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Ed Webb

Making a Killing - OCCRP - 0 views

  • Since the outbreak of war in Syria, weapons from Central and Eastern Europe have flooded the conflict zone through two distinct pipelines – one sponsored by Saudi Arabia and coordinated by the CIA, and the other funded and directed by the Pentagon.

    A series of investigations by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) have brought to light these multi-billion-dollar weapons deliveries -- exposing the misleading and potentially illegal documents on which they rely, the shady dealers at its heart of the trade, and the governments that have profited from the war.

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    Detailed reports on arms pipelines into Syria
Ed Webb

U.S. military apologizes for 'highly offensive' leaflets it distributed in Afghanistan ... - 0 views

  • The image shows a lion chasing a white dog that is meant to represent the flag of Taliban insurgents, which is white with the Shahada printed at the center. The Times obtained a copy of the leaflet from an Afghan official in Parwan.

    The Shahada, the most common recitation of faith for Muslims, states, “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his prophet.”

    Local officials in Parwan complained Tuesday night to the provincial governor, prompting a phone call to U.S. military officials in Kabul and at Bagram air base in Parwan.

    “It’s an insult to Islam,” said Waheeda Shakhar, spokeswoman for the Parwan governor. “It’s very sensitive that the Shahada is written on a dog, so it must be investigated.”

  • U.S. forces have been at war in Afghanistan for nearly 16 years, yet still find themselves tripping over cultural sensitivities
  • “The foreign forces don’t have any idea of what are the values of the Afghan people,” Shaheer said. “They’ve hired some interpreters and advisors who only know how to speak English, make money and gain trust, but really are strangers to the real values of the local people.”
Ed Webb

This bombast from Trumpland was a gift to the Iranian government | Middle East Eye - 0 views

  • Rouhani has maintained one of the most diverse political coalitions in the history of the Islamic Republic – over the duration of two election campaigns and four years in office. Now the hostile deceit from Haley and her fellow Trump administration foreign policy hawks is incentivising Iran’s disparate political factions to further strengthen ties around the shared goal of resisting and surviving American aggression
  • Haley’s screed is yet another example of bombast from Trumpland that Iranian officials can use to deflect domestic political pressure by shifting the onus of US-Iran conflict onto Washington. To that end, the growing unity amongst political elites on the issue of American aggression is also matched by increasing cohesion between state and society.
  • If Washington kills the deal, Iranians will not blame their leaders because they can correctly accuse the Trump administration for reigniting a nuclear conflict that was resolved two years ago.
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  • Political unity intact, state-society relations improved, blame shifted to the United States, rally-around-the-flag nationalism on the rise – and the Iranian government did not have to lift a finger to produce this favourable outcome. Decision-makers in Tehran may not be strategic masters, but they are masterful at taking advantage of America’s self-inflicted wounds.
  • America killing the deal will likely reduce nuclear, financial and geopolitical constraints on Iran at little cost to its political elite. If Trump’s team wants to allow Tehran to have its cake and eat it too, Iranian officials will gladly oblige.
Ed Webb

A Funeral of 2 Friends: C.I.A. Deaths Rise in Secret Afghan War - NYTimes.com - 0 views

  • there are at least 18 stars on that wall representing the number of C.I.A. personnel killed in Afghanistan — a tally that has not been previously reported, and one that rivals the number of C.I.A. operatives killed in the wars in Vietnam and Laos nearly a half century ago
  • Since 2001, as thousands of C.I.A. officers and contractors have cycled in and out of Afghanistan targeting terrorists and running sources, operatives from the Special Activities Division have been part of some of the most dangerous missions. Overall, the division numbers in the low hundreds and also operates in Somalia, Iraq, the Philippines and other areas of conflict.

    C.I.A. paramilitary officers from the division were the first Americans in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks, and they later spirited Hamid Karzai, the future president, into the country. Greg Vogle, an agency operative who took Mr. Karzai into Afghanistan, went on to run the paramilitary division and became the top spy at the C.I.A.

    The first American killed in the country, Johnny Micheal Spann, was a C.I.A. officer assigned to the Special Activities Division. He died in November 2001 during a prison uprising.

