26 May 2013

Max Blumenthal's dishonest electronic intifada

Pity Max Blumenthal and Electronic Intifada. After spending, presumably, countless hours researching Islamophobia, "exposing" Thor Halvorssen's links to it, and "alerting" the government of Norway and Amnesty International about it, they were dismissed, by both, as irrelevant. It must be hard I would imagine, all that work to reveal the "shadowy" links, and to inform the world that Thor has "ties to the Islamophobes who inspired mass killer Anders Breivik", only to be dismissed by one of the world's most respected governments and THE human rights watchdog as irrelevant. That goes on their CV you know, that's part of the public record now.

Google alerts is a good tool to be aware of what other people are writing about topics of interest. As such, I got one the other day where my name had been mentioned by Blumenthal in the fringe Electronic Intifada website in a conspiratorial tirade against Thor Halvorssen and the Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF). I declare that I have been unaware of Thor's run ins with others in the press. In 2008 I was contracted by the NGO he founded, Human Rights Foundation (HRF). While I think we did great things together -such as getting Guadalupe Llori out of illegal imprisonment by Ecuador's Rafael Correa, providing much needed technology support to Cuban freedom fighters pre Alan Gross, and exposing Evo Morales barbaric tendencies- the marriage came to a sudden and unexpected end. In any case, I think I was instrumental in the success of HRF's first OFF in 2009 and its subsequent relations with the late Vaclav Havel. Many things have happened since, Havel's passing for one, though OFF's seems to be well on the way to permanent success, and the more successful it becomes the more vicious the attacks from irrelevant radicals like Blumenthal.

In 2010, a publication associated with Norway's extreme left called Manifest first "brought to light" my former relation with Thor. I didn't respond then. Manifest, and Blumenthal recently, repeated baseless allegations about me made by Calvin Tucker, a London-based extremist with a history of violence. I am not going to start defending Thor, after all he's got a media megaphone and access to people I can only dream about, but I will point out that if the strategy his critics have left is guilty by association, he really has nothing to worry about. And if my critics only recourse left is to continue citing Tucker's out-of-context reference to a nightmare I had nearly 10 years ago, well, they are truly hopeless.

Calvin Tucker's article in The Guardian's Comment is Free is the source of choice for those wanting to criticise me -and with the 14-month association with HRF- Thor. It is lost in them that Tucker is anything but an authoritative source on anything to do with Venezuela, me, human rights, or objective journalism, but rather a nostalgic Stalinist, an individual so insane as to be proud of having given someone such a vicious beating that the victim needed reconstructive surgery to his face. Tucker, and those who take him seriously, are part of an intifada allright, an ideological one that advocates for and supports the violent struggle of the extreme left as a legitimate position. Curiously they see my arguments of violence as the only recourse left to deal with authoritarian regimes, such as Hugo Chavez's, as something unacceptable. It could be because Chavez was an icon of the extreme left, as Hamas, Arafat, Castro, communism, Stalin, Che Guevara, etc. Holding an argumentative and virtual mirror to them is an intolerable affront. For only their side has "sufficient moral justification" (Tucker's dixit) to remove by force "corrupt governments... which had lost all claims to democratic legitimacy". Ergo Chavez's assassination attempt and coup d'etat against democratically elected Carlos Andres Perez = good;  terrorism against Israel = good; Fidel Castro coup against Batista and 54-year communist dictatorship = good; Joseph Stalin's reign of terror = good; but same stance against Chavez, Arafat / PLO / Hamas, Fidel Castro, communism = FUCKING INTOLERABLE!!!!!

Intellectual honesty and consistency is certainly not Blumenthal et al's forte. Take for instance just a couple of Blumenthal's irrelevant accusations against Thor published by Electronic Intifada:

    "The forms show that the Human Rights Foundation received approximately $600,000 in donations from the Donors Capital Fund from 2007 through 2011. Based in Northern Virginia, Donors Capital Fund is essentially a slush fund for the cadre of rightist donors who bankroll the conservative movement. The Electronic Intifada’s analysis of IRS filings by Donors Capital Fund and Donors Trust shows that the Human Rights Foundation received $764,950 from 2005 through 2011 from Donors Capital Fund and Donors Trust, all but about $5,000 coming through the Donors Capital Fund. “Since the fund handles money from multiple donors and donors names aren’t disclosed, contributions made through the Donors Capital Fund are difficult to trace,” the Center for American Progress noted in its 2011 landmark report “Fear, Inc.” “Potential donors are required to open a minimum $1 million account to utilize the fund’s services.”" 
    Is it $600,000 or $764,950? A slush fund? As in "money earmarked for a loosely defined, but legitimate, purpose that is instead surreptitiously used for an illegitimate purpose", like Blumenthal's baseless writings in Electronic Intifada? In a shorter period (2006 - 2010) Electronic Intifada's parent organization (Middle East Cultural and Charitable Society or MECCS), whose stated mission is "education and elimination of discrimination" (talk about loosely defined...) got $1,282,034.  What is the source of those funds?

