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Friday, October 31, 2008

Circassian girls

Funny what you come across searching for the history of North Caucasus religion...

"Circassian beauties, or "Moss-haired Girls" as they were sometimes known, reflect a curious legacy of racial stereotyping and sexual titillation. Racial theories of the mid 19th century held that the people living in the Circassian mountains near the Black Sea were examples of the “purest stock” of the Caucasian race. Legend had it that the Circassians produced the world’s most beautiful white women, who were consequently in great demand for the harems of Turkish sultans."

Then there's a letter by PT Barnum instructing his representative how to purchase a Circassian girl HERE

There is also a compelling story of Circassian traffic by the London Post August 6 1856 with this as a lede: "There has been lately an unusually large number of Circassians going about the streets of Constantinople."

Monday, October 27, 2008


Anzor Sharmaidze, the guy collared for killing CIA operative Freddie Woodruff 15 years ago, has been freed. This comes a little more than a week after Andrew Higgins' WSJ story on the closed case.
Read his followup piece HERE.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

McCain wins the other Georgia

(image lifted from

It's totally understandable really. In a country with a street named after George W Bush, you can't really expect it to pull for a democrat. You can also look at it another way.

In 1997 Georgia received a measly $700,000 from the largest U.S. military aid program, Foreign Military Financing (FMF). Although the number rapidly increased to a respectable $5.3 million, the floodgates opened under Bush. Since 1997, Georgia has received $79,390,000 million in FMF grants, not to mention the additional $12 million Bush requested to the 2006 budget. That's just FMF grants.

Bush allocated $64 million to train and equip Georgia’s soldiers (GTEP)to fight invisible al-Qaida terrorists in Pankisi Gorge. The next thing was to prepare Georgians to come help fight terrorism in Iraq etc. The first Sustainment and Stability Operations Program (SSOP) cost $60 million and we can expect the second installment cost about the same.

As for social/economic/democracy development money, Between October 2004 and September 2005 alone, $138 million was budgeted by the US for assistance programs to Georgia. This was immediately followed by George W Bush’s Millennium Challenge Corporation, chaired by Condoleezza Rice, which signed a five-year $295.3 million grant to “ reduce poverty and stimulate economic growth” outside of Tbilisi.

And don't forget Dick Cheney's promise of $1 billion post-war aid.

Now you have to ask, if Putin had been this generous over the past 8 years, mightn't the people of Georgia support his chosen successor?

Anyway, my CSM piece is HERE

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Abkahzia In-dependent?

Came back from another fun-filled trip to Abkhazia...Actually, that was a couple weeks ago - time flies. I'd say the highlight was getting shakendown by some drunken cop and so-called Russian peacekeepers in the name of protecting us from invisible Georgian "provocateurs".

You won't read about that HERE though. Instead you'll get the straight story, about the semi-recognized country's identity crisis.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Freddie Woodruff

In August 1993, CIA operative Freddie Woodruff was murdered in Tbilisi.

Was he assassinated or did a lucky shot hit him in the head?

ANDREW HIGGINS reopens a nearly forgotten story here: Our Man in Tbilisi

I scribbled my spy story about Woodruff last year for Georgia Today:

I’ll begin this story at the end, with Thomas Goltz, the “rogue freelancer” of the 1990s Caucasus. Before reading his compelling Azerbaijan Diary, I had heard gut ripping stories of him in Baku, as he is still a notorious character in those parts. This was only a couple years ago, during Azerbaijan’s failed orange revolution. I was writing for a now extinct e-zine called Sobaka, which was a subjective, sometimes accurate, yet highly readable (in my opinion) magazine about people, places and events that don’t ordinarily get covered.

It was around this time I received an email out of the blue regarding the murder of Dennis Woodruff, a CIA operative working in Georgia in the early 90s. After doing a little research, I learned that Thomas was perhaps the single person most informed of the story, as he was a friend of Dennis’ and mentioned incidents related his work in the Caucasus in Azerbaijan Diary.

