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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.

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.

 

Diving Into Danger: Australian Navy Undersea Clearance in WW2

Filed in: War History  –  Author: JF Dowsett

Of all the stories of the Royal Australian Navy during the Second World War, few have explored what went on beneath the sea; not well-known drama of submarine warfare, but the first-hand fight with sunken wrecks, enemy mines and unexploded torpedoes. This was a war waged by the Navy’s own fearless clearance divers from beginning to end. It was a dangerous game, played with full knowledge of the frightful consequences of the slightest false move.

RAN divers in Darwin in 1942

Royal Australian Navy divers in Darwin in 1942. (Image via RANCDA)

In 1941, during the Battle of Crete, a German torpedo bomber swept in low over a harbour mouth in Malta where the light cruiser HMAS Perth was moored and launched its deadly load. The torpedo struck at such a sharp angle that it plunged straight through the water and ploughed into the muddy bottom without exploding. The ‘fish’ – as naval servicemen called them – was still live, its nose propellers having had time to revolve and screw the detonator hard up against the 500 lb (220kg) of explosive primed within its warhead. The smallest shock, even the concussion from another exploding bomb, would have set it off with the same devastating effect as a naval mine.  It had to be removed, and the Navy called for volunteers.

Light cruiser HMAS Perth.

Light cruiser HMAS Perth. (Image via RANCDA)

A petty officer from the Perth took the job. He clambered stiffly over the side of the diving boat and dropped expertly from the rope ladder into harbour waters stirred to murkiness by the raid just over. Being an experienced clearance diver, he’d seen what the savage concussion of depth charges had done to a submarine’s steel hull, their enormous force transmitted through and augmented by the water.

He found the torpedo easily enough, its nose embedded in thick glutinous mud, and set to work attaching the lowered grappling hook. Working against time, every moment tense with the possibility of being blown to pieces, the diver secured his hook and ordered the surface crew, “Hoist carefully!” As they took the weight up top, the long shape eased slowly from its sheath of slime. He backed away as the blades of its propellers swung towards him: the least touch would mean oblivion. Just as the torpedo swayed up through the water, the dread words came over his phone: “Air-raid, red! Air-raid, red!” Yet another air raid was imminent. They hauled him in over the side as the first bombs fell and headed for the shore, the diver sprawled in the bottom of the boat still helmeted and shod.

Bandar Shapur, Iran. c.1941-09. A tug helps to position the German ship Hohenfels to anchor next to HMS Kanimbla. This was part of an operation by Force B, in which HMS Kanimbla took part, manned by RAN personnel. (Donor W. L. G. Adams)

Bandar Shapur, Iran. c. September 1941. A tug helps to position the German ship Hohenfels to anchor next to HMS Kanimbla. This was part of an operation by Force B, in which HMS Kanimbla took part, manned by RAN personnel. (Donor W. L. G. Adams)

Aboard the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMAS Kanimbla in the Persian Gulf, Petty Officer and clearance diver JT ‘Jack’ Humphries would be awarded the George Medal for his work in salvaging the submerged hull of the scuttled German merchantman SS Hohenfels. Humphries ventured alone into the bowels of the ship to close all openings and valves which the vacating sailors had left open. Here existed circumstances which called for the highest degree of cold courage to overcome them. The fearless diver, because of the innumerable obstacles to his life-line in the engine room, had to secure it to a stanchion and thus work entirely alone. He now had no means of signalling if he were in trouble. Stumbling over greasy engines and boilers into every corner where there was likely to be a valve – necessitated by the Germans deliberately falsifying their ship’s plans – Humphries groped his way as the tide threatened to run out. Streaming through bulkheads and passages at seven knots in this narrow neck of the Gulf, it threatened to roll him to his death. To prevent being washed away, he gripped stanchions and cylinder pistons with both arms; then, when the tide slackened again, he resumed work. Due almost entirely to the efforts of Petty Officer Humphries, that valuable ship was floated and reclaimed.

