Thursday, 30 June 2016

SDR nominates deputy leader

Its with pride that we announce a Mr Anthony Laing to be our new deputy leader,
and coordinator worldwide. 

Mr Laing has been with us for many years and is known by his colleagues as man who does not deviate from any task and stays on it until its done. Mr Laing has acted in many capacities for us and also is the current leader of Close Protection Intelligence Group (CPIG).

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

SDR OS Intelligence Brief: Terrorist attack in Istanbul

• In an attack involving three men with suicide vests and semi-automatic rifles at the Turkish airport Ataturk in Istanbul left at least 36 people dead and more than 140 wounded

• There were no immediate claims of responsibility, though The Turkish Prime Minister stated that the Islamic State was responsible.

• It sounds rather reasonable that the Islamic State is behind this attack. The reason for this is that it would mirror the Brussels’ airport attack of March 2016. This recent attack comes on the two-year anniversary of the ISIS caliphate declaration.

• Turkey is naturally already struggling with both Kurdish and Islamic State threats. And Turkey will most likely see more domestic attacks as it seeks to relax its disturbed foreign ties.

The June 28 terrorist attack at the Ataturk airport in Istanbul, happened on one of the world’s busiest, Airports. Is the latest in a string of attacks in Turkey that have killed several hundreds and wounded many more. 

Strangely no group has yet claimed credit for the attack at the airport, which killed at least 36 people and wounded 140. 

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim stated that the attack was the work of the so-called Islamic State, which has carried out several attacks in Turkey in the past year, as have various Kurdish terrorist groups.

Fact: A sign of how troubled Turkey’s domestic security has become is that there is no shortage of plausible suspects: it would equally unsurprising if the culprit was the Islamic State or Kurdish militants. And yet still, the attack is similar to the March 22 attack at the Brussels airport. (In which multiple attackers detonated explosives on the periphery of the security zone). 

Actual target: The lines at enhanced security are now prime targets for terrorists. Rapid action to counter the threat in Istanbul appears to have mitigated the loss of life, as police quickly opened fire on the attackers.

Turkey has become a prime target for the Islamic State in the last year.
Turkey has allso been mentioned several times in the group’s English-language magazine, Dabiq.
Turkish President Erdogan was featured on the cover of Dabiq issue number 11. The timing is also suggestive of, but does not naturally not prove, "any Islamic State involvement" . 

This attack like many others comes during the month of Ramadan, a time in which the Islamic State has specifically called for its supporters to carry out attacks wherever possible!

IS and the Militarily: The Islamic State (IS) is facing defeat across multiple battlefields. One of the key factors in the push by U.S. supported forces against the Islamic State in the northern Syrian town of Manbij. This does close off the 'Manbij Pocket’ from which nearly all Islamic State foreign fighters heading north depart. 

Retaking Manbij help´s to  stem, but not solve, the foreign fighter exodus from Syria into Turkey and beyond! Ergo is not a solution but a does hurt IS very much.

The Turkish airport attack as pointed out before came on the eve of the second anniversary of the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate! Thats date and attack combination the cant be ignored. 

To much truth to be ignored: The June 29, 2014 announcement came as the group was at its peak, and was on the verge of becoming a true terror state in Syria and Iraq. 

However now after two years, the group is facing a large scale military defeat and is currently sliding back down the scale from proto-state to insurgency to terrorist group. 

Fact remains: Attacks such as the one in Istanbul will become more common as the group shifts its targets to match its capabilities. Unable to seize territory, the group will attack soft and symbolic targets in order to keep terror alive and to be seen as a serious player by the west and get a feather in the hat by islamists.

Conclusions divided: Some think that Turkey's proximity to Syria ensures that it will be a prime target for the foreseeable future, while others think the group will try to spread its terror as widely as possible, the more it looses ground in Syria and Iraq.

German Federal Foreign Office: "Foreign Minister Steinmeier on the Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy for the European Union"

press release

Foreign Minister Steinmeier on the Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy for the European Union

Foreign Minister Steinmeier issued the following statement today (28 June):
I would like to thank Federica Mogherini for her great commitment and foresight in the joint development of the Global Strategy.

Europe is sending a clear signal with this new security strategy. At a time when crises and conflicts are flaring up all around the European Union, we have created a solid foundation and a common strategic approach for our European foreign and security policy.

I am delighted that this strategy also includes core elements of Germany’s policy for peace, including an active commitment to a rules‑based international order and the need for stabilisation in our efforts to tackle crises and conflicts.

Now it is time to look to the future. The Global Strategy’s many operational considerations must now be fleshed out and implemented. This is a task that we will need to attend to the coming months.
Background information:

Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, will present the Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy for the European Union at the European Council today.