When I finally had the opportunity to meet Thomas one summer night at a party informally in his honor, I was thrilled to discover he is in fact as mad as I had imagined and lives up to the reputation that surrounds him. My mistake however was mentioning the name of Freddy Woodruff and Gary Best when I should have just asked for a light instead.

“What, are you a spook?” Thomas said.

I sat there dumbfounded trying to figure out if this was part of his sense of humor, but his entire posture had tensed and his eyes were no longer happily glazed, but accusatory.

“Yeah, I’m a spook,” I confessed. “I just play harmonica as a cover.”

“No, are you a spook?”

“If I was, would I tell you?”

I thought I probably wouldn’t if I was. I’m sure in the spy handbook there is a list of highly effective comebacks for such accusations. Things had been going so well too, but I just sat there trying not to look like a secret agent until I gave up and walked away.

Several weeks ago Thomas was in Tbilisi for a reading of his new book Georgia Diary. There at Prospero’s, he mentioned Freddie Woodruff, who I’m willing to bet many of the attendees of the reading are unfamiliar with. And that is the purpose of this story, which began with this email:

“I am a Houston-based lawyer representing family members of Freddie Woodruff (a CIA Station Chief murdered near Tbilisi in 1993). I am working on their behalf to obtain the release of Anzor Sharmaidze, the young man wrongfully convicted of Freddie’s murder. In December 2004 I succeeded in obtaining an order from the Supreme Court of Georgia for re-investigation of the case. This case involves a host of significant Georgian figures including Igor Giorgadze, Eldar Gogoladze and Shota Kviraya. There is information to suggest that it may also involve the elusive Gary Best... Can we talk?”

Michael Pullara, the attorney who sent me this e-mail was at President Mikhail Saakashvili’s address to staff at Tbilisi Technical University on November 16, 2004. Pullara introduced himself much like he did in the e-mail above, mentioned the promises made before the Rose Revolution and asked the president to “give justice to the man who was wrongfully convicted for that murder and set Anzor Sharmaidze free.”

Saakashvili was nettled: “Suppose my friend President Bush delivers a speech and a Georgian lawyer happens to ask him a question about freeing a person whose case is being reviewed by an American court...” He went on to say that an American should respect the Georgian system and laws the same way Georgians respect America’s. “Georgia is not some third-rate country that can be spoken to in this manner.”

Nevertheless, two months later, Saakashvili asked the Prosecutor General to reopen the case, despite the fact that he had supported the court’s decision not to reopen it, based on lack of evidence, several months earlier.

The murder investigation of a CIA operative in Georgia in 1993 is bound to be chock-full of conspiracy theories ranging from the far-fetched and macabre to the plausible and probable. However, there is one fact that is indisputable: On August 8, 1993, Freddie Woodruff died from a bullet in the head.

Officially, Woodruff was a State Department regional-affairs officer training Eduard Shevardnadze’s security forces, upgrading Georgian intelligence service and monitoring factional struggles. He had gone on a picnic to Kazbegi with Shevardnadze’s chief bodyguard, Eldar Gogoladze, and two girls, in a Niva. Upon their return, several young men in army uniforms tried to stop the car at the city entrance. Gogoladze, the driver, refused to stop and turn on his headlights. As they attempted to pass, a single shot was fired, hitting Woodruff in the back seat.

After dropping Woodruff off at the hospital, Gogoladze returned to the site and detained three men, one of whom was 20 year-old Anzor Sharmaidze. At the police station, Sharmaidze confessed, claiming it was an accident, and was sentenced to 15 years in prison in February 1994.

Not an Open and Shut Case

If this wasn’t Georgia in 1993 and if the murdered man wasn’t a CIA station chief, the alleged facts could have been taken at face value. But when Sharmaidze claimed his confession was tortured out of him and the FBI conducted their own investigation, the open and shut case began to crack.

