Friday, December 11, 2009

Breaking the Taboo on Israel's Spying Efforts on the United States

Breaking the Taboo on Israel's Spying Efforts on the United States

Israel runs one of the most aggressive and damaging espionage networks
targeting the U.S., yet public discussion about it is almost nil.

cratch a counterintelligence officer in the U.S. government and
they'll tell you that Israel is not a friend to the United States.

This is because Israel runs one of the most aggressive and damaging
espionage networks targeting the U.S. The fact of Israeli penetration
into the country is not a subject oft-discussed in the media or in the
circles of governance, due to the extreme sensitivity of the U.S.-
Israel relationship coupled with the burden of the Israel lobby, which
punishes legislators who dare to criticize the Jewish state. The void
where the facts should sit is filled instead with the hallucinations
of conspiracy theory -- the kind in which, for example, agents of the
Mossad, Israel’s top intelligence agency, engineer the 9/11 attacks,
while 4,000 Israelis in the Twin Towers somehow all get word to escape
before the planes hit. The effect, as disturbing as it is ironic, is
that the less the truth is addressed, the more noxious the falsity
that spreads.

Israel's spying on the U.S., however, is a matter of public record,
and neither conspiracy nor theory is needed to present the evidence.
When the FBI produces its annual report to Congress concerning
"Foreign Economic Collection and Industrial Espionage," Israel and its
intelligence services often feature prominently as a threat second
only to China. In 2005 the FBI noted, for example, that Israel
maintains "an active program to gather proprietary information within
the United States." A key Israeli method, said the FBI report, is
computer intrusion. In 1996, the Defense Intelligence Service, a
branch of the Pentagon, issued a warning that "the collection of
scientific intelligence in the United States [is] the third highest
priority of Israeli Intelligence after information on its Arab
neighbors and information on secret U.S. policies or decisions
relating to Israel." In 1979, the Central Intelligence Agency produced
a scathing survey of Israeli intelligence activities that targeted the
U.S. government. Like any worthy spy service, Israeli intelligence
early on employed wiretaps as an effective tool, according to the CIA
report. In 1954, the U.S. Ambassador in Tel Aviv discovered in his
office a hidden microphone "planted by the Israelis," and two years
later telephone taps were found in the residence of the U.S. military
attaché. In a telegram to Washington, the ambassador at the time
cabled a warning: "Department must assume that all conversations [in]
my office are known to the Israelis." The former ambassador to Qatar,
Andrew Killgore, who also served as a foreign officer in Jerusalem and
Beirut, told me Israeli taps of U.S. missions and embassies in the
Middle East were part of a "standard operating procedure."

According to the 1979 CIA report, the Israelis, while targeting
political secrets, also devote "a considerable portion of their covert
operations to obtaining scientific and technical intelligence." These
operations involved, among other machinations, "attempts to penetrate
certain classified defense projects in the United States." The
penetrations, according to the CIA report, were effected using "deep
cover enterprises," which the report described as "firms and
organizations, some specifically created for, or adaptable to, a
specific objective." At the time, the CIA singled out government-
subsidized companies such as El Al airlines and Zim, the Israeli
shipping firm, as deep cover enterprises. Other deep cover operations
included the penetration of a U.S. company that provided weapons-grade
uranium to the Department of Defense during the 1960s; Israeli agents
eventually spirited home an estimated 200 pounds of uranium as the
bulwark in Israel’s secret nuclear weapons program. Moles have
burrowed on Israel’s behalf throughout the U.S. intelligence services.
Perhaps most infamous was the case of Jonathan Pollard, a Jewish-
American employed as a civilian analyst with the U.S. Navy who
purloined an estimated 800,000 code-word protected documents from
inside the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and numerous other
U.S. agencies. While Pollard was sentenced to life in prison,
counterintelligence investigators at the FBI suspected he was linked
to a mole far higher in the food chain, ensconced somewhere in the
DIA, but this suspected Israeli operative, nicknamed "Mr. X," was
never found. Following the embarrassment of the Pollard affair -- and
its devastating effects on U.S. national security, as testified by
then Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger (who allegedly stated that
Pollard "should have been shot") -- the Israeli government vowed never
again to pursue espionage against its ally and chief benefactor.

