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October 31, 2006

al-Qaeda's Political Warfare: Isolating America

There can be no doubt that al-Qaeda intends to reach the voters in Western democracies in order to bring about elected governments that will ease the pressure put on the terrorist organization. With the American midterm elections just one week away, the Jamestown Foundation's Michael Scheuer offers a brief, effective overview of this strategy and its successes to date in Al-Qaeda Doctrine for International Political Warfare.

Bin Laden has tied this quasi-foreign policy closely to Islamist military activities and has laid it out as a doctrine to be followed by al-Qaeda and its associates. This foreign policy—or political warfare strategy—is to be delivered over the heads of U.S. and Western leaders to voters in non-Muslim countries and is meant to do two things: change the policies of countries allied with the United States by eroding popular support for assisting the United States in fighting the war on terrorism, and, second, slowly strip allies away from the United States and leave it increasingly isolated.

Scheuer goes on to cite bin Laden messages that were timed and delivered for precisely this purpose. Just how successful has this strategy been? Consider the concise list of major political shifts.

- The conservative, pro-U.S. government of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar was defeated in an election soon after the March 2003 Madrid attack. The victorious socialist regime of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is less pro-American and has withdrawn Spanish troops from Iraq.

- In the summer of 2006, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's conservative, pro-U.S. government was defeated by a narrow margin, much of which appears to have consisted of those voters opposed to Rome's support for the U.S.-led war in Iraq. The new Italian government is planning to reduce the number of Italian troops in Iraq.

- After facing a near revolt this summer in his Labor Party, British Prime Minister Tony Blair was compelled to appease the dissenters by announcing that he would step down from the premiership before he had intended to do so. The Labor Party's anger—backed by many public opinion polls—stemmed from Blair's hardy support for Washington's war on terrorism.

- In October 2006, a group of Thai military officers staged a coup that removed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra from office. Allegations of corruption have since been made against Thaksin, but the generals appear to have acted in large part to stop Thaksin's harsh military and law-enforcement operations against Islamist separatists in the country's three Muslim-dominated southern provinces. The coup leaders named a Muslim Thai general as the new prime minister, and he immediately announced his willingness to slow military operations and consider increased autonomy for the southern provinces—actions that Thaksin had refused to do.

- In mid-October 2006, sources "close to the [French] military" leaked information showing that President Jacques Chirac's government—in the face of rising violence in Afghanistan and public condemnation of the Iraq war—was formulating plans to withdraw its Special Forces from Afghanistan in 2007.

- In the fall of 2006, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Afghan President Hamid Karzai repeatedly tried to distance themselves from "excessive" military operations conducted by the United States in their countries.

While not all of these are direct al-Qaeda cause and effect scenarios, such as the Madrid attacks that brought about the major shift in the Spanish government, at minimum they all parallel al-Qaeda's desired effect – the incremental isolation of its American pursuers - and display an erosion of will.

For Those Who Sacrificed

We hope ThreatsWatch readers will consider joining us in helping Soldiers' Angels provide voice-controlled laptops to those who have sacrificed for us.

Project Valour-IT, in memory of SFC William V. Ziegenfuss, provides voice-controlled laptop computers to wounded Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines recovering from hand and arm injuries or amputations at home or in military hospitals. Operating laptops by speaking into a microphone, our wounded heroes are able to send and receive messages from friends and loved ones, surf the 'Net, and communicate with buddies still in the field without having to press a key or move a mouse. The experience of CPT Charles "Chuck" Ziegenfuss, a partner in the project who suffered severe hand wounds while serving in Iraq, illustrates how important this voice-controlled software can be to a wounded servicemember's recovery.

Please consider choosing the service of your choice below, clicking through and making a donation to this worthy cause. Naturally, since the co-founders of ThreatsWatch are both Marine Corps veterans, we strongly encourage donations be made through the Leatherneck button. However, we remain quite certain that the deserving beneficiaries of your generosity will appreciate the ends far more than the chosen means.

Thank you for considering such a worthy cause.

October 30, 2006

Suicide Bombers and the End of MAD

In Sunday's New York Times Magazine, the Council on Foreign Relations' Noah Feldman has written an article that looks at the specter of a nuclear Middle East in Islam, Terror and the Second Nuclear Age.

In the lengthy piece, Mr. Feldman offers a succinct passage that strikes at the core of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) as a psychological deterrent. Simply put, it almost certainly would no longer effectively apply.

What makes suicide bombing especially relevant to the nuclear question is that, by design, it unsettles the theory of deterrence. When the suicide bomber dies in an attack, he means to send the message “You cannot stop me, because I am already willing to die.” To make the challenge to deterrence even more stark, a suicide bomber who blows up a market or a funeral gathering in Iraq or Afghanistan is willing to kill innocent bystanders, including fellow Muslims. According to the prevailing ideology of suicide bombing, these victims are subjected to an involuntary martyrdom that is no less glorious for being unintentional.

So far, the nonstate actors who favor suicide bombing have limited their collateral damage to those standing in the way of their own bombs. But the logic of sacrificing other Muslims against their own wills could be extended to the national level. If an Islamic state or Islamic terrorists used nuclear weapons against Israel, the United States or other Western targets, like London or Madrid, the guaranteed retaliation would cost the lives of thousands and maybe millions of Muslims. But following the logic of suicide bombing, the original bomber might reason that those Muslims would die in God’s grace and that others would live on to fight the jihad. No state in the Muslim world has openly embraced such a view. But after 9/11, we can no longer treat the possibility as fanciful.

Confronting the Threat at the Southwest Border

The US House Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Homeland Security has recently issued an interim report "summarizing its findings regarding the criminal activity and violence taking place along the Southwest border of the United States between Texas and Mexico." Its findings are troubling though not unexpected, including the state of drug cartel-related violence along the border (which, in Mexico, now includes beheadings), armed attacks on US Border Patrol agents, the alarming rate of illegal alien sex offenders, and human smuggling.

Of particular note in the Congressional Report, A Line in the Sand: Confronting the Threat at the Southwest Border (PDF), is the following regarding the rate of OTM's (Other Than Mexicans) from "special interest" countries known to produce and harbor Islamic terrorists.

The number of aliens other than Mexican (“OTMs”) illegally crossing the border has grown at an alarming rate over the past several years. Based on U.S. Border Patrol statistics there were 30,147 OTMs apprehended in FY2003, 44,614 in FY2004, 165,178 in FY2005, and 108,025 in FY2006. Most of them were apprehended along the U.S. Southwest border.

The sheer increase of OTMs coming across the border makes it more difficult for Border Patrol agents to readily identify and process each, thereby increasing the chances that a potential terrorist could slip through the system. Moreover, there is no concrete mechanism for determining how many OTMs evade apprehensions and successfully enter the country illegally.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) pays particular attention to OTMs apprehended by the Border Patrol who originate from thirty-five nations designated as “special interest” countries. According to Border Patrol Chief David Aguilar, special interest countries have been “designated by our intelligence community as countries that could export individuals that could bring harm to our country in the way of terrorism.” ...

The data indicates that each year hundreds of illegal aliens from countries known to harbor terrorists or promote terrorism are routinely encountered and apprehended attempting to enter the U.S. illegally between Ports of Entry. Just recently, U.S. intelligence officials report that seven Iraqis were found in Brownsville, Texas in June 2006.103 In August 2006, an Afghani man was found swimming across the Rio Grande River in Hidalgo, Texas;104 as recently as October 2006, seven Chinese were apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley area of Texas.

Items have been found by law enforcement officials along the banks of the Rio Grande River and inland that indicate possible ties to a terrorist organization or member of military units of Mexico.106 A jacket with patches from countries where al Qa’ida is known to operate was found in Jim Hogg County, Texas by the Border Patrol. The patches on the jacket show an Arabic military badge with one depicting an airplane flying over a building and heading towards a tower, and another showing an image of a lion’s head with wings and a parachute emanating from the animal. The bottom of one patch read “martyr,” “way to eternal life” or “way to immortality.”

Being the world's most open society has always been a source of liberty-inspired pride. In today's world, it is also a source of very real potential peril.

October 29, 2006

Giving Material Support to the Enemy?

Jeff Stein, National Security Editor at Congressional Quarterly, has written an article on the recent English-language terrorist assessment of the American Intelligence Community (IC). Stein sought reaction and analysis from a wide variety of sources, including Rita Katz, director of the SITE Institute, Evan Kohlmann, terrorism consultant and Counterterrorism Blog contributing expert, former CIA officer Robert Baer, and Marvin Hutchens of ThreatsWatch among others.

The holy warriors’ intelligence shop may need a shake-up, by the looks of a new analysis of White House responses to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, circulating among password-protected jihad Web sites.

“Myth of Delusion: Exposing the U.S. Intelligence” (sic), authored by a rising star in the al Qaeda hierarchy, relies on openly available materials — congressional and other official investigations of intelligence failures related to the 9/11 attacks and the war in Iraq, along with media exposes and scholarly studies — for its wide-ranging book-length report on the operations of American spy agencies.

But when it comes to analyzing the Bush administration’s emergency responses to the al Qaeda hijackings on 9/11, it reads like an Oliver Stone script.

That it does. In our own initial analysis, we arrived at a similar conclusion that "at many points, The Myth of Delusion also reads like a Conspiracy Theorist’s Intelligence Bible."

Stein includes varied reactions to the jihadi English-language effort among professionals and experts and forms an interesting mix of analysis and commentary. He arrives at a challenging question after looking at what Mohammed al-Hakaymah's writing does (and does not) accurately portray through open-source information, Congressional and Intelligence Community leaks and media reporting on things such as the secret NSA surveillance program and equally secret US Treasury counterterrorism measures.

All of which raises a dilemma for Congress, not to mention the media: Can it meet its constitutional obligation to ride herd on the government, including U.S. intelligence, without giving material support to the enemy?

There is little question that exposing secret counterterrorism efforts does just that, as does broadcasting terrorist propoganda as recently and shamefully done by CNN with its airing of a terrorist snuff film of jihadi snipers killing US servicemen.

The original Hakaymah document can be seen as an example of the damage such leaking and reporting can do. It can be read in full and/or downloaded via ThreatsWatch resources at the following link:

The Myth of Delusion: Exposing the American Intelligence

October 28, 2006

Barzani Interview on Kurdistan and Iraq

The Kurds are a people who were badly treated by history during the past century, and now they are being squeezed by geography in this one. While their autonomous region in the north of Iraq functions in many ways like an independent state, geography makes this landlocked region highly dependent on its neighbors, most of them unfriendly. The Turks and the Iranians fear Kurdish rebels in the own countries, and the problems that an independent Kurdistan might bring. Iraqi Kurds have an even worse relationship - no relationship might be more accurate - with the Syrian government, which rules over a significant Kurdish minority that it treats very badly. And then to the south, of course, are the Iraqi Arabs, with whom they must negotiate autonomy.

Today's Wall Street Journal has an interview the Kurdish President Massoud Barzani which explores the tension between the Kurdish desire and their reality. Most Kurds long for independence, and on a de facto basis they have a lot of it, but their leaders are highly aware that they cannot survive if their four neighbors oppose them. Kurdistan has oil and increasing commercial links with the outside world, but none of this is worth anything without the right to pump oil through and travel over adjacent territories. Barzani makes clear that he is committed to a federal Iraq, but that the two concepts are joined - either Iraq is federal or the Kurds will split. Arab leaders in Baghdad, on the other hand, know that they have some leverage, but that they cannot force a united Iraq on Barzani. So they will have to negotiate.

This is from today's Weekend Interview:

ERBIL, Iraq--Unlike Baghdad, 200 miles away, the air here does not echo with the sound of gunfire, car bombs and helicopters. Residents of this city of a million people picnic by day in pristine new parks and sip tea with friends and relatives at night. American forces are not "occupiers" or the "enemy," but "liberators." Mentioning President Bush evokes smiles--and not of derision.

American forces were "most welcome" when stationed here at the start of the invasion of Iraq, says Massoud Barzani, the president of Kurdistan in the north. Not a single U.S. soldier was killed in his region, he adds proudly, "not even in a traffic accident." Would U.S. forces be welcome back now? "Most certainly," he declared this week in an interview in his newly minted marble (and heavily chandeliered) palace. The more American soldiers the better, a top aide confirms.

The secret of Kurdistan's relative success so far--and of America's enduring popularity here--is the officially unacknowledged fact that the three provinces of the Kurdish north are already quasi-independent. On Oct. 11, Iraq's parliament approved a law that would allow the Sunni and Shiite provinces also to form semi-autonomous regions with the same powers that the constitution has confirmed in Kurdistan. And while Kurdish leaders pay lip-service to President Bush's stubborn insistence on the need for a unified Iraq with a strong centralized government, Kurdistan is staunchly resisting efforts to concentrate economic control in Baghdad...

Read the full Weekend Interview.

al-Qaeda Submarine Threat to Ras Tanura?

As al-Qaeda warns Canada of a Canadian 9/11 attack if the American ally does not withdraw its heavily engaged (and extremely effective) troops from Afghanistan, intelligence suggests that an increased threat to Saudi Arabian oil facilities exists. The reaction to the intelligence has been primarily to marshal allied naval assets to protect the world's largest offshore oil export facility, the Ras Tanura terminal, as well as Bahrain's Bapco refinery.

The potential methods of an al-Qaeda attack on the offshore Ras Tanura terminal are numerous, including an explosives-laden small craft such as that used against the USS Cole or a rocket or missile attack from a small craft or even an attack from al-Qaeda operatives that may have infiltrated the Saudi Arabian military or the terminal and/or refinery staff.

In an MSNBC interview with Dr. Walid Phares early Saturday, there was mention of intelligence that the threat to the Saudi offshore facility may have included the use of a submarine. Dr. Phares posited that such equipment may, if in fact accurate, be provided by Iran for such an attack.

At first glance, the use of a submarine in such an attack seems a remote possibility. Yet, in contemplating possible attack tactics and equipment and the MSNBC mention of submarines, it brings to mind the attempts in the late 1990’s of a Philippine terrorist group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, to purchase a mini-submarine from North Korea. The equipment was never delivered, but that was not due to any North Korean reluctance to sell arms – including the mini-submarine - to terrorist organizations.

A January 2005 article appearing in the World Tribune detailed the extent to which North Korea armed the Islamic group MILF in Philippines. The MILF had ordered and partially paid for the mini-submarine (US$1 million of $2.2 million), with North Korea ultimately aborting the sale only under American pressure after US intelligence learned of the deal.

In addition, investigations by Southeast Asian nations' security authorities show that the MILF told North Korea in June 1999 that it wanted to buy a North Korean mini-submarine, the Yomiuri Shimbun said in a dispatch from Jakarta.

Quoting sources among the security authorities of unidentified Southeastern Asian nations, the daily said the arms deals — mostly taking place in Malaysia — came to light as a result of documents the authorities confiscated from the MILF in November 2004.

