• There are 72 DHS Employees on Terrorist Watch List

    February 9, 2016 // 16 Comments »

    Stephen Lynch


    So you can read this one one of two ways:

    Either the terror watch list is complete bull, or the Department of Homeland Security has a big problem. Come to think about it, maybe you can read it both ways.

    At least 72 employees at the Department of Homeland Security are listed on the U.S. terrorist watch list, according to Representative Stephen Lynch (D., MA, pictured)


    It is entirely possible Representative Stephen Lynch just demonstrated there is little to no actual threat from terrorists.

    “Back in August, we did an investigation — the inspector general did — of the Department of Homeland Security, and they had 72 individuals that were on the terrorist watch list that were actually working at the Department of Homeland Security. The former DHS director had to resign because of that.”

    Lynch did not say what has happened to the 72 employees, however. That in fact is the key question. If any of them are indeed bad guys, how did they get their jobs at DHS, and keep them, and what, if any, naughtiness did they do? If some/none of the 72 are bad guys, why were they on the terror list and WTF is the point of such lists?


    Meanwhile, list or no list, DHS continues to fail inspections aimed at determining the efficiency of its internal safety mechanisms, as well as its efforts to protect the very Homeland that is part of its own name. Lynch referred to a recent report that found the Transportation Security Administration, which is “overseen” by DHS, failed to stop 95 percent of those who attempted to bring restricted items past airport security.

    “We had staffers go into eight different airports to test the department of homeland security screening process at major airports. They had a 95 percent failure rate,” Lynch said. “We had folks going in there with guns on their ankles, and other weapons on their persons, and there was a 95 percent failure rate.”

    And that brings up another question. If TSA has a 95 percent failure rate, and since no terror incidents have happened due to contraband being smuggled through our airports, doesn’t that strongly imply there really isn’t much of a threat? At a 95 percent failure rate, given the level of threat we are told is now part of our post-ISIS lives, shouldn’t planes be dropping daily from the sky?



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    Posted in Post-Constitution America

    Iraq Goes Medieval: Will Build Wall Around Baghdad to Stop ISIS

    February 8, 2016 // 9 Comments »

    IRAQI FREEDOM


    In medieval times, cities were walled. At night the gates were locked, the towers guarded, and thieves and brigands were kept outside. At least in theory, because walls could be scaled, or blown up, or tunnels dug, or guards bribed.


    And so in what may turn out to be the ultimate 21st century Renaissance Faire, the Iraqi government, no doubt with the support of, if not the checkbook of, the United States, is building a wall around the city of Baghdad in hopes that that will stop ISIS where nothing else has.

    An interior ministry’s spokesman explained that work began this week on a 65 mile stretch of a wall and trench on the northern and northwestern approaches of the capital. The wall will be 10 feet high and partially made up of concrete barriers already in use across much of the capital. The spokesman declined to specify the measurements of the trench, possibly out of embarrassment.

    While a wall is about the dumbest idea yet in a nation plagued by dumb ideas, something is needed. On Wednesday alone, roadside bombings in various parts of the capital and a drive-by shooting killed eight people and wounded 28. Last month, according to UN figures, 490 civilians were killed and 1,157 were wounded in Iraq. Baghdad was the worst affected, with 299 civilians killed and 785 wounded.

    Of course not all of those were killed by ISIS, and many of the killers, ISIS and not, are already living inside the city and thus will not be affected by the new wall, but meh.

    The thing is that since 2003 Baghdad has always been a city of walls. As one facet of its failed strategy to prevent sectarian violence in the city, the U.S. erected a labyrinth of blast walls, eventually walling off entire neighborhoods and nearly every government office, bank, police station, school, hospital, market, gas station, and university campus. The boundaries of the Green Zone itself are defined in places by blast walls.

    The fact that all of those walls having failed to stop ISIS does not appear to have been factored into the Iraqi government’s plans.



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    Posted in Post-Constitution America

    Virginia Man Is Accused of Trying to Join ISIS

    February 6, 2016 // 6 Comments »

    isis



    Another day, another faux-terrorism arrest by the FBI. Who do we really need to be protected from anyway?



    Now watch the italics:

    The Justice Department charged two Virginia men with terrorism-related offenses, a day after FBI agents arrested one of them at an airport where officials believe he was planning to begin a journey to Syria to fight with the Islamic State.

    Both men, Joseph Hassan Farrokh and Mahmoud Amin Mohamed Elhassan, are in FBI custody and face up to 20 years in prison if they are convicted.

    The department did not cite any evidence that the two men had direct contact with operatives for Islamic State, and based the terrorism charges on conversations they had with three informants.

    Farrokh, a 28-year-old native of Pennsylvania, was arrested at the airport in Richmond, Virginia, where he was planning to fly to Chicago and on to Amman, Jordan, according to a criminal complaint released on Saturday. During wiretapped conversations with an FBI informant, Farrokh discussed beginning his journey from a smaller airport to evade scrutiny.

    The complaint said that Elhassan, a 25-year-old permanent resident of the United States originally from Sudan, drove Farrokh to within a mile of the airport, and that Farrokh took a taxi the rest of the way. Elhassan is being charged with aiding and abetting Farrokh’s attempts to provide material support to a terrorist organization.

    The complaint said that Farrokh did not appear to want to return to the United States.


    Quick summation:

    — No terrorism committed, or even planned, inside America.

    — One guy arrested for trying to fly to Chicago.

    — Other guy arrested for driving Guy I to the airport.

    — 100% of “evidence” are conversations with informants.

    — No information on how the two arrested men came together with informants, or what the informants said that might have spurred the conversations.




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    Posted in Post-Constitution America

    Freedom! 19,000 Iraqi Civilians Killed in Less Than Two Years

    January 26, 2016 // 9 Comments »

    Powell-anthrax-vial

    …that works out to about 28 dead every day.

    It is also an estimate, given that many areas of the country are not readily accessible, and because the death toll from the siege of Ramadi is not accounted for in the figures. More than 3.2 million Iraqis are internally displaced and/or homeless.

    Iraq is now an ungoverned, failed state, a killing field on the scale of genocide.

    At least 18,802 civilians were killed and 36,245 wounded in Iraq over the last 22 months, according to the UN’s Report on the Protection of Civilians in the Armed Conflict in Iraq. Another 3,206,736 Iraqis are internally displaced, including more than one million children. The study emphasizes that these are conservative estimates. The UN also is careful to note that the number of civilians killed by secondary effects of the violence, such as lack of access to food, water or medical care, is unknown. In many areas of Iraq schools are closed and basic infrastructure is not functioning.

    All that is in addition to the more than one million people already killed during the American occupation period.

    These horrors are directly caused by the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and subsequent occupation. In addition to unleashing near-total chaos in the nation, the U.S. invasion led directly to the rise of Islamic State, which found the consuming violence fertile soil for growth. ISIS went on to see a new role to emerge, protector of the Sunni population, which was being slaughtered and impoverished by the Shiite majority empowered by the Americans and Iran.

    “Armed violence continues to take an obscene toll on Iraqi civilians and their communities,” remarked the UN high commissioner for human rights. “The so-called ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ continues to commit systematic and widespread violence and abuses of international human rights law and humanitarian law. These acts may, in some instances, amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and possibly genocide.”

    ISIS is targeting non-Sunni ethnic and religious communities, “systematically persecuting” them, subjecting them to violent repression and crimes, the UN notes. Women and children are particularly affected by these atrocities. Women face extreme sexual violence and even sexual slavery. Children are being forcibly recruited as fighters.

    In addition to ISIS violence, the UN notes that civilians have been killed and kidnapped, and that civilian infrastructure has been destroyed by pro-government forces, militias and tribal fighters. Moreover, civilians are being killed by U.S. airstrikes.

    Adding to the depth of horror in Iraq, many Iraqi refugees have sought asylum in the West, but have been largely unwelcome. In a time of heightened Islamophobia, some European countries and many right-wing American politicians — including more than half of the U.S. governors — have made it clear they do not want to accept Muslim refugees.


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    Posted in Post-Constitution America

    You Won’t Like It, But Here’s the Answer to ISIS

    January 25, 2016 // 11 Comments »

    isis




    How can we stop the Islamic State?

    Imagine yourself shaken awake, rushed off to a strategy meeting with your presidential candidate of choice, and told: “Come up with a plan for me to do something about ISIS!” What would you say?


    What Hasn’t Worked

    You’d need to start with a persuasive review of what hasn’t worked over the past 14-plus years. American actions against terrorism — the Islamic State being just the latest flavor — have flopped on a remarkable scale, yet remain remarkably attractive to our present crew of candidates. (Bernie Sanders might be the only exception, though he supports forming yet another coalition to defeat ISIS.)

    Why are the failed options still so attractive? In part, because bombing and drones are believed by the majority of Americans to be surgical procedures that kill lots of bad guys, not too many innocents, and no Americans at all. As Washington regularly imagines it, once air power is in play, someone else’s boots will eventually hit the ground (after the U.S. military provides the necessary training and weapons). A handful of Special Forces troops, boots-sorta-on-the-ground, will also help turn the tide. By carrot or stick, Washington will collect and hold together some now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t “coalition” of “allies” to aid and abet the task at hand. And success will be ours, even though versions of this formula have fallen flat time and again in the Greater Middle East.

    Since the June 2014 start of Operation Inherent Resolve against the Islamic State, the U.S. and its coalition partners have flown 9,041 sorties, 5,959 in Iraq and 3,082 in Syria. More are launched every day. The U.S. claims it has killed between 10,000 and 25,000 Islamic State fighters, quite a spread, but still, if accurate (which is doubtful), at best only a couple of bad guys per bombing run. Not particularly efficient on the face of it, but — as Obama administration officials often emphasize — this is a “long war.” The CIA estimates that the Islamic State had perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 fighters under arms in 2014. So somewhere between a third of them and all of them should now be gone. Evidently not, since recent estimates of Islamic State militants remain in that 20,000 to 30,000 range as 2016 begins.

    How about the capture of cities then? Well, the U.S. and its partners have already gone a few rounds when it comes to taking cities. After all, U.S. troops claimed Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s al-Anbar Province, in 2003, only to see the American-trained Iraqi army lose it to ISIS in May 2015, and U.S-trained Iraqi special operations troops backed by U.S. air power retake it (in almost completely destroyed condition) as 2015 ended. As one pundit put it, the destruction and the cost of rebuilding make Ramadi “a victory in the worst possible sense.” Yet the battle cry in Washington and Baghdad remains “On to Mosul!”

    Similar “successes” have regularly been invoked when it came to ridding the world of evil tyrants, whether Iraq’s Saddam Hussein or Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, only to see years of blowback follow. Same for terrorist masterminds, including Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki, as well as minor-minds (Jihadi John in Syria), only to see others pop up and terror outfits spread. The sum of all this activity, 14-plus years of it, has been ever more failed states and ungoverned spaces.

    If your candidate needs a what-hasn’t-worked summary statement, it’s simple: everything.


    How Dangerous Is Islamic Terrorism for Americans?

    To any argument you make to your preferred presidential candidate about what did not “work,” you need to add a sober assessment of the real impact of terrorism on the United States in order to ask the question: Why exactly are we engaged in this war on this scale?

    Hard as it is to persuade a constantly re-terrorized American public of the actual situation we face, there have been only 38 Americans killed in the U.S. by Islamic terrorists, lone wolves, or whacked-out individuals professing allegiance to Islamic extremism, or ISIS, or al-Qaeda, since 9/11. Argue about the number if you want. In fact, double or triple it and it still adds up to a tragic but undeniable drop in the bucket. To gain some perspective, pick your favorite comparison: number of Americans killed since 9/11 by guns (more than 400,000) or by drunk drivers in 2012 alone (more than 10,000).

    And spare us the tired trope about how security measures at our airports and elsewhere have saved us from who knows how many attacks. A recent test by the Department of Homeland’s own Inspector General’s Office showed that 95% of contraband, including weapons and explosives, got through airport screening without being detected. Could it be that there just aren’t as many bad guys out there aiming to take down our country as candidates on the campaign trail would like to imagine?

