Monday, August 31, 2015

ISIS Detains 200 Residents Of Remote Iraqi Town

BAGHDAD (AP) — The mayor of a remote, Islamic State-held town in western Iraq says some 200 residents are detained by the group after clashes there.

Trouble in Rutbah, in Anbar province, started Saturday when Islamic State militants killed a local resident for killing a member of the group as part of a long-running blood feud. Hundreds of residents demonstrated later on that day to protest the killing and clashes broke out when the militants attempted to disperse the protesters.

A provincial Anbar official said Saturday some 70 residents were detained by the militants and more than 100 more were tied to streetlight poles for about 24 hours as a punishment.

Rutbah's mayor, Imad al-Rishawy, said Monday that around 200 residents are still held by the Islamic State group at an unknown location.

Islamic State Plotting ‘Second Blow’ to U.S. Financial System in Bid to ‘Purify the Earth of Corruption’

The Islamic State group revealed over the weekend that at the centerpiece of its goal to bring down America is a concerted effort to weaken the U.S. dollar and replace it with gold currency.
A video posted Saturday warned of the “dawning of a new age” in which replacing the dollar with gold would deliver “the second blow to America’s capitalist financial system of enslavement … casting into ruins their fraudulent dollar note.”

The first blow, it said, was the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center.

The English-language video included archival footage from U.S. news channels, including a 2007 clip of Ron Paul sounding the alarm over the vulnerability of the dollar.
Produced by the Islamic State’s Al Hayat Media, the extremist Sunni group positioned itself as leading the fight against fiat currency by minting caliphate gold, silver and bronze coins. It named them after historical Islamic caliphate coins: the gold dinar, the silver dirham and the bronze fals (or the plural fulus).
Its dedication to gold – and opposition to paper notes – was grounded in the Quran, excerpts of which appeared onscreen in the video.

The English-language video included archival footage from U.S. news channels, including a 2007 clip of Ron Paul sounding the alarm over the vulnerability of the dollar.
Produced by the Islamic State’s Al Hayat Media, the extremist Sunni group positioned itself as leading the fight against fiat currency by minting caliphate gold, silver and bronze coins. It named them after historical Islamic caliphate coins: the gold dinar, the silver dirham and the bronze fals (or the plural fulus).
Its dedication to gold – and opposition to paper notes – was grounded in the Quran, excerpts of which appeared onscreen in the video.

The Islamist group likened its military efforts, shown in a montage of exploding buildings and militants firing their automatic weapons, to financial warfare against America’s “satanic financial system.”
It described the introduction of its gold dinar coin as “blessed” by Allah, as the “prophesy of prophet now unfolding” and as an effort to “purify the earth of corruption.”
The group vowed that in the future, it would sell oil only in exchange for gold, not “fraudulent” paper bills.
The video railed against the modern financial system, including the unbridled printing of banknotes, “abhorrent” interest, fractional-reserve banking, deficit spending, and the petro-dollar system.

The Islamist group likened its military efforts, shown in a montage of exploding buildings and militants firing their automatic weapons, to financial warfare against America’s “satanic financial system.”
It described the introduction of its gold dinar coin as “blessed” by Allah, as the “prophesy of prophet now unfolding” and as an effort to “purify the earth of corruption.”
The group vowed that in the future, it would sell oil only in exchange for gold, not “fraudulent” paper bills.
The video railed against the modern financial system, including the unbridled printing of banknotes, “abhorrent” interest, fractional-reserve banking, deficit spending, and the petro-dollar system.

Clinton secrets hacked by spy in bag

THE MI6 spy found dead in a holdall had illegally hacked into secret data on Bill Clinton, The Sun on Sunday can reveal.

Gareth Williams, 31, dug out the guestlist for an event the former American president was going to as a favour for a pal.
The codebreaker — who had breached his security clearance — handed the list to the friend, who was also to be a guest.
MI6 bosses raged over the data breach amid growing tensions with US security services over Mr Williams’s transatlantic work.
Today, just over five years since his body was found inside a padlocked bag, his death remains one of Britain’s most mysterious unsolved cases.
The Sun on Sunday can reveal that voicemail messages Mr Williams left for family and pals were deleted in the days after his death. And a rival agent may also have broken into the flat to destroy or remove evidence.
The inquest was barred from discussing Mr Williams’s work in public. But sources say he was helping on the joint monitoring network Echelon, which uses sophisticated programs to eavesdrop on terrorists and criminal gangs, particularly those in Russia.
Echelon is used by Britain, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
A source said: “The Clinton diary hack came at a time when Williams’s work with America was of the most sensitive nature.
“It was a diplomatic nightmare for Sir John Sawers, the new director of MI6 at the time.”

Former US President Bill Clinton
Former US President Bill Clinton AP

Insiders claim Mr Williams, who had been given a second passport with a fresh identity, was also getting fed up with living a secret life. He is said to have loathed his spy training after having his wrist broken during one hardcore session.
One insider said: “Williams’s state of mind in the months before his death was worrying those closest to him.
“He found the training so stressful and his mood blackened even talking about it.
“Typically he’d be asked to learn a new identity then report to a country hotel to meet an interrogation team. There he would be grilled about his new ID for 48 hours without sleep.
“His wrist was broken once after he was handcuffed to a metal bar inside a van that was driven around the country for several hours while he faced a barrage of questions.”
His sister Ceri Subbe also told the inquest he did not enjoy the “flash car competition and post-work drinking culture” of MI6.
He had applied to return to GCHQ, in Cheltenham, but bosses were slow in approving this.
Mr Williams, a keen cyclist originally from Anglesey, North Wales, died shortly after returning from a hacking conference in America.
He had been to see a drag queen show by himself two days before he was last seen alive, on August 15, 2010.
Eight days later his naked body was found folded into the 32in by 19in bag placed in the bath of his flat in Pimlico, central London.
His mobile phone and sim cards were laid out on a table. The last computer evidence of him being alive showed him looking at a cycling website.
Detectives are still baffled as to how the maths genius and expert cryptographer died.

A reconstruction of the MI6 man's tragic end
A reconstruction of the MI6 man's tragic end Nicholas Razzell

An initial line of inquiry was that he was killed by a jealous lover. Yet there were no signs of forced entry to the flat.
In 2012, lawyers for his family said he could have been killed by someone who specialised in the “dark arts of the secret services”. The police did not rule out his intelligence work playing a part in his death.
They thought he may have been stuffed in the bag by killers who later broke back in to cover their tracks.
Investigators also suspect the flat had been “steam-cleaned”, which would explain why no DNA evidence was found.
The nature of Mr Williams’s work remains a secret, but sources claim he dealt with equipment that tracked the flow of cash from Russia to Europe. The technology let MI6 follow money trails from accounts in Russia to criminal gangs.
A Kremlin car was spotted near his home on the day he was last seen alive.
Police also issued e-fits of a “Mediterranean” couple said to have visited Mr Williams in either June or July.
Coroner Dr Fiona Wilcox, who heard the 2012 inquest into his death, criticised MI6 for failing to report Mr Williams missing for a week. The delay meant a Home Office pathologist was unable to find a cause of death.
Dr Wilcox concluded that Mr Williams’s death was “unnatural and likely to have been criminally mediated”.
She ruled out his interest in bondage and drag queens as having any bearing, adding: “I wonder if this was an attempt by some third party to manipulate the evidence.”
She also dismissed speculation that Mr Williams died due to some kind of “auto-erotic activity” and denied he had any interest in claustrophilia, the love of enclosed spaces.