    In addition, Electronic Intifada's parent organization has gotten in excess of $150,000 from Network for Good, a donor advised fund that "has processed more than $800 million in donations to more than 80,000 charities" according to its website. Among the 80,000 charities that receive money from donors through Network for Good one finds, for instance, Friends of the Israel Defence Forces (FIDF), an organization at odds with Electronic Intifada's "education and elimination of discrimination" mission. One also finds the Center for Security Policy, Ander Breivik's source of inspiration according to Blumenthal. By his logic (guilty by association), Blumenthal and his publishers are associated with FIDF's "war criminals" and purported atrocities committed on Palestinians. In fact, Blumenthal and his dishonest intifada also share with Thor the "guilt" they attribute to the Islamophobes that stoked Breivik's killing spree (Center for Security Policy). After all MECCS, FIDF as well as the Center for Security Policy get funds from Network for Good, innit?
      Fortunate son of Venezuela’s elite: "Halvorssen is the scion of an oligarchic Venezuelan family closely linked to the political opposition that formed against recently deceased former President Hugo Chavez..."
      Et tu Blumenthal?

      Take a good look in the mirror mate. While Thor's OFF gathers more support and recognition from some of the world's most respected people and organizations, who stands shoulder to shoulder with Blumenthal and his comrades, Hamas? I mean, is this imbecile for real? I could refer to Columbia Journalism Review's elegant put down of Blumenthal's deficient grasp of facts and intellectual dishonesty, but I rather go with Hitchens: "to read Max Blumenthal is more like being confronted with a young skunk who hasn't learned to piss yet."

      As per those who continue citing Calvin Tucker, an extremist proud of disfiguring people, don't forget to quote next time the following from him:
      Now j.scott bernard wants to fight me! This is getting distinctly surreal. But whenever you're ready, scott. Whenever you're ready. And yes, I would kick your ass. I grew up in a LONDON barrio, mate, so I know how to look after myself. The last guy who tried it on with me, left for hospital in an ambulance and required reconstructive surgery to his face. And no, I'm not kidding. 
      BUT... if you think you can intimidate ME with threats, you're picking on the wrong guy. If you're up for a ruck, Mr Big Mouth, let's have one. But I warn you, I don't fuck about.
      My point is that the Caracazo and the political disenfranchisement of most Venezuelans was sufficient moral justification for the insurrection of 1992. With the benefit of hindsight, i.e. from the standpoint of Chavez's election win in 1998, I think we can also say it was also a tactical success, even if at the time it appeared to be a defeat. Without 1992, as with Fidel's Moncada debacle, ultimate victory would have eluded the revolutionaries." 
      By contrast, I proclaim my support for the attempt to overthrow by force in 1992 the corrupt government of Carlos Andres Perez, which had lost all claims to democratic legitimacy when it massacred up to 3,000 civilians and secretly buried many of the bodies in mass graves. 

      22 May 2013

      Sparring with Moris Beracha

      Moris Beracha
      When the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) started publishing about offshore links of the world's great and powerful, the $500+ million ponzi scheme set up by Francisco Illarramendi came up. One of the involved in the scam, 'banker' Moris Beracha, took issue with ICIJ, arguing that ICIJ "did not do an investigate journalism job and ignored information" provided. Beracha was actually right, the Illarramendi case had been in the news for a while already and the ICIJ did not publish/add anything new. Moreover, there is a huge conflict of interests in the case: Moris Beracha and David Osio (also involved in the scam) have been clients of FTI Consulting, which is involved with the receiver (?). But Beracha's stance did surprise me, and so I took to Twitter and asked him about it. Surprisingly, Beracha replied, below our exchange thus far.

      From: morisb@att.blackberry.net
      Subject: Reff diego arria.
      Date: 12 April 2013 17:07:24 BST
      To: alek.boyd@gmail.com
      Reply-To: morisb@att.blackberry.net

      My name is moris beracha. My good friend diego Arria told me that he is a good friend of yours and he want to intruduce me to you. As you know he is very busy in venezuela with the coming elections next sunday.

      I will like to introduce my self , as diego can confirm iam a business man and operates in the financial market since 25 years ago.

      I had a broker dealer in ny since 1989 until 2003 named westfalia investment and a broker dealer in. Venezuela since 1990 until present named Bestinvest.

      I can assure you that iam a very honorable person that always conduct my business with transparency and close to the rules and regulations of the markets that i participated.

      I had been attacked by some media and journalist in venezuela who writes a bunch of false arguments most of them without identified themselves, with the only objective to ask for money(extorsion) which i never accept. And i always had the philosophy of never dismiss a lie because it is just a lie(mentira).

      About the illaramendi case. As you see, my letter to respond cjci its exactly the trues and really dont understand the dark intentions to published something. Which is a lie and dont say the info i provided them.

      I will be more. Than glad to. Talk to you, when you want, asking to Keep this mail personal off the record. My only intention is that you really know who. Iam, and about the aberration of this case of illaramendi Which iam a victim of the fraud.

      i just want to touch basis with you in advance knowing diego is extremely busy until sunday.

      So iam looking forward to see you or talk when you consider.

      My mail adress is morisbw@gmail.com.

