The TopCat situation becomes ever the more fascinating as each day passes. More information from the blogosphere surfaces as amateur and not so amateur investigative reporters seek out details. Most of the speculation is most likely wildly off the mark either negatively (almost like the Black Helicopters that hover overhead) or positively (the world will be saved by one merc at a time). Still other commentary is not. It is simply restatements of "facts" and facts, as a quick review of Technorati will show, including some information found in posts on this website.
Background information I've posted on oil may be foundational or it may not. Time will tell if it goes to the motive of the TopCat debacle. I've made other comments wondering if the contract and insertion of Western military people and equipment might be related to a inadvertent payload ejection back on 3 Feb 1991, in other words a Project Jennifer II. That may not be accurate as there are some reports, valid or not, the payload was already recovered by somebody else.
Peculating information and tidbits here are there do seem to indicate something real and tangible is happening and it may be related to HAFZA. The website for the Horn of Africa Free Zone Authority stands out immediately because of its graphics. Clearly designed to appeal to non-Africans looking for an interesting get away or profitable investment, these pictures of white executives on a private jet, an Arab airliner, a Arab or white man enjoying a beautiful beach, and Dubai-like modern architecture are fascinating.
While the actual language is unclear, but it seems the current HAFZA is the result of a merger between the Canadian company Netlink, Inc. (registered in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, May 2001) under the name and World Investments Pty. Ltd, an Australian private company.
Raymond J Bennell (or is it Raymond Bennett?) of World Investments Pty, Ltd, is the President and CEO of HAFZA. This is name that appears to be connected to the private military business. If so, this is a troubling mix of security and money. Gary Nazar appears to be a venture capitalist from Netlink / Canada, as does Donald Nauffts (try a breath-rite strip?).
The HAFZA site, available on Google Docs in archive form, has extensive text on being legitimate and extolling the value of its purpose. As part of its financing, HAFZA authorized a "Mid Term Note" (MTN) of $50m, issued one year ago and due 2014. Websites and entities seeking to obfuscate the truth do not tend to go into as much detail as HAFZA has to explain its mission and provide supporting documentation, and above all, reiterate over and over a noble purpose.
The map at the top of the post can be cross-referenced with the listing of other Free Zones. Each of these will require security beyond gendarmes with revolvers, which HAFZA acknowledges. The partnership with the local "authorities" and Western (Canada, Australia) and Arab (Dubai / UAE ?) VCs would likely turn to a private military company for help in this.
The HAFZA website seems to afford some significant international support through private investment to stabilize this troubled region. The posting of "intelligence" briefings (from PINR) under pictures of glimmering skyscrapers and a clean and busy port does more than simply acknowledge the current descent into chaos, it signals opposition to it.
The blog comments I have seen talk of a secretive and nefarious plot by HAFZA or simply that HAFZA is a scam. A recent report by the International Crisis Group (11 June 2005) indicates an escalation in violence in the region, as does the vast increase in pirate attacks, noted elsewhere, as noted in the ICG report:
Since the formation of the new Transitional Federal Government (TFG) for Somalia, in October 2004, the dirty war between terrorists and counter-terrorist operatives in Mogadishu appears to have entered a new and more vicious stage that threatens to push the country further towards jihadism and extremist violence unless its root causes are properly addressed.
However, this sentence from the report is noteworthy (among others, a careful reading is enlightening), emphasis added:
Eager to earn the support of Western governments as an ally in the war on terrorism, the TFG leadership has attributed the attacks to Islamist extremists but some of the evidence appears to implicate supporters of the interim president instead.
After leading the reader through the HAFZA story, it is important they suspended operations in May 2005 out of concerns of the deteriorating security environment. The matching funds of $50m from the MTN and TopCat may be a coincidence, but it may be a "backdoor" deal to hijack the HAFZA project for other purposes.
Will this story be further exposed with the an expanding investigation related to Rep Cunningham either through illegitimate contracts to TopCat or others? This is a possibility raised in Josh Marshall's Talking Points (while I subscribe to TPM, Kathryn Cramer points it out on her site):
...this matter of top secret Pentagon spending -- stuff free of almost all oversight -- may connect up with the Duke investigation and may reach up higher than we might imagine in the Pentagon...Not in obvious ways...I've seen hints and evidence from various directions that there may have been some active ignoring of these various scams that Duke and his pals were up to in exchange for help on these other fronts.
This thread takes me back to an old point questioning the foundation of the TopCat "incursion" into Somalia, and perhaps the HAFZA deal. Who is authorizing this? Is this foreign policy by proxy? Or is it civilian elite renegades using military, public or private, force to execute short-term objectives?
The contemporary unilateralism of American foreign policy is grounded in the national interest and not from the interests of an “illusory international community” or of the need to wisely spent public funds for the best value, as the example of Croatia and the allocation of 1/3 of all military expenditures on the Central Asian and Iraq theatres on private security. The military grows more distrustful and increasingly publicly disagrees with the civilian leadership, complaining about, among other things, civilians refusal "to listen or adhere to military advice” while conducting a war without “a clearly defined…strategy” has “done more damage to the country than we will recover from in 50 years”. The civilian leadership has turned to conducting “foreign policy by proxy” through expanded use of private military forces. For this Administration, directly contracting with private military force is convenient, expeditious, and politically valuable through the lucrative contracts to supporters.
Expanded and regular use of private military force conflicts with the basic principles the Unites States Armed Forces has sworn to uphold and protect. Continued use by the civilian leadership to obfuscate and avoid public, media, and other domestic civilian elites’ attention belies the true unilateral tendencies of the Administration. The civil-military relationship is designed to be a partnership, but when civilian elites cannot or do not frame clear and cogent objectives, the already inappropriately tenuous relationship means the path of least resistance is the private market, bypassing the very democratic principles the civilian officials have themselves been sworn to protect to the severe detriment of American foreign policy goals and, ultimately, national security.
Clearly there is more that will come out of the TopCat deal. While I am not concerned about the use of private military force itself, the use by this Administration is clearly troubling. But again, I'll reiterate that if this is a public military program, or even a clandestine intelligence program, what a crappy job they've done. What a pathetic front man and front company they've chosen, but maybe he's legit and hoping for TripleCanopy-esque growth (scroll down for the growth part). In the interview link just offered, TopCat's Casini iterates the HAFZA mission as his own and states he will drive a boat... AND work with "Special Forces from both Army and Navy communities". If this is a slip of the tongue and he meant "former", that is to be seen (see When being subtle and covert...).