18 April 2016

*** All the Euphemisms We Use for ‘War’

How words have shaped the United States government’s ongoing cycle of violence.
By William J. Astore

The dishonesty of words illustrates the dishonesty of America’s wars.
Since 9/11, can there be any doubt that the public has become numb to the euphemisms that regularly accompany US troops, drones, and CIA operatives into Washington’s imperial conflicts across the Greater Middle East and Africa? Such euphemisms are meant to take the sting out of America’s wars back home. Many of these words and phrases are already so well-known and well-worn that no one thinks twice about them anymore.
This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.
Here are just a few: collateral damage for killed and wounded civilians (a term used regularly since the First Gulf War of 1990–91). Enhanced interrogation techniques for torture, a term adopted with vigor by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and the rest of their administration (“techniques” that were actually demonstrated in the White House). Extraordinary rendition for CIA kidnappings of terror suspects off global streets or from remote badlands, often followed by the employment of enhanced interrogation techniques at US black sites or other foreign hellholes. Detainees for prisoners and detention camp for prison (or, in some cases, more honestly, concentration camp), used to describe Guantánamo (Gitmo), among other places established offshore of American justice. Targeted killings for presidentially ordered drone assassinations. Boots on the ground for yet another deployment of “our” troops (and not just their boots) in harm’s way. Even the Bush administration’s “Global War on Terror{, its label for an attempt to transform the Greater Middle East into a Pax Americana, would be redubbed in the Obama years overseas contingency operations (before any attempt at labeling was dropped for a no-name war pursued across major swathes of the planet).

As euphemisms were deployed to cloak that war’s bitter and brutal realities, over-the-top honorifics were assigned to America’s embattled role in the world. Exceptional, indispensable, and greatest have been the three words most commonly used by presidents, politicians, and the gung-ho to describe this country. Once upon a time, if Americans thought this way, they felt no need to have their presidents and presidential candidates actually say so—such was the confidence of the golden age of American power. So consider the constant redeployment of these terms a small measure of America’s growing defensiveness about itself, its sense of doubt and decline, rather than strength and confidence.

To what end this concerted assault on the words we use? In George Orwell’s classic 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language,” he noted that his era’s equivalents for “collateral damage” were “needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.” Obviously, not much has changed in the intervening seven decades. And this is, as Orwell intuited, a dangerous way to go. Cloaking violent, even murderous actions in anodyne language might help a few doubting functionaries sleep easier at night, but it should make the rest of us profoundly uneasy.

The more American leaders and officials—and the media that quotes them endlessly—employ such euphemisms to cloak harsh realities, the more they ensure that such harshness will endure; indeed, that it is likely to grow harsher and more pernicious as we continue to settle into a world of euphemistic thinking.
The Emptiness of Acronyms

In the future, some linguist or lexicographer will doubtless compile a dictionary of perpetual war and perhaps (since they may be linked) imperial decline, focusing on the grim processes and versions of failure language can cloak. It would undoubtedly explore how certain words and rhetorical devices were used in 21st-century America to obscure the heavy burdens that war placed on the country, even as they facilitated its continuing failed conflicts. It would obviously include classic examples like surge, used in both Iraq and Afghanistan to obscure the way our government rushed extra troops into a battle zone in a moment of failure, only ensuring the extension of that failure, and the now-classic phrase shock and awe that obscured the reality of a massive air strike on Baghdad that resulted in the deaths of dozens of civilians (“collateral damage”), but not the “decapitation” of a hated regime.

Don’t think, however, that the language of 21st-century American war was only meant to lull the public. Less familiar words and terms continue to be used within the military not to clarify tasks at hand but to obscure certain obvious realities even from those sanctioned to deal with them. Take asymmetrical warfare, the gray zone, and VUCA. Unless you spend time in Department of Defense and military circles, you probably haven’t heard of these.

Asymmetrical warfare suggests that the enemy fights unfairly and in a thoroughly cowardly fashion, regularly lurking behind and mixing with civilians (“hostages”), because that enemy doesn’t have the moxie to don uniforms and stand toe-to-toe in a “kinetic” smack-down with US troops. As a result, of course, US forces must be prepared for underhanded tactics and devious weaponry, including ambushes and IEDs (improvised explosive devices, or roadside bombs), as well as a range of other “unconventional” tactics now all too familiar in a world plagued by violent attacks against “soft” targets (a.k.a. civilians). It must also be prepared to engage an enemy mixed in with a civilian population and so brace itself for the inevitable collateral damage that is now so much the essence of American war.

The “gray zone” is a fuzzy term used in military circles to describe the perplexing nature of lower-level conflicts, often involving non-state actors, that don’t qualify as full-fledged wars. These are often fought using non-traditional weapons and tactics ranging from cyber attacks to the propagandizing of potential terror recruits via social media. This “zone” is unnerving to Pentagon types in part because the vast majority of the Pentagon’s funding goes to conventional weaponry that’s as subtle as a sledgehammer: big-ticket items like aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, main-battle tanks, strategic bombers, and wildly expensive multi-role aircraft such as the F-35 (now estimated to cost roughly $1.4 trillion through its lifecycle). Much of this weaponry is “too big to fail” in the funding wars in Washington, but regularly fails in the field precisely because it’s too big to be used effectively against the latest crop of evasive enemies. Hence, that irresolvable gray zone that plagues America’s defense planners and operatives.

The question the gray zone both raises and obscures is: Why has the United States done so poorly, when, by its own definition, it remains the biggest, baddest superpower around, the one that outspends its non-state enemies by a factor so large it can’t even be calculated? Keep in mind, for instance, that the 9/11 attacks on American soil were estimated to have cost Osama bin Laden at most a half-million dollars. Multiply that by 400 and you can buy one “made in America” F-35 jet fighter.

