Traitors, loners, and pornographers: These are just some of the ways Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald have been smeared by their critics over the past month. And now the NSA leaker and Guardian journalist have discovered a way to return fire. Call it the Great Snowden Hype Campaign.
In a pair of interviews over the weekend, the outlines of this new media strategy emerged. Speaking with the Associated Press, Greenwald claimed that Snowden is in possession of "blueprints" for the NSA. "In order to take documents with him that proved that what he was saying was true he had to take ones that included very sensitive, detailed blueprints of how the NSA does what they do," Greenwald said.
In another interview, this one with the Argentine paper La Nación, Greenwald described the harm Snowden could do to the United States in apocalyptic terms. "Snowden has enough information to cause harm to the U.S. government in a single minute than any other person has ever had," he said. And if anything should happen to Snowden, it will all be released. "The U.S. government should be on its knees every day begging that nothing happen to Snowden, because if something does happen to him, all the information will be revealed and it could be its worst nightmare," he added.
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There's been an abundance of -- deserved -- criticism of CNN's coverage today, which spent much of the morning focused on the ongoing George Zimmerman trial while giving short shrift to the showdown between the military and Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
But if CNN's ears should be burning right now - what about Al Jazeera English? Around noon, EST, just as tensions in Egypt were peaking -- as rumors swirled of tanks taking to the streets in Cairo and President Mohamed Morsy being held under house arrest -- the Qatar-based broadcaster was showing viewers in the United States ... a regularly scheduled special about undocumented immigrants in America? (The channel switched to live Egypt coverage a few minutes before 1 p.m. EST, but continued to intersperse other programming.)
Screenshot/Al Jazeera English
CAIRO -- It's now less than two hours before the Egyptian military lays out its plan for the country's future, and the rumors are flying fast and furious. The latest report is that army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sissi is meeting with opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, the top Muslim cleric of al-Azhar mosque, and the Coptic pope. That's pretty much a who's who of figures hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood.
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With the first stage of the 100th Tour de France now behind us, the question that's most top of mind is who will ultimately ride the more than 2,000 miles from Corsica through the Alps to Versailles and down the Champs-Élysées the fastest. But just as pressing is the question of whether anyone will be caught doping after doing it. After all, only three of the past nine winners of the race have never been suspended for taking performance-enhancing drugs. On Friday, Lance Armstrong, who is synonymous with the sport -- and now with doping as well -- went so far as to say that it is impossible to win the Tour de France without doping. The good news is that, so far at least, the last two winners of the competition did just that.
So how does cycling's widespread doping problem stack up with other sports in the world? There is no perfect way to measure -- across every league of every sport around the globe -- which athletes down the most pills and inject the most prohibited substances. But the Olympics serves as a good proxy, and statistics from the World Anti-Doping Association, compiled by the Guardian last year, reveal the percentage of positive drug tests -- results that either show the use of banned substances or prompt further investigation -- for 26 Olympic sports between 2003 and 2010.
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Just like that, Julian Assange is back on the world stage.
After Assange and his WikiLeaks colleagues helped mastermind Edward Snowden's escape from Hong Kong to Moscow on Sunday, the Australian, who has been cooped up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London for the past year, decisively reinserted himself into a story that bears all the hallmarks of an Assange-affair -- geopolitical intrigue, intense media interest, and allegations of government wrongdoing at the highest levels. In a conference call with reporters on Monday, Assange revealed that Snowden is in "a safe place" and "his spirits are high," while also implying that an Assange advisor, Sarah Harrison, remains with him. WikiLeaks, Assange said, has footed the bill for Snowden's travel expenses and his legal fees. As for Snowden's National Security Agency documents, Assange assured that they had been secured by "the relevant media organization."
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Sure, Edward Snowden's non-flight to Cuba, whereabouts in Russia, and request for asylum in Ecuador are getting most of the attention today. But amid all the hubbub, Monday's news also brought us this small but intriguing detail from a New York Times story on how Snowden planned his exit from Hong Kong over a "cloak-and-dagger" pizza dinner.
Politicians are used to being targets. Hostile media, political rivals, and would-be assassins all figure in the daily threat assessments for public figures. But Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has recently been battling a menace of a distinctly more carb-heavy variety.
On Thursday, May 30, Gillard (who readers may recognize from this epic rant about sexism in society) was targeted for the second time this month by a sandwich while visiting a high school. Reports vary as to the accuracy of the throw -- the National Times claims the sandwich hit her arm, while Al Jazeera reports that it "narrowly missed" the prime minister - - but video evidence appears to show a narrow hit:
All sources identify the sandwich as consisting of white bread, salami, and a "butter-like spread."
This incident follows a high school sandwich-throwing on May 8, when the Australian leader was targeted by a 16-year-old student armed with Vegemite.
Gillard, from the center-left Labor Party, is visiting schools to promote her education-reform agenda, which proposes increasing funding for secondary education at the expense of tertiary education. The program, called the National Education Reform Agreement, is deeply unpopular among Gillard's political opponents.
So were the attacks politically motivated? Food-throwing has been used as a form of political protest before, most notably in Greece, where yogurt-throwing is something of a national sport. Are sandwiches a weapon of the weak for Australia's disaffected high schoolers? Alas, it seems as though we may never know. At press time, no culprit had been identified in today's incident, and the alleged perpetrator of the May 8 attack continues to maintain his innocence.
The motive, however, is not the only mystery. Among other pressing questions, one stands out: Who eats salami with butter?
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It's a surreal scene: three Harlem Globetrotters, in red, white, and blue jerseys, performing ball-handling tricks to their signature cheerful whistling song -- in front of a stadium full of North Koreans dressed mainly in gray.
As the demonstration starts, the applause from those in the stadium sounds distinctly apathetic. But by the end, the North Korean spectators seem to have been genuinely won over -- particularly after a Globetrotter pulls a young woman out of the audience and places a spinning basketball on her extended finger.
Footage of the now-famous basketball exhibition game -- all 1 hour and 32 minutes of it -- that brought Dennis Rodman to the Hermit Kingdom back in February (and won him a friend, in Kim Jong Un, for life) was briefly posted on YouTube this week for what appears to be the first time by Uri Tours, the U.S.-based tour group that helped arrange Rodman's visit. Uri Tours says the footage is from North Korea's news agency KCNA -- obtained, according to Chief Operations Officer John Dantzler-Wolfe, through the tour group's connections with the news agency.
But alas, the debut was short-lived. The video was taken down Wednesday afternoon at the request of Vice media company, Dantzler-Wolfe said. He added that Uri Tours and Vice will be discussing use of the footage soon, after which the video could potentially be made public again.
Vice, which helped arrange Rodman's trip to North Korea, will be airing a show about the bizarre experiment in basketball diplomacy on HBO on June 14.
In the meantime, FP managed to catch a sneak peek of the video before it was set to private. Here are some of the highlights:
We're hoping that the full game gets put back up. But in the meantime, you can get your North Korean basketball fix with this video -- also from Uri Tours -- of mixed scrimmaging in an empty stadium that includes both Globetrotters and North Korean players.
You can also catch some of the Globetrotters' pre-game demonstration in this video. Alas, the video cuts off before the game itself gets started.
Glee, the hit U.S. TV show, has won fans the world over for its ability to tackle the hard issues of adolescence -- homosexuality, bullying, teen pregnancy -- through the ever-accessible music of Lady Gaga and Britney Spears. And it seems Pakistani television producers have taken note. As AFP reports today, the country will release its own version of the show, Taan, this fall. The news agency has more on the 26-episode series, which will include music from artists like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (the photo above shows a rehearsal for the program):
'Taan' follows the lives and loves of a group of young people who regularly burst into song. But this time they attend a music academy in Lahore, instead of an American high school.
Taan - which is a musical note in Urdu - tackles subjects considered off limits in Pakistan's deeply conservative Muslim society.
