Tuesday, July 31

‘Assad better get the hell out’ – Panetta

US Defense Sec. Leon Panetta has advice for Syria’s President Assad: “If you want to be able to protect yourself and your family, you’d better get the hell out now.” Panetta also warned that the US would not repeat the mistakes it made in Iraq.

“The United States and the international community has made very clear that this is intolerable, and have brought their diplomatic and economic pressure on Syria to stop this kind of violence, to have Assad step down and to transition to a democratic form of government,” he said in an interview with CNN during a visit to Tunisia.

The international community has yet to reach consensus on the ongoing strife in Syria. Russia and China oppose removing Assad, saying his government is supported by a majority of Syrians.

Syria’s government forces should remain intact after embattled President Assad is ousted, said Panetta. Though the Obama administration is resolved against military intervention in the country, Panetta nevertheless drew a comparison with the occupation of Iraq following the 2003 US-led invasion.

"It's very important that we don't make the same mistakes we made in Iraq," he said, referring to the Bush administration’s decision to disband the country’s military in the wake of the invasion. “I think it’s important when Assad leaves, and he will leave, to try to preserve stability in that country.”

The Defense Secretary said that the most effective way to preserve Syrian stability is to “maintain as much of the military and police as you can, along with security forces, and hope that they will transition to a democratic form of government.”

A temporary military regime is a strategy similar to the one employed by Egypt following the ouster of President Mubarak in January last year, where the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) formed an interim government. But prolonged military rule sparked massive protests amid claims that SCAF was stalling democratic elections in a bid to cling to power.

Government forces will be essential to securing key Syrian military sites, including alleged chemical weapons stashes: “It would be a disaster to have those chemical weapons fall into the wrong hands,” Panetta said.

"The key right now is to continue to bring that pressure on Syria, to provide assistance to the opposition, and to provide whatever kind of humanitarian aid we can to assist the refugees," he told CNN.

Panetta is currently in Tunisia as part of a week-long tour of the Middle East, during which the Syrian conflict will be at the top of his agenda.

This aggressive rhetoric comes as the fighting between government forces and rebels intensifies across Syria. Clashes have wracked the industrial hub of Aleppo for the past week, with rebels vowing to turn the northern city into the “grave of the regime.”

The Obama administration has said that it is providing as much “non-lethal” aid as it can to Syrian rebel forces. Russia has accused the West of fueling the conflict by supporting the opposition, claiming that more should be done to facilitate dialogue between the warring camps.

The American presidency is designed to disappoint.

By George Friedman
Each candidate must promise things that are beyond his power to deliver. No candidate could expect to be elected by emphasizing how little power the office actually has and how voters should therefore expect little from him. So candidates promise great, transformative programs. What the winner actually can deliver depends upon what other institutions, nations and reality will allow him. Though the gap between promises and realities destroys immodest candidates, from the founding fathers' point of view, it protects the republic. They distrusted government in general and the office of the president in particular.

Congress, the Supreme Court and the Federal Reserve Board all circumscribe the president's power over domestic life. This and the authority of the states greatly limit the president's power, just as the country's founders intended. To achieve anything substantial, the president must create a coalition of political interests to shape decision-making in other branches of the government. Yet at the same time -- and this is the main paradox of American political culture -- the presidency is seen as a decisive institution and the person holding that office is seen as being of overriding importance.

Constraints in the Foreign Policy Arena

The president has somewhat more authority in foreign policy, but only marginally so. He is trapped by public opinion, congressional intrusion, and above all, by the realities of geopolitics. Thus, while during his 2000 presidential campaign George W. Bush argued vehemently against nation-building, once in office, he did just that (with precisely the consequences he had warned of on the campaign trail). And regardless of how he modeled his foreign policy during his first campaign, the 9/11 attacks defined his presidency.

Similarly, Barack Obama campaigned on a promise to redefine America's relationship with both Europe and the Islamic world. Neither happened. It has been widely and properly noted how little Obama's foreign policy in action has differed from George W. Bush's. It was not that Obama didn't intend to have a different foreign policy, but simply that what the president wants and what actually happens are very different things.

The power often ascribed to the U.S. presidency is overblown. But even so, people -- including leaders -- all over the world still take that power very seriously. They want to believe that someone is in control of what is happening. The thought that no one can control something as vast and complex as a country or the world is a frightening thought. Conspiracy theories offer this comfort, too, since they assume that while evil may govern the world, at least the world is governed. There is, of course, an alternative viewpoint, namely that while no one actually is in charge, the world is still predictable as long as you understand the impersonal forces guiding it. This is an uncomfortable and unacceptable notion to those who would make a difference in the world. For such people, the presidential race -- like political disputes the world over -- is of great significance.

Ultimately, the president does not have the power to transform U.S. foreign policy. Instead, American interests, the structure of the world and the limits of power determine foreign policy.  In the broadest sense, current U.S. foreign policy has been in place for about a century. During that period, the United States has sought to balance and rebalance the international system to contain potential threats in the Eastern Hemisphere, which has been torn by wars. The Western Hemisphere in general, and North America in particular, has not. No president could afford to risk allowing conflict to come to North America.

At one level, presidents do count: The strategy they pursue keeping the Western Hemisphere conflict-free matters. During World War I, the United States intervened after the Germans began to threaten Atlantic sea-lanes and just weeks after the fall of the czar. At this point in the war, the European system seemed about to become unbalanced, with the Germans coming to dominate it. In World War II, the United States followed a similar strategy, allowing the system in both Europe and Asia to become unbalanced before intervening. This was called isolationism, but that is a simplistic description of the strategy of relying on the balance of power to correct itself and only intervening as a last resort.

During the Cold War, the United States adopted the reverse strategy of actively maintaining the balance of power in the Eastern Hemisphere via a process of continual intervention. It should be remembered that American deaths in the Cold War were just under 100,000 (including Vietnam, Korea and lesser conflicts) versus about 116,000 U.S. deaths in World War I, showing that far from being cold, the Cold War was a violent struggle.

The decision to maintain active balancing was a response to a perceived policy failure in World War II. The argument was that prior intervention would have prevented the collapse of the European balance, perhaps blocked Japanese adventurism, and ultimately resulted in fewer deaths than the 400,000 the United States suffered in that conflict. A consensus emerged from World War II that an "internationalist" stance of active balancing was superior to allowing nature to take its course in the hope that the system would balance itself. The Cold War was fought on this strategy.

The Cold War Consensus Breaks

Between 1948 and the Vietnam War, the consensus held. During the Vietnam era, however, a viewpoint emerged in the Democratic Party that the strategy of active balancing actually destabilized the Eastern Hemisphere, causing unnecessary conflict and thereby alienating other countries. This viewpoint maintained that active balancing increased the likelihood of conflict, caused anti-American coalitions to form, and most important, overstated the risk of an unbalanced system and the consequences of imbalance. Vietnam was held up as an example of excessive balancing.

The counterargument was that while active balancing might generate some conflicts, World War I and World War II showed the consequences of allowing the balance of power to take its course. This viewpoint maintained that failing to engage in active and even violent balancing with the Soviet Union would increase the possibility of conflict on the worst terms possible for the United States. Thus, even in the case of Vietnam, active balancing prevented worse outcomes. The argument between those who want the international system to balance itself and the argument of those who want the United States to actively manage the balance has raged ever since George McGovern ran against Richard Nixon in 1972.

If we carefully examine Obama's statements during the 2008 campaign and his efforts once in office, we see that he has tried to move U.S. foreign policy away from active balancing in favor of allowing regional balances of power to maintain themselves. He did not move suddenly into this policy, as many of his supporters expected he would. Instead, he eased into it, simultaneously increasing U.S. efforts in Afghanistan while disengaging in other areas to the extent that the U.S. political system and global processes would allow.

Obama's efforts to transition away from active balancing of the system have been seen in Europe, where he has made little attempt to stabilize the economic situation, and in the Far East, where apart from limited military repositioning there have been few changes. Syria also highlights his movement toward the strategy of relying on regional balances. The survival of Syrian President Bashar al Assad's regime would unbalance the region, creating a significant Iranian sphere of influence. Obama's strategy has been not to intervene beyond providing limited covert support to the opposition, but rather to allow the regional balance to deal with the problem. Obama has expected the Saudis and Turks to block the Iranians by undermining al Assad, not because the United States asks them to do so but because it is in their interest to do so.

Obama's perspective draws on that of the critics of the Cold War strategy of active balancing, who maintained that without a major Eurasian power threatening hemispheric hegemony, U.S. intervention is more likely to generate anti-American coalitions and precisely the kind of threat the United States feared when it decided to actively balance. In other words, Obama does not believe that the lessons learned from World War I and World War II apply to the current global system, and that as in Syria, the global power should leave managing the regional balance to local powers.

Romney and Active Balancing

Romney takes the view that active balancing is necessary. In the case of Syria, Romney would argue that by letting the system address the problem, Obama has permitted Iran to probe and retreat without consequences and failed to offer a genuine solution to the core issue. That core issue is that the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq left a vacuum that Iran -- or chaos -- has filled, and that in due course the situation will become so threatening or unstable that the United States will have to intervene. To remedy this, Romney called during his visit to Israel for a decisive solution to the Iran problem, not just for Iran's containment.

Romney also disagrees with Obama's view that there is no significant Eurasian hegemon to worry about. Romney has cited the re-emergence of Russia as a potential threat to American interests that requires U.S. action on a substantial scale. He would also argue that should the United States determine that China represented a threat, the current degree of force being used to balance it would be insufficient. For Romney, the lessons of World Wars I and II and the Cold War mesh. Allowing the balance of power to take its own course only delays American intervention and raises the ultimate price. To him, the Cold War ended as it did because of active balancing by the United States, including war when necessary. Without active balancing, Romney would argue, the Cold War's outcome might have been different and the price for the United States certainly would have been higher.

I also get the sense that Romney is less sensitive to global opinion than Obama. Romney would note that Obama has failed to sway global opinion in any decisive way despite great expectations around the world for an Obama presidency. In Romney's view, this is because satisfying the wishes of the world would be impossible, since they are contradictory. For example, prior to World War II, world opinion outside the Axis powers resented the United States for not intervening. But during the Cold War and the jihadist wars, world opinion resented the United States for intervening. For Romney, global resentment cannot be a guide for U.S. foreign policy. Where Obama would argue that anti-American sentiment fuels terrorism and anti-American coalitions, Romney would argue that ideology and interest, not sentiment, cause any given country to object to the leading world power. Attempting to appease sentiment would thus divert U.S. policy from a realistic course.

