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Live blog: McCollum Talk on Afghanistan and Pakistan

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12:00 pm. Representative McCollum's (MN-04) speech today is entitled, "American Foreign Policy: A Focus On Afghanistan." McCollum is a new member to the House Appropriations Committee and is the Senior Democratic Whip. McCollum just returned from a visit to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

12:10 pm. Congressmen from both sides of the aisle joined McCollum on her trip. Regarding Pakistan, McCollum noted the general concern that that country is not doing enough on the border with Afghanistan, referring to General Musharraf as a 'dictator' (Musharraf ascended to power in a military coup years ago).

12:15 pm. McCollum noted divisions within the Pakistan military between junior and senior officials, as well as Musharraf's dual role as military and civilian leader. McCollum noted Pakistan is moving towards a democracy, but shifts back and forth between more democratic and more military control like a pendulum.

12:20 pm. McCollum summed up Pakistan thusly: economically the nation is doing well, but the country is a hotbed for insurgency. Musharraf has not clamped down on the extremists, and the Congresswoman offered a number of explanations why. McCollum believes the Taliban are alive and well in Pakistan. She claims that the Taliban are preaching an extreme form of Islam in the capitol of Pakistan, building bombs, and running schools for suicide bombers. McCollum demonstrated the (moderate) attire she wore in Pakistan, but claims if she walked in the wrong part of the capitol city she would be in fear of having acid thrown on her by religious extremists.

12:25 pm. McCollum then moved on to discuss Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, McCollum claims citizens welcome the training of police and working in partership with the coalition forces. McCollum has visited Iraq twice and says that is not the case there -- they just want Americans out immediately.

12:30 pm. McCollum says the U.S. has lost its focus in Afghanistan. She says more aid money is needed for this country who want to real control of their own destiny. She says Iraq is draining U.S. resources to the point that the U.S. might be missing this once in a lifetime opportunity to tell the Afghan people we (and the NATO) forces will lead you to success and a sustainable, peaceful government. She stresses we must live up to our promises, and, if we don't, Afghanistan will revert back to what it was -- isolated and a breeding ground for terrorists.

12:35 pm. McCollum's speech lasted about a half hour; whether or not one agrees with her assessment of Iraq, the Congresswoman made a very persuasive argument about the need for an expanded U.S. role in Afghanistan. She engaged the audience, rarely speaking from notes, and peppering her speech with personal anecdotes. The Congresswoman was a natural at the podium.

12:40 pm. McCollum noted the amount of U.S. casualties in Iraq is nearly 10 times that of Afghanistan. Of course - there are also about 6 to 7 times as many U.S. soldiers in Iraq. McCollum says part of this is due to the fact that the Afghan army is shoulder to shoulder with the U.S., British, and Canadian armies.

12:45 pm. McCollum says she was "embarrased" by the lack of aid to Afghanistan. When asked about what the U.S. should do about the booming drug trade in the country, the Congresswoman said the U.S. should do more to give farmers agricultural aid -- alternatives to the poppy fields that are funding terrorists. It appears President Bush's decision to not have the air force destroy these poppy fields was a role of the dice that backfired.

12:50 pm. McCollum says the security is not yet in place in Afghanistan to allow licensing to drug 'farmers' to grow poppies for harvesting for medical use of the drugs. McCollum also gave a sobering view on the human rights situation in Afghanistan - stating women are frequently viewed as property.

12:55 pm. When asked if she was able to go shopping without heavy security, McCollum joked that she didn't go to the region to go shopping, but that, yes, there was fairly heavy security for her when visiting both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

1:00 pm. The McCollum talk ended after an hour -- the Congresswoman represented herself and her case for heavier U.S. involvement in Afghanistan quite well. Now that Democrats are in control of Congress - campaigning in Election 2006 in part on shifting resources and our foreign policy focus from Iraq to Afghanistan, it remains to be seen if McCollum's party takes action on her recommendations.

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  • She wants heavier US involvement in Afganistan??

    Okay, I admit that the US is a wartime economy and thrives on war material that pump primes industries. But- hasn't it done more than it can in Afganistan?

    Look inside its borders. I believe the nation can do a great deal more good there.

  • I think the congresswoman has delivered her talk effectively with her great communication skills. She has clearly talked about her visits and assessments on the places. She has also delivered the message clearly on what she wants to be done on Afghanistan.

    Although not all people may agree with her, she could still have influenced others with her idea. It really matters to have good communication skills because you can persuade or influence other people.

