Just weeks after President Obama announced his intention to review and rethink our system of classifying secrets, the U.S. Government Printing Office made a great leap forward by accidentally releasing a 266 page "highly confidential" document that, according to the New York Times, gives "detailed information about hundreds of the nation's civilian nuclear sites and programs, including maps showing precise locations of stockpiles of fuels for nuclear weapons."
Don't worry too much, though, Obama reassured, stating "information of direct national security significance will not be compromised." Nonetheless, the Government pulled the document after press inquiries.
Who knew that government openness and government inefficiency could fit together so seamlessly?
Yesterday, the New York Times reported on a leaked Pentagon document showing that one in seven detainees released from Guantanamo has returned to terrorism.
An unreleased Pentagon report concludes that about one in seven of the 534 prisoners already transferred abroad from the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, are engaged in terrorism or militant activity, according to administration officials.
The conclusion could strengthen the arguments of critics who have warned against the transfer or release of any more detainees as part of President Obama's plan to shut down the prison by January. Past Pentagon reports on Guantánamo recidivism have been met with skepticism from civil liberties groups and criticized for their lack of detail.
The one-in-seven statistic is problematic. It might be too high. It might be too low. The category of "terrorism or militant activity" is broad; tracking released detainees and determining what they're doing -- that's not easy.
It's clear that the finding will put additional pressure on Obama administration officials to hold detainees, rather than release them.
More interesting will be the reaction of Bush administration defenders to this statistic. Does it mean we're minting terrorists in Guantanamo? Or does it mean these people were always too dangerous to release?
U.S. President Barack Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney are both giving national security speeches on Guantanamo Bay policy this morning -- Obama at 10:10 (he isn't on yet) and Cheney at 10:45. FP's Joshua Keating is at AEI to see Cheney, and he'll report back later today.
Update: Here's the text of Obama's speech.
On all of these matter related to the disclosure of sensitive information, I wish I could say that there is a simple formula. But there is not. These are tough calls involving competing concerns, and they require a surgical approach. But the common thread that runs through all of my decisions is simple: we will safeguard what we must to protect the American people, but we will also ensure the accountability and oversight that is the hallmark of our constitutional system. I will never hide the truth because it is uncomfortable. I will deal with Congress and the courts as co-equal branches of government. I will tell the American people what I know and don't know, and when I release something publicly or keep something secret, I will tell you why.
In all of the areas that I have discussed today, the policies that I have proposed represent a new direction from the last eight years. To protect the American people and our values, we have banned enhanced interrogation techniques. We are closing the prison at Guantanamo. We are reforming Military Commissions, and we will pursue a new legal regime to detain terrorists. We are declassifying more information and embracing more oversight of our actions, and narrowing our use of the State Secrets privilege. These are dramatic changes that will put our approach to national security on a surer, safer and more sustainable footing, and their implementation will take time.
I breathed a great sigh of relief with the Iranian government's announcement of the release of journalist Roxana Saberi, who Tehran convicted of spying for the United States.
Saberi was initially arrested in January for buying a bottle of wine. When in custody, officials realized she had no press credentials (which had been revoked in 2006). Her trial lasted only an hour, and she was sent to the infamous Evin prison with an eight-year sentence.
And, joining Spencer Ackerman here, I hope that Saberi's release will draw attention to the plight of two other imprisoned journalists: Euna Lee and Laura Ling of former U.S. Vice President Al Gore's Current TV.
North Korea has held the pair incommunicado since the end of March. The Wall Street Journal reports:
U.S. officials have said less about Ms. Lee and Ms. Ling than they have about an American reporter, Roxana Saberi, who was recently convicted of espionage in Iran. The strategy is partly a gamble that not provoking the North Koreans may lead to a speedy resolution, analysts say, but it's also a sign of the increased uncertainty in dealing with Pyongyang.
U.S. officials have said little about the journalists' situation, but have indicated they aren't making progress with Pyongyang. A person not in government who is familiar with the situation said that North Korea isn't talking to the U.S. at all.
Here's from a McClatchy story (h/t Andrew Sullivan):
North Korea appears to be holding the women in a protocol house in Pyongyang.
"The rumor was that they are being housed at one of the guest villas," said Han S. Park, a University of Georgia expert who was visiting North Korea as part of a private U.S. delegation after the women were captured. Park told CNN International that the North Koreans scoffed at any suggestion that the Americans were receiving harsh treatment.
"They laughed. 'We are not Guantanamo.' That's what they said," Park said.
Still, it's a worrisome situation. Washington has far more dialogue and slowly warming relations with Tehran. More importantly, both governments had something at stake in ensuring the Saberi incident didn't become the Saberi fiasco.