Experts said even escapologist Harry Houdini would have struggled to lock himself in the bag. Pathologists said Mr Williams would have suffocated within three minutes if he was still alive when put in there.
Yet a year later, Scotland Yard ended a review of the investigation, saying it was more likely Mr Williams had locked himself in the bag and no one else was involved. The announcement angered Mr Williams’s family, who said they stood by the coroner’s findings.
Last night a Met spokesman said: “The death of Gareth Williams was subject to a thorough investigation and coroner’s inquest. We are not prepared to speculate.”

Xi's Military Parade Fans Unease in Region Already Wary of China

As Xi Jinping presides over thousands of goose-stepping troops marching down Beijing’s Changan Avenue -- or “Eternal Peace Street” -- on Thursday, the Chinese president will also proclaim his commitment to the world’s peaceful development.

It’s a message China’s neighbors may find hard to swallow as it flexes its military muscle from the East China Sea to the Indian Ocean. The parade marking the 70th anniversary of World War II’s end -- or “Victory of the Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War" -- will put on display much of what has frayed nerves throughout the region.

The first-of-its-kind victory celebration will show the world the military might Xi has put at the center of his Chinese Dream for national rejuvenation. The pageant will feature 12,000 soldiers, almost 200 of China’s latest aircraft and mobile ballistic missile launchers capable of delivering nuclear warheads to the continental U.S.

“There is a fairly crude signal to the international community that China is a modern power not to be trifled with,” said Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College at the Australian National University in Canberra. “But this doesn’t sit well with the anxiety that already exists in the region.”

The parade offers Xi the first chance since taking power in 2012 to publicly present himself as China’s commander-in-chief. It’ll also give him a chance to distract attention from a slowing economy, a stock-market rout and the warehouse explosions in nearby Tianjin that killed at least 158 earlier this month.

Staying Home

Xi heads a fighting force that boasts the world’s second-largest defense budget after more than doubling spending over the past decade. That expansion -- especially China’s focus on developing its navy -- has alarmed neighbors and fueled the region’s biggest military buildup in decades.

The Philippines and Vietnam -- spooked by China’s island-reclamation program in the disputed South China Sea -- are both increasing defense spending. India plans to spend at least $61 billion expanding its navy, eyeing Chinese submarine patrols in the Indian Ocean. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last month passed security bills that would let the constitutionally pacifist country come to the military aid of the U.S. or other countries.

Geopolitical rivalries have played out on Xi’s guest list. Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who both have territorial disputes with China, will skip the event. Taiwan, which China regards as a rogue province, has asked its veterans to turn down the invitation to attend.

Showing Strength

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who hosted Xi at his own WWII victory parade in May, will be the only state leader representing China’s wartime allies, with U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande staying home.

South Korean President Park Geun Hye, a key American ally, will attend, as she works to draw China further away from North Korea and also arrange a potential three-way summit with Abe.

For Xi, perceptions about the parade abroad are less important than what the event tells Chinese citizens about the strength of their country -- and its leader.

“It’s a way to further consolidate power,” Hu Xingdou, a professor of political economy at the Beijing Institute of Technology. “Internally, it’s meant to showcase solidarity and strength under his leadership. Externally, Xi wants to use the parade as a statement on China’s rising political profile on the global stage.”

Disciplining Generals

The “I’m-in-control” message won’t be wasted on the generals of the People’s Liberation Army and the 2.3 million personnel they command. Xi’s anti-corruption campaign has ensnared dozens of past and present top brass, including Guo Boxiong, the PLA’s former top uniformed officer.

While Mao Zedong oversaw several military parades, Chinese leaders have in recent years restricted such events to 10-year anniversaries of the country’s founding in 1949. Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, hosted the last one in 2009.

The WWII anniversary, which was announced after a diplomatic flare up with Japan over control of uninhabited East China Sea islands, gave Xi an occasion to hold his own parade four years early. The Communist Party has long chafed at what it sees as a lack of appreciation for China’s, as well as its own, contribution to defeating the Japanese.

Like when hosting the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the Communist Party has gone to great lengths to ensure the parade goes perfectly. Authorities restarted stock support to prevent a market rout from distracting from the event, according to people familiar with the matter. They’ve ordered factories to close to clear Beijing’s notorious air pollution.

Sleeping Lion

Such a display of strength may help Xi fan national pride as the economy -- a key source of party’s support -- shows signs of weakness, said Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“He has been stoking the flames of nationalism since day one,” said Lam, author of “Chinese Politics in the Era of Xi Jinping.” “For every general secretary, you need a military parade to really demonstrate you are the supremo, the supreme leader.”

Xi’s challenge will be asserting his power while reassuring the world of his commitment to China’s peaceful rise. While in Paris in last year, he quoted Napoleon’s remark that China was a sleeping lion that would one day wake and shake the world.

“The lion has woken up,” Xi said. “But it is peaceful, pleasant and civilized.”

U.S. submarine returns from Arctic mission

Washington (CNN)For two months they were submerged under the ocean's surface, much of that time far below a solid mass of ice.

As they passed through the Bering Strait bordering Russia, they steered around undersea ice formations more than 30 feet deep. When they finally punched through the Arctic ice cap just shy of the North Pole, it took them five hours to break the ice off their submarine's key hatches so they could reach the fresh air.

What they found awaiting them was a cold, white world of silence, of complete isolation, with not so much as a bird in sight.

Some of the smiling young sailors who emerged from the USS Seawolf to take in the scene decided to take their re-enlistment oath for another tour of duty right then and there.

It was, according to Navy Cmdr. Jeff Bierley, who commanded the sub, a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, an incredible experience not many people get to have."

"There was nobody there but us," Bierley said of the Seawolf's August 1 trip to the Arctic surface, hundreds of miles from the nearest human. When you first open the hatch, "the thing that strikes you is, it's so quiet. It's completely silent."

The Seawolf has just returned home after a six-month deployment in which the crew had no communications with their families during the two months they were submerged -- several weeks of which were entirely under ice. Fresh air wasn't the only thing the crew of 154 lacked. Though the sub went to sea with plenty of food, the commander said the fresh fruit and vegetables were eaten "in about a week."

So why do it, aside from giving the sailors aboard the thrill of their naval career? Why does the Navy regularly send submarines to the Arctic ice cap, especially with nobody else there, and no threat on the horizon?

Bierly said the mission has important operational goals.

"Our focus was demonstrating the ability to surface through the ice," he said in a telephone interview from his naval base in Bremerton, Washington. "It's an important operational priority to demonstrate we can operate in that environment."

The deployment allows the Navy to showcase "freedom of navigation," the capacity to maneuver a ship or sub anywhere on Earth, and to do so in a region, the Arctic, that is growing more important every year.

The Pentagon has long thought of the North Pole as much more than the mythical home of Santa Claus. Submarines have been conducting under-ice Arctic operations for more than five decades, sometimes completing exercises that include building "ice camps," or temporary bases, on the surface. But now the location has become even more serious for national security.

