From iPhone to Cisco Routers - NSA Hacks It All
Everyone should read the SPIEGEL story and check the graphics and docs about the NSA's Tailored Access Operation. They describe the hardware and software tools the NSA uses to break into every level of computing - from your cellphone up to carrier class internet routers. The Apple iPhone for example is, as was to be expected, one of the devices the NSA can crack and silently control anytime it tries.
Jacob Appelbaum, who helped reporting the story, yesterday gave an hour long talk about these NSA abilities. I recommend to listen to it. He rightly points out one of the main issues that even supporters of the NSA spying should have serious headaches about. If the NSA can use the software and hardware bugs in various devices to take control over them then others can do this too. I bet that there are criminals out there who use exactly the same problematic holes the NSA uses for its spying. Such holes should be fixed and not abused.
One aspect that may help top rein in the NSA's totally overdone "collect it all" and "hack it all" attitude is the extreme damage this report will do to the U.S. computer and internet companies. Why would I buy Cisco routers or an iPhone when it is publicly known that these are extremely unsafe devices?
The NSA hacking and spying was the biggest story of 2013. It is also quite likely that further reporting on and the fallout from it will be the biggest story of 2014. Some media try to propagandize that people are okay with this NSA business and that no actions need to follow. Don't let them fool you. People do care and many are already changing some of their online habits. But there has to build even more pressure for real change to come.
My big "thank you"s for this year goes to Edward Snowden for the courage to go public with the NSA interna and to Glenn Greenwald for the excellent management of the drip by drip publication that keeps this very important story alive.
Thank you also to my readers and the commentators here who keep me motivated to continue this blog. Have a good new year in which hopefully no one will spy on you.
Bandar's Threat Comes True - Russia Will Respond
As-Safir said Prince Bandar pledged to safeguard Russia’s naval base in Syria if the Assad regime is toppled, but he also hinted at Chechen terrorist attacks on Russia’s Winter Olympics in Sochi if there is no accord. “I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us,” he allegedly said.
December 2013: Second Blast Hits Russia, Raising Olympic Fears
A deadly suicide bombing at a crowded railroad station in southern Russia on Sunday, followed by a blast in a trolley bus on Monday in the same city, raised the specter of a new wave of terrorism just six weeks before the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
President Vladimir V. Putin’s government has worked to protect the Olympics with some of the most extensive security measures ever imposed for the Games. But the bombings, in Volgograd, underscored the threat the country faces from a radical Islamic insurgency in the North Caucasus that has periodically spilled into the Russian heartland, with deadly results, including several recent attacks.
One doesn't attack Stalingrad without receiving a blowback. The Russian security forces will have an immediate harsh response on the local level. There will be pressure on Putin to also directly respond towards Saudi Arabia. Russia will feel the need to set a precedence. The response will therefore likely come, though probably delayed, in a rather spectacular form.
I am back home now and catching up on the news. Some issues:
A corruption scandal in Turkey may see embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad outlast his Turkish adversary Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the latest sign Turkish foreign policy on Syria is undergoing a major recalibration, analysts say.
Along with supplies from Turkey the Syrian insurgents are still getting weapons and (western) military advice through Jordan: Aid to Syrian rebels flows through a complex maze and Syrian rebels get arms and advice through secret command centre in Amman.
The Saudis will spend $3 billion on French weapons for the Lebanese army. That sum is double the yearly budget of the rather toothless Lebanese army. Those arms will certainly not be sufficient and used to fight Israel. Is this Saudi support for the Lebanese Salafis? And will those weapons really go to Lebanon or will they end up elsewhere? How much of this is simply to bribe Hollande?
A big story at the NYT whitewashes the Benghazi attack that killed the U.S. ambassador. It is missing a whole lot of points: the diplomatic outpost was the cover for a CIA operation
- the CIA bought weapons there to ship them to Turkey and to their proxies in Syria
- the ambassador was involved in the weapon transfer
- "AlQaeda" groups had an interest to acquire those weapons for their own groups in Syria
- some AQ-affiliates (the brother of AQ leader al-Zawahiri in Egypt) started an international protest over some anti-Muslim video as an operational diversion and cover for taking over the CIA arms depots in Libya
Without some deeper digging into the above points, missing in the NYT, the whole Benghazi story is just a fairy tale.
Open Thread 2013-29News & views ...
Have Some Nice Days ...
To all of us some contemplative, hope- and peaceful holidays. May the walls come down.
Picture courtesy of the Bethlehem Association
Use as open thread ...
No Blowback For Saudi Arabia?
The War Nerd thinks there will be no blowback for Saudi Arabia from sending Jihadis to kill Syrians.
The Middle East has been Saudi-ized while we looked on and laughed at those goofy Saudis who didn’t understand progress. No wonder they’re content to play dumb. If we took a serious look at them, they’d be terrifying.
And of all their many skills, the one the Saudis have mastered most thoroughly is disruption. Not the cute tech-geek kind of disruption, but the real, ugly thing-in-itself. They don’t just “turn a blind eye” to young Saudi men going off to do jihad—they cheer them on. It’s a brilliant strategy that kills two very dangerous birds with one plane ticket. By exporting their dangerous young men, the Saudis rid themselves of a potential troublemaker while creating a huge amount of pain for the people who live wherever those men end up.
This worked well, the War Nerd says, and Wahabized Afghanistan and Chechnya while the blowback, he says, has been zero in those cases:
[L]et’s total up the number of Saudi Sunni killed in this “blowback” from the Afghan jihad. I’m no math whiz myself, but I think I can give a pretty exact figure: Zero. None.
In short, there was no blowback for the Saudis. Blowback by Saudis, and by Saudi-funded groups, Hell yeah, but blowback within Saudi Arabia, against Saudis (real Saudis, which means Sunni), nope. Nary a bit.
It is a good argument but I am not convinced. There has been some blowback from other Saudi Jihad interventions that the War Nerd leaves out. There was, for example, a serious attempt to kill the Saudi deputy intelligence minister. The blowback also does not have to come from Jihadis. Syria is nearer to Saudi Arabia than Afghanistan or Chechnya and its allies are more potent forces.
