Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
October 30, 2014

Open Thread 2014-25

(Busy with end-of-month deadline ...)

News & views ...

Posted by b at 03:28 PM | Comments (34)

October 28, 2014

U.S. State Department Tweets Incite People To Join Terrorist Groups

The U.S. State Department is running some odd (dis-)information campaign under the name "Think Again Turn Away". It is using so called "social media" to, supposedly, deter people from joining extreme international groups. It has a Facebook page with 8,450 likes and a Twitter account with some 12,700 followers.

But the whole program seem to be run by some bumbling intern. How please is this tweet supposed to deter young, easily impressed people from joining the Islamic State or any other extremist group fighting against the Syrian government?

That tweet is a direct invitation to join any of the hundreds of extremist insurgency groups that are fighting against the governments in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

That the above tweet is inciting people to join to commit terrorism against the Syrian state is not the only issue. Its content is a lie. The British doctor in question came to Syria illegally and provided medical services to insurgents. He was caught and put into jail. There he hanged himself:

A British surgeon, imprisoned in Syria for over a year, has died in detention, his family has told the BBC.

Dr Abbas Khan, a 32-year-old orthopaedic surgeon from Streatham, south London, travelled to the city of Aleppo last year to help civilians.
...
A Syrian government official said Dr Khan had committed suicide in his cell.
...
Last week the family expressed concern that Dr Khan was depressed and may want to harm himself.

If a depressed man with known suicidal tendencies hangs himself in prison and there is zero evidence of any other involvement in his death how can the State Department claim that he "was killed by regime forces"?

The link in the above State Department tweet goes to an AlJazeerah story. AlJazeerah is a TV station financed by the government of Qatar which has also given billions in cash and weapons to insurgents in Syria including, at least indirectly, to Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State. Is promoting Qatari government media and thereby its policies of promoting terrorism now also one of the State Department's tasks?

The State Department tweet is linking media of the terrorist supporting Qatari government with a false claim about a doctor`s death to incite against the Syrian government. It thereby justifies terrorism attacks against the Syrian state and its people. Such justifications incite young people, especially in the "west", to join Jihadist groups that are fighting against government forces in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Is that an expression of the State Department's official policy?

Foggy Bottom should "Think Again" about this media campaign and "Turn Away" from such primitive policies.

Posted by b at 01:28 PM | Comments (35)

October 27, 2014

Syria: "No (U.S. supported) Field Force To Liberate Damascus"

Obama's pointman for the efforts against the Islamic State, Gen. John Allen, gave an interview to the Saudi Asharq Al-Awasat paper. There are lots of interesting bits in it but this part on the role of the "Free Syrian Army" and the "new" forces the U.S. wants to train sticks out:

Q: But you don’t see the FSA units that are being trained to fight ISIS as being those who will later fight the regime’s armed forces?

No. What we would like to see is for the FSA and the forces that we will ultimately generate, train and equip to become the credible force that the Assad government ultimately has to acknowledge and recognize. There is not going to be a military solution here [in Syria]. We have to create so much credibility within the moderate Syrian opposition at a political level . . . that they earn their spot at the table when the time comes for the political solution. Now, there could be FSA elements that ultimately clash with the regime, that may well be the case, as they seek to defend themselves and those areas that they dominate and as they seek to defend their families and their ways of life . . . it could be an outcome. But the intent is not to create a field force to liberate Damascus—that is not the intent. The intent is that in the political outcome, they [the moderate Syrian opposition] must be a prominent—perhaps the preeminent voice—at the table to ultimately contribute to the political outcome that we seek.

It seems to me that the Obama administration has given up on the FSA and the Syrian exile opposition. Reports from inside the insurgency claim that the U.S. support has slowed to a trickle and to many groups simply ended. The Syrian army is gaining the upper hand in more and more battles. The creation of the "new" anti-Syrian force, should it ever come into being, is just a fig leaf for giving up on overthrowing the Syrian government.