Aboard the HMAS Hobart in Alexandria, the crew watched a huge black shape, swinging slowly beneath its parachute, drop from an unseen bomber above the clouds and plop into the harbour. It was a parachute mine; there were seven different ways it could be exploded, and as they watched they knew its delayed action fuse timer was ticking nearer to zero. The Navy diving boat darted quickly but carefully over the spot and killed its engine, as even the pulsing beat of its propeller transmitted through the water could have exploded the menacing payload of high explosive. The diver had no means of knowing if the mine was rigged to detonate on an attempt to lift it. He found the mine lying in two feet of sediment and, up to his knees in mud, worked carefully towards it. The mine had to be hoisted or exploded under water. He found it was too precarious and would have to be the latter. So, in imminent danger of going up with the mine, he scooped a shallow trench beneath its belly. He then placed in the trench a tube of gelignite and signaled to be hoisted up himself.  They drew back, paying out the battery wire as they went, and pressed the plunger. The mine exploded with a roar and tore itself apart in a spreading cascade of water.

There were not only the hazards of warfare to contend with. Always present, always in the forefront of the diver’s consciousness, was the natural danger from the pressure of tons of water around him and the strange tricks that not a lifetime of experience could completely nullify.

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RAN clearance diver testing an American dive suit. HMAS Madang, 1945

Once while testing a new dive suit, an Australian diver was working on the bottom of the hull of a British submarine. Working busily a hacksaw, he failed to notice a small hole that started in his suit under the left arm. Gradually, with the pressure of air from within, the slit widened and the air streamed out in increasing volume. In less than a minute the diver found the greater mass of air in his lower body swiftly lifting his legs above his head. Soon, completely helpless, he was hanging upside down in thirty feet of green water. Then the sea began to trickle slowly through the exposed hole, past his chin and eyes, inexorably filling the top of his helmet. Seawater dangerously short-circuited his telephone line, leaving him without communication, and in his strange upside-down orientation he found it impossible to find his signal line. He felt the cold of the water creeping up around his head, up to his ears. In a minute it would fill his nose and mouth. Then the attendant up top, having lost communication, decided to haul him up. The diver, half-conscious, managed to grasp his shot-line as the strain came on his rope, and hoist his head above the level of his feet as the water fell over his shoulders to the bottom of his suit.

The Clearance Diving Branch of the Royal Australian Navy was officially formed after the war in 1951. During the Branch’s formative years, the divers developed their ‘can do easy’ attitude performing a diverse range of diving, Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) and salvage related tasks. With obsolete equipment and limited support from the Naval command structure, they had to develop and hone their skills in house. This necessitated an extreme level of improvisation which led to developing skills and breeding an independence in the Clearance Diving Branch which makes the Australian Clearance Diver of today quite unique in the world of Military Diving.

Indeed, as a result of this demanding selection and training, modern Clearance Divers have served in the counter-terrorist Squadrons of the Australian SAS Regiment and continue to serve in that role with the Commando Regiment, 4RAR (TAG East). Small numbers of divers currently serve as EOD specialists in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the globe. Clearance divers are also used in high risk ship boardings, such as suspected pirate vessels in Somalia and those used by human traffickers in Australian waters.

These are the men who voluntarily add the perils of underwater work to the scales already weighted against them.

Soldier Superb: Australian Infantry Training in WW2

Tough training made Australian soldiers tough fighters.

A revolution took place in military training in Australia in the early days of the Second World War. When the Australian Military Forces first went into camp in 1939 there was a feeling – in a naive Australian style – that their time there would be something more like football training, and that before long they would all join their British counterparts in adventures in the Middle East and North Africa.

That was before late 1941, before the attacks on Pearl Harbor, before Darwin and Broome and the threat of invasion became real and urgent; before Australian and Japanese had faced off in the jungle.

