Some questions before we bomb Syria

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**Posted by Phineas

Syria_Topography

Threat Matrix, the blog of The Long War Journal, has some questions that need answering before President Obama, having decided Syria has crossed his ill-advised “red line,”  gives the “go” order. Here are a few of most interest to me:

3. Is there a possibility that the Aug. 21 attack was an accidental hit — of chemical stocks belonging to either the regime or the rebels — by the undisputed massive regime bombardment in the area at the time? It is known that the regime has been frequently moving its chemical weapons to keep them out of rebel hands, and it is also known that rebel fighters, including al Qaeda-linked groups, have sought and reportedly had access to chemical weapons also. The Al Nusrah Front is known to have pursued chemical weapons; credible reports of the group plotting to conduct sarin and mustard gas attacks have emerged from Iraq and Turkey over the past several months.

(…)

6. The regime has much to lose by mounting chemical weapon attacks, and especially while UN inspectors are in country and the world’s eyes are turned toward Syria. Why now? Is the basic vagueness of the US’s accusation due to a Western decision that now is the time to intervene militarily, regardless of who perpetrated the attack, since there is clearly a very distinct danger of the spread of chemical warfare in the region at this point?

…and…

8. What happens if the US actually succeeds in killing Assad and overthrowing the government? Will Islamist terror groups such as the Al Nusrah Front and the Islamic State of Iraq dominate the political scene in Syria, as they have dominated the fighting? Is that in the best interests of the US and the West, or, for that matter, those of Syria and the region? The West’s efforts for a resolution to the conflict in Syria ultimately hang upon the fragile hope that moderate forces will prevail, in a situation where the two strongest forces, the Assad regime and its largely Islamist opponents, each offer only harsh alternatives.

These are darned good questions, especially that last one. In one sense, it’s easier to deal with brutal, but secular, dictators; one can find mutual interest and cut a deal, even if that interest is simply survival. But apocalyptic minded fanatics who think conquering or destroying you is a divinely ordained mission? They simply don’t operate in the same paradigm we do, and coming to a genuine modus vivendi (other than “we surrender”) is usually impossible.

In the Telegraph, Tim Stanley asks a question related to number six, above: Why would Assad do something that would guarantee Western intervention in a war he’s winning?

Second, why would the Assad regime do something so stupid? It must know that by using chemical weapons it would isolate itself from any international support and invite a Western military response. More importantly, Assad was already winning the war – so why bother to use WMDs during the last lap to victory? Indeed, the only people who have anything to gain by Assad using chemicals are the rebels, because that would internationalise the conflict in a way that they have long lobbied for.

And yet there is a good case for intervention. Daniel Hannan weighs the arguments pro and con from a British national-interests point of view and, while he finds the interventionist arguments inconclusive, he concedes their strengths. Meanwhile asking a question for the pro-interventionists, Jim Geraghty (sorry, newsletter only) asks: If Assad has used chemical WMDs, are we prepared to accept the consequences of doing nothing:

The world has actually made good progress at eliminating existing stockpiles of chemical weapons. Most regimes have concluded the diplomatic and public relations cost isn’t worth keeping their aging stockpiles around. But . . . if an embattled regime like Assad’s successfully uses them to put down an insurrection with no major consequence short of rote international denunciation . . . how quickly will the cost-benefit calculus change? How certain could we be that Pyongyang, or some other embattled regime, wouldn’t feel the temptation? These sorts of weapons are cheap and relatively easy to make using regular civilian chemical equipment.

That’s not an easily dismissed possibility. It’s not for nothing that chemical weapons have been called the “poor man’s nukes.”

I myself have no good answers, though I’ve favored some sort of limited intervention since the civil war started, since hurting Assad hurts his patrons in Iran, the real source of much of the trouble in the Middle East and which, as Michael Ledeen persuasively argues, should be the focus of our efforts.

As for the administration having the answers…. Heck, I doubt they’ve even asked the right questions.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

“Heroic” Edward Snowden applies for membership in KGB veterans group

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**Posted by Phineas

This just gets better and better:

Renegade National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden has applied to join a group of former Russian intelligence and security officials, according to the group’s director.

Participation in a union of former KGB security, intelligence, and police officials, would likely change Snowden’s status from that of a whistleblower seeking to expose wrongdoing, to an intelligence defector who has changed sides.

