Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
June 29, 2013

NSA - Recording One Billion Phonecalls Per Day

Yesterday Glenn Greenwald gave a talk (video) to the Socialism 2013 conference in Chicago. At 39:48 into the talk he says this (my transcription):
Another document that I probably shouldn't but - since it's not published - but I am going to anyway share with you - and this one is coming soon - but you are getting a little preview. It talks about how a brand new technology enables the National Security Agency to direct, redirect into its own repositories, one billion cellphone calls every single day, one billion cellphone calls every single day.
What we are really talking about here is a globalized system that prevents any form of electronic communication from taking place without it's being stored and monitored by the National Security Agency. It doesn't mean they are listening to every call, it means they are storing every call and have the capability to listen to them at any time. And it does mean that they are collecting millions upon millions upon millions of our phone and email records.
It is a globalized system designed to destroy all privacy. And what is incredibly menacing about it is that it is all talking place in the dark, with no accountability and virtually no safeguards.
That the NSA can grab and store one billion calls per day is plausible. Voice can be easily compressed into a quite small data chunks. Automated speech to text transcription allows to make all these calls searchable. Not only their metadata, but the spoken and transcribed content of the calls themselves. Then matching that content to trigger words allows to fish out "targets" for further investigation. Voice recognition and/or metadata analysis will then allow to filter out other calls such "targets" made or will later make.

The NSA, we are told, must set out to find the needle in the haystack, the one terrorist in the midst of all us good people. To find a needle in the haystack is quite easy to do. Get a huge electromagnet, switch it on and the needle will come towards it while the straw will not move. That is what the NSA is set out to do here with one billion cellphone calls per day. To find those bad, bad terrorists. But that electromagnet trick assumes that the needle is made of metal. It will not find the needle made from bone, or plastic, or ceramic or something else. There is no pattern for terrorism. It can not be found and prevented.

The story of the need to find the needle in the haystack using that giant electromagnet is therefore not plausible. Storing and analyzing all global cellphone calls is neither necessary nor sufficient to fight the conflict method of terrorism. But storing those phone calls can be a tool of control. Caught up in a demonstration or accident? Now the state can go back and find out not only to whom you talked when but also what you talked about. Soon not just yesterday's calls but those you will then have made years ago. There is likely something in all those pasts calls (and emails and chats) that you do not want others to know.

Greenwald is right in saying: "It is a globalized system designed to destroy all privacy." But destroying privacy is not the primary or ultimate purpose of the system. The only plausible purpose of this striving for total information is its use for total control. It is the foundation of a totalitarian state.

Posted by b on June 29, 2013 at 07:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (133)

June 28, 2013

Egypt On The Brink

Egypt is blowing up again and this time it is serious.

Sunday will be the anniversary of president Morsi's election. Since he came into office he broke about every promise he had made. Sure, he believed he had to defend himself from some Mubarak remainders in the judiciary and had to take some extralegal steps. But that is no excuse for his amateurish and dilettante handling of other issues.

The economy is nearing a total breakdown with acute electricity and petroleum shortages. The generals security situation is bad. Income from tourism has not come back. Making the head of a former terrorist group, which in the 1990s had blown up tourists, the governor of the tourism heavy governate Luxor didn't help. Nor did a foreign policy that has been all over the field and seemed to change weekly to follow the opinion of that country that was most willing to lend the next billion Egypt urgently needed.

Sectarian verbal attacks from Morsi against the Syrian government were at least partly responsible of the recent lynching of four Egyptians of Shia believe by a sectarian Sunni mob. In a speech shortly thereafter Morsi did not even mention them.

Polls now show that about two third of the Egyptians do not agree with Morsi's policies. The positions are extremely partisan with very little middle ground between the Islamists and their "enemies".

Those in opposition to Morsi now see a chance to take him down. They have called for a huge countrywide demonstration on Sunday and promise to continue their protests until Morsi steps down.

But Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood will fight not only with tooth and nails to stay in power. Over the last year they were able to build arsenals from plundered Libyan weapons and created their own fighting force. The Egyptian army has announced that it will not allow any big unrest but it is not clear on which, if any, side it is standing.

The first skirmishes between anti-Morsi and pro-Morsi forces have already occurred. Today the Muslim Brotherhood headquarter in Alexandria was burned down. A pro-Morsi demonstration today is likely to intensify the clashes. Sunday's opposition demonstration may end in serious fire fights. The army has already deployed to secure some critical places like the media city and the presidential palace.

There are 90 million Egyptians, half of them under 35. Two big and rather rigid ideological blocs will now seek a violent confrontation and they both have plenty of foot soldiers to put into the fight. The situation can easily evolve into a full blown civil war. I have yet to read anyone who predicts that the outcome of this conflict will be a better and more peaceful Egypt.

Posted by b on June 28, 2013 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (57)

June 27, 2013

Some Thoughts On The Snowden Fallout

The Guardian just published new revelations on past and ongoing data sniffing by the National Security Agency on foreigners as well as U.S. citizens. For now I do not have time to go into those and will leave it to emptywheel and others to comment on them.

But lets think a bit of what all these revelations mean for the NSA and for Snowden's future.

Snowden had system administrator access to a whole bunch, if not all, of network and server equipment at the NSA. Sysadmin access means being in total control of the machine. While a typical Unix computer like those the NSA uses, typically logs all access events a sysadmin can hide that he accessed a machine, loaded stuff up and down or started or stopped this or that process.

Unless the NSA is using some unknown super-tool to supervise and log what its sysadmins do (and who would system administrate that tool?) it will have no clear idea what systems Snowden actually accessed or what he did to those machines.

It is the worst case any Chief Information Officer can think about. What did Snowden take? Did he leave some virus? Did he leave some logic time bomb that could wipe out anything it reaches? Where?

The NSA's damage assessment team will also have lots of questions. What papers or files does Snowden have? What does he know additionally to what is in those files? Who might he have given those files to? Only the Guardian and the Washington Post? What about the Chinese and the Russians? They sure would love to have copies. What about the encrypted "insurance files" Snowden gave to "some people" who will be able to open and publish them should someone capture or kill him?

There are so many questions to ponder. Even if Snowden did not talk with the Chinese and Russian secret services the NSA will have to assume that he did and that they now have access to all the material Snowden acquired including, possibly, secret U.S. communication codes.

In short: For the next years at least the NSA is fucked. It will have to revise all its systems and network components. This as it can no longer trust its system administrators. It will have to go to a "four eyes rule" for sysadmins so any access and change can only be made by two persons working together. This will kill productivity. Sysadmins do not work that way. A four eye rule will also require many new system administrators - by definition a rare commodity - all of whom will have to be highly trained and need high level clearances.

The NSA will have to assume that potential enemies now know exactly what it is doing, how it is doing it and will act on that knowledge. All the now interesting traffic the NSA watches will soon be fully encrypted. As it is now known that the U.S. services copy all internet traffic and have access to all service providers in the U.S. and UK, all interesting foreign stuff that might have been found through such access will now vanish from the NSA's eyes. Other countries will revise and harden their systems making the NSA's future work much more difficult.

The NSA's spying on U.S. citizen may not yet have such consequences. Unless there is a huge case where NSA spying is directly connected to a Watergate like scandal Congress will do nothing to reign the NSA in. But the scandal will come. As a former East German STASI officer says:

“It is the height of naivete to think that once collected this information won’t be used,” he said. “This is the nature of secret government organizations. ..."
As for Snowden. He is also fucked. There is no way out for him. The U.S. intelligence community will try to get him now and forever. If only to set an example. Even if he manages to get to Ecuador the country is too small and too weak to be able to protect him. The only good chance he has is to ask the Russians for asylum and for a new personality. They will ask him to spill the beans and to tell them everything he knows. He should agree to such a deal. The NSA already has to assume that the Russians know and have whatever Snowden knows and has. The additional security damage Snowden could create for the U.S. is thereby rather minimal. Snowden can wait and work in the Moscow airport transit area until most of what needs publishing from his cache is published. He can then "vanish" and write the book that needs to be written. How one lone libertarian sysadmin found a conscience, screwed the U.S. intelligence community and regained some internet freedom for the world.

Posted by b on June 27, 2013 at 02:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (104)

June 26, 2013

Syria: The Army Secures The Lebanese Border

This is interesting news from The Independent which I have not yet seen mentioned in U.S. media.
Once a rebel stronghold, the town of Tal Kalakh on the Syrian side of the border with Lebanon changed sides at the week-end and is now controlled by the Syrian army.
After the Syrian Arab Army cleaned Al Qusayr of insurgents, the area at the eastern border of Lebanon was closed for insurgency logistics. Control of Tal Kalakh now closes the way through the northern Lebanese border and secures the M1 road from the port city of Tartus to Homs.

The insurgents in Homs city and Homs governorate are now cut off from resupplies. It is only a question of time until they will have to give up. There is more success in that area:

#SAA says it now controls Al-Sha'er oil field in #Homs governerate after days of fighting with Islamic rebels who took control of it #Syria
That the town of Al Kalakh fell through negotiations and without a fight is another positive sign for the Syrian government. The continuing radicalization of the insurgency as well as the rampant warlordism lets even people who somewhat dislike the government seek its protection.

Meanwhile a Saudi/Qatari attempt to widen the war into Lebanon largely failed.

There are two more interesting items in the Independent piece. The first is the - again - proven falsehood of insurgency propaganda:

The Syrian opposition denied that the town had fallen, saying that there was still fighting going on there. In a three-hour visit, I saw no sign of it. Soldiers and civilians looked relaxed and there were no indications of recent destruction, though there are plenty of buildings damaged by shellfire or pockmarked with bullet holes from fighting in 2011 or 2012. The pro-rebel Al-Jazeera Arabic satellite television channel claimed smoke was rising from the town. I did not see or smell any.
The second issue is the so far seldom mentioned facts that the insurgents are paid mercenaries:
Soldiers or guerrillas who have switched sides are often an unreliable source of information about their former colleagues because they denigrate them in a bid to impress their new masters. But Khalid al-Eid did say that his men were “paid $1,300 a month and we got an extra $1,000 if we carried out an operation”. He described how he would make Youtube films – “sometimes they show us firing when there was nothing to shoot at” – which would later be shown on al-Arabiya and al-Jazeera satellite television.
Payment for the insurgents will be the largest single cost in the insurgency's budget, collected in, as described here, or paid directly by the western Persian Gulf countries like Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. That last link also includes this short sentence:
Qatar also provides instructions on battlefield techniques.
That line suggests that Qatari forces, who are mostly recruited from Pakistan (pdf), are on the ground in Syria or at least near its borders. The same folks that trained the Mujahedin and Taliban in Afghanistan are now training the insurgents in Syria. It is then no wonder that one sees the same brutal tactics, suicide bombing and beheading, employed in Syria as one can see in Afghanistan.

