The first gas has started flowing from Israel’s supergiant Tamar gasfield in the Levant Basin. Where it will go will redraw the Mediterranean energy map and the geopolitics that goes along with it.
The Tamar field stakeholders announced on 30 March that the gas had started flowing, raising the value of Texas-based Noble Energy Inc. (NYSE: NBL), which holds a 36% stake, and Israel’s two Delek Group subsidiaries, which each hold a 15.6% stake.
For now, the gas is being pumped to mainland Israel, where it will feed the domestic market, but exports should begin in 2-3 years. What Israel has in mind is the European market, via a hoped-for undersea Mediterranean pipeline to Turkey, which has the infrastructure to get it to Europe.
The competition for this prized market is stiff. In total, the Mediterranean’s Levant Basin has an estimated total of 122 trillion cubic feet of gas and 1.7 billion barrels of oil. Lebanon and Cyprus are eyeing the same market for their own Levant Basin gas resources. Cyprus has found gas in its section of the basin, and Lebanon has announced a tender for exploration off its shoreline.
The Greek Cypriot government believes it is sitting on an amazing 60 trillion cubic feet of gas, but these are early days—these aren’t proven reserves and commercial viability could be years away. In the best-case scenario, production could feasibly begin in five years. Exports are e ven further afield, with some analysts suggesting 2020 as a start date.
Israel has the upper hand right now in terms of development and production, but it lacks the infrastructure without Turkey.
Israel was originally hoping to lay a pipeline that would traverse both Cyprus and Turkey, but there are too many political pitfalls to this plan (whichwould essentially mean a final resolution to the Turkey-Cyprus spat). The ideal would have been a pipeline that connects all the Levant Basin resources—including Lebanon, Israel, Cyprus and Turkey—but this is the stuff of geopolitical dreams.
In the end, it is shaping up that an Israel-Turkey pipeline is not only possible, but coming to fruition. Earlier this month an official apology from the Israeli prime minister to his Turkish counterpart for some high-level grievances was engineered by US President Barack Obama. It was an unprecedented move by Israel and one that illustrates how important this pipeline is for Israel. An apology was really the only thing keeping Turkey from green-lighting this pipeline project without a backlash at home.
This Israel-Turkey pipeline makes Lebanon and Cyprus nervous. It essentially cuts them out of the equation. Politics for now will keep Lebanon from connecting up to any Israeli pipeline, and Turkey won’t have a connector to Cyprus.
Russia’s Gazprom, of course, is not keen to lose its stranglehold on the European market. To that end, it’s jumped in on Tamar itself, obtaining exclusive rights from Israel to develop the field’s liquefied natural gas (LNG). Here’s the plan: Russia is hoping to divert Israeli gas exports to Europe by banking on these resources being turned into LNG for Russian export to Asian markets instead. Russia is willing to invest heavily in a $5 billion floating LNG facil ity to this end. In return it gets exclusive rights to purchase and export Tamar LNG. (Gazprom has signed the deal but it still awaits final approval from Israel).
For Israel, this is a windfall. There is an estimated 425 billion cubic meters (16 trillion cubic feet of gas in its Leviathan field, plus the 250 billion cubic meters in the Tamar field, which is now officially pumping. All this gas is worth about $240 billion on the European market, and Tamar gas alone could boost Israel’s GDP by 1% annually. For now, the Tamar gas will result in a decline in the price of electricity for Israelis by way of reducing the production costs for the state utility.
For Europe, it will mean newfound power to deal with Russia differently like it did with the recent Cypriot bailout package that came along with a harsh lesson for Russian oligarchs who are seeing their Cypriot banks holdings sequestered.
Not unexpected — what we’re dealing with now, but our Defense Minister, Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon, is going to need all the strength he can muster. Just as the government more broadly — and certainly the Security Cabinet — will require stiff backbones and clear-eyed determination.
There is the situation in Syria. I had written in my last post about shooting over the border from Syria (presumed in that case. at least, not to be accidental), to which the IDF responded. Well, it happened again, twice on Tuesday, with light fire aimed at an IDF patrol and then a mortar that landed in the Golan. The IDF responded with tank shells aimed near Tel Hazeka, which were said to have “accurately targeted the source” of the fire.
This is Israeli policy. The situation is likely to continue and who knows what may come next.
Then there’s the situation in Gaza. Again. Yesterday two rockets were launched at Sderot, just at the time parents were bringing their young children to schools and kindergartens. There is little more contemptible than this.
Last night, the Israeli Air Force hit two targets in Gaza — the first time since the end of Pillar of Defense. Ya’alon declared that Israel “won’t allow any routine involving a drizzle of rockets at our civilians and forces.”
