Later On

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Archive for the ‘Mideast Conflict’ Category

Trump Staffers Are Freaking Out Even More Than Usual Right Now

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Jonathan Chait writes in New York magazine:

Axios editor Mike Allen is a consummate Establishmentarian who has spent his career laboring to win the approval of elites in both parties. Yesterday, Allen published a column headlined “The case for extreme worry.” His observations are, indeed, quite worrying. “Checks are being ignored or have been eliminated, and critics purged as the president is filling time by watching Fox, and by eating dinner with people who feed his ego and conspiracy theories, and who drink in his rants,” he notes. “Trump’s closest confidants speak with an unusual level of concern, even alarm, and admit to being confused about what the president will do next — and why.”

It would be a mistake to overstate the change at hand. The Trump presidency has been a slow-moving freakout, every new episode representing a surreal extension of the unknown. Still, there is evidence that the chaos has increased in some important new way. After many members of the administration seemed to convince themselves last year that they had gained some control over their erratic chief executive, they see him slipping the restraints.

Here are some examples from the last 24 hours:

1. The Wall Street Journal reports that the White House staff has attempted to correct Trump’s mistaken beliefs about Amazon, to no avail. Staffers a “arranged private briefing” that “they believed debunked his concerns that Amazon was dodging taxes and exploiting the U.S. Postal Service.” But Trump continued to directly contradict what he had learned because, a source explains, “It’s not the narrative he wants.”

2. The Associated Press reports that Trump has grown tired of his chief of staff’s management, but also has not seen fit to fire him outright. Instead, “Trump recently told one confidant that he was ‘tired of being told no’ by Kelly and has instead chosen to simply not tell Kelly things at all.”

Of course, Trump is the president of the United States, and as such, outranks Kelly. Presumably he could keep his chief of staff informed of his doings, and overrule Kelly’s objections if he disagrees.

3. Trump’s advisers, despairing of their inability to educate the president, have taken to using television as the preferred vehicle for their tutelage. The Washington Post reports that Jeanine Pirro’s Fox News program is the show of choice for this purpose. “Aides sometimes plot to have guests make points on Fox that they have been unable to get the president to agree to in person. ‘He will listen more when it is on TV,’ a senior administration official said.” Pirro duty is considered important enough that “officials rotate going on Pirro’s show because they know Trump will be watching — and partially to prevent him from calling in himself.”

4. Another report in the Associated Press describes Trump ranting uncontrollably in a meeting with military brass. “The president had opened the meeting with a tirade about U.S. intervention in Syria and the Middle East more broadly, repeating lines from public speeches in which he’s denounced previous administrations for ‘wasting’ $7 trillion in the region over the past 17 years,” the report notes. At one point, a general interjected to inform Trump “that his approach was not productive and asked him to give the group specific instructions as to what he wanted.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2018 at 4:19 pm

He Predicted The 2016 Fake News Crisis. Now He’s Worried About An Information Apocalypse.

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Charlie Warzel reports at BuzzFeed News:

In mid-2016, Aviv Ovadya realized there was something fundamentally wrong with the internet — so wrong that he abandoned his work and sounded an alarm. A few weeks before the 2016 election, he presented his concerns to technologists in San Francisco’s Bay Area and warned of an impending crisis of misinformation in a presentation he titled “Infocalypse.”

The web and the information ecosystem that had developed around it was wildly unhealthy, Ovadya argued. The incentives that governed its biggest platforms were calibrated to reward information that was often misleading and polarizing, or both. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google prioritized clicks, shares, ads, and money over quality of information, and Ovadya couldn’t shake the feeling that it was all building toward something bad — a kind of critical threshold of addictive and toxic misinformation. The presentation was largely ignored by employees from the Big Tech platforms — including a few from Facebook who would later go on to drive the company’s NewsFeed integrity effort.

“At the time, it felt like we were in a car careering out of control and it wasn’t just that everyone was saying, ‘we’ll be fine’ — it’s that they didn’t even see the car,” he said.

Ovadya saw early what many — including lawmakers, journalists, and Big Tech CEOs — wouldn’t grasp until months later: Our platformed and algorithmically optimized world is vulnerable — to propaganda, to misinformation, to dark targeted advertising from foreign governments — so much so that it threatens to undermine a cornerstone of human discourse: the credibility of fact.

