No facility is more important at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the nuclear weapons research facility, than the so-called "Superblock." Situated at the heart of the 820-acre complex, the Superblock handles the facility's plutonium, a key component in nuclear weapons. The facility is protected by a mesh fence to guard against airplanes, ultra-thick walls, and Gatling guns.
But one recently spotted feature at the Superblock probably isn't part of those security arrangements. Someone -- it's unclear who -- has added a beach volleyball court inside its premises.
The United States wants China to pull back from its gambit to try to rewrite the East China Sea's status quo, but the Chinese are having none of it. On Dec. 2, the U.S. State Department said China's newly-declared air defense identification zone (ADIZ), a California-sized swath over the East China Sea that includes a disputed island chain the Chinese call the Diaoyu and the Japanese call the Senkaku, has "caused confusion and increased the risk of accidents." U.S. Vice President Joe Biden sounded a similar warning while in Tokyo, before departing for Beijing this week.
Chinese have heard this argument before, and they are still not convinced.
A spectre is haunting Poland -- the spectre of George W. Bush.
In the years following 9/11, as the White House accelerated efforts to strike back at al Qaeda, the CIA detained two high-ranking al Qaeda operatives, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah. Both those men are now being held at the Guantánamo Bay prison, but prior to being shipped off to Cuba, the two men allege that they were tortured at secret CIA prisons in Poland.
That's a history that Polish authorities would rather forget, and on Monday and Tuesday government representatives went through the strained motions of trying to defend their country against allegations that Nashiri and Zubaydah had their human rights violated while on Polish soil. The two men have brought suit against the Polish government before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, which is currently trying to establish the facts in a case that has already deeply embarrassed the Polish government.
The case goes to the heart of Poland's political future. Since breaking off from the Soviet Union in 1989, Poland has established itself as a close ally of the United States. In the aftermath of 9/11, Poland was one of the few European countries to fully back the Bush administration's wartime efforts in not only Afghanistan but also Iraq. Now, Poland is moving back toward Europe, having joined the European Union in 2004 and serving as a bulwark of European influence in the east.
The case in Strasbourg has become a litmus test for the Polish government's allegiances and convictions. Torn between its ties to the United States and its role as a regional human rights champion -- both of which have historically been a great source of pride for the country -- Poland is facing a painful dilemma in which the imperatives of America's war on terror have run headfirst into Poland's -- and Europe's -- human rights commitments.
For the past several weeks, the world's attention has been fixed on a Geneva luxury hotel where Western negotiators and their Iranian counterparts have flitted in and out in search of a deal to end the stand-off over Tehran's nuclear program. But the real action, it turns out, took place 3,000 miles away in the Omani city of Muscat.
Working through the Sultan Qaboos-bin-Said, the ruler of Oman, U.S. diplomats have secretly huddled with a team of Iranian diplomats since 2011 to carry out bilateral talks aimed at securing an agreement to put the brakes on Iran's nuclear ambitions. While negotiations in Geneva appear to have generated all-important consensus among Western powers, the meat of the agreement looks to have been hammered out in Muscat, far from the prying eyes of the international media gathered in the Swiss city.
That subplot -- secret negotiations carried out in a little-known Middle Eastern capital known for the production of exceptionally aromatic frankincense -- has added a level of subterfuge to what is already one of the biggest diplomatic developments in recent memory. That a landmark nuclear deal could be worked out in secret is perhaps not surprising but it does cast the spotlight on the man who shepherded the agreement. Just who is Sultan Qaboos?
MOHAMMED MAHJOUB/AFP/Getty Images
If Michel Djotodia, the Central African Republic's rebel leader turned interim president, is to be believed, Joseph Kony, the head of the infamous Lord's Resistance Army, is about to emerge from the jungle and surrender. "It's true, Joseph Kony wants to come out of the bush," Djotodia told the Guardian. "We are negotiating with him." Reports suggest that Kony is sheltering near the town of Nzako and asking intermediaries for food and supplies.
Let's just say that analysts tracking Kony are, well, skeptical about that claim. What's more likely, they say, is that the government is talking to a group of LRA fighters, possibly defectors, who may have no affiliation with Kony.
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Yemen has sentenced eight sailors for smuggling arms to local rebels. The crew of the Jihan sailors received sentences ranging from one to six years in prison; the alleged mastermind of the operation, tried in absentia, received ten. No one in the Jihan's crew is Iranian, but Tehran's presence was certainly felt during the trial -- and is the answer to what the Jihan and its deadly cargo were doing in the Gulf of Aden in the first place.
On Jan. 23, the Yemeni military, working closely with the U.S. Navy, stopped a 130-foot sailboat off the coast of al Ghaydah, a Yemeni city near the Oman border. A search of the ship, according to Yemeni officials, revealed that it was carrying an entire arsenal of Chinese surface-to-air missiles, C4 explosives, rocket propelled grenades, mortar shells, and other military equipment bound for Houthi rebels, a Shia revivalist movement that has waged an intermittent war for autonomy in Yemen's northern Saada province over the past decade. The eight-person crew of the ship, all Yemenis, was arrested for arms smuggling.