Not so with Lee and Ling, and the U.S. and North Korean governments. Even if the Swedish diplomat who conducts relations for the U.S. managed to negotiate for their release, he'd have few obvious carrots or sticks to reach for, and the DPRK would have little reason to be magnanimous.
I also hope the U.S. considers releasing or charging the foreign journalist it has in custody in Iraq. The U.S. says that Reuters photographer Ibrahim Jassam, arrested in a raid on his home in September, poses a threat to security and continues to hold him -- despite an Iraqi court ruling this winter that he should be freed.
STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images
Earlier today, I spoke with veteran Washington Post reporter Dana Priest. My question was simple: At what point did it become clear that the United States' treatment of detainees in overseas prisons was harsh, and possibly illegal? (For more FP torture coverage, see here.)
Allegations of detainee abuse first started trickling out in January 2002 -- in essence, as soon as detainees came into U.S. custody. But it wasn't until eleven months later that Priest and fellow Post reporter Barton Gellman wrote the first definitive account of such abuse. On the day after Christmas, 2002, the Post described "stress and duress" tactics, extraordinary rendition to countries like Syria, and the harsh treatment of al Qaeda operative Abu Zubayda. The article used the word torture -- saying that the United States harshly interrogated prisoners, and sent them to foreign prisons to gain the "fruits" of torture without having to do it themselves.
According to one official who has been directly involved in rendering captives into foreign hands, the understanding is, "We don't kick the [expletive] out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the [expletive] out of them."
Back then, the CIA was Priest's beat. She says her tip-off on the "stress and duress" story came when she noticed a separate, unmarked compound near the main Bagram holding facility. "It wasn't in the military compound," she says. "But it was surrounded with triple concertina wire," the type used in high-security prisons. "I thought -- they have a separate facility, so are they working under separate rules? I knew the CIA and military were working in teams together, but at what?"
She and a team of Post reporters, among them Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Barton Gellman, working in parallel and in competition to New York Times writers like Tim Golden and Carlotta Gall, started piecing the stories together. "Really, there were just a handful of reporters who could make inroads on the subject," she says.
The reporting was painstaking. "It was a very decentralized thing. You weren't even sure what the questions were," she says. "We couldn't connect it up. We couldn't see the big picture. And there was no past reporting to go on. Everyone was making it up. We'd follow these little reports from Afghanistan, about people disappearing. That was it."
Crucial to the success of the early reporting were the teams of lawyers at organizations like the Center for Constitutional Rights struggling to glean information on detainees. "We were all getting little teeny scraps and putting it together painstakingly," she says. "Nobody told you the whole story, or even a quarter of a story." One Post article on an extraordinary rendition came together because a someone happened to write down the number on the tail of an airplane. "You needed to keep those little scraps in your head," Priest notes.
Another big break -- for which she won a Pulitzer Prize -- came when she completed a story about the black sites, secret overseas prisons. The story took more than two years to report, and, she says, reporting on the subject still didn't get much easier -- it took years for Congress to devote as much attention to it as reporters and defense lawyers were.
"Congress did nothing," she says, "until political winds had changed, and the Democrats were feeling a little more at ease in the world. It's a new feeling for them. Because, before, there were Democrats in those meetings saying, ‘Do what you've got to do.'"
Alex Wong/Getty Images
There's been a wealth of information released on the treatment and torture of detainees in U.S. custody in the past days. Here's a capsule of the new news:
I asked Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch and a former Clinton administration official, to work through some of the foreign policy implications of the newly released torture memos with me.
We discussed whether the Bush administration memos encouraged other countries to torture, or led to any global uptick in "enhanced interrogation" practices. "I've always tried to be careful not to suggest that countries like Egypt or China or Uzbekistan would be torturing more because the United States was setting a bad example. Obviously, dictatorships torture for their own reasons, and they didn't need [former U.S. President] George W. Bush to show them how," he says.
But, the Bush administration torture of detainees and disavowal of the Geneva Conventions did preclude diplomacy on many occasions, Malinowski says. He testified before the Helsinki Commission in 2007 to make the point:
A couple of years ago, Human Rights Watch was meeting with the Prime Minister of Egypt, and we raised a case in which hundreds of prisoners rounded up after a terrorist bombing were tortured by Egyptian security forces. The Prime Minister didn't deny the charge. He answered, "We're just doing what the United States does." We've had Guantanamo and the administration's interrogation policies thrown back in our face in meetings with officials from many other countries, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and Lebanon. U.S. diplomats have told us they face the same problem. A U.S. ambassador to a leading Middle Eastern country, for example, has told us that he can no longer raise the issue of torture in that country as a result.
Malinowski says the detainee abuse made it difficult for the White House to negotiate any human rights provisions or issues, broadly. "Issues beyond torture were effected, because it enabled authoritarian governments to say, ‘You have no right to lecture us,'" he says. "They were delighted to tweak the United States on it."
