Archive for the ‘Terrorism’ Category

Tales of a dystopian near-future

May 20, 2019

It’s often said that science fiction is not so much a forecast of the future as a mirror of concerns about the times in which it is written.  That is most certainly true of Cory Doctorow’s new book, RADICALIZED: Four tales of our present moment.

The title story is the most powerful and disturbing of the four.  It is about an on-line community of men who’ve been denied, or whose loved-ones have been denied, insurance coverage for treatable cancer, and who, one by one, decide to take revenge.

The first engages in a suicide bombing at a Blue Cross / Blue Shield office to avenge the death of his six-year-old daughter.  The second is a widower who kills a Senator who ran in a platform of health care for all, then voted against Medicare expansion.

The third is the elderly moderator of the forum, who has been subtly encouraging the bombings and killings.  He wheels his wheelchair into the middle of a health insurance conference at a Sheraton before setting off a home-made bomb that blows away himself and a sizable percentage of the guests.

Their objective is not just revenge, but health care reform.  They think that the power of fear may be enough to overcome the power of money.

Joe, the protagonist, joined the on-line forum when he was in despair about his wife not being able to get an “experimental” treatment that would cure her breast cancer.  She turns out to be a lucky one who has a spontaneous remission, but he stays on the forum, arguing against suicide and violence on private lines

He realizes that he is guilty of a crime simply by being aware that crimes are being planned and not reporting it to the police.  But he can’t bring himself to do this.

“Health care terrorism” spreads.  There’s more security at HMO and insurance company offices than at airports.  People who are denied insurance claims are put on terrorist watch lists.  But bombings and killings continue.  And Joe realizes it’s only a matter of time before Homeland Security catches up with him.

The conclusion is that a lot of people, including bystanders, have been killed, but Congress has enacted something called Americare.  Joe’s wife, visiting him in prison, remarks, “Who says violence doesn’t solve anything?

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White nationalism and the war on terror

March 18, 2019

The attack on innocent Muslims in New Zealand by white nationalist terrorists was a horrible thing.

I make no excuse for white nationalist terrorists, or any other kind of terrorist.

But I also note that many more innocent Muslims have been killed as a result of the U.S. war on terror than by all individual white nationalist terrorists combined.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Afghanistan and Iraq have been killed, and millions made homeless as a result of the U.S. regime change wars.  Many more have died in Libya and Syria as a result of regime change rebellions backed by the United States.   The Saudi attack on Yemen, with U.S. advisers and U.S. weapons, has produced the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis.  The Trump administration has decided to stop reporting on civilian casualties from U.S. air strikes.

This is not, of course, to make light of the Christchurch attack.  The blood on the hands of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump does not wash any blood off the hands of Brenton Tarrant.

LINKS

Circles of Identity, Circles of Violence by Ian Welsh.

Eight Thoughts on the Christchurch Attack by Caitlin Johnstone.

Fear of White Genocide: the underground stream feeding right-wing causes by Doug Muder for The Weekly Sift.  Good insight into Brenton Tarrant’s manifesto.

Radicalization and Degeneration by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.  More insight.

A closer look at Tulsi Gabbard’s war on terror

January 17, 2019

After the 9/11 attacks, almost the whole world proclaimed its solidarity with the United States, including leading Muslim clerics and pro-US sympathizers in Iran.

This would have been a great opportunity for the United States to lead the world in suppressing Al Qaeda and other jihadist terrorists.

 Instead the George W. Bush administration chose to use the “war on terror” as an excuse to invade Iraq.  The Obama administration actually armed jihadist terrorists to overthrow the governments of Libya and Syria.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii and a long-shot candidate for President, wants to replace the bogus war on terror with a real war on terror.

After serving with the U.S. military in Iraq, she concluded that intervention was a mistake.  She opposed “regime change” proxy wars against Libya and Syria.  She courageously questioned the official narrative about chemical weapons in Syria.

After some misgivings, she endorsed the nuclear deal with Iran.  She opposes U.S. support for the Saudi war on Yemen.

She is not a peace candidate.  She just wants to replace the bogus war on terror with a real one.

She has praised President Assad of Syria for fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) and Al-Nusra (successors to Al Qaeda) fighters.  She has praised President el-Sisi of Egypt for suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood.  She is aligned with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, a radical authoritarian anti-Muslim nationalist.

She favors drone warfare and continued Special Operations missions against terrorists.  She has said that the root of terrorism is in “radical Islam” and criticized President Obama for his refusal to use that word.

The Al Qaeda terrorists were in fact members of an extremist Muslim sect, the Wahhabis or Salafists, who are the established religion of Saudi Arabia.  The Saudis have promoted their version of Islam all over the world, especially in Pakistan.

