I’ve already noted how pundits are misrepresenting the current diplomatic moves regarding Iran’s nuclear program – some of them radically so – but something few Western commentators discuss is why Iran wants The Bomb. Since, no matter what they say, Tehran certainly aspires to be a member of the nuclear weapons club eventually. That is a select group of countries and getting membership puts you in a different category, internationally speaking. Given how much pain Iran has endured over its nuclear enrichment program – sanctions, economic degradation, international isolation, to say nothing of cyberattacks and assassinations – it’s clear someone in the regime’s leadership thinks nukes are worth a great deal indeed.
And they may be right. So today I want to discuss why Iranians want nuclear weapons. Now, they could be wrong in wanting The Bomb. As my colleague Tom Nichols has explained at length, the United States has overvalued the actual strategic worth of nuclear weapons for so long that many countries have joined the atomic bandwagon, at great economic and political expense, perhaps without thinking it through all the way.
To be clear, I’m not talking about Twelver Shia fanatics who get off on fantasies of ending the Zionist project with a mushroom cloud – there are powerful and prominent Jews who publicly fantasize about nuking Iran, so it’s not altogether surprising there are notable Iranians who do the opposite – nor am I discussing Iranians who think bringing on armageddon is a great way to make the Hidden Imam reveal himself.
I’m talking about reality-based Iranians who have a grasp of strategy, meaning a sense of how power works in their region. It’s easy to forget that the Persians have lived in their neighborhood for a long, long time, and they know everybody and everybody knows them. Remember the movie 300? That’s these guys.
I teach strategy to mid-career and senior military officers from my country and many others, and though I claim no special insight into the Persian strategic mind, I can look at a map and I think I understand the intersection of ends, ways and means that we call strategy. So here’s how it looks to me, and I suspect to a lot of non-fanatical Iranians too.
From Tehran, I look to the north and see a country that, on a good day, can be termed a frenemy. We’ve got a lot of bad history with the Russians, some quite recent, and while they aren’t a direct strategic threat to us, neither are they to be trusted, not even for a moment.
To the west it looks somewhat better, since Iraq is now ruled by a Shia-dominated government that is filled with politicos who are beholden to us to one degree or another. Our spies operate in Baghdad pretty freely. But Iraq is still an American colony in military terms, and the Americans took out Saddam when he got on their nerves, so presumably they can unseat the current government if they feel like it too.
To the east, the Great Satan actually does occupy the country, and despite the fact that our interests and America’s interests align almost eerily well in Afghanistan – something the geniuses in Washington, DC, have a hard time seeing, somehow – this creates strategic vulnerabilities for us. We’re sandwiched in, in other words.
And our access to the outside world – it’s the Persian Gulf, don’t forget, no matter what the Arabs say – is completely bottled up by the American fleet, which we can only challenge with small boats filled with fanatics bent on martyrdom. We have no real naval power, so we are at the mercy of the Great Satan here, and there’s really nothing we can do about it.
A bit further to the south you’ve got the weird, malignant family firm called Saudi Arabia, which is obsessed with us – ok, we’re obsessed with them too – and bankrolls all our enemies, everywhere. The House of Saud will eventually collapse when the money runs out, they’ll go back to the camels they were riding when Persia was already a great civilization, but that won’t be as soon as we’d like. It’s especially worrying that Riyadh now is cozying up to the Zionists.
We certainly don’t forget about them. It’s a small country but they have hundreds of nuclear weapons, and their ex-commando prime minister seems to enjoy reminding us of how much he wants to bomb our country. Their relationship with the Americans is complicated – we’re never entirely sure who’s the tail and who’s the dog there – but we take it as a given that the Israelis are out to get us. Never take your eyes off them.
Most of all, we noticed that you need a nuclear weapon because it’s the only guarantee that the Americans won’t kick off Operation PERSIAN FREEDOM anytime they feel like it. You’d have to be an idiot not to notice this, as it’s the clear lesson of the last decade, when President Bush read the notes written up by that weird Canadian and coined the “Axis of Evil.” You may not remember that one, but we certainly do, and we noticed that the Iraqi regime, which lacked a nuclear weapon (by the way, it was really stupid of Saddam to make everyone think he almost had The Bomb – don’t feel bad, he fooled us too), got taken out, while the North Koreans, who are much nuttier than Saddam or even our oddest ayatollahs, got left alone, as Pyongyang has The Bomb.
