Ahead of President Obama's big counterterrorism speech tomorrow, Attorney General Eric Holder has written a letter, obtained by the New York Times, to the Senate Judiciary Committee disclosing the four American citizens killed by targeted strikes during the Obama administration:
Since 2009, the United States, in the conduct of U.S. counterterrorism operations against al-Qa'ida and its associated forces outside of areas of active hostilities, has specifically targeted and killed one U.S. citizen, Anwar al-Aulaqi. The United States is further aware of three other U.S. citizens who have been killed in such U.S. counterterrorism operations over that same time period: Samir Khan, 'Abd al-Rahman Anwar al-Aulaqi, and Jude Kenan Mohammed. These individuals were not specifically targeted by the United States.
The Justice Department may actually be missing some names. A fifth U.S. citizen, Ahmed Hijazi (a.k.a. Kamal Derwish) was killed in 2002 in the first ever U.S. drone strike. That strike, in Yemen, was directed at Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, who was associated with the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. An unnamed FBI source told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer several years ago that another U.S. citizen was believed to have been killed by a U.S. cruise missile in Somalia sometime between 2006 and early 2009.
Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan were propagandists for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and the U.S. government believes that Awlaki played a role in planning the attempted underwear bombing in 2009. His son, 'Abd al-Rahman, had reportedly linked up with AQAP members while looking for Awklaki when a drone targeted his vehicle. The three men were killed in a series of airstrikes in September and October 2011.
The only new name is Jude Kenan Mohammed, whose death in Pakistan was rumored in a February 2012 local news story in his hometown of Raleigh, N.C but had not been previously acknowledged.
With the letter, the Obama administration has now admitted killing more U.S. citizens than detainees the Bush administration admitted waterboarding. Hooray for transparency?
The full text of Holder's letter is included below:
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Donald Rumsfeld has never had a reputation for being particularly tactful or articulate (let's all take a moment to remember how Saturday Night Live portrayed him, even before the invasion of Iraq), but he's demonstrated a habit of owning his mistakes -- in his own way. The former defense secretary took his infamous, convoluted, "There are known knowns" comment, made in a press conference in 2002, and appropriated it as the title of his 2011 memoir, Known and Unknown. And now he's doing it again as he promotes his new book, Rumsfeld's Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life, a collection of aphorisms and rules to live by -- if only Donald Rumsfeld took his own advice.
"You go to war with the Army you have" may have been a gaffe when Rumsfeld said it to a National Guard soldier asking about jerry-rigged armor on Humvees, but in Rumsfeld's Rules, it's a pearl of wisdom. And when he's not rehabilitating his own troublesome turns of phrase, he often cites the advice of others with little self-awareness. All of this has made for an incredibly awkward book tour.
There was the time, for instance, when Rumsfeld cited one of his rules at a book party in Washington on Tuesday: "Every government looking at the actions of another government and trying to explain them always exaggerates rationality and conspiracy and underestimates incompetence and fortuity," he observed. "I learned that from watching you!" Circuit Court Judge Laurence Silberman, who coined the rule, reportedly called out.
And when Rumsfeld spoke to Politico's Patrick Gavin, he wasted no time contradicting himself: "If you have rules, never have more than 10," he joked of his 380-rule book. Then again, he added, "All generalizations are wrong, even this one."
It's complicated, you see.
For example, when Rumsfeld said, "It's easier to get into something than it is to get out," he's not talking about the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In a conversation with Kai Ryssdal, the host of American Public Media's Marketplace, Rumsfeld clarified that he was thinking of a much smaller deployment of U.S. forces 20 years earlier:
I thought of that when I was President Reagan's Middle East envoy and we had 241 Marines killed at Beirut, at the airport. And I concluded then that the United States has to be careful about putting ground forces in because we're such a big target.
"I sorta can't believe these words are coming out of your mouth," an incredulous Ryssdal interjects. When Ryssdal asks if he's ever considered apologizing, Rumsfeld replies, "Well, my goodness, you know, as Napoleon said, 'I've been mistaken so many times I don't even blush for it anymore.' Sure, you see things that don't turn out the way you hope. You look at intelligence -- and of course, if intelligence were a fact, it wouldn't be intelligence."
Incidentally, "If intelligence were a fact, it wouldn't be intelligence" is not one of Rumsfeld's rules.
You can listen to Ryssdal's whole, cringe-inducing interview below. And if you're wondering how Rumsfeld is doing, he'd like you to know, he's "happy as a clam."
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On Wednesday, Syrian rebels in the northeast outskirts of the flashpoint city of Aleppo made an ambitious attempt to storm the city's main prison, setting off two car bombs near the jail's entrance at dawn, according to the Associated Press. The AP, citing the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reports that Syrian warplanes prevented the opposition fighters from breaking though the prison's inner walls.
The rebels were driven back even though they appear to have been observing the neighborhood for days, according to videos uploaded to YouTube. One, posted last week, shows a rebel pointing out a "counterterrorism building" down the street from the prison, while another, filmed as the attack began, shows a truck-mounted machine gun tucked away in a shelter overlooking the prison. A third appears to have been filmed from the opposite side of the prison complex, looking back toward the village where the machine gun was located.
At some point in the fighting, the rebels appear to have breached a wall near the prison. Below watchtowers, fighters take turns shooting AK-47s through holes in the plaster. One rebel, in the video below, tells the camera, "We have assembled more than 5,000 mujahideen ready to liberate the prison and to help the brothers and fight for the brothers.... We are mujahideen and we will liberate the prisoners in the central prison!" When he calls on his comrades to chant "God is great!" though, they sound disheartened.
According to the AP, the rebels have since withdrawn from the vicinity of the prison.
UPDATE: The Telegraph reports rebels have said they withdrew from the area of the prison to prevent more casualties after government forces began executing prisoners and throwing the bodies from windows.
On Friday, we wrote about the arrest of Egyptian activist Ahmed Maher, who was detained at Cairo International Airport as he returned from a series of meetings with officials and speaking engagements in the United States. The Daily News Egypt reports that Maher was released on Saturday after spending the night in Cairo's al-Aqrab prison, and that he remains under investigation for "inciting a protest" in March at the home of the minister of the interior. Several Egyptian political parties have condemned Maher's arrest, though they have also distanced themselves from his politics and protest tactics. Upon his release, Maher tweeted out thanks to his supporters and urged them to show the same support for Egyptian political activists still in prison.
Maher co-founded the April 6 Youth Movement, which was instrumental in Egypt's 2011 revolution. Though he supported Mohamed Morsy's presidential campaign, he has since become a vocal critic of Morsy's government and the pace of security sector reforms.
In addition to still being under investigation, Ahram Online reports that Maher was injured in a severe car crash today. The circumstances of the crash are unclear, and Maher is now filing a police report to determine if the collision "was caused by a criminal act."
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With Pakistani elections looming on May 11, it seems like every day brings a new report about destabilizing attacks in the country. The unrelenting violence, which Pakistan's Express Tribune has dubbed the "Reign of Terror," includes assassinations that have delayed elections in several districts and left a staggering number of casualties. Bloomberg has compiled the most thorough timeline of the attacks and estimates that, in the past month, "at least 118 people have been killed and 494 injured."
Terrorists -- mostly from Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), but also Baluchi separatists -- have pursued politicians in particular, and candidates have been gunned down in the streets. On May 3, Saddiq Zaman Khattak, a parliamentary candidate for the secular Awami National Party (ANP), was shot and killed along with his three-year-old son while returning from Friday prayers in Karachi. Gunmen ambushed ANP candidate Muhammad Islam on April 27, killing his brother in the attack. And Fakhrul Islam, a provincial assembly candidate for the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party in Hyderabad, was assassinated by the TTP on April 11.
Bombings, some of which have targeted candidates, have also indiscriminately killed their supporters. The deadliest blast killed at least 20 individuals at an ANP rally on April 16. The attacks have targeted election events, but also included car bombings and bomb and grenade attacks on campaign offices and potential polling places. Just today, gunmen abducted Ali Haider Gilani, a provincial assembly candidate for the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and son of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, after killing his bodyguards. It is the first time a candidate has been kidnapped in the rash of attacks.
"It is pretty clear that this is the most violent election I have witnessed in 23 years" of election monitoring in Pakistan, Peter Manikas of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs told the Washington Post. "It's a different type of violence in trying to disrupt the election as a whole. It makes everything unsafe."