For example, a love affair "between a Taliban extremist and a beautiful Christian girl" promises to give Rachel and Finn's tortured romance a run for its money. And even more controversial is a planned storyline depicting a gay relationship.
The show's creators have come up with creative ways to avoid angering authorities. Take the aforementioned plotline of two male lovers. "Let's say in a certain scene, there are two boys talking to each other, they are not allowed to show their physical attachment to each other," explains director Samar Raza, particularly since homosexuality is illegal in Pakistan. "So I bring a third character who says: 'God designed Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.'" This third conservative character will theoretically enable Raza to discuss homosexuality while evading censorship.
Concern about censors isn't the only factor distinguishing Pakistan's version of Glee from its U.S. inspiration. As the Telegraph points out, Taan will include a dark side that isn't exactly applicable to the lives of U.S. tweens:
One of the characters, Annie Masih is described as losing all her family in the 2009 attack on a Christian enclave in the town on Gojra, a real episode in which seven people were burned alive.
Another storyline involves Fariduddin, a member of the Pakistan Taliban intent on blowing up the academy before he is eventually seduced by music.
Then again, Glee hasn't shied away from the dark side of life either.
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
Joe Biden is on a six-day swing through Latin America, with stops in Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Brazil. And judging by his visit to Colombia, the vice president is in fine form, dispensing his trademark head-scratchers and hyperbolic praise.
Coming amid news that Colombian negotiators in Havana had reached a preliminary land-reform agreement with the FARC rebel group, Biden's stop in Colombia turned into something of a love-fest with President Juan Manuel Santos, whom Biden praised for his stewardship of the peace process, ongoing efforts to end the country's half-decade-long civil war, and work to deepen economic ties between Colombia and the United States.
But Biden also found time to inform one Colombian woman that she was a pretty mother, and to tell the press that he needed to get his wife Jill some flowers (the two comments appear to be unrelated). Here's how the Colombia trip has played out so far -- in Bidenisms:
Yamile Cárdenas, 26, a single mother of three working at a flower farm Biden visited, described her conversation with America's Don Juan-in-chief as follows, according to a press pool report:
"It was very exciting and he was very nice. He asked about my kids and he said I was a very pretty mom."
And here's Biden on why he visited the flower farm:
And personally I want to make clear to the press, I'm going to the flower farm, and I'm mainly going to get my wife some flowers. I just wanted to make it clear because in my household if I go anywhere near a flower shop, let alone flower farm and don't come home fully armed with flowers, I will have a very unhappy trip to Colombia.
Biden, speaking with President Santos, also referenced his thwarted career ambitions:
And it's great in particular to see you again, my friend. You pointed out -- as the President pointed out, last time I was -- I think we were in Cartagena if I'm not mistaken. When Plan Colombia was announced, you were finance minister and I was a United States senator. Now you're President and I'm Vice President. It's obvious who did well.
And compared this moment in Latin American history to ... something:
And, folks, the one thing the President and I agree on is that the promise not only for our relationships but for the hemisphere are close to limitless. They're close to limitless, and we genuinely believe that if we work together, we can provide what we hope will be the case that -- when the Berlin Wall went down in Europe, we started to talk about a Europe whole and free, which has never occurred. And now it's on the verge of being fully realized. The President and I believe that our children will look to a hemisphere that is middle class, democratic and secure for the first time in the hemisphere's history. And with the leadership of men like President Santos I am confident that our children's future is in very, very good hands.
In Santos, Biden has apparently found another leader equally bad at golf:
So again, thank you, Mr. President. And we were commiserating how we used to each have a relatively good golf game before we got the respective positions we're in. So since we're both playing very badly, let's play together.
Never change, Joe.
LUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images
What do Texas and Turkey have in common? Aside from sharing the same first letter, probably not too much. But starting today, they will be able to add something else to the list: similar alcohol policies.
On Friday, after a marathon debate lasting well past midnight, Turkey's parliament adopted a proposal restricting the sale of alcohol in the country.
The move has been a source of tension in the week leading up to the vote. On Tuesday, members of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) mocked Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's suggestion that ayran -- a salty non-alcoholic yogurt drink -- is enough to satisfy the Turkish people by passing out the beverage while exchanging barbs with members of the ruling party. As Hurriyet, Turkey's leading English-language daily, reported, things quickly got heated:
However, tension soon rose during the session, despite the fact that it started with witty japes. The row between Tanal and Bilgiç grew following a break in the session, when the two had to be separated by other deputies after reportedly coming close to exchanging blows.
Critics have suggested that the legislation is an infringement on individual liberty and an attempt by Erdogan's party to impose an Islamic agenda on the country. "No one can be forced to drink or not to drink. This is a religious and ideological imposition," stated Musa Cam, of the CHP. "This is not a struggle against the ills of alcohol but an attempt to re-design the society according to [the ruling party's] beliefs and lifestyle." Turkish columnist Mehves Evin even went so far as to accuse the government of "alcohol McCarthyism."
And while Americans might bristle at the comparison, it's worth noting that Turkey's alcohol restrictions bear some similarities to restrictions in several U.S. states. Take Texas.
Turkey's law shrinks the window during which it is legal to purchase alcoholic beverages from retailers to the hours between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. In Texas, there's a slightly longer window: 7 a.m. to midnight on weekdays for stores selling beer and wine, and a shorter timeframe for liquor stores. On Sunday, limits are even greater, with no liquor stores open across the state. The state also boasts 19 dry counties where the sale of alcohol is forbidden.
True, the Turkish bill includes some other rules that are less comparable to laws in the United States -- including strict prohibitions on advertising alcohol and selling alcohol near mosques. But when it comes to one of the law's odder provisions -- banning the sale of alcohol in vending machines -- Texas did it first. In 1998, the Lone Star State's attorney general ordered the removal of vending machines that dispensed adult beverages.
Members of Erdogan's party have been quick to point out that the new law is simply in keeping with Western norms. "In Sweden, [the retail sale of alcohol] is forbidden after 7 p.m. on weekdays, 3 p.m. on Saturdays and 24 hours on Sundays," Lutfu Elvan, the head of Turkey's Planning and Budget Commission noted. "There are similar restrictions in all Scandinavian countries." As far as we can tell, he did not go on to mention Texas.
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Last week, I interviewed Alex Gibney, director of the new documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks. Gibney told me he found it ironic that Julian Assange and supporters like Oliver Stone were attacking his film without having seen it. "The transparency organization won't see the film but feels free to denounce it. What does that tell you about evidence and truth?" he asked.
Well, someone from WikiLeaks has apparently now seen the film (or at least heard it -- more on that in a moment) and was not impressed. A full "annotated transcript" of the film was posted on WikiLeaks today in an attempt to correct "factual errors and speculation," accusing Gibney of selective editing and attacking the credibility of his sources, including collaborators-turned-critics like Daniel Domscheit-Berg and James Ball. As WikiLeaks argues:
The film implies – erroneously and when evidence is to the contrary – that Assange may be guilty of "conspiring" with Bradley Manning. This not only factually incorrect, but also buys into the current US government position that journalists and publishers can be prosecuted as co-conspirators with their alleged sources or with whistleblowers who communicate information to them. This is a dangerous proposition for all journalists and media organisations — not just WikiLeaks.
The film actually makes exactly the opposite argument, depicting the U.S. government as hypocritical for criticizing WikiLeaks but not the media organizations that were happy to publish its cables.
I was also curious to see Assange's account of his interactions with Gibney. The director claims the WikiLeaks founder said the market rate for an interview with him was $1 million, and asked Gibney to tell him what other interviewees were saying. WikiLeaks' version is, not surprisingly, a bit different:
[Assange] explained to Gibney that four factors played a role in the decision whether or not to participate:
While Alex Gibney is happy to allow the false imputation Julian Assange demanded $1 million for an interview to remain in his film he is careful not to allow the same 'mistake' to appear in the film's pre-publicity material:
- Security: Raw footage of WikiLeaks work could find its way into the hands of the US Department of Justice. This could endanger WikiLeaks staff.
