Posts Tagged ‘United States’

Tacstrat Analysis: The Haqqani question

March 1, 2013

Tacstrat Analysis

Many analysts have taken up various positions on the subject of the United States, Pakistan and the controversial Haqqani Network. Tough calls have demanded that Pakistan be declared a rogue state, all aid suspended to the country and sanctions imposed. Others digress and say sanctions on Pakistan did not really work. Not only did Pakistan successfully test its nuclear capabilities, the economic toll of the sanctions nearly led to the breaking up of the small state. Unemployment rose exponentially, political tensions led to the overthrow of a democratic government and resulted in a military leadership that ruled over the country for another 9 years. Setting aside the age-old debate on whether sanctions really do work, one must accept the fact that sanctions, in Pakistan’s case, are not a pragmatic option.

As recently as March 1, the United States government has flexed its muscle over the Iran-Pakistan pipeline deal and implied, with strong undertones, that Pakistan should avoid any activity that would invite sanctions. Realistically speaking, the United States in unlikely to impose any such sanctions, over Iran OR the Haqqani Network.

Read more…

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No routes for NATO beyond 2014

July 16, 2012

By Shaiq Hussain

ISLAMABAD – As the United States and Pakistan inch closer to sign a vital agreement on the “formalisation of NATO supplies”, Islamabad has refused to accept the US demand for the long term use of these supply lines through its soil beyond 2014, a deadline set by Washington for the withdrawal of bulk of its troops from Afghanistan.

The Obama administration had been urging Pakistan for months to accede to its demand for the prolonged use of NATO routes so that Washington could meet the needs of its military bases in Afghanistan in terms of provision of goods, including food and oil, for coming months and years, a period that could stretch to decades.

However, Islamabad expressed its inability to accept this US demand as it finally unblocked the NATO supplies a few days ago after keeping them closed for over seven months in the wake of NATO strikes on Pakistani border posts in November. “However, despite the refusal by Islamabad regarding the acceptance of American demand for the long term use of NATO supplies, which are also called Ground Lines of Communications (GLOCs), the Obama administration is more than happy over the unblocking of supplies to Afghanistan, which will save it now from the millions of dollars’ in losses that it had to bear while using the alternative route through Russia and Central Asian states,” said a diplomatic source on Sunday, seeking anonymity. He said another important matter that the two sides had discussed for long was the matter of security of the NATO supply lines after their reopening. He added that the US was asking Pakistan to provide security to NATO supplies in both settled and Tribal Areas, but Islamabad had agreed to do that only in settled regions.

A Pakistani official refused to comment on Islamabad’s refusal to accept the US demand for the long term use of its soil for NATO supplies to Afghanistan. However, he confirmed that Pakistani security forces would provide the GLoCs with proper security in settled areas. He said both sides were close to signing an MoU on the formalization of NATO supplies once consensus was reached between Islamabad and Washington. He said under the MoU, the US would not use the NATO supply trucks for the provision of arms and ammunition to the international forces in Afghanistan. “Scanners would be installed at Pakistani ports for the detection of lethal supplies through GLoCs,” he said. He said as per the agreement, Pakistan would not charge any fee for NATO supplies, but the US had agreed to help Pakistan in carpeting the roads and highways which were in dilapidated conditions after being used for years by heavy NATO vehicles.

Doing it wrong is what US does right

April 22, 2012

By Ghalib Sultan

So the Sisyphean manhunt for the perpetrators of 9/11 continues. After a decade of blood letting the chosen white people, United States of Paranoia still needs Patsies it can announce exorbitant bounties for and in the process air out the world’s worst kept secret: even after more than a decade of fighting the wildly ‘successful’ War on Terror they still don’t know what they are doing.

Hafiz Saeed, head of right wing religious group Jamat ud Dawah whose militant faction Lashkar-e-Taiba was accused of master minding the 26/11 Mumbai Attacks in India; woke up on Tuesday to TV channels abuzz with news of how much money he is worth. Ten million dollars offered by the US to anyone who can deliver Saeed dead or alive to the US authorities. This new declaration of love for everything Pakistan was made by US Undersecretary Wendy Sherman in India on Monday as a show of righteous indignation for why Pakistani authorities have all this time failed to convict Saeed and bring him to justice.

This announcement had an effect that the most imbecile of Pakistanis could have predicted: it turned the wanted man into a media darling, sky rocketing his popularity ratings and turning him into everyone’s favorite playmate of the year. After twelve years either the US is still in denial and believes that Pakistanis will gladly rise to the occasion and call their favorite Uncle Sam to deliver the rogue miscreant to or this announcement of head-money serves a different purpose.