The deal was engineered by Rim Kyu-Do, a North Korean authorized to negotiate contracts on behalf of his government, and Ghazali Jaafar, MILF vice chairman for political affairs. The MILF paid $1 million but still owes another $1.2 million in the deal.
Yomiuri said North Korea had also said it would send at least one mini-submarine to the MILF, but has yet to deliver.

The submarine was to have been of the same type that was caught in the nets of a South Korean fisherman off South Korea's east coast in July 1998 and then dragged into port, where South Korean navy investigators found the bodies of nine North Koreans inside. North Korean agents had apparently killed the sailors on the sub before shooting themselves.

Such a submarine would have been ideal for carrying MILF special troops into remote harbors and inlets, where they could have ambushed Philippine government troops and officials. The North held off on delivering the submarine, though, after U.S. and Philippine intelligence sources got wind of the deal.

The terrorists’ mini-submarine order was only a small part of the arms deals between North Korea and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (among other groups supplied with North Korean arms). The article cited the Japanese newspaper report that “North Korea sold 10,000 M16 rifles and other arms and ammunition, including grenades.” The arms were said to have been shipped in 1999 and 2000.

There are links abound between al-Qaeda and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which has become virtually indistinguishable from al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asian arm, Jemaah Islamiyah. For more information on the Philippine terrorist group and its al-Qaeda connections, see the following:

October 27, 2006

Solana Misunderstands Hamas and Palestine

The European Union's foreign policy chief and principal negotiator in the recent failed negotiations with Iran said in an interview from Israel that he believes Hamas doesn't want to destroy Israel.

In an interview following his talks in Tel Aviv with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Solana insisted that it was "not impossible" for Hamas to change and "recognize the existence of Israel." History had shown that people and nations "adapt to reality," he said. "I don't want to lose hope."

Pressed as to whether he was underestimating the fundamentalist religious imperative at the heart of the Hamas ideology, Solana said, "I cannot imagine that the religious imperative, the real religious imperative, can make anybody destroy another country... Therefore that is an abuse of religion...

"I don't think the essence of Hamas is the destruction of Israel. The essence of Hamas is the liberation of the Palestinians," he added. "The liberation of their people, not the destruction of Israel."

Daniel Freedman at the New York Sun calls Solana an Apologist For Hamas. Perhaps.

Perhaps Javier Solana is the eternal optimist. Any rational observer would certainly hope that he is correct. Yet, an objective observer would find little to support such a belief. Certainly, addressing all members of Hamas or any other group with a blanket statement in disregard of individual thought lends itself to inaccuracies one way or another. But Solana was not addressing his beliefs of individuals within Hamas, he was addressing the foundational structure of the terrorist organization.

In reality, the disconnect between Solana's understanding and Hamas' "essence" lies in the definition of Palestine itself.

With that, a closer look at the formal Hamas Charter is in order. It is important for Western readers to understand first that what the Charter calls "Palestine" is not what is recognized as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, but rather the whole of the land between the Jordan River to the Meditteranean Sea: The West Bank, Gaza and the current state of Israel. This is why Hamas will not recognize Israel as a state...they believe their land was invaded. It is not Israel to them, but Occupied Palestine (again, 'occupied' not being limited to a description of the West Bank or Gaza).

With that context, key portions of the HAMAS (Islamic Resistance Movement) Charter:

Introduction: ...In so doing, it joined its hands with those of all Jihad fighters for the purpose of liberating Palestine. The souls of its Jihad fighters will encounter those of all Jihad fighters who have sacrificed their lives in the land of Palestine since it was conquered by the Companion of the Prophet, be Allah’s prayer and peace upon him, and until this very day...

For our struggle against the Jews is extremely wide-ranging and grave, so much so that it will need all the loyal efforts we can wield, to be followed by further steps and reinforced by successive battalions from the multifarious Arab and Islamic world, until the enemies are defeated and Allah’s victory prevails.

Article Six: ...Only under the shadow of Islam could the members of all regions coexist in safety and security for their lives, properties and rights.

But of particular note are Articles 11, 12 and 13 of the defining Hamas Charter.

Article 11: The Strategy of Hamas: Palestine is an Islamic Waqf
The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine has been an Islamic Waqf throughout the generations and until the Day of Resurrection, no one can renounce it or part of it, or abandon it or part of it. No Arab country nor the aggregate of all Arab countries, and no Arab King or President nor all of them in the aggregate, have that right, nor has that right any organization or the aggregate of all organizations, be they Palestinian or Arab, because Palestine is an Islamic Waqf throughout all generations and to the Day of Resurrection... The ownership of the land by its owners is only one of usufruct, and this Waqf will endure as long as Heaven and earth last. Any demarche in violation of this law of Islam, with regard to Palestine, is baseless and reflects on its perpetrators.

Considering Hamas' national definition of Palestine as being 'From the River to the Sea,' Article 12 carries significance.

Article 12: Hamas in Palestine, Its Views on Homeland and Nationalism
Hamas regards Nationalism (Wataniyya) as part and parcel of the religious faith. Nothing is loftier or deeper in Nationalism than waging Jihad against the enemy and confronting him when he sets foot on the land of the Muslims.

And then there is Article 13, which is at the epicenter of debate regarding Hamas' recognition of Israel, called for by others and steadfastly and openly refused by the group's leadership. Recognition of Israel would essentially shred the founding Charter. Indeed, Article 12's significance is buttressed by what follows it.

Article 13: Peaceful Solutions, [Peace] Initiatives and International Conferences
[Peace] initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement. For renouncing any part of Palestine means renouncing part of the religion; the nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its faith, the movement educates its members to adhere to its principles and to raise the banner of Allah over their homeland as they fight their Jihad... There is no solution to the Palestinian problem except by Jihad. The initiatives, proposals and International Conferences are but a waste of time, an exercise in futility. The Palestinian people are too noble to have their future, their right and their destiny submitted to a vain game.

Western observers and news consumers must understand that the Hamas founding charter sets the definition of Palestine as much more than the West Bank and Gaza. It views the state of Israel as an invasion, with the state itself on occupied territory. It rejects all negotiations, agreements and settlements that leave the state of Israel on their 'occupied territory.' it openly states that the only solution is through Jihad, that its principle enemy is "the Jews" and that other religions can only coexist "under the shadow of Islam."

Mr. Solana is correct. Hamas seeks to liberate Palestine. Mr. Solana, however, fails to share the same definition of Palestine that Hamas itself recognizes (...the land of Palestine... was conquered by the Companion of the Prophet.)

If Hamas were to ever share Solana's definition of Palestine (West Bank & Gaza), Hamas would cease being Hamas by very definition as set forth in their founding charter.

Text: Draft Sanctions Resolution on Iran

The text of the Draft Sanctions Resolution on Iran makes clear exception to anything related to Iran's Bushehr nuclear plant construction, currently under contract with Russia for completion.

14. Decides, with regard to the construction of Bushehr I Civil Nuclear Power Plant and on the condition that activities set out in subparagraphs (a) to (d) below are notified to the Committee within ten days of taking place, that;
(a.) the measures imposed by paragraph 4 and 5 above shall not apply to supplies of items, materials, equipment, goods and technology, nor to the provision of technical assistance or training, financial assistance, investment, brokering or other services, and the transfer of financial resources, related to the construction of Bushehr I, where these are being provided directly by the Russian Federation,

(b.) the measures imposed by paragraph 7 above shall not apply where such travel, directly between Iran and the Russian Federation, is necessary for the construction of Bushehr I,

(c.) the measures imposed by paragraph 9 above shall not apply to funds, other financial assets or economic resources payable to the Russian Federation by Iran, related to the construction of Bushehr I,

(d.) the measures imposed by paragraph 13 above shall not apply to assistance provided solely to Iran by the IAEA, related to the construction of Bushehr I,

(e.) all other activities related to Bushehr I which are covered by the measures in paragraphs 4, 5, 7, 9 and 13 above must be approved in advance and on a case by case basis by the Committee;

The rest of the text - as proposed but unaffirmed - spells out the restrictions sought to be placed on Iran, including but not limited to travel of those involved in Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs, the sale of items that can be used for the programs, and the refusal of training abroad in related fields.

Such restrictions are logical as presented. Yet, as Paragraph 14 above clearly states, the logic stops at Bushehr.

With a draft proposal [made available here] that calls for the cessation of all enrichment activities - including ceasing construction of Iran's heavy water reactor at Arak - the wisdom of an exception in all restrictions for the Islamic Republic's largest nuclear reactor is more than questionable. The reasons for it are clear: Consensus requires Russian approval, and Putin's Russia has a greater interest in a partnership with the Iranian regime than countering the potential acquisition of nuclear weapons by the world's primary state sponsor of international terrorism.

Glasnost should be officially declared dead.

It should be recalled that during the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, Russian 'advisors' were in Baghdad, feeding intelligence and, some say, directing Hussein's military defense against American forces.

With the Hussein regime gone, Iran represents Russia's primary seat of influence at the Middle Eastern power table. The Bushehr sanctions exception both recognizes and solidifies this.

(With thanks to Iran Vajahan for publishing draft text.)

The President on Iraq, In-Depth

On Wednesday, President George W. Bush gave an extensive press briefing on Iraq, discussing both successes and failures on our own behalf, and on behalf of our Iraqi allies, as well as plans for the future. I have excerpted some of his opening remarks below, and provided a link to a full transcript of the briefing, which includes questions from journalists. The only point I'll emphasize is that, as the president notes, the current government led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is only five months old. To many it seems that the Iraqis have had a long time to get themselves together, but the process of establishing a new representative government where before there was nothing but a police state would have taken a long time even if we had done everything right. Obviously we did not, and my estimation is that we could have saved about a year by handling things differently after the fall of the Baathist regime. But regardless this would have taken years, and it is safe to say that if General Washington and the Continental Congress had been given the timetable many wish to force on Maliki's government, the United States would not exist today.

President Bush:

Over the past three years I have often addressed the American people to explain developments in Iraq. Some of these developments were encouraging, such as the capture of Saddam Hussein, the elections in which 12 million Iraqis defied the terrorists and voted for a free future, and the demise of the brutal terrorist Zarqawi. Other developments were not encouraging, such as the bombing of the U.N. Headquarters in Baghdad, the fact that we did not find stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, and the continued loss of some of America's finest sons and daughters.

Recently, American and Iraqi forces have launched some of the most aggressive operations on enemy forces in Baghdad since the war began. They've cleared neighborhoods of terrorists and death squads, and uncovered large caches of weapons, including sniper scopes and mortars and powerful bombs. There has been heavy fighting. Many enemy fighters have been killed or captured, and we've suffered casualties of our own. This month we've lost 93 American service members in Iraq, the most since October of 2005. During roughly the same period, more than 300 Iraqi security personnel have given their lives in battle. Iraqi civilians have suffered unspeakable violence at the hands of the terrorists, insurgents, illegal militias, armed groups, and criminals.

The events of the past month have been a serious concern to me, and a serious concern to the American people. Today I will explain how we're adapting our tactics to help the Iraqi government gain control of the security situation. I'll also explain why, despite the difficulties and bloodshed, it remains critical that America defeat the enemy in Iraq by helping the Iraqis build a free nation that can sustain itself and defend itself.

Our security at home depends on ensuring that Iraq is an ally in the war on terror and does not become a terrorist haven like Afghanistan under the Taliban. The enemy we face in Iraq has evolved over the past three years. After the fall of Saddam Hussein, a sophisticated and a violent insurgency took root. Early on this insurgency was made up of remnants of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, as well as criminals released by the regime. The insurgency was fueled by al Qaeda and other foreign terrorists, who focused most of their attention on high-profile attacks against coalition forces and international institutions.

We learned some key lessons from that early phase in the war. We saw how quickly al Qaeda and other extremist groups would come to Iraq to fight and try to drive us out. We overestimated the capability of the civil service in Iraq to continue to provide essential services to the Iraqi people. We did not expect the Iraqi army, including the Republican Guard, to melt away in the way that it did in the phase of advancing coalition forces.

Despite these early setbacks, some very important progress was made, in the midst of an incredibly violent period. Iraqis formed an interim government that assumed sovereignty. The Iraqi people elected a transitional government, drafted and adopted the most progressive democratic constitution in the Arab world, braved the car bombs and assassins to choose a permanent government under that constitution, and slowly began to build a capable national army.

Al Qaeda and insurgents were unable to stop this progress. They tried to stand up to our forces in places like Fallujah, and they were routed. So they changed their tactics. In an intercepted letter to Osama bin Laden, the terrorist Zarqawi laid out his strategy to drag Iraq's Shia population into a sectarian war. To the credit of the Shia population, they resisted responding to the horrific violence against them for a long time...

Read the full transcript of the press conference.

October 26, 2006

Muslim Organizations Seeking Damages Rejected by Danish Court

Today, a Danish court dismissed a lawsuit filed by Muslim organizations against Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper that published the cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. According to the article:
The plaintiffs, who claimed to have the backing of 20 more Islamic organizations in the Scandinavian country, had sought $16,860 in damages from Jyllands-Posten Editor in Chief Carsten Juste and Culture Editor Flemming Rose, who supervised the cartoon project.

The lawsuit said the cartoons depict Mohammed "as belligerent, oppressing women, criminal, crazy and unintelligent, and a connection is made between the Prophet and war and terror."

It said the drawings were published "solely to provoke and mock not only the Prophet Mohammed but also the Muslim population."

The City Court of Aarhus indicated that while the drawings “have offended some Muslims’ honor, there is no basis to assume that the drawings are, or were conceived as, insulting.” The article indicates that there are statuatory laws against both racism and blasphemy in Denmark, meaning that they are punishable by law. However, in a very narrow reading of the law, the Court decided that neither rule was violated by the cartoons.

There is no question that religious beliefs and traditions, whether Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu or others, should be respected. Additionally, this decision should not be seen as a ticket to speak ill of Islam. In order to foster mutual understanding between the religions, differences must be acknowledged and valued. However, individual freedoms including the right to free speech must also be respected. It is up to the legislatures, not the courts, to balance the line between respect for religious beliefs and free speech. The role of the courts is not to punish someone for hurting another’s feelings. Courts are in place to dictate what the law says and punish those who are in violation of the law. In this case, the courts appear to have done their job.

Naming Names: Argentina's Wanted List

Iran Focus has published the names of the Iranian leaders and individuals sought for trial by Argentinean prosecutors for the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 and wounded hundreds. (See: Argentina Seeks Arrest of Rafsanjani for 1994 Bombing) The list appears as follows:
  • Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, former Iranian President, currently chairs Iran’s State Expediency Council and is deputy chair of the Assembly of Experts
  • Hojatoleslam Ali Fallahian, former Iranian Minister of Intelligence and Security
  • Ali Akbar Velayati, former Iranian Foreign Minister, currently the chief foreign policy advisor to Iran'€™s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
  • Major General Mohsen Rezai, former Supreme Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), is currently the secretary of the State Expediency Council
  • Major General Ahmad Vahidi, former Commander of the IRGC Qods Force, is currently Deputy Defence Minister
  • Mohsen Rabbani, former cultural attaché at the Iranian embassy in Buenos Aires
  • Ahmad Reza Asgari, alias Mohsen Ranjbaran, former official at the Iranian embassy in Buenos Aires
  • Imad Fayez Mugniyeh, commander of the Shiite Lebanese group Hizballah's overseas operation, currently believed to be hiding in Iran
Readers should note that the IRGC's Qods Force is the elite unit responsible for Iran's foreign terrorist operations, support and training. It is the unit primarily responsible for the founding of Hizballah as well as the current Iranian support for the Iraqi sectarian violence through funding, arming and supporting Muqtada al-Sadr's Shia Mahdi Army.