Fast-forward a quarter century, and the vow has proven empty. In 2004,
the authoritative Jane's Intelligence Group noted that Israel's
intelligence organizations "have been spying on the U.S. and running
clandestine operations since Israel was established." The former
deputy director of counterintelligence at FBI, Harry B. Brandon, last
year told Congressional Quarterly magazine that "the Israelis are
interested in commercial as much as military secrets. They have a
muscular technology sector themselves." According to CQ, "One
effective espionage tool is forming joint partnerships with U.S.
companies to supply software and other technology products to U.S.
government agencies."

Best-selling author James Bamford now adds another twist in this
history of infiltration in a book published last October, "The Shadow
Factory," which forms the latest installment in his trilogy of
investigations into the super-secret National Security Agency. Bamford
is regarded among journalists and intelligence officers as the
nation’s expert on the workings of the NSA, whose inner sanctums he
first exposed to the public in 1982. (So precise is his reporting that
NSA officers once threw him a book party, despite the fact that he
continually reveals their secrets.) The agency has come a long way in
the half-century since its founding in 1952. Armed with digital
technology and handed vast new funding and an almost limitless mandate
in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Bamford writes, the NSA has today
"become the largest, most costly, and most technologically
sophisticated spy organization the world has ever known." The NSA
touches on every facet of U.S. communications, its mega-computers
secretly filtering "millions of phone calls and e-mails" every hour of
operation. For those who have followed the revelations of the NSA’s
"warrantless wiretapping" program in the New York Times in 2005 and
the Wall Street Journal last year, what Bamford unveils in "The Shadow
Factory" is only confirmation of the worst fears: "There is now the
capacity," he writes of the NSA’s tentacular reach into the private
lives of Americans, "to make tyranny total."

Much less has been reported about the high-tech Israeli wiretapping
firms that service U.S. telecommunications companies, primarily AT&T
and Verizon, whose networks serve as the chief conduits for NSA
surveillance. Even less is known about the links between those Israeli
companies and the Israeli intelligence services. But what Bamford
suggests in his book accords with the history of Israeli spying in the
U.S.: Through joint partnerships with U.S. telecoms, Israel may be a
shadow arm of surveillance among the tentacles of the NSA. In other
words, when the NSA violates constitutional protections against
unlawful search and seizure to vacuum up the contents of your
telephone conversations and e-mail traffic, the Israeli intelligence
services may be gathering it up too -- a kind of mirror tap that is
effectively a two-government-in-one violation.


On its face, the overseas outsourcing of high-tech services would seem
de rigueur in a competitive globalized marketplace. Equipment and
services from Israel’s telecom sector are among the country’s prime
exports, courtesy of Israeli entrepreneurs who have helped pioneer
wireless telephony, voicemail and voice recognition software, instant
messaging, phone billing software, and, not least, "communications
interception solutions." Israeli telecom interception hardware and
software is appraised as some of the best in the world.

By the mid-1990s, Israeli wiretap firms would arrive in the U.S. in a
big way. The key to the kingdom was the 1994 Communications Assistance
for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), which was Congress’ solution for
wiretapping in the digital age. Gone are the days when wiretaps were
conducted through on-site tinkering with copper switches. CALEA
mandated that telephonic surveillance operate through computers linked
directly into the routers and hubs of telecom companies -- a spyware
apparatus matched in real-time, all the time, to American telephones
and modems. CALEA effectively made spy equipment an inextricable
ligature in telephonic life. Without CALEA, the NSA in its spectacular
surveillance exploits could not have succeeded.

AT&T and Verizon, which together manage as much as 90 percent of the
nation’s communications traffic, contracted with Israeli firms in
order to comply with CALEA. AT&T employed the services of Narus Inc.,
which was founded in Israel in 1997. It was Narus technology that AT&T
whistleblower Mark Klein, a 22-year technician with the company,
famously unveiled in a 2006 affidavit that described the operations in
AT&T’s secret tapping room at its San Francisco facilities. (Klein’s
affidavit formed the gravamen of a lawsuit against AT&T mounted by the
Electronic Freedom Foundation, but the lawsuit died when Congress
passed the telecom immunity bill last year.) According to Klein, the
Narus supercomputer, the STA 6400, was "known to be used particularly
by government intelligence agencies because of its ability to sift
through large amounts of data looking for preprogrammed targets." The
Narus system, which was maintained by Narus technicans, also provided
a real-time mirror image of all data streaming through AT&T routers,
an image to be rerouted into the computers of the NSA.

