Analysis: The West should weigh carefully its response to the Paris carnage

Paris FranceParis is still reeling from Friday’s unprecedented carnage, which left at least 130 people dead and over 350 wounded. The six separate incidents included the first known suicide bombings in the country’s history and marked the deadliest coordinated attacks on French soil since World War II. The magnitude of the attacks prompted the French government to close the country’s borders and declare a nationwide state of emergency —the first since 1961. The shock from the mass killings is today reverberating throughout Europe, a continent that had not seen such a deadly incident since the Madrid train bombings of 2004, when a group of al-Qaeda-inspired militants killed 191 people in the Spanish capital. A response from France and its Western allies is to be expected. However, the West should pause and think very carefully before deepening its engagement in a chaotic and unpredictable war that is like nothing it has ever experienced. Specifically, Western leaders should consider the following:

I. The adversaries know and understand the West, its culture and way of life, far better than the West understands them. Ever since 9/11 and the London bombings of 2005, a number of Western observers have cautioned against the so-called “Islamization of Europe”. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, the events of 9/11 caused a widening gulf between an increasingly Islamophobic West and Muslims; the latter are viewed by European critics of Islam as foreign bodies. What is far more prevalent and important is the Europeanization of Islam, which means that adherents of radical Islam are studying and interacting with European culture, norms and values, more intensely than ever before. Consequently, armed attacks carried out by Islamist militants against Western targets reflect a deep understanding of Western culture that far exceeds the West’s understanding of them. The November 13 attacks in Paris typify this: they were not “indiscriminate”, as some have suggested. They were carefully selected to achieve core political objectives, while at the same time sending a symbolic message against the Western way of recreation, which Islamists view as decadent. That was highlighted in a statement about the Paris attacks issued by the Islamic State, in which the group singled out the Bataclan Theater as Q Quotea venue where “a party of perversity” was taking place. Europe’s response to this phenomenon is dismissal and indifference. Most Westerners are still at a loss trying to understand the basic differences between Sunni and Shia Islam, let alone the ideological and spiritual underpinnings of groups like the Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra, and others. The idea that radical Islam can be defeated before it is understood is naïve and dangerous.

II. The West does not have the intelligence and security infrastructure that is necessary to take on the Islamic State. It should not be forgotten that last Friday’s attacks took place despite the state of heightened alert that France has been under after the Charlie Hebdo shootings of January 2015. Since that time, French authorities have reportedly managed to stop at least six advanced plots against civilian targets, while alert passengers were able to prevent a mass shooting aboard a French train in August of this year. However, if France deepens its involvement in the Syrian Civil War, these attacks will continue with a scale and complexity that is bound to stretch —and possibly overwhelm— the country’s security infrastructure. Nine months after the Charlie Hebdo shootings, the presence of thousands of police officers and even troops in the streets of Paris has become common. But that did nothing to stop Friday’s attacks in a city of 2.2 million people, which features 35,000 cafés, 13,000 restaurants and over 2,000 hotels. The sheer number of these “soft targets” makes Paris a city that is virtually impossible to defend against determined suicide assailants. The French are also used to traveling with ease within their country and across Europe, as the borders between France and its neighbors, such as Belgium, Germany and Switzerland, have become practically meaningless. Moreover, French authorities estimate that at least 13,000 radicalized Muslims live in France —a fraction of the country’s nearly 6 million Muslim citizens, but large enough to overwhelm the French security services. Read more of this post

US defense contractors allegedly hired Russian computer programmers

PentagonTwo American firms contracted by the Department of Defense have settled a lawsuit accusing them of having hired Russian programmers based in Moscow to write computer code for classified systems. The hires allegedly occurred as part of a $613 million contract, which was awarded by the US Pentagon to Massachusetts-based Netcracker Technology Corporation and Virginia-based Computer Systems Corporation (CSC). The two companies were hired to write software for the US Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), a Pentagon outfit that provides the US armed forces with secure real-time combat communications. But in 2011, contractor John C. Kingsley, who had a supervisory role in the project, notified the US government that the two companies had farmed out part of the contract’s coding duties to programmers in Moscow and other Russian cities.

If true, Kingsley’s allegations would mean that Netcracker and CSC were in violation of federal regulations, which specify that only American citizens with the appropriate security clearances should be employed to work on classified communications systems. A subsequent government investigation, which lasted four years, gave rise to a lawsuit against the two companies. The court was told that the code written by the Russian programmers had allowed the installation of “numerous viruses” on the communications systems of the Pentagon “on at least one occasion”. Witnesses also accused Netcracker and CSC of being guided mainly by greed, since it was able to save over 60% of wage costs by employing the Russian programmers.

Last week, the two companies chose to settle the case, by paying the government a combined fee of nearly $13 million in civil penalties. It is important to note, however, that they both deny the government’s accusations that they violated the terms of their federal contract. In statement issued last week, the companies stated that their decision reflected their belief that it was “in the best interest of all stakeholders to settle the matter”. A spokeswoman for the DISA told The Daily Beast that she could not comment on the case, because doing so would “compromise the Agency’s national security posture”. According to The Daily Beast, last week’s settlement does not prevent the Department of Justice from filing criminal charges against Netcracker and CSC.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 November 2015 | Permalink | News tip: C.H.