- Financing: WikiLeaks had previously received an offer of £800,000 for its cooperation in a British documentary project. WikiLeaks rejected the offer for security reasons. In the film and in interviews, Alex Gibney distorts this conversation by attempting to portray Julian Assange as greedy. Yet in reality Assange rejected these offers because these were not in the greater interest of the organisation, despite the fact that WikiLeaks had already been under an arbitrary financial blockade for a year when this negotiation took place.
- Information: Gibney told Julian Assange that he would be interviewing members of the US government for the WikiLeaks film. Assange detailed the different forms that the continuing US persecution of WikiLeaks and its allies had taken. Assange said WikiLeaks was interested in understanding the progress of the US investigation into itself and its sources. Any information that Gibney picked up about the matter in the course of his interviews might be of interest to WikiLeaks.
- Impact: In an email pitching the documentary to WikiLeaks from 10th of March 2011, Alex Gibney said "while you know that many docs will be made on this subject, I have a sufficient global reputation (oscar, oscar noms, worldwide fans) and such a substantial budget for production, worldwide distribution and promotion that my documentary will reach an audience that will dwarf the reach of all the other documentaries combined". Julian Assange explained that the impact of the documentary was potentially problematic.New York Times correction: December 21, 2012: "An article on Thursday about the coming documentary "We Steal Secrets" and other films about WikiLeaks and Julian Assange referred imprecisely to a comment that Alex Gibney, the maker of "We Steal Secrets," says in the film about Mr. Assange's demands for money in exchange for collaborating on it. While he says that he rejected the demands, and that the market rate for an interview was $1 million, he does not specifically say that he rejected a demand from Mr. Assange for a $1 million fee for an interview."Source: Click here.
WikiLeaks has co-operated in other productions, including a film by the well respected Academy Award nominated film maker, Laura Poitras, which will be released later this year. Another film, co-produced with Ken Loach's 16 Films, will be released shortly.
WikiLeaks also claims that the film defames Bradley Manning and depicts him as a "crude gay caricature," a bit of a strange criticism for a film that's overwhelmingly sympathetic to the imprisoned whistleblower.
Interestingly, the transcript WikiLeaks posted doesn't include any of Manning's own words, which were featured extensively in the documentary. In the film, transcripts of Manning's chat logs appear on the screen as text rather than in the audio. This has led to a bit of a back-and-forth on Twitter, with Gibney and co-producer Jemima Khan accusing Wikileaks of doing some "selective editing" of its own:
@wikileaks Translation: WL did NOT publish complete transcript. It is missing all manning's printed words, almost 1/4 of film. Bad science.— Alex Gibney (@BaLueBolivar) May 24, 2013
Judging from the responses on Twitter, WikiLeaks supporters seem to be celebrating the annotated transcript as a definitive takedown of the film. This is all a little ironic given that, while the film is undoubtedly harsh on Assange, it's pretty sympathetic to the ideological goals of WikiLeaks itself. A lot of folks seem to be having trouble making a distinction between the two.
John Kerry may have met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the peace process on Thursday, but what's really gotten commentators worked up is the contents of the shwarma he consumed during an impromptu snack in Ramallah. Reputable sources such as the Guardian, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times have reported that the secretary of state's sandwich was stuffed with turkey. But for many with ties to or interest in the region (including myself), the news made absolutely no sense. It would be one thing if Kerry had gobbled down chicken or lamb. But whoever heard of turkey shwarma?
Saudi journalist Ahmed Al Omran expressed this very sentiment in his response to the bewilderment of FP's own David Kenner:
@davidkenner there is no such thing as turkey shawarma. Like the peace process, it is probably an illusion.— Ahmed Al Omran (@ahmed) May 24, 2013
Others were downright outraged at the very notion of turkey in shwarma:
The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg floated one theory about the confusion:
Meanwhile The Angry Arab implored the world to get to the bottom of the nagging mystery:
Turkey Shawarma? Is that true? Can somebody verify it was turkey and not lamb or beef or chicken? nblo.gs/LwEbX— The Angry Arab (@AngryArabNews) May 24, 2013
FP was happy to oblige. In the interest of putting the speculation to rest once and for all -- so that we can all move on to more pressing matters -- we called Samer restaurant, where Kerry ate his shwarma, to find out just what was in the secretary's sandwich.
"Chicken," said Samer, the proprietor, who seemed rather amused about the whole situation.
Excited to have stumbled upon this piece of intel, I pressed Samer to confirm that the shwarma was not in fact turkey. "Oh, yes. It was turkey," he amended. "Not chicken?" I asked. "No, turkey. We have lamb and we have turkey. He ate the turkey and really enjoyed it."
According to Samer, turkey shwarma is not uncommon in the West Bank -- though Palestinians often refer to it as chicken, which explains the confusion during our conversation. "There are people who use chicken and people who use turkey," he told me. "But people like turkey more."
John Kerry, it seems, agrees.
After two years of crowing that the end of Bashar al-Assad was nigh, the official and popular perceptions in the United States and Europe of the Syrian president's staying power have shifted dramatically. There's a new narrative taking hold, fueled by both media reports and assessments by Western intelligence agencies -- that the Assad regime is largely stable, and making significant gains against the rebels throughout the country.
Not so fast. While the regime has made progress on a few fronts, its actual territorial gains are so far rather minor. And in other parts of the country, it's the rebels who are still on the offensive. The Syrian war isn't turning into a regime rout -- the stalemate is only deepening.
In northern Syria, the rebels continue to make slow progress against the remaining Syrian military outposts. The "Youth Camp," one of the few remaining Syrian military strongholds in Idlib province, fell this week -- in this video, Syrian rebels can be seen storming the area. As the New York Times' C. J. Chivers noted recently, the Youth Camp and another Assad stronghold at a nearby brick factory mutually supported each other from rebel attack. With the loss of the Youth Camp, the brick factory will no doubt come under greater pressure. In Aleppo, meanwhile, Syrian rebels kept up their assault on the central prison, employing mortar shelling and car bombs.
The most active front where Assad is on the offensive is Qusayr, where rebel forces are defending the western city from a joint assault by Hezbollah and Syrian military forces. The battle has dragged on for six days, despite early regime claims of a quick victory, with Hezbollah suffering significant losses in the conflict. Given the balance of forces, Qusayr will likely eventually fall to Assad. But despite being regularly described in the press as "strategic" -- much like every other contested town in Syria has been -- it is not the only opposition hub for weapons flowing from Lebanon, and its strategic benefits went largely unremarked during the more than a year it was under the control of the opposition.
Elsewhere, Assad's victories have largely consisted of preventing the rebels from making progress. He appears to have gained a stronger grip over the suburbs ringing Damascus, preventing the rebels from launching an offensive on the capital, and halted rebel gains in the south by capturing the southern town of Khirbet Ghazaleh.
Assad also has a numbers problem. As this valuable article from the Washington Post's Liz Sly makes clear, his gains have largely been achieved through mobilizing some 60,000 militiamen drawn primarily from the Alawite sect, to which Assad belongs. The short-term benefits of that strategy are obvious -- but by increasing the sectarian nature of this struggle, Assad endangers his remaining Sunni support, which has been so vital to his family's dynasty since his father seized power in 1970. By relying solely on minority groups -- even with Hezbollah support -- it is unclear how the Syrian regime has the manpower to reclaim the large swathes of territory it has lost in the north and the east.
None of this is to say that the old conventional wisdom -- that Assad's fall was just around the corner -- was right all along. However, the narrative that the Syrian regime is making sweeping gains across the country is just as wrongheaded. What we are really witnessing is the beginning of a bloody conflict that, if the world does nothing to stop it, could continue for years on end.
Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images
On Tuesday, Iran's Guardian Council confirmed the list of approved candidates for Iran's June 14 presidential elections -- and with it the suspicions of many that this will be a less-than-exciting election season. In whittling down 686 presidential hopefuls to just eight finalists, the Council arguably left off the two most interesting contenders: former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's hand-picked successor Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei.