A drizzle of rockets. That is precisely what has been tolerated in the past. Well, it’s probably not Hamas, it’s just a renegade group. Well, it’s just one time, not necessarily wise to respond to that. Etc. Etc. If he means what he is saying and sticks to it — conveying a no-tolerance-for-rockets policy — it would change the situation. If.
PM Netanyahu echoed this sentiment, saying, “If the quiet is violated, we will respond strongly.” But then, if memory serves me correctly, he has said this before.
It was appropriate that Ya’alon indicated that Hamas would be held responsible, no matter who launches the rockets — cutting Hamas no slack.
And yet…wouldn’t you know, UN envoy Robert Serry (be sure: no friend to Israel) issued a condemnation of the firing of rockets on civilians, but “calls on Israel to act with restraint.” Translation: Be sitting ducks, because if the situation heats up we’ll say it was your fault.
In addition to all of this…there’s the situation with the Palestinian Arabs.
Maissara Abu Hamdiyeh, 63, was serving a life sentence in prison in Israel because of his part in an attempted 2002 terror attack on the Caffit restaurant in Jerusalem’s German Colony. Maissara had esophageal cancer and, two days ago, died in Soroka Hospital — not, you will note, in a clinic in the prison where he had been held. .
But, since the Palestinian Arabs — our “peace partners” — never miss a chance to cause a furor, they began to riot over the “wrongful death” of this “hero” and “martyr.” Shameless that they can call him this — it tells us a lot about who they are. People DO die of cancer, But no, as they would have it, it was Israel’s fault that he died. The charge — adamantly refuted by Israel — is that he was denied proper treatment
According to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday:
“Palestinians who are imprisoned in Israel have access to excellent medical care, and are allowed visits by International Committee of the Red Cross officials. Prisoners in Palestinian Authority prisons do not enjoy such conditions.”
The rioting started in the prisons and spread. Last night, Molotov cocktails were thrown at IDF soldiers at a guard station near Tulkarem; 200 Arabs rioted in Hevron, where they threw stones and large numbers of Molotov cocktails; stones were thrown at security forces near the communities of Migdal Oz and Efrat; Arabs clashed with the IDF near Nablus, at the Hawara checkpoint (a hot spot).
Today, the funeral of Abu Hamdiyeh was held in Hevron, and, as might be expected, the rioting increased.
In addition, two young men were killed by the IDF in the course of the rioting near Tulkarem. The IDF says that the soldiers involved followed the rules of engagement properly: they felt their lives were threatened by firebombs thrown at them, and then responded with live fire. The funerals of the two were held today in Tulkarem. More opportunity for rioting with thousands in the streets. Firebombing, clashes with IDF soldiers, tires burning.
See Khaled Abu Toameh on “PA grandstanding on prisoners self-defeating” (emphasis added):
“Once again, the Palestinian Authority is using the issue of Palestinian prisoners to unleash a wave of strong condemnations against Israel.
“For the PA, the death of a Palestinian in an Israeli prison is a golden opportunity to bring the case of Palestinian prisoners to the world’s attention.
“Over the past few years, the PA leadership has placed the issue of the prisoners at the top of its list of priorities.
“The release of Palestinian prisoners has even become one of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s conditions for resuming peace talks with Israel.
“…Abbas has been forced to move the issue of the prisoners to the top of his list of priorities mainly due to increased pressure and criticism from the Palestinian public.
“…Many Palestinians have also been criticizing Abbas and his aides for failing to do more to end the ‘plight’ of the inmates, whom they consider ‘prisoners of war.’
“In a bid to prove to Palestinians that it is taking the issue seriously, the PA leadership has set up a ministry for prisoners affairs headed by Issa Qaraqi, who in the past few years has been waging a relentless campaign against Israel on the issue of the prisoners.
“Qaraqi has consistently accused Israel of mistreating and torturing Palestinian prisoners.
“He has also accused Israel of conducting experiments on some prisoners and denying them proper medical care, as well as stealing their organs.
“…The strong attacks on Israel are primarily aimed at showing the Palestinian public that the PA leadership does care about the prisoners.
“But these attacks are also intensifying tensions between Israel and the Palestinians and paving the way for violence.
“By making serious allegations against Israel, the PA is further radicalizing Palestinians and even driving some of them into the open arms of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.”
Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide was here in Israel yesterday, and expressing his anger against the PA because it had lied to the Norwegian foreign ministry regarding how it was using donations from Norway. Seems some of that money has gone to pay the “salaries” of convicted terrorists in Israeli prisons. A clarification is now being sought. See the story here:
It was the Palestinian Media Watch that uncovered the story of how Norwegian funds were being used by the PA, and it has uncovered another interesting story as well:
“After the UN vote in November 2012, the PA built a monument in a central square in Bethlehem called ‘The State Monument,’ which shows the State of Palestine.’ However, the model of ‘Palestine’ also includes all of Israel, thereby erasing it completely. The monument celebrates the UN vote on statehood as well as the first PLO/Fatah terror attack against Israel in 1965, which is seen as the beginning of the Palestinian ‘revolution’ and Fatah’s anniversary date.
“It turned out that the monument was on President Obama’s route in Bethlehem, so in order to prevent him from seeing it, the PA had the monument removed before he arrived, the official PA daily reported.”
All of this Palestinian Arab duplicity. Note it, talk about it. It is what keeps so many supporting the PA.
This week, however, there was a major legal victory with regard Arab violence against Israeli civilians.
Anyone with an honest eye has been able to perceive that rock throwing can be lethal. But it has been downplayed. Kids. Throwing stones. No, not stones, but rocks and boulders and chunks of concrete. Weapons.
In September 2011, Asher Palmer was driving with his infant son in his car on a highway near his Kiryat Arba home when a large rock (a block, actually, 18 x 11 x 5 centimeters) was thrown at his windshield by Waal al-Arjeh who was in a vehicle passing in the other direction. The rock caused the windshield to shatter and knocked Asher unconscious. The car ran off the road and overturned. Asher and his son, Yonaton, were killed.
Now, after a long trial, the Judea Military Court, located at the prison at Ofer, has found al-Arjeh guilty of murder. This sets a precedent. Never before has a court charged a Palestinian Arab with murder for stone-throwing, the first time that stone has been considered a lethal weapon.
There were some very specific parameters here. Al-Arjeh was part of a gang formed with intent to kill Jews and had practiced many times, without actually killing anyone before the Ashers. He was also charged with 25 counts of attempted murder because of this “practice.”
I will add this in passing, which should be duly noted: At one time al-Arjeh worked for the PA security forces.
And, boy, are we lucky: Secretary of State John Kerry is coming back here. First he’ll stop in Turkey, presumably to get Erdogan to make nice. Then he’ll come to Jerusalem, and, subsequently, Ramallah.
Said a State Department spokeswoman:
“The secretary is committed to using his strong relationships with both [Israeli and Palestinian] leaders to encourage them to be open, to be creative, to be prepared for compromises and to work hard to build trust between them.”
Sigh… Trust? Trust the people I’ve been describing above? It is my clear understanding that Kerry will be looking for “confidence-building measures.” Of Israel, of course. Like, maybe, release some prisoners.
What we should offer the PA to come to the table is zilch, zero, effes. If they sincerely want peace, let them come to the table. If not, not.
With all I’ve discussed here today, I cannot end without a mention of Iran. And, once again, on this subject, I say without reservation that PM Netanyahu gets it right when the rest of the world has got it decidedly wrong.
For example, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (is she smoking something?) says she is “cautiously optimistic” about talks between Iran and P5 + 1 scheduled for tomorrow in Kazakhstan.
Commenting on these talks Netanyahu yesterday said:
“This model of a country talking, but at the same time developing nuclear weapons; threatening and at the same time developing nuclear weapons and threatening the use of nuclear weapons, we cannot allow this to happen in Iran. There are many issues in the Middle East, the issues between us and the Palestinians and our quest for peace, there are regional issues, but I think they will be overshadowed if Iran believes it has a license to develop atomic weapons [and continues weapons development]. We have to make sure this doesn’t happen.”
So he’s got it right and says it right. Whether we’ll see more from him on this than words is anyone’s guess at this point.
The fence at the border with Sinai has been completed for a while now. And so this front is quiet. Last January, over 2,000 infiltrators crossed the border, and last February, more than 1,000. But this January and February has seen only 10 and five, respectively.
Ratcheting up pressure for Congress to limit access to guns, President Barack Obama said Wednesday that recent steps by Colorado to tighten its gun laws show “there doesn’t have to be a conflict” between keeping citizens safe and protecting Second Amendment rights to gun ownership.
“I believe there doesn’t have to be a conflict in reconciling these realities,” Obama said in Denver, where he stepped up his call for background checks for all gun purchases and renewed his demand that Congress at least vote on banning assault weapons and limiting access to large-capacity ammunition magazines.
“There doesn’t have to be a conflict between protecting our citizens and protecting our Second Amendment rights,” he said…
…Obama also spoke about the people who say the government is coming after their guns.
“You hear some of these quotes: ‘I need a gun to protect myself from the government.’ ‘We can’t do background checks because the government is going to come take my guns away,’ Obama said. “Well, the government is us. These officials are elected by you. They are elected by you. I am elected by you. I am constrained, as they are constrained, by a system that our Founders put in place. It’s a government of and by and for the people.”
