Teh stoopid. So much, a bumper crop today. Put on your hip waders while we listen to a little ska-jazz from The Specials. [Go to bottom of post for update.]
LAST DAY OF THE MONTH
Don’t stand in front of the exit doors today at the House of Representatives. You’ve been warned.
Toobz filled with stoopid
I’ve not forgotten Nice. I can’t go there. Picking my way through French language news to read in detail about the deaths of children and teenagers is a hard limit for me. With children’s blood on its hands from wars to drone killings, the U.S. has no moral authority here. It has doubled down on its authoritarian, racist, kill-its-way-out-of-trouble approach to foreign policy. What can I write here which isn’t utter hypocrisy?
The only observations I can make are that the attackers may be ramping up, as the numbers and methodology testify. 84 dead including 10 children and teens, 52 injured and 25 on life support, all hurt or killed by a driver who was not a known terror suspect. A civilian stopped the attacker by grabbing his hands as he aimed a gun at human targets. Que Dieu soit miséricordieux sur Nice.
Smarter, kinder finish
And now to purge the taste of stupid before I start my weekend…
That’s a wrap, have a safe and restful weekend, including all you peeps at #NN16. Back at it on Monday.
UPDATE — 2:50 p.m. EDT —
The previously-classified pages of the 9/11 report have been released, conveniently during the afternoon on a Friday smack in the middle of the summer during a general election year. Can you say ‘news dump’? Here’s a link to the document at the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence’s site (pdf). Knock yourselves out with this beach read. Note the bit about the alleged Saudi intelligence officers, too.
UPDATE — 5:15 p.m. EDT —
An apparent coup is underway in Turkey; it began with reports of militarized road blocks about two hours ago. Social media platforms have had spotty service though landlines appear to be working. The Erdogan government initially denied a coup was in progress; media outlets in Turkey may not be accurately reporting events. Many European news outlets are still focused on Nice, France. Airports have been closed and a curfew declared. U.S. Embassy has asked U.S. citizens to shelter in place and stay indoors.
For more information about events in Turkey, here’s a selection of active Twitter feeds:
Recent report at Aid works about Turkey’s treatment of refugees at this link.
On Sunday, Dawn’s editors knew that Pakistan’s lawmakers would enact the bills needed to establish military courts and published a stern condemnation of the move in an editorial with the telling title “A Sad Day”:
In the end, our political leadership proved unable to defend the constitutional and democratic roots of the system or resist the generals’ demands.
Pakistan is to have military courts once again. To establish them the politicians have agreed to distort the principle of separation of powers, smash the edifice of rights upon which the Constitution is built and essentially give up on fixing decrepit state institutions.
The editors pointed out how the efforts to establish the military courts could have been put to better use:
Had the same time and effort spent on winning consensus for military courts gone into urgent reforms and administrative steps to fix the criminal justice structure, the existing system could have been brought into some semblance of shape to deal with terrorism.
Sadly, the political leadership has abdicated its democratic responsibilities. Surrender perhaps comes easily.
For a country that has been beset by repeated military coups, the Dawn editors rightly note the risk in granting more powers to the military.
The National Assembly and Senate on Tuesday passed the 21st Constitutional Amendment Bill 2015 and Pakistan Army Act 1952 (Amendment) Bill 2015.
The Constitutional Amendment Bill was passed with 247 votes – 14 more than the required two-third majority in the NA, and 78 votes out of 104 were passed in the Senate.
The amendment – aimed to set up special courts to try militants – was not opposed by any member present inside the house. Lawmakers from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl and Sheikh Rasheed abstained from voting – in both the NA and the Senate.
Each clause of the bill was voted for separately. The bill is now expected to be signed into law by the president this week.