This new development takes place the same month Zardari is supposed to travel to India for the first time after 26/11. The timing is unlikely to be fortuitous but the message left shining on the wall reads:     ‘we’re with those guys now’.

If Hafiz Saeed was the bone of contention all along, America should have learned that bounty or no bounty the best way to capture wanted men in Pakistan is via stealth operations only. A man like Hafiz Saeed whose organization is purportedly widely buttressed by the infamous ISI itself and hasn’t been convicted in any court in this country, clearly enjoys high level support.

This is something Indian analysts came out to discuss as well, shaking heads over the fact that of course announcing a bounty won’t make aspiring Pakistani assassins don ninja suits to capture a man who lives in Johar Town, Lahore and is seen holding large public rallies to discuss the latest ways of dressing mutton aka India.

Saeed argued that the US hasn’t announced the bounty because six US citizens died in the Mumbai Attacks (let’s face it US soldiers who die in action don’t fetch even close to a million dollars) but because he has been holding mass rallies against reopening the NATO Supply Route. This might sound more plausible given the current ferocity with which DPC and other right wing parties have been making threats about not being afraid to ‘spill blood’ if the routes re-open. Furthermore the opposition and government have both refused to own the decision to reopen those routes ending in a stalemate.

And yet turning up its nose at Pakistan and sidling to India just when Pakistan has found a novel way to assert its national sovereignty isn’t going to help matters for the US. If announcement of bounty on a man who roams freely and is not afraid to sneer at the US and challenge it to take him to court, only foments anti US sentiment, then the US possibly cannot hope to aspire towards a future relationship with Pakistan based on ‘mutual  respect and understanding’.

U.S.-India Ties: Pivot Problems

February 9, 2012

By David J. Karl

India has already shown that it is starting to carve out its own path in Asia. But it’s one that could create clashes with the United States.

There’s a conundrum at the heart of the Obama administration’s “pivot” toward Asia, at least as it relates to India. The United States is eager to extricate itself from military conflicts in the Greater Middle East (Iraq and Afghanistan) so it can focus on a region where, as President Barack Obama put it, “the action’s going to be.” Shoring up the U.S. strategic posture in East Asia amid China’s ascendance will entail a deepening of geopolitical cooperation between Washington and New Delhi. But the quickening withdrawal from Afghanistan will increase bilateral frictions, pushing relations in the opposite direction.

The Pentagon’s just-released strategic guidance paper calls for “investing in a long-term strategic partnership with India to support its ability to serve as a regional economic anchor and provider of security in the broader Indian Ocean region.” Both Obama during his visit to India in November 2010 and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her trip last summer have called on New Delhi to play a more active strategic role in East Asia.

One of the unheralded stories of the past year is how India has begun to do just that. In defiance of Chinese warnings, New Delhi asserted its rights to hydrocarbon explorations off the coast of Vietnam, laying down its own marker in the South China Sea dispute. It has moved to enhance defense and economic ties with Japan, culminating in Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko’s very productive recent visit to New Delhi. It also solidified security relations with Australia and Vietnam, and bolstered its influence in Burma vis-à-vis Beijing.

Washington and New Delhi hold regular consultations on East Asia policy, and a trilateral U.S.-India-Japan security dialogue was launched recently. A revival of quadrilateral security cooperation among the U.S., Japan, India, and Australia that briefly flowered in 2006-07 also appears likely. The expansion of Chinese power and aspiration will undoubtedly push New Delhi to align closer with the United States, though the process will neither be as smooth nor as speedy as many Americans would like.

Pushing in the other direction is the adverse effect on Indian security concerns caused by U.S. disengagement from Afghanistan. Key differences are bound to emerge between the United States and India regarding the political endgame. Looking to the exits, Washington won’t be overly concerned with the exact details of the makeup of Afghanistan or the viability of the government in Kabul. New Delhi, which has invested heavily in Hamid Karzai’s government, will be all too focused on how the strategic terrain is shifting to its detriment.

India has strong security interests in ensuring that any government in Kabul can be a bulwark against Pakistan, as well as a gateway to trade and energy links in Central Asia. Both goals would be undermined if Islamabad achieved a central role in shaping a political settlement or if a Taliban-influenced regime were to come to power.

One wonders how committed Washington will be to the current regime’s survival or the protection of Indian equities in an accommodation with the Taliban. This is all the more so as U.S. staying power is visibly waning. The security situation is likely to deteriorate as the military withdrawals that Obama announced last summer take hold and as remaining U.S. forces shift from direct combat operations to a back-stop role. A newly-minted National Intelligence Estimate reportedly is filled with pessimism about Afghanistan’s prospects.

