The Zeitgeist Politics

Global Politics with a focus on The Middle East

Posts Tagged ‘terrorism

Top Secret America – A Failure of Gigantic Proportions

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A man walks through a flag crossing at The Pentagon. GETTY Images.

Yesterday, the Washington Post finally released the first part of what was one of the mostly hotly anticipated newspaper articles in years, a massive investigative report, two years in the making, about what it calls America’s “fourth branch” of government. The report has a dedicated site and will be released in installments, the first part yesterday and the second today, with more to follow

The piece was controversial even before it was released and has been generating a great deal of talk since its first installment hit the press and the internet. If you don’t have time to read the full first part and want a handy cheatsheet, Max Fisher at The Atlantic Wire has drawn up an executive summary of it.

The opening salvo is fired on the first page, as Priest and Arkin open up with the bewildering scale of the whole thing:

* Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.

* An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.

The gist of the first piece is that “Top Secret America” is so massive that much of it is redundant, inefficient, ineffective at keeping America safe and hugely wasteful of public funds. The complex described is so grotesque in its scale and so Kafkaesque in its operations that one can’t help but scratch one’s head at how the world’s lone superpower could possibly be so stupid. Some of it is downright scary:

Beyond redundancy, secrecy within the intelligence world hampers effectiveness in other ways, say defense and intelligence officers. For the Defense Department, the root of this problem goes back to an ultra-secret group of programs for which access is extremely limited and monitored by specially trained security officers.

These are called Special Access Programs – or SAPs – and the Pentagon’s list of code names for them runs 300 pages. The intelligence community has hundreds more of its own, and those hundreds have thousands of sub-programs with their own limits on the number of people authorized to know anything about them. All this means that very few people have a complete sense of what’s going on.

If no one knows what’s going on then how can this system that carries such immense power possibly be accountable to anyone, let alone the people of America that the country supposedly belongs to? Glenn Greenwald points out that Americans “keep sacrificing their privacy to the always-growing National Security State in exchange for less security”

Indeed, Top Secret America’s security failures are mentioned repeatedly in the report:

In Yemen, the commandos set up a joint operations center packed with hard drives, forensic kits and communications gear. They exchanged thousands of intercepts, agent reports, photographic evidence and real-time video surveillance with dozens of top-secret organizations in the United States.

That was the system as it was intended. But when the information reached the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington for analysis, it arrived buried within the 5,000 pieces of general terrorist-related data that are reviewed each day. Analysts had to switch from database to database, from hard drive to hard drive, from screen to screen, just to locate what might be interesting to study further.

What they missed was the ‘pantybomber’, a Nigerian named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to detonate an explosive device, stowed in his underwear, on a Detroit-bound flight. That attack was averted because of an alert passenger, not because of Top Secret America. The same was the case during the Fort Hood shooting where 13 service members were gunned down by Nidal Malik Hasan.

Of course it can be argued that the US hasn’t suffered a 9/11 since 9/11 but that in itself isn’t enough proof for me that this sprawling mess that is supposed to be protecting America is doing its job properly. Not mentioned in the WaPo article (presumably because these acts of terrorism weren’t perpetrated by Muslims and therefore don’t count as terrorism, heh) all the wiretaps and surveillance didn’t prevent a man from flying a plane into an IRS building a Texas or a pipe-bomb being detonated at a mosque in Florida. Keeping America Safe from Terrorism is clearly not working.

Some criticism has been leveled at this report for not saying anything new and not being the top secret bombshell that it was billed as but I don’t think that’s fair. What’s important about this report is that it isn’t written for commentators and insiders, it’s written for the layman and published in one of the world’s most influential newspapers. Anyone expecting ‘wikileaks‘ from the Washington Post was clearly dreaming from the beginning, but what this does is it aggregates much of the information that some of us have already read in one place and it exposes a whole new set of readers to the massive failure, money sink and joke that is Top Secret America.

