HAPPY 2016 DAMN YOUR EYES!

31/12/2015

disconekt2015 has been a wonderful/horrific/insane/peaceful/war-ridden year.  In other words, just another average year in the wondrous 21st century.  Many thousands of people have been murdered by armies, national and terrorist.  Most of the victims have been black and brown.  But some were white, which has, as usual, caused the most outrage in the “developed” world.

2016 is probably going to be the first year of a protracted war in Syria and Iraq, ISIL vs “The Good Guys” (or ISIL vs “The Bad Guys”, depending on where you shit).  Kick-started to a large degree by the murder of hundreds of white people in France, not so much by the murder of thousands of brown people elsewhere.  Not surprising, of course.  It’s just how war works nowadays.

Anyway, screw negativity.  For some people, 2016 will be a good year.  In that spirit, please raise a glass of champagne or toxic sludge and make a toast:

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!  WHOOOOH!!!

 

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Foreign Policy doesn’t fuel domestic terrorism? Get real!

09/12/2015

A lot of “centre-ground” (and right-from centre)  commentators and “moderate” Labour MPs are pissed off that Stop The War Coalition think that French foreign policy regarding Syria might have provoked the shootings and bombings in Paris in November – and that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has not distanced himself from the anti-war group.

It was blogged in the Spectator site:

Labour MPs appear to be just as annoyed by Jeremy Corbyn’s links to the Stop The War coalition as they are about his comments on shoot to kill. In the questions following David Cameron’s Commons statement on the Paris attacks, several MPs used the opportunity to make coded attacks on Stop The War for a blog it published, titled ‘Paris reaps whirlwind of western support for extremist violence in Middle East’. It has been since been removed (cached version here) and Corbyn said he was glad it was deleted — but he has yet to condemn the fact it was published in the first place.

And the Daily Mail reported that

One Labour MP said the suggestion that the French people were to blame for the attack was ‘akin at the time of the Second World War to blaming the Jews for their deaths under the Nazis’.

Frontbencher Hilary Benn refused to rule out resigning if Mr Corbyn attended the event [a Stop The War Coalition Christmas fundraiser] as Labour MPs lined up to condemn their leader’s opposition to armed police shooting to kill terrorists.

This is so disingenuous, and not the first time politicians and political commentators have come out with this nonsense that somehow Western military action abroad doesn’t provoke terror acts at home.  Tony Blair, UK prime minister in 2005, denied at the time that the 7/7 bombings were in any way provoked by British military action in Iraq – and he’s still denying it.  But, after the bombings, a video was acquired by an Arab TV station in which Mohammad Sidique Khan, one of the suicide bombers, said the attack was in response to British military foreign policy in the region.

At the time the BBC reported:

On the tape the bomber said: “Our words are dead until we give them life with our blood.

“I and thousands like me have forsaken everything for what we believe.”

He said the public was responsible for the atrocities perpetuated against his “people” across the world because it supported democratically elected governments who carried them out.

“Until we feel security, you will be our targets,” he said.

“Until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people we will not stop this fight.

“We are at war and I am a soldier. Now you too will taste the reality of this situation.”

Muslim Council of Britain spokesman Inayat Bunglawala told BBC News:

“Mr Khan has allowed his hatred to distort his moral compass.

“However, this tape does serve to confirm that the war in Iraq and our policies in the Middle East have indeed led to a radicalisation amongst a section of Muslim youth.”

The same is happening now.  While it would be ridiculous to claim that the people slain in Paris somehow “deserved it”, it must be acknowledged that the terrorists – all French or Belgian citizens who had connections with ISIL – did see the French military action in Iraq and Syria as a provocation.

Corbyn can see the connection, and now his political rivals – in Labour and in other parties – want to use his honesty as another lever to undermine him.

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Tracking jihadis on Twitter

19/01/2015

Interesting article in the Guardian, on how social media experts are tracking and identifying foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq. These analysts work for the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR), at King’s College London. The ICSR is “the first global initiative of its type” and is frequently contacted by counter-terrorism officers “hungry for information on the continuing flow of Britons to the ranks of Isis.”

