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April 20, 2019

The MoA Week In Review - OT 2019-23

Note: Your host is traveling and visiting family. Posting throughout Easter will be light.

Last week's posts on Moon of Alabama:

The piece and issue was picked up by several other blogs and outlets:

No children or ducks harmed by novichok, say health officials - Guardian

Wiltshire council clarification follows claims Donald Trump was shown images to contrary

New York Times Accidentally Unravels UK Government's Official Skripal Narrative - Sputnik
The Official Skripal Story is a Dead Duck - Craig Murray
Trump in Dumps as Spook Picks Sick Kids’n’Dead Duck Trick Pics - The Blogmire
Wie Großbritannien und CIA Donald Trump gegen Russland manipulierten - RT Deutsch
Hospitalized children & dead ducks? The ‘official’ Skripal narrative goes completely quackers - RT English

  • April 18 - First Thoughts On The Mueller Report Release
  • Still reading it. Mueller left out many important issues. The genesis of Russiagate is missing from the report as is any word on the falsehoods in the Steele dossier. The DNC "hack" is taken as fact even though the allegation of Russian involvement is solely based on the word of Crowdstrike, a company with well known anti-Russian bias hired by the DNC.

See also: Ten post-Mueller questions that could turn the tables on Russia collusion investigators - The Hill
and Interview with George Papadopoulos (audio) - Michael Tracey

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A handy reference to counter the dozens of smears against Julian Assange:

Debunking All The Assange Smears - Caitlin Johnstone

Syria:

The war isn't over. Over the last days Syrian troops were attacked by ISIS remnants in desert and by Al-Qaeda fighters around Idleb. Dozens of soldiers died. There is also a fuel scarcety as U.S. sanctions interrupted oil and fuel supplies from Iran.

Two pieces on how the U.S. and its allies nurtured al-Qaeda and ISIS in Syria:

A Brief History of the Destruction of Yarmouk Palestinian Refugee Camp in Syria - William Van Wagenen
EXCLUSIVE: How CIA & allies helped jihadists in Syria - Interview with Maxime Chaix (Recommended)

Maxime Chaix, an expert on clandestine operations, intelligence and US foreign policy, is a journalist and regular contributor to GlobalGeoNews.com. He has written La guerre de l’ombre en Syrie (The Shadow War in Syria, published in French by Éditions Erick Bonnier), a shocker of a book in which he reveals insightful information on the support which several Western intelligence services provided to jihadist militias in Syria, starting with the CIA. His investigation reveals a multi-faceted state scandal and points out the murky game played by the Western powers and their Middle Eastern allies in the Levant.

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on April 20, 2019 at 02:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (23)

April 19, 2019

Libya - U.S. Reveals Support For Hafter's Side

The situation on the ground in Libya has changed little since we last looked at it two weeks ago.

The Libyan National Army (LNA) troops of General Hafter attack the militias which support the UN recognized government in Tripoli from the south. The LNA still lacks forces for a larger break through. Several objects at the front changed hands several times. There are bloody skirmishes but no big fights. Those are still to come.


Map by South Front - bigger

Some people doubt that Hafter can be successful:

Analysts believe that Haftar over-estimates the strength of his LNA.

They say the controversial field marshal, who backs an administration rival to the GNA based in eastern Libya, was counting on a quick collapse of Tripoli militias.

But pro-GNA reinforcements from around Tripoli rushed to assist in driving back his forces.

It was never clear if Hafter really hoped that a lightning attack on Tripoli would achieve a fast victory, or if his sudden move was intended to rally support from outside. He is now certainly getting such support and that will be to his decisive advantage in the longer play.

As we described it:

Hafter has open support from France, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Russia. The Trump administration is not interested to step into the mess. Hafter is an old CIA asset and if he takes control there is a good chance that the U.S. will have influence over him. As long as Libyan oil flows and keeps the global oil price down Trump will be happy. Russia is trying to stay in the background to not give the anti-Russian forces in Washington an excuse to intervene.

The Muslim Brothers, supported by Turkey and Qatar, are still in play in Misrata but have otherwise lost their influence on the ground.

Since then the Wall Street Journal reported that Saudi Arabia pledged tens of millions of dollars to support Hafter's move on Tripoli. During the last week Hafter visited President Sisi of Egypt.

Europe is disunited over the issue. Italy wants to keep its influence in its former colony Libya and its historical position in the Libyan oil industry. It is also concerned about a new wave of refugees. It supports the government in Tripoli. France is supporting Hafter with an eye on taking over some oil business. It is also concerned about Islamist activities in former French colonies west and south of Libya. With Italy and France in a clinch, the European Union only issued a weak statement that called for a stop of fighting without naming any side.

Concern over the militias which support the Tripoli government increased too. They not as harmless as many seem to have thought:

A week after an aspiring strongman launched a surprise attack on the Libyan capital, an assortment of criminal gangs and extremists are rushing into the fight against him, raising new questions for the United States and other Western powers that have condemned his attack.
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But an increasingly unsavory cast has joined the coalition against him, including a group closely tied to a militia sanctioned as a terrorist organization by the United States and the United Nations; an extremist warlord sanctioned for undermining Libya’s stability; and other militia leaders sanctioned for migrant trafficking. That mix so alarms Western powers that some may deem General Hifter the lesser evil.

Yesterday the U.S., which had said little when Hafter launched his assault on Tripoli, came out of the closet:

The United States and Russia both said Thursday they could not support a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire in Libya at this time, diplomats said, as mortar bombs crashed down on a suburb of the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

Russia objects to the British-drafted resolution blaming eastern Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar for the latest flare-up in violence when his Libyan National Army (LNA) advanced to the outskirts of Tripoli earlier this month, diplomats said.

The United States gave no reason for its position on the draft resolution ...

Today we learn that Trump spoke with Hafter several days ago:

President Donald Trump spoke on Monday with a Libyan strongman whose forces are advancing on the nation’s capital, the White House said, in a move that may undermine support for the country’s internationally recognized government.
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Trump discussed “ongoing counterterrorism efforts and the need to achieve peace and stability in Libya” with Haftar, White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley said in a statement. Gidley called Haftar by the title “field marshal.”

“The president recognized Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources, and the two discussed a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system,” Gidley said.

The key point for Trump is the oil price. His administration put sanctions on sales of Iranian and Venezuelan oil. Since the beginning of the year crude oil prices rallied from the low $50 per barrel to over $70 per barrel. Trump plans to reduce waivers he gave to some of the countries that continue to buy Iranian oil. That would further decrease Iran's output. Any additional disruption of Libya's oil production would increase the oil price and harm the U.S. economy. It would thereby make Trump's plan for total sanctions on Iranian oil impossible.

Hafter controls most of Libya's oil supplies. With open backing from the U.S., Russia and France, support from the military in Egypt, and with enough Saudi cash to finance his army, he surely has all the needed support to sustain a longer fight.

His next move will likely be against the small air force the Misrata gangs assembled. The U.S. might give him a helping hand in that. Hafter could then close down the airspace for flights from Turkey and Qatar. That would cut into the resupply Misrata and Tripoli need for a longer fight.

Those who say that "there is no military solution" to the situation in Libya will likely be proven wrong. Hafter has all he needs to win the fight.

Posted by b on April 19, 2019 at 01:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (75)

April 18, 2019

Security Breach At U.S. Embassies In Tunisia And Kuwait Almost Caused A Disaster

by L. W.

A U.S. security intelligence officer at the U.S. embassy in Kuwait said: "Kuwaiti authorities discovered 200 gram of C4 high explosive packed in a hole inside a book in a rucksack belonging to a U.S. Marine, minutes before the bag was to be placed on a U.S. civilian carrier flight with destination the U.S.  The airline and passengers were spared a real catastrophe."  This took place several days ago but US authorities declined to reveal the breach in security at two U.S. embassies, one in Tunisia and the other in Kuwait.

According to the source, who requested anonymity, an "investigation by U.S. intelligence personnel was carried out to find out the origins of the explosive and the responsibility of the soldier involved."

"The soldier, on duty in Tunisia, was supposed to be posted to a U.S. base in Kuwait. His belongings were sent from the U.S. embassy in Tunisia, following the usual inspection, to the embassy in Kuwait. On the same day that his luggage was sent to Kuwait, he was asked to depart from Tunisia to the U.S. because the post in Kuwait was no longer available. By the time the transfer of the U.S. soldier to Kuwait was revoked his belongings were already in Kuwait and certainly had already been inspected by U.S. personnel", said the source.

When the US soldier’s posting was revoked, his belongings were supposed to follow back home. The U.S. embassy in Kuwait contacted a contracted private company to send the package to the U.S. on board of an American airline. A rapid inspection was carried out by the U.S. carrier during which the content was cleared for shipment.

