Canada’s Big Beta Spy Scandal

Canada is a very nice country, indeed one of the nicest in the world (I used to live there, I certify that), but not exactly … exciting. Considering how big a country and economy Canada is, globally speaking, not to mention its proximity to the United States, it’s amazing how little Our Neighbor to the North charts in American news.

The New Republic‘s former editor Michael Kinsley back in the 1980s came up with a real DC knee-slapper with what he termed the most boring headline in world history: “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative.” That was Kinsley’s first, and last, Canadian joke, since he abandoned the Potomac in the mid-1990s for Seattle and, like that other resident of the Pacific Northwest, Bigfoot, he’s not been reliably sighted since. But his humor struck a nerve because, let’s face it, Canada’s so nice and tranquil that it’s something of a snoozefest, newswise.

Sure, Canada has a military, in fact a rather respectable one these days under the government  of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is the first resident of 24 Sussex Drive (“1600 Pennsylvania Avenue” in Canadian) in decades who thinks the country ought to have a real and properly funded military. Canada, on a per capita basis, has lost more killed in Afghanistan since 2002 than the U.S.

Canada has intelligence services too, even if nothing like the huge, sprawling, multi-headed interagency hydra of sixteen different organizations we call the Intelligence Community. Ottawa’s spy services generally keep a pretty low profile, and they are even less in the news than the Canadian military. Except when something really bad happens, like a major espionage scandal.

And Canada has just gotten hit by a whopper, by anyone’s standards. Perhaps they’re overdue, since except for a few big-in-Canada, yet ultimately backpage incidents over the years (burning down a barn used by Quebec separatists, failing to prevent Sikhs from blowing up a 747, etc.), espionage isn’t a big source of news in Canada. Arguably the Second Oldest Profession hasn’t been a headline there since 1945, when the Soviet code-clerk Igor Gouzenko jumped ship in Ottawa, causing consternation since the Canadians didn’t really quite know what to do with the defector.

International Man of Mystery … NOT

Now Jeffrey Delisle has put espionage – his own – back on Canada’s front-burner, and the case is so bad that Ottawa’s close allies have taken notice.  Ottawa has tried, unsuccessfully, to keep the case of Delisle, a junior officer in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) who was spying for Russia for five years before his arrest in January 2012, out of the papers, since it reveals a basic lack of security and counterintelligence awareness.

The damage, based on current information, appears to be enormous. Delisle passed everything he could get his hands on to Russian military intelligence (GRU), and he had his hands on a lot from where he sat in Halifax, at the RCN’s Trinity intelligence fusion center.

He passed a lot of Canadian information, including reporting from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the country’s domestic intelligence agency which has a small foreign intelligence (FI) mission (anomalously for a major Western democracy, Canada lacks an actual FI agency like CIA or SIS AKA “MI6”), as well as law enforcement intelligence from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), plus lots of political insider information from Ottawa.

A quick run-through of each Canadian agency’s damage assessment from the Delisle debacle tells the tale … CSIS: “severe and irreparable”; RCN Intelligence: “astronomical”; Department of National Defence (i.e. Canada’s Pentagon): “exceptionally grave.”

Last, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) assessed the damage as “high” which might be understating things, since CSE – don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of it, most Canadians haven’t either – is Ottawa’s crown jewel of intelligence, its signals intelligence (SIGINT) agency, equivalent to America’s National Security Agency.

In the SIGINT realm, what Delisle wrought appears to have terrible consequences, beyond the spook world. Thanks to his access to STONEGHOST and related databases where Anglosphere countries share intelligence seamlessly, the damage from this case is probably felt more severely in Washington and London than in Ottawa. Under the so-called Five Eyes system, which dates to the Second World War, the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and (mostly) New Zealand, cover the globe with SIGINT, and share most of the take with each other. Hence, as Delisle explained about what he betrayed, “It was never really Canadian stuff,” he told police, later adding, “There was American stuff, there was some British stuff, Australian stuff – it was everybody’s stuff.” Last week, after Delisle accepted a plea agreement admitting his guilt, the U.S. ambassador in Ottawa, David Jacobson, characterized the case as the loss of “a lot of highly classified material,” adding with consummate diplomatic tact, “That is obviously not good.”

It can be safely assumed that Delisle gave GRU the store on what Anglosphere SIGINT agencies knew abut Russia, which is always a lot – politics, military, economics. He appears to have betrayed a great deal of Canadian insider information too. True to form, GRU was most interested in – Delisle said they were “fixated on” – counterespionage data, i.e. finding Western spies in Russia, but thankfully that, at least, was something the junior officer could not access from his desk in Halifax.

As an espionage case, the Delisle affair is numbingly mundane; this one does not cry out for a screenplay. He walked into the Russian embassy in Ottawa in July 2007, offering his services to GRU, not out of hatred for his own country, nor for the desire for a Bondian lifestyle, not even for money, exactly. He was depressed because his wife was screwing around on him.

His career was stalled too: as Delisle is a diabetic he never deployed overseas nor, in sixteen years in the RCN, did he ever go to sea. No fast-tracker, he. His soon-to-be-ex-wife’s extracurricular activities left him feeling “so dead inside” that walking into the Russian embassy seemed like a not-totally-insane thing to do. In other words, this is another case of the sad plight of the beta male.

I’ve looked closely at a lot of spy cases, especially ones where an intelligence insider goes over to the other side, and Delisle is typical in that he was a “volunteer,” as the Russians say, meaning he went over of free will without coercion or even recruitment. He’s also typical in that his life was a complete and total mess. He didn’t even seem particularly interested in the money, since the Russians were only paying him $3,000 a month – a tiny sum compared to the damage he was causing.

Every month, Delisle simply downloaded information from Trinity’s antiquated computers and walked out with it, passing it to the Russians on a USB stick. As a onetime counterintelligence officer, I have to wonder how nobody noticed Delisle doing this, regularly for years, on very classified information systems. I also question how someone whose life was such a hot mess – personally, maritally, and financially – escaped security scrutiny for that long.