If the gray zone offers little help clarifying America’s military dilemmas, what about VUCA? It’s an acronym for volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, which is meant to describe our post-9/11 world. Of course, there’s nothing like an acronym to take the sting out of any world. But as an historian who has read a lot of history books, let me confess that, to the best of my knowledge, the world has always been, is now, and will always be VUCA.

For any future historian of the Pentagon’s language, let me sum things up this way: Instead of honest talk about war in all its ugliness and uncertainty, military professionals of our era have tended to substitute buzz words, catchphrases, and acronyms. It’s a way of muddying the water. It allows the world of war to tumble on without serious challenge, which is why it’s been so useful in these years to speak of, say, COIN (Counterinsurgency) or 4GW (Fourth-Generation Warfare).

Much like its most recent enthusiast, General David Petraeus, COIN has once again lost favor in the military, but Fourth-Generation Warfare is still riding high and sounds so refreshingly forward-looking, not like the stale Vietnam-era wine in a post-9/11 bottle that it is. In reality, it’s another iteration of insurgency and COIN mixed and matched with Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong’s people’s war. To prevail in places like Afghanistan, so 4GW thinkers suggest, one needs to win hearts and minds—yes, that classic phrase of defeat in Vietnam—while securing and protecting (a definite COINage) the people against insurgents and terrorists. In other words, we’re talking about an acronym that immediately begins to congeal if you use older words to describe it like “pacification” and “nation-building.” The latest 4GW jargon may not help win wars, but it does sometimes win healthy research grants from the government.

The fact is that trendy acronyms and snappy buzz words have a way of limiting genuine thinking on war. If America is to win (or, far better, avoid) future wars, its war professionals need to look more honestly at that phenomenon in all of its dimensions. So, too, do the American people, for it’s in their name that such wars are allegedly waged.
The Truth About “Progress” in America’s Wars

These days, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter often resorts to cancer imagery when describing the Islamic state. “Parent tumor” is an image he especially favors—that is, terrorism as a cancer that America’s militarized surgeons need to attack and destroy before it metastasizes and has “children.” (Think of the ISIS franchises in Libya, where the organization has recently doubled in size, Afghanistan, and Yemen.) Hence the proliferation of “surgical strikes” by drones and similarly “surgical” Special Ops raids, both of which you could think of as America’s equivalent of white blood cells in its war on the cancer of terrorism.

But is terrorism really a civilizational cancer that can be “cured” via the most aggressive “kinetic” treatments? Can the US render the world cancer-free? For that’s what Carter’s language implies. And how does one measure “progress” in a “war” on the cancer of ISIS? Indeed, from an outsider’s perspective, the proliferation of US military bases around the world (there are now roughly 800), as well as of drone strikes, Special Ops raids, and massive weapons exports might have a cancerous look to them. In other words, what constitutes a “cancer” depends on one’s perspective—and perhaps one’s definition of world “health,” too.

The very notion of progress in America’s recent wars is one that a colleague, Michael Murry, recently critiqued. A US Navy Vietnam War veteran, he wrote me that, for his favorite military euphemism, “I have to go with ‘progress’ as incessantly chanted by the American military brass in Iraq and Afghanistan…

“We go on hearing about 14 years of ‘progress’ which, to hear our generals tell it, would vanish in an instant should the United States withdraw its forces and let the locals and their neighbors sort things out. Since when do ‘fragile gains’ equate to ‘progress’? Who in their right mind would invest rivers of blood and trillions of dollars in ‘fragility’? Now that I think of it, we also have the euphemistic expression of ‘drawdown’ substituting for ‘withdrawal’ which in turn substitutes for ‘retreat.’ The US military and the civilian government it has browbeaten into hapless acquiescence simply cannot face the truth of their monumental failures and so must continually bastardize our language in a losing—almost comical—attempt to stay one linguistic step ahead of the truth.”

Progress, as Murry notes, basically means nothing when such “gains,” in the words of David Petraeus during the surge months in Iraq in 2007, are both “fragile” and “reversible.” Indeed, Petraeus repeated the same two words in 2011 to describe similar US “progress” in Afghanistan, and today it couldn’t be clearer just how much “progress” was truly made there. Isn’t it time for government officials to stop banging the drums of war talk in favor of “progress” when none exists?

Think, for instance, of the American-trained (and now retrained) Iraqi security forces. Each year US officials swear that the Iraqi military is getting ever closer to combat readiness, but much like one of Zeno’s paradoxes, the half-steps that military takes under American tutelage never seem to get it into fighting shape. Progress, eternally touted, seems always to lead to regress, eternally explained away, as that army regularly underperforms or its units simply collapse, often abandoning their American-supplied weaponry to the enemy. Here we are, 12 years after the US began training the Iraqi military, and once again it seems to be cratering, this time while supposedly on the road to retaking Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, from its Islamic State occupiers. Progress, anyone?

In short, the dishonesty of the words the US military regularly wields illustrates the dishonesty of its never-ending wars. After so many years of failure and frustration, of wars that aren’t won and terrorist movements that only seem to spread as its leaders are knocked off, isn’t it past time for Americans to ditch phrases like “collateral damage,” “enemy noncombatant,” “no-fly zone” (or even worse, “safe zone”), and “surgical strike” and adopt a language, however grim, that accurately describes the military realities of this era?

Words matter, especially words about war. So as a change of pace, instead of the usual bloodless euphemisms and vapid acronyms, perhaps the US government could tell the shocking and awful truth to the American people in plain language about the realities and dangers of never-ending war. 

*** Can India's Think Tanks Be Truly Effective?

Dhruva Jaishankar
Posted: 15/04/2016
I have worked for much of the past decade in, or with, think tanks in both the US and in India, and am regularly confronted with misperceptions and misapprehensions about the sector. What is the purpose of think tanks? Who sets their agenda? What do they do on a day-to-day basis? The answers are, unfortunately, not so simple.
These questions are particularly important today because significant changes are afoot among New Delhi's think tanks. The opening of Carnegie India means that one of the world's leading think tanks on international affairs will now have a permanent presence in India. Carnegie joins its Washington neighbour The Brookings Institution, in many ways the archetypal think tank, which established Brookings India in New Delhi a few years ago, and recently moved its offices in the diplomatic enclave of Chanakyapuri.
[T]he research produced by think tanks is meant to inform and influence public policy. Their target audience is therefore either policymakers in government or the broader public.

