Thursday, January 29, 2015

New Saudi king was major supporter of Al Qaeda

The new king of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, the half-brother of King Abdullah, who died in his early 90s from complications from pneumonia, is expected to rule with a more Wahhabist-oriented religious bent and concentrate on limiting cautious political reforms started by Abdullah. Salman is also expected to devote his energies to increasing Saudi national security. 

Salman’s devotion to Saudi security is hypocritical at best due to his past support for Al Qaeda, including some of the individuals implicated in the 9/11 attack on the United States. It is Salman’s involvement with financing 9/11 and other terrorists that will likely reinforce the Obama administration’s refusal to declassify 28 missing pages from the 2002 Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the intelligence failures surrounding the attack. As the then-governor of Riyadh, Salman’s name likely appears as a “big fish” in the redacted 28 pages from the Senate report. 

On the surface, Salman will not govern much differently than his predecessor in affairs of oil politics and national security. Salman will be assisted by his son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the minister of defense and the chief of the royal court. Mohammed was the chief adviser to his father when Salman served as the governor of Riyadh province. Prince Mohammed became defense minister when his father acceded to the throne upon the death of Abdullah. 

The other chief adviser to Salman will be Mohammed bin Nayef, the minister of the interior since 2012 and the current deputy crown prince and second deputy prime minister. Nayef, a nephew of King Salman, is second in line to the throne after Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz al Saud. Muqrin was the head of the Saudi Mukhabarat al-A’amah, the Saudi intelligence agency, from 2005 to 2012. 

In 2006, Saudi democratic opposition leaders in Britain fingered Salman, the then-governor of Riyadh province, as providing material assistance to Al Qaeda forces operating in Afghanistan before and after 9/11. The opposition revealed that Al Qaeda members routinely traveled through Riyadh on their way to Pakistan and then to Taliban-ruled regions of Afghanistan. These Saudi insiders also reported that Salman’s governor’s office arranged for cash payments, hotels, and air fares for the Al Qaeda members.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Whistleblower Beats the TSA at the Supreme Court

The Obama administration, in its war on whistleblowers, just lost a major battle. Major in its venue—the Supreme Court—and major in its implications for future whistleblower cases. The court’s decision in Department of Homeland Security v Robert MacLean curtails the government’s manipulation of pseudo-classified information to punish whistleblowers and strengthens the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA).

The Facts

In July 2003, TSA alerted all marshals of a possible hijacking plot. Soon after, TSA sent an unclassified, open-air text message to marshals’ cell phones canceling several months of missions to save on hotel costs. Fearing such cancellations in the midst of a hijacking alert created a danger to the flying public, veteran Air Marshal Robert MacLean tried to get TSA to change its decision.

After hitting a dead end, MacLean spoke anonymously to MSNBC, which published a critical story. Only 24 hours later, and after 11 members of Congress voiced concern, TSA reversed itself, putting marshals back on the flights. A year later, MacLean appeared on TV in disguise to criticize agency policies he felt made it easier for passengers to recognize undercover marshals. The TSA recognized MacLean’s voice and discovered he had also released the unclassified 2003 text message. He was fired in April 2006.

MacLean discovered that months after firing him, TSA had retroactively classified as “security sensitive information” (SSI) the unclassified text message he had leaked. SSI is a designation created by TSA via administrative memo and had no basis in law. TSA decided nonetheless that leaking a retroactively SSI-classified document was cause enough to fire a federal worker. MacLean fought back.

In 2013, after a long series of legal wrangles, a United States Court of Appeals decided that MacLean was entitled to his old marshal job back under the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989. The act generally limits its protections to “disclosures not specifically prohibited by law.” The court said SSI information was not really “classified” at all, and thus MacLean’s disclosure was not a violation of law.

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Friday, January 23, 2015

Against Terrorism–But FOR What?

Following the Charlie Hebdo massacre, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that France “is at war with terrorism, jihadism and radical Islamism.” This tells us what France is fighting against.