According to Jim Bamford, who cites knowledgeable sources, Verizon’s
eavesdropping program is run by a competing Israeli firm called
Verint, a subsidiary of Comverse Technology, which was founded by a
former Israeli intelligence officer in 1984. Incorporated in New York
and Tel Aviv, Comverse is effectively an arm of the Israeli
government: 50 percent of its R&D costs are reimbursed by the Israeli
Ministry of Industry and Trade. The Verint technology deployed
throughout Verizon’s network, known as STAR-GATE, boasts an array of
Orwellian capabilities. "With STAR-GATE, service providers can access
communications on virtually any type of network," according to the
company’s literature. "Designed to manage vast numbers of targets,
concurrent sessions, call data records, and communications, STAR-GATE
transparently accesses targeted communications without alerting
subscribers or disrupting service." As with the Narus system, the
point is to be able to tap into communications unobtrusively, in real
time, all the time. A Verint spinoff firm, PerSay, takes the tap to
the next stage, deploying "advanced voice mining," which singles out
"a target’s voice within a large volume of intercepted calls,
regardless of the conversation content or method of communication."
Verint’s interception systems have gone global since the late 1990s,
and sales in 2006 reached $374 million (a doubling of its revenues
over 2003). More than 5,000 organizations -- mostly intelligence
services and police units -- in at least 100 countries today use
Verint technology.

What troubles Bamford is that executives and directors at companies
like Narus and Verint formerly worked at or maintain close connections
with the Israeli intelligence services, including Mossad; the internal
security agency Shin Bet; and the Israeli version of the NSA, Unit
8200, an arm of the Israeli Defense Forces Intelligence Corps. Unit
8200, which Bamford describes as "hypersecret," is a key player in the
eavesdropping industrial complex in Israel, its retired personnel
dispersed throughout dozens of companies. According to Ha’aretz, the
Israeli daily, "Many of the [eavesdropping] technologies in use around
the world and developed in Israel were originally military
technologies and were developed and improved by [Unit 8200] veterans."
A former commander of Unit 8200, cited by Bamford, states that Verint
technology was "directly influenced by 8200 technology….[Verint parent
company] Comverse’s main product, the Logger, is based on the Unit’s
technology." The implications for U.S. national security, writes
Bamford, are "unnerving." "Virtually the entire American
telecommunications system," he avers, "is bugged by [Israeli-formed]
companies with possible ties to Israel’s eavesdropping agency."
Congress, he says, maintains no oversight of these companies’
operations, and even their contracts with U.S. telecoms -- contracts
pivotal to NSA surveillance -- are considered trade secrets and go
undisclosed in company statements.

U.S. intelligence officers have not been quiet in their concerns about
Verint (I reported on this matter in last September).
"Phone calls are intercepted, recorded, and transmitted to U.S.
investigators by Verint, which claims that it has to be ‘hands on’
with its equipment to maintain the system," says former CIA
counterterrorism officer Philip Giraldi. The "hands on" factor is what
bothers Giraldi, specifically because of the possibility of a "trojan"
embedded in Verint wiretap software. A trojan in information security
hardware/software is a backdoor that can be accessed remotely by
parties who normally would not have access to the secure system.
Allegations of widespread trojan spying have rocked the Israeli
business community in recent years. "Top Israeli blue chip companies,"
reported the AP in 2005, "are suspected of using illicit surveillance
software to steal information from their rivals and enemies." Over 40
companies have come under scrutiny. "It is the largest cybercrime case
in Israeli history," Boaz Guttmann, a veteran cybercrimes investigator
with the Israeli national police, told me. "Trojan horse espionage is
part of the way of life of companies in Israel. It’s a culture of

In a wide-ranging four-part investigation into Israel-linked espionage
that aired in December 2001, Carl Cameron, a correspondent at Fox News
Channel, reported the distress among U.S. intelligence officials
warning about possible trojans cached in Verint technology. Sources
told Cameron that "while various FBI inquiries into [Verint] have been
conducted over the years," the inquiries had "been halted before the
actual equipment has ever been thoroughly tested for leaks." Cameron
also cited a 1999 internal FCC document indicating that "several
government agencies expressed deep concerns that too many unauthorized
non-law enforcement personnel can access the wiretap system." Much of
this access was facilitated through "remote maintenance."