Alexei Lobarev, chairman of the group called “Veterans of the Siloviki”—literally “men of power”—told a Russian news outlet on Monday that Snowden, who has been staying in a Moscow airport transit lounge for a month, applied for membership in the group.

(…)

Ariel Cohen, a Russia specialist with the Heritage Foundation, said joining the former KGB officers’ group would be a significant development in the Snowden affair.

“It could be a spoof or a deliberate attempt to tarry the former NSA contractor,” Cohen said in an email. “However, if proven true, this puts Snowden squarely into the defector category. Whatever the whistleblower rhetoric—if indeed it is Snowden—the man is seeking to join a group whose livelihood was to spy on and harm, the United States. There is hardly a more anti-American group in Russia than ex-security officials. They would want nothing more than to coddle Snowden.”

Other experts think Snowden is being played by the Russians, rather than being a “traitor aforethought.” And there could be another reason for this farce. Who knows? What we do know is that he’s done tremendous damage to our national interests, the Obama administration looks like fools, and Putin is laughing his head off at us.

Great work by the man some call a hero, no?

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

North Korea caught smuggling missiles though Panama Canal?

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**Posted by Phineas

"I've got some bad news, boss..."

“I’ve got some bad news, boss…”

Couldn’t be. I’m sure there’s an innocent explanation:

A mystery with potential international ramifications is unfolding in Panama, where authorities discovered military equipment hidden inside a North Korean-flagged ship that originated in Cuba.

Cuba has long been at odds with the United States, and North Korea is banned by the United Nations from importing and exporting most weapons because of its nuclear ambitions. Suspicions were further raised when the ship’s captain suffered an apparent heart attack, and then tried to commit suicide, Panama’s president said.

These facts were sufficiently intriguing for President Ricardo Martinelli to travel to the port and examine the ship himself.

The president tweeted a photo of what he saw — a green octagon-shaped tube with a cone at its end and another similar-looking piece of equipment behind it.

Is it a missile, a reported asked?

“Maybe,” Martinelli said. “I am not familiar with that, but it would be good if such things didn’t pass through Panama, which is a country that loves peace and not war.”

The Panamanians originally became suspicious when they heard there was a load illegal drugs on the ship (North Korea regularly raises money through the drug trade). Boarding the ship, instead of heroin under all those bags of brown sugar, they found something a lot more worrisome. President Martinelli has asked the UN to examine the cargo to determine what it really is (I suppose they could be massive cigar humidors), but you can bet the CIA will be all over it, too, working quietly in the background. Don’t be surprised of this cargo spends a long time in a Panamanian warehouse because of “customs irregularities”  –long enough for us to dismantle and examine the missiles– before the rest of the cargo and the ship are released back to North Korea. This happens whenever the weapons of one power fall into the hands of another.

(And can you imagine what will happen to that crew when they do get back to North Korea? Consider this guy’s fate.)

Aside from the likely intelligence boon for us, though, this discovery raises several questions: Where were the missiles headed? North Korea? Iran? What was Cuba’s role: a transit point, or are they cooperating with the Norks on missile development, something that would concern us greatly? How long has this been going on, and is anyone else, such as Cuba’s client Venezuela, in on the operation?

This incident has given us a brief glimpse of the deadly-serious game being played behind the scenes between the United States and its adversaries, something we don’t often see because the MSM is covering what’s truly important, such as Kim Kardashian’s baby and Wendy Davis’ shoes. It’s a game the other side is playing for keeps.

Which makes it a good thing we have President Lead-From-Behind in charge.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

Forest Jihad: Islamic terror group claims responsibility for Arizona fires

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**Posted by Phineas

"...can prevent forest jihad."

“…can prevent forest jihad.”

A while back, when it seemed like all Colorado was afire, I wrote about the possibility of “forest jihad,” a form of war against the West advocated by al Qaeda as part of a death by a thousand cuts strategy — destroying resources, morale, etc. And while acts of forest jihad were suspected in Europe, Israel, and Australia, there were no claims of responsibility for wildfires in the Great Satan, that is, us.

Until now:

A Palestinian jihadist group known as Masada al-Mujahideen took credit for the [Arizona] fires in a statement that was obtained and translated by Search for International Terrorist Entities (SITE) Intelligence Group, according to the Clarion Project.

The terror group claims that the fires are a reprisal for Israel’s “occupation” of what they say are Palestinian lands.

Nineteen firefighters have been killed while fighting the blaze.

