Opinion

The Good, The Bad & The Unknown: Understanding Syria (Part 1)

Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump and Bashar al-Assad

Filed in: Geopolitics  Author: Brendan R Hay

Given the alarming escalation of international tensions over the Syrian conflict following the alleged chemical weapons attacks in Idlib and the United States’ subsequent missile strike on Syrian Air Force bases, it is time for a review of the situation that has now been presented to Western populations through mainstream newsmedia once again as grounds for war.

According to the narrative that we are given, it is religion – specifically, the internal divisions of Islam – that drives both pro-Assad and anti-Assad forces in Syria in what seems to be a Sunni vs Shia/Opposition vs Government ‘civil war’, and not a regional battle to get rid of an international coalition of terrorist factions decimating secular societies.

This analysis targets a narrative common to most Western media. Our Australian counterparts are similarly shallow and disaffected, and rarely research their own articles on foreign conflicts, rather importing them, for an even more homogenized mass world coverage. Because the supposed facts being paraded in this – or any – inflamed crisis imported from the Western intelligence organisations and mainstream media outlets are misleading, fallacious or wrong, any reader searching for truth or an honest interpretation based on facts regarding the conflict may find themselves more confused or, worse, completely deceived about its nature.

The leading news corporations of countries like the US, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, Australia etc are holding to the agenda that supports the “we’re fighting ISIS,” and “Assad must go” group think. It can be outlined as follows:

  • The Syrian uprising was purely civilian, with terrorists groups entering the ongoing conflict later, taking advantage of the situation
  • The regime started the conflict by using violence against peaceful protestors, who then started “arming themselves” to fight back
  • To overthrow Assad The US and its allies fund, arm and train “moderate” Islamic rebel factions only
  • With complete disregard for international law and its institutions, the Syrian “criminal regime” must be toppled by an international coalition in its “Responsibility to Protect” civilians

Let’s take a look at these claims to see where they come from and what their intentions in terms of forming public opinion are.

What started as a peaceful civilian uprising against the Syrian president, turned into a bloody, armed civil war

This statement is the most important platform in the Western narrative regarding Syria, setting the stage for endless demonization of al-Assad and the Syrian government. The reality is that an opportunity was sought by the Sunni salafist regimes of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to overthrow the secular Syrian state, which was an agenda that brought them into aligment with right-wing elements of the states of Israel and Turkey, who sought a territorial foothold in the Golan Heights and Northern Syria. This, in turn, brought the support of the US and its allies to the anti-Assad coalition, and into direct opposition to the Syrian allies of Russia and Iran.

A 2006 diplomatic report by US chargé de affaires William Roebuck shows a clear intention of State Department officials regarding the regime and its ‘vulnerabilities’:

“We believe Bashar’s weaknesses are in how he chooses to react to looming issues, both perceived and real, such as the conflict between economic reform steps (however limited) and entrenched, corrupt forces, the Kurdish question, and the potential threat to the regime from the increasing presence of transiting Islamist extremists. This cable summarizes our assessment of this vulnerabilities and suggests that there may be actions, statements, and signals that the USG can send that will improve the likelihood of such opportunities arising”.

As Robert Naiman wrote in the WikiLeaks Files: The World According to US Empire, “In public, the US was opposed to Islamist ‘extremists’ everywhere; but in private it saw the “potential threat to the regime from the increasing presence of transiting Islamist extremists” as an “opportunity that the US should take action to try to increase”. Along with other advice, Roebuck suggests “playing on Sunni fears of Iranian influence… thought often exaggerated”, adding that both the “Egyptian and Saudi missions in Syria are giving increased attention to the matter and we should coordinate more closely with their governments on ways to better publicize and focus regional attention on the issue”. Fanning sectarian tensions is an old ploy, especially within strategies unconcerned by their effects on civilian societies.

Other formerly classified documents also look back into the moments before the 2011 uprising, as this heavily redacted US Defense Intelligence Agency document obtained via federal lawsuit, states: “AQI (Al-Qaeda in Iraq) supported the Syrian opposition since the beginning, both ideologically and through the media. AQI declared its opposition to the Assad’s government because it considered it sectarian regime targeting Sunnis”.

Frans Van der Lugt, killed by extremists in 2014 in Homs, suggested , in a series of formerly classified cables that the beginning of the conflict was not as simple as mainstream media states:

“I have seen from the beginning armed protesters in those demonstrations … they were the first to fire on the police. Very often the violence of the security forces comes in response to the brutal violence of the armed insurgents.” There were indeed anti-Assad protests, sometimes clashing with pro-Assad protests, but they were in many cases infiltrated or even promoted by elements with very different goals, mainly not Syrian in origin, and used for violence against civilians and peaceful protestors, policemen and soldiers. “Many opposition sympathizers started to arm themselves, first as protection and later to expel government’s forces. (The conflict) soon acquired sectarian features… this dragged into the conflict other regional forces…”

Here the article refers to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, among others. These ‘other regional forces’ became increasingly involved in a more covert fashion as the ‘uprising’ took hold.

The US and its allies fund, arm and train “moderate” Islamic rebel factions only

Earlier in the Syrian war, US officials had at least maintained the pretense that weapons were being funneled only to so-called moderate opposition groups. But in 2014, in a speech at Harvard, Vice President Joe Biden confirmed that we were arming extremists once again, although he was careful to pin the blame on America´s allies in the region, whom he denounced as “our largest problem in Syria.” In response to a student’s question, he volunteered that our allies “…were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad. Except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis (sic) coming from other parts of the world.”

Biden’s explanation was entirely reminiscent of official excuses for the arming of fundamentalists in Afghanistan during the 1980s, which maintained that the Pakistanis had total control of the distribution of US-supplied weapons and that the CIA was incapable of intervening when most of those weapons ended up with the likes of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

As an example, the “moderate” rebels from Nour al-Din al-Zenki are one of the groups supported by the CIA, who beheaded a Palestinian boy last July for the cameras and took ‘selfies’ of themselves while doing it. A few months later another incident, this time covered ‘Aleppo Media Center’, showed the world a wounded child by the name of Omran (Aylan in other reports), who then became the poster boy for the Syrian conflict by means of media exposition. The connection between this two apparently dissociated incidents goes by the name of Mahmoud Raslan, one of Omran’s rescuers and photographer, seen in the video footage of the rescue outside the ambulance holding a camera with members of the White Helmets (civilian rescuers). This individual is also in pictures with the ‘moderate’ beheaders of the Nour al-Din al-Zenki mentioned above, posing like friends on a weekend trip, blurring the already thin line between moderates, extremists and even the so-called non-partisan civilian rescuers (USAID-funded) White Helmets.

The US-led coalition in Syria claims divisions between the Sunni majority and the Alawite Shia have provoked both sides to commit atrocities that have caused not only an enormous loss in lives but the destruction of communities, strengthen positions and reduce hope on a political solution. However, the majority of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) is Sunni, and has included in the past a few Christian generals. As Kamal Alam writes for The National Interest:

The fact remains: The moderate Syrian opposition only exists in fancy suits in Western hotel lobbies. It has little military backing on the ground. If you want to ask why Assad is still the president of Syria, the answer is not simply Russia or Iran, but the fact that his army remains resilient and pluralistic, representing a Syria in which religion alone does not determine who rises to the top.
Deir-Ezzor, an entirely Sunni city which has held out against ISIS encirclement for two years—and is commanded by the Druze General Issam Zahreddine, was attacked by the US Army, who targeted an SAA base killing 62 soldiers and wounding several more, in the first direct attack from the Pentagon on a Syrian Government facility or its forces. This incident happened on September 17th and ended the ceasefire, and not the alleged Russian attack on a UN aid convoy that allegedly took place two days later.

Taking in consideration the secular character of the Syrian society and its government, all bets on sectarian originated violence should be on the rebel side, also known for establishing Sharia law courts in controlled territories.

The Syrian ‘authoritarian regime’ must be toppled by an international coalition in its ‘Responsibility to Protect’ civilians

The often-quoted Syrian Observatory of Human Rights indicates that up to September 2016, the number of deaths is 301,000. These estimates put the numbers between 250,000 and almost 500,000 victims and several millions displaced and surviving as refugees mainly in neighbor countries and Europe.

However, the sources of this information are not without an allegiance either. The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights is a one man operation located in Coventry, England. It is run by Rami Abdulrahman, a declared member of the opposition: “I came to Britain the day Hafez al-Assad died, and I’ll return when Bashar al-Assad goes,” he told Reuters in 2012. It was also revealed by the New York Times that the SOHR is funded by subsidies from the European Union and a certain European country he won’t disclose.

As geopolitical researcher and writer Tony Cartalucci notes: “…it is beyond doubt that it is the United Kingdom itself – as Abdul Rahman has direct access to the Foreign Secretary William Hague, who he has been documented meeting in person on multiple occasions at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. The NYT in fact reveals that it was the British government that first relocated Abdul Rahman to Coventry, England after he fled Syria over a decade ago because of his anti-government activities.”

John Kerry and Samantha Power reduced themselves to advocates for terrorism by campaigning against Syria and Russia in their efforts to regain Eastern Aleppo from forces made up of 50% al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda. Who are also said to dominate any other faction fighting on that side. The phrase “rebel-held Aleppo” is a mainstream media fiction fostering support for terrorism among world public opinion.

Across Syria, rebel-held areas are dotted with Islamic courts staffed by lawyers and clerics, and by fighting brigades led by extremists. Even the Supreme Military Council, the umbrella rebel organization whose formation the West had hoped would sideline radical groups, is stocked with commanders who want to infuse Islamic law into a future Syrian government. Nowhere in rebel-controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to speak of.

