ISIS — The Vultures Come Home to Roost

By Jay Holmes

This week, world governments and the attendant media gaggles are focused on the ISIS militia that has captured much of northern and western Iraq. From popular news reports, we might get the impression that ISIS’s expanding influence is a shocking and sudden surprise event. It isn’t.

 

Iraqi insurgents image by US Dept. of Homeland Security

Iraqi insurgents
image by US Dept. of Homeland Security, public domain

 

In spite of the usual “the CIA has failed us” blather from the major media drones, ISIS has, for the last decade, been well known by the US government and anyone else caring to pay attention to the PR department of the ISIS gang. When we read news reports that claim that the US government was, until this week, left in the dark concerning ISIS, we are reading analysis that is either from a fantastically uninformed source or from someone who simply invents fake news to suit their boss’s political agendas. ISIS has been well known under a variety of names to even the most feeble Western intelligence organizations since at least May of 2004, when the group web-published video of their execution of US contractor Nick Berg.

Even if the CIA wanted to hide the existence of ISIS, it could not have done so, as ISIS has never tried to be particularly secretive. On the contrary, they have always done their best to garner as much media attention as possible, and they have always been clear about their objectives.

So who is this group that seems to be surprising so many oblivious “reporters”?

In the broadest terms, there are three main intransigent political groups in Iraq—the Shia, the Sunnis, and the Kurds. The Shia Arab group is in power and is ruling with the same lack of skill that we would expect from any other Iraqi political coalition. The Shia block and their grossly incompetent and very corrupt Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have made little effort to protect the interests of the Kurdish minority in northern Iraq or the large Sunni minority scattered around Iraq.

 

Nouri Al-Maliki image by US government, public domain

Nouri Al-Maliki
image by US government, public domain

 

In turn, radical members of the Sunni minority formed ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. In their early days, they called themselves Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Al-Qaeda has since decided that ISIS is “too barbaric and too radical” for Al-Qaeda standards. Translation—ISIS has so much funding from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar that we can’t control them.

The Kurds don’t back ISIS, nor do they care for Maliki and the Shias. The Kurds are Sunnis, but they are Kurds first. If they end up with their own country as a result of this conflict, they will be thrilled. Much of the online chatter of an independent Kurdish state originates with Kurdish sources. However, if the US fails to back up the Iraqi government sufficiently to save them from themselves, the Kurds could finally end up with their own country. (See Turkey–America’s Special Frenemy and  Turkey–Giving America the Bird.)

Why would certain Saudis, Kuwaitis, and Qataris back such a radical group so close to home?

Their main reason is that they pose as Sunni Islamists while living as hedonists, whereas the Iranian leadership poses as Shia Islamists while living as hedonists. Iran has, for decades, been exercising power throughout the area via their surrogate Hezbollah militia/terrorist group in Lebanon and their obedient servants, the Syrian mafia Assad family. The Shia-governed Iraqis are their pals.

The uprising in Syria was started by moderate Syrians in a desperate hope to find freedom. Iran quickly moved to help keep their obedient Assad servants in power. In response, Iran’s Shia Hezbollah militia went on a campaign to consolidate their power in Lebanon and Syria. Sunni radicals of various stripes banded together under the ISIS brand to oppose Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon. As a result, most of the Syrian moderates were swept aside or murdered.

As more cash has flowed into ISIS pockets during the Syrian Civil War, the group’s influence has grown. In the meantime, Maliki’s government in Iraq has grown closer to Iran, while being propped up by US taxpayers.

Does your head hurt yet? It certainly should.

So why does the West care about one more war in the Land of Infinite Wars?

The collapse of the Iraqi Army is a frustrating embarrassment to the US government. Under the “you break it, you own it” doctrine first stated by US Army General Colin Powell,* both the Obama and Bush administrations have invested heavily in trying to finance and train something that might look vaguely like a functioning government in Iraq. In exchange for our $50,000,000,000 post-war reconstruction extravaganza, which has been managed by a 5,000-strong diplomatic corps, we ended up with something even more chaotic and violent than our worst inner-city ghettos. We ended up with Iraq. So did the poor Iraqis that live there. We Americans are a sentimental bunch, and many of us hate to think that all that reconstruction money we sent to Iraq was a complete waste.

 

General Colin Powell image by Charles Haynes, wikimedia commons

General Colin Powell
image by Charles Haynes,
wikimedia commons

 

On the dark humor front, we are now being treated to the specter of the Iranian Mullahs offering to cooperate with the US—and anyone else that would like to show up—in bailing out Maliki’s government. Iran does not want ISIS to succeed in gaining control in Iraq. ISIS does not want Iran and the Shia Iraqis to succeed in Iraq, and the Kurds would like them both to go to hell as soon as possible.

What can or should America do?

For the present, the president is considering air strikes to back up the sham Iraqi Army. A US carrier has been ordered to approach Iraq. This will be the first time in history that the Shia radical thugs in charge in Iran will find themselves cheering the sight of a US Navy carrier.

The strategy over the last few months has been to send better weapons, including anti-armor missiles, humvees, and infantry support weapons, to the Iraqi Army. This strategy has backfired badly, as ISIS has captured large stockpiles of US weapons. I suppose that if each of our 5,000 diplomats in Iraq threw a rock at the advancing ISIS forces, that storm of rocks could slow them down. Perhaps ISIS would mistake the flying rocks as a sign from Allah and accept it as a command to stay out of the Shia dominated regions of Iraq. ISIS has had easy going in areas where they have a Sunni majority to back them up, but they will face discernable opposition in Shia areas.

What will the impacts be?

My best guesses are as follows. Neither Iran nor the US will quietly accept a radical Sunni regime in Iraq. If ISIS becomes too powerful, even their Saudi, Kuwaiti, and Qatari backers will grow uncomfortable with their presence and will withhold funding. ISIS will never be able to achieve their dream of consolidating power over all of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. They may be able to keep a hold over Sunni dominated areas of Iraq, but they will face a constant struggle to occupy what they have thus far captured.

