Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Confidential Informants: A Double-Edged Sword

Scott Stewart and Fred Burton
August 19

Police in El Paso, Texas, announced Aug. 11 that they had arrested three suspects in the May 15 shooting death of Jose Daniel Gonzalez Galeana, a Juarez cartel lieutenant who had been acting as a confidential informant (CI) for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. It was an activity that prompted the Juarez cartel to put out a hit on him, and Gonzalez was shot multiple times outside his home in an upscale El Paso neighborhood. A fourth suspect was arrested shortly after the Aug. 11 announcement. Among the suspects is an 18-year-old U.S. Army soldier stationed at nearby Fort Bliss who the other suspects said had been hired by one of the leaders of the Juarez cartel to pull the trigger on Gonzalez. The suspects also include two other teenagers, a 17-year-old and a 16-year-old.
The man who recruited the teenagers, Ruben Rodriguez Dorado — also a lieutenant in the Juarez cartel — has also been arrested, and the emerging details of the case paint him as a most interesting figure. After receiving orders from his superiors in the Juarez cartel to kill Gonzalez, Rodriguez was able to freely enter the United States and conduct an extensive effort to locate Gonzalez — he reportedly even paid Gonzalez’s cell phone bill in an effort to obtain his address. Armed with the address, he then conducted extensive surveillance of Gonzalez and carefully planned the assassination, which was then carried out by the young gunman he had recruited.
The sophistication of Rodriguez’s investigative and surveillance efforts is impressive, and the Gonzalez hit was not the first time he undertook such tasks. According to an affidavit filed in state court, Rodriguez told investigators that he also located and surveilled targets for assassination in Mexico. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this case is that the entire time Rodriguez was plotting the Gonzalez assassination he, too, was working as a CI for ICE.
While it is unclear at this point if ICE agents played any part in helping Rodriguez find Gonzalez, at the very least, Rodriguez’s status as an ICE informant would certainly have been useful in camouflaging his nefarious activities and could have given him some level of official cover. Although Rodriguez was a legal permanent resident of the United States, having friends in ICE would allow him to cross the border repeatedly without much scrutiny and help deflect suspicion if he were caught while conducting surveillance.
Without having access to the information Rodriguez was providing to ICE, it is very difficult for us to assess if Rodriguez’s work with ICE was sanctioned by the Juarez cartel, or if he was merely playing both ends against the middle. However, when one examines the reach, scope and sophistication of the Mexican cartels’ intelligence efforts, it is clear that several of the cartels have demonstrated the ability to operate more like a foreign intelligence service than a traditional criminal organization. This means that it is highly possible that Rodriguez was what we refer to in intelligence parlance as a double agent — someone who pretends to spy on an organization but is, in fact, loyal to that organization.
Whether Rodriguez was a double agent or just an out-of-control CI, this case provides a clear example of the problems encountered when law enforcement agencies handle CIs — problems that become even more pronounced when the informant is associated with a sophisticated and well-financed organization.

Choir Boys Need Not Apply
While CIs can be incredibly valuable sources of information, running a CI is a delicate operation even under the best of circumstances, and poses a wide array of problems and pitfalls. The first and most obvious issue is that most people who have access to the inner workings of a criminal organization, and therefore the most valuable intelligence, are themselves criminals. Upstanding, honest citizens simply do not normally have access to the plans of criminal gangs or understand their organizational hierarchy. This means that authorities need to recruit or flip lower-level criminals in order to work their way up the food chain and go after bigger targets. In the violent world of the Mexican drug cartels, sending an undercover agent to infiltrate a cartel is extremely dangerous. Therefore, using CIs is even more important in such investigations than it is while working against other types of criminals.
The fact that many CIs are criminals means that not only do they frequently come with a heavy load of psychopathic and sociopathic baggage, but in order to stay in good standing within their organization, they often need to continue to commit illegal acts while working for the government, though the type of criminal activity permitted is often carefully delineated by the government. Not infrequently, these illegal acts can come back to haunt the agency operating the CI, so maintaining control of the CI is very important.
CIs can also come with a host of motivations. While some informants are motivated by money, or promises to have charges dropped or reduced, other informants will provide information to the authorities out of revenge or in order to further their own criminal schemes either by using law enforcement as a way to take out rival gangs or even a rival within their own organization. Because of these varying motivations, it can be very difficult to tell when CIs are fabricating information or when they are trying to manipulate the authorities. In fact, it is not at all uncommon for inexperienced or vulnerable handlers to lose control of a CI. In extreme cases, it is even possible for a smooth and sophisticated CI to end up controlling their handler. And this is not just confined to ICE or small-town police departments; there have been instances of FBI and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents being manipulated and controlled by their CIs.
Out-of-control CIs can do things like refuse to follow orders, shut off recorders or edit recordings, tape meetings and calls with handlers, or even commit murders and other serious crimes while working with authorities. There have also been cases of handlers getting involved in sexual relationships with CIs, providing drugs to CIs, and even committing crimes with CIs who were manipulating them.
At the high end of the threat scale, there is also the possibility that informants will be consciously sent to the authorities in order to serve as double agents, or that the criminal organization they work for will double them back once it is learned that they have decided to begin cooperating with the authorities. Many federal agencies polygraph sources, but polygraph operators can be fooled and polygraphs are of limited utility on people who have no moral compunction about lying. Therefore, while agencies take efforts to vet their CIs, such efforts are often ineffective.
Double agents are particularly useful for the criminal organization because they can intentionally feed very specific information to the authorities in order to manipulate enforcement activities. For example, in the case of the Juarez cartel, they could tip off authorities to a small shipment of narcotics in one part of the sector in order to draw attention away from a larger shipment moving through another part of the sector. Of course, the fact that the CI provided accurate information pertaining to the smaller shipment also serves to increase his value to the authorities. In the case of a double agent, almost everything he provides will usually be accurate — although this accurate information is pretty much calculated to be harmless to the criminal organization (though organizations have used double agents to pass on information to the authorities that will allow them to take action against rival criminal gangs). The outstanding accuracy of the intelligence reported will cause the double agent to be trusted more than most regular CIs, and this makes double agents particularly difficult to uncover.
Not Typical Criminals
When considering the Mexican drug cartels, it is very important to remember that they are not typical criminal gangs. The cartels are billion-dollar organizations that employ large groups of heavily armed enforcers, and many of the cartels have invested the time and resources necessary to develop highly sophisticated intelligence apparatuses.
Such intelligence apparatuses are perhaps best seen in the realm of public corruption. Some of the Mexican cartels have a long history of successfully corrupting public officials on both sides of the border. Groups like the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO) have recruited scores of intelligence assets and agents of influence at the local, state and even federal levels of the Mexican government. They even have enjoyed significant success in recruiting agents in elite units such as the anti-organized crime unit of the Mexican attorney general’s office. The BLO even allegedly recruited Mexico’s former drug czar, Noe Ramirez Mandujano, who reportedly was receiving $450,000 per month from the organization. This recruitment also extends to all levels of government in the United States, where Cartels have recruited local, state and federal officials. Many of the assassination operations the cartels have launched against one another and against senior Mexican officials have also demonstrated the advanced intelligence capabilities of the Mexican cartels.
With the money to buy foreign expertise and equipment, the Mexican cartels have been able to set up counterintelligence branches that can administer polygraph examinations, signals intelligence branches that can intercept the authorities’ communications and even elaborate (and well-funded) units designed to identify and bribe vulnerable public officials. The Mexican cartels also assign people to infiltrate law-enforcement agencies by applying for jobs. According to a report released last week, in a 10-month period, four applicants for U.S. border law enforcement positions were found through background checks and polygraph examinations to be infiltrators from drug-trafficking organizations. It is important to remember that these four were only those who were caught, and not all agencies submit applicants to the same scrutiny, so the scope of the problem is likely much larger. In light of this history of cartel intelligence activity, it is not unreasonable to assume that the cartels possess the sophistication and skills to employ double agents.
Alphabet Soup
Running a CI against a Mexican cartel is also greatly complicated by the number of agencies involved in the struggle against them. Among local, state and federal entities there are scores of agencies in El Paso alone with some sort of jurisdiction working against the cartels. The agencies range from obvious ones such as the DEA, FBI, Texas Rangers, El Paso Police and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to the less obvious such as the Internal Revenue Service, the Union Pacific Railroad Police and the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigation Command at Fort Bliss.
This jumble of jurisdictions creates a very difficult environment for working with CIs. Not only are agencies legitimately concerned about protecting the identities of their CIs due to the possibility of corruption in other agencies, but there is also the issue of competition. Agencies are afraid of other, better-funded agencies stealing their informants. If a local police detective has developed a very good dope source, the last thing in the world he wants is for ICE or the DEA to take control of his source, which would in all likelihood mean that he will lose all the information the CI was providing. Likewise, if an ICE agent has developed a good Mexican cartel source, the last thing he wants is for the DEA or FBI to take control of the source.
In the human intelligence world, there is a lot of jealousy and suspicion. This not only means that information is not fully shared across agencies but also that agencies are very reluctant to run checks on their CIs through other agencies for fear of divulging their identities. This insulation results in some CIs double- or even triple-dipping, that is, working with other agencies and providing the same information in exchange for additional payments. This fragmentation also results in the agency running the CI not being able to learn of critical information pertaining to the past (or even current) activities of their CI. It means, too, that the agency that recruits the CI in some cases is simply not in the best position to take full advantage of the information provided by the CI, or that agency competition and institutional rivalries prevent the CI from being turned over to a more capable agency. Certainly, on its face, ICE would not be the best, most logical agency to handle a source like Rodriguez, who was a lieutenant in the Juarez cartel tasked with conducting assassination operations.
The fear associated with the potential compromise of CI identities inside an agency or task force due to corruption can also affect the operational effectiveness of law enforcement operations. It is hard to get much of anything done when people are worried about who may be a mole on the cartel payroll.