Posted by b on June 26, 2013 at 01:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (108)

June 25, 2013

Open Thread 2013-12

News & views ...

Posted by b on June 25, 2013 at 01:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (135)

June 24, 2013

Zbig On Syria

Zbig on Syria:
Promoting destabilization and turmoil in the Arab world will not create a good longterm outcome for the US or Israel: http://t.co/UxJVSXsWgu
Neither for Syria, which should actually be the primary concern.

Posted by b on June 24, 2013 at 12:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (47)

June 23, 2013

Obama: Network Spying Is Serious Human Rights Abuse

The Obama administration sees any leak which it does not itself provides to hype its policies as aiding the enemy. Through its "Insider Threat Program" it pushes this view as an official policy throughout the government:
“Hammer this fact home . . . leaking is tantamount to aiding the enemies of the United States,” says a June 1, 2012, Defense Department strategy for the program that was obtained by McClatchy.
The administration ruthlessly prosecutes anyone who dares to leak even the tiniest issue.

That is why Edward Snowden had to flee the country after he decided to reveal the unlimited spying of the U.S. government against the whole world as well as its own citizen. The Obama administration wants to prosecute Snowden for "espionage" for revealing U.S. spying to the public. Is that irony intended?

Snowden fled to Hongkong where he revealed that the U.S. government not only targets its own citizens but also attacked China's Tsinghua University with extensive hacking, hacked Pacnet, the Asia Pacific fibre-optic network operator, spies on Chinese mobile phone companies and steals Chinese SMS data. The U.S. asked Hongkong to arrest Snowden and to send him back to the States. Meanwhile Snowden, with the help of Wikileaks lawyers, already planed to move elsewhere. The Hongkong government was not amused about the U.S. arrest and extradition request and did not fulfill it. When Snowden stepped on a plane this morning to fly to Moscow it released a statement that rejected the warrant and added:

Meanwhile, the HKSAR Government has formally written to the US Government requesting clarification on earlier reports about the hacking of computer systems in Hong Kong by US government agencies. The HKSAR Government will continue to follow up on the matter so as to protect the legal rights of the people of Hong Kong.
It is not yet known where Snowdens travel will end. The Wikileaks organization's press release states:
Mr Edward Snowden, the American whistleblower who exposed evidence of a global surveillance regime conducted by US and UK intelligence agencies, has left Hong Kong legally. He is bound for a democratic nation via a safe route for the purposes of asylum, and is being escorted by diplomats and legal advisors from WikiLeaks.

Mr Snowden requested that WikiLeaks use its legal expertise and experience to secure his safety. Once Mr Snowden arrives at his final destination his request will be formally processed.

Snowden may stay in Moscow and ask for asylum there. He may fly to Iceland, Venezuela or Equador. Wherever he goes, except for the United States, the people will be on his side. Some U.S. government hacks are now trying to smear Snowden because he is traveling to "autocratic regimes". "That is outrages," said Obama. "Now get the Saudis on the line so we can to talk about Syria."

It is Kafkaesque that those who reveal spying are accused of espionage. It is also Kafkaesque that the U.S. government accuses other governments of "serious human rights abuses" for doing the same thing, on a much smaller scale, that the U.S. does to its own and world citizens. Obama should reread the Executive Order 13606 (pdf) (h/t DB) he himself issued:

I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, hereby determine that the commission of serious human rights abuses against the people [...] by their governments, facilitated by computer and network disruption, monitoring, and tracking by those governments, and abetted by entities [...] that are complicit in their governments’ malign use of technology for those purposes, threaten the national security and foreign policy of the United States.
There is some truth in that statement. Privacy is a human right. Spying is destroying it. The U.S. is the one state that wants to destroy privacy on a global base. That it wants to do so threatens the national security and foreign policy of the United States. When will Obama sanction it?

Posted by b on June 23, 2013 at 09:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (88)

June 22, 2013

Propaganda Reporting - Kerry's Failure in Qatar

On June 12 The NYT's CJ Chivers reported from Syria on workshops that make some ammunition for the foreign supported insurgency in Syria. The piece, starting with the headline, was a long whine about the alleged lack of arms of these poor killers. It included photos from the workshops by Chiver's sidekick Tyler Hicks.

Starved for Arms, Syria Rebels Make Their Own

“Everybody knows we do not have the weapons we need to defend ourselves,” said Abu Trad, a commander of the Saraqib Rebels Front, shortly before he allowed visitors into this mortar-round plant. “But we have the will, and we have humble means, and we have tools.”
...
[T]he arms plants remain a prominent feature of the opposition’s logistics, as arms flows from the Arab world fail to keep up with demand.
...
“All we need is effective weapons,” [Khaled Muhammed Addibis, a rebel commander,] said. “Effective weapons. Nothing else.”
When Chivers wrote the above the official propaganda line said that the US was not actively arming the "rebels" but that Obama was "withstanding the pressure to do so". That was nonsense and Chivers knew it was. While he wrote the story of those poor "rebels" who had to make weapons themselves because they do not get them elsewhere, Chivers also saw many modern weapons coming in from Libya and elsewhere and he knwe that the CIA was involved in distributing them. But he never reported on that. Instead he wrote the above lies. How do we know that? Well, just look what Chivers writes today:
Evidence gathered in Syria, along with flight-control data and interviews with militia members, smugglers, rebels, analysts and officials in several countries, offers a profile of a complex and active multinational effort, financed largely by Qatar, to transport arms from Libya to Syria’s opposition fighters.
...
[W]hile the system appears to succeed in moving arms across multiple borders and to select rebel groups, once inside Syria the flow branches out. Extremist fighters, some of them aligned with Al Qaeda, have the money to buy the newly arrived stock, and many rebels are willing to sell.
...
But the Libyan influx appears to account for at least a portion of the antitank weapons seen in the conflict this spring, including Belgian-made projectiles for M40 recoilless rifles and some of the Russian-made Konkurs-M guided missiles that have been destroying Syrian tanks in recent months.
...
Signs of munitions from the former Qaddafi stockpile are readily visible.

Late last month The New York Times found crates, storage sleeves and spent cartridge cases for antitank rounds from Libya in the possession of Ahfad al-Rasul, a prominent group fighting the government and aligned with the Supreme Military Council.

While he reported on insurgents "starved of arms" Chivers and his photographer Hicks, actually had seen the recoilless rifles, the guided missiles and lots of crates of ammunition from Libya. But at that time the official propaganda theme was "poor underarmed rebels" and Chivers diligently followed it. That propaganda theme was used to create some public support for escalating the war by pushing even more arms into the rebels hands. The story of the "starved of arms rebels" was untrue and Chivers knew that "late last month" when he traveled in Syria. As always their are some nuggets of truth in the NYT's and Chivers' reporting. But often, as shown here, the writers are pushed, or oblige silently, to keep to the official line the White House is distributing. The few time the NYT is going against the official U.S. propaganda are just diversion to keep up an image of a free press.

---

The 11 countries who form the friends for the destruction of Syria met today in Qatar. Before the meeting started Secretary of State Kerry had planned to organize a common distribution of weapons through the CIA controlled Free Syrian Army head General Idris to somewhat cut out the jihadist from the weapon stream:

Western and Arab opponents of Bashar Assad met in Qatar on Saturday to tighten coordination of their support for rebels battling to overthrow the Syrian president.

Ministers from 11 countries including the United States, European and regional Sunni Muslim powers, held talks that Washington said should commit participants to direct all aid through the Western-backed Supreme Military Council, which it hopes can offset the growing power of jihadist rebel forces.

That move was thought to be was necessary as Saudi Arabia as well as Qatar were freely distributing weapon to the various takfiri terrorist groups:
Two Gulf sources told Reuters on Saturday that Saudi Arabia, which has taken a lead role among Arab opponents of Assad, had also accelerated delivery of advanced weapons to the rebels.

"In the past week there have been more arrivals of these advanced weapons. They are getting them more frequently," one source said, without giving details. Another Gulf source described them as "potentially balance-tipping" supplies.

Before today's meeting Qatar made an attempt to put the takfiris it supports under the nominal umbrella of the Free Syrian Army:
The Free Syrian Army has offered powerful Islamist rebel groups a share of advanced new weapons if they unify under the FSA banner.

"Idriss offered to support the Islamist factions by sharing the weapons he expects to receive, if they joined an alliance with the FSA and agree to certain conditions," the Damascus-based rebel said yesterday.
...
He also said a delegation from Qatar had been in attendance - the only non-Syrian presence at the meeting. That had surprised those taking part, the rebel said, but might have been linked to the summit of opposition backers, known as The Friends of Syria, due to take place in Doha today.

The conference in Qatar has ended by now and Kerry has (again) failed:
Ministers from the 11 main countries which form the Friends of Syria group agreed "to provide urgently all the necessary materiel and equipment to the opposition on the ground, each country in its own way in order to enable them to counter brutal attacks by the regime and its allies".
"Each country in its own way" means Kerry failed - badly - to united the weapon flow. It seems then that Saudi Arabia and Qatar will continue to provide weapons to Jabhat al-Nusra and the other takfiri terrorist groups in Syria.

This disunity should let the Obama administration recognize that their argument to feed weapons to the "good rebels" to starve the takfiris will not work. When Qatar and Saudi Arabia continue to provide these "in their own way" then the takfiris will continue to be the strongest section of the insurgency.

As a lot of new weapons are streaming in the Syrian Arab Army should probably stop its current offense and stay defensive while devising new tactics against such weapons. Tanks advancing openly or as sitting ducks at checkpoints are massive targets and will not survive an onslaught of Konkurs-M, Kornet and other modern anti-tank weapons. There are ways to counter them but that will need some time to be prepared and trained. Meanwhile large weapon transports can be observed and raided in quick and surprising raids could interdict them.

Posted by b on June 22, 2013 at 01:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (91)

June 21, 2013

Kiribati Drowns? Bomb Syria!

How stupid the idiotic "western" attack on Syria by sending Jihadi mercenaries actually is can be seen in the crazy arguments used to beg for supporting their fight. Those arguments go like this: "We" should bomb the Syrian Arab Army to prevent its use of hydrocarbons, thereby lessen global warming and prevent the Kiribati atolls from vanishing into the see. Or something like that.