On the economic front, oil companies will do what they have been doing for a hundred years. They will raise the price of oil beyond any real escalated costs of obtaining crude.

On the political front at home, loyal Republicans will pretend that Iraq was once a great place to live, and they will blame the current disaster on Obama. Loyal Democrats will pretend that Iraq was once a great place to live, and they will blame the current disaster on George Bush. Loyal Americans will likely notice that both administrations demanded far too little of the Iraqi government that we financed and propped up, while thousands of our military members died or suffered serious wounds.

And for the children of Iraq? It’s another sunny day in the Land Between Two Rivers.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

*I know that General Powell was the US Secretary of State in addition to being a general. But as events have often proven during the last half century, any third rate political bum can be a Secretary of State. It takes a bit more than that to be a US Army general, so I prefer to think of General Powell in terms of his higher status.

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Boko Haram–The Nigerian Jihadi Biker Gang

By Jay Holmes

On April 14, 2014, a Boko Haram gang attacked a girls school in Chibok, Nigeria. After killing the armed guards at the school, the gang kidnapped 234 girls and possibly a dozen adult staff members. The attack captured the attention of the Western media, and the kidnapped girls have become something of a cause celeb in the West.

 

Image of kidnapped girls released by Boko Haram.  From Voice of America

Image of kidnapped girls released by Boko Haram.
From Voice of America

 

This is not the first time that Boko Haram has kidnapped children.

For several years, they have been enslaving girls and pressing boys as young as twelve into jihadi service with little notice by the international media. This particular attack generated so much attention because the children’s families were not present at the school to be murdered or kidnapped–something Boko Haram has done in the past. This time, hundreds of distraught community members survived to speak up for the missing girls. Western military and intelligence authorities have had an eye on Boko Haram for about ten years. In the last five years, they have been particularly violent. This latest caper has now made them a household name in the West.

One predictable response to the kidnapping comes from NBC’s Andrea Mitchell. According to Mitchell, the male-dominated U.S. government has been slow to respond due to sexism. In an interview with U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) on May 14, Mitchell stated, “It really calls into question whether the men in charge of our government, frankly, would have been responding more quickly, . . . despite Goodluck Jonathan, the president of Nigeria’s opposition, whether they would have been responding more rapidly if it had been schoolgirls, if it hadn’t been some other premise.” (This is an actual quote.)

I can rarely find a reason to praise Senator Feinstein, but on this occasion, she remained calm and was significantly more articulate than Mitchell. The Senator managed to state Mitchell’s botched question for her and answered it by responding with, “You mean if it had involved school boys? No.” To no avail, Mitchell feebly continued to press the point. U.S. Senators have more than enough work to do, and they shouldn’t have to conduct both sides of an interview.

So who are these latest media terrorist stars, and how might Western taxpayers  respond to them?

 

image by 2Bdea, public domain

image by 2Bdea, public domain

 

Who the Boko Haram are depends on who you ask. One common trait throughout the group’s members is their tendency to travel on motorcycles through the forests and deserts of northern Nigeria, making them an African Jihadi Biker Gang. A decent motorcycle is a Boko Haram terrorist’s most prized possession.

Generally, most Western media vendors view the Boko Haram as an al-Qaeda affiliate in Nigeria. Actually, the al-Qaeda affiliation is, at most, minimal, and, in my view, there is no clear evidence of any actual material support for Boko Haram from al-Qaeda. Also, the particular version of vaguely Islamic religious dogma that Boko Haram claims to be espousing is not a version of Islam that al-Qaeda would tolerate. Unlike the al-Qaeda Sunni mainstream, Boko Haram terrorists are loosely Salafi Muslims. Their vaguely identifiable founder that rose to prominence in the 1980s, Mohammed Marwa, a.k.a. Maitatsine, even said that Mohammed was not actually a prophet. In fact, if the Boko Haram lived in mainstream al-Qaeda neighborhoods, they would have to quickly convert to al-Qaeda’s brand of Islam or face execution. Calling themselves Islamic and conducting criminal rampages is enough to meet the al-Qaeda international membership standard, but only while they remain out of reach of true al-Qaeda.

 

Boko Haram Terrorist image by Grin160, wikimedia commons

Boko Haram Terrorist
image by Grin160, wikimedia commons

 

 

Not all Western military and intelligence officials share my view. Some folks at the Pentagon and elsewhere feel that Boko Haram is a full-fledged al-Qaeda brand terrorist franchise. I disagree. In any case, though, Boko Haram style mayhem was popular in Nigeria long before al-Qaeda was born. Rebranding that mayhem has little impact on Boko Haram or on their victims.

 

Generic Nigerian Terrorist (note similarity) image by Grin160, wikimedia commons

Pre-Boko Haram Nigerian Terrorist (note similarity)
image by Grin160, wikimedia commons

 

Boko Haram is not a single organization. There are at least three major groupings of them spread across northern Nigeria. Their current maggot-in-chief, Abubakar Shekau, has direct control of perhaps half of the Boko Haram members. Many of the rest are spread out in remote areas and don’t seem to be under any command/control apparatus to a centralized leadership. It’s entirely possible that some of them have never even heard of al-Qaeda.

In spite of their lack of strong organizational skills, the Boko Haram are a significant problem for Nigerians. According to African news sources, they have murdered between ten and fifteen thousand civilians in the last five years and have kidnapped thousands more. They claim they are Islamic and want to institute Sharia law, but they constantly violate basic Sharia precepts themselves with their outright theft from and murder of Islamics, along with non-Islamics.