Nowhere to Hide
One last thing to consider in the Gonzalez assassination is that it highlights the fact that even though targets will seek shelter inside the United States, Mexican drug cartels will follow them across the border in order to kill them, something we have discussed for several years now. Moreover, incidents like the Gonzalez hit will likely cause high-value cartel targets to move even deeper into the United States to avoid attack — and their enemies’ brazen and sophisticated assassins will likely follow.
Rodriguez’s use of teenage assassins to kill Gonzalez is also in keeping with a trend we have seen in Laredo and elsewhere, that of the cartels recruiting young street-gang members and training them to be assassins. Young gunmen working for Los Zetas in Laredo, Houston, San Antonio and elsewhere have been given the nickname “Zetitas,” or little Zetas. In is not surprising to see the Juarez cartel also employing young gunmen. Not only are the young gunmen easily influenced, fearless and hungry for money and respect, but the cartels believe that the younger offenders are expendable if caught or killed, and will also do less time than an adult if they are arrested and convicted. These young killers are also not given much information about their employers in the event they are captured and interrogated by police.
In the final analysis, CIs are a necessary evil and can be a very effective weapon in the law enforcement arsenal. Like any weapon, however, CIs must be carefully managed, maintained and employed to make sure they are not used against the law enforcement agencies themselves.

Iraq Endgame

George Friedman
August 18
Though the Iraq war is certainly not over, it has reached a crossroads. During the course of the war, about 40 countries sent troops to fight in what was called “Multi-National Force-Iraq.” As of this summer, only one foreign country’s fighting forces remain in Iraq — those of the United States. A name change in January 2010 will reflect the new reality, when the term “Multi-National Force-Iraq” will be changed to “United States Forces-Iraq.” If there is an endgame in Iraq, we are now in it.
The plan that U.S. President Barack Obama inherited from former President George W. Bush called for coalition forces to help create a viable Iraqi national military and security force that would maintain the Baghdad government’s authority and Iraq’s territorial cohesion and integrity. In the meantime, the major factions in Iraq would devise a regime in which all factions would participate and be satisfied that their factional interests were protected. While this was going on, the United States would systematically reduce its presence in Iraq until around the summer of 2010, when the last U.S. forces would leave.
Two provisos qualified this plan. The first was that the plan depended on the reality on the ground for its timeline. The second was the possibility that some residual force would remain in Iraq to guarantee the agreements made between factions, until they matured and solidified into a self-sustaining regime. Aside from minor tinkering with the timeline, the Obama administration — guided by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, whom Bush appointed and Obama retained — has followed the Bush plan faithfully.
The moment of truth for the U.S. plan is now approaching. The United States still has substantial forces in Iraq. There is a coalition government in Baghdad dominated by Shia (a reasonable situation, since the Shia comprise the largest segment of the population of Iraq). Iraqi security forces are far from world-class, and will continue to struggle in asserting themselves in Iraq. As we move into the endgame, internal and external forces are re-examining power-sharing deals, with some trying to disrupt the entire process.
There are two foci for this disruption. The first concerns the Arab-Kurdish struggle over Kirkuk. The second concerns threats to Iran’s national security.

