Showing posts with label STRATFOR. Show all posts
Showing posts with label STRATFOR. Show all posts

Thursday, September 6

Wednesday, August 29

Iranian Power

The most important facts about Iran go unstated because they are so obvious. Any glance at a map would tell us what they are. And these facts explain how regime change or evolution in Tehran -- when, not if, it comes -- will dramatically alter geopolitics from the Mediterranean to the Indian subcontinent and beyond.

Virtually all of the Greater Middle East's oil and natural gas lies either in the Persian Gulf or the Caspian Sea regions. Just as shipping lanes radiate from the Persian Gulf, pipelines will increasingly radiate from the Caspian region to the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, China and the Indian Ocean. The only country that straddles both energy-producing areas is Iran, stretching as it does from the Caspian to the Persian Gulf. In a raw materials' sense, Iran is the Greater Middle East's universal joint.
The Persian Gulf possesses by some accounts 55 percent of the world's crude oil reserves, and Iran dominates the whole Gulf, from the Shatt al-Arab on the Iraqi border to the Strait of Hormuz 990 kilometers (615 miles) away. Because of its bays, inlets, coves and islands -- excellent places for hiding suicide, tanker-ramming speed boats -- Iran's coastline inside the Strait of Hormuz is 1,356 nautical miles; the next longest, that of the United Arab Emirates, is only 733 nautical miles. Iran also has 480 kilometers of Arabian Sea frontage, including the port of Chabahar near the Pakistani border. This makes Iran vital to providing warm water, Indian Ocean access to the landlocked Central Asian countries of the former Soviet Union. Meanwhile, the Iranian coast of the Caspian in the far north, wreathed by thickly forested mountains, stretches for nearly 650 kilometers from Astara in the west, on the border with former Soviet Azerbaijan, around to Bandar-e Torkaman in the east, by the border with natural gas-rich Turkmenistan.

A look at the relief map shows something more. The broad back of the Zagros Mountains sweeps down through Iran from Anatolia in the northwest to Balochistan in the southeast. To the west of the Zagros range, the roads are all open to Iraq. When the British area specialist and travel writer Freya Stark explored Lorestan in Iran's Zagros Mountains in the early 1930s, she naturally based herself out of Baghdad, not out of Tehran. To the east and northeast, the roads are open to Khorasan and the Kara Kum (Black Sand) and Kizyl Kum (Red Sand) deserts of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, respectively. For just as Iran straddles the rich energy fields of both the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea, it also straddles the Middle East proper and Central Asia. No Arab country can make that claim (just as no Arab country sits astride two energy-producing areas). In fact, the Mongol invasion of Iran, which killed hundreds of thousands of people at a minimum and destroyed the qanat irrigation system, was that much more severe precisely because of Iran's Central Asian prospect.

Iranian influence in the former Soviet republics of the Caucasus and Central Asia is potentially vast. Whereas Azerbaijan on Iran's northwestern border contains roughly 8 million Azeri Turks, there are twice that number in Iran's neighboring provinces of Azerbaijan and Tehran. The Azeris were cofounders of the first Iranian polity since the seventh century rise of Islam. The first Shiite Shah of Iran (Ismail in 1501) was an Azeri Turk. There are important Azeri businessmen and ayatollahs in Iran, including current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself. The point is that whereas Iran's influence to the west in nearby Turkey and the Arab world has been well established by the media, its influence to the north and east is equally profound; and if the future brings less repressive regimes both in Iran and in the southern, Islamic tier of the former Soviet Union, Iran's influence could deepen still with more cultural and political interactions.

There is, too, what British historian Michael Axworthy calls the "Idea of Iran," which, as he explains, is as much about culture and language as about race and territory.1 Iran, he means, is a civilizational attractor, much like ancient Greece and China were, pulling other peoples and languages into its linguistic orbit: the essence of soft power, in other words. Dari, Tajik, Urdu, Pashtu, Hindi, Bengali and Iraqi Arabic are all either variants of Persian, or significantly influenced by it. That is, one can travel from Baghdad in Iraq to Dhaka in Bangladesh and remain inside a Persian cultural realm.

Iran, furthermore, is not some 20th century contrivance of family and religious ideology like Saudi Arabia, bracketed as the Saudi state is by arbitrary borders. Iran corresponds almost completely with the Iranian plateau -- "the Castile of the Near East," in Princeton historian Peter Brown's phrase -- even as the dynamism of its civilization reaches far beyond it. The Persian Empire, even as it besieged Greece, "uncoiled, like a dragon's tail ... as far as the Oxus, Afghanistan and the Indus valley," writes Brown.2 W. Barthold, the great Russian geographer of the turn of the 20th century, concurs, situating Greater Iran between the Euphrates and the Indus and identifying the Kurds and Afghans as essentially Iranian peoples.3

Of the ancient peoples of the Near East, only the Hebrews and the Iranians "have texts and cultural traditions that have survived to modern times," writes the linguist Nicholas Ostler.4 Persian (Farsi) was not replaced by Arabic, like so many other tongues, and is in the same form today as it was in the 11th century, even as it has adopted the Arabic script. Iran has a far more venerable record as a nation-state and urbane civilization than most places in the Arab world and all the places in the Fertile Crescent, including Mesopotamia and Palestine. There is nothing artificial about Iran, in other words: The very competing power centers within its clerical regime indicate a greater level of institutionalization than almost anywhere in the region save for Israel, Egypt and Turkey.

Greater Iran began back in 700 B.C. with the Medes, an ancient Iranian people who established, with the help of the Scythians, an independent state in northwestern Iran. By 600 B.C., this empire reached from central Anatolia to the Hindu Kush (Turkey to Afghanistan), as well as south to the Persian Gulf. In 549 B.C., Cyrus (the Great), a prince from the Persian house of Achaemenes, captured the Median capital of Ecbatana (Hamadan) in western Iran and went on a further bout of conquest. The map of the Achaemenid Empire, governed from Persepolis (near Shiraz) in southern Iran, shows antique Persia at its apex, from the sixth to fourth centuries B.C. It stretched from Thrace and Macedonia in the northwest, and from Libya and Egypt in the southwest, all the way to the Punjab in the east; and from the Transcaucasus and the Caspian and Aral seas in the north to the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea in the south. No empire up to that point in world history had matched it. Persia was the world's first superpower, and Iranian leaders in our era -- both the late shah and the ayatollahs -- have inculcated this history in their bones. Its pan-Islamism notwithstanding, the current ruling elite is all about Iranian nationalism.

The Parthians manifested the best of the Iranian genius -- which was ultimately about tolerance of the cultures over which they ruled, allowing them a benign suzerainty. Headquartered in the northeastern Iranian region of Khorasan and the adjacent Kara Kum and speaking an Iranian language, the Parthians ruled between the third century B.C. and the third century A.D., generally from Syria and Iraq to central Afghanistan and Pakistan, including Armenia and Turkmenistan. Thus, rather than the Bosporus-to-Indus or the Nile-to-Oxus scope of Achaemenid Persia, the Parthian Empire constitutes a more realistic vision of a Greater Iran for the 21st century. And this is not necessarily bad. For the Parthian Empire was extremely decentralized, a zone of strong influence rather than of outright control, which leaned heavily on art, architecture and administrative practices inherited from the Greeks. As for the Iran of today, it is no secret that the clerical regime is formidable, but demographic, economic and political forces are equally dynamic, and key segments of the population are restive. So do not discount the possibility of a new regime in Iran and a consequently benign Iranian empire yet to come.

