Sam Roggeveen of Australia's Lowy Institute noticed some odd phrasing in Chuck Hagel's remarks on Saturday at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. When the secretary of defense was going through a list of America's partners in the Pacific, he left New Zealand off a list of "allies" that included Japan, South Korea, Australia, and the Philippines, instead lumping the country in with somewhat more complicated relationships such as Vietnam, Malaysia, and Myanmar. Here's what he actually said:
Our Allies are also working more closely together. In this vein we are encouraged by growing trilateral security cooperation between especially the U.S., Japan, and the Republic of Korea, as well as the U.S., Japan, and Australia. The United States is also looking at trilateral training opportunities such as jungle training between the U.S. and Thailand that could also expand to incorporate the Republic of Korea. Similarly, the United States is working to build trilateral cooperation with Japan and India.
Complex security threats facing the United States and our allies - which go beyond traditional domains and borders - demand these new approaches to Alliance cooperation, and they also demand new and enhanced partnerships as well.
Here in Singapore I look forward to building on our new practical collaboration under the U.S.-Singapore Strategic Framework Agreement, which has guided security cooperation not only in this region, but in the Gulf of Aden and Afghanistan as well.
With New Zealand, the signing of the Washington Declaration and associated policy changes have opened up new avenues for defense cooperation in areas such as maritime security cooperation, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. This week, in Guam, a New Zealand Navy ship is visiting a U.S. Naval facility - the first such visit in nearly 30 years.
With the Vietnamese, we are expanding our cooperation - as set forth in a new memorandum of understanding - in maritime security, training opportunities, search-and-rescue, peacekeeping, military medical exchanges, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
In Malaysia, we are expanding maritime cooperation, including the first-ever visit of a U.S. aircraft carrier to Sabah.
In Myanmar, we are beginning targeted, carefully calibrated military-to-military engagement aimed at ensuring the military supports ongoing reforms, respects human rights, and a professional force accountable to the country's leadership.
What is Hagel talking about? Well, the U.S.-New Zealand military relationship is actually more complicated than you might think.
It all dates back to 1985, when New Zealand, citing its strict nuclear-free policy, denied port access to a U.S. destroyer because Washington would not confirm or deny whether the ship was nuclear-powered. In retaliation, New Zealand's warships have been barred from U.S. ports for the last 28 years. This issue reared its head in the summer of 2012 when two New Zealand ships were barred from entering Pearl Harbor during the 22-nation RIMPAC excercises.
Last September, Hagel's predecessor, Leon Panetta, became the first U.S. defense secretary to visit New Zealand since 1982, and agreed to lift the ban on New Zealand ships entering U.S. ports. As Hagel noted, this will happen for the first time this week when the frigate Te Mana -- one of the ships denied entry from Pearl Harbor last year -- docks at Guam. But as certain commentators noted last year, the deal Panetta announced didn't include any assurances that the Kiwis would allow U.S. ships to dock in its ports.
New Zealand Foreign Secretary Murray McCullay addressed this issue last week:
"As far as the US is concerned, we've made it clear that it's not something we're prepared to negotiate on."
Mr McCully says it's up to the US if it wants to accept Prime Minister John Key's offer to send a US Coastguard vessel to New Zealand - as long as it's not nuclear-powered.
In other words, despite otherwise cordial relations between the two countries, there's little indication that the naval dispute will end anytime soon. Hence, their inclusion in the Myanmar part of the speech rather than the Australia part.
China's pork hegemony is turning into pork imperialism. (Imporkialism?)
With more than 446 million pigs -- one for every three citizens of the world's most populous country and more than the next 43 countries combined -- pork is a big deal for the Chinese economy, to the point where analysts joke that CPI actually stands for China Pork Index and the government actually maintains a strategic pork reserve of frozen meat that can be released during times of shortage.
But all that hog is apparently not enough. Today brings news that Shuanghui International Holdings -- China's biggest pork producer -- is acquiring the Virginia-based producer Smithfield Foods Inc. for $4.72 billion in order to bolster Chinese supplies.
This is obviously a matter of great geostrategic concern (my emphasis):
China's consumption of pork is rising with the expansion of its middle class while there are questions being asked about the safety of the country's food supply. Smithfield's livestock unit is the world's largest hog producer, bringing about 15.8 million of the animals to market a year, according to the company's website. It owns 460 farms and has contracts with 2,100 others across 12 U.S. states.
The takeover is valued at $7.1 billion including debt, which would make it the largest Chinese takeover of a U.S. company, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The deal is likely to face scrutiny by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., said two people familiar with the situation who asked not to be identified because the information is private.