Campaign Rhetoric vs. Reality

I have tried to flesh out the kinds of argument each would make if they were not caught in a political campaign, where their goal is not setting out a coherent foreign policy but simply embarrassing the other and winning votes. While nothing suggests this is an ineffective course for a presidential candidate, it forces us to look for actions and hints to determine their actual positions. Based on such actions and hints, I would argue that their disagreement on foreign policy boils down to relying on regional balances versus active balancing.

But I would not necessarily say that this is the choice the country faces. As I have argued from the outset, the American presidency is institutionally weak despite its enormous prestige. It is limited constitutionally, politically and ultimately by the actions of others. Had Japan not attacked the United States, it is unclear that Franklin Roosevelt would have had the freedom to do what he did. Had al Qaeda not attacked on 9/11, I suspect that George W. Bush's presidency would have been dramatically different.

The world shapes U.S. foreign policy. The more active the world, the fewer choices presidents have and the smaller those choices are. Obama has sought to create a space where the United States can disengage from active balancing. Doing so falls within his constitutional powers, and thus far has been politically possible, too. But whether the international system would allow him to continue along this path should he be re-elected is open to question. Jimmy Carter had a similar vision, but the Iranian Revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan wrecked it. George W. Bush saw his opposition to nation-building wrecked by 9/11, and had his presidency crushed under the weight of the main thing he wanted to avoid.

Presidents make history, but not on their own terms. They are constrained and harried on all sides by reality. In selecting a president, it is important to remember that candidates will say what they need to say to be elected, but even when they say what they mean, they will not necessarily be able to pursue their goals. The choice to do so simply isn't up to them. There are two fairly clear foreign policy outlooks in this election. The degree to which the winner matters, however, is unclear, though knowing the inclinations of presidential candidates regardless of their ability to pursue them has some value.
In the end, though, the U.S. presidency was designed to limit the president's ability to rule. He can at most guide, and frequently he cannot even do that. Putting the presidency in perspective allows us to keep our debates in perspective as well.

The Rise and Decline of Al-Iraqiya

A key player in the political crisis currently unfolding in Baghdad is the Al-Iraqiya Alliance, a cross-confessional, predominantly Sunni, mostly secular coalition of parties that came together almost three years ago in an effort to replace Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the March 2010 elections. It failed then, and its flailing efforts now, along with those of other parties, to unseat Maliki through a parliamentary no-confidence vote highlight Iraqiya’s waning power as a force that could limit the prime minister’s authority. They also show that what remains of the country’s secular middle class lacks an influential standard bearer to protect its interests and project a middle ground in the face of ongoing sectarian tensions that Syria’s civil war risks escalating. Finally, they underline the marginalisation of Sunni Arabs and Sunni Turkomans by the Shiite-led government, further increasing the potential for violence.

It did not have to be this way. As recently as two years ago, when election results became known, Iraqiya showed promise as a secular alternative in an environment defined by ethno-sectarian politics. It was the only political alliance to attract both Shiite and especially Sunni voters. It campaigned on an expressly non-sectarian platform (arguing, for example, against the notion of federal Sunni and Shiite regions) as the representative of liberals and moderates. It won the largest number of seats, 91, against the 89 mustered by its main rival, Maliki’s State of Law list. Alone among major political alliances, Iraqiya claimed support throughout the country, having obtained twelve of its seats in Shiite-majority areas, when Maliki’s did not win a single one in predominantly Sunni governorates.

But Iraqiya overreached. In negotiations over government formation, its leader, Iyad Allawi, insisted on holding the prime minister’s position by virtue of heading the winning list. In response, Shiite parties that had fallen out with Maliki grew fearful that former Baathists would return to power and once again coalesced around him. Joining forces with Maliki, they managed to form the largest parliamentary bloc; the outgoing prime minister, who also gained support from both Iran and the U.S., held on to his position. In a striking reversal of fortune, Iraqiya lost its leverage. Some of its leaders rushed to accept senior positions in the new Maliki government even before other key planks of the power-sharing accord between Maliki, Allawi and Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish region, known as the Erbil agreement, could be implemented.

The goal of the Erbil accord had been to limit the powers of the prime minister. It was not to be. Since taking office in December 2010, Maliki steadily has built up his power, making no concessions to his governing partners. He has retained control over the interior and defence ministries as well as of elite military brigades. As a result, Iraqiya has found itself marginalised in government, its leaders and members exposed to intimidation and arrest by security forces, often under the banner of de-Baathification and anti-terrorism. Having campaigned partially on the promise it would bring such practices to an end, Iraqiya proved itself powerless in the eyes of its supporters. Matters came close to breaking point in December 2011, as the last U.S. troops left the country, when Maliki’s government issued an arrest warrant against Vice President Tareq al-Hashimi, a senior Sunni leader, while declaring Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak, another Sunni leader – both of them from Iraqiya – persona non grata for having referred to Maliki as a “dictator”.

In April 2012, tensions between Maliki and his governing partners escalated further. Joining forces, Iraqiya leaders, Barzani and other Kurdish leaders as well as some of Maliki’s Shiite rivals such as the powerful Sadrist movement, accused the prime minister of violating the Erbil agreement and amassing power by undemocratic and unconstitutional means. Their efforts ever since to hold a parliamentary no-confidence vote against Maliki have been hampered by internal divisions. The crisis is at a stalemate: Maliki hangs on to power, even enjoying a surge in popularity in Shiite areas; his rivals lack a viable strategy to unseat him until the next parliamentary elections, which should take place in 2014. This, they fear, leaves plenty of time for the prime minister to further consolidate his hold over the security forces and carry out further repression to achieve the kind of parliamentary majority in the next elections that has eluded him so far.

An emboldened prime minister, growing sectarian tensions and a deeply mistrustful opposition are a recipe for violent conflict, especially in light of troubling developments in neighbouring Syria. Iraqis across the divide express fears that a spiralling sectarian-tinged civil war in their neighbour could exacerbate tensions at home and usher the country into another round of sectarian conflict. In a separate report, Crisis Group has proposed some ways to mitigate the chances of such a scenario.

A key to understanding the political battle in Baghdad is to appreciate the extent to which it was avoidable. A series of ill-conceived steps has contributed to Iraqiya’s decline as a non-sectarian alliance bringing in a significant and otherwise underrepresented segment of the population. If the group hopes to survive the current phase and truly represent its constituency’s interests, it will have to engage in a serious internal reflection, in which it honestly assesses the strategies it has pursued, draws appropriate lessons and paves the way toward more democratic internal decision-making. If Iraqiya is to play a role in solving the dangerous political crisis, it first will have to overcome the crisis within that, over the past two years, has steadily been eroding its credibility.

As part of a new strategy it could:

develop a more formal internal decision-making process that would allow for dissenting views to be communicated openly and directly to senior leadership;
engage in a deliberate debate with its constituents on what they expect from the government and Iraqiya’s role in it, and whether they consider that the alliance has contributed to meeting those expectations. This could be done by requiring its parliament members to regularly return to their constituencies to engage with voters through organised forums, or by encouraging its provincial representatives to maintain steady ties with universities and professional associations so as to allow constituents to provide feedback on Iraqiya’s performance;
develop and publish a strategy document that would review in detail and objectively developments since March 2010, including its own performance, and that of its individual ministers and senior leaders, with recommendations on how it could improve;
review its relationship with other political alliances, including State of Law, the National Alliance and the Kurdistani Alliance, with a view to resolving differences and contributing to improving the state’s performance;
negotiate a countrywide political compromise with its counterparts, in which it would offer to abandon efforts by some of its members to establish federal regions in exchange for a more equitable security and human rights policy (including prohibiting arrests without just cause, ensuring that all detainees have access to adequate legal representation within 24 hours of their arrest, and allowing them to contact their relatives immediately upon their arrest) and more meaningful decentralisation (allowing governorates greater control over local investment and discrete issues such as education and transport).

Baghdad/Brussels, 31 July 2012

‘Superbomb’ ready for use

The biggest conventional bomb ever developed is ready to wreak destruction upon the enemies of the US. Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said its record-breaking bunker-buster has become operational after years of testing.
­“If it needed to go today, we would be ready to do that,” told Donley Air Force Times. “We continue to do testing on the bomb to refine its capabilities, and that is ongoing. We also have the capability to go with existing configuration today.”
The Pentagon has spent $330 million to develop and deliver more than 20 of the precision-guided Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) bunker-busters, which are designed to blast through up to 200 feet of concrete.

Although there has previously been a bigger nuclear device, the new conventional rocket is six times the weight of the previous bunker-buster used by the US Air Force, and carries an explosive payload of 5,300 pounds.

US military chiefs openly admitted the weapon was built to attack the fortified nuclear facilities of “rogue states” such as Iran and North Korea. Although the Pentagon insists that it is not aimed at a specific threat, unnamed officials within the ministry have repeatedly claimed the bomb is being tailor-made to disable Iranian nuclear facilities at Fordo, or at least to intimidate Tehran.

Iran is working at breakneck speed to expand its Fordo uranium enrichment facility, which is built inside a mountain in the heart of the country, and has previously been declared “impregnable” by senior officials in Tehran. Iran has often paraded its fast-advancing nuclear program, while denying that it intends to build a nuclear bomb.

Earlier this year, the Pentagon rapidly diverted $120 million in two separate tranches from other weapons programs to MOPs. The money was transferred to significantly redesign and upgrade the precision-guided missile to provide “an enhanced threat response” against the “deepest bunkers.”
Donley’s claim can be read as a reassertion of US determination to thwart Iran’s atomic ambitions.
Whether the MOP would be able to actually destroy Fordo is open to debate and may not be known by either of the sides.

The effectiveness of bunker-busters depends on the strength of the soil into which it plunges, how well it makes contact, and the internal structure of the facilities. In the case of Fordo, the US may only have a sketchy idea of its layout.