German Federal Foreign Office: Foreign Minister Steinmeier on the explosions in Turkey

press release

Foreign Minister Steinmeier on the explosions in Turkey

Foreign Minister Steinmeier made the following comments during a breaking of the fast in Berlin with Christians, Jews and Muslims (28 June):
I am deeply shocked by the news from Istanbul. Although the background is still unclear, everything seems to indicate that this was a renewed terrorist attack in the Turkish metropolis. We mourn the victims and share the grief of their relatives. We stand shoulder to shoulder with Turkey. Particularly at this time, our thoughts are with the people of that country.

U.S. Department of State Press Statement:Terrorist Suicide Bombings

Terrorist Suicide Bombings

Press Statement
Mark C. Toner
Deputy Department Spokesperson
Washington, DC
June 28, 2016

The United States condemns in the strongest terms the two sets of terrorist suicide bombings against the people of the eastern border village of Qaa, Lebanon, on Monday, June 27. We offer our deepest condolences to the families of those killed and wish a speedy recovery to those injured in the attacks.
We support the ongoing efforts of the Lebanese Armed Forces to defend all of Lebanon’s territory against terrorism and to protect the Lebanese people. We reiterate our strong commitment and continued support for Lebanon’s security, stability, and sovereignty.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Russian Trolls harassing US diplomats on rise all over Europe

Russian intelligence and security services have been waging a campaign of harassment and intimidation against U.S. diplomats, embassy staff and their families in Moscow and several other European capitals that has rattled ambassadors and prompted Secretary of State John F. Kerry to ask Vladimir Putin to put a stop to it.

At a recent meeting of U.S. ambassadors from Russia and Europe in Washington, U.S. ambassadors to several European countries complained that Russian intelligence officials were constantly perpetrating acts of harassment against their diplomatic staff that ranged from the weird to the downright scary. Some of the intimidation has been routine: following diplomats or their family members, showing up at their social events uninvited or paying reporters to write negative stories about them.

But many of the recent acts of intimidation by Russian security services have crossed the line into apparent criminality. In a series of secret memos sent back to Washington, described to me by several current and former U.S. officials who have written or read them, diplomats reported that Russian intruders had broken into their homes late at night, only to rearrange the furniture or turn on all the lights and televisions, and then leave. One diplomat reported that an intruder had defecated on his living room carpet. 

In Moscow, where the harassment is most pervasive, diplomats reported slashed tires and regular harassment by traffic police. Former ambassador Michael McFaul was hounded by government-paid protesters, and intelligence personnel followed his children to school. 

The harassment is not new; in the first term of the Obama administration, Russian intelligence personnel broke into the house of the U.S. defense attache in Moscow and killed his dog, according to multiple former officials who read the intelligence reports.

During a question and answer session at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, President Vladimir Putin said Russia did not want a new Cold war with the West and did not like to think it was slipping into one. (Reuters)

But since the 2014 Russian intervention in Ukraine, which prompted a wide range of U.S. sanctions against Russian officials and businesses close to Putin, harassment and surveillance of U.S. diplomatic staff in Moscow by security personnel and traffic police have increased significantly, State Department press secretary John Kirby confirmed to me.

“Since the return of Putin, Russia has been engaged in an increasingly aggressive gray war across Europe. 
Now it’s in retaliation for Western sanctions because of Ukraine. 
The widely reported harassment is another front in the gray war,” said Norm Eisen, U.S. ambassador the Czech Republic from 2011 to 2014. 
“They are hitting American diplomats literally where they live.”

The State Department has taken several measures in response to the increased level of nefarious activity by the Russian government. 
All U.S. diplomats headed for Europe now receive increased training on how to handle Russian harassment, and the European affairs bureau run by Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland has set up regular interagency meetings on tracking and responding to the incidents. 

McFaul told me he and his family were regularly followed and the Russian intelligence services wanted his family to know they were being watched. 

Other embassy officials also suffered routine harassment that increased significantly after the Ukraine-related sanctions. 

Those diplomats who were trying to report on Russian activities faced the worst of it.  “It was part of a way to put pressure on government officials who were trying to do their reporting jobs.  It definitely escalated when I was there. After the invasion of Ukraine, it got much, much worse,” McFaul said. “We were feeling embattled out there in the embassy.”

There was a debate inside the Obama administration about how to respond, and ultimately President Obama made the decision not to respond with similar measures against Russian diplomats, McFaul said. 

A spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Washington sent me a long statement both tacitly admitting to the harassment and defending it as a response to what he called U.S. provocations and mistreatment of Russian diplomats in the United States.