  • the C.I.A. helped build the Afghan intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security, which has long faced accusations of torturing suspected militants.
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  • paramilitary officers from the Special Activities Division have trained and advised a small army of Afghan militias known as counterterrorism pursuit teams. The militias took on greater importance under President Barack Obama, who embraced covert operations because of their small footprint and deniability.
  • The C.I.A. also spent more than a decade financing a slush fund for Mr. Karzai. Every month, agency officers would drop off cash in suitcases, backpacks and even plastic shopping bags. Mr. Karzai’s aides would use the cash to run a vast patronage network, paying off warlords, lawmakers and others they wanted to keep on their side.

    The slush fund, which was exposed in 2013, was seen by many American diplomats and other officials and experts as fueling the rampant corruption that has undermined the American effort to build a functioning democracy in Afghanistan.

  • The ranks of C.I.A. operatives aren’t easily replaced, said Mr. Stiles, the former counterterrorism analyst.

    “That’s going to be one of the challenges for the government,’’ he said. “How do we maintain the level of experience and expertise in a war that is going to last for another 20 or 30 years or longer?”

Ed Webb

Two New Books Spotlight the History and Consequences of the Suez Crisis - The New York ... - 0 views

  • The Eisenhower administration relied on the advice of officials who admired Nasser as a nationalist and anti-Communist: a secular modernizer, the long hoped-for “Arab Ataturk.” The most important and forceful of the Nasser admirers was Kermit Roosevelt, the C.I.A. officer who had done so much in 1953 to restore to power in Iran that other secular modernizer, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.
  • To befriend Nasser, the Eisenhower administration suggested a big increase in economic and military aid; pressed Israel to surrender much of the Negev to Egypt and Jordan; supported Nasser’s demand that the British military vacate the canal zone; and clandestinely provided Nasser with much of the equipment — and many of the technical experts — who built his radio station Voice of the Arabs into the most influential propaganda network in the Arab-speaking world.
  • Offers of aid were leveraged by Nasser to extract better terms from the Soviet Union, his preferred military partner. Pressure on Israel did not impress Nasser, who wanted a permanent crisis he could exploit to mobilize Arab opinion behind him. Forcing Britain out of the canal zone in the mid-50s enabled Nasser to grab the canal itself in 1956. Rather than use his radio network to warn Arabs against Communism, Nasser employed it to inflame Arab opinion against the West’s most reliable regional allies, the Hashemite monarchies, helping to topple Iraq’s regime in 1958 and very nearly finishing off Jordan’s.
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  • Eisenhower’s humiliation of Britain and France in the Suez crisis of November 1956 weakened two allies — without gaining an iota of good will from Arab nationalists. Rather than cooperate with the United States against the Soviet Union, the Arab world’s new nationalist strongmen were transfixed by their rivalries with one another
  • the deepest drivers of the Arab and Muslim states, namely their rivalries with each other for power and authority
  • “The Middle East is in the throes of an historical crisis, a prolonged period of instability. American policy can exacerbate or ameliorate the major conflicts, but . . . in the Middle East, it is prudent to assume that the solution to every problem will inevitably generate new problems. Like Sisyphus, the United States has no choice but to push the boulder up a hill whose pinnacle remains forever out of reach.”
  • The grand conspiracy was doomed to fail. The canal was blocked for months, causing a crippling oil shortage in Europe. The Arab-Israeli conflict worsened, and the Muslim world was inflamed against its old overlords in the West with lasting consequences. The botched invasion occurred just as the Soviet Union was crushing a rebellion in Hungary, its Eastern bloc satellite. When the Kremlin, seeing the opportunity to divert international attention from its own outrages, issued a letter widely interpreted as a threat to attack London and Paris with nuclear weapons, the great powers seemed for an instant to be lurching toward World War III.

    The turmoil and danger created by the Suez crisis and the Hungarian rebellion have largely faded from popular memory.

  • he was not well. “His flashes of temper and fragile nerves led some to wonder about his genetic inheritance,” von Tunzelmann writes. “His baronet father had been such an extreme eccentric — complete with episodes of ‘uncontrolled rages,’ falling to the floor, biting carpets and hurling flowerpots through plate-glass windows — that even the Wodehousian society of early-20th-century upper-class England had noticed something was up.”