The source confirmed that the belongings of the U.S. soldier were sealed in Tunisia and sent to Kuwait. The seal remained and the luggage was delivered as such to the contracted carrier who accepted it, among other goods, for shipping to the Kuwait airport on a scheduled day.

"At the airport, Kuwaiti security officers were doing their routine check for explosives when a bag set the monitor’s red-light beeping, signaling suspicious content.  Personnel from the U.S. embassy were called upon and asked to open the package. After meticulous inspection, 200 gram of highly explosive material, C4, were found encased in a book", said the source.

The source revealed that the soldier is not a Muslim. An interrogation carried out by U.S. authorities determined that the soldier was apparently not aware of the content of his package. The source refused to deliver further information about the investigation but said the breach is very serious and could have ended in disaster had the explosive been triggered.

No further information was disclosed. However, the source confirmed that 200 gram of C4 are enough to blow up an entire airplane in the air with all its passengers. According to the source, the US embassies in Tunisia and Kuwait have taken further security measures following this incident.

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Note by b:

L.W., the writer of the above, is a person I trust. S/he has the connections and sources needed for such a story. It is however difficult to verify.

Assuming that it is correct, who might be the most likely culprit?

Posted by b on April 18, 2019 at 04:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (52)

First Thoughts On The Mueller Report Release

The report (pdf) by Special Counsel Robert Mueller is out. Russiagaters will now try to find any word in there that they could use to contradict the report's conclusion. While I intend to read the full report and to write about it, that will require more time.

For now we are left with the remarks of Attorney General William P. Barr on the release of the report:

As you know, one of the primary purposes of the Special Counsel’s investigation was to determine whether members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump, or any individuals associated with that campaign, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election. [..] As you will see, the Special Counsel’s report states that his “investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

Barr says that the Mueller report insists that Russia attempted to interfere in U.S. elections:

First, the report details efforts by the Internet Research Agency, a Russian company with close ties to the Russian government, to sow social discord among American voters through disinformation and social media operations.

How exactly was it established that the IRA intended to "sow social discord". Is there any IRA witness that said so? Any documents? No. It is a made up reasoning. The IRA activities were driven by commercial interests. To get as many page-views as possible IRA personnel posted memes on both sides of the political spectrum simply because that is where the viewership is. Just ask Foxnews or CNN. There was no political intent in the IRA's activity. To claim that it intended to "sow social discord" is baseless nonsense.

The claims by social networks that "Russians" did this or that are dubious. Twitter for example recently revised its count of "Russian trolls":

On Feb. 8, Twitter removed 228 accounts from the Russian IRA dataset because the social-media company now believes these accounts were operated by a different trolling network located in Venezuela. “We initially misidentified 228 accounts as connected to Russia,” Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of site integrity, wrote in an online post. “As our investigations into their activity continued, we uncovered additional information allowing us to more confidently associate them with Venezuela.”
...
Twitter’s change to its data undercuts all of these analyses of the troll farm’s 2017 activity, Clemson researchers said. There was no surge in IRA Twitter activity in mid-2017, and the high-volume accounts that churned out links to ReportSecret were, in fact, being operated by a different, unknown group operating out of Venezuela, according to the updated data.

Twitter is reluctant to discuss how it connects accounts to trolling networks.

Twitter "is reluctant" because the company has simply no way to find that some real person driven account is a "troll". It is a completely subjective judgement.

Barr continues:

Second, the report details efforts by Russian military officials associated with the GRU to hack into computers and steal documents and emails from individuals affiliated with the Democratic Party and the presidential campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton for the purpose of eventually publicizing those emails.

Former British Ambassador Craig Murray as well as Julian Assange of Wikileaks were involved in the transfer and publishing of the DNC emails. They both publicly insisted that "Russia" was not involved in the recovering and transfer of these. Neither of them was questioned by the Mueller investigation.

The emails of Hillary Clinton's campaign manager Podesta were obtained via password fishing. Russian intelligence might have had a hand in that as might have other intelligence services. No proof has been presented yet to make that case. It may well be that the Mueller report provides some.

As for Wikileaks or Assange being culpable for publishing the pilfered emails Barr remarks:

Under applicable law, publication of these types of materials would not be criminal unless the publisher also participated in the underlying hacking conspiracy.

Barr summarizes the Mueller finding on 'collusion':

After nearly two years of investigation, thousands of subpoenas, and hundreds of warrants and witness interviews, the Special Counsel confirmed that the Russian government sponsored efforts to illegally interfere with the 2016 presidential election but did not find that the Trump campaign or other Americans colluded in those schemes.

Barr then talks about the Mueller finding about obstruction:

[T]he report recounts ten episodes involving the President and discusses potential legal theories for connecting these actions to elements of an obstruction offense.

After carefully reviewing the facts and legal theories outlined in the report, and in consultation with the Office of Legal Counsel and other Department lawyers, the Deputy Attorney General and I concluded that the evidence developed by the Special Counsel is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.

Trump said a lot on Twitter and elsewhere that led people to believe that he was obstructing the Mueller investigation. But as always with Trump (and other politicians) one has to differentiate between what Trump says and what action he takes. Publicly musing about firing Mueller or someone else is different from actually doing it. The first is free speech, the second might be obstruction.

As Barr points out:

[A]s the Special Counsel’s report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the President was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks. Nonetheless, the White House fully cooperated with the Special Counsel’s investigation, providing unfettered access to campaign and White House documents, directing senior aides to testify freely, and asserting no privilege claims. And at the same time, the President took no act that in fact deprived the Special Counsel of the documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation. Apart from whether the acts were obstructive, this evidence of non-corrupt motives weighs heavily against any allegation that the President had a corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation.

The case is closed. Neither was there a Trump campaign 'collusion' with anything Russia nor was there obstruction by the Trump administration.

Unfortunately Russiagaters will not give up on their conspiracy theories anytime soon.

They should. Trump's policies are bad. It is high time to get back to real politics and fight him were its is worth to do so.

Posted by b on April 18, 2019 at 12:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (100)

April 17, 2019

Open Thread 2019-22

News & views ...

Posted by b on April 17, 2019 at 01:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (184)

April 16, 2019

CIA Director Used Fake Skripal Incident Photos To Manipulate Trump

CIA Director Used Fake Skripal Incident Photos To Manipulate Trump

An ass kissing portrait of Gina Haspel, torture queen and director of the CIA, reveals that she lied to Trump to push for more aggression against Russia.

In March 2018 the British government asserted, without providing any evidence, that the alleged 'Novichok' poisoning of Sergej and Yulia Skripal was the fault of Russia. It urged its allies to expel Russian officials from their countries.

The U.S. alone expelled 60 Russian officials. Trump was furious when he learned that EU countries expelled less than 60 in total. A year ago the Washington Post described the scene:

President Trump seemed distracted in March as his aides briefed him at his Mar-a-Lago resort on the administration’s plan to expel 60 Russian diplomats and suspected spies.

The United States, they explained, would be ousting roughly the same number of Russians as its European allies — part of a coordinated move to punish Moscow for the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil.

“We’ll match their numbers,” Trump instructed, according to a senior administration official. “We’re not taking the lead. We’re matching.”

The next day, when the expulsions were announced publicly, Trump erupted, officials said. To his shock and dismay, France and Germany were each expelling only four Russian officials — far fewer than the 60 his administration had decided on.

The president, who seemed to believe that other individual countries would largely equal the United States, was furious that his administration was being portrayed in the media as taking by far the toughest stance on Russia.

The expulsion marked a turn in the Trump administration's relation with Russia:

The incident reflects a tension at the core of the Trump administration’s increasingly hard-nosed stance on Russia: The president instinctually opposes many of the punitive measures pushed by his Cabinet that have crippled his ability to forge a close relationship with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin.

The past month, in particular, has marked a major turning point in the administration’s stance, according to senior administration officials. There have been mass expulsions of Russian diplomats, sanctions on oligarchs that have bled billions of dollars from Russia’s already weak economy and, for the first time, a presidential tweet that criticized Putin by name for backing Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

Today the New York Times portraits Gina Haspel's relation with Trump. The writers seem sympathetic to her and the CIA's position. They include an anecdote of the Skripal expulsion decision that is supposed to let her shine in a good light. But it only proves that the CIA manipulated the president for its own purpose:

Last March, top national security officials gathered inside the White House to discuss with Mr. Trump how to respond to the nerve agent attack in Britain on Sergei V. Skripal, the former Russian intelligence agent.

London was pushing for the White House to expel dozens of suspected Russian operatives, but Mr. Trump was skeptical.
...
During the discussion, Ms. Haspel, then deputy C.I.A. director, turned toward Mr. Trump. She outlined possible responses in a quiet but firm voice, then leaned forward and told the president that the “strong option” was to expel 60 diplomats.

To persuade Mr. Trump, according to people briefed on the conversation, officials including Ms. Haspel also tried to show him that Mr. Skripal and his daughter were not the only victims of Russia’s attack.