“The deterioration of U.S.-Russia relations, which was not caused by us, but rather by the current Administrations’ policy of sanctions and attempts to isolate Russian, had a negative affect on the functioning of diplomatic missions, both in U.S. and Russia,” the spokesman said. “In diplomatic practice there is always the principle of reciprocity and, indeed, for the last couple of years our diplomatic staff in the United States has been facing certain problems. The Russian side has never acted proactively to negatively affect U.S. diplomats in any way.”

Evelyn Farkas, who served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia until last year, said that there is no equivalence between whatever restrictions Russian diplomats are subjected to in the United States and the harassment and intimation that U.S. diplomats suffer at the hands of the Russian security services. The fact that the Russian government stands accused of murdering prominent diplomats and defectors in European countries adds a level of fear for Russia’s targets.

“When the Russian government singles people out for this kind of intimidation, going from intimidation to harassment to something worse is not inconceivable,” Farkas said.

Kirby told me that the State Department takes the safety and well-being of American diplomatic and consular personnel abroad and their accompanying family members extremely seriously. “We have therefore repeatedly raised our concerns about harassment of our diplomatic and consular staff with the Russians, including at the highest levels,” he said.

Kerry raised the issue directly with Putin during his visit to Moscow in March. Putin made no promises about ending the harassment, which continued after Kerry returned to Washington. The U.S. ambassadors to Europe are asking the State Department to do more.

Leading members of Congress who are involved in diplomacy with Europe see the lack of a more robust U.S. response as part of an effort by the Obama administration to project a veneer of positive U.S.-Russian relations that doesn’t really exist.

“The problem is there have been no consequences for Russia,” said Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), who serves as president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. “The administration continues to pursue a false narrative that Russia can be our partner. They clearly don’t want to be our partner, they’ve identified us as an adversary, and we need to prepare for that type of relationship.”

Dr. R. Evan Ellis: The Interoceanic Canal, and U.S. Constructive Engagement Toward Nicaragua

My recent research trip to Nicaragua was two months in the planning, but resulted in less than 24 hours in country. My research and interview plan was transparent to business and government offices in Nicaragua. But, the Nicaraguan government officially directed me to leave after having completed only an abbreviated day of interviews about the trans-oceanic canal project underway there.

The canal project is situated in complex political and economic environment.   But it seems that the project, like my efforts to learn about it, has been suspended with no appetite for explanation on the part of the Nicaraguan government.

U.S. State Department spokesperson John Kirby acknowledged that Nicaragua had expelled three US government officials from Nicaragua on the 14th of June, saying.  "It was unwarranted and inconsistent with the positive and constructive agenda that we seek with the government of Nicaragua. Also, such treatment has the potential to negatively impact U.S.-Nicaraguan bilateral relations, particularly trade.”
I traveled to Managua on June 13th for an 8-day academic research project, entering the country on a U.S. official passport to complete a research project sponsored by the U.S. Army War College and supported by colleagues in the US embassy.  I openly and transparently coordinated and planned the trip, with Nicaraguan as well as U.S. government officials, and clearly represented my affiliation and purpose for entering the country.  After obtaining permission from my own institution to conduct the trip and coordinating with the U.S. embassy in Managua, I began reaching out to senior Nicaraguan officials, seeking interviews, including Nicaragua’s ambassador the U.S. Francisco Campbell, senior advisor to the President on the canal Paul Oquist, and functionaries in the office of the Presidency.  During the routine questioning at the immigration checkpoint at Managua airport, I explicitly told the official reviewing my official passport that I am a professor with the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, there in Managua for eight days to conduct interviews regarding the Nicaraguan Canal project.

Less than 12 hours later, at 11:15 PM local time, Nicaraguan officials who visited me in my hotel and “invited” me to leave the country, informing me that I was not authorized to be in the country conducting an investigation regarding the canal, a supposedly transparent commercial project. 
My Nicaraguan colleagues assure me that there is no law in Nicaragua that allows the government to expel a person from the country conducting  open academic research on a particular topic, after having been legally admitted by competent immigration authorities.  As U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua Laura Dogu put it in an interview with the news organization Confidencial, “we are focused on the importance of the freedom of expression…and I don’t think he was doing anything different than any other academic in the world.”
While my visit was truncated, I did have the opportunity for numerous engagements with Nicaraguan colleagues, who gave me valuable insights regarding the project that have not been widely reported in the English-language press. 