But it’s what he sees coming next that will really scare the shit out of you.

“Alarmism can be good — you should be alarmist about this stuff,” Ovadya said one January afternoon before calmly outlining a deeply unsettling projection about the next two decades of fake news, artificial intelligence–assisted misinformation campaigns, and propaganda. “We are so screwed it’s beyond what most of us can imagine,” he said. “We were utterly screwed a year and a half ago and we’re even more screwed now. And depending how far you look into the future it just gets worse.”

That future, according to Ovadya, will arrive with a slew of slick, easy-to-use, and eventually seamless technological tools for manipulating perception and falsifying reality, for which terms have already been coined — “reality apathy,” “automated laser phishing,” and “human puppets.”

Which is why Ovadya, an MIT grad with engineering stints at tech companies like Quora, dropped everything in early 2016 to try to prevent what he saw as a Big Tech–enabled information crisis. “One day something just clicked,” he said of his awakening. It became clear to him that, if somebody were to exploit our attention economy and use the platforms that undergird it to distort the truth, there were no real checks and balances to stop it. “I realized if these systems were going to go out of control, there’d be nothing to reign them in and it was going to get bad, and quick,” he said.

Today Ovadya and a cohort of loosely affiliated researchers and academics are anxiously looking ahead — toward a future that is alarmingly dystopian. They’re running war game–style disaster scenarios based on technologies that have begun to pop up and the outcomes are typically disheartening.

For Ovadya — now the chief technologist for the University of Michigan’s Center for Social Media Responsibility and a Knight News innovation fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia — the shock and ongoing anxiety over Russian Facebook ads and Twitter bots pales in comparison to the greater threat: Technologies that can be used to enhance and distort what is real are evolving faster than our ability to understand and control or mitigate it. The stakes are high and the possible consequences more disastrous than foreign meddling in an election — an undermining or upending of core civilizational institutions, an “infocalypse.” And Ovadya says that this one is just as plausible as the last one — and worse.

Worse because of our ever-expanding computational prowess; worse because of ongoing advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning that can blur the lines between fact and fiction; worse because those things could usher in a future where, as Ovadya observes, anyone could make it “appear as if anything has happened, regardless of whether or not it did.”

And much in the way that foreign-sponsored, targeted misinformation campaigns didn’t feel like a plausible near-term threat until we realized that it was already happening, Ovadya cautions that fast-developing tools powered by artificial intelligence, machine learning, and augmented reality tech could be hijacked and used by bad actors to imitate humans and wage an information war.

And we’re closer than one might think to a potential “Infocalypse.” Already available tools for audio and video manipulation have begun to look like a potential fake news Manhattan Project. In the murky corners of the internet, people have begun using machine learning algorithms and open-source software to easily create pornographic videos that realistically superimpose the faces of celebrities — or anyone for that matter — on the adult actors’ bodies. At institutions like Stanford, technologists have built programs that that combine and mix recorded video footagewith real-time face tracking to manipulate video. Similarly, at the University of Washington computer scientists successfully built a program capable of “turning audio clips into a realistic, lip-synced video of the person speaking those words.” As proof of concept, both the teams manipulated broadcast video to make world leaders appear to say things they never actually said.

As these tools become democratized and widespread, Ovadya notes that the worst case scenarios could be extremely destabilizing.

There’s “diplomacy manipulation,” in which a malicious actor uses advanced technology to “create the belief that an event has occurred” to influence geopolitics. Imagine, for example, a machine-learning algorithm (which analyzes gobs of data in order to teach itself to perform a particular function) fed on hundreds of hours of footage of Donald Trump or North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, which could then spit out a near-perfect — and virtually impossible to distinguish from reality — audio or video clip of the leader declaring nuclear or biological war. “It doesn’t have to be perfect — just good enough to make the enemy think something happened that it provokes a knee-jerk and reckless response of retaliation.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 February 2018 at 9:11 am

Israel’s decades-long efforts to kill the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat included a plot to down a commercial plane

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Ronen Bergman reports in the NY Times:

The radar on the F-15s picked up the blip of the transport plane, a DHC-5 Buffalo, 370 miles into Mediterranean airspace. The fighters closed rapidly. They read the tail number, saw the blue-and-brown markings. They were positive they’d found the right plane.