“On the one hand, pork is not directly an issue of national security, as defense or telecom might be,” Ken Goldman, a New York-based analyst for JPMorgan Chase & Co. who has a hold rating on the shares, said in a report today. “On the other hand, if CFIUS comes to believe that Chinese ownership of the U.S.’s largest hog farmer and pork supplier presents a food supply risk, then it may have a heightened concern.”
During last fall's round of hysteria over global pork supplies, I wondered if China might open its strategic reserve. In the end, these reports proved to be greatly exaggerated: the Baconator is still on the menu. Next time we might not be so lucky... and find ourselves suddenly at the mercy of Big Zhu.
TEH ENG KOON/AFP/Getty Images
Last week, I interviewed Alex Gibney, director of the new documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks. Gibney told me he found it ironic that Julian Assange and supporters like Oliver Stone were attacking his film without having seen it. "The transparency organization won't see the film but feels free to denounce it. What does that tell you about evidence and truth?" he asked.
Well, someone from WikiLeaks has apparently now seen the film (or at least heard it -- more on that in a moment) and was not impressed. A full "annotated transcript" of the film was posted on WikiLeaks today in an attempt to correct "factual errors and speculation," accusing Gibney of selective editing and attacking the credibility of his sources, including collaborators-turned-critics like Daniel Domscheit-Berg and James Ball. As WikiLeaks argues:
The film implies – erroneously and when evidence is to the contrary – that Assange may be guilty of "conspiring" with Bradley Manning. This not only factually incorrect, but also buys into the current US government position that journalists and publishers can be prosecuted as co-conspirators with their alleged sources or with whistleblowers who communicate information to them. This is a dangerous proposition for all journalists and media organisations — not just WikiLeaks.
The film actually makes exactly the opposite argument, depicting the U.S. government as hypocritical for criticizing WikiLeaks but not the media organizations that were happy to publish its cables.
I was also curious to see Assange's account of his interactions with Gibney. The director claims the WikiLeaks founder said the market rate for an interview with him was $1 million, and asked Gibney to tell him what other interviewees were saying. WikiLeaks' version is, not surprisingly, a bit different:
[Assange] explained to Gibney that four factors played a role in the decision whether or not to participate:
While Alex Gibney is happy to allow the false imputation Julian Assange demanded $1 million for an interview to remain in his film he is careful not to allow the same 'mistake' to appear in the film's pre-publicity material:
- Security: Raw footage of WikiLeaks work could find its way into the hands of the US Department of Justice. This could endanger WikiLeaks staff.
- Financing: WikiLeaks had previously received an offer of £800,000 for its cooperation in a British documentary project. WikiLeaks rejected the offer for security reasons. In the film and in interviews, Alex Gibney distorts this conversation by attempting to portray Julian Assange as greedy. Yet in reality Assange rejected these offers because these were not in the greater interest of the organisation, despite the fact that WikiLeaks had already been under an arbitrary financial blockade for a year when this negotiation took place.
- Information: Gibney told Julian Assange that he would be interviewing members of the US government for the WikiLeaks film. Assange detailed the different forms that the continuing US persecution of WikiLeaks and its allies had taken. Assange said WikiLeaks was interested in understanding the progress of the US investigation into itself and its sources. Any information that Gibney picked up about the matter in the course of his interviews might be of interest to WikiLeaks.
- Impact: In an email pitching the documentary to WikiLeaks from 10th of March 2011, Alex Gibney said "while you know that many docs will be made on this subject, I have a sufficient global reputation (oscar, oscar noms, worldwide fans) and such a substantial budget for production, worldwide distribution and promotion that my documentary will reach an audience that will dwarf the reach of all the other documentaries combined". Julian Assange explained that the impact of the documentary was potentially problematic.New York Times correction: December 21, 2012: "An article on Thursday about the coming documentary "We Steal Secrets" and other films about WikiLeaks and Julian Assange referred imprecisely to a comment that Alex Gibney, the maker of "We Steal Secrets," says in the film about Mr. Assange's demands for money in exchange for collaborating on it. While he says that he rejected the demands, and that the market rate for an interview was $1 million, he does not specifically say that he rejected a demand from Mr. Assange for a $1 million fee for an interview."Source: Click here.
WikiLeaks has co-operated in other productions, including a film by the well respected Academy Award nominated film maker, Laura Poitras, which will be released later this year. Another film, co-produced with Ken Loach's 16 Films, will be released shortly.
WikiLeaks also claims that the film defames Bradley Manning and depicts him as a "crude gay caricature," a bit of a strange criticism for a film that's overwhelmingly sympathetic to the imprisoned whistleblower.