So who are the 1 percent of aspirants deemed fit to rule Iran? These eight may all be symbols of the status quo and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's considerable influence in the political realm. But between them they have some pretty colorful qualifications for the job.
Iran's current nuclear negotiator, Jalili is also considered the race's frontrunner -- not to mention Khamenei's choice for president. A former member of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, he lost his right leg in the Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s.
In 2007, when Jalili was chosen as nuclear negotiator by Khamenei, many thought he was too inexperienced for the job. Since then, he has developed a reputation for being uncompromising. And if a recent interview with the Financial Times is any indication, it appears that trait will carry over into his presidency. "My understanding is that the more we rely on our religious and internal principles," he told FT, "the more we can resist [the demands of the international community]."
But you have to give Jalili credit for his optimistic lemons-into-lemonade attitude. "At least over the past few years when I have been carefully following the effects of sanctions, I see that they can be easily bypassed and turned into opportunities," he added. Jalili did not elaborate as to how.
Gholam Ali Haddad Adel
One of the country's self-styled conservative "principlists," Adel, along with Ali Akbar Velayati and Mohammed Baqr Qalibaf, positions himself in direct opposition to the reformists who attracted many Iranians during Iran's contentious presidential election in 2009. He's also a favorite of Khamenei's as both an advisor and a relative (his daughter is married to Khamenei's son).
A lesser known fact about the prominent politician: Adel penned an influential work of Islamic "feminist" thought, The Culture of Nakedness and the Nakedness of Culture, in the 1980s. According to Pamela Karimi, a professor of art history at UMass Dartmouth, he advocates "the concealment of women’s bodies as a way to protect the larger society from the manipulation of capitalism and imperialism." He strove to "catch up with modernity and yet indigenize it through Islam."
Ali Akbar Velayati
Iran's longest-serving foreign minister (from 1980 to 1996), he is currently Khamenei's senior advisor on international affairs. Velayati is credited with helping shape Iran's tough stance toward the West, but he might be more willing to engage than it seems. In 2009, as Velayati contemplated a bid for president, an aide reached out to U.S. diplomats expressing interest in cooperating with the West and asking that some sanctions be lifted in order to help raise funds for Velayati's campaign, according to leaked cables. A doctor by training, Velayati studied pediatrics at Johns Hopkins before the 1979 revolution.
Velayati has also been implicated in authorizing the Mykonos operation in 1992, during which three Iranian Kurdish political figures and a supporter were murdered while dining in a private room of the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin.
A past presidential contender who came in third in 2009, Rezaei has said he's "in it to win it" this time around. In addition to being the former commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, Rezaei is also the secretary of Iran's Expediency Council, which advises Khameini. In 2009, he memorably stated that he would include women in his cabinet if elected.
Not-so-fun fact: Rezaei has the distinction of being on Interpol's wanted list for his alleged complicity in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Argentina that killed 85 people, in the deadliest attack in the country's history. Rezaei, for his part, vigorously denies involvement in the incident (Velayati, above, is also a suspect in the attack).
Rowhani is the closest of the remaining candidates to a reformist. In April, Roberto Toscano -- a former Italian ambassador to Iran -- told Al-Monitor that "if the reformists do not run their own candidate or one who is insignificant, Rowhani could get a lot of votes." He went on to note Rowhani's "impeccable CV" -- if you're really interested you can see it here -- which includes over 100 publications.
Rowhani's candidacy brings the nuclear issue to the forefront, as he was Iran's most cooperative -- if short-lived -- nuclear negotiator between 2003 and 2005. But although he is close to Rafsanjani, don't expect too much of a departure from Khamenei. Rowhani has also been an advisor to the supreme leader since 1989 and has close ties to the political establishment.
Mohammad Reza Aref
Aref was Iran's vice president during President Mohammad Khatami's second term (2001 to 2005). Though he is a bit more on the reformist side than many of the other candidates, as a current member of the Expediency Council he remains an advisor to Khamenei.
Though you might not expect it from his long political career, Aref's educational background is actually in statistics. He received a Ph.D. from Stanford. If you're interested in seeing an example of the potential future president's academic work (or if you want to learn about a "mathematical model for a general single-source single-sing communication network"), check out his thesis here.
Mohammed Baqr Qalibaf
Qalibaf succeeded Ahmadinejad as mayor of Tehran in 2005, after losing to him in that year's presidential election. And what a mayor he has been. In 2008, he came in eighth place in the World Mayor Awards (a bienniel award aiming "to raise the profile of mayors worldwide and honour those who have served their communities well"). According to the organization, he beat out other global mayoral heavy weights "for his modernisation of the capital’s infrastructure and public services." The foundation also described him as "a keen student of other metro areas around the world, actively investing in monitoring innovation in traffic management and public transport." Is there a better recommendation for president than that?
On the flip side, Qalibaf recently took heat for acknowledging his role in vigorous government crackdowns on political protests in 1999, 2003, and 2009.
The Guardian Council's inclusion of this former minister of petroleum and parliamentarian has left many scratching their heads. Unlike his fellow nominees, Gharazi has been out of the political spotlight for over a decade and faded into relative obscurity.
One website, Iran's View, says it all with an article entitled "Everything About Mohammad Gharazi, Unknown Qualified Presidential Candidate." Word count: 240.
During a speech on Tuesday in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told his audience that the Jews "have contributed greatly to America. No group has had such an outsized influence per capita," inspiring the New York magazine headline, "Biden Praises Jews, Goes Too Far, Accidentally Thrills Anti-Semites."
But cringe-inducing philo-Semitism is not just a U.S. phenomenon. In a recently published memoir, titled A Collection of Works Written During Leisure Time, Wu Guanzheng, who from 2002 to 2007 was China's top anti-corruption official, reminisces about his time in Israel. "I bought some books on the Jewish people," he writes. One, which he cites later, is written by someone with the name "Abraham" and called --- you guessed it! -- Why Are Jews Intelligent.
Wu notes how Jews "attach extreme importance to study" and how they see scholars "as their spiritual leaders." Somewhat ironically for the man who was once the seventh-highest-ranking figure in an authoritarian system, Wu also praises Jews' ability to "speak truth to power" and "freely express different opinions."
Chinese are notoriously philo-Semitic. Jewish visitors are often greeted with the platitude, "Ah, Jews, you so easily make money" (no joke), and there are dozens of Chinese-language books promising insight into Jewish secrets like raising smart children, succeeding in business, or unlocking the moneymaking secrets of the Talmud.
Wu also tweaks China's conventional wisdom about Judaism. "There are people who say that the world's wealth is in the Jews' pocket," he writes. "Actually, Jews' wealth is in their own brain." (The line works better in Chinese, where Wu uses a word for brain that literally means "brain pocket.")
Many retired Chinese officials publish (or try to publish) books after leaving office. And it is required -- or at least strongly recommended -- that Chinese news outlets covering these memoirs say nice things about them. The People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, has applauded Wu's book for exhibiting a "deep and true unaffected emotionality," while Xinhua, China's state news agency, has noted how the book's "sincere and honest" writing style has received attention "from all walks of life," which explains why the publishers issued 300,000 copies the first week after the release. (According to a write-up in China Publishing News Online, the book includes "essays, reflections, jottings, fiction, discussions" and features discursions on the legal system as well as "how to conduct oneself in society.")
The news website for Wu's birthplace, part of the Jiangxi provincial city of Shangrao (a city I'd never heard of before, but which apparently has a population of more than 6.5 million people), published an article titled, "The Party Officials and Ordinary People of the Entire City Have Set Off a Popular Craze of Studying" Wu's book.
The praise from Chinese state media does not necessarily mean the book is filled with drivel -- Southern Weekly, a liberal newspaper that generally publishes less censored news than its competitors, remarked on its "unconventionality" in featuring a former member of the Politburo Standing Committee, China's most powerful body, "exposing his inner thoughts."