But what is France fighting for in this war on terror? For terrorism is simply a tactic, and arguably the most effective tactic of the national liberation movements of the 20th century.

Terrorism was used by the Irgun to drive the British out of Palestine and by the Mau Mau to run them out of Kenya. Terrorism, blowing up movie theaters and cafes, was the tactic the FLN used to drive the French out of Algeria.

The FALN tried to assassinate Harry Truman in 1950 at Blair House, shot up the House of Representatives in 1954, and, in 1975, blew up Fraunces Tavern in New York where Washington had bid his officers farewell. The FALN goal: Independence from a United States that had annexed Puerto Rico as the spoils of war in its victory over Spain.

What did the FLN, FALN, Mau Mau, Irgun and Mandela’s ANC have in common? All sought the expulsion of alien rule. All sought nations of their own. All used terrorism for the same ends as Uighurs do in China and Chechens do in the Caucasus.

Osama bin Laden, in his declaration of war upon us, listed as his casus belli the presence on the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia of U.S. troops and their “temple prostitutes.” He wanted us out of his country.

What are Valls’ terrorists, jihadists and radical Islamists fighting for? What are the goals of ISIS and al-Qaida, Boko Haram and Ansar al-Sharia, the Taliban and al-Shabab?

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Tale of Two Presidents - Putin versus Obama

In the American mainstream media fact and fiction frequently diverge, leading to established narratives that bear little relationship to what is actually happening. The recent events in Paris have most often been described as free speech colliding with religious extremism but the reality is that existing French hate crime legislation means that the country has only very limited freedom of expression. In France you can be arrested and imprisoned or fined heavily just for saying something that the government considers to be unacceptable even if you do nothing at all beyond that.

In the United States there has been a virtual media evisceration of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He is consistently demonized as an autocratic along the lines of the country’s former Czarist rulers and it is frequently claimed that he is an ex-KGB thug and bully who seeks to muzzle the democracy in his country, to include the press and all independent political forces. He is also invariably depicted as the agent provocateur in the recent upheaval involving Ukraine.

But are the claims about Putin true or are they just the kind of pablum that is convenient to feed to a mass American audience that is essentially blissfully ignorant about what is going on in the world? With that possibility in mind, it would be useful to compare the record of the Russian president with that of our own President Barack Obama. Such an examination might well include their respective interactions in areas that most people would consider part and parcel of the essential liberties pertaining to a democratic society. They should include freedom of the press, ability to associate and organize political parties that oppose the one in power, government accountability, freedom of speech and freedom from arbitrary arrest and punishment. The respective governments should also be judged on whether their interactions with other nations are proportionate and serve actual national interests or not.

Press freedom is tricky. The United States has a notionally free press but it is in reality largely controlled by special and corporate interests that are not prepared to challenge the government in any serious way. It is currently ranked 46 th in the world by Reporters Without Borders freedom index, just in front of Haiti.

The Obama Administration has initiated twice as many prosecutions for violation of the Espionage Act as all previous administrations combined. The ongoing six year long pursuit of the sources of New York Times journalist James Risen suggests that the freedom to do investigative journalism in the United States is limited when it runs up against government secrecy. In yet another case, a FOX journalist James Rosen had his emails and phone records seized while twenty phone lines used by the Associated Press were monitored by federal law enforcement.

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Monday, January 19, 2015

American Sniper: Nation’s Pride – Slaying Savages and the Importance of Education

Kyle, and, for that matter, Bush Jr. and many of his adherents/apologists, are examples of the dire need for education (yes, Bush went to an ivy league school – look where that led).  These people, largely because of communications they thought they had with a glowing man hovering above planet Earth and his deceased son, carried out or participated in the killing and ravaging of millions of people – the worst crime of the 21st century, from which many other evils continue to flow, which is one of the main, specific reasons why war of aggression was outlawed in the Nuremberg proceedings.