The Fox News report reverberated throughout U.S. law enforcement,
particularly at the Drug Enforcement Agency, which makes extensive use
of wiretaps for narcotics interdiction. Security officers at DEA, an
adjunct of the Justice Department, began examining the agency’s own
relationship with Comverse/Verint. In 1997, DEA had transformed its
wiretap infrastructure with the $25 million procurement from Comverse/
Verint of a technology called "T2S2" -- "translation and transcription
support services" -- with Comverse/Verint contracted to provide the
hardware and software. The company was also tasked with "support
services, training, upgrades, enhancements and options throughout the
life of the contract," according to the DEA’s "contracts and
acquisitions" notice. In the wake of the Fox News investigation,
however, the director of security programs at DEA, Heidi Raffanello,
was rattled enough to issue an internal communiqué on the matter,
dated Dec. 18, 2001. Directly referencing Fox News, she worried that
"Comverse remote maintenance" was "not addressed in the C&A [contracts
and acquisitions] process….It remains unclear if Comverse personnel
are security cleared, and if so, who are they and what type of
clearances are on record….Bottom line we should have caught it." It is
not known what resulted from DEA’s review of the issue of remote
maintenance and access by Comverse/Verint.

Bamford devotes a portion of his argument to the detailing of the
operations of a third Israeli wiretap company, NICE Systems, which he
describes as "a major eavesdropper in the U.S." that "keeps its
government and commercial client list very secret." Formed in 1986 by
seven veterans of Unit 8200, NICE software "captures voice, email,
chat, screen activity, and essential call details," while offering
"audio compression technology that performs continuous recordings of
up to thousands of analog and digital telephone lines and radio
channels." NICE Systems has on at least one occasion shown up on the
radar of U.S. counterintelligence. During 2000-2001, when agents at
the FBI and the CIA began investigating allegations that Israeli
nationals posing as "art students" were in fact conducting espionage
on U.S. soil, one of the Israeli "art students" was discovered to be
an employee with NICE Systems. Among the targets of the art students
were facilities and offices of the Drug Enforcement Agency nationwide.
The same Israeli employee of NICE Systems, who was identified as a
former operative in the Israeli intelligence services, was carrying a
disk that contained a file labeled "DEA Groups." U.S.
counterintelligence officers concluded it was a highly suspicious
nexus: An Israeli national and alleged spy was working for an Israeli
wiretap company while carrying in his possession computer information
regarding the Drug Enforcement Agency -- at the same time this Israeli
was conducting what the DEA described as "intelligence gathering"
about DEA facilities.


A former senior counterintelligence official in the Bush
administration told me that as early as 1999, "CIA was very concerned
about [Israeli wiretapping companies]" -- Verint in particular. "I
know that CIA has tried to monitor what the Israelis were doing --
technically watch what they were doing on the networks in terms of
remote access. Other countries were concerned as well," said the
intelligence official. Jim Bamford, who notes that Verint "can
automatically access the mega-terabytes of stored and real-time data
secretly and remotely from anywhere," reports that Australian
lawmakers in 2004 held hearings on this remote monitoring capability.
"[Y]ou can access data from overseas," the lawmakers told a Verint
representative during the hearings, "but [the legislature] seems
restricted to access data within that system." The Australians found
this astonishing. In 2000, the Canadian intelligence service, the
Royal Canadian Mounted Police, conducted "a probe related to
allegations that [Israeli] spies used rigged software to hack into
Canada's top secret intelligence files," according to an article in
the Toronto Star. Several sources in the U.S. intelligence community
told me the Canadians liaised with their American counterparts to try
to understand the problem. According to the Bush administration
official who spoke with me, "the Dutch also had come to the CIA very
concerned about what the Israelis were doing with this." The Dutch
intelligence service, under contract with Verint, "had discovered
strange things were going on -- there was activity on the network, the
Israelis uploading and downloading stuff out of the switches,
remotely, and apparently using it for their own wiretap purposes. The
CIA was very embarrassed to say, ‘We have the same problem.’ But the
CIA didn’t have an answer for them. ‘We hear you, we’re surprised, and
we understand your concern.’" Indeed, sources in the Dutch
counterintelligence community in 2002 claimed there was "strong
evidence that the Israeli secret service has uncontrolled access to
confidential tapping data collected by the Dutch police and
intelligence services," according to the Dutch broadcast radio station
Evangelische Omroep (EO). In January 2003, the respected Dutch
technology and computing magazine, C’T, ran a follow-up to the EO
story, headlined "Dutch Tapping Room not Kosher." The article states:
"All tapping equipment of the Dutch intelligence services and half the
tapping equipment of the national police force [is] insecure and is
leaking information to Israel."