The lead pilot keyed his radio. “Do we have permission to engage?”

It was the afternoon of Oct. 23, 1982. Deep beneath the ground of central Tel Aviv, inside the Israeli Air Force’s main command-and-control bunker, code-named Canary, the pilot’s question played over a loudspeaker. All eyes were on the commanding officer. Everyone expected an order to open fire, but the air-force commander in chief, Maj. Gen. David Ivry, usually a decisive man, was hesitating.

He knew that his fighters had everything they were supposed to have: a positive visual identification, a clear shot in open skies over empty ocean. The go-ahead to shoot down the plane and the passenger it was carrying had come from the minister of defense, Ariel Sharon. Their job — Ivry’s job — was to eliminate targets, not select them.

But Ivry’s doubts overcame him. “Negative,” he told the pilot. “I repeat: Negative on opening fire.”

The military operation — the targeted assassination of Yasir Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and enemy of the state of Israel — had been set in motion the previous day by Mossad, Israel’s civilian intelligence agency. Tsomet, the Mossad unit responsible for recruiting and running assets abroad, received reports from two informants inside the P.L.O. that Arafat would take off from Athens the next day in a private plane heading to Cairo. Caesarea, the Mossad unit that handled targeted killings, immediately dispatched two operatives to gather more information. Taking advantage of lax security at the Athens airport, they waited for Arafat in the area where private planes were parked.

Sharon, meanwhile, had been maintaining constant pressure on Lt. Gen. Rafael Eitan, chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, for the operation to move forward. The air force put two F-15 fighters on alert for immediate takeoff from the Tel Nof air force base. Ivry, ever cautious, briefed the lead pilot himself. He understood the stakes. It was clear to him how disastrous it would be if Israel shot down the wrong aircraft. “You don’t fire without my O.K.,” he told the pilot. “Clear? Even if there’s a communications problem, if you don’t hear my order” — he emphasized that part: hear my order — “you don’t open fire.”

At 2:05 p.m. on Oct. 23, one of the Caesarea operatives in Athens called Mossad headquarters. “He’s here,” he said. “Positive ID.” His excitement was audible. He reported that he had watched the P.L.O. leader and his men making final preparations to board a DHC-5 Buffalo with a tail painted blue with brown marks and the registration number 1169.

Mossad passed the confirmation to Canary. To Ivry, though, something seemed off. “I didn’t get this whole story,” he told me years later, sitting in his executive suite overlooking Tel Aviv, where he works now as the president of Boeing Israel. “It wasn’t clear to me why Arafat would be flying to Cairo. According to intelligence, he had nothing to look for there at the time. And if he was going there, why in that kind of transport plane? Not at all dignified enough for a man of his status. I asked the Mossad to verify that he was the man.”

The two Caesarea operatives once again insisted that it was Arafat. “The objective has grown a longer beard to mislead,” they reported. Mossad reconfirmed the positive identification.

At 4:30 p.m., the operatives reported that the plane had taken off. Ivry got the formal order, by telephone, from Eitan: Shoot it down. Ivry told his F-15 pilots to take off. It wouldn’t take long to intercept the sluggish transport plane.

As the jets closed in, Ivry still harbored doubts. He told his aide to contact Mossad again and demand that it provide secondary confirmation that it was Arafat on the plane and not just someone who looked like him. Ivry seldom displayed any emotion. “But we could see he was very worried,” said one of his subordinates who was present at the time.

Ivry needed to buy time. He also knew that pilots can be overeager, that sometimes they’ll look for a reason to fire on a target, interpreting a burst of radio static as an order to shoot, for instance. “Hold your fire,” he reminded his pilots. “If there’s no radio contact, do not open fire.”

Eitan kept calling to find out what was happening and to see whether his order to shoot down the plane had been carried out. Even though the Caesarea operatives had confirmed and then reconfirmed that it was Arafat, Ivry gave the same reply each time: “Raful,” Ivry said, using Eitan’s nickname, “we do not yet have final positive confirmation that it is him.”