Someone within the Syrian, Iranian or Hizbullah's inelligence services will surely be able to come up with some good ideas.
Review Group Falsly Claims No NSA Backdoors in U.S. Software
Upon review, however, we are unaware of any vulnerability created by the US Government in generally available commercial software that puts users at risk of criminal hackers or foreign governments decrypting their data. Moreover, it appears that in the vast majority of generally used, commercially available encryption software, there is no vulnerability, or “backdoor,” that makes it possible for the US Government or anyone else to achieve unauthorized access.
Like other seemingly assuring assertions from the NSA and related entities this one turns out to be false:
As a key part of a campaign to embed encryption software that it could crack into widely used computer products, the U.S. National Security Agency arranged a secret $10 million contract with RSA, one of the most influential firms in the computer security industry, Reuters has learned.
Documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden show that the NSA created and promulgated a flawed formula for generating random numbers to create a "back door" in encryption products, the New York Times reported in September. Reuters later reported that RSA became the most important distributor of that formula by rolling it into a software tool called Bsafe that is used to enhance security in personal computers and many other products.
Undisclosed until now was that RSA received $10 million in a deal that set the NSA formula as the preferred, or default, method for number generation in the BSafe software, according to two sources familiar with the contract.
RSA security products, widely used so far, are not secure. The NSA paid RSA to use a weak encryption which the NSA can easily break. If the NSA can break these others can too. They thereby have a backdoor into RSA software and whoever uses those insecure products should do away with them.
If the NSA Review Group was unaware of paid for NSA backdoors in commercial products how many of its other recommendations tackle the real problems?
Yeah. Thought so.
The NSA's Economic Spying Slowly Comes Into View
The publishing of NSA secrets continues. The Guardian, Spiegel and the New York Times report on efforts to listen to new satellite connections. The tests were run against a (partitial) "target database" and their results reveal what targets that "target database" contains. These included international organizations like UNICEF, Non-Government-organizations like Médecins du Monde, high European Union functionaries, economic entities like the oil giant Total and the electronics and military producer Thales. They include many heads of states and state institutions as well as some alleged terrorists. Some of the target numbers were obtained from U.S. officials who share their rolodexes with the NSA.
The NSA spying on telephone data in the United States has decisively helped in zero terrorists cases instead of the 54 cases the NSA had claimed. The real international target list is likewise not primarily aimed at "terrorists" as the NSA claims. I also doubt that it is mainly just to target politicians or political entities. I believe that most of the targets will turn out to be economic entities and that this will be the real issue that brings up a storm against international NSA spying. Notice that the wording the NSA uses when asked about economic spying gets more elaborate and includes more caveats each time questions are asked. This from the NYT piece linked above:
In a statement, the N.S.A. denied that it had ever carried out espionage to benefit American businesses.
“We do not use our foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of — or give intelligence we collect to — U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line,” said Vanee Vines, an N.S.A. spokeswoman.
But she added that some economic spying was justified by national security needs. “The intelligence community’s efforts to understand economic systems and policies, and monitor anomalous economic activities, are critical to providing policy makers with the information they need to make informed decisions that are in the best interest of our national security,” Ms. Vines said.
How can one detect "anomalous economic activities" when one does not observe the "normal" economic activities? One can not and that caveat thereby reveals the real activities.
There is also the history of the current spying activities:
The documents that were reviewed also suggest that the satellite dragnet is likely a continuation of the legendary global Echelon surveillance network, which was the subject of an investigation by a committee of the European Parliament in 2000.
In their 2001 final report, the EU politicians presented a wealth of convincing evidence of industrial espionage allegedly committed through Echelon ...
When the NSA spokesperson says "We do not ... give intelligence we collect to — U.S. companies" the next question must be who does the NSA give that "economic" intelligence to and to whom does that entity (likely the CIA as was the case with Echelon data) hand those secrets?
Pressure on non-U.S. politicians to build a really secure Internet communication systems will only come when the companies in their countries find out that their well-being depends on it. With many new revelations about the NSA still to come it is likely that we will soon see that the economic aspect of the spying scandal, and the response to it from parties that have real stakes in such issues, is a major if not the major part of the whole affair.
Assad Stays While Erdogan Goes?
Reuters reports that the U.S. and the British government have somewhat given up on regime change in Syria:
Western nations have indicated to the Syrian opposition that peace next month talks may not lead to the removal of President Bashar al-Assad and that his Alawite minority will remain key in any transitional administration, opposition sources said.
"Our Western friends made it clear in London that Assad cannot be allowed to go now because they think chaos and an Islamist militant takeover would ensue," said one senior member of the Coalition who is close to officials from Saudi Arabia.
So the "west" has agreed that Assad will stay as will the government structure around him. Good.
But down in the report is some bad news:
[O]pposition activists in Syria have said that Turkey has let a weapons consignment cross into Syria to the Islamic Front, the rebel group that overran the Bab al-Hawa border crossing last week, seizing arms and Western equipment supplied to non-Islamists.
That Erdogan is supplying the Saudi financed Islamic Front, who's leader has no profound ideological difference with AlQaeda, will not be liked by Turkey's NATO allies who want to get rid of these guys.
That issue will only add to Erdogan's troubles. Yesterday the police in Istanbul arrested dozens of people related to Erdogan's AK Party including the sons of three ministers involved in a number of graft cases. Just hours later the five police leaders responsible for the case were fired and two new prosecutors were named to oversee the whitewash of the issue. More police chiefs were fired today after the justice minister intervened. This hasty cover-up seems to show that the cases are valid. This corruption and justice scandal comes on top of a fight between Erdogan and the powerful Gülen movement which had supported Erdogan throughout the last elections. Lacking Gülen support his chances to win the three elections coming up next year are now seriously diminished.
It seems more and more likely that Erdogan will have to leave his office before the Syrian president leaves his. That would be a quite fair historic outcome.