The strategy against the Islamic State that Allen describes is some decade long program of social engineering in Iraq by creating some Iraqi National Guard like the U.S National Guard. That is, in my view, likely to fail.

Obama has kicked the can down the road for the next president to kick again, to give up on the issue or to try some yet untried hail mary pass.

---

Another more short term issue is Kobane, the Syrian town held by Kurdish PKK/YPG forces. The Islamic State just released a video in which its prisoner John Cantlie, who may have joined the IS by now, is "reporting" from Kobane: : "The Islamic State won the battle in Kobane, it's nearly over here". The video is impressive with aerial footage of Kobane, a direct view on Turkish tanks and western style stand-up reportage of IS talking points by John Cantlie. But from the media reports Cantlie remarks on one can guess that the video was shot about a week ago and Kobane has still not fallen completely. The IS success claim in the video seems therefor somewhat exaggerated.

The Turkish government is still refusing to let any reinforcement or supplies come to help of the PKK forces in Kobane. The announced reinforcement by peshmerga fighters form kurdish Iraq, considered to be friendly to the Turkish government, has been held up for "technical reasons." The U.S. has bet some prestige on the Kobane issue. The White House will be furious should the city fall because of Erdogan's foot-dragging.

Posted by b at 03:13 PM | Comments (46)

October 25, 2014

Ukraine: Winter And Reigniting The War

(While I am busy ..)

The Saker says something is up in Ukraine. He expects a Ukrainian offense after tomorrows election (in which the anti-coup opposition is given no real chance to compete).

As I wrote earlier I believe that Jack Frost makes a new military campaign unlikely. I am not sure which side would want to again heat up the low flame "truce" war that has waged over the last weeks. Though both sides seem to have some itch for it.

But it has started freezing in Ukraine and a winter-war would be mostly road-bound, difficult to proceed for both sides with some additional advantages for those defending build up areas. Tanks and trucks would get stuck in muddy fields. It is not the environment in which one can expect wide space taking movements that would change the overall situation.

I am therefore scratching my head and wondering what military genius, obviously without any knowledge of World War II battles in Ukraine, would plan for such a campaign. It would be a quite lunatic endeavor.

Posted by b at 03:08 PM | Comments (184)

October 23, 2014

Israeli Defense Minister Predicts The End Of Artificial ME States

Moshe Ya'alon predicts the end of his country:

Israel's Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon is known for his blunt manner, and in an interview with NPR, he says that a future map of the Middle East will look very different that the one that exists today.
...
"We have to distinguish between countries like Egypt, with their history. Egypt will stay Egypt," Ya'alon, who is on a visit to Washington, tells Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep.

In contrast, Ya'alon says, "Libya was a new creation, a Western creation as a result of World War I. Syria, Iraq, the same — artificial nation-states — and what we see now is a collapse of this Western idea."

Which country in the Middle East is the most artificial? Which one was created as the result of a World War and is solely a "western" idea?

It seems to me that Ya'alon lacks the self awareness to detect the irony in what he said.

Posted by b at 09:28 AM | Comments (101)

October 21, 2014

Radek Sikorski Throws Eggs At Ben Judah And Blake Hounshell - Hits Faces

Yesterday Politico promoted a story about "Putin's Coup written by junior neocon Ben Judah. The lede:

The war in Ukraine is no longer only about Ukraine. The conflict has transformed Russia. This increasingly is what European leaders and diplomats believe: that Vladimir Putin and his security establishment have used the fog of war in Ukraine to shroud the final establishment of his brittle imperialist dictatorship in Moscow.

Among those who believe that this is happening, and that Europe will be facing down a more menacing Russia for a long time to come, is Radek Sikorski, who was Poland’s foreign minister from 2007 until September.

Anything that starts off by calling the elected government of the Russian Federation an "imperialist dictatorship" is obviously rubbish.

But the hard right-wing Radek Sikorski, who ones had a U.S. British passport and is married to the neocon Washington Post columnist Anne Appelbaum, always makes some funny jokes, like identifying Obama's grandfather as a cannibal, so I read on.