The Kurdish Question
Fighting continues in the Kirkuk region, where the Arabs and Kurds have a major issue to battle over: oil. The Kirkuk region is one of two major oil-producing regions in Iraq (the other is in the Shiite-dominated south). Whoever controls Kirkuk is in a position to extract a substantial amount of wealth from the surrounding region’s oil development. There are historical ethnic issues in play here, but the real issue is money. Iraqi central government laws on energy development remain unclear, precisely because there is no practical agreement on the degree to which the central government will control — and benefit — from oil development as opposed to the Kurdish Regional Government. Both Kurdish and Arab factions thus continue to jockey for control of the key city of Kirkuk.
Arab, particularly Sunni Arab, retention of control over Kirkuk opens the door for an expansion of Sunni Arab power into Iraqi Kurdistan. By contrast, Kurdish control of Kirkuk shuts down the Sunni threat to Iraqi Kurdish autonomy and cuts Sunni access to oil revenues from any route other than the Shiite-controlled central government. If the Sunnis get shut out of Kirkuk, they are on the road to marginalization by their bitter enemies — the Kurds and the Shia. Thus, from the Sunni point of view, the battle for Kirkuk is the battle for the Sunni place at the Iraqi table.
Turkey further complicates the situation in Iraq. Currently embedded in constitutional and political thinking in Iraq is the idea that the Kurds would not be independent, but could enjoy a high degree of autonomy. Couple autonomy with the financial benefits of heavy oil development, and the Kurdish autonomous region of Iraq becomes a powerful entity. Add to that the peshmerga, the Kurdish independent military forces that have had U.S. patronage since the 1990s, and an autonomous Kurdistan becomes a substantial regional force. And this is not something Turkey wants to see.
The broader Kurdish region is divided among four countries, Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. The Kurds have a substantial presence in southeastern Turkey, where Ankara is engaged in a low-intensity war with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), members of which have taken refuge in northern Iraq. Turkey’s current government has adopted a much more nuanced approach in dealing with the Kurdish question. This has involved coupling the traditional military threats with guarantees of political and economic security to the Iraqi Kurds as long as the Iraqi Kurdish leadership abides by Turkish demands not to press the Kirkuk issue.
Still, whatever the constitutional and political arrangements between Iraqi Kurds and Iraq’s central government, or between Iraqi Kurds and the Turkish government, the Iraqi Kurds have a nationalist imperative. The Turkish expectation is that over the long haul, a wealthy and powerful Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region could slip out of Baghdad’s control and become a center of Kurdish nationalism. Put another way, no matter what the Iraqi Kurds say now about cooperating with Turkey regarding the PKK, over the long run, they still have an interest in underwriting a broader Kurdish nationalism that will strike directly at Turkish national interests.
The degree to which Sunni activity in northern Iraq is coordinated with Turkish intelligence is unknown to us. The Sunnis are quite capable of waging this battle on their own. But the Turks are not disinterested bystanders, and already support local Turkmen in the Kirkuk region to counter the Iraqi Kurds. The Turks want to see Kurdish economic power and military power limited, and as such they are inherently in favor of the Shiite-dominated Baghdad government. The stronger Baghdad is, the weaker the Kurds will be.
Baghdad understands something critical: While the Kurds may be a significant fighting force in Iraq, they can’t possibly stand up to the Turkish army. More broadly, Iraq as a whole can’t stand up to the Turkish army. We are entering a period in which a significant strategic threat to Turkey from Iraq could potentially mean Turkish countermeasures. Iraqi memories of Turkish domination during the Ottoman Empire are not pleasant. Therefore, Iraq will be very careful not to cross any redline with the Turks.
This places the United States in a difficult position. Washington has supported the Kurds in Iraq ever since Operation Desert Storm. Through the last decade of the Saddam regime, U.S. special operations forces helped create a de facto autonomous region in Kurdistan. Washington and the Kurds have a long and bumpy history, now complicated by substantial private U.S. investment in Iraqi Kurdistan for the development of oil resources. Iraqi Kurdish and U.S. interests are strongly intertwined, and Washington would rather not see Iraqi Kurdistan swallowed up by arrangements in Baghdad that undermine current U.S. interests and past U.S. promises.
On the other hand, the U.S. relationship with Turkey is one of Washington’s most important. Whether the question at hand is Iran, the Caucasus, the Balkans, Central Asia, the Arab-Israeli conflict, Afghanistan, Russia or Iraq, the Turks have a role. Given the status of U.S. power in the region, alienating Turkey is not an option. And the United States must remember that for Turkey, Kurdish power in Iraq and Turkey’s desired role in developing Iraqi oil are issues of fundamental national importance.
Now left alone to play out this endgame, the United States must figure out a way to finesse the Kurdish issue. In one sense, it doesn’t matter. Turkey has the power ultimately to redefine whatever institutional relationships the United States leaves behind in Iraq. But for Turkey, the sooner Washington hands over this responsibility, the better. The longer the Turks wait, the stronger the Kurds might become and the more destabilizing their actions could be to Turkey. Best of all, if Turkey can assert its influence now, which it has already begun to do, it doesn’t have to be branded as the villain.
All Turkey needs to do is make sure that the United States doesn’t intervene decisively against the Iraqi Sunnis in the battle over Kirkuk in honor of Washington’s commitment to the Kurds.
In any case, the United States doesn’t want to intervene against Iraq’s Sunnis again. In protecting Sunni Arab interests, the Americans have already been sidestepping any measures to organize a census and follow through with a constitutional mandate to hold a referendum in Kirkuk. For the United States, a strong Sunni community is the necessary counterweight to the Iraqi Shia since, over the long haul, it is not clear how a Shiite-dominated government will relate to Iran.
The Shiite Question
The Shiite-dominated government led by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is no puppet of Iran, but at the same time, it is not Iran’s enemy. As matters develop in Iraq, Iran remains the ultimate guarantor of Shiite interests. And Iranian support might not flow directly to the current Iraqi government, but to al-Maliki’s opponents within the Shiite community who have closer ties to Tehran. It is not clear whether Iranian militant networks in Iraq have been broken, or are simply lying low. But it is clear that Iran still has levers in place with which it could destabilize the Shiite community or rivals of the Iraqi Shia if it so desired.
Therefore, the United States has a vested interest in building up the Iraqi Sunni community before it leaves. And from an economic point of view, that means giving the Sunnis access to oil revenue as well as a guarantee of control over that revenue after the United States leaves.
With the tempo of attacks picking up as U.S. forces draw down, Iraq’s Sunni community is evidently not satisfied with the current security and political arrangements in Iraq. Attacks are on the upswing in the northern areas — where remnants of al Qaeda in Iraq continue to operate in Mosul — as well as in central Iraq in and around Baghdad. The foreign jihadists in Iraq hope such attacks will trigger a massive response from the Shiite community, thus plunging Iraq back into civil war. But the foreign jihadists would not be able to operate without some level of support from the local Sunni community. This broader community wants to make sure that the Shia and Americans don’t forget what the Sunnis are capable of should their political, economic and security interests fall by the wayside as the Americans withdraw.
Neither the Iraqi Sunnis nor the Kurds really want the Americans to leave. Neither trust that the intentions or guarantees of the Shiite-dominated government. Iraq lacks a tradition of respect for government institutions and agreements; a piece of paper is just that. Instead, the Sunnis and Kurds see the United States as the only force that can guarantee their interests. Ironically, the United States is now seen as the only real honest broker in Iraq.
But the United States is an honest broker with severe conflicts of interest. Satisfying both Sunni and Kurdish interests is possible only under three conditions. The first is that Washington exercise a substantial degree of control over the Shiite administration of the country — and particularly over energy laws — for a long period of time. The second is that the United States give significant guarantees to Turkey that the Kurds will not extend their nationalist campaign to Turkey, even if they are permitted to extend it to Iran in a bid to destabilize the Iranian regime. The third is that success in the first two conditions not force Iran into a position where it sees its own national security at risk, and so responds by destabilizing Baghdad — and with it, the entire foundation of the national settlement in Iraq negotiated by the United States.
The American strategy in this matter has been primarily tactical. Wanting to leave, it has promised everyone everything. That is not a bad strategy in the short run, but at a certain point, everyone adds up the promises and realizes that they can’t all be kept, either because they are contradictory or because there is no force to guarantee them. Boiled down, this leaves the United States with two strategic options.
First, the United States can leave a residual force of about 20,000 troops in Iraq to guarantee Sunni and Kurdish interests, to protect Turkish interests, etc. The price of pursuing this option is that it leaves Iran facing a nightmare scenario: e.g., the potential re-emergence of a powerful Iraq and the recurrence down the road of age-old conflict between Persia and Mesopotamia — with the added possibility of a division of American troops supporting their foes. This would pose an existential threat to Iran, forcing Tehran to use covert means to destabilize Iraq that would take advantage of a minimal, widely dispersed U.S. force vulnerable to local violence.
Second, the United States could withdraw and allow Iraq to become a cockpit for competition among neighboring countries: Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria — and ultimately major regional powers like Russia. While chaos in Iraq is not inherently inconsistent with U.S. interests, it is highly unpredictable, meaning the United States could be pulled back into Iraq at the least opportune time and place.
The first option is attractive, but its major weakness is the uncertainty created by Iran. With Iran in the picture, a residual force is as much a hostage as a guarantor of Sunni and Kurdish interests. With Iran out of the picture, the residual U.S. force could be smaller and would be more secure. Eliminate the Iran problem completely, and the picture for all players becomes safer and more secure. But eliminating Iran from the equation is not an option — Iran most assuredly gets a vote in this endgame.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The piracy business is expanding

Still a question how the vessel dissapear for quite a long time.
And, from the beginning of the year, the list of victims is increasing. NATO launched this Monday an operation aiming to discourage piracy in the Horn of Africa area, continuation of the previous operation "Allied Protector", with the same aim.

Dick Cheney, the writer

of his memoirs, to be published in 2011. For me, it was a mistery his absence from the public space in the last two years of the second W. Bush's administration.
As for the Republican Party, nothing good to hear about by now. Maybe the discussion about the health-care reform will change something.

Out of CIS

end of a relationship. Georgia looks forward to NATO and EU.

Japan, ready for the elections

to be held August 30, for the lower house of the parliament.

Factobox (Reuters) - policy challenges faced by the new government

Japan announced the beginning of this week, the end of the recession period.

Mubarak in Washington,

unrest in Cairo.

Changes to expect in the Middle East?

Or in a post-Mubarak Egypt?

The complicate economic context in Egypt - miracle or political hocus-pocus?.

The evolution of Latino politics

Interpretations of Sotomayor's nomination.

White House - Background on Judge Sonia Sotomayor

Tensions in Afghanistan, on the rise

Two days before the presidential elections, a new blast near the Afghan Presidential Palace.

Monday, August 17, 2009

When the vote for a song could be a crime

Azerbaijanis in Eurovision probe.

Cold War in the middle of Europe

Russia versus Czech Republic.

What's next?

US envoy heads to Sudan

Retired general Scott Gration is due to visit Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan.

In Darfur, up to 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have fled their homes.

China to contest WTO trade ruling

New US ambassador

in London.