Almost immediately, Iran was fingered as being behind the deal. It wouldn't be the first time -- the Yemeni government has accused Iran of supporting the Houthis for years, with little evidence to show for it. But starting in 2012, as other ships smuggling arms were intercepted, including some shipments being directed through Turkey to mask their origin, U.S. officials started finding the Yemeni accusations more credible. These shipments, Yemeni officials said, contained heavy weapons and the materials for making explosively formed projectiles (EFPs), a lethal variety of roadside bomb that was commonly used by Iranian-allied Shiite militants against U.S. soldiers in Iraq. The timing, though, was strange. After fighting a half-dozen "Saada wars" under President Ali Abdullah Saleh between 2004 and 2010, the Houthis had been relatively quiet since the start of the country's revolution in early 2011, some even coming to the capital, Sanaa, to participate in sit-in protests against the government.
That lull has come to an end this month with a fresh round of fighting between Houthis and Salafists in the city of Dammaj, which was a flashpoint during the Saada wars. Over several decades, Salafism that has spread from Saudi Arabia, along with the kingdom's large patronage network among the Yemeni tribes, has reshaped Yemen's religious landscape. Dammaj's Dar al-Hadith institute, a center of Salafist study, is emblematic of the growth of Salafism in Yemeni society that the Houthi movement was in many ways a reaction against. Clashes over Dar al-Hadith over the past two weeks, which have killed over 100 people and persisted despite attempts to find a diplomatic solution, has drawn the attention of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which announced its "total solidarity with our Sunni brothers in the centre in Dammaj," adding that the Houthis's "crimes against the Sunni people will not pass without punishment or disciplinary action."
Iran has been a vocal supporter of the Houthis, part and parcel with Tehran's self-appointed role as the defender of the Middle East's Shiite communities -- though the Iranian leadership practices a different variation of Shiism than the Houthis. "Salafis Continue Attacking Houthis in Northern Yemen," begins one recent Iranian report on the fighting in Dammaj, "Al-Qaeda threatens Yemeni Shia community," reads another. But Iran's interest in Yemen goes beyond cheerleading and quietly smuggling weapons to the Houthis based on their shared Shia heritage: It's also a contested sphere of influence in the Saudi-Iranian cold war. Iran has also tried to make inroads with Yemen's democracy activists, as well, regardless of their religion. Supporting the Houthis is "an indirect means to attack the Saudis," Reuel Marc Gerecht, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies told FP. When it comes to the different sects of Shiism practiced by Iran and the Houthis, Iran "is ecumenical about these things, especially when the shared foe is the Saudi family."
The Saada conflict is often overlooked amid Yemen's al Qaeda insurgency and Southern separatist movements. But the recent flare-up on Yemen's forgotten battlefield is and the Jihan sentencing are quiet signs that Iranian-Saudi cold war is still heating up where their proxies meet.
MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
Over the past 10 days, two horrific attacks have shaken China -- but Chinese Internet censors seem interested in only one. On Oct. 28, five people died and dozens were injured when an SUV plowed into a crowd right near Tiananmen, the massive public square in the heart of Beijing. Authorities called it an act of terrorism by Uighurs, an ethnic minority mostly located in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang, and censors clamped down hard, scrubbing virtually any mention of the incident from online discourse.
Then, on Nov. 6, an unknown perpetrator, or perpetrators, detonated what appear to have been home-made bombs outside a government building in Taiyuan, the capital of northern Shanxi province, killing one and injuring eight. That bombing, however, triggered a flurry of candid, often vitriolic online discussion lauding violence against the government and speculation about possible links to the first attack. Mei Xinyu, an economist and columnist, wrote on Sina Weibo, China's Twitter, that the explosion "was rather expertly done, probably the work of a terrorist organization." Another user invoked a recent U.S. tragedy: "Was this a terrorist attack like the one in Tiananmen? I am beginning to get a taste of how the evil Americans felt after 9/11 happened." Yet the censors appear to have done little to halt the discussion.
What does the divergent reaction say about what the Chinese government may be thinking? It's almost impossible to divine the thoughts and motivations of an apparatus so opaque and multifarious. But the stark contrast between the reactions of the propaganda apparatus to the two incidents suggests Chinese authorities probably do not think Uighurs were responsible for the Taiyuan incident. In the case of the Tiananmen attack, Beijing worried anti-Uighur chatter could go viral, potentially raising ethnic tensions that have turned deadly in the past. With Taiyuan, however, censors have allowed thousands of comments to flow, even those speculating about Uighur involvement. If the authorities believed the two attacks were connected, they would have subjected chatter about the Taiyuan bombing to a much stricter fate.
That doesn't mean information has flowed freely. Local papers in and around Taiyuan did not carry front-page coverage of the news in their Nov. 7 editions. But when Weibo users mocked these omissions, their comments made it onto the Chinese social web -- and stayed there.
