Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
December 31, 2011

Another Year Ends - Best To You And Me During The Next One

On this last day of the year, I took a walk through the last twelve monthly archives (linked in the left column of the homepage). I tried to decide which were the best pieces I wrote. I couldn't agree with myself on any of them. Most the stuff I wrote last year was rather mediocre with only a few (nano-)diamonds in a heap of rather lame stuff pointing out media inconsistencies and some re-reporting of collected news items. I'm not too happy with that.

You, dear reader, could help. Please point out which of last years posting at Moon of Alabama were good reads and/or useful. Which did you like in the realm of subject matter and which in the realm of style? Your judgement will hopefully help to make this a better site.

A safe, happy and peaceful 2012 to all of you. May the coming year be better than the last!

Posted by b on December 31, 2011 at 01:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (45)

NYT Pro-Iraqiya Propaganda

Jack Healy and Michael R. Gorden write a NYT hagiography of Iraq's finance minister Rafe al-Essawi: A Moderate Official at Risk in a Fracturing Iraq. al-Essawi  is a Sunni from Fallujah, a member of the Iraqiya coalition and one of the ministers currently boycotting cabinet meetings.

RAFE AL-ESSAWI is the man in charge of Iraq’s finances, a moderate Sunni doctor who greets his guests and denounces his foes in practiced English. He may also be the next leader to fall as the country’s Shiite prime minister takes aim at perceived rivals and enemies, his fate a litmus test for a country in crisis.
...
Unlike other Sunni politicians who have drawn fire from the Shiite-led government, Mr. Essawi is known as a conciliatory figure who has built bridges with Kurds, Shiites and Westerners.

The laudatory piece misses a fact that lets one question the last sentence. Only three days ago al-Essawi together with (former?) CIA-agent Ayad Allawi published an OpEd in the New York Times in which they called for U.S. intervention against the prime minister.

The United States must make clear that a power-sharing government is the only viable option for Iraq and that American support for Mr. Maliki is conditional on his fulfilling the Erbil agreement and dissolving the unconstitutional entities through which he now rules.
...
[A]s Iraq once again teeters on the brink, we respectfully ask America’s leaders to understand that unconditional support for Mr. Maliki is pushing Iraq down the path to civil war.

Unless America acts rapidly to help create a successful unity government, Iraq is doomed.

On wonders why the fact of the threat Essawi and Allawi issued in that OpEd is left out of today's portrait. May that be because a partisan calling for outside intervention against the elected government is hardly consistent with the portrait of a conciliatory figure?

It seems that the New York Times and Michael Gordon are not happy with the results of the war they worked so hard to start against the Iraqi people and now push for its continuation by other means.

Posted by b on December 31, 2011 at 02:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (18)

December 30, 2011

Some Links And Open Thread

An interesting portrait: I’ll Be Your Mirror - What Pakistan sees in Imran Khan - Caravan Magazine

How Merkel kicked out Berlusconi. (Not sure about this tale. There is certainly an agenda and some spinning behind it. Still an interesting read.) Deepening Crisis Over Euro Pits Leader Against Leader - WSJ

Because they can. The racist land-robber tribe plans to kill more defenseless people: IDF confirms preparations for extensive future Gaza military action - Haartez

Obama administration secretly preparing options for aiding the Syrian opposition - The Cable/FP

I for one do not believe for a minute that the ongoing U.S. operation against Syria has not been planed and implemented months, if not years, ago. Spinning this now preparing options out to the media is only to announce the implementation of the next stage.

Another stupid default judgement: Crackpot Anti-Islam Activists, "Serial Fabricators" and the Tale of Iran and 9/11 - Gareth Porter/Truthout

Saying the obvious about what never was the real issue: Mossad chief: Nuclear Iran not necessarily existential threat to Israel - Haaretz

"Getting to Yes" never was part of the plan: Keeping Iran From Saying Yes - Paul Pillar/National Interest

AMERICA’S DRIVE FOR MIDDLE EAST DOMINANCE SETS THE STAGE FOR ATTACKING IRAN—NEVER MIND INTERNATIONAL LAW (OR EVEN U.S. INTERESTS) - Levretts/Race For Iran

Australian TV on Kill/Capture raids in Afghanistan: In Their Sights (video, 45 min)

Another interesting portrait. A former Mujahedin/Taliban telling his life: We Felt No Mercy - Maisonneuve

“I told the Americans many times, ‘Don’t do what the Russians did. Why do you do this? Why don’t you learn or listen to people who’ve been there?’ If they did two years ago what they’re doing now, there would be no war. They do everything at the last possible minute, after they fail.

The last sentence sounds just like Churchill.

Posted by b on December 30, 2011 at 01:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (66)

December 29, 2011

Obama's Drone Strikes Set An Example

Yesterday the Washington Post published a must-read story about the much increased drone strikes used by the Obama administration for target killing of alleged terrorists.

The military Special Forces as well as the CIA are involved in these strikes and their various kill lists seem to be quite long. The case of the non-operative propagandist Awlaki and his son, both U.S. citizens, are only two of them:

On Sept. 30, Awlaki was killed in a missile strike carried out by the CIA under Title 50 authorities — which govern covert intelligence operations — even though officials said it was initially unclear whether an agency or JSOC drone had delivered the fatal blow. A second U.S. citizen, an al-Qaeda propagandist who had lived in North Carolina, was among those killed.

The execution was nearly flawless, officials said. Nevertheless, when a similar strike was conducted just two weeks later, the entire protocol had changed. The second attack, which killed Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, was carried out by JSOC under Title 10 authorities that apply to the use of military force. When pressed on why the CIA had not pulled the trigger, U.S. officials said it was because the main target of the Oct. 14 attack, an Egyptian named Ibrahim al-Banna, was not on the agency’s kill list. The Awlaki teenager, a U.S. citizen with no history of involvement with al-Qaeda, was an unintended casualty.

The fact that Ibrahim al-Banna wasn't killed in that drone strike lets me doubt that the killing of the Awlaki's kid was indeed unintentional.

As there is a lot of secrecy and no legal process around Obama's drone assassination there is no way to find out why the son of Awlaki was really killed and how many of thousands of people hit were really involved in something that would somehow justify their killing. But we do know that a lot of these assassinations are based on false intelligence:

Top U.S. military leaders who oversaw missile strikes last year against al Qaeda targets in Yemen suspect they were fed misleading intelligence by the country's government and were duped into killing a local political leader whose relationship with the president's family had soured.
...
These people say they believe the information from the Yemenis may have been intended to result in Mr. Shabwani's death. "We think we got played," said one participant in high-level administration discussions.

Something similar happened in Pakistan:

While attacks by US unmanned planes in Pakistan have become a contentious issue, tribesmen hired by US drone operators to tip off the CIA on terror targets have been using the opportunity to settle scores with rivals.

They provide false information identifying their rivals as terror targets prompting US drone operators to hit them. Mehsud and Wazir tribes are said to be locked in the tussle and they settle their scores using US drone attacks against each other.

Using unreliable locals who want to settle local scores for U.S. drone targeting is not the only problem.

"Signature strikes" are even worse:

Essentially, bombs are dropped on the heads of people who aren’t known to be terrorists, or militants, but who act like them.

How does one "act like a terrorist" or asked differently, how does one not act like a terrorist? Does one eat, walk, talk and sleep? What is a terrorist, except in the moment of his dead, doing that differentiates him from other humans?

Signature strikes violate both traditions of just wars, and are indefensible except by recourse to arguments of pure power.

But, as that piece reminds us, the "pure power" argument can be used by various sides and it is quite likely that all the assassinations by drones Obama has ordered will create a heavy blowback.

Remember that Israeli “targeted killing” was decried by the US before 9/11 as illegitimate. One wonders what the Middle East would look like if all the different states (and non state actors) therein got their mitts on rapidly proliferating drone technologies and considered it entirely normal and okay to start killing people across pesky international sovereign borders.

It is not only the Middle East that will experience drone strikes by others than the U.S. or Israel. There are many enthusiasts for radio controlled model planes and model rockets. It is not really that difficult to combine those toys for grown ups into something lethal.

