U.S. needs to stop tiptoeing around the ‘killer robots’ threat

Mary Wareham writes: When it comes to banning “killer robots,” the United States is going to take some convincing. That was one major take-away from April’s multilateral meeting on the matter where a US delegation joined 90 other nations at the United Nations in Geneva to discuss what to do about the development of “lethal autonomous weapons systems.”

In November 2012, the US became the first nation to articulate a detailed policy on killer robots, citing a long list of concerns and obstacles that would have to be overcome before developing and acquiring them. It has been careful, however, to stress that Department of Defense Directive 3000.09 “neither encourages nor prohibits the development” of future autonomous weapons systems.

Indeed, it appears that of all nations, the US is the farthest along in moving toward fully autonomous weapons. Last November, The New York Times reviewed several examples of missile systems with various degrees and forms of human control under development or in use by the US, Israel, Norway, and the UK.

Despite its investment in “semi-autonomous” weapons, the US has been one of the strongest supporters of international talks on questions relating to the emerging technology of lethal autonomous weapons systems held by the Convention on Conventional Weapons. The US participated actively in the meetings in May 2014 and April 2015. But the US’s eagerness to engage in talks about such weapons should fool no one into believing it supports a ban. At the discussions last month it was one of only two nations (the other was Israel) saying that the door should remain open for future development and acquisition of these weapons. [Continue reading…]

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Where ISIS gets its weapons

C.J. Chivers reports: Early one morning in late February, a European investigator working in Kobani, the northern Syrian city that for months had been a battleground between Kurdish fighters and militants from the Islamic State, stepped outside the building where he was staying and saw something unusual. A Kurd on the street was carrying a long black assault rifle that the investigator thought was an American-made M-16.

Many M-16s, the conventional wisdom goes, entered Syria after militants seized thousands of them from Iraq’s struggling security forces, which in turn had received the guns — along with armored vehicles, howitzers and warehouses’ worth of other equipment — from the Pentagon before American troops left the country in 2011. The militants’ abrupt possession of former American matériel was part of the battlefield turnabout last summer that led Julian E. Barnes, a Wall Street Journal correspondent, to tweet a proposed name for the Pentagon’s anti-militant bombing campaign: Operation Hey That’s My Humvee. And yet by this year, for all the attention the captured weapons had received, M-16s were seemingly uncommon in Syria. The expected large quantities had eluded researchers.

The investigator urged his host, a local security official, to rush after the Kurd and ask if he would allow the rifle to be photographed and its origins ascertained. Soon the investigator (who works for Conflict Armament Research, a private arms-tracking organization in Britain, and who asked that his name be withheld for safety reasons) found a surprise within his surprise. The rifle, which its current owner said had been captured from the Islamic State last year, was not an M-16. It was a Chinese CQ, an M-16 knockoff that resembles its predecessor but has a starkly different arms-trafficking history.

The rifle’s serial number had been obscured by grinding, and the roughed-up spot had been retouched with black paint. That two-step effort at obscuring the weapon’s provenance was identical — down to the dimensions of the grinding — to that of Chinese CQ rifles that Conflict Armament Research and the Small Arms Survey, an independent research group in Geneva, had documented in 2013 in the possession of rebels in South Sudan and had traced to a Sudanese intelligence service. The Kurd’s rifle cartridges, too, were from the same Chinese manufacturer (Factory 71) and the same production year (2008) as those previously found in South Sudan.

This was a moment of discovery. The investigator, looking for one thing, had found something else: evidence suggesting that the Islamic State had obtained weapons flowing into Syria from East Africa.

It was one significant data point among many. Since last year, investigators for Conflict Armament Research — which plans to release its latest findings regarding the militants’ weaponry this week — have been methodically cataloging the equipment captured from Islamic State fighters, more than 30,000 items in all. Taken as a whole, they suggest a phenomenon contributing to the Islamic State’s tenacity and power: The group occupies the downstream position in a vast arms watershed, with tributaries extending to distant corners of the world. [Continue reading…]

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How Middle East wars have created a boom for American defense contractors

The New York Times reports: To wage war in Yemen, Saudi Arabia is using F-15 fighter jets bought from Boeing. Pilots from the United Arab Emirates are flying Lockheed Martin’s F-16 to bomb both Yemen and Syria. Soon, the Emirates are expected to complete a deal with General Atomics for a fleet of Predator drones to run spying missions in their neighborhood.