The Supreme Court has doubts as to whether a domestic, if gruesome, argument is exactly like a full-blown civil war, and whether a scorned wife who burned the thumb of her husband's mistress is in the same category as Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
The high court, led by Justice Roberts, heard arguments on Nov. 5th in the controversial case of Carol Anne Bond, the microbiologist-turned-Poison-Ivy of suburban Philadelphia who spread a toxic mixture on her husband's lover's doorknob, car door and mailbox, after she found out about the affair and the mistress's pregnancy. As the mixture was orange, Bond's target got away with a mere burn to the thumb.
Bond has been tried under a federal law implemented to comply with the Chemical Weapons Convention treaty. Solicitor General Donald Verilli wrote in his brief that the "law generally prohibits use of a chemical that can cause death, temporary incapacitation, or permanent harm to another, unless such use is for a peaceful purpose." And because trying to poison your former best friend cannot be described as a "peaceful purpose," Bond was accused of using a chemical weapon.
Several Supreme Court justices expressed their shock during the November hearing that the local case was prosecuted under the chemical weapons law. It is "unimaginable that you would bring this prosecution," said the "flabbergasted" Justice Anthony Kennedy. Six of the court's justices agreed with Bond's lawyer who said that a treaty cannot give Congress "police power," which is reserved for the state.
Conservatives are up in arms about the Bond case, accusing the Obama administration of governmental overreach, as the case could have been brought under Pennsylvania criminal law instead of a federal one.
"The questions raised by this case go to the heart of our constitutional system: Does the federal government, through the treaty power, have authority to trump our system of federalism and separation of powers? " asked Republican Senator Ted Cruz in a Washington Post Op-Ed.
But the case raises another larger question -- the definition of "Weapons of Mass Destruction." Carol Anne Bond in her inept retaliation effort used an arsenic-based mixture, the ingredients for which she stole from her company and bought online. Bashar al-Assad's government declared 1,290 tons of chemical agents and precursors.
Mozambique has been a country on the rise in recent years. In 1992, it concluded 17 years of civil war with the Rome General Peace Accords. And after a period of dependence on international aid, its economy has begun to come into its own, as the country has attracted energy companies from around the world to develop untapped oil and coal resources. The Mozambican economy was projected to grow 7 percent this year, but progress may be derailed if the country lapses back into violence.
That seems more likely today than at any other point since the Rome Accords were signed 15 years ago. On Monday, Mozambican government forces raided the headquarters of the opposition movement, Renamo, forcing the organization's leader, Afonso Dhlakama, to flee. The organization then announced its withdrawal from the 1992 accords, and on Tuesday staged an attack on a police station in the town of Maringue (no casualties were reported). It's not the first time Renamo has clashed with the government, which since 1992 has been headed by its civil war rival, the Frelimo party -- Renamo skirmished with government forces earlier this year in April and June. But the withdrawal from the Rome Accords is a significant move, marking the end of one of Africa's most successful peace treaties and the culmination of a five-year drift towards violence.
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On Saturday, U.S. Navy SEALs captured Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, better known by his nom de guerre, Abu Anas al-Libi, in a brazen raid on his home in Tripoli, Libya. Libi was indicted in New York in 2000 for his role in al Qaeda's bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and is believed to have played a role in revitalizing al Qaeda's operations in North Africa in recent years. The SEALs whisked Libi to the USS San Antonio, which was waiting offshore, where he is "currently lawfully detained under the law of war" as an enemy combatant, according to the Pentagon.
"Warsame is the model for this guy," an unnamed official told the New York Times. That would be Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, an al-Shabab military commander seized in Somalia on April 19, 2011. He was then held and interrogated by a special American interrogation team comprised of representatives from the Department of Justice, the intelligence community, and the military aboard the USS Boxer for two months, before being read his Miranda rights and turned over to the FBI. After another week of interrogation, Warsame was indicted on June 30, 2011 and formally arrested on July 3. While only the testimony he gave the FBI was admissible in court, the intelligence he shared with U.S. interrogators before being read his Miranda rights could be used to inform U.S. military strikes or CIA operations against terrorist groups. Warsame later pleaded guilty and elected to cooperate with U.S. officials.
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Sabrina Fine/Released
Yes, the U.S. government shutdown is equal parts embarrassing and infuriating. Yes, it is putting the kibosh on services as basic as food programs and flu shots. But no, the United States is still not a failed state, much as many people seem to be enjoying asking the question --at least not according to the judgment of the folks at the Fund for Peace, who put together the annual Failed States Index in collaboration with FP.
The United States currently ranks a solidly not-failed 159th out of 178 states on the Fund's annual index, which orders countries based on how they score across 12 indicators, and it would take a big hit to push America into failed territory.
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Two journalists have now been confirmed killed in clashes that erupted last night as the Egyptian military began clearing sit-ins by supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsy. Mick Deane, a 15-year veteran cameraman for Sky News, and Habiba Abd El Aziz, a 26-year-old Emirati journalist for the publication Xpress, were both killed by gunfire.