After that, the training began to grow steadily tougher and tougher. For the kind of combat encountered in New Guinea every man was taught and trained to make it his private war. The Japanese soldier was taught to die for his country. These men would be taught to kill for their country.

Lessons of the early campaigns of the war such as Libya, Greece and Crete were brought back by such men as Lieutenant General Stanley George Savige to be thoroughly examined and applied. Lt. General Gordon Bennett after escaping from Malaya, Lt. General Sydney Rowell returning from Kokoda, and many more officers from the New Guinea and other campaigns added new ideas to the education of the Australian soldier.

So training at Seymour, at Puckapunyal, at Ingleburn, in all the camps, took on a new form.

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Canungra, Queensland, October 1943. Members of an Australian infantry unit engaged in their training course at the Jungle Warfare Training Centre. In this photograph the men are practising taking cover and using small foxholes. [AWM 069405]

To rise to the challenge of enlistment in the Australian Military Forces at the outbreak of World War II, one would be met with training regime that changed a person. By the time your training was complete, you would be expected to run 250 yards and in stride jump from a trench and bayonet three standing; jump a log and bayonet three prone; leap a four-feet trench and bayonet six standing in pairs; jump a log through a double-apron fence of barbed wire; cross three rows of trip wire and bayonet three more standing; climb a seven-feet vertical hurdle of logs; drop four feet, climb an embankment and jump into a slit trench; fire three rounds at a target 30 yards away; throw grenades; leap from eight to ten feet into a river four feet deep; wade 20 yards and climb the opposite embankment; jump a final log and bayonet another three prone… in one minute 43 seconds.

You would train, wearing only shorts, to crash barbed wire to the ground and hold it down with your body while your mates went through. You would train, unarmed, to disarm an opponent of his bayonet and break his neck with your elbow. You would also train with a 60 pound pack, marching 25 miles in a day, carrying out military exercises such as tank hunting or a village raid on the way all while refraining from using your full water-bottle.

Training at the Jungle Warfare Training Centre at Canungra, Queensland (now the Australian Army Land Warfare Centre) then continued where normal battle training left off. One particular area of focus for the Australian jungle fighter was the development of point shooting – also known as target- or threat-focused shooting. They were to fire the Lee–Enfield SMLE Mk III .303 from the hip, and with deadly accuracy, at ten yards range. Close-quarters fighting made it hard to apply proper marksmanship techniques, which is why point advocated a less sighting-based style of shooting.

They were also trained to use the .22 calibre Owen submachine gun so that even with a number of fast-moving enemy soldiers attacking every round had to count. Absolute team-work was the first essential. First a section was allotted tasks so that every man in it is given the job to which he is best suited by nature, psychologically and physically. The man with the cat’s eye, always alert and a quick observer, becomes the scout. The husky to whose broad shoulders were assigned the additional ten pounds of the Bren gun became the Bren gunner.

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Canungra, Queensland, November 1943. Sapper Walters of the Australian Training Centre (Jungle Warfare) setting a booby trap on the mopping up course at the centre. [AWM 060661]

The jungle fighters were then shown the Japanese way with booby traps, and how to use them for themselves. The study of gelignite and grenade, fuse and delay; the use of ingenuity in making and applying traps out of the very jungle itself. They learned from the enemy that the right improvised trap in the hands of an enthusiast can be made an instrument of terror, can halt a unit through fear of the unknown, and plunge a bewildered enemy into panic.

They were schooled to work miracles of deduction when they were confronted with a reconstruction of an abandoned Japanese camp, the wreck of a barge on a beach, or a medical unit’s stores. They could tell the strength of the enemy, the name of the commander, his orders and intentions up to the time of his destruction or departure, the number of his casualties from wounds and disease, the length of his stay in the country and his prospect, if he still survives, of remaining; his physical fitness and morale.