This move by Pakistan, coming in the wake of the devastating Taliban attack on a military school in Peshawar, is drawing obvious comparisons to US moves to establish military commissions at Guantanamo for trying terrorism suspects. Sadly, Pakistan has been just as reckless in making the move as the US was. Had they taken the time for a review of the outcome of US military commissions, they would have found (pdf) that while about 500 suspects in terrorism trials have been convicted in US federal criminal courts, the vaunted military commissions have yielded only 8 convictions since 9/11. On the occasion of the conviction in federal court last year of Osama bin Laden’s son in law, Lyle Denniston had this to say:
As long ago as 1866, just after the Civil War, the Constitution stood for the principle that, if the civilian courts were open and functioning during wartime, trials of civilians charged with crimes of war should be tried in those courts, not in military tribunals. That was the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Ex parte Milligan.
The Court’s lead opinion back then said: “No doctrine, involving more pernicious consequences, was ever invented by the wit of man than that any of its provisions can be suspended during any of the great exigencies of government. Such a doctrine leads directly to anarchy or despotism, but the theory of necessity on which it is based is false.”
[We can separately note that Denniston’s quote from Ex parte Milligan seems to apply just as well to the excuses brought forth in favor of torture as they do for the establishment of military commissions.]
Perhaps the only good aspect of Pakistan’s move to establish military courts is that the bills carry a two year sunset provision. Sadly, though, given the current cowardly status of Pakistan’s lawmakers, it would not be surprising for regular two year “extensions” of the laws to continue in perpetuity. Just like our endless extensions of unconstitutional wiretapping under FISA.
I’ve long followed events along the porous Pakistan-Iran border area, as there are often events taking place there that have very different descriptions on opposite sides of the border. As recently as December 28, three Iranian IRGC members were killed in the area. This is a departure from the usual pattern, where border guards instead of IRGC are the usual targets. Iran retaliated by firing mortars over the border into Pakistan, who claimed as many as 7 injuries from the attack. Iran is also reporting today that they have arrested a team of “terrorists” south of where the December event took place.
By contrast, even though it as remote as the Iran-Pakistan border, the Iraq-Saudi Arabia border is more heavily fortified and patrolled on the Saudi side. That makes today’s report of three Saudi guards being killed in an attack near a border crossing with Iraq stand out:
Saudi Arabia’s border with Iraq, defended by earth barriers and fences and monitored by camera and radar, has been attacked in the past by mortar bombs fired from a distance, but more targeted strikes are rare.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the assault, which hit a remote desert area next to Iraq’s Anbar province where both the Islamic State militant group and Shi’ite Muslim militias close to Riyadh’s foe Iran operate.
Monday’s attackers, described by the ministry only as “terrorist elements”, shot at a border patrol near Arar and when security officers responded, one of the attackers was captured and detonated an explosives belt, the ministry statement on state media said.
One of those killed was a senior officer, ministry spokesman Major General Mansour Turki told Reuters. Local media, including al-Arabiya television, named the dead officer as General Oudah al-Belawi, the head of a border sector. A third officer was wounded, the ministry said.
The Reuters article quoted above [the quote above is from an earlier version of the article which has since been updated] relied on a single expert to blame the attack on ISIS based on the presence of a suicide bomber.
AP, on the other hand, assigned no blame, but noted (as did Reuters), that Saudi Arabia has joined the fight against ISIS in Syria.
It will be interesting to see whether any group claims responsibility for the attack and whether there are additional attacks along the Saudi-Iraq border. For now, I’d place about as much authority on the pronouncement that the presence of a suicide bomber means the attack came from ISIS as I do on Iran’s latest “documentation” that the US is controlling ISIS operations out of the embassy in Baghdad.
With mounting pressure from many sides, Pakistan is quickly approaching a decision point at which it must choose whether it prefers to pursue peace talks with militant groups or to take military action against them. The latest spectacular incident involved a splinter group of Pakistan’s Taliban executing 23 Pakistani Frontier Corpsmen who had been in custody since being captured in 2010. This killing has caused at least a temporary pause in the ongoing peace talks between representatives of the TTP and Pakistan’s government.