The Washington Post editors believe that Syria must be bombed because Putin is harsh on Russian lunatics, does not heed to Washington demands and fulfills his contracts with the Syrian state:

In an attempt to suppress swelling protests against his rigged reelection and the massively corrupt autocracy he presides over, Mr. Putin has launched what both Russian and Western human rights groups describe as the most intense and pervasive campaign of political repression since the downfall of the Soviet Union.
...
This from the folks who applauded a dictatorial Yeltsin when he ordered tanks to fire on the elected Russian parliament. But back to their high point:
Mr. Putin has devoted himself to thwarting the Western goal of regime change in Syria, a stance that serves his political goals at home as much as it does in the Middle East.

Unless and until President Bashar al-Assad loses Syria’s civil war — something Russia is trying to prevent with massive supplies of weapons — Mr. Putin will not alter this stance.

So to make Putin behave better at his home, the editors say, "we" must bomb Syria just like "we" bombed Serbia. This even when those cases differ in all dimensions.

Even more lunatic are the editors of The Economist, a formerly reasonable magazine. They say "we" must bomb Syria because otherwise Iran will - somehow - get nukes:

The growing risk of a nuclear Iran is one reason why the West should intervene decisively in Syria not just by arming the rebels, but also by establishing a no-fly zone.
There is of course no chain of logic behind that conclusion. How bombing Syria will prevent Iran to do whatever it wants to do within Iran is not explained at all. It is pure believe that Kiribati will be saved if only "we" bomb the Syrian army. It is all pure nonsense.

Just like Obama's "aim" for Syria is pure nonsense:

[a] stable, non-sectarian representative Syrian government that is addressing the needs of its people through peaceful processes
Sure. And this and a pink unicorn will get you there?

To achieve his aim, Obama says, he will provide weapons to the foreign insurgents. As we reported a week ago those weapons are already there. Some 120 anti-air MANPADs and some 250 anti-tank missiles were delivered to north Syria several weeks ago under the watchful eyes of the CIA and its Turkish colleagues. The Associated Press, which has finally caught up with us on this, tells us who received them:

The new shipment earlier this month— said to be only the second sent by Gulf countries since November, and the first ever known to include some anti-aircraft missiles—caused a stir among rebels who say it went to one of the extreme Islamist groups, Ahrar al-Sham. The group is the strongest member of the Syrian Islamist Front, made up of 11 Islamist factions, which appears to be increasingly posing as a parallel to the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, a loose umbrella group of rebel fighters.
More weapons are also coming from Libya and will be transported through Turkey. These will also go to the most radical fighters on the ground. New weapons from Croatia, organized by the U.S. and payed for by the Qatar, have been seen on the ground in south Syria. Meanwhile new religiously motivated mercenaries for the war are recruited in Egypt and other countries.

All the countries involved in sending these weapons and foreign fanatics to Syria are U.S. "allies". None of these deliveries would happen without Washington's agreement. Now tell me how sending such people and more weapons will create "a stable, non-sectarian representative Syrian government". It will of course not achieve anything like that.

While we know that Obama's announced aim is obviously not his real one, we are still kept in the unknown of what he wants. Is it a "level playing field"? What does that mean? Or something different? I still think Obama wanted to achieve "regime change" but has by now recognized that he can not achieve that. The impotent superpower then falls back to make things as worse as possible and sets this aim:

Destruction of the infrastructure, economy and social fabric of Syria is their and their supporters aim.

Total destruction, especially social destruction, takes time. It is a slow process. Bombing "too early", as the lunatics want, will not achieve that. As he can not "have it" Obama wishes Syria to die a slow, horrible death. That is the only sense I can make from what he does.

I though do not think that he will achieve that aim.

Posted by b on June 21, 2013 at 10:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (75)

June 20, 2013

Turkey: The Protest's Fall-Out

The situation and protests in Turkey have calmed down for now. While Erdogan managed to stay on, the damages to him and his future plans are done. The protesters have won on their initial issue. Gezi park is likely to stay as a park. Even new trees get planted there now. The mayor of Istanbul promised to consult with the public before any major new project is considered:
“I have expressed to my colleagues that we should be an example municipality in sharing projects with the public,” Topbaş said.

He also said that seven municipal employees who were involved in a police raid on Gezi Park in the first days of the protests had been suspended. They are accused of burning the tents of a small group of protesters on May 30, before the street action spread to many provinces across the country.

Erdogan's central government has yet to see such light and continues with its authoritarian and repressive ways. Some 94 people, mostly from leftist organizations, were imprisoned and later released for allegedly instigating the protests. These were just the "usual suspects". The police ordered new riot control gas cartridges after some 130,000(!) were used during 20 days of protests. The powers of the police are now to be expanded. A new law to "regulate" social media is being introduced which will likely take away any online anonymity. Several media organizations have been fined for broadcasting pictures from the protests and riots and one non-AKP TV station has been ordered off the air over quite flimsy "license issues". The Gülen paper Today Zaman was threatened by the government and AKP officials after it published a poll that showed a harsh drop in support for Erdogan:
The poll also seemed to suggest that the public's support for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has come down some 11 percent in June 2013 compared to the same month a year ago, while the popularity of Erdoğan took a blow with a 7 percent drop in his popularity in just a month. Most people see Erdoğan's tone as harsh and confrontational. The government's Syrian policy remains unpopular as well.
Additional damage due to Erdogan was done in the foreign policy field and the economy.

The EU delays a decision for the opening of the next negotiation chapters with Turkey. That has not immediately to do with the protest but with general public opinion in certain European countries that do not want an authoritarian Turkey to become a dominating force in the Union. The Erdogan government threatened to cut off all relations with the EU should the opening of the new chapter not pass. The EU is unlikely to like being threatened. Until recently Erdogan and his sidekick Davutoğlu had counted their steps towards EU membership as major successes. 

Not directly caused by the protests but exacerbated by them is the recent downturn of Turkey's economy:

The lira depreciated for a fourth day, weakening as much as 1.5 percent to a record 1.9315 before the central bank held two currency auctions to support it. The lira was at 1.9192 a dollar at 2:34 p.m. in Istanbul, taking its drop this month to 2.3 percent. The yield on two-year benchmark bonds surged 71 basis points to 7.52 percent, the highest since October, while the 10-year yield advanced 67 basis points to 8.06 percent.
...
The benchmark Borsa Istanbul National 100 (XU100) equity index slumped 4.5 percent to 75,252.11 points, the biggest decliner today among 94 gauges tracked by Bloomberg. Volume climbed to 22 percent above the 30-day average for that time of the day, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

The measure has decreased more than 12 percent since May 31, when an environmentalist sit-in against the redevelopment of a public park in Turkey’s biggest city snowballed into nationwide protests against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

Throughout the last years Turkey's economic boom depended on foreign investment, hot money that can leave overnight, and an increase in consumer debt. With the Lira falling, credit tightening and interests increasing the Erdogan boom will become a bust.

Erdogan will of cause blame the "interest lobby" which he also blamed for instigating the protests. The "interest lobby" is a dog whistle sound for his arch supporters who hear it as meaning "the Jews". For them Erdogan's economic policies, which depended on unsustainable current account deficits, are not yet to blame. That may well change though should the drop in growth directly hurt their income.

Erdogan's plans to change the constitution and to then become an all-mighty president are in taters. A majority of Turks is now against these plans and the continuing fall-out from the recent affairs will solidify that opinion. Due to extreme weaknesses in the organized opposition Erdogan would today likely still win in elections. But the trends are now against him and his political future looks quite bleak.

Posted by b on June 20, 2013 at 10:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (27)

June 19, 2013

Afghanistan: The Beginning Of The End Game

After a first attempt of negotiations between the United States and the Taliban failed in 2012 - the U.S. did not fulfill an agreed upon prisoner release - a new attempt was started yesterday and immediately ran into difficulties.

The U.S. military handed over "full responsibility" to the Afghan security forces in Kabul on the same day as the Taliban announced the opening of an office in Doha, Qatar:

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan simultaneously follows military and political actions and aims which are limited to Afghanistan. The Islamic Emirate never wants to pose harms to other countries from its soil, nor will it allow anyone to cause a threat to the security of countries from the soil of Afghanistan.
...
Of course the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan considers it its religious and national duty to gain independence from the occupation and for that purpose has utilised every legitimate way and will utilise it in future too.
The statement from the Qatari officials is a quite telling:
The red carpet was out for HE the Assistant Foreign Minister for Foreign Affairs Ali bin Fahad al-Hajri, who was the chief guest at the opening of the Political Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ in West Bay yesterday.
...
On the efforts of Qatar to bring the US and Afghan Taliban to the negotiation table, he said: “In recent months, the State of Qatar has exerted strenuous efforts to reach convergence of views between the US government and the representatives of Taliban Afghanistan. ..."
While the Taliban were allowed to raise their white flag (video) over Doha there is was no mentioning of talks with the Afghan government. Indeed that government was not informed at all:
While the hall was packed with media from all over the world, apart from the senior Qatari official, no diplomat from any other country, including Afghanistan, was invited to the event. A senior official at the Afghan embassy told Gulf Times that they had not been extended any invitation to attend the milestone event and in fact were taken by surprise when it was announced through Al Jazeera a day before that the Taliban office would be opened on Tuesday.
Also yesterday an assassination attempt by the Taliban on one of the members of the Afghan governments peace council failed. Three guards were killed and 17 civilians were wounded. Still the Afghan president Karzai announced that he would send members of his Peace Council to Doha. But he also demanded an immediate move of the talks to Afghanistan:
"We hope that our brothers the Taliban also understand that the process will move to our country soon," Karzai said of the fundamentalist Islamic group that ruled the country with an iron fist from 1996 to 2001.
But such a move somehow seems not to fit the U.S. or the Taliban's plan. In consequence Karzai today stopped talks with the U.S. about a future status of force agreement (SOFA) needed to keep U.S. troops in the country:
"In a special meeting chaired by President Hamid Karzai, the president has decided to suspend talks about a security pact with the U.S. because of their inconsistent statements and actions in regard to the peace process," spokesman Aimal Faizi told Reuters.
What exactly changed Karzai's mind over night is yet unknown. The Taliban mortar attack that also yesterday killed four U.S. soldiers at their airbase Bagram is unlikely to be a cause. Nor are the constant attacks (video) against U.S. convoys and patrols the reason. It may have been the highly symbolic official raising of the Taliban flag in Doha that Karzai could not condone.