Early in April, the TTP singled out three political parties -- ANP, MQM, and PPP -- as the targets of their attacks, but in the past week, not even the fundamentalist Jamiat-e-Ulema (JeU) party has been spared. On May 6, a JeU rally was bombed in Kurram, killing 25, though a TTP spokesman was quick to assert that the Taliban didn't oppose the party so much as the candidate, "who they said had betrayed Arab fighters to U.S. agents," according to Reuters. The next day, a suicide bombing in Hangu targeting another JeU rally killed 10. In a new statement quoted by Reuters, TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud expressed opposition to the political process as a whole, writing, "We don't accept the system of infidels which is called democracy."
The worst violence may in fact be yet to come, as Pakistanis head to the polls this weekend. TTP pamphlets posted in Karachi are warning potential voters to stay home, the Telegraph reports. "If you stay away you will protect yourself," one reads. "If not you are responsible for your fate.... If you go there you will be responsible for the loss of your life and your loved ones." In anticipation of attacks, more than 600,000 security personnel will be on duty for the elections, with five to ten guards at each polling place, according to the Associated Press.
It's a far cry from the atmosphere you'd hope for to mark the first time in Pakistani history that a democratically elected civilian government has finished its term.
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Here's a new data point to drop into the drone debate: A 9-inch remote-control drone helicopter that spent the last week tangled in the arms of a Lady Justice statue atop a courthouse in Marion, Ohio -- "rest[ing] on the hilt of her sword," as the AP poetically put it -- was finally liberated over the weekend by a man with an extension pole (county officials had previously said they wouldn't spend public resources to retrieve it). The camera-equipped drone had been filming a tourism video for the city when a gust of wind swept it into the statue's arms. On Tuesday, the Marion Star posted footage, above, of the drone's fateful last flight.
It's a story that seems full of symbolism. But how should we interpret it? Here are some conclusions you could draw:
a) The murky legality surrounding the use of unmanned aerial vehicles will ultimately give way to a standardized system of rules and regulations (the swift gust of wind is Sen. Rand Paul)
b) Drones will eventually be freed from legal constraints and set aloft to do as they please (the man with the long pole is Attorney General Eric Holder)
c) Drone use by private citizens is a threat to law and order (Lady Justice represents civil liberty/privacy groups, the man filming the tourism video is Rosa Brooks)
Of course, then there's Marion Sheriff Tim Bailey, who had this to say about the drone owner, Terry Cline:
"Look," the sheriff said. "Let's put this in perspective. He ran a helicopter into county property. It's no different than if someone hit the courthouse with their car. We took a report. We're done."
Think about it.
As Barack Obama heads to Mexico, U.S. involvement in Mexico's battle against drug cartels is getting a lot of press. But it's worth noting that Mexico's notorious narcotics trade isn't just Mexico's problem anymore. And Obama should be well aware of that, considering that this past February Chicago declared Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán its first "Public Enemy No. 1" since Al Capone. "While Chicago is 1,500 miles from Mexico, the Sinaloa drug cartel is so deeply embedded in the city that local and federal law enforcement are forced to operate as if they are on the border," Jack Riley, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Chicago office, told CNN.
The infiltration of the Windy City shows the extent to which Mexican drug syndicates have made inroads in the United States -- the Associated Press and others have reported that cartel cells are operating in Atlanta, Ga., Louisville, Ky., Columbus, Ohio, and rural North Carolina. In fact, according to an excellent National Post infographic based on data from a U.S. Justice Department report and other sources, it's much easier to list states that don't have a drug trade tied to Mexican gangs. There are only twelve that haven't reported the presence of one of four Mexican cartels since 2008: Alabama, Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. The Mexican drug trade is everywhere else.
Detected cartel operations range from traditional drug-running to using a horse ranch as a front for laundering drug money, as one group did in Oklahoma. The Sinaloa cartel, which has emerged as Mexico's dominant syndicate, has carved out new territory in the United States by controlling 80 percent of its meth trade (Mexican cartels have come to dominate the U.S. market by aggressively bumping up the purity of their meth while dropping the price per gram).
All told, Mexican cartels reside in 1,200 American communities as of 2011, up from 230 in 2008, according to the Associated Press. Below is a map that shows just how many states have been penetrated, according to the National Post's special report on the topic.
View Cartel Penetration in the US in a larger map
Fraying cooperation in the drug war will surely be top of mind as President Obama meets with his counterpart Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico this week. And perhaps nothing encapsulates Mexico's growing impatience with America's heavy-handed approach to combating drug trafficking than this nugget from a New York Times report on Tuesday. Apparently, the United States has been subjecting Mexican security officials to regular polygraph tests in an effort to identify rotten apples. But that could soon change:
Shortly after Mexico's new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, took office in December, American agents got a clear message that the dynamics, with Washington holding the clear upper hand, were about to change.
"So do we get to polygraph you?" one incoming Mexican official asked his American counterparts, alarming United States security officials who consider the vetting of the Mexicans central to tracking down drug kingpins. The Mexican government briefly stopped its vetted officials from cooperating in sensitive investigations. The Americans are waiting to see if Mexico allows polygraphs when assigning new members to units, a senior Obama administration official said.
While the practice is not widely publicized, it has been an element of the two countries' security relationship for some time. In a 1997 article on U.S.-Mexican plans to join hands in the drug war, the Associated Press noted that Mexican counternarcotics agents would undergo the "kind of extensive background, financial, and polygraph tests required of U.S. drug agents." The plans came after the arrest of Mexico's drug czar, Gen. Jesús Gutiérrez Rebollo, for taking bribes from drug traffickers.
What's more, the United States hasn't just applied this policy to Mexico. In 2012, the Los Angeles Times reported that Washington has given elite Colombian counternarcotics agents polygraph tests as well.
The bad blood over polygraph tests isn't the only sign that U.S.-Mexican cooperation on the drug war is deteriorating. In an interview with the Spanish news agency EFE on his new book, the Mexican journalist Jesús Esquivel claimed that the Mexican military recently waved off a U.S. offer to capture famed drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Gúzman. The United States had the Sinaloa cartel chief's location and said the operation would take only 15 minutes. So why the hang-up? Mexican military officials reportedly didn't want the American military to lead the operation.
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It's been more than a year since Omar Hammami, an American-born jihadist in Somalia who made a name for himself with lo-fi propaganda rap productions, posted a video telling viewers he feared for his life. The threat he felt came not from the Somali government, which he had come to fight against in 2008, or from the U.S. government, which has branded him a wanted terrorist, but from his own comrades in al-Shabab, the Somali affiliate of al Qaeda.
Since then, Hammami has been hiding out in Somalia, but he's hardly kept a low profile online. He is the apparent operator of the @abumamerican Twitter account, from which he has criticized al-Shabab's leadership and communicated with journalists and terrorism analysts -- he even gave an interview for a profile by Danger Room's Spencer Ackerman. In the past week, though, his luck living on the lam has been running out.
Last Thursday, Hammami live-tweeted what he claimed was an assassination attempt in which an al-Shabab gunman shot him in the neck in a coffee shop (he quickly posted pictures of blood running down his neck and soaking his shirt). Then his hideout was assaulted by militiamen who, after a shootout, reportedly hauled Hammami before an al-Shabab tribunal. According to Hammami's account on Twitter, the tribunal released him and several members of al-Shabab's leadership issued a fatwa protecting Hammami, but others in the organization still promised to pursue him. Yesterday, as Shabab-affiliated forces closed in around the village where he remains in hiding, Hammami seemed to think he could be killed shortly:
May not find another chance to tweet but just remember what we said and what we stood for. God kept me alive to deliver the mssg 2 the umah— abu m (@abumamerican) April 29, 2013
Today he did find another chance to tweet, reporting that a militia from the Somali province of Gedo is threatening to kill him "even if they lose 100 despite defections."
The apparent end of Hammami's life on the run is certainly high drama, but it's also a rare glimpse into the divisions in al-Shabab's leadership. There have been tensions in the organization before, but "it has not, to my knowledge, resulted in such a public display of discord," wrote Katherine Zimmerman, a senior analyst for the American Enterprise Institute's Critical Threats Project, when reached by email by FP.
There seems to be bad blood between Hammami and al-Shabab's emir, Ahmed Abdi Godane, who also goes by the kunya Abu Zubayr. In Hammami's telling, he went into hiding after a fight he had with Godane over the role of foreign fighters, taxation issues, and trial procedures. "i told him every last detail in person," Hammami told Ackerman in his interview, "leading to the beginning of the oppression." As militiamen gathered last Friday to drag him to the tribunal, Hammami saw Godane's hand: "abu zubayr has gone mad," he tweeted. "he's starting a civil war."