The Express Tribune brings us word of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s reaction to the executions:
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday condemned the execution of kidnapped soldiers by a Taliban faction, warning that the deaths could affect ongoing peace talks.
“Such incidents have an extremely negative impact on the ongoing dialogue aimed at promoting peace,” Nawaz said in a statement issued by his office.
A faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) from the northwestern Mohmand district claimed on Sunday night that they had killed 23 paramilitary Frontier Corps members who were kidnapped in June 2010.
Sharif goes on to note that this is just the latest attempt to disrupt the peace talks:
Nawaz added that Pakistan “cannot afford such bloodshed” and lamented that previous attempts to start dialogue were “sabotaged whenever it reached an encouraging stage”.
So while this disruption of the talks is clearly the responsibility of the Mohmand splinter group of the TTP that carried out the executions, recall that the US disrupted the talks last November with a drone killing of the TTP leader the day before talks were to begin.
In its coverage of the executions, Dawn notes the decision that Pakistan faces:
Highly placed sources have said the military was prepared to launch a full scale operation against militant sanctuaries in North Waziristan.
Sources said the army was awaiting a green signal from the government, adding that a large number of troops were being dispatched to North Waziristan from various formations across the country.
Meanwhile, army formations were carrying out field firing and battle inoculation exercises which are being regarded as preparations of a possible operation.
The exercises were aimed as practice for troops in operating under real battlefield environment with live firing of various weapon systems, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said.
Meanwhile, those who have been appointed to the negotiating group on behalf of the TTP are doing their best to get the talks going again.
Sadly, though, violent pressure on Pakistan’s government is continuing on many more fronts. Continue reading
It seems that Mike Rogers lately is aiming to take over the Emptywheel blog. When he’s not yapping about criminalizing journalism or dissembling about Congressional briefings on the Patriot Act renewal, he’s putting out bloodthirsty endorsements of drone violence. When we last heard from him on the drone front, he was joining the mad rush to come up with the most damning indictment of Hakimullah Mehsud after the US disrupted Pakistan’s plans to start peace talks the very next day with a Taliban group headed by Mehsud. Yesterday, Rogers used a hearing of his House Intelligence Committee as a venue in which to pitch a tantrum over the US daring to adjust its drone policy, leading to fewer strikes.
Now, almost exactly three months after the Mehsud drone strike, we see the prospect for peace talks between Pakistan and the Taliban disrupted again. As I mentioned yesterday, Taliban negotiators fear that Pakistan’s government may be planning to scuttle the talks in order to launch an offensive against the Taliban in tribal areas, which might also play into a desire by Sharif’s government to be in line for counterterrorism funds which the US might not be spending in Afghanistan.
The Washington Post has Rogers’ tirade. First, there is news of a pause in drone strikes in Pakistan:
The Obama administration has sharply curtailed drone strikes in Pakistan after a request from the government there for restraint as it pursues peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, according to U.S. officials.
“That’s what they asked for, and we didn’t tell them no,” one U.S. official said. The administration indicated that it will still carry out strikes against senior al-Qaeda targets, if they become available, and move to thwart any direct, imminent threat to U.S. persons.
Concern about Pakistani political sensitivities provides one explanation for the absence of strikes since December, the longest pause in the CIA’s drone campaign since a six-week lull in 2011, after an errant U.S. air assault killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at a border post, triggering a diplomatic crisis.
Oooh, look! There’s Marcy’s favorite word again, “imminent“. But this lull in drone strikes, coupled with the explanation offered in the Post, tells us that no suitable al Qaeda targets with credible plans against the US presented themselves in Pakistan’s tribal areas for over a month. That didn’t deter Rogers; he’s upset that any potential targets aren’t blasted immediately: Continue reading
The situation in Bahrain continues to spiral out of control. As Human Rights Watch noted, Barack Obama even included a reference to sectarian tensions there threatening democracy and regional stability in his September address to the UN General Assembly, but the US ambassador promptly walked the statement back, extolling Bahrain’s position as a “progressive outpost in the Middle East”. More recently, a document has leaked in which Bahrain is seeking over a million and a half canisters of tear gas. That’s more than one canister per citizen of the country. As the New York Times reports, the US has blocked shipment of tear gas to Bahrain (most likely because of all the photos that were posted of “Made in USA” stamps on the canisters used when the government first began cracking down and were still seen up to a year later, but the Times doesn’t mention that bit).
