In Scramble for Land, Group Says, Company Pushed Ugandans Out
KICUCULA, Uganda — According to the company’s proposal to join a United Nations clean-air program, the settlers living in this area left in a “peaceful” and “voluntary” manner.
People here remember it quite differently.
“I heard people being beaten, so I ran outside,” said Emmanuel Cyicyima, 33. “The houses were being burnt down.”
Other villagers described gun-toting soldiers and an 8-year-old child burning to death when his home was set ablaze by security officers.
“They said if we hesitated they would shoot us,” said William Bakeshisha, adding that he hid in his coffee plantation, watching his house burn down. “Smoke and fire.”
According to a report released by the aid group Oxfam on Wednesday, more than 20,000 people say they were evicted from their homes here in recent years to make way for a tree plantation run by a British forestry company, emblematic of a global scramble for arable land.
“Too many investments have resulted in dispossession, deception, violation of human rights and destruction of livelihoods,” Oxfam said in the report. “This interest in land is not something that will pass.” As population and urbanization soar, it added, “whatever land there is will surely be prized.”
Across Africa, some of the world’s poorest people have been thrown off land to make way for foreign investors, often uprooting local farmers so that food can be grown on a commercial scale and shipped to richer countries overseas.
But in this case, the government and the company said the settlers were illegal and evicted for a good cause: to protect the environment and help fight global warming.
The case twists around an emerging multibillion-dollar market trading carbon-credits under the Kyoto Protocol, which contains mechanisms for outsourcing environmental protection to developing nations.
The company involved, New Forests Company, grows forests in African countries with the purpose of selling credits from the carbon-dioxide its trees soak up to polluters abroad. Its investors include the World Bank, through its private investment arm, and the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, HSBC.
In 2005, the Ugandan government granted New Forests a 50-year license to grow pine and eucalyptus forests in three districts, and the company has applied to the United Nations to trade under the mechanism. The company expects that it could earn up to $1.8 million a year.
But there was just one problem: people were living on the land where the company wanted to plant trees. Indeed, they had been there a while.
“He was a policeman for King George,” Mr. Bakeshisha said of his father, who served with British forces during World War II in Egypt.
Mr. Bakeshisha, 51, said he was given land in Namwasa forest in Mubende district in 1997 by a local kingdom through his father’s serviceman association. Mr. Bakeshisha lived happily on the property for years, becoming a local administrator and ardent supporter of President Yoweri Museveni. In a neighboring district, people had been living on land the company would later license since the 1970s.
Tensions brewed. The company and government said the residents were living illegally in a forest. Residents said they had rights. Community members took the company to court in 2009 and a temporary injunction was issued, barring evictions. Nevertheless, Oxfam and residents say, evictions continued.
Residents were given until Feb. 28, 2010, to vacate company premises while soldiers and the police kept surveillance. Company officials visited, too. From time to time a house would be burnt down, villagers said. Then came Feb. 28, a Sunday.
“We were in church,” recalled Jean-Marie Tushabe, 26, a father of two. “I heard bullets being shot into the air.”
“Cars were coming with police,” Mr. Tushabe said, sitting among the ruins of his old home. “They headed straight to the houses. They took our plates, cups, mattresses, bed, pillows. Then we saw them getting a matchbox out of their pockets.”
Homeless and hopeless, Mr. Tushabe said he took a job with the company that pushed him out. He was promised more than $100 each month, he said, but received only about $30.
New Forests says that it takes accusations that settlers were forcibly removed “extremely seriously” and will conduct “an immediate and thorough” investigation.
“Our understanding of these resettlements is that they were legal, voluntary and peaceful and our first hand observations of them confirmed this,” the company said in a response to the Oxfam report.
A Ugandan government spokesman said residents in Namwasa were illegal encroachers, but he acknowledged and deplored the use of violence to remove them, saying it was done by corrupt politicians and police officers operating outside the law.
Olivia Mukamperezida, 28, said her house was among the first in her community to be burned down. One day in late 2009, she said, her eldest son, Friday, was sick at home, so she went out to find medicine. Villagers suddenly told her to rush back. Everything was incinerated.
“I found my house when it was completely finished,” she said. “I just cried.”
Ms. Mukamperezida never found the culprits. She buried Friday’s bones in a grave, but says she does not know if it is still there.