Hammami believes the decision to pursue him has driven a wedge between Godane and his deputies. And sure enough, after he was released by the tribunal, several senior leaders -- Sheikh Mukhtar Robow, the deputy emir, Hassan Dahir Aweys, a Shabab official who ran a rival militia until 2010, and Ibrahim Haji Jama Mead, a member of al-Shabab's Shura Council -- issued a fatwa protecting Hammami. "The fatwa," Zimmerman writes, "does indicate that these three have, and will continue to, position themselves on the side of protecting Hammami."
But that doesn't necessarily mean al-Shabab is headed for civil war, as Hammami suggests. "It is still not clear to me that the divisions over the treatment of Hammami and the fighters with him will result in an actual split within al Shabaab," Zimmerman writes, stressing previous tensions in the organization's senior leadership. Specifically, she cited Robow's 2010 decision to withdraw his troops from Mogadishu after rejecting Godane's strategic approach to the city, Aweys's public disagreement with Godane over whether al-Shabab should have a monopoly on jihadist groups in Somalia, and a message Mead addressed to al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in which he expressed opposition to Godane's leadership. Despite their differences, Zimmerman points out, they've all remained stakeholders in the organization: "When these divisions surface, some are quick to assume that the group is weaker, but time and again, the group has remained united despite the divisions."
What's more, the internal fight over Hammami's fate doesn't split along what seems to be al-Shabab's largest internal fault line. That would be the fight "between the 'globalists' and the 'nationalists,'" writes Zimmerman, "those who sought to establish an Islamic caliphate in Somalia for the purpose of supporting al Qaeda's vision of jihad, and those who appeared to seek an Islamic caliphate as an end-state." Both Godane and Hammami are in the globalist camp (Hammami's even rapped about it); Robow and Aweys have tended to side with nationalists.
At the end of the day, Hammami seems to be caught in the middle of these rivals' power plays. And though the debate over his fate might not tear the organization apart, his desperate tweets do shine a light on the leadership's stark divisions.
MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/Getty Images
Amid international accusations of chemical weapons use by Assad government forces in Syria's civil war, Secretary of State John Kerry told NATO members on Tuesday that the alliance should consider contingency planning and prepare for possible threats to NATO nations emanating from Syria, including chemical weapons threats (after Kerry's remarks, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen clarified that NATO is not considering intervening in Syria).
Earlier this year, however, NATO did deploy three Patriot missile batteries in Turkey, a NATO state, in response to concerns in Ankara that southern Turkish cities could be targeted by Syrian Scud missiles. Other NATO countries are acting independently to facilitate arms provisions, non-lethal supplies, and training for rebels. And earlier this month, Pentagon officials announced they were doubling the U.S. military presence in Jordan to 200 military planners, with the potential to expand that presence to as many as 20,000 soldiers in an emergency.
In Washington, meanwhile, there is a mounting policy debate about the "least bad" options for the United States in responding to the protracted conflict in Syria. In a policy speech delivered last week, Sen. John McCain, a consistent advocate of intervention in Syria, outlined potential options for U.S. involvement in the conflict:
No one should think that we have to destroy every air defense system or put tens of thousands of boots on the ground to make a difference in Syria. We have more limited options. We could, for example, organize an overt and large-scale operation to train and equip Syrian opposition forces. We could use our precision strike capabilities to target Assad's aircraft and Scud missile launchers on the ground, without our pilots having to fly into the teeth of Syria's air defenses. We could use similar weapons to selectively destroy artillery pieces and make their crews think twice about remaining at their posts. We could also use Patriot missile batteries outside of Syria to help protect safe zones inside of Syria.
So, is McCain on to something? Could his options serve as blueprints for intervention? The United States already operates a clandestine training program for Syrian rebels in Jordan, and growing the program could be a "very significant gamechanger," Jeffrey White, defense fellow at the Washington Institute of Near East Policy, told FP.
Precision strikes, while feasible, would require "something like a mini-campaign" with a dedicated effort to find targets, some of which may have to be struck multiple times, White said. "It couldn't be done in one fell swoop."
Joshua Landis, a professor at the University of Oklahoma who has consulted for the administration, suggests on his blog, Syria Comment, that the Obama administration may be receptive to the idea of Patriot-enforced safe zones:
For some time, the language used in the White House to frame the Syria problem has been that of containment. Here are some of the oft repeated phrases I have been hearing from White House insiders:
- "Keep the violence inside Syria"
- "Prepare for Syrian failure"
- "Shore up the neighbors"
- "There are no good guys in Syria"
Adm. James Stavridis, the supreme allied commander for Europe, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last month that, in his opinion, Patriot-enforced no-fly zones along Syria's northern border "would be helpful in breaking the deadlock and bringing down the Assad regime."
"Assuming we have permission to deploy Patriot missiles appropriately in Turkey and Jordan, they could be used to implement a no-fly zone," White told FP, though he pointed out that the density of the fighting in southern Syria would limit the effectiveness of a no-fly zone in establishing a buffer zone along the Jordanian border.
There is a potential downside to establishing safe zones, though. White pointed to the potential for retaliation, saying, "If you had Patriot missiles trying to enforce a no-fly/no-missile zone, they could be targeted. There could be some risk to these forces, I wouldn't say significant risk, but some risk." Landis also cites concerns raised by David Pollock, also of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, that safe zones, depending on how they're enforced, could lead to blowback. Bill Frelick of Human Rights Watch has also suggested that buffer zones could trap refugees in the war zone without access to necessary aid.
What's clear is that President Obama is now facing increased pressure to act in Syria based on comments made in Israel last month that the use of chemical weapons would be a "red line." What comes after that red line's been crossed? Well, that's far less certain.
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On Sunday, the Dagestan affiliate of the Caucasus Emirate, a separatist group in Russia that has been tied to al Qaeda by the United Nations, issued a statement denying responsibility for the attacks in Boston. Here's a translation by the jihadist media clearinghouse blog Jihadology:
[T]here are speculative assumptions that [Tamerlan Tsarnaev] may have been associated with the Mujahideen of the Caucasus Emirate, in particular with the Mujahideen of Dagestan.
The Command of the Province of Dagestan indicates in this regard that the Caucasian Mujahideen are not fighting against the United States of America. We are at war with Russia, which is not only responsible for the occupation of the Caucasus, but also for heinous crimes against Muslims.
The statement also stressed that the leader of the Caucasus Emirate, Doku Umarov, has discouraged targeting civilians and blamed speculation about the Tsarnaevs' connection to Chechen separatists on Russian propaganda.
The Caucasus Emirate has been under particular scrutiny for the attacks, given the Tsarnaevs' Chechen heritage and older brother Tamerlan's trip to Chechnya and Dagestan last year, which some reports have tied to his radicalization.
The statement does not definitively indicate that the Tsarnaevs are not connected to the Caucasus Emirate, however. "The Caucasus Emirate is a very decentralized structure organizationally so I wouldn't necessarily say they speak on behalf of other wilayah or jama'at or even the emir Dokku Umarov," writes Aaron Zelin, the Richard Borow fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and founder of Jihadology, whom FP reached by email this morning. "The Caucasus Emirate is the main jihadi umbrella, but there are a bunch of wilayah and jama'at that work under it. I don't think we know enough information to determine if they could have worked with others."
The Dagestan affiliate of the Caucasus Emirate is not the first jihadist group to deny involvement in the attacks. The Pakistani Taliban issued a statement denying responsibility almost immediately after the bombings last week, with a spokesman for the organization saying, "Certainly, America is our target and we will attack the U.S. and its allies whenever the [Pakistani Taliban] finds the opportunity, but we are not involved in this attack."
Boston Globe photographer John Tlumacki catches Boston's finest, guns drawn, at the moment they hear the second explosion go off. The runner on the ground was knocked as a result of the first blast.
John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Two nuclear-armed countries conducted missile tests this past week -- and neither of them was North Korea. Instead, the missile launches came from nuclear rivals India and Pakistan.
Last Sunday, India fired a medium-range, nuclear-capable Agni-II missile. The missile, which has a range of over 1,200 miles, was launched successfully from Wheeler Island in the Bay of Bengal. Then, on Wednesday, Pakistan tested its own Hatf-IV/Shaheen-I missile. Pakistani officials said the missile successfully hit its target at sea, and demonstrates the country's ability to deliver a nuclear payload with a range of more than 500 miles.
The dueling missile tests aren't cause for alarm, though, says Shuja Nawaz, director of the Atlantic Council's South Asia Center. "These tests are frequent with Islamabad and New Delhi keeping each other informed," he told FP. "Both governments have lowered the rhetoric recently. Pakistan is pausing for elections. So expect no officially sponsored crises."
