Posts Tagged ‘Foreign Policy’

If you only read one article on U.S. foreign policy today, it should be this piece from the New York Times:

CAIRO — With the Muslim Brotherhood pulling within reach of an outright majority in Egypt’s new Parliament, the Obama administration has begun to reverse decades of mistrust and hostility as it seeks to forge closer ties with an organization once viewed as irreconcilably opposed to United States interests.

The administration’s overtures — including high-level meetings in recent weeks — constitute a historic shift in a foreign policy held by successive American administrations that steadfastly supported the autocratic government of President Hosni Mubarak in part out of concern for the Brotherhood’s Islamist ideology and historic ties to militants.

The shift is, on one level, an acknowledgment of the new political reality here, and indeed around the region, as Islamist groups come to power. Having won nearly half the seats contested in the first two rounds of the country’s legislative elections, the Brotherhood on Tuesday entered the third and final round with a chance to extend its lead to a clear majority as the vote moved into districts long considered strongholds.

The reversal also reflects the administration’s growing acceptance of the Brotherhood’s repeated assurances that its lawmakers want to build a modern democracy that will respect individual freedoms, free markets and international commitments, including Egypt’s treaty with Israel.

Don’t be surprised if this becomes a GOP talking point to bash Obama – particularly from Romney or Santorum.

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Syrian president Bashar al-Assad did his best Officer Barbrady impression during his interview with ABC’s Barbara Walters:

In his interview with Walters, his first sit down with an American journalist since the protests began, Assad denied he ordered a crackdown and blamed the violence on criminals, religious extremists and terrorists sympathetic to al Qaeda he claims are mixed in with peaceful demonstrators.

He said the victims of the street violence were not civilians protesters battling decades of one-party rule, he insisted.

“Most of the people that have been killed are supporters of the government, not the vice versa,” he said. The dead have included 1,100 soldiers and police, he said.

Assad conceded only that some members of his armed forces went too far, but claims they were punished for their actions.

“Every ‘brute reaction’ was by an individual, not by an institution, that’s what you have to know,” he said. “There is a difference between having a policy to crackdown and between having some mistakes committed by some officials. There is a big difference,” said Assad.

“But you have to give the order,” countered Walters.

“We don’t kill our people… no government in the world kills its people, unless it’s led by a crazy person,” Assad said.

At another point he said, “There was no command to kill or be brutal.”

The whole thing is well worth reading and watching, if only to ask yourself if he really does believe what he’s saying. If he doesn’t, he’s a bold-faced liar who won’t take responsibility for his own actions. If he does, he is drinking way too much of his own Kool Aid. I’m not sure which of the two possibilities would be more disturbing.

Andrew Sullivan did a pretty good job juxtaposing images of the unrest in Syria [Warning: Graphic photos/videos] with al-Assad’s comments to Walters.

Kudos to Walters and ABC for getting the big interview and pressing al-Assad on his regime’s crackdown against the opposition.

The National Journal’s Marc Ambinder has uncovered some more details about that ill-fated drone mission the Iranians have been claiming they shot down.

The super-secret drone that Iran claims to have recovered was on a CIA “Focal Point” mission, gathering intelligence and likely crashed though it remains uncertain whether it was able to self-destruct, U.S. officials told National Journal on Tuesday.

Controllers lost contact with the prized stealth unmanned aerial drone, the RQ-170 “Sentinel”, last week over western Afghanistan, said one government official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Based on its projected glide path, officials assume it fell just inside the Iranian border.

Though the CIA has used the Sentinel to monitor Iranian nuclear convoys before, the precise nature of the mission this time is not known.

The Sentinel is the top-of-the-line UAV, with highly sensitive cryptographic and stealth technology. If it indeed reaches Iranian hands undamaged it will represent a compromise in the latest of U.S. stealth technology, said officials with knowledge of the program.

The key question here is whether or not the drone’s self-destruct mechanism was activated before it went down. If it worked and some of the equipment and technology onboard was destroyed, that would at least mitigate some of the damage to U.S. national security. Regardless, as was the case with the stealth helicopter that went down during the Osama bin Laden raid in May, the Pentagon should assume that if the Iranians do indeed have custody of the downed drone, they will be studying its capabilities and will at a minimum attempt to reverse engineer it themselves, or bring in outside help from China or Russia.

Two must-reads about recent developments in Iran… Both articles are analytical/speculative, but still worth reading and considering.

First, Danger Room’s skeptical take on Iran’s claim at having forced down an RQ-170 drone flying over western Afghanistan.

Second is this report in the L.A. Times connecting several events on the ground in Iran as evidence of possible covert actions against the regime to sabotage its nuclear weapons and missile programs.

Although both articles are largely based on analysis and interpretation of events, they are well worth reading.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has put out a statement regarding Anwar al-Awlaki’s recent demise. (via Jihadology)

Intelwire’s J.M. Berger makes the following observation on Twitter: “The fact Awlaki’s death was announced in Arabic but not English may tell us something about the prospects for Inspire going forward.”

If you only read one story today, read the Washington Post’s account of David Headley’s testimony during the trial for his role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks:

CHICAGO — A confessed Pakistani American terrorist took the stand in a Chicago courtroom Monday and described a close alliance between Pakistan’s intelligence service and the Lashkar-i-Taiba terrorist group, alleging that Pakistani officers recruited him and played a central role in planning the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

David Coleman Headley’s long-awaited testimony at the start of a trial with international repercussions resolved one question at the outset: Federal prosecutors did not hesitate to connect Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) to the attacks that killed 166 people, including six Americans.