While honest, ethical news outlets would denounce the audacity of a government whose officials advocate for human rights and point fingers at Russia for alleged war crimes while at the same time supporting terrorism as a manner of proxy army against Syria, Western mainstream media instead acts as a sort of PR asset for power. It’s not surprising to find recent cases when high ranking diplomats and politicians are caught lying to the public, even about supposed war crimes, to be then whitewashed by media giants as the New York Times or the BBC, like the fallacy of going to war with Iraq over it’s weapons of mass destruction – a term resurrected in demonizing Syria. Sadly, this is the kind of news available to most people in the world. It is in the interests of all peaceful and reasonable people worldwide to seek a deeper understanding of the truth, when so much is at stake.

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Dancing With The Devil: Australian Uranium in Ukraine

Filed in: Geopolitics Author: Brendan R Hay

In November 2016, a group of Australian federal politicians gathered quietly to take a very quick look at an issue with very long consequences. The outcome was an agreement that has now seen Australia sign a deal to sell uranium to a nation at war with Russia.

Zaporizhia, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, is in southeast Ukraine on the banks of the Dnieper River. © Wikicommons

Zaporizhia, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, is in southeast Ukraine on the banks of the Dnieper River. © Wikicommons

There has been a lack of detailed information to support the safety and safeguards assumptions underpinning the proposed treaty action, and according to some sources the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) National Interest Analysis of the plan is deeply deficient, especially in relation to key safeguards and security concerns and the implications of the Russian conflict. The NIA’s under-stated noting that ‘political tensions currently exist between Ukraine and Russia‘ completely fails to recognise or reflect the gravity of the situation.

Any plan to supply Australian uranium to such a fraught region deserves the highest level of scrutiny.
Instead, we have tick-a-box paperwork and cut-and-paste assurances.

Just over thirty years ago, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster spread fallout over vast areas of eastern and western Europe and five million people still live in contaminated areas in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. Serious containment and waste management issues remain at Chernobyl with a massive concrete shield now under construction in an attempt to enclose the stricken reactor complex and reduce the chances of further radioactive releases.

Against this ominous backdrop there are deep concerns over those parts of the Ukrainian nuclear sector that are not yet infamous names, including very real security concerns about nuclear facilities being targeted in the current conflict with Russia.

The Zaporizhia nuclear facility is Europe’s largest and is only 200 kilometres from the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine. Some commentators have described the nuclear plants in the region as pre-deployed nuclear weapons, and there have already been armed incursions during the recent conflict period. Acts of apparent sabotage have already seen the dangerous practise of emergency power unloading at nuclear power plants in Ukraine– including the Zaporozhskaya and South Ukrainian reactors.

Australia has already suspended uranium sales to Russia and it makes an interesting political point to start selling uranium to the Poroshenko regime in Ukraine now. Along with security concerns there are serious and unresolved safety and governance issues with the proposed sales plan. President Petro Poroshenko still refuses to combat the endemic corruption that infuriates Ukrainians and strangles their economy.

Ukraine has 15 nuclear reactors, four of which are currently running beyond their design lifetime while a further six will reach this state by 2020.  That means two thirds of Ukraine’s nuclear reactors will be past their use-by date within five years. The currently contested series of license renewals and the related European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) financing of a program to upgrade safety features at Ukrainian nuclear facilities has highlighted serious deficiencies in governance, operations and compliance with contemporary international standards.

On top of that, there is growing regional concern over the risks associated with the Poroshenko administration focus on keeping the reactors running. In rushing to extend operating licences Ukraine is cutting process and safety corners and not complying with its obligations under the Espoo Convention – an international framework agreement around transboundary environmental impact assessment. In April 2013 the UN Espoo monitoring group found that license renewals at the Rivne nuclear facility were not compliant with Espoo procedures.

New life for Ukraine’s aging nuclear power plants?

New life for Ukraine’s aging nuclear power plants?

In 2013 the Eastern Partnership, a leading East European civil society forum, declared that the absence of environmental impact assessment for nuclear projects posed ‘a severe threat to people both in Ukraine and in neighbouring states, including EU member states’. Nearby nations including the governments or Slovakia, Romania and Hungary have formally and unsuccessfully called for Ukraine to provide further detail on its nuclear projects and to facilitate increased regional dialogue on this unresolved issue of concern.

The Ukrainian government’s response to continuing domestic and international disquiet over the operations of its nuclear sector was a 2015 government decree preventing the national nuclear energy regulator from carrying out facility inspections on its own initiative. This coupled with increased pressure on industry whistle-blowers and critics has done nothing to address the real risks facing the nations aging nuclear fleet.

Apart from any other reason, the Ukraine sales deal should not be advanced in the continued absence of any meaningful Australian government, agency and uranium company response to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, which was directly fueled by Australian uranium.

None of these issues have been meaningfully identified, let alone addressed, in Australian treaty action or analysis to date. The Australian government and the rest of the West must recognize this danger, drop its charade of portraying Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko as a paladin of democracy, and start forcing him to enact visible, tangible reforms. Anemic recommendations, such as the  US State Department’s vague wish for ‘a new cabinet that is committed to implementing needed reforms,’ aren’t going to cut it. The overturned states of Syria and Libya are straining Europe to the breaking point – consider what a failed state of 45 million people in the middle of Central Europe could do.

Stones From the Glasshouse: The West and the Syrian War

Filed in: Geopolitics  Author: Brendan R Hay

The West is suffering a crisis of credibility over the Syrian War.

While the governments of the Coalition of the Willing – now invested in the latest Middle Eastern crusade nobly called Operation Inherent Resolve – conduct a behind-the-lines media war on Moscow, the Russian military continues the only real war against terror in Syria in partnership with the Syrian Government, as ironic as history would have it.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov [Reuters]

Our claims to the lofty notions of a free mainstream press have now become a hollow fraud, thanks largely in part to conflicts of corporate and political interests. It seems that Putin and Lavrov’s tactic of letting the West and its media bash away at Russia endlessly seems to have worked, because the West is losing the credibility war.

This is no more obvious than the reporting of the direct bombing of Syrian soldiers at Door Ez Zair, by US and Australian air strike elements that was portrayed as “mistaken.”

That the bombing was not a mistake but rather, as several commentators have pointed out (although never in the Australian media), was much more likely to have been a deliberate sabotaging by US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s Pentagon element of the American war machine of the Kerry-Lavrov negotiated partial ceasefire.

US Secretary of State John Kerry opined (in an October 7 appearance with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault) that Russian military actions in Syria “beg for an appropriate investigation of war crimes.” French President Francois Hollande echoed the sentiment.

Secretary Kerry’s conscience apparently went untroubled by possible war crimes repercussions when US forces killed at least 42 civilians in an AC-130U gunship attack on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan a year ago this month.

 The charred remains of the Doctors Without Borders hospital hit by a U.S. airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan, is pictured on October 16. Najim Rahim/AP

The charred remains of the Doctors Without Borders hospital hit by a U.S. airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan, is pictured on October 16. [Najim Rahim/AP]

Coverage on the Aleppo battle, especially in Australia and the US, can only be called hysterical. To sample across the mainstream, one would think that East Aleppo is the only part of the city being attacked, despite the city now having been a battleground for several years due to the ISIS/ISIL and non-ISIS jihadis, who have even mined the escape corridors the Syrian army set up for civilians to get out. These jihadis are forcibly using the local population as human shields now, with not a word of this in the Western press who falls prey to the psy-ops used by both sides in Syria.

The New York Times routinely portrays the battle for East Aleppo as simply a case of barbaric Russian and Syrian leaders bombing innocent neighborhoods with no regard for the human cost, operating out of an apparent lust to kill children.

Aftermath of air strike on Qaterji in rebel-held east Aleppo.

Aftermath of air strike on Qaterji in rebel-held east Aleppo. [Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters]

Going along with Al Qaeda’s propaganda strategy, the Times and other mainstream U.S. news outlets have kept the focus on the children. A Times dispatch on Sept. 27 begins: “They cannot play, sleep or attend school. Increasingly, they cannot eat. Injury or illness could be fatal. Many just huddle with their parents in windowless underground shelters — which offer no protection from the powerful bombs that have turned east Aleppo into a kill zone…”

The reality is that US-led coalition Islamists of Al Qaeda/Al Nusra fire mortar shells into the government-held part of Aleppo every day, mutilating Syrian children as young as six, while doctors lack the medicine to relieve their pain. “What concerns us is that all parties to the conflict are committing violations against children,” UNICEF spokesperson for the Middle East and North Africa Juliette Touma told RT the previous week. “Violations against children in Syria should come to an end.”

And yet, the violence continues, despite the best efforts of those who consider it their “Right To Protect”:

  • Two children were killed and 5 others were injured as the terrorist organizations fired a rocket shell on al-Sulaimaniyeh area in Aleppo city.
  • Several children dead in Aleppo bus station shelling by rebels. A mortar shell landed right next to a bus station in the government-controlled al-Hamadaneyah neighborhood of Aleppo.
  • Terrorists of “Jaish al-Islam” and “Al-Rahman Legion” targeted on Wednesday Damascus city with mortars, injuring a child and causing material damage in the areas where the shells hit.
  • Five killed, 13 others were injured due to terrorist attacks with shells on the residential neighborhoods of Aleppo city.

In the meantime, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced a 48-hour ceasefire in the embattled city starting on Thursday to allow civilians to leave Aleppo and pave the way for aid deliveries. “The goal of this work is to separate the terrorist from the ‘moderate opposition’ and get them out of Eastern Aleppo,” the minister said.

Aside from using the humanity as more pretense, another ceasefire will mean nothing to the West. The US ended all pretense of seeking a Syrian war resolution by announcing it would discontinue joint efforts with Russia in Geneva. To embarrass the country even more, US officials once again attempted to blame the failure on Russia by claiming it was violating the ceasefire with its bombing missions to support ending the terror siege in East Aleppo.

This determined demonizing of the Syrian coalition campaign to free Aleppo has been spun as a campaign to kill the civilians when they are no threat because they are unarmed. The Russians are cast as the aggressors from the East, despite Moscow being the only nation legally operating inside Syria under international law, while the Syrian Army is portrayed as the hired goons of Assad. Left out of all those reports is any mention of the East Aleppo civilians being used as human shields, or of their corpses being used as anti-Assad propaganda. And never a word is mention that mercenaries from over sixty countries have fighters in Syria.