October 25, 2006

Israel's Ad Hoc Government

As we reported on Monday, the Palestinian Authority is on the verge of meltdown as Fatah and Hamas escalate verbal and physical attacks on each other. Yet Israel's government is not much more stable, due to a combination of the Lebanon war, coalition politics and corruption allegations. Israel's democratic culture means that any "meltdown" would be political rather than physical, yet the instability has all but paralyzed decision-making, leading to ad hoc decisions on vital security matters where long-term vision is needed.

Both Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of the ruling Kadima Party and Defense Minister Amir Peretz of Labor have seen their public support plummet, yet the recent political crisis came about when Olmert decided to bring Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu into the coalition. Mainly a Russian party, IB favors removing Arab Israelis from Israel through territorial exchange. The Labor Party appeared likely to leave the government, bringing new elections, but a bitterly contested decision to stay has been approved. Nevertheless, individual Labor members might force Peretz' hand by resigning, or vote him out in a few months and replace him with a leader who would leave the government.

Olmert now seeks to add United Torah Judaism to the coalition. If he succeeds, this will give Olmert 84 seats (61 needed for majority), enough to survive a pullout by Labor, which he probably considers inevitable. If Labor were to then leave, this would mean a much more right-wing government than before, with Kadima joined by two religious parties (Shas and UTJ), a secular nationalist party (IB), and the small Pensioners' Party. That combination might allow Olmert to survive.

Survive politically, that is, but an even greater threat is now on the horizon - Israel's State Prosecutor's Office is recommending that Olmert may have acted criminally in allegedly providing assistance to two businessmen from whom he was benefiting while serving as acting finance minister last year. The attorney general is considering the recommendation, and if he decides to move forward, there will be a formal state investigation and a decision as to whether Olmert should be indicted. If he is indicted, he will have to resign as prime minister, and new elections will likely (but not necessarily) follow.

Adding to the complexity of the situation, Lieberman himself is the subject of an ongoing seven-year criminal investigation, and now that his party is entering the government, pressure is increasing to bring it to a conclusion one way or the other. It appears that the only affect that the investigation had on the coalition talks was that the attorney general told Olmert that Lieberman should not be given any position related to law enforcement.

While Hamas' government struggles to pay the salaries of civil servants, its terror infrastructure continues to grow, with IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz now saying that they had built at least 100 tunnels from Egypt into the Gaza Strip and were smuggling weapons at a quick pace. The threat from Gaza, as well as from Iran, will not wait for Israel's internal divisions to solidify.

Faces of Courage - William Thomas Payne

MSNBC has released the third video segment honoring those who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This segment is on Staff Sergeant William Thomas Payne, who was awarded the Silver Star for his actions.

To view this video, or the first two, visit our Faces of Courage section - or click the image of Staff Sergeant Payne above.

Help us to encourage MSNBC to produce and release more of these by emailing MSNBC at heroes (at) msnbc (dot) com.

Iran’s al-Qods Day Threats Still Ignored

Last Friday, ThreatsWatch published a report on Iran's Qods Day threats, delivered without ambiguity to Europe. [See Friday's: Ahmadinejad Delivers Jihad Ultimatum To Europe] Since writing it, I have been struck by the near absolute silence on the subject.

Ahmadinejad said to Europe quite directly,

“You imposed a group of terrorists [Israel]… on the region. It is in your own interest to distance yourself from these criminals… This is an ultimatum. Don’t complain tomorrow.”

Please forgive as I re-state from Friday: With the above statement, there is no mistaking Ahmadinejad’s words as a state’s threat of war to be principally waged through the terrorism of jihad. Iran is the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism, and no words from any of its leaders have ever made it more abundantly clear.

Again, Ahmadinejad’s ultimatum should be taken with the grave sincerity and literal terms in which it was delivered.

Thankfully, at the New York Sun, Steven Stalinsky has taken note and written a very detailed article on the al-Qods Day events titled Western Press Ignores Iran's Hate-Filled Quds Day. al-Qods Day is a national hliday in Iran that celebrates the coming 'liberation of al-Qods (Jerusalem)' through the destruction of the Zionist (Israeli) regime. Stalinsky notes:

The words "the Zionist regime is a cancerous gland that needs to be uprooted" were written in a communiqué from the Iranian Foreign Ministry in honor of the holiday. Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki held a meeting for other Islamic countries' ambassadors to Iran and told them that Israel's existence would be shattered and that death bells were tolling for the Zionists. At the meeting, the Palestinian Arab ambassador to Tehran, Salah Zawawi, said, "The day for the liberation of Quds Day is close at hand."

Ed Morrissey has also taken note at Captain's Quarters and also cites Mr. Stalinsky's New York Sun article..

Do you recall the massive coverage provided to this event, in which present and former heads of state held a national celebration calling for our destruction? Have CQ readers seen any journalists covering the massive rallies, complete with burning effigies of George Bush and Tony Blair and burning flags of the US and Israel? Did any TV network note that the winner of Iran's Quds Day engineering competition, Isfahan University, produced a design for a pilotless plane to replace suicide bombers in the glorious jihad?

I certainly don't recall hearing anything about this, and I'm a person inclined to follow several media outlets on a daily basis. Western media didn't have any interest in providing this information to its consumers, and one has to wonder why. In the middle of midterm elections, does the media want to keep us from considering this particular threat, and if so, why?

My apologies to Ed. Perhaps I should have sent the Good Captain a note on Friday.

One thing is for certain: We cannot ignore the Iranian threats and pretend that they did not happen or that they do not mean them. That does not serve national security, and recognizing the threat(s) in “the grave sincerity and literal terms in which it was delivered” is not alarmist hyperventilating. Ignoring the threat will not make it go away.

Neither Ed Morrissey, Steven Stalinsky nor Steve Schippert are the ones making the overt threats.

One wonders what part of “This is an ultimatum, Don’t complain tomorrow” from the world’s foremost state sponsor of international terrorism is difficult to understand.

October 23, 2006

Iraqi Coup Rumors, and Reality

A reader raised the issue of a possible coup in Iraq to replace the current government led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in feedback to Iraq's New Political Alignment. Because this issue has become something of a hot topic, and because it does not directly relate to that analysis, I have chosen to respond here.

To the extent that political shows and TV commentators are seriously discussing a coup - by others or the U.S. - to replace the current Iraqi government, I would lower my estimate of the value of listening to these shows. I first read talk of a coup in the Arab media - usually alleged by SCIRI against the Baathists - back in July. Since SCIRI is hardcore on debaathification, I took this talk for the posturing that it was. In order to believe that there will be a coup, one must imagine some group or coalition with the power to make it happen. While many Sunnis have the desire, they are both weak and internally divided. Moreover, the intense hostility which the major Shi'a factions have for the Sunnis cannot be underestimated. They would partition Iraq before agreeing to give up a government in which they are the dominant force.

This article in the Washington Post ("Beyond the Coup Rumors, Options for Iraq") provides some background on the coup rumors. I don't think any of the ideas discussed therein should be taken seriously, but this is what is in the air. Sunni governments in the region certainly would favor a Sunni-led "national salvation government," but both the Shi'a and the Kurds would sooner partition the country than accept that. It should be noted that the party of Salih al-Mutlak, who was pushing the idea, has a mere 4 percent of the seats in Iraq's parliament. The country is already under martial law and so that is not new, and the idea of a five-man ruling junta representing the factions and led by Ayad Allawi would appeal to no one but the Sunnis. The article says Iraqi intelligence officials have discussed this idea, but Iraq's intelligence has been funded and controlled since 2004 by the U.S., and as no announcement of transfer of authority has been made, it is not an independent power center.

Yet anything that is this much talked about has to be considered seriously, and so after thinking about the issue, I think the best way to analyze it is to ask what are the armed factions in the country which might pull off a coup, and what are the possibilities. Aside from the U.S. and coalition forces, these are the potential actors in any possible coup:

1) Defense: The Iraqi Security Force (ISF) is run out of the Ministry of Defense. Abd al-Qadir al-'Abaydi, a Sunni, is the Defense Minister, but the ISF is dominated by Shi'a. The main policy difference between Abaydi and Maliki has been that Abaydi has been more forceful in going after the Shi'a militias, which is understandable. But with a Shi'a-dominated army, even if there were some basis for doubting the defense minister's loyalty to the government, it is hard to see how it would happen.

2) Interior: The Ministry of the Interior is headed by Jawad al-Bolani, an independent Shi'a. Bolani has taken criticism from fellow Shi'a for bringing more Sunnis into the interior ministry, and he recently reached an agreement with Sunni tribes in the Anbar to help equip them as long as they are fighting al-Qaeda. Bolani has a separate national police force under his authority, but it is funded by the U.S. Recently Bolani had to suspend part of the national police because of corruption and militia infiltration. In other words, Bolani has no independent source of power; he maintains his position by courting Sunnis, and depends on the U.S. for funding.

3) Shi'a Militias: The idea that the Shi'a militias might carry out a coup is completely implausible. SCIRI's Badr Corps and Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army are the strongest, but neither is likely strong enough to take on the ISF, much less the U.S. military, and since the Iraqi Defense Ministry is headed by a Sunni, the ISF would resist. In fact, the ISF (along with coalition forces) has been fighting the Mahdi Army sporadically, and it has been getting the better of those fights. Moreover, SCIRI and the Sadriya are fierce opponents, and their militias have fought each other and would fight again rather than join forces with the Sunnis.

4) Iraqi Sunni Insurgents: Sunni Iraqis are not only weak, they are divided into three factions; those who have laid down their arms and joined the political process, those who continue to fight against U.S. and Iraqi forces, but which do not support al-Qaeda, and those who have joined themselves to the foreign jihadists. They do not have the ability to take over the government.

5) Al-Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni jihadists: No possibility at all here. They are strongest in the Anbar Province, where they have succeeded in preventing the government from establishing itself, but they have also turned most of the tribes against them, and so mere survival is the issue for them. They hope to outlast the government, and if their suicide bombers are not stopped, they might. But they will not be taking over Baghdad.

6) Kurdish militias (the Pershmerga): The Kurds have real power only in their region, and they do have the ability to break away if they wish, although their land-locked Kurdistan would be completely dependent upon Arab Iraqis to export oil or engage in any other kind of commerce. A Kurdish role in a coup, which would deprive them of what influence they now have in Baghdad (they hold the presidency and the foreign ministry), is difficult to imagine.

Discontent with the current Iraqi government is indeed strong, but the only realistic alternative in case of its failure would be the partition of Iraq. I do not believe that the U.S. should threaten to withdraw troops in case of a coup attempt, as that would encourage it in some quarters, but the idea itself is implausible. While I have argued against those who say that the partition of Iraq is inevitable, I do think that partition is a possibility, much more so than a coup. Given that the current government has only been in power for five months, I consider discussion of its collapse to be premature. If America's founders had faced this much impatience, the United States would have been stillborn.

Who Killed 7 Palestinians?

If the hurried news consumer is reduced to scanning headlines, the answer is Israel. However, reality is that the Palestinians themselves may have killed their own in a hasty response to an Israeli operation aimed at a local leader of the Popular Resistance Committees. Another report suggests that the firing between the two factions occurred before the Israelis even happened upon the scene. Yet most headlines on the story convey a conslusiveness that, at least at the time of reportage, was non-existent.

In this age of information warfare, it is ever more important that editors mind the content and headlines of wire stories. This need was put plainly on display during the recent Reuters photography controversy where a Lebanese photographer sympathetic to Hizballah supplied doctored photos intended to exaggerate Israeli attacks which were run by the news organization – and consequently used widely by others as well.

Today, widely run Associated Press and Reuters news wire service headlines and subsequent stories regarding seven Palestinian deaths reflect similar dangers to inattentive editors and leads to potentially misinforming their vast readerships.

In reading the various published reports available, it appears that Israel launched an attack aimed at killing the local northern Gaza commander of the Popular Resistance Committees who commanded the group that has been primarily responsible for the many Qassam rocket launches into nearby Israeli towns. When the shots began to ring out, the Palestinian group under fire seems to have made the mistake of thinking that the gunfire had come from a nearby house occupied by a rival Palestinian faction. They immediately began to fire upon the house. When the dust settled, seven apparently lay dead, including the PRC commander, Atar Shinbari.

But who killed whom is far from clear. Yet, the headlines widely read that Israel killed seven Palestinians, an account that solely relies upon a single Palestinian source.

The Reuters headline reads “Israel kills 7 in Gaza battle-Palestinian officials”. ABC News picks up the Reuters report, complete with the supplied headline, unmodified.

The Associated Press forgoes the ‘Palestinian Sources’ tagline altogether and runs a headline reading simply ”Israeli Troops Kill 7 Palestinians”. The Boston Globe picks up the story and runs the same misleading headline provided by the AP.

Yet how can these news organizations be so certain that Israel killed the seven Palestinians? Even with the ‘Palestinian Sources’ tagline (_Reuters_), the headline is misleading, especially when so many news consumers scan headlines in their busy days, reading few articles compared to headlines and reading even fewer still in full.

The UK’s Monsters & Critics seems to display the patience necessary to choose an alternative headline, though it may be perhaps the same headline supplied by Deutsche Presse-Agentur, who the British news service uses for wire reports rather than AP or Reuters. Yet even still, the Monsters & Critics headline draws a conclusion that is unclear (Six killed, 10 wounded in Gaza gunfight sparked by family feud), though they should be applauded for not attempting to convey to readers who killed whom.

At any rate, somewhere along the line of reportage, someone in the DPS/Monsters & Critics chain refrained from the simple, easy and unfair headline reading “Israelis Kill Seven Palestinians”.

It is today’s lesson in basic news consumption and one of the principal reasons ThreatsWatch continues to attempt to provide multiple-source, multiple-report context in our regular InBrief content.

October 22, 2006

Turkey and Islamism: The Debate

The primary rubbing point between the United States and Turkey right now is not related to radical Islam. Quite the opposite - it is related to the Marxist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a Kurdish terrorist group which has taken refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan. Yet as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (known by its Turkish initials, the AKP) continue to dominate Turkey's political scene, there are rising concerns on both sides of the Atlantic about the rise of Islamism in Turkey.

The two sides of this debate were on feature in two recent op-eds in the Wall Street Journal. The first, Mr. Erdogan's Turkey, Michael Rubin, a Middle East scholar, argued that the AKP posed a threat to Turkish democracy, and was slyly and slowly but steadily eroding the country's independent institutions. Rubin argues:

...Over the party's four-year tenure, Mr. Erdogan has spoken of democracy, tolerance and liberalism, but waged a slow and steady assault on the system. He endorsed, for example, the dream of Turkey's secular elite to enter the European Union, but only to embrace reforms diluting the checks and balances of military constitutional enforcement...