Separately, Ivry told the Military Intelligence directorate (known by its acronym AMAN) and Mossad that the visual identification was insufficient and he demanded yet another crosschecked confirmation that Arafat was on the plane. That’s when the pilots picked up the radar blip and sought permission to engage.

Ivry couldn’t stall much longer. He had been given a direct order. If he didn’t take down the aircraft soon, he would have to explain why to Eitan and Sharon.

Tension was heightening. The minutes dragged on.

And then, five minutes before 5 o’clock, 25 minutes after the fighters took off, a phone jangled in Canary. It was the secure line that connected directly to Mossad headquarters. “Doubts have arisen,” said the voice on the line, with embarrassment. Mossad had other sources who insisted that Arafat had been nowhere near Greece, and that the man on the plane couldn’t possibly be Arafat.

In the absence of another order, the pair of F-15s continued to track the Buffalo. Ivry repeated his orders. “We’re waiting for more information. Keep eyes on the target and wait.”

At 5:23 p.m., another report came in to Canary. Sources from Mossad and AMAN said the man on the plane was Fathi Arafat, Yasir’s look-alike younger brother, a pediatrician and the founder of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society. With him were 30 wounded Palestinian children, survivors of the massacre that the Lebanese Maronite Christian Phalange militia had perpetrated in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut a month before. Fathi Arafat was escorting them to Cairo for medical treatment.

Ivry breathed a sigh of relief. “Turn around,” he ordered the pilot. “You’re coming home.”

The choice facing Ivry on that day in October 1982 was only one example of a dilemma that has confronted many Israeli authorities over the course of the nation’s brief history — the violent and sometimes irreconcilable clash between the fundamental principles of democracy and a nation’s instinct to defend itself.

As a reporter in Israel, I have interviewed hundreds of people in its intelligence and defense establishments and studied thousands of classified documents that revealed a hidden history, surprising even in the context of Israel’s already fierce reputation. Many of the people I spoke to, in explaining why they did what they did, would simply cite the Babylonian Talmud: “If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first.” In my reporting, I found that since World War II, Israel has used assassination and targeted-killing more than any other country in the West, in many cases endangering the lives of civilians. But I also discovered a long history of profound — and often rancorous — internal debates over how the state should be preserved. Can a nation use the methods of terrorism? Can it harm innocent civilians in the process? What are the costs? Where is the line?

Increasingly, people want to talk. It was during a conversation in 2011 with a senior officer in a North Tel Aviv cafe that I heard for the first time about how Sharon had ordered that transport plane carrying Arafat to be shot down in 1982. He described everything in detail but set a stiff condition for publication of the story — another person had to describe the event on the record as well. Only by doing that could I publish the story. I went to see that person, knowing how difficult it would be to get him to speak about the episode. I approached in a roundabout manner before I touched on the relevant point. The man looked at me with his steely gaze, but then a softer and slightly sad expression came over his face. “For more than 30 years,” he said, “I have been waiting for someone to come and ask me about this story.”

No target thwarted, vexed and bedeviled the Israeli assassination apparatus more than Yasir Arafat, the charismatic P.L.O. leader who died in 2004. Sometimes he would simply escape, and sometimes the officials overseeing an effort would call it off because the target could not be confirmed or because the price in civilian lives was deemed too high. Time and again, the desire to kill Arafat placed Israel at the center of the ongoing debate about what a nation can and cannot do to survive.

In the years after Arafat founded Fatah, a forerunner of the P.L.O., in 1959, Mossad dismissed him and his friends as students and intellectuals. By 1965, when Fatah was carrying out its first guerrilla and terror operations against Israel, Rafi Eitan, the chief of Mossad operations in Europe (no relation to Raful Eitan, the I.D.F. general), asked the Mossad director, Meir Amit, to order Caesarea to break into an apartment that Arafat was using as an operational base in Frankfurt and kill him. “We can do it easily,” he wrote to Amit. “We have access to the target, and this is an opportunity that we may not get again.” According to Eitan, Amit refused to sign off. He didn’t see the group as much more than a gang of young thugs. “Too bad they didn’t listen to me,” Eitan told me decades later. “We could have saved ourselves a lot of effort, heartache and sorrow.”