Blurred lines: members of Free Syrian Army or ISIS?

Blurred lines: “moderate rebels” or ISIS/ISIL? [syrianfreepress.wordpress.com]

These “rebels” are portrayed as local heroes, rather than the collection of jihadists from both inside and outside Syria fighting under the operational command of Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, which recently underwent a name change to the Syria Conquest Front. The name change and the pretense about anyone being “moderate” rebels are just more deceptions in the fog of war. The spectrum of opposition groups ranges from “moderate” brigades, backed by the US, to an alliance called Jaish al-Fatah – Army of Conquest – made up of hardline groups.

The Jaish al-Fatah group includes Jabhat al-Nusra, aligned with al-Qaeda, so they are formally designated by the United Nations as terrorists.

As journalist/historian Gareth Porter has written: “Information from a wide range of sources, including some of those the United States has been explicitly supporting, makes it clear that every armed anti-Assad organization unit in those provinces (of Idlib and Aleppo) is engaged in a military structure controlled by Nusra militants. All of these rebel groups fight alongside the Nusra Front and coordinate their military activities with it.” This reality – the fact that the US government and its allies are indirectly supplying sophisticated weaponry to Al Qaeda – is rarely mentioned in the mainstream U.S. news media, though one might think it would make for a newsworthy story. But it would undercut the desired propaganda narrative of “good guy” rebels fighting “bad guy” government backed by the “ultra-bad guy” Russians.

The War on Terror has become a War of Terror being waged in Syria where the Western media has crossed over the line into aiding and abetting that effort, with the respective governments leading the way as flag bearers of regime change by any and all means necessary.

 

What Has Been Leaked? Impacts of the Big Data Breaches

Filed in: News & Current Affairs  –  Author: JF Dowsett

It now seems that major breaches of what is supposed to be secure, privately held information are rarely out of the major media news cycles, however – as we shall see – there have been massive amounts of data lost and leaked for the better part of the last decade.

Today, information security is a priority issue not just for the IT or business sectors, but for everyone in all walks of life. The daily lives of millions or rather billions of people (around 40% of the global population, in fact) have today become enmeshed with the internet and with myriad technological devices that not only create a growing personal digital profile but also present further challenges to individual privacy and security. Intelligence agencies such as the United States’ NSA, the German BND or French DGSE – in addition to the scores of other agencies active around the globe today – keep constant tabs on everyone’s finances, movements, actions and even thoughts and feelings (as expressed in untold internet missives and social media posts). In contrast, it is mostly shadowy and anonymous networks of hackers, whistleblowers, and other tech-savvy causes that occasionally “leak” troves of information, thereby making public what was supposed to be hidden away from prying eyes.

On Sunday, 3 April 2016, news of the so-called Panama Papers took the world by surprise as a giant leak of more than 11.5 million financial and legal records records held by the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca and pertaining to numerous high-flying figures in politics and commerce around the globe. More than a year ago an “anonymous source” (appropriately enough employing the pseudonym John Doe) contacted reputable German paper the Süddeutsche Zeitung and in view of the magnitude of the information the Germans decided to analyze the data in conjunction with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The latter had the requisite experience, having previously also worked on Swiss Leaks (February 2015), Lux Leaks (November 2014), and before that on Offshore Leaks (April 2013).

The Panama Papers, however, are but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to data breaches. As reported by USA TODAY, an FBI official recently reported more than 500 million records have been stolen from financial institutions over the past 12 months as a result of cyberattacks. According to other reports, the world’s financial sectors are the most targeted, resulting in hefty costs and liabilities for organizations and customers exposed to identity theft and fraud.

Costs of Data Breaches

Data breaches by sector, 2014 [research and image ©2015 gcn.com]

Data breaches by sector, 2014 [research and image ©2015 gcn.com]

The impacts to a business or agency’s reputation suffers greatly after a loss of data. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of consumers surveyed worldwide say they are unlikely to do business again with a company that had experienced a breach where financial information was stolen, and almost half (49%) had the same opinion when it came to data breaches where personal information was stolen. This is according to a recent global survey by Gemalto, a world leader in digital security, titled Broken Trust: ‘Tis the Season to Be Wary, which surveyed 5,750 consumers in Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Japan, United Kingdom and United States. 

According to the 2015 Cost of Data Breach Study: Global Analysis, the average total cost of a data breach for the participating companies increased 23 percent over the past two years to $3.79 million. The average cost paid for each lost or stolen record containing sensitive and confidential information increased 6 percent, jumping from $145 in 2014 to $154 in 2015. The lowest cost per lost or stolen record is in the transportation industry, at $121, and the public sector, at $68. On the other hand, the retail industry’s average cost increased dramatically, from $105 last year to $165.

List of Some of the Biggest Data Breaches

A staggering volume of personal information has been lost or stolen even just looking at the period from 2000 until the present. Compiling a short list of some of the more recent, large-scale breaches may be helpful in gaining a quick overview of the size of this global issue. This is a brief list of companies, government agencies, and other entities that have had their sensitive data lost, stolen, hacked or otherwise compromised:

  • AOL, 2004 – 92 million records: A former America Online software engineer stole 92 million screen names and e-mail addresses and sold them to spammers who sent out up to 7 billion unsolicited e-mails.
  • Cardsystems Solutions, 2005 – 40 million records: CardSystems was fingered by MasterCard after it spotted fraud on credit card accounts and found a common thread, tracing it back to CardSystems.  An unauthorized entity put a specific code into CardSystems’ network, enabling the person or group to gain access to the data.
  • T-Mobile/Deutsche Telecom – 17 million records: Thieves got their hands on a storage device with the data, which included the names, addresses, cell phone numbers, and some birth dates and e-mail addresses for high-profile German citizens.
  • US Department of Veterans Affairs, 2006 – 26.5 million records: The Veterans Affairs Department agreed to pay $20 million to settle a class action lawsuit over the loss of a laptop. The department originally took three weeks to report the theft. The laptop was recovered with the data apparently intact a month after it was reported stolen.
  • TK/TJ Maxx, 2007 – 94 million records: Hackers hacked a Minnesota store wifi network and stole data from credit and debit cards of shoppers at off-price retailers TJX, owners of nearly 2,500 stores, including T.J. Maxx and Marshalls. This case is believed to be the largest breach of consumer information.
  • UK Revenue & Customs, 2007 – 25 million records: A set of discs containing confidential details of 25 million child benefit recipients was lost.
  • US Military, 2009 – 76 million records: Without first destroying or wiping its data the agency sent back a defective, unencrypted hard drive for repair and recycling which held detailed records on 76 million veterans, including millions of Social Security numbers dating to 1972.
  • Virgina Department of Health, 2009 – 8 million records: An extortion demand posted on WikiLeaks in 2009 sought $10 million to return over 8 million patient records and 35 million prescriptions allegedly stolen from Virginia Department of Health Professions.  All 36 servers were shut down  to protect records.
  • Heartland, 2009 – 130 million records: The biggest credit card scam in history, Heartland eventually paid more than $110 million to Visa, MasterCard, American Express and other card associations to settle claims related to the breach.
  • Sony Online Entertainment, 2011 – 24.5 million records: Hacked by LulzSec. In addition to the Sony Playstation Network breach, compromised 77 million records. More than 23,000 lost financial data, according to Sony.
  • Sony PSN, 2011 – 77 million records: Rounding off a thoroughly unhappy year for Sony, their third breach saw the loss of 76,000,000 Sony PSN and Qriocity user accounts to hacking collective Lulzsec.
  • Court Ventures, 2012 – 200 million records: A Vietnamese identity theft service was sold personal records, including Social Security numbers, credit card data and bank account information held by Court Ventures, a company subsequently sold to data brokerage firm Experian.
  • Apple, 2012 – 12.5 million records: Hacking group AntiSec claimed they hacked an FBI laptop in March 2012 accessing a file of more than 12 million Apple Unique Device Identifiers (UDIDs). Subsequently, it was discovered that app developer BlueToad was the source of the breach. The list contained personal information such as full names, phone numbers and addresses. AntiSec published a million of these UDIDs online.
  • Blizzard Entertainment, 2012 – 14 million records: Scrambled passwords, e-mail addresses, and personal security answers were knowingly stolen from Blizzard’s internal network. Blizzard itself would not elaborate on the size of the hack (“millions”).
  • Greek Government, 2012 – 9 million records: A computer programmer was arrested in Greece for allegedly stealing the identity information of what could amount to 83% of the country’s population. The 35-year-old was found in possession of 9 million data files containing identification card data, addresses, tax ID numbers and licence plate numbers, which he was also suspected of trying to sell.
  • LinkedIn/eHarmony/Last.fm, 2012 – 8 million records: A hacker known as ‘dwdm’ uploaded a file containing 6.5 million passwords on a Russian hacker forum. Soon after another 1.5 million passwords were discovered.  On analysis, 93% of the passwords could be found in the Top 10,000 password list.
  • South Carolina State Government, 2012 – 6.5 million records: A man was charged with five counts of violating medical confidentiality laws and one count of disclosure of confidential information after he gained access to personal information for more than 228,000 Medicaid beneficiaries.
  • Adobe, 2013 – 36 million records: Hackers obtained access to a large swathe of Adobe customer IDs and encrypted passwords & removed sensitive information (i.e. names, encrypted credit or debit card numbers, expiration dates, etc.). Approximately 36 million Adobe customers were involved: 3.1 million whose credit or debit card information was taken and nearly 33 million active users whose current, encrypted passwords were in the database taken.
  • Living Social, 2013 – 50 million records: Online criminals gained access to user names, e-mail addresses, dates of birth & encrypted passwords for 50 million people. Databases storing financial information were not compromised in the attack, the company said.
  • Target, 2014 – 70 million records: Investigators believe the data was obtained via software installed on machines that customers use to swipe magnetic strips on their cards when paying for merchandise at Target stores.
  • JP Morgan Chase, 2014 – 76 million records: The US’s largest bank was compromised by hackers, stealing names, addresses, phone numbers and emails of account holders. The hack began in June but was not discovered until July, when the hackers had already obtained the highest level of administrative privilege to dozens of the bank’s computer servers.
  • Experian/T-Mobile, 2015 – 15 million records: The world’s biggest data monitoring firm disclosed a massive breach of customers who applied for service with T-Mobile. Names, addresses, birth dates, Social Security numbers, drivers license numbers and passport numbers.
  • AshleyMadison.com, 2015 – 37 million records: Online hookup site for extra-marital affairs was been severely breached and the personal details of over 37 million users, as well as company financial records released. Notorious hacking outfit The Impact Team claimed responsibility, demanding the shutdown of AM.com and other associated sites.
  • Securus Technologies, 2015 – 70 million records: Anonymous hacker leaked records of over 70 million prison phone calls, plus links to recordings. Recording/storing attorney-client calls potentially violates constitutional protections.
  • Anthem, 2015 – 80 million records: Second-largest US health insurer Anthem failed to encrypt the stock of personal info it held. It took them 6 weeks to realise they’d been hacked.
  • Philippine Government’s Electoral Commission, 2015 – 55 million records: After a message was posted on the COMELEC website allegedly by hackers from Anonymous, warning the government not to mess with the elections, the entire database was stolen and posted online.
  • Turkish Government Citizenship Database, 2015 – 49 million records: The Turkish national citizenship database has allegedly been hacked and leaked online.
  • Mossack Fonseca, 2016 – 11.5 million records: The ‘Panama Papers’ consist of 2.6TB of data on politicians, criminals, professional athletes etc leaked from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, including emails, contracts, scanned documents and transcripts.