The assault on the secular education system has been subtle but effective. Traditionally, students had three choices: enroll at religious academies (so-called Imam Hatips) and enter the clergy; learn a trade at vocational schools; or matriculate at secular high schools, attend university and pursue a career. Mr. Erdogan changed the system: By equating Imam Hatip degrees with high-school degrees, he enabled Islamist students to enter university and qualify for government jobs without ever mastering Western fundamentals. He also sought to bypass checks and balances. After the Higher Education Board composed of university rectors rejected his demands to make universities more welcoming of political Islam, the AKP-dominated parliament proposed to establish 15 new universities. While Mr. Erdogan told diplomats his goal was to promote education, Turkish academics say the move would enable him to handpick rectors and swamp the board with political henchmen...

Such tactics have become commonplace. At Mr. Erdogan's insistence and over the objections of many secularists, the AKP passed legislation to lower the mandatory retirement age of technocrats. This could mean replacement of nearly 4,000 out of 9,000 judges. Turks are suspicious that the AKP seeks to curtail judicial independence. In May 2005, AKP Parliamentary Speaker Bülent Arinç warned that the AKP might abolish the constitutional court if its judges continued to hamper its legislation. Mr. Erdogan's refusal to implement Supreme Court decisions levied against his government underline his contempt for rule of law. Last May, in the heat of the AKP's anti-judiciary rhetoric, an Islamist lawyer protesting the head scarf ban shouted "Allahu Akbar," opened fire in the Supreme Court and murdered a judge. Thousands attended his funeral, chanting pro-secular slogans. Mr. Erdogan was absent from the ceremony.

There have been other subtle changes. Mr. Erdogan has replaced nearly every member of the banking regulatory board with officials from the Islamic banking sector. Accusations of Saudi capital subsidizing AKP are rampant...

Rubin also takes aim at U.S. diplomacy, noting that U.S. Ambassador Ross Wilson has publicly taken the side of the AKP against its secular political opponents, describing domestic criticism of Erdogan's Islamist policies as "political cacophony."

Matthew Kaminski, a member of the Journal's editorial board, took the opposite point of view (although without criticizing Rubin by name). Writing in Turkish Tiger: Freedom Thrives Even Under an 'Islamist' Government, Kaminski argues:

...The recent troubling news here, from Kurdish terrorism to the rise of political Islam and anti-Americanism to tensions with Europe, can't take away from Turkey's economic renaissance. New and old industries powered a 7% expansion in 2005, the fourth consecutive year that growth approached double digits; this year, it'll be around 5%. Inflation, an old Turkish non-delight, is under control. Inside the European Union's free-trade area since 1996, Turkey has done especially well with export-driven manufacturing. More than half of Europe's television sets are made here. Investors are taking notice; Citigroup last week bought 20% of the third-largest bank for $3.1 billion. Though the economic gap with Europe remains wide, Turks are spending their way to bourgeois respectability, buying, in the past year, $3.5 billion in imported cars. Consumer loans are up 120% in that time, housing 300%...

The good times have made for a richer civil society. Since the last military-led regime in 1980-83, notes author Hugh Pope, 27 private universities have been founded, mostly courtesy of tycoons like the Koç and Sabanci families. Sabanci University's art gallery last year put on a popular Picasso exhibit, a first in Istanbul; Rodin followed this summer. Associations and lobby groups are mushrooming; they are giving voice to competing interests and providing counterweights to the Islamists in charge, even as opposition parties remain weak. Turkish democracy has never been stronger...

While Turkey continues "talks" with European governments about entering the European Union, that prospect is all but dead. The major governments remain in support, but across Europe the publics are opposed, and their governments are starting to bend. Recently the French parliament passed the first reading of a bill that would make it a crime punishable by prison to deny that the Turks committed genocide against the Armenians in the First World War. As this is in fact denied by virtually all Turks, not simply the nationalists, many very mainstream Turkish public figures would be inviting prosecution by travel to France if the bill becomes law. While such a law would serve no practical purpose for France, it would ensure that Turks know they are not welcome.

No, the real issue is whether or not Turkey will maintain its democratic institutions, or else make a U-turn toward history. There is no need to assume a choice between extremes; there is a middle ground in which Turkey could stay outside the EU, but maintain strong economic, military and diplomatic ties with the West, and be a force for peace and a non-threatening current of Islam. Yet that middle ground cannot be assumed, either.

Combating Nuclear Smuggling

A GAO (Government Accounting Ofice) report released last week found that the Department of Homeland Security's Cost-Benefit Analysis used to determine contract awards was not based on the performance data of the tests, and did not consider all of the costs and benefits of the systems.

Since September 11th, the U.S. government has spent $350 million to install more than 840 radiation detection devices at borders, seaports, and international mail centers.

The government contracted with foreign operators such as Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa to operate radiation detection machinery in foreign ports (notably Freetown in the Bahamas). Most of that detection machinery relied on crude detection technology used in scrap-metal recycling. Although this equipment was sufficient for industrial use (without the ability to identify the exact isotopic source of the radiation), for security purposes the equipment was subject to numerous false positives with modestly radioactive but harmless substances such as cat litter, ceramic tile, and bananas setting off alarms. To avoid the resulting delays caused by these false alarms, port officials recalibrated the detection sensitivity of the devices. While reducing the false alarm rate, this made the detection devices less capable of detecting threatening sources of nuclear radiation.

The new technology, which DHS calls Advance Spectroscopic Portal monitor, simultaneously detects the presence and type of radiation. The department has already awarded contracts totaling $1.16 billion to Meriden, Connecticut-based Canberra Industries; Waltham, Massachusetts-based Raytheon; and Waltham, Massachusetts-based Thermo Electron, to develop the new technology. DHS officials say that the accuracy of the new technology will reduce the number of secondary inspections to about 15,000 a year. There is one drawback to the new technology: Cost. The new machines will cost about $500,000 each, which is the price of seven of the old detection machines. Still, current DHS plans call for purchasing 1,400 of the new machines by 2011.

About a month ago, the Department of Homeland Security had awarded contracts under two related programs.

Advance Spectroscopic Portal - In July DHS awarded $1.16 billion worth of ASP contracts to three vendors -- Raytheon, Thermo Electron, and Canberra -- for one base year plus four annual options. The goal for the first year is to develop a fixed radiation detection portal which will become the "standard installation for screening cargo containers and truck traffic." Here is the news release from DHS announcing the award.
Cargo Advanced Automated Radiography System - The Department of Homeland Security awarded contracts totaling $1.35 billion to L-3 Communications Holdings Inc., American Science & Engineering Inc. and employee-owned SAIC to screen for radioactive material in hidden cargo. The DHS program is called the Cargo Advanced Automated Radiography System, or CAARS, and it is designed to deliver "an advanced imaging system that will automatically detect high density shielding that could be used to hide special nuclear material such as highly enriched uranium or weapons grade plutonium."

This all seems pretty straightforward. DHS requests proposals for a system or systems that meet critical national requirements. But last week, the GAO (Government Accounting Office) published a report titled: DHS's Cost-Benefit Analysis to Support the Purchase of New Radiation Detection Portal Monitors Was Not Based on Available Performance Data and Did Not Fully Evaluate All the Monitors' Costs and Benefits.

The lives and safety of Americans are at stake here. And yet, according to the GAO report, the DHS and its newly formed Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) failed to follow its own testing report and protocols. THe GAO report revealed that:

1) tests of ASPs showed that they did not meet DNDO’s main performance assumption in the cost-benefit analysis of correctly identifying unmasked highly enriched uranium (HEU) 95% of the time it passes through portal monitors (actual performance was in the 70-88% range);

2) identifying masked HEU, considered much more difficult, was detected by the three winning companies 53%, 45% and 17% of the time respectively (the GAO report did not match the detection percentages with the names of the three companies);

3) the DNDO, while acknowledging that none of the ASPs met the standards in the independent testing, assumed that the units would eventually reach that level of performance sometime in the future;

4) the DNDO’s cost-benefit analysis only considered the ability of the ASPs to detect masked and unmasked HEU, and not any other type or form of radiological material (apparently, this capability is dependent on whether the ASP has the software to perform the detection of these other materials);

5) the DNDO apparently did not follow DHS guidelines for performing the cost-benefit analysis, omitting such variables as the difference in cost between land based cargo portal monitors and seaport units, despite acknowledging that there are as many as 12 different ASPs;

6) life-cycle costs for operations and maintenance for the equipment over time was underestimated;

7) the DNDO did not assess the likelihood that radiation detection equipment would either misidentify or fail to detect nuclear and radiological materials. Rather, DNDO’s cost-benefit analysis focuses on the ability of ASPs to reduce false alarms. This leads to the possibility (discussed in the GAO report) that the ASP could misidentify HEU and allow it to pass through a portal.

The entire report includes a brief Powerpoint presentation, as well as DHS/DNDO explanations for the variances from the cost-benefit analysis guidelines. However, considering the importance of port security, preventing any sort of nuclear or radiological weapon being detonated, and the significant amount of money involved in the program, we should all be concerned.

Do these new and expensive radiological detectors work as specified and expected? Will they work under operational conditions? And perhaps more importantly, what influences caused the DMDO to not follow the guidelines for the cost benefit analysis?

Can China Lie Low?

Tucked away in Thursday's International Herald Tribune was a thoughtful (and thought provoking) column by Howard W. French. Titled Letter From China: Difficult choices ahead on North Korea alliance, it is well worth reading. We offer here the concluding four paragraphs, but readers will be rewarded for reading the entire column and learning how the author arrives here.

Today, South Korea is hewing more and more to its own path, steadily diluting its alliance with Washington. There is scant comfort in this for China, though, because this means two rich and assertive neighbors to deal with simultaneously, South Korea and Japan, rather than the deferential clients this country has always preferred to surround itself with.

Whichever route Beijing chooses, painful questions of responsibility lie ahead. Self-serving, make-believe history, like the war museum exhibits at Dandong, which pretend that America started the war and that China flew to the rescue and stood on the side of justice will have to be squared with a reality shot through with atrocity.

Where has China been through the years of starvation, in which millions of North Koreans have died because of capricious policies? What has China said to its ally during decades of a vicious brand of totalitarian rule that this country knows all too well from its own experience, and has fortunately rejected?

It is fine and well to complain about other states behaving as the world's policeman. But as China steps into the future, its involvement with countries like North Korea suggests that tiptoeing will be ever more difficult. And coupled with the question of what to do, come questions about what you have done.

October 19, 2006

Hamas Is As Hamas Does

Fresh back from his trips to Tehran and Damascus, Hamas' Palestinian Authority Interior Minister Said Siyam cried out that the US is trying to topple the Hamas-led Palestinian government.

The interior minister of the Hamas-led Palestinian government yesterday said that efforts were under way with help from the United States to remove the militant group from power.

"There is American support for whoever wants to topple the government," Palestinian Interior Minister Sayed Siyam told reporters in Cairo. "Why don't they want Hamas in the government? Is it forbidden [by God]? It came to power through the will of the people and that should be respected." "This is a war waged on the government," Siyam said.

Siyam would love to characterize this as America against the Palestinian government and thus the Palestinian people as a whole, as would more than a handful of others. But the simple fact of the matter is, it is America against Hamas, a group on the State Department's Terrorist Organizations list. Hamas did not achieve its status on that list by political whim or wrangling in Washington. It did so by its own actions, including blowing up buses full of civilians, pizzarias full of young adults on a night out, and restaraunts full of celebrating families during Jewish holidays. Their capital crime: Judaism.

The reason America does not want Hamas in the Palestinian government is because Hamas is a terrorist organization. While the Palestinians had and have every right to elect a terrorist organization into their government's leadership - including al-Qaeda if they so desire - that elected government does not, however, have the right to unquestionable support simply because they were elected freely. With democracy comes responsibility. Choices have consequences, as can be seen by the drying up of international aid money since the terrorists put on the mask of parliamentarians.

The Palestinian people understand these very real consequences clearly, and more so now than in January. This is why Hamas fears early elections being called by Mahmoud Abbas. They will likely lose.

But regardless, this is not a war waged on the Palestinian government – much less the Palestinian people. It is a war waged in many forms against the terrorist group who holds sway within that government. It is a war that had been waged since before Hamas entertained the concept of participating in an election, and it is a war that will be waged long after their seats are reclaimed by other Palestinian parties so long as they continue to vow to destroy the Israeli state.

That Hamas solicits and receives assistance from Tehran and Damascus - in the form of money, weapons, training and expertise - should say enough to even the most casual observer, as both supporting states are also on the State Department's State Sponsors of Terrorism list. Which is precisely what they are doing - sponsoring Hamas terrorists.

So let's be careful and not fall into the trap of lazily associating US opposition to Hamas as opposition to the whole of the Palestinian government, let alone the whole of the Palestinian population, as Siyam would have us - and more importantly, the Palestinian people - believe.

Behind China's Transportation Boom

China is in the middle of a massive transportation boom, one which Fred Stakelbeck takes a careful look at and calls "the greatest transportation explosion since post-World War II America." While observing, Fred asks: Is this exponentially growing system for commerce or conquest? While the answer likely lies somewhere between the two to varying degrees based upon system and location in question, consider the effects of the rail link between China and Tibet.

From the onset of the Beijing-Lhasa project, China’s leaders have asserted that the railway’s new Canadian-made Bombardier trains would provide unprecedented economic growth for the sparsely populated plains of Xinjiang, China and Tibet, breaking down long-standing barriers between the Han dominated Chinese majority and ethnic Tibetans.

However, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has refuted Beijing’s claims, saying the new railway could lead to “cultural genocide” by luring more Chinese workers to the region. “In general, a railway link is very useful in order to develop, but not when politically motivated to bring about demographic change,” he said in June.

Supporting the Dali Lama’s claims of Chinese encroachment, highly desirable construction jobs that were promised to ethnic Tibetans as a result of the massive railroad construction project never materialized. Zhu Zhengsheng, project manger for the Chinese Railroad Ministry, recently acknowledged only 10 percent of the roughly 100,000 workers employed during the five years of construction were native Tibetans.

Concerns are growing among ethnic Tibetans that the railway is just another way for Beijing to increase its stranglehold on the country. During opening ceremonies for the Beijing-Lhasa Express, thousands of green-uniformed soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), policemen and Chinese government agents were stationed along the railway route. Several Chinese military convoys were spotted around the capital city of Lhasa and “secret police” were dispersed among the train’s passengers. Current plans call for approximately 3,000 to 5,000 Chinese soldiers to be stationed along the train route for security purposes, using existing military bases and camps to coordinate operations.

pla-shooting-tibet.jpgThose who may question the Chinese intent in Tibet, with or without regard to the rail link, should consider the ProTV footage of Chinese soldiers shooting at Tibetan pilgrims as they trekked through the snow within eyesight of the PLA sharpshooters.