The Boko Haram’s basic reason for existing is stated as an anti-Western/anti-corruption agenda. Their name translates roughly to “Westernization is forbidden.” The rampant corruption and gross incompetence of the government of Nigeria has provided them with fertile ground in which to grow. However, the recent kidnapping of the 234 girls from the school in Chibok will likely further tarnish their image and further delegitimize them as a religious or anti-corruption group.

 

Boko Haram Maggot-In-Chief Abukakar Shekau Note funny hat pilfered from bottom of Ghadafi's closet. Image from Voice of America

Boko Haram Maggot-In-Chief Abukakar Shekau
Note funny hat pilfered from Ghadafi’s closet.
Image from Voice of America

 

The Nigerian government has not shown itself capable of exercising legitimate authority over the northern half of Nigeria. They haven’t done a great job in southern Nigeria either. In 2010-2013, operations conducted by the Nigerian Army in northern Nigeria succeeded in driving Boko Haram out of their comfortable urban strongholds, but thousands of them remain at large in rural northern areas.

So precisely how “should” the West respond?

Western responses to the kidnapping so far have been understandably minimal. Given the prevalence of mayhem across Africa and the Middle East, and with a rampantly corrupt government in charge of Nigeria, what exactly can the U.S. and other Western nations commit in rescuing the girls?

Earlier this month during a visit to Ethiopia, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, “The kidnapping of hundreds of children by Boko Haram is an unconscionable crime, and we will do everything possible to support the Nigerian government to return these young women to their homes and to hold the perpetrators to justice.” (The emphasis is mine.) Wow. Everything possible? When does the 1st Marine Division arrive in Nigeria, and when do the bombings start? Will we use nukes? Probably not. Those few members of Boko Haram that may have heard about Kerry’s threat are likely not too convinced.

 

Unconvinced Boko Haram Terrorists Image from The Sun Can Our Military Defeat Boko Haram? by Adedoyin Adewumi

Unconvinced Boko Haram Terrorists
Image from The Sun
Can Our Military Defeat Boko Haram?
by Adedoyin Adewumi

 

Thus far, the Organization of African States has condemned the kidnappings. It is possible that they will eventually muster a military force to enter northern Nigeria to assist the Nigerian military in a campaign against the Boko Haram. Thus far, though the move was initially opposed by the Nigerian government, the U.K. has sent a small contingent of Special Forces to Nigeria. Both the U.S. and the U.K. are providing the Nigerian government with intelligence and reconnaissance information. The official position about whether or not there are U.S. Special Forces in Nigeria is not yet clear. The U.S. government thus far states that it is considering sending U.S. Special Forces to Nigeria.

What is completely clear is that any assistance given to the Nigerian government should not take the form of financial aid or military hardware. Nigeria has the natural resources required for the elimination of poverty and unemployment. What it lacks is an effective government. If the U.S. government decides to conduct anti-Boko Haram operations in Nigeria, it should do so directly. The state of the Nigerian national government clearly indicates that any aid in money or goods will be wasted and may possibly end up in the hands of Boko Haram or other similar gangsters. I have suggested to the Pentagon that NBC Chief Foreign Analyst Andrea Mitchell be parachuted into northern Nigeria to straighten things out. The Pentagon has yet to respond to my suggestion.

Without fundamental changes in the culture and government of Nigeria, outsiders have little chance of eradicating mayhem in that country. The U.S. taxpayers would have little stomach for any large-scale involvement there. However, it is possible that, with small-scale covert action backed up by drone operators and good reconnaissance, the kidnapped girls could be rescued. Any covert operation conducted by outsiders in Nigeria will only remain “covert” to the Boko Haram until the first shot is fired or the first drone attack is launched. Hope remains for the kidnapped girls, but for the broader problems in Nigeria, hope is in short supply.

The Westgate Mall Attack–Who is Al-Shabaab, and What Does This Mean?

By Jay Holmes

On Saturday, September 21, terrorists of Somalia’s al-Shabaab al-Qaeda affiliate entered the upscale Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, and went on a four-day killing and hostage-taking spree. They allowed people who appeared to be Muslim to leave the mall unharmed and shot non-Muslims or took them hostage. A precise count of casualties is not yet available, but the official murder count so far is 67 dead, including at least two pregnant women and an eight-year-old boy. Another estimated 175 wounded may not survive, and more dead may be recovered and identified from parts of the multi-floored mall that collapsed during the siege.

Westgate Mall, Kenya, under attack image by Anne Knight, wikimedia commons

Westgate Mall, Kenya, under attack
image by Anne Knight, wikimedia commons

Since the attack started, people around the world have been wondering why the terrorists went on this murder spree in a Kenyan shopping mall, and what it means for Kenya and the rest of the world. As is always the case, opinions about what occurred and what it means vary wildly.

On the one hand, some commentators such as Canadian Jian Ghomeshi have expressed a more philosophical view of the sad events. In a September 27 article in the UK’s Guardian at Guardian.com, Jian expressed the idea that this attack was the one of the harsh realities of globalization, saying, “We need to engender a sense of connection, not just in our commercial interests, but in our human community, too.”

While I am sympathetic to calls for a better world, and I am always anxious to hear workable ideas for making that “better world,” in reality, such responses do little to help us understand the Westgate mall attack or to prevent the next attack from occurring.

On the other hand, we hear some people responding with suggestions that the US needs to “do more” in Kenya. In most cases, no suggestion as to precisely what “more” would look like or who would be volunteering to deliver the more is offered. This is one good example of why many folks that specialize in delivering the “more” avoid watching, listening to, or reading editorials.

One of the more “interesting” editorials that I heard on the radio last week suggested the entire Westgate terror attack was the doing of the US government. It was, according to them, a practice run for an attack on a mall in the US as a step toward enabling martial law to be declared.  Any number of copy-cat terror groups could indeed conduct an attack in a mall in any nation, but although I am not an Obama supporter, I do not think that Obama is responsible for the Westgate mall terror attack.