At best, the US believes a successful strike could set the Iranian program back several years, and, at worst, to at least collapse the passageways to the facility and force substantial rebuilding work.
Two bombs can be mounted simultaneously on a modified B-52 bomber, and a US official previously claimed the effectiveness of any operation would depend on how many “tries at the apple” the US bombers get.

Nonetheless, even if the MOP can be of limited effectiveness against Iran, the United States has precious little alternative. The only other weapon capable of destroying such a facility from the air would be a tactical nuclear missile.

Sunday, July 29

Netanyahu emphasizes the importance of a credible military threat against Iran's nuclear program in meeting with US Republican presidential candidate; Romney meets with Peres, still to meet Fayyad, Mofaz.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney began his visit in Jerusalem Sunday morning with a meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who told Romney before the meeting that diplomacy and sanctions leveled against Iran have not worked so far.

"I heard some of your remarks and you said that the greatest danger facing the world is the Ayatollah regime possessing nuclear weapons capability," Netanyahu said. "Mitt, I couldn't agree with you more, and I think it is important to do everything in our power to prevent the ayatollahs from possessing that capability. We have to be honest and say that all the diplomacy and sanctions and diplomacy so far have not set back the Iranian program by one iota."
Netanyahu said that a "strong and credible military threat coupled with sanctions" was needed to "have a chance to change the situation."
Romney said he wanted to hear Netanyahu's perspective regarding Iran and about "further actions that we can take to dissuade Iran from their nuclear folly."
Romney also said he was "honored" to be here on Tisha Be'Av, "to recognize the solemnity of the day and also the suffering of the Jewish people over the centuries and the millennia, and come with recognition of the sacrifices of so many. Unfortunately, the tragedies of wanton killing are not only things of the past, but have darkened our skies in even more recent times."
Following his meeting with Netanyahu, Romney met with President Shimon Peres.
Peres told Romney that Iran is bent on dominating the Middle East, and that he appreciates US efforts to block it by all means.
Iran, Peres said, spreads terror, finances terror, is developing a nuclear weapon "against the wishes of the entire world" and has threatened "to bring an end to Israel."
Praising the US policy of enacting diplomatic measures against the Islamic Republic, Peres emphasized that a military threat was necessary as well "in order to make it serious."
"We trust [the US position] includes a very serious and warm consideration of the security of Israel," Peres added. "It's far from being just an Israeli problem."
Romney canceled his planned meeting with Labor party head Shelly Yechimovich on Sunday.
Labor MK Isaac Herzog, who was meant to participate in the meeting as well, expressed regret at the meetings "surprising last-minute cancellation," saying he suspected the decision was politically motivated.
Earlier, a senior Romney aide said the former Massachusetts governor would back Israel if it were to decide it had to use military force to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
"If Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing that capability, the governor would respect that decision," Romney's senior national security aide Dan Senor told reporters traveling with the candidate.
The comment made ahead of Romney meetings seemed to differ with US President Barack Obama's attempts to convince Israel to avoid any preemptive attack.
Senor told reporters that Romney believed the threat from Iran was approaching on a path involving two timelines.
The first was Iran's drive - denied by Tehran - to develop a nuclear weapons capability, and the second was having the ability to penetrate Iran's defenses before they were hardened in such a way to protect against a strike, Senor said.
In excepts of a speech Romney was to deliver on Monday evening, the former Massachusetts governor planned to say that an aggressive approach to Tehran was needed to protect against a threat to the very existence of Israel, the closest US ally in the turbulent Middle East.

"When Iran's leaders deny the Holocaust or speak of wiping this nation off the map, only the naïve - or worse - will dismiss it as an excess of rhetoric," he would say.
"Make no mistake: The ayatollahs in Tehran are testing our moral defenses. They want to know who will object, and who will look the other way."
Netanyahu also spoke of the strength of the US-Israel relationship, and the importance of continuing to strengthen it. "Your visit is an expression of that desire in both our people," he said.
Briefly touching upon the tumultuous events in neighboring Egypt and Syria, Netanyahu told Romney: "I want you to know that in this great convulsion, there is one stable democratic ally of the United States in the middle east, and that is Israel."
Following the Netanyahu meeting, Romney will convene with President Shimon Peres, Labor leader Shelly Yechimovich, Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
Romney and Netanyahu will meet again later in the day after the Tisha Be’av fast when he and his wife, Ann, will dine at the Prime Minister’s Residence with Netanyahu and his wife, Sara.
Romney’s visit to Israel – his fourth – is widely considered an effort to woo pro-Israel voters in the US, both Jews and Evangelical Christians, many of whom are discontent with the Middle East policies of President Barack Obama.
Romney is slated to leave for Poland at about noon on Monday.
Before taking off, he is scheduled to host a fund-raiser at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem Monday morning. The event was moved from Sunday evening to Monday morning so as not to conflict with Tisha Be’av. The cost to attend the event, where Romney is expected to appear for 45 minutes, is $50,000 a couple.
Reuters contributed to this report.

U.N. faces major obstacles if Assad falls from power

Senior officials looking into the role the U.N. could play in Syria if Bashar Assad falls from power face major obstacles, including a bitter division among world powers and the absence of an opposition leader. A team of senior U.N. officials led by Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson is consulting on the Syrian crisis and studying contingencies, and one possible model might be Afghanistan.

After the ouster of the Taliban by U.S.-led forces in 2001, the U.N. moved quickly to fill the political vacuum, convening world leaders and prominent Afghans in Bonn, Germany, to consider the country's future.

Participants adopted an accord on Dec. 5, 2001, spelling out arrangements for an interim government. The U.N. Security Council swiftly endorsed the power-sharing agreement, and on Dec. 20, 2001, it unanimously authorized a multinational force to assist the new government with security.

Emile Hokayem, a Middle East analyst at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, said that in the case of Afghanistan the major powers were united, making for an easier initial transition.

"In the case of Syria, the great powers are fighting," he said. So "U.N. action is not going to be easy."

Since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011, the U.N. Security Council's veto-wielding permanent members have been split.

Russia, the Assad government's most powerful ally, and China have vetoed three Security Council resolutions backed by the U.S., Britain and France targeting the regime's bloody crackdown. The first two resolutions would have condemned Syrian attacks on peaceful protesters but the most recent resolution went further, threatening sanctions if Assad didn't immediately withdraw heavy weapons from populated areas.

The only thing the five permanent members united to support is the six-point peace plan brokered by Kofi Annan, the U.N.-Arab League envoy, which called for a cease-fire in August and Syrian-led political talks to end the conflict and "meet the aspirations of the Syrian people."

But despite pledges by the government and opposition to implement the plan, a cease-fire never happened, and fighting continued to escalate to a point where the conflict was recently declared a civil war. For many diplomats and military experts, Annan's plan is all but dead.

If Assad were to fall, it's unclear whether the major powers could unite again at a Bonn-style summit to set a roadmap for Syria.

For the United Nations, which deals with the governments of its 193 member states, the immediate question if Assad fell would be who — or what political group — replaces him.

In the case of Syria, there is a divided opposition outside the country and disparate groups of young fighters inside the country, some aligned to the Free Syrian Army.

Attempts to unify the opposition and agree on a leader have repeatedly failed. Participants at a meeting of opposition groups in Cairo earlier this month did agree on fundamental principles for a post-Assad Syria and a general outline to guide the opposition through a transitional period — but scuffles and fistfights during the session and a walkout by a Syrian Kurdish group visibly demonstrated the opposition's disarray.

Andrew Tabler, a senior fellow and Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said even if Assad departs he doesn't think protesters will leave the streets and the Free Syrian Army will stop fighting because they want the entire regime to go.

"So what would happen is you're likely to have a contraction of the regime, controlling some parts of Syrian territory, and the opposition controlling parts — like the Balkans," he said.

In the Balkans in the 1990s, the U.N. established safe havens but Tabler said they couldn't defend themselves, so that option would likely not work.
If Assad left, the Security Council could authorize a U.N. peacekeeping force to go into Syria, which would normally take several months to deploy in the field.

But council members would likely be wary, and want to ensure there was a peace to keep — especially after the 300-strong U.N. observer force sent to monitor Annan's peace plan was forced to suspend most operations because of the escalating violence. It has been given a final 30-day mandate to its mission, leaving the door open for a possible extension if the government stops using heavy weapons and there is a significant reduction in violence.

"The idea of a U.N. peacekeeping force could reduce the spread of sectarian fighting," the IISS' Hokayem said. But "I don't see any readiness to approve any troops."

After the third double veto by Russia and China on July 19, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said the United States and others "will have no choice but to look to partnerships and actions outside of this council to protect the Syrian people."
The Washington Institute's Tabler said he envisioned "a coalition of the willing" coming from the Friends of Syria political group, which wants to see a democratic government in Syria, being key in post-Assad decisions.

Hokayem said he suspects Syria's immediate and regional neighbors like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Jordan will be more relevant than the U.N. in a post-Assad Syria — but they might look to the U.N. to support their actions.

After U.S.-led forces ousted Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq in April 2003, the deeply divided Security Council, which had refused to authorize the U.S.-led invasion, did give its backing to a multinational security force in the country in October 2003.

If a coalition of willing nations, most likely from the Muslim world, went into Syria immediately after Assad's departure, it might also overcome the current divisions and eventually get Security Council approval.

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic in Russia.

In the event that the UN observer mission in Syria is granted an extension, Russia will be willing to contribute up to 30 observers, said Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

­As fighting intensifies around the Syrian capital of Damascus, Russia has shown its willingness to participate in the UN observer mission, provided it is granted an extension to perform its duties.

"I hope that the UN Security Council will be able to prolong this mission (upon the expiry of the current mandate of the observer mission) in the future, particularly to decide on the restoration of its numerical strength and possibly a larger staff,” Lavrov said following negotiations in Moscow with his Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic.

“In this case we will be ready to dispatch 30 [Russian] military observers to this mission," the minister revealed.

Lavrov’s comments may go a long way towards reducing Russia and the West’s differences of opinion over how to address the violence that has besieged the Arab country since March 2011.

On the question of creating humanitarian corridors and security zones, Lavrov said that was contingent upon outside forces halting support to the Syrian opposition.

"What humanitarian actions can we speak about as long as such support is being given," Lavrov asked during a news conference in Moscow. "We have not received such notifications, either directly or via the UN General Assembly Secretariat."