French teaching assistant released in Iran

Clotilde Reiss was freed on bail.

Ahmadinejad's decision to appoint women in his Cabinet: cosmetics or a different commitment?

Bomb attack

in Ingushetia.

How to negotiate with the Talibans

Any ending for the war in Afghanistan?

Friday, August 14, 2009

How to cover a paranoid regime from your laptop

About journalism and Iran.

Solution for the Middle East

tell the truth.

The two Georgias

a little explanation.

Blogs grow up

in Madagascar crisis.

Alternative information, counter-weight to media tools controled by the state. And cyber-space is open for everyone with an Internet connection.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

US military training

for the Georgian troops.

How the US foreign policy is shaped?

in relation with Russia.

The question will have the answer in a year or two, the reality is that the agenda of the US-Russian relation it is not an easy one and each issue took apart needs a special approach. Hence, probably, the occasion for the Russian counterpart to feel confused or not very happy when they are not hearing what they would like to. It is a matter of managing international affairs at the global level. No opportunities to complain or to feel unhappy. It is not a love affair, but a competition between big powers. The rest is PR, of course. And understanding the "bad cop"/"good cop" rules.

Clinton and Africa

for the moment, it looks like a succesful meeting.

Clinton is quite familiar with the African problems and visited the continent several times as a first lady and thereafter. A guarantee she could understand better the emergencies from this region. Because, otherwise, the nice smiles in the front of the camera and the photo opportunities with victims of various human and natural calamities is quite "normal".
What about Sudan? The president, Omar al-Bashir, indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, is moving freely and explains himself in interviews in the international media.

The Counterinsurgency in Pakistan

Kamran Bokhari and Fred Burton
August 13

Since the start of the U.S.-jihadist war in late 2001, and particularly since the rise of the Taliban rebellion within its own borders in recent years, Pakistan has been seen as a state embroiled in a jihadist insurgency threatening its very survival. Indeed, until late April, it appeared that Pakistan was buckling under the onslaught of a Taliban rebellion that had consumed large chunks of territory in the northwest and was striking at the country’s core. A Shariah-for-peace deal with the Taliban in the Swat region, approved with near unanimity by the parliament, reinforced the view that Pakistan lacked the willingness or capability to fight Islamist non-state actors chipping away at its security and stability.
In the last three months, however, the state has staged a dramatic comeback, beginning with an offensive in Swat and adjacent districts that has resulted in the state regaining control over most of the affected areas. (The offensive is still under way.) The government action in Swat was followed by limited air and ground operations in the South Waziristan region, along with an intelligence campaign in cooperation with the United States, which has resulted in a two-month respite from any major insurgent suicide bombings. Most important was the killing Aug. 5 of top Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud in a bombing strike by a
U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle.
While many observers still view Pakistan as a state beset by a jihadist insurgency, the government’s counterinsurgency campaign has clearly taken center stage. This does not mean that the jihadists no longer constitute a threat. They are and will remain a significant threat for the foreseeable future, but the state has recently gained the upper hand in the struggle — at least for now.

What Changed and How
This dramatic change begs the question: How was the government of Pakistan able to turn the situation around? This is an important question given the complex and historic relationship between the country’s security establishment and Islamist militants of various stripes. This relationship has long prevented the state from taking decisive action — even in the face of a growing threat to the state’s integrity. The first stirrings of the change can be traced back to the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks in November 2008, which brought Pakistan to the brink of war with India at a time when Islamabad was also facing a raging insurgency at home.
The dual security threats from domestic and foreign jihadists, coupled with political instability and an economy on the verge of collapse, created intense pressure on the Pakistani state. This pressure led to a consensus within the military-intelligence establishment that regaining control over Islamist militants was critical to the survival of the country. After aligning with Washington in the war against the jihadists, Islamabad had gradually lost control of Islamist militant groups it had previously backed as instruments of foreign policy in dealing with Afghanistan and India. (Islamabad had even helped create some of these groups.) While Pakistan was trying to balance its need to maintain influence over these groups with its obligations to the Americans in the U.S.-led war against jihadists, many of these groups, to varying degrees, moved into al Qaeda’s orbit.
The first order of business for Islamabad was to deal with renewed pressure from Washington and defuse tensions with New Delhi in order to avoid war. This required going after rogue elements of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) — aka Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD) — which, Pakistan acknowledged, masterminded the Mumbai attacks. Because LeT/JuD had morphed over the years into a wider social phenomenon in Pakistan, isolating the rogues from the mainstream group has been no easy task, evidenced by the fact that the effort is still under way.
Getting tough with LeT/JuD required the military-intelligence leadership to make further personnel changes within the country’s premier spy service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, a process that had been under way since army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani appointed the current ISI director-general, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, in September 2008. Dozens of ISI officials were replaced, and under its new leadership the directorate played a lead role in the crackdown on rogue members of LeT/JuD. However, the state’s need to deal with the crisis triggered by the Mumbai attacks and focus on the LeT/JuD problem provided the Pakistani Taliban the time and space to further entrench themselves in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).
Pakistan was able to ward off the threat of war with India but, in the process, the Pakistani Taliban assumed a more menacing posture. The crackdown against LeT/JuD was useful in that it was the first major move against a former proxy — an experience that paved the way for a wider campaign against Taliban forces in Swat and FATA. If Pakistan could no longer allow LeT/JuD (a group that it was not at war with) to use the country as a staging ground for attacks against India, it certainly could not tolerate the Pashtun jihadists and their Punjabi allies who were waging an open rebellion on Pakistani soil.
The stakeholders in Islamabad had begun to realize that there was no alternative to fighting the Taliban rebels, but this, too, was a daunting task. Clearly, Islamabad was not capable of waging an all-out assault against the entire rebel movement, for this entailed battling multiple groups in multiple theaters. A lack of consensus within the state and a dearth of support from the Pakistani public for such an initiative meant that a major offensive would only make matters worse.
For one thing, there was the risk of exacerbating the situation in cases where Taliban groups that were not fighting Islamabad could align with the likes of Mehsud and Maulana Fazlullah (leader of the Taliban group in Swat). The fear of turning more and more Pashtuns into Taliban served as a major arrestor, preventing the state from taking meaningful action beyond limited successes achieved by Frontier Corps-led security forces in the FATA’s Bajaur agency. These considerations, and the need to buy time, led to negotiations with the Taliban group in Swat that resulted in the peace deal.
Emboldened by their victory in establishing a Taliban emirate in the greater Swat region, the Taliban group there decided to push farther eastward, sending its fighters into Buner district and demanding that Shariah be imposed not just in the greater Swat region but also in the entire country. In fact, the lead negotiator on behalf of the Swat Taliban, Maulana Sufi Muhammad, declared the Pakistani Constitution un-Islamic and those who opposed Shariah infidels. Meanwhile, the suicide-bombing campaign of the Mehsud-led Taliban group, which targeted mostly security forces in major cities like Islamabad and Lahore, had generated widespread public outrage.
The move on the part of the Swat Taliban to try and project power beyond their turf proved to be the turning point where the state finally realized it needed to take a firm stand against the rebels. It was at that time, in late April, that the government embarked on Operation Rah-i-Rast with the goal of eliminating the Taliban stronghold in the Swat region. Though the offensive was limited to Swat and its adjacent districts, the state took advantage of the budding public opinion against the jihadists and launched a major media campaign against “Talibanization” that proved extremely useful. It was also very timely, given the fact that more than 2 million residents of the greater Swat region were displaced from their homes during the government offensive, and this could well have undermined public support for the operation.
In the three and a half months since the Swat offensive began, the government has successfully cleared Taliban fighters from most of the region. Indeed, the Swat Taliban network has been disrupted and its war-making machine degraded to the point where it no longer has the capability to regain control over the area — though the leadership is still at large, which means a low-intensity conflict will continue to simmer for some time. Security forces are likely to remain in the area for at least two years and there reportedly are plans to build a permanent military garrison in Swat for the first time.
In early June, after its initial success in Swat, the military turned its attention to the country’s largest jihadist hub — South Waziristan — where it knew it couldn’t stage a major offensive along the lines of what it was doing in Swat. The hostile terrain — both physical and human — coupled with its status as an autonomous region and the government’s lack of troops, forced the state to combine limited air and ground attacks with intelligence operations to isolate Mehsud and his Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan movement from the wider Taliban phenomenon.
In the midst of this campaign, the ISI, working in coordination with the CIA, was able to eliminate Mehsud, under whose leadership the Pakistani Taliban went from being a low-level militancy in South Waziristan to being a broad insurgent movement throughout the FATA, large parts of the NWFP and in parts of the core province of Punjab. Mehsud’s death has initiated a power struggle among his associates for control of his group that Islamabad is trying hard to exploit.
Where to From Here?
Between the re-taking of most of Swat, which has allowed for the return of some 765,000 displaced residents, and the elimination of Mehsud, Pakistan has gained an important edge in its struggle against its Taliban rebels that it can build upon to deliver a decisive blow. But there are a lot of moving parts in play that have to be dealt with in order to ensure continued progress.
Though the Swat Taliban have been damaged, they have not been entirely defeated, which will not happen until their leadership is captured or killed (or until they cannot recruit new fighters from their madrassas). And as displaced residents return to the region, a massive amount of reconstruction and development work is necessary to prevent unrest that the Taliban could exploit. Restoring the writ of the state entails the re-establishment of political administration and local law enforcement, and there are other areas in the NWFP — especially the districts that run parallel to the FATA — that also need to be brought back under government control.
In Waziristan and the rest of the FATA, Mehsud’s death has wounded the Taliban, but they are very much entrenched in the region, along with their al Qaeda and other transnational allies. Any counterinsurgency campaign in the tribal areas is going to be exponentially more difficult than the offensive in Swat. This is why the military is now aligning itself with pro-Pakistani tribal and militant forces to try and root out those waging war against the state. Being able to distinguish between those militants hostile to Pakistan and those focused on Afghanistan is going to be hard not only because of the fluidity of the Taliban phenomenon but also because it complicates U.S.-Pakistani relations.
Then there is the matter of how Islamabad balances its efforts to re-assert state control over areas on its side of the border with an international move to talk to the Taliban in Afghanistan. The challenge for Pakistan is to regain influence in its western neighbor by reviving its contacts and thus influence with the Afghan Taliban while rolling back Talibanization in its own Pashtun areas. Efforts to neutralize FATA-based domestic rebels impacts Taliban groups focused on Afghanistan, whose support Pakistan needs to crush the domestic insurgency and re-establish its influence in Afghanistan.
While Pakistan’s Pashtun areas are most affected by Talibanization, the phenomenon has made considerable inroads into Pakistan’s core, where the Taliban, like the LeT/JuD, manifest themselves more as social movement. This is why, in addition to the counterinsurgency and counterterrorism campaign, Pakistan has also begun focusing on anti-extremism and de-radicalization efforts — the ideological battle — which is designed to drain the swamp in which the jihadists are able to grow and operate. While Pakistani public opinion has turned against the Taliban in a meaningful manner, there are still significant pockets of social support and a large number of people who remain ambivalent about the need for a comprehensive campaign against the jihadists.
Pakistan’s ability successfully to press ahead with this multidimensional effort depends on its ability to contain political instability within tolerable limits and improve economic conditions. While the judicial crisis ended with the reinstatement of the chief justice fired by former President Pervez Musharraf, political stability remains elusive because of the country’s fragmented political landscape and the weakness of its civilian institutions. And while a loan from the International Monetary Fund has helped Pakistan avoid bankruptcy, it will be some time before the economic conditions begin to improve to the point where Islamabad is able to meet its routine financial obligations and pay the multibillion-dollar cost of fighting the Taliban.

