscus–a cartilage that acts as a cushion between the tibia and femur. Instead of getting an MRI when in Nairobi, where I fell, I flew back to my home in Lamu, a lovely island with lots of sand. The image lingers of me dragging my legs to dinner parties. Sand became my number one enemy. A ten minute walk to the Peponi pub seemed like an expedition across the Sahara.

Thus began a long slow road to 24/7 pain management. The first phase, lasting nearly eight months, was all downhill.

In early January, the Somali-born militant group, al-Shabaab, attacked the Dusit D2, a business and hotel complex in a suburban area of Nairobi, killing more than 20 people.

Funny because the day of the attack I’d flown back to Lamu. I sat next to a ethnic Somali from Garissa, who was working on the Lamu port. Peering out the window at the mostly unblemished expanse of the Indian ocean, we talked about how al-Shabaab hadn’t carried out any attacks in Kenya in three years. Lamu seemed safe and sound.

When I got home just an hour or so later a UN friend phoned to inform me of the attack. I was stunned. I didn’t know what to make of it. It later became clear that Somalia had hired second rate Kenya terrorists to execute the attack. Instead of black scarves swaddling their heads the militants wore baseball caps. Most had been recruited from the dominant and largely Christian Kikuyu tribe. (Non-Somalis are less prone to be profiled as terrorists)

Had I stayed in Nairobi to have my knee examined, I might have been able to cover the aftermath of the attack on the ground. I felt better just going home.

I soon learned that one of the fatalities was an American in his 30s. Jason Spindler was the CEO and managing director of the San Francisco-based I-DEV, a strategy and investment firm with an office in Nairobi. He’d been dining at the complex’s Garden Restaurant when the attackers began shooting. Spindler, originally from Texas, apparently loved Lamu. He spent most of his time at the Majlis hotel, though he’d often rent villas across the channel in the posh enclave of Shela. Staff working at his favourite spots knew him well and said they were devastated when they heard he’d died.

When The Daily Beast editor contacted me asking to write about the attack. I had nothing to say. It was just another al-Shabaab attack. After awhile they all seem the same. Only the location and body count seem to differ. The incidents are all depressing and mind-numbing, especially after I write about them and they’re published.

In February I turned a certain age. I try to tell myself it is the beginning of a new beginning.

2019 in images

Herbert Menzer is one of the great connectors and influencers on Lamu Island. Herbert hails from Hamburg, Germany, and over the years has constructed several large, luxurious, modern Swahili rental villas in Shela village. He’s also the mastermind behind the annual Lamu Hat Contest, and The Painters Festival. Both will be held February 1-16, 2020.

Suavissimo Lee Harvin will be 79 years old next year. Inshallah. Seemingly ageless, he identifies himself with Dorian Gray. Lee is originally from Harlem, New York. Shela has been his home for 15 years. If he’s not wearing a Panama hat you’ll spot him by his usual turbaned head.

Azhar Ali Mbarak aka “Watermelon” Member of Lamu County Assembly (MCA)

Political graffiti from 2017 general elections

Watermelon is so powerful he can move heaven and earth — and even motorbikes for you.

Shela village, Lamu Island

The Lamu Yoga Festival, conceived by Banana House, is now in its seventh year. The venue offers five days of yoga classes, meditation, and workshops in Shela, Lamu town, and on Manda Island.

A few years ago, following a spate of security incidents in the region (on the mainland only), then Lamu county governor, Issa Timamy, hired a British PR firm and rebranded Lamu as “The Island of Festivals”.

Never mind that some of the more conservative locals refer to the throngs of mostly women attendees as “little devils” for their strange salutations toward the sun while lined up on the beach. The Swahili community is accommodating. Lamu is safe and idyllic as can be.

Low-level flying with Fuzz Dyer of Northern Rangeland Trust

July 9, 2019 World Heritage Committee calls for the Government of Kenya to stop the Lamu coal plant project until it assesses it’s impacts on Lamu’s environment, heritage, and culture, and submits reports for review – Natural Justice

“Hey, it’s me!” Tourist

Quietly Killing Julian Assange

The sculptured tableaux of Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, and Chelsea Manning – crusaders of transparency and free speech – are true to life… their silence is ironic.

Where are the voices for Julian Assange?