Pullara said that according to FBI documents, there was no trace of a bullet hole in the Niva, yet Georgian prosecutors and ballistic experts maintained the bullet left a hole obvious to the naked eye. The fatal bullet’s shell case was later discovered to have been planted by police.

Another discrepancy is the official time of Woodruff’s death. First of all, prosecutors claim Sharmaidze fired his gun because the Niva was driving without its lights on, but the reported time of the shooting was around 9pm and the sun wouldn’t have set in Tbilisi yet. Furthermore, Woodruff’s body arrived at the Tbilisi hospital in an advanced state of rigor-mortis at about 10 pm. According to Pullara, this would have been impossible if Woodruff had been alive less than hour earlier.

Besides being the head of Shevardnadze’s security force, Eldar Gogoladze was also a trained homicide investigator. Nevertheless, he didn’t call police near the alleged shooting scene to respond - he waited until after delivering Woodruff to the hospital. Nor did he surrender his weapon for ballistics testing, and clothes for forensic analysis.

Despite the reports Pullara has examined, the FBI, along with CIA director James Woolsey stuck to the official line that “this attack was a random act of violence and not politically motivated.”

The Inevitable Russian Link

Shevardnadze eventually had a falling out with Eldar Gogoladze, who was charged with possession of a weapon in August 1996, despite the fact he had a license to carry one. His home was searched, no weapons were found but he was held in pretrial detention for three months nonetheless. Charges were eventually dropped a year later. During this time, word began floating about that Woodruff’s murder was set up.

Former Georgian State Security Service chief, Irakli Batiashvili, claimed at a news conference in Tbilisi on October 13, 1995, that Woodruff was murdered by the Russian KGB.

Security Minister Shota Kviraya went on the record to blame his predecessor, Igor Giorgadze for ordering the murder. That was a safe bet, Giorgadze was wanted by Interpol for the 1995 assassination attempt of his boss, Eduard Shevardnadze. While everyone in positions of power in Georgia, particularly in the 90’s, was suspected of working for the KGB, there is strong evidence implicating Giorgadze - he used to be a chief KGB officer, fled directly to a Russian base and was transported out of the country by Russian military. Incidentally, he claims to be innocent of the assassination attempt stating that if he had planned it, he would have been successful.

The only problem with Kviraya’s statement is the credibility of the mouth it came out of. In June 1997, parliament provided evidence to the Prosecutor General of a video tape made in November 1993 of Kviraya shooting six members of the Mekhedrioni in Zugdidi, who were accused of looting. He was also implicated in tapping journalist’s phones and controlling the black market cigarette trade. Kviraya resigned in July 1997, maintaining his innocence and recanting Russian involvement in the murder.

The Elusive Gary Best

Mr. Pullara hasn’t responded to questions regarding Best’s involvement, but a glimpse at the man’s profile makes speculation fun.

At the time of Freddie Woodruff’s murder, Gary Best was in Baku setting up an incredulous oil business, MEGA Oil, with Richard Secord (of Iran-Contra scandal fame) and legendary Air Force special operations commander, Brigadier General Harry “Heinie” Aderholt. The plot line of this affair is as wacky as Best’s supposed biography and involves Missing in Action Vietnam POW’s, recruiting Mujahedin from Afghanistan to fight in Nargorno-Karabakh, along with American mercenaries, in addition to setting up the first western oil company to pump oil in Azerbaijan.

Gary Best has no known address and was a self-described electronics importer operating chiefly in Southeast Asia. He had ambiguous connections to Iran-Contra figures like Oliver North and had made several trips to the USSR and Asia, including Afghanistan and Pakistan in the 1980s. One associate was convinced Best was a CIA operative, or a former one, by the type of people he surrounded himself with.

It has also been speculated that in Best’s effort to acquire money for his adventures, he was involved in trafficking narcotics.

Aldrich Ames and the War on Drugs

If not the most famous foreign spy in American history, then Aldrich Ames was certainly the most damaging. In the nine years of spying for the Soviet Union and later Russia, as the CIA counter intelligence chief of Eastern Europe, Ames gave up the names of every “human asset” the US had working there. Of the twenty-five sources he exposed, ten were executed.