The BBC's Contradicting Reports On Abbas Khan
A year ago a British doctor, Abbas Khan, went to Syria to help on the side of the insurgents. He was caught by the Syrian government and sent to jail. He was to be released during the next days but then committed suicide.
The BBC, "reporting" on the issue, writes:
Syrian authorities have said their post-mortem examination showed he killed himself while in detention.
But his family has said this is not credible as he was due to be released.
Mr Khan's brother said that it was "pure fiction" that Mr Khan had committed suicide as he had written to relatives saying he was looking forward to coming home for Christmas.
On Tuesday, the Foreign Office said that the doctor had been "in effect murdered" by the Syrian authorities and at best his death was "extremely suspicious".
Nowhere in that current piece does the BBC mention that the doctors family earlier feared, as the BBC itself reported just five days ago, that the doctor was likely to commit suicide:
The family of a British doctor, imprisoned by the Syrian government for over a year, is growing increasingly concerned for his mental health.
His brother, Afroze, said Dr Khan was depressed. "There is a real possibility he may want to harm himself."
In his most recent letter Dr Khan wrote: "Being kept in appalling and inhuman conditions has seen my mental health markedly deteriorate, I suffer from almost constant depression and suicidal ideation."
The family feared, and the doctor himself practicality announced, his possible suicide. Five dates later the man is dead and has, according to the Syrian government, killed himself.
But now the earlier feared and reported possible suicide is suddenly called "not credible" and "pure fiction" and the BBC does not even mention the contradiction to its earlier report but goes solely with the family's (and British government) new propaganda line.
Is that official amnesia the BBC is practicing here or Big Brother like historical revisionism?
That Other "Mission Accomplished"
Of the 300 British soldiers who have died in Afghanistan since 2001, 96 have been in Sangin, the most dangerous place in the country for Nato soldiers.
Four years after UK troops deployed there, the Taliban continue to aggressively contest control of the Helmand town, which has become infamous for the vast number of improvised explosive devices used by insurgents, which have been responsible for most British deaths.
British troops are coming home from Afghanistan because it is "mission accomplished" in the country, David Cameron has said.
The Prime Minister made the comments after flying into Afghanistan to visit British troops at Camp Bastion in Helmand Province.
A source said: "The summary of where we're at in Helmand is overwhelmingly positive. The campaign here is on track and the Afghans are in a good place in the short, medium and long term.
Dec 16 2013 - ANA, Taliban jointly patrol Sangin
LASHKARGAH (PAN): Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers and Taliban jointly patrol areas in the Sangin district of southern Helmand province, residents and elders say ...
Sangin Community Council Secretary Syed Wali told Pajhwok Afghan News on Monday he himself had seen ANA personnel and militants jointly patrolling the district in tanks and armoured vehicles.
The ANA had surrendered to the fighters three checkpoints in the Majeed Square area that were supposed to block Taliban’s entry into the city, he said.
On Sunday, Mohammad added, the Taliban hosted ANA personnel in the Chahar Deh village of Sangin.
Open Thread 2013-27News & views ...
China Lands On The Moon
Congrats to China for successfully soft-landing its Chang'e-3 lunar probe and its rover on the moon. It is now the third nation which has done so. The lunar probe is later supposed to return to the earth. Good luck with that. China's next space program will likely be a manned moon program picking up where the United States ended its large space program.
Congratulations also to Iran which today for the second time lauched a "manned" space flight and successfully landed and recovered the ape that took the flight.
While the scientific values of these flights can be debated the excitement that comes from achieving such aims can not. China and Iran will both be proud of what they did and deserve to be lauded for this technical achievement.
NYT: "Don't Trust Our Editorials"
As the News York Times now admitts one can not trust anything written in a New York Times editorial. (Are the news-pages any better?)
April 16, 2009 - Editorial: Roxana Saberi
Iran’s government needs to release Ms. Saberi and end this dangerous farce.
A former F.B.I. agent who went missing in 2007 while on a business trip, Robert Levinson, is also believed to be imprisoned.
September 18, 2009 Editorial: Iran’s Captives
[Iran] must free Robert Levinson, a former F.B.I. agent missing since 2007.
October 23 2009 - Editorial: More Iranian Injustice
... Robert Levinson, a former F.B.I. agent has been missing since 2007. These victims of Iran’s autocratic leaders must be released.
November 11 2009 - Cruel, Pointless Games
Tehran’s latest outrage is to accuse three American hikers, held for more than three months, of spying.
Robert Levinson, a former F.B.I. agent who traveled to Iran on a business trip, has been missing since 2007.
Now we learn: A Disappearing Spy, and a Scandal at the C.I.A.
The New York Times has known about the former agent’s C.I.A. ties since late 2007, when a lawyer for the family gave a reporter access to Mr. Levinson’s files and emails.
In Which Ignatius Does Not Understand "Hegemony"
Writing from Dubai David Ignatius pens a small piece on the alleged loss of the global standing of the United States. It is the usual claptrap of some Saudis and Republicans blaming Obama for not killing enough of their perceived enemies.
Interestingly there are three headlines to that piece. On the Washington Post opinion page it is:
Erosion of U.S. power
Allies have harsh words for the White House.
On the article subpage it is:
U.S. allies are restless
The browser window headline and the URL to the piece contain this:
Are "restless allies" a sign of "erosion of [U.S.] power"? Does that make sense? And what the hell are weevils???
But that Ignatius and his headline writers can not decide and label what his piece is really about is not the issue here. That comes in the last paragraph which compares the demise of the Soviet Union under Gorbachev with the United States:
Returning to Gorbachev, the paradox is that, although he was right in trying to change an outmoded, overburdened system, he didn’t foresee the consequences. He thought he could pull on a few stray threads without unraveling the sweater. The analogy is unfair, in that Soviet power was malign whereas U.S. hegemony has generally been positive. But a common theme is that repositioning a superpower is a tricky business.