While Manning is serving her own jail sentence and Snowden lives in exile, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange remains locked up in Her Majesty’s Prison at London’s Belmarsh prison, where the US and UK are quietly killing him. Former MP George Galloway calls the facility “Britain’s Guantanamo”.

Assange won notoriety in 2010 when his non-profit organisation, Wikileaks, released video footage revealing the crew of a U.S. Apache helicopter gunning down civilians in Iraq.

The activist had been holed up for seven years at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, facing allegations in the United States that he conspired to hack into a Pentagon computer network in 2010.

When Ecuador’s leadership changed recently, its new neoliberal president, Lenin Moreno, revoked Assange’s asylum, citing, among other things, the activist’s poor hygiene. Soon after being booted out, the 47-year old Australian was found guilty of breaching the Bail Act when he sought asylum from Ecuador in June of 2012.

London’s Metropolitan Police reportedly said they arrested Assange on behalf of the United States.

The psychological torture began even before police hauled Assange out of the Ecuadorian embassy. Images of Assange as a frail bearded old man belying his 47 years. A Spanish firm, Undercover Global, had reportedly been spying on Assange on behalf of the CIA in the months leading up to his expulsion from the Ecuadorean embassy. Images of Assange skateboarding in the confines of the embassy were soon leaked.

U.N. Special Rapporteur, Nils Melzer, visited Assange in Belmarsh prison last spring and, along with two medical experts, concluded that Assange had been subjected to psychological torture. The independent UN rights expert said Assange’s “continued exposure to arbitrariness and abuse may soon end up costing his life”.

At Belmarsh Assange is being kept in complete isolation for 23 hours a day, and allowed 45 minutes exercise. When he has to be moved, guards clear the corridors and lock all cells to ensure that he has no contact with any other prisoner outside the exercise period. He’s being deprived of medical care, proper nutrition, moral support, legal documents, and news.

Assange reportedly muttered, stuttered, and grappled to say his own name and date of birth when he appeared in court on October 21.

It is likely the CIA and MI6 are employing the method called “Induced Helplessness”, which comes straight out of the U.S. Army’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape” (SERE) program.

The US and UK are stripping him of his individuality – everything that made him powerful icon of free speech. In the end their treatment in prison will kill him.

Learned helplessness is a psychological state that occurs after a person has experienced a stressful situation repeatedly. They come to believe that they are unable to control or change a situation, so they do not try — even when opportunities for change become available. They have given up.

The technique was developed by Dr. Martin Seligman in the 1960s. His work consisted of psychologically destroying caged dogs by subjecting them to repeated electric shocks with no hope of escape.

Seligman’s work eventually formed the underpinnings of the Bush administration’s torture program. In 2010 the U.S. Army gave a $31 million no bid contract to Martin Seligman,

In Belmarsh Assange is totally isolated. He’s reportedly deprived of medical care, sleep, human contact, food, moral support, legal documents, and news. He will likely no longer have the capacity, means or will to improve his situation.

The moral of the story seems to be that you’ll have hell to pay if you expose U.S. war crimes.

Why are the voices for Assange silent? Because the public can no longer see or hear him. All that remains is the lingering images of a silver-haired loony skateboarding in a tiny space, and, later, in a police van resembling some Hobbit-like creature.

Another leader who recently wasted away in prison was Egypt’s democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi. The former president was in such poor health after years of abuse in prison that he collapsed during a court hearing in June 2019, and died. He was 67.

“Dr. Morsi was held in conditions that can only be described as brutal, particularly during his five-year detentions in the Tora prison complex”, said Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, together with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

“Dr. Morsi’s death after enduring those conditions could amount to a State-sanctioned arbitrary killing”, they added in a press release.

Kenya’s Worst Rhino Massacre Was the Work of People Trying to Save the Species

Kenya’s Worst Rhino Massacre Was the Work of People Trying to Save the Species


Published Oct. 08, 2018 5:22AM ET 

NAIROBI—You may have missed World Rhino Day last month. Even here in Kenya, many people did. Such events rarely raise the public’s consciousness the way they should, and this year, certainly, there was not much to celebrate.