This is true, but it is not the whole truth.  Just being an extreme Muslim authoritarian doesn’t make you a terrorist.  The reason terrorism has cut an appeal is the U.S. military presence in so many majority-Muslim lands, U.S. manipulation of so many majority-Muslim governments and the death and destruction caused by U.S. forces in so many Muslim lands.

U.S. policy serves the interests of Saudi Arabia more than it does Americans.  That’s because of a long-standing deal, going back to the 1970s, in which the Saudis agree to guarantee an oil supply, buy U.S. weapons and keep the oil profits in dollars in return for U.S. military support.

Gabbard is right to oppose wars to serve Saudi interests.  Her policy would be an improvement over Trump’s, Obama’s and George W. Bush’s.  She is not a peace candidate, but right now she is closer to being one than any of other candidates I know about.

At the same time, her policy is compatible with maintaining the Pentagon budget and the military contractor establishment in all its bloated glory.

Killing terrorists, in and of itself, won’t end terrorism, any more than killing drug dealers will end drug addiction.

LINKS

Tulsi Gabbard Wikipedia page.

Tulsi Gabbard and the Great Foreign Policy Realignment by James P. Pinkerton for The American Conservative.

Tulsi Gabbard, controversial 2020 Democratic candidate, explained by Zack Beauchamp for Vox.

Tulsi Gabbard Is Not Your Friend by Branko Marcetic for Jacobin.

Yes, Tulsi Gabbard Opposed the Iran Deal by Branko Marcetic for Jacobin [Added 1/19/2019]

Tulsi Gabbard is more of an anti-war candidate

January 15, 2019

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii, is more of an anti-war candidate than Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren or any other presidential candidate who has announced so far.

She opposes “regime change wars” on principle, which no other high-profile politician has been willing to say since Rep. Ron Paul left Congress.  Such wars, as she pointed out in the interview, have caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and enormous suffering to ordinary people in the Middle East and elsewhere without making Americans safer or better off.

Ending regime change wars would be a big change for the better, but it wouldn’t necessarily mean giving up the U.S. empire of bases and cutting back the U.S. military mission to defense of the homeland and fulfilling treaty obligations to allies.  If you really want to crush Al Qaeda’s successors and imitators, the first step would be to stop arming them to so as to bring about regime change.

Most of the commentary on Gabbard’s announcement ignored all of this.  Instead it focused on her opposition to gay rights moe than 15 years ago..

She is one of a number of people who was raised as a social conservative, and changed their minds over a period of years.  I can understand this, because my own opinions, including on LGBT issues, have changed in the past 15 years.  But some commentators think this will sink her campaign before it gets started.

Gabbard comes from an unusual background.  According to her Wikipedia page, her father is part Samoan and a Catholic; her mother is a convert to Hinduism.  She was elected to the Hawaii state legislature at the age of 21, then was deployed to Iraq as a member of the Hawaii National Guard.  She is now serving her fourth term in Congress.

In 2016, she resigned from the Democratic National Committee in order to support Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president.

The video of of an interview with Joe Rogan gives a good overview of what she believes.  It runs an hour and 43 minutes, a little long to watch on a small screen.  Here are starting points of the highlights:

  • 7mn.  Why North Korea has nuclear weapons
  • 9mn.  Regime change wars (the key segment)
  • 22mn.  Authorizing war with Iran
  • 30mn.  Russian troll farms.
  • 32mn.  Why she supported Bernie Sanders
  • 49mn.  Paper ballots and electronic voting
  • 1hr4mn  Pros and cons of universal basic income
  • 1hr13mn  Affordable higher education and health care
  • 1hr22mn  Threats to civil liberties
  • 1hr33mn  Legalizing marijuana

I agree with everything she said in the Joe Rogan interview and most of her views as given on her Wikipedia page.

My main concern about her is her praise of the authoritarian nationalist government of President Narendra Modi of India and her alignment with  Hindu nationalists in the Indian-American community, which is reportedly a large source of her funding.  I also object to her statement in a 2014 interview that torture may be justified under certain circumstances.

Aside from this, I’m favorably impressed with her, not only because I think she is right on policy, but because of her calm, self-assured and well-informed way of answering questions.  Also, that she was not afraid to say “I don’t know.”

Win or lose, she will force the Democrats to debate war and peace issues on a more fundamental level than before.

LINKS

Tulsi Gabbard Wikipedia page.

Five Reasons I’m Excited About Tulsi Gabbard’s Candidacy by Caitlin Johnstone.  Lots of good links with this.

Tulsi Gabbard’s 2020 Campaign May Be Over Before It Starts by Ryan Bort for Rolling Stone.