At least the Canadians caught him eventually and now the repair work, which promises to be vast, can commence. Ottawa has a lot of explaining to do to its closest allies, and a whole bunch of agencies have some really big damage assessments to complete. Score this one to GRU.

The Delisle case is a biggie in terms of intelligence losses, as big or bigger than the notorious case of the FBI’s Bob Hanssen, the sexual weirdo and devout Catholic who gave the store to the Russians in the 1990s. Delisle is arguably worse, since the international dimension here is large and important. He safely seems to be the most damaging traitor in Canadian history.

Jeffrey Delisle looks like a safe bet to go down as the Beta Spy, the anti-007. What else can you say about a diabetic, depressed cuckold who broke under RCMP interrogation when discussing his passion for videogames? His sentencing won’t be announced until 2013, but it’s a safe bet too that Delisle will have quite a few years behind bars to ponder his actions.

Great story … but is it true?

Al-Qa’ida has repeatedly warned would-be jihadists that women can be a temptation and a problem for even the most committed holy warrior. Especially blondes.

In one of my favorite passages of unintentional muj hilarity, back in the 1990s, al-Qa’ida cautioned its fighters headed to the Balkans that Europe presented all sorts of temptations and troubles of the female variety, and blondes in particular were to be avoided.

Now we know what they were talking about.

It’s recently hit the news with a splash that Imam Anwar al-Awlaki, the prolific jihad propagandist from New Mexico who was killed in Yemen by a U.S. drone strike in September 2011, was set up in a complex CIA-run operation involving a Danish agent, a Croatian blonde, a lot of cash, and ultimately a Hellfire missile.

At the center of the plot to get Awlaki was Morten Storm, a thirtysomething Danish convert to Islam and also an agent of Danish intelligence (PET). In a long-term operation to find and finish Awlaki, Storm eventually passed a USB stick to the imam which allowed the U.S. to track his whereabouts and … you know how it ends.

The bait here was “Amina,” a Croatian convert to Islam who had been chatting up Awlaki online and offered to become his third wife. Clearly Awlaki did not get the briefing about Balkan blondes being nothing but trouble, and Storm used Amina to get to the imam, with deadly consequences for the would-be bridegroom.

Since the imam’s jihad career, and life, ended last year, Amina reportedly has stayed in Yemen and is helping edit Inspire, the glossy, English-language magazine aimed at jihad fanboys everywhere.

PET is keeping quiet about the matter, while Storm (who has left Islam) has gone into hiding, amid death threats, since he blew his cover with his interview. The Croatian media has been aflutter with the tales of a Zagreb girl gone wrong, converting to Islam and getting caught up in the sensational saga, complete with international intrigue, online romance gone bad, and fiery explosions. The whole thing demands a screenplay.

Great story, but is it, well … true? Croatian intelligence is keeping mum about it all, sensibly enough, but there may be reason to doubt the story Storm has told us, at least the Amina angle.

Sevko Omerbasic, Zagreb’s mufti and the former head of Croatia’s Islamic Community, has questioned who Amina really is. Noting that hardly more than a few handfuls of Croats have converted to Islam in recent years (Amina supposedly accepted Islam in 2009), Imam Omerbasic claims he knows them all, and he does not know any Amina. As a public critic of terrorism and extremism, the mufti is concerned that the affair will bring discredit on Croatia’s small Muslim community.

So we don’t know. The whole thing sounds so bizarre that the former counterintelligence officer in me, who accepts that truth frequently is odder than any fiction, thinks it might well be true. Except, maybe, for the Amina part …

“RECONQUEST!”: This is how Europe gets ugly

As if Greece’s “new type of civil war” weren’t enough for Europe-watchers to fret over, yesterday a group of young activists in France took over a mosque site. The group, Génération Identitaire, has recently emerged with an agenda of “native rights” advocacy of a strident sort. They aim at nothing less than the end of non-white immigration into France and the ceasing of mosque construction.

Why yes – those are Spartan symbols those kids are holding

They didn’t take over just any mosque construction site, rather one at Poitiers, very near where Charles Martel stopped the invading Muslims in 732, thereby saving Western Europe for Christendom. The GIers explained their intent, in which about a hundred activists pulled an “Occupy the Grand Mosque” demo, in direct language:

By this first major action, Génération Identitaire places itself in the forefront of the struggle for our identity. 1,300 years ago Charles Martel stopped the Arabs in Poitiers in a heroic battle which saved our country from the Muslim invasion. It was October 25, 732. Now it is 2012 and we face the same choice: live free or die. Our generation refuses to see her people and her identity disappear through indifference. We will never be the Native Indians of Europe. From this place, this important symbol of our past and of the bravery of our ancestors, we send a call to memory and combat!

As if that wasn’t enough to cause hyperventilation among all bien-pensants, the bulletin ended on a stirring, no-surrender sort of note: “Aware that our fight has only just begun, we call on all young Europeans to become heirs of their destiny and to join the vanguard of youth that stands tall. May all Europe hear our call: RECONQUEST!”

Needless to add, France’s intellectual class has freaked out. Paris manifestly does not approve. The media has condemned GI harshly, as has the government; Manuel Valls, the interior minister, denounced the Poitiers action as “hateful provocation.” However, as GI pointed out, theirs was actually a counter-provocation, as the imam of the coming Grand Mosque had stated that the choice of that location, near the site of Charles Martel’s victory so many centuries ago, was intentional.

On the plus side, nobody got hurt here and, despite some anger on the part of France’s Muslims about this, there’s been no violence    stemming from this act, at least not yet. But I’m not overly optimistic that things will stay so peaceful. Radicalism begets counter-radicalism … which usually begets more radicalism. And then things get really unpleasant.

