Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
October 31, 2018

Yemen - After 200,000 Died An Embarrassed U.S. Finally Calls For Negotiations

Isa Blumi writes:

The war on Yemen today is a brutal example of how the expansion of global capitalist interests destroys nations.

It first takes the form of neoliberalism (often innocently labeled as globalisation) and then, as the inevitable structural collapse of the targeted country begins, (with its inevitable popular resistance undermining the political order), a more overt form of violence is introduced.

The war on Yemen moved towards the most violent form of war. A siege on a whole country with the obvious intent to cause a genocidal famine of the resisting population.

The attacking nations, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Britain and the UAE, planned to grab Yemen's resources but failed in their war. They are now making first moves to end the war. They finally recognized that they are unable to win while the financial and reputational costs of the stalemate steadily increases.

It is not by chance that this move comes after clown prince Mohammad bin Salman's recent Khashoggi disaster. It was that murder that moved the attention to his leading role in the genocidal war on Yemen.

A recent large reportage by the New York Times drew attention to the war induced famine. It includes haunting pictures of starving small children. In another censorship idiocy Facebook removed mentions of the piece that included pictures because they showed 'naked' dying children with no flesh on their bones. That might have been a friendly gesture by Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg to his chap Mohammad bin Salman, but it only increased the coverage of the issue.

More reports about the true casualty numbers of the war on Yemen emerge. A year ago Moon of Alabama criticized the often quoted "10,000 dead" that the media continue to repeat as the official casualty count of the war:

Up to July 2017 the U.S.-Saudi coalition had flown more than 90,000 air-sorties over Yemen. Most of those will have involved weapon releases. Are we to believe that only 10,000 civilians have been killed by all these bombs and the additional artillery, sharpshooters and suicide attacks? That would be inconsistent even with western reports of the known mass incidents during the war. 100,000 dead civilians caused by the war so far is a more likely number than the never changing 10,000.

Since then the numbers increased due to continued fighting but even more due to the raging famine.

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The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a group formerly associated with the University of Sussex, estimates that since March 2015, when the Saudis launched the war, 70,000 to 80,000 were killed due to combat. That estimate is conservative based on documented death as a result of fighting. The Save the Children NGO estimated in late 2017 that 50,000 children died that year for lack of food and from a ravaging Cholera epidemic.

The famine only increased since then. By the end of this year another 50,000 children will have died. The total number of dead caused by the war and blockade since March 2015 has thus likely exceeded the 200,000 mark.

Aid agencies attempt to bring more food into the country. But continued fighting over Hodeidah, the only port in the Houthi controlled area, makes that increasingly difficult. Even if food reaches the harbor there is no longer a reliable distribution system for cost free aid in the country. The UN and other rely on commercial traders to distribute aid. These traders take a share to cover the risk of transport under continued Saudi bombing.

Neither the exile government under Saudi control nor the Houthi have paid the state employees. High inflation, caused by the Saudi controlled central bank of Yemen, threw people into utter poverty. Starvation thus happens even when food is available in the markets because the people simply have no money to pay for it. This is the reason why the famine conditions shown in the map above prevail far beyond the Houthi controlled enclave in northwest Yemen.

The war caused not only a huge amount of death and a famine but also an immense destruction of buildings:

Saudi and UAE bombardment has destroyed at least 421,911 houses, 930 mosques, 888 schools, 327 hospitals and health facilities, and 38 media organizations, while halting the operation of 4,500 schools and leaving more than 4 million people displaced.

Additionally many bridges were bombed, roads destroyed, factories disabled and wells destructed.

All the destruction and death were not mentioned or downplayed in 'western' media because of the Saudi influence operation to hype its clown prince Mohammad bin Salman. The Saudis effectively bribed the United Nations to downplay the horrors they cause:

Saudi Arabia has demanded that aid agencies operating in Yemen should provide favourable publicity for Riyadh’s role in providing $930m (£725m) of humanitarian aid, an internal UN document reveals.
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Future grants distributed by [the UN aid agency] Ocha to agencies should be tied to the amount of beneficial publicity given to Saudi Arabia, the documents advises. It also calls for Ocha to seek favourable publicity for the Saudi humanitarian effort in Yemen in newspapers such as the New York Times and the Guardian.

The Saudi spend an estimated $200 million per day in their war on Yemen. The money they pledged this year to the UN for aid in Yemen sums up to less than 5 days of their military expenditure.

The murder in Istanbul of Jamal Khashoggi on order of Mohammad bin Salman changed the picture. Suddenly it is en vogue to point out Saudi misdeeds and influence. There is public and political pressure on the governments in Washington and London to end the war.

The Trump administration is taking the first tiny steps to end the war. Yesterday Defense Secretary Mattis called for a ceasefire in Yemen:

“The longer-term solution—and by longer-term, I mean 30 days from now—we want to see everybody around a peace table based on a ceasefire, based on a pullback from the border, and then based on the ceasing of dropping bombs that will then allow [Special Envoy Martin Griffiths] to get them together in Sweden and end this war,” Mattis said ...

Secretary of State Pompeo issued a similar statement (emphasis added):

The time is now for the cessation of hostilities, including missile and UAV strikes from Houthi-controlled areas into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Subsequently, Coalition air strikes must cease in all populated areas in Yemen.

Substantive consultations under the UN Special Envoy must commence this November in a third country to implement confidence-building measures to address the underlying issues of the conflict, the demilitarization of borders, and the concentration of all large weapons under international observation.

The sequentiality will of course not work. The Houthi and their allies will not stop their operations before the Saudi's end their bombing. A simultaneous ceasefire of both sides is the only possibility. Neither will the Houthi put their missile forces under international observation.

The U.S. statement neglects the economic aspect of the famine. While welcoming the plan UN envoy Martin Griffiths emphasized the central bank issue as one problem causing the famine:

“I urge all concerned parties to seize this opportunity to engage constructively with our current efforts to swiftly resume political consultations to agree on a framework for political negotiations, and confidence-building measures, in particular enhancing the capacities of the Central Bank of Yemen, the exchange of prisoners and the re opening of Sanaa airport," he said in a statement.

The U.S. plan is a no-go but nonetheless a big change of tact and a starting point.

Interestingly the State Department statement acknowledges Houthi strikes on the UAE. While several such strikes were claimed neither the UAE nor the U.S. had so far confirmed them. A Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) issued by the UAE two weeks ago hinted at such strikes (see A1987/18 NOTAMN) but gained little notice. The ability of the Houthi to strike at a distance of some 1,000 miles is likely a main motive for the Saudis and the UAE to accept a ceasefire and negotiations.

The Saudi war on Yemen has failed. A recent third attack by UAE supported forces on the harbor of Hodeidah was again repelled. The frontlines are littered with burned out military vehicles. Meanwhile Houthi attacks into Saudi Arabia continue. The Houthi also continue to gain new capabilities. A few days ago they unveiled a new missile with a range of 150 kilometers and an impressive precision of 3 meter. They demonstrated its accuracy in a video which showed one hit on a disused house and a second one on a camp of Sudanese mercenaries south of Hodeidah.

Even if negotiations start next month the war on Yemen will not end anytime soon. The death toll will increase throughout the winter. Despite the high cost the people of Yemen will continue to fight until the last foreign force leaves their country.

As Isa Blumi writes in his essay:

For over a century, Yemenis have resisted a global capitalist machine that today is threatening to break down. Ironically, it was Yemen that educated high-level Ottomans about the limits of modern government.

Perhaps responsible leaders today can also consider what lessons they can draw from Yemen and hopefully avoid the impending disaster that awaits those too closely linked to a collapsing Western-centered capitalist order ensnared in southern Arabia’s destruction.

Posted by b on October 31, 2018 at 01:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (143)

October 30, 2018

How Trump Is Winning The Midterm Elections

What are the chances that the mid-term elections in the United States, one week from now, will change the majority in the House or Senate?

The Democrats need to pick up 23 seats in the House to gain a majority. Of the 48 seats that are in play only 16 seem likely to change in their favor. In the Senate they need to take gain two seats to become a majority, but at least one of the Democrats' current seats is endangered and polls for the other 9 seats that potentially might change show a tossup.

My personal hunch is that the Republicans will keep both houses and may even gain a few seats.

The U.S. economy is doing relatively well. The recent drop in share prices points to a more mixed outlook from here on, but so far everything held up.

The Democrats have neither a program nor a leadership that incites to vote for them. They wasted two years with hyping a non-existent Russiagate that no one but Washington insiders and the media cares about. Did they actually oppose anything Trump did? They tried a #metoo stunt around a Supreme Court nomination but how effective was that?

The Democrats also failed to get rid of Hillary Clinton, or at least to shut her up. How can she, the most hated woman in the U.S.,  suggest to run again for president just a few days before the mid-terms? (Her candidacy would give Trump the easiest re-election ever.)

Trump continues to be an excellent salesman. He knows how to get and maintain attention. Each day he makes some outrageous claim or acts on some hot button issue. This has two effects: it is red meat for his base, and it gives major media attention to his politics.

Over the last days he offered a 10% tax cut for the middle class, bashed the media, suggested that house of worship should have armed guards, bashed the media more, sent troops to the border to stop a migrant caravan, bashed the media again, and attacked birthright citizenship for children of illegal immigrants. He surely has a list of seven other issues to fill the daily news cycles until the election.

All of the above lets me expect a higher turnout of voters who lean Republican than of those who lean towards Democrats. The higher turnout wins.

With a continued majority in both houses Trump should have an easy run during the next presidential elections.

In international politics many hoped they could wait out Trump, and that by 2021 everything would go 'back to normal'. That was always the wrong strategy. Unless something unexpected happens Trump is here to stay. When he leaves a new 'normal' will have evolved and the 'normal' of 2016 will no longer exist.

Posted by b on October 30, 2018 at 03:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (127)

October 29, 2018

Syria Sitrep - ISIS Defeats U.S. Proxy Force - Again

The U.S. backed proxy force in east Syria again lost positions to the Islamic State.

The map shows the positions of ISIS (grey), the US. proxy force SDF (yellow) and the Syrian army (red) at the border with Iraq on October 19.


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Here are the positions as of today.


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The U.S. proxy force lost the towns Susah, Hawi al-Susah, Safafinah, Mozan, Shajlah and Baghuz Fawqani and ISIS is back at the Iraqi border. The Iraqi forces were alarmed and sealed the border on their side.

The immediate cause of the loss was another sandstorm which ISIS used to counterattack. A similar counterattack during a sandstorm  happened two weeks ago. That makes this U.S. spokesman's statement laughable:

“The sandstorm allowed an ISIS counterattack, which was surprising given the conditions, but now the air is clear and the Coalition will continue to increase air and fire support to assist our partners,” Col. Ryan said ...

Sandstorms disable air and artillery support. That is why ISIS, which lacks an airforce, has for years used each and every sandstorm to attack. That is not surprising at all, but one of its signature forms of fighting. Sandstorms mean that one can expect an ISIS attack. That one has to double one's guard and be ready to defend one's position. The U.S. special forces who are supposed to lead their proxies seem to have neglected that.

ISIS jihadis attacked during the sandstorm in their usual manner. A suicide bomber blew up the first position at the frontline and more than 100 fighters stormed through and rolled up their enemie's lines. Since Friday some 60 to 80 SDF were killed, more were wounded and at least 20 were taken prisoners. Others simply fled in panic and ISIS could recapture several villages without a fight. ISIS claims that all the captured fighters were Arabs, not Kurds.

The Kurds decided long ago that the fight at the Euphrates is not their main problem. They prepare to fight against a Turkish invasion. The SDF ground force attacking ISIS is mostly Arab. Some were hired by the U.S., but many of them were pressed into service. They are not that interested in risking their life. They will only attack after the U.S. air force bombs their enemies to smithereens.

After the high losses of the Arab SDF the Kurdish YPG was told to sends some 300 of its fighters to regain the lost positions and to continue the general attack on ISIS which for months yielded no gains.

ISIS still holds some 700 prisoners and hostages. It had threatened to kill them if it does not receive food and medical supplies. There has been no news of their fate.


On Friday the presidents of Russia, France and Turkey and the German chancellor Merkel met in Istanbul. The French and German sides have given up on regime change. They have a refugee problem and want the war to wind down. They still insist that Syria should change its constitution but Damascus has no reason to follow such calls. The former Indian ambassador to Turkey, MK Bhadrakumar, has a deeper analysis of the summit. The big question to him is how the Turkish-American relations evolve.

There is little reason to think that these will get better. Erdogan wants the U.S. out of Syria nearly as much as Damascus itself. Erdogan threatened recently to invade the northeastern part of Syria that the U.S. controls. Yesterday Turkish artillery hit positions of the U.S. proxy force in Syria near the border with Turkey.

The U.S. keeps insisting that 'Iran-backed militias' leave Syria before the U.S. leaves. But the 'Iran-backed militias' in Syria are nowadays  Syrians. Iran supported groups with Afghan and Iraqi fighters and Iranian soldiers have left the country some time ago. There are at most some Iranian officers left who train local groups which Iran has put on its payroll. The demand makes no sense. It likely originates from Israel which wants the U.S. to stay in Syria as long as possible.

The situation in Idelb governorate and elsewhere has not changed. The upcoming U.S.-Russia summit on November 11 will discuss the Syria issue. Until then everything is on hold.

Posted by b on October 29, 2018 at 02:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (70)

October 28, 2018

The MoA Week in Review - OT 2018-57

Last week's posts on Moon of Alabama:

Erdogan still has the kompromat on Mohammad in Salman and continues to use it. He demands that the Saudis say who ordered the murder and threatens to reveal more evidence:

“And of course, we have other information and documents in our hands. You will collect the harvest when the sun rises. It is not meaningful to rush for now.”

Erdogan also asked for the extradition of the Khashoggi killers. Saudi Arabia rejected that. If Erdogan goes too far -as he is prone to do- and releases all he has, he will also loose his leverage.

 

Fun read - Mark Ames mocks the war on Syria 'experts':

ShamiWitness: When Bellingcat & Neocons Collaborated With The Most Influential ISIS Propagandist On Twitter

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on October 28, 2018 at 01:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (137)

These Exploitations Of The Pittsburgh Attack Deride Its Victims

Yesterday's terror attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh was committed by a man with extremely anti-Jewish and anti-immigration views. It is third attack on houses of worship in three years.

Like the earlier incidents it is a heinous crime for ignominious reasons.

But there is little sound reason to blame the incident on Trump. It does not justify to falsely claim "increased anti-semitism". To exploit it for a racist driven colonial cause makes a mockery of its victims.

The New York Times reports:

Armed with an AR-15-style assault rifle and at least three handguns, a man shouting anti-Semitic slurs opened fire inside a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday morning, killing at least 11 congregants and wounding four police officers and two others, the authorities said.
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The assailant, identified by law enforcement officials as Robert D. Bowers, fired for several minutes and was leaving the synagogue when officers, dressed in tactical gear and armed with rifles, met him at the door. According to the police, Mr. Bowers exchanged gunfire with officers before retreating back inside and barricading himself inside a third-floor room. He eventually surrendered.

From reading between the lines we learn that the killer is not a Muslim. Otherwise he would be called a 'terrorist'. We can also conclude that the killer was white. Otherwise the police would have killed him.

The murderer was extremely anti-Jewish. He was a white supremacist who had the delusion that people of Jewish belief caused all the problems he perceived:

The suspect in the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue told officers that Jews were committing genocide and that he wanted them all to die, according to a charging document made public early Sunday.
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Worshippers “were brutally murdered by a gunman targeting them simply because of their faith,” said Bob Jones, head of the FBI’s Pittsburgh office, though he cautioned the shooter’s full motive was not yet known.

Social network posts by Robert Bowers show that the immediate reason for attacking the synagogue was last week's National Refugee Shabbat ceremony by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS):

Hours before Saturday morning's shooting, the account posted again, "HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I'm going in."

HIAS is 137 years old organization founded by and for Jews who were fleeing pogroms in Russia. It nowadays supports all refugees. The killers hate for HIAS points to the ideological closeness of white supremacists and Zionists:

On the Jewish far right, the Zionist Organization of America has attacked HIAS and other Jewish organizations for lobbying to admit Syrian refugees to the U.S. and has accused HIAS of doing so for profit.


The NYT tries to connect the incident with Trump:

[The assault] also took place in the wake of the arrest Friday morning of a man who the authorities said sent more than a dozen pipe bombs to critics of Mr. Trump, including several high-profile Democrats.

The pipe bombs, which could not have killed anyone, were sent by a Trump supporting loon in Florida. All were detect before they reached their intended target.

The Pittsburgh killer hated Trump. He rallied against him on social networks as being controlled by Jews. He wrote that he did not vote for him. From his archived tweets (part 1, part 2):

Trump is a globalist, not a nationalist. There is no #MAGA as long as there is a kike infestation.

But the NYT report ignores the killer's anti-Trump stand. It goes on to blame the incident on Trump's rhetoric:

The anguish of Saturday’s massacre heightened a sense of national unease over increasingly hostile political rhetoric. Critics of President Trump have argued that he is partly to blame for recent acts of violence because he has been stirring the pot of nationalism, on Twitter and at his rallies, charges that Mr. Trump has denied.

This ignores that Trump uses the same nationalistic rhetoric that all U.S. presidents use:

At the U.S. Military Academy last year, Obama pronounced unequivocally: “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.”

Nor are anti-immigration positions a Trump phenomenon. It was Obama who was called the "deporter-in-chief":

More than 2.8 million undocumented immigrants have been deported over the last eight years, ...