Kenya is home to many of the rhinos surviving in the wild, but it is still reeling from a veritable massacre in  July and August at one of the country’s most famous national parks: 11 eastern black rhinos dead out of a population of 750. And those responsible for the shocking deaths are not poachers, but the very same organizations charged with saving the species: World Wildlife Fund-Kenya, Kenya Wildlife Service, and Kenya’s Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife.

The tragedy began on July 13, when Kenyans woke to the news that at least seven black rhinos had died mysteriously, not killed by hunters. The death toll reached 11 in less than six weeks. All had lost their lives in the same sanctuary, where they had been relocated, precisely, in order to ensure the species’ survival. 

Some conservationists called this the worst tragedy in the history of wildlife conservation. 

Paula Kahumba, CEO of the non-profit organization Wildlife Direct, told reporters this was “a complete disaster.” Many people might think of the loss as incalculable, but for those less sensitive to the fate of wildlife, Kahumba put a figure on it: “Each animal is worth about a million dollars. It’s like $7 million just vanished into thin air.”

In the 1950s Kenya’s Tsavo East National Park was home to an estimated 2,000 eastern black rhino. By the 1970s, this population had dwindled, almost entirely as a result of poaching for the international rhino-horn trade, to an estimated 400. 

As of early 2018, due to anti-poaching efforts and to conservationists’ work to grow viable rhino populations, the World Wildlife Fund counted the population at 750. The new Rhino Conservation Strategy (2017-2021) of the Kenya Wildlife Service hopes to achieve 5 percent growth and attain a population of 830 by 2021. The mandate of almost all rhino-centric conservation organizations—state or non-state—is keep those numbers growing. 

In the 1950s Kenya’s Tsavo East National Park was home to an estimated 2,000 eastern black rhino. By the 1970s, this population had dwindled, almost entirely as a result of poaching for the international rhino-horn trade, to an estimated 400. 

As of early 2018, due to anti-poaching efforts and to conservationists’ work to grow viable rhino populations, the World Wildlife Fund counted the population at 750. The new Rhino Conservation Strategy (2017-2021) of the Kenya Wildlife Service hopes to achieve 5 percent growth and attain a population of 830 by 2021. The mandate of almost all rhino-centric conservation organizations—state or non-state—is keep those numbers growing. 

When Kenya’s parks get congested,  animals are sent to other areas in a process known as translocation. They are captured, transported, and released.

Nairobi National Park, in sight of the capital’s skyline, has proved to be a prime rhino breeding sanctuary in Kenya. Rhino reproduce there at an optimum rate, producing one calf per female every two years. But the Nairobi park can no longer sustain the growing population, and neither can the Lake Nakuru National Park, which has a similarly successful breeding record. 

Another aim of translocations is to move endangered wildlife away from poachers, but the core purpose is to get them far away enough from other rhino populations to establish, over time, new bloodlines and genetically diverse populations.

The balance has to be just right. If there are too many animals in a confined area they either don’t mate or become inbred. If there are too few in a vast park they may not find each other to mate. 

In 2011 WWF-Kenya teamed up with the Kenya Wildlife Service to establish a rhino sanctuary in Tsavo East. The service had a proven track record. It had successfully moved 149 rhinobetween 2005 and 2017. Only eight of these died, and over a long period of time. 

Moving rhino to establish a founder population in the 5,307-square-mile Tsavo East seemed like a good idea. It’s big sky country, with a lot of room for the beasts to move around. But rhinos, while they may look like four-legged battle tanks, are in some respects remarkably fragile, and water quality is, for them, a critical issue.

In 2011 an Environmental Impact Assessment was conducted in the Tsavo East sanctuary to determine the suitability of this habitat, especially its water and vegetation. The result showed high levels of salt in the water. 

So, between 2013 and 2015, with funding from WWF-Kenya, the wildlife service hired a private supplier to drill for fresh water in the proposed sanctuary. WWF-Kenya then brought the $1 million proposal for a translocation to the Kenya Wildlife Service board, at the time chaired by renowned paleontologist and wildlife warrior Dr. Richard Leakey. 

Leakey vetoed the project three times, on the grounds that Tsavo East had suffered a long drought and the habitat was unsuitable—its water had tested too salty for rhino consumption. Leakey recommended that WWF-Kenya return with the proposal when conditions improved.  