Obama's drone campaign outside of any open legal framework makes drone killings a plausible and presumably legitimate tool to settle grievances. It sets an example. Its not a question of "if" but "when" this example will be used by others against U.S. citizens and interests.

Posted by b on December 29, 2011 at 11:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (23)

U.S. Closing Down Its Logistics Through Pakistan

After the U.S. November 26 attack on a Pakistani border post that killed 26 Pakistani soldiers the logistic line from Karachi into Afghanistan was shut down by Pakistani authorities.

It was expected that the line would be reopened after a few weeks. But as the U.S. is not forthcoming with the apology Pakistan demands and even partly blames Pakistan for the incident despite the fact that all the miscommunication that led to it happened on the U.S. site, the chances to reopen the line have dwindled.

Consequently the U.S. is now pulling out the equipment and wares currently stuck on the transport route in Pakistan:

“It has been a month since the Nato attack which resulted in the port and border closures with no resolution in sight, the US government intends to have all import unit cargo that is currently staged at different Container Holding Yards (CHYs) moved back to Karachi port or the nearest CHY to the port. Once we receive approval, all unit cargo will be exported out of Pakistan,” wrote Anita Rice, Chief of the OCCA SWA (595th Trans Brigade, NSA Bahrain) in an email to all ‘concerned’ persons.
...
According to sources, US cargo, stranded in Pakistan, is worth millions of dollars and US authorities have serious concerns over the safety of the cargo as it includes hammer [sic] vehicles, dumpers, anti-aircraft guns, special carriers of anti-aircraft guns, vehicles specially built to jam communications, cranes and sophisticated weapons.

“We will compile information for submission to Pakistan customs for amendment for cargo export,” Rice said in her email, providing US Lieutenant Colonel Jerome Heath’s contact number for further assistance.

It will take several months to get all the stuff stuck in Pakistan back on ships and even longer to reroute it through the Northern Distribution Network into Afghanistan.

It will also cost a lot of money. Flying equipment into Afghanistan costs about $14,000 per (short) ton. A 20" container coming through the NDN through Russia and Uzbekistan costs about $12,000, double the amount it costs for the same container to be routed through Pakistan.

Additionally there is concern about the ability of the rail network in Uzbekistan, recently hit by a mysterious explosion, to carry the additional load of what so far has come through Pakistan as well as corruption and the U.S. denial of the abysmal human rights record of the Karimov regime.

Aside from that current NDN agreements do not allow for the transport of weapons and ammunition through the NDN and it is, so far, a one way route that can not be used for the ongoing retreat from Afghanistan.

Obama's decision to not apologizing for the border incident incident, taken out of fear of attacks from the domestic political right, will turn out to be very expensive and will hinder future U.S. operations in Afghanistan for quite some time.

But the political impact of completely closing down the logistic line through Pakistan might even be bigger. It removes another point of common interest the U.S. and Pakistan have had.

If the U.S. is, as it seems now possible, trying to get into direct negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar that exclude Pakistani interest from the future of Afghanistan the war there is unlikely to end anytime soon.

Posted by b on December 29, 2011 at 06:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

December 28, 2011

Why Ron Paul Should Win Primaries

Obama is a centrist Republican says Glenn Greenwald in today's Guardian. That's about right. As the Republican candidates try to be more to the right than Obama already is the policy discussion in the United States moved further to the rightwing fringe.

The Overton window, the frame of political acceptable ideas, is now more militaristic, more anti-social and less liberal than it has been for decades. As Obama has unfortunately no primary competition the only bit of hope for change in general U.S. policies comes with the one anti-war candidate in the whole field.

Ron Paul's libertarian ideas on social issues and financial matters are, in my view, quite nutty. Even more so than the positions of some of his fellow candidates. But his position on war and foreign affairs seem very reasonable to me. If he can get a higher profile by winning primaries his ideas will become more public and acceptable. The Overton window will widen and that again may induce more people to work against the established militaristic trend.

Justin Raimondo predicts that Ron Paul victories in some primaries will not change the predictable end-result in this election cycle. Obama will win:

In the end, a coalition of neocons and Romneyites will issue an encyclical, excommunicating Paul and his supporters from the Republican party – and opening the way for a third party bid that will threaten to put the GOP nominee in third in November.

That may well be the case. I would consider it a great success though because that process will turn discussions about war into something different than today's wholesale acclamations on both sides of the aisle to follow Netanyahu's calls to bomb Iran.

That should be reason enough for any progressive to vote for Ron Paul wherever possible.

Posted by b on December 28, 2011 at 08:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (136)

December 27, 2011

The Los Angeles Times Selling Old Canned News

The Los Angeles Times is selling an old story as news.

Syria refugees find sanctuary in Libya
By Ruth Sherlock, Los Angeles Times
December 26, 2011

Reporting from Benghazi, Libya— Even as it recovers from its recent civil war, Libya is fast becoming a place of sanctuary for thousands of refugees fleeing the bloodshed in Syria.

Buses from Damascus, crammed with Syrian families, are arriving daily in the eastern city of Benghazi, the cradle of the effort to oust the late Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi.

"Up to 4,000 Syrian families have sought refuge in Libya in the last weeks, and the numbers are increasing every day," said Mohammed Jammal, a Syrian community leader in the city. "The buses arrive full and go back empty. There used to be two a week, but now there are two a day."
...

That story is somewhat familiar to me. Where did I read it before?

[search, search]

The Daily Telegraph:
By Ruth Sherlock in Benghazi
9:00PM GMT 09 Dec 2011

Buses from Damascus, crammed with Syrian families, are arriving daily into the east Libyan city of Benghazi.

"Up to 4,000 Syrian families have sought refuge in Libya in the last weeks, and the numbers are increasing every day" said Dr Mohammed Jammal, a Syrian community leader in the city. "The buses arrive full and go back empty. There used to be two a week, but now there are two a day."
...

Except for a bit of editing the story in the LA Times and the Telegraph are identical but were published seventeen days apart. The writer, Ruth Sherlock, is: "a freelance journalist and an intern for Haaretz.com" or whatever.

The LA Times seems to believe that such news deserves publishing even weeks beyond it sales date. The editors probably kept it canned so they could publish something over the holidays without having to leave their homes.

The story itself is, by the way, fishy. It is clearly written to hype the success in Libya and to plant grueling tales about Syria.

But the reality is something else. Further down into it we find that the whole issue is likely less about Syrians fleeing to Libya but about Syrian expats, who worked in Libya and fled from there when the civil war broke out, returning to their workplaces. The December 26 LA Times version:

Before the Libyan civil war, thousands of Syrians worked in the country. The Libyan Red Crescent Society estimates they numbered about 12,000 when the war began.

"Many left, but now they are returning and bringing their families with them," said Ziad Dresi, a refugee coordinator for the Libyan Red Crescent Society.

The December 9 Telegraph version:

Prior to the Libyan civil war thousands of Syrians had worked in the country. The Libyan Red Crescent estimates that 12,000 Syrians were in the country at the start of the Libyan uprising. "Many left but now they are returning, and bringing their families with them, " said Ziad al Dresi, a refugee coordinator for the Libyan Red Crescent.

Back to the LA Times. It is supposed to be a daily newspaper. How long does it expect their customers to continue paying when they find out that it is selling stale propaganda pieces as news?

Posted by b on December 27, 2011 at 10:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)

December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

.. to all of you.

Posted by b on December 25, 2011 at 03:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (36)

December 23, 2011

Those Peaceful Suicide Bombers In Syria

Will the media now finally stop with the fairytale of peaceful protests in Syria?

Suicide car bombers struck Damascus on Friday, officials said, killing 40 people, gutting buildings and sending human limbs flying in the bloodiest violence seen in Syria's capital since a revolt against President Bashar al-Assad began nine months ago.

Maybe. At least Reuters has changed the wording to revolt.

As we have written before the peaceful protests involved massive violence against security force at least since mid April while the numbers of killed protesters are made up or from dubious sources.

The U.S. and the Saudis who finance this revolt better wake up now to what their instigation is causing. The blowback from a destabilized Syria would be huge.

Posted by b on December 23, 2011 at 01:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (40)

Open Thread - Dec 23

Your news and views ...

