Michael Hastings's look at the Obama administration's thinking leading up to the war in Libya contains this interesting nugget about Saadi al-Qaddafi, the late dictator's son:
As Rice scrambled to line up votes at the United Nations, Qaddafi and Saif, his son and heir apparent, didn't believe that NATO would actually intervene. Why would the West move to overthrow him after they had reintegrated Libya into the international community? "Qaddafi was genuinely surprised," says Dirk Vandewalle, an expert on Libya who has consulted with both the U.N. and the State Department. "Saif and his father were never really very good at reading accurately where Libya stood in the West. They thought everything was forgiven and forgotten." On March 17th, two nights after the meeting in the Situation Room, Qaddafi went on Libyan television and gave the speech that sealed his fate. His army, he declared, would hunt the rebels down and show "no mercy."
Qaddafi's son Saadi immediately realized that his father had made a major miscalculation. According to Jackie Frazier, an American business consultant who worked for Saadi in Tripoli during the run-up to the war, Saadi leapt into his Jeep, raced to his father's house and begged him to withdraw the threat. "Dad," he pleaded, "you have to take it back." In a last-ditch effort to prevent the U.N. from voting to authorize military intervention, Saadi also tried to get a message out to CNN that Qaddafi would not march on Benghazi.
Now that Muammar, Muatassim, and Khamis have been killed, and Seif reportedly captured, it sure seems as though Saadi, whose bisexuality is described in State Department cables as a source of estrangement from his father, was the one member of the Qaddafi family who was somewhat in touch with reality. Not only did he apparently see the writing on the wall, but it was Saadi who seems to have spared rape victim Eman el-Obeidi's life back in the spring, and it was Saadi who offered a cease-fire (that admittedly he clearly couldn't deliver) back in August.
Having fled Libya in September, he's now supposedly in luxurious digs in Niger, where the prime minister has vowed not to extradite him despite an Interpol warrant calling for his arrest. I assume Saadi has his hands on some of his father's assets, which certainly helps in a country as poor as Niger.
Of course, it was supposedly Saadi who first ordered security forces to fire on demonstrators in Benghazi, so perhaps he's not so different than his brothers after all...
Olivier CHOUCHANA/AFP/Getty Images
Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) fighters hold what they claim to be the gold-plated gun of ousted Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi at the site where the latter was allegedly captured in the coastal Libyan city of Sirte on October 20, 2011. A Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) commander had told AFP that Kadhafi was captured as his hometown Sirte was falling, adding that the ousted strongman was badly wounded.
Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) fighters gather outside large concrete pipes where ousted Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi was allegedly captured in the coastal Libyan city of Sirte on October 20, 2011. An NTC commander had told AFP that Kadhafi was captured as his hometown Sirte was falling, adding that the ousted strongman was badly wounded.
A Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) fighter looks through a large concrete pipe where ousted Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi was allegedly captured, with a dead loyalist gunmen in the foreground, in the coastal Libyan city of Sirte on October 20, 2011. A Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) commander had told AFP that Kadhafi was captured as his hometown Sirte was falling, adding that the ousted strongman was badly wounded. Arabic graffiti in blue reads: 'This is the place of Kadhafi, the rat.. God is the greatest.'
An image captured off a cellular phone camera shows the arrest of Libya's strongman Moamer Kadhafi in Sirte on October 20, 2011. A Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) commander had told AFP that Kadhafi was captured as his hometown Sirte was falling, adding that the ousted strongman was badly wounded.
PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images
When an unknown entity, most likely some combination of Western and Israeli intelligence agencies, created Stuxnet, the mysterious computer worm widely thought to be targeted at Iran's nuclear program, cybersecurity experts warned that a new digital threat had been unleashed, with potentially dangerous and wideranging consequences.
David Hoffman wrote about Stuxnet for FP back in March:
The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), which has closely monitored the Iranian nuclear effort, reported that in late 2009 or early 2010, Iran decommissioned and replaced about 1,000 centrifuges in its uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz. If the goal of Stuxnet was to "set back Iran's progress" while making detection of the malware difficult, an ISIS report stated, "it may have succeeded, at least for a while."