Extreme nationalism and anti-immigration positions are as American as apple-pie. Hostile political rhetoric in the U.S. is certainly not a one-sided issue. It was Hillary Clinton who spoke of citizens as "deplorable" people. It is only Trump's style, not the content, that differentiates his "stirring the pot" from that of other politicians. To blame this incident on Trump is an attempt to avert that insight.


The NYT also conflates the killers anti-immigration motive with 'anti-semitism' when it cites the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) with a false statistic:

[The massacre] came amid rising anxiety about illegal immigration and in a decade that has seen an uptick in hate crimes. According to an annual report by the Anti-Defamation League issued earlier this year, the number of reported anti-Semitic incidents in the United States surged 57 percent in 2017, the largest rise in a single year since the A.D.L. began tracking such crimes in 1979.

The ADL does not track "such crimes", but any incident its perceives as harassment or threat or "anti-semitic". The extreme rise in the 2017 ADL statistics only appeared because the ADL fudged the numbers, as other Jewish organizations criticized, by including hundreds of threats a unstable Jewish teen made against Jewish institutions:

A 19-year-old American-Israeli man was convicted of making hundreds of bomb threats to Jewish community centers and Jewish schools in the United States, as well as airlines.
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The hoax threats to the JCCs and other Jewish institutions in the first three months of 2017 forced widespread evacuations and raised fears of a resurgence in anti-Semitism. Kadar’s parents and lawyer have not disputed his involvement in the bomb threats but asserted in his defense that he has a brain tumor and a low IQ.

The ADL not only fudge its numbers but notoriously conflates hate against people of Jewish belief with anti-Zionist activism like the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The alleged increase in anti-semitism ADL claims is a 'shark story':

The Brandeis Center’s Marcus said some recent reports of anti-Semitic incidents “are what one might call ‘shark stories,’” referring to media reports about shark attacks several summers ago. Many people, he said, “feared that shark attacks were spiking, and experts struggled to identify the reason. At the end of the day, it turned out that such attacks were not increasing at all—there were more stories about them because the shark narrative had caught the attention of influential editors and media outlets.”


Robert D. Bowers was active on the social media platforms Facebook and Gab, a Twitter like service with a minimum of censorship. He posted and reposted lots of anti-Jewish slander. Gab, which is often used by people who are censored elsewhere, reacted immediately after the incident. It archived and closed the account and informed the police. Nonetheless it was immediately censored itself. Paypal, which Gab used to collect donations, shut down its account without giving any specific reason. Such unreasonable reaction will only reinforce the extreme right feeling of being persecuted.


The Israeli government will send its probably most racist member, education minister Naftali Bennet, to exploit the incident for its colonization of Palestine. Bennet boasted about killing Arabs:

“I’ve killed lots of Arabs in my life – and there’s no problem with that.”

He calls refugees who came to Israel "infiltrators". He would have applauded the killer if the target had been some other religious group:

Education Minister Naftali Bennett won the backing of a leading anti-illegal immigration activist Thursday, after he vowed to block plans to legalize hundreds of Sudanese infiltrators.
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On Thursday, [..], the Jewish Home party, led by Education Minister Naftali Bennett, announced that it would block implementation of the Interior Ministry’s plan to grant residency permits to the 300 Sudanese.
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"There's no justification for absorbing those infiltrators in Israel."

Israel declared itself an Apartheid state. Its government holds the same extreme rightwing views against 'others' as the attacker in Pittsburgh. Like him it confuses people of Jewish belief with a race. Like him it rallies against immigration. Sending Bennet to exploit the terror attack is a mockery of its victims.

Posted by b on October 28, 2018 at 01:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (124)

October 26, 2018

Self Driving Cars And Moral Decisions - Who Will Live, Who Will Die?

While lots of companies in Silicon Valley work on self driving cars many people remain skeptical of these. The introduction of such cars raises technical, legal and most importantly moral problems.

'Self driving' comes at various levels. A parking assistant may help those people who otherwise can't park in a decent manner. Cars that drive automated on clear roads but with the oversight of a driver can fail because the supervising driver gets bored and stops to concentrate on the traffic situation. Fully autonomous cars, who do not need a driver, are still far from the state of the art.

The Society of Automotive Engineers defines the full driving automation of a vehicle as:

the full-time performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task under all roadway and environmental conditions that can be managed by a human driver

Autonomous cars depend on sensors to have situational awareness. Sensor can fail. They can be spoofed by weather phenomenons or willful attacks. Autonomous cars need an immensely complex software to make decisions. Paraphrasing Tony Hoare:

There are two types of computer programs. One is so simple that they obviously contain no error. The other is so complicate that it contains no obvious errors.

All self driving cars will have bugs. Their software is extremely complicate and it will have errors. They will receive updates with more errors and unpredictable consequences. Even Microsoft, the biggest software company in the world, recently screwed up a regular Windows 10 update. It deleted user data on the local disk and in the 'cloud' where it was supposed to be safe. Who will be guilty when an autonomous car bluescreens and causes an accident?

Next to the technical and legal problems autonomous cars also create moral ones. They need rules to decide what to do in extreme situations. A kid jumps into the path of the car. Should it continue straight on and hit the kid? Should it veer left into the group of chatting seniors? Or to the right where a policeman is issuing parking tickets? What set of rules should the car's software use to decide such situations?

Researchers asked people around the world how a 'Moral Machine' should behave. The respondents faced thirteen different scenarios with two possible outcomes and had to click on their preferred option. If it is inevitable to kill one person to let another one survive would you prefer the woman or the man to live on? The older person or the younger one? The passengers of the car or the pedestrians who cross the road in spite of a red light?


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Check out the scenarios and decide yourself.

Preliminary results of the large but not representative study were recently published in Nature. The people who answered preferred strollers, kids and pregnant women the most. Cats, criminals and dogs lost out.

The study found cultural and economic differences. People from Asian countries with a Confucian tradition showed a higher preference for old people to survive. Countries with a Christian tradition preferred younger ones more. People in Latin American preferred the survival of a male person more than people in other cultures. As an older male person in Europe I am not really comfortable with these results.

Inevitably the inclusion of such preferences in decision making machines will at some point be legislated. Would politicians regulate these to their own favor?

The people who took the test disfavored 'criminals'. Should the 'Moral Machine' decision be combined with some social scoring?

The Chinese government is currently implementing a social credit system for all its citizens. A person's reputation will be judged by a single number calculated from several factors. A traffic ticket will decrease ones personal reputation, behaving well to ones neighbors can increase it. Buying too much alcohol is bad for one's score, publicly lauding the political establishment is good. A bad reputation will have consequences. Those with low ratings may not be allowed to fly or to visit certain places.

The concept sounds horrible but it is neither new nor especially Chinese. Credit scores are regularly used to decide if people can get a loan for a house. Today's credit scoring systems are black boxes. The data they work with is often out of date or false. The companies who run them do not explain how the judgment is made. The U.S. government's No-Fly-List demonstrates that a state run system is not much better.

The first wave of the computer revolution created stand-alone systems. The current wave is their combination into new and much larger ones.

It is easy to think of a future scenario where each persons gets a wireless readable microchip implant to identify it. In a live-or-die scenario the autonomous car could read the chips implants of all involved persons, request their reputation scores from the social credit system and decide to take the turn that results, in sum, in the least reduction of 'social value'. The socially 'well behaved' would survive, the 'criminals' would die.

Would we feel comfortable in such a system? Could we trust it?

Posted by b on October 26, 2018 at 02:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (136)

October 25, 2018

Khashoggi Drama - A Deal Has Been Made But Will It Hold?

A preliminary deal has been made between the Turkish president Erdogan and the al-Saud clan in Saudi Arabia. The case of Jamal Khashoggi, killed in Istanbul by bodyguards of the Saudi clown prince Mohammad bin Salman, will be closed for now.

Over the last 36 hours, since Erdogan's speech proved Saudi culpability, there have been no more damaging leaks about the case from the usual Turkish sources.

During a podium discussion at yesterday's investor conference in Riyadh Mohammad bin Salman denounced the “heinous crime” committed against Jamal Khashoggi. He praised the "unbreakable relations" with Turkey and lauded Qatar's economic durability.

The comments came after a phone call between MbS and Erdogan.

The negotiations proved to be difficult. The Saudi King sent the governor of Mecca and Medina to make a deal:

Prince Khalid al-Faisal returned home from Ankara with a bleak message for the royal family. “It is really difficult to get out of this one,” Prince Khalid told relatives after his return, one of those family members recalled this week. “He was really disturbed by it.”

Early rumors spoke of a Saudi offer of $5 billion to burry the case. That was not enough.

On Monday the NYT reported that Erdogan denied that he would make any deal of that kind:

Mr. Erdogan, the person close to him said, recounted that a Saudi envoy, Prince Khaled bin Faisal, had offered a package of inducements for Turkey to drop the case — including financial aid and investments to help Turkey’s struggling economy, and an end to a Saudi embargo on Qatar, a Turkish ally. Mr. Erdogan has told associates that he angrily rejected the offer as “a political bribe,” this person said.

Erdogan's current source of money is Qatar, which is under blockade by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Ending the crisis over Qatar was only one condition he set out to the Saudis. There are other issue related to Syria and more generally the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Turkish side still has the leverage needed to 'adjust' any deal and to guarantee that the Saudis stick to it. The tapes of the Khashoggi murder, audio and video, have not been published. The former British ambassador Craig Murray reports:

I have not seen the video from inside the consulate, but have been shown stills which may be from a video. The most important thing to say is that they are not from a fixed position camera and appear at first sight consistent with the idea they are taken by a device brought in by the victim. I was only shown them briefly. I have not heard the audio recording.

If the Saudis try to cheat away from the deal the photos and audio tapes could still be released. They allegedly prove that MbS himself was very much involved in the killing.

The U.S. gave the final push for a deal to fall into place. The CIA's torturer in chief Gina Haspel was sent to show Erdogan her instruments.  Murray writes:

Haspel’s brief was very simple. She took with her intercept intelligence that purportedly shows massive senior level corruption in the Istanbul Kanal project, and suggested that Erdogan may not find it a good idea if intelligence agencies started to make public all the information they hold.

Whether Erdogan held back in his speech yesterday as a result of Haspel’s intervention I do not know.

Haspel listened to the audio tape and found it 'compelling'.

More details of the deal:

Elijah J. Magnier @ejmalrai - 14:32 utc 24 Oct 2018
Details on #Khashoggi affair:
News coming out from #Turkey that President @RT_Erdogan is still hot on the affair, presenting a large list of demands to #SaudiArabia and the #USA, including compensation for the devaluation of the Turkish lira and support to #Qatar and #Egypt MB +

#Turkey has received Khaled al-Faysal 4 times and was agreed to invest $30 bn in the country. In addition, there are tens of Fethullah Gülen in #SaudiArabia that #Riyadh will have to "deal with" to please #Ankara.

Prince Turki bin Faisal, who was head of Saudi intelligence and Khashoggi's sponsor, says that the family will stick to MbS no matter what. He claims that the royal subjects in Saudi Arabia support their ruler. Other reports from Saudi Arabia let me doubt that claim even as the reintroduction of a the yearly bonus to Saudi state employees may have calmed some people down.

Today the Khashoggi issue moved from the frontpages of U.S. media. The amateurish bombs sent to several Democrat politicians yesterday have turned the news cycle towards a new issue. Is this just by chance?

Erdogan still would like Mohammad bin Salman to be kicked away from the throne. U.S. pressure may have prevented that for now, but MbS has been cut to size. Congress will request a briefing by Haspel and the cintents of the audio may leak. It will continue to press the issue and, hopefully, end U.S. support for the horrible war on Yemen the Saudis and the UAE are waging with extensive British and U.S. help.

Turkey will also have made demands towards the United States. Erdogan wants the U.S. to end the protection of Kurdish forces in Syria. Rebels supported by Turkey recently attacked a U.S. outpost in Manbij. The clash was soon over with no casualties but it demonstrates that the conflict is still simmering. What carrots did the White House offer him?

It is likely that there is a deal and it may even hold. We will have to wait for more leaks to learn more of its details.

But the strategic issues that were brought to light over the Khashoggi case have not vanished. MbS is unreliable and a danger for U.S. interest. He will want some revenge for the damage Erdogan caused to him. He will wait for a chance to hit back.

Posted by b on October 25, 2018 at 03:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (194)

October 24, 2018

Open Thread 2018-56

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Use for news & views ...

Posted by b on October 24, 2018 at 02:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (147)

October 23, 2018

How Will Caligula Fall?

The king and the clown prince of Saudi Arabia ordered a son of Jamal Khashoggi to appear in front of them so they could express their condolences for the murder of his father. This is an attempt by the King Salman to show that his son Mohammad bin Salman is innocent of ordering the premeditated murder of Khashoggi. The audience for the pictures (and video) is the Saudi public which seem unconvinced. But the act is also an insult as Khashoggi's body has not been found* and remains unburied.

The gaze is telling.


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Sahal Khashoggi is the oldest of the four children of Jamal. Three of them live in the United States. Sahal is banned from leaving Saudi Arabia.


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Notice that his robe is not pressed as the usual etiquette would require. He must have been called up on short notice or was dragged before the king. Also notice that the hand of the bodyguard in the background is right on his pistol.


There seem to be a lot of conspiracy theories being weaved around the case. Some of them were mentioned in the comments here. I don't buy it. Turkey did not arrange the incident. I see no sign that the U.S., Israel, Qatar or the UAE had a hand in this. This was a very stupid crime committed by Mohammad bin Salman. Or even worse, a mistake. The wannabe-sultan Erdogan is a crafty politician. He is simply riding the wave.

Alastair Crooke explains why the Khashoggi murder, while not unusual, has this large effect:

When a single additional, undifferentiated, snowflake can touch off a huge slide whose mass is entirely disproportionate to the single grain that triggers it. Was Khashoggi’s killing just such a trigger? Quite possibly yes – because there are several unstable accumulations of political mass in the region where even a small event might set off a significant slide. These dynamics constitute a complex nexus of shifting dynamics.

Crooke sees three traditional strategic positions that already reached tipping points and are likely to change due to this event: the U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia, Turkey's role in the Middle East and Israel's strategic defenses.

On the U.S.-Saudi relations side it is likely Congress, not the White House that will push the issue. There will be another Senate vote next month to end U.S. complicity in the war on Yemen. It is now likely to pass.

The usefulness of Saudi Arabia for the U.S. has been in doubt for some time. A Wall Street Journal op-ed by Karen Elliott House tells the White House to act:

As the Trump administration wrestles with whether to buy Saudi Arabia’s belated and befuddled explanation for the death of Jamal Khashoggi, a thoughtful Saudi tells me: “Morality aside, the critical question is the sanity of our very own Caligula.”
...
If the crown prince loses power it could be either by the gentle hand of his father or, like Caligula, at the violent hand of cooperation between disgruntled princes and praetorians.
...
What this would mean for U.S.-Saudi relations is anyone’s guess. Surely, however, if Mr. Trump has the ability to influence events, the first scenario is far preferable to the second.

Saudi Arabia under an unstable ruler is a burden. Not only for the U.S. but also for the rest of the world. It's time to remove him.

---
*The earlier 'news' today that the body has been found came from one unreliable 'source' and was officially denied.

Posted by b on October 23, 2018 at 02:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (144)

October 22, 2018

Khashoggi Drama - A Deal Is No Longer Possible - Erdogan Demands That MbS Goes

The Khashoggi saga continues to influence Middle East policies.

On Friday the Saudi regime admitted that Khashoggi was killed in its consulate in Istanbul. Since then they have changed their story twice:

After weeks of denying involvement in Khashoggi's disappearance, Saudi Arabia said that he was killed in the Istanbul consulate, saying his death was the result of a "fistfight". A Saudi source close to the royal palace later told CNN that the Washington Post journalist died in a chokehold. On Sunday, its foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, went further, describing Khashoggi's death on Fox News as a "murder" and a "tremendous mistake."

Mohammad bin Salman, the Saudi clown prince and effective ruler, does not seem to have any good media advisors. By not sticking to one story all further Saudi accounts will immediately come into doubt.

The Saudis originally claimed that Khashoggi had left the consulate. We now know why they felt safe to make that claim. CNN has a new Turkish story of a decoy which was send out to make it look as if Khashoggi left. They provide pictures to prove it:

One member of the 15-man team suspected in the death of Jamal Khashoggi dressed up in his clothes and was captured on surveillance cameras around Istanbul on the day the journalist was killed, a senior Turkish official has told CNN.

CNN has obtained exclusive law enforcement surveillance footage, part of the Turkish government's investigation, that appears to show the man leaving the consulate by the back door, wearing Khashoggi's clothes, a fake beard, and glasses.

While Khashoggi was half bald, the decoy in Khashoggi's cloth seems to have full hair.


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Bit by bit the Turkish government leaks more of the sorry tale. It helps to keep the issue on the political agenda.

YeniSafak, an Erdogan aligned broadsheet, claims (Turkish, machine translation) that Khashoggi was put on the phone with MbS while he was in the consulate. He was allegedly told to return to Saudi Arabia. After he rejected to do so he was killed.

A later YeniSafak report (Turkish, machine translation) says that Saudi teamleader in the consulate, Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, made a total of four calls to bin Salman's office manager Badr bin Mohammed Al Asaker in Riyadh. Al Asaker is the head of the crown prince's foundation and his 'invisible hand'. Mutreb allegedly used the cell phone of the consul. Another call was made to the U.S., presumably to Khalid bin Salman, the brother of MbS who is the Saudi ambassador in Washington DC. Khalid has since returned to Riyadh. Al Jazeerah Arabic had earlier reported of such calls, and of 19 additional WhatsUp calls to MbS himself.