Ms. Haspel showed pictures the British government had supplied her of young children hospitalized after being sickened by the Novichok nerve agent that poisoned the Skripals. She then showed a photograph of ducks that British officials said were inadvertently killed by the sloppy work of the Russian operatives.

Ms Haspel was not the first to use emotional images to appeal to the president, but pairing it with her hard-nosed realism proved effective: Mr. Trump fixated on the pictures of the sickened children and the dead ducks. At the end of the briefing, he embraced the strong option.

The Skripal case was widely covered and we followed it diligently (scroll down). There were no reports of any children affected by 'Novichok' nor were their any reports of dead ducks. In the official storyline the Skripals, before visiting a restaurant, fed bread to ducks at a pond in the Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury. They also gave duck-bread to three children to do the same. The children were examined and their blood was tested. No poison was found and none of them fell ill. No duck died. (The duck feeding episode also disproves the claim that the Skripals were poisoned by touching a door handle.)

If the NYT piece is correct, the CIA director, in cooperation with the British government, lied to Trump about the incident. Their aim was to sabotage Trump's announced policy of better relations with Russia. The ruse worked.

The NYT piece does not mention that the pictures Gina Haspel showed Trump were fake. It pretends that her lies were "new information" and that she was not out to manipulate him:

The outcome was an example, officials said, of how Ms. Haspel is one of the few people who can get Mr. Trump to shift position based on new information.

Co-workers and friends of Ms. Haspel push back on any notion that she is manipulating the president. She is instead trying to get him to listen and to protect the agency, according to former intelligence officials who know her.

The job of the CIA director is to serve the president, not to protect the agencies own policies. Hopefully Trump will hear about the anecdote, recognize how he was had, and fire Haspel. He should not stop there but also get rid of her protector who likely had a role in the game:

Ms. Haspel won the trust of Mr. Pompeo, however, and has stayed loyal to him. As a result, Mr. Trump sees Ms. Haspel as an extension of Mr. Pompeo, a view that has helped protect her, current and former intelligence officials said.

Posted by b on April 16, 2019 at 08:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (137)

April 15, 2019

Notre Dame On Fire - Updated

Notre Dame, the 800 years old central cathedral of Paris, is on fire.


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Here are two short videos at the beginning of the fire 1 2. The second one shows scaffolding around the 90 meter high spire above the middle of the church.

The fire began at about 19:00 local time (17:00 utc , 1:00 PM blogtime).

Church roof fires are notorious for being uncontrollable. The whole roof is likely to come down into the church and burn whatever flammable it finds inside.

Let's hope that the beautiful windows survive.


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My sincere condolences to France over this huge loss.

(Update 1:30 PM)

This video was shot some 15 minutes after the pictures and videos above. Half of the roof is already burning.


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(end update)

(update 2:00 PM) Video of the spire falling down. (end update)

(update April 16, 5:00 AM)

The fire during the night. Firefighters prevented the fire from extending into the towers.


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Despite the large fire above and the immense load only two smaller parts of the vault came down. The fire extension within the church was limited.


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At least one of the beautiful windows (diameter 12.5 meters) survived.


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The large organ is also said to be intact.

For long years the French state which owns the cathredal and the church which leases it haggled about the costs to renovate the crumbling cathedral. Now donations of hundreds of millions are flowing in. This fire may - end the end - have done something for the church that other powers cold not do.

(end update)

Some joker on Wikipedia changed the "Functional Status" of the church to "On Fire".

(We probably can't blame the neocon Géraud Araud for this but how about Macron?)

Posted by b on April 15, 2019 at 01:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (193)

April 14, 2019

The MoA Week In Review - OT 2019-21

Last week's posts on Moon of Alabama:

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The Washington Post again laments that the U.S. coup attempt in Venezuela failed:

Venezuela’s military, despite U.S. expectations, has not turned on Maduro

Nearly three months later, Venezuela’s top-heavy military remains largely intact under President Nicolás Maduro. The once-brisk pace of defections to neighboring Colombia has slowed to a trickle. Fewer than 1,500 Venezuelan soldiers, relieved by the Colombian government of their weapons and uniforms and housed in sparsely furnished hotel rooms near the border, now sit waiting for something to happen.

The idea that the Venezuelan army would defect was always crazy. Anyone with a bit of knowledge of Venezuela could predict that it would never do so. Reports of lonely soldiers isolated in fourth class hotels in Columbia will not incite any further defections. While the random opposition guy promised amnesty for any soldier moving to his site, the U.S. seeks to arrest one of the few who did:

Venezuela’s ex-spy chief arrested in Madrid on US warrant

Venezuela’s longtime spy chief was arrested Friday in Madrid by Spanish police acting on a U.S. drug warrant a few weeks after he threw his support behind opponents of President Nicolas Maduro.
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The opposition saw Carvajal’s criticism of Venezuela’s socialist government as a stimulus to prod other military figures to defect, but the country’s armed forces have remained largely loyal to current Maduro.

With the situaton stalled the U.S. is ramping up talk of a military attack on Venezuela:

US Military Attack on Venezuela Mulled by Top Trump Advisors and Latin American Officials at Private DC Meeting

EXCLUSIVE: Away from the public eye, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think tank hosted a top-level, off-the-record meeting to explore US military options against Venezuela.

Such talks are poor attempts to create some psychological pressure. There are no sound military options. The U.S. is not going to invade Venezuela. It will ramp up sanctions and press its 'allies' to do the same. Venezuela and its people will suffer but they will not give up on resisting U.S. pressure. The current situation will only resolve itself when the regime in Washington or in one of Venezuela's neighboring countries changes.

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on April 14, 2019 at 01:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (152)

Why Is Europe Trying To Sabotage Iran's Nuclear Deal? - (Updated)

Updated below
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The Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), limits Iran's nuclear activities for 15 years. After that period Iran would still be bound by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its Additional Protocol. But Iran would be free to produce enriched Uranium for its nuclear reactors.

In October 2017 the U.S. left the treaty and reintroduced economic sanctions against Iran. But the European signatories, France, Britain and Germany, said they would stick to the deal. Gérard Araud, France's ambassador to the United States, tweeted around that time:

Gérard Araud @GerardAraud - 19:25 utc - 8 Sep 2017

France doesn't support any reopening of JCPOA which should be implemented as it is.

France and Germany created a complicate structure to allow some commercial dealing with Iran while escaping secondary U.S. sanction threats. Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei called the construct "a joke" as it will hardly allow any serious trade.

Last week Germany, Britain and France also stepped up nagging Iran about its ballistic missile programs. Iran harshly rejects (vid, recommended) any such criticism. It has long voluntarily limited the range of its missiles to 2,000 kilometer. As it has no modern air force, missiles are its only means to hold its enemies' assets in the Middle East at risk. It will never give up on them.

Iran sticks to its side of the JCPOA deal. It limits its nuclear activities while allowing the IAEA full access to inspect the country. With U.S. sanctions piling up while the Europeans are unwilling to support regular commercial exchange and waffle about Iran's ballistic missiles, it becomes more and more difficult for Iranian politicians to justify the deal. If the U.S. and the EU do not stick to their side of the deal why should Iran do so?

The Europeans continue to drag their feet. Last week the Royal Mail in Britain said that it would no longer accept parcels to Iran. No sound reason was given. Yesterday Gérard Araud, who in 2017 defended the nuclear deal, set out to put it under doubt:

Gérard Araud @GerardAraud - 19:10 utc - 13 Apr 2019

It’s false to say that at the expiration of the JCPOA, Iran will be allowed to enriching uranium. Under the NPT and its additional protocol, it will have to prove, under strict monitoring, that its nuclear activities are civilian.

Gérard Araud @GerardAraud - 19:17 utc - 13 Apr 2019

As we said in 2002 that enriching uranium without a credible civilian program was illegal under the NPT, we’ll be able to react likewise in 2025 if necessary. Sanctions were imposed. Sanctions could be reimposed. There is no “sunset” after the JCPOA.

Gérard Araud @GerardAraud - 19:20 utc - 13 Apr 2019

Russia is providing enriched uranium to the Busheer nuclear power plant. So there won’t be any conceivable reason for Iran to massively enriching uranium after the JCPOA.

Germany should stop to build the Nord Stream II pipeline because it is supposedly dangerous to depend on gas imports from Russia. But Iran should trust Russia with providing Uranium for its nuclear plants? Why is Germany allowed to enrich Uranium for its nuclear plants? Russia could surely provide that too.

After the 15 year moratorium under the JCPOA ends, Iran is of course free to produce its own Uranium for its own nuclear plants. There is nothing in international laws that demands that Iran continues to buy it from Russia. Araud's statement makes no sense.

This morning Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister replied to Araud:

Seyed Abbas Araghchi @araghchi - 9:02 utc - 14 Apr 2019

If tweets by @GerardAraud represent French position, we're facing a major violation of the object and purpose of the JCPOA and UNSCR 2231. Needs immediate clarification by Paris, or we act accordingly.