So we got it. Getting a nuclear weapon means security and therefore is worth the enormous political and economic cost to get one. We also understand that we must never, ever trust the Americans, because if you agree to give up your nuclear program and cease support for liberation movements (which the West calls “terrorists”), you’ll eventually get sold down the river and wind up half-naked in a sewage ditch, shot in the head by a gold-plated pistol. The Americans don’t even go to bat for longtime friends like Mubarak, do you really think their word is good when they already hate you?
No thanks, we’ll keep working on nuclear enrichment, we’ll play the diplomatic game as long as necessary. We want the sanctions lifted, so we may even agree to some pretty serious restrictions on our nuclear program, but we’ll never give it up entirely. Somehow the Americans and their friends have forgotten that the Shah also wanted The Bomb, as the CIA was aware, because he could read a map too, his friendship with the Americans and Zionists notwithstanding. A lot of Iranians who despise the mullahs and wish the Shah were still running the country want nuclear weapons as well. It’s not complicated, really. It would be nice if foreigners understood this.
Having watched several NATO partners get skewered by selectively sourced press stories alleging nefarious espionage activities, all care of the defector Edward Snowden, Denmark has done a smart thing and let its foreign intelligence service get ahead of the Snowden Operation, before they, too, become a target. Copenhagen’s move is likely driven by the recent move by their neighbor Norway, which corrected significant inaccuracies in Snowden-based reporting about Norwegian intelligence.
In an interview with the Copenhagen daily Politiken, the head of the Danish Defense Intelligence Service (Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste, FE for short), Thomas Ahrenkiel provides never-before-heard details about what his agency does in the realm of signals intelligence (SIGINT). Ahrenkiel admits that his service on a monthly basis “registers millions of pieces of information” – a reference to what NSA terms metadata – in support of Danish national interests and Danish troops abroad, and some of that is shared with allies. Discussion of FE SIGINT activities supporting Danish forces abroad is an apparent reference to the 300 Danish troops currently serving with ISAF in Afghanistan, but Ahrenkiel did not confirm that.
Since FE expects Denmark to soon be targeted by the Snowden Operation as Norway recently was, including allegations about SIGINT metadata, Ahrenkiel’s interview is an effort to correct what he terms “misunderstandings” that the leaks have created about what NATO intelligence services actually do. As the FE director explains, “this is not a matter of large-scale American surveillance of Danish mobile telephones.”
While I suspect that the sensation-driven Snowden media spectacle that’s being sustained by activists masquerading as journalists will still target Denmark despite this lucid explanation, it’s an encouraging sign that Copenhagen understands the stakes in this game and wants to cut short the worst lies about what FE does. I‘ve encouraged NSA leadership to do the same and, since Glenn Greenwald and others in the Wikileaks circle have assured us that more, and worse, is coming about NSA and Allied operations, it’s time to get ahead of this now in the public eye. The Danes have broken the proverbial code here, NSA and its partners need to do likewise.
Here we go again. American pundits of the neocon variety are denouncing the new Iranian nuclear deal as “another Munich” if not actually “worse than Munich.” Every few years, American op-ed writers of a certain ideological predilection – often neocon, sometimes neolib, it’s always neo-something – get themselves into a lather about a new “Munich.”
By which they do not mean a nice city that serves as the capital of Bavaria and has great pretzels plus the Oktoberfest. No, they are referring to the infamous September 1938 agreement, brokered by London and Paris, that gave the majority-German regions of western Czechoslovakia to Hitler in exchange for avoiding a European war that Hitler had threatened over Bohemia. A war which Europe got a year later over Poland, not Czechoslovakia.