The boys and girls of Génération Identitaire may be small in number but they have ample courage of their convictions, and they seem deadly serious about all this. Plus, they did warn everyone this sort of thing was coming. A couple weeks ago they released a jarring video which amounted to a fullbore repudiation of not just immigration and multiculturalism, but pretty much the whole French system of the last half-century. Not fond of word-mincing, GI called the video “A Declaration of War”; the text merits a full read:

We are Génération Identitaire.

We are the generation who get killed for glancing at the wrong person, for refusing someone a cigarette, or having an “attitude” that annoys someone.

We are the generation of ethnic fracture, total failure of coexistence, and forced mixing of the races.

We are the generation doubly punished, condemned to pay into a social system so generous with strangers it becomes unsustainable for our own people.

Our generation are the victims of the May ’68-ers who wanted to liberate themselves from tradition, from knowledge, and authority in education. But they only succeeded in liberating themselves from their responsibilities.

We reject your history books to re-gather our memories.

We no longer believe that “Khader” could ever be our brother. We have stopped believing in a “Global Village” and the “Family of Man.”

We discovered that we have roots, ancestry, and therefore a future. Our heritage is our land, our blood, our identity. We are the heirs to our own future.

We turned off the TV to march the streets. We painted our slogans on the walls. Cried through loudspeakers for “youth in power,” and flew our Lambda flags high. The Lambda, painted on proud Spartans’ shields, is our symbol.

Don’t you understand what this means? We will not back down, we will not give in. We are sick and tired of your cowardice. You are from the years of post-war prosperity, retirement benefits, S.O.S Racism and “diversity,” sexual liberation and a bag of rice from Bernard Kouchner.

We are 25 percent unemployment, social debt, multicultural collapse, and an explosion of anti-white racism.

We are broken families, and young French soldiers dying in Afghanistan.

You won’t buy us with a condescending look, a state-paid job of misery, and a pat on the shoulder. We don’t need your youth-policies. Youth IS our policy.

Don’t think this is simply a manifesto. It is a declaration of war. You are of yesterday, we are of tomorrow.

Nice war bonnet – where does that guy live now?

To be fair to GI, other Europeans, some tied to major political parties, have said some of that before. A couple years go, the Northern League, the biggest party in much of northern Italy, got everyone’s attention with posters comparing the fate of Native Americans to Europeans today (“They had immigration – now they live on reservations”: see right). In neighboring Austria, the never very subtle Freedom Party – which is doing very well in the polls these days, perhaps not coincidentally – has invoked imagery of lifting the Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1683, and also came out with some rather direct posters (“The West in Christian hands”). But nobody before has tied together such a comprehensive attack on the whole post-modern European system, as GI has done. And no one else has gone around occupying mosque sites.

This is gonna get interesting, fast. I predict that if GI keeps this up, violence will eventually emerge. On the other hand, if leaders in France, and many European countries, don’t address the socioeconomic concerns of angry young people who feel near-hopeless, disenfranchised by decades of corruption, and alienated by multiculturalism, as well as victimized by immigrant crime (just like in Greece), this will continue and grow. Plus, I doubt that people who adopt Spartan symbols will give up that easily. Hold on, this ride may get bumpy.

“A new type of civil war”: Welcome to the Greek nightmare

Last week this blog discussed how Switzerland is preparing for the possibility that Europe’s current economic-cum-political crisis might get very ugly. The Swiss military, long known for its thorough preparedness, is readying for serious instability reaching the country’s borders. What might such “instability” – a catch-all phrase encompassing everything from rioting and refugee flows up to low-intensity war – look like?

Now we know. The other day a representative of Golden Dawn, Greece’s surging far-right party, gave an interview with the BBC in which he said that his country is already in “a new type of civil war.” Golden Dawn MP Ilias Panagiotaros pulled no punches, explaining that Greece is being overwhelmed by the financial crisis but, more importantly, by waves of illegal immigrants who, he asserts, are being used by leftists and anarchists as a sledgehammer against the Greek state, which is paralyzed by a lack of funds and the political will to deal with rampant crime and disorder, caused – Panagiotaros claims – by illegals.

Since its sudden rise this year, Golden Dawn has become the bete noire of all decent people in the EU and beyond, accused of racism, anti-Semitism, hatred of gays, in short everything the progressive classes fear and loathe. The New York Times is sufficiently concerned about this Hellenic contagion that it yesterday reported that Golden Dawn supporters have been sighted in Queens; apparently there have been incidents between the imported far-rightists and – I’m not making this up – “Occupy Astoria.”

To be fair to the MSM, which customarily presents any European conservatives to the right of Angela Merkel as basically Nazis, Golden Dawn really are the radicals of liberal nightmares. They are unapologetic ultra-nationalists of the old, pre-1945 school. One need not be a Mother Jones subscriber to detect more than a whiff of fascist chic in the group, which likes black attire and gleefully participates in beat-downs of illegal immigrants. As recently as 2009, Golden Dawn were a small fringe group, tracking well under one percent in Greek polling; they were hardly more than skinheads, notorious for stunts like sending volunteers to fight with the Bosnian Serbs, their “Orthodox brothers,” during the 1992-95 war.

Then Greece fell apart. June elections gave Golden Dawn 18 seats in parliament, and the country’s slide into the Weimarian abyss continues: economic collapse, strikes and protests, real poverty, crime and disorder, paralyzed politics, and ineffectual law and order. Unsurprisingly, the latest polls show Golden Dawn rising still, now in third place with 14 percent support – double the figure in June – among the angry public. Importantly, the ruling New Democracy (center-right) has fallen to second place, behind the far-left SYRIZA, while the center-left PASOK, which ruled Greece for decades, has evaporated, down to 5.5 percent, in last place among the top six parties. None of this bodes well for the fragile coalition government, nor for Greek politics generally. Anger at the EU and austerity is rising, as is frustration at crime and police impotence. Small wonder that MP Panagiotaros told the BBC he expects a full transformation of Greek politics over the next two to three years.