But there are risks of blowback. Langner warns that such malware can proliferate in unexpected ways: "Stuxnet's attack code, available on the Internet, provides an excellent blueprint and jump-start for developing a new generation of cyber warfare weapons." He added, "Unlike bombs, missiles, and guns, cyber weapons can be copied. The proliferation of cyber weapons cannot be controlled. Stuxnet-inspired weapons and weapon technology will soon be in the hands of rogue nation states, terrorists, organized crime, and legions of leisure hackers."
Industrial control systems that were the target of Stuxnet are spread throughout the world and vulnerable to such attacks. In one 11-year-old Australian case, a disenchanted employee of the company that set up the control system at a sewage plant later decided to sabotage it. From his laptop, the worker ordered it to spill 211,337 gallons of raw sewage, and the control system obeyed -- polluting parks, rivers, and the grounds of a hotel, killing marine life and turning a creek's water black.
According to Symantec, "Duqu's purpose is to gather intelligence data and assets from entities, such as industrial control system manufacturers, in order to more easily conduct a future attack against another third party. The attackers are looking for information such as design documents that could help them mount a future attack on an industrial control facility."
Nobody knows who created Duqu, or why. (Says F-Secure: "Was Duqu written by US Government? Or by Israel? We don't know. Was the target Iran? We don't know.")
But Symantec reports that "the threat was highly targeted toward a limited number of organizations for their specific assets. ... The creators of Duqu had access to the source code of Stuxnet, not just the Stuxnet binaries. The attackers intend to use this capability to gather intelligence from a private entity to aid future attacks on a third party."
So are we seeing another attempt by the same crowd that brought us Stuxnet in the first place? Or disturbing evidence that the predictions of Langner and others are coming true -- that a tool intended to cripple Iran's nuclear enrichment efforts has now been repurposed, possibly by another foreign government or a criminal syndicate?
We may find out in short order. F-Secure's Mikko Hypponen, who has adopted the hashtag #Stuxnet2, warns on his Twitter feed: "If Duqu was indeed an information gathering operation, we should expect the real attack soon."
Yesterday, when President Obama announced that the United States would be sending 100 special operations forces to help Uganda battle the Lord's Resistance Army, a notorious and brutal death cult led by Joseph Kony, a joke went around on Twitter that Michele Bachmann would soon be attacking the president for "targeting Christians."
Of course, to call the LRA "Christians" is to abase the English language. As the Atlantic's Graeme Wood put it in a profile of Kony last year, "An American diplomat in Bangui compared the group to the Manson family, but given that the LRA has killed 12,000 people, the comparison is self-evidently unfair to Manson."
Human Rights Watch's Ken Roth wrote of the group last fall:
Its cadre often descends on a remote village, slaughters every adult in sight, and then kidnaps the children, some shockingly young -- the boys to become soldiers slinging AK-47s, the girls to serve as "bush wives." Over more than two decades, many thousands have fallen victim to these roving mass murderers.
But Bachmann was too smart to fall into this trap, and instead it was Rush Limbaugh who jumped on the news to attack Obama. Behold:
Lord's Resistance Army are Christians. They are fighting the Muslims in Sudan. ... So that's a new war, a hundred troops to wipe out Christians in Sudan, Uganda, and -- (interruption) no, I'm not kidding. Jacob Tapper just reported it. ...
Lord's Resistance Army objectives. I have them here. "To remove dictatorship and stop the oppression of our people." Now, again Lord's Resistance Army is who Obama sent troops to help nations wipe out. The objectives of the Lord's Resistance Army, what they're trying to accomplish with their military action in these countries is the following: "To remove dictatorship and stop the oppression of our people; to fight for the immediate restoration of the competitive multiparty democracy in Uganda; to see an end to gross violation of human rights and dignity of Ugandans; to ensure the restoration of peace and security in Uganda, to ensure unity, sovereignty, and economic prosperity beneficial to all Ugandans, and to bring to an end the repressive policy of deliberate marginalization of groups of people who may not agree with the LRA ideology." Those are the objectives of the group that we are fighting, or who are being fought and we are joining in the effort to remove them from the battlefield.
Then, after a break, he (sort of) realizes his mistake:
Is that right? The Lord's Resistance Army is being accused of really bad stuff? Child kidnapping, torture, murder, that kind of stuff? Well, we just found out about this today. We're gonna do, of course, our due diligence research on it. But nevertheless we got a hundred troops being sent over there to fight these guys -- and they claim to be Christians.