Meanwhile, in March, the Observer Research Foundation concluded the Raisina Dialogue, giving India a major international policy conference. And the appointments last year of former Ambassador to Nepal and Afghanistan Jayant Prasad as Director General of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) and Nalin Surie, ex-envoy to China and the UK, as head of the Indian Council on World Affairs (ICWA) means that accomplished diplomats now head the two premier government-funded foreign policy think tanks. Taken together, these developments offer a good opportunity to revisit think tanks' role in the Indian policy establishment.
How think tanks work

The primary purpose of think tanks is to generate ideas and debate on matters of public policy. In that sense, they are both research institutions and conveners, bringing together different viewpoints and facilitating an exchange of views. In terms of research, what think tanks do is not dissimilar to business consulting, intelligence analysis, investigative journalism, or academic research in the social sciences. The difference, however, is that the research produced by think tanks is meant to inform and influence public policy. Their target audience is therefore either policymakers in government or the broader public. Think tanks also serve as a venue for political leaders, bureaucrats and military officers to exchange views and interact with other actors: foreign counterparts, the media, academics, corporate representatives and the wider public. Having neutral venues for these kinds of interactions is particularly important given the changing roles and growing clout of some of these stakeholders in public policy formulation and implementation.
If there is one big challenge that all think tanks face it is measuring their effectiveness.
Despite these broad shared characteristics, there is considerable diversity among think tanks in terms of their mandates, priorities, and structures. Some focus narrowly on specific aspects of public policy, such as foreign relations and defence, domestic politics and governance, economic and trade policy, or education, migration, and environmental issues. Others are broad, covering a range of topics. Some, such as ICWA and IDSA, are government-affiliated while others are entirely autonomous and privately managed. While some Indian think tanks function almost exclusively as research institutes, such as the Centre for Policy Research, others prioritize convening, such as the Observer Research Foundation.

Think tanks such as IDSA and the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) have been active in India since the mid-20th century. But the last 25 years have witnessed a tremendous growth and proliferation of Indian institutions, including privately-funded entities and military service-specific think tanks (the Centre for Land and Warfare Studies, the Centre for Air Power Studies, and the National Maritime Foundation). Location matters, given the need to be proximate to policy makers. There is a reason that global think tanks have congregated in major capital cities such as Washington and London, Brussels and Beijing. So it is only natural that the majority of Indian institutes have been established in Delhi. However, newer initiatives like Gateway House in Mumbai, the Takshashila Institution in Bangalore, and the Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy in Chennai now provide platforms beyond the capital.
[Think tanks] can play a big role in advising governments on sound policy, enabling dialogue with a variety of stakeholders, and interpreting obscure policy issues for the broader public.
Glorified talk shops?
If there is one big challenge that all think tanks face it is measuring their effectiveness. Ideas coming out of think tanks, even when adopted as government policy, are rarely credited as such. Some of the most effective work done by think tanks--in the form of private briefings and inputs to government policy makers--is often, by necessity, not publicly acknowledged. It becomes easy, then, to dismiss think tanks as ineffective talk shops. But at their best, they can play a big role in advising governments on sound policy, enabling increasingly important dialogue with a variety of stakeholders, and interpreting obscure policy issues for the broader public. They can also help build expertise, and perform in-depth or specialised research that government do not have the time or capacity to do. Despite its healthy growth in recent years, the Indian think tank sector today suffers from certain shortcomings. These have prevented them from competing for talent with academia, the private sector, and competitors abroad. They have also been inhibited from being fully effective.
Making Indian think tanks more effective

A few measures, if taken, could rapidly revitalize the Indian think tank industry, to the benefit of these institutions, government policy and public discourse.

1. Research needs to be given priority over convening
There is today no shortage in India of policy conferences, panel discussions, and Track II dialogues (which involve non-official participants from different countries).
On almost any given evening in Delhi, there are book launches or speeches by visiting dignitaries... But there remains a paucity of authoritative, in-depth, ground-breaking research.

On almost any given evening in Delhi, there are book launches or speeches by visiting dignitaries hosted by one or another Indian think tank. But there remains a paucity of authoritative, in-depth, ground-breaking research. Book-length studies on such topics as the evolution of India-Southeast Asia relations, Pakistan's contemporary political dynamics, India's trade policy, defence acquisitions, the 1965 war, or India during the Narasimha Rao years--to list just a few topics--would be immensely useful. Op-eds and policy papers remain useful vehicles to disseminate ideas, but think tanks provide the luxury of time for truly detailed and path-breaking work.

2. Quality needs to be given priority over quantity
Think tank scholars ought to be among the most knowledgeable experts in their fields, and that means that institutions must be able to compete for talent with the private sector, universities and foreign organizations. At present, India's think tanks often function as homes for retired civil servants and military officers. These former officials can--and do--offer a wealth of experience, enabling them to document issues on which they have had first-hand experience and reflect on lessons learned. But generating new ideas and fresh perspectives will require tapping a wider pool of talent. This means investing in regional and topical expertise, a variety of disciplines (history, economics, and area studies, in addition to political science), and a mastery of languages.
At present, India's think tanks often function as homes for retired civil servants and military officers.
We currently lack the requisite expertise on our neighbours: China, Myanmar, Iran, and even Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan. Economic expertise, in particular, is missing at many Indian institutes. Establishing an external peer review process for publications will also help improve the quality of output across the board.

3. More autonomy and transparency
Institutions affiliated with the government are in constant danger of becoming extensions of ministries: rigidly hierarchical, risk-averse, bureaucratic, status conscious, and driven by patronage. The entire raison d'être of think tanks is to overcome these constraints. Meanwhile, privately funded think tanks have to show they are not beholden to their benefactors if they are to retain their credibility. Transparency about sources of funding allows people to draw their own conclusions about the nature of any research.

