Sunday, April 29, 2007

Original Landowners Protest

Activists protest outside new nature center
by Jean Hudson, KUAM News
Sunday, April 29, 2007


The opening ceremony on Saturday for the new Nature Center at the National Wildlife Refuge in Ritidian was met with protest. The refurbished Navy facility sits on property that was once owned by Chamorro families, and when the military needed the properties for national defense, the properties were taken away through the condemnation process. But a few original landowners or their descendants say they weren't justly compensated, and one senator is trying to put a balance between the families and the purpose of the refuge.

Senator Jim Espaldon (R), who delivered opening remarks for Saturday's opening ceremony for the Nature Center, says the policy of the local government is to support the local people in its quest to right some wrongs in the past. But the freshman policymaker also presented a harsh reality, saying, "Land is a very dear and close to the heart-type of issue for the people of this island and especially now as we face a dramatic change in our island with the oncoming of the military buildup. We're going to see a lot more new businesses come in and we're going to see the dilution of the Chamorro people on their own island to become a minority in their own land."

The senator acknowledged that he was walking a very thin line when he attended the ceremony. Espaldon has oversight over the committees on Judiciary and Cultural Affairs, and sometimes those two matters conflict. Espaldon said, "What responsibilities do we have in terms of our culture? Do we allow people who come to our island to dictate how we are going to live and what kind of quality of life we're going to enjoy on this island? Or do we share with them exactly how we want this island to be and again it's not going to be an extreme, because yes even though we say this is exactly how it is - there's middle ground."

Members of The Chamorro Nation alongside original landowners and their families are protesting the presence of the Nature Center. Olympia Cruz says her family owned a little more than 7.5 acres of property in the Ritidian area, telling KUAM News, "They keep saying that we sold it. We never sold the land. I don't know where they get the ideal. And they say that we got compensated. Show us what compensation we had."

In reply, Senator Espaldon said, "Whether they were compensated justly or not is questionable. When you're under eminent domain proceedings and the government tells us that we need this land, you need to move, we will pay you for it - they have all the marbles on their side, what can you say?"

Catherine McCollum says her grandfather's Ritidian properties were also condemned. She stated, "The land was condemned, I believe, in 1963 and even then the only compensation they paid my grandfather was for a house was here. But continuation for compensation it never happened." Again, the senator said, "The local people have been very patriotic. They have always supported many of the doctrines and many of the principles that the American civilization was founded upon. But in the process every once in a while the consideration for the local people get lost."

Refuge manager Chris Bandy agreed with the senator, concurring that the refuge's purpose is to preserve the habitat for the benefit of future generations. He said, "It's something we'll have to work through. I think Senator Espaldon spoke well to the issue that we're all here. The refuge is not going to go away. We expect to have habitat here for your grandchildren and great-grandchildren. If some day the land becomes sovereign or the land reverts back to the people, as he said it'll be in as good a condition or better condition than when it was utilized in the 1960's."

"One thing that is reality today," said Espaldon, "is that even though it is our aspiration to get this land back from the federal government return it perhaps to the local people, the fact of the matter is that it is today under the control of the federal control and it is a wildlife refuge and it has the ability to preserve a good part of our cultural identity."

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Terror Threat for Guam

Report warns Guam, CNMI
Post-9/11 report details terror threat
By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno
Pacific Daily News

Guam and the Northern Marianas offer a "ready-made environment" for terror groups to launch attacks on U.S. facilities and personnel, according to a report that assessed security vulnerabilities on the islands in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks.

With the nation's security at stake and the islands vulnerable to terror groups, the report states that "the level of safeguards and federal control" on the islands has not measured up.

A federal government regional security specialist prepared the report five years ago, but it has resurfaced in light of the federal conspiracy case filed earlier last week against Mark D. Zachares.

Zachares, a former Northern Marianas Cabinet official and ex-congressional staffer, said he used his job while still employed in the U.S. Congress to seek a copy of the report at the request of now disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Zachares pleaded guilty on April 24 and is cooperating with authorities in the widening investigation into public corruption and Abramoff's lobbying activities. Abramoff has pleaded guilty to corruption and fraud charges.

The prosecution's case against Zachares in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia states that he used his various positions as congressional staffer to obtain insider information for Abramoff in exchange for a "steady stream" of gifts from the lobbyist and his associates.