I’m a historian, so I care about historical analogies, especially when they are misused for political effect. Actual historians have debated the Munich agreement since the ink was barely dry and the initial verdict, that it represented a hazardous sellout by the British especially, has been challenged by revisionists (which, by the way, is entirely legitimate historical term, as long as “Holocaust” isn’t attached to it) who note that the British military was profoundly unready for war in autumn 1938, and the extra year that Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain bought at Munich made a big difference when the war actually came.
But I’m not here to have that debate, as interesting as it may be. Instead, my purpose today is to explain how awful an analogy “Munich” is to apply to the new, temporary deal between the major powers and Iran over its budding nuclear program. The analogy posits Israel as a new Czechoslovakia, being sold down the river by faithless friends to the Nazis who, here, are the Iranians.
This analogy has a bit of superficial plausibility, since the Islamic Republic of Iran is notorious for its vehement opposition to Israel and Zionism. Even though its current president, unlike his predecessor, isn’t hosting Holocaust denial conferences anymore, nobody can doubt just how much Tehran despises Israel. Hitler despised the Czechs too, and did away with their state as quickly as he could.
But Czechoslovakia was low-hanging fruit for Berlin because, notwithstanding the fact that its military had made some serious preparations for war, helped by the fact that Bohemia had the Skoda Works, one of the finest heavy industrial firms in Europe, Prague’s forces really had little chance to stand up to the Wehrmacht and win. As created by the victorious Allies in 1918, Czechoslovakia had more Germans than Slovaks, and few of them would fight for a Czech-dominated state, while some formed an active Fifth Column. Plus not many Slovaks were willing to die for Prague either. The Czechoslovak military looked impressive on paper but its ability to resist a German invasion for long was limited. To top it off, the Czech leadership – unlike Poland’s which a year later would stand up to Hitler, against even worse odds, and pay the price – lacked courage and conviction. It’s not surprising that London and Paris were unwilling to go to the wall for leaders in Prague who were quaking in fear already.
So, in military terms is Israel in 2013 like Czechoslovakia in 1938? In fact, the contrast could not be more stark. In purely conventional terms, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) has never been stronger compared to its adversaries across the Middle East. Iran is a weakling in conventional forces, while its asymmetric threats, though impressive, can be effectively countered by Israel if they want to. An existential threat they are not. Moreover, Tehran’s Hizballah cut-outs are busy with the Syrian war right now and don’t pose much of a threat to Israel as long as that conflict endures.
The nuclear issue must be mentioned. Israel sits atop a nuclear arsenal that is large by anyone’s standards and simply vast by regional ones. None believe Israel has much less than a hundred nuclear warheads, and many think the number is several times that many: a round figure around 200 is a safe guess. Plus the IDF possesses a full nuclear triad with air-dropped bombs, ballistic missiles, and nuclear-tipped cruise missiles launched from submarines which give Israel a serious second-strike capability. And whether you buy the notion of the so-called Samson Option or not, no serious analyst doubts that Israel would go nuclear in extremis. Had Czechoslovakia’s military position been anything resembling Israel’s today, there would have been no need for a Munich agreement in the first place, as Prague would have defeated any German move handily, all by itself.
This is not meant to downplay the threat of the Iranian bomb, which is real. The mullah regime, besotted with a vehemently hateful ideology, remains an enemy of the West, not just Israel, and every measure short of war that can delay its reaching weaponization of anything nuclear is good and necessary. But it merits noting that the current agreement is temporary and really constitutes a deal to arrange a more permanent deal, as all sides have admitted. So let’s give diplomacy a chance here, as pretty much everyone outside Likudnik circles in Israel and abroad wants.
Besides, it’s important to note that diplomacy combined with what I term “special war” have actually done a pretty commendable job to date at keeping Tehran away from the nuclear threshold. Concerns about Iran joining the nuclear weapons club were acute in Washington, DC, a full fifteen years ago, and I recall sitting in briefings back in the late 1990s that confidently warned that Tehran was but months away from having The Bomb. Which is pretty much where they are today.