Obama has promised to help Afghanistan “move from an economy shaped by war to one that can sustain a lasting peace.” Yet reports by the World Bank and the IMF underscore how formidable a challenge that will be. A recent report by Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffers concluded that U.S. nation-building efforts have largely failed, and warned that with Afghanistan so reliant upon foreign military and development spending it could slide into an economic depression as this funding decreases.

Meanwhile, the transformation of U.S.-Pakistan relations, from the past decade’s broad if dysfunctional security partnership to a more circumscribed, largely transactional arrangement will accelerate U.S. disengagement. Islamabad will be even more stinting in deploying its influence with the Taliban and other militant groups to benefit U.S. objectives in Afghanistan, while the higher transit fees likely to be charged on U.S. military supplies moving through Pakistan will further dampen the Obama administration’s fortitude in Afghanistan.

As the U.S. winds down its involvement, unpalatable circumstances await New Delhi’s policymakers. As a result, India will seek to move closer to Iran, whose interests in Afghanistan are roughly congruent. Both countries may even revive the cooperation that during the 1990s provided critical support to non-Pashtun militias battling the Taliban regime. (Already reports are surfacing that the old Northern Alliance may be reconstituting.) The U.S. will grumble about cozying up with Iran, but the geopolitical logic of the U.S. withdrawal leaves New Delhi little choice.

The interplay of two conflicting dynamics in U.S.-India relations – growing strategic cooperation in East Asia and unfolding differences over the future of Afghanistan – will be a key factor to watch for in the years ahead.

David J. Karl is president of the Asia Strategy Initiative, a political and economic consultancy. He was project director of the Task Force on Enhancing India-U.S. Cooperation in the Global Innovation Economy, sponsored by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry and the Pacific Council on International Policy.

New Terror Alerts For US Citizens, Iran is coming!

October 12, 2011

Tacstrat

WASHINGTON – The State Department is warning Americans around the world of the potential for terrorist attacks against U.S. interests following the exposure of an alleged Iranian plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States.

In a new worldwide travel alert issued late Tuesday, the department said the foiled scheme could be sign that Iran has adopted a “more aggressive focus” on terrorist activity. It said Iranian-sponsored attacks could include strikes in the United States, where the alleged plot against the Saudi envoy was supposed to have taken place, as well as other countries.

“The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens of the potential for anti-U.S. actions following the disruption of a plot, linked to Iran, to commit a significant terrorist act in the United States,” it said in the warning that expires on Jan. 11, 2012.

“The U.S. government assesses that this Iranian-backed plan to assassinate the Saudi ambassador may indicate a more aggressive focus by the Iranian government on terrorist activity against diplomats from certain countries, to include possible attacks in the United States,” the alert said.

Earlier Tuesday, the Justice Department announced the indictment of two men, including an Iranian-born U.S. citizen, for conspiring with a purported Mexican drug cartel to kill the Saudi ambassador on U.S. soil.

Does America suffer from consumption?

August 17, 2011

MICHAEL MANDEL diagnoses America’s economic ills:

It’s true that consumer spending creates economic activity. But it’s not true that all that economic activity is in the United States. Many of the consumer goods we buy are imported. If you buy a shirt or television, you are stimulating manufacturing jobs in China, or perhaps Mexico. You aren’t doing as much to stimulate jobs at home.

This is true across the economy, but a helpful example is the clothing, or apparel, industry. Since the fourth quarter of 2007, clothing purchases by consumers have increased by about 5% in real terms, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Over roughly the same period, shipments from U.S. apparel factories fell by 31% in real terms, while apparel jobs fell by 26%. The winner: Factories in China and elsewhere making clothes for the U.S. market…

If we want Americans to prosper, we need consumer spending to become less important to the economy, not more. In the end, we need a production economy, not a consumption economy.

Now as it happens, Mr Mandel makes some perfectly reasonable policy recommendations in the linked piece-countercyclical regulatory policy, infrastructure investment, and a reformed corporate tax code. And certainly there is a point to be made that sustained, large American trade deficits are problematic, and that debt-financed consumption is troubling.

But I detest the argumentation above. It’s wrong, and seemingly designed to spur protectionist impulses. Factories in China are winners from the apparel trade, eh? Consider two points. First, apparel manufacturing jobs are low-skill positions, and for Americans to staff them without government support in the form of subsidies or tariffs would necessitate massive wage cuts. Average pay in Chinese cities is perhaps 10% of the American level, and still China is losing textile industry jobs to lower cost competition elsewhere in Southeast Asia. When those jobs move abroad, to places with lower labour costs, that enables Americans to buy those goods more cheaply, which is a good thing. Now, if high-cost American workers struggle to transition into new industries, that’s a problem. But it’s a problem with America’s labour market policies, not with the consumption of goods from abroad.