Hopefully this report will spur a new set of readers to ask questions of their Government and question the massive shift in America’s true foundation. As Glenn Greenwald so succinctly put it:

That’s really the only relevant question:  how much longer will Americans sit by passively and watch as a tiny elite become more bloated, more powerful, greedier, more corrupt and more unaccountable — as the little economic security, privacy and freedom most citizens possess vanish further still?

The more that question is asked, the more this report becomes worth the time and effort it took to compile.


Written by alexlobov

July 20, 2010 at 11:11 pm

Just who, exactly, is a terrorist worthy of outrage over?

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Alleged members of the Hutaree militia from Michigan. Photos released by the US Marshals Service/AP

Complaining about the fact that terrorism perpetuated by white people isn’t considered terrorism is nothing new but always worth pursuing. This is not a straw man, this is a serious gaping hole in our society’s fabric of reason and consciousness. The fact that right wing crazies, teabaggers, birthers and the like go nuts over possible connections between falafel vendors and Hamas but fail to mention non-Muslim terrorists should not be surprising. They are, after all, crazies. They are not the voice of reason and while their mere existence and relative prominence in our society scares me, it is not as scary as the wanton lack of reason displayed not only by our own mainstream media but even alternative media that are more broad-based and even supposedly carry a liberal bias.

Exhibit A (February 2010):

Leaving behind a rant against the government, big business and particularly the tax system, a computer engineer smashed a small aircraft into an office building where nearly 200 employees of the Internal Revenue Service were starting their workday Thursday morning. [NYT]

Let’s see… flying a plane into a government building on a weekday morning because you’re angry at the government. Sounds like terrorism to me.

Exhibit B (March 2010):

Nine people federal prosecutors say belong to a “Christian warrior” militia were accused Monday of plotting to kill a Michigan law enforcement officer and then attack other police at the funeral.

The five-count indictment unsealed Monday charges that between August 2008 and the present, the defendants, acting as a Lenawee County, Michigan, militia group, conspired to use force to oppose the authority of the U.S. government. [CNN]

Let’s see… I wonder what would happen if a group of nine Muslims plotted to kill law enforcement officers?

Exhibit C (May 2010):

A pipe bomb exploded at a mosque in north Florida May 10 and is being investigated as a possible hate crime. The FBI says they have few leads, and have joined the mosque and a nearby church in offering a $20,000 reward for information.

The FBI, however, says it could have caused serious injuries and deaths had the bomb been placed inside the mosque instead of outside.

The bomb went off during evening prayers, when about 60 people were at the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida in Jacksonville. No one was injured. [TPM]

Let’s see… trying to bomb a place of worship. I wonder what would happen if the bomb was planted at a synagogue? The blame would be shifted onto ‘Muslim extremists’ in a heartbeat. But here… ‘no leads’.

Now compare these to the reactions to the ‘pantybomber’ and the foiled Times Square plot? I’m sure I didn’t see any of the above exhibits trend on Twitter like these two did and while I’m sure that an evacuation of Times Square is a major event and that the concept of a ‘panty bomber’ is possibly very amusing I don’t think these factors warrant the major scale shrug given to the above three exhibits. So how did the supposedly liberal interwebs do?

Florida mosque bombing = 211,000 results

Michigan militia = 221,000 results

Plane into IRS building = 986,000 results (hoorah)

as compared to:

Underwear bomb = 2,990,000 results

Times Square bomb = 13,000,000 results

OK, I don’t pretend to be some kind of SEO expert and I’m sure the above search terms or keywords or whatever aren’t precise and neither is my method but you’re getting my drift here, right? Why do we see constant articles written about Faisal Shahzad (9,650,000 results, incidentally) and related obscure facts, like that his handwriting “reveals hostility”, but nothing about the origins of the Michigan militia or the Texan IRS-bomber, Joe Stack?