President Barack Obama makes the first trip of a sitting president to the Arctic Monday to highlight the region's importance and the implications there of climate change.

"The Arctic is going to be a place of growing strategic importance. The Russians are active there," Defense Secretary Ash Carter told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in March.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the same session that "the Russians have just taken a decision to activate six new brigades -- and four of them will be in the Arctic."

All this comes as the Arctic environment itself is rapidly changing and the Navy's Arctic Submarine Laboratory is embarked on a high-tech effort to understand what exactly is happening in this remote region.

Through the Navy's task force on climate change and its Arctic Roadmap project, the Navy is using a large array of robotic technologies -- including small oceangoing drones -- to study the atmosphere, the ice and the sea.
The military is already seeing the impact of a changing climate with rising temperatures and melting ice.

"The observed changes in the Arctic region climate and the reduced extent of summer ice reveal the potential for the Arctic Ocean to become a more viable route of international shipping over the coming decades. Opportunities exists for infrastructure development and commercial investment, resource exploitation, fishing and tourism," the Navy said in its roadvmap report.

The Navy noted in the report that in the past century, average Arctic temperatures have increased at almost twice the global average rate.

There are already important resources there to protect: The Navy estimates the potential value of hydrocarbons in the U.S. Arctic alone exceeds $1 trillion.

Submarines like the Seawolf can travel more than 800 feet below the surface, carrying up to 50 missiles and a mix of torpedoes and mines.

The hope is none of it will ever be needed, but if the Arctic becomes more heavily traveled, and some nation poses a threat, the U.S. Navy plans to be ready.

Nigeria arrests Boko Haram commander linked with suicide attacks

Abuja (AFP) - Nigeria's secret police said Sunday it had arrested notable Boko Haram suspects, including a key commander, linked with several suicide attacks across the country.

The Department of State Services (DSS) said in a statement that Usman Shuiabu, also known as Money, and other frontline members of the hardline Islamist group were picked up in Lagos, Kano, Plateau, Enugu and Gombe states between July and August.

"Of particular note was the arrest on 8th July, 2015 in Gombe state of those responsible for the coordination and execution of the suicide attacks in Potiskum, Kano, Zaria and Jos," it said.

"Shuaibu admitted being the leader of the team of nine sect members that was dispatched from Sambisa Forest to carry out the attacks. He disclosed that four out of the nine of them were used as suicide bombers in executing all the suicide attacks," it said.

It said the arrest of Shuaibu and other core members of his cell had stemmed the spate of bombings by the extremist sect.

The DSS said its operatives had also frustrated plans by the insurgents to attack the financial capital of Lagos.

"The sudden influx of Boko Haram members into Lagos state points to the determination of the sect to extend its nefarious terrorist activities to the state and in fact, other parts of the country," it said.

"The arrest of these confessed terrorist elements has however helped in no small measure to avert devastating attacks in the area," it added.

The DSS said it would continue to work with other stakeholders in the fight against Boko Haram extremists.

The agency said on Friday it had arrested a 14-year-old boy spying for Boko Haram at the Abuja airport.

The Islamists have carried out deadly ambushes across Nigeria's borders and in recent weeks suicide bombers, many of them women, have staged several attacks in Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad.

Boko Haram, which is seeking to carve out a hardline Islamic state in northeast Nigeria, has killed some 15,000 and displaced 1.5 million people since 2009.

The head of the state-run National Emergency Agency Muhammad Sani Sidi was quoted as saying in a statement on Sunday that 57,743 Nigerians displaced by the insurgency were in camps in Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

A regional 8,700-strong force aimed at ending the insurgency is due to deploy within days.

Two U.S. F-22 fighter jets arrive in Poland as part of European training mission

WARSAW (Reuters) - Two advanced U.S. F-22 fighter jets arrived in Poland on Monday for a one-day working visit, the Polish army said, a part of Washington's efforts to reassure allies made uneasy by Russian actions in Ukraine.

The visit is a part of the F-22's first-ever deployment to Europe, where four of the stealth fighters will train with allied air forces and U.S. services through mid-September. The four aircraft arrived at Spangdahlem Air base in Germany on Friday.

"The U.S. is conducting reconnaissance of abilities of operating this type of aircraft at an allied airport," Polish army spokesman Artur Golawski told Reuters. The planes landed at a military air base in Lask, in central Poland.

Earlier this month, U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh James said the F-22's deployment in Europe would allow U.S. forces to train with NATO partners across Europe, testing the ability of the jets to communicate and fight together with the Eurofighter and other advanced warplanes.

James said the deployment would also give F-22 pilots more experience with the European terrain. The Air Force has previously deployed the jets in Japan and South Korea but not in Europe.

The stealth tactical fighter aircraft was designed by Lockheed and Boeing Co as a fighter, but it can also be used for ground attack, electronic warfare, and signals intelligence.

The jets formally entered service in December 2005, with the last F-22 delivered to the Air Force in 2012.

Lockheed Martin developing U-2 spy plane successor


A U-2 'Dragon Lady' aircraft takes off from Osan Air Base, South Korea in this U.S. Air Force handout photo taken on October 21, 2009. (REUTERS/U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson/Handout)

Lockheed Martin is developing a successor to the U.S. military’s legendary U-2 surveillance plane, according to a media report.

Flightglobal reports that Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Programs, better known as Skunk Works, is planning a new version of the U-2.

“Think of a low-observable U-2,” Lockheed’s U-2 strategic development manager Scott Winstead told Flightglobal. “It’s pretty much where the U-2 is today, but add a low-observable body and more endurance.”

"Skunk Works has a long tradition of thinking ahead and coming up with solutions to challenges; this is how the U-2 was originally conceived," added a Skunk Works spokeswoman, in an e-mail to, noting that the U-2 is set to retire in 2019. "While we have not been asked to create a concept, we are looking at design options for a true next-gen ISR [Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance] platform, keeping with the tradition of thinking ahead."

Nicknamed the Dragon Lady, the U-2 is one of the longest serving aircraft in the U.S. Air Force. Like the B-52 bomber, the U-2 first took the skies for the U.S. military in the 1950s. Ever since then, the plane has played a crucial role.

A high-altitude manned surveillance plane, it can fly twice the altitude of a commercial plane flying for 12 hours above 70,000 feet. The U-2 can also reach speeds of more than 475 mph.

Flying 13 miles above the earth’s surface, it can carry two and a half tons of the most advanced sensors and communications equipment in the world.

Reaching such high altitudes helps to make it an extremely effective reconnaissance platform.  In fact, the U-2 flies so high that pilots wear spacesuits and have to breathe from an oxygen tank.

It was designed in secret at Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works during the Cold War for important tasks like locating missile threats in Russia.

The aircraft’s design was so extraordinary that it has remained an invaluable military platform for six decades. The U-2 is on duty almost every hour of every day, the company says.

According to Lockheed, the U-2 has a highly consistent mission success rate of over 95% across all Combatant Commands.