Posted by b on December 23, 2011 at 04:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (54)

December 22, 2011

More Shakeup In Pakistan

Reuters: Exclusive: Pakistan army wants Zardari out but not a coup

Pakistan's powerful army is fed up with unpopular President Asif Ali Zardari and wants him out of office, but through legal means and without a repeat of the coups that are a hallmark of the country's 64 years of independence, military sources said.

The military is not the only one who wants Zardari to go.

Mr. 10%, as we was earlier called for asking for bribes left and right, only accidentally became President when his wife Benazir Bhutto was assassinated and their son was too young to lead the family franchise, the Pakistan Peoples Party. Since he took over some two years ago Pakistan went from one crisis to the next one.

Meanwhile the government of Prime Minister Gilani fears it is also a target of a silent coup:

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Thursday said conspirators were plotting to bring down his government, giving his most public indication yet that he fears being ousted from power.
...
[H]eading off questions in parliament, he took aim at the military over reports that the defence ministry conceded to the Supreme Court that it had no control over the armed forces or ISI intelligence agency.

“If they say that they are not under the ministry of defence, then we should get out of this slavery, then this parliament has no importance, this system has no importance, then you are not sovereign,” he told lawmakers.

“They are being paid from the State Exchequer, from your revenue and from your taxes.”

All institutions are subservient to the Parliament, and no institution has the right to create a state within the state, added the prime minister.

So far I sensed no intention by the military to bring Giliani down. But if he really expects that the Pakistani military will simply fold and come under pure civilian control the military might well try to get rid of him too.

The Pakistani Supreme Court will investigate the memogate scandal in which President Zardari allegedly asked the U.S. to intervene on his side against the military. If it wants to it will surely find enough dirt to kick Zardari out of office. That seems to be the military's plan.

Politicians competing with Zardari smell blood:

PML-N leader Mian Nawaz Sharif has minced no words in demanding that they be held immediately. In a candid interview to the Jang Group in Karachi on Tuesday, Nawaz asked what the point was in running a government that had failed to function and which had lost credibility and respect in the eyes of the people. His half-joking suggestion that elections should come in winter as he personally ‘liked’ that season indicates that the issue of fresh polls has gained urgency within the PML-N.

The dark lord, or white knight depending on ones standpoint, Imran Khan is also taking aim:

Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan on Thursday said that the medical condition of President Zardari must be checked – if he is not mentally and physically fit then this might cause serious problems for Pakistan, DawnNews reported.

The stage is set and I find it unlikely that Zardari will keep his current position for much longer. New parliament elections may well be coming too.

One wonders what the U.S. position will be on this issue. Not that it has much leverage. The report on the U.S. attack on the Pakistani outpost that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers and closed the U.S. transport line through Pakistan is just coming out and it blames both sides:

The report said: "Mistakes by both American and Pakistani forces led to airstrikes against Pakistani border posts that killed 24 Pakistani Army soldiers last month".

Even though it spread blame between both countries, the key finding of the investigation is likely to further enrage Pakistan ...

The finding contradicts the Pakistani one and will thereby not reopen the closed logistic line:

Pakistan has sought a full apology from President Barack Obama for the strikes, while US officials have maintained the November 26 incident was a regrettable mistake.

Speaking at a weekly briefing by the Foreign Office, [spokesman] Abdul Basit said a final decision on the restoration of Nato supply lines would be made by the Parliament. Moreover, he termed US Vice president Joe Biden’s recent statement on the Taliban as “welcome words”.

With the anti-U.S. mood in the country and possible elections on the horizon I can not see the parliament deciding to give in and to let the U.S. logistic flow again. The real decision will anyway be more like taken by the military which will press for more concession from the U.S.. Bidens recent remark that the Taliban are not the enemy was probably one of those with more to come.

While the U.S. has enough material reserves in Afghanistan to sustain for a while the closed Pakistani line, even as it lately carried only 30% of all needs, will soon start to hurt its operations. To fly in fuel or toilet paper by air at a cost of some $14,000 per short ton is simply too expensive.

Posted by b on December 22, 2011 at 10:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

No Secret In Finnish Patriot Missile Discovery

Searching the web currently comes up with some 240 articles like this one.

Boat laden with surface-to-air missiles stopped in Finland on its way to China

Around 160 tonnes of explosives and 69 surface-to-air missiles have been found by Finnish officials on a cargo ship bearing a British flag and ultimately destined for China, authorities say. They said they did not know the origin of the Patriot missiles or who was supposed to receive them.

The Thor Liberty sailed from the north German port of Emden on 13 December and two days later docked in Kotka, southern Finland, to pick up a cargo of anchor chains, officials said. Its final destination was Shanghai, but it was not clear whether that was where the arms shipment was going, officials said.

That is quite some lazy journalism in that piece. Patriot missiles do not just come from nowhere and are covered by various agreements that do not allow them to bought and sold by everyone. Just a few minutes of searching the web would have told those Finish officals and the journalist what is happening here. It is indeed quite obvious where those Patriot missiles come from and where they are going.

From a BBC report:

Police did not confirm Finnish media reports that the ship had also been scheduled to stop in South Korea, Reuters news agency reports.

YLE.fi, December 20, 2011 Missile shipment confirmed aboard detained vessel

According to information received by YLE, the missile shipment originated in Germany and is destined for South Korea.

Searching for South Korea and Patriot missile shows that this ship's load is very likely part of a long arranged official government deal:

AFP, July 13, 2005: German defense chief in talks on sale of missiles to South Korea

A German defense chief met with South Korean officials here Wednesday for talks on the sale of second-hand Patriot missiles to Seoul, the defense ministry said.

UPI, March 13, 2007: South Korea Wants To Buy Second-Hand Patriot Missiles From Germany

DW: November 28, 2008: South Korea Takes Delivery for Patriot Missiles from Germany

The South Korean Air Force received the first shipment of Patriot missiles from Germany on Friday, Nov. 28, the air force in Seoul said.

The 48 anti-missile and anti-aircraft missiles, which will replace the country's outdated Nike air defense missiles, are to be deployed by 2012 after two years of trial operation.

DID, December 1, 2008: Raytheon Begins SAM-X/Patriot Missile Work in South Korea

In March of 2008, Raytheon announced an initial contract (amount undisclosed) for preliminary planning efforts aimed at integrating Patriot air defense/ABM missiles into South Korea’s national command and control structure.
...
An effort was made in 2007 to buy second-hand Patriot PAC-2 systems from Germany... and delivery of those missiles has now begun.

Chosun, September 19, 2011: Patriot Missiles Useless as Radar Out of Order

The Patriot missiles, a surface-to-air missile capable of intercepting enemy aircraft or missiles in midair, were deployed under the Air Force's "SAM-X" next-generation air-defense missile project and are the South Korean military's key air-defense weapons.
...
Of 32,149 Patriot system parts it intended to acquire from Germany, the military had procured only 10 percent or 3,142 parts by July. It also lacks a proper maintenance float program in place.

"We plan to put the radars into full operation by early next year," an Air Force spokesman said. "But problems can occur because they are now in limited operation. We're going to import parts to replace the ones that caused the breakdowns by year's end."

According to Thorco Shipping the current Thor Liberty voyage is expected (pdf) to end in Qingdao, China on February 19. That certainly leaves enough time for a discharge stopover 200 miles east of Quingdao in South Korea.

It seems obvious to me that the Patriot missiles on board of the Thor Liberty are second hand, coming from Germany and are destined for South Korea in an official deal that involves the original manufacturer Raytheon.

If I can find that within a few minutes why are news agencies and journalists coming up with scare headlines like Finland seizes Patriot missiles headed for China and articles that fail to point out the obvious?

Posted by b on December 22, 2011 at 03:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

December 21, 2011

The Misconception Of "All-Powerful" Dictatorships

North Korea's military to share power with Kim's heir

BEIJING (Reuters) - North Korea will shift to collective rule from a strongman dictatorship after last week's death of Kim Jong-il, although his untested young son will be at the head of the ruling coterie, a source with close ties to Pyongyang and Beijing said.
...
The comments are the first signal that North Korea is following a course that many analysts have anticipated -- it will be governed by a group of people for the first time since it was founded in 1948.

Both Kim Jong-il and his father Kim Il-sung were all-powerful, authoritarian rulers of the isolated state.