      All The best

      Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

      From: Alek Boyd <alek.boyd@gmail.com>
      Subject: Re: Reff diego arria.
      Date: 20 April 2013 09:50:54 BST
      To: morisb@att.blackberry.net
      Cc: morisbw@gmail.com

      Dear Mr. Beracha,

      Many thanks for getting in touch, and please do accept my apologies for the delayed reply.

      Firstly, I need to clarify that throughout nearly a decade of blogging about Venezuela, extortion has never been a motivation. Those who know me well will be able to vouch for my integrity, which is beyond reproach by anyone who has made it in the moral cesspit that is Venezuela.

      Secondly, I have been for years now, researching, cataloguing, and writing about corruption in Venezuela. In that regard, I can proudly boast of having exposed a few people: Eva Golinger, the Venezuelan Information Office and its paid hacks, Smartmatic, North American Opinion Research, Majed Khalil, Gemalto, Williams - PDVSA deal, Petropar, Marcelo Barone, and more recently the thugs running Derwick Associates.

      That being the case, I am sure you will understand that I have taken a keen interest on the case of Illarramendi, in which you seem to have a rather important role, as Illarramendi's intermediator of choice. I have read nearly all of the material related to it, and I have been able to establish that, indeed, you took part in operations that were not strictly kosher. That has prompted me to do more research into your companies, connections and business associates, such as David Osio (another focus of my investigations). At this point, I am compiling information, checking claims/companies/etc., which I will then process and publish.

      You say you are a very honourable person. Being a honourable person myself, I presume you will have nothing to hide, and so I would like to send, if you agree, a set of very detailed questions about your business structure, operations in different jurisdictions, associates (both locally and internationally), returns, and relations with Venezuelan PEPs. Basically what I am trying to determine is whether you have collaborated -perhaps unknowingly- in siphoning money out of Venezuela, money laundering, racketeering, and aiding and abetting wanted individuals.

      Your collaboration in this respect will be greatly appreciated, as I am in the process of writing a book about the legacy of Hugo Chavez, in which the "Boliburgeoisie" will be a central feature.

      With best wishes,
      Alek Boyd

      From: morisb@att.blackberry.net
      Subject: Re: Reff diego arria.
      Date: 30 April 2013 14:17:18 BST
      To: "Alek Boyd" <alek.boyd@gmail.com>
      Reply-To: morisb@att.blackberry.net

      Dear Mr. Boyd

      Thanks for the reply and for pointing out that you too are an honorable person. First of all, I can assure you that all my business operations are clean. Is not correct to put adjectives for my operations currently under investigation like "not strictly kosher". All my transactions are legitimate and had always been attached to the regulations in the country in which they have been carried out.

      Related with the set of questions that you mentioned, in this moment I can't reply to any document. I have nothing to hide, but my legal counsel recommended me to not give any new declaration, because it can affect the process now under investigation. This is a very complex case that needs deep investigation, unbiased and thorough recollection of evidence. My only resolve is to clear my name of any shady allegations and recover my much needed peace which has harmed intensely not only me, but also my wife, kids and extended family and friends.

      In the other hand, I can give you two brief answers about your comments in the last mail. About Mr Francisco Illarramendi, all I have to say is now public and you can find on interviews that took place last months.

      Related to David Osío and Davos, I can only say that Mr Osío has never been my business partner. We have never done business together of any nature, with Davos or with any other company. Furthermore, the mention of Davos in the case now under investigation is not directly related with me. The next steps to be taken by the court will show you that I'm telling the truth  I’m sure you can’t find any transaction with Davos that has any connection with me, simply because it doesn´t exist.

      I regret I can't say anything more, but the most important thing right now is the satisfactory progress of the case.

       very truly

      Moris Beracha

      Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

      ----End of email exchange----


      Diosdado Cabello al descubierto

      Ayer, Fanny Kertzman y yo publicamos algo en la revista Semana sobre la dinámica política interna del chavismo:
      Cuango Hugo Chávez enfrentó la inminencia de su muerte, analizó cuidadosamente con los hermanos Fidel y Raul Castro quién sería su sucesor. Se inclinaron por Nicolás Maduro, un gigantón leal, semianalfabeta, no muy inteligente y que a todo dice sí. Él era el camino para continuar entregándole la soberanía de Venezuela a Cuba. Pero pusieron todos los huevos en una misma canasta y se equivocaron: Maduro, un civil, no tiene ninguna ascensión sobre la tropa, la que si tiene Diosdado Cabello, hoy presidente de la Asamblea Nacional y quien se perfila como su mas claro contendor.
      Con la desaparición de Chávez, que actuaba como muro de contención, es solo cuestión de tiempo que Cabello orqueste alguna clase de golpe para librarse de la influencia cubana. Cabello nunca compartió la actitud servil de Hugo Chávez hacia Fidel Castro. Muy rara vez viajó a Cuba y resiente el hecho de recibir órdenes de ese país.
      Leer más de "Diosdado Cabello: una fiera al acecho"

      14 May 2013

      Who is FTI Consulting's Frank Holder?

      As the dust settles in the spurious lawsuit against Banco Venezolano de Credito brought by proxies of the Venezuelan regime (Derwick Associates), it is worth exposing some of the parties that participated in this malicious charade.