There is a rougher, more obvious explanation of why al-Shabaab attacked. The al-Shabaab terror group has been fighting since 2006 to install their imaginary version of 7th century Islam in Somalia.  In their version of “Islam,” everyone listens to them and does what they say. It’s “Islam” because they claim to be obedient followers of God. They know better, we know better, and though I am lacking any memos from Him on the matter, I’m willing to bet that God knows better, as well. But hey, claiming that you’re killing anyone who gets in your way because you are a bunch of psychopathic  scumbags doesn’t generate quite the same propaganda value for a struggling terrorist group. Gullible people who donate to such terror groups prefer to assign their support to some higher minded purpose beyond “killing innocent strangers”.

In 2007, a few local thugs organized al-Shabaab for the purpose of robbing and murdering foreign aid workers in war-torn Somalia. Even before being “war torn,” Somalia was in pretty bad shape, with frequent famines due in part to drought and in part to the lack of a functioning government. By 2010, they had managed to gain loose control of the southern half of Somalia.

al-Shabaab gains from 2009 - 2010 image by Kermanshahi, wikimedia commons

al-Shabaab gains from 2009 – 2010
image by Kermanshahi, wikimedia commons

In that same year, al-Shabaab proudly reached the lofty heights of international terror status when al-Qaeda claimed them as “affiliates.”  By then, the group was already suffering a rift amongst its members. Some felt that all action should be confined to Somalia so as to avoid international intervention. Others felt that “going international” would gain them financial support and fame.

In July of 2010, likely with al-Qaeda’s expert consulting, al-Shabaab murdered about seventy-five civilians in Uganda in a bombing campaign. Al-Shabaab’s decision to “go global” did garner recruits and financial support from around the world, but with that increased infamy, al-Shabaab was also seriously damaged by growing internal strife. They found themselves having to spend more time and blood killing each other than pursuing their bogus “Islamic Jihad.”

By 2011, the Organization of African States stepped up efforts to intervene militarily in Somalia. Instead of simply trying to create demilitarized zones, they attacked al-Shabaab directly. Over the next two years, al-Shabaab lost control over most of the urban areas that were once in their territory. One of the main African contributors to this African intervention was Kenya. The well-armed, well led, and reasonably well-trained Kenyan armed forces were key contributors in forcing al-Shabaab to retreat to ever-shrinking areas of the Somali countryside.

By 2013, al-Shabaab had earned the exasperation of al-Qaeda and other top international terror sponsors. Locally they lost ground with Muslims in Somalia. Many Muslims began to cooperate with non-Muslims and formed rural militias to drive al-Shabaab from their farms and villages.

The decision to conduct the terror attack on the Westgate Mall was one taken in desperation. The attack was clearly well planned and well executed by some of al-Shabaab’s best fighters, and they succeeded in their goal of gaining international attention. Even the dimwitted leaders of al-Shabaab had to know that their actions would not compel Kenya to withdraw its troops from among the international forces that are fighting to establish order in Somalia. However, they also knew that being in the news spotlight with such a dramatic attack would likely serve as effective advertising for recruitment and funding.

So what does this all mean to Kenya?  Sadly, it seems the Kenyan government fumbled valuable intelligence reports indicating that an attack by al-Shabaab was likely, and that the Westgate Mall was high on the list of likely targets. Hopefully the attack will wake up the Kenyan authorities and make them less likely to ignore intelligence information. Perhaps the Kenyan people will demand a reduction in the government corruption so endemic to Kenya that has left its government far less efficient than their massive budget would allow them to be. Sound familiar?

While some in the West are suggesting that the mall attack heralds in a new age of international terror for al-Shabaab, it doesn’t. They’ve been international for a few years now. This prolonged attack on the mall simply gave them a whole new level of publicity. The US government estimates that approximately fifty Americans have traveled to Somalia to join al-Shabaab. They estimate that about twenty of those are still alive. The reason that the international members of al-Shabaab from America and other countries are so worrisome is that they could facilitate attacks by al-Shabaab in their home countries.

War flag of al-Shabaab

War flag of al-Shabaab

Given the tremendous budgets of the collective US Intelligence services, and given the tremendous latitude that they now enjoy in eavesdropping efforts, let’s hope that they use that wealth and unprecedented authority to foil any such attempts. Other Western nations will have to foil any al-Shabaab crimes by relying on somewhat less lavish resources, but will be looking to the US to help them out. A major attack by al-Shabaab against Western targets cannot be ruled out, but last week’s terror attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya make it no more likely than it was before. In the long run, the attack will likely backfire as Western nations become more willing to fund African efforts to bring order to the people of Somalia. In an orderly, peaceful world there simply is no room for the likes of al-Shabaab.

The Boston Marathon Bombing: What Does It Mean, and Where Will It Lead Us?

By Jay Holmes

By now, you will have heard about the bombs that detonated at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. Before offering opinions concerning that event, I would like to point out an important fact that is easy to miss as the United States and interested foreigners focus on the “who” and the “why” of the tragedy.

Boston Marathon Bombing image by Aaron "tango" Tang, wikimedia commons

Boston Marathon Bombing
image by Aaron “tango” Tang, wikimedia commons

I offer my thanks and admiration to the many bystanders that did so much to help the dozens of badly wounded victims. Several victims of the bombing lost limbs and yet did not bleed to death. This was due to the fact that many of those who were not wounded or not severely wounded reacted quickly and calmly.

For someone to survive the loss of a limb in an explosion requires the immediate application of first aid. While trained First Responders were fortunately present at the finish line, they faced the task of dealing with approximately one hundred seventy wounded people. Without the quick calm actions of many bystanders, the death toll would have been much higher than three. For the loved ones of the three victims who died, three no doubt seems like infinitely too many. Our sincere condolences to those families that mourn those losses, along with our humble encouragement to the dozens of badly wounded victims who are fighting to recover some measure of health.