Despite the high salinity of the water WWF-Kenya went ahead and continued building the sanctuary, with a 38-square-mile rhino territory enclosed by a solar-powered electric fence. Within the sanctuary WWF-Kenya established a boma (a more localized holding enclosure), where vets and rangers would look after translocated rhino for two weeks before releasing them into free range.

Paul Gathitu, a spokesperson for the Kenya Wildlife Service, says a lot of planning was done to ensure the rhinos’ safety in their new habitat. “There has to be sufficient food, it has to be correct in terms of weather, in terms of water that is available, so all those factors had to be put in place including even the issue of security of the rhinos themselves. All that put together, we felt that the conditions were about right.”

But the 2011 assessment showing high salinity was never revised. Moreover, Dr. Benson Kibore, chairman of Kenya’s Union of Veterinary Practitioners (UVP), said tests of the water in drilled boreholes were conducted multiple times, up to May of 2018, and these tests revealed a saline content five times higher than in 2011. 

In April of 2018, the three-year tenure of the KWS board of directors, including Leakey, terminated. Soon afterward WWF-Kenya’s preparations for the translocation were set in motion. TheBigMove, as it was billed, would be a feather in the caps of WWF-Kenya and the Kenya Wildlife Service. 

On June 25, @WWF_Kenya tweeted: “Our family has grown and we need to move some members to a new home. Stay with us as we kick off the journey tomorrow at 7 am #TheBigMove.”

Our family has grown and we need to move some members to a new home. Stay with us as we kick off the journey tomorrow at . #TheBigMove

The morning after the tweets went out, a crowd of politicians, senior staff from WWF-K, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), and media gathered to launch The Big Move of 14 rhino to the new sanctuary at Tsavo East. 

The kickoff’s location was symbolic: the site in Nairobi National Park were, in 1989, Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi and Richard Leakey torched tons of confiscated elephant tusks and rhino horn. Another such dramatic bonfire blazed in 2016. 

These events ignited worldwide focus on efforts in Kenya to stop the slaughter of elephants and rhinos, and to help their populations grow once again.

“Today marks the coming together of a dream that has been in the making for over seven years,” Najib Balala, Kenya’s Minister of Tourism and Wildlife, declared as The Big Move began. 

An unspoken message was that Richard Leakey was out of the way. Those now in control of Kenya’s wildlife establishment could work free of the constraints Leakey had imposed. 

At the event, WWF-Kenya presented the park with two Land Cruisers, three motorbikes, night vision cameras, tents, radio equipment, binoculars and boots. “This donation of two vehicles and other vital equipment.” Minister Balala added, “will go a long way in ensuring that our rangers on the front line are adequately equipped to carry out their duties.” 

The first three rhino slated to travel were camera- and social media-ready, complete with names—Carol, Cheptei, and Bolt. After the fanfare, KWS sharpshooters darted animals with a light tranquilizer, and the animals were pushed into crates. They then left the park and sped along a bumpy road 200 miles to their faraway new home. Cheptei, Carol, and Bolt’s arrival at the boma was the subject of confident tweets put out by the translocation’s organizers at WWF-Kenya on June 27: “Carol, Cheptei and Bolt arrived safely at Tsavo late last night they are among 14 black rhino forming founder population.”

No news seemed like good news.

The “hear-hear” tweets indicate that there was, at least at this stage, communication between KWS and WWF-K. The remaining 11 rhino were scheduled to travel, in stages, over the succeeding two weeks. 

By all accounts the capture and transport phases of the translocation were going well. Veterinarians are typically in charge of these, while rangers and wardens are tasked with caring for the animals on their arrival at the release site, including the adaptation period in the boma.  

According to a report made later by the Union of Veterinary Practitioners, the senior warden for Tsavo East accompanied the first lot of rhino, bringing enough fresh vegetation and water to last six days. (The Daily Beast’s repeated efforts to communicate with this senior warden have been unsuccessful.)

Rangers assert that they provided fresh leafy vegetation—called “lucerne” and also “sugarcane straws”—and fresh water from a 500-1,000 gallon water container known as a “bowser.” 

Dr. Kibore from the Union of Veterinary Practitioners reports that a week after release, the warden called KWS headquarters to report peculiar behavior by the rhinos, and dispatched rangers with the bowser to the Galana River,  several miles from the sanctuary over rough terrain, to bring more fresh water. En route, the bowser broke. 