It seems that Germany, Britain and France are inclined to make it increasingly difficult for Iran to stick to the JCPOA deal. They are playing into the hands of the neoconservative hawks in the U.S. who want Iran to exit the deal to then claim to have reason to attack it.

Like with the war on Syria it would be the Europeans that would suffer from any U.S. conflict with Iran. Why are they playing this game?

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Update 1:20 PM EST

It seems that Gérard Araud got an urgent call fome the Quai d'Orsay or Palace Elysée and was told to delete his tweets:

Mohammad Ali Shabani @mashabani - 15:46 utc - 14 Apr 2019

French ambo to US (recently retired) removed tweets reneging on pillars of JCPOA and implying reimposition of sanctions if Iran expands enrichment (as permitted under JCPOA) post-2025.

Here's to hoping for a new French approach to Iran. Current one is a sinking ship.

Unbeknownst to me Araud indeed retired. His far-well party was on April 3. His twitter bio though still has him as current ambassador.

Why then would he tweet that? Was the content correct but published prematurely? Or were those tweets his application to some well paid position in this or that hawkish think tank?

Posted by b on April 14, 2019 at 10:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (53)

April 13, 2019

CIA's Vault 7 Files Launched New Case Against Assange - Attack Intends To Prevent Further Leaks

After the arrest of Julian Assange by British police and the unsealing of the U.S. indictment against him, the question is why is the U.S. doing this and why now?

The indictment alleges that Assange 'conspired' with Chelsea Manning by giving support to her attempt to find a password to an account that would have allowed her to conceal her pilfering of U.S. documents. Glenn Greenwald argues that the case is quite thin and clearly an attack on press freedom. That a reporter or editor has to help a source to conceal its identity is part of the job description.

The Obama administration, not known for reluctance to go after whistleblowers, had already weighed the 'conspired' case and decided against prosecuting it.

It is thus likely that the case, as unsealed now, is only a pretext to extradite Assange from Britain. The real case will only get unsealed if and when Assange is in U.S. custody.

National security reporter William Arkin, who left NBC News over its warmongering, is likely right when he writes that the issue behind this is Wikileaks' publishing of the CIA's hacking tools known as Vault 7.

While the publishing of the Vault 7 files received little coverage in the media, it seriously damaged the CIA's capabilities. Arkin wrote on April 11 about the Vault 7 connection. The Guardian and the Daily Beast were offered the piece but declined to publish it:

The American case, which shifted completely in March 2017, is based up WikiLeaks’ publications of the so-called “Vault 7” documents, an extensive set of cyber espionage secrets of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Vault 7 was little noticed in the emerging Russian collusion scandal of the new Trump administration, but the nearly 10,000 CIA documents that WikiLeaks started publishing that March constituted an unprecedented breach, far more potentially damaging than anything the anti-secrecy website had ever done, according to numerous U.S. officials.

“There have been serious compromises – Manning and Snowden included – but until 2017, no one had laid a glove on the Agency in decades,” says a senior intelligence official who has been directly involved in the damage assessments.

“Then came Vault 7, almost the entire archive of the CIA’s own hacking group,” the official says. “The CIA went ballistic at the breach.” The official is referring to a little known CIA organization called the Center for Cyber Intelligence, a then unknown counterpart to the National Security Agency, and one that conducts and oversees the covert hacking efforts of the U.S. government.

Wikileaks acquired the Vault 7 files in late 2016 or early 2017. In January 2017 a lawyer for Julian Assange tried to make a deal with the U.S. government. Assange would refrain from publishing some critical content of the Vault 7 files in exchange for limited immunity and safe passage to talk with U.S. officials. One issue to be talked about was the sourcing of the DNC files which Wikileaks published. U.S. officials in the anti-Trump camp claimed that Russia had hacked the DNC servers. Assange consistently said that Russia was not the source of the published files. He offered technical evidence to prove that.

On March 23 2017 Wikileaks published some Vault 7 files of minor interest.

The Justice Department wanted a deal and made on offer to Assange. But intervention from then FBI director Comey sabotaged it:

Multiple sources tell me the FBI’s counterintelligence team was aware and engaged in the Justice Department’s strategy but could not explain what motivated Comey to send a different message around the negotiations ...

With the deal seemingly in jeopardy Wikileaks published the CIA's Vault 7 files of "Marble Framework" and "Grasshopper". These CIA tools systematically changed its sniffing tools to make them look "Russian" or "Iranian" by inserting foreign language strings into their source code. The publication proved that the attribution of the DNC pilfering and other "hacks" to Russia was nonsense. The publishing of these files ended all negotiations:

On April 7, 2017, Assange released documents with the specifics of some of the CIA malware used for cyber attacks. It had immediate impact: A furious U.S. government backed out of the negotiations, and then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo slammed WikiLeaks as a “hostile intelligence service.”

The alleged leaker of the Vault 7 files, one Joshua Schulte, is in U.S. custody but still has not had his day in court. It is likely that the U.S. wants to offer him a deal should he agree to testify against Assange.

In another piece Arkin expands on his first take by setting the case into a wider context:

[C]oming on the heels of massive leaks by Edward Snowden and a group called the Shadow Brokers just months earlier, and given the notoriety WikiLeaks had earned, Vault 7 was the straw that broke the governmental back. Not only was it an unprecedented penetration of the CIA, an organization that had evaded any breach of this type since the 1970’s, but it showed that all of the efforts of the U.S. government after Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden had failed to either deter or catch “millennial leakers.”

The targeting of Assange is not only for revenge, though revenge is surely part of the motive. The wider aim is to shut down on leaking:

The thinking of government officials – current and former – that I’ve talked to is that shutting down WikiLeaks once and for all – or at least separating it from the mainstream media to make it less attractive as a recipient of U.S. government secrets, will at least be one step towards greater internal security.

Assange will first be sentenced in Britain for jumping bail. He will be convicted to some six months of jail. Only after that time will the legal fight about the extradition to the States begin. It may take up to three years.

Assange's greatest hope to escape an extradition is a change of government in Britain:

Jeremy Corbyn @jeremycorbyn - 19:34 utc - 11 Apr 2019

The extradition of Julian Assange to the US for exposing evidence of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan should be opposed by the British government.

The time it will take for the extradition case to move through British and EU courts is likely long enough for Labour to win a general election. With Jeremy Corbyn in charge Assange would likely be safe. It is one more reason for the transatlantic establishment to prevent a Corbyn win by all means available to it.

Posted by b on April 13, 2019 at 02:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (121)

April 11, 2019

Met Police Arrests Julian Assange

An hour ago the Metropolitan Police arrested Julian Assange, the publisher and editor of Wikileaks, in the Embassy of Ecuador in London. RT has video of the arrest from outside the embassy.

A police statement said:

Julian Assange, 47, (03.07.71) has today, Thursday 11 April, been arrested by officers from the Met Police (MPS) at the Embassy of Ecuador, Hans Crescent, SW1 on a warrant issued by Westminster Magistrates' Court on 29 June 2012, for failing to surrender to the court.

The MPS had a duty to execute the warrant, on behalf of Westminster Magistrates' Court, and was invited into the embassy by the Ambassador, following the Ecuadorian government's withdrawal of asylum.

He has been taken into custody at a central London police station where he will remain, before being presented before Westminster Magistrates' Court as soon as is possible.

This was inevitable.

Ecuador has a new government that asked to receive a loan from the International Monetary Fund. The U.S. conditioned its agreement to the loan on the lifting of the asylum for Assange which the previous Ecuadorian government had granted to him.

After some legal hustle in the Britain, which will take time, Assange will likely be extradited to the United States where the Justice Department holds at least one warrant against him.

Wikileaks was the media outlet for several embarrassing leaks of secret U.S. government papers. It is unclear for which of these publications the Justice Department will indict him.

But the case against Assange is not about justice. His publication of state secrets was obviously an act of journalism and free speech. But the deep state was embarrassed and demands revenge.

The best Assange can hope for, after the judicial process ran its course, is a pardon by the president of the United States.

Posted by b on April 11, 2019 at 06:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (405)

April 10, 2019

Open Thread 2019-20

I've got nothing ...

Posted by b on April 10, 2019 at 12:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (171)

April 09, 2019

The Demise Of The 'Western' System

A U.S. made fighter jet that is claimed to evade radar, finally evades radar:

Japan's Air Self-Defense Force says an F35A fighter jet disappeared from radar over the sea off Aomori Prefecture, northern Japan, at around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Japan Time.

ASDF officials said the aircraft took off from Misawa air base at around 7:00 p.m., and disappeared at a point about 135 kilometers east of Misawa City.

This again proves that Donald Trump is right:

"Amazing job … so amazing we are ordering hundreds of millions of dollars of new planes for the Air Force, especially the F-35. You like the F-35? ... you can't see it. You literally can't see it. It's hard to fight a plane you can't see," Mr Trump said in October.