“We had previously announced an unconventional war against the occupation state of Israel, and then we escalated this war to reach its main supporter, America, so that it receives a major share of it, which will destroy their flora and fauna, with permission from Allah and then with our hands,” the group said, according to Clarion and SITE.

Masada al-Mujahideen is apparently a legitimate jihadist group, not a cut-out for another organization. The Long War Journal has this to say about them:

Masada al Mujahideen announced its formation in April 2008 and said its leader is Abu Omar al Ansari, according to SITE. The terror group has claimed numerous attacks against Israel, including rocket and mortar attacks. The group has also claimed credit for setting numerous fires inside Israel, and even an arson attack in Nevada.

Masada al Mujahideen also eulogized Osama bin Laden immediately after he was killed by US Navy SEALs in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011. “Although Sheikh Osama has been killed, his creed will not be killed, and the whole Ummah, Allah willing, is Osama bin Laden. We do not say that as hyperbole, for you see with your own eyes and acknowledge with your own mouths that most of the jihadi groups in the world have come to follow his example, method and creed,” the group said in statement that was translated by SITE.

Masada al Mujahideen also eulogized Atiyah Abd al Rahman, a top al Qaeda leader who was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan, Pakistan, in August 2011. “He was truly one of the well-known people of jihad and a bright star in the sky of knowledge,” the group said in statement translated by SITE.

It’s possible, of course, that these holy warriors refugees from a medieval insane asylum are lying about Arizona and are just claiming credit to up their standing in the world of brave knights of Islam medieval psychos. America seems a long way to come for a small terrorist outfit, when Israel is right next door.

But when you read the United Nations report on the porous US-Mexican border, “A Global Pathway to the USA;” when you recall that Hizbullah, Hamas, and al Qaeda are all trying to set up operations in the Western hemisphere; and when you keep in mind geography

Well, the possibility that Masada al Mujahideen really did set the fires that killed 19 American firefighters and destroyed dozens of homes and businesses doesn’t seem so inconceivable after all, does it?

If we can establish to our satisfaction they did do this, then we should hunt them down and kill them all. This isn’t a criminal matter; by their own declaration, this is jihad fi sabil allah, “holy war.” And in that case, we should show them exactly how real war is fought.

Meanwhile, this news demonstrates again why border security is more than just an immigration issue — it’s a matter of national security.

UPDATE: Reader Crosspatch reports that the cause of the Arizona fire was described as lightning.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

Paging John LeCarre! #NSA leaker a Chinese agent?

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**Posted by Phineas

"Would you believe..."

“Would you believe…?”

This is getting weirder and weirder, but, at the same time, tantalizingly plausible:

Former CIA case officer Bob Baer revealed on CNN Sunday evening that intelligence officials were possibly considering Edward Snowden’s case as Chinese espionage, after Snowden came forward this afternoon from an undisclosed Hong Kong location.

“Hong Kong is controlled by Chinese intelligence,” Baer said. “It’s not an independent part of China at all. I’ve talked to a bunch of people in Washington today, in official positions, and they are looking at this as a potential Chinese espionage case.”

“On the face of it, it looks like it is under some sort of Chinese control, especially with the president meeting the premier today,” Baer said. “You have to ask what’s going on. China is not a friendly country and every aspect of that country is controlled. So why Hong Kong? Why didn’t he go to Sweden? Or, if he really wanted to make a statement, he should have done it on Capitol Hill.”

When you think about it, the possibility of Snowden being used by Chinese intelligence is not at all unreasonable: the US news had been filled for months with items about Chinese hacker attacks and complaints about stolen data, and Obama was expected to bring this up at their summit here in California. Could he have been used by a Chinese “handler” to release this information when it would be both embarrassing to Obama and useful to China by cutting O’s legs out from under him at the summit? “Shut up, you guys are spying, too?” I’ve got no firm opinion about Snowden, himself, though, from what I’ve read, he does strike me as a immature narcissist who could be played by skilled operators. And what free-speech and civil liberties advocate who donates to Ron Paul would take refuge in China, of all places? (1)

There’s something really, really odd about this.

via Legal Insurrection

PS: I haven’t written much about these NSA revelations, the phone metadata collection and the information culling from Internet providers (PRISM), because there is so much to absorb and it has such profound implications for a free society that I think silence, on my part and for now, is better. I’ve seen too many outraged knees jerking, too much heat and not enough light, too much reaction and not enough reading; it makes me worry that, traumatized as we are by the IRS and Rosen scandals, etc., we may throw the “national security baby” out with the bathwater. For now, though, let me leave you with an article by Jonah Goldberg that best captures my thinking at the moment: healthy skepticism.