Wu's inner thoughts include a verdict on Franklin Delano Roosevelt ("excellent"), Bill Gates ("he stepped down to let talented youth take on heavy responsibility"), and retirement ("I look up and observe the universe, I look down and observe all living things -- I feel totally full of vitality.")
And when he does look down and observe all living things, there's apparently a special place in his heart for the Jews.
Ahead of President Obama's big counterterrorism speech tomorrow, Attorney General Eric Holder has written a letter, obtained by the New York Times, to the Senate Judiciary Committee disclosing the four American citizens killed by targeted strikes during the Obama administration, three of whom "were not specifically targeted by the United States":
Since 2009, the United States, in the conduct of U.S. counterterrorism operations against al-Qa'ida and its associated forces outside of areas of active hostilities, has specifically targeted and killed one U.S. citizen, Anwar al-Aulaqi. The United States is further aware of three other U.S. citizens who have been killed in such U.S. counterterrorism operations over that same time period: Samir Khan, 'Abd al-Rahman Anwar al-Aulaqi, and Jude Kenan Mohammed. These individuals were not specifically targeted by the United States.
The letter does not include the names of all Americans who have been killed in drone strikes. A fifth U.S. citizen, Ahmed Hijazi (a.k.a. Kamal Derwish) was killed in 2002 during the Bush administration in the first ever U.S. drone strike. That strike, in Yemen, was directed at Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, who was associated with the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. An unnamed FBI source told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer several years ago that another U.S. citizen was believed to have been killed by a U.S. cruise missile in Somalia sometime between 2006 and early 2009.
Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan were propagandists for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and the U.S. government believes that Awlaki played a role in planning the attempted underwear bombing in 2009. His son, 'Abd al-Rahman, had reportedly linked up with AQAP members while looking for Awklaki when a drone targeted his vehicle. The three men were killed in a series of airstrikes in September and October 2011.
The only new name is Jude Kenan Mohammed, whose death in Pakistan was rumored in a February 2012 local news story in his hometown of Raleigh, N.C but had not been previously acknowledged.
With the letter, the Obama administration has now admitted killing more U.S. citizens than detainees the Bush administration admitted waterboarding. Hooray for transparency?
The full text of Holder's letter is included below:
Olivier Douliery - Pool/Getty Images
You've read the stories about Sweden's excellent health care system, innovative gender-neutral day care centers, and generous parental leave policies. But here's a story that those who would like to portray Sweden as a socialist paradise are less eager to tell: For three consecutive nights, the residents of several largely immigrant suburbs have rioted, torching cars, clashing with police, and setting buildings ablaze.
The rioting -- the worst social unrest to strike the country in many years -- was sparked by the lethal police shooting of a 69-year-old, knife-wielding man last week in the suburb of Husby, the epicenter of the riots. Roaming gangs of angry youths have since clashed with police and Husby residents have complained of racist treatment by police officers, who they say have used epithets such as "monkey."
What's happening in Husby is clearly a symptom of Sweden's failed effort to integrate its massive immigrant population. Housing segregation is rampant in the country, and Husby is a case study in how immigrant populations have come to dominate Stockholm's outer suburbs. The graph below (from this paper on housing segregation) illustrates the phenomenon. Depending on your political perspective, native-born Swedes have either fled Husby or been pushed out by immigrants:
Husby also suffers from rampant unemployment -- a problem that is particularly acute for its youth. Nearly 30 percent of the city's young people are neither employed nor actively enrolled in school, a number that mirrors a broader trend of immigrant underemployment relative to the native-born population.
riots have been captured in YouTube
videos, which paint a picture of an aggressive, somewhat
ham-handed response by police. When confronted by angry residents, law enforcement officials have used dogs
and drawn pistols to intimidate the crowds. In the clip below, they can be seen charging residents -- then retreating and charging once more.
Police have also used dogs to disperse the crowds. Here, the officer tells a resident to back up or risk being bitten. The female voice at the end of the video repeatedly asks police, "Aren't you ashamed of yourselves?!"
Here's what things looked like from one of the apartment buildings in the area. As you can see in the video, Husby has massive housing structures, part of the so-called Million Program to vastly expand the country's residential properties.
And here's a panicked Swedish reporter covering a car fire in Husby. He excitedly relates how a piece of metal came flying at "high speed" toward the "exact spot" where he had been filming. When he tries to pick it up to show the camera, he declares it far too hot. The headline on the video translates as "Expressen's reporter forced to seek cover."
The reaction of Sweden's political class to the riots has been mixed. The nativist Sweden Democrats have called on the police to deploy water cannons to disperse the rioters. Meanwhile, the head of the largest opposition party, the Social Democrats, made a covert nighttime visit to Husby to talk to residents. Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has said neither he nor any members of his government are likely to pay a visit to the suburb, and declared that "Sweden cannot be ruled by violence" (his critics might point out that police violence sparked the rioting).
In short, no one has any real idea what to do about the unrest in the country -- besides praying that Molotov cocktails don't reappear on the streets of Husby tonight.
JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images
At 7 a.m. on May 6, Yu Xuejun received a phone call from the captain of a fishing boat he owns. "I asked him what the problem was," Yu told state broadcaster China Central Television in an interview broadcast Monday, "and he said one of the ships was missing" from off the coast of Liaoning, a Chinese province that borders North Korea.
Thus began the bizarre, opaque, and as-yet unresolved saga of the North Korean kidnapping of 16 Chinese fishermen.
The next day, May 7, Yu received a call on a satellite phone from someone he identified only as "the North Koreans' translator." The mysterious caller asked for $200,000. "Then," Yu told CCTV, "they said we don't want that much, just $130,000." Yu asked, "Why did you take my boat?" He couldn't understand the caller's answer.
"If you pay, we'll release the boat," the translator told Yu. The calls kept coming, from the same number. On the fourth call, Yu says, the captors dropped the number to $100,000 and allowed the captured captain to speak to him. "His voice was trembling. I could feel he was very afraid," Yu wrote on his microblog, where he broke the news of the kidnapping. "I suspected that my crew had been mistreated. I can't imagine what the North Korean side could do."
China remains North Korea's closest ally, yet often gets repaid for its friendship with inexplicable acts of aggression. The kidnapping was probably coordinated by Pyongyang -- as the Chinese newspaper the Global Times wrote on Monday, the kidnappers are "highly likely from the North Korean army." The paper also quoted Jin Qiangyi, director of the Asian Studies Center at northeast China's Yanbian University, speculating that North Korea is "taking revenge on China" for approving the U.N. sanctions that followed its nuclear test in February.
According to Yu, his boat is now by the island of Changyon, which hosts a North Korean military base -- one would guess that the boat would only be allowed to dock at that island with permission from Pyongyang. According to the website for state radio service Chinese Radio International, Kim Jong Un visited Changyon in 2012 and "expressed satisfaction" at the navy's state of readiness.
But if the "pirates" were actually members of the North Korean military acting in concert with Pyongyang, why the laughably small ransom? Yu told a Chinese journalist that he can't pay the "sky-high price" of $100,000 -- that may be true, but the sticker price for international incidents is usually higher than that of a luxury car. (By comparison, in 2010, the average ransom demand from Somali pirates was $5.4 million.)
It's not the first time this has happened. A year ago almost to the day, North Koreans abducted 29 Chinese fishermen; the identity of the North Koreans, or whether they were authorities or autonomous kidnappers, remains unknown. The fishermen were returned and relieved of all their possessions, in some cases even including their clothes and the pencils in their pocket. Is the North Korean army so starved of resources that it would steal writing utensils from Chinese fishermen?
Throughout its history, North Korea has been more on the receiving end of piracy, as its ships have rarely ventured overseas. In the Historical Dictionary of Democratic People's Republic of Korea, former British diplomat James Hoare writes that Japanese pirate attacks in the 16th century are one reason for North Koreans' historical hatred of Japanese.