Or is he?

The F-35 may have some good electronics but is not a good plane to fly against any competent competitor. The Marine version which can take off and land vertically, is a remake of the Soviet Yakovlev 141 which first flew in 1989 (vid). The derived Air Force and Navy versions do not have the vertical take off and landing capabilities, but inherited the disadvantages the basic design brings with it. The F-35's stealth does not work against modern radar:

[T]o shoot down F-35 one has to have two different bands radar, good sensor-fusion algorithms and decent signal processing protocols and voila'. S-300 PMU2 Favorit can do this, certainly S-400, and its inevitably coming iterations for which there is literally a line of customers, can. In general, this whole BS about "stealth" should end at some point of time--it was a good propaganda while it lasted. Reality is, with modern processing power and radar design F-35 is not survivable against modern cutting edge air-defense and air-forces.

The Turkish President Erdogan knows this. That is why he is not deterred by U.S. threats to not sell F-35s to him while he buys Russian air defense systems. He just flew to Moscow to discuss futher purchases which will likely include a Russian designed fighter:

The two sides must "strengthen cooperation in the military-technical sphere," Putin told Erdogan as they met in the Kremlin. "These regard first of all the completion of the contract to supply S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems to Turkey," he said. "There are other promising projects on the agenda related to the supply of modern Russian military products to Turkey," Putin added.

The U.S. no longer builds capable weapons. As Ian Welsh wrote yesterday in America: A Failing State:

The US military is showing signs of being unable to create effective advanced military equipment: as with the F-35, which basically can’t fly. It is showing signs of intense incompetence, as when it let multiple planes be destroyed on the ground by a hurricane rather than, uh, fly them out or get them under effective cover.

Other examples of the incompetence of U.S. military design are the Littoral Combat Ships, which are essentially unarmed fast boats. The "stealth" DDG-1000 Zumwalt class destroyers were supposed to support ground troops with their long range guns. Built at $4 billion a piece the ships are now losing their guns because the ammunition turned out to be too expensive to buy. Before that they lost much of their stealth capabilities because some necessary communication equipment was left out of the original design. The ships new task will be that of a missile launch platform, a job that any commercial ship, carrying containerized Russian missiles (vid), can likewise fulfill.

Ian points out that the lack of military competence is just a symptom. The real problem sits much deeper:

The US is a gold flecked garbage heap slowly rolling towards the ocean. On fire.

There is a lot of ruin in a nation, but for almost 40 years now America’s elites have treated the US as something to loot, and assumed that the good times would keep rolling. They were uninterested in actually governing. They were happy to move much of America’s core manufacturing overseas, to the most likely nation to replace America as a hegemon, because the Chinese were smart enough to make American elites rich.

The European Union suffers similar problems. Brexit is just one symtom of its demise.

Alastair Crooke thinks that the 'western' system at large is crumbling down:

Wherever one looks, it is evident that the post-war Establishment élites are on the backfoot. They maintain a studied panglossian hauteur.
...
More fundamentally, the question is rarely asked: can America truly Be Made Great Again (MAGA), its military totally renewed, and its civil infrastructure refurbished, when starting out from a position today (year to date) where its shortfall of Federal revenue to expenditure is 30%; where its debt is now so great that the US may only survive by again repressing interest rates to a (zombifying) near zero?

And again, is it truly feasible to force manufacturing jobs back to a high-cost base America, from their low-cost, offshoring in Asia – against the backdrop of an America made progressively ‘higher-cost’, through its locked-in monetary inflation policies – except by crashing the value of the dollar to make this high cost base platform globally competitive again? Is MAGA realistic; or will the re-capture of jobs back to the US from the low-cost world end by triggering the very recession which the Central Banks so fear?

And as the post-war élites in America and Europe become more and more desperate to maintain the illusion of being the vanguard of global civilisation, how will they cope with the re-appearance of a ‘civilization-state’ in its own right: i.e. China?

I recently re-watched the record breaking Chinese series Story of Yanxi Palace (vid). It is in all aspects better than anything Hollywood produces. Such cultural products are the next realm where China will beat the 'west' by a large margin.

The 'western' élites dragged it down. It is no longer superior. Something will have to give.

Posted by b on April 9, 2019 at 12:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (155)

April 08, 2019

Why Is Trump Designating Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps As Foreign Terrorist Organization?

After their failed coup plot in Venezuela, the Trump administration launched another crazy plan:

The United States is expected to designate Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards Corps a foreign terrorist organisation, three U.S. officials told Reuters, marking the first time Washington has formally labelled another country’s military a terrorist group.

The White House just issued the designation (no link yet).

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is a part of the general Iranian military. It was founded after the 1979 revolution in Iran to protect the state from a coup by the regular Iranian army that served under the Shah.

With some 125,000 men during peacetime the IRGC is only about a third the size of Iran's regular military. It has a similar structure with a groundforce, a navy and an aerospace branch. The IRCG has two additional small branches that are of foreign policy interest. One is the missile force which controls Iran's medium range missiles. The other is the Quds Force, a brigade size unit with some 4,000 men trained for special operations abroad.

The IRGC size during wartime is about triple its peacetime size. Like Iran's regular army its personnal is made up of professionals, conscripts and reservists. Attached to the IRGC is the voluntary Basji force, local paramilitaries that can be called up for internal security issues. There are several endowments and charitable trusts (bonyads) with strong relations to the IRGC. They own commerical enterprises but their profits are distributed to IRGC veterans and to widows and orphans of deceased soldiers.

In 2007 the U.S. Treasury already designated the Quds Force for its "support of terrorism". It also sanctioned several enterprises that are connected to the IRGC. It is totally unclear what the designation of the IRCG as a whole is supposed to achieve. It could be a symbolic move or, as some assume, a step towards a war on Iran:

Former Under-Secretary of State and lead Iran negotiator, Wendy Sherman, said she worried about implications for U.S. forces.

“One might even suggest, since it’s hard to see why this is in our interest, if the president isn’t looking for a basis for a conflict,” said Sherman, who is director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School. “The IRGC is already fully sanctioned and this escalation absolutely endangers our troops in the region.”

Mohammad al Shabani lists additional reasons:

Mohammad Ali Shabani @mashabani - 14:36 utc - 8 Apr 2019

THREAD. Usual suspects pushed Trump to designate #IRGC as FTO. Why?
- Constrain Trump’s deal-making instincts
- Box in next US president on Iran (Dems say will rejoin JCPOA)
- Force Lebanon/Iraq into picking between Iran/US
- Force Europe to further cut whatever meager outreach
- provoke Iran to scrap JCPOA
- and, ideally, initiate military confrontation

Colonel Pat Lang likewise presumes that the move is an attempt to provoke a war:

The AUMF on terrorism has been used far and wide as a hunting license to attack any armed group that could even distantly be thought a terrorist enemy. The anti-terrorism AUMF makes such attacks legal under US law.

The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) is a law passed after the 9/11 attack that allows the president:

to use all "necessary and appropriate force" against those whom he determined "planned, authorized, committed or aided" the September 11th attacks, or who harbored said persons or groups.

In an October 2017 speech President Trump accused Iran of having supported and harbored al-Qaeda:

Iranian proxies provided training to operatives who were later involved in al Qaeda’s bombing of the American embassies in Kenya, Tanzania, and two years later, killing 224 people, and wounding more than 4,000 others.

The regime harbored high-level terrorists in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, including Osama bin Laden’s son. In Iraq and Afghanistan, groups supported by Iran have killed hundreds of American military personnel.

Trump's accusations agaimst Iran are false. Iran had nothing to do with the bombing in Kenya. After the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan some family members of al-Qaeda leaders fled to Iran. They were put under house arrests and were held as hostages to prevent al-Qaeda operations against Iran.

But the facts will not matter. The designation of the IRGC as "foreign terrorist" will likely make the AUMF relevant, at least under U.S. law.

Pat Lang continues:

The official designation as "terrorist" of the IRGC which is a 125000 man army with its own navy and air force makes it legal for the US Armed Forces to attack the IRGC and its people wherever they are found and under any circumstances that may occur. It is a declaration of war.

The neocon nitwits (Pompeo, Bolton, Hannah, etc.) may think that Iran's reaction to this declaration of war will be submission to their will but IMO that is very unlikely. IMO it is more likely that the IRGC will absorb the new reality and will prepare for war with the US.

Iran and its military have long prepared for war with the United States. There will be no change in anything that its military will do.

The first and probably only retaliatory step Iran will take is to designate the U.S. military as a terrorist entity:

"If the Revolutionary Guards are placed on America's list of terrorist groups, we will put that country's military on the terror blacklist next to Daesh (Islamic State)," Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, head of parliament's national security committee, said on Twitter.