The above piece shows a typical "western" misunderstanding of dictatorial ruling.

Nearly no dictator ever is or has been "all powerful". All dictators and solely ruling monarchs depend on various groups and the national myth. Their main task is to keep the interests of those groups in balance and the national myth alive. The armed forces are usually one of the important groups. Another one is often representing major economic interests. In North Korea (like in China) the communist party has that task. Kim Jong-il and his father could not have ruled without taking the interest of those groups and their representatives into account.

The necessary national myth can be clad in religion, can be some flimsy idea like "manifest destiny" or a "saint" person, a father figure like the "dear leader". Whatever it is any ruler will have to keep such a believe alive as it is a representation of the people.

The change in North-Korea now will be minimal as all the interest groups would be worse off and less secure in any different configuration. At the September 2010 party conference Kim Jong-Un, the new face of the regime, was publicly announced as successor of Kim Jong-il. But as he, in his late 20s, is too young for the job the same party conference lifted his aunt Kim Kyong Hui to the highest party role and the chief of the General Staff of the Korean People's Army Ri Yong Ho to the highest military role behind the now deceased Kim Jong-il. Those two and the groups they represent will now be the caretakers. Until they die Kim Jong-Un will mostly be the figurehead and his main role will be to act as the new representation of the national myth.

But even when they are gone and Kim Jong-Un is named party head and military leader he will still not be able to have totalitarian power. He may effect some change but it will be consentual and slow. The west loves to project all "evils" of a foreign country into their ruling figures - be they Hitler, Stalin, Ghaddaffi, Asad, Putin or Obama. There is always much more to such dictatorships than the "west" is willing to see. 

Beside of that North Korea as well as South Korea are of no bigger global importance. They are, and have been for the last 60 years, mere proxies of the U.S.-China competition.

Posted by b on December 21, 2011 at 02:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

December 20, 2011

House Cleaning In Iraq

As the U.S. military is gone and before the U.S. embassy force of some 16,000 people is assembled Iraqi premier Maliki is using the time to clean the house:

A day after the United States withdrew its last combat troops, Iraq faced a dangerous political crisis Monday as the Shiite-dominated government ordered the arrest of the Sunni vice president, accusing him of running a death squad that assassinated police officers and government officials.

Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi may well have run death squads or planned for a coup. It doesn't really matter.

That Maliki would not let the Sunni politicians have any serious power was clear since he, despite the post-election coalition agreement, kept the interior and defense ministry under his personal control. That he would push the Sunni further away from power after the threat of the U.S. military was removed was obvious too. His next target will be the former(?) CIA agent and leader of the Sunni Iraqiya coalition Allawi.

The question is now if this house cleaning will lead to a renewed civil war. The Saudis may have an interest to finance another Sunni insurrection in Iraq but I doubt that it will happen. An insurrection or civil war needs some energetic support from some part of the population. But after nine exhaustive years of war that needed fervor is likely to have burned itself out.

People by now will have enough of it. They will want to concentrate on rebuilding their cities and their lives. As long as the state is willing to dole out some money to help with that, and Iraq has the money to do so, they will have little interest in a renewed conflict.

After Maliki has removed the possible threat from the Sunni side and established a firmer hold on the state he will concentrate on the Kurdish part of the country. The autonomy the Kurds have developed over the last two decades is a long term threat to the integrity of the Iraqi state.

The trick there will be to use the traditional split between the clan of the current President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region and leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party Massoud Barzani, and the clan of the current President of Iraq Jalal Talabani and his Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. During their last conflict 1996 Barzani called on Saddam Hussein to fight Talabani's PUK while Talabini had support from Iran. As no country in the region but Israel has an interest in an autonomous Kurdistan Maliki is likely able to co-opt Talabani and assert more control over Barzani and the Iraqi Kurdish region.

U.S. influence in Iraq is in freefall. It clearly has no more control over anything happening there. Historians may point out that this was inevitable after Ayatollah Sistani demanded a democratically elected government instead of the unelected colonial regime the U.S. pro-consul Bremer had planned for. From there on majority rule took over the Shia rose to their natural position.

Within U.S. politics there is no more interest in Iraq, it is out of sight and out of the mind of the electorate. The lessons to be learned from the war will therefore be lost and what led to the war and the errors throughout it will be repeated.

Posted by b on December 20, 2011 at 08:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (55)

December 19, 2011

The Iran Sanctions Become A Self Inflicted Wound

It is amazing how ridiculous the new Israel induced "western" sanctions on Iran are evolving now:

The United States, its European allies and key Arab states are intensifying talks on how to maintain stability in the global energy markets in case of a formal embargo on Iran’s oil exports and its central bank, The Wall Street Journal reported late Sunday.
...
US and European officials have indicated they are seeking assurances from major oil producers, such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, to increase exports to the European Union and Asian nations if tighter sanctions on Tehran’s energy exports and central bank are enforced in the coming months, the Journal report said.

There is unlikely to be enough oil available to replace Iranian output. The Saudi's November production was an all time record 10 million barrels per day. It is doubtful that they and others can produce more than they currently do.

But it is also unlikely that Iran will not be able to find customers to buy its oil. Despite sanctions against Iran the total produced amount of oil will therefore stay the same, but the customers will change and that can well lead to a widening of the conflict.

Iran will of course continue to sell oil to China, India and whoever else will ignore under the U.S. diktat to not buy Iranian oil. Those buyers will have a good negotiation position and will get their oil cheaper. It will also make them more dependent on Iran which may well mean that they will be more hostile to any attempt to further squeeze Iran at the UN or elsewhere.

Those "western" countries that will move away from Iranian oil will have to pay higher prices as the possible sources for their purchase will be reduced. This will put more pressure on their economies none of which are in good shape. With less flexibility will also come a higher risk should some event, like an explosion at Saudi facilities, reduce the production available to them.

In total the markets will be more nervous and the risk premium included in oil prices will go up. Iran and the other Persian Gulf countries will make more money. Everyone else will have to pay more for oil with the price increase for the "west" likely much higher than for the "east". This while the "west" is in economic trouble and the "east" is still expanding.

It will be the most stupid self inflicted wound world policy has seen for a while. All this because a tiny racist west-Asian country that wants to stay at the top in its wider area demands, through its U.S. lobby, that a twelve times bigger country a thousand miles away from it must be hindered in its further economic and technological development.

Posted by b on December 19, 2011 at 12:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (49)

December 18, 2011

A Year On - A Few "Arab Spring" Links

Must read:
The Washington – “Moderate Islam” Alliance: Containing Rebellion Defending Empire - James Petras

Is Egypt becoming another Pakistan? - Yes. Fits the model Petras explains

The Girl - very brutal beating of protestors (see video at 0:30)

Gas pipeline from Egypt to Jordan and Israel blown up for the tenth time ... and counting

Libyan scramble for £100bn in assets fractures the peace at Tripoli airport - chaos in fighting over the loot

In Strikes on Libya by NATO, an Unspoken Civilian Toll - duh

This is just the start of the struggle - Patrick Cockburn

Posted by b on December 18, 2011 at 07:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

The CSM Drone Exclusive Does Not Make Sense

The Christian Science Monitor had an Exclusive story, Iran hijacked US drone, says Iranian engineer, which several people here have linked to.

The story by Scott Peterson does not make sense. It says that the Iranians jammed the Remote Piloted Vehicle's satellite control channel and then spoofed GPS signals to make the RPV believe it was near the airstrip it came from:

The “spoofing” technique that the Iranians used – which took into account precise landing altitudes, as well as latitudinal and longitudinal data – made the drone “land on its own where we wanted it to, without having to crack the remote-control signals and communications” from the US control center, says the engineer.

There is yet no known drone operational that is capable to do an autonomous landing. This for very good reason. A drone does not know if the runway it wants to land on is clear. It is not aware of other air traffic around and the algorithms to correct for weather effects (wind shears) are quite complicate. An autonomous landing drone would be a serious danger for the people around the airbase it is supposed to land on. It is therefore very unlikely that the RQ-170 downed in Iran had an auto-land feature.