The medieval record both cartographically and linguistically follows from the ancient one, though in more subtle ways. In the eighth century the political locus of the Arab world shifted eastward from Syria to Mesopotamia -- that is, from the Umayyad caliphs to the Abbasid ones -- signaling, in effect, the rise of Iran. (The second caliph, Omar bin al-Khattab, during whose reign the Islamic armies conquered the Sassanids, adopted the Persian system of administration called the Diwan.) The Abbasid Caliphate at its zenith in the middle of the ninth century ruled from Tunisia eastward to Pakistan, and from the Caucasus and Central Asia southward to the Persian Gulf. Its capital was the new city of Baghdad, close upon the old Sassanid Persian capital of Ctesiphon; and Persian bureaucratic practices, which added whole new layers of hierarchy, undergirded this new imperium. The Abbasid Caliphate of Baghdad became more a symbol of an Iranian despotism than of an Arab sheikhdom. Some historians have labeled the Abbasid Caliphate the equivalent of the "cultural reconquest" of the Middle East by the Persians under the guise of Arab rulers.5 The Abbasids succumbed to Persian practices just as the Umayyads, closer to Asia Minor, had succumbed to Byzantine ones. "Persian titles, Persian wines and wives, Persian mistresses, Persian songs, as well as Persian ideas and thoughts, won the day," writes the historian Philip K. Hitti.6 "In the western imagination," writes Peter Brown, "the Islamic [Abbasid] empire stands as the quintessence of an oriental power. Islam owed this crucial orientation neither to Muhammad nor to the adaptable conquerors of the seventh century, but to the massive resurgence of eastern, Persian traditions in the eighth and ninth centuries.7"

As for Shiism, it is very much a component of this Iranian cultural dynamism -- despite the culturally bleak and oppressive aura projected by the ruling Shiite clergy in these dark times in Tehran. While the arrival of the Mahdi in the form of the hidden Twelfth Imam means the end of injustice, and thus acts as a spur to radical activism, little else in Shiism necessarily inclines the clergy to play an overt political role; Shiism even has a quietest strain that acquiesces to the powers that be and that is frequently informed by Sufism.8 Witness the example set by Iraq's leading cleric of recent years, Ayatollah Ali Sistani (of Iranian heritage), who only at pivotal moments makes a plea for political conciliation from behind the scenes. Precisely because of the symbiotic relationship between Iraq and Iran throughout history, with its basis in geography, it is entirely possible that in a post-revolutionary Iran, Iranians will look more toward the Shiite holy cities of An Najaf and Karbala in Iraq for spiritual direction than toward their own holy city of Qom. It is even possible that Qom will adopt the quietism of An Najaf and Karbala. This is despite the profound differences between Shia of Arab descent and those of Persian descent.

The French scholar Olivier Roy tells us that Shiism is historically an Arab phenomenon that came late to Iran but that eventually led to the establishment of a clerical hierarchy for taking power. Shiism was further strengthened by the tradition of a strong and bureaucratic state that Iran has enjoyed since antiquity, relative to those of the Arab world, and that is, as we know, partly a gift of the spatial coherence of the Iranian plateau. The Safavids brought Shiism to Iran in the 16th century. Their name comes from their own militant Sufi order, the Safaviyeh, which had originally been Sunni. The Safavids were merely one of a number of horse-borne brotherhoods of mixed Turkish, Azeri, Georgian and Persian origin in the late 15th century that occupied the mountainous plateau region between the Black and Caspian seas, where eastern Anatolia, the Caucasus and northwestern Iran come together. In order to build a stable state on the Farsi-speaking Iranian plateau, these new sovereigns of eclectic linguistic and geographical origin adopted Twelver Shiism as the state religion, which awaits the return of the Twelfth Imam, a direct descendant of Mohammed, who is not dead but in occlusion.9 The Safavid Empire at its zenith stretched thereabouts from Anatolia and Syria-Mesopotamia to central Afghanistan and Pakistan -- yet another variant of Greater Iran through history. Shiism was an agent of Iran's congealment as a modern nation-state, even as the Iranianization of non-Persian Shiite and Sunni minorities during the 16th century also helped in this regard.10 Iran might have been a great state and nation since antiquity, but the Safavids with their insertion of Shiism onto the Iranian plateau retooled Iran for the modern era.

Indeed, revolutionary Iran of the late 20th and early 21st centuries is a fitting expression of this powerful and singular legacy. Of course, the rise of the ayatollahs has been a lowering event in the sense of the violence done to -- and I do not mean to exaggerate -- the voluptuous, sophisticated and intellectually stimulating traditions of the Iranian past. (Persia -- "that land of poets and roses!" exclaims the introductory epistle of James J. Morier's The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan.11) But comparison, it is famously said, is the beginning of all serious scholarship. And compared to the upheavals and revolutions in the Arab world during the early and middle phases of the Cold War, the regime ushered in by the 1978-79 Iranian Revolution was striking in its élan and modernity. The truth is, and this is something that goes directly back to the Achaemenids of antiquity, everything about the Iranian past and present is of a high quality, whether it is the dynamism of its empires from Cyrus the Great to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Who can deny the sheer Iranian talent for running militant networks in Lebanon, Gaza and Iraq, which is, after all, an aspect of imperial rule!); or the political thought and writings of its Shiite clergy; or the complex efficiency of the bureaucracy and security services in cracking down on dissidents. Tehran's revolutionary order constitutes a richly developed governmental structure with a diffusion of power centers; it is not a crude one-man thugocracy like the kind Saddam Hussein ran in neighboring Arab Iraq.

Again, what makes the clerical regime in Iran so effective in the pursuit of its interests, from Lebanon to Afghanistan, is its merger with the Iranian state, which itself is the product of history and geography. The Green Movement, which emerged in the course of massive anti-regime demonstrations following the disputed elections of 2009, is very much like the regime it seeks to topple. The Greens were greatly sophisticated by the standards of the region (at least until the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia two years later), and thus another demonstration of the Iranian genius. The Greens constituted a world-class democracy movement, having mastered the latest means in communications technology -- Twitter, Facebook, text messaging -- to advance their organizational throw weight and having adopted a potent mixture of nationalism and universal moral values to advance their cause. It took all the means of repression of the Iranian state, subtle and not, to drive the Greens underground. (In fact, the Iranian regime was far more surgical in its repression of the Greens than the Syrian regime has thus far been in its own violent attempt to silence dissent.) Were the Greens ever to take power, or to facilitate a change in the clerical regime's philosophy and foreign policy toward moderation, Iran, because of its strong state and dynamic idea, would have the means to shift the whole groundwork of the Middle East away from radicalization, providing political expression for a new bourgeoisie with middle-class values that has been quietly rising throughout the Greater Middle East, and which the American obsession with al Qaeda and radicalism obscured until the Arab Spring of 2011.12

To speak in terms of destiny is dangerous, since it implies an acceptance of fate and determinism, but clearly given Iran's geography, history and human capital, it seems likely that the Greater Middle East, and by extension, Eurasia, will be critically affected by Iran's own political evolution, for better or for worse.

The best indication that Iran has yet to fulfill such a destiny lies in what has not quite happened yet in Central Asia. Let me explain. Iran's geography, as noted, gives it frontage on Central Asia to the same extent that it has on Mesopotamia and the Middle East. But the disintegration of the Soviet Union has brought limited gains to Iran, when one takes into account the whole history of Greater Iran in the region. The very suffix "istan," used for Central and South Asian countries and which means "place," is Persian. The conduits for Islamization and civilization in Central Asia were the Persian language and culture. The language of the intelligentsia and other elites in Central Asia up through the beginning of the 20th century was one form of Persian or another. But after 1991, Shiite Azerbaijan to the northwest adopted the Latin alphabet and turned to Turkey for tutelage. As for the republics to the northeast of Iran, Sunni Uzbekistan oriented itself more toward a nationalistic than an Islamic base, for fear of its own homegrown fundamentalists -- this makes it wary of Iran. Tajikistan, Sunni but Persian-speaking, seeks a protector in Iran, but Iran is constrained for fear of making an enemy of the many Turkic-speaking Muslims elsewhere in Central Asia.13 What's more, being nomads and semi-nomads, Central Asians were rarely devout Muslims to start with, and seven decades of communism only strengthened their secularist tendencies. Having to relearn Islam, they are both put off and intimidated by clerical Iran.

Of course, there have been positive developments from the viewpoint of Tehran. Iran, as its nuclear program attests, is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the Middle East (in keeping with its culture and politics), and as such has built hydroelectric projects and roads and railroads in these Central Asian countries that will one day link them all to Iran -- either directly or through Afghanistan. Moreover, a natural gas pipeline now connects southeastern Turkmenistan with northeastern Iran, bringing Turkmen natural gas to Iran's Caspian region, and thus freeing up Tehran's own natural gas production in southern Iran for export via the Persian Gulf. (This goes along with a rail link built in the 1990s connecting the two countries.) Turkmenistan has the world's fourth-largest natural gas reserves and has committed its entire natural gas exports to Iran, China and Russia. Hence, the possibility arises of a Eurasian energy axis united by the crucial geography of three continental powers all for the time being opposed to Western democracy.14 Iran and Kazakhstan have built an oil pipeline connecting the two countries, with Kazakh oil being pumped to Iran's north, even as an equivalent amount of oil is shipped from Iran's south out through the Persian Gulf. Kazakhstan and Iran will also be linked by rail, providing Kazakhstan with direct access to the Gulf. A rail line may also connect mountainous Tajikistan to Iran, via Afghanistan. Iran constitutes the shortest route for all these natural resource-rich countries to reach international markets.