The video is stunning, and the Chinese later claim of Tibetan ‘militants’ attacking them is telling. China, remember, enjoys our 'Most Favored Nation' trading status perennially.

October 18, 2006

National Space Policy Attacked as 'Star Wars'

The new National Space Policy is now in the process of being assailed in the same tone as Strategic Missile Defense was characterized as ‘Star Wars’ in the 1980’s and since. Those concerned with National Security issues should consider the policy before digesting various media accounts and comments on its meaning.

On the front page of today’s Washington Post appears the headline: Bush Sets Defense As Space Priority. That is correct, but the direction the article takes is immediately clear through the Post’s subtitle, “U.S. Says Shift Is Not A Step Toward Arms; Experts Say It Could Be.”

Immediately following are quotes from those who are clearly presented as at least suspicious of the new policy, if not directly opposed to it. But carefully consider first the principles of the new (31AUG2006) US National Space Policy and note that it recognizes the rights of “all nations” to use space for peaceful purposes and that it speaks of defense against threats to US assets in space, military or civilian. This is just as we would expect our government to protect US assets, military or civilian, at sea from attack.

The conduct of U.S. space programs and activities shall be a top priority, guided by the following principles:
  • The United States is committed to the exploration and use of outer space by all nations for peaceful purposes, and for the benefit of all humanity. Consistent with this principle, "peaceful purposes" allow U.S. defense and intelligence-related activities in pursuit of national interests;
  • The United States rejects any claims to sovereignty by any nation over outer space or celestial bodies, or any portion thereof, and rejects any limitations on the fundamental right of the United States to operate in and acquire data from space;
  • The United States will seek to cooperate with other nations in the peaceful use of outer space to extend the benefits of space, enhance space exploration, and to protect and promote freedom around the world;
  • The United States considers space systems to have the rights of passage through and operations in space without interference. Consistent with this principle, the United States will view purposeful interference with its space systems as an infringement on its rights;
  • The United States considers space capabilities -- including the ground and space segments and supporting links -- vital to its national interests. Consistent with this policy, the United States will: preserve its rights, capabilities, and freedom of action in space; dissuade or deter others from either impeding those rights or developing capabilities intended to do so; take those actions necessary to protect its space capabilities; respond to interference; and deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to U.S. national interests;
  • The United States will oppose the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit U.S. access to or use of space. Proposed arms control agreements or restrictions must not impair the rights of the United States to conduct research, development, testing, and operations or other activities in space for U.S. national interests; and
  • The United States is committed to encouraging and facilitating a growing and entrepreneurial U.S. commercial space sector. Toward that end, the United States Government will use U.S. commercial space capabilities to the maximum practical extent, consistent with national security.

The benefits of precision guided munitions and real-time battlefield communications and coordination are clear and welcomed by all. But those weapons that permit precision strikes and nearly eliminate the specter of a ‘Dresden-like’ operation rely upon an Achilles heel: Satellite communications. Our defenses are superior globally with lesser troop levels for this reason. Allow it to be eliminated and our advantages are primarily lost. This is precisely why the fifth bulleted principle states that the “United States considers space capabilities -- including the ground and space segments and supporting links -- vital to its national interests.” Because they most certainly are.

The clearly vital nature of these interests is why the policy directly states that, just as with all other national interests, the United States will “deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to U.S. national interests.” Consider that China has been firing lasers to disable US satellites. As stated in the new policy, America is doing no more than clarifying that it will defend itself, its assets and its interests, which do not stop at the edge of our earthly atmosphere. China, Russia and even satellite-hungry Iran hold the same view for themselves, as do others. They simply hold far less developed capabilities.

To subscribe to the space-restrictionist thinking of critics is to rely upon the good nature of Russia, China and others to act in a parallel manner once their systems and capabilities more closely rival our own.

But the key to understanding the intent of the new space policy comes from a key sentence: “The United States will oppose the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit U.S. access to or use of space.” To take any other position towards international agreements would be to suggest that 18th-century England should have also then entered into an international agreement that restricted its dominant navy access to the seas because other navies were not as developed.

But, contrary to the coming commentary and criticism of the new National Space Policy – now set in motion by the Washington Post - opposing ‘new legal regimes’ that would restrict our activities is absolutely not “a step toward arms.”

Refusing to have your hands tied behind your back is not the same as the intent to punch someone in the face.

October 17, 2006

As China Balks Again, Who Benefits?

It was earlier noted that China's widely reported inspections of North Korean cargo coming in through the land border between the two communist states was essentially window dressing by admission of China's own Arms Control and Disarmament Association. Initially, we gave the Chinese the benefit of the doubt in mentioning that "the greatest proliferation-policing challenge remains off the North Korean coastline and in the air, not along the Chinese land border."

Now we learn that China has now also made it clear that it objects to boarding and inspecting North Korea's ships as well, giving credence to the suspicion that China does not support the sanctions it approved as much as would be implied by its Security Council vote.

China is balking at stopping and searching North Korean ships for banned weapons and materials, creating tension with Washington over U.N. Security Council sanctions for the North's nuclear test.

Beijing fears that such searches might trigger military clashes, and that the U.S. may use them to police wider shipping, analysts said Tuesday.

"If intelligence can prove the ships are loaded with dangerous material, I don't think Beijing would be opposed to stopping them," said Zhu Feng, a professor at Peking University's School of International Relations. "But we just worry that the United States will abuse its naval power."

China says the resolution does not obligate it to interdict ships.

The issue will likely be high on the agenda when U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visits Beijing this week.

The reasoning behind the passive nature of the Chinese cargo inspections along the border that did take place was offered by Xu Guangyu of Beijing’s government-sponsored China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, who said that China “just doesn’t engage in that sort of trade with North Korea,” meaning trade that would need to be inspected. China's objection to interdicting and inspecting North Korean cargo ships implies that it thinks no other country would “engage in that sort of trade with North Korea,” either.

While some may lend argument to the Chinese logic of fear that the US might 'abuse its naval power,' let's keep in mind that North Korea is detonating plutonium bombs and that its missile technology is already proliferated throughout the world. And as it detonates these tests, whether they fail or are successful, North Korea overtly threatens both Japan and the United States with their use, just as Iran less than subtly threatens Israel with its missile arsenal built principally on proliferated weapons and technology from North Korea.

Yet China objects once again to any tangible action against North Korean shipping in order to prevent proliferation, most likely to the Iranian partner that China itself shares and - with regard to its nuclear program - protects.

Let's be clear: If China did not want North Korea to have a nuclear weapons program, there would not be one to stir over to begin with. Strip away the diplo-speak for just a moment, and that reality is quite unmistakably evident.

So one must ask: If China truly objects to North Korea's test - and thus its weapons program - who else is benefiting from it that China does not simply end it? After all, while the world would trip over itself in free-flowing criticism if the United States took out North Korean nuclear facilities with 'unilateral' airstrikes, who would so much as clear a throat if China did the same through strikes or any other means?

So, who does benefit that China offers initial words of criticism but no tangible actions to either halt the North Korean nuclear weapons program or prevent its proliferation?

The answer is written in Farsi, with Chinese and Cyrillic footnotes.

October 16, 2006

al-Qaeda's Guide to US Intelligence

Muhammad Khalil al-Hakaymah of the Egyptian-based al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, a group which also operates out of the Afghanistan-Pakistan region with its al-Qaeda ally, has written a 152-page book which appears to be intended to serve as a Jihadist’s instructional guide to the United States’ intelligence community. The document focuses on the perceived American intelligence limitations and shortcomings and appears an attempt to dispell any perception that the CIA, NSA, and FBI are comprised of ten-feet-tall invisible men. Circulated in its English translation through jihadist websites and made available at ThreatsWatch, the thrust of the book is clear from its title.

The Myth of Delusion: Exposing the American Intelligence

An excerpt from al-Hakamayah’s introduction sets the tone.

The Manhattan raid led to a radical change in the perception of American Security.

After the northern half of the continent had been isolated from the rest of the world and its threats by two oceans, it now came from inside. The surprise hit the symbols of American power in its economic and security dimensions. The surprise changed the features of the most important financial center in the world.

Moreover, it exposed to the world the myth of delusion called “NSA – CIA FBI.

They used to say that “if a mouse entered America or came out of it, you should be able to find a report about it in the archives of the American intelligence services.”

The American intelligence lost this round against al-Qaeda intelligence.

Of note, among the eight chapters, one is dedicated fully to how US Intelligence recruits foreign agents and another purely to signals intelligence and electronic surveillance. The document goes to some length to detail what the intelligence community can and cannot do legally under US law.

Hakamayah states that “the CIA had special campaigns to recruit hundreds of journalists, who kept their journalistic jobs, but they became paid agents for the CIA.” Yet, he cherry-picks various US media sources to support his assertion that the media is full of CIA disinformation operatives while at the same time citing other reports as apparently credible sources of information on CIA/NSA capabilities. The author also goes to great lengths to describe the CIA as being governed by the whims of "Right Wing" think tanks - even though the CIA has been often criticized as being predominantly staffed by people who hold a left-leaning world view.

The document also makes considerable efforts to describe the CIA, NSA and FBI as corrupt and sinister organizations, complete with a section dedicated to “CIA massacres,” including “The Massacre at Mazar-e-Sharif Fort in 2001 in Afghanistan.” While it is possibly one of the most detailed publicly known al-Qaeda accounts of US intelligence, at many points, The Myth of Delusion also reads like a Conspiracy Theorist’s Intelligence Bible.

Expected to be the first of a trilogy from al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya’s Muhammad Khalil al-Hakaymah, The Myth of Delusion: Exposing the American Intelligence announces at its close that the next release will be The Security Guide for World War Three.

(For more background on al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya (GIA), also know as the Islamic Group (IG), see the profile at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism.)

October 13, 2006

Is Russia Running Interference for NK Nuke Program?

The discrepancy between the Russian estimate of the North Korean claimed nuke test was about 20 to 30 times larger than those of the United States, Japan and South Korea - all based on seismographic measurements. It was instantly suspicious. With that in mind, consider a technical assessment of the North Korean blast by the Federation of American Scientists published at the Strategic Security Blog.

There is no question that the political and security implications of the test are huge and almost entirely negative. The technical implications are more mixed; the technical significance of the test is somewhat less than meets the eye.

There was early confusion about how large the explosion actually was, with U.S., French, and South Korean seismologists reporting a yield equivalent to about 500 tons of high explosive, that is half a kiloton, while the Russians reported that the yield was in the range of 10 to 15 kilotons, or twenty to thirty times larger. From the beginning, the source of this huge discrepancy was difficult to understand. Soon, the Russian seismic data were released and it became clear that even their own data did not support the Russian claim. Most reports as of yesterday had settled on the lower yield figure of about half a kiloton. [Emphasis added.]

Now the question is, why would Russia knowingly overestimate the success of the North Korean test? Did they know something we did not? Did they have confidence of the size of what was to be tested and based their 'estimates' on that knowledge? Is this potentially proof that it was indeed a dud and not a dupe by the North Koreans?

To be sure, this adds curious context to Russia's relative silence following the provocative NoKor test, a silence which was followed by effectively dropping a boat anchor in the American sanctions proposal. Remember that China opposed the proposal only after Russia was first to balk.

Perhaps it is time for President Bush to once more 'see the heart and soul' of Russian President Vladimir Putin. It was five years ago, shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks in a November 2001 meeting between the two leaders in Crawford, Texas, when President Bush said, "And the more I get to know President Putin, the more I get to see his heart and soul, and the more I know we can work together in a positive way." One would be naturally curious as to what the President may find in the former KGB operative this time around.

It appears possible that the Russians are running interference for the North Korean nuclear program just as they have been for the Iranian nuclear program.

The French Intifada Grows

It isn't widely reported as such, nor widely reported at all for that matter, but the Muslim uprising from within the French housing projects they dominate (referred to by themselves as "our ghetto") continues to grow rather than subside since the November 2005 riots. And while cartoons of The Prophet were cited then as the cause and the American war in Iraq used as an explanation by outsiders, the French Intifada has actually been caused by neither. From the UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave, consider the following excerpt from Analysis: Gallic Intifada...

France's Interior Ministry said 2,500 police officers had been "wounded" this year. The head of the hard-line trade union "Action Police" Michel Thooris wrote to Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy to describe conditions in housing developments turned slums as "intifada." Police cruisers are pelted daily with stones and "Molotov cocktails" (gasoline-filled bottles with burning wicks that explode on impact) and Thooris said cops assigned to what was rapidly degenerating into "free fire zones" should be protected in armored vehicles. Entire tall buildings empty into the streets to chase policemen and free an arrested comrade.

"We are in a state of civil war, orchestrated by radical Islamists," Thooris told journalists. Sarkozy, the leading center-right candidate for next year's presidential election, responded by dispatching cops in body armor, equipped with automatic weapons and rubber bullets, stun and teargas grenades into several Paris suburbs with orders to "restore control" from "organized crime." In one recent clash 250 cops dispersed a 100-strong Muslim gang armed with baseball bats.

The chaotic conditions in suburbs like Clichy-sous-Bois, Montfermeil and St. Denis have grown progressively worse since the nationwide Muslim riots in November 2005 that torched 10,000 vehicles.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin recently criticized as "overdrawn" President Bush's frequent reference to the "global war on terror." But the Iraq war did not appear to be part of the combustible mix in Muslim "ghettos" outside Paris. Despair, organized crime, and hatred of authority are its principal ingredients.

France and the whole of Europe have before them a seemingly insurmountable challenge. So much so that it is recognized as such by French political organizations and the radical Islamist causes are being embraced for sake of electoral gains.

In France, Jean-Marie Le Pen's far right National Front appears to have opted for a can't-lick-'em-join-'em strategy, a rapprochement with France's large immigrant Muslim community -- with undertones of anti-Semitism. Le Pen's reasoning appears to be the recognition that Islamicization is in France to stay with 25 percent of France's under 20 population Muslim (40 percent in some cities), 2nd and 3rd generation North Africans. FN's tough stance on immigration is tempered by support for Arab and Islamist causes in the Middle East (Hamas and Hezbollah are two favorites). There are an estimated 6 to 8 million Muslims among France's 62 million and Islam is now France's second religion. Mosques are well attended on Fridays; churches aren't on Sundays. France's prison inmates are over 50 percent Muslim.

Read de Borchgrave's Gallic Intifada in full, today's required reading.

Pakistani Coup Plot Uncovered

In developments directly tied to the recent discovery of rockets aimed at government buildings along a route normally travelled by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, the Musharraf government has foiled an apparent coup plot undertaken by both al-Qaeda connected terrorists and members of Musharraf's own military as well as Pakistan's ISI.

The conspiracy was discovered through the naivety of an air force officer who this month used a cell phone to activate a high-tech rocket aimed at the president's residence in Rawalpindi. The rocket was recovered, and its activating mechanism revealed the officer's telephone number. His arrest led to the other arrests.

Other rockets were then recovered from various high security zones, including the headquarters of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Islamabad.