I confirmed that the canal project itself is not physically progressing.  While in August 2014, Chinese workers surveyed properties along the canal route, accompanied by Nicaraguan police and military, the government has not purchased land along the canal route, or begun the preliminary port construction work in Brito, that would occur if the canal project was advancing.

I also learned that opposition to the canal project is more widespread than is commonly acknowledged outside Nicaragua, with a total of 64 marches involving over 400,000 protesters against the canal since Public Law 840 was passed three years ago, authorizing the Chinese company HKND to build the canal, Additionally, there are over 175,000 signatures on the petition to repeal the law.  Resistance is particularly strong in areas such as the municipality of Nueva Guinea, which has never had a strong state presence, and which was one of the strongholds for the contra rebels during the civil war.

I also uncovered even more reasons than I had before to question the financial viability of the project.  My colleagues confirmed that the financial consulting firm McKinsey & Co has indeed performed at least two studies for the project.  No results were ever published from the second study, which was supposed to make the financial case for the project, suggesting that there is no credible business case for the canal that McKinsey is willing to stand behind.

I also gained a deeper appreciation for how apparent bad-faith maneuvering and the excessive pursuit of self-interest on both sides have contributed to the project’s problems.  Chinese billionaire Wang Jing appears to have leveraged his Nicaraguan counterparts’ interest in personal power and enrichment to secure a deal that is more personally advantageous to Wang Jing than is commonly realized.  As has been widely publicized, public law 840 allows Wang Jing’s company HKND to initiate projects and take land in virtually any part of Nicaragua (with the pro forma approval of his Nicaraguan counterparts) if deemed necessary for the canal, and to pay only trivial compensation to the Nicaraguan government for the use of the canal during the initial years of its operation. 

Less commonly discussed, however, is an interpretation of Public Law 840, suggesting that if Wang Jing cannot build the canal, he has the option to sue the Nicaraguan government in a foreign (English) court for all expenses incurred to date to advance the project—possibly as much as $200 to $300 million.  If the interpretation is accurate, Wang Jing’s lavish spending on publicity campaigns and studies has never truly risked his own capital, but rather, that of the Nicaraguan people. 

On the other hand, as highlighted by my own expulsion, the Nicaraguan government has managed the canal project behind a cloak of secrecy, possibly to conceal the personal benefits accruing to those involved on the Nicaraguan side.  Wang Jing’s lack of Spanish and English language skills may have impeded his engagement with the Nicaraguan people, but my colleagues assured me that it has been the Nicaraguan leadership that has prevented the public from knowing details of the project, including control of press access during official events.

Similarly, while I once believed that the prestigious Washington D.C.-based consulting firm McLarty and Associates had terminated their relationship with the project because of their concern over their reputation, my colleagues argued that it was actually Nicaraguan officials who edged McLarty out of the project, because they didn’t like having an American middleman between themselves and Wang Jing.

Overall, I perceive that Wang Jing and the Ortega government are each disappointed with the other over the canal.  As a distinguished colleague noted, Wang Jing was misled into thinking that the Ortegas could deliver Nicaragua as a country in which he could do what he pleased to advance the project.  The Ortegas thought that Wang Jing could produce the vast funds and companies to make the canal a reality.  Both appear to have learned better, but are now stuck in a marriage they cannot readily escape.

In the end, my unpleasant experience with the Nicaraguan government deepened my concern that the project will either go forward as a China-funded, China built construction effort, complimented by lucrative concessions for friends of the Ortega family, or it will collapse once the November 2016 elections have taken place.  At that time the government would not need the illusion that the project is alive to avoid the political cost of acknowledging its failure.

With respect to possible PRC funding for the canal, ironically, current U.S. relations with  the Ortega regime could actually increase the odds of such a scenario.  If Taiwan-PRC relations deteriorate under the new Taiwanese government of Tsai Ing-wen, the PRC could resume the “war for diplomatic recognition” with Taiwan, suspended since 2008 while the previous Taiwanese government of Ma Ying-jeou sought reapproachment with the mainland.  If the PRC resumes actively courting countries of the world recognizing Taiwan to change their position, Nicaragua, which previously recognized the PRC during the 1979-1990 Sandinista government, would be a leading candidate to change its diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the PRC again…particularly if doing so helped it to secure PRC funding for the canal.

In the context of such incentives, or even without them, perception of U.S. acquiescence to the practices of the Ortega regime helps to persuade the PRC leadership that the U.S. will similarly accept, with only minor resistance, the PRC’s establishment of a strategic logistics foothold and a greatly expanded commercial presence in Central America through the construction of the Nicaraguan canal.