So imagine an Iran athwart the pipeline routes of Central Asia, along with its sub-state, terrorist empire of sorts in the Greater Middle East. But there is still a problem. Given the prestige that Shiite Iran has enjoyed in sectors of the Sunni Arab world, to say nothing of Shiite south Lebanon and Shiite Iraq -- because of the regime's implacable support for the Palestinian cause and its inherent anti-Semitism -- it is telling that this ability to attract mass support outside its borders does not similarly carry over into Central Asia. One issue is that the former Soviet republics maintain diplomatic relations with Israel and simply lack the hatred toward it that may still be ubiquitous in the Arab world, despite the initial phases of the Arab Spring. Yet, there is something larger and deeper at work, something that limits Iran's appeal not only in Central Asia but in the Arab world as well. That something is the very persistence of its suffocating clerical rule that, while impressive in a negative sense -- using Iran's strong state tradition to ingeniously crush a democratic opposition and torture and rape its own people -- has also dulled the linguistic and cosmopolitan appeal that throughout history has accounted for a Greater Iran in a cultural sense. The Technicolor is gone from the Iranian landscape under this regime and has been replaced by grainy black and white. Iran's imperial ambitions are for the time being limited by the very nature of its clerical rule.

Some years back I was in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, from whose vantage point Tehran and Mashad over the border in Iranian Khorasan have always loomed as cosmopolitan centers of commerce and pilgrimage, in stark contrast to Turkmenistan's own sparsely populated, nomadic landscape. But while trade and pipeline politics proceeded apace, Iran held no real magic, no real appeal for Muslim Turkmens, who are mainly secular and are put off by the mullahs. As extensive as Iranian influence is by virtue of its in-your-face challenge to America and Israel, I don't believe we will see the true appeal of Iran, in all its cultural glory, until the regime liberalizes or is toppled. A democratic or quasi democratic Iran, precisely because of the geographical power of the Iranian state, has the possibility to energize hundreds of millions of fellow Muslims in the Arab world and Central Asia.

Sunni Arab liberalism could be helped in its rise not only by the example of the West, or because of a democratic yet dysfunctional Iraq, but also because of the challenge thrown up by a newly liberal and historically eclectic Shiite Iran in the future. And such an Iran might do what two decades of post-Cold War Western democracy and civil society promotion have failed to -- that is, lead to a substantial prying loose of the police state restrictions in former Soviet Central Asia.

With its rich culture, vast territory and teeming and sprawling cities, Iran is, in the way of China and India, a civilization unto itself, whose future will overwhelmingly be determined by internal politics and social conditions. Unlike the Achaemenid, Sassanid, Safavid and other Iranian empires of yore, which were either benign or truly inspiring in both a moral and cultural sense, this current Iranian empire of the mind rules mostly out of fear and intimidation, through suicide bombers rather than through poets. And this both reduces its power and signals its eventual downfall.

Yet, if one were to isolate a single hinge in calculating Iran's fate, it would be Iraq. Iraq, history and geography tell us, is entwined in Iranian politics to the degree of no other foreign country. The Shiite shrines of Imam Ali (the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law) in An Najaf and the one of Imam Hussain (the grandson of the Prophet) in Karbala, both in central-southern Iraq, have engendered Shiite theological communities that challenge that of Qom in Iran. Were Iraqi democracy to exhibit even a modicum of stability, the freer intellectual atmosphere of the Iraqi holy cities could eventually have a profound impact on Iranian politics. In a larger sense, a democratic Iraq can serve as an attractor force of which Iranian reformers might in the future take advantage. For as Iranians become more deeply embroiled in Iraqi politics, the very propinquity of the two nations with a long and common border might work to undermine the more repressive of the two systems. Iranian politics will become gnarled by interaction with a pluralistic, ethnically Arab Shiite society. And as the Iranian economic crisis continues to unfold, ordinary Iranians could well up in anger over hundreds of millions of dollars being spent by their government to buy influence in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere. This is to say nothing of how Iranians will become increasingly hated inside Iraq as the equivalent of "Ugly Americans." Iran would like to simply leverage Iraqi Shiite parties against the Sunni ones. But that is not altogether possible, since that would narrow the radical Islamic universalism it seeks to represent in the pan-Sunni world to a sectarianism with no appeal beyond the community of Shia. Thus, Iran may be stuck trying to help form shaky Sunni-Shiite coalitions in Iraq and to keep them perennially functioning, even as Iraqis develop greater hatred for this intrusion into their domestic affairs. Without justifying the way that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was planned and executed, or rationalizing the trillions of dollars spent and the hundreds of thousands of lives lost in the war, in the fullness of time it might very well be that the fall of Saddam Hussein began a process that will result in the liberation of two countries; not one. Just as geography has facilitated Iran's subtle colonization of Iraqi politics, geography could also be a factor in abetting Iraq's influence upon Iran.

The prospect of peaceful regime change -- or evolution -- in Iran, despite the temporary fizzling of the Green Movement, is still greater now than in the Soviet Union during most of the Cold War. A liberated Iran, coupled with less autocratic governments in the Arab world -- governments that would be focused more on domestic issues because of their own insecurity -- would encourage a more equal, fluid balance of power between Sunnis and Shia in the Middle East, something that would help keep the region nervously preoccupied with itself and on its own internal and regional power dynamics, much more than on America and Israel.

Additionally, a more liberal regime in Tehran would inspire a broad cultural continuum worthy of the Persian empires of old, one that would not be constrained by the clerical forces of reaction.

A more liberal Iran, given the large Kurdish, Azeri, Turkmen and other minorities in the north and elsewhere, may also be a far less centrally controlled Iran, with the ethnic peripheries drifting away from Tehran's orbit. Iran has often been less a state than an amorphous, multinational empire. Its true size would always be greater and smaller than any officially designated cartography. While the northwest of today's Iran is Kurdish and Azeri Turk, parts of western Afghanistan and Tajikistan are culturally and linguistically compatible with an Iranian state. It is this amorphousness, so very Parthian, that Iran could return to as the wave of Islamic extremism and the perceived legitimacy of the mullahs' regime erodes.

By Robert D. Kaplan

Friday, August 10

Emails secret. Widespread. TrapWire surveillance.

Former senior intelligence officials have created a detailed surveillance system more accurate than modern facial recognition technology — and have installed it across the US under the radar of most Americans, according to emails hacked by Anonymous.

Every few seconds, data picked up at surveillance points in major cities and landmarks across the United States are recorded digitally on the spot, then encrypted and instantaneously delivered to a fortified central database center at an undisclosed location to be aggregated with other intelligence. It’s part of a program called TrapWire and it's the brainchild of the Abraxas, a Northern Virginia company staffed with elite from America’s intelligence community. The employee roster at Arbaxas reads like a who’s who of agents once with the Pentagon, CIA and other government entities according to their public LinkedIn profiles, and the corporation's ties are assumed to go deeper than even documented.

The details on Abraxas and, to an even greater extent TrapWire, are scarce, however, and not without reason. For a program touted as a tool to thwart terrorism and monitor activity meant to be under wraps, its understandable that Abraxas would want the program’s public presence to be relatively limited. But thanks to last year’s hack of the Strategic Forecasting intelligence agency, or Stratfor, all of that is quickly changing.

Hacktivists aligned with the loose-knit Anonymous collective took credit for hacking Stratfor on Christmas Eve, 2011, in turn collecting what they claimed to be more than five million emails from within the company. WikiLeaks began releasing those emails as the Global Intelligence Files (GIF) earlier this year and, of those, several discussing the implementing of TrapWire in public spaces across the country were circulated on the Web this week after security researcher Justin Ferguson brought attention to the matter. At the same time, however, WikiLeaks was relentlessly assaulted by a barrage of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, crippling the whistleblower site and its mirrors, significantly cutting short the number of people who would otherwise have unfettered access to the emails.

On Wednesday, an administrator for the WikiLeaks Twitter account wrote that the site suspected that the motivation for the attacks could be that particularly sensitive Stratfor emails were about to be exposed. A hacker group called AntiLeaks soon after took credit for the assaults on WikiLeaks and mirrors of their content, equating the offensive as a protest against editor Julian Assange, “the head of a new breed of terrorist.” As those Stratfor files on TrapWire make their rounds online, though, talk of terrorism is only just beginning.

Mr. Ferguson and others have mirrored what are believed to be most recently-released Global Intelligence Files on external sites, but the original documents uploaded to WikiLeaks have been at times unavailable this week due to the continuing DDoS attacks. Late Thursday and early Friday this week, the GIF mirrors continues to go offline due to what is presumably more DDoS assaults. Australian activist Asher Wolf wrote on Twitter that the DDoS attacks flooding the WikiLeaks server were reported to be dropping upwards of 40 gigabytes of traffic per second on the site.