“They are planting trees,” she said.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: September 22, 2011
A previous version of this article misstated the name of HSBC, a global banking and financial services organization.
Two United States senators on Wednesday accused the Justice Department of making misleading statements about the legal justification of secret domestic surveillance activities that the government is apparently carrying out under the Patriot Act.
The lawmakers — Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado, both of whom are Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee — sent a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. calling for him to “correct the public record” and to ensure that future department statements about the authority the government believes is conveyed by the surveillance law would not be misleading.
“We believe that the best way to avoid a negative public reaction and an erosion of confidence in U.S. intelligence agencies is to initiate an informed public debate about these authorities today,” the two wrote. “However, if the executive branch is unwilling to do that, then it is particularly important for government officials to avoid compounding that problem by making misleading statements.”
The Justice Department denied being misleading about the Patriot Act, saying it has acknowledged that a secret, sensitive intelligence program is based on the law and that its statements about the matter have been accurate.
Mr. Wyden and Mr. Udall have for months been raising concerns that the government has secretly interpreted a part of the Patriot Act in a way that they portray as twisted, allowing the Federal Bureau of Investigation to conduct some kind of unspecified domestic surveillance that they say does not dovetail with a plain reading of the statute.
The dispute has focused on Section 215 of the Patriot Act. It allows a secret national security court to issue an order allowing the F.B.I. to obtain “any tangible things” in connection with a national security investigation. It is sometimes referred to as the “business records” section because public discussion around it has centered on using it to obtain customer information like hotel or credit card records.
But in addition to that kind of collection, the senators contend that the government has also interpreted the provision, based on rulings by the secret national security court, as allowing some other kind of activity that allows the government to obtain private information about people who have no link to a terrorism or espionage case.
Justice Department officials have sought to play down such concerns, saying that both the court and the intelligence committees know about the program. But the two lawmakers contended in their letter that officials have been misleading in their descriptions of the issue to the public.
First, the senators noted that Justice Department officials, under both the Bush and Obama administrations, had described Section 215 orders as allowing the F.B.I. to obtain the same types of records for national security investigations that they could get using a grand jury subpoena for an ordinary criminal investigation. But the two senators said that analogy does not fit with the secret interpretation.
The senators also criticized a recent statement by a department spokesman that “Section 215 is not a secret law, nor has it been implemented under secret legal opinions by the Justice Department.” This was “extremely misleading,” they said, because there are secret legal opinions controlling how Patriot Act is being interpreted — it’s just that they were issued by the national security court.
“In our judgment, when the legal interpretations of public statutes that are kept secret from the American public, the government is effectively relying on secret law,” they wrote.
That part of the dispute appeared to turn on semantics. The department said that while the national security court’s opinions interpreting the Patriot Act are classified, the law itself is public.
Hal Vaughan uncovers Coco Chanel’s deceptive personality in a biography that reveals her secret past as a Nazi spy
It takes a spy to catch a spy. At the age of 82, Hal Vaughan, a former newsman and CIA operative, has finally done what the legions of Coco Chanel’s other biographers resolutely failed to do: uncover the French fashion queen’s secret past as a Nazi agent.
He ably demonstrates that Chanel was far from an innocent victim of circumstance during the second world war but a fully fledged Abwehr (German secret service) agent with her own number and codename: Westminster (no doubt a nod to her one-time lover, the Duke of Westminster).
Vaughan had been researching the story of H Gregory Thomas, a former president of Chanel Inc, when he stumbled on a cache of dusty French intelligence files that had originally been pulled by German authorities during the war and shipped to Berlin.
The same files were later discovered in Nazi archives by Soviet intelligence and moved to Moscow. They remained there until 1985, when an agreement between Russia and France was reached for thousands of these documents to be repatriated to the French military archives at the Château de Vincennes, where Vaughan found them.
The smoking gun, reproduced in Vaughan’s book, is a photocopy of a French police report that uncovers agent Westminster as Gabrielle Chanel – Coco Chanel’s registered birth name.
When war broke out Chanel, aged 55, was at the height of her international fame as a fashion designer and perfume producer. For her friend and fellow collaborator Paul Morand, she was nothing less than “the exterminating angel of 19th-century French style”.