All of this gives rise to the old paradox about the media: is it the chicken or the egg? Is the cause here a failing among the media to properly report on important events or is it the fault of the public for not being interested enough to demand such reporting, explaining the lack of supply? The Google and Twitter watch would suggest that the latter may well be the case. But then again, can the blame be shifted back to the media chicken for incubating, via years of selective reporting and broad-based orientalism, an egg that has hatched a desensitized and apathetic drone unquestioningly consuming panty-bomber lulz and Times Square oh noez?

How much do we really care about events that don’t fit our prejudiced race-based dichotomy, that white people are victims and Muslim people are terrorists? (Note: this is further complicated of course by white convert Muslim ‘terrorists’ like “Jihad Jack” and David Hicks treated like weird cross-cultural abominations that have given up “white person” status and are now the Other with added circus freak curiosity status).

I’m using the pronoun ‘we’ here because I believe I am equally guilty. Sure, I busted out this post and maybe a few tweets but I probably tweeted more about Faisal Shahzad too. I probably haven’t given this issue enough attention either. I mean the IRS bombing was in February and this post is coming out in May? I know many of my most respected Tweeple and fellow bloggers are equally guilty.

Note: I suspect that this is also the reason for the muted outrage over Barack Obama’s recent approval of the extrajudicial assassination of a US citizen who just happened to be… Muslim (Anwar al-Awlaki, 323,000 results). Would we be so quick to apply a prejudiced assumption that the person is probably a terrorist anyway, with or without trial, if the target was, say, a militantly aggressive white Christian member of an anti-Government tea party faction? I can only imagine the outrage. I can see what you’re thinking: “but, uh, I oppose that assassination!” Sure, but how much do we oppose it? If Obama plotted to assassinate a cheerleader from Ohio whilst on holiday in Amsterdam, I’m assuming y’all would blog about it a little more, eh?

Let’s face it, we’re no shrinking violets, we’re good at outrage, we love a spot of anger and a powerful target to rail against. Why then, is our outrage so selective and often so muted, particularly, when double standards are so undeniable? We need to take a good hard look at ourselves and our prejudices, and realise that, no matter how intellectually aware of it we are, orientalism pervades not only our key institutions and power structures but also the hope for the future – our own hearts.

Volleyball match attacked in Pakistan

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Over 70 people are reported to be killed and a large number injured in an attack on a volleyball match in Lakki Marwat. The area had reportedly been ‘cleared’ of Taliban during the military operation, but the target of the attack was actually a peace lashkar that had been formed as a counter measure to the Taliban. According to Geo TV, on not being able to get to the mosque where the lashkar was meeting, the attacker drove an explosives-laden car into a wall. Houses in the area are reported to have collapsed due to the intensity of the blast and people are still buried underneath the rubble.

The local hospital has inadequate medical facilities, and news reporters in the area cite that there are injured people lying on the floor of the hospital, and there are not enough vehicles to transport the dead from the site.

Its going to be a long, long year.

Written by Saba Imtiaz

January 2, 2010 at 2:27 am

This is what the war does to children: it robs them of their innocence

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I have thought quite a bit about whether to post this story. Its possibly one of the most heartrending reports about the impact of suicide bombings on Pakistan, where a suicide bomber seems to blow himself up on an almost daily basis.  But in the midst of the inane debates and Denialistan and the general sense of ‘how the hell do we get out of this situation?!’, does anyone realize what is happening to the children of this beleaguered country?

Eight-year-old Abid Mehmood was sifting through the debris of the bombed market in Pakistan’s north-western city of Peshawar for metal and plastic pieces when he found something unusual – a human eyeball. The remains of a body that the powerful blast might have burnt or even dissolved a day earlier had enough shine and colour to attract the child, who immediately collected it in a plastic bag.

Hours later, he found a plastic jar and dipped the eyeball in the water and started to pick through the rubble to find more.

“I have collected seven eyes but there should be one more. After all, every person has two eyes,” said Mehmood as he showed the jar to a reporter.

“They look beautiful, don’t they?” he said in the Meena Bazaar, the once-busy market where a suicide bomber killed 119 people and injured over 200 on October 28.