Mr. Ignatius obviously does not know the definition of "hegemony:
he·gem·o·ny[hi-jem-uh-nee, hej-uh-moh-nee]noun, plural he·gem·o·nies.1.leadership or predominant influence exercised by one nation over others, as in a confederation.2.leadership; predominance.3.(especially among smaller nations) aggression or expansionism by large nations in an effort to achieve world domination.
The world is not a confederation and the U.S. is not in any agreed upon leadership of the world. But the third definition fits: Hegemony and striving for it by a large nation is aggression. And the claim that U.S. hegemonic aggression has "generally been positive" is an oxymoron, a contradiction in itself.
For whom has U.S.hegemony "generally been positive"? For all those people killed in Vietnam? For Iraqis? For the next of kin of those "mistakenly" killed 14 Yemenis and those 22 wounded by U.S. drones and missiles while on their way to a wedding?
The U.S. position is in decline because people like Mr. Ignatius are incapable to see the U.S. aggressive hegemonic aspirations as what they are and like most people outside the United States do see them. Ignatius would likely respond that he is well traveled and knows the world. But small talking with some billionaire oil-sheiks dictators who's position depend on U.S. military power will certainly not give the correct impression.
Syria: U.S. Moving Towards Supporting Assad
The first open sign of a change of U.S. policy towards supporting the Assad government in Syria came from Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker who advised to talk to Assad. Now the former CIA chief General Hayden says that Assad winning would be the best geopolitical outcome of the conflict. The BBC, which so far acted as a reliable pro-insurgency propaganda outlet, is now asking if it is Time to rethink a future with Assad?
"Someone has got to bite the bullet and say Assad stays," says Prof Joshua Landis, Director of the Centre of Middle Eastern Studies at Oklahoma University whose views are frequently sought by policy makers in Washington.
"We don't have another game in town."
Professor "Aleppo has fallen" Landis should notice that China, Russia and Iran, as well as this site, have been saying this all along. Anyway. As some regard Landis as an expert his change of mind will be noticed in the State Department and the White House.
Attempts by the U.S. to try to talk to the Islamist Front can not be taken seriously:
The Obama administration is willing to consider supporting an expanded Syrian rebel coalition that would include Islamist groups, provided the groups are not allied with al-Qaeda and agree to support upcoming peace talks in Geneva, a senior U.S. official said Thursday.
In addition, the official said, the Americans would like the Islamic Front groups to return U.S. vehicles, communications gear and other non-lethal equipment they seized last weekend from warehouses at the Syria-Turkey border.
The Americans would also like a pink pony.
Those Islamists will not agree to any conditions Washington will ask for and to request that the weapons, ammunition and cars the Front has stolen from the Free Syrian Army are given back just shows that there is no serious opening.
But while the wind in official Washington turns, clandestine efforts to further weaken the Syrian government may well continue. The Saudis are buying some 15,000 new anti-tank weapons and their current stock will be unloaded onto their Islamic Front mercenaries in Syria. It is inconceivable that this could be done without intimate knowledge and help from the CIA and U.S. special operations. It may still take several more month until such efforts, now largely done to prep up U.S. leverage in the Geneva talks, will be ended.
Supproting the new momentum the UN report (pdf) on the usage of chemical weapons in Syria is out and the results will put many more doubts on the Obama administration's allegations that the Syrian government was responsible for those:
The report said the panel had corroborated “credible allegations” that chemical weapons were used in the first reported attack — a March 19 episode involving soldiers and civilians in Khan al-Assal in the country’s north.
Syria also insisted that chemical weapons had been used against its soldiers after the Aug. 21 attack. The report said there was evidence supporting “the probable use of chemical weapons” in two episodes in the Damascus area — in Jobar on Aug. 24 and Ashrafiah Sahnaya on Aug. 25. In both cases, the report said, chemical weapons may have been used on “a relatively small scale against soldiers.”
Chemical weapons were used in Syria against the Syrian government and against civilians. It is not plausible that the Syrian government would attack its own troops or civilians with chemical weapons, especially not on the very day, August 21, that chemical weapon inspectors arrived in Damascus. It is much more plausible that the other side wanted to create a false flag incident to push the United States into openly attacking Syria.
Critics of the false flag thesis claim that there is no way the Jihadists could have made Sarin or used the rockets involved. They forget that those Jihadists are state sponsored, supported by various clandestine services and that some states in the area, most noticeable Israel, have chemical weapons and lobbied hard for on open U.S. attack on Syria.
Such an attack is now very, very unlikely to happen. The train towards supporting the Syrian government against the terrorists is slowly leaving the station. The Saudis, Israelis and Turks will still resist for a while but it will soon be clear that the Jihadists can not be contained in Syria and that a blow back is coming - one way or the other. Noise about the Saudis', and prince Bandar's, role in 9/11, is part of a strategy to rein them in.
Sabotaging The Nuclear Deal U.S. Adds New Sanctions On Iran
On November 24 the P5+1 and the Islamic Republic of Iran agreed on a temporary deal about the Iranian nuclear program and the sanctions against it. The agreed upon Joint Plan Of Action (pdf) includes this clause in the Elements of a first step which both sides are supposed to have by now implemented:
In return, the E3/EU+3 would undertake the following voluntary measures:
- Pause efforts to further reduce Iran's crude oil sales, enabling Iran's current customers to purchase their current average amounts of crude oil. Enable the repatriation of an agreed amount of revenue held abroad. For such oil sales, suspend the EU and U.S. sanctions on associated insurance and transportation services.
- Suspend U.S. and EU sanctions on:
- Iran's petrochemical exports, as well as sanctions on associated services
- The U.S. Administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress, will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions.
Today the United States broke the deal by imposing additional sanctions on Iran. There are now new sanctions against 4 persons, 12 companies and 36 reflagged ships many of them linked to Iran's oil sales and associated services.
Just two weeks ago the Obama administration had warned that new sanctions would thwart diplomatic talks with Iran:
Secretary of State John Kerry videotaped a message to members of Congress warning against any new sanctions during the six-month period of talks foreseen by a deal struck last weekend in Geneva.