The questions that loom largest in the minds of most Americans are, “Who did this?” and, “Why?” In the days immediately after the bombing, a variety of politicians and “journalists” offered their guesses about who was responsible and what their motives were. Many of those early guessers did little to hide their obvious personal political agendas when voicing their opinions and assumptions about the Boston Marathon Bombing.

Which politicians and journalists spouted the most asinine and annoying nonsense is a topic worthy of an entire article, but let’s leave that for another day.

On April 17, 2013, rumors circulated that the FBI had arrested a Saudi Arabian suspect. The FBI and Boston Police stated that no arrests had been made. Reports of an unscheduled meeting between US President Obama and the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal fueled speculation that the White House was doing damage control in response to a supposed connection between Saudi al-Qaeda members and the Boston bombing. However, the White House said that the president had simply joined the meeting, which was already scheduled with other White House staff members and the Saudi Foreign Minister concerning the ongoing civil war in Syria. Thus far, no connection between al-Qaeda and the Boston bombing has been announced by the White House or by US government agencies involved in the investigation.

On April 18, the FBI released photos and videos of two bombing suspects. At about 10:00 p.m. that night, police received a report that one of the bombing suspects had robbed a convenience store. As police headed for the scene of the robbery, 26-year-old policeman Sean Collier of the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology responded to a report of a disturbance. He was allegedly murdered when the two bombing suspects attacked him.

The murderers of the MIT policeman are alleged to have subsequently hijacked an SUV and its owner. They forced the owner to withdraw $800 from an ATM, but later allowed him to leave as they continued their seemingly disorganized escape attempt in his SUV.

In the early morning hours of April 19, police located the bombing suspects. The details of the ensuing chase and shootout remain unclear, but the police were able to mortally wound 26-year-old Chechen immigrant Tamerlain Tsarnaev. Unfortunately, his 19-year-old brother and alleged accomplice in the bombing managed to escape the confrontation. Boston was placed in an “emergency lock-down” as the police conducted a manhunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

During the evening of April 19, a resident of the Boston suburb of Watertown noticed that the tarp covering his boat had been disturbed. He found a bleeding man hiding in the boat and alerted the police. After an hour long police action, the wounded Dzhokhar was taken into custody.

As Boston and the nation rejoiced in the capture of the two bombing suspects, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick reminded the public that “a million questions” remain to be answered. Given the stress of the last week, the governor can be excused for his exaggeration.

From my point of view, the most important questions are as follows. Were there any conspirators to the bombing beyond the two Chechen immigrant brothers? What were the motives of the two bombers and any other conspirators? How forthright will the current administration be in releasing information about any groups that may have conspired with the two bombers?

Some speculate that the two bombers were acting on behalf of the Chechnya Nationalist Movement. This is not altogether impossible, but it strikes me as unlikely. Chechen Islamic jihadis have fought in a number of conflicts, including Iraq, Afghanistan, and the current civil war in Syria. This can be compared to the fact that Jordanian, Saudi, Egyptian, and Syrian Islamic jihadis have taken part in various armed conflicts outside of their individual homelands. They were, in most cases, not acting as representatives of their home nations.

It seems likely to me that the older Tsarnaev brother would have received training from Chechen Islamic nationalists, as is common for young male Chechens. However, we don’t yet know if any ongoing relationship with any radical group in Chechnya existed, or if such a group had any foreknowledge or involvement in the Boston bombing. In the long struggle between Chechnya and Russia, Chechen nationalists thus far have cautiously avoided acquiring enemies beyond their formidable Russian opponents and their immediate neighbors. It would seem contrary to Chechen nationalist goals to instigate a conflict with the US. For those who are unfamiliar with the recent history of Chechnya and its war with the Soviet Union and now Russia, we will publish a brief outline of the history of Chechnya on Wednesday.

One of the more popular current theories about who else—if anyone—might be behind the Boston bombing is the theory that the two Chechen brothers might be working on behalf of al-Qaeda or an al-Qaeda clone group. However, al-Qaeda is generally quick to claim credit for any crimes that they may have had a hand in, but, thus far, they have not claimed credit for the Boston bombing. This does not exclude the possibility that they or some less expert Islamic terror group was behind the bombing.

Early theories espoused by some were that “white supremacist” or “right-wing pro-gun radicals” or “tea party supporters” were behind the bombing. Since the apprehension of the two Chechen suspects, these ideas seem even more improbable than they did in the early hours after the attack. Also, although it might support marketing opportunities to excitedly proclaim that the Boston Marathon Bombing somehow represents a new type of threat to the American public, there is as of yet no evidence to suggest that.

Any nation that can remain free enough to avoid devolving into a totalitarian police state is, in its comparatively free state, going to be vulnerable to violent criminal attack. While the Boston bombing represents a new type of horror for the good people of Boston, criminals like the Tsarnaev brothers are not a new development.

While the motives of the Tsarnaev brothers and any other co-conspirators have yet to be clarified, another important question remains unanswered. To what degree, if at all, will the people of Boston, the people of the Massachusetts, and the people of the US respond to the tragedy with a greater willingness to surrender more civil rights in an attempt to gain more security?

Attack on the Capitol!

By Jay Holmes

What if a terrorist group managed to detonate a bomb in the Capitol building? In the War on Terror, one of the most obvious targets in the United States is our nation’s iconic Capitol building. If terrorists did manage to bomb the Capitol what would the reaction be?

image by Raul654, wikimedia commons

image by Raul654, wikimedia commons

Most readers will likely remember that on 9-11, the Capitol was saved from a terrorist attack. Not by the US military, the intelligence services, or any law enforcement agency, but rather by unarmed passengers on United Airlines flight 93 when they resisted the al-Qaeda criminals that had hijacked their flight. Thanks to their courage, flight 93 was stopped from crashing into the intended target, the US capitol.