Sparks of hope from the economy

France and Germany exit recession.

"Fragile recovery" in the UK case.

Euro, third day of gains against the dollar.

Pros and cons the stimulus package.

Latest murder of journalist in Russia underlines need for government action, says OSCE media freedom representative

VIENNA, 13 August 2009 - The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Miklos Haraszti, condemned today the murder of newspaper editor Abdulmalik Akhmedilov in Makhachkala, Dagestan on 11 August, and reiterated his call to Russia's highest authorities to assume responsibility in combating violence against the free press."The government must publicly acknowledge that the campaign against journalists and human rights activists in the Russian Federation is intolerable," Haraszti wrote in a letter to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Akhmedilov was a deputy editor of the Makhachkala-based daily Hakikat (The Truth) and the chief editor of the political monthly Sogratl. He had criticized federal and local law enforcement officials for violating human rights and fundamental freedoms in the context of the fight against extremism. In the last month alone, several journalists and civil society activists have been kidnapped and killed."It is unavoidable to take to task the highest levels of law enforcement that proved unable to resolve earlier cases," Haraszti said in the letter. "An action plan must be presented to the public that would put an end to this human rights crisis which continues to claim lives."
Haraszti offered his condolences to Akhmedilov's family.

Lockerbie bomber, possible release?

For the moment, there are only the splits between US and Britain, regarding a possible release of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the terrorist behind Lockerbie bombing.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Pro or against settlements?

the risks to express your own opinion, as a diplomat.

Expressing political opinions as a diplomat is against the diplomatic status. In this case, it wasn't about a press conference, but about a leaked document. Why now, why this? Here we have to focus and try to read more with or without key.

ETA's retro terrorism

behind the latest terror campaign.

Clinton set to meet Congo leader

The US top-diplomat is on a seven nation African tour.

What to do with Eritrea?

The African tour - the schedule.

More restrictions for Aung San Suu Kyi

A Myanmar court sentenced her to more 18 months house arrests.

Hypothesizing on the Iran-Russia-U.S. Triangle

George Friedman
August 10

For the past several weeks, STRATFOR has focused on the relationship between Russia and Iran. As our readers will recall, a pro-Rafsanjani demonstration that saw chants of “Death to Russia,” uncommon in Iran since the 1979 revolution, triggered our discussion. It caused us to rethink Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Russia just four days after Iran’s disputed June 12 presidential election, with large-scale demonstrations occurring in Tehran. At the time, we ascribed Ahmadinejad’s trip as an attempt to signal his lack of concern at the postelection unrest. But why did a pro-Rafsanjani crowd chant “Death to Russia?” What had the Russians done to trigger the bitter reaction from the anti-Ahmadinejad faction? Was the Iranian president’s trip as innocent as it first looked?

A Net Assessment Re-examined
At STRATFOR, we proceed with what we call a “net assessment,” a broad model intended to explain the behavior of all players in a game. Our net assessment of Iran had the following three components:
Despite the rhetoric, the Iranian nuclear program was far from producing a deliverable weapon, although a test explosion within a few years was a distinct possibility.
Iran essentially was isolated in the international community, with major powers’ feelings toward Tehran ranging from hostile to indifferent. Again, rhetoric aside, this led Iran to a cautious foreign policy designed to avoid triggering hostility.
Russia was the most likely supporter of Iran, but Moscow would avoid becoming overly involved out of fears of the U.S. reaction, of uniting a fractious Europe with the United States and of being drawn into a literally explosive situation. The Russians, we felt, would fish in troubled waters, but would not change the regional calculus.
This view — in short, that Iran was contained — remained our view for about three years. It served us well in predicting, for example, that neither the United States nor Israel would strike Iran, and that the Russians would not transfer strategically significant weapons to Iran.
A net assessment is a hypothesis that must be continually tested against intelligence, however. The “Death to Russia” chant could not be ignored, nor could Ahmadinejad’s trip to Moscow.

