Analysis: Without fanfare, FBI places Putin’s right-hand man on most wanted list

Yevgeny PrigozhinWITHOUT MUCH FANFARE LAST week, the Federal Bureau of Investigation placed on its most wanted list Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest collaborators. Known as “Putin’s chef”, for providing catering services to the Kremlin, Prigozhin was indicted in February 2018 by United States prosecutors for his alleged role in Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential elections. According to the Special Counsel investigation, led by Robert Mueller, Prigozhin bankrolled the Internet Research Agency (IRA), which in turn played a central coordinating role in the effort to influence the outcome of the elections.

But it is one thing to be indicted by the US government, and quite another to be placed on the FBI’s most wanted list. What does this mean? And why did the FBI wait three years to place Prigozhin on its list of infamy?

With characteristic flamboyance, Prigozhin boasted victory against the FBI back in March of 2020, when US federal prosecutors requested that the Mueller-era criminal case against Concord Management and Consulting (CMC) be dismissed. Founded in 1995, CMC is Prigozhin’s flagship company. According to the US government, CMC was used to fund the IRA’s activities in the run-up to the 2016 US elections. Although some were surprised by that decision, it made sense from an intelligence point of view. US federal prosecutors said at the time that it would not be possible to prove the allegations against CMC due to a “classification determination”. The term basically meant that the US government could not prove the claims made against CMC without revealing “methods and sources”. The term refers to witnesses that have probably been recruited as US government assets, as well as to methods of surveillance that the government wishes to keep secret.

Even though the individual indictment against Prigozhin was never dropped, the flamboyant Russian boasted at the time that the dismissal of the case against CMC proved that he was not implicated in the US election meddling affair. He became even more boastful after September of last year, when Interpol removed his name from its international alert list. He reportedly began traveling outside Russia again, something that he had stopped doing after his 2018 indictment, out of an abundance of caution. At that time, everyone assumed that US prosecutors would eventually drop the case against Prigozhin too, for the same reason they had dropped the CMC case —namely a “classification determination”. Read more of this post

Analysis: Emergence of an armed insurgency is now a distinct possibility in the US

US CapitolWITH DOWNTOWN WASHINGTON RESEMBLING a large military encampment, a repeat of last week’s shocking assault on the Capitol Complex is highly improbable. But America could witness escalating levels of violence across many states, as supporters of the January 6 insurrection continue to organize themselves into a coherent armed movement. Their ability to threaten American national security will depend on whether they can overcome major internal divisions. It will also be determined by the speed with which United States authorities will respond to the rise of what is quickly becoming a dangerous militant movement.

Supporters of the nationalist insurrection that shook the nation on January 6 could possibly return to Washington in time to make a show of force during the Inauguration of Joe Biden. Intelligence reports by US federal agencies mention as many as 17 separate events being planned in the nation’s capital by a variety of militant groups. If these events materialize, the US is likely to witness the largest armed protests in its history. Other gatherings —many of them involving armed militants— are scheduled to take place in all 50 states between January 16 and 20.Q Quote 1

The militants who will descend on Washington in the coming days are unlikely to engage in all-out hostilities against as many as 20,000 members of the US National Guard. The latter have reportedly been given clear rules of engagement, which include the use of lethal force against assailants. The command and control capabilities that are needed to seriously threaten a 20,000-strong professional army, make it unlikely that the insurrectionists will attempt such a suicidal mission. Nevertheless, the possibility that one or more small groups of die-hard militants will descend on Washington determined to engage in direct combat against the US military should not be disregarded. Their chances of a martial victory are extremely slim, but victory can also be achieved through what their supporters will interpret as heroism and —ultimately— martyrdom.