Indeed:

It is a common misconception that U.S.-based operators are the only ones who "fly" America's armed drones. In fact, in and around America's war zones, UAVs begin and end their flights under the control of local "pilots." Take Afghanistan's massive Bagram Air Base. After performing preflight checks alongside a technician who focuses on the drone's sensors, a local airman sits in front of a Dell computer tower and multiple monitors, two keyboards, a joystick, a throttle, a rollerball, a mouse, and various switches, overseeing the plane's takeoff before handing it over to a stateside counterpart with a similar electronics set-up. After the mission is complete, the controls are transferred back to the local operators for the landing. Additionally, crews in Afghanistan perform general maintenance and repairs on the drones.

This why I have suggested that the Iranians must have gained control over the local control channel:

What the Iranians seem to have done is to take over the drone's line-of-sight control. This after electronically disrupting its satellite link. Disrupting the satellite link alone would not be enough as the drone would then have followed some preprogrammed action like simply flying back to where it came from. With the line-of-sight control active a satellite link disruption would not lead to a preprogrammed abort.

The control connections to the drone may well be encrypted. But encryption always takes time and, landing a plane, a slow reaction to input (latency) is not what one wants. It is therefore likely that the encryption, at least at the latency sensitive local control channel, is only minimal encrypted if at all. Therefore:

We can reasonably assume that the Iranians have some station near Kandahar Airport that is listening to all military radio traffic there. They had four years to analyze the radio signaling between the ground operator and such drones. Even if that control signal is encrypted pattern recognition during many flights over four years would have given them enough information to break the code.

The story someone fed to the CSM, be it by the CIA or an Iranian spy service, is wrong. Things can not have happened the way it describes them. One can only guess who's interest is served in publishing that make-believe story.

Aviation journalist David Cenciotti at The Aviatonist agrees with me that the story is false. But he thinks the drone crashed or had a parachute to land.

In my opinion the RQ-170 is unlikely to have a parachute (which would have to be quite big for this 10,000 pound vehicle) and any unplanned landing in the mountainous Iran would have created more damage than is visible in the available pictures.

My two weeks old hypothesis that the local control channel was hijacked by the Iranians and used to land the drone (with some superficial damage) still seems to be the most plausible explanation. By now I find this especially plausible because no other explanation I have read so far, all quoting experts and military sources, have failed to mention even the possibility of a local control channel hack. By now that seems to be a too obvious avoidance of that possibility in the analysis to not be on purpose.

Posted by b on December 18, 2011 at 04:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (38)

December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens Is Dead

Good riddance.

Posted by b on December 16, 2011 at 07:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (42)

December 15, 2011

A Lesson About The National Character?

Policymakers and historians will continue to analyze the strategic lessons of Iraq -- that’s important to do. Our commanders will incorporate the hard-won lessons into future military campaigns -- that’s important to do. But the most important lesson that we can take from you is not about military strategy –- it’s a lesson about our national character.
Remarks by the President and First Lady on the End of the War in Iraq, Dec 14, 2011

---

A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.
State Senator's Barack Obama Speech Against the Iraq War Oct 2002

Adding:

Two stories which ran today about the military Obama seems so very proud of:

Marines promoted inflated story for Medal of Honor recipient

Crucial parts that the Marine Corps publicized and Obama described are untrue, unsubstantiated or exaggerated, according to dozens of military documents McClatchy examined.

Junkyard Gives Up Secret Accounts of Massacre in Iraq

In their own words, the report documents the dehumanizing nature of this war, where Marines came to view 20 dead civilians as not “remarkable,” but as routine.

Iraqi civilians were being killed all the time. Maj. Gen. Steve Johnson, the commander of American forces in Anbar, in his own testimony, described it as “a cost of doing business.”

Lessons about the national character? I hope not.

Posted by b on December 15, 2011 at 08:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (25)

December 14, 2011

The Hizbullah Drug Money Plot Makes No Sense

Today's long NYT piece Beirut Bank Seen as a Hub of Hezbollah’s Financing doesn't make sense:

Last February, the Obama administration accused one of Lebanon’s famously secretive banks of laundering money for an international cocaine ring with ties to the Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

Now, in the wake of the bank’s exposure and arranged sale, its ledgers have been opened to reveal deeper secrets: a glimpse at the clandestine methods that Hezbollah — a terrorist organization in American eyes that has evolved into Lebanon’s pre-eminent military and political power — uses to finance its operations. The books offer evidence of an intricate global money-laundering apparatus that, with the bank as its hub, appeared to let Hezbollah move huge sums of money into the legitimate financial system, despite sanctions aimed at cutting off its economic lifeblood.

There is nothing in the piece that really relates to Hizbollah but some administration assertions.

In that inquiry, American Treasury officials said senior bank managers had assisted a handful of account holders in running a scheme to wash drug money by mixing it with the proceeds of used cars bought in the United States and sold in Africa. A cut of the profits, officials said, went to Hezbollah, a link the organization disputes.

The officials have refused to disclose their evidence for that allegation.

Why would Hizbollah get "a cut" from some rather random bank business? There is no explanation for that assertion but this:

As the case traveled up the administration’s chain of command beginning in the fall of 2010, some officials proposed leaving the Hezbollah link unsaid. They argued that simply blacklisting the bank would disrupt the network while insulating the United States from suspicions of playing politics, especially amid American alarm about ebbing influence in the Middle East. But the prevailing view was that the case offered what one official called “a great opportunity to dirty up Hezbollah” by pointing out the hypocrisy of the “Party of God” profiting from criminal activity.

So if making anti-Hizbullah propaganda is the stated purposes of the case why should anyone take it for real?

The case involved the typical DEA sting which allows DEA itself to smuggle drugs and to launder money. But when a trail was hot:

The C.I.A., initially skeptical of a Hezbollah link, now wanted in on the case. On the eve of a planned meeting in Jordan, it forced the undercover agent to postpone. His quarry spooked. In the end, Mr. Harb was convicted on federal drug trafficking and money-laundering charges, but the window into the organization’s heart had slammed shut.

It was “like having a girl you love break up with you,” one agent said later, adding, “We lost everything.”

One wonders if the "we lost everything" here has a wider meaning and is describing the reported recent blow up of the CIA's networks in Lebanon and Iran. Just last week Hizbullah named ten CIA agents in Lebanon and explained their methods.

Now we come to used-car-salesman:

Eventually an American team dispatched to look into Mr. Joumaa’s activities uncovered the used-car operation. Cars bought in United States were sold in Africa, with cash proceeds flown into Beirut and deposited into three money-exchange houses, one owned by Mr. Joumaa’s family and another down the street from his hotel. The exchanges then deposited the money, the ostensible proceeds of a booming auto trade, into the Lebanese Canadian Bank, so named because it was once a subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Canada Middle East.

But the numbers did not add up. The car lots in the United States, many owned by Lebanese émigrés and one linked to a separate Hezbollah weapons-smuggling scheme, were not moving nearly enough merchandise to account for all that cash, American officials said. What was really going on, they concluded, was that European drug proceeds were being intermingled with the car-sale cash to make it appear legitimate.

Emptywheel suspects a deep relation between this alleged plot and the used-car-salesman "Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador" that no one believes.

The court datelines in both cases point to a relation and both involve DEA stings of some bumpkins. The cases are then used for primitive U.S. propaganda operations against Iran and its friends.

What should be a bit concerning to some is that the recent level of DEA/CIA operations appears to be so unsophisticated that is looks amateurish when compared to the capabilities of other services.

Posted by b on December 14, 2011 at 01:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

December 13, 2011

UN's Navi Pillay Makes Up Syrian Casualties Numbers

The United Nations top human rights official Navi Pillay is obviously (see below) exaggerating numbers of people killed in skirmishes in Syria. At the same time she is calling for the U.N. Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. Such blatant political manipulation of the dead should be below the UN's honor.

December 1: Syria now in a civil war with 4,000 dead: United Nations

Syria has entered a state of civil war with more than 4,000 people dead and an increasing number of soldiers defecting from the army to fight President Bashar Assad's regime, the U.N.'s top human rights official said Thursday.

December 13: Syria crackdown has killed 5,000 people, UN says

The death toll from Syria's crackdown on a 9-month-old uprising has exceeded 5,000 people, the top U.N. rights official said Monday, as Syrians closed their businesses and kept children home from school as part of a general strike to pressure President Bashar Assad to end the bloodshed.