"Missile tests by India and Pakistan are relatively routine and frequent," added Gary Samore, a former Obama administration WMD czar and now executive director for research at Harvard's Belfer Center. "We don't pay much attention to them." So we can all breathe easy -- for today at least.
Michael Mann -- director of the venerable Al Pacino/Robert De Niro movie Heat and The Last of the Mohicans -- is working on a new film, and its plotline sounds, well, unrealistic.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, the still-untitled movie will feature U.S. and Chinese cyber agents -- not duking it out across the Internet, as might be expected, but working together. To stop a hacker. From the Balkans. The film is said to center around a pair of "Chinese hacker siblings"; Mann was reportedly in Hong Kong this week scouting potential lead actors and actresses.
Is this completely implausible? Well, not completely. Sure, there are some hackers in the Balkans. And sure, the United States and China occasionally make gestures toward increasing cooperation on cybercrime. But it is cybercrime from China -- particularly of the state-backed variety -- that is by far the bigger concern for business leaders and policymakers.
THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images
We may not know much about the man currently plowing full speed ahead toward international nuclear crisis, but one thing we do know for sure is that he is young -- 29 or 30. And this, most news outlets seem to agree, is an important factor in understanding how we wound up where we are today -- and where we may be headed. CNN calls Kim Jong Un "a rash young leader." "Young, reckless, without great political savvy," writes the Christian Science Monitor. The Daily Mail calls the North Korean supreme leader a "boy despot."
It's conventional wisdom that age and experience are calming forces in international relations -- that with a few gray hairs comes the moderation and wisdom to avoid, say, calling other, much larger states, "boiled pumpkin[s]." But one academic study on the question finds the connections between age and political crises to be a little more nuanced. For every brash, brassy Louis XIV -- who, at 29, invaded the Spanish Netherlands in 1667 and was forced to give almost all of it back a year later -- there is a Nikita Khrushchev placing missiles on Cuba in his late 60s.
A 2005 study from the Journal of Conflict Resolution examined the ages of the leaders involved in 100,000 interactions between states from 1875 to 1999, and found that, in fact, the older the leader, the more likely he is to both initiate and escalate conflicts. Having an experienced counterpart on the other side of a dispute didn't seem to help much either. The study found that the risk of escalation -- to use of force, and then to all-out war -- also increases as the age of the leader in the second state goes up.
What's going on? The authors of the study, "Leader Age, Regime Type, and Violent International Relations," speculate that older leaders may have fewer institutional constraints on them, having gained credibility and freedom to act by virtue of their experience:
One example of this is the presidency of George H.W. Bush in comparison to the presidency of Bill Clinton. Bush, as a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, an ambassador, and a vice president, had amassed an enormous amount of institutional credibility ... that gave him a greater latitude to direct U.S. military policy.
In addition, the authors reason, the shorter time horizons of aging leaders may prompt them to take greater risks in the hopes of building a legacy.
So does this mean that we should all take a deep breath and relax about North Korea -- that young Kim is exactly who we want in charge in this situation? Not quite. The authors go on to look at how the relationship between age and leadership changes when the data set is reduced to just "personalist regimes" where power is concentrated in the hands of a single leader. Here, they find that the relationship is turned on its head: younger leaders are actually slightly more prone to initiate and escalate crises. Why? The authors hypothesize that young autocrats may face fewer institutional constraints from the get-go.
This is important to note when looking at Kim's behavior, because most North Korea watchers believe North Korea's institutions don't restrain Kim's behavior; if anything, they drive him to be more aggressive, as the only institution whose voice really matters in the Hermit Kingdom is the military (not an uncommon situation in many autocratic regimes -- perhaps suggesting that young despots beholden to the military are just as institutionally constrained as their counterparts in democracies, but pushed toward aggression rather than peaceful behavior).
The authors do close on a somewhat reassuring note -- they encourage further study of the effect having children has on leaders' aggression: "Testosterone concentrations ... [are] lowest in the new father population immediately after their wives" give birth, they write.
Good news for those of us who want peace on the Korean peninsula: Kim Jong Un is rumored to be a new father.
The Chinese government on Tuesday continued to deny that a Chinese frigate locked its radar on a Japanese destroyer earlier this year. The denial comes a day after Tokyo-based Kyodo News quoted unnamed "senior Chinese military officials" admitting for the first time that it happened -- but only by accident, they said.
It's worth noting, especially in light of Beijing's official denial, that we don't know who these Chinese officials are, or why they're speaking up now. But the report, if true, is disturbing precisely because the alleged standoff happened accidentally. According to the officials, the radar lock was an unplanned, "emergency decision" taken by the commander of the frigate -- one that did not include communication with fleet command or navy headquarters. This line in particular from Kyodo's report does not inspire confidence:
"The communication system used by the Chinese navy is not as advanced as those of Japan and the United States, a senior official said, explaining why the commander did not seek guidance."
Great. At a time when Chinese authorities seem to be making efforts to dial down tensions with Japan over disputed islands, could a war between East Asian superpowers be sparked by accident -- by some frigate commander gone rogue?
That nuclear war could come about in just such a scenario was, of course, a major concern during the Cold War. But decades of tension, as well as apocalyptic visions of global annihilation as a result of the U.S. and U.S.S.R. locking horns, produced carefully designed systems to minimize the damage any one rogue actor could inflict (only the president can access the nuclear codes), and to minimize misunderstandings from more minor incidents (the Kremlin-White House hotline).
But East Asia -- relatively free of military buildup until recently -- doesn't have these same systems in place. A soon-to-be-released report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies highlights the danger that emerges when a region's military systems develop faster than its communication mechanisms, and finds that accidental war in East Asia is a real possibility:
Across East Asia, advanced military systems such as anti-ship missiles, new submarines, advanced combat aircraft are proliferating in a region lacking security mechanisms that could defuse crises. Bilateral military-to-military ties are often only embryonic. There is a tangible risk of accidental conflict and escalation, particularly in the absence of a strong tradition of military confidence-building measures."
The Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands dispute has been marked by an increasing number of deliberate provocations on both sides: surveillance vessels entering nearby waters, patrol planes making passes by the islands, scrambled fighter jets. These are planned actions, designed to incrementally heighten tensions. But the more fighter jets that get scrambled without good communications systems in place, the higher the chances that these deliberate moves escalate beyond what either Japan or China is anticipating.
That being said, it's important to note that historians still question whether any wars have truly been started by accident. (War "is almost by definition a deliberate and carefully considered act," writes Michael Howard.) The origins of World War I -- sometimes dubbed the accidental war -- are still hotly debated, for example. But Reuters recently noted that China, while seeking to cool tensions with Japan, is at the same time taking steps to increase central control over its military (putting paramilitary agencies under a single command, for instance) to prevent accidents -- a sign, at least, that one party in this conflict is taking the possibility seriously.
For the first time in Pakistan's history, a democratically elected civilian government has successfully finished its five-year term -- despite a flurry of anti-government protests. But what does that success look like?
Foreign direct investment collapsed after President Asif Ali Zardari's government came to power in 2008, and has continued declining since, according to the World Bank. Meanwhile, foreign aid from the United States spiked, more than doubling under the new government to over $4 billion a year before tapering off again in 2011.
The country's relative political stability has paid off in some respects. Child mortality is down. School enrollment has continued to improve as well, rising three percentage points between 2008 and 2011 (admittedly not as impressive as the 14-percent increase over the course of the previous five years). On the other hand, since 2009 the ratio of girls to boys receiving a primary or secondary education has declined, indicating that enrollment is increasingly skewing toward boys. Pakistan may have fallen from ninth to 13th place in the Fund for Peace's annual ranking of failed states between 2008 and 2012, but the slightly better finish was still pretty dismal (as Robert Kaplan's "What's Wrong with Pakistan?" article for FP's Failed States package last year attests).
Domestic security under Zardari's government got off to a rough start, but has started to improve more recently. Domestic suicide bombings surged in the last year of Pervez Musharraf's government -- from the single digits through the first half of the decade to 57 in 2007. Terror attacks hit their peak with 90 suicide bombings in 2009, but the number fell to 32 attacks in 2012.
For what it's worth, in the last five years there have also been 353 U.S. CIA airstrikes against terrorist targets that killed at least 2,376 individuals, compared to 12 strikes with a minimum death toll of 159 people from the start of the CIA's drone campaign in Pakistan in 2004 through 2007.
That figure does not include the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad in May 2011 -- for which President Obama famously did not give advance notice to the Pakistani government because of concerns about al Qaeda sympathizers in the Pakistani military and intelligence service. At an event at the Brooking Institution last month, retired CIA analyst and South Asia expert Bruce Riedel speculated that bin Laden's successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is also being sheltered by the Pakistani military. If the civilian government is slowly finding its sea legs, it has a long way to go.
ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images
Al Qaeda-aligned extremists aren't optimistic about the war in Syria, and are preparing for a long fight -- against Assad, the United States, Israel, Iran, and even other Islamist rebels. That's the lesson of a "comprehensive strategy" posted to a members-only jihadi forum associated with al Qaeda.
The paper states some lofty goals for the forum, Shumukh al-Islam, whose members have been known to fight with jihadi groups in Syria like Jabhat al-Nusra. The author frames Shumukh almost like an al Qaeda think tank, writing, "We would like here for our forums ... to be centers for research and sophisticated studies that issue reports and advisory recommendations."
They have a long way to go. In an email to FP, Cole Bunzel, a doctoral candidate at Princeton University who wrote about the report for the Jihadica blog, writes that the "forums acting as a kind of jihadi think tank is more an aspiration than a reality," though he pointed out that there are efforts within the forums to provide more analysis.
The analysis presented in the "comprehensive strategy" for Syria is bleak for jihadi groups fighting against the Assad regime. Fighters "are exposed to extraordinary pressure, assault, forced retreat, ignominy, and many, many other things," and it is only likely to get worse. Shumukh expects a long war, and believes a foreign intervention is imminent -- "a Crusader power will, inevitably, arrive on Syrian territory, using multiple pretexts," the author writes. As for who would step in, the author fantasizes about a potential U.S.-Israeli-Iranian alliance; Bunzel notes in a wry footnote that the "author has a very confused understanding of Middle Eastern alliance politics."
The report speculates that the looming intervention will close Syria's porous borders, a critical avenue for new recruits to join jihadi groups. The key, then, is preparation. Jihadis should "increase greatly the inflow of recruits ... because the openness of these borders will not persist." Jabhat al-Nusra should manage a media office to produce flashy videos and press releases ("[f]or the media in this generation are equivalent to half the army"), an intelligence service, and a commando unit -- a sort of jihadi Joint Special Operations Command. They should establish a government-in-waiting to prepare for the fall of the Assad regime and "fill the void and manage people's affairs in the areas under our control," providing services in an approach not unlike Ansar al-Sharia's strategy in Yemen in early 2012. In some places, this has already begun; a recent article about Jabhat al-Nusra notes that, "Within their ranks, an aid department distributes bread, gas and blankets." This Phase IV planning is "of greater concern to us than the ongoing war," the author of the "comprehensive strategy" writes.
The post-war planning is necessary because the jihadis expect everyone to turn on them. Shumukh advises jihadis to prepare to fight anyone who "besiege[s] or conspire[s] against [them] whether ... from beyond Syria or by the brothers of the revolution itself." There is already an emerging schism between Jabhat al-Nusra and the umbrella group known as the Islamic Syrian Front, Bunzel notes, with more moderate Islamists supporting democratic governance. "That's just the kind of soft stance that JN jihadists -- and the authors of the Shumukh strategy -- seem intent on opposing," he writes.
It's an ambitious plan and "almost certainly has more analytical value for us analysts than it does practical value for jihadis on the battlefield," notes Bunzel. "What I find most revealing is the extraordinary depth of their paranoia and sense of pessimism regarding their future role in Syria." It's also a strategy that directly contradicts Osama bin Laden's own warning to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, in a letter that was found at the complex where he was killed in Abbottabad, that trying to hold territory makes jihadis an exposed target. The strategy proved to be a failure in Yemen and provoked the very foreign intervention the report warns of when attempted in Mali. "Their calculation seems to be this: we jihadists are inevitably going to be squeezed by all the forces of the region," Bunzel explains, "so we should make sure to recruit heavily in the short term, take control of heavy and chemical weapons sites, and stake out territory for the looming fight."
This concern and uncertainty about what comes next was echoed by Abdullah Omar, a Free Syrian Army soldier, in a recent interview with the Global Post. When asked about Jabhat al-Nusra, he replied, "God only knows what's going to happen between them and the FSA and the new government after the Assad regime falls down." The jihadis, though, aren't waiting to find out. They're preparing for a fight they expect will pit them against the world.
ZAC BAILLIE/AFP/Getty Images
Yemen's tribal practice of kidnapping to extort concessions by the government in Sanaa and ransom payments from abroad has two faces. At one extreme is the romanticized version of rural tribesmen taking hostages and, in accordance with Yemeni tribal custom, treating them as honored guests until an agreement is mediated with the government. According to one story, a Chinese construction worker was kidnapped and held hostage for months, living better than he had as a laborer; when the Chinese government wouldn't negotiate, he was dropped off in Sanaa. As was the case with journalist Adam Baron, who wrote about being kidnapped recently, things can often end well.
Then there's the other side of tribal kidnappings -- the side that illustrates the desperation that motivates these tactics as rural factions struggle for the attention and resources of Yemen's overwhelmed central government. The video above was posted to YouTube on Feb. 21. In it, Dominik Neubauer, an Austrian citizen who was kidnapped in Sanaa along with a Finnish couple two months ago, pleads at gunpoint for the Yemeni and Austrian governments to negotiate his release.
I've been taken hostage on the 21st of December, 2012, by a Yemeni tribe. They want ransom money. I appeal to the Yemeni government, to the Austrian government, and to all other governments concerned, and to the European Union to give them what they want. Otherwise they will kill me seven days after this video is published.
That would be this Thursday. He added a message to his family in German: "Mom, Dad, Lukas, Angela, I love you more than anything. So far I'm in good health."
Neubauer, 26, was in Yemen studying Arabic. A recent graduate of the masters' program at the London School of Economics, he had spent time interning for the European Union's diplomatic corps, according to an infrequently updated LinkedIn page that appears to be his. An acquaintance of Neubauer's said he had been planning on returning to Europe just days after he was taken.
The YouTube video is the first evidence that Neubauer is still alive, a spokesman for the Austrian Foreign Ministry told reporters. There has been no news about the Finnish couple that was also kidnapped. Authorities say they do not know where the hostages are being held.
The sheen came off tribal kidnappings in 1998, when religious militants belonging to the Aden-Abyan Islamic Army kidnapped 16 British, American, and Australian tourists, rebuffed traditional tribal mediation efforts, and executed at least two of them while two others were killed in a rescue attempt. It is unclear if the people holding Neubauer will hold to their stated timetable -- a spokesperson for the Finnish Foreign Ministry pointed out that "the time limits are common in these kinds of demands, and often they are flexible. There is no need to draw too many conclusions over this."
It was a year ago yesterday that Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi was formally made president of Yemen in a national referendum. He succeeded the three-decade rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh, who finally yielded to international pressure to step down amid a popular uprising, and Hadi's accession was meant to usher in a two-year transition to a more representative government. Yemeni politicians and U.N. officials have spent much of the past year organizing a National Dialogue, including representatives of many of the country's overlapping and competing factions, divided along tribal, political, and religious lines, to discuss constitutional reforms and, possibly, a more decentralized government.
But yesterday, three representatives from the country's restive south withdrew from the National Dialogue committee in protest of continued suppression of the "Hirak," or Southern Movement, which has called for stronger representation for Yemen's south or secession. Protesters in Aden -- which until 1991 was the capital of an independent South Yemeni state -- gathered to protest Hadi's reluctance to address southern grievances. They were met with gunfire from the military, which positioned soldiers on rooftops overlooking the protest (recalling the carnage caused by rooftop snipers just less than two years ago in one of the uprisings catalyzing moments); at least four protesters died (maybe eight now) and 40 more were wounded. On the anniversary of the referendum, Yemen's halfway revolution appears as stalled now as ever before.
The delays to the National Dialogue were expected -- six months before Saleh stepped down, when the transition plan was still a proposal, Chatham House fellow Ginny Hill said,
I see hurdles at every stage. I think it's going to be a contested process, but it's going to be a contested process that Yemen needs to go through. And I think it will be good if it's contested, because in that process -- if it can be contained within a genuinely political space, if it doesn't turn into a violent process -- the scope for forging more legitimate political structures potentially lies in this process.
The transition was always going to be messy, but it is increasingly returning to a state of affairs last seen during the uprising's tensest moments in 2011, a race to find an inclusive agreement before the country unravels.