Other journalists in Cairo have been wounded or detained by the military. Erin Cunningham, Middle East editor for GlobalPost, has compiled a series of their tweets, including:
Authorities knew full well that I'm a journalist while arresting me today. It actually seemed to get me some extra punches.— Mike Giglio (@mike_giglio) August 14, 2013
Cops took my laptop, opened it on the scene. Then punched me in the head until I gave them the password. Laptop, wallet, cell not returned.— Mike Giglio (@mike_giglio) August 14, 2013
Police officer who told me earlier I was "provoking" him by writing in my notebook now says: "if I see u again I will shoot you in the leg"— Abigail Hauslohner (@ahauslohner) August 14, 2013
Reuters photojournalist Asmaa Waguih is being moved to the international medical center after she was shot in the leg— Halim ???? (@HaleemElsharani) August 14, 2013
Press intimidation is hardly new in Egypt -- it was a staple of the Mubarak regime, and it continued during Egypt's military-led transition, under the Morsy government, and now under the military-backed government of President Adly Mansour, which came to power on July 3. But Sherif Mansour, program coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa at the Committee to Protect Journalists, says it's getting worse.
MOSAAB EL-SHAMY/AFP/Getty Images
Even the spokesman for the Yemeni embassy in Washington, D.C. is having a hard time believing a plot by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula that the Yemeni government says it foiled.
Several news agencies -- including the BBC, the New York Times, and Bloomberg, among others -- reported this morning that the Yemeni government claimed it had stopped a large AQAP attack in Yemen's Hadhramaut province. As the BBC reported:
Yemeni government spokesman Rajeh Badi said the plot involved blowing up oil pipelines and taking control of certain cities -- including two ports in the south, one of which accounts for the bulk of Yemen's oil exports and is where a number of foreign workers are employed.
"There were attempts to control key cities in Yemen like Mukala and Bawzeer," said Mr Badi.
"This would be co-ordinated with attacks by al-Qaeda members on the gas facilities in Shebwa city and the blowing up of the gas pipe in Belhaf city."
That didn't sound right to Mohammed Albasha, a spokesman for the Yemeni embassy, and he said so on his personal Twitter account:
MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
As new details have emerged about the terrorist threat that forced the closure of 19 U.S. diplomatic posts and the evacuation of American and British personnel from Yemen, officials have repeatedly raised alarms about how remarkably specific this particular threat was -- in terms of the size and timing of the planned attack (administration officials are telling reporters that the alert originated with intercepted communications between al Qaeda's leadership in Pakistan and its Yemeni affiliate, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula). But specifics about the intended target of the attack have yet to leak.
Still, based on the U.S. response to the threat and AQAP's track record, it wouldn't be surprising if U.S. embassies were discussed. According to the private U.S. counterterrorism intelligence company IntelCenter, AQAP has mentioned the United States in its messages 16 times this year alone -- making America far and away AQAP's favorite target. (In comparison, the second-most threatened country, Yemen, has only been mentioned eight times, followed by France with six mentions.)
In a separate analysis, IntelCenter found that AQAP has publicly discussed attacking embassies seven times since December 2009. Last September, in a statement issued shortly after the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, AQAP praised the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and urged others to emulate the attack: "[W]henever a Muslim gets hold of US ambassadors or delegates, he has the best example in the act of the grandsons of Omar Mukhtar in Libya -- who slaughtered the US ambassador -- may Allah reward them. Let the step of expelling embassies and consulates be a milestone to free the Muslim lands from the American domination and arrogance."
Update: Commissioner Georgieva's comments about cases of polio reappearing in Syria have been refuted by the World Health Organization, which has no confirmed cases of polio in Syria or the Syrian refugee diaspora. FP has learned that the European Commission has followed up with its source for the information in the Lebanese government and now believes detected symptoms of acute flaccid paralysis are being caused by diseases other than polio. The post's headline has been revised to reflect this.
Original Post: The lawless conflict in Syria is rekindling dangers -- from disease to forms of political violence -- that have been dormant for decades, Kristalina Georgieva, the European Union's Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid, and Crisis Response, told FP on Monday. "We have spent, as humanity, decades to eradicate polio," she said in a conversation at FP's office, "only to see it again now because of this negligence to simple, basic rules of war -- even in a war there are rules to be followed."
According to the World Health Organization, polio was eradicated in Syria in 1995. But the disease has returned during the country's civil war. "To get polio, that was eradicated, to return," Georgieva said, "this is not only a danger for the Syrians, and it is criminal for the children of this country, but it is a danger for Lebanon and Jordan and Turkey and Egypt and the rest of the world because the refugees will bring it out. We have already gotten reports that cases of polio are being registered among the refugee population." Other diseases -- including measles, typhoid, cholera, tuberculosis, and leishmaniasis, informally called the "Aleppo boil" -- have also proliferated in the absence of professional medical care.
JM LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images
A new global survey from the Pew Research Center has revealed a striking difference of opinion along gender lines. The issue? Drone strikes.
"It's one of the most extreme gender differences we've ever seen [on an issue]," Bruce Stokes, Director of the Global Economic Program at the Pew Research Center, told Foreign Policy.