As the Middle East descends into proxy wars, sectarian conflicts and battles against terrorist networks, countries in the region that have stockpiled American military hardware are now actually using it and wanting more. The result is a boom for American defense contractors looking for foreign business in an era of shrinking Pentagon budgets — but also the prospect of a dangerous new arms race in a region where the map of alliances has been sharply redrawn.

Last week, defense industry officials told Congress that they were expecting within days a request from Arab allies fighting the Islamic State — Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan and Egypt — to buy thousands of American-made missiles, bombs and other weapons, replenishing an arsenal that has been depleted over the past year.

The United States has long put restrictions on the types of weapons that American defense firms can sell to Arab nations, meant to ensure that Israel keeps a military advantage against its traditional adversaries in the region. But because Israel and the Arab states are now in a de facto alliance against Iran, the Obama administration has been far more willing to allow the sale of advanced weapons in the Persian Gulf, with few public objections from Israel.

“When you look at it, Israel’s strategic calculation is a simple one,” said Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The gulf countries “do not represent a meaningful threat” to Israel, he said. “They do represent a meaningful counterbalance to Iran.”

Industry analysts and Middle East experts say that the region’s turmoil, and the determination of the wealthy Sunni nations to battle Shiite Iran for regional supremacy, will lead to a surge in new orders for the defense industry’s latest, most high-tech hardware. [Continue reading…]

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Sweden tears up arms agreement with Saudi Arabia over blocked speech

The Guardian reports: Sweden has torn up a decade-long arms agreement with Saudi Arabia after the Saudis blocked the Swedish foreign minister from speaking about human rights to a summit of Arab leaders.

Peter Hultqvist, Sweden’s defence minister, confirmed on Tuesday that the deal was off, removing a cause of division within the country’s left-leaning coalition but deepening a rift with business leaders who implored the government to prolong the agreement.

On Monday, foreign minister Margot Wallström complained at a meeting of the Arab League in Cairo that Saudi Arabia had objected to her planned speech on democracy and women’s rights. She had also condemned the sentencing of Saudi blogger Raef Badawi to a “medieval” punishment of 1,000 lashes.

But on Tuesday, Arab foreign ministers expressed “condemnation and astonishment” at Wallström’s remarks, which were “incompatible with the fact that the constitution of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is based on sharia [law],” according to a statement issued at the end of their Arab League meeting and published by Gulf News.

“Sharia has guaranteed human rights and preserved people’s lives, possessions, honour and dignity. The ministers consider the comments as irresponsible and unacceptable,” the statement said.

Sweden first signed a “memorandum of understanding” with Saudi Arabia in 2005, setting out details of cooperation on intelligence, surveillance and weapons manufacture, and paving the way for the sale of Saab’s Erieye radar system to the Saudis in 2010. The agreement had to be ratified by each side every five years, and its renewal date was due in May. [Continue reading…]

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Egypt turns to France for weapons with U.S. still wary of delivering military aid

Vice News: Speaking at a political conference Sunday in Cairo, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi unveiled a $1.31 billion budget for counterterrorism efforts in the eastern Sinai Peninsula, an area that has repeatedly been hit by militant attacks. Addressing politicians in the Egyptian capital, Sisi announced he is looking to France to supply Egypt with much-needed modern military equipment.

The US halted the delivery of 20 F-16 fighter jets, 125 M1-A1 battle tank kits, and 20 Harpoon cruise missiles to Egypt following the 2013 coup that ousted former President Mohammed Morsi, but 10 Apache helicopters included in the original deal were reportedly delivered last month. The US also suspended a portion of the $1.3 billion worth economic and military aid delivered annually to Egypt, though the withheld funds were released last June after Congress passed a law that requires the Egyptian government to take steps to improve human rights conditions in order to receive the aid.