Iran has so far shown restraint whenever the U.S. tried to goad it into a fight. It has left U.S. forces in Syria and Iraq untouched even while the U.S. and Israel attacked Iranian elements. It will not react militarily to Trump's latest provocation.

The designation of the IRGC and the counterdesignation of the U.S. military might have some tricky legal consequences. Will sailors of a U.S. Navy ship that unintentionally enters Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf and gets caught be held as terrorists? Will former conscripts of the IRGC who want to travel to the States receive a visa?

Should the U.S. attack IRGC forces abroad, Iran will likely respond by asking its foreign proxy forces, like the Hashd al-Shahbi militias in Iraq, to attack U.S. forces abroad.

Should the U.S. attack IRGC forces within Iran's borders then all bets are off. There are plenty of U.S. bases and installations in the Middle East that can be reached by Iranian missiles.

Posted by b on April 8, 2019 at 10:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (150)

April 07, 2019

The MoA Week In Review - OT 2019-19

Last week's posts on Moon of Alabama:

It seems that Boeing has trouble to get the 737 MAX software changes certified. The MAX will be grounded much longer than anticipated, probably for 6 to 8 month:

Boeing’s decision Friday to reduce the production rate on the 737 MAX was a surprise in timing and scope.

This came so quickly and was steep, cutting production from 52 MAXes per month to 42. It comes on the heals that a second software problem was found, delaying submission of the MCAS software upgrade to the FAA for review and approval.
...
Boeing hasn’t announced what the second software problem is. LNA is told it is the interface between the MCAS upgrade and the Flight Control System, but specifics are lacking.

The Flight Control Computer of the 737 was designed in 2000 by Rockwell Collins. These systems have limited computation capacities. Processor speed and RAM will be 1/100s of those in a modern cellphone. One wonders if the additional MCAS software will break some inherent capacity limit.

Jason Pack - The backstory to Hifter's march on Tripoli

[E]ven though Libya's civil war is witnessing its biggest escalation since the fall of Moammar Gadhafi and violent skirmishes are bound to break out and troops get captured, the safe money is still that a genuine blood bath will be avoided and the end result will be some sort of fudge with certain factions switching sides and columns of tanks darting forward and retreating. Yet, when the smoke clears, no one faction will control the country and a political compromise will still remain the only way forward.

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on April 7, 2019 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (132)

April 06, 2019

Libya - From Ghaddafi To Hafter

Libya is back in the news as the so called Libyan National Army under General Hafter is moving to attack Tripoli. How did we get here?

In March 2011 the United Kindom, France and the U.S. set out to destroy the government of Libya. Muslim Brotherhood militia and al-Qaeda aligned forces, equipped by Qatar and supported by Britain, took the easten city of Benghazi. The U.S. airforce destroyed government troops on the ground and helped the militants to capture and murder Muhammar Ghaddafi. Chaos ensued as various tribal forces, local militia and Islamists fought over control of the cities and the spoils.

One person who tried to insert himself into the chaos as new leader of Libya was the former general Khalifa Haftar. He had taken part in the coup that brought Ghaddafi to power but later fell out with him and changed sides. The CIA sponsored him to launch a coup against Ghaddafi. The coup failed and since 1990 Hafter has lived in Virginia where he also became a U.S. citizen.

Haftar's attempt to take power amongst the chaos of 2011 failed. The Muslim Brotherhood aligned militia saw him as a secular Ghaddafi follower and rejected him. The situation changed in 2014 after the military in Egypt ousted the Muslim Brotherhood aligned president Morsi from power. Egypt, under the new president Sisi, feared the Islamist gangs in Libya and wanted to eliminate them. Hafter was called upon to build an army and to take over Benghazi. The United Arab Emirates financed the project. With UAE money, Egyptian air support, Russian supplies, French intelligence and special forces support Hafter slowly defeated the various Islamist gangs and took control over Benghazi.

It took him more than three years to consolidate his control and to build up his Libyan National Army (LNA) that would allow him to take the western parts of Libya.

Those western parts, including the capital Tripoli, are controlled by various feuding familes, clans and tribes, each with their own militia. There is also a nominal Government of National Accord under Fayez al-Sarraj. It is recognized by the UN but has no forces of its own. It depends on the support of local militia in Tripoli and support coming from the coastal city of Misrata. That city has a strong tribal militia which even operates a small air force.

Libya - January 1 2019

bigger

Misrata is also what blocked Hafter from moving his troops from Benghazi in the east along the coast towards Tripoli in the west. The blocking force made it necessary for Hafter to move through the thinly populated south and then west and again north towards Tripoli. An attempt to do so in 2018 failed when local forces in the southwest (pink), supported by Algeria's military, resisted Haftar's move.

This year Algeria has its own problems as mass protests forced its president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down. The Algerian military is busy at home with installing a new ruler. Hafter, with the help of UAE money, bought off the southwestern forces and thereby opened the roads towards Tripoli. He also took control of Sirte in the north and the El Sharara oil fields near Wasi al Hayaa in the south. The field produces some 300,000 barrels of oil per day which can be exported through Sirte's ports. Control of these assets gave Haftar a huge power boost.

Libya - April 6 2019

bigger

Haftar's LNA is now some 20 miles from Tripoli but resistance from local militia and from forces sent from Misrata is building up. Yesterday Haftar's military briefly took the defunct international airport of Tripoli but was soon ousted. Today fighter jets launched from Misrata attacked his forces.

Tripoli - April 6 2019

bigger

If Hafter wants to succeed he will have to take the road between Tripoli and Misrata to split his enemies. He could then take Tripoli and announce his own national government. There are rumors that some of the warlords in Tripoli are willing to change sides and to join Haftar.

Hafter has open support from France, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Russia. The Trump administration is not interested to step into the mess. Hafter is an old CIA asset and if he takes control there is a good chance that the U.S. will have influence over him. As long as Libyan oil flows and keeps the global oil price down Trump will be happy. Russia is trying to stay in the background to not give the anti-Russian forces in Washington an excuse to intervene.

The Muslim Brothers, supported by Turkey and Qatar, are still in play in Misrata but have otherwise lost their influence on the ground.

Hafter and his troops seem to have nearly all advantages on their side. Their supply route from Benghazi through the south towards Tripoli is too long, but France is helping to protect it by keeping rebels from Chad and Mali in Libya's south under control. The Egyptian air force may well help again and destroy whatever planes Misrata has left.

But war is unpredictable and militia in Libya have often changed sides on a moment's notice. It may take 10 days to take Tripoli without many casualties or 100 days of intense fighting. The attempt could even fail.

Libya is a divers tribal country that is unlikely to function as a democracy. A strongman like Muhammad Ghaddafi can control it by distributing the income from its mineral resources and by keeping the Islamists down. Hafter may be able to replicate that.

But he is 75 years old. A year ago he was evacuated to France for some medical emergency procedures. His sons, two of which lead some of his militia, are of unknown quality. Another problem is brewing in Benghazi where Wahabbi preachers, trained in Saudi Arabia, replaced Muslim Bortherhood preachers and now introduce Saudi style rule over women and local culture.

A strongman ruling all of Libya from Tripoli is certainly better for Libya and its people than the long chaos that ensued after the war the U.S., Britain and France waged against the country. Given some time Hafter may well achieve that. But he is not a longterm solution. The best one can hope for is that he wins enough time for Libya to come back to its senses and for the civil war to die down. 

Posted by b on April 6, 2019 at 02:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (94)

April 05, 2019

Ethiopian Airline Crash - Boeing Advice To 737 MAX Pilots Was Flawed

The preliminary report on the March 10 Ethiopian Airline crash shows that the advice given by the FAA and Boeing to 737 MAX pilots was incomplete. The pilots followed the advice but it was phyisically impossile for them to bring the plane back into a stable flight.

In October 2018 a brand new Boeing 737 MAX airplane, flown by the Indonesian Lion Air airline, crashed into the sea shortly after take off. 189 people died. An investigation found that Boeing had added a 'maneuver characteristics augmentation system' (MCAS) to the MAX that could directly influence the stabilizer, a primary flight control surfaces, but based its decisions on the input of only one sensor. When the sensor failed the system went wild and destabilized the airplane.

Neither the pilots nor the airlines knew about the system. The regulators. which certified the plane as safe to fly, were misinformed about it. They had directed Boeing to include the new system into training material for the pilots which Boeing, for commercial reasons, did not do.

After the Lion Air crash the Federal Aviation Administration issued an Airworthiness Directive 2018-23-51 which adviced 737 MAX pilots how to handle an MCAS failure.


full picture

The FAA told 737 MAX pilots to use the Stabilizer Trim Cutoff switches to interupt the power supply for the system's actuator, a motor driven jackscrew in the back of the airplane. The pilots should then use the manual trim wheels in the cockpit, which move the jackscrew and stabilizer via steel cables, to righten the aircraft.