The White House echoed the message, warning that any "additional sanctions before this diplomatic window could be pursued would undermine our credibility about the goal of these sanctions."
New sanctions would "violate the spirit" of the interim agreement and, [State Department spokeswoman] Psaki warned Tuesday, could divide the parties to the deal "because other countries would think that the United States is not living up to our end of the bargain in terms of giving the negotiations a chance."
Two days ago the undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the Treasury Department David Cohen wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that the U.S. would continue to "enforce current sanction":
To disrupt and disable those facilitating Iran's nuclear and missile programs, we will identify front companies, evaders and malefactors and sanction them. Along with our partners across the U.S. government, my team at Treasury has done so more than 600 times in the last several years. This will continue unabated.
This may be an attempt to stop new sanction legislation pushed for by the Israel lobby in the U.S. Congress. But the Israel-firsters will push for war no matter what the Obama administration does. They will ignore this move - or even see it as weakness - and they will push stronger.
There are now new persons, new companies and new ships on the just published new sanction list. The ship sanctions and some of the company sanctions clearly aim at hindering oil exports. I doubt that the people of Iran, especially those who are against any deal, will see these as enforcement of current sanctions. They and other countries will see these new sanction designations as a break of the letter and spirit of the Joint Plan Of Action.
These new sanctions are exactly what the Obama adminsitration warned of just two weeks ago. They are a confirmation that the U.S. does not want a deal. But it wants Iran to be seen the party that steps away from the current agreement. I doubt, given the new sanctions the U.S. now published, that such a plan will work.
What Is This "Secret" Nonsense On Al Udeid About?
Why is Tom Shanker writing this nonsense and why is the New York Times publishing it?
AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s visit to the advanced air operations center here this week was not just a stop at an important outpost of the United States military. It was also a major step forward for Pentagon transparency.
The highly classified American facility, officially called the Combined Air and Space Operations Center, coordinated all of the attack and surveillance missions for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — and would be equally critical if an American president decided that only bombs and missiles could halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It hosts liaison officers from 30 allies in Europe and the Persian Gulf.
Until this week, however, its location was carefully guarded by the Pentagon and the Qatari government, out of concerns from both about sensitivities to its presence.
That Al Udeid is a central command headquarter and the operations center for Afghanistan and other wars in the area has been widely known for over a decade. There was absolutely nothing secret about it. It is mentioned on many Defense Department and miltary units' websites and the Global Security piece on it is years old.
A search on the NYT website list 92 results for "AL UDEID AIR BASE". The NYT even officially announced its creation starting September 2002 and detailed coverage continued over several major stories (see samples below).
So why is Hagel announcing such nonsense and why is the NYT printing it?
September 18 2002 THE GULF REGION; Commander's Visit Part of Growing Role for Qatar
Al Udeid, a 15,000-foot airstrip about 20 miles west of the capital, was described by American officials as the longest in the Middle East. It provides for a wide range of military action, including bombing raids, air and ground surveillance, and air refueling, they said.
[L]ast week, General Franks announced that he would move about 600 officers, or about one-quarter of his staff, to Al Udeid Air Base in November for a war games exercise. About 2,000 American soldiers are on the base, down from a high of 4,000 during the war in Afghanistan, American officials said.
The new complement of officers is likely to remain after the exercise in preparation for a war against Iraq, the Pentagon said.
In coming to Qatar, General Franks is following in the footsteps of Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, who were here earlier this year during the Afghan war. They inspected Air Force operations at Al Udeid and spoke of the important role Qatar would play with the United States in the future.
April 28 2003 - AFTEREFFECTS: BASES; U.S. Will Move Air Operations To Qatar BaseThe United States is shifting its major air operations center for the Middle East from Saudi Arabia to Qatar, the first step in what is likely to be a significant reduction of American forces in Saudi Arabia and a realignment of American military presence in the region, senior military officials said today.
The day-to-day responsibility for overseeing hundreds of air missions in Iraq and the Middle East will be transferred this week from Prince Sultan Air Base near Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to a backup headquarters the United States built last year at Al Udeid Air base in Qatar, senior officials said.
18 September 2005 - Pentagon Construction Boom Beefs Up Mideast Air BasesAL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar, Sept. 15 - Even as the Pentagon is mulling plans to begin reducing the number of American combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan next spring, the military has more than $1.2 billion in construction under way or on the drawing board to upgrade 16 air bases throughout the Middle East and Southwest Asia.
At this sprawling air base, for instance, the Qatari government is spending nearly $400 million to build a state-of-the-art regional air operations center. The 100,000-square-foot, fortified headquarters is expected to be operating by July 2008.
Lt. Gen. Walter E. Buchanan III, the commander of American air forces in the Middle East, said in an interview at his headquarters here that there were really only two enduring bases for the United States in the region: Al Udeid in Qatar and Al Dhafra air base in the United Arab Emirates, from which the Air Force flies U-2 spy planes, the remotely piloted Global Hawk surveillance aircraft, and KC-135 refueling planes.
Syria: U.S. Plans Are In Shambles
On Friday the Al-Qaeda Light™ Islamist Front in Syria took over the headquarter and warehouses of the U.S. proxy force - the Supreme Military Council. The head of the SMC, General Idris first fled to Turkey and then to Doha, Qatar. The Unites States and Great Britain claim to have stopped providing 'non-lethal' aid to the insurgency in North Syria. Turkey is said to have closed its border to Syria though there is some doubt about that:
One Western diplomat expressed doubt that the Turkish government was fully cooperating with Western efforts to staunch the flow of fighters. "We are still experiencing operational difficulties, although we have seen signs that it is improving. As to whether a ‘shift’ ever occurred, that is still an open question,” the diplomat says.