According to a press release (pdf) dated June 6, 2012, TrapWire is “designed to provide a simple yet powerful means of collecting and recording suspicious activity reports.” A system of interconnected nodes spot anything considered suspect and then input it into the system to be "analyzed and compared with data entered from other areas within a network for the purpose of identifying patterns of behavior that are indicative of pre-attack planning.”

In a 2009 email included in the Anonymous leak, Stratfor Vice President for Intelligence Fred Burton is alleged to write, “TrapWire is a technology solution predicated upon behavior patterns in red zones to identify surveillance. It helps you connect the dots over time and distance.” Burton formerly served with the US Diplomatic Security Service, and Abraxas’ staff includes other security experts with experience in and out of the Armed Forces.

What is believed to be a partnering agreement included in the Stratfor files from August 13, 2009 indicates that they signed a contract with Abraxas to provide them with analysis and reports of their TrapWire system (pdf).

“Suspicious activity reports from all facilities on the TrapWire network are aggregated in a central database and run through a rules engine that searches for patterns indicative of terrorist surveillance operations and other attack preparations,” Crime and Justice International magazine explains in a 2006 article on the program, one of the few publically circulated on the Abraxas product (pdf). “Any patterns detected – links among individuals, vehicles or activities – will be reported back to each affected facility. This information can also be shared with law enforcement organizations, enabling them to begin investigations into the suspected surveillance cell.”

In a 2005 interview with The Entrepreneur Center, Abraxas founder Richard “Hollis” Helms said his signature product “can collect information about people and vehicles that is more accurate than facial recognition, draw patterns, and do threat assessments of areas that may be under observation from terrorists.” He calls it “a proprietary technology designed to protect critical national infrastructure from a terrorist attack by detecting the pre-attack activities of the terrorist and enabling law enforcement to investigate and engage the terrorist long before an attack is executed,” and that, “The beauty of it is that we can protect an infinite number of facilities just as efficiently as we can one and we push information out to local law authorities automatically.”

An internal email from early 2011 included in the Global Intelligence Files has Stratfor’s Burton allegedly saying the program can be used to “[walk] back and track the suspects from the get go w/facial recognition software.”

Since its inception, TrapWire has been implemented in most major American cities at selected high value targets (HVTs) and has appeared abroad as well. The iWatch monitoring system adopted by the Los Angeles Police Department (pdf) works in conjunction with TrapWire, as does the District of Columbia and the "See Something, Say Something" program conducted by law enforcement in New York City, which had 500 surveillance cameras linked to the system in 2010. Private properties including Las Vegas, Nevada casinos have subscribed to the system. The State of Texas reportedly spent half a million dollars with an additional annual licensing fee of $150,000 to employ TrapWire, and the Pentagon and other military facilities have allegedly signed on as well.

In one email from 2010 leaked by Anonymous, Stratfor’s Fred Burton allegedly writes, “God Bless America. Now they have EVERY major HVT in CONUS, the UK, Canada, Vegas, Los Angeles, NYC as clients.” Files on USASpending.gov reveal that the US Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense together awarded Abraxas and TrapWire more than one million dollars in only the eleven months.

News of the widespread and largely secretive installation of TrapWire comes amidst a federal witch-hunt to crack down on leaks escaping Washington and at attempt to prosecute whistleblowers. Thomas Drake, a former agent with the NSA, has recently spoken openly about the government’s Trailblazer Project that was used to monitor private communication, and was charged under the Espionage Act for coming forth. Separately, former NSA tech director William Binney and others once with the agency have made claims in recent weeks that the feds have dossiers on every American, an allegation NSA Chief Keith Alexander dismissed during a speech at Def-Con last month in Vegas.

Tuesday, July 31

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.

Tuesday, July 3

Negotiations Behind U.S. Sanctions Against Iran

By Reva Bhalla
Over the past week, the latest phase of U.S.-led sanctions against Iran has dominated the media. For months, the United States has pressured countries to curtail their imports of Iranian crude oil and is now threatening to penalize banks that participate in oil deals with Iran. In keeping with the U.S. sanctions campaign, the European Union on July 1 implemented an oil embargo against Iran. The bloc already has begun banning European countries from reinsuring tankers carrying Iranian oil.
On the surface, the sanctions appear tantamount to the United States and its allies serving an economic death sentence to the Iranian regime. Indeed, sanctions lobbyists and journalists have painted a dire picture of hyperinflation and plummeting oil revenues. They argue that sanctions are depriving Tehran of resources that otherwise would be allocated to Iran's nuclear weapons program. This narrative also tells of the Iranian regime's fear of economically frustrated youths daring to revive the Green Movement to pressure the regime at its weakest point.
But Iran's response to sanctions deadlines has been relatively nonchalant. Contrary to the sanctions lobbyist narrative, this response does not suggest Iran will halt its crude oil shipments, nor does it portend a popular uprising in the streets of Tehran. Instead, it suggests that sanctions are likely a sideshow to a much more serious negotiation in play.

Loopholes in the Sanctions Campaign

The sanctions applied thus far certainly have complicated Iran's day-to-day business operations. However, Iran is well versed in deception tactics to allow itself and its clients to evade sanctions and thus dampen the effects of the U.S. campaign.
One way in which Iran circumvents sanctions is through a network of front companies that enable Iranian merchants to trade under false flags. To enter ports, merchant ships are required to sail under a flag provided by national ship registries. Tax havens, such as Malta, Cyprus, the Bahamas, Hong Kong, the Seychelles, Singapore and the Isle of Man, profit from selling flags and company registries to businesses looking to evade the taxes and regulations of their home countries. Iranian businessmen rely heavily on these havens to switch out flags, names, registered owners and agents, and addresses of owners and agents.
The U.S. Treasury Department has become more adept at identifying these firms, but a government bureaucracy simply cannot compete with the rapid pace at which shell corporations are made. Several new companies operating under different names and flags can be created in the time it takes a single sanctions lawsuit to be drawn up.
Many of Iran's clients turn a blind eye to these shell practices to maintain their crude oil supply at steep discounts. Notably, the past few months have been rife with reports of countries cutting their Iranian oil imports under pressure from the United States. However, after factoring in the amount of crude insured and traded via shell companies, the shift in trade patterns is likely not as stark as the reports present.
The United States already has exempted China, Singapore, India, Turkey, Japan, Malaysia, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and the 27 members of the European Union from the sanctions. Many of these countries imported higher than average quantities of Iranian crude in the months leading up to their announcements that they had cut down their supply of Iranian crude. China, South Korea, India and Japan also are finding ways to provide sovereign guarantees in lieu of maritime insurance to get around the latest round of sanctions. Even though many of these countries claim to have reduced their oil imports from Iran to negotiate an exemption, falsely flagged tankers carrying Iranian crude likely compensate for much of Iran's officially reduced trade.
U.S. lawmakers are drawing up even stricter sanctions legislation in an effort to track down more Iranian shell companies, but the U.S. administration is likely aware of the inadequacies of the sanctions campaign. In fact, while Congress is busy trying to expand the sanctions, the U.S. administration is rumored to be preparing a list of options by which it can selectively repeal the sanctions for when it sits down at a negotiating table with Iran.

The Real Negotiation

While talk of sanctions has dominated headlines, a more subtle dialogue between Iran and the United States has been taking place. In an editorial appearing in U.S. foreign policy journal The National Interest, two insiders of the Iranian regime, Iranian political analyst Mohammad Ali Shabani and former member of Iranian nuclear negotiating team Seyed Hossein Mousavian, communicated several key points on behalf of Tehran:
  • The United States and Iran must continue to negotiate.
  • Sanctions hurt Iran economically but by no means paralyze Iranian trade.
  • Iran cannot be sure that any bilateral agreement made with the United States will be honored by a new administration come November.
  • The United States must abandon any policy intended to bring about regime change in Tehran.
  • Washington has few remaining options other than military intervention, which is an unlikely outcome.
  • Iran can significantly increase pressure on the United States by, for example, threatening the security of the Strait of Hormuz, an act that would raise the price of U.S. oil.
Perhaps most important, they said, "the Islamic Republic is willing to agree on a face-saving solution that would induce it to give up the cards it has gained over the past years."
On June 27, the United States delivered an important message. U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert said during a Pentagon news conference that the Strait of Hormuz had been relatively quiet and that the Iranian navy had been "professional and courteous" to U.S. naval vessels in the Persian Gulf. According to Greenert, the Iranian navy has abided by the norms that govern naval activity in international waters. Previously, armed speedboats operated provocatively close to U.S. vessels, but they have not done so recently, Greenert said. It is difficult to imagine Greenert making such a statement without clearance from the White House.