And it is unraveling. Last week, the U.N. Security Council issued a resolution singling out Saleh and his long-exiled southern rival, Ali Salem al-Beidh, as spoilers in the peace process. Last month, a large weapons shipment, including shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, was intercepted en route to Yemen, possibly from Iran; previous to the captured shipment, rumors of other shipments to insurgents had persisted for months. As news came out of Aden, Gregory Johnsen, author of The Last Refuge, tweeted:
You really had to have your head in the sand to miss what is starting to kick off in #Yemen - pretty sad.— GregorydJohnsen (@gregorydjohnsen) February 20, 2013
In the worst days of the popular uprising, secessionist tribal groups carrying the old South Yemeni flag seized a military base in the southern province of Yafai, prompting retaliatory airstrikes. If southern politicians refuse to participate and the National Dialogue collapses, this could well occur again on a much larger scale. Will Picard, head of the Yemen Peace Project, wrote last night about the potential for a renewal of Yemen's 1994 civil war. "More violence is certain," he concluded. "Little else is."
We hear plenty about drugs and conflict diamonds; but the international black market for timber -- a global trade that has been plaguing the forests of South America, Central America, and Asia for years, and one that is estimated to be worth anywhere from 30 to 100 billion dollars a year -- gets a lot less attention.
Illegal wood had a rare moment in the spotlight on Feb. 19, when Interpol reported the results of its first international operation to target timber trafficking. "Operation Lead," which brought together law enforcement agencies from twelve Latin American countries, was carried out over a month late last year and resulted in the seizure of the equivalent of 2,000 truckloads of timber (worth millions of dollars) and the arrests of more than 200 people.
While individual countries in the region, such as Columbia and Brazil, have cracked down on the illegal trade in the past, the transnational nature of the crime makes it difficult for domestic law enforcement agencies, which are limited in their jurisdiction, to be very effective. An international approach has the potential to be more successful. According to the head of Interpol's Environmental Crime Program, Operation Lead has laid the foundations for future efforts to combat the global trade.
So why timber? It is not as lucrative as the drug trade, but it still brings in a fair amount of cash. According to a recent Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) report, in Laos, rare rosewood logs can fetch $18,000 per cubic meter. The EIA also notes that traffickers can earn $1,700 for a high-quality mahogany tree on the Peruvian black market, and about $1,000 for a cedar tree. In 2006, illegal logging in Peru was bringing up to $72 million in profits per year. Some estimates put the yearly profits in Columbia as high as $200 million.
In Latin America, the drug and timber trades aren't mutually exclusive. Though the extent of the connection is not yet clear, timber trafficking overlaps with organized crime and the drug trade in interesting ways in countries like Colombia and Peru.
For one, it has been suggested that timber offers drug traffickers an opportunity to invest in a new illegal market -- to "diversify their portfolios" -- as some governments become more successful (however slightly) in cracking down on the drug trade.
In Peru, where an estimated 80 percent of total timber exports are illegal, the wood trafficking network has become so sophisticated that drug traffickers are now piggybacking on the timber trade -- literally. In 2006, a U.S. State Department cable (later released by WikiLeaks) reported that drug traffickers in the Andes moving coca paste and opium "appear to be getting involved in transport of illegal timber, for both its profitability and its utility as concealment." In 2010, Peruvian police seized nearly 400 kilos of cocaine and coca base hidden in a single shipment of Sinaloa cedar.
Logging may also be viewed as a profitable way to open land for the farming of coca. According to a 2011 UN report, since 1981, more than 3,000 square miles of Columbia's forests have been cut down illegally to make way for coca crops. In 2008, then Columbian Vice President Francisco Santos Calderon announced, "If you snort a gram of cocaine, you are destroying 4 square meters of rainforest."
All considered, it isn't surprising that the illegal logging trade has taken a violent turn in some countries. Last year in Cambodia, an anti-logging activist and a reporter covering the illegal trade were both murdered. Three Brazilian activists were killed in 2011 -- just three out of dozens that have been murdered over the past several years.
It should be noted that illegal logging is not entirely run by timber kingpins and "wood mafias." Local communities also cut down wood illegally (to use, not to sell), and have probably been doing so for generations.
The countries affected are going to have to take strong action if they want to save their forests, because the problem is not going to fix itself. The world's appetite for high-value wood is high and is only getting higher. In its report entitled "Appetite for Destruction: China's Trade in Illegal Timber," the EIA states that between 2000 and 2011, the quantity of global log imports tripled, with a value that increased fivefold. China -- with wood product exports that have increased almost sevenfold in the past decade, with new construction projects beginning every day, and with a new bourgeoisie that covets fancy rosewood lounge sets (which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars), cars with wood-embellished interiors, and yachts -- comprises a large part of that demand. According to the EIA, China is the world's top importer of illegal timber. "More than half of China's current supplies of raw timber material are sourced from countries with a high risk of illegal logging and poor forest governance," including Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Madagascar, Myanmar, and Papua New Guinea.
Nicaragua in particular has seen enormous growth in its illegal timber market thanks to Chinese demand. In 2008, Nicaraguan exports of granadillo totalled about $127,000. In 2011, after other Central American countries enacted stricter wood export regulations, that number grew fifty fold, to $6 million.
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Chinese government officials considered using an armed unmanned aerial vehicle to target a drug trafficker hiding in Myanmar, according to an interview with Liu Yuejin, the director of China's Public Security Ministry's anti-drug bureau that appeared in Global Times on Monday. The target, Naw Kham, wanted for a drug-trafficking related attack that killed 13 Chinese sailors, was eventually captured last April in a joint Chinese-Laotian operation in Laos and is now appealing a death sentence in China. Yuejin's comments are an unusual glimpse into China's considerations for the use of drone strikes, a tactic that is no longer used exclusively by the United States.
The proposed Chinese strike would have occurred in Myanmar's restive north, where the Naypyidaw government has struggled to control ethnic conflicts and a thriving drug trade. Much like the U.S. official rationale as for strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, China could have either sought Naypyidaw's support or credibly claimed that the government was "unwilling or unable to suppress the threat posed by the individual being targeted," in the words of the Obama administration's white paper on its own targeted killing program. Similarly, as a violent drug trafficker tied to the deaths of Chinese sailors, China could have justified the potential drone strike under the white paper's loose definition of the "imminent threat of violent attack" against the homeland -- much as the United States justified targeting al Qaeda militants tied to the bombing of the USS Cole with drone strikes, beginning Abu Ali al-Harithi in 2002 (well before the white paper was authored).
The admission that the Chinese government considered a drone strike comes as its relationship with Myanmar has become increasingly strained amid stalled economic projects and new competition for influence with the West. China also appears to have placed special emphasis on their UAV programs in recent months, unveiling new models (that look suspiciously like U.S.-made Predator and Reaper drones) and retrofitting old Shenyang J-6 jets to fly by remote control.
Yuejin told Global Times that the drone strike option was passed over because of instructions to capture Naw Kham alive, but his comments demonstrate that China is weighing targeted killings seriously. When -- almost certainly not "if" -- China conducts its first drone strike, it will join just three other nations -- the United States, Britain, and Israel -- and place itself among the drone powers in the ongoing international assessment of the legality of these operations and whether they abridge international law and the established concept of sovereignty.
PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images
Said al-Shihri is dead again, maybe this time for good. As the deputy emir of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, he is the highest ranking official in AQAP to be killed since the organization emerged in January 2009. He's had some near misses since then, and sources in the Yemeni military have been known to jump the gun in claiming his death. This time the news has been issued by the Yemeni government and its state news agency, and been confirmed by Mohammed Albasha, a spokesman for the Yemeni embassy in Washington.
Shihri was last reported killed in September 2011. We wrote about him at the time:
Shihri, who went by the pseudonym Abu Sufyan al-Azdi, had fought in Afghanistan and Chechnya before being captured by U.S. forces in December 2001, soon after returning to Afghanistan. After several years of detention at Guantanamo Bay, Shihri went through a rehabilitation program in Saudi Arabia and was released in September, 2008. Four months later, he appeared in a video announcing the formation of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an aggressive offshoot led by a former bin Laden aide Nasir al-Wuhayshi, which quickly gained the attention of Western journalists and the intelligence community with a series of high-profile attempted attacks and flashy online periodicals.
Shihri is believed to have helped plan a 2009 assassination attempt against Saudi prince Muhammad bin Nayif, then-head of Saudi Arabia's counterterrorism program and a proponent of the jihadi rehabilitation program Shihri underwent. He also worked to raise funds and recruits from Saudi Arabia. Some of his efforts were met with criticism from within the al Qaeda network. Documents recovered from bin Laden's safehouse in Abottabad include a letter from bin Laden criticizing Shihri's communiqués demanding the release of a Saudi fundraiser for AQAP, and suggesting that the al Qaeda franchise clear their press releases with al Qaeda Central.