"The key to this whole thing is that Australian meeting," Bamford told
me in a recent interview. "They accused Verint of remote access and
Verint said they won’t do it again -- which implies they were doing it
in the past. It’s a matter of a backdoor into the system, and those
backdoors should not be allowed to exist. You can tell by the
Australian example that it was certainly a concern of Australian

Congress doesn’t seem to share the concern. "Part of the
responsibility of Congress," says Bamford, "is not just to oversee the
intelligence community but to look into the companies with which the
intelligence community contracts. They’re just very sloppy about
this." According to the Bush administration intelligence official who
spoke with me, "Frustratingly, I did not get the sense that our
government was stepping up to this and grasping the bull by the
horns." Another former high level U.S. intelligence official told me,
"The fact of the vulnerability of our telecom backbone is
indisputable. How it came to pass, why nothing has been done, who has
done what -- these are the incendiary questions." There is also the
fundamental fact that the wiretap technologies implemented by Verint,
Narus and other Israeli companies are fully in place and no
alternative is on the horizon. "There is a technical path dependence
problem," says the Bush administration official. "I have been told
nobody else makes software like this for the big digital switches, so
that is part of the problem. Other issues," he adds, "compound the
problem" -- referring to the sensitivity of the U.S.-Israel

And that, of course, is the elephant in the room. "Whether it’s a
Democratic or Republican administration, you don’t bad-mouth Israel if
you want to get ahead," says former CIA counterterrorism officer
Philip Giraldi. "Most of the people in the agency were very concerned
about Israeli espionage and Israeli actions against U.S. interests.
Everybody was aware of it. Everybody hated it. But they wouldn’t get
promoted if they spoke out. Israel has a privileged position and
that’s the way things are. It’s crazy. And everybody knows it’s crazy."

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Ramping up Afghanistan war to control Caspian oil and gas transport routes

Ramping up Afghanistan war to control Caspian oil and gas transport routes
By Jerry Mazza

Dec 8, 2009, 00:28

The 800-pound gorilla standing in the auditorium at West Point is still waiting for an answer to why Obama made his surge-speech for 30,000 more troops and $30 billion to pay for them. That gorilla wonders “why” Obama pitched so hard for the US to stay and surge through Afghanistan and Pakistan. The reasons given were that the Afghanistan Taliban and Al Qaeda led by Osama bin Laden were the people that attacked us on 9/11, which was an iteration of George W. Bush’s reasons for the War on Terror. They are as phony now as the day Bush promised to smoke out Bin Laden.

But, here are Obama’s actual words, pointed out by Christopher Bollyn on page 2 of his article, Why Afghanistan?

“1. I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by al-Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak.

“2. It is important to recall why America and our allies were compelled to fight a war in Afghanistan in the first place. We did not ask for this fight. On September 11, 2001, 19 men hijacked four airplanes and used them murder nearly 3,000 people.

“3: If I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan, I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow.”

Also, as early as Oct. 14, 2001, a month and three days after 9/11, Bollyn wrote in The Great Game – The War For Caspian Oil And Gas: “President Bush’s ‘crusade’ against the Taliban of Afghanistan has more to do with control of the immense oil and gas resources of the Caspian Basin than it does with ‘rooting out terrorism.’

“Once again an American president from the Bush family is leading Americans down an oil-rich Middle Eastern warpath against ‘enemies of freedom and democracy.’

“President George W. Bush, whose family is well connected to oil and energy companies, has called for an international crusade against Islamic terrorists, who he says hate Americans simply because we are ‘the brightest beacon of freedom.’

“The focus on religion-based terrorism serves to conceal important aspects of the Central Asian conflict. President Bush’s noble rhetoric about fighting for justice and democracy is masking a less noble struggle for control of an estimated $5 trillion of oil and gas resources from the Caspian Basin.

Bollyn goes on to explain that the elder Bush’s Desert Storm military campaign in 1991 yielded secure access to the huge Rumaila oil field of southern Iraq. It was made to happen by expanding the boundaries of Kuwait after the war. This enabled Kuwait, the former British protectorate and home to American and British oil companies’ investments, to double its prewar oil output . . .” Bollyn got it down cold even then.