Footnote:
(1) Yeah, I know he is/was in Hong Kong, which is very free market and capitalist, but if you don’t believe Beijing pulls the strings of what goes on there, especially in an intelligence matter, I have a bridge for you.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

Deval Patrick: “You guys can handle the terrorists, I’m catching some Zs.”

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**Posted by Phineas

You’re the Governor of Massachusetts. Islamic terrorists have just blown up a major sporting sporting event in your state’s capital city, killing several and wounding hundreds.  Boston is on lock-down, the police have done everything except declare martial law, and the terrorists are on the loose. No one knows where they are or if they’ll strike again. What do you do, O Chief Executive of the Commonwealth?

What. Do You. Do?

Simple. You take a nap:

On the controversial Greater Boston lockdown: “In the afternoon … I went back to the offices in the State House … and I took a nap. (Then) the phone rang. It was the president. … And he said, “Deval, I’m briefed. … What are you going to do about the city? You can’t keep it locked down indefinitely.’

“I said, ‘Mr. President, I know that. … I’m trying to sort that out now.’ … Basically the state police had said we should end this … when we finish the door-to-door in Watertown. So if we haven’t found him, we should say to people, ‘Look, live your lives, but please be careful because he’s still at large.’”

Yes, you read that right. It took a call from Barack Obama, not the most hands-on president ever, to rouse “Governor” Patrick from his slumber and ask him just what he planned to do about the psychos terrorizing his city. While the people of Boston were in fear for their lives, Deval Patrick was bravely… snoring.

And he admitted it.

That sound you hear is what was left of any national ambitions he had being taken out back and shot.

via Hot Air

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

The Obama admin’s current national security “priorities” – summed up in one tweet

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Fox News’ Martha MacCallum gets right to the heart of the matter – short, sweet, to the point (via Twitchy Team):


Any questions? Let’s all say a little prayer that Ms. MacCallum does not become a target of Obama’s DOJ – or the IRS – herself.

On a related note, the Atlantic Wire’s Connor Simpson writes about how a New York Times reporter was recently targeted by Obama’s DOJ, too – referencing a Times article on the matter that talks about just how “wide the net” is that the DOJ is casting on journalists (hat tip). William Teach at the Pirate’s Cove blog wonders about the potential for a chilling effect this may have on both MSM journalists and government officials going forward:

What all this does is create a chill on media contact. Government employees will clam up even when there is no threat. And it will make the Press worried that The Government will come after them if they publish a story. This is intimidation. Let’s not forget how the Obama admin treats many reporters which are critical and publish unflattering stories. Sharyl Attkinson is the poster child for how the Obama admin abuses reporters. The O admin is saying “toe the line, do what we tell you, or we’re coming after you”, which may not violate the letter of the 1st Amendment, but surely violates the spirit.

The question for The Press now is “do you continue to act mostly like little lapdogs, or do you all refuse to be intimidated and finally decide to do you job in keeping government honest?”

Decisions, decisions …

Obama's lapdogs

”Change” coming …?
(Image via Weasel Zippers)

Boston Marathon bombing: terrorism on the cheap, financed by us?

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**Phineas

I wrote yesterday about questions regarding the Tsarnaev brothers’ financial resources and how they could afford what at first glance appeared to be a comfortable lifestyle and prepare their atrocities without some outside support.

Well, it appears they had some help: the taxpayers of Massachusetts.

Marathon bombings mastermind Tamerlan Tsarnaev was living on taxpayer-funded state welfare benefits even as he was delving deep into the world of radical anti-American Islamism, the Herald has learned.

State officials confirmed last night that Tsarnaev, slain in a raging gun battle with police last Friday, was receiving benefits along with his wife, Katherine Russell Tsarnaev, and their 3-year-old daughter. The state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services said those benefits ended in 2012 when the couple stopped meeting income eligibility limits. Russell Tsarnaev’s attorney has claimed Katherine — who had converted to Islam — was working up to 80 hours a week as a home health aide while Tsarnaev stayed at home.

In addition, both of Tsarnaev’s parents received benefits, and accused brother bombers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan were recipients through their parents when they were younger, according to the state.