It takes your breath away, doesn't it?
(Thanks to @AdamSerwer for the link.)
TUGELA RIDLEY/AFP/Getty Images
The latest tempest in a teapot in this season of austerity? Congressional outrage over the Justice Department's spending on food and beverages at one of its conferences in 2009. An inspector general's audit report found that the department paid $4,200 for 250 muffins and $2,880 for 300 cookies and brownies.
"By itemizing these costs, with service and gratuity, muffins cost over $16 each and cookies and brownies cost almost $10 each," the report reads.
Never mind that this analysis is not necessarily accurate. Chuck Grassley, the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, issued a statement decrying the muffin-spending: "The Justice Department appears to be blind to the economic realities our country is facing."
Frank Wolf, whose committee oversees the Justice Department in the House, chimed in with his own letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder:
"It is clear that while American taxpayers were tightening their belts and making difficult financial decisions, the department was splurging on wasteful snacks and drinks as well as unnecessary event planning 'consultants.'"
OK, let's stipulate that spending $16, or even $10, for a muffin is excessive, and a waste of taxpayer money. But give me a break -- this kind of spending is hardly the problem.
Not only are spiraling health-care costs the real cause of America's long-term budget woes -- something Congress has done hardly anything to address -- but defense spending is by far the biggest chunk of annual discretionary spending. The Pentagon can't even pass an audit, and won't be able to do so until 2017, according to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's Senate testimony today. With the enthusiastic patronage of Congress, the U.S. military spends tens of billions of dollars on weapons systems that either don't work as adverstised (Future Combat Systems, anyone?), cost far more than budgeted (all of them), or are wholly unnecessary (remember the Kafkaesque fight over the Joint Strike Fighter's "alternate engine"?).
The Justice Department's entire budget request for 2012 is $28 billion -- less than what the U.S. spends in Iraq and Afghanistan in three months. Before it was cut to only $200 million in July, the Pentagon's budget for military bands was $325 million. Military bands!
But by all means, rant about the muffins...
The sudden resignation Tuesday morning of Al Jazeera director-general Wadah Khanfar sent shockwaves through the Arab media world, leading to intense speculation about whether the relative freedom the satellite network had enjoyed is about to come to an end.
In his 8 years at the helm of the network, Khanfar built it into a news powerhouse in the Middle East and beyond, angering the United States and nearly every Arab regime and -- arguably -- helping take a few of them down. He presided over the opening of Al Jazeera English, the widely praised international spinoff, which recently pried open the U.S. cable market after years of a de facto boycott. Al Jazeera's Arabic-language reporters, in particular, have taken bold risks to report the news, and not only during the Arab Spring. Some of them have paid with their lives.
Khanfar is at the top of his game. So why did he resign? In his departing note to staff, he said only that it was because he had "decided to move on" and that he had been discussing his "desire to step down" for some time.
"Upon my appointment," he wrote, "the Chairman and I set a goal to establish Al Jazeera as global media leader and we have agreed that this target has been met and that the organization is in a healthy position."
But is that the whole story? A couple theories are making the rounds, none of which seem to be based on any inside information. So what follows is purely speculative.
One potential clue is Khanfar's replacement: Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani, a member of the royal family. Al Thani is not a journalist; he is an executive at QatarGas, a state-affiliated natural gas producer. Given that the chairman is Hamad bin Thamer Al Thani, another royal family member, this may not ultimately be such a big deal. But the optics certainly don't look good.
There were already strong reasons to question just how much editorial independence the network really has. The U.S. State Department clearly views Al Jazeera as a tool of Qatar's foreign policy; one cable from November 2009 claims that the Persian Gulf state uses the channel "as a bargaining tool to repair relationships with other countries, particularly those soured by al-Jazeera's broadcasts, including the United States." Al Jazeera devotes suspiciously little time to covering the politics of the Gulf; for instance, after Qatar's rapprochement with Saudi Arabia, criticism of the Saudi royal family dropped dramatically.