Rangers and wardens, observing increased water intake among the rhinos and hyper-urination, suspected snakebite. 

Four days passed before those dispatched with the bowser returned with water. Kibore cites the failure of rangers to act promptly on the broken bowser as the crucial lapse in the operation. The lack of adequate food and fresh water in the boma would have killed the rhino eventually, Kibore notes, “but full-blown salt water will kill you first.” 

On the sixth day after their arrival, the veterinarians’ union report notes that rangers decided to give water from a nearby borehole. But the nearby borehole was the one that was making the rhinos sick to begin with. On July 3, seven days after the first three rhinos arrived, Bolt died. When vets arrived and scanned the corpse for snakebites, they couldn’t find any. On the eighth day in the boma, two more rhinos displayed symptoms like those seen in Bolt. These two also died, as vets tried to treat them. Supposing that snake bite was killing the translocated rhinos, the vets released all but two of the remaining animals from the boma. The veterinarian union report indicates the rhinos’ dehydration was attributable to trauma. “With trauma and stress of undergoing the capture process the rhinos feared the newly placed water points, thinking it was a trap.” Kibore explains that the borehole water points are lined with black plastic, about which the rhino are skittish. He said “the key reason” the animals died, noted on the postmortem, was dehydration.

By the time the vets understood that, sure enough, salt water was the problem, it was too late. According to Kibore, the warden wasn’t aware that rhinos could die from a high intake of salt water. 

While a vet was present, he was coming and going between the sanctuary and the other parks, where the rhino embarked. Kibore told The Daily Beast that vets are usually not in attendance during the initial days following release because the wildlife service’s budget doesn’t provide for that kind of post-translocation care. 

By July 13 a total of at least seven rhinos had died, and news of the calamity broke to the outside world. Yet there seems to have been little communication in the intervening days among rangers, wardens, and vets in the sanctuary or at KWS headquarters.

Minister Balala, who was outside Kenya at the time, claims to have learned of the deaths only when the public did, and only via media coverage.

Leakey asserts that whatever communications there were between the boma and Kenya Wildlife Service headquarters have been suppressed. He adds that he has reason to think the rangers at Tsavo East had not even been informed that the rhino would be arriving. 

Balala quickly issued a statement announcing suspension of the translocation of the three remaining rhino from Lake Nakuru. On his return to Kenya, he held a press conference and announced that he had called for an independent investigation. He later cited an independent post-mortem report stating that salt poisoning may have caused the rhinos to perish as they struggled to adapt to saltier water in their new home. Within six weeks of the translocation’s launch, all the rhinos moved to Tsavo East were dead. One of these was attacked, post-translocation, by lions. Though this death has been attributed to the attack, that rhino, given its dehydration and impaired health, was likely in no shape to fight. The irony that more rhino died in the translocation than were killed by poachers in 2017 was not lost on informed observers, particularly wildlife conservationists.  

The public, in Kenya and outside, demanded answers. With many Kenyans agitating for Balala to resign, the bloodletting shifted, figuratively at least, to the human side of the equation.

Conservationists have blamed the rhino deaths on greed, negligence and the nebulous, growing role of NGOs in the wildlife conservation sector. Angry Kenyans wanted proof that the dead rhinos’ horns had not found their way into the illegal trade. They demanded photos of the corpses with the horns in place. At its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya Wildlife service displayed what it claimed were all 22 horns—two cut off each rhino corpse.The Kenyan government has compiled but not yet released results of an initial inquiry, which sources say states that there were areas of “clear negligence by KWS.” Both Mohamed Awer, CEO of WWF-Kenya, and  Minister Balala acknowledgednegligence in the translocation.The operation’s outcome came as no surprise to Leakey, who cites saltwater and mismanagement as prime ingredients in a recipe for disaster.  He places responsibility squarely with WWF-Kenya and on Balala, whom he referred to as CS, or Cabinet Secretary Balala.

The Kenya Wildlife Service “would have only acted on orders of either the [KWS] board or the CS,” Leakey told The Daily Beast. “They would not have gone to WWF, so the must have given them the go ahead.”