Today, we learn of the tragic death of Ali Khalil al-Sabbagh, who was only seventeen. How he died is very much dependent on whose story you accept. Here is a video report from Reuters:
Dead at the hands of his own bomb. Hmm. The last time bombs were an issue in Bahrain, there were a number of questions about whether “activists” or John Timoney’s infiltrators were responsible. PressTV has a very different explanation for what happened, and they even have a gruesome photo that appears to support their contention that al-Sabbagh was shot in the head by government forces:
About the only issue on which the competing narratives agree is that the Bahraini government wanted to arrest al-Sabbagh. PressTV notes that his father now has been arrested, as well.
How the US responds to Bahrain’s continuing human rights violations will be very interesting to follow as one of the many areas that could be impacted by the growing rift between the US and Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are the primary backers of Bahrain’s minority Sunni ruling family. Iran, to whom the US may be at least partially pivoting, supports Bahrain’s majority Shiite citizens. With US-Saudi relations cooling, the base for the US Fifth Fleet now becomes the only US tie to Bahrain’s government.
My high school days were filled with intrigue and controversy at the national level. On the political front, the Watergate scandal was playing out, with Nixon resigning in the summer between my junior and senior years. Another drama was also playing out at that time, but I only became fully aware of it a few years after its most dramatic events. In July of 1974, only a month before the Nixon resignation, a remarkable publication (pdf) appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. First, the paper is remarkable for its lack of an author byline. The members of the committee who authored the publication are listed at the very end. More remarkable still is that the publication marked the announcement of a voluntary moratorium by biological scientists. Several types of constructs using newly developed gene-splicing capabilities would not be attempted until the group had more fully studied the risks involved and come up with a plan for mitigating these risks.
Just under a year later, a follow-up publication (pdf) in the same journal appeared. This time there was an author list (and they finally let a woman join the authors–Maxine Singer had been involved in the discussions all along but was not listed in the 1974 paper). The risk mitigation strategy proposed in this paper has set the stage for the bulk of the work with recombinant DNA that has followed (and which allowed me to get a PhD in Molecular Biology in 1983). In the 1975 paper, Paul Berg and colleagues described a graduated level of biological and physical containment of organisms generated in recombinant DNA experiments, with the level of containment based on the relative risk perceived for the new DNA combinations that were being generated.
It should be noted that the concept of working with dangerous biological organisms was not new at all. Infectious diseases have been studied throughout the history of medicine and so the concept of biological containment of dangerous pathogens was not new to these scientists. They relied on these established practices of containment, which have continued to evolve into the current containment guidelines such as those published by the Centers for Disease Control (pdf) for containing pathogens.
Work with recombinant DNA took off quickly once the moratorium was lifted and a number of wonder drugs are now in use through this technology. Engineered plants are also in widespread use in agriculture, but implementation at least in the case of Bt corn has been mismanaged to the point that resistance is beginning to break out.
Fast forward to my impending old age and a very different sort of moratorium reared its head in a very ugly way in December of 2011. Continue reading
Australia’s Institute for Economics and Peace released a study (pdf) today in which they have tabulated terrorist attacks over the past ten years. They have developed a Global Terrorism Index which, on a country by country basis, quantifies attacks by number of fatalities, number of injuries and property damage incurred and allows for trends over time. The top three countries in the index are, in order, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the US has spent the bulk of its efforts in the Great War on Terror since the attacks of September 11, 2001. The fact remains that after over ten years of effort, over a trillion dollars spent and thousands of US troops killed, terrorism remains at greatly elevated levels in those countries compared to the level at the beginning of the study in 2002. There has been a slight plateauing of the number of attacks since its peak in 2007, but there is no real trend toward lower numbers of attacks. The top ten countries, from the report:
What qualifies as terrorism differs greatly depending on the definition employed. The definition employed here is:
the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation
The study notes that in this context, drones are excluded:
This definition excludes perceived acts of state terror, such as drone attacks resulting in civilian casualties.