On March 10 a 737 MAX flown by Ethiopian Airline crashed shortly after take off. 157 people died. Radar data and debris found showed that the cause was likely a similar MCAS failure as had happened on the Indonesian Lion Air flight.

All 737 MAX planes were grounded with the U.S. being the last country to order it.

Some U.S. pilots, as well as some commentators here, publicly blamed the darker skin pilots for not using the simple procedure the FAA had put out: "Why didn't they just flip the switches? Stupid undertrained third-world dudes."

It now turns out that the well trained and experienced pilots on the Ethiopian Airline flight did exactly what Boeing and the FAA told them to do. From the Ethiopean Airlines press release (pdf):

The preliminary report clearly showed that the Ethiopian Airlines pilots who were commanding Flight ET 302/10 March have followed the Boeing recommended and FAA approved emergency procedures to handle the most difficult emergency situation created on the airplane. Despite their hard work and full compliance with the emergency procedures, it was very unfortunate that they could not recover the airplane from the persistence of nose diving.

The procedure Boeing and the FAA advised to use was insufficient to bring the aircraft back under control. It was in fact impossible to recover the plane. The possibility of this to happen was discussed in pilot fora and on specialized websites for some time.

The MCAS system moves the front of the stablizer up to turn the nose of the airplane down. The plane then decends very fast. The aerodynamic forces (the "wind") pushing against the stabilizer gets so strong that a manual counter-trim becomes impossible.

Avionics engineer Peter Lemme details the physics involved in this.


via Seattle Times - full picture

Lemme concludes:

With the 737MAX cutout switches, MCAS runaway is stopped by throwing both switches, losing electric trim altogether. In this case, the flight crew must rely on manual trim via turning the trim wheel/crank. As discussed above, the manual crank can bind up, making flying much more difficult.

Bjorn Fehrm, a senior engineeer and pilot now writing at Leeham News, came to a similar conclusion:

[We] can now reveal how it’s possible the aircraft can crash despite using the Cut-Out switches. To verify, we ran it all in a simulator together with MentourPilot Youtube channel over the last days.
...
At a miss-trimmed Stabilator, you either have to re-engage Electric trim or off-load the Stabilator jackscrew by stick forward, creating a nose-down bunt maneuver, followed by trim.

Stick forward to trim was not an option for ET302, they were at 1,000ft above ground. According to The Wall Street Journal, the ET302 crew re-engaged electrical trim to save the situation, to get the nose up. It was their only chance. But too late. The aggressive MCAS kicked in and worsened the situation before they could counter it.

On the FAA's Airworthiness Directive Fehrm writes:

Nowhere is it described the trim could be impossible to move if the Cut-Out switches were cut at the slightest miss-trim at the speeds flown. And there is no warning on when to move the Cut-Out switches, the checklist says “Cut, then trim manually.” This is not the whole truth.

An detailed analysis of the flight recorder data as documented in the preliminary crash report confirms the conclusions:

The high speed of 340kts indicated airspeed and the trim at 2.3 units causes the Stabilator manual trim to jam, one can’t move it by hand. The crew is busy trying to hand trim the next two minutes but no trim change is achieved.

via Leeham News - bigger

The pilots then do the only thing possible. They reengage the electric stabilizer trim to righten the aircraft.

But the aggressive MCAS, trimming with a speed 50% higher than the pilot and for a full nine seconds, kicks in at 8 with a force they didn’t expect. Speed is now at 375kts and MCAS was never designed to trim at these Speed/Altitude combinations. Dynamic pressures, which governs how the aircraft reacts to control surface movements, is now almost double it was when last MCAS trimmed (Dynamic pressure increases with Speed squared).

The Pilots are thrown off their seats, hitting the cockpit roof. Look at the Pitch Attitude Disp trace and the Accel Vert trace. These are on the way to Zero G and we can see how PF loses stick pull in the process (Ctrl Column Pos L). He can barely hold on to the Yoke, let alone pull or trim against.

His reduced pull increases the pitch down further, which increases the speed even more. At 05.45.30 the Pilots have hit the seats again (Accel Vert trace and Ctrl Columns force trace) and can start pulling in a desperate last move. But it’s too late. Despite them creating the largest Control Column movement ever, pitch down attitude is only marginally affected.

The pilots and their passengers lose the fight:

It’s easy to say “Why didn’t they trim then?”. Because they are going down at 20 degrees nose down (which is a lot, a normal landing approach is 3°) and at 400kts. Then you just pull for all you have. And the aircraft is not reacting to the largest Control Column displacement since takeoff. This makes them pull even harder, the aircraft is unresponsive and they are fighting for theirs and all the passenger lives.

A diligent safety anlysis would have predicted this outcome. Neither Boeing nor the FAA seems to have done such after the first 737 MAX crashed. They provided an Airworthiness Directive with procedures that were insufficiant to correct the system induce misbehavior.

Moreover their description of the MCAS was incomplete. It is only now known that the MCAS trims the stabilizer at a speeed of 0.27 units (degrees) per second while the pilots electric trim moves the stabilizer at only 0.18 units per second:

"It's like a Tasmanian devil in there," says Dennis Tajer, a 737 pilot and communications chair for Allied Pilots Association, which represents American Airlines' pilots.
...
If MCAS keeps tripping, and if pilots do not shut off electric trim entirely, the result is what Tajer describes as a two-steps-back, one-step-forward scenario, with MCAS maintaining an edge.

"The MCAS knows but one speed, which is 0.27, which is the most-aggressive speed," Tajer says. "If you look at the balance sheet on it, MCAS is winning, and you are losing."

The insufficient advice to pilots given after the first crash only adds to the long list of criminal mistakes Boeing made and which the FAA allowed to pass.

Today the Washington Post reports of another software defect which the FAA demands to have fixed:

Boeing confirmed to The Washington Post that it had found a second software problem that the Federal Aviation Administration has ordered fixed — separate from the anti-stall system that is under investigation in the two crashes and is involved in the worldwide grounding of the aircraft.

That additional problem pertains to software affecting flaps and other flight-control hardware and is therefore classified as critical to flight safety, said two officials with knowledge of the investigation.

The criminals at Boeing again offer no explanation and play down the issue:

In a statement, Boeing called the additional problem “relatively minor” but did not offer details of how it affects the plane’s flight-control system. “We are taking steps to thoroughly address this relatively minor issue and already have the solution in work to do that,” it said.

What other 'features' were secretly implemented into the 737 MAX without sufficiant analysis about their side effects and consequences?

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Previous Moon of Alabama posts on the 737 MAX crashes:

Posted by b on April 5, 2019 at 05:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (124)

April 04, 2019

U.S. - Turkey Spat Intensifies

The two tweets below are an update to the recent piece about Turkey's problems and how they will change the dynamics in the Jihadi infested Idleb governorate in Syria.

The U.S. threatens to hold back the F-35 fighter planes Turkey ordered, because Turkey also aquired the Russian made S-400 air defense system. We said that the consequence of that would be a further win for Russia:

Russia will be happy to supply Turkey with Su-35 fighter planes. They are arguable better than the F-35 and will likely be cheaper. But they will come with a political price.

The chances for that to happen grew after yesterday's short exchange between the vice presidents of the United States and Turkey. Vice President Pence spoke at the Atlantic Council about 70 years of NATO and said that Turkey risks its membership in NATO over the S-400 buy.

Pence also tweeted:


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The response did not take long:


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The Kurdish PKK/YPG forces the U.S. uses as proxy force to occupy northeast Syria are indeed legally terrorists as soon as they cross the border with Turkey. What is the value of NATO when it protects Turkey's enemies?

Pence threat is also stupid as there is mechanism to expulse any member from NATO. NATO members can only leave voluntarily.

Around the Kremlin one could hear the champagne corks plop.

The unprofessional and threatening behavior of Pence and other U.S. administration officials will cost the U.S.

As Andrei Martyanov recently wrote:

I can totally understand the irritation Washington feels about this whole situation, after all Turkey is a key NATO member with an actual army, and seeing NATO member going for such a weapon systems from Washington's prime time arch enemy--this is a no-no. But then comes this question: so, the United States will stop (will it?) F-35 and associated technology deliveries to Turkey, then what? Do we really want to open this can of worms? Turks are not idiots, by far--they can calculate and while Erdo might still do rapid 180 degrees maneuver, he also can not fail to consider the fact that instead of F-35 Turkey may get her hands on, say, some decent version of SU-35. Possible? Possible! How probable? I don't know. But Obama should have thought twice when unleashing, or pretending that he didn't know, a coup against Erdogan in 2016. Or, for that matter, a bloody overthrow of government in Ukraine in 2014. But current American elites have no concept of own actions having consequences.

h/t Syricide

Posted by b on April 4, 2019 at 11:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (74)

April 03, 2019

No Chinese Troops Arrived In Venezuela

Commentator Horsewhisperer pointed to a piece by the former Indian ambassador M.K. Bhadrakumar that claims that Chinese soldiers arrived in Venezuela:

The reported arrival of Chinese military personnel in Venezuela last weekend is undoubtedly a major event in world politics.