Ultimately, though, it was Eitan’s attitude that prevailed. The belief that assassinating the P.L.O. leader would solve the entire Palestinian problem would be the predominant opinion in Israeli intelligence for many years to come. “Israel must strike at the heart of the terror organizations,” Yehuda Arbel, the Shin Bet commander in Jerusalem and the West Bank in the late 1960s, wrote in his diary. “The elimination of Abu Ammar” — Arafat — “is a precondition to finding a solution to the Palestinian problem.” . . .

Continue reading.

Read the whole thing. I wonder whether Israel’s unprovoked attack on the USS Liberty, which killed 34 US servicemen, was another attempt to assassinate Arafat. For more on that, see these articles.


Written by LeisureGuy

23 January 2018 at 2:45 pm

Trump thrives on chaos, so he creates chaos at every opportunity

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I suddenly realized that Trump’s constant changes of positions and decisions, creating chaos instead of progress, may be his way of creating an environment in which he feels comfortable while others feel disoriented. It is also something from which I would think Christians would recoil, viewing it as emblematic of the Antichrist.

From the Quartz Daily Briefing newsletter:

Donald Trump recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.He’s set to make it official in a White House speech, upending decades of US foreign policy, and defying the warnings of world leaders that the move could fatally disrupt the peace process. Trump also plans to eventually move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Introducing more chaos and lighting a fire in the Middle East.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 December 2017 at 11:21 am

“Antigone” Redux: Novelist Kamila Shamsie Talks About Radicalization, Citizenship, And The Link Between Violence And Masculinity

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Cora Currier writes in The Intercept:

KAMILA SHAMSIE DIDN’T have to stretch to fit the plot to the times when she decided to adapt the Greek tragedy Antigone into a contemporary novel about terrorism.

In Sophocles’ play, the heroine Antigone buries her dead brother, although he has been declared a traitor and denied funeral rites by the king, Creon. For that, Creon condemns Antigone to death, despite the pleading of his son (her betrothed), his wife, and public opinion.

Hysteria around the burial of terrorists isn’t only ancient: In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, in 2013, officials in Massachusetts responded to this primal fury by acceding to protests that the body of the slain bomber, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, should not be buried in the state. Democratic Senator Ed Markey said at the time that if, “If the people of Massachusetts do not want that terrorist to be buried on our soil then it should not be.” Protesters’ signs bore slogans straight out of Sophocles: “Bury this terrorist on U.S. soil and we will unbury him.”

In Shamsie’s retelling of Antigone, the recently published Home Fire, the family at the center of the drama is British-Pakistani: two sisters, Isma and Aneeka, and their beloved brother Parvaiz, who goes to Syria to join the Islamic State. Their story is intertwined with that of Karamat Lone, imagined as Britain’s first Muslim Home Secretary, one who shares the anti-immigrant politics of Theresa May. Parvaiz is quickly disillusioned with the caliphate and tries to return home, but Lone has a new zeal for stripping people associated with terrorism of their citizenship. Parvaiz’s sisters are drawn to try to save him, and the end is predictably tragic.

The gripping novel explores how western responses to terrorism show the limits of our ideals and laws. In an interview over Skype, Shamsie told me her initial imperative with the novel was to explore the question of citizenship, to delve into what it means to begin stripping people of citizenship for certain crimes.

“Repeatedly people in [Theresa May’s] government have said, ‘citizenship is a privilege not a right,’” Shamsie said. “And that’s simply legally untrue, but increasingly they want to be able to take away citizenship for people who they think are unworthy. And they get to decide.”

She added: “It’s your own citizens and you’re saying that for all that we have our judicial system and prison system and probation and all of that, this is the one crime that we don’t know how to deal with, so we’re just going to leave you out of the country. It should be seen as a real failing of a state, to say that our judicial system is incapable of knowing how to respond to this criminal act.”

Rather, crimes of terror are considered a category apart, an offense so extreme that society’s order is upended in reaction, and laws and tradition are suspended. (In the poet Anne Carson’s unconventional adaptation of Antigone, she writes: “a state of exception / marks the limit of the law / this violent thing / this fragile thing.”)