What is far more likely to happen is that the insurrectionists will engage the forces of the government asymmetrically —that is, by resorting to strategies and tactics of unconventional warfare. Such scenarios are more likely to materialize in the coming months, or even years, in the countryside of so-called ‘red states’, where some supporters of President Donald Trump may be willing to help the insurgents by giving them protection and cover. Read more of this post

Analysis: Potential espionage aspects of attack on US Capitol must be considered

US CapitolTHE INSURGENTS WHO STORMED the United States Capitol Building Complex on January 6 may have unwittingly provided cover for teams of foreign spies, who could have stolen or compromised sensitive electronic equipment. This largely neglected security-related aspect of the attack is discussed in an insightful article by David Gewitz, a ZDNet and CNET columnist who writes about cybersecurity affairs.

Hundreds of unauthorized people entered the US Capitol last Wednesday. Many of them entered the offices of several members of Congress, some of whom are members of Congressional committees on intelligence, armed services, defense, and other sensitive matters. According to Gewitz, “there is absolutely no knowing what actions were taken against digital gear inside the building” by the intruders. Most of them were clearly members of disorganized mobs, who appeared to have no concrete plan of action once inside the Capitol. However, points Gewitz, it would have been easy for foreign actors to blend in with the crowd of wild-eyed rioters and surreptitiously entered the Capitol in order to steal or compromise sensitive electronic equipment.

In addition to stealing electronic equipment, foreign spies could have stolen sensitive documents, access codes and passcodes, says Gewitz. He adds that more sophisticated efforts could have included loading malware onto Capitol computer systems, or plugging surreptitious USB drives into the internal ports of tower PCs —a process that takes less than two minutes for someone who is equipped with an pocket-size electric screwdriver. Foreign actors could also have left dozens of “generic USB drives in various drawers and on various desks” around the Capitol, hoping that members of Congress or their aides will make use of them in the coming days or weeks. For all we know, says Gewitz, the place could now be riddled with USB chargers with built-in wireless key-loggers, devices that look like power strips but actually hide wireless network hacking tools, fake smoke detectors, electric outlets or switches that contain bugs, and many other surreptitious spying devices.

What should Capitol security personnel do to prevent the potential espionage fallout from the January 6 attack? Gewitz argues that, given the extremely sensitive nature of the information that is stored in the Capitol’s digital systems, federal cybersecurity personnel should “assume that ALL the digital devices at the Capitol have been compromised”, he writes. They will therefore need to resort to “a scorched Earth remediation effort”, meaning that they will have to “completely scrub” those systems, and even lock the USB drive slots of every PC in the building complex. This damage will take months, even years, to clean up, he concludes.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 January 2021 | Permalink

FBI, NYPD forewarned Capitol Police of serious violence by Trump supporters

US CapitolTHE FEDERAL BUREAU OF Investigation and the New York Police Department gave Capitol Police officials specific warnings that supporters of United States President Donald Trump were determined to engage in serious violence on January 6, according to federal officials. The FBI even made contact with known far-right radicals across the United States in early January, and warned them not to travel to Washington for the pro-Trump rally that resulted in the bloody attack on the US Capitol, according to NBC News.

Citing “senior law enforcement officials”, including “a senior FBI official”, NBC reported on Sunday that the FBI had “credible and actionable information” about specific far-right radicals who intended to join the protest on January 6. This information was allegedly communicated to Capitol Police officials, according to the report. The senior FBI official, who is not named in report, told NBC that the Bureau made contact with those radicals and warned them not to travel to Washington for the protest. Citing “multiple law enforcement officials”, the news network also said that the Capitol Police was given extensive intelligence by NYPD about planned acts of violence on January 6. The intelligence was “specific”, “detailing the threats and extremist rhetoric on social media”, according to the news network.

Despite these warnings, however, Capitol Police reportedly turned down an offer of assistance by the US National Guard three days before the fateful siege of the Capitol Building Complex by thousands of pro-Trump insurgents, many of whom were armed. According to the Associated Press, despite the advanced and detailed warnings given to it, “the Capitol Police planned only for a free speech demonstration”.