Lavrov was responding to reports that the League of Arab States (LAS) has requested an urgent meeting of the UN General Assembly to raise the question of humanitarian corridors and security zones in Syria.

Jeremic, who had just been elected to chair the upcoming session of the UN General Assembly, alluded to a page in Serbian history when asked his opinion about the creation of security zones in Syria.

"We know from personal experience that such steps are sometimes not useful, he said."

Russia won’t comply with anti-Syrian sanctions

Russia says it will not cooperate with new EU sanctions which allow searching all vessels suspected of delivering weapons to Syria. Moscow warned it will not consent to inspections of ships traveling under its flag.

­"We will not consider requests and give consent to the search of ships sailing under the Russian flag, nor to the use of other restrictive measures," the statement released by Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Saturday reads.

The comment by Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich comes in response to the EU’s new round of sanction against Syria, which took place on July 23.

On Monday, foreign ministers from the 27-nation bloc agreed to tighten arms embargo by inspecting vessels and planes suspected of carrying arms and broaden the list of Syrian officials banned from EU. The diplomats all agreed to freeze bank accounts and assets of 26 Syrians and three firms close to the Assad regime. Previously the list included 129 people and 49 entities.

Russia underlines it considers the implementation of sanctions violate Syria’s sovereignty and the principle of noninterference in internal affairs.

Russia’s resistance to new requirements comes a month after the the Alaed cargo vessel, under a Curacao flag, was stopped in UK waters under suspicion that it was carrying Russia-made helicopters to Syria. Washington requested to search the ship, but was refused. The Alaed was forced to turn back when the British insurer canceled its coverage. The vessel returned to Russia and swapped its flag for a Russian one.

Russia argued that the Mi-25 helicopters already belonged to Syria and were only returned to Russia for upgrades under a 2008 contract signed long before the fighting began and thus it was only carrying out its obligations.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the situation in Aleppo, which has been under fire since last week, is only heating up. He believes that a “new tragedy” in the area is possible soon.

Lavrov said that it is “unrealistic” that the government will accept the situation and step down when “well-armed opposition forces take cities” and does not hide the fact that they plan to launch a transitional government.

"Unfortunately, our Western partners prefer to do different things. In fact, together with some of Syria’s neighboring countries, they encourage, support and direct an armed struggle against the regime. The price of all this is more blood," he added.

CIA considers Israel one of its biggest spy threats.

While US politicians boast strong ties with Israel, CIA officials suggest Israel is one of its biggest counter-intelligence threats. With spyware that rivals that of American agencies, it is extremely difficult to detect the extent of its spying.

In a CIA ranking of the world’s intelligence agencies and their willingness to help the US fight the War on Terror, Israel fell below Libya.

Speaking to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity, current and former US intelligence officials blame Israel for incidents that indicate attempts to acquire secret information.

One CIA station chief noticed that the communication equipment that he used to contact CIA headquarters from Israel had been tampered with, even though it was in a locked box. Another CIA officer based in Israel had his home broken into. While nothing was stolen, the officer noticed his food had been rearranged.

In addition to home intrusions and equipment tampering, CIA officials also suspect that a leak by Israel led to the capture and presumed death of an important US agent inside Syria’s chemical weapons program.

The US suspects that Israel’s foreign intelligence service, Mossad, and its FBI equivalent, the Shin Bet, have been trying to steal American counter-intelligence secrets. In the CIA’s Near East Division, which oversees spying across the Middle East, Israel is considered the main counter-intelligence threat. This suggests that counter-intelligence secrets are thus safer from other Middle Eastern governments than from Israel.

However, the distrust has been ongoing for decades. Several years ago, two female CIA officers were fired for having unreported contact with Israelis. One of the women admitted to a relationship with a member of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, who introduced her to a person that worked for Shin Bet.

In 1987, Jonathan Pollard, a US Navy civilian intelligence analyst, was convicted of spying for Israel and sentenced to life in prison.

In 2006, a former Defense Department analyst received 12 years in prison for sharing classified information with an Israeli diplomat and two pro-Israel lobbyists.

Moreover, Israel’s high-tech spyware and services rival American agencies, making it more difficult to detect the extent of any spying. With advanced equipment and full access to the highest levels of the US government in military and intelligence services, Israel has a large capacity to monitor its ally.

This sometimes poses problems for US foreign affairs. Even though the US and Israel have a tight friendship, the two countries have sometimes conflicting interests abroad, especially regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Furthermore, America’s relationship with Israel can also affect the way Muslim countries perceive the US.

“It’s a complicated relationship,” said Joseph Wippl, head of the CIA’s office of congressional affairs. “They have their interests. We have our interests. For the US, it’s a balancing act.”

But while the two countries are strong allies, Washington continues to distrust Israel with sensitive national security information. Its most trusted allies are Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Together, the “Five Eyes” agree not to spy on one another, while sharing sensitive information.

The relationship between the US and Israel is known as “Friends on Friends,” which comes from the phrase, “Friends don’t spy on friends.” But that pact has repeatedly been broken, and CIA officials continue to distrust Israel with each additional case of spying.

But as intrusions into the homes of US agents in Israel continue and instances of spying increase the distrust, the US continues to give vast amounts of money to Israel, while the president trumpets an “unshakeable commitment to Israel.” On Friday, President Obama promised Israel an additional $70 million in military aid to help Israel produce a short-range rocket defense system.

Saturday, July 28


Ieri si è conclusa, fra le polemiche, la conferenza Onu per regolamentare il commercio internazionale di armi. L’Arms Trade Treaty (Att) è un vecchio progetto dell’Onu. L’idea di un trattato internazionale per fissare le regole del commercio di armamenti, sia leggeri che pesanti, è stata proposta, per la prima volta, dal Regno Unito nel 2006 ed è stata ufficializzata con la Risoluzione 61/89 del 2007. All’epoca, solo gli Usa avevano votato contro la Risoluzione. Ma, nel 2009, l’amministrazione Obama ha cambiato rotta, accettando di partecipare ai negoziati. In teoria l’Att deve disarmare i criminali, rendendo illegale la vendita di armi a Paesi in cui rischierebbero di finire nelle mani di terroristi e malavita organizzata, oppure in quei territori in cui si è riscontrata una sistematica violazione dei diritti umani. Tutto bene. Sulla carta.

Ma in pratica come funziona il meccanismo? A decidere le sorti del commercio di armi, in questo mese di intenso negoziato, era soprattutto un ufficio tecnico, costituito dai rappresentanti di un egual numero di Paesi per ciascuno dei gruppi regionali. Chi è stato eletto? Nel gruppo Asia c’è anche l’Iran: il maggior esportatore di armi a gruppi terroristici quali Hezbollah e Hamas. Nell’Europa orientale spiccano la Bielorussia e l’Ucraina, che vendevano clandestinamente armi a Saddam Hussein durante la crisi del 2002-2003. Problema ancora attuale, perché oggi, in Bielorussia, Lukashenka è ancora al potere, mentre in Ucraina il presidente è Yanukovich, il delfino di Kuchma, il principale sospettato delle vendite illegali di armi all’ex tiranno iracheno. A questo punto, chi verificherà che le armi non vengano esportate in aree in cui si violano i diritti umani?

L’Iran e i Paesi arabi potrebbero benissimo impugnare l’Att contro Israele e fermare la vendita di armi allo Stato ebraico, perché, nel loro mondo alla rovescia, Israele (non Hezbollah, né Hamas) è da considerarsi “entità terrorista” ed è ritenuto l’unico sistematico violatore dei diritti umani nei Territori. Ma c’è un altro motivo di apprensione, soprattutto per gli Stati Uniti. L’Att potrebbe violare il Secondo Emendamento della Costituzione, permettendo all’Onu di limitare la tradizionale libertà di portare armi individuali. La National Rifle Association è in primissima linea nella battaglia contro l’Att.

«Gli americani, semplicemente, non vogliono che l’Onu diventi una “mamma mondiale” che ti permette o meno di portare armi», dichiarava Wayne LaPierre, già all’inizio della conferenza internazionale. «Stanno cercando di imporre una politica Onu che riservi agli Stati il monopolio delle armi, ma le Nazioni Unite non distinguono fra Stati buoni e cattivi. Se sei un governo ti puoi armare, se sei un cittadino non puoi. Ma, in base a questa logica, si finisce per avvantaggiare solo i peggiori Stati e i tiranni».

L’Att dovrà essere ratificato dal Senato degli Usa. Ma sarà molto difficile una sua approvazione, considerando che 58 senatori, sia democratici che repubblicani, hanno firmato un documento con cui anticipano la loro ferma opposizione. Perché hanno visto materializzarsi, all’Onu, quel che avevano sempre temuto: i sospetti criminali rivestono il ruolo di giudice e legislatore. E sono pronti a condannare le vittime.

Assad rebel base with Saudi Arabia and Qatar

Turkey is directing the rebel fight against Bashar Assad, after setting up a secret base on its border with Syria, with help from Qatar and Saudi Arabia. It devises tactics and supplies weapons for the uprising, according to Reuters sources.
It is unclear how long the base, described as the “nerve center” of the anti-Assad campaign has existed, and its location is given only as Adana, a city some 100 kilometers away from the border. Adana is home to Incirlik, a huge air base run jointly by Turkey and the United States, though it is not clear whether it was used for this operation.

"Three governments are supplying weapons: Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia," said the source, reportedly based in Doha, the capital of Qatar.

The source claims the base was set up at the request of Saudi deputy foreign minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah al-Saud during his visit to Turkey, which was open to the idea. Turkey then took control of operations once the base was established.

“It's the Turks who are militarily controlling it. Turkey is the main coordinator/facilitator. Think of a triangle, with Turkey at the top and Saudi Arabia and Qatar at the bottom."

Disunited and badly trained when the uprising against President Assad began 18 months ago, recently Syrian rebels have had a string of successes against the supposedly better-trained and better-equipped regular soldiers. They have held down large parts of the country and advanced on the capital Damascus earlier in July. An audacious suicide attack last week took out four of the most senior security officials in the Assad circle.

These successes may have been made possible by the steady flow of arms from the Adana location, most of which appear to have been purchased illegally to cover the sponsors’ trails.