The 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base, California is home to the aircraft, but there are also detachments all over the world.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Case of the MH370 Wing Segment Keeps Getting Weirder

The Case of the MH370 Wing Segment Keeps Getting Weirder

When a wing section of a Boeing 777 washed up on the Indian Ocean island of La Réunion last month, the Malaysian government quickly ascribed the part to missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. But an ongoing investigation has failed to verify this claim, and the story just keeps getting weirder.
Shortly after the flaperon washed up, Boeing engineers confirmed that the wing segment belongs to a 777. And MH370, which went missing in March of 2014, is the only 777 unaccounted for. So case closed, right?
Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak figured it was, and on August 5th, he released a statement announcing as much to the world. But minutes later, French investigator Serge Mackowiak countered the prime minister’s remarks, saying that more tests were needed to conclusively determine the wing segment’s origin. Those test results were supposed to come within a day. Then it became a few days. Now it’s been several weeks.
What’s the hangup? According to New York Magazine, the ID plate that should have been attached to the inboard edge of the flaperon is missing. This plate, affixed to all 777 flaperons, ought to contain a serial number linking the part to MH370. Its absence has not only stymied the verification process, it’s resulted in other aspects of the wing segment coming under (perhaps excessive) scrutiny.
For instance, the flaperon was covered in barnacles. Barnacles everywhere! And people are freaking out about it. Barnacles all over seems to suggest the wing segment spent the last several months suspended beneath the ocean surface. But how?
While it’s easy to imagine a submarine or a scuba diver hovering peacefully 10 or 20 feet under the surface of the water, this is not something that inanimate objects are capable of doing on their own: Either they are more buoyant than water, in which case they float, or they are less buoyant, in which case they sink.
So, how could a six-foot-long chunk of airplane remain suspended beneath the ocean surface for a long period of time? At this point, there aren’t any simple, common-sense answers; the range of possible explanations at this point runs from as-yet-unidentified natural processes to purposeful intervention by conspirators.
There’s certainly a logical explanation for all of this, and we’ll find it eventually — perhaps we’ll even learn a thing or two about barnacle ecology in the process! In the meanwhile, the sleuths of the internet are sure to come up with all sorts of outlandish origin stories for the untagged flaperon. And the fate of flight MH370 remains as mysterious as ever.

How Putin Uses KGB-style “Active Measures”

The global crisis over Ukraine is bringing much-needed attention to what North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen calls “Russian propaganda and disinformation,” a campaign of deliberate lies and distortions emanating from Moscow which attempts to control the narrative over what is happening on the ground.

At the same time, the lack of an effective U.S. response has reminded experts in the field of “information warfare” that U.S. government efforts to counter “active measures” were mostly dismantled at the end of the Cold War.

Thomas Boghardt, historian at the International Spy Museum, notes that Soviet “active measures” aimed to discredit the United States and “conquer world public opinion.” He quotes retired KGB Major General Oleg Kalugin as saying, “It’s a tradition, it’s not something new. That’s important to see the past projected onto the present—and the future.”

During the 1980s, under President Reagan, there was a federal “Active Measures Working Group” to counter Soviet propaganda. This group of officials from various federal agencies was run out of the U.S. Information Agency, later folded into the State Department.

A 1984 video on “Soviet Active Measures” was produced by the U.S. Information Agency and is now available on YouTube. It features a Soviet KGB defector, Stanislav Levchenko. With Herbert Romerstein, a member of the Active Measures Working Group, Levchenko wrote The KGB Against the “Main Enemy”: How the Soviet Intelligence Service Operates Against the United States.

Russian President Vladimir Putin would have been deeply involved in these activities. During the late 1980s he was a KGB colonel and spy in East Germany. Later, he became head of the FSB, the KGB’s main successor.

In what AIM called “one of the most notorious examples of Communist disinformation appearing in the U.S. media,” Dan Rather aired the Soviet claim that the AIDS virus was manufactured in a Pentagon laboratory, without offering any rebuttal.

Today, the Russian government is so brazen that it pumps propaganda directly into American living rooms through Russia Today (RT), the Moscow-funded English-language channel carried by Comcast and other cable systems.

On April 8, for example, RT host Thom Hartmann gave airtime to Putin apologist Stephen Cohen, identified as one of several commentators “whose observations are often egregiously at odds with verifiable facts” in “A User’s Guide to Russian Propaganda,” compiled by several pro-Ukrainian activists.

Hartmann was once hailed by the publication POLITICO as a progressive hero, in a story ignoring his service to Moscow as a paid Russian agent.

However, some conservatives are also following the Kremlin line, including radio talk-show host Michael Savage and Patrick J. Buchanan.

In a column entitled “When Conservatives Go Wrong,” analyst J.R. Nyquist says about Buchanan, who insists that Putin is a committed Christian, “Like many famous names from earlier decades, Buchanan has become a fellow traveler and a ‘useful idiot.’”

But there is hope, some of it due to the heavy-handed nature of Russian propaganda over Ukraine and the willingness of people with access to the facts to dispute it.

For example, The New York Times has effectively debunked Russian propaganda claims about neo-Nazis running rampant in Ukraine and influencing the new government. “Among Ukraine’s Jews, the Bigger Worry Is Putin, Not Pogroms,” was the headline over the Times article. Pogrom is a Russian word designating an organized attack on Jews. The Times said, “Despite assertions by Russia, many Ukrainian Jews say there has not been a resurgence of anti-Semitism since the revolution in February.”

The paper noted evidence that it’s Putin, not the government of Ukraine, taking the side of anti-Semites and neo-Nazis. An open letter to Putin from representatives of more than 20 Ukrainian Jewish organizations asserted that Russian neo-Nazis “are encouraged by your security forces.”

Meanwhile, Russian propaganda is resulting in anti-Catholic bigotry in the now Russian-occupied part of Ukraine known as Crimea.

Bishop Bohdan Dzyurakh, secretary-general of the Ukrainian Catholic Synod of Bishops, told Catholic News Service about “the threats and accusations” against his community, recalling “Soviet propaganda from when our church was suppressed in 1945-46, and we’ve no illusions as to what this portends.”

He went on: “Catholics who support Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity are being viewed as enemies. Priests’ families are also being mistreated by people influenced by Russian propaganda, which has succeeded in fueling aggression between citizens who previously lived in peace.”

Catholic News Service added, “The Ukrainian Catholic Church, a Byzantine rite, was outlawed under Soviet rule from 1946 to 1989, when many clergy were imprisoned and most church properties seized by the state or transferred to Russian Orthodox possession.”

In Crimea, according to the news agency, Bishop Dzyurakh said the situation was “tense and dangerous” for Catholic clergy, after one priest was arrested and threatened with prison, and other priests were branded as “Vatican agents” and warned to leave.

The Russian Orthodox Church, long dominated and controlled by the Soviet/Russian intelligence services, backs the Putin regime. Putin claimed the takeover of Crimea was designed to protect the Russians there from “rabid Ukrainian nationalists, neo-Nazis and anti-Semites” in control of the government of Ukraine.

The report, “A User’s Guide to Russian Propaganda,” notes that “the Russian propaganda machine is a mature and venerable institution that engages in an art that, for better or for worse, the West simply does not practice as often nor as effectively.” It concludes, “Propaganda is a very powerful tool in times of war. Primary sources and data are readily available to verify the facts to counter that propaganda. Too many lives are at stake not to do so.”