The ICSR claims to have greater success in tracking fighters than any government-run organisation, even though its resources and its access to information is much more limited than those available to the likes of MI6 and the CIA. According to the article, Professor Peter Neumann, the leader of the team, says hat blanket surveillance is not effective unless you have the skills to decode the information acquired.

Neumann said that the centre had built an enviable repository of online data from open sources – tricks that the security services are keen to learn and replicate, although the ICSR refuses to hand over data to the intelligence agencies. He added that the databases were compiled using legal means, with no hacking of accounts or even the use of fake online profiles.

“We are using information that is openly accessible to anyone who wants to look. Over the years we’ve become quite clever, but none of what we’re doing involves hacking and obviously we do not have special powers granted to us by the authorities,” said Neumann, who advocates a more targeted approach to intelligence-gathering rather than reliance on mass surveillance techniques.

So the strategy employed by the NSA and GCHQ is less effective. They collect huge amounts of information but do’t know what to do with it. Whereas the ICSR’s more targeted approach yields much better quality intelligence. For example, Shiraz Maher, senior fellow at the centre, has a good grasp on what jihadis are like because he actually orchestrates conversations with fighters over Facebook and Twitter. He says “From an intelligence perspective, social media allows us to gauge their mood and gives opportunities to perhaps create or exploit dissent. Before social media you would have needed to have recruited spies.”

An example of this ability to gauge the mood of ISIS fighters and their supporters is provided by Melanie Smith, another ICSR research fellow. She told the Guardian There’s been some grumblings recently. Some of the British women have been complaining because it’s the depths of winter and there’s no electricity. The water’s been so cold they can’t do their washing and their kids are getting sick.” Obviously, knowledge of the enemy’s state of morale can be extremely useful when planning operations.

"Jihadi John", British ISIS fighter involved in the killings of Western hostages.  Photo from Wikipedia

“Jihadi John”, British ISIS fighter involved in the killings of Western hostages. Photo from Wikipedia

Professor Neumann says that if he had had a larger team 2 years ago, the ICSR would have been able to identify “Jihadi John”, the British ISIS fighter involved in the killings of several US and British hostages. As it is, the ICSR can only assert that the extremist is not Londoner Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, as claimed by the media.

So the experts believe that the approach espoused by Western leaders such as David Cameron and his beloved snooper’s charter is wrong. What is needed is targeted intelligence gathering and surveillance of named individuals. And where will these names come from? Well, if the ICSR has been able to identify fighters using only information that is already in the public domain, imagine how much more they could do with warrants and access to restricted files. This could all be done within the current legal framework, with no need for snoopers’ charters and large-scale trawling of everyone’s communications.

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07/06/2014

Googling round the internet, checking out the idea of freelance war reporting, I came across an interesting piece in The Independent (by Tom Goulding, on 25 February 2013).

Gould wrote:

As the targets of government shelling, many have speculated their deaths were a warning to the outside world; scare tactics designed to drive foreign journalists out of a war that has so far claimed the lives of over 60,000 people.

Normally I would have expected the British press to show the various Syrian factions their proverbial longbowmen’s fingers. But no – all of a sudden the British media “care” about their on-site sources. And this isn’t just a Syrian issue. Gould went on:

Similar strategies deployed around the world saw 2012 become one of the deadliest years for journalists on record. Overall, journalist fatalities soared 13 per cent, with a total of 121 losing their lives in Syria, Pakistan, Mexico, Brazil, Iraq, the Philippines, and Somalia, described by the International Federation of Journalists as a “media killing field”.

So, it’s clear various combatants in various combat zones think killing journalists will make a difference. But they are clearly wrong. All they’ll do is alienate journalists as soon as their boots hit the ground. One thing all these various groups share is hope that international media will paint them as the “good guy”… or at least no worse than the other guy.

But the papers are getting antsy. Earlier in the month Press Gazette broke the news that the Sunday Times would no longer accept speculatively submitted pictures from the Syrian front because they did not “wish to encourage freelancers to take exceptional risks”. The Times, Guardian, Observer and Independent all have similar policies in place.