Zachares in plea documents admitted that he accepted $10,000 in two wire transfers, a golfing trip to Scotland that included luxury accommodations, and a $160,000 Gulfstream charter jet service; and $30,000 worth of tickets to sporting events and concerts in the Washington, D.C., area.

Zachares is cooperating with prosecutors and, according to his plea agreement, has to provide "substantial assistance" in the ongoing federal investigation.

The security assessment report wasn't meant to be seen by lobbyists like Abramoff, who at the time was being paid by the Northern Marianas government to fight any federal attempt to take away immigration powers from the CNMI government.

'High-risk environment'
Local immigration control in the CNMI has helped the local economy tap into foreign workers' skills for lower than U.S. minimum wage, but at the same time, CNMI control of immigration has become a loophole in the tight federal screening of foreigners entering other parts of the United States, including Guam, according to previous PDN interviews with authorities.

The 2002 report states if the "high-risk environment is allowed to stand, it will continue to threaten federal and public interests and seriously jeopardize the national security of the United States."

Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo last week said: "It is an egregious breach of the public trust for a federal employee to provide a classified government report to a lobbyist for private gain.

"I would not go so far as to say our nation's security was compromised," the delegate said, "but I would say that classified information is classified for a reason."

Since the Abramoff public corruption scandal broke more than a year ago, the Democrats in the U.S. Congress have tightened the House rules, but Democrats say more should be done to "eradicate the corrupt lobbying practices that the Abramoff scandals represent."

Abramoff was paid about $7 million by the Northern Marianas government between 1998 and 2002, according to Zachares' plea documents.

Meissner report
The 2002 security report strongly recommended tighter scrutiny of foreigners entering the islands, in part by applying U.S. immigration law in the Northern Marianas and positioning federal Customs agents at Guam points of entry for passengers and cargo.
The report is labeled "sensitive -- for limited official use only".

R. G. Meissner, a regional security specialist with the U.S. Attorney's Office East District of Virginia prepared the report on April 25, 2002.

The report was prepared at the request of Frederick Black, then-acting U.S. Attorney for the Districts of Guam and the CNMI.

According to the report, Meissner visited both districts in January and February 2002. Meissner said federal law enforcement officials, and a variety of military and territorial officials were consulted.

Previously compiled documents, surveys, reports, newspaper articles and other information pertaining to security-related actions also were reviewed, according to the report.

The CNMI, according to CNMI Attorney General Matthew Gregory, also is "a victim of the Abramoff conspiracy in other ways, not only in the overcharging of lobbying fees, but most significantly in the besmirching of the commonwealth's reputation."

Gregory stated, in a written comment, that the report "is primarily focused on physical security," of federal offices on the islands and emphasizes obtaining additional funding from Washington.

"CNMI immigration is mentioned almost as an afterthought," Gregory stated.

'Single most cause of concern'
The report states that the lack of oversight by federal immigration law enforcers over the screening of foreigners entering the CNMI is "the single most cause of concern" expressed by all federal law enforcement officials who provided input for the report.

Abramoff allegedly used his connections at the Justice Department to suppress the security-risk assessment report, according to a January 2006 statement from California Rep. George Miller and several other Democratic members of Congress.

The report was never acted upon, according to the statement from the congressional Democrats.

"The entire justice system lacks credibility when ... lobbyists are permitted to gain access to information that they cannot legally have," according John Conyers, senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, in the January 2006 joint statement that also included the signature of Bordallo.

The risk assessment report was made at the request of Black, the acting Assistant U.S. Attorney on Guam and the CNMI at the time, according to a Justice Department Office of Inspector General report last year.

Examples cited
Prepared seven months after 9/11, the report lists examples of the presence of certain people or groups on the islands that raise security concerns:

A man who claimed to be Iranian attempted to enter Guam using forged documents, and immediately requested asylum when arrested.
"Federal authorities fear that this individual is from Kabul and has terrorist ties," the report noted.

During a routine discussion between a member of the U.S. Attorney's Office and an official of the Guam airport agency, it was learned that the Guam airport received letters from three different addresses within Iraq.

"Each letter contained a request for maps, posters and promotional materials about Guam and the airport," the security report stated. "The information was compiled and was being readied for dispatch when it was discovered by a supervisor who brought the requests to the attention of higher management. No materials or information were provided."

Al-Qaida concern
Past incidents provide sufficient indication that Guam and the CNMI are being considered as possible targets for terrorist activity, according to the report.
It mentions a "bio-terrorism threat" that was received at several local government locations.