Ames was in Tbilisi two weeks before Woodruff’s murder. That means he would have been in contact with Georgian Security Chief Igor Giorgadze. Since it was Ames’ business to expose American spies, it is not unlikely he would have revealed Freddie Woodruff.

Senator Jesse Helms linked Woodruff’s murder to America’s War on Drugs in an address to Congress in April 1994. Helms believed that narcotics trafficking was the new battleground in the post-cold war era and the KGB was engaged with Cuba and Columbia in the business. He uses an article written by Mark Almond of the Wall Street Journal to back his point.

In 1990, Ames became head of the narcotics intelligence department for the Black Sea countries.

Almond stated that Woodruff was allegedly investigating Georgia’s role as a conduit of heroin from the ex-Soviet Union to the West, and that Shevardnadze’s security force – the guys Woodruff was sent to work with – were widely known in Georgia to be involved in the heroin business. If Woodruff had reported this, Ames would have been the first man in the CIA to see the report.

Back at Square One

The KGB, CIA, FBI, double spies, drugs and murder – the pages of a Tom Clancy novel come to life. It has been 14 years since Woodruff’s murder and nothing has been proven except he is still dead. His family is convinced Anzor Sharmaidze is innocent.

Micheal Pullara says “We have made substantial progress in our investigation of the murder of Freddie Woodruff. We have traveled to three continents and interviewed dozens of people in our effort to obtain justice for Anzor Sharmaidze. These efforts have been very productive in establishing Anzor’s innocence. We anticipate major developments in the very near future.”

Pullara said that three years ago and the clock is still ticking for Anzor Sharmaidze, who has one more year of his sentence to serve.

While the CIA never officially acknowledged Freddie Woodruff worked for them (which is standard procedure), he is buried in Arlington National Cemetery: Freddie Russel Woodruff, Specialist 5, USA-CIA Officer.

Friday, October 17, 2008


The link to Camerawars has been fixed.

Camerawars is Lech Kowalski's latest film project.

" It is a new kind of cinema in a new venue, a cinema free of television and corporate production restraints. It rips away the walls corporations have erected between the audience and artists, an experimental cinema, sorely lacking in the new world order, accessible outside of traditional venues and television.

"Director Lech Kowalski blogs about each chapter and the audience can interact with comments or submit films and music of their own... Chapters can be viewed full screen, smaller image or with a black border. Headsets or external speakers connected to the computer will produce optimum sound quality."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Quotes that didn't make the cut: Somaliland

"So Max, looks like Somalia's the next country in line to recognize your independence,"
I said to Maxim Gunjia, Abkhazia's deputy foreign minister.

"Oh God," he said. "I really hope they don't. We'd rather have Somaliland. It's much more stable, even if it is unrecognized."

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Gali Story

photo: Sophia Mizante

Abkhazia has hailed Russian recognition of its independence from Georgia as the start of a new era, but for Georgians in the southern Abkhaz region of Gali the campaign to strengthen Abkhazia’s statehood poses a dilemma: whether or not to take Abkhaz citizenship.

Many Georgians in Gali, a predominantly ethnic Georgian (Mingrelian) area, fear that they may be forced to take Abkhaz passports, which would require them to forfeit their Georgian citizenship, an act few are willing to make.

Read more here and check out my pal Sophia Mizante's photographs.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Story from Pankisi Gorge

One of the things you have to get used to is editors shaving your story to make it fit. It's part of the gig though and you really shouldn't whine unless you're paid by the word.

The nice things about blogs is there is no need to shave.

Here's a story about Pankisi from the CSM
Below is the original:

When Russian tanks rolled towards Tbilisi in August, shops closed and streets emptied as the benumbed population was home, glued to their televisions and radios. A hundred miles northeast from Tbilisi, in the mountainous enclave of Pankisi Gorge, Chechen refugees and their local ethnic kin, “Kisti” also watched the invasion on TV, but with less stupefaction and more cynicism.