In recent weeks, the details of conversations between U.S. officials and Al Jazeera executives, including Khanfar, had been the subject of much chatter in the Arab world (Omar Chatriwala details that story for FP here). One October 2005 cable describes U.S. officials presenting Khanfar with the findings of a Defense Intelligence Agency report complaining about the network's coverage, and him agreeing to remove a particularly inflammatory slideshow from Al Jazeera's website. The cable was taken out of context and seized upon by the network's critics as evidence of a CIA-Qatari conspiracy to manipulate Arabs in the service of U.S. foreign-policy goals.
Middle East Online is running with the headline "WikiLeaks topples Al Jazeera director." But if Khanfar somehow had to resign because of the cable controversy, which has hurt Al Jazeera's credibility in certain quarters, it doesn't wash that his replacement would be a member of the Qatari royal family. Middle East Online also reports that unnamed Qatari officials were already looking to cashier Khanfar over a supposed dispute with Azmi Bishara, a Palestinian intellectual and former Knesset member who lives in Doha (and appears frequently on Al Jazeera).
So perhaps something else is going on. My sense from watching the Arabic network's coverage over the past few months is that it had more or less dropped the pretense of independence, and at times seemed like the official network of the Qatari Foreign Ministry. For instance, its Libya coverage was utterly over-the-top, enthusiastic cheerleading for the rebels -- and it just so happened that Qatar was heavily engaged in overthrowing Muammar al-Qaddafi. When Qatar brokered a peace agreement between warring factions in Darfur, Al Jazeera broke away from its normal coverage for two hours to show the final announcement. And, as many have noted, the Arabic channel's usual aggression has been noticeably lacking when it comes to Bahrain.
It's hard to imagine a hard-charging guy like Khanfar -- who clearly has his own ideological leanings -- putting up with that sort of thing for very long. So maybe he just didn't want to toe anybody's line. Whatever the reason, Arabs will be watching closely to see if his successor clips Al Jazeera's wings.
Correction: Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani is not a former minister of commerce, as I originally wrote. And QatarGas is technically state-affiliated but not state-owned.
KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images
This morning, Wadah Khanfar, the long-time director-general of Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based pan-Arab satellite network, announced he was stepping down after 8 years at the helm. Here is his resignation note, which was emailed to staff:
This month marks my eighth year at the helm of Al Jazeera. Having served as the organisations top executive since 2003, first as Managing Director and then as Director-General, I have decided to move on.
For sometime I have been discussing my desire to step down with the Chairman of the Board. He has kindly expressed understanding and has accepted my decision. Upon my appointment, the Chairman and I set a goal to establish Al Jazeera as global media leader and we have agreed that this target has been met and that the organization is in a healthy position.
Today our network spans 25 channels that broadcast in Arabic and English, and will soon by broadcasting news in Turkish, Kiswahili and Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian. Each and everyone of you have played a role in building this network into world-class media organization founded on mutual respect and integrity. Through your hard work and persistence, often in times of great adversity, we now reach millions of viewers across the world. This includes inroads into the most competitive media market in the world, the United States of America. This was no easy feat - not long ago, then US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld unfairly attacked our coverage of Iraq while today, US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, hails our news coverage. We were not weakened by Rumsfeld's comments nor made complacent by Clintons'. Al Jazeera Al Jazeera is still-our independent and integral coverage has not changed.
From our first Arabic news broadcast in 1996 our audience recognized the distinctive and courageous editorial agenda that was marked by our promise of independence and our motto of "the opinion and the other opinion".
When we launched in 1996 "media independence" was a contradiction in terms. State media was prevalent and was blatantly used for propaganda and misinformation. Within such an environment the public probably doubted that Al Jazeera would fulfill its promise of independent journalism. We managed to pleasantly surprise them by exceeding all expectations.
Authoritarian regimes were terrified at the birth of this new institution and they quickly went on the offensive. From trying to discredit our reportage and staff through disinformation to lodging official protests with the Qatari government. When this did not stop our reporting, they started harassing our correspondents, detaining our staff and closing our offices. The only way they could stop us was by jamming our satellite signal. Yet we remained steadfast in our editorial policy - in fact, each attempt to silence us further emboldened us and increased our resolve.