In 31 out of 39 countries surveyed, at least half of respondents disapprove of U.S. drone strikes "targeting extremists in places such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia." When looking at the gender break down, double-digit gaps were found in many countries with the highest gap in Japan where 41 percent of men approve of U.S. drone strikes while only 10 percent of women do. (The gender divide grew in Japan this year -- last year 32 percent of men approved while only 11 percent of women did.)
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Speaking on a 16th birthday that she nearly didn't live to see, Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani education rights advocate targeted by the Taliban, called on an assembly at the United Nations on Friday to invest in educational opportunities for children around the globe and particularly for girls in the developing world.
She described her ordeal matter-of-factly, saying, "On the 9th of October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed."
And she pushed back against her assailants' worldview. The Taliban thinks "that God is a tiny, little conservative being who would send girls to the hell just because of going to school," she observed. "The terrorists are misusing the name of Islam and Pashtun society for their own personal benefits. Pakistan is peace-loving democratic country. Pashtuns want education for their daughters and sons. And Islam is a religion of peace, humanity, and brotherhood. Islam says that it is not only each child's right to get education, rather it is their duty and responsibility."
But while the Taliban may have failed in its efforts to silence critics like Malala, Pakistan has made little headway in increasing access to education and halting violence against children in recent years. The most recent U.N. data, tracked by the Guardian, show that gender parity at all levels of education in Pakistan has plateaued, with 82 girls to every 100 boys in primary school and 73 girls to every 100 boys in secondary school -- and this does not include the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA), where the Taliban has exerted the most influence.
FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images
Judging by the latest revelations made by Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency has Microsoft firmly in its pocket.
According to an explosive Guardian report on Thursday, the NSA was granted access to Microsoft's new free email service, Outlook.com, prior to its rollout so that the agency could circumvent the service's encryption protocol and intercept chats on the web portal. Moreover, Microsoft allegedly worked hand-in-glove with the agency to give the NSA the ability to intercept video calls made via Skype.
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This week, for the sixth time in a row, Somalia topped Foreign Policy's Failed States Index, reinforcing its image as "the most failed of failed states." And while it's true that the country remains fragmented, with two autonomous breakaway regions, a persistent terrorist threat from al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab fighters, and foreign-financed warlords in the wide swaths of the country beyond the sovereign control of the central government, Somalia has taken tenuous steps toward asserting self-governance in the past year. The mandate of Somalia's transitional government ended in August 2012, and since then the country has come under the control of a new government in Mogadishu, formed under the auspices of a constitution approved in 2012.
In step with these developments, the new Somali political scene is quickly acquiring the trappings of other, more functional governments -- including the country's first think tank. Established in Mogadishu in January 2013, the Heritage Institute for Policy Studies (HIPS) has begun writing reports and policy papers to advise the nascent Somali government, international organizations, and other local actors. In its first six months, HIPS has provided commentary and guidance on topics as diverse as Somali refugees in Kenya, educational opportunities in Somalia, and domestic diplomatic initiatives in Kismayo and the self-declared state of Somaliland.
TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images
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.
Samuel Johnson once said that "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." Patriotism, and bad analogies.
For the uninitiated, Godwin's Law is one of the cardinal rules of the Internet. Coined in 1990 by Internet law expert Mike Godwin, the principle -- confirmed by countless contentious comment threads across the web -- is that the longer an online discussion persists, the greater the odds become that someone will make a comparison to Nazis or Adolf Hitler, to the point of near-inevitability. Nothing ends a debate faster than the hyperbolic unsupported counterfactual: "You know who else did [INSERT SUBJECT OF ARGUMENT HERE]? Hitler!"
But Hitler and the Nazis aren't the only recurring straw men used to end debates. Over the past 12 years, it's become clear that the longer a national security debate persists, the more likely it becomes that someone will try to end it by suggesting something -- some policy, some person, some technology -- "could have prevented 9/11."
The implication is that if something "could have prevented 9/11," then it must be justified. It's a trump card, a conversation-ender -- and it's impossible to prove. But that hasn't stopped people from using it -- from FBI Director Robert Mueller testifying on the Hill on Thursday to actor Mark Wahlberg's 2012 tough-guy claims. Here's a brief sampling of the people and policies that "could have prevented 9/11."
Assessments of the 9/11 attacks -- by everyone from members of the independent 9/11 Commission to Bush administration officials -- have time and again pointed out that there was no single point of failure that allowed the attacks to occur, and no "silver bullet" that could have prevented them. But acknowledging that is no way to cut short a debate about national security.
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Barack Obama's counterterrorism speech on Thursday has drawn mixed reviews here in the United States (here at FP, Rosa Brooks gave the address an A-, while Emile Simpson found it to be a "conceptual car crash") -- and reactions have been similar in the countries that may be most affected by the president's proposals.
In the Pakistani press, the takeaway from the speech was the Obama administration's position on drone strikes, which have targeted militants in the tribal areas along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. With a touch of optimism, Pakistani reports listed the revised criteria for drone strikes described in the speech and new "presidential policy guidance" as a major shift in U.S. policy. The reports also took special note of Obama's acknowledgement of the "thousands of Pakistani soldiers [who] have lost their lives fighting extremists."