The issue of illegal immigration is a hot button across the EU, but nowhere more than in Greece. Some 80 percent of the migrants who enter the EU illegally come through Greece. The illegals amount to ten percent (some say even more) of the country’s population. Even in prosperous times this would be an irritant; in the current climate of impoverished crisis it is causing panic and outrage. Here Golden Dawn sees its opportunity, bringing food to hungry pensioners and providing security against street crime where, they say, the police will not.

The ineffectiveness of the police is a big issue in Greece, and recent reports indicate that thousands of policemen are secret Golden Dawn supporters. A recent expose in the newsmagazine Ependytis claimed that pro-Golden Dawn sentiments are widespread among cops, who are disgusted by the state’s corruption and unwillingness to enforce the law, which is buckling under unprecedented levels of street crime perpetrated by migrants from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Like all public employees, the police have seen their wages cut by the current government and many fear layoffs. As one cop explained: “Fascism is to cut wages and not the actions of a party that has the support of half a million Greeks.  We should stop being hypocritical about Golden Dawn. When you keep cutting my wages, you say one thing before the elections but do otherwise once you become the government, why should I feel offended by those who have exposed the filth of the system?”

In such a climate, where stability is vanishing and society itself appears to be collapsing, it is no surprise that Golden Dawn has sympathizers, even among the police. Their assessment of “a new type of civil war” happening when the state refuses to police its borders or enforce its laws, when leftists and anarchists employ migrants as a political tool, sounds extreme, yet a milder version of this can be ascertained in many EU states. Golden Dawn is taking advantage of the systemic crisis which has hit Greece and which is slowly enveloping Europe. If this party can reap the whirlwind caused by the EU’s failures, as its leaders confidently predict, the European ship is headed into dark waters which have not been charted in many decades. And the Swiss will have been proved right, as they were the last time, in the 1930s, when European politics failed to respond effectively to a systemic crisis.

Intel: More questions about Benghazi

As if this week’s Presidential debate kerfuffle about Libya weren’t enough – thanks, Candy, for getting the facts wrong on-air – now the AP is reporting that DC actually got information from U.S. intelligence in-country, just 24 hours after the infamous Benghazi attack, which calls into question the Administration’s narrative.

In the hours after the assault on the U.S. mission in Benghazi which claimed the lives of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, our intelligence apparatus was doing what it’s supposed to do. Late on 12 September, only 24 hours after the attack, the CIA’s Chief of Station (COS) in Libya sent a detailed report back to Langley, based on interviews with eyewitnesses, which concluded that “militants launched the violence, using the pretext of demonstrations against U.S. facilities in Egypt against the film to cover their intent.” This cable would have been in the hands of CIA staffers and analysts within hours and, given the news value of what had just happened in Benghazi, it’s difficult to believe the COS’s assessment wasn’t given a good deal of weight. After all, the whole point of having a COS is that Langley, and by extension the whole U.S. Government up to the President, has a single go-to point for intelligence issues in that country.

Yet, little more than two days later, the talking points on the Benghazi tragedy sent by CIA to Congress asserted that “demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault.”

Questions abound here. Was the COS’s take simply wrong? That can happen, people sometimes do screw up. Not to mention that not all of our COS choices in North Africa recently have been stellar. Yet, having written similar cables myself, I find it difficult to believe that the Station – which surely understood the gravity of the debacle which had just gone down – would fire back a cable filled with sketchy misinformation, since Big People – likely Director Petraeus and possibly President Obama himself – would be reading the first reports from our eyes on the ground, given the awfulness of what had just happened. Plus I can’t really see how it was in the COS’s interest to propagate a false message which, to be clear, doesn’t exactly look fabulous on the Station, since someone clearly dropped the ball here. Four dead, one of them an ambassador, doesn’t really help anybody’s PAR come annual review season.

I won’t comment further on the COS’s cable, since I haven’t seen it and, despite some excellent, multi-source reportage from the AP here, neither have they. It should be noted that DC is swirling with plausible rumors that there is better and much more sensitive intelligence out there (i.e. SIGINT) which is very damning for the Administration narrative on Benghazi … but I haven’t seen that either so I’ll leave that there without further comment.

Then there is the curious commentary of Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the chair of the Senate’s intelligence committee (the SSCI – you guessed it, pronounced “sissy” among the cognoscenti), who the other day during a TV interview discussed the Intelligence Community’s reaction to Benghazi: “I think what happened was the director of national intelligence, which we call the DNI, who is a very good individual … Gen. Jim Clapper, put out some speaking points on the initial intelligence assessment … I think that was possibly a mistake.”

Translation: Clapper screwed the pooch. Before anyone points partisan fingers at Sen. Feinstein, let it be said that, despite the fact that she was for a decade the mayor of San Francisco, she has a lot of fans across the aisle and all over the IC for her savvy understanding of intelligence issues. Sen. Feinstein isn’t prone to gaffes when the camera is rolling, and she may have been too kind to Gen. Clapper who – not to put too fine a point on it – as a well-honed reputation in the IC for ignoring views he doesn’t like or approve of.

Did that include our COS in Libya? Time will tell here – this will be something historians should have a field day with, decades hence, when the good stuff gets declassified and released – but even today we can say that, thanks to the AP’s reportage, more awkward questions have popped up about the Benghazi tragedy which need to be answered.

Ball to you, Mitt …

[Note: Per always, the opinions here are those of me, myself, and I, and surely not those of the Naval War College, the Department of Defense, nor my former employers in the Intelligence Community.]

Who killed Bruno Bušić?

Yesterday marked the 34th anniversary of the assassination of Bruno Busic.

Who? you might well ask, even if you’re a seasoned spywatcher.

Even in his native Croatia, where he’s not been forgotten altogether, the anniversary of his brutal killing  was hardly front page news.