Psychological endurance was also drilled through obstacle courses with full sound effects. With pack and rifle they marched, doubled, climbed and descended, crawled through streams and hollow logs, grass and barbed wire – but this time with the cacophony of battle ringing in the ears: gelignite bursting, machine guns barking, rifles and heavier weapons firing all around. Noise could not deflect a soldier from his purpose any more than mere danger.

They were taught to march increasing distances, to be able to carry 28 kilograms (61 pounds) as well as rifle or Owen gun 23 kilometres (14 mi.) through the jungle, sometimes up vertical slopes or down inclines equally precipitous. They trained to climb ropes with feet and hands, to negotiate improvised ladders; to cross streams or ravines by every conceivable type of bridge from a single wire, a sapling, or log, to a flying fox. To conquer fear of heights, the would cross such bridges at a height of 6 metres (20 ft.) or more where a slip, even in training, might mean death or maiming.

The jungle fighter’s training culminated in a trek, including the inevitable up and downhill climbs, but in the course of which not only was nerve and physical endurance tested to the uttermost, but also his intelligence and observation. Now they had learned to reduce pack supplies to prime necessities. To demonstrate living on emergency rations and availing themselves of indigenous foods, the edible fruits and plants and roots of the jungle and rain-forest trees and undergrowth.

These were the conditions that turned citizens into soldiers, workers into warriors. All these accomplishments, and “iron muscles, iron nerve, and the eyes of a cat,” would have entitled someone as long ago as 1942 to a place in the ranks of the Australian Military Forces, or in the A.I.F. in Australia.

The Australian Soldier in New Guinea – Jungle Genius

During the New Guinea campaigns of World War II, Australian soldiers coined a phrase which described what it took survive the conditions they endured – Jungle Genius.

In warfare, the word ‘jungle’ can mean so little or so much. In New Guinea, ‘jungle fighting’ did not mean merely battling with mortars and high trajectory guns over impenetrable forest and moss walls against an enemy less than a grenade’s throw away or ambushing him from vine-laced screens of undergrowth. It meant wading neck-deep in the black ooze of the sak-sak swamps, plunging blind across a beach by night, bayonet high, into the inscrutable silence of the fringing bush, picking your way over the sole-searing cracked rocks of a dry river bed, open as the day to the fire of the commanding hills, nosing your way – grenade in hand – over the one-man fronts of the razor-back.

Stretcher bearers carrying a wounded mate down along a muddy track north of Gusika while men of militia 29th/46th Battalion plod up a steep grade on their way to contact the Japanese.

Stretcher bearers carrying a wounded mate down along a muddy track north of Gusika while men of militia 29th/46th Battalion plod up a steep grade on their way to contact the Japanese. [AWM 016298]

Jungle Genius was an infinite capacity for taking pain. It was an acquired resiliency to the thousand blows that the enemy and nature could inflict in the miasmatic stronghold of tooth and claw. It was the faculty to fight on when the soldier’s head was whirling with malaria, when his bones cracked with dengue, when his stomach was drained with dysentery, when his tongue was sandpaper-parched with the curse of the hard, hot kunai country. Jungle Genius was the grit to endure his boots and clothes waterlogged, soaked with sweat and ooze in the mountains of mud; when fear is in the trembling of a leaf, and murder rather than mercy rains from the heavens; when nothing is what it seems except a trick by a cat-cunning enemy. Jungle Genius was above all the power not only to conquer these terrors but to tame them to one’s will and need, and to enlist them as allies and use them as ammunition against the enemy.

1943-01-27. Papua. Allied advance on Sanananda. Water, mud and slush are almost the Allied troops’ inseparable companions in Papua. For weeks the Allies had been advancing, some times up to their thighs in mud. Ploughing their way through the inevitable mud Americans carry small arms ammunition to the forward areas.