4. Think tank scholars need more interactions with government
This can be mutually beneficial. Unlike in countries where a revolving door enables experts to migrate between think tanks and government positions, in India, a career bureaucracy inhibits such career paths. Quite often, the lack of interactions with officials means that think tank experts in India are badly misinformed. Many of their recommendations--while well-intentioned--are simply impossible to implement, failing to take into account bureaucratic processes, political realities or resource constraints. By taking on more government advisory work, think tanks would increase the expertise available to officials while becoming better-informed about government priorities and processes.
[V]erbosity is too often equated with erudition. Presenting information in a manner that is easily digestible remains a challenge.

5. Research needs to be usable
Finally, one big difference between policy research and other fields is that it cannot simply dwell on the past, but must have implications for the present and future. Far too much work being done by think tanks - and not just in India - tends to be descriptive, rather than analytical.

‘Tread softly, you tread on my dreams’ – China to India


For China’s official news agency Xinhua, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter’s India visit was a non-event. The only news significant enough to be reported out of India this week have been the temple tragedy in Kerala last Sunday, which killed 110 people (over which President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang sent condolence messages to their counterparts), and the defence agreement signed by India and the Maldives (which was a ‘non-event’ for most of the Indian media amidst the excitement over the Carter visit.)
A sense of priorities? Or, a genuine understanding of events in India? Or, studied indifference? Of course, a fourth explanation also would be that Xinhua, like most of us in India, is genuinely confused about the icing on the cake of the Carter visit – the signing of the Logistic Supply Agreement (LSA) that would give access to Indian military bases for the US forces.
The fact of the matter is that except for the starry-eyed US lobbyists in the Indian media — and amongst the ex-fauji community — who have opened the champagne bottle (here), one remains unsure as to what exactly is happening. Inter-governmental pacts do not become pacts unless they are a done thing. As the Russians would say, ‘Where is the bumaga(document) here?’ (The US-government owned Voice of America, here, probably shares this sardonic perception about the world of diplomacy.)

From personal experience, I can vouchsafe that the pact on Siachen, which we negotiated with the high-powered Pakistani delegation, which was already waiting in the ante-room of the office of the then Defence Secretary N. N. Vohra (presently J&K governor) in South Block to sign thebumaga one balmy evening in November 1992 — with the PIB and Doordarshan crew already having set up their gear for the historic photo-op — is yet to be signed after 24 long years, and has become moribund.
However, if the Indian intention is to use the unsigned, draft LSA to create diplomatic leverage in the upcoming meetings with top Chinese officials (on three occasions within the week itself), we are probably climbing up the wrong tree. At least, that is the conclusion one can draw from the remarks made by the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman in Beijing on Wednesday when asked about the LSA. He said,

Mehbooba Messing Up Kashmir Situation, Pleasing Hardliners By Blaming Army

Swarajya Staff
April 13, 2016,
Mehbooba has sought a time bound probe into Handwara firing incident saying it will will act as a deterrent
Investigations have so far indicated that no army personnel has been involved in any sexual harassment case.
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti could have met Prime Minister Narendra Modi under different set of circumstances. On Wednesday she met both Modi and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar under the shadow of Handwara firing and loss of innocent lives in the firing.
Mehbooba, who is on her maiden visit after assuming post of Chief Minister, met Parrikar and Union Minister for Urban Development Venkaiah Naidu separately.
In her meeting with Parrikar, she sought a time bound probe saying it will act as a deterrent against such incidents in future.
Describing the firing incident as “very unfortunate”, the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister said, “I spoke to the Defence Minister. He assured me that a probe will be initiated and the culprits will be punished. “At the same time the family (of the victims) will be compensated. Such incidents should not happen in the future,” she said after meeting Parrikar.

Mehbooba is wrong in targeting the army even after getting a clear picture of the incident. Two young people, including a budding cricketer, and a woman were killed in Handwara when security forces opened fire to disperse a stone-pelting mob targeting their bunker. The incident took place after reports surfaced that some army personnel had allegedly molested a girl returning from school.
However, police investigations have so far indicated that no such incident had taken place. Army has ordered an inquiry while the police registered a criminal case and begun investigations into the incident which triggered more protests and had an echo in Srinagar and Pulwama districts of Kashmir as well.
Mehbooba had on Tuesday said the security personnel involved in the killing of two youths will be handed exemplary punishment, saying such incidents “cannot” be tolerated. Mehbooba also raised a number of other issues including the handing over certain portions of land not required by the Army to the State so that they can be used for promoting tourism and developing civic, educational and infrastructure facilities in the larger public interest.
She also took up the issue of concrete action by the Defence Ministry on the decisions taken into the civil-military liaison conference besides revision in the rates of rent to different categories of land held by the Army and revision of compensation provided to people affected by Field Firing and Artillery Practices.
These kind of statements are not going to build trust with the BJP at centre or at the state level. The incident in Handwara was instigated by the miscreants for removing an army bunker located within Handwara town.
Initially, an FIR against the army, which regretted the killing on Tuesday, was lodged in the Handwara police station, 70 km north of Srinagar, in the killings.

Absurd To Imagine India Still Not Part Of UN Security Council: Nicolas Sarkozy

Thursday, April 14, 2016
Backing India's bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council (UNSC), former French President Nicolas Sarkozy today said it is "absurd" to imagine that the world's largest democracy is yet to become a permanent member of the powerful wing of the world body.
India will soon be the world's most populous country in the world and "it is really absurd to imagine" that " it is not a permanent member of UNSC", he said while addressing a conference organised by an industry body.
"We must ensure India has a permanent membership of the Security Council. How can you ignore a billion Indians?" Mr Sarkozy wondered.