If the news of these calls proves to be true, the killing of Khashoggi was undoubtedly premeditated murder on the direct order of the clown prince.


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Turkish police also found an abandoned car that is owned by the Saudi consulate. It can be seen on CCTV footage of the consulate on the day that Khashoggi was killed.

All this proves that the spy-craft of the Saudi assassination team was abysmal. All cellphone networks store records of each call. Any foreign official's phone in Turkey is under surveillance of the country's intelligence service. Only some throw-away phone with an anonymous prepaid card could have given some protection.

It seems that the Saudi team simply did not care. It tried to obscure the incident by removing the body, but did otherwise little to hide the operation. They likely expected to get away with this. Their boss, MbS, certainly did:

As the disappearance of Mr. Khashoggi escalated into a diplomatic crisis, Prince Mohammed was shocked by the backlash. He couldn’t understand why Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance was such a big deal, according to people who recently interacted with the prince.
...
On Oct. 10, eight days after Mr. Khashoggi went missing, Prince Mohammed called Jared Kushner, the adviser and son-in-law to President Trump, according to people briefed on the phone conversation.

Why the outrage, Prince Mohammed asked in English.
...
The prince’s confusion soon turned into rage. “He was really shocked that there was such a big reaction to it,” said a person close to the royal court. “He feels betrayed by the West. He said he would look elsewhere and he will never forget how people turned against him before evidence was produced.”

No one seems to care how many Yemeni's Mohammad bin Salman kills each day. There was no harsh reaction when MbS kidnapped the Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri, nor when he incarcerated nearly 400 princes and tortured them to steal their money. Why would anyone care about Khashoggi?

Because that is how human psychology works:

The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.
Josef Stalin

We humans care way more for a single persons we know, than for a mass of people we have no relations with.

Khashoggi was a personal friend of Erdogan. He was a columnist at the Washington Post, the CIA's most favored news outlet. Mohammad bin Salman is an enemy of both. Neither the neocon opinion editor of the Post, Fred Hiatt, nor Erdogan have any love for the Saudi clown prince. They would of course raise a ruckus when given such a chance.

They will pile on and air the Saudi's dirty linen until MbS is gone. Yesterday the New York Times exposed the twitter brigades the Saudis hired to manipulate the public. Today the Washington Post has a detailed report of Saudi influence peddling through U.S. stink tanks. The Middle East Institute, CSIS and Brookings get called out. Lobbyists for the Saudis are canceling their contracts. More such reports will come  out. Years of lobbying and tens of millions of dollars to push pro-Saudi propaganda have now gone to waste.

The affair is damaging to Trump. He built his Middle East policy on his relations with Saudi Arabia. But he can not avoid the issue and has to call out MbS over the killing. His own party is pressing for it. Yesterday the Republican Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, dismissed the Saudi version of the story on CNN and called (vid) for consequences:

"It is my sense, I don't know yet, but based on the intel I have read, based on the other excerpts that I have read, it is my thinking that MbS was involved in this, that he directed this and that this person was purposefully murdered."
...
There has to be a punishment and a price paid for that.
...
Do I think he did it? Yes, I think he did it. [...] We obviously have intercepts from the past that point to involvement at a very high level, so let's let play this out.

On Sunday Erdogan was on the phone with Trump. The Turkish readout of the call hints at negotiations over Syria, the lifting of sanctions against Turkey and other issues. But the Khashoggi case has now gone too far to allow for a deal to be made over it.

Erdogan's mouthpiece, the somewhat lunatic columnist Ibrahim Karagül, gives an insight into Erdogan's thinking and sets out his aims:

The real trap was set against Saudi Arabia. Even though a Saudi Arabia-U.S.-Israel rapport was established and discourse about shielding the Riyadh administration from Iran, the objective was to destroy Saudi Arabia through Salman and Zayed. The next front after the Syria war was the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia. They never understood this, they could not understand it. Turkey understood it, but the Arab political mind was blinded.

Now Saudi Arabia is in a very difficult situation. The world collapsed over them. Crown Prince Salman is going through a tough test via Zayed, who has control over him. If the gravity of the situation after the facts revealed with the Khashoggi murder is not comprehended, we will witness a “Saudi Arabia front” in less than a few years.
...
The Riyadh administration must dethrone Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at once. It has no other choice. Otherwise, it is going to pay very heavy prices. If they fail to quash the trap set up targeting Saudi Arabia through bin Zayed, they will be victims of Trump’s “You won’t last two weeks” statement, and the process is going to start to work in that direction.
...
This duo must be taken out of the entire region and neutralized. Otherwise they are going to throw the region in fire.

Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed is Mohammad bin Salman's mentor and partner in crime in Yemen. MbZ is smarter than MbS - and will be more difficult to dislodge.

Erdogan announced that he will describe more details of the case on Tuesday in a speech to his party's parliament group. He will probably not yet play the tape from inside the consulate that Turkish intelligence claims to have. But he may well confirm the revealed phone calls and threaten to release their content.

Erdogan's aim seems clear. The chance for deal is gone. MbS has to go. He will try to play the case out until that is achieved.

Posted by b on October 22, 2018 at 11:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (163)

October 21, 2018

The MoA Week In Review - OT 2018-55

Last week's posts on Moon of Alabama:

The first Saudi version of the Khashoggi murder proved to be too weak. We are thus given another on, which isn't any better.

The Turks do not seem satisfied with either story. There have been no signs that a deal has been closed. The French and German governments demand better explanations. While Trump would like to bury the issue, Congress seems willing to push it. Trump is angry with Jared Kushner who has been moved away from the case. The Wall Street Journal reports that MbS is enraged about the reaction his misdeed caused. He simply doesn't understand it. There is also this nugget that seems to confirm that the claimed tape of the incident actually exists:

Prince Khalid al Faisal, an envoy of King Salman who was dispatched to Ankara earlier this month, had access to a short audio recording that offers evidence that Mr. Khashoggi was drugged, killed and dismembered minutes after walking into the consulate, these two [Saudi royals] say.

The Washington Post reported that the CIA also listened to the tape.

All the above are signs that issue will stay alive and will have further consequences.

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on October 21, 2018 at 08:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (120)

October 20, 2018

Saudis Admit Khashoggi Murder - Offer Weak Cover-Up

The Saudi King Salman was told to keep his son, Mohammad bin Salman, in the position of clown prince. It is widely assumed that MbS, the clown prince, ordered to kill Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The Saudis now admit that Khashoggi was murdered. Two of the clown prince's bootlickers are offered as sacrificial pawns. 


Flag of Saudi Arabia - Old Style

After seventeen days of claiming that Khashoggi left the consulate alive, the Saudis acknowledge that he was killed there. But they keep lying about what actually happened:

In a statement issued early Saturday morning in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, the Saudis claimed that some number of unnamed “suspects” had traveled to the consulate to meet with Khashoggi, “as there were indications of the possibility of his returning” to Saudi Arabia. ...

“The discussions that took place . . . did not go as required and developed in a negative way,” the statement continued, leading to a “fight and a quarrel” and a “brawl” that led to Khashoggi’s death. The unnamed suspects then attempted “to conceal and cover what happened,” the Saudi government claimed, without elaborating.

"Khashoggi started a tussle with the fifteen men we sent to kindly ask him to come home. Unfortunately he stumbled, fell onto the chainsaw and severed his head."

The clown prince himself knew of course nothing about this, claim Saudi sources:

“There were no orders for them to kill him or even specifically kidnap him,” said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity and adding that there was a standing order to bring critics of the kingdom back to the country.
“MbS had no knowledge of this specific operation and certainly did not order a kidnapping or murder of anybody. He will have been aware of the general instruction to tell people to come back,” the source said, using the initials of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The source said the whereabouts of Khashoggi’s body were unclear after it was handed over to a “local cooperator” but there was no sign of it at the consulate.

Well - nobody said that the body is at the consulate. It was suspected to be at the residency of the consul which is a different building the Turkish police was not allowed to search. Where was it buried?

Two advisors to the Saudi clown prince have been named as fall guys. They will be generously compensated. One is his media advisor Saud al Qahtani, the Steve Bannon at the crown prince's court;

SaadAbedine @SaadAbedine - 21:30 utc - 19 Oct 2018
#MBS’ very influential adviser in Royal Court, Saud Al Qahtani reacts to his ousting over @JKhashoggi’s murder with 2 tweets that look like an Academy Award acceptance speech .... “I extend my heartfelt thanks & gratitude to the #Saudi King & Crown Prince"

The other dude to find himself in a new villa is the deputy chief of intelligence, Major General Ahmad al-Assiri. A report on Friday in the New York Times had already named him as a likely fall guy.

There are also some peripheral casualties:

The Saudi government announced that it had detained 18 unnamed individuals and fired two top officials suspected of being involved in the operation.
...
The Saudi government said it would take another month to complete a full investigation, which would be overseen by Mohammed.

Mohammad will find that Mohammad had nothing to do with the issue. Does he really expect to get away with this? A lot depends on the Turkish president Erdogan. Professor Abukhalil suspects that a deal has been made:

asad abukhalil أسعد أبو خليل @asadabukhalil 4:21 utc - 20 Oct 2018
Suddenly, lo and behold, there is an unmistakable positive tone toward Turkey in Saudi regime media. A deal has been struck.

That is not for sure though and would be uncharacteristic for Erdogan. He likes to haggle and tries to draw out any deal as long as possible. We will know for sure in a few days. If the offered deal was insufficient the leaks from the Turkish side will restart. What are the Saudis and the U.S. willing to give to him?

It was the U.S. position that led the Saudis to change their story. On Thursday Trump's tone about the case had changed. He earlier had publicly doubted that anything had happened at all. After his meeting with Secretary of State Pompeo, who had just came back from Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Trump said he believed that Khashoggi was indeed dead. The Turks must have played the audio tape of the killing to Pompeo or to someone in his entourage. The Post reports:

CIA officials have listened to an audio recording that Turkish officials say proves the journalist was killed and dismembered by a team of Saudi agents inside the consulate, according to people familiar with the matter. If verified, the recording would make it difficult for the White House to accept the Saudi version that Khashoggi’s death was effectively an accident.

The 'deep state' in the U.S. and the Washington Post, where Khashoggi wrote his columns, will not be satisfied with the now offered cover up. They want to see MbS (and his friend Jared Kushner) go. The Zionist lobby and President Trump will want both to stay. But the public and Congress may not let go of the issue:

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, an influential Trump ally, said he doubted the latest admission from Saudi authorities.

"To say that I am sceptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr Khashoggi is an understatement," he tweeted.

Bob Menendez, the top US Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called for sanctions, saying "we need to keep up international pressure" on the kingdom.

The Saudis still need to come up with a better narrative. The current one is not sufficient. The most important question that should have been answered by now is: Where is the dismembered body?

Complicating the official narrative, Ali Shihabi, head of pro-Saudi think tank Arabia Foundation which is said to be close to the government, tweeted that "Khashoggi died from a chokehold during a physical altercation, not a fist fight", citing a senior Saudi source.

But pro-government Turkish media have repeatedly claimed that Khashoggi was tortured and decapitated by a Saudi hit squad inside the diplomatic mission, although Turkey has yet to divulge details of its investigation.

"Each successive narrative put out by the Saudis to explain what happened to Khashoggi has strained credulity," Kristian Ulrichsen, a fellow at Rice University's Baker Institute in the United States, told AFP.

"Especially because the Saudis are still unable or unwilling to produce the one piece of evidence -- a body -- that could provide a definitive answer one way or the other."

It is doubtful that today's developments are the end of this saga.

MbS is damaged goods. He will never again be seen as the 'reformer'. Western politicians and companies will try to avoid any association with him. Mohammad bin Salman may have been modernized the Saudi flag. But the evil of the Saudi rulers is still in full view.


Flag of Saudi Arabia - New Style

Posted by b on October 20, 2018 at 04:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (154)

October 19, 2018

Syria - U.S. (Again) Only Pretends To Fight ISIS

The U.S. occupation force and its Kurdish proxy SDF in northeastern Syria are supposed to fight the Islamic State in its last hold out northeast of Euphrates. But the operations against the handful of towns ISIS (grey) still holds - launched only after long and unexplained delays - shows little progress. Last week it received a serious setback. 

Red = Syrian Arab Army; Yellow = U.S./SDF; Grey = ISIS

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After several days of sandstorms (vid) hindered U.S. air support, ISIS counterattacked on October 11 against the U.S. led SDF. Suicide bombers blew up SDF checkpoints as ISIS broke through the lines. It retook several villages and on October 12 raided a refugee camp for local civilians that the U.S. coalition had set up near Al Bahrah (on the upper left of the map). Some 130 refugee families with about 700 persons were taken prisoners and brought to Hajin, a small city at the northern end of the ISIS held area.

Through local tribal elders ISIS requested to negotiate with the U.S. coalition about an exchange of prisoners. It also demanded medical and food supplies in exchange for 90 captured women it had isolated from their families. The request was rejected. ISIS now threatens to kill ten of the abductees per day unless its demands are fulfilled.

In his talk at the Valdai event yesterday, the Russian president Putin mentioned the situation east of the Euphrates:

Now we see what is happening on the left bank of the Euphrates. Probably, our colleagues know: this territory is under the patronage of our American partners. They rely on the Kurdish armed forces.

But they have obviously left a loose end: ISIS remains in several locations and has begun to expand its area of influence recently. They took 130 families hostage – almost 700 people.

I think few of those present here know that they have made ultimatums, extended demands and warned that if these ultimatums are not met, they would shoot 10 people every day. The day before yesterday, 10 people were shot. Executed. They have begun to fulfill their threats.

This is just horrifying. It is a tragedy I think. We need to do something about it. Why do our colleagues keep silent? According to our information, several US and European citizens are among the hostages.

Everyone is quiet, there is silence as if nothing is happening.

Three days ago there was also a blue on green incident followed by defections from the ranks of the local proxy forces:

Two US-led coalition’s F-15 fighter jets have mistakenly targeted Kurdish units amid their offensive on the remaining forces of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists in Syria, RIA reported, citing a “military and diplomatic source.” It said six people were killed and 15 injured on the Kurdish side.

The incident, which took place near the town of Hajin in the Syrian eastern Deir ez-Zor province, did not just disrupt the operation but also reportedly led to numerous defections in the ranks of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Even worse, the terrorists managed to seize some territories in the area, the source added.

Today ISIS published photos of an execution of five local men accused of being spies for the SDF.

U.S. and French troops provide artillery support to the SDF and the U.S. and British air forces fly bombing attacks against ISIS positions. But SDF ground troops seem to be unable or unwilling to proceed against ISIS lines. The borders of the ISIS held area as provided by liveuamap have hardly moved.


May 1 bigger - October 19 - bigger

During five and half month ISIS only lost some five miles of territory at the northern and southern ends of the small area it holds. How come that the well supplied Kurdish forces under the direction of U.S. Special Forces and with strong artillery and air support are not able to achieve more against some 1-2,000 jihadis who lack heavy weapons and have no way to resupply?

Russian sources accuse the U.S. of not seriously fighting its opponent:

"The imitation of the fight against terrorists in this region of Syria has been going on for more than six months and has been used by Washington to justify its illegal presence in this country," the source stressed.

The Syrian Observatory also reports of a constant stream of targeted assassinations and small attacks against SDF forces including by ISIS sleeper cells within the SDF held area. Many IED's are buried in the wider area and hinder troop movements as well as reconstruction.

ISIS seems in general not confined to the neat frontlines shown on the map but has small units and sleeper cells moving far beyond that area. This points to a lack of willing troops to hold the line and to confine the ISIS forces.

The U.S. Weekly Strike Summary note lots of aerial attacks but the results are thin:

Between Oct. 7 and Oct. 13, CJTF-OIR coalition military forces conducted 137 strikes consisting of 225 engagements in Iraq and Syria.

After a drop on October 7, 8 and 9 due to the sandstorms U.S. flight numbers in the area are again up to some two dozen per day.

Nearly all these attacks are on the small ISIS held area northeast of the Euphrates. The report mentions hits on "staging areas" and "assembly area sites". But what does that actually mean? Isn't any empty space a potential staging or assembly area site? And what is the engagement of a "tactical unit" supposed to mean? A bomb drop near some lone dude on a motorcycle? 

The last four weekly summaries list a total of 349 strikes and 546 "engagements" but none of these seem to have had any effect on ISIS numbers or capabilities. Despite the high strike number there is no progress on the ground.

The current bombing campaign reminds one of the fake U.S. air campaign against ISIS in 2014 and 2015 (see table at bottom). Back then "ISIS excavators" were the most serious targets the U.S. reports mentioned. Back then it was also Russia that exposed the fake fighting and demonstrated how to really clobber ISIS.

That the SDF now claims that eliminating ISIS from the area will take even longer increases the suspicion that there is no real intent to fight it:

"The military operations in Hajin will take much longer than expected," said Redur Khalil, a top SDF commander.

"Daesh is benefiting a lot from weather factors, including sandstorms. They've helped it take cover from reconnaissance aircraft and other monitoring mechanisms," he told AFP, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

For the record - the recent series of sandstorms in the area ended several days ago.

Like in 2014/2015 the U.S. seems again most interested in keeping ISIS alive as long as possible and to use its presence as a pretext for other purposes.

Posted by b on October 19, 2018 at 01:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (66)

October 18, 2018

Open Thread 2018-54

News & views not related to Khashoggi ...