For some in Pakistan, though, including the government's Foreign Ministry, the speech was too little, too late. The ministry issued a statement saying that, while officials agreed with Obama's comment that "force alone cannot make us safe," the Pakistani government "has consistently maintained that the drone strikes are counter-productive, entail loss of innocent civilian lives, have human rights and humanitarian implications and violate the principles of national sovereignty, territorial integrity and international law." In an op-ed in Dawn, Pakistani author Rafia Zakaria wrote that the speech would have been better two years ago. In the time since the May 2011 Osama bin Laden raid, she pointed out, terrorism in Pakistan has metastasized as groups like the Pakistani Taliban have been emboldened by airstrikes:
The United States delegitimised the Pakistani state by continuing its onslaught of drone strikes year after year. Unheeded by both Parliamentary resolutions that denied any tacit agreement on drones and the statements of UN Rapporteurs calling them illegal; the Predators continued to fly, releasing Hellfire missiles over Pakistani territory and treating Pakistani borders as arbitrary impediments to American strategy.... The Tehreek-e-Taliban made the same point as the Americans, that the Pakistani state was not able to protect its own people, that their invasive capacity to kill was greater than the government's capacity to protect and that the writ of the state simply did not apply.
Meanwhile, in Yemen, despite the prevalence of U.S. drone strikes in the country, the reaction has focused on Obama's comments about the Guantánamo Bay detention center, where Yemeni nationals make up the majority of remaining detainees. The most-read article on the Yemen Post website on Friday, titled "Gitmo detainees could be heading home to Yemen soon," led with:
Following weeks of an intense political debate between Yemeni and American officials regarding the fate of Yemen 56 cleared terror detainees in Guantanamo Bay prison, America's infamous terror penitentiary, US President Barack Obama said he is ready to resume the transfers of prisoners, hence ended his self-imposed moratorium. In a speech on Thursday at the National Defense University President Obama made clear he wished to reduce Guantanamo "detainee population" ahead of the potential closure of the facility altogether.
The article also noted the looming political fight in Washington, stating, "While the news will come as a relief to many Yemeni officials and the families of detainees, not all American officials agree with their president's decision." The Yemeni government issued a press release and the Yemen Post article quotes officials from the country's Human Rights Ministry confirming U.S.-Yemeni cooperation on a new rehabilitation program in Yemen for repatriated detainees.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
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:
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Donald Rumsfeld has never had a reputation for being particularly tactful or articulate (let's all take a moment to remember how Saturday Night Live portrayed him, even before the invasion of Iraq), but he's demonstrated a habit of owning his mistakes -- in his own way. The former defense secretary took his infamous, convoluted, "There are known knowns" comment, made in a press conference in 2002, and appropriated it as the title of his 2011 memoir, Known and Unknown. And now he's doing it again as he promotes his new book, Rumsfeld's Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life, a collection of aphorisms and rules to live by -- if only Donald Rumsfeld took his own advice.
"You go to war with the Army you have" may have been a gaffe when Rumsfeld said it to a National Guard soldier asking about jerry-rigged armor on Humvees, but in Rumsfeld's Rules, it's a pearl of wisdom. And when he's not rehabilitating his own troublesome turns of phrase, he often cites the advice of others with little self-awareness. All of this has made for an incredibly awkward book tour.
There was the time, for instance, when Rumsfeld cited one of his rules at a book party in Washington on Tuesday: "Every government looking at the actions of another government and trying to explain them always exaggerates rationality and conspiracy and underestimates incompetence and fortuity," he observed. "I learned that from watching you!" Circuit Court Judge Laurence Silberman, who coined the rule, reportedly called out.
And when Rumsfeld spoke to Politico's Patrick Gavin, he wasted no time contradicting himself: "If you have rules, never have more than 10," he joked of his 380-rule book. Then again, he added, "All generalizations are wrong, even this one."
It's complicated, you see.
For example, when Rumsfeld said, "It's easier to get into something than it is to get out," he's not talking about the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In a conversation with Kai Ryssdal, the host of American Public Media's Marketplace, Rumsfeld clarified that he was thinking of a much smaller deployment of U.S. forces 20 years earlier:
I thought of that when I was President Reagan's Middle East envoy and we had 241 Marines killed at Beirut, at the airport. And I concluded then that the United States has to be careful about putting ground forces in because we're such a big target.
"I sorta can't believe these words are coming out of your mouth," an incredulous Ryssdal interjects. When Ryssdal asks if he's ever considered apologizing, Rumsfeld replies, "Well, my goodness, you know, as Napoleon said, 'I've been mistaken so many times I don't even blush for it anymore.' Sure, you see things that don't turn out the way you hope. You look at intelligence -- and of course, if intelligence were a fact, it wouldn't be intelligence."
Incidentally, "If intelligence were a fact, it wouldn't be intelligence" is not one of Rumsfeld's rules.
You can listen to Ryssdal's whole, cringe-inducing interview below. And if you're wondering how Rumsfeld is doing, he'd like you to know, he's "happy as a clam."