AQAP, though, seems to have made it a point to assert its independence from al Qaeda central command. In the same letter, bin Laden also advised against trying to hold territory in Yemen to establish an Islamic emirate -- a suggestion the AQAP leadership pointedly disregarded. Bin Laden's reasoning that it would leave AQAP tied to targets and exposed proved true.
AQAP disregarded those instructions and -- in concert with a more locally-focused affiliate organization -- briefly occupied portions of Jaar and Abyan provinces, including the town of Zinjibar. They were driven out by a joint U.S.-Yemeni campaign in the spring of last year. Since then, the organization has been scattered. Airstrikes have targeted suspected AQAP members in Hadramawt, a large, sparsely populated province east of AQAP's former stronghold. Shihri was reportedly wounded in Yemen's northern Saada governorate, where AQAP has engaged in sectarian clashes with the Houthis, a tribal-religious group agitating for government autonomy.
Unconfirmed rumors of Shihri's death have been circulating for several days, and the circumstances of his death remain murky. According to the Yemeni government, Shihri was seriously wounded in Saada on November 28. The Yemeni government did not comment on the nature of the attack, and refrains from discussing clandestine U.S. operations on Yemeni soil. After the strike, Shihri then slipped into a coma and later died and was buried by AQAP. As with previous reports of Shihri's death, it should probably be taken with a grain of salt until confirmed by AQAP. Or denied by Shihri himself, as he has done before.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this morning about the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on that killed four American citizens, including the ambassador to Libya. Her remarks came after four months of controversy and finger-pointing about security lapses, intelligence failures, about and the administration's response to the attack, with critics accusing the White House and State Department of misleading the public (a charge that may have scuttled U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice's chances for a nomination to succeed Clinton in Foggy Bottom).
After months of reporting on the attack, there was little new information to be gleaned from Clinton's testimony, but it did provide an opportunity for both the secretary and her congressional critics to air their perspectives and grievances. Clinton's testimony turned emotional early on, as she choked up in her opening statements describing standing with President Obama as the bodies of the Americans killed in Benghazi arrived at Andrews Air Force Base. She also reiterated that, "as I have said many times since Sept. 11, I take responsibility."
The hearing also turned heated at times. Sen. Ronald Johnson (R-Wis.) expressed his vehement disbelief that the State Department could not determine whether the attack was a planned terrorist action or grew out of a protest in response to the incendiary film Innocence of Muslims, which had provoked rioting at other U.S. facilities throughout the Muslim world that week.
"Madam Secretary, do you disagree with me that a simple phone call to those evacuees [from the Benghazi consulate] would have ascertained immediately that there was no protest?" Sen. Johnson asked. "I mean, that was a piece of information that could have been easily, easily obtained," he continued, before dismissing Clinton's comment that she did not want to interfere with the processes at work on the ground as an "excuse."
The secretary told Johnson "to read the ARB [Accountability Review Board report] and the classified ARB because even today there are questions being raised" about the attackers' interests and allegiance. (Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Ca.) wrote about the ARB for Foreign Policy last month.) When pressed again, a visibly exasperated Clinton responded, "With all due respect, we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or because of guys out for a walk one night who decided to go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator."
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Az.) were visibly frustrated by Clinton's answers. After the secretary told the committee that she had not personally read all the cables from the diplomatic mission in Libya, including those requesting increased security measures, Sen. Paul remarked that this represented "a failure in leadership," a charge that has been leveled by FP's own Shadow Government as well. "Had I been president at the time," he told Clinton, "and I found that you did not read the cables from Benghazi, you did not read the cables from Amb. Stevens, I would have relieved you of your post.". McCain again voiced his doubts about the veracity of administration messaging about the attack in the early weeks afterwards. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) compared the administration's response to the faulty intelligence behind claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2003. Clinton said of the talking points, "The fact is that people were trying in real time to get to the best information."
McCain also "strongly disagreed" with Clinton's characterization of U.S. policy towards Libya after Muammar al-Qaddafi's fall, concluding by saying that the State Department's choice of a "soft footprint" for security contributed to the deaths at Benghazi. Clinton pointed out that Congress had placed holds on funding requests aid and security projects like those McCain cited. "We've got to get our act together between the administration and the Congress. If this is a priority, trying to help this government stand up security and deal with what is a very dangerous environment from east to west, then we have to work together," Clinton replied.
One of the few substantive clarifications was the role of the Marine personnel stationed with the diplomatic mission -- a point of confusion among many policymakers. "Historically, Marine guards do not protect personnel," said Clinton. "Their job is to protect classified material and destroy it if necessary." Several senators suggested that this should change.
Regarding that classified material, Clinton told the committee that no classified documents were left at Benghazi, "although some unclassified material was unfortunately left behind." Foreign Policy reported about this oversight in September when documents found at the razed compound suggested that there had been warning signs an attack was imminent.
Interestingly, one of the most interesting moments in the hearing wasn't about the Benghazi attack at all. Clinton spoke briefly about the hostages taken at the In Amenas gas field in Algeria, observing that the same proliferation of weapons that helped arm the terrorists in Benghazi also helped arm the terrorists in southern Algeria. "The vast majority of weapons came out of Qaddafi warehouses," she said, characterizing the spread of small arms and shoulder-fired missiles as a "Pandora's box." As to whether the attacks in Benghazi and at In Amenas were directly related, she said there was insufficient intelligence.
The testimony made for a strange coda to Clinton's otherwise well-regarded term as secretary of state. Her imminent departure was mentioned as a matter of accountability by both her critics and herself. Paul remarked that he saw her decision to step down now as accepting "culpability for the worst tragedy since 9/11." Clinton saw things differently. "Nobody is more committed to getting this right," she told the committee in her opening remarks. "I am determined to leave the State Department and our country safer, stronger, and more secure."
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More than a year after President Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to step down -- and almost two years after protests against his dictatorship flooded the streets of Sanaa -- Yemen's political crisis continues. Saleh was formally ousted in February in a referendum that made his vice president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, his successor, but while the former president is in retirement, much of the government he built in his 33 year reign is not. This includes the former president's son, Ahmed Saleh, as well as his collection of Scud missiles.
The younger Saleh was once considered Ali Abdullah's heir apparent, but his presidential prospects were largely quashed by the popular uprising in 2011. For now, he appears to be biding his time as the commander of the Yemeni military's elite Republican Guard, a post he received while his father was still in power. The transition plan for Yemen calls for a reorganization of the Yemeni military to break up the influence of prominent power brokers in command positions -- and soon after taking office, Hadi removed several Saleh-connected officers from their posts, including the elder Saleh's relatives commanding the air force and presidential guard. Ahmed has managed to stay at the head of the Republican Guard for now, and Hadi has appeared wary of challenging him outright.
Hadi's efforts to whittle away Saleh's influence may have hit an impasse, though, as Ahmed Saleh has now refused to handover Republican Guard Scud missiles to the Yemeni Ministry of Defense. Sources in Hadi's office told Reuters that Saleh's refusal "has caused a crisis between the two sides," and that the president has threatened to rescind the immunity granted to Ahmed Saleh as part of the transition deal.
This latest round of power jockeying comes amid preparations for Yemen's national dialogue, in which representatives of Yemen's many tribal, political, and religious factions will meet to discuss a new constitutional framework for the country. Preparations for the dialogue have been slow, with some parties -- including key elements of Yemen's southern secessionist movement -- refusing to join other groups at the negotiating table.
The Scud standoff, though, is a reminder that Yemen's transition will not exclusively be decided at the much-discussed dialogue. During the country's political crisis in 2011, the popular movement was at times eclipsed by feuds in the capital between political, military, and tribal oligarchs, each wielding their own armed faction -- these included former President Saleh and his brood, but also prominent military commander Brigadier General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, and (unrelated to him) the al-Ahmar brothers, who are influential in the Hashid Tribal Federation, Yemen's largest tribal bloc. These tensions have been mostly dormant for the past year, but the power players are all still there, waiting. And if the national dialogue falls apart, no one wants to be caught unprepared.
MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
Alright, I can't believe I need to say this, but the future will not look like Call of Duty.
The latest entry in the bestselling game series, Black Ops II, takes place in the not-too-distant future, a version of the year 2025 in which the United States and China are engaged in escalating tensions after a U.S. cyberattack hits the Chinese stock exchange, prompting officials in Beijing to halt exports of rare earth minerals. Chaos ensues. Drones! Invisibility cloaks! There's a villainous Nicaraguan drug lord pulling strings for good measure, and David Petraeus is the secretary of defense.
