The war

Syria and OSINT (Open Sources Intelligence)

Sunday, 15 April, 2018 0 Comments

Remarkable, indeed, is the wealth of information now at our fingertips. And it’s not just Wikipedia. There’s also the OECD Aid Database, Google Data Explorer and Enigma Public. When it comes to what’s happening on the darker side, Bellingcat uses open source data to investigate everything from Mexican drug lords to Russian gangsters, er, politicians.

Then, there’s The Aviationist run by David Cenciotti, a journalist based in Rome. Since its launch in 2006, it has become one of world’s most authoritative military aviation sites. His post yesterday, Everything We Know (And No One Has Said So Far) About The First Waves Of Air Strikes On Syria, is based on OSINT (Open Sources Intelligence) “since most of the aircraft involved in the raids could be tracked online via information in the public domain.” Snippet:

“Interestingly, at least two packages of 5 fighters (each supposed to include 4x F-16Cs from 31FW and 4x F-15Cs from 48FW loaded with air-to-air missiles — actually, the second one included only 3 Vipers instead of 4) supported by KC-135 tankers, provided DCA (Defensive Counter Air) cover to the bombers and to the warships launching TLAMs.”

Should this level of transparency worry us? After all, if David Cenciotti can access all this data easily, so can the Iranians. On the other hand, the abilities of people like David Cenciotti and Eliot Higgins to access and interpret Open Sources Intelligence means that the Iranians and their pals cannot get away with murder as easily as they once did. Their fingerprints are everywhere now, and they can be revealed in real time. Same goes for their lies. Take Russia’s claims that 71 out of 105 Cruise Missiles were shot down in the US-led strike. David Cenciotti casts a critical eye:

“If Syrian air defense units were ineffective in stopping U.S. cruise missiles, and most information now points to that outcome (actually, it looks like the Syrians fired their missiles after the last missile had hit), this represents a significant blow to the Assad regime and to Russia’s ability to assist in an effective air defense in the region.”

Question: What’s the toughest job in the world right now?
Answer: Sales rep for Russian air defense systems.


The Falling Man

Thursday, 11 September, 2014 0 Comments

Tom Junod’s September 2003 piece for Esquire magazine, “The Falling Man,” which told the story of the iconic photograph taken by Richard Drew on 9/11, has been read millions of times. Today, Esquire is asking readers to make a $2.99 donation to continue reading the article. The money will go to the James Foley Scholarship Fund, in honour of the American journalist who was beheaded by the Islamic State terror group last month. By the way, the fee is completely optional. You can still read the story without paying.

“At fifteen seconds after 9:41 A.M., on September 11, 2001, a photographer named Richard Drew took a picture of a man falling through the sky—falling through time as well as through space. The picture went all around the world, and then disappeared, as if we willed it away. One of the most famous photographs in human history became an unmarked grave, and the man buried inside its frame—the Falling Man—became the Unknown Soldier in a war whose end we have not yet seen. Richard Drew’s photograph is all we know of him, and yet all we know of him becomes a measure of what we know of ourselves. The picture is his cenotaph, and like the monuments dedicated to the memory of unknown soldiers everywhere, it asks that we look at it, and make one simple acknowledgment.

That we have known who the Falling Man is all along.”

CRIME TERRORISM WTC WORLD TRADE CENTER BOMBING TWIN TOWERS TERRORIST ATTACK VICTIM JUMPING FROM BUILDING PEOPLE FALLING DOWN JUMPING OUT BODY


Shia and Sunni and the Thirty Years scenario

Monday, 27 January, 2014 0 Comments

“This is a conflict which is not only bigger than al-Qa’eda and similar groups, but far bigger than any of us. It is one which will re-align not only the Middle East, but the religion of Islam.” So writes Douglas Murray in the current issue of The Spectator in a piece titled “Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the Middle East’s 30 year war.” Murray contends that the slaughter in Syria is, in reality, a proxy war between Saudi and Iran, between the Shia and Sunni factions of Islam. “There are those who think that the region as a whole may be starting to go through something similar to what Europe went through in the early 17th century during the Thirty Years’ War, when Protestant and Catholic states battled it out,” he says, warning that the current savagery will be exceeded in barbarity when the “gloves come off.”

The former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is sounding a similar alarm. “Religious difference, not ideology, will fuel this century’s epic battles” he claimed in yesterday’s Observer. Citing a “ghastly roll call of terror attacks” in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Russia, Burma, Thailand and the Philippines, he declares that these “are perpetrated by people motivated by an abuse of religion. It is a perversion of faith. But there is no doubt that those who commit the violence often do so by reference to their faith and the sectarian nature of the conflict is a sectarianism based on religion.”

If there is to be peace, we need to study faith and globalisation and agree on the place of religion in modern society. With this in mind, in collaboration with Harvard Divinity School, Tony Blair’s Faith Foundation, will launch a website later this year that will provide “up-to-date analysis of what is happening in the field of religion and conflict; in-depth analysis of religion and its impact on countries where this is a major challenge; and basic facts about the religious make-up and trends in every country worldwide.” It’s not a solution, but it is a sign and it’s a necessary sign because the latest Pew report on global religious Hostilities doesn’t make for pretty reading. “The sharpest increase was in the Middle East and North Africa, which still is feeling the effects of the 2010-11 political uprisings known as the Arab Spring.”