Proclaiming himself as a "friend of India", the current Leader of Opposition of France, said there is something "very special" about India and he shares a "deep fascination" for it and said there must be strategic partnership between India and France.
He advocated reforms in the architecture and functioning of global institutions like the G20 and the WTO.
The former French President said he was opposed to the double status of some countries having veto power in the UNSC while others don't.
France's partnership with India, he said, can grow stronger if India becomes a permanent member of the UNSC.
He said there was a "need to increase the permanent members" and every continent has to decide who it would like to designate as a permanent member. He also said the architecture of other global institutions like the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the G20 and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) needs to be relooked at and reformed.

* Stratfor: Debunking the Myth of Total Security

Summary: Here Stratfor addresses one of the central myths of 21st century US politics — that the government should provide total security to its citizens, who happily trade away their rights in exchange for this chimera. We can free ourselves from these fears!
Lead analyst: Scott Stewart
Stratfor, 14 April 2016
Last week, someone asked me whether I thought it was safe to travel to Izmir, Turkey. Thanks to my line of work, these kinds of questions no longer surprise me. People have been asking me such things for almost as long as I can remember. And since I have gained visibility through my work as Stratfor’s lead terrorism and security analyst and as the author of a book on travel security, the inquiries have become only more frequent.
Most of the time, I don’t mind offering travel security advice. By Dave Grossman’s model of human nature, I am a sheepdog-type person (as opposed to a sheep or wolf), naturally predisposed to protect people. Moreover, I appreciate people’s efforts to understand the environment they are going to visit. After all, foreknowledge goes a long way toward avoiding unpleasant surprises.

But I suspect that my responses to these kinds of questions often surprise the people asking, especially those who seem to just want an empty reassurance that their trip will be a safe one. This is because in reality, no place is truly safe from every possible threat; the idea of total security is a myth. Risk is inherent in every single thing we do — or don’t do. I incurred a risk when I got out of bed this morning, another when I exercised and countless more during my commute. Although obviously some activities are riskier than others, none of our actions are completely risk-free. Even if I were to live isolated in a hermetically sealed bubble, there would still be risks to my health (and sanity).
And, of course, the same goes for travel.

Understanding Risks and Threats
Rather than give a patent yes or no ruling on the safety of a particular trip, such as the trip to Izmir, I prefer to outline the various dangers that lurk in a given locale and help prospective travelers to contextualize them. In fact, the article I wrote a few weeks ago describing the diverse terrorist threats in Turkey adapted some of the information I have supplied the many other people to ask me about traveling to Turkey in the past couple months. Some, but not all.
People tend to fixate on the highly publicized terrorist threat that groups such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons and the Islamic State pose in Turkey. By its nature, with its spectacular, made-for-media events and the type of coverage it attracts, terrorism seems a far more common and deadly occurrence than it is. Indeed, terrorism-related deaths overshadow the larger number of deaths that result from other causes each year. But in truth, other dangers present a far more likely risk to a traveler in Turkey than terrorism does. These include fires, natural disasters, accidents and disease.

Afghanistan: Will the Afghan Air Force Make a Difference in the 2016 Fighting Season?

Image Credit: U.S. Air Force
The Afghan Air Force will, for the first time, deploy new light attack aircraft in its fight against insurgents this year.
April 14, 2016
While the Taliban officially launched their annual spring offensive this week pledging large-scale attacks, the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) will for the first time in 15 years be able to deploy a light attack aircraft specifically designed for counterinsurgency operations in their fight against the insurgents.
The Afghan Air Force (AAF) will begin this year’s fighting season with eight new Embraer/Sierra Nevada Corporation A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft in its arsenal. The first four A-29 aircraft arrived at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on January 15. Four more planes were delivered in March.
No additional aircraft deliveries are expected this year. Four more A-29 Tucanos are slated for delivery in 2017 and the remaining eight will be handed over to the AAF by the end of 2018, bringing up the total number of A-29 Tucanos to 20. The United States Air Force funded the aircraft with $427 million under its so-called Light Air Support program.

Brazilian aircraft maker Embraer and its U.S. partner Sierra Nevada Corporation where initially awarded the contract to supply 20 A-29 light attack aircraft in 2011. However, the contract was cancelled in 2012 due to a dissatisfaction of USAF leadership “with the quality of the documentation supporting the award decision.” However, the contract was re-awarded to Embraer and Sierra Nevada Corporation in 2013.
“In hindsight, I wish we would’ve started that years ago,” the commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, General John F. Campbell said in front of the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee in March 2015, yet “we are where we are. (…) Quite frankly, we can’t get it out there quick enough for them.”

Pakistani Spy Agency Paid $200,000 for Attack on CIA Base at Khost, Docs

Declassified U.S. document suggests Pakistani link to attack on CIA agents
Reuters, April 14, 2016
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Pakistani intelligence officer paid $200,000 to an extremist network to facilitate a deadly suicide bomb attack on CIA operatives at a base in Afghanistan in 2009, according to a declassified U.S. government document obtained by an independent research group.
The heavily redacted document obtained by the National Security Archive, a nongovernmental research institute at George Washington University, suggests that Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, and the Haqqani network were involved in facilitating the attack.
The Dec. 30, 2009 attack on Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost in eastern Afghanistan, carried out by a Jordanian doctor who was working as a double agent for al Qaeda and the Taliban, was one of the most devastating in the history of the Central Intelligence Agency, killing seven and wounding six.
The document, dated February 2010, said an unidentified Pakistani ISI officer provided $200,000 to Haqqani and another man “to enable the attack on Chapman.” An Afghan border commander in Khost was promised $100,000 of the money to facilitate the attack but died in the bombing, it said.