Mr Mandel doesn’t begin to explain why America ought to want textile factories in the first place, other than as a source of employment. The economics suggest it would be cheaper, easier, and more pleasant for the workers to hire them to sit around and do nothing. Or pay them to go to school or build useful infrastructure. Does he believe that American firms are missing out on some important source of innovation by allowing workers in other countries to man the looms? If so, I wish he’d explain what it is.

For some reason, people find the idea of a production economy intuitively appealing. But production economies need consumers. More than that: consumption is the point of economic activity; why work except to obtain things? We ought to care about American productivity growth, and America ought to make the investments necessary to support productivity growth. Mr Mandel’s policy recommendations show that he understands this. Having focused on that, we no longer need to concern ourselves with the exact source of a consumer product-whether it’s California or Japan or Guangdong, or often enough all three. A misguided focus on the alleged harms of consumption of imported goods encourages a mercantilistic view of the world. When the public holds that view, it’s unlikely to settle for infrastructure investment as a solution. Not when the Chinese are “stealing” jobs.

Looking towards East: Spy chief on a mission to Beijing

August 1, 2011

By Kamran Yousaf

ISLAMABAD: As military ties with the United States continued to sour, the head of Pakistan’s leading intelligence agency flew to Beijing on a secret trip that is seen as part of Islamabad’s wider efforts to reduce its dependence on Washington and open a “broad-based strategic dialogue” with Beijing.

The visit by Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), comes just weeks after a trip by another senior Pakistani military commander to Beijing and on the heels of the sudden departure of the US Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) station chief in Islamabad.

Last month Lt Gen Wahid Arshad, the Chief of General Staff, undertook a week-long trip to China to discuss what the officials in Islamabad described as “the option of a strategic dialogue between the two countries on the pattern of the engagement between Pakistan and the United States.”

“General Pasha was due to leave for Beijing on Sunday evening,” disclosed a security official requesting anonymity. He would not give further details of his itinerary nor the exact nature of his trip.

The ISI has refused to confirm or deny the visit.

When approached, a senior official of the intelligence agency told The Express Tribune that such visits are classified and he cannot offer any comment on it.

The back-to-back trips by senior military and intelligence officials to China are believed to be necessitated by the simmering tensions between Pakistan and the US.

It comes amidst reports of a fresh row between Islamabad and Washington over the Pakistan government’s new restrictions on the movements of US diplomats in Pakistan and the unexpected departure of the CIA station chief.

American media reports claim that the undercover CIA station chief in Islamabad left Pakistan abruptly, ostensibly ‘on medical grounds.’ However, some reports indicate his sudden departure was part of the ongoing tension between the ISI and CIA. In recent weeks, Pakistan’s security establishment launched a crackdown against the ‘private CIA network’ and attempted to restrict the movement of American intelligence operatives in the country following the US midnight raid in Abbottabad to kill Osama bin Laden on May 2.

The outgoing CIA officer was believed to have played a central role in tracking down the world’s most wanted man.

US and Pakistani officials told the American news channel ABC they hoped the station chief’s departure would pave the way for smoother ties between the CIA and Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency, noting the departing officer had an “extremely tense” relationship with his counterparts in the ISI.

Yet Pakistani officials continue to look to Beijing, a historical ally of Islamabad and increasingly looked upon as the rising power in Asia.

“China is our long-term partner and we have very close cooperation and consultation with them on all major issues including the ongoing tension with the US,” said a military official. He said China believes in ‘quiet diplomacy’ and that was one of the reasons that Pasha’s visit was being kept under wraps.

The official said the Chinese leadership had offered Pakistan a broad-based strategic dialogue in order to help the country meet its growing needs in energy, defence, and other important fields. The move is part of a long-term plan to minimise dependence on the US, he added.

However, another official said enhanced strategic partnership with China does not necessarily mean that “we want any confrontation with the US.”

“At present we heavily rely on the US military hardware … the Americans are the main suppliers of artillery, gunships and our air defence system,” he said. “The Chinese contribution is also increasing but we cannot afford a complete breakdown of our relationship with the US.”

Why Republicans don’t fear a debt default

July 21, 2011

The United States is now two weeks away from defaulting on its debt, a scenario cast as something close to financial armageddon by everyone from President Obama to Warren Buffett.

But, a majority of Republicans in a new Pew Research Center polldon’t seem concerned. At all.

Fifty-three percent of self-identified Republicans (and 65 percent of those who say they support the tea party) said the country can go past the deadline without any serious economic consequences.