The U.S. claims it still has to learn what actually was stolen from its 'non-lethal' aid but the Free Syrian Army certainly knows its losses. The cache on 'non-lethal' aid captured by the Islamic Front was indeed significant:
[A senior FSA Supreme Military Council official] said that the Islamic Front raided a total of ten warehouses belonging to the Western-backed umbrella group and seized a significant arsenal of weaponry, including 2,000 AK-47 rifles, 1,000 assorted arms—including M79 Osa rocket launchers, rocket-propelled grenades, and 14.5mm heavy machine guns—in addition to more than 200 tons of ammunition. At least 100 FSA military vehicles were also taken in the attack.
U.S. lethal and 'non-lethal' aid is still flowing, though now mainly through Jordan, and Turkey is silently keeping up its support for AlQaeda in Syria and Iraq. The U.S. never had qualms with using Islamist proxy forces. It is in talks with the Islamist Front and I doubt that it is retracting from its general plan of destroying Syria. The ideological differences between the FSA, the Islamist Front and AlQaeda are anyway small - if they exist at all.
But the Free Syrian Army, which never really existed as a consistent fighting force force, and the Syrian Military Council are finished. The Islamic Front, sponsored mainly by Saudi Arabia, is now the main opposition to the Syrian state. The U.S. plans to present some alternative government structure to the Syrian government are finished too. The Islamist Front is not presentable as such. It has committed war crimes and kidnaps and kills journalists and the few civil opposition activists who actually exist. If the Geneva II talks, announced for January, actually happen there will be no one other than the current Syrian government who can claim legitimacy.
When Thomas Hegghammer and other 'experts' muses about the ideological motives of the foreign Islamist fighters in Syria they miss the most profane but most important one: money. The Islamist Front and other fighters are offered and paid relatively high wages by the various clandestine outlets in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere:
One Kuwait-based effort raised money to equip 12,000 rebel fighters for $2,500 each.
For many unemployed young men in the Middle East and elsewhere $2,500 is more than they can hope to make anywhere else. The ideological motivation of violent Jihad is only a smoke screen to disguise that these are foreign sponsored mercenaries.
When the Gulf oil dictatorships call for 'foreign militias' to leave Syria they of course do not refer to those they are paying themselves. They still have illusions that their mercenaries could actually win but they lost the battle for Damascus and will lose the war over Syria. Soon the blow back will come to their countries.
Kerry's "Disgust" vs. "Restoring Democracy"
The United States Secretary of State seems to have some problems differentiating between democracies and dictatorships as well as protests against these.
Earlier this year the Egyptian army disposed the legitimately elected Morsi government. Protests in various roads and plazas against that coup were brutally suppressed.
In an television interview in Pakistan, Mr Kerry said: "The military was asked to intervene by millions and millions of people, all of whom were afraid of a descendance into chaos, into violence.
"And the military did not take over, to the best of our judgement - so far. To run the country, there's a civilian government. In effect, they were restoring democracy."
Over 600 largely peaceful protesters were killed, many wounded and many incarcerated on dubious grounds by the Egyptian army and police in the crackdown against sit-ins and other protests against the military coup.
In Kiev some thousands of protesters, including neo-nazis, rally against the legitimately elected government. They not only protested but blockaded, stormed and occupied public buildings. Not so peaceful protesters used bulldozers to break up police lines. Today, after waiting three weeks, riot police started to clear the buildings and blockades.
Evan Hill, a journalist who regularly reports from Egypt, commented:
Interesting how little violence cops in Kiev are using, at least as far as I've seen.
The NYT reports:
Officers in helmets pushed through the crowds with shields but did not use the truncheons hanging at their sides.
As the security forces spread throughout the square, a large crowd of protesters brandishing sticks, clubs, metal rods and anything else they could find massed in front of the Trade Unions building, which leaders of the demonstration had turned into the headquarters of what they call the National Resistance.
U.S. Secretary of State Kerry released the following statement:
The United States expresses its disgust with the decision of Ukrainian authorities to meet the peaceful protest in Kyiv’s Maidan Square with riot police, bulldozers, and batons, rather than with respect for democratic rights and human dignity. This response is neither acceptable nor does it befit a democracy.
Killing of largely peaceful protesters against a coup in which the military deposed the democratic elected government is "restoring democracy".
Removing not-so-peaceful protesters who attempt a coup against a dully elected democratic government is "disgusting".
Kerry's Time Bomb And Beduin Genocide
The Israeli government wants to cleanse some 70,000 Beduins from their ancient land and push them into a few desolate cities. It would then give the Bedu's land to Jewish settler and some bits of compensation to the Beduins. This plan is known as the Prawer-Begin plan. The Israeli government needs the parliament to approve the plan and to assure its passage had claimed that the Beduins had agreed to it.
In fact they did not agree.
Thus, the bill passed its first reading based on the assumption that the Beduin agreed, Levin said in a letter addressed to Begin. But as it was now clear that the Beduin did not agree to the plan, it would be used as a starting point instead of as an end to their demands, he said.
The contention in the Knesset is not about ethnic cleansing or about asking the Beduins for agreement. No, those Knesset members are outraged that the Beduins would be (partly) compensated at all. They prefer to commit genocide:
Arab Knesset members were very upset during the hearing, and some were removed from the hall for disorderly conduct. UAL-Ta’al MK Taleb Abu Arar said that Begin’s comments were “proof that you are a racist – hate Arabs.”
“The law will cause an intifada in the Negev,” he pronounced.
“You want to transfer an entire population,” MK Hanna Swaid (Hadash) said.
Committee chairwoman MK Miri Regev (Likud) responded, “Yes, as the Americans did to the Indians.”
Such thought seems to have support from the U.S. Secretary of State Kerry who just a few days ago declared the non-Jewish population in Palestine to be "time bomb":
Now, I want to come back to the peace process for a moment, because there is another existential threat to Israel that diplomacy can far better address than the use of force. And I am referring to the demographic dynamic that makes it impossible for Israel to preserve its future as a democratic, Jewish state without resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a two-state solution.
Force cannot defeat or defuse the demographic time bomb.
As those Palestinian and Beduin children are seen by Kerry as a bomb and a threat what else are those Zionist to do than defuse it by doing to them what "the Americans did to the Indians"?