Meanwhile, the experts warning of a significant risk of widespread violence on January 20, when President-Elect Joe Biden is scheduled to be sworn into office, are growing in number. On Sunday, Cindy Otis, a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst and vice-president of the Alethea Group, which tracks online threats, warned that “we are in a tinderbox situation right now”. She pointed to numerous threats made online, which claim that last Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol was “just a taste of things to come”. There are reports that far-right insurgents are preparing for a violent showdown in DC, aimed at preventing Biden from entering the White House on January 20. Other reports suggest that groups of insurgents seek to organize synchronous potentially violent rallies in every state of the union that day.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 January 2021 | Permalink

Analysis: US Capitol attack marks the beginning of a prolonged period of insurrection

Rightwing militancy 2021IF WEDNESDAY’S ATTACK ON the United States Capitol Complex was part of a coup d’état, then the American political system should be considered safe for the time being. The mob that ransacked the Capitol was disordered, leaderless, and appeared to have no coordination, or even direction. However, the broader militant movement that it represents is evolving very rapidly. If left unchecked, it will be able to turn its weaknesses into strengths and spell major trouble ahead for the already stormy waters of American politics. The nation’s law enforcement and security agencies must therefore prepare for a period of widespread insurrection, some of which will be armed and lethal in nature. Insurrectionist acts are likely to occur across the nation, and may last for months, if not longer.

WHO CARRIED OUT THE ATTACK?

Wednesday’s attack was carried out by what can be described as the militant wing of the American nationalist-populist movement. This wing is not strictly representative of the US president’s broader political base. Its members see themselves as vanguard soldiers who are prepared to take extreme action to avert President Trump’s imminent departure from the White House. Such militant attitudes are not typical among Trump voters. Yet this vanguard is revered by Trump’s political base, a sizeable portion of which appears to be in support of Wednesday’s attack on the US Capitol. Indeed, early polling by YouGov suggests that over 40 percent of Republican voters strongly or somewhat support the attack on the US Capitol.Q Quote 1

Many members of this frontline force belong to organized militant cells, like the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters, and —more recently— the Proud Boys. But these groups provide limited operational direction to their members, and were certainly not commanding Wednesday’s events. In fact, an audiovisual analysis of the attack shows that most of the assailants operated in makeshift groups and many didn’t even know each other’s names. There were no leaders directing the attacks on Wednesday. It is indeed likely that the militant figureheads of the movement were as surprised by the turn of events as the hapless members of the US Capitol Police.

HOW WAS THE ATTACK PREPARED?

Many of the assailants were armed with tactical equipment, as well as with clubs, shields, chemical irritants, knives and other weapons. It also appears that at least one group of insurgents arrived at the Capitol with ropes, which they subsequently used to scale its walls. This points to earlier planning and coordination, which likely involved at least some reconnaissance. Read more of this post

Mutual distrust of China heightens US-Indian intelligence cooperation to historic levels

India External Affairs MinistryINTELLIGENCE COOPERATION BETWEEN THE United States and India has reached historic levels in the closing months of 2020, and is driven by the two countries’ mutual distrust of China. This development is particularly noteworthy for India, which has traditionally maintained a non-aligned stance in military and intelligence matters for much of its existence. New Delhi’s increasingly close relationship with Washington is described by some experts as “a revolution in the way that India views the world and aligns with partners in Asia”.

The deepening intelligence cooperation between India has its roots in 2002, when the military forces of the two nations formalized intelligence-sharing systems on matters of regional security. In 2016, a new bilateral logistics agreement enabled them to share each other’s facilities in order to repair or resupply vehicles, vessels and aircraft. Two years later, the US gave India access to secure communications equipment that is also used by the US Navy and Air Force.

These military- and intelligence-sharing agreements were reinforced in recent months, after India and China were involved in a bloody border dispute in the Himalayan region. The heated dispute lasted for over a month, resulting in the death of nearly 30 Indian and Chinese military officers. The incidents alarmed observers, as they marked the first violent clashes between Indian and Chinese troops in several decades. Since that time, India has deliberately deepened its intelligence-sharing relationship with the US, led by its growing rift with China.