These are trying times. Never in the history of this country have we been so weakened and polarized by what many view as deliberate government policy. Now anti-gunners in the U.S. Congress, the Obama administration, and legislatures across the country are seeking to exploit the Newtown tragedy to promote their “gun control” agenda that envisions federal, universal background checks on gun purchases, and that could lead to gun registration and confiscation.
At the same time, the increasing militarization of law enforcement, most visibly demonstrated by the growing use of massive, SWAT-type raids on businesses and individuals, sometimes with federal involvement or authorization, is heightening concerns that this country is moving toward a police state.
Mountain Pure SWAT Raid: The Movie
Mountain Pure Water, LLC is headquartered on Interstate 30 just outside the town of Little Rock, Arkansas. The company manufactures and distributes beverage containers, spring water, fruit drinks, and teas. In January 2012, about 50 federal agents, led by Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) Special Agent Cynthia Roberts and IRS Special Agent Bobbi Spradlin, swooped in, guns drawn. Without explanation they shut down plant operations, herded employees into the cafeteria, and confined them to the room for hours. They could not so much as use the bathroom without police escort. Cell phones were confiscated and all Internet and company phones were disabled.
Plant Manager Court Stacks was at his desk when police burst through his office door, guns drawn and pointed at him—a thoroughly unprofessional violation of basic firearms discipline in this circumstance, and the cause of numerous accidental SWAT killings.
According to Mountain Pure CEO John Stacks, the search warrant was related to questions about an SBA loan he secured through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to recover tornado losses to his home, warehouse, and associated equipment. Mr. Stacks says the SBA apparently doesn’t believe that assets listed as damaged in the storm were actually damaged.
The search warrant was extremely vague and some agents’ actions may have been illegal, according to company attorney, Timothy Dudley. Comptroller Jerry Miller was taken to a private room and interrogated for over three hours by SBA Special Agent Cynthia Roberts, the raid leader. He requested an attorney and was told “That ain’t gonna happen.” According to Miller, the SBA unilaterally changed the terms of Stacks’ loan. He says he asked Roberts what gave the SBA authority to do that, and she responded, “We’re the federal government, we can do what we want, when we want, and there is nothing you can do about it.” Miller said during the raid Roberts “strutted around the place like she was Napoleon.”
Stacks said the company has had three IRS audits in the past three years, including one following the raid, with no problems. The SBA has still not filed any charges, continues to stonewall about the raid’s purpose, and refuses to release most of the property seized during the raid.
Quality Assurance Director Katy Depriest, who doubles as the company crisis manager, described agents’ “Gestapo tactics.” She added that they confiscated CDs of college course work and educational materials for a class she had been taking that resulted in her flunking the course. Those materials have not yet been returned.
Attempts were made to contact Ms. Roberts for this article, but she is no longer employed by the SBA. Questions were directed to the Little Rock, Arkansas U.S. Attorney’s office. The USA’s public affairs officer had no comment; however they have convened a grand jury to evaluate the case.
Because law enforcement refused repeated requests to respond for this article, we have only Mountain Pure’s side of the story, but they make a compelling case:
Many company employees were willing to discuss this raid on the record.
Mountain Pure and several employees have sued Special Agents Roberts and Spradlin.
Mr. Stacks commissioned a video about the raid, reproduced here.
The video includes testimony from Henry Juszkiewicz, CEO of famed Gibson Guitar Corp., which suffered two such raids, and another raid target, Duncan Outdoors Inc. The video does not attempt to establish anyone’s guilt or innocence, but rather highlights law enforcement’s heavy-handed tactics in executing SWAT-style search warrants against legitimate businesses. Gibson has settled with the Justice Department in a case fraught with legal ambiguities, while Duncan has been indicted for violations of currency transaction reporting requirements.
Mr. Stacks claims he has gotten calls from many companies that have suffered similar raids, but they are afraid to speak out. Here are a few examples that have made national news:
FDA officials, U.S. Marshals, and the Pennsylvania State Police raided an Amish farm in 2011 for selling raw milk.
A Department of Education SWAT team raided a man’s home, “dragged him out in his boxer shorts, threw him to the ground and handcuffed him” in front of his three young children. They were looking for evidence of his estranged wife’s financial aid fraud.
66 year-old George Norris spent two years in jail following a USFWS raid that nailed him for filing incorrect forms on imported orchids.
A Fairfax, Virginia optometrist being served a warrant for illegal gambling was killed by a SWAT team member whose firearm accidentally discharged. He answered the door in his bathrobe, unarmed and unaware that he was even under investigation.