It should be noted that the scale employed is logarithmic and so small differences in the terror index number reflect large differences in the numbers of attacks and fatalities. For 2011, there were 1228 incidents in the top country Iraq with 1798 fatalities while the number nine country Russia saw 182 incidents with 159 fatalities. An interactive map of the data can be found here.
As mentioned above, attacks increased greatly from 2002 through 2007 and then plateaued. The trend of attacks over time can be seen here:
The study looked at the data in an attempt to find potential causes of terrorism (emphasis in original):
Analysis has also been carried out against a range of socioeconomic data to determine what factors may be associated with terrorism. The factors that correlated the strongest with the GTI were group grievances, intergroup cohesion, human rights, and political stability.
Interestingly, even though the US embarked on its Great War on Terror in response to an attack by al Qaeda, the study found only one incident in 2011 attributed to it. However, there are many offshoots of the group which remain active:
According to GTD data, however, the al-Qa’ida organization itself was responsible for only one incident – a kidnapping – out of the 5000 terrorist incidents in 2011, while 11 of the most 20 [sic] active groups globally were al-Qa’ida linked.
So while the primary al Qaeda organization is essentially defunct with regard to terror attacks, its offshoots remain active. In terms of fatalities, the top three groups for the time period 2002 through 2001 were the Taliban, al Qaeda in Iraq and Islamic State of Iraq. Despite all the effort by the US, its targets remain the most effective actors in global terrorism in terms of deaths.
In a rational world, this report would prompt long, careful review in Washington and a reassessment of how our country goes about trying to stop terrorism. Instead, it is more likely to result in allocation of even more lives and treasure to tactics and strategies that have proven completely useless.
As Marcy points out this morning, Iran is now emphasizing the many ways that the US is waging war on Iran. What I find interesting in both the physical attacks, whether they hit equipment or people, and the propaganda attacks waged in the media is that the flow of information is of overwhelming importance. I’ll hit three examples of the importance of information flow in the posturing for war with Iran.
Information Flow Between IAEA and Intelligence Agencies
Iran is now disclosing remarkable details on the August attack that disrupted electricity to the Fordo uranium enrichment plant near Qom. Especially intriguing is a fake rock discovered later that appeared to house electronics for monitoring communications at the site. But more important to me is that Iran is using the Fordo event to renew its claims that the IAEA is too closely affiliated with both US and Israeli intelligence. Consider this report today from Fars News in Iran, titled “Iran Angry at IAEA’s Use of External Sources of Information for Reports“. The article begins by lamenting that IAEA relies on information from US and Israeli intelligence:
Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Fereidoun Abbasi lamented that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) uses external and unreliable sources of information for reporting Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.
“Unfortunately, the IAEA is influenced by intelligence sources outside the Agency, and its information leaks and the CIA and Mossad benefit from the leaked information,” Abbasi said in a meeting with members of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission in Tehran on Tuesday.
The article goes on to note that IAEA inspectors appeared to know instantaneously when the power was disrupted at the Fordo plant and links this to accusations of infiltration of IAEA:
In relevant remarks earlier this month, Abbasi also warned the IAEA about infiltration of saboteurs and terrorists.
“On Friday August 17, 2012, power lines running from the city of Qom to Fordow facility were cut using explosives. It should be reminded that power outage is a way of damaging centrifuge machines. In the early hours of the following day, (IAEA) inspectors demanded a snap inspection of the facility,” he said, addressing an IAEA meeting in Vienna.
“Isn’t there any connection between the visit and the blast? Who else could have quick access to the facility other than IAEA inspectors to register and report dysfunctions?” he asked.