Tulsi Gabbard Is a Rising Progressive Star, Despite Her Ties to Hindu Nationalists by Soumya Shankar for The Intercept.  Why her ties to right-wing Hindu nationalists are troubling.

Black Lives Matter and the real terrorists

October 14, 2018

My dictionary’s definition of terrorism is “the use of terror and violence to intimidate, subjugate, etc., especially as a political weapon.”

If there is any group of people in American history who have been terrorized, it is African slaves and their descendants.  When they were theoretically emancipated, a terrorist organization, the Ku Klux Klan, arose to intimidate and subjugate them through the use of terror and violence.  The Klan was a predecessor and role model for Nazism and fascism in 20th century Europe.

I can remember when white people could kill black people with impunity in certain parts of the country. Patrisse Cullors, pointed out in her book, When They Call You a Terrorist, written with Asha Bandele., that white people are still killing unarmed black people out of fear, and often getting off with no punishment or token punishment.

Yet when she joined with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi to form Black Lives Matter, they themselves were accused of terrorism, even though Black Lives Matter neither practices nor advocates violence.

The FBI has added “black identity terrorism” to its categories of terrorism.   There could be such a thing, I suppose, but most domestic terrorists, including those who attack police, are white racist terrorists.

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The real winners in Iraq and Syria

January 2, 2018

Pipeline map via Southfront

Russian-backed forces have defeated the so-called Islamic State in Syria.  U.S.-backed forces have defeated the Islamic State in Iraq.  Peace may be at hand.

The winners in these wars were Russia, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and the Shi’ite militias in Iraq.  The losers, in addition to the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL and Da’esh), were Al Qaeda, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates and Israel.

The United States was in a contradictory position.  By invading Iraq and overthrowing the regime of Saddam Hussein, the U.S. gave power to Iraq’s Shi’ite majority, which is aligned with Iran.   This went against long-range U.S. goals, which are to support Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Also, the official justification for intervention in the Middle East was to fight Al Qaeda terrorists.  But the regimes attacked by the U.S. government—Saddam’s Iraq and Assad’s Syria—were enemies of Al Qaeda, as was the Ayatollahs’ Iran.  No matter what U.S. did, it would either strengthen Al Qaeda or strengthen Iran.

Given the inherent contradiction in U.S. policy, I think the current outcome was the best that could be expected.   Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump deserve credit for not escalating a new war to keep Russians out of Syria and Iranians out of Iraq.   I’m not sure Hillary Clinton, given her record of starting wars, would have shown the same wisdom.

LINKS

As guns fall silent, Russia to shape Syrian endgame by Sami Moubayed for Asia Times.  [Added 1/3/2018]

Iraq War 3.0, the War to End All Wars, Is Over by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.

Are the Wars in Syria and Iraq Finally Coming to an End? by Patrick Cockburn for Counterpunch.

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ISIS vs. Iran: which side should we be on?

June 7, 2017

The ISIS attack on Iran shows the alignment of alliances in the Middle East.

On one side, there are Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates, Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and also Israel.

On the other, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas.

If the U.S. aim is to crush Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, why does the U.S. side with Saudi Arabia against Iran?

If you think Iran is the problem, ask yourself:

When was the last time that Iranian-backed terrorists attacked people in Europe or North America?

When was the last time that terrorists backed by Al Qaeda or ISIS attacked people in Israel?

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Russia as the jihadists’ “far enemy”

January 5, 2017

isis-610417-putin

When Al Qaeda jihadist terrorists attacked the U.S. World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, it was part Osama bin Laden regarded the USA as the “far enemy” who propped up all the “near enemies” in the Arab world.

But for many of the jihadists fighting in Syria and Iraq, the “far enemy” is Vladimir Putin’s Russia, not the USA.   A large number are Chechens, a Muslim nationality living mostly within the Russian Federalion, or Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kazakhs or others living under regimes in Central Asia that are propped up by Russia.

One of Putin’s first actions when he came to power was to ruthlessly crush the independence movement in Chechnia.   The justification was a series of terrorist attacks that were very likely a false flag attack by the Russian FSB.

Since then many Chechen fighters have been driven out of Russia, and are now fighting the Russian-backed Assad government of Syria, along with Uzbeks and other nationalities from the former Soviet republics.

Some analysts think that the export of jihadists is a conscious Russian strategy.  The best outcome, from the Russian point of view, is that they die fighting in Syria.   But even if they survive, they have made themselves known to Russian intelligence services.

Saudi Arabia does the same thing with its jihadist rebels—suppresses them at home and encourages them to go wage war in other countries.