Bruno Busic shortly before his death

Yet his murder at the hands of UDBA, Communist Yugoslavia’s nasty secret police, ranks as one of the best-known cases of the nearly one hundred “state enemies” assassinated abroad by Tito’s spies during the Cold War. Unlike the vast majority of those victims of a now-forgotten dirty war, waged in the streets of Stuttgart, Sydney, and Chicago, Busic’s death at least got some media attention, for a few days.

Busic was a well-known dissident in Croatian diaspora circles, an intellectual with a public profile. And unlike many of UDBA’s victims, Busic was an anti-Communist activist but not a terrorist. While he flirted with Croatian groups trying to unseat Tito’s dictatorship, he wrote pamphlets and arranged protests but did not build bombs. Yet he met the same fate as the terrorists.

He was gunned down at the door of his Paris apartment, killed close-up by a 7.65 mm pistol, UDBA’s weapon of choice. From the outset there was little doubt who was behind the killing. Yet, as they usually did, Tito’s assassins covered their tracks well, spreading disinformation along the way, and French police never brought anyone to justice for the murder.

It is perhaps remarkable that Busic survived as long as he did, as he had been on UDBA’s radar since he was a teenager active in peaceful anti-regime activities. He was in and out of Communist jails for years until finally leaving Croatia permanently in 1975 for a life in exile, where he was at least allowed to write freely. Until UDBA caught up with him.

The customary outcome for those who fell afoul of UDBA

After the fall of the old regime, newly independent Croatia honored its martyr, reburying him in Zagreb with public fanfare, but the government of Franjo Tudjman – a onetime dissident who knew Busic – showed little enthusiasm for putting his killers behind bars. This probably had something to do with the fact that Josip Perkovic, the UDBA senior officer who in the late Communist period headed the department charged with assassinating troublesome Croatian emigres like Busic, wound up heading the intelligence apparatus in Tudjman’s Croatia in the 1990s. (Perkovic retired some years ago, but his son Sasa is just as well networked as his old man and is currently national security advisor to Croatia’s President Ivo Josipovic). Efforts to pin the assassination on the notorious UDBA killer Vinko Sindicic led to an embarrassing debacle of a trial, and no convictions. It seems unlikely, 34 years after the fact, that anyone will ever be held accountable for Bruno Busic’s murder.

What is perhaps even more disturbing is the fact that Western governments and human rights groups never made much fuss about the assassination of Busic, and dozens of other emigres who fell afoul of Tito and therefore fell victim to UDBA’s “black program” (as they called it). There was a big double standard during the Cold War: dissidents who were killed by Soviet Bloc intelligence – there were very few after the 1950s, despite what Hollywood would have you believe – received the full attention of Western security services and journalists, while the many more victims murdered by UDBA were essentially ignored. Killings perpetrated by UDBA that were even more shocking than Busic’s fell down the memory hole too.

Almost exactly one month before UDBA killed Bruno Busic, the Bulgarian secret service, the very unpleasant DS, assassinated Georgi Markov in London. The Bulgarian dissident, who worked for the BBC, was a thorn in Sofia’s side, and Yuri Andropov eventually agreed to the KGB providing the DS with the infamous umbrella weapon which killed Markov. The case received wide attention as the “umbrella murder” and remains open as far as British police are concerned; the Markov matter occasionally appears in the European press even today. Bruno Busic’s assassination just a month later  got only a fraction of that attention from European officialdom and the media.

Why that was so is a troubling question, but it had a great deal to do with the fact that NATO governments didn’t want to call attention to how awful Yugoslavia’s human rights record actually was, nor publicize the fact that UDBA was a much more effective killing machine than the KGB and its satellites, since Tito and his regime – Communist yet outside the Soviet orbit – performed a useful strategic function for the West during the Cold War. “In the Tito era, the police and security forces of certain NATO nations were warned off taking any firm action against the notorious UDBA, the Yugoslav secret service,” explained a British intelligence officer who tried to investigate Belgrade’s Murder, Inc., “I was told to cool it; we had to leave them alone, we had to keep Tito sweet.”

Keeping Tito sweet in practice meant not looking closely into the violent crimes UDBA was perpetrating in abundance across the Western world. Bruno Busic was one of dozens of UDBA’s victims, yet his was a case which ought to have gotten more media attention, police investigation, and diplomatic involvement than it did. It is proper to note that independent Croatia since 1991 has done a terrible job of getting to the bottom of Communist crimes at home and abroad, which is the inevitable outcome of not ridding the police and intelligence services of serial killers when Tito’s regime finally collapsed. Yet the West deserves no credit either for putting scant pressure on Yugoslavia’s secret police for their dirty deeds in Western countries – then or down to the present day.

America’s Wars of Ottoman Succession

It has often been noted that all five of America’s most recent wars – Bosnia-Hercegovina, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya – have taken place in societies that possess large Muslim populations (in the case of four of them, overwhelmingly so). Less noted is the fact that four of those five countries were also once part of the Ottoman Empire.

That unique empire ended following the First World War, like so many empires, after an impressive run of more than six centuries. It’s been back in the news in recent years because the government of Recep Erdogan has flirted with the Ottoman legacy in a manner which would have been unthinkable only a decade ago. While Erdogan has usually kept his flirtation with the lost (Islamic) empire to a respectable level, on occasion he has uttered jaw-droppers indicating that he considers himself a bit more than just the prime minister of the Turkish Republic. In June 2011, after his Justice and Development Party (AKP) won reelection, Erdogan told the cheering masses gathered to celebrate the event: “Sarajevo won today as much as Istanbul; Beirut won as much as Izmir; Damascus won as much as Ankara. Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza won as much as Diyarbakir.” I was in the Balkans when I heard that one, and let’s just say that the Christians of Southeastern Europe, who endured long centuries of Ottoman rule, were less impressed with Erdogan’s message than the Turkish crowds seemed to be.