And I was right, there were some really funny lines in there:

Cont. reading: Radek Sikorski Throws Eggs At Ben Judah And Blake Hounshell - Hits Faces

Posted by b at 03:02 PM | Comments (70)

Open Thread 2014-24

Your news & views ...

(me busy)

Posted by b at 02:03 PM | Comments (88)

October 20, 2014

Pressured Turkey Accomodates Some Support For Kobane

The U.S. is getting trapped in its support for the Kurds in Kobane while Turkey's Erdogan, for unknown reasons, seems to making a u-turn in his anti-Kurdish position.

Just yesterday the Turkish president Erdogan said that no weapons should be given to the YPK/PPK fighters defending Kobane, near to Turkish Syrian border, against the onslaught by Islamic State fighters:

Turkey wouldn't agree to any U.S. arms transfers to Kurdish fighters who are battling Islamic militants in Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying Sunday, as the extremist group fired more mortar rounds near the Syrian-Turkish border.
...
"The PYD is for us, equal to the PKK. It is a terror organization," Erdogan told a group of reporters on his return from a visit to Afghanistan.

Obama, just after another phonecall with Erdogan on Sunday, showed him the finger and a few hours later U.S. air force planes dropped weapons for the PKK fighters in Kobane.

This was against a new U.S. law which allows U.S. weapon transfers only to "appropriately vetted" anti-IS fighters. Turkey, the U.S. and the EU see the PKK, and the associated YPK in Syria, as terrorists. So who has now vetted these folks?

Obama's excuse is the claim that these weapons were donated by the Kurdish government in Iraq's Kurdish areas (KRG). They are, technically, not U.S. weapons but as the Washington Post remarked:

Much of the material, however, had been at least indirectly provided to the Iraqi Kurds by the United States and coalition allies.

Erdogan had earlier set three conditions for the supporting the Kurds in Syria. They should fight against the Syrian government under the command of the Turkish supported (fictitious) Free Syrian Army, stop striving for any autonomous areas and suspend any action against the Turkish government. His demands towards the U.S. were support for the overthrow of the Syrian government, creation of a no-fly zone over Syria and the creation of a secured border zone on Syrian ground. The U.S. had rejected those demands.

But the Kurds in northern Syria now seem to have, at least verbally, moved towards some accommodation of Erdogan's demands. In a statement released by them they say:

The resistance shown by our units YPG and the factions of the free Syrian army is a guarantee for defeating ISIS terrorism in the region. Counter-terrorism and building a free and democratic Syria was the basis for the agreements signed with factions of the free Syrian Army. As we can see that the success of the revolution are subject to the development of this relationship between all factions and the forces of good in this country.
...
We will work to consolidate the concept of true partnership for the management of this country commensurate with the aspirations of the Syrian people with all its components, sects and social classes.

One might guess that each side will read whatever it will into this statement.

Turkey still rejects any support for the YPK/PKK but has now agreed to allow Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters from its allies in north Iraqi under president Barzani to pass through Turkey into Kobane.

"It will be very wrong for America with whom we are allied and who we are together with in NATO to expect us to say 'yes' (to supporting the PYD) after openly announcing such support for a terrorist organization," Erdogan said.
...
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a news conference that Turkey was facilitating the passage of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces which have also fought Islamic State when the militants attacked the Kurds' autonomous region in Iraq over the summer. He gave no details.

Syrian Kurds who had fled from Kobane to Turkey and who support the fighters will not be allowed to return to Syria but Iraqi Kurds will now be allowed to do just that. The deal was arranged by KRG intelligence chief Lahur Talabani. Turkey may hope that the Peshmerga, who are internal Kurdish enemies of the Marxist PKK, may take the lead in the fight against the Islamic State and diminish the PKK influence on this issue. It is not clear if the YPK/PKK fighters will welcome such Peshmerga support.

It is difficult to find out what really happened in this Turkish u-turn. There was either a deal behind this whole and astonishing Turkish turnaround or Obama's weapon drop over Kobane has finally forced Erdogan into a more accommodating position. Or maybe the attempted kidnapping of a Turkish supported insurgent commander by the Islamic State played a role.