So far, Beijing's public response to this latest hijacking incident has been muted. The Wall Street Journal reports that "Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China is in close communication with Pyongyang, without offering details," while China's Internet universe is understandably angry. ("Americans say, 'I'll attack whoever I want,'" writes Weibo user Christopher-Columbia in a typical post. "Us Chinese, we say, 'whoever attacks us, we'll just insult them in return,'" he adds.) The Journal also quoted retired general Luo Yuan as writing on his microblog, "North Korea has gone too far. Just because you're poor, that doesn't mean you can cross borders and detain people for ransom." Unless China does something, Pyongyang may prove Luo wrong.
For those born after a certain year, Barbara Walters may be best known for her banter with the likes of Whoopi Goldberg and Elisabeth Hasselbeck on her talk show The View -- or her interviews with the likes of Monica Lewinsky and Michael Jackson. But with the 83-year-old Walters officially retiring next summer, we wanted to remind the whippersnappers among us to show some respect: Before The View, Walters snagged interviews with some of the most defining world leaders of the late 20th century.
Walters, after all, rode in a jeep with Fidel Castro, picking his gun up off the floor when they forded streams so it wouldn't get wet. She sparked a fight between the shah of Iran and his wife over whether women were capable of ruling countries. She asked Jiang Zemin whether he knew what happened to Tiananmen Square's tank man. More recently, she spoke with Bashar al-Assad about the Syrian military's brutal campaign against its own citizens.
Below is a selection of some of Walters's most noteworthy sit-downs with world leaders in the more than 50 years she's been on television.
Walters first met Fidel Castro in 1975, but had to wait two more years before she was able to nab the first American TV interview with the Cuban president. During her time on the island, Castro brought her to the mountains where he had been a guerrilla fighter (Walters and her production team spent the night at his camp). Her interview with him lasted five hours and, "in an unprecedented action," almost all of it aired on Cuban television. "The only part he deleted," Walters wrote, "was my question about whether he is married and his evasive answer. 'Formally, no!'"
Shah Reza Pahlavi
In the interview below, Walters asks the shah about how much support the CIA was providing to the Iranian regime. "Does the CIA play any part in this country today?" she asks. "Sure -- gathering information. We don't mind," the ruler replies.
The interview also included questions about the shah's views on women. "So you don't feel that women are in that sense equal, if they have the same intelligence or ability," Walters inquires. "Not so far," the shah replies. "Maybe you will become in the future. We can always have some exceptions."
"I give the shah credit," Walters later said. "He was certainly not politically correct ... he said what was on his mind."
Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin
It was an historic milestone in November 1977 when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat became the first Arab leader to officially visit Israel since its founding. While he was there, Walters got him to agree to a joint interview with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin (Begin told Walters that he convinced Sadat to do the interview together "for the sake of our friend Barbara"). In the video below, Walters describes how she arranged the interview (footage of the interview itself wasn't available).
Walters later spoke of her admiration for Sadat. "He had such courage," she said.
During his interview with Walters, the new Chinese premier displayed what the New York Times called "a stunning cynicism" about the bloody crackdown on protests in Tiananmen Square, which had taken place just a year earlier. The army behaved "with great tolerance and restraint," Jiang told Walters. "I don't think any government in the world will permit the occurrence of such an incident as happened in Beijing."
"It takes a lot to stop Barbara Walters in her tracks," New York Times reporter Fox Butterfield wrote. But even she was stunned when Jiang called the incident "much ado about nothing."
"We feel it's a great deal to do about something," she eventually retorted.
As late as 2011, Walters was still going after big names, scoring an exclusive interview with President Bashar al-Assad after the protests in Syria had begun (Walters later took some heat for assisting an aide of Assad's who she admitted helped her get the interview).
"Do you feel guilty?" Walters asks Assad toward the end of the conversation. "I did my best to protect the people, so I cannot feel guilty, when you do your best," he responds. "You feel sorry for the lives that has been lost, but you don't feel guilty -- when you don't kill people."
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Here's a depressing data point about Washington's super-politicized debate over the Benghazi consulate attack: 39 percent of American voters who think the Obama administration's response to the assault represents the biggest political scandal in American history don't know that Benghazi is in Libya, according to a new poll by Public Policy Polling. As PPP reports:
One interesting thing about the voters who think Benghazi is the biggest political scandal in American history is that 39% of them don't actually know where it is. 10% think it's in Egypt, 9% in Iran, 6% in Cuba, 5% in Syria, 4% in Iraq, and 1% each in North Korea and Liberia with 4% not willing to venture a guess.
Overall, 58 percent of respondents knew Benghazi was in Libya, compared with more than 40 percent who chose another location or said they were not sure.
The survey found that just 23 percent of voters felt Benghazi was the worst scandal in U.S. history, and that most Americans think Congress should be paying more attention to issues like immigration reform and gun control than to the attack in Libya. But Republicans were particularly angry about the incident, with 41 percent of GOP respondents labeling Benghazi the country's darkest scandal (compared with only 10 percent of Democrats and 20 percent of independents). Republicans think Benghazi is even worse than Watergate (by a 74 to 19 margin) and Iran-Contra (by a 70 to 20 margin).
Still, the results aren't as clear cut as you might think. Yes, Republicans are angriest about Benghazi. And yes, more than a third of those who think Benghazi is the worst scandal in American history wouldn't be able to spot it on a map. But those two findings do not add up to Republicans as a whole not knowing where Benghazi is.
In fact, if you dig into the survey's cross tabs, you'll find that it was Democratic respondents who were most likely to say Benghazi was located in a country other than Libya:
You see something similar when you look at ideology, with very conservative respondents the most likely to identify Benghazi's location correctly and somewhat liberal respondents the least likely.
So what gives? Perhaps Republicans in general are actually better informed about Benghazi's geography because right-wing politicians and news outlets have spent more time dissecting the consulate attack and its aftermath.
Richard Ellis/Getty Images
"I like Camus, man."
That's how Cody Wilson, the man behind the first fully functional 3-D printed gun, replied when asked by the right-wing radio host Alex Jones to describe his political heroes. This past week, Wilson's company, Defense Distributed, announced that it had created a functioning handgun produced by a 3-D printer -- a device that creates products from electronic blueprints by layering plastic -- and that it planned to make the schematics freely available online.
So far, Wilson's effort has largely been portrayed in the media in two ways: as a dangerous way to circumvent gun-control statutes and as a tech story about how an innovative manufacturing technology is being harnessed for unanticipated ends. But there's a political story here, too. While it's easy to caricature Wilson, a 25-year-old law student at the University of Texas, as a right-wing nut hell bent on defending his Second Amendment rights, a common thread of anarchist thinking runs through nearly all Wilson's public statements. This isn't just a guy who loves his guns -- this is a political project. Or at least it purports to be.
"Now that we have a [federal license to manufacture guns] we can ... develop something like a single-shot completely printable plastic gun," he said on Alex Jones's show back in March. "Yes, it's undetectable, but more importantly it's unobservable by institutions and countries and sovereigns.... This might be a politically important object."
Wilson is the rare gun-rights advocate who drops names like Michel Foucault, Albert Camus, and John Milton in his interviews, and the worldview he's selling has more in common with hacktivist collectives like Anonymous than bearded woodsmen preparing for the end times. Here he is diagnosing the current state of American politics in a revealing Vice documentary:
There's this Fukuyamaist idea that like history had ended after the Cold War. Right? And that like if we could just tweak neoliberal democracy, everything's gonna be fine. Forever. You know that like somehow this is like the final political form? I mean this is ridiculous. And like you can see it -- there is no evidence of a political program anymore in the world, in America. There aren't genuine politics. There's the media telling you Barack Obama versus Mitt Romney is like the epic clash of ideology when we both know they're globalist neoliberals. They both exist to preserve like the interests of this relatively autonomous class of Goldman Sachs bankers.
So what exactly is Wilson proposing? Well, like any good leftist he's short on specifics. But consider the following exchange with Glenn Beck -- an appearance, by the way, that had Beck visibly uncomfortable:
GB: Ok, so are you an anarchist?