The most recent demonstration of the deepening relationship between India and the US is the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), which was signed by Washington and New Delhi in October of this year. It allows US intelligence agencies, such as the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, to provide India with archival and real-time geospatial data. The latter includes aeronautical, nautical and topographical intelligence, much of which concerns China or the activities of Chinese vessels and aircraft in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. BECA is said to be instrumental in allowing India to advance its understanding of Chinese military targets, as well as detect the pattern of Chinese military activity in the wider region. However, the agreement has raised concerns among officials in India’s regional foe, Pakistan, as well as in Russia, which has historically been one of India’s closest regional allies.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 23 December 2020 | Permalink

Opinion: Mishandled analysis of 1982 Tyre attack had implications for US, France

1983 Beirut barracks bombings

BETWEEN 1982 AND 1983, 450 defense personnel and civilians from Israel, the United States and France were killed in Lebanon as a result of four consecutive terrorist attacks conducted by Hezbollah. For years, questions have been raised whether these attacks could have been prevented.

In 2000, a senior Israel Security Agency (ISA) official wrote a report on the huge explosion in the Israeli compound in Tyre, Lebanon, in 1982. Based on the available intelligence, he reached a firm conclusion: it was a suicide bombing by a Shiite terrorist inside a booby-trapped vehicle, and not a gas balloon explosion, as was officially claimed. Requests to publish the new report with the recent conclusions were denied by ISA senior officials, for reasons that remain unknown. This prompted questions and strong doubts among counterterrorism experts and the Israeli the public, about whether the initial report from 1982 was actually a serious mistake of judgement, or even a cover-up.

Twenty years later, in November 2020, an investigative article was published in Israel by Ronen Bergman, which shed light on new details indicating a high probability that the attack in Tyre was a Hezbollah terrorist attack and not a result of an explosion of gas balloons. The article stated that in 1982 Israeli authorities, especially the ISA, were not ready to admit that their intelligence missed the attack and did not stop it in time. As a result, lessons were not learned regarding the immediate need to strengthen the security of foreign compounds in Lebanon against possible threats from Hezbollah. In 1983 Hezbollah used the same modus operandi of car bombs to attack US and French forces in Beirut and later the —then new— Israeli compound of Tyre.

Read more of this post

Analysis: The second intifada, a spontaneous act that shocked Israelis and Palestinians

Guest Ed PostOn the 20th anniversary of the outbreak of the second intifada (October 2000), the debate arises again in Israel as to whether the Palestinian move was an initiative of Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority or whether it was a spontaneous evolution on the Palestinian side that largely surprised not only Israel but also the Palestinians.

One opinion in Israel states that the intifada was the result of an initiative by the head of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, and that Israeli intelligence knew about it in advance and warned Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who did not listen. This opinion was expressed in the memoirs of Maj. Gen. Res. Amos Gilad, formerly the head of the research division in the Israeli Military Intelligence (IMI) and former Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff, Lieutenant Gen. Res. Moshe (Boogie) Ya’alon. However, the picture presented by the two former IDF senior personalities seem to be wrong, and in this article, I’ll present another view showing that actually, the IMI (which is responsible for Israel’s national intelligence estimates), contrary to its allegation, failed to predict the Palestinian moves and did not warn the IDF and the Prime Minister to prepare for the intifada.

The different and probably correct opinion has been argued by the ISA (Israel Security Agency, known also as Shabak or the Shin Bet) former managing directors at the time, who discussed the event very openly and presented a clear conclusion: namely that Palestinian Authority Chairman Arafat did not initiate the intifada but was as much surprised by it as was Israel. The source of the views presented by ISA leaders is the book The Gatekeepers (in Hebrew) by David Moreh (2014), in which six former ISA leaders were interviewed. Among other things, the book raised the question of how the second intifada broke out. It is important to mention that there is no doubt in Israel that the ISA is the organization that has the best intelligence on the Palestinian territories. Read more of this post

Trump’s ex-spy chief warns American democracy may not survive November election

Dan CoatsThe former United States Director of National Intelligence, who served in the administration of President Donald Trump as the highest-ranking intelligence official until 2019, has warned that American democracy may not survive the upcoming presidential election. In a stark editorial published on Thursday in The New York Times, Dan Coats warns that whether “the American democratic experiment, one of the boldest political innovations in human history”, will survive after November, remains an open question.