Red Lines

When Iran began the year with military exercises to highlight the threat it could pose to the Strait of Hormuz, Stratfor laid out the basic framework of the U.S.-Iranian relationship. Both countries have defined their red lines. Iran raises the prospect of closing the Strait of Hormuz or detonating a nuclear device. The United States moves its naval carriers into the Persian Gulf to raise the prospect of a military strike. Both remind each other of their respective red lines, yet both stay clear of them because the consequences of crossing them are simply too great.
The situation calls for a broader accommodation. Over the past decade, Iran and the United States have struggled in negotiations toward such an accommodation. At the heart of the negotiation is Iraq -- a core vulnerability to Iran's western flank if under the influence of a hostile power and Iran's energy-rich outlet to the Arab world. The United States has tried to maintain a foothold in Iraq, but there is little question that Iraq now sits in an Iranian sphere of influence. With Iraq now practically conceded to Iran, the other components of the negotiation are largely reduced to atmospherics.
Iran's biggest deterrent rests in its threat to close the Strait of Hormuz. The leverage Tehran holds over the strait allows Iran room to negotiate over its nuclear program. Of course, the United States would prefer that Iran abandon its nuclear ambitions and will continue efforts to impede the program, but a nuclear Iran might in the end be tolerated as long as Washington and Tehran have an understanding that allows for the free flow of oil through the strait. Everything from the sanctions campaign to U.S. covert backing of Syrian rebels to the nuclear program becomes negotiable. As the Iranians put it, a path has been created for a "face-saving solution" that would allow both to walk away from the dialogue looking good in front of their constituencies, but would also require the sacrifice of some of the levers they have gained in the course of the negotiation.
With only four months until the U.S. election, it is difficult to imagine that this negotiation will reach the point of a strategic understanding between Washington and Tehran. However, one would be remiss to overlook the important confidence-building measures that are being communicated at a time when neither power wants to skirt its respective red lines, Iraq is more or less a moot issue and the United States is trying to redirect its focus away from the Middle East.

Monday, June 25

Robert D. Kaplan on Geopolitics and Journalism

Afghanistan: Future Energy Corridor?

Afghanistan remains largely dependent upon the international system for energy supplies. In 2008, for example, Afghanistan imported 120 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity and has imported 4,800 barrels of oil per day (bpd) since 2010. If Kabul is going to bring stability and a better standard of living, then increased energy production will prove critical to President Hamid Karzai’s efforts to win ‘hearts and minds’.

Afghanistan’s post-Soviet Central Asian neighbors - in particular Turkmenistan - are looking at Afghanistan as a prime energy transit corridor for natural gas. The crown jewel of the proposed projects is the $7.6 billion, 1,040 mile-long Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India natural gas pipeline (TAPI). The idea of a pipeline was first floated before the Taliban captured Kabul. In 1995, Turkmenistan and Pakistan signed a memorandum of understanding regarding the TAPI project. With an annual carrying capacity of 33 billion cubic meters of Turkmen natural gas, the pipeline was projected to run from Turkmenistan’s Dauletabad gas field across Afghanistan and Pakistan and terminate at the northwestern Indian town of Fazilka.

In 2011 Afghanistan’s security situation seemed to be sufficiently stable enough to revive TAPI under the auspices of the Asian Development Bank (ADB). As a result, Afghanistan’s Minister of Mines and Industries Wahidullah Shahrani declared that, “This huge project is very important for Afghanistan. Five thousand to seven thousand security forces will be deployed to safeguard the pipeline route.”

But how does Afghanistan stand to benefit from the TAPI? Projections suggest the country would receive nearly $400 million in annual transit fees as well as 14 million standard cubic meters per day of natural gas.Yet TAPI is not Afghanistan’s only energy transit corridor option. On 7 June, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stated that Iran is ready to deliver oil to China with the construction of pipelines through Afghanistan and Pakistan. Ambitious as these projects are, the important question remains as to whether Afghanistan is sufficiently stable to support them.

When it comes to supplying electricity to Afghanistan, Uzbekistan’s Uzbekenergo has quickly emerged as a major player. By 2010 the company was transmitting about 150 megawatts of power to Afghanistan. Uzbek media is now reporting that Uzbekistan provides an uninterrupted supply of 1.2 billion kWh of electricity a year to Afghanistan, with Kabul receiving electricity 24 hours a day. The electricity costs Afghanistan roughly $9 million per month at an average rate of 6 cents per kilowatt hour, on a sliding scale ranging from industrial rates of 10 Afghanis (20 cents) per kWh for industrial consumers, to residential fees for those consuming less than 300 kWh of 1.5 Afghanis (about 3 cents) per kWh. In neighboring Pakistan, rates for electricity are roughly 7.5 cents per kWh.

Farther east, Tajikistan is also considering starting exporting electricity to Afghanistan. However, one of the country’s major stumbling blocks – corruption - is impacting upon proposed energy export deals. In February 2012 Tajik journalists uncovered a document regarding the country’s electricity distribution. The report, signed by Prime Minister Akil Akilov, noted that the country received only half the domestic electricity supply compared to the same period in the previous year. The Prime Minister also outlined that about 5.5 billion kWh -- roughly one-third of the country’s electrical output -- was simply "lost."

Such discrepancies are likely to continue in the short term, even though on 17 May Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and Afghanistan signed a memo on the CASA-1000 project. This project aims to export surplus Tajik and Kyrgyz hydroelectric power to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The World Bank, Islamic Development Bank and the US Agency for International Development are supporting CASA-1000. Russia also intends to finance almost half of the project, the total cost of which is estimated at nearly $1 billion.

Beginning in 2009, the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the Afghan Geological Survey and the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations began a two-year effort to identify Afghan mineral resources. In December 2011 the results of the surveys were released, covering 24 areas of prime mineral development for Afghanistan.

The study updated a 2006 energy survey conducted by the USGS with assistance from the Afghan Geological Survey and the US Trade and Development Agency, which resulted in the first-ever assessment of undiscovered Afghan oil and natural gas resources. The survey estimated that the country contained potentially exploitable reserves of 1.596 billion barrels of oil and 36.462 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. All of the known crude oil and natural gas reserves are situated in the north of the country - at the Amu Darya Basin to the northwest and the Afghan-Tajik Basin to the northeast.

The two basins cover roughly 200,000 square miles for those portions that lie within Afghanistan and USGS geologists concluded that the two geological basins hold 18 times the oil and triple the natural gas resources previously thought. The news clearly elated Karzai, who said that the estimates were “very positive findings.” He added that “knowing more about our country's petroleum resources will enable us to take steps to develop our energy potential, which is crucial for our country's growth.”

But while the United States has effectively led the projects that discovered these reserves, for the time being China is showing the most interest in investing in them. Last year Afghanistan approved China National Petroleum Corporation’s (CNPC) bid to drill for oil and natural gas in Sari Pul and Faryab provinces, the first energy concession granted to a foreign firm. Karzai and Chinese President Hu Jintao signed a deal allowing China to pursue mineral resources, energy development and agricultural opportunities. Government media quoted Hu as saying that China planned to "provide sincere and selfless help to the country." CNPC worked out a deal to begin pumping 5,000 barrels of oil a day from newly discovered Afghan reserves later this year.

And the CNPC has big plans: On 15 June Karzai met with CNPC Chairman Jiang Ziemin to discuss a feasibility study for the proposed Turkmenistan-China gas pipeline through Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Karzai subsequently directed the Afghan Mining Ministry to prepare a comprehensive framework agreement for Sino-Afghan cooperation.

Accordingly, China’s interest in Afghanistan’s natural resources reflects Beijing’s commitment to diversifying its sources of energy in order to reduce its dependency on the Middle East. Because of the perceived vulnerability of supply lines via the Indian Ocean and the Straits of Malacca, Central Asia’s land-based pipelines have now assumed increased importance.

Once again however, security issues are impacting the proposed project, as militia loyal to the ex-warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum have been disrupting CNPC’s oil exploration activities. Dostum now holds the largely ceremonial office of chief of army staff. Two Afghan government officials said that supporters of Dostum were demanding a share of the proceeds and a top aide to Karzai said, “Armed men belonging to General Dostum are intimidating the Chinese engineers in the area and creating obstacles to exploring the oil block.” As China has no military forces in Afghanistan, their security falls by necessity to ISAF and Afghan National Army (ANA) forces.

In an interview with the Global Times, Jeffrey Reeve of Griffith University noted that of the Afghan Geographical Survey's 22 identified priority minerals, “the majority are in areas outside of ISAF and Afghan control”. Dostum’s recent actions are an ominous indicator of potential future security issues surrounding them.