Balala, Awer, and their organizations insist that Leakey, when chair of KWS, had given “provisional approval” for the translocation. Leakey denies having given any approval, provisional or otherwise. “Over the life of this project, one of the major donors, WWF, had variously expressed its views about the non-completion of the sanctuary,” Leakey said in a press statement. Speaking with The Daily Beast, he added, “The emergency, I think, was that WWF spent a lot of money building this sanctuary. They wanted the rhinos released in it so they could tell donors ‘job done,’ ‘ribbon tied,’ ‘more money please.’” 

“WWF have no legal culpability here,” Leakey observes. “But this does raise questions about foreign assistance to countries. As in: who is the tail and who is the dog?”

“WWF needs to be accountable and put the animals’ welfare before finances,” says Dr Kibore. 

Leakey said that Balala had implied that a new KWS board of directors had met, which was a surprise since as far as he was aware a board hadn’t been established. “The absence of a board for the three months has left weighty decisions of the kind concerning discipline and direction entirely with the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife… It is unfortunate that the Minister’s statement failed to reflect the fundamentals behind this tragedy and perhaps dig deeper into the real problems at KWS.” 

This absence of a KWS board, said Leakey, provided the window of opportunity for WWF-Kenya to push the translocation through with Minister Balala. Leakey explained to The Daily Beast that KWS is a parastatal organization structured like the military. “You cannot run that sort of military organization without chain of command, if you break the chain of command at the top.”

Offended by the recriminations aimed at him, Balala went on the offensive, accusing Leakey of trying to destroy KWS. The minister cited a recent Price Waterhouse Coopers audit of KWS funded by USAID, blasting KWS for poor management under Leakey’s chairmanship. 

While the battle between Leakey and Balala has raged in public, WWF-Kenya and KWS have for the most part kept mute. WWF-Kenya has not responded to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment. KWS has vowed to take disciplinary action against its rangers if it is found that negligence played a part in the deaths. However, it remains to be seen whether the findings of the investigations will be made public, as promised by the government.

Claus Mortensen, who manages Mugie Ranch in Laikipia, moved 23 rhino from Laikipia to Ruma National Park in 2012. He worked closely with several of the wildlife service officers involved in the Tsavo East translocation. “They’re very competent in the job of the transferring,” he said. Since the 2012 move, only two of those rhino have been lost to poaching. “Rhinos are incredibly tough,” Mortensen says. “They lived all these millions of years. But they’re also super-fragile, especially when they get man-handled.” His conclusion about the fatal Tsavo move: “It’s not the transferring that killed them, it was an oversight of looking carefully at the water supply.”

On NYT “Jeffrey Epstein Hoped to Seed Human Race With His DNA”

Until I read this NYT article Jeffrey Epstein’s sole redeeming feature seemed to me the fact that he produced no offspring. The idea of his moral insanity’s proliferating through the human gene pool is horrifying.

The Times describes his dreams of seeding the human race with his DNA as part of the cult-like movement called “transhumanism”—the proposition that the human race can evolve beyond its current limitations, especially by means of science and technology.

The combination of aims makes a perverse sense. Epstein, after all, appears anything but human; he’s not a person who seems to suffer. Reports indicate that from day one he has been all about the money and how that money could fulfill his perverse fantasies. For him “transhumanism” is just another way to distort the sanctity of life to reflect his brain and penis, it would seem.

But then NYT calls Epstein a “serial illusionist.” Let’s not guild the lily; he’s a con man.

Epstein may be a monster that God didn’t even think to invent, but he’s not a one-off monster, an anomaly or freak. In sex trafficking he operated at the hub of a network/culture of monsters, such as Charlie Rose, Ghislaine Maxwell, Alan Dershowitz, and possibly former President Clinton—who chose to participate in sex orgies with girls as young as 14.

The article mentions Alan Dershowitz, the professor emeritus of law at Harvard, and part of Epstein’s 2008 legal team, as having been “appalled” at Epstein’s keen interest in eugenics, given the Nazis’ use of such…. to purify the Aryan race—then omits the fact that Dershowitz stands accused of having sex with underaged girls Epstein himself procured.

From a PR point of view the narrative seems aimed at distancing Dershowitz from Epstein while avoiding drawing attention to the accusations against him of sexual assault against underage girls.