The Trump administration appointed Coats in 2017 to head the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which was set up in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Its mission is to direct the 17-member United States Intelligence Community and to advise the president, the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council on matters of national security. In July 2019 Coats resigned, reportedly after disagreeing with President Trump’s policies on North Korea, Russia and the Islamic State.

In his editorial, Coats urges Congress to pass “emergency legislation” that will establish a “supremely high-level bipartisan and non-partisan commission to oversee the [upcoming 2020 Presidential] election”. The proposed commission would supervise the mechanisms that “tabulate, evaluate or certify the results” of the election and assure the American public that “the laws and regulations governing them have been scrupulously and expeditiously followed”, argues Coats. Additionally, it would refer “to the proper law enforcement agency” any incident of election “interference, fraud, disinformation or other distortions”.

Coats also calls on American leaders to perform what he describes as the “most urgent task [they] face”, which is “to ensure that the election results are accepted as legitimate”. Doing the opposite would mean succumbing to the pressure of enemies who “want us to concede in advance that our voting systems are faulty or fraudulent; [and] that sinister conspiracies have distorted the political will of the people”.

The former Director of National Intelligence concludes by warning that if the nation fails “to take every conceivable effort to ensure the integrity of the election”, there will be no winners, but only losers, after November. Consequently, the American voters will not simply be choosing a president, he says, but will be deciding “whether the American democratic experiment […] will survive”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 September 2020 | Permalink

Intelligence insiders see Israeli alliance with Gulf States as ‘biggest change in decades’

Marc PolymeropoulosIntelligence insiders, including a former senior Central Intelligence Agency operations officer who spent decades in the Middle East, have described the establishment of official relations between Israel and some Gulf States as “the biggest change in the region in decades”.

The former CIA official, Marc Polymeropoulos, who worked closely with both Israel and the Palestinians in his 26-year career, told SpyTalk’s Jeff Stein and Jonathan Broder that secret intelligence links between Israel and some Arab countries are nothing new. However, “this [new] overt alliance is the biggest change in the region in decades”, said Polymeropoulos. He added that these intelligence links will only deepen now that official diplomatic relations have been established between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

In their analysis, Stein and Broder explain that these historic developments in the Middle East were initially forged “in secret political interactions” facilitated in the intelligence domain. These were led by the Mossad, which has been tasked by the Israeli leadership with creating a regional alliance against Iran. These efforts have intensified in recent years, especially after the administration of United States Donald Trump annulled the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran, which effectively signaled the resumption of Tehran’s nuclear program.

The end of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and the deepening polarization between Sunni and Shia populations in the Middle East, were the context in which the Israeli outreach to Arab states took shape. This context essentially convinced Arab leaders that their populations are sufficiently concerned about Iran to “stomach an alliance with Israel” Polymeropoulos told SpyTalk.

What’s next in this process? Stein and Broder suggest that Mossad officials will continue to reach out to their Arab counterparts, in secret, in the coming months, as part of Israel’s effort to build an alliance against Iran. These efforts will be crucially amplified by the White House, which recently sent US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Sudan in order to pressure the country’s new government to recognize Israel. In the meantime, say Stein and Broder, Mossad will become a lot more active in the Emirates and Bahrain.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 September 2020 | Permalink

Analysis: British report into Russian meddling leads to uncomfortable conclusions

British parliamentBritain is abuzz today with news of the long-awaited release of the Parliament’s report [.pdf] into Russian meddling in British politics. The report is the work of the Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee. Since 2013, the Committee has been appointed to oversee the work of Britain’s intelligence agencies. Almost all of its meetings are conducted behind closed doors, and its reports are vetted by the spy agencies prior to release. By law, the Committee cannot make its reports public without previously submitting them for approval to the Office of the Prime Minister.