The biggest offender? Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who Malinowski described as a "world champion" of chiding the United States via its own policies.
Nevertheless, Malinowski thinks that, despite the horrible details revealed by the Bush administration and International Committee of the Red Cross memos, ultimately their release is a very good thing for the Obama administration.
[Obama] can go to a country like Turkey or Indonesia or Egypt and say, "Look, I know what it's like to face real security threats, and we as Americans understand the temptation to give up some of our liberties and principles to defend ourselves against those threats. But what we've learned the hard way in the last eight years is that those liberties and principles actually make us stronger. You could learn from our example."
That's a much more effective way of arguing the point than going to those same countries and saying, look at our perfect system and our glorious morality, and maybe someday you can be as good as we are. So I think if he uses the experience as a cautionary tale, it will actually make our country a more effective and compelling champion of human rights around the world, ironically.
Here's to hoping so.
Photo: Entrance to Bagram Air Base by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Bloomberg reports that the holding company for collapsed New York investment bank Lehman Brothers is hanging on to a valuable asset until prices rebound, to help pay off the company's creditors.
The asset? Uranium. How much? Enough for a bomb, if you knew how to do it.
Lehman, once the fourth-largest investment bank, has an estimated $200 billion in unsecured liabilities left to pay. The uranium, which may be as much as 500,000 pounds, might fetch $20 million at today’s prices of about $40.50 per pound, said traders who asked not to be named because of the confidential nature of the data. Marsal said the traders’ estimate of Lehman’s uranium holding is “reasonable,” while declining to be more specific....
Lehman “tested” the uranium market after its bankruptcy filing in an effort to raise cash, pulling back after it did because “everyone was low balling,” Marsal said. With $10 billion in the till today from other asset sales, Lehman isn’t in a hurry any longer to sell uranium, he said.
“We plan on gradually selling this material over the next two years,” he said. “We are not dumping this on the market and have no fire-sale mentality.”
Ukraine says its security service says it caught three persons attempting to sell radioactive material, which they said was plutonium-239, for $10 million. A government spokesperson said the material could possibly have been used in a "dirty-bomb" attack, and that it was of Soviet origin.
Relatedly -- Jeffrey Lewis and Meri Lugo discuss the draw-down of nuclear weaponry in an excellent FP Argument post today.
Writing in the Washington Times, Audrey Hudson and Eli Lake report that the Department of Homeland Security has produced and disseminated a nine-page report on the threat of "rightwing extremist activity," spurred by the global economic crisis, election of a black president, and the return of "disgruntled war veterans."
The nine-page document was sent to police and sheriff's departments across the United States on April 7 under the headline, "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment."
It says the federal government "will be working with its state and local partners over the next several months" to gather information on "rightwing extremist activity in the United States"....
"Most statements by rightwing extremists have been rhetorical, expressing concerns about the election of the first African American president, but stopping short of calls for violent action," the report says. "In two instances in the run-up to the election, extremists appeared to be in the early planning stages of some threatening activity targeting the Democratic nominee, but law enforcement interceded."
In producing the report, the United States joins numerous European countries facing possible right-wing nationalist activity. But Europe's long-struggled with nationalism stoked by immigration from ethnic minorities; it has right-wing anti-immigration political parties, mainstreaming sentiment which might otherwise be considered or become extremist.
Sen. Russell Feingold sent an interesting letter to Barack Obama about Somalia yesterday, cc-ing Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, and Dennis Blair. The senator, a member of the Committee on Foreign Relations, urged the U.S. president to engage Somalia, but carefully: work with the Somali government; improve support for the country's internal security apparatus. No quick fixes here:
[There is an] essential need to develop a comprehensive interagency strategy to stabilize Somalia and support effective governance. With the strategic review now underway, I reiterate my belief that expanded U.S. support for the new unity government must be a central component of that strategy. Furthermore, we must seize the opening that lies before us by publicly declaring our commitment to high-level, sustained engagement that could help Somalia overcome the many challenges to peace and stability."
Feingold proposes stronger U.S. engagement with the Somali government -- not only to stamp out piracy but to "establish security and functional, inclusive governance within the country." Obama, he suggests, should start by calling Somali President Sheikh Sharif.
Most interesting of all, though, is Feingold's reference to the last time that piracy was notably halted in Somalia -- under the Islamic Courts Union in 2006. That regime, later ousted by Ethiopian troops (with U.S. support...) brought the only calm to the seas that the country has seen in recent years.
The ultimate solution to the problem of piracy, then, is the establishment of a functional government that can enforce the rule of law. During the rule of the Council of Islamic Courts in 2006, there was a notable decline in piracy that can be attributed, in large part, to the rise of a central authority in southern Somalia.