Evil flourished and found expression in Kyle and Bush Jr., but are people inherently evil?  Hitler, had he been raised by wolves, would have turned out at least somewhat different, wouldn’t he?  (Or would he be out in the woods exterminating squirrels, or something?)  Is there some universe in which, due to different circumstances, Hitler turned out to be an ice cream man?  Abe Lincoln thought so, arguing that slave owners were simply abolitionists born into different circumstances.  If there is some chance that education – altering our circumstances – can prevent evil from taking hold, shouldn’t it be pursued and encouraged by everyone?

Had people like Kyle, Bush Jr., and their contemporaries/predecessors been effectively reached, early and often, by information and logic, millions of people might still be alive and safe – that is, safer.  There is no such thing as total safety, but once the US invaded Iraq again in 2003, it dragged Iraq further and further down, further and further into chaos, until finally it was reduced to its current status as home of the “world’s worst city”, as a UK research company put it.

Education could, potentially, have led Kyle and Bush Jr. away from the trappings of illogic and evil supremacist ideology that, as Wiesel and Stannard note, have for thousands of years been enmeshed in their religion and culture, taking on religious but also secular-religious/faith-based forms, as exhibited by people like Sam Harris and his cadre, who purport to reject religion but are religious fanatics, devout followers of the religions of nationalism and supremacy.  These fundamentalists call perhaps even more often and with deadlier results for the implementation of the murder of lesser peoples that their supreme, elevated position, like that of their openly religious counterparts, mandates.

Perhaps Kyle and Bush Jr. could have read, in addition to what we all read and are exposed to growing up and in daily life, the works of historians and philosophers cited above, and others such as Johnson, Parenti, Chomsky, and learned that the USA, starting in the late 1950s, not only helped install Saddam Hussein into power in Iraq through a mass murder campaign, but teamed up with him, openly, from 1982 into 1990, calling him a “moderate” (sound familiar?), giving him diplomatic, political, material, and intelligence support to help him torture and kill millions of Iraqis, Iranians, and Kurds, many with gas and other illegal weapons provided by US and European governments and companies, then coordinated with Hussein again in the mid-90s, killing hundreds of thousands of children, to crush an uprising that may well have overthrown him.

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Crime and CIA Embarrassments

I confess to being naïve. From what I had read about “Operation Merlin,” a harebrained scheme to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program, I was convinced that the CIA would be determined to avoid calling more attention to it. Or, by extension, to author James Risen’s continuing revelations – in his new book Pay Any Price” – of unconscionable incompetence by our intrepid spies. “Merlin” was exposed in an earlier Risen book, State of War.

How wrong I was! The decision by the CIA and hired hands at the Justice Department to prosecute former CIA official Jeffrey Sterling reflects, rather, a clear determination to give priority to deterring potential whistleblowers privy to information extremely embarrassing to the government. I repeat, embarrassing to the government, not detrimental to the national security.

As for risk of extreme embarrassment once U.S. citizens got additional insight into the dumb schemes of amateur intelligence operators, the government presumably thinks it can depend on mainstream media to treat bungling by our sophomore spies “with discretion.”

In short, the prosecution of Jeffrey Sterling seems to have little to do with exposing secrets, but everything to do with hiding the kind of gross misfeasance that – truth be told – does constitute a real and present danger to our national security.

Similarly, one might think the government would be embarrassed when it became more widely known that Jeffrey Sterling did go to Senate Intelligence Committee staffers to tell them of this unconscionably stupid covert action (which involved delivering flawed nuclear weapons blueprints to Iran in 2000 with the goal of sabotaging any bomb-building plans, but the flaws were apparently detected and the real data inadvertently exposed genuine nuclear-weapons secrets).