Implications for National Security

On June 4th 2015 the US Office of Personnel Management admitted that there was a breach in April and that the personal records of 4.2 million current and former government employees may have been compromised. This breach was linked by officials in the government to Chinese hackers though the Chinese government has vehemently denied this. The hackers it is believed entered OPM records after gaining access to the systems of KeyPoint Government Solutions sometime in 2014.

Former head of both the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency, retired General Michael Hayden has said that the data breach is a “tremendously big deal” and “The potential loss here is truly staggering and, by the way, these records are a legitimate foreign intelligence target.” Believing the breach to have originated abroad, he fears that the stolen information will be used to help recruit spies in the U.S. and abroad while outing intelligence agents around the world.

One national security consideration of data breaches is that hackers could use information from government personnel files for financial gain. In a recent case disclosed by the US Internal Revenue Service, hackers appear to have obtained tax return information by posing as taxpayers using personal information gleaned from previous commercial breaches, according to information security analysis at Forrester Research. US Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr said the government must overhaul its cybersecurity defenses. “Our response to these attacks can no longer simply be notifying people after their personal information has been stolen,” he said. “We must start to prevent these breaches in the first place.”

The Need for Information Security

Data breaches have become a regular feature of modern life, and one that will have affected most of us by now. This will continue as long as efficiency and ease of data access trump security, a state of affairs which makes economic sense for many organisations, at least until they suffer their own data breach. Once a breach happens, the value of security becomes clearer. Data breaches are inevitable, and resources invested in advance can pay dividends when a crisis occurs. It takes maturity for organizations to recognise they cannot control the narrative after a breach becomes public, and that leadership involves being honest and transparent with stakeholders to maintain credibility in difficult circumstances.

There are a wide range of motivations for malicious hackers and data thieves, and without investment in measures such as threat intelligence, any government or organization could easily spend too much or too little time and money on prevention. Some organised criminal groups have capabilities equal to nation state intelligence agencies and will be capable of overcoming nearly any private sector attempts at information security. Their ability to operate globally, to reach an ever-increasing range of targets, also continues to improve.

Encryption is one vital aspect of information security

Encryption is one vital aspect of information security

Encryption is a well-known technology that can restrict access, and its use has readily demonstrated its ability to render data useless to those who do not possess the key. This is exemplified by the uselessness of encrypted PINs and hashed passwords to cybercriminals. This is not new science or new technology; the power of cryptography to protect data is well-known and standardized.

Everyone, from individuals to organizations need to take stock of the protection of their sensitive information in order to ensure that they are fully prepared and engaged to deal with these ever-emerging data security challenges, before it’s too late.

Spinning the Panama Papers: Propaganda for the Taking

Filed in: News & Current Affairs  –  Author: JF Dowsett

Currently, there’s enough political ‘spin’ being churned and re-churned through the mainstream media to make one’s head – well, spin.

It’s been fascinating to observe the widely varied responses in international media and politics to the recent leak of the Mossack Fonseca data, popularized as the Panama Papers. Reactions have ranged from outrage, to demands for action, to claims of political agendas and intelligence operations.

Over the last few years, high profile data leaks and data dumps (Sony PSN, Ashley Madison, iCloud etc) have forced cybersecurity issues into mainstream public discussion. However, each time there is a leak it also exposes more secretive corporate practices and raises questions over the ethics of the entities in question. Indeed, there are interesting parallels in leaks such as that of Ashley Madison and more recently the Mossack Fonseca data. Both entities, while operating in vastly different industries with very different business models – one is essentially a dating website while the other is an established law firm – when it comes to the data they hold the considerations for its storage and protection and the implications of breach or compromise are very similar. Each company holds highly personal, sensitive information on individual people and their associated networks, finances, and behaviors.

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Mossack Fonseca [image via aljazeera.com]

However, the main focus of the recent Panama Papers story has not been so much about their contents but about their implications for a man who has become somewhat of an obsession for the mainstream media – Vladimir Putin. His image has been on the front page of all the Western propaganda outlets, as their campaign against the Russian leader only seems to intensify with time. The only problem for the West is that the Panama Papers have uncovered absolutely no evidence that directly connects Putin with the numerous allegations in the Western press.

From the outset there have been serious questions regarding the origin and authenticity of the Panama Papers, suggesting that the Mossack Fonseca scandal was initially being carefully managed by the Western journalistic establishment, selectively releasing stories without allowing the public to see the entire trove of documents and data. Now arguably the most important data leak and whistleblower website, WikiLeaks, has put its weight behind such allegations. On Wednesday, 6 April, this tweet appeared on the internet: “#PanamaPapers Putin attack was produced by OCCRP [i.e. the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project] which targets Russia & former USSR and was funded by USAID & Soros,” as promulgated by the official WikiLeaks twitter account (@wikileaks). Later on the same day, this tweet followed: “#PanamaPapers: WikiLeaks’ Kristinn Hrafnsson calls for data leak to be released in full.”

Guilt by Association

The Panama Papers reveal the existence of numerous offshore companies, which are basically means used to launder or simply hide money in offshore financial centres, commonly referred to as “tax havens.” Many prominent names explicitly figure in the leaked papers, names such as those of the Prime Ministers of Iceland and Pakistan, the names of the children of the president of Azerbaijan or even the name of the King of Saudi Arabia. Predictably however, in the mainstream media, with the BBC and the Guardian leading the charge the name of Russia’s President is mentioned time and again, as if the Panama Papers were primarily a leaked time-bomb about to strike the figure of Vladimir Putin hard and fast. In reality though, his name is nowhere explicitly mentioned in the Papers. Instead, the ICIJ merely talks about “associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin,” associates such as Boris and Arkady Rotenberg and Sergi Roldugin are mentioned — the first being Russian businessmen and “oligarchs,” as the West likes to refer to Russian capitalists, and the latter a Russian businessman and cellist. The Guardian went as far as calling him “Putin’s best friend,” in view of the fact that he is Putin’s daughter Maria Putina’s godfather and apparently the one who introduced Russia’s current president to Lyudmila Shkrebneva, Putin’s wife between 1983 and 2014. Thus, it seems that the Panama Papers paint Putin guilty by association. While, Vladimir Putin and the exact nature of his arguable friendships and possible business dealings are beyond my reach, the mainstream media’s fixation with the Russian President seems strangely beholden to Obama administration policy. Bloomberg’s Alan Katz, for instance, recently pointed out that Washington is planning to scour the Panama Papers for the names of “people who may have helped companies or individuals evade sanctions related to Russia’s role in destabilizing Ukraine.” With a view towards adding these names to the U.S. Treasury Department’s list of sanctioned parties of course.

The immediate reaction to news breaking of the Mossack Fonseca leak was to spend a few minutes looking at the funding sources of one of the main organizations handling the leak: the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). As listed on their own website, recent funders include George Soros’ Open Society Foundations in addition to the Ford Foundation. Their site also states that the “ICIJ was launched as a project of the Center for Public Integrity.” A look at the financial supporters of the Center for Public Integrity reveals that they include the Rockefeller Brothers Fund; the Rockefeller Family Fund; and the Open Society Foundations once again. We should remember that at the end of last year, Russia banned the Open Society Foundations and other groups owned by Soros as they were a threat to national security.

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The Center for Public Integrity [image via knightfoundation.org]

Newspapers that are the antithesis of independent and objective media have been running stories around the clock on Putin’s so-called crimes. On the 13th of April, one such paper – the Guardian – was still writing hit-pieces against the Russian President and the Russian nation. The article titled: ‘So what if Putin is corrupt?’: Russia remains unmoved by offshore revelations, is an affront to objective journalism and human intelligence, and is merely another article demonizing the Russian people. The reaction in the media and subsequent political discussions allude somewhat to the intentions of those behind the release of the Mossack Fonseca files.

National Socialist and Intelligence background of Mossack Fonseca

From the Daily Mail of :

The man behind a Panama ‘tax scam’ that guards the clandestine wealth of the global elite is the son of a Nazi SS officer from a unit known as the ‘Death’s Head division’. Jürgen Mossack is at the heart of the biggest financial data leak in history, and has allegedly been helping world leaders, politicians and celebrities launder money, dodge sanctions and evade tax from his base in Panama.

It has now been revealed that his father, Erhard Mossack, was a member of the Nazi fighting unit known as the ‘Death’s Head division’, a dreaded force during the Second World War.