Interestingly, the transcript WikiLeaks posted doesn't include any of Manning's own words, which were featured extensively in the documentary. In the film, transcripts of Manning's chat logs appear on the screen as text rather than in the audio. This has led to a bit of a back-and-forth on Twitter, with Gibney and co-producer Jemima Khan accusing Wikileaks of doing some "selective editing" of its own:
@wikileaks Translation: WL did NOT publish complete transcript. It is missing all manning's printed words, almost 1/4 of film. Bad science.— Alex Gibney (@BaLueBolivar) May 24, 2013
Judging from the responses on Twitter, WikiLeaks supporters seem to be celebrating the annotated transcript as a definitive takedown of the film. This is all a little ironic given that, while the film is undoubtedly harsh on Assange, it's pretty sympathetic to the ideological goals of WikiLeaks itself. A lot of folks seem to be having trouble making a distinction between the two.
I'm one of the millions of people who have recently become absolutely, incurably addicted to the new online game GeoGuessr. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you probably will be too.
Here's how it works: GeoGuessr drops you in a randomly chosen location on Google Street View. You can move around, but can't zoom out. It's a bit like playing Myst, except that you're looking for clues in a real place somewhere in the world. You then have to guess where you are by clicking on a world map, with points awarded for how close you get to the actual location.
Sometimes, obvious clues like signs in the local language or geographic landmarks will make it easy. Other times you'll find yourself on a nondescript country road trying to decide if those evergreen trees look more Scandinavian or Canadian. The game's one unfortunate limitation is that it will only drop you in countries that Google Street View has mapped, which means most of Africa, the Middle East, India, and China, are immediately ruled out. You could, however, be dropped in such locations as the base camp of Mount Everest or the Great Barrier Reef. The most exotic place I've been in the game was what looked like a jungle path somewhere in Japan's remote Ogasawara Islands.
In addition to just being a fun way to kill time -- more time than I'd like to admit over the past week or two -- the game is also a cool way to experience visual culture and notice surprising similarities in architecture and landscape between regions. Every once in a while you can come across something weirdly beautiful or an unexpected slice-of-life moment like those documented in artist Jon Rafman's 9-Eyes project.
GeoGuessr is the creation of a 29-year-old Swedish IT consultant named Anton Wallén. I recently spoke with Wallén via e-mail and asked him how the idea for GeoGuessr came about.
"I have always loved how Street View enables you to visit locations you would never go to in real life in such an immersive way, almost like you're there," he said. Wallén says he initially set out to build a simple "random location generator" using Street View, and only later decided to add the guessing game element to it.
According to Wallén, since the game blew up on social media last week, it's been getting 200,000 to 300,000 unique visitor per day. "To me, it's mindblowing," he says, noting that he's "received many emails from people getting together to organize tournaments in their workplaces/schools using their own rules, parents/children and couples playing the game together as a team and also a lot of teachers allowing their students to play the game during their classes."
Initially, much of the feedback Wallén received was from readers complaining about Australia being overrepresented. (It is, after all, a pretty big country, and frankly much of the interior of it is pretty nondescript-looking from the road.) But he says he's tinkered with the algorithm and the overrepresentation complaints are now much more diverse -- which could indicate that it is, in fact, pretty random.
I asked Wallén for the hardest location he's had to guess. "The hardest probably was a very luxurious, Asian-style house somewhere in Central America (which I finally decided would have to be Japan). You could walk around in the courtyard and the garden but there was no way to leave the premises. The easiest I guess was when I was dropped right in front of a sign that said 'Welcome to Fairbanks, Alaska.'" (I had similar good fortune in Valparaíso, Chile.)
The game may even have inspired a few people to see a bit more of the world. "I got an email a few days ago from a woman who had known her husband for 12 years," Wallén says. "She had always been very fond of traveling but since he didn't like it they had never really traveled anywhere together. They both, however, liked the game very much and had been playing it for a few nights. After that, the husband had started looking up tourist locations in Japan and even bought a guidebook. That story really made me smile."
Liberal commentators have dismissed today's hearings on the Obama administration's response to the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi as a purely political exercise aimed at scoring points against the Obama adminsitration rather than bringing new information to light about the events in question. But the bad news for the administration is that the American public seems to be more interested in the politics of Benghazi than the actual event.