EU countries to increase identity checks following thwarted France train attack

A police officer patrolling at Brussels Midi station.
A police officer patrolling at Brussels Midi station. Security has been beefed up after two US soldiers overpowered an armed man on a French Thalys train. Photograph: Stephanie Lecocq/EPA

European countries will increase identity checks and baggage controls on trains after American passengers thwarted an attack on a high-speed train from Amsterdam to Paris, France’s interior minister has said.

Bernard Cazeneuve said the checks would be carried out “everywhere it is necessary” but did not give other details. He spoke after an emergency meeting in Paris with EU security and transport officials alongside representatives from nine countries, in the wake of last week’s attempted attack.

He called for better coordination on intelligence and security across Europe’s border-free travel zone, and “coordinated and simultaneous actions” by European security forces, saying that was indispensable to protecting train travel.

He also said officials were looking at ways to work with the aviation industry on improving train security.

The suspect in last week’s attack had been known to European intelligence but paid for his ticket in cash and showed no ID, and brought an automatic rifle and a handgun on board unnoticed.

The ministers were also talking about giving train security staff more powers, and increasing the number of mixed patrols of international police teams on cross-border trains, according to four French security or justice officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren’t authorised to speak publicly on the matter.

The principles of Europe’s border-free travel, known as the Schengen zone, were not under discussion at the meeting. The security officials said there was no way to monitor each passenger and bag without choking the continental train system, which Europeans rely upon heavily.

“We can’t do, and don’t want, complete, comprehensive checks on people or luggage in trains in Germany or Europe,” German interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, said. He said the main issue was to improve targeted cooperation and the exchange of information on suspicious people.

France sees tens of thousands of international train passengers daily, in addition to millions of daily domestic train travellers. The country’s national rail authority, SNCF, is concerned about the cost of additional security, according to one of the French security officials.

Countries involved in Saturday’s meeting were: France, Belgium, Britain, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland, as well as the EU’s top transport and interior affairs officials.

EU officials were expected to press for the increased use of CCTV cameras in trains and stations and more metal detectors at entrances.

The European commission was expected to raise the idea of using full-body scanners for people who try to board at the last minute. Another idea is the more concerted use of passenger information, which some companies already collect, like the traveller data collected for air transport. Plainclothes “rail marshals” were another possibility.

The results of Saturday’s conference will be debated by Europe’s rail security group on 11 September and forwarded for EU transport ministers to discuss when they meet on 7-8 October


North Korea may seek new nuke deal with weak Obama

Last week, North and South Korea traded artillery fire and accusations across their border, demonstrating yet again the fragility of their 60-year-old truce. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea initiated the incident, and it underlined the potential seriousness of any escalation by deploying more than 50 submarines (70 percent of its total), and massing artillery near the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ), according to South Korea.

A soldier stands guard in front of the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket sitting on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities in the northwest of Pyongyang, April 8, 2012. Reuters
A soldier stands guard in front of the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket sitting on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities in the northwest of Pyongyang, April 8, 2012. Reuters

High-level talks between the two Koreas restored calm, at least superficially and temporarily. Nonetheless, the United States should recognize that strategic interests far more important than just another military confrontation across the DMZ may be at stake here. This affair might well be a ploy by the North to con Washington into negotiations like those that recently led to the disastrous nuclear deal with Iran. What better way than to create an artificial crisis, and then lure America to the bargaining table?

Whatever the outcome of Pyongyang’s latest gambit, America cannot underestimate the seriousness of the risks involved if these repeated provocations ever escalated into a serious military confrontation. These are not merely echoes from the 1953 truce; their regularity underlines the North’s continuing menace. In 2010, North Korea, in a completely unprovoked attack, sank a South Korean corvette, the Cheonan, with a loss of 46 crew members. Random cross-border attacks over the years have resulted in killing many innocent civilians.

As deadly as renewed military hostilities on the Korean Peninsula would be, the real focus of U.S. attention should be on the North’s growing nuclear-weapons and ballistic-missile capabilities. In April, China estimated that the North had 20 nuclear warheads, and could double that number by next year. This estimate can hardly be called alarmist, because Beijing is Pyongyang’s only real ally in the world, and is hardly a potential target. And the North’s three nuclear tests and its expanding nuclear infrastructure have all been successfully undertaken despite decades of U.S. and international sanctions.

What does worry Beijing, and should worry Washington more, is the potential for Pyongyang’s growing nuclear arsenal to destabilize East Asia, including provoking a regional nuclear arms race. South Korea’s defense ministry and the U.S. force commander there already estimate that the North is rapidly moving toward a warhead-sized nuclear device that, mounted on one of its ballistic missiles, could reach America’s West Coast in the near future.

And yet, official Washington is all but asleep on the North Korean threat. President Obama, despite his much-touted “pivot” from the Middle East, rarely pays it much attention. Indeed, the “pivot” itself has faded from view. The 2016 presidential candidates have yet to address the issue seriously. Even West Coast politicians, whose constituents should worry about Obama’s gutting of America’s missile-defense program, seem uninterested.

Worse than U.S. inattention, however, is the risk that in the Obama administration’s waning days the president and Secretary of State John Kerry may conclude they have one more glorious negotiation left in them. Fresh from signing the Vienna agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, they may try again with North Korea. Although the American public, by increasingly large margins, rejects the Vienna deal, the administration seems poised to secure the votes it needs to preserve it from congressional opposition.

Pyongyang may have the same negotiation scenario in mind, although for exactly opposite reasons. Kim Jong Un likely sees Iran’s diplomatic triumph in Vienna for what it was: a determined, persistent nuclear weapons aspirant, aided politically by Russia and China, was able to grind down a weak and credulous American president. Using a sustained campaign of threats, falsehoods and stubbornness, Tehran achieved all its strategic objectives in the negotiations with the Security Council’s five permanent members and Germany.

North Korea could well conclude it can accomplish precisely the same objective. After all, that kind of diplomacy has been its trademark since the Korean War. Kim’s biggest problem is that Obama’s term would end before Pyongyang could extract all the concessions it desired. So, if Pyongyang wanted to find a way to initiate negotiations quickly, what better way than to start off with a military provocation along the DMZ?

Neither presidential candidates nor congressional leaders can stop Obama from pursuing yet another illusory diplomatic “triumph” as a second-term legacy. But sober analysts should do whatever they can to prevent the Obama White House from making still more concessions to a dictatorial regime that, based on its entire history, has no intention of keeping its side of any bargain. This is very dangerous terrain, far more serious than merely exchanging artillery fire.

Japan Launches New Helicopter Destroyer

Japan Launches New Helicopter Destroyer
The Izumo class helicopter carrier.
Image Credit:
Japan launched its second Izumo-class helicopter carrier, the largest warship built by the country since World War II, media sources reported August 27.

The 24,000-ton ship, named Kaga, was unveiled at Japan Marine United shipyard in Yokohama. The name Kaga, derived from former Kaga province in present-day Ishikawa Perfecture, originally belonged to a WWII aircraft carrier that took part in the Pearl Harbor attacks and was lost at the Battle of Midway. The ship is expected to be commissioned in March 2017.