According to reports, U.S. Army intelligence archives hold a file on him as he allegedly offered his services to the U.S. government as an informant, claiming ‘he was about to join a clandestine organisation, either of former Nazis now turned Communist… or of unconverted Nazis cloaking themselves as Communists.’

The old intelligence files indicate that Mossack’s father later ended up in Panama, where he offered to spy, this time for the CIA, on Communist activity in nearby Cuba.

It’s also worth not­ing that the Inter­a­gency Work­ing Group which was set up in 1999 to find and dis­close infor­ma­tion related to inves­ti­ga­tions of Nazi and Japan­ese WWII war crimes does con­tain a record for Erhard Mos­sack in the sec­tion for FBI files. There isn’t much infor­ma­tion avail­able, but in the “cat­e­gory” sec­tion for Mos­sack it lists “For­eign Coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence (For­merly Inter­nal Secu­rity, For­eign Intel­li­gence)”, indicating that the US likely took Mos­sack up on his offer.

Although the media have focused – predictably – on asso­ciates of Vladimir Putin and Chi­nese pres­i­dent Xi, other clients of Mos­sack Fon­seca include Imee Mar­cos, daugh­ter of the late dic­ta­tor Fer­di­nand Mar­cos and Car­men Thyssen-Bornemisza, daugh­ter of Hein­rich Thyssen-Bornemisza.

So we can see then that this alleged leak likely has its origin in a Western capitalist intelligence operation spearheaded by Soros/Rockefeller network entities such as the Center for Public Integrity and the Open Society Foundations to further this concerted propaganda campaign against Russia and the enemies of the West. Even though the Panama Papers have caused a little trouble for a few token puppets of the Anglo-American establishment – David Cameron for instance – the main focus of the leaks has been to target the forces that have stood up to the West – Putin, Assad etc.

 

The South China Sea: Complicating Sino-Australian relations

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (L) talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi after their joint news conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, China, February 17, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (L) talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi after their joint news conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, China, February 17, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Recently, some of the gloss has come off the charmed relationship between the countries of Australia and China, which have enjoyed the have a long history of mutually beneficial economic cooperation. The spanner in the works has become the increasing confrontation between China and other Asia-Pacific alliances for control over the South China Sea.

International media coverage of the construction of Chinese military bases and the stationing of ground-to-air missiles systems on the Paracel and Spratly Islands was particularly disturbing to Australian authorities. Addressing all countries involved in the conflict, Australia called for the termination of the militarization of the South China Sea, in which it sees a threat to the security of the region, as well as the cessation of economic development due to the possible restrictions for sea and air traffic. Australia has also demanded that China cease the construction of artificial islands, and has also formally expressed its support to the Philippines, which appealed to the International Court of Arbitration in The Hague over the legality of China’s maritime claims.

Over the past five years, bilateral trade volume has grown by about fifty percent, prior to the commencement of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement which took place in June 2015. As both nations continue to make their respective mutual investments, we see that Australian companies are now widely represented on the Chinese market, and in addition student exchange and tourism programs are developing and gaining market traction. In a speech in October 2015, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull looked forward to a “golden age” of Australian-Chinese relations.

However, in a February 2016 official visit to China by Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop, discussions with Chinese authorities focused on the developing situation in the South China Sea. Foreign Minister Bishop brought up Xi Jinping’s statement from the previous year, recalling that China did not want to militarize the area of the challenged islands. Australian media reports also detailed Chinese denials by Ministry of Defense in Taiwan that a missile defense system was stationed on one of the Spratly Islands. However, on February 17 2016, at the joint press conference with his Australian counterpart, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi re-stated the state’s right to self-defense and that the construction of the military infrastructure on the islands was entirely legal.

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei also made a number of statements in which he urged Australian leadership to make an objective and unbiased assessment of the events in the region to fully understand the situation and avoid making rash statements. He also said that the islands in the South China Sea are primordial Chinese territory in which China has a right to station defensive targets, that it has been doing so for the last decade and that it does not constitute a ‘militarization’ of the region, nor does it harm the free sea and air transportation in the region.

Despite these differences, the development of bilateral economic relations continues. During Foreign Minister Bishop’s visit to China, an agreement was reached on expanding military cooperation between Australia and China. Commenting during the visit of his Australian colleague, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, said that the two countries had reached agreement on a “comprehensive strategic partnership”. Yi also mentioned agriculture, education, tourism, energy, and the strengthening of maritime traffic between the countries among the most promising areas of the Australian-Chinese cooperation. The latter was to be given special attention as it implies Australia’s involvement in the ‘New Silk Road’, the most important international trade project for Chinese authorities currently.

One of Foreign Minister Bishop’s claims in mid-February was that China and Australia had long been successfully cooperating in the spheres of trade and security, and that the two countries indeed plan to run joint military exercises in the near future. However, just a week later the Australian Government leadership made statements to which China reacted negatively. On February 25 Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull stated that Australia was planning to significantly increase its military budget and to strengthen the combat capabilities of the Navy to protect its interests in the Asia-Pacific region. This was seen by many as due to the increase in military power of China and its expansion in the South China Sea. In addition, Turnbull expressed support from the part of Australia to the military presence of US in the Asia-Pacific that Australian Prime Minister called “the most important strategic partner of Australia.” According to him, the US military maintains stability in the region. It is difficult to say how much current stability in the region depends on the United States, whose influence there is weakening with each year. However, the Australian leadership clearly designated its position. Perhaps, Australia wants to reinforce its own armed forces because of this weakening of the US presence. Also, Canberra has again negatively reacted to the Chinese actions in the South China Sea.

At the same time, Marise Payne, Australian Minister for Defense, said that Australia plans on military cooperation with China, which Julie Bishop talked about; however, on some issues related to security in the Asia-Pacific region, the views of countries may not coincide, and Australia will increase its presence in the region. Beijing criticized Canberra’s plans to reinforce its military capabilities. Besides, Australia has recently expressed a desire to participate in future naval exercise ‘Malabar’, which has been carried out by the United States and India since Year 1992, and in which Japan took part in Year 2015. These exercises have caused repeated protests from the part of the Chinese government.

In response, a statement of the Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed the hope that Canberra would change its position and reconsider its views on the Chinese policy.

It could be said that the Australian-Chinese strategic relations are indeed headed for rough waters. Both countries are strong players in the Asia-Pacific region and have their own interests. However, in order to maximize the furtherance of its own interests, Australia continues to try and maintain constructive relations both with the United States and with China, despite their competition for influence in the region. Australia is also one of the founders of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank launched by the Chinese initiative to finance the ‘New Silk Road’ project, so we may assume that, in spite of the current differences, both Australia and China are unlikely to seek any form of diplomatic complication in the South China Seas.

Australian military action in Syria and international law

Four Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18F Super Hornet aircraft in "echelon right" formation in the Middle East Region.

Four Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18F Super Hornet aircraft in formation in the Middle East [image via defence.gov.au]

The decision that Australian forces were going to join the US-led bombing campaign in Syria was announced in early September 2015 and the first bombing was carried out over the weekend of 12 and 13 September 2015. No legal basis on which the decision had been made was ever given by the Australian Federal Government. There was next to no debate in Parliament, but even if there had been it is unlikely that the Labor Party (ALP) would have opposed it given their recumbent position on all matters relating to national security.

Of the few meaningful discussions that took place in the Senate, it was only Senator Richard di Natale, the Green Party (a minority party holding one House of Representatives seat and 10 Senate seats) leader, and Senator Scott Ludlum (Greens) the only ones to raise further questions over the actual legality of the proposed military action. It took two months for the Foreign Ministry to give any kind of reason at all. On 16 November 2015, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop appeared on ABC National Radio to announce that the decision to join the US bombing was made in response to a request from the Iraqi government pursuant to the collective self-defence provisions of Article 51 of the UN Charter.

The problem for the Australian government however, was that the Office of the Prime Minister of Iraq issued an official statement on 3 December 2015 renewing the Iraqi government’s “emphasis on the lack of need for foreign troops in Iraq and that the Iraqi government is committed to not allowing the presence of any ground forces on the land of Iraq, and will not ask any side, whether regional or from an international coalition to send ground troops to Iraq.” The Prime Minister of Iraq’s statement went on to repeat the Iraqi government’s position that it had asked for air support for Iraqi forces operating within Iraq. It further demanded that no activity of any kind be undertaken without the prior approval of the Iraqi government. It would appear that the Iraqi government has a firmer grasp of the limitations on military actions imposed by international law than the Australian government.

That Julie Bishop claimed the military intervention was at the request of the Iraqi government, contradicted what the government had itself said in August and then again in December 2015. According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald the government of then Prime Minister Tony Abbott had “pushed for Washington to request that Australia expand its air strikes against Islamic State from Iraq into Syria.” This was presumably to engender support for his coalition’s flagging popularity. In acknowledging in August 2015 that the “invitation” was solicited, there was no mention then of any legal considerations that the government would have to consider. The further issue of how it was legally possible, under international law, for the United States to have any basis of inviting any country to join its bombing campaign in Syria, was never mentioned.

It further exemplifies the arrogant characteristic of western foreign policymakers that continue to assume the right to bomb countries, and regularly invites other allies to follow suit.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop [image via 2gb.com]

In a radio interview of 16 November 2015 Ms Bishop never made mention of any US request for support, or that the former Prime Minister had prompted such a request. She instead claimed that the invitation had come from the Iraqi government of Haider al-Abadi. As we shall examine, this claim was spurious in nature.

The United Nations Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 2249 On 20 November 2015. Although widely reported is mainstream press such The Telegraph as the UN authorisation of military action to “…eradicate ISIS safe havens in Iraq and Syria,” it was, importantly, not an all-clear to attack any Syrian territory. The resolution still commits all member states to “take all necessary measures, in compliance with international law, in particular the UN Charter……on the territory under the control of ISIL also known as Daesh, in Syria and Iraq.”