Posted by b on October 18, 2018 at 09:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (119)

October 17, 2018

Saudis Stonewall On Khashoggi But Pressure Will Increase

The most interesting aspect of the botched assassination of Jamal Khashoggi is the insight it creates into political conflicts in U.S. domestic and international policies.

The Saudi clown prince Mohammad bin Salman unwittingly did a huge favor to Turkey's president Erdogan when he send a crew to abduct or kill Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Erdogan is in a historic geopolitical conflict with Saudi Arabia over supremacy in the Middle East.

The Turks had the Saudi consulate bugged. Every country in the world tries to plant listening devices into foreign embassies and consulates. It is no surprise then that the Turks know what happened within the consulate and use the evidence to squeeze the Saudis. Erdogan knows how to play the media and does his very best to drag out the story. He will press the Saudis for financial and political gains.

On Monday the White House floated the idea that a 'rogue killer' was responsible for the ghastly deed in Istanbul. Trump himself led the campaign:

President Donald Trump on Monday repeatedly highlighted the Saudi King's denial of involvement in the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, at one point offering up an alternative theory that "rogue killers," rather than agents of the Saudi regime, were involved.

U.S. media made it seem as if the Saudis were flying that test ballon. But the Saudis rejected it way out. They say, to this day, that they are not aware that anything happened in their consulate at all. It was likely Netanyahoo's errand-boy in the White House, Jared Kushner, who floated the 'rogue killer' tale:

A senior Trump administration official said Kushner has a close relationship with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the heir to the Saudi throne, and the pair have been in direct phone conversations about Khashoggi. These calls have been part of a White House push to get Saudi Arabia to participate in an investigation into Khashoggi’s case.

Anyway - the ballon was filled with lead. Erdogan had already made sure that such a story would not fly.

This site reported on Wednesday October 10 that the men the Turks had identified were directly related to the clown prince:

The Turkish government published pictures of 15 men who had come from Saudi Arabia and were in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul shortly before Khashoggi visited it to get his divorce papers. They moved Khashoggi to the residence of the consul and later that day flew back on the same two private Saudi jets that had brought them to Istanbul.

At least 8 of the 15 men have been identified as Saudi royal military. At least three are bodyguards of the Saudi clown prince Mohammad bin Salman. It is thereby obvious that the clown prince himself gave the order for the operation. One of the 15 is Dr. Salah Muhammed Al-Tubaigy, the head of forensic evidence at the Saudi General Security Department.

It took the U.S. media a week to explain to their readers that the killers are part of MbS' personal entourage. Today the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post finally put the above 'news' onto their frontpages.

Why did the media held back on this so for so long?

After the Saudis rejected the 'rogue' fairytale. Trump stepped back from it and points to the lack of any confession:

President Donald Trump launched a concerted defense of Saudi Arabia for the disappearance and suspected murder of Jamal Khashoggi, saying the country's crown prince "totally denied" knowledge about the suspected death of the Washington Post journalist and complaining that the country was being assumed "guilty until proven innocent."

This is fully in line with the Saudi strategy. They do not admit anything, not even something 'rogue'. They do not want to make a deal - yet. When Secretary of State visited yesterday they did did not even talk about the publicly known facts:

Reporter: Did they say that Khashoggi was alive or dead?
Secretary Pompeo: I don't want to talk about any of the facts. They didn't want to either.

They Saudis only promised to investigate themselves.


Some people seem to believe that the Turks somehow vanished Khashoggi and fabricated the evidence. But there has been no explanation by the Saudis or anyone else for the two Saudi jets, owned by the king, that were tracked flying to Istanbul and left the same day to return to Riyadh.

Flight data collected by AirNavRadarBox, a firm that tracks private and commercial planes all over the world, showed that the first of the two planes left Riyadh late Oct. 1 and touched down in Istanbul the following day at 3:15 a.m.
...
Flight data shows that a second private jet, believed by investigators to be transporting the rest of the team, touched down in Istanbul at 5:15 p.m. It is unclear whether those on board traveled to either the consulate or the residence. It departed an hour and 15 minutes after it arrived, heading for Cairo. Twenty-five hours after its arrival in Cairo, the plane left for Riyadh.

There are also hotel records and CCTV video showing the Saudi team. There is no way Turkey could have faked all of this. The Saudi government made no serious attempt to explain why these people, including the clown prince's personal body guards, flew to Istanbul and were in the consulate when Khashoggi entered it. MbS also had a motive. Khashoggi was a Muslim Brotherhood and intelligence asset that had turned into a mouthpiece for the internal opposition against the Salmans.

MbS is the first Saudi ruler who broke the families rules of consultation and monopolized the decision making. He jailed and tortured other princes to rob them of their money. The people MbS hurt were talking to Khashoggi who had a public perch at the Washington Post to vent their grievances:

[Prince] Ahmed was appalled at the destructive nature of MbS' policies and his recklessness. [..] Jamal Khashoggi knew this. While it spoke volumes about his agreeable nature, it also sometimes was a curse that senior royals liked to sound off to him.
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There are other Saudi royals out there, less in seniority to Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, yet also sons and nephews of kings. It is their reaching out to Jamal, relayed to MbS by his fawning apparatchiks, that created an incendiary environment in his office and led to that death warrant.

That explanation makes sense. One of the Saudis identified in Istanbul was Maher Abdilaziz Mutreb, a body guard who is regularly seen traveling with MbS. In 2011 Mutreb was trained in the use of spy software by the Italian surveillance malware vendor Hacking Team. He is one of MbS' 'fawning apparatchiks' who spy on other royals and their contacts to journalists in the west.

We can lay the conspiracy theory that Erdogan faked the incident to rest. He was simply lucky that MbS was stupid enough to let his hapless bodyguards kill Khashoggi in Turkey, where he had top connections to an anti-Saudi ruler who did not hesitate to escalate the issue into a larger conflict.


After the Saudis rejected the 'rogue killer' plot and the first attempt of a deal failed, the well managed bit by bit revelations from Turkey restarted. Erdogan wants to make sure that the story stays on the frontpages until he gets his deal. Yesterday evening anonymous Turkish officials started to brief reporters about the content of the tape they have of the incident:

It took seven minutes for Jamal Khashoggi to die, a Turkish source who has listened in full to an audio recording of the Saudi journalist's last moments told Middle East Eye.
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Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy, who has been identified as the head of forensic evidence in the Saudi general security department, was one of the 15-member squad who arrived in Ankara earlier that day on a private jet.

Tubaigy began to cut Khashoggi’s body up on a table in the study while he was still alive, the Turkish source said.

The killing took seven minutes, the source said.

As he started to dismember the body, Tubaigy put on earphones and listened to music. He advised other members of the squad to do the same.

“When I do this job, I listen to music. You should do [that] too,” Tubaigy was recorded as saying, the source told MEE.

The described scene proves that the Saudis are very 'moderate', even kuffaar (unbelievers) in the eye of extreme Islamists. As an experience Middle East correspondent snarked:

Elijah J. Magnier @ejmalrai

I tell you what is the difference between #ISIS & #SaudiArabia practice:
- #ISIS will never listen to music while beheading & dismembering their victim
- #SaudiArabia, due to the moderate reformer MBS, listen to Music while cutting the body of #Khashoggi

Parts of the audio tape were handed over to a Turkish outlet but are not yet public. They will be released when it fits Erdogan's strategy.

Yesterday the Turkish police tried to search the residence of the Saudi consul in Istanbul. The killer team went there after they left the consulate. The police assumes that Khashoggi's body, or its parts, are buried in the residency's garden. But the consul left unexpectedly to Riyadh and warned that the residency is under diplomatic protection. The police has no right to search it without Saudi consent.


Secretary of State Pompeo tries his best to negotiate between Turkey and Saudi Arabia. His task is to limit the damage the incident does to the house of Saud and especially to MbS. But the Saudis stonewalled, while Erdogan played the tape to him.

As longer the dealing takes, the more gruesome will be the details dripped from Turkish sources.

The backlash against the Saudis in U.S. media and in Congress will only increase.The incident has international consequences. The managing director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, announced that she will not attend next week's Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh. She follows a long list of CEOs and media moguls who canceled their attendance. The foreign ministers of the G7 issued a statement demanding an investigation. The scandal is bad for the future of Saudi Arabia's economy. The mood in Riyadh is fraught.

The Washington Post, for which Khashoggi wrote opinion pieces, will not let go of the issue. Nor will other U.S. media.

Everyone but Trump wants to see MbS leave. Even Senator Graham Lindsay, a warmongering ally of Donald Trump, promises to get rid of Mohammad bin Salman:

“I’m not going back to Saudi Arabia as long as this guy is in charge,” Graham said of bin Salman. “I’ve been their biggest defender on the floor of the United States Senate. This guy is a wrecking ball. He had [Khashoggi] murdered in a consulate in Turkey and to expect me to ignore it, I feel used and abused. The MBS figure is to me toxic, he can never be a world leader on the world stage.”

“It’s up to the president, but what I would do — Well, I know what I’m going to do. I’m gonna sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia,” Graham added when asked if Trump should impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia.

One wonders what Graham's motives are. On several issues - Iran, Israel, Syria - MbS is fully in line with his policies. Who then is lobbying him to work against MbS? It is not the Zionist lobby. The Israelis surely want to keep MbS as they can play him like a fiddle.

Could the United Arab Emirates and their current strongman Mohammed bin Zayed be behind Graham's stand?

While MbZ is publicly a dear friend of MbS, both have recently clashed in their common attack on Yemen. MbS wants the Yemeni oil fields, a pipeline from Saudi Arabia through west Yemen, and a port where Saudi oil can be shipped from without passage through the Iran controlled Street of Hormuz.

But the ports of Yemen are the bounty MbZ wants to win for Dubai Port World which is “one of the instruments of [the UAE’s] global affirmation strategy.” He wants to control all of the Yemeni coast and all of its islands. The clash between Saudi Arabia and the UAE in Yemen is obvious for the people on the ground. The UAE even hired U.S. mercenaries to kill off locals leaders belonging to the Islah party which is a Saudi assets.

It is the UAE and its ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba who spend more on lobbying Washington than any other Arab country - at least $21.3 million in 2017. There are connections between UAE lobbying and Lindsay Graham through Elliott Broidy who also raised funds for Trump's election campaign.


A major Trump foreign policy is the new sanction regime against Iran. But without extra oil pumped by the Saudis the new sanctions on Iranian oil, which go into effect in early November, will increase oil prices and tank the U.S. economy.

It seems that MbS decided to sit out the storm over his murder of Khashoggi. He can pressure Trump by holding back oil exports. Trump would probably like to follow that strategy, if only to avoid any oil shortages. But the domestic and international pressure seems to become too big. As Erdogan continues the drip by drip release of sensational evidence and the Washington Post piles on, Trump will have to do something more than sending Pompeo for useless talks.

Stopping all U.S. support for the war on Yemen would be good start.

But it would not be enough. MbS needs to be removed.

The Trump administration has no ambassador in Saudi Arabia. The White House connection to the Saudi rulers ran solely through the Kushner-MbS phone-line. But that line is now useless. Trump will need to send someone who has good relations with the King himself. Only he can remove the clown prince. The King is 82 years old and not in good health. MbS might well be ruthless enough to suddenly let him die. Trump will have to act as soon as possible. 

Posted by b on October 17, 2018 at 01:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (254)

October 16, 2018

Coverup Deal Will Blame Khashoggi Death On Extreme Torture

The coverup of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, killed on behalf of the Saudi clown prince Mohammad bin Salman, proceeds apace. It is part of a deal between Turkey and Saudi Arabia under the aegis of the United States. The haggling over the details will take a while.

Several media report of a test ballon, floated to find out if an 'alternative' story will fly:

Saudi Arabia was preparing an alternative explanation of the fate of a dissident journalist on Monday, saying he died at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago in an interrogation gone wrong, according to a person familiar with the kingdom’s plans. In Washington, President Trump echoed the possibility that Jamal Khashoggi was the victim of “rogue killers.”
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[O]n Monday, a person familiar with the Saudi government’s plans said that Mr. Khashoggi was mistakenly killed during an interrogation ordered by a Saudi intelligence official who was a friend of the crown prince. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Prince Mohammed had approved interrogating or even forcing Mr. Khashoggi to return to Saudi Arabia under duress.

But, the person said, the Saudi intelligence official went too far in eagerly seeking to prove himself in secretive operations, then sought to cover up the botched job.

One might expand on that fairytale: "The Saudi general who allegedly botched the interrogation of Jamal Khashoggi mysteriously died in a Saudi air force plane crash on the same day the coverup story was floated." But that would probably take it too far.

The floated story will of course not be believed. A deadly interrogation - extreme torture - in the Saudi consulate is not plausible. One does not need to fly in 15 operators, including a specialist for autopsies, to twist someone's arms and ask a few questions. The intent was either to kidnap the guy or to outright kill him.

The trial ballon seems to come from U.S. sources, not from the Saudis. Trump yesterday spoke of "rogue killers" who may have caused the incident. No one near Mohammad bin Salman dares to go rogue. It's a deadly sin. U.S. intelligence services seem to believe that Khashoggi was indeed killed. The Wall Street Journal reports that Turkey provided its evidence:

The Turkish government has shared with U.S. officials what it describes as audio and video recordings purporting to show that Mr. Khashoggi was killed in the building, people familiar with the matter said.

The Trump administration will have to sell the story not only to the public, but also to the Turkish President Erdogan and to the Saudi King.

Both seem to prepare for a deal. After two weeks of denial that anything happened to Khashoggi the Saudis finally reacted:

King Salman ordered the Saudi public prosecutor to head a probe to determine responsibility for who was responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance, people familiar with the matter said Monday. Probe results could be announced within days, and lead to some Saudi individuals being held accountable for Mr. Khashoggi’s death, one of the people said.

The Turkish side is also preparing to accept the coverup:

On Monday Turkish investigators – who had been willing to talk for much of the past nine days – were now more cautious. So too were Turkish journalists, one of whom said that his outlet had been instructed to focus less on the apparent crime and more on the political settlement.

The Turkish President Erdogan may agree to a 'political settlement' but the price the Saudis will have to pay for that will be very high. Erdogan again made clear that he aims at nothing less than neo-ottoman leadership in the Arab world:

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday said that Turkey was the only country that could lead the Muslim world.

“Turkey, with its cultural wealth, accretion of history and geographical location, has hosted diverse faiths in peace for centuries, and is the only country that can lead the Muslim world,” he said in a meeting with religious officials.

The "Custodian of the two Holy Mosques" (in Mecca and Medina) is the official title of the Saudi king. It implies leadership within the Muslim word. Since Saladin the title was used by many Islamic rulers, including the Ottoman Sultans. Erdogan wants it back. His aspirations pose an open challenge to the Saudi rulers.

But when a deal has to be made, a deal will happen. Even it it takes some time.

Whatever the deal might be Jamal Khashoggi's children will protest against it. They demand "an independent and impartial international commission to inquire into the circumstances of his death". The Washington Post, where Khashoggi worked, and some Congress members will likely support them. But there is little chance that Trump or the Saudis will agree to any independent inquiry.

An open question is the future of clown prince Mohammad bin Salman. The 'deep state' wants him to leave. The uncontrollable guy - only a heartbeat away from becoming king - proved to be too dangerous to be allowed in such a position.

This detail is therefore intriguing:

The Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Khalid bin Salman, left Washington last week, returned to Riyadh and will not be returning, a current and a former American official said on Monday. It was not clear when he might be replaced, or by whom. Prince Khalid is the crown prince’s younger brother.

Did clown prince Mohammad bin Salman recall his brother because he feared that he plotted against him? Or did King Salman order him back to replace MbS as crown prince?

Mohammad bin Salman is already damaged goods. I find it unlikely that he will be allowed to stay in his position. Several high level U.S. congress people, including top Republicans, want him to go. The CIA's darling, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, will likely regain the crown prince position.

On Monday, while the cover up story was thought out, Turkish investigators were finally allowed to enter the Saudi consulate. Before they arrived a cleaning crew entered the building (vid) to prepare the presumed crime scene.

Trump sent Secretary of State Pompeo to facilitate negotiations between the Saudis and Turks. Ambassador James Jeffrey, the special representative for Syria engagement, is joining him in the endeavor. The Saudis finance the Kurdish proxy force the U.S. uses for its occupation of northeast Syria. One of Erdogan 's demands will be that any such support ends.

Trump is a businessman. The U.S. help for cleaning up the mess MbS caused will not come cheap. He will press the Saudis to sign more weapon deals. He will urge them to stick to random killing of Yemeni civilians.

In the view of the Washington establishment causing the famine of millions of dark skinned people is a lesser sin than touching a journalist and operative they perceive as one of their own.

Posted by b on October 16, 2018 at 06:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (167)

October 15, 2018

The MoA Week In Review - OT 2018-53

Last week's posts on Moon of Alabama:

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on October 15, 2018 at 01:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (97)

October 14, 2018

Settling The Khashoggi Case Is A Difficult Matter

The negotiation over the Khashoggi case will be extremely difficult. The protagonists are headstrong and dangerous people. The issue could easily escalate.

The Ottoman empire ruled over much of the Arab world. The neo-Ottoman wannabe-Sultan Recep Tayyip Erdogan would like to regain that historic position for Turkey. His main competition in this are the al-Sauds. They have much more money and are strategically aligned with Israel and the United States, while Turkey under Erdogan is more or less isolated. The religious-political element of the competition is represented on one side by the Muslim Brotherhood, 'democratic' Islamists to which Erdogan belongs, and the Wahhabi absolutists on the other side.