A spokesman for Pakistan’s embassy in Washington did not have any immediate comment.
Because the document is heavily censored, it is not clear whether it represents an intelligence agency consensus or fragmentary reporting. One line, which has been crossed out, says: “This is an information report, not finally evaluated intelligence.”
The document is almost entirely redacted - except for two passages discussing the ISI’s alleged involvement in the attack at Forward Operating Base Chapman.
The United States in 2012 designated the Pakistan-based Haqqani network as a terrorist organization. The year before, U.S. Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, then the top U.S. military officer, caused a stir when he told Congress that the Haqqani network was a “veritable arm” of the ISI.

The declassified U.S. government document can be found here: (here)
The National Security Archive, which works to challenge government secrecy, obtained the document under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
Lauren Harper, who reported on the documents for the organization, said the initial FOIA request had gone to the U.S. State Department. The State Department forwarded the request to the Defense Intelligence Agency, which released the redacted papers.

* Book Review: Sy Hersh’s “The Killing of Osama bin Laden”

Review ‘The Killing of Osama Bin Laden’ by Seymour Hersh details a grave threat to our democracy
Zach Dorfman, Los Angeles Times, April 14, 2016
Governments, in order to fulfill their national security objectives, must sometimes shroud their activities in secrecy. This is regrettable, if inevitable. But secrecy can also be employed as a kind of intellectual asphyxiant, used to choke off a population’s interrogational faculties by depriving it of the capacity to make informed judgments about its government’s short-term activities and long-term aims. “Secrecy is a form of regulation,” wrote Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1998. “At times, in the name of national security, secrecy has put that very security in harm’s way.”
It is the demands of state secrecy, their distressing effects on U.S. foreign policy — and ultimately their subversion of the democratic process — that unify the four essays in Seymour Hersh’s “The Killing of Osama Bin Laden,” all of which were previously published in the London Review of Books. In the book, Hersh, an indefatigable investigative reporter (he broke the story of the My Lai massacre in 1969; the CIA domestic-spying scandal in 1974; and the torture scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2004), documents a series of covert operations — and their sometimes-unforeseen repercussions — carried out in Syria, Libya and Pakistan by the United States and its allies during the Obama administration.
Hersh leans heavily on anonymous sources in his reportage. This is understandable, given his subject matter, but how you read the book will depend on the faith you place in these sources and in Hersh’s own judgment about their veracity. I think the record here is mixed, at best.

Consider, for instance, Hersh’s reporting on the war in Syria, which dominates three of the four chapters. (The book’s title is thus a bit of a misnomer.) Hersh argues that the nerve gas attacks in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta in 2013 were not perpetrated by Assad’s forces but by the Al Nusra Front, an Al Qaeda affiliate. According to Hersh, Al Nusra was directly assisted by the Turkish government, which believed that a chemical weapons attack traced to Assad — even if it was actually committed by agents provocateurs — would force the Obama administration to enter the war against the Syrian government.
The Ghouta attacks led President Obama to threaten military action against the Assad regime, as he had previously asserted that the use of such weapons would constitute a “red line” potentially precipitating intervention. Hersh claims that Obama reversed course in the face of mounting classified evidence casting doubt on Assad’s culpability, as well as resistance from the Joint Chiefs, who feared a spiraling regional conflict. (Throughout the book, military and Defense officials often appear wiser and more deliberative than the CIA leadership and other senior Obama administration officials, raising questions about source bias and interservice rivalry.)
In any case, this is an explosive account. The sarin attacks in Ghouta killed hundreds of civilians, including many children. They were war crimes. If, as Hersh claims, the Turkish government aided an Al Qaeda affiliate in procuring and employing chemical weapons in order to goad the U.S. into open warfare against the Assad regime, it could seriously damage our alliance with Turkey, a crucial NATO ally.

* What does "nuclear terrorism" really mean?

7 April 2016
Elisabeth Eaves
There are few scarier pairs of words: “nuclear,” evoking the great 20th century fear of atomic annihilation, and “terrorism,” the bogeyman of the 21st. Put them together and you’ve got a frightening specter. Since European authorities revealed that the group behind the November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks was also spying on a senior nuclear official in Belgium, many news sources have reported that the threat of “nuclear terrorism” is upon us.
But what does that actually mean? The news stories don’t always say, and sometimes they fail to distinguish among events that would look completely different from one another, if they ever came to pass. In fact, “nuclear terrorism” can refer to several possible occurrences, all of which are best avoided. But if you’re the glass-half-full type, you may take some solace in knowing that the most dire scenario is also the least probable.
Here is what nuclear terrorism most likely won’t look like: A self-styled Islamic State caliph successfully launching a ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead at Washington, incinerating millions of people in a giant mushroom cloud. There are so many technical, financial, military, and logistical barriers that it would be extremely unlikely that even the most dogged, nuclear-obsessed extremist group could make that happen.

But just because nuclear terrorism won’t look like a Cold War nightmare come to life doesn’t mean we should rest easy. In a March 2016 report, the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs laid out three potential types of “nuclear or radiological terrorism.” One possibility—the hardest to achieve, but by far the most devastating if it were to occur—is that terrorists will acquire or build and then detonate a nuclear bomb in a major city. A second possibility is that they will set off a “dirty bomb,” a weapon made of radioactive material attached to conventional explosives, sometimes referred to as a radiological dispersal device or RDD. Executing this scenario would be so easy that many experts are surprised it hasn’t happened already. A third possibility, which the Belfer Center estimates would fall somewhere between the other two in terms of severity and likelihood, is that terrorists will sabotage a nuclear facility, releasing radioactive material over a wide area.
Least likely: a nuclear weapon. The reason the first scenario is improbable is that it’s difficult to steal, buy, or make a nuclear weapon. While there are about 10,000 nuclear warheads in the world, most are heavily guarded and don’t lie around fully assembled. To steal one would require the cooperation of more than just one corrupt or coerced person.