The issue for the Australian government is that, while it claims to operate within international law, Resolution 2249 did not authorise any action outside the terms of the UN Charter, and its use of military force in Syria falls outside of the conditions set forth in Article 51. That means that any action would have to be either in self-defence or by special resolution of the Security Council. So far in terms of Australia, neither condition exists. That leaves only the notion of collective self-defence. As the only semblance of legal respectability that the coalition government was able to come up with, the claim relied upon the fact that Australia was acting at the alleged request of the Iraq government.

A letter sent by the Australian government to the Security Council on 9 September 2015 confirms the Australian government’s reliance upon the purported request by the Iraqi government. Communication notifying the UN Security Council of military action against another sovereign State is required under the terms of the UN Charter. The Abbot government’s letter to the Council stated that the Syrian government was “unable or unwilling” to prevent attacks from inside its borders being launched on Iraq. A highly contentious claim, the argument seems to have no foundation in international law. The United States and the United Kingdom are the only States to have officially endorsed the “unwilling or unable” doctrine and it could be argued that their vested interests in doing so are apparent. Their bombing coalition in Syria is intervening militarily to vindicate Iraq’s self-defense interest as a case of individual or collective self-defense. The letter went on to say “in response to the request for assistance by the government of Iraq, Australia is therefore undertaking necessary and proportionate military operations against ISIL in Syria in the exercise of the collective self-defence of Iraq.”

Possible reasons for its rejection as a doctrine in international law is the precedence for the extraterritorial use of force against non-state actors. The doctrine would effectively allow a back door pathway to avoiding restrictions placed on member states by Article 51 of the UN Charter that the use of force must be employed legitimate national self-defence or with the express consent of the Security Council. It is concerning to find the doctrine in an official letter from the Australian government to the UN Security Council.

Prime Minister of Iraq Haider al-Abadi [image via news.yahoo.com]

Prime Minister of Iraq Haider al-Abadi

The Iraqi government statement of 3 December 2015 directly counters Ms Bishop’s claim of the Australian government bombing in Syria being at the behest of the Iraqis. The government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi destroyed any potential legality for Australia’s military actions. There are however, further legal problems for the Australian government’s actions in Syria. The International Court of Justice has twice in recent years declared the concept of “collective self-defence” not applicable when the “defence” is against non-State actors. ISIS, while being an organized community living under a provisional government is not a sovereign state in any true sense, so if Iraq had asked for such help against ISIS in Syria, (which as we have seen it did not) such a request would have still had no legal basis.

Predictably, the Australian mainstream media had given only small treatment of Foreign Minister Bishop’s original announcement that Australia was intending to send bombers to Syria, and some light coverage when those operations commenced in September 2015. Almost no coverage was given to the legal questions of joining the bombing campaign, and no report of the government’s Security Council letter and and its dubious claims. The statement from the Office of the Prime Minister of Iraq was ignored also, as it would have undermined the editorial support for the government’s actions.

A significant development in the story was the extent of the actual bombing runs in Syria flown by the Australian Air Force. The Department of Defence issues the activities of the Air Task Group in Iraq and Syria. These reports show that the F/A-18 fighter-bomber contingent of the Australian Air Force flew 18 sorties in Syria in September 2015 for a total of 143 operational hours. This was the month the operations commenced but was also – interestingly – the month that the initial operations abruptly ended. The DoD figures show that zero sorties were flown in Syria in October and November and just 10 in December.

This development may, however, have something to do with the Russian military intervention in the Syrian conflict. Clearly, for all parties involved in the conflict this has been nothing short of a game changer. Unlike the position of the US-led coalition, the Russians intervened at the specific request of the Syrian government. Therefore, there are no doubts about the legitimacy of such action under international laws. The Russian intervention, while on a relatively small scale, has been devastatingly effective. Not only have ISIS forces obliged to seek cover from air attacks, having enjoyed apparent immunity from the West and its allies during the preceding year, there has been a major disruption of their logistical support lines.

Through analysis of the subsequent Russian air reconnaissance and satellite imagery, it has been clearly established that ISIS had been transporting stolen Iraqi and Syrian oil across the Turkish border, that was then sold on the Middle East black market oil trade through a company with close ties to President Erdogan of Turkey. Weapons and vehicles were in turn being shipped back across the Turkish border into Iraq and Syria to support ISIS operations. Evidence also emerged that wounded ISIS fighters were being treated in Turkish and Israeli hospitals and trained in Turkish and Jordanian jihadist camps among other places. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have both pointed to the financial and material support ISIS and other jihadist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and Al-Qaeda in Iraq receive from other countries in the region.

Russian S-400 "Triumf" anti-aircraft missile system

Russian S-400 “Triumf” anti-aircraft missile system [image via rt.com]

After the Turkish shootdown of one of their Su-24 bombers, the Russians have also since installed the sophisticated S400 air defence system in Syria. This brings anti-aircraft capabilities to their forces and the Syrian Armed Forces, giving them the capacity to shoot down any unauthorized aircraft in Syrian air space. While a purely speculative assumption, it may also be a reason why the Australian Air Force bombing of Syria ceased abruptly for two months after the Russian intervention. It is unfortunate that the Australian government at the time had neither the moral fortitude nor sufficient faith in the Australian people to either provide clear information on the origin of the request for intervention in Syria or to inform of the decision to temporarily withdraw from a war there was no business in pursuing in the first place.

Perhaps a new Australian foreign policy direction is currently being sought, as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has acknowledged that if “boots on the ground” are needed to defeat ISIS, local and regional troops are the key. This could be a signal that policy focus will shift from military action to pragmatism. In a speech at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, the Prime Minister addressed the contentious issue of ground troops directly, having just visited Australian soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The destruction of ISIL requires military action including boots on the ground but they must be the right boots on the right ground,” he said. Turnbull has also previously stated that he believes “pragmatism and compromise” are the keys to success in Syria, albeit the success referred to is still the ‘Assad must go’ goal of the US-led coalition.

Heating up the New Cold War: Turkey and Russia in Syria

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Russian Sukhoi Su-24 bomber [image via rt.com]

The recent downing of the Russian Sukhoi Su-24 by Turkish air force F16s in a provocative test of alliances in the volatile Syrian War region is an indication of what is at stake not only for the West but for the other nations and interests piling into the conflict. This new meeting of eastern and western alliances in Syria bears more than a superficial resemblance to the Imperial house of cards that was on the verge of collapse in Central Europe a little over a century ago. Now, with the eyes of the world on the Syrian War, Turkish fighter jets on patrol near the Syrian border shot down the Russian warplane in November after claiming it violated Turkey’s airspace, in what has become a long-feared escalation that is straining relations between Russia and the West and bringing the spectre of NATO military action to the scenario.

Escalating Tensions

The Syrian War – for the Western anti-Assad coalition – is being waged as a multidimensional chessboard proxy war spearheaded in part by Turkey itself, amid Russia’s joint military operations with Syria against the self-proclaimed ‘Islamic State’ (ISIS) and supporting terrorist factions. An escalation of tensions particularly with Russia has been expected not because the Turkish government actually fears Russian warplanes crossing parts of their borders pose a distinct threat to its security or national sovereignty, but because it has been obvious particularly since NATO’s aggressive stance toward Russia over eastern Ukraine, that once Moscow sent aircraft to Syria another shootdown shrouded in mystery would be an opportunity for geopolitical leverage to good to miss.

In addition to Turkish military having cameras rolling as the Russian Su-24 bomber went down in flames, terrorists operating in the region had allegedly rushed to the scene of the crash shortly after the incident, according to Reuters. One of the pilots was killed by ground arms fire as they tried to eject to safety, in direct violation of the Geneva Convention. Turkish President Racciyp Erdogan it then went on to demand that the NATO Council convene, although not only wasn’t Turkey attacked, but rather itself committed an act of aggression. While Turkey maintains that it was only reacting in self-defense – it was against aircraft that were not engaged in actions over Turkish airspace or against the Turkish national military.

In order to justify its actions the Turkish Army has made radar footage public, footage that was supposed to have confirmed a breach of national sovereignty. The release, however, clearly shows that the Russian jets passed over what amounts to a sliver of Turkish territory, a small Turkish strip inside the Syrian mainland. The Turkish state broadcaster Haberturk TV showed footage of the downed Russian jet, trailing a long plume of smoke trailing behind it as it crashed in a wooded part of an area apparently known as ‘Turkmen Mountain.’

Pan-Turkism in the Middle East

In Turkey, the Anatolian Agency released images of two pilots parachuting out of the jet before its crash. The Turkish media have since commenced a tirade of coverage stressing that the affected area inside Syrian territory is held by Turkmen opposition groups, and not anti-Assad terrorists. Hence, the story being sold is that the Russian campaign is not aimed at rooting out ISIS, but rather at protecting the Assad regime against its opponents, the alleged ‘moderate opposition’.

The shootdown of a Russian jet con­duct­ing oper­a­tions against Turk­men mili­tia pulls back the cur­tain on known Pan-Turkist militant ele­ments such as the Grey Wolves that con­sti­tute part of the so-called ‘mod­er­ate’ rebel forces being armed by the West and Turkey. It now seems they were the mili­tia unit responsible for the killing of the Russ­ian pilot of the SU-24. Grey Wolf ele­ments have also been active in sup­port of the Mus­lim Turkish Uighurs in resource-rich Xin­jiang Province in northwestern China which shares part of its borders with Russia. After Thai­land extra­dited some ethnic Uighurs to China to face crim­i­nal charges, the Grey Wolves demon­strated against China in Turkey by det­o­nating a bomb in Bangkok on 17 August 2015, tar­get­ing Chinese tourists.

From Turkey to Ukraine, Crimean Tatars are sup­ported by Erdo­gan, who has been attempt­ing to real­ize a neo-Ottoman agenda. Now, the Tatars are work­ing with the OUN/B heirs in Ukraine’s Pravy Sek­tor to sab­o­tage the Crimean power grid. The attack on the elec­tri­cal grid came after a Tatar/Pravy Sek­tor col­lab­o­ra­tion in block­ing over­land truck deliv­er­ies to Crimea, as well as the Crimean water supply.