"All weaponry is Russian. The obvious reason is that the Syrian rebels are trained to use Russian weapons, also because the Americans don't want their hands on it. All weapons are from the black market,” claims the source, which says arms are also obtained by looting loyalist weapons stores.

Ankara has enjoyed a difficult diplomatic relationship with Assad, whose family has been in charge in Syria for 40 years, and so immediately backed the uprising. At the same time, Ankara has staunchly denied arming the rebels. It has also condemned the suicide attack on ministers as an act of terrorism.
Meanwhile, the small but wealthy state of Qatar has already played a key part in helping topple the regime of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya last year, and was widely suspected of being involved in the Syrian civil war.

Although the three countries involved have long been accused of arming the rebels, this is the first time specific information has emerged about a concrete center of operations.

Turkey has also stepped up the war-mongering rhetoric against Syria, threatening to strike across the border. Ankara says it is alarmed by what it calls Kurdish terrorists who have established a foothold in northern Syria with a view to declaring autonomy.

Dr. Ali Mohamad, editor-in-chief of the Syria Tribune blog, believes Turkey and the Gulf States are acting far beyond international law.

“Saudi Arabia and Turkey seem to like the idea of the Middle East being controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood, which they can control easily,” he told RT. “Thinking that this is their battle, it seems, gives them the privilege – that’s what they think. Nothing allows them to do so. This is against international law… And the question is, are they going to get away with this?”

America looks on

The Adana operation is notable not only for who is involved, but also for who isn’t.
"The Americans are very hands-off on this,” alleges the source, “US intelligence are working through middlemen.”

The source claims Turkey has been “begging” for high-tech surveillance equipment, such as drones, but their pleas have gone unheard in Washington.

The United States has backed the rebels throughout the conflict. It has used utmost diplomatic pressure through the UN and conferences with allies to force Assad to leave his position, something the Syrian president says he will not do without negotiation. It has also provided money and expertise for the opposition.

However, government insiders have repeatedly expressed reservations about the fractious union of Assad enemies, many of whom are radical Islamists likely to be as opposed to Washington as Assad ever was. It has used utmost diplomatic pressure through the UN and conferences with allies to force the Syrian President to leave his position as an unconditional part of any peace settlement, something Assad says he will not do. Similarly, Syria has an impressive stockpile of chemical weapons that could pose a deadly terrorist threat in the wrong hands.

Dennis Ross, who advises Obama on Middle East policy, has summed US policy as "adopting the least bad option."

Yet US involvement may now grow significantly, after Reuters reported that a recently adopted presidential directive will allow US foreign agencies to directly assist the rebels, perhaps even at Adana, although there are no plans to supply them with weapons, despite repeated requests.
"I have to say that we are also increasing our efforts to assist the opposition," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proclaimed publicly on Tuesday.

Facebook over CISPA

Facebook is expected to make billions when the social networking site goes public, but one of the most influential men on the Web says he won’t be buying stock. The founder of Reddit has denounced Facebook over their support of CISPA.
In an interview with CNN this week, Reddit.com co-founder Alex Ohanian explains that he won’t be investing in the largest technology IPO in the history of the Internet. Although Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg expects to make billions off of the site’s initial public offering, Ohanian says that he won’t be emptying out his own pockets to pad those of the young Silicon Valley star.

The reason, says Ohanian, is he believes that Facebook’s stance on the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act — CISPA — is very unsettling.

“I understand the business value to what Facebook is doing,” Ohanian tells the network. “We’ve never seen a company like this before, ever. It knows things about our private lives that no one else does. And one of the big issues that a lot of us in the tech community have with Facebook of late has been their support of bills like CISPA that make it really easy for a business like Facebook to hand over very private data about us without any due process. So that’s why I’m gonna be holding off.”

Facebook advertises that they have 901 million monthly active users, which includes around half a billion people who use mobile phones to access the profiles of themselves and others. The site exists in more than 70 languages and users upload around 300 million photos each day to the company’s servers. To say that Facebook has their finger on a lot of data would be an understatement, but perhaps even more alarming is that the website says they have no problem with sharing any of that information with the government.

The social media sites insists that they mean well by siding with CISPA, but Ohanian and others aren’t convinced that that’s enough of a reason to sign-on as a supporter. “[W]e recognize that a number of privacy and civil liberties groups have raised concerns about the bill – in particular about provisions that enable private companies to voluntarily share cyber threat data with the government,” Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s vice president of US public policy, explained in a blog post earlier this month. 

“The concern is that companies will share sensitive personal information with the government in the name of protecting cybersecurity. Facebook has no intention of doing this and it is unrelated to the things we liked about HR 3523 in the first place — the additional information it would provide us about specific cyber threats to our systems and users.”

No matter which way they paint it, however, Facebook has indeed gone on the record to support CISPA, essentially agreeing to supply Uncle Sam with the personal data and correspondence of any user in the name of cybersecurity. Opponents of the bill argue though that even if well intentioned, CISPA would install the federal government with privacy-invading powers that would be worse than anything that America can already legally do.

“CISPA is essentially an Internet monitoring bill that permits both the federal government and private companies to view your private online communications with no judicial oversight, provided, of course, that they do so in the name of cyber security,” Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas) explained in an audio address made last month, adding that the legislation “represents an alarming form of corporatism as it further intertwines governments with companies like Google and Facebook.”

Delivering a speech in Amsterdam last month, Ohanian voiced his opposition to CISPA without addressing Facebook’s support. “We value privacy and a right to free speech in the real world, this is fundamental to our democracy. For some reason the rules change online, when it’s digital, but free speech and privacy should be respected online as well,” he said.

Speaking to Venture Beat earlier this month, Reddit General Manager Erik Martin added that although his company usually avoids taking political sides, the realities of what could happen if CISPA passes is something that could shape the future of not just Reddit, but how the Internet operates entirely.

“We’re not interested in activism, but there are times when we can help make sure the community’s voice is heard. And Reddit is built upon having a free and open internet … we’re open source, don’t require user info, user curated etc. So, anything that might threaten a free and open internet impacts both the community and the company,” said Martin.

On Friday, Congressman Ron Paul reiterated his opposition to CISPA while speaking at the University of California in San Diego. “Without the First Amendment it is very difficult for us to get our message out,” said Paul, “but I want to make sure that the first amendment is protected on the Internet as well.”

National Security Agency Gen. Keith Alexander

The Pentagon official at the top of the US Defense Department’s cyber program says that an attack on the United States’ computer systems is not just on the way but that America is now more vulnerable than ever.

National Security Agency Director Army Gen. Keith Alexander, who also heads the Pentagon’s Cyber Command unit, tells reporters this week that the US is coming close to being hit with a computer attack that could devastate the country. Speaking before a crowd this week, Alexander warns, "The conflict is growing [and] the probability for crisis is mounting.”
"While we have the time, we should think about and enact those things that we need to ensure our security in this area. Do it now, before a crisis,” insists Alexander.

“What I’m concerned about is the transition from disruptive to destructive attacks,” he adds. “And I think that’s coming. We have to be ready for that.”

The US Congress is currently tasking itself with finding a way to fight cyberterrorism, but the inability to fully find a way to balance security with civil liberties has raised objections across the country. Alexander dismissed these concerns during this week’s address, however, insisting that the NSA does not "hold data on American citizens” and equated the US government’s association with major Internet entities as one that is relatively hands-off.

"Like the police force, like the fire department, they don't see around buildings waiting for a fire to come on, you call them when it happens. In cyberspace, I see very much the same thing in our partnership with industry,” he alleges.  “We can protect civil liberties and privacy, and cybersecurity,” says Alexander, who insists his agency is “not talking about giving our personal e-mails to the government.”

Meanwhile, only last month the NSA sent a letter to two leading congressmen refusing to reveal the number of Americans that they have spied on through provisions made in 2008 to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a legislation that allows the government to go through correspondence that they believe is being sent overseas. In explaining themselves to the two lawmakers that asked for an answer, Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Udall (D-CO), the NSA said that that informing Americans about any spying they may have been subjected to would be damaging to personal privacy.

RT has also reported that, under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986, the government is given practically an open invitation to access private information such as that contained in emails tens of thousands of times a year.

Elsewhere, recent reports have alleged that the United States has all the while been behind massive computer attacks waged not at its own citizens through spy programs but instead at Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. By way of both Stuxnet and Flame, a worm and malware, respectively, Obama administrations officials speaking with the New York Times have confirmed that the technology behind the cybercrimes was engineered on behalf of the American government and authorized by US President Barack Obama.

Speaking of attacks aimed at America, however, Alexander explains this week, "I do think that's coming our way. You can see this statistically; the number of attacks is growing."

Is Microsoft eavesdropping through Skype ?

Are your Skype calls safe from the eyes and ears of snooping feds? Microsoft has filed a patent to allow eavesdropping over Skype and other VOIP platforms, but the Silicon Valley giants won’t say whether or not they are already implementing it.
Microsoft acquired the popular voice-over-IP program Skype in May 2011 for an astounding $8.5 billion, but the news between the world’s most popular VOIP service and the legendary Silicon Valley entity doesn’t end just there. Barely a year later, Microsoft was awarded a patent last month that allows them to roll-out undetectable eavesdropping tools to target the communications of its customers without them ever knowing.

According to the paperwork Microsoft has filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office, the ability to silently record communications between Skype users is necessary in instances where law enforcement agencies and national governments may demand to listen in on or even watch conversations in real time that are otherwise believed to be between just two parties.

Their patent for “legal intercept” technology was approved last month, essentially awarding Microsoft the ability to “silently copy communication transmitted via the communication session” without asking for user authorization. Does that mean that Bill Gates’ brainchild and the feds are already using it to work hand in hand, though? Microsoft has been asked repeatedly to acknowledge whether or not that’s the case, but so far they have yet to offer either an explanation or answer.

When called on to provide reasoning for the rumored restructuring of their VOIP interface, Skype Corporate VP of Product Engineering & Operations Mike Gillet told ExtremeTech.com that adjustments with how data was transmitted through so-called “supernodes” were only an added step to “improve the Skype user experience” and shrugged off allegations that it was being done to facilitate law enforcement requests — despite their wiretap patent being approved weeks earlier.

As news of their “legal intercept” technology makes its rounds around the Web, though, critics are not ceasing their questions for Microsoft.