He told how the infamous Enron, the now bankrupt Texas gas and energy company, along with Amoco, British Petroleum, Chevron, Exxon Mobil and Unocal were wrapped in a cabal to suck up the multi-billion dollar reserves of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Terkmenistan, three freshly independent Soviet republics bordering the Caspian Sea. The American negotiators included the usual suspects, James Baker, Brent Snowcroft, Dick Cheney, and Jon Sununu.

Bollyn also pointed out that Turkmenistan and Azerbijan had close ties to Israeli interests and intelligence. In Turkmenistan, the ex-intel agent, and main go-to for Israeli was Yosef A. Maiman, president of Merhav Group of Israel. He was the anointed negotiator and policy maker tasked to “develop” energy resources there. And that holds to this day.

Back then, Maiman also mentioned to the Wall Street Journal his role was to further the “geopolitical goals of both the US and Israel in Central Asia. We are doing what US and Israeli policy could not achieve, controlling the transport route is controlling the product.”

James Dorion, an energy expert, had written as early as September 10, 2001, in Oil & Gas Journal, “Those that control the oil routes out of Central Asia will impact all future direction and quantities of flow and the distribution of revenues from new production.” Could it be any clearer, given the US oil and gas interests in the Caspian Basin that Afghanistan was to be reined in, especially when Iran, which paralleled it north to south was not a pipeline option, giving its mutual hostilities with the US.

Enron, Bush’s number one campaign contributor in 2000, ran a feasibility study on the Trans-Caspian-gas pipeline, price-tag $2.5 billion, to be built as per a joint venture agreement penned and signed in February 1999 by Turkmenistan and US companies, Bechtel and GE Capital Services, with Maiman as the intermediary, his “cut” or stake in the pipeline not to be discussed, as noted in Bollyn’s article.

Everything seemed ready to go, including a Washington lobby firm, until the war in Afghanistan led the various parties to withdraw. The terrain was too politically unstable to begin a huge project. In fact, members of the Taliban were brought to Texas in 1999 to talk with the oilmen, but the bearded ones with their turbans and robes and general toughness caused the deal, but not the idea, to be put on ice. Another route to controlling Afghanistan would need to be taken. It all percolated, the thought of all that gas and oil and money flowing like an endless gift from the gods. But the answer had been found. And it exploded like two airliners into the World Trade Towers on 9/11/2001.

In a matter of days, pictures of 19 Muslim hijackers of the planes were plucked magically out of FBI files, which Robert Mueller claimed in 2002 could not really be proven to be the perpetrators. But the truth died first on that awful day and it still struggles to breathe, going on nine years later, that the catastrophe was an “inside job.” Within days, without any real investigation, the War on Terror was declared, and a gung-ho George W. Bush and Company sent the US military to “bomb Afghanistan back to the Stone Age” and “smoke out Osama.”

Unfortunately, the false-flag op worked so well at first in the US and Afghanistan that it actually set the Taliban back for a while. That is, until, Bush & Company were distracted by Saddam Hussein and his mythic Weapons of Mass Destruction, about to create another 9/11-like mushroom cloud on the horizon. But creating a second front was a huge military mistake, even for all the possibilities of controlling Iraq’s huge supply of sweet and inexpensive crude. As soon as the US dove in with “shock and awe” into Iraq, the Taliban began a resurgence that continues to this day. Actually, Al Qaeda members in Afghanistan number only about 100 today. So the need to ramp up Al Qaeda terror-talk has become essential.

Yet none of this, none of this, had or has to do with bringing democracy or stability to Afghanistan, or ridding Iraq of a despot we originally placed there, Saddam Hussein. It was all about controlling oil and gas, and vast amounts of money to be made if the US could master the Middle East’s geopolitical landscape. Unfortunately, or fortunately, according to one’s politics, we bit off far more than we could chew, and received much more blowback than we imagined, both in Iraq and, subsequently, in Afghanistan. This brings us back to today, and that 800-pound gorilla sitting in the darkened, silent auditorium of West Point, mumbling to himself.

What he’s repeating to himself is that US bases align with the proposed pipeline that will start at the Caspian Basin and go south down through Afghanistan to Pakistan and to ports at the Indian Ocean where the oil can be shipped east to India and China. What’s more, the Afghan war has been amped up to include Pakistan, which is presently being bombed by missile-spitting, remote-guided drones on select targets or individuals who don’t agree with our efforts there, but mainly wiping out innocent civilians.