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Where ISIS gets its money

October 16, 2016

We finally know what Hillary Clinton knew all along — US allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar are funding Isis by Patrick Cockburn for The Independent.

Vladimir Putin’s 9/11

September 26, 2016

In September, 1999, Russia was wracked by a series of explosions that President Vladimir Putin blamed on Chechen terrorists.

It solidified Putin’s power and popularity, and enable him to launch his own “war on terror” against the breakaway province of Chechnya.

But unlike with the 9/11 attacks on the United States two years later, there is strong circumstantial evidence that the explosions were a false flag carried out by Russian intelligence services.

russiancaucasus6c12bc2184e7943ba065218a5bfb947bDavid Satter, a former foreign correspondent in Moscow, summed up the evidence in a recent article in National Review.

The Chechens are a fierce Muslim warrior people whose homeland is in the Caucasus.   They were conquered by the Russian Empire in 1859 and declared independence in 1991 when the Soviet Union broke up.  The Russian Federation tried and failed to reconquer them in 1994-1996.

At the time of the explosions, Vladimir Putin, formerly head of the Russian Federal Security Services (FSB), had just become prime minister of Russia.   He used the explosions as a justification for starting a new war, in which Chechnya was defeated and reincorporated into Russia.

There were four apartment bombings in all, in which a total of 300 people were killed.   One was in an apartment building in Buinaksk in Dagestan in the Caucasus, two  in apartment buildings in Moscow (9/9 and 9/13) and one in Volgodonsk in Rostov province to the south (9/16).   All the explosions involved hundreds of pounds of an explosive called RDX.

Suspicious characters with traces of RDX on their persons were arrested in an apartment building in the southern Russian city of Ryazan.   They turned out to be FSB agents.    The FSB said they were conducting a training exercise.

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The passing scene: Deplorables, debt and Osama

September 21, 2016

Donald Trump Doesn’t Understand White People by Jason Johnson for The Root.

Progressives Are Targets of Hillary’s ‘Basket of Deplorables’ Speech by John V. Wash for Counterpunch.

Donald Trump tries to reassure supporters they’re not really racist.   Hillary Clinton tries to reassure supporters it’s okay to be elitist.

The Coming European Debt Wars by Michael Hudson for Defend Democracy Press.

The European Union is in crisis because it insists on repayment of debts that are too great to ever be repaid.

An Anniversary of Shame by Michael Hirsch for POLITICO.

Some in the CIA say the “war on terror” could have been won in six months if the U.S. government had not given “regime change” priority over capturing or killing Osama bin Laden.

9/11: the path not taken

September 11, 2016

Photo by National Park Service

Photo by National Park Service

After the 9/11 attacks, the whole world, including the Muslim world, sympathized with the United States.

The whole world, including the Muslim world, condemned the terrorist attacks that killed more than 3,000 innocent civilians.

The U.S. government had an opportunity to unite the world in bringing the Al Qaeda terrorists to justice.   This could have been a step to unite the international community behind a rule of law.

Instead the Bush administration chose to implement pre-existing plans to invade Iraq, whose leaders had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks.  The Obama administration has done likewise with Libya, Syria and other countries.

The result has been militarization of American life, eclipse of civil liberties and the deaths of many more innocent civilians in majority-Muslim countries than ever were killed in jihadist attacks on Americans and Europeans.

Even worse, a generation of Americans has grown up in which all these things are normal.

And jihadist terrorism, partly and maybe mainly as a result of U.S. policies, is stronger than ever before.

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Islam Karimov: death of a dictator

September 3, 2016

Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, who died a few days ago, was a ruthless dictator comparable to the Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

uzbekistan-C-Asia-MAPA holdover from the Soviet era (appointed by Mikhail Gorbachev, no less), Karimov was known for his repression of the Muslim religion and of dissent of all kinds, and for forced child labor in cotton fields, his country’s chief export industry.

Craig Murray, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, said growing a beard or being seen praying five times a day could be enough to get you thrown in jail or to “disappear” mysteriously.

Yet Karimov was courted by Russia, China and the USA as an ally against radical Islamic terrorism.   Uzbekistan was an important transit point for supplies going to U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

What should US policy have been?  Should our government be like China’s, which scrupulously refrains from interfering in the internal affairs of other countries, no matter how odious their governments?

Or should the US have armed Karimov’s opponents, as was done in Libya and Syria, to being about a change in the regime?

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Is Russia a worse threat than terrorism?

August 12, 2016

The justification of the whole military buildup of the past 15 years has been the need to protect Americans against the threat of radical Islamic terrorism.

Ashton Carter

Ashton Carter

Yet Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, in recent testimony (actually several months ago, but I’m just catching up with it) ranks ranks terrorism as a lesser threat to the United States than Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.