I agree with Pat Lang that there will never be a SOFA for U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Karzai will find ways to stretch the negotiations out and avoid a decision. That is why such proposals as the Washington Post editors issue will not be taken seriously:

if there is to be a genuine political settlement in Afghanistan, the United States must drive home a different message: that it will do what is necessary to prevent a Taliban military victory for the indefinite future. If the insurgents believe they can wait out — or negotiate out — the United States, they will never engage seriously with the Karzai government.

The U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan and a short while later Congress will follow popular demand and cut off the money to the Afghan government. Then Afghanistan will have to find a new internal balance.The incapable Afghan security forces will fall apart and revert into ethnic-tribal militia.

The warlords are already positioning themselves. General Dostum, one of the slaughterers throughout Afghanistan's wars, had his bodyguards attack the governor of the northern Jowzjan Province because the governor did not agree with Dostum's plans to recreate the Northern Alliance militia and to restart the civil war.

In the end more than a decade of "western" war on Afghanistan will have resulted in nothing but death and despair and again a very uncertain future for that country. Unfortunately no one in power is likely to learn the lesson and avoid to start such other such futile wars.

Posted by b on June 19, 2013 at 05:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (85)

June 18, 2013

House Select Committee On Intelligence Propaganda

In the United States Congress the House Select Committee On Intelligence is "the primary committee in the U.S. House of Representatives charged with the oversight of the United States Intelligence Community". The committee is the elected legislative part of the government which set and controls the limits of the executive.

It is currently holding a open hearing about the recent disclosures of various activities and programs of the National Security Agency.

Congress hearings have titles. What is the title of the currently ongoing hearing?

a. To Evaluate Recently Disclosed NSA Activities, and The Necessity Of Intelligence Gathering Reform

b. Structure And Legal Limits Of Domestic Signal Intelligence Activities

c. How Disclosed NSA Programs Protect Americans, and Why Disclosure Aids Our Adversaries

d. Role And Limits Of The NSA Within The Intelligence Community

e. Why Data Protection Is Hindering Intelligence Collection, and How More Data Collection Will Expand Our Freedoms

The correct answer is c. How Disclosed NSA Programs Protect Americans, and Why Disclosure Aids Our Adversaries

Issuing such propaganda even in the title of the hearing is certainly not "oversight". It is pandering to the executive agency in question. It is therefore no wonder that the Senate Intelligence Committee even prohibits a former staffer to explain the oversight process to the media. The way we do, or don't do, our job is secret. Trust us and give us your money (and data). One wonders what those agencies the committees are supposed to control and investigate have in their vaults about each of those committee members and their families.

Aside from that the purpose of this post is to point you to a piece which looks a bit deeper into the whole intelligence nonsense. Why do we have these agencies and why have they grown into such enormous beasts?

Go read The NSA and the One Percent

Also good:

 

Posted by b on June 18, 2013 at 11:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (60)

June 17, 2013

Excerpts From Bashar al-Assad's FAZ Interview

The German premier daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung just published a long interview (in German) with the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Below is a translation by me of four of the twenty nine questions and answers:

Q: How long will the war take?

A: Since its first days I get asked when the crisis will end. My answer was that the crisis could last a long time. Because the external factor is obvious. An internal crisis either gets totally solved or develops into a civil war. Neither happened here. The reason for that is the external factor which is keen to prolong the crisis militarily and politically.

...

Q: There are centrifugal powers in Syria. Some regions of the country orientate themselves to neighboring countries. Will the borders within the Levant change?

A: If you take the cap stone from a stone arc - and Syria is the cap stone, then the whole arc will collapse. Every gaming with the borders of the region means the creation of a new map. This has a domino effect no one can control. It is possible that one of the great powers will start this process. But nobody will be able to stop such a process at a defined point. In today's Middle East new social contours - denominational and (ethnic-)national, next to the political borders. They make the situation complicate. No one can imagine how the region will look. It will likely be a map for uncountable wars in the Middle East and possibly elsewhere which no one will be able to stop.

Q: How will the regional order look in the coming years?

A: When we exclude the scenario of a destructive division of Syria, I believe in a different, positive scenario. The first challenge is the restoration of security and stability, the second the reconstruction. But the biggest and most important challenge is to stand against extremism. One can observe in some societies of this region a shift towards extremism and a distancing from moderation, especially in matters of religion. The question is if we can we achieve to reposition these societies towards their historical position. Some speak of tolerance, some say its co-existence. If someone is tolerant he may suddenly no longer tolerate the other. It also not just pure co-existence but the assembly of the parts of society. That has characterized this region. The other challenge is the reform we want to achieve. The constant question is which is the best political system that keeps our society together - a presidential or a half-presidential system? The parliamentarian one? What is the fitting system of parties? We can not have religions parties here - neither christian nor muslim. For us religion is an invitation for personal believe, not an instrument to make politics. The most important is to accept the other. If one does not do that there can be no democracy even if we have the best constitution and the best laws.

Q: What is the meaning of secularism in a surrounding in which islamic tendencies gain in strength?

A: The Middle East is a region bound to ideology. The Arabic society has two pillars. One is pan-Arabism and the other is Islam. Nothing else has this significance. For us in Syria secularism means the freedom of the religions: Christians, Muslims and Jews with all their manifold denominations. The secularism is necessary for the unity of the society and for the sense of citizenship. There is no alternative to that as, at the same time, the religions in this region are very strong. That is nice and not bad. Bad is when fanaticism changes into terrorism. Not every fanatic is a terrorist, but every terrorist is a fanatic. That is why I say: The concept of a secular state is that everyone has the right to freely practice his religion. Nobody will be treated differently because of religion, denomination or race.

---End of FAZ translation ---

Other parts of the interview are about the history of the crisis, Hizbullah and Qusayr, chemical weapons, the external powers and the Geneva process. Most of these questions but the last have been covered in previous interviews and the answers have not changed. On Geneva Bashar Assad warns that there are many who have interests in sabotaging the Geneva process. These are external forces but also the so called opposition which gets handsomely paid and fed as long as the crisis keeps going. What Assad wants to achieve in Geneva is a compact to prohibit foreign weapons and fighters to come to Syria. If that could be achieved the conference would be a successful one. If that can not be achieved the crisis will spread throughout the region. A more detailed draft of Syria's aims in that conference can be found at Qifa Nabki.

Posted by b on June 17, 2013 at 01:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (54)

RIP B.Raman

B.Raman was a Indian senior intelligence agent and after his retirement a rather nationalist-hawkish but straight commentator on South-East Asian geopolitics. Reading his blog, following his tweets and watching this or that lecture by him helped me understand the issues of that area. I quoted him several times in my postings here.

In 2009 B. Raman was diagnosed with cancer. He fought his illness and very openly communicated about it. I admired that. His last tweet went out on May 30 when he was again admitted to a hospital.

I will miss his comments. Such direct senior insight into a far away place, even when sometimes partisan, is much more valuable than the usual biased fiction the media is trying to sell.

Posted by b on June 17, 2013 at 09:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

June 15, 2013

"Ahmadi Bye Bye, Rowhani Hi Hi"

So I just ordered crow for dinner. I was wrong with my Iran election prediction. While I expected that Hassan Rowhani would get the highest vote count in the first round of the election, I did not expect him to get over 50 % and thereby win outright. I had expected 35+% for Rowhani and 25%+ for Ghalibaf. Rowhani won with 50.76% and Ghalibaf conceded after having reached only some 16.56% of the votes. The total voter turnout was 72.7%. Rowhani will be inaugurated as president on August 3 2013.

I take some consolation in that fact that I was not as wrong as the Washington Post editors:

Mr. Rouhani, who has emerged as the default candidate of Iran’s reformists, will not be allowed to win.
Or as wrong as the Israeli-Iranian expert Meir Javedanfar
[I]t is safe to say that moderate candidate Hassan Rowhani has no chance of success. There is little doubt that Mr Rowhani and the Stanford educated reformist Mohammad Reza Aref are far more popular than the conservative candidates. However, the supreme leader would not allow votes in their favour to be counted.
As I have maintained all long: Iran is a democracy, the Supreme Leader is not a dictator and in Iran the votes do count.

So who is Hussein Rowhani (Rouhani/Rohani)?

While he had the support of the "reformists" Rowhani is a centrist who has for a long time been a top politician:

Few question the revolutionary credentials of the mid-level Shi'ite cleric, who was active in the opposition that toppled the Shah in 1979. He remains on the security council and is also on the Expediency Council and the Assembly of Experts, two eminent advisory bodies in Iran's multi-tiered power structure.

Rohani boasts military experience through prominent roles in Iran's 1980-88 war with Iraq, including as commander of national air defense, according to his official biography.

He has, however, maintained a centrist outlook shared with former president Rafsanjani, a close ally.

Rowhani is a cleric and studied jurisdiction in Qom and Glasgow where he also received a PhD. He speaks fluently English, Arabic and Farsi as well as some German, French and Russian. He has written many books and articles.

Rowhani was the chief negotiator on the nuclear issue between 2003 and 2005. In a 2006 Time magazine piece he defended Iran's nuclear program and warned:

Could it be that the extremists all around see their interests — however transient, domestic and short-sighted — in heightened tension and crisis? This situation, if not contained with cool head and if miscalculations continue, can easily turn into a crisis with potentially global ramifications for the rule of law under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and for the economic and security interests of all concerned in the region and beyond. It is high time to cease sensationalism and war mongering, pause and think twice about where we are heading.
Rowhani did not like how the Ahmedinjad government handled the nuclear issue. While he wholeheartedly defended that program he urged, mostly for economic reasons, for a more conciliatory approach in the negotiations.

In a interesting 2005 speech on his own nuclear negotiations, which was analyzed here (pdf), he clearly pointed out that the whole conflict with the "west" is about much more than the nuclear issues:

The speech also sheds light on how Iran perceives the various key players involved in the crisis: the United States, the EU3, Russia, and China. The American goal is to bring Iran to the Security Council based on the nuclear issue. But Rohani perceives the United States as having a broader agenda. “We would not come out of the UN Security Council with only a solution to the nuclear case. They intend to raise all of their issues, such as the Middle East, terrorism, and the rest, there.”
There is more from and on Rowhani and the negotiations here and here.

Rowhani will be socially as liberal as Ahmedinejad was. But will probably have less conflicts with the conservatives within the political system. We do not yet know what his economic priorities are or how he will implement them. As he is near to Rafsanjani he may be less social-democratic than Ahmedinejad and go for less redistribution. He is likely to be more conciliatory in the negotions about the nuclear issue, something the Israel-firster hawks who want war already fear, but he can be expected to not give in to the outsized demands the U.S. has put on the table.