In fact, Scott Shane wrote in the NY Times, CIA To Expand Use of Drones in Pakistan, that “Two weeks ago in Pakistan, Central Intelligence Agency sharpshooters killed eight people suspected of being militants of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and wounded two others in a compound that was said to be used for terrorist training.

Skip to next paragraph

“Then, the job in North Waziristan done, the C.I.A. officers could head home from the agency’s Langley, Va., headquarters [itals mine], facing only the hazards of the area’s famously snarled suburban traffic.

“It was only the latest strike by the agency’s covert program to kill operatives of Al Qaeda, the Taliban and their allies using Hellfire missiles fired from Predator aircraft controlled from half a world away.”

Shane stated that “The White House has authorized an expansion of the C.I.A.’s drone program in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas, officials said this week, to parallel the president’s decision, announced Tuesday, to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. American officials are talking with Pakistan about the possibility of striking in Baluchistan for the first time -- a controversial move since it is outside the tribal areas -- because that is where Afghan Taliban leaders are believed to hide.”

As repugnant as depersonalizing killing is, the likelihood of killing more innocents is even greater and more repugnant. This is a new low, both militarily and morally, even for the CIA. Yet it is regarded by anti-terror “experts” as a “resounding success.”

Shane writes, “About 80 missile attacks from drones in less than two years have killed ‘more than 400’ enemy fighters . . . offering a number lower than most estimates but in the same range.”

The fact is, the latest model, the MQ-9 Reaper can fly at 50,000 feet with a maximum internal payload of 800 pounds and external payload more than 3,000 pounds, carrying up to four Hellfire II anti-armor missiles and two laser-guided bombs. That’s a lot of death, which could have been used in earlier drone incarnations to create part of 911’s havoc. And there’s more to come.

Additionally the infamous Blackwater, now called Xe, is at work for the CIA, which is spearheading the covert Pakistan war, and this all costs money, big money. So, fortunately, the agency still has the opium crop to cover the shortfalls in budget or cash, and the so-called 2010-11 pull-out mandate is already up in smoke, according to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Thus, the real reasons for this surge have to be McChrystal clear even to a blind man or Congress. The hope is that seeing-eye dogs like Bollyn, now living in writer’s exile, and Craig Murray, the UK’s former ambassador to Uzbekistan, and even my humble self and other writers, can be of assistance.

Murray, in a recent chilling article, not only asserted that the CIA sent people to be ‘raped with broken bottles’ in Uzbekistan in order to obtain whatever confessions for “intelligence” they needed to justify their twisted actions. On the third page of the story, regarding US troop presence, the subhead reads, “It’s The Pipeline, Stupid,” and Murray asserts “that the primary motivation for US and British military involvement in central Asia has to do with large natural gas deposits in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. As evidence, he points to the plans to build a natural gas pipeline through Afghanistan that would allow Western oil companies to avoid Russia and Iran when transporting oil and natural gas out of the region.

Murray alleged that in the late 1990s the Uzbek ambassador to the US met with then-Texas Governor George W. Bush to discuss a pipeline for the region, and out of that meeting came agreements that would see Texas-based Enron gain the rights to Uzbekistan’s natural gas deposits, while oil company Unocal worked on developing the Trans-Afghanistan pipeline.

He points out, as Bollyn and I have in previous articles, that “The consultant who was organizing this for Unocal was a certain Mr. Karzai, who is now ‘president of Afghanistan . . .”

Murray goes on to say that the motive in ramping up “the threat of Islamic terrorism in Uzbekistan through forced confessions was to ensure the country remained on-side in the war on terror, so that the pipeline could be built.”

Murray adds, “There are designs of this pipeline, and if you look at the deployment of US forces in Afghanistan, as against other NATO country forces in Afghanistan, you’ll see that undoubtedly the US forces are positioned to guard the pipeline route. It’s what it’s about. It’s about money, it’s about oil, it’s not about democracy.”

As he tells us, “ The Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline is slated to be completed in 2014, with $7.6 billion in funding from the Asian Development Bank.”

Murray was let go from his post as ambassador in 2004, following his first public allegations that the British government relied on torture in Uzbekistan for intelligence.