The governments of Russia, China and Iran are in fact enemies of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) and the successors of Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda.  Targeting them indirectly strengthens terrorism.

What do Russia, China and Iran threaten?  They do not threaten American citizens.  They do not threaten the American homeland.

What they threaten is U.S. military superiority in eastern Europe, eastern Asia and the Middle East.  Protecting Americans from terrorism takes a back seat to what the Pentagon calls full spectrum dominance.

Risking war with any country without a good reason is both stupid and morally wrong.   But of all the countries in the world, Russia and China are the worst ones to pick as enemies.

Russia is the world’s second-largest nuclear power.  It is the only country in the world with the military capability to literally destroy the United States as a nation.

China is the world’s second-largest or maybe largest economic power.  It has the power to ruin the United States financially by ceasing to lend money and by cutting off supplies of essential U.S. imports.

The leaders of Russia and China, being rational, would not do this because they would ruin their own countries in the process.  The only ways this would happen would be if they were backed into a corner where they thought they had nothing to lose or—in the case of Russia—they found themselves in a situation in which nuclear war could be touched off accidentally.

The United States has by far the world’s most expensive military.  We Americans spend more on our armed forces than the next 10 countries put together.  But that doesn’t mean we have the world’s most effective military, especially when fighting far from home.

In fact, the big U.S. military budgets may be counter-productive.  Decision-makers may think the U.S. is so rich and powerful that individual instances of waste and ineffectiveness don’t matter.  Or that it is not necessary to set priorities.

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Hillary Clinton backed wars that aided terrorism

May 20, 2016

In the past 25 years, the United States has waged war openly against five nations.

  • Serbia
  • Iraq
  • Afghanistan
  • Syria
  • Libya

The U.S. has waged economic and covert war against two other nations:

  • Iran
  • Russia

Hillary Clinton supported all of them.

hillaryclinton.lowryinterpreter.image.axd

What’s noteworthy about this list is that the governments of all of these countries, except Afghanistan, was or is threatened by Al Qaeda and other Islamic jihadist groups.  The U.S. war effort is directed more against the terrorists’ enemies than the terrorists.

In every case except Afghanistan, the U.S. actually supported jihadist groups against the incumbent government, just as it did against the pre-Taliban Russian-backed regime in Afghanistan.

I believe that the reason for this strange policy is the American Deep State—the parts of government not affected by elections—is more concerned about maintaining global corporate economic supremacy and U.S. military supremacy than it is about protecting American citizens from possible terrorist attacks.

Among the political candidates, Hillary Clinton is the most highly committed war hawk.  She has supported every war on this list, and also favors military confrontation with China.  I don’t think the Iran sanctions deal would have been negotiated if she had remained as Secretary of State.

Bernie Sanders supports existing U.S. policies with reservations.

In many ways, I agree with Donald Trump more than I do Clinton.  He wants to stop the cold war against Putin’s Russia, and he recognizes how counterproductive the attacks on Syria and Libya have been.

But I don’t take him seriously because of his bloodthirsty and thoughtless rhetoric and because he is advised by war hawks.

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Malik Jalal tries to get off Obama’s Kill List

April 15, 2016

Malik Jalal has traveled from Pakistan’s Waziristan border region to Britain so as to plead with President Obama to stop trying to kill him.

Malik Jalal

Malik Jalal

Malik is an honorary title that means “village leader”.  He is a member of the North Waziristan Peace Committee, whose mission is to negotiate with the Pakistan Taliban to reduce violence in the region.  The committee’s work is sanctioned by the government of Pakistan.

He has survived four attacks by Hellfire missiles and now sleeps out in the woods with his six-year-old son.  He wrote in The Independent that he has information that the U.S. military wants to stop the work of the Peace Committee because they think peace would give the Taliban a secure sanctuary.

Jalal wrote that the first attack came in 2010, when his nephew took his vehicle to a service  station  to get an oil change and to have the tires checked.   A Hellfire missile hit Jalal’s vehicle and another vehicle parked just beside it.  The nephew was injured and four innocent bystanders were killed.

The next time he was driving to a peace conference, with another vehicle on the road behind, which happened to be the same shade of red as Jalal’s.  A Hellfire missile destroyed the trailing vehicle and all four occupants, all innocent bystanders, were killed.

Jalal became sure that he was the target after the next attack.  He accepted a dinner invitation by cell phone and, while he was on the way, a Hellfire missile struck, killing three innocent people, including a father of three and a mentally retarded man.

The fourth attack came early in 2011, when the Hellfire missile struck a meeting of community leaders, killing 40 people, none of whom, according to Jalal were engaged in acts of violence.