The technology is science fiction, but the politics, that's just fiction. You'd never know it by reading some of the responses, though. Probably as a result of game studio Treyarch's effort to bolster the game with the input of some high-profile consultants, including Brookings Institute future-warfare expert Peter Singer and disgraced gun runner-turned-media personality Oliver North, some people are taking the game's premise disturbingly seriously. Fox News' review points to the game development's "eerie resemblances with the serious war-gaming exercises conducted by the U.S. military and government officials," while CNN's review explains that the expert consultants saw the "dwindling supply of rare earth elements" as "a feasible backdrop for a new Cold War."
Yes, China controls 95 percent of rare earth mineral production today, and that does constitute an "undisputed monopoly," as Hal Quinn and Michael Silver wrote in their editorial for the Washington Times. But there's no reason for all this hyperventilating. Despite their name, rare earth minerals aren't all that rare -- the U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that the supply of these minerals, which are critical to high-tech gadgets from cell phones to advanced weapon systems, will last well into the next century, if not longer. Despite China's current market dominance, Chinese reserves constitute only half of global rare earth supplies, and other countries -- notably Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Australia -- are beginning to exploit their deposits and become reliable suppliers in an increasingly diversified rare earth mineral marketplace.
As to whether competition over these resources could come to blows, Christine Parthemore, who now works in the office of the assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs and is also an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University, cautioned against cold war alarmism in a Center for a New American Security report on rare earth minerals. "History," she wrote in 2011, "indicates that conflict over absolute scarcities is unlikely." While supply disruptions are possible, the report argues, they'll look more like the 1973 oil crisis than the Cuban Missile Crisis.
So let's certainly open up different sources of rare earth mineral supplies, but let's not have a collective freak out about a potential cold war with China over iPhone batteries. It really is just a video game.
In the wake of a series of cyber attacks from Chinese I.P. addresses at the height of the Senkaku/Diaoyu island dispute, Yomiuri Shimbun reports that Japan is pushing a plan to create a "cyber defense network" consisting of Japan and 10 ASEAN countries.
"Under the system, the government intends to share information about cyber-attack patterns and technology to defend against the attacks. It also plans to carry out exercises to verify the effectiveness of the system within the current fiscal year."
More details will be discussed during meetings on information security in Tokyo this week, but the countries reportedly interested in participating include Thailand and Indonesia.
While the network's present plans -- sharing technology and information about attack patterns -- don't seem particularly innovative or groundbreaking, the fact that the network is being formed could be seen as another sign of widespread, cross-border fears of Chinese hackers.
More than a dozen Japanese websites belonging to banks, a government minister, a hospital, and some courts were hit during the row over the Senkaku Islands, many altered to display Chinese flags or to proclaim that the Diaoyu islands belong to China. Similar attacks took place on websites in the Phillipines - again related to a territorial spat over an island - earlier this year (although in fairness, Filipino hackers struck back) while last week saw a flurry of reports claiming that Chinese hackers had targeted the White House in a cyberattack (the White House said the attacks were a simple spear-phishing email, and that no harm had been done).
Yomiuiri Shimbun also reports that ASEAN countries might be interested in the network because their protections against cyberattacks haven't kept up with the increased use of computer equipment that has accompanied economic development.
TEH ENG KOON/AFP/Getty Images
U.S. and Pakistani officials signed a memorandum of understanding today, finally reopening supply routes to Afghanistan after a seven month blockade. In a statement to the press, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Mozzam Ahmed Khan assured that public that the decision to restore supply lines was made "without any financial benefit."
That may be true for Pakistan, but not everyone is coming out of this empty-handed. The Associated Press reports:
"Stopping these supplies caused us real trouble," a Taliban commander who leads about 60 insurgents in eastern Ghazni province told The Associated Press in an interview. "Earnings dropped down pretty badly. Therefore the rebellion was not as strong as we had planned."
A second Taliban commander who controls several dozen fighters in southern Kandahar province said the money from security companies was a key source of financing for the insurgency, which uses it to pay fighters and buy weapons, ammunition and other supplies.
"We are able to make money in bundles," the commander told the AP by telephone. "Therefore, the NATO supply is very important for us."
The U.S. military estimates that theft, bribery and mismanagement put $360 million in the hands of the Taliban, regional war lords and criminals in 2010 alone -- with more than half that amount pinched from convoys along the supply routes.
Citing evidence "rang[ing] from sobering to shocking," a 2010 House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform report titled Warlord, Inc illustrated the extent of extortion and corruption along the Afghanistan supply routes and called for increased efforts to cut losses. Efforts to protect supply routes and diminish the influence of local power brokers have gained little traction and convoys remain a target for attack and theft.
Though today's MOU banned the transport of arms and ammunition, the Taliban's glee remains unabated. "We have had to wait these past seven months for the supply lines to reopen and our income to start again," cheered one commander, "Now work is back to normal."
NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images
The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran has been attacked by malware once again.
In a letter made public on the company's website, an unknown Iranian scientist from the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) contacted Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer of Finnish security company F-secure, with an unusual complaint:
I am writing you to inform you that our nuclear program has once again been compromised and attacked by a new worm with exploits which have shut down our automation network at Natanz and another facility Fordo near Qom.
According to the email our cyber experts sent to our teams, they believe a hacker tool Metasploit was used. The hackers had access to our VPN. The automation network and Siemens hardware were attacked and shut down. I only know very little about these cyber issues as I am scientist not a computer expert.
There was also some music playing randomly on several of the workstations during the middle of the night with the volume maxed out. I believe it was playing 'Thunderstruck' by AC/DC.
Though Hypponen emphasized that he could not verify the attacks upon the Natanz Uraniam enrichment facility in central Iran and Qom, a research facility in an undisclosed section of southwest Tehran, he confirmed that the message was sent from the AEIO.
This sort of thing isn't new. Music was central to 1989's Operation Just Cause, in which U.S. soldiers attempted to coerce Panamanian President Manuel Noriega from his refuge in the Vatican embassy by blaring loud music at the building. In documents acquired by the National Security Archives, U.S. SOUTHCOM admitted U.S. military DJs took requests, blaring a playlist that ranged from Paul Simon's 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run and, an apparent favorite, AC/DC's You Shook Me All Night Long.
More recently, U.S. Psychological Operations Company (PsyOps) admitted to the use of heavy metal in Iraq as a mechanism to break uncooperative prisoners' resistance. Similar use was reported by the International Committee of the Red Cross as part of the "cruel, humane and degrading" treatment of Guantanamo inmates. Though the use of heavy metal as a interrogation technique incited some record companies to warn that the United States may owe royalty fees, military officials were unrepentant. As one officer told Newsweek, "Trust me, it works."
Though hackers have been known for their peculiar brand of humor -- see Stuxnet's hidden biblical references -- the use of music in cyber warfare is certainly a new development. Start planning your requests.
Sara Johannessen/AFP/Getty Images
Energy resources are a hot commodity in the Levant Basin days, and with 1.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil, 122 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas, and 5 billion barrels of natural gas liquids at stake, the Israeli defense ministry is asking for a "one-time budget increase" of about $760 million to boost its naval capacity in the Mediterranean Sea so it can better protect the country's offshore natural gas platforms. Though Israel purchased its fourth Dolphin-class diesel-electric submarine from Germany earlier this year to the tune of over $500 million, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Benny Gantz are on board with the plan, which "calls for adding four new warships to Israel's naval fleet and deploying hundreds of soldiers in the area."
Natural gas discoveries in the early twenty-first century have created a military debacle for Israel, which does not have demarcated maritime boundary with Lebanon. All of the multinational gas platforms are privately owned and fall within Israel's exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles from the coast, but they are located beyond Israel's territorial waters, which only stretch 12 nautical miles from land.
Israel's first offshore natural gas discovery, Tamar, is not slated to come online until 2013, but the defense institution fears that the platforms are already targets for terrorist attacks from Hezbollah, which receives long-range missiles from Syria. The Israeli navy does not traditionally get the lion's share of the defense budget, and top officials are worrying. As one anonymous senior Israeli military planner told Reuters, "We will do our best, but not without a major boost to our capabilities." In May, senior naval officer Capt. Sassi Hodeda told the Los Angeles Times that the navy wants to improve its radar systems and use unmanned surface vehicles to patrol, but added that they require "special technology" the navy does not have.
If the navy does receive the extra funding, the vessels it purchases "will have to accommodate an advanced radar system, a helicopter and a launch system capable of firing long-range air defense and surface-to-surface missiles." According to the Jerusalem Post, the options include designing the ships in the U.S. using foreign military aid, and building them in South Korea, but if Israel is really looking for international help, maybe it should consider ratifying the Law of the Sea Treaty first.
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