  • Justice Dept. Eyes U.S. Firm's Payments to Foreign Officials
    The Justice Department is probing the relationship between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a small investigative firm that helped American officials make a headline-grabbing arrest of an Afghan warlord.
    Under scrutiny are several payments that the firm, Rosetta Research and Consulting LLC, may have made to foreign government officials, including an Afghan diplomat in London, court documents suggest.
    Little is publicly known about the now-defunct Rosetta, which was founded in 2003 by a former Treasury Department researcher, Michael Patrick Jost. The firm's goal was to "develop highly sensitive information regarding the funding of terrorist activities worldwide and to make commercial use of this information," according to a description of the firm offered in court papers.
    "Rosetta sought and obtained millions of dollars of investments," according to the court filing "and developed relationships with high levels of officials in the FBI" and Department of Defense. The firm played a central role in helping law enforcement officials develop contact with an Afghan warlord, Bashir Noorzai, whom the government is now prosecuting in New York for heroin distribution, Mr. Noorzai's lawyer claims in court documents filed yesterday.
    Details about Rosetta are emerging in Mr. Noorzai's case because his attorney, Ivan Fisher, is alleging that Rosetta violated the law in its pursuit of Mr. Noorzai on behalf of the government.
    In a twist to the case, Mr. Jost yesterday filed a sworn affidavit on behalf of Mr. Noorzai describing an investigation into Rosetta that was conducted by the Justice Department's internal watchdog, the Office of the Inspector General. The investigation centers on the FBI's relationship to Rosetta. Despite a sale's pitch by Rosetta delivered to senior FBI officials, the FBI never signed a contract for the firm's services, according to Mr. Jost's account, which was confirmed by a former federal official. "They came to the FBI proposing to rent us their extensive database about people in the Middle East," the former official said.
    Mr. Jost's account raises questions about whether individual FBI employees improperly shared information with Rosetta and whether Rosetta bribed foreign officials with the knowledge of some FBI employees.
    In 2006, Mr. Jost told the Justice Department investigators that an FBI employee "had been looking up information in FBI databases and forwarding it to Rosetta," according to his testimony. The FBI employee, who is not identified in Mr. Jost's account, was considering taking a job with Rosetta, according to Mr. Jost.
    The investigators reviewed Rosetta's financial records, Mr. Jost said, adding that he identified some payments as going to "an Afghan diplomat serving in London." Other money, potentially millions of dollars, Mr. Jost said, "went to government officials in Afghanistan and Pakistan." A spokeswoman for the inspector general, Cynthia Schnedar, declined to comment. During its short existence, Rosetta's main enterprise was to develop a relationship with Mr. Noorzai, the Afghan's lawyer, Ivan Fisher, claims in court papers he filed yesterday. Rosetta had obtained from a source in the Office of the Secretary of Defense a list of individuals whom "our government believed could provide strategic assistance in interfering with" terrorism, Mr. Fisher claims in court papers.
    Mr. Noorzai, who was the head of a million-man-strong tribe in Southern Afghanistan was on that list, Mr. Fisher's letter to the court claims. Mr. Noorzai may have been an attractive figure to American foreign policy officials because of his extensive track record with the Central Intelligence Agency over the years.
    He had helped recover unused Stinger missiles dating back to the war with the Soviet Army in Afghanistan and returned them to American officials, according to news accounts.
    Rosetta employees offered to deliver Mr. Noorzai to the FBI.
    "They were proposing that they could bring him to us with a grant of immunity and he would tell us about bin Laden and where he hides out," the former official said. "The FBI did not go for it. When private business comes to you like that, wanting to make money off of the flesh trade so to speak, it's kind of unsavory."
    Rosetta, according to Mr. Fisher, did get access to Mr. Noorzai, by bribing foreign officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates.
    One recipient of the payment, an Afghani diplomat stationed in London, put Rosetta in touch with a former Pakistani intelligence official, who also received payment from Rosetta, to arrange for an introduction with Mr. Noorzai, according to Mr. Fisher's court filing. Mr. Fisher's account does not provide exact figures for the alleged payments. Nor does the account make clear exactly on the behalf of which government agency, if any, Rosetta was pursuing Mr. Noorzai.
    Mr. Noorzai made several trips to Dubai to meet with Rosetta employees he believed were representatives of the American government, according to transcripts of those conversations that have been reviewed by The New York Sun. Mr. Noorzai knew these two contacts as "Mike" and "Brian." Mr. Noorzai has said he had only seen Osama bin Laden once in passing.
    Mr. Noorzai was under the impression that American officials would help install him in the new Afghanistan government, according to his court filings.
    In April of 2005, under the pretense of working out such a deal, Mr. Noorzai flew to New York and spent two weeks in a hotel at the Embassy Suites in Lower Manhattan talking with agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration. He was arrested and spent the last three years awaiting trial on drug charges.
    Before Mr. Noorzai arrived, there was at least one meeting in Washington with DEA agents, a federal prosecutor, and Mr. Jost, according to Mr. Fisher. According to Mr. Fisher, a disagreement ensued over whether to arrest Mr. Noorzai when he arrived or not. Rosetta's position was to provide safe passage to Mr. Noorzai, Mr. Fisher said. Only then did the law enforcement officials inform Mr. Jost that Mr. Noorzai had already been indicted on the heroin charges, according to Mr. Fisher's account.
    In court papers, Mr. Fisher argues that the safe passage Rosetta employees promised to Mr. Noorzai is binding on the federal government, and he urged a federal judge to release Mr. Noorzai.

  • McCollum's (MN-04) speech today is entitled, "American Foreign Policy is good i think so but pakistani are doing very good they built pakistani community www.irulz.com and it is very good community if you wants to know about pakistani come and join it

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