“This is a case where the messenger has become the message,” explained Republican pollster Chris Wilson. “The two groups – Wall Street and the federal government – pushing the narrative that not raising the debt ceiling would be a catastrophe are two groups that an overwhelming majority of Americans don’t trust these days.”

To back up his point, Wilson noted that Gallup’s most recent “confidence” index showed that just 12 percent of people trust Congress and less than one in five (19 percent) trust big business.

And, in a new Washington Post/Pew poll, not a single one of the major political figures involved in the debt-ceiling negotiations had the trust of a majority of Americans to do the right thing.

Cutting through all the numbers, the reality for many Republicans is that they simply don’t believe that we are on the verge of crisis, and it’s virtually impossible – given their distrust of the country’s major institutions – for anyone or anything to convince them otherwise.

It’s not hard to understand then the rapid rise in the 2012 Republican presidential field of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who not only has pledged in a television ad currently running in Iowa that she won’t vote to increase the debt ceiling under any circumstances, but has also said publicly that “we need to tell Wall Street, we need to tell Main Street, we need to not scare the American people.”

Christian Ferry, a Republican strategist who served as deputy campaign manager for Arizona Sen. John McCain‘s presidential bid in 2008, said that GOPers are fed up with what they believe to be empty warning from politicians about impending doom in the country.

“Republican voters held their nose and swallowed [the Troubled Asset Relief Program] at the end of the Bush administration and then watched powerlessly as Obama and Democrat[ic] majorities sunk us further into debt with what they see as failed and flawed policies,” said Ferry. “They are ‘mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.'”

That attitude, of course, gives Republican politicians little political incentive to find compromise before the Aug. 2 deadline. (A newCBS/New York Times poll showed just 33 percent of Republicans supportive of a debt ceiling increase, although that number has increased from16 percent in June.)

And, if the party’s leaders – men like House Speaker John Boehnerand Senate Minority LeaderMitch McConnell – do cut some kind (or, really, any kind) of deal to avoid the alleged consequences of default, they stand to be pilloried by many within their party who think the debt deadline amounts to Linus’ search for the “Great Pumpkin”.

Optimism seems to have ticked up for a compromise in the last 48 hours. But, a look at polling data alone should temper that good feeling – at least somewhat.

Bachmann has severe headaches: The Daily Caller is out with a real talker this morning. The crux of the report: Rep. Michele Bachmann(R-Minn.) suffers from severe headaches, she has been hospitalized as a result on a few occasions, and she requires lots of medication to deal with it.

Former staffers, speaking to the Daily Caller anonymously, said they are scared about what kind of impact the condition would have on Bachmann if she were to become president – hinting that she could be incapacitated during crucial moments.

It should be noted here that Bachmann has left behind some disgruntled former staff. It’s not clear whether those speaking anonymously have some sort of ax to grind.

Either way, though, it’s likely to be something she has to address in more detail.

Sessions says GOP will gain seats: With his Democratic counterpart predicting Democrats may retake the majority in 2012, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions is not to be outdone.

Sessions tells Fix friends Salena Zito and Mike Wereschagin of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he thinks his party will win 16 more seats in 2012, expanding on its current 48-seat majority.

“We’re on offense,” Sessions said.

Winning 16 more seats would be a pretty big win for Sessions, given how few genuinely competitive districts are currently in Democratic hands.

First Wisconsin recall race today: The first off nine recall electionswill be held in Wisconsin today, with state Sen. Dave Hansen(D) defending his seat against Republican David VanderLeest.

VanderLeest is not considered a serious candidate – he was the default nominee after a state House member failed to turn in enough valid signatures – so a loss by Hansen would send serious shockwaves through the state legislature.

Two other Democrats and six Republicans face their own recalls next month.

The recalls were triggered after a contentious battle over the collective bargaining rights of unions.

Fixbits:

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) making more calls in Iowa.

Perry clarifies that he wasn’t suggesting that God was calling him to run for president.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) releases his plan to cut $9 trillion over the next decade.

Bachmann calls the Ames straw poll “ground zero.”

With state Senate President Mike Haridopolos (R) out of the race,FreedomWorks backs former state representative Adam Hasner(R) to face Sen. Bill Nelson(D-Fla.).

Former Iowa first lady Christie Vilsack(D) launches her campaign against Rep. Steve King(R-Iowa).

Richard Land chides Herman Cainover Cain’s contention that local communities could ban the construction of mosques.

Cain says Mitt Romney can’t win in the South because of his Mormon religion.

Romney assures Iowans that they will see him.