According to Asia Times Online sources, more arrests can be expected, both military and civilian.

In coverage of the early October discovery of the rockets rigged with cell phone triggering mechanisms (See: NATO: Pakistani Intelligence Aiding Taliban, al-Qaeda), we noted that an explosion that occured near Musharraf's presidential home "was hastily dismissed as unrelated to Musharraf before identifying the source," leading an alert observer to believe that such a hasty dismissal was more indicative of fears than knowledge. Today's news serves as confirmation.

And while President Musharraf publicly offers that NATO wants to copy the ‘Waziristan peace deal’, it is clear that while the Pakistani deal may have delivered them from Waziristan battlefields where they confronted the Taliban and al-Qaeda, it has not delivered Musharraf or his government from danger.

KSM, Waterboarding, Gitmo and Pearl's Murder

A military tribunal awaits Khalid Sheikh Muhammed as he rests in Guantanamo Bay's Camp X-Ray. TIME reports that not only will the man Ayman al-Zawahiri recently vowed to free be tried for masterminding the September 11 terrorist attacks on America, but also for personally wielding the knives (yes, plural) that beheaded Wall Street Journal investigative journalist Danny Pearl. With thanks to Andi via MilBlogs, the following is from Fingering Danny Pearl's Killer...

Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM) was one of 14 "high value" prisoners recently moved to the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, from secret CIA prisons overseas. In announcing the transfer on Sept. 6, President Bush also promised to try some of the most important captives in military tribunals, a plan that Congress approved last month.

One former U.S. national security official tells TIME there is no doubt that KSM personally wielded the knife that killed the Wall Street Journal reporter. This official says that Ahmad Omar Saed Sheik insisted under interrogation that taking Pearl's life was not at first part of the kidnap plot — though Sheik also told his questioners that Pearl's kidnappers could never have released him because he was Jewish. But as the scheme unfolded, someone senior to him in the al-Qaeda hierarchy, known as "the fat man," took control of the operation and beheaded Pearl.

Sheik never identified KSM as the actual killer, however. The FBI deduced KSM's role only after analyzing a video of the crime, in which only the perpetrator's hands are visible. That video was released by Islamic militants soon after Pearl's murder and then widely shown on Arab television and the Internet. Eventually, the FBI obtained its own version of the original video, as well as the camera used to photograph the murder.

Once KSM was taken into custody in March 2003, a comparison of the hands shown in the video and KSM's own hands, along with other evidence, confirmed the FBI's suspicions. Then, under interrogation, KSM confessed, national security officials told TIME, admitting without remorse that he personally severed Pearl's head and telling interrogators he had to switch knives after the first one "got dull."

This is the face of evil. He is in similar company at Guantanamo Bay.

Make special note of how the information on Pearl's murder was obtained from KSM, where he sat, and where he now sits.

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, who seeks Camp X-Ray's closing on humanitarian grounds, said yesterday of Guantanamo Bay, "It is widely argued now that the existence of the camp is as much a radicalizing and discrediting influence as it is a safeguard to security."

America will miss Tony Blair more than most currently appreciate.

We will not miss Khalid Sheikh Muhammed.

October 12, 2006

Georgia Rose

One important relationship that has gone badly wrong for the United States is that with Russia. Some blame Western (i.e. IMF) mismanagement in the 1990s or misplaced optimism, others Russia's own cultural heritage or the ruling class headed by President Vladimir Putin. Most likely a combination of these factors is responsible.

Wherever the blame for the failure may lie, those of us who once held out hope for a strong America-Russia alliance have been disappointed, as the Russian government has become the primary sponsor of Iran's nuclear and conventional weapons armament, effectively nationalized the print and television media, has tolerated - some allege arranged for - the murder of political opponents and critical journalists, and has attempted to stifle democratic development in neighboring countries. One such country is the small former-Soviet republic of Georgia, which is now under siege following the "Rose Revolution" which brought a Western-leaning government to power. Having faintly criticized Germany's anti-Jewish laws in the 1930s, the free world has long since learned that how a country treats its citizens is often an indicator of its intentions in dealing with other nations. This would also be true of its small neighbors.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili makes his case in Thursday's Wall Street Journal, "Unprovoked Onslaught: Georgia Stands Up to Russia":

TBILISI, Georgia--The past week was a trying one for Georgia. Air, rail, sea, land and postal links were severed unilaterally by our largest neighbor, the Russian Federation. Immediately thereafter, Georgians living in Russia were subjected to a form of ethnic targeting not seen in Europe since the Balkans in the 1990s--and the harassment is tinged with even more sinister historical overtones. Hundreds are being deported; business owners are being harassed; schoolchildren are being forcibly registered with local police; women are being gratuitously tested for sexually transmitted diseases; and children are being torn from families.

It is easy, amid these bleak headlines, to lose sight of an even more important story: In just three short years, my country has been transformed from a gangster-run economic and political basket case into a budding democracy with one of the world's fastest-growing economies. The World Bank recently lauded Georgia as the No. 1 reformer in the world and the least corrupt transitional democracy. Just last month NATO admitted Georgia into a new stage of membership talks, recognizing our political, economic and military progress. And just last week we completed an action plan with the European Union that charts our irrevocable course toward a fully Western future...

Read the entire article.

October 11, 2006

American Ammo Dump Fire An Insurgent Attack

It is now being reported that the explosive fire at a US ammunition storage facility in Baghdad was caused by a mortar attack by insurgents.

Militiamen firing mortars detonated a U.S. ammunition dump in Baghdad on Tuesday night, sparking a barrage of explosions that continued to shake the capital on Wednesday morning, a U.S. military spokesman said.

Residents said the blasts were reminiscent of the aerial bombardment of Baghdad that preceded the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

A mortar round fired from the Abu Dsheer area of southern Baghdad caused the fire in an ammunition holding area in Camp Falcon, a forward operating base for U.S. troops, that ignited tank, artillery and small-arms ammunition, the spokesman said.

"Intelligence indicates that civilians aligned with a militia organization were responsible for last night's mortar attack," said Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Withington, spokesman for the U.S. 4th Infantry Division.

Ammo Depot While the Reuters report does not indicate a particular group in question, an Associated Press report states that the Islamic Army of Iraq has claimed responsibility.

The Islamic Army in Iraq, a nationalist anti-occupation insurgent group, claimed responsibility for the Tuesday night attack on the U.S. Forward Operating Base Falcon in southern Baghdad near the Dora neighborhood that caused stockpiles of tank and artillery shells to explode through the night in spectacular bursts of flame and sparks.

"With the help of God, the mortar and rocket squads of the Islamic Army have shelled a U.S. Army base with two rockets and three mortar shells," the group said in a statement posted on a Web site known to be used by insurgents. "The rockets and shells fell on ammunition dumps causing them to explode. Sounds of explosions were heard in Baghdad."

The authenticity of the statement could not be immediately verified, but the U.S. military did confirm that the base's ammunition depot had been hit at 10:40 p.m. Tuesday by an 82mm mortar round fired by insurgents from a nearby residential area.

But curiously, the AP article notes an ultimatum that was given in Baquba by a Sunni group calling themselves the Mujahdeen of Diyala in which it was demanded that a local Iraqi military commander be relieved of duties. The report said that the group “claimed the commander was responsible for attacks on Sunni Arabs in the province. The leaflets, dated Oct. 6, gave Wednesday as the deadline for his removal.” The deadline of the previously unknown group could be coincidence or a sign of cooperation, coordination and/or inter-relationship with the Islamic Army in Iraq and possibly other Sunni terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq. Last nights attack was part of a seemingly coordinated wave of attacks across the Baghdad area.

On 'Mortal Exit Polling' In Iraq

With the War on Terror, many guage the threat level of certain aspects by considering the 'things that keep you up at night.' The sad (and infuriating) truth is that the source of such 'midnight oil generators' is often not from the enemy (jihadists and those who support them), but rather from the sizable segment of the West that is fueled by self-loathing and nihilism. Last night was one such instance, prompted by an MIT-sponsored and Johns Hopkins University 'overseen' 'scientific study' of Iraqi casualties since the 2003 invasion. The study would have the world believe that somehow the global media has overlooked 655,000 “excess” Iraqi deaths (that's over 500 per day unnoticed) as a result of the US invasion. The Washington Post's promoting of the study – touted widely this morning as both scientific and accurate – was logically debunked in the overnight hours in Mortal 'Exit Polling' Touted As Scientific.

There are several points made in the angry rebuttal offered at MilBlogs, but chief among them questions the randomness of the sampling and the geographic locations chosen by the "eight Iraqi physicians organized through Mustansiriya University in Baghdad." Even dismissing the fact that many at the Mustansiriya University have had an axe to grind with the US government since the formation of the initial Provisional Government before the Iraqi elections, there is much to question about the randomness and geocentric nature of the polling.

From a sample of "1,849 randomly selected households," we are to believe a number like 655,000? Stunning boldness rivaling that of the Zarqawi himself.

And 90% of those asked had death certificates? Where were they randomly polling, at the morgue itself? Who issues Iraqi death certificates? And now we are getting somewhere... Who knows more about Iraqi deaths (from which to potentially 'randomly sample' families)? Perhaps "eight Iraqi physicians organized through Mustansiriya University in Baghdad"? A Baghdad university would select doctors from which city? Perhaps the most dangerous one in Iraq? To where might they venture out to 'randomly sample'? In a dangerous country, there is comfort in familiarity...even if it is Baghdad.

‘Random sampling’ in and around Baghdad (and other high-intensity combat zones) in a ‘mortal exit poll’ and then extrapolating the findings across the whole of the Iraqi population is fundamentally flawed and false. It would be parallel to entering Rahway State Prison and determining that 30% of the inmates committed murder, concluding therefore that 30% of the American public are murderers (an equally fictitious figure of approximately 100 million).

Unlike Mortal 'Exit Polling' Touted As Scientific, which is hardly restrained in it’s angry passion, Rick Moran takes a look at the ‘study’ in A Most Ghoulish Debate with a more reserved tone but an effective look back at similarly debunked body counts attempted and proffered by the group in question.

But why is the study politically motivated?

This is the same crew whose 2004 study showing 100,000 Iraqi dead was thoroughly debunked by a wide variety of experts from both sides of the debate.

His is an excellent debunking as he goes on to reference their past studies as well as make similar observations to those found in Mortal 'Exit Polling'.

But the War on Terror is as much an Information War as one of physical combat, as Greyhawk clearly illustrates at the Mudville Gazette in al-Qaeda's 'Working Paper for a Media Invasion of America'.

Najd al-Rawi, the document's author, begins by noting that although they've been successful in many ways, the jihaddists haven't fully exploited the opportunities presented by the US media. Inspired by a video from bin Laden addressing the American people with subtitles in English, the author notes that "It seemed the Shayk wanted to send a clear message to his brother mujahadeen to pay more attention to this part of the mission." He points out that videos from the "Shayks of jihad" are in great demand in the western media.

So too, apparently, are ‘Mortal Exit Poll’ reports. Consider the rapid reaction and propagation:

Yet buried deep within the reports above – if mentioned at all – is the admitted fact that the Iraqi body count figure was ‘scientifically’ extrapolated from a total Mortal Exit Poll result of 629 reported deaths, of which only 547 occurred after the invasion. From that we are to arrive at 655,000?

MIT and Johns Hopkins should be ashamed. This is not science.

October 10, 2006

Abandoned Bag Prompts Heathrow Evacuation

A terminal at London's Heathrow Airport has been evacuated after a man dropped off a suspicious package at the Air Algeria desk and then ran away from the scene. Few other details are available at present.

Some 2,000 people were ordered out of the terminal, which houses many European carriers, police said. The British Airports Authority (BAA) said a package was being investigated...

Heathrow is a stated preferred target for terrorist groups and the designed lauch point for the recently foiled al-Qaeda plot to blow up US-bound aircraft midflight, dubbed 'Operation Bojinka II'. While it is yet to be determined whether the bag constained an explosive device, the swift reaction indicates the level of alertness at Heathrow, not unlike other airports. That it occured at the ticket desk of Algerian Air likely raised concerns additionally. Algeria is home of the recently al-Qaeda-aligned Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC).

We will monitor developments as information becomes available. (Updates will follow below.) For related ThreatsWatch coverage and discussion, see:

Liquid Bombs and Airline Security - Fear as a Force Multiplier

Airline Threat? What Airline Threat?

UPDATE: Metropolitan Police report that the bag in question was not found near Air Algeria check-in counter.

[A] Metropolitan Police spokeswoman said: "That is certainly a line of inquiry and CCTV is being checked."

But following a report that the desk concerned had been an Air Algeria check-in, she said: "The bag was not found near the Air Algeria desk."

UPDATE-2: Reuters reports that the bag has cleared inspection and that a man was arrested in connection with the incident. Passengers have been cleared to return. More details from This Is Local London.

October 9, 2006

No Nuclear Traces as South Korean Chosen As Next UN Chief

With ironic timing, South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon was nominated today as the next Secretary-General of the United Nations to succeed the embattled Kofi Annan.

The 192-member U.N. General Assembly must give final approval to Ban's nomination, which usually follows within a week or two. That vote is expected to be positive for the first Asian secretary-general since U Thant of Burma in 1961-1971.

Ban, speaking to reporters in Seoul after the Security Council vote, said North Korea's reported test was "a grave and direct threat to peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and northeast Asia."

"This should be a moment of joy but instead I stand here with a very heavy heart," he said.

This as the US detected second North Korea blast.

“We are aware that there was a sub-kilotonne explosion in North Korea,” said the official. “We have not been able to determine at this point whether it was in fact nuclear.”

This is an important observation. There has yet to be any detected trace of atomic particles. While it would seem illogical for North Korea to attempt to fake a nuclear detonation - even more potentially damaging to the state than an actual test - reason would not the strong suit of a regime that starves its own people.

But, in the first North Korean statement, one line stood out from the very beginning as strange.

"It has been confirmed that there was no such danger as radioactive emission in the course of the nuclear test as it was carried out under scientific consideration and careful calculation."

It is at least curious from a regime that fully intends the test to be widely publicized and intensely provocative to be immediately concerned with zero radiation emission. And considering the very low (relatively) blast levels, it all adds up to at least cast doubt.

Pause for more information before concluding definitively that this was a nuclear test. There's a fair chance it may not have been that at all. North Korea's nuclear program has been thus far been used as a blackmail-enabling bartering chip. It may be that still.

Turkey: Who is the State Department Kidding?

Turkey’s newspaper Zaman Online recently posted an article focusing on a press briefing where US State Department spokesman Tom Casey assessed the US’s relations with Turkey. “We have excellent relations with Turkey and it is an important NATO ally for us… Turkey is also an important partner in the region as well in terms of dealing with such issues as our joint efforts to combat the PKK and PKK terrorism… I would categorize the relationship as excellent, and believe that the visit here was helpful in terms of continuing our close cooperation with Turkey,” Mr. Casey said.

This press briefing came on the heels of a meeting between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Bush. Although Mr. Casey’s statements are positive, they may be a little mis-guiding and overly-optimistic. A New York Times article posted on September 10th painted a much different picture regarding the US’s relations with Turkey.