“They (Russians) say they fought to protect their citizens but look what they did to us. We were their citizens too,” avows Musa Dadayev, a Pankisi refugee for 9 years.

Chechnya spent the better half of the 1990s at war with Russia. Like Georgia's separatist territories Abkhazia and South Ossetia, it too won a de facto independence at the end of a gun, but when Russia launched a second front in 1999 to regain control, it leveled Grozny and displaced hundreds of thousands of people. Amnesty International estimates 25,000 civilians were killed in this war alone.

4-5 thousand refugees spilled over the mountain border into Pankisi Gorge and found sanctuary with fellow Muslim Kisti, ethnic Chechens who arrived in the Georgian region some 150 years ago. Most refugees were women and children, however, many fighters also arrived and used the area as a safe haven to launch military operations into Russia from.

Pankisi soon became notorious for its lawlessness as Tbilisi officials not only turned a blind eye to the kidnapping, arms and drug smuggling the valley was rife in, but was often complicit in it. Meanwhile, the Chechen guerrilla movement was attracting foreign “jihadists” who were also importing a wahabbist ideology into the traditionally Sunni/Sufi religion practiced in the region.

Tensions between Russia and Georgia increased over Tbilisi's inability or unwillingness to control the Pankisi Gorge and in 2001 Moscow had threatened to invade Georgian territory to eliminate the Chechen “terrorists.”

Washington responded by introducing the Georgia Train and Equip Program (GTEP) in May 2002, the United State's first direct military assistance program in Georgia. The 18-month, $64-million plan was designed to train and equip four six-hundred man battalions with light weapons, vehicles and communications in order to successfully confront the situation in the Pankisi Gorge. Putin supported the GTEP program despite internal criticism that the United States was encroaching on Russia's sphere of influence.

Today, heavily armed paramilitaries no longer swagger down village streets in Pankisi and a small police station has replaced the former Georgian Ministry of Interior checkpoint. But when
Russian helicopters entered Pankisi airspace in August, many locals had flashbacks of the war and some refugees, like Taus Yerznukayeva, took her family and fled to the Turkish border in a vain attempt to seek asylum.

“We were all certain there would be war again,” asserts the 52 year-old mother of nine.

Like nearly all of the 1,102 registered refugees in Pankisi, Ms. Yerznukayeva has no home in Chechnya to return to. Moreover, she does not want her sons to have to live in Chechnya's new reality under former rebel fighter turned Putin-backed Chechen president, Ramzan Kadyrov, and be conscripted into the Russian army.

Two Chechen companies from the Zapad and Vostok Battalions were engaged in the war with Georgia while Georgian villagers in the conflict zone have recounted numerous stories of how Chechen and North Ossetian marauders ransacked and burned their homes. This is not good news for the people of Pankisi.

Musa Dadayev is not surprised Chechens fought, but refuses to believe they would loot and burn homes, claiming it is a Russian tactic, while Shorena Khaugoshvili a 33 year-old journalist, is less skeptical.“We Kisti don't like to hear this,” she says. “I don't know if it's true. I want to believe it's not true.”

Adam Makhalov, a 34 year-old Chechen pedagogue of Russian literature is not surprised at the allegations.“We heard a father and his two sons were killed by Kadyrov for refusing to fight Georgians. Those who fought aren't Chechen. They're assimilated Russians,” he affirms.

It was not without bitterness the Chechens and Kisti of Pankisi Gorge noted the West's active role in negotiating the peace process in Georgia. Other than human rights groups, the West had no presence in Chechnya, nor made any firm stance to stop what it considered Russia's internal problem. Lia Margoshvili, a 44 year-old Kisti widow believes western intervention would have stabilized the entire Caucasus by keeping Russia in check.

“If the world had supported Chechnya the way it supported Georgia, there wouldn't have been a war now,” declares Ms. Margoshvili.