Headley has pleaded guilty to doing reconnaissance in Mumbai and is the star government witness against his alleged accomplice, Tahawwur Rana. Headley testified that Lashkar “operated under the umbrella of the ISI” even after the group was banned in Pakistan in 2001.

The ISI and Lashkar “coordinated with each other,” Headley testified. “And ISI provided assistance to Lashkar: financial, military and moral support.”

After he trained three years with Lashkar, Headley said, a “Major Ali” of the ISI recruited him when he was briefly detained near the Afghanistan border in 2006. Ali referred him to an officer known as Major Iqbal, who became Headley’s handler and worked separately but in coordination with Lashkar chiefs, directing Headley’s reconnaissance in India and providing $25,000 to fund his mission.

Correction: Give credit where it’s due… The account cited is by ProPublica, but was republished by the Washington Post.

While the administration and the media have focused much of the public’s attention on the intelligence gold mine recovered by Navy SEALs during the Osama bin Laden operation, it is important to remember a less dramatic, but important angle that both the government and the press can look into: the financial lifeline that allowed the Al Qaeda leader and his family to build and live in that compound for years.

Al Qaeda has demonstrated it has the knowledge and savvy to use the financial and banking system to achieve its ends. The 9/11 plot, which investigators believe cost the organization between $400,000-500,000 to carry out, was financed almost entirely by Al Qaeda using a combination of cash couriers, conventional wire transfers and banking methods in the United States and overseas. Reforms implemented in the aftermath of 9/11 have made it more difficult to use a financial or banking institution to launder or transfer funds for nefarious purposes. By focusing on the compound, investigators may be able to collect more information about Al Qaeda, which could potentially be just as promising as any of the data from the raid.

Anyone who has ever bought a property or built a home knows that the entire process is inherently a team sport, requiring the participation of multiple individuals to see through to the end.  Simply put, Osama bin Laden couldn’t have bought the land, filed the paperwork, hired people to design and build the compound, overseen the construction, set up heating, water and electricity, and pay for bills, taxes and living expenses by himself. At every step of the way, he needed intermediaries to do it on his behalf and pay for the goods received or services rendered. Separating the individual components necessary to build that compound and make it function may uncover possible Al Qaeda operatives, calculate the costs, and possibly get a sense of the organization’s financial state at the time the compound was being built and while bin Laden was living there.

According to property records obtained by the Associated Press, a man named Mohammed Arshad bought adjoining plots of land in 2004-2005 to build the compound for $48,000.   Two of the plots were purchased using an unidentified middleman who may have passed them on to Arshad – one of several possible aliases he used – who may have been bin Laden’s courier that inadvertently tipped off U.S. intelligence officials to the location and existence of the compound.

The courier and his brother who lived in the compound are literally a dead end from an interrogation perspective – both men were killed during the raid. However, the money trail may still yield promising leads.  Unless the plots of land were bought using cash, there would have been some type of transaction involving at least one financial institution, whether it was paid as a wire transfer or a check.  Following the money from the transaction to its original source may yield more leads: the name or alias of an operative or holding company, contact information, or other persons who helped to facilitate the deal.

After the acquisition of the land, it would have been necessary to hire professionals to design and build the compound, meager as it was. Gul Mohammed, identified by The Sun as the builder of the compound, was quoted by the tabloid saying he never saw bin Laden or knew he was living there, and described the oversight of the project saying, “Only one or sometimes two would come to supervise my work – and they never cared about money.” Unless Al Qaeda was somehow able to keep the job in house with someone affiliated with or trusted by the organization, checking with architects, contractors, or construction firms in Abbottabad or nearby cities may generate even further leads on the amount of money paid and who – possibly the courier and his brother based on media accounts by the previous owners of the land and the builder – was responsible for overseeing the entire project.

Although photographs of the compound and the video of Bin Laden watching himself on TV show that it was far from luxurious, housing and feeding as many as three dozen people required some basic utilities for the compound, specifically water, electricity and heating.  A private or government-owned utility company presumably would have been responsible for installing the necessary infrastructure during the construction process, and would have issued bills and collected revenues from one of the residents or an intermediary.

Moreover, the courier or another person may have had to pay some type of taxes on the property, on a one-time or recurring basis. If so, corresponding records might exist for the compound in a federal or local tax agency in Pakistan.

By taking these possible leads, in conjunction with accounts from local merchants who provided goods and services to the residents of the compound, it may be possible to calculate an estimate for how much it cost Al Qaeda to build and maintain the property. This information, if cross-referenced with previously available intelligence about the organization or some of the new material obtained during the raid, could help government officials create a picture of Al Qaeda’s financial structure and health during the past few years. By doing so, it may be possible to better assess its capability to carry out an operation or to function as an organization.

Bin Laden had been living there for at least five years, President Obama told 60 Minutes, and he didn’t do it alone: “We think that there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden inside of Pakistan. But we don’t know who or what that support network was.” Excluding the question of whether or not anyone in the Pakistani government was involved, the existence of the compound alone and all that was necessary to build it and keep it operational for its residents proves bin Laden had a support network in his personal circle for his immediate daily needs.

To use an old cliché, money makes the world go round. Support networks for any criminal or terrorist organization require money to function.  Looking into how much it cost to build this compound and where the money came from could yield more leads on Al Qaeda worth pursuing.  Such information may contribute to achieving President Obama’s objective of “badly disabling” the group, because history has shown that understanding and disrupting the financial lifelines of criminal or terrorist networks can be just as damaging to them as bombs and bullets.