    Or take a look at the National Security Agency’s Fourth Amendment-smothering blanket surveillance. How’d that do against the Boston bombing or the attacks in San Bernardino? There’s no evidence it has ever uncovered a real terror plot against this country.

    Islamic terrorism in the United States is less a serious danger than a carefully curated fear.


    Introduce Your Candidate to the Real World

    You should have your candidate’s attention by now. Time to remind him or her that Washington’s war on terror strategy has already sent at least $1.6 trillion down the drain, left thousands of American troops and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Muslims dead. Along the way we lost precious freedoms to the ever-expanding national security state.

    So start advising your candidate that a proper response to the Islamic State has to be proportional to the real threat. After all, we have fire departments always on call, but they don’t ride around spraying water on homes 24/7 out of “an abundance of caution.”


    We Have to Do Something

    So here’s what you might suggest that your candidate do, because you know that s/he will demand to “do something.”

    Start by suggesting that, as a society, we take a deep look at ourselves, our leaders, and our media, and stop fanning everyone’s flames. It’s time, among other things, to stop harassing and discriminating against our own Muslim population, only to stand by slack-jawed as a few of them become radicalized, and Washington then blames Twitter. As president, you need to opt out of all this, and dissuade others from buying into it.

    As for the Islamic State itself, it can’t survive, never mind fight, without funds. So candidate, it’s time to man/woman up, and go after the real sources of funding.

    As long as the U.S. insists on flying air attack sorties (and your candidate may unfortunately need to do so to cover his/her right flank), direct them far more intensely than at present against one of ISIS’s main sources of cash: oil exports. Blow up trucks moving oil. Blow up wellheads in ISIS-dominated areas. Finding targets is not hard. The Russians released reconnaissance photos showing what they claimed were 12,000 trucks loaded with smuggled oil, backed up near the Turkish border.

    But remind your candidate that this would not be an expansion of the air war or a shifting from one bombing campaign to a new one. It would be a short-term move, with a defined end point of shutting down the flow of oil. It would only be one part of a far larger effort to shut down ISIS’s sources of funds.

    Next, use whatever diplomatic and economic pressure is available to make it clear to whomever in Turkey that it’s time to stop facilitating the flow of that ISIS oil onto the black market. Then wield that same diplomatic and economic pressure to force buyers to stop purchasing it. Some reports suggest that Israel, cut off from most Arab sources of oil, has become a major buyer of ISIS’s supplies. If so, step on some allied toes. C’mon, someone is buying all that black-market black gold.

    The same should go for Turkey’s behavior toward ISIS.  That would extend from its determination to fight Kurdish forces fighting ISIS to the way it’s allowed jihadis to enter Syria through its territory to the way it’s funneled arms to various extreme Islamic groups in that country. Engage Turkey’s fellow NATO members. Let them do some of the heavy lifting. They have a dog in this fight, too.

    And speaking of stepping on allied toes, make it clear to the Saudis and other Sunni Persian Gulf states that they must stop sending money to ISIS. Yes, we’re told that this flow of “donations” comes from private citizens, not the Saudi government or those of its neighbors. Even so, they should be capable of exerting pressure to close the valve. Forget a “no-fly zone” over northern Syria — another fruitless “solution” to the problem of the Islamic State that various presidential candidates are now plugging — and use the international banking system to create a no-flow zone.

    You may not be able to stop every buck from reaching ISIS, but most of it will do in a situation where every dollar counts.

    Your candidate will obviously then ask you, “What else?  There must be more we can do, mustn’t there?”

    To this, your answer should be blunt: Get out. Land the planes, ground the drones, and withdraw. Pull out the boots, the trainers, the American combatants and near combatants (whatever the euphemism of the moment for them may be). Anybody who has ever listened to a country and western song knows that there’s always a time to step away from the table and cut your losses. Throwing more money (lives, global prestige…) into the pot won’t alter the cards you’re holding. All you’re doing is postponing the inevitable at great cost.

    In the end, there is nothing the United States can do about the processes now underway in the Middle East except stand on the beach trying to push back the waves.

    This is history talking to us.


    That Darn History Thing

    Sometimes things change visibly at a specific moment: December 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor, or the morning of September 11, 2001. Sometimes the change is harder to pinpoint, like the start of the social upheaval that, in the U.S., came to be known as “the Sixties.”

    In the Middle East after World War I, representatives of the victorious British and French drew up national boundaries without regard for ethnic, sectarian, religious, tribal, resource, or other realities. Their goal was to divvy up the defeated Ottoman Empire. Later, as their imperial systems collapsed, Washington moved in (though rejecting outright colonies for empire by proxy). Secular dictatorships were imposed on the region and supported by the West past their due dates. Any urge toward popular self-government was undermined or destroyed, as with the coup against elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran in 1953, or the way the Obama administration manipulated the Arab Spring in Egypt, leading to the displacement of a democratically chosen government by a military coup in 2013.

    In this larger context, the Islamic State is only a symptom, not the disease. Washington’s problem has been its desire to preserve a collapsing nation-state system at the heart of the Middle East. The Bush administration’s 2003 invasion of Iraq certainly sped up the process in a particularly disastrous fashion. Twelve years later, there can’t be any question that the tide has turned in the Middle East — forever.

    It’s time for the U.S. to stand back and let local actors deal with the present situation. ISIS’s threat to us is actually minimal. Its threat to those in the region is another matter entirely. Without Washington further roiling the situation, it’s a movement whose limits will quickly enough become apparent.

    The war with ISIS is, in fact, a struggle of ideas, anti-western and anti-imperialist, suffused with religious feeling. You can’t bomb an idea or a religion away. Whatever Washington may want, much of the Middle East is heading toward non-secular governments, and toward the destruction of the monarchies and the military thugs still trying to preserve updated versions of the post-World War I system. In the process, borders, already dissolving, will sooner or later be redrawn in ways that reflect how people on the ground actually see themselves.

    There is little use in questioning whether this is the right or wrong thing because there is little Washington can do to stop it. However, as we should have learned in these last 14 years, there is much it can do to make things far worse than they ever needed to be. The grim question today is simply how long this painful process takes and how high a cost it extracts. To take former President George W. Bush’s phrase and twist it a bit, you’re either with the flow of history or against it.


    Fear Itself

    Initially, Washington’s military withdrawal from the heart of the Middle East will undoubtedly further upset the current precarious balances of power in the region. New vacuums will develop and unsavory characters will rush in. But the U.S. has a long history of either working pragmatically with less than charming figures (think: the Shah of Iran, Anwar Sadat, or Saddam Hussein before he became an enemy) or isolating them. Iran, currently the up-and-coming power in the area absent the United States, will no doubt benefit, but its reentry into the global system is equally inevitable.

    And the oil will keep flowing; it has to. The countries of the Middle East have only one mighty export and need to import nearly everything else. You can’t eat oil, so you must sell it, and a large percentage of that oil is already sold to the highest bidder on world markets.

    It’s true that, even in the wake of an American withdrawal, the Islamic State might still try to launch Paris-style attacks or encourage San Bernardino-style rampages because, from a recruitment and propaganda point of view, it’s advantageous to have the U.S. and the former colonial powers as your number one enemies.  This was something Osama bin Laden realized early on vis-à-vis Washington. He succeeded beyond his wildest dreams in drawing the U.S. deeply into the quagmire and tricking Washington into doing much of his work for him. But the dangers of such attacks remain limited and can be lived with. As a nation, we survived World War II, decades of potential nuclear annihilation, and scores of threats larger than ISIS. It’s disingenuous to believe terrorism is a greater threat to our survival.

    And here’s a simple reality to explain to your candidate: we can’t defend everything, not without losing everything in the process. We can try to lock down airports and federal buildings, but there is no way, nor should there be, to secure every San Bernardino holiday party, every school, and every bus stop. We should, in fact, be ashamed to be such a fear-based society here in the home of the brave. Today, sadly enough, the most salient example of American exceptionalism is being the world’s most scared country. Only in that sense could it be said that the terrorists are “winning” in America.


    At this point, your candidate will undoubtedly say: “Wait! Won’t these ideas be hard to sell to the American people? Won’t our allies object?”

    And the reply to that, at least for a candidate not convinced that more of the same is the only way to go, might be: “After more than 14 years of the wrong answers and the disasters that followed, do you have anything better to suggest?”




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    Posted in Post-Constitution America

    Petraeus: ‘It’s Time to Unleash America’s Airpower in Afghanistan’

    January 21, 2016 // 10 Comments »

    petraeus


    In an Op-Ed printed in the Washington Post, former General David Petraeus says it is time to “unleash our airpower in support of our Afghan partners in the same way that we support our Iraqi and Syrian partners against extremists.”


    Petraeus went on to claim:

    At present, U.S. and NATO airpower in Afghanistan is used only to attack validated al-Qaeda targets, to counter specific individuals or groups who have attacked coalition forces previously and to respond directly to attacks on coalition forces. According to leaders on the ground, U.S. and NATO forces are otherwise not allowed to attack Taliban targets. The situation appears to be in flux in regard to Islamic State elements, but through 2015, they too could be targeted only under narrow circumstances.

    The former general, who lead the failed Surge in Iraq, and former head of the CIA, who was thrown out of the job after his extra-marital affair with his biographer Paula Broadwell, and after his being convicted of exposing classified information, went on to say:

    We have the tools in place to step up our game considerably. When combined with a motivated and competent ground force, airpower can be quite effective. This was witnessed in 2001, when U.S. airpower and special operatives worked with the Northern Alliance to oust the Taliban from power.

    So at this point one must ask the key question: has Petraeus had a stroke or is he on Acid, because otherwise his statements ignore reality, perhaps the laws of time and space themselves.



    To begin, Petraeus’ statement that airpower in 2001 “ousted the Taliban,” a statement made without apparent irony, would be hilarious if it was not utterly tragic. Petraeus seems to have missed a few meetings, at which he would have learned that since those victories in 2001 the Taliban has been doing just fine, thanks. The U.S. has remained inside the Afghan quagmire for more than 14 more years, and currently has no end game planned for the war. Air power, with or without “a motivated and competent ground force” (as if such a thing can ever exist in Afghanistan, we’ve been training and equipping there for 14 years), never is enough. There are examples to draw from going back into WWI.

    It is also unclear on what information Petraeus is basing his statements that the U.S. is broadly “not allowed to attack Taliban targets.” Petraeus only refers to “leaders on the ground” as his source. We’d sure like to hear more about that.

    And, David, how the hell did ISIS come into existence anyway, and how did they get into Afghanistan? U.S. have anything to do with that?

    I get it. I get why the failed options are still so attractive. Bombing and drones are believed by the majority of Americans to be surgical procedures that kill lots of bad guys, not too many innocents, and no Americans at all. As Washington regularly imagines it, once air power is in play, someone else’s boots will eventually hit the ground. A handful of Special Forces troops, American boots-sorta-on-the-ground, will turn the tide. Washington will collect and hold together some now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t “coalition” to abet the task at hand. It all sounds good, even though it is not.

    Petraeus failed in Iraq (that war is still going on and on) and he failed at CIA. Oh, and yes, in 2010 Petraeus served as the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, a period in which insurgent attacks on coalition forces spiked to record levels, and violence metastasized to previously stable areas.

    So the most important question of all is why anyone is still listening to David Petraeus?



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    Posted in Post-Constitution America

    Top General Warns of New ISIS Threat… in Jamaica?

    January 15, 2016 // 5 Comments »

    Caribbean_princess



    It appears America’s military fear-mongers have just about run out of new ways to try to frighten us into submission. So the best they are able to come up with now is to say the boogie men are heading south, to the blue waters and delightful beaches of the very un-Muslim Caribbean.

    Seriously. And the photo above is of an ISIS landing craft.


    The number of ISIS devotees living in or coming from the Caribbean is on the rise, according to U.S. Southern Command chief General John Kelly, who oversees “security” (and paranoia) throughout South America.

    Kelly said he has seen a shift in rhetoric by top ISIS leaders geared toward a “few very, very radical mosques” in the Caribbean, essentially directing would-be disciples to conduct attacks from their islands (a sort of “work from home” scheme) rather than trek to the Middle East and risk capture by law enforcement. Nonetheless, Kelly estimates that the number of radicals who left the region anyway to join ISIS has risen from 100 to 150 over the last year.