So in the eleven days between Thursday the first December and yesterday 1,000 people, over 90 per day, died in Syria through civil war like violence?

Where does that UN official get her numbers from?

On December 6 the New York Times reported on 36 dead bodys, likely killed in sectarian violence, that were found in Homs. It did not report any any killing elsewhere but added:

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group based in London, called it “one of the deadliest days since the start of the Syrian Revolution.”

That weird "Syrian Observatory for Human Rights", which is clearly on the side of the opposition and certainly doesn't downplay the numbers, calls 36 dead "one of the deadliest days". But the UN comes up with a number that represents more than 90 per day killed on each of the last 11 days.

That can not be right. I have searched through the media reports of the last 12 days and nowhere do I come up with any daily number reported that would be more than those 36 on December 6. The average per day seems to be less than 15.

Navi Pillay and the UN are losing their credibility when they make up such false numbers. The Security Council members should note that and dismiss her and her request.

Posted by b on December 13, 2011 at 01:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

December 12, 2011

Obama Wants His Toy Back

"We broke your sovereign rights and international law by flying a spy drone deep into your airspace to do surveillance on your scientist and their work and to enable able us to kill them. You fuckers took this drone down. Now could we please have it back!"

That is, according to AP, what the U.S. president just said:

Obama: US Has Asked Iran to Return Downed US Surveillance Drone.

"We were just testing it before giving it to Israel for Hanuka because we didn't wanted them to get a bad drone."

Ahh, "America the beautiful" or whatever plays in the background there.

But isn't illegal to deal with Iran? Ain't there laws and sanctions that do not allow trades with the "terrorist sponsoring" Iran?

Posted by b on December 12, 2011 at 01:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (52)

Pak Government Talks With Pak Taliban Going Well

Superpositioning these two talk-denials via Al Jazeerah and Reuters we can safely assume that the talks between the Pakistani government and the Pakistani Taliban are indeed going well and are likely to be successful.

Pakistani government denies talks with Taliban

Pakistan's interior minister and prime minister have both denied the government is holding peace talks with its homegrown Taliban, according to media, saying it would do so only if the militants first disarmed and surrendered.

Pakistani Taliban deny talks with government

A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban has denied earlier claims that the group was in talks with the government in Islamabad.
...
"Talks by a handful of people with the government cannot be deemed as the Taliban talking," Ehsan told The Associated Press by telephone from an undisclosed location.

Ehsan said there would be no talks with the government until Islamabad agreed to impose Sharia law.

Posted by b on December 12, 2011 at 02:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

December 10, 2011

"Fog in Channel - Continent Cut Off"

The phrase "Fog in Channel - Continent Cut Off" was allegedly a newspaper headline in Britain in the 1930s.

Prime Minister Cameron decided not to join measures the European Union is trying to implement to consolidate budgets and to get better control of the banks:

Arguing he had to protect the City of London, Cameron demanded that any transfer of power from national regulators to an EU regulator on financial services be subject to a veto; the UK be free to place higher capital requirements on banks; that the European Banking Authority remain in London; and the European Central Bank be rebuffed in its attempts to rule that euro-denominated transactions take place within the eurozone.He also argued that non-EU institutions operating in the City but not in the eurozone, such as American banks, should be exempt from EU regulation.

The banks who own the City of London, a medieval and unaccountable corporation, are obviously more important to Britain than the project of a united and fiscally sound Europe. (Bagehot at the Economist has a good background piece on the British and European politics behind this.)

I do not agree with the austerity policies the ECB, Merkel and Sarkozy are pushing onto the smaller European countries in financial troubles. Their debt should be erased and a big Keynesian program should be set up to help them to regain competitiveness.

But I do agree to better control and stronger regulations for the financial sector. It is obvious that it was the fraud and greed of this sector that brought us the second world depression we are now living through. It is also obvious that mostly British and American financial firms are currently causing a lot of trouble and pain by speculating on European bonds.

If Britain does not want stronger regulation of its financial sector it should have no further role in the European project. Unlike some individual leaders Europe as a whole is not into watersports.

This was the second time Cameron snubbed Europe in recent days. After the IAEA released its strongly politicized report, Britain defied common European foreign policy and was the only country to announce and implement a boycott of the Iranian Central Bank. The southern European countries who buy a lot and depend on Iranian oil were not amused.

A third strike and Britain will be out.

It obviously never liked the European project. It never paid its full share and in European conflicts with the United States often sided with its former colony.

So there will be fog in the channel and the continent will be cut off. But the continent, with its hinterlands ranging up the pacific, will survive that much better than the British island.

Posted by b on December 10, 2011 at 12:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (44)

December 09, 2011

Open Thread - Dec 9

News & views ...

Posted by b on December 9, 2011 at 01:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (55)

December 08, 2011

Here Is The Drone

Hats off to Iran and its electronic warfare specialists.

To bring down the most sophisticated U.S. stealth drone known nearly completely intact is something very few other countries would be able to achieve. A real technical feat.

From the way Iran disguised the lower part of the drone it exhibits in that gymnasium we can assume that there is some damage at the bottom of the drone. Maybe they had a little accident while landing the drone after they took control of it. The also seem to have cut off the wings to allow for an easier transport.

Earlier I speculated that the drone was taken over by the line-of-sight control channel after its satellite control channel was severed by some electronic means. I have yet to see any other report mentioning that second control channel at all and as the way to take over the drone. But seeing the bird with so little damage in that video I am even more sure now than before that this was the way it was done.

Press TV:

Iran has announced that it intends to carry out reverse engineering on the captured RQ-170 Sentinel stealth aircraft, which is also known as the Beast of Kandahar, and is similar in design to a US Air Force B-2 stealth bomber.

The most interesting part to reverse engineer is probably not the drone itself but the sensor package and communication equipment it carries. Any decent engineer would love to get her hands on that. Reverse engineering it will save a ton of money one would otherwise have to be spend in research and development costs to achieve that knowledge.

Press TV is by the way wrong when it asserts that this is a similar design as the B-2. The B-2 had its first flight in 1989, the RQ-170 likely in 2006/7. It is a generation younger and its stealth features are more sophisticated than the B-2's.

The U.S. has only ten or so of this sophisticated and likely very expensive type of drones. They are - for now - reportedly grounded to find ways to avert another such loss of a system and prestige.

But let us not forget the real important point here that has come to light with this Iranian drone acquisition. Despite flying such drones over Iran for years the U.S. has found no sign of an Iranian weapons program.

There is none to be found and that is the main point in this whole story.

Posted by b on December 8, 2011 at 01:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (101)

Years Of Drone Flights Find No Iranian Nuclear Weapons Program

The officials say the RQ-170 Sentinel drone that went down over Iran was part of a fleet of secret aircraft that enabled the CIA to carry out dozens of high-altitude surveillance flights deep into Iranian territory without being detected.

A former senior Defense Department official said the stealth drone flights had been underway for “at least four years," ...
...
The CIA is thought to have a dozen or so of the batwing-shaped, radar-evading aircraft, which are capable of being fitted with different “sensor payloads,” meaning they can be equipped to capture a range of intelligence material, including high-resolution images, radiation measurements and air samples.
WaPo, Dec 8 2011

One important point seems to get lost in the reports on the U.S. stealth drone Iran managed to obtain by electronic means.

Despite such espionage by flying sophisticated spy drones over Iran "for at least four years" those flights have not found any hint of an Iranian nuclear weapons program.

Then National Intelligence director Dennis Blair told Congress in 2009 that Iran had not made the decision restart and alleged nuclear weapons program:

But as for the nuclear weapons program, the current position is the same, that Iran has stopped its nuclear weapons design and weaponization activities in 2003 and did not — has not started them again ...

U.S. spy drones had been flying over Iran for some two years when that statement was made.

In February 2011 the current National Intelligence director James Clapper gave a similar testimony (pdf) at a Congress hearing:

We continue to assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.

When that statement was made radiation sniffing and air sampling spy drones had been flying over Iran for some three and a half years. Obviously they had not detected anything the intelligence community identified as a nuclear weapons program. Otherwise Clapper's statement would not hold.