      Frank Holder
      FTI Consulting deserves special mention. It is a public listed company, that deals in a number of things, among which PR management. This "PR management" company instructed one of its employees, Maria Jose Tobar, to call me, to find out where I worked, so, presumably, I could be served. When I exposed FTI's idiotic attempt, Maria Jose Tobar deleted her LinkedIn profile. But FTI Consulting has been offering similar "PR management" and consultancy services to some of the worse thugs to come out Chavez's Venezuela: Rafael Sarria, Ricardo Fernandez Barrueco, Moris Beracha, Alejandro Andrade, David Osio and the two imbeciles running Derwick Associates, Alejandro Betancourt Lopez and Pedro Trebbau Lopez. The commonality between mentioned names appears to be FTI's Frank Holder.

      Holder "began his career with the U.S. Air Force as a political-military analyst for the U.S. embassy in Argentina and as a special agent for the Office of Special Investigations at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia." He cut his teeth in Argentina, where he set up some sort of risk assessment business called Buenos Aires Sistemas Inteligentes with none other than Luis Moreno Ocampo, who accused Holder of stealing information from his office. Holder then created Holder Associates and sold it to Kroll, becoming Kroll's man in Argentina. In 2000, Holder was found guilty of false claims and fraud. Holder was also accused of extorsion by former Governor of Entre Rios province Jorge Busti. In 2001, Holder produced an "intelligence  report" about Argentinean Congressmen Gustavo Gutiérrez and Carlos Balter, which was found by judge Raul Sanchez as something baseless, commissioned and paid for by banker Raul Moneta with the unique objective of vilifying the two congressmen. Holder also founded Holder International, another intelligence firm which FTI Consulting acquired for $9 million in 2007.

      Holder's name also popped in Brazil in relation to a scandal related to Daniel Dantas about a report of secret accounts that Lula da Silva, Jose Dirceu and other leaders of Partido dos Trabalhadores allegedly had offshore (Dantas was trying to use the report to blackmail Lula et al). Holder authored the report, and first claimed that he had come about the information in the course of Kroll's investigation into Italy's Parmalat's bankruptcy. Brazil's Veja magazine found through authorities in Milan that Holder's version was false. Confronted by Veja, Holder then admitted that hackers working for utterly corrupt former Argentina's Interior Minister Jose Luis Manzano "got the information", which Manzano handed over to him as "a personal favour". As a result of his relation with disgraced Brazilian banker Dantas, for which he got $838,000, Holder was accused of slander (he just fabricated "evidence" as in Argentina).

      Apart from being a hired pen and a fabulist, FTI Consulting's Latin American director, Frank Holder, is meant to be an "expert" in "risk management... money laundering... forensic and litigation practice" and get this "fraud and public corruption investigations..." Holder is being sued in Florida ($6 million given to him gone missing) by Matias Garfunkel, another Latino 'businessman' involved in yet another massive corruption racket, in Argentina. In an attempt to acquire a controlling percentage of Telecom Argentina's shares, Garfunkel tried to use as guarantee two letters [see here, and here] from two Venezuelan banks owned by [guess who?] Ricardo Fernandez Barrueco, another client of Holder and FTI Consulting. Did Fernandez Barrueco knowingly participate in this, or is it another example of Holder's penchant for recklessness?

      But it gets even better, Holder was also hired by Hugo Carvajal, an OFAC designated kingpin targeted by the U.S. Treasury for supporting the FARC, Colombia's narco-terrorist cartel. As if that was not enough, former CIA agent Holder, also served as proxy for Rafael Sarria in at least two Florida-registered companies [SAI Advisors Inc. link, and Noor Plantation Investments link] used to launder money through real estate acquisitions. Hence Holder, and FTI Consulting as a result, have been involved, at the very least, in money laundering, racketeering, and aiding and abetting wanted criminals. Holder started off as an employee of the U.S. government: is he a double agent or is he just cashing in on the needs of criminals in Latin America? While FTI Consulting and Holder cheekily pontificate about FCPA compliance, when will federal authorities start questioning their activities in Latin America?

      10 May 2013

      Robert Young Pelton's tale with Colombia's AUC

      Robert Young Pelton, perhaps the world's only "kidnap" victim allowed to have tourist snaps taken of him with his captors. Does this guy look like a kidnap victim or more like an adventurer planning on seizing a story for self-aggrandisement?

      Last week I went public with my suspicion that self-styled adventurer and Foreign Policy columnist Robert Young Pelton is a fabulist. Pelton’s response was swift and aggressive. He dared me to put up $1,000 for every accusation I make. He even posted my last column on his website, ridiculing the suggestion that he is a fraud. The emailed reaction to my last article has only served to confirm my conclusion that his "kidnapping" in Colombia (a key component of his self-identity and used in virtually all of his bios) never happened.

      Mr. Pelton, I gladly accept your $1,000 challenge. Unlike you, I am not a millionaire and $1,000 is a considerable sum for me but I assure you it will be put to good use.