Hersh On Obama's Lies About Syrian Chemical Weapons
A month ago Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, wrote about CIA analysts who threatened to resign over the Obama administration allegations about the use of chemical weapons in Syria by the Syrian government:
With all evidence considered, the intelligence community found itself with numerous skeptics in the ranks, leading to sharp exchanges with the Director of Central Intelligence John Brennan and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. A number of analysts threatened to resign as a group if their strong dissent was not noted in any report released to the public, forcing both Brennan and Clapper to back down.
Now Seymour Hersh writes about the case and finds that the CIA knew that Jabhat al-Nusra, a fundamentalist gang fighting the Syrian government, was capable of producing Sarin, the toxic chemical weapon that was used in a suburb of Damascus:
In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.
[I]n recent interviews with intelligence and military officers and consultants past and present, I found intense concern, and on occasion anger, over what was repeatedly seen as the deliberate manipulation of intelligence. One high-level intelligence officer, in an email to a colleague, called the administration’s assurances of Assad’s responsibility a ‘ruse’. The attack ‘was not the result of the current regime’, he wrote. A former senior intelligence official told me that the Obama administration had altered the available information – in terms of its timing and sequence – to enable the president and his advisers to make intelligence retrieved days after the attack look as if it had been picked up and analysed in real time, as the attack was happening.
MoA has maintained since the very first reports of the chemical weapon use that this attack was likely a false flag event. We also criticized allegations by the New York Times and Human Rights Watch about the origin of the rocket debris found after the attack. The new Hersh report now completely debunks those allegations.
One piece in Hersh's case about al-Nusra's capabilities to produce Sarin comes from a somewhat mysterious cable:
On 20 June a four-page top secret cable summarising what had been learned about al-Nusra’s nerve gas capabilities was forwarded to David R. Shedd, deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. ‘What Shedd was briefed on was extensive and comprehensive,’ the [senior intelligence] consultant said. ‘It was not a bunch of “we believes”.’ He told me that the cable made no assessment as to whether the rebels or the Syrian army had initiated the attacks in March and April, but it did confirm previous reports that al-Nusra had the ability to acquire and use sarin.
Spokesmen for the DIA and Office of the Director of National Intelligence said they were not aware of the report to Shedd and, when provided with specific cable markings for the document, said they were unable to find it. Shawn Turner, head of public affairs for the ODNI, said that no American intelligence agency, including the DIA, ‘assesses that the al-Nusra Front has succeeded in developing a capacity to manufacture sarin’.
My assumption is that this cable came from Russia. But, as Hersh writes, the U.S. military had come to confirming conclusions.
The Hersh report is published in the London Review of Books, not in Hersh's usual outlet the New Yorker. According to a Buzzfeed report the piece was, at a time, supposed to be published in the Washington Post. The LRB is a reliable publication based in the United Kingdom and will surely have fact-checked Hersh's reporting. One wonders why the U.S. publications refrained from publishing his report.
Nothing Beyond Bad Taste
In 2008 the United States Air Force promoted the slogan "Above All". The slogan and the design of accompanying logo looked like they were derived from the Nazi German slogan "Über Alles". The slogan and logo were soon quietly discarded.
The United States Office of National Intelligence just launched a rocket with a new spy satellite. The National Reconnaissance Office Launch 39 (NROL-39) has this mission logo.
An octopus covering every part of the world - with one tentacle especially touching Iran - and the attached slogan reads: “Nothing is beyond our reach.”
An octopus embracing the world has been used in earlier graphics.
This Nazi-time cartoon depicts Churchill as the squid, nothing beyond his reach, with the Star of David hovering above his head.
Given the ongoing global uproar about unlimited NSA spying the NROL-39 slogan is certainly somewhat tone deaf. Using the octopus covering the world symbol adds some exceptional bad taste.
He fought and won against apartheit, but neo-liberalism survived. Important parts of the The Freedom Charter remain unfullfilled. Thus the fight must continue.
Recommended: Tony Karon on Mandela: Free Mandela (From the Prison of Fantasy)!
Syria: Instead Of Courting Islamist White House Should Talk With Assad
U.S. officials are talking with commanders of new Islamic Front in Syria pretending that it is now the "moderate" alternative to Al-Qaeda:
The U.S. and its allies have held direct talks with key Islamist militias in Syria, Western officials say, aiming to undercut al Qaeda while acknowledging that religious fighters long shunned by Washington have gained on the battlefield.
At the same time, Saudi Arabia is taking its own outreach further, moving to directly arm and fund one of the Islamist groups, the Army of Islam, despite U.S. qualms.
The Saudis and the West are pivoting toward a newly created coalition of religious militias called the Islamic Front, which excludes the main al Qaeda-linked groups fighting in Syria—the Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham, known as ISIS.
Western diplomats said their engagement with the Islamists also aims to draw the powerful militias away from the Al Nusra Front and other groups affiliated with al Qaeda.
"We believe they are groups that, if we do nothing, may go toward more radicalization," one Western diplomat said.
This is of cause pure nonsense. The main groups that formed the Islamic Front are Liwa al-Tawhid and Ahrar al-Sham both of which are regularly sharing resources and cooperating with the Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al- Nusra and the Islamic State of of Iraq and the Sham. They have the same roots and were formed before the early protests in Syria started. Both have also been implicated in several pogroms against Syrians people who do not agree with their Sharia driven program.
The only alternative to an Al-Qaeda led anarchy in Syria is a state led by the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his party. Cooperating with Assad is the only way for the west to prevent a new fanatic Islamic state at NATO's southern border. This was already obvious two years ago when I, in February 2012, pointed out :
A Syrian state crumbling under terror followed by large sectarian slaughter and refugee streams with certain spillover of fighting into all neighboring countries. That can not be in anyone's interest.
It is time for the west to not only step back from this cliff but to turn around and to help Assad to fight the terrorists that want to bring down his country.