The point-man for the neo-Ottoman ideology, as it’s termed, is Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who has expended considerable intellectual energy determining what Turkey’s colonial legacy in the Balkans and the Middle East means in the 21st century. Yet he has eschewed the term itself, explaining that its use reflects the sore-loser status of countries who seem less than enthused about Turkey’s newfound role as a powerbroker, as well as rising economic factor, in much of its onetime empire. Nevertheless, Davutoglu, too, has been coy about what his position actually is towards post-Ottoman states like Bosnia: “I am not a minister of a nation-state only,” he explained, leaving questions about what Ankara’s positions vis-a-vis the Balkans and the Middle East actually are.

Although Davutoglu and Erdogan view their country’s imperial past in an overwhelmingly positive light, others – Arabs, Serbs, Greeks, to name only a few – have much more ambivalent, and even negative, views of Ottoman rule. And there can be no denying that Ottoman ethno-religious policies laid the groundwork for many of the seemingly intractable problems of places like Bosnia and Iraq, where deep-seated hatreds with their origins in the Ottoman period have burst forth recently in war and even genocide.

In recent months, Erdogan and his government have mired Turkey deeply in the ugly civil war which is gradually engulfing Syria. Much like the fratricides in Bosnia and Iraq, the fighting in Syria is a complex witches’ brew of ethnic and religious hatreds made worse thanks to the pernicious legacy of an authoritarian regime which exploited such tensions in a cynical, divide et impera fashion – just as the Ottomans once did in those countries.

Turkey’s Syrian war, which began with not-so-secret arms shipments to anti-Assad forces, has burst forth publicly in recent weeks, with cross-border shellings and multidirectional bellicose rhetoric. One need not be a habitual pessimist to be concerned about where Syria is headed, and what it will mean if Turkey, a major NATO country, is dragged directly into the conflict. It is a war which the Turkish public does not want, yet Ankara’s actions are leading to ever-greater involvement in Syria’s nightmare. If this were not yet sufficient grounds for worry, it is now evident that Turkish and U.S. arms shipments are helping jihadist groups in Syria, some of them affiliated with Al-Qa’ida, more than they are boosting the more secular resistance to the Assad regime.

Where all this will end is difficult to predict, though anyone with close-up experience with recent wars like Bosnia or Iraq will probably incline to a world-weary pessimism. It seems likely that, barring a game-changing event like regime decapitation – which jihadists have been trying and failing to do – Syria’s war may become protracted, with worrisome humanitarian consequences, to say nothing of the geopolitical portents in a very unstable region of the world.

Will Syria become America’s fifth war of Ottoman succession in recent years? That is a question to ponder carefully. It’s probably overdue to seriously examine why the U.S. keeps getting dragged into so many wars which revolve around knotty issues of the Ottoman inheritance. That empire disappeared ninety years ago yet in some ways seems very much alive today.


Who Bombed Burgas?

Back in July, a suicide bomber killed six people, plus himself, at the Bulgarian resort town of Burgas. Five of the dead were Israelis, while the sixth was the driver of the incinerated bus (who was a Muslim). There are many curiosities about the case, not least that the still-unidentified bomber used a fake U.S. driver’s license.

From virtually the moment of the attack, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his government have spoken with one voice: the Burgas atrocity was the work of Iran, using Hizballah as a cut-out. Israeli officials from the top placed the attack within the broader context of the widening war between Israel (and the U.S.) and Iran: espionage, cyberattacks, targeted killings, and now blowing up buses filled with holiday-goers. Yet the knotty question of who the suicide bomber actually was has remained unanswered, despite efforts by Bulgarian investigators and ample speculation.

Nearly as quickly as Israel pointed the finger at Iran, jihad-watchers speculated that the bomber was Mehdi Ghezali, a minor celebrity in European terrorist circles. Born in Sweden in 1979 to an Algerian father and a Finnish mother, the young Ghezali, like so many converts to violent extremism, was first a criminal. After doing hard time for a bank robbery, Ghezali went off and sought a new life in the ranks of Al-Qa’ida. Like several hundred other foreign fighters, he was picked up by the U.S. military in Afghanistan after Tora Bora at the end of 2001, and wound up imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay. Ghezali’s case became well known, as one of the higher-profile European jihadists in U.S. custody, and he was released from GTMO in July 2004, heading home on a Swedish Air Force jet.

Once back in Sweden, Ghezali participated in anti-American demonstrations and claimed to be harassed by Swedish intelligence, even though local prosecutors never filed charges against him for his previous involvement with a terrorist group. Mysteriously, in August 2009, Ghezali was one of a dozen foreigners (three of them Swedes) arrested by Pakistani police on suspicion of ties with Al-Qa’ida. They unsurprisingly protested their innocence, asserting they were in Pakistan to meet with Tablighi Jamaat (a non-violent Salafi group – yes, there are such things). Upon his release from a jail cell and subsequent return to Sweden a couple months later, Ghezali resumed his complaints about being under surveillance by Swedish intelligence and since then has kept a low profile.

Although there was no doubt that the guy picked up on the Burgas Airport CCTV cameras and fingered as the bomber by Sofia bore more than a little resemblance to Mehdi Ghezali, neither was there any hard evidence to tie the jihadist to the crime – though his continuing silence raised questions. Yet Bulgarian and Swedish intelligence back in July asserted that Ghezali could not have been the bomber, and they have stuck with that story.

Have you – or anybody – seen this guy since July?

Nevertheless, Bulgaria’s lingering inability to say just who the suicide bomber actually was, coupled with Ghezali’s continuing silence, have given plausibility to the rumor that the “Cuban-Swede” (as the media in his home country dubbed him) actually might have been the killer. If Ghezali was the bomber, that raises many questions, not least the important and tricky one of what exactly is the relationship between Iran, Hizballah, and Al-Qa’ida. Although it’s long been known that AQ and Iranian types have talked to each other since the early 1990s – there’s a whole chapter in a really good book about that if you want to know more – and former CIA officer Bob Baer has explained that Iran and AQ were talking, usually through Hizballah, as far back as the mid-1990s. But evidence for a real operational relationship between Tehran and Bin Laden’s guys has always been less than firm. In that sense, tying a known AQ affiliate like Ghezali to Burgas – which few have plausibly argued wasn’t an Iranian operation – would be important.