And, as in the United States, the notion of terror is racialized and associated with Muslims (President Trump entertaining the idea of sending Sayfullo Saipov, the man who killed eight people when he drove a truck down a bike path in Manhattan on Halloween, to Guantánamo, is at this point to be expected.) While stripping citizenship might initially be justified only in terrorism cases, Shamsie noted Theresa May’s attempts to revoke the passports of a group of British-Pakistani men convicted of sex crimes – “there’s no way of saying it’s not about Islamophobia and racism, because no one is making those suggestions about anyone who is white and committing similar crimes.”

In the narratives that she read of radicalization, of youth attempting to join ISIS, Shamsie saw only demonization and one-dimensional narratives: “It’s almost an inevitability now. If you’re young, Muslim and male, and angry, then you’re going to strap a bomb onto yourself.” But she dug into research on ISIS propaganda and youth who were convinced by it, and found that the reality, for many teenage would-be fighters, was complex.

“One of the things I was interested in was the lure being something other than violence, and all the other ways that this world that we know to be nihilistic and brutal could also be seductive,” Shamsie said.

To convince 19-year-old Parvaiz, the ISIS recruiter plays into his insecurities and loneliness and offers him an imagined community of brotherhood. In Home Fire, in keeping with a long lineage of feminist interpretations of Antigone, the experience of women is made central; it’s the sisters, mothers, and lovers who aren’t just the targets of violence but also bear the burden of its aftermath. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2017 at 9:21 am

The Uncounted

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The military routinely lies and covers up any information that it finds incriminating or even embarrassing. (The military idea of “honor” seems to have some special meaning that allows for lying and cheating, if not stealing.) Azmat Kahn and Anand Gopal report in the NY Times:

Late on the evening of Sept. 20, 2015, Basim Razzo sat in the study of his home on the eastern side of Mosul, his face lit up by a computer screen. His wife, Mayada, was already upstairs in bed, but Basim could lose hours clicking through car reviews on YouTube: the BMW Alpina B7, the Audi Q7. Almost every night went like this. Basim had long harbored a taste for fast rides, but around ISIS-occupied Mosul, the auto showrooms sat dark, and the family car in his garage — a 1991 BMW — had barely been used in a year. There simply was nowhere to go.

The Razzos lived in the Woods, a bucolic neighborhood on the banks of the Tigris, where marble and stucco villas sprawled amid forests of eucalyptus, chinar and pine. Cafes and restaurants lined the riverbanks, but ever since the city fell to ISIS the previous year, Basim and Mayada had preferred to entertain at home. They would set up chairs poolside and put kebabs on the grill, and Mayada would serve pizza or Chinese fried rice, all in an effort to maintain life as they’d always known it. Their son, Yahya, had abandoned his studies at Mosul University and fled for Erbil, and they had not seen him since; those who left when ISIS took over could re-enter the caliphate, but once there, they could not leave — an impasse that stranded people wherever they found themselves. Birthdays, weddings and graduations came and went, the celebrations stockpiled for that impossibly distant moment: liberation.

Next door to Basim’s home stood the nearly identical home belonging to his brother, Mohannad, and his wife, Azza. They were almost certainly asleep at that hour, but Basim guessed that their 18-year-old son, Najib, was still up. A few months earlier, he was arrested by the ISIS religious police for wearing jeans and a T-shirt with English writing. They gave him 10 lashes and, as a further measure of humiliation, clipped his hair into a buzz cut. Now he spent most of his time indoors, usually on Facebook. “Someday it’ll all be over,” Najib had posted just a few days earlier. “Until that day, I’ll hold on with all my strength.”

Sometimes, after his parents locked up for the night, Najib would fish the key out of the cupboard and steal over to his uncle’s house. Basim had the uncanny ability to make his nephew forget the darkness of their situation. He had a glass-half-full exuberance, grounded in the belief that every human life — every setback and success, every heartbreak and triumph — is written by the 40th day in the womb. Basim was not a particularly religious man, but that small article of faith underpinned what seemed to him an ineluctable truth, even in wartime Iraq: Everything happens for a reason. It was an assurance he offered everyone; Yahya had lost a year’s worth of education, but in exile he had met, and proposed to, the love of his life. “You see?” Basim would tell Mayada. “You see? That’s fate.”