Without replicating the repressive rule of the Courts, we must keep in mind that establishing a central governing structure in Somalia is critical to resolving, not just stopping, the problem of piracy."
Now that's an idea, unlike airstrikes, that I feel militantly supportive of.
The International Maritime Bureau, a division of the International Chamber of Commerce, keeps up-to-the minute maps of global piracy, with linked data on the attacks. It's definitely worth checking out.
Above, the purple tags denote "suspicious vessels," the yellow "attempted attacks," and the red "actual attacks."
Parsing the data, I counted that of 45 attempted attacks in the Gulf of Aden, 7 succeeded; in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia, of 31 attempts, 11 succeeded. This implies a pirate strike's more likely in the Gulf, and more likely to succeed in open waters.
Peter Pham takes a closer look at the technicalities of pirate attacks, and stopping them, today on FP's website.
(Hat tip: Global Dashboard)
In my five pirate predictions yesterday, I wondered if the pirates would become more audacious and brazen, or if they would humble at their recent defeat at the hands of the U.S. Navy. This morning, I seem to have my answer:
Undeterred by U.S. and French hostage rescues that killed five bandits, Somali pirates brazenly hijacked three more ships in the Gulf of Aden, the waterway at the center of the world's fight against piracy.
A greek ship and two Egyptian fishing vessels are now added to the handful of ships and 260 hostages the the Somali pirates claim on the coast. True to form, the hijackers adapted their tactics in defiance of the international naval patrols, this time striking at night.
Also yesterday, I worried about an escalation on the part of the world's navies -- moving from naval patrolling into all out battle. Now it appears that escalation is coming from both sides.
If this attack is indeed in retaliation against the Americans, the world might be entering into a whole new kind of asymmetric warfare. Stay tuned on FP today.
The U.S. military is considering attacks on pirate bases on land and aid for the Somali people to help stem ship hijackings off Africa’s east coast, defense officials said.
Does the United States know what they're getting into? Piracy experts have long suggested that the root of the problem is indeed on land. But air strikes on Somali bases would be dangerously close to a U.S. military operation in Somalia -- the kind that the country has avoided since Blackhawk down in 1994.
Let's think hypothetically about what might happen if strikes go ahead. U.S. onland intervention will surely anger al Shabaab, the Islamist militant wing that controls an alarming percentage of Somali territory and is the biggest single threat to Somali stability. Already, the Somali government is struggling to convince the country that its relatively pro-Western stance is for the greater good. That argument will lose all weight if and when the U.S. starts airstrikes. Forget about the government's effectiveness, and forget about any hopes that al Shabaab will disarm. This would fuel the fire. No, we shouldn't kneel to the demands of al Shabaab, but nor should we ignore that their ire will be taken out on the already dilapidated Somali population.
Talk about an escalation.
To be fair, the rumored U.S. plans includes the creation of a Somali coast guard, and support for the Somali government. U.S. Congressman Donald Payne, long a Somalia pragmatist, made a daring visit to Mogadishu today to talk about how the U.S. can help the Somalis fight piracy. But the fact that his plane was shot at only proves how difficult a situation we are walking into.
If we have learned anything about Somali over the last two decades, surely it is that military escalation (this one included) will inevitably breed more chaos. And if we have learned anything about the pirates, it is that chaos on land breeds impunity at sea.
Photo: MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/Getty Images
Mike Allen of Politico's Playbook fame seconds our idea of renaming the pirates. "Pirates go from curiosity to crisis for 1600 and the Pentagon," his headline screamed, the suggestion of renaming them "maritime terrorists" within.
Matt Yglesias criticizes the letter of the suggestion, if not the spirit, with the rather unimpeachable logic that pirates are...pirates.
The point I made last week -- that calling pirates "pirates" allows for a certain romanticization and fueled a media frenzy which too often overlooked the realities of the situation and the circumstance of failed-state Somalia -- thankfully seems passe.
This weekend's rescue, which involved U.S. naval warships, millions of dollars, and pirate and civilian deaths, spurred an examination of the why and how behind the pirates. The sheen's worn off. They're criminals and a security concern. They redouble Somalia's problems.
Or, as someone will inevitably put it somewhere on the internet: pirates totally jumped the shark.
The Guardian reports on a skirmish between French troops and a band of Somali pirates with a hijacked yacht -- one of 18 vessels currently seized, along with more than 250 hostages. The French ultimately recaptured the ship; sadly, one hostage died during the rescue.
The article says the yacht's sailors were repeatedly warned not to pass through the area.
French officials have privately expressed exasperation at the determination of the Tanit's crew...to persist with their expedition to east Africa despite the parlous security situation in the region.
The American captain of the Maersk Alabama remains a hostage in another flotilla, though the United States has sent in rapporteurs and helicopters.
It's a sorry, sorry state of affairs. And it suggests two things to me.