Meanwhile U.S. Secretary of State Kerry, who only last week said that Kobane had no strategic relevance, is lauding the "valiantly fighting" PKK in Kobane:

"It would be irresponsible of us, as well morally very difficult, to turn your back on a community fighting ISIL as hard as it is at this particular moment," he said.

For weeks the U.S. did not help in Kobane. Only after much publicity documented the fighting did the U.S. intervene. Only after pressure from domestic opposition did the U.S. intensify its bombing against the Islamic State in Kobane. Now Obama is in a trap. He can not let the city fall without loss of face and without receiving vicious attacks from the republicans in Congress. This while the attack on Kobane is most likely only a diversion created by the Islamic State to draw away those U.S. resources which could hinder its consolidation in the Iraqi Anbar province.

Posted by b at 10:21 AM | Comments (45)

October 18, 2014

State Department Contractor Breaks Russian Visa Law, Whines When Caught

The U.S. State Department is continuing its influence program against the Russian state. It finances "workshops" in Russia to eventually prepare for a "color revolution" there. It hires academic trainers from U.S. universities to work on various parts of the plans. One of those parts is the recruitment and influencing of Russian journalists. When the State Department sends those trainers to Russia it tells them to falsely claim to be "tourists". The Russian found out about practice and told those "trainers" to stop such nonsense.

The U.S. media though used the issue to predicatively"blame Russia". That explains factually false headlines like Boston Journalist Briefly Detained in Russia or even worse Two U.S. tourists detained in Russia:

Two American journalists were briefly detained in Russia and taken to court Thursday for teaching an investigative journalism workshop. Both were found guilty of violating visa regulations, authorities said. The New England Center for Investigative Reporting said that its co-founder, Joe Bergantino, and University of South Carolina professor Randy Covington, were detained for several hours by immigration authorities as they began teaching their first workshop in St. Petersburg.

Since when are "tourists" teaching workshops? Even worse - the same article headline with "U.S. tourists detained" later remarks:

Bergantino and Covington, who had tourist visas, were told they couldn’t continue teaching, but were free to leave the country as scheduled Saturday, the New England Center for Investigative Journalism said.

It said the visas the two journalists held were the type recommended by the U.S. State Department for that visit.

The State Department admits that much:

Asked if the U.S. was concerned about what had happened to them, [State Department spokeswoman Jen] Psaki said: “They were there to do a training that we sponsored, so I think our preference would have been for them not to be detained, I think it’s fair to say.

The "tourists" or "journalists" broke Russian immigration laws and had been advised by the U.S. State Department to do just that. What did they expect the Russian immigration service to do? To also ignore Russian law because the U.S. State Department says so?

One of the State Department contractors, Joe Bergantino, who came as "tourist" to Russia to run a U.S. State Department financed influence workshop is pissed that Russia follows the rules of law. He writes an angry open letter to the Russian president:

Let me repeat the question, Mr. Putin: Was all that really necessary? It’s clear that you enjoy playing the tough guy on the world stage and that the Russian people overwhelmingly support your message to the rest of us: Russia is strong and will exercise her will as she sees fit.

But let me get personal for a moment.
...

What Mr. Bergantino should have asked, and rather himself than Mr. Putin: "Was it really necessary to come to Russia under false pretense? And was it really necessary to, knowingly, break Russian law?"

And would a real journalist, not a propagandist, really lament foreign "tough guy" nonsense without looking into the homeland mirror? How would the U.S. Homeland Security behave if something similar happened in the United States?

We can answer that question. Since 2003 all journalists from all countries who come to the U.S. must get a special and expensive visa as journalists. Even those from countries, like France or Germany, which have general visa-waver agreements with the United States. What happens when such journalists, not even on a foreign state influence contract but just for real reporting, enter the United States to do their job without a special visa?