Last week, the jihad star/groupie Omar Bakri  – who actually knew Ghezali a few years ago – reignited the controversy with an interview with the Bulgarian media, which included this statement: “When I learned that they are linking this man to my people, I called my brothers in Great Britain to ask who the man in question is. They told me it was a boy known as Abu Ahmed … He had another alias. This man was indeed a student of mine, but for a short time. Then he left for Afghanistan. His name is Mehdi Ghezali. Because of the Burgas bombing, the brothers from al-Qa’ida declared him a martyr.”

All well short of the standards of evidence, of course, but it’s significant if muj street rumor has “Abu Ahmed” as the Burgas killer. A few days later, Bakri backed away from his statement, indicating that he’d been given a leading question, while a senior Bulgarian intelligence official reconfirmed that the bomber was not Ghezali, adding that Sofia is still trying to determine who did wear the suicide vest. From the day of the attack, Bulgarian authorities said they were looking for an accomplice who assisted the bomber, while this official added there was a hunt on for a third man who also participated in the planning of the attack, though the investigators seemed to know even less about him than about the other two, still unidentified, suspects. Adding to the mystery, Dr. Galina Mileva, who performed the autopsy on what was left of the bomber, told the press that the man was not Ghezali – without explaining where that conclusion came from – yet adding that the remains were those of a half-Arab, half-European … just like Mehdi Ghezali.

Adding to the mystery, the Bulgarian news outlet 24 Chasa (24 Hours) has filed a detailed report which shows that just one day after the Burgas atrocity, someone posted a video on YouTube hailing “Mehdi Ghezali Abu-Sabikh al-Jazairi” who “terrified the Jews.” The poster was one Irhabi 007 – funny guy: irhabi meaning “terrorist” in Arabic – who has posted a bunch of similar videos. (Jihad-watchers with long memories will recall that Irhabi 007 was also the online handle of Mirsad Bektasevic, AKA Maximus, a Bosnian who had settled in Sweden and plotted a whole bunch of attacks across Europe, which were happily thwarted by his 2005 arrest.)

The two-minute-forty video is typical muj porn (it’s linked in the 24 Chasa report): bad music, exhortations of martyrdom, plus a bunch of pictures of Ghezali’s life, photos of the murdered Israelis, images of the blown-up bus, and a general aura of gloating over the deaths of innocent people. Yet, low-budget production values aside, it’s undeniably impressive that someone managed to get it all together and post it online on 19 July, a mere day after the terrorist attack.

Someone clearly wanted to credit Mehdi Ghezali with this awful crime, whether he did it or not. As a former counterintelligence officer, I have questions …

Swedish authorities, who have had Ghezali under surveillance for years, could end this mystery quickly by letting everyone know, even without much detail, where the jihadist is hanging out these days. That they have not done so itself raises questions.

For now, the mystery of who bombed Burgas and took six innocent lives must linger.

The changing (and scary) face of Europe’s jihad

Yesterday this blog discussed how the Swiss military is not-so-quietly preparing for serious disturbances in the EU states that surround that small Alpine country.

How could major disorder – riots leading to more riots leading to something truly awful – erupt in Europe? Greece seems halfway there already, although most outside commentators have pointed to that country’s disastrous finances as the underlying cause of the disturbances, while many Greeks will tell you that out of control illegal immigration (80% of illegal entrants into the EU come via Greece) is at least as big a factor behind the tumult. Suddenly even very level-headed commentators are noting that Golden Dawn, and several other once-fringe-but-now-rising parties across the continent are edging towards something that looks rather like fascism. Europe has seen this movie before; it ends badly.

I hang out frequently with European security officials, and when the press isn’t around they discuss in detail their paramount fears of local incidents spiraling out of control, leaving whole cities in disorder. And by “disorder” they mean “low-level war.” When the next self-styled “defender of Europe” a la Breivik decides to take the counterjihad upon himself and shoots up a mosque or an Islamic center – note I said when not if – something enormously unpleasant will follow.

Europe already has unpleasantries abounding. France is the latest scene of a worrisome development in the struggle against violent extremists. That country, and its Jewish population especially, has been on edge since March when Mohamed Merah, a Franco-Algerian ne’er-do-well, waged his personal jihad in the south of France, murdering three off-duty soldiers, then shooting up a Jewish school in Toulouse and killing four, three of them small children. After a 30-hour siege with police, Merah killed himself. Despite initial claims of surprise, as I’ve reported previously, French domestic intelligence had been aware of Merah’s dangerous views for a couple years, and was worried about what he might do, but no one did anything to prevent disaster.

In an effort to do better the next time, this past weekend French police rolled up a dozen jihadists in a series of raids around the country. Eleven were brought into custody, while 33 year-old Jeremy Louis-Sydney went out in hail of bullets when police entered his residence in Strasbourg. His fingerprints were tied to a hand grenade thrown at a kosher shop in Paris in mid-September, and French authorities announced that, with these arrests, they had preempted a series of attacks on Jewish interests and persons across France. Louis-Sydney had declared his willingness to die as a shahid (martyr) for Islam, and had prepared himself for death, shaving his beard and authoring a last will.

What is especially worrisome about these arrests is that all twelve mujahidin are converts, native-born Frenchmen who opted for a highly radical, Salafi version of Islam, and decided to wage war on their own society. As a detailed report in Le Figaro explains, they are career criminals who had been in and out of jail most of their lives; for them, a radical version of Islam apparently offered a way out of their disappointing and probably pointless lives. These are hardly the first young Europeans to go to war against their own society, indeed France got into this market early. Back in the 1990s, Lionel Dumont, a young Frenchman, became a jihad celebrity by fighting in Bosnia with Al-Qa’ida, waging a brief yet intense holy war at home , then going on the lam, bouncing around the world until he was arrested in 2004 in Japan, where he was planning to attack a U.S. Navy base.