Let the high-minded causes of bringing peace, democracy, stability or anything but pain and pillage to Afghanistan and Pakistan be brought down like flags to half mast, and let us realize there are far baser motives of wealth, power, and geopolitical control rising. It’s not really rocket science and shouldn’t be, especially for a Harvard constitutional lawyer, yes, our own Barrack Obama, President for Change.

That said, maybe the 800-pound gorilla in the room can get a decent night’s sleep.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Snapshot on USA

As recently as five years ago, it was not possible to talk seriously about the international system without the premise of an American superpower wielding the power of life and death over the planet.

Today, the simplification works the other way round. It has become common currency that the US is in decline and President Barack Obama represents an America that gladly accepts we live in a multipolar world.

Yet, at the very least, this hypothesis is debatable. If the world is multipolar, it is very imperfectly so, and American diplomacy aims to keep things this way.
Power is currently expressed in terms of three assets: material wealth, without which nothing is technically possible (the collapse of the Soviet Union is a case in point); strategic power, which implies the capacity to project force to one’s periphery and beyond; and, finally, what might be called the power instinct – that is, the will to weigh in on world affairs. This last can be through one’s ideas, capabilities or attractiveness.

The evolution in power relations is most palpable on the material front, even if, contrary to general wisdom, the shift in power from the west to Asia has been a relatively slow process. There are now four great economic centres of power: the US, Europe, China and Japan. They are very distantly followed by India, Brazil and Russia. However, it is important to note that Russia’s gross domestic product, for instance, accounts for only 1 per cent of global GDP, compared to a 22 per cent share for the US. This is a long way from economic multipolarity, which would require that the power of various centres should be roughly equivalent.
On the strategic front, the imbalance is even more striking: there is one military superpower that surpasses all the others by far (the US); a rising power (China); a power that lives on its past and can only maintain its rank by dint of its energy resources (Russia); and a plethora of middle-sized actors whose projection capacity remains very weak.

There is no evidence whatsoever of movement towards strategic multipolarity; aside from China, which has the will and the means, and Russia, which has the will but not necessarily the means, no credible aspiring global power has emerged. Brazil and India are certainly becoming stronger militarily. Their strategic ambitions will, nonetheless, remain regional for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, China’s ascendance might reinforce Japan’s strategic dependence on the US, notwithstanding any short-term rifts in Japanese-American relations.

The same paradigm applies to Europe with regard to the Russian challenge. Europe is the only region in the world that refuses to increase military expenditure, as if Europeans had once and for all decided to outsource defence to the US. TheLisbon treaty will change nothing on this front. Attempts to create a European defence industry have met roadblocks that attest to the countless weaknesses of Europe’s putative power.

Turning to power instinct, while many countries undoubtedly have it, not many have the means to match their ambitions. Russia has an important military arsenal. But power does not simply equate with show of force. It also has to do with attraction. Russia is characterised by its absence of attractiveness to almost everyone in the world, save the regimes that have had a brush with the west.

Meanwhile, Europe runs up against the fact that it is not a state. The only influence it commands is a normative one, a capacity to shape the world through the diffusion of norms in global regulation – finance, environment, food security, and so on. This is far from negligible, but cannot make up for the lack of strategic power.

In any case, it is clear why the US does not embrace the rhetoric of a multipolar world that would place it on an equal footing with other important world actors. There is no reason for Washington to accept such a reconfiguration of the global order when it continues to hold an appreciable advantage over other countries in all three areas. It makes sense that the Obama administration prefers to speak in terms of partnerships rather than multipolarity.

The US does understand that it can no longer dominate the world as it pleases, and that the gap that separates it from the rest has shrunk. As a result, the US needs the rest of the world to maintain its pre-eminence, not to dissolve it. The objective is to select privileged partners for international action, to better maintain leadership in all domains.

The world currently shares three global agendas: the strategic agenda that continues to be massively dominated by the US, the economic agenda, which is more widely distributed, and the climate agenda, where the US is clearly on the defensive.
The Obama administration is attempting to stay at the heart of the game by making room for others while preventing the rise either of a coalition that might force its hand on a particular issue, as recently demonstrated by the Singaporeclimate change declaration, or of a challenger that might take its place (China).

Of course, the structure of the international system is in perpetual evolution and America’s willpower alone will not suffice to freeze the game. It would be a mistake, however, to underestimate American influence, after having grossly overestimated it for so long. An even greater mistake would be to conclude that the US has abandoned its bid to remain master of the game, for all the charm of Mr Obama.