War on Small Business?
In 2006, the IRS announced it would shift its focus to audit more small businesses. IRS data on tax audits seems to bear this out. Between the first and second half of the last decade, the audit coverage rate on businesses with assets between $10 and $50 million increased by 42 percent. Between 2001 and 2005 an annual average of 13,549 returns were audited for businesses with assets less than $10 million. Between 2006 and 2011, the average was 19,289, an increase of over 42 percent (pdf).
This has paid off in increased enforcement revenues, but are massive SWAT raids an essential part of this new strategy? In addition to the potential dangers and the outrage of having company employees treated like drug dealers or terrorists, the cost of these raids is staggering. Agents told Mountain Pure employees they had flown in from all over the country.
The Sharpsburg Raid
Sharpsburg, Maryland, population 706, is a quiet little town bordering the Antietam National Battlefield in rural Washington County. On Thursday, November 29, 2012 at about 12:30 pm, the quiet was shattered by an invasion of over 150 Maryland State Police (MSP), FBI, State Fire Marshal’s bomb squad, and County SWAT teams, complete with two police helicopters, two Bearcat “special response” vehicles, mobile command posts, snipers, police dogs, bomb disposal truck, bomb sniffing robots, and a huge excavator. They even brought in food trucks.
A heavily armed MSP Special Tactical Assault Team Element (STATE) executed a no-knock search warrant, smashing through the reportedly unlocked door with a battering ram. They worked until after 7:30 p.m., ransacking a modest, 20 ft. by 60 ft. single-family home for weapons, and searching for its owner, one Terry Porter. For hours, neighbors were left worrying and wondering, while countless police blanketed the area.
Local resident Tim Franquist described the scene:
“The event, or siege as we are calling it, involved convoys of police speeding to the area, two helicopters, armored vehicles, command centers, countless police cruisers and officers. They blocked off the roads and commandeered a campground as their staging area.”
Terry Porter is married with three children, has lived in the town all of his life, and owns a modest welding business. He is also a prepper. His preparations include an underground bunker, buried food supplies, and surveillance cameras. Porter really doesn’t like Obama, and tells anyone who will listen.
Unfortunately, one listener was an undercover officer for the MSP. The police had become interested in Porter through an anonymous caller who claimed that Porter “had been getting crazier and crazier…” and that he had “10 to 15 machine gun-style weapons, six handguns and up to 10,000 rounds of ammunition…” The MSP performed a background check and discovered Porter had a 20-year-old charge for aiding marijuana distribution, a disqualification for firearms ownership.
MSP detailed an officer to visit Porter’s shop on November 16th posing as a customer. The officer said Porter “openly admitted to being a prepper.” Not a crime. Porter also allegedly claimed to have a Saiga shotgun, and was willing to use it “when people show up unannounced.” Based on the Russian AK-47 design, some Saiga variants are fully automatic. On November 27th MSP obtained a search warrant.
Two days later they appeared at Porter’s door but could not find him. Porter later disclosed he “left out the back door.” Where he went has not been disclosed. However, local blogger Ann Corcoran, who lives nearby and followed the issue closely, claims he hid out in fear for his life. Given highly publicized, accidental shootings involving SWAT teams and the overwhelming force present, that’s a reasonable assumption.
The following day Porter turned himself in and took the police through his property. The raid produced a total of four shotguns, a 30-30-caliber hunting rifle and two .22-caliber rifles. He was charged with firearms possession violations and released on a $75,000 bond.
The raid was one of the largest in recent U.S. history, twice the size of the 1993 Branch Davidian raid in Waco, Texas, which initially involved 76 ATF agents. It almost rivaled the recent 200-strong statewide manhunt for California cop-killing cop, Christopher Dorner. Yet only a few local stories emerged and those presented a hysterical portrait of Porter while largely underreporting the police presence.
Why the Raid?
The MSP did not notify town officials or Washington County Sheriff Douglas Mullendore, who learned of the raid after it began, when they requested the use of his SWAT Team and Bearcat. The MSP also set up a command center at a campground within the national park without notifying the Park Police. Bills have since been introduced in the Maryland legislature by Washington County Delegate Neil Parrott (HB 0219) and State Senator Chris Shank (SB 0259) to require notification of local law enforcement before any outside agency serves a warrant.
A meeting following the raid attracted 60 concerned Sharpsburg citizens and leaders. Sharpsburg Vice Mayor Bryan Gabriel characterized the raid as “overwhelming,” and said it “could have put a lot of people at risk.” Erin Moshier, a citizen who attended the meeting added, “We all felt there was excessive force involved, and we felt that a member of our community was victimized and we wanted to get to the bottom of it and get some answers.” Both Gabriel and Sheriff Mullendore have issued statements of support for Porter, who they know personally. Citizens created a “Friends for Terry” website to help with his legal costs.