    As prime minister, Sir Anthony took to calling ministers in the middle of the night to ask if they had read a particular newspaper article. “My nerves are already at breaking point,” he told his civil servants. In October 1956, he collapsed physically for a few days. According to one of his closest aides, he used amphetamines as well as heavy painkillers, and a Whitehall official said he was “practically living on Benzedrine.”

  • About two-thirds of Europe’s oil was transported through the canal; Nasser had his “thumb on our windpipe,” Eden fumed. Eden made Nasser “a scapegoat for all his problems: the sinking empire, the sluggish economy, the collapse of his reputation within his party and his dwindling popularity in the country at large,”
  • Eisenhower was not always well served by the rhetoric of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles or the machinations of his brother, Allen Dulles, the director of central intelligence. And Eisenhower had a temper. “Bombs, by God,” he shouted when the British began striking Egyptian air fields. “What does Anthony think he’s doing? Why is he doing this to me?” But Eisenhower was shrewd and he could be coldly calculating. Understanding that the British would need to buy American oil, he quietly put Britain into a financial squeeze, forcing Eden to back off the invasion.
  • the take-away from von Tunzelmann’s book is obvious: When it comes to national leadership in chaotic times, temperament matters.
Ed Webb

Kushner's Middle East trip could help boost Arab cover for Israeli-Palestinia... - 0 views

  • Jared Kushner's first solo trip to the Middle East ended with no clear progress in the US pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian peace, although the widening gap between the two parties could be overcome by an intensified push for regional support, according to a former Washington intermediary. 
  • “If the Trump administration can show how it will counter or contain the Iranians in very practical terms,” he said, that “can be used to draw the Arabs into a more active role in  peacemaking”.

    He noted that Arab countries would still require “a move from the Israelis toward the Palestinians that they could point to as a way of justifying any outreach to Israel.”

  • “simply resuming negotiations without no understandings will produce nothing but talks that go nowhere. Given the level of disbelief and cynicism, that is the last thing that is needed.”
Ed Webb

Omani foreign minister meets Tillerson as Washington seeks channel to Tehran ... - 0 views

  • “The Trump administration, just like the Obama administration before it, may have come to recognise Oman's pragmatic relationship with Iran as a policy asset,” said Sigurd Neubauer, a non-resident fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

    “Oman is able to have a pragmatic relationship with Iran because of its historic relationship with the US,” he noted, being a “strategic ally for nearly two centuries, and one of two GCC countries (along with Bahrain) to enjoy a free-trade agreement with the United States.”

Ed Webb

What's going on with Qatar? - The Washington Post - 0 views

  • The ferocity and the sheer scale of the “Qatar-bashing” articles suggest that an orchestrated campaign is underway to discredit Doha regionally but also — crucially — in the eyes of the Trump administration.
  • A convergence of factors appears to have shifted the geopolitical landscape in the Persian Gulf. The Trump administration signaled that it intends to follow a set of regional policies that are aligned far closer to those of Abu Dhabi and Riyadh than Doha. Both Mohammed bin Zayed and Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman were high-profile visitors to Washington in the run-up to the Riyadh summit with Arab and Islamic leaders.

    Further, the policy inexperience of many within Trump’s inner circle has presented an opportunity for both the Saudis and the Emiratis to shape the administration’s thinking on critical regional issues such as Iran and Islamism, both of which were evident during the Riyadh visit.

  • Key principals within the Trump administration, such as Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and CIA Director Mike Pompeo, hold views on Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood that are virtually indistinguishable from those in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are emerging as the two spearheads around which U.S. regional policies are realigning, including a set of hawkish defense and security interests
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  • There are differences between this latest disagreement and the past — not least in the way the current standoff is being played out in the media rather than behind the closed doors of leaders’ meetings — and no act equivalent to the withdrawal of the ambassadors. In fact, few officials have publicly joined the feeding frenzy and have been careful not to single Qatar out by name in calling for brotherly unity against the Iranian “menace.”