More Free Intelligence

As we probed deeper, we found that Iran was swirling with rumors concerning Moscow’s relationship with both Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Little could be drawn from the rumors. Iran today is a hothouse for growing rumors, and all our searches ended in dead ends. But then, if Ahmadinejad and Khamenei were engaging the Russians in this atmosphere, we would expect rumors and dead ends.
Interestingly, the rumors were consistent that Ahmadinejad and Khamenei wanted a closer relationship to Russia, but diverged on the Russian response. Some said the Russians already had assisted the Iranians by providing intelligence ranging from Israeli networks in Lebanon to details of U.S. and British plans to destabilize Iran through a “Green Revolution” like the color revolutions that had ripped through the former Soviet Union (FSU).
Equally interesting were our Russian sources’ responses. Normally, they are happy to talk, if only to try to mislead us. (Our Russian sources are nothing if not voluble.) But when approached about Moscow’s thinking on Iran, they went silent; this silence stood out. Normally, our sources would happily speculate — but on this subject, there was no speculation. And the disciplined silence was universal. This indicated that those who didn’t know didn’t want to touch the subject, and that those who did know were keeping secrets. None of this proved anything, but taken together, it caused us to put our net assessment for Iran on hold. We could no longer take any theory for granted.
All of the foregoing must be considered in the context of the current geopolitical system. And that is a matter of understanding what is in plain sight.
Potential Russian Responses to Washington
The U.S.-Russian summit that took place after the Iranian elections did not go well. U.S. President Barack Obama’s attempt to divide Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and Russian Prime Minister Putin did not bear fruit. The Russians were far more interested in whether Obama would change the FSU policy of former U.S. President George W. Bush. At the very least, the Russians wanted the Americans to stop supporting Ukraine’s and Georgia’s pro-Western tendencies.
But not only did Obama stick with the Bush policy, he dispatched U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to visit Ukraine and Georgia to drive home the continuity. This was followed by Biden’s interview with The Wall Street Journal, in which he essentially said the United States does not have to worry about Russia in the long run because Russia’s economic and demographic problems will undermine its power. Biden’s statements were completely consistent with the decision to send him to Georgia and Ukraine, so the Obama administration’s attempts to back away from the statement were not convincing. Certainly, the Russians were not convinced. The only conclusion the Russians could draw was that the United States regards them as a geopolitical cripple of little consequence.
If the Russians allow the Americans to poach in what Moscow regards as its sphere of influence without responding, the Russian position throughout the FSU would begin to unravel — the precise outcome the Americans hope for. So Moscow took two steps. First, Moscow heated up the military situation near Georgia on the anniversary of the first war, shifting its posture and rhetoric and causing the Georgians to warn of impending conflict. Second, Moscow increased its strategic assertiveness, escalating the tempo of Russian air operations near the United Kingdom and Alaska, and more important, deploying two Akula-class hunter-killer submarines along the East Coast of the United States. The latter is interesting, but ultimately unimportant. Increased tensions in Georgia are indeed significant, however, since the Russians have decisive power in that arena — and can act if they wish against the country, one Biden just visited to express American support.
But even a Russian move against Georgia would not be decisive. The Americans have stated that Russia is not a country to be taken seriously, and that Washington will therefore continue to disregard Russian interests in the FSU. In other words, the Americans were threatening fundamental Russian interests. The Russians must respond, or by default, they would be accepting the American analysis of the situation — and by extension, so would the rest of the world. Obama had backed the Russians into a corner.
When we look at the geopolitical chessboard, there are two places where the Russians could really hurt the Americans.
One is Germany. If Moscow could leverage Germany out of the Western alliance, this would be a geopolitical shift of the first order. Moscow has leverage with Berlin, as the Germans depend on Russian natural gas, and the two have recently been working on linking their economies even further. Moreover, the Germans are as uneasy with Obama as they were with Bush. German and American interests no longer mesh neatly. The Russians have been courting the Germans, but a strategic shift in Germany’s position is simply not likely in any time frame that matters to the Russians at this juncture — though the leaders of the two countries are meeting once again this week in Sochi, Russia, their second meeting in as many months.
The second point where the Russians could hurt the Americans is in Iran. An isolated Iran is not a concern. An Iran with a strong relationship to Russia is a very different matter. Not only would sanctions be rendered completely meaningless, but Iran could pose profound strategic problems for the United States, potentially closing off airstrike options on Iranian nuclear facilities.
The Strait of Hormuz: Iran’s Real Nuclear Option
The real nuclear option for Iran does not involve nuclear weapons. It would involve mining the Strait of Hormuz and the narrow navigational channels that make up the Persian Gulf. During the 1980s, when Iran and Iraq were at war, both sides attacked oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. This raised havoc on oil prices and insurance rates.
If the Iranians were to successfully mine these waters, the disruption to 40 percent of the world’s oil flow would be immediate and dramatic. The nastiest part of the equation would be that in mine warfare, it is very hard to know when all the mines have been cleared. It is the risk, not the explosions, which causes insurance companies to withdraw insurance on vastly expensive tankers and their loads. It is insurance that allows the oil to flow.
Just how many mines Iran might lay before being detected and bringing an American military response could vary by a great deal, but there is certainly the chance that Iran could lay a significant number of mines, including more modern influence mines that can take longer to clear. The estimates and calculations of minesweepers — much less of the insurers — would depend on a number of factors not available to us here. But there is the possibility that the strait could be effectively closed to supertankers for a considerable period. The effect on oil prices would be severe; it is not difficult to imagine this aborting the global recovery.
Iran would not want this outcome. Tehran, too, would be greatly affected by the economic fallout (while Iran is a net exporter of crude, it is a net importer of gasoline), and the mining would drive the Europeans and Americans together. The economic and military consequences of this would be severe. But it is this threat that has given pause to American and Israeli military planners gaming out scenarios to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities. There are thousands of small watercraft along Iran’s coast, and Iran’s response to such raids might well be to use these vessels to strew mines in the Persian Gulf — or for swarming and perhaps even suicide attacks.
Notably, any decision to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities would have to be preceded by (among other things) an attempt to neutralize Iran’s mine-laying capability — along with its many anti-ship missile batteries — in the Persian Gulf. The sequence is fixed, since the moment the nuclear sites are bombed, it would have to be assumed that the minelayers would go to work, and they would work as quickly as they could. Were anything else attacked first, taking out the Iranian mine capability would be difficult, as Iran’s naval assets would scatter and lay mines wherever and however they could — including by swarms of speedboats capable of carrying a mine or two apiece and almost impossible to engage with airpower. This, incidentally, is a leading reason why Israel cannot unilaterally attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. They would be held responsible for a potentially disastrous oil shortage. Only the Americans have the resources to even consider dealing with the potential Iranian response, because only the Americans have the possibility of keeping Persian Gulf shipping open once the shooting starts. It also indicates that an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be much more complex than a sudden strike completed in one day.
The United States cannot permit the Iranians to lay the mines. The Iranians in turn cannot permit the United States to destroy their mine-laying capability. This is the balance of power that limits both sides. If Iran were to act, the U.S. response would be severe. If the United States moves to neutralize Iran, the Iranians would have to push the mines out fast. For both sides, the risks of threatening the fundamental interests of the other side are too high. Both Iran and the United States have worked to avoid this real “nuclear” option.
The Russian Existential Counter