My congratulations and best wishes to Hassan Rowhani and to the Iranian people.

Posted by b on June 15, 2013 at 12:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (96)

War On Syria: "Exactly Like Iraq"

The New York Times and others try to paint a picture of a president Obama who only reluctantly took the decision to escalate the war on Syria by no longer just helping to arm the Syrian insurgency but to deliver its own weapons and to thereby commit the U.S. into a prolonged war.
Mr. Obama came around to the idea of arming the rebels, at least modestly, only months after rejecting it. In part, that was because of confirmation by intelligence agencies that Mr. Assad’s forces had used sarin gas against his people.
That picture is incorrect. As the Washington Post reports:
U.S. officials said that the determination to send weapons had been made weeks ago and that the chemical weapons finding provided fresh justification to act.
The insurgency is already well armed with tanks, artillery and modern anti-air weapons. Throughout the last months many new wire guided anti-tank missiles reached the northern front. The decision to arem them with more and better weapons was taken month ago and had nothing to do with chemical weapons. That chemical weapons fake did not convince Russia and not even the usually compliant United Nations:
[U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon] cautioned that “any information on the alleged use of chemical weapons cannot be ensured without convincing evidence of the chain of custody.”
U.S. officials admit that they have not established the chain of custody for the medical tests that were done to "prove" chemical weapons use. Experts also doubt that Sarin, as the U.S. alleges, has been used:
[Jean Pascal Zanders, a leading expert on chemical weapons who until recently was a senior research fellow at the European Union’s Institute for Security Studies] said that much about that [the Le Monde] report bears questioning. Photos and a video accompanying the report showed rebel fighters preparing for chemical attacks by wearing gas masks. Sarin is absorbed through the skin, and even small amounts can kill within minutes.
...
Le Monde reported that one doctor treated a victim with atropine, which is appropriate for sarin poisoning. But that doctor said he gave his patient 15 shots of atropine in quick succession, which Zanders said could have killed him almost as surely as sarin.
All this "chemical weapon" stuff is obviously just an excuse to announce a decision that has been taken months ago and is already long into its implementation. The decision was likely taken simply because the insurgents were losing and Obama had committed himself for them to win. The recent new weapon deliveries certainly did not happen without active U.S. support:
The CIA is preparing to deliver arms to rebel groups in Syria through clandestine bases in Turkey and Jordan that were expanded over the past year in an effort to establish reliable supply routes into the country for nonlethal material, U.S. officials said.
The infrastructure was there and has been used for quite some time to push weapons, ammunition and other stuff to the insurgents.

Together with the Obama announcement to extend and prolong the war came the call by three important Sunni clerics for all young Muslims to go to fight in Syria. The Jihad call was made at a Muslim Brotherhood sponsored event in Egypt. All those weapons the U.S. delivers need hands to use them. The Syrian insurgency has had big losses of personal and now foreign fanatics are send in to replace them. This is part of Obama's plan.

Besides those now announced but long delivered fresh weapons the U.S. is already implementing the next stage of the war:

A Jordanian government official dismissed as “premature” reports that there are plans for Jordan to serve as the base for a future Syrian no-fly zone. The kingdom currently has no plans to “be part of any international military action against Syria,” he said.

However, a Jordanian military official said that Amman and Washington drew up plans for such a zone in March and that the dispatch of the missiles and fighter jets represented a “first phase.”

“We already know what a no-fly zone over southern Syria will look like, how to enforce it and who we will work with on the ground,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. “All we are waiting for is the final decision.

Yesterday's Walls Street Journal had a quite extensive description of these plans:
U.S. military planners, responding to a request by the White House to develop options for Syria, recommended the limited no-fly zone along the Syrian border to protect rebels and refugees inside Jordan.

The plan would create what one official called a "no fighting zone" that would stretch up to 25 miles into Syrian territory along the Jordanian border, preventing Mr. Assad's forces from launching attacks against the rebels and refugees and protecting U.S. personnel involved in distributing weapons and providing training.

Under this plan, the U.S. and its allies would enforce the zone using aircraft flown from Jordanian bases and flying inside the kingdom, according to U.S. officials.
...
The U.S. has already moved Patriot air defense batteries and F-16 fighter planes to Jordan, which could be integral to any no-fly zone if Mr. Obama approves the military proposal.

Proponents of the proposal think a no-fly zone could be imposed without a U.N. Security Council resolution, since the U.S. would not regularly enter Syrian airspace and wouldn't hold Syrian territory.

U.S. planes have air-to-air missiles that could destroy Syrian planes from long ranges. But officials said that aircraft may be required to enter Syrian air space if threatened by advancing Syrian planes. Such an incursion by the U.S., if it were to happen, could be justified as self-defense, officials say.

How please does one defend a "no fighting zone" from long range missile artillery? That is not possible. All this sounds like a preparation for a large ground campaign in south Syria. The U.S. would use the Syrian defectors who it has trained in Jordan to lead the ground attack to conquer the "no fighting zone" protected by U.S. air power. What Obama is planing here and has likely already decided on is consciously designed to creep into a full out U.S. war on Syria.

Russia and other will want to have a word on that. Russian foreign minister Lavrov immediately pointed out that any such no-fly zone would violate international law. I do expect that Russia will use more than just words on this issue.

Applauding Obama's decision to wage an extended war on Syria is war-criminal Tony Blair:
Blair suggested that regime change in Syria was inevitable. "People are no longer going to accept that a minority ruled the country without the say of the majority. It's exactly the arguments we went through over Iraq," [Blair] said.
Indeed. Fake allegations of chemical weapons, breaking international law followed by ten years of torture and other war crimes. Exactly like Iraq. If Obama gets his way on this.

Posted by b on June 15, 2013 at 09:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (50)

June 14, 2013

What We DO Know About Chemical Weapons In Syria

The White House now claims that the Syrian Arab Army has used chemical weapons:
Following a deliberative review, our intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year. Our intelligence community has high confidence in that assessment given multiple, independent streams of information.
Remember that such "high confidence" and "multiple, independent streams of information" were also claimed when the United States attacked Iraq over such claims of chemical weapons. None of the alleged weapons were ever found. The claims were proven false.

The U.S. is trying the same lame trick again. It has provided no evidence but statements from the insurgents for any chemical weapon use by the Syrian army. It provided no explanation why its assessment has changed. This "mushroom cloud" lie is used as an "excuse" to now provide weapons and ammunition to the insurgents. That is another lie. The U.S. had decided on that earlier than it now claims. Over the last months the insurgents received powerful wire guided anti-tank missiles. So many indeed that the Syria weapon watcher Brown Moses tweeted:

The Syrian opposition in the north appears to have wire-guided missiles coming out of their ears.

There IS some evidence that chemical weapon have been used in Syria. But everything we know about them points to their use by the insurgents, not by the Syrian Arab Army.

Late last year the insurgents in Syria threatened to produce and use chemical weapons. They uploaded videos in which they demonstrated the use of gas to kill animals while threatening to do the same with their enemies in Syria.

In March 2013 16 Syrian army soldiers guarding a barrier were killed when they were attacked by insurgents with Chlorine gas. According to Alex Thomsen of the British Channel 4 insurgents had sourced the gas from an earlier captured factory near Aleppo.

Carla Del Ponte, a former Swiss attorney-general and prosecutor with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), is a member of the UN's Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria. On May 6 she declared that according to investigations she had seen insurgents in Syria had used the nerve gas Sarin:

Testimony from victims of the conflict in Syria suggests rebels have used the nerve agent, sarin, a leading member of a UN commission of inquiry has said.

Carla Del Ponte told Swiss TV that there were "strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof".

The insurgents distributed fake videos allegedly showing people "foaming at the mouth" as consequence of a chemical weapon attacks by the Syrian army. The foam was shaving cream.

Also in May an al-Nusra fighter was photographed carrying a grenade with strong riot control agents similar to those security forces in Turkey had purchased from an Indian weapon manufacturer. Debris of such  grenades was found in places in Syria where "chemical weapon attacks" had occurred. Symtoms described after such attacks are consistent with exposure to riot control agents.

At the end of May an insurgency cell was busted in Turkey as it produced, according to local media, the toxic gas Sarin:

Seven members of Syria's militant al-Nusra group were detained on Wednesday after police found sarin gas, which was reportedly going to be used in a bomb attack, during a search of the suspects' homes, Turkish media have reported.

Newspapers claimed on Thursday that two kilograms of sarin gas, which is usually used for making bombs and was banned by the UN in 1991, had been found in the homes of suspects detained in the southern provinces of Adana and Mersin. Twelve suspects were caught by the police on Monday. The reports claimed that the al-Nusra members had been planning a bomb attack for Thursday in Adana but that the attack was averted when the police caught the suspects. Along with the sarin gas, the police seized a number of handguns, grenades, bullets and documents during their search.

In early June another Al Qaeda cell was busted in Iraq where it was producing mustard gas:

Iraq has captured a suspected Al Qaeda cell that was allegedly planning to produce chemical poisons such as mustard gas to attack Iraqi forces and to ship overseas for attacks on Europe and the United States, the government said on Saturday.
...
Five men were caught before they could manufacture any gas or chemical weapons in makeshift factories in Baghdad and another province, Mohammed Al-Askari, a Defence Ministry spokesman told reporters.

“They got some programs from Al Qaeda outside Iraq, they were working … to produce mustard gas … and other gas,” he said.

No evidence has been shown that demonstrates the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian army. Several items of evidence are available that demonstrate the use of riot control agents and chemical weapons by the insurgency.

But the U.S. is again claiming "chemcial weapons" as a (fake) reason to wage war on a Middle Eastern country. Who does it think will believe such claims?

Posted by b on June 14, 2013 at 01:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (123)

June 13, 2013

Iran's Presidential Election - Why Ghalibaf Will Win

After the candidates for Iran's election presented themselves in in their short campaigns and three TV discussion rounds the polls have firmed up a bit and the picture becomes clearer.

On the side of the several "Principlists" in the race the mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, is the strong leader. On the side of the "Reformists" the cleric Hassan Rowhani is now the sole candidate after the other candidate in that camp was pressed to stand down to thereby increase the chance for a reformist candidate reaching the second round of the vote. Rowhani has now taken the lead in the polls with some 30+ percent. The first election round on Friday will likely leave these two to run against each other in the second round a week later.