Embattled Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.) is apparently the only member of the Florida GOP delegation who won’t be at an upcoming NRCC fundraiser in Miami.

A GOP businessman considers a campaign against newly vulnerable Rep. David Wu(D-Ore.).

Must-reads:

Lugar bucks Mourdock’s July swoon” – Brian Howey, Howey Political Report

GOP contenders: All together now, I pledge …” – AP

Tim Pawlenty’s secret weapon: his wife, Mary” – Amy Gardner, Washington Post

S.C. donors cool thus far to GOP presidential candidates” – Adam Beam, The State

More on PostPolitics.com

Debt ceiling crisis still eludes compromise

2Chambers: Nearly 30 percent of House skips votes as debt-limit deadline looms

Poll: Little confidence in leaders to deal with debt issue

By and

Rise of drug trade and terrorism – Fifty Years Of Drug Trafficking by CIA

June 27, 2011

Therearenosunglasses’s Weblog

Fifty Years Of Drug Trafficking by CIA and Other Government People

This site, the books referred to, the related documents, can provide the you with evidence constituting case studies revealing the following:

Understanding the mentality and culture within the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other government entities that have inflicted catastrophic harm throughout the world, with tragic consequences upon the men, women, and families of the United States. Two of the most prominent areas in which the CIA’s conduct has had catastrophic consequences for Americans have been in its 50-year history of drug smuggling into the United States, and its role in generating hatred for the United States throughout the world.

As it relates to the role of terrorism against the United States, the books, Drugging America and Defrauding America, contains sections showing how the CIA aided the acts of terrorists. Several sections in Defrauding America relate to the role of a CIA-DEA drug smuggling operation to terrorism.

Most of the current media and public attention is focused on the matter of terrorism. However, the harm to national security, the harm to the people of the United States from then arrogant and corrupt war on drugs by America’s “leaders” constitutes a greater threat, and the source of far greater harm to the people, than the threat of terrorism. The terrorism threat has been a fortuitous event for the people in key government positions that were close to being exposed for their direct or cover-up involvement in drug smuggling by people acting under cover of government positions. Those people for whom all hope is lost, sentenced to life in prison or long prison terms, can get relief if enough good people would become aware of the evidence detailed in this and related Internet sites, in lawsuits, and in the print books, Drugging America, Defrauding America, and strange as it may seem, Unfriendly Skies. In addition, if the subsequent editions in E-book format (for downloading) are read, the ties between the corrupt war on drugs and the events of September 11, 2001, will become easier to understand.

U.S. Underwrites Internet Detour Around Censors

June 14, 2011

By JAMES GLANZ and JOHN MARKOFF


Volunteers have built a wireless Internet around Jalalabad, Afghanistan, from off-the-shelf electronics and ordinary materials.

The Obama administration is leading a global effort to deploy “shadow” Internet and mobile phone systems that dissidents can use to undermine repressive governments that seek to silence them by censoring or shutting down telecommunications networks.

The effort includes secretive projects to create independent cellphone networks inside foreign countries, as well as one operation out of a spy novel in a fifth-floor shop on L Street in Washington, where a group of young entrepreneurs who look as if they could be in a garage band are fitting deceptively innocent-looking hardware into a prototype “Internet in a suitcase.”

Financed with a $2 million State Department grant, the suitcase could be secreted across a border and quickly set up to allow wireless communication over a wide area with a link to the global Internet.

The American effort, revealed in dozens of interviews, planning documents and classified diplomatic cables obtained by The New York Times, ranges in scale, cost and sophistication.

Some projects involve technology that the United States is developing; others pull together tools that have already been created by hackers in a so-called liberation-technology movement sweeping the globe.

The State Department, for example, is financing the creation of stealth wireless networks that would enable activists to communicate outside the reach of governments in countries like Iran, Syria and Libya, according to participants in the projects.

In one of the most ambitious efforts, United States officials say, the State Department and Pentagon have spent at least $50 million to create an independent cellphone network in Afghanistan using towers on protected military bases inside the country. It is intended to offset the Taliban’s ability to shut down the official Afghan services, seemingly at will.

The effort has picked up momentum since the government of President Hosni Mubarak shut down the Egyptian Internet in the last days of his rule. In recent days, the Syrian government also temporarily disabled much of that country’s Internet, which had helped protesters mobilize.

The Obama administration’s initiative is in one sense a new front in a longstanding diplomatic push to defend free speech and nurture democracy. For decades, the United States has sent radio broadcasts into autocratic countries through Voice of America and other means. More recently, Washington has supported the development of software that preserves the anonymity of users in places like China, and training for citizens who want to pass information along the government-owned Internet without getting caught.