1943-01-27. Papua. Allied advance on Sanananda. Water, mud and slush were the Allied troops inseparable companions in Papua. For weeks the Allies had been advancing, some times up to their thighs in mud. Ploughing their way through the inevitable mud these Americans carry small arms ammunition to the forward areas. [AWM 014244]

It is because Australian soldiers acquired these peculiar qualities – albeit at appalling cost and by bitter experience – that the trail from Salamaua to Saidor, up the north-east coast of New Guinea, became littered with enemy corpses. Some of these, indeed, were cut down by bomb, shell, bullet and bayonet, but many perished in their agonies of thirst and starvation, of dysentery and fever, or fell miserably into the pitfalls of mountain gorge and stream and swamp, too weak to save themselves. Meanwhile, the Australian soldier learned to slip like ghosts through enemy positions, to sink his supply barges and cut his life-line on the land, to snipe from great heights keeping him day and night in a perpetual sweat of panic. Australians learned all this, learned it the hard way.

Jungle fighting didn’t come naturally to the Australian. With a very British respect for conventions – notwithstanding an adventurous background and the free and easy life of the open spaces – the Australian soldiers had put their ideas for administering and acquiring sudden death into a neat compartment, accepting a dignified code of rules for the exchange of shot and stab. They were astonished to find that the Japanese Imperial warrior didn’t fight that way. It took the disaster of Malaya and the loss of a entire proud division to teach the Australian Army that Tojo and Churchill weren’t mates. Australians learned and the Americans learned.

“In the early, untried days on the Kokoda Trail the we thought we knew all the answers. What a lot of rot it was We said, this Atebrin. Who was going to dose himself with yellow pills six times a week and dye his good Australian integuement an unhealthy gamboge that made him look like a Jap, just because some fussy M.O. flattered himself he had devised a dodge for beating the mozzies? And who was going to dope his drinking water with chlorine till it smelt like an out-patients’ department and tasted like a Sydney man’s idea of the Yarra? What could be healthier to drink than the water of this pellucid mountain stream? And what pansy thought up this idea of dusting yourself with baby powder. Who did he think we were — the Dionne Quins? And what was the objection to wearing shorts, anyhow? Weren’t they ideal Wear in this humid and tropical heat? And as for dolling yourself up in green shirts and pants like Errol Flynn in Robin Hood, blimey, Teddy, did they want to make a Russian Ballet out of us altogether, or what? Well, we lived and learned. And some of us died and didn’t.” – from Soldier Superb by Alan Dawes

1943-08-04. New Guinea. Making the best of not altogether ideal conditions Australians built this camp in the jungle on a hillside near Mubo. [AWM 015395]

By the time they had crossed the Owen Stanley ranges, a New Guinea soldier would as soon go without his rifle as his Atebrin (anti-malarial medication), they would go thirsty all day rather than drink unchlorinated water, invariably carried foot powder – preferably baby powder – in their packs and watched their toes as well as their clothes for any sign of rot or infection. Shorts were completely banned even for day wear. In the somewhat rarefied military atmosphere of Port Moresby, jungle green was the proudest badge the fighting Australian sported. Indeed, in New Guinea one would only see an Australian in any other scheme of decoration when they were bathing nude in streams or sea or rolling yellow in the mud on some wet mountain side.

These, then, were just the outward and visible signs. They symbolized a tremendous awareness, on the part of staff and soldier, of the significance of the jungle as foe and friend – an awareness which became the basis for evolving a scientific approach to the problems of war in the tropics. It was clear that by war’s end, medicine had also fought magnificently in the Pacific Islands campaigns – not only in healing, repairing, curing and comforting, but in arming the soldier in particular against the diseases of body and soul that lurked in the New Guinea jungles.

Jungle warfare presented new complexities every hour, new fields for ingenuity and resource. The Australian soldiers in New Guinea excelled in it because they added the fruits of training and experience to instinct and “some vestige of sub-conscious memory.” Also, they were not above learning from an otherwise despised but undoubtedly practised adversary, and not too proud to watch and emulate their humble native Papuan allies, those “erstwhile head-hunters, masters of the wiles and ways of man-tracking, have contributed not a little to the mental equipment of ‘man-belong-a-Sydney’, who has educated himself to walk and see with feline stealth, to lie dog-prone holding his breath, to go long stretches without food and water and find them in wild places, to observe the enemy from the  movements of bush and bird.”