In the past it has taken no more than 10 days for the Committee’s reports to be approved by the prime minister. This particular report, however, which concerns —among other things— Russian meddling into British politics, took considerably longer. It was given to the prime minister on October 17. But by November 6, when parliament was dissolved in preparation for the election that brought Boris Johnson to power, it had not been approved. It finally came out yesterday, after numerous and inexplicable delays. Many speculated that the government did not want to deal with the uncomfortable conclusions in the report.

Like all reports of its kind, this one will be politicized and used by Britain’s major parties against their rivals. But behind the politicking, the report makes for uncomfortable reading indeed. It shows that, not just British, but Western intelligence agencies as a whole, remain incapable of combating online psychological operations from foreign state actors —primarily Russia— aiming to influence Western politics on a mass scale.

This is ironic, because Western spy agencies used to be really good on Russia. In fact, during the Cold War that is all they did. Many years have passed since then, and many leading Western experts on Russia have either retired or died. Additionally, the attacks of September 11, 2001, turned the attention of Western spy agencies to terrorism by groups like al-Qaeda, and away from Russia. Meanwhile, back in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer, rebuilt the state and sought to reclaim Russia’s lost international prestige. This plan includes a page from the old KGB playbook: destabilizing Western nations through psychological operations that accentuate existing extremist tendencies from the left or right. Read more of this post

Spy report urges Israel to annex occupied lands now, in case Trump loses election

PNA police West BankA leaked report produced by analysts at Israel’s Ministry of Intelligence urges the government to annex occupied territories in the West Bank as soon as possible, in case Donald Trump loses the upcoming United States presidential elections in November. The report advises the Israeli government that it “should not expect” a widespread outbreak of violence in the streets. It also forecasts that “a wave of diplomatic protests” will gradually give its place to acceptance, as “the international system acclimates itself to annexation”.

The report was leaked to Israel Hayom, a rightwing publication, which is currently Israel’s most widely read newspaper. It discusses the so-called Netanyahu Annexation Plan, which was first unveiled by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on September 10, 2019, just days before Israel’s legislative elections. It proposes the annexation by Israel of several Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories, which are viewed as illegal by the United Nations. The plan has been condemned by the United Nations and many Western countries, but has the approval of the White House.

Palestinian groups and several Arab countries have warned Israel that there will be serious consequences if it proceeds with the proposed annexation. But the Intelligence Ministry report, authored at the request of the Intelligence Services Minister Eli Cohen, claims that these warnings should not worry the Israeli government. A possible annexation of the Israeli settlements will cause some demonstrations throughout the Arab World, it says, but it won’t substantially “rouse the Arab street” against Arab governments. This, it claims, “will make it clear to Arab leaders that the Palestinian issue is not a threat” to their political survival.

The report goes further, suggesting that an aggressive move by Israel may bring Arab governments closer to it, once Arab leaders realize that the annexation of Palestinian lands by the Jewish state will not prompt major reactions among their citizens. Additionally, it suggests that the timing for the annexation works in Israel’s favor, as the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, has been substantially weakened by its disagreement with the White House. Additionally, it says, Hamas “lacks appetite for another round of fighting” and most Palestinians are “mostly concerned with the troubles of day-to-day-life”. Other countries are mostly preoccupied with the coronavirus pandemic, and the Arab public outside Palestine has “more pressing concerns at home”, the report opines.