Basim had felt this way for as long as he could remember. A 56-year-old account manager at Huawei, the Chinese multinational telecommunications company, he studied engineering in the 1980s at Western Michigan University. He and Mayada lived in Portage, Mich., in a tiny one-bedroom apartment that Mayada also used as the headquarters for her work as an Avon representative; she started small, offering makeup and skin cream to neighbors, but soon expanded sales to Kalamazoo and Comstock. Within a year, she’d saved up enough to buy Basim a $700 Minolta camera. Basim came to rely on her ability to impose order on the strange and the mundane, to master effortlessly everything from Yahya’s chemistry homework to the alien repartee of faculty picnics and Rotary clubs. It was fate. They had been married now for 33 years.

Around midnight, Basim heard a thump from the second floor. He peeked out of his office and saw a sliver of light under the door to the bedroom of his daughter, Tuqa. He called out for her to go to bed. At 21, Tuqa would often stay up late, and though Basim knew that he wasn’t a good example himself and that the current conditions afforded little reason to be up early, he believed in the calming power of an early-to-bed, early-to-rise routine. He waited at the foot of the stairs, called out again, and the sliver went dark.

It was 1 a.m. when Basim finally shut down the computer and headed upstairs to bed. He settled in next to Mayada, who was fast asleep.

Some time later, he snapped awake. His shirt was drenched, and there was a strange taste — blood? — on his tongue. The air was thick and acrid. He looked up. He was in the bedroom, but the roof was nearly gone. He could see the night sky, the stars over Mosul. Basim reached out and found his legs pressed just inches from his face by what remained of his bed. He began to panic. He turned to his left, and there was a heap of rubble. “Mayada!” he screamed. “Mayada!” It was then that he noticed the silence. “Mayada!” he shouted. “Tuqa!” The bedroom walls were missing, leaving only the bare supports. He could see the dark outlines of treetops. He began to hear the faraway, unmistakable sound of a woman’s voice. He cried out, and the voice shouted back, “Where are you?” It was Azza, his sister-in-law, somewhere outside.

“Mayada’s gone!” he shouted.

“No, no, I’ll find her!”

“No, no, no, she’s gone,” he cried back. “They’re all gone!”

Later that same day, the American-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria uploaded a video to its YouTube channel. The clip, titled “Coalition Airstrike Destroys Daesh VBIED Facility Near Mosul, Iraq 20 Sept 2015,” shows spectral black-and-white night-vision footage of two sprawling compounds, filmed by an aircraft slowly rotating above. There is no sound. Within seconds, the structures disappear in bursts of black smoke. The target, according to the caption, was a car-bomb factory, a hub in a network of “multiple facilities spread across Mosul used to produce VBIEDs for ISIL’s terrorist activities,” posing “a direct threat to both civilians and Iraqi security forces.” Later, when he found the video, Basim could watch only the first few frames. He knew immediately that the buildings were his and his brother’s houses.

The clip is one of hundreds the coalition has released since the American-led war against the Islamic State began in August 2014. Also posted to Defense Department websites, they are presented as evidence of a military campaign unlike any other — precise, transparent and unyielding. In the effort to expel ISIS from Iraq and Syria, the coalition has conducted more than 27,500 strikes to date, deploying everything from Vietnam-era B-52 bombers to modern Predator drones. That overwhelming air power has made it possible for local ground troops to overcome heavy resistance and retake cities throughout the region. “U.S. and coalition forces work very hard to be precise in airstrikes,” Maj. Shane Huff, a spokesman for the Central Command, told us, and as a result “are conducting one of the most precise air campaigns in military history.”

American military planners go to great lengths to distinguish today’s precision strikes from the air raids of earlier wars, which were carried out with little or no regard for civilian casualties. They describe a target-selection process grounded in meticulously gathered intelligence, technological wizardry, carefully designed bureaucratic hurdles and extraordinary restraint. Intelligence analysts pass along proposed targets to “targeteers,” who study 3-D computer models as they calibrate the angle of attack. A team of lawyers evaluates the plan, and — if all goes well — the process concludes with a strike so precise that it can, in some cases, destroy a room full of enemy fighters and leave the rest of the house intact.

The coalition usually announces an airstrike within a few days of its completion. It also publishes a monthly report assessing allegations of civilian casualties. Those it deems credible are generally explained as unavoidable accidents — a civilian vehicle drives into the target area moments after a bomb is dropped, for example. The coalition reports that since August 2014, it has killed tens of thousands of ISIS fighters and, according to our tally of its monthly summaries, 466 civilians in Iraq.