    “It seems like the Islamic extremists and terrorists have shifted a lot of their message, and that is, ‘Hey, rather than come to Syria, why don’t you stay at home and do San Bernardino, or do Boston, or do Fort Hood?’” Kelly said Friday at a Pentagon press briefing, reciting just about the only real terror actions in the Homeland over the past 14 years. Also, the Fort Hood shooter was motivated by al Qaeda; ISIS didn’t exist outside of Iraq at that time. Maybe a lesson in there, eh General?

    The Marine Corps four-star general said he was particularly worried that “nuts can cause an awful lot of trouble down in the Caribbean” because small island nations like Jamaica lack law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI or the Transportation Security Administration, and many of them have “very, very small militaries, if they have militaries at all.” Oh, if only they could be more like us…

    Now of course the question might be how will these new Islamic pirates of the caribbean infiltrate the United States? Perhaps by disguising themselves as bales of marijuana?



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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Post-Constitution America

    White House Meets With Silicon Valley Execs to “Disrupt” ISIS Online

    January 14, 2016 // 5 Comments »

    google

    Since our providers and tech makers in Silicon Valley are already deep in bed with the NSA to help spy on us, it should be little surprise that the White House now wants them to climb on board another Bill of Rights busting train and help “disrupt” ISIS online by editing the Internet.


    This new strategy is based on the government’s firm belief that the real cause of radicalization is because some suburban kid reads a Tweet and then poof! skips Spring Break for jihad. The idea that the roots of radical actions lie deep and involve complex motivations, including being torqued off at bloodthirsty U.S. foreign policy, meh, let’s blame social media and that damn rock ‘n roll you kids like and use it all as a way to clamp down on political speech the government doesn’t like.


    And now, mighty tech giants, you can help.

    Silicon Valley executives met with top government officials in a private (of course!) meeting this week to game out strategies to counter Islamic State online. The goal is for technology companies to crack down on ISIS’ social media. See, if Google does it based on government instructions instead of the government doing it directly, it does not technically violate the First Amendment.

    According to America’s best newspaper, the UK Guardian, executives from Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Apple, and Microsoft attended along with FBI Director James Comey, NSA Director Mike Rogers, NIA Director James Clapper, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.


    The Guardian obtained a copy of the agenda for the meeting, which focuses heavily on the devil’s tool, social media. So here’s how the government thinks ISIS will be defeated online:

    a. How can we make it harder for terrorists to leveraging [sic] the internet to recruit, radicalize, and mobilize followers to violence?

    b. How can we help others to create, publish, and amplify alternative content that would undercut ISIL?

    c. In what ways can we use technology to help disrupt paths to radicalization to violence, identify recruitment patterns, and provide metrics to help measure our efforts to counter radicalization to violence?

    d. How can we make it harder for terrorists to use the internet to mobilize, facilitate, and operationalize attacks, and make it easier for law enforcement and the intelligence community to identify terrorist operatives and prevent attacks?

    I especially love the bit in Item C about providing “metrics to help measure our efforts to counter radicalization to violence.” Exactly how does one gather metrics to prove a negative, i.e., how many people allegedly don’t join ISIS because of something they read online?


    Anyway, as a loyal American myself, and as a public service, I offer the following suggestions:

    — Hack each ISIS site so that it includes pop-ups, multiple invitations to sign up for newsletters and take surveys, autoplay videos set to high volume and use banner ads, lots of banner, ads for payday loan places and boner pills. No one will stay long enough to read the ISIS content.

    — Include more photos of Kim Kardashian interspersed with the ISIS Twitter feed as a distraction. Offer an hour with Kim (she’s a patriotic gal but maybe not a virgin) for each person who denounces ISIS with an emoticon. 🙂

    — Redirect any ISIS phone numbers to a call center in India with an endless loop of “Press or say 145.89 for customer service” prompts.

    — Stop killing Muslims and stop throwing gasoline into Middle East fires, close Guantanamo, have a truth commission expose American torture practices, and realign U.S. foreign policy to stop sucking up to the Saudis as its mainstay.




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    New ‘Jihadi John?’ ISIS Video Features English-Speaker

    January 6, 2016 // 22 Comments »

    newjihadijohn.jpg.CROP.promo-xlarge2


    For those who still don’t get why the War of Terror continues to fail after 14+ years, here is another lesson.

    We all remember “Jihadi John,” who of course was never called that except in the western media. John (real name: Mohammed Emwazi) was a British citizen who became radicalized, joined ISIS and went on to do horrible things, including beheadings. The media, in hand with the White House and Downing Street, fluffed this one loser guy up into an international super villain. So, when eventually the world’s most powerful nation finally killed him in November 2015 with million-dollars air sorties and drones, we were all supposed to go full-out-bin-Laden-celebration, on the road to victory over Islamic State, with a little old fashioned Wild West vengeance thrown in for the feel good.

    And so now guess what?

    There’s a new guy to replace Jihadi John. He doesn’t have a stupid nickname yet, so let’s be the first and call him Haji Hank. He executed five persons claimed to be British spies, creating the video you see above in the process.

    The U.S. strategy is called whack-a-mole. You smite bin Laden and someone takes over — al Qaeda is still around, people. You suppress al Qaeda to a certain extent, and ISIS pops up. There are lots and lots of Jihadi Johns and Haji Hanks out there, waiting in line. Even the world’s most powerful nation can’t kill them all. They do more than reproduce; they recruit.

    The video I could locate cuts off before the shooting. Those who have seen the whole thing say the five men are then all shot at point blank range. The video ends with a young child wearing military fatigues and speaking in English: “We are going to go kill the kafir [non-believers] over there.”

    U.K. security agencies immediately started to try to identify the man in the video and are working on the assumption that it is a real message from ISIS. “British investigators will have to rely on voice analysis to try to establish his identity and by monitoring chatter on Twitter and other social media as well as other electronic communication to see if there are any clues,” reports the Guardian.

    Twitter chatter. That’ll show them.






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    Man Charged With Planning (Non-) Attack on Behalf of ISIS

    January 5, 2016 // 4 Comments »

    lutchman



    For 25 percent of your grade this term, compare and contrast the following two true descriptions of the same thing.


    The opening to the New York Times story:

    A 25-year-old man in Rochester has been arrested and charged with preparing to stage a New Year’s Eve machete attack on diners at a local restaurant on behalf of the Islamic State. The man, Emanuel L. Lutchman, is accused of gathering knives, a machete, ski masks and zip ties as part of his plan to raid the restaurant and possibly kidnap someone, taking advantage of what a self-identified Islamic State member overseas described as his position “behind enemy lines.”

    Mr. Lutchman appeared in federal court in Rochester on Thursday on a charge of attempting to provide material support and resources to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, as he pursued a goal of joining the terrorist organization overseas. “This New Year’s Eve prosecution underscores the threat of ISIL even in upstate New York but demonstrates our determination to immediately stop any who would cause harm in its name,” William J. Hochul Jr., the United States attorney in Buffalo, said in a statement.

    However, we learn later in the same article:

    … [Lutchman] despite his not having enough money to buy basic weapons or much apparent expertise in carrying out an attack… The investigation relied on undercover informers, some of them paid by the government, who prodded Mr. Lutchman for details of his plan and said they would help him.

    In part because he had no money, he said, Mr. Lutchman scaled back his plans, according to the complaint. On a drive with an informer, he pointed out a restaurant and bar in Rochester as a potential target of a knife attack, noting that his wife had a dagger and he knew someone who could sell him ski masks for five dollars.

    Another informer urged him not to be discouraged, and that same day the informer and Mr. Lutchman went to a Walmart store in Rochester to buy supplies. They picked up two black ski masks, zip ties, two knives, a machete, duct tape, ammonia and latex gloves, according to the complaint. The informer had to pay the $40 for them because Mr. Lutchman did not have money.

    New York governor Andrew Cuomo said in an interview that “the arrest of Emanuel Lutchman is an important reminder of the new normal of global terrorism.”

    Now, who is the real threat to us?



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    About That ISIS Plan to Attack Munich…

    January 4, 2016 // 7 Comments »

    10533-frightened-kitten-1920x1080-animal-wallpaper


    So while we huddled in drunken fear here in The Homeland, Germans in Das Homeland played out a similar game.


    You may have missed it among updates of our impending doom from terror attacks on New Year’s Eve, but in Munich two train stations were evacuated and closed after German officials had received a “very concrete” tip that suicide attacks were planned there. Everything got locked down and even the American Embassy in Germany Tweeted out an urgent bulletin to Americans.

    And yeah, I buried the lede: Nothing happened.


    Now, in the clearer light of morning, we learn more about that “very concrete” tip that set all this off.

    According to Reuters, a German policespokesperson said “We received names. We can’t say if they were in Munich or in fact in Germany. At this point we don’t know if these names are correct, if these people even exist, or where they might be. We have no information that these people are in Munich or in Germany.”

    Germany’s interior minister added “Security forces anticipate the high threat of international terrorism to persist.” Who knew?

    The train stations were reopened by morning and the police presence significantly reduced, apparently because the vague tip from the night before was seen as even more vague a little while later. I guess “very concrete” tips have limited life spans, or Germany is really sure terrorists are always right on time with their suicide bombs. Heck, maybe they missed their bus or something, or their watches were still set to Syrian time.


    Elsewhere in Europe, police in the Austrian capital Vienna said a “friendly” intelligence service had warned European capitals of the possibility of a shooting or bomb attack before New Year. Nothing happened.

    In Belgium, authorities off the usual New Year’s Eve fireworks display in the capital, citing fears of a possible militant attack. Nothing happened.

    Throughout the Munich alert, police kept up a stream of messages in several languages on Twitter, at times alternating incongruously between security warnings and New Year greetings. Reminder: Nothing happened.

    Time to get a new catchphrase Mr. War of Terror — “out of an abundance of caution” has worn out its welcome and means little more than over reaction. Yes, yes, of course something could always happen somewhere. But that’s the point, and panic, overreacting and crying wolf does nothing to protect against that.



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    We Are Still Alive (Non-Terrorism Edition)

    January 1, 2016 // 11 Comments »

    Passed out


    I survived. America, and the world, and you, survived. We awoke the first day of 2016 to find that once again, using the extraordinary power of fear, we defeated the terrorists.


    Hard as it is to persuade a constantly re-frightened American public, there have been only 38 Americans killed inside the Homeland by so-called Islamic terrorism since 9/11.

    Argue the number, hell, go ahead and double or triple it, and it still a tragic, sad, but undeniable drop in the bucket. Throw in a few mysterious “foiled plots” the government never seems to have many specifics on to share and tack on some more to the terror body count. No matter how hard you drive, you just can’t get the number of Americans killed or even in clear danger of being killed to a very large number.

    And do spare the tired trope of “well, security measures such as at our airports have saved us from who knows how many attacks.” Leaving aside the idea that the argument itself demands a kind of negative logic (the “who knows” part) to even make sense, a recent test by the Department of Homeland’s own Inspector General’s Office, posing as travelers, showed 95 percent of contraband, including weapons and explosives, got through during clandestine testings. If a failure rate of 95 percent did not have planes falling from the sky, one must conclude security has little to affect terrorism.

    CNN on the Eve told us that over one million people were in Times Square to see in the New Year, along with 6,000 cops. The guest being interviewed helpfully said that meant each cop would have to watch 166 people (actually, the guy said 300-500 to upgrade the worry) for signs that they were terrorists, and worried that the ratio was not enough to protect those out of each bunch of 166 who were not bad guys. Guess what? None of them were. More Americans died of alcohol poisoning (booze terror!) last night than terrorism.

    We are not terrorists. No one was hurt. No bombs went off. Almost all of our homegrown lone wolves are all Google and no game. It was all panic, designed to keep us in a state of fear. Fearful people are easy to manipulate.

    Stop being afraid.



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    Afghan Militia Loyal to Someone Behead Islamic State Fighters

    December 30, 2015 // 9 Comments »

    Judith_Beheading_Holofernes_by_CaravaggioHo, ho, ho, can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys. That might as well be America’s war of terror slogan (copyright, 2001-2015.)