Unlike Russia, which has a history of force projection abroad, this is an extremely rare Chinese move. Although vital Chinese interests are at stake in the war against terrorist groups in Afghanistan and Syria, China refrained from publicising any such deployment.

The reports mention that the group of Chinese military personnel is 120-strong and arrived on the Margarita Island in the Caribbean Sea off the Venezuelan mainland on March 28 ‘to deliver humanitarian aid and military supplies to the government forces.’ After delivering the humanitarian supplies, the Chinese PLA troops were apparently transferred to a Venezuelan military facility.

The "reports" are likely false. There are no Chinese soldiers in Venezuela.

M. K. Bhadrakumar piece was published yesterday on his blog Indian Punchline and today republished on NewsClick. It is based on a claim made by Al Masadar News, a site in Lebanon which at times has real news from Syria, but is otherwise amateurish.

Al Masdar wrote on April 2:

BEIRUT, LEBANON (7:00 A.M) – A group of Chinese soldiers arrived in Venezuela on Sunday as part of a cooperation program between Beijing and Caracas.

According to reports, more than 120 soldiers from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army arrived at Venezuela’s Margarita Island to deliver humanitarian aid and military supplies to the government forces.

The arrival of the People’s Liberation Army in Venezuela comes just days after the Russian armed forces deployed to the country to install a military helicopter training facility.

While Al Masdar says "according to reports" none are linked. A search turns up zero such reports. The only source seems to be the Twitter account @I30mki pictured in the post. That account posts mostly mil-porn around the Russian fighter jet Su-57. It is probably run by some Russian or Indian teen.

The seemingly sole source of Al Masdar tweeted about the alleged Chinese soldiers in Venezuela on April 1. Two of the attached photos show a Chinese B-747 commercial cargo plane and the third picture shows some soldiers.

The Chinese cargo plane indeed brought aid to Venezuela. Ruptly provided video of the welcome cermony and unloading. Only civil personal, no soldiers, are seen in that video. Text to the video, published on March 29, says:

A plane carrying the first batch of humanitarian aid from China arrived at Simon Bolivar International Airport in the northern Venezuelan city of Maiquetia on Friday.

Maiquetta is not on Venezuela’s Margarita Island but on its mainland. It is unlikely that 120 soldiers would travel on a long range commercial cargo plane which is neither equipped nor licensed for human transport.

The third picture attached to the tweet shows five soldiers smiling for the camera.


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On his blog Bhadrakumar claims that the picture shows "Chinese PLA personnel pose with members of Venezuela’s National Bolivarian Armed Forces, March 29, 2019". While the aid delivery was on March 29 the claim that the picture was taken on the same day is likely false.

Two of the soldiers wear ammunition carrier vests with FANB written on the left breast pocket. It stands for Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana, which is the name of the Venezuelan army. The other three soldiers have digital pattern uniforms in three different color schemes. These are Chinese Type 07 combat uniforms and the color schemes are "ocean", "universal" and "urban" used respectively by the Chinese navy, army and air force. All soldiers in the picture are probably 30 to 40 years old. One of the Chinese soldiers is a Major, another is Lieutenant Colonel. The ranks of the other men are not visible.

That three Chinese officers from three different branches of the Peoples Liberation Army are in a picture with two Venzuelan officer makes it likely that it was taken during some type of friendly officer exchange program or visit. It is unlikely to have been taken during the aid delivery. Why would middle rank officer from the navy, air force and army take part in some relief flight?

The tweet and its pictures make no sense. All that we are left with are the unsourced claims by some site in Lebanon:

According to reports, more than 120 soldiers from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army arrived at Venezuela’s Margarita Island to deliver humanitarian aid and military supplies to the government forces.

Why some 120 Chinese soldiers would land on the tourist Margarita Island instead of the mainland is left unexplained. Militarily it would not make any sense and there is zero evidence that it happened.

The fakenews piece by Al Masdar was picked up by Zerohedge, Sott.net and dozens of other such trash sites. That Bhadrakumar and other regular Moon of Alabama readers failed for it is sad.

Posted by b on April 3, 2019 at 02:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (107)

April 02, 2019

Turkey's Problems Will Change The Dynamics On The Idlib Front

In Sunday's the local elections in Turkey the opposition parties won in the three biggest cities, Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. They managed to do that by concentrating their forces. The Kurdish aligned HDP made no nominations in cities where the main opposition party, the Kemalist CHP, already had a strong standing. HDP voters voted for the CHP candidates which brought them over the line. The CHP likewise held back in HDP strongholds which allowed the HDP candidate to win in Diyarbakir.

The elections show that Turkey is not a dictatorship (yet) and that voters still can change the political picture. The opposition parties also showed some unusual flexibility and presented candidates that were acceptable by a wider electorate than previous ones:

The winners of Istanbul and Ankara, Ekrem Imamoglu and Mansur Yavas, are not the typical hardcore Kemalists who despise the women in headscarves and anything that is visibly religious, always alienating the average Turk. Quite the contrary. Yavas is a politician from the nationalist right, and Imamoglu (whose surname literally means, “Son of Imam”) is an unusual figure in his camp who can recite the Quran. During his campaign, Imamoglu recited the Quran in a mosque, to honor the victims of the massacre in Christchurch. Such actions have capitalized on the “religion card” that Erdogan has exploited for too long.

The loss of Istanbul, at a very small margin, is seen as a personal loss for President Erdogan, who started his national political career some 25 years ago as mayor of that city. It is no wonder then that the Erdogan's party, the AKP, is now demanding recounts.

The CHP win in the big cities and in the liberal tourist centers along the Mediterranean coast does not mean that Erdogan is defeated or his power diminished. In total his AKP and its allied parties won 51.63% of the nationwide votes. The municipalities in Turkey depend on handouts from the national government. As Erdogan controls the central purse he can easily squeeze the cities the opposition won. The next nationwide elections will only be in 2022 which gives him time to take on other problems and to recuperate the losses.

There are plenty of problems that demand his attention. Turkey's credit bubble, which helped Erdogan to win the presidency, is bursting:

Turkey's interest rates remained at record low levels from 2009 to 2018, which caused the country's credit bubble to go into overdrive. Turkey's low interest rate era ended in 2018, when the central bank hiked rates from 8% to 24%. Rapid interest rate hikes cause credit bubbles to burst, which then lead to credit busts and recessions.

Over the last two quarters Turkey's GDP declined. The country is in a recession. Inflation is near to 20% which leaves no room to lower interest rates. Before Sunday's election the central bank of Turkey propped up the Lira. It will have to end that or will otherwise diminish Turkey's foreign currency reserves. After the long build up of the credit bubble it will take years for the economy to return to a steady state. There is little room for the government to turn the economy around.

Erdogan's decision to become more independent of NATO is also taking its toll. Buying the Russian made S-400 air defense system secures Turkey from a potential U.S. attack but also means that its access to 'western' weapons ends. Germany stopped cooperation for the production of a new Turkish tank even before the S-400 issue came up. Today the U.S. halted all F-35 fighter plane deliveries and training for Turkey. This will be a loss for both sides but add to Turkey's economic problems:

“Because Turkey is not just an F-35 purchaser, but an industrial partner, blocking delivery of these systems represents a major escalation by the United States as it threatens to impose serious costs on both sides,” Hunter said.

Reuters reported last week that Washington was exploring whether it could remove Turkey from production of the F-35. Turkey makes parts of the fuselage, landing gear and cockpit displays. Sources familiar with the F-35’s intricate worldwide production process and U.S. thinking on the issue last week said Turkey’s role can be replaced.

Russia will be happy to supply Turkey with Su-35 fighter planes. They are arguable better than the F-35 and will likely be cheaper. But they will come with a political price.

Turkish supported Jihadis still hold Syria's Idleb provinces and need to be removed. Erdogan tried to turn them into 'moderate rebels' but failed. Russia has for some time pressed Turkey to become more active in Idleb and to do more common Turkish/Russian patrols. These alienate the Jihadis, some of whom start to see Turkey as an enemy. Russia intends to do everything possible to intensify that feeling, while urging Turkey to finally solve the problem.

The U.S. still wants to 'regime change' Syria and will keep the northeast under its control. Trump's idea to led Erdogan establish a security zone along the norther border was buried by the hawks in his administration. While that may comfort the Syrian Kurds with whom the U.S. is allied, it will further alienate Turkey. The removal of U.S. troops from northeast Syria is quickly becoming a common Turkish, Russian and Syrian aim.

A country that gets rejected by its NATO allies, is angered by U.S. moves to its south and under economic pressure will be easier to convince to follow Russia's advice with regards to Syria. We can therefore expect that the dynamics at the Idleb front will soon start to change.

Posted by b on April 2, 2019 at 02:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (110)