The news raises questions over whether Tsarnaev financed his radicalization on taxpayer money.

Gee, ya think?

Meanwhile, his younger brother financed his “lifestyle” not only through scholarships, but also, per The Globe, dealing drugs:

Tsarnaev’s younger brother never seemed strapped for cash, according to people who knew him at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth where he was a sophomore. But Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a scholarship student who earned spending money by selling marijuana, say three people who bought drugs from the 19-year-old.

None of this was enough to finance the “lifestyles of the rich and terroristic,” but the globe goes on to point out just how little it would take to carry out the Marathon attacks:

If the brothers had outside financial or technical support for their deadly attack on the Marathon, it certainly isn’t reflected in their lifestyle or their weapons. The picture that is emerging is more like terrorism on a budget, consistent with reports that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev told interrogators from his hospital bed that he and his brother acted alone.

“There is no barrier here to two men doing this on their own,” said Brian Michael Jenkins, a Rand Corp. adviser who focuses on terrorism. “You could easily do this for under $100 per bomb. . . . This is an investment even someone with modest means can make.”

So, it looks more and more like these walking, talking pustules did this on their own… with help from the older brother’s exploited wife, sponging off family, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the potheads of Cambridge.

I hope the younger brother remembers to thank them at his execution.

To paraphrase what Lenin said about capitalists, “We’re going to give them the money to build the bombs to kill us.” And it reminds me of Britain, though they’re much further down the path of subsidizing their own destroyers.

Way back in 1838, Abraham Lincoln made a speech at the Young Men’s Lyceum in which he made an observation I think fitting for this situation:

“At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it?– Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never!–All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.

At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

Only we seem to be paying for assisted suicide.

PS: Back to the question of outside assistance, the Tsarnaevs seemed to greatly admire a radical Lebanese-Australian imam, Sheik Feiz Mohammed, and the elder brother is reported to have met with another jihadist imam while visiting Dagestan. This makes me suspect their situation is similar to that of the traitorous Major Hassan and his al Qaeda imam, Anwar al-Awlaki: they received theological support and encouragement from these preachers, but were left to come up with their own attacks. Still, I’d like to know where they tested their bombs, if they did.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

Breaking: Canadians foil Iranian/al Qaeda New York-Toronto train attack

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**Posted by Phineas

They love hitting mass transportation. Breaking in The Washington Examiner:

Canadian security officials announced today that they thwarted a terrorist attack on a passenger train reportedly traveling from New York City to Toronto, planned by two men allegedly tied to al Qaeda.

“I commend our Canadian counterterrorism partners, particularly the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, for their efforts in stopping a major terrorist plot which was intended to cause significant loss of human life including New Yorkers,” Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said in a statement today.

The attack had Iranian backing. “They are elements of al Qaeda in Iran,” a Canadian police official told reporters during the press conference while identifying the al Qaeda affiliate that was involved in the attack. “What the investigation has demonstrated is that the support being received was in the form of direction and guidance.”

Emphasis added. Say it after me, folks:

This is war, and they’re still trying to kill us.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

Honey trap: US missile defense contractor sold secrets to the Chinese for sex

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**Posted by Phineas

"Would you believe..."

“Would you believe…”

It’s amazing how stupid we get when our hormones and feelings are involved: a 59 years old former Army officer, who now works on missile defense, has thrown his career, his honor, and his life away for a woman half his age… who also happened to be a Chinese spy.

“According to the affidavit, the national defense information that [Benjamin Pierce] Bishop passed to [the woman] included information relating to nuclear weapons; information on planned deployment of U.S. strategic nuclear systems; information on the ability of the United States to detect low- and medium-range ballistic missiles of foreign governments; and information on the deployment of U.S. early warning radar systems in the Pacific Rim,” the Justice Department announced yesterday.

The alleged leaks took place between May of 2011 and December 2012, according to DOJ, while the “romantic relationship” supposedly began in June 2011.

Interesting that this comes soon after the Obama administration reversed plans to end Bush-era missile-defense deployments.

Bishop faces up to 20 years for his treason; I think it’s a shame he’s not liable for hanging.

So-called “honey traps” are not at all uncommon in espionage, though I think the Soviets/Russians and other Communist agencies used them far more than we did or do. And men are not the only ones to fall for them: though it’s fiction, the excellent “The Americans” TV show on FX shows an FBI confidential secretary being seduced by an undercover KGB agent.

Stupidity is a universal constant.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)