Undoubtedly, some members of the Department of Homeland Security spend their hours considering the possibility of another attack on the Capitol and work to prevent it. They’re too late to prevent it. It’s already happened, but it’s best that they keep it from happening again. As much as I dislike about half of our congressmen, I don’t want to see them attacked again.

Many in the USA may have long forgotten that a gang of violent foreigners already succeeded in attacking our Capitol.  Which Islamist radicals managed to pull it off? Can you remember? Let me give you a couple of hints. They were not Islamic. They were English, and they succeeded.

In 1814 during our poorly planned and ill-conceived War of 1812, British soccer fans dressed in red uniforms similar to those of the British Army invaded Washington DC and expressed their displeasure with American literature by setting a bonfire in the still uncompleted Capitol using books from the library of Congress.  Even back then, congressmen knew what British soccer fans were like and they mustered the good sense to leave the premises before those fans arrived. After roasting some unpalatable English food over the fire, the British soccer fans departed. Fortunately for the US, British taxpayers grew tired of the higher taxes and loss of trade with the USA that the war had provoked in Great Britain, and in 1815, Great Britain signed the Treaty of Ghent, promising to keep their soccer fans on their side of the Atlantic.

Fortunately, no British tourists have behaved quite so poorly since that terrible night in 1814. Unfortunately, other folks have not been quite as well behaved in the Capitol since then.

If some members of the press feel a bit abused these days by the current administration, they should feel lucky compared to 19th century DC reporters.  If we don’t count the vicious fist fights that occurred between congressmen in the 19th century, then the next attack occurred on February 28, 1890 when the tall, muscular ex-congressman William Taulbee of Kentucky assaulted a small and very sickly journalist by the name of Charles Kinkaid.   Taulbee had previously assaulted Kincaid in public, but the local authorities ignored the attacks. Taulbee harbored a raging grudge against Kinkaid because the journalist had exposed an extramarital affair between him—a married, ordained Methodist minister and congressman—and a female employee of the US patent office. Taulbee’s wife was less forgiving than Hilary Clinton and sent him packing. The conservative voters that he represented with a conservative platform were less forgiving than modern voters and Taulbee had to resign.  On February 28, 1890 when Taulbee attacked Kinkaid on the east stairs of the House Chambers, Kinkaid shot him in self-defense. Taulbee died a few days later. Supposedly, the blood stain can still be seen on the east House stairs.

William Taulbee, image public domain

William Taulbee, image public domain

In 1915, in response to the US declaration of neutrality in World War One, German immigrant Erich Muenter, aka Frank Holt, detonated a bomb in the Senate visitor’s waiting room. Fortunately, the bomb detonated at 11:50 p.m. and nobody was killed. The next day, Muentner shot and badly injured JP Morgan Jr. Muentner was arrested and committed suicide in his cell. Whether or not it was an “assisted suicide” is unknown.

For the next 39 years, peace reigned on Capitol Hill. Then, on March 1, 1954, Puerto Rican Nationalist terrorists Lolita Lebron, Rafael Miranda, and Andres Cordero fired shots from the House gallery and wounded five congressmen. Fortunately, they were captured before they were able to kill anyone. Unfortunately, they were captured alive and were brought to trial. They got long sentences, but Cordero was released from prison in 1978 due to terminal cancer. His fellow assailants and a co-conspirator were released in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter as part of a plan to gain the release of US prisoners in Cuba.

The next gang of terrorists that managed to carry out an attack against the Capitol was a group of very odd and incompetent criminals that called themselves the Weathermen. On March 1, 1971 a bomb they set exploded at night in a men’s rest room in the Senate and nobody was injured. The Weathermen carried out several bombings in the US, and their apologists claim that they never hurt anyone. That’s simply not true.  When they bombed a San Francisco police station, one policeman was killed and one was badly injured. Fortunately, the Marxist Weathermen managed to kill more of their own members than they did their intended victims when a nail bomb they were constructing exploded in their Greenwich Village apartment in New York City and killed three of them.

On November 7, 1983, a Weathermen splinter group calling themselves the Armed Resistance Union bombed the US Senate at the now traditional 11 p.m. capitol bombing hour. They were apparently unaware that the fighting was over in Grenada, as they were demanding an end to the “brutal US War in Grenada.” Fortunately, by adhering to that important 11 p.m. bombing schedule, nobody was hurt.

Unfortunately, the next attack on the Capitol was not as harmless. On July 24, 1998, a mentally ill man by the name of Russell Weston entered the Capitol and murdered two Capitol policemen. He explained that he was saving the US from being destroyed by cannibals. Weston had been previously diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic after repeatedly threatening neighbors at his home in Montana, but he had been released after 51 days in a mental institution without adequate follow-up treatment. After the shooting at the Capitol, he was found to be incompetent to stand trial and he is still in a federal institution.

So if you visit our nation’s Capitol, arrive early because the security measures will slow you down a bit. Be patient. The security is justified.

Why ARE We In Afghanistan?

By Intelligence Operative Jay Holmes*

As we approach 2013, several Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries seem to be undergoing changes, but there is no consensus on what those changes will mean. While a few are hopeful, many give cause for concern.

Obama and Karzai Pete Souza for Executive Office of the President of the US wikimedia

Barack Obama and Hamid Karzai

Image by Pete Souza for Executive Office of the President of the United States

Let’s first look to the north. In Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai and his Obama Echo continue to assure the world that “things are improving” in Afghanistan. If by “things” he is referring to his and his brothers’ foreign bank accounts, then he’s telling the truth. If he is talking about “things” in reference to those unfortunate 35.3 million Afghans who don’t share in the Karzai family profits, then “things” are not so good.

For starters, 1.6 million Afghans remain in refugee camps in Pakistan. Another 430,000 continue to live in makeshift huts and UN-supplied tents in refugee camps inside of Afghanistan. Apparently, those two million folks have not heard Karzai’s glowing reports about the improved security in the areas that the Taliban forced them to abandon, or they simply enjoy living in tents and not receiving the millions of dollars of aid that the US taxpayers are sending them.