On the weekend of May 10 and 11, six French television journalists visiting Los Angeles to cover the massive E3 video-game expo were stopped for questioning by LAX border guards, barred from entering the country, and sent back to Europe. "These journalists were treated like criminals—subjected to several body searches, handcuffed, locked up and fingerprinted," Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Robert Ménard complained in a letter ..

Now compare that to Mr. Bergantino who was not treated like a criminal, received only an administrative warning and was allowed to stay until his regular departure flight.

Which country here, Mr. Bergantino, really owns the moral high ground?

Posted by b at 02:10 PM | Comments (110)

October 17, 2014

How To Create A No-Fly Zone Over Syria

So how does one get political momentum for the creation of a no-fly zone over Syria?

Easy.

Just claim that the current boogeyman is using planes and one is free to shoot ALL planes, especially Syrian government ones, out of the sky.

Islamic State training pilots to fly in three jets -Syria monitor

Iraqi pilots who have joined Islamic State in Syria are training members of the group to fly in three captured fighter jets, a group monitoring the war said on Friday, saying it was the first time that the militant group had taken to the air.

The group, which has seized land in Syria and Iraq, has been flying the planes over the captured al-Jarrah military airport east of Aleppo, said Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Reuters was not immediately able to verify the report.

BTW - Who's secret service is funding this Rami Abdulrahman guy?

Afterthought: Isn't the threat of an Islamic State air force a good reason for Russia to finally deliver the ordered S-300 air defense system to Syria?

Posted by b at 07:50 AM | Comments (55)

October 16, 2014

Syria: Arming Insurgents Probably Achieved Its Real Aim

CIA studies, commissioned in 2012 and 2013, found that arming "rebels" in civil wars usually fails. When such operations do somewhat work, like in Afghanistan against the Soviets, the later blowback is hard to avoid. The Obama administration leaked this story now to reject criticism against its current policies in Syria where it has given up on the Free Syrian Army and wants to create another one.

Political scientists have know for quite a while that arming "rebels" is nearly always a bad policy:

In general, external support for rebels almost always make wars longer, bloodier and harder to resolve (..). Worse, as the University of Maryland’s David Cunningham has shown, Syria had most of the characteristics of the type of civil war in which external support for rebels is least effective.

But if the administration knew that arming rebels was bad policy why did the U.S. start in June 2012 to arm them and why does it continue do so? Why does it still allow Israel and Qatar to do so?

Dan Froomkin suggests that it is all about electoral politics. Not arming the "rebels" ..

.. probably would have been cast by the elite media — not to mention Fox News — as surrender, costing the Democrats another few House and Senate races.

It could also have been a policy driven by the neocon/liberal-interventionist urge to just "do something" - i.e. to achieve some self-satisfaction.

Or the plan was never to win. If the aim was and is the "destruction of the infrastructure, economy and social fabric of Syria" then arming all kinds of insurgents was and is a sane and successful policy.

Posted by b at 11:47 AM | Comments (27)

Iran Moves Iraq And Syria Portfolio to Higher Management

Foreign Policy wonders about the new publicity the commander of the Iranian Quds force, Qassem Suleiman, is striving for:

Qassem Suleimani, a silver-haired Iranian spymaster Washington has long disparaged as a terrorist, has spent decades staying out of public view as he quietly worked to funnel arms and money to Iranian proxies and allies across the Middle East. Now, he's stepping into the limelight as the face of Tehran's intensifying battle with the Islamic State.

In recent weeks, photos of Suleimani on a mountaintop alongside Yazidi elders who had faced extermination at the hands of the Islamic State and shaking hands with Kurdish Peshmerga fighters on battlefields in Kurdistan have been widely shared on Twitter, Facebook, and Iranian state-run media. That means the once-elusive leader of the Quds Force, a branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard responsible for high-profile missions outside of Iran, is enjoying a strange form of celebrity

FP is asking "why" Suleiman is now going public but finds no answer to the question aside from pure speculations.