There are more tactical aspects to this historic conflict. When the Saudis cut ties with Qatar it was Turkey that sent its military to prevent a Saudi invasion of the tiny but extremely rich country. This gave Erdogan the financial backing he urgently needs. In response to that the Saudis offered several $100 millions to prop up the YPK/PKK proxy force the U.S. uses to occupy north-east Syria. These Kurdish groups fight a guerrilla war within Turkey and are a threat to its unity.

The effective Saudi ruler, clown prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS), made a huge mistake when he ordered the abduction (or murder) of the Saudi journalist Khashoggi in Istanbul. The botched operation gave Erdogan a tool to cut the Saudis to size.

But he needs U.S. support to achieve that. The recent release of the U.S. pastor (and CIA asset) Andrew Brunson is supposed to buy him good will with U.S. President Donald Trump. But Trump build his Middle East policy on his Saudi relations. He can not go berserk on them. Some solution must be found.


Khashoggi was a rather shady guy. A 'journalist' who was also an operator for Saudi and U.S. intelligence services. He was an early recruit of the Muslim Brotherhood:

Khashoggi’s intellectual interests were shaped in his early 20s when he studied in the United States and was also a passionate member of the Muslim Brotherhood. The brotherhood was a secret underground fraternity that wanted to purge the Arab world of the corruption and autocratic rule it saw as a legacy of Western colonialism.

Khashoggi helped in the U.S./Saudi/Pakistani project to destabilize Afghanistan. He met and interviewed Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and Sudan. The man with the RPG in the upper left picture is Jamal Khashoggi himself.


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Khashoggi became a protege of the longtime head of Saudi intelligence, Turki Faisal Al-Saud. He was engaged in several 'projects' in Afghanistan, Sudan and Algeria. Khashoggi followed Turki as 'media advisor' when he became ambassador in London and later in Washington DC.

Jamal Khashoggi supported the Muslim Brotherhood during the 'Arab Spring'. This was in line with the Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama supported regime change program for most of the Middle East. After the fall of President Mubarak in Egypt and the election win by the Brotherhood the Saudi rulers feared to be the next in line. They started to finance counter revolutions in Egypt and elsewhere. Under the reign of King Salman and his son the suppression of all aspects of Brotherhood influence intensified. Having lost his protection Khashoggi decided to leave Saudi Arabia:

Friends helped Khashoggi obtain a visa that allowed him to stay in the United States as a permanent resident.

Fred Hiatt, the neo-conservative editor of the Washington Post, hired him. The Post published his columns against the Saudi rulers in English and Arabic.

Recently Khashoggi started a number of projects that reek of preparations for a CIA controlled color-revolution in Saudi Arabia:

Jamal Khashoggi, a prolific writer and commentator, was working quietly with intellectuals, reformists and Islamists to launch a group called Democracy for the Arab World Now. He wanted to set up a media watch organization to keep track of press freedom.

He also planned to launch an economic-focused website to translate international reports into Arabic to bring sobering realities to a population often hungry for real news, not propaganda.

Part of Khashoggi’s approach was to include political Islamists in what he saw as democracy building.
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Khashoggi had incorporated his democracy advocacy group, DAWN, in January in Delaware, said Khaled Saffuri, another friend. .. The project was expected to reach out to journalists and lobby for change, representing both Islamists and liberals, said another friend, Azzam Tamimi, a prominent Palestinian-British activist and TV presenter.
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Tamimi said he and Khashoggi had set up a similar pro-democracy project together in 1992 when they first met. It was called Friends of Democracy in Algeria, he said, and followed the botched elections in Algeria, which the government annulled to avert an imminent Islamist victory.

Khashoggi has an enormous number of friends in Washington DC. Mainstream journalists see him as of one of their own. Like them, they feel, he does not deserve such ghastly fate. The neo-liberals as well as the neo-conservatives liked his 'regime change' Arab Spring support and his efforts against Saudi Arabia. Many people in Congress know him personally. They activated procedures under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act that will lead to sanctions against Saudi figures. Media, banks and well known personalities pulled out of a three-day financial conference in Riyadh dubbed “Davos in the Desert".

Trump is under pressure to 'do something', to punish the Saudis and especially MbS.

But Trumps Middle East policy depends on Saudi Arabia and on Mohammad bin Salman personally. MbS finances the U.S. occupation in Syria. Trump's son in law Jared Kushner build his 'peace plan' for Netanyahoo on Saudi endorsement. The sanctions against Iran can only be sustained if Saudi oil replaces the loss of Iranian output. Trump's 'Make America Great Again' program needs the Saudi demand for U.S. weapons. He also needs the Saudis to avoid utter defeat in Afghanistan. Last but not least Trump will perceive the Kashoogi issue as part of the anti-Trump campaign.

Former CIA director Brennan, an avid anti-Trumper, lobbies to dethrone Mohammad bin Salman over the case:

As someone who worked closely with the Saudis for many years, and who lived and worked as a U.S. official for five years in Saudi Arabia, I am certain that if such an operation occurred inside a Saudi diplomatic mission against a high-profile journalist working for a U.S. newspaper, it would have needed the direct authorization of Saudi Arabia’s top leadership — the crown prince.
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I am confident that U.S. intelligence agencies have the capability to determine, with a high degree of certainty, what happened to Khashoggi. If he is found to be dead at the hands of the Saudi government, his demise cannot go unanswered — by the Trump administration, by Congress or by the world community. Ideally, King Salman would take immediate action against those responsible, but if he doesn’t have the will or the ability, the United States would have to act. That would include immediate sanctions on all Saudis involved; a freeze on U.S. military sales to Saudi Arabia; suspension of all routine intelligence cooperation with Saudi security services; and a U.S.-sponsored U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the murder.

The Saudis know what is coming and they are not without defenses. In response to the sanction threats they released a 'f*** you' statement and openly threaten that any sanctions will be responded to with some 30 painful measures:

Riyadh is the capital of its oil, and touching this would affect oil production before any other vital commodity. It would lead to Saudi Arabia's failure to commit to producing 7.5 million barrels. If the price of oil reaching $80 angered President Trump, no one should rule out the price jumping to $100, or $200, or even double that figure.

An oil barrel may be priced in a different currency, Chinese yuan, perhaps, instead of the dollar. And oil is the most important commodity traded by the dollar today.

All of this will throw the Middle East, the entire Muslim world, into the arms of Iran, which will become closer to Riyadh than Washington.
...
The US will also be deprived of the Saudi market which is considered one of the top 20 economies in the world.

These are simple procedures that are part of over 30 others that Riyadh will implement directly, without flinching an eye if sanctions are imposed on it, according to Saudi sources who are close to the decision-makers.

The truth is that if Washington imposes sanctions on Riyadh, it will stab its own economy to death, even though it thinks that it is stabbing only Riyadh!

The measures would also cause serious damage to Saudi Arabia. After they were published the Saudi stock market dropped sharply.

The U.S. dollar depends on the secret deal arranged in 1974 that recycles Saudi petro-dollars into U.S. treasuries. If the al-Sauds start to touch that corner stone of the relation, the U.S. will have to invade and smash their shitty country to smithereens. Mecca and Medina would be given back to the Hashemites now ruling Jordan, the Gulf coast line, which holds the oil and oil industry and is mostly inhabited by Shia, would become a state of its own. Yemen would regain its two northern provinces. The plans to do this have long been drawn.

Some solution must be found. The easiest one is for King Salman to fire his son and to reinstate Muhammad bin Nayef, who MbS had dethroned, as crown prince. Nayef is the CIA's man. But if Salman is unwilling or unable to do this, an excuse must be found for whatever  happened to Khashoggi.

The Saudis asked Erdogan to accept a "joint investigation" of the Khashoggi case. This was a request to come to some solution over the issue. Rumors speak of an opening offer of $5 billion as compensation. The Saudi King dispatched the respected governor of Makkah province, Prince Khalid_bin_Faisal_Al_Saud, to Ankara to arrange a deal. The EU3, UK, France and Germany, urge both sides to use this mechanism.

The process to close the case, if both sides wish to do so, is pretty clear:

In statements [..] President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stopped short of directly accusing the Saudis. Turkish officials have said their president has held his fire in part because he hopes that Washington will help push Saudi Arabia to acknowledge what happened to Mr. Khashoggi.
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Some of Saudi Arabia’s allies in Washington acknowledge that pressure from the United States could force the kingdom to offer some account of Mr. Khashoggi’s fate — even if it is a modified version that shields the kingdom’s day-to-day ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed, from any responsibility.

Some 'rogue element' of the Saudi state could admit that it killed Khashoggi. MbS would deny any knowledge. But fifteen of his most trusted men, those who were seen in Istanbul, would have to be punished. (How would the rest of his body guard react to that?)

The real problem is that both sides, Erdogan and MbS, are extremely headstrong. For both men the issue is much bigger than the Khashoggi case. The conflict has historic, strategic and very personal dimensions. That makes it difficult to find a deal.

Erdogan knows that he is extremely lucky that MbS committed this stupid act under the nose of his secret service. It gives him a tool to cut the Saudis to size. He will introduce new evidence bit by bit to increase the outrage over the case and the pressure on Saudi Arabia.

MbS on the other side will do his utmost to keep his position. He might even let his father die a sudden death should King Salman decide to fire him. Khashoggi was clearly a danger to the throne. MbS probably feels that he did the right thing and does not deserve any criticism over it. After all, abduction and, if needed, murder of dissidents in foreign countries are a long standing Saudi policy that never caused any serious uproar.

Mohammad bin Salman has one mighty ally that may help him to decrease the noise in Congress and the 'do something' pressure on Trump.

The Zionists already recognize that helping MbS is in their interest:

Khashoggi and the Jewish question

Eran Lerman, the vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies and a former deputy national security council head, said: “It is certainly not in our interests to see the status of the Saudi government diminished in Washington.
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Lerman envisions a scenario where Jewish political organizations in Washington – such as the American Jewish Committee, which he once worked for as head of its Israel office – may actually go to Capitol Hill, as they have done in the past, and discreetly lobby for the Saudis, something that could paradoxically bring the two countries even closer together.

None of the protagonists of this geopolitical drama deserve any pity. Erdogan, Trump and MbS are thugs. Khashoggi was a willing tool in the destruction of many lives. Seeing these people at each others throat is highly entertaining.

But the conflict is also dangerous. It could escalate into something much bigger that could be painful for many people. Unfortunately there seems to be no one who could talk sense to these people and get them to bury the case.

While I earlier thought that the case would be settled rather sooner than later, I now expect the conflict to go on for weeks or months while collateral damage will accumulate around it.

Posted by b on October 14, 2018 at 01:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (130)

October 13, 2018

U.S. Bullying Of The Two Koreas Endangers Its Alliance ... And Peace

The Trump administration is haranguing South Korea for taking steps the U.S. had already agreed to. The New York Times believes that North Korea's insistence of sticking to signed agreements is a means of war. This only unites the two Koreas and does not bode well for the alliance. 


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North Korea Weaponizes Its Deal With Trump to Tangle Talks

In hailing the deal he reached with Kim Jong-un this summer in Singapore, President Trump said it “largely solved” the North Korean nuclear crisis.

He has since doubled down on that statement, most recently on Tuesday. “People don’t realize the importance of the first meeting,” he said. “I mean, we said, ‘Point No. 1: denuclearization.’ They’ve agreed to denuclearization.”

It was actually the third bullet point in the four-point Singapore agreement, and for the North Koreans, the order of those bullet points is everything. It will only agree to denuclearize once Washington commits to the first and second points: Mr. Trump’s promise to build “new” relations and a “peace regime” in Korea — and makes North Korea feel secure enough to disarm.

The standoff shows how North Korea has turned the deal Mr. Trump signed with its leader, Mr. Kim, into one of its most effective cudgels in talks with Washington over denuclearization, ceaselessly flaunting it to force American concessions.

The highlighted paragraph is the first time the New York Times admits that the Singapore agreement is indeed a numbered list of tasks that are to be taken step by step.

Moon of Alabama explained the sequence proscribed in the Singapore Statement, which is also included in the inter-Korean Panmunjom Declaration, back in July: Pyongyang Talks - How Pompeo Put The Cart Before The Horse. Ignoring the agreed upon sequencing was the reason why the talks Secretary of State Pompeo held in Pyongyang nearly failed. 

The hawks in the Trump administration tried to ignore the Singapore Statement as soon as it was signed. They wanted to jump to point 3 - North Korea's aspirational commitment of eventual denuclearization - before the U.S. even starts to fulfill the concrete measures it committed to in point 1 and 2 - establishing diplomatic relations and a peace agreement. The U.S. mainstream media supported the administration's false and a-historic interpretation that claimed that denuclearization comes first. It insisted on ignoring the sequence and wording of the Singapore Statement. The only exception was an op-ed by a Duyeon Kim in Foreign Policy.

We welcome the NYT to the small club of those who acknowledge the reality of the Joint Statement. But how is North Korean insistence on the written agreement "weaponizing" it? How can an amicably agreed and signed sequencing be a "cudgel"? Who is really trying to "tangle" the issue? The piece does not give any substance that supports its diction.

It is the Trump administration, and the main stream media who support its fudging, that deviates from the agreements. It is the U.S. that is in the wrong here, not North Korea.

Other countries accept the sequencing and the necessity to start with point 1 and 2. A recent joint press release by the deputy foreign ministers of China, Russia and the DPRK emphasizes it:

The three parties shared the understanding that such processes should be ensured to progress in a stage-by-stage and simultaneous way while giving precedence to confidence-building and that they should be accompanied by corresponding measures by the countries concerned.

China and Russia want to adjust the international sanctions to honor the steps North Korea has already taken.


President Moon Jae-in of South Korea also insist on following the signed agreements. But when he recently took steps to fulfill the inter-Korean Panmunjom Declaration, which Trump had endorsed, the U.S. intervened.

Moon needs to lift some sanction his country had put onto the north in 2010, to allow for the resumption of aid to North Korea. Trump rejected that in a rather humiliating way:

“Well, they won’t do it without our approval,” Trump said in the Oval Office on Wednesday when asked about reports Seoul is considering the idea. “They do nothing without our approval.”

Even the right leaning Korea Times found that insulting:

While Washington leads the international community's sanctions regime on Pyongyang, Trump's excessive remarks are seen as denying South Korean sovereignty.

In a just revealed earlier incident Pompeo reportedly even used swear words in a phone call with South Korea's Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha:

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo furiously harangued Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha in a telephone call on Sept. 17 about South Korea's rapid rapprochement with North Korea.

A diplomatic source in Washington said, "Pompeo was informed of the terms to be agreed on during the inter-Korean summit and became very angry that he was not consulted in advance on issues that could have a major impact on the U.S." The source added Pompeo "used strong language" in the phone call with Kang.

Pompeo was incensed by plans to begin reconnecting severed inter-Korean railways and a cross-border military agreement that aims at reducing arms along the border.

The reconnection of the railways and the military agreements to avoid conflicts in the demilitarized zone follow directly from the Panmunjom Declaration. The Declaration was formerly endorsed in the Singapore Statement Trump himself signed. It is ridiculous that the U.S. claims it was not informed about these steps and that it blocks the necessary procedures.


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha

Pompeo especially came off as the bully he is. Washington's pressure was successful though - for now. South Korea's government stepped back and said that the lifting of its sanctions is not imminent. But it insists on fulfilling the agreements with the north which will require to take this step.

Korean media warn that the boarish American behavior may well destroy the alliance:

It would be best for Pompeo to clarify whether he used improper language.

If he did, he should apologize. If he didn't, his clarification would suffice.

Korea and the U.S. have been allies in good times and bad. If that tradition of alliance is kept, manners are adhered to, or it could end up among the first cracks that lead to its collapse.

The inter-Korean politics of Moon Jae-in are supported by more than two-thirds of the South Korean population. The conservative Liberty Korea Party, which supports Washington's hawkish stand, recently polled below 20%. Everyone but the U.S. believes that unilateral denuclearization is a fantasy and that only accepting peace can defuse the problem. If this haranguing by Washington continues, South Korea may well act on its own.

Posted by b on October 13, 2018 at 01:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (73)

October 11, 2018

Saudis Must Cough Up Billions To Settle Khashoggi Case

The Khashoggi case, discussed here, will be moved off the news pages even faster than assumed.

A CNN correspondent just tweeted this:

Alexander Marquardt @MarquardtA - 16:44 utc - 11 Oct 2018
Erdogan spox: "At the request of Saudi Arabia, a joint working group will be established to uncover the events surrounding Jamal Khashoggi."

Translation:

Erdogan spox: "Our Sultan received a sufficient down payment to start negotiating about the burial of the case."

Prediction:

Erdogan will use the 'joint working group' to squeeze as much as he can out of the Saudis. (A deal may even include a political settlement of the Saudi blockade of Erdogan's sponsor Qatar.)


Yesterday 22 Senators signed a request to Trump to investigate the Khashoggi case under the Global Magnitsky Act. The Trump administration has 120 days to finish the investigation and to report back to the Senate. Any person or organization found to be involved in the kidnapping and possible murder of Khashoggi could then come under U.S. sanctions.

Those 120 days are the time-frame for Erdogan to use the thumbscrews the Saudi fuckup in its consulate in Istanbul handed him. The Saudi clown prince Mohammad bin Salman will get squeezed like never before. It will cost him billions to purchase the video of the Khashoggi killing the Turkish government claims to have.

Erdogan will not be the only one to profit from the issue. The Senate move gives Trump enormous leverage over the Saudis. He will use it.