Afghanistan’s future prosperity seems increasingly to rest upon the US concept of military security balanced against China’s ‘soft’ economic power. That Washington has long-range (primarily military) strategic interests in Afghanistan post-2014 was underlined by the Strategic Partnership Agreement signed by Presidents Obama and Karzai on 1 May. In contrast, on 8 June -- following talks between Presidents Hu and Karzai -- China announced that it will provide a 150 million yuan ($23.8 million) grant to the Afghan government this year within the framework of the Joint Declaration between China and Afghanistan on Establishing Strategic and Cooperative Partnership.

China’s strategy for maintaining its own territorial integrity is to establish control on both sides of its borders -- in the case of Afghanistan, with ‘soft’ fiscal power in the form of investment. Accordingly, it is unclear at this point whether Washington’s or Beijing’s model for future Afghan development will prevail. But as the above survey of developments shows, peace is essential for any of these grandiose projects to succeed. Pipeline construction and oil and natural gas exploration depends upon a stable Afghanistan and all interested potential stakeholders being involved in the projects’ successes. This is no small task in a country as deeply tribal as Afghanistan.

That said, any solution must necessarily be primarily political and not military. Whether Kabul and the ANA will be up to the task remains uncertain. Given the track record of the Karzai administration and its lack of success in battling corruption, success seems problematic at best despite the obvious benefits of pipelines and energy production to the Afghan government.

Are Syria's Rebels Getting Foreign Support?

By Scott Stewart

A video recently posted to the Internet depicting an improvised explosive device (IED) attack in Syria has garnered a great deal of attention. A Syrian militant group called the Hawks Brigade of the Levant claimed the attack, which targeted a Syrian government armored troop bus as it traveled along a road near a rebel stronghold in the Idlib governorate. According to the group, the attack depicted in the video employed a type of IED called an explosively formed penetrator (EFP). Though the video was shot from a fairly long distance away, it does appear that the IED punched a substantial and focused hole through the armored bus -- precisely the type of effect that would be expected if an EFP were employed against such a target.

EFPs are a logical tool for militants to use against superior government forces that are heavily dependent upon armor. EFPs pose a significant threat to armored vehicles, which the Syrian military has utilized extensively, and quite effectively, in its campaign against Syrian rebel groups.

Studying the IED technology employed by a militant group is an important way to determine the group's logistics situation and trajectory. It can also be a way to discern if a group is receiving outside training and logistical assistance.
Explosively Formed Penetrators

An explosively formed penetrator, sometimes called an explosively formed projectile, is a simple device composed of a case, a liner and explosive filler. EFPs have been part of many countries' military inventories for years. The U.S. Army, for example, added the M2 Selectable Lightweight Attack Munition (aptly named the SLAM) to its inventory in 1990. Improvised EFP devices can also be constructed by non-state actors; they were widely used to target U.S. military vehicles in Iraq.

The employment of an EFP device in the field also requires a detonator and a firing chain to initiate the detonator. The firing chain can vary widely, from a hardwired command-detonated system to an improvised victim-actuated system that is triggered inadvertently by the target and involves modifying things like the infrared safety beam from a garage door opener.

The case of an improvised EFP is often constructed from a short section of well-casing pipe with a steel plate welded to one end. A small hole is drilled in the plate to allow a blasting cap to be inserted. The pipe is then filled with high explosive, and a metal liner -- most often made of copper -- is affixed over the open end of the pipe.

EFPs utilize the same general principle as a shaped charge. In a traditional shaped-charge munition like the warhead on an anti-tank rocket, a thin metal cone is used to achieve a focusing effect. When crushed, the concave metal cone in the warhead becomes a molten, high-velocity projectile that, with a jet of super-heated gas from the explosive, penetrates the armor. However, in order for a shaped charge to work most effectively and achieve maximum penetration it must detonate at a precise, relatively short distance from its target. In a munition like a rocket-propelled grenade, an empty space between the nose of the warhead and the copper cone generally provides the required standoff distance.

The EFP munition is somewhat like a traditional shaped charge, but it incorporates a metal liner with less of an angle. So instead of forming a cone, the liner is more of a concave lens or dish shape. The EFP also uses a heavier liner that is formed into a slug or "penetrator" when the device is detonated. The penetrator is then propelled at the target at an extremely high velocity. The difference in the shape and weight of the liner allows the EFP to be deployed from a greater distance than a traditional shaped charge.

Because the components required to construct EFPs are simple, such devices can be fabricated inexpensively and out of readily available materials. Well-casing pipe and steel plate, for example, are widely available in almost any region of the world. Moreover, making the EFP casing from these elements requires little skill and simple machinery, such as a welder, a grinder and a drill.

The copper liner is the sophisticated part of the device, requiring a bit more precision in its fabrication. If the liner is not formed in a precise manner, the devices will tend to spit copper shrapnel rather than create a truly effective penetrator. However, once the proper shape of the liner is determined, either by copying the shape of the liner in a professionally designed EFP device or by trial and testing, the liners can be fabricated somewhat easily using a form and a hydraulic press.

Because of its ability to focus the force of an explosive charge, a small EFP containing just a few kilograms of high explosive can cause far more damage to an armored vehicle than can a traditional IED made with much more high-explosive material. This means a militant bombmaker can make hundreds of EFP devices from the explosive filler required to make one large vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED).

And since they are small, EFPs are easily concealed and harder to detect than larger devices. They can also be placed next to the road rather than having to be buried in the road like an anti-tank mine. However, to function effectively and to project the penetrator into the optimal area of a vehicle, an EFP device does need to be positioned properly to allow for the appropriate standoff distance and aimed at the appropriate height for the targeted vehicle. It also needs to be deployed in a manner that allows for precise timing, whether the device is command-detonated or victim-actuated.

EFPs used in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories have proved to be highly effective against armored vehicles -- even main battle tanks. And they are downright deadly against lighter vehicles like armored personnel carriers, transport trucks, jeeps and Humvees -- or the armored bus shown in the Syria video.
Indicators of Foreign Support

Much can be discerned from a careful examination of the IEDs a militant organization employs in its attacks. For example, in the 1970s the rapid increase of bombmaking skill in Palestinian and other Marxist-oriented militant groups clearly displayed that those groups had received training from professional bombmakers dispatched by state sponsors. Indeed, decades before al Qaeda opened training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan, training camps in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen, Libya and Iraq were filled with militants from all over the world, and particular bombmaking techniques that appeared in distinct areas could be traced back to individual bombmakers who attended training courses together at those locations. Later, the emergence of signature IEDs in places such as El Salvador and Colombia demonstrated that bombmakers from the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) and Basque militant group ETA had been passing along their training to a new generation of militants in those countries -- a fact later backed up by the arrests of some of the bombmakers.

In many of the early jihadist attacks against U.S. interests in places such as Yemen, specific techniques utilized by some bombmakers made it obvious to investigators that they had received training at camps in Pakistan and brought their training home with them after fighting against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Later, after receiving training from Hezbollah, al Qaeda began to display hallmarks of Hezbollah's influence in its IED designs.

The use of signature explosives, like Semtex H, by groups such as the PIRA and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command also demonstrated a distinct logistical link between state sponsors of terrorism like Libya and their militant proxies. Indeed, under the Gadhafi regime, the Libyans were even known to use the diplomatic pouch to smuggle Semtex to their embassies in places like London, where the explosives were then provided to militant proxies for use in attacks.

In more recent years, there were rapid advances in the IEDs employed by Nigerian militant group Boko Haram. When the group's IEDs progressed from small, crude devices to large suicide VBIEDs in the span of six months, it clearly indicated that the group's bombmakers had received external training.

In another recent case, underpowered suicide VBIEDs employed by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb have demonstrated that the group's commanders in northern Algeria have a desire to attack and an abundance of suicide operatives, but are having difficulty amassing enough explosive material to create effective VBIEDs. This information allows analysts to gauge the type of threat such a group poses.

Which brings us back to EFPs. In Iraq, EFPs were most widely used by Shiite militants, who received copper liners for their improvised EFP devices from Iran's Quds Force. Indeed, the emergence of EFPs in Iraq was a strong indicator of Iran's support for the Shiite militias in Iraq.

Though Syria shares a border with Iraq, one cannot simply assume that EFP technology has spilled across the border. Certainly, the principle behind EFPs is simple enough, but the EFPs in Iraq were largely used by Shiite militants, who are aligned with Iran and, by extension, the Syrian regime. The Quds Force is unlikely to have provided copper liners for improvised EFPs to the Sunni militants in Syria or to have permitted its Iraqi proxies to transfer them. (However, it is entirely possible that an entrepreneurial-minded Shi'i who had some of the liners could have sold them to a Sunni militant, who then furnished them to Syrian militants.)