First, pirate exhaustion looms. (Though we've tested the limits on this blog, and found them boundlessly wide.) At one point, the pirates seemed a welcome distraction. Not so much any more -- people are dying, Somalia is a failed state. Second, as others have suggested, we should stop calling them pirates and start calling them something like "maritime terrorists," to end any remaining romanticization.
There's a lot of competition for top crises these days -- what with Somali pirates going overboard, Pakistan and Afghansitan looking increasingly perilous, Mexico's chaos scarily peering over the border...
But I vote for adding Nigeria to that very pressing list of concerns.
A new report released today, puts last year's death toll from unrest in the oil-producing Niger Delta region at 1,000. The almost-guerrilla war dragged the economy down by $20.7 billion in lost oil revenue, with little sign of abating in 2009. With oil prices already lower, government revenues are falling. More worrisome -- the rebels in that region who earn most of their cash from oil bunkering will be short on dough, inspiring more of the kidnappings-for-ransom that already breached the 300 mark in 2008. NGO workers on the ground tell me that things will really heat up if the prices (or the oil production levels) drop much lower.
To add another twist, the main rebel group in the region, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), today e-mailed a statement rejecting an amnesty offer that members of the ruling party allegedly proposed. In classic form, the rejection is colorful:
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta rejects this evil agenda by the [ruling party] PDP and its cohorts and vow never to sell our birth right [to Nigeria's oil] for a bowl of porridge."
The deal itself was even more interesting: the government would provide fighter amnesty, prisoner release, and huge payouts to MEND in exchange for a rebel promise to help rig the coming elections in favor of the ruling party. That offer may well be an exaggeration on the part of the rebel spokesman. Then again, given Nigeria's rather wretched election history... it might not.
Why should this mess end up in the top echelon of global worries? Don't forget: Nigeria is the third largest oil supplier to the United States. And when regional powerhouses go down in flames, it can't bode well for any of the unlucky neighbors -- many of whom are recovering from their own bouts of conflict.
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP
The United States is scrambling this morning to save a hostaged captain from Somali pirates -- calling in back up that includes FBI hostage negotiators, more warships, and just about every high-profile military and diplomatic figure who will reassure the American press. The drama is being scrupulously reported elsewhere (most recent update: the pirates want booty), so I'll save you the repetition.
I'm interested in a different question: Just how exactly have pirates managed to out-scramble the world's top navy? If neither the U.S. Navy, nor the EU, NATO, Chinese, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, and Indian vessels were able to spot this pirate attacker coming on the vast seas... how do the Somali pirates find the ships they hijack? In theory, the sea is equally vast and equally sparsely populated on both sides of the looking glass.
One interesting theory comes from NightWatch:
Several commentators highlighted the changed tactics by which some Somali pirate groups manage to seize ships far from the coast. What they do not provide is the hypothesis that this proves the existence of a well organized criminal syndicate with modern communications that link pirates to agents in port authorities from
Kenyato the Suez Canal. The business is too big and rich to fail simply because modern frigates are present.
It makes good sense. Why? Pirates have money and they can pay for tips. Port authorities, particularly in Kenya, are likely paid irregularly and poorly (particularly in comparison to pirate rates). The pirates have also shown that they are willing and able to infiltrate government authorities -- as they often do in their home in Puntland, Somalia.
No good news there. Cracking down on internal corruption among port authorities would be about as easy as, say, stopping a piracy epidemic in the Gulf of Aden.
Photo: U.S. Navy
This morning, Politico reports on a Rasmussen poll taken two days before North Korea's botched rocket launch. The release leads with the alarming line: "Fifty-seven percent (57%) of U.S. voters nationwide favor a military response to eliminate North Korea’s missile launching capability."
The poll shows that both genders support military intervention equally, and that two-thirds of Republicans and just over half of Democrats do. Only 15 percent oppose it.
Still, it's not convincing evidence that most Americans are clamoring to send in the troops. The question read:
If North Korea launches a long-range missile, should the United States take military action to eliminate North Korea's ability to launch missiles?
Thus far, North Korea hasn't shown a lot of success with long-range missiles. The question also came immediately after one about concern over North Korea's nuclear capacity.
The most interesting finding of the poll, perhaps, shows a 14-point drop in people considering North Korea an enemy, and a massive skew along political lines over whether the Stalinist collectivist state is an enemy, ally, or something in between:
Sixty-four percent (64%) of Republicans consider North Korea an enemy of the United States. That view is shared by 50% of unaffiliateds and 28% of Democrats. Most Democrats (57%) place North Korea somewhere between ally and enemy.
Photo: Flickr user Borut Peterlin
Last night, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow interviewed the secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano. Her first question: Should her job even exist, or should the 22 federal agencies and 200,000 employees under the D.H.S. banner disaggregate?