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Most of ISIS’s ammunition was made in the U.S. and China

The New York Times reports: In its campaign across northern Syria and Iraq, the jihadist group Islamic State has been using ammunition from the United States and other countries that have been supporting the regional security forces fighting the group, according to new field data gathered by a private arms-tracking organization.

The data, part of a larger sample of captured arms and cartridges in Syria and Iraq, carries an implicit warning for policy makers and advocates of intervention.

It suggests that ammunition transferred into Syria and Iraq to help stabilize governments has instead passed from the governments to the jihadists, helping to fuel the Islamic State’s rise and persistent combat power. Rifle cartridges from the United States, the sample shows, have played a significant role.

“The lesson learned here is that the defense and security forces that have been supplied ammunition by external nations really don’t have the capacity to maintain custody of that ammunition,” said James Bevan, director of Conflict Armament Research, the organization that is gathering and analyzing weapons used by the Islamic State.[Continue reading…]

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Syria-to-Ukraine wars send U.S. defense stocks to records

Bloomberg reports: Led by Lockheed Martin Corp., the biggest U.S. defense companies are trading at record prices as shareholders reap rewards from escalating military conflicts around the world.

Investors see rising sales for makers of missiles, drones and other weapons as the U.S. hits Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq, said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Chicago-based BMO Private Bank. President Barack Obama approved open-ended airstrikes this month while ruling out ground combat.

“As we ramp up our military muscle in the Mideast, there’s a sense that demand for military equipment and weaponry will likely rise,” said Ablin, who oversees $66 billion including Northrop Grumman Corp. and Boeing Co. shares. “To the extent we can shift away from relying on troops and rely more heavily on equipment — that could present an opportunity.”

Bombardments of Islamic State strongholds added to tensions this year that include U.S.-led sanctions on Russia for backing Ukrainian rebels and China’s feuds with neighbors over disputed South China Sea islands. The U.S. also is the biggest foreign military supplier to Israel, which waged a 50-day offensive against the Hamas Islamic movement in the Gaza Strip. [Continue reading…]

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Israeli drone conference is features aircraft recently used to attack Gaza

Quartz: A few weeks after Israel and Hamas signed an open-ended truce to end their nearly two-month-long war in Gaza, Israeli defense contractors are parading weapons used in the conflict at a conference in Tel Aviv. The annual Israel Unmanned Systems conference, which began Sunday and runs through Friday (Sept. 19), is jointly hosted with the US Embassy in Tel Aviv. According to its website, attendees include “senior officials from commercial and government entities” from Europe, Asia, North and South America.

The conference’s sponsors include the largest Israeli private defense contractors, among them Haifa-based Elbit Systems. Elbit’s Hermes 450 (pdf), a “multi-role tactical high-performance unmanned aircraft system” (UAS)—in other words, a battle drone—operated this summer in the Gaza Strip, and may have carried out attacks. [Continue reading…]

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How #Israelis make money from killing #Palestinians

Haaretz reports: “Battle-tested” is the best marketing slogan for defense industries the world over, so for Israeli military manufactures Operation Protective Edge has yielded a major competitive edge.

“For the defense industries this campaign is like drinking a very strong energy drink — it simply gives them tremendous forward momentum,” says Barbara Opall-Rome, Israel bureau chief for the U.S. magazine Defense News. “Combat is like the highest seal of approval when it comes to the international markets. What has proven itself in battle is much easier to sell. Immediately after the operation, and perhaps even during, all kinds of delegations arrive here from countries that appreciate Israel’s technological capabilities and are interested in testing the new products.”

That was also the opinion of veteran military correspondent Amir Rapaport, editor of Israel Defense, which covers the local defense industry. “From a business point of view, the operation was an outstanding thing for the defense industries,” he says. “There are two main reasons for that. First, the cloud of budget cuts and project cancellations has been lifted. I believe that after the operation, Israel’s defense budget will be increased and projects that were frozen will be revived. Second, during the weeks of the war, new products were introduced for the army’s use. The war is an opportunity to cut red tape. Weapons systems that have long been under development suddenly became operational during the course of the fighting. [Continue reading…]

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A morality lesson on Israel and Hamas from an American four-star general

In spite of this nation’s numerous military misadventures and its corrupt military establishment, many Americans still have an uncritical admiration for this country’s generals — men whose stainless uniforms and steely faces seem to be an outward representation of their trustworthiness and moral stature.