Suleiman was solely responsible for Iran's external relations with various "militant" groups in the Middle East including Hizbullah in Lebanon, Islamic Jihad in Palestine and various Iran friendly militia in Syria and Iraq. While he was successful in earlier years the recent rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as well the U.S. intervention in those countries is rather dangerous for Iran's direct security and its influence in those states.

Suleiman's portfolio has now been moved upwards. He is no longer the sole responsible man for Iran's relations to those groups but is now subordinated to a new committee (machine translated) which was formed under Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani. Shamkani is the Supreme Leader's military adviser and is secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council.

Suleiman's sudden publicity is likely a kind of self-defense against his critics in the Islamic Republic: "Look here, I am doing a lot!" The rise of the Islamic State is not the only danger to Iran. The re-introduction of U.S. troops in Iraq, under the pretense of fighting the Islamic State which U.S. allies helped to create, is the bigger problem. Suleiman, his critics say, did not foresee this and/or failed to prevent it.

The new role of Admiral Shamkhani is visible in his recent travels. He met Lebanon's Prime Minister and offered Iranian help against Sunni Jihadists in Lebanon. He also met Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah. He has visited Syria and held talks with the Syrian president Assad. Yesterday he received the head of the Islamic Jihad Movement of Palestine and promised further help and weapons for Gaza. Shamkhani's portefolio is wider than just the contact to "militant" groups. He recently had talks with the former French foreign minister De Villepin likely about further developments in Syria.

So unlike in earlier years, when Suleiman was directly negotiating with the U.S. over Afghanistan and Iraq, Suleiman is no longer the sole person to decide over such policies. Endangered in his position he now needs to up his image in Iran and that is very likely the reason why one now seems more pictures of him in the field with various of his client groups.

[Side remark: The FP piece repeats the U.S. propaganda about Iranian origin of "explosively formed penetrators" used against U.S. troops in Iraq:

Shiite militias used advanced weapons called explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) to destroy American armored vehicles and kill those inside. Those weapons were almost certainly made in Iran and then given, using networks Suleimani helped establish, to Shiite fighters.

Many U.S. media have reported that these penetrators were found to be produced in various workshops in Iraq and there has never been any fact based report that traced their origin to Iran.]

Posted by b at 04:00 AM | Comments (25)

October 14, 2014

Syria: UK Still Wants "Regime Change"

The British government does not get it. There is no reasonable alternative to the current government of Syria. The Syrian National Council is a joke:

Over the weekend, the Syrian National Coalition failed to failed to agree on a prime minister during a summit in Turkey. A member of the SNC said the biggest dispute at the Istanbul meeting centred around a split between the favoured candidates of vital funders Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Everyone seems to acknowledge that those idiots should not be allowed to run Syria. Why then still go for regime change?

Britain's top diplomat says the US-led military campaign in Syria against Islamic State militants must be followed by regime change in Damascus, the seat of power for President Bashar al-Assad.

In an interview, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Britain would help the US to stand up a proxy army in Syria that would be capable of fighting both Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and President Assad's forces.

The CIA has been building up a proxy army in Syria for three years. It has supplied it with all kinds of weapons including hundreds of anti-tank missiles. Other "allies" have supplied Chinese anti-air missiles. The CIA proxy army, the Free Syrian Army, is in disarray. It has allied itself with extreme Jihadist forces and the weapons it received have been taken by the Jihadists and have recently been used to shoot down Iraqi army helicopters.

What Hammond now at least admits is that the forces he wants to train are mercenaries. People who fight for money and not for some higher interests:

Hammond argues that regular funding is key to building a cohesive rebel force in Syria. "They will be employees. We’re not talking about training a bunch of freelancers who go off on their pick-up trucks and we never see them again," he says, noting that the FSA already has organized units that draw a regular salary.

He estimates that IS fighters are paid between $300 and $600 a month, which provides a yardstick for funding a proxy army. "The wage bill for a force built up eventually to 50,000 is not going to break the bank,” he says.

