Oddly enough, the news from Tirana sounds a lot like the news from Miami Beach: old Albanian ammunition.
Thousands of Albanians have protested demanding Prime Minister Sali Berisha quit over an alleged cover-up of last month’s army depot blasts. ...
Berisha is accused of a cover-up into what was really going on at an army depot hit by a series of blasts on March 15, in the village of Gerdec, just 10 kilometers outside Tirana. 26 people were killed and more than 300 wounded...
The government finds itself also in a row involving arms trafficking allegations.
Last week, the New York Times alleged that senior Albanian politicians, including Prime Minister Sali Berisha and former Defence Minster Fatmir Mediu, were involved in the international trade of weapons.
Both Berisha and Mediu have denied the accusations.
The article accuses Albanian officials of murky deals with United States-based AEY Company, which had its contract with the U.S. military revoked last week amid claims by the paper it was supplying decades-old ammunition to the Afghan army.
Now, being a suspicious old bastard, my first assumption was that somebody blew up the Albanian government ammo dump to cover up how little weaponry was left after the politicians had looted it to sell to AEY and others. Here's a Youtube concoction somebody has created by combining footage of the aftermath of the explosion with what is allegedly cell phone calls between Efraim Diveroli and an Albanian businessman, implying that the explosion was a cover-up of the ammunition deal.
But now that I've seen the amazing video of the tactical nuke-sized mushroom cloud unleashed by this March 15 explosion, I recall Napoleon's purported maxim, "Never blame conspiracy for what is attributable to incompetence."
Generally, I hate videos, but, trust me, you'll want to watch this one. This 29 second video starts off with a telephoto shot of two fireballs about ten times the diameter of trees in the foreground. But at 0:05 into the video, an explosion orders of magnitude larger happens to the left of the original explosions, immediately vaporizing three multistory buildings at the bottom of the screen. The videographer zooms out to catch the mushroom cloud as it rises thousands of feet into the air. At 0:14, he's buffeted by the shock wave as it arrives, suggesting he's about a mile and a half away. (And, from a similar angle, here's the footage of another cameraman who got blasted even harder by the shock wave.)
Apparently, Albania has insane amounts of ammo left over from the dictatorship of Enver Hoxha, who also built 700,000 bunkers across the countryside to repel attack. These pillboxes used three times as much concrete as the Maginot Line. Hoxha started out as a Stalinist, then broke with the Soviets over-deStalinification, allied with Red China, then broke with them as insufficiently Marxist, and went it alone, ready to fight the world if necessary.
Interestingly, at least until quite recently, the American company that had a contract to help Albanians dispose of their munitions was Science Applications International Corporation, which is sort of the military-industrial complex personified. SAIC is the anti-AEY, in that it has 44,000 employees and $8 billion in annual revenue, most of it from the federal government. And, yet, I'd never heard of it until this week. In contrast, AEY had only two employees, but both of them had MySpace pages.
(SAIC can be viewed more as a consultant's co-op than as a giant corporate powerhouse. Of course, that's how they want you to view it.)
Update: This is really confusing, but the shadowy American supercompany SAIC had the contract to dispose of Albanian naval munitions back in January, 2008. The American company that was working at the Gerdec ammunition dump when it turned into Nagasaki West was not SAIC, it was SACI -- Southern Ammunition Co., Inc. Got it?
Anyway, the video leads me to suspect the Gerdec catastrophe wasn't intentional. It's just too immense. And there was clearly lots and lots (and lots) of ammunition left over after all the thefts, enough to plausibly argue with auditors that they were just overlooking stuff in the vast (and terrifying) heaps laying around. So, maybe the AEY scandal didn't cause the Gerdec explosion. Maybe the causality was the opposite way around -- this colossal explosion happens, so observers start poking around more seriously about what the heck is going on with Albanian ammunition anyway.
But, then again, maybe somebody did blow it up to cover up thefts. Or maybe just to hear the bang...
(By the way, listening to the alleged conversations, I don't hear Diveroli making any threats of violence, just suggestions of paying bribes with money and/or prostitutes. From this, he sounds more like a crooked businessman willing to do business with violent mobsters than a violent mobster himself.)