Last week, a reporter for Slate wrote that he took up the question again — over and over — with Skype, only to be ignored by the company altogether: “Skype rejected the charge in a comment issued to the website Extremetech, saying the restructure was an upgrade and had nothing to do with surveillance,” writes Ryan Gallagher for Slate. “But when I repeatedly questioned the company on Wednesday whether it could currently facilitate wiretap requests, a clear answer was not forthcoming. Citing ‘company policy,’ Skype PR man Chaim Haas wouldn’t confirm or deny, telling me only that the chat service ‘co-operates with law enforcement agencies as much as is legally and technically possible.’”

Until Microsoft and Skype are upfront about what they are doing with their latest technology, it is up to the user to make an educated guess every time they log on and make a call. Even if Skype isn’t implementing their “legal intercept” patent yet, that doesn’t necessarily mean that their users are safe from the government’s goons, either.

If the federal government successfully argues with Microsoft the same way they’ve done with traditional telecom companies as of late, they very well could do as they like with the thought-to-be private conversations.

On top of the recent revelation that the National Security Agency asked for phone records for 1.3 million Americans only last year, the NSA has refused to discuss with even Congress how many Americans it has spied on through provisions made in 2008 to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a legislation that allows the government to dig through correspondence that they believe is being sent overseas. Just last week, the Wall Street Journal also broke the story that the FBI has sued an anonymous telecommunications company that challenged its demands to hand over private user data without a warrant.

And to say that Skype isn’t already being infiltrated by the government raises additional points on its own — earlier this year the FBI alleged that they came into possession with Skype instant-messaging logs between Megaupload.com founder Kim Dotcom and his top associates at the file storage site. The bureau said that they had records going back as far as five years, but the FBI-spearheaded investigation began only months earlier; according to Skype’s terms of service, data is only held on their servers for 30 days, suggesting that the FBI may have circumventing Skype’s official user policies so that they could play by their own rules.

Now with their latest patent, the 663 million registered users of Skype might have their VOIP calls monitored. At least now they’ll at least be aware of it. Kind of.

Friday, July 27

Balcani senza pace. I fiori di Ban Ki-moon.

Nessun segretario generale dell'Onu si era mai recato sul luogo dell'eccidio, avvenuto sotto gli occhi dei caschi blu Ne Boutros Boutros-Ghali, né Kofi Annan ci sono mai andati, a Srebrenica. Ban Ki-moon sì. Ieri. E stato, così, il primo segretario generale dell'Onu a recarsi sul luogo dove nel luglio 1995 le forze serbo-bosniache agli ordini di Ratko Mladic, ora sotto processo alAja, perpetrarono il genocidio.

In quei giorni furono uccisi ottomila musulmani di sesso maschile, tra uomini in età adulta e ragazzi Ban, andando a Srebrenica, ha cercato di mettere ordine sull'ascissa delle responsabilità storiche, visto che l'eccidio va imputato anche ai caschi blu olandesi, che non rispettarono le loro consegne: proteggere i civili musulmani rifugiati nell'ex enclave.

Quando Mladic sferrò l'assalto al villaggio se la diedero a gambe. L'inquilino del Palazzo di vetro, sempre in Bosnia e sempre ieri, ha compiuto un altro gesto simbolico, con una breve sgroppata sulla pista d'atletica dell'impianto sportivo di Kosevo, a Sarajevo. Il vecchio stadio olimpico. Porterò a Londra - ha detto il segretario generale, in vista dell'apertura dei Giochi - lo spirito di riconciliazione di Sarajevo, città risorta dalle ceneri.

In realtà lo spirito di riconciliazione, a Sarajevo e nell'intera Bosnia, bisogna cercarlo con il lanternino. I tre gruppi nazionali, serbi, croati e musulmani, vivono trincerati nei rispettivi territori - corrispondenti alle linee del fronte -e nei rispettivi dogmi. Peggio è che le divisioni vanno approfondendosi, se è vero che il paese è rimasto senza governo dalle elezioni dell'ottobre 2010 al febbraio scorso e che l'attuale giunta pare già bollita. Quella di Ban Ki-moon sembra dunque una sorta di provocazione.

E come se, con un sovrappiù di retorica, abbia voluto attirare l'attenzione dei media su una nazione ai margini dell'agenda, che vive il paradosso di essere il paese post-jugoslavo più massacrato dai conflitti degli anni '90 e quello, oggi, più lontano dall'Europa. Ma la Bosnia non è sola, nei Balcani. Ci sono tanti altri problemi. Il fatto che Ban Ki-moon, in questi giorni, abbia visitato tutte le sette repubbliche dell'ex Jugoslavia, dimostra che c'è la consapevolezza che la regione andrebbe tenuta sotto il cono dei riflettori.

A parte la Bosnia, dove è terminato l'itinerario balcanico di Ban, le situazioni più ingarbugliate sono quelle di Serbia, Kosovo e Macedonia. A Belgrado le recenti elezioni hanno portato al potere l'ex ultra-nazionalista Tomislav Nikolic (presidente) l'ex portavoce di Milosevic, Ivica Dacic (primo ministro). Non è il ritorno al passato evocato da qualcuno, ma i due, rispetto all'ex capo dello stato Boris Tadic, dovrebbero promuovere una linea più nazionale e frenare ogni dialogo sul Kosovo, spina del fianco delle diplomazie mondiali.

Dall'indipendenza del 2007 è rimasto uno stato a metà. L'arrivo di Ban, martedì, ha quanto meno ricordato che c'è qualche faccenda da risolvere. Stesso discorso in Macedonia, paese che non ha ancora una denominazione ufficiale, causa vertenza ventennale con la Grecia. Atene è dell'idea che l'unica Macedonia possibile sia la regione di cui Salonicco è capoluogo.

Skopje tende a usurpare i fasti di Alessandro Magno. Così si resta al palo. Questa controversia, volendo drammatizzare, è la metafora dei Balcani. Il rischio è quello di cedere allo statusquoo- nella migliore delle ipotesi -di muoversi in avanti a velocità di crociera molto, molto ridotta. Forse Ban Ki-moon ha provato a dire proprio questo, esortando la comunità internazionale a un impegno più costante.

Mario Draghi con le palle.

Le parole di Draghi ci dicono che il default europeo, se ci sarà, sarà politico e non finanziario. Se non hai soldi e strumenti, mettici la faccia e una buona parola. Quella di ieri, con Mario Draghi che si è speso nella difesa dell'euro come mai prima e come nessuno finora, è forse la giornata più emblematica da quando si è aperta, due anni fa, la crisi europea, coda velenosa del crac della finanza mondiale iniziato negli Usa nell'estate del 2007.

Perché la reazione che i mercati hanno avuto alla ferma e solenne rassicurazione del governatore della Bce - "siamo pronti a tutto per salvare l'euro" - con le Borse in forte recupero e gli spread in ritirata, per quanto destinata purtroppo a durare poco ci suggerisce almeno tre riflessioni. La prima: se sono bastate "parole", per quanto di un uomo credibile come Draghi, vuol dire che il grosso degli operatori non è coinvolto (ammesso che esista) in un piano speculativo che abbia con predeterminazione l'obiettivo di annientare l'euro, e non vede l'ora che le pressioni terminino e sui mercati torni la normalità.

Questo significa che basterebbe "poco" - anche se il complotto anti euro esistesse davvero - per invertire la tendenza e riportare i differenziali sui titoli di stato europei nell'alveo della logica. Solo che la dice lunga - e qui siamo alla seconda riflessione - il fatto che abbia più credibilità, e quindi maggiore impatto, il governatore della Banca centrale geneticamente "handicappata" piuttosto che i governi, sia nella loro individualità che riuniti in vertici (una trentina quelli dedicati alla crisi dell'eurosistema).

Sarà che il vento dell'anti politica non spira solo in Italia, sarà che effettivamente in questa fase i leader continentali non hanno dato prova di lungimiranza, sta di fatto che i mercati non si fidano dei politici e sperano che l'unica istituzione federale europea, per quanto statutariamente priva di alcuni poteri, li surroghi efficacemente. Il terzo pensiero, infine, è che il rimbalzo di ieri, proprio perché basato su niente di concreto, è un "miracolo" inevitabilmente destinato a non durare: un po' di prese di beneficio, e tutto tornerà come prima. A meno che?

A meno che non si facciano le due cose che lo stesso Draghi ha chiesto a chiare lettere: che si arrivi alla condivisione della sovranità nazionale Ue e, nel frattempo, si faccia la piena unità finanziaria e bancaria. Non ci sono firewall che tengano, o si arriva all'unità politico-istituzionale o la pressione speculativa (ordita o meno che sia) finirà con lo sbriciolare il sistema monetario europeo e con esso rompere l'intelaiatura continentale costruita da Yalta in poi. Insomma, se default europeo ci fosse, sarà "politico" e non finanziario.

In fondo l'Europa è l'area del mondo che produce un quinto del pil planetario e dove il benessere è più diffuso che altrove, i paesi in difficoltà sono marginali e quelli che, come l'Italia, hanno un debito troppo elevato, dispongono anche di un patrimonio pubblico e privato in grado di azzerarlo 4-5 volte. Ma è aver creato una moneta unica per economie diverse, rimaste tali per mancanza di un governo federale capace di unificarle in nome dell'interesse comune, che rende fragile ed espone al peggio il continente più ricco.

Il tema, dunque, non è dotarsi degli strumenti per salvare le banche e il Tesoro di questo o quel paese, ma mettere rimedio all'errore compiuto a Maastricht e non riparato al momento del materiale conio dell'euro. Quanto tempo rimane Ieri, nell'incontro londinese dove Draghi ha dato la sua parola sulla "irreversibilità" dell'euro, è stato un manager italiano arrivato al vertice di Vodafone, Vittorio Colao, a porre con brutale decisione la questione delle questioni, chiedendo se non fosse l'ora di dire forte e chiaro che solo "l'unione politica in Europa è in grado di placare i mercati".

"Ora le cose si stanno muovendo molto rapidamente", è stata la diplomatica risposta di Draghi. Sì, ma quanto tempo abbiamo? C'è chi sostiene che di spread non è mai morto nessuno e che in fondo l'esistenza di rendimenti non uniformi è un'anomalia meno insostenibile di quella che c'era sino al 2007, quando si compravano Btp greci ai medesimi tassi dei Bund tedeschi. Può darsi. Ma l'altra faccia della medaglia di questa situazione è la rottura delle regole concorrenziali.