Kaga is the second Izumo-class carrier to be launched, with the first being JS Izumo which was launched in August 2013 and commissioned in March 2015. According to IHS Jane’s, both vessels are nearly identical. Details provided by Japan Marine United suggest the only differences are a draught of 7.1 m rather than 7.3 m, and a complement of 520 rather than 470. Both vessels displace 19,500 tons (24,000 tons at full load), and Kaga will likely also be armed with two Raytheon Sea RAM RIM-116 systems and two Mk 15 Vulcan Phalanx close in weapons systems.

At first glance, the Izumo-class helicopter carrier – officially designated a “helicopter destroyer” – resembles an aircraft carrier. The ships can carry up to 14 helicopters designed for anti-submarine warfare or mine countermeasures. Some have also noted that it is capable of accommodating vertical takeoff platforms such as the F-35B and V-22 Osprey given the large size of the ships, relative to the smaller 18,300-ton Hyuga-class helicopter carriers already in operation. Its features have led some to conclude that it is meant singularly or primarily for direction against China, specifically for anti-submarine warfare.

Japanese defense officials have admitted that this is indeed one role for these new helicopter carriers. Indeed, an officer from the Japan Maritime Self Defense Forces told Asahi Shimbun in March that the ships “heightens our ability to deal with Chinese submarines that have become more difficult to detect.”

At the same time, officials have also gone out of their way to emphasize the multi-purpose nature of the vessel – especially its peacetime roles. They have stressed repeatedly that the features of the Izumo-class helicopter carrier, including its high command and control capability, would be useful not only in wartime but also for rescue missions and natural disasters. This is important not only for disasters which hit Japan, but also other neighboring countries since Japan often plays an important role in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, with a recent example being Typhoon Haiyan which hit the Philippines 2013.

Given its various functions, some have argued that it is more useful to think about the Izumo-class helicopter carriers more broadly as platforms for power projection rather than narrowly for anti-submarine warfare directed against China.

“In this sense, the Izumo is…intended as a platform for power projection. It is designed to offer the option to expand fleet air defense or support short-distance amphibious raids. Izumo maximizes a variety of functions, from ASW to HADR, showing the extent of Japan’s seriousness as a responsible stakeholder in international security,” Alessio Patalano, a naval expert at King’s College in London told DefenseNews earlier this year.

Once the Kaga is commissioned, Japan will have a total of four helicopter carriers, with the Izumo in addition to the two Hyuga-class carriers. 

A Military Game of Chicken in the South China Sea?

The littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) conducts routine patrols in international waters of the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands in May 2015.
Image Credit: U.S. Navy/flickr
A Military Game of Chicken in the South China Sea?

Despite China’s protestations against discussing the issue, the South China Sea was front and center at this month’s meetings between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and other regional players in Kuala Lumpur. Amid criticisms of China’s island-reclamation activities, the U.S. and China continued to trade accusations that the other is militarizing the South China Sea. Meanwhile, China maintained its objection, to no avail, to internationalizing the South China Sea issue through the involvement of non-ASEAN members.

The ship has sailed on both fronts. Now, more than ever, the South China Sea has become both a military and international issue. Given how all parties appear to have dug deeper into their positions, the situation looks unlikely to change anytime soon.

While Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi told his ASEAN counterparts that China has halted its reclamation of artificial islands on atolls and reefs in disputed parts of the Spratly Islands, it is proceeding with the construction of military installations on some of those islands.

Alarmed by the unprecedented scale on which China has conducted its reclamation activities (and is seeking to project force from these reclaimed features), the U.S., the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and others have engaged in a flurry of maritime patrols and joint exercises. The Chinese navy itself recently conducted large-scale air and sea drills, although it states that those were routine drills planned far in advance and not aimed at any third parties.

Southeast Asian countries are also building up their maritime military capabilities as part of a broader trend of increased defense spending in the region. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, defense expenditures in Southeast Asia rose by 44 percent, in real terms, between 2005 and 2014, reaching $35.9 billion in 2014. Vietnam, whose territorial claims overlap the most with China among all Southeast Asian claimants, increased its defense spending by 128 percent during this period and by 9.6 percent in 2014 alone.

Efforts to manage and contain tensions in the South China Sea are also now involving players beyond the territorial claimants—China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei—and, for that matter, ASEAN, which is still negotiating a code of conduct with China.

The U.S. involved itself several years ago, when then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at an ASEAN Regional Forum meeting in Hanoi in July 2010 that the United States has a “national interest” in freedom of navigation and would be willing to facilitate multilateral talks on the South China Sea issue.

Japan, which is involved in a territorial dispute with China in the East China Sea, has lent its political support to Vietnam and the Philippines, has proposed to participate in surveillance patrols in the area, has provided a patrol vessel to Vietnam and may do likewise to the Philippines—actions that could threaten Japan’s tenuous rapprochement with China. Australia, India and most recently, Britain, have also voiced concerns about the situation in the South China Sea.

Given the $5 trillion in global trade that passes through the South China Sea, the international attention is unsurprising, especially if the ability to navigate vital shipping routes could be compromised. However, the varying definitions of “freedom of navigation,” particularly as it relates to permitted (especially military) activities in exclusive economic zones (EEZs), have been an ongoing source of contention, prompting China to articulate its position on the limits to freedom of navigation following the ASEAN meetings.

Between the U.S. and China, such differences have already given rise to several dangerous incidents at sea and in the air over the years. These include the deadly collision between a U.S. navy EP-3 surveillance plane and a Chinese J-8 fighter jet in 2001, the 2009 harassment of the USNS Impeccable by Chinese vessels, and more recently, the buzzing of a U.S. navy P-8 plane by a Chinese J-11 fighter jet in 2014. (All these episodes occurred off the coast of Hainan.)

Even as external parties have become more vocal about their concerns, they have made it a point to distinguish between taking an interest in managing the situation and choosing sides on the territorial claims themselves. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel drew that distinction when he remarked that the U.S. remains neutral about the merits of the sovereignty claims but is “not neutral” when it comes to the resolution of disputes in accordance with international law. Yet he has also shown how delicate that balance is, having previously publicly questioned the legal validity of the nine-dashed line, which forms the basis of China’s territorial claims.

A greater source of potential conflict is what now appears to be an increasing propensity of all parties to turn to military deterrence to defend their interests in the South China Sea. This trend will be difficult to reverse as long as each side perceives others to be raising the stakes—which makes the implementation of maritime confidence-building measures (CBMs) all the more important at this juncture.

The most significant CBM would be a binding code of conduct between ASEAN and China, negotiations on which are proceeding slowly. On the more immediate front, China and ASEAN are reportedly in discussions to establish a hotline to deal with emergencies in the South China Sea. The United States and China are making good on their November 2014 agreements on two sets of military confidence-building measures, regarding the notification of major military activities and rules of behavior for air and maritime encounters. As part of this process, both governments are aiming to agree on an annex on air-to-air encounters by September 2015, to complement the rules on at-sea encounters that have already been agreed upon.

More broadly in the region, the U.S., Chinese and other navies have begun practicing the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea during joint exercises or routine maritime operations.

