Opinion: The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan was neither unexpected nor sudden

Taliban

THE COMPLETE TAKEOVER OF Afghanistan by the Taliban was “sudden” and “unexpected” only for those who have not been paying attention to the implosion of the country in recent months. There were certainly outliers, among them an assortment of Foreign Policy columnists, who, as late as July 28, were urging readers to stop “assuming the Taliban will win”. But ever since October of 2020, when United States President Donald Trump announced that American troops would leave the country (a policy that the Biden Administration eagerly adopted), the vast majority of reports about the future of Afghanistan have been unanimous: following an American military withdrawal, the Taliban would take over the entire country with little delay, and almost certainly without facing significant resistance.

This was certainly the view on the ground in Afghanistan, where desperate families have been leaving the country for many months now. The recent shocking images of Afghan men clinging on to American transport aircraft, were not the beginning of a desperate exodus from the country. Rather, these were the last groups of people who, for a variety of reasons, did not abandon the capital earlier. The impending reality of the Taliban takeover has been recognized especially by women in urban centers. They have been preparing for months for the change in the nation’s leadership, by burning their Western attire and throwing away their make-up kits.

Meanwhile, countries like Russia and the United Kingdom have been actively preparing to deal with the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan. It was nearly five weeks ago when Ben Wallace, Minister of Defense of Britain, arguably the United States’ closest international partner, announced that London was prepared to “work with the Taliban, should they come to power”. Soon afterwards, Russia’s longtime Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, called the Taliban “rational actors” and warned the Afghan government that it risked losing control of the entire country by not entering into a negotiated settlement with the militants. Read more of this post

We knew about the US-Danish spy collaboration. The revelations are still remarkable

DDIS DenmarkTHE FIRST CLAIMS OF an alleged secret collaboration between the signals intelligence agencies of the United States and Denmark surfaced in November of 2020. By January of this year, it was clear that the Danish government would, sooner or later, need to deal with the fallout of its controversial spy deal with Washington, under which Denmark enabled the US to spy on some of its closest European allies. Still, the news last weekend that Denmark helped the US spy on countries such as Germany, France, Sweden and Norway, is nothing short of remarkable, and has a huge symbolic significance that cannot be overlooked.

IntelNews regulars will recall that Lars Findsen, director of the Danish Defense Intelligence Service (FE, or DDIS in English) was unceremoniously “relieved of duty” in August of 2020. This was in response to a damning report by the Danish Oversight Board, known as TET, which is responsible for supervising the work of Denmark’s intelligence agencies. The Danish Ministry of Defense would not discuss the precise nature of the report, which at the time was believed to relate to vaguely described “improper intelligence collection practices”.

Then, in November of 2020 came news of an alleged secret collaboration between the DDIS and its American equivalent, the National Security Agency (NSA). According to Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and Danmarks Radio —Denmark’s public-service broadcaster— the agreement dated to 2008, and involved the use by the NSA of a number of fiber optic Internet cables that pass through Danish territory, in return for the DDIS being given access to the content of intercepted traffic. This collaboration resulted in the interception of information belonging to the governments of Germany, France, Sweden, Norway and Holland, among others.

It is said among intelligence practitioners that “there is no such thing as a friendly foreign intelligence agency”. There is also no known agreement not to spy on each other between the United States and several core countries of the Western alliance, such as Denmark, France, Holland, Norway, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Sweden, or Spain (it is rumored that a “no-spy clause” exists between Five Eyes participants). Technically speaking, therefore, espionage between European powers, or between them and the US, is not in violation of some sacred agreement. Read more of this post

Opinion: Israel Security Agency should tackle organized crime in the Arab sector

Israeli policeLAST MONTH I WROTE an article on Ynet, Israel’s most popular news website, calling on the Israel Security Agency (ISA) to prevent organized crime in the Arab sector in Israel, which has reached a level that the police cannot deal with. The article caused a broad public debate in Israel, as it marked the first time that the ISA was urged to take responsibility outside its security jurisdiction. It elicited public support, as well as opposition against perceived further invasion of privacy and granting additional powers to the ISA.