Trump loudly claimed that he personally closed a $110 billion deal in which the Saudis purchase more useless weapons. There never was a 'deal', only some non-binding letters of intent.

The Saudis have been reluctant to follow through. They did not pony up the $15 billion for the U.S. made THAAD missile defense systems Trump 'sold' them and even talked with Russia about buying the much cheaper and better S-400:

According to The Washington Post, among the agreements still up in the air is the $15 billion purchase of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System [THAAD], made by US defense contractor Lockheed Martin.

In a sign of Trump's continued emphasis on arms sales as a component of US foreign policy, White House senior adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner personally intervened with Lockheed to secure a 20% discount for the air-defense system.

Yet Riyadh let a September 30 deadline to wrap up that purchase come and go, according to The Post.

The new sales-pitch is easy to see. Either MbS buys the THAAD and other useless systems (without discount), or the investigation Trump has to pursue will reluctantly find MbS involved in the Khashoggi case. That would put MbS and his assets within the U.S. under sanctions. The Saudi King would have to replace MbS as clown king and successor.

Others will also try to gain political profit from the case. Netanyahoo will request that the investigation under the Global Magnitsky Act finds that Iran is guilty of the murder. Others will want to blame Russia. Was it a GRU cyberattack that hindered the Saudi consulates CCTV from recording the events while Qasem Soleimani slipped into the Saudi consulate and novichoked Khashoggi?

That might sound far fetched or even crazy but we have been here before. When in December 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie it was quite obvious that it was a revenge act for the July 1988 murder of 290 people on board of Iran Air flight 655 by the U.S. navy. But the investigation was fudged and in the end it was politically most convenient to blame Libya's Ghaddafi for the Pan Am disaster even while he had nothing to do with either incident.

But whatever.

Deals will be made and the case will be buried. If the deals are good enough, several dozen billions will be required, the U.S. might even allow Mohammad bin Salman to stay in his position.

But King Salman, or some Saudi citizens, may well find that the various crazy endeavors MbS tends to launch - the war on Yemen, the Qatar blockade, the Khashoggi assassination - are becoming way too costly for the country. A simple unlucky home accident could solve that problem.

Posted by b on October 11, 2018 at 03:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (146)

Open Thread 2018-52

News & views ...

Posted by b on October 11, 2018 at 12:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (87)

October 10, 2018

U.S. Intelligence Had A 'Duty To Warn' Khashoggi - Why Didn't That Happen?

It is beyond doubt that the Saudi government abducted, or killed, the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But what did the Trump administration knew about the threat to Khashoggi? Did U.S. intelligence services warn him as their regulations require? Was such a warning blocked by the White House? And what will Trump do about the case?

The Turkish government published pictures of 15 men who had come from Saudi Arabia and were in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul shortly before Khashoggi visited it to get his divorce papers. They moved Khashoggi to the residence of the consul and later that day flew back on the same two private Saudi jets that had brought them to Istanbul.

At least 8 of the 15 men have been identified as Saudi royal military. At least three are bodyguards of the Saudi clown prince Mohammad bin Salman. It is thereby obvious that the clown prince himself gave the order for the operation. One of the 15 is Dr. Salah Muhammed Al-Tubaigy, the head of forensic evidence at the Saudi General Security Department.

Anonymous Turkish sources assert that Khashoggi was killed, his body cut to pieces and taken away. They even claim that there is video of the murder:

The official described a quick and complex operation in which Mr. Khashoggi was killed within two hours of his arrival at the consulate by a team of Saudi agents, who dismembered his body with a bone saw they brought for the purpose.

“It is like ‘Pulp Fiction,’” the official said.
...
Mr. Erdogan was informed of the conclusions on Saturday, according to several people with knowledge of the briefings, and he has since dispatched officials to anonymously tell myriad news outlets, including The New York Times, that Mr. Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi Consulate.
...
Another person briefed on the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity to disclose confidential details, told The Times on Saturday that Turkish intelligence had obtained a video of the killing, made by the Saudis to prove that it had occurred.

A commentator close to Mr. Erdogan’s government said so publicly on Tuesday.

“There is a video of the moment of him being killed,” Kemal Ozturk, a columnist in a pro-government newspaper and the former head of a semiofficial news agency, said in an interview on a pro-government television network, citing unnamed security officials.

That Erdogan pushes this 'Pulp Fiction' story is not astonishing. His troops protect Qatar from a Saudi attack and Qatar props up the Turkish economy with multi-billion investments. There is also the old Ottoman versus Arab fight over leadership in the Middle East.

But why would the Saudis kill Khashoggi? Why not drug him, haul him to the airport and fly him back to Riyadh as a "medial emergency"? Why not put him into a big box and transported him as privileged diplomatic baggage? If the Saudis intended to kill Khashoggi they could have hire some guy to shoot him in the streets. It would have been a much simpler operation and way less suspicious.

Killing Khashoggi in the official Consulate makes no sense - unless MbS wanted this current public outrage. Is it a warning to all his enemies? Is it to demonstrate that he can get away with anything?

The Washington Post reports that the U.S. government knew that Khashoggi was in danger:

Before Khashoggi’s disappearance, U.S. intelligence intercepted communications of Saudi officials discussing a plan to capture him, according to a person familiar with the information. The Saudis wanted to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia and lay hands on him there, this person said. It was not clear whether the Saudis intended to arrest and interrogate Khashoggi or to kill him, or if the United States warned Khashoggi that he was a target, this person said.

If U.S. intelligence knew of the danger to Khashoggi Intelligence Community Directive 191 - Duty to Warn (pdf) would have applied:

An IC element that collects or acquires credible and specific information indicating an impending threat of intentional killing, serious bodily injury, or kidnapping directed at a person or group of people (hereafter referred to as intended victim) shall have a duty to warn the intended victim or those responsible for protecting the intended victim, as appropriate. This includes threats where the target is an institution, place of business, structure, or location. The term intended victim includes both U.S. persons, as defined in EO 12333, Section 3.5(k), and non-U.S. persons.

Read plainly ICD 191 provides that the U.S. intelligence services had to warn Khashoggi of the Saudi threat. Did they do so or not?

There are a few exceptions in the directive that allow to withhold a warning. If the information came through a friendly intelligence service the protection of sources and methods has priority over a warning (point E.3.e. in the regulation.)

If U.S. intelligence acquired the information through the British GHCQ, a warning to Khashoggi might have revealed that the GHCQ has bugged all those Cisco telephones the Saudi royals so proudly display. But there was little danger that a warning to Khashoggi would have revealed anything. The Saudis will surely expect that the U.S., British and other intelligence services listen to even their private communications.

There may have been other reasons to withhold a warning. Trump's son in law and senior aid Jared Kushner has good personal relations with MbS. In March The Intercept reported that, according to MbS, Kushner revealed U.S. intelligence about MbS' enemies to him.

[A]fter the meeting, Crown Prince Mohammed told confidants that Kushner had discussed the names of Saudis disloyal to the crown prince, according to three sources who have been in contact with members of the Saudi and Emirati royal families since the crackdown.

The meeting took place in late October 2017. About a week later the Saudi clown prince incarcerated hundreds of his rich relatives and other Saudi billionaires in the Ritz hotel in Riyadh and pressured them to hand over their assets.

Kushner had obviously no qualms to rat out the people who privately criticized MbS.

(In February 2018 Kushner lost access to top level security briefings because his interim security clearance was revoked. This may have been the deep state's revenge for his indiscretion. Kushner finally passed full clearance and regained access in May.)

Not to warn Khashoggi might well have been a White House decision. It is the Trump's administration policy to not challenge its allies over human rights issues. The State Department even produced a memo explaining that human rights criticism only applies to U.S. 'enemies'.

If the Saudis want to nab Khashoggi, the White House might have thought, why no let them have him?

Trump's foreign policy depends on good relations with the Saudis:

The Trump administration, from the president on down, is heavily invested in the Saudi relationship. Robin Wright, a scholar at the Wilson Center think tank and close friend of the missing writer, said that’s unlikely to change. The administration’s Middle East agenda heavily depends on the Saudis, including efforts to counter Iranian influence in the region, fight extremism and build support for its yet-to-be-released plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Turkish and Qatari rulers and their media do their best to propagandize the case and to rage against the Saudi regime. The Washington Post, for which Khashoggi wrote, will surely not let go of the issue. Other 'western' media and journalists are also enraged about the case. Khashoggi was one of them, aristocratic elite as they see themselves, who do not deserve such fate.

Can MbS and the Trump regime really sit back and not reply to demands of serious consequences over the case?

That may well be. After all, no one is challenging the U.S.-Saudis alliance over the daily murder it commits in Yemen and elsewhere. If the Saudis kidnapped Khashoggi, and provide evidence that he is alive, the media outrage will soon die down. If the Turkish government publishes the video of the murder that it claims to have, it will only take a bit longer until other news moves the case from the front pages.

There is no real reason for MbS, or Trump, to care.

Posted by b on October 10, 2018 at 01:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (132)

October 09, 2018

Syria Sitrep - The Turkish-Russian Agreement Holds - S-300 Air Defense Arrives

The situation in Syria is relatively calm. The government (red) has consolidated the areas it retook during the year. The Syrian army received new air defense (see below) and other materials and is busy integrating it. Some Syrian army units are currently moving east to Al Bukamal on the border with Iraq. Others have been sent to their home bases.


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The only place where the Syrian army is still actively engaged is in the southern desert near As-Suwayda where some 1-2,000 ISIS fighters (grey) hold on to a small enclave in the mid of a large area of volcanic rock. The terrain is difficult to cross with tanks and the infantry fight there is bloody.

The Turkish Russian agreement over a demilitarized zone in the 'rebel' controlled Idleb government seems to hold.


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The 'rebels' controlled by Turkey have moved their heavy equipment (tanks and artillery) out of the demilitarized area (ocher). The jihadi factions, Tahrir al Sham and the Turkmens around Jisr al Shugur, are not following the agreement. The Syrian Observatory reports that they dug ditches to hide their weapons in place. It is Turkey's responsibility to remove them. The assassination campaign in Idleb governorate continues with now more than 380 casualties. Some mid-level commander of this or that group gets killed each day. It is not know who - ISIS sleeper cells, the Turkish MIT or Russian spetsnaz - is behind the campaign.

A similar troubled area is the Kurdish canton Afrin in the northwest which Turkish troops and associated 'rebel' gangs occupied. There is an immense amount of looting going on and the various groups fight each other.

In the eastern Deir Ezzor governorate the U.S. military and its Kurdish proxy force (yellow) is still fighting against entrenched ISIS forces (grey).


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Those forces had been left alone for nearly a year and used the time to dig in. The attackers take casualties from IED's and ISIS sleeper cells. U.S. and British forces bomb the area several times per day and French and U.S. artillery is adding to the carnage. Still, the progress seems to be extremely slow. There are unconfirmed reports that U.S. marines came in to reinforce the unwilling Kurdish proxy force. Some of the ISIS fighters crossed the Euphrates to attack government controlled (red) areas but were defeated.

While the overview map shows triangle south of Deir Ezzor city as ISIS held (grey) there have been no reports of any recent activities in that desert area.

The U.S. controlled al-Tanf zone in the south east (marked green) is relatively quiet. The U.S. soldiers there still train some local goons but there is no reasonable future for that position. The ten thousands of family members of 'rebel' and ISIS fighters in the nearby Rukban refugee camp on the border to Jordan are desperate. Jordan does not allow any supply for them. Food is smuggled in from government controlled areas but the people ran out of money and can not pay for it:

When the US cut funding for FSA-affiliated factions operating in the eastern Badia desert last year, hundreds of fighters lost their primary source of income, which had often been used to support family members living in Rukban, Ahmad al-Abdo Brigade spokesperson Seif says.

There have been negotiations with the Syrian government to move some 'rebels' and their families from Rukban to the north into the Turkish controlled zone but several announcements of such a move passed without any transfer happening.


Russia donated three battalion sets of S-300PM air defense systems to Syria. Each battalion headquarter has an acquisition radar and a command post. There are two companies (batteries) to a battalion. Typically each company has a fire direction radar and a fire control vehicle. There are four missile launchers in a company with four missile canisters each. Two additional vehicles carry spare ammunition and have cranes to reload the launchers. Each battalion will receive 100 missiles, enough to fight off several waves of attacks. The spares can be transported on normal truck trailers. The system is very flexible. Additional launchers can be added to a company and radar information can be shared.

The systems are relatively modern and still widely used within Russia's own air defense. The systems Syria received are used ones from Russian battalions which recently upgraded to the new S-400 systems. They were refurbished before being delivered to Syria. The S-300PM systems are mounted on wheel based vehicles. They arrived by air transport (vid) from Russia. To protect the long-range S-300 air defenses each company will likely be accompanied by a Pantsyr-S1 short range air defense systems. In addition to the air defense systems Syria also received Karsukha-4 electronic warfare systems which allow to detect and jam enemy radio traffic and radar.

One of the battalions will likely stay in Latakia governorate and reinforce the Russian air defense already stationed there. Another battalion will protect Damascus. The third battalion is a bit of a wild card. It could either stay in west Syria near Homs to reinforce the other units or move east to Palmyra or even to Deir Ezzor to give the U.S. contingent there some thought.

The newly positioned 96 ready-to-launch S-300 missiles will make it difficult for Israel to continue its attacks on Syria. Israel would love to to do so but the only way it might be able to continue its attacks is by flying its jets very low over Lebanon to be covered by the mountain range towards Syria. They would then have to 'pop-up' to fire their missiles into Syria but there is no guarantee that the firing jets would survive. Flying low over Lebanon also entails the risk of a surprise meeting with one of Hezbullah's short range air defense missiles.


The Syrian president Bashar al Assad just issued a decree that grants amnesty to those who deserted the army or ran away from serving their conscription time. If the deserters and draft dodgers turn themselves in within the next six month to fulfill their service they will escape all punishment.

The Gulf Arabs, except Qatar which is allied with Turkey, have given up on removing President Assad and are making nice:

In one of the more surprising developments amid a flurry of diplomatic meetings surrounding the U.N. General Assembly, Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmad al-Khalifa was seen greeting Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem with hugs and kisses at a pan-Arab meeting last week. Bahrain, a close ally of Saudi Arabia, has been a vocal critic of Assad and other regional allies of Iran, but the top diplomat said: "the Syrian government is the ruler in Syria and we work with countries even if we disagree with them."

Days later, Assad conducted his first interview with an Arabian Peninsula newspaper since 2011, telling Kuwait's Al-Shahed that he had reached a "major understanding" with a number of Arab states and that "Western and Arab delegations have already begun to come to Syria to arrange their return, whether diplomatic, economic or industrial."

This change in the Arab rulers sentiment might well influence the U.S. position in Syria.

Posted by b on October 9, 2018 at 12:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (64)

October 08, 2018

Mainstream Journos Pissed As Saudi Clown Prince Nabs One Of Their Own

The Moustache of Understanding, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, is pissed that the Saudi clown prince Mohammad bin Salman ordered the kidnapping of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Khashoggi, who comes from a very rich family, has long served the Saudi regime in editorial positions and was the media adviser to Prince Turki al-Faisal during his tenure as ambassador in London and Washington. He left Saudi Arabia last year out of fear of being targeted in the ongoing crackdown by clown prince Mohammad bin Salman. He ended up writing mildly critical columns for the Washington Post. Khashoggi is no liberal but a staunch supporter of Saudi system and its brutality. He had praised the beheading of Syrian soldiers by ISIS as an "effective psychological military tactic" and supported the abhorrent Saudi war on Yemen.

According to the Turkish police, Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 at 13:12 to receive his divorce documents and never came out. On the same day 15 Saudi citizens had come to Istanbul on two planes and were in the consulate building when Khashoggi was there. They later left Turkey. Anonymous Turkish police sources claimed that the team of Saudi agents killed Khashoggi after he entered the consulate, hacked up his body and took the remains with them. That horror story is unlikely to be true. Turkey, itself the biggest jailer of journalists, has bad relations with Saudi Arabia and supports its arch-rival Qatar. The Saudi government has a long record of kidnapping and bringing back prominent Saudis who fled the country. It does not off these people in foreign places.

The bootlicking 'premier' western publications, especially the Washington Post, lauded Mohammad bin Salman as a reformer. He never was one. He said so himself in a recent Bloomberg interview. Nor did any of his predecessor, who were all lauded as reformers by the mainstream media, ever really change the archaic Saudi system. But when MbS visited the United States this spring every Silicon Valley billionaire, including Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos, was happy to have his picture taken with him.

But no one kissed bin Salman's ass as affectionate as Tom Friedman. Take this from last years most embarrassing fanfiction:

We met at night at his family’s ornate adobe-walled palace in Ouja, north of Riyadh. M.B.S. spoke in English, while his brother, Prince Khalid, the new Saudi ambassador to the U.S., and several senior ministers shared different lamb dishes and spiced the conversation. After nearly four hours together, I surrendered at 1:15 a.m. to M.B.S.’s youth, pointing out that I was exactly twice his age. It’s been a long, long time, though, since any Arab leader wore me out with a fire hose of new ideas about transforming his country.

Tom Friedman (left) in conversation with Mohammad bin Salman (artist conception)

The main stream journos who are now up in arms over Khashoggi are mostly embarrassed about their earlier adoration of Mohammad bin Salman. But even more important to them is that Khashoggi is one of their class. They think of themselves as entitled aristocrats who do not deserve such a fate. That is reserved for the deplorable plebs below them.