When asked why the police did not simply detain Porter in town or at a traffic stop, MSP Hagerstown Barracks Commander, Lt. Thomas Woodward said the police only had a property search warrant and had no authority to arrest Porter. However police do have authority to “detain the property owner for 24 hours” when executing a search warrant, so Porter could have been intercepted elsewhere, but they chose to execute that authority as part of the raid.
Lt. Woodward said that the state police have a good working relationship with Sheriff Mullendore. If that is the case, why didn’t they consult the sheriff first? If Porter were really that dangerous wouldn’t it be helpful to get more information from a trusted source better acquainted with him? Mullendore said they usually do give notice. Reportedly several state police who personally know Porter reside in Sharpsburg. Why were they not consulted?
Does the MSP detail SWAT automatically for gun search warrants? Some other police forces do. For example, in one fatal Florida SWAT shooting, a 21-man SWAT team was called in merely because the target had a concealed-carry permit. Are SWAT raids to become the order of the day for gun owners?
If Mr. Porter is indeed adjudicated a felon in possession of firearms, then he was in violation of the law. He didn’t help his case by bragging to the undercover officer about his doomsday preparations, especially the Saiga—which turned out to be nonexistent.
There is nothing wrong with being prepared, or even describing the actions you might take in a hypothetical “doomsday” situation, but in fairness to police, with all the lunatics coming out of the woodwork these days, and the heightened atmosphere of mutual distrust between law enforcement and citizens, the MSP might be excused for presuming the worst. But 150 police?
Recent events such as the kidnapping/bunker standoff in Alabama, and cop-killer Dorner, provide apt examples. Police never know what to expect. Still, in this case at least, it seems a little more investigation and consultation with local authorities could have resolved this issue quietly and with much less risk and cost.
Cost of the Operation
Neither the FBI nor the MSP have publicly disclosed how many of their officers were involved in the raid. However, Senator Shank and Delegate Parrott were told in a meeting with top MSP officials that the total, including federal, state, and local police, exceeded 150. From public information requests we know that the Washington County Special Response Team (SRT) sent 17, including four snipers, two medics, and their Bearcat driver. Only two of these actually participated, the driver and a sniper who accompanied him.
The FBI personnel were training nearby and when their assistance was requested, many, if not all, chose to participate. A witness on the scene guessed there were approximately 40 officers at the campground where the FBI staged. If we assume a total of 150, that would leave 93 MSP. The following table, based on police salaries gleaned from public sources provides a rough estimate of the personnel cost for this operation.
The MSP argued that only variable costs—those directly related to the operation—are relevant. By this logic, the operation cost very little, as salaries and other fixed costs are incurred anyway. But the personnel and resources involved would otherwise have been engaged elsewhere: tracking down criminals, enforcing other laws, and assisting in emergencies. There are clearly other, potentially more beneficial activities they could not simultaneously perform. This is called opportunity cost and must be considered.
This raid cost approximately $11,000 per hour, which dramatically illustrates one reason government spending is so wildly out of control. If agency managers considered the true cost of their decisions, they might work harder to prioritize their activities and not waste valuable resources on errands of questionable value.
High visibility events like the Sharpsburg raid present a one-sided picture of police as out-of-control, wasting time on seeming trifles. But their daily efforts, which go largely unreported, paint a much more balanced picture. For example, the MSP Gang Enforcement Unit has aggressively investigated violent street gangs, one of the largest sources of gun violence.
Between 2010 and 2012 alone, the Gang Unit made 621 gang arrests and seized 94 firearms. This does not include their extensive work with multi-agency task forces. Here, they have participated in successful operations against such violent gangs as the Crips & Bloods, Wise Guyz, B-6, the Black Guerrilla Family, Juggalos, the Dead Man Incorporated crime syndicate, and others, and have brought many of these offenders to justice.
Militarization of Police
The SWAT concept was popularized by Los Angeles Police Chief Darryl Gates in the late 1960s in response to large-scale incidents for which the police were ill-prepared. But the use of SWAT teams has since exploded. Massive SWAT raids using military-style equipment are becoming routine methods for executing search warrants. One study estimates 40,000 such raids per year nationwide:
“These increasingly frequent raids… are needlessly subjecting nonviolent drug offenders, bystanders, and wrongly targeted civilians to the terror of having their homes invaded while they’re sleeping, usually by teams of heavily armed paramilitary units dressed not as police officers but as soldiers.”