Sterling’s efforts to go through channels had zero results. One need not be a cynic to conclude that the government apparently sees an overweening, countervailing positive in demonstrating to potential whistleblowers (if further evidence were needed) that going to congressional “overseers” is a feckless exercise and only serves to get you in a peck of trouble. When Risen included a section about Operation Merlin in State of War, Sterling became the chief suspect and now faces 10 felony counts, including seven under the Espionage Act.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Lessons from Paris

After the tragic shooting at a provocative magazine in Paris last week, I pointed out that given the foreign policy positions of France we must consider blowback as a factor. Those who do not understand blowback made the ridiculous claim that I was excusing the attack or even blaming the victims. Not at all, as I abhor the initiation of force. The police are not blaming victims when they search for the motive of a criminal.

The mainstream media immediately decided that the shooting was an attack on free speech. Many in the US preferred this version of "they hate us because we are free," which is the claim that President Bush made after 9/11. They expressed solidarity with the French and vowed to fight for free speech. But have these people not noticed that the First Amendment is routinely violated by the US government? President Obama has used the Espionage Act more than all previous administrations combined to silence and imprison whistleblowers. Where are the protests? Where are protesters demanding the release of John Kiriakou, who blew the whistle on the CIA use of waterboarding and other torture? The whistleblower went to prison while the torturers will not be prosecuted. No protests.

If Islamic extremism is on the rise, the US and French governments are at least partly to blame. The two Paris shooters had reportedly spent the summer in Syria fighting with the rebels seeking to overthrow Syrian President Assad. They were also said to have recruited young French Muslims to go to Syria and fight Assad. But France and the United States have spent nearly four years training and equipping foreign fighters to infiltrate Syria and overthrow Assad! In other words, when it comes to Syria, the two Paris killers were on "our" side. They may have even used French or US weapons while fighting in Syria.

Beginning with Afghanistan in the 1980s, the US and its allies have deliberately radicalized Muslim fighters in the hopes they would strictly fight those they are told to fight. We learned on 9/11 that sometimes they come back to fight us. The French learned the same thing last week. Will they make better decisions knowing the blowback from such risky foreign policy? It is unlikely because they refuse to consider blowback. They prefer to believe the fantasy that they attack us because they hate our freedoms, or that they cannot stand our free speech.

Perhaps one way to make us all more safe is for the US and its allies to stop supporting these extremists.

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Friday, January 09, 2015

Paris Shooters Just Returned from NATO’s Proxy War in Syria

Shooters were radicalized in Europe, sent to Syria, returned, have been previously arrested by Western security agencies for terrorism and long on the watch-list of French and other Western intelligence agencies. Yet “somehow” they still managed to execute a highly organized attack in the heart of Europe.  

In an all too familiar pattern and as predicted, the shooters involved in the attack in Paris Wednesday, January 7, 2015, were French citizens, radicalized in Europe and exported to Syria to fight in NATO’s proxy war against the government in Damascus, then brought back where they have now carried out a domestic attack. Additionally, as have been many other domestic attacks, the suspects were long under the watch of Western intelligence services, with at least one suspect having already been arrested on terrorism charges.

USA Today would report in an article titled, “Manhunt continues for two French terror suspects,” that:
The suspects are two brothers — Said, 34, and Cherif Kouachi, 32, both French nationals — and Hamyd Mourad, 18, whose nationality wasn’t known, a Paris police official told the Associated Press. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
USA Today would also report (emphasis added):
The brothers were born in Paris of Algerian descent. Cherif was sentenced to three years in prison on terrorism charges in May 2008. Both brothers returned from Syria this summer.
The implications of yet another case of Western-radicalized terrorists, first exported to fight NATO’s proxy war in Syria, then imported and well-known to Western intelligence agencies, being able to carry out a highly organized, well-executed attack, is that the attack itself was sanctioned and engineered by Western intelligence agencies themselves,. This mirrors almost verbatim the type of operations NATO intelligence carried out during the Cold War with similar networks of radicalized militants used both as foreign mercenaries and domestic provocateurs. Toward the end of the Cold War, one of these militant groups was literally Al Qaeda – a proxy mercenary front armed, funded, and employed by the West to this very day.

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