Some parts of the Obama administration are finally recognizing this obvious conclusion:
“We need to start talking to the Assad regime again” about counterterrorism and other issues of shared concern, said Ryan C. Crocker, a veteran diplomat who has served in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. “It will have to be done very, very quietly. But bad as Assad is, he is not as bad as the jihadis who would take over in his absence.”
Unfortunately the White House is not (yet) listening to Crocker:
It is not clear whether or when the White House would be willing to make such an abrupt shift in approach after years of supporting the Syrian opposition and calling for Mr. Assad’s ouster. It would certainly require delicate negotiations with Middle Eastern allies who were early and eager supporters of Syrian rebel groups, notably Saudi Arabia.
I do not understand what the problem with Saudi Arabia should be. That country has no alternative but to stay under the U.S. security umbrella. The White House should tell the Saudi King Abdullah to shut down Prince Bandar bin Sultan's mercenary terror army in Syria "or else ...".
Would the Saudis really want a fundamental confrontation with the U.S. at the same time as Iran is presenting itself as a viable alternative for U.S. influence in the Persian Gulf?
Will China's Rise Lead To War?
For the first time in recent history more financial trade is done in Chinese yuan than in euros. The yuan is now second but still far behind the U.S. dollar. Its rise in trade usage compared to the euro has been very recent and rapid and is certainly not yet finished. But the U.S. dollar is still second to none:
The currency had an 8.66 percent share of letters of credit and collections in October, compared with 6.64 percent for the euro, Swift said in a statement today. China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Germany and Australia were the top users of yuan in trade finance, according to the Belgium-based financial-messaging platform.
The yuan had the fourth-largest share of global trade finance in January 2012 with 1.89 percent, while the euro’s was the second-biggest at 7.87 percent, Swift said.
The U.S. dollar led all currencies with an 81.08 percent share of letters of credit and collections in October, down from 84.96 percent in January 2012, according to data compiled by Swift.
The Japanese yen lost its position as one of the top three trade currencies.
These move are part of the changes in strategic balance in South-East Asia. New alliances may appear and there may even be a wider war on the horizon. This at least when one believes the predictions of realist political scientist John Mearsheimer. In an interview with the Chinese Global Times he predicts that China's ‘Peaceful rise’ will meet US containment.
The US is now by far the most powerful state on the planet, and it is also the most powerful state in East Asia. But as China rises and becomes increasingly powerful, it will want to dominate Asia the way the US dominates the Western hemisphere. The US of course will go to great lengths to prevent China from dominating Asia. In other words, there will be an intense security competition between the two countries.
Mearsheimer does not think that China wants war but he believes that some kind of armed conflict will arise because some smaller state, likely then backed by the Unites States, will provoke a crisis. This he believes will happen sooner rather than later because China is still growing and taking it on while it is relatively weaker now is easier and less risky:
[T]here is no way that China can avoid scaring its neighbors and the US as it gets very powerful, just because it will be so big and will have so much military capability. When states look at other states and try to determine how threatening they are, they invariably focus on their capabilities, not their intentions, because you cannot know intentions. Nobody can know what China's intentions will be in the decades ahead. But the mere fact that China is getting increasingly powerful and may someday become even more powerful than the US is naturally going to scare all the neighbors and the US.
Mearsheimer thinks that the very militarized U.S. "pivot to Asia" will be bigger than many envision for now. While that will be good news for the Middle East, Latin America and Europe it is bad news for Asia. But what could China actually do to prevent all this?
Some Recent Issues: Ukraine, Iran, U.S., China
Some remarks on recent issues (I should have blogged about):
The south and east of Ukraine are ethnically Russian. It is also where the Ukrainian industries are. Those industries are not (yet) capable of competing with western European industries and depend on business with Russia. In contrast to that the western Ukraine is mostly agricultural and some there would probably profit from a deeper association with the European Union. But over all the recent attempt of an EU-Ukrainian trade pact makes no sense. Many countries in the EU (France, Spain etc.) do not favor it and have contained the level of bribery the EU can undertake to buy the Ukraine. So the EU was somewhat restricted to offer "values" where Russia can offer cheep gas and a viable market for Ukrainian goods and services. Looking at Greece and Spain European "values" do not look that valuable these days. It was therefore right for the Ukrainian president to reject the EU deal. Some well paid EU claqueurs and "Orange Revolution" left behinds are now demonstrating against that. Ignore them.
Iran's foreign policy activity is breathtaking. Recently the Turkish foreign minister visited Tehran. Then the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates came. The Iranian foreign minister is currently in Kuwait and will next travel to Oman. While there was also an outreach to Saudi Arabia an offer to visit was rejected by Riyadh. Together with the recent temporary nuclear deal with the P5+1 this looks like a strategy to isolate Saudi Arabia and to thereby find unity against the Saudi-Israeli assault on Syria. This comes as the Syrian president Assad has (finally) declared war against Saudi Arabia and European diplomats are trickling back to Damascus. I am more confident now than ever that Syria, though at high costs, can and will win this war.
3. United States
There is some talk of a "Saudi America" because shale-oil and shale-gas exploration now allows for internal production of more than 50% of the hydrocarbons the U.S. is using. This is, in my view, nonsense. The break even for producing shale-hydrocarbons is mostly above $50 (and in some cases much higher) per barrel. The break even for producing hydrocarbons in the Middle East is as low as $1 to $5 a barrel. When Iraqi and Iranian production will be back online prices will fall and domestic U.S. shale production will no longer be profitable. As shale production is short term (the drill holes exhaust quite fast) even a short dip in hydrocarbon prices will put most of it to a halt.
Years after the Japanese and other East Asian countries declared Air Defense Information Zones, which require planes flying through them to inform those countries on their flights, China has done the same. The map shows that the Chinese zone is less extensive than the Japanese one. Some U.S. media now claim that China declared an "Air Defense Zone" and is about to go to war over it which is all wrong and stupid war propaganda. An information zone is far larger than a defense zone and its purpose is to give head ups of intentions to not waste defensive air power on innocent flights. The U.S. ADIZ has - by the way - much more restrictive rules than the Chinese one.