It will be important to monitor how many EFPs Syrian militants deploy. If they deploy only a few EFP devices in scattered locations, they may be obtaining liners on an ad hoc basis. However, if EFPs are deployed in a broad, systematic fashion, it will be an indication -- though certainly not conclusive evidence -- that the Syrian militants are receiving supplies from an external source. The precision and effectiveness with which any such devices are employed will also be telling of the training the militants employing them have received. A domestically developed EFP capability will have some failures and inconsistencies -- the sorts of problems frequently evidenced as a bombmaker advances along the bombmaking learning curve. Such growing pains will be absent if the Syrian militants are aided by outside training and logistics.

There are many ways that one can judge the degree of foreign support that a militant group is receiving. The indicators can include anything from uniforms and assault rifles to the presence of increasing numbers of anti-tank guided missiles and man-portable air defense systems. But more subtle indications, such as those involving IED components and bombmaking skills, should not be overlooked.

Wednesday, June 6

Is Greece European?

By Robert D. Kaplan

Greece is where the West both begins and ends. The West -- as a humanist ideal -- began in ancient Athens where compassion for the individual began to replace the crushing brutality of the nearby civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia. The war that Herodotus chronicles between Greece and Persia in the 5th century B.C. established a contrast between West and East that has persisted for millennia. Greece is Christian, but it is also Eastern Orthodox, as spiritually close to Russia as it is to the West, and geographically equidistant between Brussels and Moscow. Greece may have invented the West with the democratic innovations of the Age of Pericles, but for more than a thousand years it was a child of Byzantine and Turkish despotism. And while Greece was the northwestern bastion of the anciently civilized Near East, ever since history moved north into colder climates following the collapse of Rome, the inhabitants of Peninsular Greece have found themselves at the poor, southeastern extremity of Europe.

Modern Greece in particular has struggled against this bifurcated legacy. In an early 20th century replay of the Greco-Persian Wars, Greece's post-World War I military struggle with Turkey led to a signal Greek defeat and as a consequence, more than a million ethnic Greeks from Asia Minor escaped to Greece proper, further impoverishing the country. (This Greek diaspora in Asia Minor was a massive source of revenue until the Greeks were expelled.) Not only did World War I have a bloody and epic coda in Greece, so did World War II, which was followed by a civil war between rightists and communists. Greece's ultimate escape from the Warsaw Pact was a rather close-run affair: again, the effect of Greece's unstable geographical location between East and West.

Greece struggled on. As recently as the mid-1970s it was governed by a particularly brutal military dictatorship (led by colonels from the backwater of the Peloponnese), which lasted for seven years, and fear of another coup persisted during the initial stage of its reborn democracy. Even though the Olympic tradition began in Greece in antiquity and the first modern Olympics were held in Greece in 1896, Greece was denied the right to host the centenary modern Olympics in 1996 owing to the country's lack of preparedness in organization and infrastructure. Greece did host the 2004 Olympics, but the financial strain that the games put on Greece contributed to the country's economic fragility in the run-up to the current debt crisis.
It is not entirely an accident that Greece is the most economically troubled country in the European Union. The fact that it is located at Europe's southeastern back door also has something to do with it. For Greece's economic and political development bear marks of a legacy not wholly in the modern West.

Roughly three-quarters of Greek businesses are family-owned and rely on family labor, making meritocratic promotion difficult for those outside the family. Tax cheating is rampant. The economy suffers from a profound lack of competitiveness, even as Greece is mainly a service economy, relying on tourism, in which manufacturing constitutes a weak sector. Of course, these features have much to do with bad policies enacted over the years and decades, but they are also products of history and culture, which are, in turn, products of geography. Indeed, Greece lacks enough productive land to be an agricultural power.
Then there is political underdevelopment. Long into the 20th century, Greek political parties had a paternalistic, coffeehouse quality, centered on big personalities -- chieftains in all but name -- with little formal organizational support. George Papandreou, the grandfather of the recent prime minister of the same name, actually headed a party called the "George Papandreou Party."

Political parties have been family businesses to a greater extent in Greece than in other Western democracies. The party in power not only dominated the highest echelons of the bureaucracy, as is normal and proper in a democracy, but the middle- and lower-echelons, too. State institutions from top to bottom were often overly politicized.

Moreover, rather than having a moderate left-wing party and a modern conservative one, as is common throughout Western Europe, in Greece through the early 1990s there was a hard-left party, the Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), which during the Cold War openly sympathized with radical Arab regimes like Hafez al Assad's Syria and Moammar Gadhafi's Libya, and a somewhat reactionary right-wing party, New Democracy. The drift of both those leading parties toward the center is a relatively recent affair.
And so the creation of late of a hard-left party, SYRIZA, and a hard-right neo-Nazi movement, Golden Dawn (vaguely reminiscent of the military junta that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974), both harbor distant echoes of Greece's mid-20th century past. Ironically, while Greece's extreme economic crisis created these radical groupings in the first place, if these new parties fare badly in the upcoming poll it might indicate a firm rejection of extremism by Greek voters and a permanent turn toward the center -- toward political modernity, that is.

There is a tendency in all of this to throw one's hands up at the specter of the Greeks and declare them too much trouble than they're worth, at least for Europe. But such an attitude reeks of hypocrisy, even as it denies Western self-interest. When Greece joined the European Union in 1981, its economy was manifestly not ready; Brussels had made a rank political decision, not an economic one -- just as it would in admitting Greece to the eurozone in 2002. In both cases, the ground-level, domestic reality of the Greek economy was swept aside in favor of an abstract quasi-historical vision of Europe stretching from Iberia to the eastern Mediterranean.

Of course, Greece, during the 1980s -- when I lived there for seven years -- might have used the influx of cash from the European Union in order to discipline and reform its economy. Instead, then PASOK Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou used the money to swell the ranks of the bureaucracy. Thus, did Greece remain underdeveloped, and the dream-gamble of Brussels failed. The saddest irony is that the sins of the hard-left Andreas Papandreou were visited upon his well-meaning, center-left son, George, who had his short tenure as prime minister from 2009 to 2011 poisoned by his father's economic legacy.

But Western self-interest now demands that even if Greece leaves the eurozone -- and that is a big "if" -- it nevertheless remains anchored in the European Union and NATO. For whether Greece drops the euro or not, it faces years of severe economic hardship. That means, given its geographic location, Greece's political orientation should never be taken for granted. For example, the Chinese have invested heavily in developing part of the port of Piraeus, adjacent to Athens, even as Russia's economic and intelligence ties to the Greek area of Cyprus are extremely close.

It has been speculated in the media that with Greece short of cash and Russia enjoying a surplus, were the Russians ejected from ports in Syria in the wake of a regime change there, Moscow would find a way to eventually make use of Greek naval facilities. Remember that Greece and Cyprus both have modern European histories mainly because they were claimed by Western powers for strategic reasons.
In other words, from the point of geography and geopolitics, Greece will be in play for years to come.

Thursday, May 17

Terrorism and the Exceptional Individual

By Scott Stewart
There has been a lot of chatter in intelligence and academic circles about al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) bombmaker Ibrahim al-Asiri and his value to AQAP. The disclosure last week of a thwarted AQAP plot to attack U.S. airliners using an improved version of an "underwear bomb" used in the December 2009 attempted attack aboard a commercial airplane and the disclosure of the U.S. government's easing of the rules of engagement for unmanned aerial vehicle strikes in Yemen played into these discussions. People are debating how al-Asiri's death would affect the organization. A similar debate undoubtedly will erupt if AQAP leader Nasir al-Wahayshi is captured or killed.
AQAP has claimed that al-Asiri trained others in bombmaking, and the claim makes sense. Furthermore, other AQAP members have received training in constructing improvised explosive devices (IEDs) while training and fighting in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. This means that al-Asiri is not the only person within the group who can construct an IED. However, he has demonstrated creativity and imagination. His devices consistently have been able to circumvent existing security measures, even if they have not always functioned as intended. We believe this ingenuity and imagination make al-Asiri not merely a bombmaker, but an exceptional bombmaker.
Likewise, al-Wahayshi is one of hundreds -- if not thousands -- of men currently associated with AQAP. He has several deputies and numerous tactical field commanders in various parts of Yemen. Jihadists have had a presence in Yemen for decades, and after the collapse of al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, numerous Saudi migrants fleeing the Saudi government augmented this presence. However, al-Wahayshi played a singular role in pulling these disparate jihadist elements together to form a unified and cohesive militant organization that has been involved not only in several transnational terrorist attacks but also in fighting an insurgency that has succeeded in capturing and controlling large areas of territory. He is an exceptional leader.
Individuals like al-Asiri and al-Wahayshi play critical roles in militant groups. History has shown that the loss of exceptional individuals such as these makes a big difference in efforts to defeat such organizations.