      Let me back up. When I received a callback from my source I asked "I've got a few questions about what happened in Colombia to Pelton, could you help?" The answer: "sure, shoot." In the course of doing research for a piece about human rights violations in Colombia, I came across the story of Pelton's alleged kidnap in January 2003 by the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), a right-wing paramilitary terrorist organization. Something was off about Pelton’s story. Different versions, different numbers, and different places, none of the protagonists’ accounts matched.

      While Pelton was busy telling the world he had "walked into a firefight", his Panamanian jungle guide said they were "camping on a river bank when they were intercepted" by the AUC. One of Pelton’s American travel companions, 22 year-old Mark Wedeven stated "we were not kidnapped", while his other American travel partner, 22 year-old Megan Smaker, recounted how they were ambushed on "top of a ridge, where five rebels popped up with AK-47s..." It was like a South American Rashomon tale.

      In Colombia, Pelton told the man that arranged his safe passage from the AUC that he hadn’t been kidnapped. Back in the U.S., however, he told National Geographic that he was kidnapped by a "right wing paramilitary group".

      In 2003, he said he "had stumbled into the middle of a 150-man search-and-destroy mission aimed at FARC rebels supposedly hiding out in Panama." By 2013, the size of the "search-and-destroy mission" had grown to "175 members of the AUC on their way to invade Panama." His Panamanian guide however, Victor Alcazar, declared they had been "intercepted by 12 paramilitaries" later joined by 60 others.

      One of the sources I contacted, said that Pelton's wife, Linda Pelton, was worried after a few days that Pelton hadn't communicated with her. That prompted her to reach out to some people that could find out what was happening with Pelton. Perhaps she wasn’t aware that he may have been with a 22-year-old paramour. Here's how the press reported about it:

      That's what Linda Pelton wondered last month when her husband, adventure writer Robert Pelton, and two young hikers ventured into the jungle on the Colombia-Panama border and were captured by a right-wing paramilitary group. She called a friend, who called Brian Jones, a defensive tactics instructor and security consultant in Connecticut, who has arranged training events with Smith. 

      "When someone's life is on the line, you need to have the best person, the most skilled in a specific situation," Jones said. 

      Smith can handle distraught people, see the big picture and take charge, Jones said. "What separates Jamie from the others that I know has nothing to do with skill but has to do with his get up and go, if you will." 

      Smith picked up Jones' message Jan. 22, on his way home from a training gig in San Diego. He snapped into action, skipping sleep to make arrangements, and flew with Byrd to Bogota, Colombia, the next day. 

      They joined a journalist friend of Pelton's who arranged for the hostages' release to a priest. [Added: that journalist would be Steve Salisbury].


      Robert Young Pelton, author of The World's Most Dangerous Places: A Guide to Warzones and host of a Discovery Channel show of the same name, has first-hand experience with SCG. Pelton was kidnapped by a Colombian paramilitary group in January of last year while hiking through the country researching an article for National Geographic. Even though the group released him after 10 days, Jamie Smith was brought in to find him and make sure he got out of the country.

      "Security firm specializes in kidnap, ransom and rescue", Memphis Business Journal, July 18, 2004.

      When I said to Pelton that sources involved with his extraction said he had not been kidnapped, he replied "I was never extracted." That contradicts the actions of Pelton's very own wife, as noted above.

      Bear with me, dear reader, it’s about to get very bizarre. The most common definition of kidnap is to take someone by force to be used as a bargaining chip -as is regularly the case in Colombia-, to get ransom, to make political demands, etc. Further, kidnapping usually takes some degree of preparation and planning or an objective of some kind. The first source I spoke said that Pelton was most definitely not kidnapped. The fact that Pelton and his travelling companions were handed after a few days to a priest, without a scratch, by AUC's Elmer Cardenas group -responsible for the killing, disappearance and displacement of 11.127 people- leaves little doubt that kidnapping was not AUC's intention. AUC's Elmer Cardenas group top commander, Alfredo Berrío (aka El Aleman), had this to say: "los gringos se toparon con un campamento nuestro, y al confundirnos con la guerrilla comunista de las Farc, se declararon simpatizantes de sus ideales. Por represalia, los tuvimos hasta que nos cansamos", which translates as "the gringos walked into one of our camps, mistook us for FARC and declared they sympathised with [FARC] ideals. We had them until we got tired as reprisal." He should know what happened, right? AUC's supremo, Carlos Castaño, also commented on Pelton's "kidnapping" saying that they had been retained for their own safety and handed over to priests. These contradictory statements from terrorists are not conclusive.

      Giving Pelton the benefit of the doubt, I sent an email to Colombia's highest authority at the time, after all the AUC and the Colombian government were about to start peace talks in the very days Pelton got lost in the jungle, and asked whether the AUC had used Pelton as a bargaining chip in their demands to the government.

      The reply I received was: "Jamás les habría tolerado el crimen por el cual usted pregunta", translation: "I would have never tolerated the crime you are asking about." In other words, the Colombian government would never have accepted such a thing. So Pelton wasn't even mentioned.

      I also got in touch with journalists and foreign correspondents in Colombia, some of whom have interviewed AUC top commanders, and were excellently placed at the time to know what happened. Pelton's account did not fly with them either. One of them laughed at the very suggestion that Pelton was kidnapped.