Above all, the Australian added to his stock-in-trade the means to surprise and stun his enemy.

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.

Landing at Scarlet Beach (Roy Cecil Hodgkinson)

Landing at Scarlet Beach by Roy Cecil Hodgkinson

This sketch by Roy Cecil Hodgkinson depicts the situation at the south end of Scarlet Beach in New Guinea on 22nd September 1943 – half an hour after the first wave of Operation Diminish had landed. ‘Diminish’ was the name given to the initial phase of the Huon Peninsula campaign of the Second World War, with Allied Forces from Australia and the United States landing at Scarlet Beach, about 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) north of Finschhafen. The intended capture of Finschhafen would then allow the construction of air base and naval facilities to assist Allied air and naval forces to conduct operations against Japanese bases throughout New Guinea and New Britain.

As the first wave of landings headed for Scarlet Beach most of the transport craft drifted off course. At the point shown in Hodgkinson’s drawing when the landing craft came in, the beach was still under heavy fire. Hitting a small sand bar the landing craft shown in the sketch dropped its port ramp in very deep water. It was carried away and cannot be seen in the picture. The troops then disembarked by the starboard ramp. In the background, a landing craft in Siki Cove has landed its troops and is reversing to the open sea.

During the first day of the landings, Australian casualties were 20 killed, 65 wounded and 9 missing, all of whom were later found to be dead or wounded.

The landing at Scarlet Beach was the first opposed amphibious landing that Australian forces had made since the Landing at Anzac Cove in the Gallipoli Campaign of 1915.

From The Library.

 

 

Foundations of Victory: Australian & American engineers in WW2

In the steamy, malarial jungles of Dutch New Guinea, among the shattered palm groves and bomb-scarred coral islands, across the treacherous disease-gripped kunai grass plains of the Markham Valley, Australian and American servicemen sweated side by side in the summers of 1942-44, with record-breaking efforts against all odds to keep Allied aircraft strafing, pounding and cutting their way deeper and deeper into the now-diminishing Japanese Empire in the South Pacific.

Bases for Major-General Ennis Whitehead’s Fifth Air Force and the Australian First Tactical Air Force were being thrust by General MacArthur and the Pacific Command further towards the Philippines and Japan.  Behind the more spectacular exploits of the brave young airmen who piloted the fighting aircraft which had virtually cleared the New Guinea air of Japanese air power was a solid weight of personal bravery and endurance, engineering skill, modern construction machinery and co-operative Allied effort.

Noemfoor Island, Dutch New Guinea, 27 December 1944. Leading Aircraftman JA Harding of the No. 5 Airfield Construction Squadron RAAF, at work in a coral quarry with a bulldozer. Coral was used for all roads on Noemfoor Island and made an excellent surface.

Noemfoor Island, Dutch New Guinea, 27 December 1944. Leading Aircraftman JA Harding of the No. 5 Airfield Construction Squadron RAAF, at work in a coral quarry with a bulldozer. Coral was used for all roads on Noemfoor Island and made an excellent surface. [AWM OG1864]

These hard-bitten, battle-hardened, skilled workmen of two nations, whose work made the Allied South-Western Pacific air offensive possible, knew the strain of back-breaking toil in a treacherous, menacing climate. They worked in shifts twenty-four hours a day to reach the impossible datelines set by the men who needed the airfields to launch their efforts against the enemy. They knew the despair of working against time amidst the thud of bombs and crack of gunfire from a euphoric and ascendant foe. These sons of America and Australia laboured equally as hard, but with a quietly reserved triumph, to bring retribution on an enemy who, thanks in great measure to their own efforts, was now no longer commanding the New Guinea skies.