Out of Africa

Thomas L. Friedman APRIL 13, 2016

Agadez, NIGER — It’s Monday and that means it’s moving day in Agadez, the northern Niger desert crossroad that is the main launching pad for migrants out of West Africa. Fleeing devastated agriculture, overpopulation and unemployment, migrants from a dozen countries gather here in caravans every Monday night and make a mad dash through the Sahara to Libya, hoping to eventually hop across the Mediterranean to Europe.
This caravan’s assembly is quite a scene to witness. Although it is evening, it’s still 105 degrees, and there is little more than a crescent moon to illuminate the night. Then, all of a sudden, the desert comes alive.
Using the WhatsApp messaging service on their cellphones, the local smugglers, who are tied in with networks of traffickers extending across West Africa, start coordinating the surreptitious loading of migrants from safe houses and basements across the city. They’ve been gathering all week from Senegal, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Chad, Guinea, Cameroon, Mali and other towns in Niger.

With 15 to 20 men — no women — crammed together into the back of each Toyota pickup, their arms and legs spilling over the sides, the vehicles pop out of alleyways and follow scout cars that have zoomed ahead to make sure there are no pesky police officers or border guards lurking who have not been paid off.
It’s like watching a symphony, but you have no idea where the conductor is. Eventually, they all converge at a gathering point north of the city, forming a giant caravan of 100 to 200 vehicles — the strength in numbers needed to ward off deserts bandits.

Poor Niger. Agadez, with its warrens of ornate mud-walled buildings, is a remarkable Unesco World Heritage site, but the city has been abandoned by tourists after attacks nearby by Boko Haram and other jihadists. So, as one smuggler explains to me, the cars and buses of the tourist industry have now been repurposed into a migration industry. There are now wildcat recruiters, linked to smugglers, all across West Africa who appeal to the mothers of boys to put up the $400 to $500 to send them to seek out jobs in Libya or Europe. Few make it, but others keep coming.
I am standing at the Agadez highway control station watching this parade. As the Toyotas whisk by me, kicking up dust, they paint the desert road with stunning moonlit silhouettes of young men, silently standing in the back of each vehicle. The thought that their Promised Land is war-ravaged Libya tells you how desperate are the conditions they’re leaving. Between 9,000 and 10,000 men make this journey every month.Continue reading the main story

Could There Be a Terrorist Fukushima?


The attacks in Brussels last month were a stark reminder of the terrorists’ resolve, and of our continued vulnerabilities, including in an area of paramount concern: nuclear security.
The attackers struck an airport and the subway, but some Belgian investigators believe they seemed to have fallen back on those targets because they felt the authorities closing in on them, and that their original plan may have been to strike a nuclear plant. A few months ago, during a raid in the apartment of a suspect linked to the November attacks in Paris, investigators found surveillance footage of a senior Belgian nuclear official. Belgian police are said to have connected two of the Brussels terrorists to that footage.
Security at Belgium’s nuclear sites is notoriously poor. In August 2014, someone — as yet unidentified — drained 65,000 liters of lubricant from the turbine used to produce electricity at the country’s Doel 4 nuclear power plant. No penetration was detected, leading investigators to suspect an inside job.
In 2012, two workers at the same plant reportedly left Belgium to fight in Syria, eventually joining the Islamic State. One of them is believed to have died in Syria; the other was convicted of terrorism-related crimes after returning to Belgium.

Yet still too little is being done to secure nuclear plants. That goes not only for Belgium: Nuclear facilities throughout the world remain vulnerable.
Every weekday, get thought-provoking commentary from Op-Ed columnists, The Times editorial board and contributing writers from around the world.
During the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington last week, more than 50 leaders announced that significant amounts of highly enriched uranium had been moved from various countries to secure storage sites and that a key nuclear-security treaty would be strengthened. But the improved version of that treaty is inadequate: It doesn’t even call for arming the guards who look after bomb-grade nuclear material.
Discussions about nuclear terrorism also tend to focus on the risk of terrorists stealing weapons-grade material or making a dirty bomb. But they often overlook the danger of terrorists attacking a nuclear plant in order to set off a Chernobyl- or Fukushima-like disaster.
That risk is real, however, and has been known for a while. The master planner of the 9/11 attacks had considered crashing a jumbo jet into a nuclear facility near New York City. A Qaeda training manual lists nuclear plants as among the best targets for spreading fear in the United States.

* No Exit In China

-- this post authored by Thomas Vien
In the 18th century after a passing breeze caused him to lose his place in a book, a Chinese scholar named Xu Jun wrote this short poem: "The clear breeze is illiterate, so why does it insist on rummaging through the pages of a book?" Though this couplet was seemingly harmless, the Manchu-ruled Qing Dynasty (1645-1911) executed Xu in 1730 for seditious thought.
The Qing, invaders from the Manchurian steppe whose dynastic name meant "clear" or "pure," were acutely sensitive to the insinuation that they were illiterate barbarians despite adopting the trappings of Chinese civilization. Countless other poets shared Xu's fate during the dynasty's infamous literary inquisitions. While this paranoia appears excessive, it was a reflection of a very real problem for the Manchus.
The Qing, like all other Chinese central governments, struggled to contain dissent across a continent-sized empire. This proved doubly difficult because a small number of ethnic Manchus ruled over a far larger population of resentful Han Chinese. Han rebellion, which often coalesced around the purported superiority of Han culture, was a constant threat, shaking the foundations of the empire from the mid-19th century. Eventually, Han-led revolution swept away the Qing - and the entire imperial Chinese system - in 1911, leading to the formation of the Republic of China. This, in turn, quickly split along factional lines into warlord cliques. Truly effective central rule did not return until the Communists seized power in 1949.