Security firm says it shut down extensive Iranian cyber spy program

IRGC IranA security firm with headquarters in Israel and the United States says it detected and neutralized an extensive cyber espionage program with direct ties to the government of Iran. The firm, called Check Point Software, which has offices in Tel Aviv and California, says it dubbed the cyber espionage program ROCKET KITTEN. In a media statement published on its website on Monday, Check Point claims that the hacker group maintained a high-profile target list of 1,600 individuals. The list reportedly includes members of the Saudi royal family and government, American and European officials, North Atlantic Treaty Organization officers and nuclear scientists working for the government of Israel. The list is said to include even the names of spouses of senior military officials from numerous nations.

News agency Reuters quoted Check Point Software’s research group manager Shahar Tal, who said that his team was able to compromise the ROCKET KITTEN databases and acquire the list of espionage targets maintained by the group. Most targets were from Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States, he said, although countries like Turkey and Venezuela were also on the list. Tal told Reuters that the hackers had compromised servers in the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands, and that they were using these and other facilities in Europe to launch attacks on their unsuspecting targets. According to Check Point, the hacker group was under the command of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, a branch of the Iranian military that is ideologically committed to the defense of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Reuters said it contacted the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and Europol, but that both agencies refused comment, as did the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, an unnamed official representing the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, said that ROCKET KITTEN “is familiar to us and is being attended to”. The official declined to provide further details. Meanwhile, Check Point said it would issue a detailed report on the subject late on Monday.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 November 2015 | Permalink

Chile government report says poet Neruda may have been poisoned

Pablo NerudaA report prepared by the Chilean government considers it “highly likely” that Chile’s Nobel laureate poet, Pablo Neruda, died as a result of deliberate poisoning. The literary icon, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971, died on September 23, 1973. His death occurred less than two weeks after a coup d’état, led by General Augusto Pinochet, toppled the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende, a Marxist who was a close friend of Neruda.

The death of the internationally acclaimed poet, who was 69 at the time, was officially attributed to prostate cancer and the effects of acute mental stress caused by the military coup. In 2013, however, an official investigation was launched into Neruda’s death following allegations that he had been murdered. The investigation was sparked by comments made by Neruda’s personal driver, Manuel Araya, who said that the poet had been deliberately injected with poison while receiving treatment for cancer at the Clinica Santa Maria in Chilean capital Santiago. According to Araya, General Pinochet ordered Neruda’s assassination after he was told that the poet was preparing to seek political asylum in Mexico. The Chilean dictatorship allegedly feared that the Nobel laureate poet would seek to form a government-in-exile and oppose the regime of General Pinochet.

In April of that year, a complex autopsy was performed on Neruda’s exhumed remains, but was inconclusive. On November 6, however, Spanish newspaper El País said it had been given access to a report prepared by Chile’s Ministry of the Interior. The report allegedly argues that it was unlikely that Neruda’s death was the “consequence of his prostate cancer”. According to El País, the document states that it was “manifestly possible and highly probable” that the poet’s death was the outcome of “direct intervention by third parties”. The report also explains that Neruda’s alleged murder resulted from a fast-acting substance that was injected into his body or entered it orally.

The report obtained by El País was produced for an ongoing legal probe into Neruda’s death, which is being supervised by Mario Carroza Espinosa, one of Chile’s most high-profile judges.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 October 2015 | Permalink | News tip: R.W.

UK, US see bomb behind downing of Russian airliner in Egypt

KogalymaviaInformation gathered by British and American intelligence agencies raises the possibility that a bomb may have brought down the Russian civilian airliner that crashed in Egypt last week. The Metrojet Airbus 321 left the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Saturday, heading for St. Petersburg, Russia. But it crashed in the Sinai Peninsula less than 30 minutes after it took off, killing all 224 passengers and crew onboard, the vast majority of whom were Russian citizens.

Earlier this week, Russian airline Kogalymavia, which operated the flight, said its investigation indicated that an “external influence” was responsible for the airplane’s downing. On Wednesday, the British government appeared to confirm the company’s suspicions. Britain’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Philip Hammond, told a press conference in London that the British government’s Crisis Response Committee had concluded that there was “a significant possibility that the crash was caused by an explosive device on board the aircraft”. He added that Whitehall was suspending effective immediately all flights operated by British carriers to and from Sharm el-Sheikh.

Soon after Hammond’s comments, the Associated Press quoted an unnamed American government official saying that the US had reached the “tentative conclusion” that Islamist militants in Sinai were responsible for planting the bomb on the Kogalymavia airplane. The Americans seem to have reached this conclusion based on intercepted communications messages from the Sinai region.