Napolitano, the former governor of border-state Arizona, didn't get defensive at Maddow's question, she just calmly explained her plans for the agency. Surprisingly her top priority seems to be Mexico.
Sounding sensibly hawkish, Napolitano stressed the importance of federal agencies working together to systematically to stop the flow of guns and money south and give Mexican authorities the shot in the arm they desperately need.
What's so weird about this? Two things.
First, Janet Napolitano is the secretary of homeland security, not defense or state. But rather than ineptly responding to natural disasters and taking a lot of flak for airport lines, Napolitano has taken leadership over the U.S. response to the burgenoning crisis, which may include sending troops across the border. She's acted as point-person for local politicians and leadership from the White House, State, Defense, and the Attorney General's office. Texas Governor Rick Perry turned to her to ask for a thousand more troops.
Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images
The Special Rapporteur remains deeply troubled that the United States has created a comprehensive system of extraordinary renditions, prolonged and secret detention, and practices that violate the prohibition against torture and other forms of ill-treatment. This system required an international web of exchange of information and has created a corrupted body of information which was shared systematically with partners in the war on terror through intelligence cooperation, thereby corrupting the institutional culture of the legal and institutional systems of recipient States.
While this system was devised and put in place by the United States, it was only possible through collaboration from many other States. There exist consistent, credible reports suggesting that at least until May 2007 a number of States facilitated extraordinary renditions in various ways. States such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Croatia, Georgia, Indonesia, Kenya, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Pakistan and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland have provided intelligence or have conducted the initial seizure of an individual before he was transferred to (mostly unacknowledged) detention centres in Afghanistan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Jordan, Pakistan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Thailand, Uzbekistan, or to one of the CIA covert detention centres, often referred to as “black sites”. In many cases, the receiving States reportedly engaged in torture and other forms of ill-treatment of these detainees.
The special rapporteur, Martin Scheinen, states that British intelligence officers interviewed detainees in "so-called safe houses where they were being tortured" and that they "conducted or witnessed just over 2,000 interviews in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and Iraq." He calls for whistle-blower protections and the revision of numerous policies to safe-guard human rights. The revelations aren't that revelatory, given past reports on the participation of European countries in rendition and "enhanced interrogation." But the tone's especially fire-and-brimstone in this iteration.
And, the report comes as concern over the Britain'ss collusion in the mistreatment of detainees comes to a fever pitch. Last month, Binyam Mohammed, a British national arrested in Pakistan, returned to the U.K. after seven years of detention. He told papers, "Mentally right now, the result of my experience is that I feel emotionally dead....When I realised that the British were co-operating with the people torturing me, I felt completely naked. They sold me out."
Additionally, members of parliament are calling for the government to release classified documents which detail its cooperation and participation with U.S. interrogators. And the country is considering accepting more prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, to hasten its closure.
All in all, it's an issue that's received an extraordinary amount of attention and garnered extraordinary public debate in Great Britain -- even more so than in the United States. And it isn't good news for poor Prime Minister Gordon Brown, just coming off the worst week ever.
Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
When I asked Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper what one would need to eliminate piracy off the Somali coast, he answered with a question: Are you fighting them on land or at sea?
Over the weekend, it seems the Bush administration answered: both.
In addition to the international vessels patrolling offshore, a U.S. resolution is already circulating in the U.N. Security Council calling for a limited U.N. peacekeeping force to bring stability to the East African nation. The United States also wants Ethiopian troops to stay through the U.S. presidential transition. And they'd like to add Eritrea, Ethopia's breakaway neighbor and favorite adversary, to its state sponsors of terrorism list.
Talk about a hard sell.
First, the administration is calling for a light U.N. mission, in a country where even heavy force has been ineffective.
Second, no one -- not the Ethiopians, not the African Union, not the United Nations -- wants to go to Somalia. For the two-year lifetime of the tiny African Union mission, the international community has struggled to find troops for the operation.
Finally, you can expect this to ratchet up tensions in the region. Eritrea is indeed rumored to supply the Somali Islamists with weapons. But Ethiopia and Eritrea have an ongoing border dispute that has left both sides exceedingly militarized. Acceding to Ethiopian wishes by putting Eritrea on the terror list is like playing Russia roulette. With all live rounds.
After a weekend in which the Somali president fired his prime minister (only to have him effectively re-instated by parliament) there is little reason to believe that the weak government will not fall instantly once foreign troops are gone.
Light a match, and the whole place might just blow.
Photo: JOSE CENDON/AFP/Getty Images
Much has been said in recent days of Pakistan's involvement in the Mumbai bombings. But it's not the only neighbor to the north the India might need to worry about. Several reports yesterday indicated the Mumbai militants entered not just from Kashmir, but Nepal and Bangladesh, as well.