The Iranian political continuum does not fit well into the western left and right scheme. The principlists are socially conservative and in that fit into the western right wing camp. But their economic policies are socialist, or to the left, as the whole Iranian revolution has been about populist redistribution of Iran's oil wealth. The reformists camp appears socially more liberal but its economic policies are strongly market oriented with neo-liberal tendencies. Outgoing president Ahmedinejad was a mixture of these features. Economically he was a social-democrat who successfully introduced several redistribution programs. At the same time he was socially more liberal than the principlists establishment. The Iranian population, especially the relative poor people who form the majority, tends to be more socially conservative and more economically socialist than the usual western observer assume.

Western media had proclaimed that Saeed Jalili, the current negotiator over nuclear issues, as Supreme Leader Khamenei's favorite and the leading candidate. They fell for a campaign by Jalili himself who knew how to "manage" the western press. It did not work for him with the Iranian people. Now the western media will focus on the reformist Rowhani, who was endorsed by former presidents Rafsanjani and Khatami, and will try to proclaim him the leading candidate. Rowhani is likely to lose in the second round as the whole principlists vote share is about 2/3 of the total, though now split over several candidates, while the reformist vote share is about 1/3. But when Rowhani will lose the western media will likely declare, without any base in facts, that the elections were fraudulent.

The short Iranian election cycle, with only three weeks of campaigning allowed, makes it somewhat difficult for outsiders to "get a feeling" for who might be winning. Surprises are possible and polls may be wrong. Mohsen Rezaei may have some unknown support and beat Ghalibaf in the principlist position. But that would not change the greater picture. For now I do expect Ghalibaf to win and to then, like Ahmedinejad did, turn out to be more independent and unique than the west as well as the political establishment in Iran today expect.

Posted by b on June 13, 2013 at 01:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (27)

June 12, 2013

Syria: The Insurgency's New Weapons

While there is much talk and hand wringing if or when or how the "west" should or will or not supply new weapons to the Syrian insurgency, some new types of weapons have already recently appeared on the battlefield. We can be sure that Washington, London and Paris are aware of this and that the current political talk about eventually delivering further arms is just pretending.

Over the last weeks videos uploaded by the insurgents showed increasingly hits on Syrian government tanks with wire-guided anti-tank missiles. These weapons are new arrivals. The sole anti-tanks weapons so far have been unguided rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) and M-60 recoilless rifles. This stuff is new.

In this video mix several successful hits on tanks can be seen. An anti-tank missile can be seen as it starts at 0:44min. It appears to be an old French SS-11 like type of missile on a ground mount. At 0:30min an SA-7 Grail/Strela man-portable anti-air missile is fired against a helicopter and seems to hit. At 2:07 a launcher for a different type of (likely) an anti-tank guided missile is shown.

These weapons have only recently appeared. Weapons like the SS-11 can not be used without at least some professional training. Who sponsored and who delivered these weapons? Who is training the insurgents how to use them?

P.S. Dear Syrian Arab Army tank commanders. Some tank tactic 101: You are targets. Do NOT EVER park your tank on the top of a hill. ALWAYS get your hull down as deep as possible and secured from at least three sides. If possible hide your tank behind a hill and have your gunner or loader on the ground with binoculars watching surroundings from the rim. When you see an anti-tank missile launch flash immediately fire your canon roughly in that direction. Don't waste time aiming. Your shot is not supposed to hit the missile but to distract the guy who guides it. Then throw fog and get away or flank and attack. Your welcome.

Posted by b on June 12, 2013 at 07:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (49)

Tom Friedman's Argument For Scull Implemented Nanobombs

Thomas Friedman has the most logical argument on why acceptance of the government's infringement on privacy is necessary. Without that we might get another 9/11 and then, yes then, people could really press for government infringement on privacy. Wouldn't that be really bad?

To quote (slightly adopted):

I’m glad I live in a country with people who are vigilant in defending civil liberties. But as I listen to the debate about the disclosure of the government's global program for scull implemented nanobombs (SIN) designed to track and blow up terrorists, I do wonder if some of those who unequivocally defend this disclosure are behaving as if 9/11 never happened — that the only thing we have to fear is government intrusion in our heads, not the intrusion of those who gather in secret cells in Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan and plot how to topple our tallest buildings or bring down U.S. airliners with bombs planted inside underwear, tennis shoes or computer printers.

Yes, I worry about potential government abuse of a SIN program designed to prevent another 9/11 — abuse that, so far, does not appear to have happened. But I worry even more about another 9/11. That is, I worry about something that’s already happened once — that was staggeringly costly — and that terrorists aspire to repeat.

I worry about that even more, not because I don’t care about civil liberties, but because what I cherish most about America is our open society, and I believe that if there is one more 9/11 — or worse, an attack involving nuclear material — it could lead to the end of the open society as we know it. If there were another 9/11, I fear that 99 percent of Americans would tell their members of Congress: “Do whatever you need to do to, our headaches from scull implemented nanobombs be damned, just make sure this does not happen again.” That is what I fear most.

To imagine that some people pay to read such nonsense ...

Posted by b on June 12, 2013 at 04:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (39)

June 11, 2013

Open Thread 2013-11

News, views & whatever ...

Posted by b on June 11, 2013 at 01:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (65)

June 10, 2013

The NSA's Panopticon

Edward Snowden, the NSA whistle-blower, has so far brought three important issues (back) into public knowledge. The NSA is tapping Verizon and all other major telecommunications providers and stores all information on who talks with whom, from where to where, by what means, when and for how long. These are the meta-data of the calls, not the actual content of the calls though those can and may well be tapped elsewhere or by other means.

The NSA also sucks user data from all major internet services. It taps into various commercial databases, personal medical data and into the records of air lines and other transportation services. It does all this permanently and on a global base. The collecting is not restricted to "foreigners".

The U.S. also has a global target list for cyber attacks. It may, based on the NSA meta-data analysis, attack other countries, companies or individuals without any notice, without declaring war and in total secrecy. All this is "legal" in the sense that the U.S. congress and several U.S. bureaucracies have signed off on it.

The NSA is not the only one doing all this. The British and Canadian services do similar stuff, though on a much smaller scale, as likely do other governments. Their motto: "Yes, we scan!" and "In God we trust. All others we monitor."

But what to do with all this (meta-)data, those trillions of data points? Here is a good explanation. If back in 1770s the British Royal Security Agency had had the capability of collecting and analyzing meta-data of various meeting circles in Boston it would have found that Paul Revere was one of the critical connecting persons of the American revolutionary movement. The RSA would have had no need to know what was spoken between the revolutionaries at their various meetings. Knowledge of who belonged to one or more of these circles would have been enough to find the critical connecting person. Solely based on meta-data one shot would then have been enough to probably end the American revolution movement.

Meta-data and a bit of matrix multiplication can find a "signature" that can then be used to find and target people. The "signature" drone strikes the U.S. conducts in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere are on such meta-data derived targets. The U.S. does not know who it kills in such strikes. It judges that the circumstances of a meeting or the behavior of some unknown people who attend, i.e. the meta-data, is sufficiant to claim that those are "terrorists" and to blow them all apart.

This method can of course be used to find targets other than "terrorists" - environmentalists, pro-gun or anti-gun activists, people with this or that special interest. All just a query away.

That is scarry but that is not yet the real danger of the total observation state. Edward Snowden points to a different danger of such secret data accumulation:

[Snowden] said the [analysts and governments] labored under a false premise that “if a surveillance program produces information of value, it legitimizes it. . . . In one step, we’ve managed to justify the operation of the Panopticon.”
The Panopticon is a architectural concept for a prison where the guards can watch, unseen by the inmates, from a tower in the middle into all cells build in a circle around the tower. It leaves the inmates in a perceived state of permanent surveillance. The French philosopher Michel Foucault described the effect:
Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers.
The original Panopticon, like the digital version the NSA is building, takes away all feeling of privacy. Even when one is not watched, knowing that the possibility of being watched is always there, creates uncertainty and leads to self disciplining and self censorship. It is certainly a state the powers that be would like everyone, except themselves, to be in.

There are several ways to fight against this. One is of course by policy means. Tell your representatives that such data collection and analysis must be banned by law. But you can do more. Do not buy devices that are always on and permanently transfer your data to who-knows. Do not join services that use your data for their advantages. I for one do not own a smartphone, do not have a Facebook or other "social-crap" account and even put a piece of tape over my lap-top cam. Is that paranoid? I don't think so. Slipping out of the Panopticon just makes it more difficult for them to intimidate me.

Posted by b on June 10, 2013 at 10:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (79)

June 09, 2013

U.S. Successful With Cyber Defense Protection Racket

"Nice computer systems you have here. It would be a shame if something bad were to happen to them. You may want to buy some cyber protection?"

The New York Times reports on a scam with which the Unites States will milk billions of dollars out of the coffers of Persian Gulf monarchies:

The Obama administration has begun helping Middle Eastern allies build up their defenses against Iran’s growing arsenal of cyberweapons, and will be doing the same in Asia to contain computer-network attacks from North Korea, according to senior American officials.

The report is solely based on unnamed "senior U.S. officials" who assert, as uncritically stenographed by  Thom Shanker and David Sanger, various fantastic Iranian or North Korean capacities in cyberattacks. Thus we get:

  • "Iran’s growing arsenal of cyberweapons"
  • "crippling infrastructure attacks that Iran appears to be working on against American and allied targets"
  • "Iran’s swift advances in its computer weaponry, particularly its ability to disrupt existing infrastructure"
  • "growing danger of computer-network attacks from Iran or North Korea"
  • "Iran, in particular, is viewed as having greatly accelerated its computer efforts"
  • "The emerging Iranian program is far more disciplined and mature than Tehran’s previous efforts"
  • "Iran now is believed to be hiring foreign computer programmers associated with Internet criminal activity"
  • "Iran and other nations now are able to purchase powerful malware that, while costly, is available on the black and gray markets"
There is not one fact, not one, in the story that justifies any of the above statements. There is not one described incident that could led to the conclusions of "advances" or "accelerated efforts". These are all just pure assertions.

The only "evidence" the stenographers wrote down is an attack on internal networks of Saudi Arabia's oil company Aramco which wiped out some hard disks. But that attack turned out to have been an insider attack and any connection of it to Iran is just speculation with no supporting evidence.

Another case cited as "evidence" is an attack on some South Korean bank and media companies that was first attributed to North Kora and China but turned out to have been based on a rather unsophisticated spear-fishing attack originating in South Korea itself.

Thus both cases cited as Iranian or North Korean attacks were likely to have come from other sources.

But based on such scaremongering the U.S. will now - generously - sell software, hardware and training to Gulf monarchies to protect from Iranian "threats" that likely do not exits at all. Those countries will have to pay hundreds of millions dollars for those "services" to "defend" against "threats" that mysteriously came up from unknown sources and are now cited as justification to pay out for their "prevention".