That there has been less Iranian progress towards its nuclear arsenal, despite the fact that the regime is ardently in favor of getting The Bomb (no matter what they say in public), is a testament to the power of Western diplomatic pressure combined with sanctions, occasional military threats, plus effective covert action of various kinds. So let’s keep all that up and try to get Tehran to agree to a permanent deal that will prevent the regime from getting much closer to nuclear weaponization than they are at present.
I’m not necessarily confident we can get there within six months, but I am quite confident that the regional military calculus won’t change soon either. I am, however, sure that the “Munich” analogy bears absolutely no resemblance to what is going on in the Middle East now, and ought to be shelved, perhaps permanently. Operation PERSIAN FREEDOM is not on the table, no matter what overheated pundits tell you, so let the diplomats and spies do what they do and win their quiet victories over Tehran.
That the National Security Agency needs reform in the aftermath of the politically disastrous Snowden Operation seems unquestionable. As I’ve laid out in my open letter to my former employer, NSA needs to build trust with the American public, and fast, as well as prevent another Snowden-like catastrophe from ever happening again.
It’s known that NSA Director (DIRNSA) General Keith Alexander, USA – the longest-serving Director in the Agency’s history – will be out in the spring, along with his deputy, Chris Inglis. Which is good and, in my opinion, long overdue. It’s been suggested that it’s time to civilianize the DIRNSA position, perhaps making new directors subject to Senate approval. If we go that route, Congress may want to consider fixed, ten-year terms, non-renewable, as with the FBI’s directorship. However, any discussion of reforming the DIRNSA job and who holds it ought to be accompanied by a reality-based discussion of how NSA works at high levels. So here it is, you won’t be getting it anywhere else.
Since its establishment in 1952 as America’s unified signals intelligence (SIGINT) and information security (INFOSEC) organization as an independent agency under the Pentagon, NSA has been headed by a top general or admiral. This was partly tradition, and partly a realization that NSA is, after all, a combat support agency of DoD. The first DIRNSA was Major General Ralph Canine, USA, who put quite an imprint on the place, serving four years; after Canine, directors have held three stars, until GEN Alexander, who added a fourth star as he is dual-hatted as Commander, U.S. Cyber Command (whether that should continue with the next DIRNSA is also something rightly up for discussion, but I’ll save that for another day).
There have been good DIRNSAs and bad DIRNSAs: my choice for the best was Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, who headed the place during the difficult years in the aftermath of the 1970s Congressional bloodbath over intelligence reform. The director’s job has rotated among the Army, Navy, and Air Force, though Alexander is the first Army DIRNSA since the 1980s – before him, the job was held by two Navy admirals and two Air Force generals, back-to-back – since the last green-suited director, LTG William Odom (1985-88), was almost universally considered to have been a disaster in the job.
Most DIRNSAs served three to four years. General Mike Hayden, USAF, oversaw fundamental reforms of the Agency during his unprecedentedly long six-year tenure (1999-2005), moving on to take over CIA after, while his successor has held the director’s post for an astonishing eight years and counting. This is undeniably part of the problem.
What’s important to understand here is that, until relatively recently, the director was, if not a figurehead, then not entirely the real boss of NSA. By tradition, much power was invested in the Deputy Director (DDIR), who is always a civilian. Many deputies have had a military background, such as the current DDIR, who is a graduate of the Air Force Academy as well as a retired one-star general in the Air National Guard, but the basic idea was the DDIR serves as the institutional memory, who can hold the job for years, while directors come and go.
The man who basically created the DDIR position was Louis Tordella, who held the job from 1958 to 1974, an astonishing sixteen years. It was no secret that Tordella, a strong personality, had the ability to stonewall bad ideas from the director, and he could always just wait out any DIRNSA he didn’t like. It needs to be noted that DIRNSAs have not always been intelligence officers and their level of knowledge of what NSA actually does could not necessarily be assumed. As the wise old hand, the DDIR was able to offer wisdom accrued during decades in the cryptologic business, as well as serve as an advocate for NSA’s civilian workforce.