Crime in the Arab sector in Israel —especially murders— has reached record highs and is rising year after year. In 2020, over 100 people were killed in the Arab sector. There are many allegations that the police are failing to stop this murky wave of crime. The police are at a loss. The opening of more police stations in the Arab sector and increases in the forces allocated to the Arab sector have not made an impact on this gloomy picture.

The most serious crime in the Arab sector, especially organized crime, requires making out-of-the-box, inventive decisions. The Israel Police is not succeeding in this for several reasons: it has no quality intelligence; there is public distrust in the police that prevents citizens from cooperating with it; the police are perceived as an unreliable body that cannot maintain the confidentiality of sources; and mainly because the police is not an intelligence-oriented organization. The issue of crime in this sector, much of which is organized, requires advanced intelligence capabilities and only the ISA knows how to deal with organizations and individuals operating in secret. This is because the ISA has gained vast experience in covering the Arab sector in Israel for counterintelligence reasons. Read more of this post

Opinion: Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination 25 years ago was an intelligence failure

Rabin Arafat

THE ASSASSINATION OF YITZHAK Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel, on the evening of November 4, 1995, by an extreme right-wing Jew was one of the most traumatic events in the history of the State of Israel. Contrary to the public perception that the assassination happened as a result of a security failure and poor management of the Israel Security Agency (ISA), I argue that the murder was mainly due to an ISA intelligence failure.

“The Shamgar Inquiry Commission”, as it was known because it was chaired by Meir Shamgar, former president of the Supreme Court, submitted its report in March 1996. This commission found significant failures in the security measures taken by the ISA to protect the late Prime Minister. But, in my opinion, its findings were seriously wrong, as it avoided diving into the major intelligence failure that led to this tragic incident.

On the evening of November 4, 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was killed by Yigal Amir, a 27-year-old student who was known as an extreme rightwing activist. Amir was waiting for the prime minister next to his car and shot Rabin three times from a close distance, in spite of the fact that four of Rabin’s bodyguards were surrounding the prime minister. Amir claimed to have done it “for Israel, for the people of Israel and the State of Israel”. He was found guilty and was sent to serve a life sentence in prison.

The progress in the peace process with the Palestinians, known as the Oslo Accords of 1993, allowed the political breakthrough of a peace agreement with Jordan in October 1994. Rabin was awarded the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize, along with Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres, for their role in the creation of the Oslo Accords.

Read more of this post

Coronavirus: Comparing America’s bungling fiasco with Taiwan’s stunning success

Coronavirus Task ForceThe coronavirus (COVID-19) is quickly becoming the greatest security challenge of our time. The ease of transmission and high death rate of this disease, coupled with the asymmetric challenges it poses to our planet’s social, economic and political structures, threaten the very cohesion of our global system. This is especially true of Western societies, whose highly sophisticated organizational features make them especially susceptible to all forms of large-scale disruption. Few of those of us who are alive today in the West have ever faced a threat with the all-encompassing characteristics, disruptive capacity and persistent nature of COVID-19.

But no American would get this impression by watching the daily briefings of the so-called White House “Coronavirus Task Force”. The uncomfortable smiles and awkward acquiescence of its members, part of an unconvincing effort to assure Americans that “all is well”, coupled with their seemingly unending competition to offer lavish praises to each other, make for a truly uncomfortable viewing experience. Such astounding manifestations of mediocrity would be somewhat tolerable if they came alongside actionable information that Americans could use to protect themselves and the future of their country —preferably something beyond “washing your hands for at least 20 seconds”.

On February 26, Americans were told by their president that “within a couple of days [COVID-19 cases in the US would] be down close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done”. By that time, China was feverishly implementing the largest quarantine in human history. Ten days later, Italy began to quarantine 16 million people —a quarter of its population— in its northern regions. Meanwhile, Britain has begun re-hiring retired nurses to prepare for the coming unprecedented wave of medical emergencies, while France has banned all large meetings in its territory. But in America it’s business as usual: the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) announced on Sunday that all its tournament games nationwide will be held with fans despite growing concerns about the coronavirus. Not a single senior government official has stepped forward to address Americans’ growing anxiety about the potentially unprecedented degree of disruption that the US economy, including the nation’s supply chain, healthcare, transportation, education, entertainment, and services sectors are going to be experiencing in the coming months.