Photographer Rick Findler submitted work to the News International paper The Sunday Times, stuff he had shot in Aleppo, Syria. The paper’s foreign desk that “it looks like you have done some exceptional work” but “we have a policy of not taking copy from Syria as we believe the dangers of operating there are too great”. AKA: “Your work is great, but if you get hurt/die in a war zone it might make us look bad.”

And it isn’t just the Sunday Times pursuing this policy. The Times, Guardian, Observer and Independent have each revealed that they have similar policies. (No other newspapers asked had responded to Press Gazette’s enquiries at the time of publication. But it wouldn’t surprise me if every British paper with an international news desk was doing the same.)

And this creates a situation where no one knows what the hell is going on in war-torn regions. Some papers are lucky enough to have accredited “full-time” journos and/or togs in trouble zone. For instance, despite its freelance ban The Sunday Times still regularly devotes staff resources to reporting from Syria. So it isn’t a refusal to report – rather it is an apparent boycott of freelance reporters and photographers. It is, in the words of BBC World Affairs producer Stuart Hughes, an attempt to stem the rising tide of fresh-faced freelancers who are “skipping the unglamorous training grounds of local newsrooms” to report from hazardous locations in search of that coveted career break

So why are the papers doing this? Surely it’s useful to have a “man on the ground” who might produce scoops on big stories? It’s certainly dangerous work, especially for inexperienced journalists. They can end up as targets for kidnapping or murder. From the Independent:

In August 2012, American freelancer Austin Tice went missing in Syria. The 31-year-old, who recently received the George Polk Award for his work, is currently believed to be in the hands of Assad loyal forces. Clues to his whereabouts are scant; a YouTube video posted in September shows armed men leading a blindfolded Tice through mountainous terrain. While some experts have refuted the disturbing footage, the former marine’s disappearance proves that, regardless of age or experience, no reporter is safe in Syria.

In the words of Tom Goulding:

Young journalists are now caught between a rock and a hard place. Despite financial constraints, there will always be a place for good war journalism, and those freelancers determined enough to make it in the industry will find an audience regardless of boycott. It falls on editors to ensure this new generation receives the same advice and respect that all journalists are entitled to. Such courage does not deserve the cold shoulder.

Freelancers can be, and often are better experienced and equipped to get the story rather than a paper’s regulars. Are the papers really going to boycott running quality content? And are they really going to pretend that they’re saying “no” to the freelancers because they “care” about them? Good quality copy and images are good, whether or not the reporter has served a “tea boy” apprenticeship. Forget the CV, look at what you’ve been offered. Good is good, end of story.

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What ya gonna do about Syria then, NATO?

25/06/2011

Western powers, operating under the NATO flag, have involved themselves in the Lybian civil /war, on the grounds that Gadaffi is using his armed forces to terrorise and kill civilians in his own country. This is very laudable and all that; but governments frequently use terror to silence their people.

I could break open the history books to demonstrate how often this has happened without any outside interference. But I don’t need history to show I’m right – cos it’s happening right now. Look, for instance, at Syria. Yesterday (Friday 24 June) up to a thousand civilians have fled across the border to Lebanon after demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorial regime. Troops used tear gas and live ammo to disperse the crowds of demonstrators. It is estimated that 20 people were killed by troops – at least 6 Syrians died in Lebanese hospitals after they were taken across the border. It’s very difficult to get reliable figures from inside Syria. Syrian state-run TV has claimed that the shootings were carried out by “unidentified gunmen”.

So here we have a situation very much like that in Libya – government forces are trying to kill critics and demonstrators. So will US/UK and its NATO allies going to involve themselves in Syria like they have in Libya, carrying out air strikes against government forces? And what about all the other places in the world where governments use terror to silence their critics?

I guess it depends on whether or not there’s oil in the region. Because, believe it or not, that’s why the US/UK “intervened” in Libya – and before that, in Iraq – and, before that, in _______ (insert country of choice). There’s nothing “humanitarian” about the West’s involvement in these places. It’s time to wake up and smell the crude oil.

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