CW: I guess in a functional sense, sure. But perhaps like a principled one.
GB: I don't know what that means.
CW: Well there's a guy named Michel Foucault. And I'd recommend that you read him some time. Really I see the battle as one of just trying to remain human and against you know massive forces, anonymous forces of discipline and control that we can't really understand. I don't think there's a massive conspiracy. But I do think the self is under siege and I think liberty itself is under siege...
So if we take Wilson seriously, his 3-D gun project is aimed at reclaiming some sense of individual autonomy, which has been stripped away by the regulatory impulses of the state. The project, he claims, is a deeply moral one aimed at forcing individuals to face up to their choices:
Milton's Areopagitica is essentially the spiritual analogue that I'm holding out for people. Which is more to do not about like why guns are good. It's more about why like speech and information is good. Why like you just must reckon with, you must be free to reckon with whatever ideas that you can. It isn't enough that a society can just withhold things. That doesn't befit you as a moral agent. That doesn't allow you to exist or to, that doesn't allow you to fully exercise your capacity as a human being, as a moral agent.
As much as Wilson would like to present himself as a gun sage, he also possesses a deal of old-fashioned anti-establishment anger, and that's a perspective that doesn't quite square with his high-minded invocation of John Milton:
But what this project's really about, fuck your laws, you know what I'm saying? It's stepping up, it's being able to go, you know what, I don't like this legal regime I neatly step outside of it. Now what, you know?
That's a perspective that should ring a bell for anyone familiar with Anonymous. And it's a serious problem when a group aspiring to real political power busies itself instead with cursing off the government. Maybe Milton has something to say about that.
This afternoon, the Syrian Electronic Army, a group of hackers supportive of Bashar al-Assad's regime, appeared to briefly hack into the Onion's Twitter feed. Over the course of about an hour, the SEA tweeted seven times from @TheOnion, and claimed responsibility for the attack on the Onion's @ONN account (the satirical newspaper's parody of 24-hour news networks) before the messages were deleted.
You could say the SEA's attacks have been a bit hit or miss over the past several months. The group's members promoted an alternate narrative of the Syrian civil war when they hacked into @60Minutes last month, but also tweeted fat jokes about the emir of Qatar, a backer of the opposition, when they hacked the BBC's weather account ("Earthquake warning for Qatar: Hamad Bin Khalifah about to exit vehicle").
In one of their strangest strikes yet, the SEA broke into the Twitter feed of the television channel E! on Sunday to "out" Justin Bieber and then to tweet, "Angelina Jolie admits, in E! latest issue, that Jordan is to blame for the Syrian refugees' atrocious conditions" -- a sentence that under no circumstances would ever appear on E!
Today, the SEA fell back on fat jokes about Qatar's ruler ("NASA: 9th planet discovered and identified as the Qatari Emir") and also took a few jabs at Israel -- "UN's Ban Ki Moon condemns Syria for being struck by Israel: 'It was in the way of Jewish missiles;'" "The #Onion CEO: 'We regret taking zionist money to defame Syria. now the hackers are up our ass;'" "Poland to double flights from the Middle East, anticipating Israeli mass exodus. 'The bagel bakery ovens are working over time' ~ Larry" -- after the Israelis reportedly launched two airstrikes against weapons depots in Damascus in the past week.
Whoever was behind the hacking demonstrated a fairly proficient knowledge of the Onion's style (for example, attributing a quote without context to "Larry") and included a well-timed "Futurama Fry" meme as Twitter followers wondered if @TheOnion had been hacked, or if the tweets were simply more satire:
Though the Onion is first and foremost a satirical site, it has also hosted some of the most trenchant commentary on the Syrian civil war, leaving little doubt about why it was targeted. Darkly humorous articles from the past year and a half have included titles such as, "'Help Has To Be On The Way Now,' Thinks Syrian Man Currently Being Gassed," "Having Gone This Far Without Caring About Syria, Nation To Finish What It Started," "Target Pulls All Sponsorship From Publicly Ignored Syrian Conflict," "Alien World To Help Out Syria Since This One Refuses To," and an op-ed by Bashar al-Assad titled, "Hi, In The Past 2 Years, You Have Allowed Me To Kill 70,000 People."
So perhaps it's not a surprise that when the news outlet finally regained control over its Twitter feed, it had this to say:
Syrian Electronic Army Has A Little Fun Before Inevitable Upcoming Deaths At Hands Of Rebels onion.com/11ctVJg— The Onion (@TheOnion) May 6, 2013
Europe has a romanticized history of lone figures joining "the cause" in war-torn foreign countries -- from Lord Byron's death fighting for Greek independence to George Orwell's storied participation in the Spanish Civil War. But tales of Europeans joining Syrian rebels on the frontlines haven't exactly been met with enthusiasm.
"Not all of them are radical when they leave, but most likely many of them will be radicalised" in Syria, the EU's anti-terror chief, Gilles de Kerchove, told the BBC on Wednesday, noting that an estimated 500 Europeans are fighting in Syria's civil war, where they could come under the influence of al Qaeda-linked groups like the al-Nusra Front.
Governments from Australia to the United States share these concerns, but the apprehension is less about the impact of this cadre of foreign fighters on Syria's conflict -- who, as we noted recently, form a tiny fraction of the resistance -- and more about what could happen when these citizens return home.
Australia, which has seen around 200 of its residents join the action in Syria, has made it clear that anyone fighting in the conflict is breaking Australian law. The Australian Federal Police have distributed flyers with the following statement:
Australia has imposed an arms embargo on Syria. This means it is illegal for any person in Australia, or any Australian citizen (including dual citizen), anywhere in the world, to provide any kind of support to any armed group in Syria - Government or opposition; Syrian or foreign.
Interestingly enough, another country that has weighed in on the legality of foreign participation is Saudi Arabia. Though the kingdom has a strategic interest in encouraging the rebellion against Bashar al-Assad, it is apparently illegal for Saudi citizens to join in the combat. As NPR reports, the official line may be more diplomatic than dogmatic:
Fighting with the rebels in Syria is illegal, declared Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior. "Anybody who wants to travel outside Saudi Arabia in order to get involved in such conflict will be arrested and prosecuted," he said. "But only if we have the evidence before he leaves the country."
NPR goes on to quote Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani, a Saudi professor and human rights activist as saying this amounts to a "don't ask, don't tell policy."
The United States is also taking a variety of legal approaches to address the issue. As my colleague Josh Keating noted back when an American joined the Libyan rebels, it's generally legal for Americans to fight in another country's army -- so long as they're not fighting against America:
According to the U.S. code, any citizen who "enlists or enters himself, or hires or retains another to enlist or enter himself, or to go beyond the jurisdiction of the United States with intent to be enlisted or entered in the service of any foreign prince, state, colony, district, or people as a soldier or as a marine or seaman ... shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both." But a court ruling from 1896 involving U.S. citizens who fought with Cuban revolutionaries against Spanish colonial rule interpreted this to mean that it was only illegal for citizens to be recruited for a foreign army in the United States, not to simply fight in one....
A few caveats: If an American joins an army engaged in hostilities against the United States, that's considered an act of treason and punishable by death. The law also, obviously, doesn't sanction membership in designated terrorist organizations...
Just last Friday, the FBI arrested Abdella Ahmad Tounisi, an 18-year-old from Aurora, Ill., at O'Hare Airport before he boarded a flight to Istanbul. The Chicago Tribune reports that Tounisi told an undercover FBI agent he intended to join the al-Nusra Front. He now faces up to 15 years in federal prison for the felony charge of "attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization."
And in late March, when Eric Harroun, the U.S. citizen who trained and fought with the al-Nusra Front, returned to the United States, he was oddly enough charged for conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction -- specifically rocket-propelled grenades.