Additionally, Americans expect the so-called “Task Force” to provide non-politicized explanations of the ongoing failures of the US government’s treatment to the COVID-19 crisis, which continue to allow the virus to spread in our communities unabated. For instance, why did the US decline to use the World Health Organization’s diagnostic test for the disease, which had been made available to dozens of nations by the end of January? Or why does access to testing kits remain at alarmingly low levels, so much so that a frustrated New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently described the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s response to COVID-19 as “flat-footed”? So grave is this situation, that on March 8 The Washington Examiner —arguably America’s leading conservative publication— opined that COVID-19 “is exposing how deeply unsuited [Donald Trump] is to deal with a genuine crisis that he can’t bluff his way through”.

The American government’s tragically incompetent response to COVID-19 (at this point just slightly better than the Islamic Republic of Iran’s) hurts even more when one compares it with that of Taiwan —an island nation of 23 million, which the US often views as a client state. In January, when COVID-19 began making news headlines, experts predicted that Taiwan would end up with the world’s second-highest number of COVID-19 cases. This was primarily due to the country’s geographical proximity to mainland China —just 81 miles from the Chinese shore— as well as the extensive transportation network that links the two nations. Over 1.2 million Taiwanese either live permanently or work in China, while nearly 3 million Chinese citizens visit Taiwan every year. Even more ominously, the COVID-19 outbreak occurred right before the Lunar New Year, which is the busiest travel season for both Chinese and Taiwanese holidaymakers.

But Taiwan has managed to spectacularly defy all early predictions about a potential COVID-19 epidemic. As a group of researchers from the University of California Los Angeles, Stanford University, RAND Corporation and the Koo Foundation in Taiwan, explain in The Journal of the American Medical Association, the reason dates back to 2003. That year’s severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak prompted the Taiwanese government to establish the National Health Command Center (NHCC). Since then, the NHCC has operated as a central command system that coordinates the activities of Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center, the Biological Pathogen Disaster Command Center, the Counter-Bioterrorism Command Center, and the Central Medical Emergency Operations Center. Intelligence collected and analyzed by these centers is quickly distributed to central, regional and local authorities in all parts of the country.

The authors explain that, on December 31, the day when the World Health Organization notified national authorities of the first accounts of a severe pneumonia with unknown causes in the Chinese city of Wuhan, NHCC personnel began to board planes arriving from Wuhan. They began testing all passengers and crew on those planes for flu-like symptoms before allowing them to deplane. By January 5, NHCC personnel were reaching out to anyone who had traveled to Wuhan in the past fortnight and testing them for flu-like symptoms. By that time, the NHCC had already set up a nationwide toll-free hotline, which has since become decentralized to serve individual regions.

On January 27, the NHCC worked in collaboration with Taiwan’s National Health Insurance Administration (NHIA) to integrate the database containing the recent travel history of passengers with their NHIA identification card data. They also integrated the same database with national tourism and immigration data. Within 24 hours, the NHCC was reaching out to all citizens of Taiwan, as well as tourists and immigrants, who had traveled to the Wuhan region during the previous month. Using this big-data analytics approach, Taiwanese authorities were able to generate real-time alerts that were sent to individual doctors for use during clinical visits, so that clinical symptoms could be matched with patients’ travel histories.

Those who had traveled to regions of China that were considered high-risk, were immediately quarantined at home for 14 days. Their movements were tracked through their mobile phones to ensure compliance with quarantine instructions. Meanwhile, all those who exhibited flu-like symptoms but had tested negative for influenza in weeks prior, were re-tested for COVID-19.

Considering the above, it is hardly surprising that, by March 9, Taiwan —located just 81 miles off the coast of China— had just 45 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with a single death. Importantly, this is not because the Taiwanese are not testing their citizens —unlike the US or, even more outrageously, Turkey, which continues to report zero cases of COVID-19. Taiwan has tested more people than all of the nations of the Americas combined. The low number of COVID-19 cases in Taiwan is due to one thing, and one thing alone: a preemptive approach to the security of the nation by an enlightened leadership and a forward-thinking government system. Which is precisely what the US lacks at this grave time for the nation’s future.

* Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis is associate professor in the Intelligence and National Security Studies program at Coastal Carolina University in the United States.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 March 2020 | Permalink