Rise of China’s private armies 

Is trouble brewing as Beijing uses security firms to protect its people abroad, asks Odil Gafarov

Special forces of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – which links China and Russia with Central Asian countries and India and Pakistan – take part in joint military excercises

The increasing use of private security companies and military contractors has changed the conduct of war in recent years. In Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and other fault lines across the world, small teams of elite operators – in units consisting of 15 men or fewer – are outperforming conventional troops. Increasingly arms and power are held in private hands, instead of the state. As a result, the authority of the state can be undermined and trust between governments broken. 

Central Asia is now emerging as a front line for operations by private security companies. The region will be a central transport conduit for China’s regional development project, the Belt and Road Initiative, which promises to revive connections between the East and West. Increased interest by Chinese private security companies in the region, if unregulated, would damage regional stability and cooperation.

Chinese private security companies grew up after 11 Chinese builders working on a World Bank project in Afghanistan were shot dead by the Taliban in 2004. Before 2006, when a new external security affairs department was established, Chinese embassies had little back-up if citizens were attacked or needed to be evacuated. 

While the Chinese government has been hesitant to send police forces to protect its interests abroad, China’s expanding footprint in Africa and other unstable areas around the world has spurred demand for private security. Between 2006 and 2010, the government had to rescue 6,000 citizens from countries including East Timor, Chad, Lebanon, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Thailand and Haiti. In 2011, conditions in Libya and Egypt meant 48,000 Chinese citizens had to be evacuated.

Mounting costs and obstacles in coordinating evacuation efforts may have led the Chinese government to re-evaluate its security strategy for people working abroad. Early experiments with hiring western security contractors were disappointing, which only served to increase the demand for homegrown security firms. Importantly, the impetus to create these Chinese security firms was driven by market incentives, not political mandate. 

Beijing Security Service and Hua Xin Zhong An Security Service, two of the first security enterprises to spring up, offered basic security provision for clients operating in mainland China, with limited interests in Africa. By 2010, a new breed of security firm had emerged offering highly trained special operations forces to protect Chinese personnel in state-owned Chinese oil and gas companies or banks working in such places as Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan. These included Shandong Huawei Security Group, the first Chinese security firm to open an overseas office, and DeWe Security Service, a firm operating in 37 countries that played a vital role in evacuations from African war zones. Boutique security firms such as Ding Tai An Yuan Security have found new markets addressing specific security challenges unique to the Belt and Road Initiative. 

Africa has been the main region of operation for these Chinese firms, but as the Belt and Road project expands through Central Asia, the energy and resources of those firms will probably be redirected there.

Hybrid species on the march

Over the past 15 years, the Chinese private security industry has modernized the services offered to clients, who remain mostly Chinese. Until 2014, these firms were all funded and manned by Chinese nationals. The emergence of Frontier Services Group (FSG) has seen a radical change. Headed by Erik Prince, a former Navy SEAL and founder of Blackwater, this Hong Kong-based company is the first Chinese-funded, American-operated private security group. The organization, previously known as DVN (Holdings) Limited, was originally an aviation and logistics company providing additional security and training services. Its corporate structure is unique in China. Many of its senior management, including Prince as chairman, are non-Chinese – specifically retired American military specialists. With Chinese backing, Prince stated that he could ‘pursue [his] vision for Africa and globally in a transparent manner and with the most respected partners’. Indeed, many of his firm’s clients are Chinese private companies or state-owned enterprises with interests in infrastructure, oil and gas, and mining in Africa.

From the beginning, FSG has made efforts to distinguish itself from Blackwater, the private military company now renamed Academi, whose reputation was tarnished by the killing of 14 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007. FSG has enjoyed success with logistical projects in Africa and has hired legal advisers and auditors to provide transparent annual reports for public scrutiny. In 2016, FSG became a service provider for companies participating in the Belt and Road Initiative, and began setting up offices in Myanmar, Laos and Pakistan. Future offices are planned for Thailand, Cambodia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

‘Most security challenges stem from clashes between the locals and workers and the fear that an influx of Chinese will affect demographics’

In late 2017, FSG revealed an expanded range of services – including an offer to the Afghan government of the use of its aircraft for close-support combat operations. In 2018, Prince offered the US government use of his private contractors to bring the 17-year Afghan conflict to an end. His proposal argued that traditional troop deployments could be substituted by 6,000 contractors and 2,000 US Special Forces, cutting the annual cost of the war from $68 billion to $5.5 billion. 