The Afghan Peace Commission this week announced that Pakistan has agreed to cooperate in a peace plan. To put that in Western terms, that would be like the US Congress agreeing to term limits. Don’t hold your breath. Pakistan doesn’t even cooperate with Pakistan on peace initiatives so how would they cooperate with Afghanistan? If that peace commission gets something more than the usual comical Pakistani lip service out of Islamabad, they will deserve the Nobel Peace Prize.

According to the White House, US Forces will all be gone from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 . . . Oh, wait a sec. This just in from Pennsylvania Avenue . . . We might have to keep “about ten thousand troops” in Afghanistan after 2014 in a support role.

Let me translate that to reality. “About ten thousand troops” generally means around 16,000 troops. The White House is admitting that without around 16,000 crack US troops in Afghanistan to prop up the bogus Karzai government, a few thousand Taliban will ride their donkeys and mopeds into Kabul and take over the place. Let’s hope that 16,000 troops will be enough.

But why have any troops there at all? What’s in it for us? Regional stability perhaps? We don’t live in that region, and our oil fix doesn’t come from Afghanistan.

There are, in fact, some rare metals there that we could use but we’re not taking those. Karzai sold those to China. China is already increasing copper production at an Afghan copper mine and exploring for oil in the Amu Darya basin. And if there’s no oil there? No problem. There are enough natural gas reserves in Afghanistan to keep China happy for a decade or more. So again, why are we there? Why not let China bring “stability” to their neighbor?

Some would argue that the US wants to deny al-Qaeda a base of operations by forcing them out of Afghanistan. Let’s put that in perspective. Al-Qaeda being kicked out of Afghanistan and having to move to Africa, Pakistan, and the Gulf is like inmates being kicked out of Sing-Sing and having to move to Malibu. Al-Qaeda is hardly complaining. In any event, if al-Qaeda sets up a serious infrastructure in Afghanistan again, we can bomb them more easily there than we can bomb them in Pakistan. Pakistan is our “friend,” after all.

Others would argue that if the US “abandons” our “friends” in Afghanistan, that country might return to heroin production. (Insert gasps of shocked disbelief.) Forget it. Heroin production is so high right now in Afghanistan that Afghanis are currently stockpiling surpluses.

So let me see if I have the Obama Plan right. “About ten thousand” (around 16,000) US troops will remain indefinitely in Afghanistan to ensure that Afghanistan remains stable enough to export energy and metals to Communist China.

Yes, Virginia, there is indeed a Santa Claus, and he evidently loves China.

US Marines patrolling poppy fields in Helmand Province DOD

US Marines patrolling poppy fields in Helmand Province, image from Department of Defense

Now for the situations in the rest of the Middle East and Central Asia . . .

To the east, we still see the Pakistani government exhibiting the same lack of loyalty to the Pakistani people and nation that has plagued Pakistan since their independence. Every day, Pakistani leaders must wonder who their secret police and intelligence services might be serving, and whether they, themselves, will be the next targets of “unfortunate Pakistani accidents.” In the meantime, the education system and economy remain in a shambles that would almost make General Motors look like a viable economic enterprise. Okay, I exaggerate. GM isn’t that good, but you get my point.

Pakistan’s neighbor, Iran enjoys the regional upheaval and is using the distraction to press on with their atomic bomb program. Even the UN, try though it stridently might, isn’t fooled by Iran’s intentions, but the international buck passing continues.

Everyone outside of Iran urgently wants the US to step in and stop Iran’s bomb program. Just as urgently, those countries can’t wait for the US to step in so they can all rise up and sing a chorus of righteous indignation against “American war mongering.” If nothing else, it would be amusing to hear the predictable staff at NPR criticize their favorite president.

In the Gulf Region, recent Kuwaiti elections had dismally low participation levels, and a rebellion is slowly fomenting there.

Dubai, Bahrain and Qatar all appear to be fragile. All are employing increased police violence and rigged courts to keep their rulers in power.

The United Arab Emirates is looking less united than ever.

Although Yemen remains in a state of social and political upheaval, the Yemeni people have thus far successfully resisted attempted al-Qaeda takeovers.

To the west, Syria has grown tired of the Assad family gang, but it is unable to present an attractive alternative to the Westerners who might facilitate their revolutionary efforts.

Lebanon remains in the state of chaos that it has endured for forty years.

In Israel, we saw the Israeli Defense Force bomb Gaza, mobilize reserves, and move tanks to the Gaza border. Then, they suddenly halted their operations in exchange for a cease-fire agreement with Hamas. It took less than a day for Hamas to violate that agreement, and to no sane person’s surprise, Iran continues to ship missiles to Hamas.

While Egyptians managed to scare their old despot Mubarak off of his throne, they have yet to form a representative government. Educated Egyptians are watching the turmoil in Cairo and wondering if their country might be tumbling backwards into a Dark Age where civil rights and freedom are suppressed by a handful of self-proclaimed Islamic clerics.

We do have positive news out of Libya. Although Libyans have not yet formed strong, functioning governmental institutions, they have thus far avoided having their nation hijacked by Iran or any of the various al-Qaeda start up gangs that currently plague Islamic nations. Our respect and continued hope that the Libyans will succeed in making their nation a peaceful, viable, and productive home for their people.

In our next foreign policy article, we will look at more of the less absurd and/or depressing prospects in the Middle East and Central Asia. Any questions?

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

*‘Jay Holmes’, is an intelligence veteran of the Cold War and remains an anonymous member of the intelligence community. His writing partner, Piper Bayard, is the public face of their partnership.

© 2012 Jay Holmes. All content on this page is protected by copyright. If you would like to use any part of this, please contact us at the above links to request permission.