Since then he has taken to sleeping out of doors on a mountainside far from his house and always parking his vehicle a long distance from any destination.  Recently, he said, his six-year-old son has joined him on the mountainside.  The little boy said it was unrealistic to think that the U.S. military would refrain from killing Jalal’s family just because he wasn’t at home.

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It’s obvious that Putin ordered assassination

April 8, 2016

Alexander Litvenenko

Alexander Litvinenko

Revised and updated.

An official British inquiry has concluded that Vladimir Putin probably ordered the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, an FSB defector and whistleblower, in late 2006.

I think it was obvious from the beginning that Putin not only ordered the killing, but wanted it to be known that he ordered the killing.

How else could the killers have obtained the deadly radioactive isotope, Polonium 210, which was used to poison Litvinenko?  Why else would they have used such a method unless they wanted to signal that this is what happens to defectors?

They were not only eliminating an enemy.  They were sending a message.

This is not the only death of a Russian dissident on British soil under suspicious circumstances.  In 2012, a Russian whistle-blower named Alexander Perepilichnyy, who was due to testify against a Russian company in a $200 million fraud case, was poisoned in Britain with an extract from rare plant known as “heartbreak grass” and found in the mountains of Asia.

In 2013, Boris Berezovsky, a Russian opposition figure in exile, was found dead by hanging.   The coroner’s verdict was suicide, but years before Scotland Yard foiled an apparent assassin who’d traveled to Britain from Russia.

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Should Apple decrypt the i-Phone for the FBI?

March 3, 2016

The FBI demands Apple Computer to figure out a way to read encrypted files on an i-Phone owned by an alleged terrorist.  Apple Computer’s management says there is no way to do this without opening up all i-Phone files to the FBI.  The case is likely to go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Suppose the FBI wins its case.  Suppose a year later the national police in Russia, China or Iran, arrest an elleged terrrorist and demand that Appple create a similar tool for them?  Do the Russian, Chinese or Iranian security services automatically get access to all i-Phones?

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Flawed algorithms mark people for death

February 18, 2016

The National Security Administration’s Skynet system marks people for death based on algorithms and metadata—the same technology that Amazon uses to guess what books you’ll probably like.

I find that chilling.  I find the precedent it sets even more chilling.

Now an expert has come along who says the Skynet program is inherently flawed and has likely resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent people.

TravelPatternsDocuments leaked to The Intercept indicate that the Skynet program collects data on people in Pakistan by monitoring their phone calls.  Supposedly terrorists can be identified within a certain margin of error by characteristics that, on average, differentiate them from non-terrorists.

Patrick Ball, director of research for the Human Rights Data Analysis Group and a frequent expert witness before human rights tribunals, told Ars Technica that the problem with this is that the terrorist sample is based on a very small number—seven individuals—and the innocent sample is based on a random sample of 100,000 people.

Since there is usually no independent way of verifying that the victim really was a terrorist, that means that there is no “learning” process, as would be the case with a commercial algorithm, such as Amazon’s, which is based on commercial responses.

One of the variables in setting the algorithms is that the fewer false negative (real terrorists who are not detected by the system), the more false positives there will be (innocent people who are marked as terrorists).

Bell said that if the algorithm is set at 50 percent false negatives, that means thousands of innocent people will be killed for every real terrorist who dies.

[Added later]  Martin Robbins wrote in The Guardian that Skynet is used to identify likely Al Qaeda couriers, who are not killed but tracked so as to reveal the locations of Al Qaeda camps and safe houses.   It is a fact that computer algorithms are used to target people for killing, but Skynet isn’t as clear an example as I originally thought.

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72 DHS employees are on the terrorist watch list

February 10, 2016

At least 72 employees at the Department of Homeland Security are listed on the U.S. terrorist watch list, according to a Democratic lawmaker.

Rep. Stephen Lynch (D., Mass.) disclosed that a congressional investigation recently found that at least 72 people working at DHS also “were on the terrorist watch list.”

“Back in August, we did an investigation—the inspector general did—of the Department of Homeland Security, and they had 72 individuals that were on the terrorist watch list that were actually working at the Department of Homeland Security,” Lynch told Boston Public Radio.

Source: Washington Free Beacon

As Peter Van Buren remarked, this means that either the terrorist watch list is bogus, or Homeland Security has a bad internal security problem, or possibly both.

This isn’t the only problem with Homeland Security.  In a recent covert security check, attempts to smuggle firearms on board airplanes were 95 percent successful.

I think that part of the problem is the enormous and thoughtless expansion of Homeland Security right after the 9/11 attacks and since.