Last week, the nonprofit German Marshall Fund of the United States released the results of its annual survey of public opinion in the United States and 12 countries in Europe, including Turkey. The survey’s most striking finding is the degree to which Turks now question their ties to the United States and Europe, and have warmed to Iran, their neighbor to the east.

It goes without saying that Mr. Casey has a vested interest in suggesting that the US has “excellent” relations with Turkey. This is not to say that all of his comments are wrong. Indeed, Turkey is an important partner in the region and Erdogan’s visit probably was a positive step in improving relations with Turkey. We can even go so far as to say that the US may indeed have excellent relations with some parties within Turkey.

However, in light of the findings in the GMF’s survey, it is clear that Turkish civilians would not agree with Mr. Casey’s assessment. In any democracy, citizens hold the power. Thus, our focus should be on appealing to Turkey's citizenry. So what is the actual condition of our relations with Turkey? It’s difficult to gauge. However, we should put stock into what Turkish citizens are saying; at least more so than into a State Department official with an agenda.

Losing the Popularity Contest

A recent BBC article indicates that Afghan citizens may start supporting the Taliban.

Nato's commander in Afghanistan has said the country's citizens may start supporting the Taleban unless their lives improve in the next six months. Gen David Richards, a British officer, said the country was at a “tipping point”, warning that up to 70% of Afghans could switch their support.

He was speaking a day after Tony Blair pledged full support for UK troops.

There are concerns for the safety of British forces operating in the southern province of Helmand.

Gen Richards said: “They will say, ‘We do not want the Taliban but then we would rather have that austere and unpleasant life than [one] that might involve another five years of fighting,’”

This is a very disturbing trend. Not only would this undermine our success in liberating Afghanistan from the Taliban’s control, an objective we achieved 5 years ago, but it would also create yet another safe haven for the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Safe havens allow terrorist organizations to plan and coordinate attacks as elaborate as the September 11 attacks. As the 9/11 Commission Report recommends: “The US government must identify and prioritize actual or potential terrorist sanctuaries. For each, it should have a realistic strategy to keep possible terrorists insecure and on the run.”

There is no one answer for how the United States and its allies can win the hearts and minds of Afghanistan’s citizens back. It is clear that the citizens do not want to have the Taliban back in control. However, that doesn’t mean we can disregard public opinion in Afghanistan. Although it clearly isn’t this simple, the reality is that the situation in Afghanistan is a popularity contest. Citizens will support whichever side will provide the most security. The US needs to realize this and begin to make concerted efforts to re-gain the support of Afghanistan’s citizenry.

October 6, 2006

Media Skepticism of Arab Dictators Needed

Today Ellen Knickmeyer of the Washington Post wrote about an alleged trend of Sunni Muslims in Syria to become Shi'a in support of Hassan Nasrallah and Hizballah. The evidence of this trend is anecdotal, but certainly significant to the extent that it is happening. I thought this paragraph rather suspicious, though:

...The burgeoning of Shiism is worrisome to some Sunnis. Sunni leaders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt all have warned of the increasingly influential "Shiite crescent." The crescent stretches from Afghanistan through Shiite-ruled Iran to Iraq, where a newly empowered Shiite majority holds power, across Syria to Lebanon, where Hezbollah makes its base and Shiites are estimated to be the largest religious group...

This would have been better if the second sentence had began, "This alleged crescent stretches..." This paragraph accurately states what Arab rulers have been saying as they view the worrying trends of open politics and fair elections in Iraq. Yet there are problems with almost every element of the theory; the Shi'a make up a weak minority in Afghanistan, in Iraq they follow the teachings of religious authorities opposed to Iranian Shi'a state ideology (even SCIRI, the most Iranian of Iraq factions, now follows the marjas of Najaf, not Tehran), Syria has a very small Shi'a minority (a few converts notwithstanding) and while the Shi'a may well be the plurality now in Lebanon, they are the most isolated faction in the society. The most popular Sunni, Christian and Druze leaders form an anti-Syrian majority in Lebanon's parliament. And it isn't clear that the Shi'a are even a plurality; this is Hizballah's claim, and while their percentage has been growing in recent decades for sure, the Sunnis could also be a plurality.

The bottom line is that the "Shi'a crescent" theory is a bogus concept mouthed by Sunni rulers concerned that their time could eventually be coming to an end. The successful development of a stable and mature democracy in Iraq would embolden both Saudi Arabia's Shi'a minority and its secularist and Islamist opposition. While the Saudis have terrorist enemies, they also face moderate Islamists who seek a more democratic regime, a non-Saudi one. Newspapers should be more careful in their wording in order to avoid stating as fact the self-interested claims of illegitimate rulers.

Guns For Hire In Gaza: Entrepreneurial Spirit of Jihad

While Gaza sinks fast into the Wild West of the Middle East, a Reuters report is interesting mostly for the question it fails to overtly raise.

They call themselves the "Executive Force" of the Hamas-led government. Rivals prefer "Black Militia" or "Peshmerga" -- a word that literally means "those who face death" but is used by some Gazans for a gun-for-hire.

In the increasingly lawless Palestinian strip, Hamas' force has nearly doubled in size in five months -- its answer to chaos in Gaza and efforts by President Mahmoud Abbas to consolidate security control and expand his presidential guard.

The Hamas-led force says it has grown to 5,600 men, up from 3,000 in May when it was created over Abbas's objections.

The Fatah demonstrations-turned-riots were in protest to unpaid wages since Hamas was elected into power and the West cut off aid, a situation exacerbated by recent Hamas refusal to recognize Israel, thus extending the aid cutoff.

It is within this economic context that the "Executive Force" needs to be considered.

The question - which regular ThreatsWatch readers will recognize as rhetorical - that must be asked is: Where is Hamas finding funds to pay their mercenaries while the PA's own official security forces work without wages remitted?

The article fails to ask this question or to seek the hardly concealed answer, choosing rather to dismiss the source of funding as seemingly nameless, faceless 'smuggling' rather than terrorist funding.

The answer to the question unasked represents the proverbial 'Keys to the Kingdom' as Palestinian civilians find themselves seemingly eternal pawns in a conflict fueled by others more than themselves.

In Gaza - with an invisible government and a non-existent economy - the one business that pays is terrorism. In this respect, Hamas is Gaza's corporate leader. Employment opportunities abound are driven by outside entrepreneurs of terror, investors in the conflicts of others.

October 5, 2006

Re: Language Skills and Counterterrorism

Yesterday Steve commented on one particularly specialized area of concern, Language Skills and Counterterrorism, noting that the U.S. seems to be so short of qualified linguists that it hasn't even been able to monitor the mail of incarcerated terrorists. This in spite of the fact that it has been documented that individuals in custody have written to active terrorists on the outside (discussed in the link). Languages of special need include Arabic, Farsi and Urdu most prominently, with Arabic being the most important. There is really no excuse for this now. I know that Arabic is hard and extremely time consuming, but agencies with multi-billion dollar budgets can easily send people abroad for as long as necessary for them to learn the language. Proficiency in Arabic - the most difficult of the above - takes a minimum of two to three years, depending on the degree of immersion and program of study, and assuming that most of that is in-country (otherwise, it takes anywhere from several years to the rest of your life). So time was an excuse up until 2003 or 2004, but certainly not in 2006.

For those thinking of learning Arabic or other non-European language, either on their own or as part of a government career at some point, here are a few tips:

- I suggest having 4-5 semesters of study stateside, followed by either two years of full-time study or one year of full-time study supplemented by time in-country working.

- Be realistic; Arabic is not like French or German in which you can take two or three semesters and then read the newspaper and engage in general conversations. Having attended one of the more highly-regarded Arabic programs in the country, I observed that even after four semesters most students had negligible functional ability in the language, either reading or speaking. Personally, it took me six months of full-time study in country after five semesters in the states just to be able to read the newspaper with sufficient facility to actually read it for news, and that was faster than average.

- Have at least a couple of semesters under your belt before going to an Arab country. I do not believe in the "sink or swim" approach of just moving there and being immersed without any language background, because you need a critical mass from which to work. I had five semesters when I first arrived in an Arab country, and was able to use it from day one, but I knew people who arrived there with no background and then just ended up speaking English to their expat friends. If you can afford to pay a private tutor a few hours a day to teach you to speak, perhaps that might work, but it is better to know some beforehand.

- If you have already begun your career and do not have the option of studying a foreign language along with your undergraduate or graduate focus, there are some intensive summer programs in which one can get a year of Arabic - and sometimes Turkish or Farsi - in about ten weeks. If you are doing this on your own, you could then move to a country of the target language.

- You may hear that standard Arabic, or fusha, is vastly different from what people actually speak, and that it should be downplayed. It is true that spoken dialects differ widely from both the written language and from each other, but standard is the basis for everything, and because Arabic is much harder to learn to read than to speak, it is better to have at least a moderate grasp of it before tackling a dialect.

- The best way to study abroad is through a scholarship, but remember that native speakers of North American English can get jobs teaching English in most Arab countries simply by showing up at a school the right time of the year, with or without a teaching certificate (although jobs requiring a certificate pay more). You can do this on your own.

- The best countries for studying Arabic are generally considered to be Jordan and Egypt due to political conditions, low cost of living, the fact that both have programs designed for foreigners and the nature of their dialects. The Egyptian dialect is widely known, and the Jordanian and Palestinian dialects are similar to others in the Levant, and much more "mainstream" than learning the dialects of countries to the west of Libya, whose spoken languages are not fully intelligible to even most native Arabs. The Persian Gulf dialects also tend to be similar to one another, so learning one well will allow you to understand them all.

- If you are learning Arabic specifically for use in the counterterrorism context, stay in just one country until you are completely fluent, don't move around. One of the main problems in this regard is that much of the material is spoken, and finding someone who knows, say, Yemeni colloquial (who can pass a background check) is very hard. Once you are fluent in one dialect, you can more easily expose yourself to others and gain comprehension ability in them without getting them confused. Extensive exposure to three dialects will most likely give you a smattering knowledge of three dialects, and nothing more.

- Of the other Islamic languages - Farsi, Urdu, Pashtu, the Turkic languages - they all fall between Arabic and West European languages in terms of difficulty for a native speaker of English. Most (and all of the aforementioned except Turkish) are Indo-European, and so even though most have adopted the Arabic script, they are easier than Arabic to learn. But this does not mean that they are easy.

Faces of Courage - Leigh Ann Hester

MSNBC has released the second video segment honoring those who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This segment is on Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester, who was awarded the Silver Star for her actions.

To view this video, or the first, visit our Faces of Courage section - or click the image of Sergeant Hester above.

Help us to encourage MSNBC to produce and release more of these by emailing MSNBC at heroes (at) msnbc (dot) com.

Message To Musharraf

With today's discovery of two rockets outside the Pakistani parliament aimed at both the Parliament building and afp_pakistan_rocket_05oct06.jpgMusharraf's residence, it is much more difficult to believe Pakistan's quick claims yesterday that an explosion yesterday in a park near Musharraf's home had nothing to do with the Pakistani president.

Yesterday's blast seemed unusual in that there appeared no clear target, initially interpreted here as likely an accidental detonation with more sinister intent, especially when unexploded ordnance was found nearby as well. But with today's find of rockets un-launched but aimed at the parliament and Musharraf's home, the explosion surely was not accidental.

Together they should be seen as a message to Musharraf by al-Qaeda and like-minded Pakistani terrorists: "We can reach you. You are not safe."

Considering that the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance is currently trying to wrest the whole of the North West Frontier Province from Musharraf and the Pakistani government just as it did in both North and South Waziristan, the message is likely intended to twist Pakistani arms to hand over more territory to the terrorists.


We may be witnessing the very early stages of a gradual overthrow of Musharraf and the entire Pakistani government, piece by piece, and the establishment of an Islamic State in the Taliban/al-Qaeda mold...complete with nuclear weapons.

That potential reality should send shivers down the spines of the whole of the West, particularly those in Washington currently focused on political power rather than national security.

Inching Towards Conflict

The ICU and Ethiopian-backed TFG in Somalia don’t appear to be wasting any time. The Washington Post reports that the ICU has advanced to within 12 miles of the only town still controlled by the TFG. As a result, the forthcoming clash between the ICU and the Ethiopian-backed TFG seems to be one step closer.

The Islamic militia that has seized much of southern Somalia has advanced to within 12 miles of the only town still controlled by the country's weak U.N.-backed government, an Islamic official said Wednesday.

The militia reached Moode Moode on Tuesday night, said local militia leader Mohammed Ibrahim Bilal. The group has started 24-hour patrols in the area, he said.

"Our aim was to help the local residents in their fighting of bandits and to lift blockages from the road linking Baidoa to Mogadishu," Bilal told The Associated Press.

Abdirahman Dinari, a spokesman for the transitional government, described the militia's advance as "a provocative action."

Adding to this, the ICU is claiming that Ethiopian troops are shelling the town of Beledweyne. The ICU took control of Beledweyne in early August and has used it as a base to launch further incursions in Somalia.

October 4, 2006

Battling the Ghost of Reagan

The New York Times' European outlet, the International Herald Tribune, makes note of the lack of cooperation between the European Union and NATO. Without taking issue with the heart of the article, one line did jump out while reading EU and NATO bound in a perilous rivalry.

The European Union and NATO have much in common, sharing members and pursuing similar goals. But instead of cooperating on defense, analysts say, the two organizations are engaged in a bitter competition that is damaging the credibility and effectiveness of both.

The lack of cooperation is evident in Brussels, where NATO and the EU have separate headquarters eight kilometers apart. On the military level, the two organizations have competing rapid reaction forces. They compete on foreign aid missions, sometimes racing each other to the destination. They maintain separate military planning headquarters. Taxpayers foot the double bill. [Emphasis added.]

Perhaps if they sometimes raced each other to battling real and present threats - such as the one faced in the war with terrorists - as feverishly as they are perceived rushing to 'foreign aid missions,' the bickering would carry more substance.

Within that extremely limited context, it reduces Russia's objection to NATO expansion to wonkish entertainment. To the extent that Europe is left to "foot the double bill," perhaps Russia would be wise to reconsider their objections in hopes of a potential Ronald Reagan payback (defense-driven bankruptcy).

Language Skills and Counterterrorism

Michael Cutler puts it bluntly as he says We're Ignoring Simple Measures to Prevent Terrorist Infiltration of Borders & Prisons...

We face a ludicrous paradox: While we agonize over how much pressure interrogators should bear against inmates who might possess intelligence that might be critical in preventing future terrorist attacks, our government is missing what might be critical information that would not even involve the interrogation of prisoners, only the ability to read and understand the languages in which they communicate, including Arabic.

Six Plants Great Adventure

Ahmadinejad has reduced the Iranian nuclear defense to the comical. Rather than open Iranian facilities to IAEA technical expert inspections, Ahmadinejad has ordered that Iran's nuclear facilities to open for tourists in order to prove the peaceful Iranian intent.