Exceptional Individuals

One of Stratfor's core geopolitical tenets is that at the strategic level, geography is critical to shaping the limits of what is possible -- and impossible -- for states and nations to achieve in the long run. Quite simply, historically, the strategic political and economic dynamics created by geography are far more significant than the individual leader or personality, no matter how brilliant. For example, in the U.S. Civil War, Robert E. Lee was a shrewd general with a staff of exceptional military officers. However, geographic and economic reality meant that the North was bound to win the civil war despite the astuteness and abilities of Lee and his staff.
But as the size of an organization and the period of time under consideration shrink, geopolitics is little more than a rough guide. At the tactical level, intelligence takes over from geopolitics, and individuals' abilities become far more important in influencing smaller events and trends within the greater geopolitical flow. This is the level where exceptional military commanders can win battles through courage and brilliance, where exceptional businessmen can revolutionize the way business is done through innovative new products or ways of selling those products and where the exceptional individuals can execute terrorist tradecraft in a way that allows them to kill scores or even hundreds of victims.
Leadership is important in any type of organization, but it is especially important in entrepreneurial organizations, which are fraught with risk and require unique vision, innovation and initiative. For example, hundreds of men founded automobile companies in the early 1900s, but Henry Ford was an exceptional individual because of his vision to make automobiles a widely available mass-produced commodity rather than just a toy for the rich. In computer technology, Steve Jobs was exceptional for his ability to design devices with an aesthetic form that appealed to consumers, and Michael Dell was exceptional for his vision of bypassing traditional sales channels and selling computers directly to customers.
These same leadership characteristics of vision, daring, innovation and initiative are evident in the exceptional individuals who have excelled in the development and application of terrorist tradecraft. Some examples of exceptional individuals in the terrorism realm are Ali Hassan Salameh, the operations chief of Black September, who not only revolutionized the form that terrorist organizations take by instituting the use of independent, clandestine cells, but also was a visionary in designing theatrical attacks intended for international media consumption. Some have called Palestinian militant leader Abu Ibrahim the "grandfather of all bombmakers" for his innovative IED designs during his time with Black September, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and his own group, the 15 May Organization. Ibrahim was known for creating sophisticated devices that used plastic explosives and a type of electronic timer called an "e-cell" that could be set for an extended delay. Another terrorism innovator was Hezbollah's Imad Mughniyeh, who helped pioneer the use of large suicide truck bombs to attack hardened targets, such as military barracks and embassies.
In the jihadist realm, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is being tried by a military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was such an individual. Not only did Mohammed mastermind the 9/11 attacks for al Qaeda in which large hijacked aircraft were transformed into guided missiles, but he also was the operational planner behind the coordinated attacks against two U.S. embassies in August 1998 and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Mohammed's other innovations included the idea to use modular IEDs concealed in baby dolls to attack 10 aircraft in a coordinated attack (Operation Bojinka) and the shoe bomb plot. Mohammed's video beheading of journalist Daniel Pearl in February 2002 started a grisly trend that was followed not only by jihadists in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia but also by combatants in Mexico's drug war.

Leadership

One of the places where exceptional individuals have been most evident in the terrorist realm is in leadership roles. Although on the surface it might seem like a simple task to find a leader for a militant group, in practice, effective militant leaders are hard to come by. This is because militant leadership requires a rather broad skill set. In addition to personal attributes such as ruthlessness, aggressiveness and fearlessness, militant leaders also must be charismatic, intuitive, clever and inspiring. This last attribute is especially important in an organization that seeks to recruit operatives to conduct suicide attacks. Additionally, an effective militant leader must be able to recruit and train operatives, enforce operational security, raise funds, plan operations and methodically execute the plan while avoiding the security forces that are constantly hunting down the militants.
The trajectory of al Qaeda's franchise in Saudi Arabia is a striking illustration of the importance of leadership to a militant organization. Under the leadership of Abdel Aziz al-Muqrin, the Saudi al Qaeda franchise was extremely active in 2003 and 2004. It carried out a number of high-profile attacks inside Saudi Arabia and put everyone there, from the Saudi monarchy to multinational oil companies, in a general state of panic. With bombings, ambushes and beheadings, it seemed as if Saudi Arabia was on its way to becoming the next Iraq. However, after the June 2004 death of al-Muqrin, the organization began floundering. The succession of leaders appointed to replace al-Muqrin lacked his operational savvy, and each one proved ineffective at best. (Saudi security forces quickly killed several of them.) Following the unsuccessful February 2006 attack against the oil facility at Abqaiq, the group atrophied further, succeeding in carrying out only one more attack -- an amateurish small-arms assault in February 2007 against a group of French tourists.
The disorganized remaining jihadists in Saudi Arabia ultimately grew frustrated at their inability to operate on their own. Many of them traveled to places such as Iraq or Pakistan to train and fight. In January 2009, many of the militants who remained in the Arabian Peninsula joined with al Qaeda's franchise in Yemen to form a new group -- AQAP -- under the leadership of al-Wahayshi, the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen who served under Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan before being arrested in Iran. An extradition deal between the Yemeni and Iranian governments returned al-Wahayshi to Yemen in 2003. He subsequently escaped from a high-security prison outside Sanaa in 2006.
Al Qaeda in Yemen's operational capability improved under al-Wahayshi's leadership, and its operational tempo increased (although those operations were not terribly effective). Considering this momentum, it is not surprising that the frustrated members of the all-but-defunct Saudi franchise agreed to swear loyalty to al-Wahayshi and join his new umbrella group, AQAP. The first widely recognized product of this merger was the attempted assassination of Saudi Deputy Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef on Aug. 28, 2009, using a device designed by al-Asiri and carried by his brother, Abdullah al-Asiri.
As with the Saudi group, the fortunes of other al Qaeda regional franchises have risen or fallen based on the ability of the franchise's leadership. In Indonesia, for example, following the arrests and killings of several top jihadist commanders, the capabilities of the regional jihadist franchise there were deeply degraded. Al Qaeda announced with great fanfare in August 2006 that a splinter of the Egyptian jihadist group Gamaah al-Islamiyah had become al Qaeda's franchise in Egypt, and in November 2007 al Qaeda announced that the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group had become a regional franchise. But neither of these franchises ever really began operations. While a great degree of the groups' ineffectiveness could have resulted from the oppressive natures of the Egyptian and Libyan governments -- and those governments' aggressive efforts to control the new al Qaeda franchises -- Stratfor believes the groups' failures also stem in large part from their lack of effective, dynamic leadership.

Arms Race

Leadership is not the only factor that influences a militant group's ability to carry out terrorist attacks. Groups planning to conduct bombing attacks also require a proficient bombmaker, and an innovative bombmaker like Abu Ibrahim or Hamas' Yahya Ayyash can greatly expand a group's operational reach and effectiveness. This is especially true for groups hoping to conduct attacks in the United States and Europe.
As outlined in last week's Security Weekly, those planning terrorist attacks against aircraft have been in a continual arms race with airline security measures. Every time security is changed to adapt to a particular threat, whether it be 9/11-style hijackings, shoe bombs, liquid bombs or underwear bombs, the terrorist planner must come up with a new attack plan to defeat the enhanced security measures. This is where innovation and imagination become critical. A master bombmaker might be able to show a pupil how to build a simple IED or maybe even something like a shoe bomb. The pupil may even become quite proficient at assembling such devices. But unless the pupil is innovative and imaginative, he will not be able to invent and perfect the next technology needed to stay ahead of security countermeasures.
There is a big difference between a technician and an inventor, and perhaps the best way to illustrate this principle is by drawing a parallel to the music world. A student can learn to play the saxophone, and perhaps even to mimic a jazz recording note for note. But it is quite another thing for that student to develop the ability to improvise a masterful solo like saxophonist John Coltrane could. In music, individuals like Coltrane are rare, and in terrorism, so are exceptional bombmakers -- masters of destruction who can create imaginative and original IEDs capable of defeating security measures.
Following the death of Anwar al-Awlaki, AQAP's English-language preacher, we noted that we did not believe his death would have much operational impact on the group due to his role as the group's English-language ideologue. That argument was based upon the fact that al-Wahayshi, al-Asiri and AQAP operational leader Qasim al-Raymi, who were much more responsible for the group's operations, were still alive. However, if the group were to lose an exceptional individual -- such as its dynamic and effective leader, al-Wahayshi, or its imaginative and creative bombmaker, al-Asiri -- the loss would make a significant difference unless the group could find someone equally capable to replace that individual.