She was also a rabidly anti-Semitic, bitter woman who numbed her sleepless nights with morphine injections. Chanel saw the war as an opportunity to wreak revenge on all those she felt had got in the way of her business interests.
One of the first things she did was to fire some 3,000 female workers as retribution for a strike they had held three years earlier, in 1936. She blamed it on the socialist-led government of Léon Blum, himself Jewish, and was delighted when he was voted out of power.
Back in 1933 Chanel had helped relaunch a fascist monthly newspaper, Le Témoin (The Witness). She sharpened her rightwing political beliefs during the war and fell in love with Baron Gunther von Dincklage, a German secret agent 13 years her junior.
With Dincklage’s help, Chanel managed to have her beloved nephew, André Palasse, released from a German prisoner-of-war camp. In return she agreed to help further the Nazi cause through “her powerful connections in London, neutral Spain and Paris”. Teamed with a louche French aristocrat, Baron Louis de Vaufreland, Chanel made two trips to Madrid, on one of which Vaughan says she was active in recruiting Nazi agents.
Her most outlandish mission, though, was a trip to bombed-out Berlin in 1943, where she met with SS general Walter Schellenberg. Schellenberg had been informed that Chanel was a close friend of Winston Churchill and might be persuaded to establish contact with him and act as a go-between in a peace deal with Britain.
Chanel’s biographers have long suspected that it was only thanks to Churchill’s intervention that the fashion designer did not stand trial, at the very least for “horizontal collaboration”, after the war’s end. A remarkable interview Vaughan conducted with Chanel’s great-niece, Gabrielle Palasse-Labrunie, two years ago appears to confirm this. Palasse-Labrunie, who was living with Chanel after the war, remembers her being arrested, then coming back home and blurting out: “Churchill had me freed.”
Vaughan, who writes with welcome economy and flair, deserves a lot of credit for finally unravelling the strands of Chanel’s deeply deceptive personality.
Sleeping With The Enemy: Coco Chanel, Nazi Agent by Hal Vaughan, Chatto & Windus, RRP£20, 304 pages
US Relies on Contractors in Somalia Conflict
Richard Rouget, a gun for hire over two decades of bloody African conflict, is the unlikely face of the American campaign against militants in Somalia.
A husky former French Army officer, Mr. Rouget, 51, commanded a group of foreign fighters during Ivory Coast’s civil war in 2003, was convicted by a South African court of selling his military services and did a stint in the presidential guard of the Comoros Islands, an archipelago plagued by political tumult and coup attempts.
Now Mr. Rouget works for Bancroft Global Development, an American private security company that the State Department has indirectly financed to train African troops who have fought a pitched urban battle in the ruins of this city against the Shabab, the Somali militant group allied with Al Qaeda.
The company plays a vital part in the conflict now raging inside Somalia, a country that has been effectively ungoverned and mired in chaos for years. The fight against the Shabab, a group that United States officials fear could someday carry out strikes against the West, has mostly been outsourced to African soldiers and private companies out of reluctance to send American troops back into a country they hastily exited nearly two decades ago.
“We do not want an American footprint or boot on the ground,” said Johnnie Carson, the Obama administration’s top State Department official for Africa.
A visible United States military presence would be provocative, he said, partly because of Somalia’s history as a graveyard for American missions — including the “Black Hawk Down” episode in 1993, when Somali militiamen killed 18 American service members.
Still, over the past year, the United States has quietly stepped up operations inside Somalia, American officials acknowledge. The Central Intelligence Agency, which largely finances the country’s spy agency, has covertly trained Somali intelligence operatives, helped build a large base at Mogadishu’s airport — Somalis call it “the Pink House” for the reddish hue of its buildings or “Guantánamo” for its ties to the United States — and carried out joint interrogations of suspected terrorists with their counterparts in a ramshackle Somali prison.
The Pentagon has turned to strikes by armed drone aircraft to kill Shabab militants and recently approved $45 million in arms shipments to African troops fighting in Somalia.
But this is a piecemeal approach that many American officials believe will not be enough to suppress the Shabab over the long run. In interviews, more than a dozen current and former United States officials and experts described an overall American strategy in Somalia that has been troubled by a lack of focus and internal battles over the past decade. While the United States has significantly stepped up clandestine operations in Pakistan and Yemen, American officials are deeply worried about Somalia but cannot agree on the risks versus the rewards of escalating military strikes here.