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On Wednesday, Syrian rebels in the northeast outskirts of the flashpoint city of Aleppo made an ambitious attempt to storm the city's main prison, setting off two car bombs near the jail's entrance at dawn, according to the Associated Press. The AP, citing the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reports that Syrian warplanes prevented the opposition fighters from breaking though the prison's inner walls.
The rebels were driven back even though they appear to have been observing the neighborhood for days, according to videos uploaded to YouTube. One, posted last week, shows a rebel pointing out a "counterterrorism building" down the street from the prison, while another, filmed as the attack began, shows a truck-mounted machine gun tucked away in a shelter overlooking the prison. A third appears to have been filmed from the opposite side of the prison complex, looking back toward the village where the machine gun was located.
At some point in the fighting, the rebels appear to have breached a wall near the prison. Below watchtowers, fighters take turns shooting AK-47s through holes in the plaster. One rebel, in the video below, tells the camera, "We have assembled more than 5,000 mujahideen ready to liberate the prison and to help the brothers and fight for the brothers.... We are mujahideen and we will liberate the prisoners in the central prison!" When he calls on his comrades to chant "God is great!" though, they sound disheartened.
According to the AP, the rebels have since withdrawn from the vicinity of the prison.
UPDATE: The Telegraph reports rebels have said they withdrew from the area of the prison to prevent more casualties after government forces began executing prisoners and throwing the bodies from windows.
On Friday, we wrote about the arrest of Egyptian activist Ahmed Maher, who was detained at Cairo International Airport as he returned from a series of meetings with officials and speaking engagements in the United States. The Daily News Egypt reports that Maher was released on Saturday after spending the night in Cairo's al-Aqrab prison, and that he remains under investigation for "inciting a protest" in March at the home of the minister of the interior. Several Egyptian political parties have condemned Maher's arrest, though they have also distanced themselves from his politics and protest tactics. Upon his release, Maher tweeted out thanks to his supporters and urged them to show the same support for Egyptian political activists still in prison.
Maher co-founded the April 6 Youth Movement, which was instrumental in Egypt's 2011 revolution. Though he supported Mohamed Morsy's presidential campaign, he has since become a vocal critic of Morsy's government and the pace of security sector reforms.
In addition to still being under investigation, Ahram Online reports that Maher was injured in a severe car crash today. The circumstances of the crash are unclear, and Maher is now filing a police report to determine if the collision "was caused by a criminal act."
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With Pakistani elections looming on May 11, it seems like every day brings a new report about destabilizing attacks in the country. The unrelenting violence, which Pakistan's Express Tribune has dubbed the "Reign of Terror," includes assassinations that have delayed elections in several districts and left a staggering number of casualties. Bloomberg has compiled the most thorough timeline of the attacks and estimates that, in the past month, "at least 118 people have been killed and 494 injured."
Terrorists -- mostly from Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), but also Baluchi separatists -- have pursued politicians in particular, and candidates have been gunned down in the streets. On May 3, Saddiq Zaman Khattak, a parliamentary candidate for the secular Awami National Party (ANP), was shot and killed along with his three-year-old son while returning from Friday prayers in Karachi. Gunmen ambushed ANP candidate Muhammad Islam on April 27, killing his brother in the attack. And Fakhrul Islam, a provincial assembly candidate for the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party in Hyderabad, was assassinated by the TTP on April 11.
Bombings, some of which have targeted candidates, have also indiscriminately killed their supporters. The deadliest blast killed at least 20 individuals at an ANP rally on April 16. The attacks have targeted election events, but also included car bombings and bomb and grenade attacks on campaign offices and potential polling places. Just today, gunmen abducted Ali Haider Gilani, a provincial assembly candidate for the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and son of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, after killing his bodyguards. It is the first time a candidate has been kidnapped in the rash of attacks.
"It is pretty clear that this is the most violent election I have witnessed in 23 years" of election monitoring in Pakistan, Peter Manikas of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs told the Washington Post. "It's a different type of violence in trying to disrupt the election as a whole. It makes everything unsafe."
Early in April, the TTP singled out three political parties -- ANP, MQM, and PPP -- as the targets of their attacks, but in the past week, not even the fundamentalist Jamiat-e-Ulema (JeU) party has been spared. On May 6, a JeU rally was bombed in Kurram, killing 25, though a TTP spokesman was quick to assert that the Taliban didn't oppose the party so much as the candidate, "who they said had betrayed Arab fighters to U.S. agents," according to Reuters. The next day, a suicide bombing in Hangu targeting another JeU rally killed 10. In a new statement quoted by Reuters, TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud expressed opposition to the political process as a whole, writing, "We don't accept the system of infidels which is called democracy."
The worst violence may in fact be yet to come, as Pakistanis head to the polls this weekend. TTP pamphlets posted in Karachi are warning potential voters to stay home, the Telegraph reports. "If you stay away you will protect yourself," one reads. "If not you are responsible for your fate.... If you go there you will be responsible for the loss of your life and your loved ones." In anticipation of attacks, more than 600,000 security personnel will be on duty for the elections, with five to ten guards at each polling place, according to the Associated Press.
It's a far cry from the atmosphere you'd hope for to mark the first time in Pakistani history that a democratically elected civilian government has finished its term.