    So see if you can sort out the Good from the Bad. Pretend you’re Secretary of State and this is a puzzle Barack has asked you to solve. Here are the facts:

    Afghan militiamen loyal to no government but currently used by Haji Zahir, deputy speaker of the U.S.-created Afghan parliament, beheaded four Islamic State fighters and publicly displayed their severed heads. This ultra-violence highlights an increasingly brutal conflict as ISIS makes inroads in Afghanistan.

    The beheadings by the Afghans of ISIS are in retaliation for ISIS earlier beheading four of Zahir’s own Afghan fighters. In what is a great statement, Zahir said “If they behead you, behead your son, do you expect us to cook sweets for them? Sweets are not distributed during war. People die.”

    To make his point crystal clear, Zahir’s men placed the severed heads of the four ISIS fighters atop stacks of stones on the side of a main road.

    ISIS, for its part, continues to scoop up disaffected Taliban fighters, who are unhappy with their own group’s level of violence and are increasingly lured by ISIS’ signature brutality.


    So:

    — ISIS is now a thing in Afghanistan, after 14+ years of American occupation and nation building there. Fun facts: ISIS did not even exist when the U.S. first invaded Afghanistan in 2001, and the younger American soldiers now deployed there were in First Grade when the initial U.S. invasion kicked off;

    — The deputy speaker of the U.S.-created Afghan parliament has his own militia;

    — People sort of on the good Afghan side are doing the same brutal things such as beheadings without U.S. condemnation, as ISIS is doing elsewhere with U.S. condemnation, but that’s OK;

    — Afghanistan is so f*cked;

    — And so sorry to the 3,512 American and coalition deaths expended to create that free Afghanistan! Things will work out better in Syria, we promise.






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    Ramadi is Free! But This Ain’t Over Yet…

    December 29, 2015 // 2 Comments »

    ramadi


    So, have you heard the good news? The town of Ramadi, in the Disneyland of the Middle East, Iraq, is free again. Iraqi military forces have retaken the town from Islamic State. Sort of. Maybe.

    The town of Ramadi is a popular place for liberationing. In 2003, the United States liberated it from Saddam, though fighting continued right up through 2011, when the new Iraqis liberated the town from the Americans. That lasted until spring 2015, when ISIS liberated Ramadi back from the new Iraqi National Army. Now, in December, somebody Iraqi sort of took the town back.


    — Sort of… is the operative word, in that even the best estimates suggest that ISIS still controls some 25 percent of Ramadi.

    — Sort of… in the sense that U.S. bombing and the Iraqi siege has destroyed much of Ramadi in order to free it and left many of its residents homeless, or dead.

    — Sort… of in the sense that it was not solely the Iraqi government’s forces which liberated Ramadi, but also Shia militias controlled by various factions in Iraq, and beholden to Iran. The event was stage-managed by the U.S. to create the appearance of a more unified effort by the Iraq side, and to use Ramadi as an example of how America’s train and equip strategy was finally working… sort of… somewhere.



    Newsweek’s Jeff Stein reports that the security forces of the Iran-backed regime in Baghdad that captured Ramadi largely consist of Shiite fighters in league with murderous militias that have slaughtered innocent Sunnis after ousting ISIS militants from Tikrit and other battlegrounds in the past year. Ramadi is the capital of the Sunni-dominated Anbar province, and the Shiites are ready to break some sectarian skulls.

    “We are not calling a spade a spade,” says Derek Harvey, a retired U.S. Army intelligence colonel who’s been dealing with Iraq for over 25 years, including as intelligence adviser to both General David Petraeus,as quoted in Newsweek. “My sources on the ground say Shiite militias and sectarian fighters… are wearing MOI [Ministry of Interior] uniforms with MOI patches.” So they look like Iraqi Government forces, even though they are not.

    Their vehicles, Harvey adds, fly Shiite militia banners, “and the people who are commanding them are still Shiite militia leaders. Just because you put on a different uniform doesn’t mean you aren’t who you are, who their group identity is and who they’re committed to.”

    In Tikrit earlier this year, such circumstances of “victory” lead to reprisals killings of Sunnis, and loss of central government control over the city. If that happens again in Ramadi, there is nothing close to a victory to celebrate.

    The U.S. coalition denies any Shia groups were involved in Ramadi, and reports from the very few journalists on the ground tend to support that position,in contrast to the Newsweek report.



    BONUS: The Ministry of Interior is controlled by the Shia Badr political party, which originated in 1982 as an Iran-backed Iraqi exile group headquartered in Tehran. With the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, it moved inside the country, and its members infiltrated the army and police. In 2014, the stand-alone Badr Brigade, led by Iranian officers, was basically the only force standing in the way of an ISIS takeover of Baghdad.



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    Classes Canceled Because of Arabic Lesson

    December 18, 2015 // 11 Comments »

    arabic_mandatory


    Continuing to jump at Islamic State shadows, Americans once again have embarrassed themselves globally with a display of fear. We are back to the days of pissy fit stuff like “Freedom Fries” as a way of telling the world the home of the brave is made up of silly cats.


    To wit, the entire Augusta County, Virginia, school district will be closed Friday, after a teacher asked students as part of their study of world religions to copy an example of Arabic calligraphy, the Islamic statement of faith, or shahada.

    The statement is one of the cornerstones of Islam, and knowing what it is and what it says and what it means is critical to any understanding of Islam. Calligraphy itself is also a major part of Islamic art and intellectual culture.


    The evil assignment was given by Cheryl LaPorte, a longtime jihadi teacher at Augusta County Schools. In the course of learning about different regions around the world, students also study the regions’ culture, which includes its predominant religions. Students had learned about Christianity and Judaism, and will learn about Hinduism and Buddhism, all of which America does not currently regard as terrorism.

    In English, the shahada states, “There is no God but God [Allah], and Muhammad is His Messenger.” While recitation of the shahada is part of the conversion process to Islam, students were not asked to recite it, but simply to copy it.

    (Quick Note: The shada is not a Harry Potter-esque spell. Anyone who writes or utters it is not magically transformed into a Muslim. You are safe if you read that last paragraph.)


    Initial reaction from loving Christian parents called for such extreme actions as having LaPorte lynched fired for “violating children’s religious beliefs.” However, both the Virginia Department of Education and the local superintendent reviewed the material and found it both in line with state standards, as well as not in violation of students’ rights, because, among other things a) common sense; b) normal people’s rational thinking, and c) the First Amendment’s protections for all religions.

    And yet… and yet… during a forum, Kimberly Herndon, the parent who organized the event, said she didn’t want a “false doctrine” spoken in schools.

    “She gave up the Lord’s time,” Herndon frothed of teacher LaPorte. “She gave it to Mohammed. If my truth cannot be spoken in schools, I don’t want false doctrine spoken in schools.”


    On the sheriff’s recommendation, the school system decided to cancel Friday’s classes after coming under a deluge of hate calls and ugly emails from outside the community, all prompted by conservative media picking up the story and fanning the flames.

    Meanwhile, hate crimes against Muslims across the U.S. of A have tripled in the past month, not that there is any connection.


    BONUS: I have no idea what the Arabic script above actually says. It could be some boring state government notice or it could be the recipe for Islamic cooties. You are risking jail time, never mind eternal Christian damnation, just by reading this.

    (It is some boring state government notice from the state of Oregon website. You may exhale now.)




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    Washington to Whomever: Please Fight the Islamic State for Us

    December 17, 2015 // 5 Comments »

    afghankids

    In the many strategies proposed to defeat the Islamic State (IS) by presidential candidates, policymakers, and media pundits alike across the American political spectrum, one common element stands out: someone else should really do it.

    The United States will send in planes, advisers, and special ops guys, but it would be best — and this varies depending on which pseudo-strategist you cite — if the Arabs, Kurds, Turks, Sunnis, and/or Shias would please step in soon and get America off the hook.

    The idea of seeing other-than-American boots on the ground, like Washington’s recently deep-sixed scheme to create some “moderate” Syrian rebels out of whole cloth, is attractive on paper. Let someone else fight America’s wars for American goals. Put an Arab face on the conflict, or if not that at least a Kurdish one (since, though they may not be Arabs, they’re close enough in an American calculus). Let the U.S. focus on its “bloodless” use of air power and covert ops. Somebody else, Washington’s top brains repeatedly suggest, should put their feet on the embattled, contested ground of Syria and Iraq. Why, the U.S. might even gift them with nice, new boots as a thank-you.

    Is this, however, a realistic strategy for winning America’s war(s) in the Middle East?


    The Great Champions of the Grand Strategy

    Recently, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton openly called for the U.S. to round up some Arab allies, Kurds, and Iraqi Sunnis to drive the Islamic State’s fighters out of Iraq and Syria. On the same day that Clinton made her proposal, Bernie Sanders called for “destroying” the Islamic State, but suggested that it “must be done primarily by Muslim nations.” It’s doubtful he meant Indonesia or Malaysia.

    Among the Republican contenders, Marco Rubio proposed that the U.S. “provide arms directly to Sunni tribal and Kurdish forces.” Ted Cruz threw his support behind arming the Kurds, while Donald Trump appeared to favor more violence in the region by whoever might be willing to jump in.

    The Pentagon has long been in favor of arming both the Kurds and whatever Sunni tribal groups it could round up in Iraq or Syria. Various pundits across the political spectrum say much the same.

    They may all mean well, but their plans are guaranteed to fail. Here’s why, group by group.


    The Gulf Arabs

    Much of what the candidates demand is based one premise: that “the Arabs” see the Islamic State as the same sort of threat Washington does.

    It’s a position that, at first glance, would seem to make obvious sense. After all, while American politicians are fretting about whether patient IS assault teams can wind their way through this country’s two-year refugee screening process, countries like Saudi Arabia have them at their doorstep. Why wouldn’t they jump at the chance to lend a helping hand, including some planes and soldiers, to the task of destroying that outfit? “The Arabs,” by which the U.S. generally means a handful of Persian Gulf states and Jordan, should logically be demanding the chance to be deeply engaged in the fight.

    That was certainly one of the early themes the Obama administration promoted after it kicked off its bombing campaigns in Syria and Iraq back in 2014. In reality, the Arab contribution to that “coalition” effort to date has been stunningly limited. Actual numbers can be slippery, but we know that American warplanes have carried out something like 90% of the air strikes against IS. Of those strikes that are not all-American, parsing out how many have been from Arab nations is beyond even Google search’s ability. The answer clearly seems to be not many.

    Keep in mind as well that the realities of the region seldom seem to play much of a part in Washington’s thinking. For the Gulf Arabs, all predominantly Sunni nations, the Islamic State and its al-Qaeda-linked Sunni ilk are little more than a distraction from what they fear most, the rise of Shia power in places like Iraq and the growing regional strength of Iran.

    In this context, imagining such Arab nations as a significant future anti-IS force is absurd. In fact, Sunni terror groups like IS and al-Qaeda have in part been funded by states like Saudi Arabia or at least rich supporters living in them. Direct funding links are often difficult to prove, particularly if the United States chooses not to publicly prove them. This is especially so because the money that flows into such terror outfits often comes from individual donors, not directly from national treasuries, or may even be routed through legitimate charitable organizations and front companies.

    However, one person concerned in an off-the-record way with such Saudi funding for terror groups was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton back in 2009.  In a classified warning message (now posted on WikiLeaks), she suggested in blunt terms that donors in Saudi Arabia were the “most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”

    One who thinks the Saudis and other Gulf countries may be funding rather than fighting IS and is ready to say so is Russian President Vladimir Putin. At the recent G20 meeting, he announced that he had shared intelligence information revealing that 40 countries, including some belonging to the G20 itself, finance the majority of the Islamic State’s activities. Though Putin’s list of supposed funders was not made public, on the G20 side Saudi Arabia and Turkey are more likely candidates than South Korea and Japan.

    Most recently, the German vice chancellor has explicitly accused the Saudis of funding Sunni radical groups.

    Expecting the Gulf Arab states to fight IS also ignores the complex political relationship between those nations and Islamic fundamentalism generally. The situation is clearest in Saudi Arabia, where the secular royal family holds power only with the shadowy permission of Wahhabist religious leaders. The latter provide the former with legitimacy at the price of promoting Islamic fundamentalism abroad. From the royals’ point of view, abroad is the best place for it to be, as they fear an Islamic revolution at home. In a very real way, Saudi Arabia is supporting an ideology that threatens its own survival.