The threat was credited to al-Qaida "as much as one year prior to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center," according to the report.

The identification of possible al-Qaida "cell members and other highly questionable individuals foster additional concern," according to the report.

"Additionally, there is a growing sentiment among federal officials that since the attacks against U.S. sites in Malaysia and Singapore were foiled, Guam and the CNMI have ... been moved up on a list of potential targets in the Pacific. These factors and others create a valid concern," according to the five-year-old security report.

While the report was being prepared, according to Meissner, a federal attorney on Guam was attempting to gather "open-source information" -- for the report -- about bombings in the Philippines.

But in the process of doing the electronic research, according to the report, the federal attorney's anti-hacking software warned that "the online activity was being monitored from a source in Pakistan."

Transnational crime organizations
The report made a host of recommendations, but it's unclear whether the recommendations were ever followed.

Besides beefing up Guam and Northern Marianas border security with federal law enforcers, the report also recommended "continuous on-island oversight of financial transactions ... to curtail the activities of transnational criminal organizations."

The report states there's indication of presence of Japanese, Russian, Chinese and other organized crime groups in the Northern Marianas.

"It would also provide U.S. authorities a means to monitor and prevent a flow of funding to terrorist groups and the countries that sponsor and support their efforts," according to the report.

"The presence of several transnational criminal organizations on Guam and in the CNMI coupled with the lack of federal immigration, customs and interdiction patrols present a critical vulnerability to the federal government and a ready made environment for terrorist groups to perpetrate any number of actions," according to the report.

'Done all they can'
U.S. Attorney Leonardo Rapadas, who covers Guam and replaced Black in the CNMI, said in a written response to e-mailed comments from the PDN: "All matters related to the Abramoff case are being handled by the Task Force from the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C."

But he said federal efforts on the island continue to be geared toward protecting the islands against security threats.

"We want to assure those who reside on Guam and in the CNMI that federal and local authorities have done all they can to protect their safety," Rapadas said. "Our efforts are continuing, we are at all times seeking to strengthen and improve the defenses against terrorist and national security threats."

Originally published April 30, 2007

Friday, April 20, 2007

Near Continuous CNMI Presence

The Saipan Tribune
Friday, April 20, 2007
'Near continuous' presence of Marines expected
By Agnes E. Donato

The U.S. military held a public meeting on Saipan last night to hear what local residents have to say about the planned relocation of 8,000 Marines to Guam.

The Joint Guam Program Office will hold a similar public meeting on Tinian from 5pm to 9pm today.

The open house public scoping meetings are being conducted to allow for public comment on the Environmental Impact Statement, which the military is writing in support of the proposed military buildup in Guam.

The exact number of people who attended the meeting could not immediately be ascertained as people would come and go. Nearly a hundred people were present during the early part of the public meeting.

JGPO executive director David F. Bice said the Commonwealth, especially Tinian, is expected to house training facilities when the Marines complete their transfer from Okinawa.

Although a permanent relocation of military personnel is unlikely, Tinian and other areas on the islands can expect a “near-continuous” presence of Marines training, Bice said.

“The likelihood and concept that the Marines will look at is to build ranges and facilities there. Not necessarily permanent brick and mortar facilities, but more of an expeditionary base camp-we call them warm bases-where they fall in on and operate out of. So you'd have barracks and maintenance facilities to support the Marines as they're training,” he said in an interview Thursday afternoon.

Bice said the relocation program would open a lot of opportunities for the government and local businesses to partner with the U.S. Department of Defense.

The military will need the government's assistance in providing power and water supply, and possibly road access, to its facilities. The private sector will be called upon to offer services and support.

“We would love to see an expansion in what we call the secondary market. People may not necessarily go and do construction, but there will be great need for information technology and services and support,” Bice said.

He offered this advice to local businesses looking to benefit from the military transfer: “Look into your strategic goals, see how you're set up-your financing, bonding capacity and training capacity. If you do need to retool and retrain your people, start now so they can be aligned to meet future requirements. Construction is going to start in less than three years; that's not very far away, particularly if you're trying to get ready.”