      Next thing I did was to confront Pelton with my suspicions. I must admit that I wasn't expecting the kind of reply I received, in one email Pelton wrote: "Can we wager lets say, $1000 per accusation so we can make this interesting? As I mentioned I have videotape, witnesses and photos of both events and I would love to make some money off either of these."

      It seems that Pelton doesn't take criticism lightly. In a completely unrelated matter, his account of Human Terrain Teams in Afghanistan for Men's Journal also draw criticism, from the U.S. Army no less. When confronted by a blogger about his article, Pelton wrote:
      "Old Blue…Dude I already sent you an email but you can’t seem to respond. I say again: do you want to to actually prove what you are saying. You have my request. So man up, and grow a name and a wallet. I will be waiting. I thought I was being quite charitable so I don’t agree with the hatchet job label. There are far more vocal critics out there. As your comments on untruths. As I offered you…how much money would you put up if I can prove them to be false. Its easy to say something, much harder to actually prove them. My charities await."
      I’m not going to get into other published accusations of serial fabrications by Pelton—let’s just focus on Colombia. So what do we have here? We have a writer that should be writing fiction passing as a reliable source. We also have reputed news outlets, such as National Geographic, Men's Journal, Foreign Policy, etc., basically taking Pelton's word at face value. Whatever happened to fact checking?  And when someone challenges Pelton he immediately wagers bets. Nobody takes him on.

      Pelton posted this recently, in his own website:

      Turns out I was the first to hike the trail in three years (the guys that did it before were kidnapped) and I walked into 175 members of the AUC on their way to invade Panama. I cautioned the two folks to downplay their kidnapping while in country and describe it as a battlefield detention because the AUC has a long reach in Colombia and outside of the region. People were murdered, villages were burned. We were under armed guard 24/7. Mark had a meltdown after the event. Meg was ok and did some interview. I flew to Iraq cuz the war was kicking off there. Same shit, different outfit. 

      What numbnuts doesn't know is that the State Dept essentially held us hostage and were leaning on us to press charges...while in country. Trying to make us poster children to go after Carlos and the AUC BEC. The AUC BEC is the oldest and most violent paramilitary group in Colombia. I pointed out that they weren't going to be around when an angry man with a chainsaw shows up at my house to tamper with the evidence. Mark and Meg agreed that this was Colombia's war and we weren't going to crusade for State despite being kidnapped. 

      Robert Young Pelton, "Re: RYP Hype. Fanboys in Colombia", May 6, 2013.

      The lone hero was even abandoned by his government! As it turns, in this version not only had the AUC held Pelton hostage in Colombia, the U.S. State Department contributed by their inaction! Man, that must have been one fucked up trip. But notice that Pelton says he was "the first to walk the trail in three years".

      How can he possibly know that? Actually, how can any editor or fact-checker know that? Did he conduct a survey before starting his trek? What data supports that claim? Is it not common knowledge that Darien is basically a highway of drug dealers, coyotes, and all sorts of South American people travelling north? Further, was he not handed over to a priest in Unguía, which is close to Arquia, the place Pelton wanted to get to? Does that mean hundreds of AUC soldiers, Kuna indians and area residents use that route on a regular  basis? It would appear so: Marie Christine Lacoste, reporting from Boca de Cupe, has it that three Kuna indians were on their way to Arquía (Pelton would have you believe he was the first one on that trail in three years, remember?) heard someone ordering them to stop, shots were fired, they started running towards Paya (from where Pelton & co were coming from), found Pelton & co, warned them about what was happening, and left.

      Naturally, Pelton spins the yarn further: "I cautioned the two folks to downplay their kidnapping while in country and describe it as a battlefield detention because the AUC has a long reach in Colombia and outside of the region." So Wedeven and Smaker falsely stated they had not been kidnapped purely on Pelton's advice. Only trouble with that is that Pelton himself said, repeatedly, that he was not kidnapped in Colombia:
      Robert Young Pelton, a TV producer and dual U.S.  and Canadian citizen, said they never felt kidnapped and were treated well.  He speculated that AUC took them to prevent their seeing atrocities.

      "Colombia War Takes 'Right' Turn; Anti-Communist Forces Negotiate with Government", Washington Times, January 28, 2003.
      Pelton also informs groupies of his forum that the AUC "has a long reach... outside of the region". What "reach" is, or was that? Could Pelton point out one single instance, "outside of the region", whereby AUC had participated in any criminal activity? The world's bravest man seems to have been worried that the AUC would show up in his house in California with a chainsaw to "tamper" with evidence...

      No, Robert Young Pelton is likely afraid that he would end up like Greg Mortenson. A disgraced fabulist who takes his readers for a ride and laughs all the way to the bank.

      5 May 2013

      After PDVSA, Williams F1 to be 'sponsored' by Kazakhstan

      Frank Williams & his partners Hugo Chavez and Nursultan
      F1 journalist Joe Saward has a post at his blog about Williams, the F1 team, and Nursultan Nazerbayev's fiefdom, otherwise known as the Republic of Kazakhstan. It is interesting to see how professional journalists report on the dealings of dictators with F1 teams. In the last couple of years, Williams has gotten no small amount of criticism due to its deal with the late Hugo Chavez, who in characteristic dictatorial fashion one good day decided to waste millions of public funds from PDVSA on a third rate F1 team, on a sponsorship deal that has brought zero dividends for Venezuela. So confident are the Williams people that PDVSA's money will continue flowing that after Chavez's death they even dared saying to the press that their contract with PDVSA was watertight and would continue regardless (a preposterous allegation that has no basis in law).