Just consider this amoral passage in Friedman's whining column about the Khashoggi case:

If Jamal has been abducted or murdered by agents of the Saudi government, it will be a disaster for M.B.S. and a tragedy for Saudi Arabia and all the Arab Gulf countries. It would be an unfathomable violation of norms of human decency, worse not in numbers but in principle than even the Yemen war.

Every ten minutes a child in Yemen starves because of the famine caused by the Saudi, UAE, U.S. and UK war on the country. The renewed attack on the harbor of Hodeidah and hyperinflation over the recent months have doubled the prices of food and gas  Most people in Yemen no longer have the income to pay for the needed food. Tens of thousands were already silently starved, millions will likely follow. By what humanitarian 'principle' would the potential death of one bootlicking columnist be worse than that?

Saudi Arabia under Mohammad bin Salman is weak and vulnerable. The kidnapping of Khashoggi is a sign of its insecurity. It can not even afford to have one mild critic outside of its control. The U.S. is quite happy with this situation. It makes it easier for the Trump administration to squeeze more money out of the lunatic kingdom. The administration will not blame the Salman regime over Khashoggi. Neither will Congress. Last year the Saudis spent $27.3 million to lobby Washington. They bribe every senator who will take their money.

The only thing the Trump administration might do about the Khashoggi case is to accuse Qasem Soleimani and the GRU of interference in it. MI6 may soon find that an Iranian agent novichoked Khashoggi. 

When the State Department will - in the harshest terms - condemn Iran for abducting Khashoggi, when the Treasury again sanctions Russia and when the Pentagon increases its support for the bombing of Yemen, Friedman and the other sycophants will again rise up and applause.

Posted by b on October 8, 2018 at 05:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (75)

October 07, 2018

The MoA Week In Review - OT 2018-51

Last week's posts on Moon of Alabama:

The Saudi video tweet is still up. The U.S. media position towards the clown prince MbS and Saudi Arabia is likely to change over the fate of their beloved propagandist Jamal Khashoggi. The servile adoration by the whole 'elite' towards the fake 'reformer' will end. Hey Washington Post, time to pick up on the piece above to fill that empty space.

Should it be confirmed that Saudi goons indeed killed Khashoggi the State Department will - in the harshest terms - condemn Iran and sanction Russia.

---

Also this week:
The anti-Kavanaugh strategy by the Democratic Party leadership was an utter failure. They could have emphasized his role in the Patriot Act, the Bush torture regime and his earlier lies to Congress to disqualify him. Instead they used the fake grievance culture against him which allowed Trump to do what he does best - wield victimhood (vid, recommended).
---

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on October 7, 2018 at 11:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (187)

India's U-Turn Destroys Trump's Anti-Chinese 'Quad' Strategy

A change in India's foreign policy last week disintegrated the Trump administration's strategy against Russia and China. U.S. media pronouncements about India will now change. The Indian government under Narendra Modi will come under heavy propaganda fire.


Two weeks ago the MoA Weekly Review mused about the corrupt Rafale fighter jet deal India's Hindu-fascist President Modi had arranged:

In short: The previous government signed a contract with France' Dassault to buy 126 Rafale jets for $10.6 billion. Thirty percent of the price would flow back from Dassault to the Indian state owned aviation manufacturer HAL, which would assemble most of the planes.
Modi flew to Paris and changed the deal without the knowledge of his cabinet and the country's military. India will get only 36 Rafales but pay $8.7 billion for them. Thirty percent of the money would flow back to a private Indian company belonging to the largely bankrupt, privately held Reliance Group for unrelated projects and without any know-how transfer.
How much Reliance, owned by the once very rich Ambani family, would hand over to Modi and his party is yet unknown. There are calls for Modi to step down which he is unlikely to do.

The writing was based on and credited to the legwork Caravan Magazine had done.

Today the New York Times picked up the story - With ‘Fishy’ Jet Deal, India’s Opposition Finally Lands a Blow on Modi.

The 'paper of the record' is two weeks late with the story, adds nothing new to it and does not even credit Caravan which uncovered the details of the corrupt deal.

The question thus is: Why was this published now?

The U.S. had hoped that it could pull the traditionally non-aligned India to its side and use it in its strategic wars against China, Russia and Iran. The Quad strategy of an Indo-Pacific alliance of Japan, Australia and India under U.S. leadership was agreed upon a year ago,  supposedly to implement a "rules based order" in which the U.S. makes up rules of what China (and others) are allowed to do - or not allowed to do - in the Indo-Pacific realm.

Critics of the Modi government did not like the subservient role proud India was supposed to play in that game.

Then the U.S. Congress, through the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanction Act (CAATSA), threatened India with sanctions should it buy the Russian S-400 air-defense systems. Trump also threatens with sanctions over India's purchase of Iranian oil.

Domestic criticism of Modi's strategy increased. The Rafale scandal added to the pressure. After some dithering he finally changed course.

Last week President Putin visited India and signed a number of big deals. India will buy 5 regiments (40 launchers) of the S-400 system for a cool $5 billion. Moreover both sides agreed on a deal for 6 additional nuclear reactors to be build by Russian companies in India. (Two Russian reactors are already running in India while two more are under construction.) The reactors come at some $20 billion each and will be build over the next decade. Rosneft signed a ten year deal to provide India with 10 million tons of oil per year. There are also a number of other new agreements.

The leaders' remarks at the summit referred to multilateralism and the joint statement they issued was a kick into Trump's ass. At Indian Punchline the former Indian ambassador M. K. Bhadrakumar remarks:

We seem to have flushed down the drain the Trump administration’s idea of the “Quad”, which of course was a barely-disguised attempt to create a US-led alliance system in the Asia-Pacific to isolate China in its region. India is marking its distance from that enterprise.

In a wider essay Bhadrakumar expands on the Indian perspective:

The big picture is incomplete unless we draw in these trends in the world order to conceptualise our response. We should put in proper perspective the growing Sino-Russian entente instead of viewing it sceptically. The entente underscores that the US strategy to divide China and Russia and fight them separately—China in the Pacific battlefield and Russia in the European battlefield—has not worked. On the contrary, what is under way is a squeezing of the US out of the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Washington is showing signs of nervousness. This explains the desperate American attempt to draw India into a military alliance to suit its own needs. We will be erring seriously in any mistaken belief that this is about a “liberal international order”, which, of course, is only an American myth.

Despite U.S. sanction threats India will also continue to buy Iranian oil:

India will buy 9 million barrels of Iranian oil in November, two industry sources said, indicating the world's third-biggest oil importer will continue purchasing crude from the Islamic republic despite U.S. sanctions coming into force on Nov. 4.

China will likewise continue to buy hydrocarbons from Iran.

All these transactions will, of course, not be done in U.S. dollars as was once customary, but in bilateral currencies or as barter deals.

The new Indian deals with Russia, the statements from the Russia-India summit and the continued oil buying from Iran are huge defeats for the Trump administration's anti-China, anti-Russia and anti-Iran policies. Its global strategy to rescue the 'unilateral moment' for the U.S. has failed over India's recalcitrance.

And that is the very reason the New York Times is now drawing attention to the Rafale corruption scandal and highlighting the opposition to Modi.

India under Modi is now on the official American shit list. Bring out the propaganda guns. It's time for regime change.

Posted by b on October 7, 2018 at 10:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (49)

October 06, 2018

Scientists Raise Alarm Over U.S. Bio-Weapon Programs

Recent evidence about deadly tests of biological substances in Tbilisi, Georgia raised alarm about U.S. biological weapon research in foreign countries. European scientist are extremely concerned about a dubious research program, financed by the Pentagon, that seems designed to spread diseases to crops, animals and people abroad. The creation of such weapons and of special ways to distribute them is prohibited under national and international law.

The U.S. is running biological weapon research across the globe:

Bio warfare scientists using diplomatic cover test man-made viruses at Pentagon bio laboratories in 25 countries across the world. These US bio-laboratories are funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) under a $ 2.1 billion military program– Cooperative Biological Engagement Program (CBEP), and are located in former Soviet Union countries such as Georgia and Ukraine, the Middle East, South East Asia and Africa.

Until the mid nineteen-seventies the U.S. military tested biological warfare weapons on U.S. people, sometimes over large areas and on specific races. After a Congress investigation revealed the wide ranging program such testing was moved abroad.

Private companies use U.S. government controlled laboratories in foreign countries for secret biological research under contract of the U.S. military, the CIA and the Department of Homeland Security. Last month the Bulgarian journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva reported of one of these U.S. controlled bio-laboratories:

The US Embassy to Tbilisi transports frozen human blood and pathogens as diplomatic cargo for a secret US military program. Internal documents, implicating US diplomats in the transportation of and experimenting on pathogens under diplomatic cover were leaked to me by Georgian insiders. According to these documents, Pentagon scientists have been deployed to the Republic of Georgia and have been given diplomatic immunity to research deadly diseases and biting insects at the Lugar Center – the Pentagon biolaboratory in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi.

Al Mayadeen TV broadcasted a video reportage about the laboratory and its deadly effects on Georgian 'patients'.

Last week the Russian Ministry of Defense and the Russian Foreign Ministry accused the U.S. of illegal biological weapon research in the Tbilisi laboratory:

The question of what really might have taken place at the secretive US-sponsored research facility hosted by Russia’s southern neighbor was raised by the Russian military on Thursday after they studied files published online by a former Georgian minister.

The documents record the deaths of 73 people over a short period of time, indicating a test of “a highly toxic chemical or biological agents with high lethality rate,” said Igor Kirillov, commander of the Russian military branch responsible for defending troops from radiological, chemical and biological weapons.

The U.S. rejects the claims but it does not explain the documents, what kind of research is done near Tbilisi, and the unusual secrecy and security around the laboratory.

It is not only the Russians and Georgians who are concerned about secret U.S. biological warfare research. German and French scientists recently raised alarm over another dubious Pentagon research project.


by MPG/D.Duneka - bigger

In October 2016 the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced a new project called Insect Allies:

A new DARPA program is poised to provide an alternative to traditional agricultural threat response, using targeted gene therapy to protect mature plants within a single growing season. DARPA proposes to leverage a natural and very efficient two-step delivery system to transfer modified genes to plants: insect vectors and the plant viruses they transmit. In the process, DARPA aims to transform certain insect pests into “Insect Allies,” the name of the new effort.

The scenario DARPA describes is quite complicate. If a crop, for example maize, were widely infected with some illness, a virus would be manipulated and applied to the crop. The itself genetically modified virus would genetically modify the crop to 'cure' the illness. Infected insects would be used to distribute the viruses across the fields.

The program is run by the Biological Technologies Office (BTO) of DARPA. It does not come cheap. At least $27 million have been committed to it. If the discussed program were for purely agricultural purposes why would the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is part of the Pentagon, propose and finance such research?

Scientist from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön, Germany, and the Institut des Sciences de l’Evolution de Montpellier, France, along with legal scholars from the University of Freiburg point out that the method DARPA wants to apply makes little sense for the stated agricultural purposes.

The eminent U.S. magazine Science published their work. The scientists ask if the project is Agricultural research, or a new bioweapon system?

[A]n ongoing research program funded by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) aims to disperse infectious genetically modified viruses that have been engineered to edit crop chromosomes directly in fields.
...
In the context of the stated aims of the DARPA program, it is our opinion that the knowledge to be gained from this program appears very limited in its capacity to enhance U.S. agriculture or respond to national emergencies (in either the short or long term). Furthermore, there has been an absence of adequate discussion regarding the major practical and regulatory impediments toward realizing the projected agricultural benefits. As a result, the program may be widely perceived as an effort to develop biological agents for hostile purposes and their means of delivery, which—if true—would constitute a breach of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC).

It its response to the Science paper DARPA again insists that the program is for purely agricultural purpose. But the response does not answer the questions the scientists put up.

The mechanism of spreading infectious genetically modified viruses to genetically modify and 'heal' plants in the fields is itself full of problems and dangers. To use insects for distributing such viruses borders on insane.

If one has access to the targeted crop fields and if one has a genetically modified virus to influence the plants why would one use insects to distribute it? Why not use the well known targeted process of spraying the affected fields, just like it is widely done today? Only when one does not have access to the fields, when these are situated in a foreign country the U.S. has no access to, does it make sense to use insects for such purposes.

The idea that the real (and illegal) purpose of such U.S. research is biological warfare is not far fetched at all.

During the Korea War the U.S. dropped infected insects and rodents over north Korea and China to infect people with deadly diseases. Various pathogens, including anthrax, were used against the civilian population. During the Vietnam war the U.S. sprayed thousand of square miles with poisonous defoliants. It tested biological weapons on the people of Hawaii, Alaska, Maryland, Florida, Canada and Britain. In 2002 weaponized anthrax spores from the U.S. biological warfare laboratory in Fort Derrick were used to scare U.S. politicians into agreeing to the Patriot Act. At least five people were killed. And why is the U.S. Air Force looking for synovial tissue and RNA samples collected specifically from Caucasian people in Russia?

Biological warfare programs are extremely dangerous. Not only to 'the enemy' but to ones own population. Infectious diseases and pathogens can spread around the globe within a few days. Genetic modifications can have unpredictable secondary effects. Viruses can jump over the species barrier. These are the sound reasons why such weapons, and research into using them, are prohibited.

The U.S. government should follow the law and stop all such programs. Even if only in the self interest of protecting its very own people.

Posted by b on October 6, 2018 at 10:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (92)

October 05, 2018

How The U.S. Runs Public Relations Campaigns - Trump Style - Against Russia And China

Yesterday several NATO countries ran a concerted propaganda campaign against Russia. The context for it was a NATO summit in which the U.S. presses for an intensified cyberwar against NATO's preferred enemy.

On the same day another coordinated campaign targeted China. It is aimed against China's development of computer chip manufacturing further up the value chain. Related to this is U.S. pressure on Taiwan, a leading chip manufacturer, to cut its ties with its big motherland.

The anti-Russian campaign is about alleged Russian spying, hacking and influence operations. Britain and the Netherland took the lead. Britain accused Russia's military intelligence service (GRU) of spying attempts against the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague and Switzerland, of spying attempts against the British Foreign Office, of influence campaigns related to European and the U.S. elections, and of hacking the international doping agency WADA. British media willingly helped to exaggerate the claims:

The Foreign Office attributed six specific attacks to GRU-backed hackers and identified 12 hacking group code names as fronts for the GRU – Fancy Bear, Voodoo Bear, APT28, Sofacy, Pawnstorm, Sednit, CyberCaliphate, Cyber Berku, BlackEnergy Actors, STRONTIUM, Tsar Team and Sandworm."

The "hacking group code names" the Guardian tries to sell to its readers do not refer to hacking groups but to certain cyberattack methods. Once such a method is known it can be used by any competent group and individual. Attributing such an attack is nearly impossible. Moreover Fancybear, ATP28, Pawn Storm, Sofacy Group, Sednit and Strontium are just different names for one and the same well known method. The other names listed refer to old groups and tools related to criminal hackers. Blackenergy has been used by cybercriminals since 2007. It is alleged that a pro-Russian group named Sandworm used it in Ukraine, but the evidence for that is dubious at best. To throw out such a list of code names without any differentiation reeks of a Fear-Uncertainty-Doubt (FUD) campaign designed to dis-inform and scare the public.

The Netherland for its part released a flurry of information about the alleged spying attempts against the OPCW in The Hague. It claims that four GRU agents traveled to The Hague on official Russian diplomatic passports to sniff out the WiFi network of the OPCW. (WiFi networks are notoriously easy to hack. If the OPCW is indeed using such it should not be trusted with any security relevant issues.) The Russian officials were allegedly very secretive, even cleaning out their own hotel trash, while they, at the same, time carried laptops with private data and even taxi receipts showing their travel from a GRU headquarter in Moscow to the airport. Like in the Skripal/Novichok saga the Russian spies are, at the same time, portrayed as supervillains and hapless amateurs. Real spies are neither.

The U.S. Justice Department added to the onslaught by issuing new indictments (pdf) against alleged GRU agents dubiously connected to several alleged hacking incidents. As none of those Russians will ever stand in front of a U.S. court the broad allegations will never be tested.

The anti-Russian campaign came just in time for yesterday's NATO Defense Minister meeting at which the U.S. 'offered' to use its malicious cyber tools under NATO disguise:

Katie Wheelbarger, the principal deputy assistant defense secretary for international security affairs, said the U.S. is committing to use offensive and defensive cyber operations for NATO allies, but America will maintain control over its own personnel and capabilities.

If the European NATO allies, under pressure of the propaganda onslaught, agree to that, the obvious results will be more U.S. control over its allies' networks and citizens as well as more threats against Russia:

NATO's chief vowed on Thursday to strengthen the alliance's defenses against attacks on computer networks that Britain said are directed by Russian military intelligence, also calling on Russia to stop its "reckless" behavior.

The allegations against Russia over nefarious spying operations and sockpuppet campaigns are highly hypocritical. The immense scale of U.S. and British spying revealed by Edward Snowden and through the Wikileaks Vault 7 leak of CIA hacking tools is well known. The Pentagon runs large social media manipulation campaigns. The British GHCQ hacked Belgium's largest telco network to spy on the data of the many international organizations in Brussels.

International organizations like the OPCW have long been the target of U.S. spies and operations. The U.S. National Security Service (NSA) regularly hacked the OPCW since at least September 2000:

According to last week's Shadow Brokers leak, the NSA compromised a DNS server of the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in September 2000, two years after the Iraq Liberation Act and Operation Desert Fox, but before the Bush election.