Without the vast majority of project funds coming from China, attracting the $50 billion to $100 billion that the canal and its associated projects could cost is virtually unthinkable in the present Nicaraguan environment.  Generally investors only make such large, long term, low rate-of-return investments when they have near absolute confidence in the stability of the government, and a transparent regime in which due process of law  protects them and their investment from arbitrary actions by the host government.  If the host government can arbitrarily expel an academic legitimately admitted into the country for asking questions about a commercial project with no type of due process whatsoever, investors can feel no security in investing billions of dollars in an infrastructure project that the government can easily expropriate.

Nor is Nicaragua likely to attract significant numbers of tourists or other investors with such a reputation. As the unfolding economic disaster in Venezuela illustrates, a culture of arbitrary government action eventually chases out the productive enterprises that sustain the government and feed the people. 

Sadly, my expulsion was not the only way the Ortega regime prejudiced the country’s business environment that day.  Hours after kicking me out of the country to impair my research on the “commercial” canal project, the government also expelled two other officials  who were in the country to review the security protocols of Nicaraguan businesses so that they could more easily export their products to the United States.  As with my case, such actions only further impoverish the Nicaraguan people and ultimately erode the bases of support that maintains the government in power.

Beyond the damage that the Ortega regime is doing to the development and prosperity of its own people, the audacity of its expulsion of three U.S. citizens legitimately in the country conducting official U.S. government business suggests that the U.S. strategy of constructive, respectful engagement with the Nicaraguan regime is not working, just as it has not worked with Cuba or other nations of the Bolivarian Socialist ALBA alliance.  Attempting to downplay Nicaraguan government abuses only emboldens the Nicaraguan government, and calls into question the U.S resolve to discourage efforts of the Sandinista regime to conceal its repressive nature and the possibly widespread criminal behavior of its leaders.

As Nicaraguan voters prepare to go to the polls in November, the U.S. government has the right and moral obligation to work with civil society groups to advance meaningful democracy in the country, with the same enthusiasm that it applies to engaging with civil society groups speaking out against practices of non-ALBA governments, such as Honduras and Guatemala.

As part of broader U.S. efforts to bolster democratic institutions, the rule of law, and respect for human rights in the region, it is in the U.S. strategic interest to take a principled stand against both the Nicaraguan government’s eroding respect for democratic practices, and serious accusations regarding the criminal activity of its leaders. 

With respect to credible accusations of crimenal conduct, the U.S. must be clear that its own, and other international law enforcement agencies are collaboratively monitoring such activities, and those connected to transnational organized crime, or enriching themselves at the expense of the Nicaraguan people will not escape justice to live with their ill-gotten gains once they leave office. 

The U.S. should also work with partners in the region to impose costs on the Sandinista leadership for actions that help it to undermine democracy in the country, such as refusing to permit observers from the U.S. government and the Carter Center for the country’s November 2016 elections.  The time to prevent Nicaragua from degenerating into a Venezuela-style authoritarian regime is now, before civil society institutions are decimated, and before government institutions are completely subverted by the Sandinistas.

Beyond the question of Nicaragua’s democracy, the U.S. should also work more actively with Nicaragua’s neighbors such as Costa Rica, including extending security assurances where Nicaraguan actions such as the purchase of Russian T-72 tanks has given those neighbors cause for insecurity.  The U.S. should also closely monitor the Russian-built Marshal Zhukov law enforcement training center, including collaboration with countries in the region sending personnel there, to ensure that the center is not being used for activities beyond the legitimate training of law enforcement personnel.

Finally, if the Nicaraguan government does push ahead with a PRC-funded canal project, the U.S. should work with European and other global stakeholders to insist on international oversight and transparency, legal commitments of strict neutrality regarding access to the waterway, prioritization and usage fees, and an international oversight board.  If the PRC funds and builds the canal without such international safeguards, the U.S. and other stakeholders must be prepared to treat it as an economically hostile act.

My brief trip to Nicaragua left me profoundly touched by the spirit of its people, even if stunned by the audacity of its government.  It left me more sensitized to the importance of the rule of law, protecting citizens from arbitrary action by their government or privileged groups, and it left me with the desire to return someday, under a regime where academics and businessmen alike can be more secure in their person and in their investments, whether or not the country has a canal.

My brief trip to Nicaragua left me profoundly touched by the spirit of its people, even if stunned by the audacity of its government. It left me more sensitized to the importance of the rule of law, protecting citizens from arbitrary action by their government or privileged groups, and it left me with the desire to return someday, under a regime where academics and businessmen alike can be more secure in their person and in their investments, whether or not the country has a canal.
Dr. R. Evan Ellis is professor of Latin American Studies at the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute. The views expressed in this article are strictly his own.