Yet until we raised his case, Basim’s family was not among those counted. Mayada, Tuqa, Mohannad and Najib were four of an unknown number of Iraqi civilians whose deaths the coalition has placed in the “ISIS” column. Estimates from Airwars and other nongovernmental organizations suggest that the civilian death toll is much higher, but the coalition disputes such figures, arguing that they are based not on specific intelligence but local news reports and testimony gathered from afar. When the coalition notes a mission irregularity or receives an allegation, it conducts its own inquiry and publishes a sentence-long analysis of its findings. But no one knows how many Iraqis have simply gone uncounted.

Our own reporting, conducted over 18 months, shows that the air war has been significantly less precise than the coalition claims. Between April 2016 and June 2017, we visited the sites of nearly 150 airstrikes across northern Iraq, not long after ISIS was evicted from them. We toured the wreckage; we interviewed hundreds of witnesses, survivors, family members, intelligence informants and local officials; we photographed bomb fragments, scoured local news sources, identified ISIS targets in the vicinity and mapped the destruction through satellite imagery. We also visited the American air base in Qatar where the coalition directs the air campaign. There, we were given access to the main operations floor and interviewed senior commanders, intelligence officials, legal advisers and civilian-casualty assessment experts. We provided their analysts with the coordinates and date ranges of every airstrike — 103 in all — in three ISIS-controlled areas and examined their responses. The result is the first systematic, ground-based sample of airstrikes in Iraq since this latest military action began in 2014.

We found that one in five of the coalition strikes we identified resulted in civilian death, a rate more than 31 times that acknowledged by the coalition. It is at such a distance from official claims that, in terms of civilian deaths, this may be the least transparent war in recent American history. Our reporting, moreover, revealed a consistent failure by the coalition to investigate claims properly or to keep records that make it possible to investigate the claims at all. While some of the civilian deaths we documented were a result of proximity to a legitimate ISIS target, many others appear to be the result simply of flawed or outdated intelligence that conflated civilians with combatants. In this system, Iraqis are considered guilty until proved innocent. Those who survive the strikes, people like Basim Razzo, remain marked as possible ISIS sympathizers, with no discernible path to clear their names.

Basim woke up in a ward at Mosul General Hospital, heavy with bandages. He was disoriented, but he remembered being pried loose from the rubble, the neighbors’ hands all over his body, the backhoe serving him down to the earth, the flashing lights of an ambulance waiting in the distance. The rescuers worked quickly. Everyone knew it had been an airstrike; the planes could return at any minute to finish the job.

In the hospital, Basim was hazily aware of nurses and orderlies, but it was not until morning that he saw . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2017 at 1:37 pm

Holy moly! UAE hacked Qatari government sites, sparking regional upheaval, according to U.S. intelligence officials

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Karen DeYoung and Ellen Nakashima report in the Washington Post:

The United Arab Emirates orchestrated the hacking of Qatari government news and social media sites in order to post incendiary false quotes attributed to Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, in late May that sparked the ongoing upheaval between Qatar and its neighbors, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

Officials became aware last week that newly analyzed information gathered by U.S. intelligence agencies confirmed that on May 23, senior members of the UAE government discussed the plan and its implementation. The officials said it remains unclear whether the UAE carried out the hacks itself or contracted to have them done. The false reports said that the emir, among other things, had called Iran an “Islamic power” and praised Hamas.

The hacks and posting took place on May 24, shortly after President Trump completed a lengthy counterterrorism meeting with Persian Gulf leaders in neighboring Saudi Arabia and declared them unified.

Citing the emir’s reported comments, the Saudis, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt immediately banned all Qatari media. They then broke relations with Qatar and declared a trade and diplomatic boycott, sending the region into a political and diplomatic tailspin that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has warned could undermine U.S. counterterrorism efforts against the Islamic State. . .

Continue reading.

Tump took it all, hook, line, and sinker. Boy, is he easy to play! Mainly because he lacks most of a State Department and pays no attention to the one he has, plus being totally ignorant of history and foreign policy, and a moron to boot.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 July 2017 at 4:01 pm

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