Egyptian officials have rejected claims that Islamist militants were behind the plane crash, and have criticized London’s decision to suspend all flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh as unnecessary and premature. Experts in Russia have also said it is too early to draw formal conclusions about the crash. Meanwhile, the airplane’s flight data recorder has been recovered and will be analyzed by investigators in the coming days.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 November 2015 | Permalink

Boko Haram spy network is better than Nigerian state’s, says ex-Army chief

Boko Haram NigeriaA former Chief of Staff for the Nigerian Army has said that the intelligence capabilities of Islamist group Boko Haram are “100 percent better” than those of the Nigerian military and security agencies. The comments were made on Tuesday by Theophilus Danjuma, a retired lieutenant general in the Nigerian Army, who served as the Army’s chief of staff from 1975 to 1979. Danjuma was also minister of defense from 1999 to 2003, under President Olusegun Obasanjo. Speaking in the city of Sokoto, located in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim northwest region, Danjuma claimed that Boko Haram insurgents relied on surveillance and intelligence-collection capabilities that were “far superior” to those of Nigeria’s state agencies.

Boko Haram is a Sunni Islamist group that is currently active in northern Nigeria, Niger, Chad and northern Cameroon. The separatist group was founded in 2002 and has since launched an armed campaign aimed at establishing an Islamic state in northern Nigeria. In 2015, the group formally declared its allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, a Sunni militant outfit that today controls much of Syria and northern Iraq. In response to the ascendancy of Boko Haram, the Nigerian government declared a state of emergency in several regions of northern Nigeria, which has since been extended to cover the entirety of the country’s predominantly Muslim regions. Nearly 20,000 people have been killed in the conflict between Boko Haram and the Nigerian state, while over 2 million are estimated to have been internally displaced.

In the summer of 2014, Boko Haram gained control of Borno, Nigeria’s northernmost state, which borders Niger, Chad and Cameroon. The government of Nigeria responded with a full-scale military assault, with which which managed to regain control of most of Borno. In September of this year, the Nigerian military announced that it had captured or destroyed most of Boko Haram’s military bases in Borno. But Danjuma said on Tuesday that the war against Boko Haram is only now “entering its most critical stage”, as government forces are moving into territory previously controlled by the militant group. Instead of fighting government troops face-to-face, Boko Haram militants are “disappearing into the wider civilian population and “setting up sleeper cells” with the aim of “wreaking havoc on soft targets”, said the former defense minister.

In May of last year, intelNews cited reports claiming that the United States government was “not […] sharing raw intelligence data” on Boko Haram with the Nigerian state. It was believed at the time that the lack of intelligence-sharing between the US and Nigeria was due to concerns in Washington that the Nigerian military had been infiltrated by Boko Haram members and sympathizers. In 2013, the then-president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, admitted that the country’s security services had been compromised by Boko Haram agents.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 04 November 2015 | Permalink

Washington to investigate Chinese-owned radio stations in the US

CRI ChinaAuthorities in Washington are preparing to launch an investigation into a dozen radio stations operating in major cities in the United States, which are allegedly owned by a subsidiary of the Chinese government. The investigation appears to have been sparked by a report published by the Reuters news agency on Monday, which claims that the Chinese government is operating a “covert radio network” inside the US, aimed at broadcasting news reports that reflect Chinese views. According to Reuters, the radio stations broadcast in at least a dozen large American cities, including Houston, San Francisco, Boston and Philadelphia.

All stations in question are managed by broadcasting firm G&E Studioa, based in West Covina, California, which is owned by James Su, a Shanghai-born American broadcasting entrepreneur. According to the news agency, G&E Studio controls the vast majority of these stations’ air time, which it fills with entertainment and public-affairs programming produced in its studios in California. However, the Reuters report claimed that G&E Studio is 60% owned by China Radio International (CRI), which is a Chinese state-controlled broadcaster. Founded as Radio Peking in 1941, then renamed to Radio Beijing during the Cold War, CRI is the Chinese equivalent of the Voice of America or the BBC World Service: it is officially affiliated with the Chinese government and reflects its point of view. What is more, said Reuters, some of the programming aired on G&E Studio-managed stations is produced by CRI in Beijing. Consequently, news programming on these stations tends to reflect the Chinese government’s point of view, on subjects such as Taiwan, naval rights in the South China Sea, trade policies and other major topics of the day.

The investigation has been launched by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) because American law prohibits representatives of foreign governments, or foreign governments themselves, from owning or managing US broadcast stations. Moreover, individuals or companies seeking to influence American politics or public opinion on behalf of a foreign agency, group or government, must register with the US Department of State. It doesn’t appear that G&E-owned radio stations have done that, said Reuters on Monday. The news agency quoted FCC spokesman Neil Grace, who said that an investigation had been launched into “the foreign ownership issues raised in the stories, including whether the Commission’s statutory foreign ownership rules have been violated”. The Department of State, however, refused to confirm or deny that an investigation into G&E Studios was underway.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 3 November 2015 | Permalink


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