Gen. James T. Conway USMC (Ret)

Gen. James T. Conway USMC (Ret)

Who better to speak in defense of Israel, than a good Christian soldier like retired General James T Conway, former commander of the United States Marine Corps?

Propaganda, which is nothing more than a form of political advertising, works by engaging its target audience emotionally while circumventing any kind of analytical process. It trades in ideas whose truth should seem so obvious that we will accept them without thought. And the easiest way of making an idea seem true is through endless repetition.

The Israeli government and those inside and outside Israel who operate in its service, have settled on two messages — on human shields and tunnels — through which they want to demonize Hamas and cover up war crimes committed by the Israeli Defense Forces.

In “The Moral Chasm Between Israel and Hamas,” an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, this is how Conway regurgitates Israel’s message about human shields:

Israel’s military exists to protect its civilian population and seeks to avoid harming noncombatants, while its adversary cynically uses Palestinian civilians as human shields while deliberately targeting Israeli civilians.

Conway describes the Hamas tunnels, of which Israel is reported to have discovered about 30, as having been “designed for launching murder and kidnapping raids.”

Let’s first consider the claim that Hamas uses human shields, since this has become Israel’s favorite explanation for why the IDF has killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians.

The human shield, as a concept, is a mainstay of American movie and TV drama. We all know how it works.

The bad guys hold women and children at gunpoint and the good guys hold fire because they don’t want to kill the innocents.

It’s an expression of the moral depravity and cowardice of evil men who know how to exploit the good intentions of righteous men. (It’s also a narrative in which the heroes and villains are all men and the powerless women can do no more than hope they fall into the right arms.)

So how does this work in Gaza. The evil Hamas fighters hide behind the women and children and then the Israelis kill the women and children.

Wait a minute! That’s not how it’s supposed to work. What’s the point of holding a human shield if your adversary has little interest in protecting the life of that supposed “shield”?

This gets to the nub of the issue: the only kind of human shield worth holding is one whose life is valued by your adversary.

The Israelis understand this. That’s why, as has been well documented, they have been seen using Palestinians as human shields.

The closest Hamas can come to making forcible use of human shields is by taking prisoners. Which brings us to the tunnels.

The tunnel is the perfect abode of the bogeyman. It has iconic power in the representation of an invisible evil force — a force which emerges out of darkness and might spring up from anywhere. No wonder Israel’s propagandists believe they can use the “terrorist-tunnel threat” to their advantage.

There’s no question that militants in Gaza have constructed tunnels under the fortified perimeter which surrounds the open-air prison of the Gaza Strip. We can also surmise that these have not been constructed to provide “escape” routes to Israel.

What we can deduce is that far more time and effort has been invested in the construction of these tunnels than in their use. Moreover, if or when any of these tunnels gets put into service there is a high probability that the IDF will quickly thereafter discover the tunnel’s location and just as quickly destroy it.

The implication, therefore, is that these tunnels have been constructed as part of a defensive infrastructure to only be used at a time of necessity. That inference is further reinforced by the fact that extended periods of calm during which ceasefires have been in effect, have not been interrupted by the Palestinians going on the offensive and trying to capture Israeli soldiers in the vicinity of the fence.

* * *

I don’t actually know whether General Conway is a Christian soldier. He could believe in the non-dual philosophy of Advaita Vedanta. He could be a Sufi, or he might be an initiate of the Kabbalah.

What I do know is that when Conway left the Pentagon, like so many of his other colleagues, he passed through the revolving door that leads straight into the defense industry. There he became a director of Textron, a corporation one of whose subsidiaries, AAI, manufactures drones used by Israel.

I have little doubt that when sales reps for AAI tout the effectiveness of their products, they proudly point out how they have been “battlefield tested” by the IDF.

In other words, to be absolutely blunt, when General Conway takes to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to offer lessons on the morality of Israel’s current war on Gaza, I have little doubt that this is a war from which Conway is personally profiting — and therein, I would suggest, lies the real morality tale.