Here's a quick Google Trends chart showing the intensity of searches for "Benghazi" in the United States over the last 12 months:
Searches during the actual attack last September rated a score of 24 out of 100 on Google's scale, whereas searches maxed out at 100 -- the highest possible score -- around Election Day last year, when the Romney campaign was criticizing the administration for covering up information about the attack. Interest peaked again during David Petraeus's testimony on Nov. 16 (shortly after his controversial resignation from the CIA), when the State Department's internal review was released in December, around Hillary Clinton's memorable testimony in January, and again this week.
I've heard some say that Benghazi is an inside-the-Beltway story of little interest to the general public. But I think it may actually be the opposite. Beltway types-- particularly liberals, but some conservatives too -- are ready for this story to go away, but the public is still very much interested, and conservative media outlets in particular have continued to beat the drum. The administration may grumble that senators are politicizing a tragedy, but for the public, this has always been a political story.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
It's a bit of an exaggeration to say that the FBI has "released" its 207-page file on Muammar al-Qaddafi. The documents are so heavily redacted that most of what you get is a series of headings, dates, and corrections of the spelling of the late Libyan leader's name. But there are a few nuggets that are sure to intrigue and frustrate Libya watchers.
The files, most of which date from the 1980s, contain several references to Qaddafi possibly putting out a contract for the assassination of Ronald Reagan -- something that has long been a matter of speculation. The most complete section refers to a possible connection between these assassination plots and the Chicago street gang the El Rukns, an Islamist offshoot of the infamous Blackstone Rangers whose leaders were convicted of planning terrorist attacks on behalf of Libya in a landmark case.
A file from February 1989 refers to a plot the investigators seem to have concluded was bogus. (Don't let all the "redacted" notes below fool you: Believe it or not, this is the least-redacted section of the documents.)
During 1986 and 1987, the Chicago division successfully indicted and convicted five (5) members of a well established Chicago street gang known as the El Rukns. These five (5) members of the El Rukn organization were convicted of conspiring to commit terrorist acts in the United States on behalf of the government of Libya. Their conviction marked the first time in the history of the United States that American citizens had been found guilty of planning to commit terrorist acts in the United States for foreign government in return for money.
On February 29, 1989, [redacted] telephonically contacted the Chicago division. [Redacted] advised that one [redacted], an [redacted] had stated that Qadhafi of Libya had put a contract out on the life of former U.S. president Ronald Reagan. Initially [redacted] told [redacted] that Qadhafi had [redacted] for information of [redacted].
[Redacted] also told [redacted] that [redacted] then told [redacted] who is [redacted] was also [redacted] in conspiring to commit terrorist acts in the United States. Subsequently, [redacted] supposedly [redacted] of this threat.
Immediately upon receiving this information, the Chicago case agent in the Rokbom matter telephonically informed the U.S. secret service, at Chicago, Illinois, and advised them of the facts outlined supra.
On February 23, 1989, the Rukbom case agent and a U.S. secret service agent from Chiago [redacted] and interviewed [redacted]. It was learned during the course of the interview that [redacted].
[Redacted] was then extensively interviewed regarding his knowledge of any threat to the life of former U.S. president Ronald Reagan as a result of Qadhafi of Libya. [Redacted] After an extensive interview, it is the opinion of the Chicago case agent in the Rukbom matter that [redacted] is exaggerating [redacted] with Qadhafi of Libya. It should also be noted that the Chicago agent of the Rukbom matter and the U.S. Secret Service agent who conducted the interview noted numerous inconsistencies in [redacted] statements while the interview took place.
There's also a totally redacted 1987 telex from the bureau's San Diego office titled, "Libyan dissident plans to overthrow Libyan leader Moummar Khaddafy," as well as quite a few follow-ups from offices throughout the country. It's tempting to wonder if these had anything to do with the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, the exile group known for several assassination attempts on Qaddafi -- efforts that, according to some reports, may have been supported by the CIA. The group's leaders, several of whom are now active in Libyan politics, were living in the United States at the time.
An August 1986 cable from Sacramento -- entirely redacted -- concerns an interview with a "contract worker concerning Moammar Qadhafi compound." That was, as it happens, a few months after the U.S. bombed Qaddafi's compound.
In one intriguing 1986 document, political activist and perennial longshot presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche makes a mysterious cameo:
Changed: [Redacted] alleged plot to assassinate president Ronald Reagan during the New York statue of Liberty celebration July 3-6, 1986.
This communication is classified
"secret"in its entirety.
Title marked changed to more clearly state the the substance of this case. Title formerly carried as "Libyan terrorist activities: IT-Libya: [unreadable] Muammar Qadhafi, Lyndon Larouche: International terrorism, information concerning.[...]
The purpose of this teletype is to report the resolution of captioned matter as unfounded.