In counter-terrorism, as in any other field, there is a limited number of people who know that they’re doing.  This is not necessarily a problem, as long as the loyal, hard-working, mediocre people are guided by the real experts.

But employment in Homeland Security was ramped up just on general principles before anybody had a clear idea what these employees were to be used for.  I think experienced counter-terrorism specialists were swamped.

The Washington Post ran a series of articles in 2010 on Top Secret America that showed that secret surveillance and intelligence agencies were proliferating at such a rate that nobody had a handle on how many there were or what their missions were.   I’ve read nothing to indicate that things have changed since then.

Comparison of wars

January 18, 2016

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Hat tip to Tiffany’s Non-Blog.

Two other similarities:

  • The war on terror is also a war at home; the war on drugs is also a war abroad.
  • U.S. forces keep eliminating “kingpins,” but never get any closer to victory.

Terrorism from the air is still terrorism

December 22, 2015

My friend Hal and I were in a coffee shop the other day.  Hal remarked that if somebody set off a car bomb in the parking lot and blew us all to smithereens, that would be an act of terrorism.

But, he went on to say, if somebody dropped a bomb from 15,000 feet into the parking lot and blew us all to smithereens, that also would be an act of terrorism.

And it would be an act of terrorism even if we were foreigners with brown skins and Arabic names.

This is so obviously true that I am continually amazed at how many people I know, including self-described liberals, that are unable to see this.

If killing civilian bystanders is terrorism when Muslims do it at ground level, it is terrorism when Americans and Europeans do it from the air.

LINK

An Idiot’s Guide to Why They Hate Us by Paul Street for Counterpunch.

Terrorism: Sayed Ali Khamenei’s Letter to Youth in Western Countries [added 12/23/2015]

Now Russia is drawn into the Sunni-Shiite conflict

December 15, 2015

ISIS, al Qaeda and the other violent jihadist fighters are not from any one country.  They are part of an international movement, so there are Arabs fighting in Afghanistan and Chechens fighting in Syria.  In a sinister way, they resemble the international brigades that fought in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

ISIS, al Qaeda and their supporters are inspired by teachings of the Wahhabis (or Salafis), an extremely harsh theocratic sect with roots in Saudi Arabia and a strong following in Pakistan.

But a report by Christoph Reuter of Spiegel Online indicates there is a parallel movement among the Shiite Muslims, whose strength is in Iran:

151007165249-putin-assad-syria-large-169Assad’s army isn’t just vulnerable, it also isn’t strictly a Syrian force anymore. For the last two years, the forces on his side have increasingly been made up of foreigners, including Revolutionary Guards from Iran, members of Iraqi militias and Hezbollah units from Lebanon.

They are joined at the front by Shiite Afghans from the Hazara people, up to 2 million of whom live in Iran, mostly as illegal immigrants. They are forcibly conscripted in Iranian prisons and sent to Syria — according to internal Iranian estimates, there are between 10,000 and 20,000 of them fighting in the country.

The situation leads to absurd scenes: In the southern Syrian town of Daraa, rebels began desperately searching for Persian interpreters after an offensive of 2,500 Afghans suddenly began approaching.

It is the first international Shiite jihad in history, one which has been compensating for the demographic inferiority of Assad’s troops since 2012. The alliance has prevented Assad’s defeat, but it hasn’t been enough for victory either.

Furthermore, the orders are no longer coming exclusively from the Syrian officer corps.  Iranian officers control their own troops in addition to the Afghan units, and they plan offensives that also involve Syrian soldiers. Hezbollah commanders coordinate small elite units under their control.  Iraqis give orders to Iraqi and Pakistani militia groups.  And the Russians don’t let anyone tell them what to do.

Source: SPIEGEL ONLINE

There is no inherent reason why Sunnis and Shiites should be at war.  They have lived side by side in peace for more centuries than they have been in conflict.

The main reason they are in conflict now is that it is in the interest of governments such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey to use armed religious militias to advance their own political and economic objectives.  Another reason is the destruction of civil order as a result of U.S. invasions, so that the religious militias are the only source of protection.

There is a great danger to the world if the USA and Russia allow themselves to be drawn further into this conflict, the USA on the side of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Sunni fighters and Russia on the side of Iran, Syria and the Shiite fighters.

A confrontation between the world’s two main nuclear powers would mean that the killing and destruction now going on in the Middle East could spread over the whole world.

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Who will fight for the U.S. against ISIS?

December 15, 2015

The Syrian situation reminds me of a remark by Adam Smith in (I think) The Wealth of Nations — about how masterminds who think of themselves as master chess players, using other people like pieces on a chessboard, will find the people they think they are manipulating are actually playing their own game.

image-931841-panoV9free-whwk-931841The aims of the U.S. government in the Middle East are, in no particular order, to overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, to counter the growing power of Iran and to destroy the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL or Da’esh).