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Israelis caught by U.S. trying to sell arms to Iran

n13-iconKathimerini reports: Israeli arms dealers tried to send spare parts for F-4 Phantom aircraft via Greece to Iran in violation of an arms embargo, according to a secret probe by the US government agency Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) carried out in cooperation with the drugs and weapons unit of Greece’s Financial Crimes Squad (SDOE).

According to the probe, which Kathimerini has had access to, the operation was carried out in two phases – one in December 2012 and the second in April 2013. In both cases, officials traced containers packed with the F-4 parts on Greek territory. The cargo had been sent by courier from the Israeli town of Binyamina-Giv’at Ada and had been destined for Iran, which has a large fleet of F-4 aircraft, via a Greek company registered under the name Tassos Karras SA in Votanikos, near central Athens. SDOE officials established that the firm was a ghost company, while the company’s contact number was found to belong to a British national residing in Thessaloniki who could not be located.

According to HSI memos, the cargo appears to have been sent by arms dealers based in Israel, seeking to supply Iran in contravention of an arms embargo, and using Greece as a transit nation. [Continue reading…]

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Video: The F-35 — how the military-industrial welfare system works in America

a13-iconThe F-35 is the most expensive weapons program in history, with a total cost of $1.5 trillion. Learn more here.

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How the U.S. continues to flood the world with weapons

n13-iconThe Express Tribune reports: While the biggest arms companies recorded a slump in sales during 2012, Russian companies posted sharp increases, noted the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in its latest data on international arms production released on Friday.

Despite the slump, seven US companies remained amongst the world’s top ten entities in terms of 2012 arms sales, with Lockheed Martin emerging at top.

The list excluded China, about which SIPRI says:

“Although several Chinese arms-producing enterprises are large enough to rank among the SIPRI Top 100, it has not been possible to include them because of lack of comparable and sufficiently accurate data.”

The global top 100 list had 42 companies from the US and six from Russia. The total sales of arms and military services by these hundred companies in 2012 amounted to no less than $395 billion.

“Sales by the 42 US-based arms producers amounted to 58 per cent of the total arms sales of the Top 100, with 30 companies based in Western Europe making up another 28 per cent of the total,” SIPRI says.

The US-based Lockheed Martin was followed by Boeing (also US-based) and United Kingdom’s BAE Systems on number three. [Continue reading…]

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Video: The shift in global arms trade

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U.S. more than doubles previous record in global weapons sales

In the last two years, American arms manufacturers have profited massively from increased tension between Gulf states and Iran, thanks in large part to repeated threats of war emanating from Israel.

The New York Times reports: Weapons sales by the United States tripled in 2011 to a record high, driven by major arms sales to Persian Gulf allies concerned about Iran’s regional ambitions, according to a new study for Congress.

Overseas weapons sales by the United States totaled $66.3 billion last year, or more than three-quarters of the global arms market, valued at $85.3 billion in 2011. Russia was a distant second, with $4.8 billion in deals.

The American weapons sales total was an “extraordinary increase” over the $21.4 billion in deals for 2010, the study found, and was the largest single-year sales total in the history of United States arms exports. The previous high was in fiscal year 2009, when American weapons sales overseas totaled nearly $31 billion.

A worldwide economic decline had suppressed arms sales over recent years. But increasing tensions with Iran drove a set of Persian Gulf nations — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman — to purchase American weapons at record levels. [Continue reading…]

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The Obama administration has torpedoed the arms trade treaty

Amy Goodman writes: What is more heavily regulated, global trade of bananas or battleships? In late June, activists gathered in New York’s Times Square to make the absurd point that, unbelievably, “there are more rules governing your ability to trade a banana from one country to the next than governing your ability to trade an AK-47 or a military helicopter”. So said Amnesty International USA’s Suzanne Nossel at the protest, just before the start of the UN conference on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which ran from 2 July to 27 July. Thanks to a last-minute declaration by the United States that it “needed more time” to review the short, 11-page treaty text, the conference ended last week in failure.