Nobody would serve as DDIR anywhere near as long as Tordella, but the basic concept of the DIRNSA-DDIR relationship remained the same until General Hayden showed up in 1999. Before long, his deputy, Barbara McNamara – known as “BAM” at the Agency, a respected career analyst who had served as the Deputy Director for Operations, i.e. the SIGINT boss – was shunted off to London as the Agency representative to GCHQ, as she was perceived as standing in the way of Hayden’s desired reforms.
Hayden, a career Air Force intelligence officer, came to Fort Meade on a mission to shake up the Agency and modernize it, which was unquestionably necessary. However, some of his bull-in-china-shop methods alienated much of NSA’s civilian old guard, not least because he installed as DDIR Bill Black, a career NSA civilian who had already retired from the Agency and gone to cash in with defense contractors; during his six-year stint as deputy, Black was considered by many to be too pliant to Hayden’s wishes. The tradition that a civilian DDIR could block bad – and possibly unethical or illegal – ideas suggested by the director had been lost, with fateful consequences.
It’s fashionable to condemn old guards but the reality is that the generation of senior NSA civilians shunted aside since 1999, of which “BAM” can serve as a stand-in here, had made their careers after the post-1970s reforms and jealously guarded the notion that NSA was a law-abiding organization above all else.
It’s clear that GEN Alexander has kept his superiors at the Pentagon and the White House happy with his expansion of the Agency’s intelligence empire into many spheres, overseeing its growth in what some have termed “the golden age of SIGINT.” Yet this has also come with unprecedented controversy, with NSA facing scandal and uproar of the likes it’s never seen. Alexander’s near-decade tenure as DIRNSA will be remembered more for the Snowden scandal than anything else.
There are many lessons to be learned from how NSA has been run for the last fifteen years, some of which can already be discerned with clarity. Civilianization of the director’s job may help, but it’s no panacea either; this, too, will create challenges. That said, it’s abundantly clear that empire-building generals can create havoc in bureaucracies to ill effect. “Old-think” bureaucrats are a figure of derision to some, but they can also serve as a needed obstacle to “daring” new ideas that are actually stupid if not flat-out illegal.
Like Cher, we cannot turn back time, no matter how much we may want to, and NSA isn’t returning to the old system that worked for decades. The Agency needs a new model of leadership for the 21st century, learning the painful lessons of the Snowden debacle. It’s impossible to say as yet what the new DIRNSA-DDIR system will look like, but I’m glad it’s being publicly discussed, as it ought to be. Who runs America’s vast SIGINT empire, and how, is a matter the public has a right to be informed about.
PS: If you want to sound like part of the Fort Meade in-crowd, note that DIRNSA is pronounced “Durn-sah” while DDIR rolls off the SIGINTer’s tongue as “Dee-Dur”: emphasis for both is on the first syllable.
I regularly get asked, often by soi disant journalists online, if I have “evidence” that Edward Snowden is under Kremlin control. To me – or to anyone familiar with counterintelligence or Russia, or both – that question is a sign of something resembling stupidity. Let’s be honest: if you don’t think that Ed’s under the control of Russian security services after he’s spent five months in Putin’s republic, you’re pretty clueless about how that place works, perhaps willfully. That’s five months during which media have never – not once – been allowed near Ed without a significant junket of bulky-looking guys around him. I’ve been saying from the moment Snowden landed at Moscow that Russian intelligence is part of the picture, and that clearly bothers some people a great deal.
There’s a good piece by Al Jazeera out now that looks this issue squarely in the eye. It kicks off by stating what all intelligence agencies know, as I’ve previously reported, that Snowden “remains under Russian security services’ protection.” The piece has lots of good insights, and I want to applaud AJ for looking into this issue in a way that most Western media outlets seem reluctant to do. It quotes Yuri Felshtinsky, a Russian journalist who’s been a thorn in the FSB’s side for years: “The irony is that Snowden, who was fighting for freedom of information, actually became a major tool in hiding this information. He is going to keep quiet now about what he knows and about what he told to the FSB.”
Of course, Westerners – some of them Useful Idiots – will pretend that Putin’s security services have nothing to do with Snowden, because that’s what Planet Greenwald and Wikileaks have told them. With straight faces. The truth is another matter. If you wish to persist in believing that Snowden has nothing to do with Russian intelligence, you will need to accept an extraordinary number of, shall we say, coincidences.