The Russians see themselves facing an existential threat from the Americans. Whether Washington agrees with Biden or not, this is the stated American view of Russia, and by itself it poses an existential threat to Russia. The Russians need an existential counterthreat — and for the United States, that threat relates to oil. If the Russians could seriously threaten the supply of oil through the Strait of Hormuz, the United States would lose its relatively risk-free position in the FSU.
It follows from this that strengthening Iran’s ability to threaten the flow of oil, while retaining a degree of Russian control over Iran’s ability to pull the trigger, would give Russia the counter it needs to American actions in the FSU. The transfer of more advanced mines and mining systems to Iran — such as mines that can be planted now and activated remotely (though most such mines can only lay, planted and unarmed, for a limited period) to more discriminating and difficult-to-sweep types of mines — would create a situation the Americans could neither suppress nor live with. As long as the Russians could maintain covert control of the trigger, Moscow could place the United States, and the West’s economies, in check.
Significantly, while this would wreak havoc on Persian Gulf producers and global oil consumers at a time when they are highly vulnerable to economic fluctuations, a spike in the price of oil would not hurt Russia. On the contrary, Russia is an energy exporter, making it one of the few winners under this scenario. That means the Russians can afford much greater risks in this game.
We do not know that the Russians have all this in mind. This is speculation, not a net assessment. We note that if Russo-Iranian contacts are real, they would have begun well before the Iranian elections and the summit. But the American view on Russia is not new and was no secret. Therefore, the Russians could have been preparing their counter for a while.
We also do not know that the Iranians support this Russian move. Iranian distrust of Russia runs deep, and so far only the faction supporting Ahmadinejad appears to be playing this game. But the more the United States endorses what it calls Iranian reformists, and supports Rafsanjani’s position, the more Ahmadinejad needs the Russian counter. And whatever hesitations the Russians might have had in moving closer to the Iranians, recent events have clearly created a sense in Moscow of being under attack. The Russians think politically. The Russians play chess, and the U.S. move to create pressure in the FSU must be countered somewhere.
In intelligence, you must take bits and pieces and analyze them in the context of the pressures and constraints the various actors face. You know what you don’t know, but you still must build a picture of the world based on incomplete data. At a certain point, you become confident in your intelligence and analysis and you lock it into what STRATFOR calls its net assessment. We have not arrived at a new net assessment by any means. Endless facts could overthrow our hypothesis. But at a certain point, on important matters we feel compelled to reveal our hypothesis not because we are convinced, but simply because it is sufficiently plausible to us — and the situation sufficiently important — that we feel we should share it with the appropriate caveats. In this case, the stakes are very high, and the hypothesis sufficiently plausible that it is worth sharing.
The geopolitical chessboard is shifting, though many of the pieces are invisible. The end may look very different than this, but if it winds up looking this way, it is certainly worth noting.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Facebook and Twitter on trial

in Iran.

Bad or good neighbourhood

A Newsweek file about how some suceeded - and others not - in expanding their political influence behind their borders.

Iranian opposition continues the fight

Mahdi Karroubi asked investigations into the rape cases against people held in custody after the last weeks protests.
In the same time, voices among the Revolutionary Guards ruling group are asking the investigation of the representatives of the opposition, accusing them of being behind the protest movement.

New bombing in Iraq

At least 43 people were killed

Friday, August 7, 2009

Why Twitter and Facebook were blocked

a cyber attack lanched by Russians to kill "virtually" a Georgian blogger.

First step for South Stream

FT - No friends, only partners in Realpolitik
Bloomberg - Turkey's offer to Gazprom
Turkey's decision could be a tough answer to the EU following the difficult European negotiations.

Factbox about Nabucco

Hungarian support for Nabucco
In the same time, I will doubt at least 10% the ways in which public opinion understand the technical and economic feasability arguments for a pipeline or another, otherwise than by political and national sympathies.

A year after conflict, Georgia still needs stability, OSCE Chairperson says

ATHENS, 6 August 2009 - The OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, said today she was concerned about tensions in the areas affected by the August 2008 conflict in Georgia and called on all sides to refrain from actions and statements that could destabilize the situation further."Almost a year after the beginning of the conflict, we are facing a highly sensitive time," she said. "Wounds are still raw, and the region remains fragile and volatile. Lives were lost during the conflict and after, and people forced to flee their homes lack the support they need to be able return to live in dignity."Bakoyannis emphasized that the OSCE remained involved in Georgia and hoped to ensure a strong presence for the Organization in the country to help strengthen security in the region."The OSCE is committed to helping to create lasting peace and security for the benefit of all peoples," she said.Bakoyannis said she regretted that the OSCE Mission to Georgia had to close earlier this year after working to improve the region's stability since 1992. The Mission's mandate expired at the end of 2008, and the Greek Chairmanship suspended negotiations to seek consensus around a new mandate in May, following months of intensive talks. At the end of June, the mandate for an OSCE deployment of unarmed military monitoring officers to Georgia expired and the Mission was closed."We remain focused on finding a solution that would enable the OSCE to have a strong presence in Georgia, and we hope that despite the difficulties so far, we will be able to find consensus on a format for such work. The Chairmanship's status-neutral proposal for the mandate remains on the table," she said. "Such a presence is needed now more than ever. I have said it often, and I will say it again: We need more OSCE in the region, not less."Bakoyannis said the OSCE was still working to improve security in the region - the Organization is co-chairing the Geneva Discussions along with the United Nations and the European Union.
"The Geneva Discussions are the only forum where all parties meet and discuss security and stability as well as humanitarian concerns," she said."Thanks to these discussions, there has been progress on important humanitarian matters, such as delivery of gas. The OSCE is also promoting joint efforts to improve the water supply with a view to ensuring access to potable and irrigation water by all populations. In addition, the OSCE is helping to facilitate meetings of a joint incident prevention and response mechanism, which enables regular contact between the sides for sharing information and discussing security concerns. We are committed to continuing these efforts and achieving results," she said.

Paying Attention to the Grassroots

Scott Stewart and Fred Burton
August 5
Seven men accused by U.S. authorities of belonging to a militant cell appeared in U.S. District Court in Raleigh, N.C., for a detention hearing Aug. 4. The hearing turned out to be very lengthy and had to be continued Aug. 5, when the judge ordered the men to remain in government custody until their trial. The seven men, along with an eighth who is not currently in U.S. custody, have been charged with, among other things, conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and conspiracy to murder, kidnap, maim and injure persons in a foreign country.
According to the grand jury indictment filed in the case, one defendant, Daniel Boyd (also known as “Saifullah,” Arabic for “the sword of Allah”), is a Muslim convert who was in Pakistan and Afghanistan from 1989 to 1991 attending militant training camps. The indictment also states that Boyd fought in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, though we must note that, because the Soviets completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan in February 1989, it is more likely that any combat Boyd saw in Afghanistan was probably against Soviet-backed Afghan forces during the civil war waged by Islamist militants against the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. The Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (a socialist state and Soviet ally) was overthrown by Islamist forces in 1992.
Islamist veterans of that war in Afghanistan are held in reverence by some in the Muslim community, tend to be afforded a romanticized mystique, and are considered to be victorious mujahideen, or “holy warriors,” who defeated the Soviets and their communist (and atheistic) Afghan allies. The grand jury indictment implies that Boyd used the prestige of his history in Pakistan and Afghanistan to influence and recruit others to participate in militant struggles abroad. It also charges that he helped train men inside the United States to fight in battles abroad and that he helped them attempt to travel to conflict zones for the purpose of engaging in militant activities such as guerrilla warfare and terrorist operations.
An examination of the indictment in the Boyd case reveals that the facts outlined by the government allow for a large number of parallels to be drawn between this case and other grassroots plots and attacks. The indictment also highlights a number of other trends that have been evident for some time now. We anticipate that future court proceedings in the Boyd case will produce even more interesting information, so STRATFOR will be following the case closely.
Homegrown Jihadists
As STRATFOR has noted for several years now, the threat from al Qaeda and its jihadist militant spawn has been changing, and in fact has devolved to pre-9/11 operational models. With al Qaeda’s structure under continual attack and no regional al Qaeda franchise groups in the Western Hemisphere, perhaps the most pressing jihadist threat to the U.S. homeland at present stems from grassroots jihadists. This trend has been borne out by the large number of plots and arrests over the past several years, including:
A June 2009 attack against a U.S. military recruiting office in Little Rock, Ark.
A May 2009 plot to bomb Jewish targets in the Bronx and shoot down a military aircraft at an Air National Guard base in Newburgh, N.Y.
The August 2007 arrests of two men found with an improvised explosive device in their car near Goose Creek, S.C.
A May 2007 plot to attack U.S. soldiers at Fort Dix, N.J.
A June 2006 plot to attack targets in the United States and Canada involving two men from Georgia.
A June 2006 plot to bomb the Sears Tower in Chicago involving seven men from Miami.
The July 2005 arrests in Torrance, Calif., of a group of men planning to attack a list of targets that included the El Al airline ticket counter at Los Angeles International Airport, synagogues, California National Guard armories, and U.S. Army recruiting stations.
And now the organization led by Daniel Boyd.
We are listing the Boyd group as a grassroots cell because it appears to have only dated or tangential connections to the larger jihadist movement, though members of the group appear to have attempted to initiate stronger contact with other jihadist players. According to the indictment in the Boyd case, Daniel Boyd, his two sons and two other associates were largely unsuccessful in their attempts to link up with militant groups in Gaza to fight against the Israelis. One of Boyd’s associates, Hysen Sherifi, appears to have had a little more success establishing contact with militant groups in Kosovo, and another associate, Jude Kenan Mohammad, attempted to travel to camps on the Pakistani-Afghan border. (Some reports indicate that Mohammad may have been arrested in Pakistan shortly after his arrival there in October 2008, although his current whereabouts are unknown.)
A Known Quantity
Information released during the Aug. 4 detention hearing indicated that Boyd also attended training camps in Connecticut in the 1980s — an indication, perhaps, that he was then connected to the al Qaeda-linked “Brooklyn Jihad Office” (formally known as the al-Kifah Refugee Center), which trained aspiring jihadists at shooting ranges in New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut before sending them on to fight in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
According to some reports, Boyd and his brother Charles (also a Muslim convert) were arrested in Pakistan in 1991 and charged with bank robbery. The Boyd brothers were initially sentenced by a Pakistani court to have a hand and a foot amputated as punishment, but they were pardoned by a Pakistani court in October 1991 and deported. It is not clear whether the Boyds were guilty of the bank robbery, but interestingly, in a recording introduced during the detention hearing, Boyd could be heard saying that militant operations could be financed by robbing banks and armored cars, lending credence to the charge.
Due to Boyd’s activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan he was likely known to U.S. counterterrorism officials — there were many Americans who fought as jihadists in Afghanistan but very few were blond-haired, as Boyd is, and he would have garnered additional attention. The chance of his being on the U.S. government’s radar dramatically increased due to his alleged involvement in jihadist training inside the United States and his arrest in Pakistan. It is therefore not surprising to see that Boyd had been under heavy scrutiny, and evidence produced so far appears to indicate that not only was he under electronic surveillance but the FBI had also placed at least one confidential informant within his circle of confidants, or somehow recruited one of his associates to serve as an informant.
This government scrutiny of Boyd may also explain the problems he and his co-conspirators experienced when they tried to travel to Gaza to link up with militants there. The Americans likely tipped off the Israelis. This would also explain why Boyd was questioned by American authorities twice upon his return to the United States from Israel. Boyd has been charged in the indictment with two counts of making false statements to government agents during these interviews.