Indifference to death is increasingly becoming a defence mechanism for psychologically tormented children in Peshawar, where Taliban have killed several hundred people in dozens of suicide bombings over the last two years.

“We are seeing more and more children who show little reaction to death and the dead ones,” Peshawar-based psychiatrist and social worker Dr Khalid Mufti said.

“The other day an 11-year-old child whose father died and brother lost his legs in a recent blast told me that he was waiting for his turn like everyone else in the town,” added Mufti.

“The kid was smiling. You know, this is what the war does to children: it robs them of their innocence.”

Read the rest here. Link via the Pakistan Conflict Monitor.

Written by Saba Imtiaz

November 20, 2009 at 4:42 pm

Dial three for terror in AfPak: Kabul and Peshawar attacked

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afghanistan_pakistan I can’t recall a single day – for weeks and months now – that wasn’t accompanied with news of attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But today – even by the terribly low expectations one has of a day free of news that makes you want to kill yourself – has been a horrible, horrible, horrible day.

Kabul saw two attacks this morning: One, on a UN guesthouse in Kabul, that was a deadly raid that saw six UN staff members being killed amongst the 12 casualties (three of which include the attackers) as the attackers stormed the house after being embroiled in a gunbattle with UN guards.  The second, was rockets being fired at the Serena Hotel, which houses press personnel and is close to Karzai’s residence. The Taliban took responsibility for both attacks, citing that it was an ‘assault on the presidential election’.

The third attack took place in Pakistan in Peshawar – a city that has seen a number of attacks in the past few weeks alone, a number of which have happened during / before Friday prayers. A car bomb exploded in Meena Bazar – said to be around 120 KGs of explosives – and killed 87 people, injuring over a 150.The visuals from the scene are horrifying: shops set on fire and a building collapsed, trapping people under the rubble. The death toll literally rose within hours – from 3 to 10 to 14 to 40 and above – and women and children are reported to form the major part of casualties.

UPDATED: The death toll has reached 104. Meanwhile Al-Qaeda and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan have denied any responsibility for the attack.

On a side note, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is on her first visit (as Secretary) to Pakistan today.


The sun isn't shining on AfPak - Kabul's skyline today (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

On a personal note, I don’t think I have ever been so scared to live in Pakistan. I have lived through the best and the worst of times in this country but the cloud of fear has never loomed so heavily. And I have thought several times before that we had reached the bottom of the pit and it couldn’t get any worse – but every day we seem to fall a little deeper in. It has gotten to the point where when I imagine the country’s map, I see a big sign that says ‘CLOSED FOR LIFE’ hanging on it. And I cannot seem to get this song to stop playing constantly in my head.

Written by Saba Imtiaz

October 28, 2009 at 10:27 pm

Islamic University attacked in Islamabad

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Pakistani security officials collect evidence from the site of a suicide bombing in Islamic University in Islamabad. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

Pakistani security officials collect evidence from the site of a suicide bombing in Islamic University in Islamabad. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

Two suicide attacks took place at the International Islamic University in Islamabad – Pakistan’s capital city – a few hours ago. The attack on the university, which was established in 1980, has seen 5 students killed and several injured. (The figure is changing every minute, so cannot confirm)

The images being aired on news channels are absolutely horrific – blood spattered walls, gore, damaged walls. Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher reported “We can see bits of clothes, scraps of books and a lot more worrying, very thick, dark red blood.”

The attacks happened within minutes of each other. One attacker blew himself up outside the women’s cafeteria and the other in another block of the university. Witnesses told Dawn News that at least three to four thousand students were present at the university at the time of the attacks.

Rehman Malik, the country’s interior minister, has blamed the attack on the university’s security failings, saying a guard let one of the attackers in on the assumption that he worked at the university.

The Pakistani army is currently fighting a war in South Waziristan so this attack in Islamabad is widely being cited as a reaction to the army’s offensive. Educational institutions are being closed in the province of Sindh till Sunday – several cities already had done so as the South Waziristan operation started.