  • By allowing the media campaign to run into a second week with no apparent letup, policymakers in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi may be hoping to pressure the leadership in Doha into making concessions or watching to see whether figures within the Trump administration take the bait without having to resort to official threats or sanctions. Where this leaves the GCC as an entity in the age of Trump is anyone’s guess
Ed Webb

Just What The Middle East Needs -- $110 Billion More In Weapons | HuffPost - 1 views

  • It appears the Trump administration is counting on the country with the worst human rights record in the region to enforce peace and security in the Middle East.
  • Piled on top of this enormous arms lot are precision-guided munitions that President Obama would not sell the Saudis. That’s not because the Obama folks didn’t like selling weapons to the Saudis — Obama sold more weapons and gear to Saudi Arabia in eight years than all other previous administrations combined. No, Obama withheld precision-guided munitions because the Saudis were using U.S.-provided munitions to repeatedly target civilian and humanitarian sites in their bombing campaign inside Yemen, despite regular protests from the United States.
  • millions of Yemenis are being radicalized against the country they blame for the civilian deaths: the United States. By selling the Saudis these precision-guided weapons more not fewer civilians will be killed because it is Saudi Arabia’s strategy to starve Yemenis to death to increase their own leverage at the negotiating table. They couldn’t do this without the weapons we are selling them.
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  • The Saudis’ obsession with Iran, and the proxy wars (like Yemen) that flow from this obsession, mean that they have little bandwidth to go after extremist groups. Meanwhile, the Saudis continue to export a version of Islam called Wahhabism that is a crucial building block for the perversion of Islam parroted by groups like al Qaeda
  • we have to ask whether continuing to fuel the growing proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran is the right way to bring peace to the Middle East. To the extent this conflict is going to continue, we are clearly on the Saudis’ side, but the inarguable effect of selling more capable weapons to the Saudis is the acceleration of weapons build-up in Iran
  • feeding the arms race between the two nations probably isn’t the best long-term strategy
  • What do we have to gain by going in so enthusiastically with the Sunnis against the Shia in their fight for power in the Middle East? This isn’t our fight, and history suggests the U.S. military meddling in the Middle East ends up great for U.S. military contractors, but pretty miserable for everyone else.
  • $110 billion could educate every single one of the 30 million African primary school age children who has no access to school today...for five years
Ed Webb

Israel-US spat erupts ahead of Trump visit to region - 1 views

  • A diplomatic spat on Monday erupted between U.S. and Israeli officials, just days before a planned visit by President Donald Trump, after an American representative questioned Israel’s claim to one of the holiest sites in Judaism.
  • The Western Wall is revered as the holiest site where Jews can pray, and according to Channel 2 TV, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked to join Trump. The report said the Americans rebuffed the request, with one official telling the Israelis the site is “not your territory.” It said the comment prompted shouting from the Israeli preparatory team.
  • An official in Netanyahu’s office said the U.S. comment was “received with astonishment” and that Israel had asked the White House for an explanation.
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  • Israeli officials appear to be growing increasingly nervous over Trump’s visit
  • Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, a senior member of Netanyahu’s coalition government, voiced concern Monday that “there has been a kind of change in the spirit” of Trump’s statements since he was elected.

    Bennett said he was not sure why Trump has changed his rhetoric.

    Bennett said he welcomed Trump’s arrival next week, but said Israel also has to stick to its positions. He said Israel must oppose attempts to establish a Palestinian state and insist on Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem “forever.”

Ed Webb

Hacking Group Claims N.S.A. Infiltrated Mideast Banking System - The New York Times - 0 views

  • evidence that the N.S.A. had infiltrated the backbone of the Middle East’s banking infrastructure.

  • Among the leaks on Friday was an extensive list of PowerPoint and Excel documents that, if authentic, indicate that the N.S.A. has successfully infiltrated EastNets, a company based in Dubai that helps to manage transactions in the international bank messaging system called Swift.
  • The latest leaks suggest that, by hacking EastNets, the N.S.A. may have successfully hacked, or at minimum targeted, computers inside some of the biggest banks in the Middle East, including ones in Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates; Kuwait; Qatar; Syria; Yemen; and the Palestinian territories.
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  • On Friday, EastNets denied that it had been hacked. In a statement, the company said its Swift service bureau runs on a separate secure network that cannot be reached over the public internet. The company said the leaked documents that claimed its computers had been compromised referred to an old server that the bureau had retired in 2013.

    “While we cannot ascertain the information that has been published, we can confirm that no EastNets customer data has been compromised in any way,” Hazem Mulhim, EastNets’ chief executive, said in the statement.