There isn’t much that could be considered controversial in the treaty. Signatory governments agree not to export weapons to countries that are under an arms embargo, or to export weapons that would facilitate “the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes” or other violations of international humanitarian law. Exports of arms are banned if they will facilitate “gender-based violence or violence against children” or be used for “transnational organised crime”. Why does the US need more time than the more than 90 other countries that had sufficient time to read and approve the text? The answer lies in the power of the gun lobby, the arms industry and the apparent inability of Barack Obama to do the right thing, especially if it contradicts a cold, political calculation.

The Obama administration torpedoed the treaty exactly one week after the massacre in Aurora, Colorado. In Colorado, Obama offered promises of “prayer and reflection”. As New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg said, commenting on Obama and Mitt Romney both avoiding a discussion of gun control: “Soothing words are nice, but maybe it’s time the two people who want to be president of the United States stand up and tell us what they’re going to do about it.” Gun violence is a massive problem in the US, and it only seems to pierce the public consciousness when there is a massacre. Gun-rights advocates attack people who suggest more gun control is needed, accusing them of politicising the massacre. Yet some elected officials are taking a stand. Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois is seeking a ban on assault weapons, much like the ones in place in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. [Continue reading…]

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Why is the U.S. selling billions in weapons to autocrats?

Zach Toombs and Jeffrey Smith write: Every May and June, different branches of the State Department paint contrasting portraits of how Washington views dozens of strategically significant countries around the world, in seemingly rivalrous reports by its Human Rights and Political-Military Affairs bureaus.

The former routinely criticizes other nations for a lack of fealty to democratic principles, citing abuses of the right to expression, assembly, speech, and political choice. The latter tallies the government’s latest successes in the export of American weaponry, often to the same countries criticized by the former.

This year was no different. The State Department’s Military Assistance Report on June 8 stated that it approved $44.28 billion in arms shipments to 173 nations in the last fiscal year, including some that struggled with human rights problems. These nations include the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Israel, Djibouti, Honduras, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain.

Three nations with records of suppressing democratic dissent in the last year — Algeria, Egypt, and Peru — are listed in the report as recently receiving U.S. firearms, armored vehicles, and items from a category that includes chemical and riot control agents like tear gas. The State Department confirmed that U.S. tear gas was delivered to Egypt up to the end of November, but has declined to confirm it was also sent to Algeria and Peru.

The export of American arms to countries around the world — what the State Department calls a tangible expression of American “partnership” — is in fact booming. The commercial arms sales reviewed by the State Department reached $44.28 billion in fiscal year 2011, a $10 billion sales increase since 2010. Next year should see another increase of 70 percent, the department says. [Continue reading…]

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Lockheed Martin goes to bat for oppressive regime

Justin Elliot reports: A top executive at Lockheed Martin recently worked with lobbyists for Bahrain to place an Op-Ed defending the nation’s embattled regime in the Washington Times — but the newspaper did not reveal the role of the regime’s lobbyists to its readers. Hence they did not know that the pro-Bahrain opinion column they were reading was published at the behest of … Bahrain, an oil-rich kingdom of 1.2 million people that has been rocked by popular protests since early 2011.

The episode is a glimpse into the usually hidden world of how Washington’s Op-Ed pages, which are prized real estate for those with interests before the U.S. government, are shaped. It also shows how Lockheed gave an assist to a major client — Bahrain has bought hundreds of millions of dollars of weapons from the company over the years – as it faces widespread criticism for human rights abuses against pro-democracy protesters.

As Ken Silverstein reported in Salon last month, the kingdom is stepping up its Washington lobbying efforts. Here’s the latest example, as far as I can piece together from lobbying disclosures filed by Bahrain’s “strategic communications” firm, D.C.-based Sanitas International.

On Nov. 30, the Washington Times published an Op-Ed under the headline “Bahrain, a vital U.S. ally: Backing protesters would betray a friend and harm American security.” It was written by Vice Adm. Charles Moore (retired). Moore was formerly commander of the Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet. From 1998 to 2002, Moore notes in his Op-Ed, he “had the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Bahrain’s leader, as well as many senior officials in his government.” Moore passed through the revolving door and is now regional president for Lockheed Martin for the Middle East and Africa.

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