Counterintelligence officers are famous for saying there are no coincidences. That’s not true, they sometimes happen. But the Official Narrative of Edward Snowden – that he is a pure-hearted whistleblower who just wanted to help the cause of freedom yet somehow wound up in Moscow through no agency of his own, where he now lives freely without any Kremlin interference – requires you to swallow a whole list of coincidences that, to anyone remotely familiar with intelligence (or even the world as it actually exists), is daunting. I’ll mention a few, I won’t pretend this is a comprehensive list; add more in the comments if you have them:
It’s a coincidence … that Snowden got in contact with Wikileaks.
It’s a coincidence … that Wikileaks claimed to have stolen information from Russian intelligence that it never exposed.
It’s a coincidence … that Wikileaks’ point man on Russian affairs, who is one of Julian Assange’s best friends, is a Kremlin mouthpiece (as well as a nut-fringe anti-Semite).
It’s a coincidence … that Julian Assange has a TV show on Russian state media.
It’s a coincidence … that Ed and the whole Greenwald/Wikileaks circle has acted in a manner completely consistent with longstanding Kremlin espionage tradecraft (e.g. Active Measures).
It’s a coincidence … that of the thousands of pages of U.S. and Allied intelligence information stolen by Snowden and published around the world, none of it reveals Russian security matters.
It’s a coincidence … that Edward celebrated his 30th birthday with Russian “diplomats” in their consulate in Hong Kong.
It’s a coincidence … that Snowden’s lawyer, who controls his access to the outside world, is a public advocate for the FSB and Russian intelligence.
It’s a coincidence … that if you’re one of the lucky few who actually gets to meet with Snowden at his undisclosed Russian location, you’re taken there in black-windowed vehicles in a convoy.
It’s a coincidence … that, even if you get to meet Ed, you’ll never be allowed a second alone with him, as his bulky minders (who’s paying for them, anyway? I thought Wikileaks was broke) never leave his side.
Above all, the Official Narrative requires you to believe that although literally every single Western defector to the Soviet Union and Russia for a full century now was extensively interrogated by Kremlin spies and placed under their “protection” as long as they were in the country, it’s completely different with Edward Snowden. If you actually believe that, I hope you also put your fallen-out teeth under your pillow at night, in the expectation the Tooth Fairy will reimburse you.
In recent days, the international propaganda operation fueled by classified documents stolen by Edward Snowden has taken aim at Australia, which is a longstanding member of the Anglosphere’s “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance. Allegations that the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), the local SIGINT agency that partners with NSA, has spied on Indonesia, including its political leadership, have caused heartburn in Jakarta.
Indonesia has recalled its ambassador from Canberra and cancelled joint military exercises. Of perhaps greater significance, the Snowden revelations have placed anti-terrorism cooperation between the two countries in jeopardy, a major problem given how much Australia worries about any rise in violent extremism in its huge neighbor to the North. There is more than a little hokum and faux outrage in Jakarta’s reaction, not least because Indonesia spies on Australia too, including in SIGINT, but the political damage inflicted to date seems real, if not likely permanent.
Yet even short-term damage can cause serious pain to both sides. Not least because Indonesia is highly dependent on Australian intelligence, especially ASD SIGINT, to keep its domestic extremists and terrorists in check. This is causing serious worry in the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO), the country’s domestic security service, charged with counterterrorism and counterintelligence. The real world of espionage is far more complicated than the cheap moralizing of Planet Greenwald would have you believe. Just how messy this all is, and why the Snowden damage matters, is conveyed nicely in a detailed report in The Australian, a Sydney daily, which I reproduce here:
More than 300 convicted terrorists will be released from Indonesian prisons in the next 12 months, posing a renewed terror threat to both Australians and Indonesians at a time when the spy scandal threatens to derail intelligence co-operation between the two countries.