    The Kurds

    At the top of the list of groups included in the American dream of someone else fighting IS are the Kurds. And indeed, the peshmerga, the Kurdish militia, are actually on the battlefields of northern Iraq and Syria, using American-supplied weapons and supported by American air power and advisers in their efforts to kill Islamic State fighters.

    But looks can be deceiving. While a Venn diagram would show an overlap between some U.S. and Kurdish aims, it’s important not to ignore the rest of the picture. The Kurds are fighting primarily for a homeland, parts of which are, for the time being, full of Islamic State fighters in need of killing. The Kurds may indeed destroy them, but only within the boundaries of what they imagine to be a future Kurdistan, not in the heartlands of the Syrian and Iraqi regions that IS now controls.

    Not only will the Kurds not fight America’s battles in parts of the region, no matter how we arm and advise them, but it seems unlikely that, once in control of extended swaths of northern Iraq and parts of Syria, they will simply abandon their designs on territory that is now a part of Turkey. It’s a dangerous American illusion to imagine that Washington can turn Kurdish nationalism on and off as needed.

    The Kurds, now well armed and battle-tested, are just one of the genies Washington released from that Middle Eastern bottle in 2003 when it invaded Iraq. Now, whatever hopes the U.S. might still have for future stability in the region shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Using the Kurds to fight IS is a devil’s bargain.


    The Turks

    And talking about devil’s bargains, don’t forget about Turkey. The Obama administration reached a deal to fly combat missions in its intensifying air war against the Islamic State from two bases in Turkey. In return, Washington essentially looked the other way while Turkish President Recep Erdogan re-launched a war against internal Kurdish rebels at least in part to rally nationalistic supporters and win an election. Similarly, the U.S. has supported Turkey’s recent shoot-down of a Russian aircraft.

    When it comes to the Islamic State, though, don’t hold your breath waiting for the Turks to lend a serious military hand. That country’s government has, at the very least, probably been turning a blind eye to the smuggling of arms into Syria for IS, and is clearly a conduit for smuggling its oil out onto world markets. American politicians seem to feel that, for now, it’s best to leave the Turks off to the side and simply be grateful to them for slapping the Russians down and opening their air space to American aircraft.

    That gratitude may be misplaced. Some 150 Turkish troops, supported by 20 to 25 tanks, have recently entered northern Iraq, prompting one Iraqi parliamentarian to label the action “switching out alien (IS) rule for other alien rule.” The Turks claim that they have had military trainers in the area for some time and that they are working with local Kurds to fight IS. It may also be that the Turks are simply taking a bite from a splintering Iraq. As with so many situations in the region, the details are murky, but the bottom line is the same: the Turks’ aims are their own and they are likely to contribute little either to regional stability or American war aims.


    The Sunnis

    Of the many sub-strategies proposed to deal with the Islamic State, the idea of recruiting and arming “the Sunnis” is among the most fantastical. It offers a striking illustration of the curious, somewhat delusional mindset that Washington policymakers, including undoubtedly the next president, live in.

    As a start, the thought that the U.S. can effectively fulfill its own goals by recruiting local Sunnis to take up arms against IS is based on a myth: that “the surge” during America’s previous Iraq War brought us a victory later squandered by the locals. With this goes a belief, demonstrably false, in the shallowness of the relationship between many Iraqi and Syrian Sunnis and the Islamic State.

    According to the Washington mythology that has grown up around that so-called surge of 2007-2008, the U.S. military used money, weapons, and clever persuasion to convince Iraq’s Sunni tribes to break with Iraq’s local al-Qaeda organization. The Sunnis were then energized to join the coalition government the U.S. had created. In this way, so the story goes, the U.S. arrived at a true “mission accomplished” moment in Iraq. Politicians on both sides of the aisle in Washington still believe that the surge, led by General David Petraeus, swept to success by promoting and arming a “Sunni Awakening Movement,” only to see American plans thwarted by a too-speedy Obama administration withdrawal from the country and the intra-Iraqi squabbling that followed. So the question now is: why not “awaken” the Sunnis again?

    In reality, the surge involved almost 200,000 American soldiers, who put themselves temporarily between Sunni and Shia militias. It also involved untold millions of dollars of “payments” — what in another situation would be called bribes — that brought about temporary alliances between the U.S. and the Sunnis. The Shia-dominated Iraqi central government never signed onto the deal, which began to fall apart well before the American occupation ended. The replacement of al-Qaeda in Iraq by a newly birthed Islamic State movement was, of course, part and parcel of that falling-apart process.

    After the Iraqi government stopped making the payments to Sunni tribal groups first instituted by the Americans, those tribes felt betrayed. Still occupying Iraq, those Americans did nothing to help the Sunnis. History suggests that much of Sunni thinking in the region since then has been built around the motto of “won’t get fooled again.”

    So it is unlikely in the extreme that local Sunnis will buy into basically the same deal that gave them so little of lasting value the previous time around. This is especially so since there will be no new massive U.S. force to act as a buffer against resurgent Shia militias. Add to this mix a deep Sunni conviction that American commitments are never for the long term, at least when it comes to them. What, then, would be in it for the Sunnis if they were to again throw in their lot with the Americans? Another chance to be part of a Shia-dominated government in Baghdad that seeks to marginalize or destroy them, a government now strengthened by Iranian support, or a Syria whose chaos could easily yield a leadership with similar aims?

    In addition, a program to rally Sunnis to take up arms against the Islamic State presumes that significant numbers of them don’t support that movement, especially given their need for protection from the depredations of Shia militias. Add in religious and ethnic sentiments, anti-western feelings, tribal affiliations, and economic advantage — it is believed that IS kicks back a share of its oil revenues to compliant Sunni tribal leaders — and what exactly would motivate a large-scale Sunni transformation into an effective anti-Islamic State boots-on-the-ground force?


    Shias

    Not that they get mentioned all that often, being closely associated with acts of brutality against Sunnis and heavily supported by Iran, but Iraq’s Shia militias are quietly seen by some in Washington as a potent anti-IS force. They have, in Washington’s mindset, picked up the slack left after the Iraqi Army abandoned its equipment and fled the Islamic State’s fighters in northern Iraq in June 2014, and again in the Sunni city of Ramadi in May 2015.

    Yet even the militia strategy seems to be coming undone. Several powerful Shia militias recently announced, for instance, their opposition to any further deployment of U.S. forces to their country. This was after the U.S. Secretary of Defense unilaterally announced that an elite special operations unit would be sent to Iraq to combat the Islamic State. The militias just don’t trust Washington to have their long-term interests at heart (and in this they are in good company in the region). “We will chase and fight any American force deployed in Iraq,” said one militia spokesman. “We fought them before and we are ready to resume fighting.”


    Refusing to Recognize Reality

    The Obama/Clinton/Sanders/Cruz/Rubio/Pentagon/et al. solution — let someone else fight the ground war against IS — is based on what can only be called a delusion: that regional forces there believe in American goals (some variant of secular rule, disposing of evil dictators, perhaps some enduring U.S. military presence) enough to ignore their own varied, conflicting, aggrandizing, and often fluid interests. In this way, Washington continues to convince itself that local political goals are not in conflict with America’s strategic goals. This is a delusion.

    In fact, Washington’s goals in this whole process are unnervingly far-fetched. Overblown fears about the supposedly dire threats of the Islamic State to “the homeland” aside, the American solution to radical Islam is an ongoing disaster. It is based on the attempted revitalization of the collapsed or collapsing nation-state system at the heart of that region. The stark reality is that no one there — not the Gulf states, not the Kurds, not the Turks, not the Sunnis, nor even the Shia — is fighting for Iraq and Syria as the U.S. remembers them.

    Unworkable national boundaries were drawn up after World War I without regard for ethnic, sectarian, or tribal realities and dictatorships were then imposed or supported past their due dates. The Western answer that only secular governments are acceptable makes sad light of the power of Islam in a region that often sees little or no separation between church and state.

    Secretary of State John Kerry can join the calls for the use of “indigenous forces” as often as he wants, but the reality is clear: Washington’s policy in Syria and Iraq is bound to fail, no matter who does the fighting.




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    Posted in Post-Constitution America

    State Department ‘Anti-ISIS Recruitment’ Twitter Endorses Islamophobe Nutter

    December 16, 2015 // 7 Comments »

    Ayaan-Hirsi-Ali-005

    So, at the cost of who-knows-how-many of your tax dollars, the State Department, in between deep-sixing Hillary’s old emails, has been fighting ISIS, with The Twitter thingie.


    See, someone determined that if ISIS could use social media to radicalize young people, with a powerful and persuasive message, well, the old, sad white people at the State Department could convince them that ISIS was bad. Plus, it’s social media, which is some sort of newfangled thing all the kids like! After no doubt many late nights, State came up with the clever name of “Think Again, Turn Away,” for its anti-ISIS social media campaign.

    The slogan itself sounds far too much like the 1980s’ hilariously failed anti-drug campaign, “Just Say No.” But this is even funnier.

    See, the social media war for hearts and minds over at State just took another body blow by promoting an anti-Islam advocate as a “human rights hero.” In fact, in honor of #HumanRightsDay, “Think Again Turn Away” Twittered and Facebooked out the message of Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

    The Problem

    The problem?

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali (pictured) speaks loudly, publicly and often about her belief that Islam is an inherently violent “cult of death.” She supports the proposed ban of face veils in France, and of mosques’ minarets in Switzerland. In 2007, she called for the west to destroy Islam using military force.

    This is kinda the wrong signal to send to young people already tuned in to ISIS’ message that the west is indeed at war with Islam itself, and seeks to kill Muslims and occupy their lands. Ali’s message, and the State Department’s endorsement and amplification of it, does little more than confirm many young Muslims’ fears. It does not support the better narrative that the problem is not Islam, and that it is OK to be a Muslim, as long as you are a nice Muslim to the rest of us.

    It is, in social media terms, a massive “boner” of a gaffe.


    How Could They Have Known?

    Now, how could the State Department have known about Ali’s views? All those Muslim names sound alike, right?

    Maybe by checking Wikipedia, which says:

    Ayaan has been a vocal critic of Islam. In 2004, she collaborated on a short movie with Theo van Gogh, entitled Submission, the English rendering of the word “Islam”, a film about the oppression of women under Islam. The documentary sparked controversy, which resulted in death threats against the two and the eventual assassination of Van Gogh later that year by a Dutch Muslim. In a 2007 interview, she described Islam as an “enemy” that needs to be defeated before peace can be achieved.

    Or maybe State could have “Googled” Ali, where they would have found articles with headlines like “Ayaan Hirsi Ali is dangerous: Why we must reject her hateful worldview.”

    Or maybe by watching Fox; Ali is a darling of the right wing haters.



    It’s Not About Her

    Look, I know Ali has a tragic life story, and that she was tortured by radical Islamists. The people State’s anti-ISIS messages are aimed at are already predisposed to accepting radical Islam’s violence. Many seek it out, and to them it forms a part of ISIS’ appeal.

    In the end of the day, this is not about Ali, it is about the pointlessness of the State Department social media campaign. A known Islamophobe won’t convince angry Muslims of anything.




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    Posted in Post-Constitution America

    Anonymous Hacks ISIS Site, Replaces it With Viagra Ad

    December 1, 2015 // 4 Comments »

    anonymous-1280x800


    Persons claiming to be associated with the “hacking” group Anonymous say they hacked into an ISIS-supporting website, replacing its content with a message to calm down alongside an advertisement for an online pharmacy that sells Viagra and Prozac for bitcoins.


    ISIS sites have supposedly been moving onto the “dark web” in an attempt to avoid discovery. But a hacking group called Ghost Sec, which says it is related to Anonymous, took the site down and replaced it with a message telling readers that there was “Too Much ISIS.”

    “Enhance your calm,” the full message read. “Too many people are into this ISIS-stuff. Please gaze upon this lovely ad so we can upgrade our infrastructure to give you ISIS content you all so desperately crave.”

    And now, some questions.