“I think that neither the international community in general nor the U.S. government in particular really knows what to do with the failure of the political process in Somalia,” said J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa program at the Atlantic Council, a Washington research institution.
For months, officials said, the State Department has been at odds with some military and intelligence officials about whether striking sites suspected of being militant camps in Somalia’s southern territories or carrying out American commando raids to kill militant leaders would significantly weaken the Shabab — or instead bolster its ranks by allowing the group to present itself as the underdog against a foreign power.
Lauren Ploch, an East Africa expert at the Congressional Research Service, said that the Obama administration was confronted with many of the same problems that had vexed its predecessors — “balancing the risks of an on-the-ground presence” against the risks of using “third parties” to carry out the American strategy in Somalia.
Teaching Fighting Skills
The Shabab has already shown its ability to strike beyond Somalia, killing dozens of Ugandans last summer in a suicide attack that many believe was a reprisal for the Ugandan government’s decision to send troops to Somalia. Now, though, thanks in part to Bancroft, the private security company, the militants have been forced into retreat. Several United Nations and African Union officials credit the work of Bancroft with improving the fighting skills of the African troops in Somalia, who this past weekend forced Shabab militants to withdraw from Mogadishu, the capital, for the first time in years.
Like other security companies in Somalia, Bancroft has thrived as a proxy of sorts for the American government. Based in a mansion along Embassy Row in Washington, Bancroft is a nonprofit enterprise run by Michael Stock, a 34-year-old Virginia native who founded the company not long after graduating from Princeton in 1999. He used some of his family’s banking fortune to set up Bancroft as a small land-mine clearing operation.
In recent years, the company has expanded its mission in Somalia and now runs one of the only fortified camps in Mogadishu — a warren of prefabricated buildings rimmed with sand bags a stone’s throw from the city’s decrepit, seaside airport.
The Bancroft camp operates as a spartan hotel for visiting aid workers, diplomats and journalists. But the company’s real income has come from the United States government, albeit circuitously. The governments of Uganda and Burundi pay Bancroft millions of dollars to train their soldiers for counterinsurgency missions in Somalia under an African Union banner, money that the State Department then reimburses to the two African nations. Since 2010, Bancroft has collected about $7 million through this arrangement.
Both American and United Nations officials said that Bancroft’s team in Mogadishu — a mixture of about 40 former South African, French and Scandinavian soldiers who call themselves “mentors” — has steadily improved the skills of the African troops and cut down on civilian casualties by persuading the troops to stop lobbing artillery shells into crowded parts of Mogadishu. One Western consultant who works with the African Union credits Bancroft with helping “turn a bush army into an urban fighting force.”
The advisers typically work from the front lines — showing the troops how to build sniper pits or smash holes in walls to move between houses.
“Urban fighting is a war of attrition, you nibble, nibble, nibble,” said Mr. Rouget, the Bancroft contractor. Last year, he was wounded in Mogadishu when a piece of shrapnel from a Shabab rocket explosion sliced through his thigh.
Still, he seems to thoroughly enjoy his work. “Give me some technicals” — a term for heavily armed pickup trucks — “and some savages and I’m happy,” he joked.
Some critics view the role played by Mr. Rouget and other contractors as a troubling trend: relying on private companies to fight the battles that nations have no stomach for. Some American Congressional officials investigating the money being spent for operations in Somalia said that opaque arrangements like those for Bancroft — where money is passed through foreign governments — made it difficult to properly track how the funds were spent.
It also makes it harder for American officials to monitor who is being hired for the Somalia mission. In Bancroft’s case, some trainers are veterans of Africa’s bush wars who sometimes use aliases in the countries where they fought. Mr. Rouget, for example, used the name Colonel Sanders.
He denies that he is a mercenary, and said that his conviction in a South African court was “political,” more a “regulatory infraction” than a crime. He added that the French government, which sent peacekeeping troops to Ivory Coast, was well aware of his activities there.
Mr. Stock, Bancroft’s president, also flatly rejects the idea that his employees are mercenaries, insisting that the trainers do not participate in direct combat with Shabab fighters and are supported by legitimate governments.