However, as the fallout from the Snowden leaks intensified, with Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announcing the suspension of some intelligence sharing arrangements, there was no immediate indication which areas of counter-terror co-operation would be effected. Dr Yudhoyono announced yesterday co-operation with Australia would be downgraded across a range of areas – mainly people-smuggling – but also military co-operation and intelligence sharing.
“I will instruct (officials) to halt some co-operation that is called exchange of information and exchange of intelligence among our two countries,” the Indonesian President said.
The announcement represented a major escalation in the spy scandal and came at a time when ASIO is deeply concerned by the looming release of the terrorists whose sentences are up. ASIO fears the release of the militants – including some involved in the bomb attacks on Australians in Jakarta and Bali between 2002 and 2009 – will re-energise terror networks that had been largely defeated thanks to joint intelligence and police co-operation between Australia and Indonesia.
Australia has 30 Australian Federal Police officers based in Indonesia working with local authorities, mainly on anti-people-smuggling and counter terrorism operations. It is understood about a dozen of those officers work on people-smuggling, a relatively low-order issue for Jakarta and one where co-operation may be downgraded with little cost to Indonesia but considerable pain to Australia, which in the past two months has ramped up its efforts to disrupt smuggling ventures.
But insiders say there could not be a worse time to suspend intelligence co-operation between the two countries because it would limit the ability of Australian and Indonesian agencies to monitor those released prisoners, some of whom are likely to resume jihadist activities against their own citizens and Western tourists.
The joint counter-terror co-operation between the two countries, which has been the key to capturing the Bali bombers and dismantling the deadly Jeemah Islamiah terror network, appeared to be under threat last night after the chief of Indonesia’s national intelligence agency BIN, Marciano Norman, was called to the Presidential Palace to discuss the security co-operation ramifications of the Australian crisis.
Australian intelligence, including information gleaned by the Australian Signals Directorate, remains a key part of Indonesia’s war against Islamic extremism. One insider said yesterday Indonesia’s fight against Islamic extremism had always relied “enormously” on intelligence supplied by Australian agencies – including the ASD, the successor of the Defence Signals Directorate, which allegedly intercepted Dr Yudhoyono’s mobile phone.
“The arrest and prosecution of the original Bali bombers couldn’t have happened without Australian intelligence support,” The Australian was told. ”When (then prime minister John) Howard went up three or four days after the bombing he took with them the heads of the intelligence agencies and said, ‘You’ve got carte blanche’.”
Others say that if this sort of co-operation was suspended as a result of the spy scandal, it would create a law enforcement vacuum and an opportunity for Islamic extremists to regroup and once again target Indonesians and Australians in Bali and Jakarta.
ASIO fears Indonesian terror groups, including JI, could become more active when about 300 out of 830 convicted and imprisoned terrorists are released over the next year having served their sentences for crimes carried out over the past decade. It is feared that many of terrorists are likely to resume extremist activities, especially because Indonesian prisons are considered to be hothouses for extremist teachings.
“The impending release of terrorist detainees from Indonesian prisons, a spike of which is expected to occur in 2014 is likely to increase this (terror) threat,” ASIO warned in its recently released annual report. “Many of the individuals scheduled to be released in this period have undertaken terrorist training or have been linked to, or involved in, bombings against either Western of local targets.
“Their release is likely to inject significant capability into extremist networks. The expertise and anti-Western credentials of some individuals have the potential to refocus and reinvigorate currently diffuse and relatively unsophisticated extremist networks.”
Greg Barton, an Indonesia expert at Melbourne’s Monash University, said the release of so many prisoners in one year was ‘a big concern”. ”While we don’t have a clear picture of recidivism rates, it is safe to assume that some will still be quite sympathetic to (extremism) and that some will go back to operations,” Professor Barton told The Australian.
In recent years Jakarta’s counter-terrorism capacity had become more sophisticated and other countries, including the US, were beginning to play a greater role in assisting the Indonesians, reducing Jakarta’s dependence on Australian intelligence and expertise.