John W. Whitehead writes in the Huffington Post, that “it appears to have less to do with increases in violent crime and more to do with law enforcement bureaucracy and a police state mentality.”
The ACLU recently announced its intention to investigate the militarization of law enforcement. Ironically, despite the perception of heightened gun violence due to incidents like Newtown, ACLU points out that both crime rates and law enforcement gun deaths have been declining for decades (see chart).
“Through its little-known “1033 program,” the Department of Defense gave away nearly $500 million worth of leftover military gear to law enforcement in fiscal year 2011… The surplus equipment includes grenade launchers, helicopters, military robots, M-16 assault rifles and armored vehicles… Orders in fiscal year 2012 are up 400 percent over the same period in 2011…”
Congress created this provision in 1997 for drug and anti-terrorism efforts. It has since provided over 17,000 agencies $2.6 billion worth of equipment at no charge. One local agency now owns an amphibious tank, while another obtained a machine-gun-equipped APC.
Additionally, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grants have allowed state and local agencies nationwide to purchase Bearcats. These 16,000 pound vehicles are bulletproof and can be equipped with all kinds of extra features.
Ironically, while SWAT teams probably got their biggest boost initially from conservatives, many fear law enforcement is becoming a tool to enforce leftist ideology. University criminal justice programs turn out graduates indoctrinated in liberal theology, which carries into modern law enforcement bureaucratic culture.
Today this trend is reflected in reports coming out of the Department of Homeland Security, the military, and various law enforcement “fusion” centers, that identify gun-owners, patriots, ex-military, Christians, pro-life activists, and tea party members as “potential domestic terrorists (pdf).”
The perpetrator of last summer’s attempted mass shooting at the Family Research Council headquarters now admits he was prompted by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Hate Watch” list. The radical leftist SPLC is now “consulting” with the FBI and DHS regarding “rightwing hate groups.” The group labeled AIM’s Cliff Kincaid a member of a sinister group of “Patriots” for writing critically of the United Nations, President Obama, and the homosexual lobby, among other things. Ironically, the SPLC “Teaching tolerance” project ran an article praising unrepentant Communist terrorist bomber Bill Ayers as a “civil rights organizer, radical anti-Vietnam War activist, teacher, and author,” with an “editor’s note” going so far as to say that Ayers “has become a highly respected figure in the field of multicultural education.”
Ammo, Military Equipment and Domestic Drone Use
The Internet is abuzz with news that the Department of Homeland Security is purchasing over 1.6 billion rounds of pistol and rifle ammunition, 2,700 Mine Resistant Armored Vehicles (MRAP), and 7,000 fully-automatic “personal defense weapons.” Some of this is worthy of concern, some maybe not so much. Meanwhile, the expanded use of aerial drones within the continental U.S. has created anxiety among the public and political leaders alike.
Reportedly, the order for 1.6 billion rounds of pistol and rifle ammunition would fulfill DHS requirements for the next five years, or 320 million rounds per year. DHS has 55,471 employees authorized to carry firearms, which comes to about 5,800 rounds per year, per employee. For perspective, during the first year of the war on terror, approximately 72 million rounds were expended in Iraq and another 21 million in Afghanistan by an estimated 45,000 combat troops. This amounts to about 2,000 rounds per war fighter.
Yet the requisition may not be unreasonable. The largest order, 750 million rounds, came from DHS’s Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) for training. FLETC Public Affairs Director Peggy Dixon said that the purchase request was “a ceiling. It does not mean that we will buy, or require, the full amounts of either contract.” Another 650 million rounds are being purchased by Inspections and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to cover the next five years.
Since these are maximum figures, it is difficult to conclusively evaluate the purchase. Some have asserted that the practical effect—if not the deliberate intent—is to dry up the private market for ammunition. Congressmen are now demanding answers from DHS regarding these purchases. But most ammunition shortages are likely due to civilian demands. Obama and the Democrats’ palpable hostility to gun owners has caused ammunition and firearms purchases to skyrocket.
There are 80 million gun owners in the U.S. If each just purchased 100 rounds of ammo—enough for one afternoon at the range—that would equal 8-billion rounds. Many are purchasing significantly more.
Instead of asking why DHS needs 1.6 billion rounds of ammo, the real question we should be asking is, “Why does DHS need 55,000 law enforcement officers?
MRAPs & Submachine Guns
The original story regarding a purchase of 2,700 MRAPs s was in error. The confusion centers on a 2011 order from the U.S. Marines to retrofit 2,717 of its MRAPs with upgraded chassis.
DHS has been using MRAPs since 2008 and currently has a fleet of 16 received from the Army at no cost. They are used by DHS special response teams in executing “high-risk warrants.”