This doesn't just sound like a protection racket. It is one.

Adding: Also interesting that these anonymous officials come out at a time where the U.S. government accused of cyber spying on its own people. A sad diversion attempt?

Posted by b on June 9, 2013 at 05:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (44)

June 08, 2013

Syria: Hizbullah's Involvement Is Limited

The offense of the Syrian army against the foreign insurgents continues:
The last rebel stronghold near the strategic town of Qusair, western Syria, has fallen to government forces, Syrian state TV says.

Eastern Bouweida village, which lies between Qusair and the restive city of Homs was captured by troops backed by militants from Lebanon's Hezbollah.

The Syrian army regained control of the town of Qusair on Wednesday after weeks of intense fighting with rebel forces.

The rebels have now lost a key supply route into neighbouring Lebanon.

 

The BBC map of areas held by the insurgents (blue) below still shows some of their pockets next to the eastern Lebanese borders. The next task is to turn these areas into government held red.

Hizbullah will be responsible for this task:

In the speech during which he announced the party’s involvement in the Syrian war, Nasrallah alluded to the direct objectives his party sought to achieve, and defined them as meant to put an end to the Syrian opposition’s military presence in three different areas: The Damascus’ countryside, which is home to the Sayyida Zaynab shrine; the Homs’ countryside, which includes the city of Qusair and surrounding villages; and the Qalamoun area, which includes the Zabadani region.
The Qalamoun area and Zabadani region is the still blue one just north of Damascus.

There is lots of talk by insurgency supporters of an alleged Hizbullah force near Aleppo. I for now doubt that such a force exists there. It makes little sense for Hizbullah to go there before the immediate tasks Nasrallah announced are achieved. The talk about the Aleppo force seems to be planted to exaggerate the Hizbullah "threat" in a renewed media campaign to get more weapons:

“If we don’t receive ammunition and weapons to change the position on the ground, to change the balance on the ground, very frankly I can say we will not go to Geneva,” Gen. Salim Idris said in a telephone interview from his headquarters in northern Syria. “There will be no Geneva.”
...
In the interview, however, General Idris said that the rebels remained woefully overmatched in firepower. During the recent fighting, he said, the Assad government has made liberal use of long-range artillery, tanks, surface-to-surface missiles and warplanes. In contrast, he added, rebel forces were relying on light weapons, including AK-47s, PKC machine guns, 120-millimeter mortars and RPG-7s, a type of rocket-propelled grenade.
...
The Assad government’s next target, he said, is Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, drawing on support from thousands of Hezbollah fighters, Iranian military operatives and Iraqi Shiite fighters.
(Btw - The ammunition for General Idris' 120mm mortars seem to come from Israel.)

The insurgency supporters suddenly have a lot of issues with "foreign fighters" in Syria. Are those Hizbullah soldiers who came just a month ago from Lebanon to fight near their border more "foreign" than those ten thousands who came over the last years from dozens of other countries to behead Syrian people and are still streaming in even while the original Syrian insurgency dies down?

Foreign Islamist extremists are streaming into Syria, apparently in response to the Shiite militant group Hezbollah’s more visible backing of Syrian President Bashar Assad, a development that analysts say is likely to lead to a major power struggle between foreign jihadists and Syrian rebels should the regime collapse.
...
On Friday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition research center in London, posted a video from Aleppo on its Facebook that purportedly shows members of the Nusra Front, a fighting group manned in large part by non-Syrians, replacing a Syrian revolutionary flag with the black flag associated with their al Qaida-aligned movement. The Observatory noted that “local civil activists have voiced much anger as a result.”
...
Latest figures from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is generally regarded as the most authoritative recorder of Syrian casualty figures, showed that 2,219 foreigners have been killed fighting on the rebels’ behalf since the conflict began. That’s more than the 1,965 dead who were identified as defectors from the Syrian army.

“Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s involvement was considered a foreign interference,” Nasrallah scoffed in his speech last month.

There is new confirmation that Hizbullah will indeed, for now, not engage in Aleppo:
Hizbullah will suspend its military operations in Syria after securing the Damascus suburb of Zabadani “from which rockets are being fired on Shiite villages in Baalbek and Hermel,” the Central News Agency reported on Saturday.
...
“It is not in the party's interest to engage in a war in Syria's heart (against rebels) as the Syrian army is capable of winning it,” the sources added.
The Carnegie Middle East Center predicts:
If the strategic equilibrium that has emerged since November 2012 tips further, it will be a decisive shift in the regime’s favor. The political and military wings of the opposition must address their most serious shortcomings. If they do not, they will be in retreat, if not full flight, by the end of 2013.
I agree with that. But I do not agree with this conclusion:
The regime cannot win. But the opposition can lose.
Unless there is an outright U.S. intervention, for which there is no appetite, I believe, like the Hizbullah sources, that the Syrian army can win the battle for its country.

Posted by b on June 8, 2013 at 02:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (104)

North Korea: No Qualms About Russia's UN Ambassador

This piece in Prawda seems quite ridiculous. Why would anyone care how North Korea thinks about Russia's UN ambassador? One wonders how Russian nationalists feel about it.

Choice for U.N. Post Gets North Korea's Vote of Confidence

MOSCOW - Dimitri Novikov, President Putins’s choice to be the next ambassador to the United Nations, is encountering resistance from pro-North Korean groups for remarks he once made about North Korea and its nuclear programs. But on Friday, he got an unexpected vote of confidence from North Korea’s representative in the Russian Federation.

Kim Yan Bo, the North Korean ambassador to Moscow, said in an interview that Mr. Novikov, a journalist and academic who has written and spoken widely about nuclear issues, had a deep understanding of North Korea’s security issues and sympathy for its concerns.

Normally, Mr. Kim Yan said, a North Korean government official would not comment on a presidential nomination that required Duma confirmation. He said he decided to make an exception in his case to dispel an impression that the North Korean government had qualms about him.

On a somewhat similar note, you should read this:
BOSTON, Mass. — Human rights activists say revelations that the US regime has expanded its domestic surveillance program to private phone carriers is more evidence of the North American country’s pivot toward authoritarianism.
...
“The US leadership in Washington continues to erode basic human rights,” said one activist, who asked to remain anonymous, fearing that speaking out publicly could endanger his organization. “If the US government is unwilling to change course, it’s time the international community considered economic sanctions.”
...
“We meet in person these days to talk about strategy, phones and email are no longer safe for us,” one of them said. “Our goal now is to just get out the message to the world about what is going on here. That’s the first step. We need to educate not only Americans but the world about the extent the US regime is controlling the lives of its citizens.”

Posted by b on June 8, 2013 at 12:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (21)

June 06, 2013

Why Should Voters Pay For Useless NSA Databases?

Glenn Greenwald has a scoop for the Guardian. Well - sort of a scroop:

NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily:

The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America's largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.

The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an "ongoing, daily basis" to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.

The Guardian has a copy of the current secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa) order. It was issued on April 25 and gives the government unlimited authority to obtain data from Verizon for a three-month period ending on July 19.

Greenwald's scoop is in getting his hands on the court order. It is likely that the U.S. government will now open a case against the leaker of that order as well as against Greenwald himself. (Popcorn please.)

But the larger issue was already well known. The National Security Agency is collecting all telephone meta-data in the U.S. since at least 2006:

The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.
After the issue became public the telecoms demanded immunity and congress arranged for that. Congress also instituted a process that creates some formal legality for the massive data collection. While that mechanism is in itself secret we can reasonably assume that the FISA court will, every three month, issue court orders to all telecommunication companies and demand all the meta-data for all calls. It will likely have a similar process for individual internet access. Additional commercial data sources will enable the government to pinpoint each call and internet access back to individuals.

The purpose for such a massive data collection is somewhat dubious. The official reasoning is "terrorism":

A senior administration official said: "Information of the sort described in the Guardian article has been a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States, as it allows counter-terrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, particularly people located inside the United States.
That may be a theoretical purpose but how is that supposed to justify such massive preemptive data collection? The government could reasonably demand that telecommunication providers store individual call records for some three month. Many already do so for billing purposes. The government could then, should it need to in a specific case, request through a judge the relevant past connection data for a specific person. That mechanism would fulfill the purported need of the above "senior administration official".

But that seems not to be what the government wants. It wants to collect all data and it wants to process all that data. But for what purpose? After at least seven years and likely billions spend on the program one really wonders what this is about. Only two or three cases of successful terrorism have occurred in those years. Many other case went to court but all of those were of some dimwits entrapped by the FBI or caught otherwise. There is not one case I am aware of that can somehow be connected to the NSA's massive data hunt.

If there is no such case, or even if there were a few, why continue this unnecessary massive waste of federal resources? There is zero to little benefit from this project while it sucks up an enormous amount of tax payer money. Why should anyone pay for that?  That is the question voters should ask their representatives.

Posted by b on June 6, 2013 at 10:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (89)

Erdogan Doubles Down

During an press conference in Tunisia, where he is on a state visit, the Turkish Prime Minster Erdogan doubled down. He announced to continue with his plans to "develop" Istanbul's Taksim Square despite the ongoing protests. While the protests started about the issue of the Geli Park, which is part of the square, the grievances are more general as perfectly captured in this animated video and against Erdogan's authoritarian style of governing.

While excluding "environmentalists" Erdogan accused the protesters in Taksim Square of relations to terrorism and connected them to a recent suicide attack against the U.S. embassy. With this he tries to delegitimize the protests and is playing to his party base.

During Erdogan's speech the Turkish stock market fell by 4.5% and bond yields jumped by 60 basis points. Turkish stocks are now 20% down from recent hights.

Erfogan expressed regret about excessive use of tear gas by the police but gave no sign of any other concession to the protesters demands.

His position seems to be harder than the position of President Gül and Deputy Prime Minster Arinc who recently sounded more conciliatory. Erdogan also seems to have rejected the advice given today by the very influential Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen:

Gülen counseled that the protests should not be underestimated and said that if one claims that the protesters are not seeking their rights, then some of what he called their “innocent demands” would likely be ignored. He added that the initial protesters who gathered in Taksim's Gezi Park last week in a sit-in protest to prevent construction workers from destroying trees could be seen as rightfully demanding the preservation of the ecosystem and green spaces. He branded their initial demands as “logical.”
Erdogan rejects those rightful and "logical" demands. Many of the Erdogan's AK Parti followers listen to Gülen and adopt their live to his teachings. Other AKP voters like Erdogan's authoritarian style and are not willing to allow any critic against him.