      When I first found out about the racket, I got in touch with Venezuelan Congressman Carlos Ramos, and basically asked him to start questioning the deal in Venezuela's Congress. After all, our current laws establish that PDVSA's expenditure need be approved by its board, but Congress has the final say on how or if proposed expenditure is to be approved (PDVSA is an oil conglomerate fully owned by the Venezuelan State). So Congressman Ramos started demanding questions about the deal, both in Venezuela and in England, and even agreed to sign a letter that I drafted and subsequently sent to Williams. Unfortunately, international attention on the issue caused some trouble to the Congressman back in the farm, and he admitted to me that "he was risking everything" by adopting such frontal stance regarding the corrupt and illegal deal.

      Williams, a publicly traded company that's doing rather well, is totally unfazed by the whole thing. The thinking must go along the lines of "who are these little brown people questioning our affairs? Do they not know that our 'contracts' are watertight?" So far, they've been lucky. Henrique Capriles failed to win the last election, and so as long as chavismo is in power, they will likely continue getting Venezuelan public funds, nothing to do with legality of contract but rather with prevalent corruption and lawlessness. Probably foreseeing what will undoubtedly be an end of the deal should the opposition reach power in Venezuela, which will happen whatever their 'legal experts' would like to say, Williams has now branched out to another dictatorship: the Republic of Kazakhstan. Its ruler, Nazerbayev, another utterly corrupt and thuggish dictator (he calls himself Leader of the Nation in true Kim Jong il style) apparently has agreed to provide some funding to the team. Therefore, the question I would like to ask is: which tinpot dictator will become Williams F1's next sponsor?

      2 May 2013

      How credible is Robert Young Pelton?

      From left: Mark Wedeven, Megan Smaker and Robert Young
      Pelton after release by Colombia's AUC. 
      Fabulists, embellishers, and fradusters are often found in the media. The United States has no shortage of professional exaggerators, when it comes to military exploits and accomplishments. Sometimes men who claim to have “served” in “active duty” in Vietnam for instance—providing the perception of wading through rice paddies, were actually sitting at a desk job and never once picked up a rifle.

      Imagine then my surprise when I came across a bizarre set of contradictions involving a celebrated adventurer: Robert Young Pelton. This is how Pelton describes himself:

      "Author and filmmaker Robert Young Pelton is renown for overcoming extraordinary obstacles in his continued search for the truth. Pelton’s career consists of bypassing media, border guards, and military groups with the purpose of getting to the heart of the story..."

      One of his bold claims: “He has been kidnapped by right wing death squads in Colombia..."

      Pelton is a man who has become a brand name for danger. A quick Google search will provide plenty of proof of his adventures into dangerous places. Pelton regularly survives mortar shells, terrorist attacks, waltzes through war zones, meets impossible to find fugitives, and always escapes without a scratch. Some of the time his tales are personal accounts with no secondary evidence whatsoever. If he is to be believed, he is a modern day action-figure—an Indiana Jones. The extract above comes from his very own site, comebackalive.com, a commercial online platform where punters can read about his travels, and buy travel kit, insurance, but most importantly, it is a huge ad for his ongoing book sales.  Pelton is also a frequent writer for such respected outlets such as Foreign Policy.

      I came across Pelton when I was reading about an incursion that Colombian guerrillas did into Panama, killing four people in the villages of Paya and Púcuro in January 2003. I recently published in Colombia’s Semana and collaborate regularly with its journalists, and so I thought I’d do a column on the AUC and their human rights violations.

      In a National Geographic interview with Pelton, entitled "Adventure Magazine Reporter Recounts Ten-Day Kidnapping by Colombian Death Squad" the following can be read:
      Robert Young Pelton, along with two traveling companions, Mark Wedeven and Megan Smaker, was kidnapped on January 14th by a right-wing paramilitary group in Panama's Darién Gap. The Bloque Elmer Cardenas, a splinter group of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, released Pelton and the two young backpackers last Thursday after holding the trio captive for ten days in the jungle borderland between Panama and Colombia.
      The news of Pelton's kidnapping was hot. It was published far and wide. But a claim by his companion Mark Wedeven, made right after his release and distributed by the Associated Press, contradicted Pelton's narrative:
      "Wedeven said he never felt that he and his fellow travelers were abducted. "We were not kidnapped," Wedeven said. "During the time we were with the AUC we did not have any problems.""
      Unfortunately Mark Wedeven died in 2010 after being caught by an avalanche in Mount Rainier. However a program about his time in Panama and Colombia called “Locked up Abroad,” also for National Geographic, aired in 2010. In the program, Wedeven's personal account of what happened is aired, and says "we weren't restrained, our hands were never bound…" which would reinforce earlier claims about not having been kidnapped. Wedeven also contradicts Pelton's claims of having walked into a firefight. Wedeven states that they were walking towards the location where gunfire was heard, and were surprised and ambushed by four men.