As in Pakistan, the Nepalese government struggles to control wide swathes of territory. The Tarai border region with India -- from which the attackers would have entered -- is of particular concern. The 1800 km of forested land is simply "not a controllable border," says Chalmers.
The problem runs deeper than geography. Nepal is still on unstable ground after a 2006 peace agreement brought an end to a long-time monarchy and a violent Maoist rebellion. Elections were held this summer, and to everyone's great surprise, the Maoists won the day. Now, the same army that once fought those Maoists is expected to be loyal to their civilian government. So far the 95,000-strong force has looked reluctant to shed its elite ties. And Maoist rebels have yet to be demobilized.
All this means that fragile Nepal is "as militarized as Pakistan," analyst Rhoddy Chalmers of the International Crisis Group told me. For now, the peace is holding, but as the Mumbai attacks make clear, the country is vulnerable to a host of groups looking to take advantage of chaos.India, long a supporter of the peace process, might change its tone after the Mumbai attacks, particularly if 2009 elections bring to power a "securicrat" interested in closing the borders. For now, people and goods cross freely through check points, easily avoidable if one is willing to duck through a bit of forest.
Until now, "India doesn't tend to have policy towards Nepal--it has interests, pursued haphazardly," says Chalmers.
Maybe a grand strategy is needed.
Photo: PRADEEP SHRESTHA/AFP/Getty Images
As the world continues to mourn those killed in last week's terrorist attacks in Mumbai, U.S. news agencies reported yesterday that the United States had passed intelligence to the Indian government warning of possible attacks, not once but twice.
U.S. officials are saying that they delivered intelligence reports to Indian government officials in mid-October that specifically detailed the threat of an attack "from the sea against hotels and business centers in Mumbai" and named the Taj Mahal hotel.
The Indian Navy is now shifting blame around while it sorts out where the "systematic failure" of security and intelligence actually occurred. On Sunday, the Mumbai fishermen's union claimed it reported suspicions that "explosives were being smuggled in by boat" to police.
But the Indian government (which believes the militant group thought responsible, Lashkar-e-Taiba, has ties to the Pakistani government), insists these warnings were minded. Alerts were raised and precautions were taken 10 days before the attack occurred and the measures, officials believe, did postpone the attacks, even if only for a few days.
Ratan Tata, owner of the Taj Mahal hotel, has said in interviews that while they beefed up security in the days before the attacks, even the information they had was not enough to "have stopped what took place."
More details are coming out about the U.S. helicopter strike in the Syrian town of Abu Kamal on Sunday. Anonymous U.S. officials are calling the raid a "success," saying that it killed Abu Ghadiyah, an Iraqi loyal to al Qaeda who smuggled foreign fighters into Iraq. Meanwhile, the Syrian government is sticking to its story that the US military overran a farm, killing eight unarmed civilians. On Monday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem condemned the U.S. attack as an act of "terrorist aggression" on Syria.
The ease with which Syria's enemies have violated its sovereignty represents a serious blow to Syria's credibility on the international stage. In Sept. 2007, Israel bombed a mysterious site in northern Syria, and Syria's only reaction was a muted denunciation of the attack. If Syria is seen as unable to retaliate to attacks on its own territory, it will likely find itself victim to more of these incursions in the future.
The lingering question from this attack is: why now? Gen. David Petraeus had praised Syria last year for cutting down the number of foreign fighters entering Iraq from its territory -- the number crossing the border now is estimated at around 20 a month, down from a high of 100 a month. Still, U.S. commanders recently voiced frustration that Syria has not cut off the flow of fighters completely. The most likely scenario is that the military simply calculated that the risk to the lives of US soldiers in Iraq outweighed the minimal risk of Syrian retaliation triggered by crossing over the border.
Photo: RAMZI HAIDAR/AFP/Getty Images
We're still a year away from learning who will host the 2016 Summer Olympics. But, while Beijing is fresh in our minds, I thought it'd be high time to consider the lessons and legacies of the 2008 games with an eye on the future.
If we learned one thing from Beijing 2008, it's that the Olympics are a perfect pretext for a massive security crackdown. So why not award the 2016 games to a city that could actually use a massive security crackdown?
The murder rate in the state of Rio de Janiero is down to 39 per 100,000, from a high of 64 per 100,000 people in the mid-1990s. That's still high, and one still encounters machine guns while browsing shopping stalls. Some think meditation may do the trick, but an Olympic effort to crack down on petty crime (not political opposition, mind you) could do wonders.
The other finalist host cities are Chicago, Tokyo, and Madrid. The United States recently hosted in 2002 and 1996, Japan in 2006, and Spain in 1992. South America has never hosted the Olympics. Considering Brazil's growing economic clout, the time seems to be about right to finally change that.