Per esempio, se un'azienda italiana con i bilanci a posto paga il credito di più di un'azienda tedesca assai meno florida, e non esistendo barriere commerciali tra Italia e Germania, ovvio che il sistema economico italiano diventa incapace di concorrere (più di quanto non lo fosse per motivi endogeni) con quello tedesco.

Viceversa, se la California va in default e paga tassi diversi da uno stato Usa solido, al dollaro e all'economia americana non succede nulla perché entrambi gli stati sono protetti dal stato federale, indipendentemente dai debiti di ciascuno. Caro Draghi, non le rimane che convocare lei i capi di governo recalcitranti, tirar loro le orecchie e spiegare cosa bisogna fare. Altrimenti la prossima volta anche le sue parole non saranno ascoltate dai mercati.

Telecom senza l'ombrello di Stato

Senza l'indicazione da parte dell'Economia e della Difesa dei settori ritenuti strategici non è attivo il nuovo potere di veto anti-scalate. Anche Eni ed Enel senza scudo. TELECOM ITALIA è attualmente scalabile senza che il governo possa muovere un dito nonostante il suo indubbio valore strategico.

La situazione paradossale e clamorosa al tempo stesso, ancor più grave se si pensa al deprezzamento in borsa di tutte le blue chip, è dovuta al fatto che l'esecutivo non ha ancora emanato i decreti attuativi che di fatto rendono operativa la nuova legge sulla golden share, approvata lo scorso maggio e contenente i nuovi poteri del ministero dell'Economia di veto e di interdizione da scalate ostili estere.

E di tempo per provvedere alla ricostituzione dello scudo antiopa ostili ne è rimasto davvero poco, visto che l'articolo 1 della legge approvata dal Parlamento, che sostituisce, abrogandola, la vecchia normativa già bocciata dalla Corte di Giustizia di Lussemburgo, dà tempo al governo fino al prossimo 12 agosto per emanare i provvedimenti: si tratta di decreti fondamentali che realmente renderanno impossibili scalate esterne indesiderate, sia dell'azienda guidata da Franco Bemabè (ieri 2,81% a Piazza Affari) sia di altre partecipate dello Stato, come Enel, Eni e Finmeccanica, di fatto più al riparo rispetto al colosso telefonico perché il 30% è saldamente in mano pubblica.

La notizia della mancata adozione delle norme attuative ha preso alla sprovvista anche Palazzo Chigi, dove fino a ieri non si conosceva l'impatto di una vacatio legislativa così importante, soprattutto in un momento in cui il governo Monti vuole proprio blindare le aziende italiane.

D'altronde l'articolo 1 della legge sull'azione d'oro parla chiaro: senza altri provvedimenti il paracadute pubblico non c'è. «Con uno o più decreti del presidente del Consiglio dei ministri, adottati su proposta del ministro della Difesa o del ministro dell'Interno, di concerto con il ministro dell'Economia e delle Finanze, il ministro degli Affari Esteri, il ministro dello Sviluppo Economico e, rispettivamente, con il ministro dell'Interno o con il ministro della Difesa, previa comunicazione alle Commissioni parlamentari competenti, entro novanta giorni dalla data di entrata in vigore della legge di conversione del presente decreto, sono individuate le attività di rilevanza strategica per il sistema di difesa e sicurezza nazionale, ivi incluse le attività strategiche chiave», è scritto nel lungo preambolo della legge, che ha come finalità quella di estendere a ogni settore considerato strategico il potere di veto dell'esecutivo onde evitare casi clamorosi come quello di Parmalat.

Per quanto riguarda le reti di energia, trasporti e comunicazioni è poi il successivo articolo a demandare ad altri regolamenti dello Sviluppo l'individuazione «degli impianti di rilevanza strategica per l'interesse nazionale». I poteri «speciali» del Tesoro possono «essere esercitati in caso di minaccia di grave pregiudizio per gli interessi essenziali della difesa e della sicurezza nazionale» e non si vede come possa non rientrare in questi casi un'azienda come Telecom o magari anche Autostrade, dove si gestiscono infrastrutture cruciali (Snam, invece, è al riparo, perché in questo caso il governo ha emanato un Dpcm dopo la decisione di separarla dall'Eni).

In particolare, la golden share, una volta entrata davvero in vigore, permetterà all'esecutivo italiano «l'imposizione di specifiche condizioni relative alla sicurezza degli approvvigionamenti, alla sicurezza delle informazioni, ai trasferimenti tecnologici, al controllo delle esportazioni nel caso di acquisto, a qualsiasi titolo, di partecipazioni in imprese che svolgono attività di rilevanza strategica per il sistema di difesa e sicurezza nazionale». Il Tesoro potrà anche opporre il veto all'acquisto, a qualsiasi titolo, «di partecipazioni in un'impresa ritenuta strategica da parte di un soggetto diverso dallo Stato italiano»

Thursday, July 26


Ieri sera, durante e dopo una tediosa cena non potei non confrontare, tra i commensali, il livello statico dell'"essere umano". L'ormai arcano dire: "apparire ed essere". Uomini futili. Uomini veri. Gli uomini futili che spaziano nel nulla delle loro illusioni oniriche sulla vita. 

All'opposto, Uomini coraggiosi che entrano, vivono e muoiono nel teatro delle tragedie umane, affinchè gli uomini futili possano continuare la loro logorroica prosopopea nel dire...nulla.

Massimiliano Latorre e Salvatore Girone: "Uomini. Patrioti. Veri." I nostri amati Marò.

Non posso non pensare al gioco perverso e titanico in cui grandi Potenze hanno mutilitato all'Italia sia la Dignità che la Professionalità. Mettendo fuori gioco, in un colpo solo,  la nostra industria militare da importanti commesse all' India; dove l'Italia (FINMECCANICA) avrebbe, sicuramente, dato ben fastidio.

Ecco come creare "il caso dei Marò". Mi spiego meglio.

Grazie al coraggio mostrato da quel centinaio di marinai della "Fregata Grecale" della Marina Militare italiana, rimasti a terra nel porto di Colombo (Sri Lanka) in aiuto alla popolazione locale esposta a un "possibile Tzunami" dopo il terremoto dell' 11 aprile 2012 nell'oceano indiano. 

Fu in quel periodo che venimmo a sapere, da una fonte dell' Intellingence di quel Paese, di alcuni risvolti decisamente strabilianti inerenti alcuni fatti, inediti, sulla vicenda dei nostri due Marò (detenuti ancora oggi a Kerala con l'accusa di omicidio).

I vostri Marò, sostenne la fonte, sono completamente innocenti e non c'entrano nulla con l'uccisione dei pescatori indiani della St. Antony.

La storia è tutt'altra e ben nota tra gli uomini di mare dello Sri Lanka. Gli stessi che quotidianamente, hanno a che fare e si scontrano con i pescherecci indiani dediti alla "pesca di frodo" sconfinando nelle nostre acque territoriali.

Ed è ciò che avrebbe fatto anche l'equipaggio del peschereccio St. Antony, nei giorni precedenti quel tragico 15 febbraio 2012 avventurandosi, scientemente, dove sapevano di poter essere attaccati e depredati da altri pescatori loro connazionali o di nazionalità diversa.

D'altro canto i dati su una simile realtà parlano chiaro. Centinaia e centinaia sono i pescatori indiani rimasti uccisi durante le loro incursioni in acque cingalesi sfidando la sorte e la dura repressione della pesca di frodo, soprattutto, di quella a strascico lungo, da parte delle Autorità dello Sri Lanka costrette a sopportare ogni anno, danni per milioni di dollari.

Di contro nulla viene fatto dal governo di Kerala, sotto la pressione delle potenti associazioni che rappresentano quasi due milioni e mezzo di pescatori indiani, per impedire le scorrerie banditesche e lo scempio sin qui descritti.

Solitamente, quando muore qualcuno dei loro pescatori, si limitano ad addossare la responsabilità alla marina militare cingalese o agli equipaggi dei pescherecci dello Sri Lanka e, comunque, a non indagare nel contesto della ultradecennale e sanguinosa faìda interna ai gruppi criminali che controllano capillarmente la pesca di frodo.

Ci sarebbe stata, dunque, una vendetta tra gruppi criminali all'origine dello scontro a fuoco che ha coinvolto il St. Antony. L'equipaggio indiano è stato attaccato e depredato del pescato in una delle aree più frequentate e pericolose dell'oceano Indiano.

Alcuni pescatori cingalesi raccontano di avere assistito alla scena e sono quasi certi che l'imbarcazione avvistata dalla nave italiana, con a bordo i Marò, potesse essere proprio quella degli assassini tra l'altro armati di tutto punto. 

Gli stessi, a quanto sembra, che avrebbero "imbeccato la polizia indiana" per coprire le proprie responsabilità.

Ecco il magma criminale che starebbe tentando di risucchiare le vite innocenti di Massimiliano Latorre e Salvatore Girone, con accuse infamanti di omicidio e associazione a delinquere.

Da qui il suggerimento discreto e quasi imbarazzato della fonte dell'Intelligence cingalese:"in una situazione del genere è un suicidio usare il solo il guanto della diplomazia (Staffan De Mistura floscio, Giulio Terzi di S'ant'Agata -addolorata per lui- più floscio dell'altro e infine il Potente "Ammiraglio Di Paola" -nonchè ministro della Difesa- tre volte più floscio degli altri due emeriti compari messi assieme).

Da subito bisognava sporcarsi le mani affidando ai vostri Servizi d'Intelligence italiani, il compito di infiltrarsi nei scomodi e pericolosi ambienti dove risiedono persone e testimoni a conoscenza di come "REALMENTE" si sono svolti i fatti.

A partire dai pescatori cingalesi che non hanno dimenticato il gesto coraggioso dell'aiuto dei marinai militari italiani della "Fregata Grecale". 
E mai lo dimenticheranno.

Ebbene, durante la cena soporifera dei bla bla bla....sopra descritta, non potevo non riferirmi ad un mondo reale fatto di piccoli e grandi Eroi che nessuno conosce, sul proscenìo dei media bavosi di notizie scandalistiche.