Al Jazeera gained the trust of its audience through consistently speaking
truth to power, and channeling peoples' aspirations for dignity and freedom. Our
audience quickly saw that Al Jazeera was of them and their world - it was
not a foreign imposition nor did it seek to impose a partisan agenda. We were
trusted to be objective and to be the voice of the voiceless.
It is through dedication and conviction of our staff that we have assumed a position of leadership in our industry. Even though we are a young organisation, in just 15 years our name is deeply associated with the very notion of news the world over. We are respected by our audience and hold the admiration of our peers.
Prior to assuming my role leading Al Jazeera, I served the channel as a correspondent in Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq. It was during this time that I realized the importance of a free press with the human being at the core of its agenda. Whether it is the impact of decisions made in a country'sSituation Room or a corporate boardroom, being in the field engrains in one the responsibility to tell the story from the perspective of those affected the most. It is this culture that I have endeavored to build and maintain over the years - an independent newsroom that respects its audience, understands their collective consciousness and reports for and to them with integrity.
It is this newsroom, our correspondents, producers, presenters, cameraman, editors and technicians who provided the world with integral and fearless coverage of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, Somalia and elsewhere. This newsroom that showed the world the first images of the Asian Tsunami and of the famine in Niger. In 2011 the eyes of the world watched the aspirations of millions unfold as our newsrooms broadcast, tweeted and published the events unfolding in the Liberation Squares from Sidi Bouzid to
Jissr Al-Shughur. The coverage of these revolutions is ongoing, and we continue to report the fight of the youth to achieve dignity and freedom from tyranny and dictatorship.
Contrary to the "common sense" imparted by the regimes political elite, the Arab public are not naïve demagogues or irrational believers. They are intelligent, politically astute and have a level of empathy that the political elite lack. Our channel lives and dies by this audience and they will not forgive us if we deviate from the mission that we have lived for the past 15 years. This is perhaps the best guarantee that Al Jazeera will maintain its stellar record and lives up to its code of conduct. It is the mission for which Tariq Ayoub, and Rasheed Wali Ali Jaber gave their lives for, the mission which Tayseer Alouni and Sami Al Hajj spent years illegally detained and for which many of you were harassed. Between our audiences
expectation and your vigilance, I am confident that Al Jazeera will continue to report with integrity and courage.
I have been fortunate over the past eight years for having worked with successive Boards of Directors, each distinguished and committed to Al Jazeera. I am personally indebted to the Chairman of the Board, Sheikh Hamad Bin Thamer Al Thani, whose expertise and vision had a most profound affect onmaintaining the stability of Al Jazeera through turbulent times, while always focusing on its long-term vision of growth and excellence in
Al Jazeera would never have accomplished its mission were it not for the support and commitment by the State of Qatar. Its people and leadership have not only provided financial backing but have endured great international pressure to ensure the independence and integrity of our newsroom and staff.
I am fortunate to have had eight years working with an outstanding group of professionals. Today Al Jazeera stands as a mature organisation and I am confident that the organisation will continue to maintain its trailblazing path. It is then with this remarkable cohort of journalists, a strong organisation and exceptional backing that I leave Al Jazeera.
My most profound gratitude to all of you and to the loyal audience of Al
Over the last six months, I've watched countless gory videos of Arab protesters (and sometimes children) who have been beaten to death, shot in the head, run over with tanks, or otherwise brutalized by their own governments. And yet, for reasons that I can't quite fathom, few scenes have disturbed me as much as this one, said to be of Syrian soldiers gunning down a group of donkeys in cold blood:
Syrians on Twitter tell me that the reason for this seemingly senseless slaughter is to punish villagers for supporting the protest movement by taking away their means of survival. If so, it's a particularly nasty form of collective punishment -- gunning down a bunch of innocent, helpless animals.
The Syrian revolution has been going through a rough patch lately, with little fresh movement to isolate Bashar al-Assad's regime and what look to be smaller protests inside the country. The exiled opposition can't seem to get its act together and organize a united front, while activists inside the country are calling desperately for international protection of some kind as dozens of them continue to be killed, injured, or rounded up each day.
It would be bitterly ironic if it took the murder of a few donkeys to summon the global sense of outrage that greeted Bashar's Ramadan crackdown. But then again, the world works in strange ways sometimes.
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