Iran's president has ordered that the country's nuclear sites be opened to foreign tourists to prove its programme is peaceful, state media report.

No details were given on the nature of the trips, or when they might begin.

Possible attractions would include the plants at Isfahan and Natanz, or a reactor being built in Bushehr.

'Attractions.' What an interesting way to put it. Perhaps Western theme park rides are in the plans for Natanz... like the Barreling Shaheed Water Rapids, the Fission Blast Bumper Cars or perhaps the Screaming Zionist Rollercoaster.

In related news, the Iranian Mejlis is considering fingerprinting US tourists sure to flock to the new Mullah Atomic Parks System (MAPS).

An Undefended Europe: Consequence of Choice

From the Financial Times, an article titled Europe urged to cut armed forces raises the question of the seriousness with which Europe takes its own defense. Westhawk considers the potentially dire consequences if Europe addresses the situation with its customary complacency regarding security and military readiness, asking with frankness, Will Europe go undefended?

We have argued elsewhere recently that in order for the U.S. military to sustain and improve its performance in the Long War, it will have to become even smaller and more elite. So we would not argue against Europe reforming its armed forces by reducing their size.

However, Europe could find itself with the worst of both worlds. Europe’s armed forces could shrink in the years ahead as Europe’s population shrivels and defense funding dries up. Yet Europe’s armies could also remain unreformed and unusable, if Europe’s politicians resist the establishment of an elite, professional, and, dare we say, aggressively lethal military class. In this scenario, Europe would be left with a small, unreformed, and useless military force. In other words, Europe would be undefended.

Marines in the Garden of Eden

Richard S. Lowry has graciously granted OPFOR a Special Preview of his book, Marines in the Garden of Eden. A partial excerpt from Chapter 8, titled 'The Euphrates River,' as Marines battled their way into an-Nasiriyah...

The Iraqis were hiding nearby. As soon as the overhead threat was gone, they returned to their gun and resumed dropping mortar rounds into the city. Iraqis all over the battlefield were using this ‘shoot and scoot’ tactic to avoid the Marines’ withering fire.

B204 crossed the bridge and moved into downtown Nasiriyah. They turned right as enemy rounds continued to crackle overhead. Two RPGs narrowly missed Newland’s command track. Santare could see more black-clad fighters. They were hiding behind women and children and forcing families out into the streets to block the Marines line of fire. More gunmen were popping out of doorways and windows. They would unleash a few shots at the Marines and then they would disappear.

There are many books that need to be added to the reading list. Marines in the Garden of Eden is certainly not the least of them. By all accounts it appears a gripping story of a new generation of warriors, men whose names and deeds will be the tales of the double-time cadence calls of our children in their own service, as our fathers and grandfathers were ours.

Hugo Chavez: Goose and Gander

David Paulin takes another look at the world according to Hugo Chavez, and it's worth a look. From his blog, The Big Carnival...

In Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela it’s a crime to “insult” the president. The offence became part of the penal code in March and mandates prison terms of up to two and one-half years.

How fortunate for Venezuela’s president that no such laws exist in America, and that President Bush never fomented the kind of political violence and polarization here that Chavez has introduced into his country.

David continues at considerable length and with much personal insight, including having personally conducted exit polling in Caracas, and it is well worth your read.

So long as Hugo Chavez has control of Venezuela, stopping at a Citgo station remains akin to investing in the Crips or Bloods. I would not accept free fuel. I will sooner run out of gasoline and walk.

October 3, 2006

Firefighter Radios Vulnerable to Fires

Ever since September 11th, emergency radio interoperability has been among the most important priorities and critical challenges facing disaster recovery efforts. And yet, it seems that the manufacturers of this type of equipment have forgotten basic requirements while they rush new equipment into the field. So much money has been spent on first responder communications and equipment.

But a recent report by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) that found that many first responders cannot use their intra-agency radios during routine firefighting operations due to high temperatures. As temperatures increase, operability decreases.

A report in Science Magazine based on a study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology affectionately known as N.I.S.T.) that first responders can't rely on their unprotected handheld radios even in routine firefighting situations, much less in higher-temperature fires, where good communications are especially crucial.

The NIST study tested three representative radios, all having a maximum operating temperature of 140 degrees. While subjecting these radios to varying levels of heat (there are three different thermal classes to which firefighters are equipped to withstand: Thermal Class 1, with a maximum temperature of 212 degrees for 25 minutes; Thermal Class 2, with a maximum temperature of 320 degrees for 15 minutes; and Thermal Class 3, with a maximum temperature of 500 degrees for 5 minutes), the results were far from glowing (forgive the pun).

At Thermal Class 1, one of the radios shut down entirely while the others suffered significant transmission problems. None survived Class 2, and it appears the scientists involved did not even consider at that point testing at Class 3.

Detailed results and recommendations from the NIST test will be submitted to the National Fire Protection Association and other appropriate standards-setting bodies.

Our first responders, especially America's Bravest (the firefighters) deserve better.

Plan for War

The American Enterprise Institute's Michael Rubin turns in a gem today.

If a peaceful solution to the Iranian nuclear problem is to be found, it is time for Washington to plan for war. Diplomats cannot break the current impasse simply by trying more aggressive diplomacy. Tehran will only change course if it believes it faces a credible threat for defying the will of the world.

Think about it. In recent months, as international diplomatic deadlines have come and gone - and the threat of sanctions has remained a possibility - Iran has only been emboldened. At the UN last month, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Secretary General Kofi Annan that "Britain and America won the last world war, but they wouldn't win the next one, Iran would."

Just keep reading...

North Korea Bartering Nuke Test

Reports are surfacing that North Korea plans to conduct a nuclear test. The only detail from the North Korean side about the announcement of a planned test is that there was no timetable given. The North Korean government statement said that "The DPRK will in the future conduct a nuclear test under the condition where safety is firmly guaranteed.''

With no timetable given, and without doubting North Korea’s intent to test a nuclear weapon on their soil ‘at some point in the future,’ the pariah state’s announcement potentially presents itself as another attempt to remain at the forefront of international crises, similar to other bellicose attempts to further the North Korean aim of leveraging more aid. (It should also be noted here that some suspect that a North Korean weapon [or at least design] was among the multiple Pakistani bomb tests in their march toward nuclear power status.)

North Korea also blamed the United States for giving the destitute dictatorship no choice. The North Korean statement said in part, "The U.S. extreme threat of a nuclear war and sanctions and pressure compel the DPRK (North Korea) to conduct a nuclear test, an essential process for bolstering nuclear deterrent, as a corresponding measure for defense." The United States has possessed nuclear weapons during its presence on the Korean peninsula without incident, including throughout the Korean War that split north from south.

Taro Aso, the Japanese Foreign Minister, reacted swiftly and called any North Korean nuclear test "totally unforgivable," adding that Japan would react “harshly.” North Korea will be watching with interest the reaction of Japan’s new Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe.

October 2, 2006

Civilians, Warfare, and The Taliban

From the New York Times (via IHT) is an article that gets to the heart of the dispute regarding the victimization of civilians in warfare, especially as the concept is applied to Afghanistan (through the Taliban) and Lebanon (through Hizballah). Thanks to an Afghan referred to only as 'Neamatullah,' one finds unusual clarity in only four paragraphs of After Taliban battle, allies seek advantage.

NATO forces scored one of their biggest victories here this month, flushing out an area that had been swarming with Taliban insurgents in ferocious fighting. But almost immediately, a new and more difficult battle began - for support of the local people.

bq. Villagers trickling back to their homes broke into an argument over who was to blame for the heavy destruction, NATO or the Taliban.

bq. "My house was bombarded and my grape store destroyed," said Haji Bilal Jan, 48, a farmer from the upper part of Pashmul. "The coalition forces are cruel, without reason. There were no Taliban in our house, why did they bombard the house?"

bq. Another man, 45, who used the sole name Neamatullah, stopped to listen, and then countered: "Why did you let the Taliban come to your village? You brought them to your village."

The conscious decision not to act when confronted with a fundamental choice, as Neamatullah suggests, often only delays destruction rather than avoids it.

The consequences of warfare - fair or unfair - can always be traced to choices made by individuals on both sides before the onset of hostilities. It has always been and will always be that warfare will exact a toll of death and destruction from those least deserving. Only a mind reader can distinguish the dutiful supporters from the consequential. To expect such perfection during the heat of battle is to expect the impossible.

Cognitive Dissonance and Terrorism

Fully five years after America engaged in the War on Terror - one that had been declared against her over twenty years prior - it is nearly impossible to clearly define the Bush Administration's strategy for Iran, the epicenter of International Terrorism. What messages are heard making their way from Washington's corridors are often inconsistent and, at times, even incongruent with each other.

In a Bret Stephens interview with Condoleezza Rice can be found a microcosm of the recent history of self-conflicting Administration statements and stances.

Seemingly with his arms in the air and eyes rolling, Michael Ledeen reacts to the latest frustrating diplomatic media dance and calls it what it is: Cognitive Dissonance.

Stephens, shocked that Rice apparently thinks there are legitimate interlocutors in power in Tehran, presses her, and she responds, “I do not believe we’re going to find Iranian moderates... The question is, are we going to find Iranian reasonables?”

As Stephens dryly remarks, there are lots of Iranian “reasonables.” They comprise upwards of 80 percent of the population. But we are not supporting them; instead we are dithering around in negotiations designed by Europeans whose greatest fear is not Iranian terrorism, but American action in the Middle East. And when Secretary Rice starts talking about diplomacy, there is a change in focus. She’s no longer talking about the war, she’s talking about the nuclear program.

In short, she has no serious intention of challenging the Tehran regime.

To be sure, there are no palatable options when it comes to Iran. Decades of not addressing the situation have led us to this point. But furthering the charade that the answer is whatever option lies behind Curtain #3 in the International Security edition of "Let's Make a Deal" is most certainly not the solution.

For instance, The Iranians have told the world directly that their nuclear program is non-negotiable and that they seek negotiations but "will not compromise." Are we then to negotiate their sponsorship of terrorism globally? In simple terms, we are embracing a wide receiver who will not run.

But the nuclear issue is truly secondary, yet it takes popular center stage. As we have said in this space many, many times: There is a reason that Iran receives a different reaction than did India or even Pakistan with regard to nuclear ambitions and achievement. The difference is Iranian state sponsorship terrorism.


Here we are five years into a War on Terror, yet we tap-dance around the uncomfortable truth that Iran is the most clearly distinguishable state sponsor of terrorism. Yet America's engagement - having already been attacked by Iran directly multiple times and indirectly through their sponsored terror groups nearly incessantly - somehow requires IAEA and UN entanglements regarding 'nuclear rights.'

Dare we say it?

It's the terrorism, stupid.

O' Canada

Take a lesson in leadership from Canada's Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. At la Francophonie Summit, a gathering of 72 French-speaking nations, among the many resolutions, agreements and statements that such processions religiously generate was one such resolution condemning civilian losses in Lebanon. Harper refused to agree on the principle that expressing sympathy for Lebanese civilians without expressing the same for Israeli civilians was, well, wrong.

Harper stood alone. An angry Lebanese Culture Minister, Tarek Mitri, complained that Howard was the only member who opposed the original language. That mattered naught to Prime Minister Harper.

Beryl Wajsman of the Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal has good reason to be proud of Canada's Prime Minister.

The Summit was thrown into a tizzy when Mr. Harper refrained from taking his seat at what was supposed to be the closing news conference because of his opposition to an Egyptian-led, and French supported, resolution expressing concern and sympathy for Lebanese civilian victims of the recent Middle East War, without mentioning Israeli civilian victims of the naked aggression launched from Lebanese soil that precipitated the conflict. French President Jacques Chirac argued that our Prime Minister's position flew in the face of "the great majority" of the 53 member states at the conference. With typical French hypocrisy Chirac never said Harper was wrong. The implication was that it was not "expedient". And for the French, expediency trumps morality any day of the week.

But as the diplomats scurried frenzily around trying to figure out what to do in the face of conscience and character, rare commodities in their world, Stephen Harper stood his ground. While television cameras zoomed in on Canada's empty chairs at the semi-circled conference table, the Prime Minister announced, with his trademarked calm, determined eloquence, that "The Francophonie cannot recognize victims according to their nationality. Recognize the victims of Lebanon and the victims of Israel." Remarkable. No double-talk. No diplomatic babble-squawk. No eye on focus groups. Just plain-speaking, as President Harry Truman would have said.

Despite Lebanese Culture Minister Tarek Mitri's childish whine that "Everyone aggress except Canada, "all leaders headed back into closed-door session and eventually agreed to "deplore the consequences for all civilian populations". Even the churlish French and the neutral Swiss finally supported Stephen Harper's position. For one brief shining moment Canada was the world's conscience. Albert Camus was right. In this world merely "...being human is already being heroic..." And Canada finally has a Prime Minister who is very human and very heroic.

Now that is leadership.

The resulting text of the resolution, in typical French fashion, still leaves much to be desired.

About an hour later, the French delegation came up with language that was deemed acceptable to all: "In deploring the tragedy in Lebanon and its dramatic consequences for all of the civilian populations, we call for a total cessation of hostilities and a return to calm in Lebanon," the final resolution stated.

Mr. Chirac said the solution was necessary to "allow everybody to save face."

Of course there is still no tragedy yet to befall Israel. But at least some 'consequences' are recognized. And there is no one but Canada's Stephen Harper to thank for that today. Not America, not France, and certainly not the United Nations.

Few things are as inspiring as raw leadership, free of nuance and sloganeering. Thank you for that, Stephen Harper.

And thank you, Canada.

October 1, 2006

Egypt, Jordan Want Hamas Out?

Was there a secret meeting between various Arab countries and Israel's intelligence chief Yuval Diskin? Haaretz (and others) are reporting that this is what is being said in London's al-Quds newspaper, and that the Arab states are none too pleased with Hamas.

The Arabic-language London-based newspaper Al-Quds reported on Saturday that a secret meeting between Shin Bet security service chief Yuval Diskin and intelligence officials from several moderate Middle Eastern states took place recently in Jordan.

...The newspaper reports that the participants in the secret meeting included Diskin, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, a senior Jordanian official, head of Jordan's General Intelligence Department Mohammed al-Dahabi, Head of Egyptian intelligence General Omar Suleiman as well as senior officials from two Persian Gulf states that do not maintain diplomatic ties with Israel....

According to the report, representatives from Egypt, Jordan and one of the Gulf states expressed reservations over the appointment of Haniyeh or any other Hamas member to head the potential Palestinian unity government.

They also demanded of Abbas that the platform of the unity government include the conditions set by the Quartet - the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia - such as the recognition of Israel and the honoring of past agreements made between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The Jerusalem Post gets into another detail:

Egypt, Jordan and an unnamed Persian Gulf state are opposed Hamas' participation in a Palestinian unity government, according to the report. Arab officials do not want Hamas' Ismail Haniyeh - whom they consider moderate - to continue serving as PA prime minister, because they see him as ultimately subordinate to Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Mashal.

Curious, to say the least. Welcomed, but curious.

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