Yet the arrests this weekend indicate a more serious problem. Dumont began his radicalization abroad and joined Al-Qa’ida to wage jihad wherever it might be; he had deep ties with the Balkan jihad scene. Here we are witnessing a dangerous new generation of Islamist terrorists in Europe: young and alienated men of the criminal class, radicalized at home (often through the Internet more than at any mosque), intending to wage a very violent and self-styled jihad at home, against their fellow citizens.

We don’t know much yet, but having examined quite a few “homegrown jihad” cases, I doubt there will be any links between France’s Dirty Dozen and Al-Qa’ida Central. Such terrorists need little outside help to wage war at home. The fusion of the street skills of career criminals with the fanaticism of radical Islam is an ominous portent. French police and intelligence are taking this new threat seriously, as they should. Manuel Valls, the French interior minister, who cancelled a trip to the Middle East to deal with this weekend’s developments, explained: “There is not, on one hand, crime and, on the other, terrorism, the two can join. Terrorism today is mixed up with the problems of our neighborhoods.  The profiles of the terrorists resemble those of drug traffickers.”

Americans should not be complacent, as the new generation of criminals-turned-jihadists is hardly confined to Europe. Conversion to Islam is a major concern in America’s prisons, not least because criminals are not being converted to the tame, “jihad is love” version of the faith. Not unrelatedly, the majority of U.S. converts to Islam are African-Americans. That said, the United States has not yet witnessed the sort of thing that Europe is now confronting: a significant, homegrown terrorism threat consisting of citizens who have decided to wage war against their neighbors, even at the cost of their own lives.

France and other European countries with substantial Muslim populations are facing a grave problem as criminal-converts who are already violent adopt a hardline version of Islam which validates their antisocial fantasies and hatred of the people around them, who are now marked for death. Nearly four decades ago, Jean Raspail was run out of polite society in France when he published his (in)famous novel The Camp of the Saints, which forecast a dystopian future for a Europe overwhelmed by foreigners. Yet, today it’s difficult not to see Raspail’s dim vision as more than a little prophetic, as Rod Dreher has noted (although he’s best known for his crunchy-con thing, Rod has also been one of the few mainstream American journalists willing to forthrightly discuss the political implications of Muslim immigration into the West).

Similarly, the British establishment made Enoch Powell a pariah after his 1968 “Rivers of Blood” speech, which likewise made dire predictions about how importing large numbers of Asians and Africans into Britain might end, yet many will now concede that perhaps he had a point after all. Nevertheless, I don’t think even Enoch Powell could have foreseen that, by importing Muslim populations into Europe, governments would enable the rise of domestic extremism of a truly scary kind.

There is good news in this weekend’s developments. This time, French domestic intelligence was watching several of the jihadists, and the police acted before anything really awful happened. But the cops and the spooks will have to get it right every time to prevent disaster, and as a veteran of the secret war I can assure you that nobody is quite that good.

Might the EU crisis get really, really ugly?

Do the Swiss know something the rest of us don’t?

Ueli Maurer, the Swiss defense minister, has been making coy statements about the European crisis getting ugly – as in really ugly, like needing armed troops to deal with it. This sounds more like Greece, where the rioting is regular and increasingly scary, than anything in Central Europe, but where the whole EU furball is headed does seem less than clear of late.

The Swiss are famous for preparing for everything and having an absolutely huge army, relative to their population, to deal with any eventuality. They maintain their special military system, based on training for nearly the whole male population but a very small active duty cadre (plus a few, tiny UN peacekeeping-type missions abroad, since the Swiss have an actually defensive defense force): the Swiss can call up over 200,000 trained troops, which is but one-third of what was on-call twenty years ago – like everyone, they have downsized as the threat has receded since the fall of the Soviet bloc – but that’s still pretty huge in Swiss terms. In America, that would mean a mobilization strength of nearly 8,000,000 for the U.S. military (it’s a hair under three million, in case you were wondering).

Minister Maurer, accompanied by whispers from the top uniformed leadership in Switzerland, is trying to raise awareness that Europe’s massive fiscal-cum-political crisis could get very unpleasant. Swiss military exercises in September, called STABILO DUE, were based on EU instability getting out of hand. The Swiss have stayed out of the EU – one more thing the very prosperous Swiss are gloating about these days – and they certainly don’t want EU problems spilling over into their peaceful little country. That the Swiss military is adding four new military police battalions to the army, to be spread around the country, indicates that the threat they have in mind is more disorder and chaos than actual invasion.

The Swiss are in the process of modernizing their military, which they have discovered is very expensive; the purchase of 22 new Saab Gripen fighters has proved a big political headache, since the Swiss are as notable for their frugality as for their military preparedness. But Minister Maurer is on firm ground when he notes that the massive decline in European militaries since 1990 has implications for today, none of them positive. When even the British have cut their army so much that, in the event of a serious crisis, there would be at most two dozen infantry battalions on hand in the UK (that’s well under 20,000 bayonets), one has to wonder if the next London “disturbances” could be kept in check if things got truly ugly. It’s commonly held by European security insiders that if the next Anders Brievik were to target Muslims, not fellow Europeans, things could get unimaginably ugly very quickly. It is difficult to see how Europe’s much smaller militaries could cope with massive civil disturbances. (And don’t ask Uncle Sam for help, since the very last thing the Pentagon wants is to get dragged into any riot suppression – particularly putting down Muslim uprisings – anywhere in Europe.)

It’s easy to dismiss the Swiss, since they are a tiny country whose military hasn’t actually fought anybody in a couple centuries. On the other hand, they managed to stay out of both of Europe’s catastrophic World Wars precisely though preparing for eventualities and maintaining a strong defensive capability. They’re clearly on to something.