That is the real important point to take from this drone brouhaha. Despite using them for years in highly sophisticated espionage on Iran no sign of an Iranian nuclear weapons program has been found.

Posted by b on December 8, 2011 at 03:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (55)

December 06, 2011

Pre-Election Polls Confirm Russian Election Results

"Western" organizations and media are alleging irregularities in Sunday's elections in Russia.

Western observers reported Monday that the results of Russia’s parliamentary elections were seriously distorted by ballot stuffing and a lack of transparency, which suggests that the ruling United Russia party did even worse than the official count showed.

The election leading and governing United Russia Party gets accused of manipulating the votes in its favor. These allegations seem to be based based on some dubious youtube videos, anecdotal stories and a small demonstration by some opposition members in Moscow.

There is always a good test when such allegations come up. Do the results of the election fit with the prediction of independent pollsters issued before the election?

Before Sunday's vote the Associated Press wrote:

A poll released Friday predicts that Vladimir Putin’s party will receive 53 percent of the vote in Russia’s parliamentary election, now a little over a week away.

While still a majority, this would be a significant drop for United Russia and deprive it of the two-thirds majority that has allowed it to amend the constitution without seeking the support of the three other parties in parliament.

Russia TV reported:

The All-Russian Public Opinion Centre polls predicts United Russia is set to get between 55-58% of votes, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation 16-19%, the Liberal Democratic Party 11-14% and Fair Russia 6.5-9.5%

AFP added:

Two polls published ahead of the elections showed United Russia is expected to keep its current majority but win no more than 262 seats in the 450-member Duma.

Now let's look at the election results:

According to preliminary results released by the Central Elections Commission on Tuesday, the United Russia Party got almost 50 percent of the vote which translated into 238 of 450 seats in the Duma. The Communist Party came second with about 20 percent of the votes and a total of 92 parliamentary seats. A Just Russia Party is in the third place with more than 13 percent and 64 seats. The Liberal Democratic Party got 56 seats, while three parties - Yabloko, Right Cause and Patriots of Russia – failed to make it to the Duma.

United Russia's share of the vote was less than all the independent polls predicted. If the party or the government it leads really manipulated the election why would that be the case? Did they really give themselves less votes than the pre-election polls have led anyone to expect?

Would someone manipulating an election in the U.S., local or nationwide, organize for less votes to their  cause than independent pre-election polls would suggest? Why?

Russia is a big country. It is likely that there were some irregularities in this or that polling station. Such manipulations happen everywhere and that is why we have laws against them. But given the pre-election polls and the election result it is not plausible that the manipulations in Russia were organized by, or in favor of United Russia.

Stoking up rumors and creating serious unrest in Moscow is still a wet dream for "western" cold-war warriors, neocons and their "liberal" allies in Russia. They wish back the days of Yelzin when they robbed Russia blind. But as the election showed those times are over and Russians will no longer fall for their false promises.

Posted by b on December 6, 2011 at 01:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (29)

Bombing Towards A Sectarian War?

A bomb went off in Kabul today during a Shia Ashura mourning gathering. Some 55 people wwre killed and over 160 were wounded (video, graphic pictures). This happened near the Abdul Fazl shrine in Murad Khani, Kabul's old city, and right in front of the Ministry of Defense and the palace. That area should be secure.

Another bomb went off at a Shiite gathering in Mazar-e-Sharif that killed four and injured 16 others today. Another blast took place in Kandahar city in southern Afghanistan, wounding 6 people, though it is not yet known if that one is related.

One source said the Pakistani militant group Sepah-e-Sahaba (also called Lashkar-e-Jhangvi) claimed responsibility for the Kabul blast. The group is known for sectarian killings in Pakistan but has up to now not been active in Afghanistan.

Indeed during the last years sectarian killings like this have been quite rare in Afghanistan. The attacks today seem intentionally designed to incite sectarian violence.

After the attack mourners chanted anti-US and anti-Pakistan slogans. After the bombing in Mazar-e-Sharif a scuffle between Shia and Sunni students at the Mazar University turned violent. Five people were injured before the police intervened.

In an email to the media Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujaheed strongly condemned the bombing of Shiites in Kabul and Mazar and called them an act of their enemies. He blamed the "invaders" for the bombing and claimed they were designed to are foment insecurity to extend the foreign presence.

These incidents remind me of the bombing of the al-Askari mosque in Samara, Irag, in 2006. That bombing, done by people in Iraqi Special Forces uniforms, ignited a brutal sectarian civil war. Then the officials blamed Al-Qaeda in Iraq for that atrocity but other claimed that the U.S. was behind it.

As always the question that needs to be asked is: "Cui bono?"

Into who's plans does this fit and who might believe to benefit from an additional sectarian aspect in war in Afghanistan? Whoever it is is playing with fire.

Posted by b on December 6, 2011 at 09:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (30)

December 05, 2011

How Iran Acquired A Stealth Drone

It seems that Iran has acquired a U.S. stealth drone which was illegally flying within its airspace.

A secret U.S. surveillance drone that went missing last week in western Afghanistan appears to have crashed in Iran, in what may be the first case of such an aircraft ending up in the hands of an adversary.

Iran’s news agencies asserted that the nation’s defense forces brought down the drone, which the Iranian reports said was an RQ-170 stealth aircraft. It is designed to penetrate enemy air defenses that could see and possibly shoot down less-sophisticated Predator and Reaper drones.
...
U.S. officials acknowledged Sunday that a drone had been lost near the Iranian border, but they declined to say what kind of aircraft was missing.
...
The first reports of the drone crash came from Iran’s semiofficial Fars News Agency. “Iran’s army has downed an intruding RQ-170 American drone in eastern Iran,” the Arabic-language al-Alam state television network quoted an unnamed source as saying. “The spy drone, which has been downed with little damage, was seized by the armed forces.”

Reuters wrote that U.S. official says no sign Iran shot down drone. Of course Iran never claimed that it shot down the drone so this is a non-denial. Iran just "downed" the drone by some electronic warfare means.

The question now is "How did they do it?" Here are my speculative ideas on that.


RQ-170 image by Truthdowser/Wikimedia

As this is a stealth drone detecting it is the first problem. A usual monostatic radar where the emitter of the radar beam and the receiver which catches the echo from the airplane are in the same place would not find the drone. The drone's form and its echo reducing coating would scatter the beam too much.

But by using bistatic radar where the emitter is separated from the receiver(s) by a distance that is comparable to the expected target distance even stealthy flying objects can be detected.

Detection by electronic means is also possible if the drone is receiving and sending information via its satellite link and not just silently following a preprogrammed flightpath. While the signal from the drone to the satellite is send in a highly directional beam a plane equipped with the necessary radios flying above the drone and near the line of sight between the satellite and the drone should be able to locate it. If the drone used its own radar to "look around" Iran the recently delivered Russian Avtobaza "anti-stealth" system will likely have detected it.

The Iranians says it did not shoot the drone down but "downed" it with little damage. I think they may have actually landed it.

This RQ-170 drone type became known as the "Beast of Kandahar" when it first observed there four years ago. Flying U.S. stealth drones in Afghanistan is obvioulsy necessary to escape the Taliban's radars (not). The drone is quite big with an estimated wingspan of 65 feet (20m) to 90 feet (27m) and a takeoff weight of some 10,000 lbs.

When the drone is in the air it is controlled via a satellite link from a remote operating station. But during start and landing the drone is piloted via line-of-sight radio by an operator near the start or landing field. This is necessary because the remote satellite link has a delay of several hundred milliseconds which is just too much latency to correct wind sheer and other problems during takeoff and landing.

What the Iranians seem to have done is to take over the drone's line-of-sight control. This after electronically disrupting its satellite link. Disrupting the satellite link alone would not be enough as the drone would then have followed some preprogrammed action like simply flying back to where it came from. With the line-of-sight control active a satellite link disruption would not lead to a preprogrammed abort.

We can reasonably assume that the Iranians have some station near Kandahar Airport that is listening to all military radio traffic there. They had four years to analyze the radio signaling between the ground operator and such drones. Even if that control signal is encrypted pattern recognition during many flights over four years would have given them enough information to break the code.