It is now very likely that the protests which started over Gezi Park will continue and that clashes will intensify. Those clashes will not only be between protesters and the police but also between anti-Erdogan protesters and Erdogan's shabiha which is organized in the AKP's youth groups.

It is also likely that the split within the AK Parti will widen. Followers of Fethullah Gülen, probably led by President Gül, will try to take a more conciliatory route while the followers of the Sultan with a gas mask will seek a more confrontational route.

Much of the real power within the AKP rest in Anatolian businessman who are sensible to business losses. Erdogan's war on Syria has already taken a big toll off their profits. The tourism business suffers from Erdogan's morality campaign against alcohol. Further unrest, as the stock market already anticipates, will be certainly not increase their wealth. Turkey has a large current account deficit and depends on foreign finance. The economic toll of Erdogan's stubbornness will pile up. How long will then those party people stay with him?

For the next few weeks we can expect escalations on the streets of Turkish cities. There will be more dead on both sides. The solution to the crisis may come only after the split in the AKP results in a formal divergence, the two camps go each their own way and contest each other in new elections.

Posted by b on June 6, 2013 at 09:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (45)

June 05, 2013

The Syrian Army Takes Qusayr

From Naharnet Breaking News:
05 June 2013, 06:25 The Syrian rebel fighters announced their withdrawal from al-Qusayr.
05 June 2013, 05:28 Free Syrian Army Command denied to al-Jazeera that the Syrian Army forces controlled al-Qusayr.
05 June 2013, 04:20 Activists denied that the Syrian regime forces controlled the town of Qusayr.

The Syrian army launched a surprizing night attack and overran the insurgency positions in Qusayr. Some of the insurgents managed to flee north but will have trouble to break through the wide cordon that the Syrian army set up.

The insurgency's supply line from Lebanon to Homs is severed. Insurgency positions in Homs city and Homs governate will soon fall to the Syrian army. To free the insurgcy held parts of Aleppo further north will be the next big target.

Posted by b on June 5, 2013 at 03:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (128)

June 03, 2013

Erdogan Is Toast

Last week a small environmental protest against the demolishing of a park in Istanbul went nearly unnoticed. But when police rather brutally intervened to let workers cut some of the trees the situation exploded. Within a few days over 100,000 were out on the streets and clashing with police forces.

Most of those people did not come out to save the Gezi park but to demonstrate against the kind of politics that it symbolizes. Most of the locals want to keep the park and are against the larger related project to "renovate" the central Taksim square. Taksim stands for May 1 demonstrations, the Ataturk cultural center and common urban space.

But the AKP wishes to revive the Ottoman era and to insert more religion into public live. Its leading clique has many business interests. The AKP therefor decided to raze the park to build a replica of the Ottoman Artillery Barracks and to fill its with a shopping mall and a mosque. A government commission advised against the project but was overruled. Protesters were moved away through rather brutal police engagements. This authoritarian way of pushing party interests against the common one is what brought the people into the streets.

On Friday a court handed the government a perfect chance to calm the protests down. It ruled that the project would be stopped until some further issues could be heard in court. Erdogan could have pointed to the ruling and could have promised to follow it. Instead he repeated that the government will to continue to “realize their dream” and to build the barracks and to transform the whole Taksim square.

The AKP under Erdogan disregards the societies opinion on single political issues and only cares about its followers' interests and winning the totals in the next election. The political alternatives to the AKP are not strong enough or too dogmatic on single issues to be serious challengers. Turkey has thereby become a hollow democracy and a one party state. The Turkish media are suppressed. Journalists who dared to criticize the government lost their jobs or even went to jail. Media companies were threatened over dubious allegations of tax evasion. Many TV stations did not dare to report the protests and only now start to follow them.

The AKP pursues neo-liberal policies, privatizes state companies wherever it can and hates labor unions. For some years it was very effective in growing the economy though most of the growth was bought with foreign capital, mostly from the Gulf. Turkey's current-account deficit is some 10% of GDP per year. That is unsustainable. Much of this money is "hot" and only interested in short term return. It will flee as soon as the recent Turkish growth story seems to falter. The Turkish stock market already started to fall before the demonstrations started. Today it plunged another 10%. Interest rates jumped.

Erdogan has called the protesters alcoholics, bums, extremists and looters. This video shows "looters" trying to rob an ATM. They clearly wear riot police outfits. Erdogan blamed twitter and other social media for the protests and alleged that opposition politicians were inciting the protesters and suggested that they were under foreign intelligence control.

There are of course protesters who belong to political opposition parties and the soccer fans of Istanbul's three big clubs, who banded together to clash with the police, are not harmless pussies. But the way these protests exploded and spread within two days into nearly 50 other cities does not point to pure political or foreign control. It rather looks like a collective outbreak of long simmering frustrations with Erdogan's authoritarian rule.

Today Erdogan went off to a week of state visits in north Africa. Before he left he claimed that he could "barely hold back" the 50% that voted for his party in the last election. It is dubious that all of those would now come out for him. In several of his policies, like the assault on Syria, a large majority of Turks is against him. But it still is a threat to launch counter demonstration that would inevitably end in more clashes. Last night one demonstrator was killed when a car ran over him. Some claim the driver was incited by Erdogan's aggressive talk. While Istanbul was rather quiet throughout the day today clashes with the police continued in Ankara and for the first time Erdogan's shabiha went into action:

Solidarity protests against the demolition of Taksim Gezi Park continued in Ankara today while clashes erupted between demonstrators and a group 30 people chanting slogans on behalf of the police. The unknown group, which attacked while shouting “May the hands of those who attack the police be broken,” ran away after attacking demonstrators.
Unless Erdogan starts to compromise on the Gezi park and other issues or steps down demonstrations and clashes are likely to continue. There will be counter demonstrations and clashes with groups supporting Erdogan. While the police is on the side of the government the military is not. Many generals are in jail for alleged coup plotting and the officer corps will not support the man and party who put them there.

The economy, already effected by the war on Syria and much too high current account deficits, will go down as the hot money flees from the Turkish markets. The big tourism industry will see further losses. One of the four big labor unions with 240,000 members announced that it will now go on strike. The peace process with the Kurds is still vague and attacks by the Kurdish PKK guerrilla can easily reoccur.

Erdogan is not without competition within his own party. If he can not keep the economy going and the streets peaceful the knifes will come out against him. President Gul, one of Erdogan's top frienemies, is already positioning himself. Today he came out against Erdogan's absolutists claims by explaining that democracy is not just about elections.

There are now four possible ways out of these troubles:

  • The protests run out of steam and peter out. Unlikely in my view, especially as the labor unions are now joining.
  • Erdogan becomes a humble man, stops the Taksim square project and apologizes. This would be counter to everything that is know about Erdogan's personality and seems unlikely.
  • The military launches a coup. It is dubious that a majority of Turks would support another coup and the military might not be willing to take on the burden. Why not just sit back, simply watch the show and smile?
  • Some faction in Erodgan's AKP launches a party coup against him and put him out of office.

For now my bet is on the third alternative. But it will take a while. More clashes - maybe even outright shootings, more economic damage, more political strife will happen before someone dares to take the sultan down. The process could take weeks or months. But however it ends Erdogan will, in the end, lose out. There is no going back. He is toast.

Posted by b on June 3, 2013 at 11:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (98)

June 02, 2013

NYT Joins War On Shia


From a current screenshot of NYTimes.com
bigger

The above headline excludes Shiites, Alawites and several other strains of Islam from being Muslim. The NYT claims that hate preacher Youssef al-Qaradawi called on "World's Muslims". But he clearly called on Sunni Muslim only and to wage war against Shia Muslims. With characterizing this as a call on "World's Muslims" the NYT seems to agree with al-Qaradawi who excludes Shia from Muslim believe:

He denounced Assad’s Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, as “more infidel than Christians and Jews” and Shiite Muslim Hezbollah as “the party of the devil.”

Al-Qaradawi said there is no more common ground between Shiites and Sunnis, alleging that Shiite Iran — a longtime Syria ally that has supplied the regime with cash and weapons — is trying to “devour” Sunnis.

Then there is also this curious "but" in the sub-headline. What does this mean? XYZ "has been called an extremist ... but has been influential" Is being influential and on the same side as U.S. policies now a valid excuse for being an extremist?

Posted by b on June 2, 2013 at 04:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (60)

June 01, 2013

Erdogan Clashes With "His Own People"

It started on Monday as a small protest of a few dozen people against the removal of trees at one of the last public parks in the central Istanbul district Taksim. Using tear gas and pepper spray police removed the people and uprooted some trees.

The park is planned to be removed for a replica of Ottoman Artillery Barracks which would be turned into (another) shopping mall. The mayor of Istanbul, a member of Erdogan's AKP, is the owner of a retail chain as is likely to profit from the mall. Erdogan's son-in-law holds the contract for the renewal of the area. It is one of the AKP's mega projects in Istanbul which get implemented without asking for the consent of the people who are likely to get harmed by them.

Beaten back by the police the small Monday demonstration multiplied. The park was occupied with tents and a festive atmosphere only to be again brutally removed by the police. Protests again multiplied. Yesterday several thousand clashed with the police in Istanbul and smaller demonstration took place in other Turkish cities. Some 100 got injured. The people taking part are mostly, but not solely, secular liberals who dislike Erdogan's economic neoliberal, socially arch-conservatve and autocratic way to govern. Politicians from opposition parties jumped onto the bandwagon.

Turkish media hardly covered the protests. CNN Turk broadcasted a cooking show while CNN International reported of clashes in Istanbul. Some 70 journalists in Turkey are imprisoned for "supporting terrorism" and other vague "crimes". Media companies have been threatened by the government. They largely do not dare to report opposition views.

In a speech today Erdogan admitted that the police reaction was too harsh but did not respond to the demands of the protester. He claimed that "those on streets are linked with terror, have dark ties". His deputy suggested that foreign powers are involved.

The protests will continue. How long will depend on the police. If it continues to use too much force they could escalate again. Should somehow weapons become involved the protests could turn into outright riots. While Erdogan has a solid majority behind him many people dislike his way to govern. A large majority rejects his support for the insurgency in Syria.

Erdogan will likely prevail and will build another useless mall. But his powers will be diminish. In 2011 Erdogan said "Mubarak must listen to his people". He had the same advice for the Syrian president Assad. Not listening to "his own" "peaceful protesters" will further expose his hypocrisy. His personal project of changing the constitution to a presidential one to then be elected as a powerful president is now in serious danger.

Posted by b on June 1, 2013 at 06:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (119)

 
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