In its concluding section, the report appears to dismiss the conventional thinking that the annexation of the settlements will destroy even the remotest possibility of a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. It report argues that “after a period in which the international system acclimates itself to the annexation”, the Palestinians and their supporters in the region will be compelled “to return to peace talks”, and even seek “solutions and arrangements that aren’t affixed to the 1967 lines and primarily territorial aspects”. In its concluding section, the report suggests that the Israeli government would have more to gain by proceeding with the annexation as soon as possible, rather than waiting, because it is “impossible to know how the US presidential election in November will unfold”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 June 2020 | Permalink

News you may have missed #903

Israel Lebanon borderState-level espionage on EU a ‘very high threat’ says report. The most successful attempts of espionage at a top EU institution are state sponsored, according to an internal document produced by a subcommittee of the European Council, which is composed of heads of state or government of all European Union member-states. The restricted document presents an analysis of threats to the security of information at the General Secretariat of the Council.
Man shot after crossing into Israel, apparently to spy, returned to Lebanon. A Syrian national who was shot after he crossed the border into Israel from Lebanon last month, apparently to perform reconnaissance for Hezbollah, was sent back to Lebanon on Tuesday, the Israel Defense Forces said. According to the IDF, the International Red Cross transported him back to Lebanon through the rarely used Rosh Hanikra border crossing.
As virus toll preoccupies US, rivals test limits of American power. The coronavirus may have changed almost everything, but it did not change this: global challenges to the United States spin ahead, with America’s adversaries testing the limits and seeing what gains they can make with minimal pushback. A New York Times analysis claims that COVID-19 has not created a new reality as much as it has widened divisions that existed before the pandemic. And with the United States looking inward, preoccupied by the fear of more viral waves, unemployment soaring over 20% and nationwide protests ignited by deadly police brutality, its competitors are moving to fill the vacuum, and quickly.

Iran’s coronavirus crisis exacerbates internal struggle between government and IRGC

IRGC IranA tense struggle is unfolding in Iran between the country’s civilian leaders and the parallel state of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The two entities are fighting about who will control the national response to COVID-19, according to sources. The outbreak of the pandemic in Iran followed closely that of China. Today the Iranian government claims the disease has infected no more than 115,000 people and killed fewer than 7,000. But these numbers seem low for a country of 82 million, and many observers dispute them.

The secrecy with which the government is treating the coronavirus epidemic may be masking an increasingly tense turf war between Iran’s civilian leaders, led by President Hassan Rouhani, and the IRGC. The latter is controlled by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. Iran watchers describe the IRGC as a ‘praetorian guard’ whose members possess immense power and often wealth. Today the IRGC is a military force with a command structure that is distinct from that of Iran’s regular Armed Forces. It maintains its own army, navy and air force, has its own paramilitary and political protection units, and is in charge of Iran’s nuclear program.

The IRGC has seen its income fall drastically in the past two years, partly due to the continuing economic pressure that Iran is facing from strict sanctions imposed on it by the United States. The effects of the dramatic reduction in the value of Iran’s currency —down nearly 2/3 since 2018— have only been exacerbated by the monumental drop in global oil prices, which has practically decimated Tehran’s main source of foreign income.

According to sources, Khamenei and the IRGC forced the country’s civilian leadership to re-open the economy last month, fearing an absolute economic collapse. But this only resulted in a dramatic uptick in COVID-19 cases in nearly every region of the country. The IRGC is now reportedly trying to take control of Iran’s civilian healthcare system, in an effort to prevent the government from disclosing the extent of the re-emergence of the virus throughout the country.

Meanwhile, the IRGC’s prestige has suffered greatly this year, following the accidental shoot-down of a Ukrainian civilian airliner over Tehran in January, which killed nearly 180 people, most of them Iranians. Last week, the IRGC was believed to behind a missile test that went terribly wrong, resulting in the destruction of an Iranian navy ship that killed as many as 31 sailors. These fatal errors are for the time being giving President Rouhani the right to question the IRGC’s competence and resist giving away his administration’s control of the national response to COVID-19. The turf war continues to intensify, however, and it is difficult to forecast which side will prevail.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 May 2020 | Permalink

Analysis: Will COVID-19 cause food shortages in the United States?