Good Riddance to Qaddafi

By Jay Holmes

On October 20, 2011, the Libyan National Transition Council reported that Libya ended forty-two years of suffering under the heartless, egomaniacal Moammar Qaddafi.

The world was treated to a brief video showing a wounded, captured Qaddafi, pleading for the sort of mercy that he had so consistently denied his people. Fortunately, a young Libyan man in a Yankees cap came to his senses and ended the drama for the mercy of all concerned.

Certain human rights groups are supposedly questioning Qaddafi’s death in captivity. In theory, it’s a legitimate question, but to be relevant, questions have to be prioritized. If my house is on fire, before I worry about getting the drapes wet, I have to answer the question of putting out the fire.

Before I spend any restless nights wondering about the moral implications of Qaddafi being shot while in captivity, I would need first to have other questions answered. I would need explanations about the thousands of innocents who Qaddafi and his henchmen murdered during the last four decades. Also, in the present, I’m concerned with how efficiently we can secure all of the man-portable anti-aircraft missiles that are at large in Libya today, and how quickly can we dispose of Libya’s extensive stores of mustard gas.

Call me a judgmental bastard if you like. Except for the fact that my parents had been married over a decade before I was born, I’d say it’s fairly accurate. The notion that all men are created equal makes good sense to me. The idea that all men and women remain equal, no matter what they do after they are created, strikes me as extremely foolish.

Due to multiple urgent matters, I have not slept much this week. But not all of my sleep was surrendered in vain, and I have only lost a little sleep. How many have lost their lives or watched their children die? I can never know with certainty how many people Qaddafi and his thugs murdered, but two of their young faces came to me in my nap this morning and reminded this old man to get back up and do something besides wasting the world oxygen supply.

The battle with Qaddafi is over. The battle for the future of the people of Libya continues. Old enemies, Al-Qaeda and Iran, find themselves sharing the same fantasy this week. They would love to see an “Islamic” state in Libya led by some criminal posing as a religious leader. For them, the ideal leader in Libya would reject Modernism. Modernism, as in a philosophy or system that incorporates post-8th century thinking and discoveries.

For the comfortable Mullahs in Iran, their Hezbollah messenger boys, and the garden variety “Islamic” terrorist gangs that are all vying for attention today, dangerous new ideas such as religious freedom, universal suffrage, the right to (or even the need for) fair trial, and freedom of speech need to be kept out of Libya and everywhere else. Fortunately for the people of Libya and the rest of the world, not everyone in Libya agrees with that “fundamentalist” view. It appears (at least to me) that most Libyans recognize that the only thing “fundamental” about fundamentalism is that it is fundamentally asinine.

Does that matter? We don’t know yet. For the opinions of the majority to matter in Libya, the Libyans will need to create for themselves some sort of functioning government that takes into account the views of the masses. If they do it (and they may), it will be the first time that the voice of the Libyan people has mattered inside of Libya. I hope they pull it off. I think they have a reasonable chance to get it done.

So other than my very expensive habit of finding idealistic beliefs with which to view the world, why should I think that Libya will do anything other than create a new tyranny for itself? My hope is not based solely on my wide-eyed idealism.

The people of Libya are far more educated than they were when Qaddafi shoved a weak king out of the throne. There is much that we can blame Qaddafi for, and little that we can give him credit for, but we can, in fact, credit him with building a better education system in Libya. Reading broadly is good for kids, but it’s bad for the tyrants that rule the kids who read. Good education and tyranny just don’t play well together. In a sense, Qaddafi killed himself by buying too many books for children and teens.

The concept of death by book purchase appeals to me. The next time you’re at a school book sale, don’t think of it as cash lost, think of it as happy kids and dead dictators. Of course, the trick is that the books can’t just be bought, they have to be read. Those enterprising young Libyan kids read them.

Libya is a cosmopolitan place. The majority of Libyans have an idea of what the world outside of Libya looks like. They know enough about the world outside of the mid-east to know that life need not be all about poverty, oppression, and unending misery.

In a nation of starving masses, building a democracy is more difficult. Fortunately, there are no starving masses in Libya. Libya has already repaired and reopened its natural gas delivery line to Italy. That’s good news for those Italians who were hoping to not spend Christmas Eve sleeping in a goose down sleeping bag. And when Gas flows to Italy and the European Union, euros flow back to Libya.

Gasoline-hungry Europeans are looking toward the post-Qaddafi Libya with hopeful eyes. While I have yet to hear a reliable report on the precise measure of damage done to Libya’s petroleum production and export infrastructure, it is not as bad as what many had feared. Given the price of petroleum around the world, and the willingness of oil companies to show up and make a profit, I anticipate that Libya’s oil production infrastructure will be repaired in record-breaking time.

Naturally, oil companies will pretend that they are fighting a terrible but noble engineering war when faced with the challenge of extracting and marketing petroleum from Libya. I’m looking forward to those cutesy, heart warming, pro ecology ads that they will produce to explain to us why we should demand that they receive Presidential Medals of Freedom, lots of tax breaks, and sainthood for selling us oil. The ads will, no doubt, lovingly explain why we should all be so grateful for the gasoline price increases that will accompany the increased gasoline production.

The good news about the “petro-corporate” invasion taking place this week in Libya (thanks to your car and my car) is that it will leave Libya with cash to spend. If it goes to support a filthy rich oligarchy or another family of jackals like the Qaddafi slime, then it won’t do much to help found a working government in Libya. If, on the other hand, enough of it is used to buy off all the major and minor Libyan tribes with agreements for reasonable development projects in irrigation, agriculture, transportation, housing, health care and education, then that black gold could help buy Libya a decent government. Oil money need not always do Satan’s work. Sometimes, it can help a nation, and the amount of oil in Libyan oil fields can translate to lots of help.

Time will tell. Now, support Libya by buying yourself a bumper sticker that reads, “Drive your car for peace.”

Any questions about Qaddafi or the present situation in Libya?