But Australia was still Indonesia’s main partner in the fight against local extremism. In addition to intelligence about extremists, Australia is understood to have gifted the Indonesians a raft of equipment, such as long-range surveillance microphones, cameras and night vision equipment. Australia also supplies technical expertise in areas such as computer exploitation, for example extracting information from laptops seized from extremists.
One wonders how well Indonesian intelligence will fare against extremists and terrorists without the reporting and technical assistance of the ASD. I’m afraid we’re going to find out the hard way. Let’s hope those 300 soon-to-be released Indonesian terrorists have spent their time in prison learning and embracing that “jihad is love” (as non-violent Salafis like to put it), because otherwise bad things seem sure to follow.
The last half-year has seen a remarkable and unprecedented rise in the foreign policy fortunes of Vladimir Putin, at the expense of the United States and some of its key allies. My colleague Tom Nichols and I explained how President Obama’s flip-flop on Syria – first advocating intervention after the Assad regime crossed the White House’s “redline,” then backing away from the conflict – effectively handed control of the situation to Putin. The subsequent loss of American power and prestige in the Middle East, which was met with some skepticism, seems to have been borne out by events this autumn.
Moreover, the defection of Edward Snowden to Moscow in June has offered the Kremlin even more opportunities to weaken America’s international image and cause rifts in the Western alliance – all long-term goals of the Kremlin’s. I’ve elaborated at length Moscow’s interest here in exploiting this epic American counterintelligence fail for Russian benefit, and events seem to be bearing that out, quite painfully for Washington, DC. That Snowden is controlled by the Kremlin is increasingly evident, and it can be expected that the geopolitical pain emanating from this case will continue to win political points for Moscow for some time.
It’s not just old counterspies and Kremlin-watchers like myself and Nichols who say this, now the Russians are saying the same thing publicly. A recent article in the Moscow daily Izvestiya is revealing. Authored by the well-known foreign policy commentator Boris Mezhuyev, who is politically well connected in Moscow, the piece is tellingly titled, “We’re World Champions! How Russia and its President Won the Global Political Influence Championship,” and elaborates just how good a year 2013 has turned out to be for the Kremlin on the world stage.
Noting that Putin was named the world’s most powerful person by Forbes magazine, Mezhuyev observes, “This year has indeed turned out to be very successful for Russia as an international player and for its leader.” Adding that Russia’s foreign policy fortunes were middling in the first half of 2013, he notes that things turned around dramatically thanks to Syria and Snowden, and America’s fumbling of both issues.
Characterizing Putin’s master play on Syria, “he completely changes the entire situation. Then the world order that was hostile to us collapses like a house of cards.” The Damascus gambit has indeed been a game-changer for Moscow, since now countries across the Greater Middle East are seeking the Kremlin’s input and even leadership: “This opened up the possibility for the United States to begin peace talks with Iran, and here too our role is more than significant,” Mezhuyev adds, gloating a bit about Putin’s “Eurasian” concept finally becoming a reality, while harming the long-term alliance between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.
“But that is still not all,” he explains: “The revelations of Snowden, who has taken refuge in Russia, are fracturing the formerly cloudless trusting relations between the United States and its European allies,” he adds, twisting the knife a tad, if not unfairly, as he observes Moscow’s strategic intent. Russia’s windfall from Snowden keeps mounting and spreading: “The House of Representatives, humiliated by Obama, together with the Senate, is now prepared to launch an investigation of the National Security Agency’s arbitrary actions, and this very combination of events increases the chance of victory within the Republican Party of the more Russia-friendly anti-interventionist wing [of the GOP]. In this situation, Obama has been forced to apologize to [German Chancellor] Merkel, and naturally they are both falling in the polls.” Almost pinching himself, he adds, “To be honest, I do not remember a time in the last two centuries of Russian history when we have been so fantastically lucky.”
And Mezhuyev may well be right. Over the last six months, a series of American foreign policy missteps combined with cunning Russian moves have indeed changed the international playing field in several key areas which cannot be construed as anything less than disastrous for the United States and the West. It’s time we accept what’s really going on, and work to gain back the diplomatic and political ground that’s been lost so suddenly. Washington’s loss isn’t Moscow’s irrevocable gain – yet.