Plus, India is gearing up for a 2020 bid of its own. With Beijing 2008, Sochi 2014, Rio 2016, and New Delhi 2020, all of the BRICs would get the recognition they deserve as the 21st century's rising powers.
Of course, it is important that Rio be truly ready. As my colleague Josh Keating argues in today's Web exclusive, hosting international sporting events can do more harm than good for a country's reputation. The 2010 World Cup in South Africa, for one, appears to be headed toward disaster. But Brazil insists that it successfully hosted the 2007 Pan America Games, and would have proper practice after hosting the 2014 World Cup. Here's hoping Rio gets a good look from the IOC next fall.
Finally, a political indicator I can get behind. Coca-Cola sales are a key signal of peace and prosperity in Africa, according to an intriguing theory from Jonathan Ledgard, The Economist's Africa correspondent.
Africans buy more than 36 billion bottles of Coca-Cola each year, and the price is low enough that many even in the most impoverished villages can afford a bottle now and then. Folks love their Coca-Cola: As the largest private employer on the continent, Coca-Cola is so entrenched in hearts that people go to the grave with the stuff. And since Coca-Cola tracks its sales and distribution in Africa down to the most minute details, any swift drops in sales or problems in the distribution chain can point to real-time economic hardship and instability.
In other words, if Coke sales drop off swiftly and suddently in parts of, say, Kenya, there is a good chance that either the area has become too dangerous for deliverymen to make their rounds or that something catastrophic is happening to people's incomes. Either way, bad news.
Having been raised on Coca-Cola myself, this seems intuitive. In the O'Hara household, drinking the last Coke without picking up another 12-pack was tantamount to a declaration of war.
Minot Air Force Base is not having a good news year. Last year, cruise missiles armed with nuclear weapons left the base by accident; this March, the Air Force discovered it had inadvertently shipped fuse components for nuclear weapons to Taiwan in 2006; and in May, Minot's 5th Bomb Wing failed a security test. Now we have news of another mishap, this time involving classified material at Minot.
In a story that more properly belongs in the beginning of a bad made-for-TV drama, a missile crew in possession of a nuclear launch code "component," while waiting for transport in a crew rest area, fell asleep.
An initial report simply said that "a nuclear launch code was lost or misplaced," but the Air Force later clarified that the codes in possession of the sleeping crewmembers had been superseded by a new set and were no longer usable. In addition, according to the press release, the codes were locked up with a combination known only to the crew and the entire facility was secured throughout the incident by Air Force Security Forces.
Now, it is true that the codes were probably never in danger of being compromised. It would also be understandable in almost any other circumstance that the crew would fall asleep while waiting for transport; generally, missile crews consist of three people who rotate watches over a three-day period. These rotations are likely tiring, and indeed the crews have been complaining about the length of the new rotations (for more about life as a "missileer," check out this fascinating article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists). And the punishment for the people at fault looks to be swift.
More worrisome, though, is the pattern incidents like these are beginning to reveal. The "loose nukes" incident last year resulted from a whole cascade of minor security slip-ups just like this one, and where one such incident is reported many more are likely present. The prestige of working with U.S. nuclear forces continues to drop -- how do we make sure the ultimate weapons stay secure if things continue to get worse?
Walter Pincus reports today on a surprisingly large allocation of U.S. federal funds for cyber security:
A highly classified, multiyear, multibillion-dollar project, CNCI -- or "Cyber Initiative" -- is designed to develop a plan to secure government computer systems against foreign and domestic intruders and prepare for future threats. Any initial plan can later be expanded to cover sensitive civilian systems to protect financial, commercial and other vital infrastructure data."
The cyber security issue is a tricky one. For lack of a better option, the job of protecting government computer systems has fallen to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), although the Air Force is an active player. The Navy and the Army also have their own programs.
I called James Lewis, an expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, to get some insight. He told me that the White House was becoming concerned because "DHS hasn't really done anything" on the issue of cyber security. "Some of it's internal squabbling" he says, "but they just can't seem to get their act together. You hear [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates and [Director of National Intelligence Mike] McConnell talking about it, but you never hear anything from [DHS Secrtary Michael] Chertoff."
So far, CNCI has been criticized for being too secretive, though the initiative is a step forward overall. In fact, it's good news that someone is finally starting to take this seriously. Both presidential candidates have expressed a committment to improving cyber security. Senator Obama has said he will appoint a "national cyber advisor" and will make the issue "the top priority that it should be in the 21st century." Senator McCain has pointed to a need to "invest far more in the federal task of cyber security" in order to protect strategic interests at home.
Knowing just who is supposed to be in charge of cyber security would be a good start. As Lewis points out, "It's not something you can do on an ad hoc basis like we've been doing for the past several years," adding, "We need to be better organized and better at assigning responsibilities."
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