    Despite this story being widely-published by global media, none of the articles seems to include a link to the “hacked” site. This raises the bullsh*t potential.

    Lots of people, including naughty teens and basement-dwelling jihadis, throw up sites that are “ISIS.” It is very, very unclear how many of these are actually connected in anyway to the actual ISIS core membership. Whatever was hacked, which may or may not actually have happened, may or may not have had much to do with ISIS.

    Lots of people, including naughty teens and basement-dwelling cyber jihadis, claim to be associated with Anonymous, so that their juvenile pranks, which may or may not actually have happened, get more attention.

    Exactly what is the propaganda value of a site on the dark web, that is by definition hard to locate and often inaccessible without knowledge and software not casually available? It seems like useful propaganda needs wide dissemination to do its job. For example, stories about “Anonymous” taking down an “ISIS” website.

    Lastly, so what? Even if (a big if) most of this is true, so what? Wow, says ISIS, I guess our plans for a worldwide caliphate are all off now, because we got pranked on one of our dark web sites. Well, we had a good run in Iraq and Syria, anyway.


    I call bullsh*t on this whole thing. Same as all those stories about ISIS running a 24/7 Help Desk to assist jihadis with encryption turned out to be false.

    These things are sensationalist media fluffing at best, and more likely western-planted propaganda.




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    France Uses ISIS Emergency Laws to Arrest Climate Activists

    November 29, 2015 // 7 Comments »

    France-Martial-LawWho could have anticipated that the French government would misuse its post-Paris massacre “emergency powers?”

    In just a blink of a tear, France has twisted its new powers designed to fight ISIS into a tool of repression against climate change activists. Any more transparent and the whole thing would look like Miley Cyrus’ underwear.

    At least 24 activists who advocate for climate change have been placed under “house arrest” ahead of United Nations talks in Paris. France used emergency laws that were implemented after the Paris shootings to arrest the green campaigners, the French government confirmed on Saturday.

    Activist Naomi Klein said French leaders are carrying out “a gross abuse of power that risks turning the summit into a farce.” Hearing the voice of activists is important at an event where lots of world leaders will be present, she added. “Climate summits are not photo opportunities to boost the popularity of politicians. That is democracy, messy as it may be. The French government, under cover of anti-terrorism laws, seems to be trying to avoid this, shamefully banning peaceful demonstrations and using emergency powers to preemptively detain key activists.”

    French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve insisted the activists were planning to carry out violent protests at the talks. “These 24 people have been placed under house arrest because they have been violent during demonstrations in the past and because they have said they would not respect the state of emergency,” Cazeneuve said.

    “These people have no connection at all with the terrorist movement, but our forces need to be totally focused on the protection of the French people,” Cazeneuve added.



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    Penn State Cancels Class Trips to NYC and DC Due To “Safety Concerns”

    November 27, 2015 // 9 Comments »

    we-are-penn-state



    America, your ability to panic and overreact is both predictable and stupid.

    Before we go on, please look out the window: do you see any ISIS out there? How about yesterday, any terror attacks? How about for the past 14 years, any ISIS or al Qaeda stuff go down in your neighborhood?

    Fun Fact: In the last decade, 24 Americans were killed by terror acts. Deaths otherwise by guns tally 280,000.


    But why focus on that, when panic about what might happen is so attractive?

    And so we learn Penn State (Slogan: “Home of the Pedophile”) has put a moratorium on recreational class trips to New York City and Washington D.C., since both cities are, in the eyes of the university, highly volatile targets of post-Paris terrorism.

    In a memo sent to staff from the university’s Office of Risk Management, any planned recreational trips to either city “must be cancelled due to safety concerns” through the end of the semester,” presumably at which point global terrorism will have been defeated and the trips can resume. Trips to other places are still OK, since Penn State has figured out that everywhere else is safe. So relax, Boston, Chicago and Bangor, you’re good.


    Trips classified as academic or service-oriented may continue as planned, provided that a university employee is present at all times and that any free time is abolished in favor of structured “alternative activities.” If there’s one thing we know about terrorists, it’s that they relentlessly target students who appear to be unchaperoned.

    So, be sure to bring along a scoutmaster at least one year older than you. Also, be sure not to have any free time, as that is when the terrorists… will… strike. Instead, be sure to schedule those alternative activities such as hanging out near the scenes of expected mass shootings by angry, crazed white males (movie theatres recommended.)




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    Posted in Post-Constitution America

    Syria: What Would Boots on the Ground Look Like?

    November 24, 2015 // 3 Comments »

    armyboots
    Pressure on the White House to escalate the Syria/Iraq war has no doubt intensified post-Paris.

    Should Islamic State take things further and strike an American civilian target, President Barack Obama would be all but forced to “do something.” What would that “something” likely look like, and what might be the pitfalls?

    Post-Paris, France and the United States immediately increased their air campaign in Syria. The visuals play well on television, as American audiences have seen over the last 24 years of airstrikes on Iraq. For an Obama appeared wary of deeper involvement in Syria, this may be enough to tamp down the pressure assuming no future attack on American civilians. France may also find a short and sharp set of revenge attacks enough for the near term, as Jordan did in at the beginning of this year, after the horrific burning alive of one its pilots captured by Islamic State. Things could settle back into a more routine fight.

    However, if Islamic State were to strike against Americans, President Obama would almost be required to escalate, and more of the same airstrikes and colorful missile launches would not satisfy demands for vengeance. They would not have been sufficient a year ago, and certainly not in the midst of a presidential campaign. Any perceived lack of resolve would hand the Republicans a red, white and blue issue to take them through the next 12 months, and Hillary Clinton would be forced to break with the White House.

    America’s escalation could take only one form: many more American boots on the ground.

    No one would call it an invasion, but that is what it would be, regardless of scale. The most likely paths into Syria would be through Turkey if that government blessed it (and remember, Turkey refused to open their borders for the 2003 American invasion of Iraq), or, most likely, via Jordan, with a smaller force from the northeast, across the Iraqi border.

    The United States has a notably infrastructure and a compliant government in place in Jordan. In May of this year, thousands of soldiers from 18 countries took part in war games in Jordan, overseen by the American Army. The Jordanians themselves are already considering a militarized “humanitarian corridor” into Syria that could easily morph into an invasion route.

    Since 2013, the United States has been growing its military presence in Jordan, to include strike aircraft, missle defenses and strategic planners, lots of planners, the infrastructure of war. An attack against Islamic State from the south might also isolate Damascus for follow-on action against Assad. From a military point of view, Israel and the Golan Heights it controls provide neat protection on the invasion’s left flank. Lastly, Jordanian involvement would help dress up the American invasion by giving it something of an Arab face.

    Sending large numbers of troops into Syria from the northeast, via Iraq, would likely encouch on Islamic State’s strongholds in northern Iraq and sandwich the United States between them and Islamic State fighters in northern Syria. Foreign fighters could also find their way in across the Turkish border. Still, moving airborne and special operations troops through Kurdish-held areas would be possible and necessary to reach Islamic State from another front.

    It would very surprising to see any significant American escalation in Iraq proper, absent perhaps inside the Kurdish confederacy. Americans dying once again in the Iraqi desert would be a tough sell domestically, the Iraqi government in Baghdad and its Iranian partners would be less than receptive, and militarily dividing Islamic State into a Syrian force and an Iraqi force would accomplish much on its own without re-inserting American troops into the Iraqi civil war.

    The problem with all this chess playing is the identical one that bred Islamic State into existence in the first place.

    As the United States saw in Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan, winning on the battlefield is the easy part. Assuming Islamic State could be physically destroyed (a big assumption itself given its diffuse nature and political support among many Sunnis), what follows? Who will govern “liberated” areas? How much land will the Kurds seize for themselves in northern Syria and how will Turkey react to that? Syria is a wrecked wasteland flooded with internally displaced persons. Who will pay for reconstruction, and why would anyone think it would work any better in Syria than it did in Iraq and Afghanistan? Will the Russians simply stand aside?

    Scenarios that put boots on the ground are easy to foresee, and the possible on-the-ground strategies are clear enough to speculate on. How to deal with the aftermath is what really matters, and what’s the plan for that?

     

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    Inhuman Monsters: Islamic State vs Saudi Arabia

    November 21, 2015 // 17 Comments »

    beheading

    Fun game time. Let’s see who are the most inhuman monsters in the Middle East, ISIS or Saudi Arabia.

    — ISIS commits terror acts against Western targets. Almost all of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi, and most believe that Saudi money in part funded 9/11, and that Saudi money in part funds ISIS. Winner: Saudi.

    — ISIS beheads people. Saudi beheads people. In 2014, the Saudis beheaded 59 people. The headcount, as it were, for ISIS is unknown. Winner: So, ISIS, by a nose.

    — Both ISIS and the Saudis cite the Koran, Islamic teachings (the hadith) and Sharia law as justification for their brutal acts. Winner: Tie.

    — The U.S. claims Saudi as one of its closest allies in the Middle East and supplies them with weapons. The U.S. claims ISIS as its worst enemy in the Middle East, and supplies them with weapons stolen or retrieved from other U.S. allies. Winner: Big, big win for ISIS.

    — Saudi leaders are regularly invited to the White House. ISIS leaders are not. Saudi, FTW!

    — The U.S. claims not to know where Saudi money goes. The U.S. claims not to know where ISIS money comes from. Winner: Double-win for ISIS!

    — ISIS publishes a list of hadd crimes considered to be “against the rights of God,” such as theft, adultery, slander, homosexuality, and banditry. Saudi Arabia publishes a list of hadd crimes considered to be “against the rights of God,” such as theft, adultery, slander, homosexuality, and banditry. Winner: Dead tie.

    — ISIS tortures political prisoners. Saudi tortures political prisoners. Winner: Tie again!

    — ISIS and the Saudis are dedicated to Wahhabism, an ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam. Tie again!

    — ISIS uses atrocities against both its internal and external enemies. Saudi uses atrocities against its domestic enemies who oppose the royal family. Winner: Saudi.



    I could go on, but in the interest of efficiency, here, from Middle East Eye, is a handy chart:




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    Posted in Post-Constitution America

    US Special Forces in Combat: Nothing New for Iraq and Syria?

    November 20, 2015 // 5 Comments »

    sof

    The United States recently unveiled a new approach in Iraq and Syria it insists is not new at all: Special Forces will be sent into direct combat. “The fact is that our strategy… hasn’t changed,” Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said. “This is an intensification of a strategy that the president announced more than a year ago.”

    The press secretary is right if you take him at his exact words: the deployment of Special Forces does not change America’s grand strategy, it only changes the on-the-ground tactics.

    Something tactically new, something strategically old

    Tactically, downplaying these moves as intensification, or as somehow not boots on the ground (one imagines American Special Forces hopping from foot to foot to protect Washington’s rhetoric) is silly. America has entered a new stage, active ground combat, and anyone who thinks a handful of Special Forces is the end of this is probably among the same group who believed air power alone would resolve matters a year ago.

    However, in the bigger picture, the White House is spot-on. Broader strategy for the Middle East has not changed at all. That is baked into the American belief that there is an imposable solution to every foreign problem, and that it is the responsibility of the US to find and implement that solution. This thinking has rarely been even close to right since the Vietnam War, and is most certainly wrong when looking at the Middle East in 2015. It has led directly to the mess in Iraq and Syria, and remains tragically unchanged.

    Tactical

    The state of Iraq and Syria is not pretty.

    Iraq the nation is no more, replaced by a Kurdish confederacy in the north, a Shia-controlled south and a semi-governed ISIS-Sunni area to the west. Syria is divided into a northern area increasingly under Kurdish control, a southern section still under Assad’s rule, and a lot of contested space being fought over by the United States, Russia, Britain, Jordan, Turkey, France, Canada, Australia, Iran, a handful of Gulf nations, Islamic State, its cohorts, Bashar Assad’s forces, the Kurds, and a complex mélange of local religious and tribal alliances.

    But no unicorns. Those mythical creatures, the moderate rebels of Syria, couldn’t be created via wishing, hoping or training, and the forces the US now supports in Syria are either Kurds out for their own interest in creating a nation-state (that the U.S. is facilitating the non-Arab Kurds to “liberate” Arab lands will be long-noted in the region) or the usual collection of thugs. America will no doubt soon dub them freedom fighters. Is the name “Sons of Syria” already taken?