Threat of use of nuclear ordnance

The type of combat scenario seen in Syria inevitably raises the prospect of the someone in the region resorting to the use of nuclear ordnance. Not only are there American nuclear weapons in Turkey, with up to fifty B61 nuclear bombs in Erdogan’s hands with limited oversight, Turkey is the other nuclear power in the Middle East along with Israel, and the two have been working closely together since the 1940s.

In the context of the Syrian conflict it is a critical consideration – these B61 bombs, dangerous as they already are, have been slated for what the nuclear non-proliferation community has termed an illegal modification. From The Guardian:

“… In non-proliferation terms however the only thing worse than a useless bomb is a ‘usable’ bomb. Apart from the stratospheric price, the most controversial element of the B61 upgrade is the replacement of the existing rigid tail with one that has moving fins that will make the bomb smarter and allow it to be guided more accurately to a target. Furthermore, the yield can be adjusted before launch, according to the target.

“The modifications are at the centre of a row between anti-proliferation advocates and the government over whether the new improved B61-12 bomb is in fact a new weapon, and therefore a violation of President Obama’s undertaking not to make new nuclear weapons. His administration’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review said life extension upgrades to the US arsenal would ‘not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities.’

“The issue has a particular significance for Europe where a stockpile of 180 B61s is held in six bases in five countries. If there is no change in that deployment by the time the upgraded B61-12s enter the stockpile in 2024, many of them will be flown out to the bases in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Turkey.“

In early 2015, Turkey had 117 of its F16 aircraft modified. These upgrades included avionics, electronic warfare and targeting, but also included upgrades for some of their aircraft to nuclear capability.

The United States keeps its nuclear inventory in Turkey at Incirlik Air Force Base, where specially modified NATO F16s are intended to carry these weapons against Russian cities. However, by agreement, none of America’s specially modified planes are actually stationed in Turkey.

The alternative that Erdogan and select NATO commanders found was a simple: as Turkish and Israeli pilots already trained together against the ‘common enemy’ – Iran – Israel could train Turkish crews to deliver the newly modified and much more lethal B61 guided warhead and could complete the modification on some of the upgraded Turkish aircraft to full nuclear capability.

These aircraft with targeting intelligence allegedly stolen from the US by Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, are ready to be deployed at any time or as part of a yet to be determined cabal of other ‘unannounced nuclear states,’ such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Israel or Germany, could prove a first strike capability.

Analysis of Russian response

In recent weeks with Russian air support, Syrian troops have retaken large swaths of territory from ISIS, Al Qaeda, and other terrorist fighters. The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has even begun approaching the Euphrates River east of Aleppo, which would effectively cut off ISIS from its supply lines leading out of Turkish territory.

From there, Syrian troops could move north, into the safe zone the US and its Turkish partners have long-sought but have so far failed to establish within Syria’s borders. This ‘safe’ or ‘no-fly’ zone includes a region of northern Syrian stretching from Jarabulus near the west bank of the Euphrates to Afrin and Ad Dana approximately 100 kilometers west. Taking the Jarabulus-Afrin corridor and fortifying it against NATO incursions while simultaneously cutting off ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and other terrorist factions deeper within Syria would be perhaps the most decisive of all possible actions. With Syria secured, an alternative arc of influence will exist within the Middle East, one that will inevitably work against Saudi and other GCC efforts in Yemen, and in a wider sense begin an eviction of Western military hegemony from the region.

If Syrian coalition troops retake this territory, the prospect of the West ever making an incursion into Syria, holding territory, or compromising Syria’s territorial integrity would be lost forever. Western ambitions toward regime change in Damascus would be indefinitely suspended.

For Turkey’s government – which has been consistent only in its constant failure regarding its proxy war against its neighbouring Syria and now alleged to be supporting ISIS – the prospect of Russian retaliation either directly or indirectly will leave it increasingly isolated.

The Hidden War: Saudi Arabia vs. Yemen

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Yemenis search for survivors under the rubble of houses in a UNESCO-listed heritage site in the capital, Sana’a, following an overnight Saudi airstrike, June 12, 2015. (Photo by AFP)

There’s a war going on and not everyone knows about it.

Not many here in Western nations like Australia and the US – for every day, Saudi Arabian cruise missiles and bombs are being launched into the country of Yemen. Homes, hospitals, schools, and mosques are being destroyed while at the same time United Arab Emirates and Sudanese ground forces have also crossed its borders. Over 7,000 people are dead as fighting continues. The war has been going on without cease since January of 2015, but the mainstream media is all but completely silent about it.

The current war in Yemen should actually be of great interest to the allies of the US-led coalition forces in their Middle East adventures — particularly because that government is actively involved, in effect taking sides in the conflict, as the Saudi cruise missiles and arms used by the Sudanese and Emirati troops are supplied by the United States. High-ranking Pentagon staff are also in Saudi Arabia advising king Salman bin Abdulaziz and the his military, with US defense satellites assisting the Saudi forces in reconnaissance and target selection. The general populations in the West need to be informed about a war that their governments are actively participating in, yet time continues to go by without our mainstream media corporations even making the slightest mention of Yemen or the extensive war taking place there.

One of the reasons western media is ignoring the war in Yemen is because the US position is indefensible. The United States is effectively aligned with the repressive monarchies of the UAE and Saudi Arabia in their support of Sunni extremist terrorism, in this instance intended to oppress the Yemeni people and their aspirations for self-determination and desire for democracy.

The origins of the Saudi-Yemeni conflict go back to the Arab Spring of 2011. The streets of Sana’a and Aden overflowed in a mass uprising agitating for democracy against the Saudi-backed dictatorship of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Yemeni Sunnis, Shias, and secular forces stood together demanding control of their country. The Ansarullah forces, also called known as Houthis,’ a Zaidi Shia group from Sa’dah in northern Yemen, have military experience and discipline. They won the respect of many people in the country during the street battles of 2011.

After the 2011 uprising, Yemen went on to experience a period of social upheaval as people’s assemblies began to spring up and broad democratic debate took place. However, the hopeful moment abruptly came to an end with a rigged election. As the only candidate on the ballot the Saudi-backed Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi was declared the president.

The Zaidi Shias in the Ansarullah organization, the socialists and communists of the southern independence movement, the Arab Spring party of the more secular urban demographic and even some Sunni religious factions all refused to accept the new paradigm and were determined not to surrender.

MohammedAbdulsalam

Mohammed Abdulsalam, the spokesman of Yemen’s Houthi Ansarullah (AFP photo)

In response to the one-man election and the fraught transition process the Ansarullah organization formed a people’s committee to take up arms and continue the revolution. The transitional process was disrupted by conflicts between the Houthis and Islah, as well as the al-Qaeda insurgency. Islah is a loose coalition of tribal and religious elements with origins in the Islamic Front, a Muslim Brotherhood affiliated militia funded by Saudi Arabia.

In the northern regions of Yemen Ansarullah carved out liberated territories in the countryside, built alliances and made compromises — gradually preparing to seize power. Former President Saleh, a rival of Hadi, was then able to reach a diplomatic agreement with them.

The Ansarullah forces marched into the capital city of Sana’a in January 2015 and seized power. The People’s Committee became the new government and called for a constituent assembly. The people’s assemblies originally formed during the Arab Spring 2011 uprising were restored and local community militias raised to defend the revolution. By February the ‘rebels’ were in control of the capital of Sana’a.

The barrage of Saudi missiles and bombs was launched in response to the gains made by the Ansarullah revolution. The Saudi royal family, the Israeli regime, and the United Arab Emirates are all seeking to restore Mansour Hadi to his position as their dictator of choice. Now still another force has joined this axis against the People’s Committee – ISIS.

The ISIS forces, who consider Ansarullah to be “shia apostates,” have set up shop in Yemen as well, seeking to bury the revolution with suicide bombings, kidnappings, and beheadings.

Currently, Shi’a Houthis are fighting against the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, and Saudi Arabia. The US supports the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen against the Houthis, but many in US SOCOM reportedly favor Houthis, as they have been an effective force in order to roll back al-Qaeda and recently ISIS in Yemen.

As in Syria, the United States has allied with Saudi Arabia, ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and a collection of autocratic Islamic monarchies against the Yemeni people’s Revolutionary Committee seeking to forge a constitutioal democracy.

Another important geopolitical consideration for the situation in Yemen is the fact that it has vast untapped oil resources. However, this oil remains in the ground, as Yemen remains under the stifling influence of Saudi Arabia. One of the key policies of the People’s Revolutionary Coalition is a commitment to begin extracting and refining Yemen’s oil resources under public control. Yemen is currently one of the poorest countries in the entire world, but this could rapidly change if it began exporting oil. Yemen has the potential for lucrative economic diversification similar to Iran or Venezuela, where public control of natural resources has laid the foundation for an anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist government and a vibrant independent economy.

The revolutionary coalition maintains control of the capital of Sana’a. Despite their enemies having far more sophisticated weaponry, the people’s coalition has sunk Saudi naval vessels, launched homemade rockets across the Saudi border, and defeated the heavily armed US-trained troops from the United Arab Emirates in retaliation for the onslaught.

The Defense Minister of Iran, Hossein Dehghan, recently responded to the allegations that Ansarullah were nothing more than Iranian proxy warriors. When Ashton Carter stated in an interview with Atlantic Monthly that the war in Yemen was the result of Iranian influence, Dehqan responded, “US Secretary of Defense [Carter] had better go over his past record in this position of authority and reconsider his bully-like and aggressive stances and talk more sensibly and circumspectly.”

The Iranian angle is often presented in the rare instances Western media report on the conflict and recalls the US propaganda used during the Cold War. The ideological war between Marxist-Leninists and Western capitalism was supposed to have long been over. We are seeing now, however, that the world is rapidly re-polarizing and that one of the battles of the new century is a war between Western capitalism and those who reject it for independence and self-determination. In Yemen, those who demand independence, democracy, and control of their own natural resources are fighting and continue to prevail against some of the most well armed powers in the world.