In many ways, the activities of Boyd’s group closely mirror those of the group of jihadists in New York that would go on to assassinate Rabbi Meir Kahane in Manhattan in 1990, help bomb the World Trade Center in February 1993 and attempt to attack other New York landmarks in July 1993. The members of that New York organization were very involved with firearms training inside the United States and many of them traveled overseas to fight.
It was this overseas travel (and their association with Sheikh Omar Ali Ahmed Abdul-Rahman, also known as the “Blind Sheikh”) that allowed them to link up with the nascent al Qaeda network in Afghanistan. Bin Laden and company would later assign a pair of trained operational commanders and bombmakers from Afghanistan, Abdel Basit and Ahmed Ajaj, to travel to the United States to help the New York group conduct the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
One huge difference between the Boyd case and the 1993 New York cases is the legal environment. Prior to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, there were no “terrorism” statutes concerning the use of weapons of mass destruction or acts of terrorism transcending national borders. Instead, prosecutors in terrorism cases struggled to apply existing laws. The defendants in the 1993 New York landmarks bomb-plot case were not charged with conspiring to build bombs or commit acts of international terrorism. Rather, they were convicted on the charge of seditious conspiracy — a very old statute without a lot of case law and precedent — along with a hodgepodge of other charges. This made the case extremely challenging to prosecute.
Because of cases like the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the trial of the Blind Sheikh and his co-conspirators, that legal environment has changed dramatically. As highlighted in the Boyd case, today there are not only laws pertaining to terrorist attacks that have been completed, but prosecutors now can charge defendants with providing material support to terrorists (18 USC section 2339 A), or with conspiring to kill, kidnap, maim or injure persons outside the United States (18 USC section 956 [a]).
Following 9/11, the PATRIOT Act amended many statutes in order to ease the prosecution of terrorist crimes and stop them before people were harmed. For example, the definition of “material support” in the statute (18 USC section 2339 A) was changed to include providing “expert advice or assistance” and “monetary instruments.” Such charges are far easier to prove in court than seditious conspiracy.
Before these legal changes, agents and police officers assigned to the joint terrorism task forces investigating the cases and the assistant U.S. attorneys they coordinated with needed to have all the goods on a suspect before proceeding to act on a terrorism case. (It was, quite frankly, easier to prosecute a terrorist case after the attack had been conducted, and the authorities didn’t want to risk losing the case in court. This often meant letting the conspiracy fully develop and get very close to action before authorities stepped in and interdicted the attack — a risky endeavor.) The newer terrorism laws mean that prosecutors can be far more proactive than they could be in the early 1990s, and this has allowed them to focus on prevention rather than prosecution after the fact.
One other interesting parallel between the Boyd case and the 1993 cases is the ethnic mix of militants involved in the plot. In the World Trade Center bombing, Egyptian and Palestinian jihadists worked with Pakistanis. In the follow-on July 1993 landmarks plot, there were Egyptians, Sudanese, an African-American and a Puerto Rican militant involved. In the Boyd case, we have Boyd and his sons, all Caucasian Americans, along with men from Kosovo, and Jude Kenan Mohammad, who appears to have a Pakistani father and American mother. Ethnic mixing also seems to be in play in the recent plot disrupted in Australia, where Somali militants were reputed to be working with Lebanese militants.
Ethnic mixing is not uncommon among Muslim communities in Western countries, just as Westerners tend to congregate in places like China or Saudi Arabia. Such mixing in a militant cell, then, reflects the composition of the radical Muslim community, which is a small component drawn from the overall Muslim population.
What Ifs
Because investigators and prosecutors in the Boyd case had the luxury of pursuing the prevention strategy, Boyd’s cell did not have the opportunity to develop its conspiracy to a more mature form. This has caused some commentators to downplay the potential danger posed by the cell, pointing to its inability to link up with militant groups in Gaza and Pakistan.
However, it is important to remember that, although Boyd’s cell was seemingly unable to make contact with major jihadist groups, it seems to have tried. Had it succeeded in making contact with a major jihadist group — such as al Qaeda or one of its regional franchises — Boyd’s group, like the 1993 New York cell, could have played an important part in launching an attack on U.S. soil, something the jihadists have been unable to do since 9/11. Hopefully the lessons learned from the 1993 plotters (who were also under heavy scrutiny prior to the first World Trade Center bombing) would have helped prevent the group from conducting such an attack even with outside help.
Frustration over not being able to conduct militant operations abroad appears to be another parallel with the plot recently thwarted in Australia. The Somalis and Lebanese arrested there reportedly were originally plotting to commit violence abroad. After being repeatedly thwarted, they decided instead to conduct attacks inside Australia. In some of the evidence released in the Boyd case detention hearing, Boyd could be heard saying that he would consider attacks inside the United States if he could not conduct militant operations abroad.
It is important to remember that even without assistance from a professional militant organization, Boyd and his followers were more than capable of conducting small-scale attacks that could have killed many people. In addition to the training conducted with Boyd, other members of the cell had reportedly attended a private academy in Nevada where they allegedly received training in survival, assassination, and escape and evasion.
At the time of his arrest, Daniel Boyd was carrying an FN Five-Seven pistol and his son Dylan Boyd was armed with a 9 mm pistol. According to the indictment, Boyd had purchased a rather extensive arsenal of weapons — certainly enough for the group to have conducted an armed assault-style attack. An FBI agent testified during the detention hearing that agents seized more than 27,000 rounds of ammunition (some armor-piercing) from the Boyd residence while executing a search warrant.
As STRATFOR has noted repeatedly, even seemingly unsophisticated “Kramer jihadists” can occasionally get lucky. Aggressive counterterrorism efforts since 9/11 have helped reduce the odds of such a lucky strike, but as we move further from 9/11, complacency, budget constraints and other factors have begun to erode counterterrorism programs.