    Strategic

    American goals in Iraq seem to be along the lines of destroy ISIS and unify the country. In Syria, the goals, as best as can be discerned, are to destroy ISIS and depose President Assad.

    The problem with “destroying ISIS” is that every time the United States kills off some fighters, ISIS simply gets more, using as their recruiting tool the American military’s return to Muslim lands. ISIS is the physical embodiment of a set of ideas – religious, anti-imperialist, anti-western – and one cannot blow up ideas. Unless a popular rebalancing of power likely favouring a version of Islamic fundamentalism is allowed to take hold and create some measure of stability, count on the US fighting the sons and grandsons of ISIS for years to come.

    The other American goals are equally far-fetched.

    Obama is the fourth American president to bomb Iraq, and inevitably his successor will be number five. Yet even after decades of bombing and years of occupation, fiddling, reconstructing and meddling, the United States has not pulled Iraq together. Special Forces cannot accomplish what all that already failed to do.

    An Assad-less Syria is possible, following an assassination, a coup, or perhaps a plane crash. However, removing one government, then hoping another will emerge Big Bang-like, has a very poor track record (see Iraq with Saddam and Libya with Qaddafi.) Any negotiated form of regime change in Syria, such as an offer of exile to Assad, is now subject to a Putin veto, given Russia’s military presence there.

    It is unlikely in the extreme that more American involvement, never mind a mere handful of Special Forces, will have much effect in either Iraq or Syria. But the US is escalating anyway.

    But the US must do something… right?

    But what if there is no “solution” in Iraq and Syria but to allow, however reluctantly, the forces now in play to find their own balance? The outcome will undoubtedly be distasteful to many in Washington, some sort of Syrian state with Russian allies, a Shia Iraq with Iranian supporters, an ISIS-Sunni statelet, and a trans-border powder keg of Kurdish nationalism on the loose.

    But whether America takes a deep breath of realism and steps back or not, there is little that can be done to change any of those things anyway; the Iraq invasion, if nothing else, made clear the American military cannot dictate policy outcomes in the Middle East. American force might postpone the changes, or allow friends like the Kurds a more favorable bargaining position, but that’s about it, Special Forces or no Special Forces.

    But what about ISIS?

    The idea that absent American intervention Islamic State will pop up in Times Square is simply a new flavor of the old scare tactic politicians have consistently used to cow the American public. The bogey man has just seamlessly changed from Communists to Sandinistas to post-9/11 al-Qaeda to Saddam to the Taliban to ISIS. Note that despite American intervention, Islamic State is as strong or stronger now than it ever has been, and yet has never directly struck outside its own neighborhood. Indeed, as a terror group, ISIS must know it is accomplishing most of its political goals vis-a-vis the US using only Twitter.

    As for Islamic State being evil, they are. Yet in a time when hospitals are bombed by America in Afghanistan and by its Saudi allies in Yemen, and when civilian areas in Gaza are shelled by ally Israel, one should be careful when invoking morality.

    Maybe they were right all along

    Ironically, after Syria’s Arab Spring became a civil war, the White House met with Pentagon planners, looking for options. They came up empty-handed. “Nobody could figure out what to do,” a senior Pentagon official said.

    They may have had it right from the beginning: there was nothing the U.S. could do. What some call Obama’s indecisiveness may have just been realism. History, as well as his political enemies, is likely to claim Obama “lost” Iraq and Syria. That is unfair, as it presumes that it was ever possible to win.

    And so perhaps the White House is right in characterizing the deployment of Special Forces into a combat role as nothing really so new. What is happening now in Iraq and Syria is just the dragging of the same decades old failed strategy forward.




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    Posted in Post-Constitution America

    Stopping ISIS: Follow the Money

    November 17, 2015 // 10 Comments »

    ISIS-Oil

    Wars are expensive. The recruitment and sustainment of fighters in the field, the ongoing purchases of weapons and munitions, as well as the myriad other costs of struggle, add up.

    So why isn’t the United States going after Islamic State’s funding sources as a way of lessening or eliminating their strength at making war? Follow the money back, cut it off, and you strike a blow much more devastating than an airstrike. But that has not happened. Why?


    Donations

    Many have long held that Sunni terror groups, ISIS now and al Qaeda before them, are funded via Gulf States, such as Saudi Arabia, who are also long-time American allies. Direct links are difficult to prove, particularly if the United States chooses not to prove them. The issue is exacerbated by suggestions that the money comes from “donors,” not directly from national treasuries, and may be routed through legitimate charitable organizations or front companies.

    In fact, one person concerned about Saudi funding was then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who warned in a 2009 message on Wikileaks that donors in Saudi Arabia were the “most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”

    At the G20, Russian President Vladimir Putin said out loud what has otherwise not been publicly discussed much in public. He announced that he has shared intelligence with the other G20 member states which reveals 40 countries from which ISIS finances the majority of its terrorist activities. The list reportedly included a number of G20 countries.

    Putin’s list of funders has not been made public. The G20, however, include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and the European Union.



    Oil

    One source of income for ISIS is and has robustly been oil sales. In the early days of the air campaign, American officials made a point to say that the Islamic State’s oil drilling assets were high on the target list. Yet few sites have actually been targeted. A Pentagon spokesperson explained that the coalition has actually been trying to spare some of ISIS’s largest oil producing facilities, “recognizing that they remain the property of the Syrian people,” and to limit collateral damage to civilians nearby.

    The U.S. only this week began a slightly more aggressive approach toward the oil, albeit bombing tanker trucks, not the infrastructure behind them. The trucks were destroyed at the Abu Kamal oil collection point, near the Iraqi border.

    Conservative estimates are that Islamic State takes in one to two million dollars a day from oil sales; some see the number as high as four million a day. As recently as February, however, the Pentagon claimed oil was no longer ISIS’ main way to raise money, having been bypassed by those “donations” from unspecified sources, and smuggling.


    Turkey

    One of the issues with selling oil, by anyone, including ISIS, is bringing the stuff to market. Oil must be taken from the ground using heavy equipment, possibly refined, stored, loaded into trucks or pipelines, moved somewhere and then sold into the worldwide market. Large amounts of money must be exchanged, and one to four million dollars a day is a lot of cash to deal with on a daily basis. It may be that some sort of electronic transactions that have somehow to date eluded the United States are involved.

    Interestingly, The Guardian reported a U.S.-led raid on the compound housing the Islamic State’s chief financial officer produced evidence that Turkish officials directly dealt with ranking ISIS members, including the ISIS officer responsible for directing the terror army’s oil and gas operations in Syria.

    Turkey’s “open door policy,” in which it allowed its southern border to serve as an unofficial transit point in and out of Syria, has been said to be one of ISIS’ main routes for getting their oil to market. A Turkish apologist claimed the oil is moved only via small-diameter plastic irrigation pipes, and is thus hard to monitor.

    A smuggled barrel of oil is sold for about $50 on the black market. This means “>several million dollars a day worth of oil would require a very large number of very small pipes.

    Others believe Turkish and Iraqi oil buyers travel into Syria with their own trucks, and purchase the ISIS oil right at the refineries, transporting themselves out of Syria. Convoys of trucks are easy to spot from the air, and easy to destroy from the air, though up until now the U.S. does not seem to have done so.



    So as is said, ISIS’ sources of funding grow curious and curiouser the more one knows. Those seeking to destroy ISIS might well wish to look into where the money comes from, and ask why, after a year and three months of war, no one has bothered to follow the money.

    And cut it off.




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    Paris: You Don’t Want to Read This

    November 14, 2015 // 93 Comments »

    paris

    You don’t want to read this, and I take no pleasure in writing it, and no one really wants to hear it right now. But I believe it needs to be said.


    I join the world in grieving for the dead in Paris. I have grieved for the dead from 9/11 forward — the Australians who died in terror attacks on Bali in 2002, Londoners who died in terror attacks in 2005, the French citizens who died in the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January of this year, the Russians whose plane went down over the Sinai a week or so ago. So many more non-Western deaths barely noticed in the U.S. media. I grieve also for those killed in smaller attacks already smuggled deep into the obscurity of our memory.

    And so we Tweet hashtags and phrases in high school French and post GIFs to Facebook. We know what to do; we’ve done this before.

    But it has to be said, especially looking at the sick repetition of the same story, that despite fourteen plus years of a war on terror, terror seems to be with us as much as ever, maybe even more. It is time to rethink what we have done and are doing.


    Since that day in 2001, the one with those terrible sparkling blue skies in New York, we have spied on the world, Americans at home and foreigners abroad, yet no one detected anything that stopped the Paris attacks. We gave up much to that spying and got nothing in return.

    Since 2001, the United States has led nations like Britain, France, Australia and others into wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, with drone attacks on people from the Philippines to Pakistan to all parts of Africa. We have little to nothing to show for all that.

    Since 2001 the U.S. has expended enormous efforts to kill a handful of men — bin Laden, al-Zarqawi, al-Awlaki, and this weekend, Jihadi John. Others, many without names, were killed outside of media attention, or were tortured to death, or are still rotting in the offshore penal colony of Guantanamo, or the dark hell of the Salt Pit in Afghanistan.

    And it has not worked, and Paris this weekend, and the next one somewhere else sometime soon, are the proof.


    We gave up many of our freedoms in America to defeat the terrorists. It did not work. We gave the lives of over 4,000 American men and women in Iraq, and thousands more in Afghanistan, to defeat the terrorists, and refuse to ask what they died for. We killed tens of thousands or more in those countries. It did not work. We went to war again in Iraq, and now in Syria, before in Libya, and only created more failed states and ungoverned spaces that provide havens for terrorists and spilled terror like dropped paint across borders. We harass and discriminate against our own Muslim populations and then stand slack-jawed as they become radicalized, and all we do then is blame ISIS for Tweeting.

    Note that it is the strategy of Islamic terror to generate a crackdown in France in order to radicalise French Muslims. Hundreds of French citizens have already traveled to Syria to fight with groups including ISIS.

    As one of the most intelligent commentators on all this, Bill Johnson, said, terrorism is about killing pawns to affect the king. The attacks in Paris are not about the murder of 150 innocent people. Hell, that many die nearly every day in Iraq and Syria. The true test for France is how they respond to the terror attacks in the long-game — that’s the king in all this. America failed this test post-9/11; yet it does not sound like France understands anything more than America. “We are going to lead a war which will be pitiless,” French president Hollande said outside the Bataclan concert hall, scene of the most bloodshed.


    If I had exactly the right strategy, I’d tell you what it is, and I’d try and tell the people in Washington and Paris and everywhere else. But I don’t have the exact thing to do, and I doubt they’d listen to me anyway.

    But I do have this: stop what we have been doing for the last 14 years. It has not worked. There is nothing at all to suggest it ever will work. Whack-a-mole is a game, not a plan. Leave the Middle East alone. Stop creating more failed states. Stop throwing away our freedoms at home on falsehoods. Stop disenfranchising the Muslims who live with us. Understand the war, such as it is, is against a set of ideas — religious, anti-western, anti-imperialist — and you cannot bomb an idea. Putting western soldiers on the ground in the MidEast and western planes overhead fans the flames. Vengeance does not and cannot extinguish an idea.

    Start with those things and see, even if you won’t give it 14 years to succeed, if things improve. Other than the death tolls scaling up further, I can’t imagine we could be doing anything worse.




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    Posted in Post-Constitution America

    Who Benefits from the Tragedy? Tour Sales from Russia to Egypt Down 70 Percent

    November 9, 2015 // 2 Comments »

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    One of the most basic precepts of detective work is always to first ask, “who benefits from a crime (cui bono)?” That answer will often point you toward your perp, and his motive.