Iran will take care to hide the drone well as the U.S. would likely try to destroy it if its location would be known. When the Chinese collected parts of a stealth F-117 stealth plane that was downed in Yugoslavia the U.S. bombed their embassy in Belgrade.

Having acquired an only slightly damaged state of the art stealth drone Iran will be able to copy a lot of its technology as well as to find new measures against such drones. There will also bee a lot of interests from other sides into this technology. We can bet that the military attaches from the Russian, Chinese, Indian, Pakistani and other embassies are already queuing up in the Iranian Defense Ministry and ready to make some very lucrative offers.

Posted by b on December 5, 2011 at 09:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (65)

December 04, 2011

U.S. Government Is "Tracking" Its Business

In the Fast & Furious operation the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives handed thousands of automatic guns to the Mexican drug cartels. This was supposed to "track" where the guns were going. The ATF then lied about the operations.

In another operation, revealed today, agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency laundered cartel money to "track" where it is going:

The agents, primarily with the Drug Enforcement Administration, have handled shipments of hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal cash across borders, those officials said, to identify how criminal organizations move their money, where they keep their assets and, most important, who their leaders are.

They said agents had deposited the drug proceeds in accounts designated by traffickers, or in shell accounts set up by agents.
...
One D.E.A. official said it was not unusual for American agents to pick up two or three loads of Mexican drug money each week. A second official said that as Mexican cartels extended their operations from Latin America to Africa, Europe and the Middle East, the reach of the operations had grown as well. When asked how much money had been laundered as a part of the operations, the official would only say, “A lot.”
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And the former officials said that federal law enforcement agencies had to seek Justice Department approval to launder amounts greater than $10 million in any single operation. But they said that the cap was treated more as a guideline than a rule, and that it had been waived on many occasions to attract the interest of high-value targets.

In other operations, to be revealed at some later point, the Department of Agriculture is optimizing South American coca plantations, the Food Safety and Inspection Service is helping the cartels to implement product quality standards for coca procession, the Special Operation Command is training cartel members how to effectively fight against Mexican government forces and the Central Intelligence Agency is providing the top management personal of the Mexican drug cartels.

The immense profits from these operations get washed through too-big-to-fail banks at Wall Street and a part of them is used to by off the politicians who would otherwise ask too many questions.

All this of course is only to "track" what the drug cartels are doing.

Such "tracking" is just what every business owner is doing in his own shop. Tracking what is bought, produced and sold and the money streams involved. The U.S. government is doing just the same. All to keep the customers happy and the profits to flow.

So there is nothing of interest to see here. But look over there, those must be terrorists. And there is that small country on the other side of the planet that is threatening our business. Must. Go. To War. Now.

Posted by b on December 4, 2011 at 04:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (15)

December 03, 2011

CIA Fake Vaccination Really Kills Children

In mid July it became known that the CIA had used a fake vaccination campaign in Abbottabad in Pakistan in an attempt to get the DNA of Osama Bin Laden's children who were suspected to be there with him. 

I then predicted that these CIA Fake Vaccination Will Kill Children:

[T]his, now public, stunt will jeopardize many legitimate vaccination drives like the ones UNICEF and the WHO are organizing in Afghanistan.
...
So far the Taliban cooperated with such vaccination campaigns. From now on they will not trust these anymore. The abuse of such medical services for spying operations will be deadly for many children.

Today's Wall Street Journal reports:

The United Nations says a reportedly fake vaccination campaign conducted to help hunt down Osama bin Laden has caused a backlash against international health workers in some parts of Pakistan and has impeded efforts to wipe out polio in the country.
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Some 1,700 families living in Mohabatabad, a poor area of 20,000 people on the outskirts of Mardan, a town in Pakistan's northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, have refused vaccinations after local Islamic seminaries launched a countercampaign to discourage vaccinations, health workers say.
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Ghulam Rasool, a laborer from Khyber, found out in March that his 18-month-old son had polio after militants had warned off health workers.
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Pakistan is one of the last significant polio reservoirs in the world, imperiling global eradication efforts, Unicef warns.

Those kids are just some of those uncounted and innocent casualties of the futile war of terror. How many more will have to die before that war ends?

Posted by b on December 3, 2011 at 10:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

December 02, 2011

Senate Votes On Citizen Detention, Afghanistan, Iran

The U.S. Senate yesterday voted on amendments to the defense-authorization bill. As that bill is a "must-do" there are always some contentious and crazy issues attached to it. Three of those voted on yesterday are of interest.

After a passionate debate over a detainee-related provision in a major defense bill, the lawmakers decided not to make clearer the current law about the rights of Americans suspected of being terrorists. Instead, they voted 99 to 1 to say the bill does not affect “existing law” about people arrested inside the United States.
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The uncertainty over the current law added confusion. Some, like Mr. Graham and Mr. Levin, insisted that the Supreme Court had already approved holding Americans as enemy combatants, even people arrested inside the United States. Others, like Senators Feinstein and Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, insisted that it had not done so.

The Senate does not agree on what current law says and it does not want to change that. Does anyone understand why they voted on it at all?

This non-decision keeps the risk open for any U.S. citizen to get accused, without proof, of terrorism and to be then indefinitely detained by the U.S. military. Should one day the rabble decide to protest too much about the ongoing robbery by the 1%, this non-law will be used to shut it up.

The issue where the Senate demonstrated more sense was Afghanistan:

The Senate voted on Wednesday to require President Barack Obama to devise a plan for expediting the pullout of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, signaling growing impatience in Congress.

Unfortunately the House seems likely to turn that amendment down. Still this is a sea-change from earlier votes which went against such an accelerated retreat.

Unfortunately, while voting for winding down one war, the Senate also voted to start another one:

Acting on concerns Iran aims to develop a nuclear weapon, the U.S. Senate Thursday voted to impede that country's ability to process oil revenue by making it harder for it to access the world financial system.

The 100-0 vote came in spite of warnings from the Obama administration that the sanctions would alienate allies and drive up oil prices. The administration has been trying to use diplomatic avenues to persuade allies to avoid Iranian oil, which provides half of the government's revenues. But Congress, frustrated by President Barack Obama's reluctance to apply sanctions to Iran's central bank, decided to push him in that direction.

The banning of any bank from business with Iran's central bank would exclude Iran from dealing in any major world market. It would be an act of economic war on top of the already ongoing and increasing secret war. It would likely soon lead to a physical one.

But this vote makes clear that war with Iran is the open intent of the U.S. foreign policy. It has nothing to do with Iran's nuclear program. The aim is regime change in Iran by all means, including war, and at all costs.

Posted by b on December 2, 2011 at 10:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (20)

December 01, 2011

Who Really Runs Foreign Policy

Obama was elected as a democrat and as president foreign policy is his prerogative. Hillary Clinton is seen as a resolute secretary of state who also has some capable ambassadors. One thereby might assume that those two together would have a firm and decisive voice in U.S. foreign policy decisions.

But as this piece on the unwillingness of the U.S. to say sorry for the deadly attack on Pakistani soldiers makes clear, even day to day foreign policy is set by different powers.

The [United States ambassador to Pakistan], speaking by videoconference from Islamabad, said that anger in Pakistan had reached a fever pitch, and that the United States needed to move to defuse it as quickly as possible, the officials recounted.

Defense Department officials balked. While they did not deny some American culpability in the episode, they said expressions of remorse offered by senior department officials and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton were enough, at least until the completion of a United States military investigation establishing what went wrong.

Some administration aides also worried that if Mr. Obama were to overrule the military and apologize to Pakistan, such a step could become fodder for his Republican opponents in the presidential campaign, according to several officials who declined to be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

On Wednesday, White House officials said Mr. Obama was unlikely to say anything further on the matter in the coming days.

So instead of the State Department it is the Pentagon that making the foreign policy decision and instead of the elected democrats the republican candidates are the most influential force in the adoption of these foreign policies with regards to Pakistan.

And even when it is in the genuine U.S. interest to regain some good will with Pakistan, as expressed by the ambassador, the man in the Oval Office, hell-bent to get reelected, is unwilling to spend some political capital on the issue and to make the right decision.

Posted by b on December 1, 2011 at 12:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (47)

 
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