National Guard COVID-19The food supply chain in the United States has so far been able to endure the pressures caused by SARS-CoV-2. Grocery stores across the nation remain generally well-stocked, even if in some cases (like in Nevada and Arizona), the National Guard has been brought in to help with restocking. Shortages in certain types of foods, such as canned soup or pasta, are the result of unprecedented demand, rather than a breakdown in the food supply chain. Overall, therefore, there are no signs of systematic food shortages across the nation. However, disruptions —some of them severe— are likely to be experienced in the coming weeks.

COVID-19 IMPACT ON FARMS

Disruptions are likely to be felt first in the area of fresh produce, for two reasons. First, because large agricultural facilities are beginning to experience major shortages in personnel, as seasonal farmworkers —most of them from Central and South America— are unable to travel north due to the cessation of international travel in the Americas. Second, because —just like medical personnel across the country— agricultural workers are facing severe shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE), which is essential for keeping them healthy in a pandemic. Until now, major Q QuoteCOVID-19 outbreaks have been occurring in densely populated urban centers. But as the disease continues to spread, it is only a matter of time before the virus reaches rural farming areas and enters farms, which are the beginning of the food supply chain. Many automated agricultural facilities, such as grain and soybean operations in the American Midwest, do not require large numbers of human laborers, and will thus suffer little disruption from the spread of the pandemic. However, this is not the case with fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes or grapes, which require human pickers to extract them. The progression of the disease in rural regions of Florida and California, which produce over 20% of total US agricultural value, will be a critical factor. As an illustration, is worth pointing out that two farms in California supply over 85% of all carrots in the US market. If COVID-19 affects the production and distribution capacity of global producers of fresh fruits and vegetables, like the Florida-based Fresh Del Monte Produce, the ramifications are likely to be felt across the world for more than a year.

AGRICULTURAL DISRUPTIONS IN WESTERN EUROPE

Western Europe, which is ahead of the US in the spread of the disease, is already experiencing unprecedented disruptions in agricultural production. The closing of international borders has prevented millions of seasonal farmworkers from Eastern Europe, whom agricultural facilities in Western Europe rely on to pick fruits and vegetables each year, from traveling west. Italy and Britain havQ Quotee begun issuing calls for unemployed workers to form “land armies” and volunteer to pick produce in farms. The French government has called “for hairdressers, waiters, florists and others temporarily unable to work” due to the pandemic “to head to the nation’s fields and start picking”. And in Germany, the authorities have launched a website that solicits volunteers to work in farms across the nation. However, as only 16,000 have volunteered so far, the German government is now working on a plan to allow undocumented immigrants to make up the remaining 284,000 farmworkers that are needed to salvage this year’s crop.

DISRUPTION IN THE GLOBAL FOOD EXPORT SYSTEM

It is unrealistic to expect that these glitches will not eventually make their way to the US. Moreover, just like Western Europe, the US relies heavily on imported foods. The global nature of the pandemic is also beginning to cause major disruptions in food exports, as air and ship cargo dwindles dramatically. Already, the shortage of refrigerated containers used to transport meat and other food supplies from China to North America has prompted a drop in imports of over 25%. Meanwhile, India, which is the world’s largest exporter of rice, has completely halted exports due to logistical problems and labor shortages caused by the pandemic. The world’s second and third largest exporters of rice, Thailand and Vietnam, are likely to soon follow suit. Kazakhstan, which is among the world’s largest exporters of wheat flour, has now banned all exports of that product. Brazil, the largest exporter of coffee, sugar and soybeans in the world, has warned that it is facing an unprecedented shortage of farmworkers, truck drivers, and even spare parts for farm equipment. And Russia, which is the world’s largest exporter of wheat, has said that it will soon be forced to severely restrict exports for the same reasons as Brazil. These developments prompted the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization to warn last week that food shortages, coupled with growing trade barriers between nations, “will create extreme volatility” in global food supply. Read more of this post