A questi giornalai (non giornalisti) non interessa assolutamente scrivere o fotografare gli Uomini che servono la Patrìa da lontano, in silenzio. Sacrificio sublime che permette a tutti noi di vivere tranquilli. 

I giornalai, continuano a scarabocchiare sulle loro riviste, quotidiani e straparlando in TV, delirando su intrighi sessuali e puttanate pilatesche inerenti il "grande circo prostitutivo" di troie-troioni-economico-politico-domestico.

Cosa questa, che il cannibalismo mediatico saprà bene trasformare in "realtà". Cioè, in un immenso ed effimero mondo fatto di "illusioni e sogni", al quale tutti i nostri connazionali risponderanno, alimentando in massa scandali di ogni tipo, sdraiati comodamente, in spiagge o navigando da quel d'Ibiza all'Egeo e, comunque, in un Mediterraneo strapieno di guerre e tragici genocidi. E oltre. Non vedendo e sentendo, assolutamente nulla.

US/NATO/Israel attack on Iran

US wars of “invasion, aggression and occupation” are no longer sustainable economically and socially, veteran war critic and US scholar Professor Bill Ayers told RT. He adds that if NATO, the US or Israel attack Iran, it would lead to a catastrophe.

­The activist says America has an old colonial mentality and grotesque double standards. Washington is frantic about the possibility that Iran might have a nuclear warhead someday – but not frantic about the fact that Israel, as Ayers says, is the third-largest nuclear power in the world. And it is not part of nuclear non-proliferation treaty, or even admits to having the weapons.

Ayers is part of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which he says has a growing “anti-war energy.”

RT: Let’s get started with protests in the United States. We’ve seen the Arab Spring, we’ve seen the uprisings in Europe, we’ve seen Occupy Wall Street in the United States. Who do you think is really the face of the modern protester in the US today?

Bill Ayers: Well, I think Occupy is an unpredictable but wonderful development and it comes directly out of the Arab Spring. The idea that people can actually make a difference is infectious. And so Occupy came out of Madison and Madison came out of Tahrir Square and Tahrir Square came out of Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks. So we kind of can see a real development where people are saying that the world as it is, is not the world as it must be, it could be otherwise and when people feel that way they get into motion, they get into action. Very exciting, very hopeful.

RT: We obviously have critics of Occupy Wall Street who say that the main flaw of the movement is a lack of a tangible unified message. Do you think this kind of message exists apart from the obvious Occupy Wall Street, what is it really about?

BA: Well, I think people are mistaken with that kind of criticism. Occupy is not a point of arrival, it is not a manifesto, it is not a demand. Occupy is an invitation and it is an opening of a public space. That means that every grievance, every complaint, as well as, every aspiration and dream can find a place in a new, open public square. I think Occupy already has accomplished something amazing, which has shifted the frame on how we discuss wealth, how we discuss war, how we discuss austerity.

The metaphor the 1 per cent, 99 per cent is a marvelous metaphor. But as usual power responds to these kids of upheavals in a pattern that is predictable. They ignored Occupy for a while, then they ridiculed it, then they tried to co-opt it with language like “what is your demand” and then they beat it up and then they repeat it. That is very typical of how these things happen, but Occupy is not going away: it’s morphed, it’s transformed. So Occupy is a marvelous thing and is still evolving and we shall see.

RT: Occupy also seems to have brought police violence and arrests that we have not seen in a while in the United States. And every time there are clashes, like we saw here in Chicago, it seems to be the protesters are saying the police are violent, the police are saying the protesters are violent. Who is right?

BA: What we see in our whole society is militarization of our society. So when NATO comes together for example for a summit, this is an organization all wearing suits and ties, all speaking very quietly, but they represent three-quarters of the military budget in the world, three-quarters are represented by the NATO-G8 world. And that is violence that is institutional violence.

So in Chicago, when there were clashes between NATO demonstrators and police we have to also note that the city was incredibly militarized. That is there were tens of thousands of police in the streets, gear that nobody had ever seen before, troop carriers, buses transformed into military vehicles. We take for granted in this country that the military must be under civilian control. If it’s not under civilian control it is a dictatorship. Well what is NATO under, how is NATO governed? Who takes care of making sure that it is not a military dictatorship and the problem is in many ways it is.

RT: Obviously people are quite annoyed to see millions spent on a summit, billions spent on wars abroad, whereas, obviously a lot of people are still not in the best economic situation. What is this all about? Is there a huge disconnect between those in power and the people or is this something that is purposefully being done?

BA: Well I think both are true. Is there a huge disconnect? Absolutely. What is NATO, if it is not kind of a fig leaf for the United States? NATO in Europe for example has 260 tactical nuclear weapons. Those are not allowed under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but they are allowed because NATO is not a signatory. It is a way around the law, it is a way around common sense. But speaking of a disconnect, yes there is a disconnect: [only] 27 per cent of Americans support the war in Afghanistan and we can’t end it. This has been true for seven years. No one wants it.

Eleven years ago when the war started, we could have said “this is a police action, to get the people who did 9/11.” But no, it was an invasion and a war. We overthrew the government.

Where are we 11 years later? They are now talking about negotiating with the Taliban and moving out of Afghanistan, but leaving $4 billion a year in American aid. That is an outrage and it should be an outrage. That is why only 27 per cent still support that war, but we cannot end it. That is a disconnect between power and the people.

RT: The first time we interviewed you, four years ago, you said you wanted to create the biggest anti-war movement in the US. Are you closer to that? Is Occupy Wall Street part of that?

BA: The energy of Occupy is in part an anti-war energy. It is an energy that says our priorities are all messed up, our society is off the tracks spending trillions on war every couple of years while we ignore basic human needs, privatizing the public space, destroying the electoral process under the term “reform”, reforming everything from public school to elections to pensions. And what reform is, is a kind of cover for destruction. I think that the anti-war movement is represented in the Occupy moment. My hope is that we continue to evolve and grow.

RT: Do you think with the wars the US is fighting it is living beyond its means? Can it really sustain those wars?

BA: Absolutely not. And one of the things that happened to the old Soviet Union was that it spent itself into destruction. I mean, you cannot arm at this level and create the conditions for an arms war with China, with India, with Russia, with all the countries of South Asia. It is an outrage that we are now entering into a new arms race, which is going to spend us into catastrophe. It is anti-democratic, it is not what people want, it is not how we want to see ourselves and it is something that has to end.

RT: What do you think about US and NATO missile defense plans? Is that necessary?

BA: Absolutely unnecessary. If you think of all the toys and gimmicks and war materials that are being developed, what are they for? Why 150 American military bases abroad? What are they doing? Who are they encircling? So now it gives itself permission for preemptive war, for war against non-state actors, which can take the form of any country it wants to invade, so NATO in Afghanistan, NATO in Iraq, NATO in Libya – these are illegal, immoral, and unnecessary moves.

RT: We are hearing war drums beating over Iran a lot lately. Do you think we will see the US embark on a new military escapade?

BA: It would be a catastrophe for everyone if the United Sates or NATO, which is just the United States’ fig leaf, or Israel, went into Iran and attacked Iran. We can live in this world as a nation among nations, as long as we insist on the old colonial mentality that we can dominate other peoples, we can tell them how to be and have a double standard that is so grotesque. So we are frantic about the possibility that Iran might have a nuclear warhead someday. Meanwhile, we have 2,000 nuclear warheads and that doesn’t make us frantic.

Israel is the third largest nuclear power in the world, not part of nuclear proliferation and not part of even admitting that they have them. This is the world that is dangerous, that is unstable, but it is not unstable because of Iran. There is so many better ways to be a citizen of the world than to shake your sword every time you feel like it.

RT: The US has the biggest military budget in the world.

BA: A trillion dollars a year.

RT: What is really the necessity? We understand that if somebody attacks you, you have to be ready to defend yourself. But considering many people and critics of US war mongering say the US actually starts these wars, by itself builds this long list of enemies.

BA: Well that is my view. My view is that if you look at my whole lifetime, 67 years, the US has been engaged in a war virtually every year. And the wars are primarily wars of invasion and aggression, and occupation. Vietnam we can now look back and say well that was illegal, immoral, a tragedy, 3 million people were killed, 6,000 a week were killed in that unnecessary war – mostly civilians – and the US did it, it made it happen, under a lot of guises of bringing democracy and so on. There was a wonderful sign in the demonstrations recently that said “If you want to build democracy someplace, build it here.” And I think that is true. Peace is the answer and it begins here. We have to cut back our military budget, we have to close off our foreign military bases, we have to become a nation among nations, not the uber-nation exporting our will everywhere.

RT: We have the US elections fast approaching. Four years ago, a lot of people in the US were really hopeful that Barack Obama will become sort of a real face of change. A lot of Americans now say that it has not happened, democrats and republicans seem to be the same side of one coin. What should we expect? Is it naïve at this point to expect some real true change to come from elections, regardless of who wins those elections?

BA: I think we have to build a movement for change, I think that is what brings change. If you look back even in our fairly recent history, it wasn’t Lyndon Johnson, although Lyndon Johnson passed the most far-reaching civil rights legislation in history, he wasn’t part of the black freedom movement. He was responding.

Franklin Roosevelt wasn’t part of the labor movement, yet he accomplished all that labor legislation and social legislation. And Abraham Lincoln didn’t belong to an Abolitionist Party. Each of them was responding to movements on the ground. What we need if we want peace is to build a movement on the ground that could bring about real change from the bottom, and that is what I think we should be concerned about.

RT: During the last presidential elections obviously your name was talked about a lot by the mainstream media. What do you think is going to be the main controversy this time around?

BA: The one thing we know for sure is that money is always corrupting in politics. Not just here, but in Russia, in Europe, everywhere. Money corrupts politics. This election season in the US is going to see an absolute tidal wave of cash come in to this election. So last time out the Obama campaign spent half a billion dollars. This time each campaign will spend over a billion. It is hard to believe that anyone can look at that and say that this is what democracy looks like.

I think that is what plutocracy looks like – rich people throwing cash around, buying votes, buying legislators. And that is unseeingly and certainly undemocratic sight. I have no idea what the controversy will be, but you can be sure it will be dirty and it will be expensive.