But the latest initiative depends on creating entirely separate pathways for communication. It has brought together an improbable alliance of diplomats and military engineers, young programmers and dissidents from at least a dozen countries, many of whom variously describe the new approach as more audacious and clever and, yes, cooler.

Sometimes the State Department is simply taking advantage of enterprising dissidents who have found ways to get around government censorship. American diplomats are meeting with operatives who have been burying Chinese cellphones in the hills near the border with North Korea, where they can be dug up and used to make furtive calls, according to interviews and the diplomatic cables.

The new initiatives have found a champion in Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose department is spearheading the American effort. “We see more and more people around the globe using the Internet, mobile phones and other technologies to make their voices heard as they protest against injustice and seek to realize their aspirations,” Mrs. Clinton said in an e-mail response to a query on the topic. “There is a historic opportunity to effect positive change, change America supports,” she said. “So we’re focused on helping them do that, on helping them talk to each other, to their communities, to their governments and to the world.”

Developers caution that independent networks come with downsides: repressive governments could use surveillance to pinpoint and arrest activists who use the technology or simply catch them bringing hardware across the border. But others believe that the risks are outweighed by the potential impact. “We’re going to build a separate infrastructure where the technology is nearly impossible to shut down, to control, to surveil,” said Sascha Meinrath, who is leading the “Internet in a suitcase” project as director of the Open Technology Initiative at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan research group.

“The implication is that this disempowers central authorities from infringing on people’s fundamental human right to communicate,” Mr. Meinrath added.

The Invisible Web

In an anonymous office building on L Street in Washington, four unlikely State Department contractors sat around a table. Josh King, sporting multiple ear piercings and a studded leather wristband, taught himself programming while working as a barista. Thomas Gideon was an accomplished hacker. Dan Meredith, a bicycle polo enthusiast, helped companies protect their digital secrets.

Then there was Mr. Meinrath, wearing a tie as the dean of the group at age 37. He has a master’s degree in psychology and helped set up wireless networks in underserved communities in Detroit and Philadelphia.

The group’s suitcase project will rely on a version of “mesh network” technology, which can transform devices like cellphones or personal computers to create an invisible wireless web without a centralized hub. In other words, a voice, picture or e-mail message could hop directly between the modified wireless devices – each one acting as a mini cell “tower” and phone – and bypass the official network.

Mr. Meinrath said that the suitcase would include small wireless antennas, which could increase the area of coverage; a laptop to administer the system; thumb drives and CDs to spread the software to more devices and encrypt the communications; and other components like Ethernet cables.

The project will also rely on the innovations of independent Internet and telecommunications developers.

“The cool thing in this political context is that you cannot easily control it,” said Aaron Kaplan, an Austrian cybersecurity expert whose work will be used in the suitcase project. Mr. Kaplan has set up a functioning mesh network in Vienna and says related systems have operated in Venezuela, Indonesia and elsewhere.

Mr. Meinrath said his team was focused on fitting the system into the bland-looking suitcase and making it simple to implement – by, say, using “pictograms” in the how-to manual.

In addition to the Obama administration’s initiatives, there are almost a dozen independent ventures that also aim to make it possible for unskilled users to employ existing devices like laptops or smartphones to build a wireless network. One mesh network was created around Jalalabad, Afghanistan, as early as five years ago, using technology developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Creating simple lines of communication outside official ones is crucial, said Collin Anderson, a 26-year-old liberation-technology researcher from North Dakota who specializes in Iran, where the government all but shut down the Internet during protests in 2009. The slowdown made most “circumvention” technologies – the software legerdemain that helps dissidents sneak data along the state-controlled networks – nearly useless, he said.

“No matter how much circumvention the protesters use, if the government slows the network down to a crawl, you can’t upload YouTube videos or Facebook postings,” Mr. Anderson said. “They need alternative ways of sharing information or alternative ways of getting it out of the country.”

That need is so urgent, citizens are finding their own ways to set up rudimentary networks. Mehdi Yahyanejad, an Iranian expatriate and technology developer who co-founded a popular Persian-language Web site, estimates that nearly half the people who visit the site from inside Iran share files using Bluetooth – which is best known in the West for running wireless headsets and the like. In more closed societies, however, Bluetooth is used to discreetly beam information – a video, an electronic business card – directly from one cellphone to another.

Mr. Yahyanejad said he and his research colleagues were also slated to receive State Department financing for a project that would modify Bluetooth so that a file containing, say, a video of a protester being beaten, could automatically jump from phone to phone within a “trusted network” of citizens. The system would be more limited than the suitcase but would only require the software modification on ordinary phones.