The international financial cartel headquartered jointly in Wall Street, London, Geneva and Tel-Aviv has disillusioned much of the world. It has not delivered the utopia of abundance promised by Rand or Friedman. The neoconservative interventionist reality has led to violent social and economic devastation, as is obvious in the current state of the Middle East. The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization are presiding over the bankrupting of the Western middle classes just as willingly as they are continuing to facilitate the exploitaton and impoverishment of the developing world. The Bretton-Woods cartels have no loyalties, even to their countries of origin.

State-sponsored terror: what is ISIS in Paris?

 French police secure the area as shots are exchanged in St. Denis, France, near Paris, November 18, 2015 during an operation to catch fugitives from Friday night's deadly attacks in the French capital. Credit: Benoit Tessier/Reuters

French police secure the area as shots are exchanged in St. Denis, France, near Paris, November 18, 2015 during an operation to catch fugitives from Friday night’s deadly attacks in the French capital. © Benoit Tessier/Reuters

It isn’t unusual to observe a progression from grief, to outrage, to retaliation after events like those that took place in Paris on November 13th, but it has been interesting to see how quick the escalation from those attacks to increasing the volatile stakes in Syria with air strikes on Islamic militants has taken place. It can safely be assumed that what we have come to know as ISIS now has ‘sleeper cells’ – if indeed the term is still relevant in the new paradigm – that can be found in all major European countries, along with the US, Canada and even Australia – yet this particular attack was carried out in France, further adding to its very recent list of vicious militant atrocities against its civilians.

In a country where national security and intelligence agencies are generally known for their competence, usually working in close cooperation with their NATO allies, it is a staggering prospect to conclude that the French security forces could have missed the preparations for such a carefully planned and well organised attack coordinated across no less than six targets simultaneously, especially given the recent increase in surveillance and powers of detention given to their police and intelligence establishments. However, now that the understandable yet often misguided rage provoked in the populations of France and other Western nations by the terrorist attacks in Paris has begun to simmer down, different analysts and intelligence agencies are now starting to try and establish why that city in particular was selected as the target for these attacks.

This attack was also carried out differently from previous terrorist attacks by ISIS, moving from cars packed with explosives and suicide bombers to intimidate its rivals in the Levant to Paris where we witnessed hostage-taking and raging urban gun battles – more like the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in January – a very different modus operandi for the Middle Eastern group. Its organisers also may have been familiar with the details of the Dubrovka Theater siege in Moscow in 2002. Someone seems to have invested a lot of resources into these terrorists, perhaps in militant training camps in Turkey, Jordan, Syria or even still in Iraq.

 Shi'ite fighters launch a rocket during clashes with Islamic State militants on the outskirts of al-Alam March 8, 2015. Credit: Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuter

Shi’ite fighters launch a rocket during clashes with Islamic State militants on the outskirts of al-Alam March 8, 2015. © Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters

A common response from commentators and analysts after events such as the Paris attacks is to pose the question of cui bono. Yet to find an answer it is not enough to simply calculate who benefits from the attack, it is also critical to establish which elements of a foreign nature had a conflict of interests with Paris. It is ultimately irrelevant which terrorist group was tasked with the mission of terrorising the French Republic – be it ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, or some other form of Salafist radical movement. Often the case when those who carry out terrorist attacks remain ignorant of the fact of who was planning and sponsoring them. Moreover, what was witnessed in Paris on Friday was not a regular attack, but a carefully prepared operation where terrorists were acting simultaneously across different targets, far different from ‘lone wolf’ acts seen in other Western nations. The perception of a ‘new phase’ or increase in the capability of groups like ISIS claiming responsibility is more important and carries more weight than the unlikely reality of such a surge from a single terror group.

The assessment is that a similar attack in Germany would not be possible, where the security system is much tougher and more effective, whereas if terror groups targeted for example Spain or Italy the attack would not have the same impact, since those nations are not permanent members of the UN Security Council.

The legally dubious and militarily indecisive ‘retaliation’ strikes the French Air Force carried out against ISIS positions, striking a total of 20 targets in the Syrian city of Raqqa, testify to the fact that France has so far only assumed who actually organised the Paris massacre, not to mention the dangerously reactionary nature of such strikes and the effect on the already tense situation in the air above Syria. Nowhere near enough time has elapsed to perform a full investigation to uncover exactly the foreign source of the attacks to justify the French Air Force dropping more ordnance in Syria where Russia along with Assad’s forces actually have ISIS on the back foot.

© AP Photo/ French Army

© AP Photo/ French Army

Under the pretext of fighting against terrorism, the United States and its allies militarily intervened into the sovereignty of Syria without the approval from the legitimate government of Bashar al-Assad and without receiving an appropriate UN mandate. It should be noted that out of all the US-led coalition forces operating in Syria, France has previously been leading in the bombing of oil infrastructure facilities occupied by ISIS in Syrian territories as part of the Western coalition flying air strikes over Syrian airspace, a fact openly admitted by the French government. These important facilities have been the most critical assets of ISIS forces, providing the group with virtually unlimited funding, while those Middle-Eastern states or state-supported elements that have been buying oil from terrorists continue receiving huge savings from the black market trade. The Islamic State has been selling crude oil at a price at least half that which can be found at international markets, creating a huge network of smugglers operating in neighbouring countries interested in the preservation of their activities, a multi-billion dollar illicit Mid-East oil industry. According to some analysts, stolen oil has provided ISIS with up to 2 billion dollars a year in profits so far, with cross-border smuggling operations receiving just as much. It has also – not surprisingly – been reported that some smugglers are even selling cheap oil to the Syrian army and Iranian troops deployed in Syria, who are in turn fighting ISIS on a daily basis.

It should also be taken into consideration that this attack took place in the very heart of Paris, full of secret service agents in civilian clothes and police officers that are tasked with ensuring the safety of tourists. France relies heavily on its tourism industry, which accounts four up to 7% of GDP.  It is also a nation with large Arab and African Islamic communities cannot be carried out without the involvement of foreign intelligence agencies. Any terrorist group that would try to infiltrate France under the guise of Syrian refugees to prepare such an attack on its own would surely be uncovered in short matter of time, given the wide communication and coordination required for this incident. The same thing could be said about the terrorist attack on the Russian Airbus over the Sinai.

For France, the foreign state with the keenest interest in preserving the status quo is Turkey, due to the fact that it allows the majority of the stolen oil to be transported across its territory, while Jordan also enjoys a considerably smaller share of the profits from this business. Media sources have indicated that smugglers are connected with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a cartel of Turkish businesses. These activities are somewhat common for Ankara, since it used to smuggle Iraqi oil when Saddam Hussein’s regime faced UN sanctions. Turks and Kurds alike – especially the Kurdistan Democratic Party – were already profiting from transporting Iraqi oil from Dohuk across Turkish territory, bringing a flood of heavy-duty trucks with hidden tanks filled with diesel fuel from refineries in Mosul, Kirkuk and Baiji. This resulted in signs for ‘diesel fuel from Iraq’ appearing along most Turkish highways, where residents could buy fuel at half-price. Smuggling was carried out by merchant tanker owners as well – transporting oil and fuels from illegal refineries in Shatt al-Arab, across the Persian Gulf to the United Arab Emirates.

This raises the possibility that some elements of foreign state apparatus have decided to target France over its policies. Turkey is one suspect, however unlikely as it would present a high political risk for Erdogan, and Ankara’s secret services are not nearly as competent as other possible states. Another possible player – Qatar, an incredibly rich gulf state with efficient enough security forces trained by American, British and French experts and is still closely associated with the most effective intelligence service in the Middle East – the British MI6. Qatar has also been providing extensive amounts of financial support to ISIL and Jabhat Al-Nusra. Doha has been frustrated with the indecisiveness of the French government in the fight against the Syrian regime, despite formerly taking a leading role in the fight against Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. After being struck by the terrorist attack in Algeria in 2013 and the need to carry out a military operation in Mali against the local branch of al-Qaeda, Paris officially declared that its main priority in the efforts to combat international terrorism would lie in the region of the Maghreb and the Sahara Sahel – in other words, in the areas where it used to maintain colonies. Roughly 95% of the immigrants in France originate from these regions, primarily from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Representatives of those states are numerous amongst ISIS ranks, with many holding French passports.

French relations with Qatar were also strained by Paris’ reluctance to apply pressure on Lebanon and lack of opposition to a deal with Iran on its nuclear program.

There are certain factors that inevitably bring agencies like the British MI6 into consideration. A historical mistrust exists between England and France, British jealousy of to the strong Franco-German axis within the EU, and a growing desire within the UK government to withdraw from the EU, due to its financial and immigration problems. Border policies are seen by Whitehall as too liberal in the EU, which leads to flows of refugees from the Middle East reaching Britain through France. Should Britain leave the EU it will be able to dramatically tighten border controls, while weakening the united Europe as a whole. In addition, MI6 involvement in such attack would correspond well with the aspirations of the UK’s primary strategic partner – the United States, which perceives a strong united Europe as a growing rival. The leaders of the EU – namely France and Germany – have also started drifting towards Russia’s position on the crisis in Ukraine, which challenges Washington’s position in that conflict.

While it may be improbable that state actors in the UK would be directly organising such attacks, it does not in theory prevent British security services from assisting a friendly state, such as Qatar, to facilitate terrorist operations that would progress shared goals in Syria and elsewhere in the region.

It is unlikely that any investigation into the terrorist attacks in Paris will provide answers as to which entities facilitated the alleged terror cell to establish, organise, coordinate and operate so effectively. However, what is important is that they have gone some way already to achieving the goals of terrorism – Europe is further alarmed and weakened, and there is an acceleration of the gradual disintegration of the Union. European dependence on the United States has also sharply increased in the aftermath of the attack – therefore one cannot expect the leading EU countries including France and Germany, to change their positions over Russia and the Middle East in the foreseeable future.

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