The bitter experience of the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions means that the American people will not tolerate a large-scale intervention with ground troops, so American leaders, including the principal Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, look for pawns to carry out U.S. purposes.

Here is a rundown on these pawns and the games they are playing.

  • Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirate governments, all predominantly Sunni Arab nations, fear the rise of Shiite Iran and Shiite power in Iraq much more than they do Sunni Arab ISIS or al Qaeda.   To the extent they fear ISIS and al Qaeda, it is more as an internal threat, and they are happy to see their local rebels go off to fight and maybe die for ISIS.   The Saudi government doesn’t crack down on individuals who contribute to ISIS because they reflect the beliefs of Wahabism (aks Salafism), the harsh version of Sunni Islam that rules Saudi Arabia.
  • The Kurds in northern Syria and Iraq are fighting ISIS effectively, but they are fighting to defend themselves and their goal of an independent Kurdistan, to be carved out of the existing territory of Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran, not as part of any overall “war on terror”.  They aren’t going to give up that goal just because it is inconvenient to the USA.
  • The Turkish government desires the overthrow of the Assad government in Syria and the suppression of Kurdish nationalism more than suppression of ISIS.  Oil from ISIS-controlled territory enters Turkey, and money and arms go from Turkey to ISIS.  Turkish politicians talk of the glories of the Ottoman Empire and of the unity of ethnic Turks across Asia.
  • The Iraqi government desires to prevent breakaway movements, whether ISIS, other Sunni Arab fighters or Kurds.
  • CQfwkI2WwAALwwnThe Sunni Arab militias and tribal leaders in Iraq blame the United States for overthrowing Saddam Hussein and setting up an Iraqi government dominated by Shiite Arabs, so they’re not willing to be U.S. proxies in a campaign against ISIS.
  • The Shiite Arab militias in Iraq hate ISIS, but their leaders distrust the United States and won’t work with Americans.
  • The “moderate Arab” rebels in Syria primarily desire to get rid of Bashar al-Assad and talk about fighting ISIS primarily to obtain U.S. weapons – many of which wind up in the hands of ISIS, al-Nusra and like groups.
  • The Iranian government desires to support Shiite Muslims against all enemies, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey or ISIS, and to defend Syria and also Hezbollah, which represents the Shiite Muslims in Lebanon.
  • The Syrian government is an enemy of ISIS because ISIS is an existential threat to its existence.  But the Assad regime regards the other Syrian rebels and the Kurdish separatists as equally threatening

This leaves Vladimir Putin’s Russia.  Putin justifiably fears the influence of ISIS and other jihadist terrorists on the large Muslim population in the Caucasus and other regions of the Russian Federation.  He also wants to defend Russia’s Syrian ally and keep Russia’s naval station in Syria.  But for him, the war against ISIS is a war of self-defense, not merely a means of extending Russian influence.

If fighting ISIS is the top U.S. priority, then the U.S. government should find a way to cooperate with Russia against ISIS.  If the U.S. government is unwilling to cooperate with Russia against ISIS, then fighting ISIS is not the top U.S. priority.

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What is Russia’s real objective in Syria?

December 14, 2015

1.Russia-False-Narrative-in-Syria_13.Russian Airstrikes 30 NOV-02 DEC-01

Is Vladimir Putin’s objective in Syria to destroy ISIS or to prop up the regime of Bashar al-Assad?  It seems to me that the answer is “yes”.

I’ve read articles criticizing Putin for concentrating Russian airstrikes on rebels other than ISIS.  Some of these articles hint that Putin or maybe even Assad are secretly supporting ISIS.

I think this criticism mistakes the nature of air power.  Command of the air can be devastatingly effective when used in combined operations with ground troops.  But bombing alone, in and of itself, seldom defeats a determined enemy.

What these maps show is that Putin’s air strikes are concentrated on “rebels” not part of ISIS and not part of the al-Nusra front (formerly known as al Qaeda).

There is, however, no clear distinction between ISIS, al-Nusra and generic “rebels”.  Individuals and small bands change affiliations according to the situation, and U.S. weapons given to “rebels” are often acquired by ISIS through capture, gift or sale.

Christoph Reuter of Spiegel Online suggested that Assad wants to defeat the U.S.-backed rebels first and ISIS last, because, so long as ISIS is in the field, he can present himself as the only alternative.  I suppose this is possible, but the simpler explanation is that Russia is concentrating on bombing the troops that are actually fighting the Syrians.

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