It was the U.S. which in 2002 forced out the head of the OPCW because he did not agree to propagandizing imaginary Iraqi chemical weapons:

José M. Bustani, a Brazilian diplomat who was unanimously re-elected last year as the director general of the 145-nation Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, was voted out of office today after refusing repeated demands by the United States that he step down because of his "management style." No successor has been selected.

The U.S. arranged the vote against Bustani by threatening to leave the OPCW. Day's earlier 'Yosemite Sam' John Bolton, now Trump's National Security Advisor, threatened to hurt José Bustani's children to press him to resign:

"I got a phone call from John Bolton – it was first time I had contact with him – and he said he had instructions to tell me that I have to resign from the organization, and I asked him why," Bustani told RT. "He said that [my] management style was not agreeable to Washington."
...
Bustani said he "owed nothing" to the US, pointing out that he was appointed by all OPCW member states. Striking a more sinister tone, Bolton said: "OK, so there will be retaliation. Prepare to accept the consequences. We know where your kids are."

According to Bustani, two of his children were in New York at the time, and his daughter was in London.

Russia's government will need decades of hard work to reach the scale of U.S./UK hypocrisy, hacking and lying.


The propaganda rush against Russia came on the same day as a similar campaign was launched against China. A well timed Bloomberg story, which had been in the works for over a year, claimed that Chinese companies manipulated hardware they manufactured for the U.S. company SuperMicro. The hardware was then sold to Apple, Amazon and others for their cloud server businesses.

The Big Hack: How China Used a Tiny Chip to Infiltrate U.S. Companies:

Nested on the servers’ motherboards, the testers found a tiny microchip, not much bigger than a grain of rice, that wasn’t part of the boards’ original design.

Both Apple and Amazon denied the story with very strong statements. The Bloomberg tale has immense problems. It is for one completely based on anonymous sources, most of them U.S. government officials:

The companies’ denials are countered by six current and former senior national security officials, who—in conversations that began during the Obama administration and continued under the Trump administration—detailed the discovery of the chips and the government’s investigation.

The way the alleged manipulation is described to function is theoretical possible, but not plausible. In my learned opinion one would need multiple manipulations, not just one tiny chip, to achieve the described results. Even reliably U.S. friendly cyberhawks are unconvinced of the story's veracity. It is especially curious that such server boards are still in use in security relevant U.S. government operations:

Assuming the Bloomberg story is accurate, that means that the US intelligence community, during a period spanning two administrations, saw a foreign threat and allowed that threat to infiltrate the US military. If the story is untrue, or incorrect on its technical merits, then it would make sense that Supermicro gear is being used by the US military.

There might be financial motives behind the story:

Bloomberg reporters receive bonuses based indirectly on how much they shift markets with their reporting. This story undoubtedly did that.

When the story came out SuperMicro's stock price crashed from $21.40 to below $9.00 per share. It now trades at $12.60:

The story might be a cover-up for a NSA hack that was accidentally detected. Most likely it is exaggerated half truth, based on an old event, to deter the 'western' industry from sourcing anything from producers in China.

This would be consistent with other such U.S. moves against China which coincidentally (not) happened on the same day the Bloomberg story was launched.

One is a very hawkish speech U.S. Vice President Pence held yesterday:

Vice President Mike Pence accused China on Thursday of trying to undermine President Donald Trump as the administration deploys tough new rhetoric over Chinese trade, economic and foreign policies.
...
Sounding the alarm, Pence warned other nations to be wary of doing business with China, condemning the Asian country's "debt diplomacy" that allows it to draw developing nations into its orbit.

Pence also warned American businesses to be vigilant against Chinese efforts to leverage access to their markets to modify corporate behavior to their liking.

Another move is a new Pentagon report warning against the purchase of Chinese equipment and launched via Reuters in support of the campaign:

China represents a “significant and growing risk” to the supply of materials vital to the U.S. military, according to a new Pentagon-led report that seeks to mend weaknesses in core U.S. industries vital to national security.

The nearly 150-page report, seen by Reuters on Thursday ahead of its formal release Friday, concluded there are nearly 300 vulnerabilities that could affect critical materials and components essential to the U.S. military.
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“A key finding of this report is that China represents a significant and growing risk to the supply of materials and technologies deemed strategic and critical to U.S. national security,” the report said.

The Bloomberg story, the Pence speech and the Pentagon report 'leak' on the same day seem designed to scare everyone away from using Chinese equipment or China manufactured parts within there supply chain.

The allegations of Chinese supply chain attacks are of course just as hypocritical as the allegations against Russia. The very first know case of computer related supply chain manipulation goes back to 1982:

A CIA operation to sabotage Soviet industry by duping Moscow into stealing booby-trapped software was spectacularly successful when it triggered a huge explosion in a Siberian gas pipeline, it emerged yesterday.
...
Mr Reed writes that the software "was programmed to reset pump speeds and valve settings to produce pressures far beyond those acceptable to pipeline joints and welds".

Wikileaks list 27 cases of U.S. supply chain manipulation of computer hardware and software. A search for "supply chain" in the Snowden archives shows 18 documents describing such 'projects'.


The U.S. government under Trump - and with John Bolton in a leading position - copied Trump's brutal campaign style and uses it as an instrument in its foreign policy. Trump's victory in the 2016 election proves that such campaigns are highly successful, even when the elements they are build of are dubious or untrue. In their scale and coordination the current campaigns are comparable to the 2002 run-up for the war on Iraq.

Then, as during the Trump election campaign and as now, the media are crucial to the public effect these campaigns have. Will they attempt to take the stories the campaigns are made of apart? Will they set them into the larger context of global U.S. spying and manipulation? Will they explain the real purpose of these campaigns?

Don't bet on it.

Posted by b on October 5, 2018 at 08:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (104)

October 04, 2018

Saudi Embassy Video Claims Al-Qaeda Likes Iran But Proves The Opposite

The embassy of Saudi Arabia in the United States posted a video which claims that Iran "tacitly supported al-Qaeda".

However, the video, posted on October 3 at 19:44 UTC, provides only one thing. Al-Qaeda shunned contacts with Iran because al-Qaeda receives its support from Arab states.


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The Saudi embassy video includes an interview segment with "Abu Hafs, the mufti of al-Qaeda". It has Arabic and English captions. In the Saudi video Abu Hafs says:

Iran has tried for several times to establish relations with Al-Qaeda
But Al-Qaeda was refusing because of the sensitivity of forging a relationship with Iran in the Arab Peninsula
which is the most important source of support to Al-Qaeda members

a fact that Osama was taking into account
And I have discussed this matter in my own memos

Here are screenshots of the interview segment:


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A recent study by New America, based on more than 300 original al-Qaeda documents, again provided that there is no evidence for any cooperation between Iran and al-Qaeda. The top key findings are:

  • Al-Qa‘ida views Iran as a hostile entity, a hostility that is evident throughout the documents examined for this study.
  • The examined documents provide no evidence of cooperation between Al-Qa‘ida and Iran on planning or carrying out terrorist attacks.
  • The presence of jihadis in Iran was out of necessity, not a result of strategic planning. Jihadis, including Al-Qa‘ida members, and their families as well as members of bin Ladin’s family fled Afghanistan to Iran following the 9/11 attacks and the resultant fall of the Taliban regime.

Al-Qaeda perceived the Iranian policy as "as one of detention/imprisonment". Its members and their families were in effect taken hostage by the Iranian government to prevent al-Qaeda attacks on its country.

The Saudi embassy video goes on to claim that neither al-Qaeda nor the Islamic State ever attacked Iran. But in fact the Islamic State (ISIS), attacked the Iranian parliament building and the mausoleum of Ruhollah Khomeini on June 7 2017. At least 17 civilians died and 43 were wounded. On September 22 2018 and ISIS attack killed 25 participants and bystanders of a memorial day parade in Ahvaz, Iran. ISIS claimed responsibility for both attacks.

---
h/t Derek Davison

Posted by b on October 4, 2018 at 05:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (74)

October 03, 2018

Iran Sanctions - U.S. Responds To Court Order By Canceling Treaty That Gave The Court Jurisdiction

Earlier today the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued a provisional judgment (pdf, 29 pages) against some of the U.S. sanction against Iran. The ruling is a preliminary injunction over urgent humanitarian issues that will later be followed by a final judgment.

The U.S. responded by canceling the treaty the gave the court jurisdiction over the case.

The ICJ is the main judicial organ of the United Nations and settles legal disputes between member states. The rulings of the court, based in The Hague, are binding. But there is no global police force that can make the U.S. government follow the court's ruling.

Nevertheless the judgment sets a precedent that other courts will use when more specific cases against the U.S. sanctions against Iran come up. A company that loses business because of the sanctions may sue the U.S. over financial losses. An ICJ ruling on the illegality of the U.S. sanctions will then be used by a local court, even an American one, as reference.

The core of the ruling says:

THE COURT,

Indicates the following provisional measures:

(1) Unanimously,

The United States of America, in accordance with its obligations under the 1955 Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights, shall remove, by means of its choosing, any impediments arising from the measures announced on 8 May 2018 to the free exportation to the territory of the Islamic Republic of Iran of

(i) medicines and medical devices;
(ii) foodstuffs and agricultural commodities; and
(iii) spare parts, equipment and associated services (including warranty, maintenance, repair services and inspections) necessary for the safety of civil aviation;

(2) Unanimously,

The United States of America shall ensure that licences and necessary authorizations are granted and that payments and other transfers of funds are not subject to any restriction in so far as they relate to the goods and services referred to in point(1);

(3) Unanimously,

Both Parties shall refrain from any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute before the Court or make it more difficult to resolve. 

The provisional judgment, comparable to an injunction, was issued because of the imminent humanitarian damage the U.S. sanctions cause to Iran. The final judgment may take a year and is likely to be much wider. After today's unanimous ruling the general direction of the outcome is not in question.

The U.S. had claimed that the the court has no jurisdiction over the issue of its sanctions against Iran.

Iran argued that U.S. sanctions are in violations of the Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights between Iran and the United States of America (pdf), which was signed at Tehran on 15 August 1955. That treaty gave the ICJ jurisdiction over disputes between the two countries in all issues related to it.

The court accepted Iran's view.

U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo just held a press conference in which he announced that the U.S. is now canceling the 1955 treaty. His statement was full of bluster and lies:

The United States on Wednesday called an international court ruling against its Iran sanctions a defeat for Tehran as it terminated a 1955 treaty on which the case was based.
...
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo noted that the UN court did not rule more broadly against US sanctions and he insisted that the United States already exempted humanitarian goods from the sanctions.

"The court's ruling today was a defeat for Iran. It rightly rejected all of Iran's baseless requests," Pompeo told reporters.

The preliminary injunction is obviously a victory for Iran. The court has not yet judged on the wider issue of the U.S. sanctions. Having read the argument I am convinced that the final judgment will only confirm this win. The ruling is a big loss for the Trump administration. It shows the world that the U.S. is the one and only entity which is in breach of the 1955 treaty, the nuclear agreement with Iran (JCPOA) and the unanimous resolution of the UN Security Council endorsing the nuclear deal.

Pompeo's announcement of the canceling of the treaty is somewhat schizophrenic. It accepts the ruling and transgresses on it:

  • The U.S. would not have canceled the treaty without the court's judgment that is based on the treaty. With today's canceling, or the announcement thereof, the U.S. admits that the court intervention based on the treaty is legally correct. This contradicts its earlier argument.
  • The canceling of the treaty today transgresses on the courts judgment. Measure three of the court's ruling orders the parties to not make the issue more difficult to resolve. Canceling the treaty now makes the case more difficult and aggravates and extends the dispute in violation of the court order.

The U.S. is in fact mocking the court. It is unlikely that any court will accept the clearly upcoming U.S. claim that the treaty no longer exists,  that the ICJ has lost jurisdiction over the case and that its orders can thus be ignored. One can not simply change a contract after being found guilty of violating it. The case will be going to a final judgment under the 1955 treaty because that set the legal status when the case was brought to the court.

Pompeo and other will undoubtedly argue that the ruling does not matter for the U.S. and that transgressing it will have no costs. That underestimates the effect of such a ruling on lower national courts. It will be them that will judge about the seizure of U.S. assets when claims of economic damage are brought up against the U.S. and its sanction regime.

The case will also weigh on the global opinion. It makes it more difficult for other governments to follow the U.S. sanction regime. 

Posted by b on October 3, 2018 at 01:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (85)

October 02, 2018

Note To NATO - You Don't "Take Out" Missiles Without Having A War

Earlier today the U.S. ambassador to NATO threatened to "take out" a new kind of Russian missiles:

The U.S. envoy to NATO on Tuesday said that Russia must halt development of new missiles that could carry nuclear warheads and warned that the United States could “take out” the system if it becomes operational.

The U.S. and Russia have for some time disagreed about the INF treaty. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was signed in 1987 between the Soviet General Secretary Gorbachov and U.S. President Reagan. It prohibits land based (not sea based) nuclear capable systems with a range of more than 500 kilometers and less than 5,500 kilometers. The agreement came to pass after the Soviets stationed SS-20 missiles in East Europe. NATO responded with the Pershing II deployment. The problem with these missiles was warning time. Fired at a relative short range they threatened to overwhelm one side before it could respond. The missiles thus destroyed the equilibrium of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). The INF treaty banned these missiles.

Russia said for years that the U.S. broke the INF agreement when it stationed missile defense systems in Europe to allegedly take out North Korean and Iranian intercontinental missiles. The missile defense missiles could be armed with nuclear warheads and could probably be used in a surface-to-surface mode. Previously deployed U.S. Nike-Hercules 'air defense' missiles had such capabilities. The National Defense Authorization Act for the year 2018 calls for (pdf, pg 240):

... evaluating existing U.S. missile systems for modification to intermediate range and ground-launch, including Tomahawk, Standard Missile-3, Standard Missile-6, Long-Range Stand-Off Cruise Missile, and Army Tactical Missile System.

Any such modification would be undetectable from the outside, especially when the missiles are stored in launch canisters or silos. It would also clearly be in breach of the INF treaty.

The U.S. denies that its current missile defense systems break the INF and accuses Russia of breaking the treaty by testing a land launched version of its sea launched Kalibr cruse missiles. Russia denies that it is testing anything that is not compatible with the INF treaty. If there is a land launched version it is likely confined to a range below 500 kilometers and thus in compliance with the INF. The sea launched version has a reach of up to 2,500 kilometer, but its export variant is limited to 300 kilometer. The possibly land launched version, which is said to be shorter than the original Kalibr missile (see comments), might well have a much shorter range than the sea launched system. The missiles have, as far as is publicly know, non-nuclear warheads.

The U.S. ambassador to NATO is Kay Baily Hutchinson, a long-term Republican politician with no military experience. Her choice of words in today's press briefing was clearly unprofessional:

Question: [...] Ma’am, can you be more specific what kind of new information that you are bringing to the table regarding the breach of the INF Treaty? And more explicitly also, what kind of countermeasures that you are considering.

Ambassador Hutchison: The countermeasures would be to take out the missiles that are in development by Russia in violation of the treaty. So that would be the countermeasure eventually. We are trying not to do anything that would violate the treaty on our side, which allows research, but not going forward into development, and we are carefully keeping the INF Treaty requirements on our side, while Russia is violating. ...

The reporters in the room were in disbelieve over such aggressive wording and followed up:

Question: Thanks, Ambassador. Lorne [Inaudible], Associated Press. Just to clarify a little bit when you said to take out the missiles that are in development, we are a little excited here. Do you mean to get those withdrawn? You don’t mean to actually take them out in a more [inaudible]?

Ambassador Hutchison: Well, withdrawing, yes. Getting them to withdraw would be our choice, of course. But I think the question was what would you do if this continues to a point where we know that they are capable of delivering. And at that point we would then be looking at a capability to take out a missile that could hit any of our countries in Europe and hit America in Alaska. So it is in all of our interests, and Canada as well, I suppose. So we have our North Atlantic risk as well as the European risk.

So what is the ambassador going to do? Bomb Russia over a disagreement about the technical specification of a potential new missile that is not even deployed yet?

This nonsense comes just days after the U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke suggested that the U.S. Navy might blockade Russia's energy trade.

When the INF treaty was signed NATO was far from Russia's border. Now it is directly at it. The Russian government takes such threats seriously. Its spokesperson was not amused (Ru, machine translation):

The North Atlantic Alliance does not realize the degree of its responsibility and the dangers of aggressive rhetoric, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Tuesday when commenting on the words of US Permanent Representative to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison about the possibility of shooting down Russian missiles.
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"It seems that people making such statements do not realize the degree of their responsibility and the dangers of aggressive rhetoric. Who authorized this woman to make such statements? The American people? Are the people in the US aware of the fact that so-called diplomats are paid aggressively and destructive? It is very easy to break and destroy everything. It is difficult to repair and repair. American diplomacy has a lot to do to recover from the consequences of its inherent errors, "Zakharova told reporters.

One hopes that the ambassador erred in her "take out" response. Otherwise Russia will probably consider to "take out" the ABM assets the U.S. deploys over Europe. That would surely produce a lot of frightening content for the Express' "World War3" category.

Posted by b on October 2, 2018 at 02:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (118)

World War 3 Reporting Escalates

The British tabloid Express has a news category "Word War 3". It was apparently created in 2016 but has not been used much. There are a total of 128 stories under https://www.express.co.uk/latest/world-war-3 - an average of about one per week.

But 34 of those stories were posted over the last seven days!


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You have been warned!

/snark

Posted by b on October 2, 2018 at 11:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (42)