“Mercenary activity is antithetical to the fundamental purposes for which Bancroft exists,” he said, adding that the company “does not engage in covert, clandestine or otherwise secret activities.”
He did say, though, that there is only a small pool of people Bancroft can hire who have experience fighting in African wars.
In recent years, according to a United Nations report, many companies have waded into Somalia’s chaos with contracts to protect Somali politicians, train African troops and build a combat force to battle armed Somali pirates.
The report provides new details about an operation by the South African firm Saracen International to train a 1,000-member antipiracy militia for the government of Puntland, a semiautonomous region in northern Somalia, effectively creating “the best-equipped indigenous military force anywhere in Somalia.” Using shell companies, some of which the United Nations report links to Erik Prince, who founded the Blackwater Worldwide security company, Saracen secretly shipped military equipment — which the report says violated an arms embargo — into northern Somalia on cargo planes leaving from Uganda and the United Arab Emirates. Several American officials have said that the Emirates, concerned about the piracy epidemic, have been secretly financing the Saracen operation.
Aid From the Pentagon
The Pentagon has recently told Congress that it plans to send nearly $45 million worth of military equipment to bolster the Ugandan and Burundian troops. The arms package includes transport trucks, body armor, night vision goggles and even four small drone aircraft that the African troops can use to spy on Shabab positions.
Unlike regular Somali government troops, the C.I.A.-trained Somali commandos are outfitted with new weapons and flak jackets, and are given sunglasses and ski masks to conceal their identities. They are part of the Somali National Security Agency — an intelligence organization financed largely by the C.I.A. — which answers to Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government. Many in Mogadishu, though, believe that the Somali intelligence service is building a power base independent of the weak government.
One Somali official, speaking only on the condition of anonymity, said that the spy service was becoming a “government within a government.”
“No one, not even the president, knows what the N.S.A. is doing,” he said. “The Americans are creating a monster.”
The C.I.A. Plays a Role
The C.I.A. has also occasionally joined Somali operatives in interrogating prisoners, including Ahmed Abdullahi Hassan, a Kenyan arrested in Nairobi in 2009 on an American intelligence tip and handed over to Somalia by the Kenyans. The C.I.A. operations in Somalia were first reported last month by the magazine The Nation.
An American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of restrictions against discussing relationships with foreign intelligence services, said that agency officers had questioned Mr. Hassan in a Somali prison under strict interrogation rules.
“The host country must give credible assurances that suspects will be treated humanely,” the official said, and intelligence officials “must be convinced that the individual in custody has time-sensitive information about terrorist operations targeting U.S. interests.”
A C.I.A. spokeswoman said that the spy agency was not holding suspects in secret American prisons, as it did in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
“The C.I.A. does not run prisons in Somalia or anywhere else, period,” said the spokeswoman, Marie Harf. “The C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program ended over two and a half years ago.”
In Washington, American officials said debates were under way about just how much the United States should rely on clandestine militia training and armed drone strikes to fight the Shabab. Over the past year, the American Embassy in Nairobi, according to one American official, has become a hive of military and intelligence operatives who are “chomping at the bit” to escalate operations in Somalia. But Mr. Carson, the State Department official, has opposed the drone strikes because of the risk of turning more Somalis toward the Shabab, according to several officials.
In a telephone interview, he played down any bureaucratic disagreements and rejected criticism that America’s approach toward Somalia had been ad hoc. It is a country with historically difficult problems, he said, and the American support to the African peacekeepers has helped beat back the Shabab’s forces.
And as for the rest of southern Somalia, still firmly in the Shabab’s hands?
“One step at a time, he said. “One step at a time.”
Mr. Stock, Bancroft’s president, said that bickering in Washington about how to contain the Shabab threat had made the American government even more dependent on companies like his.
As he put it, “We’re the only game in town.”
Jeffrey Gettleman reported from Mogadishu, and Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt from Washington.
While there is no suggestion that Prescott Bush was sympathetic to the Nazi cause, the documents reveal that the firm he worked for, Brown Brothers Harriman (BBH), acted as a US base for the German industrialist, Fritz Thyssen, who helped finance Hitler in the 1930s before falling out with him at the end of the decade. The Guardian has seen evidence that shows Bush was the director of the New York-based Union Banking Corporation (UBC) that represented Thyssen’s US interests and he continued to work for the bank after America entered the war.