But CBMs alone are not sufficient if the default position is still to undertake risky behavior. Such risky behavior could be in the form of reckless or aggressive actions by vessel crew that lead to inadvertent conflict. Tensions could also escalate when parties act on threat assessments based on suspicion or a lack of clarity regarding the other’s strategic intentions.

In short, CBMs that seek to avoid or mitigate the risk of maritime clashes need to be accompanied by efforts to facilitate an environment that constrains the tendency for conflict. Such efforts could include: toning down inflammatory rhetoric and breaking the vicious cycle of alternately ratcheting such rhetoric up and down; encouraging constructive behavior, or at least discouraging (or refraining from) provocative behavior (the latter is formalized in the ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea); and maintaining open channels of communication through which all sides are willing to explain their respective positions on the issues and talk to, not past, one another.

As the meetings in Malaysia showed, those are tougher to materialize: Harsh rhetoric abounded, and the countries could not agree on the halting of provocative actions. Yet, an alternative would be a much more dangerous scenario that would allow such differences to play out in a game of military “chicken” in and above increasingly crowded waters.

U.N. Agency Says Iran May Have Built Extension at Parchin Nuclear Site

IAEA Director General Amano addresses a news conference after a board of governors meeting at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano / Reuters

A report from the U.N. agency tasked with inspecting Iran’s nuclear facilities indicates that since May, the country may have built an extension to its Parchin military site believed to have housed nuclear arms testing.

In the document, obtained by Reuters, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) discloses that vehicles, equipment and construction materials have moved through a location at the Parchin nuclear site in recent months.

“Since [our] previous report [in May], at a particular location at the Parchin site, the agency has continued to observe, through satellite imagery, the presence of vehicles, equipment, and probable construction materials,” the report explains. “In addition, a small extension to an existing building appears to have constructed.”

According to an unnamed senior diplomat familiar with the IAEA probe into the military complex, the changes to the site were first noticed in July, the same month that Iran and world powers finalized the nuclear agreement.

The IAEA is responsible for ensuring that Iran abides by the stipulations in the nuclear deal. The U.N. agency and Iran have brokered secret side agreements to the larger deal that govern the inspections of Iran’s nuclear sites as well as the extent to which Tehran must admit to the details of its alleged nuclear weapons program.

According to the Associated Press, the recent IAEA report also suggests that “activities” at Parchin over the last several years may well prevent the agency from conducting “effective verification” of the country’s nuclear work.

“The activities that have taken place at this location since February 2012 are likely to have undermined the agency’s ability to conduct effective verification,” the report reads.

The IAEA has received data from member states that suggests that Parchin may have been used for hydrodynamic experiments to analyze how certain materials react under high pressure like that generated by a nuclear blast.

According to the anonymous senior diplomat, the IAEA is unable to “speculate” on the contents of the apparent building extension at Parchin.

“We cannot know or speculate what’s in the [extended] building. The building itself is not related to the most interesting building for us. … It’s something we will technically clarify over the course of the year,” said the diplomat.

Last week, an apparent draft of one of the secret side deals between Iran and the IAEA indicated that Tehran will be permitted to use its own experts to inspect the Parchin site. While the IAEA dismissed the report regarding the draft of the agreement a “misrepresentation,” a senior State Department official refused to deny that Iran will “play a role” in the inspections.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Russia and China Kick Off Naval Exercise in Sea of Japan

Russia and China Kick Off Naval Exercise in Sea of Japan

This week, Russia and China have begun a naval exercise – dubbed Joint Sea II- in international territorial waters in the Sea of Japan and off the coast of Russia’s Primorsky territory – approximately 250 miles away from Japan. The exercise for the first time includes a joint Sino-Russian amphibious assault drill.

The war games, which are scheduled to conclude on August 28, include 22 vessels, 20 aircraft, 40 armored vehicles and 500 marines, according to RT.

“During the active phase of the maritime maneuvers to last till August 27, the sailors work out the issues of join anti-sabotage, anti-submarine, anti-vessel and anti-aircraft defense. Besides that there’ll be gunnery drills with different types of surface, underwater and aerial targets,” Roman Martov, Russia’s Eastern Military District spokesman, told TASS.

The naval exercise – themed “Joint maritime transportation protection and joint landing missions” – will conclude with an amphibious and airborne landing of Russian and Chinese troops at the Cape Klerk firing range in the southern Primorye Territory. “It’s [the] first time ever such an operation is to be held on the Russian soil,” Martov added. It is also the first time that People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) units are participating in military drills in the Sea of Japan.

As I reported earlier, in May 2015, China and Russia held a much smaller naval drill code-named Joint Sea 2015 that involved nine ships from both countries in the Mediterranean Sea. The navies conducted live-fire drills, underway replenishment and escort operations

The naval maneuvers “showed that Russian and Chinese seamen can effectively fulfill tasks in such a difficult region as the Mediterranean Sea,” according to the Russian Navy’s Deputy Commander-in-Chief Vice Admiral Aleksandr Fedotenkov.

“Unlike many other war games staged in the Asia-Pacific region, the Joint Sea series focus on emergency response under multiple circumstances, instead of simulating an offensive against a third party,” according to a Xinhua commentary. “As for the far-fetched idea of an emerging China-Russia military alliance, it seems that only the most insensible ones could buy,” the commentary noted.

The naval drill currently taking place aims to bolster equipment interoperability between the two navies, and despite Chinese and Russian claims to the contrary, it is also meant to send a clear political signal to the United States and its allies in the region that Sino-Russian military ties are deepening. Beijing and Moscow have held regular joint naval drills since 2011.

Russia Engages in Military Drills on Europe’s Doorstep

Russia Engages in Military Drills on Europe’s Doorstep

Russia and its military partners across Asia have been busy practicing. While the Russian Navy is engaging in exercises with China in the Sea of Japan (which The Diplomat’s Franz-Stefan Gady covered here), its air force has been exercising with units from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO)’s Rapid Reaction force (CRRF) is also engaging in exercises. While the CSTO exercises are an annual event, this year’s location has drawn increased attention.

Cooperation 2014 unfolded in Kazakhstan, attended by over 3,000 soldiers from Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan, focused on “psychological and cyber warfare for the first time.”

The 2015 edition is being staged in Pskov, a city in western Russia less than 25 miles from the Estonian border. According to the CSTO, about 2,000 soldiers are participating, with 200 vehicles and 40 aircraft and helicopters. Half of the troops participating are Russian. Kazakhstan reportedly sent a nuclear, chemical, and biological defense unit comprising of about 70 soldiers. Kyrgyzstan sent 50 soldiers and Tajikistan sent a platoon.

According to CSTO’s statement, the CRRF “will conduct a joint operation to localize an armed conflict with the aim of restoring territorial integrity and defending constitutional order in a simulated CSTO member state, working out tasks for destroying irregular armed formations.” RFE/RL reported that Russian General Vladimir Shamanov, who is overseeing Cooperation 2015, said the drills would practice “localizing an armed conflict and eliminating illegal armed formations in the Eastern European region.”