I am confident that it will be nearly impossible to find enough Syrians willing to continue to fight to fill another 50,000 men army. The war has been going on for some years and people get tired of it. And what is the difference here between employees and freelancers? Would "employee" mercenaries be more loyal to Hammond than "freelance" mercenaries? Does he think he can pay those Islamic State fighters a bit more than their Caliph pays them and they will forget about the ideology and do his bidding?

Is Hammond really that naive?

Posted by b at 01:00 PM | Comments (114)

A Somewhat Flawed Microsoft "Zero Day" Warning

ZDNet August 16, 2013: Microsoft warns Windows XP users risk 'zero day forever'

Microsoft has been beating increasingly louder the XP end-of-support drum. Earlier this summer, Microsoft gave its reseller partners marching orders to step up their warnings about the end of support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014. This week, Microsoft echoed that warning, adding a new twist, via an August 15 post on the Microsoft Security Blog.
...
Because a security update will never become available for XP after April 8, "Windows XP will essentially have a 'zero day' vulnerability forever," [Tim Rains, Microsoft's Director of Trustworthy Computing] said.

WaPo October 14, 2014: Russian hackers use ‘zero-day’ to hack NATO, Ukraine in cyber-spy campaign

A Russian hacking group probably working for the government has been exploiting a previously unknown flaw in Microsoft’s Windows operating system to spy on NATO, the Ukrainian government, a U.S. university researcher and other national security targets, according to a new report.
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The firm began monitoring the hackers’ activity in late 2013 and discovered the vulnerability — known as a “zero-day” — in August, [iSight Senior Director Stephen Ward] said. The flaw is pres­ent in every Windows operating system from Vista to 8.1, he said, except Windows XP.

This post was written and edited on a laptop running Windows XP SP3 :-)

Posted by b at 03:26 AM | Comments (27)

October 13, 2014

Saudis Dump Oil To Increase Leverage Over U.S. Middle East Policies

During the last years U.S. president Obama talked a lot about energy independence:

In his fifth State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Barack Obama celebrated the efforts his administration has made to cut greenhouse gas emissions, while also praising recent increases in domestic oil and gas production.

Obama said early in his address that there is now more "oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world," for the first time in two decades.

Obama did not say that the increase in U.S. fossil fuel production was only possible because international oil and gas prices had increased above the magic $100 per barrel equivalent. Below that price shale gas and oil extraction as well as oil production from tar sands are only marginally profitable or not profitable at all.

But the "energy independence" talk allowed various experts to claim that the U.S. could now ignore the Middle East:

Clearly, the booming American oil and gas businesses are not problem-free, but the benefits -- economic, geopolitical and environmental -- of this impending energy independence far outweigh the drawbacks.

The days when Mideast oil-producing dictatorships and their friends at OPEC could so easily wave their power over a trembling, oil-thirsty West are on their way to becoming a relic of the past.

As a new world-wide recession is creeping in, consumption of fossil fuels has declined. Typically such a decline would be followed by a decline in production by major producers to keep the prices and their income somewhat stable. But that is not happening.

The Saudis and other Gulf state rulers disliked U.S. energy independence talk very much. They need to keep some leverage over U.S. policy. They now decided to end the U.S. "energy independence" talk and to push the U.S. to again do their bidding. The simple method they apply is to keep oil production high enough during a period of declining consumption to take prices lower and to thereby make new U.S. domestic production a money losing business:

[T]he [Saudi] kingdom, OPEC's largest producer, is ready to accept oil prices below $90 per barrel, and perhaps down to $80, for as long as a year or two, according to people who have been briefed on the recent conversations.

The discussions, some of which took place in New York over the past week, offer the clearest sign yet that the kingdom is setting aside its longstanding de facto strategy of holding prices at around $100 a barrel for Brent crude in favor of retaining market share in years to come.

The aim is clear. Kick producers with higher production costs than OPEC out of the market and thereby retain the global market share as well as the leverage needed to pursue the Gulf countries' political aims:

Kuwait's oil minister Ali al-Omair was quoted as saying by state news agency KUNA on Sunday that OPEC is unlikely to cut oil production in an effort to prop up prices because such a move would not necessarily be effective.