I don't know of any connection between LaRouche and Libya. This was shortly before the politician's headquarters was raided by the FBI as part of a fraud investigation, but I can't imagine that's related.
There are several reports on Qaddafi's travels as well. A May 1985 cable discusses a visit by the leader to Palma de Mallorca and identifies his traveling companions, including a number of Libyans, an Egyptian, a Tunisian, and a Yugoslavian. The names are all redacted.
That same year, the bureau noted a trip to Moscow to sign a "treaty of friendship and cooperation" with the U.S.S.R.
The FBI's analysis conclues that for Moscow, the treaty is "probably a payoff for Qadhafi's support of Soviet foreign policy in the region.... Qadhafi's invitation from the Moscow and the prospect of the treaty signing indicate the Kremlin sees some value in Qadhafi's openly hostile anti-U.S. activities." It's not entirely clear why the FBI was taking note of this foreign-policy development.
There are also discussions of security arrangements for Qaddafi's visit to the U.N. General Assembly in 1985. A telex requests the names of the "Libyan females accompanying Qadhafi family," a reference to his famous bodyguards.
Overall, as the cliche goes, the files raise more questions than they answer. One thing we do know for sure is that there was absolutely no bureau consensus on the spelling of Qaddafi.
ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images
Izvestia, one of Russia's largest broadsheets, has apparently joined the "false flag" conspiracy crowd with a very weird article (translated here) that suggests a link between Tamerlan Tsarnaev and U.S. intelligence agencies through a very long list of dubious connections.
The article cites secret documents from Georgia's Ministry of Internal Affairs claiming that when Tsarnaev visited the Caucasus in 2012, he took classes organized by the Jamestown Foundation -- a U.S. think tank -- and the "Fund for Caucasus," a Georgian group whose "main purpose is to recruit young people and intellectuals of the North Caucasus to enhance instability and extremism in the southern regions of Russia." According to the article, the seminars were engaged in "recruiting residents of the North Caucasus to work in the interests of the United States and Georgia" and "preparing acts of terrorism."
Remarkably, there does seem to be a Georgian organization that goes by the gramatically awkward English name "Fund of Caucasus." The group, which describes its mission as "To popularize the phenomenon of Caucasian peoples' cultures and 'Caucasian civilization' all over the world," has put out a statement about Izvestia's article denying any connection with Tsarnaev:
The 'Fund of Caucasus' rejects the accusation about being involved in promoting extremist intentions and encouraging destabilization in south regions of Russia.
The group also suggests that the story may have been motivated "by the fact that in 2013 the President of the 'Fund of Caucasus' was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the famous scientists and public figures of the South and North Caucasus, Israel and Poland." Not quite sure about that one.
Izvestia also makes a big deal out of the fact that the Jamestown Foundation's board includes former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of the main "ideologists of U.S. foreign policy." Alex Jones's conspiracy theory clearinghouse Infowars, which has, not surprisingly, picked up on this, takes things a step further by describing Jamestown as a "known CIA front." For what it's worth, a Jamestown employee denied to FP that the group was involved in running training programs in the Caucasus, and there don't appear to be any links between the two organizations.
The Izvestia article doesn't quite explain how Georgia would benefit from any of this or why shadowy anti-Russian forces would want to pin the attack on Chechen extremists -- not exactly the Kremlin's favorite people.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley appears to be the first out of the gate in attempting to link the suspected Boston bombers to the congressional debate over immigration reform.:
As a chaotic, frantic, and violent hunt for a suspected bomber unfolded in Boston, the Iowa Republican pointed to the situation during the committee's first hearing on a new comprehensive immigration bill. Grassley argued consideration of the issue is important "especially in light of everything that's happening in Massachusetts now."
In his opening statement, Grassley also argued the Boston terror case can help strengthen immigration reform since "it will help shed light on the weaknesses in our system … [and] how can we beef up security checks on people who would enter the United States."
Other senators have swatted the suggestion down. A spokesman for Marco Rubio, one of the chief proponents of the current reform proposal, told the Daily Caller that "Americans will reject any attempt to tie the losers responsible for the attacks in Boston with the millions of law-abiding immigrants currently living in the US and those hoping to immigrate here in the future."
Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy also told reporters, "If we change the policies of this country every time something happens, Oklahoma City, 9/11, this, we're never going to do anything."
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was reportedly granted U.S. citizenship last year and Tamerlan was apparently hoping to become a citizen as well. But neither was an undocumented immigrant and Grassley's argument seems like it would be a bit of a distraction from the actual point of the bill being considered ... which doesn't mean it won't catch on.
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