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, China has developed closer relations with Central Asia through cooperative security arrangements. The framework of the Shanghai Five group, comprising China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan, successfully resolved border disputes between its members and was later expanded into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, to create a platform for cooperation on counterterrorism and security. In recent years, China’s economic interests have entered the picture; for example, its oil and gas interests in Central Asia are growing year on year and are challenging the dominance of Russian energy groups Gazprom and Lukoil. One example of a Chinese project is the Turkmenistan-China gas pipeline, that travels across Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. 

In Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, Chinese state-owned enterprises have invested heavily in energy, infrastructure and logistics, helping to connect China to Middle Eastern markets and beyond. Chinese projects and workers continue to pour into the region, and new security challenges will naturally rise. The question is how will Chinese companies choose to resolve these new challenges? Western observers believe that private security firms can protect Chinese interests in Central Asia as they have in Africa. However, Central Asian observers would disagree: unlike many African states, the countries of Central Asia possess effective troops who can deal with security threats, because stability is their principal foreign policy concern. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, for example, are ranked among the top 50 most powerful armies in the world, according to Global Firepower.

Most of the security challenges facing Chinese companies stem not from the inability of Central Asian countries to provide basic security, but from clashes between the local populations and workers and the deeply rooted fear that an influx of Chinese workers might affect demographics. 

Examples were the clashes between locals and workers in 2014 at two oil refinery construction sites owned by Chinese construction company Zhongda Group in Kyrgyzstan, one at Tokmok and the other in nearby Kara-Balta. The Kyrgyz government intervened successfully in both instances to deport some of the unruly Chinese workers. 

The latter type of security challenge was seen in Kazakhstan in early 2016, when thousands of protesters rallied against land reforms proposed by the Kazakh government in the oil cities of Atyrau and Aktau, because they feared the new rules would permit Chinese investors to buy Kazakh land. In some cases, security challenges take the form of terrorist attacks, such as the suicide bombing of the Chinese embassy in Bishkek by locals linked with Uyghur separatists that injured three local embassy staff.

These and future incidents might tempt Chinese companies to secure their projects using private security companies. As the value and number of Chinese investments increase with the Belt and Road Initiative, the risk of private security involvement and proliferation across Central Asia will increase. Thus far, Chinese companies have complied with local laws and only engaged the basic services provided by unarmed local security guards.

If, in the future, Chinese companies decided to engage private security firms, it would be important to imagine what characteristics they might have. Recent experience reminds us that Chinese companies prefer Chinese security companies. However, with the appearance of a hybrid companies such as Frontier Services Group the lines have blurred. Alessandro Arduino, an expert on Chinese private security firms, believes that the high profitability of private security may increase the deployment in Central Asia of Russian contractors with combat experience in Donbass and Syria, because command of the Russian language is a desirable asset in the region. Chinese security firms have avoided hiring foreign talent, but hybrid companies may not. If Chinese-owned, western-run security firms begin to employ Russian contractors, they would have unrivalled operational prowess without any accountability, with serious implications for regional security.

Central Asian countries have made surprisingly limited preparations to deal with the potentially rapid growth of these
hybrid security firms in Central Asia. Akram Umarov, an Uzbek political scientist, believes that the arrival of Chinese security firms in Central Asia cannot be ruled out. At the same time, Anna Gussarova, a Kazakh scholar and director of the Central Asia Institute for Strategic Studies, notes that this topic has never been raised by regional researchers and no literature exists on this matter. Abdughani Mamadazimov, a Tajik political scientist, believes that Chinese security firms would face a number of challenges on arrival in the region. He also believes that the Chinese government would not let this happen in Tajikistan, given Russia’s close security ties with that country. 

Current research recognizes that Central Asian regional policy requires contingency planning for Chinese companies, notwithstanding the close cooperation between Beijing and Central Asia and the existing security cooperation agreements. It is important to emphasize that decisions made by these Chinese companies are dictated by markets, not official Chinese policy. China and Central Asian countries must talk to each other and work out solutions to preempt any misunderstandings that will inevitably arise if Chinese security firms enter the region. 

The best solution for Central Asian countries is to view these emerging security challenges as opportunities to deepen collaboration with the Chinese government through existing channels of military and civilian cooperation.