      Megan Smaker, also party to the expedition, seems to lean more towards Wedeven's version, saying "After about 30 minutes, they came to the top of a ridge, where five rebels popped up with AK-47s..." as opposed to Pelton's "I don't know if you know what it's like when you walk into a firefight—but they were wired and twitchy, shouting and yelling."

      I kept digging.  The more I found the more I realized something was off, like  reports in the Colombian media, that claim that Pelton et al were sort of “intercepted” by the AUC while they were walking in the Darien jungle (Wedeven & Smaker version), and protected by the AUC until they could be safely handed over to religious authorities, which indeed happened. There's also an actual press release sent by AUC commander Carlos Castaño to Reuters, where he claims that Pelton and his companions were found wandering in the Urabá, Chocó region, and were escorted out of the area for their own safety.

      So here we have a party of seven people (Pelton, Wedeven, Smaker, guide Victor Alcazar, and three Kuna porters), crossing the Darién Gap. It is highly suspect, in my opinion at least, that a seasoned traveler to the world's most dangerous places, as Pelton claims to be, wanders into an area known to be dangerous with a 22-year-old blonde without any experience in similar situations (a volunteer firefighter) that he allegedly met online, and some other 22-year-old thrill seeker, equally clueless and inept, that Pelton bumped into in a map shop in Panama (I am not joking—these were Pelton’s companions). The accounts about what happened in Colombia simply don't match, most parties contradict what Pelton claims. Then, the three of them were handed over to a  priest, completely unharmed. No ransom or other demands were made in exchange for these valuable hapless Americans. What kind of a kidnapping is that? Meanwhile, Colombian authorities believed this all took place in Colombian territory, while Panama's former President, Mireya Moscoso, claimed it happened in Panama.

      In the meantime, Pelton's expedition guide (Pelton the all-conquering hero of the world's most dangerous places hired a jungle tour guide), Victor Alcazar, is quoted as saying that they were camping on a river bank, when they were intercepted by a dozen paramilitaries.

      Other versions [see here, and here] relate to three Kuna indians going towards Arquía, a town in the Chocó region, when they heard a voice ordering them to stop and then some shots. They started running back towards Paya, and on the way they encountered Pelton and co, and warned them, but they decided to carry on.

      I couldn’t believe these contradictions so I began to make some phone calls. Undermining even further Pelton's version, a source that became involved in getting the AUC to safely escort Pelton out of Darien to hand him over to priests, told me by phone that "Pelton was never kidnapped," but rather "invented" the whole thing.

      Shades of Professional Fabulist Greg Mortenson

      Greg Mortenson
      The fact that Pelton spent a few days with the AUC in Colombia is not in question. Rather it is what would appear to be his embellishment of events, his twisting the truth, for commercial reasons. Fact checking such tales is practically impossible: Wedeven is dead, guerrilla  commanders that "kidnapped" him can't be reached. There are no easily accessible communications to Kuna indians, though perhaps Smaker would like to shed light on how and where exactly she first met Pelton (not in Panama I've been told). Pelton's account appears to be made up, he turned a “found walking in the jungle by the guerillas and then escorted by them to some priests” into a “kidnapped by right wing death squads in Colombia” story. Pelton has literally dozens of tales ranging from Chechnya to Mogadishu to Papua New Guinea. All places where locals would never be trusted if they contradicted this National Geographic explorer, so what else has he been inventing?

      In 2009 I was working for a human rights group and was a staff member at an event in Norway,  the Oslo Freedom Forum. Mortenson, a household name, was one of the guest speakers. Mortenson was the hugely famous American who had been setting up a schools for girls in Pakistan. It turned out that Mortenson's books, sales of which netted him millions, were based on a wholesale fabrication of events. Some of the biggest lies included being present in Mother Teresa’s bedroom as she lay there just hours after her death, and being kidnapped by the Taliban. All lies. And nobody could contradict him. One man, Jon Krakauer, began to peel back the voluminous layers of bullshit and the entire house of cards came crashing down. Mortensen was not just a fraudster with his book, he was also defrauding the foundation he had created by spending millions of dollars on private jet travel, and pumping up sales of his book by having the foundation buy them in bulk to keep them at the top of the best-seller lists.

      Finally, I did reach out to Pelton, with some of my questions, he replied dismissively:
      "You can check with local news sources for independent photographs and accounts of the event. Just google it. There is plenty of video footage taken as well."
      There are sources allright, Mr Pelton, some linked above, and the independent accounts do not support your version. It does strike me as odd that Colombian guerrillas would free Pelton and his travel companions just like that. It seems implausible. Someone like him is a huge bargaining chip, and I certainly don't buy macho stances from a gringo supposedly talking his way to freedom with Colombian criminals, who BTW were coming back from a killing spree in Panama. So I am throwing down the gauntlet, and hoping there are others who can help me crowd-source research into what appears to be the military version of Greg Mortenson.

      Further reading: Robert Young Pelton's tale with Colombia's AUC.