As Reported HERE
The U.S. has donated boats for use in protecting Yemen's coastline against terrorists and other security threats. Discussions are under way in Washington about significantly ramping up assistance to help fight the al Qaeda network based in Yemen.
Congressman Pete King (R., N.Y.), the incoming chairman for the House Committee on Homeland Security, said reports of diverted U.S. military aid to Yemen raise "serious questions, which will be addressed by the Homeland Security Committee," in Congress's next session.
Four Yemeni officials familiar with the private security details said they are done for profit and involve high-ranking officials in the Ministry of Interior and the nation's Coast Guard Authority, which falls under the ministry.
The agreements to provide the ships to the Yemeni Coast Guard included provisions stipulating that vessels donated by Washington wouldn't be used in private commercial operations, according to U.S. defense officials. "U.S.-provided vessels to the Yemeni Coast Guard aren't intended to perform escort operations," a defense official said, referring to commercial, for-profit escort operations for private companies.
The two companies with the most business arranging the escort service are Lotus Maritime Security Services. a San'a-based concern, and the Channel Islands-based Gulf of Aden Group Transits Ltd., or GoAGT, according to the officials and clients.
A Yemeni government official familiar with private ship-escort services in Yemen defended the arrangement, saying it was his understanding that the commercial use of Yemeni Coast-Guard ships and military personnel didn't enrich anyone personally, and that all fees for the services go "back to the government."
Lotus Chief Executive Abdullah al-Huraibi didn't respond to requests to comment. Nick Davis, founder and chief executive of GoAGT, declined to comment.
A Yemeni Coast Guard official who has participated in the privately arranged escorts said Coast Guard vessels given by the U.S. are employed in about 30% of the contracted operations run by both companies. Yemen also provides U.S.-trained sailors on a routine basis for the escorts, said the official. Coast Guard officers routinely refer private shippers afraid of pirate attacks to Lotus, said the official.
The Yemeni Ministry of Interior didn't reply to requests for comment. Brig. Gen. Ali Rasa'a, chairman of Yemen's Coast Guard Authority, didn't return calls and text messages seeking comment.
U.S. military aid to Yemen in 2010 was $155 million. Congressional approval is needed for a proposed increase to $250 million in aid for 2011. Washington reduced aid to Yemen to almost zero earlier in the decade due to the country's widespread corruption.
Since 2003, the U.S. Coast Guard has delivered two dozen vessels to its Yemeni counterpart. Two larger "coastal protection boats" are scheduled for delivery this year. The U.S. U.S. Coast Guard has given extensive training to the Yemen Coast Guard's estimated 1,800 Yemeni servicemen and 200 officers.
U.S. officials have long had concerns about accounting for military aid to Yemeni armed forces, citing the Yemeni government's belief that two internal rebellions it is facing pose a more dire security threat than al Qaeda.
The U.S. counts on San'a to help choke off supply routes between Africa and Yemen used to smuggle arms and other contraband. The Gulf of Aden is considered a major route for al Qaeda to re-arm and exchange expertise, according to intelligence officials. The Gulf of Aden and the Bab al Mandeb, leading to the Red Sea, are among the world's most pirate-infested waters.
Lotus and GoAGT have advertised security packages that typically include a team of up to nine armed, uniformed personnel and heavily armored patrol vessels, for fees of up to $55,000 for a detail of about three days.
Both companies' websites previously showed images of uniformed servicemen and naval vessels, and Lotus said it was "operating with the full cooperation and support" of the government.
By mid-December, the two companies had advertised on their websites that each had completed roughly 300 operations since 2008. Since that time, Lotus Maritime's website appears to have been taken offline. GoAGT'S website appears to have been amended, with information about pricing and a formerly advertised partnership with Lotus taken down.
A coast guard official said he received $200—almost double an average monthly salary—for participating in an operation arranged by Lotus. He didn't say who paid him for his services.
Washington helped develop the Yemeni Coast Guard after al Qaeda attacked the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Cole while it was harbored in Aden in 2000, killing 17 U.S. sailors.