Bice said the military will conduct a series of industry forums o=in Guam in July or August to allow for networking between big industry and local business.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Report Recommends Military Build up in the Pacific

Report Recommends US Military Buildup in Pacific
By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, April 13) – The U.S. government "should
give serious consideration" to shifting the balance of its naval forces from
the Atlantic to the Pacific, and beef up its military muscle on Guam as part
of the shift, according to a think-tank's report, released Tuesday in
Washington, D.C.

China's potential to become the U.S. military's next military rival is the
reason for the report's suggestion.

The 129-page report, "U.S.-China Relations: An Affirmative Agenda, A
Responsible Course," was released by a task force of the Council on Foreign

Retired Pacific Command chief Adm. Dennis Blair and former U.S. Trade
Representative Carla Hills led the task force.

The report suggested further military buildup on Guam beyond the island's
future role as host to thousands of members of the U.S. Marines who will be
relocated from Okinawa.

The Marines' relocation to Guam is expected to cost US$10 billion that the
U.S. government and Japanese governments are expected to co-pay.

"The United States should sustain and selectively enhance its force posture
in Asia, ensuring it has capabilities commensurate with the region's growing
importance to the U.S. economy and other vital national interests,"
according to the task force's report.

"Improvements to U.S. military facilities on Guam should continue, not only
to relieve some of the burden on Okinawa, but also to upgrade the overall
capabilities of U.S. Pacific forces," according to the report.

The U.S. and China now "have a relationship that was truly unimaginable two
generations ago," according to Council on Foreign Relations President
Richard Haass in a foreword to the report.

But at the same time, the report's overall message also includes this: the
U.S. "should be clear that any aggressive behavior on China's part would be
met with strong opposition," according to Haass.

And to be ready in the event China becomes militarily aggressive, the report
states the U.S. naval forces' focus should shift from the Atlantic.

"The maritime interests of the United States in the future are increasingly
in the Asia-Pacific region, and the stationing of its naval forces should be
aligned with this trend," according to the report.

In the near future, the Washington Times quotes Blair as saying, the task
force does not think China will become a "peer competitor" of the U.S.

But the report also includes partly dissenting views of certain task force

"China has already increased its ability to challenge American military
preponderance in the Western Pacific," wrote task force member Aaron

And Friedberg added, "maintaining a favorable balance of power will not be
easy, especially at a time when U.S. attention and resources are likely to
remain divided between Asia and the Middle East."

The 30-member task force also includes former Defense Secretary Harold
Brown, and former State Department officials Winston Lord, Wendy Sherman and
Randy Schriver.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Navy Carrier Goes To San Diego Instead of Guam

Navy carrier goes to San Diego
By Dionesis Tamondong
Pacific Sunday News
and The Associated Press
April 1, 2007

The Navy yesterday announced its decision to base the USS Carl Vinson in San Diego, choosing the city over three other locations, including Guam.

Navy Secretary Donald C. Winter selected San Diego after evaluating a number of factors, including existing infrastructure, family support facilities and proximity to training areas.

Guam, Hawaii and Washington state were the other areas that military officials were considering to be the new home port for the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

Delegate Madeleine Bordallo yesterday spoke with Winter prior to the announcement.
"I know that the Navy looked closely at each of the homeport locations, including Guam, and that they weighed the benefits and costs of each option," Bordallo stated in a news release. "I strongly support the decision to move an additional carrier to the Pacific, and we know that its presence in the region will benefit Guam."

Adm. Gary Roughead, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said the decision reaffirms the Navy's commitment in the region and responds to the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review, which called for six of the Navy's 11 carrier strike groups to be in the Pacific.

The Navy currently has five aircraft carriers in the Pacific, including the USS Nimitz and the USS Ronald Reagan based in San Diego. Two others are in Bremerton, Wash. and one at a U.S. Navy base in Yokosuka, Japan.

The transfer of a sixth aircraft carrier to the Pacific will bolster the Navy's capabilities and posture in the Pacific, and bode well for the security of Guam and the region, Bordallo said.

She added that the increased carrier presence in the Pacific also will bring economic benefits for Guam through port visits and training exercises in the region.

The aircraft carrier, with its crew of more than 5,000 sailors and Marines, will be ready to move to its new homeport in early 2010.

The island's business community and the island's leadership had pushed for Guam's selection as a carrier homeport so the island can benefit from new jobs and additional tax revenue.

"I have no doubt that the strategic location of our island is important for our country. The decision to relocate Marines from Okinawa to Guam is evidence of this fact and brings with it its own set of opportunities for our community," Bordallo said.