At Nadzab, in the Markham Valley, units of the Australian Airfield Construction Squadron broke a New Guinea record. Within twenty-seven days, working twenty-four hours a day, they turned a virgin area of kunai plains and sago swamps into a fully operational airfield with two strips, road system and dispersal bays. At Aitape they had a strip ready in forty-eight hours for Australian Kittyhawk fighters which would take off on a mission ten minutes after the last plane’s wheels had touched down. At Noemfoor Island in Dutch New Guinea, they had two operational airstrips ready twenty-four days after the US Task Force landed. Australian fighters were using one of them within a few days of D-day.

A Royal Australian Air Force engineer was the American Army’s Task Force engineer at Aitape and Noemfoor. He was Group-Captain W. A. C. Dale DSO, of Coonamble (NSW), a Citizen Air Force pilot who rose to Assistant Director of Works and Buildings with the Royal Australian Air Force Headquarters before his appointment in the field as commanding officer of all the Australian airfield construction units in New Guinea. Subsequently, as a US Task Force engineer, he was in a position which enabled him to work Australian and American survey, engineering and construction units as one complementary team in the herculean task of providing airfields, roads and docking facilities for areas previously devoid of all the foundations of mechanized warfare.

Finschhafen Area, New Guinea. 1943-11-09. Engineers of the 870th United States Engineer Aviation Battalion using a power saw to cut coconut palm logs for the decking of the new bridge which they are building near the Dreger Harbour end of a new airstrip.

Finschhafen Area, New Guinea. 9th November, 1943. Engineers of the 870th United States Engineer Aviation Battalion using a power saw to cut coconut palm logs for the decking of the new bridge which they are building near the Dreger Harbour end of a new airstrip.

Dale was given command not only of the Australian works wing but all American engineer units assigned, including three army aviation battalions, an engineer battalion and a shore battalion. His task did not appear to be an easy one . His men had first to reach the airfield and then repair it ready for the operation of fighter aircraft the day after the landing. The lack of adequate roads, airfields, ports and other facilities in New Guinea together with the rapidity of the advance was placing a tremendous burden on the engineering resources at their disposal . Not only were the forces in the South West Pacific short of the engineering units needed but there were shortages of certain critical materials, such as sawn timber and roofing. Consequently  construction had to be cut to its barest essentials.

On the 2nd July 1944, thirty minutes after H-hour (the specific time at which an operation or exercise commences) on the day of the Noemfoor landing, Group-Captain Dale, Wing-Commander Towers, Squadron-Leader Cobby and Squadron-Leader L. W. Jamieson of the RAAF No. 62 Works Wing were inspecting the Kamiri strip and planning its reconstruction. They landed under heavy mortar fire, and fighting continued to go on at the other end of the strip while they made their inspection. Once the South West Pacific war became mobile, airfield construction squadrons themselves became the shock troops of the RAAF. Each man was a trained soldier as well as a qualified tradesman or skilled construction worker.  The rifles that hung on the machines they worked were not ornamental. These men know exactly how to use them, and used them they would in the first few dangerous days of a new landing strip. At night, while the machines grumbled along on under the glare of fierce floodlights, unit guards squatted behind searchlights and heavy machine guns, ready to destroy any stealthy Japanese attempts to interrupt the vital works.

In Always First – The RAAF Airfield Construction Squadrons 1942-1974, David Wilson says of the construction units: “Sometimes maligned, but never undaunted, these troops had made it possible for superior air forces to be deployed with imagination and operational effectiveness. One has only to peruse amap of the South-West Pacific to recognise the importance of airfields to the war effort. MacArthur’s leap frog strategy was restricted by the range of the strike aircraft available for operations, and air power was a potent weapon in isolating by-passed Japanese garrisons by cutting their supply lines, thus ensuring that they were militarily non-effective.”