By the end of 2011, the State Department will have spent some $70 million on circumvention efforts and related technologies, according to department figures.

Mrs. Clinton has made Internet freedom into a signature cause. But the State Department has carefully framed its support as promoting free speech and human rights for their own sake, not as a policy aimed at destabilizing autocratic governments.

That distinction is difficult to maintain, said Clay Shirky, an assistant professor at New York University who studies the Internet and social media. “You can’t say, ‘All we want is for people to speak their minds, not bring down autocratic regimes’ – they’re the same thing,” Mr. Shirky said.

He added that the United States could expose itself to charges of hypocrisy if the State Department maintained its support, tacit or otherwise, for autocratic governments running countries like Saudi Arabia or Bahrain while deploying technology that was likely to undermine them.

Shadow Cellphone System

In February 2009, Richard C. Holbrooke and Lt. Gen. John R. Allen were taking a helicopter tour over southern Afghanistan and getting a panoramic view of the cellphone towers dotting the remote countryside, according to two officials on the flight. By then, millions of Afghans were using cellphones, compared with a few thousand after the 2001 invasion. Towers built by private companies had sprung up across the country. The United States had promoted the network as a way to cultivate good will and encourage local businesses in a country that in other ways looked as if it had not changed much in centuries.

There was just one problem, General Allen told Mr. Holbrooke, who only weeks before had been appointed special envoy to the region. With a combination of threats to phone company officials and attacks on the towers, the Taliban was able to shut down the main network in the countryside virtually at will. Local residents report that the networks are often out from 6 p.m. until 6 a.m., presumably to enable the Taliban to carry out operations without being reported to security forces.

The Pentagon and State Department were soon collaborating on the project to build a “shadow” cellphone system in a country where repressive forces exert control over the official network.

Details of the network, which the military named the Palisades project, are scarce, but current and former military and civilian officials said it relied in part on cell towers placed on protected American bases. A large tower on the Kandahar air base serves as a base station or data collection point for the network, officials said.

A senior United States official said the towers were close to being up and running in the south and described the effort as a kind of 911 system that would be available to anyone with a cellphone.

By shutting down cellphone service, the Taliban had found a potent strategic tool in its asymmetric battle with American and Afghan security forces.

The United States is widely understood to use cellphone networks in Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries for intelligence gathering. And the ability to silence the network was also a powerful reminder to the local populace that the Taliban retained control over some of the most vital organs of the nation.

When asked about the system, Lt. Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for the American-led International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, would only confirm the existence of a project to create what he called an “expeditionary cellular communication service” in Afghanistan. He said the project was being carried out in collaboration with the Afghan government in order to “restore 24/7 cellular access.”

“As of yet the program is not fully operational, so it would be premature to go into details,” Colonel Dorrian said.

Colonel Dorrian declined to release cost figures. Estimates by United States military and civilian officials ranged widely, from $50 million to $250 million. A senior official said that Afghan officials, who anticipate taking over American bases when troops pull out, have insisted on an elaborate system. “The Afghans wanted the Cadillac plan, which is pretty expensive,” the official said.

Broad Subversive Effort

In May 2009, a North Korean defector named Kim met with officials at the American Consulate in Shenyang, a Chinese city about 120 miles from North Korea, according to a diplomatic cable. Officials wanted to know how Mr. Kim, who was active in smuggling others out of the country, communicated across the border. “Kim would not go into much detail,” the cable says, but did mention the burying of Chinese cellphones “on hillsides for people to dig up at night.” Mr. Kim said Dandong, China, and the surrounding Jilin Province “were natural gathering points for cross-border cellphone communication and for meeting sources.” The cellphones are able to pick up signals from towers in China, said Libby Liu, head of Radio Free Asia, the United States-financed broadcaster, who confirmed their existence and said her organization uses the calls to collect information for broadcasts as well.

The effort, in what is perhaps the world’s most closed nation, suggests just how many independent actors are involved in the subversive efforts. From the activist geeks on L Street in Washington to the military engineers in Afghanistan, the global appeal of the technology hints at the craving for open communication.

In a chat with a Times reporter via Facebook, Malik Ibrahim Sahad, the son of Libyan dissidents who largely grew up in suburban Virginia, said he was tapping into the Internet using a commercial satellite connection in Benghazi. “Internet is in dire need here. The people are cut off in that respect,” wrote Mr. Sahad, who had never been to Libya before the uprising and is now working in support of rebel authorities. Even so, he said, “I don’t think this revolution could have taken place without the existence of the World Wide Web.”

Reporting was contributed by Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Andrew W. Lehren from New York, and Alissa J. Rubin and Sangar Rahimi from Kabul, Afghanistan.