  • Among those listed as having been successfully “implanted,” or infected with spyware, are Noor Bank, Tadhamon International Islamic Bank, Al Quds Bank for Development and Investment, Arcapita Bank and the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development.
Ed Webb

'It felt like the heavens were falling': Afghans reel from Moab impact | World news | T... - 2 views

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    Winning friends...
Ed Webb

President Trump's thoroughly confusing Fox Business interview, annotated - The Washingt... - 0 views

  • When you see that, I immediately called General Mattis.

    I said, what can we do?

    And they came back with a number of different alternatives.  And we hit them very hard.

    Now, are we going to get involved with Syria?

    No.  But if I see them using gas and using things that — I mean even some of the worst tyrants in the world didn't use the kind of gases that they used.  And some of the gases are unbelievably potent.

    So when I saw that, I said we have to do something.

    • Ed Webb
       
      This seems to confirm that the President decides to act based on what he sees on television.
  • people just don't see this, the level of brutality, the level of viciousness.
    • Ed Webb
       
      Plenty of people have been documenting the brutality of the conflict for over five years, including journalists and activists who have given their lives to do so.
  • I was sitting at the table.  We had finished dinner.  We're now having dessert.  And we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you've ever seen and President Xi was enjoying it.

    And I was given the message from the generals that the ships are locked and loaded, what do you do?

    And we made a determination to do it, so the missiles were on the way.  And I said, Mr. President, let me explain something to you.  This was during dessert.

    • Ed Webb
       
      I wonder if delivery of this news put Pres. Xi off his chocolate cake. It is striking that both Trump and the interviewer are astonished by guided missile technology that has been around for decades.
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  • So what happens is I said we've just launched 59 missiles heading to Iraq and I wanted you to know this. And he was eating his cake. And he was silent.
    • Ed Webb
       
      Maybe he was silent because he was very confused about why you would be attacking Iraq, rather than Syria...
  • But I think he understood the message and I understood what he was saying to me.
    • Ed Webb
       
      I am sure Xi understood what he was dealing with.
Ed Webb

Trump aide drew plan on napkin to partition Libya into three | World news | The Guardian - 0 views

  • A senior White House foreign policy official has pushed a plan to partition Libya, and once drew a picture of how the country could be divided into three areas on a napkin in a meeting with a senior European diplomat
  • Sebastian Gorka, a deputy assistant to Donald Trump under pressure over his past ties with Hungarian far-right groups, suggested the idea of partition in the weeks leading up to the US president’s inauguration, according to an official with knowledge of the matter. The European diplomat responded that this would be “the worst solution” for Libya
  • Gorka is vying for the job of presidential special envoy to Libya
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  • sharp differences have emerged over how much say Russia should have in Libya’s fate
  • While the GNA has been seen by some as the best option for achieving stability in the country, it has struggled against a rival government based in Tobruk, eastern Libya, backed by Khalifa Haftar, an anti-Islamist military strongman. Haftar, who would not back partition, has support in some parts of the Egyptian and Russian governments
  • Haftar, a 73-year-old field marshal and former Gaddafi general who later became his bitter opponent, presents himself as a bulwark against Islamism and the Muslim Brotherhood, which makes him appealing to elements of the Trump foreign policy team
  • Gorka has alarmed foreign diplomats with his views on Libya’s future. The map he drew on a napkin during the transition period cut Libya into three sections, apparently based on the old Ottoman provinces of Cyrenaica in the east, Tripolitania in the north-west and Fezzan in the south-west.
  • Gorka’s rivals for the envoy job include Pete Hoekstra, a former congressman and lobbyist, and Phillip Escaravage, a former US intelligence official who worked on Libya for more than a decade
  • At least one European ally has privately expressed frustration at the US state department’s lack of a position on Libya, voicing concerns over Russia’s growing influence
  • Representatives of the Tobruk government, including Haftar, have sought to influence the Trump administration, calling for the US to radically change its position and withdraw support for the Sarraj government.
  • Ari Ben-Menashe, an Israeli security consultant based in Canada, whose company has a $6m (£4.9m) contract to lobby on behalf of Haftar and Aguila Saleh Issa, the head of the Libyan house of representatives in Tobruk, said the White House had been “briefed” on Libya and was “willing to play on our terms”
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