    With the downing of a Russian passenger jet over the Sinai, departing one Egyptian airport bound for another, a full list of who might benefit from the tragedy is long. Depending on your politics, some of these that seem like conspiracy theories to you will be likely culprits to others:

    — the U.S. could benefit by inflaming feelings worldwide about ISIS, reinforcing the narrative of how evil they are;

    — the U.S. could also benefit by sending a message to the Russians that they have chosen to play inside a dangerous sandbox;

    — the Russians could benefit by enraging their own people, prepping them for a longer fight in the region;

    — Chechnyan terrorists could benefit by carrying on their war against Russia, having found a security weak spot inside Egypt;

    But it is ISIS, or another of the radical Muslim terror groups at war with the pro-U.S. thugs now running Egypt, that seem to benefit the most. The downing of the airplane has hit tourism to Egypt very hard, a painful blow to an unpopular government given that tourism brings in $11 billion of revenue and employs 12 percent of the Egyptian workforce. This is a clearly destabilizing situation.

    And that’s just tourism in general in Egypt. The choice to down a Russian airplane does not seem random. Egypt is the most world’s most popular warm weather holiday spot for Russians. In the first half of 2015, over one million Russians visited the country, many to the same resort area from which the doomed plane departed. A clear signal was sent: Russians (and your money) stay away.

    It seems to be working. According to the New York Times, bookings from Russia to Egypt fell 70 percent overall in the aftermath of the Metrojet plane crash. Before the crash, more than 25 flights travelled from Egypt to Russia every day. To give you a better idea of the scope of tourism, suspension of scheduled service has stranded more than 45,000 Russians in Egypt.

    So perhaps there is more than a little validity to the idea that ISIS, or another radical Muslim group, is behind the downing of the Russian plane. But not for the crude narrative reasons the United States and Britain are pushing out. This is more about Egypt than anything else, and the real weapon being used is tourism dollars (rubles?)




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    Posted in Post-Constitution America

    UK Unveils Latest Plans Destined to Fail in Fight Against Extremism in Young Muslims

    November 2, 2015 // 4 Comments »

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    UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced new plans to address the radicalization of young British Muslims, including measures to withdraw the passports of those believed to be at risk of joining jihadist groups abroad.

    As part of a strategy to tackle extremism, parents will be able to ask the government to seize the passports of 16- and 17-year-olds thought to be considering travel to Syria and Iraq. British parents can already request the cancellation of passports of those under 16. Another measure will ensure that anyone with a conviction for a “terrorist crime or extremist activity” will automatically be barred from working with children or other people regarded as vulnerable.

    Cameron’s critics worry that the new measures may be seen as heavy-handed and exacerbate the sense of alienation and resentment among young British Muslims, which is itself a driver of radicalization.


    Left unsaid is any tally of exactly how many 16- and 17-year-olds have traveled to join ISIS, the practicality of knowing where they are going since most would-be jihadis travel via a circuitous route, and the question of what happens to the 18-99-year-olds who want to join up. The vagueness of what constitutes a “terrorist crime or extremist activity” and who the hell are “other people regarded as vulnerable” is noted.

    Doubling down, Cameron described the battle against terrorism as the struggle of his generation. He is also expected to restate the case for expanding Britain’s laws on electronic surveillance, because why not throw that in while you’re on a roll.


    Apart from a natural desire to expand fascism, grow government power and try and tie himself to things like surviving WWII, an actual struggle of a generation, what might be driving Cameron (as well as his contemporaries in the U.S., who are frothing over similar ideas)?

    Simply this: pointless, knee-jerk reactions and security theatre are a whole lot easier to sell to the average frightened citizen than the idea that their safety actually depends on foreign policies that do not inspire rage and hatred in very large numbers of people.




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    Posted in Post-Constitution America

    Merci, and Good Riddance – Canada Withdrawing Fighter Jets from Iraq, Syria

    October 26, 2015 // 3 Comments »

    justin

    America’s presidential candidates go on TV and brag about killing a man with their own hands (one guy) and froth over the idea of starting even more wars (all the others.) In Canada, they get a supermodel as their new king, who speaks French, looks like a young Matthew McConaughey, and who tells America to shove its stupid wars up its overweight *ss.

    Canada’s prime minister-elect, Justin Trudeau, pictured looking fabulous, said Tuesday he told Barack Obama that Canadian fighter jets would withdraw from fighting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

    Western nations only go to war when coerced by the United States in joining some coalition. No other nation on the planet makes war as often and as unsuccessfully as the United States. No other nation makes war its business.

    So you can imagine the huge hassle it is for Canada to have to suck up to its war-loving, gluten-free neighbor to the south, tossing in a few planes or troops whenever America has another hissy fit and has to invade somewhere. Canada famously refused to be sucked into the 2003 Iraq invasion, for example (though did play in Afghanistan.)

    Quick question: what about Mexico? They also share a border and NAFTA with America, plus America graciously buys up 99 percent of its dope crop, and thus has the same need to suck up, but they also always seem to duck these war calls. Hmmm.

    Anyway, Trudeau said “while Canada remains a strong member of the coalition against ISIL,” he made clear to Obama “the commitments I have made around ending the combat mission.”

    It was not immediately clear if Trudeau added “you warmongering bastard” and/or said he’d nail Michelle with his old man’s “moves like Jagger” at the next state dinner.

    Oh Canada!



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    Posted in Post-Constitution America

    Invaders Destroy Iraqi Archaeological Sites

    May 28, 2015 // 4 Comments »

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    Iraqi officials are investigating reports that Islamic State militants destroyed Hatra, an archaeological site that dates to the First Century B.C., two days after the group bulldozed another nearby site, the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud.

    Destruction of such important historical sites is indefensible. Like an extinct species, once they are gone, they are gone forever. The casual destruction of the world’s heritage is too often a byproduct of war, as well as a symbol of its senselessness.

    The IS act reminded me of another example, however, one from my own time in Iraq with the American Army, in 2009.

    On the edge of Forward Operating Base (FOB) Hammer where I lived were several small hills, lumps of raised dirt on the otherwise frying-pan-flat desert. These were “tells,” ancient garbage dumps and fallen buildings. For thousands of years, people in Iraq, as throughout the Middle East, used sun-dried bricks to build homes and walls. The bricks lasted about twenty years before crumbling under the strain of erosion, at which point the people rebuilt on top of the old foundation. After a couple of rounds, the buildings sat on a small hill. There had been so much erosion over the years, along with the digging the Army had done, that an entire area two football fields in size was covered with pottery shards.

    In a few minutes of wandering around, you could find pieces commingled that were handworked (old), spun on a wheel with grooves (less old), and glazed with blue color (newest). They were just laying on the ground. Where hold has been dug, you could see larger pieces, even most of a large pot or two. The problem for history was that the large, mostly flat area attracted soldiers, who would sometimes drive the SUVs used to get around on the base around, doing “donuts” and enjoying kicking up dust plumes. No one officially seemed to mind much — kids blowing off steam — until one reservist Lieutenant Colonel took it upon himself to personally try and preserve what was left of the site. He set up posts with red streamers on them, both as a warning and as a way to make driving impossible, and the donuts stopped. At least during his one year deployment.

    People said that when the American Army first built the FOB and dug up truckloads of dirt, they found ancient skulls and long bones. You could sometimes spot very old bones in the dirt inside the earthen Hesco barriers that protected the base. The Army used one nearby ancient hill for artillery practice, blowing off most of the top. As one soldier said, “If it’s old and already broken, why does it matter if we shoot at it?” That same area was turned over to the Iraqis, who use it still today as a live fire exercise zone.

    The American Army digging also exposed an old village perimeter wall, short-lasting sun-dried bricks on the bottom with a row or two of longer-lasting kiln-dried bricks on top for sturdiness. There was little wood in the desert for kilns, so the inhabitants could not build the whole wall out of the sturdier fired brick. There was still a large brick factory in the area, a few miles from the FOB, that made bricks with local mud. With only a little water added, the mud turned thick and sticky, bad for walking when it rained in winter, great for bricks.

    Some ten thousand tells are scattered all over the Middle East. You could see them in the desert from the helicopter, especially in the late afternoon when the sun was low, as they were the only things that cast a significant shadow. An ancient river once flowed through this area, with the village adjacent. A band of greenery marked where the river had been, suggesting there was still water deep underneath. Some of the pottery and bricks were likely Sumerian. It was possible the dust we dug out of our ears at night might have been part of an ancient wall around a Sumerian city.

    At night the tell area was very dark so as to avoid giving the insurgents an easy aiming point, and you could imagine how the earliest inhabitants of what was now FOB Hammer must have seen the night sky. It was beautiful, deserving of he over-used expression “awe-inspiring,” with stars down to nearly the horizon. It was all a reminder that we were not the first to move into Iraq from afar, and a promise across time that someone might sit atop our own ruins and wonder what ever happened to the Americans.

    (Partially excerpted from my book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People




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    Posted in Post-Constitution America

    Paranoia in a September 12 World

    May 18, 2015 // 4 Comments »

    brazil

    It got me. Paranoia. Who is watching? What are the consequences in a September 12 world of things that used to be innocent?

    I began researching materials online that advise, in English, how someone might travel to Syria and join Islamic State (IS). Several media outlets mentioned an ebook IS created along those lines, but none linked to it or dove deep into what it said. I set out to find it, Googling away with “how to join Islamic State,” and “advice for jihadi travel.” I eventually found the ebook with the term “hijrah.” Used in canon to refer to Mohammad’s journey from Mecca to Medina, the word today colloquially refers to those who leave home for jihad.

    The ebook is brief, titled simply Hijrah to the Islamic State, some 50 pages with pictures and maps. The advice is mostly stuff you’d think people could figure out on their own. Bring a sturdy backpack, don’t tell Turkish immigration officials you are headed to Syria, don’t call attention to yourself in the airport, that sort of thing. There are a bunch of Twitter handles included so you can make contact with IS, but the few I checked were dead accounts.

    You could probably do better with Lonely Planet (which also advises travelers not to call attention to themselves, but to avoid being targeted by thieves, not anti-terror forces.) I found another site just for women seeking to join IS, assuring the traveler she’ll be in female-only accommodations and that they have diapers and baby stuff available. Otherwise, it was all about bringing books to read on the long trip and not forgetting needed medicines.

    I wrapped up my research with a quick buzz through Orbitz to see flight choices. New York was the default starting point because Orbitz had it already there from my previous searches. You can fly nonstop from the United States to Turkey, and then take a taxi to the Syrian border. Flights directly into Damascus involve a couple of stops, and most require you fly out of Newark. Jihad starts in Jersey, what a hassle.

    All in all, not much of story in the hijrah ebook, and certainly nothing at the they’re-seducing-our-kids-into-terrorism level, though New York Times called it “a remarkable ISIS travel guide” and authorities in the UK want to ban it from social media. The ebook is in reality near useless, except as another boogie man for westerners to point to.


    But I started to worry.

    Look at me: I Googled up a how-to manual for jihadis. I’d previously read al Qaeda’s Inspire magazine online (Islamic State has its own online magazine, and I read that too.) I looked into travel to Syria. I sought out a good translation of “hijrah.” Everything I did, I did from an office desk. It was all on the Internet, with no secret meetings in shadowy places. So it was OK, like going to the library, right?

    But I started to panic. How long until this reached critical mass, when some piece of software went “bing!” and some new protocol was applied to me? I have an international trip planned in a few weeks (plain vanilla Asia). Will I get selected for additional screening? Will I be questioned trying to exit or, later, when I re-enter the United States? Have I become paranoid? Should I be? Is it wise or stupid to worry about these things?

    I remember discussing the Jeffrey Sterling Espionage Act case, the case that at one point threatened to send reporter James Risen to jail for not revealing his sources. My friend said the case was probably one of the last of its kind. So the government learned its First Amendment lesson I asked? No, she said, next time the government won’t have to threaten a reporter; most reporters will either shy away from such stories, their editors will kill the reporting to avoid an expensive legal battle, or the government will already know who they talked to.

    I’m certain I am no James Risen. I’m pretty sure I didn’t write a more detailed story about the Islamic State travel guides because there was little to say, that the links I left out above were of little value. Google works at your house, too, if you really want to see them, and you’re not afraid of that, are you? The algorithms they — whoever they are — use are smart enough to see that I’m just a curious writer, and you’re just a curious reader, and none of us plans on joining IS, right?

    I still wrote a lawyer’s phone number in the back of my passport. Can’t be too careful these days, as people say. Threats are everywhere.




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    Posted in Post-Constitution America