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Here's a new data point to drop into the drone debate: A 9-inch remote-control drone helicopter that spent the last week tangled in the arms of a Lady Justice statue atop a courthouse in Marion, Ohio -- "rest[ing] on the hilt of her sword," as the AP poetically put it -- was finally liberated over the weekend by a man with an extension pole (county officials had previously said they wouldn't spend public resources to retrieve it). The camera-equipped drone had been filming a tourism video for the city when a gust of wind swept it into the statue's arms. On Tuesday, the Marion Star posted footage, above, of the drone's fateful last flight.
It's a story that seems full of symbolism. But how should we interpret it? Here are some conclusions you could draw:
a) The murky legality surrounding the use of unmanned aerial vehicles will ultimately give way to a standardized system of rules and regulations (the swift gust of wind is Sen. Rand Paul)
b) Drones will eventually be freed from legal constraints and set aloft to do as they please (the man with the long pole is Attorney General Eric Holder)
c) Drone use by private citizens is a threat to law and order (Lady Justice represents civil liberty/privacy groups, the man filming the tourism video is Rosa Brooks)
Of course, then there's Marion Sheriff Tim Bailey, who had this to say about the drone owner, Terry Cline:
"Look," the sheriff said. "Let's put this in perspective. He ran a helicopter into county property. It's no different than if someone hit the courthouse with their car. We took a report. We're done."
Think about it.
As Barack Obama heads to Mexico, U.S. involvement in Mexico's battle against drug cartels is getting a lot of press. But it's worth noting that Mexico's notorious narcotics trade isn't just Mexico's problem anymore. And Obama should be well aware of that, considering that this past February Chicago declared Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán its first "Public Enemy No. 1" since Al Capone. "While Chicago is 1,500 miles from Mexico, the Sinaloa drug cartel is so deeply embedded in the city that local and federal law enforcement are forced to operate as if they are on the border," Jack Riley, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Chicago office, told CNN.
The infiltration of the Windy City shows the extent to which Mexican drug syndicates have made inroads in the United States -- the Associated Press and others have reported that cartel cells are operating in Atlanta, Ga., Louisville, Ky., Columbus, Ohio, and rural North Carolina. In fact, according to an excellent National Post infographic based on data from a U.S. Justice Department report and other sources, it's much easier to list states that don't have a drug trade tied to Mexican gangs. There are only twelve that haven't reported the presence of one of four Mexican cartels since 2008: Alabama, Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. The Mexican drug trade is everywhere else.
Detected cartel operations range from traditional drug-running to using a horse ranch as a front for laundering drug money, as one group did in Oklahoma. The Sinaloa cartel, which has emerged as Mexico's dominant syndicate, has carved out new territory in the United States by controlling 80 percent of its meth trade (Mexican cartels have come to dominate the U.S. market by aggressively bumping up the purity of their meth while dropping the price per gram).
All told, Mexican cartels reside in 1,200 American communities as of 2011, up from 230 in 2008, according to the Associated Press. Below is a map that shows just how many states have been penetrated, according to the National Post's special report on the topic.
View Cartel Penetration in the US in a larger map
Fraying cooperation in the drug war will surely be top of mind as President Obama meets with his counterpart Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico this week. And perhaps nothing encapsulates Mexico's growing impatience with America's heavy-handed approach to combating drug trafficking than this nugget from a New York Times report on Tuesday. Apparently, the United States has been subjecting Mexican security officials to regular polygraph tests in an effort to identify rotten apples. But that could soon change:
Shortly after Mexico's new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, took office in December, American agents got a clear message that the dynamics, with Washington holding the clear upper hand, were about to change.
"So do we get to polygraph you?" one incoming Mexican official asked his American counterparts, alarming United States security officials who consider the vetting of the Mexicans central to tracking down drug kingpins. The Mexican government briefly stopped its vetted officials from cooperating in sensitive investigations. The Americans are waiting to see if Mexico allows polygraphs when assigning new members to units, a senior Obama administration official said.
While the practice is not widely publicized, it has been an element of the two countries' security relationship for some time. In a 1997 article on U.S.-Mexican plans to join hands in the drug war, the Associated Press noted that Mexican counternarcotics agents would undergo the "kind of extensive background, financial, and polygraph tests required of U.S. drug agents." The plans came after the arrest of Mexico's drug czar, Gen. Jesús Gutiérrez Rebollo, for taking bribes from drug traffickers.
What's more, the United States hasn't just applied this policy to Mexico. In 2012, the Los Angeles Times reported that Washington has given elite Colombian counternarcotics agents polygraph tests as well.
The bad blood over polygraph tests isn't the only sign that U.S.-Mexican cooperation on the drug war is deteriorating. In an interview with the Spanish news agency EFE on his new book, the Mexican journalist Jesús Esquivel claimed that the Mexican military recently waved off a U.S. offer to capture famed drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Gúzman. The United States had the Sinaloa cartel chief's location and said the operation would take only 15 minutes. So why the hang-up? Mexican military officials reportedly didn't want the American military to lead the operation.
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