Meanwhile, a glance at the devastating history of the original Thirty Years’ War should encourage everyone to work to prevent a modern-day re-enactment.

War


The Unknown Known

Saturday, 7 September, 2013 0 Comments

“There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns — there are things we do not know we don’t know.” Donald Rumsfeld, former US Secretary Of Defense, speaking at a press briefing in February 2002 about weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and Iraq.

The great American documentary film maker, Errol Morris, picked Donald Rumsfeld as the subject for his latest work, The Unknown Known. In an interview with The Daily Beast, Morris revealed how the film came to be made.

The Daily Beast: How the hell did you get Rumsfeld to agree to do this? Were you chasing him down?

Errol Morris: No, not at all. I wrote him a letter, enclosed a copy of The Fog of War, heard back from him very quickly, went to Washington, and spent a good part of the day with him. We started it under the premise that he would do two days of interviews, I would edit it, and if he liked it, we’d sign a contract and continue. If he didn’t, I’d put the footage in a closet and it would never see the light of day.


Is that Carter or Kennedy in the mirror?

Monday, 26 August, 2013 0 Comments

“President Obama now faces a moment similar to the one President Carter faced when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. The assumptions that shaped key elements of his foreign policy have not held up; times have changed radically and policy must shift.” That’s the conclusion of “The Failed Grand Strategy in the Middle East” by Walter Russell Mead in the Wall Street Journal. This is a very dangerous moment says Mead:

“Just as Nikita Khrushchev concluded that President Kennedy was weak and incompetent after the Bay of Pigs failure and the botched Vienna summit, and then proceeded to test the American president from Cuba to Berlin, so President Vladimir Putin and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei now believe they are dealing with a dithering and indecisive American leader, and are calibrating their policies accordingly. Khrushchev was wrong about Kennedy, and President Obama’s enemies are also underestimating him, but those underestimates can create dangerous crises before they are corrected.”

Bottom line: “Drawing red lines in the sand and stepping back when they are crossed won’t rebuild confidence.”

On the other hand, Edward Luttwak, whose name was always modified with “hawkish” in the days of George W. Bush, believes that “In Syria, America Loses if Either Side Wins.” His depiction of the battleground is grim: “The war is now being waged by petty warlords and dangerous extremists of every sort: Taliban-style Salafist fanatics who beat and kill even devout Sunnis because they fail to ape their alien ways; Sunni extremists who have been murdering innocent Alawites and Christians merely because of their religion; and jihadis from Iraq and all over the world who have advertised their intention to turn Syria into a base for global jihad aimed at Europe and the United States.”

Luttwak is a realist and he calls out the red-line hardliners who wish to see the US enter this mire: “Those who condemn the president’s prudent restraint as cynical passivity must come clean with the only possible alternative: a full-scale American invasion to defeat both Mr. Assad and the extremists fighting against his regime.”

With his red line, President Obama gave a hostage to fortune and now, despite Edward Luttwak’s sensible call for caution, he must act or be regarded as a coward. And, as history shows, Jack Kennedy was no coward.

President  Obama


Bradley Manning gets what he wanted, kind of

Wednesday, 31 July, 2013 0 Comments

“I wouldn’t mind going to prison for the rest of my life, or being executed so much,” wrote Private First Class Bradley Manning in an online chat with a confidante three years ago about leaking military secrets. He has been spared execution, but the prison part of his wish is going to come true.

Those who claim that Manning deserves some kind of “whistleblower” pardon or prize sound every bit as deluded as the perp himself. He was unaware of the nature of much of what he handed over to the alleged rapist Julian Assange, and when he did know, it was often personal information about troops on the ground. That the US military would entrust secrets to imbeciles like Manning is one of the most disturbing things about the entire case.

By the way, it is journalists and other civilians whose right to speech is protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution, not soldiers. Bradley Manning stole 700,000 documents. He is no whistleblower.


Obama and the “Syrian affair”

Wednesday, 5 June, 2013 1 Comment

While reading this Al Jazeera article, “Hezbollah: The Syrian connection“, the following jumped out: “Lebanon’s former Prime Minster, Fouad Siniora, has made it clear that he is calling on Hezbollah members to put an end to their involvement in the Syrian affair.” The use of “affair” there is surely one of the great trivializations of our time because what’s happening in Syria is a civil war of almost unimaginable savagery in which both sides are committing crimes against humanity. Consider these two items:

These acts of barbarism place US President Barack Obama in a quandary. He once called on Assad resign and he warned gravely of red lines, and then he abandoned the Syrians to their abattoir. Now, amidst the carnage, he looks increasingly duplicitous. Michael Totten, writing in City Journal, says that Syrians are confused by the American hesitation to remove Assad, and “In The Friend of My Enemy Is My Enemy“, he notes:

“Extreme caution is called for in Syria, but that hardly changes the fact that it is in America’s national interest to see Assad removed. This man has more American blood on his hands than anyone in the Arab world who hasn’t been killed yet. He is a totalitarian state sponsor of international terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida. His government has exported chaos and violence, not just to Israel, but also to every one of its neighbors. His regime is part of the Iranian-Hezbollah axis, which may well go nuclear. Calling for his ouster doesn’t require undaunted courage. It won’t yield results by itself, but the White House, and the United States as a whole, without even realizing it, are paying a price for refusing to do even this much.”

Yes, America will be pilloried for whatever it does in Syria, but the arguments against intervention are starting to sound as hollow as those making them.