Omair said $76-$77 a barrel might be the level that would end the oil price slide, since that was the cost of oil production in the United States and Russia.

The Saudis and the other Gulf producers all have positive current account balances (pdf, Fig 3). They can easily afford lower oil prices.

U.S. shale and tar sand production costs are higher than Saudi or Russian production cost. They are the first to die when prices are kept low:

Allowing Brent to fall below $85 could slow the U.S. shale boom because some producers would lose money pumping at that price, Francisco Blanch, head of commodities research at Bank of America, said in a report Sept. 9.
...
Curtailing the shale boom would ensure continued U.S. reliance on Middle Eastern energy, Bank of America’s Blanch said.
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“For Saudi Arabia, I can’t see why they’d come in and manage prices unless it falls below $90,” Torbjoern Kjus, an analyst at DNB in Oslo, said by phone Sept. 10. “It benefits the Saudis to test where the limit is for U.S. shale.

OPEC’s de facto leader has the “fiscal firepower” to tolerate prices as low as $70 for two years without experiencing economic difficulties, according to Energy Aspects Ltd., a consultant in London. The kingdom held reserve assets valued at $741.6 billion in July, almost double the level five years earlier, according to the Saudi Arabia Monetary Agency.

This strategy will not only allow the Gulf dictators to retain their market share but the Saudis and others will use this strategy to slow down, if not stop, U.S. overtures to Iran as well as to press for U.S. enabled regime change in Syria.

Posted by b at 09:00 AM | Comments (77)

October 12, 2014

The Ebola Scare

The Ebola virus caused disease is not very contagious but relatively deadly. 40-70% of the Ebola infected people are likely to die from it. (That is not as deadly as life, mind you, as life has a total fatality rate of 100%.)

The early basic symptoms of an Ebola infection are similar to a flue. They also often occur without any infection at all. In the "western" world that is typically after the patient watched too much Ebola scare news on her favorite cable canal.

The means of infection are well known, in general body fluids of all kinds from an infected person will carry the virus. That knowledge alone will help enough to decrease the number of newly infected people as more are warned and protect themselves when caring for an infected person. The epidemic will thereby die out within a few weeks.

There is a positive aspect of the current scare. It will increase funding for research into a vaccine and it will at least lead to better treating methods.

Posted by b at 02:18 PM | Comments (72)

October 10, 2014

War On Syria Spills Into Neighbor Countries - Lebanon Now In Serious Danger

Eighteen month ago the Syrian president Assad warned that the war against Syria would also inflame neighboring countries:

“We are surrounded by countries that help terrorists and allow them to enter Syria,” he told Turkish TV station Ulusal Kanal. “Everybody knows that if the disturbances in Syria reach the point of the country’s breakup, or terrorist forces control Syria . . . then this will immediately spill over into neighboring countries and there will be a domino effect that will reach countries across the Middle East.”

Since then the Islamic State (aka ISIS) has taken not only east Syria but also Anbar province in Iraq where it is preparing for an attack on Baghdad International Airport and the Iraqi government in the Baghdad "Green Zone".

In cooperation with Turkey the Islamic State has laid siege on the independent Kurdish enclave Kobane in north east Syria. The city is likely to fall soon just as the Turkish government wants it to. Turkey's blockade of reinforcement and supplies for the defenders inflames the 15 million strong Kurdish population in Turkey. The fall of Kobane may well lead to an end of the peace process between Turks and Kurds and to a renewed civil war in south east Turkey. Turkey houses many refugees from Syria and is a major logistic hub for the Islamic State. Its security personal is already under influence of the Islamic State:

There are signs of an anti-Kurdish and pro-Islamist backlash with Turkish police shouting Isis slogans as they charge Kurdish demonstrators.

Cont. reading: War On Syria Spills Into Neighbor Countries - Lebanon Now In Serious Danger

Posted by b at 09:25 AM | Comments (106)

October 09, 2014

Open Thread 2014-23

News & views ...

Posted by b at 01:39 PM | Comments (122)

 
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