The horrific attack  comes after a series of attacks in Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Lahore and Kohat. The only odd factor I find is that an educational institution was attacked, which seems out of the TTP’s usual pattern. As of late, extremist organizations have attacked security and intelligence installations or colonies where security officials reside, not civilian targets per se. Yes, the TTP and their affiliates have attacked girls’ schools in FATA, and  if they are to blame for this attack it is a truly – for lack of a better word – ominous sign. Yet this is the ‘odd one out’ in the pattern of events, as a Dawn editorial pointed out on October 10 after a car bombing in Peshawar killed 48 people.

Is yesterday’s Peshawar bombing another grim incident in the long war against militancy here or should we also look elsewhere for the culprits? What is striking about the Peshawar blast is the lack of an obvious target. In the past, when the militants have struck it has generally been possible to discern the target: offices or check posts of security personnel; offices or personnel of foreign aid agencies; a branch of a bank belonging to the army; members of the Shia or Barelvi community, etc. This is in keeping with the militants’ strategy of waging a savage war, yes, but not widening it to include indiscriminate attacks against the general population. The norm, therefore, has been to attack the state and its allies, foreign and local, real and imagined, and sectarian targets. But yesterday’s attack has no obvious, or hitherto known, target; it appears to have been indiscriminate and meant to sow terror generally.

I hate it when people point out the ‘foreign hand’ theory, so I’d like to make that clear that that is not what I’m implying. But terrorism just doesn’t have one face in this country; so the fact that Pakistan is facing multiple threats from different organizations and groups  needs to be made clear.

Written by Saba Imtiaz

October 20, 2009 at 9:37 pm

Peshawar attacked: female suicide bomber reportedly involved

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Peshawar has seen yet another bomb blast this Friday at the Central Investigation Agency building. There are reports of 4 people dead (though the number is also being quoted as 6) with 10 injured.

While Friday has been a deadly day for Pakistan for several months now, the most disturbing facet of this suicide attack is that it is rumoured to have been carried out by a woman. Geo News is reporting that a burqa clad woman drove up with a man on a motorcycle. They attempted to enter the building  and when stopped, the man began to firing and the woman removed her burqa and detonated her suicide jacket.  There was a car with them as well, and that appears to have been rigged with a car bomb.

Update: This account isn’t verified – will wait for more news sources since right now the reports coming in say that the car bomb was the major source of the explosion and not the suicide bomber.

Update: Here’s an account from Times Online:

A car filled with explosives drove to the main gate of the CIA building as a motorcycle carrying a man and a woman pulled up behind it, Liaquat Ali Khan, the Peshawar police chief, told reporters.
The woman jumped off and ran towards a nearby housing complex where army officers live, while the man smashed the motorcycle into the car, which exploded into a huge fireball, he said.

Police shot at the woman, who detonated explosives she was wearing, destroying part of the CIA building and the mosque next to it, he said.

“If that woman suicide bomber had not been killed, she might have caused more damage,” he said.
It was only the second confirmed case of a woman carrying out a suicide attack in Pakistan: the first blew herself up near a Christian school in Peshawar in December 2007, while apparently aiming for a nearby military post.

We blogged yesterday about the rumours of female attackers being involved in one of the attacks in Lahore, which was later denied by army officials. This does not bode well; and will have severe consequences on the upcoming battle in South Waziristan, because if women are involved in the TTP’s struggle, then the battle will take on an even deadlier form.

Mr Writer, Why Don’t You Tell It Like It Is?

On another note, the  TTP has decided to target media organizations next. Daily Times reported that security officials have intercepted a phone call where a TTP commander was giving directives to attack security agencies and media organizations. Their complain:

A Taliban group also sent two letters to the Lahore Press Club – one on October 12 and the other on October 14 – warning that if the media “does not stop portraying us as terrorists … we will blow up offices of journalists and media organisations”.

Written by Saba Imtiaz

October 16, 2009 at 5:38 pm

Posted in Pakistan

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