Although this year’s exercise is smaller, the choice of location, along with the declared focus of the drills, is provocative due to ongoing tensions with Europe over Russia’s involvement in Ukraine. One European think tank pointed out in a recent report that both NATO and Russia’s patchwork of Eurasian alliances are training to fight each other:
Whilst spokespeople may maintain that these operations are targeted against hypothetical opponents, the nature and scale of them indicate otherwise: Russia is preparing for a conflict with NATO, and NATO is preparing for a possible confrontation with Russia.
The six-day CSTO exercises kicked off on August 23. Shamanov said that after the exercises, the participating soldiers and equipment will be redeployed to Russia’s Astrakhan region for further training.

Meanwhile, the CIS are also engaging in exercises in Russia, called Combat Commonwealth 2015, according to Sputnik. The first phases of joint air defense drills began on August 18. The Russian defense ministry said that about 20 air defense and missile defense units would be participating, including over 1000 troops, 200 units of equipment including S-400 “Triumf” and S-300 “Favorit” anti-aircraft missile systems, as well as MiG-29s, MiG-31s, a fleet of Sukhoi multirole fighters, and helicopters. The first phase is scheduled to end on September 11 at which point the units will be redeployed, also to Astrakhan.

TASS reported Friday that Russian air defense and Air Force units were expected to take part in “major exercises” in the country’s southern military district, which is centered in the north Caucasus, including both the Caspian flotilla and Black Sea fleet. Crimea, annexed by Russia in April 2014, is a de facto part of this district as well.

The district’s press service reported that “Preparations for large-scale Air Force and air defence war games, which will be held at the end of September and will involve missile launches, are nearing completion in the Southern Military District… The drill assignments will presuppose operations with the aid of Igla shoulder-carried missile launchers, Tunguska antiaircraft gun complexes, Shilka antiaircraft missile launchers, as well as S-300, Buk M1-2, Strela-10, Tor, and Osa.”

While the CIS is a loose association, it has maintained a council of defense ministers and established an air defense system in the mid-1990s. The CSTO began as an outgrowth from the CIS, and was established in 2002 as a military alliance. The CSTO’s rapid reaction force has been exercising near many of he region’s hotspots, in Tajikistan in May simulating fending off a Taliban invasion and now near Europe. Central Asia’s troop presence at such exercises is small relative to Russia’s, but participating helps reinforce the region’s links to Russia.

In related news, Tengrinews reports that Kazakhstan’s ministry of defense says that Moscow gave Astana five missile defense systems for free.

“These S300PS air defence missile systems will be tested during live fire exercise and transferred to military bases of Kazakhstan’s Air Defence Forces to be in operation readiness covering the airspace of the Republic of Kazakhstan,” the Commander of Kazakhstan’s AA Troops Nurzhan Mukanov said.

Six killed by female suicide bomber in Damaturu

Suicide bombers

A young female suicide bomber on Tuesday killed at least six people and injured up to 28 others outside the main bus station in the northeastern Nigerian town of Damaturu, witnesses and an official said.

No group or individual has claimed responsibility but Boko Haram Islamists have in the past months used young women to carry out bloody suicide attacks in the restive northeast of the country.

“A young girl came around at 7:00 am (0600 GMT) and wanted to enter the bus station. She was denied entry because she refused to be searched by the security guards at the entrance,” a witness, Sani Dankamasho, told AFP.

A spokesman of the government of Yobe state, whose capital is Damaturu, confirmed the attack but gave a death toll of five.

“There was a suicide bombing in Damaturu…this morning where five people were killed from the explosion with more than 20 other victims injured,” Abdulahhi Bego said in a statement.

“The dead have been evacuated to a mortuary while the injured victims are currently being attended to by health and emergency workers,” the statement said.

Accoding to Dankamasho, the girl “stepped out of the park. A private taxi then drove out of the park. As soon as the car came close, she detonated the explosive. Six people in the car were killed. She was also killed,” he said.

A journalist working for a major private newspaper in Damaturu, who arrived at the scene shortly after the blast, also confirmed the death toll of six.

“Six people were killed as a result of the blast, all from the car. The bomber was also killed,” said the reporter, who demanded anonymity.

Boko Haram has stepped up attacks in three states in its northeastern heartland since President Muhammadu Buhari came to power on May 29, vowing to crush the group.

The Islamists have also carried out deadly ambushes across Nigeria’s borders and in recent weeks suicide bombers, many of them women, have staged several attacks in Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad.

Air operations but no strategy against the Islamic State

News that the Pentagon’s Inspector General is investigating claims that intelligence documents assessing the success of American air strikes against Islamic State (IS) targets in Iraq were ‘handled’ to give a more ‘optimistic account’, should send shivers of trepidation through the corridors of power of any allied government considering active involvement in air operations against IS targets in Syria. Not so in Canberra. National security fever has yet again gripped the Australian capital as the media awaits confirmation of Australia’s new commitment to help Washington eliminate what Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott calls a ‘death cult’.

Prime Minister Abbott has again shown the pattern of predictable behaviour of a leader whose political fortunes are flagging. Unable to come to grips with complex and controversial social issues at home, Abbott has consistently used national security as a way of rallying people around him in his time of need. Whether it’s the threat of IS-inspired terrorists lurking among Australia’s Muslim communities, or the threat posed by the ideology of IS in the Middle East, Australia is always first among America’s allies who wants to be seen to be doing something, even when the something that actually nothing at all. Today (Aug. 26, 2015), allegations were made in the Australian media that Prime Minister Abbott, eager to be seen to lead from the front in the war against IS, ‘volunteered’ Australia’s Air Task Group in Iraq for operations supporting the American air campaign in Syria. The Prime Minister was quick to deny this, suggesting that President Obama was the one who had approached him for Australian support. However, senior government officials told Fairfax Media that it was Abbott’s office which drove Australia’s offer of support, not the White House. Whether this was the situation or not, what is sure is that by early September, Australia’s Air Task Group Iraq may be striking targets within Syria, and from almost any perspective, this is neither a wise nor an effective move.

Australia’s Air Task Group in Iraq was dedicated to bombing IS targets inside Iraq, not Syria. It is a small contingent consisting of some eight aircraft, six classic F/A-18 Hornet fighters, one E-7A airborne warning and control aircraft and one KC-30A multirole tanker/transport plane. By international military standards, this is not a large force and while it has provided some tactical utility in eroding IS paramilitaries in Iraq as far as we can assess, splitting this force between Iraqi and Syrian missions will add no weight to the existing American air campaign in Syria and will certainly impact on the RAAF’s existing mission parameters in Iraq, unless the Abbott government agrees to increase the size of the RAAF’s overall commitment to Middle East missions. Considering the parlous state of the Australian economy, this would be financially irresponsible at a time when fiscal restraint is called for. Deploying even a small batch of high-tech forces far from Australian shores and then sustaining them indefinitely, is expensive. So the question that needs to be raised is, what is the Australian taxpayer’s return on investment? The destruction of the death cult of IS? No air campaign has ever won a war in its own right. Aerospace technology is a potent force when used in combination with land and sea power, but never has it shown such decisive effect that it alone can defeat a ground based enemy. It is unlikely that the American mission over Syria will change this historic fact and Australia’s role in this campaign, minor as it is likely to be, becomes just another expensive symbolic gesture designed to make Australia look relevant to American interests.