Similarly, the purchase of 7,000 “Personal Defense Weapons” is not extraordinary for an agency of this size.
DHS’s Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP) has been operating Predator drones since 2005, with a current fleet of nine. Some in Congress seek to expand their use. In February of 2012, Congress passed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which includes a provision for commercial drone regulations. The FAA projects that up to 30,000 drones could be flying by 2020. A requisition memo describes these requirements for drones operated by CBP against border incursions by frequently armed drug traffickers and coyotes, but concern exists that this use will extend to U.S. citizens inside the border.
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) filibustered the nomination of John Brennan as CIA Director, in order to obtain answers about lethal drone use against American citizens within the U.S. Holder finally sent Paul a letter, which said:
“It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: ‘Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?’ The answer to that question is no.”
Paul said they had been asking Holder for about six weeks. But Holder didn’t answer the question at all. Paul did not specify Americans “engaged in combat on American soil.” He asked about attacks against any Americans on U.S. soil. Holder had said in earlier testimony that the President did have the authority to kill Americans on American soil in certain circumstances.
Given the Obama administration’s contempt for the Constitution and its broad definition of “domestic terrorists” to include pretty much anyone they don’t like, there is cause for genuine concern.
The Sharpsburg raid occurred prior to the Newtown tragedy, but nonetheless reinforced the widespread impression that MSP is an anti-gun organization. Did the MSP decide to make an example of Porter to send a message to Maryland gun owners, or were they genuinely afraid that Porter was about to go postal? That question is unclear, but a Maryland law enforcement source who has attended briefings on the subject said that state police are “gearing up for confiscation.”
In 1989 Patrick O’Carroll of the Centers for Disease Control, stated:
“We’re going to systematically build a case that owning firearms causes deaths. We’re doing the most we can do, given the political realities” (emphasis added).
The CDC further revealed its strategy in 1994:
“We need to revolutionize the way we look at guns, like what we did with cigarettes. Now it [sic] is dirty, deadly, and banned.” Dr. Mark Rosenberg, Director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Control and Prevention. Washington Post, 1994 (emphasis added).
Do these themes sound familiar? They represent a single component of a vast effort by media, politicians, Hollywood, educational institutions, and professionals to vilify gun ownership. One left-wing organization, Third Way, created a “messaging strategy,” encouraging the term “gun safety” because “gun control has become a loaded term that leads voters to believe that the candidate supports the most restrictive laws.”
Since Newtown, however, the anti-gunners have pretty much dropped any pretense. Here is a small sampling of recent anti-gun lunacy:
“We want everything on the table…This is a moment of opportunity. There’s no question about it…We’re on a roll now, and I think we’ve got to take the—you know, we’re gonna push as hard as we can and as far as we can.”
The increased militarization of police forces and the associated use of SWAT teams for routine law enforcement are a dangerous trend. Given Obama’s seeming willingness to abuse the power of his office on so many fronts, it is reasonable to expect more, not less, of the kind of abusive police overreach described in this report, while police forces and capabilities will continue to grow.
Obama’s obvious hostility to gun owners is fueling legitimate fears of gun confiscation, furthering an atmosphere of mutual distrust and paranoia between police and civilians. This raises the specter of armed confrontations should there be attempts to confiscate firearms. As one law enforcement official said at a recent gun hearing, “Good people are going to die trying to take these guns and good people are going to die trying to keep them.”
Ironically, despite its professed commitment to stopping “gun violence,” the Obama Administration authorized gun-running to Mexican drug cartels and Jihadists in Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East. Some hearings and investigations have been held into these schemes but there has been little accountability for this “gun violence.”
At an AIM conference before the 2012 presidential election, impeachment proceedings against President Obama were discussed. Citing his experience with the Clinton impeachment, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), then-chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, talked about hearings held by his committee featuring constitutional experts who said “no other administration has ignored laws like this administration…” In regard to impeachment, however, he said that the standard was extremely high, and the process long and involved. He concluded, “I really think the better answer is to turn the attention to the American people and saying, ‘If you feel that strongly about the President, one way to register that discontent is to vote for the other person.’”
In the end, of course, Obama won re-election, and the abuses continue. However, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX), has suggested impeachment may be an option if the President continues to govern through unilateral executive orders and attempts to impose his anti-Second Amendment agenda through such measures.
James Simpson is a former Office of Management and Budget (White House budget office) economist and budget analyst. He is currently a businessman and freelance writer. Best known for his exposé on the Cloward Piven Strategy of manufactured crisis, his writings have been published in American Thinker, The New Media Journal, Washington Times, FrontPage Magazine, Whistleblower, DefenseWatch, Soldier of Fortune and others. His blog is Truth and Consequences. Email James.
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