The fake rock would still have been operating on August 17, so Iran has told us that US and/or Israeli intelligence would have known immediately of the loss of power. And yet, somehow this information also made its way to IAEA within only a few hours. Such a sequence of events certainly paints a picture of the intelligence community having very good lines of communication with the IAEA and the information flow appears to go in both directions.
Control of Information on Uranium Enrichment
Just as was the case for explaining that the disputed explosion chamber at Parchin likely is used for nanodiamond research rather than nuclear trigger research, a report from b at Moon of Alabama should have completely defused the yammering over the August report on Iran from the IAEA. We learn from b that although Iran produced a large amount of 20% enriched uranium during the reporting period, much of Iran’s stockpile of 20% enriched uranium was converted to fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor that produces medical isotopes. Importantly, once converted to fuel plates, the uranium is no longer in a chemical form that can be put back into centrifuges for further enrichment to weapons grade. As a result, b is the only person who could bring us this important news just after the report was released: Continue reading
Back on August 2, I noted a very interesting development. At a time when the US and Pakistan were holding high-level meetings both in Washington and Pakistan, a terror plot in Afghanistan reported to be in preparation by the Haqqani network was disrupted. This was a surprising development to me because at the time I was predicting that the talks between the new head of Pakistan’s ISI and CIA head David Petraeus would go badly and that the US would launch poorly targeted drone attacks in retaliation, perhaps even while General ul-Islam was in transit back to Pakistan. Instead, there seemed to be a distinct possibility that Pakistan had provided intelligence on movement of Haqqani network members from Pakistan into Afghanistan and that this intelligence allowed the plot to be disrupted before it was carried out.
Once the meetings in Washington ended, no new drone strikes occurred in Pakistan. In fact, another attack plot was thwarted in Afghanistan on August 12. Although this plot was not believed to be at the hands of the Haqqani network, there was evidence that Pakistanis were involved, which again led me to postulate that this plot also was disrupted with the help of intelligence information from Pakistan.
The absence of drone strikes continued and then on August 13 Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was interviewed by Lolita Baldor and Robert Burns of AP. As seen in the video excerpt above, Panetta said that he expected Pakistan to launch military operations soon against Taliban militants in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. As Bill Roggio noted at Long War Journal, this was a shocking development. After opening with “This is absolutely stunning”, Roggio went on to list his reasoning for why the announcement didn’t make much sense. He concluded:
How many times has Pakistan promised to take action in North Waziristan, or claimed to take action there, only to make fools of top US defense officials?
The lull in drone strikes continued.
Did the US lose patience with Pakistan’s promise to launch an operation in North Waziristan? On August 18, the lull in drone strikes ended (don’t bother looking this or any other drone strike up in New America Foundation’s database, as it now appears to have been taken down). And it ended in a particularly ugly way, at midday on the day when the religious feast of Eid al-Fitr would begin at sunset. That strike has been followed up with three others, so that as of Tuesday, there were four drone strikes in as many days. The lull does not match up with Ramadan. Ramadan started on July 20 and The Bureau for Investigative Journalism’s database shows attacks on July 23 and July 29. Instead, that last strike prior to the lull was just before ul-Islam’s meetings in Washington, which started on August 1.
This sequence of events suggests to me that if there was indeed a time of increased cooperation in which ISI shared intelligence on movement of militants from the tribal areas into Afghanistan for attacks in return for no drone strikes occurring, this agreement has now fallen apart. The intense rate of drone strikes once they re-started is typical of US actions when retaliation is desired. It would not be surprising, then, for the next attack by militants moving from Pakistan to Afghanistan to be successful instead of being disrupted before it can take place.
It appears that I am not alone in thinking we are again at a low point in US-Pakistan relations. Former Pakistani envoy to the United States Hussein Haqqani suggested yesterday that the US and Pakistan should “divorce”. This latest outbreak of drone attacks could then be seen as the US serving notice of separation.