The European Union, meanwhile, has yet to make a concerted legal effort to bar citizens from joining the fight in Syria. While one man was detained last week in Belgium for allegedly recruiting residents to go to Syria, efforts have largely focused on curbing the effects of radicalization. As the BBC reports, the EU is "pushing to bring in a Europe-wide passenger database for air-travel which in future could help track individuals down."
It's a thorny problem to solve. As de Kerchove, the EU anti-terror chief, reminds us, "[n]ot all of them are radical when they leave."
MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images
With Egypt's economy entering crisis mode, you'd think government officials would have their hands full. But Prime Minister Hesham Kandil seems to be finding time for the obscure mobile game Smurfs' Village. Or at least that's how his Twitter account made it seem on Monday, when a tweet that may have been automatically generated by the app appeared on his feed, reading "Doctor Smurf prescribes cakes, pies and smurfberries as part of a healthy diet."
The bizarre tweet has since been deleted from his account, but not quickly enough to prevent an inevitable onslaught of snark. The blog Egyptian Chronicles, for instance, ran with the gleeful headline, "The PM of Smurfs Village!!"
One Twitter user blamed the politician's smurf addiction for Egypt's current state of turmoil:
.@kandilhesham someone's having a VERY productive day at the office. No wonder the country's going down the pooper.— Farah Saafan (@FarahSaafan) April 1, 2013
Another pointed out the tweet's problematic public health implications:
.@kandilhesham should you really be advising people to eat cakes, pies and smurfberries when Egypt is dealing with a diabetes epidemic?— sherief gaber (@cairocitylimits) April 1, 2013
Some people, however, were a bit more understanding:
We've blogged before about politicians whose accounts have accidentally been hijacked by apps after their children used their phones to play games. Our advice still applies: In an age where a stray tweet can provoke an almost automatic backlash, politicians should keep their phones out of the hands of their children. Unless, that is, they're playing the games themselves.
Screenshot of Twitpic
The Soviet Union's 10-year occupation of Afghanistan cost the country more than 15,000 lives, and an additional 50,000 were wounded. Before the USSR withdrew its forces in 1989, Mikhail Gorbachev described the Soviet efforts to fight the insurgency there as "a bleeding wound." And yet -- just over two decades after leaving what came to be considered the Soviet version of the Vietnam War -- Russia is now eager to return to Afghanistan.
Russian defense officials are exploring the possibility of establishing military bases on Afghan soil after the U.S. drawdown in 2014, according to Russian press reports. Sergey Koshelev, of the Russian Defense Ministry's Department of Cooperation, told Russia Today that the military "will look into various options of creating repair bases" to maintain the Afghan National Security Forces's Russian-made equipment. Further cooperation is also being considered, according to Russia's NATO envoy Aleksandr Grushko.
Russia certainly has an economic stake in post-war Afghanistan. In addition to maintaining Russian gear -- from small arms to armored personnel carriers and helicopters -- Russia is also considering expanding its supply routes into Afghanistan through Central Asian countries. These supply routes, often called the Northern Distribution Network, have been a troublesome logistical lifeline for ISAF troops in Afghanistan, and will likely remain important after the drawdown.
An article in the government-sponsored paper Pravda last November touted Russia's cultural projects in Afghanistan as a prelude to new projects like those being discussed now. "It's obvious that Moscow's interest after the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan ...will increase dramatically," Lyuba Lulko wrote then. "The country has always been in the zone of Soviet and Russian interests." The article went on to recast the Soviet occupation: "After what the Americans leave in Afghanistan, the Soviet presence seems to be a blessing. Soviet soldiers are remembered with respect," Lulko added. An Afghan student studying Russian was quoted saying, "Russia is our neighbor, we love its culture. All was well, when the Russians were here."
Nonetheless, as RT's report stressed, "Russian officials have repeatedly denied that Moscow is considering resuming its military presence in Afghanistan."
Today, North Korea unveiled its "U.S. mainland strike plan" in a map showing Hawaii, Washington, D.C., Austin, Texas and Los Angeles, California as primary targets. The map appeared in a photograph of an "emergency meeting" between Kim Jong Un and his top military advisors, and was broadcast by the country's propaganda arm KCNA.
It's a little difficult to make out because the lines of the continental United States are so light, but the above image shows lines pointing directly to the mainland targets of Los Angeles and Austin (Kim is clearly upset he never got to host a SXSW interactive panel on the future of Logitech hardware.) This expanded image below shows the area of the map more clearly (NK News has a smart overlay here).
Almost as soon as this latest threat surfaced, weapons experts laughed it out of the room given its ambitious assessment of North Korea's weapons capability. "How clumsy of #NKorea to accidentally display their US Mainland Striking Plan -- with ICBMs that don't exist," tweeted Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the nonproliferation and disarmament program for the International Institute for Strategic Studies. "If North Korea tried very hard and got lucky, they might be able to develop and ICBM version of the Unha-2 in five years," he later told FP in an e-mail exchange. Speaking to the country's missile range specifically, IHS Jane's Defense Weekly editor James Hardy wrote that "there is little to no chance that it could successfully land a missile on Guam, Hawaii or anywhere else outside the Korean Peninsula that U.S. forces may be stationed."
Obviously, it's possible that U.S. intelligence and independent analyses underestimate North Korea's capabilities, a concept fleshed out by our own Kevin Baron this week. But for comparison purposes, here's the extent of North Korea's missile range according to Western experts.
First, this map data is from the Federation of American Scientists and the Center for Nonproliferation Studies. As you can see, North Korea's operational missile capacity, in green, can't even make it to India.
On the more charitable end, the Council on Foreign Relations estimates that the Taepodong-2 rocket could make it to Alaska, but no further.
Bottom line? SXSW appears to be safe ... for now.
Today, North Korea scolded the South for its reported plan to destroy two giant bronze statues in Pyongyang if the North issues any further provocations. Experts on the conflict, speaking with Foreign Policy today, tend to agree with the North: This would be a really bad idea.
The South Korean plan first surfaced yesterday in the Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, which cited government sources saying a surgical strike on statues of patriarchs Kim Jong il and Kim il Sung would convey an important message to the North Koreans:
The statues are considered sacred in the North, and any damage to them could deliver a huge psychological impact. "If North Korea launches another provocation, our military has developed a plan to respond with air-to-surface and surface-to-surface missiles to strike not only the source of provocation as well as support and command forces, but also some statues of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il," a government source here said Sunday.
towering bronze statues deifying the late Korean
leaders reside atop Mansudae Hill in Pyongyang. While the analysts we spoke to noted that South Korea has patiently
endured military bombardments, provocations and insults from the North for
years, they raised a number of concerns about the wisdom of the hypothetical
Technically, this would be difficult to pull off
"It doesn't make sense to me," Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told FP. "The air defenses around Pyongyang are much tougher than around the naval and air installations on the West Sea. I think their general practice in the South will be to hit the regional command HQ responsible for any provocative strike --and the most likely spot for a NK hit would be on the West Sea."
These statues are a non-strategic target. The strike wouldn't be worth it
Wiping out the statues would be gratifying from a nationalistic standpoint, noted Scott Snyder, senior fellow for Korea Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. "I think this stems from a strong South Korean determination to send a message to North Korea that nuclear weapons acquisition has not given North Korea the capacity to use its nuclear status as an instrument of blackmail toward the South," he told FP. But Snyder emphasized that the statues are "non-strategic targets." Not only would they not weaken North Korea's military, but hitting them wouldn't guarantee a proportional response from the North. " The South Korean response places a premium on the North ensuring that it also has a plan for managing escalation control stemming from any conflict." Of course, no one can say for sure what the North would do.
Are you crazy? This would ignite a Second Korean War.
Jae H. Ku, director of the U.S.-South Korean Institute at Johns Hopkins, said this kind of a strike would almost certainly escalate the conflict beyond anyone's control. "If South Korea were to bomb the statues, this would effectively be the start of the Second Korean War," he said. "Bombing Mansudae Hill would be like the North Koreans bombing the Blue House [the South Korean president's residence]. How can either country stand down from that?"
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