Paranoia appears to be on the upswing in China once again as President Xi Jinping attempts to force painful structural reforms past resentful provincial and local governments, the bitter medicine for years of distortions imposed by China's wave of economic stimulus. Outwardly, he seems well poised to do this. Observers often call him the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong. On the outside, it appears to be true. Xi is in the midst of an epochal housecleaning with his anti-corruption campaign, which has disrupted countless power networks and, in the process, created numerous enemies.
Since 2012, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), the Communist Party's top anti-graft agency, has investigated and punished hundreds of thousands of officials. The campaign is set to continue, with all arms of the government completed before the 19th Party Congress in 2017. By doing this, Xi has eliminated political rivals, and seemingly, the system of consensus-based politics that had prevailed in China since 1978 - a system intended to be a hold on the emergence of individualistic dictatorship and the policy ills that flowed from it. It is a system now seen by Xi as unsuitable for handling China's entangled economic problems, such as overcapacity in heavy industry and ballooning corporate debt. But China's ruling authorities are behaving as if they are anything but secure - since February, Chinese censors have responded harshly to seemingly innocent slips in the press. Beijing's harsh response suggests that political struggle is more intense in China than it has been in decades.
Reading Between the Lines on China's Paranoia
Ahead of the annual plenary sessions of China's National People's Congress (NPC) and Chinese People's Political Consultative Congress (CPPCC), Xi embarked on a widely publicized tour of China's top three state media outlets. During the tour, the media was encouraged to swear unflinching loyalty to the party - effectively Xi himself, who had recently cast himself as the "core of the Party." The surname of the media, Xi demanded, must be "the Party." Within days, the CCDI launched an anti-corruption investigation targeting both the Central Propaganda Department and the government's top censorship agency. The message was clear - Xi was demanding even more obedience from the already heavily controlled state media.

China’s Chairman Builds a Cult of Personality

While growth in the economy slows, Xi Jinping follows in Mao’s footsteps—and some members of the Communist Party aren’t happy

Millions of commemorative plates bear his portrait, a Mona Lisa smile leavened by the benign air of Winnie the Pooh. Poets lavish ornate verse on him–“My eyes are giving birth to this poem/My fingers are burning on my cell phone,” wrote one amateur bard in February, describing his search for the perfect paean. Bookstores across China give prime display to his collection of speeches and essays, which has sold more than 5 million copies, according to state media. His ideology is even enshrined in an animated rap video, with one line that goes: “It’s everyone’s dream to build a moderately prosperous society. Comprehensively.” A killer rhyme it is not, but who cares when you’re almost certainly the most powerful ruler on the planet?

Little more than three years into his decade-long tenure, Chinese President Xi Jinping has already accumulated more authority than any of his predecessors since Mao Zedong, the founder of the communist People’s Republic of China. Xi has taken personal control of policymaking on everything from the economy, national security and foreign affairs to the Internet, the environment and maritime disputes. Now the 62-year-old scion of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) royalty stands at the center of a personality cult not seen in the People’s Republic since the days when frenzied Red Guards cheered Chairman Mao’s launch of the Cultural Revolution. “Xi is directing a building-god campaign, and he is the god,” says Zhang Lifan, one of a shrinking circle of Beijing scholars who dare to question China’s leader.

Five decades after the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was launched in 1966–sparking a political cataclysm that upended hundreds of millions of lives–Xi is using some of Mao’s strategies to unite the masses and burnish his personal rule, injecting Marxist and Maoist ideology back into Chinese life. Hundreds of thousands of cadres have been forced to attend ideological education classes, while Xi’s government rails against “hostile foreign forces” it believes are intent on weakening a resurgent China. “Like Mao, Xi thinks if China succumbs to Western values, these forces will destroy not only China’s exceptionalism but also the stability of the Chinese Communist Party,” says Roderick MacFarquhar, a Harvard expert on Chinese politics.

Opinion: Declassify the Last Secret Parts of the 9/11 Report

Histories that shouldn’t be secret
George F. Will, Washington Post, April 16, 2016
When President Obama departs for Saudi Arabia, an incubator of the 9/11 attacks, he will leave behind a dispute about government secrecy. The suppression of 28 pages, first from a public congressional inquiry and then from the 2004 report by the 9/11 Commission, has spared the Saudis embarrassment, which would be mild punishment for complicity in 2,977 murders. When Obama returns, he should keep his promise to release the pages. Then he should further curtail senseless secrecy by countermanding the CIA’s refusal to release its official history of the 1961 Bay of Pigs debacle.
The nature of the 28 pages pertaining to 9/11 can be inferred from this carefully worded sentence in the commission’s report: “We have found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded [al-Qaeda]” (emphases added). Together, those five italicized words constitute a loophole large enough to fly a hijacked airliner through.

CBS’s “60 Minutes” recently reported that former Florida senator Bob Graham, a Democrat who chaired the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and co-chaired the bipartisan joint congressional inquiry into 9/11 intelligence failures, says the pages suggest the existence of a network that supported the hijackers when they were in the United States. Former Democratic congressman from Indiana Tim Roemer, who was a member of the joint inquiry and then of the commission, and who has studied the 28 pages, says they contain (as “60 Minutes” expressed his judgment) “provocative evidence — some verified, and some not” of possible “official Saudi assistance for two of the hijackers who settled in Southern California.” “60 Minutes” said the two Saudi nationals had “extremely limited language skills and no experience with Western culture.” Yet “they managed to get everything they needed, from housing to flight lessons,” after being seen in the company of a diplomat from Saudi Arabia’s Los Angeles consulate.
Before John Lehman was a member of the 9/11 Commission — which unanimously supported release of its report uncensored — he was a member of Henry Kissinger’s National Security Council staff during the Nixon administration and was secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration. Lehman understands the serious and the spurious arguments connecting secrecy to security. He says the 28 pages contain no “smoking gun,” but he believes that senior Saudi officials knew that Saudis were assisting al-Qaeda. And he believes that because Saudi Arabia spends enormous sums worldwide funding schools that teach the virulent variant of Islam called Wahhabism, it is unsurprising that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis.
Now, about the Bay of Pigs invasion of April 17, 1961, a feckless use of American power that radiated disasters: President John F. Kennedy promptly deepened U.S. involvement in Vietnam; Nikita Khrushchev, unimpressed, built the Berlin Wall and installed missiles in Cuba. Why should the CIA history remain secret 55 years after the invasion?